The steady bass resonating in the dance studio matches the frantic beating of Jungkook's heart; the guitar riffs resemble his raged breathing. His muscles hurt from the stretch, ligaments and tendons a strained mess, but that doesn't stop Jungkook from dancing. He follows melody lines with the tips of his fingers and falls on his knees when the heavy bass sinks into the floor boards, shaking the mirrors stretching across the wall in front on him.
Hoseok slips in the dance studio a heartbeat too early, eyes glued to Jungkook's reflection in the vanity mirror as everything falls into place – every tilt of the head and snap of the wrist, every step forward and every spin, almost on the tip of his toes but not quite because this isn't ballet. This is a fusion of contemporary dance and hip-hop, grace replaced with sharp turns and elegance buried under raw talent. This are the endless hours that Hoseok spent in this same room thinking up the choreography and making sure that it turns out as eye-catching as it was in his head when he heard the track for the first time; when there were just melody and rough beats and no lyrics.
As the last notes of the song bounce off the walls covered with promotional posters and reminders that the person who leaves last should turn off the lights and lock the door, Hoseok starts to clap and Jungkook lifts his head to catch Hoseok's smile in the reflection in the mirror. He gets up from the floor and when he turns around, the smile on his face matches Hoseok's.
“I'm amazing, aren't I?” Jungkook says with no false modesty as he reaches for the towel he tossed on the floor earlier that day. Sweat is running down his heated skin, his flushed cheeks, and he wipes it off.
Hoseok stops clapping, the smile on his face replaced with a smirk, and crosses his arms over his chest.
“Don't flatter yourself too much, all of this is possible thanks to the amazing choreography. I wonder who made it.”
Hoseok taps his fingers against his chin seemingly deep in thought while question marks hang in mid-air, but his inability to maintain a somewhat serious expression on his face gives him away. In the next moment, his lips curl up in a heart-shaped smile that speaks of all the hard work he put into this choreography before he deemed it good enough, but never perfect because he changes bits and pieces of it every few days which leaves Jungkook scowling into the mirror every time Hoseok barges into the studio in the middle of the practice with a few sheets of paper in his hand and a guilty smile on his face.
Hoseok's choreographies are far from easy and at the beginning of his career when attracting attention of the audience was crucial for his success, Jungkook felt like he was breaking in half before he learnt them, but they're detailed and breathtaking and in the end, all hours spent dancing paid off because all eyes were on Jungkook when he was performing. He soaked up the spotlight, attention and ovations. He fed off the applauses that were strong enough to shake the stage beneath him and he made it big, bigger than anybody before him.
“You must know the guy,” Jungkook says. “Handsome face” - Hoseok's smile grows bigger - “but he goes by a stupid nickname and he's significantly shorter than me” - Hoseok jabs him in the ribs while murmuring “Brat, show some respect to your elders.”
Jungkook just laughs it off, as usual. He knows how much he can push the buttons before Hoseok snaps, slams the door of the dance studio shut and completely ignores him until the next promotional cycle begins.
Jungkook reaches for the player to pick the next song to dance to, but Hoseok pulls him away from the stereo and towards the door.
“Enough for today. The big boss wants to see you,” he says, curling his fingers around Jungkook's wrist and turning on his heels ready to leave.
There are only two occasions when the CEO wants to talk directly to Jungkook and not through notes that his secretary delivers to Jungkook's dorm every week.
One – Jungkook was involved in a big scandal and ended up on the covers of all tabloids across not only Korea but other Asian countries as well with not so flattering headlines neatly printed under his name.
Two – the plans for his next album are finished and the release date should be set.
“But I did nothing wrong,” Jungkook protests, pulling his hand out of Hoseok's grip. His latest album has been topping the charts for the last four weeks and the promotions are going smoothly if triple crowns on music shows are any indication. “I'm not the one to blame for that mess on the variety show. Those people are nuts and the host is an idiot who doesn't know how to do his job.”
Hoseok chuckles, one hand on the doorknob, the other tugging Jungkook closer. “I have to admit that that was pretty crazy yet extremely enjoyable to watch. But no, it's not about that.”
“Then what? Debut in China?” Jungkook asks, “My Mandarin is still awful, you know.”
Hoseok just shrugs, pushes the door open and nearly shoves Jungkook in the corridor. “Come on. You'll see what it is about.”
Jungkook leaves the dance studio with sweat trickling down flushed skin and his white tank top sticking to his back. His light brown hair with dark roots showing is hidden under a black snapback with big bold “Fuck” embedded in the front. There are little blemishes dotting his cheeks and there's no make-up to cover the traces of sleepless nights spent on dancing and singing until his body aches and his throat bleeds.
As they walk down the hallways, harsh neon lights overhead, Jungkook can't help but feel thankful to his company for having practice rooms so carefully hidden from the cameras of nosy reporters swarming around him like hungry sharks swimming in the water waiting for the taste of blood, for crimson red to mix with transparent blue of the sea.
Before the company moved to a new building, practice rooms were in the basement of one building and offices on the third floor of another and whenever Jungkook needed to leave the studio, he had to cross the short distance of the patio from one building entrance to the other, where he was an easy target for both the reporters and the saesang fans willing to do anything that would give them the rights to brag about it on the social media sites. During that time, his face hidden with masks appeared on numerous portals and blogs with comment sections full of messages far from flattering. As his popularity rose, the comments became harsher and harsher while the fan support grew to rival that of his seniors.
Face masks were gone after they moved and Jungkook stopped holding his breath whenever he needed to leave the practice room.
- - -
Jimin sits straight with his knees pressed together and his hands resting on his lap. He's careful not to touch anything without permission because he's meeting the CEO for the first time even though it's been a few months since he moved from his former company to BigHit Entertainment.
The coffee on the table in front of him is slowly cooling as he waits for the CEO to finish the phone call. The man has his leather chair turned to the windows and all Jimin can hear are incoherent words. A cloud of smoke lingers above the CEO's head and Jimin hates the smell, but he is in no position to ask the man to stop smoking. After all, he's the boss and Jimin is just another employee.
His eyes drift from the stack of binders on the CEO's desk to the platinum and gold albums that hang framed on the walls and the various awards displayed in the glass showcase. He's impressed and terrified at the same time because with artists who bring awards and fame to the company, there's no room for mistakes.
The CEO hangs up the phone and turns around to face him.
“Mr Park, I'm glad that you came so quickly. Let's skip formalities and go straight to business, shall we?” he asks and Jimin looks at him, nodding. “Good. Now, tell me, how much experience do you have?”
Jimin swallows the lump in his throat and says, “I've been working for five years, Sir. Two in the administration and three as a manager.”
“And why have you left your former company?” the man asks, taking off his glasses and cleaning the lenses with a soft cloth.
“They didn't need my services anymore. The group I was managing disbanded,” Jimin replies, honesty slipping into his words and eyes downcast. He's looking at his hand, at the band-aid covering the cut on his finger that he got this morning while making breakfast. He should be more careful with kitchen knives in the future.
The CEO stays silent for a few minutes and Jimin dares to look at him. The man's eyebrow is raised, eyes sharp and unforgiving, lips a straight line.
“Why did you group disband, Mr Park? Was there a scandal?”
It's an unwritten rule that a manager should be able to cover up any scandal before it even reaches the press. If it ends up on the front page of a newspaper, it's manager's fault because he failed to protect his artists. If a scandal led to disbandment, the manager should look for a job in another filed because no entertainment company would fire him.
Jimin shakes his head, “There wasn't a scandal, Sir. Their contract ended and they didn't want to sign another one.”
“Because they weren't paid enough?”
“Because they wanted to dedicate themselves to their family, travelling or studying,” Jimin replies.
He's not sure where this conversation is leading. He didn't make any mistakes since the day he started working for BigHit even though he was just an employee, not a manager.
The rumours he heard in the hallways indicated that the company is preparing a new group for debut, but nothing was official yet.
“Very well, Mr Park. I'm hoping that you'll have better luck with your next artist,” the CEO says, reaching for the phone on his desk. Jimin opens his mouth to say something, but the man raises his finger to shut him up.
“Miss Song, when Jungkook arrives – Oh, I see. Then send him in.”
- - -
Kisum is as pleasant as always when Hoseok approaches her desk, Jungkook by his side.
“I brought him alive,” Hoseok says, gesturing at Jungkook. “Where's my prize?”
The secretary leans on her elbows, smiling at him. “There are some cupcakes left in the staff room. Blueberry and vanilla topping if I'm not mistaken. I saved them just for you, Hoseok, so eat them well.”
Hoseok leans down, planting a wet kiss on her cheek and she giggles.
“You really are the best, Kisum,” he says before marching down the hallway and leaving Jungkook to stand awkwardly by the door.
Kisum wipes her cheek with a tissue and looks at herself in a small mirror she always keeps by her side to make sure that her make-up is still perfect. When she's done, she looks at Jungkook.
“The CEO is expecting you, Jungkook. You can go inside,” she says.
Jungkook knocks, white knuckles against dark wood, a few times before he hears a deep “Come in” and he pushes the door open.
The CEO's eyes are on Jungkook as he enters the office and closes the door.
“Come, Jungkook. Make yourself comfortable. There's somebody I want you to meet,” he says and only then does Jungkook notice the young man sitting opposite of his boss.
As Jungkook sits down on the leather chair, he glances at the man. They're around the same age. The man's hair is black like raven's feathers; his posture is straight compared to Jungkook who's slouched because skin sticky from sweat and leather were never a good combination no matter how much the stylists like to dress him in leather for the performances. The man avoids his gaze, eyes locked to the CEO like he's some holy deity. Jungkook rolls his eyes and runs his hands across the arm rests of the chair.
“Jungkook,” the CEO speaks. “This is Park Jimin. He's your manager starting tomorrow.”
Now, Park Jimin has turned towards him, hand extended for a handshake, expression on his face something between excitement and shock while an unspoken “Let's work together well” lingers on his lips.
Jungkook doesn't take his hand. Instead, he jumps out of the chair like somebody poured boiling water down his front.
“No,” he says, voice cold, eyes narrowed. “My manager is Yoongi-hyung. Always was, always will be. This is a sick joke that I really don't appreciate.”
“Jungkook, calm down. Things change and Yoongi -”
“Yoongi would not leave me,” Jungkook interrupts his boss, not caring for the respect he should be showing to the CEO.
Yoongi has always been by his side since the debut days. Yoongi knows all his shortcomings and pet-peeves, all of Jungkook's reckless mistakes that had the potential to blow up into huge scandals and end Jungkook's career, sending him back home, to a rundown neighbourhood and the two bedroom apartment of his parents where there's nothing that could provide him a steady income or a safe life.
Yoongi can't leave him – not in the middle of promotions, not ever.
“Yoongi has been appointed to Six Aces. They're a new group and they need a steady hand to guide them. Mr Park will take good care of you, Jungkook. I'm sure of it,” the CEO says, but Jungkook has already turned his back to him.
