Escaping is cowardly - running away from your problems, never facing your demons, is cowardly. Must be. That’s what everyone says, after all.
But some people do it anyway. Some people escape.
Some people escape and never return, and are all the better for it.
He was dying, the first time he saw Yoongi.
It had been his own fault completely - he, who knows, knew the currents like the back of his hand, who’s always warning others off the danger spots, whose job is to prevent that very thing from happening - somehow he’d thought he was impervious to the same waters that could kill with impunity.
Anyway. So there he’d been, drowning, dying, clawing through the water to try and just breathe - to, oh god, to breathe -
The water weighed down on him. Hoseok still dreams about it, sometimes, and he’d always thought he might die in the water, but it’s one thing to think it and one thing to feel it, the -
the burn of it, filling his lungs and his throat, stinging his eyes as he’d tried to get out, suddenly so weak after so much thrashing and coughing, the ocean so volatile -
Anyway. Here’s the bit of the memory he slows down for. He skips over the most of the unpleasantries. The bit that matters. The bit with Yoongi in it.
So Hoseok was drowning, dying, and thinking about how he’d never actually finished that Mario game. Is Mario just gonna be stuck down there, stuck in that fire painting in Peach’s basement just because Hoseok’s dead? Will Jimin complete it for him? And he’s thinking about it, more worried about it than Jimin himself, than about Park Senior and his shop and Jeongguk on the beach, and what he’d say to his mother, what Haewon would think - and he was so worried about Mario, thinking about him, when a slimy thing, like seaweed, wrapped around his wrist.
Okay. Normal. Drowning in the deep sea, so of course weird plants are going to start to claim him before he actually dies.
Here, Hoseok’s memory goes a bit weird. Did Yoongi use the weeds to pull him closer, or did he fight it off him? Either way, it ended with Hoseok bare of plants and drowning, warm hands on his arms pulling him, Hoseok too disoriented to work out which direction he was being hauled.
And then he surfaced. He was coughing, or choking, or crying, or a mixture of all three, hardly aware that he was in the air again, that something had saved him. He still doubts it, sometimes.
Then, in his memory, he was dragged to shore. Cold and soaked through, the hands on his arms now around his shoulders, supporting him until he was tossed roughly onto the rocky outcrops near the beach. His shoulders were stinging almost as much as his eyes. He remembers crying then, if he hadn’t been before.
And then he saw Yoongi’s face for the first time.
Even now, anytime he closes his eyes, he sees it. Him. Pale, rounded cheeks; ears that taper to a sharp point, parting the water-blackened hair tucked behind them; a smattering of brown freckles. Lips. Bitten a little, pink and damp. A snub button nose. Long eyelashes. The curve of a pale neck and the spread of tucked-in shoulders and dripping water down the teasing beginning of a flat, slender chest. Only his head and shoulders had been sticking out of the water. Hoseok remembers that, too.
And he’d stayed, watching, until Hoseok had coughed most of the seawater up and cried out the rest of it. Watched silently.
“Thank you,” Hoseok had said - slurred - wiping drool from his chin. “God, thank you, I - what’s your name?”
Still watching. Quietly. Yoongi had opened his mouth - Hoseok remembers so clearly, lips parting, tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth - and had clicked rapidly, like calling a dog, like the dolphins Hoseok sometimes sees out past the bay, adding a little whistle.
“I’m Hoseok.” Hoseok had been starting to shiver, the ocean seeping into his bones. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
“Ho...seok,” Yoongi had said, and - oh, god, his voice is still so clear, as if it was just a moment ago, as though Hoseok is living his whole life in that one little moment. Raspy and hoarse. Delicate.
“Hoseok’s me. What’s your name?” Hoseok had asked again, shaking. Shaking bad.
“Name,” Yoongi repeated. “Your name.”
“You?” Hoseok pointed shakily at Yoongi. “Your name.”
“Name. Name.” Yoongi had pursed his lips and whistled, shrill and ringing. He gestured to himself.
Yoongi had paused as though thinking deeply. “Yoongi,” he’d said at last, like he was reading something vaguely visible off the wall. Then he’d turned, and Hoseok wondered what colour his hair was when it wasn’t soaking wet, when it wasn’t dark, and when Hoseok blinked Yoongi was gone.
And now, looking back, what Hoseok remembers the most is what wasn’t there -
He never saw Yoongi walk away, and he never saw the colour of his eyes.
When he’s not being a fool, Hoseok splits his time three ways. In the four months since his near-death experience, nothing about his routine has changed, except that he’s constantly on the lookout for a pale foreigner called Yoongi.
The first thing he does is the lifeguarding. The beach belonging to their sunny little seaside town isn’t that big, and it’s one of those beaches that’s a discovery to the tourists, but there’s still plenty to do. Jeongguk, the other kid on duty beside him, got his badge this summer, and he’s spent all of it so far hopping up and down the beach, alternating between playing with the kids and telling them off when he remembers what he’s meant to be doing.
