So may the sunrise bring hope
Where it once was forgotten
Sons are like birds
Flying upward over the mountain
– iron & wine
Jimin managed a coach class Japan Rail ticket right in the nick of time, bumbling between shoulders and sweaty collars of office workers and tired travelers. The train was old, wood covered in too many layers of shellac, and it made a creaking, rhythmic noise that should’ve been worrisome to the observant eye. But cheap transportation was precious for those who couldn’t afford the fancy new Shinkansen Bullet Train, and Jimin needed to be four towns over by sunrise.
He slumped in his seat, chin propped against his palm, and looked out and down the country hill into the valley of tattered roofs positioned too close together. The streets had been built long before automobiles, narrow and dangerous like slicing daggers. These towns, like tiny fish ponds, contained the people who were birthed and raised until death came and cycles restarted. It was tradition for children to grow into their parents’ professions – take over the family supermarket or run the restaurant business.
Jimin had gotten lucky before his parents claimed him to continue grilling spare meats on the hibachi at their deli. He used higher education as his permit to freedom. Poor Jihyunie, he used to think, but Jihyunie was a small town kind of guy anyway and suited the duty well.
The wafting smell of coal and lethargy kept Jimin from falling asleep. Who knew what could happen? A stolen knapsack here and there was not uncommon. There were the open doors on each side of the train cars, so Jimin took a stroll to hang out against the outdoor railings.
“Couldn’t stand it in there, too?” came across the way, a breathy voice in Korean.
Jimin eyed him, a handsome boy no more than a few years younger than he, suited in a jacket with impeccable stitching. He wore a polka-dot bowtie and a pleasant uptilt in the way he set his thin lips.
“Just out for some fresh air.”
From this angle, the boy looked harmless, head thrown back and hair flapping in the humid wind. Something about his expression was easy, as if to say, hey we’re walking this thing, the same.
“Lots of fresh air inside, too. It’s the people, I think.” The boy fidgeted with his thin-rimmed glasses, suddenly a lot more gentle. “I never liked long train rides. Get antsy. Don’t like being herded like sheep.”
“It’s the only way to get around, though.” Jimin trained his eyes back on the horizon, the permanence of the town before him, and all the things he had to leave behind.
“You looking to get away?”
Jimin would normally scoff at the forwardness. He didn’t this time, just quirked an eyebrow. “Not particularly. Heading to the university in Kyoto.”
The boy held up his palms. “I didn’t mean anything by it. Just curious, is all. I’ve always dreamed of going to university. Namjoon and I are going to the country, way rural, because apparently I need some ‘time away.’ Just imagine how I feel about that.”
Jimin thought about it in silence.
He continued, “They say there’s nothing wrong with me, but I know I’m sick. The coughs keep me up all night. I just muffle them into my pillow to make sure Mum doesn’t hear.”
This thing of shared hurdles, Jimin knew. Everyone had their lot, something itching under their skin that made surviving important.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Jimin said, keeping the pity as far away as possible. “I really hope you get better.”
“Somehow, hearing a stranger say that is a lot easier than from my parents,” the boy said, eyes fluttering shut. He sounded sweet and light. “Thank you. I hope I feel better, too.”
Jimin nodded even though he knew the boy wasn’t looking at him, felt the need to acknowledge their understanding. So they were both running from something, going somewhere, with no real assurance.
“What are you studying?” The boy stood taller, as if wanting to match Jimin’s poise. “You strike me as someone very learned.”
“What’s it to you?” Jimin had come to expect the sneers after telling people he studied the stars, supposed pseudo-science. Dense humanity and their preferences to solid ground underfoot, not wanting to touch the skies above.
“I’m sorry. I was just curious, I promise.” The boy turned away, leaning at an angle on the railing. “If I could study, I’d pick aeronautical engineering. How come birds get to fly but we can’t?”
With a rush, Jimin felt the tingle of kinship. Perhaps he’d been too jarring up front. “No, no, I should apologize. I’m not used to people taking to my field nicely. Gonna head into graduate studies in astronomy. So, kinda similar to you in a way.”
The instant change radiated off the boy’s bunched cheeks. “Astronomy!! That’s incredible, so incredible. The planets and stars and endless space. There’s still so much we don’t know.” He clasped his hands together. “I’ve never met an astronomer before.”
Jimin shrugged, a little pink in the cheeks.
The rattling clank of the train, metal grinding in cycles, lulled into a hum around them. The town below was endless, sprawling like a creature waiting to pounce. Despite his interest in the stranger, Jimin suddenly felt ready to sleep. Heaving his bag off the vibrating floor and back onto his shoulders, he gave the boy a wave. “I’m going to head back inside. It was pleasant speaking with you.”
The boy was staring at him, eyes solid and burning like melted ochre. The moment was thick, just Jimin and him and the town passing by in watercolors that would forget them, too.
“Thank you. Really. And wherever astronomy takes you, I hope you find what you’re seeking.”
Jimin needed to swallow the moment before he could reply in a calm, “Thank you. Let’s wish the best for us both.” With a nod, he turned on his heel and returned to his seat, still itching to catch the sight of that boy, carefree in the wind again.
He had brought his own bento, a square take-out box filled with a little of this, a little of that. Pickled radish, shoyu corn, rice balls and a piece of breaded tonkatsu. The setting sun and its streaks of blazing orange tinting the horizon meant it could be dinnertime somewhere. So Jimin decided to eat.
Two bites into his chicken, and out rang a hissing, ugly squeal of metal upon metal as the train skidded forward, jogging the passengers in their seats with sudden inertia. A few passengers fell onto the aisles, most hanging tightly to the rails. Jimin’s tonkatsu flew out the window.
“Are we going to die, Mama?” screeched a young girl down the row.
The wailing of the train’s horn signaled five times, churning the mass effect of chaos between the people, frantic faces painted with blanched-white fear. Then the torturously slow seconds until everything slowed to a stop, followed by a final high-pitched toot.
“What the fuck is going on?”
The man sitting next to Jimin stood up, clutching his suitcase and bolted toward the exit – and then it was absolute disorder – fabrics and items flung across the way, thumping heels down the corridor, hollering of “this way!” and “no, come here now!” in various tongues, utter panic that rang clear across every language.
Jimin scrambled to bundle up his bento, or what was left of it, and yank on his knapsack. The main exit was located two cars down, so he followed the wave of people until stepping out onto the wavy field of knee-high grass. Folks had started trekking down by the train tracks, looking around for shelter, or staring idly in shock at the massive billowing circle of smoke around the front of the train.
“Just lovely,” Jimin muttered, tightening the straps of his bag. He’d have to breach the town, after all. He enjoyed walking, did enough of that anyway, but admittedly wanted to indulge by train just this time. There should be an overnight inn he could try, ask nicely with an excuse of being a graduate student with no steady income. He could wash the dishes or iron sheets.
He was ten paces down toward the town when a voice called urgently behind him, “Hey! You with the striped shirt! Wait up!”
The stranger from earlier. He turned, and saw the boy perched piggyback on another young man, waving hurriedly. Jimin pointed at his own chest, eyebrows raised.
“Yeah you! From the train!” They were closer now, red dust kicking up between their ankles. The other man was wearing leather shoes with the trendy wingtip design that Jimin could never afford.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” the man offered once he was within proper distance. He spoke with a solid voice, commanding, and let the boy off his back. “My name is Kim Namjoon and this is Jeon Jungkook. Jungkook told me he met you on the train. We’re quite a ways from our destination. Do you know a place to stay?”
“Nice to meet you.” Jimin made sure to maintain manners, even during a time like this. “I’m Park Jimin. My stop was supposed to be only half a day’s travel. I think there should be an inn within walking distance.”
Jungkook’s face was open, shining even under the turn of the day into night. “I knew asking him would be the best, hyung,” he said, tugging Namjoon’s jacket. “I just knew.”
“Good call. Do you mind if we tag along?”
“Not at all,” Jimin surprised himself by saying. He wouldn’t have accepted strays in any other time, no chance for being weighed back from going forward. Why now, he wondered, as they fell into step toward the main road, chasing the swarm of busy bodies and closing shops.