“I'm sorry, but I don't care about any of that,” Jungkook says through gritted teeth. “I will not accept this!”
Jimin's hand falls in his lap as Jungkook storms out of the office and the CEO starts to massage the bridge of his nose.
“Jungkook's such a temperamental child,” he says, “A nice, but extremely stubborn child.”
Jimin clears his throat, fingers digging in the fabric of his pants, and says, “I'm sorry, Sir, but maybe I could take care of Six Aces so that Jungkook's manager stays with him.”
“Nonsense. You're Jungkook's manager now, whether he likes it or not,” the CEO replies and the tone of his voice leaves no room for discussion. He opens one of the binders on his desk and pulls out a contract. Flipping it on the last page, he offers it to Jimin. “Now, let's make it official.”
- - -
Jimin returns home with Chinese take-out and two cans of cat food in hand. He drops his keys in the crystal bowl on the shoe rack in the hallway and toes off his shoes before turning on the lights. Drops of water are falling from his bangs to the floor and he should clean it before going to bed. There was a downpour and Jimin had forgotten his umbrella at home.
His feet are killing him. He missed the last bus home and had to walk six blocks from the pet-shop to his apartment. On the way, he bought food in a nearby restaurant because the desire to cook left him when the rain started.
Light rain in May is something between desired and much dreaded and tonight it only made Jimin's day go from bad to worse.
He changes into sweatpants and a white t-shirt, tossing his damp work clothes in the laundry basket, and heads to the kitchen. He fishes out a can opener from the bottom drawer. His cat is already by the food bowl when Jimin crouches down to feed him.
“I'm sure your day was way better than mine, Lucifer. I should've stayed home and napped with you,” Jimin sighs, scratching his cat behind the ear. But the feline doesn't register his words, too occupied with filling his tummy with delicious food. Jimin doesn't mind. If he were a cat, he'd do the same thing. Human lives are too complicated sometimes and people tend to exaggerate. Maybe his day wasn't so bad after all. He had gotten the promotion that he desired since he set foot into BigHit Entertainment, the CEO had been nice to him, his secretary had offered Jimin coffee and cupcakes. Jungkook hadn't been very pleasant, but maybe Jimin is overthinking. He was probably just as shocked as Jimin was and different people deal with stress in different ways. Maybe Jungkook...
Jimin shakes his head, “Get over yourself, Jimin. He's just another star and they're all the same. A little vain and a whole lot spoiled. You worked with them, you should know.”
With chopsticks and a box of cold noodles in hand, Jimin plops down on his sofa and turns on the TV. As he digs in, he watches a rerun of some romantic comedy. It switches to commercials just as the main characters are about to kiss and Jungkook's face appears on the screen. He's advertising a new cologne by Hugo Boss and Jimin groans when Jungkook smirks on the screen. He changes the channel only to be met with Jungkook's dazzling smile in a toothpaste commercial.
It seems like the world has a personal vendetta against him because Jungkook's face appears on the screen whenever Jimin flips the channels. He presses the red shut down button on the remote and throws his head back.
- - -
Jeon Jungkook is Asia's most beloved pop star. Debuted at the tender age of sixteen, only to have Korea in his palm by his twentieth birthday. His singles and albums alike top the charts for weeks, even months. His songs are played on the streets, clubs and weddings because when you're Jeon Jungkook, even your acoustic albums filled with ballads about broken hearts and unrequited love sell well. Whenever he's a guest on a show, the show's ratings rise by a good ten percent which has the greedy producers rubbing their hands in satisfaction and yelling at their assistants to find the holes in Jungkook's schedule so that they could invite him again and again and again. His face is on the billboards across the country advertising everything from fast food to expensive colognes. The companies race each other to get an exclusive contract and offer astonishing amounts of money to get Jungkook to sign with them and not somebody else.
Jeon Jungkook is the ideal type of all celebrities his age or younger, which feeds hungry tabloid journalists. It has been rumoured that he was in a romantic relationship with two models, three actresses and five female idols over the past year, while all his affairs with men get swept under the rug because male celebrities can only be friends and nothing more, and Jungkook is careful not to cross any lines in public. He's a heartthrob with thousands of fans sending him perfumed love letters sometimes written in ink and sometimes in blood that he stopped reading after a girl sent him a pink envelope with a strand of her hair tied with a red ribbon. His company's lobby is always filled with expensive gifts and bouquets of flowers because his address is a secret for everybody except the CEO, his manager and himself.
Jeon Jungkook is not a person, but a brand. Ready to be sold to whoever offers the highest price, ready to be used and thrown away after he turns 35 and somebody younger steps onto the stage, under unrelenting reflectors.
But at the end of the day, when the lights are turned off and the make-up is washed away, Jeon Jungkook is just a lonely boy forced to grow up too early and put behind glass walls because nobody can guarantee his safety.
- - -
The backstage area of Inkigayo is skittering idols wearing everything from frilly dresses to leather pants and make-up artists fuzzing over foundations that melt with sweat and eyeliner that has to be fixed after the third take because in front of the eye of a camera everything has to be perfect.
Jimin finds himself in the middle of the colourful chaos made of fabrics and voices. He can barely hear Yoongi's voice at the other end of the line as he pushes his way through the crowd and towards Jungkook's dressing room.
“Hyung, I know. He's a little difficult – yes – wait, hold on -”
He's balancing a tray with two cups of coffee in his hand – an extra sweet macchiato with extra cream for Jungkook and a frappuccino for himself – while he tries to open the door. His phone is pressed between his shoulder and cheek and Yoongi's voice comes out muffled.
“I'm almost there. Thanks for helping me out, hyung. I'll treat you to lunch next time – right, no – fine. Bye!” Jimin says as he makes his way inside.
After hanging up, he shoves his phone in the pocket of his jeans and slams the door shut which startles Jungkook who glares at him through the reflection in the mirror.
Jungkook's dressing room is almost silent, music coming under the door the only source of white noise because for once the walls aren't paper thin. A costume rack is pushed all the way to the wall to take up as little space as possible. The coffee table is covered in magazines and small gifts that Jungkook didn't have the desire to unwrap. Stylists and make-up artists have done their job and left Jungkook to go over the lyrics of the songs he's performing today.
Jungkook leaves the papers with notes on the make-up station and spins in his chair to face Jimin.
“Why are you here?” he asks.
He's wearing ripped jeans and an oversized white sweater, sleeves of it so long that they reach to his knuckles. His hair is styled, his make-up done.
Jimin glances at the round clock on the wall. Five more minutes til stand-by.
“I brought you coffee,” Jimin says. “Why didn't you wait for me this morning? I'm responsible for driving you to schedules.”
“No, thank you. I already had coffee,” Jungkook responds, expression indifferent, like a porcelain mask. “Why should I wait for you, Mr Park?”
Jungkook's voice is acidic, unforgiving. Jimin can feel it burn his skin.
“I'm your manager, Jungkook,” he says firmly.
“That's what the company says, but I know better. You'll never, ever be as good as Yoongi-hyung. Now, if you'll excuse me, Mr Park,” Jungkook says. “I have to record.”
He gets up and smirks when he notices that he's hovering over Jimin, their height difference painfully visible. On his way out, Jungkook pushes him aside and Jimin takes a step back, the tray unstable in his shaky hand.
It's only after Jungkook leaves the dressing room that Jimin notices hot coffee dripping from his fingertips to the floor.
- - -
“Give him time,” Yoongi says, hand raised in the air to call the waiter over. “Jungkook's not a bad person, he just doesn't trust people easily. It's hard for him to let somebody in his life just like that.”
When the waiter comes, Seokjin orders another round of drinks and asks about the daily special. Scrunching his nose in distaste at the mention of shrimps, he orders fried chicken for the three of them. When the waiter leaves the table, Seokjin says, “Just give him some time to cool down. Changing managers is never easy, especially if you've been with somebody since your debut, which is the case with Yoongi and Jungkook.”
“I gave him time – 'whole three months,” Jimin hiccups. He shouldn't have accepted that second glass of soju that Yoongi shoved in his hand. His ears are already buzzing and his tongue feels heavy in his mouth. He can't handle alcohol well and being the youngest in the group of his friends usually saved him from drinking because he's the one driving them home. But with new friends came new rules as well.
“Has something changed during those three months?” Yoongi asks, his hand reaching for Jimin's glass to fill it up.
“No, hyung. I can't drink anymore,” Jimin protests and covers his glass with his hand, but this doesn't stop Yoongi because he pours soju over Jimin's fingers and onto the table. Seokjin grabs a few handkerchiefs from the holder to clean up the mess they made.
“That was good liquor, Park Jiminnie,” Yoongi huffs. “You're paying for it, brat.”
“So, what were you saying about Jungkook?” Seokjin cuts in before Yoongi can make another unnecessary comment about wasted alcohol.
“He went from calling me Mr Park to calling me Jimin.”
“No hyung,” Jimin sighs. “And he accepts the coffee I bring him every morning even though it's always either too sweet or not sweet enough.”
“That's something,” Seokjin says with a smile. “He's warming up to you.”
“He accidentally spilt strawberry milkshake on my white shirt yesterday, hyung.”
Yoongi snickers and Seokjin kicks him in the shin under the table. There's empathy in Seokjin's voice when he says “Or maybe not. I'm sorry, Jimin.”
- - -
When the promotions finish, everybody goes on a well-deserved vacation. For all Jimin knows Jungkook's on Hawaii or Tahiti while he stays in Seoul.
He wakes up early, before the rush hour so that he can open all windows and let some fresh air in before the stench of gasoline can fill the air, and then he makes coffee. Only after taking the first sip he remembers that he forgot to put in sugar, and dumps two spoonfuls of it in his coffee. As he stirs it, Jimin goes out to the balcony and looks around.
The motorway he sees in the distance is still deserted, cabs and delivery trucks passing by every ten minutes. When he looks down, he sees that all cars are still on the parking lot and the children's playground on the other side of the street is empty, ruined castles in the sand box with just the wind gently pushing the swings.
From the city comes the traffic noise instead of a bird's song. He can see a new billboard on the Samsung building. Their latest model of smart phone has swept the competition away, but sadly, Jimin doesn't plan on buying a new phone any time soon. His phone is a sturdy older model that he can drop without fearing that it'll smash to pieces and never work again.
His eyes linger on the pretty smile on the face of some actress he's seen on television before, but whose name he can't remember before shifting to the rubber tree plant in the corner of the balcony. Its green, big leaves are covered with a thick layer of dust. It didn't wither, steams are still flowing with life, but it needs cleaning. Jimin leaves his mug next to the plant and goes inside to grab a wash cloth and a spray bottle.
The volume of the TV is low, but Jimin can still hear it as he rummages through the pots and pans in the kitchen. He finds a plastic spray bottle in the cabinet under the sink and opens the tap. As the running water slowly changes from lukewarm to cold, the news anchor says, “Our Kim Yoona is at the place of the accident. Yoona, what can you tell us? What has happened?”
