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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!"

*

Chapter Text

******

 

They had met when Jungkook was fifteen, and Jimin, sixteen.

They were neighbourhood kids whose parents were friends of each other simply because they were next-door neighbours, in a way most of their children bonded on the football field or the neighbourhood's fishcake stalls.

Jimin was not that close to Jungkook, the latter being a bit more into himself and never really hanging out much with his peers. He played by himself most times.

Jungkook spoke very little, and Jimin was the loudest in his already loud troupe of suburb kids. They did not exactly mix.

But Jungkook’s mother was a ticking bomb; a normal jovial woman in her wake, but a detonated C4 whenever she was wasted. Or when she was just stressed in general.

Jimin’s mother began taking Jungkook in when she began noticing him waiting for hours on the front step after school. His own mother was inside and they all know that, but she would not let him in sometimes—whether it was because she was drunk and asleep, or whether she was angry at something he did not or did do.

They never asked. And Jungkook never knocked on his own door or pushed the bell more than thrice.

Jimin was often curious why Jungkook did not have his own set of keys, and why he would not just hang out at the town’s cyber café to play games if he knew he would keep coming back to locked doors. The deep rumbles of his empty stomach answered that.

He had looked skinny and malnourished, as opposed to his mother’s similarly skinny but dainty looks every morning, as she passed by their windows to go home from work at the crack of dawn.

Every day after school and their supplementary class session, they would walk back home together in silence like Jimin’s mother made Jimin promise her.

“You’re his hyung, take care of him!” His mother would say.

His own brother often opted out, wanting to go somewhere else with his friends. They were in the same grade; Jungkook and Jihyun, though Jungkook was in the Engineering stream and Jihyun in Science, which explained why they would never really speak much to each other. Jimin knew Jihyun was just being a tweenie brat who had his own ‘too cool for school’ friends, but both Jungkook and Jihyun did not look like they mind it much, so he let it go.

Jungkook did not speak much anyway, and followed his words obediently without questioning anything. It did not take long for him to be a comfortable, much-needed presence, a permanent fixture in Jimin's life.

 

Sometime early in their companionship, Jimin would catch Jungkook staring at him lot, and it was weird in a way that was pleasantly weird. He knew that Jungkook needed a brother figure or a close friend for a fact, but it still unnerved him in some ways.

Like always, Jimin would cut the tension with his boisterous laughter and overdramatic antics, in an effort to get Jungkook to show any other expressions other than a mundane, disinterested, blank face. He would show his latest Kendo moves he learnt at the dojo, show Jungkook the video of the latest idol group he liked, twirl in the middle of the street like an amateur street dancer.

At least Jungkook smiled a bit after that, began joking around a bit. It took him a couple of months to come out of his shell to Jimin, and after that they were inseparable.

 

They would visit the comic book store to get the latest One Piece manga Jimin wanted every other day. Meanwhile Jungkook would hover nearby, listening to him babbling about the latest updates.

When the weather got too chilly, and they had to wear a little bit more than their uniforms to school, they would always stop by street stalls to eat fishcakes and drink the hot broth together. They ate it when it was sunny too.

As soon as they were home and changed into house slippers, like naturally their mother would rope in their sons to help in the kitchen, forcing them out of their uniforms. The older Jungkook now loves cooking, and the current Jimin thinks it was all thanks to his mother, who would actually let Jungkook cook their meals sometimes whenever he was over at theirs.

Jimin was more than happy to share his mother with Jungkook, and even more now as they grow into wholesome, fully capable adults. Jungkook goes back to visit his mother more than he does, especially after the passing of his father.

Jungkook knows all the tricks of the trade now, how to measure water well so that the rice would not get too watery nor too stiff. He knows how to make tasty, scrumptious kimchi, how to gut fish and seafood, how to cook seaweed soup for birthdays. Jimin's mother taught him all that. He knew where all the side dishes were kept in the fridge over at Jimin's house.

In retrospect, Jimin understands now why his mother allowed such room and liberty in her kitchen for Jungkook—allowing him to roam around her solid turf, her territory. For one, it is giving power to a powerless child, which meant so much for his development. Jungkook was not allowed to choose where he came from and the kind of life he has to live through, not until he is an adult at least, and small pockets of freedom like these beget them the small smile he shyly gave at every single praise. 

Secondly, Jimin now thinks it was his mother rebelling against his father, even if the past Jimin and Jungkook did not have the slightest clue what was broiling underneath all the warm promise of their home.

Jimin allowed that too, giving free access to his room and his belongings like Jungkook is an extension of himself.

Jungkook showered at their house, stayed the night sometimes. His toothbrush was the yellow one in Jimin and Jihyun's shared bathroom.

He would sleep on a futon with two pillows bought specifically for him, would lie on the floor neatly tucked into blankets every night like a kimbap, literally and figuratively. Jimin would wake him up earlier than usual so he could go home and change uniforms. He was always a rock in the morning, still is.

Most nights he would leave after eight, after fruits and snacks, or when his mother finally sobered up and would yell for him to come home. It was a routine they all get used to. He was always welcomed to stay but he would opt to go back most times.

Both his parents and Jimin would look out everytime for signs of abuse, never really directing questions about that to Jungkook himself. They never saw any, and assumed he was not physically abused, but emotionally Jimin knew he was a wreck. Jungkook’s mom was not a bad person, she loved his son, the only one that she had.

She would say so everytime, as she spit and clenched her throat raw at the neighbourhood’s monthly gatherings over meat and soju; openly delirious and intoxicated.

“She’s just a person consumed with her own suffering, I guess. Makes it difficult to see people around her sometimes,” Jungkook would say everytime.

He had never looked angry, even his disappointment was bland and muted, like a watercolour paint soaked in too much water. Jungkook then did not delve into his feelings much. So the Jimin then took that as that.

They never talked about Jungkook's father, although Jimin knew he had left the family when Jungkook was three.

Left to fend for herself and her baby, the abandonment took a toll on her, made her weak. It did not excuse whatever she was doing or not doing for Jungkook as a mother, but it was one of the reasons why she was too sad to properly care for anyone else sometimes, not even her son.

 

Human beings are flawed like that, Jimin had thought. You can love someone so much and still do so in such flawed ways.

 

When his bestfriend, Sungwoon, suddenly came out to their small group of friends when they were sixteen; bawling his eyes out in the empty gym, Jimin was more than underwhelmed.

He felt pity, guilt, and curiosity like straight boys do when their friends told them they are gay. It took awhile for Sungwoon's sobs to slowly turn into silent tears, and then he began to smile again with their reassurances.

And then they had all asked Sungwoon if he had ever liked one of them. 

Sungwoon almost punched them in the face, already choking Jisung in the process, while laughing his usual loud, obnoxious laughter.

“What the fuck! We're the same as everyone else," Sungwoon yelled, laughing as he pushed away Minki's puckered up lips away from his face. "We don’t just fall for someone because they have a dick, c’mon! I thought you guys are smarter than that!”

Sungwoon would groan, every single time his close-knit friends began joking about him liking anyone deemed too soft or too handsome or 'too gay', Jisung would say, before his neck would get karate-chopped into submission. Sungwoon came from the city, and has probably met more interesting men uptown, the Jimin then would think.

He did not look like all the stereotypes of homosexual men Jimin knew, even with the littlest amount of exposure Jimin was spoonfed with. He looked like a ‘normal’, straight sixteen year old anywhere—a Captain of their school’s football club, a Class President, everyone’s friend, the guy gifted with the second most number of chocolates on White Day. He even had a girlfriend before he came out.

Sungwoon was never tired of his friends’ questions though. Jimin always thinks, even now, that Sungwoon was the coolest young, teen homosexual boy he knows.

“I just like them for who they are, and they happened to be boys,” he would say, everytime.

For some reason, even when Jimin and his other friends were accepting, telling Sungwoon they understood what he was going through, they were still ignorant at best. Jimin could not wrap his mind around the idea of liking men, knowing how stinky and dirty boys can get, with or without roughing it up in the field.

Neither was he the type to get super excited for girls, regardless of how popular he was with the girls with his good wit. He saw them as people he met everyday, his classmates and schoolmates. All of them were pretty, most of them smart, and girls always smell nice.

Even when he was asked to go out with some, and they did hang out, it was more good-natured and not sexual. They would go to the candy stores, accessories store or the arcade, on the pretense of the girls wanting to learn games from him, even when they were better than him most times. A lot of times they would act super cute, trying on a few hairclips for him to see and give a few praises, and that’s that.

 

Sungwoon’s coming out became Jimin's second sexual awakening after his puberty, where he began seeing people as people, like his friend would tell him one afternoon when they were both seventeen. It had been almost half a year since Sungwoon came out then.

 

“Min, I noticed Jae not talking much to me anymore.”

They were refueling, gulping down water from their water bottles after a nasty football match, one where Sungwoon was tackled a bit too harshly by a freshman. They knew why the boy did that, and decided to both get a time-out, Jimin already on the brink of punching a boy on the face. Sungwoon was not having it—his friend being punished in detention for him, so they left the field earlier than they had planned. 

“Jae? Yeongjae? Our Jae? Of course not, Woon! Why would he—”

“I understand that not everyone can understand, or accept it, but if you feel weird around me you gotta tell me,” his voice was sincere, in a melancholic way; eerily unlike Sungwoon who would joke around even when he was bawling his eyes out. Jimin felt his friend’s agony like his own.

He nodded in understanding and compliance, and they both became quiet, as they watched the rest of the club members kick the ball around in the school field.

They were only a quarter into their junior year then, another year and a half until graduation. They both knew Yeongjae came from a conservative, religious family, and he himself was one. It was not something he would welcome in his life as quickly as anyone else in their group would.

“Woon.”

Sungwoon hummed in answer, while Jimin contemplated with the question, having been thinking about it for awhile. He decided to just ask.

“How does it feel like? You know, liking someone. Like... how do you even know? What if it’s just a phase?” Jimin asked, almost nonchalantly if his voice was not gentle enough to tell Sungwoon he genuinely wanted to know.

Sungwoon chuckled at that, bending his body forward, rubbing his palms together.

“I think it came in waves, in my case. I was never that attracted to girls. I dated Yerim because I’d thought it was all in my head. Hurt her in a way,” Sungwoon sounded regretful and Jimin did not press on.

It was a nasty breakup and everyone and their mother knew that. “I’ve always wanted Minh- her brother more than I did her, and you also know that. But I didn’t. I guess kissing him was a revelation for all three of us.”

“Well he’s hot I would tap that myself-“

“You fucker!”

They laughed loudly at that, and began pushing each other like the good mates they were. They grew up together, from snot-nosed babies to hormonal teens, and Jimin saw Sungwoon like he still does to this day, a great person with a really genuine heart.

“I pity Yerim though, regardless of what she did after. It was uncalled for, to have your boyfriend cheat on you with your own brother.”

"Well, sorta."

To Jimin, Yerim did not think it through how her actions would affect Sungwoon and her own brother in a way. He cheated by kissing him, unable to brush off the attractions anymore, but Yerim had overstepped her boundaries by telling her friends and eventually the whole school about what happened.

The unintentional outing affected Sungwoon massively, and he almost failed his finals in Grade 10.

He was still a freshman. The upperclassmen were less apologetic when they heard about it, because they did not expect that from the freshman they favoured the most. Jimin remembered Sungwoon's cut lips and bruised cheeks in the earlier weeks. 

It might have happened during the year before and they have already advanced a grade now, but it had only been just about six months.

Sungwoon looked fine though. Sure, some of their friends stayed civil, but some were bordering rude. While most of them brushed it off like it was nothing, a few were beginning to stay away like he was a disease, unknowingly, like Youngjae.

Occasionally he would get the stares and nasty jokes, but Sungwoon was Jimin’s most level-headed friend and the smartest of their age. He took it in his stride, understanding the ignorance from its roots. To Jimin, Sungwoon was matured beyond years. He would always remind his friends when they got agitated over something someone said and were about to throw a punch for his sake, how it was not in the culture. Not everyone know what it is.

It did not matter if Sungwoon was their football captain, their beloved class president, resident jokester, and that they were all friends from the same primary school and middle school.

He is gay, and they did not like that part so much. There was not much he could do about it.

“Do you still like him now?” Jimin asked, genuinely curious.

Sungwoon was silent for a while, the question was a heavy one. “Yeah. I’ve liked him for a long time. I think I love him even. Takes time to recover from a first love like that.”

Jimin was baffled. “Why would you get over your feelings if you both like each other?”

“Nah I don’t think he’s ready. He needs to be Captain next year. He’s got a lot on his plate.” Sungwoon said while brushing off the stray grass on his shin-high football socks. "It's not that easy, Min."

Jimin understood that bit. Sungwoon took the blame for it all, saying he was the one who forced the kiss on Minhyun. Like the evening drama plot cliché he would tell everyone again and again how he fell for his deputy captain, how he thought Minhyun was hot. That was what he would joke around and tell people, that was what shut people up—his shameless bravado, self-deprecating jokes, and believable lie.

Sungwoon knew himself in and out, and he did not care if he was the butt of everyone's jokes.

His selflessness saved Minhyun from an impending doom for the next couple of years, even if Sungwoon’s life was affected surely, but he was too selfless to care about his own feelings.

Jimin knew it ran deeper than that for both Sungwoon and Minhyun.

Like every single storyline in a romance manga he would sneakily read whenever Jungkook was not looking, they were more than just ‘a hot body’, and ‘I got turned on so I kissed him’. It was more than just falling for Minhyun’s natural good looks or good nature.

It was their shared moments in the football field as the world welcomed the dusk skies, late aftenoons. It was those times when they would play games with each other at night, or good-naturedly joke around in the locker room.

Or occasionally in Sungwoon’s room, or Minhyun’s house where Sungwoon would say he was coming to hang out with Yerim but had to hang out with Sungwoon.

It was those months when Minhyun had a semi-fractured ankle and broke down in Sungwoon’s arms because he had thought he could never play again. Minhyun had never failed to look at Sungwoon like someone he would treasure for life—even when his stare looked empty and devoid of emotions after the incident.

Those days Minhyun would nod like all freshmen do to their upperclassmen, but this time to Sungwoon as well when they passed by each other—keeping the formality as a wall; a form of pretense, an arsenal to his reputation. He no longer touched Sungwoon freely, or stared at him for too long like he usually did.

Everytime they had to discuss something on the field for the sake of their team as captain and vice-captain, Minhyun looked at Sungwoon like he was staring at a wall. Jimin wanted to kick him so bad.

“Min. Have you ever been attracted to or, you know, loved someone?” Sungwoon asked in the middle of his crashing thoughts, catching Jimin by surprise. These few months have been all Sungwoon-Minhyun conflict, all he cared about and talked to Jungkook about. So when the question was directed to him he was mildly surprised.

“You mean like a crush? Me?”

Sungwoon nodded.

“Yeah. I guess. I don’t even know if I like someone until people tell me I like them,” Jimin answered honestly, laughing to himself, remembering a few times his female classmates would come to ask him if he likes them because he was too nice to them, or smiled at them too much.

“I don’t think you ever did though, Min.”

Jimin raised his eyebrow to that, turning his face towards Sungwoon.

“Sure you treat people well almost to the point people would misunderstand, but that’s just you being civil. You are kind. But you’re kind and everything else, that’s you. You're only yourself when you’re with us.” Sungwoon smiled at Jimin.

“And Jungkook,” Sungwoon added on. “More so with Jungkook actually.”

When Jungkook came into equation, Jimin became confused. Sungwoon was not trying to imply anything, but Jimin never realised that.

Sungwoon continued, despite Jimin's lack of reaction. “When you love someone, you want to show them your whole being. You want to be the best version of you, give them the world. I don’t know much about life but I think that’s how I know I love someone, that I love Hyun.”

Jimin inhaled all that information in, trying to etch it in his head, as Sungwoon rambled on. “It doesn’t matter in what form or gender they are, I like him for him. That’s how I knew. And when I began imagining stuff I would do with him and only him, that’s when I totally get it.”

Jimin understood a bit more then, and the epiphany was somewhat pleasant. Terrifying, still. He would want someone for who they are too, and not just because he needs to want someone. “Are you scared, Woon?”

“Shitless." Sungwoon replied in a second. "I mean, there’s a lot I don’t know. We have a lot to learn and do in our lives. I just wanna be able to love myself in the process of it all, and do things right, y’know?”

Sungwoon turned to look at Jimin in the eye. "I don't wanna live like I'm not living, I don't want regrets."

They sat in silence for a long time, Jimin’s thoughts askew and mismatched, but the newfound realisation sat in his tummy like dormant butterflies. He needed to talk about it with Jungkook and ask him how he feels about it. Jungkook did not speak much back then but he always had interesting opinions. 

Sungwoon decided its time for them to join the boys in the field after a few more minutes, and he had to leave his thoughts behind on the bench.

He remembers going back and discussing it with Jungkook. The months that followed.

 

He remembers the time Jungkook came out to him.

When it all truly began.

It happened on one unsuspecting weekend afternoon, a rather breezy one.

Jimin's parents were out to visit some relatives, Jihyun cooped up in his room as usual. Outside, some kids passed by Jimin's bedroom window, their kites hovering past the open window and behind his legs which were perched on top of the sill.

The boiling June heat was beginning to simmer down to a cooler temperature, and it was a good day to be out. Jimin had missed the easier childhood days, now that he was staring at his Technical Drawings book, head dangling from his bed.

With his back to the wall and a guitar on his lap, Jungkook merely gave clipped answers to Jimin, entirely focused on his ministrations.

Jimin was enthusiastically talking about Sungwoon's new love interest, too excited about it for some reason. Knowing how happy Sungwoon was at that moment, and knowing it could finally work out for his bestfriend, Jimin was more than elated. He was trying to move on from Minhyun anyway.

“Fuck yeah.”

“Hey, no bad words.”

Jimin snorted, at the same time Jungkook nudged the older’s waist with the blunt head of his guitar, getting him to wince and dodge, simultaneously falling on the floor. Seconds after that he was aggressively kicking Jungkook’s left shin. They were too violent for their own good sometimes, too violent for Jimin’s good.

His body was bruising too much, Jungkook was getting a little bit too big, bodily, for his soul those days. A little bit too strong, even when he was only sixteen.

“I mean fuck yeah! I could be gay, and I’m ready for it. Looks like fun.”

Jungkook remained momentarily quiet at that. He looked at Jimin wearily, as if he had just explained to Jimin some mathematical equations he could not seem to get, even if the role was usually reversed, non-hypothetically. He shook his head and turned to his guitar, plucking on the strings from where he left off.

“Hyung you don’t just say these things out loud, goodness,“ he mumbled. "How can you be sure about something you don't even know about."

“What now Kook. There's nothing wrong with being gay. Look at Sungwoon!"

Jungkook just continued picking the strings, muttering the songwords or the name of all the deities he knew, just to block off Jimin's incessant rambling. "Do you like Sungwoon, Jimin?"

"No! He's my bestfriend! What even?"

"So? What about him?"

"I mean, I was saying... I could like anyone. I think I would."

Jungkook did not reply to that.

"Hold on, Kook."

Jungkook stared at Jimin impassively, like he was ready to bail any minute.

"Are you a...” Jimin went silent, and Jungkook would too, but he continued picking the strings like he was ignoring the whole fiasco, which was Jimin ranting about Sungwoon for the past 30 minutes. Jimin looked at Jungkook as if he was trying to lobotomise his brain, his eyebrows furrowed needlessly.

“…homophobe? Are you a homophobe? Dude? What the fuck.”

Jungkook stopped at that, and looked up to Jimin. Finally looking at him in the eyes.

“Hyung, the last thing I would be is a homophobe.”

“Then why-“

“I’m gay. I can't be both homophobic and gay.”

He continued picking his guitar strings to the tune of U2's, like he had not said anything surprising to Jimin, like it was not his biggest secret, like Jimin should have known.

Jimin continued staring at him, not knowing what to say, or why his palms were suddenly clammy. Jungkook simply began crooning the songwords with nicely accented English, missing the rough, husky voice of Bono. His voice was too gentle for that.

At least Jimin stopped talking at that, answering with a simple exclamation after thirty seconds or so. “Oh.”

“Yeah, hyung.”

“How did you f-find out? When?”

“Hmm?” Jungkook looked up momentarily at Jimin, who was wiping his palms nervously on his boxer pants, looking like he either wanted to bolt out of there the minute Jungkook speaks, or like he wanted to cut open Jungkook’s head, with his wide-eyed, curious stare.

Jimin’s eyes are naturally slitty and sharp, and everytime he would widen them, he would look adorably scared more than anything. Jungkook wanted to punch him a bit and then hug him to death.

“I don't know... I just. I like someone."

Jimin inhaled sharply.

"He happens to be a guy. I don’t know when it started though. So, naturally I guess I'm gay.”

“Oh.”

“Yep.” Jungkook punctuated the last consonant with a smack of his lips.

“But you like IU though?” Jimin supplied dumbly, even when he knew the question was dumb. He needed to make sure Jungkook was not just confused. This was big.

Jungkook hit his head on the guitar's wooden body with a small thud. “Hyung, IU is a celebrity- what are you even... If you see it like that, everyone is gay. I’m sure everyone here loves Jung Woo Sung or GD, or Chris Evans. This is like, like-like.”

It took a bit for Jimin to contemplate things thoroughly, always feeling like he knew everything about Jungkook like the back of his hands. Jungkook is his little brother, his personal bestfriend outside of his peer group, and he knew he was Jungkook’s only bestfriend.

“Wait- who again? Did you tell me who you kinda like-like?”

Jungkook looked alarmed, turning back to his guitar. He looked strangely focused even after looking like he was done with Jimin just a few seconds before, like he was ready to leave in a minute.

“It doesn’t matter, hyung. Guy is as straight as a ruler. Let’s talk about this some other time, please?" Jungkook did not look crossed, in fact he actually looked flustered. "I need to practice this before Mom comes home.”

Jimin hated it when Jungkook looked uncomfortable and decided against asking anything else. 

His curious interrogation session ended as Jungkook began singing the first line of the song. He was joining the Autumn Festival as a performer in a few months, and he had wanted to perform this song so much, a personal favourite.

Jimin liked it too, after Jungkook carefully explained to him word by word what the song meant. They had listened to it on Jimin’s bed, a shared earphone in each of their ear. Jungkook kept the guitar in Jimin’s room, not wanting his mother to find out. It was convenient anyway, with Jungkook being here three quarter of his day.

He turned back to his homework, before looking back at Jungkook. His Jungkook, who just, five minutes before, openly confessed he was gay.

No waterworks, no emotions. He had looked the same; like the quiet Jungkook he had always known, cherished, and wanted the best in the world for.

He was curious of the nameless boy which set Jungkook’s sexuality in stones, knowing how difficult it is for the boy to like anything or anyone, but they could save it for another time. They have all the time in the world.

He only hoped the boy would not be as cute as he was.

 

*****

 

“Yoongi, go home!”

Namjoon’s voice can be heard from the vicinity of his white-walled office, his yell dry and exasperated, lacking in emotions.

Yoongi stays petulant, looking like a personification of a dead fish on his chair. On another angle he looks like he is trying to emulate a melted cheese, trying to magically fold himself to mold with the office chair, quite unsuccessfully.

“Nah too lazy.”

“You stink, man. You’re stinking up the whole room.” Jimin butts in from where he stands, taking off his jacket. His black hair bears a distinct contrast to his vanilla white sweater. 

Jimin dodges a handful of pens thrown towards his direction from across the room. His mug is safe from the attack or else he would have to drink some ballpen-soaked coffee soon. He needs a pick-me-up so bad after the talk with his mom earlier in the morning. It does not help how he barely got a wink last night.

“I gotta wait for the MD report, the team says there'll be an update this morning.” Yoongi gestures towards the moving image on his screen, a topographic map of their region from yesterday’s report from the Meteorological Department.

Jimin looks over in interest, eventhough he has seen that image for a million times ever since the earthquake happened. This was yesterday’s, and Jimin is already curious of today’s.

“You didn’t tell me there’s an update-“

“You guys would rush in the minute I say it. Anyway Jimin I talked to Tae this morning-“

Yoongi did not get to finish when Namjoon calls them all up for an impromptu meeting, his face mournful and focused. His stance, distressed. Jimin just came in, and he does not feel too good. 

And then the bad news comes.

“The telecommunication tower is shut down now, we are to evacuate immediately. There are warnings of another earthquake, or afterquake, a second wave. Probably the plates shifting. They’re worried that yesterday’s quakes were just forequakes, means today it could be worse. We’re not sure when, that’s the problem.”

Jimin tunes out the rest of the meeting as soon as the orders are given. His mind is a collective amok of different degrees.

The thing with mother nature which gets to Jimin is, she is not evil. She is never evil. Even when she destroys everything and kills people in her way, out of protesting or just letting go of her frustration, it is all in the naturals.

No one blames mother nature for what she does. Jimin does not. He is feeling rather solemn but he does not. He does not know what or who, he is going to lose to mother nature. But he does not want to blame her.

Namjoon begins elaborating further on the procedures, and what they are going to expect, and what kinds of documents they have to secure and save. Most importantly, they just have to leave quickly. Even relatively far away from the next town or city, the City Council staff are still taking precautions.

All the department heads like Namjoon have already briefed their teams, and everyone is overwhelmed to the point they feel underwhelmed. The mayor has left earlier, moved to a safer place.

The rescue centers are taking precautions too, extracting as many victims as they can into the next state earlier in the morning. They have a lot of people to move. Jimin does not even know where Jungkook is at the moment. He does not have a satellite phone to contact Jungkook’s team, and a personal call would unlikely be appreciated at times like these.

Yoongi is getting his hard discs and motherboards, making sure everything is packed into a suitcase. Soojin and Hyejin are sharing one suitcase, probably finding it easier to move together.

The interns Baejin and Daehwi are helping Gikwang push trolleys of recent blueprints outside. Namjoon is inside his office hauling only the important documents into brown boxes. He had taken back a lot of documents home yesterday, like Jimin did, and is left with just a couple of boxes.

It is chaotic in a way that is systematic, like Namjoon always likes it within his team, like how he keeps it in the office even with their tight deadlines and a demanding Mayor.

Ironically, that is exactly how Jimin is operating at the moment. Chaotic inside, systematic and robotic outside. His mind a field of landmines, like one of Yoongi’s dismantled CPUs—all wires and nothing working.

Once he finishes packing, he takes the mug of coffee he has yet to drink even a quarter from, and takes it to a sink where he pours the rest in. He cleans it diligently, then puts the mug on the drying rack with the rest of the dishes. It looks like it is snug and home, a big, white mug with bold capital letters spelling “Happy Sunny Day” and a yellow smiley face next to it. He had won it at last year’s inter-department family day.

Jimin hopes the mug survives, whatever happens to them next.

Yoongi watches over from his desk, whatever colossal crisis Jimin is having with the dishes in their pantry. He laughs to himself, knowing he feels the same way too. Everyone feels the same. Even Hyuna, one of the most elegant, senior engineers who would remain calm in the most chaotic times looks like she is seconds away from bawling.

It is a good department, with good people, and a good office, in a good town. There is a lot to miss.

Jimin remembers starting here not less than four years ago, beginning as an intern in his final year. It was his first professional job, at a place he wants to work at for a long time. He had worked hard and slaved his ass in engineering school and university to get here, sacrificed his social life too, just to do what he does now. It is making him feel a lot of things, when everything feels like it would be taken away from him.

Even if he is seconds away from losing his life, he still thinks about the things he treasure in life. His job, the people he has worked with, his family, his small house.

Jungkook. He thinks of Jungkook.

Jungkook worked hard to get where he is too. Right after finishing military, he enrolled in the fire and rescue team opening, immediately working his way in to become one of the strongest firemen Jimin ever knows.

And Jimin knows a lot of strong ones, he has befriended Jungkook's colleagues over the years. He worked with them in various events.

He wonders where they are and what they are doing now.

He thinks of Seokjin and Hoseok, the lovebirds that remind him of all things possible. They hang out a lot when they can, almost like a double date. Jaehwan, Yeongjae, Yugyeom, Jackson and Minho, the troupe with the most wit. He remembers Jaebum and his beautiful wife and their two babies. He remembers older senior officers who have retired. And the young ones too, freshfaced and eager to please. 

Jungkook was once eager and fresh-faced too, he is everyone's baby. He is Jimin's baby still. 

Jimin's brain has the worst timing. Jimin remembers a lot of things. 

 

Like how they began.

 

One would think students have all the time to have all that romance and weekend parties with red cups like Hollywood films he watched a lot, but Jimin hardly doubt they would think so if they were Asians. Or Koreans. At least not before university where drinking parties with seniors are almost weekly.

Half of his teen days were spent in school, the afternoon in the football field, Kendo, or the Robotics club he was apart of—everything to complete a well-endowed university application. Preparatory school, study room session, and homework in nighttime.

His walks with Jungkook from school to home were getting later in the evening as they progressed through the years—only getting out of school when the sky has turned soft hues of yellow and orange, bones fatigued from the day’s work.

Jungkook stayed behind often too for his afterschool activities, but sometimes he would wait for Jimin, practicing his guitar when he could. He was in Art and Photography club, and Boy Scouts, the cutest thing. Jimin liked it best when Jungkook wore his uniform, complete with his red and blue rolled scarf, ready to tie some knots. Jungkook was always a man of wilderness. He loves hiking and camping, likes it best when he’s out of with the nature.

Jimin thought he made wise choices with his activities. Jihyun, his nerd of a brother remained totally clear of that or anything that would require him to sweat, his mind set on academics alone.

But in overall, they were all exhausted as fuck.

And the year end autumn festival was a welcoming time, great food, fun activities, a small break from school before the long year end, winter break. Jungkook would perform too, and Jimin could not be more than just excited. This would be the first time Jungkook would perform in front of anyone who was not him or Jihyun, and he wanted Jungkook to have the crowds cheering for him.

He thought of Jungkook's secret admirers who would send him letters and texts, white chocolates on White Day. They would be losing their minds once they see Jungkook strumming and picking the strings, and probably faint once he sings. He has a beautiful, raw voice. He would have more secret admirers after this. 

There was a vile feeling of unease creeping in on that thought. Jimin felt weird for a bit, and pushed it away. 

He would want the girls who were openly fans of Jungkook to be able to enjoy his performance too, but he felt pity for them in some way, not knowing there could be hypothetically zero chance of getting together with Jungkook. Even Jimin has more chance being with Jungkook than they do.

Jimin remembers thinking it was weird that his thoughts stray that way, and pushed them away. 

Jimin wanted to be there for Jungkook, he wanted to give what he could to help. He had been practicing with Jungkook all of their free time together, the latter needing someone to correct his tones and pitches when he sings. Sometimes Jimin wondered if Jungkook was just making excuses to have Jimin praise him or something, seeing how he usually did not really have much problems with it after all.

Despite all that, knowing how much he was pampering Jungkook with his attention, Jimin wanted to give his all.

He wanted Jungkook to have the best of him.

"When you love someone, you want to show them your whole being. You want to be the best version of you, give them the world". 

Jimin's mind supplied, unhelpfully.

Wait.

Jimin remembers telling his mind and his hand to wait. 

Hold on. 

Jimin remembers telling himself to hold on. 

“Hyung.”

Jimin did not notice the concerned voice, as he continued to carefully and dexterously knot the tie around the boy's collar in front of him, like a robot whose purpose was to tie ties.

“Hyung.”

He made a wrong knot. He untied it and tied it again.

“Jimin hyung!” A hand held his, as he tightened it to the person's neck. “You okay?”

Jimin looked up and saw Jungkook looking at him in concern, “Oh? No.”

“What-“

“I mean, yes. I’m okay. You okay?”

Jungkook did not look at all convinced, but he ignored it anyway for the sake of Jimin. He had hurt his left hand then in a recent expedition with the scouts, making it quite painful to flex his palms. Thank god it was not both of his hands. Thank god Jimin was there to help him everyday.

“Yeah.”

“Okay, let’s go. It's already 7.15.”

Jungkook followed him obediently, Jimin was avoiding eye contact as if he got an infected eye. 

Jimin remained silent all the way to school, worrying Jungkook a bit. Jungkook had looked like he wanted to ask the shorter boy why he looked lost all morning, but remained quiet nevertheless. Jimin noticed him glancing his way a lot.

He took a little bit too much time though, and a female classmate stopped Jungkook halfway inside the school. 

Jimin, who finally noticed the missing freshman from his left, looked around for a second before turning around to face Jungkook and the girl. He waved a quick goodbye before Jungkook could say anything, heading for the third level where the Engineering upperclassmen's classes were.

Jungkook nodded at him shortly, unable to mask his disappointment and his discomfort at the girl who would welcome him every morning as if he needed a host.

Jimin climbed the stairs a little bit grudgingly, not liking the sight for some reason. The girl was the prettiest girl of Jungkook’s year, one of the sweetest too. Jungkook had said he was gay, but Jimin did not like it. He did not like it one bit.

They have yet to talk about the boy Jungkook likes. It has been half a year, two seasons after that afternoon.

Jimin was getting impatient. Homework and studies and afterschool activities were heavy on his mind, but so was this. He wanted to know who was it Jungkook liked so much, liked more than he did Jimin. 

During school hours they usually hardly hang out or even see each other much, nor did they have recess together. Jimin always ditched his lunch for some rough ball in the school field. Jungkook opted to sleep in his classroom, most times. Jimin usually did not roam around the freshman level either, now that he was no longer one.

Today was unusual for him, this whole year has been unusual for him. He found himself walking towards the freshman's level.

As Jimin strolled around the level, a few freshmen greeted him, knowing who he was and all. A few students came out from the toilet with toothbrushes in their clutches, clearly done with their lunches.