They found a well-lit homely place with a matching, pleasant grandma who fussed over their unkempt hair and ushered them into a shared room with tatami floors and a working toilet. “Everyone’s catching wind of that wretched train accident. It’s about time that particular get-up broke down, it’s been running ever since I was a little girl! I’m just relieved no one was hurt.”
Jimin insisted to help in the kitchen, but the grandma wagged a strong finger in his face and said she wouldn’t accept it. Rules and tradition, she insisted. Her honor, too.
He and his new companions ate in silence. Jimin watched as they both chewed slowly, mouths closed, like rich city folk who had no fear of losing their food. It only confirmed his suspicions when Jungkook tried to start conversation.
“Jimin? I’m indebted to you. You know what they say about that – karma never forgets. I must repay you.” Jungkook slid a crisp white envelope, hefty in size with its contents, across the low table and Jimin tasted the bitter tang in his mouthful of vegetables.
“I did nothing that requires payment. Please keep the money.” Jimin pushed the heavy burden back. He couldn’t, under clear conscience.
“Please,” Namjoon interjected. “You know how everyone is in this circle of giving and keeping? Contributing and consuming? This is not charity, this is just the way Jungkook shows his appreciation. It’s not any lower than saying thank you or repaying a kind favor.”
“Oh.” The sting of it all flooded Jimin’s lungs. “I still don’t feel comfortable accepting this...”
Jungkook was insistent, though altogether childlike with his wide eyes and grin that showed off a lot of his cute front teeth, subtle antics of slapping the table whenever Namjoon made a joke or urging Jimin to have another drink. Warmth wrapped up in someone who was just trying to get better and heal.
By the time Jimin crawled onto the futon, Jungkook was fast asleep just an arm’s throw away. There was something utterly serene in his sleeping face, little hints that read him as nothing but endearing and too fair for his current disposition. Soft lips and wide, almond eyes. Just the kind of handsome Jimin shouldn’t be looking for.
When Namjoon slid into the room, Jimin turned away, shifting to face the wall. He wondered what it would feel like to float in Jungkook’s shoes, having more than enough, but being still very much in need.
Jimin left the next morning before sunrise. The main reason being he wanted to keep the packet of money behind, and if Jungkook had been up, that would not have been an option.
He snuck two cheques onto the kitchen table and hoped the grandma would understand, wishing good fortune for her family and business. He’d make it a point to tell others about her place if they were traveling in the area.
The town had woken up with him, butchers splaying out their carcasses and produce vendors arranging bright fruit. Jimin figured he should pick up some fuel to keep him ready for the day’s travel. The bus station only had three vehicles come through, in and out of the town, so Jimin had some time.
He was already late to the university. If all the cards played out in his favor, Dean Sato would be lenient and spare Jimin any penalties for missing the first day of the most important phase of his education.
Luckily, the buses were sorted, and Jimin didn’t have an ounce of bad luck making the bumpy ride over to the towering institution of learning.
Settling into his new room, a cozy space with windows covered in soot, he thought of Mum and Dad, of Jihyunie, of Boram and the puppies, how he’d miss his favorite dish made with the right amount of doenjang, and about the friendly boy who wore a polka-dot tie on a train ride.
“This is it,” he whispered in the dark, voice shaky for a beat, then low. “Time to take things seriously. This is what you make of it, leave all of that in the past.”
Nine Years Later
The folks organizing the whole get-up, fine linens and official namecards for the guest speakers, set Jimin up at the swanky inn tucked away from the new complex of shops, surrounded by gangly trees and the solemn rush of a river that cut through the onsen downstairs.
He had four hours until the welcome reception, which was enough time to mentally prep for the "how do you do"s and fine china clinking.
Jimin wasn't set to hold his segment until the next day. He could zone out for the first, aside from two speakers he was eager to see – one presenting the stars that orbited the Milky Way black hole and the other, an update of Kepler’s extended mission and the 95 new planets in its discovery.
Maybe a dip in the onsen would do the trick, ease the knots out of his neck.
A polite woman handed him a puffy towel and slippers, directing him to a cubby to leave his clothing. Getting nude wasn't foreign, especially since Jimin grew up prancing through bathhouses as a child. Most homes didn't have showers; families used boiled pots of water to rinse off in the yard by the pump, or waited until free time opened up to visit the public baths. Such were the way things had always been.
Now that Jimin had some extra chunk change from published works and grants, he still couldn’t get used to having his own private shower.
The plastic signs at the entrance gave a hint to limit time in the water to less than an hour at most. Jimin distantly recalled a doctor saying something about the blood thickening, curdling in the veins. Not good for headaches, either.
He dipped quickly into the furthest spring, half of its arched stone border out in the open air, half covered by the awning of cherry wood. Forearms resting on the smooth line of pebbles, he looked out over the stream. The water wasn't boiling hot like most other geothermal springs, but Jimin felt the instant let go of his muscles into ease.
His presentation tomorrow would be a milestone, he reminded himself. After finishing his Doctorate in Astronomy, Jimin had been on stage too many times, practiced verbiage falling onto hungry ears of listeners. But nothing like this, the Astronomy Congress holding its 25th Anniversary, and in Japan, of all places.
Japan, where everything important began.
"Full circle," Jimin muttered, splashing water on his face.
After this, he'd have to hurry back to his too-big room and change into a heavy navy blue suit and drift into the main reception hall, prepared with a bottle of hand sanitizer for all the formal handshakes. Those blurs of faces, some high up in the field, and some very green newbies, Jimin would need to catalogue for future reference. It would be a necessity to network. Seokjin hyung had rang him saying he'd be late, but there regardless.
Always moving, growing up. Every season, a new place, but never the same.
Gravitational waves. Jimin reworked in his mind's eye his speech to announce his team’s recent findings, as the dinner finally wrapped to a close. It would be expected of guests to mingle over wine until past midnight's chime, and there was a gaudy black-and-white checkerboard dance floor, even with a jazz band.
"If it isn't Park Jimin in the flesh, goddamn what a sight for sore eyes." Seokjin talked all mouthy, but Jimin knew his heart was a pile of mush.
"And hello to you, too, good sir." Jimin returned the pompous tone.
They scuffled for a quick hug and Seokjin slapped a firm palm onto Jimin's traps. "Looking forward to your talk tomorrow. Heard you're gonna announce the newest endeavor."
"Maybe. You know I can't divulge. But I'll say it'll hopefully turn some heads."
"Hopefully? Anything Park Jimin touches turns to gold. It's gonna make headlines, I can already see it."
Jimin laughed with genuine force. Trust Seokjin to bring some fresh air into the stuffy room. "Thanks. Just the push I needed."
"And now what we both need is some sake. The aged eighty-year is good, I've heard. Open bar." Seokjin nudged him sideways. "You aiming to pick up someone tonight?"
"What in the?" Jimin doubled into more laughter. The bartender poured them two crystal glasses of strong stuff. "What are you on now?"
"Nothing yet. Just noticing Big Eyes over there at three o’clock has been staring at you this whole time."
Since he walked into the room, Jimin had felt the honing eyes but didn't dare a look. He didn't care for fleeting admiration, anyway, just wanted his own peace when he looked in the mirror.
"Maybe you should buy him a drink?" Seokjin prodded. "Oh wait, he's coming over."
"Chill. It's chill. You’ll drink your sake, I'll just be a shadow."
"Hyung," Jimin hissed under his breath, before letting his gaze fall onto the approaching figure with square sure shoulders covered in a camel cashmere coat, wearing very familiar eyes.
"Hello," was the quick thing the man said, dimples curling into chiseled features, velvety with maturity. "I hope I'm not intruding, but my name is –"
"Jungkook. I remember."
Jungkook didn’t try to finish his sentence, and let the welcome hang clear between them. Then, “I’m relieved that after nine years, I managed to keep a spot in your memory. You’re really made a name for yourself, just like I knew you would.”
