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Come Back When You Can

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 ****** 

 

Trudging his way out of the department office for the first time in twelve hours, Jimin is one paper away from losing his wit.

The pulsating headache keeps him awake, the sleepiness beckoning him in.

Far ahead in the darkened sky up west, the first streaks of dusk lights are criss-crossed in an odd-fashion, cuts of rose quartz on grey. Festive flashes of colours peek from beneath the heavy clouds like abandoned fireworks.

While the ground is damp from the intermittent rain and the air stays saturated, the hour is dry. It did stop raining at about five o’clock, but Jimin knows it would rain again as the evening falls. It seems like a good day to be in, if not for the tinges of impending chaos happening somewhere far away, but not far enough.

Pushing the glasses up his nose bridge with the edge of the box he is carrying, Jimin curses the loads of files and papers with scrawling and calculations he had absentmindedly taken from his office—knowing full well he has no use in taking them home. He would have to be back at the office in a few hours after all.

Tuesday is supposed to be the easiest day of the week, meetings always fall sharp at 3 p.m., Thursdays.

But this week is not exactly like any other week.

They had another shake, this time across cities. It has been a chaotic, yet muted hell. Far up in the north, a quarter of the state is in halt, but his city still remains positively calm—albeit some warnings for residents to move to a neighbouring state.

The fear is real but still mild, considering he has lived through worse.

Still it bugs the hell out of his guts. Thursday meetings are no longer the worst thing of the week. They are losing lives as a quarter of their state sinks a level lower. Jimin and his team of fellow engineers at the City Council have been camping in their office, relaying information, estimating casualties, and calculating damage.

“I got your tumbler refilled, Jimin. You might need it for the drive.”

Jimin turns to find his Head of Department standing before his car, where he stands motionless for a couple of minutes. Namjoon’s face appears a shade lighter than usual, his wrinkles deep-set and dark as he adjusts his sight with the outside light for a minute or two. Everything looks pale and dusty in the aftermath of a disaster. The man's usually starch-ironed smooth shirt looks wrinkled in the afternoon lights, evident of the long hours spent in their headquarters.

“Get some rest, don’t come in earlier than 10 tomorrow. I mean it.”

Jimin turns to reply to Namjoon, who is already walking halfway across the parking lot, heading back into the office. He left Jimin tumbler’s perched on the car boot, which shakes mildly as he shuts the car door. Jimin mumbles a soft and appreciative ‘thanks, Boss’ and slowly eases his way into the driver’s seat. He is really thankful to Namjoon for a lot of things, and one of it is for being such a good superior, and a good friend. 

Namjoon’s gentle, deep voice suddenly breaks the solemn mood, a voice Jimin does not hear often, right before the man closes the double glass door of the City Council office. “He’s going to come back, Min.”

To that Jimin begins to shut down again, he is not entirely sure if he wants to think about that while his mind is still making calculations and smart assumptions about the casualties. It is all very technical, his job—which was why he chose it in the first place. He has never allowed emotions in between the hours of nine and five. There is no room for it.

His emotions do not matter. Hundreds of people are trapped and Jungkook is out there saving lives. He will be okay. He is always okay.

Driving through the smaller and better parts of the city, Jimin tries to look for anything amiss, anything out of normal. Orange streetlights and uncharacteristic neon and colourful pendafluor lights from small shops fill the solemn streets as per usual in this more deserted area of town.

There are more trees around this area than there are cars, but people are living like they always do. They are not affected by the earthquake, their lives should not stop.

He thinks about Jungkook again.

He always does. It is conscientious, instinctual. It is difficult not to. Jimin has half a mind to turn his car, take the second exit, head into the highway, and drive straight to the nearest wreckage site, but he knows better than to be an unnecessary burden.

Their team was already there in the morning to assess damage and hand over the blueprints, and it was already so difficult to see. The whole thing—the upside down tar, the cars stuck below, the radio silence over supposedly muted cries for help, the loud hydraulic jacks and drills the rescuers use to plough through the dirt.

He saw Jungkook. It is Jimin's best feat after all, spotting Jungkook from any distance. It was difficult to see him, all muddy and drenched in sweat in his bright orange overall, looking like death personified, doing what he does best. Jungkook always does his best.

It is almost nine when Jimin finally parks his sedan in front of his house, letting out a sigh of both relief and anxiety. His fear and worry are now a silent scream beneath the far more overpowering longing for Jungkook.

He wants Jungkook home.

Locking his car, Jimin looks back once again at the skies, amber hues losing out to the dark amethyst tint of the night. The gentle rain is slowly wrecking into a storm. His heart is calm, and then it breaks.

A little, but surely, it breaks. 

 

******

 

He needs a shower. He really needs a shower.

The 100 meter long rope sits coiling close to his feet, one he has used too many times. It is the only way in and out from the higher grounds. They have been trying to elevate a block of concrete slab blocking the only way down beneath the broken highway with hydraulic jacks.

After hours of no luck, the rescue team finally resorted to carefully hoisting the rescuers onto the inverted highway slab, and get them to descend one by one into the pit.

Jungkook is a part of the fourth team to go in and inspect the wreckage from inside the multi-layered pit. He has been inside for one and a half hours, going in and out to transfer the rescued victims. Sometimes he feels a minor tremor, too small for a shake. Probably the moving tar shifting with the weight of the rescuers.

He hopes it is not the aftershock.

The earthquake happened this morning at about a quarter after 4 a.m. without precursors, recording a magnitude of a 7.3. If a sudden aftershock would happen now, they are more than doomed.

On his left, a vacant '95 Corolla stands on its left side, half of it buried deep inside the earth. Seokjin is perched on top of it, trying to inspect the vehicle in case they are missing anything. Anyone. His weight does not dent the car, a damaged wreck far from salvation.

