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The Ghosts of Us

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Jungkook stands in front of the mirror and adjusts his suit. It’s black, as expected, but his tie is maroon, covered in tiny silver hearts that just look like dots from a distance. An anniversary gift from Jimin.

He tries not to think about how many times he and Jimin got dressed in front of this mirror together. How Jimin would adjust Jungkook’s tie before his own, straightening it just right and nodding in satisfaction before stealing an obligatory kiss, giggling when Jungkook would chase after his lips.

Jungkook sighs at his reflection and yanks at his collar. His tie is crooked.

He stands there for a long minute, teeth harsh against his lip. His wedding ring feels heavy in his pocket. Nothing feels right. The bedroom feels too empty. His chest feels too empty, like it’s waiting for Jimin to walk out of the bathroom in his baby blue robe and wrap his arms around Jungkook’s waist. “Why the long face?” he’d ask. His hands would cup Jungkook’s jaw, thumbs brushing at the dark marks now permanently etched beneath his eyes. “You need more sleep, baby. Come back to bed and I’ll sing to you, hm?”

Jungkook blinks hard and turns away from the mirror, leaving the bedroom and heading to the kitchen. Their chunky home phone sits right next to the coffeepot. Jungkook never understood why they’d needed such an outdated piece of junk, but Jimin had insisted it was a timeless mark of domesticity, like having a joint bank account or sending out annual Christmas cards.

Jungkook starts a pot of coffee and presses the voicemail button on the phone. A beep sounds before the pre-recorded message plays.

“Hi, you’ve reached the Jeons! Leave us a message and – ow, Jungkook, stop biting my neck! – anyway, leave us a message and we’ll – SERIOUSLY Jungkook, stop it! I swear –” The message cuts off after a long peal of Jimin’s bright laughter.

The coffeepot gurgles quietly.

Jungkook considers pressing the voicemail button again, but instead grabs a mug from the cupboard and stops the coffee machine. He pours it into his mug and breathes in the steam for a moment. French vanilla. Jimin’s favorite.

He takes a sip and turns to the fridge. His eyes skim over the familiar photographs, stuck in place with colorful magnets Jimin bought at an elementary school craft fair. Jimin and Jungkook on vacation in Morocco. Jimin and Tae in graduation caps and gowns. Jimin and Jungkook smiling under the altar. Jimin, Seokjin, and Hoseok wearing matching reindeer ears in front of a Christmas tree. Jimin and Jungkook kissing under the fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Jimin and Yoongi reading in a cat café. Jimin and Namjoon at the opera.

Jimin and Jungkook in the hospital holding a tiny birthday cake.

Jungkook takes another sip of coffee, letting the flavor linger on his tongue. He glances at his watch, another gift from Jimin. Fifteen minutes before he needs to go.

He stares down into his mug, feeling the familiar ache in his chest, the familiar tug behind his eyes. His throat bobs the tiniest bit, but he silences it with another gulp of coffee.

His cellphone buzzes in his pocket. He answers without looking at the caller I.D.

“Hello?”

“Hey.” It’s Seokjin. “Need a ride?”

“Nah, I’ll be good,” Jungkook says quietly. He takes another sip of coffee.

Seokjin pauses. “Alright. We’ll see you there, Kook.”

“Okay. Bye.”

The line goes silent, and Jungkook slips his phone back into his pocket with shaking fingers. He clears his throat and downs the rest of his coffee. He considers leaving the mug in the sink, but habit forces him to rinse it out and leave it on the drying rack. Jimin used to scold him for not cleaning up his messes.

Jungkook purses his lips and glances at his watch again. It’s still too early, but he decides to head out. He doesn’t want to spend too much time alone with the ghosts in his apartment. Not today.

He walks past the living room and sees Jimin lounging on the loveseat, burrowed beneath his favorite blanket with a cup of tea and a murder mystery. Jungkook opens the closet door and sees Jimin’s favorite jacket, the one with the too-long sleeves and the too-big hood that swamped his small frame. Jungkook opens the front door and hears Jimin calling from the kitchen. “See you later, baby! Have a great day!”

Jungkook’s hands are shoved deep in his pockets as he shuffles down the stairs. He’s not particularly in a hurry. He walks up to his car and opens the door, sliding into the driver’s seat. The familiar rainbow-shaped pendant hangs from the rearview mirror. Jimin’s voice echoes in his ears. “When you see it, think of me. No matter where you are or where you’re going, I’ll always be waiting for you on the other end.”

Jungkook backs out of his parking space. His throat feels tight.

He doesn’t pay any mind to where he’s heading, functioning on autopilot. He doesn’t turn the radio on. He hasn’t turned the radio on for a long time.

His hands flex on the steering wheel as he drives past the familiar coffee shop.

           

 

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Jungkook glanced down, triple-checking the contents of his briefcase as he scurried towards the coffeeshop around the corner. He had a big presentation that afternoon, one that could put him in the running for a promotion, and he desperately needed a piping hot mocha to settle his nerves before –

“Oof!”

He stumbled backwards, something soft and warm crashing into his chest. He looked up from his briefcase and automatically reached out to steady the object of his collision; a slim, pale-haired man with startled eyes and plump lips, parted in surprise.

“Woah, are you ok? I’m so sorry, I should have watched where I was going…” Jungkook’s words trailed off as the man looked up at him. He was disarmingly beautiful, like an ethereal incarnation of perfection, all smooth skin and kind eyes and graceful confidence, and when he suddenly offered Jungkook a cute smile, it seemed like every star in the universe was twinkling on his lips.

“Don’t worry about it. I didn’t drop my scone, so no harm done.” The small man held up his pastry and chuckled, sweet and breathy, the sound doing funny things to Jungkook’s pulse.

“O-oh, that’s good,” Jungkook said dazedly. He received an odd look, and Jungkook realized his hand was still resting on the gorgeous man’s shoulder. He pulled it back with a jolt.

His companion offered another delightful smile. “Well, I’ve got to head off. Tell the head barista, Hoseok, that your coffee’s on me, ok? It’s the least I can do. My name’s Jimin.”

Jungkook could only stare. The man’s voice was like honey, smooth and gentle, full of kindness for a complete stranger. When he didn’t get a response, Jimin stepped away with a cute wave, pastry in hand. “Have a great rest of your day!”

Jungkook blinked thickly, belatedly turning to watch Jimin leave but otherwise completely frozen. He sighed dreamily before squaring his shoulders and gathering his wits. Running into an angel so early in the morning was certainly a good omen. He needed all the luck he could get today.

Stepping towards the café entrance, his foot nudged against something solid. A wallet. Swiftly crouching down, he flipped it open and saw Jimin’s face shining up at him from the driver’s license tucked inside.

“Crap,” Jungkook muttered. He quickly stood and turned in the direction Jimin had left, catching a glimpse of his pale hair as he rounded a corner and disappeared. “Hey, wait!”

Jungkook ran after him, briefcase swinging wildly in one hand and the wallet clutched in the other, his suit jacket flying out behind him as he rounded the corner and muttered hasty apologies as he threaded through the packed sidewalk. He could see Jimin at the end of the crowd, heading towards the underground subway station.

“Excuse me!” he shouted. A few people turned to look at him, but Jimin was too far away, oblivious as he descended the stairs. “Shit,” Jungkook hissed, quickening his pace and practically sprinting the last few yards to the station and vaulting down the stairs. He caught sight of Jimin boarding and dashed forward, slipping into the subway just as the doors slid shut behind him.

Jimin looked up from his phone in surprise. Jungkook panted audibly, chest heaving, sweat beading on his forehead as he bent over to catch his breath. The subway accelerated forward.

After a few seconds, he straightened and met Jimin’s eyes, holding out the wallet. “You dropped this.”

Jimin stared at Jungkook, then at the wallet. He grabbed it slowly. He eyed Jungkook up and down, taking in his now-disheveled appearance, the briefcase resting at his feet, his earnest expression and bright eyes.

“What’s your name?

Jungkook blinked in surprise. “Oh, um, it’s Jungkook.”

Jimin smiled softly and bit his lip. “Jungkook.” His fingers toyed with the wallet. “Can I take you out to dinner? As a thank you.”

