Seungmin once told Minho that in the event of an apocalypse, he'd choose to save him - even over Hyunjin, who was his best friend and was widely accepted by everyone as Seungmin's favorite person in the entire world - and Minho had always taken pride in it because this was high praise. Anyone (at least any kid who lived within a five mile radius, an area large enough for anyone still in junior high or below) who knew Seungmin would answer his name when asked who they would take with them to a deserted island (or, by substitution, an apocalypse).
His childhood friend explained that it’s because Minho was never the type to panic under pressure; he was the type never to show agitation, and the type to always push through despite whatever fear he might be secretly feeling. Granted, all these assessments were gathered through various childish tests of courage that Seungmin and Hyunjin had dared him to do across years of knowing each other - one time they’d challenged him to jump off a 30 meter diving board, both of them cocksure that Minho was never gonna go through with because he was shit scared of heights. Minho was shaking the entire time he climbed up that board, but he managed anyway - and he’d earned half of Hyunjin and Seungmin’s combined pocket money for the summer that year.
Apparently, for Seungmin, things like this are enough to want to have you beside him when the world ends but it didn’t really matter because Minho, being who he is, just laughed and answered, “No thanks, just let me die. Living through the end of the world sounds like a chore.”
But that was then, and this is now, and he doesn't really know where Seungmin (or for that matter, Hyunjin) is, or if he’s still even alive.
It’s been over half a decade since the apocalypse started. Minho thinks it's funny to think of it like that - the start of the apocalypse, as if an apocalypse, by definition, didn't literally mean the end of everything. But it is what it is, because while the world is still (somehow) standing, it certainly feels like it's crumbling apart, like it's dying a slow and painful death.
Despite Seungmin’s complete faith in him (as complete as the faith of a twelve year old can be), the truth is that Minho would have chosen himself as least likely to survive an apocalypse. He certainly didn’t think he’d make it to twenty, at least not when he was hardly fifteen and he had already lost both his parents to the disease that had eventually claimed more than sixty percent of the world’s population.
And yet here he is, anyway - he’s pretty sure he would have turned twenty during his last birthday; in fact, he’s sure he’s meant to turn twenty-one any day now. Days have all bled together, so he can’t be certain exactly when but he thinks it should be October right now, which means he should probably find a way to celebrate another year of bleak existence.
Minho wishes he had a better explanation of what’s happened with the world - he was fourteen when it started, young, but in hindsight, it was an age when he should definitely have known better, an age old enough for him to have understood more if only he’d paid attention.
He now knows it didn’t happen overnight, but that’s what it felt at the time. Minho remembers waking up one morning and joining his mother in the living room - she already had the television set powered up, and breaking news was on. It was a disease, the news anchor said, an outbreak. The news kept showing horrifying scenes from all over the city at first, and then the country, and then eventually, the world. Hospitals were overbooked and undermanned. Reactions to the so-called illness were varied - some underwent a high fever that lasted only a couple hours before they just dropped dead. If you got past the first couple hours of fever, the news said you were safe. The worst, though, were people who got through the fever only to turn feral and almost zombielike.
He remembers one morning waking up, and asking his mother where his father is, and not really getting a proper response. Minho had always been good at picking things up - he's always been observant, and along with that came an innate skill in deduction. It didn’t take him long before he laid out the only possibilities in his head - his father has always been a family man. He’s always put Minho and his mother first, and Minho knows that the last thing he would have wanted was for Minho or his mother to have to bury him - or watch him turn violent.
Still, if there is one thing that Minho was always good at, it was compartmentalizing his feelings, and somehow this meant he was able to paint it in his head that one way or another, the world will take care of itself and everything will end up alright.
To be fair, it’s been two years since the last reported sighting of a zombie - or a feral human as the news used to prefer calling them - so maybe, in a way, his fourteen year old self was right and the world did end up fixing itself.
Except it’s been more than five years since Minho lost his family, lost his friends - lost anything and everything he cared for in this world and he still can’t explain why or how it happened. He’s not even sure he can explain how he’s managed to make it alive through all those years. Maybe the government eventually had a press release; he isn't sure because if they have, by then Minho has very likely already stopped paying attention. He’d been too busy with other things, such as growing up quickly so he could take charge of his own life and wellbeing.
But he supposes he can somehow take comfort in the fact that no one still alive would actually expect him to explain the end of the world - everyone left standing is too busy trying to survive for such discourse.
The last month has seen Minho take over the residency of an old run-down building that he’s pretty sure used to be a neighborhood convenience store. The neighborhood itself seems to be abandoned - but that isn't much of a surprise. South Korea's population is barely over a tenth of what it used to be, and the small amount of people that are left tend to gravitate together in small communities - unless you're a traveler like Minho, who prefers moving from place to place, consciously choosing to shy away from other humans whenever he does decide to temporarily settle anywhere. The building this time around had seemed almost too good to be true, the first time he’d discovered it - seemingly abandoned, but with the insides warm and intact. He’d also discovered that behind what used to be the cash counter was a shelf half-filled with non-perishables; granted, most of the canned goods are marked with expiration dates that have passed at least two years ago. (It didn’t matter to him - his first night there, he’d forced a can of pork and beans open. It was a little on the sour side, but by now he’s pretty sure he’s honed a cast iron stomach immune to almost anything.)
It’s not until two nights later that Minho learns why he was able to claim the building for himself - he finds it - him , the body of a dead old man, curled up in the store room at the back. He supposes that’s why it was abandoned - because it technically wasn’t. He imagines the old man to have claimed ownership of the shelter, and he laughs to himself, thinking that he was the cranky type, much like the snooty old man who lived in the apartment across his family’s when he was younger. (He’d succumbed to the sickness early on, and until now he remembers that man banging at their door, asking to be let in - he remembers his mother covering his ears with her hands, and telling him to close his eyes and just sing to himself until the loud booming at the door eventually faded away.)
He buried the old man almost three weeks ago; in that time he’s also discovered that the old man had a cat - at least Minho assumes that the cat was his. Either way the cat has taken it upon herself that Minho is her new human, and he hasn’t been complaining because the cat has somehow made the last couple of weeks less lonely in a way.
“I’m home—!” He calls out after he gets back in after a long day of supplies hunting and bartering. It’s a new habit he’s picked up ever since he got himself his new feline companion.
Meow , is the normal response he’s expecting, except—
“Who are you?” is what he gets instead, together with the feeling of something sharp and pointed pressing against his back,
“Who are you?” He shoots back, ready and confident. Lee Minho hasn’t been able to survive the end of days on his own by being a damn coward after all.
It’s at this moment that the cat suddenly appears, purring as she nuzzles against Minho’s ankle.
“Oh—” The stranger’s voice suddenly sounds softer; younger and less harsh. “Reumi knows you.”
“Reumi?” Minho is confused; he wants to turn and face the intruder, but when he moves to try and do just that, he feels the tip of the knife pressing harder against his back, like a warning. He sighs, “Is that the name of the cat? I just… call her Cat.” Sometimes he'd mew when he wanted the cat’s attention, but giving her a name had seemed a little extra; giving the cat a name would have just been made it easier to get attached and Minho was trying to avoid that.
“Where’s Old Man Park?” The boy - Minho decides he sounds more like a boy, than a man - asks, obviously choosing to move on from the topic of the cat.
“Old Man Park? Is that— Is that the old man who used to live here? Guy in his 50’s?”
“He was 62 the last time I saw him actually,” the boy mumbles. “Where is he?”
“Oh.” Minho realises that this boy obviously knew the old building tenant quite well, and his heart takes a brief dive down to his stomach because now he has to be the one to tell him the bad news. “He— I. Well,” Minho sighs. “Look, can you relax that fucking knife for a minute so I can turn around and tell you my story?”
The boy doesn't say anything for several seconds, but soon enough Minho feels him retract his weapon. Cautiously, he turns to look over his shoulder and finds that his impression, based on just his voice alone, is mostly correct as the stranger really does look more like a boy, rather than a man. Minho wagers he’s maybe a year or two younger than him - probably around Seungmin and Hyunjin’s age, if not younger.
“So. Talk,” the guy demands, with the attitude of someone far more aged than he looks - but that’s just par for the course. He’s survived the apocalypse for just as long as Minho has, which means he’s adorned with similar (physical and emotional) scars as Minho is.
“How did you know the old man?” Minho asks, after he fully turns around. He’s able to get a better look at the intruder now and he concludes that in no way is this boy older than him. It’s his full cheeks that give away his youthfulness, with their plump roundness - not something you see a lot these days, really. His hair long and shaggy, and his eyes are round and button like despite mirroring the same weariness Minho is feeling himself.
“Well,” the boy begins, and Minho has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling because the first thing he notices is the unevenness of the boy’s front teeth. It’s cute, he thinks, even though that probably shouldn’t be what Minho is taking note of. “I first met him a year— wait!” A look of frustration passes the boy’s face when he realises something. “You’re the one who is supposed to be answering questions here, mister! Where’s the old man!” He hisses, once again tightly gripping the handle of his knife as he points it up under Minho’s chin.
“Geez, calm down!” Minho groans, taking half a step behind him as he throws his hands up in defeat. “I just wanted to know how close you were to him,” he explains. He’s thankful that the cat - Reumi, he reminds himself that the cat has a name now, and it's a fitting name (so much for keeping his distance and not getting attached) - chooses to purr and mewl in that moment; that seems to have a calming effect on the stranger, and Minho is already filing that bit of information at the back of his head for possible future use.
The boy shrugs in response, obviously more on guard now. This is all Minho will get out of him for now, he supposes, so he figures there’s no use delaying the truth.
“The old man’s dead,” he spits out, all declarative and matter-of-fact. The sting of the news isn’t lessened by his tone however, and he watches as the boy’s expression switches from surprise to momentary despair. “Sorry,” he offers, even though he can’t say he can relate. It’s not as if he knew the old man personally, and he’s had too many losses in the past that he mostly feels numb about random deaths now.
“Why are you apologizing?” The boy looks at him suspiciously. “It’s not like you directly caused his death—” he pauses as if to consider his own words, and then obvious wariness takes over his features. “Did you?!”
“What?” Minho cringes. “No!”
“Okay—” He lightens up fairly quickly that Minho almost gets suspicious. “Reumi wouldn’t like you if you did,” he explains, now looking just sad and tired as he leans down to scoop the feline in his arms. The cat, meanwhile, looks all too eager to get out of his hold as she claws and tries to reach towards Minho instead. “Geez,” the boy grumbles, not even thinking twice before he shoves the cat towards Minho, “Guess she even likes you more than she likes me so, I’m even more sure now that you didn’t do anything to the old man.”
“Yeah, well—” Minho winces when the animal is handed to him in a very unceremonious manner; he’s so confused - somehow this boy has gone from threatening him with a knife to… trusting him with his pet. Or, well, Minho assumes that Reumi is at the very least this boy’s surrogate pet - after all he knows the cat’s name when Minho had spent a good few weeks just clicking his tongue or meowing whenever he needed the feline’s attention. “I found his body when he couldn’t have been dead for more than a week,” he mumbles in explanation. “And then I buried him in the empty field across the street.”
“Oh.” The boy continues to look at him with a blank expression and for the first time in what seems like forever, Minho starts to feel self-conscious.
