They’re young blossoms at the age of seven and nine when they first meet.
Jungkook remembers it all clearly, a memory that was rough around the edges but the soft and hazy through the sibilant cicadas; the summer sun’s blinding and harsh light stretching across the blue sky, a hazardous tangibility that drowned him in an onslaught of sweat and crosshatched burns onto his skin. He’s lying on his back on the dry grass in a mixture of numbness and pain. He remembers fighting back with his fists, but three bullies twice his size overpowered one kid who was all gaunt and skinny, thus leaving Jungkook in a rather bruised state as he lets the sun pour over him, limbs unmoving.
He closes his eyes. He wonders what his schoolmates would say -- what other absurd rumour they’ll conjure up to pass around like cigarettes. A problem child. An abusive home. A delinquent. A bully. A troublemaker. Sociopath, probably. Jungkook didn’t know but he did appreciate their creativity. Then again, who would believe the skinny foreigner kid with a thick accent who just moved to town if he’d say that he was merely headstrong and didn’t like being looked down upon by his peers? He was all snark and all bite, unwilling to back down from a fight, but he was weak. He didn’t like being weak.
He hated this town, these people that inhabited it and its ruined infrastructure. He wished he hadn't left his home in Busan; wished he could still play jump rope with his friends and go to the fish market with his grandmother. This better life his mom sought was nowhere near better. It was all jagged teeth and harsh countenances and roughhousing. All hatred and judgemental, no acceptance whatsoever.
Jungkook lets himself wallow in self pity and frustration, the sun painting reds and oranges behind his closed eyelids until he feels something -- someone hover above him, casting a shadow that blocked him from the sun.
“Are you dead?”
It’s a gentle voice and Jungkook feels something tug at his chest at the sound of his mother tongue being spoken so out of the blue; so unexpected but so nice and it’s like home to his ears. He expels a shivery breath and opens his eyes and finds himself staring up into a pair of round eyes blinking in curiosity underneath his black hair. The boy looks around the same age as Jungkook, maybe a bit older, and of the same heritage.
Jungkook stares at him for a while, the irritation slowly draining out of his system and replaced with something akin to defeat. He opens his mouth and says back in Korean, “Does it look like I’m dead?” The boy's eyes sparkle at the reciprocation.
“Well, you don’t look alive either. You’re all hurt,” The boy calmly says. Then he breaks into a smile-- an endearing sight, Jungkook notes, when he sees how his eyes disappears into crescents, and the boy extends a hand towards him, “I can help you. Come with me.”
Jungkook eyes his generous hand for a moment. It’s a bit disconcerting to receive his unreserved kindness, but he finally reaches forward and accepts his hand when the boy’s expression was too genuine to have an ulterior motives. He lets the boy pull him up.
The boy is taller than him by a few inches. The strange thing he notices about him is that he’s wearing long sleeves in the middle of a heat wave. He can see the sweat building up at the sides of his face but the boy makes no intent of rolling up his sleeves whatsoever. It leaves a lot of freedom for the creative mind to imagine but Jungkook dismisses it. It’s none of his business; the boy is still smiling at him, too kind for Jungkook’s comfort.
“I’m Park Jimin.” The boy beams. There’s something about him that makes Jungkook relax from the constant tension in his shoulders though, and secure. He was warm and genuine, unlike the other kids.
So he allows himself to smile just slightly as he says, “Jeon Jungkook.”
A hot boiled egg wrapped in a towel was pressed up against the bruise on the side of his face. Jungkook bit back a hiss at the pain it brought as Jimin, seated beside him on the front steps of his porch of his cape cod house, finishes cleaning the cut on his knee before taping a bandage over the injury.
Jimin had insisted that he wasn’t allowed to bring people inside, but he was able to tend to his wounds outside since he could go in and out to bring materials. Jungkook finds it a bit strange that a ten-year old had this much expertise in treating minor wounds with such dexterity, but he didn’t say anything; just lets the boy work in silence.
After Jimin was done and leans back, Jungkook keeps his gaze down on the ground as he mutters shyly, “Thanks.”
Jimin grins unabashedly as he puts away the bandage wrapper to the side, “No problem.”
A string of silence falls between them and Jungkook isn’t sure if he’s supposed to leave. No one speaks and it’s painfully awkward -- he isn’t one for banal small talk, so he makes a move to get up and say his goodbyes when Jimin finally speaks up with a tone of curiosity to match the dovelike glimmers of his eyes.
“Why do you fight?”
Jungkook rolls the egg gently around his cheek, wincing, “What?”
“Why do you fight?” Jimin pauses, as if to think. “If you know you won’t win?”
He grits his teeth. His gaze hardens at the ground and he feels annoyance bubbling in the pit of his stomach, even though his question sounded more curious than derisive. Jungkook sighs, leaning an arm against his leg as he gives a one-shoulder shrug, “I rather fight back than to be looked down upon like a docile mutt. Letting people have control over you is never fun.” He puts his lips into a tight line, “I rather eat shit than let them win.”
Jimin lets his gaze fall onto the ground as well, fidgeting with his sleeves. A flicker of deep contemplation flashes across his expression, a slight frown tugging at his lips. But the duality of his mood quickly dissipates into a sudden show of a bright smile as Jimin faces him and throws an arm around his shoulder in a friendly manner, surprising Jungkook from the sudden skinship, “You’re brave, Kookie. I think it’s admirable that you’re a toughie, although substantially unsanitary.”
Big words for a small guy. Flustered, Jungkook shoves off his arm, “Kookie?”
“What? It’s a cute nickname.” Jimin shrugs and chuckles when Jungkook flares his nose at him. “Okay, Jungkookie! Today is the mere beginnings of our blossoming friendship. Whenever you get your scrawny butt beat up, I’ll be there to patch you up all back together again!” He stops, eyes faltering in second thought and frowns, “Um. Well, actually. I should let you know first that I don’t really condone violence. I’m more of a pacifist you know, but you probably won’t listen to me even if I told you to stop.”
Jungkook narrows his eyes at him in suspicion. He's not sure if he’s supposed to be offended or touched but the only thing his ears had zeroed in on was, “Friendship?”
“Yeah!” Jimin exclaims, “This was a real bonding experience, don’t you think? I’ll be, like. Your personal doctor or something. Gives me the opportunity to brush up my skills before I can become a real one!”
Jungkook isn’t sure what to say from his sudden show of straightforwardness. “You’re weird.”
“Huh. I’ve been told that a lot.”
It’s a weird thing to bond over, to say the least. Jungkook isn’t the type to open up so quickly, especially since after he moved to town, he was immediately welcomed by hostility from others. He hasn’t made any friends since his arrival, nor has any other kid showed him the same kind of compassion as Jimin. And he didn’t want to be friends with someone who just felt sorry for him, but as he looks at Jimin’s brilliant grin, ladened with braces, that pulled his eyes into the shapes of endearing crescents all warm and sincere, he feels a slab of ice slowly thaw from his heart. There's stars in his eyes and maybe, just maybe, he was a mere pipedream that would fade away and disappear if he’d reach out to touch him.
He isn’t sure but there’s something about the boy that eases away the reluctance. Maybe Jungkook will learn to open up, to feel comfortable and safe in someone else’s company, to share understanding and interest. He feels hope pool down from his chest to his stomach, replacing the initial pessimism with something more light, more delicate.
“That’s okay,” Jungkook looks down at his red knuckles, “you’re weird in a good way.”
Jimin laughs sweetly and Jungkook smiles. He’ll learn to trust.
The springtide breeze brings along budding flowers and pristine leaves in the air. Time moves by like blurry frames of memories distributed like a filmstrip and it takes a while, more than a few months, for Jungkook to finally open up.
They communicate in Korean the majority of the time in their youth, although they learn to switch back and forth so that the both of them could improve their English. He’s learned that the older boy was a bit of an oddball, inherently quiet like Jungkook but more cheerful and talkative but always somehow lingering in his own world when trying to relay a story where he ends up stopping to fall into deep thought. He likes to read underneath the large weeping willow near the meadow field with wildflowers, something about being surrounded by nature that calms down his jitters; is friends with the old lady in charge of the quaint ice cream parlor downtown (actually, he’s friends with a lot of old people Jungkook didn’t know even still existed); is all bright and sunny smiles and laughter, easily shy when being complimented on but still strangely confident in his own way. Jungkook found it endearing. Maybe everyone's just weird in their own way.