 

 

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Jungkook flicks on his blinker and turns left. His phone buzzes in the passenger seat, Mrs. Park flashing across the screen. Jungkook purses his lips and doesn’t answer.

He unintentionally travels past more memories. The flower shop where he bought Jimin lilies every summer. The bakery where Jimin liked to pick up little cakes on the way home from work. The pet store Jimin visited almost every weekend, worried the animals would get lonely.

He passes the elementary school. He and Jimin used to volunteer at every book fair, every bake sale, every adorable concert and amateur theater production. Jungkook misses it. Jimin had always wanted kids.

The rainbow charm sways beneath his mirror. Jungkook clenches his jaw. 

After another random turn, his destination looms a few blocks down. He abruptly pulls to the curb a few hundred feet away. The car is in park, but the engine still idles. Jungkook’s hands are tight on the wheel, knuckles turning white, his breath painful as it scrapes through his throat. He closes his eyes. He focuses on the purr of the engine, working up the strength to pull the keys from the ignition, desperate to turn around and flee into the bittersweet embrace of the ghosts waiting at his apartment.

           

 

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Jungkook set the box down with a huff, stretching his neck in relief. “That’s the last of it.”

An excited cheer came from the master bedroom. Jimin poked his head out, a giddy grin beaming across his face. “Really? That’s the last one?”

“Yup. Namjoon’s taking the moving van back to the rental facility as we speak.”

Jimin squealed as he ran down the hall and leapt into Jungkook’s arms, both of them stumbling backwards at the force of Jimin’s excitement. It was contagious, and Jungkook found himself laughing freely, spinning them around as Jimin giggled into his neck, his lips peppering against Jungkook’s skin with uncontainable enthusiasm.

“We’re officially moved in together!”

Jungkook bit his lip in amusement, reaching to brush Jimin’s hair out of his sparkling eyes. “I hate to dampen your excitement, baby, but I don’t think it’s official until after we unpack all of the boxes.” He gestured to the army of tape-sealed containers stacked in the living room.

Jimin scoffed and waved his hand dismissively. “Details, details. The point is, this is now our apartment,” he said happily. Jungkook tightened his arms around Jimin’s waist and pulled him closer, Jimin’s arms still slung around his neck, a smile still bright against his cheeks.

“Yeah, it is,” Jungkook murmured. He pressed their lips together, sweet and slow, tasting the happiness shimmering on Jimin’s skin and the contented sigh that slipped from his mouth. Jungkook pulled back with a roguish grin, then leaned in to graze his teeth over Jimin’s earlobe, pressing a kiss on the sensitive skin behind his ear. Jimin shivered.

“Should we give it a proper christening?” Jungkook whispered lowly.

His hand slipped down to grab a handful of Jimin’s ass, his intentions clear, and Jimin’s breath stuttered momentarily, his hands gripping more firmly around Jungkook’s neck, seeming to agree with his boyfriend’s train of thought. But he deftly wriggled out of Jungkook’s hold, smirking as he landed a swat to his chest. “Later, cutie. These boxes won’t unpack themselves.” He quirked an eyebrow, pursing his lips in faux contemplation. “Though you should probably take your shirt off when we rearrange the furniture,” he teased. “Wouldn’t want you to overheat.”

“Oh, of course not. We wouldn’t want that.” Jungkook grinned, pulling his boyfriend back into his arms for another lingering kiss before Jimin slapped a box-cutter into his hand and they got to work.

They spent the afternoon meticulously unpacking box after box. Jimin’s excitement never wavered, even as they good-naturedly argued over which cupboard the plates should go in, whether the dining table should be closer to the window or the TV, which vacation photo deserved the spot of honor on the bookshelf. They shoved furniture back and forth and tore open boxes, Jimin not-so-subtly ogling the way Jungkook’s muscles rippled with the heavy labor (because Jungkook had, in fact, decided to remove his shirt. For practical reasons only, of course).

They decided to take a break when their playful arguments became tainted by hunger. They sat on their new couch, freshly positioned in front of their new coffee table, and devoured a pot of mac and cheese cooked on their new stovetop.

After getting back to work, Jungkook was beyond irritated when Jimin decided they needed to re-paint the bedroom after they’d spent the past hour moving their stuff into it, but his annoyance faded quickly at the sight of Jimin in his cutest, baggiest overalls, nose scrunched in adorable concentration and blue paint splotched over the fabric. It matched the smudge Jungkook had booped against Jimin’s nose. It also matched the color smeared across Jungkook’s cheeks after Jimin had chased him with the paintbrush, both tumbling into a mess on the floor as Jimin swiped the brush repeatedly and Jungkook fought him off with blue-stained fingers, their laughter and playful touches quickly leading to the apartment’s first official christening.

 

 

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Jungkook’s gaze flicks upwards, fingers loosening around the steering wheel.

The sky is blue today. It reminds him of Jimin.

He twists the key, grabs his phone, and steps out of the car. The door shuts behind him. The sun peeks around the clouds, warm on his cheek, and Jungkook closes his eyes again and imagines the sweet touch belongs to someone else, imagines the breeze ruffling his hair is the caress of someone familiar.

The ghosts seem to follow him everywhere.

If he focuses hard enough, he can almost sense Jimin standing next to him, watching with those gentle eyes. Watching as he crumbles apart, day by day, piece by piece.

He leans against the car. His chest aches and his hands clench in his pockets.

His fingers brush against the ring. It feels cold.

           

 

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Jungkook adjusted the strap of his messenger bag and shoved his key into the apartment door, rattling it for a moment before the knob gave and the door swung open. He shuffled through the entryway, exhaustion weighing heavy on his shoulders. As he toed off his shoes, he noticed a faint glow from the lamp in the living room. He sighed.

He rounded the corner to find Jimin on the couch, glasses perched on his nose as he focused on the book in his hands. Jungkook peered closer, pursing his lips when he discovered it was a romance novel. Jimin only read those when he was in a bad mood.

“Hey, baby,” Jungkook called carefully, tossing his keys into the bowl on the coffee table.

Jimin glanced up. “Hey,” he said, voice distant. Jungkook sighed internally. So, it was going to be one of those nights.

“How was your day?” he asked, moving to the kitchen to grab the leftovers Jimin had saved for him.

“Fine,” Jimin replied. Jungkook stuck the plate in the microwave. “Hoseok and Namjoon missed you tonight,” Jimin said, his voice a touch too casual. Jungkook glanced towards him, but Jimin’s gaze was still staunchly trained on his novel.

“I’m sorry I had to cancel, again. Work needed me to stay late.”

“Hm,” Jimin responded, turning a page.

Jungkook quietly sighed and loosened his tie. “Are you upset with me?”

“Why would I be upset with you?” Jimin returned calmly, a picture of nonchalance if not for the slight twitch working in his jaw.

Jungkook ran a weary hand through his hair. “C’mon, Jimin, I can tell you’re pissed. I’m tired and I have a headache, so can we just get this over with so I can go to bed?”

Jimin snapped his book closed. “Fine,” he bit out, turning to prop his forearm on the back of the couch and face Jungkook in the kitchen. “I’m mad at you, Jungkook, because you cancelled on me. Again. That’s the sixth time this month.”

Jungkook snorted as he pulled his plate from the microwave and grabbed a fork from the drawer by the sink. “What, have you been counting?” Jimin didn’t respond, but his jaw tightened. Jungkook crossed his arms. “Baby, I already told you, I’m sorry. If the office wants me to stay late, I’m not gonna refuse.”

“That’s the problem,” Jimin hissed. “I understand that you’re aiming for another promotion, and I respect your goals and your work ethic, but you’re never home anymore, Jungkook. It’s always ‘the office’ this and ‘the office’ that. You’re rarely home before ten o’clock, and then you turn around and leave at the crack of dawn.” Jimin’s teeth were gritted but his eyes sparked with hurt. “I barely get to see you as it is, and then, when I deliberately make plans for us to spend at least a little bit of time together, you cancel on me.”

Jungkook threw down his fork. He was tired and cranky and not in the mood for this conversation. “Well, gee, I’m sorry for working so hard and trying to earn a living for us.”