“You did say something of the sort.” Jimin had to jog that part of his recollection. Sticking a thumb to his left, he said, “This is Dr. Kim Seokjin, a colleague. He and I are always bickering for grants. But it’s all in good fun. Seokjin, this is Jeon Jungkook. We met many years ago on a train.”
Seokjin shook his hand. “Dr. Flashy Park Jimin, riding trains. Sounds like the perfect setting in a romantic film.”
“It was a chance occurrence,” Jungkook said. “You’ve changed so much, Jimin, but you always had this air, you know? Of dignity. That’s why I still felt comfortable talking to you.”
“He does,” Seokjin agreed unapologetically. “Like the man who knows more than he should, but is too nice to throw you under the bus. Or, in this case, under the train. It’s also really frightening to see when he’s mad.”
Jimin swatted him in disbelief. “This madness. Jungkook, ignore him. You’ve also grown up well.”
"Could you recognize me?"
"It took me a moment," Jimin admitted. A drop of condensation slipped from his fingertips. "But then it all came right back."
Jungkook looked proud, a shallow crest on each side of his thin lips, cheeks still a deep rosy flush just as it was in the whipping wind nine years ago. He appeared well, glowing. Maybe going to the countryside did the trick.
Speaking of, Jimin needed to know. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to see you and your friend off that morning. Did you make it to your journey’s end safely?”
“Oh, right, how could I forget that you left us behind?” Jungkook sighed with faux-remorse, quickly flipping his frown back into a smile. “The grandma helped us find which bus routes to use. We were fine.”
“Sounds like a wild ride,” Seokjin said between them.
“It was.” Jimin finished his sake and gestured for a refill. “Want some of this? Real smooth, like rice and honey.”
“I don’t usually drink. The stench has never been something I could stomach.”
Seokjin grinned, asking for his own fill. “Fine by me. More for us, then.”
Jungkook saddled up to sipping an iced tea and exchanged pleasantries, dipping his head every time Seokjin cooed over how cute and young he looked in the middle of a ballroom filled of old geezers.
Jimin didn't see him with anyone, no date. Whatever brought Jungkook to the Astronomy Congress?
So he asked.
"That's – erm," Jungkook muttered, curling into his elegant coat like a baby hedgehog. Jimin's hand shook with the urge to pet his shiny mop of hair. "I'm living at the inn for awhile. It's a good location, away from the main city with a lot of fresh air. And there's enough grassy land around here to practice my studies."
So Jungkook was sticking clear from the busy folks. Probably a good idea in general to live by, Jimin knew. He smiled fondly, listening to Seokjin reply in an overly ornate response about socioeconomic disparities.
Jungkook was the perfect dongsaeng, ignoring the intentional looks from passing, interested guests. Seokjin wouldn't shut up, but Jungkook kept quiet, nodding.
"And so," Seokjin finally drawled, "Jiminie here is going to be presented with the Breakthrough Prize for his discovery of Multi-Messenger Astronomy."
"Don't ruin the surprise, hyung. The award isn't even on the program!"
"Ah, shush. Jungkookie deserves to know, right?"
Jimin sighed and scoffed into his drink. "He's not even here for the event."
"I am, though. I've been keeping up with your work, too." Jungkook grinned something so deep, big eyes like endless space. "Ever since we met, I've subscribed to some mail-in space magazines. Your name would pop up every now and then."
Sake always went straight to the mind, loosening stiff creaks and Jimin’s will of restraint. "Is that so? You like me that much, huh?" He didn't mean to say those things so loosely.
"I really do."
Jimin's chest ached and he asked for another refill. Seokjin chortled to the side, shaking his head.
After aimless chatter, Jungkook's intent gaze, two more refills and Seokjin bidding them adieu, Jungkook managed to woo Jimin into a dance. They moved unhurriedly so that their chests were touching, Jimin’s hand resting on Jungkook’s shoulder, the other one clutched in his palm, two bodies bathed in orange hue of incandescent light.
"Hyung?" It was the first time Jungkook used the endearment.
"Hm? Who gave you that right, hm?"
The full force of Jungkook's giggle was hushed. "I'm sorry, hyung. Can I please call you that?"
"Not when I'm drunk."
"Hyung.” That brat, Jimin thought. “How long will you be here?"
Jimin shuffled to lay his head into the warmth of Jungkook's shoulder. "In Japan?"
"At the inn." The fizz of hope in Jungkook's voice sounded sweet. Or maybe it was the aftertaste of all the sake.
"Mmm, the Congress runs for three days, then I have one full day for respite afterward. Why?"
The dance floor had slowly eased out until there were less than ten couples moving in slow tandem, dancing to some sort of past-time downtempo, jazzy number. There were no prodding eyes, too late into the night for lingering gossipers. Jimin liked it like this, simple.
"Hyung," Jungkook spoke up again. Both arms had wiggled their way behind Jimin's lower back, and Jungkook’s cheek rested on Jimin's temple.
"Well, spill it."
"Would you – is there a way –" Jungkook tried. Jimin made an attempt to pull away for proper face-to-face, but Jungkook wasn't having any of it. "Do you have to go back so soon? To wherever it is you're going?"
And the song transitioned again, sliding into that radio-frenzy hit, "Time After Time," which pulled more couples from their chairs onto the floor. "Why?" Jimin teased, "You'll miss me this quickly?"
"I – um, don’t know what you’re talking about."
Flashback, warm nights
Almost left behind
Suitcases of memories
Time after –
It took a few moments for Jimin to hear it – the faint pleading. "Alright Jungkookie. I'll stay for a few days, I think. My work is flexible. I just need to make some calls."
"Th–thanks. I mean, you don't have to. I was just wondering –"
"It'll be nice. You can show me around, right? The fields and stuff."
"Yes." Jungkook's shoulders stood taller. "I'm sure you don't recall, but when we met I told you I wanted to study flight."
"Aerodynamics." Jimin finally looked him, so much wiser in the way he spoke, old Busan twang hidden between the strong vowels. How had this boy burned himself into Jimin so quickly? "Of course I recall."
"You did, why yes, I shouldn't have doubted you, hyung."
"You really shouldn't have.” Jimin tutted. “Now tell me what you've been doing out in the fields."
Jungkook's look of nervousness made Jimin's fondness only double. "It's a surprise! I don't know why I had a feeling you'd be here for the Congress, but I did, and I made some preparations just in case. It's so stupid, I know. I –"
"It's not." Jimin tugged the baby hairs behind Jungkook's nape and relished the shudder under his fingertips.
"Hyung." For the third time. And Jimin let him work through his words, smiling. "I'm… really happy to see you again."
Jimin pressed their foreheads together, his sake-flushed one to Jungkook's pristine smoothness, and watched Jungkook's eyelashes flutter once, twice, the rush of it all sinking into his suit jacket.
Jungkook sighed a happy sound.
Jimin leaned away. "What was it you told me then? 'I hope you find what you’re seeking.' Maybe that's what brought me back."
The rhythmic thud of Jungkook's heart through the starched fabric of his shirt sped up, and Jimin could feel it right next to his. But even that couldn't compare to the afterglow of Jungkook's smile, a beacon on the face of someone who had been waiting for so long.
Jungkook met him for breakfast the next day, all cheery-faced and completely unable to sympathize with Jimin's hangover.
"You look great." Jungkook smirked.
Jimin was unimpressed. "Not funny, Jungkookie."
"This is exactly why I avoid drinking," Jungkook said in a chirpy, melodious morning voice.
“You didn’t even try to stop me.”
After the last couple had dragged themselves away from the dance floor the night before, Joohyun, an event organizer, had interrupted to apologize in haste, saying he had to turn over the keys for the ballroom since it was three in the morning. But that was alright, because Jungkook walked Jimin to his room like the perfect gentleman, not even trying for a kiss, and watched Jimin unlock the room door with wanting eyes.
“Wasn’t my place to,” Jungkook reminded. He held out a plate for Jimin, hot from the warming lamps.
They lined up at the buffet table to shovel bits of vegetable side dishes, soft-boiled eggs, grilled salmon, and rice with carrots and mushrooms cooked into it. Japan had a way of cooking with finesse to make the eater full, but not too heavy. Jimin loved its food. He thought of his tonkatsu that had escaped from the train.