Jimin never wears short sleeves or short pants, uses big and uncommon words to appear grandiloquent, loves spicy food and jelly snacks, sings sappy old Chinese love songs like Teresa Teng’s ‘The Moon Represents My Heart’ after finding CD’s of it and listening to them over and over to the point of memorizing it; he’s spontaneous and whimsical and takes insults like compliments. He’s somewhat a free spirit, to say the least, whereas Jungkook was all routine and fixated timelines, not as malleable with change as Jimin. The older boy is a starry-eyed daydreamer who dreams and is like a dream. Jimin dreams, Jungkook grounds him.
Jungkook doesn't know how he could remain so positive all the time in such a shitty town with shitty people. It frustrates him sometimes, how the boy views the world in rose-coloured glasses when the world is far from perfect -- it’s all grim and dark, a sisterworld of vices no one wants to see, but maybe Jungkook has just grown up too fast, too cynical. He’s a fighter with a fighting spirit and a stormy temper, who lacked more belief in himself than in the kindness of others. He’s a lost cause. Nobody hangs around lost causes who bottles up unexpressed emotions that leads to uglier things. And he’s jealous too, of the attributes and qualities Jimin has that Jungkook wishes he had. But he can’t bring himself to feel and think that way, not when Jimin smiles at him as though he robbed the sun’s light and embedded it in his smile only for him.
He wishes he could be rose-coloured too.
They talk about their shared birthplaces sometimes, Busan, before they moved away from their ancestry. Jungkook reminiscences the rundown apartment he and his family lived back in his home. It was small and a bit stuffy but he was happy despite the worn down structure. He misses his grandma and his grandpa and he barely sees his mother anymore, too busy working double jobs trying to pay the rent of their apartment here and investing savings into his tuition. It’s a lonely and wistful feeling that often plagues him, the aggressive milieu surrounding him merely feeding fire to the flames.
Jimin and his parents moved for a better life a few years ago, but that’s all he ever says about them. He barely mentions his family but he talks about how he could see the stars here better than Korea, where the skies were filled with pollution and smoke that covers the tiny, twinkling dots but here, it’s as clear as crystalline quartz. He can pinpoint the constellations and finds it fascinating and healing. He offers to show Jungkook one day, making plans to stargaze together.
“It’s kinda cool to be an astronaut, don’t you think? You’ll be close to the galaxy and all the stars and planets. Like, you might get to see a supernova with your very own eyes!” He lifts his arms towards the ceiling of Jungkook’s stead, fingers stretching as wide as they can go as he beams with the wondrous possibilities of the world. “Or maybe an asteroid and a black hole! The world is so much more than just our planet and wouldn’t it be awesome to discover new ones? New species, even?”
“Don’t people get stranded up there and die?” Jungkook frowns, twisting his eyebrows together.
“Aw, Kookie. Don’t be such a party pooper,” Jimin groans and slaps his arm, “That’s, like. The worst case scenario that rarely happens. That’s just a Hollywood movie custom.”
“But it’s a possibility. What if you run out of food? And there’s no other planet you can survive on in the meantime.”
“Okay, but Mars is a habitable planet, isn’t it?”
“For now,” Jungkook grumbles, “who knows what’ll happen? Human life is going to make it an uninhabitable wasteland before we can even grow trees on there.”
Jimin laughs and Jungkook likes the soft sound of it, “But what if you were the one stranded up in space? What would you do?”
“Depends.” Jungkook side-eyes him, “Would you come and save me?”
“Of course! As the older one, I’m tasked to protect my little Kookie,” He grins teasingly and laughs as Jungkook glares at him, and he reaches over to ruffle his hair, “After all, wherever you go, I go.”
“God, you’re so sappy,” Jungkook grumbles as he scrunches up his nose in disgust, ignoring the slight fluttering in his chest. Jimin laughs again.
They lie there on the bed for another passing moment. Their knuckles brushed against each other for a fleeting second and Jungkook fights back a flinch, but the sound of their steady breaths calm the sudden staccato of his heart.
He revels in the peaceful silence, however, words unneeded. He likes this -- the understanding, the knowing, the quietness and the trust. He wishes that it could stay like this forever.
Jungkook stands there with his red bike, feeling his stomach churn and something heavy strike in his chest. He’s by the white picket fence that surrounded Jimin’s cape cod house. The flowers have wilted, ladened with weeds and mussed soil.
Jimin is sitting on his porch, long t-shirt and long pants despite the warm weather, sporting a black eye. He’s got a wide smile on his face but Jungkook sees him wince at the pain the action brought and anger quickly fueled his veins because who could have hurt him like this?
“Take me on a ride, Jungkookie,” Jimin grins happily as he hops down the steps of the porch and approaches him, closing the fence behind him.
Jungkook swallows, “Your face --”
“Is handsome, I know,” Jimin laughs with a mellifluous trill, “sometimes I think the person in the mirror I wake up to is much more handsome, though.” Jungkook takes it as a sign to drop the topic and he rolls his eyes. The both of them know not to venture the topic of family. It’s never brought up in their discussions. He buries the concern down and focuses on other things.
“Get on,” Jungkook says.
Jimin situates himself onto the bike, standing on the metal pegs as he grabs onto Jungkook’s shoulders for balance and Jungkook kicks off in motion, pedaling down the curved sidewalk and past the feathery, spindly trees surrounding them. The sun burns blindingly through the gaps of branched leafage in his periphery as the dry wind fluttered against his skin, kissed by incandescent sunbeams. Jungkook hears Jimin hum lightly behind him, a familiar tune he’s heard from the radio before, the whistling of hazy bugs zipping past them until the grassy land ebbs into a tarmac road as they entered back into the center of town.
In a blurry orbit, with the sun rays illuminating the vicinity like a vivid painting still with wet oils, they pass by the buildings, convenience stores and barber shops and timber-structured saloons, the ice cream parlor they often frequented to with the pastel mint walls, thrift stores and laundromats, the secondhand bookstore that smelled of old parchment paper from old tombs, townhouses and humble bungalows with ornate arbors, the retro diner outlined in neon lights with its tall sign flashing its quirky name, the comic book and collectables store in its intrepidly-coloured glory and degenerate public schools.
Weeds sprouted through the cracked pavement of the sidewalks, the townsfolk lively despite the heat wave, and Jungkook hears Jimin greet familiar faces while they rush past them with tinkling laughter that causes something fleeting and warm to tug in his chest. Jungkook wonders how he could maintain such constant optimism despite the shitty town they lived in but he hopes that Jimin will never lose that innocence in him, that spark of hope in the gravity of town.
They don’t speak along the way, but they laugh together.
Surrounded by an oasis of deciduous trees and diving boards, the radio blaring from the pool side, the smell of chlorine mixed together with sweat that radiated off of bodies that glistened underneath the scorching sun of an early afternoon fills his nose, humid and sticky to the senses. There are kids splashing around in the large rectangular pool, the deep blue waters reflecting off from the summer sky above, twinkling from the subtle waves of movement. Some sunbathed on the grassy field afar and others relaxed quietly in their lounge chairs. It was peaceful yet brimming with a heated energy.
The waters lapsed against the tiles as Jungkook approaches the edge of the pool, dipping his toes into the cool water. Jimin beams at him, kicking his way towards him as Jungkook slips himself into the pool, the waters reaching the level past his midriff.
“I feel like I’m being grilled like a piece of meat,” Jungkook groans, “The water isn’t even cold.”
“This is what happens when they build a recreational pool outside of the building. The sun is hot enough to boil the darn water.” Jimin laughs in a trill and he floats around. Jungkook does the same, sighing. He watches as Jimin does a deadman’s float-- a survival skill for swimmers. A survival skill for life, maybe.
“You do know people pee in here, right?”
“I’m not drinking it,” Jimin sputters, shooting his head up from the water. “You’re so gross.”
“You’re gross-er.” Jungkook sticks his tongue out just to rile the older boy up and he cackles, “Race you!”
They spend the majority of their time chasing each other around, a spark of competition between who can swim the fastest insinuating between them since Jungkook was an instigator at heart. They’re tired by the time they reach the edge of the pool, arms leaning against the floor. Their elbows touch and Jungkook tries to ignore the burning touch, unsure if it was just the weather or something else.
“We should go get ice-cream,” Jimin says, pulling himself up. Jungkook averts his gaze away from his drenched body and does the same.
Jungkook tries not to look when they shower and change.
“It’s only the first day of school and you’re already smoking?”
Jungkook glances up at Jimin who towers over him with a frown. Jungkook grunts in response and shrugs halfheartedly, inhaling the nicotine as Jimin sighs and takes a seat beside him on the sidewalk outside of school gates. He expels a white snake from his lips, watching as it ascends into the air and dissipates back into nonexistence. It calms the anxiety he had initially felt and drains all the stress away despite it being a fleeting aftereffect, but he basks in it anyways.