Jimin tossed his book on the coffee table and stood up, eyes sharp. “That’s why we both have jobs, Jungkook. We support each other. I don’t see why you have to work such unreasonable hours when our combined incomes are plenty already.”


Jungkook swallowed the retort hot on his tongue and grabbed his fork, shoving a bite of food into his mouth, chewing aggravatedly. He needed to watch his words, lest something slip.

Jimin moved from behind the couch until he was standing in the threshold of the kitchen, his lips pursed unhappily. “I figured things would have died down after a week or two, but it’s been over a month, Kook. I’m getting pretty fed up with feeling like our relationship isn’t a priority to you.”

“It’s not like that.”

“Isn’t it? Because it seems to me like you’re sucking your boss’ dick more than mine.”

“Oh, so that’s what this is really about,” Jungkook jeered, wrathfully stabbing at his food. “You’re upset that I’m not here to cater to your every need. Well, news flash, Jimin, I’m not your personal boy toy.”

Jimin’s eyes widened. “That’s not – seriously, what’s going on with you, Jungkook? Why are you making me out to be the bad guy, here? You know that’s not what I meant, but, fine, if that’s how you wanna play –”

“God, Jimin, can’t you just accept my apology and move on?”

“No, Jungkook, I can’t,” Jimin growled, his small frame nearly shaking with rage. “You’re never around, and I miss you, and I’m tired of going to bed alone and waking up alone in an apartment that was supposed to be ours. Can’t you talk to your boss, ask for more reasonable hours?”

“No,” Jungkook seethed.

“No?” Jimin crossed his arms. “Why not?”

“Ugh, Jimin, please, why do you insist on –”

Because, Jungkook, I’m sick and tired of you ignoring how I feel and –”

“Well, maybe if you tried to be just a little more supportive –”

“I am supportive, but I also care about us, which is why –”

I was going to propose!

Jungkook clamped his lips shut, but the words were already out.

Jimin’s mouth dropped open. His eyes bugged, shocked silence crackling between them.

Jungkook sighed in defeat, running an agitated hand through his hair. “I’ve been asking for extra hours so I could save some money and buy you a ring. I was planning to surprise you next month, after your birthday.”

Jimin blinked rapidly and took a small step forward. “You… you were going to propose?”

“Yes,” Jungkook said in exasperation.

“You idiot,” Jimin whispered, pulling something out of his pocket. “You didn’t need to propose, because I was going to propose.”

It was Jungkook’s turn to freeze in surprise. “W-what?”

Resting in Jimin’s palm was a tiny velvet box. Jungkook felt his hands begin to shake.

Jimin smiled softly. “Why do you think I’ve been so upset about you cancelling our plans all month?”

“Wait, those were all times you were planning to propose?”

Jimin chuckled wetly, his eyes gleaming with fondness. “Yes, you dummy.” He shoved Jungkook’s shoulder, and Jungkook grabbed his hand and held it tight.

“Wow, now I really feel like a dick,” he mumbled. Jimin intertwined their fingers.

“As you should.”

Jungkook tried to laugh, but it got caught in his throat, sounding choked and breathy. He pressed a kiss to Jimin’s knuckles. “I’m sorry for standing you up,” he murmured. Jimin’s eyes crinkled.

“I’m sorry for getting so upset.” He frowned, something between a pout and a grimace. “And for sort of implying that you’ve been exchanging sexual favors with your boss.”

Jungkook laughed freely that time, even if it was a little shaky, and he wrapped his arms around Jimin and held him close, everything fading away as Jimin hugged him back tightly and Jungkook felt a soft kiss pressed into his shoulder.

He cleared his throat. “So… are we engaged now?”

Jimin smiled against his neck. “Pretty sure one of has to actually ask.” He pulled away with a giggle, sinking to one knee and opening the velvet box, its contents glittering in the warm kitchen lighting. “And since I’ve already got a ring, I call dibs on asking first.”

 

 

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Jungkook takes a deep breath and opens his eyes, running the ring through his fingers. It feels a little warmer.

He blinks up at the sky. The day is calm, but something tumultuous is building in his chest. He drops the ring back in his pocket and shoves away from the car.

He makes no deliberate choice to walk forward, yet his feet carry him towards the building at the end of the street, mind numb, every step painful and slow. He’s itching to turn around and get back in the car and drive in the opposite direction until he runs out of gas.

He’s seen this day coming for a while, but that doesn’t make it any easier. It feels like his torso is ripped open, raw and pulsing, yet he doesn’t know how to sew it back together.

Jimin would have known. Jimin always knew.

Jungkook purses his lips and pretends there isn’t a gaping hole in his chest, ignoring the way his lungs constrict and his shell of a heart thumps in weak protest. He’s used to it by now. Sometimes, he even welcomes the pain, because it makes things harder. He doesn’t think any of this should be easy.

It certainly wasn’t easy for Jimin.

All too soon, his feet drag him to the church, where he idly notices a familiar Subaru in the parking lot. Looks like Tae is waiting.

           

    

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A glass clinked commandingly, cutting through the soft murmurs and bubbles of laughter until they faded into silence. Jimin shifted in his chair, leaning back against Jungkook’s chest, their hands folded together in Jimin’s lap as Tae tapped the microphone and cleared his throat.

“What a beautiful night, huh?” he said with a grin, his boxy smile earning a few whoops and claps from the crowd. “Shout-out to my main man Seokjin for officiating the ceremony tonight, and to Yoongi for being our resident piano man.”

Jin jokingly bowed at the smattering of applause while Yoongi shrank in his seat, shooting Tae an unamused glare. Jungkook felt Jimin chuckle against his chest. He pressed a kiss into his hair.

“Well, as best man, it’s my job to come up with the speech of a lifetime,” Tae began. “I gotta say, it’s a lot of pressure. Do I sing a song? Do I dish one of my many, many embarrassing stories of a hopelessly lovestruck Jeon Jungkook?”

“Yes!” Jimin called, earning another laugh from the crowd. Tae giggled and shot Jungkook a wink.

“I wanted to make this memorable. I know that for my two best friends, this is the only best man speech they’re ever gonna need.” His eyes softened, fairy lights casting a warm glow against his cheeks. “And for that reason, I’ve decided to just speak from the heart.

“I met Jimin in first grade. The school year had just started, and I was already getting bullied by some fifth graders at recess; I’d made the mistake of bringing my super cool new yo-yo to school, and they were trying to steal it away like the underage barbarians they were.

“I was just about to start crying when Jimin suddenly appeared. He looked like an angel, all pale hair and beautiful features – because Jimin was gorgeous even in the first grade, the asshole – but also like a demon with the fires of hell in his eyes.”

“I know that look,” Jungkook whispered. Jimin snorted and elbowed him in the ribs.

“He stole my yo-yo back from Bryan Prescott and then hurled it right back into his face.” Tae’s eyes twinkled with nostalgia. “He ended up with a black eye, and Jimin and I ended up with the first grade equivalent of detention, but we’ve been inseparable ever since.

“In fifth grade, we decided we were soulmates. We made up a secret handshake and pinky-swore to never, ever get married to anyone but each other.” Tae turned to Jimin with a loaded glare and an arched eyebrow. The crowd tittered in amusement. Jungkook couldn’t see Jimin’s face from the man’s position in his lap, but based on the way Tae’s playful scowl quickly softened, he knew Jimin must be smiling that gorgeous, effortless grin that could melt ice cream on a cold day and glow like sunlight in a black hole.

Tae teasingly narrowed his eyes before continuing. “Jimin has kept every pinky promise except this one… so, I’m willing to overlook his betrayal. Just this once.

“We finished grade school together, then middle school, then high school, going through hormones and crushes and heartbreak and exams. Jimin approached it all with a heart of gold; he was kind to the extreme, crazy smart, sweet beyond belief, and he made me want to be the same. He was my best friend and my brother, all the way through college and the beginnings of adulthood.

“And then… he ran into the love of his life.” Jungkook felt Jimin’s hands squeeze tighter around his. “Like, literally ran into him. Jimin actually had a bruise on his hip where he collided with Kookie’s rock-hard muscles.”

Somewhere in the crowd, Hoseok snorted loudly, muffling chortles into a napkin while Yoongi fought to keep a smile off his face and Namjoon chuckled alongside them.

