Chapter 1: Taste of Glory
ONCE YOU GET A TASTE OF GLORY , you never let go of the fame.
Jeon Jeongguk had his taste of glory. He basked in the light of fame ever since he was younger, winning underground matches as a young, aspiring fighter. He grew up with his knuckles bruised, wrapped in layers of cloth. Fight after fight, victory after victory; his calloused fingers and scars across his cheek were raw proof of what he’d gone through as a child. The road he’d paved himself was not an easy one. It was painful, capped with loss after loss. His mother had overdosed when he was a child. He’d ran away from home after she passed, a part of him torn out, leaving him unknowing of who he was.
He kept on running and running, until his legs grew weak and his limbs grew limp. At the age of eleven, while walking in the dark streets of Busan, with nothing to protect himself, he was jumped. They stripped him of all of his dignity, his cash, what was left of his mother; a photo of him and her. He lost every aspect of himself that day, and what he was left with was the bitter tang of blood on his tongue. Before the final gang member could leave; the one that took the photo of himself and his mother, he threw his first fist. A hard-hitting one, against the young boy’s nose.
The impact was so brutal that blood gushed out. A loud scream was drawn from him. Jeon Jeongguk ripped the photo from the boy’s hands, stuffed it into the back pocket of his jeans and ran away.
Realizing there was a way to work out his confusion, his anger, his sadness, he slipped into a local ring bar with intent. He pressed his pure-skinned hands against the side of the ring, and he’d watched, with wide, round eyes. Those were the last few moment’s held held onto any sense of innocence. He felt his heart thrumming with the call of the adrenaline he’d witnessed between the woman who had maneuvered her way underneath the thrown punch of the older man. How her eyes were sharp, focused, calculating. She was fighting with her mind. She wasn’t playing his game. She was making her own.
He’d sought her out after her fight. It was difficult to locate her, through the many people that crowded the ring, and her, after her fight. She seemed well-acquainted with the people who frequented the sidelines, as well as the people who ran the place, smiling at the bartenders, but also able to hold her head high amongst the gazes of hungry men.
He finally caught up to her, grabbing her arm roughly. “Teach me,” he pleaded, when she’d turned defensively, to look at him. Her eyes were angry at first, at his unwarranted roughness, but they’d softened upon she realized that he wasn’t too much of a threat, especially to a fighter like her.
At first, she was skeptical. After all, what was an eleven-year old boy doing, out on the dark corners of the streets, at this time, all alone? “What’s your name?” she asked, with a voice that was light and sweet. He remembered wondering how a kind woman like her could throw a strike that hard.
“Jeongguk,” he responded. “Can you teach me how to fight?”
A sudden laugh escaped her lips at his assertiveness. “Honey, here. I’ll give you a tip. It’s not about the physical game. It’s about the tells. Find your opponent’s tell, and punish them after, for being so darn obvious.” Her smile was so radiant. Jeongguk felt himself smile too. “Come on, little one. Let’s get you a place to stay for the night, and tomorrow, I can show you how to fight. Okay?”
“Okay!” He grabbed her hand and felt a slight skip to his step as he trailed her to the exit of the ring bar.
She liked to call herself Jane. She was twenty. And she became his big sister. Asides from teaching him how to work a rival in the ring, she took him around town, showing him all of the best places to pick fights, to grab food, to rest. They spent a lot of nights, sleepless, as they sat atop of the roof of her small apartment. She’d talk about her woes, how she’d ended up as a fighter herself.
“My dad owns a bar a few streets down. He’s involved in dirty stuff. Mafia leaders, things like that, so I’ve always been in this kind of environment. He got into a little money trouble a few years ago, so I had too find a way to make my own money,” she explained, leaning against the tiled rooftop. “Since I knew a thing or two about fighting, it was the easiest thing I could have done, in my situation. I took a lot of blows, but I’m good now. In time, I’ll have enough money to study. Fighting isn’t my endgame. Going to school, getting a normal job is. You understanding me, Ggukkie?” She glanced over at him amusedly.
His mouth was gaped at her long story. He nodded, but didn’t actually quite understand what she was saying.
Until it hit.
Like she’d said, fighting wasn’t her life’s goal. It was a “blip” in her long term plans, as she’d liked to call it. After two years, she’d given up day fights, grabbing a job in the nearest diner. And after another year, she was a student in a local college. While Jeongguk continued to thrive in the ring, she’d found purpose elsewhere. And after a while, she visited less. He’d invited her to various fights he’d grasped victory from, but she rarely showed.
When he turned fifteen, he realized that he couldn’t depend on her any longer. With one hand serving plates in the restaurant, the other gripping at a pen as she took notes in school, he was back to where he’d started. Alone, on the streets. Except he was sharper. Better. More confident.
Despite the fact that he’d gotten much better at survival, at beating people to get his pay, he felt lonely. He’d looked at guys his age. Girls his age. But every time they found out that he was a dirty street fighter, they’d show up less and less, too. So he stopped trying to form emotional bonds with others. Relationships became nothing more than a way to get extra cash at that point. Jeongguk stopped leaning onto people for support, realizing that, like his mother, like Jane, people were coming and going. Ephemeral figures in his life. His sole dependency was now on fight. He knew he could fight forever, unlike Jane. He liked knowing that he was becoming the best at something he once was clueless at. Street fighting could have been his forever.
He learned a few lessons, growing up as a street fighter.
The first was to keep his knuckles sealed. A lot of the better, stronger and more experienced fighters had things like steel knuckles or gloves tailored to fit them; with designs that branded who they were, establishing their dominance over the rings. A rookie like him stuck to simple cloth wrap, twisted over his knuckles, his palm about seven times to provide ample cushioning for when he would fight. If you didn’t keep your knuckles sealed, you’d end up breaking your hand, or having your knuckles busted open; which wasn’t the best thing, considering that once you were in, you were in. There was no time to rest wounds.
The second was to bid smart. Jeongguk was broke, coming into all of it. He couldn’t raise stakes, so he had to start from the bottom, bidding about 21,000 won, while his opponent, smugly, had put up 100,000 won, thinking that he would win it. To his luck, he was able to outwit the bigger man. Jeongguk took a nasty jab to his stomach, with a steel knuckle, but he recovered after doubling over in pain. He took the 100,000 won, bid half of it in his next fight and kept on repeating the cycle until he was making millions.
The last was to never accept drinks from opponents. When he was fifteen, he’d won a match against an older boy, who had then offered to buy a drink for him. Jeongguk accepted like an idiot, and he woke up the next day, robbed of what money he’d earned the night before, with his shoes off and a grotesque image scrawled on his forehead with permanent marker.
Needless to say, life on the streets was difficult. It was hard enough for those who lived in the area, but being someone who put his life on the line every day to get high off of an adrenaline rush and to earn money for himself; he’d realized early on, that it was a hell of a life to live.
But things twisted for the better, when he’d been scouted out.
It was at the age of sixteen, when a man in a sharp coat had approached him with intent, his eyes hooded underneath golden-rimmed glasses. He’d sat Jeongguk down on a bench, as he patted the sweat from his neck using his towel. He’d taken a blow that evening, so he didn’t quite remember much, but that was the night that the man had offered to manage him professionally, as a boxer, for leagues that weren’t underground. Leagues that would later earn him a lot of money. Given his lean physique, but not-too-bulky muscles then, he was initially fit for flyweight, but when he debuted as a professional, after months of bodybuilding and intense training, he’d been sorted into light welterweight. His opponents, given the files he’d seen, were just the same height and physique as him, which he wasn’t used to. On the streets, division lines were as blurred as a drunken man’s vision.
When he hit the age of eighteen, he was invited to compete internationally, rather than just in Korea. He grew famous overnight, as soon as he was announced.
To put it frankly, Jeongguk grew addicted to the fame he’d developed as a boxer. He was young. He was attractive. He was filthy rich. And by filthy; yes, the money he’d earned was from throwing closed-fist punches at men who were ten times his size, overcoming this gap using sharp wit and a fiery grit. Being a hard worker was an understatement, most would have said about him. Jeongguk had a right to hold his head high. He practiced seven hours a day, and during his sleepless nights, he’d unlock the door to the gym and he’d do reps after reps until he collapsed. His manager would find him, passed out in the morning, a stern look of disapproval on his face.
“Take care of yourself. You’re only nineteen,” Manager Na would tell him, his lips drawn into a straight line.
Jeongguk would place his arm over his eyes, blocking out the face of disapproval, and the hazing brightness of the sun, rays seeping from the clear windows. “I’m tired,” would be his response. His manager wouldn’t push, knowing very well that his star fighter’s work ethic was something to be proud of. He would simply straighten his pale-colored tie and exit the studio. Minutes later, Jeongguk would go to the small kitchen, make himself a protein shake; which, admittedly, wasn’t his favorite thing to drink, considering the bitter taste of raw protein and vegetables. He’d go to the bathroom, shower, brush his teeth, and he’d be out of the gym by about ten, ready to tackle press for his upcoming fight.
The next fight was a major one. He knew that he should have remained humble about it, especially since he was against a foreign fighter this time, from the United States, but in his interview, he’d given quite the show about how he would win the fight. His manager never scolded him for those things, but this time, his eyebrows knitted in a way that told Jeongguk that bragging had been the worst idea in the situation. After a few replays of his opponent’s previous matches, he realized the same thing. Despite being the best in Korea, in his division, there would always be someone to one-up him.
Before the fight, he made sure to warm himself up to the best possible condition. He’d jogged two miles before the fight, sparing a lot of his breath, thanks to his good cardiovascular endurance. He’d seeked on a good pre-game routine, ever since his first international fight, where he’d been caught cold; which was a term that referred to when a fighter would nearly pass out early on in the game as a result of having no warm up. He knew that he had to keep his physical state and mental state in check, so he always listened to music.
Thirty minutes before the game, when he felt that he’d worked out his jitters, he would put on his earphones, lean his head against his folded legs, and he would listen. Jeongguk would find himself so lost in the music, that his manager would have to unplug the earphones from his ears to get him out of it.
Unlike what he’d thought, all passed by quickly.
The first quarter was easy for him. He was always at his peak performance at the beginning and at the end of the matches, fuelled with a powerful spirit and adrenaline. He was quick on his feet, ducking underneath thrown jabs and strikes. Jeongguk managed a powerful left hook, followed by a sharp cuff to his opponent’s temple, causing a sharp wheeze to leave his torn lip. They’d also managed to bump their heads against each other’s, when they both went for forward lunges, causing the referee to blow the whistle.
“Parker and Jeon engage in an accidental butt. The referee,” the announcer commentates, as they are pulled apart for a brief while, “has determined that it is an accident. Play on!” He says with a bravado that sets Jeongguk’s bones to fire. He hops on the toes of his feet, bringing his gloved fists to his face, ready to get back in.
Then when the final quarter strung around, all he could remember was how he was hit, hard, in the jaw. How he’d stumbled backwards, into the back of the ring, where he’d closed his eyes for the briefest moment, willing all of his mind to put his body into the work and condition he’d been building up to for so long. Jeongguk had experienced a surge of energy all of a sudden, his fists curling tightly. When he’d opened his eyes, he managed to duck a left hook. Focus on the tells, he reminded himself.
Jeongguk knew that Parker was faded; his breaths erratic despite his attempts to steady them. He knew Parker’s tells by the fourth quarter too.
Jeongguk always knew his opponent’s tells during the final quarter, perfected the study of such; which was why the fourth was his loaded gun.
He knew that every time his opponent stepped forward with his left heel up, he would go for a swift right hook. When he stepped back with left heel down, he was going to throw his arms up for a defense. And so with his eyes on his opponent’s heel, he caught sight of his fist before he threw it. Jeongguk dipped his head back, twisted on his right foot and threw the strongest fist he could, to his fellow boxer’s jaw sending him staggering back. He was surprised himself, when he watched his opponent’s eyes roll into the back of his head. Blood slid down Parker’s jaw, where a cut had blossomed, so gruesome and vibrant red against his tanned skin.
“Knock out!” The announcer yelled, his voice booming through the speakers all throughout the arena. It didn’t quite register for the first minute or so, but he’d won. He felt his manager’s hand against his back, slapping against his bare skin with approval. The referee strode over to his side, with the gold-embedded belt. He took Jeongguk’s wrist and held it up, to signify that he was the winner.
He barely caught sight of his rival, who was being helped onto a carrier. He would have been worried, but he was swept away in the curse of fame. He felt his lips curl into a wide smile as he revelled in the crowd’s roar; the flash of the cameras, as he basked in the attention.
Indeed, once he tasted glory, he never got enough of the fame.
That was, until he found the newspaper the week after.
Jeongguk had been working out, when Manager Na entered the gym, plopping the newspaper on the floor beside him, as he was doing planks. He thought about ignoring it, continuing his work out, but his manager didn’t budge, standing there, his foot tapping against the wooden floor impatiently. So he dropped to his stomach and took the papers in his hands. At the sight of the words printed in bold, capital letters, he felt his stomach churn. He could already tell that his life was going to go to rotten shit.
Jeon Jeongguk on Steroids? Did the world champion fight with his fists… Or his pills?
“I’m not on steroids,” he said, looking up at Manager Na. There was no way he’d ever turn to steroids. He was raised underneath self-control and integrity to what he loved doing; fighting. He also hated drugs, or anything related to them. With his mother’s overdose being an open wound, left unhealed, and the many times he’d been drugged and stolen from, popping pills of any sorts was not something he’d ever turn to, even in desperate times,
The man in front of him nodded, but his face remained impassive, unsympathetic. “Take a test so we can put these rumors to the rest, then.”
“I’m not going to take a fucking test, Na. I’m not on steroids. People are just.... Bored. They’re not true.” He felt pissed off for no reason. He looked at the photo of him, his hand held up high to celebrate his victory. At the large red cross that was drawn over his face. “There’s no way.” he murmured after a short moment, to himself.
“Fine. Then what do you want to do?”
“Let the rumors fly.”
Except, the rumors didn’t just fly. They ascended. They took over every news channel, every newspaper. He’d ignored all of it, until one day, he’d left his house, and reporters were strewn all over his lawn, holding large black cameras. In the dark of the evening, the flash of their devices stung his eyes, so he only tugged his hood down further over his face and held back from making any sharp remark.
“What steroids were you taking?”
“So many people looked up to you! Why would you break your integrity all of a sudden?”
“Was your entrance just a stage? Were you really an underground boxer?”
“What brought on your insecurity? Why would you take pills to win?”
Jeongguk knew he shouldn’t have made a statement, but it slipped out. “I’m not taking steroids,” he said, as he shoved past them, into his car. And he drove around and around the whole day, until he found himself back in the streets he’d grown up in.
The streets were dark, very much like the day he'd first stumbled into the small corner of the town. Even in the dying sunlight, the edges of the road were caressed with shadows that seemed to grasp onto every building. He didn't realize how insignificant this place would have appeared to another man. Trash littered the side of the roads, the buildings looking ancient, especially in the sun's golden light. To one, garbage. To him, it was once treasure.
After allowing himself to drive mindlessly for a few more minutes, he finally parked his car outside of the ring bar he’d frequented the most, which, by then, had become more worn down. It was the ring bar, Flipside . The one he'd first fought in. Where he'd first found his love for fighting. Where he was knocked down time after time until he was able to turn the tables, able to dodge and be the one on top.
Jeongguk shook his head, ridding of all of the stirring emotions in his gut. He stuffed his keys into his front pocket and he walked in, his head underneath the hood of his jacket.
He wasn’t surprised, when he sat down on the counter of the bar, and the television was playing the news about him and the rumors that he was on steroids. He wasn’t surprised, either, when after ordering a drink, he was yanked from his seat, thrown onto the floor. He landed on his back with a thud, his head spinning with dizziness. He blinked up at his assaulter, and found a familiar face staring down at him.
His features were as wicked as ever. His lips bared into a snarl. It was his last opponent in the ring bar, as an ameteur street fighter, the night he’d gotten recruited as a real, professional boxer. Jeongguk knew that he was in a bad situation, especially since he’d snatched a lot of cash from the man many years ago, the number of zeroes on the check handed being more than a few. “If it isn’t the fucking baby-face,” he grit out, his eyes crinkling at the edges. He let out something that sounded in between a bark and a laugh. “Steroids, huh? Looks like you aren’t shit after all.”
“Funny, Bruce. As always,” he deadpanned in response. His brave tongue got him nowhere. Just a swift kick to the ribs, the contact making him wheeze in agonizing pain. Jeongguk closed his eyes and laughed. “S...Same old dirty p...player… Huh?” he let out, in an airless voice.
Bruce leaned down, his face inches from Jeongguk’s own. He sat on his haunches, licking his lips as if he was getting off from this. Knowing the kind of sicko Bruce was, Jeongguk knew that he was probably turned on at the very sight of his pained expression. “Brave, coming from you, pills . How does it feel? Being a dirty player? Actually… We’re not the same. I play by the rules, sure, in a more bloody way, but at least I don’t have to drug myself to be good at it.” He snorted out, and continued, “Anyway. Why are you here? Not enough ass back in the big leagues to keep ya going?”
Jeongguk knew he was in a bad predicament. He should’ve answered his manager’s calls when he had the chance to. He should have turned around from this place. He was on top, now. He had no clue why he’d even thought of coming back to a place like this. “Ungh…” he mumbled. Straighten up, idiot , he thought to himself. “A... Always picking on me. It’s been three years.”
“Cute. Now shut the fuck up. You know you took more money from me than what was promised. I want it back.” Bruce gripped his chin tight, jolting his face so far to the right that Jeongguk opens his eyes. “Write me a fucking check. Give me a credit card. Cash. I don’t care. You owe me that money, you piece of shit. If you don’t, just know that I will find you. I have men now. We will find you and make you pay .”
Jeongguk opened his mouth, pretending to consider. But he only struck upwards with his elbow, jabbing into Bruce’s face with ease and practice. He leaped onto his toes and sprinted out of the bar. He was stopped when he bumped into somebody. He caught them before they fell.
He stared at her, for a long while. Her eyes were wide, her jaw dropped at the sight of him. “I have to go,” he breathed out, before releasing her and sprinting off.
He dashed to his car, where he turned on the engine and stepped on the pedal.
[06:15PM] MANAGER NA
17 missed calls
He ignored the calls. The sound of his phone ringing, vibrating against the seat beside him.
And he drove.
Chapter 2: Chaos ordered, order chaotic
! mentions of self-harm
THE UNIVERSE IS CHAOS ORDERED.
There’s a structure to the universe, but inside of that structure, everything is chaotic.
Amongst that chaos lies a rainy afternoon.
The soft pitter-patter of water droplets against the ground is a sound that most city-dwellers of Seoul have learned to ignore. Instead, the prominent ambiance that surrounds the city is a buzz that sounds of business and pleasure. By day, it was the central for work. Businessmen were strewn over the streets, lapsing into long lines outside of the buildings. And by night, in the deepest corners of the urban area, a night’s sentence to pleasure, punctuated by the clink of a beer glass against another.
It was late in the afternoon when Park Jimin stepped outside of the car assigned to him, a sleek black limousine that stretched a distance back. He’d lived such a different life than his father, who was in the city; a busy businessman making money, striving to create his impact on the business sector of South Korea. Jimin resided in the outskirts, more specifically, down in Busan, where he was a dancer, taking a more liberal route as compared to the one his father had wanted for him.
He would have been content with dancing forever, but he’d gone a bit flat in terms of his income a month back, when the last dance studio in his town shut down due to a lack of students coming in. His job as a dance instructor was ripped and pried away in a matter of hours, and he found himself despondently staring at the contents of his bank account. His father told him that he could always ask for money; they didn’t have a bad relationship, in contrary to a lot of other father-son relationships he’s heard of from his friends back in high school. His father, although slightly disappointed, learned to accept his passion as a dancer. He knew he had to set aside his pride this time, so he decided that, perhaps, dance was a hobby and not an actual job. He would give the business a try.
The meeting with his father had gone decently well. The business itself wasn’t bad either. Jimin had expected so much worse of the building and the work situation. He’d expected constricted work cells and rows of desks, but the workplace was airy, with nature spread around and spacious stalls for all. The schedule his father set aside for him was, too, accommodating of his wishes to pursue dance in the city.
In the chaos of the universe, he found order.
But this order had been only a facade, shifting back into the mess known as chaos once more; in his case, in a mere matter of milliseconds that afternoon.
Leaving the building, he listened to the rain, rather than the city’s sounds. He didn’t hear the sound of the car as it neared him. His senses didn’t seem to register the bright lights, the sound of wheels screeching against asphalt, until he felt his soul rip from his body.
Jimin had watched, as his limp body skid across the roof of the car.
Chaos, ordered. Order, chaotic.
That was the end of Park Jimin, the dreamer. And the phoenix that should have risen from the ashes was no phoenix. He’d woken up from his bed after a week-long coma, to find that he couldn’t move his legs. The moment he’d realized what had become of him, he knew that he’d cried. He’d yelled. He’d thrashed on the bed, but it was so sickening to watch, as his legs did not move once.
The first three months were the months where he’d most felt like himself. The doctors had deduced, after a few examination tests, that he could potentially regain the loss of nerves in his legs. It would take more than eight months to do so, but if he kept up a physical regime based off of a doctor’s recommendation and focused all of his energy into recovery, the time would fly by in no time. Jimin agreed, being optimistic of this recovery.
At the end of the first month, he’d gained feeling in his right foot. Although slight, the doctors were pleased to have heard of his recovery and how he was moving so quickly.
But as it marked his first, it marked his last.
Around his third month, he stopped trying. He lapsed into a state of depression, finding himself staring a little longer than he should have at the rows of bottles of pills in the cabinet. There were days wherein he would find himself pouring those pills into his hands, poised and ready to accept the fact that it was over. But he couldn’t. He would end up spilling the pills onto the floor, placing his head in his hands instead. He would cry and cry until his nurses would come into the room to calm him down.
There was a deep void within him that had been created as a result of the car accident. Ever since he lost such a huge part of himself, a sinister thing had slithered into his soul. His heart grew rotten. His attitude was sharp. And day by day, he deteriorated further, despite his father’s attempts to get him to motivate himself. Therapist after therapist, attempt after attempt; he’d only shut down every try his father had tried and this only shoved him down deeper and deeper into the darkness.
His whole life, dance had been the reason. To wake up. To work. To go to school. And at some times, he found it difficult to breathe. And dance… Being able to dance had cleared his mind of the stress, the worries that he’d been so fearful to face. But now, in the face of physical adversity, it was ironic, how what he lost was the only thing that could set him free. He was trapped in this hell. It would keep on building up inside of him until one day, he’d just… Implode.
By the fifth month, his father wasn’t visiting as much as he did before, instead sending more therapists his way. He’d drop the occasional call now and then, but he’d grown detached. When he was younger, he’d gone to his father to tell him that he was going to pursue dance. His father was supportive, despite having different, hopeful plans. But after the accident, it was as if his father couldn’t bear to see him, probably realizing that the only thing his son was good at was now stripped away from him; leaving him in a state that was as good as dead.
Jimin had grown bitter of his life. He was once nice. With a cheerful and optimistic personality that was admired by his peers. He was hopeful, with a work-ethic that was beyond enviable. But like most of himself, he’d changed after he’d lost the feeling in his legs. His temper grew short, his jokes were suddenly disturbing and self-deprecating; and it was to a whole new level. His nurses, save for one, had all quit by then, not knowing how much longer they could handle underneath his scrutiny and painful attitude. Only Minseok was left, a kind young man that made no attempt, unlike the others, to give him false hope.
And for the help sent over to him, he’d been brutal.
“Hello Jimin,” the seventh therapist sat down in front of him, clasping her hands together and putting on a smile. “What are you feeling?”
“Well,” he began, with a long, drawn-out sigh. “Well, doctor, certainly not my legs.”
The look on the therapist’s face was priceless. She leaned back, her mouth gaping slightly with a dumbstruck expression that only further exemplified how crude his remark had been and only further boosted the demons living within Jimin. On his wheelchair, he saluted. “Good talk.”
After a while, the flow of therapists had stopped arriving his way, too. It was only left to him in Minseok, in the disabled-friendly house his father had built for him.
The house was simple, modern and not too shabby. Instead of stairs, there were ramps that led up to the next floor. It was three floors, to be exact. The lowest was the basement floor, where the gym, medical supplies and anything related to recovery were. The main floor was where his room was, along with the kitchen and a grand living room that could have accommodated twenty families, but was always so despondently left unoccupied. And the final floor was for guest rooms, usually for the nurses that had worked for them before, or overnight therapists, or doctors visiting to study his case.
Although the home could have been perfect for friends to visit, for people to hold parties in; for Jimin to have fun in, he never quite did enjoy himself in it alongside the company of others. His friends from Busan visited often, during the beginning of his journey to recovery, but after he’d given up on himself, they’d seemed to give up too. And one by one, they started to stop visiting, making up excuses that he saw right through. And one by one, they all vanished from his life forever, going as far as to unfriend him on Facebook; disassociating themselves from him permanently. If he weren’t so depressed about his life, he would have felt offended, but given the way he thought, it was fuel to further his self-hatred.
It was a house built specifically for a person with a disability. If he weren’t so infatuated with the interior design and architecture, Jimin would have felt a great distaste for his home.
And a home it did become. He’d fallen into a routine of waking up at four in the morning. Minseok was never awake, and a small part of Jimin still hoped, despite the anger he’d so often expressed at the world. He sat there for an hour, trying to move anything, but nothing would ever come. So came the consolation of the sunrise. His bed was positioned across of a panel of glass, leading onto a pretty garden-like view. And he would watch the sun rise past the foliage on the porch, until it wasn’t visible anymore, the only trace being the spread of light that fell upon the furniture in his room.
At seven, Minseok would come in, give a bright remark and would help him onto the wheelchair. Thus, the day begun. He would spend most of his time watching the news, or reading books, or studying whatever fun, statistical spreadsheets his father would send over for his amusement. Then the doctor would come, do a check up, give him a list of exercises for him to try over the week. Once the doctor left, Jimin would crumple the paper, set it on fire and toss it into a metal trash can. All theatrics, but all fun.
Other times, he would look at himself in the mirror. He would look at himself, then laugh at himself, then he would get mad at himself. During the seventh month, he dyed his hair blond. He had no purpose when doing so, but after a while, he dyed it back to black. Those were the days he spent in confusion at himself; the person he’d become as a result of this mess. He wondered, for a very brief while, if he had done the exercises since the beginning, would he have been better?
It’s the eighth month now. Ever since the sixth month has passed, the only surviving companion was Minseok.
Minseok came from Busan, too. He was four years older than Jimin and was a senior in their high school, while Jimin was a freshman. When he showed up as a job applicant, Jimin had recalled the many times he’d interacted with Minseok a few years back, remembering that he’d been nothing but purely kind, yet he’d held himself firm against the social pressures of adolescence. He told his father that he wanted Minseok as his nurse. Minseok showed up, and they’d immediately clicked, which was a relief to his father, who’d nearly fallen into the belief that Jimin was socially hopeless.
The two of them are sat around the pool table the same morning as when the doorbell rang.
Minseok sets down his cue stick and moves around to get ahold of the wheelchair. He wheels Jimin up the ramp, into the living room, where he sits and waits, as Minseok answers the door. Jimin peers past the nurse to find a very young boy, in dark clothing, with a suitcase and a duffel bag. It takes Jimin a few slow moments to realize who it was, and when he does, he feels his stomach churn with discomfort.
He’s seen Jeon Jeongguk on television a few times. He was a boxer. His body was toned, muscular and the basic epitome of physical fitness. To be frank, Jimin was once quite the fan. He used to stay in, watching Jeongguk knock people over the head with his gloved fists. And occasionally, he’d find himself scrolling through google images of the fine ass specimen . But that was before. Now, with Jeongguk right on his doorstep, the appeal was all lost.
The last thing Jimin hears about is a scandal with steroids. Which probably explains why he’s not on his victory tour, after beating the United States welterweight competitor for his age group. Steroids, Jimin thinks, is a funny thing to be accused of. He could have taken a drug test to defer all of the accusations made, but strangely enough, Jeongguk never did.
After a few minutes of discussion, Minseok steps back into the house and walks over to where he’s placed. Jeongguk follows, dropping his stuff by the door. Minseok leans close and says, “your father sent him. He’s here to be a physical therapist, or trainer of some sorts,” he explains, looking already-worried about how Jimin would react.
Jimin, truthfully, is not too upset, but is also annoyed at the same time. Especially as to why Jeon Jeongguk is doing whatever he’s doing. Jimin is frank, when Jeongguk sits down on the couch in front of his wheelchair. “So. Am I your charity case now? Since, you know, it must weigh a ton on your conscience, to have cheated in an international match.” He raises his brow at the boy sitting across of him. He feels Minseok’s arm tighten around his shoulder warningly. “That’ll be all, Minseok. I’ll talk to him on my own .”
Jeongguk looks over him, probably to register whatever look is on Minseok’s face. But he hears the footsteps retreating after a moment’s hesitation. They’re left alone, in the dimly-lit living room.
“You’re right about this being related to the steroid issue, but I’m only here out of hiding. I figured that I’d put myself to good use while the news speculates,” he replies safely, yet his eyes are holding a challenge. “I’d appreciate it if you weren’t as difficult as your father made you out to be.”
Jimin laughs at that, because he’s never heard of such a request from someone assigned to him. They’d always been twisted by his words, compliant until they broke. He was going to have fun breaking Jeongguk, he really was. “How much did he pay you? Huh? I’m sure it must have been a briefcases’ worth of cash, if you’re so desperate to make this work.” He leers at Jeongguk, who remains unaffected by his spite.
“First of all, I took this job for free. Since you’re seated a level below me, and circumstances provided, you are a physical level below me right now, you must know that people like me; professional athletes, earn a lot. I don’t need money. Second,” he speaks wryly, blatantly without remorse, “I’m not desperate to make this work. On the other hand, however, you seem desperate to make your own legs work, considering how you haven’t told your father that you didn’t want any help, straight to his face.
“You still have a lot of hope for yourself, even if you want to pretend like you’re an asshole about it. I see a big living room in your home, but you probably never have any friends over.” Jeongguk leans forward, his eyes holding nothing but a lack of regard for him. “You drive everybody away, thinking that they’d hold their ground and fight for you. But I’m going to tell you, right now, Park Jimin. Once you cross a line. Once you try to drive me away, or out me, or do whatever shitty things you like to do to console yourself; I’m not going to fight for you.”
Jimin would have laughed then. But he doesn’t. He only sits, staring at Jeongguk, who’s clearly a different entity of some sorts. He doesn’t let Jimin’s disability deter him from giving the truth on a plate. That’s the thing. Jeon Jeongguk serves him the truth. Not on a silver spoon. Nor on a silver platter.
He knows that Jeongguk isn’t lying, either, about not fighting for him. He’s definitely aware of the fact that Jeongguk could as easily leave the house right now, unbothered, with enough cash to last him ten lifetimes over. But the fact that he stays, his body leaned forward, his eyes dark, sharp and threatening, tells Jimin that, perhaps, this time, he could make leeway for change.
There’s still the bitter hole inside of him that wants to eat the hope that Jeongguk has pointed out, remaining in the deepest corners of his heart; but Jimin doesn’t want to succumb to it any longer. He doesn’t like the feeling of being so easily pried apart like this. The way Jeongguk spoke was brutal, with a lack of attachment, empathy and sympathy. His analysis was therapist-like, but he wasn’t a therapist. Indeed, Jimin thinks, he could try this time.
So he leans back, creasing his eyebrows to appear as if he were giving Jeongguk’s words a careless thought. And in a way, he does toss the idea of having Jeon Jeongguk, who is one of the best athletes of their generation, train him. He also plays with the fact that Jeon Jeongguk is easy on the eyes, unlike most of his elderly therapists who wore their frown lines a little far too deep. After another nonsensical, false moment of self-debating, he claps. Jeongguk narrows his eyes slightly.
“Cool. Really cool, Mr. Jeon. Jeongguk. I really appreciate the mile-long speech but there’s no need for such grim words. Here, let’s strike up a deal. I,” he offers, with a shit-eating grin, “won’t be an insufferable asshole. And you…”
“... I,” Jeongguk speaks for himself, “won’t pry. I could care less about your personal issues. All I want is to help you recover physically. Is that a deal?” He holds out his hand.
Jimin reaches forward and grips the other boy’s hand tightly, shaking it once. “Good thing my arms are still working, or else we would’ve had to do something like a blood pact, right?” he says with a tilt of his head.
Jeongguk shakes his head, withdrawing his hand and rising to his feet. “I’m fucking tired. We’ll begin tomorrow.”
“We’re not done here, golden boy. Sit.”
“I would tell you the same thing, but I mean,” Jeongguk gestures to him nonchalantly and flashes him a smile that is not at all friendly. “We begin tomorrow .”
Jeongguk saunters over to the entrance of the house, where he picks up his bags. He doesn’t even look back once, as he walks up the steep ramp to the next floor, and it’s when he disappears upstairs, when Jimin feels a laugh escape him. He shakes his head and murmurs, to himself, “Fucking hell, Jeon Jeongguk.”
Boxer Jeon Jeongguk, Jimin decides, is vodka. Tasty. Numbing. Attractive in the strangest of ways.
Now this Jeon Jeongguk is the aftertaste. Bitter and a bitch to get rid of.
“Minseok!” he calls, after another moment of brief thought.
“Here,” Minseok responds, his footsteps sounding from behind. “Did it go well?”
Did it go well?
Jimin huffs. “As good as it’ll ever go. Now let’s play pool.”
Chapter 3: I Hope So
JEONGGUK DOESN’T GET THE REST THAT HE WANTS for the rest of the day. Although Jimin and Minseok don’t check up on him once, his mind is constantly plagued with the image of Park Jimin on the leather wheelchair.
All of this started the moment he’d left Busan. He had many contacts on him, especially since a lot of big businessmen liked to bet and watch boxing matches. A lot took a liking to him, as he was young, fresh and steadily rising in terms of fame and popularity. But Jeongguk ever only took a liking to one businessman in particular. It was Jimin’s father. He’d always come to watch his games, betting every single time on him. And Jeongguk always reeled in the win.
One evening, Jimin’s father had approached him. He handed him a business card. It was black, with a sleek texture. The text; his name, the number, the company’s brand was in gold. “If you ever find yourself in Seoul,” the older man said, with a smile that was unlike the rest of the businessmen's’, which were usually predatory and shark-like, “Call me.”
The offer was open-ended. Jeongguk held onto the card until the day he fell into trouble. And he dialed Jimin’s father’s number first.
“I need help,” Jeongguk had said, as he drove through the night. His hand was gripped on the steering wheel so hard that his knuckles had turned white.
“My office is open anytime,” he’d replied. And that was it. He’d entered the enterprises with a cap drawn over his eyes, a hood following over it, concealing him from recognition. And he’d slipped into Mr. Park’s office, where they worked out a deal. Jeongguk would work to help Jimin for one whole month. If Jeongguk got Jimin to make good progress, Mr. Park would provide him with the best lawyers, all the necessities in order to fight back the drug scandal. If not, Jeongguk would have to return back to his manager, who he knew would twist the situation to draw the most possible publicity for him.
Park Jimin was described by his father to be once optimistic. A dancer with aspirations to be on stage, to be underneath the spotlight. When he’d gone to Mr. Park’s office to talk to him, he’d seen the rows of photos he’d kept on his desk of Jimin. From various of his performances in Busan, to a photo of him with his mother when he was younger. Mr. Park caught his curiosity and said, with a low chuckle, “He didn’t think I went to his performances. He always sent the invitations, not expecting an RSVP, but I attended each and every one.” His eyes clouded with a proud expression, but also one of grief. The loss hit Jimin, but it never occurred to Jeongguk, that everyone else that Jimin fell close to, had been affected in their own ways too.
“Why did you never tell him?” He asked, looking up from the photos. He’d been encaptured by the way Jimin had lost himself in the music. These were mere photos, he’d thought, during that time. He’d wondered, then, what it would be like, to watch Jimin dance, live.
“Jimin has always done his best. Not for anybody, but for himself. If he didn’t know I watched, then he wouldn’t try to impress anybody but himself; and that’s what matters most to me, as his father.” Mr. Park smiled at him. “I’m sure you understand. Why do you fight, Mr. Jeon?”
Why do you fight?
“Because in the end,” he murmured, “It’s only myself to please.”
Jeongguk pushes up from the bed at around three in the morning, walking outside of the room. Remembering everything leading up to this very moment in time gives him anxiety. Thinking about the situation he’s left unattended brings him a sense of discomfort that he’s not ready to face. And for someone who’s always faced every form of adversity since he was young; he sure needed a break.
He throws on sweatpants, and a plain white shirt. He glances at himself in the mirror, at the scar that he sported, on his left cheek. Then to the long, barely-healed gash that sits underneath his jaw. His hair is tousled. His eyes are dark. He looks like hell. But he does nothing to fix it, only resulting to a long, drawn-out sigh, before turning away. There’s a long note stuck to the door, from Minseok, who’s given him a lot of information onto the house, what’s available to him and warmth to compensate for Jimin’s cold attitude.
Jeongguk; there’s food in the refrigerator downstairs that you can heat up, whenever. Just search the cupboards for anything else you want, and if not, there’s a grocery store down the street. If you take the ramp to the basement, there’s a gym that’s pretty much out of use (since Jimin doesn’t believe in gyms anymore…), which I think would benefit you the most considering that you’re an athlete. It’s your home as much as it is ours, for now, I suppose. - Minseok
He pulls the paper from the door, folds it into a neat square and stuffs it into his back pocket. Then he walks down the ramp, to the kitchen area that’s connected conveniently to the living room. He walks in on Minseok pouring medicines into different small plastic containers. He’s surprised to see more than five kinds of pills being sorted. Jeongguk knows a thing or two about paralysis. Back on the streets, he’d seen a man knocked so hard on his back that he got a spinal cord injury, rendering him unable to walk for a few months. Jane was interested in medicine, so she would talk to him about medicines and treatments and such. Whenever he got injured, she’d also been his physical therapist, the experience being his sole source of education in that department.
Minseok looks over at him, and smiles warmly. “You’re up earlier than expected,” he comments, placing individual pills into one bowl, which sits atop of a tray, alongside a tall glass of water and a bowl of noodles. “Are you hungry?”
Jeongguk slips the paper from his pocket to show him that he got the message. “I was thinking of going on a run in a bit,” he says, shrugging his shoulders. “Why are you up at this time?”
“Jimin’s always up at this time. He used to have night terrors about the accident, so to avoid them, he rarely sleeps for more than five hours at the time.” Minseok scratches the back of his neck, “You can bring him the food today if you want. He usually just sits and watches the sunrise, or reads.”
He grimaces, thinking about their first meeting just the day before. Jimin was in no way fond of him and for Jeongguk to intrude so early on in… Whatever this was going to be, didn’t seem to be a good idea. But he knows that he doesn’t want to baby Jimin either. He doesn’t want to appear afraid of him or act like he was fragile. If Jeongguk wanted to get through to Jimin, he would have to be different from the other therapists and doctors that let him down, time and time over. So he nods his head once. “Yeah, okay.”
Minseok seems pleased with the fact that he’s willing to try. “He’s awake right now. Just knock before entering… He doesn’t like surprises.”
He knocks once on Jimin’s door, the tray on one arm, balanced well. He stands there for a few seconds, not knowing how to proceed, before deciding that Jimin probably wasn’t going to vocally invite him in, so he slides the glass door to the side and walks into his room unabashedly.
Like Minseok says, Jimin is sitting on his wheelchair, looking outside of the glass windows that seem to occupy his walls, which give him a beautiful view of the garden. The sun is barely out, still perched lowly on the horizon, but Jimin’s eyes hold a soft hope as he waits. Jeongguk stands there for a while again, gazing at him, at the way the low-lit lamps illuminate his face; highlighting the expression of ease he holds. It’s so different from the hostile facade he’d worn the previous day. And for a heartbeat, he could see the Park Jimin that his father had described. Kind, hopeful, warm-hearted.
It was fleeting, especially as Jimin snaps out of his daze, turning his head to face Jeongguk. His neutral expression grows dark at the sight of him holding the tray. His lip curls slightly, as if he’s about to spit a hasty remark, but he regulates himself. He turns his wheelchair with practiced ease, so he’s facing Jeongguk. “Do you even know what pills those are?” He challenges, his eyes skimming over the glass bowl that holds his medicines.
Jeongguk looks down at them. He recognizes a few. “A painkiller. An antidepressant. I’m assuming that the one for injection is dantrolene… Dantrium… Or something like that. Then the small white tablet… Methylprednisolone. I can’t tell,” he responds, trying his best to identify which is which.
“Hm. I forgot that you’re well-acquainted with drug usage. Set the tray on the table and take a seat,” he invites, leaning back against the leathered cushion, his eyes falling shut. Jeongguk finds himself staring a bit too long, and he catches himself, proceeding to do what he was asked of, placing the tray down and moving to sit by the window.
Jimin’s eyelids flutter open after a minute. “It’s three in the morning,” he says, his eyes curious.
Jeongguk nods once. “Yes… It is.” He looks from Jimin, to the view outside. Foliage scatters the small porch that sits in front of his room, leading into the garden. It’s made of a dark-coloured wood, which seems to grow well, into the greens and the white flowers that dot the undergrowth. It’s truly a beautiful home Jimin lives in, sitting outside of the city, on a low-set mountainside. If you stood on the edge of the mountain, you could see the spread of Seoul.