“It’s only the first day and I already hate it,” Jungkook laughs bitterly.
A step towards young adulthood was exciting as it could get, but to be put under a shitty learning environment surrounded by the same -- and new -- tormentors and deadbeat teachers didn’t exactly encourage him to do ‘well’. It was the same as middle school; same as everywhere. No one had faith in him and his mother was too busy to give him what he emotionally needs. He didn’t have any dreams to fuel his ambition nor motivation. Success was a pinnacle too far for him to reach. He’s as hopeless as the other failing kids -- either dropouts or drug dealers.
“Smoking is bad for your health,” Jimin says, “You shouldn’t do it.”
“You’re ready to be a doctor already,” Jungkook replies wryly. Jimin chuckles.
Jungkook offers the cigarette to Jimin even though he knows the older boy doesn’t smoke. Jimin takes it from his fingers and holds onto it, thin smoke swirling into the air. He doesn’t bring it to his lips or anything, just lets it burn.
“I hate this town so much,” Jungkook speaks, voice as low as the wind, “I want to get out of this shithole. Go somewhere far away where nobody knows me.”
Then, as an afterthought, “I wish we never moved here.”
There’s another weight added onto the silence. Jungkook makes a move to grab the cigarette back but Jimin jerks his hand away and drops the cigarette onto the asphalt ground before he crushes it with his foot. Just as Jungkook was about to spill a string of protests, Jimin abruptly stands up and extends his hands towards him. Jimin smiles, but it’s a strange one.
“Come with me.”
Jungkook hesitates but he takes his hand.
It’s an uphill destination, far from the center of town. The way to the secluded land was like wandering through the deep woodlands of wildflowers, yucca blossoms and dainty marigolds aligning the verdant path that led to the pastoral meadow. Jungkook wonders how he found this place; he’s heard about it but he’s never physically been to the place before. It’s a meadow on a billowy hill with a large weeping willow in the middle of its pristine field, massively vast in its majestic pulchritude.
Jungkook trails after Jimin as they approach the big tree, leaves hanging low and draping like knotted decorations. He stops right before it though, staring up at it with a sort of fondness. The sun beyond the horizon has turned brimstone orange, the sky like pomegranate and crimson, the vibrant line where heaven collided with the earth and merged colours into a hazy sunset. His uniform is stiff and uncomfortable on his scrawny body, puberty rendering him pimple-faced and disproportionate, backpack heavy on his shoulders, but he feels light in the moment. The warm colours reflects off of Jimin’s figure, outlining him in rose gold and red.
“Jimin,” Jungkook says. He doesn’t know why they’re here.
He hears him take a deep breath. “I hate this town too.”
Jimin walks underneath the hanging leaves and Jungkook follows. They take a seat against the trunk, the oak like the flakes of sepia paint coming off of the side of his house underneath the gentle touch of his soft palm. It casts an awning of shade over them, cool gusts of wind brushing past their skin.
“I dream about leaving this place too, more often than what reality permits me to do. I’m just an unemployed kid short on money,” Jimin speaks with a solemnity to his tone Jungkook has never heard before. He then realizes that he’s never seen the reflective and serious side of him; just the exterior of happy smiles and endless merriment. Maybe he doesn’t know his best friend as well as he’d thought.
“That’s why I’m studying hard. I’ve got two years left and if I study hard enough and get good grades, maybe I can attend university on a full scholarship. There’s an esteemed school located in the city and it’s five hours from here, but I’ll be away from this place and the people. I’ll prove everyone wrong. I’ll be free.“ He pauses and licks his lips. Jungkook follows the movement with his eyes, “That’s the plan.”
“That’s the plan,” Jungkook repeats quietly.
Jimin turns and faces him, bumping their knees together, “You can do the same, Jungkook. You’re a smart guy and I know you are. You have potential and you can get away from this place too. It doesn’t -- it doesn’t have to be the same school as me. You can go somewhere farther, where for sure, nobody you know will find you.”
And then he smiles softly, the oranges and reds and yellows pooling into his eyes, “I believe in you.”
Jungkook feels something leap up into his throat. He clenches his fists and looks away. He doesn’t know what to say so he says nothing and Jimin knows, so they look at the sunset together.
The walk home is a bit stifling. Jungkook thinks -- over thinks about him and Jimin and everything else. Jimin is smart and intelligent and independent. Jungkook knows that he’ll be able to leave town. He’ll be able to escape this place once he graduates high school and moves right into the university hall because he has a goal in mind; a dream, and he’s ascertained on obtaining it. But Jungkook didn’t. He’s always been taught fistfights and where to hit to make it hurt more, where the shoulder dislocates and how knuckles break, the sensitive spots on the body to kick at in order to escape an unfair brawl. How can he achieve that kind of goal when he was subpar at best?
But Jungkook realizes that he didn’t want to be another disappointment like his father had been. He didn’t want to succumb to the constant conditioning by his peers and his teachers who looked down at him and in result, made Jungkook look down at himself as well. He didn’t want to feel helpless and stupid and constantly angry. He hated feeling angry at the world -- it was tiring and exhausting and it made him feel as though he was rotting from the inside out. Jungkook wanted to prove everyone wrong and prove himself right.
And it’s the first time anyone has said those words to him, what Jimin had spoken so sincerely back in the meadow. It’s strange and weirdly encouraging, but to know that someone had faith in him was an unfamiliar phenomenon that meant more to him than words can express. Jungkook wanted to believe in himself too.
They’re at the road where they part ways. As Jungkook says goodbye to him, Jimin stops him. He’s smiling widely with a look of candidness.
“I hate this town,” Jimin begins, “but I’m glad I moved here, or else I wouldn’t have been able to meet you.”
Jungkook wants to roll his eyes and scowl at how greasy he is, and Jimin will probably laugh and wave at him and leave, but Jungkook couldn’t bring himself to say anything. All he can do is stare in disbelief, feeling something odd prance around in his chest as he catches the fondness in Jimin’s eyes.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Jungkook.”
“Yeah,” Jungkook says belatedly as he watches Jimin become smaller as he travels farther away from his sight, disappearing around the corner. His heart pounds, “See you tomorrow.”
In between the brink of autumn and winter, Jimin gets hired at the ice cream shop and does odd jobs occasionally around town, running errands and anything that would accumulate money. He looks more exhausted than he’s ever been but he still smiles exorbitantly as though he holds nothing but the air on his shoulders. Jungkook isn’t sure how he’s able to handle the multitude of side-jobs while keeping his grades up but he does manage to do well during exam season. Free ice-cream is always a plus.
“What do you even do?” Jungkook frowns as he roughly massages Jimin’s shoulders, digging his thumb into the space between his blades and puts pressure into the muscles. All Jimin does is jerk around and expel shrill hisses of pain, unable to stay still as he criticizes Jungkook’s poor masseuse skills and lack of gentleness.
“Heavy-lifting takes a toll, okay? Hey -- ow! Jeez, would it kill you to be less rough? I feel like you’re inflicting some kind of secret revenge with all this additional pain you’re causing me,” Jimin miserably groans. Their game of Super Smash Bros has been paused on small television screen in order to accommodate their transient massage time. Jungkook isn’t sure how this happened -- Jimin had come over for the winter break to play video games and hang out, but had kept complaining about the crick in his neck and shoulders, to which Jungkook had petulantly thrown his controller aside to help after getting fed up with his incessant whining.
“You should be thanking me, wimp. Don’t you know that you have to knead the muscles in order to relax them?” Jungkook scoffs, rolling his eyes at Jimin’s dramatic reactions, “And I wouldn’t stoop to this level in order to get revenge. I’d stoop way lower.”
Jimin laughs, “Right. You would.”
Jungkook digs his thumbs in harder and Jimin yelps. He finally swats Jungkook’s hands away as the younger breaks into laughter at Jimin’s desperate and offended expression, rubbing his shoulders to assuage the burning pain.
“You’re so mean,” Jimin says dismally, “that hurts, you asshole. Never again am I letting you help with my muscle pains.”
“Boo-hoo, poor you,” Jungkook deadpans, words dripping with sarcasm. Jimin merely huffs.
While Jimin stretches his limbs out with a satisfied grunt and from the image, Jungkook can’t help but be reminded of a cat lazing around underneath the warm sun as he watches him. He was wearing a yellow, cable knit sweater he had borrowed from Jungkook’s unruly closet when he was feeling chilly, practically drowning in it. He’s suddenly aware of how much they’ve grown and how much taller Jungkook has become. Jimin is smaller than him. Jungkook has been taking notice of new things about Jimin he hasn’t noticed before. It’s disconcerting but he drains them, not wanting to dive headfirst into the pool of the unknown.