“And from that day on, everything changed.

“I didn’t want to like Jungkook at first. Jimin couldn’t settle for just anyone, you know? He’s too beautiful and kind and strong for this world, and he deserves to be with someone equally amazing who appreciates his worth, not the typical douchebags who come knocking.” Someone cleared their throat in the audience, and Tae grinned sheepishly. “Sorry, Mrs. Jeon – all of the, um, less-than-ideal candidates vying for Chimmy’s affections. Of which there were many. And I despised them all.

“But, Jungkookie was different. He treated Jimin with respect and something akin to adoration. He was another heart of gold, and I quickly saw that the two of them together was something truly special. I’ve had a front row seat to their relationship, all of its ups and downs, and lemme tell you – I’ve never met two people so undeniably, perfectly suited for each other. I constantly feel like the quirky best friend in a rom-com. It’s nauseating. But also amazing.

“I still remember the exact moment Jimin realized he was in love.” Tae chuckled knowingly and Jimin hid his head in his hands. Jungkook straightened in his seat; he’d never actually heard the full story.

“It was an ordinary Saturday afternoon. GameStop was having a sale, so the three of us found ourselves at the mall, and even though Chim’s never been a big gamer, he tagged along because he and Kook had been dating for a couple of months and were virtually inseparable. Disgustingly cute.

“But, anyway, after a few minutes in the store, Jungkook whips around the corner and runs up to us with a game in his hands, pointing at the character on the cover, and he goes, ‘Baby, it’s you!’”

Jungkook could practically feel Jimin blushing in his lap, and he nuzzled his hair with a smirk.

“I gotta admit, the character really was a spitting image of Jimin, and Kook was bouncing up and down, geez, he was like a kid in a candy store. He was so excited, and he went up to the counter and immediately bought the game, even though it was one of the most expensive ones in the store and Jungkook doesn’t even play RPGs. He stood in line for ten minutes, just for that stupid game with a character who looked like Jimin, and Jimin just watched him the whole time. He was like a statue, his expression all glazed and spacey. I was getting kind of worried. And then, he turned to me with these huge anime eyes and whispered, ‘I’m fucking in love with him, Tae.’”

Jimin whined in embarrassment as the crowd cooed, burying his face in his hands, and Jungkook felt something unbearably warm flourish in his chest. He hadn’t realized the human heart could overflow with so much love for a single being.

He pressed his lips against Jimin’s ear. “Was that really the moment?”

Jimin nodded, and Jungkook buried his face in Jimin’s neck, brushing sweet, hidden kisses against his skin. “I hated that game, but I played it every time you left on a business trip. The character really did look exactly like you.”

A tiny noise left Jimin’s throat and he turned his head, his lips finding Jungkook’s as his hand reached back to cup his cheek. Their lips moved softly, tasting like wedding cake and champagne and fairy lights.

Tae cleared his throat. Jimin pressed another slow, lingering kiss to Jungkook’s mouth before leaning back with the stars reflected in his eyes, his cheeks the most delicate shade of pink and his lips shimmering faintly. Jungkook felt himself fall in love all over again.

Anyway,” Tae continued, “I knew, in that moment, we were in this shit for life. I – geez, I’m sorry, Mrs. Jeon, alright? I cuss when I’m emotional, I can’t help it – but I say we, not just because Jimin is my brother, my best friend, my platonic soulmate… but because Jungkook became all of those things, too.” Tae looked at them with the world between his eyes. Jungkook felt a distinct prickling in his own, and Jimin sniffled quietly in his lap.

“He’s someone I can’t live without. Both of them are. I thought life only allowed you one soulmate-slash-best-friend-slash-brother, but I’ve been blessed with two, and I’ve given up trying to figure out how I got so lucky.” Tae’s lip quivered the tiniest bit, the way it always did when he was vulnerable and honest, and Jungkook blinked hard. “Jungkook and Jimin are meant for each other. They’ve shown me what it truly means to love, and be loved. It’s been my honor to watch them grow and lean on each other and create something beautiful in this harsh world.”

He raised his glass towards the couple, his voice shaking imperceptibly. “To Jimin and Jungkook. I cherish the memories we’ve made together, and I look forward to a lifetime more. I love you guys. Cheers.”

There was a collective pause as everyone sipped their champagne. Jimin sniffled again, and Jungkook wrapped his arms around his waist, pressing a series of quick kisses against Jimin’s cheek until he let out a watery giggle. Tae turned back to the mic.

“Oh, and if anyone wants to hear embarrassing stories about Jungkook, feel free to hit me up after the ceremony.” He grinned, the mood feeling warm and light as the crowd chuckled and Tae stepped away from the mic, striding towards Jimin’s open arms. Jimin pulled him in tight as Jungkook wrapped his arms securely around Tae’s broad shoulders, a three-part sandwich of love and friendship.

They stayed like that for a long moment, just their steady heartbeats and Jimin’s quiet sniffling. Life had never felt so full of love, so full of promise. Jungkook vowed to never let them go.

 

 

*

*

*

 

 

Jungkook’s feet carry him up the stairs and through the church doorway without pausing. He finds Tae waiting for him in the lobby, eyes dry but mouth tight. He lets out a relieved sigh when Jungkook approaches, and Jungkook feels something twinge deep in his chest, and then Tae’s arms are around him, clutching him so tightly it hurts, but it helps close the wound in his torso the tiniest bit.

“Hey,” Tae mutters into Jungkook’s neck. Jungkook’s face is pressed tight against Tae’s shoulder.

“Hey.”

They squeeze for another long moment before Tae steps back, eyes running over Jungkook. He doesn’t ask how he’s doing. He doesn’t need to.

“I like the tie,” he says, a flicker of his usual boxy grin pulling another stitch tight against Jungkook’s ribs. “I remember helping him pick it out.”

Jungkook offers a small smile, but he can tell it doesn’t reach his eyes. Tae takes his hand.

“I know this sucks because you just got here, but… they’re waiting for you.”

Jungkook closes his eyes and exhales slowly through his nose. Tae squeezes his hand.

“I’ll be right here. Just get it over with, in and out, real quick, and then we can avoid them for the rest of the day.”

Jungkook nods and takes a deep breath, releasing Tae’s hand. He feels a comforting clap on his shoulder as he steps forward, out of the lobby and into the nave of the chapel.

His nose wrinkles at the over-the-top flower arrangements and formal decorations. It doesn’t feel like Jimin at all. Jimin always loved simplicity, warm colors, soft lighting, but his parents – namely his mother – had insisted on handling the funeral arrangements. Jungkook hadn’t been able to get a word in edgewise, not that he really cares. From what he’s seen, funerals aren’t a celebration of life, but an acknowledgement of death. He wants to be anywhere but there.

He finds Jimin’s parents standing near the altar, deep in conversation with a priest. Jimin’s father turns at his approach.

“Ah, Jungkook. Thank you for coming.”

Jungkook shakes his hand but says nothing.

Jimin’s mom eyes him with thinly-veiled displeasure, but Jungkook remains expressionless as he bows politely. “Mrs. Park.”

“Jungkook.” Her eyes linger on his chest. “Your tie doesn’t match the dress code. What an unfortunate oversight.”

Stiff silence settles between them. Jungkook makes no effort to break it. Mrs. Park’s eyes narrow, and Jungkook subtly fingers the ring in his pocket, its cool smoothness taking the edge off.

Mrs. Park clears her throat. “So. The ceremony will start with words from the priest, then members of the family will take turns speaking. Your speech will be last. Please keep it… appropriate for this audience.”

“Of course,” Jungkook says calmly, but his grip on the ring is painfully tight.

“The priest will end the ceremony with a prayer, and we will move to the graveyard from there. You will sit in the front row to the left. The family will sit in the center. Understood?”

Jungkook nods, expressionless, and suppresses a growl when Mr. Park pats him on the shoulder. “I know Jimin would have appreciated you being here.”

Jungkook lets go of the ring, afraid of bending it out of shape. “Yes, I’m sure he would have been thrilled to know that his husband, the love of his life, managed to show up for his funeral. A truly unpredictable turn of events.”

