Jungkook has a papercut on his finger. It’s small, right on the side of his forefinger above his first knuckle, too shallow to draw blood but irritating all the same. The syllabus for his film class that he’d folded into a paper flower falls from his hands as he lifts them up to inspect the cut, and Taehyung glances over at the fallen origami with mild interest.
“Make me a shuriken,” he whispers, sliding over his own syllabus. “I’m bored as shit.”
“The flower cut me,” Jungkook whispers back, pressing down on the barely-there wound as if it will somehow disappear once he pulls his hand away. All it does is make the wound sting sharply. “Make your own damn shuriken.”
They’re seated in the very back of the one-hundred person lecture hall, hidden amongst the other gray-faced college students dreading this foray back into their education after what had felt like a particularly short summer vacation. There is a very little chance that their professor will notice that they aren’t paying attention, but Jungkook knows that if Taehyung gets his hands on any paper throwing stars, there is a ninety-nine percent chance of them being tossed directly at their professor.
“You make them the best though,” whines Taehyung, poking at the white paper flower. “Mine always turn into cranes somehow.”
“How do you mess up that badly?”
Suddenly a muted thump hits the back of both of their chairs, making Jungkook nearly jump in his seat from shock. He turns to find the source of the thud, and comes face to face with Yoongi scowling down at them from one row back, his feet still pushed against the back of their chairs from the kick.
“Maybe you two are fine staying at this school until your balls fall off, but I want to graduate,” Yoongi hisses. “Shut the hell up.”
“Chill, hyung,” Taehyung says, tossing Jungkook’s flower at him. “It’s the first day. This class is a blow-off, anyway.”
Yoongi catches the flower in one hand and glares at him. “Says you. I heard this professor is a ball-buster.”
“You sure are talking about balls a lot, hyung,” Jungkook says. “I’m sure the professor won’t see you rub one out from up there if you really need it.”
Taehyung snickers and holds out his fist. Jungkook bumps it, the two of them cackling at the double middle fingers Yoongi shoots them.
“I am sure all of you have heard the rumors about my class,” the professor says, her voice suddenly much louder than before, her sharp eyes trained directly on the three of them. Jungkook’s back goes rigid and he faces forward, chewing on his lower lip. “That this will be easy. That this will be a blow-off class. That you can get through the semester by doing the bare minimum and fooling around.” She pauses to stare again at Jungkook and Taehyung, who has slumped down further in his seat as if she won’t be able to see him that way. “You are very wrong about that, as you will quickly find out. If this displeases you, the last day to drop is in two weeks. I suggest you think long and hard about why you’ve taken this class.”
Jungkook and Taehyung share disappointed glances, ignoring the hard ‘I told you so’ glare that they’re certainly receiving from Yoongi right about now.
Jungkook likes film well enough. He’s always enjoyed movies, and once when he was in primary school, a filmmaker’s daughter had brought her father in for Parent Day at school, and after hearing him speak about his profession Jungkook had decided that he would pursue the same thing as an adult. That had been when he was ten, and he hadn’t had any other ideas about his future since then, so he chose film as his major when he entered college. He met Yoongi and Taehyung that way, all of them bonding through joint suffering during a horrifically boring lecture by the worst film professor on campus.
He’s in his last semester of his third year here at university, and he’s stuck with his major only because he has no real idea of what else he would do. He’s doing well enough in school, so he figures why change it? He doesn’t have much of a plan set in place for after he graduates, but he’s always assumed that everything would just sort of fall into place, and he’d figure it out once he got to that point.
For someone who has been planning to simply coast through his last half of university, being stuck in a class with a professor who takes her job very seriously is going to be torture.
He and Taehyung keep their mouths shut for the rest of the class, listening (mostly) to the professor walk the class through the syllabus. Seeing as his own syllabus is currently lying on Yoongi’s desk folded into a flower and Taehyung’s has become an origami crane at some point, both of them are forced to keep their eyes trained on the desks in front of them, pretending as though they are reading along.
Most professors would let their students leave early on the first day of classes, but this professor keeps them right up until the last second before finally dismissing them and turning off her projector.
Jungkook shoves his still-empty notebook back into his bookbag and waves Taehyung and Yoongi goodbye, squeezing through the small aisle between the desks and leaving the lecture hall. The autumn air outside is windy, rustling his hair and making the ends of his thin windbreaker rustle together. The bikes at the rack have all been knocked over from the wind, and he has to untangle his handlebars from the wheel and chain of the bikes beside him, his papercut catching on the spokes and becoming even more irritated, a bit of blood poking out from the cut.
“Shit,” he mutters, tugging his bike out of the mess and trying to steady it so that he won’t topple over. Once he gains his balance, he takes off at a moderate speed, fighting against the wind as he bikes away from campus.
The trees have already been painted in yellows and reds with the changing of the season, giving his university a picturesque sort of beauty despite his disdain for having to attend classes there. It’s a bit sad when the last tree fades from view and he enters the rest of the city, where the yellows and reds are replaced with an industrial gray, electric lines and factory smoke making the already gloomy weather seem even more bleak.
He passes his apartment building, identical to the others in every way save for the bright stickers he’d glued to their window as a child and the stark white dragon spray painted on the side by some gang member, the only spots of color in a forest of muted grays and browns. His mother is probably home, seeing as she never leaves the house anymore, but he’d rather not be in the same room as her for too long.
The wind dies down a bit as he approaches the iron gates down the dirt path that branches off from a side street about twenty minutes from his apartment, and it becomes easier to pedal his bike. He picks up his pace and stops near the bike rack, chaining his bike there and shouldering his backpack as he slips through the gate.
Cemeteries aren’t a particularly popular hangout to begin with, and in the hours after classes let out they are even less populated, so Jungkook is able to nab a spot on the single bench in the yard, the one that’s right beneath the oak tree at the base of the small hill. There are a few single graves nearby, but all of the family headstones are further off, so even if someone comes to visit a grave, chances are that they won’t get too close to him.
The graveyard caretaker’s tiny house lies off to the far end of the yard, past the mausoleums, but Jungkook has never actually seen him in all the years that he’s been coming here. He’s fairly certain that he only comes out past midnight and probably looks more like a corpse than the ones buried in the ground here.
Zipping up his windbreaker in an attempt to block out the cold, Jungkook hoists his book bag up on the bench and roots around for his homework, crossing his legs and using his thigh as a flat surface to place his notebook. Whenever he works on homework here, time seems to fly by before he can so much as blink, but he’s resolved to finishing the small essay one of his professors had assigned for the first day before he goes home, or he’ll never end up finishing it.
The fallen leaves crunch with the sound of oncoming footsteps, and then a voice thick with a Busan accent says, “Hey, kid. What are you doing?”
“Sitting,” Jungkook says, furrowing his eyebrows at the sudden intruder. He’s never had anyone ask what he’s doing here; every person that he’s seen come through here are there to mourn for their lost relatives and loved ones, not to pester college kids. “Doing my homework. Why?”
The man who came up to him doesn’t look that much older than him, despite having called him “kid.” He’s on the shorter side, built but not in a burly way; he still looks so small, almost like a dancer. His hair is bleached blonde, swept up out of his face to reveal his dark eyebrows and hooded eyes, a short nose and thick pink lips. His ears are punched full of silver, a stud glints on the side of his nose, and there are tattoos peeking out from the sleeves and collar of his leather jacket. When he removes his hands from his pockets, Jungkook is taken aback by how small they look. “I work here,” he says. “I’m supposed to make sure no one’s loitering.”
“Isn’t loitering the whole point of a cemetery? What else am I supposed to do, strip for the bodies?” Jungkook asks, setting his notebook aside. This guy has to be fucking with him. There’s no way someone like this is the caretaker for the graveyard; Jungkook has always imagined him to be some old decrepit man with dead eyes and a hunchback who only prowls around at night holding a shovel in his bony hands. He glances over at the house, but all the lights inside are off.
“That was your first thought?” the guy says, his lips twitching up in a smirk. “Stripping for the bodies?”