At the table, Jungkook waited for Jimin to take the first bite. “Tell me everything you’ve done since we met.”
Jungkook nodded so quickly, his bangs wobbled up and down. “It’s not every day I get to talk to a world-renowned expert.”
This boy and his damn words, Jimin noticed. “That’s a wild bluff and you know it. I haven’t done anything huge yet. Just discovered some stuff.”
“Discovered some stuff,” Jungkook repeated, looking aghast. “You’ve only changed the landscape of the astronomy scientific community, that’s all. Seokjin-ssi mentioned multi-messenger. That’s headline material! For centuries, we could only guess that gravitation and light waves could occur from the same event. Your work – it’s more important than anything!”
The chopsticks clattered onto the plate, a tinkling sound in time. Jimin didn’t stop his smile, cheeks burning, raw infectious happiness lifting out of his throat. He laughed, then Jungkook laughed, and they laughed together.
“You’re too much, Jungkookie.”
“But really, hyung. I’ve tried my best with studies, too. I can’t really attend university, but my family has hired a private tutor who brings over new literature. You motivate me in so many ways.” Jungkook talked between bites, almost too emphatic, but so endearing.
“That’s fantastic,” Jimin said through his teeth. He didn’t know how to ask about Jungkook’s health, why he couldn’t go to school. In the wide dining room, watching Jungkook eat freely, Jimin wished he could do something more.
“Thanks! I have some of my plane models up in my room. If you’d want to see them, maybe.”
“I’d absolutely love to.” And Jimin meant it a lot.
Jungkook's room was a modest one, sparsely furnished with bare wooden floors, save for the constellation of airplane models hanging from what seemed like every inch of the ceiling. Long and short clear strands like silly string giving way to ornate cardboard.
Jimin took a moment, head tilted back at an odd angle, to shift through the planes. He reached to poke at one, which caused a domino effect and soon, the whole ceiling was rippling with planes.
"Nice, huh? They're my babies. I got my first model when I was five years old." Jungkook motioned to his desk at a rusty red hunk of metal. "That one I wouldn't try to hang like the rest of 'em. It's probably too heavy."
"They're beautiful. I feel like I'm in an aviation center."
Jungkook sat on his bed, looking right at him. "Thanks for not making fun of me. If it were anyone else, they'd probably tell me to grow up."
Jimin shrugged. "And that's the thing with you and me. We want to get off the ground somehow."
It was true. Some folks were just content to waddle around, toes in the dirt. Jimin didn't understand why he'd been drawn to the galaxies. Maybe it was the bigness. Or the endlessness, the always-expandingness. The mystery. Earth was more beautiful because it was part of space, he concluded.
Then there was Jungkook. Staring at Jimin as if he was someone important, maybe the way he'd gaze upon high-ranking, important folk. But Jimin was just a rags-to-mediocrity case, working the field like any self-willed, good-doer did.
"Have you flown in one, hyung? An airplane."
"Not pretty ones like these. Just for commercial flights. I think if I did get in one of those flightier contraptions, I'd probably ask them to keep going higher. It would be horrible for the pilot."
Jungkook shook with laughter, humming in agreement. "I'd fly you up there, if I could. It's not horribly difficult to get a license, you know."
"Jungkookie." Jimin took a seat next to him, thighs just touching. "You keep mentioning things like that. Still. Are you... okay?"
Jungkook chewed on his lower lip, expression turning grave. "Right, right. I guess I haven't told you all about that."
"You don't have to."
Jungkook breathed slow, then took Jimin's hand, fumbling with his pinkie finger. "I've been sick since I was a child. My lungs, they don't work well."
"You told me you used to cough into your pillow at night."
Jungkook chuckled at that. "Yeah, I still do. Except now I have a mask that helps me inhale medicine to clear my lungs. Which helps some. I'm not – I'm not gonna die or anything. It just limits what I can do. Can't run, exercise, go up too high in altitude. All the stuff I've been dying to do. Apparently flying could hurt me even more. The air’s so thin up there."
Something about the way Jungkook said it, still confident in himself and full of commitment, made Jimin think of the phrase his father used to say, I'd rather die than live without passion.
"I see. You're doing so well, though." He didn't want to give Jungkook the sad-ass "I'm sorry" cliche. Jungkook deserved more. Pointing up, "I'm sure you'll be able to fly one day."
"I will," sounding quiet but resolute, a towering wall.
Jimin didn't doubt him at all. Jungkook laid back, arms behind his head, a picture of vibrant youth in its prime. Jimin distantly wondered why Jungkook wasn't spending his time wooing the girls, fucking around, or just being his age.
"And when I do," Jungkook spoke up again, "will you come with me, hyung?"
Jimin sunk down into the bed, facing him. A bright tightness in his chest, lifting and swelling, ready to burst. "It would be an honor. You sure you want to waste the invitation on this guy? When you could be having a line of folks screaming for your hand?"
"Stop with that nonsense, hyung." Jungkook bit out a giggle. "I don't want anyone else's hand, as you say. And yes, you're the one I'll have with me when I hit the stratosphere."
Jimin kept silent his rational mind, tampering down. He let the warmth curl around their legs, where Jungkook had slipped his in between. "Just let me know. I'll be there."
On stage, Jimin went into the same headspace that he always did when running through a talk.
Just breathe. Another stage that will pass.
That kept the worried demons at bay and focused on the main point. The main point, and engaging the audience. He had enough tricks to entertain the crowd, a witty space pun here and there to grab some laughs.
Everything that happens is from now on.
With some back-up notes and an outline in his pocket, Jimin flew through the slides, emphasizing what was only the fruit of five years of research condensed into forty-five minutes. He was a keynote speaker, so forty-five, instead of twenty like the rest. Twenty-eight years old and beating out his higher colleagues in the Congress program. He almost wanted to refuse it, hoping the others wouldn't snub him in retaliation.
The fading rush after each talk would ride out in his system until the entire day settled down, feeling ansty to his toes.
"You were great up there," Seokjin said, shaking his hand right before lunch was served.
"I hope so. Anytime there's new shifts in paradigm, things get weird for awhile. Mr. Kang couldn't look me in the eye earlier.”
Seokjin rolled his eyes in good nature, clasping a tight hand on Jimin's shoulder. “My man, you are the man of the hour. Mr. Kang needs to stop wasting grant money in order to fuck his leggy lab techs.”
Which was largely true. Jimin made a joke that his own lab techs were very not-leggy, which he preferred by a far margin, and thanked Seokjin for the reassurance. Then in a daze, he wondered where Jungkook was. Earlier, Jimin had begrudgingly left the airplane model room where they had cuddled for a warm nap on Jungkook’s bed, to get dressed and sussied up for the presentation. Too much hair gel for Jimin's taste. The spotlights were so bright and Jimin couldn’t tell if Jungkook even made it to watch.
“I'll be there,” Jungkook had promised, nearly vibrating. “Wouldn't miss your talk for the world.”
So Jimin, complimentary bento in hand, excused himself from Seokjin and searched for a pair of wide eyes.
The shark tank of restless researchers with their spindly lobster eyes scanning in a frenzy for the next piece to reel in wasn't Jimin's favorite crowd. But the field demanded it. He shook hands and said “thank you” to every gushing compliment from someone in the crowd. He just wanted to see Jungkook.
“Dr. Park, always a pleasure to hear you speak.” Silver hair and dimples greeted Jimin, with a pretty lady hanging off his arm. The face was very familiar –
“I'm Kim Namjoon; it's a pleasure to finally meet you again.”
Oh, and the pieces clicked. Jungkook's butler? “Ah! Namjoon, from the train many years ago. Wonderful to see you. Are you here with Jungkook, too?”
“As is deemed my role. This is Mina, by the way. She's my lovely wife.” He and Mina bowed in synchrony.
“The pleasure is mine.”
“Since Jungkook is a lot older now, I don’t have to hightail it after him at every second. I saw that you two were chatting last night at the dinner. I’m positive he’s ecstatic to see you.”