“No one in this one. Not sure about that Prius though,” Seokjin speaks in his low tones, making his way down from the car and hopping onto another one. He looks ready to collapse; eyebags making room under his eyes like they always do when he overexerts himself.

Seokjin is beyond exhausted from the work, the scorching heat from the inner earth, the tar overhead, his stifling safety helmet. The situation is exhausting. Broken pieces of tar and oil spills are burning their throats. “We gotta remove this one first and but it’s already planted in,” he continues.

Jungkook turns to inspect the best angles possible to get the car to move without pushing the erect tar surrounding them. The last thing they would want is to be buried underneath the dirt. “Gotta wait for the crane,” Jungkook retorts, arms akimbo, his spine about to fall off his skin like a broken mop. “Tomorrow morning, latest. Jaebum hasn’t inspected this part of the pit, I wouldn’t touch that yet.”

Seokjin grunts, turns towards another part of the pit they have not ploughed through. A telephone pole cuts straight through a broken tar, lodging itself through several cars.

Get your gears Jin. You’re going up. Team 6 inbound.

Amidst the quiet ringing beneath the slabs of stones, Hoseok’s voice floats away with the static of the walkie talkie, filling the radio silence with some sort of normalcy. His voice almost seems like a faraway voice on a radio, even if he is merely approximately 15 meters above them, sitting in their main tent with all the other team leaders.

He is probably on his seventh coffee tonight, Seokjin knows. Hoseok never really leaves until all his members are out.

“Coming up, Boss,” Seokjin answers casually as he fiddles with the carabiner on his waist, tightening the rope. They exchange a few messages with Team 6 members waiting above, and with a few other members of their team dispersed away below the ground.

Seokjin takes the first climb, his left leg burning from a recent fall.

As Seokjin hikes up from beneath the rubble and Jungkook watches over his back, the latter takes one last, meticulous look at the surrounding scene. He inspects the surrounding a bit more, in case they are missing anything else.

A cry for help. A human hand. That sort of thing.

This is nothing new to Jungkook; handling wreckages, burning buildings, natural disasters, snakes in toilets. On easy days he gets to do fire drills, which are both boring and easy.

On difficult days, he has to see dead bodies of children and abandoned grandparents. He has been with the force for six years, turning 27 last week in a station party. His hands are calloused and scarred and his skin is leather rough, but they are made ready for scorching heat and intense debris.

He was only pretty the first year he got in, and then he was a part of them. All dried, tanned, and scarred; but at least he still has all of his teeth. His job is the second best thing in his life.

Only second to someone.

Jungkook climbs up at the yell of his name. Making his way up is far easier than going in, something he never quite gets used to. Jimin hated it whenever he talks about broken limbs and scorched body parts, and he loves talking about it the most just to see the older man's nose scrunches up as he pouts.

It took him only a few years to realise that the sight of the older man pouting can sometimes be the highlight of his week.

He is not sure if he is going to get any highlights this week.

It takes about 30 minutes to get everyone up, and then the next team takes over. It is almost like a practiced routine with these professionals, but Jungkook is not sure if anyone wants to get used to dealing with natural disasters.

They begin the post-mortem as soon as the rest of the team is hauled up. 

“Team 6 is inside. If this site is secured, and the cranes will be here tomorrow, we’re going to move you guys to the city site. They need more men down there. We have reports that the whole area is flooded, and we need to inspect it.” Hoseok states briefly at the end of the report, looking at his watch and taking back his seat at the main table.

The post mortem was rather hasty, but the progress is good, and Hoseok is not willing to delay his team members any rest. "Go get water and food, tend to your injuries, and rest. We need you all up in approximately 5 hours. Dismissed.”

Hoseok looks like he needs one himself—a long rest, Jungkook thinks, most probably more than the rest of them. His eyebrows are etched in a perpetual frown and his lips turns in an upward style, but the older is relentless. Jungkook knows that look, having been around him for years. While he looks calm enough like he was planning how to plot his garden or cook spaghetti—his dexterous hand drawing lines on grids, inside he is all complex calculations and plans.

Jungkook respects Hoseok for many things, but his calm, unpretentious, kindness is his best feat. Makes him the best Captain Jungkook ever had. Seokjin is still sitting on his desk.

“You gotta rest too Capt, you’re gonna pee blood at this rate.” Seokjin fiddles with a random pencil on the desk, his hurt leg looks off and bent.

Hoseok chuckles. “You guys go first, I gotta wait for Doojoon. He’s taking over in an hour,” Hoseok says, his words obviously directed at Seokjin, as the rest of the team has already made their way to their vehicles and tents, finding a place to rest. Jungkook fills his drink at the nearby water cooler, giving them some time alone.

Hoseok’s voice turns a shade gentler as he looks at Seokjin intently. “Get your leg checked, Jin.”

Seokjin stares at Hoseok, who stares at him back in between glances at his digital watch. Its 2 a.m., 22 hours after the last tremor, and Hoseok has been awake for 46 from his last shift. Seokjin knows.

The officer is solid and Seokjin fidgets for a minute, letting out a huge sigh. He knows best than to argue, and as he walks past, Jungkook does not miss the lingering, affirming touch he left on Hoseok’s left arm. The latter does not react to it, like he always does, but Jungkook knows the message was sent. That is always the way Seokjin and Hoseok roll.

Going into their truck straight from the infirmary, Seokjin quickly kicks away his helmet, gears and begins to stretch his limbs. He grunts before falling asleep as quick as he came, face now clean from the day’s work.

Jungkook wonders how it would feel like having a partner in the force, knowing they are purposefully in danger everyday. But they had first met each other while in the force, and both Hoseok and Seokjin trust each other more than anyone. They are living life to the fullest because they take risks. 