“There was a car accident this morning around 4 a.m. A red Ferrari slammed against the concrete barrier in Gangnam and the sound of shattering woke up the residents. Luckily, no one was injured. Police are still looking for the driver who fled from the scene. We ask our citizens to be careful while driving because the season of construction works is still in progress for another two or three weeks. Many streets are closed with concrete barriers, like the one behind me, but maybe next time we won't have such luck, even though everybody is hoping that there won't be next time. And now back to the Studio.”
The water overflows from the bottle. Jimin shivers when it spills on his skin and he quickly turns the tap off. As he wipes his hands, his phone starts ringing and the news anchor's next commentary is lost in the tones of a cheerful song in the perfect contrast with bad news.
- - -
Jungkook's sitting on a bench at the bus stop facing the billboard with his smiling face on it.
When he arrived at the stop, an old lady that was sitting on the bench looked up and down him and shook her head before getting up and leaving him alone. He heard her mumbling “Poor child”.
His hood is pulled over his head, his sunglasses are perched high on the bridge of his nose. He's fumbling with his phone, battery running low, when a small silver Hyundai pulls to a stop in front of him. Through the windshield, he can see Jimin frowning.
Jungkook shoves the phone in his pocket and gets up. He tries not to wince when he rests all his weight on his left foot and he limps towards the car.
As soon as he slams the door shut, Jimin starts the engine and says “Did you try to get yourself killed?”
“Jeez... I just went for a little ride, Jimin,” Jungkook replies, buckling up.
“A little ride?” Jimin hisses. “You slammed against a concrete barrier, Jungkook. Both you and the car could've gone up in flames.”
“It's not that bad,” Jungkook shrugs, his eyes on the buildings that slowly pass by them, and Jimin hits the break. The car behind them honks and as it passes by, the driver flips them off.
“You can't stop in the middle of the fucking road,” Jungkook says, fixing his glasses.
“I can and I just did. Don't change the subject. I saw the wreck on the TV this morning, that's not just a scratch that a good paint job can fix. You could've died.”
“Well, I didn't,” Jungkook retorts, “Now, can we please go?”
Jimin's grip on the steering wheel is tight, his knuckles white. He's gnawing at his bottom lip, weighting the options that they have and when he comes up blank, he takes a deep breath to calm himself down and drives away.
They don't say another word until they're standing in front of Jimin's apartment while he searches for the keys. Jungkook is the first one to break the silence.
“I'm sorry for waking you up,” he says, “I tried to call Yoongi-hyung, but he replaced his number with yours.”
“Don't be sorry, it's my job to make sure nothing happens to you.”
Jimin unlocks the door and pushes it open. Jungkook takes off his sunglasses before stepping inside.
Jimin's apartment is ten times smaller than Jungkook's but it feels more like home then Jungkook's could ever do. There's a big mirror above the shoe rack and when Jungkook looks at his reflection, he barely recognizes himself, small cuts on his cheeks and dark circles under his eyes. He looks away only to meet Jimin's worried eyes.
“Would you mind taking off your shoes?” Jimin asks and Jungkook nods.
He does as he's told and follows Jimin in the living room where an entire wall is covered in framed pictures in various sizes. Jungkook looks at the family photos and notices how little has Jimin changed since his graduation. All photographs are in vivid colours and Jimin is always smiling.
“I'll make some tea,” Jimin states before leaving.
When he returns with two mugs of chamomile tea, he finds Jungkook sitting on the sofa, Lucifer softly purring in his lap as Jungkook's fingers thread through his fur and Jimin can't help but smiling.
“He likes you,” Jimin says and Jungkook jerks his head up.
“Think I like him too. He seems like a good fella,” Jungkook replies focussing his attention on the cat once again. His black fur is soft under Jungkook's fingertips, his green eyes resemble emeralds.
Jimin hums in response and drinks his tea.
- - -
The red Ferrari involved in a car crush finds its owner. It is the property of the Kim Global Group, sponsor of many music stars and Jungkook's name isn't even listed when the press speculates about which idol it could have been.
But that doesn't stop the yellow press from spreading false information as the article titled “Jungkook has a new manager. Has Min Yoongi left the side of the young artist due to unpaid salaries?” makes its way to the front cover of the magazines.
At a press conference, Jungkook just laughs it off as a bad joke and asks the public to give a lot of love and support to BigHit's new group that's Yoongi managing.
“Do you miss Mr Min?” one of the reporters asks.
“Yes, I do. He and I worked for many years together.”
“What about your new manager, Jungkook-shi?”
“What about him?” Jungkook laughs.
“Do you think that you'll have the same relationship with him as you did with Mr Min?”
“We met a few months ago. Nothing is certain but so far he's been taking good care of me,” Jungkook concludes the press conference and gets up, ready to leave. Another few shots and he's free for the day. When he comes backstage, he finds Jimin waiting for him.
“Did you mean that?” Jimin asks and Jungkook smiles, one of those smiles that has fans falling head over heels for him.
“I believe that you're smart enough to figure that out yourself.”
- - -
“This one's on me,” Yoongi chuckles as the bartender pours them another drink. “I've been on a cover of a magazine.”
“Doesn't that bother you, hyung?” Jimin asks, shaking his head when the bartender reaches for his glass. He seems to understand the silent plead in Jimin's eyes because he fills his glass with water.
“No. When you work with somebody as famous as Jungkook, it's only a matter of time before your photo and personal info reach the journalists. It can't be helped,” Yoongi shrugs. “You'll be there soon, my young grasshopper. Just wait for something big to happen.”
“At least you'll never be involved in a dating scandal, so cheers for that,” Seokjin says and Yoongi nods.
“I know I'm right, Yoongi. When the artist is a female, or worse, a group of females, and the manager is at least decently good-looking, dating rumours are inevitable.”
“Ask Jin-hyung how many times he ended up on a magazine cover,” Yoongi teases and Seokjin hits him upside the head.
“Don't listen to him, Jimin. Jungkook knows how to stay away from scandals he can't benefit from.”
“What about those he doesn't manage to escape?” Jimin asks.
“It's your job to prevent them from happening,” Seokjin says.
Jimin reaches for Yoongi's glass instead of his own and downs soju in one gulp. It burns down his throat, but that's nothing compared to how much Jungkook can burn him.
- - -
Jungkook stumbles into his apartment in the middle of the night, alcohol buzzing in his bloodstream and the world spinning in a different direction because the floor is most definitely moving under his feet.
The fashion show that he attended was an extremely boring two hours during which reporters spent more time taking photos of the celebrities in the first row instead of the models with toothpick bones wearing the latest creations of a young designer destined to be the next star of the Korean fashion industry; but the after-party was a big success with no nosy reporters waiting for the fake polite smiles to disappear from the faces of the stars and with champagne fountains and strawberries dipped in dark chocolate.
Jungkook wasted no time on polite greetings and “Oh how wonderful” and “Yes, I'll try to come” and traded small talk for a few drinks and flirting with the designer's muse – a twenty-something gorgeous model with long black hair and big brown eyes. Her small pink lips stretched in a dazzling smile while a glass of bubbly wine sat prettily on her palm. She talked about irrelevant things and laughed at her own jokes and Jungkook pretended that he cared about her friend getting stuck in an elevator with her dog.
He ordered one too many drinks and hoped to spend a pleasant night with her in a luxurious hotel suite, but the designer showed up, put an arm around her small waist and pulled her away from Jungkook who was left with a glass of watered down whiskey in his hand.
He left the party with a loosened tie and top two buttons of his dress shirt unbuttoned and slipped out the back, avoiding the paparazzis waiting in the lobby. He climbed into the wrong limousine, but neither he nor the driver cared. When Jungkook said the address, the man countered with a price that Jungkook would gladly pay just to get him out of there.
Half an hour later, he's tripping over his doorstep with liquor singing in his ears.
His penthouse is more luxurious than any hotel suite he could be in, but there is nobody to keep him company. His footsteps echo in the corridor, bouncing off the walls decorated with paintings of artists whose exhibitions are filled to the brim with modern art enthusiasts. Jungkook looks around and sees nothing more than too thick layers of paint, violent brush strokes and a mess of bleeding colors that should mean something, that should look like something, but his vision is blurry and the sharp outlines blend together in a giant splash of paint on the wall.
Blue reminds him of water and he feels thirst clawing at the back of his throat, so he dumps his blazer and tie on a plush sofa in the living room and heads to the kitchen. With dim lights of the cityscape behind windows stretching from floor to the ceiling as his only guide, Jungkook drops two glasses that he takes out of the cabinet on the ceramic tiles before managing to fill the third one with lukewarm tap water. It tastes awful when he takes a sip, so he washes his mouth with it and spits it back into the sink.
The room is spinning around him and it's making him nauseous. Broken glass cracks under the soles of his shoes and the temperature in his apartment has risen a good ten degrees since he returned home. Jungkook tries to unbutton his shirt, but his fingers are a little shaky and numb and he ends up tearing the buttons away. He leaves his shirt somewhere between the kitchen and the bathroom.
Tiles are cold and comforting underneath him when he bends down in front of the toilet bowl and pukes. With a flush of a toilet, everything's back to normal because when all you consume is alcohol and half of it ends in your bloodstream while the other half disappears down the drain, you're bound to feel better.
Jungkook wipes his face with a cashmere towel and looks in the mirror. Even with dim lights, what he sees is still a pop star even though the make-up is smudged and the outfit is torn at the seams, but that's the beauty of a bad boy concept – ripped to pieces and still able to make the girls scream their lungs out.
Jungkook runs a hand down his face and it looks like a High Cut pictorial with a working title “Young and reckless and ready to die” and a concept inspired by wasted youth, his youth.
- - -
The address that Yoongi had given him after he became Jungkook's manager, leads him to an exclusive neighborhood with mansions and vast gardens hidden behind high concrete fences while the glass towers rise from the ground only to disappear in the clouds. It's an urbanistic anomaly with concrete and grass mixing as two story houses and skyscrapers exist side by side, with cafes and restaurants snugly fitted in the bottom floors, unnoticed by any stray passers-by.
Jimin parks the company car on the opposite side of the street of the building where Jungkook lives and runs the short distance to the lobby because they'll be late if he doesn't hurry.
Jungkook has a scheduled filming for a variety show in an hour and usually Jimin would get a text message from a staff member saying that Jungkook has already arrived, but this morning Jimin has come to the filming site two hours early to discuss upcoming tour with Jungkook only to find the stylists running around in panic because the main star still hasn't arrived. Jimin tried to reassure them that Jungkook would be here any second only to get a “Jungkook always arrives three hours early. This is preposterous” in return. So, Jimin took off and here is he now, stepping inside the glass tower.
The man behind a reception desk straightens in his chair when he sees Jimin approaching him.