“I can’t say it wasn’t a nice surprise. After all these years.” Jimin smoothened his clammy hands onto his slacks. “He’s changed quite a bit.”
“He has for the better, but even then not by much,” Namjoon agreed, with obvious pride. “Since we last met, Jungkook’s done nothing but slave over his studies, building prototypes of things that would make headlines if he had the means to do it bigger. Well, speak of the devil.”
“Hyung!” was the call Jimin heard before he felt Jungkook sling an arm through his. “That. Was. Absolutely incredible.” He was rocking up onto his toes, smile as contagious as the worst epidemic. “My mind is still struggling to wrap itself around everything.”
Jimin felt the exhaustion of maintaining tip-top shape as a presenter fall away. He grinned. “You liked it?”
“I sure did! Everything’s just fresh in my mind and I can’t really process things, so you have to tell me more.”
“Adorable,” Jimin heard Mina say in a hush to Namjoon, one hand over her mouth.
He had to agree that Jungkook was the most adorable, with his fists clenched into Jimin’s sleeve, a whole bundle of excitement. No one got this appreciative over Jimin’s talks. He wished they could have some time alone. “I’ll tell you more later.”
Jungkook frowned, refusing to let go. “Namjoon hyung,” he spoke up, “and Mina-san. Did you two get to watch Jimin hyung? Did you see how amazing he was?”
“We sure did, Kook-ah.”
“I can’t believe I was actually there.” Jungkook started to drag Jimin by the elbow, waving a quick farewell to the couple, over to the lunch buffet. “Everything, from the start, to the way you dropped the bomb, the photos – it all made so much sense.” He sighed with an expression of awe. “But enough of my nonsense. How do you feel?”
“Much better now, thanks to you.”
Jungkook looked pleased. On their plates, they piled thin slices of beef, cooked tepanyaki style, and Jungkook helped himself to three different dipping sauces.
Eating at the inn, Jimin felt the cool air of fall drifting in from the nearby woods. It lifted like a blanket, made his skin prickle. Between bites of delicate meat, he let himself enjoy the moment of Jungkook talking in run-on sentences about everything and nothing, reciting some bits of Jimin’s talk in-between.
“So have you finalized your plans?”
Jungkook paused, a little sheepish, twiddling with his chopsticks. “I mean, since you said you might be staying for – ah, never mind, forget I said anything.”
“I’m kidding, Jungkookie. Of course I did.” The instantaneous glow in Jungkook’s eyes made Jimin think, that might be worth staying for. “I had to let Hoseok hyung know back at the lab. He said don’t sweat it. And to get the my balls proper before I returned.”
“Okay,” Jungkook said softly, shaking his head with a half-laugh, like he didn’t believe him. “I’m really – glad.” Those brimming eyes again, full of relief.
“Me too. It’ll be a nice vacation. What are you planning to show me around here?”
“Oh, oh, up the hill where the ladies of the inn let me use their old shack that once housed part of the onsen. The hot spring there is dead, but the winds are perfect to test flights. I have a new prototype and maybe I can show you.”
Jimin hummed, settling into the idea of resting for awhile. “You got the whole thing worked out, hm?”
“It’s my own space. I don’t usually bring people there.”
“You keep flattering me, Jungkookie.” The whisper of something precious lingered in his mind. “I can’t wait to see it.”
“If you want, please give me pointers or suggestions,” Jungkook said warily with a shrug. “Even though astronomy is so different from aeronautics.”
“I’ll try, but don’t expect much.”
Jungkook took a laughingly big bite of meat and grilled veggies and grinned. “Wouldn’t dream of it,” came out in garbles. He swallowed and repeated, “Wouldn’t dream of the great Park Jimin grasping for straws in my shack.”
“That sounds too dirty, Jeon Jungkook. Now your shack just sounds naughty.”
Jungkook laughed in a daze, covering his nose in a cute antic Jimin didn't quite understand, but adored anyway. “My poor shack, it’s been desecrated!”
“Now I really can’t wait.” Jimin’s cheeks hurt from all the big grinning. This man would be his demise.
“I hope it doesn’t disappoint you.” Jungkook had calmed some, resting his chin on his palm. “It’s kind of my life’s achievements all in one place.”
“I respect that. We’re still young, Jungkookie. Years ahead to make something more. It’s an honor for me to be invited to see it.”
“Maybe I worked so hard on it because a part of me knew you’d get to see it one day. Back then, on the train. I think I just knew you were going to be important. So even though you weren’t there the next morning, I also had a big feeling there would be another morning in the future.” Jungkook’s stare made a slow show of looking Jimin down and up.
Jimin’s chest felt like home to a hoard of embers.
Jungkook wasn’t joking when he used the word “shack.”
Wooden boards creaked under their feet and Jungkook led Jimin on a grand tour of the shanty. “This is it. Home sweet home. Unfortunately I haven’t gotten a toilet in here, but the bushes work just fine. And it’s close enough to the inn to run back if you wanna do it that way.”
“Cute.” Jimin took it all in – the beams of sunshine gold through unfilled cracks on the walls, shelves of dusty books, the desk with papers and eraser bits, stacks of charcoal, diagrams on the walls, and a shining beacon of finished plane models in the corner. “It looks well-lived in.”
“Cute,” Jungkook repeated, his cheeks red with exasperation. “I didn’t invite you into my private space for it to be called the equivalent of a puppy.”
“They say things reflect the nature of their owner.”
“I’m unsure whether you’re calling me cute or a puppy.”
“Maybe both?” Jimin bent down to get a closer look of the gleaming, sanded-down prototypes. Head tilted down, he traced along the winglet of a skinny plane, noting the ratio of flaps to the spoiler and aileron for lift and drag. It made sense, Jungkook’s designs. His smile kept widening as Jungkook slowly crouched next to him, soft breaths draping down his ear.
“What do you think?” Hope dripped from his words.
“Well, I’m not qualified to give a professional opinion, you know that.” Jimin kept his face straight ahead as the warmth from Jungkook’s mouth drew closer. “But they’re gorgeously made. And I’m sure they’d be wonderful to build.”
“Thanks hyung. I’ve dreamed about the day you could see these.” His voice fell to a whisper, syllables tickling. “It’s kind of surreal that you’re here.”
Jimin sighed with the seconds. “I hope I don't disappoint. Everything here is beautiful, Jungkookie.”
“Hyung.” And there it was again.
Finally turning around, he watched, electrified, as Jungkook inched forward slowly. It felt awkward, with the angle of them both huddled on the floor, until Jungkook gently tugged him, meeting his lips in the crisp, biting mountain air that came with mornings in the countryside. Jungkook tasted like the salty brine of their breakfast oyako-don, chapped lips suddenly slick with the way Jimin slipped his tongue to feel him, all of his warmth and fieriness burning under his fingertips so close, wonderful and real just as he had been on the train that day.
Jungkook slid back, hands clasped on Jimin’s waist to maneuver them onto the floor proper, his touch so firm and sure that Jimin felt the inferno through his thick woolen sweater. It took some shuffling but Jimin finally relented to straddling him, never leaving his lips, chasing after the little gasps Jungkook made, awkward and hurried and everything Jimin had wondered about in brief passing over the years, when he had to remind himself that he had left the inn on his own accord, and thus, left a chance with Jungkook, too.
This second chance was so dazzlingly new. Jimin had to prop himself over Jungkook’s shoulders, the floor rough under his palms, feeling the hardness under his ass. Jungkook didn’t budge, keeping his arms tightly wound around, chest to chest, heaving between quick breaths before meeting Jimin’s lips again.
Jimin was hungry, famished, yet so relieved and content. Both of them trying for more, careless kids all over again.
Jungkook’s hips jerked up and Jimin felt a thrill at that, and the deep moan Jungkook made when he tried to rut down slowly. Their breathless pants grew and Jungkook finally detached from Jimin’s mouth to latch onto his neck, hands wandering down to cup his ass. The air was sticky and it felt uncomfortable to be so hard in his slacks, but Jungkook’s eager hands and the way he tried to pull Jimin closer to meet his thrusts wiped Jimin’s mind of any apprehension.
