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Paradise, Bound

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Jungkook kept waiting for that moment.

That moment at the start of all the movies and tv shows that seemed to signify a new beginning. That moment of pure optimism, when you could take in a deep breath of the refreshing air and taste it. But, as Jungkook unloaded his two suitcases and guitar case from the cab, all he could taste when he inhaled was exhaust and something sour. It was an odd taste, one Jungkook didn’t have the pallet or patience to identify. He briefly wondered if it was all the sand in the air; if this odd, tangible flavor floating around him was usually masked by pollution in the bigger cities. Before spending too much mental energy on sand of all things, Jungkook closed the trunk, making sure to hear the locking of the metal before walking around to the driver’s side.

“Thanks, man,” he said, offering the driver a wad of cash through the open window.

“No problem, kid,” the older man said, eyes nervously shifting back and forth between Jungkook and the road in front of him, almost like he couldn’t wait to leave. Jungkook didn’t pay much mind to it, and turned around, ready to walk away, before the cab driver surprisingly spoke again. “Hey, be careful around these parts, kay?”

Jungkook turned his head, eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Uh, yeah, sure,” he mumbled, not sure how to answer a question like that, and from a stranger no less.

That seemed to be enough for the driver, though, because before Jungkook could even fully put his back to the car, he was speeding away, sending a fresh wave of exhaust trailing behind. Jungkook sighed and reached down to pick up his bags, slinging his guitar case across his back. He took in the apartment complex in front of him. The Urban Pearl Condominiums. Jungkook could barely see the letters gripping onto the concrete exterior of the building in front of him, a blush of whatever yellow paint had once adorned it. The place was mediocre at best. There were four floors; four rows of windows tightly packed together, all the curtains closed. There was quite literally nothing special about the place, and Jungkook didn’t mind at all. There was something…quaint about the place. He stared a moment more, transfixed. Maybe it was the quiet, which he wasn’t used to. Or maybe there was still a part of him that was hopelessly awaiting his movie moment. Whatever it was that made him take extra pause, it washed away, never to be thought of again, as Jungkook took his first few steps towards his new home.

--

Jungkook thanked himself for forking up the extra cash to rent a furnished apartment. The first thing he did when he was finally able to jerk the stubborn door open was to drop his stuff and practically catapult himself across the dusty blue couch right in front of him. He panted into the cushions, cursing the building for its lack of an elevator, and cursing himself for renting a place on the fourth floor. Letting his sweaty skin breathe in the cool fabric beneath him, Jungkook found he could not fight gravity’s claim on his eyelids and let himself drift off into the first soundless sleep he’d had in a while.

Jungkook couldn’t have been asleep for more than an hour because when he came too, the hot Arizona sun was still shining proudly in the sky. The bright beams managed to sneak through the thin curtains barely covering the front window, illuminating Jungkook’s squinting eyes and deep, drawn brows. Now fully awake due to the daylight’s interruption, Jungkook slowly dragged his upper body against the back of the couch, mussing his hair as he did so. Once he was finally able to achieve a position that wasn’t completely horizontal, he paused. Something felt off, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. After a few more contemplative moments, it finally occurred to him.

He was shocked by the silence, and how much it was suddenly bothering him. He was so used to having his friends, always ready for whatever the night had in store for them, mere doors away from him at any moment’s notice. He couldn’t hear his brothers now, nor the music that pounded through the walls almost every night at the house…

But that was all gone now.

Jungkook mentally reminded himself as such with a clenched jaw. Before he could spiral further, he felt his body jolt awake, ready for something, anything, to stop his train of thoughts. After checking his phone for the time, he told himself he could go explore the sleepy town of once he unpacks. Given the two measly bags he’d slung up all four flights of stairs earlier, this was an easy feat. He was done within the hour, and by the time the sun started to shy away behind the mountains, he was already halfway through the door, hastily throwing his coat over his shoulders.

Meandering through the dusted streets, Jungkook was pleased to find out that he wasn’t, in fact, the only human in this town. Not that he particularly wanted to talk to anyone, but it was reassuring to see any semblance of humanity besides himself. He noticed that most of the people he passed on the streets were older, mid-fifties at least. A few of them smiled at him politely, but he was glad that no one tried to actively engage him in any sort of conversation. No, he was content to walk with no direction, listening to the indie playlist he never played in front of the guys in school.