“You know, this is the first time I’ve had anyone but myself, my father and Minseok in my bedroom,” Jimin muses. His demeanor is so calm, so unlike the riled-up boy Jeongguk had met yesterday. He’s cautious, as he studies Jimin’s expression, unknowing of what exactly changed overnight, but he’s relieved that there was this side to him. One that would be easier to work with.
He shifts in his seat, to face Jimin directly. “I must be one lucky guy, huh?” he replies, deciding to humor Jimin. He succeeds. Jimin’s eyes glitter with a faint amusement. His lips curve into a smile that lacks the same menace from before. Jeongguk likes the sight.
“Minseok thinks I don’t have self-awareness. You probably, don’t think I know. I’m acting nice right now. But I’m very self-aware,” he tells him, clasping his hands together, folding them onto his lap. “This is momentary. the drugs I take, the medicine makes me… A bit moody.. Although I’m really not sure which I actually am. An asshole, or... “ he trails off, his sentence finished with the shrug of his shoulders.
It’s a sad thing; not knowing who you truly are. Jeongguk knows who he is. He stands by the morals, the rules he’s been raised with. The pivotal moment in his youth had happened when he was younger, when it was easier to be unsure. And he’d grown, since then, to become the person he was today. Jimin, on the other hand, was now around twenty-two years old. His life-changing moment happened roughly nine months ago, and it was raw; the pain, the uncertainty, and given that he’d once been self-established, finding himself at this age would be so much more difficult.
“You’ll realize it, in time,” Jeongguk says. It’s not the best advice, nor is it the most comforting thing he can offer. “Right now, you’ll feel like shit, sometimes. And sometimes, like you have a whole lot to be grateful for… And it’s probably confusing, but… Things like this. They take time to get over. Sometimes months… Sometimes more than a year.”
Jimin smiles at that, but it’s less of the smile he’d seen earlier, and more of once that’s forced. It falters after a few seconds, giving away the deep sadness that’s embedded into him. “I hope so, Jeon Jeongguk.”
The conversation leads into silence. And after a long time, Minseok enters to get Jimin ready for the day. It’s already five in the morning by then. Jeongguk is surprised at how time had escaped him so quickly, but he leaves Jimin’s room, heading back upstairs to retrieve a pair of sneakers he’d bought on the way there. He puts on his hood, and leaves the house to go on the run he's been so desperate for.
He runs up and down the mountain, the road leading up to the house for a solid hour, non-stop. His earphones are plugged in, and he listens to harsh beats. Music that he can drown himself in, because the last thing he wants is to remember everything again. He focuses on the music, the loud thrumming of the base, the nonsensical lyrics that contain no substance. It’s party music, the type he’s used to hearing back in the ring, in the streets. Nowadays, he’s taken a liking to calmer music, but when he wants to lose himself, he has to do it completely.
On his final lap, the music comes to a halt, pausing as he receives a call. It’s his new phone, so it could only be from Jimin’s father. He picks up.
“Did you see the news?” Mr. Park questions, his tone urgent.
“No, I’m on a run,” he responds, steadying his breath, but quickening his walking pace back to the house.
“They’re giving you a month, to make a return statement. And you have the option for a rematch, given you didn’t take the steroids,” he explains. Jeongguk can hear the television in the background. “You should take the opportunity, if ever. I think we both know that you could beat Parker in a second round, without a doubt.”
He looks at the house that is sat atop the hillside. “What about our deal?”
Mr. Park’s smile sounds through his words. “I only offered help, with an exchange favour of course. But this is an opportunity for a way out, without having to work for it. Jimin, my son, he’s not the best company, as I’ve told you, and he can be quite difficult. There are other therapists, other people who I can get.”
He shakes his head immediately. He already knows that he could get Jimin out of his shell. Jeongguk realizes then, that Jimin’s kindness, the other side to him was not something that frequented these days. And given Minseok’s cautious behaviour, as if he were walking on eggshells, Minseok didn’t seem to know that Jimin’s alter-ego existed, either. “I can do it, Mr. Park,” he says, surely. “Besides, I need a break from the ring. The scandal. I have wounds I need to lick before I can get back on my feet again.”
He’s sure of it. That he can help Park Jimin, who’s deemed helpless. He’s also sure that he needs a breather, from his own life. He’s spent most of it fighting for himself, for his survival, for glory, that he’s forgotten how to be a normal human. Being of help to Jimin would give him time to reflect on himself. To stop moving forward once, and to be able to settle and actually think about where he was headed. There were a lot of things he needed to ponder on, especially Manager Na and whatever agenda he was hiding behind his back.
“I’m glad that I chose you, Jeongguk,” Mr. Park says, after a while of contemplation. “You have a very kind heart, underneath the fighter.”
Jeongguk ends the call after that. When he enters the house, it’s about six in the morning. Jimin is sitting in the living room, seemingly back to his normal self. He’s watching television, thankfully not the news, and instead, he’s settling for watching an action movie. Before Jeongguk can slip past, making his way to the ramp, to his room, where he can shower and sort himself out, Jimin says, “stop.” His voice is cold again, unlike the sliver of warmth he’d allowed himself to display just two hours ago. Jeongguk stops in his tracks, pushing the hair from his eyes, feeling the sweat on his forehead. “You do realize that we own a world-class gym, right below this floor, right?”
He fans himself, feeling heated from the run he’d gone on. All he wants is a cold shower, but Jimin’s gaze is expectant, demanding for an answer. “I like the outdoors better than the gym.” It’s not a complete truth. He spent a lot of his time in the gym, before he’d left Busan. But it’s a truth in the sense that he likes being free, out of the confinement of buildings or structures. He does enjoy the outdoors, very much, and if he had more time, he would’ve liked to spend more time in nature.
“I never pegged you as a tree-hugger,” Jimin says, pensively. His eyes turn back to the film, but he’s not done with Jeongguk. Not yet. “But you should be careful about going outside, downtown, especially. You might get recognized.”
At first, Jeongguk is astounded. Jimin cared. But after a short breath, he amends his statement, his mouth drawing into one conveying disgust. “I don’t want to be associated with you right now. So it’s best not to give away the fact that you’re staying in my home. Got it?”
“Right,” Jeongguk responds, because he has no words. Mood swings. The phrase doesn’t begin to cover the emotional rollercoaster Jimin seems to ride.
Once he’s sure that Jimin has lost interest in his presence, he walks upstairs, back to his room. He strips down, in the bathroom. And again, he stares himself in the mirror. His toned chest is still bruised from his encounter with his old enemy, before he’d fled. He presses a palm to the skin that’s a sickening shade of purple. He’s so numb to the pain that he can’t feel it. He presses harder, and harder, until he feels a sharp discomfort where the pressure is applied. He withdraws his hand, heaves a breath and steps into the shower.
The water is cold, the droplets cooling his skin. He closes his eyes, shuffling through the events that had happened since he’d arrived. A not-so-friendly encounter with the dark side of Jimin. Then a civil conversation with the side of Jimin that has been buried underneath the loss of his legs’ feeling. Then Mr. Park, calling him with a way out. Jeongguk declining. And back to the cold treatment from Jimin. It’s been barely a day, he thinks, and so much has happened. And he’s here for another month or so. He’s not sure if he can survive a whole month, if it’s like this, but he knows he wants to try. If not for himself, for Jimin.
He pulls on a black shirt, jeans and heads back downstairs for the second time that morning. Jimin is asleep on his chair, his head tilted against nothing. Jeongguk approaches, reaching for a pillow from the couch behind him, and he slowly slides it in between he armrest and his head, so he’s comfortably rested. There’s no need, Jeongguk thinks to himself, for Jimin to feel more uncomfortable than he already feels.
Minseok enters the living room with an injection in hand. He looks at Jimin’s sleeping figure, his lips forming into an ‘o’ shape. “He’s asleep, huh?” he asks, rounding the couch to look at Jimin. “I was supposed to give him medicine to stop any inflammation,” he elaborates, tapping the needle against his palm.
“Does he do that often? Just fall asleep?” Jeongguk inquires. He looks at Jimin’s sleeping expression. It’s stern, his lips pressed tightly, his eyebrows creased. “Is he… Having a night terror?” From the way his expression is so drawn, it must be.
“Maybe just a bad dream. His night terrors only come during long periods of sleep, never during short naps. The worst happened a few months ago. He woke up screaming so loud, so frantic that I thought he would pass out… I…” A dark look crosses Minseok’s face. “It was a bad time. It’s gotten better, but the fact that he can’t sleep for more than a few hours makes him cranky and sleep-deprived.”
Jeongguk nods his head, understanding. “It’s the better option. Better than facing the accident all over again,” he mumbles to himself. “I can’t imagine how difficult it is, for him to live like this.”
“Nobody can, but him,” Minseok’s voice is filled with complete, utter mourning for Jimin’s loss. He gives the sleeping boy one last look, before he moves back towards the kitchen, where he would set the needle aside.
Jeongguk sits there, just watching Jimin sleep. The way his face is; the trouble it holds, it shows just how similar the two are. There are breaks, sure. Times wherein both Jeongguk and Jimin can find retrieve, refuge from everything that haunts them, but the way Jimin sleeps, it bothers him because Jeongguk now knows that Jimin’s own fight is endless. He knows, now, that even after Jimin regains his feeling— if he regains his feeling—, he’ll still have terrors of the accident. He’ll still wake up in the middle of the night, in cold sweat because very much like himself, Jimin is haunted by his past.
He leans closer to Jimin, and says, “I know I said I said I wouldn’t fight for you. And it’s stupid,” his voice breaks into a huff, “It’s so stupid, that even if I’ve only known you for… What? A fucking day , I’d say something like this, but… I’ll stay. As long as it takes for you to get better.” It’s a promise. Jeongguk keeps his promises and he will keep this one.
Before he can pull away, Jimin reaches out and grabs his arm.
“I really hope so,” he mumbles.
Jeongguk’s heart is relentless.
Chapter 4: Can I?
JIMIN IS IN PAIN.
Not the pain that he’s used to. On the contrary, he hasn’t actually worked out since the first three months in. It’s a miracle that he’s still in shape, despite the fact that he spends most of his days lounging around, eating anything that Minseok offers. The pain he feels is from Jeongguk himself. The young athlete has decided to be of use, after three days of silence. He enters Jimin’s room that morning, carrying the tray. He sets it down on the desk, sits down on the chair, and he says, “we’re going to do physical things today.”
Jimin’s rare good mood dissipates in a matter of seconds. The past few mornings Jeongguk had spent in his room had been the times they’d been in no man’s land. A ceasefire of crude comments, sharp remarks and other witty banter they’d developed. It was a time wherein Jimin could be happy, regardless of whoever’s presence bothered him. And it was the only time he would let Jeongguk see a different side to him. Jimin isn’t all too sure as to why he’s condoning Jeongguk’s presence in those hours, especially as those were his special hours, but he does, and it’s not that bad.
However, Jeongguk has broken the peace treaty. The silent peace treaty forged by the mutual need to escape their inner pain, anger and negativity. Jeongguk decides to do his job, which isn’t a bad thing. The bad thing is, that he decides to do his job in the wrong time. So Jimin fixates Jeongguk with an annoyed stare, and replies, “I don’t want to work out today.”
Jeongguk lifts his shoulders at that. “I don’t care,” he replies nonchalantly, oblivious to Jimin’s distaste for the idea of physical fitness. “Be down at the gym by nine in the morning. If you don’t show up, then I won’t show up ever again.” He’s good at threats, Jimin realizes then. He knows how to play Jimin like a guitar, just as well as Jimin knows how to play everyone like a game.
Before he throws back a snappy comment, as his mood has obviously been deterred by Jeongguk’s sudden desire to work out, Jimin reminds himself, that Jeongguk can leave anytime. And frankly, Jimin doesn’t want Jeongguk to leave. He’s the best out of all of the help his father had assigned to him, as hard as it is to admit. So he begrudgingly shows up to the gym, on his crutches this time, rather than the wheelchair. Jeongguk is waiting for him, already engaged with what the gym has to offer.
Jimin would be lying, if he said that he hasn’t ever watched Jeongguk work out in the middle of the night. While Minseok was asleep, he would hear Jeongguk’s footsteps outside of his door, and he would follow on his wheelchair, parking himself away from sight, but just enough so he can see Jeongguk in the gym, wrapping his closed fists in a white cloth. And he would be lying too, if he said that he didn’t feel himself swallow at the sight of Jeongguk having his way with the punching bag.
Jeongguk is quick with his movements. He’s calculating, and intelligent when he competes, which is why Jimin was once fond of watching him as a boxer. Having him here, in his house, practicing every spare time he could get, Jimin is able to get further insight as to how hard he worked. His fitness agenda was stacked. Running for an hour, every morning. Drinking protein shakes, in the afternoon. And in the middle of the night, he would find himself watching as Jeongguk worked out all of his stress, all of his worries into the punching bag, slamming his fists against it so hard that Jimin swore he flinched sometimes.
He watches, now, as Jeongguk finishes a set of weights. A droplet of sweat drips down the sharp jawline he wears proudly, as he tips his head backwards, parting his lips for a long, drawn-out exhale. His brown hair is mussed, tousled, some strands stuck against his hot skin. But the show’s over when Jeongguk looks at him once, his expression serious. He sets down the heavyweight dumbbell on the steel rack, rolls his neck, and walks over to where he’s stood on his two crutches. Jimin takes a step back, when Jeongguk nears, moving his crutches backwards, leaning away. Jeongguk sighs, rolling his eyes. “I’m not going to push you off of your crutches, I want to help you off of them.”
Jimin scowls in response to that. “I don’t get the point of this.” He doesn’t like exercising in front of anybody. Minseok’s learned to give him privacy when he worked out in the gym. Truth was, he was self-conscious. He didn’t like anybody watching him, feeling pitiful, sorry for his condition. Sure, it would be impossible to have somebody look at him and feel anything other than pity, but he simply didn’t like it. The feeling of being pitied was one he had held a resentment for throughout all of this.
“The point is,” Jeongguk says, moving forward again, “I just want to help you. The sooner we make progress, the sooner I’ll be gone. Since you absolutely loathe me so much.” His eyes flicker with unknown emotion as he says this. Jimin doesn’t back away, instead allowing Jeongguk to slip one crutch from underneath his arm. Jimin huffs out a loud breath, as he grips onto Jeongguk’s shoulder for support. He knows that he’s holding onto his arm a bit too strongly, but he’s terrified. He hasn’t done this in more than five months.
An understanding look crosses Jeongguk’s face. “I’m not going to let you fall,” he tells Jimin, his voice growing less firm, more empathetic. His brows crease in a worried manner. “Trust me, okay?”
Trust. Jimin could never trust anybody again. He doesn’t trust Minseok. He doesn’t trust his father. He doesn’t trust anybody. Least of all, he doesn’t trust Jeongguk. But his heart doesn’t seem to align very well with his mind, especially as he finds himself nodding. Jeongguk slips the other crutch away, so that Jimin is relying completely on his arms to hold himself upright. Jeongguk places an arm around his waist. He can’t feel the touch. He can’t feel Jeongguk’s attempt at comfort, and it instead sends his mind in haywire.
“I…” Jimin begins, feeling his grip grow into iron as each second passes. “I hate this.”
Jeongguk purses his lips, and doesn’t say anything as he lowers the crutches onto the floor, helping Jimin onto the wooden surface a few seconds later. Jimin’s legs are limp, crossed on the ground. He turns his gaze away from the sight of his legs, and focuses on Jeongguk, who kneels down next to him, pushing the hair from his eyes, all the way back. Jimin turns away from that sight too, instead preoccupying himself with placing on a look of irritation, his attention on the crutches that are discarded beside him. “Are we done?” He asks, his tone is laced with poison. Jeongguk’s embarrassed him enough, simply by putting him down like this. He truly hates this, because he knows that he can’t get up to walk away if he wanted to. At least on the wheelchair, he could wheel himself around.
Being off of the wheelchair, off of his crutches makes him feel a vulnerability that he’s not willing to expose to anybody. But Jeongguk, fucking Jeon Jeongguk, seems so hell-bent on doing his job right, regardless of what Jimin is feeling. And deep inside, Jimin knows that what Jeongguk is doing is the best for him. Most of his therapists succumbed to his cold attitude and harsh treatments because they viewed him as fragile. But Jeongguk. He saw Jimin for what he truly was. And that, he decides, is the most terrifying thing.
“I’m not going to make you work on legs yet. If we’re going to get into physical routine, I need to gauge how well your other physical aspects are, first,” he explains. Jeongguk reaches for his ankles, but he stops halfway, his face growing slightly apologetic. “Can I?” he asks.
“If not you, who else?” Jimin replies. Jeongguk’s jaw clenches at that, and for a brief moment, Jimin nearly regrets the spite in his words. Nearly .
Jeongguk shifts his legs so that they’re slightly folded. His feet are pressed against the floor. “Sit ups, first,” he prompts, with a small nod of his head. His muscular arm falls over his feet, to hold him still. Jimin can feel a slight pressure on his right foot, where the first sign of recovery had shown. A shiver passes through him as he settles into starting position, folding his arms over his chest.
His core strength was once impeccable. As a dancer, it was expected of him to be able to retain physical fitness, especially in his core, or abdominal area. He had perfect cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance.
And so, Jimin is in pain. He wants to do his best, not to please Jeongguk, but to prove, to himself, that he doesn’t deserve anybody’s pity. Anybody’s sympathy. His legs may be deadweight, sure, but he has a lot of fight left in him.
However it’s no surprise, when he is only able to perform about twenty-two decent sit ups, before they transform into half-hearted curl ups. He can feel his teeth grind against each other as he clenches his jaw tight, fighting the urge to quit. He continues on, ignoring everything around him, his gaze on his legs. As he goes, Jeongguk only watches, holding his feet down as he continues until his abdominal area is burning with an uncomfortable sensation.
He falls onto his back, heaving a breath that he’s held back the whole time. “I’m so fucking unfit,” Jimin exhales out, draping his arm over his eyes, feeling a sudden dizziness. He can’t deny the fact that he’s unfit; that he’s out of shape, but he’s surprised that he says the words, because to Jeongguk, Jimin knows, those words are a white flag. His surrender. But it’s true. He’s not used to physical fitness anymore, and it’s making him sick to the gut.
Jeongguk releases his shoes, leaning back against the wood. He feels the pressure alleviate from his right foot, leaving an empty space that’s all too familiar. “Not bad, considering it’s been… Almost half a year since you’ve done anything remotely active, I suppose. Hold on,” he stands up on his feet, and quickly retrieves a dumbbell, weighing a meagre 2 kilograms. Jimin watches, from underneath his arm, as Jeongguk sits down, cross-legged across of him. “Minseok said that you could feel a bit down here. Can I…?”
It takes a while for Jimin to realize what he’s doing. He nods, after a moment of contemplation, and so Jeongguk places the weight down on his foot. The pressure is light, but it’s there. A tingling sensation within that one portion of his body, his right foot. It’s small. It’s as small as the belief he has in his recovery, but the glint in Jeongguk’s eyes, the one that’s hopeful, stirs something in Jimin that he’s never quite felt before.
“Can you try to move it?” Jeongguk asks, his eyes big, curious. No longer present is the hard-edged boxer.
Jimin tries. He watches his sneaker twitch slightly, the movement enough to send the small red dumbbell rolling off, onto the wood. “Well, shit,” he mumbles, turning to look up at Jeongguk, who’s lip has slanted upwards, into a smile. “Hey, don’t get too cocky. I’ve been able to for months. It’s the only thing.”
“That’s because you gave up on yourself. And paraplegia… It can take around twelve to thirteen months to recover from. You’re on your eighth. There’s a lot of time to make change before it’s too late.” Jeongguk picks up the dumbbell, weighing it on his hand with an amused look. He shakes his head, and returns it to the stand, alongside the other coloured weights. “I know it seems like I’m half-assing my work as your physical therapist, but I’m going to call that a win for today.” He walks over, holding his palm out to Jimin.
Jimin frowns at him, but takes his hand anyway. Jeongguk hauls him up with ease. A little too much ease, Jimin thinks, as his body presses flush against Jeongguk’s own. He pushes back immediately, his hands firm against Jeongguk’s chest, and it takes every inch of the will-power he possesses not to say holy shit , because that’s a firm chest . Jeongguk smiles at him too, because apparently, Jeongguk is suddenly a nice guy. Jimin has enough of the nonsense, his head spinning with thoughts of conflict. “Crutches,” he manages to say, the word incoherent as he tries to reclaim his dominance.
“Alright,” Jeongguk responds, after he suppresses a wider smile. He half-leans down to retrieve the crutches on the floor, one arm still slung around Jimin’s waist to hold him up. His arm is secured well around him. Jimin is resentful as he holds onto Jeongguk’s shoulder for support, before swiping the crutches away from the boxer, so he can lean back independently. He’s grateful for the detachment, but something lingers inside of him.
“I’ll clean up down here. You can go ahead,” Jeongguk offers, already moving away, making his way towards the side of the room he’s used for his personal workout, where dumbbells of various sizes are strewn across the wooden tiles.
And as soon as Jeongguk parts, Jimin has never felt so betrayed in his life. Jeongguk’s body heat. It… It felt strangely… It felt… good . He hasn’t felt human contact other than Minseok helping him onto the wheelchair or Minseok helping him onto the crutches. He’s alienated from human warmth, he realizes, from human contact that isn’t initiated for the sake of helping him. And even if Jeongguk was helping him onto his crutches, he realizes that he misses it. Hugging. Holding hands. Any form of human contact out of the sheer purpose of affection.
Before Jeongguk can question why he’s stood so still, his face so red, Jimin pushes the crutches against the ground, using all of his strength to push up the ramp. And once he’s in his room, he allows himself to fall back against the mattress, his eyes falling shut.
All of the emotions suppressed flow freely as soon as he’s back on the bed, on his own. He knows, very well, what he was feeling, as soon as the red dumbbell fell from his foot. He felt hope. As sick as he felt for admitting it to himself, he knew that he was still hopeful, despite his actions, what he often liked to put out. Even if he’d so often told Minseok off for being hopeful for him, it was all Jimin . Jimin felt hope for himself.
And the whole thing. With Jeongguk. Jimin can’t believe his feelings. He feels as if he’s a middle school kid, getting giddy over Jeon Jeongguk. His mind going blank as soon as Jeongguk had slung his arm around his waist. His heart striking against his chest, when Jeongguk smiled at him. Get yourself together, you idiot , Jimin scolds himself, pressing his eyes tighter, willing all thoughts to leave. But they’re there. The heat. The hope. His heart hammering wildly. It’s a little too overwhelming for him, and after a while of trying to push every single thought to the deepest corners of his mind, he passes out.
Jimin wakes three hours later, to Minseok moving his shoulder. He looks up at the nurse. His vision is foggy from sleep, but at least all of the thoughts have seemed to clear from his head. Groggily, he says, “what time is it?”
Minseok looks at the clock that’s sat conveniently next to his bed. “Twelve. Noon,” he responds, casting him a greeting smile.
“Lunch?” he questions, rubbing at his tired eyelids, trying to massage all of the exhaustion away.
“Yeah. Come on,” he says, moving the wheelchair closer, so Jimin can lift himself up, with the help of MInseok, who half-carries him onto the leather seat. Once he’s settled onto the wheelchair, Minseok pushes him into the living room, past the glass doors. Jimin watches, eyes narrowing as they pass the normal dining room, leading to the back of the house, where the open porch is. And he feels distaste prick as he sees Jeongguk, freshly-showered, sitting down on the table for two that sits on the wooden foyer. He’s flipping through a novel.
Jimin looks at Minseok. “I want lunch. On my own,” he complains in a whisper, as they near the table. Minseok doesn’t stop, so Jimin grips at the wheel, stopping the movement of the chair and halting both of them. “I worked out this morning. I smell like shit,” he continues, turning to glare at him.
“Jeongguk’s looking at you,” Minseok replies, motioning for him to release the wheel. Jimin looks to where Jeongguk is sat. The athlete raises his brow at them both. Jimin lets go and leans back, bitter emotions overwhelming him. Stupid Jeongguk. Stupid Minseok. Stupid everything.
Once he’s sat across of Jeongguk, he looks down at what novel he’s reading. He fixes the boy with an unimpressed look. “ The fucking Notebook ? Seriously?” Jimin snorts, reaching for the platter of steak that sits between them both. “Never pegged you as that kind of guy.”
Jeongguk looks at the cover of the book. “I know, it’s kind of corny or whatever. Clearly, actually, from this front cover, but it’s a damn good book. I’m sorry you can’t appreciate literature,” he responds wryly, pausing to take a bite of the steak on his plate, pieces that are cut into neat squares.
Jimin slides a huge piece onto his plate and places the platter back. “Oh, rich. I’m paralyzed. Of course I appreciate literature, there’s nothing else to do on a rainy day,” he shoots back, picking up the knife to cut his own meat. “Nicholas Sparks is not literature.”
“Sure he isn’t.” Jeongguk takes a long sip of his water, clearly trying to push back one of his cocky grins. His eyebrow curves upwards challengingly.
Jimin loves a good challenge. “Fine. Then what’s your favorite book? And I swear to god, if you say The Noteboo— ”
“My favorite book,” Jeongguk interjects, sliding his napkin in between the pages he’s reading, “Underworld, Don DeLillo. And before you shit-talk it, or say that you don’t know, it’s the most amazing work in literature. DeLillo is the great author. His novels are all about... ”
Jimin is cutting into his steak when Jeongguk says this, and hearing it has him jolt in surprise. The words that come out of Jeongguk’s mouth grow silent. He continues to speak, but Jimin doesn’t comprehend it, because no . It’s not possible. It’s only after another heartbeat, when Jimin realizes that his knife had overextended, had pressed against his finger, pricking blood from the skin. He winces, not because of the wound, but because of Jeongguk’s words. He’s still in a seat of loss, staring blankly down at his food. Jeongguk has stopped talking, now staring at Jimin. It’s not possible , Jimin thinks to himself. It’s not possible that the universe works in this way, because the universe is chaotic.
There’s no way, that in the amount of people in the world there is, he ends up with Jeon Jeongguk.
There’s no way, that in the amount of people in the world there is, Jeon Jeongguk is the one that disrupts the scraps of sanity he has left in his life.
Jimin looks at the cut, then yells, “Minseok!” He has to get out of this. He won’t stand for it. All he wants is to have his lunch alone.
Jeongguk moves. He’s on his feet, already reaching for Jimin’s hand. Jimin brings it closer to him and says, “No.” It’s sharper than the blade. The menace in his tone is stronger than anything he’s ever given Jeongguk, and this causes the younger boy to stop in his tracks, obviously confused, upset. “ No. Minseok!” He repeats. This time, Minseok does appear, in a slight jog, making his way to their table.
“What is it?” He asks. Jimin shows him the cut.
“I have bandages in my room,” Jimin says coldly. He wants to leave. Now. “Let’s go.”
“Jimin, wait. Is Underworld your favorite book, too?” He asks. Jeongguk’s tone is filled with innocence, complete, utter innocence. Jimin hates being so upset about it, because Jeongguk is not in the wrong. Jimin doesn’t answer, because Jeongguk is right.
He’s read Underworld over and over and over again. It was the first book his father sent to him when he was in the hospital. The only thing that kept him sane whenever he had nightmares. After every night terror, out of fear of reliving the accident over and over again, Jimin had turned to the book and had found himself reading through the night, until it was safe for him to sleep again.
And hearing it come from Jeongguk… Hearing that Jeongguk’s favorite novel was the one that kept Jimin company for so long… There was absolutely no way . DeLillo is a great author, sure, but amongst the authors that are popular now… And Underworld, the novel itself was critically acclaimed, but once again… There was no way .
It’s not the book, in the end, that bothers Jimin. It’s the realization that Jeongguk and him aren’t as far different as he wants to believe. They’re both fighters, in their own ways. They both have been fucked up, one way or another. And even if Jimin wants to continue to deny it, there’s truth to the fact that he holds a hope for himself. And he sees it, in Jeongguk, too. The nights spent up slamming his knuckles against the punching bag. His devotion to his craft. Jeongguk holds hope for himself too; a hope to return back to his old life, to reclaim his reputation. Very much like Jimin.
It pieces together. His distaste for saving. For therapists. For his father’s attempts to help him. Every helpline is a string attached. Jimin doesn’t want those strings attached because he’s afraid of having to cut all of them loose. He’s afraid of what they’ll think, when he does cut them loose; so he prevents the bridges from forming in the first place.
Ever since he’d opened up that one time to Jeongguk, that one morning. He’s never let anybody inside his room when it was dawn. Dawn was his time of contemplation. It was the time in between night and day. The time wherein he could live in the moment, and draw it on forever, lost in his thoughts. And having Jeongguk sit in, for the past three days, it was all a bad idea. It continues to be a bad idea, to let him in.
It makes Jimin’s decision much more difficult now.
Minseok looks between them, both, his expression obviously conflicted as whether to wheel Jimin away or to let Jeongguk speak. It’s too late. Jeongguk repeats it. “Underworld. Don DeLillo. It’s your favorite, isn’t it?”
“It’s a fucking book , Jeongguk. Let it go,” Jimin snaps in response. Jeongguk’s expression visibly falls, the neutral expression he’s trying to hold melting into one of defeat.
Minseok takes that as a sign to grab hold of the wheelchair’s handles. He pushes Jimin back into the house, all the way back until he’s in his room. Jimin is silent, so Minseok leaves him to be.
He pushes himself to the drawer that sits beside his bed. He pulls out the first contact card in the stack that he owns, and he dials the number on his phone.
“Have you made your decision?” The man asks, from the other end of the line, expectant.
Jimin swallows. “No.”
“You have a month to decide, Mr. Park. Otherwise, you have scheduled surgery on the 9th.”
Jimin hangs up.
Chapter 5: Love it and Trust it and Leave it
mentions of self-harm/euthanasia/overdosing
JEONGGUK STAYS UP READING UNDERWORLD.
It’s a masterpiece.
It takes his mind off of the situation at the moment. The situations, actually. Plural. He instead sticks his mind solely into the novel, and for a while, he finds himself living in it.
The thing about Underworld is that it’s timeless. DeLillo is a writer who plays the reader. He lures them in with the promise of settlement then once you turn the page, you find yourself traversing through a whole new timeline, a whole new part of the universe. It’s a complicated concept. He’s read it thousands of times, in between matches, before he went to bed. It was the promise of discovering something new about the novel that kept him hooked, whenever he read it.
Of course, he’s read a lot of DeLillo’s other works. Zero K. Mao II. Libra. White Noise. All of which were permanent residents back on the bookshelf that resided across his bed in his home, back in Busan. But amongst the greats, there’s only one quote Jeongguk holds onto:
“ Sometimes I see something so moving I know I'm not supposed to linger. See it and leave. If you stay too long, you wear out the wordless shock. Love it and trust it and leave. ”
He’s not sure as to why he traces his finger over the printed words everytime he reaches that point in the novel, but he does, repeatedly. He’s not sure, either, why, as he’s laying on the bed, something about the quote suddenly resonates with his situation. There’s something about it, given the circumstances, that makes him feel both uneasy and both wonderous at the same time. Love it and trust it and leave.
The quote is meaningful. Jeongguk takes it in this sense: That you see something so utterly heartbreaking, or so powerful that you often linger to stare at it for a long time. People stare at it for so long, deciding, trying to interpret or decode until it loses all of it’s appeal, and becomes something simply underwhelming. DeLillo tells his readers to appreciate the wonder for what it is, not to overthink or not to overanalyze. DeLillo tells his readers to look and leave it as it is, rather than stripping it of what makes it special. You wear out the wordless shock , the quote states. Love it and trust it and leave . Love it for what it is, trust it to remain and leave it.
There’s something about it, definitely, that is clicking with him at the very moment, but he can’t quite put his finger as to what it is.
Deciding that DeLillo’s philosophies are too tiresome to think about, Jeongguk closes the book, slipping in a paper bookmark and placing the grim-coloured novel atop the nightstand. He reaches for the lamp, readying himself to sleep, when his phone rings. The sound is loud and disruptive of the calm that has settled, and he nearly jolts at the sudden, sharp sound. He grimaces to himself at first, debating on whether he shouldn’t take it or not, but seeing the caller ID, he presses the green button.
“Mr. Park?” Jeongguk asks, curiously. It’s nearly midnight by then. There’s no reason for Jimin’s father to be up at this time. No reason, at least, Jeongguk can think of.
“I apologize if I’ve woken you,” the older man says, across the line, “I was hoping to call earlier but I’m afraid I’ve been extra busy these days, with work on hand. I just wanted to ask if you and my son had anything planned for tomorrow?”
His mind wanders back to the earlier events. Jimin’s sharp hostility at Jeongguk’s words. The look in his eyes, both a mixture of hatred and fear. Fear . Jeongguk isn’t sure what Jimin is afraid of, especially since they’d been having a civil conversation, save for the snide remarks, about literature. He knew, given Jimin’s reaction, that the boy’s favorite novel seemed to be Underworld too, but what was the significance to it? He spent the whole afternoon wracking his mind as to what could have possibly set Jimin off, but he couldn’t quite make a connection.
Anyway, that left them on a bad note. Minseok was sympathetic following the incident, but he didn’t say anything. Jeongguk went on a long run and retreated into his room. He didn’t eat dinner either, fearing that he would be subjected to Jimin’s antagonizing gaze again.
It’s two days after the incident, but the sting is raw, evident. He doesn’t know how long he can hide from Jimin’s wrath, but he knows that he has a job to do and he won’t accomplish anything by being another weak therapist of sorts sent over to sugarcoat Jimin’s life with the false promises of a better life.
“No,” Jeongguk responds, shifting on the sheets. “I just went through some routine check on him two days ago. His fitness isn’t bad, and he still retained the progress he made from months ago,” he reports then. When Jimin had done the curl ups and sit ups without hesitation, his eyebrows furrowed in concentration as he worked, Jeongguk was surprised. Minseok said that Jimin never used the gym, but there was no possible explanation to Jimin’s steady fitness other than him exercising on his own, away from sight.
“Good,” Jimin’s father exhales, relieved. “Well, I was hoping you two could make it to my office tomorrow morning, or, well, in a few hours. Around ten, or eleven, perhaps? If he’s awake, by then?”
Jeongguk swallows. “Uh yeah, sure,” he replies, because what else can he say?
“Is everything okay over there?” Mr. Park must’ve sensed the reluctance in his voice. Maybe he was far too-acquainted with the sound of reluctance, the hesitation in all of the prior therapists’ voices on the phone.
“Everything’s fine. I just wanted to ask…” he pauses, briefly. He looks towards the book that’s sat on his nightstand. “Do you happen to know anything about Jimin… And a novel… It’s called Underworld . Don DeLillo. I mentioned it in a conversation, earlier, and he kind of… Snapped at me for it,” he elaborates on the happenings.
Mr. Park chuckles wryly over the phone without any signs of worry. “ Underworld is the novel I got him when he was in the hospital, right after the accident. I’m not sure as to why he’d be upset… The moment I handed it to him, I saw him toss it into the trash and never fish it out, ever again. Perhaps it’s still sore subject, or he’s lapsed into a mood… But I wouldn’t see why something so small could make him react in such a way.”
Except it’s not one of Jimin’s moods. Nor it is something small. Jimin has definitely read Underworld . The look on his face was far too real to have been just another one of his swings. The way he jolted, the way he was caught off-guard was too abrupt. And the sudden panic, yelling for Minseok, trying to find a way to escape their conversation, purposefully dodging Jeongguk’s questioning. It wasn’t random. Jimin had read Underworld , and for some reason, he was upset that it was Jeongguk’s favorite novel, too.
Maybe, just like Jeongguk, Underworld was pivotal enough in his life to keep him sane, to keep him up at night, wanting for more. Maybe it was a reason for him to continue on; the promise of enlightenment everytime he picked up the novel. Maybe he’d picked up the novel from the trash, once his father had his back turned, and held onto it ever since.
“Alright. We’ll be there as early as possible,” Jeongguk says, suddenly detached from the conversation. His mind is suddenly elsewhere. Mr. Park ends the call after that, and so Jeongguk swings his legs off of the bed. He presses his bare feet against the wooden floor and makes his way downstairs. Minseok is asleep, so it’s dead silence, as he navigates his way through the dark living room, trying his best to remain silent.
He’s seen it before. There are multiple cover designs of Underworld , and he’s definitely seen the red one, underneath a stack of magazines in the living room. He kneels by the glass table, and pushes the dust-covered books side by side until he finds it. The cover is red, and it’s the only one that seems to be worn out, compared to the rest. He runs his fingers over the pages, skimming through it, hoping to find any significance. There are no bookmarks made, no indicators that anybody’s as invested in the novel as he is, but his gut wills him to find it.
Jeongguk skips the pages he’s read a thousand of times, until he finds it. It’s the only thing in the novel that is encircled multiple times, in a black pen:
Love it and trust it and leave.
He shuts the book immediately. His throat convulses. He’s at a loss of words.
He places the book back at the very bottom of the pile, pushing magazine and novel on top of it until it’s buried away. When he gets back to his room, he puts his own copy into the drawer, shutting it away for the evening. He reaches for the light, presses the switch, and falls into a dreamless sleep.
The next morning, he wakes up later than he’s ever in the past few days he’s been living at the residence. It’s eight, when he sits up, drawing his hands underneath his eyes, erasing all of the drowsiness he’s feeling. He moves swiftly to the bathroom, where he splashes water onto his face a couple of times, reminding himself of who he was. Jeon Jeongguk. Boxer. Athlete, scorned. It seems as if, just in the small time he’s been away from the ring, his identity is blurring. Even if he finds himself constantly working out, constantly abusing the punching bag available in the gym, it’s not the same.
He hasn’t seen the news in a few days, either, so he picks up his phone and quickly types up his name. Articles of the scandal continue to scatter the top of the Google search results, with titles that are far too absurd at this point. Some people are defending him, calling him back to make a stand for himself. Some are speculating about the offered rematch. But most continue to shoot accusations at him, obviously in disbelief that he’d beaten Parker out. Amongst those, he finds an article on a statement made by his manager, who he’s nearly forgotten about.
“ Jeon Jeongguk has decided to take a break for now. But he will be back, and he will prove you wrong .” Na’s statement is printed in bold, at the top of the article. There’s an image of him, holding up his victory belt, right below the header. He realizes that it’s only been so little time since he was up on the ring, in his latest major international competition. Time in this house, he concludes, works in a strange way. It seems as if he’s spent more time lounging around, rather than making progress with Jimin, nor himself. The offer lingers in his subconscious. He has three weeks to make a decision about a rematch with Parker. Three weeks before his time with Jimin would end, unless, well, he chose to stay.
A huge part of him wants to stay. He’s promised Jimin that he would, but he needed to retain who he was. And was he truly somebody like this?
He came into the house with an indifferent attitude. He thought he could withstand Jimin’s dark humor, his dark thoughts, his dark mind. But only several days in, and he’s kneeling over, afraid of Jimin’s emotions, wanting to help; hell, he was going to end up like the other therapists at this rate: discarded, deposited; whatever else happened to them. And Jeongguk– Jeongguk was a fighter, and there was no way he would go down like this.
Jeongguk throws on a black shirt, and a denim jacket lined with fur. It’s cold outside as it approaches the peak of winter. It hasn’t begun to snow yet, strangely enough, but the temperature is hellbound. He draws a cap over his eyes, reaches for his bag and jogs down the ramp, into the living room. Jimin and Minseok are both watching a movie together, already dressed. Jeongguk arrives the latest, and only Minseok acknowledges him, standing up in greeting. Jimin doesn’t look his way once.
“Hey, bad sleep?” Minseok offers his kind attitude, picking up the bag full of Jimin’s medicines from the floor beside the couch he sits on.
“An understatement,” Jeongguk describes dryly, stopping by the door, wanting nothing but to get out of the house for a while. “Let’s go.”
Jimin makes a huge scene as he pushes the wheelchair himself, past Minseok, over to where Jeongguk is stood. He doesn’t open the door for Jimin. Jimin doesn’t open the door either, simply staring at it as if it’ll magically open itself. Jeongguk wants to tell him to snap out of it, he really does, but he bites back his tongue and waits. Minseok is the one to pierce past the awkward tension that settles between the athlete and the once-dancer, pulling the door open, with an apologetic expression. Jeongguk and Jimin try to leave at the same time, but Jimin shoots him a look this time, so Jeongguk steps back, giving way for him to self-propel himself towards the black car that’s sat on the driveway.
The car has an open space, with a place to hold the wheelchair, so Jimin goes up first, Minseok helping him up the slope. Jeongguk has no choice but to follow, as Minseok assigns himself to the shotgun seat after, so he’s stuck with Jimin for a thirty minute ride.
Thankfully enough, Jimin is content with pretending he doesn’t exist. He plugs in his earphones, closes his eyes and takes a nap. Jeongguk, too, presses the earphones against his ears and loses himself in the scenery.
The city is very, very cold. He presses his hands into the depths of the pockets of his jacket, glancing over as Minseok pulls a warm jacket out of the bag he’s carrying, handing it to Jimin, who brings it over his shoulders lazily. He doesn’t bother putting it on all the way, instead gripping the wheels on the chair and using his strength to push himself inside of the building, his father’s office.
Jeongguk trails after him, shivering at the cold, grateful for the warmth of the office building they enter.