Jungkook feels his ears flushing pink and shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter. You don’t really work here, do you?”
“Nah, I just hang out in graveyards for fun.” He says this so seriously that Jungkook honestly can’t tell if he’s messing with him or not, but then his full lips break out in a grin. “Don’t look so creeped out, man. I do work here.” He turns and points to the tiny house. “I live right over there.”
That can’t be right. Jungkook has been coming here for years, sitting in this exact spot for years, and never once has he seen the caretaker, let alone been checked on for loitering. “No, you don’t,” Jungkook says, shaking his head. “I always come here, and the caretaker has never said anything to me about it.”
“I know,” the guy says. “It’s been long enough that I thought I’d ask why you come here every day.”
Jungkook scrutinizes him, the wind blowing through his bleached hair and rustling the collar on his leather jacket. “You’re really the caretaker?”
“Yep. Pick a grave here and I’ll swear on it.”
“It’s okay, I believe you,” Jungkook concedes. “I guess I just never thought you’d be so young.”
“Understandable. I’m Jimin, by the way,” the caretaker says, shoving his hands back in his pockets. “If you want, you can come inside for tea. It’s pretty cold out.”
“That’s a kind offer, Jimin,” Jungkook says, “but I was always taught not to accept offers from strangers.”
Jimin laughs, his full lips widening into a toothy smile. “I get it. I wouldn’t go in some creepy guy’s house, either. You’re smart, kid.”
“I go by Jungkook, actually,” he says, his lips twitching upward automatically; Jimin’s laugh is infectious. “Not ‘kid.’”
“Well, Jungkook, it was nice to officially meet you,” Jimin says, already starting to back up toward his house. “Now I have a name for you instead of just ‘that weird kid who hangs out in my yard every day.’”
“Nice to meet you too, creepy caretaker,” Jungkook retorts with a grin, watching as Jimin turns and heads back to his little house.
It takes him a minute, but eventually he is able to shift his focus back to his homework despite the interruption and he manages to finish most of it before the sun goes down. Biking back in the dark isn’t the smartest decision around this part of town, so once the sun begins to dip dangerously low on the horizon, he gathers up his things and slings his backpack over his shoulder, heading toward the iron gates to the cemetery.
As he unlocks his bike from where he’d left it chained up, he glances back to Jimin’s house for a moment, the bizarre revelation at the caretaker’s identity still festering in the back of his mind.
Regardless, he leaves the graveyard and gets home just in time for darkness to fall, the last bit of sunlight disappearing from the sky just as he’s punching in the security code for the door with his bike (sort of) safely chained up on the rack outside.
“I’m home,” he calls into the apartment, more out of habit than anything else.
His mother is in the kitchen, and for a split second he thinks that she’s cooking, but then he hears the beep of the microwave and his shock dissipates. It’s probably better that she hadn’t been making anything; he doesn’t feel like having to check on her to make sure she doesn’t leave the stove on or accidentally cut herself with a knife again.
“Hi, Jungkook,” she says. “How was your day? Are your classes any good?”
“They’re alright,” he says with a shrug. “How was y—”
“Did you go to visit your brother today?” she interrupts, her face void of expression as usual.
He sighs, dragging a hand down his face and closing his eyes for a moment. “Listen, Mom, I have homework to do,” he lies. “I’m going to my room.” She doesn’t respond, so he passes the kitchen and retreats into his bedroom, closing the door behind him. She’s probably already forgotten that he’s home, so he doesn’t feel too bad for dodging her question. She never likes his answer, anyway.
His tiny television that he’d bought for cheap from the old man who works at the corner store hums with electricity, the satellite at the top wrapped up with tape and bent at the only angle that has any hope of picking up a signal. He probably could afford to buy a new TV, but he’s rarely home enough to make the purchase worth it. Kicking off his jeans in favor of lounging around in his boxers, he lies back on his bed and grabs the remote, turning on the news. (Of the two channels that his satellite is able to pick up, the news is usually the only one worth watching.)
“—We’ve received reports of increased activity from a gang known to locals as the Hui Yong Pa, and locals are urged to remain indoors or travel in groups after dark. Police are working closely with neighborhood watch groups to ensure the public safety—”
Jungkook hits the power button on the remote immediately. Usually he can stomach hearing those kinds of news stories, but after that interaction with his mother, he’s not feeling up to it tonight.
He’s only able to fall asleep when he gets a message in the group chat between himself, Taehyung, and Yoongi with a link to one of Yoongi’s nighttime playlists. Jungkook has never asked for one, but once a week Yoongi will send it out without any other message attached to it, and it’s only by listening to those selections of songs that Jungkook is able to fall asleep.
The first week of classes in a new semester always goes by too fast, with syllabus reading and the flurry of students adding and dropping classes, it all seems to go by in a blur, and now the real workload seems to be starting. Jungkook doesn’t see Jimin again until a Sunday afternoon when the clouds overhead are their usual gray, but there is distant thunder that indicates a storm is on its way. Sure enough, it starts to rain only moments later, making Jungkook frantically shove his homework back in his bookbag and hold it above his head to keep the rain at bay.
The wet leaves don’t have their usual crunch when Jimin approaches with an umbrella, but somehow Jungkook had half-expected him to show up.
“Didn’t check the weather report this morning?” Jimin asks him, amused.
“I thought the rain wasn’t supposed to start until later,” Jungkook grumbles, ducking under the umbrella with Jimin, taking it from him to hold over both their heads since Jimin’s short height had made it a bit awkward.
“It is later,” Jimin says. “You look freezing. Do you want me to make you some tea?”
Jungkook rubs at his goosebump-covered arms, looks up at the thick rain clouds above them, and breathes out. “Tea would be great,” he says. “As long as you don’t keep dead bodies in your house or something equally creepy.”
“No promises,” Jimin jokes, placing his small hand over the handle of the umbrella where Jungkook is holding it, pulling it in the direction of his house. Jungkook follows him up to the front door, gratefully ducking inside and out of the cold rain while Jimin shakes off the umbrella and hangs it up on the back of the door.
“Sorry it’s a bit of a mess,” Jimin says, shuffling over to the kitchen and pulling out a fancy-looking brewer. “I don’t get many visitors.”
“I can’t imagine that you would,” Jungkook replies, realizing too late how rude that came out. “I’m sorry,” he corrects himself. “That was uncalled for.”
“It’s not a big deal,” Jimin laughs. “It’s just the truth.”
The inside of Jimin’s house is a bit of a surprise; from the outside it doesn’t look like much, but the inside is more spacious than Jungkook’s entire apartment, if he could wager a guess. There’s a small table with only one chair next to the kitchen, which consists of a short counter, a mini refrigerator, and a stove top, and a living area with an armchair, couch, and fireplace over by the window. A short hallway past the couch leads to two rooms that Jungkook assumes are the bathroom and bedroom, with a sconce on the wall giving off a small amount of light. There isn’t much by way of decoration, but it does look well-lived in from the various articles of clothing scattered on the furniture and the books piled on the coffee table near the fireplace.
“Feel free to sit anywhere,” Jimin says, heading into the kitchen. “I’ll start the tea.”
The storm seems to intensify once Jungkook sits down on the couch, staring out the window at the rain coming down so hard that it renders everything a wet blur. The windows are fogged up from how comfortably warm it is here inside Jimin’s house compared to the frigid cold rain outside.
The windowsill is lined with pots of white flowers that seem to burst from the stem and bloom outward into a beautiful orb of petals. He thinks they might be peonies, but the extent of his flower knowledge comes from vaguely paying attention when Taehyung goes on his ramblings about the language of flowers. He’ll have to make a mental note to ask him what white peonies mean later.
Over in the corner near the kitchen, Jungkook catches Jimin shrugging out of his leather jacket and slinging it over the counter, leaving him in nothing but a tank top. He has to stop his jaw from dropping open, attempting to keep his composure even in the face of the most beautiful pair of arms he’s ever seen in his life.
