The first time Jeongguk sees a ghost, he is four years old.
He doesn’t know it’s a ghost, because ghosts in all of the stories are pale and translucent and float around with solemn expressions on their faces. Ghosts in all of the stories are scary. But the ghost Jeongguk sees is—a man. He is sitting across from Jeongguk and his mother in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, and he is reading a newspaper, upside down. It takes a confusing conversation with his mother for Jeongguk to realize that she can’t see the man, and he seems to understand in that moment that no one can see the man, that no one can hear him.
It’s just Jeongguk.
The first time Jeongguk sees a ghost that belongs to him, as he has come to say, he is thirteen years old and has spent years scouring the internet for others like him, others who can see the unseen. He pieces it together bit by bit, something about being gifted. Something about unfinished business.
Jeongguk helps the woman—fifty-seven years old, no family, died in a car accident far from home—with her unfinished business and she… disappears. Someone on the Ghost Whisperer chat forum tells him she ‘went to the other side’ and Jeongguk brings her cat home, tells his parents that he found it wandering around outside and refuses to bring it to a shelter. He only cries a little that night, stroking the woman’s cat, the one he promised to take care of so that she could leave.
It becomes a thing. His thing—finding ghosts once every few months, sometimes only once every few years, and helping them with their unfinished business on Earth so that they can move on. He doesn’t tell his parents. He moves to Seoul after he graduates, and the ghosts follow him. The ghosts always follow him, and he follows them, and he doesn’t get attached because he can’t, won’t, because it hurts when they leave. That’s the point.
Still, there’s something—something awful about the endings. Jeongguk is standing on the beach of Jeju Island and he’s watching Taehyung drink in the sea air one last time and he’s thinking—I wish I knew you when you were alive. Because Taehyung is funny and kind and soft, and he died of cancer at the age of twenty-three. Because Jeongguk has spent the past three weeks helping Taehyung complete the last items on his bucket list, the one thing keeping him from finding peace and moving on, and if only Jeongguk had known him in life. If only he could reach out and wrap his coat around Taehyung’s shoulders to warm him from the cold of the air, or ruffle his hair, or—anything.
Instead, Jeongguk stands with his arms carefully wrapped around himself, and there’s peace in the way Taehyung has this, for once. Finally. He looks better than he did when Jeongguk first found him, feeble and weak on a park bench outside of Jeongguk’s university. They’ve spent the past three weeks going on adventures, crossing items off of Taehyung’s bucket list, the ones they could do without going far—spend a whole day with dogs at a dog shelter, get a tattoo (temporary, and technically only Jeongguk could get it), run a marathon. Now this: spend one last day at Jeju.
Jeongguk didn’t ask why, but he knows it was Taehyung’s last wish before he died, and—he didn’t get it. But Jeongguk is giving it to him, because that’s what he does for the ghosts. He gives them what they want, what they need, one last time, so that they can let go.
At last, Taehyung turns to him, and he’s smiling so, so wide. “This is what I wanted,” he tells Jeongguk, and Jeongguk smiles back.
“Good,” he says. “That’s the last one, isn’t it?”
Taehyung picks his way over the rocks, returning to Jeongguk’s side. There, they both stare out at the horizon, the water. The setting sun.
“Last one,” repeats Taehyung. And—Jeongguk has done this enough times. He knows what’s going to happen. The ghosts come to him because, whether or not either of them know it, he can do something for them. He spends days or weeks or months with them, however long it takes to finish what was started in their lives, and then they come to this moment, where there is nothing left to do. Nothing left to say.
Jeongguk didn’t get attached to Taehyung. It’s what he tells himself, at least, when the ghost turns to him with that look on his face that Jeongguk has seen so many times before. “Thank you, Jeongguk-ah,” he says. “For this. For everything. I know you didn’t really have a choice, but you’re a really good kid.”
“You can go,” says Jeongguk. He doesn’t know if he has to give them permission, but he does. It feels better that way. “You did well.”
“Catch you on the other side?”
Jeongguk chuckles. “Sure,” he says. “Goodbye, Kim Taehyung.”
He didn’t get attached. He didn’t. Still, there’s that smile for one last moment, and then Jeongguk blinks and—Taehyung is gone. It’s just the sunset and Jeju Island and the chill that always settles in as soon as he’s alone again. It won’t hit him fully until he gets home, maybe, or when he wakes up the next morning and Taehyung isn’t there to tell him about the rest of his bucket list. He’s always left behind, and how strange it is. How terribly, unbearably lonely.
Jeongguk goes back to school, because that’s what he always does. He goes on with his life, waits for the next ghost to turn up. It’s a cycle, and he likes being able to help them, but he’s reminded of the fact that he’s twenty-one and still in his second year of university because sometimes his ghost adventures keep him from passing classes, and they always keep him from making real friends, and they may give him some vague sense of fulfillment, but at the end of the day it’s just. Jeongguk. Only Jeongguk.
It takes eighteen hours of wallowing for Jimin to show up in his dorm. Jimin, who sees ghosts, too, who help ghosts the way Jeongguk does, but maybe not the way Jeongguk does because Jimin has learned how not to give pieces of himself to his ghosts. He’s learned how not to lose his own life in the process, and no amount of lectures will change Jeongguk’s sensitivity or ability to get attached, so Jimin just comes over with snacks and pets his hair when he needs it.
“So after Jeju, that was it?” asks Jimin as he offers Jeongguk the bag of chips he’s eating. Jeongguk, with his head in Jimin’s lap, pushes it away.
“Yeah,” he replies, voice small. “It was the last thing on his bucket list. So we did that and then he was… ready to go.”
Jimin makes a noise of disappointment or maybe comfort, puts the bag of chips down, runs his hands through Jeongguk’s hair. (Jeongguk will complain about greasy fingers later, when he’s stopped being sad about something that doesn’t belong to him.) “You only knew him for a few weeks, Guk,” says Jimin.
“Doesn’t make it any less real,” replies Jeongguk. “We were friends. I found ways to make him happy.”
He remembers when they met—over one of the chat forums that Jeongguk joined as a teenager, trying to convince himself that he wasn’t going insane, that ghosts were real and others could see them, too. And there was Jimin, asking the same questions. There was Jimin, a kid from Busan, too, who once saw a man in a doctor’s office reading a newspaper upside down. Jimin is good at getting ghosts to talk to him, to trust him. It’s not a competition, but he gets ghosts to the other side nearly twice as fast as Jeongguk does, just because he’s more charming, maybe, more outgoing and outwardly charismatic.
Jeongguk used to think that whoever gave him this gift had a terrible sense of humour. Jeongguk doesn’t like talking to strangers, isn’t so good at the conversation stuff, but he’s supposed to dig until he finds rock bottom, and then work his way up.
In any case, Jimin moved to Seoul when Jeongguk did and the ghosts followed him, too, and he gets it.
“He’s in a better place,” says Jimin, and Jeongguk groans a little, but the elder is still petting his head, so he can’t complain.
“You sound like a sympathy card,” he says.
“It’s true, though.”
“We don’t know that.”
Jimin pauses. “No,” he says thoughtfully. “But it’s what I choose to believe. What’s the point of helping them be at peace if they’re not going somewhere better than this?”
It’s what Jeongguk tells himself now, what he’ll tell himself when he helps the next ghost. Sometimes the ghosts are the elderly, people who need their family members to stop fighting over silly things like the money they inherit. Sometimes they’re people who were killed in accidents, who just need to find a way to say goodbye to the ones they left behind. Sometimes they’re children, and Jeongguk cries the hardest over those ones, because it isn’t fair.
But Jeongguk can’t do anything about the deaths because they’ve already happened. All he can do is help the ghosts let go, move onto this better place that everyone always talks about. He wishes he could ask them about it, but they go on and he stays here, and. And.
That’s just it.
So Jeongguk goes back to school. He sits through a lecture—a real one—from one of his professors because he neglected to hand in an essay last week, too busy skipping class to help Taehyung. It’s not a viable excuse for not handing in his homework, though, so he just apologizes and promises to get the essay in by the end of the week. He’ll take the docked marks, he’ll take whatever it is, and it’s a shame that he can’t make a living out of helping the dead. It’s a shame it doesn’t pay the bills.
Jeongguk is used to this, though—the aftermath. He adds Taehyung to his ghost journal, the one that is filled with all of the ghosts he’s met and loved and let go of. He sketches Taehyung’s face in one corner of the page, writes down every little detail he can remember about the ghost, like maybe he can keep Taehyung alive here, between these pages. Like he can keep all of them alive, even just for himself.
He puts Taehyung out of his mind as he gets back into the rhythm of classes, part-time work at the bookshop not far from the school. The only reason he’s able to keep the job is because the owner can see ghosts, too, and she understands about his bleeding heart. She once tried helping one of the ghosts that came to Jeongguk instead, just to take some of the load off of his back, but it didn’t work. It’s nice to know she cares, though.
After a week, Jeongguk has settled back into his life, the in between and waiting periods. He keeps his eyes out for new ghosts, but he goes to class, goes to work, does his homework, more or less. Jimin has been helping a ghost for two weeks, so they have less time to see each other, and it’s fine. It’s really, really fine.
He’s making his way into a coffee shop on campus, backpack heavy with books slung over one shoulder and his mind racing with thoughts of essays and deadlines, when he nearly collides with someone. He should collide with them, is the thing, going in while the other is going out, and Jeongguk flinches when he tries to get out of the way of the other young man who barrels into him or—should barrel into him, but he doesn’t, just goes right through the left side of Jeongguk’s body.
Jeongguk gasps—not from the realization, but from the shiver that runs down his spine at the sensation, instantly turning around as the man—ghost?—keeps going through the now-closed door and onto the street.
He’s ‘run’ into them in stranger ways, but Jeongguk has a one-track mind. He forgets about homework, the essay he’s supposed to hand in tomorrow but has barely started, and leaves the coffee shop again. The street isn’t crowded, but he still panics, eyes hurriedly scanning the sidewalk and patch of grass across from the coffee shop. He has to find him.
And—there. Jeongguk spots the shocking mint hair hurrying down the sidewalk, dodging people that would just walk right through him anyway. The thing is, it’s always hard to tell. Ghosts look just like real people, solid and whole, other than the ones that died because of some sort of injury. Those ghosts keep their injuries forever, a constant reminder of what took them from this world they’re still stuck in. Jeongguk once met a ghost who had been murdered, shot in the head. He couldn’t stop throwing up.
It’s not so obvious with other ghosts, though, the ones who died from illnesses or other accidents or something internal. They look like normal people, they talk like real people. It always takes a mistake for Jeongguk to figure it out—they try to pick up an object but can’t or start yelling at people in an attempt to be heard or walk through a wall. Or walk through a person.
Walk through Jeongguk himself.
He takes off down the sidewalk, trying to catch the ghost who is moving faster than he, and Jeongguk needs to talk to him. The ghost might be afraid or worried or confused, and even if Jeongguk isn’t good with people, at least strangers, he’s good with ghosts. He’s done this enough times.
“Hey!” he calls, skirting around a pair of girls walking arm in arm, ignores the others who lift their heads toward him. The one with the mint hair doesn’t. “Hey, you, uh—mint hair guy!”
Finally, the ghost slows down, turning to look back at Jeongguk with furrowed brows. It’s the first time Jeongguk gets a real look at his face—dark eyes, lips pulled into a frown. His hair is wet. Jeongguk realizes he has no idea what to say, partially because the ghost looks irritated, partially because he’s still in the middle of the sidewalk and if he just starts talking, everyone around him will think he’s talking to nothing.