The first time he walks into the same building, he gets a lot of recognition. A lot of people stare at him as he walks alongside Mr. Park, the owner of the enterprises, wondering why Jeon Jeongguk is, all of a sudden, interested in business. It’s more or less the same reaction, with some people whispering as he walks by, but nobody takes photos. Mr. Park has promised not to expose his hideaway for the time being. And he seems to have kept his promise well, waving his superiority over his employees to keep their mouths shut.
The elevator is made of glass. Jimin stares outside of it, at the people that disappear as they go further up the building. His gaze is contemplating. Of what, Jeongguk doesn’t know. And he’s a bit too tired to make an attempt to analyze the older boy at this time, especially when his mind is still riddled with sleep.
The secretary tells them to wait outside of Jimin’s father’s office, but Jimin is adamant, blunt and impatient, moving past the front desk, pushing his way past the door, without knocking. Jeongguk, once again, is left to follow, bowing slightly to apologize for Jimin’s behaviour. But his bad behaviour is met with no menace, as the lady at the desk only shakes her head, as if she’s used to it.
She probably is.
“Hello, father,” Jimin greets.
“Hello, Jimin,” Mr. Park responds. “Jeongguk.” He nods towards him, where he’s stood, right by the door. “I’m glad you both are here.”
“Why us both? Are we suddenly taking in orphan boxer Jeon Jeongguk into the family? Park Jeongguk doesn’t sound as professional, I think.” Jimin has a talent. It’s sharp wit. His humor, despite being completely uncalled for at times, is always so well-calculated. He knows how to pull the strings, how to make people shift uncomfortably. Jeongguk does, then, finding himself victim, once again, to Jimin’s harsh words. “We all know I’m just kidding. Anyhow, anywho, anyway. What’s happening? Are you firing Jeongguk, perchance?” A light menace laces his tone.
Mr. Park’s brow arches at that. He looks past his son, all the way back to Jeongguk questioningly. “And why would I do that?” He asks.
Jimin whirls his seat around, so he’s comfortable, watching both him and his father, having both of them under his line of sight. “Well Jeongguk poked around in my personal belongings last night.” The look Jimin has on his face is a sneer, his lip curled into a smile that is not at all humored. He knows about the book. He knows that Jeongguk has sifted through the pages, has seen the encircled quote. He couldn’t believe he actually thought Jimin wouldn’t notice. He was observant beyond his ears, his eyes sharp, his senses powerful. “Not really the best thing someone we’ve so kindly offered refuge to can repay us back, am I right, father ?”
“How about you tell your father that your favorite book is Underworld ?” Jeongguk finds himself snapping back.
“Father, dearest, my favorite novel is Underworld ,” Jimin bites out, towards his dad, but facing Jeongguk. “So what if it is? So what, huh? Why does it matter what my literary tastes are?”
“You’re upset because we share the same literary taste!” Jeongguk utters out, incredulous. “You’re pissed that we actually have something in common, and you’re pissed, because you know that even if you’re such an… Asshole, I’ll stay and help you recover. And you’re so pissed because deep inside of you, you know that you need my help.” It all pours out, just like that. Right in front of Mr. Park, who is watching their exchange with calm intent. His eyes dart back and forth between the two boys arguing.
Jimin rolls his seat over, so quickly and so aggressively that he has Jeongguk’s back against the door. His words are fierce, filled with indignation as he speaks, so quietly, “You don’t get to fucking psychoanalyze me, you pathetic excuse of help . You’re only here because of the stupid deal you made with my father, and you’re only still here, because I feel sorry for you. And that must be fucking embarrassing, right?” His deep brown eyes are shining with unspilled tears. “Coming from someone who’s the subject of everybody’s sympathy, you must feel really fucking special right now.”
The deal with Mr. Park. A month of Jeongguk’s training in exchange for defense against the accusations. The deal was null and void now, considering how Parker was willing to drop charges for a rematch, but given that Jeongguk hasn’t made his decision, nor a statement, he holds onto the pact. But how does Jimin know about it? Jeongguk is silent, his mind already filtering out the abusive words tossed at him, instead, zoning into the fact that Jimin knows that a deal sits behind his reason to stay.
“Plot twist, Jeon Jeongguk. That one month he gave you? That’s the time left before I make a decision. A very big decision. Life or death, to be exact. He was hoping that you could get me back onto my feet; literally, so I wouldn’t make the wrong choice.” The words are venomous, poison dripping from his lips. It’s because he knows precisely what Jimin means when he says that there’s a pending decision that needs to be made. A decision that has his life on the line.
Jeongguk’s heard of it before. He’s witnessed it. Not on a human, but on a dog.
He was thirteen when he was roaming the streets at night. He’d just gotten out of training with Jane, when he heard a distant howl. The sound of drunken men echoing throughout the alleyway, just to his left. Curiosity drove him to that alleyway, where in the very depths of it, he found a dog lying behind a crowd of men, whimpering in pain. Blood spilled from it’s side, onto the crooked pavement.
He didn’t know what was happening. He found himself squinting through the darkness. And only when it cleared in his mind, he watched as a man pulled his gun out. He was the only one sober, his face contorted into raw fear and displeasure as he shot the animal dead. He’d killed the dog out of pity, as it was suffering, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Euthanasia. The Wikipedia definition would have stated something along the lines of “an intentional way of ending somebody’s life to end their suffering as a cause of pain”. It was true, to an extent, but there was something deeper than that. It was greatly debated, in terms of ethics. Jeongguk had no stance in it, or at least retained a neutral point of view because he lingered between treasuring and valuing life, but also not wanting to watch anybody suffer. He didn’t ever suspect that Jimin would have even considered it. He didn’t even know that euthanasia was an option for Jimin, considering how his paralysis was not terminal.
There was definitely something underlying it all.
He thinks that Jimin’s dad must have been ecstatic, when Jeongguk had called him. A trained athlete, with persistence and fire within him; he was practically a gift wrapped neatly and dropped off onto his doorstep. Mr. Park jumped at the opportunity to get him to help Jimin because he was desperate for somebody to help him regain hope, or be set onto the right track for recovery, before Jimin made the decision. The decision to end his life.
Whether Jimin’s father was using him as an attempt to get Jimin to stay alive or he was truly offering a helping hand with a small price to pay, Jeongguk felt woozy at the thought. That Jimin’s decision was now influenced by his presence. That he could be responsible for Jimin’s choice.
“What…?” He tries, but he finds himself trailing off. He can’t find the words in him to reply, because he’s too stunned to be able to form a coherent response. Jeongguk needs to get a grip of himself. He pushes back the sudden desire to look away from Jimin’s holding stare, but it’s so intense that he wishes he didn’t have to face him like this.
“Yes. The other decision,” Jimin tells him, the aggression gone from his voice, now left with devoid emotion, “is surgery. A surgery that could go either way. The needles I get from Minseok. They’re supposed to help keep inflammation down, but it’s getting bad. It could get in the way of my recovery and the only way to stop it is a surgery. Right over here,” he points to the small of his back, moving the wheelchair to show him. “And if the doctor manages to fuck the surgery up, my paralysis can get worse. And I could even die.
“Isn’t that a great thought? Having somebody be responsible for my life?” He asks, tipping his head to the side in a mocking, questioning manner.
So the decision was for Jimin. Whether he wanted to risk his life getting surgery that could either keep him alive or send him death, or to have his death on his own command. Under his conditions. Under his control. Jeongguk slowly begins to understand the bigger picture. Why Jimin has been pushing back every source of help in his life. Why Jimin doesn’t want to be attached to anything, or anyone. It’s because he’s at the liberty of deciding, in the next three weeks, whether he wants to die or not.
And it’s not only that. It’s the fact that Jimin’s disability has prevented him, for a while now, from making decisions himself. Sure he could tell people to do things for him, but there was a deep desire within him, Jeongguk observes, to be able to serve himself. His father described him to have a work ethic that was incredibly admirable, prior to the accident. His world had been so roughly flipped around. His desire to work hard, to remain on his feet had been suppressed, leaving this void of want and need to be able to be in control of himself. His whole self; not this version.
It’s a fucking painful thought.
“I hope this was what you wanted, father,” Jimin murmurs, then, his eyes suddenly moist.
His father’s expression mirrors the one his son holds. His eyes are tainted with the same distant pain, although he isn’t as expressive. He looks as if he’s trying to keep it together for his son, but he ends up looking away, unknowing of how to be of any comfort. Even Mr. Park is at a loss of words. His son is a mystery to him. To Mr. Park, Jimin is no longer a son, but a commodity, and he seems to be only realizing it now.
He’s used to sending therapists, help after help to Jimin’s home. He’s used to not having to deal with it directly. He doesn’t know how the helpers he send feel, having to watch Jimin’s inner struggles every day. Having to watch him go from neutral to enraged in a matter of milliseconds. And sure, perhaps Jimin’s father does understand Jimin’s condition and the mental issues he’s going through but his approach is all wrong. His intentions are good, only speaking volumes of concern and love for his son, but he’s doing it in a way that places a barrier between them. It’s wrong. It’s all wrong.
It all goes wrong until Jeongguk shows up. The look on Mr. Park’s face is evidently an understanding one. Jimin just needs somebody to match him. Somebody as equally damaged and powerfully-willed as Jeongguk. Which is why Jimin’s suppressed emotions, once an impossible enigma to solve, are now surfacing, out for everybody to see.
The boy on the wheelchair motions for Jeongguk to step aside, and the movement is so defeated, so deflated from the anger he’d held just a few seconds before that he does, allowing him to exit the room sharply.
Jeongguk takes a few seconds to recover, feeling tears suddenly slip from his eyes. He brushes them away with the sleeve of his jacket, fighting back the urge to break down completely, instead opting to dash after Jimin, who’s already halfway out of the office areas, making his way to the elevator. And he’s too slow. Jimin gets in, presses the close button with force, and he’s locked out of the elevator, just like that. Jimin, through the glass door, stares right at him, with his clouded gaze. It’s not apologetic, and neither is it acknowledging. Jeongguk is thin air and Jimin sees right through him.
Jeongguk pushes past everyone down the escalator. There are four floors to the ground floor and the steps are steep, but he manages, leaping down every four steps without a care. All he’s thinking is Jimin. Jimin. Jimin. Jimin. All he can see is the image of Jimin off of his wheelchair, dancing again, his expression filled with serene emotion. All he can see is Jimin, underneath that spotlight, with a dim backdrop. All eyes are on him. All eyes are watching him with admiration, rather than sympathy. Nonexistent is the pain, the anger, the self-hatred, the self-pity. He wants Jimin to be alive. He wants Jimin to live. He wants Jimin to want to live again.
He sees Jimin pushing himself past walking businessmen at a leisure pace. He’s trying to get away, but at the same time, his movements are slow, as if he’s leaving just an ample amount of crumbs for Jeongguk to follow after. He’s an oxymoron. He’s an open secret. A living dead. A tragic miracle. Everything he does speaks one thing and pairs with the other. He is truly another kind. A special kind that Jeongguk will not lose.
“Jimin!” He calls after the boy. He doesn’t stop. His vision blurs slightly at the sight of the boy disappearing, falling from his loose grasp. It’s painful, for some strange reason; watching Park Jimin leave him. “Jimin!”
He races out onto the street, as Jimin wheels across the pedestrian lane. The stoplight symbol of a man walking blinks rapidly, indicating that there’s only so little time before Jimin disappears into the crowd. Who knew what he was going to do, especially in such a state of mind. Jeongguk is once again plagued with the emotions he’s tried so hard to suppress. He forgets the fact that he’s only known Jimin for a week. He forgets the fact. All he can see is Jimin. And so he sprints, dashing across the lane despite the fact that the sign turns red. His heels are relentlessly pounding against the pavement, sending him dashing at a speed he’s never run before.
He hears the screech of the cars, and there’s a brief moment of fear that jolts through him. It’s a sheer distance between him and impact, and he finds himself stumbling onto the other side of the road, barely escaping the possibility of getting hurt. Jeongguk’s breaths are erratic, filled with a shock so tremendous that he looks behind him, at the people scattered, their hands over their mouths, eyes wide with terror at the near-death experience. But that’s not what sends his stomach churning with pain. It’s Jimin, who’s turned on his chair, his expression filled with trepidation; as if he’d witnessed the car run him over.
Jeongguk opens his mouth to say something, anything, but Jimin beats him to it. He’s crying now. There are tears in his eyes that bare him to the world. The man he once was, before the accident. Fragile, sensitive. With concern plastered across of his face, a mixture of rage and pain etched across his features; so angelic, so innocent.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” He yells, but his voice is so low. It’s so quiet, but his causes his body to shake. “What the fuck is wrong with you? You could have…” He’s shaking. Jimin is shaking in his seat, and it’s so difficult to watch because only his upper body trembles. His lower body remains lifeless, paralyzed, a reminder of what could have happened to Jeongguk in that moment. “... You could have become me. ”
People walk past them, disappearing into the corners of Seoul. Into buildings, into cabs, into cars. And they’re alone in that moment. Jimin quivering, the very image of him so agonizing to look at. Jeongguk is frozen still. He can’t move. He can’t breathe. And he knows that Jimin is reliving the accident again and again in his head. He knows that deep inside, Jimin truly cares about every person he’s met along his journey. Everyone who cares. Everyone who cared . Even Jeongguk. Jimin cares about his life.
“Jimin,” Jeongguk breathes. The words come out so weak, a lack of conviction strung across each breath he took. “Jimin, I… I’m so sorry.”
Jimin doesn’t bother wiping away the tears, instead allowing them to fall. His brows crease. His lower lip trembles. There’s so much vulnerability in that very moment. And all this time, Jeongguk wished he could see the real Jimin. The one who felt. The one who felt love, fear, passion… Felt at all . But now, he was having difficulty accepting it. The tears, the emotions… He wished, just for that moment, that Jimin was cold, detached and free of his sentiments. But Jimin is not cold. Jimin is not detached. Jimin is surviving.
Jimin is surviving, barely. He’s holding onto a very thin rope, treading a very thin wire. His therapists are the wind that sways the tightrope he walks on. They’re a hit or miss. They either sway him to keep him on balance or push him to make him stumble. The winds may be bad, but Jeongguk… Jeongguk realizes that he’s a hurricane. Withstanding of Jimin’s stubborn persistence, the hurricane that would soon push him off the edge. It strikes him, only then, that he’s the worst of them all, because Jimin is leaning on him for support, like a crutch. Jimin drowns himself in Jeongguk’s presence but Jeongguk feels as if he’s only one foot into the water in the first place.
That’s the problem. Jeongguk is a problem. And he needs to solve himself before Jimin makes the decision that could end his life because Jeongguk cares a bit too much about Jimin to want to be the one to cause his death.
“Jimin, I’m not going. I… I told you before. I… I’m staying.” There’s a silence that resonates throughout the city of Seoul. Jeongguk’s eyes are only on Jimin. And in that very second, everything is so surreal and so lifeless at the same time. The sounds of the city have faded away into nothing, leaving only their joint breaths, their joint heartbeats. He continues on, feeling light on his feet, “Fuck the deal with your father. Fuck the scandal. Hell, fuck everything else in this shithole of a life.”
Jimin doesn’t know anything about his life. The circulated story when he first debuted as a professional fighter was that he was an orphan who was sought out in the streets. The truth was far from that.
His upbringing was normal, until that one day that changed his life forever. The day he’d arrived home from school to find his mother, the light gone from her eyes, her skin so deathly pale. Pills scattered across the floor, an assortment of them, similar to the assortment Jimin takes every day. Every day he sees the tray of pills he feels chills pass through every inch of him. Jeongguk lives a nightmare, too.
The day was a rainy one. He’d ran home from school, underneath no cover but his books, that had grown limp and soggy underneath the storm’s lack of mercy. His clothes had been washed underneath the harsh weather too. He’d entered his home, calling out for his mother, already sliding the socks off of his feet, feeling a discomfort at the squelching sounds made every step he took towards the kitchen.
His mother was nowhere in sight. Jeongguk had set all of his books down on the table, flipping through them to find that all of the ink had been smudged without remorse, the blacks and blues mixing into an endless pattern of watercolour-like paintings. A sigh had escaped his lips, despondent at the fact that he’d have to explain himself to his teachers the following day. “Mom!” He called again, setting his backpack aside, unbuttoning the top layer of his uniform, wanting to rid of the growing discomfort that was building up in his chest.
There was no response the second time around. And he was so slow to realize it. He searched the office of his father, which was left unoccupied as he worked the whole day, arriving barely in the morning in a drunken state And if Jeongguk stepped out of line or tried to offer his father water for him to sober up, his father would hit him, right across the face. At first, he felt the pain. But as time passed, he’d anticipated the smack against his cheek and he would swallow back the pain he felt, keeping it for when he was back in his room, so he could shed tears.
He bit down on his lip at the sight of the unused desk and sauntered upstairs, to his bedroom. It was neatly cleaned. Too well-cleaned. His mother usually fixed the basics, such as his scattered articles of clothing, but that was it. But everything was organized to a point that made him uneasy.
“Mom!” He called for the third time that afternoon, walking into her bedroom. He checked inside. Everything was clean. No speck of dust left on any of the surfaces in the room. The only anomaly that stuck out was the light that fell out of the bathroom door that was creaked open slightly. He pushed past the door and found her.
“Mom?” He repeated, this time without the curiosity, the worry. A huge part of his childlike mind had suspected that his mother was living in pain, in sadness for the past few years. But it was a shock. His young mind knew precisely what she had done and he wasn’t sure about whether he was mad or he was upset at her.
The young Jeongguk didn’t know what else to do. He dialed for the police. He ran to his room, where he retrieved a spare backpack and stuffed it with spare clothing, money and all of his closest belongings. He didn’t bother changing out of the wet clothes because he knew he would be out onto the streets again, making a run for it. His father showed no love for him, nor his mother. But there was no telling what his father would do, or how he’d react when he found out that his wife had overdosed, especially if he returned home after having a little too much to drink.
The scandal had hurt him so much because in no life, no alternate universe would he be found taking pills. Drugs of any sort. He loved his mother with every aching bone in his body. And falling subject to drugs, finding the aftermath of those little tablets that had once been her sense of comfort; he realized that everything was deceiving. Everything good came with bad. But it also taught him that everything bad had a reason. Everyone deemed evil; they weren’t born evil. They weren’t born with the urge to kill, the passion for vengeance.
Just how Park Jimin wasn’t born cold-hearted.
They continue to stand at a stalemate, after long days spent arguing, tiptoeing around each other like well-suited opponents. A constant push and pull relationship had developed between them in such a short span of time. Jimin would pull him in, push him out. Jeongguk would push back with all his might but he would end up falling over and over again for Jimin, despite how sick he could be sometimes.
And after the world has revolved once, Jimin says, “Take me home.”
The word home has never sounded comforting.
Especially coming from Jimin, who lives in a house crafted for the person he hates himself for being. He lives in a house that is designed, pertained to people who live their lives on a wheelchair. The tables are low-set, the chairs follow. The stairs are instead ramps that roll up to different floors. Pill containers decorate the kitchen counter, organized by colour, shape, purpose. There are a lot of glass windows that ensure Jimin that he has full view of the outside, keeping him entertained. A wide-set television with a range of films that guarantee that Jimin would never run out of things to watch. It’s a house that’s set eternally; that was made for somebody to settle into an immobile lifestyle. It’s all wrong.
He’s surprised at how Jimin calls it home . He used to be able to sense Jimin’s distaste for the house, by the way he would stare at the ramp with a death-inducing glare. Or he would run his fingers over the edge of the dining table, and would look underneath to see Jeongguk’s legs bumped against the bottom; indicating the small height. But perhaps he’s grown accustomed to it. Even if he doesn’t like it, he learned to live with it.
Jimin is stuck in the middle of things. In between mobility and immobility in the sense that even if he physically can’t move forward on his own, he does, mentally. His father assigns him a therapist to tell him to stop and reflect, but he pushes past. His father gives him every resource to get better but he opts for the immediate decision to… End his life. He’s moving through life at a rate that is alarming for somebody who can’t move from place to place without guidance or assistance.
The world continues around them, but Jimin remains still. He’s waiting for Jeongguk. And that, Jeongguk thinks to himself, with a newfound relief, is a beautiful thought.
He moves forward and steps around the wheelchair, gripping at the handles with all of his strength. And he waits for the green light, before pushing Jimin back to the other side of the street, where his car is parked, waiting to take them both home.
Minseok doesn’t question the occurrences of the day. He looks at them once, through the rearview mirror, with a pensive expression, before he looks outside the window. Jimin doesn’t sleep on the way back, his eyes tired, filled with the same vulnerability. His walls are down for the first time, outside of dawn, outside of his room. There’s no doubt that Jimin would rebuild them as soon as the next day struck, but Jeongguk couldn’t hold it against him anymore. The walls kept him in check, true to himself. And all this time, he thought it was a false pretense of who he truly was. But it was just Jimin’s way of retaining his individuality during a time of adversity.
Jeongguk is content with reverting back to their push and pull dynamic. He sits in his room for the rest of the afternoon. Dinner comes, and he has it alone. He waits on the foyer, for Jimin to come, but he doesn’t. Minseok doesn’t enter his room once for the rest of the day, too, subjecting himself to writing notes, studying Jimin’s condition for the umpteenth time and sorting the medicines although they’re in pristine order.
The universe is both ordered and chaotic at the same time for that passing time. Ordered, because Jimin is left to his own thoughts, Jeongguk and Minseok left at disposal for his summoning any time. But chaotic, because Jimin, after eight months, has finally shown a glimpse of sheer vulnerability.
But Jeongguk feels as if the stars have finally aligned, when he’s alone in the foyer that evening, reading Underworld once more.
Jimin wheels over to where he’s sat, with the book on his lap. Jeongguk is on the page, reading over the same quote, trying to find why it resonates with him so much. He’s still hung up on it.
Jimin clears his throat. His expression is stern, guarded like before, but there’s a secret passageway, in the garden of darkness that his eyes hold. A pathway that is only for Jeongguk to explore. He says, “I thought a lot about what you said. About… What was it? Fucking everything?”
He thinks that Jimin is serious, for a brief second, but Jimin’s eyes crinkle a moment after, a kind smile spreading across his soft features. Jeongguk huffs a laugh, after realizing that Jimin is in a good mood. “I… I didn’t say I was going to fuck everything. I mean… I meant that everything could sit back for a while. While I’m here.”
“I know.” Jimin picks up his copy of their shared favorite novel. He turns to a page, one that is folded at the edge. His eyes skim over the words on the page, briefly, before he reads them out loud. “Love it, and trust it, and leave,” he quotes, his voice filled with starry admiration. “DeLillo. He’s an author that focuses on the raw reality of this world. He integrates satirical humor into his work so well, which is why I like him so much. He pokes fun of the darkest points of humanity but manages to hold himself above the others authors who like to taint the truth of it all.
“It’s all conspiracy theories, the things he writes. A lot of postmodernist ideas. So much death. Irony. Pain. Pleasure. It’s… His novels are beyond what I can describe. It’s like you…” He trails off, wonderous, with a slight shake of his head.
“It’s like you want to get lost in the world he creates,” Jeongguk finishes. Jimin’s smile widens. “I get that.”
Jimin licks his lips and glances behind him. Minseok isn’t in sight. His shoulders relax slightly, and his posture is less stiff as he continues to say, “I was upset about Underworld because I couldn’t believe that anybody else could find such profound meaning in a piece of literature like I had. It has underlying layers, message after message and I wondered to myself: How could Jeon Jeongguk, star athlete, professional boxer extraordinaire, have time to delve as deeply as I did, into DeLillo’s work?” His words ring of truth, of calm admission. “I was afraid that we could possibly share the same sentiments. I didn’t want there to be a stupid… Connection between us, especially if it was based off of something I love.”
He finds himself nodding along to Jimin’s explanation of his reaction. “I… I get it. You probably view me as a shallow, stuck-up, entitled rich athlete that’s only here for the deal your father gave, but I promise… I promise that I’m not any of that. I’ve seen my fair share of pain in my youth, and to this day, I live in constant fear. If not for things that happened in the past…” He pauses, to gaze straight at Jimin. “Things in the present. Although I have to ask… Why the sudden change of heart?”
“I realized, when I saw the car speeding at you, that… That there are hundreds, thousands of other people who are in the same predicament as I am. And I’m sure I look stupid. Now, being in this mood, but it’s the most normal I’ve felt in months,” he explains, with a wistful expression. “I’m only ever like this when I’m alone, at dawn. Well, recently, you’ve been invading my moments of privacy, but… Dawn is the time I can properly mourn what I’ve lost without lashing out. Realizing that there are people out there, suffering as I am, even worse than what I’m going through… Dawn isn’t enough time to mourn the loss in this world.”
Jeongguk thinks over his words. He’s still a bit blurred. Whether this Jimin is an aspect of his mental state as a result of the accident or if the Jimin he once was was truly like this. “But it’s a fleeting thing, right?” Jimin nods once. “So will I ever get to see this Jimin after tonight, anytime soon?”
His lip quirks at the side. Mirth dances in those dark eyes of his. “Maybe. Maybe not. There are times that I feel like I can do it again. Like I can walk out of this wheelchair. Times like these. And there are times, the more frequent ones, where I feel like death is the only way to go. It’s erratic, I know. Like I’ve told you before, I’m very self-aware of how I am. But I spend most of my time fighting the urge to allow myself to fall, completely into darkness so I make little effort to fix my bad attitude. Which, I’m sorry for, in advance.”
He’s glad to hear this. All of it. Jimin adds, after a second, “You know, my father. He may not know what I want, and most of the time, the help he sends in are guesses. You were his best guess. You are his best guess and shot. I’m opening up to you because you don’t think like a therapist. You’re straightforward, blunt, and the only one that could genuinely piss me off. But at the same time, you always act uncertain of what you’re doing.” He squints at the ceiling, thoughtfully. “On second thought, I’m sure you think exactly like a therapist. Everybody likes to psychoanalyze a crippled, depressed person. You’re different because you’re all bite… Rather than bark.”
“Well,” Jeongguk shifts, and laughs humorlessly. “I’m glad that I’m the first.”
Jimin beams at his words. It’s a strange sight as he’s so used to Jimin scowling or grimacing, but he locks away the image in his heart. It’ll be difficult, definitely, to see Jimin in a state alike this one in the upcoming days, so he holds onto the promise of future. “So what’s it going to be, Jeon Jeongguk? Love it. Trust it. Leave it behind?” He questions then, with a tilt of his head.
Jeongguk doesn’t hesitate. “Love it. Trust it. But I would never leave it behind,” he responds, his voice timid, but his words sure.
Jimin leans his head back against the leather seat in that nonchalant way he’s mastered. His eyelids flutter shut, and his lips, pink and plump, part slightly for a breath. His black hair is parted in the middle that evening, styled, as if he’s finally decided to put effort into appearance. His existence, at that very moment, is eternal. Jeongguk tries his best to memorize the mannerism in which he projects himself. With a lightheartedness, a playful aura that is both simultaneously aweing and teasing. Jeongguk has never felt such a strange longing, a tugging on his heart, and it’s a terrifying feeling, to say at the least, but it’s a beautiful one.
The light from the living room is dim, but it casts an illumination over his skin. It highlights his calm expression perfectly. This Jimin. The real Jimin that drew passion from dance, that pursued his dreams without regret… He was alluring in every single way. Jeongguk sucked in a deep breath as he stared at the figure that looked so angelic that he was practically glowing.
Jimin is the brightest star in the universe, from that evening on.
Chapter 6: In the Mood for Pool
dANOTHER ONE OF JIMIN’S FAVORITE BOOKS is Oedipus Rex .
It’s a novel that he read when he was much younger, before the accident, before he was out of high school. He was handed the book as a summer assignment and he’d dreaded it, especially since he’d never really liked the greek setting in his novels, but he’d soon found himself immersed in the masterpiece, written by Sophocles.
The thing about Oedipus Rex , is that it’s written by a Greek tragedian, which essentially meant that the book was bound for dark turns at every conjunction, cliffhangers at every page break, deaths at every moment of hope. so when Jimin actually delved into the pages, he’d lost himself in the story, which was… Distinctive, to say at the least. The protagonist, Oedipus, had good intentions when wanting to relieve the guilt strewn across his beloved land, but… The story grows twisted like the roots of an ancient tree. Incest. Blood. Deception. Doubt.
What stands out the most to him, however, is the idea of fate against free will.
You see, the story is hinged on the basis that there is a lurking prophecy over Oedipus. Oedipus, who was abandoned at youth, given to new parents who raised him. Oedipus, who kills a man while he travels and marries a woman while young. The prophecy states that he was to kill his father and marry his mother , and so he discovers that he’s unknowingly fulfilled his prophecy. The man he’s killed in his journey turns out to be his birth father. The woman he marries turns out to be his birth mother. After putting down the book, Jimin doesn’t know if Sophocles is a literary genius or a literary fluke. The story is so insane, so incredulous that he visits his teacher the afternoon after he’s read it.
“Fate against free will. He’s predestined to do these things; to kill his father and marry his mother but it’s his free will, that he does either of those things. I’m so,” he’d sharply inhaled, his hands flying out everywhere in his state of awed confusion. “I’m so stuck on it. I can’t tell the difference between whether it was his free will… Or if it was fate.”
His teacher had smiled at him with a proud gaze, obviously strung along by the interest he’s displayed in the novel she’s given to him. “That’s the thing. There’s no fine line between it. One could argue that fate controls everything. Like you… Were fated to come to my room. Like… Perhaps, it was fate that I lent you Oedipus Rex . But then again, it was my choice to give you the book. Your choice to come here.”
“So is free will an illusion?” He asked, looking down at the cover of the book. The god damned book. “All of our choices… What we decide. It’s all set in stone, right?”
“Perhaps, Jimin, but there are other things that come into play. If you believe, maybe, in alternate universes, you could also argue that in one alternate universe, one separate timeline, you would have decided not to come to my room. You could have decided not to give Oedipus Rex a try. Now think; how would this affect where you are, five years from now?’ Her eyes are sparkling, filled with wonder at the ideas that they’re tossing back and forth, clearly enthused by his passion for literature. “It’s all subjective to what we know, what we believe in. If we believe that fate is the ultimate driving force of everything in our lives.”
Is all of what happened to him fate, or free will?
After the fiasco with his father, with Jeongguk, he’s been in a mood. He doesn’t feel sad, nor does he feel upset. He feels melancholic, however, which implies a difference. Melancholy doesn’t warrant a reason for feeling down, it just means that you feel pensive, thoughtful about everything. Except Jimin, when thoughtful, doesn’t sit still. Of course, being paraplegic limits people. He can’t pace, like most people can, to get rid of worries. He can’t leave the house far enough on his own, to give himself a sense of calm.
Paraplegia drives creativity. Creativity in the form of many things, little or large. Like finding innovative ways to get himself onto the wheelchair from his bed. To get himself off of the wheelchair, onto his bed. Then large creativity. Instead of pacing, or doing drives around the city to calm himself, he does things like… Relying on dawn; those few golden hours, for comfort. Or picking up his whiteboard marker, the red one that sits on his desk, and making a large spread of his ideas, across the glass windows and doors that surround his room.
That afternoon, Minseok leaves him alone. He doesn’t say anything on the way back from the city, and neither does he make an attempt, other than delivering Jimin his daily dose of antidepressants, painkillers, etcetera. And Jeongguk is obviously sat in his room, with a lot to think about. Jimin’s eyes are foggy when he rolls out of the vehicle, his ears ringing with a white noise, but his mind is clearer now. Especially as he begins to draw up everything that has happened in his life so far, on the large spread of glass window.
The timeline, obviously, begins with his birth. He was born on October 13, 1995 on a day that was particularly rainy. His father told him that growing up, he was always turning every opportunity to do anything other than dance. He was good at math and chemistry, exceptional, actually, but there was nothing as diamond-like as contemporary dance to him. And so, after his father decided that he wouldn’t see his son pursuing the business route, leaves their home. His parents remain married, of course, his mother working in a small-town shop in Busan, where Jimin continued to dance.
He draws a red line from his high school years and writes divorce in thick letters. His parents divorced after he left high school, to go to dance school. The divorce stemmed from his mother’s side, as her heart grew disloyal to his father’s. She fell in love with another man, who wasn’t as wealthy as Jimin’s father, but was a kind man all the same. He’d been present when they signed the papers. He turned his head from his father, who’s eyebrows were creased with difficulty as he went over the divorce terms again and again. His mother had little regrets when signing it, passing it over to the center of the desk with a calm demeanor.
Jimin was already on his own by then. He scribbles moving out next. He moved out from his home once his step-father moved in. His first months into his new lifestyle was good at first. He lived on his own in his apartment, which smelled often of sweet coffee. The tiles were light-coloured wood, the home spacey and decorated with glass panels similar as to those modeled in the home his father built for him. It was a good part of his life, as he worked a bit as a dance teacher, sometimes taking shifts in the local coffee shop, but after a while, the income ran dry, which lead to unfortunate circumstances and a hefty amount of desperation on his part.
His hand shakes as he writes the next pivotal moment in his life. Jimin has a hard time scrawling the letters on the window, hesitating before imprinting each letter. His eyes focus on it. Car accident . He circles it once. He doesn’t want to linger on it too long because he knows that every time he thinks of what happened, he finds himself travelling back in time, to the very moment he stood on the wet pavement, all the way to the numb impact. He shakes his head, collecting himself before he traces a line. It keeps going until he can’t reach anymore. The line is long, empty and he doesn’t know what to write at the end of it.
The line would be representative of his near-nine months of recovery. Or, at least, the eight months since his accident. His eyes follow along the red line, all to the very end of it. He knows what he’s going to write, but it’s an act of his subconscious. He outlines the word once. The word.
It’s a name . He circles it over and over and over again, as many times as he can, until he drops the pen. The red marker lands on the floor with a light click against the wood. Jimin moves back on his wheelchair and he inspects the timeline.
- Started dance
- Middle school
- Father moves to Seoul
- High school
- Moving out
- Car Accident
It ends with Jeongguk. All of it would end with Jeongguk, he decides, ultimately.
I’ll stay. As long as it takes for you to get better.
You’re so pissed because deep inside of you, you know that you need my help.
Jimin, I… I’m so sorry.
Fuck the deal with your father. Fuck the scandal. Hell, fuck everything else in this shithole of a life.
It’s already evening when he finishes, his fingers clenched into tight fists, his arms shaking a tremendous amount as he gazes over the timeline. It’s not the first time that he’s written something like it, but it’s the first time that the timeline exceeds past the car accident. It’s a new warmth; having something else to add onto it creates. But it also weighs a ton of pressure. If Jeongguk were to disappoint…
He shakes his head. Jimin can't think about Jeongguk letting him down anymore, because after that afternoon… After he’d so nearly experienced the same fate as Jimin did, he would understand the constant fear that Jimin surged through every day. The terrors he woke up to at night. And the nightmare that seemed to lure him in at every corner. He doesn’t bother to pick up the marker as he pushes his way to the door.
Jimin wakes up the next morning at the usual time. He remembers Jeongguk and Jeongguk’s openness the previous evening. He remembers Jeongguk’s eyes on him, caring… Filled with a kind passion. Jimin is sure that Jeongguk believes that he is guarded, but Jeongguk… Everything he thinks, everything he feels is projected clearly through his expressions. He’s not an open book. It’s hard to read him. Jimin thinks that Jeongguk portrays himself without knowing it. His actions speak volumes, if not his words, and that’s why he matters so much.
The line of people sent to help him end now. It would all with Jeon Jeongguk. Whether he found himself in the depths of an abyss called death, or he lived to walk again… Jimin won’t ever let him go.
He’s putting on a sweater, when Minseok enters his room, with the injection in hand. Jimin can’t feel his legs but he knows that the inflammation is getting worse day by day. The surgery would be the only thing to prevent an infection from destroying all chances of his motor senses’ recovery, but it could very well be a death sentence, if one thing was done wrong. Jimin pushes the thought to the very back of his mind and invites Minseok to jab him with the needle, focusing on anywhere else. Injections brought him great discomfort. Ever since he was younger and he’d visit the doctors, he’d flinch at the sight at anything remotely needle-like. Which is why he tried his best to stay out of the sickness zone, which clearly didn’t work out for him, considering that now, injections are just another frequent part of his life.
When Minseok finishes, he moves to straighten the collar of the grey turtleneck sweater he’s wearing. It’s getting relatively cold now, so his mind strays to the athlete, who’s runs have grown less recurrent. He’s resorted to using the old treadmill in the gym. “Is Jeongguk back from running?”
“He didn’t go out for a run. He went boxing downstairs, this morning, though.” The nurse sets the empty needle into a white paper slip and tucks it away into his pocket. “Do you think he’s going to go and rematch? I don’t think it’s a good idea. I think he should just get the lawyers and prove that he didn’t take the drugs.”
“If he’s training, then he’s certainly considering it,” Jimin mutters, staring at himself at the mirror. Save for the fact that his lower half is completely unattractive, as it’s limp and sat on a chair, he studies his face. He tilts his chin up, inspecting the sharp jawline that still remained. He looks at his dark eyes, followed by the dark circles that rung beneath, indicating the poor amount of sleep he’s been getting. Then to his hair. Minseok doesn’t make a comment about the fact that Jimin’s fixed his hair, parting it in the center, but the nurse is looking at him with a suppressed smile. “If Jeongguk is here, tell him to get into the games room. I’m in the mood for pool.”
Minseok nods and walks away, leaving him alone in his room. He doesn’t know why he cares so much, but he pushes the hair back over his eyes undecidedly, then parts it one more time. He grimaces at the image of himself, staring back at him. “Idiot,” he mumbles, before he wheels himself downstairs.
“You look good today,” Jeongguk says, entering the games room after a few minutes. Jimin is staring out the window when the latter enters. He drags his gaze from the view over the city, and focuses his attention on the athlete. Jimin raises a brow at him, about to reply sharply, but he holds back his tongue knowing that he meant no harm. On the contrary, it’s a compliment. It’s not exactly the type of compliment that Jimin’s expected to hear, especially from Jeongguk , but it makes him feel warm on the inside, strangely enough.
“Thanks,” Jimin replies, trying to ignore the fact that Jeongguk looked… Well, he looked good today, too. He briefly takes in the way that Jeongguk’s hair is styled, parted on the right, his dark brown hair falling over his eyes slightly. It seems that they’re both making some strange effort, for whatever underlying reasons– Jimin himself is still confused as to why he is making an effort at all. He’s crippled. “I’m guessing that you know how to play pool?” He questions, moving to grab himself a cue stick.
“I grew up in bars. Of course I do,” he responds, taking a cue stick. Jimin’s eyes are straying. They linger a little too long on the way Jeongguk’s arms flex through the fabric of his black long-sleeved shirt. Jeongguk reaches for the triangle, making sure that the balls are all set inside of it, in the pattern solids and stripes, solids and stripes. Once he’s sure, he continues, “Have you ever… Watched any of my fights?”
The question is so out of the blue that he finds himself squinting at the other boy. Jeongguk’s gaze is innocent, not at all interrogatory. His eyes are wide, reflective of the pale light cast atop of the pool table. Jimin suppresses the urge to choke and hopes that his cheeks aren’t a giveaway. He’s seen all of Jeongguk’s fights. If he didn’t catch them live on television, he’d revisit the livestream when he woke up and he would spend hours just watching . Of course, he can’t admit this to Jeongguk. It’s too… Expository of himself. He doesn’t want Jeongguk to know, either, that he was once a fan.
He clears his throat. “I’ve seen some. I don’t remember all but the one with Parker. The latest one, because of the drug scandal,” he lies through his teeth and moves forward, so he can position his cue stick against the white ball. Jeongguk nods. Jimin would break for this round. “Would you actually do steroids, though?”
The young athlete rubs the back of his neck. Jimin watches him from his peripheral vision, catching the doubt flash before his eyes. Jimin positions to break. “My mom overdosed when I was younger,” Jeongguk says all of a sudden. Jimin completely slips, his cue stick jutting out weakly against the white ball, sending it towards the triangle, but the impact is weightless. He does choke this time, unable to find purchase after hearing something like that . He withdraws his arms from the table and focuses completely now on Jeongguk, who is grimacing.
“Holy fuck, I’m sorry,” Jimin stammers, truly at a loss of words.
“It’s fine. It was a long time ago, so it doesn’t matter.” Jeongguk eyes the balls that have barely been spread by his weak hit. He bends slightly, propping the tip of the cue stick against his fingers, which form a ‘v’ shape. With strength and precision, he hits the white ball, sending two striped balls into two pockets respectively. He leans back, satisfied with his work. “Hey, are we going to talk about irrelevant things or are we going to have a real game?” He grins at Jimin, who knows that he’s holding back from telling the whole story. Jimin doesn’t pry, as much as he wants to. Instead, he grips his cue stick tightly.
“Game on,” he breathes out. Jeongguk smirks.
The game continues on from there. Jeongguk is successfully piling stripe after stripe until Jimin is practically begging, of course, non-verbally, for a mercy rule to be applied. He’s typically good at the game, but Jeongguk is just a whole new level of talented at billiards. His movements are similar as to the ones Jimin’s observed in his various matches as a boxer. Quick, sharp, calculated. But his latest is a scratch. Jimin knows that Jeongguk is giving him a chance. He was absolutely terrible at faking being terrible.
Jimin eyes him sideways to let Jeongguk know that he was very well aware of his free ball but he doesn’t say anything, instead opting to reach for the ball. He places it on one side of the table and makes an easy shot. “Learn to keep your hands on your own balls,” he says cockily, as he makes another solid shot into a pocket.