Jungkook fights back a laugh and he looks away, standing up as he ignores the odd, fluttering feeling in his stomach.
“You want some red bean soup?” He offers, “My mom made it yesterday but we couldn’t finish it all. Plus, she doesn’t really like to keep the leftovers for too long.”
Jimin immediately brightens, “Yes! I haven’t had red bean soup in so long.”
Jungkook nods and shuffles downstairs. He takes the container out from the fridge and relays the red bean soup into a bowl before he reheats it in the microwave. The texture looks a little runny and more diluted after having spent time in the fridge, but it still looks palatable and good to the taste. He grabs a ceramic spoon and brings it upstairs, handing the sweet soup to Jimin’s eager grabby hands as he beams at the dessert. Steam rises in faint filigrees and Jungkook watches with amusement as Jimin brings a spoonful to his mouth, expression melting into that of pure bliss as he tastes it.
“This is so good,” Jimin hums in vigorous content as he closes his eyes, “seriously, your mom is the best.”
“Yeah,” Jungkook nods, a little smile on his face, “she is.”
His mother is the symbol of strength and he admires her for it. Though he may outwardly appear to have ill feelings because of her frequent absence due to her demanding blue-collar job, he genuinely loves her and is grateful. But he understands the pressure and burden she has on her shoulders as she juggles her nearly fleeting social life; taking care of a recalcitrant and wayward son; working to the bone to pay rent, feed themselves and save for tuition. She still comes home with a smile on her face and there’s no way Jungkook can ever stay angry, not when his mother tries her best for the both of them. When they do manage to spend some time together, though, Jungkook feels a little bit more loved and less forgotten.
“It reminds me of home,” Jimin smiles fondly, “my granny always made red bean soup on special occasions, although the soup your mom makes is much more sweeter.”
Jungkook purses his lips, mouth moving quicker than his mind can think, “Will I ever get to taste your mom’s red bean soup?”
Jimin pauses at that, the smile on his face slipping and Jungkook wishes he kept his mouth shut as his heart lurches to his throat. Jimin moves the spoon around in the bowl, eyes lowered slightly in downcast as he feigns nonchalance.
“I don’t have a mom,” Jimin speaks of it casually, “at least, not anymore.”
And that was that.
Jungkook can feel the tension in the air and he probably shouldn’t mentioned it. They never spoke of family matters as far as this -- asking the unknown and the unspoken never quite possibly ever going to be spoken of. Silence hangs between them and he fumbles with the hems of his sleeves as Jimin finishes the last of the soup, exhaling a delighted sigh as he sets the bowl down to the side. He hates the awkwardness because he’s never been awkward with Jimin, so he brings it upon himself to change the atmosphere.
“I’ll tell her you enjoyed it,” Jungkook clears his throat, demurely keeping his eyes to the side, “she’ll be happy to know that.” He shifts closer and grabs his controller, nudging Jimin in his side with an elbow, “C’mon. We gotta resume so I can kick your ass.”
Jimin stares at him for a considerable moment before his mouth splits into hearty grin, one that showed all his teeth, eyes crinkling and nose slightly scrunching that made Jungkook feel lightheaded, “Bring it on.”
It’s spring again. It’s a time of growth after a time of death, for what a strange thing it was to be alive underneath the orchids and apple trees, where the earth laughed through vibrant flowers and hope traversed across the barren wintry lands melting beneath the growing warmth of the sunlight. A few more months until the end of school; until the end of their time with each other, as it was Jimin’s last year of high school before he’ll leave for university after having gotten accepted into it. It had been a calm revelation, and Jungkook dreads the date of his departure. He'll be left alone again.
He’s never made much effort to befriend the other kids, to whom he shared a mutual hatred and often grated on his nerves. Jungkook had always been the lone wolf kind of type, finding it hard to connect with others who were shallow-minded and hard to talk to. They wouldn’t understand him and his behaviour and with no doubt, would desert him once they realize how troublesome Jungkook is. He didn’t like the feeling of being left alone, so he didn’t put much heart into talking to others unless paired up together in group discussions and assignments. Nobody was exactly fond of him either, not that he can blame them.
The air is thick and heavy, though. Jungkook lets out a puff of smoke on his balcony, seated on one of the vinyl chairs. Jimin is looking out at the road, unsmiling and grave. He’d showed up with a new bruise gracing his cheekbone and a cut lip, dark circles underneath his swollen eyes. He looks more weary than the past few days. But he doesn’t speak about it, more quiet than usual.
Despite the injuries he bore, Jungkook can still see the reticent beauty in his features. Jimin has grown more handsome, proportions filling in the spaces of what puberty had left and straight, white teeth after taking his braces off. He’s taller and leaner now, sharp jawline and a bronze complexion, black hair parted neatly. The girls at school flock to him like a moth to a flame and even the boys, too invested in their hyper masculinity and hormones, has noticed him. Jimin is kind enough to decline their advances, never showing interest to involve himself with people like them.
Now that Jungkook thinks about it, Jimin has never showed much romantic interest as well. There were a plenitude of pretty girls but he’s never made a move to grasp at a teenage relationship. Maybe he liked boys, but he’s never shown much interest in the other party as well. They never spoke of relationships, never spoke about empty love and flings. Jungkook himself has never been in one but he’s not sure if Jimin has. He was a bit secretive.
But for Jungkook, he’s too preoccupied with his personal troubles to really care about girls and the concept of a relationship, although he did peek at a few lewd things on the net with his hormones perpetuating his curiosity and confusion. He felt more uncomfortable than intrigued, however, wincing at the explicitness and wow, that looks painful and weird and -- is that how it looks like? Holy shit, and settled on ruminating about his life rather than the outlandish notion of sex every teenage boy seems to rave about. Perhaps the desires hasn’t settled in him yet, merely a late bloomer of sorts.
Jungkook gets up from his seat and goes to stand beside him, holding out the cigarette towards him. He stares in shock, however, when Jimin unexpectedly brings the cigarette to his mouth and inhales it in deeply before delivering a cloud of smoke past his lips, face twisting in discomfiture as he tries to hold in a cough.
“You don’t smoke,” Jungkook states more than question.
He hums. Then he shrugs wordlessly and hands the cigarette back to Jungkook.
“Jimin,” Jungkook bites his lip, eyes flickering towards the road. They never mention family. It’s treated as a taboo subject to tread upon in their conversations. It was a mutual understanding to never pry and speak of it, to leave the unspoken as unspoken and nothing else. But Jungkook has always felt that it left an empty hole in their friendship because of their reluctance of speaking a core reason of their inner turmoil and has always ignored the flimsiness despite it. They trust each other, but Jungkook realizes that maybe Jimin doesn’t trust him enough to speak of it.
“What is it?” There’s a bite to his voice. He doesn’t look at him.
Jungkook swallows the apprehension as he stubs the cigarette against the ashtray on the glass table. The flame goes out, his voice is quiet, “Are you okay?”
“Don’t,” Jimin’s voice is cold, extremely cold to the point it sent shivers down his spine and carved an empty crevice in his chest. Jimin has never used that tone before, not to anyone and especially not to Jungkook. And there’s something hard in his dark eyes and his lips are strained into a tight line, hands balled up to fists. “We know not to talk about it, Jungkook.”
“We never talk about it,” He musters up the courage to bite back, “and that’s why it’s such a big issue. Am I supposed to keep watching your fucking ass get beat up by God knows who? You won’t let me help you. So don’t just shut me out -- “
“You want to help me?” Jimin laughs callously and Jungkook flinches at the sudden show of his bitterness. Jimin turns around and faces him and he’s all cold, any trace of warmth and gentleness erased and replaced with sharp contempt, “What a joke. You can’t even help yourself and you think you can help me? Do you even know the magnitude of the situation? Not everything can be solved by being a brute, Jungkook. If that’s your definition of helping, I rather not have your help at all.”
“And you think avoiding the problem is a greater solution? Get fucking real, Jimin, the world doesn’t work like that. We can’t all be like you and you’re a real shithead for thinking that.” Jungkook snaps, gritting his teeth as he tries to level out the anger bubbling in the pit of his stomach at this words. He feels it burn at his chest and scarr at his throat, and it’s the type of anger that hurts, that makes him feel ridiculed and embarrassed and he hates it. He hates how Jimin’s not smiling at him, not joking around and relaying lame puns and sappy affection Jungkook likes to playfully reject; hates how he’s suddenly so cold with no reason and Jungkook doesn’t know what to do. “You won’t tell me anything and you expect me to understand what the fuck is going on in your head?”