It isn’t because he’s extremely fit and his muscles bulge when he moves his arms, though that does have a tiny bit of influence on his awestruck reaction. No, it’s his tattoos that capture most of Jungkook’s attention. It’s like he has a flower garden painted on his skin, vines and leaves trailing up his arm like veins and flowers blooming out from them like a drop of ink on a page. They stretch from the end of his wrists all the way up past his shoulders, the highest flower nearly reaching his neck.
He doesn’t get a very long look at them before Jimin grabs an oversized sweater that he pulls over his head, but the image of them stays in Jungkook’s mind even now that they’re covered.
When he had gotten his own tattoo, a small one on his upper arm near his shoulder, his mother had criticized him for marking up his body, saying that people would think he was a punk. Jungkook disagrees; looking at Jimin’s tattoos, he doesn’t see how anyone could view them as anything other than a work of art.
“What kind of tea do you like?” Jimin asks, interrupting Jungkook’s ogling.
“I’m fine with anything,” Jungkook says, even though he’s extremely picky when it comes to tea. Nothing too fragrant, nothing too bitter, nothing too fruity, either. “I’ll have whatever you’re brewing.”
Jimin shrugs and rifles through a small tin. “How’s green tea sound? There’s a hint of cherry and lemon in this blend.”
Too fruity, and its scent is probably way too strong. “Sure,” Jungkook says.
The tea only takes a few minutes to make thanks to Jimin’s fancy brewer, which looks somewhat out of place in such a simple house. Sure enough, the fragrance drifts over to Jungkook while Jimin brings a pair of mugs over to the fireplace, but he stifles his distaste and murmurs a thank you when Jimin hands him a mug.
“So what do you do in my cemetery?” Jimin asks, sitting in the armchair beside the couch with his own mug nestled between his tiny hands that are practically engulfed by the long sleeves of his sweater. “Besides strip for the bodies, I mean.”
“Homework, mostly,” Jungkook replies, taking a sip of tea and instantly regretting it. He never waits for drinks to cool off, and when a drink is made of literal boiling hot water, he always ends up with a burned tongue and regrets.
Jimin blows on his own tea, his lips pursing out and his eyebrows raising up. “You’re in college, right? What are you studying?”
“Yeah, I go to Seoul Academy for Arts and Sciences.” Jungkook tries the tea again, following Jimin’s lead by actually cooling it off first. He’s not sure why he’s suddenly being so forthcoming about his personal life with someone who is by all accounts still a stranger, but there’s something about sitting in said stranger’s living room drinking tea together that creates a deceptively familiar aura. “I’m majoring in film.”
“Film? Like making movies?” Jimin asks, an excited twinkle in his eye.
“Yeah, basically. You a fan of movies or something?”
Jimin sips his tea and shrugs, a small smile on his full lips. “I wanted to be a movie star when I was a kid, if that counts.”
“Yeah. I used to hold up rocks and pretend they were awards, and my mom would play along and be my announcer.”
Jungkook drinks from his mug to hide his endeared smile, the fruity taste of the tea not quite so terrible anymore. “You used a rock? That’s so sad.”
“That was my dream,” laughs Jimin. “To receive a rock for my amazing performance in a famous movie.”
“Tell you what,” Jungkook says. “When I graduate and become a big hotshot film director, I’ll let you star in one of my movies, and you can have all the rocks you want.”
Jimin’s grin is blinding. His lips spread up into a full smile that shows all his teeth, the front one a bit crooked, and a laugh that can’t be described as anything but a giggle bubbles up. “Thanks, but don’t worry about it. I’m a terrible actor.”
“Is that why you work here, then? This was your second choice?” For a second he thinks that he might have gone too personal, but Jimin doesn’t look offended.
“Not really,” Jimin says. “I don’t know a whole lot of people who dream about burying bodies and doing landscaping around graveyards. It’s one of those cretin jobs that you only give to a cretin.”
Jungkook raises his eyebrows. “A cretin? Is that what you are?”
“You could say that,” Jimin smiles mysteriously. “Can I tell you a secret?”
Jungkook nods, so Jimin leans closer over the edge of the armrest, bringing his voice down to a low murmur. “I see dead people.”
A cold chill runs down Jungkook’s spine before he sees the cheeky grin on Jimin’s face. Rolling his eyes, he leans backward. “You’re terrible. Do you use that line on everyone?”
“Nah, just you.” Jimin chuckles to himself again and shakes his head. “But honestly? This is one of the only places I could get into with a criminal record; I had a couple connections that got me hired.”
Jungkook takes another sip of tea. He wonders what Jimin could have possibly done to land himself a criminal record; he certainly looks the part, with his tattoos and piercings and rugged clothes, but his face is definitely not one that would come to mind when Jungkook pictures a criminal. “Maybe you’re being too hard on yourself. It’s pretty badass to live in a graveyard, if you think about it. Most people would be too scared, I think. Especially in this part of town.”
“Badass, huh?” Jimin repeats in an amused tone. “That’s one way to look at it, I guess.”
By now the rain has begun to let up, the downpour calming to a light shower that tapered off into nothing. Jungkook hadn’t even realized how late he’d stayed until he sees that the darkness outside isn’t from the rain clouds anymore; it’s from the sun nearly setting.
He sets the mug down, getting to his feet and hoisting his backpack up. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I didn’t realize it was this late; I have to get back home.”
Jimin stands up to join him, setting his mug down as well and handing him his jacket from the hook by the door. “It’s no problem. Thanks for keeping me company.”
“No, thank you for saving me from the rain,” Jungkook says, pausing at the door. “I’ll see you around sometime.”
“See you,” Jimin says, giving him a small wave as he leaves, dashing through the muddy graveyard to the iron gates that are still dripping with rainwater. The daylight is dwindling fast, and he only just manages to punch in the code for his bike lock before the darkness falls and he has only the flickering street lamps to rely on.
Still, he glances back briefly at Jimin’s house, where the curtains have been drawn but the lights are still on inside, and he pictures the warmth he’d felt sitting there with him for his entire ride home. Maybe it’s weird to have made somewhat of a friend with the caretaker of a cemetery, but then again Jungkook has never been much of a person to make normal friends, if Yoongi and Taehyung are any indication of that.
Miraculously, he manages to make it back home in one piece, though his hands are shaking by the time he gets to the bike rack, struggling with the lock for much longer than usual. He’s not scared, per se, but after so many muggings and attacks at night in this area, one can never be too careful.
Inside his apartment, his mother is already asleep on the couch, a bottle of wine left out on the table in front of her. Jungkook sighs in relief and returns the bottle to the pantry, turning to head into his bedroom for the night, but like always he has that spark of hesitation that makes him pause.
He walks over to the couch, grabbing the throw blanket from the armchair and draping it over his mother, gently repositioning her so that she is lying more comfortably.
“Good night, Mom,” he says, and flicks off the light.
“The current score is ten to five. You guys should start calling me Kim Taehyung, brasketball champion.”
“It’s not brasketball if you’re not wearing a bra, dumbass.”
Taehyung balls up another tiny piece of paper and launches it straight down the front of Jungkook’s shirt, sticking out his tongue. “Whatever it’s called, I’m still beating you.”
Jungkook narrows his eyes and begins crumpling up bits of paper at a breakneck speed, giving himself another papercut in the process. He takes no less than five crumpled papers and tosses them all down Taehyung’s shirt at once, giving his friend the finger. “No one beats me,” he responds, then turns to Yoongi. “How about you, hyung? Feel like challenging the real champion?”
“I feel like hitting you both with horse tranquilizers, actually,” Yoongi grumbles. “I’m trying to hear the professor.”
“She’s not saying anything important,” Taehyung says with an eye roll, gesturing subtly at the whiteboard. “This class is a blowoff, no matter how much of a ball-buster she tries to make herself seem like.”
As if on cue, their professor’s eyes lock on their group, a ruthless expression settling on her pinched face. Jungkook feels a slight chill ripple through the room.