He needs some shut eye before the grueling work tomorrow but he cannot resist.

His thoughts always drift to Jimin on autopilot, whether Jimin had seen him when he came to the site earlier with the engineers. He had tried to make his way to the man in his slacks and white dress shirt looking a bit too clean for the wreckage and a little bit too worried for his own good, but Jaeyoung was screaming from a huge wooden splinter slashing through his thigh and Jungkook would not and could not leave his teammate.

They sent Jaeyoung to the hospital afterwards but Jimin was also gone with the rest of the engineers, and Jungkook did not get to say hi.

Jungkook wanted to say hi and wipe the worry away from his face.

“Get some sleep Kook, or you’re gonna be a log tomorrow.” Seokjin mumbles in his sleep.

Jungkook hums in answer, too tired to form words. He has to sleep now. He is starting to regret a lot of things but he has to sleep now. He clears his mind off two things.

 

Jimin. The thing he has with Jimin.

 

They have known each other for awhile now, for years—know that they are meant to be together. It does not take much to see it, they just are. Life falls into routine as they began growing out of their gangly limbs and chubby cheeks into tall, strong men, like fictional clichés.

And there are a lot of clichés, like firemen getting all the hot action everyday at work, which is only true in porno context. They get off more from their work hazards, the work sites, and not from lonely housewives. Jungkook chose the job mostly because it was a childhood dream, and stays because of the lack of bullshit. On relaxed days they would save cats on roofs and play games at the station.

Sometimes, they would join force with army officers and train with them, and assist in natural disasters. Other times, they would train by themselves. Perks of the job, he gets to meet a lot of people he respects, and also occasionally gets cute drawings from the kids he saves. Saving people is the best, and even when Jimin calls him the 'good ol' Clark Kent everyone deserves', and Jungkook would punch his shoulder everytime, he likes it.

Doing good for the sake of doing good, for good.

The cons are, well, getting hurt. Extra cons, seeing his team member getting hurt. Jungkook hates that the most, and as the youngest in the team, he truly holds his older members to the highest regards. He has come out of his shell a lot now well into his mid-twenties, but deep down he is always shy and reserved. The older teammates, his hyungs, never forced it out of him. He truly does not deserve them.

So routines keep him going. Wake up, go to his shift, train, save lives, and go back to bed. But there are other routines which he likes the most. Jimin routines.

They never call themselves anything, and never really did anything far, most times—from too-friendly touches. At least Jungkook thinks so, even if everyone disagrees and slaps the back of his head when he denies it.

The stares always linger, like their touches do. Jimin always stares at him for too long and Jungkook reciprocates just as much, if not more. It is nothing they do not like. They just like speaking through their retinas.

“Hey. What happened to your arm?”

Jimin had asked one day, his eyes widening at the long cut on Jungkook’s arm. Jimin had just came out from the shower, and his wet hair was dripping onto his white shirt but he had stopped drying them to rush to Jungkook’s side.

Jungkook groaned internally. He had intentionally hidden it under his long sleeves, which he absentmindedly rolled upwards while busy making potato pancakes. Jimin loves potato pancakes and rice for Sundays breakfast, and Jungkook would sleep early on Saturdays just to get into Jimin's house before Jimin wakes up. They know each other's door code.

“I was climbing down the roof for a case last week and almost fell. Got cut a bit on the steel pipes,” he answered nonchalantly. It did hurt like fuck, but Jimin did not need to know that. “We had it cleaned and stitched and forgotten. Don’t worry.”

Jimin was quiet and Jungkook knew the exact face he was making, the one that could make a Jungkook do anything for him. As if he does not already.

“Okay.” Jimin mouthed quietly, because that was the drill.

Jungkook had gotten hurt a lot in his first year and Jimin would flip out everytime. After awhile, and several depleted first aid kits, Jimin now knows Jungkook likes it best when he just takes care of him quietly.

Like taking over his laundry until his injuries heal. Or sending takeovers. Or cooking for him. Or driving him to work occasionally. It has been a lot of years together but not really together, and they are a part of a routine. Jungkook cherishes that.

His curiosity does not appreciate that. Jimin does not need to know he never really stopped thinking how he cherishes their shared routine too much to not give them so much more. He wants it, he wants Jimin, but he does not want to hurt Jimin either, or his family. He had hurt them and Jimin once, and he is not keen to do that at the expense of what he wants.

Like acknowledging how much they mean to each other.

Jungkook is not one to carefully pinpoint and craft his feelings out clearly in words; the masculine men trope in full play, and Jimin would not either. Jimin is amiable, well-liked and friendly, but just as closed off. They just live the way they had been from their teens.

People may visit their lives as friends and colleagues, occasionally people do get interested in them, but they know better to get in between.

Jungkook never allowed anyone in, and Jimin is always lovely to everyone that he would get misunderstood a lot whenever he declines their offers. It has always been them. Solid and impenetrable, but never really defined. People begin to learn to stay away after awhile.

Some connections are not made to break, even if it is not characterised and set in a certain way.

They are meant to be, even if they are not together.

Jungkook always thinks they are and they will be. He acknowledges that—sans the sinking feeling that comes with it, and begins to drift off into a dreamless sleep. 

 

*****

 

Jimin wakes up with a jolt, immediately checking the digital clock on his bedside table. It is 4 a.m., and he feels a full blast chill coming in from the open windows next to his bed. It began raining shortly after stopping at 2, to his dismay. Rainy days are beautiful and terrific, but not when you are in the middle of a disaster. Wet soil makes everything slippery and crumbly, adds extra volume to the flash flood. Visibility will be low and a lot of pits caused by the shifting plates can be flooded.

