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Gold Dust

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Fernweh [ˈfɛrnveː] (n.) – orig. German
“farsickness”• a desire to travel • a longing for far-off places

 

Antonym:
homesickness [ˈhəʊmˌsɪknəs] (n.)
a longing for home and family while absent from them

 

 


 

 

Home

 

“I’m craving a great adventure – one that leads me back home.” – Donna Lynn Hope

 

 

Fate stumbles into Jeno’s life on a Wednesday afternoon in the form of a stranger walking up the dusty street.

Jeno wouldn't have seen him if he wasn't clipping the flowers that his mother keeps in the front yard, but he is and Jeno hasn't seen a stranger in a while. In this two-hundred people village he knows every name and every face but not this one.

This one is special but he doesn’t yet know why.

It’s a young man around twenty, much like Jeno himself, with a huge backpack on his shoulders. His hair is the colour of smooth caramel, a striking change to the black Jeno always sees everywhere, but he looks kind. Youthful even, though he seems tired with the way he’s dragging his feet.

He’s pleasant on the eyes, to say the least. Jeno finds it hard to look away.

It doesn’t take long until the stranger is right in front of him, sheepishly clasping sunburnt hands together. When he smiles he shows a row of teeth so perfect that Jeno is mildly taken aback, and Jeno realises he's been staring.

The boy asks something in English, or at least Jeno thinks he does. His own English sucks so he asks, "Do you speak Korean? Japanese?"

The boy’s face brightens. "You speak Korean?”

"I am Korean.” Jeno gestures around. “This is Korea."

The boy laughs self-consciously. "Oh, shit, you’re right. Sorry, super tired. Anyways, I'm looking for the rice farm."

"Oh.” Of course Jeno knows the rice farm, and the family that owns it. He’s worked there before, the entirety of last year’s summer. This year he’s switched it up, working at the tiny store in the centre and helping his mother’s online business. “It’s right down the road. You’ll see the gates to the right."

The boy smiles again and hoists his huge backpack up. There’s sweat on his temples, Jeno notices, even though it’s not that hot. “Thank you, uh…?”

“Lee Jeno,” Jeno says.

“Well, thank you very much, Lee Jeno.”

The stranger turns to leave and Jeno doesn’t know why but he blurts out, “And who are you?”

There’s a strange tug in his guts, like he doesn’t really want the guy to leave. There aren’t a lot of people his age in this village; they’ve all moved away as soon as they could, seeking out bigger towns. Jisung even went to Seoul, sending the occasional picture.

That must be it: the desire to make a friend when everyone else has left you behind.

“Oh,” the boy says. “I’m Na Jaemin.”

“And you’re not from here.”

Jeno worries that might have sounded too hostile, which isn’t at all how he meant it, but Jaemin grins one more time and says, “Just passing through.”

“Well. I hope you have a nice time here anyways.”

“Thanks.”

They look at each other for a moment longer and Jeno feels weirdly electric under Jaemin’s gaze before Jaemin turns away.

Jeno watches him walk away, vanishing behind the last house. He can tell his neighbour, Mrs Kim, is doing the same, albeit through the curtains.

It has been a while since a stranger came to the village, after all.

 

 

Jaemin is going to stay for two weeks. The old ladies in the tiny store talk about it as Jeno helps put the sweet potatoes in the baskets.

Jaemin is working at the farm in return for a place to sleep and a bit of food, they’re saying.

He's just passing through.

Jeno is not surprised to hear people talking about him barely a day after he showed up. It’s the most exciting thing to happen since the day the old farmer left a gate open and half the village had to chase chickens off their front yards.

Jeno himself is curious. This village is not the most rural, being only about an hour away from the next bigger town, but rural and boring enough to be overlooked by tourists. There’s nothing to do here except farm and sit in the sun. There’s only the one little shop that sells the goods that are grown here, traditional foods, the occasional necessities that a truck brings from the town a few times a month. The owner’s wife is a hairdresser, which is pretty handy, too, Jeno thinks, but otherwise? Nothing. Just dust and cicadas and the impending humidity of a long summer.

He wants to know what someone like Jaemin could find appealing here.

 

The appearance of someone new doesn’t change as much as Jeno might have wished it would. He doesn’t see Jaemin for a while, doesn’t meet him at any of the public spots in the village despite hanging out there more often than usual.