“I’m sure a lot of you still haven’t dropped because you think that this class is easier than I made it seem,” the professor begins, and Jungkook shares a glance with Taehyung, both of them feeling personally attacked. “Fortunately for you, the rumors as far as the homework are concerned are true. As you’ve probably noticed already, there is none. Unfortunately for you, this means that the only grade besides attendance you will receive is your final project. So I suggest you pay attention, or your project will suffer for it.”
Yoongi taps the back of their chairs with his foot, and Jungkook can practically see the ‘I told you so’ look on his face.
“Shit,” mutters Taehyung, shaking all the crumpled paper balls from the bottom of his shirt and watching them cascade onto the floor.
“Yep,” Jungkook agrees.
“Your final project will be a culmination of everything you will learn over the semester, and it should take most of the semester to complete if you want any hope of receiving a passing grade.” Jungkook reaches over to squeeze Taehyung’s hand for support, both of them feeling the despair at their professor’s words sinking into their brains. A semester-long final project that determines their entire grade? Jungkook can already see a glimpse into a procrastination-filled future in which he frantically attempts to finish an entire project the night before its due date, a reality he’s had to face countless times before this in his college career.
“There is a festival at the end of the semester for university students to submit their documentaries. Your project is to create a documentary and submit it to the festival to be played in front of an entire auditorium. The winners will receive cash prizes, and will also be guaranteed a passing grade.”
Now that catches Jungkook’s attention. Getting him to care about schoolwork is like pulling teeth, but making schoolwork into a competition is another story entirely. To say that Jungkook doesn’t like losing would be putting it lightly.
“There are a limited number of entries, so this will be a group project. Pick a group of three and pick wisely, since I’ll be grading you altogether.”
Taehyung instantly grabs Jungkook’s hand and the two of them turn to face Yoongi, who is pointedly looking anywhere but at them.
“Hyung,” Taehyung says in a sing-song voice. “We need one more.”
“Okay, good luck finding two other people who’ll put up with your grouchy ass.”
Yoongi glances around at the people on either side of him, all of whom have already partnered up, and groans dramatically. “Goddammit. Fine.”
After their class ends, instead of heading immediately to the bike rack to ride over to the cemetery, Jungkook stays to talk about the project with Yoongi and Taehyung. They manage to nab a couch in the commons and Yoongi pulls out his laptop to make an outline.
“So what should this documentary be about?” Taehyung asks, resting his head on Yoongi’s shoulder for a better view of the laptop screen.
“We could do one about the process of making an album,” Yoongi suggests, tapping his finger on the edge of the laptop in thought. “We could include interviews from local bands or something.”
Taehyung blows a raspberry. “Boring,” he groans. “We should do it about animals, instead. Everyone loves animals. How about the importance of adopting puppies from shelters? Depending on how many sympathy shots we put in there of big-eyed little puppies, it could just be cute enough to land us first place.”
Yoongi opens his mouth to argue, probably about the importance of supporting local artists and helping them get publicity (a lecture they hear at least once a week), but Jungkook cuts in before he can get a word out.
“Guys, we’re not thinking big enough,” he says. “If you go on Youtube or Naver, you could probably find a two minute video summing up your entire idea. We don’t need two minute Youtube video ideas. We need award-winning ideas. Something edgy. Something shocking. Something that actually would take the whole semester to film.”
“You have that constipated look on your face again,” Yoongi says. “Every time you get too competitive, you look like you have to take a massive shit.”
“Fuck off, hyung, you know I’m right.”
“Okay, then what’s your amazing idea, Kookie?” Taehyung demands, lifting his head up from Yoongi’s shoulder to stare at him.
Jungkook’s bravado deflates, and he opens his mouth, only to close it again. “I...don’t know yet—”
Yoongi snorts. “Figures.”
“—but I do know that we need to think harder about it, because we have to get first place, guys.”
Taehyung frowns. “It’s not all about winning, Kookie.”
“Don’t you ever say those words to me again, hyung,” Jungkook says, offended. “It is one hundred percent about winning.”
Despite his big talk, Jungkook can’t think of a single idea that jumps out at him as being the one that will nab them the first place spot, and so their brainstorming session quickly devolves into a second round of brasketball. By the time Yoongi ends up becoming the newest champion of the game by being able to toss the crumpled bits of paper down Jungkook’s shirt with frightening accuracy despite his earlier annoyance, the sun is already setting.
With autumn in full swing and winter fast approaching, the sun disappears much earlier in the day, so Jungkook skips the cemetery today and heads straight home instead. His bike can only go so fast, and campus is much closer to his house than the graveyard; he doesn’t want a repeat of the other day by having to bike all that way in the dark.
He manages to make it home before the sun sets, breathing a sigh of relief when he can actually see to lock his bike up and punch in the door code for his apartment.
His mother is nowhere to be found when he walks in. The lights are all out save for a tiny sliver of light coming from inside the fridge since the door had been left open a crack. He checks the temperature inside, and it’s only warmed up a couple degrees, so his mother can’t have been here too long ago.
“Mom?” he calls, peeking into her bedroom. Sure enough, she’s lying there on her bed, the blankets pulled up far enough that Jungkook can’t see her face, but the steady rise and fall of the blanket pile tells him that she’s at least breathing. “I’m home,” he says, even though he knows it’s useless.
The darkness in the house is eerie, so he closes his mother’s bedroom door and flicks on the lights in the living room and his own bedroom, sitting cross-legged on his bed.
It’s no secret to anyone, including himself, that he doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life after graduation. He’s been coasting through school, not really passionate about anything, but this? A competition? He has a fire in his gut that he hasn’t felt in a long time, and a burning desire to win this contest. Their idea for the documentary has to be perfect.
Maybe they could do an exposé on a local business, expose some money laundering scheme or corrupt management. No, that would step on too many toes; most of the stores around the area that they’d have easy access to are family-owned.
Maybe something about the government? No, they would definitely get censored.
Jungkook groans and runs his hands down his face, flopping backward on his bed and staring up at the ceiling. There’s a water stain in the corner that catches his eye, and for a second he half-heartedly entertains the idea of doing a documentary about the shitty apartments in this neighborhood.
Just for the sake of having background noise, he flips on the television, the news popping up on the small screen. It’s another segment about gang violence in the area, and there’s a clip of a group of bikers with their faces blurred, one of them holding a baseball bat.
Normally he would turn the TV back off when there are these kinds of segments, but something like an idea is beginning to form in his head, and he can’t seem to tear his eyes away.
Be careful at night, the news anchor says. Travel in groups. Watch out for people with tattoos and gang symbols on their clothing. Stay safe.
His heart racing, he grabs his phone and dials Taehyung’s number, hitting the speakerphone button.
“Hello?” Taehyung’s sleepy voice blares into the room.
“Tae! Get Yoongi-hyung. I have an idea for the documentary.”
“Stop shouting,” Yoongi yawns, apparently already nearby. That’s weird. It had sounded like Taehyung was in bed sleeping when he answered the call. “I’m listening.”
Shaking off the momentary distraction, Jeongguk says, “We should do our documentary on a local gang. Like, real in-depth shit. It’ll be dramatic and relevant and no one else would have the balls to do something like it. We’ll win for sure.”
There’s dead silence on the other line, and for a second Jungkook thinks they hung up on him, but then Taehyung’s throaty voice drifts through the speaker again.
“Kookie, are you sure? That sounds…”
“Dangerous as shit,” Yoongi finishes for him. “Nothing is worth getting stabbed over, Kook.”
“Except maybe the chance to meet Girl’s Generation,” Taehyung says, and a thumping sound on the other end tells Jungkook that Yoongi probably smacked him upside the head for that.
“No, I’m serious,” Jungkook insists. “Think about it. How many news stations are constantly reporting about gang violence and shit? We live in a city where this kind of thing becomes background noise, you know? If we can burst through the noise and draw attention to it, it’ll be a huge wake-up call to everyone. It’s a good idea, guys.”
“I don’t know…” Taehyung begins. “It just sounds like we might die.”