Jeongguk rounds the table and leans down beside where Jimin’s positioning himself for another shot. He attempts at ignoring the puppy eyes that Jeongguk possesses all of a sudden, truly wide and pure as he says, “I just tried to make the game interesting. You know, given that your balls were immobile for the first ten minutes.”
Jimin stops, setting his cue stick down and rotates, so that he’s very, very close to Jeongguk. Their faces are barely apart, only separated by their individual willpower; both parties not wanting to surrender to the clear tension that has arisen into the air. He leans forward, as closely as possible. And although he tries his best not to take note, he sees Jeongguk’s lip twitch slightly at the corner, giving away into a knowing grin. “Only I can make jokes about paraplegia,” he remarks, all of a sudden, before grabbing his stick and making a straight shot. “Or at least, I’m the only one who can make jokes about paraplegia that are actually funny .”
“Well shit,” Jeongguk exhales from behind him, as he moves to take the last shot. Jimin does so with ease, aiming for where Jeongguk is stood, right behind the pocket where the final solid ball is so openly sat. Jeongguk’s eyes trail the ball all the way to his crotch area and he releases a laugh. It’s a strange kind of laugh, not the type he’d expected from Jeongguk, but again– there was so little things that he’d guessed right about the boxer in the first place. He always was unpredictable and kept Jimin on his metaphorical toes. “Good game, Park Jimin,” Jeongguk applauds.
“Good game, Jeon Jeongguk,” Jimin replies, leaning back against his chair and allowing himself to smile evenly.
The evening ends with them back on the same table, sat on the foyer. Jeongguk, after the game of pool, excuses himself to a run. Jimin did the same, excusing himself to take a nap, but truthfully, he just needed a breather, especially after such tension that had arisen between both of them during the pool game. He didn’t want to take note of every single thing that happened but he remembered it; the electricity that jolted through him whenever Jeongguk would brush past his arm as he made his way around the table. His smirk as he held Jimin’s gaze so righteously.
Jimin sat on his wheelchair before dinner, staring blankly at Jeongguk’s name, encircled a hundred of times on the window that sits between him and the garden. Something about Jeongguk is truly special. Jimin’s heart is ravenous, unabashedly beating against his chest all of a sudden as he closes his eyes and remembers Jeongguk that afternoon, in that god-forsaken black long-sleeved shirt, with his hair so perfectly framed against his face.
He sits on the table that evening, his hand on his copy of Oedipus Rex . Jeongguk is sat across, scrolling through his phone, presumably his social media feed, probably checking up on the status of the rematch, any new remarks made by uneducated journalists and critics with no better to do than target a teenage athlete with no actual proof of his usage of steroids. Jimin pauses his reading, placing his fingers between the two stacks of pages. “Anything interesting?” He prompts, with a bored raise of his brow.
Jeongguk frowns. “Nothing new. Same old. Western media trying to tear me down, as usual, in favor of Parker.” He presses the side of his phone and it locks with a soft click . He sets the phone aside and leans forward immediately, to look at his book. "Oedipus Rex , huh? That’s a big book,” he comments.
Jimin inspects the book. It’s small in size, but Jeongguk’s right when he says that it’s a big book. It’s heavy, filled with a lot of content to think about, as is Underworld . But that’s the appeal; the further discussion provoked after reading the novel. “It’s a pretty good book. I mean, if you’re into incest… Blind people… Prophecies… Typical Greek tragedies, you know.”
“Greek tragedies are the worst. I say this is where we draw the line between our literary tastes. I say DeLillo is common ground. Sophocles is… Absolute no from me.” Jeongguk picks up a carrot stick and places it in between his lips, chewing while waiting for Jimin’s response.
“Ok. If Sophocles is on my side of the spectrum, that leaves you with Nicholas Sparks.” Jimin smiles at Jeongguk’s expression. His cheeks flush red and his head ducks down shyly. He looks so different from the domineering figure that he’d met only a week or so ago. Jimin likes this side of Jeongguk. It’s so unfiltered, so raw and so… Adorable; which isn’t exactly the typical adjective used to describe a boxing champion.
He presses another carrot stick into his mouth and he chews slowly. After swallowing, and after his cheeks have toned down the red colouring, he states, “Sparks is a good author. So what if The Notebook has a shitty plotline? The writing makes up for it.”
Jimin snorts, wheezing out a loud laugh. “His writing? Pathetic. Learn from the Greek tragedians.”
“Okay, then. Hear me out. DeLillo was inspired by James Joyce. James Joyce was inspired by Saint Thomas Aquinas, who was a philosopher. You know who else is a philosopher? That’s fucking right, Sophocles.” Jeongguk points a carrot stick at him with a pleased expression drawn across his face. His eyes are glittering with amusement, with a happiness that Jimin’s never seen before. His eyes… They crinkle at the edges. His whole face is expressive. Truly expressive.
Jimin can’t help but laugh along with him, because it’s so ridiculous. “Sophocles is not a philosopher, idiot. He’s a tragedian. Philosophers are intellectuals that delve into theological and scientific concepts in a rational manner. Tragedians write tragedies. Sad things, based off of myths and epics that are orally transferred down from generation to generation.”
“Okay, we get it, you’re possibly more educated than I am in literature,” he raises his hands up in defeat, but remains radiant. “You really do know your shit, huh?”
“Like I said, there’s a lot of time to throw around when you’re a paraplegic.” Jimin shifts forward, to lean his head on his crossed arms on the table. He really takes his time, dragging his lazy eyes over Jeongguk. A fucking fine specimen he is, if Jimin has to be honest with himself. But whatever this lurching feeling is; the deep longing that haunts him, looming over him in these previous days, it’s more than surface attraction. Jimin doesn’t like it, but he’s growing dependency. And even if he doesn’t like it, and has always loathed the idea of dependency, he realizes that he’s still sitting on the wheelchair, paralyzed and unprogressive.
Jeongguk was able to reignite the old flame that burned through his bones, fueling him to live . The flame that so delicately seared each and every part of him, the fire that taught him to trust in his passions, in his self-integrity. He was able to stir the stagnant pool of hope that had sat so uselessly at the pit of his stomach. Jeongguk made him want to dance again.
So he allows himself to fall.
He watches as Jeongguk speaks animatedly, his hands expressive as he continues to talk on and on about literature, the one other thing that Jimin loves so dearly and he realizes, for the first time in these eight months, that he’s never smiled this genuinely.
Fucking hell , Jimin thinks to himself. Jeon Jeongguk.
Chapter 7: First Snow
THE PEAK OF WINTER IS NEAR.
Jeongguk senses this two days after he and Jimin had silently agreed to a stalemate.
He looks outside of the window of his room, at the white peaks of mountains in the distance. As his vision does, his mind drifts to the day they’d gone over to his father. He’d never seen Jimin so upset. And based off of the many experiences that his father had described, he was sure that it’s been a while since Jimin’s been so upset.
He twists his finger around the string of his hoodie. Jeongguk remembers, too, when the car had sped at him. He would be lying, if he said he hadn’t been so terrified. But he also thought that it was selfish, feeling so fearful for something that never happened. He put himself in Jimin’s mind over and over again, trying to penetrate past wall after wall, but there was no way he could think like Jimin; even empathize with what he’d gone through.
Despite all that, he still finds himself in a state of fear. It’s not like he hasn’t experienced his fair share of near-death experiences. The worst, he remembers, happened on a rainy evening, back on the streets in Busan.
He’d been scrambling back then, in debt. He’d just lost a local fight, betting more than he could afford; breaking his own rule for the first time. He’d gotten too cocky, placing more than his owned cards on the table. And when he’d gotten held down for eight seconds, signifying his loss in the fight, all he could do was run.
Of course, it hadn’t been an easy escape. Barmen, bidders and onlookers had tried to stop him, but his petite and sleek figure allowed him to slip past their grabbing hands and he sprinted away, fleeing from the scene.
Jane had been out working late, so he was alone. He could’ve asked her for money, he could’ve bought himself time to repay the debt, but he knew that asking Jane for help would not only damage his pride, but would put more stress on her, especially since she was trying her best to make a living for herself. So he thrust the idea away and found himself sprinting down an alleyway.
He’d thought that he’d gotten away when a man had torn out of the shadows, his astute figure almost demonic against the backlit street. Jeongguk had turned on his heel. There was no way he could fight somebody as threatening as this man. He was muscular in every aspect; and by the looks of it, even if Jeongguk could match up, the man could easily knock him out with one brutal hit.
He’s pushing off from the pavement, when the man grabs him by his shoulder, pushing him with ease and seemingly no effort. As if he weighed nothing more than a dead body. And when Jeongguk felt himself collide with the stone wall, he thought that he may as well be one. His head was spinning, but he was able to collect himself enough to duck when he threw another swift knuckle his way. He was able to use his height to his advantage, slipping right underneath the man. He was only barely fourteen.
Then he’d heard the gunshot.
Jeongguk was victorious. Relieved that somebody had come for his rescue.
Until he felt it. Lodged between his shoulder blade, a steel bullet. It was cold. So cold.
It wasn’t pain that he felt, but there was this sensation, unexplainable, that ran throughout his body. He let out one spasm, quivering not at the idea of a bullet impaled him, but the idea of death. He was so fearful at that moment. He knew he was crying, praying, reaching out to anybody, as he watched the looming shadow approach his limp figure. Help me, he’d thought, tears sliding down his cheeks. Anybody . Anybody –
His mind rung with empty noise. His hand was so tightly gripped around the string of his hoodie, pulling it so hard until he realized that he couldn’t breathe. It took him a few seconds to gather enough of his right mind in order for him to release the string, so he let out a spluttering breath. And it took him another few seconds to realize that he’d yelled. Embarrassingly loud. Jeongguk presses his eyes shut and releases a laugh that’s so artificial that his lips curve into a deep frown.
Breathing heavily, he barely hears his door push open. It takes him a long time to register the sound of wheels against wood, and he manages to detach his gaze from the view, to turn to Jimin. He’s sat on his seat, his brows furrowed. It’s not explicit concern that’s painted across his features, but it’s something resemblant. “I thought you were getting murdered, or something,” he says, which Jeongguk almost laughs at. The irony.
He does laugh, rubbing at the back of his neck. “Yeah. Well,” he shrugs his shoulders, ignoring the constricting feeling in his throat. His voice is hoarse, but he ignores it. And Jimin does, too, if he even notices. “Sorry if I woke you up.”
“It’s… Alright.” Jimin trails after him, steadily moving down the ramp as Jeongguk does. “I have an errand to run in town today. MInseok’s at the hospital so…”
“I think it’d do me good to get out of the house,” he concludes with a brief nod. “Let’s go.”
Jimin doesn’t question him as he grabs a thick sweater that he’s left in the laundry room. He takes his coat from the overhanger and drapes it over his shoulders as Jimin pulls open the front door. He holds it open as Jimin pushes himself down the ramp, onto the front porch. Jeongguk locks the house shut after they exit. There’s a dangerous feeling that lurks in his gut, telling him that the town is nothing but a bad idea, but seeing Jimin willing to leave the house for a few hours… It seemed harmless. He offers to push Jimin along but the latter shakes his head and easily navigates his way down the hillside.
The town is filled with a slight warmth that’s accentuated by the warm-coloured lights that decorate the homes. Yellow light spills from the living structures, casting light on any passersby that is crossing the road, or walking down the sidewalk. It’s a very homely community, he realizes. But he’s surprised, when a load of people wave at Jimin, as if he’s some sort of frequent. Jimin smiles on his own accord, his eyes squinting as he does. Jeongguk finds himself smiling as they trail down the grey sidewalk.
He’s never walked down the streets of a town with such leisure before. As they continue, he realizes that it could very well be one of his favorite things. Being able to stroll along without a care in the world; even if only a brief illusion in the grand scheme of things. Being able to stand amongst people who didn’t look fearful of him, in admiration of him or expectant of him. Being able to nod respectfully towards elders who were jovially crossing across the road, to go to the café that stood on the other side of the pavement. Being able to look at the sky, to see it blue, rather than a dull grey. It was a pleasant feeling that brought him a inner sense of tranquility.
“So what’s this errand?” he asks, after they turn another corner, into another bustling street. There are barely any cars. Despite the weather, people are inclined to walk. And it’s better this way. With everyone, joint together, basking in the winter air. He’s never experienced the homeliness that this small town at the edge of Seoul has to offer. He’s lived all of his life in loveless communities. His home had been a wreck. The area where he fought wasn’t particularly the most welcoming of blossoming relationships. Instead, relationships were bred on lies, money and the individual will to survive.
Jimin glances up at him, his face creased slightly in amusement. “Already bored?” he asks.
“No. I’m just wondering, what errand could you possibly have to run?”
“I can’t run errands.”
“Funny. What’s seriously up?”
“I kind of wanted ice cream,” Jimin admits then, with a little rub of his palms against his cheeks, which are red, stinging from the cold. Of course Jimin wants ice cream. Only Jimin would desire ice cream in the stark cold. “You know, there’s this really good ice cream shop, over in… Uh. Near Geoje station. It sells the best ice cream. Have you been?” His eyes twinkle with remembrance.
Jeongguk shakes his head as they continue down the lane. “I never had the opportunity to leave Haeundae beach, or around that area when I was younger. And frankly enough, the ice cream there… Complete horseshit. And recently, well, I haven’t thought about getting ice cream. Especially when my life’s a rotation of shitty protein shakes, protein meals and protein powder.” He realizes how artificial everything is in the industry. Bodybuilding, management, betting.
Jimin pushes himself along without struggle, his head leaning back slightly. “Hm. Come on, follow me. I know a good place downtown. Not as good as the one in Geoje, but it’s going to blow your mind nonetheless.”
He follows Jimin down a small, stone slope. At the end of the road is a small shop that is seamlessly embedded into the array of scattered buildings down the block. It’s a pale grey exterior, with a lot of greenery that decorates the windows, which emits an alike, warm light as the rest of the residential homes further up the road. It looks homely, and he observes that the structure and furnishing, that he sees through the window, is similar as to how Jimin’s own room is decorated. Glass, yellow light, wooden structures, plants.
Jimin stops at the door and Jeongguk pushes it open for him, so he can wheel himself over the small bump that sits in between the outside and the inside. He makes his way towards the counter, and with the sweetest amount of syrup he can insert into his tone, he asks, “is Yeojin here?”
The man at the cashier looks up, then down, to where Jimin is sat on his chair. “Uh,” he stammers a bit, obviously caught of guard. It’s an awkward moment that passes. Jeongguk cringes, realizing that the cashier may not be too well-acquainted with Jimin, perhaps a new employee.
“Sorry, I forgot to introduce myself.” Jimin reaches out his hand, but he’s obviously a head level lower so it’s difficult to actually get within range for a handshake. The sly look in his eyes gives away his mischievous intent. “Park Jimin, resident cripple.”
Jeongguk elbows him in the arm. The man opens his mouth, then shuts it close, obviously finding it difficult to search for a response that neither affirms Jimin’s use of the word cripple or denies it. Because technically, Jimin is a cripple. But then the word itself is demeaning, so it gives no room for the man to recover. Jimin is insane in his wits. So Jeongguk interjects, “Is Yeojin here?” he repeats, for the sake of the man’s sanity.
“Y–Yeah. She’s down in the last booth, on break,” he replies, scratching the nape of his neck.
Jeongguk grabs the handles of Jimin’s wheelchair and pushes him before he could say anything more to the poor man at the counter. On the way to the back of the restaurant, Jeongguk murmurs, “You clowned him.”
“He’s weak. He could talk to you but he couldn’t even find a coherent response for a paraplegic?” Jimin moves his head backwards, eyeing Jeongguk from a low angle. “Imagine if you were like that. You see a man on a wheelchair and you just clam up.”
“Ever-so-charming,” Jeonguk mumbles.
Yeojin is young. That’s the first thing he notices when they come to a halt, where she’s sat in the booth, with earphones plugged in, her head bobbing up and down to the rhythm of the music. She’s writing away in her notebook, referring studiously to the textbooks that are sprawled around her like rays of light. She looks up when they wait for her to notice, and her eyes light up ceremoniously upon seeing Jimin. She looks past the paraplegic, towards Jeongguk, and her mouth drops.
“No fucking way. Jeon Jeongguk is the latest shrink?” She exclaims, pulling the earphones from her ears, placing them on the surface of the white wooden table.”You said that you got an even shittier one this time around.”
Jimin lifts his shoulders, unconcerned about the fact that Jeongguk’s eyebrows raise at her remark. So he does have friends he does communicate with. And he’s told them that he was a shittier version of a therapist, basically. “Spoke too soon. I got a little more progress down below. A bit of ankle action.”
Jeongguk looks down at him. He’s surprised. They haven’t worked on any physical activity since the first time, when he’d checked up on his physical strength and fitness. He hasn’t seen Jimin in the gym either, so that means that his assumptions have been correct. Jimin was working on his own, in his room. “You can move your ankle?” he questions, unable to hide the mixture of excitement and shock in his tone.
“Mhm.” Jimin doesn’t elaborate, only leaning his arms on the table. “Look, Jeonggukkie here is lacking in ice cream education. Could we please get today’s special?”
Yeojin closes her notebook, feigning thought. “Depends, are you going to actually pay for it this time?” She shoots back, with a squint of her eyes.
“I’m wounded.” Jimin falls back against the leather chair playfully. It’s a whole new side to Jimin, again. The one that’s playful; the one that’s resemblant of a normal friend. “Jeongguk will pay. He’s really rich, you know?”
Yeojin rises to her feet, glancing at Jeongguk with delight. “Alright. Have a seat and I’ll bring it over in a few.”
Jimin eats very loudly, very expressively. He places the spoon into his mouth and he practically groans. Jeongguk isn’t a messy eater himself so he’s filled with both dislike and enjoyment as he watches Jimin eat. The ice cream, is, of course, delicious. It’s some strange fusion between a spicy flavour and a sweet one. He thinks that it’s chocolate and chili, or something along those lines. He’s tasted it before, once, when he’d travelled abroad for a match in Japan. It’s not his usual taste, but it is tasty nonetheless, so he indulges himself, taking the spoons at a leisure pace.
Jimin, on the other hand, is eating . And for some apparent reason, ice cream must be chewed. Jeongguk watches his mouth move in a motion that would be made when one was chewing, or biting, and he wonders, who in their right mind chews their ice cream.
When the bill comes, Jimin picks it up and inspects it. “What a fucker,” he says with a soft shake of his head.
Jeongguk reaches for it, and sees that the price has been divided in two. Couple’s Discount , it says. He mirrors Jimin’s action. “Indeed.”
The conversation that stems from their three minds is interesting, needless to say. Yeojin explains all of her studies, the research that she’s putting into medicine and the biology course she’s taking in college. Jimin updates her about the ongoings of the past two months, and they all have a quick laugh over Jimin’s mischievous ways; the various times he’d spent nights up late, conceiving the most devious of plans to push his therapists away. And Jeongguk talks about his life back in Busan, as a famous boxer. It turns out that Yeojin is an avid watcher. She’s eager to learn all about the ring, the works behind all of the cinematics shown on television.
She asks him if he’s ever seriously injured another person. He tells her and Jimin about the story of his first time picking up a gun, when he was about thirteen years old. He’d been mugged for the seventh time in that month, so he picked up the weapon. When someone had tried again, he’d whipped it out. He never shot, but he used it as an alternative to a steel knuckle, jutting the butt of the pistol into the man’s face, sending an excessive amount of blood splattering across the air. Jimin listens intently, his head propped up on his crossed arms. Yeojin is more expressive, her eyes widening as he told them about his escapades.
Soon, their personal lives are tucked away, save for another day. Their conversation takes a turn for an interesting choice. They go over the various flavors of ice cream, playing a game wherein they alternated between each other, him, Jimin and Yeojin. They went in alphabetical order, over and over again, until somebody lapsed into silence, when they couldn’t name any other flavor.
Of course, Jeongguk goes down first.
“I swear to god, Himalayan Strawberry ice cream is a thing!” Jeongguk had tried to argue, wringing his hands in the air, out of exasperation. It’s not a thing, but he can make a good case for it.
Yeojin huffed out incredulously. “I can’t believe you. Jeon Jeongguk, trying to snitch up a word out of thin air.”
Jimin interjects, “Jeongguk, you’re out. Hibiscus,” he names, slapping his small-sized hand against the table.
“Iced coffee ice cream,” Yeojin responds.
“That’s non-existent. And even if it does, we already did say coffee ice cream, and it’s basically the same thing.” Jimin remarks, victoriously.
Yeojin and Jeongguk can’t let it slide.
Jimin makes a good fighter. Nobody can beat Park Jimin.
They eventually end the conversation. Yeojin has to go back to her studies, Jimin wants to stroll around and Jeongguk is aching to see more of the town and what it has to offer. He pulls the coat from Jimin’s lap while they stop at the entrance, and he helps Jimin put it on. It’s getting so much colder; he feels it as the door pushes open, the sharp, stinging wind a cold slap to his face. It rarely is this cold in Busan. The only weather that qualifies as relatively chilly down in the south was when the ocean breeze flew inland, but even that was a small fraction of the winter he felt now.
They push out onto the road. Jimin is clearly in a good mood so it’s Jeongguk who scrambles after him as the older boy pushes his wheelchair at a speedy rate, his hands working well despite the cold weather.
It’s when they cross an intersection, making it to another side of town, when Jimin pauses, all of a sudden. He presses his hands against the wheels of the wheelchair and the sudden halt makes Jeongguk stop in his tracks too. He turns and sees Jimin’s eyes, squinted at the sky. And he’s glad that he turns, because his expression transitions from a skeptical one into one filled with wonder.
It’s one of those rare moments.
He takes in every single second of it. The way Jimin’s eyes widen, a bright innocence illuminating his deep brown gaze. His lips part wondrously. His hands are light on his wheels, as if all is forgotten. The accident. The fact that he’s paralyzed. Everything in that moment is so right . The events that happened days ago had been only a preview of the true person underneath the facade implemented by Park Jimin, as a result of the accident. This , Jeongguk thinks , is the real JImin .
The real Jimin’s eyes broaden at the sight of beauty. Jeongguk follows his gaze, all the way to the very first speck of snow that falls from the sky, a dainty piece that lands below their feet, but it’s snow all the same. It’s beautiful, the idea of the first snow. And it’s even more beautiful, the idea of sharing the first snow with another person. As a child, he’d been forced to see snow on television. Snowfall in Busan was a rarity greater than any gem. And now that he’s seeing it, he can’t help but allow the childish desire in him surface.
The snow is quick to cover the surfaces with it’s white coating. In a matter of minutes, everything is suddenly a crystalline beauty, the sunlight reflecting over the pale-coloured homes.
There’s a painting called Vue de toits by French impressionist Gustave Caillebotte. It depicts the rooftops in France, when winter struck around. The painting is full of dull colors. It was one of the only bases he had when it came to his knowledge of snow. He’d searched up many of the places wherein snow was most prevalent, most beautiful. Mount Fuji, in Japan. The streets of Ontario, Canada. All the way up on the peak of Mount Everest. And he’s seen paintings, like Vue de toits , but they’re all two-dimensional.
Now that he’s standing amidst the snowfall himself, he realizes that none of those photos, those paintings he’d stared at so longingly, had done snow justice.
And now that he’s standing amongst a magical setting, everything is illuminated with the promise of life.
The real Jimin… is in love with life. He’s grateful for all of the moments like these, that may seem significant to somebody whose used to the same annual routine. But for someone like Jimin, who’s thought over and over, that his life was over; and for someone like Jeongguk, who’s thought that every beauty in life came with danger, or a price… Both of them are simply starstruck. In awe of the simplest blessings that come their way. It truly is special, that he’s able to share the first snowfall with somebody as deeply etched with gratitude as he is.
He feels Jimin’s hand, small and frail, slide in to his own. Jeongguk is surprised at first, but he sets it aside and squeezes his hand instead. Jimin, beside him, says, “Thanks for not giving up on me.” His voice is barely audible, soft underneath Jeongguk’s wild thoughts and unleashed emotions, but he hears it.
“I’m a fighter for a cause,” he responds honestly. “I know the first time we met, I told you that I wouldn’t fight for you, but I guess I lied, huh?” He huffs out a breath, watching the amount of snow pile up beneath them. The floor, the rooftops, their interlaced fingers; everything is covered in the magical white that descends from the skies.
“That’s what threw me off. What made me listen, I guess.” Jimin’s head tilts to the side, his gaze distant as he remembers Jeongguk’s first day in. “I was thinking… If this boy, this persistent, head-ass, headstrong street fighter wouldn’t even bother with me… What the fuck was I doing wrong? I realized that I could continue to terrorize therapist after therapist because they would get hurt . Their job is to help people and if they don’t… They don’t have a purpose, do they?
“Which is why, when you swung around, I knew I had to straighten up. There was no way you would be so hurt if I did the same things to you, because you know my father’s a good man. Even if he’s off… As a father, he’d still send you off with those lawyers. And you’d eventually come clean anyway. And continue to box.” The happiness dims from his eyes as he says this. His grip loosens too. “I think I’m just terrified now. After two more weeks, you’ll be off to your rematch. And I’ll be having my surgery. Jeongguk, I need to… I need to ask something of you.”
The snow continues to fall around them but he has a bitter taste on his tongue. He knows Jimin’s request won’t be easy. Especially if he’s admitting it like this, in such an intimate setting. But he bobs his head once, agreeing to listen.
“Before the last few days, I want you to leave and forget about me.”
Oh, what a sick joke the universe is playing on him.
“If I die… Or if I choose the other option, I don’t think… I don’t think i can do any of it if you were around. And your rematch… It’s important. To you and me, both. Because if I don’t make it out, I want you to continue living your life as if you’ve never met me. I want you to continue fighting. It’s all you have… If not for yourself, do it on behalf of me… I… You know?” His words are all jumbled, the request suddenly so messed up, as if Jimin himself couldn’t remember why he’d asked in the first place. “I… Please. Just agree to forget about me.”
“That’s so stupid, Jimin. Are you…?” He pulls his hand back and stares at the boy in the wheelchair, whose head is ducked low. His eyes are wide, lost. “No. No .”
It’s Jimin’s turn to grow aggravated. His demeanor shifts into one of hostility all of a sudden, just like that. He speaks, sharply, “What do you mean no? I don’t need your fucking pretty face in my mind when I make the decision. I don’t… I– I don’t want anybody… Anybody’s influence when I decide whether I want to live or die. Sure, you’ve helped me decide. You continue to help me, but remember? Remember DeLillo. Love it. Trust it. Then fucking leave it be. You’ve done nothing of those three. You don’t love me. You don’t trust me. You won’t leave me be!”
Jeongguk’s blood boils. The first snow is relentless. the small shrapnels of harmless glass falling against his face. The wind seems colder despite the warmth that rises in him when he yells, “I do love you, idiot! That’s why it’s so difficult for me to trust you, and leave you!”
It’s another one of those moments. One of the moments in life where every wall built has fallen. An expository moment for all feelings, all suppressed emotions that have been tucked away into the darkest corners of the earth. It’s terrifying, the idea of being so vulnerable in front of someone who can very well break him with a simple word. Or, in this case, a lack of four words in response.
And it is terrifying, when Jimin’s eyes drop dead. His gaze is coffee-black. The radiance, once sparked by the awe dissipates in a matter of moments. It’s so amazing, and so heartbreaking, how the first snow had turned into the first heartbreak Jeongguk’s ever experienced. All he wants to do in that very moment, is to kneel over and cry. It’s no longer the heartbreak he has from Jimin’s lack of response, but it’s the pent up loneliness inside of him.
His mother abandoned him. His father never claimed him as his own. Jane had left him for better opportunity. And Jimin… Jimin didn’t love him back. Jimin. Park Jimin was right in what he said. All he had was the fight inside of him. Everything else was fleeting, ready to disappear in the times he’d needed the most. It was fighting that got him out of the streets known as hell. It was fighting that got him out of his situation. It continues to be a fight. But fights don’t last forever .
There’s this term when boxing. A fall through the ropes. It’s when a boxer is knocked out, falling past the ropes that constrain their fight, keeping them from the onlookers. But when it happens, the weaker opponent is sent into the audience, where they find that they are inferior, just like everybody else. That’s what Jeongguk feels at that very moment. It’s his fall through the ropes. He lands amongst the ranks of other therapists, other people that have tried to help, to love Jimin, but have found themselves in misery. Even if Jimin swears that Jeongguk is different, he can’t see the distinction now. All he sees is Jimin’s furious expression, and it sends a searing pain through his shoulder, where he’d been shot.
He looks away when he hears his name being called out. He sees a man with a camera bag slung over his shoulder, notepad in hand, and he knew that this was the worst idea. He’d felt it earlier on, that something was going to go wrong, and it seems as everything has gone downhill.
Jimin snaps out of his own daze. Jeongguk watches him turn to the reporter that is running towards them frantically. And he says, “go. Leave.”
“No,” Jeongguk responds hoarsely, reaching underneath Jimin with all of his strength so he can carry the older boy, bridal-style. Jimin is adverse to the idea, his face turning dark, but Jeongguk needs to revert back to his state of indifference. He does so, swallowing what remains of his pride. He straightens up, feeling his body wobble with a newfound unstability.
“Shut up and don’t struggle.” Jimin doesn’t, as he carries him, forgetting about the wheelchair. He sprints with all of his might, through the town, cutting through the street alleyways he’s memorized on the way to the point they’d ended up in. He’s mindless as he easily swerves them both back to the base of the hill. He braces himself before he continues running, with Jimin in his arms, back to the house. It takes all of his willpower, all of the remaining bits and pieces of strength he holds, not to collapse when he arrives. Jimin’s not at all heavy, in fact, the former dancer’s retained his petite, lean frame, but his mind is elsewhere.
He places Jimin down on the couch, where he’s forced to stay. His crutches are on the table, but Jimin sits obediently, despite how he looks so flustered, so angry, but Jeongguk doesn’t want to hear it this time. He doesn’t even need to think twice before he turns and makes his way to the foyer, where he pulls out his phone, ready to dial for Mr. Park. He’s going to end this. He’s tired. And sick. And all he wants right now is to be able to fucking knock the shit out of somebody. And the last thing he wants, despite the boiling blood in his veins, is for it to be Jimin.
He can’t believe everything. You love him? Jeongguk’s mind is hazy. Are you serious? How could he possibly feel love, or love somebody, if he had never felt loved himself?
He doesn’t understand. He presses his free hand against his temples. His eyes grow foggy the more he thinks, so he zones all of his attention onto his phone.
He’s scrolling through his contacts when he feels a heavy impact against his back. Jeongguk catches himself and looks down. A hand is slung around his waist, gripping tightly against his overcoat. It’s small, and it’s trembling in a way that is of fear. His eyes slip past the hand, to focus on the crutches that are positioned around each of his legs. He can feel Jimin’s face pressed against his back, the soft heave as he says, “Don’t go.” His voice is glass, so breakable. “Please,” he breathes out.
“You’re so selfish,” Jeongguk chokes out, his words strangled. He finds his composure, swallowing back the rising urge to shed tears, to show Jimin how much he truly cared. “You want me to stay for as long as you please, but I’m not allowed to ever come back.”
“Think about it,” he pleads, his grip whitening. Jimin stifles a sob.
“I’m not going to forget about you,” Jeongguk responds, dropping his arms to his sides indignantly. “I’m not.”
Jimin’s hand is shaking wildly. So much that he retracts himself from Jeongguk, who turns to face him. He looks unsteady, his eyes slanted downwards at the edges, his lip curled into a pout. “Then don’t. I just can’t stand to… I won’t be able… I– I can’t .” He’s wobbling on his crutches.
Jeongguk steps forward to steady him. “Let’s get you to your room.” Jimin nods. They make their way to Jimin’s room. Jeongguk keeps his hand on Jimin’s back the entirety of the walk there, and he pushes the sliding door to the side for him, too. When Jimin is stood beside his bed, he releases the crutches and falls back against the mattress. His eyelids flutter shut. He looks at Jimin’s tired figure and remembers that Jimin’s been wheeling himself on his own for the past few days, and although he makes it look harmless, it takes such an emotional and physical toll on the paraplegic boy. Jeongguk realizes that he’s tired too. He’s tired of arguing, but he doesn’t want to agree to Jimin’s terms.
“Can we talk about it tomorrow?” Jimin murmurs from where he lays. He has one arm draped over his eyes. His legs dangle off of the bed lifelessly.
Jeongguk doesn’t want to press, especially when Jimin’s suddenly looking pale. The colour has drained from his face, the faint blush that usually adorned his cheeks gone. He runs his hands through his hair, then over his face. He has a lot on his mind too. The reporters had caught up to his whereabouts. Or if they hadn’t, and it was a coincidence, there was no way he was leaving unscathed from the afternoon’s incident. News reports would soon be scouring the small town on the edge of Seoul, and it would be little time before they approached the house on the hill.
He does message Mr. Park, but not to tell him of his resignation as Jimin’s… help .
they found me
reporters, i mean
I'll handle it.
Mr. Park’s an influential man. He could definitely lure reporters, somehow, into thinking he was elsewhere. Hell, if the man told them that Jeongguk had fled the country, they’d believe it. But despite this security, he still feels exposed, not only because of his abrupt admission to Jimin, but because he remembers that the world is still looking at him, expecting his decision on the rematch. Manager Na… Oh, he’d nearly forgotten about the life he’d lived before this one, even though only two weeks had passed.
Manager Na was still expecting him to come out with his own personal statement but he wasn’t going to until he was sure that Jimin was okay. And he was going to stay, as long as it took, for him to recover.
He slides his phone into his pocket and pulls out the chair from the bedside desk. Jimin’s asleep, his arm loose, falling over his head. His eyes are still sad, slightly red around the lids. Jeongguk tears his gaze from Jimin’s sleeping figure and he focuses on the belongings that are spread across the desk.
There’s only one photo that sits on top of the glass surface. Jeongguk reaches out and takes the wooden frame. It’s a photo of him and a boy that poses behind him, with a peace sign drawn over one eye. Jimin has his tongue stuck out playfully, one eye creased into a wink. He looks at the note, inked in red marker beneath their faces. The other boy seems to be someone named Kim Taehyung. He wonders what happened to Taehyung, if the two are still friends. He pushes the frame back to its’ original position and turns around, looking around Jimin’s room, trying to grasp for any other clue as to how to help him.
His eyes catch sight of red ink on glass, hidden away by a pale brown curtain that spreads over the left side of his room. He stands up and moves towards the glass door, where he inspects the ground. The red marker used to write was on the floor, fallen and forgotten.
Jeongguk holds either side of the curtain and he pushes the fabric aside. A sprawl of red ink is revealed before him. It only takes him meager seconds to realize that it’s some sort of brain map. A timeline, actually, to organize his thoughts.
It’s a timeline of his life .
And it ends with his name.
Encircled over and over, again and again, endlessly .
Jeongguk steps back once, so he can take the whole timeline into his line of sight. He traces back the events, all the way to the day of his birth. October 13, 1995. Then he begins dancing. He releases a long breath. Jimin’s father wasn’t exaggerating when he said that he’d been dancing since he could walk.
He presses his fingers to the permanent marker, tracing over the red ink.
Father moves to Seoul .
So Mr. Park had left when he was only young. Jeongguk can see it. Jimin’s face, creased with difficulty as he watched his father pack his clothes into black, hard suitcases and luggages. Jimin’s youthful expression, filled with both innocence and a torn pain as he couldn’t even stop it from unfolding.
He can see it, again. Perhaps his imagination is running wild, but seeing the thought process, the way Jimin thinks, layed out in a fit of raw emotion, he feels both intrusive and intrigued. He can see both Mr. Park and Mrs. Park, sat across each other on a table. Jimin being in the middle, his face pinched with a struggle to remain neutral as both of his parents signed the papers. Jeongguk remembered seeing the photo of Mrs. Park on Jimin’s father’s desk, back in his office. The divorce must’ve stemmed from her.
Moving out .
Moving out? Jeongguk doesn’t know what it means, but he knows that it’s significant. There are a lot of things Mr. Park has told him, and there are the little things Jimin has hinted at, but he doesn’t have the full picture. The timeline is helpful, but he’s still confused as to why Jimin would have to move out. And where? He pauses as he continues tracing along the red line. His gut lurches powerfully as he sees the next point circled once.
Car accident .
He drops his hand and holds it to his chest. He’d felt an electric jolt, pulsating through his arm, all the way back to where the bullet had impaled him. The car accident… Jimin’s injury, his accident reminded him so easily of his own near-death experience; the one that brought him a pain every time he fought– every time he breathed . He shakes it off, the pain stinging the conjunction between his shoulder and his arm, radiating throughout every part of him. It’s the worst type of sensation, the one that brings an uneasy pleasure but acts like a slap to the face. But nothing is more of a slap to his face than the final part of the timeline.
There has to be a significance to his name. No. There is a significance to his name being there, being the one in the largest-sized letters, encircled a hundred times. The emphasis on his name has to mean something but it registers to him, only at that moment, that there’s no way he would ever know.
How one person perceives another is different to how the person perceives themself. He learned this back when he was couch-hopping, when he didn’t have a solid home on the streets of Busan. He’d stumbled upon the house of a scholar, a man who was kind, wily and held a passion for philosophy. Jeongguk had been silent, unpleasant company but the man had welcomed him as if he were his returning son. And so after a week of his non-receiving treatment, Jeongguk had asked, “Why?”
The man had drawn his hand over the grey stubble on his cheek. His frown lines deepend although not to project negative emotion, but to convey one of thoughtfulness. “You may think that you are a bad person, for doing what you’re doing,” he had spoken, his eyes flitting towards Jeongguk’s many scars, bruises and blue knuckles, “but I see you differently. I think… That all you need is love. And a home.”
At that time, he’d scorned the man’s words. Jeongguk had looked away, dismissing the man’s assessment of him, but deep inside, he had known that it was true. Warmth. A home to live in. A bed to sleep in. Love. It’s all he’s ever wanted. But he’d always seen himself so differently. Everytime he looked in the mirror, all he could see were his scars; all of the reminders of who he’d brought himself up to be.
And that's how he thought of himself. A fighter. Not born and raised, but it was a means of his survival. In the book, Lord of the Flies , he remembered the theme that was most prevalent throughout the novel. That the need to survive brought all of mankind’s primal instincts; no matter how brutal or violent, to the surface. For the past nine years or so, he’s been doing everything to survive, to make a name for himself. And that was probably why he could only see him in a dark light. Because that was the person he taught himself to be.
But how Jimin thought of him was another story. There was no way Jimin would ever open up to him and give him his own perception of him, but he’d gotten glimpses here and there. The day they’d first met, when Jeongguk had told him that he wouldn’t fight, Jimin had flinched, clearly surprised at his nonchalant attitude. The time he’d asserted himself confidently, during the game of pool. Jimin had looked away when Jeongguk had neared him, wincing at every time Jeongguk had walked past him, subtly brushing up against his shoulder. The time Jeongguk told him that… The time Jeongguk had confessed that he… Loved him. Jimin’s eyes had widened, not out of awe, but surprise.
Jeongguk was a surprise to Jimin, perhaps. Somebody that didn’t adhere to the ways he’d grown used to. The outlier in the trend he’d graphed as a result of a continuous string of failed therapists. Perhaps that was what Jimin thought, but he would never know for sure.
What he did know, on the contrary, was that Jimin expected it to end with him . The car accident had been the end of this timeline once. When Jimin had lost all hope for himself, when he found himself blind in a sea of lies, telling him that he could get better. Once again, Jeongguk must have been the storm, penetrating those proclaimed lies and being the embodiment of the truth: that Jimin could get better.
Jeongguk bends down to pick up the red marker on the floor. He uncaps it and draws a short line connected to his name. Then he writes dance again . And underlines it.
A sense of peace overwhelms him, seeping through the curtains like the sunset that now leans upon them. He closes the blinds after inspecting the timeline one more time and he sets the marker on the floor, where he’d picked it up. Jeongguk moves to where Jimin is laying down, where he’s dead asleep, and he leans against the headboard. He drifts off into slumber not too long after.
“ It hurts. It’s so painful.”
“It hurts .”
Jeongguk wakes to a loud shout. He pushes back from the headboard, wasting no time in reacting, because it’s Jimin’s voice. He registers the fact that he’d fallen asleep next to Jimin, who’s now violently thrashing on the bed. His upper body is shaking, and he’s yelling through his sleep. His eyes are tightly pressed shut, but Jeongguk sees the faint trace of a tear sliding down his cheek.
“Jimin!” He shouts, moving to hold Jimin down, but the older boy is too deep in the nightmare to be stirred awake. “Jimin!” he repeats, shaking Jimin’s shoulders, a frantic attempt to wake him. When he finds that he can’t get through, he yells, “Minseok! Minseok, help!”
Thankfully, the nurse has arrived from the hospital. He rushes in and pushes Jeongguk to the side roughly. His eyes hold no hesitation, instead fear, as he kneels down and grabs Jimin’s right foot and twists it slightly. The feeling he’s regained in his foot. It must amplify the touch at every movement; his nerves feeling everything the rest of his legs couldn’t.
The action is enough to make Jimin stop, his eyelids opening so rapidly, blinking at the darkness of the room. He pushes himself up from the mattress. His breaths are staccato-like, quick and sharp. Jeongguk moves to his side once again, wrapping his arms around the boy, who shrinks into his embrace. There’s a brief moment of passing, their argument, their individualities slipping past, making way for simple comfort. Jeongguk rubs his arm against Jimin’s back. Minseok is looking between them, his face still stricken with panic, but now overcome with a newfound understanding of their strange dynamic. Jeongguk mouths thank you , to which Minseok only nods once and begins to retreat.