He looked at the boys walking ahead and the few loitering around the area, wondering if any of them was the one Jungkook mentioned. Jungkook has a very clear distinctive taste, and he was more choosy with people than he was with food. So Jimin had to scrutinise everyone he saw, taking note of the things Jungkook like or dislike.

Jungkook is messy, but he likes cleanliness, so definitely not the boy picking his teeth openly over there. Or the other guy laughing too loudly, Jungkook usually avoided loud people (except Jimin). Jimin passed by a cute boy too tall for his age, that could be the person. But he was too tall, so no.

He stopped at Jungkook’s classroom, peering into the windows from outside. Half of Jungkook’s torso was spread across his wooden desk, his bandaged hand safely positioned on the desk away from any danger, most likely his own growing body from pressing onto it.

A sleeping Jungkook is a hazard. He sleeps like a log. Jimin was convinced he could even kill himself in his sleep.

He was sleeping on a Calculus I textbook, a passdown from Jimin, which contained their shared heritage of doodles. Jungkook was lucky Jihyun did not like pass-me-downs.

A yellow water flask with a lid which resembled a duck stood next to his bandaged hand, part of a lunch set Jimin had bought for himself but Jungkook was now shamelessly using as his. Jungkook still looked and seemed like a six year old to Jimin, even when he would gloriously drink like a pornstar when he used that damned bottle. Jungkook was also the type to not give a fuck so Jimin let him use it. Half of the stuff Jungkook use, were in fact Jimin's. He felt strangely pleasant at the fact.

Jimin also knew, that while his eyes were glued shut, earphones in—that Jungkook’s mouth was hanging open. Even when he was facing the windows and not Jimin. Jimin knew how he looked like, how he did it. Jimin always does.

Jimin knows every line and dot that makes up Jungkook’s face like no one else. Not the girls who fawned over Jungkook, or the boy which made Jungkook realise he was gay.

Jimin knows Jungkook best, and so does Jungkook with his own self.

Shit.

“Hyung, you want me to wake Jungkook up for you?”

Jimin only noticed a person was trying to talk to him when he felt himself shivering, in some sort of an epiphany. Soohyun, Jungkook's classmate was standing on his left and looking at him curiously.

“I'm sorry I wasn't listening? What was it?”

Soohyun laughed. “Hyung, you came for Jungkook, right? Do you want me to wake him up?”

Jimin felt a bit attacked, eventhough that clearly was not the boy's intentions. He was only trying to help, and Jimin was just strolling past Jungkook's class. Not purposely seeking him out.

“What makes you think I’m looking for Jungkook?” He laughed awkwardly, not entirely convinced of his own words.

“But it's you."

Jimin did not fully get what he was saying, frowning at the boy in curiosity.

"You and Jungkook only see each other anyway, who else would you be looking for?”

Soohyun nailed it.

 

 

****

 

“Kook, hold her head in, on the count of 3.”

Right on ‘one’, Minho firmly dislodges the body from the steel pipe covering it, trying his best not to mess with the structure.

Jungkook is already trying to calm the frantic woman, delirious from the loss of blood and the shattering agony running through her body. Yugyeom takes the tube from Jaehwan as he passes it over to recheck the location for the last time. Her left leg is crushed under the structure, and they are trying to extract her out as quickly as possible.

“Maam, we got you. We got you,” Jungkook soothes the woman, holding her IV, while Minho and Seokjin give medical help to her crushed legs, wrapping them up to get her out. She is already breathing through a tube and falling into a comma.

“We stop here. Let’s move her out. Jackson, radio the guys in,” Seokjin instructs, checking the last store on the level in case they are missing out on anything. His limbs feel like it would fail anytime now, and they need to go out before that happens.

They have basically covered the reachable areas on the first level, and the second team should take over to do another sweep to the level again.

The basement and lower ground are flooded as expected, and they have not gone down the level yet as the whole building has collapsed. There are no way in but a gaping hole on the floor another three store over.

Minho holds the stretcher with Jaebum, while Jaehwan keeps the pressure on her legs. Jackson is second in lead, holding an unconscious small girl about five year old in his arms, while Daniel paces forward quicker than his team to lead and clear the way for the men to walk through.

Seokjin and Jungkook follows closely but far most behind, keeping their eye out in case they are missing something—a leg, a head, blood, an eyeball.

It has been a few hours in now, and they are exhausted beyond relief. Jungkook does not remember ever being this weak. But the lack of oxygen is killing him and his eyesight, the debris making them cough in unison. 

Jungkook plans to rest a bit outside before going in again. He needs water, and natural lights. The lights from their flashlight is burning his eyes and giving him double visions. Seokjin is limping tragically too, looking a bit too worn out for a second day. 

He also plans to call Jimin to check on him, his gut feeling telling him that Jimin is okay but he needs it. He needs to hear Jimin's voice. 

 

On normal days they do not usually talk that much on the phone, with his shift hours and Jimin's long work hours. They meet when they need to. They remember each other's door code by heart, and meeting is always better than talking on the phone.

Sometimes Jungkook would straightaway head to Jimin's house from his shift, sleeping on Jimin's couch like he owns the place.

Sometimes he would wake up when Jimin is whipping up breakfast for them both. As often as he goes over to Jimin's house, Jimin hardly sleeps over at his. He would say something about not wanting to mess with the bachelor pad and Jungkook's dating life.

Jungkook usually does not say anything to that, knowing full well they are just excuses. He just goes over to the older man's instead and make himself ubiquitous to Jimin. 

Back when Jungkook was in training and Jimin was in engineering school, they texted a lot when they could, which was not always. Jimin was studying in a university a state over, and Jungkook could not afford to travel to him that much. Given the fact that that they were also walking on eggs on certain stuff, the distance was a good reliever, a much needed mediator.

Regardless of that, Jungkook has always been useless with phones and communication technology. Jimin had lamented too many times how his phone should be donated to some kid who would really find a use for it, seeing how he seldom even charge it. 

When they were still in school, he had to change his phone number often as it was passed to people without his consent. He really hated it when he got random calls at night or lewd, dirty texts. After all that he could not care less about it. He even left his charger over at Jimin's.

One night when he was sixteen, Jimin had asked him about it. The older boy had been acting weird for a couple of months then, so Jungkook was surprised with the question, expecting something else to be thrown at him.

It had been September then, and the warm summer nights were slowly turning into cooler evenings with brighter skies. 

“What do you do with all the texts, Kook?”

Jimin had asked while he sipped on his banana milk, intermittently messing around with Jungkook's guitar. They were at the neighbourbood’s playground, where Jimin played too much at, and Jungkook never familiarised with.

It was chilly as it was turning fall. Just another month short before the festival.

“What texts?” 

Jimin strummed some weird combination of chords. “Texts from girls? Boys? Or do you get letters? Do they write letters instead?”

“Oh. That. I don’t give them my number though?” Jungkook looked at him blankly.

“So you don’t get any?”

“I do, but I don’t exactly know where from and how did they get my number.”

Jimin simply hummed. "That explains why you changed your number a lot." 

Jungkook just nodded, opening another bottle of banana milk. He was addicted to that thing.

“What do you say when they text or call you?”

“I just... don’t say anything. I usually just ignore them.”

Jimin sighed. “What about the boy you like?”

“What about him?” Jungkook wondered why the sudden need to interrogate him on the use of his mobile phone. Jimin was the one who would keep it for him most times. He still does sometimes even a decade after.

“Do you text him?”

“No. Told you he’s straight. I don’t even know where my phone is half the time, hyung.”

Which was honest and true. Most of the times, it was Jimin who would slip the phone inside his pocket, or bag because he would forget. Jimin charged it for him, at his house. Even the passcode was set by Jimin.

“How do you like him if you don’t text him?”

“Do I have to text people to like them? Is that a thing now?”

Jimin ignored the question which came with his question. He looked agitated for some reason. Jungkook did not understand why he was getting too aggressive then.

“Is he in the scouts? Your A & P Club? I know everyone in the scouts and the club? Who?”

“Hyung-“

“Is he tall?”

“C’mon”

“Is he older? He’s a senior?”

“I’m gonna leave-“

"Is he-"

Jungkook remained silent and looked at Jimin earnestly. Several boys their age passed by the park, bouncing the basketball on the court. One of them raised their hand to Jungkook, who waved back a hi.

"Is that him?" Jimin's eyes widened.

"Hyung no that's Sungyeol, my classmate."

"Oh."

Jungkook had thought he would stop at that, but then he began again.

“Is he cuter than me?”

“No. Yes. No.”

“What the fuck-“

Jungkook was getting frustrated with the rain of questions and decided to just give Jimin what he wanted. “Jimin. You wanna know that bad?”

“Y-yeah?”

“You're gonna be there at the Autumn Festival right?”

“Of course! I‘m gonna go watch you perform, don’t worry. I just have to man the food booth for awhile.”

“I'll tell you who it is then.”

Jimin finally shut up, his lips forming a circle around the straw of the banana milk.

Jungkook left early that night, seeing the silhouette of his mother leaving the house from the park's swing. By that time Jungkook had already made his own set of keys, and he could go home anytime. But he never did leave Jimin’s house for good. They had a set ritual and he kept to it.

Jungkook smiled at the memory. It was a beginning to some good, and bad things. It is bittersweet how sixteen year old Jungkook was braver, more courageous than the twenty-seven year old Jungkook now. He wishes he had as much guts as his past self, making promises like that.

He still remembers how Jimin looked back then. Bob cut, thick hair. Lovely as always, baby fat still heavy on his cheeks. They were still of the same height back then, but not for long.

Adulthood has somewhat milled and churned Jungkook to be a milder version of who he was. Nowadays, he is more laidback than he ever was; less shy, more patient, but too cautious. The kind of person who would wait instead of telling, who would keep things in instead of letting things out. 

He has to call Jimin once he gets out. It is bugging the hell out of him, nagging at his conscience.

 

The stench of blood and the saturated dust inside his nostrils bring him back to the present.

 

Seokjin notices the man lagging a bit and comes forward to slap his back. "You alright, Kook? We're going out now, hang in there."

"Yeah, hyung." Jungkook smiles at him a bit. There is a smear of drying blood on Seokjin's cheek, from the newest victim. In fact, all of them have blood splatter all over them. Thank god for gloves.

"Hey Daniel can you take over the tube and stretcher for me? I'm gonna clear the path ahead." Yugyeom asks Daniel, who accepts it as soon as he gets to it. 

The whole mall is eerily silent now, save for the static of the radio and voices of other team members radioing their status to the captains on the ground. Funny how the quiet lets you hear all sorts of things, like bells ringing, coughs, silent screams. They turn their head a lot to find it, only to realise it is just the wind getting in at weird angles and making weird sounds. 

Before it even occurs to Jungkook how deep inside they are now and how it would take them thrice the effort to extract the two victims, it all suddenly becomes silent. Only incoherent static of the radio comes in once or twice. Jungkook is sure everyone in his team can feel the chill this time.

“Team Alpha One Three, we need you to evacuate the site immediately, there’s a sudden warning of an earthquake.”

On Jackson’s answering call to the radio, Seokjin begins yelling for them to haul ass.

The radio is filled with a lot of answering calls from the other team upstairs, and all of a sudden everyone is yelling for everyone to evacuate.

“Go! Go!”

They are almost halfway across the second wing, Yugyeom kicking everything on his way to help clear the area as quick as possible. The child in Jackson’s arms is still out like a light, her hand dangling as if she is waving for the rescuers to run faster towards the exit, towards the light.

Jaehwan is running behind Daniel, his hand secured under the stretcher to help them move faster. They are all at their wits’ end, exhausted and dirty, and losing their minds from the heat, saturated air, lack of oxygen.

Seokjin’s left leg limps worse now than it did one hour ago, and Jungkook could feel the agony emanating from his hyung’s body as he runs close behind him.

A sudden cloud of debris and cement dust fall onto their safety hats, get into their eyes, as rescuers from upstairs also move hastily to leave. Only their pants could be heard through the occasional voices from the radio.

"Fuck I can't see!" Minho screams, letting go of one of his hands from the stretcher to brush the dust off his eyes.

Then it turns silent, before a booming voice is heard in the radio.

“Incoming. All rescue teams, take cover.” The voice remains calm, but there is nothing calm about his tone and everyone who hears it.

“Fuck! Guys take cover!”

 

Almost like in all the fantasy films and childhood stories they have all watched and read one too many times, the ground shakes and growls like a dragon waking up from a deep slumber. They are all just the small little creatures stuck in its belly, waiting for it to vomit.

It begins with a mild tremor, much milder than yesterday. The structure however was half-demolished from the first time, the ground sunken. Jungkook looks at Seokjin in front of him as he runs behind, extending his arm to hold him straight, the narrow opening not allowing them to run side by side.

“C’mon boys! Haul ass!”

Two meters in front of Seokjin, a metal pipe, 20 centimeters in diameter looks like it is ready to take a fall anytime now, like broken veins in a dragon’s belly wavering around as it belches.

For the second time in his life, Jungkook is truly scared.

He wants to go out. He wants to breathe the outside air again. He wants to see Jimin.

Then all hell breaks lose.

 

***

 

When Namjoon dismisses them one by one, hugging them each, they all begin to leave the building solemnly. Rushed, but still collectively calm. They wave goodbye to everyone, wishing for everyone to take care, be safe. Hoping the bleak days would pass soon.

“Jim, where are you heading to?”

Yoongi’s voice can be heard from the hallway where he just walked out from, already back from his second trip to take his stuff. Namjoon and Ara are the ones still left with the chiefs of the Human Resource and Finance department, making their last sweep of the offices.

The City Council’s internal police are checking the office level by level, room by room to make sure everyone has evacuated, to perform the building locking procedure.

“I don’t know yet.”

“Go home Jimin.” Yoongi says in a clipped voice, pushing his black bangs off his face. He looks sleepy more than anything, like he is not in the middle of a life-threatening crisis.

“Yeah sure-“

“Listen, I talked to Tae this morning. He’s in charge of the mall site medical team. Jungkook was there. He went in-”

Jimin almost lets go of the boxes he is holding in his arms, but his body remains stiff. He continues walking towards the car. They are already halfway out in the rain, the thick, sharp rivulets attacking his skin and making it itch.

Namjoon brings Ara to her car with his umbrella before he gets back to where Jimin and Yoongi are standing to fetch his boxes from Jimin’s hold.

“He went in.” Jimin remembers the warning of flood, gas leak, second waves at the mall's area. They just discussed that yesterday. He can feel his heart sinking.

“Yeah. They had to secure the mall area. But I’m sure-“

It is a moment of clarity, a moment where Yoongi’s words break his heart more than it already is, before the ground seems like it moves. It almost feels like they are on a ship and it is swaying gently. Mild, coaxing lullabies even, if not for the screeching sound coming out from where the wind hit the window glasses at weird angles, forcing weird sound vibrations.

The earth is moving, and a banshee is screaming, and the small amount of staff left in the vicinity was running away from the building into the open field.

“Shit!”

"Duck everyone! Find a place to hide!"

Namjoon falls while running. Seeing that, Yoongi runs to Namjoon and grabs his arm, getting them to run where everyone is running towards.

Jimin stays rooted in his place, boxes gripped in his hold, watching the windows break, and the building he worked in all his adult life sways a bit.

It is an old building after all, mostly sturdy, young in some parts. The building will survive, they have good engineers and architects who will keep it strong for years.

A policeman grabs Jimin’s arm and ducks his head under his hold, screaming for him to run. Jimin will survive too. Namjoon will. Yoongi will. Jungkook will.

He does not know if Jungkook will. He does not know what's happening to Jungkook.

His heart riots.

 

**

 


“Hyung!”

The remaining roof crashes down upon the narrow hallway, right about the second Jungkook pulls Seokjin away from the falling steel beam. Seokjin falls on him in a weird angle, injuring his leg a little more.

Only half a minute after, they are already scrambling to their feet and running for the closest protection, a lone receptionist desk on a faraway corner, about 20 meters away. It is the closest they have to safety from the falling roofs.

“Fuck! They’re trapped!” Minho screams from the other side, halted by the fallen debris. They have moved closer to the entrance, and they can see the light outside. 

Jaehwan looks behind and see the boulder of concrete cementing the way in and out. “Jin! Kook! You okay?”

“Shit! Shit!” Jackson almost loses hold of the girl as he falls, Yugyeom helping him up.

Even among the deafening whistles and growls of the tremors, Jungkook can hear Minho and Jaebum screaming for them, their team mates probably stopping and finding shelters of their own. They could make it, they are already close to the entrance.

“Run! We’re okay! Run!" Jungkook screams from the other side, Seokjin's right arm on his shoulders—running the opposite direction from where they are originally headed to.

Seokjin can only wince in pain as he runs with all his might.

“We’re getting out, we’re gonna get help. Stay where you are Kook-“

The tremors suddenly stop, the grounds staying still. Across the cities, people begin to rise from their crouches, coming out under the desks, fallen cupboards. Halfway in another city, another town, Jimin stands still looking at the City Council from a distance, drenched in the rain.

The mall building stops moving too, but everything else in it, as if the earthquakes breathed into them a second life, does not. Everything creaks, and crashes, and explodes in debris.

Seokjin and Jungkook are about a couple of meters away from the table, two brawn men ready to hide under a tiny table.

All of a sudden, the ground shifts beneath their feet, leaving nothing but air. Jungkook feels himself floating for a few seconds.

“No! Fuck-”

Seokjin’s yell is the last thing Jungkook hears before he feels a blunt pain on his head and his back. There is wetness on his cheek, and on his exposed skin. He feels Seokjin's body leaving him.

And then it turns dark, and remains dark for a long time. The quiet thrum of the awaking dragon slowly mellows out to a soft hum. The static from the radio remains the only thing loud, but muted under the fallen debris.

“Jin! Come in!”

“We made it out guys! We’re gonna get you! Jin? Kook? Come in!”

“Come on! Jin? Kook?”

Jaebum screams into the radio, knees on the ground in the pavilion outside the mall as he coughs from a sudden hyperventilation. The medical team takes over the victim, Taehyung already ready to perform the needed procedure to save the two victims.

He looks over at the team, still crowding the front of the mall. Minho is hunched over on his fours, his eyes glassy. 

 

“Fuck.”

 

 *

Chapter Text

*******

 

That year’s autumn was cold, one of the coldest falls Jimin has lived through all his seventeen years of life. 

Jimin remembers that year for a lot of things, like Jungkook surely would; albeit a lot differently. He remembers winning a state level robotics competition, turning seventeen, going to the Autumn Festival and grilling hotdogs. He remembers what happened the week before.

Just a week before Jungkook was about to perform for the boy he claimed he loves, his mother had died.

By then, it had been five years of her lonely battle against liver cancer when she finally succumbed to its calling.

The procession ran smoothly with the help of Jungkook’s relatives who came from cities and states away, faces mournful but alternately confused. There were a few uncles and aunts Jungkook saw a lot in his childhood, but was kept away from in his adolescence for reasons he mostly did not understand. They came and they hugged him like a long lost family member Jungkook never missed, leaving streaks of tears on his suit, and lipstick smudges on his cheeks.

His father did not show up, not even once, keeping his reputation intact.

They had known about it for awhile now—both Jungkook and his mother, how the cancer was slowly eating away her body. The boy had given up trying to help after a couple of years of his mom shutting him away, only saying she loved him when he was asleep; leaving money, her kisses, and oftentimes drops of tears on his hair.

Jungkook knew all that because he always went back home to fake his sleep like routine, just to have her hold his hair in softness and kiss his cheeks. She always left before she would realise his cheeks were damp with his own tears, not hers.

His daily pocket money that she drunkenly slipped into his wallet was little, enough to buy him a pack of bread and that was that. Everything else went to the painkillers and a lot of spirit—both a great company in times of pain. Jungkook learnt not to complain if that would work for his mother.

Jimin held his hand through it all, the moment he came by to knock on his door at 2 a.m. because his mother would not wake up for work. When the ambulance came and took her away, Jimin took Jungkook’s hands in his as the younger sobbed in the backseat of his parents' car.

The doctor who checked and confirmed her death told it to Jimin, who had Jungkook’s nose deep within his collarbones, losing his breath. They did not hold hands during the visiting procession, where guests and relatives came to give their last respect with white chrysanthemums in their hand. Until they turned their backs and Jungkook was forced to sit cross-legged on the floor—his suit immaculate and ironed sharp, a white band on his right arm sleeve; only then would Jimin slip his warmer hands into his cold ones.

Jimin fed him soup and water, keeping him alive even if he had already looked past dead.

With redness instead of white filling in his usually wide, clear marbles of eyes, Jungkook looked more lost than he was sad. Jimin’s mother still fed Jungkook food and everything else like no death happened that week, a sad realization on Jimin’s part on how disconnected Jungkook’s life had been with his mother long before her physical passing.

By the end of the week, Jimin had smelled like incense and smoke, and a lot of tears. He did not mind.

Jungkook did not speak much either, almost like his usual self, and the older did not expect him to.

On the fifth night, Jimin was asleep, mouth open when he heard Jungkook whispering something to him. He was too tired to open his eyes but he heard the small but sure words from Jungkook whispering into his hair, “Thank you hyung, for being here with me.”

 

When the festival happened, autumn was already in full swing. Fallen leaves of colours from various parts of the spectrum were a fantastic backdrop for a life that has come full circle.

He was not feeling it, being in school—grilling hot dogs, and chopping vegetables for people who continued on living without knowing a boy he loves had just lost his mother early that week. He wanted to scream to them to not be so happy, to not look so content, or to stop playing such festive music out loud. He wanted to do that, instead of taking their superficial hot dog orders.

All he could think about was Jungkook sleeping on his bed, in his house, trying to drown his sadness in his dreamless sleep.

But life goes on for everyone else and everything else, the earth still rotates on its axis; even when seventeen year old Jimin found it difficult to understand how cruel life can be sometimes. His club did not have enough members to run three, four things at once—the food both, the exhibition, and the competition. Jimin was vice president, he had to be there to man the booth.

By 3 p.m. Jimin already felt a headache coming in. The dropping temperature and the heat from the grill simultaneously made him feel like he was living within two different seasons. 

The huge ass speakers which were placed next to his robotics hot dog shack boomed so loudly every time the emcee of the performance got a bit too excited or breathed too loudly into the microphone. Jimin had to scream just to get the orders in. His throat felt scratchy from the bass, his heartbeat ridiculously in sync with the bass beats.

He was stuck with a massive number of hot dog orders, overflowing sauce and seasonings, and a dozen bottles of Kewpie mayonnaise with added food glitter for robotic aesthetics, which squirted too little, but required too much massive muscle energy. They also had the tenacity to make too much fart noises, which embarrassed him to no end.

On top of his head was a headband the club members had made with aluminium foil, with two twirling sticks poking out ridiculously high—two antlers of antennas to resemble an android, sort of. His apron was reflective and shiny too. Jimin was sure he could grill a sausage on his tummy and that he was especially offensive to the sunrays.

Instead of a robot, he kinda felt like an 80's television set about to explode.

“Dude, the mayo-“ Seulgi’s voice broke his ennui, her breath and voice as loud as the speaker. She was huffing in frustrations in the sweltering heat. “It’s not coming out-“

Jimin had enough of it all. “You know what? Let’s just-“

Jimin took off the lid and threw it in the trash, cutting the narrow bottle mouth, pouring it straight onto the sausage from the bottle. It would be far more efficient this way; sinfully salivating for mayo lovers, effectively looking like a 21st century cyberpunk, quicksilver poop.

The eighth performer was already halfway performing; a group of girls doing a badass medley of femme fatale songs, judging from the roar of the crowd which sounded mostly like baritone and bass voices, and most probably a huge troupe of big mamalias. Boys are such a scary crowd.

According to the setlist, Jungkook was supposed to perform next as the ninth performer. Jimin hoped they had a fill-in for Jungkook’s slot.

As he turned another ten sausages on the grill, Jimin mourned a lot of things Jungkook evidently lost all his lives.

Sure Jungkook would win in everything he does; running tournaments, games, bets, stupid race games in the arcade. His good looks, sharp intellect, and superb ability to do everything he sets his mind to do were a subject of envy for his peers. Little did people know, Jungkook had so little in the first place.

He loses in everything else far more important than that. He lost a father and a mother before time. He is losing a home, and even a chance of doing something he had practiced for and planned for month. Jungkook only wins at things he has control with because he tries so hard everytime, but his destiny is one lazy, malevolent motherfucker.

Jimin would give everything for the boy to make up for the atrocious destiny Jungkook was gifted with so brazenly by the gods.

“Jimin, I’m sorry for being late! The exhibition went longer than we expected.“

Jimin registered Seonmi’s soft voice from behind him, as he lifted the giant sausages off the grill and onto a cooling rack. His customers were looking at the sausages impatiently, flicking their eyes from his quick fingers to the sausages.

“The rest of the guys are coming in, they’re packing up. I left first to help out here.”

“Thanks a lot Seonmi. You must be tired. I'll go over to them. Here are the orders,” Jimin passed her the post-its with orders scrawled on them, patting her head in gratefulness. “You can do this one first, she’s been waiting for quite awhile-“

Jimin was explaining to Seonmi the mechanics of hotdog-making when the speaker boomed with the emcee’s voice, something else shaking the words away from his system.

“We were informed previously that the ninth performer wouldn’t be able to perform due to personal reasons.”

Jimin knew that part, he had been the one who had informed the organisers. Not many people knew Jungkook’s mother died, or if he even had a mother in the first place. so Jimin had gone to inform the staff privately of the situation. He continued his explanations to Seonmi, hands nimble and quick as if he was born to grill hot dogs all his life.

“But he’s here. Can you believe it?”

Jimin halted, the mayo bottle almost dropping from his hand.

“Wow! You guys really love him, do ya?”

Jimin registered the sound of faint screaming in the background of the emcee’s voice, as well his arrhythmic heartbeats, shallow breath.

Seulgi turned to Jimin, who looked at her blankly like she would give him the ultimate secret of life, or the direction to the nearest toilet. She took the bottle from his hand, and pushed him away from the booth.

“Go, Jimin. Be there for him.”

Jimin was about to run after shouting a short thanks to Seulgi, before remembering something and turning back, grabbing a hotdog from the portable heater he had made for himself for the upcoming short break. He took another two sausages, placing them on top of the other one, before pouring the seasonings, cheese, and the glittery mayonnaise on them.

What he had in his hand after all that process was a super massive triple hot dog which looked like it was dipped in a bucket of mayonnaise and condiments. Jungkook would be famished after performing, and Jimin was not sure if the younger had eaten the breakfast he had made earlier. Most importantly, Jungkook loves hotdogs.

Jimin grabbed a mineral water bottle and ran off, not really hearing what Seulgi was yelling at him about. Something about ‘apron’, and ‘glitter’, and ‘go get ya boi’. That girl was kind, but nasty all the same.

The club-operated booths were located in the front pavilion of the school, a clutter of tiny stalls selling all sorts of stuff like food and drinks, trinkets, crafts, and pre-loved clothes.

Meanwhile the stage was set in front of the school library which was perched on a small hill, the supposedly highest ground of the school. A medium-sized stage was built on the clearing overlooking the suburbs, hilly side of the town looking red and yellow in these times of fall.

If it was beautiful to the viewers, to the performers Jimin imagined it would almost be like singing on top of the world. 

But it also reminded Jimin why he seldom visited the library all his years in the school. Thirty cement steps above Jimin, the emcee was laughing with the screaming crowd.

“Jungkook, are you ready?”

On his way to the stage, Jimin saw the Scouts’ booth selling cute bracelet knots and wondered which one Jungkook had made for sale. Jimin had one on his wrist, a bracelet of yellow and red wool which Jungkook made for him back in June, identical to Jungkook’s red and black one.

Jimin wondered why Jungkook would come at all. Last time he checked, the boy was asleep, curled up in a foetal position on his bed. His cheeks were sunken and his hands were trembling. The guitar was in Jimin’s room.

Rivulets of sweat dripped down the hollow of his spine, making his way into his buttcheeks. Everything felt clammy and slimy after hours of grilling sausages.

“Okay he’s ready. Ninth performer is up, Jeon Jungkook, Freshman, 1-B, with his song ‘With or Without You’ by U2. Take it away, JK!”

Jimin was running late. He was still halfway climbing the damned library steps; only noticing he was still wearing the silver apron and the plastic gloves, when he heard Jungkook coughing into the microphone while he tested the sound.

Pain emanated from his cough like he had not spoken in days, which was the truth. Jimin could almost imagine the raw, itchy taste of his throat.

“Hi everyone.”

Jimin ran with whatever strength he could gather, trying not to slip with a bottle in one hand and a huge hot dog in another. A part of his hand was already covered in dripping sauce and mayonnaise, almost as if Jimin had just stirred a whole pot of condiments with his right hand.

From the bottom of the hill, Jimin could hear people screaming Jungkook’s name.

“Mm… I- I- just like this song a lot.” Jungkook began his usual mumbles, and Jimin could hear him gulping his spit. People were laughing at his blunt words, not realizing that was the most he had spoken in days.

Jungkook was not big on speaking, what more public speaking. He is more of a doer, a hands-on kinda person. And here he was, not even eight days after his mother’s death, trying to be brave for a lot of things. Jimin wanted to grab Jungkook away from the stage. Tears were pooling at the corner of his eyes, threatening to let go if he did not make it to Jungkook quick.

“I believe that each of us was born lonely.”

Jungkook’s voice sounded so distant and slow, even if the speakers were on full volume.

“Loneliness is our first company, and it sticks with us throughout our whole existence. It’s not a bane, it’s a gift. I have been lonely for a long time, I've accepted it.”

Jimin fell on his knees when he accidentally kicked a wide cement step. He felt pain, and noticed his torn pants and bleeding knee. He rose up and ran.

“Our loneliness leads us back to ourselves, makes us understand what we are, and what we need. I’ve been lonely for so long and I’ve ceased wanting things. But there’s one thing which makes me want to want. Makes me dream,” Jungkook stopped at that and cleared his throat.

Jimin finally arrived at the frontmost of the clearing. It was going to take him another twenty steps to get to the stage.

“I want to go home. Home is everything that makes me, everything I live for. I would spend a lifetime finding my way home, or waiting for it. I may be young but I think I kinda found my home.” Jungkook mumbled again. “This hasn’t been a good week for me but I promised him I would do this, and I want to do this.”

Jimin halted in his steps, his chest bumping with the last person in the crowd.

“To my home, the one I love the most—I already sang it to you a thousand times, every night. I know you know what I mean, and I mean every word. This song is for you.”

Jungkook was looking straight at him, his eyes less swollen now in the afternoon light. He looked pale, stripped out of his colours, lips chapped and dry.

He looked so beautiful, the only person Jimin saw in the ocean of heads.

The sixteen year-old Jungkook picked up his guitar pick, then he began strumming the same song he had played and sung to Jimin every night.

 

******

 

“So this is what we’re not gonna do, Jimin. We’re not gonna go to Jungkook.”

Yoongi sets down the last cardboard box from Jimin’s car on the carpet of his living room, taking a clear look at the state of Jimin’s house. It is positively okay, with only a few of his stuff lying on the floor from the earlier quake. His tall IKEA light stand is lying horizontally on top of his coffee table. Yoongi picks it up and places it at its original place.

There are a few broken photo frames detached from their wall hooks, and the blind looks a bit lopsided. Other than that nothing else looks disheveled, everything else seems fine.

Jimin’s house is a bit far off the city center where the earthquake was more shattering, the impact more intense. The City Council’s building itself survived, with some minor damage to the outer wall and windows.

When Yoongi notices the lack of reply from Jimin, he peeks into the kitchen. Jimin is mindlessly taking a carton of milk from the fridge, pouring the drink into a glass, and drinking it like he is on auto-pilot. Yoongi knows Jimin is in his impulsive, thriller-film, super paranoid headspace again.

Yoongi does not do long lectures, so he focuses on the important.

“Here’s what we gonna do now, Jimin. We’re gonna check for wall cracks.”

His voice trails off as he climbs the stairs to Jimin’s first storey to check for odd cracks on the mauve-coloured walls of Jimin’s house. Jimin stays quiet; listening to the squeaks of Yoongi’s socked feet and his obnoxious slams of doors. Jimin does the same downstairs, starting with the living room.

Thirty minutes later, Yoongi is already done with everything he wanted to do. He empties up a glass of water with one huge gulp and gets ready to leave.

Jimin feels a sudden rush of gratefulness for Yoongi, for an older brother he had gained in the City Council department. “Thanks, hyung. Really, thank you.” Jimin says, handing him his jacket and taking the empty glass from his hand.

For the first time that day Jimin notices how Yoongi looks a bit pale himself, having stayed at the office for the past thirty hours plus. Yet he still came over to help make sure Jimin is safe. By now, Yoongi should have made his way back to his hometown.

“No problem. Hey. Listen, give me a call if you need anything. Okay?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I need to get back. My neighbour might be bidding Holly on e-bay by now, and you know how expensive as fuck my girl is. Take care, lil’ bro.” He ruffles Jimin’s hair and takes his leave.

As if he knows Jimin is watching him leave from his front steps, Yoongi yells out his final message, face facing forward. He does not turn around, almost like he is speaking to whoever is there across the street. 

“Don’t do anything stupid, Jimin. I’ll know. I’ll haunt your ass if you do.” Yoongi unlocks his car, promptly jumping his way into the driver's seat. He grabs a pair of aviator sunglasses from the dashboard, puts it on and yells back at Jimin before shutting the car door.

“But I also know how much of an idiot you are. Make sure you come back in one piece.”

Yoongi leaves with a honk, his Mazda the only car on the vacant roadside.

Five minutes after standing there like a lamp pole, it finally appears to Jimin’s senses that he might be the only one left in his quiet and quaint neighbourhood. It looks pretty vacant and quiet at this time of the day when it is usually pretty loud. No sight of children on tricycles or people returning home from work.