After a few minutes of peace, his thoughts started to travel again, to times not long ago, times that were the reason Jungkook was here in the first place. Apparently, fresh air and pleasant music weren’t enough to mute the thoughts, not like they ever were. Jungkook was just hoping that things would be different here, but the hope was undeserved, obviously. He knew what would quiet his thoughts. Pulling out his phone and opening the maps app, he prayed that this town would at least have something close to a decent bar. There was only one search result, which wasn’t promising, but Jungkook still plugged in the walking directions. He found himself about five blocks away from where he started walking, in front of a red two-story building that looked more like a house than a bar. But, hey, if they sold alcohol, Jungkook didn’t care if it was a shack at this point.

He entered through the front door, triggering a small ding from the bell attached to the top of it. The inside looked more like a bar, with a few tables scattered about, a pool table in one corner, and a jukebox in the other. Home sweet home. There was a man behind the bar, and the first thing Jungkook noticed was the mint green mop of hair covering the man’s head. Being as pale as the man was, a pastel hair color like that was a bold choice, but it worked somehow. There was something intimidating about the man; he was short and smaller in stature, but the way he held himself spoke louder.

“Welcome to Hot Shot’s,” the guy said, voice void of any small-town hospitality Jungkook was expecting. “What can I get ya?”

Jungkook nodded a hello as he pulled out a barstool. “What’s up, man? I’ll take a rum and coke.” The bartender shook his head once in confirmation and went to making the drink silently behind the bar. Jungkook caught on that this man obviously wasn’t the talkative type, so he decided to continue. “So,” he said, clearing his throat, “you guys still hiring?”

The other man paused his work to cast a lazy glance at Jungkook. “You lookin for a job?” he asked before looking back down to focus on cutting a slice of lime. By the slant of the man’s lips, he looked almost amused at the prospect of Jungkook’s question.

“Uh, yeah. I’m staying in town for a few months. Just something part-time,” Jungkook replied, absentmindedly watching the man’s pale fingers work.

At this, a smile broke through the other guy’s lips, followed by a few quiet chuckles. He placed the slice of lime on the rim of the tinted glass below him and slid it across the dark wood. It landed right in front of Jungkook, leaving a translucent trail of condensation in its wake.

“Now what is a guy like you doing out here in Blisswater?” he asked, sarcastic smile still tugging at the corner of his thin lips.

“A guy like me?” Jungkook asked, brows furrowed in confusion. He took a sip of his drink, hating how familiar and warm the velvety liquid felt going down his throat.

“We don’t get a lot of newcomers here,” was all he got in return. The guy looked content to leave Jungkook’s previous question hanging in the air, forgotten.

Jungkook let out a huff of frustration before he decided to be polite and answer the bartender’s earlier question, even though polite seemed to be the last thing on the guy’s mind. “M’ just taking a break from school,” he supplied, taking another sip of his drink. He didn’t want to leave his statement hanging in the air; he wasn’t in the mood to make up a lie. “So how ‘bout that job?”

The guy behind the bar just shook his head and tilted his lips. “There’s no way you’re staying here that long.”

“Excuse me?” Jungkook’s fist clenched around the glass in his hand. This guy was starting to get on his nerves.

“Please,” the bartender scoffed, giving Jungkook a once-over with his eyes, “guy like you? There’s nothin for you here. Hate to break it to you, buddy, but there’s no football games or Hawaiian Fridays in these parts.”

Ah, so Jungkook got his answer after all. The dude was just being a dick. “Ha ha, thanks for stereotyping me, man,” he responded dryly. The other guy didn’t look bothered in the slightest, casually leaning on his elbow against the bar.

“Hey, I just call ‘em like I see ‘em. I’m Yoongi by the way. Welcome to the neighborhood, for now anyways.” He was smirking again.

Well, now at least Jungkook could put a name to the asshole. “Jungkook,” he said. His clipped response seemed to amuse Yoongi, who was now fiddling with the espresso machine to Jungkook’s left, further.

“Well, Jungkook, we’ll see how long you last,” Yoongi said in a deadpanned tone that made Jungkook wonder if the man in front of him existed in a constant state of apathy. He took another sip and added, “I give it a week, tops.”

Jungkook just rolled his eyes and said, “well, I hope you like being wrong, then,” before downing the rest of his drink and slamming it back down on the bar. He noticed that the glass had intricate little etchings near the bottom, previously masked by the glass’ contents. The few murky drops remaining at the bottom of the glass reflected the designs against the dark wood of the bar. Jungkook couldn’t help but watch as the shadows danced against the light.

“Another?” Yoongi asked, wrenching Jungkook out of his tipsy musings. Jungkook nodded without saying anything, content to let the alcohol in his body do its job. He felt some of the tension wound around his bones start to relax and let his shoulders come forward, falling into a comfortable slouch. He watched as Yoongi prepared his second drink, amazed by the efficiency in which the man worked. It was surprising, considering the almost lackadaisical way of Yoongi’s mannerisms.