Jimin runs a hand over his face, all nasty and weak laughter, “You -- you of all people don’t get to tell me how the world works. Just because your life is in constant decline doesn’t mean you have the right to tell me how reality is when you don’t even give two shits about your future nor can you get your head out of your own fucking ass to care about the people around you, because guess what, Jungkook? The world doesn’t revolve around you and your issues. So, fuck you.”
And most of all, Jungkook hates how right he is, how inferior he feels.
His fists are trembling and he’s seething, helplessly angry as he sees the instant regret overcome Jimin’s expression, eyes widening in realization. But Jungkook feels more hurt than angry-- it feels as though there’s vines of thorns pricking at his chest, leaving him to bleed internally into a puddle of iniquity and penitence. He didn’t know how such a soft and gentle boy like Jimin could spew such words with a burning, spiteful intent to hurt.
“Jungkook, I --“
“Get out,” He speaks hollowly as he turns around, glaring at the rows of buildings in the panorama. He folds his arms as he takes in deep breaths to calm down the flame burning in his chest.
“That wasn't what I --“
“I said.” Jungkook grits out icily, “Get. Out.”
He feels Jimin tense beside him and after a pregnant pause, finally turns around and quietly exits the balcony. Jungkook doesn’t realize he’s been holding in his breath until he hears the distant, muffled sound of the door closing downstairs. His blood is boiling in his veins but it slowly wanes into a slight simmer, until none, emptiness replacing the indignation he had felt. Now, all he can do is stand there in exhaustion and in defeat.
He finishes his entire pack of cigarettes until he sees the sun disappear.
And later that night, when his mother comes home from work and sees her son buried underneath his blankets and hears his unsteady breaths, she sits by his bedside and tells him she loves him.
They don’t talk for a week.
They don’t walk home together either. Jimin doesn’t wait for him by the school gates, doesn’t take him to the weeping willow nor do they go get ice-cream despite the windy weather. Jungkook isn’t sure if Jimin is even present in school. There’s no new messages to be read, no plans made and no impromptu hangouts at Jungkook’s place.
He hears a shrill whistle to his side, however, as he walks past a sketchy looking bench post. Jungkook looks up and follows the sound until his eyes lands on a group of tall boys dressed in varsity jackets with clashing, complementary colours, and he recognizes their ruddy faces - he’s been involved in too many fights in the past with them to forget.
They’re making kissy faces at him, yelling something about his boyfriend nowhere to be seen and something about sucking dick, and Jungkook stuffs down the instinctive anger with a level of rationality when he can’t be bothered with such childish taunts. For people to think that using that as an insult was foolish and ignorant and frankly, Jungkook didn’t have the time nor energy to show them what his fists can do now and to educate them. So, with a disinterested expression, he resorts to flipping them off with both hands before whirling around, shoving his hands back into the pockets of his jacket before he paces down the street, ignoring their waning jeers when Jungkook doesn’t react the way they had anticipated.
It’s a small town-- it’s to be expected all forms of hatred were to be present. The name-calling and jeers has been made bearable throughout the years once his tormentors realized it was more or less a waste of time focusing on a speck of dust like him. Jungkook has also managed his temper as well, thinking clearly and rationally before his feelings could get the best of him and he could use his fists. There’s the occasional jabs and slurs that’s hurled towards him and brandishes its burning accusations across his face like a mask to wear, but he conducts the management of his temper much more better than before. Jungkook isn’t sure when he started to use his brain; after all, violence was a vital component of what he was made of. He was all about brawns despite his thin frame. Maybe it was because of Jimin’s sentient influence, or it was because he didn’t enjoy seeing the concern etched across his expression whenever he has to tend to his wounds.
But walking home alone without Jimin is strange and an idiosyncratic phenomenon; it’s lonely and empty and it didn't feel right. He wasn’t able to sleep the same day they had fought as well, and as he stared at his alarm clock and its bright, blinking digits of three A.M. in the morning, all the anger and frustration he had felt had drained away from his body like tap water, and instead, had substituted it with a wave of profound guilt.
But he’s not sure how to approach him first. He isn’t sure what to do. Maybe he fucked things up for real this time. Jungkook didn’t want this to be the last memory for Jimin to have as a keepsake before he left for university. This isn’t how he wanted things to be between them.
He’s cooped up in his room on a Saturday night, throwing a baseball up in the air and catching it through a cycle of repetition as he looks up at the ceiling, hopelessly brooding. His mother was working a late shift and didn't come back until later in the night. He’s stifled by his thoughts, balancing a hefty weight on his shoulders.
Jungkook puts aside his baseball and grabs his phone, devoid of any new messages. He wonders what Jimin is doing right now, if he’s reading or browsing the net for more random trivia facts and lame jokes but then a sudden thought strikes him like a club to the head and he freezes. Stupid -- he feels so fucking stupid, because if Jimin had showed up to his house sustaining injuries and an aloof demeanor that day, then that meant he was there to get away from his own home. Jungkook had kicked him out of the only safe haven Jimin had and his heart drops to his stomach.
He didn’t know if there was any other place for Jimin to stay at; he never mentioned having other family members in town and they only had each other to trust in. Jimin was friendly with other individuals as well but he’s never considered them as genuine friends before, just acquaintances he has fleeting and shallow conversations with. Then that must have meant that Jimin had to go back to his own home, back to the place where the person who hurts him lives in. If not, then that means he took refuge somewhere else. Jungkook feels sick.
Urgency quickly floods him and he springs up from his bed, pocketing his phone into his jeans as he grabs a jacket and nearly trips on his way down the stairs. He slips his feet into his threadbare sneakers and doesn’t even bother to put them on properly before his hand is wrapped around the doorknob and he’s pulling the door open, ready to sprint ---
But then he stops in his tracks, eyes widening, because the person he was about to break down doors and run through alleyways in the pitch dark for was right in front of him, hand balled up in a fist in the air as though he was just about to knock. His fist slowly unfurls and it falls back down to his side, shoulders drooping. A scarf is wrapped around his neck and is covering half of his face, but Jungkook knows that Jimin is smiling behind the fabric, his round but weary eyes curving into half-moons.
“Hi,” Jimin says softly.
Jungkook lets him in.
He presses a hot boiled egg wrapped in a towel against the bruise on Jimin’s cheekbone, a nasty purplish and yellowish hue with speckled, violet dots. He's sitting on the couch as Jungkook tends to the cut on his lip with ointment before he grabs the medicinal oil his mother keeps in their cabinets.
Jungkook looks up when he hears Jimin holding back a laugh, “What?”
“Our roles are reversed this time,” He smiles. Jungkook missed his smile.
“The circumstances are different, though,” Jungkook manages a dry chuckle, tentatively rolling up the long sleeves of his shirt. Jimin has never showed any other part of his body other than his face, neck and hands. It's a bit intimidating and he didn't know what to expect. For Jimin to let him this time -- Jungkook didn't know what it means. He didn't want to brush what had happened underneath a mat and pretend nothing happened.
Jimin’s smile falters knowingly, eyes downcast, “How so?”
“Well, for starters,” Jungkook pauses in the middle of rolling up Jimin’s long sleeve to his wrist, his rough hands trying to be gentle; never quite gentle enough, “You're a pacifist. You don’t start fights. Usually I'm the one starting the fights, although not as much nowadays. Either way, I don't think I can ever be a pacifist like you. I’m too bullheaded and there's too many assholes in the world that needs a good punch in the face.”
His words elicits an airy laugh from Jimin and it brings a slight smile to Jungkook’s face. He notices how genuinely sweet it sounds, his voice emboldened with a whimsicality like the delicate tinkling of wind chimes.
“That’s what I like about you, though,” He speaks quietly and Jungkook holds in his breath, fingers unmoving, “You’re resilient. You fight back and you don’t back down. You have courage and strong convictions and that’s what makes you you. You’re so brave and that’s why I --” His breath hitches and he bites his tongue from speaking further as he clamps his mouth shut. A look of consternation beholds his face and Jungkook wonders what he was about to say. But that was the thing about him -- Jimin was an old soul wrapped in a veil of mystery, an enigma Jungkook can never quite figure out completely.
Jimin closes his eyes for a moment, steadying himself, before he places the hard boiled egg down onto his lap and pushes his sleeves up to his elbows himself. A stream of nasty bruises and welts in varying shades of red and violet are scattered across his forearms, some already fading into a yellowish hue, but most of them were vivid and there, tainting the smooth surface of his sun-kissed skin. Jungkook feels sick again, not from dread but from anger and helplessness and why is he smiling?
“He knows not to target the face,” says Jimin, and he sounds ashamed, “but things have been rough lately.”
Jungkook purses his lips and his brows are furrowed into a deep crease. He flinches when Jimin places a hand gently on top of his, where he had been gripping the bottle of medicinal oil in his hand tightly until his hand trembled and his knuckles turned white.