Mrs. Park’s eyes flash, but Jungkook doesn’t care. With Jimin gone, what’s the point? In fact, why even bother to hold back his thoughts anymore? Jimin’s parents had been plenty vocal with theirs, and he’d seen firsthand how deeply their words had cut Jimin.

Just as Jungkook opens his mouth, a steadying hand grips his shoulder. Tae’s low voice saves him. “Mr. and Mrs. Park, guests are starting to arrive and Jungkook should be there to greet them in the lobby.”

Mrs. Park glances between them before nodding curtly, turning back to the priest without another word. Mr. Park opens his mouth, something nearly apologetic in his eyes, but sighs and follows his wife. The smell of overpriced flowers is starting to make Jungkook nauseous.

“Alright, Kook, let’s get some air,” Tae says quietly, intuitively, grabbing Jungkook’s hand to lead them back down the aisle and into the lobby.

Jungkook’s fingers are shaking. Tae grips them firmly, then grabs Jungkook’s jaw to lock their gazes. “Kook. Ignore them. This day isn’t about them, it’s about Jimin. You can do this.”

Jungkook closes his eyes, teeth gritting, fists balling. “They’re just so – such –”

“They’re fucking pompous, homophobic assholes,” Tae seethes. “I know. But screw them. Jimin dealt with them his whole life. You can deal with them for one more day, just one more day, okay?”

The breath leaves Jungkook’s lungs in an angry whoosh. His trembling slows. He rests his forehead against Tae’s. “Yeah. Okay.”

Tae searches his eyes and then nods, pressing a soft kiss to Jungkook’s forehead. “Jimin would be proud of you.”

Jungkook looks down for a second before squaring his shoulders and moving next to the overbearing flower arrangement on the table by the door. Tae stands beside him, close enough that Jungkook can feel his presence, but enough space between them that the people beginning to file in look to Jungkook first.

He bows over and over to people he barely knows, acquaintances of the Park family. He hates their pitying glances. He doesn’t want their syrupy condolences. He just wants to scream, to run, to go home, or maybe somewhere the ghosts won’t find him for a while.

Just a little while.

He breathes a bit easier when Seokjin arrives and gathers him into his arms, endlessly warm and sturdy. Yoongi’s right behind him, face carefully neutral as he runs a hand over Jungkook’s hair and squeezes the base of his neck.

“Thanks for coming, guys,” Jungkook murmurs. Seokjin smiles, soft and sweet like rose petals.

“Of course, Kook. How’re you holding up?”

Jungkook’s chest tightens. “I’m fine.”

Yoongi nods brusquely, glances at Tae. He crinkles his forehead. “These flower arrangements suck.”

Jungkook feels a chuckle nudging his throat. Taehyung squeezes his hand.

The air feels calmer when Namjoon walks in, face stoic but eyes raw. “Kook,” he says, just a hint of unrestrained emotion in his voice, but not enough to send Jungkook over the edge.

He inhales a shaky breath when Hoseok arrives with red-rimmed eyes, cheeks already splotchy and pink, but a breathtaking smile beaming in his direction. He hugs Jungkook so tightly that for the briefest moment, he can pretend he isn’t broken. Hoseok presses a delicate kiss to his forehead before hugging the rest of them. They stand there, six men in a lobby, an unwanted vase of flowers filling the empty seventh space.

 

 

*

*

*

 

 

Jungkook shifted in his seat and tried not to sigh, the company’s finance spreadsheet blurring into a jumbled mess as he rubbed his eyes tiredly. He hated quarterly reviews. He just wanted to be at home with Jimin, maybe snuggle on the couch under a blanket, maybe pretend to watch Netflix but really just make out and feed each other blueberries…

He shook his head, blinked heavily, and got back to work. He glanced at the clock a few times, wondering if he could finish early enough to pick up Jimin’s favorite specialty donuts on the way home, knowing that appointments like today always made Jimin nervous. Jungkook glared balefully at the never-ending spreadsheet, the one thing keeping him there instead of next to his husband.

The last page of the worksheet was finally in sight when his phone buzzed harshly against the desk, startling him. He smiled when he saw the familiar photo flash against the screen.

“Hey, baby, how’d it go?” he asked, propping the phone on his shoulder. There was silence on the line. Jungkook heard a shaky breath. He frowned, his heart squeezing with the beginnings of alarm. “Jimin? You alright?”

“U-um…”

Jimin’s voice was shuddery and weak, hitching noticeably. Jungkook sat bolt upright, his cursed spreadsheet forgotten. “Talk to me, Jimin, what’s going on?”

Jimin took a ragged inhale. “C-can you come g-get me?”

Jungkook was already pushing away from his desk, jacket in hand, nodding to his secretary as he sped towards the elevator with long strides. “I’m on my way, just breathe for me, ok?” Jungkook anxiously pressed the elevator button more times than necessary, bouncing on his feet as it descended agonizingly slowly and Jimin’s choked breaths stuttered through the line. When the doors slid open to the lobby, Jungkook bolted to the parking lot, walking quickly to his car as he tried not to panic.

“I’m on my way, I’ll be there soon, alright? Jimin, please, what happened? What did the doctor say?”

Jimin only responded with more sniffles, more silence, and Jungkook practically sprinted the last few yards to his car as he threw open the door and launched himself into the driver’s seat, fumbling with his seat belt and slamming the door so aggressively that the rainbow pendant hanging from his rearview mirror quivered precariously and a corner of Jungkook’s suit jacket jammed in the door.

The key was only half-turned in the ignition when Jimin’s soft voice shattered Jungkook’s entire world.

“I have cancer.”

   

 

*

*

*

 

 

Jungkook remembers how he’d driven fifteen miles over the speed limit all the way to the doctor’s office. How he’d sat next to Jimin in an uncomfortable chair, knuckles white as the doctor explained that Jimin had late stage pancreatic cancer. Inoperable, incurable.

He remembers how he’d exploded, yelled, threatened to sue for not finding the cancer earlier, and how the doctor sat quietly with a look of sympathy that never wavered, as if she’d seen it all before. “Pancreatic cancer is rarely discovered in its early, treatable stages,” she’d said. “It’s a silent disease, usually not found until it’s progressed past what medicine can heal,” she’d said.

“I’m sorry,” she’d said.

He remembers the silent drive home. The walk to the front door. The way he and Jimin had collapsed in each other’s arms in the entryway, quiet, clutching, holding tight.

Hoseok slings an arm around his shoulder, and Jungkook clears his throat, offering the group a small smile to offset their concerned glances.

They file into the chapel where hushed murmurs mingle with the scent of money and mahogany, crushed under the weight of a million white flowers. Jungkook leads them to the front row on the left. He feels Mrs. Park’s stare hot on his back but doesn’t care. Family sits in the front row.

Jungkook suddenly feels fidgety. The ring in his pocket presses against his thigh when he sits down.

He sits, waiting, until the throng of strangers quiets and shuffles to their seats and the priest takes the stage, murmur-shouting platitudes about spirits and heaven and a life well-lived. Jungkook’s ears are clogged with cotton, his chest hollow as he sits against a hard pew and suffers. He wishes he could drown the voices out, but the cotton doesn’t hide their words, only muffles them, and Jungkook watches and hears as Jimin’s mother, father, uncle, stand in front of the closed casket and let careless words tumble from unrepentant lips. Meaningless, empty.

The ring sears a hole through Jungkook’s pocket. Taehyung’s hands are balled in tight fists in his lap.

None of these people knew Jimin, really knew him. Not like the people in the left front pew did. Not like Jungkook did.

Jungkook purses his lips as words fall flat, regurgitated sentiments uttered a million times at a million other funerals. The cotton dissolves in Jungkook’s ears, replaced by a low ringing. Jimin isn’t anywhere in this room. Not in the empty space in the pew on the left, not in the mountain of flowers suffocating his casket, not in the selected memories of people who remembered him for his final days in a hospital bed instead of a life full of love.

 

 

*

*

*

 

 

“Jimin, come sit in my lap!”

Jimin giggled as his husband’s arms tightened around his waist, and Jungkook shot a baleful glare towards their best friend.

“Pretty sure he should be sitting in my lap,” Jungkook challenged. Tae rolled his eyes, not the least bit concerned, and shot them a square-edged smirk.

“He gets to sit in your lap all the time, Kook, give the rest of us a chance.”