“Excuse me Sir,” he calls and Jimin stops in his tracks.
“You can't come in unless you're invited by a resident. These are privacy rules, I hope you understand,” the guard says with a polite smile.
“I'm here for Jeon Jungkook,” Jimin says and the man chuckles.
“As is the entire nation. But fans aren't allowed in and even if they were, Mr Jeon doesn't live here.”
“I'm not a fan,” Jimin responds, irritation underlining his words. “I'm Park Jimin, Jungkook's manager. Now, can I pass?”
The guard narrows his eyes at Jimin before reaching out for the phone on his desk. Jimin sees him dial a familiar number.
“I have to check, Sir. Just a minute. You're free to sit and wait,” the man says gesturing at a small sitting area in the corner. Jimin raises his eyebrow, but doesn't sit down.
As the guard talks with a BigHit representative, Jimin whips out his phone and sends Yoongi a message asking for a pass code to Jungkook's apartment. The reply comes a few minutes later when he's exiting the elevator on the last floor.
After punching in the password, Jimin pushes the door open only to be greeted with absolute silence. He walks around the cold apartment, feeling almost like he's in a museum where everywhere around him are exhibits that mustn't be touched. He looks out of the large windows, wondering if Jungkook feels like he's on the top of the world when he sees Seoul like this or if he feels lonely surrounded by so much glass and metal, before he heads down the hallway looking for Jungkook in every room he passes by.
When he finds him hugging a toilet bowl in the bathroom, stench of alcohol and stomach acid in the air, Jimin takes out his phone from his pocket and calls Yoongi. As soon as Yoongi picks up, he asks “What is the excuse you used to give producers when Jungkook is hung-over and he can't make it to a schedule?”
- - -
Jungkook doesn't remember having enough strength to change into his pyjamas and get in bed, but he wakes up under warm blankets and with a throbbing headache.
The curtains are drawn and the little light that barely manages to find its way into the room is enough to make him notice Jimin sitting on the edge of his bed. His back is turned to Jungkook, he's playing with his phone, the bright light coming from the screen illuminating his frame. When Jungkook pushes himself up so that he is sitting on the bed, Jimin turns around, an attempt of a smile covering his face.
Jungkook's head is pounding, but the room isn't spinning around him anymore and Jimin isn't just a blur of colors and soft edges, so that's something.
“Good morning,” Jimin says, voice barely above a whisper, and yet it rings loud and clear in Jungkook's head.
“Christ,” Jungkook hisses. “You have no right to yell at me.”
“I'm not yelling, Jungkook. You're hung-over and everything is ten times louder. Take the meds on the nighstand and come to the dining room. I'll make your breakfast.”
“You cook?” Jungkook can't help his curiosity. He doesn't care about Jimin or what he does, but his head aches and his ability to think logically left him somewhere around the fifth drink last night.
Jimin gives him a smile, a real one this time. “Come out and you'll see for yourself,” he says before he slips out the room.
For a few minutes, Jungkook does nothing and just sits there. He tries to piece together the remains of his memories from the last night in hopes that he'll get a clear picture of what happened, but the puzzle pieces he has aren't enough to reconstruct the whole picture, only the fragments.
He was on a fashion show, then at the bar. He hoped to spend the night with a beautiful woman sitting next to him, but somehow he ended up in his apartment instead of a hotel suite.
He buries his face in the palms of his hands and counts to ten. If there was a scandal, he'd be at a press conference trying to deny whatever stupidity he had done and Jimin wouldn't be smiling at him and making him breakfast, but he's in his room, still in his pyjamas and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee coming through the open door tickles his nose.
There are two white pills and a tall glass of water on his nightstand. He swallows them down and crawls up. He can't be bothered with changing into something decent, not when his legs are shaking underneath him and the marble floor in the hallway is pleasantly cold under his feet. When he comes to the dining room, Jimin has already set everything up. The food looks great, maybe even better than the stuff they serve in restaurants, but Jungkook's stomach grumbles in protest when he takes a small bite. It tastes like cardboard and plastic, like acrylic apples and grape they set up in crystal bowls on the tables in the kitchen section of Ikea. His taste buds are numb, his mouth dry. Instead of swallowing the food, bile rises from the pit of his stomach and Jungkook runs to the bathroom.
While he's retching out acid and whatever is left of the painkillers, Jimin throws the food in the garbage.
He finds Jungkook hugging the toilet bowl, just like he did five hours ago. Under unrelenting neon light in the bathroom, Jungkook looks young, so young and so lost. There's no make-up to cover his dark circles and his scars, there's nothing to hide behind. He grew up under a glass bell and in practice rooms; he grew up not prepared for the consequences that reckless decisions carry.
Jimin takes a clean towel from the shelf and dumps it under the cold water. The sound of running water seems to calm Jungkook down and he leans against the wall. Jimin kneels beside him and wipes the beads of sweat off his forehead.
“Why did you do this to yourself?” Jimin asks, carefully, softly.
“I'm an adult. I can drink at a party.”
“You missed the filming today.”
“So?” Jungkook retorts. “All those producers only want my face and nothing else. National star Jeon Jungkook to increase their miserable ratings. That is if they can afford to pay me.”
His head is killing him, his thoughts are a mess, but for once he doesn't care what he says. He can say whatever the fuck he wants because the only person that can hear him is Jimin and Jimin is paid to keep all his secrets. It is his job to listen to Jungkook with deaf ears.
“It's not like that,” Jimin says. He wipes his cheek with the damp towel and when he tries to pull his hand away, Jungkook grabs his wrist.
“But it is. People only care when you pay them to. And that's why you're here as well, Jimin.”
Jimin wants to say something, to protest, to deny, but his skin is burning under Jungkook's fingers and when the younger lets him go in favor of bending over the toilet bowl to puke again, Jimin doesn't know what to say.
- - -
Taking care of Jungkook, making sure that he arrives at the shooting site on time, that he does not miss a fansign, that he eats at least once a day so that he's able to stand on his own feet without fainting is Jimin's job. His contract says so. The paycheck that he gets every month says so.
No emotions. Just professionalism. A set of rules that must be followed.
But sometimes, sometimes Jungkook sheds off his cold exterior like snakes do with their skin and Jimin has to remind himself where his place is – by Jungkook's side. Not with him, but his shadow.
- - -
It's so fucking cold that Jungkook doesn't feel his toes or his fingers. The only source of warmth is the small orange flame licking the end of a cigarette resting between his knobby fingers.
With lungs filled with smoke and a stomach full of nicotine, hunger's claws are a little less sharp, the scratches they leave on his insides hurt a little less.
Comeback means diets and bones sharper than knives, endless dance practices and vocal lessons and sleep-deprivation, smoke breaks on the fire escape in the middle of the night with cold wind biting his cheeks and chapped lips.
Cigarette butts litter the floor because lungs that aren't used to smoke can't take much before the wind blows the fire out and he has to light up another one and another one until there's only one cigarette left in the pack and Jungkook stares at it – at the dirty yellow paper of the filter and snow white cancer stick that should help him, or at least, that's what he heard.
“What are you doing?”
Jimin's voice snaps him back to reality and Jungkook jerks his head in the direction of the voice.
“What does it seem like?” Jungkook retorts and Jimin tilts his head to the side. The wind ruffles his hair, bangs falling in his eyes. He's wearing a black coat with grey turtle neck, his hands are tucked in his pockets, his cheeks dusty pink from the cold, but compared to Jungkook's oversized t-shirt that does nothing to protect him from the upcoming winter, Jimin looks warm. So warm, even though his gaze is stern.
“You'll catch a cold,” Jimin says matter-of-factly. “Let's go inside.”
“Give me a minute,” Jungkook says and he's pulling the cigarette from the pack, bringing it to his lips. Before he has the chance to light it up, Jimin yanks it away and crushes it with the sole of his shoe.
“Asshole,” Jungkook spits out. “I needed that.”
“No, you didn't. I heard you coughing out your lungs on the way here. You're not a smoker, Jungkook. You're doing it -”
“I'm doing it because it makes me calm,” Jungkook says, voice cracking at the last word. When he realizes what he has just said, he diverts his gaze to the cityscape behind Jimin's back, to the lights flickering in the distance.
Together they wait, nobody saying a word for the minutes that come. The night falls on the city of million souls that don't know each other and never will. When the wind starts blowing harder, Jimin takes off his coat and drapes it over Jungkook's shoulders. It's warm and Jungkook's fingers itch to pull it closer to his body.
“I thought that the preparations are going smoothly,” Jimin says, his breath like white smoke.
A small smile shifts Jungkook's features for a fleeting moment, before it disappears and the same old expression regains control.
“They are. The concept, the songs, the choreography – everything is perfect. Everything but me,” he says bitterly. “But two or three sleepless weeks should fix that, just like they always do.”
“Sleep deprivation makes you jittery?”
Jimin doesn't expect an answer to that, but Jungkook nods his head, a soft “a little” escaping his lips.
“And smoking helps?” he prompts. He's asking too much, too personal; he's probably overstepping some marginal boundary in their relationship where the thoughts and sentiments collide and everything is tangible – from the way Jungkook's blunt nails dig into his palms to the way the air escapes their mouths like white fog. Jungkook is tangible, a mess of stretched muscles and sharp bones, unhealthy pale skin and purple bruises under his eyes.
“Not really,” Jungkook admits. “It eases the hunger. I'm on a diet. Remember?”
Strict diet plans, hours upon hours spent in the gym, height and weight hanging over Jungkook's head like a false halo. There's no bad boy image without a jawline sharp as glass.
Jungkook doesn't wait for Jimin's reply because in the next moment he adds, “Or maybe not. I'm not sure whether that's written in your contract.”
“I thought that we moved away from that.”
“It's hard because you wouldn't be here if it weren't for that,” Jungkook says, voice devoid of emotion once again.
Everytime Jimin thinks that they made a step forward, Jungkook pushes them back to the starting line. Everytime Jimin tries to reach out to him, Jungkook bites the outstretched hand until there's blood trickling down Jimin's fingers.
Jimin takes a deep breath and straightens up. This has to end and it has to end now.
“You're right,” Jimin says and Jungkook looks at him, eyes like august moons, irises dark as the night.
“I am?” he asks, voice unusually high and uncertain, like he doesn't believe the words he just said.
“Yes, I might just be here because it's my job, but I'm damn well trying to take care of you, but you won't even have a proper conversation with me. It's not my fault that Yoongi-hyung isn't here to console you, but it will be my fault if you get sick, so please, Jungkook, let's go inside,” Jimin says. He feels a little out of breath, like he finally got rid of the burden that was pressed on his chest, like-
Jungkook's getting up, leaving the crumpled cigarette box on the stair he was sitting on. His expression is soft when he says “Let's go inside”.
- - -
In the days that come, Jungkook talks to him about small, irrelevant things.