Jimin breathes in the silence, relieved that most of his neighbours have found a better shelter and safety. There could be flash floods or electricity cutoffs, and Jimin hates to see the people he has lived with over the years suffer through that, especially the little children and the older residents.

Walking inside, Jimin takes in the condition of his house which has not been affected much by the second wave.

The mild afternoon light slides in from beneath the lopsided yet still functional bamboo blinds, casting dancing shadows on the room. Stale air from the outside drizzle envelopes his house in some sort of like a makeshift cloud. On the kitchen counter, Jimin’s graduation photo sits detached from the glassless frame.

Jungkook’s black sweater is still slung on the couch, beckoning him to get it. He does not wait long to hold it to his chest. Nothing can be heard at that exact moment but his controlled sniffles, his fingers twisting the fabric in between his fingers.

It could be minutes, seconds, but Jimin grabs his car keys and quickly exits the house, locking it hastily. With Jungkook’s sweater in his arms, he pushes the ignition, ready to go somewhere he does not plan very smartly.

About twenty minutes on the road, he finally arrives at the apartment complex which Jungkook’s house is in, knowing full well he could not get in. He needs to see if it is okay, but is still wary of the safety and the unnecessary danger he would cause if he would go in.

Most of the occupants, Jungkook’s neighbours are downstairs. Some of them are crying, and some are already loading their stuff into the car. Jimin notices the old woman living across Jungkook’s apartment who Jungkook helps a lot with around the house or with groceries. He notices her being led into a car by a younger woman who looks just like her.

Jimin is glad the daughter finally comes home to take the mother in. Mother nature has a way to remind everyone of things or people they forgot.

Jimin decides against going in to check Jungkook’s house.

Windows rolled down and engines off, Jimin finds himself at a lost road. It is as if he is at a dead end, waiting for someone to tell him what to do.

Jungkook’s sense of presence is evaporating like steam on tar on a rainy evening. It has only been a day, but Jimin craves for his lingering presence, his intense stare, a sure comfort he took for granted.

Jimin would kill if he could touch Jungkook’s face right now; if he could trace the lines carved into Jungkook's pretty face from the heat of the fire, sadness, and happiness of the passing years. It was all Jimin’s work, and Jimin still selfishly wants to caress it, skin to skin.

Out of impulse and desperation, Jimin takes off his vanilla white sweater and wears Jungkook’s larger, black one. It is far more comfortable and thickerand provided the temperature is dropping significantly, very warm for his body. Most importantly, it smells like Jungkook.

It feels like Jungkook, warm and heavy. Sturdy. Everything Jimin ever wants.

Jimin heaves, puts his face on the steering wheel, and almost cries a tear or two. He does not. 

 

*****

  

Hoseok has half a mind to run away from where he has been forced to stand for the past thirty minutes now, having to wait for the head of all heads coming in to listen to the briefing.

It is one of the things he hates about being a part of the top management, how he needs to suck ass and inform people stuff they do not give a hoot about. He is sure this guy is another person running for Mayor, and by next election he would have this video playing on large screens in all of his campaigns.

Ironic how they want people to save lives quickly and efficiently, but have all the captains standing like mannequins around men who would claim themselves 'a man for the people'. They have everyone following their becks and calls, and treat their supporters like cult followers. Hoseok thinks everyone is a man or a woman for the people, there is nothing new to it. Everyone is functional, and none of it involves standing around doing nothing. 

He hates inefficiency and unnecessary diplomatic protocol at times like these.

Hoseok was not born to kiss ass.

If he really would squint to look at the silver lining, the older man really looks like he is really listening to what Hoseok’s colleague is telling him, and the thought keeps his sanity intact as he mourns the wasted time. He wiggles his toes inside his stifling boot, easing the cramp, imagining his toes around the old man’s neck.

They are still wasting a lot of time. Hoseok’s work is done here. He needs to get himself to the city mall site. He has not received any news from the site from when the second earthquake happened at 12.45 p.m., and it has been two hours. Two hours of saving the people at this site as well, which did an awful good to distract him, at least.

Thankfully most of the rescue team at this site did manage to go out in time when the second wave hit, only injuring five people in the process. Today’s shake was a bit milder than yesterday but was still quite intense. It also covered a different area.

“Well, good job gentlemen. What would the city do without you. Take care, and thank you so much.” The old man starts to take leave, and the dozen of his staff follow him out of the sites into his luxurious vehicles like hungry ducklings.

“Take care, yourself.” Hoseok turns around as quickly as his friend could say ‘my pleasure’, almost somersaulting with his dramatic eyeroll.

“You could at least show some interest, Seok,” Doojoon said to him, walking at the same pace he does as he struts back into the tent to collect his stuff. Hoseok notices Dojoon collecting his bag too.

“You’re going too? You don’t have to.”

“And let you drive alone? Not a chance.” Doojoon snatches the jeep keys from Hoseok’s and takes his leave from the tent, informing a superior of both their leave. Hoseok takes one last look at the site, now more secured than before.

They had managed to take out all of the victims from the broken pits. When the earthquake hit different spots this morning, the fallen slabs fell on empty carcasses of vehicles. No one was left inside.

He should be relieved but of course not. Seokjin is out there, and he cannot think beyond the instinctual human living mechanism without knowing Seokjin is safe.

“How fast can you go, Joon?” Hoseok asks, riding shotgun. He dumps his helmet to the backseat. Wincing from a pulsating headache, Hoseok groans and pinches the area between his eyes.

He cannot wait to see Seokjin, hold him, and take him home. Sleep for five days with their dogs on their feet. 

With a reassuring smile and a tug of his seatbelt, Dojoon answers the younger. “The fastest you want, boss. Fasten your seatbelt, we’ll get you to Jin and your men real quick.”

  

****

 

He can hear bells ringing.

There is water inside his boots. Jungkook does not like stuff in his boots, especially small pebbles and water.

Everything feels wet and clammy, hot and cold at the same time.

Something is poking at his ribs from below, more uncomfortable than painful.

It is not time to open his eyes yet, Jungkook agrees with himself. He feels a bit too exhausted. He needs to sleep, the pain in his head rolling and milling around like a wall drill, it feels as if there is a gap, a holeand Jungkook’s brain is pouring out in mush.

He tries to lift his hand. It does not feel like his hand at all. It neither moves nor touches his face like he wants it.

Seokjin is not next to him. He does not know where Seokjin is. Nothing else can be heard but the sound of water dropping, and the sound of it moving.

The bell chimes ease and fade as the pain comes in full force.

Jungkook forgets how to breathe.

With nothing to see and feel Jungkook wonders how many hours have passed. It is ironic how his throat is parched but his body is wet. His temple is wet too, moist from something slimy.

Noting the lack of need to wake up, delirium rushing in to block the pain, Jungkook decides it is a given he just lets himself sleep. Be lazy for the first time.

He dreams.

 

It was the day he sang his heart out to the whole school, screaming his love out for Jimin, eight days after his mother had died.

Jungkook remembers the pain of losing his mother, sheds some tears in his current dissociated state. He really misses her sometimes, but there really was not much to remember. She had cared for him like a mother would on a very basic level, loved him intensely like she always claimed when she was drunk, but had showed very little of.

Love to her was drunken words spit out to convince herself she was doing everything right.

He used to wonder if it was all his faultif his existence gave her pain, made her suffer; made them both suffer. As he reached adulthood and became an adult himself, Jungkook learnt the concept of freewill and letting go. He learnt that his mother was a difficult woman to please, a difficult woman to love.

People could say he is being petty, but being in an almost loveless household can make you so. He has learnt not to feel anything the hundredth time his mother forgot to fetch him back from school, or forgot to fed him food two days straight.

He did not feel grudge, nor sadness. It was a void of feelings, which has helped him live and survive on his primal instincts. When his mother died, he saw it coming. Grief was there because he was finally alone, pain was there because here was the woman who gave birth to him and raised himabsent or not. Longing though, was nowhere.

Longing was a lost virtue, and Jungkook believes it was mutual between him and his mother.

He wished her well, hoped her next life will be good, devoid of a son who felt like a burden. People can say Jungkook is petty, but he never gives a shit what people say.

When he woke up on the eighth day in his own house, eyes sealed shut by tears, the first thing Jungkook noticed was a glass of orange juice and a plate of egg sandwiches on a tray placed strategically on his vanity. He knew Jimin made it and not his mother, noticed the overflowing eggs Jimin always prepared for him. Jimin always gave Jungkook everything extra.

He took a long shower, feeling grimy and burdened by the incense. He hated smelling like anything but his own, and scrubbed his skin a little bit too harshly. Then he cleaned up the plate and glass when he finished the meal.

When he took the washed and dried dishes to Jimin’s house, he was received with a tight hug by Jimin's mother. It was a motherly hug he was familiar with and one he needed. Then he left Jimin’s home with his guitar.

Well it was not difficult to spot Jimin in the crowd.

The boy was still wearing the silvery, futuristic apron and a headband when he arrived at the clearing facing the stage where the audience stood roaring in excitement. He had both of his hands holding what looked to be the biggest hotdog Jungkook had ever seen in his life and a water bottle in another.

Jungkook laughed a bit to himself then.

It was not difficult to spot Jimin. Not at all.

He would know Jimin from all angles. He knew how Jimin looked like from behind; his shiny black hair bobcut too typical for a high-schooler. Jungkook knew Jimin’s best shirts, torn shirts, his pyjamas. What he wore to impress. He knew his angles, his curves which he hated, his fresh, vanilla scent.

He could spot him anywhere, even without the heinous apron or a multilayered hot dog in his hands. Jungkook knew the feeling of Jimin’s hands in his, having held them tightly like they were his only lifeline for the past week.

Jimin was an anomaly in his otherwise mundane, uneventful life.

When he finished the song to the roar of the crowd, he did not feel as confident as he did previously, like when he launched into the self-confessional, life lecture he never imagined himself doing.

Now going off stage to his guitar case, he did not exactly know what to do. He never really thought ahead of times, of how Jimin would react to it. He just wanted to do it, for Jimin because he promised.

For himself, because he wanted it so bad. He wanted Jimin that bad, in happier and terrible times.

Death is a funny thing, it makes you fearless when you have lost so much more. It could be a bad time to come clean with his feelings in his state, but Jungkook’s life has had shitty timings in all its splendor.

He can sense Jimin’s attractions, he was not dumb. The question here was not whether Jimin was attracted or not, but whether he realised it or not. Coming out and agreeing with oneself is a huge issue. Although Jungkook downplayed it so much for Jimin’s sake, he could not sleep for many nights when he first realised, and came to terms with his sexuality.

When he outed himself to Jimin, he did not sleep for three days.

It was difficult to sleep as he listened to the soft snores coming from the older boy’s lips, the source of his trouble sleeping across from him. To Jimin he was all cool as hell, but inside he was a ten tonne truck crashing into a shinkansen. He did not want to force it on Jimin.

Even when the older clearly was not a homophobe, and was even considering himself gay at some point just because his bestfriend had came out, Jimin never had a revelation himself. Jungkook did not want cheap pity either.

Jungkook was confident Jimin do love him at some point, he just did not know whether it was inherently the same kind of attraction.

He nervously stepped down from the backstage, bowing to the staff who were clapping excitedly at him, looking forward to flee the school compound as soon as possible. He could not see Jimin after forcing his confession on him like this, even if Jimin had kept saying he wanted to know who the boy was.

The Jungkook now dreams of himself walking halfway across the courtyard discretely when he spotted Jimin sitting on a bench behind the deserted library. Jimin was unnecessarily shimmering in the afternoon light with his very silvery outfit and the hotdog which now looked very silvery as well.

Jungkook decided to turn around before he explodes there and then.

“Oi Jeon Jungkook! Where are you going?”

He almost peed at the spot.

“Hyu-“

“I made you a triple, super robotic, android hot dog. And you’re just gonna flee?”

“No-“

“Come here.”

He never wins. Jungkook sheepishly ran to where Jimin was sitting, putting his guitar case down as he sat down. He avoided looking at Jimin’s face, even when the older passed him the hotdog and their hands touched for a moment.

Of course they have touched each other before what's with wrestling as a pastime activity, and how the previous week had been anything but hugs and gentle touches. But this was the first time after his confession. Everything felt a little bit too intimate.

“You did great, Kook. You were so cool. I didn’t know you would come so I cancelled it.” Jimin’s motormouth was running like the usual. “How’s the hot dog?”

“It’s- it’s… great. Shiny. Huge. Thank you.”

Jimin laughed at that, a sweet soft laughter he usually reserved for something cute rather than funny.

“I made that, of course it’s gonna be good,” Jimin responded, opening the bottled water for Jungkook who looked like he was about to choke on the triple layer of abominations. Within Jungkook’s belly was the breakfast he also inhaled just as quickly, but he needed Jimin’s validation.

Jimin had put so much cheese and sauce on it that Jungkook lips looked a bit swollen as he gobbled everything up. Jimin simply blushed and looked away when Jungkook caught him staring for too long.

“Kook.”

Jungkook gulped down a big chunk of bread and sausage. He hoped they did not go down the wrong pipe. His chest felt constricted a bit and Jimin would not appreciate two consecutive funerals in a fortnight. Jimin kept his sight straight ahead, a sign he was getting serious.

“What made you so brave? Where did you learn it?”

Jungkook was taken aback a bit. Jimin was asking all the questions he was not expecting. He had thought Jimin was going to ask him if he was okay, or if he was nuts. He even thought about Jimin rejecting him and what he would do afterwards.

“You're going through a lot, but you still do what you want. Don’t you have any fear at all?”

Jungkook answered honestly. He always does. “I do. I do have fears.”

“I don’t see it.” Jimin was still looking at a faraway tree, Jungkook not in his line of sight.

“Probably because I tried so hard for you...” Jungkook stopped, but decided to add a sentence to not make it weird “…not to see it.”

“What if people catch on? What if you’re outed?”

Jungkook shut his mouth at that, he must have looked ridiculous now with sauce smeared on his cheeks. The glitter mayonnaise on Jimin’s face was on his as well.

“I don’t know Jimin hyung. I just wanted to do it. I don’t really care what people think about me anyway.”

“I do.”

“I know.”

“No you don’t. You saw what happened to Sungwoon! I don’t want that to happen to you.”

Jungkook got taken aback by that. He felt accused, like Jimin was not asking the right questions here. He had thought Jimin would ask him about his feelings instead of focusing on other stuff like other people, his sexuality. Why were they so afraid of different things?

Jungkook did not want to think about other people at the moment, he wanted to think of them both. He was extremely curious if Jimin felt the same way he did, just as much as he felt frustrated with the situation.

“Are you worried about your reputation, hyung? Is that it?”

“No-“

“I didn’t mention your name so you shouldn’t be worried. No one would know.” Jungkook felt hurt, his eyes swelling like they were stung by a bee. He finished the last of his hotdog and quickly got up to leave. He could not talk to Jimin right now.

“Kook no-“

“Thank you for the hotdog, hy-

Jimin grabbed him by his wrist, the strongest he had ever held Jungkook, rivaled only by the time the doctor announced his mother’s death.

“I don’t care about me. I care about you.”

Jimin was looking at the plastic glove on his hands, taking them off, along with the apron and the little robotic headband they had made him wear.

Jungkook was frustrated beyond compare. It did not make sense.

“Then why wouldn't you think I’d care more about you than I do myself? I told you I don’t give a shit what people say. I don’t live for them. You don’t live for them. My mother is dead, literally no one should give a shit about me, hyung. Not even you.” Jungkook was yelling at Jimin, the first time he had ever scolded his hyung this seriously. “I don’t want your pity.”

Jimin was taken aback, his eyes watering at the sight of Jungkook hurt by his actions. Jimin was bad at feelings, ten times more than Jungkook ever said he was.

“I did that for myself, I’m sorry, but I also did that for you. You wanted to know. You did. You know how hard I tried.. and I just can’t…”

Jungkook stopped for awhile, tears clogging his brain and throat. “I don’t have the words. And I’m not forcing you to accept me or anything. I mean you’re straight and I basically have nothing to offer to you. I might have to move away after all, and I don’t want any regrets-“

“Jungkook, stop. Listen.” Jimin held Jungkook’s face in his two hands, and shifted Jungkook‘s sight to his face.

They both looked ridiculous now that Jungkook thinks about it.

“I just wanna know why you would do so much for me? You’re going through a lot and you’re still so wonderful to me?”

“Jimin.” The hands on his face felt like a security, and Jungkook held it like he wanted them to stay. He did.

Around them, fallen leaves were swirling around with the strong autumn wind blowing the hilly side. No one was around, and it felt like the clock had stopped moving for a moment, giving way for two young lovers to find their way home.

“Sometimes, the fire finds you." Jungkook remembers trying not to cry as he stared into Jimin's brown eyes looking at him, and him alone. "Sometimes, you’d run into the fire for the people you love.”

Jimin stared back earnestly into Jungkook’s eyes at that; all glassy-eyed, glitter-cheeked. Jimin did not cry often, and he had a habit of keeping everything in like he was a dam. Jungkook could see his cheeks flushed from the afternoon heat, and whatever feelings he was suppressing inside.

They stayed silent, and for awhile Jungkook prepared himself to jump and land on an imaginary safety net. Visualized himself doing stuff to cure heartbreaks right after this, like tossing stones into the river, drinking, or cutting his pillows into pieces-

“Like running to you in my ridiculous robotic uniform and mayo on my cheek?” Jimin asked him, his snaggle tooth appearing in full view as he smiled up to Jungkook. It was an almost smile, a slight smile, before it turned into one where his eyes were scrunching up into tiny crescents.

Jungkook laughed a bit at that before the implication of Jimin’s words hit him hard in the guts, in his brain.

Here was a boy Jungkook loves so much, and he loves him too.

They did not say that out loud because they did not know how to say it yet. They will learn, they were still young.

Jungkook’s hand automatically reached out to touch Jimin’s cheek, the side with black pepper smeared. His face looked every bit glittery and a little bit robotic now, with the shy smile he was giving Jungkook. Jimin touched his hand, trembling a bit at the warmth.

“How do you do it? I’m scared Jungkook.”

“I know.”

“I can’t even say my feelings out loud, and I don’t know if I should and I’m scared that we-“

“Jimin. You don’t have to do anything. We don’t. Just be who you are and that’s enough. You’re enough.” Jungkook looked at him like he owned everything; a sentiment which has held nothing but the truth. “You’re always enough.”

Jimin went silent at that. The whole world still seemed like it was in a slow motion, still moving at a slower pace. A sudden gust of wind hit them both from Jimin to Jungkook, and the older’s familiar body scent which Jungkook had found himself at home with soothed him to no end.

“Do you feel better now? Ma was at your house earlier, cleaning when I left for school. You were sleeping and I didn’t want to wake you up.”

There could be a million things Jimin could be thinking about right now – his upcoming finals, incomplete projects, his senior year next year, and on top of everything it would always be Jungkook. Jungkook could not believe his luck. So his right hand slid behind Jimin’s, as he pulled him close for a hug.

Startled but grounded by the touch, Jimin took him in his embrace quicklyjust as quickly as he had accepted Jungkook into his life. Jungkook was sure Jimin could feel the falling tears on his nape where Jungkook buried his nose in, the palms of his hand holding Jimin’s head close.

He needed Jimin to keep him grounded to earth, his scent chaining Jungkook to the current times. There was an overwhelming rush of feelings inside him—of forgotten grief, of gratefulness, of happiness, of feeling sorry for feeling happy a week after his mother’s passing.

But he did not feel regret, and that was enough. He felt immense relief for the first time in a long while, as if his head has been cleared from a perennial flu.

They sat down for awhile, Jimin’s hand on Jungkook’s lap. It was the first time they held hands this long, and with a different meaning. About thirty minutes later, Jimin’s club members called for him to help clean and close the booth.

Jungkook went along to help, almost skipping in his steps.

Afterwards, Jimin helped his club members clean the area and the school vicinity as well. After that, they walked back together, like always. This time, they felt lighter on their feet, just by knowing.

Jungkook thought, even with the soft graze of Jimin’s skin as their hands brushed against each other; that it was enough to have him by his side.

That was all he ever wanted.

 

But life happened.

 

Regardless of how wonderful everything was that happened with the confession, Jungkook stayed away for awhile. He did not want Jimin to be overwhelmed like he usually looked like when Jungkook was around.

Jimin, who used to be very touchy feely and loud—after that incident, had became very shy around Jungkook. He did not even change his shirt in front of Jungkook anymore, moved away at the slightest touch—which were mostly accidental. It was then that he decided that it was time to give the older man some space.

Sometimes Jimin would come over and send lunch to him, smiling like his usual self. And it hurt knowing Jimin was trying his best to not scare Jungkook off or be scared of Jungkook himself, so he did his part by not getting in the way of Jimin’s life.

Jungkook was giving Jimin some time to recuperate from the shock of the confession, some time to himself. Away from school, he spent most time in his own house, feeling awkward and a little bit empty at a house he never stayed in close to 24 hours. With a lot of his mind, he decided to leave for awhile.

Jungkook’s mother had three siblings, and the youngest fetched Jungkook to live with them for a couple of weeks, seeing that they lived just one station away from Jungkook’s home. Every morning, he rode the train to get to school, and usually got there a little bit too early to catch a glimpse of Jimin’s black bob of a hair.

It had hurt him how Jimin was not exactly looking for him, and it hurt him how he understood why. Finals were approaching and they needed to study for the finals anyway. The time apart could be of use.

They stayed like that, dancing around each other even until the school ended, and Jungkook was approaching the year he finally turned seventeen.

The final paper was difficult, and the days got chillier and darker. School holidays meant a second job, his first was milk delivery in the morning which he still did away from home. With Jimin being more or less not so much inside his life, Jungkook thought it was just the right time to get busy. There was a lot to worry about his future, and he did not want to think about his mother’s savings.

Life must go on, with or without Jimin. He loves Jimin to pieces but he can live without him. He needs Jimin because he wants him.

He did not know whether he should move on, but Jimin was not giving him any hints he wanted him. His hope slowly dissolved into the cold November air, as harsh as the cloud of condensation which left his lips as he delivered milk at 5 a.m. every morning.

 

***

 

It is half past four when Jimin decides to just pack up his stuff and make his way to Taehyung.

Yoongi would know later. Jimin knows his older friend already knew it is bound to happen, judging from the lighter he intentionally left on the kitchen counter. He always tells Jimin everyone needs to carry a lighter for safety and emergency times, non-smoker or not. Leaving one was a way to say take care. He is never that good at expressing emotional sentiments.

Jimin always tells Yoongi he has arsonist streaks, and Yoongi would light one up close to his nose.

He goes into his room to take a bagpack, carefully rolling in a couple of shirts, boxers. A pair of jeans. He changes into jeans as well, no longer comfortable in his slacks. Gathering his toiletries, Jimin does not hesitate to grab Jungkook’s.

Everything he packs, he packs for two.

Jungkook must be dying to have a shower after a couple of days out. He really hates not getting a thorough shower, he likes being clean the most. Even on his most exhausted days, Jungkook would still shower, eyelids closed and hands moving mindlessly. Jimin has seen him do that a lot.

Jimin does not change out of his sweater, the musky scent of Jungkook enveloping his being almost like the latter is backhugging him every second. Jimin feels himself calming down at that.

He grabs a shoe bag and grabs Jungkook’s sneakers too, one he left at Jimin’s place for Sunday runs. Going into the kitchen, he grabs some granola bars, some ramen cups. Water bottles. Crackers. Dry food that could help stave off hunger if he cannot make it back in time. He shoves a packet of the banana chips that Jungkook lives off of inside the bag.

Everything he packs, he packs for Jungkook first, and then for himself.

The last thing he looks for is his survival kit, the one Jungkook made for him and insisted he has an extra of. He remembers the night they shopped for the stuff and made them together. In the bag are a torchlight, some batteries, a Swiss pocket knife, a tiny first aid kit.

After making sure everything is ready and his house is in good condition even if the flood would suddenly reached his housing area, Jimin braves his way out in the falling rain into his car. He gets ready for the one-hour drive.

 

**

 

Taehyung feels like he is about to lose a vein.

A few hours has passed but the rescuers are still figuring out ways to get into the mall, an alternative way from the front entrance now that the second wave had caused half of the building to collapse sideways. Commanders and officers of different ranks and national level engineers are still discussing the plan in a tent three meters away from it, half the time they do they spend it bickering in banter.

His brother, Seokjin, and Jungkook are in there, and he cannot not worry.

Taking off his glasses which has slid down a lot in the last hours from the grease on his nose, Taehyung takes out a handkerchief from the pocket of his grey vest. He rubs the glasses with it as he adjusts his eyes to the surrounding.

It is fast approaching 5 p.m. but the sky was already greyish black, signs the incoming clouds are going to be intensely heavy. The temperature has been dropping drastically, his thick jacket just another protective layer to the chill sinking in. The steel stethoscopes around his neck feels frozen, sends bumps onto his skin everytime they collide.

He is worried, but he has patients he is still attending to and he cannot be pushing them away at the expense of his feelings.

Seokjin had looked fine when he had came in this morning, still as stubborn as ever. Taehyung had told him to not overexert his left leg, and to just book it out for a few hours, but his older brother was not having it.

He hates stubborn firemen, he really does.

When Seokjin and Jungkook come out, he vows that he will choke them first with his hold before giving them any medical treatment. He hates stubborn firemen that bad.

Ironically, he feels himself choking on muted tears. It has been three hours in, and they still cannot radio Seokjin and Jungkook and gauge their position. He does not want to think about the possibilities of their bodies being trapped under anything. He cannot take it.

There are a few other trapped firemen from other teams too, and everyone is trying to find a way in.

Pinching his nose once to swallow the tears back in, Taehyung slides his glasses back in. His sight clears as he catches the two silhouettes approaching his tent with fast steps.

Hoseok is here with a friend in tow, his face gripped in worry.

Taehyung wants to cry, and it shows when he speaks next. “Hoseok hyung.”

“Tae, hey. Where's Seokjin?”

 

Somewhere beneath the rubble, Seokjin feels himself coming to. His left leg is now truly bent at a weird ankle, it is perfectly broken. It is also painful as fuck.

Seokjin feels wetness on his back, feels himself floating a bit. He could not see anything else.

He taps the lights on his helmet, making it flicker twice before it actually works. When it does, it shows nothing upwards, as if the light does not bounce on anything. One second he was in an earthquake, and another he is in intergalactic space, surrounded by vacuum.

He coughs a bit, feeling like he just swallowed a ton of cement in his mouth.

Moving his hand to the left and right, Seokjin tries to grasp for any fabric, anything that will tell him Jungkook is close. But there is nothing but water, and it was cold.

“Kook… Jungkook.” Seokjin croaks.

He does not have any idea how long he passed out, but his throat is dry and itchy, his leg hurt so much. His body feels drained. He tries to roll over and search for something on his left.

Pinching the light button to see the time on his digital watch, Seokjin feels a sharp pain in his shoulders. It is now close to 5.30 p.m.

His body shifts before he suddenly finds himself slipping and falling into some kind of a pool in the middle of a building, an accidental pit in the rubble which is collecting rain water, a demolished building. He kicks at it a bit, trying to find the original place he woke up at. It is difficult to swim when your leg is broken.

Seokjin rises up for air and tries to climb back onto the cement that held him away from the pool. He crawls and pushes himself up, feeling himself shivering from lack of strength, from throbbing pain and exhaustion. He managed to land himself on dry platform away from the pool.

If there is water, they must be in the basement. They had fallen through the first level. He does not know if Jungkook is somewhere unconscious here or inside the…

Oh God.

“Jungkook. Are you here? Kook, are you here? C'mon answer me, Kook...” Seokjin can feel himself losing bearing as he sobs into the nothingness.

His chest feels heavy with the saturated air, made worse by exhaustion and the grief of being trapped with limited air. They do not even have the breathing apparatus with them, the radio, nothing.

Jungkook is not here.

 

He wants to go out. Hoseok is waiting for him. Their dogs Mickey and Eomuk are still with the next-door neighbour.

They had missed their laundry day yesterday, forgot to take out the trash.

Hoseok is still waiting for him.

He needs to go out.

 

For the first time in many years, Seokjin cries like a child.

 

*

Chapter Text

******

 

Hoseok waits.

Pacing around the tent does not help much. He wants to be a part of the rescue team but there is an order of power.

Here, Hoseok is only in charge of his team. Another pack of leaders of a higher degree is in charge of trying to devise a way to get in, all the mechanics and the plans. They already brought a bigger drill into the site, something more efficient for the steels and concrete.

Hoseok’s team looks depleted. He had greeted them in the medical tent a while earlier, and they had looked at him so forlornly he wanted to run away. They were exhausted, and they did their best. They are the greatest men Hoseok ever worked with. Even while waiting for the next instruction they were dozing off while standing, but they still stood tall and gave their best.

If that is the condition of the team, he wonders how Seokjin and Jungkook are faring inside. With the lack of oxygen and Seokjin’s injury, they would not be able to do much. He does not even know if they are not trapped under the fallen floors and rubble.

Or if they are still breathing.

Hoseok knows that Seokjin’s hurt leg is the least of all things he should be worried about. He feels his strength losing him bit by bit, coiled by exhaustion and grief and worry.

Doojoon stands by close, helping Taehyung with whatever he could while watching Hoseok pacing away seven meters away from the medical tent. Taehyung tries to look busy, glancing at Hoseok every now and then. Jaebum wipes his eyes as he looks away.

Hoseok crouches behind a tent, holding his head in his hand. He feels full and heavy, and once he feels the rush of emotions takes over, Hoseok launches into a stuttering sob, not able to hold it in anymore. He cannot be strong all the time, and he cannot be strong when he knows Seokjin and Jungkook are in there fighting for their breath.

His husband is in there fighting for his life.

They did not get to give a proper goodbye because Hoseok had to get a new group in when Seokjin left with the whole team.

Hoseok heaves, and feels his body dropping to the cemented mall pavilion floor. He rubs his head. The platinum ring on his left hand left an indent on his head as he rubs it harshly in despair and regret. He does not care if anyone sees it, sees a captain losing his mind.

He cannot take it. He wants Seokjin back. He wants to take a long vacation when this is over. Go somewhere with Seokjin.

They are old. They cannot take this anymore. They are too old for dying young.

He thinks of Seokjin’s face on his wedding day.

 

What they call a wedding was far from a formal one, because of course it was not legal.

They had it at a quaint and cozy café Seokjin and Hoseok frequent a lot, especially after their tennis sessions. The whole fire department was there, alongside their parents. Taehyung was Seokjin’s best man in a way, and also a ring bearer.

Seokjin loves Taehyung so much, he was willing to wait for his brother to come back from a rescue mission to have the wedding. Hoseok thinks that sense of selflessness Seokjin possesses is his best bit, how he puts others before himself and tries his best not to let it show. He jokes around and forces people to say thank you and that they love him, but everyone knows he just does it so no one feels indebted because he gives. He is a big giver. They still feel indebted.

On that day, they both wore something white. Hoseok had on a white shirt with khakis, and Seokjin wore a light peach shirt with white pants. He had his hair brushed backwards, dazzling his way into the organ beneath Hoseok’s sternum.

Even after many years of friendship, then falling in love, then both love and friendship, he fell again for Seokjin on their wedding day.

Seokjin gave him some green hydrangeas on the wedding day, one which all the visitors laughed at. He joked around about how Hoseok deserved it because he was the prettier, bottom one. Hoseok's favourite colour is green, and Seokjin never forgets that. 

Seokjin is the prettier one. To Hoseok, Seokjin is more beautiful than anyone he has ever met.

He remembers the whole procession, the signing of a form, the hired ordained priest. After carefully reading out their vows, they slide their rings on each other's ring finger. Little did people know, there is an engraved wording on the inside of the bands; a 'Seok-Seok' which Seokjin insisted on having so much because it was punny, and which Hoseok just relented.

He remembers Jungkook crying when they finally kissed each other as per ritual, Jimin holding him close. Jungkook is a big, wet crier. He cries like he means it. Hoseok loves him a lot and babies him a lot no matter how big and tough the man could be. He is still his little brother.

Jungkook is someone he considers family, a brother he never had.

Even on his wedding day, he saw how in love Jungkook is with Jimin. He loves Jimin so much. Jimin may look closed off, but anyone with eyes could see how his whole being is devoted to Jungkook.

Hoseok’s heart breaks for both Jimin and Jungkook too.

His heart breaks for himself and Seokjin. For Taehyung, for their parents who do not know what is happening to their son. 

His heart breaks for Seokjin.

An hour would pass but Hoseok would still be there, breathing into himself, retracing everything that has happened for the past couple of days. Never once would he let go of the ring in his left hand even when he would doze off, head lolling to the side, the extreme exhaustion taking over.

 

 

 *****

 

Jimin finds himself stuck in another army barricade on the long stretch of the highway, showing his City Council ID pass to get through. This time it does not seem to work, even when he went out earlier and tried to ask the young officer to let him discuss this with a superior.

“Sir, it’s pretty wrecked all the way in. We can’t allow you to continue, we can’t assure your safety.”

“But I need to get in. You don’t understand.”

“I’m sorry Sir, it’s protocol.” The tall officer looks sincerely apologetic, handing the staff ID back to Jimin and turning back on his feet to take his post. Jimin is ready to camp near the blockade and wait until they lift the orange and white road blockers. Tomorrow or sooner they would, and he wants to be there when it happens.

He is about to reverse the car again, holding back his tears and the coldness biting his skin.

Two knocks on his window almost make Jimin rev up his engines. The officer has his face leveled with Jimin’s, who stares at him wide-eyed.

“I talked to my superior. The farthest we can let you go to is the Rescue Center, some 2.4 kilometers away from here.”