“We won’t be stupid about it, obviously. It’s not like we need to go straight to the boss and ask him to be in our documentary. We’ll find a way to be safe about it, and if we play our cards right I really think we can make a real statement with this thing.”
Yoongi breathes out, making the connection crackle for a second. “Okay,” he concedes. “Alright, let’s do it, I guess. But if we die before I get to graduate, I’m going to revive you just so I can kill you again.”
Jungkook grins to himself, the gears in his mind already turning to create ideas for their movie. People to interview, places to go for mood shots, a title… It’s with a giddy tone in his voice that he replies, “Awesome. This is awesome, guys, we’re going to win for sure with this.”
“We’ll see,” Yoongi says, letting out another huff of air like he’s readjusting his position on the bed (Taehyung’s bed? Jungkook has to wonder). “We can talk about this more in a couple days, when my other classes aren’t literally kicking my ass.”
They all hang up the phone, and for the first time in several years, Jungkook unmutes the TV and doesn’t tear his eyes away from the news segment that he’s been purposefully avoiding for the past several years.
The next morning, Jungkook’s mother is sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and staring out the window when Jungkook passes by to leave for class. She doesn’t look over at him until he starts lacing up his boots, her expression changing from excitement back to a neutral stare in a matter of seconds.
“I’m leaving for class,” he tells her, double-checking his pocket for his phone.
“Don’t forget to visit your brother later,” she says, turning away from him and staring out the window again. “He misses you.”
Jungkook breathes out slowly and closes his eyes, then opens the front door. “Okay, Mom,” he says before shutting it behind him.
With his newfound focus on the documentary, his other classes become a blur of his usual coasting and only barely paying attention. After his last class ends, he gets on his bike and heads straight to the cemetery to do some more brainstorming for their idea. Yoongi and Taehyung still aren’t completely sold on it, so he needs to somehow get them on the same page if they want to have any chance of making this a good enough movie to win.
When Jungkook walks through the iron gates, he sees Jimin standing outside leaning on a shovel, still wearing that leather jacket.
“Hey,” he calls out, waving. “You weren’t here yesterday, I got a little worried.”
Jungkook raises his eyebrows. “I had to stay late at school. You were watching for me, though? That’s creepy, man.” He’s only joking, and luckily Jimin takes it as such, letting out a laugh that sounds like the tinkling of bells. He’s still such an enigma to Jungkook: how can someone who is covered in tattoos and works at a cemetery be so (for lack of a better word) cute?
“It’s my job to keep an eye on loiterers to make sure there are no graverobbers or vandals,” Jimin says with an amused twinkle in his eye. “What’s actually creepy is the fact that you choose to hang out in a graveyard every day.”
That stings a bit, but Jungkook knows that Jimin doesn’t mean any harm by it; it’s not as if Jungkook’s ever told him why he comes here, after all. For all Jimin knows he really is just a creepy kid who lurks around graveyards for no apparent reason.
“Are there really graverobbers?” he asks.
“More than you’d think,” Jimin tells him, wiggling the shovel back and forth a bit.
“Well, don’t worry,” Jungkook says with a small smile. “I’m only here to visit my brother, so I won’t be robbing any graves today.”
At hearing that, Jimin’s smile drops off his face instantly, replaced with sympathetically furrowed eyebrows and a shameful frown. “Oh. Listen, Jungkook, I’m sorry,” he says quietly.
“Really, it’s okay,” Jungkook assures him. “You didn’t know.”
“Can I make it up to you?” Jimin asks. “Want to come inside and get out of the cold? I got a new chrysanthemum tea.”
Jungkook thinks of the empty notebook with “Documentary Ideas” doodled at the top currently sitting in his book bag, and nods. “Sure,” he says. “Sounds good.”
Jimin’s house hasn’t changed since his last visit, though the peonies on the windowsill seem a brighter shade of white somehow, and the clutter has shifted a bit. The sweater he’d been wearing last time is slung over the armrest of the couch, and the brewer on the counter has been moved to make room for a stack of newspapers all open to the obituaries.
Jungkook doesn’t mention his brother again and Jimin doesn’t bring it up, for which Jungkook is grateful; he spends most of his time trying not to think about it (Even though he visits the graveyard where his brother is buried, which seems somewhat of a contradiction. He hasn’t quite figured that one out yet).
“So how have your classes been going?” Jimin asks, rifling through his tea tin to find a couple bags. “Are you any closer to being that big movie director?”
“They’re going alright,” Jungkook says with a shrug. “But it’s funny you would ask that, because I have a project in one of my classes that requires making a documentary. So I guess I’m making my directing debut a little early.”
Jimin’s eyebrows shoot up and his eyes practically twinkle with excitement. Jungkook tries not to stare too much, but it’s difficult when his face looks so... bright. “Really? That sounds amazing. What’s your documentary about?”
Spurred on by Jimin’s interest, Jungkook sits up straighter on the couch, grinning. “It’s about local gangs. We were planning to get real in depth with it, like finding members who are in prison and interviewing them, going to neighborhoods where they have their base of operations, that kind of stuff.”
“What? No!” Jimin blurts out, then coughs to hide his reddening cheeks at his sudden outburst. “I just… that sounds dangerous, don’t you think?”
Jungkook furrows his eyebrows. “I guess,” he says, confused as to why Jimin is acting so strange all of a sudden. “But we’re not going to go out of our way to put ourselves in danger or anything.”
“Don’t you watch the news? People are constantly getting hurt in those neighborhoods because of those gangs.” His voice sounds so sincere, so earnest, but then he stops and shakes his head. “Sorry. I know it’s none of my business.”
“I appreciate your concern, but I honestly think we’ll be fine,” Jungkook says.
Jimin doesn’t say anything else, silently taking two tea bags from the tin and staring at the brewer, a faraway look in his eyes. Even when the tea is finished and he joins Jungkook in the living room, the solemn expression doesn’t leave his face and he isn’t nearly as animated in their conversation as normal.
When Jungkook says that he should get home before the sun sets, Jimin holds the door open for him, and before he can set foot back outside, Jimin opens his mouth again.
“Jungkook,” he begins, a shadow over his eyes. “Just don’t forget where you are. I don’t want to see your name on one of these headstones because of this, okay?”
“Got it,” Jungkook says, leaving before Jimin can try and lecture him. It’s funny, he thinks, that some guy in a graveyard is acting like more of a parent than his actual guardian, who is probably sitting at home with a bottle of wine without the slightest clue where he is.
Jimin’s warning echoes in his mind as he bikes home, for some reason resonating with him far more than Yoongi and Taehyung’s hesitation over their project had. He should be taking what Jimin said with a grain of salt, he thinks. What would someone who spends all his time around the dead know about living, anyway?
On Sunday, Jungkook heads over to Yoongi and Taehyung’s apartment, which is located in a much nicer part of town than his own. Once, he’d forgotten to lock up his bike when visiting them, and it miraculously had still been there when he went back outside; if he had done that near his apartment, his bike would have been gone faster than he could blink. Then again, they do live in the neighborhood directly across from their college campus, which is arguably the safest part of the city with all the surveillance and police patrolling the streets at all hours of the day.
“Hey, it’s me,” Jungkook says into the speaker, hitting the button for their apartment number.
“What’s the password?” Taehyung’s voice crackles through.
Jungkook rolls his eyes. “Let me in before I freeze my dick off.”
“Ohh, so close. Actually, it was—” The speaker cuts off for a second, and then Yoongi’s voice comes through.
“Sorry. Come on up.” The buzzer rings out and Jungkook opens the door to head inside.
Their apartment is decently sized, though it would be difficult to tell just from walking inside, since every inch of it is covered in clutter. Even though both of them have their own rooms, it seems as though the contents of Taehyung’s entire closet is currently lying on the floor near the couch, including a few pairs of underwear and what looks like a lacy pink bra, though Jungkook would really rather not know about that one.
Even the kitchen is a disaster; there’s a remote control helicopter in the sink and a sweater draped over the top of the fridge with a Kermit the Frog face embroidered on the front, his mouth open in what Jungkook is interpreting as a silent plea for help.