Rain is not welcomed in times of disaster.

He turns to his phone charging on the bedside, clicking on the number of texts from his team on standby at the action center. The telecommunication tower is not shut off yet, thank God.



Min Yoongi: Casualties rose up to 232. Exit 731 highway reported 89 so far. They’re hauling cranes in tomorrow.

Kim Namjoon: Yoong check up the blueprint for the city square. No reports of gas leak so far but it’s flooded pretty bad.

Ahn Hyejin: Checked it Boss, it’s updated up to July 2017

Kim Namjoon: Thanks Hyejin and everyone. Gotta get the kids in bed, will be in at 6.

Park Soojin: No prob, Boss xx

Min Yoongi: Get some rest everyone.

 

Jimin closes it with a click before turning it on again, to check the time, look at the lockscreen, the phone wallpaper. He does that a lot.

The photo was taken back in Tokyo, when Jungkook decided it was cute to take photos of them sleeping. Well Jimin was asleep, way into noon, after staying up all night googling places to go for the next day. Jungkook was just staring into the camera, wide-eyed. He had Jimin’s face turned towards him, all puffy and flushed after the previous day’s trip. He had made it into his lockscreen and Jimin’s lockscreen, and never changed it for some reason.

He can feel himself smiling at the memory. It has been awhile.

 

Jungkook always takes photos and videos of Jimin, his mind supplies.

The younger's phone gallery is made up of either screenshots of his game scores, photos of training drills, stupid bets they do at the station, the sky, and Jimin. Some of them were Jimin at his best, like when they went to Namjoon’s garden wedding and Jimin had worn khakis and a blue dress shirt and looked so light and happy.

Or his worst, like when they both went on their annual camping trip and Jimin casually stepped into a swamp he had thought was shallow but was chest-level, and almost got swallowed by wet earth. Jungkook’s high-pitched laughter was the accompanying soundtrack to the video, as he said more into the camera than to the wailing Jimin, “It’s not that deep, hyung,” while Jimin tried his best not to imagine snakes and leeches slithering into his shirt; yelling the whiniest ‘fuck you’ into the camera.

But his most memorable photo was one Jungkook took of him when they had just gotten back from his dad’s funeral.

Jungkook had stayed back a bit at their hometown to help out with the procession and the packing up, while Jimin returned to the city for an emergency meeting at the City Council. His boss had insisted that he should not join them, but Jimin knew he needed to escape. Jimin is not a big crier, and he is the eldest son, his father’s pride. He was glad he could say goodbye, but he needed to get away.

The grief had muted after a couple of days and he needed to keep it that way.

The meeting dragged on for three full hours. Jimin was roped in onto the new situation with land developers and contractors as soon as he had came in, which helped him forget his grief for a few hours. He had stayed in until they finished off everything at half past six, and he was one of the last to leave.

“I thought you’d never leave.”

Jungkook was standing beside his car, a black Wrangler he treasures so much. He had looked tired, his white dress suit wrinkled and opened, revealing the white shirt Jungkook never not wear. Jimin silently wondered how fast did Jungkook drive from their hometown to get here after helping his family pack up. Jungkook loves speed too much sometimes.

“Hop in.”

“How long have you been waiting?” Jimin questioned, approaching Jungkook who had already made his way into the driver’s seat.

“Been here since 6. I met Namjoon hyung, we chatted a bit. 'Said you’re gonna leave soon so I didn’t call.”

“My car?” Jimin gestured to his own car as he passed it on his way to the jeep's passenger side, a seat he was accustomed to from the first day Jungkook had bought the jeep.

“I’ll send you to work on Monday. Leave it here a day or two.”

Jungkook began driving away from the premise after they got in, waving his hand at the guard who would know him so well. He comes often to send and fetch Jimin from work. Sometimes Jungkook would come into the office to say hi to the older man's colleagues, just because he wanted to. It is also a friendly city. Everyone who stays for awhile would know everyone who had stayed for awhile.

“Where are we heading to, Kook?” Jimin let out a sigh and took off his suit, tossing it to the back alongside Jungkook’s, leaving a heap of black suits on the vacant backseats. “I needed to sleep actually. I haven’t had much sleep. So did you.”

“I know. Sleep now. We’ll be there in an hour. I’ll wake you up.” Jungkook replied quietly, and Jimin hummed in answer, like they always do.

They always speak to each other in some sort of like a quiet exchange, something which is only shared between people who have been with each other for years and know basically everything about.

Seokjin once said it is like watching old couples tell secrets over afternoon tea; speaking about the weather, knitted sweaters, pregnant cats, bits of odd news no one but they care about. It is all comforting talk, saying a lot with so little.

It only took a minute for Jimin to be out like a light; lulled by his own exhaustion, a faraway grief, his driver’s voice crooning to the song on the radio—or was it Jungkook’s woody Burberry perfume which has permeated through the car’s leathery interior. Jimin had bought him that as a Christmas gift back in 2015.

Jimin remembers waking up when it was already half past seven, about half an hour after they had arrived at the parking spot. He was woken up by the sound of paper bag and the scent of burgers and fries enveloping the car. Somehow in his sleep, he did not even realise Jungkook went to a drive-through to get food.

“You didn’t wake me up. Where are we?”

As if on auto, Jungkook carefully unwrapped a burger for Jimin and handed it over, gently curling his fingers over the bun as if Jimin has never held a burger in his life. It was Jimin’s favourite, beef with extra onions and cheese. BBQ sauce, loaded lettuce falling off the bread. Bits of olive pickles.

“The usual place. Tell me if you need a toilet break, I’ll drive us back to the gas station.” Jungkook chatted along while he squeezed extra spicy sauce into his own burger. Triple beef, extra cheese, all the sauces he could get his hand on. “It’s pretty cold outside. I went out and had to run back in.”