“That was nice of you,” the boy murmurs, and Minho is unsure how to answer. He supposes, in this day and age, not a lot of others would have done the same. They’d have maybe torched the body at most, if only so they could take over the abandoned store, which was certainly prime real estate. The boy is right - very few would have taken the time to dig a hole, and give the old man a burial.
“It was nothing,” Minho answers anyway with a shrug. He’s not sure what’s supposed to happen next; he wouldn’t have hesitated to chase the boy away if it was anyone else, but he feels a little bad - like the fact that he knew the old man gave him some right to the store, never mind that the street was littered with other buildings the boy could take over if he really wanted to. They weren’t as ideal as this one, but Minho was still here first. “How did you know the old guy?” He tries asking again, and this time he actually gets a small smile out of the stranger.
“I met him around a year or so ago,” he begins to explain, and Minho thinks that this boy really is a little too quick to trust. He’s lucky it’s Minho, and not some other heartless asshole that he’s come across - the world has only a little over fifty million in population now, and from personal experience, Minho’s pretty sure that a good chunk of that number are pure dickheads. “I was with—” The boy hesitates, but Minho lets him continue, quietly staring even after he lets the cat out of his hold. “I was with a friend of mine. Old man Park took us in for a while. He was good to us.” It gives Minho an ounce of satisfaction to know that he didn’t waste two hours digging a hole across the street to bury a shitty human being; from what the boy was saying, he was at least decent. “My friend and I— well, the old man said if we ever needed anything, we can come back here. So when my friend and I got separated, I thought—”
“You and your friend got separated?” Minho asks. “Or—?”
Uncertainty passes the boy’s features before he simply shrugs; Minho isn’t getting a more detailed answer to this for now, and he isn’t about to push it.
“I’m Han,” the boy suddenly says, and even though they haven’t even known each other for an hour, Minho isn’t surprised that he’s the first one offering a name.
“Lee Know,” he returns; these days he hasn’t really been in the habit of freely giving away the name his parents had given him.
“Lee Know?!” Han gives him an incredulous look. “Like— Lee Know. You know. I know. Everyone knows. Lee Know-it-All?!”
Minho blinks at him - once, twice, thrice. “Are you trying to make a joke out of my name?” He asks in a deadpan manner, which somehow actually has Han looking sheepish.
“Sorry,” the boy apologises. “It’s just a name I’ve never heard before.”
“Okay Han ,” Minho rolls his eyes. “Now that we have introductions out of the way, are you going to leave me alone now?”
“Oh, uh—” It’s Han’s turn to blink rapidly in confusion; he obviously hadn’t been expecting to be chased away by Minho. Actually, come to think of it, he probably didn’t know what he was expecting. Based on their short interaction, Minho can conclude that Han isn’t exactly the forward thinking type - which, depending on your luck, is either the best or worst quality to have when trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.
Minho thinks Seungmin would definitely have not chosen Han as a companion during the end of the world.
“What, you think I was going to let you stay here after you greeted me with a literal knife to my back?” Minho asks; now that he’s alert, his own weapon - a handgun he got from a good trade a couple of years ago, and has been useful for intimidation more than anything else since - is ready at his own disposal.
“Well— Reumi... she likes me, you know?” His voice almost cracks when he mentions the cat, and it takes all of Minho’s control to stop himself from laughing. Apparently Han really did trust the cat’s judgment when dealing with him earlier, which was bad enough (well, good for Minho, but definitely bad for Han if this is how he deals with people), but it certainly takes a special kind to trust that he was going to get similar treatment right back.
“I’m supposed to go along with the cat?” Minho questions; he notices that Han’s grip on his knife has tightened again, but he doesn’t have the same fight in his eyes now, as he did just half an hour ago. “Well—” This time, Minho can’t help but laugh when Han looks like he’s about to nod. “Okay then.” He can’t believe he’s giving in just like this is, but before he can think it through, the words just leave his tongue. “I guess you can stay a night.”
The way the boy’s entire face lights up - it’s a kind of brightness that Minho hasn’t seen in years. He wonders if this, more than anything else, is the quality that has allowed this Han boy to survive all along.
When Minho wakes up the next day, it’s to the faint sound of someone laughing and clapping their hands. He’s confused, until he remembers he has, for lack of a better word, a guest.
“Han?” He calls out, stepping out of the building’s backdoor. Sure enough, there was Han, laughing as he tickled Reumi’s stomach. It was a strange sight, to say the least. “What are you doing?” He asks, after he catches the boy’s attention.
“Ah! Hyung! Sorry, did I wake you?” He’s wearing a sheepish smile again as he scoops the cat up in his arms. The easy and comfortable Han has taken to calling Minho ‘hyung,’ which should be strange considering they just met, but then again, strange has pretty much become the new normal in the present. No one really has time to distinguish between formal and informal speech. “I’m roasting some sweet potatoes for breakfast,” he continues, “do you want some?”
“Sweet potatoes?” Minho frowns. “Oh. You found the old man’s crop garden, huh?” It was a discovery he’d made himself a week after living there. Truthfully, he’d made a lot of discoveries that made it apparent that before the old man had passed, he had been living a pretty self-sufficient life. Another reason why he really had hit the jackpot when he chose to stake his claim of the place. Minho, of course, had been quick to utilize all those resources for himself.
Han laughs. “Changbin-hyung and I used to help tend it for him when we lived with him for a little over a month,” he explains, walking over towards the fire pit presumably to check on his sweet potatoes. In that moment Reumi jumps out of his arms, and runs straight up to Minho so she can rub against his ankles. “Wow, she’s so in love with you, it’s unfair,” Han observes with a pout.
“Uh—” Minho only chuckles, nudging the cat gently with his foot before making his way over to join Han. “Cats have always liked me. I grew up with two of them - I called them my siblings.” He doesn’t know why he’s bringing up memories from the past and actually sharing them with Han; he never does that. When Han’s smile grows wider at the story, though, he finds that maybe the little share was worth it.
“We had a family dog,” he volunteers. “But between you and me, Mideumi was always more my hyung’s pet than mine.” He has a more pained expression now, and Minho doesn’t get it - it’s not like he asked for such personal stories. If it hurts so much, then maybe Han should just not tell any of it. “I’ve always liked cats more,” Han admits, and there’s something really earnest about his tone that has Minho reaching over to ruffle his hair affectionately.
You haven’t even known him for twenty four hours, Minho reminds himself as he immediately retracts his hand after Han flashes him a genuine smile.
“Ow, owowowowow!” The sound of Han suddenly yelling cuts through Minho’s thoughts so sharply, that Minho actually panics for a quick second. And then he realises it’s just because Han had thoughtlessly tried to take the roasting sweet potatoes off the fire pit with his bare hands.
“Are you an idiot?!” Minho berates him even as he rushes over to help, grabbing Han’s hands to inspect the damage.
“No?” Is the answer he gets, accompanied by an embarrassed smile that softens Minho up, and just has him sighing.
“Okay, just leave the sweet potatoes to me,” he instructs. “And stay put.”
“But hyung,” Han whines, turning his head and giving the food a longing expression. “They’re getting burnt.”
“For fucks sake,” Minho grumbles. “Better those than your hands!” Even so, he swiftly unsheaths Han’s knife from the case where it hung at the side of his hip (and really, this boy needed to be more on guard, but Minho thinks for now this is working to his advantage, so he’ll warn Han later). “Let me—” He stabs two of the roasted sweet potatoes and just like that, he easily moves them away from the fire. “Better burnt food than burnt hands,” he grumbles, before he grabs Han’s wrist to pull him towards a half-filled drum of water.
“Wash your hands - but don’t waste water,” he instructs. “And then sit still.”
He goes back to procure a few leaves of aloe - also from the old man’s garden. It’s a shame, really, Minho thinks, when the day comes that he has to leave this place again because the old proprietor really had thought of everything. He wonders if maybe now is the time, after all he’s never really stayed put anywhere for too long. It makes him feel restless, and uneasy - being too comfortable anywhere makes him look back too much, and old memories never give him good feelings. At least if he leaves now, he knows Han will be around to take care of Reumi - and the resources that Old Man Park won’t be left to just anyone.
Han gets fidgety after Minho returns and starts to tend to his wounds. “Sit still,” he repeats with a sigh, careful as he applies aloe to the lightly burned skin. “Are you always this careless?” He asks, frowning as his eyes meet Han’s.
“Heh,” Han answers, ducking his head and averting Minho’s gaze.
“How are you even still alive to this day?” Seungmin used to tell Minho that he has absolutely no tact sometimes; Minho thinks that sometimes you just have to ask questions that you want to know the answers to.
“I was born blessed with a good immune system,” Han answers so matter-of-factly, this time once again meeting Minho’s eyes with his. It’s such a simple but unexpected answer that Minho can’t help but laugh - to be fair, he’s sure that Han is correct. No matter how much of a survivalist you are, if the feral disease got to you, then it got to you.
Han breaks into a smile because of Minho’s laughter, and that’s how the latter realises that the boy was just being glib. “Binnie-hyung helped me out a lot,” Han continues, and this, Minho concludes, is the actual answer.
“Binnie…?” Minho leans away now that he’s done wrapping Han’s hands with actual bandages he’d early on found in the first aid kit stashed away together with the expired canned goods. “Is that the friend you’ve mentioned a few times before?”
Han stares at his bandaged hands even as he nods to answer Minho’s question.
“So how come he’s not with you anymore?”
Han starts nibbling on his bottom lip and Minho assumes that’s a nervous tell.
“You don’t have to talk about him if you don’t want—” Minho gently starts to assure him.
“No, I do,” Han quickly interrupts him. He smiles at Minho as if to assure him it's alright, that he really wants to talk about this Binnie person. “I met Changbin-hyung around five years ago,” he begins.
Minho sighs - more from the surprise that he's actually curious about this story. He moves to sit next to Han, before gesturing with his hand to prompt Han to continue.
“So, you know how at the start, when zombies happened and everyone’s families either just turned into them or— were killed by them?” There are no lies in Han’s statement, and normally the memory of that time is enough for Minho to cringe and tune out - and yet here he is, nodding in response while still hanging on to Han’s every word. “Yeah, so that happened to me very early on - on the second or third day of the outbreak, my parents died in a plane crash that was caused by their pilot turning feral.”
“And because that was a time when the government was still pretending they had a handle on the situation, they started rounding out all the suddenly orphaned minors,” Han continues, finger pointing at himself to show that he’s one of these new orphans, as if that wasn’t already made obvious. “That’s how I met Changbin-hyung. We were bunkies.”
“I hadn’t even turned twelve yet, then, and he was thirteen, which, you know, just a year’s difference, but damn, he really drove it in that he was already a teenager.” Han pauses and laughs, like he’s recalling fond memories, and that manages to bring a small smile to Minho’s own lips. “Obviously it wasn’t a great time in our lives, we’d both just lost our families, and—” his breath hitches, and his smile falters a little but he keeps going, “—we were both pretty angry at everyone and everything. We were pretty angry at each other for a time, I think. But then everything went to shit when some of the older teens turned feral.”
“You realise you’re recounting your own past like it’s some piece of fiction you read somewhere, right?” Minho has to interject at this point.
Han laughs. “Well, hyung, when you think of it, we’re kind of living the plot of some sort of dystopian YA novel, no?”
“Seungmin would have said the same thing,” Minho finds himself saying. It earns him a curious look from Han, but he’s quick to shake his head in dismissal. “Go on about this Changbin guy then.”