Jungkook can’t trust his voice so he keeps his mouth shut. He gingerly reaches for his left arm and brings it to his lap before he carefully tilts the bottle to distribute a few drops of gilded liquid onto his arm. Then, with the pads of his fingers, lightly massages the oil onto his arm, feeling his heart sink like an anchor when he feels Jimin wince and tense up beside him.
“What did he do?” Jungkook barely hears himself.
Jimin makes a rough sound in the back of his throat and Jungkook looks up at him apologetically, trying to be as gentle as possible, “He packs a real punch. Plus, bamboo sticks really hurt.”
“How can you say that so calmly?“ He grits his teeth and he hates how Jimin is smiling like nothing’s wrong. His eyes always held the vast cosmos and geometrical constellations of a starry night, but they’re cloudy and empty and just pure exhausted tonight -- have been, for the past week. He wants to see the sparkles in his eyes and he wants to see him carry himself with the air of confidence he always had. And he hates the people who dared to have robbed him of it.
“It wasn’t always like this,” Jimin quietly says. “But he treats Johnny Walker more like medicine nowadays.”
Jungkook pulls his sleeve down and works on the other arm, his voice grave as he asks, “Why don’t you fight back?”
“Because I know I won’t win.”
After Jungkook finishes treating the other arm, he closes the bottle and places it back into its box. He sits there in silence as Jimin fidgets with his sleeves.
“I’m not brave like you, Jungkook. When you’ve grown up in an environment that shames you for speaking about your problems, you learn to keep your mouth shut about things. The townspeople here aren’t trustworthy, they’d just use it against me instead, and the cops are shit. I can’t do anything about it, you know? I can only endure it until I’m old enough to live on my own. I’m not used to confiding about my personal quagmires when rumors spread as fast as wildfire here. That’s why I couldn’t bring myself to say anything, even when you’re the only person I trust. Old habits die hard, I guess.”
The pungent aroma of the oil stings his nose, but he keeps his eyes focused on Jimin, who keeps his gaze low as though he was speaking towards the carpet, “But there’s only one more month before I graduate, before school ends, and I’ll be gone.” Jimin says, a faint lilt of determination present in his voice, “I’ll be safe. I’ll be okay.”
“You’ll be okay,” Jungkook repeats quietly.
Jimin gives him a sad smile. He doesn’t say anything else. Jungkook can see the week’s arduous obstacles weigh down on him further, the weary lines on his face conspicuous through his wan complexion. He looks as though he hasn’t slept a wink, wearing heavy eye bags like accessories. And in that sheer moment of unspoken words, Jungkook can see him: not the Jimin who exerted himself in order to wear bright smiles to hide the hardships he was facing sub rosa, not the Jimin who snapped at him with hateful words as a habitual defense mechanism after having been taught all the wrong things in this shitty town -- no, all Jungkook can see was just a kid who was vulnerable and tired and painfully honest, stripped down to his bare self; a kid who was forced to grow up too fast, too soon. Like him.
Jungkook thinks Jimin is strong and brave. Jimin shows emotion and shows hurt. He’s not afraid to feel and be happy. He’s not afraid to look at the world with such love even though the world hasn’t treated him right. Jungkook didn’t see himself as brave-- just reckless.
And Jungkook isn’t good with words, never was. He didn’t know what to say to comfort him, to bring that smile back on his face, but he wants to do something -- anything, to let him know that he isn’t alone. That, despite being surrounded by a bunch of narrow-minded proletarians that thrived off of vanity and prejudice, at least they have each other.
So, he shifts closer to Jimin and, with a faint tentativeness, brings his lowered head to his shoulder, keeping his hand in the dark tufts of his hair. He feels Jimin freeze up at the sudden, unexpected gesture because Jungkook didn’t do things like this -- didn’t do comfort. He didn’t show affection as easily through his tough facade, finding it hard to express feelings of love and fondness he didn’t understand. He was a storm, but after all the fury in the storm, there’s something safe. Something calm and something warm -- something Jungkook can only show to his best friend.
“You’ll be okay,” is all Jungkook can say again, a thickness of reassurance and conviction in his voice. Jimin wordlessly nestles closer to him, his quivery breaths brushing past his skin. His shoulders tremble.
Jungkook says nothing else when he feels something wet hit the fabric of his shirt.
Jungkook blinks open his eyes, not feeling a dredge of drowsiness despite feeling drained. They’re lying in bed beside each other after Jungkook had convinced Jimin into staying the night. The moon casts an airy, blue hue that spills through the curtains of his window from above his bed frame, followed by the golden tinctures of the streetlamps outside. He turns his head to the side and watches as the moonlight mixed with gold outlines his gentle features, a balance between light and shadow casting across his face. He swallows and faces the ceiling again, wondering why his chest feels odd and uncomfortable.
“Those things I said,” Jimin continues on quietly, sounding rueful, “I didn’t mean them. That’s not how I look at you, Jungkook. I know you wanted to help and it was -- it was a heat of the moment kind of thing. I shouldn’t have taken out my frustration on you.” He glances at him apologetically, gaze softening, “I’m sorry.”
He lets a mingling silence fall between them as thoughts churn in his head like an engine. Jungkook focuses on the shapes he sees on the ceiling, how the darkness of his room brought about weird, bleary illusions.
“You’re not wrong about me, though,” Jungkook finally speaks up in a dismal tone, “If anything, I should be the one apologizing, for being such a shitty friend.”
Jimin immediately denies it with austerity, “No, no you’re not. You’re not a shitty friend at all.” He pauses, biting his lip in contemplation, continuing in a voice so close to a whisper that Jungkook can barely make out his words, “You’re more than that.”
“Nothing,” Jimin shakes his head and Jungkook furrows his brows, about to open his mouth to object when Jimin beats him to it. He tilts his head and his mouth cracks into a cheeky smile, and Jungkook knows he’s purposely changing the topic to avoid it and Jungkook hates how easy he makes it to be when he flushes at his aforementioned words, “You may be a brute, but at least you’re my brute.”
Jungkook delivers a punch to his shoulder, albeit gently as he turns his head away to the side, hoping that the dark would hide the scarlet red on his face, flustered, “Shut up, I can’t even have a serious conversation without you -- you saying all that sappy shit.”
Jimin laughs and Jungkook didn’t know how much he misses the whimsical sound of it when he feels his chest tighten in a way that was both exhilarating and painful and feels his lips quirk into a smile in accordance to his airy laugh. And once he quiets down, all Jungkook can hear were the calmness of their breaths, the faint whirring of cars that passes by his house outside in the road.
“You’re a good person, Jungkook.” Jimin says in a fond voice, “You have a good heart. I wish you can see that.”
Jungkook doesn’t say anything. Jimin lifts up a hand, an offering for him to take as he glances at him with a small, hopeful smile, “Are we cool, then?”
Jungkook stares at it for a brief moment, reminiscing back to their very first meeting where Jimin had appeared over him, merging with the sun itself, and takes his hand.
“Yeah, we’re cool.”
Jimin’s smile widen. Jungkook mirrors it.
And as he falls asleep, all he can dream about was the sun’s smile and the moon’s eyes.
The next morning, his mother doesn’t say anything as Jungkook trails down the stairs along with Jimin, who’s sporting external wounds and wearing Jungkook’s large clothes. But there’s a flicker of empathy and understanding in her eyes that leads her to keep the questions unasked. Instead, she smiles warmly at Jimin, asking if he wants to eat breakfast with them. After Jungkook nudges him in the side, Jimin complies shyly.
They’re seated at the dinner table with bowls of rice, several banchan dishes to share along with soybean paste stew. Jungkook is grateful that his mother makes the atmosphere comfortable, asking Jimin conversation-friendly questions that include his interests and opinions on subjects. That’s one way to get Jimin comfortable-- random debates about random things.
Jungkook listens, throwing in sarcastic comments from time to time, but he stays quiet. He likes hearing their soft spoken voices together, soft laughter like the hums of tinkling ice in a glass cup.
“How do you like the stew, Jimin?” asks his mother.
“It’s really good,” There’s a fond smile on his face, one that softened the harsh edges of his lineaments. He pauses, taking another sip before he continues, “Rich in human kindness.”
Jungkook stares at him, watching as Jimin finishes his bowl of stew. He glances at his mother who looks both surprised and delighted, merely chuckling.
Something warm bubbles in his chest. He pushes it down and stuffs more rice into his mouth.