“You guys belong on one of those reality shows about hoarders,” Jungkook grimaces, shoving a pile of Kumamon plushies to the side so that he has room to sit on the couch. “This is gross.”
“Hey,” Taehyung says, hopping on the couch next to him, sitting directly on top of the pile. “I don’t tell you how to live your life.”
“It gets worse every time I come over. I think you have a serious problem.”
“If it bothers you so much, why don’t you come over and clean it?” Yoongi grumbles from his place on the armchair. “We have no time.”
“At this point, just move. There’s no salvaging this place. Take the L and go.”
Yoongi reaches in his pocket and pulls out his hand with his middle finger up. “Sit and spin, Kook. Let’s just work on the project, and you can lose your shit over our apartment later.”
“Okay,” Jungkook says, pulling out his notebook that he’d been jotting down ideas in. “So we’re doing the documentary on gangs, but we need to pick one to focus on, and find former members or members that are in prison that we can interview or something.”
“And we could interview police,” Taehyung adds. “Maybe we could talk to the ones that are usually stationed in the neighborhoods that have a lot of gang activity, so they can give firsthand accounts and stuff.”
Jungkook nods eagerly, adding it to his notebook. “Right. And we could get statements from people who live in those neighborhoods, too. The only problem is which gang to pick. There’s so many around here.”
Yoongi clicks his tongue. “Got it covered. I used to live in that shithole of a town on the west side, and there was a gang that everyone knew about called the Hui Yong Pa. Those fuckers were the worst, I’m sure the police nabbed a few of them that we can interview.”
“Hui Yong Pa...I’ve heard of them,” Jungkook muses, vaguely remembering a couple news shows mentioning that name before. It had all been the usual violence and drug trafficking he’s been used to hearing about for nearly his entire life. “That’ll be perfect.”
“Wait,” Taehyung says, settling deeper into the pile of Kumamons with his eyebrows lying flat above his narrowed eyes. “I know we already asked this, but...how are we going to make sure we don’t get shot or stabbed or something? I know where hyung used to live, and that neighborhood has one of the highest crime rates in the city.”
That seems to be the question of the week: how they’ll stay safe during all this. Not only Yoongi and Taehyung, but even Jimin have all shown concerns, but Jungkook honestly hasn’t given it all that much thought.
He shrugs. “We won’t be walking right up to them or anything. If we go to hyung’s old neighborhood in the daytime and just film some mood shots and only interview former members in public places we should be fine.” There’s an unspoken “...Right?” hidden at the end of that sentence, but he knows that the second he shows hesitation, his friends will pounce on it and use it as an excuse to switch topics for the documentary.
He can practically hear Taehyung exclaiming, “See? Even Jungkookie’s nervous; we should make the movie about the dog adoptions after all.”
“Fine,” Yoongi sighs. “I can’t believe we’re risking our lives for a damn credit in college, but fine. How do you wanna do this, then? What should our angle be?”
Relieved that they’ve agreed to the project rather than backing out or making him pick something else, Jungkook holds up his notebook. “I was jotting stuff down, and I think we should find a former member whose backstory is really sympathetic and sad. It’ll—”
“Sympathetic?” Yoongi repeats, gaping. “You want to find a sympathetic gangster?”
“We’re going for shocking and original,” Jungkook reminds him. “If we just bash on them for the whole movie then we’ll sound like every other newscaster out there.” He looks between Yoongi and Taehyung’s similar stunned expressions with a solemn grimace. “I’m sure there’s someone in that gang who doesn’t— or didn’t— want to be there.”
Taehyung bites his lip, glancing at Yoongi for a split second. “But, Kookie, are you sure you want to go that route? What about your brother?”
Jungkook trains his eyes on him, his stomach lurching at the mention of his brother. “What about him?” he asks stubbornly, knowing exactly what Taehyung is referring to. But that had been in the past, and Jungkook is past it now. “My brother has nothing to do with this. I just know that this is what’s going to win.”
Yoongi and Taehyung share another look (they seem to be doing a lot of that lately) and then Taehyung lets out a resigned sigh. “Okay. As long as you’re okay with it.”
“I am,” Jungkook insists.
Sensing the sudden tension, Yoongi coughs, taking on an authoritative tone.
“Anyway. The other obvious dangers aside, we have to stay impartial. None of that shit you’re always seeing on TV about researchers and documentarians getting too attached to their subjects.”
Jungkook rolls his eyes, though he is grateful for the subject change. “I think we can manage not getting attached to a bunch of violent gangsters, hyung. Have a little more faith in us.”
“Yeah,” Taehyung grins, “we’re not like you, hyung.”
“The hell is that supposed to mean?” demands Yoongi.
Jungkook cackles at the memory, adding, “Remember when you watched Scarface for the first time and then acted like a hardass for like two months straight? You even changed your display name on Twitter to ‘Tony Montana—’”
“Okay, okay, fuck,” Yoongi says, his ears reddening. “Just go back to clowning us for our nasty apartment; leave the past out of this.”
He hadn’t meant it in that way, but Jungkook can’t help thinking, even as he and Taehyung continue teasing Yoongi, that what he’d said is all he wants for this project: to leave the past out of this.
Surprisingly, even with all the teasing and the hour that Jungkook spends just agonizing over the laundry room in their apartment looking as though it’s never been used, they manage to outline a solid plan for their documentary. Jungkook and Yoongi have taken the most classes that involve studying actual filming, so they’ll be on camera, and Taehyung will be in charge of sound and editing.
During their class the following Monday, Jungkook overhears their other classmates discussing their own projects before the professor arrives.
“Yuna, Yerin and I are researching the impact that wearing school uniforms has on a student’s individuality,” Eunbi is telling Mingyu and Yugyeom a few rows down from where he’s sitting. “I’m excited.”
“Sounds cool,” Mingyu says. “We were gonna do ours on a local sports team or something.”
Jungkook bites back a grin, feeling a twinge of triumph in his chest. Maybe it’s too early to be judging other groups’ projects, seeing as his own group has only just left the planning stage, but he can’t help feeling more confident in their documentary now. Their professor walks in and the class immediately is silenced just as he’s picturing the looks of awe on the audience’s faces when their film is shown at the festival.
Hubris, however, is a dangerous thing, as Jungkook is very quick to discover. During the weeks following their finished plan for the film, most of his, Yoongi’s, and Taehyung’s free time is spent trying to find any living former members of the Hui Yong Pa, or at least one that’s been imprisoned that will agree to talk to them.
That in and of itself proves to be far more difficult than they’d thought, seeing as they can’t exactly go around to anyone who looks a little rough around the edges and ask, “Excuse me, sir, but would you happen to have been a member of a violent gang in the past?”
Jungkook’s imagination that had been so full of images of their film winning begins to falter the longer that they remain stuck at this roadblock. Even so, he continues researching the Hui Yong Pa in the meantime, determined to make the most of his time that isn’t spent hunting down arrest records.
Yoongi has some basic facts about the gang already handy, thanks to having lived near their base of operations. They’re called the Hui Yong Pa and their symbols are white peonies and white dragons, both of which are used as the tattoo connecting all of the members. They’ve been around since the nineties but recently changed leaders due to the old one dying of a gunshot wound nine years ago; their new leader is someone they refer to only as “Hyung-nim.” This is all just surface information, though, things that anyone could find out on their own. Digging much deeper than that is just as difficult as finding one of the members to talk to.
One of the only things they actually have been having luck with is on the police end; the officers who are familiar with Yoongi’s old neighborhood had been all too happy to sign the media release forms to agree to appear for interviews.
“Sure,” one officer had said, adjusting his hat. “I’m sick of always dealing with those bastards. If this’ll help get the word out about ‘em, I’ll be happy to help you boys.”
“Just the other day, we had to deal with cleaning up a mess they left on Seventh, remember, Choi?” another officer had chimed in. “Fuckin’ blood spattered up to the roof.”
“Bastards,” the first officer says again, shaking his head.