“I mean at that point the world pretty much went to shit, you know. And maybe I kind of just… latched on to him when he escaped the orphanage. One of the better decisions I made, probably,” Han shrugs. “Binnie-hyung and I killed our first feral together.” This time there’s a visible shudder that passes through Han and Minho can’t blame him. Minho’s first kill was done by a baseball bat to the skull - there was blood and brain everywhere, and the fact that his first kill used to be the kind old lady who sold hotteok near his school and always gave him a hefty discount for them used to give Minho regular nightmares.
Until now Minho has to actively shake off the memory; he forces himself to focus on Han and his story instead, grateful for the fact that Han seems to be a natural storyteller. He must be, after all Minho easily gets lost in every anecdote he recounts about his time with this Changbin-hyung of his.
“So what I’m getting here is that you wouldn’t have survived without Changbin because he sounds like some mighty hero in these stories,” Minho eventually comments after he’s been thoroughly entertained with stories about how Changbin taught him how to descale a fish and set up rabbit traps.
“Well, he was great at a lot of things,” Han admits. “But—” He cringes, “Don’t tell him I ever said that out loud!”
Minho laughs at the boy’s show of petulance. “How am I going to tell him that when I wouldn’t even recognise him if I met him in the streets?”
“Oh.” Han’s face falls. “That’s true— But I guess I like the idea that he’ll turn up here one day. Either way— I think anything he can do, I can do, too!” He has a more determined, more assertive expression now. He’s even puffing his chest out, like he’s trying to prove something to Minho, who just, once again, laughs at the behavior. He’s beginning to realise how easily amused he is by anything and everything Han does, and Minho decides to blame it on the fact that he’s been traveling alone for far too long and Han is the first reminder he’s had in years how much comfort simple human companionship can offer.
“So Changbin’s the type to have burned his hands without thinking too?” Minho teases.
“Shut up,” Han mumbles, ducking his head just as Minho notices a deep flush spread across his cheeks. “Binnie-hyung took care of me a lot, but if he was good at something, I always felt this big need to be good at it too - so I worked on it. He turned out to be good at surviving, so in the end, I learned how to be good at that too.”
Han sounds confused by Minho’s choice of adjective, and quite frankly, Minho is too. Furthermore, he can’t believe he actually said the word cute out loud.
“Yeah, uh, sorry,” he backtracks quickly, “Reumi’s being cute,” he excuses, picking up the cat who was conveniently resting against his feet.
Not even twenty four hours yet, he has to remind himself for the second time that morning alone. Surely his impression of Han will drastically change soon enough.
The twenty-four hour mark passes soon enough, though, and soon after that Minho is reminding himself that he hasn’t known Han for two days, then three - and then a week passes, and after that, time seems to fly by so quickly that Minho begins to lose count.
At least Han has proven himself to be quite useful. His boastful words at the beginning about learning to be good at survival turn out to be quite truthful because he’s even better than Minho when it comes to hunting local game.
Han was good at basics - he knew how to care for the dead old man’s small garden, and he knew exactly where, when and how to hunt for rabbits and local fowl. If his rashness and eagerness to act first before thinking had him coming home with more cuts and bruises than he should, then it's just his luck that Minho has become something of an expert at cleaning and dressing wounds.
Maybe it’s because in these bleak, empty days, even a week can feel like a lifetime, but whatever it is, he soon becomes well aware that he and Han (and Reumi) have not just been coexisting together, but actually depending on each other.
It’s dangerous, trusting someone so quickly like this, but maybe Han’s own trusting nature is simply far too contagious. He has to keep reminding himself to be consciously wary - even his two years with Chan (who is a story for another time, another memory that he’s boxed up and put away for another day) wasn’t this easy, and it certainly took Minho more than a few days to feel relaxed around him.
After around fifteen days - maybe more, maybe less, he’s stopped marking time again - Minho wakes up in the middle of the night to Han crouching by his side, looking down at him with big, puppy-like eyes.
“What do you need?” He asks, sleepy and confused. He probably should be more freaked out, all things considered (You’ve barely known him a week, says that constantly nagging voice at the back of his head), but it doesn’t because it’s Han and for some reason Minho feels so at ease with him.
“Hyung,” Han whispers. “Can I sleep with you?”
Minho wants to say no, fuck off, go to sleep except he finds that he’s shifting and making room under his ratty blanket for Han to fit himself into.
“Thank you, hyung,” Han whispers, his voice a little shaky, breathy, as he fits himself against Minho’s side.
“Go to sleep,” Minho mumbles, not wanting to sound like he actually cares, but when he wakes up a couple of hours later, he finds that his arms are both protectively wrapped around Han’s smaller frame, as if he’d unconsciously gotten worried in the middle of the night that someone was going to take his new companion away.
This unnerves him, and he’s quick to unwrap himself from Han. When the boy starts to toss and turn, he feels a little guilty so he picks Reumi up from where she’d been sleeping just a few feet away, and he lays her down next to Han. The sleeping boy stirs as the cat curves against him, and Minho freezes like a criminal caught red-handed.
“Hyung?” Han grumbles, and Minho can only sigh.
“It’s morning,” he mumbles. “I’m going to get the fire started and boil some water. You sleep some more.”
“Okay,” Han answers. He still has his eyes closed anyway, and Minho assumes he’s not even really awake yet.
“Take care of him,” he finds himself saying to Reumi who just purrs in response before turning away from him. It makes Minho laugh - even the cat thinks he’s being ridiculous.
He can’t help it though; he’s starting to think that Han, with his easygoing nature and bright smiles that are so out of place in this end of days, just might be the most dangerous person Minho has met in his lifetime.
After a month passes (maybe more, maybe less - time really has become relative because at this point Minho feels like it’s been a year, but he’s sure it isn’t), Minho takes Han with him to the 'town market;’ quotation marks because the term is relative now that human population has dwindled. These days the market is just wherever people decide to gather so they can exchange goods and services - it's also where Minho is able to do his best work.
He might be used to traveling alone but he still knows how to work his charms; Minho’s greatest survival skill, as it had turned out, is his ability to worm his way into anyone’s good graces even with just the bat of an eyelash. Despite all the metaphorical walls he’s built around himself, Minho is pretty good at making people like him and this helps especially when it comes to bartering - he always manages to position himself on the better end of deals and trades. This, however, is also why he prefers traveling than settling. The more you see the same people, the more they think they know you, and the more they expect from you. Besides, new people always meant newer and better exchanges can keep being made.
“So where are we going?” Han asks, initially balancing along the cracked edges of the sidewalk before finally hopping off it and bumping his hip against Minho’s before he joins the latter in carelessly walking down the middle of the long since forsaken road.
“The trading market,” Minho answers without resistance. “I’m swapping you for two chickens and a nice warm blanket.”
“Hyung!” Han gapes at him, like he truly believes Minho’s words, and Minho has bit the inside of his cheek to stop himself from laughing. It’s been like this a lot recently - where Minho used to have a hard time wearing any expression that wasn’t tired or stoic, these days, with Han around, his facial muscles have actually been getting ample exercise.
Han takes two large steps sideways and almost trips as he does so - this time, Minho doesn’t hold back when thunderous laughter rises up from his chest.
“Hyung,” Han whines, pouting so naturally, so cutely that this time Minho has to fight the urge to pull him towards him and squeeze the younger in his arms. Instead he settles for reaching out and grabbing Han’s wrist.
“Stay close,” he barks in between snorting and wheezing. He tugs at Han’s wrist, pulling him closer before he loosens his hold, and casually slides his hand properly into the younger’s. “Don’t get lost,” he adds, never mind that the actual chances of them losing each other in a pretty much abandoned city is slim to none.
Once they get to the market, now situated near the river, there are even fewer people hanging around than Minho expected. The old lady he promised a kilo of sweet potatoes in exchange for fresh eggs is around, and so is the boy who rents his fishing boat out for an hour at a time to the highest bidder - they’re the ones he’s there to see anyway.
“Jeongin!” He calls out, still pulling Han along with him as he heads towards the makeshift pier where a small fishing boat is docked.
“Lee Know-hyung!” A serious looking young man with sharp cheekbones and small eyes waves back; and then he smiles, his entire face lighting up at once after Minho approaches with Han.
“Here are the promised canned goods,” Minho says, finally letting go of Han’s hand so that he can pull out three cans with no labels out of his old backpack.
“Wait!” Han screeches, arms flailing when Minho starts to hand the goods over. Both Minho and the Jeongin boy turn to look at him, both of them wearing identical confused expressions. “Those have long gone bad,” he interjects, hands gesturing at the small tins.
Minho and Jeongin exchange knowing looks before bursting into synchronized laughter.
“What— What?!” Han glares at both of them; this time he’s the one looking perplexed.
“Where’d you pick this one up, hyung?” Jeongin asks; now that he’s smiling, he appears much more harmless, and yet his words still have some bite in them. “He’s a smart one.”
“Han,” Minho turns to him, a small, amused smile dancing on his lips. “You realise that the last factories pretty much shut down around five years ago - anyone with a brain realises that any canned food in circulation now is very likely past their shelf date.”
“And I’m not an idiot,” Jeongin interjects. “But you know what they say about these things anyway - best before, better after!” He laughs at this while Minho rolls his eyes even as Jeongin continues, “And also - spoiled food in this economy? Least of our problems.”
“No, I know that!” Han snarls, but there’s a tinge of sheepishness in his eyes. “I just— I thought—” he groans and turns to shoot Minho a glare; he supposes it should feel threatening, but Minho finds himself coughing back more laughter instead. “I thought Lee Know-hyung was trying to trick you, and— well.” He pauses and squints at Jeongin, as if now that he’s gotten a better look at the boy, he’s rethinking his decision. “You seemed… softer, and more innocent an entire minute ago,” Han ends up concluding in a mumbling manner.
“Wait— oi!” Minho lightly pinches Han’s arm. “Even if I was tricking someone you’re supposed to be on my side! This is my livelihood here - watch and learn how to get good deals out of people!”
Jeongin is laughing at both of them now, especially as Han seems to shrink even more in place. “I’m sorry hyung,” he mewls, now tugging at Minho’s sleeve. “I’m up for tricking people but not innocent, hapless children!”
“I’m not a child,” Jeongin asserts, at the exact same time that Minho says, “Jeongin is far from innocent.”
The two of them exchange another knowing look before Minho goes on,
“Hardly anyone is innocent these days,” Minho points out. “Except maybe you,” he adds, amused as he reaches out to ruffle Han’s already messy hair.
“Stop!” Han complains, pushing Minho’s hand away immediately even though a pleased, goofy-looking smile has formed on his lips. “I’m not— I’ve done… stuff.”
Minho doesn’t doubt this; he hasn’t forgotten Han’s story about his first feral kill, and he’s sure that to have survived all these years, Han has definitely seen and done a lot of things that most eighteen year olds wouldn’t have had to back in the day. Still, there was something so inherently pure about Han that Minho couldn’t begin to describe - maybe it’s just the way he’s so transparent. Han is the first person in a while that Minho has met, who wears their emotions on their sleeve. It would be refreshing if it wasn’t also worrying in its unusualness.
“Sure you have, hyung,” Jeongin pipes up. He’s humoring Han, which has Minho consciously turning his attention on him. “Do you want to go fishing? I’ll give you a discount - two and a half hours, in exchange for…” He trails off, and Minho knows this is because he’s observing Han and figuring out what he can take from Han.
