The trowel sank down deep into the soil with a rewarding and dry crunch, and yet pulling it free again proved more troublesome than Jimin had initially expected.
Upon applying a hint of pressure to the dark wooden handle, there was just a little hint of a leeway as the metal head wriggled around in the dirt. It seemed to have gotten stuck in an impacted chunk of soil, but Jimin knew the real truth. The weed had sank its roots in deep and was very tough, and so it took a great deal of applying and easing off the pressure on the handle to finally loosen it enough to uproot it.
“Aha,” Jimin breathed out hard, as the weed finally burst free from the soil - roots and all. “I gotcha, you little monster!”
The weed had dragged a great chunk of soil free with it, and so when he lifted it up in front of his face, he could see the pale roots clinging onto the clod of rich black dirt. It was holding on desperately, refusing to release the soil from its hold even now when it was no longer in the earth.
Jimin had to tap the head of the trowel against the roots in a bid to knock most of the soil free, particles and little chunks of dirt sifting down into the hole that had previously been filled by the weed. After he had cleaned as much of the soil free as possible, he dumped the weed into his bucket and he concentrated on patting the soil back down in place.
Hopefully, the grass would reclaim that little patch again and stop more dandelions from sprouting up, because if Jimin had to look at another fluffy dandelion head today, he was going to scream. He had no clue at all how they managed to pop up so suddenly overnight like this. No matter how many that he found nestled away in the grass and he relentlessly dug free, ten more would appear to claim the land back in revenge.
Jimin let his breath out in a heavy sigh as he placed his trowel down in the grass, reaching up to remove his straw boater so that he could run his fingers through his hair. He could feel sweat starting to soak into the lengths, and so he fluffed at it roughly before grabbing his hat and fanning at his face with the soft brim. It stirred up just a hint of a breeze, but that was better than nothing.
The sun was so powerful today, both in terms of brightness and in weight, that there almost seemed to be a wall of heat all around him. If he were to draw closer to the trees, Jimin would see a green cast falling over everything: the old tombstones, his clothing and skin, and it would most certainly be cooler than it was out in the open. It was strangely soothing within that green-tinged atmosphere, especially when the cicadas starting chirping as the evening hours approached, and the sight through the foliage was that of a deep pink sky washed with golden clouds.
Maybe later, he would move into that section of the graveyard and resume his duties, but right now, he still had a lot of work to do.
The mountainside graveyard consisted of two parts. The front section was built in a large pasture and filled with memorial foot markers for those that had been cremated or had had their bodies lost to the sea, and the marble and fieldstone tombstones of those that has been put into the earth. The back section stretched into the beginnings of the forest and contained the most damaged and oldest graves, which meant that many visitors didn’t go near that part of the graveyard.
Jimin tried to tend to them as often as he could, because they deserved just as much attention as the newer markers and tombstones, but they were so worn down with age and weather that it was hard caring for them. He would budge the thick moss free from the cracks of one tombstone one day, only for it to reappear on another one as if by magic. But it wasn’t just the moss, for the stones were so old that he had to be delicate with his hands lest he accidentally break a massive chunk free and desecrate the grave by accident.
That was why Jimin spent so much time focusing on the newest markers and tombstones instead, because he was at less risk of damaging the strong stone and marble. Between keeping the grass neat and weeding around the graves and fences, to caring for the fields of flowers that were all around the graveyard that he used to gather offerings for the dead - Jimin was so busy that he hardly had enough time to see to those ancient graves. But he always made sure to tend to one or two of an evening, and to also burn incense and light candles in memory of those long buried strangers just to appease the dead.
Jimin slowly ran his eyes across the row of tombstones in front of him as he fanned at himself with his hat. He was hoping to spot any pesky weeds hidden away within in the blades of grass, be they colourful purple, white and yellow heads, or just plain green weeds that tried their very hardest to hide away. It was so much easier doing so in the shorter and manicured grass close to the front entrance, but it became increasingly more difficult to spot any weeds in the longer grass that had started sprouting further back in the graveyard.
The dawning realisation that he was probably going to have to break out the sickle and start trimming the grass again was enough to make him groan under his breath. The grass seemed to grow at an extraordinarily fast speed, but considering the heat and oftentime monsoon season rainfall, it made sense that it grew lush and unruly all over the mountainside and graveyard.
Only when the heat laid off at some point in the following days would he consider cutting the grass again. It was far too stifling today to do such a thing, and he didn’t want to pass out from the exertion. The sickle was cumbersome to swing around after some time, and it was even more tiring retrieving the mown grass and disposing of it in the massive compost bin across the graveyard so that he could recycle the waste once more.
A lawnmower would really help him cut down on the time and energy required to keep the graveyard in peak condition. But there was no source of electricity at all on this side of the mountain, and the one time that he had tried to use a petrol powered one it had ended in complete disaster - the stupid tool having broken down and spewed the pungent liquid all over the place. So he had little choice but to use the sickle instead, even when it cost him so much time and energy.
Jimin sat back on his heels for a moment to catch his breath, closing his eyes and listening to the faint sounds coming from down by the cliffside beach. It was always a good way of letting go of any built-up tension that he amassed whilst working in the graveyard, because the surrounding area was so free from human life and contained nothing more than wild nature for miles on end.
Just like always, the morning waves were lapping against the shore and making babbling sounds as they licked at debris such as driftwood, old fishing nets and general litter - and the more powerful waves were crashing against the face of the cliff with enough force to roar like a wild beast. If he were to leave the graveyard and walk along a dirt path through a copse of trees, he would end up right on that cliff; and if he carefully made his way along the wooden bridges and mountain path, he could reach the crescent-shaped expanse of white sand down below.
Before retiring for the evening, Jimin would be sure to retrieve any rubbish from the shoreline just to save the local wildlife from injury or death. He had lost track of how many times he had had to help a kittiwake out of a net because the poor thing had been tangled feet, wings, neck and all, and had almost drowned in the incoming tide as a result. It wasn’t his job, not at all, but he took the responsibility upon himself because no one else would, and the beach was technically a part of his backyard in a way.
Underneath the beautiful sound of the sea, there came the distinct and constant sound of seabirds that nested in the cliffs and mountain forest. Through his years of working in the graveyard and living on the mountainside, Jimin could identify the birds by sight and sound alone, because they were so different to one another that it was easy to learn the breeds.
Kittiwakes were a constant sound from the sea, because they didn’t ever seem to leave the area. Their cries were unmistakable; shrill kittee-wa-aake that made them easy enough to identify. From a distance, they were white with light grey wings and bright yellow bills, a typical gull. Sometimes, they would land on the railings around the graveyard to watch him working away, but they never tried to scavenge anything like other gulls, because they were fishing birds through and through.
Japanese cormorants occasionally added their kukroo and droning guar utterances to the mix, but they were far more common at dawn and dusk when the birds took to the waters to search for fish. They were beautiful birds, with their delicately curved necks covered in mottled white patches and black plumage with tapered wide wings. They were much larger than the other seabirds in the area, which also made them easy to identify even from a great distance.
Finally, little terns that nested on the cliffside ledges were adding their funny little creaking calls underneath the screeching; creating a wonderful mixture of birdsong. They were the smallest birds by far - white and grey with black heads and dagger-sharp beaks and tiny legs that hopped around on the sand at a shockingly fast speed. Jimin liked watching them whilst he cleaned up the beach of debris, for they always got very close to him in a way that showed that they weren’t frightened of him in the slightest.
As Jimin blinked sweat out of his eyes, he reached up to roughly wipe at his brow with the heel of his hand. He saw a quick flash of white moving through the gaps in the tombstones and the tall grass, and so he tracked the graveyard dog’s movements for a few seconds before shifting to get to his feet and dropping his boater back onto his head.
Jimin left his bucket and tools by the tombstones and he moved to cross the graveyard to get to the wooden shed built just outside of the perimeter. It was where he kept his tools and the feed bags for the dog, and so he pulled the door open to duck inside of it and he grabbed one of the large bags of dry food. He lugged the bag out and across the ground to enter the graveyard again.
There was a large wooden dog kennel nestled away underneath the branches of a pussy willow tree, which the dog used to sleep in. It was well protected from the weather and still in very good condition, for Jimin himself had constructed it at the tender age of just eleven years old. Prior to that point, the previous graveyard dogs had been expected to have just handled the weather like any other wild animal in the mountain forests would have done so, but child Jimin had not liked that one bit.
Dogs might just be hardy and strong animals, but they were also in need of a firm and loving hand to keep them well-behaved and happy. So he had built the kennel for the previous dog, who had passed away just four years ago at the full age of twelve years old, and the current graveyard dog had since inherited the home.
The roof was a little faded in parts now, the red staining dye having withstood eight years of use. But other than that, the exterior was perfectly fine, and the interior was packed with dozens of old and torn plaid shirts of his to keep it warm and cosy.
“Buddy!” Jimin called out, before lifting his lips to his mouth to give a sharp whistle; the sound travelling through the air as sharp as the blade of a knife.
A few seconds later, Jimin saw the dog’s shaggy blond and white head lifting up from the grass to look in his direction. When he lifted his empty blue food bowl up and waved it teasingly, the dog let out an excited bark.
Just like that, Buddy was trotting across the graveyard to reach him, no doubt eager for his dinner.
“That’s a good boy!” Jimin praised with a fond smile, watching the dog running straight towards him.
Buddy was a part of the graveyard just like he was, a guardian that served a duty far more symbolic than utilitarian. But even so, Buddy’s home was right here in the graveyard, just like every other guardian dog that had protected it in the past. He was here to frighten away bad spirits and demons with his powerful aura and barks, as all graveyard dogs were the sacred sapsali breed for this very purpose.
There was also the hallowed snow white Persian cat, Yeosin - she of the rat-catching duty that kept the graveyard free from any possible pests (though Jimin had no issues with the mice and rats at all). Unlike Buddy, who lived within the boundaries of the high metal fences, Yeosin came and went as she pleased, and she seemed to spend more time in his house than out in the fields hunting rats.
Both animals were guardians of the graveyard, and sometimes, Jimin felt like a guardian too, rather than just a gravekeeper. He didn’t know why exactly he felt like this, but because he spent such a long time inside of the graveyard, it made sense to him. He didn’t chase away bad spirits or hunt pests, but he kept the inhabitants content and peaceful, and so that meant that he had an important duty too.
As Buddy made his way over to him, Jimin hunkered down and he grabbed the heavy bag of dry food, awkwardly lifting it up so that he could pour the mixture into the food bowl. The biscuits hit the plastic bottom with a loud clattering sound, bouncing around for a few seconds until the bowl started to fill up.
The sound must have excited the dog, for he started running towards him faster until he was able to dive at him with a happy bark.
“Whoa! Gimme a second, Buddy!” he laughed, almost being toppled over from the animal’s considerable weight. “Calm down!”
Jimin had to dump the heavy bag down and then grab the water bowl, carrying it over to the water pump just several feet away from the toolshed to fill it up. He had to tug on the lever several times and listen to the dry creaking of the rusted metal, until water started spilling free from the spigot into the bowl with a series of liquid splashes. It was so cold that the little droplets that splashed back to land on his hand and forearm were a blessing in the current heat.
Jimin carried the water bowl back over to the kennel, hunkering down and placing it beside the food bowl. Buddy was so busy eating that he didn’t even seem to notice, but he would drain the bowl dry soon enough in this current weather. He was going to have to keep refilling it for him over the day, and Jimin hoped that Yeosin stayed in the shade under the awning of the hanok to keep herself cool in the sweltering heat too.
“Goddamn, Buddy, I gotta give you a trim,” Jimin joked, as he brushed shaggy cream fur out of the dog’s eyes and knocked soil free from it with a hard ruffle.
Buddy just carried on snaffling his food down happily, not even caring as he ruffled and stroked at his bushy fur in an attempt at cleaning him up. There was soil, blades of grass and even gritty smears of pollen trapped in his coat, and he wouldn’t at all be surprised if there was also a couple of bugs hidden away down deep in the forest-like tangles of his fur.
Jimin really was going to have to see to his coat soon, before it got too out of hand. A good trim and shave would do wonders at keeping him clean, along with another bath. Maybe he could get one of his friends to agree and help him out this time, considering the fact that they both owned dogs and it was so hard doing it alone?
“You better not have been digging for bones again,” Jimin joked, as he resumed knocking dirt free from the thick fur around his neck for him. It was a morbid joke, granted, but he still thought that it was pretty funny. “No, you wouldn’t do that, ‘cos you’re a good boy; you’re a real good boy.”
Jimin gave the dog a rough series of pats to the flank before straightening up again, dusting the thick clumps of fur free from his hands as he did so. He was in the act of moving over to the water pump again when a familiar noise caught his attention, and so he turned to look over his shoulder curiously.
The softest sound of what could only be bike wheels turning and spokes rattling echoed on the still air, which made Jimin smile as he stuck his hands under the stream of water and he started hastily cleaning fur and soil free. He glanced up whilst he rubbed his hands together under the cold stream, hoping to locate his friend through the light spattering of tree branches on the mountain path.
After several seconds, Namjoon was finally visible through the leaves and blossoms: sitting atop his bike and clad in his usual clothing of choice - light and loose black trousers that skirted his ankles and flattered his long and thin legs, a large and thin white cotton pullover that was tucked into the waistband and had the long sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and finally, a pair of sneakers instead of sandals so that he could cycle properly. Sometimes, he wore a baseball cap to keep the sun out of his eyes, or a pair of sunglasses, but today, neither accessory was present.
“Hey! I just finished feeding Buddy - talk about great timing!” Jimin called, as he hastily shook water off his hands and then roughly wiped them on his denim shorts in an attempt at drying them. “Is that Monnie, I see?!”
Namjoon’s dog barked in reply to this call, which made him start laughing as he watched his friend slowly cycling his way along the slight mountain path to get inside of the graveyard. His bike almost rattled when it drove over the pebbles and little twigs in the soil, but it luckily didn’t spill him to the ground.
Monnie was attached to his bike by way of her red leash, which was knotted around the right handlebar and allowed her to trot alongside the bike whilst his friend gently cycled. Her short, white and fluffy fur was almost pristine, a shocking contrast against Buddy’s currently less than perfect coat.
Namjoon guided his bike through the gate to enter the graveyard, climbing off it and pushing it inside. So Jimin moved to draw closer to him, his gaze zeroing in on Monnie completely on instinct.
“Hey, Monnie! Who’s a good girl, huh? Who’s a good girl?” Jimin cooed, as he cupped the dog’s jowls in his hands and gave her a loving ruffle. “It’s you!”
“It’s nice to see you too, Jimin,” Namjoon joked, bringing his bike to a stop and placing it against the graveyard railing.
“Good morning, Joon,” Jimin greeted, as he hunkered down in front of the dog and he watched his friend unbuckling the leash from the back of his pet dog’s collar. “How was the hike?”
“As painful as always, there was a lot of rocks out on the path this morning,” he explained, carefully wrapping the lengths of the leash up around the handlebar to stop the dogs from playing with it. “I’d to keep stopping and going around all of them, but Monnie was having way too much fun playing with the rocks.”
“It was probably another rockfall, there’s been a lot of ‘em these past couple of days,” he replied with a nod, and then he looked back down at the dog. “Was you having fun, huh? Having lots of fun, Monnie?”
Monnie let out a yipping bark at this, her pink tongue lolling out of her mouth and her massive furry ears twitching hard. It was enough to make Jimin start giggling under his breath, because his friend’s dog was so irresistibly cute that he just had to lavish her with attention. He was powerless to resist the urge, because he had never been one to shy away from animals - be they bugs, birds or pet dogs.
“But did you move those rocks, Joon? ‘Cos if not, you’re gonna have a lot of fun getting back down the path again…” he remarked in a knowing tone, massaging at Monnie’s furry jowls again and looking up at his friend.
“I moved as many as I could, and by that I mean I just kicked ‘em to the side,” Namjoon replied with a quick smile, which made Jimin laugh again as he finally let go of the dog. “You need to start adding that to your list of duties, Jimin. I think that the mountain path is technically part of the graveyard and-”
“Nice try, ain’t gonna happen though,” Jimin interrupted with a staunch head shake. “I’ve been pulling out weeds for the best part of five hours now, Joon, I ain’t gonna start shifting rocks too. My back’s killing me right now, goddamn.”
“It was worth a try though, right?”
Buddy must have finished eating his dinner, for he let out an almighty bark that echoed through the still graveyard air. The sound made Monnie’s fox-like ears swivel to the side, twitching and erect as she discerned where the bark was coming from. When she saw the sapsali through a gap in tombstones, bounding right in her direction, she let out her own yipping bark and ran straight at him.
“Monnie, play nice!” Namjoon called with a fond smile, watching their two dogs trotting off across the graveyard - as thick as thieves.
Namjoon had been the clumsiest boy that Jimin had ever seen at one point in his life, struggling to adapt to his sudden growth spurts throughout his teenage years so that not a single table had been safe in his presence. It was strange watching his friend retrieving his trusty wooden box and flask from his front basket right now and thinking back on it, for he had since found his own poise and learnt the true depth of his strength.
Namjoon no longer snapped or smashed things by accident, but was now capable of creating intricate little morsels that he always brought to him in a wooden box right around dinner hour after biking his way up the mountain path. He had overcome his difficulties and had blossomed into a young man that no longer took bumbling steps and kept his hands behind his back at all times, and Jimin was glad of it.
After all, if it wasn’t for Namjoon, Jimin would go most of the day without food. His dedication to his work was so strong that he just simply forgot to eat, especially in the overwhelming heat. But there was also something strangely satisfying about feeling hollow under the ribs until he prepared a late meal in the evening and filled his stomach fit to burst; savouring the wonderful sensation of fullness as he fell asleep.
One time, Jimin had told Seokjin about these little boxes of food that Namjoon always gave him over their afternoon cups of tea, hoping that the young man would have been able to explain why Namjoon did it all just for him. Seokjin had told him that it was most likely thanks for his actions in the graveyard - for tending to ancestral tombs and always saying prayers and lighting candles for the Kim clan’s dead.
But Seokjin had also told him that Namjoon sometimes brought him food too: little sweet treats in a wooden box just like what he gave him. It was only ever sweet things, however, which was something that Jimin found rather quaint.
Maybe Namjoon gave him the food because Seokjin was good at cooking too, and he wanted to get feedback on his attempts or even impress him with his own baked goods?
Jimin didn’t really know, but he did know that he enjoyed every single bite that Namjoon brought him in his trusty wooden box, and he was very much looking forward to today’s selection too.
“Hang on, I’ve gotta clean my hands,” Jimin remarked, lifting said hands to flash his fur-covered palms at him with a grin.
Whilst Namjoon crossed the graveyard to find the optimum spot to sit down, Jimin went back over to the water pump and he cranked it hard several times. Like earlier, he rinsed his hands clean under the cold spray of cold water, before cupping a handful and splashing it onto his face to try and cool it down. The pump water was straight from an underground spring source, pure enough to drink, and so he took a quick swill of it to soothe his parched tongue and throat.
“Oh, Jimin! Don’t drink that!” Namjoon called from several feet away, seated in the grass with his long legs folded up in front of him. “I brought boricha! Iced with honey!”
Jimin blinked the water out of his eyes as he dried his hands on his thin white cotton tee-shirt, and then he fixed at the sleeves of his open blue plaid shirt as he moved to join his friend.
There was always something pretty funny about Namjoon that Jimin had noticed quite some time ago. Whenever they sat down in the graveyard, he tried his very hardest to not sit too close to the tombstones or foot markers that ran in rows throughout the entire interior. It was because he didn’t want to be disrespectful to anyone, of course, but he couldn’t help but find it funny how much he tried to avoid being close to the dead.
Jimin personally loved settling back against his mother’s tombstone, his back curved against the solid and cool marble, and his knees cocked up in front of him. He found it both comfortable and comforting, and he was going to do just that today too.
“The water’s clean, y’know?” Jimin pointed out, hunkering down in front of him and then dropping to sit in the grass with a soft thump. “Buddy and me have been drinking it for years now, Joon. If it was gonna poison us, we’d be long dead by now.”
“That’s not the point, Jimin,” Namjoon argued, even when it actually was. “It might get tainted one day and you’ll never know until you get sick.”
“Fine, I’ll try and stop drinking it, just for you,” he promised, as he watched his friend lifting the latch on the front of the box - the metal snapping up with a dry click.
When Namjoon opened the wooden box up, Jimin saw that it was the same as always. In the top section, there were several different compartments that he stored things within.
First, there were two small glass cups for drinking tea from, and a dish on which to pour a serving of soy sauce. In other compartments, he kept a small jar of said soy sauce, disposable wooden picks, two pairs of chopsticks and spoons, and small bundle of napkins. The bottom section was where he stored the food, and so Namjoon proceeded to lift up the top section and he placed it down in the grass to reveal today’s serving of food.
Two plastic tubs of kimchi fried rice, a variety of colourful rolls of kimbap, gamja pajeon, and a heaping pile of fried chicken.
“Ah!” Jimin crooned with a pleased smile, settling back against the tombstone comfortably and accepting his chopsticks and spoon from Namjoon. “It all looks so delicious, Joon!”
Namjoon unscrewed the lid from the flask so that he could pour the ice boricha into the two glasses for them. The tea was a light golden shade, and it looked as sweet and refreshing as it would taste thanks to the added honey.
Jimin retrieved the tub of rice and he placed it down in his lap so that he could keep it close whilst he ate. He was going to savour it fully, but he wanted to try some of the kimbap first because a rather fascinating roll had caught his eye. It was a piece of nudeu kimbap, stuffed with filling in the interior and layer of seaweed between the smooth outer layer of rice. Apparently Namjoon had figured out how to prepare this kind of kimbap too, even when it seemed trickier.
“Joon, when’re you gonna start charging me for the food, huh?” Jimin asked, as he grabbed one of the chunks of nudeu kimbap and he popped it into his mouth. He made a noise of appreciation around the bite, savouring the mixture of vegetables, egg and beef, before adding. “‘Cos you could make a lot of money selling fresh food in the market or something, y’know?”
“How many times have I told you: no talking with your mouth full! You’re gonna choke, Jimin!” Namjoon scolded, reaching over to wipe a blob of sticky rice out of the corner of his mouth for him.
Jimin held his tongue at this and sat still for him, letting him clean his mouth with a quick rub of his thumb.
“Also, use the picks, Jimin, I brought ‘em for a reason,” Namjoon pointed out, grabbing one of the tiny wooden toothpicks and spearing his own little chunk of chungmu kimbap on the end. “You’ve got soil and dirt all over your hands, silly.”
“I forgot,” Jimin replied around the bite, before reaching up to cover his mouth guiltily.
Namjoon didn’t even scold him this time because it was pretty pointless by now. So Jimin moved to take one of the little toothpicks, spearing the next chunk of kimbap onto it so that he could try that morsel too. He found it to be fresh and moist, the tuna tangy but balanced out with the creamy cheese and cucumber filling.
“So, how’s it been so far today?” Namjoon asked, as he spread a napkin across his lap and then grabbed one of the chunks of fried chicken with his chopsticks. “Has it been busy? Quiet?”
“No one’s came here at all today, not a single soul,” Jimin replied after swallowing a mouthful of kimchi fried rice. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that everyone’s scared of the dead.”
This remark made Namjoon laugh softly as he also retrieved a chunk of fried chicken from the box, lifting it up to sniff at the batter. It smelled good, really good, and he was about to take an experimental bite when his friend spoke up.
“Yeah, I was gonna say that this place feels pretty dead, Jimin,” Namjoon joked, which made the pair of them snort and then groan in perfect sync. “Sorry, that was terrible, that was so bad.”
It was a bad joke, but with some thought and quick banter, they could probably think of even more terrible jokes and puns. Not disrespectful ones, of course, because Jimin would no sooner speak ill of the dead than the living.
“Oh, when’d you learn to make chicken this good, Joon?!” Jimin asked around his bite of chicken, and his friend was far too flattered to even scold him this time. He chewed the mouthful before hastily adding. “It’s so crispy!”
“I got a few tips from Jin,” Namjoon explained, licking free a hint of batter crumbs that were stuck in the corner of his mouth. “My first couple of attempts were bland and tasted like cardboard, not even Monnie sniffed at it and begged for scraps. But Jin’s tips really helped me out - he told me the best spices to add so that I wasn’t just, uh, tossing ‘em into a bowl.”
“Oh yeah? Do you ask him for lots of tips?” Jimin asked curiously, gathering more fried rice onto his spoon that he could cheek with the chicken. “What kinda tips do you ask for, huh?”
“Uh, I’ve asked for tips about…chicken,” Namjoon mumbled, and Jimin couldn’t help but snort under his breath. “Mandu, you know, stuff like that.”
“Wow, those must be some real interesting conversations, Joon,” Jimin remarked, hovering his cup of boricha beneath his lips and breathing in the scent as he eyed the other man. “Are you always so awkwardly stiff around him when I’m not there like you were when we was kids?”
“Ha-ha, you’re so funny,” Namjoon forced out, giving him a faüx unamused expression. “Do you sing songs to the dead because they ain’t gonna complain if you hit the wrong note?”
“Maybe they do? Maybe that’s why there’s so many rockfalls?” Jimin asked in return, shooting his friend a smirk before taking a sip of the tea. “Mmm, but enough talking, more eating; yeah?”
Just like always, the want to savour their lunch together overwhelmed the want to have a conversation. There was plenty enough time for talking at other times: when they were at Seokjin’s tea shop over snacks and cool beverages; when they bumped into each other in the street market down in the village and Namjoon offered to help him get all of his bags back up the mountain path; or when he went to visit his family for ancestral rites.
Jimin was always sure to compliment his cooking and eat every single bite, just to show his appreciation for his friend’s hard work. Today that was very easy to do so, because every single dish was delicious, especially the kimbap and fried chicken. The meal certainly filled up the hole beneath his ribs and made him feel pleasantly full, and when he was finished, he wiped his mouth and hands clean with his napkin and then he drained another serving of boricha before letting his breath out in a satisfied sigh.
“That was as delicious as always, Joon,” Jimin said, as he helped him pack away the tubs, cups and used napkins and cutlery. “Thanks, seriously.”
“You ain’t gotta say thanks every single day, Jimin.”
“I know, but I’m still gonna,” he retorted with a quick smile, watching his friend snapping the clasps back in place to seal up the wooden box. “I don’t gotta come here every day and spend six hours picking weeds on my hands and knees, but I still do. I’m a little bit…stubborn.”
“I thought that the word was ‘obsessive’, but I’ll settle for that,” Namjoon agreed, as he got upright and hastily brushed stray grass and soil free from the seat and thighs of his trousers.
“See you tomorrow right, Joon?” Jimin remarked with a knowing grin, following him across the graveyard to get back to his bike.
“You know it,” he replied, shifting the wooden box and flask back inside of the bike basket. Then he lifted his hand to his mouth and he gave a sharp whistle. “Monnie! C’mon, girl, time to go!”
It took Monnie a minute to trot back over to them, because she was clearly still very much wanting to play with Buddy. When she did so, Jimin saw that her fur was almost spotless instead of covered in dirt like his dog.
“That means I’m gonna see you tomorrow too, Monnie!” Jimin cooed, as he gave the dog some more jowl rubs and made her pant excitedly at him. “Oh, Joon! Before I forget, can you help me with Buddy tomorrow? I think we need to give him a good bath and trim, ‘cos he’s so dirty these days!”
“You bring the bucket, I’ll bring the clippers,” Namjoon offered, as he finished knotting the leash around the handlebar again. “Take care, Jimin.”
“Uhuh, you too!” Jimin called, watching him pushing his bike out of the gates so that he could get onto the seat and start pedalling his way down the path.
It took Namjoon a moment to disappear out of sight behind the low-hanging tree branches, and he lingered by the gate until he did so. Then Jimin turned back to look at his dog, who was sitting just a few feet away on his haunches and panting heavily.
“Well, Buddy, it’s just me and you again…”
Jimin gave up on the task of picking weeds so that he could instead try and cut down some of the long grass. He knew that he should wait until the weather cooled down, but that could be days from now and he had never really been a patient person. So he grabbed the sickle and he set about trimming down the patches of grass. It was hard work, and he needed to take many breaks, but when he had cut down quite the amount and he saw that the graveyard looked so much better, Jimin thought that it was worth it.
Sure, Buddy decided to dive into the pile of mown grass to roll around in it and cause even more of a mess, but hopefully his fur would be much easier to clean and manage from tomorrow morning onward.
After he had finished mowing the grass, Jimin left the graveyard so that he could enter the nearby fields and start selecting flowers with which to start making bouquet offerings. He had to bring his wheelbarrow with him, pushing it carefully around the flower patches so that he didn’t accidentally crush any of the developing buds. He didn’t have a preference at all for what he gathered, but rather just snipped the best blooms from the stems and placed them into the wheelbarrow before moving onto the next patch.
Upon gathering the wildflowers, Jimin moved back into the graveyard and he started gathering them into bunches. He sat under the shade of the pussy willow tree, on top of Buddy’s kennel because it was strong enough to hold his weight, and he sorted through the assortment of flowers as he hummed under his breath contentedly. At least Buddy had decided to take a nap in the fading sunlight, resting after his busy day of racing around the place and playing with Monnie.
Jimin got off the kennel and he pushed the wheelbarrow through the graveyard, stopping to collect bunches of flowers and placing them down on graves that currently had no offering on them. After he had placed all of the fresh ones down, he went back to retrieve the old and dried-up flowers and he dumped them inside of the wheelbarrow.
Jimin liked to follow a system to ensure that the graves got as close to equal treatment from him as possible. He wasn’t able to give an offering to every single tombstone and foot marker, after all, and so he went between days by gifting some graves, and then leaving them for a day or two to gift other graves. That way, they all got at least a single offering over the course of the week, alongside prayers and company. Therefore, Jimin thought that his well-crafted system would appease the spirits.
The contents of the wheelbarrow went straight into the compost bin, the wheelbarrow itself went right back into his toolshed, and then came his next task for the evening.
When the sun started to set on the horizon, plunging the vivid blue into shades of pink and orange, Jimin decided to start working deeper within the graveyard. The thick growths of trees required him to break out his small torch, so that he could start lighting some of the candles set into the tombstones with his lighter and create enough light to work by.
It was always so relaxing working by candlelight out in the graveyard, so much more enjoyable than doing his work out in the daytime sun. It was not only because the temperature was so much cooler during the evening, but also because the entire atmosphere changed inside of the graveyard.
The darkness put most of the birds to sleep, so that their cries and song didn’t float on the breeze, and it also brought out the fireflies and cicadas. The bugs floated around the copses of trees and flower fields all around him, like little ghost lights coming out from the graves.
Sometimes, Jimin liked to think of them as being actual souls, because he liked watching them flitting around the tombstones and making such beautiful displays in the air. They were so hypnotic to observe, just like the softly dancing candle flames.
The sound of the waves hitting the rocks down below, combined with the shrill cicada song and dancing fireflies, created an atmosphere that made Jimin feel so very at peace with himself. He felt like he was at home in the graveyard, surrounded by deathly stillness and beauty, and it was a sensation that he found hard to describe to any other soul.
Which was why he had never really told Namjoon or Seokjin about his rather unusual love of the graveyard. He didn’t really think that even his friends would understand his thoughts or emotions, and they might just find it all somewhat disturbing.
Jimin stopped singing to himself and he let his breath out in a soft huff, blowing away the hints of moss that he had just delicately scraped free from the first character engraved on the tombstone. It mostly blew free, but he still had to wipe the stone down with a cloth to try and get rid of the rest. He could see staining that the pesky growth had left behind, which had tarnished the smooth and light grey stone with black speckles of mould.
“…Great,” he muttered under his breath, pausing in the act of stabbing the edge of his scalpel into the next character so that he could stare at the mould.
Jimin shifted to place his cloth down on his lap, and that was when he caught sight of something moving out of the corner of his eye. At first, he thought that it was a firefly perhaps, floating too close into his periphery so that it caught his attention. But it was much too big to be a firefly, and it was also not glowing, which meant that it was most definitely Buddy.
“Buddy, go to sleep, boy,” he muttered, sparing a quick glance to his left to look at the dog. “I’ll give you some more treats tomorrow when I…”
Except the dog wasn’t trotting over to him in search of treats or ear scratches.
There was someone standing in the graveyard with him, nestled between the trees on the sloping hill and almost hidden within the thick shadows that they cast.
Jimin took a sharp intake of breath in surprise, because he hadn’t realised that he wasn’t alone. It briefly crossed his mind that he had no idea how long this stranger had been present for, had been watching him for, but he quickly brushed the thought away as he placed his scalpel down in his tool bucket.
Jimin straightened up and he lifted an arm up into the air, waving it back and forth in an attempt at catching the stranger’s attention as they were still nestled within the trees.
“Excuse me, but you really shouldn’t be here!” Jimin called, dropping his arm to cup his mouth and amplify his voice. “Are you lost?! Do you need assistance?!”
At his calls, the stranger slowly shifted to look at him, not exactly emerging from the undergrowth but doing so enough to let him catch sight of his features.
From their distance, Jimin saw just a hint of a face. His features were too hard to discern in the lighting, but he saw that he had a rounded face and a messy shock of pitch black hair that looked almost…wet. In the current moonlight, the boy seemed to be blue, for the lighting cast over his tanned skin and made him glow a shade close to sapphire, and it reflected off his rounded eyes so that they glistened just like his hair. He was wearing a purple and white striped pullover and loose jeans, a somewhat outdated look to Jimin’s eyes.
Several seconds passed, but the boy made no attempt to move or even speak, which made Jimin furrow his brow deeply.
Was he injured in some way? Had he been on the mountain path and had gotten lost, or maybe hit his head after slipping on the treacherously rocky slopes? But it had been so long since anyone had gotten lost up here in the mountain that Jimin didn’t think that that was the case at all.
People got lost at daytime, when it was safe to go hiking up the rocky paths with guides and friends, not in the dead of night - especially not when everyone down in the village claimed the mountain to be haunted because of the graveyard.
So…what was going on?
“Um, hello?!” Jimin called again, grabbing his bucket by the handle and moving to cut through a small space between the tombstones and get closer to him. “Can you understand me?! Are you hurt, maybe?! If you need any help, I might be able to assist you! I live at the bottom of the path and I-”
Jimin came to a sudden stop, his fingers twitching around the bucket handle so that it dropped to land beside his feet with a shockingly loud clattering sound.
The boy was gone, had completely vanished into thin air in the blink of an eye.
“Huh…?” Jimin breathed out heavily, staring at the spot that he had just been occupying before turning his head to glance across the tops of the tombstones that surrounded him.
The boy was gone just like that, almost as if he had teleported or had quite simply disappeared like smoke.
Jimin hunkered down to right his bucket, gathering the weeds up from the ground and dropping them back inside of it. They had spilled free onto the soil and over his foot when he had dropped the bucket, but he had barely even registered the sensation in his surprise. So he dropped them back inside with his tools and then he dusted his hands off roughly, lifting his gaze to look all around him again.
Surely the boy hadn’t disappeared? He must have ran off so quick that he had quite simply lost sight of him in the thick copse of trees that fringed the graveyard. Except Jimin was pretty certain that he really must have disappeared like that, because he would have heard him fleeing off into the night. The snapping sound of twigs underfoot, the rustling of grass and the low bowers of the trees, his softly thumping footsteps - he would have heard something like that, he was certain of it.
Yet the boy had disappeared in the blink of an eye without making a single sound, and that was something that Jimin was at a loss to explain.
The smell of brine was hanging in the air, a powerful tanginess lingering all around of him. That was unusual, because the scent of the sea usually didn’t carry so heavily on the breeze through the thick growth of trees. But right now, Jimin could scent it as strongly as he would if he were to stand on the beach and watch the tide come rolling in.
It was only when he went back over to the tombstone that he had been working on that Jimin saw something completely unexplainable.
There was a wet handprint left behind on the tombstone, almost as if the boy had touched it at some point.
Jimin lifted his free hand to touch it, and his fingers came back wet from the stone. He stared at them for a few seconds before looking up and scanning the graveyard again to try and locate this mysterious apparition.
“What the fuck…?” he breathed out, struggling to suppress the most sudden urge to shiver from the cool night air.
For the rest of the time that it took him to clean several tombstones and give offerings, Jimin found himself somewhat on edge. It wasn’t fear exactly that made him nervous, but more just genuine surprise and confusion over what had just happened. He found himself constantly scanning his surroundings as he worked, trying to catch another glance at that rounded face with the glistening eyes, or a flash of purple and white through the forest trees that signalled that the boy was still out there.