But no. It’s like nothing happened. Everything is the way it always is, like no stranger appeared at all.

Life is slow in the country side. Stagnant. Jeno lives every day of his life in pretty much the same way: he has breakfast with his mother and sister, plays with his cats, reads a book, tends the shop, has lunch. In the evening he goes back home, takes a shower, helps his father with his woodwork while his sister helps his mum in the kitchen, and then they all have dinner together.

Oftentimes they talk and tell each other stories. Sometimes he and Eunjin play games, or fight about games. Sometimes Jeno reads more, other times he helps his mum with the online shop she opened for handmade wrist-bands, rare times he thinks about whether the future holds more than just the same day lived over and over, always in the same way, just in different seasons.

Jeno isn’t one for adventure. He likes the village – the steady trickle of existing as opposed to the fast-paced life in the city that Donghyuck sometimes tells him about. He’s content here, he thinks. It would just be nice to meet someone who’s from somewhere else and talk about the kind of life that’s out there, somewhere, being lived by other people.

He wonders if Jaemin likes it here. If he’s tried Mrs Jeon’s homemade soybean paste yet. Is he happy here, even though it’s not home?

“Have you heard of the guy that came here?” Jeno asks at dinner, pressing his rice against the plate to make it easier to scoop up. “The one who works at the fields?”

“Am I the only person who hasn’t seen him yet?” Eunjin complains.

His dad looks up. “He’s supposedly a good worker.”

“He should be,” his mum throws in. “He gets to live in the house for free.”

Jeno hums, still looking at the food.

“Why so interested?” Eunjin asks, kicking his shin under the table. “Shouldn’t I be the one asking after cute strangers?”

“Can’t a guy be curious?” Jeno snaps back. “Also how do you know he’s cute if you haven’t seen him?”

“Oh, so he is cute!”

“No, he – shut up.”

“It’s not very you to get curious.”

“I just asked a simple question –”

“No fighting,” Jeno’s mum says decidedly and Jeno settles back into the backrest of the chair while Eunjin smirks at him.

He’s just curious. That’s all. It would have been a nice distraction from the daily routine, talking to someone of his own age, someone who isn’t from here. Just for once in his life, pretending to be more adventurous than he really is.

 

 

Jeno is lazing around behind the counter with a beat-up copy of Harry Potter when Jaemin comes into the store. At this hour, early afternoon, business is even slower than usual but Mrs Jeon likes having someone present anyway. Jeno doesn’t mind; it’s an excuse to relax rather than help at home.

He looks up. Jaemin places a bag of dried fruit and a bottle of water on the counter, sliding a bunch of notes across the wood with a smile. He looks a lot more awake than he did the first time Jeno met him, even though he’s sweaty and grimy from working in the field. He must be on a break. “Long time no see, Lee Jeno.”

Jeno counts the notes and opens the drawer for change, a hundred questions on his tongue. “Having a good time in our little village?”

Jaemin takes the coins from Jeno but doesn’t pick up his purchases. “It’s very refreshing after spending time in cities.”

Refreshing,” Jeno repeats and snorts. “There’s nothing happening here.”

“What do you mean? There’s plenty.”

“I wouldn’t call a tiny village plenty.”

“Well, for one, you are here.” Jaemin winks at him and Jeno drops the receipt, flushing a deep red. “Second, there’s plenty to do. I just came from Sydney, so I wanted a break from all that noise, you know.”

Sydney. Jaemin has been to Australia. The farthest Jeno has ever been is the next town over. “Australia? What was that like?”

Jaemin gnaws at his bottom lip. “You see, I haven’t really made any friends yet. Let’s meet at the fields after your shift maybe? I mean, if you want. I'll tell you all about it.”

“I – sure. Yeah. Cool. I finish at around five.”

They smile at each other before Jaemin picks up his stuff and leaves with a wave.

Jeno sits there for a while, wondering what just happened. Asking himself why he was asking Jaemin all these questions when he usually never finds the words. But this was easy, ridiculously so, like he already knows Jaemin. Like he was pulling the words right out of his mouth with half a smile.

Very strange, Jeno thinks. He picks his book back up but he can’t focus on reading anymore, thoughts circling back to Jaemin and the prospect of talking to him. Maybe he shouldn’t be this excited for something so simple but then again, nothing ever happens here.