The second thing he does is the ice-cream. Hoseok and Jimin, who lives right on top of the Park family store, run a kitschy little tourist shop, t-shirts and baseball caps and snowglobes and stuff - but most of their money comes from the ices they sell, sorbet and cream and slushed ice in little tubs, dripping off cones all over the beach.
But the third thing is the swimming. It’s the thing he does no matter where he is, the thing that he does.
No fucking around with surfboards either, the way Jeongguk likes to do in the early morning, and no messing around doing those wave-jump games and taking half an hour to adjust to the water. Hoseok swims. Properly.
Swims constantly. Swims. He thinks he swims like other people breathe, sometimes.
The town is built on the inner curve of a bay, and the main beach is right in front of the boardwalk, the place where Jimin and Hoseok sell their ices, the place with the little town museum and the bikes for hire and the car park and the hostels and stuff. But Hoseok lives on the edge of town, where the bay crooks out to sea and then dives back into land again.
The town is built on one spike of a ‘W’ shape. Hoseok’s place is built on the other.
He lives with his aunt, Jung Haewon, but mostly they stay out of each other’s way - she writes children’s books, mythological fairy things full of sparkles and rainbows. He swims. And they have a private bay, private not because they own it but private because nobody ever bothers to come out to it, and in the private bay Hoseok swims and dives and swims and floats, content for hours on end - he can swim from his house to the boardwalk in town, and that’s how he gets to work most days, slicing through the gentle waves, happy and relaxed, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, carrying nothing but himself and, sometimes, a few coins to play toss with on the beach.
(It was here that a rogue current caught him, those few months ago.)
“‘Lo, hyung,” Jeongguk says when Hoseok washes to shore one morning. “Hey, I only fell off once today! And I totally saw a fairy on the morning walk, too. I betcha anything I did.”
“Well done,” Hoseok says. Jeongguk’s surfboard is shoved beside their little hut, upright in the sand, water running off it in rivulets, and Jeongguk’s beam of pride is as bright as the sunshine - he’s never sure whether the fairy sightings or the surfing contributes more to the happiness. “Someday I’ll come in early to see you, huh? And the fairies. See them too.”
“I won’t fall off at all. And you’ll get to see fairies, hyung, proper fairies!”
Hoseok ruffles his hair in reply. Jeongguk reminds him of a puppy, sometimes, eager to play and eager to show off and responsive to hugs and fluff and praise, preening under the attention. “Sure, kid.”
“I won’t! And you will!”
“Didn’t say I didn’t believe you,” Hoseok chuckles, although the surfing seems more truthful than Jeongguk’s perpetual fairies. His badge is waiting for him in the hut, along with an orange polo, which he pulls over his soaked frame. The sun will dry him in no time, anyway, and in the meantime he’d like to seem just a little professional.
(Hah. He’s no better than Jeongguk.)
“Can I go wake Jiminie?”
“He’s probably awake already, kid,” Hoseok says, emerging from the hut and sinking his toes into the soft sand. Already he’s covered in it, sticking to his skin with the seawater, but he doesn’t hate it. It smells of suncream and shells and salt. It smells of home.
Jeongguk sighs. “Can I go get him to feed me, then?”
“Didn’t you eat breakfast?”
“Yeah, but that was ages ago.”
Hoseok laughs. “Not my fault you wanna get up before the sun does.”
“I want food, though!”
“Go ahead, kid. Nobody’s here, anyway.”
“Yeah!” Jeongguk sprints off through the sand, kicking heaps of it in the air, jumping up into an abandoned sandcastle from the day before. “Ice-cream!”
Hoseok watches him run. The town itself is alive, but the tourists don’t emerge ‘till mid-morning, so the smell of frying eggs and lazy breakfasts clatters across the square, the sort of summer morning where everybody’s relaxed and nobody has any pressing appointments. It’s early summer, the heavy weeks right after the schools get out, and everybody’s in a rush to be as slow and patient and sunsoaked as possible - the only other people Hoseok can see, apart from himself and Jeongguk, are three little kids that live in the town, settling on the beach the way they do every day of the year, and a couple of cars chugging through on their way to somewhere else.
It’s hard to think that life could be anything other than this.
The town is what tourists call an escape.
Hoseok calls it an escape, too. Sometimes Haewon gets the newspaper, and sometimes they go watch TV with Park Senior, and see stuff happening, but nothing ever happens in the town.
Hoseok loves it. Nothing happens. Activity is as timeless and continuous as the washing in and out of the waves. An escape.