So he says, “Hey,” a little quieter once he reaches where the ghost has stopped, hiking his backpack a little higher on his shoulder. “You don’t know me, but uh—can I talk to you for a second? Like—” He pauses, glances sideways. No one is watching him, but he keeps his voice low anyway when he nods toward the direction of his dorm. “Somewhere private?”
The ghost just—stares. “Um,” he says, voice deep and gravelly. “No?”
Which is fair, Jeongguk thinks. But he also can’t get into an argument. He should have gone for a different tactic. “Okay, but—” he begins, the ghost is already taking a step back.
“I don’t know you,” says the ghost.
“I know, but I really need to talk to you.”
Someone is looking at him from a park bench five feet away. Jeongguk curses under his breath, takes a step forward as the ghost takes another step back. “Please,“ says Jeongguk.
“Stop following me,” the ghost replies. And then he’s gone, walking backwards right through another student stopped in the middle of the sidewalk—who shivers, physically, like Jeongguk did, like Jeongguk is used to, and that’s it.
Jeongguk sighs. And then he follows the ghost.
It’s been a while since he’s had a ghost who won’t talk to him. Taehyung would have hugged him if he could have, probably, when Jeongguk asked if he was okay after finding what looked like a deathly sick man on a bench—he’ll never forget the way Taehying had asked, you can see me? There was hope in it. Relief. The ghost before had gone looking for him after running into a different ghost whisperer instead. All he has to do is get to his little spiel about how he can help them and then they’re hooked, but it’s harder with ghosts who refuse to listen. With ghosts, like this one, who won’t stop running away.
Jeongguk trails him, more or less, around campus for the better part of an hour. He has no idea where the ghost is going, but he keeps waiting for a chance to say something or get him alone, but campus is packed. The ghost shows no signs of stopping.
After the hour, the ghost heads off campus and Jeongguk follows him there, too. At the first stop light, the ghost turns around to glare at him and snaps, “I told you to stop following me.”
Jeongguk stares back, trying not to feel embarrassed about being caught. “I told you that I need to talk to you,” he replies.
The ghost’s eyes narrow slightly, as though he’s considering it, and then he turns around and walks away again. Strangers staring at him be damned. “I’m serious,” Jeongguk says, and the ghost keeps walking, but he asks, “Who even are you?”
“My name is Jeongguk.”
“Well, fuck off, Jeongguk. I don’t care what you have to say to me.”
Jeongguk has no idea why the ghost doesn’t want to talk to him—all of them want to talk to someone who can actually see them, but maybe the ghost thinks Jeongguk is a ghost, too, and therefore it’s not so strange. Maybe he’s angry about his death and doesn’t want to talk to anyone, human or ghost. Maybe he’s just an angry person in general.
He considers giving up, at least for the day. It’s been a long morning and afternoon of classes, and there’s that essay to do, plus he’s supposed to work a shift at the book store in the evening and he promised Jimin that he would actually get a decent amount of sleep this week.
But… the ghost is walking across the crosswalk, hands shoved in the hoodie he’s wearing, and. Jeongguk doesn’t know who he is, doesn’t know what it is that he needs in order to cross over to the other side. He has no idea where the ghost is going, and what if he wakes up tomorrow and can’t find him? What if the ghost spends the rest of the eternity wandering around Seoul because Jeongguk let everything else get the better of him?
He likes helping them, he reminds himself. It’s exhausting sometimes, and he has no idea how to convince this ghost to talk to him, but he has to. It’s not about him, after all. So he follows, and feels like it might be a theme with this one.
Jeongguk reasons that the ghost will have to stop somewhere. Maybe he’s trying to go home, or to find the place where he died. In any case, there has to be an end, and wherever that is will be the place that Jeongguk can finally speak to him. It’ll give him time to devise a plan, in any case. So he follows the ghost away from campus, down endless streets until the other finally stops outside of a—bar? Jeongguk squints up at the sign, noting that it’s not one he’s been to before despite not being far from his dorm, but he has no time to wonder about it before he hears the hushed, “What the fuck?” from the ghost.
What Jeongguk discovers is that the ghost is trying to open the door. But every time he does, his hand passes right through the doorknob, not moving it in the slightest, not able to grip onto the handle. And the ghost is—confused about it, staring at his hand before he tries over and over. Again he whispers, “What the fuck?” and—
He doesn’t know he’s a ghost.
He doesn’t know he’s dead.
Jeongguk awkwardly clears his throat behind the ghost, and the man whips around with something dangerous in his eyes. “What the fuck do you want?” he practically shouts, and Jeongguk is glad that the street is somewhat abandoned because it seems they’re having this conversation here.
“You can’t open the door,” replies Jeongguk. “You should probably stop trying.”
The ghost does, but only so he can curl his fists at his sides and grit his teeth. Before he can say anything damaging, though, Jeongguk adds, “You can’t touch anything. Haven’t you noticed yourself literally walking through people all the way here?”
He hates to be the bearer of bad news. This might be the worst thing he’ll ever have to say, but he has to, despite the look of confusion and anger on the ghost’s face. He has to press forward.
“You’re—” begins Jeongguk, suddenly unsure of how to say it. Does ripping it off like a band-aid make it easier? “I’m sorry, but you’re… a ghost?” He doesn’t mean to say it like a question, but that’s how it comes out, and the man just. Stares at him. Jeongguk coughs into his fist. “You’re a ghost. And I’m like—a ghost whisperer, I guess? I don’t really know what to call it. But I can see you and hear you. Normal people can’t.”
The ghost blinks. “What,” he says.
“You’re… dead,” says Jeongguk carefully, wincing a little as he says it. “And now you’re a ghost and I’m here to help you get to the other side or whatever by figuring out what your unfinished business is and helping you finish it.”
“What,” says the ghost again, darker, angrier, and he takes a step toward Jeongguk with so much force that Jeongguk flinches, even though he knows the ghost can’t do anything to him because he can’t touch him, can’t pick up anything to hit him with, can’t do anything but glare and yell but—that’s almost as bad.
“Which part do you need me to repeat?” he asks quietly.
The ghost clenches his jaw, staring at Jeongguk with that same fire in his eyes, and… maybe now that he knows, he’ll want to talk. He must have questions—if he didn’t know how he died, he must want to know how. He must want to know what his unfinished business is. He must be amazed that Jeongguk can see and hear him, must want to ask him how it’s possible.
But the ghost doesn’t have questions, doesn’t want to know anything. He just spends another moment staring at Jeongguk like he’s going to reach out and punch him, and then—he takes off down the street again.
“Stop running away!” shouts Jeongguk instantly, ignoring the woman across the street who turns to stare at him. Fuck it. He needs to keep this ghost with him and he can’t do that if the bastard keeps trying to literally run away from the problem—“I’m here to help you! You—how didn’t you know that you’re dead? Wait, is that why you didn’t want to talk to me?”
“I’m not dead!” shouts the ghost, still walking away. He doesn’t even bother to turn over his shoulder, just shouts at the street and assumes Jeongguk will hear. Will listen. “Is that what you wanted, huh? Just wanted to play a prank on me? Well, good one. Haha. I’m pissing myself with laughter.”
“I’m not pranking you,” says Jeongguk exasperatedly, catching up with the ghost. If only he could physically bar the man from leaving, but he can’t, because he’s a ghost and ghosts can walk through things. That ought to prove it, though, so he says, “Look, can normal, living people do this?” And he steps in front of the ghost, already bracing himself for the shiver that will wrack him when the ghost passes through him.
Except it doesn’t come, because the ghost comes to an abrupt halt in front of him, glaring up thanks to the few inch height difference between them.
“Excuse me,” says the ghost angrily. When Jeongguk doesn’t move, the ghost steps around him, uselessly, and keeps walking again. Jeongguk follows. Again. “Can’t you just leave me alone?”
“I already told you, I’m supposed to help you.”
“Leaving me alone would be helping me.”
“I need to—fuck, where are you going?”
“Away from you!” the ghost snaps, and Jeongguk. Stops walking. He stares at the retreating back of the ghost, feeling helpless and hopeless. He misses Taehyung.
“Can you at least tell me your name?” he calls.
“It’s Yoongi,” says the ghost, surprisingly, half a block away and leaving, leaving. “And I’m not dead!”
“Okay, I might be dead,” is the first thing Jeongguk hears the next morning, head snapping up from where he’s been playing games on his phone for the better part of two hours. He’s still outside of the bar, and—he didn’t sleep there, of course, went home after the ghost ran away and then came back as soon as the bar opened up again because he can’t miss it. He can’t miss this. He can miss class, but he can’t miss the ghost, and if the ghost had been heading to the bar, then surely he’d come back.
Jeongguk was right. Now he’s staring up at the mint-haired ghost, eyes wide as the other man looks anywhere but at him, fingers tugging at one of his ears. Nervous tic.
“What made you change your mind?” asks Jeongguk.
“I went back to my apartment,” says the ghost—Yoongi. His name is Yoongi. “And I couldn’t open the door, but I could walk through it and—I couldn’t pick up anything else, but I didn’t need to eat anything or even sleep, and…” He pauses, licks his lips like he’s debating whether to tell the end of the story. He looks down to Jeongguk before adding quietly, “I dunno, I guess the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I don’t have a heartbeat.” Yoongi presses a hand to his chest, like he can feel the absence of it. His eyebrows are pinched. Jeongguk tries to decide if he’s still angry.
“Yeah,” says Jeongguk, pulling himself to his feet, pocketing his phone. “I’m sorry about that. About you being dead, I mean. Also sorry that I followed you around yesterday and freaked you out. I thought you knew.”
Yoongi looks at him, and for the first time, he’s not angry. Jeongguk decides he’s actually quite pretty when he isn’t scowling. “I didn’t,” says Yoongi. “Do ghosts normally know they’re dead?”
“More or less,” says Jeongguk. “Lots of them know they’re dying, even if it’s just in the second before it happens. They remember dying.”
Which is—odd. Jeongguk has never met a ghost who didn’t remember dying, and that’s going to make figuring out the whole unfinished business much more difficult. But there’s only one way to go from here.
“Are you still mad at me?” asks Jeongguk gingerly, testing the waters.
“Not at you,” says Yoongi. “I’m mad about being dead, I think. That kind of thing puts you in a bad mood.”
“Okay, well…” Jeongguk chews on his lower lip, glancing over at the bar. He has no idea what Yoongi is looking for in there, or maybe if he just needs a drink, but he doesn’t need that now. Can’t even lift a glass, anyway. “I know we just met and everything, but since I’m the only one who can help you, you should… probably come back to my dorm with me. And we can go from there.”
Yoongi looks at him in a way that makes Jeongguk’s skin crawl, just a little. It’s disconcerting, like the ghost is considering something. Jeongguk reminds himself again that Yoongi can’t do anything to him. Finally, Yoongi sighs, shrugs. “Sure,” he says. “It’s not like I have anything else to do.”
So that’s what they do—go back to Jeongguk’s dorm. He keeps his head down, more or less, when he gets back to campus because he doesn’t want to run into a classmate or a professor or, God forbid, Jimin, who will know that he hasn’t been in class. But Yoongi is more important. Yoongi, who is dead and didn’t know it. Yoongi, who doesn’t even remember dying, which throws a wrench in all of his plans and hopes. That can only mean that Yoongi either got amnesia before he died or it was an accident that he didn’t see coming, at all.
He’ll figure it out one way or another. Jeongguk would never have pegged himself to be a detective, but that’s certainly what helping ghosts feels like sometimes.