Jimin wants to howl, but the officer’s stern but gentle expression keeps him glued to his seat.

“But you must park here and walk a bit. We can’t allow cars in at the moment to minimize damage.”

Jimin almost wants to hug him at this point, but he keeps his calm face on point.

“Yes please sir, thank you so much. I’ll leave my car here.”

Jimin breathes in a huge relief. The rescue center is one he would take. Jungkook could be there hauling in the injured, getting breaks. He could see him there.

He parks the car in the designated parking spot, and locks everything in once he has his bagpack secured on his back and another messenger back across his front. He bows to the officer once again in thankfulness, registers his name before making his way in.

Some of the officers at the post cannot help but warm up to him in between the small conversations they have while Jimin fills in some forms. They give him directions to the rescue center, and when it is all said and done they tell each other to take care, sincerely wishing so.

It is already 6.30 pm at the time, but the sky is almost midnight black.

The blackness envelops him like a woolen blanket he left on the safety of his bed, the cold air keeping him awake. By this time the streetlights have malfunctioned, so Jimin sees everything with the slim beam from his torchlight. The air is still, and Jimin hears nothing but his own steps and his inhales and exhales. He finds peace in that.

Jimin has always liked walking, hiking, running, dancing. Anything that uses feet.

His father taught him the joy of walking very early in his life. The first time they went into the woods close to their house together and trekked for an hour, he was only four. Every time his father had something bothering his mind, he would be gone an hour or two, walking his usual path in the usual place. Jimin shares a lot of his father’s traits, but this habit is the most identical. It stays with him throughout the years even when his father has passed.

He walks a lot with Jungkook back in their schooling years. Nowadays they find time on rare long weekends to go for a hike when they can. It is all an excuse to walk away from the hustle bustle of adulthood, an excuse to stay close to each other.

The temperature drops succinctly the more he walks. Jimin is thankful he is wearing Jungkook’s black Puma sweater. Jungkook’s generosity knows no boundaries with Jimin, especially his clothings. Half of Jimin’s sweaters are Jungkook’s.

When they were younger and Jungkook was another welcomed occupant of Jimin’s room, Jimin’s shirts and sweaters would be his to wear, as the former had very little clothes. That was something Jimin secretly liked a lot; sharing clothes. When Jungkook ceased doing it as he grew too much and he could not fit Jimin’s smaller sizes anymore, Jimin remembers being a little melancholic.

Jimin secretly thinks Jungkook leaves his sweaters in his house all the time now as a way to say thanks, and a little because he is possessive like that.

 

He remembers a night in December when he was seventeen and Jungkook was sixteen, another fifteen days before they would turn another year. It was almost a month plus after the confession, and they were not talking much at the time.

 

The day Jungkook’s aunt took him and his bags to live with her for awhile, Jimin was there. He watched from beneath his curtain as his parents bid Jungkook goodbye. Jungkook seemed like he was avoiding him after the confession, and Jimin has never had anything like this happening to him.

He never had someone he felt strongly for, and was also confused a lot by, so he stood and waited; not exactly knowing what to feel and how to express it.

He did not know what to do so he just went along. His heart hurt but he figured Jungkook needed space with everything that was happening, so he went along.

By December he hardly saw Jungkook anymore, what’s with the school holidays. He waited sometimes if Jungkook would come back to his old house and he could act like he was saying hello, send him cookies, his charger or something.

Cold winds and temperature wrapped the town they were in with a somber nonchalance that winter, worse than any other winters he has lived through. Jimin found himself lonely and terribly reminiscent of Jungkook’s scent on his bed.

 

One really cold morning, Jimin saw his mother welcoming Jungkook in, and watched as the latter hugged her and shook his head in refusal. He had his bags with him, and looked like he was rushed to do something. It seemed like he was going to spend his school break at his own house.

The seventeen year old Jimin screamed into his pillow, and hoped that the sound of his whiny yell did not escape through the small crack of his opened windows which he had opened to spy on the small conversation.

Contrary to his previous plans, Jimin was still the coward he hated to admit he was.

Days passed by as Jimin waited next to his windows to see Jungkook, who seemed like he was not in most of the times. He would knock on Jungkook's door sometimes in the morning, and some other times in the afternoon when he returned from his preparatory school on the school break. The echoes from his voice from the empty house the only indication that Jungkook was never really home.

He was curious and paranoid, and mostly hurt. He wondered if he had hurt Jungkook a lot in the process of him understanding his feelings, or if Jungkook had moved on, found someone else more interesting than Jimin. Jungkook did not have to take it this far to avoid him.

One Saturday Jimin decided to wait longer hours in the vicinity of Jungkook’s front yard.

The house had looked rather abandoned and untouched, hence why Jimin took the liberty to clean the scraps and clutter of dead leaves. Everything was wet at that time of the year, and every ten minutes or so he would stop to rub his hands together to stay warm.

At 11 p.m., he had a mug of hot coffee in his hands and another on the front step which he had made quickly when he returned to his house to steal the warmth. He now had hot packs lodged inside his pockets. He wondered where Jungkook went and if he would be home before the coffee turned as cold as the night.

He wondered if Jungkook was at someone else’s house.

Jimin had drunk both mugs by the time it turned midnight, returning home in angst to wash them and staying for another hour in the living room, before deciding he should not give up. His mother watched everything in amusement before calling it a night and telling Jimin to not forget to lock the doors when he leaves next.

Jungkook finally returned at 2 a.m., still wearing the uniform of the convenience store he worked at all school break.

He came home to find Jimin asleep on the front steps of his house in his thick jacket and scarf, head lolling on the front door, lulled by the cold and the exhaustion seeping in and chilling his bones.

When Jimin finally wakes to the cold of Jungkook’s ungloved hands, he found Jungkook crouching in front of him, watching him wide-eyed.

“Jimin hyung. What are you doing out here? It’s December.”

Jimin missed that voice so much, the low timbres in gentle tones shaking him out of his reverie. He took another long minute of looking into Jungkook’s eyes before answering.

“Waited for you.”

“Why- hyung-” Jungkook groaned, helping Jimin up and unlocking his house door as soon as he could.

Jimin remembers how tired Jungkook had looked that night, his face shielded by a black cap, yet not really hiding the eyebags under his eyes.

They walked into the house a minute after and Jungkook immediately switched on the heater. He unzipped his sweater, took off his uniform vest and cap, and hung them all on a coat rack, movements rushed as if he was trying to run from something.

Jimin was still shrouded in sleepiness but he did not miss the condition of the now almost-vacant house. It looked the same as the day he last went inside, the placing of the furniture almost identical except for some missing one or two. He also noticed the staff uniform which Jungkook wore. It was from a convenient store in a town close to theirs, a bigger branch compared to their town's.

“You work?”

Jungkook was putting the water kettle on the stove when he heard Jimin’s tiny voice. He turned around to face Jimin, raking his flattened hair back to fluff it up. His long bangs fell back on his forehead, almost covering his eyes.

“Yeah, pays better than the milk delivery job I do in the morning.”

Jimin was startled by Jungkook’s revelation, and his face showed it. He did not know Jungkook worked two jobs. Here he was living in comfort and trying to have Jungkook all to himself, thinking of everything else but Jungkook's effort to try to live well.

He was staring at Jungkook when the latter came out of the kitchen, towards him who was still rooted in his place like an idiot.

“Are you still cold? You wanna get out of that?” Jungkook asked gently, to which Jimin nodded like a child.

So Jungkook unzipped it for Jimin whose hands were frozen stiff, hovering close to Jungkook’s nimble fingers. Jungkook’s hand brushed his, and he almost chased after Jungkook’s warm hands before the latter turned away.

Jungkook walked back to his kitchen cabinet and started getting the cocoa powder and sugar out. He did everything with such poise and boyish nonchalance that Jimin began to wonder if he was affected by Jimin’s absence as much as he was with Jungkook’s.

Jimin did not realise it, but once he came to he was already pulling Jungkook into a hug in the middle of his kitchen. His cold nose was buried underneath the back of Jungkook’s neck, above his sweater. He can feel the goosebumps rising on Jungkook’s skin as he nuzzled it, scent it.

He missed Jungkook’s scent, Jungkook’s body. His delicate but big gestures. The wide smile and wide eyes. He missed a lot of things.

The way he held Jimin’s hands clasped on his middle, as Jimin felt Jungkook’s breath quickened. The way he turned around and hugged Jimin tighter than they had ever. He missed all of it.

Jimin felt Jungkook’s lips on his temple for a long time, his hands holding Jimin close. Jimin let go of his tears.

He missed Jungkook so much.

“I miss you Jungkook. Come back to me.”

 

That night, after they both had hot cocoa while sitting on Jungkook’s bed, Jimin found himself in a position he had always wanted to be in for the longest time. He was sitting in Jungkook’s embrace, his long limbs encapsulating Jimin’s body in a tight but comfortable hug. Jungkook had his back on the headboard, and Jimin had Jungkook's chest as his wall.

Jimin had asked him why he had stayed away, and Jungkook asked him why he had never looked for him.

“I’m sorry, for taking time, and being an idiot. Would you forgive me Jungkook?”

Jungkook buried his nose deeper into Jimin’s neck as he muttered the words. “I was never angry at you. There's nothing to forgive.”

And that was the night they had their first kiss.

Jungkook was nuzzling his nose into his hair as if he was trying to inhale the smell of Jimin’s vanilla shampoo to etch it in his memory, their cocoa cups long finished. Jimin felt goosebumps rising across his skin as his fingers traced Jungkook’s own, their hands clasped together.

It was turning five in the morning, and Jimin had just texted his mother that he was going to stay at Jungkook’s, and Jungkook had just called his boss to tell him he could not deliver milk that morning. They had just finished their conversation about what it all meant, what they mean to each other.

Jimin had described how distant he felt about Jungkook in vivid details, how he always wanted Jungkook close. How it hurt to be away. How scared he was at the realisation of how young they were, and how he himself did not believe in anything teenagers like himself does. How he did not understand himself anymore.

“We’re young Jungkook. You’re sixteen. Are we even gonna work? We haven’t even grown into our skins, how are we even sure of how we feel—ten, twenty years from now?” Jimin rambled on slowly. 

“How will we live being who we are? What if you don’t want me anymore a year from now? What if you don’t like the person I become?”

Jungkook was silent. Jimin always asked the right but difficult questions. His intellect and wisdom do not allow for anything else, anything risky, anything he cannot calculate. “I’m in love with you too much, Jungkook. I won't be able to take it.”

Jungkook stopped moving at that.

“I don’t know about the future, hyung. I’m a simple person, I’m not as smart as you are.”

Jimin thought that was rubbish, Jungkook was always smarter than he was.

“We'll change and grow into our skins like you say we will, and you might not like me anymore in the future but I believe in myself. I'll change a lot, but it would hurt for me to change my feelings for you,” Jungkook said breathlessly into his hair, as if it would hurt him to say it out loud.

“We can live with or without each other, but I want you in my life. I want to take care of you, make you happy. I only know what’s now. I want you now, I want you for a long time.”

Jimin’s lips found Jungkook’s first when they had their first kiss.

It was weird in a way; it tasted like dried cocoa, smelled like the both of them.

But it was the loveliest thing, even when their teeth get in the way, their lips chapped from the cold. While the first one from Jimin was just a prolonged peck, Jungkook had turned Jimin’s body around fully to face him. He cupped Jimin’s head, put their foreheads on each other and stared into Jimin’s smaller, sharper eyes.

And then he dove forward and captured Jimin’s lips once again, this time in a more languid kiss, gentler and longer than the first. They tasted each other while trying to learn the way around their first kiss, Jimin’s plump bottom lip in between Jungkook’s lips.

When Jimin experimentally slid in his tongue into Jungkook’s mouth as they breathed, they just lost control.

Jimin remembers how in love they were as he climbed and straddled Jungkook’s laps, holding his head close so that it would not leave his face. Jungkook held his face and his hips so tightly that he could feel Jungkook’s every stuttered breath, every move of his muscles.

When they broke free from each other’s hungry lips, Jimin kissed the beauty marks on Jungkook’s face, and the one scar he had on his cheekbone. He kissed Jungkook’s jaw and his neck, and Jungkook’s lips once again. He needed Jungkook to see how much he loves him, young, foolish, and unknowing they were.

They had kissed for awhile that night; the tens of kisses they had shared bruising their lips. Jungkook had looked so wonderful even with the rings under his eyes from exhaustion. They slept in each other arms that night, Jimin’s head on Jungkook’s chest.

Jimin remembers waking up to Jungkook staring at him from above, and himself closing his face with his hands out of embarrassment. They remembered what they did that night, just kissing. They laughed about it when Jimin turned to hide and almost fell from the single bed, Jungkook catching him quickly and gathering him into his arms. Jungkook kissed his forehead, his neck, his lips, and Jimin did not want to leave.

It had felt so good, being in Jungkook’s embrace, his teeth gently nibbling on Jimin’s lips.

A couple of hours later he left for his home wearing Jungkook’s sweater, quickly running for his room when his father stared at him for too long.

Everyday for the rest of the school break he would wait for Jungkook when he could, usually catching up to him for breakfast. Jungkook always had evening shift and Jimin did not want to deprive him off his much needed sleep, so he only came over to send food.

Sometimes they would kiss in the kitchen, and Jimin would taste Jungkook’s minty toothpaste if it was morning, and his three cups of coffee if it was past dinnertime. It was usually nothing as long as the first kiss, because Jungkook always looked exhausted, and Jimin was pulling a celibate persona to hold himself back.

He was having a hard time not getting boners, the adolescent teen that he was, and he did not want anything they did not understand to happen.

Before the school break ended, Jungkook’s aunt and uncle came by to his house to discuss things. Jimin’s parents were in too. Jungkook had requested that he wanted to live alone and maintain his house, and the consenting adults said yes with one condition—Jungkook were to stay with Jimin’s parents most times until he turned eighteen, and to come over when he could to his relative’s house.

They, his aunt and uncle had agreed with the affair because their own house was small enough for their family of five and law is still law, and Jungkook understood that bit. He was more thankful towards Jimin’s parents who were selfless enough to take him in, that was all they had been doing for the past two years.

Jimin watched the whole exchange from the kitchen, his eyes carefully catching Jungkook’s eyes once in awhile. When they had agreed to everything, Jimin was so happy he wanted to jump into Jungkook’s arms at that very moment.

They were going to be together all the time.

For the following months in the year Jimin would turn eighteen and finally begin his senior year, and Jungkook himself would turn seventeen, that was all he remembers.

They lived like always; studied hard, fought over silly things, walked to and from home, be exhausted out of their wits like always. The only difference was that they now got to hold each other’s hands everytime it got a little bit too hard, too tough.

One would think they would hold each other all the times they were left alone, but life was as realistic as ever.

Most of the time they would sit in the quietness of the room, quietness of each other, peering into their books studiously; strumming his guitar for Jungkook, or attaching the latest mechanical figures for Jimin, soothed only by the mere presence of each other.

Jungkook no longer occupied the futon most nights when they needed each other too much, but they still laid it out. Sometimes Jimin would feel cheeky and wanted to sleep on it and Jungkook would just play along and rolled with him on it, leaving the bed empty.

They only mess around when they have hours to spare, kissing each other incessantly but quietly, never really doing anything past anything they were not sure of. At that time Jimin only knew bits and pieces from Sungwoon about what to do, and occasionally from porn. His sexual outlet when the kisses got him so turned on and Jungkook’s scent got to him too much was his own quick hands in the shower.

The Jimin now finds it ridiculous and sweetly naïve how the hormonal Jimin and Jungkook would try to finish homework speedily when they had rubbed each other’s legs too much while studying at the dinner table with Jihyun, unafraid of getting caught. They would lock the door to Jimin’s room the instant they get in, dumping the books on the study table.

Then Jungkook would grab Jimin’s head and kiss him as soon as he could, wrapping his arms around Jimin’s waist and pushing him onto the bed. As if not kissing Jimin would kill him.

During those months, Jimin learnt what Jungkook liked the most—when Jimin held his neck, or bit his thicker lower lip. When Jimin was below him at night, and above him in the morning.

Jungkook learnt how Jimin liked it best when Jungkook held him tight, nuzzled his large nose on Jimin’s skin. He loved Jungkook biting him, showing power, possession, love.

 

By the fifth month, they began to leave hickeys. Lovebites where no one but they themselves could see.

Jimin started it the day they just had their dinner and a shower after a fulfilling Sports Day when Jungkook won the relay. Jungkook had looked so hot that almost everyone, especially Jimin wanted him. That Friday night he bit onto Jungkook’s bicep, his tummy, his thighs, his collarbone. He wanted Jungkook all to himself.

Jungkook went further. He left hickeys on Jimin’s inner thighs, so close to Jimin’s aching cock. He left one on Jimin’s chest, on top of his heart. He was always sentimental like that.

 

By September, a day after Jungkook’s seventeenth birthday, they had their hands inside each other’s pants.

Jungkook initiated it.

They were kissing each other heavily when it happened, twenty minutes after Jimin gifted Jungkook a cheap digital camera he had bought for him online with his pocket money. Hours before they had returned home from Jungkook's birthday party which Jimin’s extended family celebrated at a local eatery. Jungkook took a photo of Jimin as his first shot, and them both the second, and him kissing Jimin the third.

Jungkook had whispered into Jimin’s ears to ask if it was okay to put a hand in his boxer and touch Jimin’s ass. To that Jimin whimpered a yes.

Jungkook put both of his hands in, grappling the plush flesh with his long fingers. Minutes after Jimin soon pushed his own pants off, wanting Jungkook to feel him better, hold him better. Jimin was writhing and breathing heavily in Jungkook’s neck, unable to ease off the pleasure of Jungkook clutching his soft behind. He had wanted this for so long.

His hand hovered close to Jungkook’s crotch, clutching Jungkook’s tummy. But he was too scared.

Jimin remembers Jungkook stopping and looking into his eyes.

“You wanna stop, hyung? “

Jimin almost screamed at that. Their parents were not home, still at the restaurant with their extended family. It was 2 in the morning, the neighbourhood was asleep. He wanted Jungkook to touch him.

“Don’t stop please. I wanna touch you Kook, can I?”

Jungkook nodded and Jimin could hear him groaning and breathing too heavily at his question. He held Jimin’s smaller hand as he put it inside his boxer, his trembling lips hovering on Jimin’s. When he put Jimin’s hand on his cock, it was already hard. Hard for Jimin and Jimin alone.

Jimin looked up to Jungkook who was looking at him like he owned him. He stroked the length gently, only letting go to take off Jungkook’s pants too. Now they were both naked, and he had Jungkook all to himself.

He rubbed it, feeling the veins and the soft skin of Jungkook's cock, as Jungkook grabbed him closer, pushing his body closer by his ass. Jungkook held Jimin’s cock after that, now dripping for Jungkook. They kissed languidly, wet and gentle, feeling themselves losing control. This was the first time they took it far and Jimin was losing his mind at the euphoria.

Jimin moaned Jungkook’s name when he could, biting Jungkook’s lips when the hold on his ass and aching cock got too much.

He remembers cumming first when he felt Jungkook grabbing his ass hard in possessiveness and squeezing his cock all at once. Jungkook stroked him off the orgasm and smiled at him, telling him how beautiful he was, even with his cum in his hand.

“You’re beautiful, hyung. I can never get enough of you.”

Jimin could not take it. He pushed Jungkook to his back and took his large cock into his mouth, not knowing what to do but keen to get Jungkook to cum too.

He licked it like he would a candy he really wanted. Sungwoon taught him to think about it like that, and it was not a difficult task. Jimin had always wanted to taste Jungkook so bad. He sucked the bulbous head and licked Jungkook’s sweet precum excitedly. He did not know about Jungkook but he himself was in ecstasy and very much in love. Jimin was almost sure he almost injured Jungkook’s cock with his teeth but the younger was enduring everything, only raking back Jimin’s hair softly.

“Baby,” Jungkook had groaned, as he lost it to Jimin’s lips, cumming on Jimin’s lips, on Jimin’s hand. Jimin licked it all up, all the saltiness and the sweetness of Jungkook, staring at Jungkook who looked at him like he owned the world.

Seconds after that, he pulled Jimin up, kissing him senseless, tasting his own cum in Jimin’s mouth but caring for nothing.

They did that a few times after, drunk off feeling each other's skin. They never took it farther than that, too scared and too in love to hurt each other.

The Jimin now shudders at the memories, feels himself pulsing with feelings of adoration. He pictures Jungkook’s young face and the aged Jungkook now. They are both so beautiful; so effortlessly, flawlessly beautiful.

Young, skinny Jungkook was impulsive, jumpy, quiet, broody at times. The tough meat, muscular Jungkook he knows now is responsible, strong, calculative, calm, and composed. Both are so good to him. He loves them both so much.

It hurts him to wonder what kind of lover Jungkook would be right now. Does he get better? Did he ever hold anyone else after Jimin, like he did to Jimin, like every time they did it when they were young? Did he ever hold someone like that; like the first night they touched each other intimately?

It hurts how does not know how the Jungkook now would look like after a kiss. It has been a long time.

Their last kiss was years before and Jimin wants it so bad. Waited for it to come.

They almost did it a lot of times, especially whenever they were drunk off their feet, but something akin to a larger than life force would hold them back. And then they would just stare into each other’s eyes and snap out of it and start doing something else.

Sometimes Jungkook would head for the freezer to take out something to eat. Jimin would turn on the television. Or Jungkook would head out for a breather, claiming to get more beer or checking whether his car is locked. A couple of times Jimin would head into the loo claiming he wanted to pee, where he washes his tears away in the sink.

He knows why they both stopped, still grappling with the thoughts on it.

His feet feel sore now after walking a kilometer and a half. Ahead in another 500 meters he can see a small building with a few people coming out of it. He is close to the rescue center and he quickens his steps, grabbing his bag straps close.

Jimin almost skips his way to the rescue center by now. His father always told him not to skip, to walk with grace, to enjoy every step. He slows down his steps at that, and remembers another memory of a different kind, when Jimin’s father took them all for a hiking trip.

 

It is not something he wants to remember, but he guesses it is about time he does.

 

It was fall, mid-October, about a year after Jungkook’s confession. Jimin’s father hauled them all up for his annual hiking trip which he usually only did with Jimin or Jihyun, but most often with Jimin, his oldest.

Jungkook was forced to come too, and the boy was more than excited to tag along. He loves Jimin’s father like his own and was excited at anything the older man would ask or teach him to do.

They were halfway up, the morning sun greeting them like a loyal host. The lush shrubs emanated a scent of grass and nature, one that calmed down their palpitating heart and hasty pants.

“You close with that Sungwoon kid still, Jimin?”

Jimin’s father’s question took him by more than just surprise.

They had been talking about the type of trees on this side of the wood when his father decided to make a quick detour of the conversation. Jimin took notice of something else laced in his tones, something like disgust and annoyance.

“Yeah Dad. Why?”

“He likes boys, does he?”

Jungkook looked up at that, looking alarmed. Jimin turned to Jungkook who was walking behind them a bit and continued walking beside his father. Jihyun was peering into the wilderness like nothing else was interesting but the songs in his music player, earbuds in.

“Where did you even hear that, Dad? Please don’t listen to gossips.”

“Everyone knows. It’s a given, his family came from the city. They seemed okay with that, with their son like that.”

His father had known Sungwoon and his parents from childhood, even when they had moved out for a few years, and the boy was a frequent guest at his house since they were younger. Jimin could not understand the reason for the sudden hostility. More than anything, he could not believe how prejudiced his father was, knowing how kind and accepting he usually was. Time really changes people.

“Lets not talk about Sungwoon, Dad-“

“Jimin, listen. Be careful with that boy. You too Jungkook, Jihyun. I don’t want my boys getting weird ideas.” Jimin’s father stopped and looked back at his other two sons walking behind him.

Jungkook answered in a slow but sure tone. “Yes, sir.”

“We don’t want you getting wrong ideas about life. It’s dirty, it’s wrong. I thought he was a smart boy.”

Jimin was simmering inside, remembering Jungkook’s cowering look. “Dad, what’s so wrong with being gay?”

“Hyung-“ Jungkook grabbed Jimin’s arm to get him to stop talking, but Jimin’s blabbermouth knew no end.

“Homosexuality is a disease, once you hang out with them gays you just get dragged in. What if he does stuff to you?”

Jimin could not believe what he was hearing.

“Dad! What are you talking about? He’s my friend and you know him for the longest time. He respects you so much! How could you say that?” Jimin had stopped walking by this time. “He’s a good person and he doesn’t do anyone wrong. It’s people who wrong him!”

“Son.” His dad had stopped walking, his walking stick gripped tightly inside both of his hands. He looked at Jimin with a grave, angered face.

For the first time in many years, Jimin shuddered in fear at his father’s stern tone, and dismayed look.

“We’re gonna go home now. We'll do this another time.”

His father then turned around and passed by Jimin who was standing rooted in the middle of the path. The old man had never really left the hiking track midways, always saying stopping halfways is the work of quitters.

The whole way home he gave them a lecture about how it is wrong to be gay, how he would report Sungwoon to the school if Jimin mentions anything about him again. Jimin was glad he took the backseat instead of riding shotgun, seeing how he could not control his face the whole time.

Jimin wanted to tell his father he is gay too so he could shut up.

The whole time he did so, Jimin glanced at the side mirror on Jungkook's side, looking at the boy sitting on the passenger seat. His head was bowed down, and occasionally he would peer at the passing scenery from the car window or stare down at his fidgeting hands, nodding when Jimin's father asked him to agree. 

When he looked up and they caught each other's reflection on the side mirror, his eyes were glassy and Jimin almost wanted to stop the car.

Next to him, Jihyun who was wearing earphones the whole time like he was not into any of their business patted his thighs and smiled at him apologetically.

Jihyun is always smart, long before he turned into a successful physicist, got married and now has a wonderful son with his wonderful wife. Way back then, even when he seemed like he did not care much about what was happening, Jimin knew he knew. Jimin knew he has always cared. 

That afternoon when they returned, Jungkook, on the pretense of getting a shower, had cried inside the bathroom for a very long time. Jimin knows because he stood outside of it the whole time.

 

Jimin stops walking for a second, bends forward to take a deep breath. As he fixes the heavy backpack and shakes away the memory of Jungkook’s crying face and swollen eyes, he continues walking. He resets his thoughts the minute he approaches the center.

The bright fluorescent lights hit his eyes sharply, returning him to the present.

The center is a one-storey building which looked like a town center modified to become a rescue center. It looks almost half vacant from the outside, despite the bright lightings.

The sterile smell of antiseptic strikes his nose first when he walks in. As he goes around finding a familiar face, Taehyung's most probably, Jimin takes notice of the surrounding area. Beds of patients are organised in a neat fashion in rows on the left and right side of the center. A few of them are occupied, and a curtain is used to cover the occupied beds. While most of the beds are vacant of victims who most probably have already been transported to the local hospital, Jimin spots traces of human blood on the available beds, now layered with a plastic sheath.

Nurses walk past him, too sleepy to acknowledge who he is and what he is doing at the center. He looks clean and uninjured so they do not really care.

He walks inside a bit more till he reaches a connecting door, and opens it to find another ward. This room, almost double the size from the previous one is filled with more patients and more curtained slots.

At the end of the ward are desks for nurses and doctors. Only one doctor was sitting at the desk, and his face looks familiar. Jimin walks closer towards him.

It is Bogum.

He walks over to greet Bogum, who is already standing in shock at seeing Jimin over at the rescue center, an unlikely event in the chaos of the earthquake. Bogum is a friend he had met during a rescue and saving training he had with the city hospital. It was optional for the City Council staff, but Jungkook had wanted him to join it, and Jimin liked it too, so he did.

He had met Taehyung and Bogum there and they had hit it off like best buddies, especially with Taehyung who is Seokjin’s brother. He has not seen Bogum in awhile with their crazy schedules, so it is something pleasantly surprising to meet the lanky doctor all the way here.

“What are you doing here Jimin? Wow!” Bogum took Jimin in a friendly embrace, patting him twice in the back.

“Hey Bogum hyung! Funny how we’d meet here out of all places. I’m just-”

“Worried about Jungkook?” Bogum smiles at Jimin who sheepishly nods. “Heard he was at the mall site. You can put your bags over here.”

Bogum points to a closet. “You can stay here for awhile. We need help too and you’re trained.”

Jimin keeps his bags in the designated place and gets himself a comfy chair next to Bogum to rest his body on. He does not delay asking. “You heard anything from the site, hyung?”

Bogum shakes his head, his glasses falling on his nose. “I just got in like a couple of hours ago, came straight from my shift. So I’m not really informed about what happened in the day. The night is slow though, I think they stopped a bit, or saved most of the victims in the day.”

Jimin nods his head at that. Bogum continues, his hand still writing something on a report file. “The previous doctors had a rough afternoon, there were so many critical victims coming in from the mall alone.”

Jimin wants to ask him if he knows about Jungkook but he does not want to appear too pushy. The doctor looks tired too, his good-looking, clean face looks a bit too sleepy for the early hours. He volunteers a lot, and Jimin is sure he does not need to come here, nor is he assigned for duty here. Bogum has always been a terribly good man.

While Jimin gets lost in his thoughts, Bogum continues writing his reports and talking to Jimin at the same time. “They mentioned something about some trapped firemen too, said after the second wave today some firemen couldn’t get out.”

Jimin’s heart jumps at this, sitting up in his seat. He feels uneasy.

“Oh? Did they mention names?”

“No, but there were a lot of teams sent into the area this morning. We’re not sure who they are. But none of Jungkook’s teammates were sent here for treatment so I guess they’re okay.”

Jimin’s heart palpitates. “I’m worried Bogum hyung. Is there any way we can get to the site?”

Bogum contemplates for awhile. “I don’t think so Jimin. I’m worried about Tae too. He’s been there for awhile, but I can’t even contact him at the moment. We just gotta wait for the ambulance and army humvees to send in the victims. You can ask them then.”

Jimin hums an answer, dissatisfied but finding himself too tired to question the doctor’s words. He closes his eyes and slouches his body a bit. It is not long before he finds himself drifting slowly to sleep, effortlessly.

 

He remembers Jungkook’s crying face again, his laughing face, the face he has when he wants Jimin all to himself. He remembers the young Jungkook and the older Jungkook from a couple of days before.

And the he falls deep into his slumber, into Jungkook's embrace. All the Jungkook he knows.

 

 ****

 

Jungkook wakes up once again.

This time, the pain swelling and pulsating in his head has numbed to a certain degree. The temperature is on a consistent drop.

He cannot feel his broken arm anymore now that the cold October air bites directly into his bones. It keeps him alternating from being fully awake a minute and asleep the next. He is sure his head concussion is getting him high on pain.

His head swims in a darkened delirium because he cannot see anything. He taps the loose helmet on his head with his other hand upon remembering, trying to switch on the light.

It works, but all he sees is darkness. Low ceilings of pure darkness. There must be a hole somewhere to let the air in, since he is still breathing even after getting trapped in the fallen building. 

“Kook… Kook is that you?”

Jungkook hears it first, before it registers in his mind that it is Seokjin’s voice.

He wants to answer but coughs instead when he feels choked.

It is Seokjin’s voice.

Seokjin is alive. He wants to cry.

“Hy-“ he could not find his voice despite being happy. Euphoric.

“It’s okay Kook. You don’t have to talk.”

Jungkook is grateful Seokjin can hear him. He sounds okay too. They are going to be okay.

"God, you're alive, Kook."

Jungkook hears the smile on Seokjin's face.

“Just tap whatever is close. Twice for No, once for Yes okay?”

Seokjin is as smart as ever. Jungkook taps once on his helmet.

“Do you know where you are? Can you see my light? I’m beaming it at the ceiling. I can see your light on the left, but I can’t see you.”

Jungkook squints and tries to turn his face to look around. He saw a light on his right. He taps once.

“Good. God, you’re alive. We’re gonna make it. Now can you move?”

Jungkook taps twice. His legs are not broken but his head hurt and he cannot see anything beyond his own hand and the ceiling. The pain from his twisted, broken arm is making him wince with every movement.

“I can’t either. Think I broke my leg in the fall.”

“Hyung-“ Jungkook speaks. Voice regaining power, he coughs a bit more to clear his throat. “Where are we?”

“I think it’s the basement. There’s water all over, flooded basement. We must’ve fallen through the broken floor. We're still breathing so there must be some holes somewhere.”

“Hurts, hyung. Hit my head or something. It's bleeding..”

Seokjin sobs at that. “Fuck. Stay with me okay? Knock when you can’t speak. They’re gonna come for us.”

“I'm sleepy...”

“No Kook, you can’t sleep. You must stay awake. I’m gonna go to you. Slowly.”

Jungkook hears the movements before the scream. Seokjin is screaming as his broken leg twists again. Jungkook whimpers at that. His heart breaks for his older friend.

“Hyung no. Stay. I’ll come over.”

Jungkook holds his broken right arm with his left and, upon inhaling a huge breath in, scoots over to the nearest flat surface on his right. He moves slowly on his back, not being able to crawl because of his broken arm. It hurts like hell but he tries to forget it.

He can hear Seokjin sobbing in pain.

To hear a grown man who has been through numerous injuries yet still come out strong, now crying like he is out of his wit is crushing. He knows Seokjin is devastated and in pain, those two a lethal mix for even the strongest men.

“It’s been close to twelve hours Jungkook. I can’t take it.” Seokjin’s voice was high-pitched, broken.

Jungkook scoots again. He feels a thick nail snagging his uniform, cutting the flesh on his thigh. He wants to scream but his throat is scratchy, so he just heaves loudly. The pain feels like a new, vivid sensation from the numbing pain everywhere else.