And the ocean carries itself further back. Hoseok checks the calendar quickly before he grabs the stick of chalk to mark out the tide times on the board by the hut, just as a reminder, but anyone visiting already has a sort-of-an idea of when to sunbathe and when to swim, and -
And it itches at Hoseok to leap back into the water and float himself out to sea. Out so far that he has to climb on the rocks (that fill in the space between the two bays) all the way up to the scrub cliffs at the top, and then he’ll run back down to town and get a quick lunch and do it all over again. They do that sometimes, him and Jeongguk and Jimin, just running until they fall down and then doing it all over again.
Jeongguk returns. His cheeks are covered in lemon sorbet; there’s a dollop of strawberry sauce on the tip of his nose; he’s beaming brightly. His hands are full, one with a half-eaten cone, the other with a mess of half-melted chocolate ice-cream. “I got you it!”
“Thanks, kid,” Hoseok snatches the chocolate ice from Jeongguk’s hand, immediately wriggling his tongue around the cone to try and catch the melting drops. “Hey, you wanna go for a swim after this?”
“Whattabout the lifeguarding?”
“We can guard ‘em from the sea.”
It’s always easy to convince Jeongguk to do something fun. He nods quickly, happily, lapping up the rest of his sorbet. “Yeah!”
The orange polos are abandoned on the sand, pooled next to the lanyards with their badges on them, and Hoseok quickly munches down his cone. “Race ya.”
“Winner gets to dunk the loser!”
Hoseok begins to laugh, sprinting down the beach, and he’s almost - almost - forgotten a quiet Yoongi and a face, watching him cough up the ocean as he lay on the rocks. He’ll keep his eye out. That’s all he’ll ever manage to do.
And later that afternoon, he makes his way up to the shop. Jimin, a small, apple-cheeked, energetic sort of a boy, sits on the side of the boardwalk, flipping a plastic spoon between his fingers. “Hyung!”
“Heya, Minnie.” The shop is what makes Hoseok most of his upkeep - the lifeguarding salary is paid by the town hall and is more of a courtesy than an actual wage. But he and Jimin have a booming little tourist trap, and it’s fun to leave Jeongguk on the beach so he can come up here and serve soft scoop to the sunburned little city kids.
Jimin beams. “You up here for now?”
“Uh… unless Jeongguk drowns, then, yeah.” Hoseok sits heavily next to Jimin, ruffling his head of brown hair on the way down. “How’s it been?”
Hoseok smiles. “Yeah.”
“Hm… your aunt came down and bought a bunch of stuff,” Jimin holds up his hand, folding down one finger after the other, “And Jeonggukkie came up and bounced around a bit and brought you ices, and there was a tour bus and they bought stuff, and. And, yeah. We got money.”
Technically, Jimin’s father, Park Senior, owns the shop. A family business for ages, ever since anyone could remember, but the old man’s got his aching bones and hobbled back, and Jimin and Hoseok take a slice of the pie with no hard feelings.
Plus, free ices.
“What did Haewon want?”
Jimin shrugs. “Chat, as much as anything, and then she wanted postcards to send to your family and all that. Talked about your mum a bit. She had three pens in her hair.”
“A new record?”
“Almost, ‘cept last winter she had one behind her ear, too. She gotta get four in her plait before she beats the record.”
Hoseok grins, Jimin giggling and curling his small fist over his mouth. Jimin is cute and easygoing, working hard in the banking side of the business, caring for his father as much as he can, attending accounting classes in the college twenty minutes down the road - he wants to move away someday, to the city, wants to make his money and do something, but any time an opportunity pops up, he shies away. He says he wants to escape from the town, but - but honestly, Hoseok reckons he’s escaped from something else. But Jimin says he wants to get away -
(Hoseok can’t relate. Ever since he can remember, the ocean, the town, has been the place he’s escaped to, not from.)
And that’s Jimin, leaping up in flip-flopped feet, pulling at the collar of his t-shirt, smiling at a gang of little children, coming up to the soft serve machine with crumpled notes clutched in their fists. One of them wanders over to the sorbet freezer - Hoseok grins at him. “Hey.”
“Can I please - have -” The kid’s foreign, his accent thick and difficult, his brows furrowed as he struggles through the sentence. “Please - have a - orange. Please.”
Hoseok waves the scoop near the box of orange sorbet. “This one, kid?”
The child nods his head furiously, handing over a dampish note and accepting the cone with stars in his eyes. Jimin, meanwhile, is jabbering away to the bunch of them, serving out towered cones, strawberries and chocolates, fixing up change and arranging colourful spoons and sprinkles on top of them.
And later that day, they go to the fisher’s place, and buy a bucket of fresh-caught mussels. Jimin cooks up a creamy sauce - Hoseok buys chips - and they hurdle onto the beach, sitting outside the lifeguard’s hut with Jeongguk, eating mussels and licking the sauce off their fingers and piling up the shells in a heap by their feet.