In any case, he leads Yoongi to his dorm, glad that he doesn’t have a roommate as he unlocks the door and lets the both of them inside. Yoongi sort of hovers around the doorway as Jeongguk takes off his shoes and hurriedly cleans up a bit, shoving clothes from the floor into his hamper, throwing empty ramen cups and soda cans into the trash. Not that it makes much of a difference when no object will be impeding Yoongi, but. Jeongguk always sort of wants to impress the ghosts, or at least make them like him. They certainly spend enough time together to make a potentially bad relationship awkward.
When Jeongguk deems the dorm clean enough, he gestures to his bed. “Um, you can sit wherever,” he says, although he knows that it’ll be less sitting and more pretending to sit. Jeongguk once asked one of the ghosts what it was like, existing in a world where they could impact nothing and nothing could impact them. The answer: lonely.
So Jeongguk tries to make it a little less lonely. And Yoongi is still kind of abrasive, not even bothering to look around curiously as he stays standing by the doorway, and—that’s fine. Jeongguk tries not to feel nervous as he sinks into his desk chair and opens his laptop, pulling up a new Word document so he can start compiling information, evidence. Normally, he might start off with some friendly chatter, but he’s not sure Yoongi wants that.
“Um,” begins Jeongguk, glancing at Yoongi over his shoulder. “I think we should start with the basics. The whole point of you being here is that you have some sort of unfinished business that’s keeping you from—from moving on from this world.” It sounds so cheesy, so strange to talk about the afterlife and unfinished business with someone who is dead and on the verge of making it to another world, the one that Jeongguk always has so many questions about, but if he stops to think about it, it’ll make his head hurt. So he doesn’t. “First we have to figure out what that unfinished business is, and… generally, it helps to know how you died. Which we don’t know, in this case, but we’ll figure it out.”
There’s an optimistic lilt to his voice, mostly for himself because Yoongi just stares at him a little blankly, arms crossed over his chest. Suddenly, he realizes he’d actually rather be in class.
“So, can you tell me a bit about yourself?” he asks.
“What, are you making me a dating profile?” asks Yoongi dryly. “GhostMingle.com? Gonna find me a pretty ghost girl to spend my last days on Earth with?”
Jeongguk swallows tightly. “No, I—”
“Good, I’d want a ghost boy anyway,” says Yoongi. Completely unnecessarily, and Jeongguk thinks, oh. Then he turns back to his laptop and the blinking cursor on a blank white page.
“Okay,” he says, and types Gay because it might end up being relevant. This time, he keeps his gaze away from Yoongi when he says, “We could start with your full name. A quick Google search can tell us if there’s been anything reported on your death.” It’s the best-case scenario, learning everything from a news source. Maybe Yoongi was important like that.
“Min Yoongi,” says a voice next to his ear and Jeongguk jumps, cursing the fact that ghosts don’t make any fucking noise when they move around. He types the name, though, sparing only a glance sideways to see the ghost hovering over his shoulder and staring intently at the laptop screen. “Aged twenty-five, born and raised in Daegu until I was thirteen, when my parents moved here to Seoul. I work at a bar.”
“The bar you went to yesterday?” asks Jeongguk after he’s finished typing the new information.
Yoongi hums beside him, and Jeongguk takes it as a yes.
Then the ghost is gone, finally taking an interest in Jeongguk’s room as he moves around and inspects things. Jeongguk feels a sort of ache, a nervousness that Yoongi will think he’s boring and decide that he’d rather find a different person to help him. Jeongguk is silent as he searches Yoongi’s name on Google and finds nothing but a Facebook page and some LinkedIn profiles of Min Yoongis who aren’t his Min Yoongi, which is. Useless.
Jeongguk glances over at Yoongi again, who has taken to sitting on the bed with his back against the wall, head tipped back, eyes closed. Jeongguk tries to imagine what it would like to know he’s dead. To know that he’s caught between two worlds and he has to rely on some kid to figure out how to get him unstuck.
“There’s nothing online,” says Jeongguk after clearing his throat. “So… what’s the last thing you remember before you remember being a ghost?”
Yoongi doesn’t open his eyes. Jeongguk thinks that he isn’t going to respond because he’s just sitting there, breathing slowly, and then finally, Yoongi mutters, “I got in a fight with my parents.”
Which is—something, at least. “What was it about?” asks Jeongguk.
“I don’t remember,” says Yoongi, a little too quickly. “Probably my career choices. They wanted me to be a doctor.” It sounds fake, sounds too much like a movie or a book, but he doesn’t push it. He’s not sure the subject of the fight is important to how Yoongi died, anyway.
“Okay, so what happened after you fought?” he asks.
“I don’t know.”
“How do you just forget what happened? Did you fall and hit your head or something?”
“I don’t know, Jeongguk.”
“Do you remember seeing anyone or doing anything after that might have caused your death?”
“What about friends? I can talk to your parents; do you have their phone number?”
“Stop asking me questions,” snaps Yoongi, still not opening his eyes. “Why does it fucking matter?”
Jeongguk shrinks, just a bit. “I’m supposed to figure out how to help you.”
“You’re doing a shit job,” and. Oh.
Jeongguk stares at Yoongi for another moment. He reminds himself that Yoongi isn’t angry at him, just at how things have turned out. He’s dead, only just figured it out a few hours earlier, so maybe he’s just trying to come to terms with that. Maybe he’s upset about the fight with his parents, maybe he feels bad that he didn’t get to apologize to them—if he didn’t get the apologize to them. Jeongguk isn’t sure Yoongi is going to answer any more questions.
So he turns back to his laptop, looking at the pathetic list of information he’s compiled. None of this tells him how Yoongi died, and none of it tells him what he’s supposed to do to get Yoongi to move onto the afterlife. It’s never easy, he knows. Helping ghosts is difficult and emotionally draining and, in cases like these, comes with plenty of anger or denial or disappointment.
But it’s just. How it works. Jeongguk has been doing this for long enough that he shouldn’t be surprised when he comes across a ghost who doesn’t want his help. He refuses to believe that Yoongi is a mean person, so he goes back to his search browser and starts digging. There has to be something.
The rest of the day is spent trying to wheedle things out of Yoongi, who clams up and refuses to say anything. And Jeongguk feels helpless, so he actually goes to one of his classes after telling Yoongi not to leave the dorm, tries to work on his essays even though there’s a ghost in his dorm room. He’s distracted, but he does his best, anyway. He texts Jimin, explains the situation. Only feels a little sad about the heart emojis that Jimin sends back.
It’s not that he doesn’t like Yoongi, it’s just that he doesn’t know how to deal with someone who doesn’t want to talk to him, doesn’t really want him around. All he wants and needs to do is help Yoongi, but Yoongi just stares at him every time Jeongguk asks him what he can remember. He understands that Yoongi is in a strange situation and angry about being dead, but he wishes that ghost could just… let him help.
It isn’t until the next morning that Jeongguk is finally given a clue. He’s on his way to class, nearly at his classroom, when his phone vibrates with a text from Jimin. Jeongguk opens the message, eyebrows furrowing when he reads, Isn’t this the name of the ghost you’re helping? along with a link to an article from a local news site.
When he opens the link, he’s met with a picture of Yoongi—his Yoongi. Mint hair, sharp features, those dark eyes. Except he’s smiling, something wide and gummy as he looks into the camera. Jeongguk stares at it for a beat too long before he thinks to scroll down and read the headline: Police seek help in locating missing 25-year-old man. And it’s. It’s Yoongi.
Jeongguk runs all the way back to his dorm, heart hammering as he takes the stairs two at a time and nearly wrenches the door off of its hinges as he gets inside. Yoongi is still there, lying on the floor this time and staring at the ceiling, and he doesn’t even flinch when Jeongguk bursts into the room.
“Yoongi!” he exclaims, careful not to step on the ghost (although it wouldn’t make a difference anyway) as he makes his way over and shoves his phone into Yoongi’s face. “It’s you! This is it, Yoongi, you’re a missing person. Your unfinished business is finding your body!”
He’s excited about it, elated with the fact that he finally has something to go off of. And he has no idea where to find Yoongi’s body, but he has his aim, finally, knows what he’s meant to do and if Yoongi can remember, then they can do this. He’ll be a real detective this time, but that’s it.
Except—Yoongi just stares at the phone before his eyes shift to Jeongguk’s smiling face. “Right,” he says. “Have fun with that.”
Jeongguk’s smile falters. “What?”
“I said, have fun with that.”
“What, you’re not going to help me?”
“I don’t really care, to be honest,” says Yoongi.
And—Jeongguk has never met a ghost who didn’t care. “What do you mean, you don’t care?” he asks. “You’re dead, Yoongi. You’re not supposed to be here anymore. If I can find your body, then you can move onto—I dunno, heaven or the afterlife or wherever dead people go. That’s the point.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so,” says Yoongi, getting to his feet and not caring that he goes right through Jeongguk, who finds himself hissing with the shudder that moves through him. “The afterlife sounds great, but I’m not going to help you find my body. Seems like a lot of unnecessary work, since the police are clearly looking for me, too. Just let them do their jobs, Jeongguk.”
“Yoongi, please,” says Jeongguk, and he hates how desperate he sounds, but the ghost just. Looks at him for a moment. Those calculating eyes, a little anger behind them, still—for the first time, Jeongguk isn’t actually sure if he’s angry at being dead or angry at Jeongguk for meddling.
Jeongguk gets his answer when Yoongi turns around and walks through the door.
The thing is, Jeongguk can’t find Yoongi’s body on his own. The article about Yoongi going missing doesn’t say much, just that he was last seen at the bar that he works at, which makes sense if he worked there, and a number to contact if anyone has information. He has no idea what Yoongi did before he went missing, has no idea why the ghost doesn’t remember anything about it—unless Yoongi just isn’t telling him anything. But he can’t get more information about the ghost either, who takes to wandering around campus for hours on end even when Jeongguk begs him to just stay for once. It might be good for him to come to terms with things, though, so Jeongguk hopes that’s what he’s doing.
In the meantime, Jeongguk… goes back to class. Hands in the essay he was supposed to do when Taehyung was still around. It’s strange to go back to normal life when there is something he’s supposed to be doing, someone he’s supposed to be helping, but he doesn’t know what to do. He checks the news obsessively, hoping for new information on Yoongi, new information about his body. Nothing comes up, not days after. Jeongguk himself begins to lose hope. Even Jimin’s encouragement can’t keep his spirits up, so apparently Jimin decides to do more about it.
He comes over on the fourth day, an evening when Yoongi has been out of the dorm for most of the day and Jeongguk has finished his homework and done his obsessive research of Yoongi and his case and he’s feeling especially lost. Jimin is clutching two grocery bags full of snacks when Jeongguk opens the door, and Jeongguk just pouts when he lets his best friend in.
“Rough few days, huh?” asks Jimin, and Jeongguk is afraid he’ll start crying before the door even closes.
“He won’t talk to me,” sighs Jeongguk as he flops onto his bed, making space for Jimin to join him. “I don’t know what to do. I know he’s a missing person so the police and his parents and probably his friends are looking for him, and I could find him if he would just—tell me things. But he won’t.” He pouts something fierce, turning his face into Jimin’s thigh where the other boy is sitting next to him. He gets what he wants when Jimin begins carding his fingers through Jeongguk’s hair, careful, gentle.
“Have you tried talking to him about something other than his death?” asks Jimin.
And—Jeongguk has never considered that. Still—“I don’t think he’d be very interested in that,” he mutters.
“You don’t know if you haven’t tried. Sometimes the ghosts I meet are just… scared and unsure of what’s happening and—I mean, they just died, Guk-ah, what do you expect?”
“But I’m nice.”
“I know,” says Jimin, sounds like he’s cooing a bit. “Maybe Yoongi doesn’t want you to find him. Maybe he wants to stay here because he’s not ready to go. Sometimes I think that’s what all of this unfinished business is about in the first place.”