 

It’s not yet dark when Jeno comes to the fields. They belong to the rice farm and stretch out, but there’s a bench there that Jeno finds Jaemin already sitting on.

He’s not nervous. It’s weird, really; Jeno doesn’t do too well around strangers, even less foreigners. Jaemin is not technically a foreigner but he’s from somewhere else. He’s something else, it seems.

He’s a tug in Jeno’s guts that feels like a ray of sunlight whenever he closes his eyes.

“Hi,” Jeno says shyly, sinking down next to him. “I brought some bread.”

“Whoa! It’s been ages since I had this,” Jaemin exclaims and tears a corner off the soft bread that Jeno handed him. Jeno knows from experience how good it is, rich and sticky with the sweet paste inside.

“It’s been ages since we had a tourist here,” Jeno tells him. “Everyone is really curious.”

I am really curious.

Jaemin smiles softly. “That’s sweet. But I’m not a tourist.”

“Then what are you?”

“A seeker.”

Jeno thinks of the Harry Potter book he’s left behind on his desk but he figures Jaemin means something else. “Can I ask what you’re seeking?”

“I don’t know yet.” Jaemin shrugs and stuffs another piece of bread into his mouth. He squints at the pastel-coloured sky for a moment, like he’s trying to read the answer off the firmament. “But I hope I’ll find it soon.”

“I’m guessing you didn’t find that in Australia then.”

“No.”

It’s quiet for a moment. Jeno wants to look at Jaemin to gauge his expression but he feels too shy and instead opts for the far edge of the fields, now a line full of shadows. Jeno likes it out here, where the breeze is always the freshest.

“So… are you just a traveller then?”

Jaemin hums in confirmation, a low rumbling sound. “I’m originally from the UK but I’ve been around a lot.”

Jeno doesn’t know what to ask first. Why did you leave home? How did you do it? Where does the money come from? But eventually he’s asking the question that’s been on his mind since Jaemin arrived here, a question that might have been simmering somewhere deep inside him for much longer. “What’s the world like?”

When Jeno turns to look at him Jaemin is smiling again. It’s the kind of smile that’s bright no matter how dark the night is, some unbridled and unpolluted sincerity that is impossible to get used to.

“Oh Jeno,” Jaemin says. “The world is so big and there are so many places to go to, I feel like my entire life isn’t long enough to see it all.”

Jeno stares at him, his words sinking into his bones like pebbles into mud. “Really?”

“You don’t get around much, do you?”

“Uh. Not really.” Not at all.

“Well. It’s worth it. Even when you’re scared, it’s – rewarding. Cathartic, in a way. I’ve met a lot of kind people.”

Jeno has no idea what exactly he means but the expression in Jaemin’s eyes is enough to strengthen the heaviness in Jeno’s stomach. He feels like he’s wasted his life away by never doing anything. Never going anywhere. And yet he knows that after Jaemin leaves this village behind, too, nothing will have changed. It never does. Jeno will wish for a while that he could travel, too, will end up telling himself that maybe next year he’ll take some of his saved money to go to Japan, but in the end, as always, he won’t be going anywhere.

“You know,” Jaemin says quietly, now looking out to the horizon. “I quite like it here. I think… I think I might stay for a while.”

Jeno doesn’t know why exactly but the words make him feel warm inside.

 

 

After that Jaemin comes to the store almost every day during his break. He slinks around the narrow shelves when there are other customers, occasionally chatting with them, but mostly waiting for them to leave, so he can talk to Jeno.

Jeno isn’t one to make friends fast, especially not with people who aren’t from here but with Jaemin it’s easy, like they’ve been friends in a different life and ran into each other again in this one.

Jeno gets used to his presence quickly – but not to Jaemin himself. It doesn't make sense to him at first; Jaemin is easy enough to be around, he speaks his language, he's very much Korean – but he has a strangeness to his person, too. He's unpredictable and flirty and it's clear he grew up very far away from here, somewhere where there are less traditions and more freedom.

But Jeno learns a lot, too. Jaemin has been travelling the world for months now, never staying for longer than a few weeks. Sometimes he works for accommodation, sometimes he stays in AirBnBs, which is a thing Jeno has only heard of. Jaemin talks about his adventures in the US, in Canada, in Brazil with a light in his eyes that wasn’t there before and it pulls at something inside Jeno again.