But by the time that he was ready to retire for the evening, the boy did not return. Jimin was left anticipating something, only to be left somewhat disappointed.
Buddy was asleep in his kennel like a good boy. So Jimin closed the front gate up to stop him from wandering out during the night, then he put his tools away and he left the graveyard.
Rather than go right down the path to get back home, Jimin took a detour to get to the cliffside bridges and steps that would take him down to the beach. He still had one more thing to do before he was finished, and that was to see to the beach and ensure that it was clean and safe for the birds and local wildlife.
Jimin slipped a plastic bag out of his shorts back pocket, so that he could gather up the usual trash that had littered the shoreline - in the form of cans and bottles, cigarette butts and old tattered pieces of fishing nets. He saw a couple of birds still lingering around, little terns that hopped around his legs bravely and took to the air with hard ruffling sounds. After filling the bag up and tying it shut, Jimin disposed of it in one of the hiking trail bins that the tour guides emptied every week or so, and then he spared one final look back at the sea before he left.
The waves looked rather gentle right now, building up across the horizon into small crests that flattened out before they lapped against the sand. They licked at it softly, the roaring sound of the sea having quieted down for now. But later, it would increase in volume again, and he might just hear it from his home.
Jimin couldn’t help but scan the stretch of shoreline, desperately hoping to not see a familiar shadowy figure out by the waves. It seemed like the beach was one of several locations that the shadowy man haunted: standing out in the waves like a buoy but not bopping or being sucked under by their strength. But tonight, he saw no sign of the unusual apparition and it was enough to make him let his breath out in a heavy sigh of relief.
One encounter with a mysterious disappearing boy was more than enough spookiness for Jimin tonight. He didn’t need to see another shadowy figure watching him too.
On his way down the trail to get to his home, Jimin discovered that Namjoon had been telling the truth. There had been a series of rockfalls at some point whilst he had been working over the morning, and the sides of the trail were covered in an assortment of rocks from pebbles to rather large chunks the size of his head. Luckily for him, his friend had indeed moved quite a lot of them, because it saved him from accidentally stumbling over a rock as a result of the darkness of the path.
It seemed like forever until the hanok came into view at the bottom of the long and winding path, and the sight of the cream, wooden and slate grey home made him smile to his himself. Yeosin was nowhere in sight, and so that meant that she was probably inside of the home waiting for him.
Jimin had been living in the mountainside hanok since he had been a young teenager, and he had been trusted to travel to and from school down in the village every day whilst also tending to the graveyard in the evening hours before bed. He had taken the role and responsibility very seriously since that age, and even now he was still very much obsessed with it.
Just like always, Jimin saw that a random assortment of goods had been left on the porch of his hanok, and so he slowed down to a stop to look at them all curiously.
In the dawn hours when he first left his home, there would be stacks of bouquets and incense left for him to leave on graves for the dead from family members - with notes and cards attached just so that they went to right spirits. Sometimes, there were paper prayers that he burnt on behalf of the villagers, or bottles of rice wine that he would pour into holders on the tombstones, because the villagers were far too busy with their jobs to be able to travel up the mountainside and leave the offerings every few days.
But in the evening hours, when he returned back home from working in the graveyard, Jimin often came back to find that gifts had been left for him instead. These gifts usually consisted of food that had been wrapped up and stored in containers with notes on them, and so he moved to peel one of the sticky notes free from a parcel so that he could read it.
“To our wonderful angel, Jiminie, please eat this deliciously and stay in good health. With kind regards, Moon Hyeja.”
Jimin smiled at the note, lowering it from his face to look at the spread of goods in front of him.
Hyeja was Namjoon’s grandmother, and he had no doubt brought the food up with him in his bike basket earlier in the morning. It was obvious which ones that she had made for him, but there were also anonymous ones that he could never figure out.
Even when he fermented his own kimchi under the porch, Jimin was still gifted it regularly. He had so much of it that he would never be left wanting, and he had ten urns buried in the earth and three of them on the counter in his house. Today he saw that there were two more, and he couldn’t help but laugh as he gathered up the different items into the crooks of his elbows and carried them all inside of his house.
Tomorrow morning, he would be sure to bury those two urns too, just to keep them safe and cool.
Jimin had to step out of his sandals whilst juggling the parcels and urns of food, and he luckily didn’t stumble to hit the floor or drop a single thing. After placing all of the goods down onto his kitchen counter, he paused and he turned to look at his refrigerator. It took him a couple of seconds to realise what had caught his attention, for he saw that there was a note also stuck on the front of the fridge door.
Namjoon had even been bold enough to let himself inside of his house again, so that he could store other food in his refrigerator and keep it fresh over the long hours that he had been working in the graveyard. Otherwise, some food might just have turned in the hot weather and would have been rendered inedible.
Jimin moved to get to the refrigerator and he pulled the note free, eyeing the familiar scrolling and neat handwriting.
“I’d to give Yeosin some treats, she wouldn’t stop wrapping herself around my leg. That cat’s too smart.”
Jimin couldn’t help but laugh at this, turning away from the refrigerator so that he could try and locate said cat.
Yeosin was perched on the end of his mattress, which was placed in the corner of the ground-floor and open-plan room. He could see her body moving with every inhale and exhale, for she seemed to still be asleep. But after a couple of seconds, one of her ears twitched and she lifted her head up off her paws so that she could look at him. Her milky thin third eyelid was still in place, and she had to blink hard to open her blue eyes fully to look at him.
“I wonder how many treats that you managed to get, huh?” he asked, scrunching the note up and tossing it at the bin. “I’ll bet most of the bag - just like always.”
The first thing that Jimin needed to do was warm up the house by way of the fireplace, as it was going to start getting cold as the evening turned into the night. He was more than used to stoking the fire by now, after all of this time, and so he carefully arranged the charcoal briquettes and logs in a way to make the fire grow steadily. After setting the tinder alight, he fanned at the flames until they were hungrily consuming the logs and turning the briquettes red hot with heat. Then he closed the metal grate to keep the fire contained - leaving it to grow and burn at a slow and steady pace.
Jimin was about to go back over to his kitchen counter before he saw something on the floor close to the door. He thought that he was very lucky that he hadn’t accidentally stood on the thing already, but the mouse was very much dead and so he didn’t need to worry about crushing the poor creature. No, Yeosin had already hunted it and had brought it back to him; as a gift or a strange idea of a snack just for him.
“Yeosin?” Jimin sighed, as he looked down at the dead mouse on the floor right beside his feet. “What’d I tell you about bringing presents into the house, huh?”
Yeosin just fluffed her tail up at this, closing her eyes into slits that seemed to tell him that she thought that the rule was stupid.
Jimin had to pick up the dead mouse and carry it out of his hanok, leaving it in a bush so that some other animal or bird might find it and scavenge it. When he entered the house again, he crossed the floor to go over to his cat, hunkering down and placing a hand down on her warm head.
“Thanks, but next time, leave it out on the porch; OK?” Jimin suggested, giving the cat a series of chin scratches and hearing her rumbling in reply. “It makes it easier to get rid of, and it means you won’t hide it under the covers like that one time…”
Jimin scoured his hands and lower arms with scorching hot water and soap over the kitchen sink, wanting to make sure that not a single germ from the dead mouse could be left on his skin. Then he checked the contents of his refrigerator to see what Namjoon had placed inside of it for him.
There was a block of tofu covered with a damp towel, some fresh vegetables that had no doubt been grown in the Kim family allotment, and there was also a flask that he pulled free to open up and check the contents. He saw and smelled a creamy and cool broth that seemed to be chogyetang, and so he placed the lid back on and he put it back into the fridge before moving over to his kitchen counter.
“Hmm, what should I make for supper tonight, Yeosin?” Jimin remarked, as he ran his eyes across the variety of ingredients and condiments and he tried to think of something to cook. “It’s too hot for hot food…”
After checking the ingredients one by one, he finally settled on making dishes that would compliment the chogyetang that Hyeja had made him. That meant more chilled food, and so he settled on making bibim guksu as the main dish for the night. He had everything that he needed stored away, and the fresh vegetables could be utilised in some side dishes too.
So Jimin boiled the noodles and eggs in two pans whilst he created the sauce to soak the noodles in: mixing the soy sauce with chilli pepper paste and flakes, mustard paste, rice vinegar, honey, garlic, and finally sesame oil and seeds. He blended it into a nice thin sauce and as soon as it was ready, he washed and diced the cucumber, cabbage, lettuce and kimchi before dumping the vegetables into a bowl.
When the noodles were firm and cooked, he shocked them in cold water several times until there wasn’t a hint of heat left in the mound. Then put them into the refrigerator to chill with the sauce and vegetables whilst he worked on preparing some other dishes and left the eggs to finish cooking.
Jimin boiled half of the tofu block in a pan to soften it, preparing to make dubu salad with the leftover lettuce and cucumber. He drizzled the salad in sauce and scooped out a portion of yeolmu mul kimchi as another small side dish; just so that he could use up more the summer-friendly variety and finish at least one of the urns.
Like always, Jimin found himself humming and singing under his breath as he worked. It was a natural habit of his, long ingrained into him from his years of working in the graveyard and needing to make noise of some kind just to listen to something other than the distant shore waves and chirping cicadas. Even something as simple as showering, cooking, or even riding his bike, made him hum and sing under his breath.
When all of his side dishes were prepared, Jimin dropped several ice cubes in the bowl before dumping in the soaked noodles, just to keep them nice and cold whilst he was eating. Then he rearranged the vegetables and boiled egg halves, before carrying it over to his kitchen table and setting it with all of the dishes.
For some reason, Yeosin found the table highly interesting, her deep pink nose twitching away as he settled down on the floor cushion and grabbed his spoon and chopsticks. There was nothing that should really attract her attention, save for the chilled chogyetang with the shredded chunks of chicken floating in the tangy and creamy broth, and yet she still wanted to shove her nose into everything.
Jimin ended up snatching a toy from the floor and tossing it across the floor, just to get her to chase after it and leave him in peace. That was enough to get her to leave him alone, and so he tucked into his late evening dinner with much enthusiasm. Namjoon’s lunch might just have satisfied his cravings earlier in the day, but he was starving once more after all of the hard work that he had done today.
Whilst Yeosin gnawed on her toy mouse, Jimin was sure to eat his chogyetang just so that she wouldn’t come sniffing around again. It was creamy and rich, the chicken chunks tended and cooked to perfection by Namjoon’s grandmother. Upon finishing the soup, he started devouring bibim guksu, the ice cubes having almost melted at the bottom of the bowl so that the noodles were still icy cold.
Despite his best efforts at keeping her away, Yeosin still found a way to get her nose into the bowl of chogyetang. There was little more than dribbles of soup left, but she still stuck her pink tongue out to lap at the liquid eagerly whilst he finished eating the salad.
A sudden scent came in through the open window that was enough to make him freeze in the act of collecting the used dishes together. It was a noticeably fresh scent, one that had a hint of metal to it that he could almost taste on his tongue. Combined with the lingering static that he could sense on his bare arms, he was more than certain that there was a storm of some kind coming, and it was going to hit very soon.
“Goddamn, Yeosin, I think that the heatwave might just be coming to an end,” Jimin remarked, as he gathered the dishes up and carried them over to his sink. After shoving the plug in and twisting the tap to hot, he squirted liquid soap into it and he swirled his hand around to get it to foam. “Wouldn’t that be a blessing, huh?”
It was as he was draining the sink of soapy water several minutes later when Jimin heard the first distant rumble of thunder rolling across the sky. He shifted to lift up the waxed window cover and glanced through the glass, just in time to catch the first sudden downpour of rain.
Hopefully, Buddy would stay in his kennel all night long and not go for a wander around the graveyard, because the rain would soak him through within mere seconds. He knew that the dog would because he was a good boy, and so he had little need to worry about him. His kennel would keep him warm and dry, much like his hanok would keep him safe from the storm.
So Jimin dried his hands and then he boiled a kettle so that he could prepare some tea whilst the dishes air dried. The plan was to drink it on the porch whilst watching the rain, before taking a bath and retiring to bed for the night. He filled the strainer with dried rose hips and persimmon leaves, letting the metal ball float in the hot water until it turned a wonderful warm orange shade with a hint of pink. Then he pulled it free and hastily emptied and cleaned it, before grabbing the mug of hot tea and crossing the ground-floor to get to the front door.
Jimin settled down on the porch, clad in just his tee-shirt and briefs in the current evening cool. He curved his back against one of the thick wooden beams, his knees lazily cocked up in front of him, and he nursed the mug against his stomach as he watched the brewing storm.
The light downpour danced off the roof of his hanok, pattering on the slate before rolling down in front of him in a curtain of rain. He shifted to hold his hand out and let the rain hit him, filling up his palm within mere seconds and then rolling down the sides of his hands to run down into the soil. The rain was freezing cold in the most exquisite of ways, clashing against the hot persimmon tea on his tongue and making him close his eyes just to savour the sensation.
Jimin found his mind drifting back to that spectral figure in the graveyard, the boy in the striped pullover with the wet black hair and glossy eyes. He had already been soaked through to his skin for some reason, and so it was hardly like he was going to get any wetter in the thunderstorm. But whatever the case, he found himself hoping that he too found shelter from the rain, even if he might just be a ghost.
A sudden deep rumble of thunder made him jump in surprise, opening his eyes as his fingers curled up into a fist. He could see that Yeosin was lingering close to the open hanok doorway, watching the rain just like he was but enjoying the warmth inside of the home too much to want to come out onto the porch.
Jimin studied her for a few seconds before turning his head to look at his hand. He could see the rain rolling down his loosely clenched fist, his skin starting to turn pink from the cold, and so he relaxed his fingers to let it start pooling in his palm again.
The most overwhelming urge to just get up off the porch and step out into the rain came over him, and before he could help himself, Jimin moved to place his half-empty mug down on the porch and he got to his feet. Then he stepped down and into the mud, which was like thick sludge underneath his bare feet, and he left the shelter of his porch roof to let the rain pelt him.
Jimin felt his breath escaping him in a soft cry of shock, his slight shoulders instinctively hunching up as rain found its way down the back of his tee-shirt collar. It ran down his neck and spine like icy fingers, soaking into the waistband of his briefs just as quickly as it drenched his hair. He tried to keep his eyes open, but the rain was so heavy that he had to keep blinking it away. When he took a sharp gasp of air through his lips, he ended up sucking some of it into his mouth. There was a slightly metallic flavour lingering on his tongue, similar to the water from the pump in the graveyard.
The cold was enough to make his testicles and cock tighten and shrink within his soaked briefs, hard and taut between his thighs in a desperate attempt at preserving warmth. He hugged his arms against his chest for a moment, just willing the temporary shock of the cold to pass so that he could find some relief from the heat.
After a moment, he rolled his head back to look up at the sky. His soaked hair slipped back from the shower, exposing his entire face to the powerful downpour of rain.
This was what it felt like to just dive into the sea, save for the sensation of being submerged enough for the water to penetrate his ears and nose. This sudden shock to the system that made his muscles zing and his heart start racing in his chest - it was the exact same sensation that the sea caused deep within him.
But no matter how good the temporary enjoyment made him feel, Jimin had to seek shelter from the storm. Especially when another hard rumble of thunder sounded, before almost splitting the sky with a deafening crack that made him jump in shock.
Jimin dropped to sit on his porch with a series of breathless giggles, holding his legs out in the rain for a moment longer to get the mud to wash free from his feet and lower legs so that he wouldn’t track filth into his home. As soon as they were as clean as possible, he almost crawled across the porch until he was able to get upright and enter his hanok again.
As he shoved the door shut, Yeosin trotted over to see what he was doing. She wrapped herself around his legs with a curious rumbling chirp, but when his soaked tee-shirt dripped rain down onto her fur, she darted away again at the speed of light. Her eyes were wide with shock and her ears were pulled back and pinned against her skull. The sight of her made him start laughing, even when it was rather mean.
“Sorry, princess,” Jimin said with a sheepish smile, watching her diving underneath the kitchen table to hide from him. Her tail shot out in a fat bristle, showing the truth depth of her discontent. “I couldn’t huh-help myself.”
Whilst the bathtub filled with hot water, Jimin quickly drank the remains of his tea. It wasn’t enough to fight the chill in his bones, but it was better than nothing. Combined with the heat radiating from the fireplace and settling all over the hanok, it was just enough to help him stop shivering - naked with his soaked clothing lying on the floor by his feet. He left his silver rings and wooden necklace charms in a bowl on the kitchen counter, where they would remain until tomorrow morning when he left to go to the graveyard once more.
Sitting in the bathtub several minutes later, the scorching hot water lapping over all of his body and right up to his chin, Jimin watched the still raging thunderstorm through the window covers. It might not be as fun watching the storm instead of being out in it, but it was most certainly warmer. Along with the constant hammering sound of the rain hitting the roof, and the rumbling of thunder echoing from the mountainside, there was also the occasional harsh flash of lightning that lit up him home with a bright white light.
Jimin once again couldn’t help but wonder about that stranger in the graveyard, who had appeared just as suddenly as the storm had. He might just have seen a ghost today, and that was something that he was struggling to process.
Tending to the dead by pleasing and conversing with their spirits was one thing, but seeing a ghost was something completely different.
Jimin slowly sank down into the water, feeling the instant pressure of it trying to get into his ears so that they started lightly ringing. It felt just like the rain, as it was so close to being submerged in the sea but yet still not the same thing.
The sea was cold, unloving and yet as intimate as a lover as it cradled everything in its tenacious grasp. His bath water was hot and fragrant with roses, not the powerful and harsh tang of salt, and it was still and peaceful, rather than energetic and powerful. But he still loved sinking under the surface for a minute or two, his breath held and his head filled with the soft roaring of the water.
Jimin broke the surface again after a moment, forcing the water out of his nose and then taking a quick gasp for breath through his lips. He slicked his hair back off his face, blinking water free from his eyes that he then quickly wiped at with his fingers.
The storm was still raging outside, the sound having been temporarily muted when he had been under the water. So he settled back against the tub, and he closed his eyes and listened to it.
When the water finally turned lukewarm, Jimin emerged from the tub and he wrapped a towel around his waist. Whilst the tub drained, he collected his clothing together and he dumped them into the laundry hamper, and after towel-drying his body and hair, he added the towel too. He finished his routine for the evening by brushing his teeth and moisturising his skin in front of the fireplace, and then he retired to bed at last.
Yeosin joined him on his mattress, having forgiven him for getting her fur wet because she could see that he was now warm and ready to be kneaded at and curled up against. Her claws lightly kneaded into the curve of his stomach as she let out rumbling purrs, and so he reached down to place a hand against her back and he sank his fingers into her soft and warm fur.
Jimin slipped his arm under his pillow, getting comfortable under the thin covers, or as comfortable as he possibly could with his cat digging her claws into his stomach. He closed his eyes and he listened to the fading sound of the storm, which was starting to soften to just light rainfall. His body was starting to feel so very light too, as if he was floating in waves rather than lying on his mattress.
It was the sound of his mother’s voice whispering in his ear that finally lulled him to sleep.
Jimin sank down into blackness to the sound of the pouring rain bouncing off the hanok roof, which sounded so very similar to the soft roar of the sea hitting against the cliffs.
“Go to sleep, Jiminie, just go to sleep. Mama’s gonna keep you nice and safe, don’t be afraid…”
The storm really had raged on over the course of the night, whilst he had been deeply asleep and safe within his home.
Standing on his hanok porch, a mug of tea in hand and clad only in a pair of briefs, Jimin could see a wealth of destruction strewn all over the stretch of grass that he thought of as his front lawn. Branches, general litter and debris - it was everywhere, and the sight of it all made him sigh heavily.
It was going to need to be cleaned up at some point, but Jimin really didn’t know if he had the time or energy to do so. He could see that the sun was starting to rise on the horizon, turning the dark skies into a pale wash of lilac and blue that was devoid of any clouds at all. Dawn was usually the time that he left his home to start the trek up to the graveyard, as he needed to start his duties early so that he could get as much work done as possible. All that he had to do was finish his tea and get dressed, and the mess all around his garden would just have to wait until tonight to get cleaned away.
Jimin took a deep sip of the tea, letting it linger on his tongue before swallowing - honey and chrysanthemum. Then he turned on his heel to go back into his home, quickly running the cup underneath the tap in the sink to clean it and then crossing the floor to get to his wardrobe. Just like always, he slipped into a pair of denim shorts and a loose white tee-shirt, before retrieving a red plaid shirt.
“Do you think Buddy’s alright, huh?” he asked, as he tugged the shirt on over his tee-shirt and he fiddled with the oversized and loose cuffs.
Yeosin didn’t reply to this; just gave a hard twitch of her tail as she stared out of the window and presumably watched the birds up high in the trees across the field.
“I hope he’s alright, that was a mighty bad storm,” he finished with a weary sigh, rolling the cuffs up his forearms to his elbows. “If it wasn’t tradition, I’d bring him back home with me, princess, but he’s supposed to guard the graveyard in my absence, so…”
Jimin paused in the act of securing the second sleeve, staring down at his bare fingers whilst a sudden memory cut through his mind like the gleam of a knife.
The scent of brine, the flash of a blue-tinged round face with massive eyes, the wet handprint on the tombstone.
“Not that it really matters if either of us are there to keep a watch on the graveyard, I think I saw a ghost last night,” Jimin confided in a whisper, to which Yeosin finally made a sound - a soft rumble. “The first ghost to ever appear there, gosh…”
As soon as Jimin had tugged on his straw boater and jewellery and he slipped into his sandals, he ensured that Yeosin had plenty of water and dry food for when he would be gone. Then he retrieved a bucket and a towel. Namjoon had asked him to bring the bucket after all, so that they could finally see to Buddy’s rather out of control fur problem. Before leaving his home, he made sure to bury the two new kimchi urns under his porch in the thankfully dry soil, and then he started his journey up the path that would take him up the mountainside and into the graveyard.
The one good thing that the storm had done was that it had blown away all of rockfall debris from yesterday to leave the path free and accessible to all. There was a great deal of leaves and branches here and there, having gathered together into massive piles on the side of the dirt road. On the brisk walk to get to the graveyard, Jimin heard the faded sound of voices coming from deep within the forest - that of a tour guide escorting tourists or teams of elderly ladies getting their recommended exercise walks up the mountain for the day.
Jimin thought about how he had assumed that the mysterious boy in the graveyard last night might have been a hiker of some kind, one that had gotten lost without a guide and might have injured himself by tumbling down the treacherous paths in the dark. After a night of sleep and much contemplation, he was very much starting to think otherwise, as he was pretty convinced that he had seen a ghost.
Upon drawing close to the graveyard, Jimin found himself searching for sight of his dog through the railings as he quickly made his way up the dirt road. It was as he was pushing the gate inwards, the metal creaking and in need of a good squirt of oil, that he finally saw Buddy’s shaggy head emerging from the kennel - which was still standing and in perfect condition.
“Oh, Buddy!” Jimin cried out in happiness, as he fixed the gate shut behind him and he placed the bucket down into the grass to free up his hands. “You’re alright!”
Jimin raced over to the dog only for Buddy to reach him first. The dog dived onto his hind legs, his forepaws slamming right into his ribs to make him almost reel backwards from his weight. He let his breath out in a cry of surprise, grabbing the dog by the ribs so that he could ruffle at his fur and lavish him with attention.
“I’m so happy to see you, Buddy,” Jimin continued, dropping to sit in the grass and hugging the dog close. “I was so scared after that bad storm. I’m so glad my kennel kept you safe.”
Buddy barked at him, his tongue lolling free from his grinning mouth to show that he was completely unfazed by this so-called bad storm.
Jimin cupped his jowls in his hands so that he could ruffle at them, glancing across the graveyard to see a rather horrendous sight.
Not only had the storm blown in so much debris in the form of branches, leaves, stones and even litter, but there was a shocking amount of damage to other things too.
All of the offerings that he had left had been destroyed, the flowers swept away by the hard gusts of wind. The bowls had been blown away and shattered against the railings, the candles were gone too - snapped free from the holders so that nothing more than a chunk of wax remained trapped inside. Even some of the tombstones themselves had been devastated by the flying debris, for he could see damage to more than one: chips in the granite, shattered fieldstone that had been hit by branches and had broken under the pressure.
At least his mother’s tombstone looked to be free from damage.
“Goddamn, Buddy, what’re we gonna do about this mess, huh?” Jimin sighed out heavily, as he let go of the dog’s jowls.
After feeding Buddy and filling up his bowl with fresh water, Jimin had to retrieve his wheelbarrow and start the laborious task of collecting the debris and mess from the storm inside of it. Just picking up the shards of the offering bowls made him groan, because he knew that the spirits were going to be upset after what had happened. Damaged tombstones, blown-away offerings; they were pretty much going to be pissed and so he was going to have to appease them first and foremost.
Jimin had no choice, he had to empty the wheelbarrow of debris and then push it into the wildflower patch so that he could collect a large selection of flowers. Even just one or two flowers should keep them content for awhile whilst he worked, and so he slowly rolled the wheelbarrow back inside and proceeded to place them down on the graves one by one until every single one had flowers placed on the earth.
There, that was a small offering, but it was better than nothing at all, and he was certain that the spirits would understand.
Jimin had to break out his tools so that he could try and fix up the offering cups from the remains that he had found. Several ones had shattered cleanly enough for him to simply glue the parts together again, but others were missing tiny and large shards.
After gluing the whole ones together and letting the glue dry, he sanded them down and then applied a lacquer so that he could hide the damage. They looked as good as new, and as soon as the red lacquer had finished he was sure that the spirits would accept them again. The ones that had missing shards, he used some clay that he kept for the soil so that he could mould it into the gaps and fix those cups too. Sadly, he was missing several offering bowls, and so he would have to carve some new ones from a chunk of lumber or mould them from clay to replace them.
Jimin was good with carving, on account of the fact that he was good with his hands and most handy tasks. Replacing the old bowls with new ones wouldn’t take him much effort or time at all, but he needed to see to other things first.
So whilst the bowls dried and hardened from the lacquer and wet clay, Jimin started the long and hard job of fixing the damage to the poor ruined tombstones. It was going to take several days to fix them up, on top of his usual daily duties, and he couldn’t rush it lest he accidentally break another fragile chunk of stone free with his tools. No, he needed to take his time to fill in the cracks with epoxy, to attach new pieces that fitted perfectly, to sand and clean them down until they looked like new again.
“Oh, Ha Myungsoo, I’m sorry,” Jimin sighed out, as he stroked his hand down the front of the gravestone and he eyed the chip in the top that had caused a deep crack to run right across the marker. “I’m gonna fix you up, OK?”
Just like he had promised, Namjoon showed up to the graveyard around lunch hour minus Monnie but with some grooming tools in his bike basket. There was a pair of clippers and scissors, for trimming at Buddy’s messy and tangled fur, along with brushes to help with any knots that they might encounter and the obvious bottle of shampoo. Finally, a set of nail clippers were also present, because they should really see to those too.
Namjoon was clad in a loose striped tee-shirt of blue and white, which was tucked into a pair of long denim shorts, along with a pair of socks and sneakers. He cycled his way into the graveyard, his bike lazily bouncing over the rocks until he came to a stop and he left it balanced against the gates.
“Goddamn,” Namjoon remarked when he caught sight of the dog across the graveyard. “We’re gonna have real fun today, huh?”
“Oh, y’know it, Joon,” Jimin replied with a grin.
Jimin filled up the bucket using the water pump, whistling to call Buddy over so that they could start the challenge of cleaning him up.
There was no lunch to be shared together because today was the day that Jimin often went down to the village to see another friend over tea and food. Because of this, there was no wooden box of food in the basket that Namjoon placed down into the grass.
They both hefted Buddy up and into the bucket, the water sloshing against the sides. It was cold enough to make the dog let out a whine, but the increasing heat of the day meant that it would soon bring him relief.
“I know, I know you hate baths,” Jimin said in a soothing voice. “I know you hate ‘em so much but you gotta get one, Buddy!”
Using a jug from the shed, Jimin was able to wet Buddy’s fur with the water to prepare him for the shampoo. His fur needed to wet so that the shampoo could lather properly and help them get rid of all of the dirt and soil that would be trapped in all layers of his coat. But he had only just managed to get his fur wet when Buddy shook off hard and he attempted to get out of the bucket - so very convinced that he was all done.
“Ah! Buddy!” Jimin cried out, throwing his hands up and twisting away from the spray of water right before it got him in the face.
Namjoon just spluttered at this, having been caught by complete surprise so that he had received a faceful of cold water. His tee-shirt was wet, damp patches spreading out from the stomach and neckline from where Buddy had splashed a great amount of water over the sides of the bucket, and his denim shorts were probably just as wet as his friend’s clothing. He reached up to wipe at his cheeks with the back of his hand, trying to wipe away the trickling beads.
“Not yet, we ain’t even washed you yet!” Jimin said, grabbing hold of Buddy to pull him back into the bucket and getting his clothing even wetter. “Be a good boy!”
Namjoon squirted a liberal amount of shampoo onto his hand so that he could apply it to his coat. Whilst he did so, Jimin shrugged his plaid shirt free, getting to his feet so that he could fold it over the top of a nearby tombstone.
“Goddamn, soaked my tee-shirt too,” Jimin muttered, looking down at the wet patch all down the front. Then he snagged hold of the back of the neck so that he could tug it off. “Are you gonna take off yours, hmm?”
“Nope,” Namjoon replied without a hint of hesitation, getting more shampoo onto his hand to spread it on Buddy’s head and then sticking his hand inside the bucket to wash the mixture free from his palm.
“C’mon! Take it off! It’s just gonna get soaked anyway, Joon!” Jimin pointed out, as he folded his tee-shirt over the tombstone too and he hunkered back down again. He resumed rigorously massaging at Buddy’s sudsy fur, spreading the mild and non-scent dog shampoo through his thick pelt. “Then you’ll have to go back home wet and smelling like dog.”
“I ain’t gonna start stripping in a graveyard, Jimin,” Namjoon argued, as he quickly wiped his wet hands on his shorts and then he tried to roll his sleeves up to his shoulders. “My mama raised me better than that.”
“Ain’t nobody but the dead here, Joon, ain’t no need to be self-conscious of your body,” he joked with a mischievous smile.
“Who said I was self-conscious?!” Namjoon and exclaimed, pausing in the act snagging the second sleeve around his shoulder and giving him a scandalised expression.
Jimin just raised his eyebrows at this as he cupped a handful of water and tossed it over Buddy’s back, taunting his friend without needing to say a single word at all.
After a moment of thought, Namjoon grabbed the ends of his tee-shirt so that he could wrench it up and tuck it down the front of the neckline. Jimin looked up sharply at this, watching his actions in complete surprise until he realised what he was doing. He was tucking it in so that he could pull down and wrench the fabric up childishly, like children would do so, and the best thing was…it was working.
“There!” Namjoon declared, as he tugged the ends down in place and finished his makeshift attempt at a crop top. “How’s that for self-conscious?!”
Jimin couldn’t control his sudden burst of laughter, shaking so much that he ended up slumping back in the grass so that he could roll onto his side and kick his legs around.
Namjoon looked so very proud of him as he massaged the shampoo into Buddy’s fur, lathering it all over so that they could attempt to clean it free.
It took them quite the amount of effort to wash the shampoo free, pouring jug after jug onto the dog until they managed to get all of the suds out of his fur. Just like that, they lifted him out of the bucket so that they could start drying him off with the towel.
“You see that thunderstorm last night, huh?” Namjoon asked suddenly, as they both towelled at the dog’s fur to try and get him a semblance of dry. “I’m hoping that you’ll say that you were asleep and you didn’t even know, and not that you were still working out here like an idiot.”
“I did see the storm, I was at home, but I went out in it anyway,” Jimin replied, as he got Buddy’s ear between both of his hands and rubbed as much water free as he could. “Y’know, I stepped out into the rain…”
“Do you wanna catch your death, Jimin?” Namjoon asked, his tone hard to read. It might have been jokingly stern, or actually serious, and he really couldn’t tell.
“No! No, it ain’t like that, Joon. It was so hot and I just wanted to cool down, so, I stood out in the rain and then I took a hot bath and slept for the whole night,” Jimin explained, as he reached up to wipe at his brow with his forearm. “It really helped clear my mind, washed away any mental confusion and fatigue and all that.”
“‘Mental confusion’? Confusion over what exactly, Jimin?” Namjoon asked in the same unusual tone, as they finished towelling Buddy’s coat dry.
“Oh, y’know, just in general,” Jimin said, moving to retrieve the brush so that he could start dragging it through the dog’s fur. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said confusion, just my silly thoughts.”
“Thoughts about the past, maybe?”
“No, not the past, Joon,” he replied with a head shake, locating the first thick knot in Buddy’s fur that he needed to trim at and cut free with the scissors. “Don’t you worry none about me.”
“It’s hard not worrying when you’re out here on your own all the goddamn time,” Namjoon remarked in a quiet voice, watching him snipping the knot free. “I ain’t the only one, Jin does too. He just doesn’t tell you, he thinks that you’re too stubborn to listen.”
“Hmm, he’s right,” Jimin agreed with a quick smile, resuming the act of brushing Buddy’s fur to find the next thick tangle. “I’ve been out here on my own for so long now, why start worrying about me? You clearly thought that I was fine before, that I was taking care of myself and capable. Right?”
“I’ve been worried that whole time, Jimin,” the other man pointed out. “You just brushed those worries away, just like you’re doing right now.”
The graveyard fell silent at this, Namjoon holding his tongue as he watched him grooming the dog with the brush and scissors. Either he had nothing more to say on the matter, he was searching for the right words to say, or he was holding back from speaking his mind. It was too difficult figuring out which one it was, and so Jimin focused on the task at hand rather than speak.
Why would Jimin be thinking about the past, when the past was dead and buried right in this very graveyard that they were both sitting in?
Namjoon should know well enough by now that he never dwelt on such things, that he refused to think about his childhood years because they were little more than a foggy soup of fractured memories and nightmares - of which he struggled ascertaining the difference between. The past never entered Jimin’s mind unless he was having a nightmare, and that was final.
The truth of the matter was that Jimin had been thinking about the ghost last night, and the storm had helped clear away his doubts about the matter. But he hadn’t wanted to tell Namjoon about the fact that he might just have seen a ghost, because he knew that his friend didn’t believe in the supernatural.
Beyond ancestor rites, which were an embedded part of life and culture, Namjoon had no love for superstitious folklore, spirits or anything of the sort. If he told him about ghosts he would either think that he had been seeing things, or he might be worried that there was something wrong with him. That was the last thing that he wanted his friend to think about him, considering how other villagers down the mountain often thought that he was morbid and strange.
“I saw the damage,” Namjoon said to break their momentary silence, turning his head to look across the graveyard. “I can only imagine how much worse it looked before you got rid of most of the debris. What are you gonna do about the tombstones?”
“I can fix ‘em up, just gotta use epoxy to attach new pieces - to fill in the cracks, scratch away the excess with a putty knife and sand it down smooth again. Any other damage, a surface kit can fix it up, no problem,” Jimin explained quickly, dropping another knot of fur down into the grass. “See that one over there? I started work on that this morning, there was a massive crack right across the granite but I’ve already filled it in. I ain’t gotta worry about the spirits, Joon, they like me, they trust me. I’m their caretaker, they know that I’ll take care of ‘em.”
“Do you think that the spirits can get mad, Jimin?”
“I do,” Jimin replied with a soft nod. “I know all about spirits, Joon, and trust me when I tell you that they can get mad.”
As soon as Jimin had finished brushing and cutting out the tangles in his fur, Namjoon powered up the battery-powered clippers and he trimmed Buddy’s coat down for him. The dog sat still whilst he did so, not at all frightened by the slight buzzing sound as the plastic head shorn great chunks of fur free. After he was done with the clippers, Namjoon also helped him trim the dog’s nails to keep them in check. It took them some time, but eventually Buddy was able to trot off across the graveyard with his new short and clean coat and his tail wagging a mile a minute.
“Now, that’s a happy dog,” Jimin remarked with a lazy smile.
“Are you gonna visit Jin today?” Namjoon asked, as he retrieved his grooming tools from the grass and he got to his feet.