Oddly, it makes sense. Yoongi didn’t know he was dead, clearly wasn’t expecting to die if he went missing before it happened, and maybe he’s not only angry about dying, but also about what might come next. Maybe he doesn’t want Jeongguk’s help because doesn’t like what getting help implies, what it’ll mean.
And Jeongguk—Jeongguk has a one-track mind. He always sees the ghosts as people, but maybe he forgets that they have emotions, too, that just because he’s been doing this for years doesn’t mean each ghost has come to terms with what dying and moving on means.
Later that night, with Jeongguk’s head pillowed in Jimin’s lap and his eyelids heavy, heavy, heavy, he feels Jimin bristle slightly under him. He’s too near to sleep to think about it, though, and even the now-familiar lilts and nuances of Yoongi’s voice aren’t enough to pull him from the beginning of slumber. He hears his name, not calling to him but speaking about him, hears Jimin say something like I need to have a word with you and that’s. Nice. Maybe Jimin can tell Yoongi to take the stick out of his ghost ass. Maybe he can tell Yoongi that Jeongguk is sorry for having a stick up his human ass, too.
The next morning, Jeongguk wakes swaddled in his own duvet, mind muddled and cloudy as he blinks at the bit of sunlight peeking through his curtains. It takes him a moment to remember that it’s the weekend, and another to realize that Yoongi is staring at him from the other side of the room.
(He forgot to ask if Yoongi just… watches him sleep, since Yoongi doesn’t need sleep himself. It feels like the wrong time to bring it up.)
Jeongguk blinks a few times, guard down so early in the morning, and he stares back. Unguarded, his mind decides to remind him that Yoongi is pretty, prettier when he doesn’t look like he hates Jeongguk. There’s nothing soft about him now, but.
“I’m sorry about being rude to you for the past few days and I know it’s not your fault that I’m dead and you’re just trying you best to help me because that’s what you do and it’s not fair of me to not help you or to treat you the way I have been so I’d like it very much if you forgave me,” says Yoongi, all in one go, all in one breath, eyes wide like he’s been caught in headlights.
Jeongguk blinks again.
“What?” he asks groggily, squinting one eye at the ghost.
Yoongi sighs. “Do I have to repeat it?” he asks, and Jeongguk now realizes that he’s uncomfortable, not with Jeongguk but the apology itself, shifting from one foot to the other as his eyes finally move away from the younger boy. “I worked on it all night and I don’t think I have the courage to say it again.”
Jeongguk smacks his lips, then finally moves enough to get out of the swaddle and sit up straight in his bed, rubbing at his eyes a little. “Sorry, um,” he says, dropping his hands. He looks at Yoongi imploringly.
“I said,” says Yoongi, a little exasperated, keeping his eyes on the ceiling. “I’m sorry for being rude to you and you don’t deserve it because you’re just trying to help me so can you please forgive me?” His nose wrinkles. Jeongguk’s lips quirk upward.
“Sorry, one more time?” he asks, and Yoongi huffs. “I’m teasing. Of course I forgive you.” He thinks about how frustrating the past few days have been, how hopeless, and maybe he shouldn’t forgive Yoongi so easily, but this is what he’s been wanting. It’s not going to delay that for any reason.
“Good,” says Yoongi, glancing at him.
“Why the change of heart?”
“Your friend,” and Yoongi clears his throat, a little awkwardly. “Do you… really cry when the ghosts disappear?”
“Oh my God,” mutters Jeongguk, smacking both hands over his face as his cheeks instantly heat up. Fucking Jimin.
“So that’s a yes, then.”
“Stop talking,” groans Jeongguk, face still in his hands.
And then he hears—laughing. Yoongi is laughing. It’s what makes Jeongguk peek through his fingers, watching the ghost with his head thrown back and his mouth wide open, smiling that gummy smile he saw only in the picture the news posted in his missing persons report. It’s so strange, so wonderful.
“It’s—cute,” says Yoongi, then, which just makes Jeongguk blush even more, going back to hiding in his hands. Maybe he liked Yoongi better when he was being an asshole.
An hour later, after Yoongi has awkwardly apologized a few more times and Jeongguk has made him swear to never bring up the crying thing again, Jeongguk realizes what all of this means. “Are you going to help me find your body, then?” he asks tentatively.
Yoongi licks his lips. “Yeah,” he says. “I don’t really—want to find it, if I’m honest, because that’s kind of gross, but I’m curious. And… if it’s what’s going to help me get to the other side or whatever, then, yeah. I’ll help you.”
Jeongguk beams. “Great!” he exclaims, scrambling off of his bed so that he can grab his laptop. “The news hasn’t said much about the investigation, so I don’t know if they’ve found anything, and um—it’s probably best to just go off of what you remember. You had a fight with your parents, right?”
Yoongi nods from where he’s sitting on Jeongguk’s dresser, technically on Jeongguk’s hair products and camera and textbooks. “And you don’t remember anything after that?” asks Jeongguk.
“I remember leaving their house,” he says.
“Oh!” says Jeongguk, suddenly remembering what he’d read in the original article about Yoongi’s disappearance. “The police said you were last seen at your bar. Did you go to work or something?”
“I don’t remember having work that night,” he says. “It was… pretty late.”
“A clue,” gasps Jeongguk, like—this is some fucking Sherlock Holmes novel and not real life, but it’s easier this way. He types madly on his laptop, adding to the ever-growing list of information that may be important to figuring out the ghost’s disappearance. “You went to the bar for some other reason. I’m sure the police have already been there, but maybe if we go, you’ll remember something?”
Yoongi looks incredulous, but he doesn’t argue. It’s something.
“We can retrace your steps,” continues Jeongguk. “Start from what you know and go from there, and maybe we’ll find you. Even if you don’t remember, you must have left clues somewhere.”
“You know you’re not like, a detective or something, right?” Yoongi asks, and Jeongguk is already hopping off of his bed, grabbing his coat and beckoning Yoongi onto his feet, too.
“If I am, you’re a pretty shitty sidekick.”
“Why am I the sidekick?”
“Because I can actually touch shit.”
They get to the bar quickly enough, making their way inside, and Jeongguk watches Yoongi for a moment as he looks around. There’s an awful longing in the ghost’s eyes, and it’s the first time he’s seeing Yoongi see something he used to have in life, something that he’s been forced to give up because of his death. Jeongguk doesn’t linger on it, though, doesn’t want to think about it as he approaches the bartender.
“Hi,” he says, feeling awkward and out of place. He’s been to bars a few times, mostly when Jimin drags him out, and the bartender—a woman with dark hair and darker eyeliner—just looks at him. “I was hoping to ask you some questions about… Min Yoongi?”
The woman bristles somewhat, and Jeongguk hears Yoongi mutter something behind him, something harsh. He tries not to react, knowing the woman can’t see Yoongi. “What do you want to know?” she asks, tone clipped. “The police have already been here. Several times.”
“I’m not part of the police,” says Jeongguk hurriedly. “I’m just, um—a friend? And I want to find him, and I know he worked here, so…”
The woman continues to stare at him. Yoongi helpfully says, “You’re not going to get anything out of her. She’s a bitch.”
Jeongguk coughs to cover up the sound of himself almost choking on air at the admission, and sometimes he forgets that other people can’t see or hear Yoongi. It seems the ghost has already come to terms with that, not shy about using it to his advantage.
“I have no useful information for you,” she says, sounding bored now. “I wasn’t here the day that he went missing. He was here that night, apparently, but the only person working was Namjoon.” Yoongi sucks in a breath behind him. Jeongguk forces himself not to turn around, not to ask, instead raising his eyebrows as the woman adds, “You should talk to him if you want to know anything. He’s not here now, though, and he’s not working until Monday, so.”
So. The unspoken scram is there, and Jeongguk nods, hurriedly thanks the woman and then turns around to leave. He has questions to ask—Yoongi obviously knows Namjoon, since they worked together, but he feels like there’s something more there, so he hurries down the street until they come to a back alley and he ducks in, making sure no one is walking by and will think he’s insane before he turns to Yoongi.
“Who’s Namjoon?” he asks.
“My best friend,” says Yoongi. There’s that longing in his eyes again, something so horribly sad. Maybe it’s the first time Yoongi has really thought about his friends, about what he’s left behind. “He owns the bar. He was—like my brother, really.”
“If he was working the night you were there, maybe he can tell us something about what happened,” says Jeongguk, trying not to sound excited. “Where you went after.”
Yoongi tugs at his ear. “Yeah,” he says after a moment. “Yeah, that’s a good idea.”
For now, because Jeongguk can’t just show up at Namjoon’s apartment and try to explain that he found out where he lived from the ghost of the man’s best friend, they go back to Jeongguk’s dorm. Now that Yoongi actually sticks around, now that he’s actually willing to talk to Jeongguk, the younger boy finds that the ghost is actually… kind of nice. Okay. Pretty, of course, but funny sometimes, and entirely too distracting when Jeongguk tries to do his homework.
Yoongi won’t stop standing over Jeongguk’s shoulder and making comments about his essays or his assignments, and most of the time, they’re not helpful. Yoongi didn’t even go to university, but he still offers little pieces of advice here and there when he’s not telling Jeongguk to work on his grammar or something equally as stupid.
And Jeongguk—wants to be annoyed with it. But there’s something warm that settles in the pit of his stomach every time Yoongi opens his mouth and teases him or makes a joke or chooses to stay, because it’s better than what he had before. He always wants the ghosts to like him, but sometimes, they’re too sad to develop any relationship that isn’t based on Jeongguk pitying them or feeling sorry for them or trying to comfort them about the life they’ve lost. Yoongi is—different, somehow. He’s dead and maybe he’s still upset about it, but maybe he knows that finding his body is going to be next to near impossible, so there’s no point in worrying about leaving Earth so quickly.
On Monday, Jeongguk is ready to run to the bar again, to find Namjoon and get a good start on retracing Yoongi’s steps, but Yoongi is having none of it. He tells Jeongguk that he has to go to class first, because he won’t have the boy failing anything on his watch, and Jeongguk whines about it, reminds Yoongi that technically he can’t do anything to stop him, but Yoongi levels him with a look and—yeah.
“You could… come with me,” says Jeongguk a little awkwardly after he’s packed up his backpack, one hand on the doorknob. Yoongi looks up from where he’s sitting on Jeongguk’s bed, watching the movie that Jeongguk put on his laptop, because Yoongi can’t touch anything but he can look.
“And what would I do in your class?” asks Yoongi. Jeongguk’s cheeks go a little pink.
“Keep me company?” he suggests, and he knows he’s gotten it right when Yoongi grins a little, crooked.
Jeongguk realizes his mistake halfway through his psychology class, when Yoongi won’t stop heckling the professor without the professor actually knowing. And he’s trying to be a good student, really, taking notes diligently and ignoring the way Yoongi is lounging with his feet up on the table (“I always wanted to do that in school, but I was too afraid of getting caught”) so that he can actually listen to the professor. It’s just. Yoongi is so distracting.
“Boo!” calls Yoongi when the professor begins droning on about statistics of substance abuse. “Talk about something interesting. Also buy some deodorant while you’re at it; it looks like you dipped your armpits in cooking oil.”
And Jeongguk—snorts, can’t help himself even though the sound cuts through the silence of the classroom, and the professor stops talking.
“Please remain quiet,” says the man, to which Yoongi lets out an even louder and longer boooo.
“I wish I had popcorn to throw at this guy,” says the ghost, and Jeongguk is trying so hard to ignore him, even though the ghost is shifting closer, practically hooking his chin on Jeongguk’s shoulder. It feels cold where their skin touches, a little, but almost nice. Peaceful. “Or tomatoes. Or sticks of deodorant!”