He doesn’t have a name for it. It’s a kind of yearning, a desire to know the unknown. In his twenty-one years of living he’s never been further away from home than the next town and he had always thought that was okay. He didn’t feel the need to leave, not yet. He figured he’d have time one day.

But Jaemin shows him pictures on his phone, tells him about Mark Lee, a Canadian boy who joined him on his journey until they split up again in LA. He tells him about their adventures and the things they ate together, the places they saw, how nice it was to not be alone at least for that part of the travels.

What would that be like? To travel through a country whose language you don’t understand? Meeting more strangers in bigger cities where they eat stranger food?

Absurd, Jeno thinks. Adventurous. Batshit crazy. Fun, too, probably. With Jaemin, it would be.

Jeno asks him about it once, how he thought about travelling the world. "What made you leave?"

“It’s not that,” Jaemin replies, flicking a bug off his knee. “But nothing made me stay."

Jeno is still thinking about it when he’s walking home, having reluctantly parted ways with Jaemin to catch up on sleep. They’ve been hanging out until long into the night lately.

What’s making him stay? Why is he still here, even though he’s long done with school? Is it fear? Is it family?

It must be that, Jeno thinks. He has never been anywhere without his family. He doesn’t think he could leave his parents behind for an entire year, just like that, walking into the unknown with a backpack full of maps.

He wonders if Jaemin misses home.

 

 

Jeno’s family invite Jaemin for dinner after Jeno tells them he befriended him. His mother dotes on him, squishes his cheeks and tells him he’s too skinny and should eat more, and Jeno is embarrassed before he sees how Jaemin preens under the attention. He must miss his family, Jeno thinks. It must be difficult to be so far away from them. Jeno doesn’t even want to imagine what that’s like.

Eunjin kicks his shin under the table when Jaemin is busy talking to their parents. “Thanks for bringing this cutie into the house.”

Jeno rolls his eyes but he can’t hide how the words get under his skin. He feels strangely protective of Jaemin. “He’s three years younger than you, don’t be creepy.”

“And? I need to get married soon.”

“You – thank God he’s leaving.”

Eunjin just laughs. It’s like she knows that Jeno doesn’t mean it.

 

 

Four days before Jaemin’s supposed departure, Jaemin tells him he’s going to stay a little longer.

Jeno doesn’t understand the surge of relief flooding through him. He was prepared, knew from day one that Jaemin was just a visitor.

Was just passing through.

It doesn’t feel like he is anymore. Jeno isn’t sure, doesn’t know what to think. He doesn’t want to get used to Jaemin just to wave goodbye to him again, too soon, always too soon.

Jeno knows he can’t keep Jaemin. It’s only been ten days, it shouldn’t be hard.

But.

But it is hard. Thinking about being left alone in this village full of nothing after Jaemin breezed through it like a gust of ocean air. It’s hard.

Jeno doesn’t want to say goodbye to Jaemin yet. To that beautiful stranger. The one who brings sunshine wherever he goes.

It’s inevitable. Saying goodbye.

It’s just sad, Jeno thinks, it’s sad that it’s always him who gets left behind.

 

 

Four days before that pushed departure, Donghyuck comes back to the village to see his family and Jeno is excited.

Hyuck is his best friend for a lack of better a term, having grown up alongside Jeno. He’s moved to town to enrol at the local university and he’s doing well there, studying mechanical engineering and making use of the nightlife it offers. Every once in a while he comes back, mostly just to eat some home-cooked meals and annoy his siblings, and then he vanishes again for the next few weeks.

He never forgets to visit Jeno, though.

“HEY, WHAT’S UP, BASTARD!”

Jeno’s body locks up at the tell-tale scream and in the next moment he’s being hugged, or choked, or something in between. “Hey, Hyuck.”

“Dude, I missed you,” Hyuck whines and finally lets him go. “I have all sorts of tea to spill, man. I even made a list on my phone, wait, let me pull it up. You won’t believe who Jungwoo hooked up with –”

Just like that, two hours pass. Jeno laughs so hard about Hyuck’s dramatic re-enactments that he almost busts a lung and after that they eat with Jeno’s family, who are even weaker for Hyuck than they are for Jeno despite knowing that he’s a troublemaker. Jeno realises how much he’s missed him and his antics, his presence that always functions as an energiser no matter how tired he is.