“Uhuh, I’m gonna head on down around midday,” he explained, watching his friend crossing the graveyard to put the items in his bike basket. “That’s the perfect time to get outta this heat and have a nice refreshing cup of tea. What about you, huh? Are you gonna visit him?”
“I already have, this morning,” Namjoon replied, as he reached up to grab at his tee-shirt and fixed it back in place again. When he slipped the ends free, the bottom of his tee-shirt was heavily wrinkled and still damp with water.
“Bringing him more desserts?” Jimin asked with a knowing look, shifting to settle back on his wrists so that he could curve his back and sit more comfortably. “Why always desserts, Joon? How come you make me all kinds of things - even fried chicken - but you only ever give him desserts?”
“Why? Are you jealous because you don’t get any?” Namjoon asked with a quick and mischievous smile; one that made deep dimples appear in his cheeks.
“Yeah, a little!” Jimin exclaimed enthusiastically, and the two of them started laughing from his immature act.
“Jin likes desserts,” his friend stated, as if that fact wasn’t at all obvious by now. “I could make him whatever main dishes he likes the most, and trust me, there’s plenty. Or, I could make him desserts, which he somehow likes even more - if you can believe that?”
Jimin could believe that, and then some.
Considering the fact that Seokjin ran a tea shop and prepared food on a constant daily basis, Jimin would have once thought that he wouldn’t have cared much for food outside of his job and obvious talents. But the reason why Seokjin ran such an establishment was deeply rooted in the fact that he loved cooking, and not only because he was good at it.
Every single one of his dishes was prepared from fresh ingredients straight from the market, even when he could save time, effort and money by using processed goods from a supermarket instead. But no, Seokjin woke up not too long after dawn to go to the large food market in the village, and he bought boxes of fresh produce: vegetables, meat, dairy and herbs and spices; which he brought to his tea shop to start cooking for the villagers until the early evening hours.
Jimin knew that there was much better quality in fresh produce over processed goods: flavour, texture, less salt and other unhealthy agents required to preserve it. But he had a feeling that that wasn’t the only reason why Seokjin rigorously insisted on using them.
Much like Jimin’s love of working in the graveyard, where he felt he belonged and it was true calling in life, Seokjin was simply answering his own calling.
So when Namjoon told him all about how much that Seokjin loved almost every dessert imaginable, Jimin knew that the other man really did have a love for desserts.
“Desserts look so much more attractive; don’t you think?” Jimin asked out of the blue, cocking his head to the side as he studied his friend. “Like, if you give someone a box of desserts, it’s all about the presentation, right? The colours, the arrangement, the effort - you wanna impress someone if you make ‘em desserts. That’s what I think, Joon.”
“Oh yeah?” Namjoon asked, as he pushed the graveyard gate open and he turned to look over at him.
“Yeah, I think that you’re trying to impress him,” he finished with a wide smile. He saw the way that Namjoon laughed at this, a soft sound escaping him as he shook his head slowly. “I think that’s real sweet, Joon.”
“Of course I’m trying to impress him,” Namjoon retorted, as he climbed onto his bike and he slipped his sneakers into one of the pedals. “If I can impress Jin with my cooking then that means that I’m good!”
“That ain’t what I meant and you know it, Joon!” Jimin called after him, watching his friend slowly cycling out of the graveyard so that he could get onto the mountain path again.
“Yeah yeah!” Namjoon called in return, not even glancing back over his shoulder at him. “See you tomorrow, Jimin! I’ll be sure to bring you some dessert!”
“Tteok! Please! Chal tteok!”
As Jimin watched him cycling away, he heard the sound of Namjoon laughing at his demand for chal tteok. He didn’t even know if Namjoon could make chal tteok, but if not, he could always bring him a box of CW Foods Cacao Chal Tteok from one of the several village convenience stores. Jimin wouldn’t complain if he was given store-bought dessert, hell, he was even tempted to pop inside and purchase himself a box when he went down into the village; just to satisfy his sudden craving.
Jimin turned his head to locate Buddy, and he found that the dog was rolling around in the grass. The sight made him sigh heavily, as they had only just finished bathing him. But at least his short fur was easier to groom now, and that meant that Jimin could always give him a quick spray of water from the hose and brush him every day or two.
Before leaving the graveyard, Jimin finished restoring the tombstone that he had been working on. He wanted to make sure that everything was set so that it could dry overnight, which would make it easier to finish repairing the damaged stone. He had to retrieve a large chunk of fieldstone that wasn’t exactly the ideal shape, which he would have to affix with the thick putty and then shave down to perfectly smooth edges. It took him some time to seal up the slight surface cracks and set the chunk in place, and then it was time for a break.
It was time to go down to the village and visit a certain someone - Seokjin.
“I’ll be back soon, OK?” Jimin declared, as he got upright and he brushed earth free from his hands and knees. “Don’t worry, I’m gonna fix you all up and burn plenty of incense and offerings. I understand if you’re upset ‘cos of the storm. Hell, I think that a lot of buildings down in the village are gonna be damaged too. But I’m gonna fix you all up, I promise.”
Jimin packed away all of his tools in the shed, he finally washed his hands under the water pump to rid himself of dirt, and he retrieved his cast-off clothing. He tugged his tee-shirt on, finding that it was mostly dry by now, and then he slipped into the plaid shirt too; affixing his straw boater back in place on his head. Then he left the graveyard to head on down the mountain path to retrieve his bike, sparing a quick look back at the graveyard as he did so.
Just like always, the midday sun was powerful - a weight and heat to it like no other. As he cycled down the path, Jimin was lucky that most of it was covered in a thick growth of trees that sheltered him from direct exposure, the path dappled with shade and small breaks of golden sunlight that illuminated the way. Whenever he passed underneath one of these breaks, Jimin felt much more heat casting down on his skin, only for the blessedly cool shade to return a moment later.
The path from the graveyard to his hanok might not have been too badly hit by the storm, but as Jimin continued his journey down to the village, he discovered that the rest of the area had been hit much harder. Trees branches had been swept to the side to form massive walls, filling up the grass beside the dirt path. He could see the obvious route that Namjoon had taken to get up to the graveyard on his bike; cycling around the debris and rocks that had littered it, and so he copied his route.
Upon reaching the bottom of the path and entering the fields of farmland around the base of the mountain, Jimin started to notice even more damage, and the village had also been hit hard by the storm. Some buildings had had windows shattered by flying branches, so that crews of workmen were present all over the narrow dirt and cobbled streets; carrying sheets of glass out of the backs of their vans and carefully removing the broken and jagged teeth-like shards from the frames. A couple of streetlights had been unearthed from the concrete, having brought down lines so that certain street had lost electricity over the duration of the night. At least the saplings placed here and there along the roads were still safe, seeing as they had wire mesh wrapped around their thin trunks to stop children from carving messages in their wood and vandalising the poor things.
Seokjin’s tea shop was free from visible exterior damage at least, and the sight made Jimin let his breath out in a sigh of relief as he slowed his bike down to a stop.
The exterior walls were a deep cream shade framed with light wood that matched the wide front and back porches. The building was a refurbished hanok, so it had a beautifully double layered roof of deep grey slate, but it had been modernised in parts - the wax-treated window shades removed and replaced with exterior verandas of soft pink; the basement heating system altered to turn it into a pantry instead; most of the inside walls removed to create a large dining-area for customers.
Overall, it was a beautiful building and Jimin was relieved to see that the verandas were still in place and the windows hadn’t been shattered. Even the porch tables and chairs were still present, at which several people were currently sitting and talking amongst themselves over cups of hot and cool drinks and plates of food.
Much like with Namjoon and his little boxes of food every single day, for the past couple of years now, Jimin had been enjoying free tea in return for his services to the Kim clan - on account of the fact that he cared for their ancestral graves every single day. It was nothing really, nothing at all, because Jimin enjoyed his duties and he didn’t think that he deserved anything in return.
All that he did was clean the tombstones, after all, and remove the weeds from around the bases to keep them nice and neat before lighting candles in their names and giving them floral, alcoholic and burnt prayer offerings. Sometimes, like today, he had much more work to do, but usually it was just simple caretaker duties. He treated all of the graves there with the utmost respect: from the ones so aged that the names engraved into the stone had been rendered completely unreadable to his eyes, to the newest ones that sometimes bore names that he knew personally.
Jimin liked tending to the ground around the tombstones, plucking weeds free and sweeping dust from the foot markers to keep them clean because the act felt like he was cleansing himself in the process. He liked picking up the bouquets that people had left on his porch and placing them inside of the vases, neatening up the arrangements in a way that pleased the eye, and he liked leaving his own little bundles of wildflowers in the vases that were unloved and received no visitors for the week; just to let the dead know that someone was thinking about them.
One of the few scents that Jimin loved inhaling was that of incense, which he burnt in copious amounts whilst he worked, and the smokey after notes that lingered after extinguishing the candles that he liked to work by when the evening dusk grew heavy and the moonlight couldn’t illuminate his path too clearly.
Jimin was more than aware of the fact that a lot of the villagers thought that he was unusual, that there was something odd about how fixated that he was with the old graveyard and his duties to tend to it, to the point in which he didn’t have another job. He had heard the nicknames that he had earned through Seokjin and Namjoon a great many times over tea, some kind and well-intentioned - such as ‘the angel of the tombs’, and others much more morbid - like ‘smiling death’.
But the truth in the matter was that someone had to tend to the graveyard, and Jimin couldn’t think of any other calling in life for him. There was nothing that captivated him more than the old village graveyard, and he was more than happy to spend his days working amongst the dead.
Jimin left his bike against the wood porch fence and he went up the steps to enter the tea shop, sliding the door to the side. There was a small area around the door covered with floor mats and shoe racks, and so he stepped out of his sandals and he placed them on one of the metal shelves. Then he climbed over the step, his bare soles padding on the cool wood as he moved to sit at his favoured tables of choice. Said table was beside a window, the view outside of which was a playground.
Jimin removed his straw boater and he placed it down on the table respectfully, turning his head to look out of the window. He saw that the playground was populated by a dozen or so kids, all of them enjoying their summer break from school. The sound of their excited squeals and shouts bled through the open windows of the tea shop, creating wonderfully light white noise that he always enjoyed listening to.
The playground had been there for as long as Jimin could remember; for he, Namjoon and Seokjin had all grown up playing in the sandy sprawl which was filled with swing sets, slides, roundabouts and wooden playset houses connected by little bridges and ladders. The gates were rusted with age now, but the playground still looked to be in pretty great condition to him.
Seokjin emerged from the kitchen with a tray balanced over his forearm, dressed in his usual clothing of choice. His wide and strong frame was clothed in a loose white shirt that pulled in around his waist, the voluminous sleeves rolled up his forearms, and a pair of fitted and high-waisted trousers - a neat and clean look. That, combined with his dark hair and handsome face, made him well-liked amongst the customers that came to the tea shop.
It appeared that Seokjin was serving one of the customers outside, for he crossed the tea shop floor to get to the door. In the act of doing so, he noticed him sitting close to the corner of the wide room, and he flashed him a quick smile as he slipped into a pair of outdoor slippers.
“The usual?” Seokjin called with a knowing look, as he gently pushed the door aside. “I’ll be right back, Jimin.”
“I ain’t going nowhere,” Jimin replied with his own smile. “Take your time, Jin. I don’t mind.”
After seeing to the customers outside, Seokjin entered the tea shop again, stepping out of his slippers heading right back inside of the kitchen. The sound of him pottering around came through the long stretch of counter, Jimin catching sight of quick flashes of his white shirt as he moved around in the kitchen. The scent of coffee and tea clung to the air, along with fresh baked bread and pastry smells, and the obvious tang of fried marinated meats and vegetables.
Ah, just breathing in the scents made Jimin’s stomach rumble under his ribs in appreciation.
Upon completing his usual order, Seokjin came over to his table and he hunkered down to place a glass teacup on the table before placing the teapot down on a metal rest affixed to the table. Judging from the fragrant steam, it was omijacha - the berry tea perfect for hot summer days just like this one. Next, he retrieved a plate that was covered in sliced and diced pieces of fresh fruit: strawberries, kiwi, blueberries, apples and peaches. They were all glistening in the sunlight through the window: juicy and begging to be eaten. Then he added a final plate on which there was a chunk of honey bread filled with cream: golden and still hot fresh from the oven.
“Jin, ain’t the tea enough?” Jimin asked with a fond smile, as he eyed the table spread. “Tea, honey bread and fruit? You really shouldn’t give me all of this, y’know?”
“It’s a hot day today, Jimin, and I’ll bet that you’ve been out in the sun this entire time - pruning the weeds and singing to the dead,” Seokjin argued, so spot on with his observation that Jimin couldn’t help but start laughing to himself. “See? I know you too well.”
“You do,” he agreed with a nod, as he retrieved his glass and he held it in both hands out to Seokjin. “But thank you, for all of this.”
“Don’t thank me, Jimin, you’ve earned it,” the other man replied, not a hint of hesitation present in his voice as he picked up the teapot and he started pouring out the pinkish coloured tea. “My grandmama always liked you. Back when we were kids, she used to think that you were angel sent down from heaven or something. You were a blessing during her bad days, nothing could get her to calm down better than just hearing your voice, Jimin, and for that alone, we owe you more than you could ever know.”
“I always liked your grandmama, Jin,” Jimin said in a quiet voice, watching him filling up his glass. “She was a lovely woman, almost a sister to my own grandmama. I hope that she enjoys listening to me talking every single night, ‘cos I sit right in front of her tomb to pray for all of the spirits.”
“Oh, I know that she’ll enjoy listening to that,” Seokjin agreed with a nod, as he placed the teapot back down on the rest.
It was funny, Jimin thought, that death was an integral part of life but so many people despised the very thought of talking about it. The mere mention of the undead was enough to make their lips turn down at the corners like a sudden bitter taste had just flooded their mouths, and they sometimes got incredibly offended in a way that Jimin never really understood. His insights on the subject matter might just be a little bit morbid for some, but never Seokjin.
No, Seokjin would talk about death with him almost as if they were discussing the weather - sharing cups of tea and bites of sweet treats that juxtaposed against the supposedly bitter and unpalatable subject of decay and fleeting mortality.
After all, Seokjin’s mother had come from a long line of spiritual women - practising shamans that had still very much participated in the more accepted rituals of purifying and cleansing homes and belongings, and sending prayers for the dead on pieces of paper that they burned and scattered into the sea just like he did in the graveyard. His mother hadn’t continued on with the trend herself, had decided that a regular job and lifestyle was better fitted to her needs, but Seokjin was rather sharp with such things.
Though Seokjin himself didn’t claim that he had any preternatural abilities, there was definitely something unique about him, and Jimin wasn’t the only one that thought so. He just seemed to be in tune with energy, from both other people and nature itself, and he seemed to be able to read him like a book some days. It was almost frightening just how clearly that Seokjin could tap into his mood; could tell when he was having a bad day just from a single glance in his direction.
“Are you busy right now, Jin?”
“Busy? Hmm, not unless washing dishes is your definition of busy, Jimin,” Seokjin replied with a brief smile. “Why do you ask?”
“Do you wanna share some tea with me?” Jimin offered, lifting his own cup to his lips so that he could breathe in the scent and nurse the hot glass in his hold.
Seokjin didn’t reply to this right away, his gaze slowly shifting over his face as he no doubt studied him in that preternatural way of his. It seemed that he was aware of the fact that he wanted to talk to him, and so after a moment of thought, he confirmed that he would happily share tea with him.
After retrieving a teacup from the kitchen, Seokjin gently lowered himself down onto the opposite floor cushion and he proceeded to retrieve the teapot. As he poured out his own serving of omijacha, Jimin speared some fruit on the tines of his fork and he cut a huge chunk of cream-covered honey bread free to eat the bite.
“Jin, I know that I’ve asked you this before but…do you believe in ghosts?” Jimin asked around the mouthful of food.
This unexpected question was enough to make Seokjin pause in the act of placing the teapot down, his gaze lifting from their cups to stare right at him.
Jimin held his gaze unflinchingly, refusing to look away because he was being entirely serious with his friend and he wanted him to know this fact. He was more than aware of just how quiet the tea shop was right now, considering the fact that they were the only ones inside of the building - the only sound coming from outside soft white noise that neither of them paid attention to.
“Why would you ask such a thing, Jimin?” Seokjin asked to break their temporary silence, finally placing the teapot down on the rest and folding his hands on the table neatly.
“Why’d you think?” Jimin asked in return, his cheek swollen from the bite of bread and fruit as he took hold of his teacup again.
The heat bled through the thick glass strong enough to almost burn his palms, but he didn’t let go. Jimin relished the warmth, because he could feel an unpleasant chill starting to settle on his skin just talking to the other man about what had happened that night.
“Did you see something in the graveyard last night?”
Jimin didn’t reply to this right away, chewing the mouthful of food and then chasing it with a sip of hot berry tea. He found that he didn’t really know what to say to him, even when there wasn’t much to say at all on the matter.
Whilst he waited for him to reply, Seokjin retrieved his jade cigarette holder, metal tin and lighter from within his shirt pocket; opening the tin so that he could retrieve a hand-rolled and filterless herbal cigarette.
For as long as Jimin could recall, Seokjin had been smoking the sweet-smelling cigarettes. He had known him from the age of nine, and now a decade later, at the age of nineteen and twenty-four respectively, he was still partaking in the habit.
Jimin didn’t know why exactly he used a holder, for there was no fear of nicotine staining his fingers, but it seemed that he had picked the habit up from his grandmother - who had been buried in the graveyard for five whole years now. It was just one of those funny little quirks, something that made Seokjin that little bit more fascinating to him.
After securing the thin stick inside of the holder, Seokjin stuck the end of the cigarette into the flickering lighter flame to set it alight, quickly inhaling so that it would start smouldering. He breathed the lungful free from the corner of his mouth before settling down more comfortably on the floor cushion and turning his focus back to him. He folded one arm on the table, cocking his elbow up so that he could hover the cigarette holder in front of his lips and balance his chin against the heel of his hand.
Corn silk, mint and rose wafted from the smoke escaping from his full lips, which Jimin breathed in and let back out again in a sigh.
“There’s this boy that I saw last night, Jin, and there was something…wrong with him?” Jimin said in a quiet voice, peeling one hand free from his cup so that he could gesture vaguely at his own face whilst he spoke. “It wasn’t that obvious from a distant glance, ‘cos I just assumed that he might’ve been lost or maybe a tourist that had gotten injured on the old temple path; y’know? But when I got closer to him…he was soaking wet, Jin. From his head down to his goddamn feet - just dripping wet and soaked through like he had stepped right outta the sea or something.”
“So, you think that you saw a ghost, Jimin,” Seokjin repeated, hesitating in taking another drag off the cigarette holder and studying him with a great interest.
“No, I don’t think, I know that I did, Jin,” he replied confidently. “He disappeared into thin air right in front of me, and humans don’t do that. Humans don’t just appear outta the darkness and then disappear right in front of you to scare you half to death.”
“Did you speak to him?”
“Did I speak to him?” Jimin repeated dumbly, the question hanging in the air for several seconds as he thought it over intently. “Well, I said something to him, but I didn’t speak to him exactly - if that makes sense? I mean, we didn’t exactly have a conversation. I just shouted something at him and he looked at me and-”
“He looked at you? Directly, as in proper eye-contact?”
“Um, yeah? Is that a bad thing, Jin?”
Jimin tightened his hold around his fork, suddenly finding a twinge of fear coursing through his system at the thought of having done something wrong. He knew all about spirits, knew how to appease them and care for them, but he didn’t know much at all about ghosts.
Just talking to the ghost could have been a huge mistake, and if so that must mean that looking him in the eyes had been an even bigger mistake. It might just result in a curse of some kind, or even a haunting.
Seokjin took another drag off the end of his cigarette holder, holding the smoke in his lungs as he thought this question over carefully before blowing it free from his lips again.
“Ghosts are unusual things, Jimin. We all probably see at least one ghost in our lifetime and we just never realise it, because we don’t pay too much attention to that random stranger walking on the side of the road when we’re riding the bus, or we don’t think that the lady sitting on the park bench is anything more than a lady waiting for someone - maybe a date or a friend. We don’t pay attention, so, we just assume that everything is normal. But…what happens when we start paying attention to them?”
“What happens?” Jimin repeated in a whisper-soft voice, his fingers involuntarily twitching around the fork so that he dropped it down onto the plate.
“Some people think that you should never interact with a ghost - that talking to them or meeting their gaze will cause the ghost to attach itself onto you,” his friend explained slowly. “The ghost can curse you, bring you ill fortune or even leech your life energy. But I don’t think that ghosts are like that, Jimin.”
“You don’t?” Jimin breathed out heavily, reaching up to touch his necklace as he closed his eyes. He slipped his fingers inside of the ring that dangled from the chain rather than play with the wooden charms, feeling the cool metal between his fingertips. “Thank fuck, Jin.”
“No, I don’t think that ghosts are evil like that, Jimin,” Seokjin reaffirmed with a nod, knocking cooling ash free from his cigarette onto the serving tray. “I much prefer to think that they’re…troubled instead. That they’re stuck here with a purpose, they just need to find that purpose and try and move on. To me, ghosts aren’t evil, not like evil spirits. There’s a marked difference in intent between the two apparitions. Ghosts exist because they can’t let go or move on, their intent is to remain on this plane to try and continue their existence as if they were still alive. But evil spirits are a force of nature, Jimin, they exist only to hurt and destroy. They don’t wish to live like humans, they downright despise us.”
Jimin thought this over as he played with the ring, slipping his thumb through and gently tugging on the chain so that he could spin it around.
If Seokjin was right (and he was highly inclined to think that he was) then Jimin must have seen a ghost last night. He must have crossed paths with a lost soul that was trapped here and unable to find his way over to the next plane, and he didn’t have to be frightened by his presence because he wasn’t dangerous. He had gotten no sense of threat from the ghostly boy, just an unexpected sense of confusion and fear.
“If you pay him too much attention, he might just start craving more,” Seokjin added after some thought, saying this almost like a warning. “Maybe it would be best to not get too obsessed with this ghostly visitor of yours, Jimin?”
“I’m not gonna get obsessed, Jin!” Jimin argued with a smile, cocking his head so that a stray lock of hair fell free across his brow. “I was just curious, is all, I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to ask you ‘cos I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going crazy or something. I ain’t ever seen a ghost in the graveyard before, he’s the first one that I’ve crossed paths with.”
“Have you ever seen a ghost outside of the graveyard, Jimin?”
“Huh?” Jimin hummed, looking up at him just as he cut into the honey bread again.
“You said that you’ve never seen a ghost in the graveyard before, but you didn’t say that he was the very first ghost that you’ve seen,” Seokjin pointed out pedantically, lifting his teacup to take his first sip of berry tea. “I was wondering if you’ve ever seen one in the village, maybe? Or even in your home?”
“…No,” Jimin replied, sticking his tongue out to wet his lips. “He’s the first ghost that I’ve seen, Jin.”
“So, the shadowy man…”
“You told me that it wasn’t a ghost back then,” Jimin pointed out in a quiet voice. “So, it ain’t a ghost, right?”
Over the duration of tea and food, they spoke only lightly, the topic of conversation the usual normal subjects like family and work, general health and well-being.
Jimin felt strange talking about most of these things, for a great deal of normal things were completely absent from his life. He had no family to call his own, and so he had taken his friends’ families almost to be his own; his job in the graveyard was far from usual; and he wasn’t exactly the greatest at sharing his thoughts, though he greatly loved listening to others talk.
Sometimes, Jimin felt like a ghost himself, but he wouldn’t tell his friends this fact. He felt like he didn’t really fit into such normal routines like studying in university in the city and watching television and interacting with others, and the fact that so many villagers thought him strange just added to this sense of isolation.
Upon finishing his lunch, Jimin said his farewells and he started his journey back up the mountain so that he could resume working in the graveyard. At least the temperature had started to lessen during the time that he had been inside of the tea shop. That would make the long bike ride up the mountainous paths a lot less exhausting, though Jimin knew that he would be coated in sweat by the time that he was done.
There was still so much that Jimin had to try and do before daylight ran out, because working by moonlight and his torch alone was going to be impossible when he needed to do such delicate repair work. He could save the offerings and prayers until then, as he didn’t need much light to complete those simple tasks.
So when he returned to the graveyard, Jimin retrieved more clay and putty from his toolshed, and he set about mixing it up in a bucket. He sorted through the chunks of granite, marble and fieldstone that he had found all over the graveyard, so that he could start repairing the damaged tombstones and flower vases once more.
As the afternoon hours passed by at a slow drag, Jimin found himself thinking about what Seokjin had told him about ghosts and evil spirits. He was certain that the ghostly boy that he had seen was most certainly not evil in nature, and so that meant that he had to be a ghost as he most certainly wasn’t a spirit. Spirits weren’t corporeal, they had no true essence that could be visibly detected.
But why had the ghost appeared last night just like that: without warning, without much reason at all that Jimin could discern? Why hadn’t he appeared before? These were all questions that he would never get answers to unless he asked the ghost himself…should he cross paths with him again, that was.
“Hmm, not gonna get obsessed,” Jimin said to himself, his voice echoing across the empty graveyard as he gathered a thick spread of putty up in his palms and he warmed it through to get it nice and malleable. “Yeah, right…”
Just like last night, Jimin was to find that the ghostly boy ended up creeping back into the graveyard close to the late evening hours. It wasn’t quite dark yet, the fading remains of the summer sun still casting down so that everything looked to be washed in a coat of red-tinged light.
It was difficult figuring out if the ghost was trying to be sneaky and not get caught doing so, or if he was hoping for him to notice him lingering within the shadows of the trees and acknowledge his presence in some way. Whatever the case, Jimin detected movement out of the edge of his periphery that was most certainly not Buddy - a slow flash of striped cotton though the low-hanging bowers of a willow tree.
For a while, Jimin left the ghost alone to see what he would do - to see if he would approach him first or if he would just simply disappear into thin air again. When he had tried to acknowledge him last night, the boy had vanished on him, and he didn’t know whether or not he would do so again tonight.
Yet it became exceedingly obvious that the ghost wasn’t going to be the brave one and approach him first. Maybe he was unable to do so, maybe he needed him to initiate contact first, just like he had done so last night by calling out to him. The ghost just lingered across the graveyard, deep within the old tombstones and thick trees so that he could peer around them and watch him working with those gleaming and rounded eyes of his.
“Hello again,” Jimin called from his location in front of a tombstone, pausing in the act of scraping excessive putty free from the granite so that he could look up at him.
At this, the ghost shrank against one of the trunks, startled and skittish almost like a small animal. Even in the darkness, Jimin saw him trembling in what could only be genuine fear.
“Whoa, hey, it’s alright,” Jimin said in a soothing tone, as he slowly lifted a hand up to show that he was of no threat to him. “I ain’t going to chase you away, or even come near you, if you don’t want me to. I, um, I guess that I just want you to know that I don’t mind you being here, not at all.”
At this soft promise, the boy seemed to relax somewhat, though he still looked cautious. He made no move to step away from the safety of his tree trunk shelter, but at least he had stopped shaking so much.
“It’s just…well, I tend to the graves here, and I ain’t ever seen you before, not once,” Jimin continued, still talking in a quiet voice as to not frighten him. “You surprised me the other night, so, that’s why I called out to you. I’m sorry if I frightened you, I didn’t mean to do so.”
For a moment, the graveyard fell silent, and Jimin slowly lowered his hand so that he could drop it into his lap. He waited to see if the ghost would say anything to him, but it seemed that he might just be content watching him instead. So he tightened his hold around the scalpel so that he could scrape another thick blob of putty free to keep the surface of the filled crack nice and smooth.
“Are you a ghost, hmm?” he asked, sparing a quick glance up at him as he cleaned the blade with his thumb.
“…Maybe?” the boy replied.
Jimin was shocked to find that the ghost sounded rusty, his voice husky and dry in a way that seemed like it was going to crack. He couldn’t help but think that it was because he hadn’t spoken in such a long time, and so that was why he sounded so guttural.
“Well, I ain’t scared of ghosts,” Jimin explained with a soft laugh, moving to scrape more putty free from the tombstone. “I’ve spent most of my life out here, amongst these tombstones. A lot of people find that weird, but I don’t think so. I like it here, I think it’s beautiful. You don’t have to stay so far away, y’know? You can come over here, if you want?”
At this suggestion, the ghost shifted ever so slightly to get a better look at him. He pulled his face away from the trunk, his hands still holding onto it but his pose alluding that he might not be so scared right now. He had no need to be frightened of him, and if he still wanted to hide he could still do so - just a little closer to him so that Jimin didn’t have to talk so loud and squint at him in the rapidly fading sunlight.
After a moment of thought, it seemed like the ghost had figured this out, and he finally moved to get away from the tree trunk. He crept over to him in a fashion that made Jimin want to laugh, but he managed to not do so just in case his laughter startled him. He kept his head held low, his shoulders up high and his knees squatted to dart over to a tall tombstone and hide behind it. He moved from grave to grave and row to row, until he stopped just a couple of feet away.
The ghost sat down behind the tombstone, one that he had finished fixing earlier in the afternoon. He tucked his knees up against his chest, looping his arms around his shins so that he could hug them tight and lean forward ever so slightly. The sitting position allowed him to stare at him openly, and so Jimin glanced up at him with a soft smile.
Like he had assumed last night, the ghost really was soaked through to his skin. His clothing was damp and clinging to him with a powerful briny scent, the purple tee-shirt heavily wrinkled over the long-sleeved black and white pullover. His jeans were so wet that the denim looked almost black in the current dim lighting; the knees torn and worn enough to show his prominent kneecaps through the holes in the material. Even his white sneakers looked to have been soaked: the rubber toe cap covered in beaded droplets and the canvas soggy.
But it wasn’t just his clothing that was soaked, for the ghost’s hair and skin were also wet. His black hair was plastered across his scalp in knots and curls, and across his wide and squared forehead to reveal his strong and thick eyebrows; beads sitting on his skin but making no move to roll down his skin to gather along his jawline to drip down onto the neckline of his tee-shirt.
Being so close to him, Jimin could see that he had a round face with a slight chin, and wide and high cheekbones. His flat and rounded nose, his large and thickly lashed eyes, and his pouted mouth just added to the general softness of his features. He looked young, but still an adult rather than a teenager - more man than boy.
“Wuh…what’re you doing?” the ghost asked him in a soft whisper, glancing between the block of putty on his thigh and the tombstone in turn. When turned his head, beaded water flew free from his damp black locks to splash down onto their clothing.
“I’m fixing up the tombstone,” Jimin explained, as he applied another careful injection of putty straight into the crack in the granite and then pushed it in deep with his thumb. “There was a massive storm last night, and it damaged quite a lot of the graves that I tend to. I gotta fix ‘em all up again so that the spirits don’t get upset. Did you see the storm, hmm?”
“Oh, I didn’t like it,” he confided, tugging at the damp cuffs of his soaked pullover in a fiddling and anxious manner. “It was so loud and cold, I disappeared to get away from it.”
Jimin thought that the ghost looked freezing cold as was, considering the fact that he was shivering and dripping water all over the place. He could totally understand him wanting to get away from the storm last night, especially out here in the mountain where there was little shelter save for copses of trees. Why he was so wet, he didn’t know, but he did know that he felt the most compelling urge to touch him and feel just how cold that he was.
So Jimin reached out to touch one of his hands, only for his fingers to travel straight through him - both his hand and his kneecap.
It was as if Jimin’s fingers were going through nothing more solid than smoke, and as he pulled his hand away, he could see the faintest wisps still clinging to his skin. He lifted his hand to stare at his fingers, watching the smoke-like substance dissipating into the air.
“Don’t,” the ghost mumbled, shrinking in on himself in a way that Jimin recognised - complete embarrassment and fear mingling together. “Don’t do that, duh-duh-don’t touch me.”
For a moment, all that Jimin could do was stare at the ghost in complete shock. Despite the fact that his hand had travelled straight through him, he saw that he was still looked completely solid - not transparent or wispy in a way that showed that he was little more than a shade, rather than a corporeal being. It was entirely believable to think that he was still very much solid just like him, even after the shocking fact that Jimin had just learnt revealed that to not be the case.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have touched you like that,” Jimin said, breaking their temporary silence in a soft whisper. “You looked so cold that I just wanted to touch you, but I shouldn’t have touched you without asking.”
“I…I ain’t strong enough yet, it ain’t close enough to the full moon,” the ghost explained in that funny little mumble of his. “You can touch me then, ‘cos I get more…solid.”
“Can you touch me?” Jimin asked curiously, far too fascinated by this ghostly being to be even remotely frightened of him.
After all, what was there to be frightened of? A ghost that jumped to hide behind trees and tombstones when spoken to; that peeked at him from around the tall chunk of marble a little bit like a child would.
“Uh…muh-maybe?” the ghost whispered, making no move at all to even attempt to do so. “I’m strong enough to touch some things right now, but it’s hard. It takes so much energy just to…to pick up something, like-”
The ghost moved so that he could reach around the tombstone at this, leaning against the cool marble so that he could pluck a flower from the grass. Jimin saw the way that he furrowed his brow to do so, sticking the tip of his tongue out between his lips so that he was able to lift it up and hold it up in front of him.
“Ah…” he breathed out, the sound a little raspy to Jimin’s ears. After giving the wildflower a soft twirl between his fingers, he dropped it back into the grass with a rather satisfied hum.
“What’s your name, hmm?”
“…Min Yoongi,” the ghost replied, fiddling with his pullover sleeves once more as it seemed to be a habit of his.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Min Yoongi. I’m Park Ji-”
“You’re Jimin - I heard you talking ‘fore, with your friend,” Yoongi rapidly mumbled, his sudden declaration revealing him to have a strong accent that seemed to be from outside of Busan. “You work here, in the graveyard, and you sing sometimes and-”
Yoongi seemed to realise that he had said quite a lot of things, things that seemed to hint that he had been watching him for some time now, and so he stopped talking suddenly and he dropped his head. The angle hid his entire face from view, so that all that he could see was his wet hair and the soft bump of his dripping nose.
“Hey, it’s alright,” Jimin said in a quiet voice, folding his arms over his chest so that he could resist the urge to reach over and touch his shoulder or upper arm. “I was actually enjoying listening to you talking just then, before you went and stopped like that.”
“Huh?” Yoongi hummed, lifting his head to give him a quick and surprised look.
“You’ve got a nice voice, Yoongi. Can I call you that, or would you prefer Min?”
“You…you can call me Yoongi,” the ghost said said, sparing even more quick glances up at him through his dripping hair.
“Hmm, like I said, you’ve got a nice voice, so, I was enjoying listening to you,” Jimin reiterated, shifting in the grass to get more comfortable and resuming the act of smoothing the putty down with his thumb. “You mumble a lot, and you talk kinda funny, but it’s nice.”
“I-I saw you washing the dog ‘fore,” Yoongi said to break his silence, picking up the thread of his conversation. “You seemed to be having a great time, y’know, ‘cos you were laughing so much. That sure is a handsome dog, Jimin.”
“Maybe, when you get stronger, you can give Buddy some strokes too; hmm?” Jimin suggested with a smile, collecting his scalpel so that he could scrape away more putty. “I’m sure that he’ll like it a lot, Yoongi.”
This suggestion made the ghost grin at him, just a quick one but one that showed him a rather sweet-looking smile that crinkled his eyelids at the corners and revealed to him many small and white teeth in a gummy grin.
“How…how old are you, Yoongi?” Jimin asked, even when the question seemed to be one that he would be unable to answer.
“Twenty,” Yoongi replied without a hint of hesitation, rapidly blinking those rounded and wet eyes of his.
Jimin realised that by this Yoongi was referring to his actual age, the age that he had been before he had died - just twenty tender years old and technically older than he was now. He hadn’t meant that he had passed away twenty years ago, though looking at his clothing suggested that he might just have been dead for such a length of time. There was something vintage about his outfit that might just be coincidental, but he thought that it was actually a sign of his death.
“You’re older than me, Yoongi,” Jimin remarked, giving his scalpel blade a quick rub with his thumb to clean it. “I’m nineteen.”
“Wuh-why’d you work in the graveyard, Jimin?” Yoongi asked, before sniffing hard and reaching up to rub at his wet nose.
“I’m the caretaker,” he explained, leaning forward so that he could blow away little hints of putty and dust from the surface of the tombstone. “I live just down the mountain path, I work here every single day - have been working here since I was a teenager.”
“What ‘bout your parents, Jimin?” the ghost asked in confusion, furrowing his thick eyebrows deeply. “Do they work here too?”