The summer leaves change into warm, fiery shades of red and oranges, a reflection of the arriving season of autumn that paints the town in a whirlwind of cinnamon, burnt umber sweaters, pumpkin carving and festivity. Frequent rain showers disturb the joviality as the fall liveliness withers into the bitter cold, leaves discarded in piles on the ground, the bare and naked trees like silhouettes off of a charcoal painting. Time flitters by as quickly as a dewdrop disappearing on a spring day; Jungkook doesn’t know where it went, but it goes by slower than he has ever felt it go and before he knows it, spring has passed and summer has arrived once again.
Three more days.
School had ended; Jimin graduated from their local high school with honours and Dean’s list, granted a full scholarship for the university of his choice as well as other scholarships to help him and his studies. Jungkook had skipped school just to see him walk across the stage outside during the ceremony, smile as blinding as the oncoming summer sun, and there’s a sense of pride that overwhelms him to see him in his gown. But a dire sadness also lingers from the inevitable approaching day of their departure. He had watched with a heavy heart, knowing that he won’t be able to see his best friend again for a long time but was nonetheless happy for his accomplishments.
They’ve been spending time with each other as they usually did once summer break begins. Jimin stays over the majority of the time with the exception of returning back home at a safe time to pack his things. They travel to the meadow field with the weeping willow, fooling around and attempting to climb the tree despite its hazardous old age; they bike to the bookstore and the ice cream parlor and the candy shop, making surface-level conversations with the older townsfolk. They go to their usual hangout places, basking in its nostalgic ubiquity before their time is up. The both of them know.
And it’s a bit of a healing experience, to see the bright smile of Jimin’s slowly reappear as time goes by. The crinkles around his eyes whenever he grins is a sign of a genuine expression and Jungkook feels lighter, happier, to know his best friend hasn’t lost that optimism of his. But there’s something lurking in the back of his mind, something uncomfortable and unsettling.
It’s a humid morning when he figures out that he wants to give something to him before he leaves. Jungkook isn’t sure what for the most part. He doesn’t know what Jimin would like -- their past birthdays had consisted of Jungkook gifting him books containing folk tales and weird philosophical digressions he himself couldn’t understand. Although Jimin seemed to have liked them back then, Jungkook wanted this time to be more special. It is a parting gift, after all, but it’s not like Jungkook’s never going to see him again.
(Right. He still needs to tell Jimin about that.)
Jungkook didn’t have a concrete explanation as to why this time had to be special, but call it an intuitive feeling. He leaves it at that.
He’s having breakfast with his mother who didn’t have work today at the dinner table, a simple meal of congee with red cabbage salad. It’s a satisfying meal, having missed the warm taste of his mother’s cooking after feeding off of cup noodles and other junk food since his mother didn’t have much time or energy to cook.
She seems to have noticed his constipated look, however, as he eats with a slight frown and furrowed brows that elicited more consternation than happiness at the food he was eating. She sets her spoon down, folding her arms against the table with a quirked eyebrow.
“Is something wrong?” She asks bemusedly.
“Huh?” Jungkook grunts with a mouthful before he quickly swallows the congee in his mouth at the disapproving look he receives from her. He moves the congee around with his spoon, shrugging, “Um, nothing.”
“Does it taste bad?”
“No, no. It’s good. Really good.”
“Then why do you look like you ate a piece of mold?” She huffs with an amused smile at his obstinacy, “Something’s bothering you, Jungkook.”
He sighs heavily, shoulders drooping as he lets his spoon sit in his bowl. He isn’t sure if he’s just unfortunately transparent with his moods or his mother is just insanely perceptive. Then again, all mothers possessed that kind of weird maternal instinct and uncanny ability to see through their children, like some mystical third eye. Jungkook sits back in his seat, slightly agitated, “I want to give Jimin something before he leaves for university, but I don’t know what to get him.”
Jungkook shoots her a petulant frown when all she does is laugh at him. She calms down after a bit, taking a sip of oolong tea from her ceramic cup before she settles down. “That’s what you're so troubled about? I’m sure he’ll like anything you give him, sweetheart. He isn’t picky like you.”
Jungkook isn’t picky. He’s just selective of things. “That’s the point, though. I don’t want him to feel like he’s obligated to like the things I give him just because we’re best friends. I want him to actually genuinely like it and not throw in the back of his trunk when he’s driving away.”
“I think I can help you,” She hums with a knowing smile on her face, “Wait one moment.”
She gets up from her seat and shuffles towards her bedroom, the sound of drawers opening and closing hovering in the air before he hears her approaching steps. She returns back to her seat with something enclosed in her palms and as he watches with intent and curiosity, she unfolds her hands and reveals a translucent, gentle pink stone the size of a penny that glimmers faintly from the hazy sunbeams.
“It’s rose quartz. Beautiful, isn’t it?” She asks with a fond smile, “It’s a gift from your grandma to me when I had been a child. It was the only time where she hadn’t been strict with me, so I treasure it very much.”
Jungkook gingerly receives it with his opened palm as she places it in his hand, cushioning her cheek with a hand as she leans her elbow on the table. He examines the precious stone closer, eyeing it in a cursory manner. He notices a hole at the top of the stone, to which he presumes it’s where the chain goes through, and glances up at his mother, “Ma, I can’t give this away. It’s yours. It’s too valuable.”
“It’s because it’s too valuable that I want you to have it. It has great sentimental value which makes it a good gift, doesn’t it? Besides, I’ve been holding onto this for far too long. My mother gave this to me in hopes of me finding someone to pass this on to in the future -- to give to someone I deem important to me. But I never gave it away, not even to your own father.” She places a hand over his own, once she notices him tensing up at the mention of his father, smiling with a reassuring nod, “So, I want you to have it. Give it to Jimin. He’ll love it for sure.”
Jungkook looks at the rose quartz with another glance of hesitation. It’s got a quaint beauty to it, an essence of sentiment illuminating through the chatoyancy. “What does it even mean?”
At that, his mother hums and shrugs with fabricated innocence, “Doesn’t matter, does it? As long as you give it to someone who’s important to you, that’s all that matters.”
He nods, missing the way his mother smiles knowingly.
Later that day after he finishes helping his mother with the dishes, he rummages through the cabinets in search of the extra thread his mother keeps that he could use in place of a chain. He finds a spool of red silk string bunched together and cuts a great length he thinks is long enough. Afterwards, he relocates back into his bedroom and passes the thin string successfully through the hole after multiple failed attempts, levels it equally, before he ties both ends together to fasten it. He holds it up subsequently in the sunlight pouring through the windows, marveling at the sublimity its light brought, as though it was some form of tangible dream in the shape of a stone.
He feels a bit nervous, wondering if it looks too feminine for Jimin’s taste. He’s having second thoughts about it but then he remembers the story behind it and fuck it, it’s the thought that counts, right?
Jungkook decides to give it to him during a windy afternoon where they laze around the weeping willow tree, the orange sun setting into a sea of reds and pinks that leaves the sky in a dreamy, smudgy state like flecks of paint unblended on a canvas board. And by giving it to him, he means by throwing it at Jimin’s chest with a gruff “take it”, unable to look at him in the eye as he did so.
Jimin puts down his book and holds the necklace up by its red string, staring at it with wide eyes sparkling in curiosity, “For me?”
“Yeah,” Jungkook scratches the back of his neck, fidgeting with his collar. He can’t sit still and isn’t sure why he’s so nervous of all things before he realizes he’s rambling, “I mean -- like. There’s only two days left before you’re leaving, right? So, uh. I thought I’d give something to you before you’re off to post-secondary. It’s -- I know it’s not much but my mom said that it’s got some significant meaning behind it that when you give it away to someone to keep or wear, it means that person is important to you and you’re important to me and --- and yeah, but sorry if it’s kinda girly and all --- “
“Jungkook,” Jimin is beaming, a large grin spreading across his face as he eagerly puts the necklace on. The length is perfect, the stone sitting comfortably just right below his collarbones, and he looks up at Jungkook with such profound bliss and his cheeks are pink -- coral, even in the sunset light, that Jungkook doesn’t know how to react, though his body seems to contradict his mind itself as his heart accelerates just slightly, “I love it, I -- thank you so much.”
There’s a certain inexplicable fondness to his soft expression and it makes Jungkook uneasy and flustered for Jimin to look at him like that, prompting Jungkook to quickly look away. He clears his throat, feigning nonchalance, “It’s -- it’s nothing.”
“You really will miss me, huh?” Jimin giggles mostly to himself as he plays with the gemstone in between his forefinger and thumb.
Jungkook scoffs, “Why would I miss you?”
He pretends not to notice the flicker of disappointment on Jimin’s face as he continues on, “It’s not like we’re never going to see each other again.”