They sit outside on the doorstep afterwards, sharing a tub of ice cream that Jeno dug out of the freezer. It’s not yet warm enough at night for this kind of thing but Jeno doesn’t mind; green tea ice cream is worth it.

“I can’t believe you’re still rotting away here. Just pick a course already and join me. This is more of a rhetorical question,” Hyuck says, digging his spoon into the plastic container. “But have I missed anything while I was gone?”

Jeno thinks about a stranger walking up the street. About fate patting him on the shoulder and pointing at a boy with a bright smile. He kind of wants to keep Jaemin a secret but that doesn’t make any sense, so he says, “There’s this guy –”

Jeno doesn’t get any more words out before Hyuck is violently shaking him by the shoulders, spoons clattering to the dusty floor. “You! Got a boyfriend! And didn’t think! You should! Tell me!”

“What the fuck, he’s not my boyfriend!” Jeno clarifies and shoves Hyuck off. “We’re friends, I was about to tell you that he’s a traveller who’s been like, everywhere, which is so cool.”

Hyuck drops his arms to the side. “Oh. I liked the boyfriend story better.”

Jeno rolls his eyes and picks his spoon back up, trying to free it from dirt. It’s hopeless.

“Anyways, so can I meet him?”

Jeno looks up like a deer caught in headlights. “Now?”

Hyuck shrugs. “You’re friends, right? Text him to come over.”

In the end that’s what Jeno does. It doesn’t take fifteen minutes until Jaemin rounds the corner, face brightening when he spots Jeno and Hyuck still squished together on the doorstep.

Hyuck immediately rams his elbow into Jeno’s side. “If you don’t wanna wife him, can I?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Jeno mutters and pushes him away.

“Hey,” Jaemin says cheerily when he reaches them, extending a hand to Hyuck. “I’m Jaemin.”

Hyuck seizes him up, which looks absolutely ridiculous, but he takes the hand. “Donghyuck. You’re a traveller, huh? The hell are you doing here?”

Jaemin winks at Jeno and Hyuck laughs. “Telling cute boys stories from all over the world.”

 

“Na Jaemin, huh?” Hyuck says with a sly grin as he’s about to leave, too. Jaemin had already bid goodnight. “He’s quite a… person.”

“Wow, Hyuck. You almost sound like someone who’s receiving higher education.”

“Fuck off, you know what I mean.”

“Do I?”

Hyuck’s smile fades. “Just don’t get too attached, right? I know you’re friends but it’s going to be harder once he leaves.”

Once he leaves. Jeno has been thinking about it, too. “I’m just happy with the time we have. Don’t worry.”

Jeno repeats that to himself long after Hyuck has gone home. Don’t worry don’t worry don’t worry.

 

 

Being with Jaemin soon feels like breathing. Something you do unconsciously. A necessity. A part of Jeno feels like he’s been friends with him since forever; his lost soulmate perhaps, if those existed.

And yet.

Parts of Jaemin are unknowable. Like the ocean, an ocean that Jeno has never actually seen outside of photos and movies and poetry.

But the ocean is full of secrets, and it’s treacherous and beautiful and free. So free and vast. Like Jaemin. Uncontainable.

Many, many men have lost themselves to the sea.

 

 

The night sky is unrelenting. A breeze ruffles through black and brown hair. The stars stare down at two young men who are thinking about fate and every single thing that could separate them.

They’ve been sitting here for a while, silent, listening to the wind. It’s a little bit cold, so Jeno sits close to Jaemin and presses his shoulder against him. It’s nice having him near and Jeno will exploit it as long as he still can.

It’s not long until Jaemin leaves for good. By now it’s obvious that it’s hard for both of them; Jeno didn’t expect it but Jaemin seems fond of him, too.

Jeno doesn’t want to think about what it’s going to be like to return to his boring village routine. No adventure. No Jaemin. He doesn’t want to think about goodbyes.

Jaemin’s hand is warm when he places it on Jeno’s knee.

“Come with me.”

A siren’s call.

Jeno dips his toes into unknown waters. “With you?”

“I can show you the world.”

“Isn't that a quote from somewhere?”