“Kookie,” Jimin whispered, grinding down and looking to see Jungkook’s blown-out brown eyes.
Jungkook shook his head. “Hyung, I wanted to say earlier. You’re the one who’s beautiful.”
Jimin couldn’t help but pause. “You –” he chuckled, a little dumbfounded at this smooth talking piece of shit. “You’re gonna pull that one on me when we’re about to cream our pants?”
The hot, burning tightness in his chest wound up, a vice grip on Jimin’s heart. He never wanted this moment to end, Jungkook looking so freely at him, unguarded, and so close to being his.
Jungkook laughed with a force. “Of course hyung. Don’t expect any less of me. I’m a romantic at heart, you know.” He squeezed and Jimin jumped in his lap. “Come back here, hyung. Don’t make less of your promise now. Cream is by favorite, you know.”
“Stupid,” Jimin said between kisses, pressing them with fervor, nibbling and licking the depth of him. “You’re so stupid.”
“Can this stupid guy be yours?”
Jimin paused into the sweat of Jungkook’s neck, pressing a promise of a kiss there. “Touch me, Jungkookie.”
Jungkook made haste then, nodding so fast Jimin burst into giggles again, and then their pants were off, bare asses cold in the air, but too worked up to care. Jungkook lay back on the soft blanket that he kept on one of the shelves, and Jimin shuddered when Jungkook grasped them both with his hands, caressing soft then hard, pulling back at the tops to rub them wet together, dragging the sensitive skin down into circles.
As if from a distance, Jimin heard, “This okay?” He nodded, the most sure.
The heat wave enveloped them both, Jimin leaning against Jungkook’s forehead, lips barely touching, just heaving into space together.
“Your skin is so soft, hyung.”
A light swat to Jungkook’s chest. “Don’t get sappy on me now.”
It was quick, the weight of Jungkook’s palm rubbing faster, the reddened tip pressing against his, the slick dripping down in tiny spurts as Jungkook got them closer to the top.
“Don’t want sap? How about I describe how wet you are, hyung?”
“Modern romance at its finest.” Jimin cackled, mind blank but honed in on Jungkook’s lips and the words he spoke and the tender ferocity in which he touched them together.
As Jimin tried to keep his hips moving with it, all he could see was the tiny crease in Jungkook’s furrowed brow as he struggled to concentrate through the pleasure, the thick intensity, and the depth of wanting in his low groans.
Jungkook’s other free hand kept him sturdy, gripping his ass, helping him grind against the leverage of gravity. “Close,” Jungkook said.
They went at it, Jungkook switching his hand to stroke faster, until he was arching up for a kiss, muffing “Gonna,” before Jimin felt it between them in long, drawn-up spurts, and Jungkook was gasping harshly. Jimin helped him slip away, then almost thought he’d have to finish alone, but Jungkook shook his head and said, “Wait, hyung. One sec, I’ll suck you off to finish, okay?”
And then Jimin couldn’t say no to a thing like that. “Well, hurry on then.”
Jungkook slapped his thigh, giggling, but made good on his word, taking Jimin in and licking down to his thighs, then in between and right up to the tip, suckling and using his hands for the rest. He drew out sounds that felt foreign out of Jimin, who kept his hands threaded through Jungkook’s messy mop until he finished, spilling into Jungkook’s mouth that refused to let go until he was done.
“So,” Jungkook said after they’d cleaned up just barely with some toilet paper Jungkook kept stashed there. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“Which one?” But Jimin hadn’t forgotten. He just wanted to make sure.
“This stupid guy,” Jungkook pointed at his chest, “wants to be yours. So what'dya say?”
Jimin looked at him – really looked – and saw both the boy on the train, and the man with the miniature planes all at once, asking for Jimin to be his. One day, Jungkook wanted to fly.
“I say the heart wants what it wants.” Jimin cupped Jungkook’s cheeks, looking at those clear eyes full of nothing but adoration. “And this heart wants yours, too.”
“You’re sure?” Jungkook’s grin was lighter than the gliding wings of a bird. “Absolutely?”
“Positively. You’re going to take us on our first plane ride, after all.”
“That’s right, hyung. The stratosphere’s gonna be real nice, I’ve heard.”
Jimin rubbed his nose onto Jungkook’s big, sweaty one, watching his eyelashes flutter shut. “I’ve heard that, too.”
“Have you been down to the onsen, yet?” Jungkook asked with a mischievous grin and unconcealed, wiggling eyebrows.
“If this is your way of getting into my pants, I'm leaving.”
“Hyung,” Jungkook pressed on, jutting out his lips. They had just finished dinner, and one of the waitresses poured them both roasted green tea with delicate honey. Here at the table with Jungkook’s eyes on him, Jimin felt the closest to contentment.
“I went there on the first day. It was so peaceful. Let's go,” Jimin decided, placing his cup down. He almost laughed at Jungkook's immediate glee.
“Good thing neither of us have tattoos.” Jungkook accepted a robe from the check-in desk and Jimin followed.
“Would you ever get one?”
Jungkook nodded. “I'd want clouds on my collarbones. Probably not any lettering though. And maybe a half-sleeve.”
The thought was really nice, of Jungkook’s tanned skin marked with sprawling ink. Jimin could envision it already.
They rinsed off quickly in the first room, as per custom, and headed into a private pool, Jungkook leading the way with a hand curled around Jimin's side. Thrumming heat began to glide up Jimin's spine as Jungkook's eyes turned darker in the seclusion of the stones around the hot spring.
Turning away, Jimin unrobed and felt the piercing stare down his back. “Jungkookie, get a handle on yourself.”
“Already way ahead of you,” Jungkook drawled, leaning against the edge of the pool, bare and open, one hand stroking himself hard. The curves of every muscle lay defined under the cast of dim, old light bulbs and the outdoor night.
“Didn't mean it like – never mind. We're in public, if you haven't forgotten.” Jimin slid one leg into the searing water with a sigh.
Jungkook licked his lips. “No one's gonna come in, I promise hyung.”
“I know, I know. Just, if you wanted to fuck me in public so bad, you could've just said something, hm?”
Jungkook waded close, lips in a firm line, and bracketed him into the wall, rushes of water sloshing up between them. “What's the fun in that?” He nosed down Jimin's temple and pressed a soft kiss to his earlobe, taking it between his teeth.
Jimin let Jungkook hold him against his skin, between his legs as Jungkook began to suck down his neck, rubbing himself against Jimin's thigh like he was famished.
“We just fucked this morning, Jungkookie.” Jimin brought his thumbs down to his nipples.
“Feels like a century ago. Want you every moment, hyung. Since the moment nine years ago. You can’t blame me for being a little enthusiastic.” He sucked a bit extra, and Jimin was sure there’d be a nasty mark by the morning.
“Ah–ah, gentle.” Jimin guided Jungkook’s fingers to him, to slowly work him from the inside out, coaxing groans that he tried to keep quiet.
“Sound so pretty, hyung. The most beautiful. I’ve always loved your voice.”
“Love yours, too,” Jimin gasped through the stretch, waiting and ready. “Hurry, get in.”
And Jungkook did, began to push in, slowly then quick, in halts as he moaned out Jimin’s name between the bubbling of the springs. The sounds of Jungkook’s harsh breathing, the sight of his flushed skin, and repeated mutterings made Jimin feel nice and powerful, helping Jungkook’s thrusts with his hips.
“You have me, all of me, hyung.” Jungkook would say things like that, set in Jimin’s mind for safekeeping.
The slide felt good, not too hurried, but just straight into the spot like Jimin needed. “Right there, Jungkookie. Keep on.”
Jungkook kept his hands flat on Jimin’s ass, gripping and pulling to meet him. “Can–can we try it from behind?”
Jimin almost laughed at how cutely Jungkook asked, still fucking in, and half shy. “Sure, baby. You wanna fuck me like this?” He pulled himself off and shimmied around, playing coy and looking back over his shoulder. He cackled at Jungkook’s sudden awe. “You’re impossible, come here.”