The Music Bank is over, Jungkook is carrying yet another trophy in his hands as he comes down from the stage. One of the staff members comes to greet him and to take the trophy, to wrap it in up and send it to BigHit Entertainment. His make-up is minimal and the clothes that he's wearing are something that could also be worn on the street, so Jungkook waves off the make-up artist when she comes to remove his make-up and thanks his stylist for a great job. Jimin watches from the sidelines as Jungkook gets ready to leave.
They leave the building after all the fans and majority of the performers are gone. Security measures, Jimin recalls, since the Music Bank doesn't have a strict security system like Inkigayo does. Once they're outside and the almost white winter sun is shining, Jungkook looks up at the cloudless sky and says, “The weather is nice. Like it isn't winter.”
Jimin nods and gets behind the steering wheel of the company car.
Early morning hours find them in the practice room. Jimin has dozed off and on over the last few hours, but Jungkook's still in the recording booth, trying to master the high notes for the song that will be a surprise for the last stages in this promotional cycle. During the small break that he can only afford because the last three takes were the closest to perfection as they can get, Jungkook taps his fingers on the glass trying to catch Jimin's attention.
Jimin pauses the game he's been playing in order to entertain himself and stay awake because coffee could only keep him on his feet for so long and looks at Jungkook.
There's something akin to a sheepish smile on Jungkook's face, it's almost like he feels guilty for waking Jimin up, but Jimin knows better.
“When does the practice end?” Jungkook asks, his voice hoarse and rough. He's been pushing himself too hard, again.
“Half an hour. You think you can manage?” Jimin asks in return and Jungkook nods.
Jungkook talks to him with polite gestures and small smiles yet empty eyes and somehow they're back at square one, except this time it is a different chessboard and Jimin has no clue what to expect when he makes the next move.
- - -
Jungkook is the one to make the next move. He's the one to call at 1 a.m. with panic choking him and despair thick in his voice.
By the time Jimin arrives at the dance studio, Hoseok's already there, sitting on the floor with Jungkook's head in his lap, his long fingers threading through Jungkook's hair, calming him down.
“Are you sure you don't want to stay with me?” Jimin can hear Hoseok ask and he doesn't plan to eavesdrop, but Jungkook's reply catches him off guard.
“No, I – it'll be better to stay with Jimin-hyung. He has a cat.”
“I have a dog,” Hoseok protests.
“Cats are better,” Jungkook replies, and he's getting a tiny bit defensive. Jimin recognizes that tone of his voice, it's the one Jungkook uses for answering the questions like “Is this song your favorite because you composed it?” and “Which junior do you think is worthy of becoming your heir?”
“Or maybe Jimin is better,” Hoseok laughs. Jimin can hear sound of skin against skin, probably Jungkook hitting Hoseok, followed by a loud yelp. He tries to stop himself from giggling.
“Fuck you, hyung.”
“C'mon, Jungkookie. Don't be like this. Everybody who knows you for as long as I do can tell that you don't hate your new manager.”
“I don't like him.”
“Sure you don't. Just keep telling yourself that,” Hoseok says, voice full of mirth. “At first, you were bitter because Yoongi-hyung was taken away from you so you were an asshole towards Jimin and you did your best to make his life a living hell in hopes that he would quit, but Jiminnie is a tough cookie so over the months you fucked up on purpose to give him a big fat reason to leave, except that through your childish tantrums, you realized that he's a nice guy and now you don't know how to say sorry. Am I right or am I right?” Hoseok finishes his little monologue.
“It's not like that,” Jungkook huffs.
“I heard you asking him about the weather the other day. It so is like I said. Jeon Jungkook, Asia's heartthrob, acting like an awkward teenager -”
Jimin figures that he has heard enough so he knocks on the door and the voices coming from the studio die out.
When he enters, he notices a bag of ice pressed to Jungkook's ankle.
“Hi, Jiminnie,” Hoseok greets him with a smile. “I took care of Jungkookie for you. It's nothing serious. Nothing's been broken. He should rest for a few days and he'll be as good as new.”
“That's it?” Jimin asks not quite believing Hoseok's words.
“Yep. You're free to take our superstar home and nurture him back to life,” Hoseok beams at him and all Jimin can do is to nod.
- - -
Leaning on the wall outside Jimin's apartment, Jungkook watches his manager fumble with the keys until he finds the one that opens his front door. Dim hallway lights hang above their heads, the long shadows stretch across the walls.
The sound of unlocking the door shakes Jungkook out of his thoughts and he notices the way Jimin is looking at him.
“Do you need help?” Jimin asks, eyebrows knitted together and worry lacing his voice.
“Yeah,” Jungkook answers, half a laugh, half a plead, and Jimin wraps an arm around his waist to help him stand up. At this proximity, Jungkook can almost smell the sweet scent of Jimin's shampoo and he throws his arm over Jimin's shoulders. When they enter, Jungkook limping and relying more on Jimin than he'd like to admit, he realizes that Jimin's apartment has changed since the last time he was here. Jimin turns on the lights and Jungkook notices papers and planners scattered on Jimin's coffee table and the floor.
“The place is a mess. I'm sorry,” Jimin says as he helps Jungkook take off his shoes and then leads him down the hallway to the guest room.
“It's okay, the comeback is near. Everybody is preparing for it.”
Jimin hums in agreement as he searches spare blankets and extra pillows in the closet while Jungkook sits on the bed and watches him.
“But not everybody is hurting themselves in the process,” Jimin says.
“That's the part of the job,” Jungkook replies, trying to move his foot, to test how much it still hurts and how long it'll take him to get used to the dull pain, before he'll be able to return to the practice room. Comeback mustn't be delayed even if he has to live on painkillers and energy drinks.
“It doesn't have to be. Breaks are an option too.”
“Yeah, but sometimes they mean quitting and I can't do that, not now,” Jungkook winces as he shifts on the bed. The painkillers that Hoseok gave him are slowly wearing off.
Jimin puts the spare blankets on the foot of the bed along with pyjamas.
“I figured. Do you need anything else?”
“No, I'm fine,” Jungkook replies and Jimin turns to leave. Before he closes the door, Jungkook remembers Hoseok's words and clears his throat.
“Jimin?” he calls.
- - -
In the morning, Jimin finds Jungkook sprawled on the floor in the living room, his back against the sofa, his hurt ankle propped on a pillow. The TV is running on low, murmur of high-pitched voice disturbed by the sound of a cat purring and it's only when Jimin looks away from the cartoon rerun that he notices Lucifer in Jungkook's lap, Jungkook's fingers threading through his fur while his gaze stays locked on the animated characters on the screen.
Jimin doesn't blame him. Sunday mornings are perfect for wasting time on cartoons because the news and serious talk-shows never start before ten o'clock.
Jungkook laughs when one of the characters does something stupid and Jimin wonders whether this episode is a rerun for Jungkook as well, a reminder of sweet childhood years and cookies with milk before breakfast, but then he remembers that childhood is what Jungkook has traded for success, idle Sunday mornings for early practices, and this is probably the first time that Jungkook is watching this show while Jimin grew up with these characters.
“Good morning,” Jimin says and Jungkook throws his head back to look at him. Jimin appears to be upside down, hanging from the ceiling, and Jungkook allows the smile to stay on his face.
“Morning,” he replies, voice melodic and soft.
“Did he bother you?” Jimin asks, gesturing to the cat in Jungkook's lap. “He's kinda antisocial and bad with new people.”
“But I'm not new,” Jungkook laughs. “I was here after the car accident when I trashed the Ferrari. We know each other.”
Jimin scratches the back of his neck. “Right, thanks for the reminder. But I'm really glad that he remembers because otherwise you would have ended up with scratches on your arms and face and my insurance probably wouldn't have covered the awful things your fans would have done to me afterwards.”
“Don't worry about that. If it ever happened, my stylist would throw me in a street fight inspired photoshoot and make the cuts a part of the scenography. You'd be safe,” Jungkook says and Jimin takes note of the way Jungkook's looking at him – no anger or spite, no false authority and hidden threats. It's a good change and Jimin hopes that it lasts.
“Thanks, that's good to know. Now, do you want some coffee or tea?” Jimin asks as he turns on his heels and heads to the kitchen. He hears Jungkook saying that coffee sounds great.
- - -
Over the next week, company calls Jimin exactly three times.
Once to inform him that Jungkook's injury was actually a good thing because his postponed comeback falls at the same time as the debut of the new boy group, which means that Jungkook could be a great promoter for them – a few photos on instagram with the members, a few song recommendations on twitter and the new group would have a solid fanbase even though it'd be made mostly out of Jungkook's fans.
The other two times to remind Jimin that there's in fact a national superstar living in his apartment and that he should be careful about who he invites over and where they go together. But the thing is that Jungkook doesn't want to go anywhere. He likes Jimin's small apartment and the photos on the walls and the row of cacti on the window ledge in the kitchen and his cat that seems to hate everybody else. It's warm and cozy, it feels like home and Jungkook stops dreaming of falling in the center of the stage under unrelenting lights.
- - -
Jungkook's injury heals in two weeks and everything's back to normal; to the endless dance practices and vocal lessons. Jimin sits in the back of the dance studio, going over last minute changes for the Japan tour. When he looks up from the papers, he catches a glimpse of Jungkook's smile in the mirror.
He's practicing the dance break for his comeback performance and Hoseok has really outdone himself this time. Jungkook bends and breaks, his reflection does the same and there's an odd sense of equilibrium when all moves fall into place and he stops tripping over his own two feet.
When the song ends and the drumming of rain against the window panes and of his heart in his ribcage is all Jungkook can hear, he grabs a towel from the floor and wipes the sweat off his face. Jimin offers him a water bottle and Jungkook gladly accepts it, collapsing on the floor near Jimin. He rests his weight on his elbows and throws his head back, staring at the ceiling.
“That was good,” Jimin says.
“If I say that it was amazing, you'll just get cocky.”
Jungkook snickers and looks at Jimin. “So, it was amazing?”
“Not quite, but you're getting there,” Jimin replies.
That's a lie. Jungkook is already amazing. Carrying so much weight on his shoulders and still managing to smile, giving up on so many things just to make sure that everything goes as planned, staying up late, practicing until dawn just to meet the high standards set by somebody who will never reach his level.
At first, Jimin has been unaware of many things, his job limited to schedules and getting somewhere on time, but over the last month, Jungkook has let him in his life, one moment at a time and he finally understands why Jungkook was so furious when Yoongi got moved to manage a different band. In a way, that was like saying goodbye to a good friend after they had already left.
Jimin doesn't plan to leave and if a time when he has to go ever comes, he wants to, at least, say a proper goodbye.
- - -
The new promotional cycle starts at Inkigayo and skittering idols and hysterical stylists remind Jimin of his first day on the job about a year ago when Jungkook was a brooding portrait of a star greater than life and Jimin returned home with coffee and milkshake stains on his shirts for the months that came.