When the door closes, confirmed by the soft sound of wood against wood, Jimin shifts beneath him. His arms slowly wrap around his waist, seeking bodily warmth. “What’s wrong with me?” He whispers. His fists close around Jeongguk’s sweater.
“You’re suffering for something that you never asked for.” Jeongguk responds kindly, his voice soft. “Nothing’s wrong with you.”
“ No . Don’t talk like them .” The therapists. “Why am I like this? Hot and cold. One second happy, one second sad. One second, I– I want to live… And other times, I want… I… I want nothing more than to die .”
He leans back slightly, ducking his so he can look Jimin in the eyes. The older boy seems so much younger, so much smaller, with his defeated expression. Jimin doesn’t look straight back at him. Instead, his gaze is fixated on the wall behind Jeongguk, distant. “I was reading about paraplegia… The side effects of it when I was on the way here, the first day I arrived. One side effect is depression, Jimin. And I truly don’t think that it’s your fault.”
He’s still blankly staring at the wall. His fists are white, balled up too tightly. He’s unresponsive for minutes. Jeongguk counts every second that passes, finding that he can only stare at Jimin. He stares so hard at Jimin because he’s afraid that if he looks away, he’ll lose him forever.
Jimin is a wilted flower at that moment. Hunched over, his eyes dull with a lack of life inside of them. His legs are still; so deathly still. His arms, on the other hand, are still quaking. He’d seen the photo of Jimin at his liveliest; on the stage, his eyes closed tight as he danced away, every movement accentuated with his passion, his love for what he did. It was merely a photo. The photo itself was poignant, stirring unwanted emotions of sorrow in Jeongguk. Oh, how he’d wished that he would see Jimin like that again, in all of his glory.
I want you to leave and forget about me . How could Jeon Jeongguk possibly forget Park Jimin? He was a wrathful force, one not to be reckoned with. He was sharp on the tongue, witty in conversation, an intellectual… He was a masterpiece.
He was painted with the colours of spring. A concoction of pink hues and soft, pastel tones that were brushed against a palette of innocence. But he was also decorated with neutral colours, his portrait holding grey undertones; red streaks that darted from the corners of the hard-edged canvas. A masterpiece , Jeongguk deems. Park Jimin is a masterpiece .
And sure, perhaps this work of art had lost its appeal in the meantime, but it’s years later, when time passes, when art truly becomes appreciated. Years later, when people learn to appreciate the piece for what it is, rather than mourning what it was not.
“I’ll forget about you,” Jeongguk says, all of a sudden. It tears from his throat with difficulty, but the sudden epiphany has shed a light on what was truly going on inside Jimin’s mind. Jimin did not want him to know the aftermath of his surgery. He didn’t want Jeongguk to know which choice he made; the choice he’s about to make in just two weeks. He doesn’t want Jeongguk to be held back by his decisions, and despite the tug on his heart… The agonizing thought of losing him, Jeongguk knows that Jimin’s mind has cleared, truly, for the first time in a while. He knows what he wants, and Jeongguk doesn’t want to be the one in the way of it.
If this was what was going to bring Jimin peace, then so be it.
“I’ll leave before you make the decision. I’ll take the rematch.,” he decides, straightening his shoulders. A heartbeat passes, and Jimin looks up, towards him, snapping out of his daze. His brows knit slightly. He doesn’t seem to register what Jeongguk is saying, so he continues, “on the condition that we start properly training… Tomorrow. So we can make the last days count, you know?”
Jimin shifts, straightening as well. “Now… Why the change of heart for you? ” All of his grief is seemingly forgotten, clouded by a lazy amusement that’s evident in the way his eyes gleam. Maybe those are unshed tears. Maybe he’s just willing to move past as quickly as possible.
Either way, Jeongguk finds himself shrugging. “I don’t want to argue anymore. And I’m doing a horrible job of being a physical therapist, so I suppose we could actually get to work tomorrow, right?”
“Tomorrow.” Jimin nods slowly. “Okay.”
Jeongguk waits a few seconds, to realize that Jimin’s already half-way to sleep again. His eyelids are sliding shut. Minseok told him once that it was difficult for Jimin to go back to sleep after his nightmares. He’d also told him that Jimin rarely got night terrors anymore, but everything is changing, it seems. Jimin remains an intricate interweb of intertwined, alternating faces. There are moments wherein Jeongguk is sure that he has Jimin figured out. The snowfall. He’d thought that that was the real Jimin; the one that held a childish immaturity deep inside of him but there was so much more to who Jimin was.
The amount of facets Jimin had was astounding but not particularly surprising. The ones who were the most difficult to understand were the ones worth trying to understand. Jeongguk’s mind used to be so often filled with thoughts of surrender. Whether he could last another day in this war with Jimin’s oxymoronic mind or he could simply leave, losing nothing, gaining everything. But his heart is open, overflowing with feelings of affection, of both pain and happiness… Of trust for Jimin.
He trusts that Jimin would make the right choice when the time comes around. The right choice, of course, for Jimin. Not the choice to please his father. Not the choice to appeal to Jeongguk. He wants Jimin to decide for himself and he has no doubt, now, that Jimin is an independent being. He uses crutches, uses a wheelchair, but those are just tools. His independence in thought was unquestionable. There was nobody who would be able to stand up against Park Jimin and his powerful mind, because even Jeon Jeongguk, who himself promised to keep detached, had fallen, oh, so deep.
Love it .
Jeongguk loves Jimin. Although he’s not sure exactly how he loves Jimin, he does. He wants to do anything to make sure that Jimin is comfortable; to make sure that the boy can look at the world and see colour, rather than black and white. He’ll continue to do his best to make sure that Jimin has the future deserves, and he vows, silently, with Jimin asleep in his arms, that no matter what happens at the end of the remaining two weeks, one day, he’ll find himself walking down the streets of Busan, and across the road, he’ll see Jimin.
Jimin would be standing, without his crutches. He’d wave at Jeongguk, his eyes brilliantly bright as he did so. And Jeongguk would wave back. And they would meet in the middle, where Jeongguk would stand face-to-face with him, without the distance between them. And he’d be able to look Jimin in the eyes and finally see the truth as to who he was.
It was a dream, an illusion, a mere product of his wishful thoughts but it was too good not to be an eventual truth. He loves Jimin a lot. He hopes that whatever forces control the universe; a higher being, fate, science… He hopes that these forces would bring them together again, sometime in the future.
Trust it .
He’s finally learned to trust Jimin. And he’ll keep that trust, for as long as he lives.
He’s never been one to trust people so easily. And he finds it surprising, that after everything he’s gone through, every betrayal, every letdown, time after time. Every person he’s met in his life is significant to him, because every person is an opportunity at what he wants the most; a connection. But time after time, his expectations, his hopes are turned down. Even if Jimin may not feel it, Jeongguk does. He feels so connected to Jimin, ever since they’d first met. The electric tension that sped through the air.
The connection he felt led to trust. And it pains him, every time Jimin makes him question it, but it brings him great relief, when Jimin opens himself up. A push and pull connection .
Leave it .
The hardest out of the three. He doesn’t know he’ll be able to part ways with Jimin. How was it going to go down? Their final interaction? Would they part on words? A hand shake? A hug? Would Jimin tell Jeongguk that he loved him, too? Would Jeongguk tell Jimin about the nights he’s spent up, wondering about Jimin, and who he truly was? Would Jimin finally reveal his true colours?
Jeongguk is only sure of one thing, and it’s that he would say thank you . He would say, “Park Jimin, I’m so thankful that I made the decision to come here. And I don’t regret a single moment, despite all of our arguments, all of the pain, all of the fear”. He would say, “Park Jimin, there isn’t a single moment in which I spent in this house, in this town, that I thought to myself: I made a mistake”. None of this was a mistake, and if he was unsure before, he’s definite now, because he feels as if he can finally move on with his life.
He’s seen Jimin. He’s loved Jimin. Trusted Jimin. All that’s left is to leave. And in time, he’s sure that he’ll be ready to let go.
But for that night, Jeongguk holds Jimin. He holds him as he sleeps, and through the rise of dawn, Jeongguk remains awake.
There’s no way he’ll ever let Jimin relive the worst day of his life over again.
Chapter 8: Gay
JIMIN HATES JEONGGUK.
It’s not because he actually hates Jeongguk, but it’s because Jeongguk stands below him, his arms raised out in case Jimin gave up on his arms. He’s doing pull ups on the metal bars that haven’t been used in so long, other than for Jeongguk’s own intentions. He’s already on his… Twenty-fifth or so repetition. Or perhaps he’s on his seventh. He hasn’t been keeping track. His mind is elsewhere, traversing worlds, travelling from planet to planet. Anywhere but the present. He doesn’t want to focus on the present, because his muscles are burning. And it’s just the strangest situation, having pain sear his upper half and an empty numbness grasp at the other. Instead, he’s focusing on not falling down to give Jeongguk the satisfaction of anything.
“We should move on, you’ve been on the bars for like… Ten minutes , Jimin,” Jeongguk prods him with his hand, nudging at his waist impatiently. But his tone is light, and by the sound of it, he’s smiling, too. “We have a lot of fitness to make up for and I’m not going to let time waste away because of your dumb pride.”
Jimin pulls himself up again, all the way. “I’m a paraplegic. I lost enough pride. How many can you do again?” He questions, as he prepares himself for another one. Since he can’t use his legs to pull himself up, as a way to gain momentum, it’s all the more difficult. His lower body is actual, dead, weight. His arm muscles are heated, nearly on the brink of cramping up and he knows that it’s going to be an ass to treat tomorrow, when they’re sore from all of the work.
“If I tell you, are you going to try and compete?” Jeongguk tugs on his waist again, this time, his tone filled with wry amusement, rather than the growing impatience he’d held just a few moments ago.
“No!” Jimin exclaims, but it’s so artificial that Jeongguk bursts out into his strange-sounding laughter. His voice is so low, generally, but his laugh is a whole octave higher and it’s so comical that Jimin has to push back a smile of his own. “Hey! You know, if you’re going to be a whining bitch, help me down and you come up here and do a hundred.” He expects victory, especially since Jeongguk has been working out for hours prior to their joint training session, and he must be deadly tired, but suddenly, two arms wrap around his body and with a strength that only Jeon Jeongguk can possess, he finds himself hauled down.
Jeongguk sets him on the seat beside. He shoves the boxer’s arms away, his cheeks heating up. “Go and do it, and stop smiling at me like that .”
Jeongguk rolls his neck slowly, ignoring his words. And again, Jimin catches sight of that delicious jawline, and for the nth time, he thinks to himself, goddamn. And of course, to top off the five-course meal he was, Jeongguk executes a hundred repetitions of the pull ups with a seamless and calm attitude. He’s not out of breath, unsurprisingly, as he continues. And even if it makes Jimin want to roll his eyes, the obvious way he’s showing off, he resonates with himself. And he realizes that he’s perfectly content with watching a hunk of a man doing pull ups… And perhaps, he’d be content with doing so instead of doing them himself.
He’s always known that he’s swung the other way. Ever since he was younger, about eleven or twelve or so, he’d find himself eyeing the other guys in his dance classes, of course, not in a creepy way, but in a, wow, I think I’m gay way. And he hadn’t put much thought into it since, as it’s always just been a thing for him, to be attracted not only to females but to males, and there’s absolutely no problem with that.
There’s still a stigma associated with being gay and there’s nothing he can do about it. Jimin doesn’t exactly have the persuasive power to convince all of his family, his friends, that being gay was okay – well, not because he wasn’t persuasive, he knew that he could pack a punch with his arguments, but because he was sitting on a wheelchair a hundred percent of the time and having a paraplegic boy argue about being gay in a society that still wasn’t completely accepting… Well, maybe he’d get sympathy points, but otherwise, he can’t do much about it, other than just… To be gay .
As he watches Jeongguk pull up over and over, he wonders which way Jeongguk swings. The younger boy had told him that he loved him, which was a total surprise, catching him off-guard. The events of yesterday… They’d passed in a blur. It was difficult to comprehend how much had happened in the two weeks that Jeongguk had been living with them. His world’s flipped around completely, set off of it’s axis, spinning away without reprimand, and he kind of likes it. There’s a rush, perhaps caused by the said tilting of the world. Maybe the moon and the sun are suddenly revolving in the strangest ways possible, because dawn is no longer time for his contemplation. Dawn is just… Dawn. And Jimin’s in a state of normality for most of the day now.
He has put thought into where Jeongguk stood with his sexuality. He doesn’t want to be presumptuous, but Jeongguk’s admission, although maybe a result of his stress and panic as a result of Jimin’s hard request, had confirmed a lot of his suspicions. Jeongguk was not straight. Jeongguk was a wobbly line. Jimin can sense that he’s not totally set as to his own sexuality but he also suspects that Jeongguk has too little time, anyway, to be thinking of it. If Jeongguk is this diligent in training, Jimin couldn’t even begin to imagine him back in Busan, where he had his own personal training facilities. It was his job to train and train until an opportunity to fight came along.
“Hey, are you already giving up today? We’ve only gone through seven workouts.” Jeongguk is waving his hand in Jimin’s face with a concerned look. His eyes droop at the edges.
Jimin snaps out of his daze and nods. “I’m tired. Maybe we can eat first and then work out again later?” He offers an exchange because he knows Jeongguk doesn’t like being useless. He works his ass off every day in order to be self-satisfied.
“Okay.” The younger moves to the side, where he begins to pick up scattered weights that they’d used previously in order to test his ankle strength. Sure enough, Jimin was starting to feel more and more of his foot, but it was still slow, the overall progress. Jimin’s always tried during his own time but he slowly began to lessen the amount of times he did, in case Minseok would walk in on him. And he nearly did, once. Jimin had been quick to shift the elastic band from around his shoe to around his neck, which sent Minseok into worry but at least he’d kept his pride.
Jeongguk is helping Jimin up, when Minseok steps into the gym room. He’s pushing in a wheelchair, a familiar one, leather and all. He stares at it for a while, and he realizes that it’s his own. “One of the old townspeople brought it up here. They said that they kept it after you both ran off.”
“Thank god,” Jimin breathes out. Jeongguk’s hands are tight, gripping around the small of his waist, steadying him. Minseok wheels it over. Jimin glances at the boxer, who’s staring at him intently, his eyes glazed over with a soft look that’s beyond what Jimin’s seen in the raw so far. He wants to reach out and press his fingers against the sharp of his jawline, but he doesn’t. Not only because Minseok is watching, but because he reminds himself that it’ll be over soon. He doesn’t want to make a move if he knows that Jeongguk will stay.
He detaches himself. Jeongguk let's go, but guides him to sit down on the wheelchair. He raises a hand warningly, and the athlete steps back, with his own palm, outreached in understanding. “I’m going to get sleep for now. You can eat ahead. Minseok made ramen.”
“I thought we…” Jeongguk trails off. Jimin purses his lips, knowing that he was expecting a meal together. “Never mind. Don’t… Nap… Too long.”
“Cool.” Jimin tips his head and Minseok pushes him up the ramp. When they’re at his room, Jimin looks at the mirror again. He inspects his face, pressing the tips of his fingers to the reddened skin on his cheeks. He releases a dejected sigh. Jeongguk, Jeongguk, Jeongguk. It’s been a while since Jimin’s felt this strange sort of way, but it’s not quite the same thing. With Taehyung… Oh , Taehyung, Jimin was free to feel what he wanted. But with Jeongguk, it was like every careful stroke of skin against skin made him feel simultaneously free and caged.
He looks at himself, for real. At his styled black hair. At his deep, brown eyes. He’s lost in the image, forgetting, for once, that he’s a cripple. And he looks at Minseok, who’s trying not to watch him, too. “I’m ugly. aren’t I?” He asks, then, with a tip of his head. Hair falls over his eyes. Ugly.
“Is this a trick question?” Minseok responds, the shift in his stance evident, even if they’re standing a distance apart.
“No. I want to know. I feel ugly a lot nowadays. Before, I could look at myself and be like, what a lucky motherfucker , but now, I just look at myself and think, son of a bitch , I look like a deformed wad of gum stuck to the bottom of my shoe. Except, you know… I can’t possibly walk on a wad of gum. Ruins the analogy, now that I think about it.” He’s rambling, he hears himself, but he doesn’t stop. He doesn’t know the root cause of the sudden thoughts, the spontaneous running of his mouth, but it’s relieving the tension from a while ago.
Minseok folds his shoulders and he leans his body against the doorway. He lifts his shoulders. “You’re not ugly. Promise. Remember, back in school, when you got the girls and made the boys go woosh ?”
Jimin’s lip quirks. He can’t contain a scoff from escaping his lips. He’s amused at the thought of high school. It was so long ago, so insignificant in the grand scheme of things. “I suppose,” he replies. He doesn't particularly remember making the boys go woosh , but he remembers the boys making him go woosh instead.
“Now. Does this sudden thought stem from a certain, attractive athlete living with us?”
Jeongguk. It was about time Minseok brought it up. Jimin parts his hair right in the middle, rather than off to one side. He inspects the curve of his brow, at the neatly-shaven skin over his cheeks, his chin. He wants to let the question slide, but he himself isn’t sure, so he says, “I don’t know. Maybe. He’s attractive, sure. But I don’t want to throw coal into a flame in the middle of a snowstorm.”
“Coal? Flame? Snowstorm? All those books you continue to read. Maybe you should become a writer.” The nurse’s smile is wide. A writer. Jimin has never considered it, but now that the idea is there, there’s a flicker of thought that seems to spark in the dark of his mind.
He shrugs his shoulders, leaning forward to move his finger across his reflection, as if he could distort it. It remains the same. Permanently. This was who he was, despite the amount of loathing he often felt for himself. “Funny. Maybe I should become a dancer, too.”
“Alright. Enough jokes. Don’t worry about Jeongguk, whatever he thinks, okay? You’re a handsome. If I was gay, I’d be into you.”
“Serious ego-booster,” Jimin calls after him, as he departs to probably set up the ramen for Jeongguk.
From where he’s at, in front of the mirror, he catches sight of the sky. The view from his bed, from his seat; the one he once religiously woke up to watch at the break of dawn. He didn’t do it anymore. It was strange, staring at it now, when the sky was a palette of blue hues and white tatters, rather than the mixture of oranges and pinks. It’s an unfamiliar painting that he sees, that time of the day, but he’s sure that the world, tilting on its own axis… It’ll fall into place soon enough.
He looks past the plants that are strewn across his foyer, at the grass. At the place where the horizon line is, dividing the nearby city and the distant mountains. He presses his hands against the glass, peering past the reflection of his own face, and onto the world beyond. There’s a world beyond all of this. Beyond this house. Beyond his paraplegia. Beyond Jeongguk. Beyond Seoul. There are so many things that he hasn’t done, so many places he hasn’t been…
Jimin moves himself towards the window, swept underneath the curtains. The marker is still on the floor. It’s red, prominent against the wood. He looks at it. But it’s off. He’s seen it a thousand times, and every single time, it had been pointed towards the left, rather than the right. He’s spent a lot of his days, lying down, staring at the marker, as if he could think of any possible reason to further extend his timeline. Something is off.
He pushes the curtains back with rigour, sweeping them aside.
“Fucking hell.” There are no words more appropriate than those to express the mixture of feelings that burn up in his chest when he sees the line, doting, struck across the glass. It’s Jeongguk’s handwriting, of course. And it says dance again . And he doesn’t know if he’s mad, if he’s relieved, or if he wants to cuff Jeongguk over the side of his head and tell him to leave. He reaches forward, gripping at the edge of his sleeve with his hand and he makes an attempt to rub the ink from the glass. Rather than it erasing, it remains, permanently stained. There’s a sense of panic that overwhelms him for that while, as he continues to rub, to rub away at the words, but it’s left there.
Jimin looks at the marker. It’s permanent. Just like his fate, sealed. He wills every bone in his body to move, to move– to get out of the chair and to retrieve tissues and alcohol so he could remove the whole timeline, but his heart is thrumming; as it always does, when he’s in a moment of self-discovery. So instead of his mind, instead of trusting the logic he was gifted since he was younger, he trusts in his heart.
His heart was what drove him to dance. It drove him to get up in the mornings, in the days he felt loneliest, upset, or lost. The thrum of his heart, beating, searing through his skin, his muscles, brought him back to life. His fate is sealed now. Perhaps there’s still the chance to wipe it away, to erase it from the world, but in this state, paralyzed, paraplegic and frozen on the spot, there’s only one thing left for him to do.
Jimin looks around him.
His eyes dart from side to side, at his hands, on the wheels.
He begins to circle his ankle, as Jeongguk had helped him control a while ago. He continues to do it, over and over again, until there’s a spark, as if it’s ignited a circuit. Suddenly, there’s a jolt in his knee. It’s short-lived, but he feels something. It doesn’t matter what it is, but he feels , and that’s something.
It’s small, but it’s enough to tell Jimin that there’s a chance. And sure, it’s one of those things. It could be a mood swing of his; wherein he finds himself reaching for the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel one moment, then he would be throwing dirt over his own grave the second. He tries again, moving it around and around, but the feeling doesn’t return. But it’s okay.
He hasn’t told himself, enough, in these nine months, that it was okay . It was okay to be sad. To be confused. To be doubtful about where you stand in life, because in the end, you keep on moving forward. Even if he was paraplegic, if he was paralyzed, unable to physically carry himself into the future, the universe itself; time and space, together, would continue to bring him forward. And that was life. There would never be an end to the timeline. Because even if he died, the world would spin on.
He wheels himself backwards then, until he’s by his desk. He looks at the photo of Taehyung, sat on his desk. He reaches for it, but his hand stops halfway, as he stares at it, at the portrayal of his once-happiness, etched onto the image, so evident in both of their faces. The photo was taken after one of his dances, backstage, when Taehyung had visited him with the too-large bouquet of flowers. Jimin had blushed, overwhelmed with his best friend’s support. It was a good day, for them both.
It takes him a few more seconds until he notices that it’s tipped slightly to the left. He inspects the surface of the glass, at the faint coat of dust that covers it, and there’s an evident drag through the particles that indicate that somebody has touched it. Jeongguk . Of course. The athlete seems to be adamant on turning every aspect of Jimin’s life around nowadays. The timeline. The picture.
He pulls the frame to himself, sliding out the photo. He holds it delicately, between his fingers, and sets it down on the glass, face down. Between the photo and the back of the frame is a white slip of paper. It’s a number. He’s only ever contacted it once before.
And no, it’s not Taehyung’s number. They haven’t spoken to each other in a while. And by in a while , he means roughly seven months or so. Taehyung… He’s long gone, his absence marked by his displease for Jimin’s temperamental, shifting attitudes. At first, he had visited often, with that bright smile of his, with everything to keep Jimin occupied throughout his loneliest of days. They would spend nights, in his room, watching old reruns of sitcoms, of action films, of everything . Until, of course, the argument happened. He didn’t know how it could have escalated to a point of no return, but it did.
“You’re so fucking stubborn, Jimin! Just take your medicine.” Taehyung leaned forward, holding the pill out to him. It was one of the first inflammations that he’d had, on his thigh. His doctor had prescribed him with injections, pills and all, but he hated it. He hated the taste of pills, bitter against his tongue. The injection, pressing against his leg, but him not being able to feel the needle.
The medicine was going to lessen it, the swelling especially. But Jimin’s pride, oh it was a force to be reckoned with. He shook his head, and turned it away. A sigh escaped Taehyung’s lips, defeated, irritated. “I can’t believe you. The inflammations can lead to further infection. Which, I last remember, can kill you.”
“So what if they kill me?” Jimin responds, in a growl. His mind had been so lost. He had been so stubborn. “I’d rather be dead than paraplegic. At least then, people wouldn’t feel as pitiful as they did now.”
“Stop thinking that way.” Taehyung set the pill down on the bedside table and placed his head in his hands, running his long fingers through the dark, uncut hair, down the nape of his neck. “Stop. Please.”
Jimin’s mind was heated, filled with thoughts that were dark. His view of the world had been the epitome of everything cynical. He hated life. He hated his dumb legs. He hated everybody. “Fuck you and your stupid face. I don’t want to see you, ever again. I want to die, I want to kill myself and I don’t want to take the stupid medi–”
Taehyung stood up so fast that the chair he’d been sat on fell back, the force of his movement sending it skidding across the wooden floor. A large, white scratch dainted the floor that evening, a scar on the wood. Seeing it taint his home… No. This place, where he’d have to be confined to for the rest of his life, it only made him angrier. “Are you hearing yourself right now? Just this morning, you were trying. You’re gaining progress on your foot and now… Now, you want to die? ”
“All I want is you to leave.” Jimin pointed at the door. The hurt, the pain, the sting… It was all visible in his dark, gleaming eyes. He could see them glistening with tears that began to spill at his words, trailing down his cheeks rapidly. “Leave, forever. I don’t want your fucking face to remind me of how crippled I am. Inside. out.”
White noise. Ringing. A silence that enveloped only this moment that they shared. The rest of the world was bustling, continuing with their loud voices. The music played on. But for them, that moment had been the crossroad. They could go down one path, together, as the soulmates Jimin had once promised they had been, for each other. Or they could go down separate ways, with Jimin on his wheelchair and Taehyung on his feet.
“Is… Is that what you want?” Taehyung’s voice was dead. It was so low.
Jimin pulled the ring band around his finger, the one they’d given to each other last Christmas. And he threw it, right at Taehyung’s feet. “Take your fucking ring and never come back.”
Taehyung didn’t pick it up. He only walked out of the room. And Jimin, even if he wanted to chase after him, there was no way he could run. There was no way he could walk. There was no way he could follow after Taehyung, after he left, because a part of him knew that he needed to drop it all. There was no need for anybody to feel obligated to come over unless they were working for him. And there was no need for someone like Taehyung to be tied down to a dead weight.
In retrospect, a lot of it was his fault. His anger. His mood swings. It caused impatience in Taehyung that he couldn’t blame. It was why Jeongguk had shocked him so much. Jeongguk was as stubborn as Jimin, if he wanted to be… When he wanted to be.
He slides his phone from the pocket of his jacket and he dials in the number. It takes a few rings for the man to pick up.
“Mr. Park, this is my personal contact. Is there anything important to discuss?”
Jimin exhales. “Yes. I’m not going through with the… Euthanizing. I’m not going to Switzerland in two weeks. And I’m going to take the surgery.”
There’s a short-drawn silence. A breath, that seems relieved, more than anything. “Okay. Alright. That’s… Good.”
“Is it?” He asks then, unsure, himself. He’s sure that he wants to try harder, to try and work on himself, but at the same time, the surgery doesn’t grant him a second life. It could be very much as fatal as the car accident itself.
“It’s good, that you’ve cleared your mind. Made a decision.” The doctor across the line clears his throat. “I have a surgery to get to, but I’m proud of you, Jimin. Don’t let life beat you down. You’re young… Your paraplegia is not complete. And there’s a chance… A life to live out there.”
He knows, it now. He knows it from the numerous, endless calls his father has left him, since the day he left his office, a week ago. He knows it from Yeojin, who continues to welcome him, despite his horrible attitude. He knows it from his doctors, who are loose with his decisions, never striking to influence, but continuing to support. He knows it from Minseok, who’s stuck by his side through the worst of the times. And he knows it now, from Jeongguk, who amidst all of this, loves him.
He looks at the photo of Taehyung, still sitting, stagnant, on his desk. He stares at it for minutes. Then he pulls the photo out of the frame, folding it in half and slipping it into his drawer, tucked underneath his medical records, his prescriptions. Instead, he pulls out a photo from underneath his desk, the one he’d slipped underneath the conjunction between the wood and the glass. It’s a photo Minseok took of him and Jeongguk, when they had a meal together, a civil one where they were both smiling, laughing, enjoying themselves. Minseok had slid it underneath the door one morning with a coy note attached, teasing, but also meaningful. The photo doesn't fit the frame exactly, but it would do for now. Jimin slips it in, and stares at the replacement. It stirs something inside of him that makes him feel both elated and strange at the same time.
He looks at the clock. It’s been barely twenty minutes since he came up to his room, and given that Jeongguk usually read when he ate alone, he would still be at the table. Jimin pushes himself, past the glass door, and into the living room. From there, he can see Jeongguk, sitting, with his copy of The Notebook in hand. Jimin stops himself from rolling his eyes, or scoffing, or letting out an incredulous laugh, because he knows why Jeongguk likes the Notebook now.
It’s a bit of a corny thing, he supposes, if you think about it. Love conquers all . Jimin’s written an essay on the novel, when he was in high school, and he nearly gagged writing the phrase down, but for Jeongguk, he knows that it means more than just romantic love. He grew up with no parental love. No friends. No family. The only ones that continued to be by his side… His manager, who was barely anybody to him, other than someone to sort out his life for him. No. Love, was a very different thing for Jeongguk.
Love, to Jeongguk, was warmth. The feeling of being in a pleasant temperature during the coldest of nights. The feeling of being embraced when the night was at its peak. The feeling of… Sharing the first snow together with somebody important. His words had slipped then, from his mouth, carelessly, but Jimin knows that he’d meant it. Love to him, to Jimin , it was nothing compared to what it was for Jeongguk, and there’s a strange imbalance in that… But at the same time, it doesn’t seem to matter.
He pushes himself to where Jeongguk his sat. His ramen, untouched. And a place is set for JImin, too, which he can assume is Jeongguk’s hope for him joining him. And damn him, for being right. Jimin raises his eyebrows at Jeongguk, who mirrors his expression, except his eyes wrinkle at the edges. He’s smiling.
Jimin shakes his head but basks in it. Jeongguk, boxer, is dangerous… Cunning, intelligent. Jeongguk, himself, is a fucking dork . And he likes it.
“Are you going to give me shit about The Notebook again? I would’ve, you know, brought out a more manly book, if I knew you were joining me.” He finally leans forward, to pick up the fork sat on the wood, beside the china bowl. He strings a couple of strands of noodles into the metal points.
“Gosh, don’t put gender stereotypes on books. Those are non-living things. They should be free of the stupid gender stereotypes imposed on humans.” Jimin picks up his fork and mirrors Jeongguk’s tug on the noodles, which slowly drip soup. It’s his favorite, the Miso Chashu ramen, which, funnily, he had discovered from watching Naruto, when he was younger. It was comfort food. And by the looks of it, Jeongguk liked it, too. His eyes closed in a strange bliss, a sensational moan escaping his lips.
“Yum,” he says, with a little shake of his body. “This is good ramen.” Then after a few seconds of lazing around in the delicious taste, he opens his eyes. His cheeks are slightly bloated from the big bites he’s been taken, his eyes round, gleaming and… God, he was a fucking dork . “What were you saying about gender stereotypes?”
Jimin rolls his eyes this time. “Never mind, you idiot. Enjoy your ramen.”
“Mhm, I will.”
And Jimin allows it to slide.
No. He doesn’t allow it. Because he has little control over what happens in his life. And sure, he can be a control freak. He likes precision, he likes things to go his way, but his legs are proof that not all things end up working in the way he pleases.
He relaxes in his seat, drawing the bowl to his chest, and watches Jeongguk eat in his excited way. He listens to Jeongguk talk about everything, all of his interests. No mention of boxing at all. And Jimin, he joins in the talk too. And they talk, and talk, and talk. It’s only a shame, that it’ll all be over in a week.
Chapter 9: Teacups
A LOT HAS CHANGED.
In retrospect, indeed, a lot has changed between himself and Jimin. Their dynamic has grown… Less dynamic and more like routine, although the unexpected mood swings continue to strike here and there. Despite so, Jeongguk has grown more or less immune, or well, tolerant of these mood swings, and the ever-so-changing facade of Park Jimin, and it’s made their interactions and relationship much, much easier to develop.
And so yeah, Jimin and Jeongguk develop a small routine. They would both wake up at seven in the morning, eat breakfast together. Jeongguk would blend himself a protein shake, while Jimin would stick to a sloppy bowl of oatmeal. Then they would get dressed for the cold. Jeongguk would do a jog down the hill, with Jimin following him on his wheelchair. And after this, they would head straight for the gym down in the lowest floor of the three-story home, where they continued to work on Jimin’s upper body and core strength. Jimin’s foot is getting stronger by the day, the ability to move weights off of it getting easier for him as time passes by.
Their second day into the regime, Jimin is in a small mood, so a lot of backtalk happens.
“Can you stop flexing your arms like that? They’re disgustingly huge. And gross.” Jimin was working on his sit ups, able to do it a bit better without Jeongguk holding his legs down, but after a while, he begins to slow down. He ends up flopping onto the wood, on the mat, fixating Jeongguk, who’s lifting barbells, with a nasty look.
Jeongguk glances over his shoulders. Jimin is staring at him, but when he looks, the older swiftly twists his head away. The boxer smiles to himself and replies, “Should I work on my legs instead?” He has a little fun… Just a little, teasing Jimin, because the latter gets so flustered whenever he does it.
“What, so I can see your dumb muscular thighs, too? We get it, you have functional legs, now stop showing off and hold me down.”
Jeongguk does, because even if he can make Jimin squirm, he finds that he’s slowly falling for Jimin’s charm, deeper and deeper, despite the fact that majority of Jimin’s charm is composed of his satirical humor, sarcastic remarks and unnecessary side comments. And he’s also… Kind of Jimin’s lap dog, as much as he doesn’t want to admit it, because God, even if Jimin is a pain in the ass, all he wants to do is to make him happy again.
He sits down on top of the boy’s feet. Jimin does his sit ups.
And there’s the third day in, when Jimin’s mood is more… Mellow, he supposes.
He doesn’t want to hear any of Jimin’s complaints, so he blocks him out, focusing on the music that he’s listening to. It’s an old school playlist, so it’s… Well, okay, he’s listening to Baby, by Justin Bieber, but it’s a good song, and he’s in the mood for mindless lyrics.
“Jeongguk?” Jimin repeats. Jeongguk closes his eyes and continues his planks.
“Jeongguk, what are you listening to?”
“Oh.” Jimin’s voice is lighthearted. “Well, I’m listening to In My Blood, by Shawn Mendes. He’s a good artist. I think you’d like him. You know, more than Justin Bieber.”
Jeongguk opens his eyes and looks down. His music is still playing. He reaches to his ear, to find that one of his airpods has been meticulously stolen away. He turns to Jimin, who has it plugged into his ear, his cheeks prominent as he grins cheekily, right at him. The boy starts humming along to the song, then sings. His voice is unique. It’s smooth, slightly a higher pitch than what Jeongguk’s used to, but he can’t complain. He’s been listening to pre-pubescent Justin Bieber, who sounds as if his voice has been thrown into a woodchipper and the sound product is the chips of wooden splinters flying into the air. Jimin’s voice is not obnoxious. On the other hand, it’s soothing.
“And I thought we shared the same taste. Like… Good taste.” Jimin shakes his head with a click of his tongue and unplugs the airpod, sending it across the wood, back to where Jeongguk is still planking to the best of his ability.
“Justin Bieber’s new stuff is actually good, you know.” Jeongguk decides that embarrassment is his not suit, so he effortlessly plugs the airpod back into his ear and resumes as if Jimin hasn’t shamed him.
“I know. Just wanted to keep you on your toes.” Jimin’s voice is singsong. He resumes humming along to his own music. Jeongguk quakes in the knees, and lands on them. It’s only been three minutes.
He usually does five.
They work relentlessly for the next three days or so, but Jimin, the next day, is sent to the doctor for his regular appointment. They talk about it the day before, Jimin explaining, by prodding at his limp thigh, that he needs to keep infections away as best as possible, especially before he made the decision for the surgery. It would not only ease his decision-making, but would also help the surgeon focus more on the spinal cord injury. Jeongguk, as much as he wants to put in his thoughts, pushes them back, and smiles, because it’s Jimin’s choice to make, and his, solely.
So Jeongguk is left at the house with Minseok, who’s silent as he works away on a crossword puzzle that’s on the newspaper. His eyebrows are knit as he writes.
Jeongguk is reading. Jimin’s lent him a copy of another one of his favorite books, one that Jeongguk hasn’t read. It’s called To Kill a Mockingbird , and so far, Jeongguk’s into it. It’s set in a small town in Alabama, and follows the story of two young kids, Scout and Jem, and their father, Atticus, who works as a lawyer. It deals with racism, injustices and prejudice, which are themes that are common to his literary tastes, but are also ones he hasn’t taken the time to explore. A little voice in his mind prompts him to think about why Jimin would lend him the book… If there was any meaning to it, but he can’t string it together as he reads, so he sets the thought aside for when Jimin returns.
He reaches forward for the fork, to take another bite of his food, when Minseok sighs, laying down the stack of newspapers on the wooden table. He leans back on his chair, pulling out his phone and closing his eyes when he doesn’t find what he’s looking for. Jeongguk places a small slice of the beef into his mouth and chews contemplatively, staring at the older man. After a while of him laying like that, with his expression twisted into one of worry, he says, “Jimin’s going to be fine.”
Minseok draws his hands over his face and looks towards him. His eyes are decorated, a swirl of black, darkened with sorrow. “Have you spoken to him about his… Decision? Since what happened in his dad’s office?” He questions, his voice strained.
Jeongguk goes over the week they’d spent together, with little hostility. He only remembers the small fight. Jimin telling him to forget. Jeongguk storming away. Jimin telling him to stay. Jimin having his nightmare. There’s no recollection of the whole decision-making since, so he shakes his head no. “I don’t think so…” He responds, rubbing at the nape of his neck. “Are you worried about whether he’s going to go through with…?”
“Yes. I am. It’s… Yesterday, he looked at himself in the mirror and he asked me if he was ugly. And of course, I didn’t say yes… I mean… He isn’t. Not at all. But if you had seen how disgusted he was with himself, you would feel the same way.” He looks so shrunken, so sad about it. Jeongguk’s heart swells with pain, not only for Jimin, but for his friend. The only one who’s truly stuck by his side.
All of this time, his focus has been on Jimin, Jimin hurting. And he would continue to look out for Jimin… But he realized that all of Jimin’s words, all of his anger, his pain, had been once lashed out on Minseok. Minseok would have once been the subject of his rage, his hatred. And Minseok, having stuck by for so long, must have felt horrible , being unable to stop Jimin from even considering euthanasia. The man could be working full time at the hospital. He could be tending to patients, easier, less complex puzzles. But rather, he was here, without complaint, attending to Jimin’s every need.
Jeongguk shifts in his seat, setting the book down, face-flat against the wood. “I really want to help. I promise you, I’ll do everything I can to sway him, but I don’t feel like… I think, in the end, it’s his decision. And as much as I’d like to stay and see where he goes, he made me promise to leave before the 9th. Or the day of his surgery. He made me promise, I think, because he doesn’t want me to be held back. And he doesn’t want to be held back by me. Or you. Or his father.” He links his fingers together underneath the table and studies them, the scars doting along the curve of his knuckles. “I think all we can do is… Love him, you know?”
Minseok is nodding along. His eyes begin to glisten. He exhales a laugh, one that’s humorless, borderline a sob. The pain is visible; so visible in the way that the edges of his round eyes crease downwards. His lips, a forced smile, droops. “Yeah. I’ve never met somebody as stubborn as Jimin. It’s why I decided to stay. I was offered a job, high profile, two months ago, but I turned it down for him. His father… Mr. Park pays well, sure, but I know, now, that I’d stay, with or without the money.”
“I can agree. I kind of forgot, about everything going on back in Busan. Which is a horrible thing, considering how I’m probably going to take the rematch, but… It’s not about hiding out anymore. I want to be here. I want Jimin.”
“Then have him, for these last few days. Show him that you love him. Fuck the press and the reporters, right?” Minseok reaches for the newspaper. His expression remains gloomy, but his shoulders are eased of previous tension. “Take him out to town. Visit Yeojin. Visit his dad. Hell, we could even fly to Japan for a day. Christmas is coming soon, Jeongguk. two days. Then after that, I think… It’ll be easier to let go. Knowing that you did what you could, right?”
Jeongguk turns the thought of it over in his mind. Travelling with Jimin, to Japan. For Christmas. The thought begins to expand from then on. And it’s then, when the idea hits him. In the dark of his mind, there’s a click of a lightbulb. He turns to Minseok. “Is that possible? Japan?”
“He’s always wanted to go back before the surgery,” Minseok offers, with a slow smile.
That was it.
Jimin returns home that afternoon. He’s in a particular mood. Not happy. Not menacing. He’s calm. His features are set, his eyes not wrinkled at the edges, rather, drooping. His lips are pressed lightly.
He rolls in on his wheelchair, all the way to where Jeongguk sits, splayed across the couch, watching the news. He’s decided to look up the situation on his career. People are still awaiting his response. A part of him is relieved that he’s still even relevant in the mainstream news channels. A part of him wishes that they buried him underneath whatever other scandals other celebrities were experiencing.
He’s watching Manager Na’s interview, from a day ago. His frown lines had deepened. He looks irritated, but nobody else would notice. The way he stared at the camera was demanding, as if he was sending the message directly to him. Jeongguk would feel less threatened if it weren’t for the shit Na had on him. It wasn’t bad, but he’d put in a lot of effort into silencing Jeongguk’s debts from when he was a young boxer. He was indebted to his former opponents, who he’d managed to run away from. Now that he was on the loose, they would surely be expecting him when he returned, if he didn’t satisfy Manager Na’s demands.