“My parents are dead, I’m an orphan.”
This made Yoongi’s expression change suddenly, his mouth dropping open and his features falling slack in a way that showed that he was completely shocked by this fact. It took him several seconds to find the right words, which spilled free from his lips in a panicked jumble.
“Oh…oh, I’m sorry, I-I, uh-”
“You don’t gotta apologise, Yoongi, it happened a long time ago, back when I was a baby,” Jimin quickly explained, sparing a quick glance up at the sky to see that it was growing too dark for him to resume working on the tombstones. “Honestly, I’m fine.”
“Are they…d’you take care of their graves like all of the others?” Yoongi asked him in a whisper, shifting so that he could lean around the tombstone and peer at the engraved characters on the front of the black granite.
“I do,” he agreed with a nod, moving to slip his scalpel tool into back pocket so that he wouldn’t lose it in the current evening dim. He grabbed his torch, slipping it free from his shorts belt loop so that he could power it up and illuminate the surrounding area. “Would you like to see my mama’s grave?
Yoongi thought this question over for a moment before giving him a nod, which made beaded drops of water drip down from his nose and jaw.
So Jimin shifted to get to his feet, picking up his bucket of tools so that he could carry it across the graveyard and escort the ghost. He heard him getting upright too, his damp clothing not even rustling properly but his breath leaving him in another one of those raspy huffs.
Upon reaching his mother’s grave, Jimin shifted to sit down on the top of it, his behind settling on the wide ridge of the marble headstone.
“Joo Mijae…?” Yoongi read aloud, staring down at the engraved characters on the tombstone visible between his widely spread thighs - the engravings filled with gold inlay that clashed against the white and grey and blue threaded marble.
“This is my favourite grave outta all of ‘em,” Jimin explained, as he reached down to give the marble a fond stroke. His rings made a hollow tapping sound as they connected with the marble, which made the ghost’s eyes grow round with surprise. “I like spending time with it; sitting against it, touching it - things like that.”
“Morbid?” he suggested, cocking his head and giving the ghost a wide smile.
This made Yoongi let out a guffaw, his shoulders lifting and falling in amusement. But after a few seconds, he started coughing a harsh rattling cough, and a great gout of water spewed out of his mouth to splash down onto his sneakers before he clapped his hand against his mouth to try and catch it.
“Oh! Are you alright, Yoongi?!” Jimin asked in shock, seeing more liquid dribbling through the cracks in his fingers.
The scent of brine wafted up to Jimin’s nose, which instantly made him think of the sea. The soft roar of the distant waves had been a little like static to his ears, but now he was suddenly aware of the sound of the sea beating itself against the cliff face as he watched the ghost wiping water free from his chin with the back of his hand.
“Huh, that happens sometimes,” Yoongi almost rasped, turning away from him just like he had done so earlier when he had tried to touch his hand.
Jimin realised the true meaninglessness in asking a ghost if he was ‘alright’, because it was so very obvious that Yoongi was far from fine. A dead thing could hardly be considered ‘alright’, and he realised that he was being a little bit ignorant with his questions and behaviour around the ghost.
Yoongi took a moment to catch his breath, breathing hard and slow until he got himself under control. No more water spewed down his chin, but Jimin fancied that he could hear liquid shifting around his lungs with every inhale and exhale. The ghost wiped his wet hands on his equally damp tee-shirt front, swallowing hard as he looked down at the grave again.
“How come this your favourite grave, Jimin? I mean, ‘cept for the fact it’s your mama’s grave? Don’t that make you feel sad or something, ‘cos you miss her so much?” Yoongi asked, genuine curiosity in his tone.
“Well, they both died when I was really nothing more than a baby, Yoongi. I only know what they look like ‘cos of old photographs. You can’t really miss someone you can’t remember, right?” Jimin explained with an uncertain shrug. “The only memories that I do have of ‘em are so foggy, it’s hard figuring out if they really belong to me or if they’re actually just recollections from one of my friends’ childhoods instead. Y’know, those kinda memories that are so simple that they could belong to just about anyone?”
Yoongi made a noise at this to show that he understood what he was talking about, his gaze focused on the front of his mother’s tombstone.
It was so easy to believe that the memories that Jimin possessed were his own, for if he was to ask any of Seokjin and Namjoon’s family members about such a mundane recollection, they would no doubt tell him that it was true. A day out at the park, in which he had scraped his knee and had ice cream - so simple that anyone could have such a memory.
But some memories that Jimin possessed, he knew weren’t real. He had been just a baby, not much older than four when his mother had passed. Whenever he heard Seokjin and Namjoon reminiscing and getting all nostalgic, he often found himself realising that what they were talking about was actually one of his memories. That was when it always hit him that he had heard the stories many times before, he had just fooled himself into thinking that his vivid recollections were his own.
“Do you remember things like that, Yoongi? Do you remember things like your parents and your childhood?”
“I, uh, I still remember bits and pieces,” Yoongi replied, sniffing once more so that his nose scrunched up. “Not my childhood though, I don’t ‘member that far back. But my parents…I don’t wanna ‘member their faces that much.”
Jimin thought this over as he looked at the ghost, finding many questions coming to mind.
There could be a great many reasons why Yoongi didn’t want to think about and remember his parents, and not at all of them were rooted in negativity. It might just be that the ghost didn’t want to think about them suffering and grieving his death; didn’t want to imagine the fact that they might have since passed away too, or had moved far away and left him behind to carry on living without him. It was just as likely that Yoongi might just have had bad blood with them before his untimely death, and so he was still carrying the burden on his shoulders - unresolved and bitter.
Should Jimin ask him why?
No, after some thought, he decided that he should leave such questions for another time, should they find themselves in each other’s company again. It was too sudden and intrusive to ask him so many questions about his past, and so he should just hope to see Yoongi again and leave him to open up to him on his own.
“What ‘bout your daddy’s grave, Jimin?” Yoongi asked, moving to try and read the tombstones that were placed beside the one that he was perched upon. “Is he buried close to her?”
“…No, he doesn’t have a tombstone ‘cos there was no recovered body,” Jimin explained with a slight head shake. “He has a memorial slab instead, a foot marker.”
“Oh, I see…” the ghost hummed, straightening up again and lifting his gaze to look at him. “Are you gonna carry on working now? I-I noticed that you worked real late yesterday, even when you should’ve been home resting.”
“I know, I know I should but there’s always so much work to be done that I really can’t help myself,” Jimin said with a soft smile, as he got up off his mother’s tombstone and he reached down to give it another soft stroke. He retrieved his bucket of tools so that he could go back across the graveyard and enter the toolshed to store them away for the night.
“I, uh, I wish that I could help you but I can’t really,” Yoongi mumbled, as he followed him around the graveyard a little bit like a puppy. “Maybe I-I should disappear or something, I’m just in the way and-”
“It’s alright, Yoongi, I appreciate the company, and you ain’t in the way - not at all,” he argued, turning back to look over his shoulder at him. “You said that you can touch things, right? Like that flower that you picked up? Do you think that you could make a bouquet? Do you think that you’re strong enough to do that?”
“I can do that!” the ghost exclaimed with great enthusiasm, his shoulders shooting up to almost touch his ears. “I can do that, Jimin, I can-”
Yoongi started coughing again, stopping dead in his tracks so that he could hunker forward and bring up another weak dribble of water that splashed down onto his sneakers. The sight and rattling sound made Jimin grimace, a dull pang of sympathy settling in his chest that made him tighten his hold around the bucket handle.
“Good, that’s real good, Yoongi. But how about you just sit down and catch your breath; hmm?” Jimin suggested in a soft voice. “Just sit right there, I’ll bring you some wildflowers; OK?”
Yoongi didn’t sit down so much as collapse, his legs buckling to drop him down into the grass with a hard thump.
Jimin had no need to put more floral offerings out for the spirits on account of the fact that he had placed down so many just this morning. But he had wanted to allow Yoongi to help him with his duties, even with something small and simple. For the ghost, it was far than easy and so he wanted Yoongi to feel good about himself for being able to offer his assistance. So that was why he retrieved his wheelbarrow once more and he left the graveyard to go and retrieve a mixture of flowers from the field, just to make the ghost happy.
Whilst he tended to lighting candles and burning prayer papers, Jimin saw that Yoongi was putting a great deal of effort into making floral bouquets. He only needed to collect half a dozen or so small flowers together in his fist, but he deliberated over every single one with a slowness that showed that he was trying to make the bouquets look attractive. His brow was furrowed deeply, his tongue kept slipping free to lick at his lips, and he let out the occasional wheezy grunt that sometimes resulted in a coughing fit whilst he did so.
One by one, Yoongi toddled from grave to grave leaving his bouquets on the earth in front of the headstones. Once or twice, he actually ran to get back to the wheelbarrow - a funny waddling run that might just have been the result of his soaked clothing. The sight brought a smile to Jimin’s face as he blew out the candles, a warmth spreading through his chest at the strange but sweet sight and the level of eagerness that Yoongi was showcasing.
It was only when the wheelbarrow was empty and the sky was pitch black and covered in a scattering of stars, that Yoongi finally approached him again. He did so with his hands held behind his back, slowly dragging his feet until he came to a stop just a foot or two away and he broke the silence between the two of them.
“You’re the first person that I’ve spoken to since…y’know,” Yoongi said in a quiet voice, which was noticeably less rusty than it had sounded earlier in the evening. “The very first one, Jimin.”
“I-I ain’t ever crossed paths with a human ‘fore you, Jimin. To tell you the truth, I was kinda scared of doing so. But you’ve been so nice to me that I know there ain’t nothing to be afraid of,” Yoongi continued in a mumble, stepping from wet sneaker-clad foot to foot. “I, well, I, uh-”
“It’s alright, Yoongi, you can say it,” Jimin interjected. “Like you said, there ain’t nothing to be afraid of.”
“I-I made these for your mama’s grave,” Yoongi stammered, holding out a clutch of wildflowers that he had been hiding behind his back the whole time. They looked to be much brighter and attractive than the other smaller bouquets that he had created, meaning that he must have saved them just for this special bouquet. “I hope she likes ‘em, that you like ‘em.”
Yoongi gave him a shy and almost anxious smile, one that showed Jimin just how terribly lonely that he was. He looked so desperate for attention and companionship from him that he was trying his very hardest to impress him, even when there was no need for such actions.
Jimin already found Yoongi fascinating and oddly charming in equal amounts, so much so that he very much wanted to spend the entire night in his company.
Jimin accepted the flowers from him and he placed the bouquet down on his mother’s grave, carefully setting it down as to not disturb the arrangement that the ghost had so painstakingly made just for him. The flower heads were white and soft blue shades that matched the veins running through the marble, and the bouquet looked just perfect to him.
“There, that looks beautiful, Yoongi,” Jimin said, turning to look up at the ghost and returning the smile. “See, I told you that you were helpful…”
The brush dragged across the clay slowly, leaving behind a thick spread of glossy lacquer that would not only cover the cracks and putty, but would also seal the bowl airtight. That way, he would be able to pour alcohol into the offering bowl without it possibly spilling free from any of the damaged parts.
Jimin reached the edge of the bowl, and so he moved his hand away to gather more lacquer onto the brush. It had a strong scent that would cling to his skin for quite some time afterwards, one that would often give him a headache from breathing in all of the fumes. After soaking the brush in the pot, he lifted it up to stroke the bristles back down the curved bottom of the bowl and add another thick stripe of liquid onto the clay.
The black bristles spread the reddish-coloured lacquer onto the light brown clay. It was thick and glossy, and he had to drag the brush in one direction as to apply the substance nice and smoothly. When he finished this stroke, Jimin placed the brush aside and then he carefully examined the offering bowl. He saw that the bottom was evenly coated, just like the interior, and he let his breath out in a sigh of relief.
Jimin had finally finished working on the offering bowls and vases, after several days of constant work. He had repaired most of the old clay ones after rummaging through the earth for the missing chunks, and he had created new pieces from his own supply of clay when he had been unable to find a small sliver or two. He had also carved new wooden ones to replace the bowls that had been too badly damaged to be repaired, and then he had painted them all with the lacquer glaze to seal them tight.
This would most certainly appease the spirits now, now that they were all able to receive offerings. He would be certain to crack open a bottle of rice wine and fill every single cup and bowl, just for the sake of it.
After having their tombstones shattered and cracked, after having their offering bowls and bouquets blown away by the storm, Jimin thought that the spirits deserved it.
“Hmm,” Jimin rumbled, as he placed the bowl down carefully on the tool tray and he reached up to massage at the back of his neck. It was stiff from a couple of hours spent sitting in the shade of the pussy willow tree behind Buddy’s kennel whilst he had finished working on the offering bowls and vases, and his legs were going to be just as sore.
Whilst Jimin massaged at his stiff neck, he watched Buddy playing with one of his toys. It was a chew toy rope that he loved swinging around, and luckily for him, the dog had never shattered a vase or bowl with his boisterous antics. Unsurprisingly, Buddy’s short shorn coat looked much cleaner than usual, and this made him smile as he dropped his hand into his lap.
Namjoon had been very pleased by the sight of his clean and neat coat just a couple of hours ago - the pair of them observing their dogs playing around in the grass whilst they had shared lunch with one another. His friend had brought more chicken, this time marinated in sweet and sour sticky sauce that he made Jimin almost moan in appreciation, with mounds of rice, several sides of namul and kimchi, and the coveted serving of chal tteok.
Though Jimin had imagined that he would have brought store-bought chal tteok today, Namjoon had actually made his own with some…assistance. It wasn’t at all surprising to him that Seokjin had also had a hand in creating the dessert; had created the tteok that Namjoon had then dipped in melted chocolate to create the dessert just for him.
Jimin was flattered that they had both gone to such lengths for him. He also found it kind of sweet that they had cooked together for the first time that he was aware of, which had made Namjoon act all funny with him when he had pointed it out - a flustered kind of reaction that had made Jimin burst out laughing at the sight of his flushed cheeks.
Goddamn, Namjoon was so funny sometimes.
Yes, his friend had told him that Buddy looked so much better now that they could see his eyes again, and it was the truth. His dog seemed much happier today, and that in turn made him feel happier too.
Jimin moved so that he could straighten his legs out with a soft grunt, reaching over to give them a kneading rub to try and loosen the stiffness in his calves and thighs. As he did so, he rolled his head back to look up at the sky and gauge what time that it was.
Right now, the sky was a mottled shade of pink and lilac clouds, and the horizon was starting to turn red too. That was a sign that the sun was going to set soon enough, and that meant one thing to Jimin.
Yoongi was going to come and visit him again, he just knew it.
Over the past four evenings, Jimin had seen the ghost every single night without fail. As soon as it turned to evening, the sun setting on the sky and casting reddish rays across the graveyard, Yoongi would appear in the shadows of the trees and then he would make his way across the graveyard to reach him.
For the first three nights, he had done so with that same hint of nervousness: waddling over to hide behind the tombstones and trunks and peering around them at him until he had addressed him first. But last night, Yoongi had gained some confidence and he had approached him without playing a funny little game of Hide’n’Seek. He had spoken to him first, in that mumbling habit of his, and he had seemed so very excited to see him even when he had still been so nervous.
But that wasn’t all, for Yoongi had touched many things too. It seemed like he had gained some power, that he was getting more solid and less ghostly in appearance. Why, just last night, Yoongi had picked up a brush and Jimin had watched him painting one of the offering bowls just for him. Sure, his hands had been unsteady and he had taken a long time to just add several thick stripes of lacquer onto the clay, but he had still painted the bowl and had given him an awkward and pleased smile as he had held it out to him - the glaze uneven but good enough.
Maybe growing more solid had made Yoongi feel more confident around him? Maybe it was just a result of him spending time with him and the ghost realising that he wasn’t frightened of him (or in turn anything to be frightened of)?
Whatever the case, Yoongi had shared five evenings in his presence so far offering him assistance and company, and he was hoping for many many more together.
Jimin had pondered deeply on how Seokjin had told him to not give the graveyard ghost too much attention, lest he start craving more and more. He knew that his friend had had good intentions when giving him this advice, just to ensure that he understood the complexity and mystery that were ghosts and evil spirits.
But how could he possibly distance himself from a poor soul like Yoongi; who had no other worldly contact and was lost all of the way up here in the mountains, cold and alone? How could he just pretend that Yoongi wasn’t interesting and sweetly polite in a way that made him want to befriend him and spend time with him?
So what if Yoongi wanted to crave more attention from him. It wasn’t like Jimin had a wealth of people to give attention and affection to in the first place, save for his friends and their families. The ghost deserved his attention just as much as they did, if not more so on account of the fact that he was so goddamn lonely and sad.
Seokjin might have a lot of knowledge on the subject of ghosts and evil spirits, but Seokjin hadn’t met Yoongi. Therefore, he thought that it was unfair to apply such broad logic to the harmless ghost. If his friend had met Yoongi, Jimin was certain that he would also come to the conclusion that he was harmless and that there was nothing wrong with paying attention to him.
Maybe that was just wishful thinking, but Jimin really didn’t want to stop talking to Yoongi. He was starting to become rather fond of him, the ghost was helpful, and he was just starting to tell him things about his life.
Tonight, Yoongi might just offer more assistance in the form of placing offering bowls in the carved holders for him. He might make more bouquets that he would waddle around the graveyard placing down for him; or he might carefully pull and snip at weeds for him around the ancient graves so that he could focus on something else instead, something more important.
Yoongi might also tell him more about himself, other than the small details about his life that he had told him about. He claimed to not have the greatest memory, which Jimin supposed made sense. It might just be that it was hard for ghosts to remember things, that death might shock them into forgetting so that they wandered the earth confused and unable to find peace. There was a chance that he might purposefully have forgotten things, to ease the pain of being trapped like this.
The ghost was very shy when it came to telling him things, but he still told him some minor recollections of his life that had fascinated Jimin immensely. Sometimes, these facts were triggered by something that he said to him, other times, Yoongi just suddenly exclaimed something that left the two of them staring at each other in surprise.
According Yoongi, he had been born in 1978, which meant that he would have died at the age of twenty in the exact year that Jimin himself had been born - 1998. That explained his vintage-looking fashion at least, and it also revealed to him that he was actually a rather young ghost, having been dead for just nineteen years so far.
Jimin had thought it very strange that Yoongi might just have been alive when he had been a mere baby; maybe just days or months old. He might not have died until close to the winter, or he might just have died before his birth.
Yoongi had told him about how strange it had been back then, living in a small home in Daegu that had been cramped and had barely had working electricity most of the time until they had moved to Busan. According to him, it had been a tough upbringing, but not a bad one, thanks to the fact that he had had an older brother that had taken care of and played with him. Jimin noted that whenever Yoongi talked about his family, he seemed to treasure said brother a lot, but he didn’t talk about his parents that much. To him, that was a sign that he might just have had bad blood with them before his passing - a thought that made Jimin feel sad whenever he thought about it.
Yoongi remembered having a pet dog, which was why he seemed to love being around Buddy so much. The ghost had yet to touch him, but Jimin had caught him watching the dog with a smile on his face from across the graveyard; his expression showing him that he really wanted to do so. His dog had been a poodle, a brown poodle, and she had been a present so special and pricey that she had been a single birthday gift for one year. He had clearly adored her, that much was certain judging from his expression whenever he had spoken of her.
Thinking about the fact that Yoongi’s dog was most certainly dead right now also made Jimin feel incredibly sad, for it seemed like Yoongi was capable of inducing in him both fascination and fondness, and a wealth of sadness and nostalgia.
Jimin knew that he had grown up in Daegu, in a poor and hard-working family right around the time that his own parents had been mere babies. He had had two parents and a brother and a dog, and he had loved arcade games and music - though he couldn’t seem to remember most of the music that he had liked listening to. Other than that, he had told him little else at all save for things about the kind of food that he had loved eating and drinking (galbitang, yukjeon, dak bulgogi, fried rice, bungeoppang, and tteok, and most varieties coffee including his favourite, Americano - all things that Jimin also greatly loved), his favourite types of wildflowers in the bouquets that he made for him, and that he hated both cold and hot weather.
That was why Jimin wanted Yoongi to tell him more things about him, if he could remember or trust him enough to open up.
So whilst Jimin waited for the ghost to come visit the graveyard, he decided to finish off small tasks just for the sake of it. He left the offering bowls to finish drying whilst he retrieved a small amount of wildflowers, which he left in the wheelbarrow. He fed and watered Buddy again, giving him plenty of firm rubs to the ribs and jowls and kisses on the wide space above his eyes and between his ears. He also collected his tool bucket so that he could clean up and repair another grave with his scalpel and putty. Most of them had been fixed already, just like the offering bowls, and all that was left was some minor superficial work - filing down excess putty from around the cracks, using a granite and marble kit to cover the damage and make the tombstones look perfect again.
Just like expected, the graveyard was flooded with dying rays of sunlight when Jimin detected Yoongi’s presence on the air. Unlike the previous nights, he actually heard him moving around the trees and the grass rustling under his sneakers as he darted down the tree-filled sloping path. That was surprising, as he most certainly couldn’t recall having heard him moving around like that before.
“Hello, Yoongi!” Jimin called with a fond smile, as he wiped the tombstone down with a cloth to knock away dust and dirt.
“Jimin! Jimin, I’m more solid now!” Yoongi declared, as he rapidly crossed the graveyard to get to him with that funny waddling run of his. “Look, you can touch me and everything!”
Jimin dropped his hands in complete surprise at this, his breath escaping him in a little gasp. He dropped the cloth down onto the ground, his fingers twitching spasmodically.
Yoongi was strong enough to be touched? Tonight, after five nights spent close to the ghost, he was finally going to be able to do something simple, like touch his hand or shoulder during their conversation? The mere thought was enough to leave Jimin rather dumb, for all that he could do was watch Yoongi racing along the grassy patches between the tombstones until he was right beside him.
“Lemme help you up,” Yoongi suggested, sticking a hand out in offering for him to take hold of and smiling down at him.
Jimin glanced at his palm for a moment, before slowly reaching up with his own slightly shaking hand so that he could take hold of it. When their palms brushed together, it was enough to make him swallow hard and gulp down a soft sound of shock.
Being able to touch Yoongi for the first time…the sensation was something that Jimin really couldn’t understand. When he took hold of his outstretched hand and he felt his fingers connecting, it was as if time stopped for a second or two; his entire body turning tense.
Yoongi was so cold, so frightfully cold that Jimin wanted to just wrap him up in layers of blankets and hug him until he stopped shivering so much. How could he stand to be so cold and wet like that, he didn’t know, but he did know that he couldn’t seem to fight the sudden urge.
With a hard tug, Yoongi dragged him to his feet but he didn’t let go of his hand. He held onto him for a moment longer, their fingers tightly entwined and their palms squeezed together. The ghost gave him a wide grin at this, showing off damn near every one of his teeth and crinkling his eyes into thin slits in a way that was highly endearing.
“Yoongi? Can I…can I hug you?” Jimin asked in a quiet voice, the words just slipping off his tongue before he could hope to control it.
“Huh?” the ghost hummed, his smile shifting so that his eyes grew rounded as he stared at him. It took him a few seconds before he realised what he had asked him, and then he let out a soft laugh. “Um, ‘k…”
Jimin let go of his hand so that he could reach over and take hold of his upper arms first, holding onto him and looking him right in the eyes. It felt so funny being to hold him like this that he couldn’t help but let out a laugh, his shoulders lifting and falling as he giggled.
Yoongi held his eyes for a couple of seconds before also letting out an embarrassed guffaw, shifting from foot to foot as Jimin slowly moved his hands up to his shoulders, and then slipped them around his neck. The ghost almost shrank in his embrace, his thin and chilled body hardening as he placed his chin down on the curve of his damp shoulder.
“Yoongi, you’re so cold,” Jimin remarked, breathing in the scent of sand and water coming from his wet clothing and hair.
Yoongi could only make a noise at this, his own hands moving so that they could place them down on his waist. He held onto him loosely rather than firmly, perhaps to be respectful or just because he was nervous about their close contact after such a long time without it. It might just be a little overwhelming for the ghost, both in terms of emotion and fear, and so Jimin moved to relinquish his hold on him after a moment.
As he did so, Yoongi actually moved to try and grab at him again before stopping himself. He brought his hands to his stomach, worrying at the front of his damp pullover as he dropped his gaze to stare down at their feet. It seemed like he had figured out that he had caught sight of his attempt at trying to embrace him again, and that had made him get awfully embarrassed.
Jimin fancied that had he been able to blush, the ghost would have been hot and red-faced right around now.
“Here, wear this,” Jimin offered, slipping his plaid shirt down off his shoulders so that he could hold it out to him. “I know it ain’t much but you’re so cold, it’s the least that I can do, Yoongi.”
Yoongi silently reached out to take hold of his shirt, clenching tight handfuls of the blue material in his fists and then bringing it up to his face. He brushed the flannel against his cheek for a few seconds, before turning his face into it to almost…sniff at it. Then he tugged it on over his double layer of clothes even when it probably wouldn’t help keep him warm at all, fixing at the sleeves so that he could roll them back down to the cuffs.
“There, it suits you,” Jimin said with a quick smile, the cool evening air settling on his skin to make his forearms break out into goosebumps. “You look like a real handsome ghost now, Yoongi.”
Yoongi made a funny little noise at this, turning away from him and reaching up to try and cover his face with his hands. His flustered reaction made Jimin laugh again as he reached over to take hold of his elbow and he gently pulled him away from the tombstone so that he could escort him over to his mother’s grave instead.
“Let’s sit here for a little while, hmm?” Jimin suggested, as he moved to sit down in the grass and he lightly pulled the ghost down with him. “It’s still nice and early, I can take a small break from working just for you, Yoongi.”
Upon sitting down beside him, Yoongi found his hand so that he could take it in his own and hold onto it for a while. He didn’t exactly lace their fingers together, but rather focused on his rings; lightly twisting them around his fingers and rubbing his thumbs over the cold silver as if he was trying to read the notches in the metal like Braille. It seemed like they had caught his attention, and like a little magpie he had zoned in on them.
“I like these things; what’re they?” Yoongi asked in a curious voice, lifting his other hand to start fingering at the dangling charms around his neck too. “I think they’re beautiful.”
“They’re charms, Yoongi,” Jimin explained, reaching up with his free hand to gently knock his fingers against his and also take hold of one of the charms. It was made from wood charcoal, just like the beads all around the length, and it was a dark glossy brown that looked almost black.
“Charms? Like, to banish evil spirits?” Yoongi asked, his eyes growing rounded in that funny way that he was starting to get very much used to and found very sweet. “Is there evil spirits in the graveyard?”
“Not exactly, no,” Jimin replied, gently pulling his hand free from his so that he could reach down and slip one of the rings free from his fingers. He got it into his palm and he held it out to him in offering. “It ain’t like that, Yoongi.”
Yoongi accepted the ring and he slipped it onto his own finger. It turned out to be a little too big after he had gotten it past his second knuckle as he had thinner fingers than him. It was loose enough for him to play with it, however; twisting the silver round and round and feeling it between his fingers and thumb.
“I just like wearing the charms,” Jimin explained, watching him playing with the ring like a child. “I know that they don’t work against evil spirits, but it’s just a force of habit. They make me feel safe, so, I feel like they work their magic on me just fine.”
“D’you believe in evil spirits?” Yoongi asked him curiously.
“I do,” he confirmed with a soft nod, all the while thinking about the beach at the base of the cliffside and that unpleasant and frightening shadowy entity.
“Am I an evil spirit?”
“No, not at all, Yoongi,” Jimin promised with a soft smile. “You’re a ghost, and ghosts ain’t at all evil. Ghosts are just…misunderstood by a lot of humans. But ghosts ain’t evil and they ain’t scary either, especially not a ghost like you.”
Yoongi thought this over for a moment as he slipped the ring free from his finger. He lifted it to his face to gaze at the engravings one last time, and then he took hold of his hand again so that he could place it back on his finger for him. He sniffed hard, a bead of water dripping down from his nose that he hastily rubbed at with the cuff of his borrowed plaid shirt.
“Can I…can I talk to you about your life?” Jimin asked in a quiet voice, as he shifted to get that little bit closer to him. “I understand if you don’t wanna talk to me about the past and such, ‘cos I imagine that it must be kinda upsetting sometimes. But I just wanna know more about you, I wanna befriend you.”
“You wanna…be my friend?” the ghost asked in surprise, his lips turning slack as he tightened his hold on his hand.
“Yeah, I like talking to you ‘cos you’re so interesting,” he explained with a nod, as the ghost let go of his hand with a soft mumbling noise. “What’s up, hmm? You seemed…surprised?”
“I-I like you, Jimin,” Yoongi admitted in a whisper, as he almost furiously tugged at his pullover and shirt sleeves with his fingers. “You’re a nice human, and I don’t just mean that you’re nice to me ‘cos I’m a ghost. I mean, you’re probably the nicest human I’ve ever known even from back I was alive. You make me feel good inside, even when I’m…dead. I wanna be your friend too, shit, you don’t even gotta think of me as a friend if you don’t wanna. If you just just talk to me and make me feel less lonely, that’d make me feel so happy.”
“I wanna be your friend,” Jimin promised, reaching over to place his hand on Yoongi’s knee and giving it a firm squeeze. “You make me feel less lonely too, Yoongi.”
This confession made the ghost let out a soft noise, something caught between a laugh and a sigh as he dropped his head and he roughly rubbed at his nose once more. The smile on his face that he saw looked so very ecstatic, showing him just how much that he really wanted to be his friend.
“A’ight, I-I’ll try and talk ‘bout it with you, Jimin,” Yoongi said with a sniff, taking hold of his hand again so that he could entwine their fingers together. “I dunno if I got all of the answers that you might want, but I’ll try.”
“Have you been here this whole time?” Jimin asked him in a quiet voice. “Have you spent almost twenty years just hiding up here in the mountains? Were you hiding, or were you unable to leave this place?”
“I, uh, I ain’t ever tried to leave the mountainside, to tell you the truth, Jimin,” Yoongi admitted, before giving a soft shrug. “I ain’t left the forest the whole time, I just kinda lingered up on the cliff face whenever I was strong enough to do so, or on some tourist trail where there’s a bunch of sheltered pavilions that I can lie inside of when the weather’s kinda bad.”
“What made you finally come down to the graveyard then? After all of that time, what triggered your want to come down the mountain, Yoongi?”
“I-I heard you singing the other night,” Yoongi said in a low whisper, his voice taking on a husky growl that made him cough hard and dribble out a little hint of seawater. “I was wandering along the tourist paths and the sound travelled all of the way to where I was ‘cos it’s so quiet up on the mountain. It just made me feel all funny inside, and I just had to find out where the singing was coming from, and that’s when I ended up stumbling down into the graveyard and being spotted by you. It was an accident, I didn’t want you to see me, it just happened. I, uh, I didn’t even think that you could have seen me, so, that’s why I ran away from you. I was scared, I ain’t gonna lie to you.”
“You heard me singing?”
Yoongi had heard him singing to himself whilst he had been working and that had attracted him to the graveyard? The mere thought was enough to leave Jimin awestruck, because of all of the things that he had thought about what had made them bump into each other, that had not been something that he had assumed. He had simply thought that Yoongi might just have just been in the graveyard this entire time, and that he had only just gathered enough strength to be visible to him. But the ghost had in fact only entered the graveyard for the first time that night, and that was something that left him momentarily speechless.
“Did you like my singing?” Jimin asked him with a smile, finding himself almost hoping that the ghost would say yes.
“Yeah, Jimin, you got a real lovely singing voice,” Yoongi replied, as he returned the smile. “It’s, uh, it’s sweet and it’s nice when you sing those high notes like that. But it’s also warm, your voice, I mean. Actually, uh, you’re warm all over. You’re just so warm, there’s this…heat radiating off you, Jimin. I felt like I was being dragged towards you, and not just ‘cos of your voice. I just had to feel some of that heat for myself, y’know?”
“I’m…warm?” Jimin asked in surprise, lifting his free hand to place it against his chest. “‘Cos I’m alive?”
“Yeah, but also ‘cos you’re just so…nice, I guess?” Yoongi suggested in an uncertain tone, rapidly blinking a fat bead of water out of his eyes. “That makes you feel so much warmer to me, like-like warmer than a campfire, Jimin.”
“Do you build campfires up in the mountains, Yoongi? To keep you warm during the night?”
“Sometimes, when I’m strong enough to pick things up and make a fire,” the ghost explained with a nod, which made more beads of water fly off his damp hair. “Otherwise, I just stay cold.”
“Oh, Yoongi,” Jimin sighed softly, lifting his gaze to glance up at the copse of trees that ran right up the mountain.
Unsurprisingly, Jimin found it almost impossible to imagine what it would be like spending an entire night up there. When night fell, the entire mountainside was plunged into thick black darkness save for the occasional sliver of moon and starlight that spilled through the gaps in the thick foliage to illuminate the way. He often struggled to get up and down the paths of an evening because of the darkness, and so he could hardly imagine just how terrifying it must be deep in the cliff forest for the entire night. Between the darkness, to the cold and the stormy weather, it must have horrible for Yoongi to have spent such a long time all alone in the mountains.
“But it’s a’ight, ‘cos the last couple of nights I got to stay with you, so, I ain’t feeling the cold so bad,” Yoongi hastily explained, almost as if he didn’t want him to worry about him too much. “Tomorrow’s a full moon too. I-I think that I might be able to leave the graveyard then, Jimin, ‘cos I’ll be at my strongest level of energy.”
“Really? Then you’ll have to come and spend the night with me,” Jimin said with a smile, as he reached up to gently brush a bead of water free from the rounded tip of his nose. “I’ll stoke the fireplace, you can just swaddle up in blankets and enjoy the warmth; yeah?”
“Oh, that’d be so nice,” Yoongi sighed out, his lips slack with awe for a moment before he gave him a smile. “You’re so sweet to me, Jimin.”
“I’m always sweet to my friends, Yoongi,” Jimin replied. “Even my ghostly friends.”
For the duration of the evening, Yoongi offered assistance just like he had for the previous nights. Now that he was able to touch things with much more ease than before, the ghost was more than happy to carry around bouquets and offering bowls, which he slipped into the rests in the tombstones for him. He even poured out rice wine into the bowls for him - his ghostly graveyard assistant. This meant that Jimin was able to focus on other tasks whilst he did so, like burning prayers and cleaning up the last of the damage.
Yoongi even told him that he would like to help him care for the ancient graves up the hilly stretch of trees, but he was too frightened of his shaking hands slipping and notching a chunk out of the old fieldstone that would upset the spirits. So Jimin told him in return that his assistance was more than enough, that he didn’t need to do a single thing more because he appreciated all of the help. The ghost gushed at this in that funny way of his; twisting and turning on the spot as he mumbled about how he was so talented at his job and how hard it was being a caretaker.
But eventually, it became so late in the night that Jimin had no choice but to depart the graveyard. He had to catch some sleep, even when he was used to only a couple of hours a night and he still he wanted to stay with Yoongi for just a little bit longer.
Upon being told that he had to leave, Yoongi moved to slip his plaid shirt free again, so that he could give him it back.
“You keep it, Yoongi,” Jimin suggested, catching sight of the damp patches all over the light blue flannel that rendered it now unwearable for him. “Wear it tonight, it’ll keep you nice and warm; right?”
Yoongi pulled the shirt close to him again, holding it tightly in his fists as he dropped his gaze to study it. After a moment, he decided to pull it back on over his pullover, which would hopefully help retain some heat for him. He looked so much more cosy with the added layer on top that it was almost believable that it would in fact keep him warm.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Yoongi,” Jimin promised, as he moved to get closer to the ghost and he slipped his arms around him once more in an embrace. “Just think, you’ll be leaving with me tomorrow and everything.”
“I can hardly wait,” Yoongi almost whispered, as he slipped his own arms around his waist to give him a soft squeeze.
Leaving the graveyard was a task that Jimin found incredibly difficult, and he hated having to wave goodbye to Yoongi. Just knowing that the ghost was going to be left all alone was upsetting, but he supposed that he had Buddy at least. Even if he didn’t approach the dog, Yoongi still had some company in the form of his boisterous presence, and so it wasn’t like he was abandoning him.
Like every night, Jimin went down the forest path so that he could take the small rambling one that would take him down to the beach. He was careful on the uneven and rocky ground, and as he crossed the small bridges, he was buffeted by a cold sea breeze that was heavily fragrant with brine.