“What were you doing outside? Can you even see anything?” Jimin asked while peering outside through his window. It was a lake they always frequent during fall, a place far northeast. Away from the city, the clock hand stays mute, the radio some mere harsh static. It was all heavy woods and a beautiful lake. Lonely streetlights. Closed shops at seven.

Darkness falls quickly in this region, and the lushness of the surrounding wilderness added into the darkening depth.

“I was taking photos, and then some.”

“You peed didn’t you? Did you wash your hands?”

“Of course I didn’t. Smell your burger, got my pee on it. Musky.”

“Kook c’mon—“

Jungkook was laughing into the burger at Jimin’s loud, exasperated groan. Occasionally the sound of cicadas would get too loud and remind them they were somewhere faraway; the darkness is an absence of artificial lights and not because the streetlights had malfunctioned. They were breathing with everything around and inside the lake. It was fascinating.

And they are eating burgers, sloppily, five days after Jimin’s father’s death. The thought hit Jimin on his last bite and he chowed through it before wrapping everything up and opening the door a bit to wash his hands. Jungkook was right, it was pretty cold.

He turned to Jungkook who was watching him, his burger long finished and resting in pieces safely in his belly. Only remnants of grease can be seen on his lips, wrapped around the straw of his cold Coke.

“Are we going to sleep here?” Jimin asked quietly when Jungkook kept on staring at him. He was used to it but he could not read Jungkook's face well in the dark.

Jungkook finished his drink with a big slurp, and three additional short ones in between the ice, before tossing it into the paper bag alongside the burger wrappers. He does everything to the fullest, Jimin always thinks.

“Nah, we need to shower. But we’re staying here for another hour.”

They had been together for such a long while that asking ‘why’ would seem redundant, so Jimin just went along with it. Their plans always included both of them, never anything selfish, and he was sure Jungkook was doing this for him.

“Thank you Kook, you did more than I could, or did.” Jimin began, trying to see Jungkook’s face in the darkness of the dusk as the latter shook his head. It was a bit difficult to see, but they were close enough to see the outline of each other's face. Jungkook has developed laugh lines along the years they have been together. He is younger but he has more wrinkles than Jimin does.

“Did Ma send you off?”

“Yeah she did, she looked okay when I left. You know how Ma is, she was even joking around with the urn,” Jungkook said with a chuckle. Jimin’s mother is no longer just Jimin’s mother, and Jimin knows Jungkook feels blessed to have a wonderful person to fill that gap in his life. “She cried a bit when I left actually, but it wasn’t because of your dad.”

Jimin tried not to take notice of Jungkook’s use of ‘ma’, and ‘your dad’, as if they are talking about two different families.

“Why?”

Jimin waited for Jungkook to continue, as the latter turned his face to the side window to peer outside and above—as if waiting for the skies to change its colour from purplish red to utter darkness.

“It wasn’t because of anything in particular. She just felt like tearing up when she looked at me, she said.”

“Did she tell you why?”

Jungkook took some time to answer that, his pupils dilating to adjust to the darkness outside. Jimin wondered how he could stay so wide-eyed with the exhaustion.

“She said that they had a wonderful life together and there isn’t anything else she’d ask for. She had him all to herself and it was enough.”

Jimin had a feeling that Jungkook was not telling all. “And?”

“That she hope… it’ll not be too late for you.”

Jimin gulped but stayed silent.

“And me.”

Jimin sighed, his breath now a little wet. His nose stung a little and he wanted to clear it up but he did not want Jungkook to notice. They both had a long day.

But Jungkook knew, he always knows. He felt Jungkook’s calloused hand holding his not a minute after, their fingers intertwining. The black and gold Fossil digital watch on Jungkook’s left wrist dig into his thigh as he pulled it into his lap. In the darkness, Jimin shed his tears, some soaked into his shirt but a lot of it was on Jungkook’s front, alongside some sauce spatters.

 
Months after that as he went through Jungkook’s phone like he does everytime he could, he found the photo from that evening.

He was sleeping, covered in Jungkook’s suit, head lolling to the side window. Jungkook was outside, so the photo was aesthetically taken from the passenger’s window from a distance. But the sky was pink and indigo in light of the welcoming dusk—all beautiful and welcoming, a whole backdrop for Jungkook’s four-wheels. Jimin was crying in his sleep.

Jimin had looked exhausted and sunken—nothing but beautiful, even beneath the window reflecting the evening skies, even amidst the burst of colours, even in his grief. He knows it was because it was how Jungkook sees him.

Jimin stops staring at the phone wallpaper, and rolls onto the other side. Waiting for the morning, waiting for the rain to stop.

Waiting for Jungkook.

 

****

 

By 7.30 the whole team and the others begin to move out from the site by trucks, some by army Humvees and personal vehicles towards the city center.

Seokjin radios the city's temporary rescue station, letting them know about their whereabouts. Hoseok stays back at the highway site, only joining them in the evening. Jungkook saw him talking to Seokjin and knew they were trying their best to stay sane. Hoseok especially. The captain would not want his men hurt, let alone his husband of two years.

“Jungkook, grab some extra gas mask from the vault. We’re not sure if there'd be any gas leakage.” Jackson speaks from the driver’s seat, his eyes looking straight ahead, the usual mirth gone. “There weren’t any yesterday, but they didn’t have enough time to check the malls’ basement.”

“Paramedics on site?” Jungkook questions while pulling out all the gas masks he could get.

“Yes, and Red Cross at the rescue center nearby. Taehyung is manning one at the city center.” Minho chimes in. “Shifty grounds, so we need to evacuate victims quickly. No reason for the medical team to stay for too long at the site.”