His mind is flying all over the place. He thinks about the day he fled from Busan, when he stopped by the bar, bumping into Jane, who’d looked at him with frantic eyes. He thinks about Bruce, who promised to give him a taste of his own medicine, still expecting revenge, out of his bitter self. He thinks about the phone he discarded on the way to Seoul, and the hundreds, perhaps even thousands of notifications he’s receiving. Not only from Manager Na, but his friends in the industry. People who followed him; fans. The people who’ve hated on him for so long, just timing every second until he lapsed into failure.
“That’s your manager, right?” Jimin asks, as he settles beside the couch. His eyes are on Jeongguk, not the television.
Jeongguk nods once.
“You’re taking the rematch, I hope?”
He turns to face Jimin. He wears an expression of questioning. Jeongguk swallows back the urge to say no, and that he wanted to stay. “Yeah, sure.” He doesn’t miss the flash of skepticism that dawns on Jimin’s face. And even if he is skeptic about Jeongguk’s choice, he doesn’t press. Instead, he bobs his head up and down, too. “That’s good.”
Jeongguk lets the silence fall between them, staring at the wooden panels on the floor. He could be content with slitting his gaze in between the small crooks in between each wooden plank, but he suddenly remembers what he was supposed to say. “Hey. I have an irreversible proposition for you. Which means, when I tell you, you can’t refuse, no matter what.” Jimin’s brows flick up at this, but he gestures for him to continue. “We’re kind of. Leaving for Japan tonight.”
At first, Jimin’s eyes narrow. But it’s only momentary, because he swallows, and responds, airily, “Minseok told you.”
“Yes. And I hope–”
“Yeah, I’ll go.” Jimin loosens up and casts him a smile. It’s not forced. It’s just… There. A wave of relief washes over Jeongguk and he finds that he’s been tense the whole time. He leans back against the couch pillows, turning back to the television. He watches them ramble on about his career and how it was all hinging on his decision. He needed to make the decision right after he returned from Japan. And the fight would be on the 9th. So there was no way that he could be there for Jimin’s surgery. “You shouldn’t keep watching that. You look like a stick.”
Jeongguk ignores him, watching on. Jimin reaches for the coffee table and picks up the remote. He presses the button and the television shuts off, leaving Jeongguk staring at himself through the black reflection of the high definition screen. He stares at himself at the reflection, and squints slightly. He doesn’t feel like himself. Like Jeon Jeongguk. It’s why he wanted to watch the news. He wanted to remind himself who he was, before he got back into the rush of fame, of glory. Even if he had escaped, for a bit, he was still tied down. Perhaps Japan would help him leave behind the worries, even just for the three days they’d be there.
“The doctor said I was doing well with progress. I felt something… After our first training day. In my knee,” Jimin says, his voice soft, yet piercing through the silence that elapses between them. Jeongguk turns his head slightly, to indicate that he’s listening. Jimin elaborates, “I went back to my room. And I tested it out, my ankle. And when I kept going, pressuring myself to move, I felt my knee.
“It was a strange feeling. So foreign… Like, I didn’t realize I had felt the fabric over my knee until I thought about it after. It was so strange, Gguk.”
“That’s really good, Jimin. I just hope you’re not going to exert yourself too much, before the surgery.” Jeongguk feels sad. He doesn’t quite know why, but there’s still this weird darkness that clouds his gaze whenever he’s at rest. He doesn’t want to be this way, especially not in front of Jimin, who’s obviously in a better mood, but he can’t quite be expected to keep a strong face all the time, too. He thinks about Japan, It’ll all be better there, but he’s in a time and space, for the moment, wherein he just wants to be still. To rock along the waves, to let himself be carried away in the flurry of accusations, the pressure that is building on his shoulders.
Jimin, of course, notices. He’s quick with his eyes, so he moves forward on his wheelchair, so he’s right beside where Jeongguk is lying down. The older boy leans so that their faces are parallel in height. He speaks, lowly. “Is this one of those times where you want me to leave you alone?” He tries to sound amused, but there’s an obvious concern.
No. He doesn’t want to be alone anymore. He doesn’t want to feel the push of isolation, the feeling of the spotlight, solely on him. Especially when he feels as if the whole world is looking at him, waiting for his statement– and they are. They are waiting for him, wanting him to fail. Expecting the rising athlete to make one slip up. And so early on in his career, they’ve already conjured up rumors from thin air.
Jeongguk studies the ceiling. He tries not to draw a frown as he does. Instead, he just stares, focusing on the diligently-designed lamp that hangs over them both, casting the warm light over the room. He shakes his head. “I don’t like being alone. I’m just…”
“In that kind of mood. Don’t worry, I’ve been there. You want to talk about it?” Jimin parks himself right beside, facing him. Jeongguk breathes through his nose, and nods his head. “Listening,” the boy says with a smile.
“I don’t know why it started. I was just watching the news, and suddenly, I feel so lost. Like… I don’t even know if I want to fight again. I’ve been doing it for so long now that I know it’s a part of who I am as a person… But I never really had the choice to stop. To get away from it all, until now.” Jeongguk feels comfortable in Jimin’s presence. He relaxes himself, pushing back the worry of Jimin judging him. “Being here’s given be the chance to step back and rethink about what I want, and despite the fact that my heart longs to return, I… I think I’ve found something else.”
His heart wants Jimin. He wants Jimin so much it makes him want to start crying, right there, but he does build a wall this time, casting a dark shadow over his true emotions, because he can’t say that he wants to stay. He needs to give Jimin the chance to build himself up from his own, sole will. He’s done a lot for the boy, and he knows it now. If only, Jeongguk thinks, his heart wasn’t so overpowering. If only he could use his brain; using his mental will to push back the urge to love him.
“You know that I can’t, Jeongguk. You know that I can’t do this… Us. Even,” he sucks in a breath, and releases nervous laughter. “Even if I want to, so, so, so bad . I… I need you to understand that.”
But I still… Want you , Jeongguk wants to reply. He only laughs, too, a strangled one, that lapses into a sharp breath. “I know. I know. I just wanted you to know, for real.” No. No. He wanted Jimin to say it back. To utter back those four words he so deeply craved for. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t let him know how much it hurts you to throw it all away. “I… I– I don’t know how to focus back. I don’t know how to care about my career again. Everytime I think of it, all I see is money. Money. Money, glory, blood on my hands, and that’s not… I can’t stomach it.”
Jimin reaches forward to press one of his sweater-engulfed hands against his cheek. He draws his small fingers over the curve of Jeongguk’s jaw. He grows weak at the contact. “You just need to feel it again. Not by watching the news, but you need to feel what made you love it in the first place. Look,” Jimin pauses, withdrawing his hand and pressing it against his own round, flushed cheeks. “Go downstairs, down to the gym and have a shot at it again. And I can pack for Japan.”
Jeongguk considers it. He hasn’t used the punching bag since the first week, and maybe Jimin’s right; he just needs to get in touch with the fire. He smiles at the boy, who mirrors his expression, eyes alit with relief. “Thanks, Jimin.”
“No. Thank you, Jeongguk.”
Jeongguk sits down in the basement. He holds the wrap that he’s packed from Busan, in between his hands. He stares at the white cloth. Then he slowly begins to unravel it. As he does, he suddenly begins to unravel himself. His shoulders slump. His eyes grow blurry with tears. He thinks about Minseok. About Mr. Park. About Jimin’s upcoming decision. He unwraps it, bringing the cloth over and over around the roll until he has enough for one of his knuckles. But by then, he’s heaving. He pauses his actions, discarding the wrap and placing his head in his hands.
His body consulves, a new level of pain coursing through his veins, his muscles, making him shudder. His tears grow into sobs. Jimin. Jimin. Jimin. It hurts him; not only the need, the want to be with the boy, but also the idea of losing him in the end. Jimin’s request… It entailed them never contacting each other again. And Jeongguk– his heart has never felt so filled with grief. Perhaps it has been filled all this time. Ever since his mother’s death. Ever since he’d ran away from home. Every defeat he’d accepted, every victory he managed… He knew the real reason why he didn’t want to return was because it was unhealthy.
He’d expressed all of his anger, his hopes, his pain through fighting. And now that he realizes… He feels that he can do so much better… He can’t . He can’t choose to live a life with Jimin because he doesn’t even know if Jimin will…
“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck! ” Jeongguk yells. He doesn’t care who hears. And if anybody does, nobody comes. He’s left to himself. The person he loathes the most.
He picks up the wrap on the ground, his hands trembling as he wraps both knuckles with effort. Once he’s secured each piece of cloth, although rather sloppily, leaving crevices in between each layer, he makes his way to the bag. And he slams one fist against it, sending it spinning across it’s diameter. Jeongguk doesn’t know why his blood is boiling, ravaging every bone in his body. He uses his left fist then, stepping forward with one foot and swinging with fervor. The boxing bag has never seen this brutality. It tears slightly to one side, revealing the hard filling underneath it’s leather casing.
There’s this book… There’s a painting… There’s…
There’s nothing, at that moment, that could capture the indignation that he feels then. He just continues to hit, and hit, and hit, until his gaze turns black.
He destroys the punching bag. And he splits open some of his knuckles. But he manages to clean everything up by the time they have to leave for the airport. He has his hands in bandages. He wears a black hoodie and tugs on a cap over his hair. Even if he doesn’t care as much anymore, he still needs to be discreet about moving around. Paparazzi would be on his ass if they found him floundering around, travelling with Jimin. He meets the older boy and Minseok in the living room, where Jimin is sat, watching TV. He’s wearing a white sweater, his hair pushed back from his forehead, drawn nealty over his face. Jeongguk looks away, towards Minseok, who’s carrying over Jimin’s medicine bag.
“I trust that you read through the protocols I gave you when you arrived?” Minseok says, raising his brows.
“Yeah,” Jeongguk responds, reaching out for the sling bag.
Minseok pauses, looking from his hands, to his eyes. His gaze is questioning, so Jeongguk explains, “I’m abit rusty with my punches, so I injured myself. It’s alright, though.”
He’s not convinced, but he offers the bag anyway. Jeongguk takes it, and makes his way to where Jimin is sat. The paraplegic is swift to take notice of his wrapped hands. He doesn’t ask. He only smiles warmly and says, “Ready?”
Will he ever be?
The car ride is silent, save for the soft hum of music emitted from the radio, that glows in the dark of the car. He looks out the window, at the small town that passes by him. It makes him feel even worse, the sight of all of it passing by him so quickly, so he turns his attention to Jimin. Jimin is on his phone, scrolling through Twitter, giggling.
“Anything particularly interesting going on?” Jeongguk asks, leaning over to take a look. Jimin pushes his shoulder back, laughing openly at whatever he sees. “What is it? A meme?”
Jimin shakes his head, his cheekbones rising as he continues to laugh. “Have you ever went through all of your fan messages? Or replies? Look– Look at this one: I want Jeongguk to sit on my face. ” He’s beyond himself, swatting at everything around him. “Here… Here: Can Jeongguk punch me? They…”
Jeongguk leans back and stifles a snort. “I hate using Twitter. I only have one because my manager wanted me to get one. Otherwise, I’d never touch that app. It’s so weird. The things people say about me.”
“You have fan accounts, Gguk. You should at least post photos once and a while. You know, feed the general public what they want and they’ll chew on it for months . When’s the last time you posted a selca?”
He shrugs his shoulders. He’s horrible at taking them, so he doesn’t bother. And in the rare instances he does, he tilts the phone at the weirdest angle, and makes the most awkward faces. And because he’s not the best at Twitter, he can’t mute the notifications when they come, so he shuts his phone off and hides it underneath his bed for days, until the retweets come to a stop. He’s always been too focused on his actual matches to have time for social media. The only hobby he has, related to technology, is mixing music. And occasionally, photography and film, but it’s rare, once again, for him to enjoy.
Which is why he has a camera slung around his shoulder. He’s hoping to be able to capture their last days together, so at least there’s some proof that he’d known Park Jimin.
“Let’s take one, then,” Jimin says, pressing on the camera app on his phone. He lifts it to the air, leans towards Jeongguk, and grins wide. When he sees, through the screen, that Jeongguk is cringing, he reaches back and slaps him on the neck. “Killjoy. Since you want to film the trip, I want something to remember too.”
Jeongguk can sense that Jimin is more than serious, despite his playful tone, so he leans forward too, and smiles brightly. The flash goes off, and it’s disorienting, but Jimin is delighted with the outcome. Jeongguk peers over his shoulder to see the image. They look so normal. As if Jeongguk wasn’t a famous athlete and Jimin wasn’t paraplegic. They looked like a normal couple, just… It’s just that they weren’t. He swallows back the bile rising in his throat and he moves back to his original position, his head leaned against the window. “I’m going to nap,” he says then.
“I’ll wake you up when we’re at the airport,” Jimin responds, still looking at the photo.
The airport is pretty empty. They’re leaving before Christmas, which isn’t the most ideal trip for most, so they don’t receive too much attention. Jeongguk keeps his head low, and his actions subtle. The person at the counter for check-in recognizes him, because of his passport. He blinks once, alternating between looking at his name on the passport, then at his face, but he doesn’t say anything, putting the bags onto the conveyor belt and checking them in with efficiency.
It’s all going smoothly, until they’re lining up to get their carry-on bags checked. Jeongguk is helping Jimin get his shoes off, and it’s holding up the single line. People move past them, and it’s when it’s at the end of the line, when a man behind them is prompted to cut, so they could keep it going along. As he passes them, he mutters, “ cripples ,” which, of course, makes Jeongguk mad. He stands up so quickly, and he’s not afraid to sock him right in the mouth, but Jimin grabs for the sleeve of his jacket and holds him firmly.
“Let it slide,” Jimin warns him.
“He called you a cripple,” Jeongguk replies, his voice venomous. He wants to grab that man, slam his fist against his face and make him apologize.
“Is it bad? To be a cripple?” Jimin questions then, knitting his brows together questioningly.
It’s not that. That’s not why he’s upset, and Jimin knows it, but he realizes that Jimin is still in this mellow, calm mood and by the looks of it, all he wants is peace. Jeongguk clenches his fist, unbothered by the fact that they’re still painful from him having busted them open just hours before. He looks away, unable to meet Jimin’s eyes, which will him to manage the same calm outlook as he held. He can’t be not mad about it. Not when people got away, too often, with throwing around words like that.
He swallows. “You know that’s not what I mean.”
“I know, and I appreciate you sticking up for me. And believe me, when I say that I would want nothing than to grab him by the ballsack, but…” Jimin sighs, “I’m excited for Japan. And I don’t want it to be ruined because of some shitty remark made by a middle-aged man.”
They pass through the check and sit in the lounge. They have an hour to kill before the plane is ready for take-off, so they sit beside each other on the cushioned seats. Jimin’s wheelchair is folded and propped up against the seats, and he’s contented, pulling out his phone, once again, to scroll through Twitter. Jeongguk is reading at first, skimming through the last pages of To Kill a Mockingbird , which, rightfully, has earned its place as a favorite on his shelf. Once he’s done, and satisfied with the ending, he sets it down on the space between them. Jimin looks down and at the sight of the novel, he shuts his phone off.
“I liked it,” Jeongguk tells him, running his fingers over the cover. “I mean, I’m still pissed off about what happened to Tom Robinson, but otherwise, I really liked it.”
Jimin grins. “I knew you would. One of the biggest parts of the book is… The social imbalance. Racism. Inequalities. Injustice, as a cause of white man’s superiority complex. But that’s not the point, at least, why I lent it to you. Sure, it’s really important to think about these things. Even after so long, these issues are still prevalent in our society, but did you get why I chose it for you specifically?” Jimin’s intelligent. Jeongguk can’t get over how brilliant he is, how aware he is of everything.
“I thought about it,” he responds. He has no clue, still. He didn’t even want to assume.
“Social injustice. You fight for it. Exhibit A: you wanting to hurt that man for using cripple. It’s a word that’s politically incorrect, and not going to lie, it pisses every bone in my body off, but in the end, it’s the truth, right? There’s that one quote. ‘Delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts’ ,” He elaborates, staring down at the book, reaching for it so he could sift through the pages. “If you remove the crude wording, you know, I am really a disabled person. And for you, remove all of the adjectives that taint your name, and who are you? You’re still Jeon Jeongguk. And that’s the truth.”
He’s seen the quote when he read it. It’s one of the things he kept in mind, actually, but he didn’t put this much thought into it. He’s astounded, by how much Jimin knows him, how much Jimin understands him on a below-surface level, and it’s both excruciatingly painful– as he knows that it won’t be long before he’d lose such a profound connection– and inspiring, especially as Jimin’s mind works in the most magical of ways.
He takes the silence as a moment to strip his name of all the adjectives. Athletic. Intelligent. Powerful. Cheater.
As Jimin had said, he’s left with Jeon Jeongguk. Himself. At the end of the day, nobody has the right to label him. Those labels don’t matter, even if, in this society, they do make up who you are, in the greater sense. But once your fame, your glory is all stripped from who you are… It’s up to you to decide the kind of person you’re going to be at the end of it all. Jeongguk likes who he is, without the societal labels. He likes how he is now, because he realizes what Jimin is insinuating by giving him the novel. He no longer just fights for survival, but instead, for what he believes is right. And the thought of that… It makes him happy.
“It was a really good book, Jimin,” he repeats, because that’s all he can say. “I… Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Jimin picks up his phone again, leans his head against Jeongguk’s shoulder, and scrolls through once more.
They arrive in Haneda airport at twelve in the morning. Jimin isn’t tired at all because he’s used to irregular sleeping habits, but Jeongguk feels exhausted after everything. He braves on, however, not only carrying his own bag, Jimin’s medicine bag, his camera; but dragging both of their small luggages across the pavement, towards the small taxi cab that’s conveniently parked at the edge of the curb. Jimin pushes himself along, and stops beside the vehicle.
Jeongguk and the cab driver place all of their belongs in the trunk, before he rounds the car, to where Jimin waits. He raises his brows for permission, and Jimin nods his head twice, before he slips his arms underneath the boy’s legs, his arms, so he can lift him inside of the taxi. The taxi driver folds the wheelchair and slips it it into the trunk, shutting it close and revving the engine. Once they’re settled into the cab, Jeongguk leans forward to speak to the driver in Japanese, the language he’d learned fluently just two years prior. But the man glances at him through the rearview mirror and says, “I’ve been given direct orders,” in Korean. “From Mr. Park.”
Jimin turns to him. “How does my dad know?” He questions, not upset, but surprised.
“I have no clue. But he’s your dad, and he probably has his eye on you.” Jeongguk responds with a shrug. He leans back, rubbing at his eyes. The driver begins, setting off for their hotel. “Is it a bad thing, that he knows?”
Jimin rubs at his sleeves, glancing outside. It’s cold this time of the year, but it doesn’t snow in Tokyo until mid-January. Nonetheless, Jimin shivers despite the warmth in the car. Jeongguk shrugs off his hoodie, as Jimin replies, “I just didn’t think he cared enough to do any investigating.” He hands the older boy the jacket. Jimin inspects it, turning it over in his hand. “You’re like… Ten sizes bigger than me,” he comments wryly, but tugs it over his head anyway. It takes all of Jeongguk’s willpower, not to coo when he sees that it doesn’t fit Jimin at all, instead engulfing him. The sleeves are way too long, the torso part running over his thighs.
He huffs, folding his arms and leaning back against the seat. “At least it’s warm.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Jeongguk says, when they enter the suite room. It’s one bed. A king-sized one, sat in the middle of the low-lit room. The hotel itself was costly, but he didn’t exactly have the time to select the exact arrangement, so he’d clicked the second most expensive room… And well, this is what they got.
Jimin rolls past him, ignoring the obvious blush that taints his cheeks. Jeongguk isn’t too perplexed about the idea of sharing a bed but Jimin is very well aware that he likes him in that way, and it just makes the situation all the more awkward. “Don’t be so adverse to it. It’s not like we’re going to get frisky, right?” He has the audacity to smirk at his direction, as he pulls off Jeongguk’s hoodie, tossing it over the back of the chair, sat in front of the desk. “I’m going to shower.”
“Do you need help?” Jeongguk offers, not realizing the sexual implications that Jimin would obviously twist it into.
He does. “Christ, keep it in your pants. I just need my crutches and I’ll manage.”
“You’re really fucking annoying, you know that?” Jeongguk sets his bags down by the television, reaching for the crutches that he’d left against the wall. He has no idea as to how Jimin could manage a shower on his own. He knows that Jimin’s strong, and powerful-minded, but he tries to think about it. How would he even get the shampoo onto his head? He squints at the thought, but shakes it off. Jimin would always manage, in his own way. He hands over the crutches, which Jimin takes underneath his arms. And with an absence of difficulty, he pushes himself up, supporting his dangling legs.
“You could do me a favor though. Could you close the bathroom curtains?” He motions towards the bathroom, and Jeongguk realizes that, where there should be a solid wall, there is glass, that gives inside look into the bathroom from the bedroom. “Unless you want to watch the most awkward paraplegic striptease.”
“I doubt it would be awkward,” Jeongguk mutters underneath his breath, but does what he’s asked of, pressing the automatic button that brings the curtains down. By then, Jimin is sat on the edge of the bathtub, with his crutches leaned against the marble wall. He’s tugging at the hem of his sweater, about to pull it off, but he stops, when he sees Jeongguk looking.
“You sure you don’t want the full striptease?” He questions.
Jeongguk tears his gaze away from the deep v-line that cuts across his lower half and looks into the mirror, at his face. He’s blushing unabatedly. “No. I just want to help. Did Minseok help you, back in the house?”
“No. I learned how to take care of myself in terms of… Well, showering, bathing, from the very start.” He glances backwards. Jimin has the sweater off, and he’s folding it on his lap. God, his thoughts are running wild to the point of which he has to look away from how surprisingly toned his upper body is. Then again, being paraplegic, unable to work his legs out to a full extent, if Jimin did work out on his own, it would be easier to isolate all of his muscle work to his… Abdominal muscles . It’s not like most of the athletic bodies he’s seen on the ring, but it’s so strangely intimate, this air between them, that it makes him squirm. “Last chance. Striptease or not?”
“I’m going, I’m going,” Jeongguk steps out of the bathroom, closing the door shut behind him.
Jimin only calls him in once, while he’s in the bathtub, to bring in clothes. Then it’s silence after that, for a good twenty minutes, a time frame which Jeongguk spends setting his camera up for the following day. He opens the casing of his SD card and he slips it into the slot in the film camera, before navigating through old shots he took on various trips, such as to the United states. He’s an avid photographer and film enthusiast, and he hopes, deeply, that Jimin would let him document the whole trip. They still had no set agenda for the following day, but he supposes that it’s the fun, not having anything definite. They could end up taking a train all the way to the Osaka Aquarium. Or the bus, to the base of Mount Fuji. To say he’s excited is an understatement.
After Jimin is done, he goes in next, for a quick shower. And when he exits, Jimin has taken the left side of the bed, lying down, his eyes closed. Jeongguk is in a robe. He walks, quietly, towards his luggage, kneeling down to unzip it open. He pulls out another jacket, and boxers, as well as a toothbrush and toothpaste. He changes, brushes his teeth, and moves back into the room once more, to fold his used clothes on the table.
He stares at the right side of the bed. Then at Jimin, whose eyes are closed shut. He rubs at the base of his neck, shyly. And as discreetly as possible, he slips underneath the covers. It’s really strange, being beside Jimin on a bed, and knowing that Jimin is very well aware that he’s flustered about it. He turns on his side, to face the boy, and is surprised, when he finds that Jimin is still awake, looking back at him. Their faces are so close. Yet so far . And for the first time, he hears Jimin’s breath hitch.
It flips their roles. Jeongguk, up an close, can see the way Jimin presses his lips together, obviously agitated by Jeongguk’s lack of timidness, as he smiles. “Wow,” Jeongguk breathes, with a laugh. “I can’t believe…”
“Shut up,” Jimin responds, but doesn’t pull back. He relaxes into the pillow, staring right back at him. His gaze falters slightly, when Jeongguk holds it with confidence, and his deep brown eyes flicker to where Jeongguk’s lips are. He flinches. He visibly twitches .
“Hey Jimin?” Jeongguk asks, through the quietude. There’s no sound in the room, other than the soft hum of the air ventilation.
“Yes?” His voice is light.
He sticks all of his pride away, shoving it to the very back of his mind. He trusts Jimin not to embarrass him. “Can I…” He begins, but trails off. It’s so difficult, especially when Jimin is gazing at him, with his round eyes, wide and ready. “Can I kiss you?”
And it’s an out-of-body experience, when Jimin leans forward and closes the gap between them. He can’t feel, for the first half of it. Jeongguk is just an entity, floating around space, watching the two of them. From the vast universe. To the widespread earth. Underneath the starry skies of Tokyo. With a subtle, warm light casted over their figures, within such close proximity. He watches as he moves his hand to cup Jimin’s cheek, drawing him closer, and closer. And that’s when he feels it.
He’s only ever kissed a boy once before, when he was drunk and confused. He’d never had the time to think about his sexuality, whether he liked boys, girls, men, women… It’s always been, for him, the in-between. The strange, uncertain grey area wherein he didn’t care too much, whether he was attracted to either side of the spectrum. But all of those thoughts aside…
It feels like…
Jeongguk can’t put words to how it feels. All he knows is that he loves Park Jimin with every inch of his body, his mind and his soul. And it’s not the shallow love that some would say. It’s not the love that’s desperate, perpetuated by his deep want for affection, for a home. It’s just love, with no labels. It’s the want to spend the rest of his life with Jimin. The want to see Jimin’s failures, Jimin’s successes. The want to see Jimin’s darkest moments, his brightest moments. The want to see Jimin, across that road, waving at him, smiling at him with a radiance that isn’t built off of sarcasm nor false pretense.
The silence in the world, at that very moment, is suddenly non-existent. He hears his own heartbeat, ravenous, rampaging, relentless. And he can hear Jimin’s own heartbeat, gentle, pounding against his chest. He can hear the buzz of night life, on the streets of Tokyo, at this hour. The sound of cars moving past the emptied roads. The blinking tone of the stoplights. And it continues, even when Jimin pulls away, to suck in a deep breath. Jeongguk’s eyelids flutter open as Jimin’s own, and they’re left, staring at each other, once again. Except, this time, neither one of them is more powerful than the other. Jimin isn’t cocky. Jeongguk isn’t confident. And they just lay there, their foreheads flush against each other’s, existing . In the chaos of the universe, it’s truly a blessing, how they found their ways to each other.
If Jeongguk hadn’t run away from home, he would have never crossed paths with Jimin. And if Jimin hadn’t gone through the car accident… They would have never met. And even if they did, it would be completely different, because Jeongguk would have been a whole different person. Leaving his home shaped him, the person that he now knows Jimin loves, too. And the accident, in a way, had shaped Jimin too. Undergoing such loss has made him so resilient, so powerful, so goddamn beautiful to Jeongguk.
“Hey Jeongguk?” Jimin’s voice is breathless. His small fingers intertwined with Jeongguk’s own, callused ones.
“Mhm?” Jeongguk feels drowsy, drunk on the rush of emotions.
“I want to go to Disneyland.”
He feels himself shake with laughter. At the unexpectedness of the request. He shakes his head once, then nods. “Okay, Jimin-ssi. We’ll go to Disneyland.”
They fall asleep, tangled in one another. The light is left, turned on, which is something Jeongguk doesn’t like, but it doesn’t matter.
Nothing else does, at that moment.
They wake up relatively late, and Jimin is a big spoon… Which means that even if Jeongguk had woken up at precisely seven, he couldn’t move. He doesn’t, because he doesn’t want to wake the boy up… And well, he’s content, in his arms. Although they’re too short to wrap around Jeongguk’s shoulders, somewhere within the hour he’s lying there, unable to move, Jimin draws them around his waist, and it just feels… Good .
Jimin emits a warmth that’s comforting. That makes him feel the same way he does when he wraps himself in layers of blankets, sat down by the fireplace, while it snows on the outside. Holding Jimin’s hand is the same kind of warmth you feel when you hold a cup of hot chocolate between your fingers. And kissing Jimin… It feels like taking a sip of the richest hot chocolate in the world; and he’s only ever tasted the best they had to offer, up in Switzerland. It makes him feel homely, despite his inner loneliness. As if for the first time, he has a home. Not a place to sleep, to eat, to work out. Not a makeshift gazebo on top of a building, back on the streets of Busan. But a home; one that provides warmth, kindness, love .
He would be content, happy, to stay there forever, in that very moment. With the sun rising, the air both simultaneously warm and cold. But eventually, he knows he does have to wake Jimin, especially since it’s around that time wherein the nightmares would have kicked in. And since it’s one of their last days together, he wants nothing but happiness, but enjoyment for the older boy. So he turns, underneath Jimin’s arm, and prods the boy with a finger, digging it gently against the soft of his cheek. “Jimin,” Jeongguk whispers.
It doesn’t take a heartbeat. “Awake,” Jimin replies, a groan drawn from his lips when he peels himself away. His eyes flutter open immediately and he sits up. He runs his hands through his hair so casually, as if he hadn’t had those very arms around Jeongguk just then. His gaze is averted, his voice nonchalant as he adds, “Let’s get ready for the day.”
Jeongguk’s body is aching, his arms, especially, from having hit too hard yesterday. But he manages to drag himself from underneath the covers, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. The sun is bright, but muted by the pale grey curtains that decorate the edges of the room. He squints at the leaking brightness, waiting for his eyes to adjust before he stands, his weight shifting the bed. Jimin, on the other side, is eager, his actions proving as such as he easily swipes his crutches from the table. He hauls himself up and makes his way towards the bathroom. Jeongguk calls, “What are you wearing?”
“The first bag!” Jimin calls back, his voice slightly muffled. He’s brushing his teeth.
Jeongguk unzips his luggage, reaching for the first bag that’s stacked amongst others. He moves towards the bathroom, pulling the door slightly open so he can stick his arm in, with the bag clenched underneath his fingers. Jimin takes it from him. Jeongguk closes the door and while Jimin is changing, he does so, himself, outside in the hotel room. throwing on another dark ensemble so he can remain as close to anonymous as possible. When Jimin steps out of the bathroom, he feels like he’s staring right back at himself. Both of them had chosen, unknowingly, to wear the same black clothing.
Jimin quirks his lip at the coincidental occurrence, only moving himself to where the wheelchair is sat. “Alright,” he says. It’s a vague affirmation. Of what, Jeongguk doesn’t know, but he’s sure that Jimin’s trying to claim every edge he can in their relationship, especially after their… Their kiss.
It’s still a bit foggy in Jeongguk’s mind, the whole fact that they’d gone so intimate, but it’s a nice feeling, the light buzz that he feels. It’s like a hangover, but without the pounding headache and urge to throw up. It’s replaced, rather, with the want to run across a fucking field of flowers . It also brings a surge of confidence to him. If Jimin is going to play the big boy in their relationship, there was no way Jeongguk was going to be left dragging behind. He picks up his camera bag from the table. “You don’t mind if I film, do you?” He asks, airily.
“Hm, no. Is it going to be like… A vlog?” Jimin plops down on his wheelchair. He reaches forward for his foot, moving it back and forth a couple of times, then doing it on it’s own. He looks mesmerized by the fact that it’s improved. And Jeongguk is proud.
“No. I want to make the film about you. Like…” He doesn’t want to get too into it. He wants to make it special, because he decided, as he lay, trapped between Jimin’s arms, that the film would be a gift to him. It would be for him, to show him in the perspective of somebody who loved him. So that one day, he could love himself too, regardless of whether he was paraplegic or not. “Do you trust me?”
There’s no hesitation, no pause. “I trust you.”
Jeongguk feels himself smile despite himself. He pulls out the bag of Jimin’s medicines, inspecting the way Minseok had organized them to absolute perfection. The first packed, labelled Day one, morning is the one that he retrieves from the bag, pulling it open, emptying it’s contents onto the desk. He sifts through the variety of pills, the needle and its contents. Minseok’s instructed him to always do the dantrium injection first. It was used to treat cramping and spasms caused by his spinal cord injury. He taps the needle against his palm twice, then looks at Jimin. “Uh–” he begins.
“I know.” Jimin reaches for the waistband of his black pants, tugging it down, along with the garter of his underwear. And there’s that glorious v-line, once more, that Jeongguk has to stop staring so blatantly at. He moves before he can start drooling, and he pushes the cap off of the sharp, metallic point. “Just go for it. Right there.” He taps on the conjunction between his hip and thigh. Jeongguk is scared, frankly, but Jimin, being Jimin, adds, “Don’t worry, I don’t really feel anything.”
He swallows back his nerves and presses the needle there, and he feels Jimin’s body jump slightly. He hears the small exhale from his lips, the shudder that passes through him. Jeongguk pushes all of the medicine into him, before retracting the injection and looking up. Jimin’s eyes are anywhere but where he’s injecting. “You said you don’t feel anything.”
“I used to not feel anything. I hate needles.” So there was some kind of regeneration of his nerves. “Get the pills?”
He does, obediently, tossing the needle into the trash can and picking up the small box of organized capsules. He hands them over to Jimin, who’s quick to dry swallow everything, one after another, without a care. Jeongguk rubs his chin as he watches. “You sure you don’t need water?”
“Tastes like shit, but I’m good,” he responds. His face contorts slightly, giving away his distaste for the pills, but he places the box by the television, and shakes it off, before he adds, “come on. I’m starving.”
Jeongguk nearly slaps himself. “Fuck. You’re supposed to eat first, before the pills, right?”
“Doesn’t matter. Seriously, don’t be such a worry wart. Now let’s go!” Jimin tugs on his sleeve, his demeanor shifting completely, leaving way for the enthusiastic boy he’d seen so vividly the day prior. Jeongguk feels so stupid, but he knows that Jimin wouldn’t lie about being fine, especially to him. And he trusts Jimin. He allows himself to be dragged away, towards the door, and so their adventure begins.
“I am not going on the teacups.”
“You are fucking joining me on the teacups.”
“Jimin, for the last time, I am not joining you on the–”
“Ow!” Jimin suddenly yells, moving his hands from the arms of his wheelchair, to his leg. Panic settles over Jeongguk, who runs over to his side and drops to his knees.
“Jimin? Jimin?” He says, loudly, gripping at his leg as well. “Holy shit, are you–”
Jimin doesn’t respond, doubling over, eyes shut. But after a few seconds of complete agony, he sits up, his hand drawing a small finger heart from where he claimed the pain’s source to be. “You’re going with me on those tea cups!” He says, in a voice that is squeaky… And cute.
Jeongguk pushes back the strangled worry that he feels. He can’t believe Jimin would put him through something like that. Seeing him in pain, thinking he was in pain… Oh, fuck, if only Jimin knew how much he cared. And how terrified he’d been. “F–Funny,” he mutters, rubbing at his eyes. It’s been a long day.
They started off the day eating breakfast, in the hotel lounge. Jimin had ordered himself bacon and eggs, with garlic rice, while Jeongguk wanted a platter of seasonal fruits. One older man had noticed him, approaching shyly but eventually asking him for a signature, for his son. Jeongguk was well-suited with Japanese, so he managed easily, but he later on translated for Jimin, who seemed surprised at his fluency. While Jeongguk continued to place fruit after fruit into his mouth, savoring the mixture of sours and sweets, Jimin blurts, “being bilingual is hot.”
“I can speak english, too. Well, not as good as Korean or Japanese… I also took up Russian. Just for two years, though.”
Jimin’s cheeks taint with blush. “Wow.”
Jeongguk grins to himself and delves into his food.
They go shopping in the Shibuya station and of course, he has to take Jimin to the infamous crossing. He films a bit there, trailing after Jimin, who’s full of bright emotions and smiles. He even puts on a show for the camera, looking backwards once and a while, smiling dazzlingly and waving. Jeongguk is left to follow after, with his camera on, and he can see himself, through the reflection of his screen. He’s surprised to see himself smiling too, but he realizes that it’s just all because of Jimin. His happiness is contagious.
They have early dinner in a basement restaurant, somewhere along the streets of Shibuya. This time, they both order a pair of chicken teriyaki bowls. It’s Jeongguk’s favorite Japanese dish, and by the looks of it, it’s sweetened taste has encaptured Jimin, too. The older boy is digging into his bowl scrumptiously, as Jeongguk films him eating. Since the room is much darker, and has low-key lighting, he adjusts the ISO and aperture; all of these settings, he’d learned after spending nights and hours watching Youtube tutorials. He already has a song in mind, to go with the video, and he’s looking forward, to finishing it. He hopes Jimin would love it.
After finishing their food rather quickly, he makes sure to capture a shot of the bowl before and after, and gathers extra filler shots before they leave. And so, by then, they catch the train from Shibuya to Maihama, or the Disneyland station. It takes about 30 minutes.
“So. Teacups? Please?” Jimin holds onto his sleeve, pulling him again and again, snapping him out of his thoughts.
“Ah, Jimin-ssi,” he groans exasperatedly. He gives one sparing glance towards the assortment of spinning teacups, of pastel colours. He can only see little children on it, enjoying themselves on the ride. God, if he was so worried about losing his identity, this would only be another harsh blow to who he was; Jeon Jeongguk . But he has to. Between Jimin’s round puppy eyes, and the fucking colorful teacups, he knows that he has to set aside his pride and dignity. He sighs through his nose and pulls up his camera. “Fine.”
Jimin picks the teacup he wants, and Jeongguk helps him onto it. He buckles his legs in and the ride begins. Jeongguk has his camera ready to capture Jimin, and he’s met with a childlike innocence, similar as to the one he’d witnessed in the first snow, back in Seoul.
And they’re spinning. The teacups are relatively fast, teetering safely on the boundary between fun and nauseating. Jeongguk isn’t enjoying himself. Or that’s, at least, what he tries to convince himself, as he watches Jimin’s sparkling eyes, through the camera’s viewfinder.
He also tries to convince himself that he’s not whipped.
That he’s not in love.
But as they spin around on those god-forsaken teacups, he can’t help but admit that he is. He is, so deeply in love with Park Jimin.
And for the first time, he knows that when the time comes, he can let go.
Chapter 10: The Curtain Call
THEIR SECOND DAY IN JAPAN is well-spent.
Since they’ve exhausted all of the major tourist sites on the first day, they stay at the hotel for the whole morning. They grab a quick lunch before launching out for the streets once more.
They have nothing on their agenda in particular, so Jeongguk whips out a coin and suggests that they play a little adventure game. They opt for the bus system. And the game goes as follows:
- Landing a heads would mean that they stayed on the bus.
- Landing a tails would mean that they had to get off of the bus.
If they stayed on the bus, they kept going and going until they reach a destination. They stay at the destination for thirty minutes at the least, an hour maximum. And at the destination they would flip again:
- Landing a heads would mean that Jimin decided what to do.
- Landing a tails would mean that Jeongguk decided what to do.
And once they’ve decided on what to do for that particular destination, each would take turns flipping a coin.
- Landing a heads would mean that they could dare the other to do something.
- Landing a tails would mean that they could ask the other a truth.
It was a game of luck, and a game that was costly, but Jeongguk assured him that it was his treat. And Jimin couldn’t refuse, so he goes along with it.
They land a series of heads for the first seven stops. Jimin shoots Jeongguk a skeptical look. “I know that you’re oozing money and all, but I really think this game is going to cost a lot. Especially with the whole dares part.”
“Live a little, Jimin,” Jeongguk laughs. Jimin shakes his head but shuts up. He flips the coin and they land a tails. It’s still in the center of the shopping district, near the Shibuya crossing, so it’s not exactly the most adventurous endeavour, but they get off. Jeongguk has his camera ready. He points it towards him, a smile etched onto his face. “So. Flip the coin.”
Jimin does, catching it with ease and slapping it against his wrist. He reveals heads , which means that he gets to decide what they’re supposed to do for the next thirty minutes. He looks around. All he sees are shops, endless rows of them, stacked on top of buildings; against one another. He catches sight of one of the most well-known shops in Japan– a building labelled Tokyu Hands . “Let’s go in there,” he suggests. Jeongguk nods, placing a hand on the back of his wheelchair and pushing him, navigating through the busy streets.
Once they’re inside of the store, Jimin is hit with an innumerable assortment of things to buy. He looks at a little sign by the entrance, that indicates the purpose of each level. The first one was for the general items. Second was for home items. Third was for toys. Fourth was for stationary. Fifth was for clothes. “Let’s go to the toy floor,” he suggests. There was bound to be something embarrassing in there to use in the case that he landed a dare for Jeongguk.
They exit the elevator on the third floor, and both take out a coin each. Jeongguk flips its high up into the air, and catches it. Jimin does the same. “I got tails ,” Jeongguk announces.
“Heads,” Jimin grins.
The athlete ponders over a question for a few seconds. Then he asks, “Were you popular? In your high school?” Of all of the things to ask.
“I was well-liked,” Jimin replies, with a cheeky smile. Jeongguk huffs a low “of course you were” , which Jimin pretends to ignore, instead opting to propel himself in the direction of the masks and costumes. He already knows what he wants for Jeongguk. He pulls up a spiderman suit, made out of cheap cloth. It’s nothing close to relatively authentic, which makes it all the more disrespectful to wear.
Jeongguk snatches it from Jimin’s hands. “No. I am not wearing this,” he says warningly. He looks genuinely uncomfortable, eyeing it from side to side, the back and the front.
“You’re not going to wear it everywhere. Just try it on for me.” When Jeongguk remains stubborn, Jimin reminds him, “Seize the day, Jeongguk!”