After a brief walk, he was drawing close to the wooden steps on the cliff face that would take him down to the beach. Jimin couldn’t help but glance across the stretch of sand as he approached the steps, seeing that the usual little terns were hopping along the sand and luckily avoiding the litter that was strewn across the shoreline so that they didn’t get tangled up in it and injure themselves.
But that wasn’t all that was down below on the beach.
Jimin paused in the act of going down the steps, one foot hovering over the step below him and his hand tightening around the guard railing tight enough to almost hurt. He was lucky that the wood was still smooth even after so many years of rough sea wind, otherwise he might just have given himself a nasty splinter.
There it was again, that shadowy entity out in the waves.
The thing was standing right out in the shallows, almost deep enough to be washed out into the sea, but it never was. Time and time again, Jimin had almost prayed for a big wave to come charging forward and wash it away; to drag it down into the murky seabed so that it would leave him in peace. But the waves just washed over the apparition and never claimed it like everything else that the sea loved to drag down to its endless black depths for an eternity.
“There ain’t nothing to be afraid of,” Jimin whispered to himself, as he tried to lower his foot down on the step and continue his descent down the wooden staircase.
Oh, but Jimin was scared, and no amount of mantras were ever going to change this fact. He found his body growing almost petrified whenever he lay eyes on the shadowy entity, which had just enough solid form to look like a man but not enough to be more than a vague shade of one.
Should he just turn around and walk back up the path, to return to his hanok and pretend that this had never happened before? He could find safety in his home, with the fireplace roaring and some pots bubbling away on the stove; with Yeosin lying on his feet and a nice sharp kitchen knife in hand.
But that was useless.
Jimin had seen the shadowy man outside of his hanok on more than one occasion too, and it didn’t make him feel safe. He had even woken up in the middle of the night from fitful sleep, only to fully awaken in the morning convinced that he had seen it lingering around the foot of his bed.
Running away from the shadowy man wasn’t going to make him go away, and Jimin knew that he needed to confront his fears and stop being so frightened. It had never done a thing in all of the years that he had crossed paths with it, it just…watched him from a distance: unmoving like a sentinel.
Besides, the beach needed to be cleaned up for the sake of the seabirds, and if he ran away now one of them might just get hurt because of his antics. Jimin couldn’t stand the thought of a little bird choking to death or losing a foot because he hadn’t cleaned the beach, and it was this thought that finally propelled him into action.
“There ain’t nothing to be afraid of,” Jimin muttered with every step, his sandals gently thumping on the wood and making a horribly loud din. “It ain’t gonna hurt me, it’s just an evil spirit, that’s all. It ain’t gonna hurt me, I’m safe.”
Jimin gathered up the rubbish as fast as he could, his hands shaking and not only from the cold wind but from his fear of the frightening apparition. Whenever he had to go close to the shoreline and the lapping waves, he had to get closer to it too, and he refused to look up from his feet to actually see it more clearly.
No, Jimin only wanted to know what it looked like from a great distance - shadowy, vague, unrecognisable.
As he moved across the shore, he saw from of the edge of periphery that the thing never moved once. It didn’t take a single step forward, or move an arm or its head; it wasn’t knocked by the tide so that it stumbled like he did whenever he was caught by surprise by a sudden wave. It just stayed deathly still and silent as it watched him.
Jimin retrieved the rubbish together in the plastic bag, knotting it closed so that he could carry it off the beach. He was going to dispose of it in a mountain trail bin, and as he tossed it inside he would also toss away his memory of seeing the shadowy being too. So he hastily tied the handles tight and then he crossed sandy stretch so that he could get to the wooden steps and leave the beach.
Jimin felt his entire body growing hard at this, at the sound of his name being spoken. His very blood turned cool in his veins, as cold as the water gently lapping against the sand down below him.
It was a miracle that Jimin had even understood it enough to hear his name, for the voice that had uttered his name had been far from human. It wasn’t even something that could really be considered a voice, as it had sounded much more like the groaning creak of swollen wood.
The thing had just said his name.
Jimin raced up the steps so fast that it was a miracle that he didn’t trip, that his sandals didn’t catch on them and make him stumble to slam right into the wooden railing with a bone-rattling thump. Upon reaching the top, he twisted back to look down at the beach only to find that it was empty; the shadowy man having disappeared just like always. He gulped hard, his mouth suddenly dry and itchy in a way that made him reach up to rub at the front of his throat.
That had never happened before. The thing had lingered for great amounts of time out on the beach and within the trees outside of his hanok, but it had never spoken before. It didn’t even move, yet it had just said his name for the very first time since he had started seeing it over a decade ago, and he didn’t know what this meant.
Jimin almost jogged back up the trail to get back onto the mountain path, just wanting to get back inside of his home where ghostly shades weren’t welcome and he could hide away and pretend that there was nothing lurking outside that would call his name all night long. He tossed the plastic bag into the bin with so much force that he almost missed it, walking far too fast to go back and pick it up if it had hit the ground instead. Luckily for him, it landed in the bin with a loud thud.
Upon reaching his hanok, Jimin shoved the door aside so that he could quickly carry in what had been left on his porch: the usual kimchi urns, offerings and gifts that he received of an evening. He almost dropped several wrapped plates tteok in his haste to get inside and close the door again; cursing under his breath as he recovered and got them to his kitchen counter.
His rather sudden and rushed arrival caught Yeosin’s attention, for she came trotting over to see what was going on - her blue eyes wide with interest.
Jimin quickly stepped out of his sandals and he scooped her up into his arms, cradling her against his chest so that he could press his face against her warm fur.
“Oh, Yeosin,” Jimin sighed out, his voice uneven from fear and exertion. “I’m so glad to see you right now.”
Yeosin just mewled at this, hooking her claws into his bare forearm so that she could give him an affectionate kneading.
Jimin kept her in his arms for a moment, gently rocking her in his hold as he closed his eyes and he tried to get himself under control. When his heartbeat finally reached a more normal rhythm, he put the cat back down and he moved so that he could lift one of the kitchen window covers up and look outside.
There was no sign of the thing, and Jimin let his pent-up breath out in a sigh of relief. He might not sleep easy tonight, but at least he would sleep knowing that the shadowy man wasn’t outside his home haunting his slumber.
The flames licked up the piece of paper hungrily, eating it up until there was nothing left but the mere inch caught between his finger and thumb. Jimin let go and he watched the flames devouring it until there was nothing left, both the piece of paper and flames disappearing in a wispy curl of smoke before his very eyes.
No matter how many times that Jimin burnt prayer papers, he always found himself hypnotised by the way that they disappeared just like that. One moment, the flames were alive and hungry, and the next they were nonexistent. It was eerie just how much it made him think about life and death, and how sudden a life could just cease to exist like the flames.
One time, Jimin had told Namjoon about this particularly poetic thought of his, and his friend had told him that he had rather liked the sentiment - as morbid as it might just have been. But he didn’t think that it was morbid in the slightest, that it was just a casual observation.
Jimin watched the tiny curls of ash drifting down to the earth, the moist soil dampening them out so that they wouldn’t start a fire. The scent of the burning paper would linger for a moment longer before being blown away on the breeze, and so he breathed it in and let it out in a weary sigh.
As a result of last night, Jimin hadn’t slept very well at all. He had had fractured bouts of rest that had been broken by moments of disoriented consciousness, in which he had woken up in the darkness of his home and struggled to figure out where he was, or what time it had been. He knew that it was all because of what had happened on the beach, as for the first time in a long time, Jimin had had one of his old nightmares.
The nightmares in which rotten and clammy hands crawled their way out of the water; in which soggy and swollen boots pounded their way up the mountain paths to his home so that a decayed and shambling corpse could stagger inside to moan and cry out to him.
Jimin hadn’t had one of those nightmares since he had been a young teenager, and for that he had been thankful. They were the kind of vivid and terrifying nightmares that woke him up covered in a cold sweat that almost felt like corpse hands and dripping wet clothing had been crawling on top of him; his throat so restricted in his panic that he might just have been getting throttled by the monstrous creature.
Yet the thing on the beach last night had triggered his old nightmares right back up to the surface, and Jimin had heard that creaking groan of a voice calling out his name.
After a night of fractured sleep, Jimin had woken up to an aching head and body that had needed much more rest. He had had to take some pills to ease the pain over his morning cup of herbal tea and then braved the bright summer morning to start his usual constant workload. But luckily for him, there had been noticeably less work to do today - all thanks to a certain someone.
When Jimin had entered the graveyard this morning, he had been shocked to see that the interior had been spotless - any bits of rubbish that was usually swept in from the tourist trail having been disposed of for him, the dirt paths between the grassy patches swept clean of leaves so that he hadn’t had to do it, and all of his tools had been cleaned and carefully put away. Not only that, but the fixed offering bowls had all been slotted into the rests in the tombstones. As a result, the graveyard had finally looked right again, even with the obvious damage to some of the tombstones still in need of a repair kit.
Jimin knew that Yoongi had done it for him, that the ghost had lingered long after his absence to try and care for the graveyard whilst he had slumbered. He owed Yoongi an immense amount of gratitude for doing so, and he was hoping that he would arrive soon so that he could do so.
As Jimin poured out a serving of rice wine, he glanced up at the sky to see that sunset was fast approaching. He was in the act of lifting the bottle up to stop pouring when he heard the sound of rustling grass and snapping twigs. A quick look back over his shoulder showed him that Buddy was napping across the graveyard, and that meant that his ghostly companion was earlier than usual tonight.
Just listening to the sound of him approaching brought a smile to Jimin’s face, for he could hear the franticness and eagerness as Yoongi darted down the mountain path to reach him. He was most certainly much stronger than the first two or so nights that they had spent together, for his footsteps sounded just like a human’s would - heavy and loud, as if they had weight to them. That, and the sound of his rattling breath escaping him in excited gasps as he no doubt waddled his way down the hill.
When Yoongi finally entered the graveyard through the trees, Jimin straightened up and he gave him a tinkling wave so that the ghost would catch sight of him.
“I’m surprised that I didn’t walk in to see you pruning the weeds!” Jimin called with a smile, as he reached up to tug at the back of his boater hat. “You did almost everything else, Yoongi!”
“I-I thought that it’d be nice to-to help you,” Yoongi explained between rapid and rattling breaths, his chest heaving as he tried to not cough up a mouthful of water. “You don’t mind, right? You ain’t…ain’t mad?”
“It was very nice of you, thank you, Yoongi,” Jimin said, tightly screwing the cap back onto the rice wine bottle. “I could never get mad at you.”
This made Yoongi let out a relieved sound, as he reached up to cover his mouth and he coughed into his hand. Jimin heard the liquid splash of water being expelled against his palm, caught sight of some of it dribbling down his chin and the side of his hand to soak into his clothing. The ghost just hastily wiped his palm on the front of his pullover at this, cleaning it free from seawater.
Yoongi was still wearing his plaid shirt over his double layer of tops, and it wasn’t soaked through too badly but was rather just damp in certain patches. Around the armpits and neckline, around the cuffs and probably between the shoulder blades. Otherwise, it looked to still be dry in parts, which was hopefully a sign that it had kept him warm.
“Jimin, I feel so strong tonight,” Yoongi bragged with a proud smile, puffing his chest up and everything. “I think I can do it. I think I can leave the graveyard.”
“Really? You think you can do it?” Jimin asked, as he moved to throw an arm around the ghost’s shoulders and he tugged him close. “But do you think that you can do it? Not physically, but emotionally? It’s been an awfully long time, Yoongi, and I just wanna make sure that you feel strong enough to leave the mountain.”
This was enough to make Yoongi’s proud expression falter at the corners; as he pulled his lower lip in to nibble at the chapped skin and he stared at him.
“There’s no shame in being a little frightened,” Jimin continued, giving his damp shoulder a soft squeeze. “I understand that it might be overwhelming to get away from the place that you’ve been trapped in for so long now.”
“Yeah, I’m a lil frightened, Jimin,” Yoongi admitted in a whisper. “It’s been so long, y’know? It’s been so long since I saw the world beyond the trees and cliff and- I-I dunno, I dunno if I can. D’you think I can?”
“I know that I’m gonna be right here, by your side, the whole time, Yoongi,” Jimin promised in a soft voice. “You ain’t gonna be alone. So, you ain’t got nothing to be scared of; OK?”
Yoongi’s uncertain expression softened at this, his furrowed brow relaxing and his fidgeting fingers ceasing to tug at his sleeves at last.
“I…I can do it, Jimin,” Yoongi said with a reaffirming nod. “I know I can do it.”
“Good, you’re so brave, Yoongi,” Jimin praised, as he reached up to knock a bead of water off his nose for him just like always. “I’m gonna pack all of my tools away, OK, and then we can go down the path to my home. If you can make it that far, then maybe we can go down to the beach one night too? Hmm? And then who knows where we can go next? Down to the village? Wouldn’t that be amazing, Yoongi?”
Whilst Jimin tidied up the graveyard and he locked his tools away in his shed, Yoongi followed him around in his usual puppy-like way. It seemed like he was a little nervous about going down the mountain at long last, he had just been trying his very hardest to hide it before. It was understandable that he would be scared, considering the fact that he hadn’t had contact with a single human but him in almost twenty years, and that he hadn’t left the tourist trails at all before the last week or so.
But Yoongi was trying so very hard to be brave, and that was all that really mattered to Jimin.
Before leaving the graveyard, Jimin had to ensure that Buddy’s food and water bowl had been filled for the night. So he dragged out the heavy bag of kibble to do so, retrieving one of the bowls so that he could fill it up underneath the water pump.
Buddy was currently slumbering in his kennel, his head resting on his paws and his body rising and falling with every breath. Jimin noticed that Yoongi was lingering close to the kennel but still keeping his distance, perhaps because he didn’t want to disturb or frighten the sleeping dog.
“This’ Buddy,” Jimin said, as he finished filling up the food bowl. “He ain’t my dog, not technically, but there’s been a dog in this graveyard since about the beginning of time - it’s tradition. A dog and a cat, both guardians in more than one meaning of the word. So, Buddy lives here in the graveyard. But don’t worry, he’s got his big house, and he never goes without food or water. Do y’know what kinda dog he is, hmm?”
“Sapsali, they banish evil spirits,” Yoongi said as they both looked at the slumbering dog. “He’s such a handsome dog, I wish that I could stroke him.”
“So, why don’t you?” Jimin suggested, cocking his head in the direction of Buddy. “Go on, give him a stroke, Yoongi.”
“What if I…hurt him or kill him or something? Or he attacks me ‘cos I’m a ghost?” Yoongi asked, giving him an uncertain expression that showed that he really was scared that he might hurt the dog by accident.
“Yoongi, you didn’t kill me when you touched me last night, I think that Buddy’s gonna be perfectly fine,” Jimin pointed out. “Besides, if he was gonna attack you, don’t you think he’d have bitten you on the arse already by now?”
This question made Yoongi let out a little laugh, but it still sounded nervous. So Jimin reached up to take hold of his wrist, gently pulling him down to a squatting position beside him and then guiding his hand towards Buddy’s head. He saw his fingers twitching as he hovered his hand over the dog’s head for him, and then he let go and left Yoongi to touch him on his own - should he feel brave enough to do so.
When Yoongi touched Buddy, it was enough to wake the dog up from his light nap and he lifted his head up off his paws to look at them both. The sudden movement startled the ghost terribly, made him gasp and visibly flinch.
“Oh!” Yoongi gasped, pulling his hand away and squeezing his fingers up into tight little fists as he held both hands against his chest.
“It’s alright, Yoongi, it’s alright,” Jimin almost cooed, reaching over to place a hand on his back. “Buddy liked it, look, his tail’s going a mile a minute.”
Buddy’s tail was indeed wagging away right now, and his tongue was about ready to lazily loll right out with a series of slobbering pants - a sign that he was very content. But poor Yoongi had been so scared of striking the animal dead with his ‘cursed’ ghostly touch that he had panicked and pulled his hand away. It was enough to make Jimin feel his lips curling up at the corners, because the ghost’s genuine worries about harming the dog were so surprisingly wholesome and sweet.
“He did?” Yoongi asked, quickly glancing between him and the dog in turn.
“Yeah, he really liked it,” Jimin confirmed with a nod. “Give him another stroke, Yoongi, go on.”
From a mixture of his gentle encouragements, to Buddy’s panting and wagging tail, Yoongi finally plucked up the courage to give the dog another stroke…and then another, until he was able to cup his jowls in both hands and give them a teasing rub and scratch. The ghost couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of Buddy’s half-lidded eyes and lolling pink tongue, clearly able to see just how much that the dog was enjoying the attention.
“See? Buddy ain’t nothing to be afraid of, he’s just a big dumb dog,” Jimin joked with a grin, as he reached over to give one of his ears a teasing tug. “A big dumb dog with a heart of gold that loves tummy rubs.”
At this, Buddy rolled onto his side to reveal said tummy to the both of them in silent invitation. Yoongi found out just how much that he loved being rubbed and stroked there upon placing both hands down on his stomach and ribs and giving him plenty of attention; the ghost’s lips curling up at the corners in a happy smile.
After Yoongi had played with the dog for a little while, they proceeded to exit the graveyard and start the brisk walk down the path that would lead to Jimin’s home. As they started descending, the ghost moved to take hold of his hand - his grip firm in a way that showed the true extent of his nerves, even when he tried his very hardest to keep his expression neutral. Yoongi didn’t speak once as he escorted him down the sloping dirt path, as he was far too busy darting his eyes around to look at everything; twisting and turning every single time that some small animal or bird rustled the trees and bushes all around them.
Upon reaching the front path and lawn of his home, Jimin felt the ghost gently slipping his hand free from his own. When he turned to look back over his shoulder, he saw that he was staring at the house with wide eyes.
“This’ your…your home?” Yoongi asked in an awed whisper, as he came to a stop just a few feet away from the hanok porch. “It’s so beautiful, Jimin.”
“Thank you, Yoongi,” Jimin said with a pleased smile, even when his home was nothing more special than an old rickety hanok. “C’mon, let’s go inside.”
Jimin collected a small pile of goods up from the front porch and he pushed the door open, gesturing for the ghost to follow him inside. He stepped out of his sandals and he moved over to the counter, watching the ghost struggling to get out of his soggy sneakers and wringing wet socks.
“I don’t really need much,” Jimin explained, watching Yoongi wandering across his living-area and leaving wet footprints in his wake. “The hanok used to have more walls, but they were removed by my grandmama to make more room inside. Only the bathroom has walls and a door now, and I like it this way. I think it makes it seem more…warm.”
“It’s so warm,” Yoongi sighed out, even when he hadn’t even stoked the fireplace to life yet.
Jimin crossed the room to get to the fireplace, and he hunkered down to arrange the charcoal briquettes and tinder in a decent pile so that he could spark a light and set it ablaze. He dragged the grate over in place and left the fire to kindle, knowing that it would burst to life soon enough and flood the interior, flooring and outer porch with heat thanks to the heating system that ran through the hanok.
“Yoongi, I think that we really need to get you outta those clothes,” Jimin remarked, as he turned to look back over his shoulder at the ghost.
Yoongi was just standing there by the kitchen counter, dripping and sniffing loudly - his hair and clothing soaking wet like always.
“Do you wanna take a bath, huh? A nice hot bath?” Jimin offered, cocking his head in the direction of the bathroom doorway as he straightened up again.
“Oh, that’d be so nice,” Yoongi replied, his lips lifting at the corners in a soft smile. “Can I, Jimin?”
“Uhuh, that’ll really help warm you up whilst the fire gets going,” he suggested with a nod. “Your first hot bath in forever!”
Whilst the ghost removed his soaked clothing, Jimin filled up the bathtub with scorching hot water and some soak so that he could climb straight in when he was ready. Yoongi showed very little reservation about getting naked, for he seemed to not at all be embarrassed as he got out of his soggy jeans and he stepped into the bathtub.
“Oh, fuck,” Yoongi groaned, as he slowly lowered himself down into the hot bathwater. It sloshed against the sides with a series of soft liquid splashes, but it didn’t spill over the edge to soak the rubberised flooring. “Oh, Jimin, the water’s so hot. I love it.”
“Enjoy your bath, Yoongi,” he said with a warm smile.
Jimin gathered up his clothing and he carried them out onto the back porch where he kept the large wash bucket. He hastily cleaned his clothes free from seawater and sand, roughly scrubbing them on the wooden board and then squeezing the water out with the wringer machine. They would need to be left to dry inside of the home on the clothes maiden that he kept close to the fireplace, but that didn’t matter at all.
Yoongi could simply borrow some of his clothing for the evening. They were roughly the same height with some slight frame differences - Yoongi being wide in the shoulders but very slight elsewhere whereas he had a smaller frame but was more shapely around his hips and thighs and chest. He was certain that it would be fine and that they could share clothing without issue, and if not, Yoongi could just wear a bathrobe and some loose and comfortable pyjama pants instead. So long as he was warm and comfortable, he was certain that the ghost wouldn’t care at all what he was wearing.
Jimin went back into his home and he crossed the flooring to get to the fireplace. He dragged the wooden clothes maiden away from the wall and closer to the waves of heat radiating from the grate, so that he could fold Yoongi’s clothes over the different racks and let them dry. As soon as he had spread them neatly across the racks, he turned on his bare heel to enter the bathroom again.
Yoongi was lying submerged in the tub as deeply as he could get, the water lapping around his face and ears and his eyes tightly closed. The sight was enough to make Jimin laugh softly under his breath, leaning against the door frame to observe him for a moment. The ghost looked so delightfully peaceful right now; tangled up in pleasure from the heat of the bathwater all over his chilled skin.
“You really like hot baths, huh?” Jimin asked, as he folded his arms across his chest.
“Oh, Jimin, it’s been so long since I felt this warm,” Yoongi almost purred, his wet hair now floating around the bathwater like inky tendrils rather than clinging to his scalp. “I could just stay like this all night long, it’s soothing away all of the aches in my bones, and the cold too.”
Jimin didn’t really know if Yoongi had bones in which to feel the biting chill of the night and freezing rain in, but he had felt his frozen and clammy skin and he could understand if the ghost did indeed ache inside. It made him feel happy just knowing that Yoongi had found relief from those aches in his bathtub, and that he would continue doing so whilst he stayed in his warm home.
“What about soap, hmm, and shampoo?” Jimin asked with a smile, folding his arms on the lip of the bathtub and resting his cheek on his forearms. “How about I help you clean your hair free of sand?”
This made Yoongi open his eyes and roll them to look at him, his gaze telling him that he liked the sound of that idea just as much.
Jimin moved to enter the bathroom, retrieving his shampoo, bar of soap and washcloth from the shelf above the sink. Then he shifted to kneel down beside the tub, right behind the ghost so that he could help him wash his hair.
Yoongi sat up slowly, sloshing water over the sides of the tub that splashed down onto the rubberised flooring. The water would run down through the drainage holes in time, so there was no need to worry about him splashing it around so much. His skin didn’t look as chilled as usual, had a pink flush diffused under the surface that made him look much more alive than usual, and when Jimin touched him he found that he was in fact now warm too.
Massaging shampoo into his wet hair for him, Jimin heard Yoongi rumbling out a little tune under his breath - not exactly singing or humming but almost. He realised that he was rumbling one of the many old lullabies that he himself often hummed under his breath whilst he was working in the graveyard, and it made him smile to himself.
Those lullabies were the only thing that Jimin could really remember of his mother, save for her soft voice and the touch of her warm and soft hand on his brow. Hearing Yoongi humming one of them whilst he stroked his own hand across his brow to drag back little curled locks of hair was a rather surreal experience, but one that he found he liked a lot.
Yoongi’s hair was encrusted with sand down deep in his roots, sand that he had to rigorously scrub free to fully cleanse him. The shampoo lathered thickly as a result, a fragrant and thick foam clinging to his scalp as Jimin tried his very hardest to wash away every tiny and annoying grain of sand.
“Oh, Jimin! I ain’t gonna smell like salt no more!” Yoongi cried out in happiness, rolling his sudsy head back to look up at him and flashing him his cheeky grin. “I’m gonna smell clean!”
Jimin could only laugh at this, not only because of the sight of Yoongi’s happy face but the enthusiasm in his voice. Yes, he was finally going to smell clean and like peppermint shampoo instead of sea salt and sand, and his skin was also going to be washed free of the usual clammy coating of brine that clung to him.
Yoongi had to dunk his head into the water many times to get the suds free, laughing and spluttering the entire time as he slicked it back off his face and he blinked and snorted the water free. When it was finally clean of shampoo, he sat up again and he let Jimin lather soap on the washcloth so that he could help him wash his back and shoulders. Then the ghost accepted the cloth from him so that he could wash the rest of his body, a wide smile on his face the entire time.
Just seeing how happy that Yoongi was to do something as simple as take a bath made Jimin feel happy too. He felt a wave of fondness towards him, just like he had that night that he had given him a bouquet for his mother’s grave and when he had told him that he was a nice human and that he liked him.
When he was done cleaning his skin, Yoongi folded his arms on the side of the bathtub, placing his chin down on his forearm so that he could grin up at him.
“Are you gonna stay in the tub all night, Yoongi?” Jimin asked, as he reached up to brush his hair back off his brow with his wet hand.
“No, not all night,” the ghost mumbled. “Just until it goes cold.”
After several more minutes of languid soaking, Yoongi decided that he should get out of the tub at last. He wrapped his body up in a towel to pat his skin dry, still so very content that he was humming under his breath and smiling to himself.
Jimin couldn’t help but notice the fact that his manhood was no longer shrunken and somewhat rubbery from the cold, but had increased back to its regular size. Between his now full and lightly flushed cock, to his dangling testicles, he struggled to look away from his crotch, to the point in which he could see beaded bathwater still clinging to the thatch of his public hair.
“I can feel my toes,” Yoongi said, as he proceeded to wriggle said pink-flushed toes against the rubber flooring.
Jimin dragged his eyes away to look up at his face as Yoongi let out a happy guffaw. He was so happy to be able to feel his toes again that he hadn’t even noticed his staring, which was a relief.
As soon as Yoongi had finished patting his skin dry, Jimin escorted him back into the main room and over to his bed. He had his clothing stored in a wardrobe and dresser, and so he rifled through both to find things for the ghost to wear. Yoongi just perched on the end of his mattress, still wrapped in the towel, and he watched him doing so as he carried on flexing and wriggling his toes.
Jimin retrieved a loose blue and white striped tee-shirt that he folded over his forearm, a pair of shorts and some briefs. He knew that he really shouldn’t share underwear with anyone else, but considering the fact that Yoongi was a ghost, it didn’t really seem to matter that much if he gave him a pair of clean briefs.
“Here, wear these,” Jimin said, as he hunkered down and he placed the folded clothing on his lap. “Your clothes are still drying.”
“I-I can wear your clothes?” Yoongi asked in a soft voice, as he eyed the tee-shirt. “But, Jimin, you already lemme take a bath and-and lemme into your home and I-”
“Friends share with each other, Yoongi,” Jimin interjected, as he reached over to take hold of one of his hands and he gave it a soft squeeze. It felt warm and dry in his hold, rather than cold and wet. “You did all of that work in the graveyard for me last night, so, I’m thanking you by letting you borrow my clothes and stay in my home. OK?”
Yoongi thought this over for a moment, and then he slowly moved to get dressed in his clothes. He tugged the briefs on first, and then he pulled the tee-shirt on which ruffled his still drying hair. After getting the shorts up to his hips, he fastened them and tugged them up to try and keep them in place; seeing as they were loose on his svelte waist.
“I’m gonna boil a kettle and make a nice hot drink; would you like something hot to drink, Yoongi?” Jimin asked, as he got to his feet and he wandered over to the kitchen area. “I’ve got coffee?”
“Oh, coffee would be good, Jimin,” Yoongi hummed, his bare feet padding on the now warming floorboards as he moved to sit down in front of the fireplace. “Don’t add anything to it, I want it black.”
“Sure thing, Yoongi,” he called, as he filled the kettle up with water and he shoved the plug in the wall socket to let it boil.
Whilst he waited for the kettle to boil, Jimin filled up Yeosin’s bowls with fresh food and water for her. The scent of the fish paste caught her attention, for she let out a languid rumble and then trotted across the home to wrap herself around his bare lower legs; her fur warm and ticklish and her wet nose bumping against his calves.
“Here you go,” he said, as he bent forward to place the two bowls down for her and then gave her a stroke right down her thin spine. “Enjoy, Yeosin.”
Yoongi watched the cat eating from across the room, his wide eyes reflecting the flames from the fireplace. He looked to be enchanted by the sight of the animal, much like how he seemed to enjoy watching Buddy from a distance.
Maybe he would give her a stroke at some point, just like how he had plucked up the courage to stroke his dog?
Maybe he would just observe her and tell him just how pretty she was, in that funny mumbling dialect of his?
Whatever the case, the ghost didn’t seem to frighten Yeosin in the slightest much like how he hadn’t frightened Buddy. But that was of no surprise, for Yoongi was far from frightening.
Jimin moved over to check the fire and make sure that the tinder was nice and ample. After a quick poke with the iron to move around the briquettes and logs, he was satisfied with the fire, and so he turned to look at the ghost. Yoongi was still so fascinated by the sight of Yeosin that he didn’t look back at him.
Jimin couldn’t help but notice the rather unusual sight of a tiny patch of wetness on the front of Yoongi’s borrowed tee-shirt, one that hadn’t been there just a moment ago.
“Yoongi, are you…are you wet again?” Jimin asked in a quiet voice, staring at the spreading patch of wetness that was growing on the chest of his tee-shirt.
“Mmm?” Yoongi hummed, his rounded eyes managing to grow even more rounded at the question as he turned to look at him.
Within seconds, the small patch of wetness had grown into a bib, the tee-shirt starting to cling to his chest, and another growing patch was spreading out around the crotch of his borrowed shorts too. The denim darkened in shade until it was almost black, and Jimin could only stare at it in complete shock as he slowly realised what was happening.
“Oh, Yoongi!” Jimin cried out in exasperation, because he was soaked through again already. “What just happened?!”
“I-I dunno,” Yoongi stammered in surprise, just as shocked as he was by this sudden turn of events. “I ain’t ever changed outta my clothes, not once. I didn’t know that this would happen.”
There was no possible explanation for why Yoongi’s skin was soaking wet again, or not one that made any sense to Jimin. Upon getting out of the bath and drying his skin, he had been flushed with heat and completely dry. But now, his borrowed clothing was starting to grow as wet as his old clothes, and he could see beaded water breaking out of his hairline again.
“Quick, get outta those clothes,” Jimin suggested, as he jumped to his feet and he raced back into the bathroom.
Jimin retrieved another fresh towel to sling it over him, covering his near nakedness whilst Yoongi hastily peeled the damp briefs free and dumped them onto the flooring alongside the soaked tee-shirt and shorts. He reached up to grab hold of the towel, pulling it around his body tight and hugging his arms to his frail chest.
“I’m sorry, Jimin. I-I didn’t mean to do that, it was an accident…I think?” the ghost mumbled, staring down at the now soaking wet clothes.
“It’s OK, Yoongi,” Jimin said, as he retrieved the clothing and he felt just how wet and cold that they were. “At least the towel can keep you dry…”
After dumping the clothes in the laundry hamper in the bathroom, Jimin went back into the kitchen to prepare their hot drinks. The kettle had finished boiling, great gouts of scalding steam coming from the funnel as he lifted it and he poured hot water into both of the mugs.
The sight of Yoongi sitting there in front of the fire, his legs drawn-up in front of him and his arms looped around his shins to hug them against his chest, all swaddled in the massive white towel, was enough to make Jimin pause in the act of brewing the hot beverages. He shifted to place his hands on the counter so that he could watch him intently, seeing the fire dancing off his rounded and dark eyes and dewy skin, and the way that his toes twitched ever so softly whenever a beaded drop of water dripped down from the edge of his nose to splash against the curved slopes of his bare feet.
The ghost looked so warm from the fire, but there was something melancholic on his face that struck a chord deep within Jimin’s chest. He had been so happy to have gotten a hot bath to clean his skin free from sand and salt; to have slipped into warm and fresh clothes and just feel his toes again after such a long time…and now Yoongi was soaking wet again and no doubt starting to smell just like the sea.
Jimin loved the scent of the sea, however, and he loved how being around Yoongi always meant that he could breathe it in even in the graveyard. But he understood why the ghost would want to be free from the scent after so long, and how good it must have felt for him to have been clean and dry after two decades of soaking wet skin and clothing.
Whilst the persimmon tea diffused into the water, Jimin gently stirred at Yoongi’s instant coffee so that it was smooth and mixed well for him. As soon as the tea was finished brewing, he moved over to the fireplace to place the mugs down onto the floor.
Before joining the ghost in front of the fireplace, Jimin retrieved a smaller towel from the bathroom so that he could kneel down behind Yoongi and try and secure it around his damp hair. He had to run his fingers through his hair to do so, to rake it back and gather it together within the towel.
“Huh?” Yoongi hummed, craning his head back to look at him and blinking languidly.
Jimin just gave him a quick smile as he carried on pulling his hair back, gathering the soaked lengths together and then enclosing them in the soft cotton. He twisted hard to secure it all together, leaving the little twisted length of towel to dangle down from the crown of his head.
“There, that’s better,” Jimin said with a smile, reaching over to knock a gathered droplet of water free from his nose and making Yoongi go cross-eyed for a second or two. “It ain’t gonna drip down your neck and face now, hmm?”
“Thanks, Jimin,” Yoongi said, giving him a soft smile in return as he retrieved the mug and he lifted it up to his face.
“Can you even drink, Yoongi?” Jimin asked curiously, watching the ghost breathing in the scent of the coffee and closing his eyes almost longingly.
“I ain’t ever tried, Jimin,” Yoongi explained in a quiet voice, staring at the wisps of steam lifting from the surface of the coffee. “I ain’t ever…tried to eat or drink things, I dunno if I can.”
“If you’ve never tried it before, then why’d you ask for the coffee?”
“Even if I can’t drink it, I still wanna…touch it,” he replied, his fingers wrapped around the mug to draw warmth from the hot contents. “It feels nice to touch hot things, it makes me feel like I’m alive.”
As he stared into the fire and he nursed his own mug of hot tea in both hands, Jimin could feel Yoongi shifting to get that little bit closer to him, though he did so as discreetly as possible. He could hear the towels rustling as he did so, could see just a slight hint of movement out of the corner of his eye.
“It feels nice to touch hot things, right?” Jimin remarked, as he turned his head to look at Yoongi to find that he was sitting much closer than he had been a moment ago. His head was almost resting on his shoulder, but at his voice he shifted to move it away.
“I’m sorry,” Yoongi whispered, dropping his gaze to stare at his coffee. “That was rude of me, Jimin.”
“Hmm? Oh, don’t be sorry, Yoongi. I don’t mind,” he said with a soft head shake. “I don’t mind one bit, you sit as close to me as you like. I think it’s nice.”
“You’re just so warm, Jimin, I forgot what it felt like to be warm all of the time,” Yoongi said in a quiet voice, as he gently placed his head back down on his shoulder and he closed his eyes. “It’s something I never thought ‘bout, back when I was still alive. You never think ‘bout the silly things like that ‘cos there ain’t no need to. But once you lose something like that, you realise just how much you took it for granted. I’d do anything just to feel warm again, even if only for a single day.”
“Are you warm right now, Yoongi?”
“Mmm, I feel so warm and cosy,” Yoongi almost purred, his bare toes wiggling as he wriggled against his side. “My skin’s still wet, but the fire and your body are keeping me warm…and the coffee too.”
Jimin watched him lifting his mug so that he could take a sip of the coffee, which must have been blisteringly hot on his poor tongue. But Yoongi just swallowed the sip and let out a moan, from both the heat and the flavour.
“How come you’re wet again, Yoongi?” Jimin asked curiously, before quickly adding. “How come you’re always wet?”
“I, uh, I think it’s ‘cos of my…my death, Jimin,” Yoongi replied, before taking another sip of the hot beverage.
“Oh, I’m sorry. If you don’t wanna talk about it, I-”
“No, it’s a’ight,” the ghost spoke over him, sniffing hard and rubbing beaded water free from his nose before it could drip down into his coffee. “I gotta tell you one night, right? I ain’t gonna be able to keep it a secret, you deserve to know that much ‘bout me. Jimin, I-I killed myself.”
Jimin felt himself stopping in the act of lifting his cup to his lips, Yoongi’s whispered confession catching him by complete surprise. He tightened his hold on the mug of tea as he looked at him, his lips moving and yet no words coming out.