Jungkook latched on without words, rubbing his nose into the back of Jimin’s neck and pressing in, both hands holding Jimin’s sides. The sounds of rhythmic sloshing and skin on skin were unmistakable but Jimin felt too good, drifting higher as Jungkook kept on, sliding a hand in front of Jimin’s hips to stroke him, faster with the punch of his hips, in and out, until his low whine curled into Jimin’s ears, “Fuck, hyung. I'm coming.”
This time felt blazingly warm, matched to the steam of the springs. After he calmed down enough, Jungkook stayed for awhile, wet and slick inside of Jimin, and used his fist to finish him well.
Jimin calmed down and pulled Jungkook near to coddle him, pressing quick kisses around his face and laughing as Jungkook tried to chase after his lips each time. “I think the onsen ladies probably hate us now.”
“Nah, they love me. I can get away with anything.”
“You sure can.” Jimin stayed still, looking at Jungkook’s eyes, so close he could count the freckles, like gold dots in amber.
“Can we do this again before you leave?”
Jimin splashed Jungkook in reply, laughing as loud as he could at the silliness and affection he felt. Jungkook joined in, determined to win, like with anything he did, and roared while swiping hot water in retort, sparking an all-out hurricane in the small room.
Drenched, his vision cloudy from the water dripping down his bangs, Jimin thought something melodramatic – that he never understood the simplicity of existing with someone like Jungkook. He thought maybe he was understanding it well now.
One week was nowhere enough to catch up on lost time, Jimin learned. Cold mornings kept warm in Jungkook’s bed became Jimin’s expectation of a perfect start.
“Five more minutes,” Jungkook mumbled, tightening his arm that shackled Jimin to his side. “Don’t wanna.”
Jimin learned a lot about Jungkook – his habits, his preferences, his quirks.
“Breakfast won’t be served after fifteen more minutes,” Jimin reminded him.
“I like staying here with you. Let’s order room service.” Jungkook drew lazy circles on Jimin’s bare back, over a fresh bruise that had gotten there somehow.
“Up to you, big baby.”
“Your big baby.” Jungkook nuzzled Jimin’s chin, kissing there twice.
Rubbing at Jungkook’s scalp, Jimin blinked away the sleepiness. “That’s right.”
Jimin had gotten over the morning breath hesitancy two days into rooming with Jungkook, since they rarely left other than for necessities, preferring to hide from the world, every moment kept close.
The exception being: over the week, Jungkook took Jimin back to the shack a few times to tinker with the models, asking for tips and jotting everything down on scratch paper. “For safekeeping,” he’d said with a wry grin. The textbooks were well-used and Jimin made a note to bring more from his lab that Jungkook would probably put to utilize better than him.
But last night was different.
They had stayed up even later than usual, indulging in each other, Jimin opening up for Jungkook to fill over and over, gasps like prayers sounding long into the night. After being spent, Jungkook refused to sleep with the knowledge that the next morning would be Jimin’s last day at the inn.
“Hyung, tell me about the next project you’re working on.”
It was supposed to be classified, strictly forbidden information. Jungkook knew this, but Jimin was too weak, fueled only by the quick pecks Jungkook slipped to his lips. “Why should I tell you?” he teased.
“Because,” Jungkook said, then coughed, hiding into the pillow for a second, “because you love me.”
Jimin began to notice the coughing when Jungkook took him up to the shack for the first time. In the thinner air, sharp chill, Jungkook was more prone to it. Jimin couldn’t do anything, just rub down his back and try to support him until the coughs subsided.
It was frustrating how something like that could make Jimin feel like it was his own lungs that couldn’t breathe.
“I do love you, a whole lot,” he promised. “I’ll tell you more when I get back, hm? It won’t be long until I can get another week or two off.”
Jungkook curled up closer, pressing Jimin into the bed. “I know, hyung. You’re doing amazing things. The world wouldn’t be the same without your work. Sometimes,” he added, suddenly softer, “sometimes I can’t believe it’s really you here.”
“As long as you’re not painting me as someone perfect in your imagination, I’m happy to reassure you that it’s really me. Here. With you.”
They laid listlessly together until breakfast was delivered, fluffy hotcakes with syrup. Jungkook devoured his portion before Jimin even finished cutting his own. “I’m dating a savage.”
“A barbarian,” Jungkook agreed, licking his fingers. Then he halted, with saucer-eyes and parted lips. “Wait. We’re – dating?”
The sharp tug in Jimin’s chest was scary. The things Jungkook could do to him. “Of course we are,” he said, trying for bravery. “Aren’t we?”
“I know I want us to. And I want to wake up like this every morning. You know, I always get up at three a.m. to pee.” Jungkook looked eager, as if he was telling his first secret. “And when I come back to bed, I end up just watching you for a bit. It’s comforting. You look so... right. Next to me.”
Jimin held his breath, counting down the thumps his heart would skip. “I’ll be back soon, Jungkookie. We’re together now, even when we’re apart, okay?”
There, in their huddle of pancake syrup and bedhair, feeling the rough growl of their morning voices, Jungkook nodded with finality. He was beautiful like that, just like the rising morning air. “Okay.”
Back on the train, Jimin felt the first hint of ugly indignation. For having to leave Jungkook behind, for the world that demanded information now. Jimin sunk into the booth, digging his heels into the carpet, picturing the fond smile Jungkook had given him while bidding goodbye at the wooden door of the inn.
It should be easy for Jimin – he’s made it an art of leaving things behind, to go forward, and pry his hands free of the past. But Jungkook wasn’t just from the past anymore. He was now, he was every moment.
The train bumbled along, a mechanical sound in the quiet fields. The way back to Tokyo would take hours, then he’d hop on a flight back to Korea, but Jimin had work to catch up on, regardless. Cloudy skies provided enough light to help him rewire his mind’s eye back into the frame of seriousness. Being with Jungkook for a week created a sluggish daze, wrapped in layers of cotton-soft lightness.
Being alone again was foreign. But it was how Jimin performed best all these years. He stared at his papers, numbers and variables of things he had once considered his most important work.
But now all he could think about was Jungkook’s lazy smile, two front teeth digging into his lower lip.
“Focus,” he muttered.
He would just phone Jungkook the moment he got back to the apartment.
“Park!” hollered from over in the Observatory. “Here! Now!”
Jimin knew there would be only two reasons for Hoseok to call him like the devil was on his tail: 1. They had finalized proof for the theorem of neutron star collision. Or 2. Something had happened to Jungkook.
The wind rushed out of his lungs as he skidded into the room. “What!?” A crowd of frenzied workers buzzed around him.
“You’re about to be shitting your pants, Jiminie. Come here.” Hoseok didn’t even look up, waving wildly from the computer screen. “Verified,” he explained, eyes still peeled forward. “Data from seventy telescopes and two gravitational wave sensors in Europe. It’s finally proven.”
“No fucking way.”
“Chile just sent their report. The collision is real. It only took 130 million years, but it’s finally happened and we have all the shit to prove it.”
A deadly silence, thrumming with expectancy.
“The Hubble has archives of photos. The beautiful galaxy of NGC 4993. Folks,” Hoseok said, arms wide toward the people in the room, “welcome to the new era of multi-messenger astronomy. Thank you all for being a part of this groundbreaking discovery.”
The room erupted into startling cheer. Lost in the celebration, Jimin couldn’t believe the moment had arrived. He sucked in the taste of validation and nights with fragments of sleep on a cluttered work desk.
Hoseok pulled him in for a hug. “We did it, Jiminie. All our hard efforts.”
“We did it,” he agreed. “Congrats, Hobi hyung.”
Hoseok kept an arm clasped around Jimin’s shoulders and turned to address the room. “Everyone! Take the rest of the night off! We’re going to celebrate!” The resounding hurrahs couldn’t be matched by any other sound.
Was this what happiness was about? Jimin nearly laughed when his heart simply supplied Jungkook. The heart knew what it wanted, after all.
Walking to the neighborhood bar, Hoseok asked, “You gonna head back to loverboy, Jiminie? I can see it in your face.”
“Is it that obvious?”