And so they end up in the changing rooms, which are, thankfully, emptied out. Jeongguk peeks from behind the green curtains, looking flustered, annoyed. Jimin leans his head on his hand, waiting in silence. So after a few moments of this, Jeongguk releases a deep sigh, his nose scrunching up in distaste. He steps out of the stall. And… It’s not completely embarrassing, because Jeongguk’s body is…
It’s well-toned, so it fits, even if it’s made of the loose fabric. It clings, strangely enough, to his muscles, outlining his biceps, his chest, all the way down to…
“Can you stop staring?” Jeongguk is red. He’s embarrassed.
Jimin stifles a laugh, placing his hands over his mouth. “Y–Yeah… Y–Yeah, okay, this is good. You can change back now.”
After this incident, Jeongguk is wary, but they press on.
By the time evening comes around, they’ve gotten into a countless number of shenanigans. The highlight, Jimin would have to say, would be the revelation that Jeongguk himself could dance. They’d gone to an open-spaced public area, and Jimin’s wily mind had easily pondered up a dare– which, for both of them, had gotten progressively more terrible as time went along.
“I dare you to dance,” Jimin proclaims proudly, folding his arms over his chest and jutting his chin out at Jeongguk, whose face turns completely red. At first, Jimin thinks that it’s of embarrassment of performing, but when Jeongguk begins to dance, having set up his phone to play faint music, he realizes that it’s of embarrassment of having to show a hidden side to him. Jimin is pleasantly delighted with what he sees. It’s both a mixture of awe at Jeongguk’s ability to b-boy so goddamn well and fascination at the way he moves.
Jimin knows that he moves like water. His movements are fluid, as he had grown up learning to master. Jeongguk… He’s sharp. He moves like he has something to prove, and Jimin totally understands why. The athlete, although already having pursuing his dreams at a young age; and undoubtedly, at the highest class, needed to retain that peak performance. The blow from the news, the accusations had shoved him below the surface. His life… It was all a matter of whether he chose to fight or fly.
When he was doing some reference reading while he was stuck at home, he’d once gone deep into the science of the fight or flight response. It was a response to anything one would deem harmful or threatening. It triggered the release of chemicals that would destress an animal, preparing it to react in two ways: through fight or flight.
Jeongguk has chosen to fight. All of his life, he’s chosen to fight for his life, his dreams, aspirations– to survive. And for the first time, he’s backed down. Jimin wonders, all the time, why the drug scandal had been the one to knock him onto his back. Sure, the element of his mother’s overdose had played a huge role in the disgust and distaste for anything related to drugs, but he doesn’t fully understand to what extent the scandal had hurt him. Jimin decides, eventually, that there’s only so much one person can take in their life. And he’s proud that Jeongguk was smart enough to know when enough was enough.
Jeongguk garners quite the crowd by the time he’s done dancing. He waves his hands, head ducked slightly, so completely different from the person who’d performed just seconds ago. His expressions were… Interesting, to say at the least. He’d been very cocky when performing, which Jimin was thoroughly impressed with, considering that Jeongguk definitely wasn’t a performer; but he understands how dancing could consume you if you let yourself loose. It’s bittersweet, the feeling of seeing somebody dance, and it not being Jimin himself, but he swallows back the bitter feeling and instead claps his hands vigorously.
“Well damn,” he says with a shake of his head. “You never told me you could dance.”
“Off-seasons are boring,” Jeongguk explains, scratching the back of his neck sheepishly. “I figured I could learn a thing or two.”
Jimin smiles in response. He then takes Jeongguk’s hand and wheels along, back to the bus station.
They get back from Japan early in the morning of their last day together, so they force themselves to at least nap for a few hours. Jimin wakes up at eight in the morning, stops by the gym, where he pauses by the edge of the doorway. Jeongguk is there, as he’d expected, and he’s practicing his boxing. Unlike the day before they’d left for Japan, he was controlled. His punches were calculated, no longer frantic or distressed. And watching him; it felt strange. Like he was looking at Jeon Jeongguk, professional athlete, not Jeongguk, physical therapist… Friend. And despite how much he wants to believe otherwise, it is their last day together.
After watching for a few minutes, he rolls himself back up to the dining room area, where Minseok is preparing him breakfast. Today, it’s his usual row of pills, combined with an assortment of cereal boxes spread over the table. Jimin looks at the nurse. “Cereal? Are you suddenly incapable of cooking?” He questions, his voice tired as he reaches for the box of plain Cheerios.
“I can’t believe you’re grumpy after that trip.” Minseok replies humoredly. “I can cook, but we actually don’t have any groceries. I can go out now and get them before Jeongguk finishes up downstairs, if you want.”
“Are you implying that I don’t want cereal because I want to impress Jeongguk? So I don’t appear like a cheapskate?” Jimin places the cereal into the bowl, then pours milk after. “Because, my friend, that’s a bit of a stretch.”
Minseok huffs a quiet laugh. “I’m just saying, Jimin, you flirt with him a lot.”
Ridiculous. He does not flirt . He is… Verbally abusive. Sarcastic. Rude. All of those, yes, he knows, very well, that he is. But a flirt ? Christ, he was a crippled boy. How flirtatious could he get? Jimin gapes at his companion, who contentedly pushes the pills towards his direction. “That’s the most offensive thing you’ve ever said to me in the many years we’ve been friends, Minseok.”
“Yeah, well, you give some, you take some,” he mutters. Jimin slaps his arm.
Jeongguk walks into the room just then, in his workout clothes. His skin glistens with a faint coat of sweat, his hair tousled, stuck to his forehead. His breaths are deep, through his nose. Jimin can see his chest heave with effort as he makes his way towards the table, gazing at the array of cereal boxes. He expects a reaction, but the boxer only reaches for the box of corn flakes. “Do you have banana milk, by any chance?” He asks, pushing his hair back from his eyes.
Jimin swallows at the sight. Minseok shoots him a knowing look, before going to retrieve the single bottle of banana milk left in the refrigerator. He’s not flustered. Jimin turns away from the sight of Jeongguk, but he can’t help but let his mind play over the many scenarios he's fantasized about ever since that one night in Tokyo. After Minseok does obtain the milk, handing it to Jeongguk, he excuses him, but not before bumping intentionally into Jimin. He’s not flustered. He’s not. So, he instead focuses on how Jeongguk pours the milk first into the bowl, and resorts to his usual insulting tone, as he says, “What are you, a barbarian?”
Jeongguk glances his way, his brow raised challengingly. He twists on the red cap, onto the plastic bottle, before pouring a hefty amount of cereal into his newly-made milk bath. “Do you have a problem?” He questions. Jimin’s stomach flips at the sight of the floating cereal pieces.
“You put your milk before your cereal. That’s a… Wow , I can’ t believe I like someone who… Wow .” Jimin picks up his spoon and digs it into the bowl of cheerios, which have now grown soggy. The milk is growing warm. He places a spoonful into his mouth.
“You like me?” Jeongguk pauses. He doesn’t try to hide the smile that spreads across his face. His expression is elated, giddy.
Jimin nearly gags on the spoonful he’s taken. He presses his hand to the corner of his lips, stifling the urge to spit his food out, right all over Jeongguk. He wants to deny it verbally, he really does, but he only finds himself spiralling back to the night they’d kissed.
He’s just given up his last inch of dignity, when he allows himself to suck in a breath. It was so sharp, hitched– escaping once Jeongguk looked at him in the confident way he always did. His lips are twisted into a smirk, but his intent is teasing, rather than purely torturous. He says, “Wow.” A soft chuckle ensues. “I can’t believe…”
“Shut up.” Jimin doesn’t like feeling so weak, so pliable. They aren’t even touching, and he’s already being molded by the warmth radiating solely from Jeongguk’s eyes. He can’t grasp it; the particular feeling that twinges his heartstrings, makes him feel strange in his own body. A large part of himself was still self-loathing. There was the inevitable void in his chest that liked to consume every fire, every flame Jeongguk set and it was wearing him thin; the wars that raged on. But now… Here… He can lie to himself. Jeongguk’s warmth is not enough to make him love himself, but it’s enough to help forge a mask.
“Hey… Jimin?” Jeongguk says, all of a sudden. His face falters slightly, the poised expression he’d held disappearing, leaving an honest vulnerability.
Something inside of him is telling him no.
No, every inch of his self-restraint, his pride tells him no. He knows where this is going. Jeongguk is gravitating towards him, as if he was the moon and Jimin was the earth. And usually, the sun would be there, to balance out the gravitational pull; to keep the moon from completely crashing… But it’s night time now. They have all the silence in the world, and there’s absolutely nothing to hold Jeongguk back. So what escapes Jimin is a breathless, “yes?”
“Can I kiss you?”
The request, coming from Jeongguk, in such a raw exposition of his mindset, his thoughts… It drives him. He doesn’t know if it’s for his own benefit. Maybe he doesn’t want to believe that it’s partly something he’s always wanted, but he leans forwards, taking Jeongguk’s face into his palms and bringing him closer.
It’s… Nice? Like every other kiss he’s ever had. It’s not like in the movies, which is completely understandable. It’s not bad. Jeongguk is a fine kisser, he really is, and Jimin’s feeling a slight giddiness… But that’s about it. He knows that Jeongguk is beyond himself at that moment. He knows that Jeongguk loves him. And he’s grateful, eternally grateful, that Jeongguk has found something in him to love, but he feels guilt inside of him, boiling like hellfire. He doesn’t reciprocate the emotions, the feelings on the same level.
But he continues to kiss Jeongguk, past the way his throat is closing up– past the fact that his eyes are moist with tears. He loses himself in it, briefly, allowing himself to fall. It’s a sickening feeling, one unfamiliar, one too raw to comprehend, so he eventually pulls away. The taste of Jeongguk lingers. He wants it to stay. He reaches for Jeongguk’s hand, searching for warmth in the cold of winter. And he laces their fingers together, weaving them tightly. “Hey Jeongguk?” He says, his voice a little too lighthearted.
“Mhm?” Jeongguk’s expression is so amusing to look at, his cheeks tainted red with a blush that gives away how gone he is.
All of this. Being in this hotel room, with Jeongguk, just looking at him… He feels a childish desire resurface, all of a sudden. It all reminds him of when he was younger, when he’d begged his father to bring them all to Disneyland. His father, of course, had refused– although kindly– in favor of his work. The childish desire… The want to spend his possible last few days fulfilling the things he’s never gotten a chance to do… The words slip from his mouth. “I want to go to Disneyland.”
A laugh arises from Jeongguk. He can feel it reverberating throughout the universe, so powerful, so heart-wrenching. With a little shake of his head, he replies, “Okay Jimin-ssi,’ Jimin-ssi. Oh, Jimin just can’t help but smile wider at the fondness in his tone. “We’ll go to Disneyland.”
And that’s all he needs. He buries his cheek against Jeongguk’s neck and falls asleep, right there.
“I don’t… Not…” Jimin snaps back into the present. Jeongguk is still looking at him with an expectant look, one built off of a sheer happiness. “Not in that way.”
Jeongguk’s brows arch up at it, disbelieving. He places a spoonful of cereal into his mouth. “Yeah, okay,” he says, his mouth full. “Wanna play pool? Or something?”
“I have something better.” Jimin grins, knowing exactly what they could do to fill in the time.
They end up playing with Jimin’s barely used virtual reality set for the rest of the morning. Jimin tells Jeongguk that he’s going to put in a horror game, to which Jeongguk is enthusiastic about, placing the headset over his eyes, grabbing for the controller eagerly. He has Resident Evil 7 , which is one that he’s tried out before, with Minseok. He ended up getting absolutely terrified just ten minutes in, to Minseok’s dry amusement. Jimin placed it in the very back of his games shelf out of begrudging, but he retrieves it that day, knowing that Jeongguk would be entertained, rather than scared shitless.
Jeongguk’s good at the game, unsurprisingly; his skill matching one of those professional gamers Jimin has often found himself watching, making Jimin wonder about other things Jeongguk excels at. Apparently, not only boxing– but photography, film, dance, video games … He was smart too, for fuck’s sake– Jimin had found himself shaking his head in disbelief when Jeongguk’s pure intuition led him to completing more than half of the game in the shortest time he’d ever seen in any online stream.
He’s busy fighting off one of the demonic creatures when Minseok enters, with a tray of snacks. Jimin glances towards his nurse, his friend, who pauses to look at Jeongguk, whose arms are flying calculatedly at the virtual monster. “Are you really going to be doing virtual reality the whole day?” He questions skeptically.
“It’s like a kid on christmas,” Jimin replies lowly. “Put the presents in front of him and he’ll be sold… Just like that.”
“I can hear you both!” Jeongguk exclaims, punching a little too close to the television screen. Jimin moves his wheelchair forward, just a bit, so he can pull Jeongguk back.
“It’s a sit-down game, idiot. And you don’t actually have to hit that hard to kill the monsters,” Jimin sighs, but finds himself internally cooing at the childlike manner that Jeongguk wears while playing. “You think we should do other things?”
The boy pulls off the headset. “Yeah, this is getting boring. I have an idea, actually. Hold on.” He scurries up the ramp, forgetting his shoes, wearing his red socks. He’s actually a little kid. Jimin shakes his head once again, only this time, out of fondness. Minseok smiles at him in the assuming manner. Jimin wipes his expression off, leans his head back against his seat and closes his eyes.
Jeongguk returns three minutes later with a medium-sized book and a pencil. Minseok is trying the game himself, except exchanging the virtual reality set for wii controllers. He’s playing Mario Kart. Jimin watches as Jeongguk flips his book open, revealing an array of charcoal-coloured sketches. He skims through them quickly, but Jimin’s interest has piqued, so he says, “Hold on.”
“Oh no, don’t. They’re embarrassing.” Jeongguk pulls a small grin. “I wanted to draw you, though.”
Draw Jimin? Jeongguk wanted to draw him?
He doesn’t know how to object, since the request is all-too innocent. Jimin, however, is the master of exploitation, so he says, “I’ll let you draw me if you show me the drawings after.” Jeongguk is reluctant to agree but he does, nonetheless, crossing his legs on the ground and setting to work.
Minseok leaves somewhere throughout the process. As per Jeongguk’s request, Jimin is not allowed to move, which Jimin is obligated to comply with, given the fact that– well, he can’t actually move to his greatest ability. So sits down, looking at his phone, scrolling through the Jeon Jeongguk tag on twitter. It’s nearly been a month since the scandal started and people are continuing to egg the athlete down. He feels disgust at the immaturity found in a lot of the comments. He’s irked, too, at the amount of users trying to turn the whole situation into some moral crisis.
He finds a few good tweets here and there, though. Some leaping to Jeongguk’s defense, stating that he was barely an adult; barely at the top of his career and people were just bashing him for the sake of it. Jimin likes those tweets, pressing on the little heart icons. He only looks up when Jeongguk clears his throat, sliding over the book towards him. “You looked pissed at your phone. I didn’t want to immortalize you being grumpy… So I drew you… Smiling?”
Jimin sets down his phone and inspects the art. His heart thrums at the sight of the image. Jeongguk’s style is very realistic, with his own small cartoonish, artistic twist to it. It’s a splitting image of him… Or at least, somebody he used to be. Jimin wouldn’t call himself an art enthusiast of any sorts, but he knows that art is created to envoke feeling in people. The feeling that the image of himself stirs inside of him… It’s raw. It’s touching in the most intimate of ways. His heart swells; longing to appear as happy as Jeongguk had portrayed him.
There’s some truth to it. Jimin once saw himself in that way– radiant, elated, smiling. But it’s also terrifying, how a part of him didn’t even recognize himself. The void in his chest was inevitable, and it continued to sit there, consuming the swell of admiration he felt for himself; his dignity.
“I… I know it’s not the best. I just wanted to show you how… I saw you, I guess.” Jimin glances up. Jeongguk looks upset, his fingers laced together on his lap. He wipes away the negative emotions on his face, the grim stirring in his gut.
“No. No, it’s really good. I…” Jimin shakes his head, holding the book close to his chest, pressing it against his heart. “I just have a hard time looking at myself and seeing someone… Beautiful.”
“You are beautiful.” Jeongguk states this without hesitation.
The crippled boy smiles. He wants to kiss Jeongguk, right there, right then, but he holds himself back. He looks down at the drawing. “Can I keep it?” He asks. He knows that they weren’t supposed to have any remembrance of each other after they parted, but Jimin wants to keep it. He won’t look at it, but the idea of it is comforting. He’d tuck it into his drawer, where he would never look, ever again.
“All yours,” the boxer responds. Jimin knows he means more than the drawing.
He ignores it and flips the page.
The sky turning pink is the eventual indicator that they do, in fact, have to part.
Jimin looks outside of the window when he hears the wheels against the gravelly front yard. The car, assigned by his father to take Jeongguk back all the way back to Busan, is waiting. He wants to say something, but Jeongguk’s the one who reaches forward to pause the movie. There’s still seven minutes left. They haven’t gotten to the ending to see the outcome, and it bothers Jimin to an extent that is overwhelming. But he doesn’t speak, as Jeongguk rises from his spot on the couch.
“I’ll go upstairs to make sure I don’t leave anything,” he says with a tone that is all-too normal to be introspective.
He watches after Jeongguk, as he walks up the ramp. His eyes fall on the single luggage, the duffel bags that are sat right by the door. Then he turns his attention to Minseok, who walks outside of the dining room, looking despondent. “I can’t believe it,” he laments, rubbing his chin. “He’s actually… Leaving.”
“I can’t either,” Jimin mumbles to himself. He shifts himself off of the couch, to his wheelchair. It feels so wrong. The seat is suddenly uncomfortable. His hands can’t quite grip at the rubber of the wheels. He can feel them shake involuntarily, so he requests, in a small voice, “help me to the door?”
He’s not okay. He’s had panic attacks before, so he knows how to make it seem like he’s fucking fine and dandy but the sight of Jeongguk jogging down the ramp, it makes him sick to the stomach. It’s more nauseating than any of his medicines. Minseok’s eyes slant at the edges, probably realizing to what extent Jimin’s sadness is. Jeongguk, however, seems indifferent, as he opens the door for himself, his bags already gripped, slung over his shoulders. Sitting there, with Minseok, Jeongguk standing in the doorway– it’s all to reminiscent, resembling the first day that Jeongguk had arrived.
He’d worn the same thing. His expression was worn of the same manner. Jimin feels himself move forward, and he knows that his stomach lurches for more reasons than that.
He pushes back the bile rising in his throat, the quick feeling of panic. It was your idea , Jimin reminds himself. It’s for the better, all of this. He needs the rest of this week to wash his mind completely of Jeongguk, to focus on himself, his thoughts. He wants to enter that surgery room with a mind that isn’t completely addled with the scent of Jeongguk. Jimin wants to rid of the plague of emotions that he feels. It was your idea .
He gazes up at the sky, when Minseok helps him onto the front porch. It’s snowing. It’s their last snowfall together. It only takes him back, to their first.
Jimin slides his hand into Jeongguk’s. He longs for the warmth that Jeongguk so easily radiates, despite his cold attitude at times, and finds it to be comforting; contrasting beautifully against the white, cold winter snow. He feels the boxer flinch at the contact, before relaxing and squeezing his hand in a silent response, a confirmation. He feels sentimental, all of a sudden. He loves the snow. It’s a beautiful sight, one that he can truly appreciate in it’s raw nature. The environment that surrounds them is romantic, he supposes, but most of all, it’s admirable. He finds it so difficult, on most days, to find what he is truly grateful for, but on days like this, when he’s surrounded with an image of the allure of life, he can’t think wrong.
The sentimental mood he falls in makes him simultaneously grateful. So, holding Jeongguk’s hand, staring up at the small white pieces that descend from the grey skies, he says, “Thanks for not giving up on me.”
There was a time wherein Jimin wanted everybody to give up on him. To leave him to rot. It was because he believed that he wasn’t worth saving; wasn’t worth caring for and his stubborn attitude rendered him blind to the affection that was being offered to him endlessly. And this, this time, he just wants Minseok and Jeongguk by his side. He wants his father. He wants life. It’s a glimmer of hope, a light at the end of the seemingly infinite darkness, but it’s there.
The dark and light thoughts in his mind clash. The black darkness is ravaging, hoping to consume what’s left of his hope, which is an illuminescent image of light. And the two are there, at a stalemate, continuing to teeter around each other in a cautious war. He wants the light to overwhelm him; to overcome him with thoughts of happiness. He really does.
“I’m a fighter for a cause,” Jeongguk says after a few brief heartbeats. Jimin tears his gaze from the sight, to Jeongguk, who himself is staring at the sky with utter awe. His gaze shifts to the ground below them, at the way the snow, bright and reflective, has overpowered the pale grey pavement. “I know… I know, the first time we met, I told you that I wouldn’t fight for you… But I guess I lied, huh?” A stifled laugh escapes the younger boy.
He remembers. The first day, where Jeongguk was bold, daring. The day that changed Jimin’s life forever, unknowingly. He’d been so provoked by Jeongguk’s nonchalance towards his crippled figure, the way that he faced him in a way that wasn’t sympathetic, nor degrading– and rather, he looked at Jimin like an equal. “That’s what threw me off,” Jimin admits then, bowing his head to the left, so he can stare off at the endless row of homes that are now covered in white. “What made me listen, I guess. I was thinking– if this boy… This persistent, head-ass, headstrong street fighter wouldn’t even bother with me… What the fuck was I doing wrong?”
He realizes how ridiculous he was. He’s tried, over and over, to justify his horrible treatment and attitude towards the therapists, and he knows that he’s entitled to having an opinion about it, but the life around him… The snow. He decides that it’s an irrational fear he has, of being saved. He doesn’t want someone to save him. He just wants to save himself. “I realized that I could continue to terrorize therapist after therapist because they would get hurt.” Jimin finds it even harder to admit it, out loud. To Jeongguk, who stares at him, listening intently to his words. “Their job is to help people. And if they don’t… They don’t have a purpose, do they?
“Which is why, when you swung around, I knew I had to straighten up. There was no way you would be so hurt if I did the same things to you, because you know my father’s a good man. Even if he’s off… As a father, he’d still send you off with those lawyers. And you’d eventually come clean anyway. And continue to box.” His hand loses it’s grip on Jeongguk’s. The light that he’d once seen, so quick and brief, is gone in an instant. He looks away, unable to think straight. His words are unfiltered, unadulterated. A mistake. But he continues on. “I think I’m just terrified now. After two more weeks, you’ll be off to your rematch. And I’ll be having my surgery. Jeongguk, I need to… I need to ask something of you.”
Jeongguk looks scared. He looks terrified, with his lips clamped together, his eyes crinkling at the edges but not of a smile; only worry. He has every right to feel worried. To feel scared. Because the words that leave Jimin’s mouth are monstrous. In a way, a voice in his mind tells him that he’s a sadist.
“Before the last few days, I want you to leave and forget about me.” It’s a horrific request. Jimin can tell as much, from the way that Jeongguk’s face falls. The way that he can see past Jeongguk’s facade, all the way to the depths of his mind, his emotions at that moment. And Jimin tries; he tries to make up for it. To cushion it, but what falls next from his mouth is even worse.
“If I die… Or if I choose the other option, I don’t think… I don’t think i can do any of it if you were around. And your rematch… It’s important.” He’s trying to convince himself as much. He tries to tell Jeongguk that his career is important, but it’s obvious, from the way that Jeongguk is slowly shaking his head, that he’s wrong. “... To you and me, both. Because if I don’t make it out, I want you to continue living your life as if you’ve never met me. I want you to continue fighting. It’s all you have… If not for yourself, do it on behalf of me… I… You know?” It’s a mess of a thing. And Jimin is endlessly apologetic for ruining the snow. He looks around him then. All he can see is snow. He can’t see the beauty of life. He can’t see a future for himself, past all of this.
“I… Please. Just agree to forget about me.” Jimin can feel the bile rising in his throat. The pure, utter disgust that his heart feels, being overpowered by his obstinate mind. He can’t listen to it. He can’t listen to the continuous pound of his heart. All he can hear is himself, Jeongguk.
“That’s so stupid, Jimin. Are you…?” Jeongguk is incredulous. Tears streak down his cheeks. “No. No.”
Jimin grows angry. He believes it then, that Jeongguk deserves no decision to be there. He believes that Jeongguk’s opinions, his words are inferior. And he just wants Jeongguk to agree to leave him. “What do you mean no? I don’t need your fucking pretty face in my mind when I make the decision. I don’t… I– I don’t want anybody… Anybody’s influence when I decide whether I want to live or die. Sure, you’ve helped me decide. You continue to help me, but remember?”
Jimin knows that Underworld means something to Jeongguk. And he’s clever, in his ways; creative when it came to emotional torture. He’s mastered it with his other therapists. And in that moment, in a fit of rage, he uses it against Jeongguk, too. “Remember DeLillo. Love it. Trust it. Then fucking leave it be. You’ve done nothing of those three. You don’t love me. You don’t trust me. You won’t leave me be!”
But he doesn’t expect the heated response from Jeongguk. He doesn’t expect Jeongguk to tell him what he does.
“I do love you, idiot! That’s why it’s so difficult for me to trust you, and leave you!”
It’s wrong– all of it is. The fact that Jeongguk’s in love with him; or at least, he’s disillusioned with the idea of it. He knows that Jeongguk is searching for his own warmth, his own care. He’s seen Jeongguk’s longing, so many times before, even through the separation of a television screen. And Jimin believes, then, that it’s nothing more than an infatuation. A shallow attraction. And even then, the idea makes Jimin want to laugh.
Who would love a cripple?
The driver helps Jeongguk load his bags into the back of the car. Minseok busies himself, helping adjust seats for no particular reason, excusing himself so Jimin and Jeongguk could have their final words. Jeongguk turns on his heel, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his sweatshirt. He stares at Jimin. And up close, he isn’t as well-put together as Jimin had thought. He can see the pools of sadness, the grief in his eyes.
And that’s when Jimin has his moment of clarity.
Jeongguk is holding up his end of the bargain. He’s holding himself, piecing himself together in front of Jimin so that their break… This split between them… Whatever is happening now… It can be easier on them both. Jeongguk loves him. He wants him to be happy. To be comfortable.
Jimin is just selfish.
“I’m not going to lie. I’m not going to say that there was a point in our time together, wherein I felt like I could walk again,” Jimin tells him. He doesn’t say it in a way that’s particularly rude, or mean, or intended to offend. He needs to be truthful with Jeongguk. He can’t express it all into a letter. He can’t mail a letter later on, because they promised to never reach out to each other after it all. And so he needs to be truthful, even if it hurts Jeongguk.
And it does hurt Jeongguk. The athlete’s face is creased with difficulty, his lips pressed tightly, as if he opened them, he would break down completely. Jimin’s heart is breaking, over and over, for what they could have had, together. But at the same time, he doesn’t want it. There’s only so little he can take; so little he wants to hold onto before the surgery. “And I’m not going to lie and say that I… I love you.”
This is what breaks Jeongguk. He can see it, right through every layer of skin, every layer of defence Jeongguk has built upon himself. He can see it as clear as day: A heart broken.
The other boy can’t speak. All he does is reach for his back pocket. He retrieves a small rectangular device, which Jimin recognizes as a USB, and motions for Jimin to reach out. He does, his palm spread open. Jeongguk places it in his hand, swallows deeply and says, “After we got back from Japan, I didn’t sleep. It’s a compilation of the videos I took in Japan and…”
He’s always wondered what the purpose of the film would be. But a part of him was scared that it was exactly what he expected. Jimin had thought to himself, when Jeongguk first brought up the idea, that it would be something to deter him from making his decision. He’d pushed away the thought, placing it at the very back of his mind, but he knew that Jeongguk was the optimist, between them. It wasn’t just a film. It had purpose.
Jimin awaits an answer, an explanation, but all he gets is a vague response. “... Yeah.” Jeongguk voice is so utterly weak, so hoarse with restraint. “I just… I think you should watch it. After… Or before… It’s your choice.”
Your choice .
Jimin smiles weakly. He wills himself to. But it falters immediately. The strength that’s keeping him from crying, then and there, it’s incomparable. Not even to the many times he’d felt himself fall apart when he was first injured. Every time he exerted himself, pushing around on the wheelchair. All the therapy sessions where the physical therapist would tell him to move his foot, to try and feel anything… Those all seemed inferior now. Unimportant. The emotions he’s feeling at that very moment overpower his ability to think. He wants to say so much more. He wants to tell Jeongguk thank you . He wants to be apologetic. at the same time, for the pain he’s caused. But he doesn’t.
Jimin’s silence is all Jeongguk needs, on the other hand. The boxer nods once, before walking over to where Minseok is stood, by the door to the car. The two of them hug briefly. Jeongguk laughs. Minseok slaps him on the back. And Jimin is forced to sit there and watch. He’ll never be normal. He’ll never be able to stand and look Jeongguk in the eyes. To be able to chase after him.
Jeongguk looks at him one last time, a smile on his face. It’s terrible. All of it.
It’s just like what happened with Taehyung.
Jimin kept his walls up. The person he loved left. He tried to chase after. He couldn’t. And now, his world was falling down. He’s lost. He doesn’t know whether he hates himself for being paraplegic or hates himself for being a horrible person. A horrible, selfish, stubborn human being who couldn’t set aside even his last scraps of dignity to save the ones he loves most.
Because it truly was a lie.
Jimin loves Jeongguk so much.
The car disappears down the horizon, without a moment of hesitation. Jeongguk doesn’t make a move to stop it. Through the dark, reflective material, he watches as Jeongguk plugs in his earphones and slumps down in his seat in a fashion that is too uncaring. Jimin is lost.
He wheels himself back into the house. Minseok is quick on his heel, calling after him, but he goes over to his room, where he finds the damned timeline. He can’t stand it. He hates that his room smells faintly of Jeongguk. He hates that he cares so much. He hates himself, most of all. And a look into the reflection of himself, against the sun-stricken pane of glass is all it takes for him to break completely.
He throws his fists against the glass. Jimin knows that he’s losing it, yelling, crying. He can’t breathe through the tears, through the screaming, but it doesn’t matter anymore. He doesn’t want to see himself in the reflection. He doesn’t want to wake up in the morning to see that god-forsaken dawn. He doesn’t want to see the timeline extend any further. All he wants is for it all to end.
And so he keeps hitting the glass until it shatters underneath the sheer force of his powerful energy, perpetuated by the void that has now consumed him whole. Jimin’s gaze is tinted with red, and so are his hands, which are coated with a layer of blood, from the cuts strewn as a result of the glass shards. Minseok is holding him from behind, whispering things, yelling things into his ear, trying to get him to calm down. He’s doing everything he can, but this is no nightmare.
This is reality.
And in this reality. Jimin hates himself. He hates his life. He hates his legs.
He’d loved Taehyung, and he’d lost him.
He loves Jeongguk, and now, he was gone, too.
Jimin keeps on screaming, keeps on sobbing. He’s selfish in thought, often only caring about himself. Crying out of self-pity. But now, he’s crying for Taehyung. For Jeongguk. For the chaos in the world that is left unordered.
It all turns black.
The hospital is no stranger to Jimin. And Jimin is not a stranger to hospitals.
It’s a monotonous routine. Parking in the driveway. Being wheeled into the surgical ward. Being smiled at by nurses who don’t know who he is, but are tasked to make him feel home, anyway, in a place that is far from home. Jimin is drained to the point of no return. He’s lapsed into a sadness that he hasn’t felt in a long while. Ever since Jeongguk left their home, he’d taken more antidepressants than usual– Minseok’s hopeless attempt to get his mind cleared before the surgery, but it just made him sleepier; made the world drearier.
“Hello Jimin,” his doctor greets him with a tentative smile. “How are you feeling?”
“I feel nothing.” Jimin replies.
The doctor looks past him, at Minseok. They exchange a wordless gaze. Jimin wants to get it over with. Whether he lives, whether he remains paralyzed, whether he gets better… He just wants it to be over as quick as possible so he can leave. So he can forget about everything. “Your surgery is scheduled for tomorrow morning. You’re not supposed to have a meal twenty four hours prior, but Minseok has told me that you haven’t been eating well for days now…?”
“I’m fine,” he says.
“O–Okay. We’ll just take you down to your room so we can check on the inflammation, okay?”
Jimin leans back. The whole world is weighing down on him. Everything is so dull. He lies down, allowing the doctors to poke around his legs, prodding for movement, for any sign of improvement. Words of praise, of acknowledgement are thrown his way, when he moves his right foot, his ankle, and a slight movement in his knee. But the words are as meaningless as an inscription in foreign language. He stares out the window, at the snow. And he hates it.
He can’t sleep the night before the surgery. He lies on his side, staring at the endless image of snow. At the homes, in the distance. He doesn’t think about Jeongguk. He doesn’t think about Yeojin. About his father. About his mother, nor Minseok. And it’s scary. Jimin has never felt so separated from his consciousness in his whole life, asides from when the accident happened. It’s limbo; the space between life and death. It was once short, brief. But now, he’s living in it.
Death is not something you get over. It's the rip that exposes life in a before and after chasm, and all you can do is try to exist as best you can in the after.
He can’t remember where the quote is from but it’s the only one he can remember. It’s the only one he holds dear now, because it keeps his thoughts afloat; keeps him from falling completely. If there’s one thing he hates most, it’s things that are left-open ended. And so he thinks about the words. Death is insurmountable. And all he can try to do is to exist as best as he can in the aftermath. And so he asks himself, was his accident his death? Was he truly living in a state of death?
He lays there. And his mind soars back to his home. The pathetic excuse of a home it was; he’d now realized that it was designed to help him accomodate to the life of a paraplegic. He wonders, too, if that was it. If he was going to remain paraplegic after his surgery, there was nothing he could do. He couldn’t go back to dancing. He doesn’t think he can handle a workday in the office.
In his home, he suddenly remembers, is the movie left unfinished. After Jeongguk’s departure, he never continued the final seven minutes. It lays there. Incomplete. Jimin closes his eyes, but it’s just even more darkness. He doesn’t know what he hates more, the darkness or the snow. So he settles for the ceiling. It’s not any better.
When morning comes around, he’s lying down in the same position. Minseok looks at him with distraught, knowing very well that Jimin has gotten not even a blink of sleep. He watches through the night, through the rise of dawn, wherein he finds nothing but utter despair. “Your surgery is in three minutes,” Minseok says, leaning down to wrap a red band around his wrist.
He has three minutes. Three minutes was all it would take.
He could call his father.
He could call Jeongguk.
He could call the surgery off. And choose the other option. Death.
But Jimin, in his paralyzed glory, sits still, and allows the world to take its course. No longer does he swim against the current. No longer does he choose flight over fight. If there’s anything Jeongguk has taught him, it was to choose his battles wisely. And he was sure enough that this was a battle to be fought.
“Let’s get it over and done with,” Jimin mutters. Minseok is obedient. They don’t speak after that.
He’s wheeled into the surgery room, where all eyes are on him. Jimin bathes in the attention. He really does, closing his eyes and pretending as if he’s in another person’s life. A movie star. A singer. A performer. All eyes are on him, as he says the final line.
Then the curtain call.
Chapter 11: Author's Note
hi !!!!! everybody
i just wanted to say a few things in between this chapter and the LAST one to come. there's only one chapter left and i wanted to clarify as such because some people in the comments/my cc told me that they were looking forward to future chapters, when in fact, there's actually only one left. i decided to cut it off at 11 because there's only so much that i can write in terms of this story ?? a lot of people love it because it makes them feel emotional or connected and i just don't want to milk it dry to the point wherein it's redundant and not as meaningful.
also, ao3 is being extremely painful for me and won't let me reply to your comments ! so if you want to talk to me/ask me things:
i also have another fic planned soon so !!!!!!
anyway, i'm abroad right now and the next chapter is going to be over 10k. i wrote 3 different endings and i still haven't chosen which one to go with but either way, i'll have it posted up sometime this weekend, hopefully. i love you all !! and thanks for always being patient
Chapter 12: A Prelude to What Will Come
it's here !
trigger warnings: some mentions of death, self-harm, abuse, blood, depression
please please please take care of yourselves !
IT’S A DARK, GLOOMY DAY.
The sun hides behind the clouds, its rays no longer visible; instead, replaced by a looming darkness that engulfs the town. Thunder rumbles in the distance. He flinches. His mother holds him still, casting him a wary, yet kind look. It’d be over soon.
A young Jeongguk sits down in the living room of his home, beside his mother, who wraps a bandage around the cut on his arm. It’s from one of his father’s recent episodes. He’d lashed out, once again under the influence of alcohol, striking him with a bottle. Jeongguk, although the thought sickening, had grown accustomed to it, and had routinely made himself a makeshift bandage for the evening, before his mother could fix him up in the morning to follow.
His mother always does it in silence, her fingers moving in an expertly, familiar manner. They’re not foreign to the events that ensue within their household– and once again, it’s a sickening thought. that somebody of his age has developed a procedure for dealing with abuse, but it happens. It happens, and so rarely it’s spoken of.
He’s also learned to be quiet when she fixed him up, knowing that speaking would break her completely. A single whine, a single teardrop would send her over the edge. She was never physically abused, but he knows that she’s hurting for him. All he can do is withstand it.
He dreams of the day he can fight for himself.
“How can it heal faster?” He asks her, breaking the silence.
Her eyes flicker with emotion. “All wounds take time, Jeongguk. Physical. Mental. Emotional…” Her voice grows quiet. His mother finishes the wrap with a bandaging tape, securing it over his arm enough to keep the wound from bleeding excessively. It’s not too bad now, but it’s one of the more painful ones he’s had in a while. “But it’ll leave a scar. It always leaves a scar.”
He stares at his arm, imagining the gash that would remain despite the skin healing. “Do emotional wounds leave scars?” He’s young. He doesn’t fully grasp the idea that she’s conveying.
“Those are the worst ones. I pray, as a mother, that you never feel emotional pain, Ggukkie,” she responds, her mouth curving into a sad smile. “But everybody feels pain. That’s what makes us human.”
He still doesn’t understand. He didn’t, back then, and until now, it’s still difficult for him to distinguish what scars he has from the emotional pain he’s suffered.
There are the rare times in which he can– like how he fears drugs because of his mother’s overdose.
But there are times where he can’t– like when he looks out the window, at the snow that dots the rooftops of the village he resides in, in Busan. He doesn’t know why he feels so upset; so defeated at the sight, but a part of him, one he’s worked so hard to bury away thinks of the events that transpired a year ago, in that small town in Seoul.
Jeongguk tears his gaze from the sight, unable to handle it. He glances at his schedule, marked on a calendar with bold red ink. It’s been a year since the scandal, a year since his reputation had been so shamefully tainted with the rumors of steroid use. Of course, he hadn’t been doping himself, and he’d proven as much with a publicly-announced drug test. But that was just the start of an eventful year to come. After the drug test, he was a contender for the rematch with Parker.
He’d beaten Parker, of course, which had shocked the nation, and the international boxing community. He reigned champion once again, reclaiming his title in the welterweight division. Jeongguk had held his head high that time around, daring anybody around him to ever cross him. After his victory, he was met with respect– only positive news circulation, reviews and words of praise thrown left and right.
And after after his victory, he’d fired Manager Na.
Ever since Jeongguk was a new fighter in the business, he’d known of Na’s illegal actions. In their championships, a manager was not permitted to bet over a certain sum on their own champion. Manager Na had hired a third party to bet the money, and he’d won, of course. Jeongguk had seen the transaction papers and bills in his office, when he’d snuck in out of his sheer intuition years ago. And he never said anything, fearing the loss of his manager, especially since he was so young and so new to the industry, but now– now that he was more than acquainted with the works, he had no fear.
Na had been furious with his decision, revoking his protection over Jeongguk’s misplaced debts, but Jeongguk had no care for his money anymore. Long gone was his materialistic attitude, his attachment to the glory that came to him in the form of stacks of freshly-cut bills. Instead of running, he’d settled every debt, down to the last penny. He was left with a humble sum, but not enough to keep him in the same lifestyle.
With the help of his new manager, Sejin, a middle-aged, kind-hearted and intelligent man, Jeongguk sold his penthouse and managed to keep his personal gym. He moved to the outskirts of Busan, in a small, homely town where he spent most of his days training. A recent weigh-in classified him to be a part of the lightweight division, which was understandable as he’d lost a lot of weight after the match. He’d lost his appetite and desire to take care of himself for a while, burdening himself with endless days of exercise. This unhealthy regime continued until Sejin had stopped him, feigning concern.
“Look, I don’t know what happened to you, when you went away, but you’ve obviously changed because of it,” he had began, linking his fingers together, eyebrows knit concernedly. “I’m always here, if you want to talk about it. If you don’t, then I need you to do what you need to do to overcome it. A fresh start could be beneficial,” he offers.
The athlete had bowed his head, nodding. “Maybe,” he replies quietly. He doesn’t know whether he wants to tell Sejin the full truth. He doesn’t know if he’s ready to talk about anything in the past so he presses his lips shut, sealing it in for the meantime.
Sejin was understanding; he had patted him on the back, before leaving him to his thoughts. A fresh start would be beneficial, Jeongguk thinks. It would give him an opportunity to rid of any trace of the scandal. It would give him opportunity to rise up the ranks again, without dirty play. With a manager full of integrity. With a heart that pours itself into his fights, rather than the lust for fame and fortune.
Jeongguk takes a while, but he does take the advice. A fresh start wouldn’t be easy, so he had to start small. He goes to the nearest hair salon. He gets an undercut, and after a bit of contemplation, he dyes his hair a light shade of golden-brown. The evening after, Sejin greets him upon entry into the gym. He doesn’t comment but his eyes slant in the way they do when he’s proud.