Jeongguk lets out another giggle, instantly covering his mouth but it’s too late and the professor stops again, pinpointing the source of the noise easily, and Jeongguk can’t even be embarrassed when Yoongi starts heckling the man again, making him giggle even more, and he packs up without even needing to be asked.
“I hope all of you fail!” Yoongi yells as they’re leaving. “You can’t see me but I’m mooning you.”
The class was boring away.
Still—“You can’t do that,” he chastises Yoongi as soon as they’re back in Jeongguk’s dorm and he can speak to the ghost again. “You’re going to get me kicked out of class.”
“You weren’t learning anything anyway,” says Yoongi, flopping onto Jeongguk’s bed or—kind of just hovering there, not really resting on it, which is so strange. Normal, though, for both of them now. “Why are you even taking that class?”
“It’s for my degree,” says Jeongguk. “As are all of my classes, so I’m going to start banning you from coming with me if you’re just going to distract me the whole time.”
“You can’t stop me,” sniffs Yoongi, sounding all too pleased with himself. “Besides, it’s not my fault that I’m hilarious and extraordinarily attractive and infinitely more interesting than your classes.”
Jeongguk just sighs, throwing his backpack down and flopping onto the bed beside Yoongi. “I liked you better when you refused to talk to me,” he says, which is a lie, but. He can’t show his whole hand now, doesn’t want to think about how much he actually does like Yoongi. They just got off on the wrong foot. Things have changed so quickly already, and he likes it.
“You like the tsundere bit, do you?” asks Yoongi. “Does it turn you on, Guk-ah? Want me to ignore you harder?”
And Jeongguk is laughing again, grabbing his pillow to first hide his face in and then smack it against the space where Yoongi is lying. The pillow just hits the bed, but it’s the intention that counts as Yoongi guffaws, sticks his hand through Jeongguk’s chest to make him shiver, but he’s still laughing as Yoongi keeps going with the terrible dirty talk, and it shouldn’t be like this, not really.
Yoongi is a ghost, and he’s dead and death is sad, but this isn’t sad. Jeongguk isn’t sad.
Vaguely, he thinks that it might cause problems.
Vaguely, he thinks he doesn’t care.
They go back to the bar that evening, after Jeongguk has made his way through two other classes in which he tries to ban Yoongi from speaking, but the ghost takes as a challenge to see how much he can make Jeongguk laugh. He doesn’t get kicked out, though, and he manages to take some half-ass notes that likely won’t help him when finals roll around, but it’s better than nothing. Besides, he likes seeing the way Yoongi’s face lights up, hearing his stupid laugh.
He isn’t laughing when they make their way to the bar, and Jeongguk already misses the sound, but there’s nothing funny about maybe finding out where Yoongi’s body is. Jeongguk preps the questions he wants to ask before they go in, and Yoongi is so, so silent beside him, so they just go in.
The bar is mostly empty, and there’s a different bartender working, a tall man with silver hair swept off of his forehead, and Jeongguk doesn’t have to ask if it’s Namjoon because he hears Yoongi’s sharp intake of breath beside him and he knows. For the first time, Jeongguk wishes he could touch Yoongi, could reach out and squeeze his hand. But he can’t, so he keeps his eyes firmly away from the ghost and approaches the bar.
“Hello,” he says a little awkwardly once he reaches the bar, worrying at his bottom lip. “Are you Namjoon?”
The bartender raises his eyebrows, but he nods. “That’s me,” he says. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m Jeongguk. I’m a f-friend of Min Yoongi,” says Jeongguk, a little awkward and unsure, but the way Namjoon’s eyes widen keeps him going. “I’m, um. Trying to help find him. And I know that he was here the night that he went missing, so I was hoping to talk to you about it.”
Thankfully, Namjoon doesn’t ask how Jeongguk knows Yoongi. He doesn’t ask why he wants to know, doesn’t chastise him for doing the police’s job, like Yoongi had. He just nods a little, gestures for the boy to follow him toward one of the empty booths near the back of the bar.
When they’re seated, Namjoon says, “You’re braver than me, actually going out and trying to find him. I wish I could.” And—Jeongguk wasn’t expecting this, wasn’t ready for the sort of emotions that come with talking about a missing best friend. He glances at Yoongi, who is hovering near the table, too antsy to sit down. The ghost is staring at Namjoon. Jeongguk tries not to think about what the expression on his face means.
“Don’t feel bad,” says Jeongguk quickly, turning back to Namjoon. “You have work and a life and stuff, and… the police are looking, right?”
“Maybe not hard enough,” mutters Namjoon.
“That’s why I’m looking too. The more people, the merrier, right?”
“At first, I thought he was just being an idiot again,” says Namjoon. He’s picking at his thumbnail, not looking at Jeongguk. “You know how he is, always making rash decisions and running away when he can’t deal with something. It’s not the first time he’s gone ‘missing’, although it’s never been long enough to file an actual report.”
It’s the first time that Jeongguk realizes he actually doesn’t know anything about Yoongi. He doesn’t know anything about Yoongi’s life, other than that he worked at Namjoon’s bar and had a fight with his parents the night he disappeared. He only knows the ghost’s sense of humour, only knows that he has a soft spot for Disney movies. Jeongguk has been so hell-bent on finding Yoongi’s body that he hasn’t stopped to learn anything about Yoongi himself, and it’s strange to hear it from someone else, but maybe it’s better that way.
“You think he was running away from something?” asks Jeongguk carefully.
Namjoon looks up briefly. “He was here that night,” he admits. “He got in a fight with his parents, wouldn’t tell me what it was about, but he was so… angry. I could tell he had been drinking before he showed up at the bar, and I kept giving him water, but I don’t know if it helped. He was really drunk.”
Jeongguk has to keep himself from looking over at Yoongi, realizing that—that has to be why Yoongi doesn’t remember dying. He was drunk, too drunk to remember anything, although that’s just going to make piecing it all together even harder.
“I offered to take him home,” continues Namjoon. “But he wouldn’t let me. And I tried not to let him leave, but he was pretty aggressive about it. I was afraid he would hurt me if I physically tried to stop him from doing anything.”
“So he left?” asks Jeongguk.
Namjoon looks a little shameful, but he nods anyway. “Yeah,” he says. “He drove here and I tried to call a cab or something, but he was gone before I could do anything.”
Jeongguk thinks about finding a crashed car on the side of the road, finding Yoongi’s body at the wheel. Surely the police would have found that by now, though.
“Did he say where he was going?” asks Jeongguk.
“He kept talking about his brother,” says Namjoon, and Jeongguk hears Yoongi make a noise in the back of his throat, something like a pained whine. “I’m assuming he wanted to go see him, although he didn’t say for sure.”
And Jeongguk, because he’s supposed to be friends with Yoongi and already know that the elder has a brother, just nods his head. He can’t ask questions without looking suspicious. “Did you tell the police that?” he asks.
“Yeah,” says Namjoon. “I told them everything I know, but I dunno.” The bartender rubs at the back of his neck. “If you go looking for him… I hope you find him, Jeongguk. I just want him to come home.”
He realizes, a little belatedly, that Namjoon doesn’t know Yoongi is dead. Of course he doesn’t know—as far as anyone knows, Yoongi is holed up in a hotel, still on a bender. Or he decided to flee the country, just for a while to get away from things. They might have their suspicions, but they’re all still hoping, and Jeongguk knows more than ever what his mission is. If he doesn’t find Yoongi’s body, they’ll always be hoping, always be waiting. Namjoon will always want Yoongi to come home, and he can’t truly be at peace with anything if he doesn’t know the truth of what happened.
Sometimes, when Jeongguk doesn’t have to deal with the people left behind, he can forget about the gravity of it all. But now, looking at Namjoon, the way the man’s face is pinched, like he’s trying not to cry, Jeongguk can’t escape it.
“I will,” he says. “I’ll find him.”
“I miss him,” says Namjoon, small and quiet and sad and. Jeongguk only then realizes that Yoongi isn’t standing beside the table anymore.
“Me too,” whispers Jeongguk. “I should—probably go, let you get back to work. Thank you for the information.” He wants to stay, but he thinks about the reminiscing, thinks about trying to pretend that the way he knows Yoongi is anything like how Namjoon knew him. He can’t fake that, and he doesn’t want to.
He finds Yoongi outside of the bar, leaning against the side of the building with his lips in a tight line. For a moment, Jeongguk just stands there, staring at the ghost. The street is empty.
He says, “I’m sorry if that was hard.”
Yoongi opens his eyes, levels Jeongguk with careful look before he shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter,” he says. “We have a lead, don’t we?”
“Yeah,” says Jeongguk, and he feels like they should talk about this, about… something. But Yoongi is already walking down the street and Jeongguk is forced to hurry after him. “Where are we going?”
“We’re going to need a car,” says Yoongi. “If I wanted to see my brother, we need a car.”
The problem is, Jeongguk doesn’t have a car. The solution is, Jimin does.
It takes a lot of promises to pay for food and proper sleeping schedules for the other to hand over the keys, but then Yoongi and Jeongguk are piling in the car and it’s only then that Jeongguk realizes he doesn’t actually know where they’re going. He turns to the ghost expectantly. “Where to?” he asks.
“Daegu,” replies Yoongi, and Jeongguk blanches.
“You could be in Daegu?” he asks. “Why did you show up in Seoul, then?”
“I don’t know,” replies Yoongi, bristling slightly. “Maybe I didn’t make it there. But that’s where my brother is.”
And Jeongguk—can’t really argue with that. So he just starts the car, keeps silent as they begin winding their way through the streets toward Daegu. They sit in silence for only a few minutes before curiosity gets the better of him.
“I didn’t know you have a brother,” says Jeongguk. Yoongi is still staring out the window.
“Had,” corrects Yoongi. “I had a brother.”
“You haven’t been dead for very long. I don’t think you have to talk about yourself in the past tense yet.”
“No,” says Yoongi, voice heavy. “He’s dead, too.”
“Oh,” says Jeongguk. His hands tighten on the steering wheel. “I’m—sorry.”
“It’s fine,” says Yoongi, too quickly. “It was a long time ago, when we still lived in Daegu. That’s why he’s there—he’s buried there.”
Jeongguk wants to know about it. Wants to know what happened, why fighting with his parents would make Yoongi want to drive all the way to Daegu when he was drunk, but he feels like maybe it isn’t the right time to ask. Maybe there are some things he doesn’t need to know.
Instead, he says, “Maybe you got into a car accident. If you were drinking and driving, it’s possible.”
Yoongi doesn’t reply.
Jeongguk falls silent again, long enough for them to nearly get to the outskirts of Seoul, and then he says, “Namjoon is nice.” He doesn’t know what he’s going for, but he wants Yoongi to talk. The realization that he doesn’t actually know anything about the ghost bothers him, thinks that maybe if he can learn more, they’ll have a better chance of retracing Yoongi’s steps.
“Yeah,” says Yoongi, still staring out the window. “We met after I moved to Seoul. Hired me at the bar when I thought I was just going to be a jobless bum for the rest of my life. If you can call that nice.”
“Why did you think you would be a jobless bum?” asks Jeongguk. Yoongi finally turns to look at him, and there’s a hint of amusement on his face. Which is—good.
“I didn’t go to university,” he says. “Didn’t really see myself doing anything, if I’m honest. I was good at school, for the most part, and I was a hard worker, but I just… stopped trying, after that.” He shrugs. “I think my parents were always comparing me to my brother, even though he died when he was fifteen. I think he was their favourite, even though they loved me, but… I couldn’t live up to this ideal they had in their head.”