“Yes, it's from Aladdin which is the superior Disney movie because – wait. Don’t distract.” Jaemin’s smile sharpens in the moonlight. A shark circling its prey, except the prey doesn’t want to escape. Jeno is already drowning.

“I don't know...”

“Do you want to stay here forever?”

“No...”

“Come with me, Jeno. Just for a little while. There is so much to see and you can go home whenever you want.”

“I… where would we even go?”

“We’ll figure it out. Doesn’t have to be far.”

“Um. Okay?”

The waves crash above Jeno’s head.

 

Jeno can’t believe he agreed to this. He’s lying awake in his bed, staring at the ceiling, and thinks about what Jaemin’s arm felt like around his shoulders earlier. It’s easy to say yes when Jaemin is that close. Impossible to say no, even.

But now, in the familiar dark of his room, Jeno realises what he said and what it means: it means leaving. It means going where he’s never been, with someone he just barely knows, someone who’s so strikingly different from him that it borders on a miracle that they get along at all.

But they do and it’s another thing that scares Jeno because it’s only been a few weeks and he’s already so attached. If he follows Jaemin to God knows where, saying goodbye will only get harder.

But he wants to. God, he wants to, for once in his life, wants to do something for himself and take this opportunity.

So perhaps he should. Just for a week, maybe. Just for one moment, one small adventure. Maybe it’s not a big deal after all.

 

 

His mum is not happy. Jeno didn’t expect her to be, expected the hands-on-hips pose and the disapproving frown.

“Jeno. You met him not even two weeks ago. You’ve never been away from home. This is a recipe for disaster.”

Jeno feels strangely young and small like this, as if he’s back to fourteen, asking his mum if he can go on a camping trip with Hyuck. Except now things are different and Jeno isn’t entirely sure what exactly he’s asking for. “You said you think he’s nice.”

“Yes, he is but that doesn’t mean I’ll be able to sleep well knowing you go out into the world with him!”

“I don’t even know if I want to go that far. I just – maybe I will just join him for a trip to, I don’t know, Daegu. That would be alright, wouldn’t it?”

His mum looks at him and sighs, giving up. “I guess you’re old enough to make that decision…”

 

 

They are sitting on the ground, one of Jaemin’s maps spread out on the floor. Several random items hold the pages down: a pen, a compass, a coin of a foreign currency.

In front of Jeno, his adventure forms.

“Do you want to plan this or just go?" Jaemin asks. “We can throw a piece of gum at the map and where it sticks that’s our destination.”

Jeno snorts. “That’s nuts. I never agreed to like, go around the world with you. I’m just company for a while.”

“So you want to plan.”

“A little bit? It would help my mum sleep. It's a miracle she's letting me go at all.”

Jaemin slants a curious look at him, eyes glinting under long twiggy eyelashes. “You're twenty-one.”

“Family means a lot to me. Does it not to you?”

“Not enough to keep me tied down.”

That’s Jaemin: evasive answers that are just truth enough to keep people off his back. Never enough truth to stop the swarm of questions rising inside Jeno like bile.

“Will you tell me one day?”

“Tell you what?”

“Why you’ve left everything behind. Why you don’t have a home.”

Jaemin reaches out and brushes his hand over Jeno’s jaw, gently, like he’s something delicate. His fingers are warm and Jeno can’t help but lean into the touch. He craves it as soon as it leaves. Like the tide misses the pull of the moon.

“I’ll tell you,” Jaemin says, “as soon as I find the answer.”

 

 

“We’re going to Seoul.”

Seoul?” Even on the small screen of Jeno’s phone Hyuck’s surprise is evident.

Jaemin pushes into the picture. “Start small, then take a plane anywhere.”

That's crazy.”

Jeno chuckles. “That’s what I said, too.”

“You know what's crazy? Living your life in the same place without ever seeing the world. Do you want to grow old here without having seen anything, Jeno?”

“Not really.”

“You better take care of my boy, Na. I’ll find you anywhere to kick your ass, don’t think I wouldn’t.”

Jaemin laughs. “I’ll protect him with my life.”

Hyuck squints his eyes at him, then wishes them all the best with another demand to send pictures before he hangs up.

“So.” Jaemin takes the phone from Jeno and places it on the floor, lazily smiling up at him. “We’re going to Seoul.”

“I guess we are.”