The enthusiasm from the police might be the only reason why they haven’t given up completely on the project and just gone with Taehyung’s idea about dog adoption after all.
Taehyung had even suggested changing their angle on the project and going for interviews with people who have been affected by the gang, but as far as Jungkook is concerned, that might as well be giving up.
After a particularly terrifying day in which he receives a letter back from the prison where he’d tried to contact one of the former members they’d found, only to receive a thinly veiled threat in return, he stops by the graveyard on his way home. He’s been so busy with school and trying to find people to interview for his project that his visits have gone from everyday to once every other day, but each time Jimin is always waiting for him.
It’s funny, he thinks, that someone he’d spent so long hoping he’d never have to see due to thinking he was a creepy decrepit old man had turned out to be such a young handsome guy with a talent for imitating the sun with his smile.
He hasn’t spoken to Jimin about the project since that day when he’d gotten so upset at the mere mention of gangs, and it’s quite frankly a nice distraction from all the stress he’s facing with their film ideas slowly collecting dust. The couple hours that he spends either helping Jimin tidy up the yard or sitting on his couch near the crackling fireplace, chatting and drinking tea are by far the most relaxing moments of his day, ones that he finds himself looking forward to.
There’s just something about the lull of Jimin’s voice when he speaks, the slight lisp in his words and the hint of Busan in his tone that makes Jungkook think he could listen to him for hours. In fact, he’s so gentle and his laugh is so high and bubbly that Jungkook forgets sometimes where he is, and what Jimin’s occupation is. The day that Jimin had confessed to having a past criminal record seems like something that must have happened in a dream for how improbable it seems now.
Sure, he has all those tattoos that Jungkook still finds himself staring unblinkingly at whenever Jimin bares his arms for those brief moments when he takes off his jacket, and the piercings that no one in an office setting would ever have, but still. Still, Jungkook can’t picture Jimin so much as hurting a fly, let alone getting arrested.
“I got a new blend of tea today,” Jimin says, shooting him one of those dazzling smiles that seem to follow him home lately. “You seem to like the fruity blends, and this one has apple and peach.”
Come to think of it, he had started liking those kinds of teas lately, hadn’t he? Ever since he’s started coming here, he doesn’t gag when he smells overly strong blends anymore, and the last floral blend Jimin had him try actually tasted good.
“That sounds great,” he says, careful not to stare at Jimin for too long. He’s been finding himself doing that a lot, and most of the time Jimin doesn’t notice, but sometimes, their eyes meet for a second and the room feels so much warmer even with the frigid temperatures outside. He trails his eyes across the room instead, landing on the window, and that’s when a realization hits him with the force of a truck hurtling down the highway into a tree.
There, on the windowsill, right under his nose the entire time, is the row of flower pots filled with white flowers. When he’d first visited Jimin’s house, he’d thought them to be peonies, but had forgotten to ask Taehyung. Now he knows, has seen those same flowers in an online image search when double-checking the information Yoongi had given them about the Hui Yong Pa.
“Their symbol is a white peony and a dragon. They wear it like a badge of honor,” Yoongi’s voice echoes in his mind.
Jimin hums to himself while the timer on the water boiler ticks away and Jungkook tries to shake the thought out of his head. There’s no way. It has to be a coincidence. It’s not as if the Hui Yong Pa own white peonies; Jimin probably just saw the flowers in a shop one day and decided he liked them enough to keep them in his house. Living in a graveyard, he’d probably been looking for any way to brighten the place up a bit.
Jungkook manages to keep the thought at bay for the remainder of the time that he spends with Jimin, but when he’s biking back home, those thoughts creep back up to the forefront of his mind like unwanted pests.
It doesn’t make sense at all, and yet at the same time, the more he thinks about it, the more it all begins to add up. The flowers are one thing, but the tattoos, the supposed criminal record, the fact that he has mysterious connections that set him up with a job at the cemetery…
“No,” he mutters to himself, locking his bike up at the rack outside his apartment. “Fuckin’ crazy.”
Inside, his mother is seated on the couch. “Welcome home, Junghyun,” she says, but then her eyes land on him and her face falls. “Oh. J-jungkook.”
“Hi, Mom,” he mumbles, trying to leave the conversation to die and hide away in his bedroom, but then she opens her mouth again.
“Did you visit your brother today?”
“No,” he lies.
“He misses you.”
“Well, I miss you,” he counters, not giving her time to respond before he shuts himself in his room, where he can pretend like the most stressful part of his life is a final project in one of his classes at school.
After class the following day, Jungkook joins Yoongi and Taehyung in the commons again to work on their documentary, but neither of them have any good news.
“This is the third time I’ve been turned down with a threat by one of those fuckers in prison,” Yoongi grumps.
“And I saw a guy with a bunch of tattoos yesterday, so I followed him around the grocery store because I thought one of his tattoos looked like a white dragon,” Taehyung begins. “But the tattoo was just a really badly drawn dolphin and he thought I was an employee and asked if there were any more cabbages in the back. I didn’t know what to do, so I just ran.”
“Have you had any luck?” Yoongi asks, directed at Jungkook, though the look on his face shows that he isn’t expecting much.
Jungkook sucks in his bottom lip to chew on it, considering for a moment telling them about Jimin, but changes his mind just as quickly. There isn’t any point in that; he doesn’t even know if Jimin has any ties to the gang or not, and really doesn’t want to alienate one of the only people that can make him feel relaxed lately by spreading rumors that he’s a member of a violent criminal organization.
“No,” he says. “But let’s keep trying, okay? We can’t expect everything to just fall into our laps right away.”
Yoongi shakes his head. “I’m sorry, Kook, but it’s not looking good. It was a good idea, but I think we should just either change angles or change the project.”
“We’re halfway through the semester already,” Taehyung adds. “If we wait any longer, we won’t have time to finish the documentary at all. But if we start a new one now, we might be able to do it.”
The idea that Jimin could have been a member of a gang known for stealing and drug trafficking and even murder is insane, but if he doesn’t do something fast, everything he’s been working toward in the past month and a half will have been for nothing.
“Wait,” he says. “Wait.”
Taehyung and Yoongi both fix their eyes on him, and he takes a deep breath.
“I’ll find someone. I swear. I’ll have someone for us to interview by the end of the week.”
“And if you can’t?” Yoongi asks.
Jungkook exhales, closing his eyes. “Then we’ll do the documentary about puppies or whatever.”
Even if he is wrong about Jimin, and he sincerely hopes that he is, this will be the last big push that he needs to find someone that they can agree to be in their film.
With that thought in mind, Jungkook waits until the following day to head back to the graveyard, all the while wondering what he could possibly say to Jimin to get on the topic of the Hui Yong Pa. Asking him outright is out of the question, and he can’t seem to think of a single way to subtly bring it up without eliciting the same reaction that Jimin had the last time Jungkook had brought up anything gang-related.
“Hey, so I noticed that you have the symbol of one of the violent gangs in this city growing on your windowsill. That wouldn’t happen to mean anything, would it?” accompanied by a wink and a pair of finger guns. Yes, that would definitely go well.
“Jungkookie,” Jimin greets him with a smile at the door, holding the door open for him. “Come in quick, there’s supposed to be freezing rain any minute now.”
Jungkook looks back up at the cloudy grey sky at the same time that a bitingly cold gust of wind blows past him. He hurries inside, grateful when Jimin shuts the door behind him, boxing him in with the warmth from the fireplace.
“You should really start checking the weather report before you leave the house,” Jimin says, chuckling at the shock on Jungkook’s face when the sky opens up and begins battering the earth with rain.
“But then I wouldn’t have an excuse for you to take care of me,” Jungkook blurts out before he can think twice about it.
Jimin’s eyebrows are raised, but he has a satisfied smile playing on his lips while he walks to the kitchen. “Fair enough,” he says. “Sit down, then, so I can take care of you.”
Jungkook obliges, taking a seat on the couch as usual, but today he sits near the edge of the cushion, unwilling to allow himself to get too comfortable; he’s far too tense for that. Flirting with Jimin had been an impulse move, an instinct response, but it’s done nothing to calm his nerves.