Yoongi handed Jungkook his drink this time, and Jungkook noticed he’d made one for himself as well. Yoongi held up his glass. “I’ll tell ya what,” he said, “if you’re still here by next Friday, I’ll hire you.” Jungkook raised his eyebrow at this. He wanted to tell Yoongi to go fuck himself and that he didn’t to prove himself to some small-town loser. He wanted to tell Yoongi to shove all his judgments right up his ass. He wanted to tell Yoongi a lot of things, but he didn’t have many options at the moment. Plus, Jungkook realized that pissing off the owner of the only bar in this crap town probably wasn’t the smartest move.

“Deal,” he finally said, extending his drink across the bar to meet Yoongi’s in the middle. The glasses met with a crisp clink, and as the two men took their first sips, a silent agreement was made. When Jungkook put his glass down, he noticed Yoongi was staring at him with narrowed eyes. He was about to tell him that a picture would last longer but was interrupted by a weak ring behind him, signaling that someone else had entered the bar. Finally, Jungkook thought. Now Yoongi could go be an ass to someone else. The newcomer’s footsteps were faint, barely echoing into the otherwise abandoned bar. Jungkook saw them approach in his periphery and cast a sideways glance to see if it was anyone worth talking to. He was not disappointed with his findings.

The boy looked around his age. He had dusty blonde hair that carelessly flopped against his strong brows as he walked towards the bar. He sported a loose long sleeve shirt and sweatpants that shouldn’t work together but somehow did. His deep brown eyes seemed to be looking far away, his sharp features relaxed into a pensive stare. Sure, the guy looked like he could use a sandwich and at least one good night’s rest, but he was handsome nonetheless. He looked like one of those shy nerdy guys that Jungkook could have easily picked up at one of the countless parties hosted by his fraternity (one of his favorite past times; the nerds were always secret freaks in bed). Jungkook smiled to himself. Perhaps his night was taking a turn for the better. He took another sip of his drink and watched silently as Yoongi made his way towards the boy, who was now casually leaning against the bar, giving an appreciative (and now fully tipsy) Jungkook a nice view of his rear.

Yoongi gave the newcomer a half-smile, which from Jungkook’s limited experience with the man must mean that they were at least friends. “Hey, Tae,” he said, causing the other guy, Tae apparently, to smile back. And damn if that wasn’t one of the cutest smiles Jungkook had seen in a while. “Coffee’s brewing right now, I’m gonna go grab some milk from the back.” As Yoongi passed Jungkook on his way to the kitchen, he gave Jungkook a look. His raised brows seemed to say, “don’t even think about it.” But Jungkook was way past thinking about it. He waited for Yoongi’s hunched form to disappear around the corner before turning his attention to the guy standing about two stools away from him.

“Hey,” he called from his spot. He saw Tae’s eyelids flutter in surprise as if he hadn’t even noticed there was anyone else in the bar. Even knowing as little about the town as Jungkook did, it didn’t take a genius to realize that was usually the case. “Sorry, dude, didn’t mean to scare you.” He made sure to send the handsome stranger one of his warmest smiles. Those always worked.

Tae blinked and then let out a quick, “it’s fine,” under his breath, before turning back to stare absentmindedly at the shelves of liquor behind the bar. While Jungkook did appreciate the low, gravelly sound to the voice, he did not, in fact, appreciate being ignored. He shook it off and decided to keep talking.

“I’m Jungkook, just moved here today. Can I buy you a drink? I’d love to get to know some of the locals,” he drawled, and couldn’t help but end his sentence with a smirk as he gave Tae a once-over with his hungry eyes. Oh, and he definitely wanted to get to know this local, alright.

Tae’s sleepy eyes widened as he looked back at Jungkook, who could see the beginnings of a flush creep up his cheeks. Cute, once again. He saw Tae open his inviting, pink lips, and Jungkook felt his pulse start to patter in excitement. “Hey, Yoongi,” he called, “I’m gonna go wait upstairs.” And then he walked right past Jungkook and up the stairs, tucked away in the corner of the room, feet padding softly against the creaking wood.

Jungkook’s gaze followed as he left, still staring long after Tae’s enticing figure had disappeared, mouth parted slightly in disbelief. What just happened? Jungkook heard Yoongi’s laughter, growing louder as he approached from the kitchen, carton of milk in his hand.

“Oh, that was just too good,” he said, pretending to wipe a tear from the corner of his eyes. “What, don’t you wanna get to know me, too, huh? Since you’re all about getting to know the locals,” he teased. Jungkook inhaled deeply through his nose in frustration. Great, not only did he just strikeout, but it had to be in earshot of this asshole. Yoongi kept on with his teasing. “Pretty state college guy like you, bet that doesn’t happen often.”