Not long after arriving they begin revising the tactical briefings given earlier by the Captain. Almost fifty men are on site now, rushed from other secured sites to take over the city center. Half of them would move towards the east to check the other parts of the town. Hoseok’s team and another two stay in the area for the mall site, their team being the earliest to arrive.

Taehyung, Seokjin's younger brother comes over to greet the rescuers with his team, his tent empty save for a few officers getting replenishment.

All survivors are moved to the refugee center after they received first aid, so no survivors are lingering around the mall pavilion. It looks peaceful for a second, devoid of civilians but uniformed men, until everyone remembers there could be victims trapped underneath the rubble of the shaken mall. Or an impending gas explosion if there are any leaks.

While the damage is colossal, the buildings still stand straight, with half the floors damaged. Roofs hang stoically with wires and lights tangled in odd fashion, like they are not weighed tonnes.

Jungkook takes the surrounding with a huge inhale. It is going to be a long day.

Right about three hours in and eleven victims found in the first few shops they were in, they are already bathed in their own sweat, having to move in and out of the premise to transfer the victims. The heat is unnerving and testy, even when they have made peace with it as veterans of the rescue squad.

Seokjin, who rarely sweats like the magical creature he is, already looks like he just came back from rolling twelve times in a mud pool.

“First floor, left and right wing is secured. Team B on bound second floor. Over.”

Static fills the air as Seokjin heaves a huge breath, lungs heavy as if he is choking on dust.

Roger that,” a voice is heard confirming the report. 

Next to him, Jungkook is breathing heavily, bending forward on his knees. Jaebum, Daniel, and Minho are drinking from their water bottles. Jackson and Yugyeom are peering into a locked shop, supposedly not open at all on the day of the earthquake, but they can never be too sure. Jaehwan stands rooted to his spot, staring at the rubble.

“Breathe, Dan. You’re gonna choke on that if you don’t,” Jaebum whispers to Daniel as the said man heaves. He is a new addition to another station close to theirs, only six months in. It is a given he looks a bit green in the face and red in the cheeks, having to face one of the largest earthquakes to hit the city in 20 years. Daniel had to join their team as he was roped in later than his team, after a few of his team members were injured in their rescue mission further up north in the residential area.

Jungkook feels sorry for the guy, remembering how he himself had looked like on his first mission, handling a gas leak in a paper factory. The memory still sends shiver down his spine some days. Even Jimin hated to be reminded of that time.

Jimin. Jungkook does not like it when his mind strays sometimes, in the middle of work. Like it often does, as if a huge force of a magnet keeps him rooted to thoughts of Jimin. As much as he needs to finish work here and they are all praying that the tremors have stopped—and at least not to happen when all of them are still in the building, Jimin comes first.

He wonders if Jimin is worried, or if he is having his dead fish look again, biting his lower lip as he goes around trying to act busy. Jungkook knows he does.

“Take ten, boys,” Seokjin begins to fiddle with his gears after clearing his breath a bit.

Looking at Daniel mostly as he speaks, Seokjin continues. “Check your gears, and if you’re not feeling alright, tell me immediately.” His voice is stern and lacking of his usual comic, but his gentleness permeates the heavy and dusty air, and even through the darkness which was lifted a bit through the lights on top of their heads, Jungkook can see his care and love for the team.

Seokjin is best at that, and Hoseok is a lucky man. They are both lucky in a way a person can be when they have almost all they want, but never seek for in the first place. When Jungkook first joined the station, the two men were still friends. Hoseok was not promoted to his post yet. They used to joke around a lot, the two comical duo. They still do; but back then Hoseok was more or less more carefree and less busy.

Seokjin is everyone’s small hyung, as there were a few other officers more senior than they were. Both in their mid thirties at that time, Jungkook never realised when they actually began dating openly. He had thought they were both straight, or that Seokjin was asexual at some point. The man had never showed interest in any topic of romance or sex for the matter, never showing affection for anyone. Even with their team members he is always playful and platonic, so the news of his relationship with Hoseok was a heavy but gentle surprise.

Hoseok has had his own share of girlfriends but never one he openly talked about in the station. Jungkook cannot recall anyone memorable in particular. Even when they had begun dating openly, it was rarely shown in an open manner; with Seokjin opting to joke around as usual and Hoseok laughing his tinkling, boisterous laughter as always, like he does with everyone’s jokes.

But sometimes during the station's quiet hours, Jungkook would catch them talking in hushed whispers and gentle tones. That is their essence, a relationship built on gentleness and subtlety in such a steel-cut, hard and harsh career. They are happy, in a gentle way.

Jungkook and Jimin are always intense, "in a rock star kinda way,” Yugyeom always says. Jungkook does not know why, but he agrees, in some ways.

He feels himself snorting at his own thoughts, berating himself for thinking about romance in such a place and time. Someone else’s, Seokjin's to be exact, not even his. Jungkook always places that as his self-defense mechanism, always running away from his own thoughts on his own life to someone else’s. At least he does not have to make choices, he can just observe and not take wrong or right steps, or hurt anyone. He would not want to hurt anyone, not Jimin especially.

He feels a slap on his shoulder as Seokjin brushes past him.

“You guys ready? Let’s go.”

 

*****

 

Jimin is fixing the buckle on his leather belt wrapped around his waist, a toast dangling from his teeth when the phone rings.

He picks it up in an instant, pouring in a glass of orange juice as he does. Harsh winds keep the rain blowing onto his windows in a sharp angle, loud splatters that kept him up from wee morning. It blurs the view from the house to the outside street. Jimin could not even see his car. 

“Hi Ma, morning--”

Thank God they didn’t switch off the telecommunication tower yet."