He can hear Seokjin’s voice getting clearer. Seokjin can hear him too.

“Hyung...”

“Hold on, I’m close to a pool of water. Stay there. It’s dangerous. I‘ll come over to you.”

Seokjin crawls and slithers forward, his light now criss-crossing with Jungkook’s. They can see each other now.

Jungkook’s temple is bleeding, his left cheek filled with dried blood from his head injury.

Seokjin has a long cut on his arm when he holds out his hand, his uniform sleeve torn. His face looks okay, pale but fine. There are scratches too on his face like on Jungkook’s, but he looks intact.

They hold out their hands.

And then they cry. At the touch of their fingers they cry.

“Hyung, hurts. I’m tired…”

“Hold my hand Kook. I‘ll wake you up if you sleep too long.”

Jungkook does not hear the rest of it. He falls into a deep slumber as his head spins.

 

Within his dream sequence, he sees Jimin’s face. The first night they kissed. Waking up to him in the morning after. He had stared at Jimin for almost half an hour before the latter woke up and giggled into his hands.

 

He remembers every single kiss they had, the one they shared under Jimin’s blanket to mask off the sounds. He remembers Jimin’s plush lips on his collarbone, on his body, on his cock.

He remembers how divine Jimin looked under him. Younger Jimin, older Jimin.

He remembers the Jimin who came back for off days during his military service. How he sneakily went into Jungkook’s aunt home first to kiss him senseless before he made it back to his own. Jimin’s buzz cut was itchy on his skin but he loves that Jimin too.

He remembers the Jimin who went to university when Jungkook trained for the firemen squad. They could not meet much given the circumstances, and their own lack of effort. During those times he would jerk off to Jimin’s photos when he could. He had missed Jimin so bad but they were too broke to see each other. The separation helped them in such a way but broke them too.

Jungkook almost went crazy at the thought of Jimin meeting someone he would fall for in university, overworking himself to the point of exhaustion to forget that.

Then the dreams turn sour. He remembers eighteen year old Jimin who was crying. Or trying not to cry.

Jimin's dad had caught them sleeping together, albeit still in shirts, bodies still in each other's arms. It was usually Jimin’s mother who would wake them up, knocking the door first before anything else. She was not around then, away for a visit to the relatives. Jimin had forgotten to lock the door the night before but Jungkook himself did not remember.

He did not think it was that bad but they still got an earful. Jimin’s dad did not know Jimin came in his hand an hour ago, looking deep into Jungkook’s eyes and calling him his baby.

But even if he did not, he separated them anyway. He had told Jungkook to pack his stuff.

“You’re still my son Jungkook, but we need to nip things in the bud. That kid got to you both.” He would tell Jungkook, and Jungkook remembers feeling his heart shattering into pieces. The current Jungkook sobs in his sleep. Seokjin hears that.

“I’m disappointed with the both of you. You, Jungkook. I took you in, and this is how you repay me.”

Jungkook had cried so hard then, his sobs choking him.

“Dad-“

“Quiet, Jimin. You will hear from me soon.” Jimin was silent at that.

“Jungkook. You are welcomed anytime, son. But I don’t think you need to live here anymore. I can’t allow that. I’m sorry.”

Jimin’s father had looked grim and apologetic, and Jungkook hated that. The old man has done a lot for his sake, and the last thing he wanted was to hurt him.

“I’ve called your aunt, and they will fetch you in an hour.”

Jungkook understood, and he showed it so. He apologized and said his thanks to the man who helped him through his teenage years, someone who most closely resembled a father figure in his life. He walked quickly to Jimin’s room, packing his stuff in silence while Jimin stood behind him, his cheeks dry. His father stood close to the opened door, as if chaperoning them, watching over them like a hawk.

Jimin was holding his tears in, Jungkook knew that face so well.

He left an hour after, leaving a sweater, the one Jimin was wearing at the time, but his father did not need to know that.

After that it was difficult to see Jimin. It was already time for finals when he left the house. Jimin’s final examination for university entrance was close too. They carried on like nothing happened. Jimin’s father did not need to know Jimin would sneak into Jungkook’s class to see him sometimes, or see each other after school briefly, and for them both to go home and cry inside the confines of their blanket.

The next year, Jimin enrolled in the military service as early as February. His father made him, a punishment after being caught visiting Jungkook at his aunt’s too many times.

Jungkook did not get to send him off because his family members were there. But the night before Jimin did, he came over to see Jungkook. They stared at each other for a long time, and Jimin promised to write.

Life goes on.

Jungkook lived his senior year like anyone would, albeit feeling like he was not able to feel most times. That was the case until Jimin's letter would arrive to remind him of everything he should not let go—his feelings, his love, his home.

 

***

 

Jimin dreams of many things too, all the hurt coming back intermittently with the overwhelming feelings he has for Jungkook.

When Jimin completed his military service and enrolled into university, Jungkook was still serving his own years of military service. He enrolled a year after Jimin, but went to a different camp.

The final straw came when they were each 24 and 23. Jungkook was two months away from graduating and being accepted into the rescue force. 

By this time, the physical touches were almost absent; from the distance between their learning institutes, and from their quiet acceptance and understanding of reality. Jimin’s father’s health was deteriorating, and it ate at Jimin’s conscience how much he had rebelled in his younger years. Jungkook understood, respected that and grew a gap between them. He too was affected to all degrees.

On that year’s Chuseok, his father had called them both to come back together, this time making Jungkook promise they would come back to celebrate with Jimin's family. He even asked Jimin's mother to prepare a guest room for Jungkook.

Jimin was more than giddy. He was thinking about his parents' acceptance of his identity, and Jungkook as not only another son but a possible life partner for Jimin. Engineering school was tough. He had missed Jungkook’s face and touch. He had missed Jungkook, and he wanted Jungkook to feel home again. When they met in the living room a day before Chuseok—Jungkook arriving two hours later than he did, Jimin was seconds away from jumping him. 

Jungkook looked bigger and tanner than the last time he saw the man three months prior, and his hands were itchy to touch his face, hold his hands. He tried to hold it all in.

But they did hold hands in his bedroom, touched each other’s faces. 

Chuseok was joyous. For a day.

The day after, the family held a get together which continued on to be a planned matchmaking session.

It was a fiasco.

Jimin father got both men to sit across two women, daughters of his friends. Then he forced them to go out on a double date on the same day. Jimin’s father laughed as he talked about sons and grandchildren, how he wanted it to work. The minute he began talking about Sungwoon and how he is a disgrace to their neighbourhood, Jimin was already seeing red.

They did go out with the ladies, because Jungkook held his anger in, out of respect.

They did go out, because Jimin saw Jungkook’s reassuring look and wanted to steer out of trouble.

They were not hormonal teenagers anymore, and one date would not hurt. Jimin told his father that they were going out separately, and asked the lady out gently.

The women had looked stressed and forced too, like they did not want to be here but were trying to be civil. Jimin had felt sorry for them, caught in a problem with two gay men who were crazy about each other. Jungkook's date began to soften and warm up to the younger quickly, to which Jimin had a little too much to drink because.

Jungkook returned home first after sending his date home. Jimin was brimming with fury and needed fresh air, so he had stayed outside even when he had long sent his date home.

When he got home, his father was waiting at the dinner table, his finished cup of coffee leaving rings of stain on the table.

“I know about you both.” Jimin’s father's voice was stern, calculative. “Jungkook ruined you. I shouldn’t have taken him in."

Jimin continued walking, showing lack of surprise at his father's words.

"He's not here, Jimin. I told him to leave.”

"What did you say to him this time, Dad? Is it not enough whatever bullshit you said to him before?" Jimin was a little tipsy but he had full control of his tongue.

“Jimin, watch your mouth. I didn't raise you to be this rude. Don't question my say.”

It was then that Jimin had turned to his father, and told him right out that he is gay and will never ever bear a grandchild for his father, or continue his lineage. His father had looked at him like he killed him twice with that statement, and left for his bedroom.

When he went into the guest room on the way to his own to pack his bags, Jungkook was not there.

Jungkook left first.

Jimin broke down at that. He left soon after, and did not go home for months—not until his mother begged him to come home to see his sick father.

A couple of months would pass until Jungkook finally reached out and called to tell him he had passed his final examination and was going to be sent to serve, coincidentally in Jimin's residential city. He had helped Jungkook moved into the younger's current apartment, began living with him through the years together but not really together. Ever since then they never touched each other intimately again.

Kisses slowly became a distant memory. Lingering stares and safe touches became a thing. Jungkook still visited Jimin's family but on separate occasions, never spending the night. He spent the next Chuseok at his aunt’s, alone in his apartment, or taking extra voluntary shifts at the fire station.

Jungkook did not deserve that, any of that.

Jimin cries for Jungkook's hurt, for all the pain, for all the ugly words Jungkook had to listen to but never told him about. 

 

“Jimin.”

Bogum’s voice strays into his dream, a weird addition to a time-travelling dream where he could feel Jungkook's skin on his again.

“Jimin, wake up.”

Jimin wakes up with a startle, almost jumping to his feet.

“Yeah?”

“You were crying in your sleep. You okay?”

Jimin wipes some stray tear streaks away from his cheeks. “Yeah. I was just tired.”

“Listen, Jimin. You can go back to-“

Bogum’s voice is cut off by the sound of the ambulance coming in. They are sending some other saved victims from the location close to the mall.

In the previous hours, they had a couple of transfers from sites close to the mall which Jimin helped with. None of the army officers had any idea what was happening at the mall site so he focused on assisting the team with the victims.

He has fallen asleep when this one comes through, the clock's ringing sound reminding everyone it is already close to 11 p.m.

Jimin watches as Bogum and the other doctors and nurses cater to the patients he could not help with, the critical ones who need intensive medical intervention. A lot of them have severe head injuries, and the critical ones have already been sent straight to the local hospital.

The rescuers and army officers who came with them look disoriented and exhausted. They themselves look close to collapsing any soon. It is approaching midnight, and Jimin is sure they have been here for a day or two.

Jimin greets one of them and introduces himself, directly asking the questions he wanted to ask. He asks if the officer in full camo knows a Jeon, to which the latter answers an unsure no.

“I don't think so, Sir, no. They are still drilling the blockade when I left the site.”

“How long does it take usually?”

“I’m not sure. It’s a tough block to drill. It’s been more than twelve hours and they’re trying their best to get the victim out. There are risks of suffocation and the building might collapse, so they really need to be meticulous.” The officer unbuttons a top button of his uniform, stifled by the heat.

Jimin gently presses on. “Do you know who those five firemen are?”

“Not really. I only know that three of them are under Captain Ahn of Northeast Station, and another two under Captain Jung of the Southern City.”

Jimin’s feels dry, blood evaporating into thin air. Hoseok, Jung Hoseok is the captain of the Southern City Fire Station.

“Captain Jung Hoseok? Do you know who those staff are? ”

“Yeah, him. I don’t know much. All I heard was a Kim Seok-“

Goodness. Seokjin. Seokjin is inside?

“Another a Jun? Jeon? Jeon Jengguk? Wait-”

The officer has the same moment of epiphany as Jimin. “I think it’s your friend.”

Jimin loses all clarity.

 

**

 

“You let me do my job Hoseok! If you keep doing this, I’m gonna have to ask you to leave, man.”

“I’m sorry. I just— fuck, Segye. They're in there. Why would you stop now?”

“I know man. But you gotta- We’re trying to do our best.”

“I know.”

Segye pats Hoseok’s back, and goes back to monitors his men’s work. He was almost punched by the exhausted captain for delaying his drilling, but nothing else can be done at this time. They are all too tired.

He needs to wait for the replacement team coming in at supposedly an hour ago, bringing with them larger tools and drilling jacks. He looks back at Hoseok who is pacing back and forth, hands on hips. They began drilling about four hours ago, but were only able to get inside the first section of the first floor. There is still a lot to dig, but hope is there. 

The earth-shattering noise from the drill blurs out the solemn atmosphere of the night, now chilly and windy with the incoming storm. The rain gets heavier with each hour passing, making the work more difficult, visibility low.

They will pull through, and Hoseok will see his men again.

 

Deep down in the pit, Seokjin feels the pitter patter of the rain falling on the roof, the floor, the ceiling on top of them. Seconds after, slow drops of water begin to fall onto his face. 

There is a hole somewhere which leaks the water and air in and they will make it through, but he can feel himself suffocating more by the minute. The air is thick, dense, damp with moisture. 

He can hear the sounds of bells, occasional sounds of drilling and shrill screams which echo in the pit, but he mostly hear his own breathing and the water droplets falling onto the ground below. He reckons it has just started raining again.

Jungkook sleeps for too long, his breathing slow and heavy if not for the occasional sniffles.

“Kook, it’s been 40 minutes. Wake up."

Seokjin nudges Jungkook's frozen fingers, lying still close to his grasp. "You can’t do this to me. Wake up.”

Jungkook no longer cries in his sleep but Seokjin cannot see it. His grip weakens. Seokjin panics, worries Jungkook is now unconscious with the blood loss, comatose from the head injury.

“Don’t leave me, man.”

Seokjin is losing his mind from the lack of oxygen, the thirst choking him.

“Kook don’t do this. Hoseok is waiting for me. Hang in there, Kook.”

 

Jungkook squeezes Seokjin’s hands.

 

 *

Chapter Text

*******

 

The blinking squares on Seokjin’s digital watch read 1.06 a.m., approximately twelve hours after the fall.

He could not feel his leg at all now, the phantom pangs of agony subsiding as he experiences a far more superior throb of pain in his temple. He can feel his leg hanging limp from the bottom of his thigh onwards.

Droplets of sweat trickle down his face and into his closed eyelids, making them sting a little. It does get a little bit too tiring to stay awake after awhile, but hope is not lost. Even the semi-conscious Jungkook is hopeful; the small squeezes he feels from Jungkook’s long fingers every now and then would remind him that the younger is trying his best to hold on to whatever thoughts which are keeping him awake.

Around this time he begins to choke on the thickening haze of dust and filth, the air getting a little bit too heavy and saturated—a sign they are close to asphyxiation due to the lack of oxygen supply in the pit.

Only about an hour ago, the sound of drilling which Seokjin had thought he was just imagining became louder and more shrilling to his ears, effectively making him all fired up for the rescue. If his calculation is on-mark, the rescuers should be about another 500 meters away above the pit where Seokjin and Jungkook are trapped in.

Seokjin feels an overwhelming sense of hope in the intermittent shift between the heat and the cold within the darkened pit.

The first time it occurred to him that the drilling was real and not just a part of his imagination, he had yelled out a few times to let them know they were in here. His yells woke Jungkook up in the process. After awhile, when he realised they are still outside and the echoes would not get to them, he stopped trying. His throat was already scratchy by then, his spit dry.

Jungkook has been trying so hard to stay awake, drifting in and out of consciousness a few times. Seokjin keeps on rubbing his good hand vigorously to keep him awake, knowing how difficult it is for him to do so with such a head injury.

Jungkook’s pale lips are now almost blue from the pain, dehydration, extreme exhaustion, and the stifling ever-changing temperature. Seokjin is worried to death about the younger man, despite his own injuries almost making him black out. Watching Jungkook almost dying of a slow death—trying so hard to conserve oxygen without any painkiller to ease his agony is killing Seokjin a lot more than just a bit.

Jungkook is so young.

He prays that the head injury is just a scalp wound, and not a hemorrhage.

He prays for a lot of things.

“Hyung. Jin hyung…”

Seokjin feels a tug on his fingers from Jungkook’s cold fingers.

“Kook, you’re awake?”

“Hurts… I can’t breathe…”

Seokjin does not want to cry or heave again, trying not to choke on the limited oxygen supply. Crying makes breathing difficult, and he does not want to trigger a cardiac arrest or asphyxiation when they are this close to being rescued.

“Breathe slowly, Kook. Lift your face a bit.”

Jungkook tries to lift his chin up a bit, thin lips opened like a caught fish gaping for air on dry grounds. His handsome face is smeared with cement dust and earth which are now stuck to the drying blood painting his face. His eyelash now merely becomes a line of graying feathers, with dust filling in the gaps between each tiny follicle of hair. There is a trail of blood coming out from his nostrils.

“Hyung… don’t think I can…”

Seokjin listens. The younger man very rarely say or show his pain, neither does he like to be seen in his weak moments—often opting to walk away or hide when he is hurt, or when he feels emotional. Seokjin knows Jungkook is centimeters away from total unconsciousness. He is showing symptoms of a head trauma, and it would not take a long before his system shuts down.

Seokjin himself is not that far off from collapsing.

“Hyung… if-if… we don’t get out…”

Seokjin cuts him off. “Kook, did you hear that? That’s our men, right there. They’re drilling. They’re gonna get to us. You have to hang in there. We’re getting out.”

“That’s good…”

“Yeah, buddy. You have to hold on, okay? We’ve got each other!” Seokjin scoots a little bit closer, hands still extended to hold Jungkook’s. “We’re gonna make it out, we’re gonna see Jimin.”

“Hyung…”

“Yeah?”

“If I-I don’t make it…”

“No, Kook. We’re gonna get out. Did you hear that—“

None of the words get to Jungkook, it seems. His eyelids are fluttering open and close slowly like he is awake but not really, like he is stuck in a limbo and he does not know where he is and where to hang on to. He coughs a few times, the air coming out from his chapped lips scattering the grey bits of earth on the floor.

“Hyung… if I don’t… who… care… Jimin?”

Seokjin gapes at that. The sound of drilling gets a little bit louder. He can hear voices of men yelling and talking. Falling dust and debris begin to gather on his uniform and hat from the tremors caused by the drilling.

“Will you take care of him, hyung-“ Jungkook whispers, his voice a tone higher, like he is whining, or like he is dying. Seokjin does not want to know which. “…for me?”

“Kook…”

“Hyung, take care… him for me…”

“No Kook you’re gonna do that. You both have been doing that to each other for a long time. And he-he's a strong man; he can take care of himself just fine. You have to think of yourself now. Think of Jimin waiting for you. You have to stay awake now. I won’t let you sleep.”

The debris gets bigger now, pieces of cement crashing on the floor upon the dislodge from their original position in the blockade. Seokjin knows the rescuers outside are lifting some of the heavy concrete blocks with cranes. He can hear the sound of lifting and putting down of the slabs of stones, the mechanical sound of the cranes’ levers. Hope is coming.

“I won’t. Hyung…”

“Yes?”

“Jimin… him… I love… so much.”

“I know, Kook. You need to hang in there so he can see you. So you can tell him that. He’s waiting. Just a little bit more, buddy.”

The voices get louder, and Seokjin screams for help in the middle of Jungkook’s hushed whispers and unintelligible mumbling. Jungkook cannot seem to register the movements of the grounds above him, his thought processes clouded with the incoming comatose.

“Kook! They’re here, man. Stay with me!”

“Hyung. Thank you. You’re good to me… all these years. Hoseok hyung… Minho-” Jungkook closes his mouth, and coughs like he is heaving. “I feel nauseous…”

Seokjin worries for Jungkook but the rescuers are getting close to where they are and he does not want them to miss both the fallen men in the pit. Or worse, risk getting cement blocks falling on them. They cannot exactly move, and any impact could shake the earth and send them both under fallen floors or the deep pool next to them.

They cannot exactly swim at the moment, and Seokjin estimates the depth of the pool to be half a floor deep—taking into consideration he is on a pile of cement in the flooded basement. They will drown if they fall off the small dry land they have made themselves home at for the past half a day.

“Over here! We’re over here!” He tries his best to scream, which, in actuality is just a small yelp; a faint cry for help which Seokjin hopes would reach the rescuers’ ears before he himself lose consciousness.

A loud crash is heard from above them, a sudden dislodge of a giant block. When it happens, all the muffled voices become as clear as day. Seokjin wants to laugh with the sudden gust of fresh air and sounds flooding in, but his dry throats can only heave.

“Over here. We’re over here!” He screams above, louder than he ever did during the last twelve hours.

“We’re here…” Jungkook says too, more of a whisper than a scream. "Here..."

Sounds of footsteps can be heard from above them. Multiple beams of light now fill the place with the enough light source to show Seokjin how they are directly lying on the bottom of a hole of the mall’s first level floor, on a few piling rocks on the basement level.

“Kim? Jeon? Seo? Can you hear us?”

“Here! In the pit. Under you. Kim and Jeon!”

He hears the men screaming and scrambling to climb on top of the fallen rubble to get to his voice. The rays of artificial light begin to fill the pit like fireflies, finally hitting Seokjin’s face and Jungkook’s head.

The men who see them quickly yell out excitedly to their team members.

“We found them! Get the stretchers in!”

“Base, come in. We found Kim and Jeon. We’re taking them out. They need immediate medical help.” One person radios the situation in, still peering from on top of them. “Possible head injury for one, broken limbs.” Somebody on the other side of the radio answers the call.

Seokjin hears everything, all the voices of their rescuers mingled in and their discussions to take them both out. He can hear them tightening the ropes to their waist and carabiners.

That was Seokjin and his team only about a few hours ago.

Most importantly he can hear himself laughing slowly, even if his chest feels like bursting. He survives, he is going to survive. Jungkook is going to survive too.

“Please hang in there. We’re getting stretchers now. You did good! You okay? What’s your name?” An officer talks to Seokjin as his friend gets ready to climb down.

“I’m Kim. Kim Seokjin. Jeon Jungkook. Southern City. I’m okay. I think I broke my leg from the fall.”

“Is your friend conscious, Kim?” An officer who peeks inside asks Seokjin, directing his flashlight onto Jungkook’s head.

“He is-“ Seokjin turns his face to look at Jungkook and get him to answer himself.

“Kook?”

He nudges Jungkook’s hand, which were just minutes ago squeezing his. Even when Jungkook was asleep, he still clutched at Seokjin’s fingers, as if reminding the older he is still alive.

Jungkook’s hand falls down on the dusty floor lifelessly as Seokjin’s hands promptly slip from it. His fingers no longer intertwine with Seokjin’s.

“Kook… No no no-”

Jungkook’s hands are cold, but the rescuers are already making their way in before Seokjin could scream for them to make haste.

 

 

******

 

 

While the ambulance seemed more like a better, smoother option to ride in, Jimin took the faster option.

He is now sitting on the passenger seat of the officer’s vehicle—the one he talked to earlier, who offered a ride to the mall site as he too was heading back to the site.

The ride was rough the first ten minutes in since Jimin could not hold back his worry and anxiety, his eyes disoriented and lost. His body slouches in exhaustion, but nothing in him is sleepy. He is awake and bright-eyed, like the spotlights he can see from the site from miles away.

Bogum had sent him off earlier with a few supplies he needed to pass to Taehyung or to any on-duty doctors on the site. The bag feels heavy on his lap, but it gives him something to hold on, to keep him grounded. He has a habit of pinching his fingers and pulling his nails when anxious and he would hate to do that now.

They arrive at the mall site pretty quickly, faster than the ambulance does in about a ten minute gap. After saying thanks and getting the officer to show him the tent for medical team, Jimin exits the car and quickly makes his way to the said place.

He stops upon seeing the condition of the place.

A devastating carcass of a building lies in heap in the middle of the ocean of men, bright spotlights, and tens of tents. The mall which he frequented on odd days now becomes a memory; currently a mere monument of artificial rocks and filth.

Steel beams and wires lay criss-crossed among each other, some of them erect and stabbing the earth. What used to be a majestic building blocking the sun now has disappeared into thin air, like it never existed there in the first place.

He could see the smaller buildings behind it, and the vague illumination of the moon.

He sees men in overalls drilling an opening. A medium sized crane, and all sorts of hydraulic drills and industry-sized jacks are placed close nearby. Generator lights keep the whole place well lit, like lights in a football stadium.

Jimin feels tiny.

Rather than breaking down in the middle of it all, Jimin feels quite dry and underwhelmed. Under all that would be the victims yet to be rescued, and the missing rescuers—two of them would be Jungkook and Seokjin.

He carefully takes quick steps towards the tent; heavy steps now seem lighter with the implication that Jungkook is one step away from being saved. Jimin is one moment away from seeing Jungkook.

“Jimin! What are you doing here?”

Taehyung’s gravelly voice breaks his reverie, as the taller man runs towards him from the tent. His grey vest and large blue button downs are wrapped loosely on his torso, making him look bigger than his naturally slender, willowy frame.

“Hey Tae… Bogum sent you this. He’s on duty at the rescue center. The supply.” Jimin hands over the bag and smiles sweetly at Taehyung, one not quite reaching his eyes.

Taehyung takes the bag gratefully and grabs Jimin’s shoulder to point him towards the medical team’s tent. He looks at Jimin like he understands that Jimin is not purposely ignoring his question, that Jimin simply does not know what to say.

Of course Taehyung would understand; his brother is in there with Jungkook. Jimin would also understand why Taehyung looks too exhausted for his own good, eyes drooping and face greasy, but still staying rooted at the site even when other doctors did come to replace his slot.

“You know about Jungkook, Jimin?”

Taehyung asks Jimin once they settle down inside the medium-sized tent. Jimin nods, raking back his ebony hair, a few strands falling back on his forehead. There are a few doctors and nurses in scrubs sitting near the desks and plastic chairs not far away from them, half of them asleep on their own shoulders. A couple of them nod to Jimin, some friends he made at the training.

The air is cool from the drizzle outside, and the heater inside the tent keeps everything room temperature. A couple of the beds are occupied by rescuers who looked like they are passed out from dehydration, an IV tube next to their beds—if their dried lips and pale faces are any indication. Next to the tent stands another tent specifically erected for civilian casualties. It houses another ten makeshift beds, half of them occupied.

“Seokjin hyung too. They’re still inside, aren’t they?” Jimin asks carefully, knowing Taehyung is as affected as he is.

“Yeah. It’s been half a day since the last quake, when they got stuck. We... haven’t heard back anything. No radio contact, no nothing.” Taehyung brushes his hair back too, instinctively mirroring Jimin’s movement. “But they’re trying their best—the rescuers. You have to believe in them.”

Taehyung looks at Jimin attentively, a left hand gripping Jimin’s right shoulder. “Jin hyung and Kook are trying too. We know what they’re like. They’re strong men.”

Jimin pats Taehyung’s hand on his shoulder, and holds the large hand firmly—wanting Taehyung to believe his own comforting words. “They are, Tae.”

He knows Taehyung notices his pale face when he offers a water bottle and forces him to drink up, saying, ‘How are you going to take care of Kook if you collapse when he gets out?’

Jimin drinks the whole bottle, and looks around as Taehyung refills the empty medical supplies on a trolley. Taehyung looks fatigued beyond compare, his vest and black pants smeared with a bit of washed out blood and dirt. “I’m gonna go check on the patients. Do stay here.”

As he looks up at Jimin, he takes off his glasses and slides it up his hair like a hairband. He looks younger this way with his eyebrows lie unhidden from his fringe, much more fragile—obviously affected by his missing older brother. “I’m glad you’re here, Jimin.”

“Me too, Tae. Thank you.”

Taehyung leaves for the next tent as Jimin nods and sends him a knowing, slight smile.

As Jimin focuses back on the drilling of the rubble, he sees two slightly older men in uniform arguing with each other nearby. They looked like they have authority, some of the higher rank officers—seeing how the rest of the uniformed rescuers only watch in curiosity from the side, not powerful enough to stop the escalating argument. He spots Yugyeom and Jaehwan watching the argument from one of the tents too, their face tired and worried, mirroring his own.

One of the arguing officers suddenly pats another’s shoulder, a desolate smile on his face albeit all the raised voice from before, as the other turns around and heads towards the tent’s direction. Jimin knows the argument is all in a day’s work, and the two men are friends, judging from the knowing nods they give each other at the end of it. The man who is walking towards him looks frustrated yet composed, but absolutely miserable more than anything. Jimin recognises the man.

It is Hoseok.

Jimin should not be surprised if anyone would look like crap after dealing with a catastrophe this big, lacking of rest and exhaustion—knowing his men, his partner is fighting for their lives. Saving victims out of humanity and out of responsibility is already a lot for the rescuers—Jimin has seen it first hand how Jungkook gets nightmares from it; but saving someone you love involves desperation and a whole concoction of emotions. But Hoseok looks like himself, like most days; good-looking and sharp, except for the obvious swell of his eyes and the foreign scowl on his face.

He looks dashing as always, but also like he is about to collapse.

When he looks up and sees Jimin who walks towards him and bows to him when they get pretty close, his frown turns into a mild shock.

“Hyung.”

“Jimin. You’re here.”

Jimin nods at that.

“You know about-“

Jimin nods again like a toy cat, obedient—and mostly empty-eyed.

“They’re gonna be okay, Min. They’re both the strongest men I know.”

“Yes, hyung.”

Hoseok gestures for Jimin to head back to the tent together with him, getting out of the rain. Taehyung is still away in the supplementary tent next to the main medical team’s.

The night is still chilly, darkness unveiled by the bright spotlights. Jimin squints his eyes a bit at the intense lighting. Even when the whole place is well-lit like a stadium, the atmosphere still feels somewhat dreary and bleak.

“You okay, Min?”

Jimin looks up at Hoseok, who is now taking a chair to sit facing him. Whether it is standard procedure or out of gentlemen courtesy, Jimin would not know. These men he has gotten to know over the years, including Jungkook—really loves taking care of others, putting others' needs before theirs. They always ask these kinds of questions; make sure people are fine before continuing on with the conversation.

“I am.” Jimin smiles, he does not know where the strength comes from, but he smiles. “You looked beat, hyung.”

“Yeah. I haven’t slept for three days actually.” Hoseok answers while uncapping a water bottle, drinking from it in huge gulps.

The silence does not kill them, with the elephant in the room already addressed through their eye contact. It is forlorn and anxious, wavering and loyal—the eyes of the people who waits. They understand whatever turmoil each other is going through and does not need to press on that.

“I forgot to take out the trash when I began my shift three days back. Seokjin is gonna kill me when he comes out.” Hoseok says that so nonchalantly as he screws close the lid of the half-empty bottle, like he is talking about Seokjin who just went out to the groceries or to work—as opposed to a Seokjin who is stuck under God knows what. “We both are such clean freaks, but I forget a lot of things these days. Must be the old age.”

Jimin chuckles at that, tries to see it like how Hoseok sees it; all in a day’s work. “You’re not old, hyung. The job and exhaustion must be getting to you. No one thought this would happen.”

“Yeah. I have a half a mind to return home right now and take the trash out. Come back. Wait for him.” Hoseok drinks another gulp, as if drinking mineral water helps him forget how to cry. “We’re gonna take a long vacation after all this. Jin always wanted to go to Greece. I was too busy before to take a proper leave.”

“You both planned it?

Hoseok shakes his face at that, a small, tentative smile etched on his slim lips. “I want to take him there. He needs it. We both need it. After all this.” He looks up at Jimin, who watches his wrinkles curl together in the aftermath of a smile. “What do you wanna do after he gets out, Jimin?”

Jimin takes a moment at that, trying to think of the things he wants to do with Jungkook, for Jungkook. There are so many things to do and say to each other, and thinking about being able to say that to Jungkook gives him hope. Right at that time, there is nothing else Jimin would want to do.

“I’m gonna take him home, hyung.”

Jimin is sure his smile is blinding right now, one that makes Hoseok choked up, his Adam’s apple bobbing like he is swallowing a sob. He feels the single drop of tears escaping Hoseok’s eyes, making its way downwards onto his clean-shaven smooth cheek. “I want that too.”

The moment of hope and optimism is for him and Hoseok to share, and they share it well.

A second or two passes, before the radio on Hoseok’s waist begins to burst with voices. Across the tent, a loud crash is heard. Yells are heard from inside the opening.

“We found them!”

“We found a Kim, Jeon. Basement. Team 16 in. Get medical team on standby.”

The voice from the radio speaks calmly, and Hoseok jumps from his seat and runs towards the opening. Jimin feels a bit delayed, now watching the sudden chaos like an observer, a member of the audience at the theater. He wants to get close but he feels scared and terrified, a rush of adrenaline rushing through his vein, his spine, and making his head dizzy.

He is scared he would see things he cannot take, his mind conjuring up all possible images of Jungkook as he gets out. If they really found a Jungkook, that is.

The medical team including Taehyung has gathered all the supplies needed and are now rolling the stretchers out to the opening of the rubble. Jimin decides to join them, nodding to a few nurses who looked like they recognised him.

He moves along with them, in parallel with the doctors and the stretchers they are pushing, now standing close to the noisy machines and men in overalls shouting instructions to each other. The crowd is bursting with energy, now reenergized by the lifting of the blockade. The harsh back and forth relay of radio from inside to outside is keeping him awake and fidgety, trying to eavesdrop on the condition.

He cannot wait to see Jungkook.

After the first testy minute, the first stretcher is hauled out. Jimin’s heart leaps.

He can see the big brawn of a man lying on the stretcher, his leg now bandaged loosely but looking like it is bent at a weird angle. A breathing tube and a mask is attached to his nose and mouth. His black hair is plastered onto his forehead, safety hat nowhere to be seen.

Hoseok is next to the man in a second, helping to push the stretcher to the ambulance too. A whole team of doctors fusses over the semi-conscious man, his face pale-white and dusty. Taehyung is checking his vitals with trembling but nifty hands, obviously affected by the rescued victim.

It is Seokjin. Seokjin is safe.

Jimin feels half-relieved when he sees Hoseok whispering to Seokjin that he is alright, he is in good hands.

Seokjin, in his semi-conscious state is still as strong as ever, his eyes adjusting to the bright lights, and lips moving to utter words only Hoseok can hear. They hoist him up into an ambulance in no time.

Jimin quickly turns to the now lit up entrance, waiting for another stretcher to be rolled out.

Another ten minutes would pass when Jimin feels half of his body shivering and losing control. The ambulance which carries Seokjin and another patient has left for the nearest hospital.