Jungkook sighed and took a big gulp of his drink, letting the burn travel down the back of his throat. Normally, he’d be halfway to starting a barfight after getting this much shit from someone, but something told him that that’s exactly what Yoongi wanted; it would mean he got under his skin. Instead, he tried to play it cool. “Not often, no,” he said, “so is that your boyfriend or what?” The last part slipped out before he could stop it, his curiosity and damaged ego getting the best of him.

Yoongi let out a small laugh. “That’s Taehyung,” is all he supplied. As if that somehow answered Jungkook’s question. “Anyways, bar’s closing so finish up.” And there Yoongi went again, avoiding answering Jungkook’s questions. Seemed to be a habit of his. Great.

Jungkook glanced down at his watch. “It’s like, just now ten,” he said, “what kind of bar closes this early?”

“My bar, my rules. I got shit to do, so bar’s closed.” Yoongi stated it as a fact and an indisputable one at that. Jungkook just groaned and downed the rest of his drink, nearing the fragile tipping point between tipsy and drunk. Damn, Yoongi must’ve made them extra strong if two drinks were enough to get Jungkook this loose. Once he was done, he placed the empty glass into Yoongi’s already outstretched hand.

“You mean you got people to do,” Jungkook replied, words flowing closer together than before.

Yoongi rolled his eyes. “That’ll be sixteen for the drinks.”

Jungkook grumbled at Yoongi’s now characteristic lack of a proper answer to anything as he dug into his wallet. Handing over a crumpled bill, he had to begrudgingly admit that the drinks were good for the price.

“Alright, now get out,” Yoongi said, already moving down the bar to start wiping at the wood.

“Yeah, okay, fuck you too I guess,” Jungkook mumbled as he stood up. He put his hands on his hips, arching his back in a deep stretch after sitting in that stool for so long. Slipping his hands into his pockets, he headed for the door and opened it, the quiet ring of the bell sounding off once again.

“Oh, hey!” Jungkook turned around, halfway through the door, at Yoongi’s voice. “You forgot to tip,” he said, lips curved in a sardonic smile. Jungkook flipped him the bird and then continued walking out the door, Yoongi’s chuckles slowly fading as it finally shut behind him.

The walk home was less exciting than the walk over. Jungkook felt like he’d seen as much of the town as he’d probably see for the remainder of his time here. An empty bar owned by a dick and a pretty boy’s rejection. He wondered if it was possible that the newness of the town had already worn off, in less than twenty-four hours. Fantastic. At least he wasn’t sweating anymore; when the sun went down behind the hills, it seemed to have taken the heat with it, paving way for the moon to rise and sprinkle a sharp chill in the air. The only difference was this time, as he strolled through the deserted streets, he didn’t mind the quiet. Not when the alcohol was working to jumble his thoughts just enough so that his mind wouldn’t cling on to the ones he didn’t want in there.

By the time Jungkook found his way back to the condos, he was ready for bed. Looking back at his day, he really didn’t do enough to warrant how exhausted he was, but he didn’t have the energy to think deeper into that fact; not when his mattress was calling his name, tempting him with sweet promises of cool sheets and plump pillows. He hastily took his shorts and t-shirt off, flinging them behind him without care. Slipping underneath the covers felt like bliss, and finally closing his eyes felt even better.

With his lids closed, Jungkook was suddenly more aware of everything around him. He could hear the wind start to pick up outside, dust and dirt and who knows what else flying through the sky, scraping against his windows. He could hear the fan he was too lazy to turn off in the living room, lazily whooshing the dry air around. He could hear something on the other side of the wall his bed backed up to. Muffled voices. He could hear- was that yelling? And it was getting louder. Jungkook could now hear that it was two guys fighting, and he suddenly had another thing to curse the apartment for: its paper-thin walls. The two on the other side seemed to be trying to outdo each other’s volume, and the screams blended in a crescendo that was sure to prevent Jungkook from getting the quality sleep he was so desperately looking forward to.

Jungkook rolled away from the wall, to the farthest side of the mattress, which naturally did nothing to quell the noise. He groaned and punched a pillow over his head, regretting the day he ever decided to set foot in this shit town. He tried to focus on the sound of the creaky sink in his bathroom instead, counting the lone drips until his mind started to begrudgingly fall into sleep finally. As his eyes started to slowly close for real this time, Jungkook’s last coherent thought was that he couldn’t shake the feeling that smartass bartenders and sand and a forcibly extended dry spell would soon be the least of his problems.