“I picked some berries on the way here,” Han offers. “They’re newly ripe, and they taste really good—”
“No, stop,” Minho interrupts, shaking his head, and stepping forward as he gives Jeongin a stern look. “You can offer Jeongin the berries in exchange for something else.”
“Would be nice to have some fish, though, hyung!” Han counters. “For a change.”
Jeongin continues to smile, pearly whites showing, as he nods in agreement. “For a change, hyung,” he echoes Han’s words in a sing-song manner.
Minho can’t help but snort. “You and I both know your offer is shit - there are no fishes to be caught on this side of the river - don’t give me those puppy dog eyes, Jeongin!” He laughs, and he doesn’t know if it’s from the put-upon woeful look that the boy is giving him, or the surprise that Han wears on his face.
“Wait, so— no fish for dinner?” Han asks, looking quite disappointed as if he’d already been assuming he would have caught a feast.
“Jeongin’s the biggest scammer this side of Busan,” Minho scoffs, but his tone has more hints of pride in it, rather than disdain.
“Can’t be bigger than you, hyung,” Jeongin laughs.
“It’s not my fault people love me, and would only ever make great deals with me.”
“I mean - I can say the same, hyung.”
“True—” Minho laughs and shakes his head. “But I’ll be on my way soon enough, so you can keep the title.”
“Wait—” Han interrupts. He’d been quietly following the banter, eyes just darting back and forth the two. “On your way? Soon enough? Where to—?”
Minho momentarily freezes; he’s forgotten that he’s never really mentioned anything to Han about one day resuming his nomadic lifestyle. It’s not easy to, considering every time he even thinks about it, he finds that he has a hard time imagining leaving Han behind. And then it all becomes a confusing jumble of thoughts so he pushes it all aside, while telling himself he’ll deal with it one day. Eventually.
“Nowhere,” he finds himself answering; even now, especially now, with Han giving him a bemused look, he’s thinking he can easily stay settled for a couple more weeks.
“Well, whichever the case,” Jeongin interrupts. “My uncle says you should stop by one of these days. He’s done and made comfortable coats out of the rabbit skin you traded with him the last time so now he thinks he owes you. I don’t feel the same, but,” he shrugs, chuckling. “Whatever. He says you should come and have some spicy grilled fish - says you can’t live on sweet potatoes alone.”
“See—” Minho grins. “Even your uncle loves me, and only wants good things for me. We’ll drop by in the next few days - I’m bringing Han, because the rabbit fur was from his kill, anyway.”
“Hey,” Minho sits down next to Han after they get back to their abandoned building. (Minho almost calls it ‘home’ in his head, except he catches himself at the last second, and like many other things recently, he files it away for later unpacking.)
“Hyung,” Han greets him, immediately making room beside him for Minho to settle into. He’d just been watching the fire while quietly munching on goat jerky that they’d managed to trade some herbs for, earlier at the market. He looks tired, and it certainly has been a long day, but Han still manages to put a genuine smile on when Minho joins him. “You want some?” He asks, offering the half eaten piece of dried meat in his hand.
Minho hums, his knee bumping against Han’s as he shakes his head. He’s not really that hungry, and he’d already snacked on some berries on the way back. “I have something for you,” he tells Han, because that’s his actual purpose. “I got you something at the market.”
“For me?” Han’s face lights up in surprise, and this is exactly why Minho had made this particular trade in stealth - he wanted to watch the fascinating way Han changes expressions within a split second. He excitedly shoves the rest of the jerky in his mouth, which makes Minho laugh, but then he unceremoniously wipes his palms on his pants right after, which makes Minho shake his head.
“You’re gross,” he comments, to which Han just beams, and replies,
“Sure, but you love me anyway.”
It’s such an innocent and carefree comment - not much thought was put into it, and it’s obvious from the way it just slides off Han’s tongue with no shame. It strikes Minho hard, though, and the laughter that comes out of him sounds just as forced as it feels.
“Bold comment,” he manages to shoot back with a shake of his head, and light, repeated punches to Han’s arm.
“What’s that for, ah!” Han groans, and tries to move away from Minho - only to almost lose his balance. Lucky for him, Minho has honed his quick reflexes and he manages to slide his arm around Han’s waist to keep him steady.
“Stop being so frisky, geez,” Minho berates him, as he boldly pulls the younger close. He notices Han’s breath hitch, and a shade of red spread across his cheeks, but he thinks maybe that’s just due to the illumination of the firelight so he consciously ignores it. “Be still,” he instructs, Han’s slow exhalation as he carefully unwraps his arm not lost on him.
“Well—” Han squeaks. “Well,” he repeats after clearing his throat. “What’s the thing you got for me, hyung?”
“Oh. Right—” Minho chuckles; he’d almost forgotten the whole point of this exchange. “Wait a sec,” he mumbles, unzipping his bag only to pull out a used moleskine notebook out of it. Several pages have been ripped at the start of it - used pages taken out by the original owner, most likely, but the rest of it, despite the slight discoloration of the paper, is blank. “I got this from the old lady with the eggs,” he explains as he hands it over to Han.
“For me?” Han’s eyes grow wide as he takes it, immediately flipping through the pages. He looks confused, and Minho almost wants to reach over and pinch his full cheeks.
“This, too,” he continues, this time pulling out a small pouch containing old, broken crayons.
“Wait, what— why?” Han is definitely taken aback, which is exactly what Minho expects him to be.
“I’ve seen you doodling in that old ratty notebook of yours,” Minho explains with a shrug. He’s never actually gotten a good look at the contents, but he’s caught glimpses here or there, from over Han’s shoulder. He’s pretty sure that old thing is out of pages because the last time, he’d noticed Han sketching something in the literal corner of a page. “Also,” he continues, “I know you’ve really just been using charcoaled tips of bush sticks, so—” He shrugs again.
Han’s eyes, suddenly bigger and shinier than Minho ever remembers them being, are trained on Minho. “Hyung…” He trails off, as if he’s going to choke on his own gratefulness if he continues.
“Don’t cry, Han-ah, what the f—” He shakes his head disapprovingly, but he chuckles softly anyway when Han bumps his head against his shoulder. “What are you doing?” He asks, slightly turning his head to get a better look at his companion.
“Thank you, hyung,” Han mumbles, briefly nuzzling his nose against Minho’s shoulder before pulling away with a sigh. “This is sweet, and perfect, and— how did you even know that old lady had these?” He looks down, checking each piece of broken crayon with care.
“Hmm,” Minho hums, barely realising what he’s doing as he reaches over to fondly pat the back of Han’s head. “She used to tell me really fond stories about her grandkid drawing pictures of their big family.” He pauses, holding back a sigh as he recalls how broken the woman would always sound when she tells those stories, but Minho listened anyway, never showing his discomfort at how personal it all seemed. It helped that the woman also always managed to smile at the end of each story, as if it actually felt good for her in the end, to be able to share those memories, despite it also being difficult. “I figured, if anything, she probably kept some things of his - and it was a shot in the dark, but the last time I asked about drawing materials, and I was right.”
“Hyung—” Han is looking at him with a smile that Minho can’t read. “You’re sweet like that - you always listen when people talk, and you neatly file away information in your brain and—”
Minho laughs. “Information is a special kind of tool,” he points out.
“It’s not that, hyung,” Han shakes his head. “I think it’s more than that. I think you’re sweet on people - I think you listen because you know people like to be heard.”
Minho pauses, his forehead creasing as he dissects Han’s words. “I—” He starts, but he’s interrupted by Han’s loud laughter.
“You’re just going to deny it,” Han declares. “So I’m just going to—” Grinning, the younger male suddenly throws both of his arms around Minho, giving him a squeeze and staying like that for several seconds before he pulls away with a sheepish grin. “I think you’re a great person, hyung. Thank you — for this, and for letting me stick around here even though you could have chased me away a long time ago.”
It takes at least another week before Han voluntarily shows Minho his art.
He starts by shyly handing over a torn page from the notebook - Lee Knows Everything , is what the drawing is labelled as.
“Is this supposed to be me?” Minho asks, squinting at it. The sketch itself is a bit rough - Han mostly used brown and orange crayons, but somehow there’s something delicate and beautiful about the lines.
“I don’t usually… draw people,” Han mumbles. “I mean, I do, but—” He laughs. “I’ll show you.”
He sits down across Minho, and without another word, he hands over his notebook - the old one that’s practically falling apart at the seams. He cracks it open, and he was right in assuming that there’s barely any space left in it for Han to draw in because every page, ever corner, every margin has something drawn or written on it.
A chuckle escapes him when he finally understands what Han was talking about. The notebook is filled with pages upon pages of comic style art, and as Minho flips through the pages, he notices that a cute little cartoon squirrel is front and center most of the time - this is how he realizes that the notebook, more than anything else, is actually Han’s journal.
“This is a diary,” Minho points out aloud, his tone teasing, even though he actually feels kind of awed. “And the cute squirrel is you,” he adds. A deep blush spreads across Han’s cheeks, which Minho finds really cute. More than that, though, he’s a bit touched that Han is actually sharing this with him.
“So where am I in this?” Minho asks, quickly turning to the end and squinting at the mish mash of images to try and figure out how he figures in Han’s drawn out thoughts. “Is this supposed to be me?” He asks, pointing at a long-faced Invader Zim looking caricature; he frowns - he isn’t sure how it could be him, but the character is featured quite prominently in most of the book. “Oh wait—” He realises something, which makes him laugh. “This is Changbin.”
Han nods, his laughter mixing in with Minho’s. “Over here is you,” Han says, moving to sit next to Minho, and turning the pages himself until he reaches a page near the end. He points to a cartoon boy drawn with big eyes and kitten lips. “Shit—” Han huffs, his eyes growing big right before he quickly snatches the book away from Minho’s hands; it’s as if he’s just realised something embarrassing that Minho, for once, had been too slow to notice himself. “That’s enough of this for now, hyung,” he declares with a nervous laugh.
Minho opens his mouth, partly wanting to protest and tease the younger, but Han suddenly looks so uncharacteristically self-conscious that he decides to let it go with a simple pinch to one of his cheeks. If anything, Minho at least knows when to respect a person’s right to their private thoughts.
“My point is!” Han declares, his voice a little louder than usual as if he’s forcing them both to move past that brief awkward moment. “I don’t usually draw realistic art,” he continues in a more mumbly voice, hand gesturing at the drawing he’d originally presented Minho with.
“Are you saying I’m special, then?” Minho asks, teasing Han, even as he looks down at the paper he held, carefully taking in the sketch with his eyes, and smiling appreciatively when he turns to look at Han again.
“Don’t— don’t put words in my mouth, hyung!” Han actually stammers, and his cheeks are an even deeper shade of red now.
“Do you have one of Changbin?” His own question surprises Minho, mostly because he doesn’t realise how curious he is about the oft-mentioned male until now. “Or am I supposed to think he’s some alien looking guy with a long face?” He asks, chuckling as he references the caricature-like character that featured so heavily in Han’s art journal.
A weird feeling settles at the pit of his stomach while he waits for Han to answer. He’s unable to identify it at first, until he notices that the red on Han’s cheeks have disappeared, instead replaced by a bright smile.