(Later on, Jeongguk arranges them in an ugly face, and crows that it’s Hoseok-hyung, and then Hoseok chases him into the ocean, and Jimin starts pelting the both of them with cold chips and empty mussel shells.)
Yeah, life’s good.
It’d be better if Hoseok could just see him again, just to say thanks, just to see him. Just to see the colour of his eyes.
But life’s still good.
Which leads him to the here-and-now.
The here-and-now proper. All backstory caught up on; this is Hoseok, living one moment to the other.
“See you tomorrow,” Jimin says, the red sunset staining his hair pink. He and Hoseok fold up the trestle tables with practiced ease, and all the stands full of keyrings and little chains are tucked under the shelves they belong. “Are you swimming back?”
“Yeah,” Hoseok shrugs. He never brings anything into town - he may sleep in his aunt Haewon’s house, but he lives out of the shop and out of the hut and if he ever needs anything, home is just a paddle away.
Jimin nods. He’s tired, and there’s sand in his hair, and he smells of cream sauce and mussels. They both do. “Night, then.”
“Night. Look out for that kid tomorrow morning, before he kills himself on the rocks.”
And Jimin laughs. “He’ll kill himself trying to find a mermaid or something. But I will do, hyung. See ya.”
People are still on the beach, but they’re packing up with the setting of the sun. The three kids are still there, in the same spot from the morning, having dug a hole twice as deep as any of them, but Hoseok’s known them for years. They don’t need a warning to get out before the tide sweeps them in and away.
Truth is, he never told Jimin and Jeongguk.
About any of it.
He didn’t tell them about the almost-drowning because he’s Hoseok, and he’s meant to be the best swimmer in the whole world, meant to know the ocean like the back of his hand, and he’d never hear the end of the teasing if he admitted it.
He didn’t tell them about Yoongi because -
Because it shouldn’t matter. Someone was out for a swim, and they saw someone else drowning, and they helped them to shore and waited until they were sure the other wasn’t dead. They exchanged names.
It was four months ago.
And Hoseok’s still stuck replaying the memory in his head, from the first wave that washed over his head to the moment there’d been a Yoongi and a blink.
Which is honestly pathetic.
Hoseok was aiming for the ocean to swim back to Haewon, but once he reaches the shoreline he swerves, heading for the rocky outcrop. It’s possible to get back by climbing on the rocks, and Hoseok knows a lovely spot right at the tip of the ocean, a place to dangle your feet into the sea and think about whatever’s going on - he’s sure there’ll be nobody there, this late in the day. Nobody fishes. It’s just a place for Hoseok, for the people that know it’s there.
“Your name,” he mumbles, pulling his lanyard from around his neck and hanging it on a rock safe enough that it’ll still be there in the morning. “What’s your name?”
Yoongi hadn’t been native, that’s for sure, although he’d looked so pretty in the moonlight. Glowing, almost, his skin flushed and pale, a little freckled. But he hadn’t understood Hoseok’s question.
“What’s your name?” He says to himself. The barnacles clinging to the rocks hurt his feet, just for a minute, but it’s not long before he adjusts to the stinging tingle of the surface and begins to ignore the pain.
What if Yoongi wasn’t his name? What if it was, like, a word to ask if Hoseok was alright?
But it’s a name. It’s a name. Yoon. Gi.
The rocks rise up from the beach, steep, and it’s a sort of a game to see how quickly Hoseok can leap from one to the other without losing his security or his confidence or, worst of all, his grip. Some places here aren’t rocky underneath, but some are, and Hoseok can remember a few years ago, a girl crashing down to the hidden danger, red in the water and the wail of an ambulance.
He won’t, though. He knows the rocks.
“Hoseok.” Hoseok. Does Yoongi think about him?
The sand peters off, now, so there’s nothing separating the rocks from the ocean. Spray hits Hoseok’s legs, flecking up onto the salt-stained orange shirt, dampening his arms and his face, and Hoseok sighs into it. Does he think about him?
Like, Hoseok’s technically saved a bunch of lives. Kids swimming too deep, Jeongguk tripping and getting whacked with his surfboard, that old man that one time that bashed his ankle against a hidden rock.
And he can’t remember all of them.
He climbs higher and higher, almost as though he could climb through the sunset and into the other side. Yoongi isn’t a lifeguard, though, and Hoseok knows everyone in the town, so he’s not someone like that, either, so he must be -
As he comes to the tip of the rocks, the place where they jut out into the water, near the spot Yoongi had brought him in the first place, he sees a someone. A body sitting where Hoseok should be, a tanned back, a head of soft, lilac hair looking out to sea, the rhythmic splashing of feet in water the way it can only be reached when the tide is at its highest.
“Hey,” he calls out - I’m a lifeguard and you’re not meant to be up here - but he’s left his badge down there. By the rocks. And his orange shirt doesn’t mean anything except that he’s got a real bad taste in fashion.