Jeongguk frowns. “Is that what you fought about that night?”
“I think so,” says Yoongi. “I honestly don’t remember that much of it, just that… it was bad. I wasn’t lying when I said they wanted me to be a doctor, because that’s what my brother wanted to be. It was just different, I guess.”
“I’m sorry,” says Jeongguk, and it doesn’t sound like enough, but it has to be. “About your brother and your parents and everything.”
“It doesn’t change anything now,” says Yoongi. “I’m already dead, aren’t I? And—God, my poor parents. Both sons gone. They must be so upset about it.”
“That’s why we’re trying to find your body. It’ll give them some peace, I think, even if it’s really awful to find out about. At least they won’t spend the rest of their lives looking for you.”
“Yeah,” says Yoongi, and he’s watching Jeongguk now, careful eyes, careful words. “Sorry about making you miss class.”
“It’s fine,” laughs Jeongguk. “It’s kind of boring, anyway.”
“You don’t have to do this, though. Any of this. Just because you see ghosts doesn’t mean you have to put your life on pause to help them.”
“But I do,” says Jeongguk. “That’s how I feel, anyway. If I can see them, it has to mean something, you know? I’m not just helping you, but helping the people you left behind, and… I dunno, I guess I can learn something along the way, too.”
“What are you learning from me, then?”
Jeongguk takes a moment to think about it, eyes still on the road. “How to be super lame?” he suggests, to which Yoongi scoffs.
“Haven’t we already established that I’m super cool?” he asks.
“Last night, you ranted to me for ten minutes about why Mulan is better than Elsa,” laughs Jeongguk. “Anyone who has that much of an opinion on Disney princesses is not cool.”
“But she is better!” crows the ghost.
“Please don’t start again.”
“You need to be educated, Jeonggukkie.”
They’ve been driving for half an hour when Yoongi suddenly yells, “Wait!” Jeongguk’s first instinct is to slam on the breaks, but they’re still on the road with other cars so he stops himself, instead pulls the car to the side of the road and turns to stare at Yoongi, who is staring out the window.
“Wait, I remember something,” says the ghost, practically pressed to the glass even though he could go through it anyway—“Look at that.”
Jeongguk ducks his head enough to see out the window, looking over the expanse of grass and trees to see… “It’s an amusement park,” he says. “It must be one of those moving ones, the festivals and stuff.”
“How long has it been there?” asks Yoongi.
Jeongguk tries to remember what day it is, tries to count backwards. “It’s usually here for about two weeks, and it must be… over a week since it started, at least?”
Yoongi turns to look at him, eyes bright. “Jeongguk, I think I was there,” he says. “I don’t remember getting to Daegu or seeing my brother’s grave, but I remember this, kind of. Lights and carnival music. This has to be it.”
Jeongguk nods, quickly merging back onto the road until they find the turn off and head toward the amusement park. He remembers seeing ads for it—it’s an annual thing, anyway, a night festival with rides and carnival games. He’s been a few times, but there’s a new sort of nervousness that thrums under his skin when he thinks that this might be the next clue to where Yoongi’s body is.
The drive isn’t long to the park, which is set up in the middle of a massive clearing, surrounded on all sides by trees. The parking lot is empty, the park itself empty, silent. It’s the middle of the day, which means it isn’t open yet, but Jeongguk silently pulls the car to a stop near the front gates before staring out at the window at it.
Neither of them speaks for a few minutes, not until Yoongi says, “Should we look around?”
“What, like break in?” asks Jeongguk. “If your body was somewhere in there, wouldn’t it had been reported? You couldn’t have died on a ride or something.” That would have been all over the news, the festival would have been shut down. Still, Yoongi has a point. There’s no reason for them to not look around, maybe even just the outskirts, see if being there somehow jogs Yoongi’s drunken memory.
They start by walking around the perimeter of the festival gates, occasionally trying to peer inside, but there’s nothing much to see. No bodies lying around either, to no one’s surprise.
“Do you think someone would remember seeing you?” asks Jeongguk, hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans.
“Maybe,” says Yoongi. “We should come back when it’s open, ask around. It’ll probably be the same workers.”
Jeongguk nods, keeps walking. Something heavy has settled over them, the idea that this might be the next step in them retracing Yoongi’s last night. It’s less of an adventure this way, and he can’t stop thinking about Yoongi’s brother, can’t stop thinking about all of the things he still doesn’t know.
They’ve almost made it all the way around the edge of the park when Yoongi stops walking. Jeongguk doesn’t notice for another few steps, because Yoongi doesn’t make any noise when he walks or stops walking, but then he looks around and Yoongi is standing five feet behind him, staring into the trees.
“What?” asks Jeongguk, returning to the ghost’s side, but Yoongi takes off walking, right into the patch of trees. “Yoongi!”
“That’s my car,” is what Yoongi says, and Jeongguk’s heart jumps into his throat as he takes off after the ghost, ducking under the branches that Yoongi walks right through, and. There, twenty feet into the trees, is a car: bright orange, one of those old ones that Jeongguk has no hope of knowing the make and model of. He’s never cared about cars, but when he reaches it, he runs a hand over the hood.
The car is resting against a tree, but it doesn’t look like it was crashed, and—“There’s no one in the driver’s seat,” says Jeongguk when he peers in through the windshield, turns to see Yoongi just standing. Staring.
“This is my car,” he repeats, like Jeongguk didn’t hear the first time. “I was—I was here, Guk.”
After a beat, he adds, “I didn’t leave.”
Jeongguk swallows tightly. He shivers, just a little, and it has nothing to do with the weather. Because Yoongi is right—if his car is here, that means he got out and didn’t get back in. That doesn’t mean his body is here, though, could have gotten a ride with someone else, could have walked away and wandered until he found someone to pick him up. He could have hitch hiked all the way to Daegu.
But. He could have died here. The silence of the trees suddenly feels a little suffocating.
“Should we… look around here?” asks Jeongguk quietly, wanting Yoongi to take the lead because—it’s his body they’re looking for. He has no idea how Yoongi can be doing this at all, can be willing to see himself, what he looked like.
Yoongi sticks his head into the car, rummages around in the trunk before announcing, “Nothing in there.” Jeongguk hadn’t even considered it.
He wordlessly begins scouting the surrounding area of trees, holding his breath before, for the first time, he realizes he isn’t sure if he’s ready to find Yoongi’s body after all. It’s what he has to do and he’s seen dead bodies before, but most of them have been at funerals. He certainly hasn’t seen one that has been dead for close to a week at least, one that might be rotting or decaying or—
“Jeongguk,” Yoongi calls, and the boy is glad for the distraction as he turns to look at the ghost. “There’s nothing that could have killed me around here. I think our best option is coming back when the festival is going, ask around. This just—doesn’t feel right. Doesn’t feel like it, you know?”
And Jeongguk doesn’t know, because he’s not a ghost and he hasn’t died and maybe Yoongi will just be able to tell when they get close, which would be helpful, but he doesn’t want to think about that, either, so he just nods and hurries out of the trees, doesn’t want to think about how far those trees go. Doesn’t want to think about Yoongi just wandering forever. Maybe he died of starvation.
They drive back to Seoul in silence, Jeongguk a little too shaken to come up with anything worth a conversation, Yoongi too… well. He’s always a little quiet.
The thick silence is still over them when they get back to Jeongguk’s dorm, when Jeongguk sinks onto his bed and just sits there, staring at the wall. It takes Yoongi snapping his fingers a few times in front of the boy’s face to get him out of it, and then he looks up to see Yoongi kind of grinning at him.
“You’re spacing out on me, bunny,” he says, and—Jeongguk feels his cheeks heat up a little. He’s not used to pet names.
“Sorry,” he mutters, shaking his head. “Just—it’s so weird, you know? The closer we get, the weirder I feel about it.”
“It is weird,” says Yoongi with a shrug, flopping onto the bed beside Jeongguk. “But I mean, this whole thing is weird. I’m a ghost. You’re a ghost whisperer. Like a movie.”
What Jeongguk doesn’t tell him is that it’s weird because they might find Yoongi’s body sooner than he had anticipated, but he still doesn’t know anything about the ghost. He knows what he needs to for the sake of his mission, but that’s it. And maybe he kind of likes Yoongi, maybe he feels like running out of time means he needs to do something worthwhile when Yoongi is here.
So he says, “Let’s play twenty questions,” turning to look at the ghost.
Yoongi snorts. “What, are we in middle school?” he asks.
“You know, I don’t ever remember telling you that you could call me that.”
“Yeah, but you’re older than me,” protests Jeongguk.
“Yeah, but I’m dead. Maybe there should be an honorific for that. I mean, what if you come across a ghost that was younger than you when they died, but they’ve been wandering the earth for so long that they’re technically older than you?”
“Is that your first question, hyung?”
Jeongguk giggles. And he decides that the ghost has no say in the matter, glad to have finally shaken himself out of his stupor, so he scoots back on the bed until his back is against the wall, crosses his legs and tries to avoid contact with Yoongi’s ghost limbs, if only so he doesn’t have to use a blanket to keep himself warm.
“Okay, so my first question is—”
“I didn’t agree to this!” crows Yoongi, and Jeongguk completely ignores him.
“Do you like pineapple on pizza?” And maybe it should be did, but it’s hard to talk about Yoongi in the past tense when he’s right there. Just because he can’t actually eat anymore doesn’t mean he doesn’t have preferences.
Yoongi seems to consider the question—or consider if he just wants to walk out of the room and not come back—before he replies, “Do I hate myself? Obviously not. Fruit is not meant to be on pizza unless it’s fruit pizza.”
“Hyung, what?” asks Jeongguk. “How can you not like pineapple on pizza?”
“No, it’s a follow-up,” says Jeongguk with a roll of his eyes.
“How can you like it?” retorts Yoongi, folding his arms behind his head as he looks at Jeongguk, grinning wide and wide and making Jeongguk’s heart flutter, just a bit, although he ignores the feeling. It’s certainly not welcome.
“It tastes good,” shrugs Jeongguk. “Like a little sourness with the rest of it. It’s about layers of taste.”
Yoongi groans, but he’s laughing, and Jeongguk likes the way he looks when he laughs, eyes squeezed shut. Gummy smile on display.
“Whatever, let me ask you a question,” says the ghost, and Jeongguk settles in. “What are you studying?”
It’s surprisingly practical, although he supposes that’s the real point of the game. “Sociology,” replies Jeongguk. “I want to work with youth somehow, especially troubled ones in the less fortunate parts of the country. I dunno, I guess I just… I meet them sometimes, as ghosts, and I really think some of their deaths could be prevented or I could do something more. For the living, I mean.” He shrugs a little, peeking over at Yoongi, who is watching him carefully. He flushes, for some reason. “It’s kind of stupid.”
“No, it’s not,” says Yoongi quickly. “I think it’s really admirable, Guk. You do a good job with helping the dead, but if you want to help the living, that’s perfect, too.”
Jeongguk grins, reaching up to scratch at the back of his neck a little awkwardly. “Um—okay, my turn,” he says. “What did you want to do when you grew up?”
Yoongi chuckles. “Ironic,” he says, “considering I never really got to grow up.” And Jeongguk feels kind of bad about it, only then realizing that Yoongi will never get old or have any life experiences beyond the ones he’s already had, and he doesn’t want to get sad—“I wanted to play the piano,” says Yoongi. “I was pretty good at it as a kid. Took tons of lessons, competed a lot. My parents were really proud of me. When we moved to Seoul, though… I guess it just didn’t work out.”