A man is hauled out on the tenth minute after Seokjin was rolled out.

Jimin jumps forward and almost runs to the body with the rest of the medical team, even when he does not know who it is. The doctors who are checking the man's vitals are shouting over each other for the man to be moved quickly into the ambulance for immediate help. His head is bleeding from an apparent head trauma, staining his pale white skin like dried paint. They hold his head steady, steering clear of the gash on his head. His hair looks sweaty and wet from blood, all matted to his head.

His whole face is covered in dry blood which now becomes earth-coloured, grey and drab—a contrast to his bright orange overalls. One leg sleeve is blood red, a torn thigh in full display. The right arm dangles lifelessly before it is lifted up, appears to be broken.

“Move him quickly to the hospital. He lost a lot of blood. Critical, possible hemorrhage.” A doctor instructs the rest while moving back to the front of the openings to wait for the other victims.

The man's body lie lifeless on his stretcher, moving with the bumps and jumps of the stretcher. Jimin would recognise that face anywhere. 

It is Jungkook. His Jungkook.

Jimin feels life seeping out of him.

Jungkook looks so fragile, brittle. Jimin feels like Jungkook is in a far away place, somewhere he cannot reach.

When he sees Jungkook being moved into an ambulance, he jumps into action.

“I’m his guardian. I’m gonna go with him.” He does not wait for an answer.

Nobody says anything as Jimin pushes forward and jumps into the back of the ambulance with a couple of the medical team members. Even when the double doors are pushed close, and a slap could be heard to signal that the victim is ready to be driven away, the two medical officers do not stop their work on Jungkook’s body. They get an IV drip ready, check his blood pressure, and inspect his wound.

Like every other time in his life, Jimin sits still by his side and watches Jungkook fight. Alone.

Only this time, Jungkook’s eyes are shut tight, his beautiful face a shade too crimson. There are small cuts on his face, but a big gash opens up above his temple, on the side of his head. His lush black hair stays matted to his head. Jimin can see his slightly opened mouth and his slow breaths, even through the slightly translucent breathing mask. He watches the rise and fall of Jungkook’s chest, feels his own mouth drying up.

Jungkook is still breathing.

“Broken right arm. Open wound on thigh.” He hears an officer saying to another in a businesslike manner, before continuing on with the readings of the blood pressure and everything else. “Head trauma.”

He tunes out the rest of the conversation he cannot understand, reaches out his hand to touch Jungkook’s left hand slowly.

“Breathe, Jungkook.”

At the touch of Jungkook’s skin, he finally feels alive and dead at the same time.

 

*****

 

Jimin was jolted awake by the sound of a mug crashing.

It was Sunday, two days before the earthquake which they never saw coming, and Jimin had wanted a few more hours in. Already woken up by the loud sound, Jimin simply rolled around in his bed, checked his phone, and decided to go into the kitchen to check on the broken mug, the burglar, a cat, or Jungkook.

Of course it was Jungkook. No one else would come in early on a Sunday just to flip pancakes and cook rice.

Jungkook was sweeping the floor of what would be the carcass of a broken big mug Jimin got for free when buying a dishwasher liquid.

“Another one bites the dust.”

Jungkook chuckled at that. “Morning, hyung. Sorry about that. Greasy hands.”

Jimin waved that off as he headed into the bathroom to brush his teeth, coming out to peek into the kitchen with his mouth filled with foam only a minute after.

“Kook, you’re going anywhere after?” His words were muffled by the foams and suds filling out his mouth, fingers still gripping the toothbrush tight.

Jungkook was scooping rice from the rice cooker into two bowls, one after another. He looked up at Jimin once but continued doing what he was doing, walking around like he owned the place. “Not really. Why? You have plans?”

“Nope. Just asking.” Jimin answered briefly before going back inside to rinse his mouth at the sink, coming out in an instant.

“Let’s just stay in, Kook.”

To that Jungkook just nodded.

When they began their breakfast; like they usually do as a part of their Sunday routine whenever Jungkook is not on duty, Jimin was suddenly struck of the familiarity of it all. Jungkook always sits on his right, puts the biggest side dish in front of Jimin alongside a small bowl of pickles, which Jimin likes so much. Jungkook is addicted to spicy food, so he has extra chili peppers in a bowl next to his right arm.

They have lived like this for years ever since Jungkook moved into Jimin’s city, and this is how their Sundays usually are like. Afterwards, they might spend the day on the couch, or go do something together. Jungkook would head back to his house straight away a lot too, but oftentimes Jimin would drive out with him.

But all the times they do it, they do it in silence, or chats of whatever. They talk about nothing that matters, but it was all they needed after a long week. In a way they have progressed like married couple of many years—all safe touches, complacent and mundane; but perfectly satisfactory. A sublime way to spend a lifetime.

“Oh I forgot.” Jungkook suddenly muttered out, stopping midway from picking up an egg roll from the plate. “I need to pick up something from a store today.”

“What is it?” Jimin asked, genuinely curious. “What store?”

Jungkook shrugged and continued eating, face focused on the side dishes. He shoved an egg roll into his mouth as he spoke. “Just something I ordered, custom made. Bulgari. You wanna come along afterwards?”

“Sure,” Jimin answered quickly. He did not have much to do that day anyway, except for fixing a broken wooden chair in his room. “Wow, Jungkook. You’re ordering custom-mades now—from Bulgari? What changed? Who changed you?”

“No one changed me, hyung.” His eyes narrowed. “Hey is that an insult?” Jungkook looked at Jimin accusingly, eyes narrowed, his chopsticks aiming straight at Jimin’s face.

“No,” Jimin pushed Jungkook’s hand away when the chopsticks almost pinched his nose, laughing in the process. “I’m just saying you despise decision fatigue. You buy stuff off mannequins, Jungkook. It’s a character development if you’re suddenly ordering custom-mades now. Thought you hate that stuff.”

“Yeah sorta. This thing is pretty exclusive though.” Jungkook continued, mouth full of rice, an anchovy sticking out of his lips. He always does everything with a little bit of too much effort, Jimin thought. “Also hyung, do you even know me that well?”

“I do know you that well, you anchovy-sucker.”

“Prove it.”

“By? Listing things you like? That sort of thing?” Jimin asked after sipping the soup from his bowl. Jungkook makes the loveliest soups, but this one was Jimin’s leftover beef broth. 

“No. That’d be too easy. Tell me what I would do in specific scenarios.”

“Like?”

Jungkook hummed in contemplation, a stray piece of rice falling from his chin onto the table, which he promptly picked up and ate. Jimin laughed at that, he laughs at everything Jungkook does. “Like what do I do if I see a sale?”

“Easy. You slide your way in and jump into it, and then you fight the aunties for the cheapest stuff.” Jimin answered nonchalantly, as if it was the simplest, most obvious thing in the world.

“Wrong! Why would I do that?” Jungkook looked offended as he questioned the answer, eyebrows furrowed in a frown.

“You did that Jungkook. Remember last month’s sale at the market? You almost lifted a grandma on your shoulders because she was snatching your meat set.”

Jungkook looked embarrassed for a moment. “Okay forget about that. How about…” Jungkook munched on an anchovy, sucking on the salt. “-if there’s a snake in your toilet?”

“You would wrangle it up and chase me around the house with it. Also please don’t mention snakes and toilets on the breakfast table, Kook. Urgh!” Jimin finished his description with an expression that screamed disgust.

“Correct. I’ll make you touch it. You make poop jokes all the time, hyung. Please.”

Jimin kicked his shin.

“What would I do if I see a ghost?”

“You’d take videos of it and chase it around. Make it your minion.”

“If someone leaks my nudes?”

“You don’t have nudes.”

“Who says I don’t-“

“I know your phone’s passcode Kook. I would be the one leaking them if there's any.”

Jungkook nodded in agreement, visualising the situation—Jimin seeing his nudes—getting red in the face, as if Jimin had not seen everything in the past.

“If I see IU crossing the street?”

“You’d turn around and walk the other way.”

Jungkook looked like he was wrecking his brain for more scenarios. Jimin was singing under his breath, seemingly pleased that he was nailing every question Jungkook was asking him.

“What would I do if you steal my money?”

“Why would I steal your money?” Jimin was baffled, his eyebrows all bunched up, lips in a pout.

“Hypothetically, hyung. What would I do to you?”

“You weirdo, what would I do with your money? I have my own money.”

“Just answer the question, hyung.”

Jimin contemplated for awhile, imagining himself stealing Jungkook’s money and buying a house, going off to a vacation in Bali or something. 

“You’d make me your slave. Chain me to your house. For life. Drink my blood.”

“Okay deal. I’ll take it. You said that yourself. That’s exactly what I’m going to do if you steal my money or hurt my feelings.”

“What the fuck-“

Jungkook was already howling with laughter, running away with bowls in his hands towards the sink, yelling, “Bowls! Bowls!” when Jimin reached out to slap him in the ass.

Jimin took him in a chokehold once he safely laid the bowls in the sink. This common Sunday scene would perpetually end with a wrestling match in the kitchen.

When they finally decided it was over and done, that Jungkook has too much scratches on his biceps, and Jimin has lost half his hair and would be Jungkook’s slave if he steals money or hurt Jungkook's feelings, they got ready to leave for the shops.

 

That afternoon, Jimin waited in the car as Jungkook left the Bulgari boutique store with a black paper bag in his hand. Inside it was a small black box that Jimin tried to peek at when he got into the car, but one that was snatched away instantly by Jungkook.

“You’ll see it soon. Wait.”

 

****

 

When Jimin comes to in his seat in the silent hallways of the hospital, the beaming Operating Theater insignia light is still on.

A few lingering family members of other patients sit next to him on the stiff hospital seats, trying their best to stay awake in the wee morning.

Like loyal families waiting for their tribal warriors to return home from the war, all of the patients' family members wait for their precious ones to be healed and saved—the deafening silence their only language. Every word is spoken in hushed whispers, as if they do not want to disturb the surgeons or anger the gods they are praying to.

After another thirty seconds or so, Jimin leaves for the toilet to wash his face and do his business, feeling drowsy and dizzy with exhaustion.

He watches the drops of water fall from the black, fluffy strands of his hair onto his face. Jimin has grown so much from his younger days, but he neither lost the cheeks nor the puffy, fat lips he used to hate so much.

Jungkook loves his puffy, fat lips. 

Whenever they would be hanging out in one of their so-called platonic, non-sexual hangouts, Jungkook would stare at them a lot. Jimin would be reading a book, and Jungkook would be fixing or building something every week. And then he would just randomly and mindlessly hold out his fingers and touch or tap Jimin's lips, like it was nothing weird. After that, he would nod his head—as if he was testing a hypothesis—and continues doing what he was doing.

Jimin wonders if Jungkook was just reminiscing distant memories of their kisses.

He is also curious of what exactly Jungkook saw and sees in him, if the man still feels the same way about him. They never spoke much about it, but Jimin assumes he does.

Almost past a decade after they had first met, Jimin is no longer the tanned, cute, chubby-cheeked boy who spoke too much. He does not laugh as freely, nor does he even look half as cute. His cheekbones looked sunken from days skipping meals and laboring on his studies, then his job. The freckles on his face looked more visible now that he had lost the tan from his younger, sunkissed days spent on the football field. The softness of his hands has been replaced by a harsher, skinnier handprint of a man approaching his thirties.

He smiles quietly more than he laughs these days; and his far from innocent, deadpan stares could kill a man. Jungkook said that himself.

Jimin washes his face again as the image of Jungkook’s bleeding face bursts into his head in a full-frontal view. He heaves and feels himself about to break down, before snapping out of it. He washes his face again, wipes his face with a piece of tissue, and leaves the toilet looking like nothing had happened.

Jimin is not a big crier.

When he arrives at the waiting section, the OT light is out.

Jimin quickly seeks a nurse coming out from the room, who then tells him that Jungkook is transferred to ICU for observation. That he is safe for now. Jimin still does not feel relieved until he could see the man himself.

The nurse, still in scrubs, points the way to the ICU ward, to which he runs towards without hesitation. It is not far from the OT, and only a couple of people are lingering around the huge glass doors when he arrives.

He has not seen Hoseok around the ward or the waiting area, and Jimin feels relieved that Seokjin does not need to go to the ICU too. The fireman was probably transferred into another ward already to recuperate. Last time he had seen Seokjin, the man looked like he was in a better condition than Jungkook at least, still conscious despite his multiple injuries. He had no blood on him. Seokjin has always been a tough cookie.

As he almost runs past the ICU, he catches a glimpse of the row of beds in the well-secured ICU ward from a huge glass window showing the patients inside. Most of the beds are covered with curtains, except for the empty ones.

Jungkook is on the fourth bed.

He has just been transferred in, all the doctors and nurses are still navigating around the machine. Wires and tubes are coming out of his mouth and his body, attached to his hands. Jimin could only see glimpses of Jungkook’s body when the medical officers move a bit to the side to dabble on the buttons and switches on a machine. His head and right hand were wrapped in a thick bandage. His eyes look swollen, face now clean from blood but very pale. A curtain is pulled to cover Jungkook's bed, and Jimin almost knocks at the glass window.

Jungkook’s pale face is bruised, now clean from the crimson redness of blood but now a shade bluer in the bright pendafluor lights of the ICU. His eyes are glued shut. Jimin sees that last before a nurse rolls out the curtains and covers his bed.

Away from the hospital the rain has subsided, and rescue works are still ongoing. Tens of rescuers may now enter the building and seek more victims, including some of their own. The storm which brewed for so long finally subsides, giving way for a healthy, bright dawn. The earth has finally stopped moving.

The storm inside Jimin does not relent, it pulsates and twirls and holds him in his place—but it lies dormant within him. It dries him out, suck him dry. Jimin needs to be strong for Jungkook and he will be.

Forehead on the glass, fingertips cold, Jimin almost misses his own voice as he whispers.

“Come back to me, Jungkook.”

 

***

 

Glum, subdued white smoke of sleepiness sheathes Seokjin’s eyes when he slowly opens them, now awake for good. The bitter taste of anesthetics climbs up from beneath his pipes to his throat like bile, and his mouth feels cottony dry.

Like dust bunnies or a bird feather, Seokjin feels himself floating and dizzy from the painkillers they pumped into his system.

It takes a moment for everything to be vivid and eye-friendly again, and he secretly thanks whoever decided to dim the lights a little bit in his ward. When he picks up his left hand, it seems attached to another, a human being holding it.

A man. Veiny, ironically dainty hands. Skinnier than Seokjin’s.

The platinum ring on the man's ring finger glints a bit even with the mediocre lighting of the room. Seokjin’s too, his ring snugly attached to a finger on the hand which the man is holding.

Seokjin knows it is his Hoseok.

The said man is sleeping, face away from Seokjin. He is no longer in his uniform, only a thin white shirt covering his broad back. Seokjin wonders how long has he passed out.

Lifting his other hand, Seokjin brushes the hair of the man still sleeping by his side. Hoseok’s hair is soft as always, softer than Seokjin’s, almost as soft as their pup, Mickey’s. Whenever they cuddle together, Seokjin always finds it a habit to play with Hoseok’s wispy, silky hair. Hoseok would frown everytime, reminding him that captains of fire stations do not have silky hair.

Hoseok stirs a bit when Seokjin caresses his hair.

When he raises his head and opens his eyes, Seokjin’s fingertips continue to caress his face, his angular jaws. Hoseok’s eyes are swollen another size, his face puffy from sleep and tears. He still looks very beautiful to Seokjin, as beautiful as the first day he first fell in love with Hoseok without him realising.

“Jin.”

“Love.”

Seokjin speaks through the mask, but still find his voice audible when Hoseok's eyes widen, his blinding smile stretching his face in an inexplainable euphoria. His hands are trembling and stiff, but he holds Seokjin’s hands like a lifeline.

“You’re awake, hyung.”

Seokjin does not realise the tears falling down his cheeks into the pillows. He still feels incredibly drugged.

“Kook?”

“He’s okay. They saved him, he’s in another ward. You’re both safe. Jimin is taking care of him. Jimin came by earlier to visit you, but you were sleeping.” Hoseok reaches out to brush his bangs away. “You’re awake, hyung. Thank you.”

Seokjin closes his eyes at that, praying to a God he does not believe in and saying his thanks. He was saved by a higher power of one he does not know, so he probably should look into that. He squeezes Hoseok’s hand in thankfulness, in love and relief.

“I was so scared,” Hoseok cries into both their hands, sobbing uncontrollably at that, his mouth still pursed upwards in a wide smile. “I imagined so many things happening to you... I just- I went nuts, Jin.”

Seokjin cries too, even in his inebriated state. “I’m nuttier than you are, old man.” he whispers. “I love you.”

Hoseok rises up to kiss Seokjin’s forehead, the lingering kiss radiating a different, more vivid sensation than the faded, drugged lack of feels in his limbs. The younger man whispers the same words of love into Seokjin’s ears, wanting him and he alone to hear it.

“I broke my leg.”

“Yeah you did. You hurt your back too, but aside from bruises there's no internal injury. You’ll have to go for physiotherapy soon though.”

Seokjin closes his eyes, feeling sleepy and a bit disoriented. “That sucks, Dad.”

Hoseok chuckles at his husband’s words, still very cheeky even when drugged out of his wits.

“Let’s go to Santorini once you get better, hyung.”

His eyes are still shut tight, but Seokjin’s lips form a small smile which bunches his cheeks upwards. “Yeay. I think I like Greek physiotherapists a bit more than ours. Let’s go there tomorrow.”

Hoseok wants to kiss him silly if he is not wearing a breathing mask now.

“Love?”

Hoseok perks up at that, looking into Seokjin’s eyes as he pours water into a small cup for Seokjin, who looks thirsty.

“Yes, hyung?”

“Why didn’t you take out the trash?”

Seokjin could not understand it at that time why Hoseok is laughing and crying on his chest, and then kissing his face, but he laughs all the same.

 

**

 

It has been three weeks after the fall, and Jungkook has not been awake for more than five minutes.

Each time he did, he could neither open his eyes nor recognise anybody, wincing in pain and whimpering for someone to help him kill off the pain. If the painkillers and sedatives are not religiously pumped into his veins, Jimin imagines Jungkook running amok and punching everyone he comes into contact with.

He is in so much pain and Jimin could only watch as the nurses wrestle his agonised limbs to his bed, and the doctors sedate him more everytime.

At least now Jungkook is no longer confined to too many wires, tubes coming out of his mouth. It broke Jimin’s heart seeing that like nothing else—Jungkook lying immobile and confined to his bed—not by chains, but by the very wires which are helping him to survive. Jungkook has never looked so fragile like after he was rescued, like a scrunched up piece of paper which can be easily ripped apart.

Now Jungkook is in a personal ward, and he is only connected to a breathing mask and some wires attached to tubes of both IV and something else.

His head is shaved clean because they needed to cut and stitch him on the head. Last time he had this haircut was in military service years ago. Jimin eyes the bandaged head, counts the day they can open it and he can see the stitches no longer bleeding.

Even when Jungkook has a closed head injury, seconds away from a major head trauma or a hemorrhage, the impact was still strong enough to incur some painful aftereffects. He fractured his skull a bit, and there was blood clot which they extracted, but his brain was not affected. They did multiple CT scans and an MRI to view damage, and he avoided death simply because of miracles.

At least he wins this time. Jimin probably curses Jungkook’s destiny so much it decided to be right for once.

Albeit all that, recovery will be long and slow; a tedious process where Jungkook would experience many things.

Jimin already sees first hand how painful waking up can be for Jungkook. Never once does Jimin shed a tear, even when Jungkook is conscious but never awake, his pupil dilating in pain everytime he opens them long enough.

The doctors warn Jimin meticulously about the healing crisis which could take months or even years, and Jimin takes initiative to read everything he needs to know about Jungkook’s rehabilitation so that he could be ready for anything. Temporary or momentary amnesia, loss of bodily function, confusion, delirium. He would go through it together with Jungkook.

He is ready.

He is ready for anything, but sometimes, he would rather Jungkook sleeps—unaware of what is happening to him, his face a picture of perpetual peace and freedom when he is asleep. As if he is stuck in a painless, emotionless dream. Jimin would rather wait by his bedside, than see Jungkook waking up sweating, face scrunched up in pain.

Jimin lives in the hospital for weeks. Like always in the decade long years together, they both now have a routine.

He begins the day by saying good morning to Jungkook, holding his face in his hands. He cannot kiss Jungkook’s bandaged head, so he kisses Jungkook’s limp hands; one attached to a broken, cemented right arm and another on his side. Then he kisses his long fingers.

Then he would take a clean piece of cloth which he dips into a bowl of water, which he uses to clean Jungkook’s body. He would wipe it gently on his arms—extra careful with his broken arm and the places where they put the tubes in, his tummy, his legs, his crotch, his thighs—avoiding the injured area.

He cleans in between the fingers and the toes. He uses another piece of cloth to clean Jungkook’s face, rubbing his lips gently so it will not jostle with the breathing mask too much.

Jungkook hates not getting showers, he showers three times a day on the usual. Jimin is giving him that on his bed.

After that, a few nurses would come to change Jungkook’s wound dressing. Jimin would watch closely to see how they do that, casually asking questions when he is curious. And he is very curious. A couple of doctors would come in next to check Jungkook’s condition. They would beam light on Jungkook’s pupils, check his breathing. A nurse would take his blood pressure. Jimin would ask them questions everytime, and by the second week they all know each other by first names.

He would have breakfast and lunch and dinner next to Jungkook’s bed, watching him or the mid-day news on the phone. Sometimes he would scroll past the texts on their phones, mostly from family members and staff at the department. Namjoon has informed them in an email that they will not be able to return to work at the moment because the building needs further inspection to claim it safe for operation. They cannot risk anything.

He is glad everyone is safe. Yoongi sends him a selfie of Holly occasionally. Taehyung comes to visit Jungkook and Jimin everytime he visits his brother.

Jimin is already planning to finish off his annual leave in the hospital after the office opens. Jungkook needs him now more than anything.

In the evening another doctor would come in to check Jungkook’s condition again. A few times, Jungkook’s team members came to visit him. They looked healed and healthier now in light of the recent disaster.  

Jimin would take that time when they are around to visit Seokjin, who is slowly regaining strength. Twice he brought Seokjin to visit Jungkook on his wheelchair, his broken leg healing well. Seokjin spoke a bit to Jungkook and left when Hoseok came to fetch him. They both watch over Jimin almost as much as Jimin watches over Jungkook, and Jimin is grateful for that.

By the time it turns half past seven in the evening, apricot orange and rose quartz hues of the leaving fall would fill the room through the blinds. Jimin would usually doze off basked by the softness of the leaving sunlights, holding Jungkook’s good hand in his, his cheek on the soft mattress. Sometimes he imagines Jungkook’s fingers twitching or intertwining with his. 

Nighttime is cold and back-breaking even with the heater now switched on as the temperature drops even lower. Jimin occupies the love seat adjacent to Jungkook’s bed but by the second week, he brings a futon and sleeps parallel to Jungkook’s bed, like the younger once did with his when they were younger.

The last thing he looks at before he sleeps would be Jungkook’s face and Jungkook’s chest. He makes sure Jungkook is still breathing before falling asleep, watching the rise and fall of the man’s chest.

It is difficult, holding Jungkook’s hand and touching his warm skin, not knowing what would happen. He feels himself living on autopilot a lot, trying to keep it all in, but he has never been more awake than the days he realises nothing else stands between Jungkook and him but death. Not even his cowardice.

He has not cried once.

 

On the twentieth day, Jungkook wakes up for a longer time. He wakes up for good.

This time, the experience is not as painful the ones he had before; those times where he could see nothing but blinding flashes of lights and loud bell rings, electricity in his veins.

This time, he wakes up so naturally—like one would after a good, long sleep.

Jimin is reading out the texts from Jungkook’s phone placed to rest on the latter’s tummy, followed by some random weather news, celebrity news, football news. Jimin’s hand is gripping his as he clips Jungkook’s growing fingernails, filing the nail bed meticulously as his eyes are trained on the digits.

“Okay so it didn’t just stop there.”

Jimin is such an enthusiastic and animated story-teller, that even when Jungkook cannot understand the context of the story having only been awake for the past ten minutes, he is still devotedly listening to every word.

“Dude finally left the woman he married for ten years and his children, for the woman I told you about, just now? And then he called it ‘true love’, and shit about how ugly his wife was to the press,” Jimin rambles on as he slowly buffs Jungkook’s ring finger, and continues with his pinky finger when he is content with the look.

Jungkook is taking his time to understand the situation he is in. The last few times he woke up in this room, they had been so painful that he would pass out again. This time the pain has muted to a certain degree. He feels light, not quite himself, but he is getting there.

He feels stronger and relieved, feels Jimin’s soft and warm hands holding his fingers with delicate care even when his limbs feel weak and cold.

“That’s a whole lotta cheating bullshit of an excuse he believes in. I mean, all they did was have sex? Now he wants to come back to the wife,” Jimin scoffs, his tone condescending, like he is talking about a neighbour he knows, not some celebrity he usually does not care about.

The next time he speaks, he whispers ever so gently to Jungkook’s nails, like he is talking to a child. “You have such dainty nails, Kookie. How come a fireman has pretty hands.”

Jungkook watches stiffly as Jimin continues chatting animatedly like Jungkook has not woken up, and like it is not the only thing he has been waiting for this whole time. He has not heard that nickname, ‘Kookie’ for a long time. Last time he did it had been when Jimin was drunk, and Jimin does not get drunk that often with his busy schedule.

“I know exactly what you would say if you'd listened to that story,” Jimin quips nonchalantly, tossing the remnants of the clipped nails into a trash bin placed directly under his legs.

The late afternoon light hits Jimin’s thick black hair at the right angle, making his gel-less hair fluffy and shiny and a bit cartoon-like. His cheeks, though sunken and pale, bunches up like dumplings whenever he speaks too excitedly, pinkish in nature. His deep blue sweater bears a contrast to everything else painted amber by the breaking light of day.

Jungkook watches Jimin’s lips as they pout naturally when he focuses. Occasionally he would lick his lips, and bites them when he feels them too dry.

“What would I say, hyung?”

His voice feels hoarse and dry, the first of his spoken words after more than a couple of weeks.

“You’d say the exact same thi-“ Jimin answers excitedly before raising his face and looking up at Jungkook.

It is like the world stops for both, eyes now fixed on each other. Jimin’s eye widen as he rises from the stool.

“Jungkook.”

“Jimin...”

“Hold on! Stay there!”

Before Jungkook could say anything, or tell Jimin the irony of his instruction when Jungkook could not exactly move, Jimin is already running out to get the doctors. So much for the romantic shot at this. Jimin runs back towards him in an instance, asking him questions after questions. There are wrinkles on the edge of Jimin’s eyes which usually come out when he is smiling too hard or too worried for his own good, but right now he is not smiling.

“Where does it hurt, Kookie? Hold on, the doctor is coming in.”

And the doctors come in next, holding a thorough twenty minute check up before reporting to Jimin that Jungkook is recovering well. He still needs to stay, and the doctor is not talking about him leaving any soon. He still needs a thorough observation, a couple more scans to confirm his brain is not affected, and to monitor his progress.

Jungkook lies still the whole time, as they talk about him like he is not there watching and listening to every word. He simply watches as Jimin nods religiously and asks questions after questions, an almost permanent frown on his forehead.

When they leave the room to Jimin and Jungkook, Jimin stands almost a foot away, looking at Jungkook like a kid looking at a mad dog.

“Hyung…” Jungkook mumbles through his mask, now fully awake after the mess which were the doctors' hands checking his body.

“Jungkook.”

“Why are you standing there… so far… come here.”

Jimin scoots closer and sits on the stool he was sitting on when he was clipping Jungkook’s nails, the waste bin pushed aside. “I was so scared. Are you in pain? You made it, Jungkook. You’re awake.”

Jimin’s voice is small, and Jungkook wants to hug him if he does not have a broken arm and a head injury, back still very much cemented on the bed.

“You’re scared of so many things, hyung.”

“I know.” Jimin pats and straightens the disheveled blanket on Jungkook’s tummy. “I’m scared of losing you the most.”

Jungkook breathes sharply at that. He wanted to see Jimin so bad and now when he does, he does not really know what to say. Jungkook could easily blame it on the drugs, but he also knows he has some kind of aphasia or something on his normal days, especially when it comes to his feelings for Jimin.

“How are you feeling, Kook?”

Jungkook blinks slowly at that, his voice still weak. “Winning. Like shit but I’m winning. I won. I survived.”

“You did.”

“My head feels lighter. Pain is there, but less.”

“They shaved your head. It’s like you’re nineteen and joining the military again.” Jungkook smiles and Jimin can see his white teeth from beneath the mask. “You look so cool, private.”

“How many days has it been since the…”

“Twenty. You slept for so long, Kook. I thought you'd never-” Jimin stops at that, eyes still trained on Jungkook's face. He looks so lovely like this, only looking at Jungkook; and Jungkook wants to hold him so bad.

Jungkook is also amazed at how quickly time passes by when you lose consciousness and exist in a limbo of dreamless sleep. He does not know Jimin feels like a year has passed for the past twenty days. “You always said that I’m a rock.”

“You’re a rock through and through. A rock with a broken arm, and a gash on your head and thigh. You’re gonna be a rock with some rather dashing scars.”

Jimin holds out his right hand and caresses Jungkook’s face where the scratches are beginning to heal. Like always, like routine, they stare into each other’s eyes without saying anything. Jungkook recognises the light brown eyes of Jimin’s as the reality and now feels a realer sense of happiness, something he can grasp. He feels more grounded.

Jimin takes Jungkook’s good hand, fingernails clipped, and brings it to his lips. Then he kisses it. “Thank you for waking up, for being so strong. I’ve so much to say to you.”

“Hyung…”

“But you need rest now. That can wait. I can wait.”

Jungkook wants to argue that he wants to hear them out now, that he waited too long, but he feels rather sleepy himself.

The moment he opens his lips, he falls asleep.

 

Seokjin comes to visit him the day after, clad in normal everyday clothes. Hoseok wheels his wheelchair in, looking every bit healthier than the last time Jungkook or even Jimin saw him. He is dressed in his uniforms, apparently coming straight from the station to the hospital to fetch the now discharged Seokjin.

“You look healthier, private.” Seokjin quips, an obvious attempt at wisecrack on Jungkook's buzzcut.

“You too, war vet. Older but definitely healthier. How’s your leg?”

Seokjin looks down on his cemented leg. “Lazy. Getting better. How’s your head?”

“Lazy.” They both chuckle at that. “I just wanna sleep all the time… just very tired. I’m just thankful I don’t forget anything or shit.”

“You sure? When’s my birthday?”

“October 13th.”

“That’s not my birthday.”

“Oh I don’t actually know your birthday, hyung. I never remembered anyone's.”

Seokjin’s screech breaks the little, chirpy conversations they are both having; followed by the howling laughter they are both famous for. Jimin watches from where he is gathering some leftover food waste, smiling at them before leaving the room to throw them out.

Seokjin's voice turns a shade calmer again as his loud laughter ceases. “We were really scared weren’t we? You scared me so much, man.”

“Yeah…” Jungkook almost scratches the stitches on his head. “Hyung, thank you.”

Seokjin waves off the thanks, his face red with happiness and a little bit of melancholy. Hoseok notices that from where he is standing and answering a call, coming over to shake hands with Jungkook once he is done.

“Sorry, that was Jaebum. I’ve submitted your leave. Two months off, but when you come back you’re all station duty. I know the doctor said six months, but you know those upper ups. I tried, Kook."

Seokjin watches Hoseok speak with a calm and fond look in his face, still very much in adoration and admiration after many years together. Hoseok looks down at the seated Seokjin, smiles sweetly before looking back at Jungkook with the same smile. "Still, you just come back when you can, Kook. I’ll let you off early for the first few months until you’re okay. Got it, big man?”

Jungkook smiles at the older man, eternally thankful for the brothers and family he has been gifted with in his adult years. “Thank you, hyung.”

“Don’t mention it. They all send in their regards. Said they need you off for awhile because they wanna clear off your high scores.”

They laugh at that, feeling almost like it is another day at the fire station, except that Seokjin is in a wheelchair and Jungkook is lying on his bed with a shaved head.

Seokjin continues when the laughter subsides. “We’re glad you both have each other, you and Jimin. If you’re still not awake by this time, we wouldn’t know how to face him.”

Jungkook should not be surprised by anything by now, but he is a bit curious to know what Seokjin meant.

“He stays strong because of you. I can see him beating himself inside, keeping himself intact like that. We worry for him and for you.” Seokjin tilts his head a bit like he is trying to recall something. “I don’t think he ever really left your side all these weeks.”

Hoseok smiles at that, agreement clear in his face. “These idiots. Some lucky brats just have each other’s backs, don’t they?”

Jungkook is smiling so widely, that when Jimin walks in with two cans of coffee for the guests and a new jug of water for Jungkook he is startled by the knowing beams on all the faces. He smiles back on reflex, just happy to see Jungkook grinning his teeth out—not knowing the reason for such a marvelous smile is himself.

 

For another two weeks, Jimin goes home to sleep on his own bed every one or two days. His office is now open and declared safe for operation, so he must get back to work. December is rolling in quick in a day or two. Winter begins.

He comes after work every day still in his work clothes to check on Jungkook, and leaves on the last hour. Exhaustion sets deep on his eyebrows, reflective of the abundant of work coming in after such a natural disaster. The state and the cities have a lot to fix and rebuild once again. Jimin could only take half the amount of leave he intended to take because the amount of work is just too much and he would never want to trouble his colleagues.

Jungkook worries. This year’s winter is colder than previous, Jimin’s nose a little bit too red for his face, his lithe body skinnier. He does not look like he gets enough sleep. Still he comes here everyday, talks to Jungkook about the most mundane of things, holds his hands, gets him stuff. Stares at him a lot.