The guy at the rocks doesn’t look around. He’s not wearing anything but a pair of swimming trunks, coloured silver, and there are golden bracelets all up his arms. “Hello,” he says, still not looking around, and shifts over. “I’m not holding you up, am I?”
“You’re staying at the hostel, right? You better get on. Tide comes up quick,” Hoseok says, trying to sound as polite as he can. He just wants to mope.
The guy laughs. Pats the rock beside him. “Nope, I’m good here. C’mon and sit down, though. Tell me your worries. Your shoulders look way too set.”
“You can’t see my - no, the tide’s gonna be too dangerous. You should head back.”
“If it’s too dangerous, why aren’t you heading back?”
Hoseok thinks about knowing the ocean better than anyone else, and then he thinks about drowning in it, and being pulled to shore by a somebody. “Cause I know the tides ‘round here,” he says anyway, shoving a defiant middle finger at his memories. “You better go back.”
“Sit down. I’m not leaving yet. I’m here to do something special, act- ually.” He’s got an accent, this guy, a little lilting. Melodious. Pretty to listen to.
“Do it in the town.”
“No. Sit down.”
Hoseok groans, long and childish. “No.”
“Sit down.” The guy looks back at him, wide smile decorated over his tanned face, his brown eyes glinting with gold, his cheeks speckled with dots that could be mud or freckles. “My name’s Taehyung. Taehyung Sei. So, like, now we’re not strangers. Sit down.”
“Why do you want me to sit so bad?” Yet there’s something about the eyes - compelling, the golden strands through them glowing stronger, and Hoseok is sitting before he knows it. His knee touches Taehyung’s, and he jolts back, recoiling.
Taehyung smiles. “What’s up?”
“Why do you want me to sit so bad?” Hoseok dips his feet in the water. Technically, he could just slip off the rock right now and swim back to Haewon’s, his own beach, and forget Yoongi and weird tourists on rocks. He’s not gonna, though. Why isn’t he?
“Just wanted to hang out.”
“I’ve - you - I don’t know you, though.”
“Yeah, but,” Taehyung shrugs. There’s a little brown mole on his shoulder. “You looked interesting. Hoseok, right?”
“I - what?” Hoseok checked, but he’s taken his lanyard off. There’s no way Taehyung could know his name.
“I been hearing about you. The lifeguard that isn’t an idiot.”
“Guk’s not an idiot.”
Taehyung smiles again, teeth poking out from below his lip. “Just repeating what I hear.”
“You really gotta get back. The water’s gonna come right over the rocks in a bit.”
“But I’ll be safe beside you, Hoseok-ah. After all, you know the sea. The tides ‘round here.”
Hoseok grits his teeth and says nothing. He just wanted to mope in peace, or whatever, and he’s still not sure why he hasn’t just walked away yet.
“You know what I’d do about him, if I were you?” Taehyung’s toes are painted silver, the same shade as his trunks, and his fingers are the gold of the bangles that clink up his arms. Hoseok sees a sliver of a tattoo tracing around his ankle, but he doesn’t get to see what it is before Taehyung’s splashing his feet into the water again. “Hey. Hey, Hoseok-ah. You know what I’d do about him?”
Hoseok-ah? “Who, Jeongguk?” Hoseok says grudgingly. Kicks his heels down into the ocean.
“Not that kid, although he looks cute, too. Like a button. No, you know. Prettyboy. Pointy teeth and pretty lips and all that, right? Right, Hoseok-ah? ‘Cause you know the sea so well?” Taehyung laughs, melodious and gentle, and in the burning blaze of the sunset it’s as though his hair is glowing silver.
Hoseok’s blood runs cold. “Do you know him? Is he part of your tour group or something?”
“Huh.” Taehyung surveys him. “Depends who you’re talking about. Cute li’l ears and all. Button nose. Adorable.”
“Yoongi?” Hoseok catches his breath. If - if Yoongi’s been staying in a hostel somewhere, like a bunch of foreign college students, does that mean this freak could be his lead? “You’re talking about - has he - he told you?”
“Just repeating what I hear,” Taehyung says again. His eyes twinkle, and when Hoseok looks at the water, the silver on his toes seems to be glowing. He’s wearing anklets, too, silver and gold loops that look rippled and hooked, distorted by the seawater.
“I don’t know who you are,” Hoseok fancies he sees the fish darting below their feet. “I just wanna meet him again. Say thanks.”
“After all, you know the seas.”
Hoseok’s not stupid. He knows when he’s being mocked, but he has no idea what to do about it, not when it’s some tanned stranger with perked lips and golden eyes, who wraps all of his insults in a voice like silk and honey.
“Just tell me where he is.”
“He told you his name?” Taehyung wipes a finger across his bottom lip, cleaning some phantom irritation away, drawing Hoseok’s eyes to the thickness of them. “Wow. Aren’t you special, Hoseok-ah.”