“Yeah,” Hoseok piped up from the kitchen. He strolled into the living room with a popcorn bowl precariously overfilled. “Sharing is caring, Jungkook.”

Jungkook pursed his lips. Ever since Jimin’s diagnosis, he’d been a bit… possessive. Cautious. Desperate. And all of his friends knew it. They saw the way he watched Jimin with desolate eyes, too raw and tender an expression to witness for more than a few moments, and they were compassionately silent when Jungkook needed moments to simply pull Jimin close, hold his hand, bury his face in his neck. They understood.

But tonight was movie night, a night known for cuddle piles and friendly food fights and sharing love seven ways. Jimin was theirs to spoil. And, truthfully, Jungkook was thankful for a night of normalcy, and he knew Jimin was, too. He could let Jimin sit on someone else’s lap if it meant he could forget he was sick, forget he was dying, if only for a couple of hours.

His friends deserved these final moments, too.

Jungkook sighed, and Tae knew he’d won. His smile stretched even wider as he patted his thighs, snuggling deeper into the corner of the couch. “Get over here, Chim!”

Jimin grinned and pressed a kiss to Jungkook’s cheek before skipping to Tae, plopping into his lap, light as a feather. Tae arranged him until he was cradled against his chest like a child, Jimin’s legs stretching down the couch to rest in Jin’s lap. Jungkook noticed Namjoon discreetly snap a photo from across the room, not surprised when it showed up in the group chat a moment later. They’d taken to documenting small moments like this more than they’d used to.

“Alright, what are we watching?” Hoseok asked, squishing into the armchair next to a disgruntled Yoongi, who suddenly found himself with a mountain of popcorn in his lap.

“No horror movies,” Namjoon complained. “Hoseok had nightmares for almost a month from the last one.”

“I vote action,” Jungkook interjected. He maneuvered through the crowded living room to settle on the floor at Tae’s feet. Jimin’s hand reached out to smooth over his hair.

“Please, not another Marvel movie,” Yoongi groaned. “Superheroes are so predictable.”

“Shut up,” Hoseok said through a mouthful of popcorn.

“What about that new spy comedy?” Jimin chirped from Tae’s lap.

“Comedy it is,” Jin decided instantly, and since he held the remote, no further complaints were raised. They all settled in, Hoseok resting his head on Yoongi’s shoulder, Tae’s hand running lazily through Jimin’s hair, Namjoon reclining in his armchair with already-drooping eyelids. Jungkook guessed he’d be dozing off by the end of the opening credits.

He leaned back against Tae’s legs, and for the first time in a while, everything felt safe. Normal. The opening scene had Jin laughing so hard the entire couch shook. The climactic fight sequence made Hoseok jump and spill popcorn all over Yoongi’s lap, which made Jin laugh again and Namjoon startle awake. Jimin’s sweet laughter mingled with Tae’s deep chuckles throughout the movie, and Jungkook’s heart glowed so warmly it felt on the edge of bursting as his own cheeks stretched around a grin and he felt Jimin topple over with laughter more than once on the couch above him. It was moments like these – full of life, love, laughter, friendship, family, Jimin – that he would cherish for a lifetime.

 

           

*

*

*

 

 

Jungkook slips his fingers into his pocket, the ring calm and steady. 

He closes his eyes, and suddenly there’s a calming presence next to him, the ghost of a hand laying comfortingly over his own.

“It’s time.”

Jungkook opens his eyes to find the stage empty and Tae patting his hand. He stands, making his way to the microphone. He walks past pictures of Jimin, stiffly-posed headshots from family photoshoots and school picture days. No wedding photos. No vacation photos. No candid shots of Jimin mid-laughter, his smile stretched so wide it seems the image is about to thaw with a breathless chime of giggles.

That’s okay. Jungkook has those photos on his fridge.

He faces the crowd of vague faces, a sea of black, each wearing an appropriately mournful mask that doesn’t reach their eyes in quite the right way. These people don’t know Jimin. Jungkook does.

His gaze settles on his friends, the sickly-sweet syrup of generic sympathy absent from their eyes. They radiate love and understanding and shared loss. They give Jungkook the strength to speak.

“My name is Jungkook,” he begins. “I am – was – Jimin’s husband.” He ignores the look from Mrs. Park and the sudden lump in his throat. “I’m sure Jimin would be honored to see so many beloved faces in the audience here today.

“He was a man who lived his life for others. Everyone he met left with a special kind of glow, infused with a unique kindness and light that Jimin gifted with such effortless grace. He was selfless, charming, gentle, generous with his love while expecting nothing in return. When we first met, I thought he was an angel.”

A light chuckle runs through the audience. A particularly loud sniffle comes from the front left pew.

“The day I married Jimin is still the happiest day of my life.” Jungkook feels a strange fuzziness settle over his brain, his phantom heart seeming to beat twice as strongly around the hole in his chest. “Every day with Jimin was a gift. He made me laugh so hard I barely recognized myself. He made every moment together feel like coming home. We spent hours and hours sharing our hopes and dreams and fears, building a love that made me realize what all those novels and movies and songs are about.

“He was the first person I saw every morning, the last one I saw every night, and the one I thought about every moment in between.

“The day he was diagnosed with cancer is still the worst day of my life.” Jungkook swallows thickly. “Not the day he…” Jungkook takes a deep breath, “…he passed; not today, his funeral – though this fucking sucks, let me tell you – ; but the day I realized that life was cruel enough to rip my heart out of my chest, that the reason my heart beat and my soul existed could be so quickly, brutally, unfairly taken from this world, from me. It was the day I realized that our lifetime of happiness had been shortened to a moment.”

Jungkook doesn’t give a damn about Mrs. Park in the front row, or the crowd of strangers clad in black, or the speech folded in his coat pocket that he hasn’t bothered to open. Memories rush through his mind, a film reel of moments so precious they take his breath away, imprinted in his brain with a permanence that feels infinite and bittersweet. Instead of speaking the words he’s planned, he speaks the words he feels, and his heart suddenly feels alive in his chest.

“Jimin is the love of my life,” he says simply. “I know he’s gone, but… I still feel him. When someone touches your life so profoundly, it changes your very makeup. All of my atoms have realigned, my cells shifted into a new pattern, and every part of me is better and more beautiful because I carry his memory, because he poured so much love into me that I could never possibly lose it.”

He closes his eyes. He sees Jimin’s soft smile, feels his warm arms wrap around him and his soft lips on his cheek.

“I don’t want to let him go,” he murmurs. He’s forgotten the crowd completely. “I don’t know how. He can’t… he can’t really be gone.” He swallows thickly. “How can he be gone, when I can still see him? Still hear him? Still feel him?”

 

 

*

*

*

 

 

Twilight seeped through the hospital window, the moon beginning its evening vigil and softly painting Jimin’s pale face through the flimsy curtains. The room was lit by a single lamp near the bed, its soothing floral shade a thoughtful touch from Seokjin. It helped put the illusion of color back into Jimin’s cheeks.

Jungkook sat in a chair by the bedside, Jimin’s gaze trained on the mystery novel resting on the bedspread, Jungkook’s gaze tracing Jimin’s haggard features, over and over, lingering on the harsh jut of his collarbones, the clamminess of his forehead, the way his jaw strained beneath his skin like a knife, sharp and deadly.

Jungkook knew Jimin was nearing the end.

He’d lasted months past his diagnosis and defied the dismal mortality statistics with a smile as breathtaking and beautiful as the first time Jungkook had seen it. But, slowly, as the weeks went by, Jimin had begun to deteriorate. His skin turned yellow and sallow. His clothes grew baggy, his wedding ring too loose around his finger. His stomach refused his favorite foods. His eyes started burning, not with the usual spark Jungkook loved, but with a fierce, inescapable ache that accompanied his worsening physical pain.

Jungkook had watched, helpless, powerless, as his husband withered away before his eyes. He’d watched as Jimin graced everyone with his signature smile, as though he didn’t cry into his pillow some nights when he thought Jungkook was asleep.

He’d taken Jimin to all of their favorite places until they physically couldn’t, until the pain became too much and he’d checked Jimin into the hospital, refusing to see him suffer when medicine could help ease the pain in his final days.