Jeongguk feels like there’s more that Yoongi isn’t saying, but he doesn’t press him. If Yoongi doesn’t want to tell him things, he’s not going to force it. “That’s cool,” he says instead. “I tried to play the guitar when I was a kid, but I gave up after like a week because it was too hard.”
“Lazy,” snorts Yoongi. Jeongguk giggles again. “Alright, uh—thoughts on the Spider-Man reboots?”
“Oh,” says Jeongguk, eyes lighting up. “Let me tell you. Andrew Garfield is like, one of my celebrity crushes and he’s cute, but there’s something about those movies that just… irks me, you know? I’m not a huge superhero fan anyway, but I definitely like the newest reboot the most.” He pauses, then adds, “Might just be because Iron Man is in it and he’s objectively the best Marvel character ever.”
“Oh God, you’re an Iron Man fan?”
“What, are you Team Cap?”
“Obviously,” says Yoongi, like it is obvious. Jeongguk begs to differ. “Steve clearly has a lot of good points about freedom, and what did you expect from Captain America? Aren’t they obsessed with freedom over there?”
“That doesn’t mean they could just kill a bunch of people and cause a bunch of damage in the name of protection,” argues Jeongguk, pouting a little. “Ugh, I can’t believe you. We can’t be friends anymore.”
“Aw, don’t be a pouty baby, Guk-ah,” laughs Yoongi, pulling himself into a sitting position and reaching out to poke Jeongguk’s cheek. The boy squawks, jerking away at the cold sensation as the ghost’s finger sinks into his cheek, and he snaps, “Don’t do that! It’s cold.”
“Not until you admit Captain America was right.”
“Never, you heathen.”
That’s how it goes for the game, which, at some point, stops becoming a game and becomes more of a real conversation, something between real friends. Jeongguk asks Yoongi about his favourite colour (black, obviously), if he had any pets (a family dog named Holly), what he’d do if he had one more day to live (apologize to his parents, apologize to Namjoon, eat a shit ton of Flaming Hot Cheetos just in time to not have to deal with the aftermath). Yoongi asks Jeongguk about the worst ghost experience he’s ever had (a four-year-old girl killed in a car accident, didn’t stop crying or asking for her mother for two weeks), his favourite singer (IU), if he wishes he couldn’t see ghosts (no, never).
It’s a lot of laughing, silly things. Jeongguk wishes he could hit Yoongi with his pillow and actually connect with something solid, but then it’s been hours and Jeongguk has the last question and. He stops giggling about his own answer to a question about the dumbest dare he ever completed (streaking across campus at two in the morning, because that somehow helped with a ghost’s unfinished business) and he thinks about what he’s really been wanting to ask this whole time.
It’s been nice to learn more, of course—he knows now that Yoongi isn’t as scary as he was at first, knows that he has a soft spot for animals and shows his love in more subtle ways because that’s how he learned from his dad. He knows that Yoongi once had pink hair, and blonde, and bright blue. He knows that Yoongi doesn’t like being dead, but he’s not angry about it anymore.
But there’s something more.
So Jeongguk quietly asks, “What happened to your brother?”
Yoongi’s sitting beside him now, back against the wall, knees pulled into his chest. He sighs, and Jeongguk is about to tell him that he doesn’t have to answer if he’s not comfortable, but then the ghost says, “When I was little, my brother was… my hero. He was only a few years older than me, but I looked up to him so much, wanted to do everything he did. He was smart, ambitious. My parents loved me, of course, but he was their golden child.”
Yoongi tips his head back against the wall, closes his eyes. It almost feels wrong to watch him in his most vulnerable moments, but Jeongguk is too busy trying to wrap his mind around the fact that Yoongi is telling him anything at all.
“He was a risk-taker, though,” continues Yoongi. “A thrill-seeker, always looking for the next big adventure. His friends were like that, too, and they spent a lot of weekends doing questionable shit because they were just… adrenaline junkies, you know? My parents tried to get him out of it, but he never listened to them. I dunno, I guess they thought separating him from his friends would help? My grandparents had a little house on the coast, not far from Ulsan and my parents sent me and him there for part of the summer after I turned thirteen.”
Jeongguk remembers, from the first list of information he’d ever made about Yoongi, that his family moved to Seoul when he was thirteen. He distinctly remembers the ghost saying my parents, no brother. His mouth feels a little dry.
“It didn’t stop him, though,” says Yoongi. “He just… made new friends. He was good at that, too, something I always admired in him. No matter where he went, everyone loved him. Anyway, I guess one afternoon he and some of the new boys he’d met decided to go out to the beach. They found a boat or something and wanted to take it out for a ride, but none of them knew what they were doing.” Yoongi finally opens his eyes and Jeongguk has to look away because he thinks he sees tears shining in them.
“He drowned,” says Yoongi, bluntly. “Some stupid accident. The boat flipped and he got trapped underneath and…” Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Yoongi shrug. He sees Yoongi wipe at his eyes, too, quickly, like he doesn’t want Jeongguk to know. “We moved to Seoul as soon as the funeral was over. I think my parents were running from it, wanting to start over, and I was fine with that. I stopped playing the piano, stopped trying to be whatever he had been even though my parents kept trying to make me into him, anyway. He was fifteen.”
For a long minute, there is nothing but silence. Jeongguk isn’t sure what to say—doesn’t know if Yoongi wants him to say anything, anyway.
And then, slowly, Jeongguk places his hand on his knee, palm up, waiting. “I wish I could touch you,” he says quietly.
Yoongi tilts his head, and Jeongguk hears him sniff, and then the ghost is moving his hand, too, hovering an inch above Jeongguk’s, palm down. “Me too,” he whispers.
“I’m sorry,” adds Jeongguk. “About your brother. About your parents. About… you. I know it doesn’t change anything.” It’s all he has—words. Jeongguk has always been better with actions, has always been better with touch, but it’s the one thing he doesn’t have with Yoongi.
And it isn’t fair.
“It’s okay, Guk-ah,” sighs Yoongi. “It’s been ten years. I like to think I’ve come to terms with it, but…” His hand twitches slightly, still hovering above Jeongguk’s. “It’s what the fight was about,” he adds. “I know I told you I didn’t remember, but I do. We were fighting about him, because we always fought about him. I resented my parents for moving us to Seoul and leaving him behind even if he was dead, and I just lost my temper with them, like always. And I needed to get drunk, needed to forget about it. And instead, I died.”
Jeongguk finally lifts his eyes from where their hands are almost touching, watching Yoongi’s face instead. It’s so open, so vulnerable. It occurs to him, suddenly, that he kind of wants to kiss Yoongi but—he can’t. Of course he can’t.
“We’ll find your body, hyung,” he says instead. “And you can be at peace, and your parents can be at peace. We’ll do it for them.”
It takes a second, but then Yoongi is looking up at him too, grinning a little crookedly. “Thanks, Guk-ah,” he says. “I guess you’re not as annoying as I originally thought you were.”
And it feels wrong, but Jeongguk giggles a little. “You’re not as much as an asshole as I thought you were,” he replies, “so we’re even.”
And then Yoongi is laughing too, and Jeongguk can’t stop giggling, and he’s never felt so warm and whole in his whole life, never felt this with a ghost before—something more, something different. He thinks he could lost in it, at least until Yoongi accidentally lowers his hand enough to touch Jeongguk’s and he lets out a shocked shriek, practically falling off the bed with how quickly he lurches sideways, and it just makes Yoongi laugh harder, and Jeongguk doesn’t have the strength to pull himself up because he’s laughing, too, and it’s. Good.
“Admission for one, please,” chirps Jeongguk, passing over the bills and receiving a plastic wristband in return, and then he’s turning toward the rest of the park and grinning a bit despite him, despite knowing what he’s here to do. He’s always liked festivals and carnivals, so he can’t deny how exciting this would be if he were actually here to ride the rides and not just investigate.
He glances over at Yoongi, giving a small nod before they head into the park. It’s already night, as that’s the only time the park is open, and it’s packed with people, which means communication will have to be to a minimum so not to draw attention to himself. He doesn’t need to get kicked out because he’s talking to air.
Even though he really wants to head for the rides or check out one of the carnival games, that’s not what he’s here to do. He’s here to find out about Yoongi, take the next step in finding the ghost’s body. They know that Yoongi was here, because his car is here, but there’s no way to know for sure where he went next, unless someone saw him.
“I don’t remember what I did here,” says Yoongi helpfully as they stand not far from the entrance. “It might be best to just… start going around to all the workers and ask?”
Jeongguk nods again, and then fishes out the picture of Yoongi that he printed off from the other’s Facebook page. Mint hair, bright eyes—he’s not smiling in it, but he doubts that Yoongi was smiling on that night, either, so it’s for the best. (He’d tried to convince Yoongi to let him print off the one of him wearing a flower in his hair, or the one of him with a hat that looked like a shark was eating his head, but Yoongi had forbidden it. He’d blushed. Jeongguk didn’t know that ghosts could blush.)
He heads for the first worker that he can see, someone selling popcorn from a little cart.
“Hi, uh,” he says. “I don’t want any popcorn, sorry, but I was wondering if you saw this man here about a week ago?” He holds up the picture of Yoongi, watches the woman examine it before shaking her head. He hadn’t expected to be so lucky.
They move to the next food cart, and then the next and the next. They move to the carnival games, to the few people walking around with brooms or other janitorial equipment. Eventually, they begin moving to the rides, trying to skirt around lines so that Jeongguk can ask again and again—have you seen this man?
The answer is always no.
“I can’t remember everyone who comes into the park, kid,” the man working at the ferris wheel says. “And if it was a whole week ago, you’re gonna have trouble finding someone who remembers him.” But—Yoongi would be memorable, because he was drunk. It would have been hard not to take notice.
Which means he wasn’t in the park, or anyone who saw him isn’t working tonight. Jeongguk can feel himself growing more and more restless with every rejection they get, mood souring as he hears a no from yet another worker and then takes to collapsing on a bench near the outskirts of the park, where it’s less packed.
Yoongi stands in front of him, arms crossed. “Chin up, Guk,” he says. “We can come back tomorrow and ask around again. We can find a manager and ask them to take my picture, set it up in some staff coffee room or something so everyone who works here is asked if they saw me.”
Jeongguk can’t help but pout a little. “But I wanted to find out tonight,” he says.
“That’s not how investigations work,” laughs Yoongi.
“Why are you finding this so funny?”
“It’s not funny. It’s just… it’s not the end of the world either. Look, I’m not going anywhere.”
Unfortunately, he has a point.
“I think we’ve run out of people to ask,” says Jeongguk, still not in a good mood, but—Yoongi is right. They can come back tomorrow. They can come back every day until they find someone who saw Yoongi, who can tell them something. If he was here, they’ll find someone who at least recognizes a drunk guy.
In the meantime—“Some of those games looked pretty cool,” says Yoongi almost conversationally, glancing over at where the park is more lit up, where the sounds and people are.
“You can’t play them, you know,” says Jeongguk, a little bitterly.
“No, but you can.” If they could touch, Jeongguk imagines Yoongi would be nudging his foot. He’d be poking Jeongguk’s cheeks, the bottom lip that’s still jutted out in a pout. Instead, he’s just standing there with his eyebrows raised. “You paid for the wristband, so you might as well use it. Besides, it sounds like you could use some fun. You’ve been running around, trying to find my body for days. I can tell you’re all wound up from stress.”
It’s like the very mention of the stress is enough to make Jeongguk realize that Yoongi is right, his shoulders a little tight, his chest a little heavy. It’s taken him much longer to finish business for a ghost, so letting loose for one night won’t be the worst thing. Besides, he does like amusement parks.