It’s jealousy, he pinpoints mentally. He’s feeling jealous of a guy that he doesn’t know, that he’s never met, and it’s all because of the way Han looks and sounds when he talks about him. It makes Minho cringe inwardly - jealousy is an emotion he hasn’t felt in so long. Hard to, when he’s barely around people long enough to feel anything like it.
“Alien looking with a long face,” Han repeats, entirely oblivious to Minho’s internal musings. He’s laughing now, hands clapping together excitedly as if he’s recalling hilarious memories. “That sounds about right!”
“So,” Minho drones on, forcing a chuckle out of himself. He’s being incredibly petty with his jealousy, and it makes him uncomfortable. Lucky for him, he’s always been good at masking emotions. “You have a sketch of this Changbin guy?” Of this Changin person that you treat so much like a hero, he almost says, but he manages to at least bite his tongue on that. It sounds so passive aggressive in his head, although he bets Han wouldn’t have noticed anyway.
“No.” Han shrugs. “Not really.”
Minho arches an eyebrow. “So I am special then,” he pushes, a playful grin curved on his lips. He might be confused at the effect that Han has on him, but that’s not going to stop him from poking at Han in an attempt to get a reaction of some sort.
Han’s breath hitches, but the way he exhales after is slow and deliberate, like it’s some kind of technique he learned long ago, to perform whenever he needs to stall and think.
“I love Binnie-hyung,” Han starts, and Minho cringes as he thinks about how easily and carelessly Han throws that word around. “He taught me a lot, and I still wonder about him, and I hope that he’s doing well, but— he wasn’t beautiful like you.” Han’s tone gets softer and softer, until he’s practically whispering at the end of his statement. “I drew you because I always want to remember your face, hyung.”
As usual, there’s something really shy, but sincere in how he speaks and Minho is unsure how to react. This type of candor feels foreign to Minho now, where every single person he’s met in his travels are like him, with all their defenses up. Han is such an open book, and ironically, it’s exactly this that makes him so hard to read for Minho.
Their eyes meet for a few seconds before Han ducks his head in embarrassment. But, Minho thinks, maybe it’s a good thing that Han turned away like that because that brief moment had almost made him want to do something he isn’t sure he wants to, or Han is ready for him to.
“You never told me why you were on your own when we first met,” Minho carefully starts. “What happened with Changbin?”
“Oh—” Han looks up again, and this time a timid expression is reflected in his eyes. “A couple of months ago, he decided that he wanted to go up north because he’d heard news about his sister. I—” He sighs. “We were traveling south before that, and I wanted to keep traveling south. I guess a part of me also wanted to see if I can make it by myself. Is that silly? I’ve always felt guilty, in a way - like I should have gone with Binnie-hyung and helped him out with his search for his sister, but—”
“I guess I really wanted to find out what I’m capable of doing by myself.”
“Don’t worry, I understand,” Minho tells him with an affectionate pat on his head. “You’re not by yourself now, though.”
“No— I’m not. I’m with you, hyung, and you made me realise that I was done with being alone,” Han smiles shyly, like he’s unsure if he’s allowed to admit that.
Jisung’s words ring in his ears, and he chuckles softly. Truthfully, a part of him is relieved; he’d been expecting the worst, worrying that Changbin might be dead or something equally traumatizing. In a way, he’s glad that it was Han’s decision to leave Changbin.
“Han,” Minho gently calls for his attention; his hand moves of its own accord, reaching over to cup the younger’s chin, tilting it up and making Han face him again. He wants to say something, anything, but the words aren’t coming to him. So he does the next thing that comes to mind - he leans in and simply plants his mouth on Han’s.
His hand moves from Han’s chin, palm settling on his cheek instead as his lips coaxes Han’s to part. The younger male feels rigid at first, and Minho has to pull away a little so he can whisper, “Is this okay?”
All Han does is answer with a whimper and a small nod, but these are more than enough for Minho to move in again, this time applying more pressure into the kiss. Han is more ready this time, his mouth quick to part against Minho’s; it’s obvious that he doesn’t have much experience, and Minho hates himself for thinking - hoping - that this means he hasn’t done much of this with Changbin.
Tongues and teeth join the action soon enough and Minho pushes every other thought to the back of his head because right now, Han is all that matters. Han and the way his tongue is a little too eager in exploring the walls of Minho’s mouth - but it doesn’t matter, because when Minho moves his free hand to squeeze Han’s knee, it’s as if the younger immediately knows it’s a signal to slow down. Minho angles his head a bit to the side, and Han immediately moves to accommodate him. He might not be as experienced, but Han seems to be a quick study - that or they fit so well that he’s able to naturally anticipate what Minho wants from him.
When Han moans into his mouth, Minho feels something tighten in his chest - Han sounds so good, and Minho wants to ask for more but all he ends up doing is pulling away once more under the pretense of needing some air.
Han is flushed, he observes now that they’re apart. His eyes look dazed and his face is a deeper shade of red than Minho’s ever seen on him before, and his lips look indecently plump - fuller than usual. They make Minho want to swoop in again and claim them, nip at them and slide his tongue across them, but he holds back for now because he knows that if he makes another move, it’ll be hard to stop at just a kiss.
“Lee Know-hyung,” Han practically exhales his name, right before he swipes his own tongue along his bottom lip.
Minho has to clench his fist, and take a deep breath to make sure he doesn’t give in.
“Minho,” he finds himself saying instead. Wrinkles form on Han’s forehead out of confusion, and Minho realises that he himself is a little breathless when he clarifies, “Lee Minho. That’s my real name.”
“Oh!” Han’s eyes grow wide at the realisation that he’d been calling Minho a fake name all this time; and then he relaxes, and a wide smile forms on his face. “Han Jisung. I’m Han Jisung. Call me Jisung—” He cuts himself off, laughing because he likely realised that he’s suddenly rambling. “Jisung,” he repeats after a deep breath. “That’s my real name.”
It’s Jisung who initiates it when it next happens, just a couple of nights after the first time they kissed.
“Hyung, I can’t sleep,” he complains, poking at Minho’s side after he slides under the covers next to him.
“What do you want me to do about that?” Minho asks. “Sing you a lullaby?” He’s being sarcastic, but when he turns to face Jisung, there’s something in his eyes that has Minho reeling. It’s a little bit greedy, and a little bit yearning; he can almost hear the gears in Jisung’s head turning so he waits.
Sure enough, Jisung, impatient as ever, doesn’t wait long before he’s grabbing Minho’s face and pulling him in for a needy kiss. Minho almost laughs because Jisung really is a clumsy kisser, but that feeling passes soon enough because it turns out that Minho is feeling just as eager for this.
Kissing Jisung - and even in his head, Minho easily switches from calling him Han to calling him Jisung, Jisungie, because the name is somehow so fitting for him - becomes a habit. Rather, it becomes a sort of comfort. They don’t even really talk about it, and for that Minho is glad. He’s not sure he’s ready to figure out what any of it means. Like this, he can assume that it naturally happened because they’re two young adults with healthy hormones and a natural desire for some form of physical intimacy.
Besides, they both realise that making out is the best way to pass time. Days suddenly go by faster, and Minho considers that to be a good thing even though they don’t exactly have an actual future to look forward to.
Wandering hands soon also become a common thing, and Minho thinks he really likes the way that Jisung feels under his touch. He feels so small and warm and comfortable and sometimes Minho thinks it’s like every part of them fits so well together - or every part would fit perfectly anyway, except he always finds himself making a conscious decision to stop and pull away every time they start getting a little too far gone.
The pang of disappointment that always appears in Jisung’s eyes never goes unnoticed by Minho; he thinks it’s a good thing that he’s become pretty good at ignoring things he isn’t ready to deal with.
“Did you and Changbin ever…?”
Or maybe he isn’t as great at ignoring things after all, because this thought, this curiosity about the nature of Jisung’s relationship with Changbin has been persistently nagging at him for a while now, even before his first kiss with Jisung.
“Ever?” Jisung looks mildly annoyed and Minho knows it’s more because Minho has just consciously put a stop to another makeout session. “Ever what?”
“Ever—” Minho sighs, straightening himself up into a proper sitting position. “You know. This—” He explains, gesturing between the two of them. “Or—” He swallows and focuses his gaze on his hands. “Maybe more?”
“Huh?” And there it is, the confused look that Jisung should probably have patented by now except, of course, patents are no longer a thing. “More what— oh!”
Minho looks up and meets Jisung’s gaze, quiet as he waits for an answer.
“What the f—” And then Jisung is laughing loudly, obnoxiously, as he vigorously shakes his head. “Fuck, no! He was like a brother to me. It’s not— It wasn’t— It was never like this. I looked up to him, but I never—” He’s tripping all over his words, pausing every now and then as if he’s having a hard time coming up with how to say whatever’s on his mind. “I mean,” he mumbles this time, “I would’ve thought it was obvious—”
“What was that?” Minho isn’t sure of what he’s hearing now. “What was obvious?”
“You know. That I—” Jisung is practically eating his words. “I thought it was obvious that I didn’t really know what I was doing?”
It’s Minho’s turn to laugh because Jisung is right, of course. “Well, for all I know Changbin was just a shitty kisser.” He can joke now that he feels oddly relieved.
“Well, like I said, I wouldn’t know anything about that,” Jisung affirms with a nod. He smiles at Minho, knee bumping against the older’s.
“You were together for over four years weren’t you?” Minho shrugs. “It’s natural to wonder.”
“No— no, no, no!” Jisung laughs. “I miss him but it really creeps me out thinking of him like that. He taught me a lot of things, he helped me turn into a self-sufficient person but it was never like that.”
“Alright,” Minho nods. “Okay.” He finally allows himself to relax, while his hand naturally reaches for Jisung’s. Their fingers thread together, casually but fitting perfectly.
A sudden quiet takes over, with Jisung comfortably leaning close as he rests his head on Minho’s shoulder.
“Wait—” It doesn’t last long though, because with Jisung, silence never actually lasts long unless he’s asleep. “Did you have someone before? Someone who you— you know.”
Jisung looks so young suddenly, and for the first time since he’d entered Minho’s life all those weeks ago, a shadow of insecurity passes over Jisung’s features. He even starts to take his hand away, but Minho is quick to squeeze it tightly in his.
Jisung’s question does allow Minho to look back and think of Chan for the first time in months. Come to think of it, he was around Jisung’s age when he first met the older male, but that meeting definitely wasn’t an encounter that was as smooth as his first one with Jisung had gone - which is saying something considering that the first time he met Jisung, the younger male had held a knife against his back.
“Sorry,” Jisung suddenly apologises, which confuses Minho. “I mean, it’s none of my business, I guess, and of course you’ve had someone—someones? I don’t know. You clearly have some experience, hyung, and it’s none of my business!” He practically says all that in one nervous breath and Minho realises that it’s because he’s taken a minute too long to give an answer.
“Don’t apologise,” he tells Jisung. “I don’t have that much experience,” he clarifies. “But—” He sighs, and turns his head so he can nuzzle the top of Jisung’s head. “There was someone, a while back. But it was different, too.”
He had met Chan two, maybe three years ago; they didn’t really work well together, but if there was anyone he’s met in the last six years that Minho has really looked up to, it would be him. They’d ended up traveling together for almost two years, and he was the longest companion that Minho has ever allowed himself. He was strong, personable, and capable in all kinds of ways Minho wasn’t, and if anything, they lasted together because of their mutual respect for each other.