“How do you know him?”
“Just repeating what I hear,” Taehyung says, so obviously on the edge of laughing that it just about drives Hoseok to properly throw himself in and swim away.
Fuck this. “Listen, I don’t know you,” Hoseok almost-growls, curling his hands into fists. He feels stupid. And slow. And his head hurts, like he’s drunk a couple bottles of beer and the hazy dizziness is just fading away. “Tell me what you’re gonna tell me, or fuck off.”
“Ooh. Hard- core.”
Hoseok bites down on his tongue so hard he tastes blood.
“Well,” Taehyung says, tracing his finger down his own thigh, drawing Hoseok’s eyes to the long expanse of skin. “You met him ‘cause you were drowning, Hoseok-ah that-knows-the-seas. You met him so he could save you. If I were you, I’d wait ‘till there was a storm, and just… throw myself in.”
“You’re fucking insane.” Hoseok’s mouth is dry, and he’s staring at Taehyung’s knee, and he doesn’t know why he’s still here.
Taehyung shrugs. “I think it’s a good idea.”
“You just told me to kill myself.”
And there’s a golden glint, sparkling inside the brown eyes, and there’s little strands of silver threaded through the lilac hair, like it’s one of those pendant-crowns the fairy princesses always wear in his aunt’s books. “I told you to go get the prettyboy. You want him, don’t you?”
“All soft and quiet. Hmm. All you’d have to do is…” Taehyung walks his fingers along his leg, then hovers them at his bent knee. “Jump.”
His hand splashes in the water.
Hoseok’s head hurts. “You want me to jump into the ocean.”
“I don’t care,” Taehyung shrugs, and dancing sparkles of gold trickle down his arms, and he shines, entrancing as the sun slides down beyond the sea. “But I think you should.”
Hoseok doesn’t remember him leaving. Hoseok doesn’t remember falling asleep.
But he blinks, and when he opens his eyes, the sun is gone.
So is Taehyung.
He takes one look at the ocean - all you’d have to do is jump - and decides to climb up the rocks to the path, and walk back to Haewon’s cottage, instead.
“I’m writing to your mother.”
Hoseok scratches butter over the toast a little louder.
“I’m writing to your mother.”
“Hoseok. I am writing to your mother.”
“Looks like we need more butter,” Hoseok says loudly, clanging the knife into the butter dish. “I’ll get some in town today.”
Haewon sighs. He isn’t looking around at her, but he imagines her shoving her pen into her mouth, chewing on the tip, her brow furrowed over the long, cramped postcard. “Hoseok. You know I don’t mind you living here.”
“Yeah, Jimin’s dad will know where I can get some fresh stuff. Proper butter. I’ll have to go soon.”
“You can stay all you like, in fact.”
Hoseok throws the knife into the sink. It crashes into a chipped mug. “I’ll get some milk, too.”
“But this isn’t right, Hoseok. All this hostility. I’m not saying she was in the right, but I think you should consider - consider -”
Hoseok crunches into the burnt toast, offensively loud, turning around to face his aunt. “And maybe some eggs.”
Haewon is tall and slender, much like Hoseok himself. She’s one of those people that could be any age, hiding behind small glasses and plaid shirts, her long hair plaited and wound into a bun, and sometimes - sometimes, when she comes out of her office after a long day, sighing against the doorframe - sometimes, she looks a little too much like her sister for Hoseok to handle. Haewon is reclusive. And, yeah, most of the time she and Hoseok stay out of each other’s way.
Doesn’t mean it isn’t annoying when she decides to intervene.
“Hoseok. Write to your mother.”
“Listen, Haewon-” he chucks the rest of the toast out of the window. Some crow’s lucky day. “Listen, I’m happy here. I can leave if you want me to, but I won’t be going back there, I’ll be moving into the Park place over the shop. I’m twenty-three.”
“No matter what age you are, you still need -”
“Nah, I’m good the way I’m set now, actually.” If he turned his head, he could read the postcard, but he doesn’t want to. “Listen, just - I’ll bring back dinner. Go write.”
“I was going on a walk.”
“Then go walk, then.” His sandals are by the door; he slips them on, shoving his backpack over his shoulders. “But not towards town, ‘cause I’m going that way.”
He wrenches the door open, stomping out and onto the garden path. It’s not that he doesn’t love Haewon -
Of course he loves Haewon -
But she’s one of those well-meaning people that thinks the whole world should work like books do, and gets stressed when they don’t. Some things aren’t meant to happen.
And then he’s thinking about the colour of Yoongi’s eyes again, and how soft he looked in the moonlight, and how much he wanted to reach out and touch, and how much he regrets not doing so. Who’d that guy been? Taehyung, right?
All you’d have to do is jump.