“Yeah-”

How is it over there? You’re having breakfast? You’re okay?

Jimin munches on his toast before answering.

“Heavy rain still, I don’t see it slowing down any soon. I am, beans and toast. Have you?” With the next question, he takes a bit of time inhaling his breath, swallowing a huge chunk of the toast as he does. “I'm okay.”

Did you even sleep last night?

“Yeah." Jimin half-lies. "You-“

Jimin, listen. I know it’s your job but, when are you leaving the city and coming home?

“Ma, the earthquake is a city over, and chances it would happen again in a city an hour away is approximately-“

I don't care about your percentages and calculations. I want my sons back in my arms.”

Jimin loves his mother’s voice, it eases his worries and anxieties and places him in a huge cloud of comfort. When she is sad, her voice turns a notch higher and it kills him a bit.

“I know Ma, me too. I think they would issue an evacuation notice soon if there are warnings of that. So far this morning we haven’t had any warnings from the Meteorological Department. They’re expecting afterquakes but you know... we can never be sure. We’re needed here.”

He fiddles with a button on his collar after washing his hands, contemplating whether he should button it all up or leave one unbuttoned. He leaves it like that. “At least if anything happens to me I’ve talked to you-“

Oi. Heard from Jungkook yet?

Jimin gulps the last of his orange juice and stops his ministrations.

“He's still at the highway wreckage, I think. I saw him yesterday and he looked okay. He is stronger than I am, I'm pretty sure he is. Don’t worry Ma.”

Of course I worry. Jimin if anything happens-

“Ma-“

Listen. When he comes back, I need you to do something.”

Jimin is wearing his socks on the couch, the call put on loud speaker. “Yeah?”

Be honest and clear with each other. Don’t waste more time.

Jimin does not know where that advice or warning come from all of a sudden, and merely answers with a questioning hum. 

I need to tell you something.

Jimin fidgets in his seat, staring at the phone as his mother apparently takes some time to drink, which he assumes from the sound of cup leaving and meeting its coaster.

He can almost imagine his mother sitting at their dinner table, her elbow on it. Her milk tea sits half-finished, lukewarm. The apron is slung at the back of her chair. Instead of the usual contemplative look, she could probably be staring at the kitchen windows like Jimin does now. Occasionally she would look at her reflection on the tea, like Jimin does with his phone screen.

Are you still there? Jimin?

“Y-yeah Ma, you were saying.”

Honey, I‘m sorry I took some time to tell you this. Listen, your dad…”

She pauses.

Jimin gulps, he does not know why the topic of his late father is suddenly something his mother needs to discuss now.

Whatever your dad told you when you were younger, all he ever wanted was for you to be happy. That’s what he told me a day before he left us.

Jimin hums to himself, trying to ease from the mild shock.

He never said it explicitly, you know how he was, but I could see how sorry he was for putting you… and Jungkook, especially, through that. I think he’d always have regrets about it. But on his deathbed I guess he could see what really matters in the end. You matter, your happiness matters. Love matters.”

A huge yet sustained sense of relief and fear washes over him like a cold shower in the middle of winter. He feels elated, scared and worried too. Every single worry over Jungkook’s safety which he keeps pushing away from his thoughts comes back in hives.

“Oh.”

Jimin, do you understand what I’m saying? He wanted you to be yourself. Be with whoever you want.” His mother’s voice rings deep in his ears, ascending and shrilling, as if she wants her words etched on his mind. “He made a mistake, but you know how big of a pride your dad had. He wouldn’t spell it out loud but I know what he was saying.

Jimin takes half a minute to collect that in.

It has been years. Years of pushing away his feelings, of being told he was wrong, and now his mother is telling him he can feel? They can feel? It is a lot to take in, good news or not. He does not even know where Jungkook is right now. If he is even okay, or alive. He begins to panic.

Jimin does not realise the single drop of tear rolling down his cheek until it falls onto the back of his hand, clasped in another on his laps.

“D-do you think so? Do you think he will be happy if he sees... me and him?”

I know he will.” His mother’s voice sounds almost similar to his, a gentle lilt lining her strong voice and even stronger words. She is a woman of convictions. 

Even if he isn't, it doesn’t matter. It’s your life. The dead dealt with their lives, the living must continue with their own. I didn't give birth to you and raised you this strong and this smart, to have someone else holding you to their own principles. He did, and I hated him a bit for it, and he knew. He only told me that so I could tell you-

Jimin runs his fingers through his hair, half-relieved and half-frustrated.

-so you could forgive him. You and Jungkook.”

The stress is getting to him. It is almost a quarter to ten and he barely moves from the couch, legs rooted to the carpet.

“But why now Ma? Why now? Does Jungkook know?”

He does. I told him that, the day you left after the funeral. He told me he would wait for you to come round. I wanted to tell you then but he asked me to wait, because he still feels guilty for everything that happened between you and your dad.

Jimin could hear his mother’s slow and heavy exhales.

But mostly, he doesn’t want you to feel overwhelmed. You’re all that he has.

The rain is heavy, all-consuming; calming and unnerving at the same time. Jimin notices the distant sparks of lightning and waits for the huge roars of thunder to follow soon. They shake the roofs the moment his eyes begin to water again, but they only pool within his eyeballs. Jimin does not cry a lot.

"I need to tell you now, I'm worried about you both, your safety. With everything that is happening, or will happen, for the love of God, I don't want you both to have regrets."

Jimin lets out a dry sob at that, the regret seeping into his vein like the knits on Jungkook's sweater slung on the couch next to him. Jungkook left it the last time he came over. Jimin reaches out to touch it, craves the lingering scent on its fabric. 

I love you, Jimin. Take care, son. Come back when you can. Tell Jungkook I said hi.” 