His final days.

Those days had arrived, and yet Jungkook couldn’t palate them, swirling their finality in his mouth like a jawbreaker, unfathomable, impossible. Surely, this beautiful, shimmering example of a human being couldn’t be leaving so soon. He still had so much to offer, so much kindness and beauty to give the world, so much laughter and love Jungkook still had to give him. How could God send an angel just to take him away?

Jungkook didn’t get any medicine. No brand of morphine could heal the cracks slowly but steadily fissuring through his heart. His own pain was insufferable, like a hot serrated knife twisting in his gut, constantly knocking the breath from his lungs. But he hid it well, knowing that his suffering would only cause Jimin more pain, and Jimin didn’t deserve any more pain. He’d never deserved any pain to begin with. With every fiber of his being, Jungkook pleaded with the universe, begging to take Jimin’s sickness away. He would endure centuries of agony if it meant Jimin could have just one more year on this earth. But life wasn’t a fairytale; there was no genie to grant his wish or evil sea witch to sell his soul to, so Jungkook dedicated every living, breathing moment to filling the final days of Jimin’s life with nothing but love.

Their final days.

If he sometimes hugged Jimin a little too tightly or kissed him a bit too bruisingly, Jimin never commented.

With his eyes unfailingly glued to Jimin’s form, he noticed when his husband began to shift against the mattress, the tiniest grimace of discomfort distorting his features.

“The pain kicking back in?” Jungkook asked.

Jimin nodded weakly. Jungkook stood and gently helped Jimin scoot forward on the bed, then toed off his shoes and carefully climbed behind him, jostling the mattress as little as possible as he leaned back against the pillows with his head on the wall and his legs on either side of Jimin’s, pulling his husband back against his chest. Jimin sighed happily. Jungkook could feel his heartbeat pressed against his chest, shallow but determined as it thumped beneath skin and bones.

“Better?” Jungkook murmured, pressing a kiss into Jimin’s hair. The latter hummed.

“Your body heat helps.” Jimin’s voice was hoarse and breathy, a wisp of its usual buttery warmth.

Jungkook traced his nose along Jimin’s neck, his hands smoothing up and down his sides. He pressed a few soft kisses against Jimin’s skin. Jimin gradually relaxed, his harsh breathing evening out the slightest bit. Jungkook tried not to linger on the clammy chill of Jimin’s skin against his lips, the bones he could feel sheathed by a wisp of willowy paper. He buried his nose in Jimin’s hair, dry and flat and only faintly smelling of the floral shampoo he always used. He reached down to play with the ring sitting on Jimin’s left hand, easily sliding it up and down, the soft plumpness of Jimin’s fingers replaced by bony grace. He savored the feeling of his husband in his arms, cherished every breath that scraped through his lungs, every gentle flick of pulse beneath his skin. Things he thought he’d get a lifetime of.

Jimin turned his head, trying to meet Jungkook’s eyes. “Kook,” he whispered.

Jungkook hadn’t realized he was crying, soft tears pattering onto Jimin’s neck.

“I’m sorry,” he muttered, voice cracking. He hastily swiped his hands beneath his eyes, angry at his tears for betraying him, but when Jimin grabbed his hand and pressed a weak, feathery kiss against his knuckles, he couldn’t hold it in any longer.

He burst.

He sobbed brokenly, quietly, burying his head against Jimin’s shoulder, his tears soaking into Jimin’s hospital nightgown as the moon watched in silence.

Ever since the diagnosis, Jungkook hadn’t allowed himself to cry. Jimin was the one suffering, the one clutching onto borrowed time, and Jungkook had vowed to be strong, the rock they both needed. But now, the agony he’d fought so hard to contain was streaming down his cheeks, wracking his lungs, shaking in his fingers as they desperately clutched Jimin’s thin robe, and Jimin said nothing, just holding their hands in his frail grip, and the tears and moonlight soaked into his skin as their sorrow silently intertwined.

Jungkook’s tears eventually ran dry. He shuddered uneven breaths against Jimin’s shoulder. He felt soft circles being smoothed into his hand, and it made him want to break down all over again.

“I c-can’t do this, J-Jimin,” he whispered into his husband’s skin. “Y-you’re my life. H-how am I su-supposed to live without you?” His throat convulsed, a choked sound strangling in his chest. “I can’t lose you.”

“You’re not losing me,” Jimin murmured. His voice was a balm, soothing the jagged, bleeding edges of Jungkook’s soul as it slowly ripped apart. How would he bear the pain when Jimin’s voice was gone?

Jimin tightened his grip on their hands. “I’ll always be here, baby. You just have to look for me.”

“I’ll never stop looking for you,” Jungkook vowed brokenly, his lips ghosting up Jimin’s neck to press against his cheek. He felt it when Jimin smiled.

“Maybe I’ll haunt you,” he teased, a painful kind of longing in his voice.

Jungkook chuckled wetly. “I hope you do.” He wound his arms around Jimin’s stomach, laying one hand over Jimin’s chest where his heart still beat against all odds, hot and determined beneath his palm. Jimin sighed, reaching back to stroke Jungkook’s hair despite the uncomfortable tug against the medical tubes in his stomach.

He didn’t say anything for a moment. Jungkook leaned into his touch.

“Just promise me that someday you’ll stop looking for me.” Jimin’s voice was quiet. “That you’ll move on and be — happy.”

“I don’t know how to be happy without you,” Jungkook choked, closing his eyes. A single tear slid down Jimin’s cheek, dropping against Jungkook’s forehead, shimmering in the moonlight.

“I know, baby,” he murmured. “I know.”

The held each other, Jungkook sniffling, Jimin stroking his hair, both of them breaking and healing and re-shattering all at the same time. Jimin linked their left hands, wedding rings clinking together. Then, he linked their right hands, where matching bands with three interwoven parts rested comfortingly on their opposite ring fingers, evidence of another kind of vow, another promise. Jimin’s lips pressed against the bands as he spoke.

“But you won’t have to do it alone.”

 

           

*

*

*

 

 

Tae’s face is buried in a tissue. Namjoon’s arm is wrapped around his shoulder, his other hand on Hoseok’s knee. Hoseok’s cheek rests against Jin’s neck. Jin’s hand rubs Yoongi’s shoulder as silent tears stream down the smaller man’s face.

Jungkook offers them a tiny smile, and they all return it, watery but strong.

Jimin may not be there, but Jungkook isn’t alone.

“Jimin is the love of my life,” he repeats slowly, voice quiet. “And that will never change. He’ll always be the most important part of me. But maybe, someday… I’ll find the strength to stop looking for him.”

The church is quiet. The hole in Jungkook’s chest pulses, but it feels nice. It feels real.

Mrs. Park’s expression seems less frigid. Mr. Park’s eyes are glossy. Jungkook hears a few sniffles echo through the room, but he’s suddenly exhausted, tired of putting up a front for these people who mean nothing.

He descends the stage and heads to the front left pew, where Jin pulls him into a strong hug and Yoongi rubs his back in a way that’s immensely comforting but makes his chest throb.

He takes his place next to Tae, who grabs his hand and leans his head against Jungkook’s shoulder. The rest of the funeral passes in a blur. The priest returns with some religious droning Jungkook knows Jimin barely believed in. When he finishes, the spell breaks. The audience thaws and begins to murmur and shuffle towards the back entrance of the church.

Jungkook waits until the room is empty, save for the ocean of pale flowers and the friends sitting next to him. With a deep breath, he stands, walking back to the stage. He stops in front of the casket, runs a hand over the rich mahogany, cool and smooth. He knows Jimin wanted cremation, but the Parks had refused.

He stands there for a long time. His mind is surprisingly quiet. His ribs hurt, but it’s a soft pain, delicate around the edges.

He bites his lip. His feet are locked in place; he doesn’t want to move, because he knows what comes next. The finality of officially saying goodbye. How can he say goodbye when Jimin still feels so alive, when any moment he’ll stroll through the door with that breathtaking smile and heavenly glow and say Jungkook’s name with the soft sweetness reserved just for him?

How is he supposed to let go?