Perhaps he should call all of this off and just forget he’d even had the thought in the first place. He highly doubts his inkling of a suspicion has any real clout anyway, and all this will do is ruin what he has with Jimin.
He glances again at the flowers on the windowsill, but he can’t divorce the image of white peonies from the images of those gang members with bruised faces and tattooed arms.
“Hey...Jimin?” Jungkook says slowly, his heart thundering in his chest. “Have you ever heard of the Hui Yong Pa?”
There’s a clatter in the kitchen and Jungkook stops talking, looking over in concern. Jimin had dropped the tea tin on the ground, the loose leaf bags scattered on the tile. “Shit,” he mutters, and leans down to pick them up. Jungkook jogs over to help, then holds out his hand for Jimin to get back to his feet.
“Are you okay?” Jungkook asks. “What happened?”
“Nothing. I’m fine,” Jimin says, shaking his head. “It’s just, um. Why do you ask? About the… you know.”
Something about Jimin’s reaction has Jungkook’s hands getting clammy and his heart rate picking up, but he responds, “They’re the gang we’re going our documentary on. Their symbol, it’s a white peony, right?” His eyes shift to the flowers at Jimin’s windowsill, and a slight chill settles in the room.
Jimin doesn’t say a word, doesn’t even look at Jungkook, and when he finally does move Jungkook flinches on instinct. Jimin leaves the kitchen, crossing the room to the window, where he draws the curtains and then stops by the front door to lock it, even sliding the deadbolt shut.
A lump forms in Jungkook’s throat, and the temperature around him feels like it’s dropped ten degrees.
“You’re still doing that documentary, huh?” Jimin says, his voice quiet.
“Y-yeah,” Jungkook stammers. Jimin still looks the same as he had before, but suddenly there’s a different aura around him, one that’s sending chills down Jungkook’s spine and making his fists clench and unclench in his coat pocket instinctively.
Jimin leans against the door, closing his eyes and sighing deeply. “I guess it would have been impossible to hide forever,” he says. “But I really hoped you wouldn’t find out.”
“Are you saying…?”
“Yeah. I used to be a member of the Hui Yong Pa.”
Jungkook almost hopes that Jimin’s eyes will curve up into his usual crescents, his full lips breaking out into a smile that leaves his cheeks dusted pink, and he’ll giggle “Just kidding.”
Jungkook is at a loss for words. “When…?”
“I got out a couple years ago,” Jimin says, and now he does laugh, but it’s without any amusement, more of an outward push of air and an empty smile than a true laugh. “If you can really call it that. No one ever really gets out.”
“What do you mean?”
Jimin moves away from the door, hovering near the kitchen table, pointedly keeping a distance from Jungkook. “They’re always watching,” he says simply, and his words make the hairs on the back of Jungkook’s neck stand straight up.
“Is that why you have the flowers?”
Jimin nods. “If I let those die…” He trails off and shakes his head. “Let’s just say there would be a new person working here the next day.”
“Is it okay that I’m here?” Jungkook asks, looking around as if he’ll see the infamous Hyung-nim himself crouching behind the couch with a gun trained on him. “Will they get mad that you told me?”
“Not unless you’re planning on running off to the cops,” Jimin replies.
Jungkook shakes his head fervently. “I won’t, I swear,” he promises. “But, um. The documentary, will we—?”
“Trust me,” Jimin says. “If Hyung-nim was going to stop you, he would have already. As long as he doesn’t see something he doesn’t like, you’ll be fine.” He doesn’t give Jungkook any time to be relieved before he adds, “But that’s playing a dangerous game, Jungkook. I tried to warn you.”
To say it was easier when he could distance himself from the subject of the film would be a lie, because Jungkook has never been distant from this topic. He can’t think about gangs without remembering the flashing police lights, the chemical smell of the hospital, the news broadcasts circulating that made him feel ill, the part of his mother that had left her that day and never seemed to come back. But now everything seems to be closing in on him, and he’s starting to feel a bit claustrophobic.
“Jungkook,” Jimin interrupts. “I think you should go. I don’t know why you’re so hell-bent on doing this documentary, but you would be better off just picking something else. For what it’s worth, though, I really liked being your friend. I’m sorry it had to come to this.”
Jungkook isn’t sure when he got to his feet, but all of a sudden he’s aware that he’s standing, staring at Jimin with more conviction than he’s had since he first had the idea for the documentary. “I’m not going anywhere,” he says. “Who else is going to give me weird tea blends and help me out of the freezing rain?”
Jimin blinks. “What?” he says, thrown for a loop. “Jungkook, you heard me, right? I was a member of the Hui Yong Pa. I sold drugs to people. I’ve held people at gunpoint. I’ve beat people up within an inch of their lives.” He looks like he’s going to add something else, but then he tugs the sleeve of his jacket down further over his right wrist and trails off there.
“I don’t know why you’re so hell-bent on doing this documentary,” Jimin had said, and this right here is his answer.
“Everyone’s done bad things,” Jungkook says, taking a step forward. “Nothing that you just said makes me want to be around you any less.” He smiles. “Actually, if you’re up to it, I wanna offer you a part in the documentary. You can be a movie star, fulfill a childhood dream.”
The confusion in Jimin’s face is almost comical, his mouth opening and closing like he can’t decide what to say, his eyebrows pushed together and his eyes searching Jungkook’s face for any sign that he might be joking.
“What kind of part?” he asks finally.
“I’ve been looking for former members to interview. It’ll be just basic stuff, like why you joined, what you did, how you got out. But if you’re not comfortable, we can just pretend that none of this ever happened.”
“You’re not going to like what you hear,” Jimin says grimly. “I can promise you that.”
“We’ll see,” Jungkook tells him. “It takes a lot to shock me, Jimin. I grew up in a pretty shitty neighborhood, and it’s not like I live in a penthouse right now.”
Jimin ponders this for a moment, then sighs, his shoulders sagging in apparent resignation. “I really wish you’d listen to me,” he says, “but if you really insist on doing this, then I’ll help you. If I can use your movie to try and help kids stay away from the path I went down, then maybe that can be some kind of retribution for what I’ve done.”
Jungkook grasps Jimin’s hands in his own, still marveling at how tiny they are. “Thank you,” he says. “I mean it, Jimin. You won’t regret this.”
“I hope that you won’t either,” Jimin replies in a cryptic tone, but Jungkook catches the hint of a blush on his cheeks. He gently removes his hands from Jungkook’s grip and looks back up at him. “You’re really serious about staying around me, aren’t you?”
“Yep,” Jungkook replies. “You said you’d take care of me, remember?”
“I did say that, didn’t I,” Jimin muses, looking at Jungkook with a funny expression.
As if to prove he wasn’t going anywhere, Jungkook sits right back down on Jimin’s couch, not breaking eye contact all the while. Jimin stands there unmoving for a moment, and then shuffles back into the kitchen where he resumes making tea almost as if the entire conversation had never happened.
Jungkook stays until the rain stops, pausing in the door before he leaves, half-wishing that it would keep raining so that he can stay longer.
“You’re funny, Jeon Jungkook,” Jimin says. “You’re the only person I know that would stay friends with a cemetery caretaker even after finding out that he’s a former gang member.”
Jungkook shoots him a grin. “Says the one who invited a weird kid that hangs out in a graveyard every day to come in for tea.”
Jimin’s lips twitch upward, his eyes curving up as he leans against the door frame. “Get home safe, okay, weirdo?”
“Will do, creep.”
Past the iron gates, Jungkook looks over his shoulder to see Jimin still standing in the doorway, watching him pedal away.
Back home, Jungkook heads immediately to his room to call Yoongi and Taehyung. While the phone rings, he puts it on speakerphone and sits cross-legged on his bed, pulling out his notebook and clicking his pen, drafting up interview questions.
“Hello?” Taehyung’s voice drifts through the speaker.
“Hey,” Jungkook says. “Get your camera and mikes ready; I’ve got our interview.”