“You…you killed yourself, Yoongi? Huh…how?” he finally managed to say, his voice strained terribly.
“I-I threw myself off the cliff down on the beach,” Yoongi explained in a quiet voice, not looking at him but rather studying his coffee intently. “After jumping, I’d this thought, Jimin, this sudden thought…“fuck”.”
Yoongi breathed the cursed out softly, his brow twitching so that a gentle crease appeared between his strong eyebrows. But rather than disappear a moment later, turning his soft and round face into the epitome of smoothness, the crease remained as he stared into the fire.
“I thought to myself, “no, no, this’ wrong, I’ve gone made a mistake, I shouldn’t have done this”, and my head was just spinning, Jimin, it was horrible,” Yoongi continued, tightening his hold around the mug of coffee. “I thought that it’d be peaceful, that I’d feel nothing at all, but when gravity started pulling me down…I ain’t ever been so scared ‘fore in my whole life.”
Jimin could do no more than stare at the ghost in complete shock, and after a few seconds, he lifted his gaze to look up at him.
“I was falling and I was so cold, the tears in my eyes started freezing or something,” Yoongi continued, shifting his gaze down to the mug in his hands. “I couldn’t blink, I couldn’t breathe, the gravity was just so powerful that I couldn’t do nothing ‘cept fall.”
“Yoongi…” Jimin said in a whisper-soft voice, reaching over to place a hand on his knee. “You don’t gotta talk about this with me, if it’s gonna upset you.”
“I ain’t feeling anything right now, Jimin, I ain’t upset, just numb,” the ghost explained with a soft head shake. “Did I die before I hit the water? Did I suffocate on the way down, or did I drown? Did the impact kill me? I dunno, I dunno what happened, everything just went black and next thing I knew…I was standing on the cliff again, just looking down at the water.”
“Did…did y’know that you were dead, Yoongi?”
“Yeah, yeah I knew,” Yoongi replied with the softest of nods. “I didn’t wanna believe it, not at first. I kept telling myself that I must’ve ended up being washed up onto the shore somehow and that I was alive, ‘cos my clothes were soaked and I was shivering so much. I kept thinking “I gotta get warm, I gotta make a fire or I’ll freeze to death”, and so I kept trying to build a campfire in the forest. But it never worked. The first couple of nights, I couldn’t even pick up the sticks, I was so weak that I kept…fading in and out, only to kinda wake up and start having the nightmare all over again.”
Jimin closed his eyes at this, his words cutting him straight down to the bone in the most chilling of ways. He could feel his fingers trembling, and so he had to place his mug of tea down before he ended up dropping it and shattering the porcelain. He grabbed a tight handful of the lengths of his tee-shirt to try and still his shaking hands.
“When the first half moon came around, and I found that I could finally build a campfire, so, I gathered up so many bundles of sticks and set about making the biggest campfire I could possibly build. Jimin, I was so convinced that I was still alive at that point that I could barely contain myself. I was shaking the entire time, shaking and coughing and hoping that I could warm myself up before the cold finally killed me.”
Jimin pulled his lower lip in to start gnawing at it, doing so to try and stifle a soft moan from escaping him.
Just picturing Yoongi, alone in the cliff side forest, desperately clinging onto some warped fantasy that he was alive, that his little campfire could somehow keep him from freezing to death, was enough to make his eyes start stinging.
“I got it built as fast as I could, got the fire going and everything. Fuck, it felt so good sitting in front of it for the first time, I just sucked up the heat, all greedy like. I was so warm that I thought I was a’ight, but then I started coughing, and I couldn’t stop. I was choking and gasping for air until mouthfuls of seawater started spilling out of my lips and soaking my clothes again.”
Yoongi stopped talking at this, taking a moment to let his words sink in as he lifted his mug to his lips and he took another sip of coffee.
“I think that night was the night I finally accepted the fact I was dead,” he admitted over the rim of the mug. “I think I’m stuck here ‘cos I ain’t got no tombstone. My parents…they were probably too fucking ashamed of me to get me a tombstone after they found the note I left for ‘em. I figure they just found it easier to pretend that I ain’t never existed in the first place, rather than accept it.”
“Yoongi, I’m so sorry,” Jimin whispered, just because it felt like the right thing to do. “I’m so sorry that you-you suffered so much in your life and you’ve suffered so much now, after your death. I’m sorry that I can’t help you be free from that burden and make the pain go away and-”
Yoongi moved to place his own mug down onto the flooring, so that he could reach over and place his hands on his shoulders.
“Don’t you see, Jimin? You are helping the pain go away,” Yoongi said in a whisper-soft voice, as he squeezed his shoulders with his warm and solid hands. “With your kindness, with your warmth - you’re helping me.”
Jimin could see the sincerity on Yoongi’s face when he told him this, could see that the ghost was telling him the truth. When he gave him a soft smile, he reached over to wipe at his nose for him, his own lips managing to return the smile.
It turned out that Yoongi could indeed drink his serving of coffee, which was something that neither of them really understood but were happy to discover. He almost guzzled it down after the first tentative sips, his cheeks flooding with more hints of colour that made him glow for the first time. Just like earlier, Jimin thought about how easy it was to imagine that Yoongi was alive, now that he was solid and filled with colour and warmth.
As they sipped at their hot drinks, Yoongi talked more about how much that he liked his home and about Yeosin - who was busy cleaning herself on his bed and had made no move to approach the ghost with her curious and wet pink nose. He didn’t talk about his suicide and his reasons for doing so, didn’t tell him anything more about his past life and why his parents had doomed him to a restless eternity by never giving him a grave of his own to slumber in, but it was starting to make sense to Jimin now.
That was why Yoongi was always soaking wet, why his chest rattled and every single cough made him spew up water. That was why he was always sniffing and dripping beads of seawater all over the place - Yoongi had drowned out at sea.
That marked three people that Jimin knew that had met their deaths in the sea.
Though his clothing hadn’t kept Yoongi dry, the towels did a fantastic job at ensuring that he stayed warm and dry. This meant that Yoongi got to stay comfortable, and it certainly showed in his much more enthusiastic expressions and conversation.
Jimin decided to retire to bed early rather than make dinner, because he was so tired and he found that he had no appetite as a result of their conversation this evening. He could always rise early and make some breakfast instead, and so he entered the bathroom so that he could clean up too.
Yoongi followed him inside of the bathroom without a hint of reservation, sitting on the edge of the bathtub and still animatedly talking about how wonderful taking a bath had felt. Jimin didn’t mind at all, he liked listening to him talk as he washed himself clean and he brushed his teeth in front of the sink; as he moisturised his skin and he let Yoongi towel at his damp hair for him - the ghost scrunching handfuls between the soft cotton and giving it firm rubs.
“Yoongi, do you wanna share my bed with me?” Jimin asked him in a quiet voice, as he finished playing with his hair and he let the towel slump around his neck.
Yoongi stared at him for a moment, his eyes growing rounded as he dropped his hands back down to his sides. His flushed cheeks seemed to grow much hotter in shade and heat, though that might just have been Jimin imagining it in the dim bathroom lighting.
The ghost more than likely never even needed to ‘sleep’, or at least not in the sense that he did. Therefore, it was probably silly of him to ask Yoongi if he wanted to share his bed, but the request had still slipped free before he had been able to curb it in.
Could Yoongi sense that the reason why he had asked was because he wanted to share beds with him, even when he didn’t really know why? Was he also feeling the compulsion to want to lie close to him so that he could share his warmth all night long?
Jimin had never even noticed just how terribly lonely that he had been until he had let Yoongi enter his home tonight. It had simply crept its way inside of him like a sickness, settling deep in chest until he had never really felt the need to want to share his home with another. But right now, he could feel an aching pang in his chest that he had never felt before, and he knew that sharing his bed with another body would help chase that sensation away.
Even if that body was a ghost.
After a moment of thought, Yoongi nodded at the question rather than reply. Beaded water splashed off his nose and jaw to land on Jimin’s bare chest, which quickly ran down to soak into the towel around his waist.
After dumping their used towels in the laundry hamper, Jimin put out the fire in the fireplace. The heat had already flooded the house so that it would linger until the early morning hours, meaning that it would stay warm and cosy for a long time. It plunged the home into heavy darkness, the only light coming in slivers through the window covers in the form of blue moonlight.
Yoongi was already sitting on his bed, his knees hugged up to his chest in a bid at hiding his nakedness from him at last. It seemed that he was only now conscious of his nudity now that he was in his bed, which told Jimin a great deal.
Just like the very first night that he had seen him, Yoongi was washed in the blue glow of the night; the moonlight casting over his rounded features and body in a highly pleasing fashion. Jimin had observed him washed in orange and red light from the fire all night long, and so it was a drastic juxtaposition to see him bathed in blue. But it was a nice juxtaposition, for he suited both temperatures of light.
Jimin crossed the floor to also get in bed, dropping to his knees so that he could crawl up the mattress and settle down on the stack of pillows. As Yoongi fumbled to find the covers in the dark and pull them up over their bodies, his exploring fingers accidentally brushed up against his bare outer thigh.
“Sorry,” Yoongi whispered for some reason, as he quickly pulled his hand away.
Jimin could only laugh at this, finding the ghost’s apology for accidentally touching him highly amusing. He knew that it had been a total accident, and yet he had been courteous enough to apologise to him. He had to reach down and help him tug up the covers, just to stop the ghost from any more fumbling touches and whispered apologies.
As he fixed the covers in place for them both, Jimin felt a soft thumping coming from the bottom of the bed, which signaled that his cat was making her way up to curl up against his stomach and chest. Yeosin eyed Yoongi in a way that showed she wasn’t pleased about the fact that someone else was stealing her sleeping spot; her eyes gleaming in the moonlight coming in through the windows. Then she turned tail with a huff, slinking down to the bottom of the mattress so that she could curl up there instead.
“I think Yeosin’s jealous,” Jimin said with a soft laugh, as he slipped his arm underneath his pillow and he shifted to roll onto his side and look at the ghost.
Yoongi was lying on his back beside him, his arms folded on his stomach to hold the covers in place and his legs straight and stiff. He looked to be uncertain what position to lie in, as if he was trying to not get too close to him in case he made him uncomfortable. In complete contrast, Jimin was lounged on his side as comfortable as could be: his legs rolled up so that his knees bumped against his thighs.
“Jimin? Is it a’ight if I move a lil closer?” Yoongi asked him in a whisper, as he shifted underneath the covers and he made them rustle. “I-I ain’t shared a bed like this in such a long time, I-”
Jimin moved so that he could bridge the gap between them both, just for Yoongi’s sake. If he let the ghost do so, he would end up fumbling and mumbling until he ended up in a slightly comfortable position, and so it really was for the best that he take control. So he moved to lie against his side, slipping an arm around his ribs so that he could pull the ghost into him.
“Huh, oh,” Yoongi breathed out with a nervous laugh, as he let him pull him into something close to an embrace. “That’s nice, Jimin.”
“Hmm, I think it’s nice too, Yoongi,” Jimin agreed, slipping a leg over one of his just to get that little closer to him. “Is that good, can you feel my warmth better?”
“Mmm, it’s perfect,” the ghost said with a nod, his still mostly damp hair brushing against the pillow with a soft rustle.
For a moment, Jimin just stayed in place as he observed Yoongi’s profile. The ghost had mostly closed his eyes, but the act didn’t seem to be a result of tiredness. No, it looked like he had done so because he was content instead, like how Yeosin would close her eyes and purr whenever she was enjoying being brushed and stroked. With every soft rise and fall of his chest, a soft rattling sound escaped his lips, but it wasn’t loud enough to be disruptive.
Jimin moved so that he could slowly place his head down on Yoongi’s chest, so that he could keep him warm there too. His cheek settled down against the somewhat fragile and soft curve of his breast, and that was when he discovered something unexpected.
There was no heartbeat inside of Yoongi’s clammy chest, no slow but regular thumping that was out of time with his own pulse. No, he heard something entirely different that made his breath escape him in a gasp.
From deep within Yoongi’s chest, he could hear the soft roar and crash of the sea.
Jimin could see it so vividly when he closed his eyes and listened - the waves lifting up high and then smashing against the rocks to toss spray up high into the air. It was as if his lungs were the deep pool of the sea, his delicate ribs the cliff face that it was violently throwing itself against, and it was absolutely enchanting.
“I can…can hear the sea, Yoongi,” he sighed out as he opened his eyes, seeing little more than darkness all around him and a hint of Yoongi’s shoulder and upper arm.
“Huh? What’d you mean?”
“Inside of you, the sea,” he mumbled sleepily, feeling the ghost shifting underneath his weight. “It’s so beautiful, Yoongi.”
After a moment, the ghost lifted his hand so that he could place it down on the back of his head and gently stroke at his hair. He did so slowly, his touch so soft and tender that Jimin could barely feel it. What he could feel was the pounding crash of the waves inside of Yoongi’s chest rising up high and then smashing themselves into little more than foam; the scent of salt coming from his skin just enhancing the vividness of the image trapped behind his closed eyelids.
“I belong in the sea, Yoongi,” Jimin whispered against his breast, as he tightened his hold around his waist and he tangled their legs together. “It’s almost like…like a part of me. Like it’s a part of you.”
“Why’d you belong in the sea, Jimin?” Yoongi asked him, his voice almost lost underneath the roar of the sea coming from his chest.
“My…my parents,” Jimin managed to sigh in reply, his face falling slack as he felt himself starting to drift off in the ghost’s hold.
It might just have been that Yoongi asked him another question at this, but Jimin was unable to reply as he sank down into the depths of his slumber - a smile still mostly present on his lips.
Unlike the previous night, which had been filled with nightmares and that hideous creaking voice echoing through the black void of his vulnerable mind; Jimin found himself surrounded by tranquil and blue water.
The soft roar and crash of the waves hitting against the cliff and the distance cries of the seabirds brought him so much calm and inner peace. He knew that he was down on the beach at the bottom of the cliff, and yet there was no fear about the shadowy man appearing to frighten him.
No, Jimin was down on the beach with Buddy and he was tossing the stick for his dog to catch. The golden sand was covered in foot and paw prints, tracking all over the place to show him that they had been running all over the beach together. The heat wasn’t too strong and his straw boater kept him protected from the powerful rays, and he had his plaid shirt rolled up to his elbows whilst the long lengths skirted around his bare thighs from the cuffs of his denim shorts.
Jimin felt so peaceful, just standing on the edge of the shoreline so that the water lapped against his bare feet. There was nothing to be afraid of, nothing to even think about, as he watched his dog racing along the sand to fetch the tossed stick and then brought it back to him.
Lying in the sand just a few feet away, Jimin could see Yoongi - curled up and napping in the midday sun. He was dressed in similar clothing to him: a plaid shirt tossed over the sand on which he was lying, a loose tee-shirt and denim shorts that exposed his lean and lightly tanned skin. Looking at him sleeping so peacefully, Jimin was certain that he wasn’t actually a ghost, that he still alive in his dream.
So after tossing the stick once more for Buddy to chase after, Jimin moved so that he could draw closer to Yoongi. He dropped to get to his knees in the sand beside him, which was warm and gritty against his bare knees, and then he placed a hand on Yoongi’s upper arm to give him a soft shake.
“Yoongi, wake up, you sleepyhead,” Jimin said with a laugh, shaking him until the other man rolled over with a whine.
“Mmm, don’t wanna,” Yoongi mumbled against his upper arm, refusing to lift his head and look at him and also blocking out the bright sunlight.
“Buddy wants you to play with him,” Jimin pointed out with a slight pout, even when the ghost was unable to see it and he knew that it wasn’t as effective.
“Mmm, tell Buddy to come and nap with me instead,” Yoongi rumbled cheekily, which made Jimin give him a hard shove to knock him right onto his back. “Ah, Jimin!”
Before Jimin could laugh at this sadistic act, Yoongi dived up from the sand so that he could toss his arms around his neck and drag him down with him. The sudden attack caught him by surprise, dragged him down until their bodies connected with a hard thump and his breath left him in a grunt.
“How ‘bout you nap with me instead, huh?” Yoongi said, as he buried his face in his hair and he pressed the most softest of kisses against it. “How ‘bout we just-”
Jimin turned his gaze up to look at him, just as Yoongi brought his own face close enough to give him a kiss. The contact made his fingers sink down into the sand, to seize tight handfuls of it as he opened his eyes to look down at him in surprise.
“stay here like this and stay asleep just a lil longer, yeah?” Yoongi whispered against his lips. “It’s so safe here, mmm? So safe and good, so, don’t wake up just yet and-”
Jimin woke up with a soft mumble, shifting to press his face against his pillow only to find himself nuzzling against wrinkled bed sheets instead. For a moment, he was unable to do much more than feel across the bed in a bid at finding his pillow, until he slowly moved to lift his head up and he dropped his chin on the mattress.
“Hmm…huh?” Jimin grunted, as he forced his eyes open to glance across the room.
Upon seeing his pillow, Jimin wriggled on the mattress to drop his face into it with another hard grunt. He breathed in to smell an unusual scent clinging to the cotton, and that was what made him slowly turn his head to eye the empty space on the bed beside him.
Yoongi was gone, but he had left behind the lingering remains of his visit in the form of soaked bed sheets and the scent of damp sand clinging to his pillow.
When Jimin stepped inside of the tea shop, the soft tinkling of the bell echoing through the empty interior, he heard the sound of something thumping from the back room. He stepped out of his sandals and he reached up to rub at his eyelids, suppressing the urge to yawn as he did so. He was more than aware of the fact that the sign in the window had declared that the tea shop was ‘closed’, but he knew that Seokjin was inside.
Right now, his friend was most certainly stocking up the kitchen with fresh produce from the market, and he would likely clean the interior down before opening up in an hour or two for early morning business.
The sound of the bell tinkling and the door shutting behind him attracted his friend’s attention, for the door suddenly swung outwards.
“You’re here early,” Seokjin called out in surprise, as he pushed his way through the back door to look at him. “You know that I don’t open for business this early, Jimin. What’re you doing here, hmm?”
“I dunno, I’m starving, I didn’t make any dinner last night,” Jimin mumbled, finding that he really didn’t know what he was doing here in the tea shop at this early morning hour - just that his wandering feet had brought him down the mountain path. “I was too tired…”
“You’ve been spending all night with that ghost of yours, haven’t you?” Seokjin asked with a knowing look, folding his arms across his chest and leaning against the doorway.
“That’s not why I ain’t been sleeping too good,” Jimin called in reply, as he shuffled over to his favoured corner table. “It’s a different reason actually. I slept real good ‘cos of him last night, if you must know.”
Seokjin had no need at all to go into the kitchen and make him food, considering the fact that the tea shop wasn’t open and he had no real reason to do so. Yet just like always, his friend moved to go into the kitchen and prepare him something to eat, as result of that funny caring nature that he and Namjoon seemed to both seemed to possess.
Sometimes, Jimin felt like a child because of the two of them; with them always giving him food and checking up on him and wanting to make sure that he was taking care of himself. But it was comforting in a way that made him cherish the both of them, because Jimin knew that he needed nudging sometimes to get him to do things. It felt good knowing that the two of them were always looking out for him, seeing as he had no one else to do so in his life now.
Jimin folded his arms on the table so that he could place his head down on them and stare out of the window. He saw lazy morning traffic rolling down the wide street outside, and some elderly grandmothers out on the sidewalks carrying bags of market goods that they had no doubt just purchased so that they could return home and maybe prepare breakfast for their family. It made him think about his own grandmother, who had been in the earth for five whole years now, having passed when he had been just fourteen years old.
Jimin still missed her almost every single day, even when it had been so many years. She had raised him as her own whilst he had started working up in the graveyard as an assistant, the pair of them tending to the spirits and living a quiet live free from the busyness of the village.
But much like Seokjin’s grandmother, whom he had seen go into the earth like his parents, and Namjoon’s grandfather, Jimin had had her slowly slip away from him too.
Everyone that Jimin ever loved seemed to get claimed by the earth eventually. It was almost as if he was cursed somehow, even when he knew that that wasn’t true. Sometimes, he feared for his friends and their families just thinking about how he might curse them too, seeing as he had destroyed his own family with tragedy and death since he had been a mere baby.
Usually, Jimin drank some herbal tea and maybe had a light snack of fruit and rice before going up to the graveyard to start working in the early dawn hours, but today, Jimin had felt the most sudden urge to come and see Seokjin instead. He was still slightly sleepy as a result, as he had gotten out of bed to get dressed without even fully waking himself up. He knew that he had needed to talk to Seokjin today because he wanted to discuss Yoongi, he just didn’t really know what he was going to tell him.
Seokjin might just be disappointed to learn that he had let a ghost into his home, into his very bed like an old friend. He might not be surprised in the slightest and give him one of those looks that made him feel like a naughty little boy again, or he might just sigh and tell him that he had expected this outcome all along. That preternatural ability of his seemed to always know when he was messing around with something.
Jimin must have drifted off into his thoughts, for it was the sound of Seokjin’s indoor slippers lightly slapping on the wooden flooring that caught his attention. As he turned his head to look at him, his friend hunkered down beside his table so that he could transfer his breakfast onto the surface.
Jimin saw a bowl of doenjang-guk, boiled rice, yeolmu mul kimchi and a chunk of golden gyeran bbang as the main serving, along with a bowl of fresh fruit as a small dessert. Alongside the food, there was also a teapot filled with fragrant herbal tea just for him, which Seokjin placed down with a teacup.
“Thanks, Jin, you’re too sweet to me sometimes,” Jimin mumbled, as he sat upright and he gave him a smile.
Seokjin reached over to take his hat off his head for him, placing it down on the table so that he could stroke a few wispy locks back down in place.
“Just eat your breakfast, Jimin,” Seokjin said, returning the smile as he straightened up and he crossed the tea shop to disappear into the kitchen.
In the time that it took Jimin to finish his first cup of herbal tea, he found himself waking up at last. The residual fogginess in his mind finally dissipated, leaving him wide awake and more capable of thought. He collected his cutlery together so that he could start eating, stirring at the soybean and tofu soup so that he could get a spoonful of the tangy broth and savour it on his tongue and then start eating the rice.
Whilst he started tucking into his breakfast, Jimin heard Seokjin cleaning up the kitchen by way of scouring the sink and counters and then mopping up the floor. Then his friend entered the main area to carry on cleaning, working with a high level of focus and not even doing much more than sparing quick glances over him as he mopped at the floor and he wiped the tables down clean. He went out onto the front porch to sweep that clean of dust and dirt too, and Jimin watched him doing so as he cut into the gyeran bbang - the gooey egg soaking into the golden bread as he got a chunk onto his fork and he shoved it into his mouth.
Jimin poured the remains of the soup onto the rice so that he could eat it like that; sucking up the sticky remains of the rice between bites of the tender kimchi. Then he finished his serving of fresh fruit over another glass of tea, the sweetness of the berries clashing against the tartness of the citron tea.
Upon him finishing his breakfast, Seokjin finally moved to join him on the other side of the table. He poured out his own serving of tea, nursing it between his hands as he folded his legs on the floor cushion and he got comfortable.
“I wanted to talk to you about the ghost, Jin,” Jimin finally admitted, as he sipped at the tea and he pushed the empty bowl into the centre of the table. “Um, I think I know the reason why he’s not in the afterlife. He ain’t got a tombstone, a grave of any kind. There ain’t anything tying him down in place, so, his soul’s restless.”
“Does he know that he’s dead?” Seokjin asked in return over the rim of his teacup, his strong brows drawing close together in thought.
“Yeah, he’s known that for a long time, Jin,” he replied with a nod. “He’s well aware of the fact he’s a ghost, ‘cos he told me all about it. It took him some time, but I think that he’s been accepting of his death since I was a baby, or thereabout. I think that…that he’s getting stronger though, Jin. I don’t just mean with the phases of the moon, I mean he’s starting to feel real to me, like flesh and blood.”
“The phases of the moon?”
“Well, we think that the moon is what makes him grow in strength,” Jimin rapidly explained, hoping that what he said made sense to his friend. “For the first few nights, he was kinda weak and not solid, so he couldn’t touch things. But then he started getting stronger, strong enough to touch things and for me to touch him too, and last night was a full moon, and he was really strong, Jin. I mean, he felt almost human to me. Can ghosts get stronger like that? Can they stay amongst the living like humans?”
“They can, Jimin, and some ghosts never transcend into the afterlife if they find something worth staying for. Oftentimes, it’s family, friends, lovers - these things have far too much of a sway for spirits to resist, and so they will linger in homes just to stay close to that which they desire,” Seokjin explained, as he slowly rotated his teacup around on the saucer and he watched the dregs in the bottom splashing against the porcelain sides. “It might just be that this ghostly friend of yours desires to be close to you.”
At this, the tea shop fell silent, and Jimin knew that he was going to have to break it first. He was going to have to tell his friend about what had happened last night, even if it might just result in him being scolded for his actions.
“Jin, I let him into my house last night,” Jimin finally admitted in a soft voice. “I know you said that I shouldn’t, but hear me out. Last night, he was able to leave the graveyard for the first time all month, ‘cos it was a full moon and he was strong enough. He wanted to go down to the beach and leave the forest for a little while, so, I decided to stay with him. I didn’t even think, Jin, I just brought him down the mountain to my home and I let him inside.”
“Well, I ran him a hot bath and got him some fresh clothes ‘cos his clothes were all soaked, and I gave him coffee to warm him up - he liked that a lot. But, um, within minutes, his clothes were soaking wet again, and I’d to wrap him up in towels instead.”
For some reason, this made Seokjin laugh softly as he retrieved his cigarette holder from his shirt pocket and he proceeded to light a cigarette. It was an amusing thing to imagine, and the sound of his laughter made Jimin feel a little bit less nervous, as he doubted that his friend would laugh if he was in serious trouble with him.
“We spent most of the night in front of the fireplace and in…in my bed, talking about things, and that’s when he told me about his death,” Jimin finished in a mumble, staring down into his teacup.
“Well, he’s clearly not a malicious spirit, you’ve made that much clear, and I can’t detect any negative energy coming from you that concerns me,” Seokjin remarked around the smouldering cigarette, breathing a quick lungful of smoke out of his nose. “But I can see that there’s something on your mind, Jimin, something that’s troubling you. What’s wrong, hmm?”
“I gave him some things, Jin,” Jimin said in a quiet voice, as he fiddled with his thumb ring. “A couple of nights ago, I gave him a shirt to wear to keep him warm whilst we were in the graveyard. Last night, I let him wear my clothes until they got wet again, and I gave him coffee too.”
“Well, if you hadn’t given him enough reason to latch onto you through your attention and obsession, then you have now…”
“‘Obsession’?” Jimin repeated, before letting out a soft laugh. “I told you, Jin, I ain’t obsessed with him!”
“Are you so sure?” Seokjin asked, raising one thick eyebrow at him as he dabbed cool ash off the end of his cigarette onto the serving tray.
Jimin held his tongue at this, trying to think of something to say in reply but struggling to do so. He knew that his friend was telling the truth, that he was obsessed with Yoongi in a way, but it wasn’t a bad way. He was just so fascinated by the ghost that he couldn’t help himself, and he just knew that his friends would find themselves just as enchanted as he was if they were to meet Yoongi.
“Is it bad to give things to ghosts like that, Jin?” Jimin asked in that same soft voice, lifting his teacup to hold it beneath his lips. “Is it really bad to give things to those that need it, even if that thing is a ghost? I feed the birds on the beach sometimes, I know that you feed that stray cat out on the back porch too. There’s nothing wrong with giving him things like that, right?”
“Do you think ghosts are mere pets, Jimin? Things that can be taken care of and adopted?” Seokjin asked, hovering the cigarette in front of his full lips.
“No, not like that,” he argued with a staunch head shake. “I think that ghosts are like friends, Jin, ‘cos I can share the same things that I share with you and Joon with him too. Clothes, sustenance, shelter, affection - Yoongi craves that too.”
“So, the ghost’s name is Yoongi?” Seokjin said in a soft voice, before bringing the cigarette to his lips and taking a quick drag off the end. “Jimin, it’s not wise to get attached to ghosts like that, whether they be actual spirits or just memories. I’m sure that Yoongi is a wonderful ghost, that he’s friendly and charming and that you want to give him affection because he’s got no one else. I can see the parallels right in front of me between the two of you, it’s rather startling.”
Jimin turned his head to look out of the window at this, listening to his friend talking intently as he watched traffic rolling down the road beside the tea shop.
“I’m just concerned that this new obsession of yours will end in upset, Jimin,” Seokjin finished, feeling no need to elaborate on what he meant by this as dabbed ash down onto the tray.
“A couple of nights ago, I saw it again,” Jimin admitted in whisper, as he dragged his eyes away from the window to look at the other man.
Seokjin didn’t reply to this right away, but rather spent a moment studying his face. His gaze was strong but not intimidating, for his friend just had an intense look in his eyes sometimes that contrasted against his warm and friendly demeanour.
“You mean the shadowy man, Jimin? The one that we’ve spoken about many times before?” Seokjin asked him in a quiet voice, to which he made a noise in agreement. “The last time that we talked about this, you might remember that I told you that the apparition isn’t your daddy’s ghost.”
“I know, I know that it ain’t my daddy, Jin,” Jimin said with a series of nods. “But I still see it sometimes, even after you told me that it ain’t him. What else could it be - who else could it be?”
“How many times have you seen the apparition since we last talked about it, Jimin? Can you give a rough estimate?”
“…No, just a couple of times,” he lied, shifting his gaze down to look at the spread of empty plates across the table. “It comes and goes.”
“I see,” Seokjin said in a quiet voice, as he hovered the cigarette holder in front of his lips. “Obviously, you want to talk about it with me, Jimin. So, please, tell me what’s on your mind. Have you figured out something new about the apparition, something that you’d never realised before? Or are you just hoping to talk about the sightings with me, so that we might be able to figure it out together?”
“I think that I realised something that I didn’t wanna accept before. The thing ain’t a ghost. I know that it ain’t my daddy’s ghost ‘cos it don’t feel like Yoongi,” Jimin explained, shifting on the floor cushion to lean closer to his friend. “They’re complete opposites - black and white, hot and cold.”
“Yoongi feels nice, you enjoy his company?” the older man asked, as he dabbed ash off the end of his cigarette.
“Uhuh, it feels real good being around Yoongi,” Jimin confirmed with a soft smile, just finding that thinking about his ghostly friend made a burst of warmth spread out through his chest. “He’s so sweet, Jin. You wouldn’t believe just how sweet a ghost could be until you meet him.”
“But the shadowy man doesn’t feel nice,” Seokjin said, more of a statement than a question. “It frightens you being around his presence.”
“It’s terrifying,” he stressed in a whisper. “He just stands there, Jin, watching and waiting. He’s so icy that he makes my body turn cold and start shivering. That thing is evil and I don’t like it.”
“Where does the shadowy man appear, Jimin?”
“Just like before - I see him down on the beach, outside my home, maybe sometimes inside of it, though that might just be a dream,” Jimin suggested with a soft shrug. “I still ain’t sure for certain if he gets into my home sometimes, I like to imagine that it’s just a confusing dream. It makes me feel safer. But what I was thinking was - what if it ain’t his ghost? What if it’s his evil spirit?”
“‘His ghost’? As in your daddy?” Seokjin asked, a he breathed smoke out of the corner of his mouth. “Jimin, why are you so convinced that the thing, that this shadowy man, is somehow your daddy in one way or the other? First, it was his ghost, now it’s his evil spirit. If it’s an evil spirit, why would it be him?”
“‘Cos of the-the nightmares, Jin,” Jimin mumbled, as he reached up to nurse at his brow.
“Jimin, I’ve told you time and time again - the nightmares aren’t your daddy haunting you,” Seokjin said in a soft voice, as he reached over to take hold of one of his hands within his own. “Ghosts can’t haunt your sleep, but memories can.”
“It don’t feel like a memory, Jin,” Jimin stressed, closing his eyes and letting his breath out in a sigh. “I can see him out there, watching me. He said my name, he-he creaked it out like some rotted old corpse and memories can’t do that.”
Seokjin thought this over for a moment, his hand still clasped tightly within his own. He gave it a soft squeeze before letting go again, and then he shifted to retrieve the used dishes together in a pile so that he could carry them into the kitchen.
“Just promise me that you won’t get too obsessed with Yoongi, Jimin?” he asked, as he got upright and he looked down at him.
“He’s my friend, Jin,” Jimin replied in a soft voice. “I ain’t obsessed with him, he’s my friend.”
Upon leaving the tea shop, Jimin started the trek back up the mountain so that he could go into the graveyard and start working for the morning. He had some granite and marble kit touch-ups to complete, and he was going to have to break out the sickle to cut down the grass around the ancient tombstones so that he could work on restoring them too, and so it was a good thing that he had eaten such a large and filling breakfast.
Over the morning hours, Jimin found himself thinking about Seokjin didn’t really understand both Yoongi or the shadowy man, because he had never seen either one of them. If his friend was to see them, perhaps he would have a far greater understanding. He knew that his friend accepted and believed in Yoongi, but it seemed that he had a harder time believing in the thing that had been haunting him since his early teenage years.
Seokjin had told him that there was no ghost haunting him many times in the past, but Jimin struggled to accept this fact whenever he came face to face with the terrifying apparition. It wasn’t a memory that could stir up such emotions in him like that - fear, disgust and anxiety all balled up in one. Memories had no physical form, but the thing that stood out in the waves was as solid as one of his friend’s teacups, he knew that it was so.
Maybe one time, Seokjin might just see the thing too and he would know that it was real. It wasn’t a ghost, Jimin himself had figured that out on his own, but he might just discover that he was being harassed by an evil spirit instead.
Namjoon showed up around midday just like always, on his bike with Monnie in tow. Today was usually the day of the week that he went to visit Seokjin for lunch, and so his friend had no little box of food for him. But he did bring some chal tteok with him, which they shared over light conversation. Jimin couldn’t help but sense that Namjoon might just have an idea all about Yoongi and his ghostly friend, and so he broached upon the subject with him to find out that he had indeed been talking to Seokjin about him.
In Namjoon’s words, he had visited Seokjin today and their mutual friend had seemed concerned about him, and so he had asked him about everything. He made sure to stress that he had been the nosy one, that he had prodded answers out of Seokjin because he had also been concerned about him, and Jimin knew that he was telling him the truth.
Namjoon couldn’t lie to save himself, he got all fidgety and awkward in a way that gave it away almost instantly.
Jimin was happy to know that Namjoon was concerned about him too, enough to prod Seokjin for answers even when he could get pretty awkward around him too. He just wished that the two of them could be concerned about the right things, like not about the fact that he had befriended a ghost and more about the fact that he was being haunted by a frightening shadowy apparition.
But at least they cared, and that was really all that mattered.
After Namjoon had left the graveyard, Jimin resumed working until nightfall. He stopped thinking about such things like Yoongi and the shadowy man, and instead he forced himself to just focus on the tasks at hand. After awhile, his humming was able to help him tune out everything else so that he could just clean up the ancient and weather-beaten tombstones and gently cut and dig up deeply rooted weeds from the earth.
It wasn’t even a full sunset when Yoongi appeared in the graveyard again, his ghostly friend making enough noise to damn near wake the dead. The sound made Jimin let his breath out in a sigh of relief, and alerted him to the fact that he had been wanting to see him so much. He dropped his tools and gloves into the bucket, shifting to get upright so that he could turn and track the ghost across the hilly path just a few feet away.
“Good evening, Yoongi,” Jimin called with a smile. “You left without so much as a farewell last night…”
“I’m sorry,” Yoongi huffed and puffed, his chest rattling just like always. “I-I just disappeared on you, I didn’t mean to. When the sun come up, I just faded out and I-”
Yoongi came to a stop right beside him, hunkering forward so that he could try and catch his breath. He coughed up a dribble of water onto his sneakers, which made Jimin aware of the fact that he was fully dressed again. He was wearing his old clothing and it was as soaking wet as always, and the sight of his plaid shirt still in place over his pullover wasn’t at all surprising. It seemed like the ghost was fond of it, maybe because it kept him warm or maybe because it was a gift of sorts - his very first gift in almost two decades.
“It’s alright, Yoongi, take your time,” Jimin suggested, as he moved over to give him a firm rub on the back to help him bring up another spurt of briny water. “You don’t gotta explain all of that to me, I figured you must’ve disappeared.”