Hoseok nodded very seriously. “If I didn’t know you, I’d say allegiance to your work has been compromised.” But he was only teasing, eyes twinkling.
Jimin chortled, thinking how that wasn’t too far from the truth. “Don’t worry. You won’t be losing me anytime soon.”
“I wouldn’t blame you, though.” Hoseok sucked in the cold night air. “Real love might be more precious and rare than finding a neutron collision.”
As Jimin drank with his coworkers that night, the tingling of the marvelous achievement tasted slightly sour when he thought of Jungkook alone at the inn. Through the alcohol, he wondered how soon he could book a ticket back to Japan.
“Jimin.” The voice’s waver was the first hint.
Jimin stared at the machine, red light blinking as it played the message. “It’s Namjoon. I know you’re busy with work, but I thought you deserved to know. Jungkook hasn’t been doing well since you left.”
His keys dropped to the ground. No, he thought, no no no no no –
“Please don’t think this is your fault” – a faint cough in the background – “I’m going to take him to the hospital. Don’t worry, but if you can get here sooner than later... try to do that.”
So much confusion and questioning, whether Jimin could’ve prevented something if he stayed, or whether this was punishment for leaving.
Shocked and empty, Jimin raised his head and realized he had sunk to the ground, shirt wet with tears. He tried to breathe, helplessness like chains shackling his chest shut.
The image of Jungkook’s lips recited in his mind, “There would be another morning in the future.”
Jimin needed to go to him. Work could wait. Groundbreaking astrophysics could wait. This was something important, a past worth revisiting for the first time in a long time.
Nothing was louder than the sound of fury and fear.
Jimin moved on auto-pilot, completely detached to the flurry of visitors at the airport, the lethargy of checking into a flight, the dull hours in the air, and the familiar setting of the train.
Every single breath was focused on one thing – getting to Jungkook.
Maybe if he hadn’t left so soon, maybe. Fluctuating variables tormented him like shards to his heart.
The sterile walls of the hospital closed in on him like a torturous maze. The nurse directed him to room 307, past the waiting hall, tubes and needles and crying families. Jimin didn’t notice anything else, refusing to think.
Through the open door, he could finally see Jungkook lying on the bed, fast asleep. Pale, with an IV in his arm, and a heart monitor that beeped reassuringly. Jimin didn’t know what to think, feet taking him forward on instinct.
He remembered Jungkook admitting that he watched him while he slept and almost cried at the irony. Even this, just like this, Jungkook was just as handsome.
“Jungkookie,” Jimin prayed as a whisper, “I’m sorry I took so long; I got here as fast as I could. I don’t even remember the plane ride because you gave me such a scare. Namjoon was kind enough to let me know. You need to get better soon, please?”
There was a stir in Jungkook’s scrunched eyes and the hand clasped in Jimin’s squeezed.
“Jungkookie,” he pleaded.
A gravely groan escaped Jungkook’s lips. Another squeeze. “H-hyung.”
Jimin almost blacked out in relief. “I’m here.”
Jungkook’s chest heaved and he blinked slowly, eyes still droopy with fatigue. Jimin had seen so many forms of expression through Jungkook’s eyes, but it was still the same love every time.
“I’m here. Not gonna leave anytime soon.”
Jungkook sounded hoarse but firm. “You have to go back to work, though. I” – cough – “want you to go back eventually.”
“Don’t say things like that now, Kookie. You’re not doing well. Let’s talk about that another time, hm?”
Jungkook laced their fingers together, thumbing down Jimin’s wrist. “You’re beautiful, hyung.”
The cinders of such longing swept through Jimin’s lungs. Why could Jungkook say such things so easily? “My silly Kookie. What am I gonna do with you?”
“Just love me,” was all Jungkook said, before the heavy sleep claimed him again.
Jimin leaned in to kiss his nose, feeling so full underneath the waves, he doubted he could resurface ever again.
Two more days before the staff deemed Jungkook stable enough for discharge. He had hemorrhaged part of his lung, but nothing too significant that medicine couldn’t heal. Namjoon arrived to help them leave, wearing fine lines of worry on his brow.
“This kid,” he muttered, slinging a bag of Jungkook’s clothes over his shoulder with a tsk. Jungkook just grinned, bracing himself on Jimin’s arm as they walked out into the bright light.
“Thanks hyung,” Jungkook sang. “I hope I didn’t worry anyone too much.”
Namjoon clucked disapprovingly and held open the car door. “Mina made you some soup so make sure to eat a lot, okay?”
“Of course. Tell her I said thank you.”
The drive back to the inn was slowed by traffic and midday heat. Jungkook kept his hand on Jimin’s thigh and chatted on about the hospital drama he heard from the nurses.
“Shower with me when we get back?” Jungkook asked with wiggling eyebrows, hand creeping up.
Jimin swatted his hand. “You’re sick! We can’t do anything like that.”
“But hyung, I’m not sick anymore. I’m brand new; I’ve got all the energy in the world. Plus I haven’t jerked off in a week.”
“Something tells me you didn’t just want me to come for the emotional support,” Jimin said tiredly.
Jungkook eyed him with a mischievous glint and rubbed at the inside of his thigh. “God, I want you, hyung.”
“Jungkook, really?” Namjoon yelped from the driver’s seat up front. “Can’t you wait until we get back?”
Jungkook’s clear voice rang out in a laugh. “We can give you a show, hyung.”
“Absolutely not,” Jimin countered.
The rest of the drive was just the right amount of cheer and banter that felt reassuring. Jungkook was better, Jimin told himself, they’d be okay.
Jungkook put up a fight when Jimin refused to touch him that day.
“But I’m fine, really. I’m not going to break.”
“Doesn’t matter, Jungkook. The principle of the point is that you’re recovering still, whether you like it or not.” Jimin was adamant.
But when nightfall came, Jimin relented and let Jungkook cuddle close, his grabby hands sliding into Jimin’s pants to palm his ass, but nothing more. Kissing Jungkook again was the sweetest high, like all the unknowns falling into place. His lips were warm and restless, closed, then open and suddenly licking in. Then Jungkook pulled away and they shared deep breaths.
Facing Jungkook on the pillow, Jimin watched as their blinking matched up to the same seconds.
“Let’s go watch the stars, hyung.”
Jungkook buried in his hair, inhaling a long while. “The stars reminded me of you when you were away. It’s only fitting that we thank them now.”
Hands linked, they took the stairs up slowly, wincing at each old creak of the building, up to the roof. The shingles were newer, replaced back in the renovation three years ago, and Jungkook thankfully remembered to bring along a ratty blanket. Jimin marveled at the sensation of having the stars so near, crystal bright.
“I tried to keep up with any news with your name in it. I guess it takes awhile to hit mainstream media, but I knew you were doing something amazing.”
Jimin supposed it was safe enough to divulge the report. “We discovered proof of the neutron star collision. The topic I spoke about at Congress was just the theoretical part – we needed the actual evidence. And we found it, Jungkookie. After millions of years, we’re closer to knowing more about the universe.”
“That’s – that’s incredible. I don’t know what to say, hyung. You’re incredible.”
“It was a team effort,” Jimin said fondly.
“With you at the lead.”
”Right.” Jimin had given his team indefinite notice of his leave for now, citing family circumstances. They hadn’t even batted an eye, since Jimin never asked for time off. “But I’m here now. I don’t have to go back for awhile.”
Jungkook looked somber and young, fresh-faced in the starlight. “We’ll make it work. Distance doesn’t matter when you’re looking at the stars.”
”I’ll figure out a way to be near you, Kookie. I can probably work remotely.”
”Let’s not worry about that now.” Jungkook’s voice was heavy.
Jimin wanted him to smile again. “But I’ve got you next to me, right?”
Jungkook swallowed thickly and nodded. “Absolutely. I’m not going anywhere. Not even the air can take me away from you, hyung.”
Watching Jungkook’s gaze under the twinkling sky, Jimin knew he couldn’t be wrong about this, about the way their sillhouettes aligned perfectly, about their chance meeting nine years ago, and the full circle that pulled them back together.
Nothing could be better, he decided. “Not even the air.”