Their chemistry was a slow burn - mostly because there was little to no natural spark. Most of what happened between them happened more out of hormonal need than anything else. He was eighteen and the most he’d done was jerk himself off while remembering the porn magazines he and Hyunjin had found once when he was 13 (Hyunjin, 11), and they’d gone snooping around his father’s home study.
It just figures that the first person who ever came close to breaking down his walls - appropriately during a time when his sexual curiosity would have been at its peak - would also be the person he’d experience a lot of other firsts with as well.
Now that he’s thinking about this, it dawns on him that it just might be the same for Jisung.
He doesn’t know why his heart drops to his stomach at this realisation.
“Hyung?” Jisung’s voice pierces through his thoughts.
“What?” His tone comes off more snappy than anything else, which has Jisung flinching in surprise.
“Sorry.” The younger one says again, which makes Minho feel bad. “I was just curious.”
“There was someone,” Minho repeats, ignoring the apology and even letting Jisung’s hand go in favor of sliding an arm around his waist instead and pulling him closer. “He taught me a lot of things, too, and I do occasionally wonder how he’s doing. I hope he’s well - when we said goodbye, he was heading up north, while I was making my way down south. It doesn’t matter, really. I respect him, but in everything else, we weren’t really a good fit.”
In the end his separation with Chan was a conscious decision - Minho was the type never to ask for anyone’s help, while Chan was the type who needed someone to care for.
But we’re a good fit, he finds himself thinking instead about Jisung as the younger male melts against his side. It’s a thought that scares Minh, but it's also what he truly feels.
That night all his metaphorical walls crash down, and he finally allows himself to let go and take as much of what Jisung would give.
“Hyung, what’s something you miss?”
It’s another day, same as any and long as usual. The sun is high up and scorching like it’s peak of summer - which is strange, considering they should be entering winter already.
Or, Minho thinks, he could very well be mistaken as days, weeks and months have all bled together, and who really knows what month and year it is now anyway? Either way, the sun is high up and scorching and Minho and Jisung had taken a two mile trek to the nearest beach.
“Something— anything, from our lives before. From normalcy.”
The words fall off Jisung’s lips as they sit together near the shore, toes digging into the warm sand, and elbows barely grazing against each other’s.
“You’re assuming that life was normal for me before— before all of this,” Minho retorts with a nudge to Jisung’s side, his tone implying that he was living a downtrodden life way back when.
“Oh— oh!” Jisung looks surprised and troubled, which actually has Minho feeling a little guilty for his nonchalant comment. “I’m sorry.”
The truth is that he lived the most ‘normal’ life one can lead back then: he had a very tight-knit nuclear family made of him, his two parents who were very much happy together, and two pet cats who Minho considered his siblings. They lived in a nice, spacious apartment in Gimpo which they could afford because his father had a job that paid well. He went to school, and had grades that were above average enough to make his parents proud even though he wasn’t really at the top of his class. He had friends, great childhood friends in Seungmin and Hyunjin who were both younger than him but who always had his back anyway. Now, more than ever, he couldn’t recall a single thing from his Life Before that he could categorise as Out of Ordinary.
“What are you apologising for?” He asks, laughing as he gives Jisung another playful nudge. “I’m kidding - I lived a pretty average life. I guess that’s something I miss. Getting by with mediocrity,” he says jokingly, before he lets out a more wistful sigh.
Something that he misses - it’s a pretty broad category. He misses a lot; he definitely misses normalcy. He misses his bed, he misses his home, his family, his friends. He misses his mother’s kimchi, and he misses the way his father used to check his math homework for him. He misses so many things that he almost gets choked up just thinking of an answer to Jisung’s very simple question, and this is precisely why he always tries to look ahead, instead of back.
Beside him, Jisung makes a humming sound as he falls back onto the sand, arms flailing as if he’s trying to create some kind of sand angel. “I miss cake,” he says suddenly as soon as he stops moving his arms. “I miss delicious food in general, but mostly I miss cake. Moist and decadent chocolate cake with thick, fudge icing, and maybe some caramel piping.”
He sighs, and Minho can’t help but sigh along. He hasn’t thought about chocolate in so long, but now that Jisung is bringing it up, he can feel his mouth watering just at the thought.
“The thing is,” Jisung continues, “I used to always ask for cheesecake. I always had cheesecake. But now, it’s like I always just want to have chocolate cake. Isn’t that funny?” Minho gives him a pointed look, and Jisung ends up laughing by himself. “I guess it’s not funny funny. I just say it is because the alternative is being depressed over the lack of chocolate in my life. I’m so sick and tired of rabbit jerky at this point,” he adds right before he makes a gagging expression.
“Better than dying of hunger,” Minho points out as he falls back on the sand to lay next to Jisung.
“Better than dying of hunger,” Jisung agrees with a sigh. “But hyung—” He’s put on his whiny tone now, and he’s poking at Minho’s arm repeatedly. “Now I miss pizza.”
“Jisung!” Minho groans. “Stop—” He’s trying to sound reprimanding, but he’s also laughing. “I miss everything. I miss everyone,” he admits.
“Hyung—” Jisung’s tone is suddenly softer now, and from the corner of his eye, Minho notices that Jisung has shifted and turned to his side so that he’s facing Minho. “Tell me about everyone. You know, when I was a kid I really didn’t have a best friend, so I guess I never had a best friend— Or. Huh. I guess Changbin-hyung counts, huh? But before him, before all of this - I always had a lot of friends, but never a best friend. I just got along great with everyone, and I thought that was all that was important.” Jisung is rambling, as he tends to do - as Minho tends to let him do. He likes it when Jisung talks, when Jisung’s thoughts just spill out one after another - occasionally altogether - like he has no filter. Like he trusts Minho completely and fully with every idea, musing, and memory he has to share. “Did you have a best friend? Best friends, maybe, plural?”
A brief frown touches Minho’s features; Jisung has been getting bolder and nosier with his questions recently. It always gives Minho pause, but ultimately he finds himself answering every time, like he can’t deny Jisung anything - even details of his old life.
“I had Seungmin,” he shares. “But Seungmin had Hyunjin, so I kind of had Hyunjin too.”
“Seungmin? Hyunjin? Giving me their names doesn’t really tell me anything,” Jisung points out in a jokingly cheeky manner.
The remark earns him a light jab to his stomach and an eye roll from Minho. “Shut up and let me talk then.”
Jisung grins and moves closer, grabbing Minho’s wrist so he can forcibly pull his arm around his own body in a warm hug. “Okay, continue.”
“Seungmin lived next door so I knew him practically from when he was a baby, and I was a toddler— they were your age, by the way.” A smile has made its way to his lips, and he feels that for the first time in so long, that reminiscing like this isn’t so bad. “He met Hyunjin in kindergarten after I started attending first grade, and he started having Hyunjin over so frequently so I got to know him pretty well, too. When everyone saw them together, everyone thought that Hyunjin was the loud, outgoing one, and that Seungmin was the shy type who followed him around, but—” He laughs, and damn, he thinks, because despite that constant pang of missing them, it surprisingly feels good to remember his friends now. “But really, it was Hyunjin who hung on to every word Seungmin had to say. Seungmin was kind of the smart one, in our group—”
“I’d have thought you were the smart one,” Jisung interjects, his warm breathing tickling the side of Minho’s neck as he rests his chin on Minho’s shoulder. “Were you the pretty one, then?” He asks, teasing, but with an underlying tone of earnestness.
“No, that was Hyunjin.”
“Hard to believe anyone else would be the pretty one when you’re around.”
Minho bursts into laughter; Jisung sounds like he’s feeding him lip service, but this is Jisung and by now he finally feels like he’s known him long enough to be aware that Jisung always speaks from the bottom of his heart - even when he’s being sappy like this.
“Hard to believe, I know,” he comments back, chuckling and closing his eyes because he doesn’t want to look at Jisung right now. If he does, Minho knows he’s just going to want to kiss him, but if he does that then this conversation will end, and apparently he isn’t ready for this conversation to end.
“So which one were you then, hyung?” Jisung grins and playfully wiggles his eyebrows.
“I—” Minho laughs, pausing as he quickly tries to come up with the right answer. “I was the wild card.”
Jisung snorts, and Minho laughs even more. “Sounds appropriate,” Jisung comments. “Sounds like you,” he adds, and this time Minho doesn’t fight the urge to lean in and brush his lips against Jisung’s.
He keeps the kiss brief yet sweet, topping it off with a quick peck on the tip of Jisung’s nose before he pulls away.
“Hyung,” Jisung whines; already he looks flushed, and Minho can’t help but laugh yet again.
“You’re so needy,” he teases, to which Jisung answers with a scoff. “Do you want to see something?”
Jisung’s interest is piqued, and for now he seems to forget that he wants more kisses. Minho sits up, and Jisung follows suit.
“What is it, hyung?”
Minho doesn’t answer verbally, and instead he just grabs his backpack. It’s really old and he has patched it up more than a few times over the last six years, and sewing isn’t exactly a skill that he learned properly so it’s not really polished work. The bag remains usable, at least, which is what’s important.
He opens it and unzips an inner pocket where he pulls out his even older passport book. He doesn’t know why he keeps it - the picture on it was taken from when he was barely eleven years old, so it hardly even looks like him now. In some ways, it’s a way to remind him of who he was, just like the other two pictures that he has tucked amidst the pages of his old passport.
“Here,” he says, taking those pictures out and sharing them with Jisung. One is obviously older, more faded - it features a young, happy couple in beautiful traditional clothing. Behind them, funnily enough, is a Christmas tree.
“These are my parents,” Minho explains, his smile pained, his tone wistful. “They got married on Christmas Day.”
Jisung holds the picture closer to his face, eyes squinting as he studies it carefully. “Hyung, you look so much like your mother. I think you have your father’s nose but— everything else… definitely from your mother.”
Minho hums, nodding. He used to hear that a lot, that he looks like his mother. He used to hear it so much that at one point, he almost hated it. He realises now that he’s missed hearing it, and he’s grateful to have Jisung point it out.
“Thanks,” he says with a smile. “She was beautiful.”
In the second picture, he’s around twelve. He was flanked on each side by Seungmin and Hyunjin, and behind them was a row of cherry blossom trees almost in full bloom. It was Hyunjin’s birthday so the three of them had rode their bicycles to the Han River, where Minho had boldly asked a stranger to take their photograph.
“This is Hyunjin?” Jisung asks, correctly guessing when he points at the boy on Minho right. When Minho nods, Jisung just chuckles. “I was right.”
“Right? About what?”
“You being the pretty one, hyung.”
Minho laughs and pinches Jisung’s cheek. “You’re talking like—”
He’s about to tell Jisung that he sounds like the leading men in the old romantic comedies that Seungmin and Hyunjin both enjoyed watching, smooth but greasy, but before he could finish the sentence, Jisung interrupts,
“Wait! This is Seungmin, then?” He points at the other boy before squinting even harder at the photograph. “He’s— I think I’ve met him.” He takes a few more seconds to study the photograph before nodding with affirmation. “That’s him, definitely - with a few more years on him. A bit more scruff, and a bit less baby fat, but that’s him.”
“You mean before?” Minho looks surprised, only because he assumes he knew everyone who was in Seungmin’s life when they were young.