Yoongi reached up to wipe at his mouth roughly, cleaning away a dribble of water from his chin with his shirt cuff. He took another rattling inhale of breath that made him cough, but it seemed like he had gotten himself under control again.
“How’re you feeling tonight, Yoongi?” he asked the ghost curiously, noting that he didn’t have that rosy glow to his skin right now but he looked less…cold than usual.
“I think I’m strong enough to leave again tonight, ‘cos the moon’s still so full,” Yoongi said, as he glanced up at the sky again to stare at the still pregnant moon that was visible over the tops of the trees. “Can I…can I come back home with you, Jimin?”
“Ain’t no need to ask,” Jimin replied with a warm smile. “Just let me finish up here and we can head on down the mountain; OK?”
Yoongi nodded vigorously at his, his wet hair dripping water down his face and splashing quite a few droplets at him.
Jimin finished scraping moss free from the tombstone that he had been working on, using his torch as he did so because the tree-filled hill was much darker than the rest of the graveyard. He started off by holding it in his mouth so that he could use both hands, but then Yoongi offered to hold it for him instead, and so he let the ghost assist him. Yoongi’s hands shook something terrible, so that the torch beam danced around the tombstone, but it was good enough for him to work with.
After finishing up the work on the tombstone, Jimin said his usual prayers and left offerings that family members had given him on the right graves. Whilst he conversed with the spirits, Yoongi stayed with Buddy so that he could stroke the dog and let him drop his head on his lap - as happy as could be.
As soon as Jimin was finished, he packed up his tools and he escorted Yoongi back down the mountain path to his hanok. The ghost held his hand the entire time, following along a few feet behind him so that their arms were stretched in the space between their bodies. It was approaching sunset, the path illuminated by still red and orange sunlight and the sound of cicadas chirping away thick within the trees all around them.
Upon reaching his home, Jimin had to go up the porch step to open the door and retrieve the usual goods. He noticed that Yoongi was eyeing the Tupperware containers, flasks and wooden boxes with a great interest, showing that he was curious as to what it all was.
“Some of the villagers give me gifts, as thanks for taking care of their loved ones,” Jimin explained, as he looked at another kimchi urn by his feet and he sighed heavily. “Some leave offerings for me to give to their loved ones too, like prayers and bouquets. But that’s rarer, usually they only come and visit the graveyard once or twice a year in remembrance, so, it’s up to me to appease the spirits instead.”
“You deserve the gifts,” Yoongi said in a quiet voice, as he watched him scooping up the random assortment of items from the step. “If the dead could give you gifts, I’m sure that they would.”
“Maybe they’ve given me a gift?” Jimin remarked, turning on his heel to look down at the ghost with a soft smile.
It took Yoongi a moment to understand this, and then he returned the smile as he reached up to wipe at his wet nose.
Whilst Jimin hastily sorted out the goods on his kitchen counter, Yoongi stepped inside and he shut the door behind him. He got out of his wet sneakers and socks, started getting fully undressed in fact. All that he could do was watch him dropping the plaid shirt onto the floor, followed by the purple pullover, waiting for him to notice the fact that he was staring at him.
“Wow, someone’s eager for another bath, huh?” Jimin joked, just as the ghost wrenched his damp striped tee-shirt off over his head and he dumped it onto the flooring.
“Oh, uh…” Yoongi mumbled, folding his arms across his chest as he looked down at the wet clothing at his bare feet.
Jimin shot the ghost a wide grin as he crossed the main-area to enter his bathroom, plugging up the tub and twisting the taps so that he could fill it up for the ghost. Yoongi waddled his way into the bathroom a moment later, fully naked and once more seemingly not at all fazed by his nudity.
Just like the previous evening, Jimin washed his clothes on the back porch and he left them to dry by the fireplace - which he stroked to life whilst the ghost soaked in the tub. Then he went into the bathroom to help Yoongi clean up, massaging more sand out of his hair and gently kneading the washcloth along his prominent spine and shoulders. The ghost made noises of pleasure as he did so, his eyes closed and his head hanging low.
As soon as he was finished bathing, Yoongi swaddled himself up in a towel and once more remarked about how he could feel his toes. It seemed like this was forever going to amaze the ghost, and it was just a funny little charm of his that made Jimin incredibly fond of him.
“Here,” Jimin suggested, as he held out the soft and long hooded bathrobe to him. “Wear this over the towel, it’ll keep you warm.”
Yoongi accepted the bathrobe, tugging it on over the towel and securing the waist with the belt. Jimin also had a pair of house slippers lying around that he never wore, and so he offered them to the ghost so he could ‘keep his toes warm’.
Yoongi looked so warm and cosy now that he was wrapped up in the robe - the hood pulled up over his damp hair so that his warm and flushed face was just about visible. He also looked very happy, judging from the lazy upwards curl at the corners of his mouth as he played with the bathrobe belt.
Namjoon had once more shoved wrapped and packaged food goods into his refrigerator and freezer for him - meat, tofu, vegetables and more. The sight of it all made Jimin laugh to himself, and he wondered just how many treats that Yeosin had gotten away with today too. He ran his eyes over the selection as he tried to think of something to eat, and that was when a sudden thought hit him.
“Yoongi, would you like to share some dinner with me?” Jimin offered, turning away from the refrigerator to look at him. “You could drink coffee last night. Do you think that you can eat too?”
“Eat…food?” Yoongi mumbled, hunkered down close to Yeosin who was also in the act of eating. “D’you think I can, Jimin?”
“There’s only one way to find out…”
Jimin recalled that Yoongi had told him that he had loved bossam when he had been alive, and it just so happened that Namjoon had stored some fresh pork belly and cabbage in his refrigerator. The cabbage had even been brined so that it was salty and crisp, meaning that he should use it and the pork tonight whilst it was still fresh.
How lucky it would be for Yoongi if his first taste of food as a ghost got to be a bite of a meal that he had once loved.
As he collected together pots, condiments and cutlery so that they could start preparing the meal, Yoongi lingered by the counter to watch him with wide eyes; his fidgeting fingers tugging at his bathrobe belt. He had no need to feel so nervous, but it made sense to Jimin that he would find the act of cooking rather intimidating when he hadn’t done so in such a long time.
Following his directions, Yoongi dropped a variety of ingredients into the deep pot: onion, scallion, garlic cloves, ginger, black pepper, bay leaves, doenjang and powdered coffee, which he then filled with water and left boiling on the stove. He didn’t seem to know how to prepare bossam on his own, and so Jimin had to take control and do most of the work.
First, he had to leave the pork boiling on a high heat, and then he covered the pot and left the meat to marinate and boil in the brine. It was going to take almost a whole hour for the pork belly to be ready, but that was plenty enough time for them to make other side dishes whilst they waited for the meat to turn tender and juicy.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if the reason you’re still here tonight is ‘cos of the coffee?” Jimin joked, as he washed some rice in the sink. “It ain’t the moon making you stronger, it’s the caffeine!”
“I need to drink another mug,” Yoongi retorted with a quick smile, the pair of them laughing heartily.
After washing the rice, Jimin left it to cook in the rice cooker. It would need to cool down a little before he fried it with some kimchi and leftover pork, and so he left it to sit in the machine whilst he assisted Yoongi. The ghost was trying to cut up a radish, but his less than steady hands kept making the blade slip and get dangerously close to his fingers. So Jimin had to steady his hands for him to help him chop it up, moving the radish towards the knife and gently bringing it down to cut it rather than moving the knife across the chopping board. Yoongi laughed softly as he let him help him, bringing his bathrobe-covered shoulders up high so that they brushed against Jimin’s chin.
When the dinner was finally finished, Jimin set the table with the plates and bowls, along with a cup of tea for himself and more coffee for Yoongi (just in case). The ghost eyed the spread of food in a way that showed him that he was eagerly anticipating trying it, but he was also nervous about doing so too.
“Go on, try some,” Jimin said in a soft voice, nodding at the massive platter covered in pork, radish and lettuce.
Yoongi slowly filled the lettuce up with a fatty chunk of pork and some radish, lifting it to his mouth with his shaking fingers so that he could shove it inside and try the bite. The sound of the lettuce crunching between his teeth was crisp in the silence of the home, and he chewed the mouthful many times before swallowing just to savour the sensation at long last. The heat, the flavour - it must have been overwhelming for the ghost as he closed his eyes and let out a soft moan.
“Is it good?”
“Jimin,” Yoongi said around the bite, his cheek distending. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted.”
“Hmm, you’re just saying that, Yoongi,” Jimin said in embarrassment, reaching up to cup his cheeks in his hands in a bid to hide the blush that appeared on them. His fingers smelled like the earth and garlic and chilli, a scent that would linger for a long time on his skin.
But Jimin saw just how eagerly that Yoongi filled up another lettuce leaf, stuffing it with pork and radish so that he could devour the next bite too. If he wasn’t fast, Yoongi was going to eat the whole serving, and so he moved to start eating too.
It turned out that ghosts could indeed eat, and eat a lot at that. Yoongi ate the entire serving of dinner that he had prepared for him - not even leaving a grain of rice behind in the bowl because he shamelessly licked at it. Jimin was flattered to see him eagerly eating everything that he could, and as he cleaned the dishes up, he let the ghost tuck into some fruit and an assortment of junk food that he had stored away in one of his cupboards. He happily went between bananas to shrimp crackers, to Lotte Choco Pie and Malang milk foam candy.
Jimin was a little concerned that the ghost might vomit after devouring so much food, but it seemed like he had an endless stomach that could just swallow anything. Whenever it was going, he didn’t want to know, and he also didn’t want to know how he was going to get rid of it all too. He couldn’t help but wonder if his stomach was starting to swell out like a little balloon, the thought making Jimin laugh to himself as he finished putting the clean dishes away again.
Ghosts could be very greedy it would seem - as greedy for food as they were for warmth and affection.
Whilst Jimin bathed, Yoongi sat on the edge of the bathtub, still very much chewing his way through a packet of foamy candy. But he was sure to share with him, offering him one of the pieces whilst he was in the midst of washing his upper body with his washcloth. The ghost had to pop it into his mouth for him, happily grinning at him as he did so.
“Are we gonna sleep now?” Yoongi asked, as he watched him vigorously brushing his teeth in front of the sink. He had finally stopped eating for now, but he was no doubt going to want to devour more food the next time that he visited.
“Yoongi, my bed was soaked last night,” Jimin explained with a smile, as he rinsed the toothbrush clean under the running tap. “My pillows smelled like sand and the sheets were dripping wet.”
“Oh? I’m sorry…” Yoongi mumbled awkwardly, as he stubbed his slipper-clad toes against the rubber flooring.
“I ain’t too tired right now, and the weather’s still nice and balmy. I’ve got a hammock on the back porch. It’s nice to just lie in sometimes and watch the sunset. Do you wanna watch the sunset with me, hmm?” Jimin offered, as he grabbed some lotion to moisturise his clean face with.
After dragging on a pair of briefs and a loose tee-shirt, Jimin guided Yoongi onto the back porch. The hammock was affixed to two of the hanok support beams, dangling over the step so that he could turn his head and look out across his back garden whilst it lazily rocked from side to side. He climbed into it first, having to help the ghost do so because he had clearly never used a hammock before.
“This’ nice,” Yoongi sighed out after a moment, the hammock still softly swinging from side to side. “I like staying by the fire, but watching the sunset’s nice too.”
“Hmm, of course you prefer the fire, it’s warm,” Jimin joked, shifting on the hammock so that he could roll onto his side and face the ghost.
“Mmm, but you’re warm too,” Yoongi pointed out, giving him a lazy smile with his half-lidded eyes.
When Jimin moved a hand to spread open the front of his bathrobe, Yoongi made no move to stop him, but he did watch him curiously. He pulled the white cotton aside so that he could reveal his bare chest, and then he moved to place his head down on his skin so that he could press his ear right against his ribs.
“It’s like…the sea’s trapped inside of you, Yoongi,” Jimin said in a soft voice, his forefinger tracing gentle circles against his warming skin. “It’s in your heart, your lungs - it’s a part of you now.”
“Just my luck, huh?” Yoongi remarked jokingly, as he shifted on the hammock to place his hand on the back of his head.
“Sometimes, I feel like the sea’s a part of me too, Yoongi.”
“Mmm? How come?”
“I just do,” Jimin mumbled, avoiding the question because he might just have accidentally said too much to the ghost. He could feel Yoongi’s fingers gently stroking their way through his damp hair, never enough to possibly tug on the lengths but more than a simple pat. “Y’know, ‘cos I grew up so close to it and-”
“And you got a kinda connection with it, yeah, I get you, Jimin,” Yoongi finished for him, letting his breath out in a rattling sigh. “Last night, you, uh, you mentioned something ‘bout your parents though. You fell asleep right after, Jimin, but you mumbled it out. Probably just talking in your sleep, huh?”
“Well, my parents died at sea, Yoongi,” Jimin whispered, as he stopped tracing his finger over his chest. “I think that’s why I’m so…obsessed with it.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Jimin,” the ghost said in a whisper-soft voice, which clashed against the loud roaring waves that were thrashing around his chest.
Jimin shifted so that he could place his chin down on Yoongi’s chest first, rolling his eyes up so that he could study his face. Then he cocked his weight up onto his elbow so that he could cradle his head in his hand. The hammock gently rocked from the movement, which in turn made Yoongi open his eyes and turn his head ever so slightly to look at him.
“Yoongi, do you think it’s weird that I…I think of you as a gift? The sea’s taken away so much from me, but I feel like it gave me you in return,” Jimin confided in a whisper, as he brushed his thumb across the wide stretch of Yoongi’s cheekbone. “I’ve spent my whole life chasing after ghosts, and then you appeared so suddenly and you just changed everything. You’re real, Yoongi. I can touch you, hold you, I can feel you in ways that I never could’ve imagined. It means that I ain’t crazy.”
“Crazy, huh?” Yoongi said in a quiet voice, furrowing his brow at him. “What’d you mean by ‘crazy’, Jimin?”
“I-I see things sometimes, I see this shadowy man haunting me, Yoongi,” Jimin continued, still talking in a low whisper. “My friends keep telling me that it ain’t real but I can still see him, and he’s scares me so much, I-”
“Whoa, hey, I ain’t gonna let some ghost frighten or hurt you,” Yoongi interjected in a soft voice. “I ain’t crossed paths with another ghost ‘fore, I dunno what I’d do…scare it away, maybe. But I’d still make it stop haunting you, Jimin.”
“I’m real, Jimin,” Yoongi promised, as he brought his own hand up to cup his cheek in his hold. “I know that you might feel crazy; that anyone might feel crazy just thinking ‘bout ghosts being real. But I’m as real as you are, and I’m so glad that you’re the first human that I met.”
“Hmm, ‘cos I let you eat almost everything in my kitchen?” Jimin joked, laughing even as he felt his eyes starting to sting. “‘Cos I let you soak in my bathtub as long as you want?”
“‘Cos you’re my friend…”
As Yoongi tucked a lock of his hair back behind his ear for him, Jimin felt the most powerful urge to just lean forward and give him a kiss - maybe on his cheek or brow, maybe on the end of his wet and cold nose. It was a sign of affection, that was why he wanted to do it, and yet as he lowered his head to close the distance between them, he felt his lips brushing up against his instead.
Jimin hesitated for just a moment, his warm breath puffing out against the ghost’s cooler skin, and then he pressed his lips down against his.
Yoongi kissed him with a tentativeness that was most certainly virginal in nature, his lips trembling and not pouting out fully against his own. He returned the kiss for just a mere second, hesitating before he realised that he was supposed to keep his lips against his for longer than that. So he gave him several gentle pecks, his lips making the softest puckering sound between each chaste kiss.
Jimin could see that his eyes were still open a slit through his thickly curled eyelashes, focused on his mouth almost as if he was watching to see when he would move to kiss him again. When he moved to do so, Yoongi closed his eyes fully and he pouted his lips out oh so sweetly; his very body trembling against his in the hammock.
Jimin had kissed many boys and girls growing up on walks to and from school, holding their smaller hands in his own or having his hand cradled in their larger grips. He had been gifted chocolates and sweets on both Valentine’s Day and White Day, even when he hadn’t given a lot of the boys gifts first. There had never been dates, not exactly, but he had still discovered how to kiss with skill through countless chaste pecks and exploratory deep kisses.
It had just been another thing that none of the villagers had openly remarked upon - his sexual proclivities tending to sway more towards boys, particularly those that had been pretty and shy, rather than bold and popular. They had known: the teachers and the parents, and they had used his troubled past and his job of tending to the graveyard as an excuse to keep him away from their sons. But they had always found a way of finding him, just so that they had been able to hold his hand and kiss him and find out if the stirring sensation in their chests had been genuine attraction or just a little curiosity that had never blossomed any further.
Jimin had never kissed a ghost before, but the sensation of Yoongi’s chapped lips pressing against his made him feel a rush of excitement far more stronger than any other kiss had caused.
“You’re shaking, Yoongi,” Jimin remarked, cupping his chin in his hand so that he could turn his face back towards him. “Are you cold, hmm?”
Yoongi’s face was flushed with heat that spread all of the way to his ears, that usual dewy sheen of moisture on his skin catching the setting sunlight and making him glow. It was almost strong enough to believe that he was giving out his own heat, because of the intensity of the high colour in the apples of his cheeks. He avoided his gaze for a few seconds, shifting in the hammock and knocking their feet together.
“No, not cold,” he mumbled in reply, as his tongue slipped free to wet his chapped lips. “I, uh, I dunno why I’m shaking, Jimin.”
“Are you nervous ‘cos of me?” Jimin asked with a teasing smile, moving his fingers to give him swirling stroke over the curve of his cheek. “Do I frighten ghosts that much?”
Yoongi had to look away at this, a nervous laugh escaping him that just made Jimin lower his face to press several little pecks against his full cheek and sharp jawline. Then he shifted to settle his head against his chest again, so that he could listen to the roaring waves as he watched the last of the sunlight dying across the horizon.
“Why’d the best thing in my life have to happen after I died?” Yoongi whispered against his hair, his breath cool and contrasting against the warmth of his lips. “If I’d have had someone like you back then, Jimin, if I’d have just had a friend, maybe…”
“Don’t think about things like that, Yoongi,” Jimin said, as he carried on tracing his forefinger across the soft swell of his chest muscles. “Thinking about the past can’t ever change it. I spent so long thinking about my past too, until I learnt to just stop focusing on the pain. At least you’ve got a friend now, hmm?”
“Is it all done?”
“Uh…yeah, I think so?! What’d you think, huh?!”
Jimin finished pouring rice wine into Seokjin’s grandmother’s offering bowl, placing the cap back onto the bottle so that he could tightly screw it back in place. He slipped the bottle into the front pocket of his shorts so that he could free up his hands, and then he quickly crossed the graveyard to where Yoongi was currently kneeling.
The ghost was hidden away in the thick copse of trees, kneeling in the dirt in front of one of the weathered down and nameless tombstones. He had a selection of tools placed across his thighs: a scalpel, a small chisel and hammer, a brush and cloth, and he had been using them to clean up his very first grave.
“I-I did the back too,” Yoongi explained, as he worried at the cloth with his gloved hands. “The moss was really tough, but I was gentle so that I didn’t damage the stone underneath.”
Jimin squatted down so that he could eye the tombstone in the fading sunlight, Yoongi kneeling beside him and still playing with the cloth.
For the first time in a very long time, he was able to see that this tombstone still had the most faintest of etchings on it. He was unable to read a name, but he saw vague markings that seemed to hint at this being a Christian grave, judging from something that looked like a cross still visible on the worn down surface of the chunk of fieldstone. There was no visible moss or mould that Jimin could see, nor could he feel anything against his palm when he stroked it across the headstone a few times.
“All done,” Jimin said with a smile, as he reached over to give Yoongi’s wet hair a soft ruffle. “Y’know what that means, right?”
Yoongi grinned at him at this, placing his tools and gloves down in the soil so that he could hold his hands out to him in offering. When Jimin placed a wrapped Choco Pie in them, the ghost eagerly tore it open so that he could start eating the snack.
Talk about a good payment.
“Yeah, this looks as good as new, Yoongi,” Jimin said, as he looked between him and the tombstone. “I’ll coat this with the sealant to keep it protected from any damp. I think we should be seeing no moss or mould on this one for a couple of years now.”
Yoongi beamed at him at this, a smear of chocolate caught in the corner of his mouth from the cake that Jimin reached over to wipe free for him.
For the best part of two months now, Jimin had been spending a great deal of time with the ghost. Summer was starting to reach its end soon, meaning that it would be replaced by the mild and sometimes rainy autumn months that were still incredibly warm. Over this period of time, Jimin had been able to observe and learn a lot about Yoongi’s habits and power, as there had yet to be a single night that the ghost hadn’t visited him in the graveyard.
In the daytime hours, Yoongi was flighty at best because he was always scared of being seen by Namjoon whenever he visited the graveyard with his boxes of food; or any random villagers that might just decide to come and pay respects to their dead. He was able to appear to him if he wanted to, he was just very nervous about doing so.
But as the hours started to edge closer to the evening, he would grow in bravery and linger by his side until he had to leave to go back home and rest. Knowing that Yoongi still had Buddy to keep him company was a relief, but Jimin still hated leaving him behind on the nights that he was just too weak to come back home with him. Those nights were starting to get rarer, however, as it seemed like Yoongi was growing stronger and stronger with every passing week.
Yoongi helped him tend to the graveyard in all ways that he could: ridding the grass of weeds, brushing up leaves and rubbish, cleaning and painting the railings with a fresh paint of black gloss to cover up rust, leaving bouquets on graves and carrying around his bucket of tools for him. He had even started learning how to tend for the ancient graves by observing him cleaning a couple, and he had since started the slow but steady process of helping Jimin finally rid them all of moss and dirt so that he could coat them in a protective sealant and keep them safe from mould for a couple of years.
His ghostly friend had told him several times that being able to do something, after such a long time spent wallowing in misery and denial, made him feel so good inside. According to Yoongi, helping him tend to the graveyard was his way of apologising to his family and ancestors for committing suicide and for being ‘sick’, which was something that Jimin found upsetting and unnecessary.
Yoongi had no need to apologise for his actions. If anything, he was owed an apology from his loved ones for not trying enough to save his life, and for not even giving him a tombstone so that he could find peace in the afterlife. Maybe it was wrong for Jimin to feel anger towards the ghost’s family, but it was hard not doing so when he found Yoongi such a charming and sweet young man, and when he knew just how much that they had terrorised him before he had killed himself in a bid at ending the pain and misery.
Regardless of his reasons for wanting to assist him with his caretaker duties, Jimin greatly appreciated Yoongi’s assistance. Now that he was able to tend to the spirits, Yoongi could correct superficial aspects in the graveyard that were time-consuming but still needed. Several villagers had already remarked on how much nicer the gates looked now that they had been painted again, and the fact that the grass was always so clean and neat meant that Jimin didn’t end up going to bed with an aching back after spending hours crawling around in the dirt and waving a sickle around.
If only the villagers were aware of the fact that they should be thanking a ghost for helping him with his caretaker duties…
Jimin had decided to start giving Yoongi snacks as payment for his assistance just because it had seemed like a sweet gesture to him. His ghostly friend still got to share plenty of food with him, but at least the snacks made him feel like his hard work was being rewarded.
Yoongi had told him that he liked having sweet desserts as rewards, but that he also liked getting kisses. According to the ghost, they were just as sweet - which he had told him whilst squeezing hold of his hand and awkwardly stubbing his wet sneakers in the soil.
Jimin had shared so many kisses with Yoongi that he had long since lost count: sitting in the grass with his back against his mother’s tombstone and his arms around his cool and damp waist; lying on the shore side by side with their arms under each other’s necks like pillows until the evening waters lapped against their toes and forced them to jump to their feet and run away before the full tide came in with a giddy burst of giggles; under the covers whilst Jimin had explored his naked body with his fingertips and lips, but had yet to get much more heated than sucking kisses against the soft curve of his warm stomach.
Yoongi had confided in him one night, when they had been sharing his bed and Jimin had been peppering his throat with kisses, that his parents had told him that he had been afflicted with a sickness when he had been alive. A sickness that had made him attracted to other boys growing up, that had needed correcting with prayer and hard beatings on the backs of his legs. Between raspy giggles when he had found a sensitive spot right above a freckle on the side of his neck, Yoongi had sighed out that if he really was sick, then he didn’t ever want to be cured.
Jimin had often pondered on telling Yoongi that he wasn’t sick, but he knew that it would take a long time for the ghost to accept such a thing. Not only was he from another time, but there hadn’t been enough progress over his lifetime yet for him to prove to him that that was case. Especially not considering the fact that a great deal of villagers still found him unusual and sick for kissing their sons back when they had been young teenagers. All that he had been able to do was whisper to him that he didn’t think that he was sick, and the ghost had mumbled sweet things in reply that had mostly been nonsense against his pillow.
Finding out that he wasn’t sick wasn’t going to change Yoongi’s life now that he was already dead, but it might just make him start to let go of his painful past day by day.
As Jimin pulled his hand away from the tombstone again, he couldn’t help but let out a loud yawn. He was unable to fully stifle it behind his hand, the sight making Yoongi chuckle around a bite of cake.
“What’s so funny, huh?” Jimin asked, as he rubbed at his eyes which had welled with tears from the massive yawn.
“You’re tired,” Yoongi remarked, as he carefully shoved the snack wrapper into his jeans pocket. “You’ve been working for almost the whole day, Jimin. You need to get some food, take a nice hot bath and get some sleep.”
“Hmm, it sounds like you need those things too,” he joked in reply, seeing the ghost’s mischievous grin and knowing that he had caught him out. “C’mon, let’s tidy everything up and head on down to the beach…”
Yoongi almost jumped for joy at this, diving to his feet so that he could snatch up his tools and waddle off across the graveyard to get to the toolshed. Jimin could only laugh at the sight of him, finding his antics as endearing as they had been the very first time that he had witnessed him running around in excitement.
Whilst the ghost tidied up the tools and he pushed the wheelbarrow out of the front gate, Jimin made sure that Buddy’s bowls were filled for the night. He gave the dog some ear scratches and affectionate kisses on the top of his head, and then he followed Yoongi out onto the path so that they could trek all of the way down to the beach.
“You’re excited for dinner and you don’t even know what I’m cooking yet!” Jimin explained between his giggles, the ghost swinging their entwined hands back and forth without rest.
“I know, I know, but so long as there’s meat, I’ll love it,” Yoongi replied without a hint of hesitation. “Your cooking’s so good, Jimin, I can’t help but eat it all!”
“OK, I’m pretty sure that there’s some beef in the refrigerator, so, what if I make some yukgaejang with rice and…”
Jimin had yet to see the shadowy man in Yoongi’s presence, but that wasn’t really a surprise. He had never seen it around Seokjin or Namjoon either, for it only ever liked to frighten him when he was all alone. As a result, he had been able to clean the beach up most nights without fear, as Yoongi was always waddling around the sand, chasing after the little terns and picking up old and mostly broken shells.
When they headed down the wooden steps tonight, there was no sign of the apparition at all, and this just made Jimin feel his good mood lifting that little bit more as he started collecting together all of the rubbish.
“Yukgaejang takes a long time though, right?” Yoongi suddenly called from across the stretch of sand, as he picked up an empty beer can and he tipped it so that the water trapped inside of it spilled free onto the sand. “My mama used to take forever in the kitchen just boiling all of the ingredients and-”
“I’ll start boiling the beef and gosari whilst you’re in the bath, Yoongi!” Jimin promised, as he shoved a long broken and old mobile phone into the bag of rubbish.
After cleaning the beach free from litter and trekking back up the steps and mountain trail to get to his hanok, Jimin stoked the fireplace and then he started preparing dinner for the two of them.
Yoongi fed Yeosin for him, who was starting to warm up to the constant ghostly visitor though she didn’t seem to like his hands unless they were warm. After watching the cat eating her own big dinner of fish paste and dry biscuits, he went into the bathroom so that he could run a bath for himself. The ghost had started doing so quite some time ago, and whilst he waited for the tub to fill, he quickly soaked and scrubbed his wet clothes and left them to dry on the clothes maiden.
Just like he had promised, Jimin left the gosari and beef to boil in massive pots whilst he sat on the edge of the bathtub and he washed Yoongi’s hair for him. The ghost liked planting the occasional soft kiss against his wet hands as he did so, the lather running down the back of his warming neck until Jimin washed it free and he pressed his own soft kiss against it.
By the time that Yoongi was finished splashing around and soaking in the hot water, it was time for him to carry on cooking. So Jimin set about blanching the vegetables, stirring them and the meat in a spicy sauce coating, and then he added it all to the broth to resume cooking the soup. Whilst it finished stewing, Jimin made some rice and he collected a fresh urn from under his front porch that he cracked open to scoop out some nabak-kimchi.
Yoongi happily devoured his serving of dinner like always, swallowing several bowls of spicy soup alongside the rice and kimchi and a huge mug of coffee. Jimin finished off the remains, taking just as much enjoyment from watching the ghost eat as he did from eating the food. When they were done with dinner, Yoongi helped him clean the dishes and put them away again, all the while eating a bag of salted sweet potato snacks.
Jimin took a quick bath to freshen up too, the pair of them brushing their teeth now that he had gotten the ghost to add that onto his cleansing routine once more. No matter how many times that he watched Yoongi brushing his teeth, he still found the sight highly amusing - especially if a foamy blob dribbled down his chin. As soon as he was finished, Jimin slipped into a pair of briefs and loose sweatpants, and then he exited the bathroom to lie down in front of the fireplace.
Rather than retire to sleep after dinner and bathing, Jimin liked to spend a little more time with Yoongi. Sometimes, this was out in the hammock watching the sunset as he listened to the roaring waves in his chest and he watched the sun setting below the tall trees. Sometimes, they just sat in front of the fireplace to stay warm, Yoongi’s arms around his neck as he held onto him and kissed him over and over.
Yoongi moved to join him on the warm flooring, lying on his side and cosying up against him as he slung an arm over his bare chest. He didn’t say a word, just let out a soft rattling sigh as he settled down and he pressed a kiss against the rounded ball of his shoulder.
Jimin tracked Yoongi’s fingers as they lazily skirted over his exposed stomach and ribs, no particular destination in mind save for stroking all over his warm skin. It was funny, for Yoongi kept stroking the light trail of pubic hair that gently tapered up from his low-slung sweatpants waistband to his navel, the contact ticklish and making him wish that he would touch him some more.
Almost as if he had peeked into his mind, Yoongi slipped his hand underneath the waistband of his sweatpants so very slowly; his eyes not leaving his once as he did so. There was something in his gaze that was silently asking him if he should stop or not, yet Jimin just held his eyes unblinkingly and made no move to stop him.
“Jimin, you’re so warm right here,” the ghost remarked in a whisper, just as he curled his fingers right around the bulge of his crotch through his briefs. His grip was firm but not tight, a pleasing pressure pressing down around his testicles that made his cock stir with a soft twitch. “I mean, you’re warm all over, ‘specially your neck and chest, but here…this’ where all of your heat radiates from.”
Jimin just made a noise to let him know that he was listening, far too focused on the sensation of his thumb through the front of his briefs gently rubbing around the base of his cock.
“Can I just…can I hold onto you for a lil while?”
Jimin swallowed hard and nodded to let him know that he had his permission to touch him. He was still very much hoping the the ghost would want to touch him more intimately than that, that he might just slip his hand down the front of his briefs to hold onto his stirring cock. He was certain that that would be hot enough for him to enjoy touching.
Yoongi balanced his weight on his elbow, so that he could lean over him and bring their lips together. With every soft and exploratory kiss, he gently kneaded at the bulge in his crotch until Jimin reached down to start tugging at his sweatpants. He managed to drag them down to his thighs, and then he seized hold of Yoongi’s wrist to encourage him to slip it inside of his briefs.
“Touch me there, please,” Jimin gasped against Yoongi’s slick lips, feeling his tongue curling up to brush against his lower lip teasingly. “Please, fuck-”
Yoongi’s fingers and palm were cool as they slipped underneath the waistband of his briefs, stretching the fabric so much that his stiff cock shifted inside of the cotton in a bid to get free. As the ghost cupped his testicles in his hold to give them a soft and teasing stroke, a jolt of pleasure coursed up into Jimin’s belly at this unfamiliar touch and sensation, and his cock finally sprung free to land against the curve of his stomach.
“You’re burning hot, Jimin,” Yoongi whispered, his fingers moving up to the underside of his base so that he could apply pressure there and knead at his skin.
Jimin gasped at the contact, reaching down to fumble at the front of his briefs before taking hold of his cock and stroking at it. Yoongi’s fingertips were digging in just right, adding pressure to the soft throbs of pleasure that were starting to build up in the pit of his stomach, and he couldn’t help but touch himself.
Yoongi shifted so that he could sit on his thighs, his bathrobe shifting to flash quite the amount of his bare thighs as he settled down on top of him. He tugged his briefs down to fully free him of the restrictive cotton, before gently knocking his hand free so that he could take hold of his cock for him. Yoongi traced the pad of his thumb right below his swollen head, massaging it against the fold of skin before shifting his fist up his shaft to give his head a gentle rub.
Jimin felt his cock twitching in his hold, swallowing a moan because he didn’t want to sound so needy at his touch. He moved so that he could sit up, snagging hold Yoongi’s bathrobe belt so that he could tug and pull at it. It took a moment for the knot to loosen, and then he dragged the robe down off his shoulders for him. The damp and soft cotton dropped to land on his lower legs and the floor with a soft rustle, full exposing the ghost’s nudity to him.
Yoongi’s cock was standing flushed and erect from his thatch of pubic hair, the heat of his body and the fireplace aiding his ability to become aroused. When Jimin wrapped his fingers around his girth, the noise that Yoongi made caused a sudden heat to plummet down into his belly.
“Uh-huh,” Yoongi moaned, reaching down to take hold of his cock again so that he could carry on touching him too. “Jimin, that feels so nice…”
When Jimin moved to get Yoongi to roll over and lie on his back, his thighs parted wide to allow him to slide right between them, his hips bearing down upon his to press him down onto his bathrobe. With some slight maneuvering, he was able trap their cocks in place between their lower stomachs so that he could start grinding down against Yoongi’s hips.
With the first experimental rotation of his hips, Yoongi reacted instantly; grabbing hold of his biceps to squeeze at the muscles as his brow twitched in a mixture of confusion and sudden pleasure at the sensation.
“Does that feel good?”
“It’s so huh-hot,” Yoongi sighed, closing his eyes and rolling them under his thin lids as he squeezed at his biceps again. “I can feel that heat, it’s so good.”
Jimin slowly ground his hips down onto his for a moment, still trying to find an angle and rhythm that would feel good for the both of them. He had never done this before, not like this. There had been many fumbling touches down the front of other boy’s trousers when he had been younger, but he had never gotten this intimate before, and he was as nervous as he was excited. His feet were still tangled up in his underwear and sweatpants, and he managed to kick them off after a moment to be free of the restrictive material.
Yoongi writhed in his hold with breathy moans, so hungry for his heat and touch that he couldn’t seem to control his body. He curved his back up and he balanced his weight onto one elbow so that he could snag his other arm around his neck and continue kissing him whilst he experimentally humped him.
Jimin’s lips were licked and sucked and nibbled on by Yoongi; the ghost so starved for contact and warmth that he was greedily stealing as much of it for himself as he could. He could only moan into his kisses, finding a more fluid way to roll his hips and increase the friction between their bodies.
Yoongi’s tongue rapidly flicked against his lower lip and the broad of his tongue, the contact ticklish and pleasing. It teased at his upper lip and tasted like salted coffee - smooth rather than bitter.
When Jimin broke contact between their lips, Yoongi tried to chase after his mouth again, but he dropped his head against his chest instead to nuzzle against his skin. A slight beading of seawater were starting to develop on his skin again, which he smeared with his nose and lips and then licked up. The heat and wetness of his tongue made the ghost gasp, his fingers snagging in his hair and his other hand grabbing a tight hold of the bathrobe to wrinkle the soft cotton.
Jimin trailed his tongue up to his neck, so that he could nuzzle against his throat. He felt and heard the rattling deep within Yoongi’s throat, every single moan that escaped his mouth vibrating against his lips. When he moved to head so that he could tease at one of his nipples, the ghost’s feet drummed on the warm wooden flooring just like his blunt nails scratched at his scalp, his body trembling in a way that seemed to be caught between nerves and shudders of delight.