But this time is different even though the cups of coffee he's carrying are the same flavor as then.
When he opens the door of Jungkook's dressing room, he's greeted with a smile and not a frown. Jungkook spins around in his chair, his dark blue hair a mess because there's still plenty of time left. When you're the biggest star that is to step on the stage that night, you perform last because good things are worth waiting for.
“Extra sugar?” Jungkook asks.
“And extra cream.”
“Awesome,” Jungkook replies.
He gets up, crosses the short distance between them and takes the cup from Jimin. Jungkook is hovering over him just like a year ago, but this time there's no fear of spilt coffee down Jimin's white shirt and Jungkook's snarky remarks. Jungkook takes a sip, enjoying the taste, before reaching out to ruffle Jimin's hair, but Jimin takes a step back.
“Don't you dare,” Jimin threatens, but his words are empty.
“But hyung,” Jungkook protests, false pout on his face, the same one that makes fangirls cry.
“No. Nothing hyung. My hair looks nice and you won't ruin it,” Jimin says, avoiding Jungkook's grabby hand.
A disappointed sigh escapes Jungkook's lips, before he takes another sip of his coffee and his expression morphs from slight discouragement to mischief.
“You dressed up because Seohyun-noona will be my coordi today?” Jungkook asks with a sly smile.
“What? No,” Jimin shrieks. “It's not like that.”
“Okay, maybe not her. Maybe not even a noona then?” he asks, still eager.
“Hmm... who else? Taeyang-hyung is nice too, but a little too old for you, don't you think so?”
A warm blush paints Jimin's cheeks in pink and red as he says, “Can't you drop this? There are other things you should worry about, like your performance.”
“That will go smoothly. You know how much I practiced,” Jungkook says with a smile because Jimin knows – the sleepless nights and healthy snacks, celery sticks and energy drinks. He was there to witness the way Jungkook pulled himself apart only to be reborn as the more perfect version of himself.
- - -
Friday morning and Incheon is crowded, full to the brim and over. Business people returning from Japan and China mingle with tourists and fans armed with DSLRs waiting for Jungkook to arrive. All they want is to snap a few photos and say goodbye, but good manners are forgotten when Jungkook steps out of the van with tinted windows and the crowd rushes forward, flashes snapping and people pushing.
It has always been like this and it always will be, distance melting with every second until Jungkook feels trapped, a god taken down from his pedestal and put among his worshipers.
Bodyguards are around him, pushing away grabby hands and bags full of presents, of home-baked goods that aren't safe from him to consume, and Jungkook looks down, shrinking into himself and the black face mask that he's wearing. Jimin is walking a few steps in front of him, sunglasses perched high on the bridge of his nose. He's talking with one of the bodyguards, reprimanding the man for not clearing the airport or at least providing an alternate way to reach the check-in. Jungkook hears bits and pieces of his words, catching the meaning of broken syllables and by now, he should be used to all of this, he should stop and pose and hope that when the memory cards are filled with almost candid photos that at least the fansite owners would step back, but the time is working against him. Everything is. Every departure and arrival is the same since he was nineteen and magazines had put him on the list of the most desirable men.
Jimin starts walking faster when he can see the customs and an irrational fear that he might lose him in this unsteady sea of people pushes Jungkook forward. He stretches out his hand to grab Jimin's, their fingers brushing against each other, warm skin and jolts of electricity and the feeling of being safe, but then both of them remember that there are cameras, people watching over them like hawks and Jimin's hand falls by his side as Jungkook releases a breath he wasn't aware he was holding.
Haneda airport comes a few hours later and it's the same thing but different people. Jimin can see the nervousness in the set of Jungkook's jaw when the security informs them that the airport is swarming.
“Can we walk VIP?” Jimin asks, his eyes and voice and expression cold.
The head of the airport security nods, “It'll take us a bit of time to organize everything since you haven't informed us beforehand.”
“That's okay. We can wait.”
When the security guard leaves and they're left alone, Jungkook visibly relaxes.
“Thank you, hyung.“
“Don't mention it. We could've done the same for Incheon,” Jimin says and Jungkook bites his lips.
“I know, but I try not to since the fans are the driving force of this all. They practically made me.”
“Even though they like the concept you portray and not the real you?” Jimin asks, taking in the way that Jungkook shifts his weight from foot to foot, fatigue and jet leg sinking into his heavy bones.
“Yeah,” Jungkook replies after a moment of pregnant silence and smiles.
- - -
Tokyo is different from Seoul – modern architecture colliding with centuries old tradition of building homes, small shops passed down the same family for generations squeezed between skyscrapers of cold glass, but the schedule is the same – breakfast, rehearsal, press conference, performance, meet and greet and then repeat all of that the next day – and the hotel suite Jungkook's staying in is almost identical to his penthouse in Seoul because replicas of what should be a home are always just that – replicas of comfortable furniture and expensive paintings and zero feeling of what a home should be.
Jimin makes sure that everything goes as planned, that Jungkook doesn't mix his answers rehearsed in polite Japanese that always sounds just a little bit broken, but maybe that's the charm. That and his smile, rehearsed as well because nobody smiles so brightly with sharp teeth bared.
And when all of it passes – cameras turn off, stylists roll the costume rack out and make-up artists wash away the foundation and eyeliner off his face – Jungkook sits on the suite balcony and watches flickering lights of Tokyo or Yokohama or Osaka because in the dark every city looks the same – neon lights and lost souls and taxi drivers that charge too much for a five minute ride.
Jimin puts the papers with information printed neatly in black ink down on the glass coffee table and gets up from the sofa. In the wardrobe he finds a blanket and drapes it over Jungkook's shoulders when the wind starts to blow, swallowing their words and turning them into a song.
Jungkook says something about being lonely even though he's never alone and tugs Jimin closer until they're standing side by side. He wraps the blanket around Jimin's shoulders and feels the warmth creep up his cold fingers when he touches Jimin.
Japan is different from Korea and when moving from one country to the next, they're changing as well. It scares Jungkook as much as it liberates him.
- - -
Jungkook realizes that he's scared as he watches Jimin argue with security guards that didn't check passes of everybody who wondered backstage and a few fans managed to find their way to the staff rooms but luckily not to Jungkook's dressing room. Jimin is speaking in a hushed tone, his voice melodic, ever-so-pleasant yet acidic, harsh words in fluent Japanese with cold honorifics.
Jungkook is terrified that I could become we and me could turn to us as Jimin sighs and raises his hands in the air, words not enough anymore and gestures as the last means of declaration of things. He sends the guard off and when he turns around, furrowed eyebrows and a straight line of his lips, yet warm eyes when they meet Jungkook's, Jungkook takes a deep breath and holds it in.
It's only when they're back in the hotel in some nameless Japanese city and the doors of the room close behind their backs, that Jungkook releases it.
“Are you okay?” Jimin asks, tossing his jacket on the chair and running his hand through his hair.
“I'm fine,” Jungkook replies, cold of the evening seeping in his skin when he opens the window and cool night breeze sweeps in the room.
Jimin doesn't seem to have heard him, a million thoughts buzzing in his head, all possible worst case scenarios flashing in brilliant vivid colors behind his eyelids every time he blinks.
“So many bad things could have happened,” Jimin says. “But it's not their fault. It's mine. I should've seen that coming. I should have reacted sooner. It's my job to make you feel safe and today – God, today was just a disaster.”
Jimin is rambling, slurred syllables and broken words; satoori slipping in standard speech and all Jungkook manages to say to stop the flood of apologies ready to slip past Jimin's bitten lips is “I feel safe with you”.
Jimin lifts his head to look at him, liquid gold hardening in his irises, but Jungkook has already left the room and Jimin can hear the sound of running water coming from the bathroom, but the echo of Jungkook's words overpowers everything.
- - -
They're back in Korea and it's cold again – frozen breaths and cheeks and hands.
Jimin pulls over in front of Jungkook's apartment building and shakes Jungkook's shoulder to wake him up. Jungkook shifts in the passenger seat, yawns before his eyelids flutter open and he looks outside – at the light piercing the veil of darkness surrounding the glass tower that he should call home.
“We're here,” Jimin says, half a chuckle, half a broken promise, and his lips stretch in what should be a smile.
“Can we go to your place?” Jungkook asks, sleep clinging to his eyelashes, “Mine's probably cold.”
The heating is off, he wants to say. And even when it's not, there's so much glass and marble that no amount of heat could warm it up. And Jimin's apartment is probably warm, air humid in small closed space and cacti blossoming on the window ledge, bright red and pink and yellow flowers that appear only once every few years.
Jimin looks at him, hands gripping the steering wheel, knuckles white, but Jungkook's focused on the traffic light out of function down the street, on yellow that blinks and blinks and blinks.
“Sure,” he replies. “But we have to make a stop on the way there. I have to pick up Lucifer from a friend who agreed to take care of him while I was away in exchange for sweets from Japan.”
“So, that's why you got all those different flavored Kit-Kats wherever we went?”
“Kinda. I thought that you could do no wrong with chocolate,” Jimin laughs and Jungkook joins him.
Somewhere between watching Jimin disappear in the entryway of a four stories high building in an unknown neighborhood and taking the cat in his lap when Jimin returned, Jungkook realizes that he doesn't know what he's doing or where he's headed or what to expect at the end of this road with too many sharp turns. When he looks back, it's almost comical how much the time since Jimin became his manager resembles the dramas his cousin liked to watch when she was babysitting him when he was just a little boy mixing his l's and r's and the stage wasn't even a dream.
There was hatred; open, blunt dislike mixed with attempts to destroy the trust Jimin had in him and which Jungkook couldn't understand; then it shifted to falling apart in front of Jimin's eyes, baring everything with snarky remarks while clinging to the threads of that same broken trust and in the end, Jungkook notes as he scratches Lucifer behind the ears and listens to the cat and the engine purr in sync, Hoseok was right – he likes Jimin.
But Jimin isn't one of the people who he could pick up on some after-party, fuck into oblivion knowing that they'll leave the hotel room and say nothing to anybody because there are no strings attached. Jimin can't be bought with a promise of “see you again” and false phone number scribbled on a napkin soaked in liquor, only to be forgotten once the hung-over passes, like a short-term memory. Jimin isn't one of the people Jungkook so carelessly fucks around with knowing fully well that there will be no consequences because the pretty models and attractive singers sell their image – their false innocence and shy glances – to the hungry masses.
Jungkook doesn't want Jimin to be one of those people.
- - -
Jimin figures that what Jungkook needs after a successfully wrapped up tour aren't photoshoots for High Cut and Vogue Korea and eager reporters wanting to hear how it went and what the main difference between fans in different countries is. Jungkook needs a break – from practices and recordings, from curious and possessive fans that know more about him than he himself, from hiding behind hats and sunglasses, from life as he lives it.
With phone pressed between his cheek and his shoulder and scrambled eggs frying in the pan, Jimin talks with the CEO's assistant. When everything is confirmed, a smile spreads across his face and he hangs up.