On the fortieth day, the doctor clears Jungkook off for discharge but checkups will be frequent for another six months. He no longer sported a huge bandage on his head, but a small square of gauze mesh sealed on his head by lines of tape. His head stitches are dried up, and his hair are growing quickly like grass in summertime.

He no longer has daily headaches, and can rise up quickly now without momentarily blacking out. He feels more like himself.

When Jimin picks him up that Friday, Jungkook thinks that he is going to come back to his apartment, before Jimin takes an earlier exit and heads for his own. Jungkook could only watch as they pass the road leading towards his apartment from the back seat where Jimin strapped him in like a child.

“We’re stopping at yours?”

The chatter on the radio fills the car with some sort of a warm, homey feel. Jungkook feels a bit detached yet happy that the world is running in order again. Last time he was out, everyone was shouting, the earth crumbling into itself.

“I’m sorry I made the decision for you but you’re living with me for awhile, Kook. I’ve packed your stuff, I’ve got everything ready. Don’t worry.” Jimin fiddles with the heater port. “Except the Nintendo, you can’t have that on recovery.”

It is probably the head trauma, but Jungkook normally does not know what to say either, so he stays quiet. Jimin slowly drives into the neighbourhood he stays in, and promptly parks his car in front of his house.

“We’re here. Shit, it’s so cold. Wait here, Kookie. I'll go switch on the heater first.”

Jungkook watches as Jimin leaves the car, unlatches the back hood and takes out the bags. He then carries them over to the house, where he promptly enters the digits for the door lock, walks inside, and leaves the house for the car another 5 minutes later. Jimin just came back from work when he picked up Jungkook, and his exhausted face is more prominent in the backdrop of the dreary winter.

Jimin opens the door on Jungkook’s side.

“Okay, it’s warming up. Let’s go home, baby.”

Jungkook does not miss that, but the unfazed look on Jimin’s face keeps him acting like he did not hear anything. Like he is not a healing head injury patient, but a thoroughly brain dead person.

Once he gets in and changes into house slippers, Jungkook inhales the scent of the house he has been familiar with for the past five years plus. It smells like Jimin—smells like vanilla, like tea, like the ocean, and a bit of musky woodiness they both love. It smells like home.

Jimin is getting the cocoa tin off the cupboard, two mugs facing him, when Jungkook passes by the kitchen. Jimin sees him passing by, walks over towards him, then swiftly unzips his sweater and carefully takes off his beanie. “Let’s get you out of this, soldier.”

Once he hangs Jungkook’s sweater and beanie on the coat rack, he walks back into the kitchen to continue whatever he was doing, Jungkook watching everything like an audience in a cinema.

He feels some sort of like a déjà vu, a broken memory from the night when they had their first kiss. Except this time, he is the one watching Jimin instead of the other way around.

As if he is trying to make everything come full circle, Jungkook struts over to stand behind the smaller man, and wraps his left arm around Jimin's body.

Now free from wires and tubes, he can do this. They only held hands in the hospital and said too little. It is a little awkward with his right hand still in a sling and he has to bend his body a bit, but he presses where he can, just to feel Jimin’s body close to him.

“Thank you, hyung.”

Jungkook inhales the traces of perfume left on Jimin’s pulse on his smooth neck, one of Jimin’s body parts he worships the most. He takes everything in, and leaves a small, soft kiss on a mole.

Jimin stops stirring when he feels his body wrapped by a larger one, and the warm breath on his neck. He feels strangely nostalgic like Jungkook does, but he feels at home. They stay silent and quiet, Jungkook nuzzling his nose inside Jimin’s neck, eyes closed, euphoric.

Jimin raises a hand to caress Jungkook’s head, slowly feeling the short and growing hair on Jungkook’s head. It tickles his neck and sends chillbumps, like the ones his other hand feels on Jungkook’s arm when he holds it.

“Welcome home, Kook.”

 

*

Chapter Text

 

******

 

For dinner that night, Jimin simmers a small pot of beef broth, lean meat, vegetables and seasonings for the both of them.

His mother sent him fresh batches of homemade kimchi because she understands they could not be travelling home any soon with Jungkook still in recovery. They speak on the phone a lot, his mother and Jungkook; and the occasional video calls are remedies for the distance and the longing between a mother and her child. His mother loves Jungkook's new haircut and would comment on it a lot, to which Jungkook would beam a toothy smile to her.

The box she sent consisted of kimchi of various types and a variety of side dishes in tupperwares, now filling up Jimin's fridge and leaving room for nothing else. Jimin wonders quietly if Jungkook should eat those kimchi—only answered by the loud slurp of the fermented, peppery vegetable hanging from the corners of the younger man’s mouth. 

Jimin laughs at that, like always. He laughs at everything Jungkook does. 

They eat like they always do, only now, with an impending question, and the elephant in the room waiting to be addressed while they talk food and weather.

“You’re sleeping in my room, Kook. I’ve shifted the furniture a bit to fit your patiently needs to the optimum.” Jimin cleans the table after he finishes off his last bits of rice, collecting leftovers in a bowl and stacking empty bowls together.

Jungkook tilts his head in question, in hope, as he drinks a glass of water. “Where are you sleeping, hyung?”

“Guest room.”

Jungkook’s hope deflates a bit.

“But I can sleep in the guest room. I’m the guest.”

“You’re not a guest. I want you to sleep in my room.”

“I want you to sleep in your room.”

Jimin stares at Jungkook, who stares at him back petulantly. The stacks of bowls in his hands lay steady like the huge breaths they are letting out right now at the obvious tension.

“Okay. Let’s both sleep in my room.”

Jungkook wants to roll around, yell loudly and kiss Jimin, but he also feels quite shy and juvenile. So he nods politely, and heads for the bathroom to do whatever. Lose sanity or whatever.

That night, Jungkook’s exhaustion from the moving lets him fall asleep too quickly for him to notice Jimin coming in to change his bandage, hands trembling in anticipation.

Like every night at the hospital, Jimin sleeps on his side but no longer too far away on an uncomfortable chair. Now on his bed, lying next to Jungkook's body, he falls asleep watching the rise and fall of Jungkook’s chest.

 

The morning after is rushed.

Jungkook’s team members come over to visit, filling Jimin’s usually quiet, placid house with animated laughter.

They leave after evening tea, and Jungkook feels utterly sorry to watch Jimin clean off everything; all the half empty plates, beer bottles, and the mess from the get together. The older does not let him do anything so he simply hovers around Jimin in the kitchen until he is told to shower, lie in bed, sleep.

He wants to talk to Jimin.

He wants to talk to Jimin, but the older continues living like nothing is bothering him.

Little does Jungkook know, Jimin is all haywire inside, like a collapsing building on slow-motion. He vacuums the house twice just to avoid being in the same room as Jungkook, and avoids actually addressing the behemoth waiting with his feet outstretched.

 

Jimin is a fickle, cowardly man, he says to himself; as he showers ten minutes longer than he usually does.

He wants to talk to Jungkook.

He wants to talk to Jungkook, but he worries Jungkook would suddenly have migraines or something if they talk about something so emotionally triggering. Jimin himself feels a little bit mad thinking about it.

 

It is close to ten that night when Jimin changes the bandage on Jungkook’s head and thigh. His fingers feel light and ticklish on Jungkook’s skin, whose back is propped up on a pillow, sitting close to the headboard. He avoids Jungkook's stare, and the latter has been doing nothing but staring at him the whole time. Once he finishes, sanitises his hands, and is about to turn around, Jungkook grabs his hand.

They stare into each other’s eyes again. Jimin breaks it first as he puts the tray on a bedside dresser. He thinks, it is about time.

“Hyung-”

“Jungkook. I’m sorry.”

Jungkook feels himself cowering, not sure if Jimin is apologising for things he is about to do, like breaking Jungkook's heart, or for something he did in the past. “What for?”

“It's been years. I hurt you in so many ways, I keep doing that. My dad hurt you," Jimin finds himself stopping at the recollection of what the passing years have done to them.

"You waited for so long and you still wait. I don’t know why you would," Jimin starts, and once he starts, words just keep on coming out of his mouth. "You’re a good man Jungkook. The best person I know in the whole world.”

“I almost lost you and I was so scared Jungkook. Terrified. You were bleeding and you were in so much pain. I was too content just having you by my side that I never imagined living without you, and it scared me. You've been my light, my strength and I felt so hollow. It still scares me. I can’t even cry.”

“Hyung…” Jungkook takes Jimin’s hand with his good hand. If his other arm is not broken he would have hugged Jimin tightly to his chest by now.

“Then you came back to me. I missed you so much, Kook. But I never changed do I? I’m still every bit the selfish, pathetic chicken I know.” Jimin laughs at himself, but not in a hilarious way. He sounds like he is patronising himself. “I’ve been pushing my feelings away for so long, pushing you, but I still attached myself to you. I’m a selfish fuck. I almost lost you and I still don’t have the right words to say.”

“Don’t say that hyung, I wanted to be here. I chose to stay with you, all these years. You're anything but selfish.”

“But I did nothing for you, Kook.”

“You did a lot, hyung. Trust me.” Jungkook sits straight by this time, pulling Jimin close, his bigger nose now almost touching Jimin's petite, sharp one. He strokes Jimin’s smooth cheeks, and feels the small hair on Jimin’s nape rising. "I wouldn't even be here today if it wasn't for you. You keep me going, hyung. You're my reason. I didn't attach myself to you for no reason."

“Don't say that." Jimin frowns at Jungkook's words, not really keen to imagine a world where Jungkook is not around, not ever-present. "Ma told me what Dad said to her before he died. You knew about that, didn’t you?”

Jungkook nods.

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

"Timing. I thought you've been living for others a lot and I want you to come to me when you’re ready. I don’t want you to come to me because of me. The last thing I want is to love you and have you selfishly. That's not how the world works.” Jungkook looks up to peek at Jimin’s face, cheeks flushed, glassy eyed. “We're both some real people living in a very real world, and if I were to have you all to myself, I want to have your whole world with me too.”

Jungkook sniffles a bit, his nose reddening. "And I was scared you don't feel the same way I do."

Jimin caresses Jungkook’s cheek, feeling the smoothness of his skin once again. It has been years deprived of this closeness, intimacy. He feels somewhat addicted to it now, especially after Jungkook hugged him in the kitchen, the day before. “I’ve always wanted you. I want you for you, and for myself. Did you know that?” 

Jungkook simply stares at him in both an answer and a question, so Jimin continues. 

“You don’t know how much I’ve wanted to hold you all these years, Jungkook. I watch you grow, and be this amazing person you are right now, but you’ve always been amazing. I love every person you are through the years. It hurts a lot when I couldn’t tell you what I feel, and everytime I think about someone else holding you, I just-" Jimin shakes his head, eyes shutting close.

"I want to have all of you, take care of you, feel you. Make you happy. Wake up next to you. Make pancakes with you until we’re old.” Jimin chuckles a bit at the simple, generic words he can say at such a critical moment. “Fuck, that’s not romantic at all. How do I make that romantic.”

“It’s incredibly romantic, hyung.”

“I just have a lot of feelings but they’re not coming out well. I just want to love you well. Live our lives well, with you. Like we always did, but this time I want to claim and be claimed by you. All to myself, all to you.”

Jungkook bends forward as his chest swells with happiness and so much love and admiration, putting his forehead on Jimin’s, whose brows are suddenly furrowed again in fear and anxiety.

“Is it too late? Do you have someone else?” Jimin’s voice is small. "Do you feel the same way?"

Jungkook lifts his head at that, his finger caressing away the vertical wrinkles on the space between Jimin’s eyebrows.

“There has never been anyone else. You know that, hyung. It’s only been you. My feelings have never changed. They grow, by a fucking lot.”

This time as he speaks, he can feel Jimin’s stuttering breath on his cheeks. “It’s been too long. I was dying inside. It hurts like fuck to have you close but not mine, but I would do it all over again if I could have you in the end. I was dying and all I could think about was you, no one else. I waited so long, Jimin. I waited for you to come back to me.”

Jimin lifts his chin, lips close to Jungkook’s, feeling his lips moving as he whispers to Jimin and Jimin alone.

“Come back to me, Jimin.”

Jimin kisses him first, legs now kneeling in front of Jungkook as he pushed the younger to the headboard with the force of his lips. Jungkook was right, it has been years.

Jungkook holds Jimin’s head with his good hand, his broken arm hanging awkwardly on the side. The kiss is urgent and hungry, like Jimin is trying to do a lot at once and Jungkook understands. Their teeth collide and Jimin has to tilt his head to get more of Jungkook’s lips. It is awkward but magnificent; tender and full of emotions they cannot explain. They have a lot of years to fill in, make up for.

He holds and caresses Jimin’s hair as the older kisses him again after they break for air, when Jungkook gently slips a tongue in between Jimin’s lips which draws out a whimper from the man who is now sucking his upper lip.

When they break apart, Jimin looks exactly like he did the first time they kissed,almost a decade ago. Still beautiful now that he has aged, matured, and bloomed into a wonderful man Jungkook still loves with a passion. While what they had was pure, raw and naïve, everything they have now feels solidified and compacted. Like a calm, resilient lake as opposed to a fast current of an ocean.

Jungkook and Jimin do not feel swept away by the high of the moment, they feel smoothened and calm—like coming home and getting a long shower after a long day, like walking out on a sunny spring day, like taking a nap with your loved ones in your arms. Something sure and safe, something like a warm embrace.

It is a result of those years being together in a marriage which has not been spoken too loudly, a union which has not been declared. It was those quiet afternoons shared with each other, those terrible and good times. Time has stretched them old and weary, jaded in a few areas, physically and emotionally. But they still come back to it—to that feeling of devotion they had planted, grew, and ploughed; their loyalty and sincerity finally paying off.

This is the love that has bloomed into fruition. It is now waiting to be enjoyed, devoured passionately.

“Jungkook.” Jimin stares at the man he just kissed with a passion, unable to believe he gets to witness the day he can see his face after they kiss again. “I love you. I love you a lot; I’ve loved you for a long time.”

Jungkook is positively crying at the moment, finally finding himself in the moment he has waited for a long time. “I love you too much. You do know that, Jimin?”

Jimin shakes his head cheekily, as Jungkook pulls him into another long, tongue-lingering, deep kiss. “Guess I have to tell you that a lot.”

The kissing continues until Jimin feels his lips swell in redness, and Jungkook’s face is of the same shade. When they get ready for bed, climbing in close to one another, Jimin curls himself to Jungkook’s side. Like old couples do, they fall asleep at the same time.

Jimin no longer watches the rise and fall of Jungkook’s chest, he now feels them instead with his palm.

 

 

 *****

 

The first snow is falling.

They have just returned from Jungkook’s house to fetch a bit more of his stuff. Jungkook knows he needs to return to his house soon when he finally starts working in days, but he does not feel ready to leave Jimin.

Every morning, he gets to kiss Jimin before the older man goes to work, and every afternoon he gets to welcome him home with a side hug, and a kiss on the temple. Everytime Jimin cooks, he gets to hug his back until Jimin kicks him away from the kitchen.

And every night is special. He kisses Jimin every night like a painkiller he is high off.

It never gets too far, they are quite rusty in that department. It is embarrassing to be honest to be a bit older and still awkward with their touches, knowing how brave and adventurous they were when they were much younger.

But he kisses Jimin with a little bit too much passion each time, savouring the taste of the puffy lips he had stared too much at for the past few years. Sometimes in the middle of the kisses, he would tap on Jimin’s lips slowly like he used to do subconsciously when the need got too much. Then he would kiss him again, fingertips still caressing Jimin’s lips.

Jungkook is afraid he is a little bit obsessed.

He knows Jimin is staving them both off anything because he is still recuperating, and Jimin does not want to push him too much. Jungkook would love to be pushed and bent and done whatever, if Jimin is the one doing it. His healing crisis has lessened from moderate to mild, and he has not experienced much headaches these days. No disorientation. His last check up has been good too. Waking up is easier.

It is approaching the second month of recovery and he feels great. In a week or so he will be reporting for duty at the station again. He misses his job, the station and everyone in it, but he loves being here with Jimin.

He does not want to leave Jimin’s house.

With that realisation, Jungkook lets out a huge sigh, changing his jeans into a comfortable pair of sweatpants. Once he finishes putting everything in its place he leaves the bedroom for the living room, and promptly sits on the couch facing the balcony.

Jimin is out there watching the snow falling, he is always fond of the first snow. From behind him, Jungkook watches the man he loves hold out his hand and tongue like a kid, and frankly feels like jumping him and wrapping him up in a kebab wrap. 

A fleeting few minutes passes before Jimin turns around, and smiles at him toothily like a child on his first swing, his small nose red on the tip.

“Kookie, it’s snowing. First snow of the year.”

Oh, Jungkook’s heart be damned.

“Yeah. It’s beautiful.” He only sees Jimin, to be honest.

Jimin walks inside, closes the sliding door and promptly sits on Jungkook’s laps, carefully avoiding the injured thigh.

“Are you tired?”

Jungkook shakes his head, positively enamoured. He feels a little bit useless with a broken arm hanging off the mini sling from his neck, an arm sliding around Jimin’s back to keep him close.

“Jungkook.”

“Jimin.”

“You looked a bit pale. Blue.”

“Really? Where?”

Jimin points to his lips with a pout. Jungkook feels cheeky. He pecks on Jimin’s lips.

“Where again?”

Jimin giggles and pouts again, so Jungkook pecks him again. Then he kisses every single space he can find on Jimin’s face, the smaller man squirming in his lap. 

Like a switch permanently toggled to another side, Jimin has completely fallen prey to his wants and desires after the confession and is now completely, hundred percent, giving in to his need for Jungkook’s touches. He shows it a lot, and Jungkook finally wins in life.

“Jungkook. I’m approaching thirty. Why do you treat me like a baby?”

“You’re my baby.”

“Ah, wrong question.” Jimin snorts and giggles into Jungkook’s neck, feeling warm and a little bit turned on. He kisses a mole on Jungkook’s neck, feeling the goosebumps that are slowly rising up on Jungkook’s skin. He hums a bit, licks the skin, and starts sucking the skin close to the jugular vein slowly, feeling the vibrating inhale of Jungkook’s breath.

When he kisses up Jungkook’s sharp, squared jaws and reaches his lips to bite them, they are both now physically panting but keeping it in. Jungkook takes Jimin’s lips like he is devouring him, and stops when Jimin detaches himself from his hold.

“What’s wrong, hyung?”

“Wait here.”

Jungkook waits, suddenly too awkward by the situation and the situation in his pants. He hopes he is not pushing Jimin beyond anything the older is comfortable with.

The older man returns in a minute, something like a bottle clutched in his grip. “I got us something.”

Jimin nonchalantly hands it over to Jungkook, who takes it to examine it. It is a bottle of lubricant. A water-based lube to be exact. Jungkook almost heaves, and his widened eyes prove that.

Jimin takes back his previous position on Jungkook’s half-lap, now with the lube in one hand.

“We can’t do stuff because you’re recovering,” Jungkook frowns at that, but Jimin is quick to add. “But I can do stuff to you.”

Jungkook raises an eyebrow.

“I want to touch you, Jungkook.”

Jungkook groans, his self control so feeble with Jimin. “You don’t just hold a bottle of lube and tell me you want to touch me, hyung-“

He does not finish his own words as he grabs Jimin’s neck and kisses him so intensely, almost sending Jimin off the couch if not for Jungkook's strong arm holding him close to his chest. As he avoids the injured thigh, Jimin kneels on each side of Jungkook’s hips as they kiss, grinding his ass to Jungkook’s enlarging crotch.

"Hyung." Jungkook can feel the softness of Jimin's flesh on his hardening cock, and it is making his brain run amok.

When he bites Jimin’s neck, who is looking down at him lovingly, hands on both his shoulders, Jimin whimpers in pleasure. Jimin’s hand travels lower, caressing his abs underneath his shirt. He finally slips his hand into Jungkook’s sweatpants, and grabs his aching cock.

Jungkook is startled, and lets out a moan at that. There has been no one else, but his own hands and Jimin’s on his cock all these years. He had missed Jimin’s smaller, smoother hands on his skin so much.

Jungkook is not wearing any underwear and they both get so turned on by that. Jimin takes Jungkook’s cock out of his pants and squeezes it a bit more before moving and twisting his hand up and down. He lets go for a moment to get his hand lubed, and continues doing what he wants when he gets to his knees.

Jungkook misses the sight of Jimin looking up at him like this so much—the one where he looks at Jungkook with his puppy eyes, like only Jungkook can give him what he wants.

He bends and captures Jimin’s lips once again, before Jimin gently licks the head and puts his cock inside his mouth. Jungkook can feel Jimin's tongue swirling the head around the cavity of his mouth and he almost bucks up.

Jimin looks at Jungkook the whole time excepts for when he attempts to deepthroat and almost chokes.

“You okay, hyung?” Jungkook raises Jimin’s head, who coughs until his face reddens, eyes-glassy.

“I’m okay. I’m a little rusty.” Jimin licks the bulbous head, and twists his hand, not wanting Jungkook to go soft. “It’s been years.”

“It’s been years.” Jungkook echoes. “Hyung. I want to do it to you too.”

Jimin lets go of Jungkook’s cock from his mouth with a loud pop on purpose. Jungkook is trying his best to think about firetrucks and Minho’s ugly slippers to not come too quickly, but Jimin really makes it hard.

“Can I finger you?”

Jimin stares at him, wide-eyed. He lets go of Jungkook’s cock, rises up to a standing position and Jungkook wonders if he crossed the line or got too over the top.

But then Jimin simply strips his pants off, takes Jungkook’s large hand in his and pour a generous amount of lube on it. He straddles Jungkook’s laps again, his hard cock twitching in tandem with Jungkook’s own. “I haven’t done this in awhile, Kook. Fingering, I mean. Please go slow.”

Jungkook could never guess with Jimin. “Of course, hyung.”

Jimin takes Jungkook’s hand to his entrance, opening his asscheeks open for Jungkook. The anxiety and excitement show on his trembling fingers. 

“I miss your ass so much, baby.”

Jimin whines when Jungkook kisses him while squashing his ass around with his lubed hand, making everything wet and slick. As his fingers trail Jimin's clenching hole, and one promptly goes in, Jimin frowns, lips stiff. It is not painful as Jungkook takes it slow, but it is a bit uncomfortable. He can feel Jungkook’s long index poking the soft walls inside slowly, and Jimin's tight cavity warming up to him slowly.

“Can I put one more?” Jungkook whispers on his lips, and Jimin nods, unable to think about much but Jungkook's presence with him, inside him. Jungkook releases his finger from Jimin’s clenching hole, and adds another digit before entering both in. Jimin arches his body in a shudder, feels chills running down his spine; albeit a good one. "You've done this, hyung?"

“I only do it when I think of you. Learnt it from the guys in military. I wanted you so bad, Kook and I couldn't take it. Want you.”

Jungkook moaned at that, his mind battling to imagine the Jimin then, and feeling the Jimin now. “We’ve never done this before. I don’t really know what I’m doing. Teach me, baby.”

Jimin whimpers when he feels Jungkook pumping his fingers in and out of his tight entrance, nosing Jungkook’s neck as unease slowly turns into pleasure.

“Scissor me with your fingers, baby.” Jimin holds out a hand to hold Jungkook’s wrist. “Like this.”

Jungkook does exactly as Jimin told him so, but gets carried away from seeing Jimin moan in ecstacy in front of him. Jimin almost shrieks from the intensity of Jungkook's dexterous long fingers. He holds Jungkook’s wrist to ease his movement. “I think you found my prostate.”

Jungkook, like a rabbit who has found his meal, tries a little bit more to find the bundle of soft tissue he grazed before. When he touches it again, Jimin is already panting, hands holding both of their cocks together and gently twisting.

Jungkook groans, knowing they cannot hold on much longer. He is not even fucking Jimin, yet he is losing his mind from the sheer intensity of their first times. His cock feels so good and warm in Jimin smaller hands, and rubbed with Jimin’s twitching, veiny cock.

“Baby, I don’t think… I’m gonna cum.”

Jimin pants into his mouth as he whispers the words in his gentle, low voice, eyes wide. Jungkook cannot lose this moment to his high, and tries to capture every single moment into his mind, like all the photos he took of Jimin over the years.

“I love you so much, baby.”

Jimin comes first, both his front and back abused with such passion from Jungkook’s and his own hand, and mostly because of Jungkook's words. Jungkook follows closely after, the intense vibration from Jimin’s orgasm making him lose control.

They pant into each other's mouth next, as Jungkook takes out his fingers and Jimin releases his hold on both their softening cocks. Jimin takes Jungkook’s lubed hand and wipes it on his own shirt. He looks up and smiled an ironically innocent smile, before Jungkook takes him all in a searing kiss once again.

“You did so good baby. I love you.” Jimin whispers the words into Jungkook’s lips.

Jungkook feels a bit sleepy now that they have both cummed and cuddled in their dirty first time in so many years. But more than anything he feels calmly, serenely in love. 

There is no way he is going to leave Jimin’s house. He tells Jimin that.

 

 

****

 

 

The station stands tall like it always does.

The earthquakes did not damage the structure as much as it did to other buildings in the vicinity, the surrounding area. When Jungkook finally returns to the red and tangerine-walled station, only then he realises how much he missed it. Firetrucks line up the base of their parking lot in their usual design, and men in orange uniforms from different departments walk around freely, now that the earth is at a stand still.

His last memories of the orange overalls were of the mall site, a painful one. He still gets headaches when he remembers.

Jungkook’s return to the station is celebrated, like Seokjin’s, who is now no longer using a wheelchair or crutches.

Seokjin walks confidently tall like he always does, now sporting a tan after the short trip to Santorini. It was short because Hoseok could not take long breaks, as they are understaffed with Jungkook gone—but it was enough for them both to release some stress and undeniably fall in love again. It is obvious how the lingering touches become more public now, Hoseok no longer trying to hide anything. Seokjin as always, welcomes more love into his space.

“You gonna take the first cleaning slot, aren’t you Kook?” Minho chimes in from the pantry as he takes out some paper cups for the soft drinks. For Jungkook’s welcoming party they just ordered some fried chicken and pig feet, simple but satiating foods for everyone at the station.

Jungkook groans from where he is pounced by Jaeyoung, who has recovered from his leg injury and is now jumping around like he was not writhing in pain the last time Jungkook saw him.

“C’mon hyung. Let me eat first at least,” Jungkook says as he snatches up a chicken drumstick from the box. “’l’ll clean the trucks today. Kinda missed ‘em.”

“Of course you would. We miss you too man,” Minho speaks as he pours the soda into small cups. “No one loses bets consecutively like you did and actually had cleaning duty for a whole month straight.”

“Don’t remind me, hyung!” Jungkook slaps Minho’s behind, eyes widened. “My skin almost peeled off back then. You fuckers.”

Seokjin walks in, grabs five pieces of fried chicken and a plate of meat, promptly heading back into Hoseok’s room. “Hey, first day for critical patient. Lay off the guy, Min.”

“Oh c’mon Jin. Been there, done that, cracked head, cleaned trucks.” Minho takes a seat at one of the desks, face suddenly nostalgic as if remembering. “I’m not always this strong you know. My head-”

Jungkook goes over to wrestle his hyung before he could finish his storytelling session, tickled by his cheekiness.

“Dude, Jimin is gonna kill you when he finds out you’re making his boy work his ass off on the first day,” Jaebum retorts, eyes keen on the pieces of pig feet still steaming in the box.

“Bullshit. Jimin adores me,” Minho snorts, bopping Jungkook on the head. “Jungkook is just a temporary hookup.” Jungkook chokes at that.

“Speaking of—someone looks awfully too happy for a head trauma patient. He got you good, huh?” Yugyeom questions, caterpillar-like-eyebrows moving up and down as if he is in a chocolate commercial.

Jungkook ignores him and continue chowing down a fourth piece. Jimin has been cooking a lot of healthy foods all these while, a lot of soups and steamed meat, and he misses the grease and the cholesterol a bit.

Jaebum looks a bit too much at home, all greasy-lipped as he speaks. “Of course he did. You moved in with him, didn't you, Kook?”

“Yeah but I still got some stuff… how did you know hyung?” Jungkook looks alarmed.

“I didn’t. Gotcha!” Jaebum looks severely pleased by his trick, earning him a high five from Minho who also retorts. “It’s about time, Kook. Hurts so bad to see your dry ass and big hands.”

“But do they even-“ Jungkook looks ready to slap Yugyeom’s mouth. “I mean Kook over here never dated, how would he even-“

Jungkook really slaps Yugyeom’s lips this time, wrestling with too much grease on their hands.

“Check his wrists,” Jackson shouts from where he is typing away a report on the computer. “If they’re still huge he’s still in the phase of excessive self-love.”

Yugyeom answers with a monotonous, “Bro. Brilliant observation you got there.” Jungkook simply answers with a loud “What the fuck.”

“Can we not talk about Kook’s wanking routine when we’re having chicken? It’s killing my chick-boner by a lot. Gross,” Jaehwan spits as he speaks, mouth greasy from all the chicken he has been inhaling for the past thirty minutes. “We kinda miss your ass around here but skip the dick talk.”

Jungkook groans for what seems like the twentieth time that day, secretly loving the banter and the wisecracks. This team has been all he has for the past few years, the best years of Jungkook’s life. He grew with them, bled with them, and almost died with them, and to think that he is going to be with the amazing guys he already sees as brothers for more years to come gets his eye a little bit liquidy.

He does not admit that so he drinks a whole cup of soda to blink back the tears, but they all see that—the thankfulness and contentment from being exactly where he wants to be. The men love Jungkook, and still remembered the day they thought he died, and knowing he survived is a blessing for them all.

Hoseok emerges from the office when they are starting a whole lot of wisecracks again at the expense of Jungkook’s injury and love life. Seokjin follows closely behind, holding a file.

“Guys, clear off your schedule on the 10th. As planned, they’ll be having a ceremony of some sort.” Hoseok starts, hands already picking up a plate. There is grease on his upper lips. “If you’re on a break that day, you can go on your own. Those on duty, you can go on breaks or after hours.”

Everyone nods in respect and compliance, including Jungkook who looks a bit grim at that. Yugyeom slaps his shoulder, and his spirit returns as they begin to hound his ass again.

On the 10th is the memorial ceremony of the earthquake, which is going to be held on the pavilion near the mall site. The mall itself now still lay in heaps of rubble, cleared off for reconstruction. Thousands of people lost their lives to the earthquake, and with that kind of consciousness in his mind, Jungkook is truly grateful he made it. Seokjin made it. The narrow escape gave him pain, but blesses him with many things.

The earthquake was devastating in ways one would remember for years. Buildings built for decades ruined after two days of tremors and storms. Thousands of lives lie inside the deep grey of earth, all bowing down to mother’s nature hail.

The devastation lies both in the manmade ruins and the hearts of the men themselves.

 

 

***

 

 

Once his shift ends, Jimin is already downstairs waiting for him in his car.

It is nearing 7.30 when he walks down from his department to the gate, and the sheer anticipation of seeing Jimin waiting for him in the car is making him giddy. Way back before the earthquake, it was usually Jungkook who would ferry Jimin around due to his own need to be ubiquitous to Jimin, and now he gets to be pampered by Jimin who has not allowed him to drive for awhile.

He feels like a big baby, but he loves getting babied by Jimin.

A soft R&B song is playing on the radio as Jimin croons the songwords to it, eyes keen to watch the dusk lights as they paint ephemeral colours on the sky from his seat window. Jungkook waits for a minute on the other side of the car as he watches Jimin's gentle, unguarded movements, his knees bent. Then he knocks.

Jimin almost jumps, completely startled by the face peering to watch him from the other side window as he unlocks the car.

“You scared me,” Jimin says as Jungkook gets into the passenger seat. Jimin’s car smells a lot like Jimin. Like comfort food, but a kinda classy comfort food, and mostly his oceanic perfume. Jungkook pecks Jimin’s cheeks, and notices that he has changed from his work clothes, now dressed handsomely in a light blue sweater. Jungkook’s sweater.

“Mine?”

Jimin looks at him, face nonchalant, gesturing towards himself. He is trying to be cheeky, Jungkook knows it.

“Who? Me? No.”

“I mean the sweater- but what do you mean you’re not- hyung.”

“What? The sweater? No.”

“That’s my sweater, and you’re mine.”

“No, this sweater is mine, and I’m mine. And you’re mine too.” Jimin giggles as Jungkook pulls his body to his own harshly, and kisses his neck like he is sniffing a baby’s head. “Tickles, Kookie.”

When Jungkook lets him go, Jimin gestures towards the back seat where three paper bags sit stiffly on the backseat. “I bought black bean noodles for dinner, I don’t think we have anything left to cook in your house. Let’s go!”

Jungkook contorts his face into a ridiculous facial expression while imitating a current popular joke which says 'let's go', and Jimin cannot help but toss around his lithe body in laughter. He bops Jungkook’s nose to get him to stop joking around because he needs to drive, and they need to be alive enough to get to Jungkook’s apartment.

Upon arrival to the now almost vacant apartment, Jungkook switches on the heater and the lights, shuffling the paper bags in. Jimin follows close, his windbreakers too big for his small stature. Jungkook takes it off for him and ushers Jimin to the kitchen.

“You can finish off packing, baby. I’ll prepare the dinner table,” Jimin says simply, eyes focused on the food while he takes out bowls of noodles and meat from the paperbags. Jungkook quickly kisses his temple and leaves for his room, taking an unopened cardboard box from the hallway and a plastic bag.