Jeongguk looks at himself in the mirror. It helps, just a bit, but it isn’t enough to make him forget about his bitter, empty thoughts. It’s not the best way to a fresh start, but it’s something he could work with. He debuts in the lightweight division a few months after, and had torn his competition down– bit by bit. There was nobody in the industry that doubted his talents. Nobody in the news that dared start a scandal; dared to put shame to Jeon Jeongguk.
And yet… Well.
He’d never felt so…
Dissatisfied with his life.
Every victory was just another victory. Every stack of money was just another stack of money. The crowd he’d once bathed in; the cheers, their voices willing him to fight… He can’t hear it anymore. When he’s in the ring, he feels detached. He wills himself to fight. He pours every ounce of passion he can into his moves. He’s able to calculate step by step, but it’s a strange sensation. At the same time as he’s fighting, he feels as if he’s floating miles above, watching his small, insignificant figure raise his hand for a left hook. A right step into an uppercut.
It was worrying. Jeongguk didn’t know what was happening to him. He felt the drive to fight; the aforementioned, fiery passion, but he didn’t… Feel it . He was disconnected with himself and he needed to find out why.
In time, and with the help of Sejin, he’d been able to push through the pessimistic strain of thought he’d gained. He was better these days, especially since it was off-season. Winter was coming around the block and the streets of Busan were once again flooded with joyous tone and a general sense of excitement and anticipation in the air. He’s amongst the busy crowd of people in town but he’s headed the other way. Instead of venturing into the line of shops down the road, he takes the path that leads into the shallow woods.
One of Sejin’s pieces of advice was to be able to gain closure for himself. And what better place, than the ring bar he’d so often fought in when he was younger?
He gazes at the sky, at the grey clouds that hover over the dangerous part of the city. A lot of men and women dot the corners of his gaze, leering at the sight of him. None of them attempt to cross a line but they’re obviously revelling in the sight of him, a locally-bred and trained celebrity. He ignores their hungry eyes, instead opting for the shortcut towards the infamous ring bar, down an alleyway. He pauses in his tracks when he sees a familiar face.
She’s dressed in a waitresses’ uniform. She has a bag of trash grasped within her fingers, poised to throw it into the dump. However, she sets it down on the ground beside her, surprise visible on her aged features. “I… You… You’re here,” she speaks, although mostly to herself, in disbelief.
“I… I am here,” he responds, in an equal state of shock. The last time he’d seen her, although only briefly, was before he left for Seoul. And over the past year, she’d aged so much. Her frown lines had deepened, and dark circles traced underneath her eyes; pronounced, indicating a lack of sleep. “What are you doing back in… I thought you were in college…” He trails off, unable to find words to say.
She tucks a loose strand of jet black hair behind her ear. She studies the ground underneath her, her face falling. “As you can see, it didn’t work out.” She tries to cover for the sadness in her voice with a meaningless laugh, before she continues, “It’s not for me. I just wasn’t born to sit in a lecture hall, I guess.”
“Oh.” It’s all he can say. He’s not good with consolation. “Uh, I’m sorry I didn’t stop last time. I was in a hurry, to… Leave.”
Jane moves to pick up the load of garbage. After she tosses it into the can, she replies, “It’s really alright. I just wanted to check up on you. I was in school, when I heard about the scandal so I rushed back.” She wipes her hands against the fabric of her jeans and smiles warmly at him. “I’ve been watching your games. You’re really grown up, Jeongguk. I’m really proud of you.” His lips begin to tilt upwards, until she continues:
“But… I always wanted to ask if you were happy, too. You don’t smile. You look so cold on television… Sometimes, I can barely remember who you used to be.” Her kind smile falters, lapsing into concern, rather.
You don’t smile.
You look so cold.
I can barely remember who you used to be.
It suddenly terrifies him. The thought that he doesn’t remember, either.
He looks away from her face. There’s strained hope. “I’m not happy, Jane. I don’t know what happy feels like anymore. I often get it mixed up, you know?” He admits, with the defeated shrug of his shoulders. “Being content and being happy. I feel content with where I am. But happy? I haven’t been truly happy since…” He doesn’t want to go back to that place. The month spent in Seoul. That had been the best time in his life. But now, the memory brings him nothing but a lack of happiness. He’s bitter.
“Oh, Gguk,” she walks over to him and hugs him. He wraps his arms around her smaller figure and sucks in a deep breath. He won’t cry now. He won’t. But the more he tells himself to remain strong, the more he wants to break down. “I know you’re a good person. You are a good person and you deserve to be happy, okay?”
I can’t agree with you.
“You don’t deserve all the pain. You deserve the world. It doesn’t deserve you.”
I don’t deserve anything but what I get.
“I’m so sorry for leaving you.”
You left me, just like my mom.
“I hope you can forgive me.”
I don’t think I can.
“One day, Jeongguk. One day, you’ll find happiness.”
I did find happiness.
In the shape of a paraplegic boy.
A boy who didn’t believe in life but woke up everyday to see the sun rise; as if the sight was his lifeline.
A boy whose soul was beyond his years, yet he saw the world through his childlike eyes; with admiration and love.
A boy who taught me so many, so many things.
A boy who I miss– so, so much, but I’ll never see again.
Because I promised I would leave him.
I shouldn’t have left him.
She pulls back. Her boss yells from the front of the store, interrupting the serene atmosphere that had fallen between them. Jane looks at the general direction of the sound, stifles a half-hearted laugh. Her eyes are glassy, reflecting a mixture of fear and upset. “I have to go. I can’t miss a minute or I’ll get fired,” she explains. He’s long gone by then. He doesn’t hear her words as she disappears into the shop. Even if Jane is back, she’ll never be truly there. She’ll be focused on herself for the rest of her life. Jeongguk loved her as a sisterly figure. He trusted her with his life. And now, he’s ready to let her go.
He walks away, his steps heavier than when he came, but he stands a little taller.
He visits his mother’s grave, next. He kneels by the stone, engraved with her name, and he presses his hand to the cold reminder of her death. The tombstone was placed further back in the cemetery, signifying the lack of care for her case. Nobody had respect for her. And nobody, but Jeongguk, cared enough to visit.
“I don’t know why I’m alive, sometimes,” he speaks. The environment is so grim, with no essence of life. The trees that hang above cast shadows everywhere, blocking out the dim sunlight. There are some rays of light, some able to penetrate through the darkness, but their attempts are futile; hopeless. He’s freezing, now, too– especially as night approaches. His heart has never felt so broken. “Mom?”
Of course, there’s no response. The only thing he hears is the distant sound of the town. Laughter. The world continuing; time turning despite how hung up he is on the past. And suddenly, he’s a child, all over again. He doesn’t know that he’s crying until he feels the tears freeze cold on his cheeks. The frost nips at his skin, causing shivers to crawl up every inch of him, but the overwhelming sense of loneliness numbs the discomfort.
“Mom… Mom, I miss you so much,” he sobs, pressing his forehead against the surface that marks her death; the only remembrance of the woman she was. She was the woman who had raised him as a child; the one who had brought him into the world. The one who had tended to his wounds when he was so young– too young to do it himself. “I– I… I’m so lost… I miss you… M-miss you so much.”
Why did you have to leave me? After finding her dead body; after running away from home, he’d come to a stop just a few blocks away from his home. He’d sucked in a breath, bracing his arm on the concrete wall of a house. And it had dawned on him– a rude awakening– that his mother had ended her own life. The young Jeongguk had been devastated, distraught… But most of all, he’d been so utterly confused. His mother had never been on the receiving end of the abuse. She’d never experienced the blows, the shattered glass. Jeongguk doesn’t remember much of it now. It’s all buried in the back of his mind.
But now, he knows that emotional pain was more dominant in the sense that physical scars– those could heal. A scar would be left behind, marking skin– and Jeongguk is no stranger to those. He has an array of scars up and down his arms, a prominent gash on his cheek. He wore them with pride nowadays, as trophies of his survival, his hard work and the strength he’d developed in order to withstand the pain. They don’t bug him as much as they did before. His mind flies back to the times he’d spent trying to cover them up with make-up, thinking that he was ugly for them.
Scars weren’t ugly. Jeongguk knows that now.
And Jeongguk knows, now, that emotional scars– they dug deep. He was shameful of what had happened to him; tormented with the idea of it. The emotional scars embedded in the deepest, darkest corners of his mind, his heart, his very being. They shaped who he’d become. Those scars had prompted his deepest fears. The destruction of his family had Jeongguk fearing loneliness, abandonment and loss the most. And he’d tried, for the longest time, to push people away.
But now, his inner craving, the pit in his chest that desired for love, for companionship had won over.
He’ll always love his mother. He’ll always trust her with every part of him.
But he’s ready to let her go, too.
He’ll always have a piece of himself that will yearn for her; will cry, in the midst of the night for his mother– the echo of a son, lost, abandoned at a too-young age to face the cruelties of the world. But that’s in the past now. He needs to move on.
And he does.
He enters the gym the next morning feeling new. He stands at his tallest. It’s the highest he’s held himself in a long while. He even makes himself breakfast, a smoothie made of berries and lots and lots of protein. It’s the routine he’s abandoned in the past year but he’s followed in the years past and he feels like, for the first time in a while, he can finally lapse back into it.
He opens the box of cereal, a carton of milk. He pauses before pouring in the milk. There’s a flash of memory that forces its way into his mind; a memory that shouldn’t be there. Jeongguk swallows the knot in his throat and sets the carton down. He takes the box of cereal, scoops in a few spoonfuls, then adds the milk. The order is foreign to him, and he doesn’t like how some of the pieces are left dry. You can do this. It’s a fucking box of cereal, not the end of the world.
And just like that, he breathes out, and it’s okay. The tears are gone. The memories don’t cross the line. And he’s okay.
All wounds take time.
Just as he’s pouring the protein shake into a tall glass, Sejin enters, discarding his set of keys into the small bowl by the door. He takes off his coat, hangs it up on the stand that is positioned by the door. “You’re eating,” he comments, pensively, walking over to where Jeongguk is, behind the counter. “Like… Food.” His brow quirks up in question. Jeonguk doesn’t miss the glimmer of hope in his eyes.
“I wouldn’t count cereal as food, but yes. I am eating.” He scoops a spoonful and places into his mouth. It tastes delicious.
“I doubt you’ll tell me why, but as your manager, and friend, I hope that you consider the upcoming weigh-in. They might bump you up to welterweight again. I heard it’s a bit loose now, though. Parker’s been bumped up to heavyweight.” He picks up pieces of cereal from the box, popping it into his mouth.
Jeongguk likes Sejin as a manager. He’s friendly. He’s smart. He’s well-liked by a lot of the people in the industry, unlike Na, who was currently facing charges and lawsuits of all sorts.
He also gives Jeongguk space. Sometimes, Jeongguk feels terrible, not opening up to him, especially as he’s always made himself available, open to speak, but he never knew how to approach it. Now, though, he’s ready. He feels like he can finally open up about it, his past.
Sejin doesn’t even wince. Flinch. He continues to eat his cereal, only stopping to say, “Oh?”
Jeongguk clears his throat. Rubs the back of his neck. “I mean, if that would… Help… Ease the dating rumors… Or explain why I’m not…” He trails off when Sejin’s lips curve into a smile. “What?”
“When you were gone. Last year. There was this one press member that said you were with a boy.”
He nods his head. It’s such a relief, that somebody else knows now. It’s the same feeling he has when he resurfaces from a pool of water, the pressure dissipating as he breaks through. As if he can finally breathe again. “Yeah, I guess,” he huffs out, finding that he’s smiling, too– although his cheeks are heating up. You’re okay. It’s okay. “I really liked him. It was just that… He’s kind of… Sick? No… He’s in a bad place. He was in a bad place, and I was in a bad place and…
“I just really liked him. He was smart. Intelligent, actually. Witty. Painfully satirical, at times, but I liked him.” I loved him . He realizes that he’s lapsing into a dreamlike state, rambling on. But it’s a good thing. It’s the first time he’s spoken about it out loud and it doesn’t make him feel overwhelmed with a painful rush of emotions. Keeping it in had been a bad idea, he realizes. He should’ve came out to Sejin since the beginning. “Sorry, I’m–”
His manager waves his hand dismissively. “Don’t be. Don’t be, not at all. I’m really happy to hear that. I’m glad that you told me, really. We live in such a suppressing society, Jeongguk. People dictate our lives based off of the most idiotic notions– not because they believe it, but because everybody believes it,” Sejin shrugs his shoulders nonchalantly. “I say fuck it; pardon my language.”
“I don’t say it enough, but you’re the coolest manager I’ve ever had,” Jeongguk grins at him. He’s so glad. He’s so damn glad.
“Please, anybody but that rat, Na . Now come on, get to work. And tell me more about what happened last year.” He urges him along. Jeongguk obliges, swallowing down his protein shake and rushing to the treadmill.
It’s the day of Christmas Eve, when Jeongguk sets out for the streets of Busan again. He’s out for a leisurely walk, admiring the endless rows of shops and stalls that line the grey, cobble pavement of the particular part of the city. It’s about noon, and the sun is covered by the clouds, casting a dim-yet-not-so-dreary look on the town itself. What makes up for it are the illuminated windows, the street lamps and lights that cast a yellow glow over the elated faces of the citizens.
There’s a young boy that approaches him, as he inspects some of the fruits in one of the stalls. He sets down the apple at the slight tug on his coat. He turns around. The boy’s eyes are wide depicting a childish awe. “Mr. Jeon Jeongguk. H–Hello!” He greets, his voice small. He bows in respect. “Is… I-Is it okay if…” He trips over his words.
“Sure, I’ll sign it,” he replies, having caught sight of the boy’s book. He kneels down, his leg pressed flat against the ground. He glances up. “What’s your name?”
“Soomin,” he replies. I… I want… I want to be like you,” he admits, shyly.
Jeongguk writes his name, pauses and looks up. Soomin’s mother and father; they’re waiting for him, their faces filled with love. Warmth. He gazes at the young boy. He’s a dreamer. He has aspirations, he admires… Jeongguk. But he can’t go as far as to encourage it. Instead, he replies, with a light laugh, “maybe. But for now, Soomin, I want you to be nice to your parents, okay? Don’t give them a hard time.”
“But my parents say I should stay in school! You didn’t stay in school. And you’re… Jeon Jeongguk.” He draws his lower lip into a pout.
He laughs, sadly this time. “I didn’t have the opportunity to study. I didn’t have a family, Soomin. You do. And family… It’s bad sometimes. But in the end, they’re your family, and I want you to love them. Both of them, okay?” He holds out his pinky finger, a promise in order to be made. Soomin hesitates, but eventually holds out his pinky, intertwining it with his own. Jeongguk returns his book, Soomin rushing to his parents to give them both a big hug. He smiles at the sight.
It’s nearing sundown when Jeongguk settles down, opting for a small bookstore at the very edge of town. It’s a more secluded area, and there are barely any people so he chooses to find serenity within the written words of his favorite authors. The athlete stuffs his hands into his pockets, exhaling a smoky breath before entering the bookstore. His entrance is punctuated with the soft ring of the bell. The shopkeeper smiles warmly at him. The store is crowded, he can hear the voices, but it’s difficult to tell given the tall bookshelves that line every inch of the room.
He skims through the letters of the alphabet, in which the authors’ names are organized, until he arrives at the S section. He’s read every work by Nicholas Sparks, but he always goes back to the same books. He knows that they’re filled with nonsensical longings, written ballads of hopeless love and whatnot, but it gives him a sense of hope– and even if that sense of hope is utterly false , it’s hope nonetheless. And you could never get enough of hope.
He picks up an old copy of The Notebook , immediately shooting for the page in which his favorite quote lies.
The reason it hurts so much to separate is because our souls are connected. Maybe they always have been and will be. Maybe we've lived a thousand lives before this one and in each of them we've found each other… Somewhere along the way, Jeongguk realizes that the voice inside his mind has stopped making any noise. He hears it. He hears it out loud. And the voice is so familiar, yet so foreign to him that he lapses into a state of shock. He doesn’t look up. But he’s not reading the words anymore. He listens.
“And maybe each time, we've been forced apart for the same reasons. That means that this goodbye is both a goodbye for the past ten thousand years and a prelude–”
“To what will come.” Jeongguk finishes. His head jolts upwards. And there’s no mistaking that face for anybody else. “Jimin?”
The boy stands across him, separated by the bookshelf. He can see his face, glimmering with happiness. Genuine happiness. It’s surreal, how the colors in the room grow vivid. His presence… It enhances every hue. Every red, every blue, every yellow. His smile… His goddamn smile is as bright as any star. And Jeongguk, well, it takes every inch of him, every bit of self-control not to melt into a mess.
He doesn’t know what to feel. He closes the book. He searches his mind, trying to find any appropriate response to what he’s seeing– any clue as to how he’s feeling, but all he can find is confusion. Jeongguk doesn’t know whether he’s happy so see Jimin… Or whether he’s endlessly bitter. Jimin… Jimin had ruined a part of him. He’s so traumatized by how things had been left last year that he doesn’t know where his mind… His heart stands anymore. And he doesn’t know… He doesn’t know if Jimin’s presence is good for him.
It took him a year to figure himself out. To get back onto his feet again; to actually be able to breathe again. And Jimin… Seeing Jimin puts his shoulders into a slouch. Seeing Jimin makes him feel as if the world has sat on his shoulders, knocking the wind from his lungs.
“Hi, Jeongguk,” he says, after a drawn silence. “It’s been… A while.”
“It’s been a while. Since I’ve been up here,” Jimin says as Jeongguk pushes him further up the hill, all the way to the very top. It’s a winter night, but there’s no snow. Both of them are wrapped comfortably in thick coats, melded into one; their shared warmth enough to keep them sane amidst the cold. “In fact, last time I was here, I was with Taehyung.”
Jeongguk glances his way. The athlete feels jealousy prickle in his veins, but he pushes the thought away in favor of placing down a blanket for them to sit on. He brought two thick comforters. “Oh?”
“It was before I yelled at him. Told him I didn’t want him in my life anymore.” Jimin says this nonchalantly, like he always does, but there’s an edge to his voice that gives away some sort of significance.
Jeongguk helps him off of the wheelchair, onto the blanket that’s placed on the grass. Jimin stretches his arms, leans back, eyes on the distance. The view is astounding. The light emitted from the houses below them. It’s nowhere near the high buildings and larger mountains Jeongguk’s been on, but it feels more like the top of the world. “Do you think that… That was a good thing?”
Jimin pats the ground beside him. “Some ways, yes, some ways, no. He was my best friend. I loved him, a lot. But I didn’t want him, tied down to me. For god’s sake, he’s so… Talented. He was going to quit art to take care of me. What an idiot,” he murmurs, closing his eyes. Jeongguk draws the blankets over them, both, even if he knows that Jimin can’t feel the cold. “I hope you never felt that way. I hope you never thought of quitting what you love.”
He never did. Not once. But he’s not going to lie to himself. He’s thought about pushing back his career to stay with Jimin. But sitting there, hearing Jimin explain himself… It makes him feel comforted. He understands Jimin’s choice now. That didn’t cancel out the pain… The reality that they’d part ways forever, in a few days, but… He’s glad that Jimin’s decision wasn’t out of complete spite. “I brought a book,” he changes the subject, reaching underneath his sweater to pull out The Notebook.
Jimin laughs. “No. No, we’re not doing this.”
“Yes, we are. Here, read this:”
Maybe we've lived a thousand lives before this one and in each of them we've found each other and maybe each time, we've been forced apart for the same reasons. That means that this goodbye is both a goodbye for the past ten thousand years and a prelude to what will come.
Jimin glances at the words, skimming through them with a long sigh. “This is really dumb. This book is dumb. Romance novels… They’re so dumb. I hate them. They give the audience an ending that is so unrealistic. And even if it ends badly, depicts the dark side of the human race or whatever , they’re still dumb.”
“You’re too close-minded. Forget the fact that Sparks wrote it. I’m trying to tell you something.” Jeongguk presses his finger adamantly against the page. “Can you actually read it?”
“I did. I know what you’re trying to say, Gguk-ssi. But I’m not going to swallow it down and absorb it like a fucking pill. Come here,” he wraps his arms around Jeongguk’s figure and tucks his face into the crook of his neck. “You smell like sweat.”
“I took a shower.” Jimin’s mood is odd. He’s hugging Jeongguk. And it’s both making him blush and making him feel lost.
“Yeah… It’s been a while,” Jeongguk echoes, sliding the book back into the shelf slowly. Too many things. Too many things for him to think about right now, and Jimin shows up and it’s as if… It’s as if all the progress he’s made all of those months went straight to the garbage. He has every right to be mad. He has every right to be bitter at Park Jimin. And he is. He allows it to seep into his tone, as he says, “Look… I’m busy. It’s… It’s Christmas Eve and I just… Want peace. Why are you here, Jimin?”
The other boy flinches at his words. Jeongguk stares at him, questioningly. He’s mad. He’s mad. He wants to be mad. Jimin had been the one to push him away. The one to tell him to love it and trust it and leave. And Jeongguk– he had been pliant. Too compliant with Jimin’s demands, and he had left. And now, Jimin’s here. It makes no sense. “I know I said that we had to cut it off. I know I forced you away, but I was… I was in a bad place. I push everyone away and I–” he stops, turning his head away, looking lost. “I just wanted to explain.”
He considers it. He’s been ready to let Jimin go for so long. Ever since that moment in the driveway. The moment Jimin could’ve said that he loved him back, but he didn’t… The moment Jimin had told him that he had, essentially, had no purpose in Jimin’s life. Jeongguk had been done since then.
But there’s a pitiful, longing tug on his heart wills him to listen. But he can’t be weak. He’s opened up himself to Jimin so many times. He’d been too vulnerable, too exposed with his emotions and feelings. A part of him can’t trust Jimin. So he begins walking, across the length of the bookshelf, towards the door. He can hear Jimin’s soft breaths as he catches up. And he pushes out of the door, the bells loud against the glass.
“Jeongguk, wait! Please, I–”
“ What , Jimin? You’re the one who said you never wanted to see me again. And now that I’m living my life, actually fucking happy with it, you come and show up and you–” He stops when he spins on his heel and sees it.
Jimin has no crutches.
Jimin has no wheelchair.
He’s only standing.
One prosthetic leg.
Jimin is wearing long pants, but at his ankles… Or, well, where his ankle should’ve been, Jeongguk can see a thin, metal bar. He can tell it’s a prosthetic leg from the way Jimin stands, weighing more to one side than the other. It’s his left leg, the one that he hadn’t gained feeling in, that had been replaced.
Jeongguk opens his mouth, unable to find anything to say. Jimin looks like he’s about to burst into tears. His eyes are glassy, his lower lip trembling. It feels like the first time Jimin had ever cried in front of him. The time Jeongguk had chased after him until the road.
What the fuck is wrong with you?
You could have become me.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry, Jeongguk, I didn’t deserve you. I… I never deserved you, or Taehyung, or Minseok. I don’t deserve anything . I…” He presses the back of his hands against his eyes, brushing the tears that escape quickly, as if he doesn’t want anybody to see. There’s nobody on the road but them, both. The sun casts a deep light over the town. The golden colour showers the town in a magical light juxtaposes too well with the overwhelming surge of sadness that envelops Jeongguk and Jimin, both. And to add insult to injury, a small glimmer of snow falls between them. A single snowflake that melts as it touches the ground.
Jungkook, I need to ask something of you.
I want you to leave and forget about me.
“You know, Jimin,” he closes his eyes, trying to shut the world out. It’s too much. Jimin. The snow. The sunset. It’s all too much. “I know you were in a bad place. I respect that you… You had to do what you needed to do to cope, but… You need to realize that I made a life for myself.”
Jimin is frozen to the ground. “I found myself a new manager. I won the championships, again. I… Like I said, I’m doing good. And you told me that you didn’t want anything to weigh me down and now you’re back here… For what?” He feels simultaneously selfish and adamant at the same time. His mind tells him to walk away– no , it yells at him. His ears pound with warning, to leave, but his heart anchors him to the ground he stands on.
“I just need an hour. Jeongguk, all I want is an hour, and I’ll be gone,” he breathes, with a defeated shrug of his shoulders.
He finds himself agreeing. His voice is barely there, as he mumbles, “One hour.”
“Okay,” Jimin nods his head, inhaling deeply. “Okay.”
They sit in a café, across each other. Jeongguk chooses the window seat, right at the very back of the restaurant, so they can have privacy. Jimin is content to follow, slowly lowering himself down onto the seat. He doesn’t seem too acquainted with the prosthetic leg, by the way his nose scrunches up in discomfort as he moves. Jeongguk has so many questions. Too many questions. But he prompts Jimin to begin whatever he has to say, remaining silent.
“I took the surgery. A few days after you left, I… I went straight to the hospital, and I took the surgery. It was bad, at first, the doctors say. They nearly…” Jimin links his fingers together, looks down at them. “They nearly killed me, during the surgery. The infection, it’d spread so close… And they almost hit my spine.”
Jeongguk finds it hard to hear the words. He finds himself looking away, as soon as Jimin’s big, round, sad eyes fall back on him. “But I made it. They had to amputate my left leg, because that was where it was the worst, and,” he laughs a humorless laugh, “It… It sucks. But I made it.”
The athlete stares out the window, but listens. He doesn’t want to feel any sort of sympathy, any empathy at the moment, knowing that he’d lose himself completely, so he focuses on the snow that trickles down the air, spreading joy amongst the people dwelling around the streets. He listens, as Jimin continues, “After that, my depression got really bad. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. Minseok was so stressed… His mother got sick, so we had to let him go. And… And after that, my dad tried to cheer me up too, but,” another strained laugh, “nothing was making me better. So I admitted myself into a treatment center.
“It was beautiful there. Up in the mountains. Of course, I didn’t want to talk at all, but then I met another guy. He was completely paralyzed, from the neck down, and he was… He was smiling . He was laughing, and I felt so ashamed. There I was, a recovered paraplegic, choosing to see the worst in life, when he… He decided that life couldn’t fuck him over anymore. I realized that it wasn’t my depression anymore. It was just me. I think,” Jimin shifts in his seat, causing Jeongguk to turn back to face him, “I think that’s where I was wrong. I was blaming it on depression. I told myself everyday that I was depressed. I forced myself to feel down for the sake of feeling down. That’s not depression. It was me, being the self-pitiful person I always was.
“So one day, I talked to him. His name was Jinsoo. And he told me, ‘ regardless of what you’re going through– whether you’re depressed, or whether you’re self-pitiful, it’s going to be difficult ’. He’d been quadriplegic for a year and half already, and he still felt so upset, sometimes, but he was trying. So I began to try. I spoke up in discussions. I even talked to a few therapists. I got myself into writing, just to filter everything out. And suddenly, instead of the world being against me, it was like every single thing was an opportunity.
“I took all the opportunities that I could. I got my prosthetic leg just three months ago, I got back into dancing, which is still painfully difficult with this thing,” he pats his thigh, underneath the table, “But I’m trying.”
Jimin grows quiet then, awaiting a response. Jeongguk thinks he needs time to comprehend, to sit back and toss over the happenings, but surprisingly, he understands quickly. Jimin’s words are clear. His voice doesn’t quiver. He speaks as if he’s… Okay . And Jeongguk finds himself nodding, “Wow,” he replies, rolling back his shoulders. He rubs the back of his neck, taking a long breath. “I’m really happy for you, Jimin. I… I really am. I… I’m proud.”
The older boy’s eyes glow, as his lips curve upwards, brightly. He presses his lips together and nods, as well. An awkward moment of silence passes between them, before Jimin clears his throat. “What about you? We weren’t allowed any electronics in the retreat center, so… No news of Jeon Jeongguk.”
Jeongguk smiles, but it falters. “Um, I was in a bad place, too, after I left Seoul. I won the rematch against Parker, but even then, I had to fire Na. I had to pay a lot of debts. I starved myself… Got demoted to lightweight division. But I think I picked it up since. I won the championships for my new division, and… I’m happy.” I’m happier, now that you’re here .
“I can tell. You look different,” Jimin tilts his head to the side, inspecting Jeongguk, with narrowed eyes.
“It’s probably the hair.” Jeongguk runs a hand through it, pushing it back from his eyes.
“Yeah. But I can tell that you’re happy. You’re actually wearing colour.”
Jeongguk laughs at that, and Jimin joins in. And it’s as if they’re two old friends, catching up. As if they’d met in different circumstances. Normal circumstances. It’s a nice feeling that stirs in his gut, as opposed to the unease that he’d felt when he’d first seen Jimin. He feels wrong, for having thought, for a second , that Jimin came back to drag him down. Jimin was okay. He was really okay. “Hey, I wore colours back in Seoul.”
“If you count black as a colour, then sure,” Jimin’s laughing, eyes crinkling. “Oh– Oh god, I… Stop laughing. I can’t see.”
“Y–You can’t… You can’t see when you’re laughing?” Jeongguk’s lost it. His shoulders are quaking as he continues to laugh. He realizes that it’s the first time he’s genuinely laughed in the longest time. And he’s so fucking happy that it’s with the boy he loves the most.
“S–Shut up.” Jimin doubles over, holding his stomach, trying to suck in a breath. “Seriously, oh god , Shut up. I’m going to die.”
Jeongguk stops, leaning his head back against the pale brown cushion of the couch, with a smile on his face. “Okay, okay, I’m done. We’ve been through a lot, okay? So don’t die on me now.” Jimin nods his head, seemingly reminiscing the things they’ve been through. In retrospect, it had been a month. Less than a month, together, in fact, and yet, they’d formed a bond. A bond that, Jeongguk knows, now, is powerful. He feels himself getting emotional over the thought.
The thought that the universe, in all of its chaotic glory, managed to bring them together. The universe had worked all of its forces to push them to the ground. To make Jimin feel hell, when it’d taken his legs away from him. To make Jeongguk lose his way, when it’d decided that his time of glory was enough. And amongst all of the chaos– amongst the wild riots that sparked within their hearts, their minds, their souls , they found each other, once again.
Enough of that, he tells himself. He has all the time in the world to think about the unconventional works of the universe. He doesn’t know if he has all the time in the world with Jimin. Anything could happen. And he isn’t about to waste a second. Jeongguk reaches for the menu. “My treat,” he says, flipping through the pages.
“Good, because I’m broke.” Jimin nonchalantly reaches for his own menu without explanation.
Jeongguk raises a brow. “You’re broke ?”
“Mhm. I bought a house here.” He points his finger at the menu, dragging it over the paper consideringly. “I want ice cream.”
Jeongguk reaches forward to take Jimin’s menu. The boy fixates him with a bright grin. “It would’ve been really embarrassing, actually. Minseok and I went through a whole plan. Well, there was no plan. Minseok actually didn’t help me. He was like, ‘ oh, Jimin, you’re really fucking stupid ’, and I was like, ‘ yes, Minseok, I am, but I love him ’ and Minseok just shakes his head like, ‘ fuck ’, but I’m already buying a house.” He makes grabby hands for the menu after the quick, too-casual explanation. Jimin loves him. “Come on, let’s order.”
“What did you say?” He can’t reel in from the shock.
“I said, let’s order.”
“No, before that.”
“I love you?”
There it is. Jeongguk places the menus down, takes Jimin’s hands and pulls him in. He catches Jimin’s smile as he draws him close. It’s quick, but it’s the best feeling he’s ever had, since their first. Jeongguk kisses Jimin, although briefly, with all of the pent up passion, emotions he’s kept in. And Jimin’s fingers, on his cheeks, grip hard, as if they share the same desperation, longing for each other. And he doesn’t give a shit, when he hears one of the other people in the café mutter something utterly homophobic towards them. He doesn’t give one shit. “I love you too,” he replies, breathlessly.
Jimin’s cheeks are tinted pink, as he picks the menu up again. His small fingers hold onto the pages tightly. “Mhm. I want ice cream.”
“You can have all of the ice cream in the world.”
“I landed myself a sugar daddy,” Jimin mumbles to himself. Jeongguk wants to spoil Jimin. He doesn’t object.
It’s just a few minutes before Christmas Eve, when the two stumble out onto the streets. They stay in the café for a couple of hours, catching up, talking about everything since they’d parted last. Jeongguk’s worries, his deepest suspicions, fears, wills to turn away disappear in a matter of those hours, and he’s left with pure joy. He holds Jimin’s hands as they slowly make their way towards the town square, where they were to celebrate Christmas with the rest of the townspeople.
While they're walking, Jimin fishes into his pocket. He pulls out a small usb, a black one, that Jeongguk remembers almost instantly. "I loved it," Jimin tells him, waving the small device around. "You're a really good editor. And filmmaker."
"It's just something I picked up during the off-season," Jeongguk replies, embarrassed. He hardly remembers what's on it, to be frank.
"Don't put yourself down like that." Jimin takes his hand, places it on his palm and closes his fingers over it. The device feels warm. As if it's been recently used. "I've been rewatching it. I actually... I hope you don't mind, but it's one of the things that I used when I was at the treatment center. When the doctors asked me if there was anything– anything at all that could help, I gave it to them. And it's one of the things that helped me... I guess, love myself again."
It makes Jeongguk's heart swell; the fact that Jimin... The fact that he'd first met Jimin while he was self-loathing. And now, he was finally ready to love himself... It's a good feeling that blossoms in his chest. "That's really nice, Jimin. I'm glad it helped."
The older boy takes his hand again after that, looking beyond elated. A few people glance their way, wary of the fact that it’s him, Jeon Jeongguk. But the fact that he’s holding Jimin’s hand in a way that is more than friendly, is what seems to be more of the shock inducers. There are some faces are friendlier, at least, making a small walkway for Jimin, who’s both surprised and touched by their offer to him. The boy tugs him on, quick on his feet despite having his prosthetic leg. He’s excited to see the Christmas tree that sits in the middle of the square, in all of its glory. The star poised at the very tip of it shines into the night sky, illuminating the darkness.
“It’s so beautiful,” Jimin says, with a small shake of his head. He’s in complete awe of the tree. The lights that decorate every inch of it, twinkling against the dark leaves. But Jeongguk has looked past it, instead finding his gaze to be drawn to Jimin himself.
It’s the same childish radiance, the same wonder that Jimin had in their first snowfall. The same appreciation for life that sparked the first signs of love within Jeongguk. The one that made his heart soar with yearning; the desire for Jimin. “It is beautiful,” he echoes, mindlessly. Jimin glances at him, makes a sheepish face, and elbows him. But he leans forward to kiss Jeongguk, right on the corner of his lips.
The countdown begins shortly. All of the town citizens pump their fists into the air in excitement.
Jeongguk had spent five years. Five years training and fighting as a professional boxer. And never in those five years has he ever found true happiness.
He had spent four years on the streets, as a runaway. He’d scrambled from home to home, bar, to bar, hoping for a shot at life.
There were three people in those four years. Three people that he’d known. The scholar, who had offered his home when he needed it the most. Jane, who had taught him how to fight, who had loved him like a mother. Na, who had brought him out of the streets, into fame.
Two of the most important people in his life had left him. His mother. Jane.
Only one remained.
Jimin takes Jeongguk’s face into his hands, tugging him down. They kiss, once more, as the people cheer into the night. And Jeongguk; Jeongguk is happy to hold Jimin forever. And he does, then, for the longest time. And he will, until he dies, because there’s no way that he’s letting Jimin leave him. There’s no way that he’s leaving Jimin. “I love you so much,” Jeongguk breathes shakily, against the dancer’s lips. Jimin is nodding, with tears in his eyes.
“I love you, too.”
And so, Jeongguk sits in his room, back at his home. Jimin had left just earlier, to catch a ride back to Seoul, to make final arrangements about moving to Busan. To say goodbye to his father, to Minseok. To his old house. He sits by his desk, staring at the package Jimin had left with him. It’s a brown envelope, sealed carefully. He doesn’t know what it is, exactly, yet, but he knows that it’s one of Jimin’s works.
“You said that you wrote. Back at the treatment center,” Jeongguk prompts, as they walk to the train station. The snow crunches underneath their feet, the sound echoing in the quiet streets. Nobody is going anywhere tonight. Jimin would be alone.
“Oh. I almost forgot, actually,” Jimin replies, releasing their intertwined fingers, to retrieve a brown envelope from the sleeve of his winter coat. He dusts it off lightly, before holding it out to him. “I did write something. Well, actually, a few things, but this is the one I like the best. I thought it would help clear a lot of things up, actually.”
Jeongguk takes it. He slips it into his own coat. “I’ll read it once I get home,” he promises, but is more preoccupied with staring at the empty train station, save for about two other passengers. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay for the night? It’s so… Empty.”
“It’ll give me time to come up with something to tell my dad. He still doesn’t know I’m moving here. And it’ll give you time to read what I wrote. So you can decide whether you actually want me or not.” Jimin smiles, although a bit sadly. Jeongguk wonders what’s in the package. What Jimin had written.
“I’m not going to let whatever’s in this package change anything,” he replies, taking Jimin’s hands in his own. He squeezes them both, draws him closer. “I’ll see you soon?”
The boy nods. “Bye.”
He takes the knife that sits in the drawer, cutting the tape slowly, not wanting to tear anything. Once he’s managed to open the package, he reaches in to find a stack of papers. He pulls it out. It’s neatly clipped together, into one big writing. Fight or Flight , the first page reads. Underneath it, printed in red ink is Jimin’s name.
Jeongguk leans back against his seat consideringly. His heart pounds against his chest.
It’ll give you time to read what I wrote.
So you can decide whether you actually want me or not.
He pulls in a breath, before he flips the page. It reads:
Once you get a taste of glory, you never let go of the fame.
Chapter 13: Explanation
FIGHT OR FLIGHT: AN EXPLANATION
ok so basically, my writing confuses me and some of you asked to explain some things on my cc and i hope this kind of clears up a lot of things. i'm sorry if the story didn't end how you'd hoped ; __ ;
Underworld, Don DeLillo
RECOMMEND? I don’t recommend this to people who don’t like “serious” books. It’s not going to be a love story, nor a YA book. It’s deep– like really deep, and I wouldn’t have read this book for fun. I only did for my AP exam and it’s one of my favorite books now but… Don’t expect it to be light reading!
WHY? It’s one of my favorite books! It’s super meaningful and I while reading it I did, actually circle the love it and trust it and leave quote because it hit home and while writing I just thought of it and it worked so well with the narrative of FOF.
The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks
RECOMMEND? A light read! But if you don’t like reading, the movie sums it up pretty well. I only suggest reading it for the writing, the quotes are really beautiful.
WHY? Again, the quote about soulmates, meeting each other in a different life. I also thought it would be an interesting conversation starter for JM and JK and a good way for them to meet again in the story.
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
RECOMMEND? BIG YES. A very easy read that tackles many prevalent issues in the world today– conforming to society, human instinct and ethics. It sounds boring BUT it’s super good I swear. And if you take AP literature or have to do essay writing in class on themes, THIS BOOK HAS EVERY SINGLE THEME; it’s perfect for basically any essay.
WHY? I’ve liked the book ever since I was forced to read it in my freshman year and I still re-read it sometimes.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
RECOMMEND? Just like Lord of The Flies, it’s very versatile and will work for almost any essay prompt. It’s also a very touching novel and makes me sad whenever I read it aaa. It focuses on social injustices, racism and the integrity of the law system.
WHY? I wanted to put it in because JM is a very intelligent character and I knew that I wanted to make him very socially aware (hence him always frequenting Twitter) and the book tackles social injustice!
i wrote three separate endings to the story and i chose the meta one but the other two were plausible... kind of
- I chose the meta ending, or the one where the story basically loops around. The whole story starts with the words Once you get a taste of glory, you never let go of the fame– which are the words that also begin Jimin’s novel, which imply that he was the writer of Fight or Flight the whole time. But it’s kind of in a metaphorical sense.
- There are details in the story that I wrote that only Jungkook is aware of, such as his upbringing, his life on the streets, Jane, etc., as well as his perspective on his time with Jimin. This fic as a whole is my writing, a combination of both perspectives.
- The story Jimin writes is the same thing, except with his point of view only. So, it’s meta in the sense that both the story I wrote and the story Jimin wrote begin with the same words, are named Fight or Flight, with the same subject (his life, his time with Jeongguk).
- I dropped a few hints for this ending throughout the fic itself, such as Minseok’s suggestion for Jimin to become a writer. (“Coal? Flame? Snowstorm? All those books you continue to read. Maybe you should become a writer.” The nurse’s smile is wide. A writer. Jimin has never considered it, but now that the idea is there, there’s a flicker of thought that seems to spark in the dark of his mind.)
- This was the one I wrote out but didn’t choose! I revolves around the idea that Jimin has been in a coma the whole time, and his subconscious had used Jeongguk as a figure of comfort to keep him sane within his state of unconsciousness.
- I didn’t choose it because I felt like it would piss people off HNGGG
- The one I considered the most… But I figured that I put all of you through enough pain and angst throughout the whole fic so I decided against it.
- Basically, where Jimin is severely hurt during the surgery and Jeongguk receives the call on the day of his rematch saying that he wouldn’t make it. Jeongguk rushes all the way to Seoul, giving up his chance of redemption in the industry, to find that Jimin has already passed.
- Jeongguk loses Jimin and his career :(
- Jimin leaves him a folder full of his writings, different diary entries of the past 9 months that he’d been paralyzed.
i listened to these songs while writing so thanks to them for killing my writer's block
alternatively, fight or flight by gcf on spotify.
or, alternatively, the one that has too many sad songs.
2019 EDIT: switched up my social media stuff so i can talk about writing more often !!!