Hah. Yeah-fucking-right. Like Hoseok would jump. He’s not that stupid, no matter what that weird kid was trying to imply, and the odds that Yoongi would actually reappear are next to none. He kicks up gravel.
He doesn’t want to have a complicated life. He isn’t complicated - he doesn’t like it.
Yeah, he’s complicated, like -
Like, he thinks about things.
But he’d rather have a calm life. He’s already escaped - he’s already lived through his dramatic character arc, and arrived here, happy and fulfilled. He’d rather live simply and keep all the complexity in the ocean, for the times he’s swimming, the water so deep below him he can’t touch the bottom, the whole thing an exercise in trust between him and the ocean. Hoseok doesn’t want to have to deal with Haewon and some kid on the rocks and the colour of Yoongi’s eyes.
But he is.
He kicks at the scrubby dune-grass at his feet. Whatever. Fuck it. It’s not like he has to care. Why does he care?
He doesn’t care.
And the sun has risen, just barely, and the ocean stretches all across the left side of his vision, dwarfing the town that lies to his right. It’s early in the morning, so the water’s blushing pink, skating colour across the green and the blue, and Hoseok wishes he’d swam. He’d been angry. Still is.
He doesn’t want to be angry. He doesn’t want to be complicated. He’s escaped.
He’s escaped. It’s done.
All you’d have to do is jump.
Hoseok banishes all thought of Taehyung from his head, kicks Yoongi out of there too, and sprints the rest of the way down to the town, kicking up sand, the waves calling his name. There’s Jeongguk, and there’s Jimin, and there’s everyone that makes life simple, and Hoseok’s a simple man, too.
All you’d have to do is jump.
He’s not going to.
My name’s Yoongi.
He’s not going to.
Just repeating what I hear.
He’s not going to.
“Hyung! Hyung! I hit the rocks and now my board’s all scratched up, hyung, what do I do- ”
He’s not going to.
Hoseok forces a smile onto his face. “You dumbass, Guk. It’s fine. Just don’t go to the rocks next time, kiddo.”
“But I found your badge there,” Jeongguk says, frowning, the lanyard dangling from his fingers as he holds it out. “Did you leave it there last night?”
“Oh. Yeah. Yeah, I must’ve.”
All you’d have to do is jump. It trails through his mind like the chorus hook of a catchy song, always there, something he’ll be humming under his breath.
Jeongguk sighs. “Today feels weird. You feel it?”
“Thought it was just weird.”
“Nah.” The kid shuffles his feet in the sand. “Heavy day, ‘s what gran says.”
“Huh. Yeah. Heavy, is right.”
Heavy days. It’s a phrase - the older ones use it, sitting out in the shaded parts of town, glaring into iced drinks and saying it’s a heavy old day, alright. The sort of days where nothing feels right and nobody has the energy to do anything and there’s a ticking, right at the back of the skull, like you should be doing something - but what?
“Heavy old day,” Jeongguk mumbles, mimicking the slurred accent of the crop farmers outside town. The voice of his grandmother, hobbling about her slender house reading books and cooking meals for the neighbours. “Should we go up to Jimin?”
“Guess so,” Hoseok slings the lanyard around his neck, his spat with Haewon lying uncertain in his mind. He doesn’t like being at odds with her.
Everything feels… off.
All you’d have to do
“Huh?” Hoseok looks up into Jeongguk’s questioning expression. “Oh. I was just thinking out loud, kid.”
(But all he’d have to do is jump.)
“See you tomorrow, Hoseok!”
“See you tomorrow!”
“See you tomorrow?”
And so the month goes by. Every so often, when he’s sitting on the rocks, or when he’s letting the ocean drift him out a little to sea, he thinks he sees someone tall and lean and tanned, hair shining lilac, legs silver, gold all up their arms - but any time he blinks, and looks again, the figure is gone.
Once, Jeongguk had shown him something he found when he was surfing one morning. A gold bracelet, slim metal curved in a neat circle, unbroken to let the chain slide around it - the chain, connecting a lump of uncut quartz, polished and shining with purple and white. “What do I do with it?” Jeongguk had asked. Then, more excitedly: “Dya think it’s magic? Do you think it’s magic, hyung?”
Hearing the familiar song in his head, the little hum of all you’d have to do is jump, Hoseok had smiled and folded Jeongguk’s fingers around it once more. “Keep it, kid. I doubt the person that owned it has much need for it. I don’t - I don’t think it’s magic-”
“It’s pretty.” Jeongguk had shaken it down his wrist, where the quartz lay against the blue veins, glinting. “Do I look pretty, hyung? Like a fairy. Bet you anything it’s from a fairy.”
“Gorgeous, kid. Magical.”
Jeongguk giggled, then, and ran up the beach to show Jimin, and when Hoseok looked around for Taehyung, he was nowhere to be seen.