Waking Jungkook up is a task Jimin is used to by now, but waking him up as he sleeps in Jimin's guest room, hugging a fluffy pillow while the covers are nearly on the floor and Jimin's cat sits on the other side of the bed staring at Jungkook with emerald green eyes is different. Jimin doesn't remember when he gave it to Jungkook, but he's wearing one of Jimin's oversized t-shirts and his face is peaceful, worries replaced with sweet dreams. It's like he's wearing a face two decades too young, and Jimin sits on the edge of the bed and reaches out his hand to ruffle Jungkook's already messy hair.
Lucifer jumps off the bed tempted by the smell of the food. Jimin watches him leave the room, wondering how big of a mess he'd find in the kitchen later.
“Hey, sleepyhead,” Jimin says as he threads his fingers through Jungkook's hair. “It's time to get up.”
The younger reacts to the touch almost immediately, like a cat would, and Jimin chuckles.
Sometimes it's so easy to forget that they're connected with a contract and not friendship, by sleepless nights and schedules and not star gazing and skipping class when they were younger. Sometimes the line between professional and personal is nothing but the wall separating Jimin's apartment and the outside world in which Jeon Jungkook is Asia's most beloved pop star and Jimin is the one who has to make sure that it stays that way.
“C'mon, Jungkook,” Jimin says, his fingertips dancing down Jungkook's neck, blunt nails grazing soft skin. A shiver runs down Jungkook's spine and he moves his head to look at Jimin, sleep lines across his cheeks. He mumbles something between “leave me alone” and “five more minutes”, but Jimin doesn't quite catch it, syllables slurred, his voice hoarse from disuse.
After a few moments in which his breathing falls in sync with Jimin's fingers moving up and down, Jungkook opens his eyes and catches Jimin's gaze and something there that he has never noticed before.
“Will you watch Pixar flicks with me?” Jungkook asks and Jimin laughs, warm and bubbly and bright.
“No,” he replies and Jungkook's expression changes to irritation and pouting. “Because we have some other plans,” he adds and the deep lines between Jungkook's eyebrows even out.
- - -
10 a.m. finds them in the outskirts of Seoul, glass skyscrapers behind their back and the open road ahead of them, the black company car with tinted windows traded for a small silver Hyundai with candy wrappers on the dashboard.
Jungkook has found a radio station with music from better times when a beautiful voice was the only asset that a singer needed and he's softly singing along to the parts of the chorus that he knows. Jimin's tapping his fingers on the steering wheel matching the beat as the concrete around them melts to nature.
“Where are we going?” Jungkook asks in the pause between two songs.
Without taking his eyes off the road, Jimin says “Away.”
“I can tell that much. I'm not an idiot, you know.”
“I know,” Jimin hums in response.
Away is a forgotten place in the memories. It's the place of encounter of all “see you soon”'s that never happened and the place where I becomes we and me turns to us with a sweet hesitant smile while the stars are laughing somewhere far, far away.
They pass too many motorway exits and too many cars heading south. With the sun on their left and the last remains of the full moon on their right, they reach their destination around lunch time. It's a crooked little town with shops that are closed between two and four o'clock in the afternoon and people that still haven't sold their smiles for fat paychecks.
They leave the car on the parking lot behind the only restaurant in town and bathe in warm autumn sun before going inside. Crystal bells above the door jingle when they enter and the waitress appears from the kitchen. The only guests beside the two of them are the older couple sitting by the windows and a man finishing up the small bottle of soju as he waits for his opponent to appear for a match of chess, figures set out on the table in front of him, his dog lying by his feet. The radio on the counter, next to a statue of a cat with its paw raised in the air, is set to the same station as the one they listened to on their way here. The waitress asks politely for their order instead of Jungkook's autograph and it's only when the food is set in front of them and she goes back to the opened newspapers on the counter does Jungkook dare to ask.
“Is this an alternative reality?” he wonders out loud and Jimin smiles at him with his eyes.
“Not really. This is your day off and I thought that maybe you'd like to spend it somewhere where your every step isn't followed and your face isn't on every billboard,” Jimin says in return.
“I like this. Thank you.”
He's been saying it a lot lately – thank you. Not because he doesn't know any other words, but because he's bad with them and holding a conversation is so much easier when the questions are delivered to him a couple of days before the conversation happens.
Jungkook is used to repetitive questions and rehearsed answers followed by either a smile or a smirk or a wink. It's all part of fanservice – the gestures, the words, the TV hosts wearing a grin so wide that it crumbles to a straight line as soon as the cameras are turned off.
Talking with somebody who's seen his best and worst moments, who has been there when he received awards and when he was hugging the toilet bowl puking out bile and whatever is left of his soul, that small piece that hasn't been sold for whatever a materialistic love of millions of people adoring him couldn't afford to buy, is so different that Jungkook's palms sweat and all he manages to say is a simple “thank you”.
He hopes that Jimin understands.
- - -
The ghost town, as Jungkook dubs it after they finish lunch and cross the street without looking left or right because there are no cars, is a small family place that city people visit during the summer in hopes that they'll find a piece of quiet away from the bustling city streets and persisting ringing of mobile phones. Homemade food and small shops that were in the same family for generations attract tourists, but the town isn't a tourist attraction, it's just a rest stop away from motorways.
Jimin guides them around like he knows the place like the back of his hand, without stopping to look at displays in shop windows or paying attention to street signs. Jungkook trails behind him, his eyes on everything but where he should walk and when they pass by the pet shop, he can't help but stop and look at the puppies playing inside, a small smile on his face as he watches two retriever pups climb over each other and fall on the soft cloth under their little feet.
When he notices that Jungkook isn't by his side, Jimin walks back to the pet shop and joins him. The shop is closed during the owner's lunch break and they can stand on the pavement in front of it with no fear that somebody would glare at them from the inside.
Jungkook laughs as the puppies chase each other in the cage and Jimin diverts his gaze from the dogs to look at Jungkook.
“I didn't know that you like dogs,” Jimin says.
“I like all animals. My grandparents live in the countryside and I spent all my summers there until I became a trainee,” Jungkook replies.
“Why don't you get a pet then?”
“Are you afraid that I'd steal all of Lucifer's love?” Jungkook laughs, a little sad, a little hollow.
He's still looking at the dogs, but Jimin's eyes are on him, on the downturned corner of his lips. He should say something, some sarcastic comment about how the cats only love themselves, but Jungkook beats him to it.
“I'm not home often. My time is divided between practices and performances and car rides from one location to the other, you know that.”
“I do, but still -”
“I read somewhere that dogs can die from sadness if their owner isn't around much,” Jungkook interrupts him. “It doesn't matter how well fed they are or that the kid from the neighborhood takes them out for a walk in the park every day. If their owner returns home late or doesn't return at all, the dogs feel the absence and it makes them sad and sometimes the sadness becomes too much and they die. I'm never home.”
He tilts his head to look at Jimin, half a smile trembling on his lips and unspoken wish caught in his throat.
Autumn sun is warming up their skin, yellow leaves rustle in the branches of the trees planted down the street. It's warm, yet Jungkook's eyes are cold and Jimin is not sure how to fix that. To be honest, he's not even sure if there's something that needs to be fixed or put band-aids over when it comes to Jungkook because Jungkook was born of plastic and measurements, broken down and rebuild until he was perfect in the eyes of the fans filling the arenas across the globe and in front of the cameras as the red light blinks and blinks and blinks. When their eyes meet and Jungkook's lips part open to say something, Jimin feels like he's invading on something private, something Jungkook has tried not to share, but that is breaking free from his ribcage, spilling over the brim in hopes that Jimin would catch it and hold it tight, preventing it from crumbling to nothing.
His hand finds Jungkook's in mid-air and their palms slide together, fingers interlacing. It's a perfect match and it catches them by surprise. Jimin looks down as Jungkook's fingers hold his hand tight, skin against skin and warmth that spreads from the tips of their fingers to their heart.
“I'm willing to share my cat with you if you agree to clean after him and not just pet him,” Jimin mumbles and Jungkook laughs.
- - -
For the last rest stop before Seoul, Jimin pulls over on the parking lot behind a gas station. The horizon is on fire, in warm orange and red as the light blue turns to a darker shade. The clouds hang low above their heads, a promise of a rain. The parking lot is empty save for a beaten-down Toyota passed down from the older sibling to the younger, an old truck with the logo of the petrol company and Jimin's car. From where they're parked, they can see the inside of the low building, a young boy working part-time dozing off by the counter and two men smoking by the entrance, paper coffee cups in their hands. A camera is hanging around the neck of one man. They're probably tourists that got lost. There's a children's playground by the gas stop – swings and monkey bars and a sandbox with no plastic shovels or buckets.
Jungkook opens the door and steps outside before Jimin turns off the engine. He stretches before grabbing his hoodie from the backseat and putting it on.
“Jungkook,” Jimin calls for him as the younger heads to the gas station.
Jungkook turns around with a “yeah” on his lips and his hands tucked in the pockets of his dark jeans. He takes a few steps closer to Jimin.
“Maybe it'll be better if I go inside and get you whatever you want. After all, you're a -”
“I'm enjoying my day off or have you already forgotten that?” Jungkook asks, a hint of teasing in his voice.
“I haven't,” Jimin sighs. “But what if somebody recognizes you here?”
Jungkook rolls his eyes.
“Yeah, right. Two middle aged men chain smoking and a kid that probably can't look his crush in the eyes are my fans. Besides, nobody will recognize me if I do this,” Jungkook grins and pulls his hood up. He fixes it so that the shadow falls across his eyes. “See, it's perfect. Now, what do you want?”
“Anything is fine,” Jimin says as he gets out of the car and slams the door shut.
“Then something sugary and probably unhealthy.”
Jungkook turns to leave and Jimin shakes his head, a fond smile pulling the corners of his lips upwards. They've slipped into this relationship quietly, without dramatic background music and broken plates, without jealousy and stupid misunderstandings and a whole lot of maybe's and if's. It came out of nowhere, but Jimin knows better because Jungkook doesn't let people into his life unless he trusts then, unless he's sure that they aren't a one-time deal, a friendship with an expiration date printed in magazines and typed in the comment section of some Naver blog.
And all the scandals, so many scandals, that Jungkook stumbled into so carelessly were just a defense mechanism, a giant “Stay away” in bold letters dripping neon colors over the subtle, almost transparent, “I'm afraid to trust you” written underneath in his messy handwriting. Jimin doesn't remember them all, but he remembers Jungkook's eyes and his words and the way his gaze lingered a moment too long on family photos hanging on the walls of Jimin's apartment and the way he said “thank you” instead of “go away”. It was a long way coming, days turning to months, rain to sun to snow, but as he watches Jungkook coming towards him with two cans of soda and a plastic bag full of sweets and junk food, a careless smile on his face, Jimin knows that it was worth it.