Quiet footsteps approach and a hand finds his own, fingers linking over the mahogany. The hand has a friendship ring on its fourth finger, matching the three-part band on Jungkook’s, identical to the one still wrapped around Jimin’s where he rests beneath them. Tae’s eyes reflect everything Jungkook can’t put into words. With a tiny, understanding smile, he leads them off the stage. The rest are waiting, and together they walk out the door and towards the crowd on the grass, gathered around a gaping hole that Jungkook wishes would swallow him instead.

He stands between Namjoon and Hoseok as the casket is lowered. He doesn’t understand why he’s here. What’s the point of this? What’s the point of anything, now that Jimin’s gone? He wonders if anyone else has this black hole in their rib cage, this agonizing, inescapable emptiness that takes his breath away.

Hoseok flinches as the first shovel of dirt hits the casket. Namjoon takes a shaky breath. But Jungkook is lost in the pointlessness of it all. Every dull toss of dirt is like sand falling through an hourglass, particle by particle, and Jungkook just stands and watches it all trickle away, until the last mound of dirt and the last grain of sand have settled in their final resting place, still once again.

The earthly chasm is filled, Jimin buried deep, but there’s nothing to fill the gaping emptiness in Jungkook’s chest.

Shovels tap the dirt flat, and then it’s quiet. The sky is still blue. The same warm breeze weaves between the grass and brushes past tombstones. Jungkook stares at the engraving before him:

                       

                        Park Jimin

                        Beloved Son

                        1995-2025

 

Its inadequacy makes his fists clench. This slab of stone is supposed to capture the essence of Jimin, carved into permanency for all to see, but it just makes Jungkook’s torso feel even more hollow.

The silence fades as people turn away, chatting lowly as they head towards the church reception. Jungkook stays behind. His eyes are glued to the tombstone. He wants to whip out his pocketknife and carve his own description:

                       

                        Park Jimin

                        Beloved Husband, Friend to All

                        An Angel on Earth

                        Forever With Us

 

But Jungkook left his pocketknife at home.

The breeze seems stronger when he’s alone, ruffling his hair affectionately, whispering condolences more soothing than words. The sun is suddenly shy, feeling guilty for shining so brightly, but Jungkook doesn’t mind. The sun is warm and bright, watching over everyone, generous and infallible. Just like Jimin.

Jungkook doesn’t know how long he’s stood there when Tae comes back out. He stops next to Jungkook, shoving his hands in his pockets. The wind whispers for two.

They stand in silence for a long time.

“I still see him everywhere.”

“Me, too.”

The wind rustles through the grass. The tombstone remains unmoved. Jungkook decides that tomorrow, he’ll plant the seeds of a garden on Jimin’s grave, a bed of flowers so sweet and beautiful that people will feel safe and loved and happy just by being near. The way Jimin made everyone feel.

Soft footsteps appear behind them, and Jin rests a hand on each of their shoulders. He says nothing, but his palm feels warm through Jungkook’s suit jacket.

Hoseok comes next, handing each of them a heavily-spiked cup of punch. Jungkook barely feels it slide down his throat.

Yoongi soon joins them, then Namjoon, and none of them speak. There’s nothing left to say. It’s serene, nothing but the rustle of trees in the late afternoon breeze as they remember in their own ways, some with eyes closed, some with silent tears brushed away by the gentle wind. Jungkook can see Taehyung’s lip quivering in his peripheral. He hears a tiny sniffle behind him, but his own eyes are dry as he stands there with nothing but a hole in his chest and memories echoing in his ears. He closes his eyes and hears Jimin’s soft Busan accent in the whispering wind, sounding like home.

They trickle away one by one, leaving with firm hugs and soft words until it’s just Tae and Jungkook and Jimin. The wind gets restless, turns chilly. The sky has slowly darkened into a color that makes Jungkook feel alone. Tae shivers slightly.

“Time to go, Kook,” he says quietly. Jungkook nods, taking a final, long glance at the slab of rock with Jimin’s name on it, barely legible in the fading light of evening. He expects to feel a tug as he turns away, but he doesn’t, just a soft caress of farewell from the breeze that he leans into with a small sigh.

They walk back to the front of the church. Tae’s car is the only one left in the lot. His keys jingle as he unlocks it, the click sounding loud against the dusky sky. He turns to wrap Jungkook into a hug, long and tight, and Jungkook hugs back.

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” Tae says softly. His eyes hurt to look at, so Jungkook simply nods and moves to turn away. “Kook—” Tae opens his mouth but pauses, pursing his lips tightly. He swallows. “Text me if you need me tonight, ok? I’ll be awake.”

Jungkook nods again. “Thanks, Tae,” he whispers. Tae smiles, barely there, before stepping off the curb and getting into his car. Jungkook watches him pull out of the parking lot and drive away, red taillights glowing against the darkness. Jungkook watches until he’s left with nothing but an empty road before heading in the direction of his own car.

He unlocks the door, steps in, turns the key, flicks on the lights. The dash glows pale blue. He’s low on gas. The rainbow on his mirror twirls gently, soft against the glare of headlights.

The drive home is silent. He pulls into the driveway, turns off the lights, pulls the key out of the ignition. The engine quiets with a huff. The dash fades to black. The night suddenly feels too loud.

He unlocks the front door and steps inside, toeing off his shoes, throwing his keys into the bowl on the coffee table. Jimin isn’t in the loveseat, but Jungkook still steps into the living room to turn on the reading lamp.

He heads to the kitchen but doesn’t turn on the lights, grabbing one of the many Tupperware containers Jin had deposited into his fridge, popping off the lid, pressing a button on the microwave. The inner lights flick on and Jungkook watches the tray revolve with a slow mechanical hum.

He hesitates a moment, then presses the voicemail button on the home phone. Jimin’s voice is crackly and soft. “Hi, you’ve reached the Jeons! Leave us a message and –-“

The hole in his chest is suddenly unbearable.

Jungkook slides to the kitchen floor, crumpling in on himself. His eyes sting, his back pressed against the cabinets and Jimin’s pre-recorded laughter blending with the steady thrum of the microwave. His breath painfully hitches around tearless sobs that echo where his heart should be, his cheeks dry even as his hands ball into his shirt and his shoulders shudder and desperate noises choke in his throat. The pain knocks the breath out of him, sharp and agonizing, inescapable.

The microwave beeps. The recording ends.

The kitchen is quiet and dim. His shuddering breaths are loud and jerky in the silence, every inhale dragging shards of glass through his wrecked lungs and pricking at his eyes. His voice is scarily raw and he can’t breathe and the kitchen is so dark and everything hurts, and he feels as though he’s bleeding out onto the floor, but that can’t be right – his chest is empty. There’s no heart to pump the blood from his veins.

He closes his eyes and leans his head back against the cabinets, shoulders shaking, lungs convulsing. He feels the ghost of a hand on his shoulder. Small, gentle fingers brush against his cheek, and his breaths slowly even out. The hole in his chest pulses raggedly.

He buries his head in his hands for a moment, cheeks still unbearably dry, then takes a stuttering breath and pushes up from the floor. He grabs the bowl from the microwave. The food is lukewarm now, but he doesn’t have the energy to reheat it.

He sits at the dining table by the window, eating quietly, not tasting. He gets up and washes the tupperware. He leaves the reading lamp on in the living room as he heads down the hallway.

The bedroom light is warm against hand-painted sky-blue walls. Jungkook tugs off his tie, maroon with tiny silver hearts. He looks at it for a long moment, running the silky material through his fingers before hanging it next to the baby blue robe in the corner of his closet.

He strips off his black suit, trading it for a pair of black boxers and a black t-shirt that smells of nothing but laundry detergent. He sets his wedding ring on the bedside table.

When he brushes his teeth, he stands on the left side of the mirror, a dry-bristled blue toothbrush still resting in the cup on the right side. He taps his cheeks with the aloe-infused facewash that smells like Jimin, then turns off the lights and climbs into bed.

The right side of the mattress is empty, the sheets too cold. He lays in the silence. He doesn’t fall asleep until he hears the familiar sigh of tiny, soft snores next to him, feels the limbs thrown over his body and the warmth snuggled against his chest, comforting and aloe-scented.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When he wakes up, the bed is cold, but he hears the page of a book turning in the living room. The ghosts are waiting for him.