But then Jisung shakes his head, and Minho is even more surprised. Seungmin’s family has always been pretty well off; his father was a prosecutor with ties to the government which had enabled them the privilege of being one of the first few families to evacuate Seoul. The last he’s heard they’d flown to Jeju - or another country, even. Minho has no idea what really happened.
Jisung shrugs. “A year ago? I think that was somewhere in the old Incheon area. He was with this other guy—”
Minho perks up, “Hyunjin?”
Jisung shakes his head again. “Yongbok. He spoke in funny Korean and it was weird at first, but then I found out that he actually grew up somewhere else - Australia? And he was just here, visiting his grandma when the outbreak hit and—” He cringes. “He never talks about it, but I’m pretty sure he watched his grandma die. That alone is shitty enough, but imagine not knowing what happened to the rest of your family…” He trails off and sighs. “He always had a smile on his face though, and we got along really great. Seungmin, on the other hand - the only time his smile ever reached his eyes was with Yongbokie around. Otherwise, he always looked like he experienced a whole lot of things that he never really talked about. He sure loved to boss all of us around though—” Jisung laughs softly. “But at least he was efficient, and he got things done, so no one really complained. So yeah, Binnie-hyung and I, we stayed with Seungmin and Yongbok for a couple of months before going our separate ways.”
Minho is just quiet; he doesn’t know what to say, or how to feel. On one hand, hearing that Seungmin has survived the worst of all of it - it feels good. On the other hand, Jisung hasn’t mentioned anything about Seungmin’s family, so he can only guess and assume what happened to them. He misses his friend - one of his best friends - and now he’s wondering what the odds are of ever seeing him again.
He wonders about Hyunjin, now, too. He’s even more clueless about the fate of his other friend. Once, after both of his parents had passed, he’d made his way to Hyunjin’s house, only to find it abandoned, with no hint whatsoever as to what could have happened to them, or where they could have gone.
He feels his chest tightening and it gets harder to breathe as all of the worries and memories he’s pushed back all these years come rushing forward.
“Hyung?” Jisung whispers, moving closer as if to get a better look at Minho’s face; the latter turns away, not wanting Jisung to notice the tears welling up, and threatening to fall from his eyes. “Hyung,” Jisung repeats softly, sighing as he leans away.
And then Minho feels Jisung sliding his hand into his, their fingers threading together before Jisung gives him a comforting squeeze. It’s a very simple action, yet it does what it means to do because it makes Minho feel consoled, and more relaxed. He exhales carefully, and then he turns his head to smile fondly at Jisung.
“I’m fine, don’t worry,” he assures the younger. “It’s just kind of funny - the world feels bigger with less people, and yet it’s still really small.”
“We should probably get going back,” Minho declares.
The horizon is now a deep orange, with the sun setting behind it. He and Jisung have spent hours doing nothing and everything, from running around the beach to splashing in the water. Minho is tired, but he feels good, better, even, than he has in a long while.
“Wait, no—” Jisung is quick to make an ‘X’ with his arms. “Not yet!”
“Jisungie, it’s late.” Minho secretly wants to indulge Jisung, but he’s tired, and he doesn’t want to walk back home feeling even more worn out than he already is.
“Let’s stay here for the night, hyung,” Jisung pleads, eyes big and button like, and Minho is so fucking weak. “Reumi can take care of herself for one night - she’s a wildcat.”
Minho laughs, and his resolve visibly weakens.
“Besides,” Jisung continues, and now Minho is able to notice the spark of mischief in his eyes, “I came prepared.”
Minho watches curiously as Jisung plops himself down on the sand and proceeds to tear open his bag. He had noticed that morning that it appeared to be extremely bulky for a simple day trip to the beach, but he hadn’t questioned it out loud. Now he finds it’s because Jisung has carefully wrapped two glass jars in the blanket they use at night.
“Is that hooch?!” He asks incredulously. “Jisung what the fuck—?”
“Have you ever gotten drunk, hyung?” Jisung asks, grinning impishly.
“Where did you even get it from?” He asks, not bothering to answer Jisung’s question.
“Traded with Jeongin,” Jisung explains casually, like he’s just relaying the most obvious answer.
“Wait, hold up— you traded with Jeongin? When?!”
“The other day?” Jisung shrugs as if it doesn’t matter. “Remember last week when I brought home that boar? I took the entire hind leg to the market the next day, and made a deal with Jeongin.”
“You traded food. A necessity. For alcohol. A luxury.” Minho shakes his head at him; he wants to reprimand Jisung, and act disappointed, because it technically isn’t a good deal - especially since that was a sizable boar, with a massive hind leg. It could have been a feast - or they could have traded it for something more worthwhile.
But then again, Jisung looks so proud of this deal that Minho can only sigh.
“I’m not stupid, hyung,” Jisung talks as if he read the dismay in Minho’s face anyay. “Jeongin and his uncle kind of owe us now - and I kind of thought we both just needed to be able to have some mindless fun.”
“You talk like most of the fun we have is… mindful,” Minho teases, laughing because just like that, he’s able to genuinely let go of whatever disappointment he’d been feeling. “You and mindful don’t exactly go together,” he adds, and when Jisung pouts in response, he actually moves in to give Jisung a kiss. “Stop making that face,” he says, sighing after he pulls away. “Let’s be extra mindless tonight, then.”
Jisung almost jumps in glee, and Minho laughs, resigned to the fact that he’s always going to have a tough time saying no to Jisung.
“It’s going to be really cold tonight, you know,” Minho warns Jisung as they sit together on the sand once again, huddled close together. The sun has fully set by now, and the early evening breeze is gently blowing.
“Hyung, that’s why we have a blanket,” Jisung points out, like the solution is so obvious and simple. Minho just laughs some more when Jisung drapes the said blanket around them both - the material is pretty flimsy and threadbare from years of use, but he thinks the warmth coming from Jisung himself should be enough for now.
“Did Jeongin tell you what this is made of?” He asks as he twists one of the jar lids open. A strong, fruity scent immediately wafts across his nostrils, followed by a sharp, yeasty aroma. “They definitely used peaches, at least,” he mumbles after taking a quick sip. “I can't tell what else.”
He makes a face at the taste; it’s definitely stronger than he assumed it would be. Jisung grabs the jar from him, a bit too eagerly, and once again Minho laughs.
“Have you ever had alcohol before?” Minho asks, suspicious as he watches Jisung sniff the drink as well, only to immediately wrinkle his nose and make a disgusted expression.
“Yes!” Jisung is too quick to answer, almost as if on the defensive. “Yes,” he repeats, calmer after he clears his throat once.
“How was it…?”
“I don’t actually remember,” Jisung admits, teetering sheepishly right before he takes a tentative sip of the drink. “Ah—” He hisses, presumably as the sting of the alcohol passes down his throat. “But Binnie-hyung knew how to make hooch. There was one time, we all got wasted as fuck when we were with Seungmin and Yongbok. That was fun.”
“So you got drunk, then?” Minho snickers because it’s just as he would have expected.
Jisung hangs his head low. “I guess. This tastes better than what Binnie-hyung used to make, though,” he comments, after he’s quick to take another, more sizable sip.
“Careful there—” Minho comments. “It’s strong. I’m going to end up having to take care of your drunken ass.”
“You ever gotten drunk before, hyung?”
The question comes up again, and Minho just hums, willfully choosing to once again ignore it, more because he wants to tease Jisung, than anything else. The answer is actually a resounding yes, because one time, on his fourteenth birthday, a few months shy of the world ending - not that they knew it at the time - he had secretly raided Seungmin’s father’s liquor cabinet with his two best friends, and then they’d proceeded to get smashed with red wine while hiding out in Seungmin’s bedroom. The morning after had found them taking turns throwing up in the bathroom, and the week after had found all of them collectively grounded and banned from playing together. Really stupid, but also really good times, he thinks, now that he’s allowing himself to look back.
That was it for him, though. He’s had different types of liquor a few more times since - most similar to the moonshine they’re drinking now, acquired as a bonus from several trades and deals he’s made in the past. He’s never really gotten drunk again though, and he’s come to realise that he has tolerance high enough that alcohol doesn’t even help in numbing whatever pain he feels. If anything, it just weakens his compartmentalization skills.
Minho paces his drinking, just taking the occasional sip here and there, but Jisung, as usual, appears to not know the meaning of the phrase ‘in moderation.’ He takes swig after swig - Minho is unable to blame him because to be fair, this is the best hooch he’s tasted in years. Jeongin - or, he assumes, Jeongin’s uncle - definitely knows what he was doing when he made the drink, and he thinks maybe Jisung had made a worthy trade after all.
Jisung keeps running his mouth as usual, anecdotes from his childhood, from his time with Changbin carelessly spilling from his lips. Minho even gets an anecdote about Seungmin, and at least two about that Yongbok kid. He lets Jisung ramble because the younger male has a way with words that makes each story he tells sound like some grand adventure, and it makes Minho wonder how Jisung is going to talk about him one day.
The stories remind Minho that when the world Ended As They Knew It, both of them were still too young to have lived fully, but also old enough to have fully formed dreams and expectations and… this is just not it. Still, the way Jisung tells his tales, it’s as if he’s had his life unfold in the exact way he wanted it to.
Minho thinks he maybe wants some of that attitude to rub off on him.
It isn’t long before Jisung’s full cheeks are colored a deep shade of red, and it dawns on Minho that his drinking companion is looking like he has bulldozed right past the tipsy territory and headed straight to Flat Out Drunk.
“That really didn’t take long,” he muses, as a drunk Jisung giggles and nuzzles against his shoulder.
He adjusts the blanket, which has fallen off Jisung’s shoulder, in a way that they’re both snuggly wrapped under it.
“Hyung,” Jisung whines, his breath warm against Minho’s neck; he’s clinging to Minho’s arm tightly, as if he’s scared that if he lets go, Minho will disappear. “Hyung,” he repeats, his voice soft, but also a pitch higher than usual.
“What is it?”
“You smell nice,” Jisung mumbles, moving so he can bury his face into the crook of Minho’s neck.
Minho flinches at the ticklish feeling, and then he laughs because he’s pretty sure that he just smells like a mix of sea water, fruity alcohol and natural sweat.
“Hyung,” Jisung repeats, and this time Minho simply hums in response. “When are you the happiest?” He pauses, before, “Tell me, baby.”
Minho almost chokes on his own laughter because this is how he confirms that Jisung is beyond wasted. “I’m not your baby,” he answers, his tone laced with amusement.
“Hmmm, I’ll be your baby then,” Jisung declares, and then he continues to drunkenly prod. “Tell me— It’s when you’re with me, right?”
The comment makes Minho want to laugh some more, but this time it gets stuck in his throat. He’s unable to react quickly, because as soon as the words leave Jisung’s lips, Minho realises that he can’t really disagree with them because they’re the truth.
He ends up jabbing Jisung’s side instead of admitting that Jisung is right, and the latter ends up recoiling from the action.
“Ah! Hyung—!” He groans, letting go of Minho’s arm so he can rub his side instead. “What was that for?”
“You’re drunk,” Minho informs him.
“Just buzzed,” Jisung counters, but the words tumble out slurred.
“Drunk, buzzed— same difference,” Minho points out.
But he’s pulling Jisung back close to him, holding him against his side, all while he’s unable to stop the happy and content smile that’s curving on his lips.
Rain starts pouring harder than Minho remembers it ever pouring for the last six years.