The sun has set a long time ago and the moon is peering through the clouds. The lamps of the gas station light up everything surrounding it, including Jimin's face as Jungkook approaches him. He's sitting on the hood of the car, the engine is off, the key left in the ignition. Jungkook drops the plastic bag next to Jimin and hands him a soda can.
“Isn't this bad for your health?” Jimin asks. “You'll ruin your diet.”
“I think I can afford one day without healthy undercooked food and herbal teas,” Jungkook replies, but he doesn't open his can of soda.
“Well, maybe you can, but I can't,” Jimin says, leaving the can next to the sweets. “It can cause heart palpitations.”
“I already suffer from that. It can't be helped,” Jungkook says.
His words catch Jimin off guard and he bites his lips. Jungkook moves to stand in front of him, pushing Jimin's legs open so that his knees are pressed against Jungkook's thighs. He puts the can on the hood, but his hand is unsteady and the can rolls to the asphalt.
“You make my heart race,” Jungkook whispers, but they're so close that Jimin hears him, loud and clear. Jungkook's words echo in his head.
In the next moment, Jungkook cups his cheek and tilts his head up. Jimin looks at him and the milky lights coming from the lamps around them make everything softer, but the harsh lines of Jungkook's jaw and cheekbones can still cut glass and Jimin wants to run his fingers along those mesmerizing contours to see if his skin would bleed or maybe that's just an act, maybe Jungkook's skin is softer then it seems, warmer, too.
He doesn't know how to respond, what to say to defend himself against the accusation that Jungkook so carelessly threw at him, but Jungkook has other things in mind because he runs his thumb over Jimin's bitten bottom lip and asks “Can I?”
It's in that moment before Jungkook closes his eyes and leans down to kiss him that Jimin notices his heart drumming in his chest, a frantic rhythm that overpowers everything when Jungkook kisses him. No tongue, just lips on lips and Jimin instinctivly smiles, his hands coming to rest around Jungkook's waist, fingers digging into his black hoodie. Jungkook presses himself closer until distance melts to nothing.
Jimin tastes like the chocolate cake they shared in a pastry shop before heading back to Seoul, just the right amount of bitter and sweet and Jungkook hungrily licks between his lips, parting them open. But Jimin pulls back, a little breathless, his lips a delicious shade of red, and he asks, “How is your heart now? Still restless?”
Jungkook smiles and rests his forehead on Jimin's shoulder. “I'm not sure,” he says.
Jimin pulls his hood off and runs his fingers through Jungkook's hair as Jungkook's hands snake around his waist and hold him tight. Jungkook's breathing is irregular, shallow, and Jimin waits until it turns back to normal before speaking again. The night is peaceful, the yellow moon watching over them behind the purple clouds, and Jimin's voice dips into the silence as a soft whisper.
“What about now?” he asks.
Jungkook lifts his head and then he leans in for another kiss. “I think that everything will be okay now,” he says against Jimin's lips.
- - -
Seoul is cold monochrome and bright neon dripping from the flamboyant billboards to the dirty pavement. The first raindrops that fall on the city find them on the way to Jimin's apartment and he wants to run, to take cover in the entryway and rush up the stairs to his floor, but Jungkook pulls him back and Jimin falls in his embrace as the cold raindrops fall on his cheeks. When he looks up at Jungkook, it seems like he's crying and Jungkook collects the false tears from Jimin's cheeks with his lips. Jimin giggles, but the sound is lost in thunder raging above the city.
By the time Jimin unlocks the door of his apartment, they're soaked through and through and getting rid of the damp clothes is much harder. They lose them on the way to Jimin's bedroom. First Jungkook's hoodie and Jimin's denim jacket, then whatever their hands get a hold of first. The door swings open when Jimin shoves him against it and kisses him through raindrops and sugar still lingering in the corner of Jungkook's mouth.
Jimin teasingly pushes him back, small hands exerting almost no pressure on Jungkook's chest, but Jungkook falls like he's been shoved. Jimin's bed is soft, it smells like jasmine and lavender. It's something that Jungkook could get used to waking up to every morning. Jimin hovers over him for a moment, lights streaming through the window getting lost in his dark eyes that look at Jungkook with something that he once recognized as trust and now as affection and Jimin is beautiful.
Jimin is breathtaking as the lightning outside paints his body in perfect contrast, perfect balance of light and shadows and Jungkook runs his fingers up Jimin's neck to his cheek. Jimin closes his eyes for a second and Jungkook can count his lashes as they cast long shadows on his skin and he wants to run his fingers over every expanse of Jimin's skin that he can reach, run his tongue along it too, for good measure.
Then Jimin dips his head down and kisses him with no restrains or second-guesses and he leaves no room for either of them as he licks along Jungkook's teeth and cheeks and the roof of his mouth and tastes all they will be, connected by love and not a few sheets of white paper.
Jimin kisses him until Jungkook is splayed out beneath him, breathing hard, lips swollen and blush and parted as he gasps for air. His hair brushes Jungkook's cheek as Jimin drags his mouth along the line of Jungkook's jaw and then down, licking and biting at the column of his neck, careful not to leave bruises behind. Jungkook gasps and tries to breathe; he slides his hands down Jimin's sides and brings them back up, drawing constellations on Jimin's back with his blunt nails. His fingers dance across skin and he presses bruises against the ridges of Jimin's spine.
“You're so brilliant, like a star,” Jungkook says and Jimin smiles through kisses.
“So are you,” he murmurs, kissing down Jungkook's chest and down, lower, mouthing Jungkook through the material of his briefs because they'd lost their jeans a couple rooms back.
When they're both naked, sliding together, the need to touch overwhelming, Jungkook realizes that there's warmth, that their actions aren't guided by pure lust and hunger, but the desire to become one and Jimin's so pliant under his hands, so trusting that Jungkook wants to drag this moment to eternity. He wants to map the starry sky across the expanse of Jimin's back, paint supernovas over his ribs. He wants to hide small wishes in Jimin's hair and pepper butterfly kisses across his cheeks as Jimin giggles in his ear. He wants to steal a piece of Jimin's laughter and listen to it during long sleepless nights when his world is shaking on its glass foundations and the sky is falling around him.
Jimin is all those things that make people beautiful and Jungkook doesn't deserve him no matter how many times he says “I'm sorry” and “thank you”, but Jimin's moan when Jungkook presses the pad of his finger inside of him brings Jungkook back to reality and Jungkook kisses him, swallowing whimpers and gasps.
Jungkook's skin shines in the thin streams of light and Jimin is glad that they changed positions some time ago because this way he can look at Jungkook, follow with his hands the way Jungkook's muscles stretch and relax and pull him down for another kiss before he's breathless again.
“I'm ready,” Jimin whispers in his ear as Jungkook works his fingers inside of Jimin.
“I'll make this feel good,” Jungkook breathes out as he thrusts into Jimin for the first time.
Jimin's thighs tremble and he feels like he's splitting in half. It's more pain than pleasure, but he has faith that that will change. Jungkook says something against his skin and even though they aren't perfectly coherent words, Jimin feels them deep in his bones, like an anchor.
Jungkook pulls out, slow and steady, and pushes back in harder; hard enough to shake Jimin's body as the bed shakes with them. After a few thrusts, pleasure arcs up in the small of Jimin's back, tangled with the pain of the stretch and the exhilaration of the pressure against his insides and Jimin forgets where his soul ends and Jungkook's begins because all he feels are him and Jungkook as one.
- - -
Somewhere in the hallway, in the pocket of his jeans, Jimin's phone rings long and obnoxiously loud before the call is redirected to the voicemail.
The same thing happens three more times before Jimin stirs in his sleep and cracks an eye open. Next to him, Jungkook is snoring lightly, his hand thrown over Jimin's middle and face buried in the soft pillow. Jimin tries to crawl out, but Jungkook's hand around his waist holds him in place.
“I need to get up, let me go,” Jimin says, sleep still lingering in his voice.
“No,” Jungkook murmurs.
“I'll just go get the phone and come back. Is that okay?” Jimin asks, poking Jungkook in the cheek.
Jungkook shifts and moves his hand, “Fine.”
Jimin gets up and goes straight to the source of the sound, not bothering to put on any clothes except his boxers because he's going back to bed as soon as he can get rid of the caller. He picks up his jeans from the floor and pulls the phone out of the pocket. But just one look at the caller's ID makes his blood cool down.
On the other side of the line, there's silence before a stream of harsh words invades his thoughts. Jimin paces around the hallway as he listens to the CEO and occasionally murmurs “yes” and “I'll fix it”.
Leaning on the doorframe of his bedroom, he catches Jungkook's eyes and the younger smiles at him, a promise of a lazy morning spent in bed hidden in the corner of his mouth. Jungkook is looking at him, at the way Jimin's shoulders drop. He runs his hand through his hair, bangs falling into his eyes when he shakes his head afterwards. He's gnawing at his bottom lip, teeth sinking in red flesh and Jungkook wants to replace Jimin's teeth with his own.
When Jimin finally hangs up and leaves the phone on the dresser, Jungkook asks “Are you okay?”
Jimin comes closer and sits down on the bed, his back facing Jungkook.
“The company called,” he says quietly, but he knows that Jungkook can hear him. “A paparazzi took photos of you - of us kissing on the parking lot and they're all over the media now. They demand that we make a statement denying all of it – saying that you weren't kissing a man because they haven't identified me. The photos are low quality because the night was cloudy and nobody can really tell that it really was you, so a simple statement should be enough. You won't have to appear in front of the press until you next single comes out and by then everything should be, if not forgotten, at least forgiven and -”
“There's nothing to forgive,” Jungkook interrupts him and Jimin feels the dip on the bed as Jungkook moves.
“This could damage your career.”
“Like everything else I've ever done,” Jungkook snickers.
“This is different and it's already blown over. I need to fix this,” Jimin gets up, but Jungkook grabs him by the wrist and pulls him back down on the bed so that Jimin is lying by his side.
“No, you don't need to,” Jungkook says as his fingers abandon Jimin's wrist and their palms slide together, fingers interlacing. Jimin looks at their hands and something tugs at his insides.
“It's my job to make sure scandals don't happen and to cover them up when they do.”
Jungkook presses himself closer, inhaling the scent of rain lingering in the juncture between Jimin's neck and shoulder before he kisses along his jaw and feels tense muscles under paper thin skin.
“We are not a scandal and I don't want you to cover anything up,” Jungkook says, bringing their joined hands to his lips and kissing Jimin's knuckles.
Jimin releases a breath he wasn't aware he was holding and looks back at Jungkook.
“Are you sure?” he asks.
His voice is soft and Jungkook wants nothing more than to kiss the frown off Jimin's face, to kiss him until they're both breathless and a little lightheaded and the room is spinning around them. The way that Jimin melts into his touch tells him that Jimin wants to same and that will always be enough.
Jungkook says “For once the tabloids are right so let them talk.”