And a month goes by, and slowly, the heavy days lift. August comes, and the tourists abate a little, the town filling with a few families, but mostly couples or tour groups that stay for a month or so, soaking in the atmosphere more than the sights. Jimin and Hoseok keep the shop open, but restock it with tour books and history books in multiple languages, and one sly day, Jimin ups the prices for the ice-creams.
(“Might as well milk ‘em,” he whispers to Hoseok, and Hoseok can’t help but laugh.)
And one night in early August, after a raging argument with Haewon -
talk to your mother! -
Hoseok gets raging drunk and storms down to the beach.
(Not the town beach. The other one. The one that he swims in.)
What the fuck does Haewon know? She’s been living halfway across the country from her sister since before Hoseok was born, so surely she should know better than anyone why Hoseok’s doing this. She should know. She should just keep her stupid nose out of his stupid business and let him alone. That’s all Hoseok wants to do, anyway. Keep his stupid nose out of the stupid business.
All you’d have to do -
And it’s not fair that Hoseok’s finally escaped to live here full-time, and it’s not fair that nobody wants to let him. Sometimes he thinks -
(and he hiccups and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, knocking his beer bottle against his teeth as he pours it between his lips)
that the only person that really wants him here is himself. Which is stupid. Jimin and Jeongguk and, and, and, and loads of people like him here. And he likes him here. And it’s great. And his head hurts. And his heart is beating too fast.
And he hates that kid. Taehyung. Taehyung Sei, or whatever.
But, hey. When Hoseok’s drunk he thinks about the colour of his eyes, of Yoongi, and how annoying it is that he still hasn’t met him anywhere else. Taehyung had hinted that he knew him, so where is he? Who is he?
Who is he. Now there’s a question and a half.
All you’d have to do is jump.
Well, fuck that. Hoseok tosses the bottle aside, nestling it in the dug hole in the sand where the other empty bottles are. When he’s sober, in the morning, he’ll come and bring them back up to Haewon’s and chuck them somewhere where they won’t strangle a fish, or whatever. Never too far gone to be ecological, he remembers Jimin saying once, before pouring a shot into the ocean. Fish need to unwind, too.
“i like to drink with fishies cuz fishies are our mates when i go drink with fishies they drink them down in eight-” and Jimin, in Hoseok’s mind, cackling and saying Jeonggukkie drinks like a fish -
Yeah, well, Hoseok isn’t an asshole. Or something. The only person getting damaged by his bad decisions is him.
Who said that?
Him, probably. Or a drama. Or Jeongguk, blood pouring from his busted nose after another failed attempt to surf. Or something.
Anyway. Last time he felt this weird - last time he felt this drunk - he met Yoongi.
All you’d have to do is -
And Hoseok is up to his waist in water, splashing through the chill of the ocean at night, cold and tired and drunk and sick of hearing that stupid voice in his head telling him to -
And who gives a fuck? Haewon only knows the world that she creates, pixies and fairies for little girls to obsess over, family-friendly shit that she could churn out in her sleep, and it’s not Hoseok’s fault he had to leave, had to escape, and it’s Haewon’s fault she won’t fucking listen to him. And who gives a fuck? Hoseok just wants to swim and live on the beach and stay there his whole life, getting old on the beach, collecting shells, browning in the sun, getting old and wrinkled right where he is. He’s happy. He’s happy. He’s happy? He’s he’s he’s he’s he’s
not touching the bottom anymore
And swimming. He’s good at swimming. Swimming is what he knows.
And so he swims.
Fuck Taehyung Sei and his jumping. Hoseok can swim. Hoseok can swim, so why is he sinking? So why aren’t his arms working? So why won’t his legs kick, the breathe-in-out rhythm he’s learnt, so why, so why, so why won’t he swim?
“Fuck,” he gurgles, and begins to thrash.
The ocean is not your friend, Jeongguk recites to every little kid that has a close-call and comes out sobbing, clinging onto Jeongguk’s neck like a limpet. The ocean doesn’t want to help you. You can jump over the waves all you want, but don’t think you should swim out without your parents, without knowing what you’re getting into, okay?
No. Not okay.
Nothing sobers you up faster than trying to swim with alcohol clouding your brain and the waves slowly pulling you out to the horizon. Hoseok is a strong swimmer, but the ocean is not his friend, and he always forgets that, somehow, until he’s struggling back to shore, his arms burning, his body pulling itself far too slowly back. The waves are rougher than they looked five minutes ago. A wind has picked up. A westerly wind.
Burns his shoulders. Not okay, and so he swims, and for some reason all he can hear is the musical laughter of a gold-clattered boy on the rocks, kicking his bare feet in the ocean and telling him to jump.
Yeah, well, fuck it. Hoseok doesn’t want to sink.
So how come the shore isn’t getting any closer?
So how come there’s a dancing hand, tugging his ankle?
So how come he’s so cold?
So how come -
So how -