His bedroom of the past few years now looks barren and grey, devoid of the clutter Jungkook usually leaves his room filled with. Everything else has been shipped to Jimin’s house the few times they came over here to get his things. Jungkook is only left with the things in his study desk drawers, the small stuff he usually keeps in small boxes or ziplocks.

This will be the last visit before he returns the key to the owner, as the new resident would be moving in the upcoming week. It feels bittersweet how he has to leave his bidding of several years, where he first began his years of independence and adulthood, but the moving comes with a greater sense of happiness that overshadows the sad.

He will be living with Jimin for years to come, and if they are following the plan to a tee, for a long time. Until death.

Once he already sets the cardbox board into a good sturdy square, he sets to pack all the stuff he wants and about to discard into the box and the plastic bag respectively.

The last thing from the room which he keeps in the box is a black leather box kept in a Bulgari paper bag. He opens it to reveal the two things he had ordered as custom mades, and the engravings on them.

From inside the room, he can hear Jimin singing the same song they had listened to in the car. He watches from where he is crouched as the man tries to design the position of the bowls he has taken out from the paper bag, as if they are eating a four course meal and not instant noodles from their favourite neighbourhood restaurant.

The overhead lightbulb at the dinner table shines its light in a circular pattern on Jimin’s face, making him look like an epitome of a beaming angel, a halo on his shiny black hair. He looks up at Jungkook who is watching him, once he is finished.

“Baby, dinner’s ready. Come.”

Such simple words make Jungkook’s heart jolt not like the teenager Jungkook felt when he had first fell in love, but like the older Jungkook does everytime he realises he has all the luck in his lifetime. Jungkook has never been more sure than that moment, that he is the luckiest fireman on earth, and that he will continuously fall in love again, as he keeps the bag in the box, and struts towards Jimin who is waiting for him with the chair out.

 

 

**

 

The 10th comes soon enough.

On the day they visit the memorial, the cold winds is still a harsh bite, solid even when it is already early February. The freeze is voracious on their exposed skin, like piranhas in open rivers. Jimin huddles closer to Jungkook’s body which is warmer as he is dressed in his first uniform, a dark blue suit complete with badges, head covered with a white hat, borrowing the warmth of the bigger man.

The chrysanthemums that they put on the ground which overlooks a huge wreath of pictures and notes are now buried beneath a few other visitors’. Candles are lit and kept in a glass to make sure they do not get blown off by the wind. Beyond the carnations are the mall and shop site, where hundreds of people were injured, lost their lives, and lost their loved ones. Half of the buildings have plateaued onto the face of the earth, like they are permanently bowing to the ancient skies. 

They leave the post to walk towards the mall’s ruins, Jungkook’s hand around Jimin’s shoulder holding him close.

When he sees the place he almost lost his life at just several months ago, Jungkook feels more than chill from the wind running down his spine. He feels fear, anxiety, and thankfulness. His eyes roam the rubble a bit more, remembering the severed bodies of children he had found, dried blood, missing limbs.

He remembers his own fall, Seokjin's frantic face, and short fleeting moments when he felt himself floating on air.

Jungkook can feel Jimin’s grip on his tightening, and he would have thought it is from the cold if he does not hear the sniffle. He looks down at Jimin, who is now red-nosed but dry-cheeked. His eyes look dead again, as if he is remembering something he does not want to remember.

“Jimin?”

“Let’s go back, Jungkook.”

“Let’s go.” Jungkook does not press on. “We’re going to the lake today.”

Jimin does not ask much questions, but all the way over there he only looks outside of the window, his hand tightly gripping Jungkook’s hand, placed safely on his thighs.

When they arrive at the spot, like always it is quiet and serene. It is nothing they do not know or expect, but Jungkook and Jimin both still feel pure, raw joy from being in an undisturbed place where nothing seems to age, seems to change. They could come here in twenty years time and it would probably still look the same.

Once Jungkook properly parks his jeep in the usual designated spot, lifting up the handbrake with his one hand, another still in Jimin’s grip, he turns to Jimin.

“Let’s not get out. It must be cold.”

Jimin finally turns his face to look at him, head still stuck on the carseat. Jungkook can sense the melancholy from his face but his smile is singled out; a private, fond smile especially reserved for Jungkook.

“Then why are we here, Kookie?” Jimin whispers in a gentle voice he uses for when he feels the need to not overpower, to be taken care of.

“I have something to... But first-“ Jungkook, unlatches the seatbelt, crosses his seat and steals a quick kiss on Jimin’s smiling lips. “You wanna tell me something, baby?”

Jimin’s grip on his hands tightens, as his thumb fiddles with Jungkook’s larger hand, softly caressing the skin.

“I don’t know how to say it, Jungkook. I just felt a bit overwhelmed, being there. I’m okay now.” Jimin laughs it off, a shy smile still on his lips, the one that shows he is swallowing everything in.

“I'm usually very careful with my feelings, you know how I am. And I haven’t cried or anything these past few months, not even when you woke up. I guess it’s my coping mechanism,” Jimin speaks in a hushed whisper, his high tone kept dormant under a huskier tone. “But when I saw the place where you almost died, and when I first saw you being rolled out, bleeding and looking like you’re dying. I mean…”

Jimin stops, his chin tilted down as he looks at their intertwining fingers. “I looked at the photos of the dead, each one of them, and they’re all so young. Babies, children, young people, old people. People like you and me, and I-I thought about the people who love them so much like I love you. I couldn’t help but think about what would happen if that was you.”

“Jimin.”

“It’s all coming back to me.” A drop of tear falls on Jungkook’s hand, on top of their intertwining hand; the first tear Jimin does not hold back from. He does not sob like he did the last time they were here after Jimin’s father’s funeral. "The years. Emotions. They're catching up to me."

He cries quietly, like a broken dam but one with a steady flow of water falling from his pretty eyes. His tears fall one by one onto his shirt and their hands, but he sniffles quietly and looks away from Jungkook. Jungkook gives him the space to do what he wants, only tightening his hold on Jimin's hand.

Jimin needs it, he has always been strong for everybody but for himself.

He does not cry, not even when he is alone, not in the shower, not in front of his father’s altar. The missing years, the disappointment, the rejection of his identity, the almost death experience for the both of them, and the state of unknowing whether Jungkook was going to survive or not are a vehement set of teeth which would come back and bite him one of these days.

“Jimin, you’ve been strong for too long. I’ve never met anyone like you, anyone as strong as you are. Crying doesn’t mean you’re weak, and you’re the strongest you've been right now.”

When Jimin wipes his face with an open palm, Jungkook pulls him into his embrace, holding him tightly. Jimin lets go of his hand and secures his arms around Jungkook's shoulders, positively sobbing into his neck. He can feel the younger's multiple badges on his chest, the outline of his uniform on his body as their torsos are pressed close.

Jungkook brushes his hair, himself crying his eyes out at Jimin’s state.

It is no secret Jungkook cries more than Jimin does, and he does not stay dry-eyed at any of Jimin’s rare moments of tears.

When Jimin lets go of Jungkook about five minutes later, their body separating, Jimin wipes away Jungkook’s tears, pecking on his forehead. “Don’t use this when we fight later on.”

Jungkook laughs at that. “Hyung.”

Jimin’s eyes are puffy, but nevertheless beautiful. He is beautiful when he is closed, he is beautiful when he is bared open.

The light from the darkening skies seems to bathe them in mild, gentle colours. Through his tear-stained eyes, Jimin sees Jungkook in his strongest too, dressed to the nines in his uniform, coming back from the place where he almost lost his life and is still holding himself together. Jungkook is amazing.

“Kookie, you told me there’s something you wanna do? You wanna take photos outside? It’s getting late. You gotta do it now.” Jimin speaks as he peeks at the sky from the driver’s window behind Jungkook’s turned body. He does not want to dwell on feelings now, and opening up will take time, but he is ready to do it with Jungkook.

Jungkook looks up too, seeing the amber dusk skies settling into a concoction of colours he never was good at mixing in art class. The colours get more vivid like gems as the day ripens; there is amethyst, and ruby, and a bit of topaz but the darkness is slowly beckoning them in.

“Oh, let’s go out for a bit, hyung. Wear your windbreakers, we’ll be out only for a short while, I promise.”

Jimin nods and does as he told, and when they are both dressed, Jimin exits first. He struts forward to look at the lake, now frozen stiff in a lot of spots. His chest feels clearer a bit after letting it all out in Jungkook's embrace. The wind is howling and he feels the usual cold, and the birds are silent in the dead of the winter, even on the last of it.

Jungkook eyes Jimin from inside the car as he carefully opens the glove compartment, taking out the leather box. It is time.

When he walks over and finally hugs Jimin’s backside with no hesitation, nuzzling his cold nose into Jimin’s neck, Jimin is surprised by the lack of camera in his hand, the Nikon he loves so much.

“Where’s your camera, baby?”

“Jimin.”

Jungkook speaks loud, but only loud enough for only Jimin to listen to. His voice is now reduced to a low timbre with the cold, the anxiety, and the overwhelming feelings he feels for what he is about to do.

He does not let go of Jimin’s body even when the older turns only his face to him, his body kept tight in Jungkook’s embrace. Jimin's scent wafts into his nostrils, awakening his senses, making everything appear more real. The world remains at a stand still.

“Jungkook? What's wrong?” Jimin's face looks worried. Jungkook shakes his head, eyes shut, like he is listening to something within him, like he is remembering a practiced speech.

“Jimin. You know how we waited... to come back to each other? The waiting hurts, but it gave us room to understand ourselves. We have to be lonely to understand, to make meanings of who we are, what we need in the world.”

Jimin recalls the same words, albeit worded differently, from Jungkook’s confession years ago.

“Even when I went through it all alone, it still led me back to you. Older Jungkook, sixteen year old Jungkook, dying Jungkook, I would always find you. It’s predestined or something, I don’t know.” Jungkook laughs into Jimin’s temple.

“You may look at the universe to define yourself, but for me, the universe is within me. And once I’ve fallen in love with you and love you for a long time, it’s in you. I know when I see you, I see myself. A whole universe I see myself in.”

Jungkook finally lets Jimin turn to face him, face close to each other. He caresses Jimin's fair and smooth cheeks, the wrinkles on the edges of his sharp eyes. “Jimin, you’ve come back to me, and me to you. Now stay, be with me for a long time, until our universes collapse or expand. Or explode. Whatever you want. Let me be in yours too.”

Jimin’s arms which are now circling Jungkook’s waist tighten as he looks up to Jungkook, positively beaming in the dusk light. His brown eyes now catch light, and Jungkook can see the fire, the water, the wind, and the earth, all the elements in the world which kept him grounded within Jimin's eyes. Kept him chained to Jimin.

“I think we’ve already been married for a long time. But would you marry me the second time—all the time, Jimin?”

Before Jimin can widen his eyes in surprise and unclasp his hands from Jungkook’s back, Jungkook takes out the leather box from his black windbreaker, opening it in an instant.

“This was the…” Jimin recalls the day from months ago when they went to fetch this. "The Bulgari store."

Jungkook nods, his smile wide and his teeth out.

“You custom made the rings? They must be expensive!”

Jungkook laughs first, still too much in love to ignore how Jimin has the knacks to ruin the most romantic moments by asking all the wrong questions and focusing on all the wrong things.

“Baby c’mon.”

“Which one is yours?”

“Which one do you want?”

Jimin takes out both of the rings and eyes them in the fading lights. Both rings look similar in a way, two sleek platinum rings with each a band of gold or black lining up the middle. A diamond is placed on the middle, supposedly the one facing upwards. They are beautiful, chic and sleek, and everything they both love.

Jimin catches the words engraved on the inside, a ‘JJK & PJM’ written inside both the rings.

“Oooh… Jeon Jungkook. JJK. Classy. Superior romantic.” Jimin quips, eyebrows rising up and down in a teasing manner.

Jungkook groans and wipes his face with both his hands, as Jimin laughs at himself and at Jungkook's obviously annoyed face. Jimin cannot help it, he cannot deal well with emotional moments without feeling a little bit too overwhelmed.

Once he ceases tossing his body around in laughter, Jimin turns to Jungkook, taking the taller's hand and putting the black one into his dainty ring finger gently. And then he opens Jungkook’s hand and puts the one with the golden band on the younger's palm, holding his hand out for Jungkook to take.

"Here, Kookie."

“Hyung, you just- I tried so hard to make it romantic. You didn't even say yes.” Jungkook whines as he slips the ring to fit Jimin’s chubbier, but smaller ring finger to a perfect fit. Once he finishes putting it and looks up to Jimin’s face, the older is smiling so hard his eyes scrunched up close, sniffling from both the cold, past and impending tears.

Jimin kisses Jungkook's hand.

“Yes, Jungkook. I would marry you all the times you want. You and your universes. Always a yes. Everytime a yes.”

Jungkook catches the words in his shoulders, as he hugs Jimin and caresses his head. Their happiness feels like the setting sun, nothing like the fireworks, but a sure movement of the dial clock. Something slow and mundane, but huge and sure. Like a higher being which envelops them in all its hugeness, a frozen lake in the middle of nowhere.

Jungkook breaks the hug as he says the three words to Jimin’s lips, kissing the frozen red lips he has claimed so many times. Jimin pulls down his neck as he positively hangs from Jungkook’s body, now feeling himself owned and possessing at the same time.

Something shifts in the atmosphere, their touches tingling.

“Let’s go home, baby.”

 

The whole way home, Jimin fiddles with his ring and occasionally Jungkook’s ring from his hand perched on Jimin’s thigh. He holds it and caresses the fingers, and kisses it while looking at Jungkook. Jungkook has never driven speedier than he does.

As Jimin unlocks the door, switches on the heater, the lights and everything else, the reality sets in.

One would think Jungkook would take things to extreme; the passionate mid-twenties man he is, but rather he takes it slowly. He unzips and takes off all their sweaters. He boils the water, and makes tea for Jimin who looks both frozen and turned on at the same time. He could never tell with the older man.

“This tea is nice. We should buy more of this brand.”

Jungkook hums in agreement, eyes staring at the ring on Jimin's finger. “Hyung, I’m gonna take out the trash, lock the doors and everything. You can wash up.”

They go about locking the doors, washing their face, and feet and limbs, and changing out of their shirts, and uniform for Jungkook. They both undress to their boxers in their usual rate, Jimin eyeing the muscular swirls of Jungkook’s torso as the other stares openly at his slim, lithe one.

When Jimin dims the light and meets Jungkook halfway, both smiling in understanding, Jungkook wraps his arms around Jimin and hoists him up on his waist with a sigh. Then he kisses Jimin slowly like he has all the time in the world, suckling on the older's soft lips. He does have time, and tomorrow is an off day for the both of them, a short forever for the week.

“Did you lock the doors?”

Jungkook answers in a hum, lips still moulding Jimin's thicker lips slowly. Feeling Jimin's soft skin on his makes him all excited and giddy.

“Checked the windows?”

Jungkook pecks his lips before kissing Jimin’s angular jaws, and nipping places he can reach on Jimin's baby soft skin. “Yeah. Checked the heater too.”

“Switched off all the lights?” Jimin holds Jungkook’s head close, wanting to feel the younger’s tongue on his neck as he sucks different places on the unmarred skin. He loves caressing and scenting Jungkook’s thick hair, feeling them on his skin when Jungkook kisses him. Jimin kisses the faint remnant of stitches on Jungkook's temple now covered by his lush hair, a reminder of harsher times. It is his favourite place to kiss now. 

“Yeah. Where's the lube, baby?” Jungkook licks Jimin’s moving adam’s apple, bobbing up and down as he swallows his spit at the feel of Jungkook's pebbled nipples brushing his own. Jungkook's bigger, taller frame makes him feel so precious, makes him feel safe. 

“Oh no. The bathroom sink. Let’s go take it, private.”

Jimin giggles as Jungkook carries him like he weighs nothing, all the way to their attached bathroom just to take a small bottle of lube.

“Why was the lube in the bathroom, hyung?” Jungkook asks cheekily into Jimin’s neck, and Jimin can feel him smiling on the skin, his teeth bumping and sucking bruises in intermittently.

“I needed practice, Jungkook. We haven’t done this, and I needed to get ready for your giant cock.”

Jimin always says it like it is, but Jungkook’s arousal stirs at the thought of Jimin fingering himself when he could not get Jungkook to do it, to prepare for this. Their first time. It sends mirth and provocation to his already very stimulated state. How funny and cute and sexy Jimin is all the time.

“We're such an old couple, hyung. Old married people.”

Jimin agrees to both and curls his arms tightly on Jungkook’s neck. He lowers down his body and rubs his nose with Jungkook’s. “Are you ready, Jungkook? Take me tonight, please?”

Jungkook captures Jimin’s lips at that, emotions high, body now roaring with arousal climbing for its zenith. He could almost hear Jimin mewling in between pants, as he caresses his back and squeezes his ass with one hand and holds the lube with the other. Jimin is sucking his upper lip when he puts Jimin down on the bed, not unlatching from him at all.

He repositions Jimin so that the older’s head hits the pillow, and stands back in his haunches.

“Kookie come here.” Jungkook is pulled down by the impatient Jimin, who rises up to capture his lips, slotting his tongue in almost immediately. “I want you, Jungkook. Let me love you.”

Jungkook can feel his cock twitching at the mere words from Jimin’s mouth, who is now devouring his lips like he is eating a dessert he cannot get enough off. Jimin’s right arm is pulling his head and hair down, while another is caressing Jungkook’s body, stopping short of his Adonis’ belt, right above his crotch.

Jungkook hovers on top of Jimin, a hand keeping him upright, while another is holding Jimin’s jaw to keep his face in position for his kisses. When they break apart from the wet and searing kisses, Jungkook begins mouthing and retracing the marks he made earlier on Jimin’s neck and collarbone.

He goes lower and he takes his time. Nipples erect and skin awakening with goosebumps, Jungkook sucks the two small nipples, his hands roaming past Jimin’s lips which capture and suck on his digits briefly, before letting them go to travel lower to his crotch, leaving a wet trail of spit everywhere.

He grabs and fondles Jimin’s cock from beneath the cloth, before putting his own mouth there on the clothed appendage. Jimin jerks forward, definitely rock hard by now.

“Kookie, take it off. I wanna see you, please.”

Jungkook pulls down his own boxer first, his hours long semi has now awakened to a hard one. It springs up and touches his belly, the tip already wet. Jimin reaches out to touch it, tongue coming out to lick his lips.

“I love your cock, baby. I want you inside.”

Jimin does not get a word before Jungkook takes off Jimin's boxer in one swift but gentle movement, effectively bouncing his perky ass cheeks when he slides them off.

He looks up at Jimin at this state.

Jimin lies on his bed cock hard on his belly, legs spread and propped up. His skin is smooth like a baby’s, and even when Jungkook kisses and sucks away bruises on his body they still shine with the dimmed orange lighting and the small sliver of moonlight getting in from beneath the blinds. His soft black hair spreads like a crown on Jungkook's pillow, and his eyes look at Jungkook like he does not see anything else, anyone else. He does not.

“I love you, hyung.”

He goes down to kiss Jimin, now taking the role of the devour, slotting his tongue in and sucking Jimin’s, making the older whimper in want. Grabbing the lube, he detaches himself from Jimin’s lips, kisses his inner thighs twice, and uncaps the bottle.

“Are you nervous?”

Jungkook warms up the lube with his hand. He repositions Jimin’s legs, spreading it wider, and pulling his ass up. “Yeah, a bit. Are you?”

“Yeah. Let’s do our best!” Jimin says, smiling down at Jungkook, who is sucking a bruise onto his inner thighs and is laughing loudly near his cock.

“Careful, baby! My two assets are so close.”

“How are you so sexy but says the most unsexy things, hyung?”

“I’m not sexy." Jimin says nonchalantly. “I’ve cleaned my insides just now, so don’t worry okay?”

“Hyung- why would you- you’re unbelievable.” Jungkook groans as he laughs into Jimin's skin. The lubed fingers finds Jimin’s rim, a finger teasing the hole as Jimin rises up to see what Jungkook is doing. The poking finger enters, and Jimin shudders in anticipation. Jungkook’s fingers are slender and bony, and he can feel the long digit prepping and poking the soft walls inside.

Jungkook kisses his tummy as he moves the lone finger. Jimin holds his cock in his hand, squeezing it tightly, but not too much. The time moves slowly as the pleasure simmers for the both of them. Jimin can hear Jungkook controlling his breathing as he sucks some new hickeys onto Jimin’s body.

“Kookie… have you ever- ah! Right there- have you ever jerked off and think of me?”

Jungkook takes out the finger, now ready to put in two. He pushes the two fingers in slowly, watching Jimin’s face as he accepts and clenches around the fingers. Jimin frowns for a minute, and when he opens his eyes, Jungkook moves the two fingers. He scissors Jimin, like he was taught a few times they did this but not quite ready to take the next step.

“Everytime. Military was the worst,” Jungkook says as he kisses up to Jimin’s neck. As he climbs up and hovers closer to Jimin, the older now has access to his dripping cock. Jimin gently grabs it and twists his hand on the veiny cock, putting his thumb onto the slit. Jungkook nuzzles his nose in Jimin's collarbone. “I imagined doing a lot of things to you.”

“Like?” Jimin holds his wrist all of a sudden, when the scissoring gets too deep and it brushes against his prostate, his body shivering in a shudder. “Baby, third finger please.”

Jungkook obeys Jimin’s command like a slave to his master, taking the two digits out and sliding three in, this time slower than the first two. Jimin widens his eyes at this intrusion, clearly losing his mind. His hold on both Jungkook’s cock and wrist tightens. When he realises Jungkook is letting him control the flow and the pace, continues on twisting his hand on the younger's cock. Another hand still holds Jungkook’s wrist, and Jungkook lets him. Lets him control whatever they are doing.

“I imagined kissing you the most. Bites and bruises. Sucking you off, and eating you out.” Jungkook can feel the slide getting easier as Jimin’s tight entrance loosens up at the breach. “I imagined fucking you hard, fucking you slow. You fucking me. All of that.”

Jimin is arching at the three fingers abusing his walls and prostate, also Jungkook’s hushed baritone whispers in his ears. This time Jimin’s smart mouth has nothing to say, as he gapes like a fish hungry for air. For Jungkook’s tongue, cock, for Jungkook’s love.

“Baby…” Jimin mewls, not knowing what to say or how to say it. He needs it before he cums.

Jungkook understands. He sits on his knees. Fingers now out of the Jimin’s clenching hole, the rim red and ready for Jungkook’s bigger cock, Jungkook licks the hole a bit, curious and mostly just losing his mind. “I’ll make love to you baby. I’ll take care of you.”

Jimin jumps at the wet taste of Jungkook’s tongue on his hole, almost rising up from where he is lying on the bed.

He repositions Jimin’s legs and body to see how they would go about to do this, face and eyes sharp and focused like he is about to set up the water host, or build a furniture, check for a gas leak. It is the face which Jimin likes the most, the face when Jungkook is set to do things the perfect way. His rippling muscles and broad shoulders tower over Jimin's body, casting shadows from the lights on Jimin's belly.

Jimin knows Jungkook would make love to him perfectly.

When he does find the position and lubes up a bit more, Jungkook goes over to kiss Jimin’s deeply, holding his cock to touch Jimin’s rim with the bulbous head. Jimin clenches on reflex.

“Baby, relax. We’ll do it together, okay?”

Jimin nods, hands on Jungkook’s shoulder and his muscular hips. Jimin can feel the slope of Jungkook’s muscular hips moving under his touch, his veins tight.

“Hold my cock baby, put it in when you’re ready.” Jungkook takes Jimin’s hand and lets it hold his cock. He tries so hard not to come early, but Jimin’s hand is just as soft as the rest of him and it is a difficult task.

Jimin teases his own entrance, eyes flickering from Jungkook’s eyes and his own hole. When the head enters, and catches the rim, Jimin knows he is doing it right as it does not hurt. Foreign but not unpleasant. He feels his hole stretching a little bit more, as the much larger base slides in at his own push. The slight tinge of pain makes him stop, the stretch too wild for Jimin.

“Kook, you're so big. Hold on.”

Jungkook waits and moves back a bit, before Jimin pushes him in some more. They take it real slow, in and out, until Jungkook bottoms out and Jimin feels himself stretched like the ocean.

“Baby, you’re too tight.” Jungkook whines into his mouth. “Too tight for me. Fuck.”

Their bodies are joined at this point, sweat from Jungkook rolling off his body to drip onto Jimin. Jimin licks the sweat on Jungkook’s neck, jostling with their conjoined bodies in the process. He does not feel pain as much.

Once he realises that, he starts grinding a bit, circling his ass to Jungkook’s cock inside it feeling it twitching in tightness.

Jungkook groans into his temple, knees scrambling to get up. “You okay?”

Jimin nods, pulling Jungkook’s body close again, skin to skin. “Make love to me, Kookie.”

Jungkook starts slow, circling his hips around Jimin’s body, feeling his cock getting used to the warm and soft walls of Jimin’s ass. He wonders why they did not do this sooner, when it feels so good. Jimin is so good.

Jimin whimpers at the movement, his legs raised to wrap around Jungkook’s back like both of his arms. Jungkook starts thrusting shallowly, albeit being very deep inside. He drags it out a bit, and pushes inside as he stares at Jimin’s face.

When he feels himself getting too worked up, he stops moving and kisses Jimin on the lips. He does not want this to end to early, still wanting more.

When he feels he can go again, he moves a bit quicker, bouncing Jimin’s ass with the slap of his hips. The squelching sound from Jimin’s wet ass, and his own wet cock fills the room with such a novelty. Their first time, erotic and awkward, but theirs.

“Kookie baby, it’s so good.”

Jimin mumbles incoherently, panting into Jungkook’s mouth as he holds him close. A string of saliva connects both their wet, swollen lips. Another hand slips behind Jungkook's ass, squeezing it, pushing Jungkook’s hips deeper.

Jungkook rocks faster at the encouragement, himself now holding Jimin’s ass up to open it and fuck him deeper. Jungkook never thought he would be this dirty, but with Jimin he is out of control. Jimin's moans are loud to his ears, high-pitched and whiny at times, low tones at others.

He thrusts faster, knowing they are both close. Jimin grabs both Jungkook’s ass to push him deeper as if his strong thighs tightening around Jungkook's torso are not giving enough signals.

Jungkook's thrusts get more erratic, deeper still, and at the brush of his prostates getting abused multiple times, Jimin arches up and clings to Jungkook, who rises up and carries him up a bit off the bed. Only his head and shoulders touches the mattress.

“So hot, baby,” Jungkook pants into his neck, as Jimin pounds himself back onto Jungkook's cock. When he speeds up and pulls Jimin’s hips towards him he knows they are seconds away from getting undone.

“Come inside me baby,” Jimin whispers breathlessly.

Jimin clenches hard and this time Jungkook comes first, seeds bursting into Jimin’s tight hole, eyes not once moving away from Jimin's beautiful face writhing in his hold. He can feel his own cum spilling into his lap as they are now halfway off the bed.

Jimin follows soon after, feeling the warm wetness in his insides as Jungkook fucks him through his own orgasm, hips snapping harshly.

He orgasms so hard like one would curl their body and toes, arching off and moaning loudly, ass still grinding Jungkook’s cock.

Still panting into each other’s mouth as they come down from the high, Jungkook falls onto Jimin’s embrace before he slowly slides out of Jimin’s loosening hole, carefully watching Jimin’s wincing, pleasure-stricken face. The other watches him, and laughs when it is Jungkook’s time to wince from the oversensitivity.

"Are you hurt, hyung? Did I hurt you?" Jungkook asks promptly, gathering Jimin in his arms. His face looks concerned for Jimin for their first time, who shifts a bit to ease his sore back.

"I'm okay, Kookie. Hurts a bit, but I love it. I love all of it." Jimin says, kissing Jungkook's eyebrows, as the younger hovers on him.

“We’re such a team. Nooby, old men team.” Laughing and wiping his sweaty face, half of the wetness from Jungkook’s spit and his own, Jimin pulls Jungkook for a deep but warm liplock, the one where they hum into each other’s mouth like they are talking. “I really like that thing you do, baby. You’re so hot.”

“What thing?” Jungkook murmurs into Jimin’s lips, both completely ignoring the wet stickiness drying on their skin for another five minutes of sleepy cuddling.

“That thing where you…” Jimin tilts his head trying to come up with the right term. “Everything.”

Jungkook laughs his usual shrilling laughs, getting up and holding his hand out for Jimin to hold as he leads them both to the bathroom to clean themselves, limbs tangled and bodies marked. 

In about ten minutes after walking around in pure sleepiness, they fall asleep in each other's embrace, moonlight shining onto their faces and onto the rings, a touch of cold in the darkness of the night and brightness of the moonlight.

 

 

On a Sunday like today approximately a couple of years ago, Jungkook would be walking into Jimin’s house quietly, putting all the groceries on the counter.

He would take out the side dishes, check the rice Jimin usually would cook before he goes to sleep the night before, and heat up the pan. There would be a pancake batter already prepared in the fridge if Jimin was not that tired the night before. If there was none, Jungkook would whip up his own; flour, eggs and chives. Occasionally he would break a glass or two, or spill some oil or flour on the counter.

But on a Sunday like today, this year, Jungkook would still do the same thing—except he would not have to drive far. He does not have to key in the digits for the door lock which he remembers by heart (their birthdays), nor walk quietly into the house. He begins by kissing Jimin’s temple, to which the latter would usually raise his pouts up for another peck and falling back to sleep. Then he promptly makes his way to pee. Then he would do all the things he usually does on a Sunday, like today.

It has been years and the routine continues like any other year they have been together, except now they both wear two rings on each hand, an engagement and a wedding ring. The house stays almost the same but there are more photo frames of the both of them; of the people they love, of the places they go to.

There are furniture that Jungkook sets up himself, and those that Jimin does—their styles mixing and intertwining in a space and universe that is theirs. Jungkook would croon a song he sang long ago to Jimin for many nights in his younger years, his hand nifty as he whisks the batter in a bowl.

Jimin would wake up soon, eyes scrunched up by sleepiness and a whole lot of exhaustion.

He would stumble into the kitchen, hug Jungkook from behind if he is feeling a little bit too affectionate. On mornings when he feels anxious, he would tiptoe and kiss the scar on Jungkook’s temple a lot—the reminder of what could have been, and what he could have lost.

Breakfast happens like the usual; pickles on Jimin’s side and peppers on Jungkook’s.

On a day like today, they spend the day doing almost nothing, feeling too lazy.

Jungkook would play games on his computer, or spend time outside tending to the little botanical garden he started about a year before in the backyard. Or on lazy days like today he is just sitting on the couch watching a documentary on the earthquake on the television. It has been a couple of years, but the memories and images are still fresh on his mind.

Jimin naps next to him on the couch, head on his laps, hands holding a book open on his tummy, glasses perched on his nose. From Jungkook’s view, all he could see is Jimin’s pointy nose and his peach coloured lips slightly open.

“Kookie, what time is it? We need to cook dinner.”

As usual Jimin would murmur into the skin of his thighs, eyes still ladened with sleep. Jungkook knows Jimin is just asking because he feels too lazy to wake up and cook, and he needs Jungkook to placate him. He brushes Jimin’s soft hair slowly, caressing the few strands of grey hair now more visible to his eyes. Jimin is only thirty but his grey hair is already showing. They joke plenty about that.

Jimin lifts his face when he does not get any answer from Jungkook, feeling only the soft caresses of his hair from the younger's dainty fingers.

“A little bit over six. Go to sleep baby, I’ll order takeout.” Jungkook says to Jimin, who has now taken off his glasses and is squinting at Jungkook from his upside down position. Everytime he does so, and everytime he smiles like right now, Jungkook notices the wrinkles deep set on the edge of his eyes. Jimin ages gracefully, like the grace and beauty he is.

“I have me a good man.” Jimin raises an arm and pulls down Jungkook’s face close to his, slotting his lips into Jungkook’s for a soft kiss which tastes like long years and the strawberry pudding they shared earlier. When they break apart, Jimin turns around and nuzzles his nose into Jungkook’s tummy, ready to continue his nap.

Jungkook laughs a bit as the older man's curls into his body as if trying to make it smaller, feels his own eyes crinkling in age, devotion, happiness, and much wisdom.

The rays of dusk penetrate through the blinds, lifting the room in yellowish amber hues. It reminds Jungkook of many things, like loneliness, like the young years he spent alone, a mother he has forgotten, and tears he has shed for those who left. It reminds him of a love which parallels home, a lighthouse in the dark seas.

Somewhere in another universe, another timeline, a young Jungkook would wait for a young Jimin.

He would wait for Jimin to go home together from school, both in their neat, black school uniforms. Over time he would wait by the train station for the soldier in buzzcut and full camo uniform, no longer satisfied with the letters. Or he would wait when he has time to spare to think about Jimin in their early twenties, when they would grow more than they ever did and also grow apart. When they are older, he would wait by his car whenever he goes to fetch Jimin from work.

Within the same universe, the younger Jimin would learn and grow and eventually understand himself.

He would bloom to be so beautiful; a grace, a home to someone else, a home to himself. His kindness will be the other Jungkook’s lifeline, his scent a warm touch which helps Jungkook rise in the morning. His superior kindness and natural talent in giving out love would branch out from within him like a sunflower searching for the sun, and Jungkook would be the sun. That Jimin would grow to be a strong, intelligent, beautiful man; a pride of his family. And then he would wait for Jungkook to return to his mother's house, to come to his home every Sunday when they are older, to come back to him when his breath gets stolen by mother nature.

That Jimin would wait patiently like his own Jimin would, because all the Jimin he knows—young or old, loud or quiet, open or closed, they are all the same.

Somewhere in another universe, a younger Jungkook would wait for Jimin for years, and knowing the things he knows right now, he would have done the same thing. Over and over again.

 

 *