“Hyung,” Jisung murmurs as he snuggles closer to Minho. By now it’s a normal occurrence for him to be sleeping next to Minho, a habit that started after that first time Jisung had asked to. It’s like Jisung had taken that initial permission, and just continued to run with it. Minho would have complained, except he doesn’t because he likes having Jisung next to him - likes having Jisung close by, helping keep him warm every night.
This is especially the case during nights like this, because the blanket they’re sharing is old and ratty, and definitely not enough to combat the cold that the strong rain has brought along with it.
Outside, the storm continuously rages; the winds are strong and gusty and every so often they can hear the roof awning rattling, as if it’s threatening to be blown off any minute now. The rain is loud and thunderous, unforgiving as it crashes against the windows. The old building has been rickety and worn down since before Minho had taken over it, and it would be safe to assume that it hasn’t had any sort of upgrade or proper upkeep ever since the world turned to shit.
“Hyung,” Jisung repeats, his tone shaky, scared, small.
Minho can’t help himself as he eagerly welcomes Jisung’s smaller frame in his arms. “Come here,” he murmurs. Reumi is curled up above their heads, lending her own warmth into the mix, and Minho can’t complain because without electricity or fire, this is the best they can do.
And then he starts to hear Jisung humming softly, his breath heated and ticklish against Minho’s neck.
“What’s that song?” He asks, because it’s unfamiliar but oddly calming.
“Which song?” Jisung asks, as if he himself hadn’t realised that he’d been doing a quiet performance on his own.
“This one,” Minho answers, right before he tries mimicking the melody he was hearing from Han just a couple of minutes earlier.
“Oh—” Jisung’s expression softens at the seeming familiarity of the sound, but then he shrugs. “It was in my head, and it helped me relax, so I thought it would help you too.”
“Oh.” Minho doesn’t know why or how, but Jisung’s simple comment manages to reach something inside him. The rain continues to rage outside, loud and deafening, but suddenly all of Minho’s focus is on Jisung and the way he’s so soft, and fits so nicely in his arms. “Thanks,” he whispers, and Jisung smiles at him, tired but gracious.
The next morning, they find that their small garden hasn’t made it through the torturous night. Jisung is the one who discovers it, and he lets out a horrified cry when he does. Minho is less reactive - he’d expected this just from how bad the weather was the night before. The fire pit has been destroyed as well; the entire street looks completely wiped out, for that matter.
“Hyung— do you think this is fixable?” Jisung cries out, his voice shaky as if he already knows the answer to his question. “The old man worked so hard on that garden— we have been working so hard on it.”
Minho sighs, and walks up to join Jisung after he’s done inspecting the damage to the fire pit. “It’s—” He wants to say something comforting, but meaningless words of comfort have never been his forte, so he just places an arm around Jisung who, in turn, immediately leans into his touch.
“How is it,” Jisung begins, his voice low and uneasy, “that last night it almost felt like we were going to get blown away— like we were somehow going to find ourselves somewhere far away like Oz in the morning, but right now, the sun is so fucking high up and—” He stops and takes a deep breath.
“Maybe this is the real end of the world,” Minho comments. It’s meant to be a joke, but it somehow comes off sounding like a resigned statement.
“Hyung!” Jisung pouts, and Minho quickly steals a peck from his lips. “Hyung,” he repeats, but now he looks like he’s holding back a grin.
“Maybe it’s just time to get moving,” Minho finds himself saying suddenly.
He’s never really stayed in one place for more than a month at a time before - two, at most, barely. He gets restless so easily, and he constantly feels like he has to keep moving as if he’s searching for something that he can’t explain. This is the first time that he’s stayed put for so long; he isn’t even sure how much time has already passed - three months? Half a year? More? All he knows is that Jisung has somehow chased away that anxious wanderlust he used to think was an integral part of himself.
“Maybe it’s time to get back on the road.”
“I’m going too, right?” Jisung confirms. “With you?”
Minho doesn’t know why he even has to ask.
“Never mind,” Jisung continues when Minho doesn’t verbally answer. “I’m coming, anyway. You aren’t getting rid of me so easily.”
It doesn’t take them long to get their belongings packed - but then again, it’s not like either of them have a lot of personal items. Minho sets aside a day at the market, and he comes back to Jisung with enough supplies to tide them over for a while on the road. (“I guess I really am going to be the biggest hustler left this side of the country,” Jeongin joked when Minho told him that he wouldn’t be coming back for a while, if at all. “Just say you’ll miss me, kid,” Minho readily shot back.)
“We’re taking Reumi with us,” Jisung declares, clearly not taking no for an answer - not like Minho would have argued in any way. He nods, and chuckles in amusement when Jisung shows him the makeshift sling he’s created with their old blanket, where he’s supposed to carry the cat as if she’s a wee baby.
“Cute,” he comments, and Jisung beams proudly.
“Where should we go, hyung?” Jisung asks, and the question actually gives Minho pause.
He’s never thought about this before; he usually just follows where his feet take him - it’s not like the current condition of the world is conducive to long term planning. He’s always thought that it didn’t matter where he ended up because he doesn’t really have a future to think about.
But now, with Jisung by his side, he realises that maybe, just maybe, it would be nice to have a plan.
“I want to find Seungmin.” It surprises even Minho when he hears the words come out of his mouth. And Hyunjin, he thinks. He wonders if Seungmin knows what happened to him. “Maybe we can find Changbin too,” he offers, smiling when Jisung lights up at the suggestion.
“You’ll get along great,” Jisung declares confidently.
“Eh,” Minho shrugs; he actually doesn’t doubt it, because Minho’s yet to come across someone that he hasn’t gotten along with, but for some reason he feels like being petty about Changbin still. “Maybe.”
“Definitely,” Jisung pushes, and Minho laughs, just giving in with an amused nod.
“What if we never find any of them?” Minho suddenly asks; the thought scares him - he’s gotten too used to not setting any goals or expectations. Wish fulfillment is such a tall order these days, that he thinks part of why he’s been able to keep surviving is because he’s lived to appease only himself, and his own needs.
Jisung shrugs. “We keep looking,” He says. “There’s always hope, hyung. If anything— we just keep hoping. I’ve realised something over the last six years. You always need to have hope for tomorrow, but at the same time you need to live for today.”
“Wait, what—?” Minho stares at Jisung, carefully dissecting his words.
Jisung grins smugly. “Sometimes I say smart things too, don’t you think?” He asks, and as usual, Minho can only laugh.
“You know, hyung, I thought about it a lot before— about separating from Changbin-hyung. I wasn’t sure if it was the right decision to make,” Jisung shares. He and Minho are half a day into their travel, and they’re walking through yet another abandoned town. “But there was a part of me that was adamant on continuing south, like I was going to regret it if I didn’t follow through with this travel plan. Like something important was waiting for me.”
Minho glances sideways at him, uncertain where this story is headed, but curious. He nods for Jisung to continue.
The younger boy grins cheekily, as if glad to have Minho’s full attention. “I’ve realised,” he declares, “that that something important is you, hyung. I wanted to keep going south because somewhere, deep inside, I knew I was going to meet you.”
“That’s so—” Minho starts laughing so hard that he has to stop walking so that he can collect himself. “That’s so cheesy, Jisungie. Are you hearing yourself?”
Jisung blushes, embarrassed, but he lifts his chin proudly anyway. “I mean it,” he proclaims. “I’m pretty sure I was meant to run into you.”
The certainty in his tone softens Minho; he wishes he could be as open with his thoughts as Jisung is because deep inside, he’s long since accepted that his meeting Jisung is serendipitous.
He slows down his pace, taking smaller strides to make sure that he’s in step with the younger, smaller male.
“Hey Jisungie,” he calls out as the backs of their hands gently brush against each other. “How come you trusted me so easily, that first day?” He pauses and quietly bites the inside of his cheek as he struggles to find the right words to express the question he wants to ask. “Why are you with me?” It feels like a silly question - Jisung is with him because he’s with him, so why does Minho need an answer? But he wants to know; he wants Jisung to tell him why it feels like fate, having them chance upon each other, having them fit so well in so many ways.
“Hyung?” Jisung sounds confused, and Minho feels even sillier.
“Never mind,” he quickly says; he really shouldn’t have asked.
“Hyung,” Jisung repeats, and he’s now stopped walking.
“What?” Minho looks back, and motions for him to get going.
“Hyung—” Jisung smiles, shaking his head and reaching for his hand. “Originally, it was the cat.” He laughs when Reumi - snuggly tucked against Jisung’s chest by way of that makeshift sling he’d been so proud of - purrs, as if she understood that she’s been mentioned. “Reumi trusted you, so I trusted you. Reumi liked you. A lot,” Jisung laughs. “So I liked you too.”
“A lot, as well?” Minho prods, teasing in tone because this kind of earnest talk makes him a little uncomfortable.
“A lot, as well,” Jisung agrees in a very genuine tone that makes Minho’s heart skip a beat.
“Because of the cat,” Minho deadpans; he’s still making an attempt to lighten the atmosphere because he doesn’t know how to respond otherwise.
“That was just at first,” Jisung reiterates, breaking out into a huge grin. “And then I just realised that I just like being with you. That I like you— You always laugh when you’re with me, hyung, and I like the sound of your laugh.”
Minho can’t control it when laughter sputters out of his throat in that exact moment; it’s funny, really, because he didn’t really think he was the type of person who had a lot of laughter in him. Even B.W.E - Before World’s End - he was often the quiet guy, occasionally letting out a chuckle here and there, but Hyunjin was the one who laughed big and loud, not him.
“Like that!” Jisung nods heartily, his smile growing even wider. “It’s music to my ears, hyung.”
Minho stares at him for a couple of seconds, a part of him wishing there was at least a hint of sarcasm in Jisung’s tone so he can counter it with the same, but there isn’t any at all.
“Thank you,” he ends up saying in the end. “I like being with you, too.”
“Hyung,” Jisung whispers to him.
Night time, and the sky is clear, big and bright. They’d stopped at another decrepit, abandoned city, somewhere - Minho thinks they’re somewhere in Daegu now, maybe. They’d made their way to the rooftop of an old, abandoned office building for the night. He imagines the view from this point must have been spectacular once, years ago. Now it’s just overlooking a sad, deserted city.
“Hyung,” Jisung repeats, and Minho easily shifts his entire focus on his companion.
“What is it?”
“Just in case—”
“Just in case what?”
“Just in case the world really ends tomorrow—”
Minho interrupts him with a loud, hearty laugh. “Go to sleep, Jisung.”
“Wait, let me finish—”
Minho grows silent; he arches an eyebrow and gives the younger a curious look.
“If the world ends tomorrow, it’ll be fine. I’ll be okay.”
Minho frowns, confused.
“If the world truly comes down,” Jisung murmurs, smiling and nuzzling against Minho’s shoulder. “It’s fine, because there’s no one I’d rather be with, at the end of the world, than you.”
Minho almost chokes on air from the way his breath suddenly hitches. “Jisung—” He doesn’t know how to answer, but he feels Jisung’s words wash over his entire being, coating him with a kind of warmth he’s never experienced before.
Jisung smiles, and his hand finds its way around Minho’s. “I just wanted you to know that.”
Me too, Minho thinks.
“Me too,” he ends up saying out loud, and it's surprisingly easy when the words slide off his tongue. “I hope you know that, too.”