Jeongguk watches the ghost for a long moment, the way Yoongi’s face is all open and waiting and wanting. Finally, Jeongguk says, “Fine,” and tries to make it sound like Yoongi is forcing him into it as he stands up from the bench. “But only because I have really good aim and you have to see me kick ass at one of those dart games.”
“Trying to impress me, are you?” teases Yoongi, falling in step beside Jeongguk as they make their way back into the crowd, and Jeongguk is glad for the cover of night so Yoongi can’t see him blush.
“No,” he scowls, but he means to say—I suppose it doesn’t matter when you’re dead, anyway.
Five minutes later, Yoongi is doubled over laughing at the fourth dart game Jeongguk has played—and failed to win more than one of those tiny prizes that he could buy for next to nothing at a convenience store. And Jeongguk can’t even make any comments about the way the ghost is practically crying with it, making comments about how impressive it is, because the carnival worker would probably think he’s insane.
So Jeongguk just passes over a few more bills and picks up more darts.
“Guk-ah, stop,” laughs Yoongi. “I know you have this dumb pride, but you’re just blowing all of your money on some dumb game. Look, you already have like three of those little ugly things.” He points at the little stuffed animals at Jeongguk’s feet. Jeongguk resolutely ignores the ghost.
The point is to pop some balloons, the higher the score the better, and Jeongguk wants to think that maybe his aim is just off because Yoongi is standing beside him with those bright eyes and that bright smile and he’s just as distracting as he is in Jeongguk’s classes.
“If I could move things, I would pop all of the 50 point balloons for you,” says Yoongi with a smirk. “But I guess I’m just here for moral support.”
“Pretty shit moral support,” mutters Jeongguk, and the worker glances at him.
“What was that?” he asks. Jeongguk blanches.
Yoongi starts laughing, the asshole.
“Nothing,” says Jeongguk. “I was just trying to rouse up some moral support. From… myself.”
The worker, a teenage boy, just rolls his eyes. “Whatever, just throw the darts.”
Jeongguk does—this time, he gets a medium-sized toy, which is a Kumamon plushie the size of his head, and Yoongi falls suspiciously quiet for the first time when the worker hands it over to Jeongguk, who finally gives up and starts moving to the next game.
“What, don’t have anything to say about my impressive skills?” murmurs Jeongguk.
“No,” says Yoongi, bristling a little. “I just like Kumamon, that’s all.”
The boy turns his head to look at the ghost, flinching only slightly when someone walks right through Yoongi. “I’d give it to you, but you can’t hold it,” he says, and he means to make it sound like a joke but Yoongi kind of frowns at him, and… yeah. “But hey, if we find your body, you can be buried with it.”
Yoongi rolls his eyes, then nods toward a different game. “How about that one?” he asks. “It’s a two-player one, so I can totally mess with the other player and make sure you win.”
“That’s terrible,” says Jeongguk, tucking the Kumamon under his arm. “Let’s do it.”
That’s what they do—Jeongguk passes over some money to play the game, some water-shooting thing where he’s supposed to knock over more ducks than his opponent. He sits beside his opponent, a girl who can’t be much older than twelve, and he feels a little bad about it but Yoongi has this positively evil look on his face and Jeongguk has to stop himself from laughing prematurely before the game begins.
Halfway through, with Jeongguk already winning anyway, Yoongi sticks his hand into the girl’s back and she lets out a shriek, shivering hard enough that her arms jerk and the water stream moves way off target, giving Jeongguk the advantage of knocking down five extra ducks.
He wins, giggling to himself as the worker hands over a Ryan plushie—a little bigger this time—and the girl sulks as she walks away. Yoongi’s laughing again, gummy smile on display, and Jeongguk probably likes it more than he should.
Yoongi’s a ghost, he has to remind himself. Sometimes he forgets it, even if it’s the only reason they met and—it’s strange, really, to think that they likely wouldn’t have met if Yoongi hadn’t died, and the thought makes him stop laughing long enough for Yoongi to ask him what’s wrong, and then he’s brushing it off.
“Let’s go on rides,” he suggests instead, already moving away from the games.
“I don’t know if I can do that,” says Yoongi. “Riding in a car is one thing—it’s easy enough to sort of travel with it, like it locks me in there anyway. But something that’s spinning around or going upside down might not be so easy. Do you think ghosts can get hurt?”
“I don’t really want to find out,” admits Jeongguk, and then—“What about the ferris wheel?” He nods to the massive structure looming in the middle of the park. Yoongi’s face lights up.
“Extremely boring,” says the ghost, “but perfect.”
“I feel really bad about that girl,” says Jeongguk when they finally get onto the ride, bar secured over both of their laps, although it doesn’t do much for Yoongi. “She probably really wanted to win.”
“I really wanted you to win,” says Yoongi with a shrug. “If you feel that bad, go find her and give her the plushie.” Jeongguk looks over at where his two plushies—a Kumamon and a Ryan—are strapped under the bar as well. Pouts a little.
“But they’re mine,” he whines quietly.
“Then stop complaining, you big baby,” laughs Yoongi.
The ride begins moving, slowly rotating as they’re lifted higher and higher. The moon is bright above them, lights and music of the park reaching up into the sky as they move into it, too, and Jeongguk lets his head fall back for a moment, eyes closed as he enjoys the feeling of the soft breeze.
“You were right,” he says after a moment, keeping his eyes closed. “I was feeling really stressed about all of this and… this is nice.”
He can practically hear Yoongi’s smirk from here, but he peeks an eye open to see it anyway. “I told you,” says Yoongi. “I know you, Jeon Jeongguk.”
“You’ve only known me for like, a week,” argues Jeongguk as they reach the top, takes a moment to look out at the park before the ride continues.
“But I’ve spent almost every waking moment with you,” says Yoongi.
“Other than when you avoided me for those first few days.”
“Shut up,” says Yoongi, looking away, and Jeongguk can’t help but laugh, wishes he could just… lean over and put his head on Yoongi’s shoulder. He’s so close but not close enough, never close enough, and Jeongguk grabs the Kumamon plushie instead, hugging it to his chest to keep himself from doing something stupid. “I was just confused and upset.”
“Lots of ghosts are,” admits Jeongguk. “I can’t blame you.”
“You really should thank Jimin, though,” adds Yoongi. “He told me about… like, everything, I guess. How you invest so much of yourself in the ghosts, how you’ve failed a lot of classes because of it. You shouldn’t do that, Guk.”
Jeongguk hugs the plushie a little harder, sets his chin on it as he looks out at the park instead of looking at Yoongi. “I can’t help it,” he says quietly. “It’s my job to help them and I just… I feel really bad when they’re here longer than they need to me. I can’t imagine it’s very nice to have to know that you’re dead and you can’t touch anything or say anything to the people you really care about anymore.”
“Yeah, it does suck. But it’s… not as bad as you might think, you know. I think I came to terms with it quickly enough. There’s nothing I can do about it, so there’s no point in being hung up on the dead part.”
After a moment, Yoongi adds, “You’re really kind, you know that?”
“I really mean it, Guk-ah,” and Jeongguk finally dares to peek over at him, at the way Yoongi is looking at him, like—the ride comes to a halt, their car at the very top. Someone at the bottom is being let off, being let on. “You have a good heart. I wouldn’t want anyone else helping me with this impossible mission.” He reaches out a bit, like he wants to touch Jeongguk, maybe his cheek or his head or something and. He can’t. Because he’s a ghost, but he’s something more, always has been.
Yoongi is… an enigma in some ways. He has walls that he puts up sometimes, looks intimidating and is entirely too distracting and Jeongguk was terrified of him for days, before he realized that Yoongi is actually a big, dumb dork. He’s soft, has a bleeding heart for animals, likes plushies and Disney movies and never steps on the cracks in sidewalks because of that rhyme about breaking his mother’s back. He’s mischievous and beautiful and dead, and Jeongguk likes him so, so much.
Jeongguk sucks in a quiet breath at the realization. He likes him like he didn’t like Taehyung, like he’s never liked a ghost before. He always likes the ghosts, of course, but this is something else. This is something soft and growing in the pit of his stomach, something heady and quiet and whispering about what could have been, maybe. Something that makes him want to kiss Yoongi, death be damned. He can’t do it, but—he would.
And he knows he’s supposed to say something now, something that isn’t just, I think I’m in love with you and your dead heart and maybe mine can beat for both of us, but then he takes a moment to look out at the landscape instead, because they might as well be at the top of the world, and maybe that will put it all into perspective.
That’s when he sees it—the lake.
“Guk-ah?” asks Yoongi, but Jeongguk doesn’t quite hear him—or he hears him but he doesn’t think about it, because he’s busy staring at the lake. It’s not a big lake, nestled in the middle of all of those trees that stretch out for miles and miles, illuminated only by the moon. It has to be less than a mile from the park, quiet and still and just there.
He’s busy thinking about… Yoongi’s car, stashed in those very trees, empty and alone. He’s busy thinking about a park full of employees that don’t recognize Yoongi, who have never seen him before even though his memory and the car places him here.
He’s busy thinking about the first time he saw Yoongi, about every time after that, and even though Yoongi is kind of just looking at him with a puzzled expression, Jeongguk can’t comprehend that. He just looks at Yoongi’s hair.
Yoongi’s hair, which is… wet. Which has always been wet, because ghosts who die from injuries keep them, and ghosts who die from an illness keep that, too, and ghosts who drown—
“Hello?” asks Yoongi, snapping his fingers in front of Jeongguk’s face. “You in there, bunny?”
Jeongguk finally snaps out of it, just a little, eyes flickering down to Yoongi’s eyes and he blinks and. “Yeah, sorry,” he says hurriedly, trying to laugh a little as the ferris wheel finally whirls into motion again, bringing them down and down and away from the lake, and Jeongguk looks out at it again, just in case, and.
That’s where Yoongi is. Somehow, he just knows. That’s where Yoongi’s body is.
Which—should be a good thing. It’s the next step. Finding Yoongi’s body is what he’s supposed to do, but he thinks about finding his body, thinks about Yoongi turning to him with that look that the ghosts always get. Thinks about Yoongi saying goodbye, thinks about blinking and Yoongi just being gone, like Taehyung and every ghost before him.
And he can’t do that. Jeongguk can’t do that. Not when he thinks about Yoongi’s gummy smile, too, and thinks about the sound of his laughter, and thinks about all of his teasing and the way he gently reminds Jeongguk to eat when it’s been a long day of classes.
They get off of the ferris wheel, Jeongguk in a bit of a daze as Yoongi suggests they find another ride to go on. Jeongguk suddenly feels a little light-headed.
“Sorry, hyung, I actually feel a bit sick,” he says, and it’s not really a lie, offering the ghost an apologetic grin as he clutches his dumb plushies. “Is it okay if we head home instead?”
And Yoongi—Yoongi is so good, nodding immediately and asking him what it feels like, if Jeongguk has medication in his dorm or if they need to stop somewhere on the way home, and Jeongguk feels like he’s going to cry, suddenly, which he can’t do because then Yoongi will ask what’s wrong and that will just make it worse.
He’s in love with a fucking ghost.
There’s something about luck there, or—unluck. Something about irony.
When they get back to Jeongguk’s dorm, Jeongguk climbs under the covers and he wishes, wishes, wishes that Yoongi didn’t just have to lay beside him on top of the covers and talk about things in a low murmur as a way to help him sleep. Jeongguk holds the Kumamon plushie instead, pretends that it’s enough as Yoongi gently lulls him to sleep with talk of what they’ll do tomorrow and the next day and the next and it’s not fair, it’s not fair.
At some point, he feels himself shiver a little, but he’s too far gone to wonder why, to wonder if Yoongi has given in, too, touching him just once because some part of him feels it, too—
Almost. It’s always almost.