There’s a pause and Jungkook can audibly hear the gears turning in Jimin’s head as he processes what Jungkook has just said.
“What?” He sounds confused.
Right. I forgot to tell him. It's something he's been thinking about over the past few months. Jungkook bites his lip, taking in a deep breath to steady himself.
“My grades are shit and I probably have to repeat another year -- depends on what I can do to make up assignments and get extra credit,” Jungkook fumbles with the yellowed grass by his feet, pulling at it absentmindedly, “but I’ll study harder and like, maybe volunteer in the community or something to get hours or some shit you need as prerequisites. I searched it up on the net and it says that the school has a good Humanities and Social Sciences program, so,” He trails off, chancing a glance when Jimin doesn’t respond. He’s staring at Jungkook as though he’s grown two full heads like a hydra in the span of one second.
“You’re,” Jimin licks his lips, blinking his eyes slowly as he registers what Jungkook is trying to say, speaking quietly, “not joking, are you?”
“I’m not. I have to get out of this town one way or another. After all,” He musters up the courage and meets Jimin’s candid gaze that was warm as the red sky’s passing blush, the wind making the leaves above them rustle and the yolk-like sun gold like the glow of a topaz, “wherever you go, I go.”
And then the next thing he knows, Jimin’s arms are thrown around him in a tight embrace, nearly tackling both of them over onto the ground, but Jungkook grabs at the trunk of the tree to maintain their upright balance before they can go down together. Jimin is laughing quietly into his neck and Jungkook can feel his chest flutter with an intangible warmth that trickles down all the way to his stomach, his heart beating as fast as a hummingbird’s wings, face heating up in flames from being micro-aware of their proximity. His skin burns from the places Jimin is touching him and he can smell Jimin’s shampoo up close, reminiscent of sea waves and rainforests, and after recovering from the initial surprise of being embraced, Jungkook finally reciprocates the hug, wrapping his wiry arms around him.
“Jeon Jungkook,” Jimin mutters and Jungkook can feel him smile against his neck, “you make me so happy.”
And for Jungkook, Park Jimin was without a doubt, the conductor of his heartbeat.
He watches as Jimin slams the trunk of his old jalopy closed after putting the rest of his belongings away. It’s too early -- the sun is barely up as it peeks beyond the buildings, scattering its light across the blue sky, but Jungkook rose especially just to send him off.
“Don’t miss this town,” Jungkook says.
“I won’t,” Jimin smiles, nose crinkling, “but I’ll miss you and your mother’s cooking.”
Jungkook snorts, ignoring the way his words did things to his heart he didn’t want to acknowledge. He watches as Jimin makes his way towards the car door in his long sleeves and knee-length shorts. The rose quartz necklace is tucked underneath the collar of his shirt, the red string conspicuous around his neck. Jungkook hopes that until they see each other again, he’ll still smile like the sun is a kin of his, all carefree and free-spirited.
‘Don’t get into fights anymore, Jungkook. The school takes that into account, you know.” Jimin smiles wryly but then it softens, “You’ll do well. I know you can.”
Jungkook can only issue a noiseless laugh, a breathy kind of sound where he didn’t know what to say. There’s a slight hesitation in Jimin’s movements before he extends his hand towards Jungkook, palm supinated. After a moment of consideration, he takes his hand and holds it. The soft touch of their palms and the uncertainty relieved through their locked fingers sends a wave of flutters through his stomach, whereas Jungkook’s felt like sandpaper, Jimin’s was smaller and softer like the petals off of a rosebud. And most of all, it was warm. Always warm.
“I’ll see you soon, Jungkookie.” He gently smiles and there’s a tightness in Jungkook’s chest. He’ll miss seeing his smile. But there’s something else in it this time, a mixture of sadness and longing and love. They let go but they don’t move.
He sees the rose quartz necklace again, remembers the meaning of it when he had looked for it online.
Love, love, love.
“As long as you give it to someone who’s important to you, that’s all that matters.”
And he sees Jimin make a move for the car door before Jungkook stops him with a scratchy voice.
“You’ll wait for me, won’t you?”
Jimin stops, hand on the handle of the door. There’s a slight pause, as though he’s trying to decipher the meaning of his words, before he turns around, “Of course, Jungkookie.”
“I mean,” Jungkook bites his lip, gnaws at it until he can taste blood. He looks to the side, “I mean-- you’ll wait for me. As in, you’ll wait for when I’ll be able to be beside you again and do more than just hold your hand and walk home with you.”
Jimin is visibly bewildered, eyes wide and mouth southbound. His lips open and close in an attempt to form coherency but nothing spills past his speechless lips. Genuine confusion spreads across his face, brows knitted together, until he finally speaks in a weak voice, “I don’t understand.”
Jungkook doesn’t either. He can never understand his heart when it came to feelings, but the feelings he cradles in his heart for Jimin was light and warm and calm and safe, something that isn’t envy and rotting with melancholy. Jungkook doesn’t like dealing with the complexity of his emotions but how can he perpetually deny them over and over again when the rose-coloured boy he loves is standing right in front of him, about to leave for eternity.
He thinks back to the touches. Jimin has always loved skinship but has only showed skinship to him. Hand-holding, prolonged gazes that flicker to the lips, fingers brushing against cheeks and lips against collarbones, feathery pecks on the forehead and strong arms holding him. The smile only reserved for him.
And Jungkook has never been interested in other people, never in the concept of relationships. Maybe he was a late bloomer or maybe that was just how he was. But he knew for one thing is that Jimin already has his heart in his possession, even when he knew of their differences. After all, Jungkook was reclusive and Jimin was inclusive, complete opposites in both outlook and temperaments; the sun and the moon, like water and oil. They didn’t match, but they did.
“I have you,” Jimin had once said to him when Jungkook asked about his rejection to a confession and the possibility of a lover, “that’s enough.”
The morning sun creeps over the horizon, the rise of dawn. Jungkook has always been a little bit ambitious in his own ways, for the things he can’t have but wants.
“It took me a long time to figure it out.” Jungkook says quietly with guilt. “I’m sorry I didn’t notice until now.”
And something clicks in Jimin’s brain because there’s a understanding that seeps in his eyes, flooding it with disbelief and distraught, becoming glassy. There’s a nervous smile on his face that twitches into a grimace, “You’re joking, aren’t you?”
He shakes his head. “How can I ever joke about being in love with you?”
There’s a sharp intake of breath and Jimin runs a hand over his face, covering it, wavering voice muffled, “Why?” He turns around and laughs sadly into his hands, “Why now? Why, when I’m about to leave for good. Now I don’t want to, not when I know you feel the same way-- not when I’ve--” His words go unfinished but Jungkook can hear it in the silence. Not when I’ve felt the same way after all these years.
Rather than cold, Jungkook feels his heart warm. Hope. He’s never used that word before. It ignites something invigorating in his chest. “Wait for me.”
“That’s selfish,” Jimin laughs a bit harshly. He tries to hide the way he rubs at his eyes but Jungkook knows he’s crying. “You’re so stupid. An asshole. A stupid brute who doesn’t understand feelings until the fucking last second and can only use their fists. I hate you.”
“I know,” Jungkook tugs at his arm gently, “but I’m your brute, aren’t I?”
Jimin buries his face into his chest and Jungkook wraps his strong arms around him, holding him tightly against him. Jimin fits perfectly in his arms and he leans his cheek against his head, wishing that they could stay like this forever until the sun goes down. But it keeps rising, signaling morning light to scatter around the blue, silver sky. Jungkook peppers tiny, gentle and butterfly-like kisses all over his face, landing a long but chaste one on his soft lips, leaving an aftertaste of home.
“You better not repeat the year,” His eyes were red and a bit swollen, but his smile is effervescent. Cheeky, even. Jungkook grins.
“Anything for you.”
“Stop getting into fights..”
“Anything for you.”
“You have to wait for me too.”
“Anything for you.”
“Don’t grow any taller.”
“Can’t guarantee that.”
Jimin laughs and playfully hits him in the arm. Jungkook leans forward to kiss him on the nose, the cheeks, the lips. And he doesn’t care if the neighbors can see through their windows, doesn’t care if the mailman bikes by them with a skewed expression. He’s happy and nobody can take that away from him. Not even the distance.
But they pull away from each other and finally, they let go.
Jungkook watches as Jimin reluctantly gets into the driver’s seat after a last goodbye. Jimin waves at him but a bright smile is on his face. He watches Jimin drive off away from this place, away from its people and away from its conventions, and the vivid image of his car becoming smaller and smaller in his view finally marks the end of their coquelicot summer together forever, in this town.
“See you soon,” He answers belatedly, but he smiles.
Jungkook waits for many more summers together, in a new home, to come.