Jimin murmurs back the same words of love to his mother, as if she would not catch the wet in his voice. He tells her he will try to go back home soon, and he will tell Jungkook their mother said hi.

He has put Jungkook through enough shit to last a lifetime. And he is scared shitless that he will not get to see Jungkook again.

 

Jimin knows his late father was not a bad person.

He was far from it. He worked his job at the post office well, he trimmed their neighbourhood garden for free, he volunteered twice a month at the old folks center. He taught Jimin the value of kindness and hard work; a hard man brought up in difficult circumstances. Jimin looked up to his father a lot, and everytime he began his long lectures on something he believed in, Jimin made it rule.

Like how filial piety is a key to a successful society, and elders are the foundation of one. Like how trees should always be planted overlooking the eastern mountains, not the western beaches. Like peeling fruits with the knife’s blade inwards, for safety. Like drinking soju only when everybody is asleep, out of respect.

Like not falling for men, or his own bestfriend, because it is wrong and unnatural.

It was not always the case of him liking men, or any man. Jimin never noticed it before, at least.

He was not from the city, never mingled with people with woke, revolutionary thoughts who would be more open to ideas. Liberal ideas, internet articles about causes with headings he did not care about. Rainbow flags, men in love with men, women in love with women.

Sure he and his friends were touchy feelly but they had never thought it was anything but platonic. They had joked about homosexuality in ways an ignorant person would, but they never took it far because they did not know much, never met any.

Jimin was far from challenging ideals, being raised as a filial son and a so-called masculine man like his dad was. He held his liquor well, played sports, cussed like a man of the seas, dealt cards with dexterous hands, smoked a bit or two in social gatherings. He would went on to serve the military later on when he turned nineteen. He was on his way to solidifying his father’s ideals of a man as the eldest son.

That was when the cloud crashed in. In the form of Jeon Jungkook.

 

***

 

A hundred meters inside the kid’s department store, Jungkook can already smell trouble. Jackson is already walking quickly to the direction of the wreckage.

“Got a man over here!”

They begin running towards the said man, semi-conscious, body kept still under a ruin, a fallen roof on a narrowed hallway. Child mannequins lay in heaps all around them; disfigured, missing prosthetic limbs. The man’s head is bleeding, his breathing heavy and close to collapsing with the intense agony. He was yelling for help when they spotted him.

It is getting stuffier the more they stay in, and the man needs breathing assistance.

“Sir, what’s your name? Do you know where you are?” Seokjin asks the man simple questions to keep him awake while checking his vitals. His nimble fingers work quickly to get the breathing apparatus ready.

The man mumbles incoherently, saying a ‘Kim’ and ‘daughter’, ‘mall’. He looks like he is well into his thirties, given that he has this much strength to withstand the pain. Even when he is slowly losing consciousness, his hand keeps slapping Seokjin’s arms like he wants to tell him something in his state of delirium. Next to them, Jackson radios in the situation.

Jaebum inspects the men’s left leg looking bent in an awkward angle.

“We're the rescue team and we’re gonna get you out, Sir,” Seokjin continues as he bends forward, putting his ear on the man’s lips to hear what the man is trying to tell him. “Your daughter? Was she here with you? Pink skirt?”

Upon hearing that, the rest of the team begin frantically searching the said daughter in the now dusty, and dark hidden corners of the first level. It is a large mall, and even with only three levels, they have a wide area to check. While most workers knew the safety procedures and had taken cover when the earthquakes had struck, most customers did not know where to run to. The uninjured staff mostly fled the building once the earthquake stopped, leaving the trapped and injured behind. Most of the victims they transferred out were customers, and only a quarter of the number were the mall staff.

They had only met this man halfway through the first level.

“Over here!”

Daniel’s exhilarated voice beckons for the rest of the team to follow his tracks towards the left corner of the store, the light from his helmet a beacon in the darkness. Upon arriving at his spot, what they see is half what they already expected.

Half of her small body now lies still on the dirty floor, the rest remaining hidden underneath the rubble. Blood is not seeping out anymore from underneath the tiny body, now dried by the debris and bits of broken cement. Her pink polka-dot skirt covers her bruising thighs and legs, the only parts visible to the men.

Daniel looks like he wants to cry and vomit at the same time, and Minho turns his body around and nudges him forward gently.

There is nothing they can do now for the little girl. They have to rescue the living first, and they do not have much time.

Jungkook looks over to Seokjin, and one look could tell the older that it is anything but good news. Thankfully the injured man is not awake enough to register anything. They begin preparing to take him out, lifting his body on a rescue stretcher. Meanwhile the rest of the team try to see ways to remove the girl’s dead body.

Jungkook walks forward into the department store a little more, not quite ready to see another child’s body.

It is their thirty-fourth dead body of the day and it has not even reached mid day.

Jungkook is tired.

His boots, which he has yet to take off from yesterday feel tight, his toes dead. Seokjin's injured left leg looks like it is getting worse. Jaehwan looks out of it. There is a long scratch on Minho's right cheek from a stray wire.

Even in the blackness, with only their flashlights as the lone light source, and the occasional voices from the walkie talkie as background noise, everything feels unreal.

Jungkook hopes it is. 

 

**

 

Above them and miles away at the highway wreckage, Hoseok and the other team captains receive an update, a warning.

By now, the thirty-six year old man's face is almost bloodless. The telecommunication tower has been shut down, and they need to get that information in right now by satellite phones. The information must be relayed to the people at the other sites as well, including the mall site at the city center where his team is. He needs to be sure. To make sure.

Hoseok turns to a junior officer on his right who is shaking in his seat, snatches his own safety helmet from his seat, and walks away from the tent.

He does not recognise his own voice as he screams.

"Get them out. Get them all out!"

*