“Ah, nnn, Jimin,” Yoongi whined, rolling his head back against the bathrobe so that his mostly dry hair spread out across the white cotton.
With every teasing whorl of his tongue and sucking tug of his teeth, Jimin heard Yoongi’s pulse pounding inside of him; could hear the sea crashing against his ribs, pounding with enough force that he could imagine the curds of foam that would be flung up high into the air as the water beat upon the rocks. He had to stop teasing at his nipple just so he could plant his head against his chest and listen for a moment, closing his eyes tightly.
Oh, how perfect the sound of the sea within his frail ribs sounded to his ears. It flooded Jimin’s body with a rush of emotions that he could barely even understand: excitement, fear, tranquility and something that might just have been love…or perhaps that obsession of his that Seokjin had warned him about over and over.
Yoongi’s body was slick with water and sweat, the tang of the salt mixing into a heady perfume that Jimin could taste on his tongue with every single kiss against his chest and throat. His own body was coated in sweat too, running down from his hairline to his jawline and neck, dripping down onto Yoongi’s skin and the towel, and trickling between his inner thighs to the backs of his knees like teasing fingers. It was from the baking heat of the fireplace and the warmth of the ghost’s shuddering body.
Yoongi weakly rocked up into him, his arms wrapped around his neck and his feet planted firmly against the floorboards so that he could buck his hips up into his. It took him a great amount of effort to do so, his lower back curving sharply with every single upward twitch of his hips so that he managed to lift them up off the bathrobe. Jimin’s arms were shaking from his weight, barely able to support his own weight at this point.
After a moment, Jimin’s arms gave in and he collapsed on top of him with a breathless grunt. Yet Yoongi kept squirming beneath him in a desperate attempt at feeling more of that burning friction between his slick thighs.
Jimin had to quell his bucking hips, spreading his thighs wide and anchoring himself between his splayed thighs so that he could hump him hard and fast. Yoongi kept his legs sticking up into the air for a moment, his feet kicking out hard from the impact, but then he found a way to wrap his legs around his waist so that he could dig his heels down against his lower back; encouraging him on with every hard slap of their hips connecting together.
The crash of the sea, the increasing pitch and intensity of Yoongi’s moans of pleasure - it all mingled together until Jimin’s own heartbeat seemed to be as loud as those roaring waves.
“Huh-huh-fuck!” Yoongi moaned, his voice hitching and jittering from his pounding hips connecting with his own. His breath was rattling in his chest, the noise almost as loud as the roaring crash of the waves behind his frail ribs. “Juh-Jimin, my body is on…on fire, I-”
When Yoongi orgasmed, the hard impact of their hips pounding together made flecks of semen splash all over his lower stomach. As he climaxed, his breath left his slack lips in a rattling wheeze rather than a moan. Jimin could see his throat tightening and his face twitching from the intensity of his pleasure, unable to even vocalise for several seconds.
“Mmm, huh,” he finally managed to moan, his eyes rolling upwards under his fluttering eyelids.
Yoongi’s muscles hardened and then shuddered as he rode out his climax, his body falling limp underneath him. Every rattling gasp for breath made his chest heave and fall in waves, and so Jimin dropped his head down onto his chest so that he could listen to his heartbeat.
The stormy sea was almost thunderous inside of him, the sound flooding Jimin’s body with a sudden wave of tingling heat as his own climax washed over him. Oh, the throbbing burst of pleasure in his loins made him collapse down on top of Yoongi and let out a weak moan, shuddering and seizing tight hold of the bathrobe spread out beneath them to wrinkle the damp cotton.
“Oh my god, Yoongi,” Jimin breathed out, his pulse pounding in his chest and throat hard and fast. He couldn’t help but laugh breathlessly as he shifted to lie on the floor beside him, dropping onto his back to stare up at the ceiling for a moment. Then he rolled his head to look at him, wiping sweat free from his brow as he did so.
Yoongi’s damp skin caught the light from the fireplace, now glowing a variety of colours from the dancing flames: orange, red and yellows. He looked so beautiful, just like he did when the moonlight turned him blue.
Jimin reached up to brush a messy tangle of hair back off his face for him, his touch catching the ghost by surprise. He rolled his head to look at him too: his rounded eyes half-lidded so that he needed to look at him through his eyelashes, and his lips slack and quivering with every single breath. After a moment, he rolled onto his side so that he could get closer to him.
“Jimin, I ain’t never felt like ‘fore, when I was alive,” Yoongi confided in a whisper, tucking his legs snugly between his own as he settled his head down onto his chest. “I ain’t ever felt that alive, and I’m dead…”
For a few seconds, the home fell silent save for the crackling of the fireplace and the faint howling of the wind blowing up in the mountain. Then Jimin found himself bursting out into laughter, a frothy burst of giggles escaping him that he had to suppress against Yoongi’s damp hair.
“I’m dead, Jimin, I’m fucking dead!” Yoongi repeated between his laughter, his thin body shaking from the force of his own guffaws. “Fuck, that felt so good.”
“Yeah?” Jimin said, as he cupped Yoongi’s face so that he could get him to move and give him a kiss. “How good, hmm?”
“So good that if I ain’t been dead already, that would’ve made me drop dead,” Yoongi joked, chuckling against his lips and making him give him another kiss. “Mmm, how can something that good be so bad, Jimin?”
“I told you, Yoongi, it ain’t bad,” Jimin stated, brushing a bead of water free from his nose so that he could press a kiss against the rounded tip. “Remember?”
“I know, I know,” the ghost sighed, as he moved one of his hands up to cup his neck and he bumped their noses together softly. “I-I’m tryna think ‘bout it being good, and sometimes I really think that it is; y’know? But then sometimes I just…hear my mama’s voice screaming ‘bout me being a monster and it’s hard…”
“Oh, Yoongi,” Jimin whispered, as he cupped his face to gently pull it away so that he could hold his gaze. “Even when you’re a ghost, you still ain’t a monster.”
When Jimin entered the tea shop just like he did every week, he was surprised to see that both Seokjin and Namjoon were inside. They were sitting at the usual corner table that he liked to frequent, teacups in hand and a teapot in front of them that looked to still be steaming hot. The rest of the interior was completely empty, not a single customer sitting at the low tables or even out on the front porch.
A quick look back over his shoulder at the sign hanging in the door told him that the tea shop was currently closed, and that left him in a state of complete confusion. All that Jimin could do was stare at the sign for a moment before turning back to look at his friends, seeing that they were both looking right at him.
“Good morning,” Jimin called uncertainly, as he slowly stepped out of his sandals and he reached up to pull his straw boater free from his head. “What’s going on, guys?”
“Nothing’s going on, Jimin,” Seokjin said, as he shifted to get to his feet so that he could go into the kitchen. “We just thought that it would be nice to spend some time together over tea and food, right, Joon?”
“Right,” Namjoon agreed with a warm smile, his cheeks dimpling as he watched the older man going into the kitchen. “It’s been quite a long time now, so, we thought that it’d be nice. Don’t you think so too, Jimin?”
“Um, sure thing,” he said with a quick nod, as he moved to get to the table and he lowered himself down to his knees.
Jimin placed his hat aside on the table so that he could touch the teapot, finding that it was hot in a way that revealed that it had been brewed just for his arrival. For some reason, that made him feel a sudden rush of discomfort that he couldn’t quite place, but it felt familiar. The entire experience reminded him of the time that Seokjin had made him sit down with him and his mother to talk to him about the shadowy man that he had been seeing, and he felt like a similar confrontation was going to happen even when he didn’t know why.
“No, seriously, what’s going on, Joon?” Jimin asked in a whisper, as he leaned closer to him.
“Why’d you think that something’s going on, Jimin?” Namjoon retorted, his expression so incredibly hard to read because he was still smiling at him.
Jimin held his gaze for a moment as he thought this over, and then he moved so that he could pick up the teapot and pour out his own serving of tea. He saw that it was omijacha, the pink berry tea somehow bitter, sweet and fruity at the same time.
When Seokjin returned a few minutes later, he was carrying a small serving tray on which he had placed some light food. His local and famous honey bread was the main focus, the thick cubes of bread filled with fruit, whipped cream and honey and shaved chocolate, and he had added some chal tteok to the side just for him.
Jimin accepted his plate with thanks and a smile, deciding to start eating as it gave him something to do with his hands. It also meant that he could avoid their gazes whilst he did so, enthusiastically shoving cream-covered strawberries into his mouth as he stared out of the window.
“We, uh, we looked into some old records in the library, Jimin,” Namjoon said to break the momentary silence that was hanging in the air. “It took us a lot of time, but we managed to find out some…interesting things about your ghostly friend - Min Yoongi.”
“Oh yeah?” Jimin asked in a quiet voice, pausing in the act of chewing a mouthful of sweet bread and fruit.
“Yoongi died through suicide according to an official police report on his sudden disappearance; did you know that?”
“Yeah, I’ve known about that for a long time now, Joon,” he replied, licking cream free from his lips as he looked between them both slowly.
“Do you know how he died?
Jimin shifted on the floor cushion at this, the realisation hitting him. Now he knew what the funny feeling in his belly had been all along; what they were confronting him over. It had been a long time coming, he knew that it had been, but he had been hoping that his friends wouldn’t want to have a big discussion about Yoongi with him because he was terrified that they were going to look him right in the eyes and tell him that the ghost wasn’t real just like the shadowy man.
“Yoongi jumped off the cliffside not too far from the graveyard,” Jimin admitted in a soft whisper. “He either fell to his death or drowned, he doesn’t really know which one. I think that he drowned, ‘cos he’s always soaking wet and he rattles and coughs a lot.”
Jimin saw the way that Namjoon glanced over at Seokjin at this, the pair of them sharing a look that he wasn’t supposed to understand.
“It’s incredibly coincidental; don’t you think so, Jimin?” Seokjin remarked, his fork in his hand but the metal clean as he had made no move to start eating. “You start seeing the ‘shadowy man’ again, as you call him, and then you meet Yoongi - a ghost that died at sea that wants to be your friend, that makes you feel happy and safe.”
“I-I guess that it’s a coincidence, but that’s what happened,” Jimin said, as he stabbed at the chunk of bread with his fork. “Sorry, why’re you asking me about Yoongi again?”
“Have you ever told Yoongi about your parents, Jimin? About what happened to them?” Seokjin asked, as he placed his fork down and he folded his hands on the table primly.
“Not really…” he mumbled, reaching up to grab at his necklace so that he could tug and twist at it.
“So, you don’t talk to Yoongi about the trauma?”
“Trauma? Jin, I’ve told you both hundreds of times, I ain’t traumatised,” Jimin argued, dropping his spoon and sitting back on the floor cushion with a heavy sigh. “I can’t even remember most of what happened to me back then. I just about remember what my mama and daddy look like, never mind their deaths! Why would I talk about that with Yoongi?”
“What’d you talk to Yoongi about then, Jimin?” Namjoon asked curiously, giving Seokjin a quick glance as he did so that showed that they hadn’t been expecting this reply. “What’d you do when you spend time together?”
“He’s my friend, we talk about everything, we share food and-and my bed and - why’re we talking about Yoongi?” Jimin asked in exasperation, feeling his heart starting to beat faster in his chest. “Is this about him or my parents?”
“Do you want to talk about your parents with us now, Jimin?” Seokjin offered in a quiet voice, not at all fazed by his sudden exclamation.
“No, no I don’t wanna talk about ‘em! I don’t ever wanna talk about ‘em, Jin!” he whined with a staunch head shake. “Please don’t make me talk about my mama again. Y’know how much I hate talking about her.”
“What she tried to do to you when you were a baby was unforgivable, Jimin. It’s left this…irrevocable wound on you that you don’t even see underneath the layers of scar tissue. But even now, you still feel it, I know that you do, but you’re just too scared to talk to someone about it. Me and Joon, not even this ghostly friend of yours-”
“My mama was a sick woman, Jin, she was sick and she needed help, and I ain’t guh-gonna hate her for something like that,” Jimin argued, shifting on the floor cushion uncomfortably because the tea shop suddenly felt too small, too hot. “That ain’t right.”
“Jin ain’t saying that, Jimin, he ain’t saying that you gotta hate your mama,” Namjoon retorted in a quiet voice. “What he’s saying is that you gotta try and address what happened to you in a healthy way, instead of just burying it under everything and hoping that it’ll go away.”
“I ain’t burying nothing, Joon, it’s impossible to bury anything in this fucking town!”
“Jimin, there’s no need to shout-”
“It’s hard forgetting about how fucking insane your life is when everyone looks at you like you’re diseased!” he continued over Seokjin. “My whole life has been nothing but-but hiding myself away from everyone else ‘cos they all think that I’m crazy and diseased and-and cursed!”
Jimin took a quick gasp for breath at this, finding that his heart was pounding so fast in his chest that it was hard to breathe. He had to get out, he knew that he had to get out of the tea shop but he couldn’t seem to do so.
“To this day, Jimin, you speak more ill of your daddy than your mama, and your daddy didn’t do anything wrong,” Namjoon said with a staunch head shake. “You don’t even pray for him, his grave’s covered in weeds and everything.”
“My daddy didn’t do nothing wrong? My daddy- Joon, he’s the reason that she did what she did!” Jimin shouted, sitting bolt upright and hitting the table hard enough with his knee to knock his cup over. The tea spilled out all over the surface, which Namjoon quickly mopped up with a napkin. “If he was still here, she’d still be here!”
“It was an accident, Jimin,” Seokjin said in a whisper-soft voice, his eyes closed and his fingers playing with his pendant. “Don’t blame your daddy for his death, don’t speak so ill of the dead.”
“My daddy has haunted me for my entire life, I can’t get away from his ghost. I see him all of the goddamn time! I told you, when we was kids and you believed me back then! That’s who the shadowy man is! I keep telling you, but you don’t seem to believe me anymore!”
“Jimin, you aren’t haunted by your daddy’s ghost,” Seokjin said in that same whisper. “It’s all in your head, it’s always been up in your head - it’s trauma. It’s complex psychological trauma that I’ve been entertaining for far too long in the hopes that you might overcome it and get better, but it’s not working. You’ve just replaced one ghost for another and-”
“Yoongi’s real! Ghosts are real! It ain’t trauma! There ain’t nothing wrong with me!”
Jimin got to his feet at this, his body flooded with hot waves of anger and alternating pulses of cold fear so that he felt almost like he was going to faint.
“Don’t tell me that he’s not real! Don’t do that!”
“Jimin, please, just sit down and-”
“What I know is that my mama loved my daddy more than anything else in the world and I ain’t gonna hate her!” Jimin shouted over Namjoon, snatching his sandals off the shelf so fast that he accidentally dropped one. He had to hunker down and pick it up, but in his current state he was almost tempted to just leave it - shoes be damned. “Nothing’s gonna make me hate her! Not no one, not no how!”
Jimin shoved the tea shop door open hard enough to make it rattle in the frame, the wood banging against the wall as he stormed out of the building. As he went down the step, he heard Seokjin’s voice coming through the open doorway behind him.
“Joon, don’t, let him go. He needs space and-”
Jimin darted across the road so that he could start walking back to the mountain trail. After a couple of minutes, he came to a stop and he dropped his sandals onto the ground, hastily stepping into them. His feet were coated with dirt and he didn’t care at all. It was only as he was walking up the trail and his eyes started stinging that he realised that he had started crying, and then he couldn’t seem to get himself under control. He had to stop beside a trail marker to hunker down and wrap his arms around his head in a protective position.
“No, no no no,” Jimin moaned against his knees, gasping for breath only to let it back out again in a broken sob. “Yoongi’s real, he’s ruh-real! My mama luh-loved me! No!”
When Jimin managed to stumble up the mountain trail to enter the graveyard, he was startled to see that Yoongi was inside playing with Buddy. The sight of him just sitting there, wearing his damp clothing and smiling as the dog retrieving tossed a stick for him, made Jimin’s very chest swell with such fondness that he refused to believe that the ghost wasn’t real like what Seokjin and Namjoon were trying to tell him.
“Jimin, what’s wrong, huh?” Yoongi asked in shock, when he caught sight of his wet cheeks and red eyes. “What’s going on?”
“I had a-a falling out, with my friends,” Jimin explained, hiccuping hard as he tried to catch his breath. “I got angry at ‘em and I-I don’t feel too good right now.”
“Whoa, hey,” Yoongi said in a soothing tone, as he jumped to his feet and he raced over to take hold of his upper arms. “C’mon, sit down, Jimin. It’s a’ight. Just calm down, yeah, and tell me what’s the matter, mmm?”
“I-I can’t tell you, Yoongi, I don’t wanna tell you,” he moaned, as he reached up to rub at his damp cheeks.
“Jimin, I told you ‘bout the most darkest thing you could ever tell a person,” Yoongi said with a slight smile, as he reached over to cup his hot cheeks in his cool hands. “I told you ‘bout my own suicide. What could you ever tell me that could ever be as bad or disgusting as that, so-”
“Yoongi, it ain’t disgusting,” he interjected. “Don’t say that, don’t even think that.”
Whilst Jimin took a moment to calm down and catch his breath, Yoongi shifted to sit beside him and he wrapped his arms around his upper body so that he could hold onto him. The contact felt so good, so real, and he reached up to take hold of his damp shirt sleeve with his own hand.
“My daddy, he died in a fishing accident,” Jimin whispered, sniffing hard and then wiping at his eyes again roughly. “They happened all of the time, especially back when I was a kid and the laws hadn’t changed. The trawlers were always so dangerous, the act of fishing even more so. It’s kinda funny, don’t you think? We all picture fishing to be this…this fun and calming activity, something peaceful. In reality, fishing trawlers are so dangerous that you can’t even imagine.”
Yoongi moved so that he could place his chin down on his shoulder, studying his profile silently as he listened to him talking.
“The traps they used, they were these massive crates, and they used to be lowered and lifted up from the ocean from a crane ‘cos they were so goddamn heavy. It’d take half a dozen men just to get them onto the deck,” Jimin explained, furrowing his brow deeply as he tried to recall the photographs of the boats that he had seen accurately enough to describe them to the ghost. “I dunno what caused the crate to fall exactly, old man Do wasn’t clear on that part, but the suspension snapped like a piece of spider silk, Yoongi, and the trap just…”
Jimin let his breath out in a wheezy sigh at this, rapidly blinking away the tears that had gathered on his eyelashes.
“I was a baby when this happened, just turned four. Everything that I know about the accident I learnt from old man Go when I was old enough to ask. Anyway, a part of me thinks that it was lucky that he was knocked clean overboard and that his body was never recovered, ‘cos the thought of his body being in the ground, of him being so close to me…”
“What’d you mean, Jimin?” Yoongi asked him a whisper-soft voice, his brow furrowing deeply.
“I used to have these terrifying nightmares, Yoongi, that my daddy would come crawling outta the sea - his head a mangled wreck so that he ain’t even look human anymore. He would crawl his way into my bedroom and throttle me just like the sea choked the life outta him and I’d wake up screaming and all covered in a sweat, convinced that he’d grabbed me in his rotting hold. Sometimes, I see his ghost out in the waves or outside of my hanok, Yoongi, and he scares me so much - more than the nightmares ever did. It was a couple of months after his death that my mama…died. She, um, she-”
“Jimin, what’d your mama do?”
Jimin closed his eyes and he took a deep breath to hold it in his lungs. He breathed it out slowly a few seconds later, struggling to still his heart because it had started pounding in his chest again in fear. When he turned his head to look at the ghost, he saw that Yoongi was looking at him directly - his gaze soft but still demanding an answer from him at long last.
“The only memory that I’ve got of my mama’s her voice. Her voice and her touch. One night, she took me out to sea. I was barely even awake, but I can remember her warm arms and breast and her voice, Yoongi, her voice,” Jimin whispered, his voice leaving his lips in a harsh sigh. “She told me, “Jiminie, we’re gonna go see daddy again, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?” and I didn’t understand. I couldn’t understand, Yoongi, I was four years old. She promised that she was gonna take me to see him, and I believed her. We were gonna see daddy again, down by the shoreline where the beach runs straight into the sea.”
“Jimin, no…” Yoongi breathed out, his expression shifting as he started to realise what he was telling him.
“There was an elderly couple out on the shore that evening, going for a walk before retiring to bed, and they saw her carrying me out into the sea. The man, his name was Seungho, he-he dived into the water without a single care. He put his own life at risk, hell, he almost died himself trying to save me. He ended up in hospital as a result but he managed to fight the hypothermia. But my mama, she…she didn’t make it.”
“But they don’t understand, Yoongi - she let go, she gave me away,” Jimin rapidly added, reaching up to rub at his stinging eyes again. “Everyone thinks that she wanted to kill me too, but she let go, and I’m still here. Why does it matter that she…she tried to kill me? I’m alive ‘cos she let go of me and that’s all that matters to me. She was just so sick, and no one cared about her. They let her just wuh-waste away until there was nothing left and I can’t do it! Everyone wants me to think of her like a-a monster but I can’t. Not my mama, Yoongi.”
For a moment, all that Yoongi could do was study his profile as his words sunk in. The ghost finally knew all about his rather horrific childhood and his parents’ deaths at last, combined with his reasoning for being so obsessed with the very sea that surrounded the mountainside that he called home.
“Your mama was sick, Jimin, you ain’t wrong there. She was sick just like I was sick, that kinda sickness that not a lot of people seem to understand. The kinda sickness that scares a lot of people more than actual illnesses they can see, as if it’s the catching kind,” Yoongi confided in a soft whisper. “I ain’t even talking about that sickness, Jimin, I mean the one that I got up inside of my head, the one that made me jump off the cliff just like the one that made your mama go out to sea like that.”
“I told my friends, I told ‘em that she was sick and they know buh-but they don’t seem to understand, Yoongi,” Jimin sobbed, finding more tears springing forward to start burning around the edges of his eyelids.
“But Jimin, your friends ain’t wrong either, and you need to try and see that. She was desperate, and I know what that feels like more than anybody else, but that ain’t ever gonna excuse her actions. Your mama was wrong for tryna drown you too, and her sickness ain’t ever gonna justify that. You were a child, a child that had no control over what might’ve happened to you.”
“I know, Yoongi, I know,” he mumbled, roughly wiping at his face again.
“Shit, Jimin, you were just a baby,” Yoongi whispered, cupping his face in his cool hold. “She let go, she let you go and let you live, but she shouldn’t have dragged you into the sea with her in the first place. You couldn’t fight back, you couldn’t save yourself, and that’s what you need to think ‘bout. You ain’t gotta hate her, ‘cos she suffered so much that it ain’t right she suffer in the afterlife too, but you gotta understand - what happened to you was wrong, and it still gotta hold on you even now.”
“But I don’t feel sick, Yoongi,” Jimin whined in exasperation, struggling to hold the ghost’s gaze. “I-I don’t feel sick and my friends think I am, they think that I’m traumatised and that I’m seeing ghosts ‘cos I’m sick, but I ain’t sick! You’re real, Yoongi! You are, and-and my daddy’s ghost’s real too!”
“I’m real, Jimin, I promise you that I’m real, but I can’t promise you that your daddy’s ghost is,” Yoongi whispered, as he brushed a lock of hair back behind his ear for him. “Maybe he ain’t real, Jimin? There ain’t nothing wrong with that, yeah? After what you’ve been through, it ain’t no surprise that you might imagine his ghost, with all of the nightmares you had when you were a baby. Your daddy, he must’ve been a wonderful man for your mama to love him so much, and I just can’t understand why you ain’t able to see that, Jimin; why you think that he’s haunting you like this.”
“I-I dunno, I dunno anymore, Yoongi,” Jimin admitted in his own whisper. “The nightmares, they were so scary, they-they made me scared of my daddy. I know that he-he couldn’t have been a bad man or a monster for my mama to love him so much, but the nightmares…”
“Your daddy wouldn’t have wanted any of that to happen to you, Jimin, or to your mama,” Yoongi said, his thumb wiping across his cheek for him to clean away a single rolling tear. “The nightmares are what’s made you get sick, that’s all. The nightmares and the memories. That’s why your friends are so scared ‘bout you, mmm? ‘Cos they know, Jimin, they know that the nightmares need to stop so that you can be at peace.”
“I want the nightmares to go away,” Jimin breathed out, as he reached up to take hold of Yoongi’s wrist so that he could bring his fingers to his lips.
“Jimin, we should do something right now, something important,” Yoongi said, perking up considerably and twisting to look across the graveyard.
“Something important? Like what?”
“We should clean your daddy’s grave, together,” the ghost said, as he turned back to look at him. “I know that you said that he ain’t got a proper grave, ‘cos his body ain’t ever been recovered, but I know that he’s got a foot marker. It’s right next to your mama’s and I ain’t seen you clean it once. It’s all covered in weeds, and your mama’s grave is so spotless. Let’s clean it, yeah, and let’s leave flowers and a prayer just for him.”
“Oh, Yoongi, I-I dunno if I can, I-”
“Maybe that’s what you need to do so that his ghost will leave you in peace?” Yoongi suggested. “Maybe, when he sees that you still love him and that you understand his suffering, he might leave you alone?”
This was enough to make Jimin’s breath escape him in a soft sigh, his mind racing with thoughts.
Yoongi might just be right; maybe all that he needed to do to appease his father’s upset spirit was to take care of his grave again and say a prayer in apology for his actions? His father had died such a tragic and sudden death, his body had never been recovered, and his one grave marker was buried beneath weeds and dirt - it was no wonder that his spirit might just be angry as a result. With some care and penance, Jimin might just be able to get the ghost to understand him and leave him in peace, and so they should do it right now.
“Oh…OK!” Jimin finally managed to say, as he let the ghost pull him to his feet and guide him over to the foot marker. “You’ll help me, right, Yoongi? I-I dunno if I can do it on my own and-”
“I’m right here, Jimin,” Yoongi promised, as he gently hunkered down in front of his grave and he reached out to brush a thick growth of weeds away from the slab.
Jimin could feel his hands shaking as he started tugging the weeds free from the earth, clutching little handfuls and dragging them away from the foot marker. At first, he struggled to do so because they were so deep and tough, and he was convinced that he was going to give up with an exasperated sob. But when he saw the characters on the slab of black marble, the golden characters that declared his father’s name at last, he felt something surging through his veins, something uncontrollable. He stuck his fingers down into the earth, wrenching at the roots as his breath left his tightly clenched teeth in hard grunts until he collapsed forward with a pained cry.
Yoongi clasped his hands in his, his cool palms soothing on his tender and raw skin, and he squeezed hold of them tightly. He brought them up to his lips so that he could press them against the backs of his fingers, which were red and scratched from the ivy and rough weeds.
“It’s a’ight, it’s a’ight,” Yoongi cooed, letting go of his hands so that he could toss his arms around his neck and hold onto him.
As soon as Jimin’s emotional outburst had settled down, Yoongi carefully removed the remaining weeds for him with his gardening tools: pulling certain ones free with his hands, sniping at others and unearthing the deep roots of the rest so that he could finally get rid of the years and years of neglect. The earth around the grave marker was going to need reseeding with grass as it was little more than dirt now, but with some fertiliser and care, Jimin would be able to let grass grow around it again. Right now, it looked much better bare than it had filled with thick ivy and other disgusting weeds.
Yoongi’s careful pruning revealed to him the black marble at long last, which was shockingly free of damage thanks to the thick growth of weeds. With a good wiping down with a cloth and a treatment added to coat the marble from more growth, it would look as good as his mother’s tombstone did. The golden characters on the front boldly declared: Park Hyungsik, beloved husband, loving father, treasured son.
When Yoongi was finished with the weed pruning, Jimin lit a candle for his father and he proceeded to spend some time just sitting with the ghost whilst he stared at the foot marker. Though he didn’t say a single word, he thought a great many to his father that he hoped that his spirit would hear. It was too hard to talk to him right now, but maybe one day soon, he might just be able to sit with his father and talk to him just like he talked to his mother and Seokjin’s grandmother too.
Jimin moved to blow out the candle hard, before turning to look at Yoongi. The ghost had closed his eyes at some point, as he no doubt meditated on his own thoughts and prayers, but after a moment he seemed to realise that he was looking at him. So he turned to head to return his gaze, reaching over to take hold of his hand with his own - as solid as he had ever been.
“Yoongi, I’m tired, I think that I wanna go home and rest,” Jimin whispered.
“Then, let’s go home,” Yoongi replied with a soft smile, as he brought his injured fingers back up to his lips and he gave them another soft kiss.
Jimin woke up with a soft grunt, forcing his eyelids open to see that sunlight was currently streaming into the hanok through the slats in the windows. Judging from the colours of the rays, it might still have been just after dawn if the current silence from outside was an indicator. If the birds hadn’t started singing yet then it must not been morning, and that meant that he might just be able to get a small nap in before he got up for the day.
“Hmm,” Jimin groaned, as he shifted to roll over on the mattress, only to feel something against his side.
When he looked down, he saw a thin and lightly tanned arm slung over his waist, and he squinted at it sleepily for a moment. So he finished rolling over with a lazy grunt, slipping his arm under his pillow as he opened his eyes again to study the sight in front of him.
Yoongi was still very much curled up in his bed beside him, his face slack with slumber and his damp hair clinging to the pillow and his brow. He looked to be asleep, which might just explain what had happened in the past when he disappeared every now and again - his resting periods that had helped him stock up his energy.
Jimin studied him from underneath his heavy eyelids for a moment, and then he shifted to get closer and he pressed a soft kiss against Yoongi’s brow. It was beaded with a slight hint of seawater, but otherwise warm against his lips rather than clammy.
Yoongi made a soft noise at this, wriggling on the bed so that he could press his face into the damp pillow and muffle a deep moan. The movement revealed the sloping curve of his neck to him, which had several pink suck marks still lingering behind from his kisses.
Jimin reached over to run his fingers through his damp hair, seeing that his hands were currently covered in bandages as a result of what had happened in the graveyard yesterday afternoon. His skin had been red raw and itchy from the poison ivy, and so Yoongi had made him soak them in ice and he had covered them in ointment and bandages to soothe the pain. Hopefully the redness will have faded by now, so that he could take them off and be free of the thick and cumbersome bandages.
As Jimin lifted his hand to his face to eye the bandages, he thought about how just yesterday he and Yoongi had finally cleaned up his father’s grave. The foot marker had been buried under years of weeds and earth, had almost been lost to time because he hadn’t wanted to touch it from his fear of his nightmares. He had let it fall to neglect and he had never once thought about the fact that that might be why his father’s ghost had been haunting him. Now that he and Yoongi had cleaned it up, the spirit might just leave him in peace at long last - appeased by his act of kindness.
It might just be that Seokjin and Namjoon were right all along, and that he might not have been getting haunted by his father. But even if that was the case, finally acknowledging his traumatic childhood with Yoongi, and cleansing his father’s grave might just be what he had needed to start the recovery process. Jimin knew that it was going to take time to let go of so many years of fear, anger and loneliness, and he also knew that it was going to be difficult, but with his friends’ support, he might just be able to start healing.
Jimin didn’t really know what Yoongi was still lying in his bed for because he usually vanished sometime during the night without a single word, leaving behind damp pillows and sheets and the fragrant scent of the sea. But this morning, Yoongi was still sleeping beside him - his skin warm and flushed with colour, his rattling breathing calming enough to almost send him right back to sleep again.
Jimin had just settled down to do so when there came a series of noises from outside of his hanok, and as he listened to the soft thumping of footsteps on the porch, he realised that someone was going to knock on the front door. So he shifted to sit upright and he grabbed his clothes from yesterday, slinging on a pair of denim shorts as he jumped to his feet. As he awkwardly tucked himself inside and he zipped them up, he moved to get to the door and he unlocked and pushed it to the side to open it.
Namjoon was standing on the porch in front of him, a wooden box in hand that no doubt contained food just for him and an apologetic look on his face.
Jimin squinted at him for a moment before reaching up to rub at his eyes roughly. When he dropped his hands to his sides again he saw that his friend was still standing in front of him, however.
“Good morning, Joon. What’re you doing here this early, huh?”
“I thought that you’d be up at the graveyard, but you weren’t there just yet,” Namjoon explained in a quiet voice. “I fed and watered Buddy for you - he’s playing with Monnie right now, I left her with him. Jimin, I, uh, I noticed that your daddy’s grave looks…different today.”
“I…I cleaned it last night,” Jimin replied in a quiet voice, as he fiddled with the bandages on his sore fingers and he avoided his gaze.
“Huh, I cleaned it and, um, I lit candles and everything,” he mumbled, finding it so hard to just hold his friend’s eyes that it was unbelievable. “Yoongi helped me do it, he told me that it might make his ghost go away for good.”
“Yoongi helped you?” Namjoon asked, his eyes growing rounded as he stared at the bandages on his hands. “Did you hurt yourself, was it the poison ivy? You weren’t wearing your gloves again, huh?”
“Hmm, I forgot…”
“Jimin, I just wanted you to know that me and Jin were a little bit blunt yesterday, and we understand why you got upset like that,” Namjoon finally said in a soft voice, revealing the true reason behind his visit at last. “We thought that it was the right time to talk to you, but we waited so long that we just couldn’t get it out right. It was all there, but the words came out all wrong - it was horrendous.”
“They didn’t, they came out the way that they were supposed to,” Jimin disagreed, as he moved to lean against the door frame. “Don’t say sorry for being honest, I appreciate the fact that you were both honest with me. Honesty…it’s supposed to sting sometimes, right?”
“Maybe, but not at a time like that, Jimin,” Namjoon disagreed with a soft head shake. “We’d just been so worried with all of the ghost talk, and with you seeing that shadowy ghost of yours again, that we thought that we needed to talk to you about it all. But we didn’t stop to think about how upsetting our questions really were for you, especially when you were laid out bare in front of us like that.”
“Joon, I’m sorry for getting so mad at you two, that was wrong of me,” Jimin said, as he finally found the courage to look him in the eyes. “I was upset, but that don’t mean that I can start shouting like that. I gone and upset you both just like you upset me, except I did it intentionally. I wanted to upset you ‘cos you upset me, and that was wrong of me.”
“You didn’t upset us, Jimin, not like that. We were just so goddamn worried about you, we’ve been worried the whole time.”
“Joon, I’m sorry,” Jimin repeated, as he moved to get down onto the porch step and he slipped his arms around his friend’s upper arms to pull him into an embrace.
Namjoon had to hold the box out of the way with one hand, slipping the other one around his waist so that he could return the embrace. Jimin pressed his cheek against his shoulder for a moment, breathing in the scent of detergent coming from his soft grey pullover and holding it in his lungs as he held onto him.
“Jimin, who’s…who’s that in your house?” Namjoon asked in a soft voice, as he lifted a hand from his side to gesture inside of the hanok.
Jimin moved to break their embrace so that he could turn around and glance through the doorway. He saw that Yoongi was sitting on his kitchen counter just a few feet away, clad in only his loose tee-shirt from last night - currently in the act of unwrapping a Choco Pie so that he could eat it with a glass of milk. The ghost looked to be very tired still, but not tired enough to resist grabbing a snack to eat.
“That’s Yoongi,” Jimin explained, as he turned back to his friend and he gave him a wide smile. “He likes those cakes a lot, I mean, I think he eats a dozen of ‘em a day if I don’t stop him. He’s always rooting through the cupboards and-”
“That’s Yoongi?” Namjoon repeated dumbly, as he openly stared at the ghost that was sitting on his kitchen counter. “The ghost? Yoongi, the ghost?”
“Yeah, I told you that he ain’t like what you think, Joon,” Jimin continued with a nod. “I told Jin all about it and he said that ghosts can get stronger if they form a connection to a person or place. He said that Yoongi might get so strong that he stays here instead of going over to the afterlife, which would be wonderful.”
“Mmm, don’t wanna go to the afterlife,” Yoongi sleepily mumbled around the mouthful of cake. “They ain’t got dogs or food in the afterlife…”
This remark made Jimin laugh, reaching up to cover his grin with his bandaged fingers. He saw that Namjoon was still staring at the half-naked ghost with an expression that showed that he was struggling to accept what he was seeing right in front of him.
Yoongi, with his damp hair and a smear of Choco Pie cream filling all around his mouth; Yoongi, who looked as alive as the pair of them as he kicked his slightly cool feet back and forth and he wriggled his toes around without rest.
“Would you like to come in, Joon?” Jimin offered, as he stepped back through the doorway and he cocked his head at him invitingly. “Maybe share some breakfast? I’m sure that Yoongi will love those treats of yours…”