Jaemin takes his hand. His skin is dry and warm, and it fits into his own perfectly. Maybe this is fate, Jeno thinks. Fate taking him by the hand and pulling him out of his little safe bubble in the form of a boy from the other side of the world. The ocean is calling for him.

“I can show you the world,” Jaemin sings quietly. “Shining, shimmering, splendid…”

Jeno slaps his shoulder lightly. “Shut up.”

Jaemin just grins.

 

 

“The train ride is on me,” Jaemin says. “My gift to you for being my lovely company.”

Jaemin blows him a kiss but Jeno doesn’t blush this time, too hung up on the fact that Jaemin just clicked on ‘confirm reservation’ on train tickets to a city full of strangeness. He’s a little speechless.

It’s real now. This adventure. He’s doing this, with Jaemin, who he’s barely known for three weeks.

“You are very kind to an almost stranger,” Jeno says.

Jaemin smiles at him. “You’ve never felt like a stranger to me, Jeno.”

 

 

Things happen very quickly then. The whole plan almost falls apart because Jeno can’t find his passport but then he finally does, and Jaemin helps with the preparations.

It’s just Seoul, he tells himself but he still packs as if he’s leaving for longer. He’s not sure who he’s trying to convince anymore.

The ocean is calling his name.

By then, the entire village knows what’s going on. Jeno gets a lot of disapproving looks from the elders, but also good wishes and many questions. At least three neighbours tell him to send a postcard and Jeno hopes he’ll remember. It feels like no one believes that he’ll come back. He’s not sure if he does.

It’s the evening before they leave and they’re sitting in Jeno’s room. Tomorrow they’re taking the train from the town, five hours into a city with almost ten million faces.

Jeno already knows he won’t be able to sleep, nerves crawling up his veins like an army of ants. Jaemin, in comparison, looks calm, stretched out on Jeno’s futon with his arms crossed behind his head.

“There’s something you should know before we leave,” he says and Jeno looks at him. “The home you come back to will not be the same home you left behind. You'll change, you know? Travelling does that to you. Only come with me if you're sure about that.”

Just Seoul, he thinks. Seven days. What can happen? “I’m sure.”

Jaemin is still staring at him.

“Huh?”

“Do you want me to stay? I mean, tonight?” Jaemin asks. “You look a little… anxious.”

Jeno feels his ears heat up. “I, uh… would you?”

Jaemin sits up and crosses his legs, leaning into Jeno’s space. “This is now a sleepover, sweetheart. Get into your cosiest sleep clothes and then sit next to me and tell me a secret.”

“A… secret?”

Jaemin gestures for him to sit down and they shuffle around until they sit with their backs against the wall, Jeno’s blanket thrown over their legs, shoulders pressed together.

“Want me to start?”

Jeno looks at him. “Why are we sharing secrets? Shouldn’t we talk about Seoul?”

Jaemin shakes his head, gently shushing Jeno. “It’s three am. The world doesn’t exist. Only we do. Us, and our secrets, and the stars are asking for them. A secret for a blessing. Don’t you want to be blessed, Jeno?”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“So I’ll start.” Jaemin smiles. “This is my secret: I don't belong. I never feel home anywhere. I always have to move and leave things behind and go find new places and it's tiring but I just have to.”

“Are you looking for a place that feels like home?” Jeno asks. “Or are you looking for enough places that don’t to realise you had one all along?”

“I don't know what I'm looking for. I just hope that I'll find it anyway.”

“A seeker.”

“Exactly. Anyway, it’s your turn. Tell me a secret.”

Jeno thinks about it. He tries to live his life honestly so he doesn’t have many secrets but words are pressing against his tongue, words that have no business being anywhere near Jaemin. My secret is: I think your laughter is a love letter to the sun.

“I’m scared of cicadas.”

“That’s not a secret.”

“But I am! And I grew up in a village!”

Everyone is scared of cicadas. Tell me another one.”

My secret is –

“Um…”

My secret –

“Come on, there must be something.”

This is my secret: I’m made of the same stardust as you and that’s why I have to follow you.

“Um. I used to be completely obsessed with dinosaurs. Like, I knew everything about them and they were all I talked about. I’m pretty sure I still know all the Latin names…”

Jaemin laughs. “That’s a memory, not a secret. But I’ll let you off just this once.”

The hidden promise prickles on Jeno’s skin.