It was half past eleven at night, and the janitorial staff were steadily making their rounds through the stark but modern hallways of Park Consolidated. Some staff were vacuuming in a rhythmic and methodical fashion, and others were cleaning the glass windows of mahogany and cherrywood offices with side tables of scotch in square crystal decanters that belonged to higher-up stiffs and CEOs. The lights had long been switched off, leaving only dim emergency overhead lighting, and only one of the six elevators that stopped on the tenth floor was in working order.
“I told you to go home three hours ago.”
“Give me a date.”
“Of the last time I listened to you. Should I reschedule your morning briefing, or will you be able to make it?” Kim Namjoon glanced up from his iPad Pro, casually pushing his thick tortoise-shell glasses up his nose with one middle finger. He was kicked back in a cracked brown suede beanbag chair that was stored in the cabinet during the day and pulled out only when the rest of the corporate assholes had left the office for the night, because such millennial frivolity was frowned upon and unwelcome.
“What time is the briefing?” Park Jimin stopped spinning in circles in his leather swivel chair and grabbed the edge of the desk to still his world, even though his office continued to tilt and distort because he had been twirling himself for three minutes easily, and Namjoon hadn’t said a word to stop him. He pressed the balls of his feet into the ground in his Gucci dress shoes to keep himself from the temptation of going another twenty or so rounds like he was on a carnival ride.
“Half past seven.”
“And my level of responsibility?”
“Six out of ten.”
“Good. Send Kyungwan-ssi instead. My flight is at four o’clock.”
“So obviously you can’t make it to a seven-thirty meeting.” Namjoon pursed his lips, but the dimples in his cheeks betrayed him. Jimin looked up, trying to balance a fountain ink pen upright on the tip of his pointer finger. The pen clattered onto his mahogany desk, the attempt failing as expected.
“No, I’m very busy,” Jimin said seriously, leaning forward and lacing his fingers together in a domino effect, setting his elbows onto the desktop and then resting his chin atop his knuckles as he eyed Namjoon.
“Your father is going to fire me if I keep sending Kyungwan-ssi to these meetings instead of you.”
“We’ve been over this, hyung. You’re my father’s lapdog, but you’re my assistant. Put assistant in air quotes. He can fire you all he wants. I’ll just hire you full-time to piss him off. I’ve been handed half the shares of the company on a fucking silver platter, haven’t I?”
“I love it when you talk business to me,” Namjoon joked, shifting in his beanbag chair. His suit jacket was lying on the floor forgotten. He was down to just his navy slacks and his white button-up, the sleeves messily rolled to his elbows. One of his brown Prada dress shoes was untied.
“I’m just saying,” JImin said with a small smile despite his exhaustion, leaning back in his chair and keeping his fingers laced as he rested them on his abdomen. “So send Kyungwan-ssi to my seven-thirty. I’ll come in at eight or something. Anything I have to know before I fly out tomorrow? Anything worth knowing, that is.”
“Uh, just that the best I could get you was a connecting flight,” Namjoon said, still scrolling through his iPad, his face illuminated in the dim office lighting. He always stuck around with Jimin, no matter what hour the clock screamed on any given day. “And that you should bring me back a souvenir.”
“For a connecting flight? Absolutely not.”
“Sorry, did you want a thirteen-hour layover in Beijing or a quick three-hour layover and connection through Shanghai?”
“Remember when you used to bow to me and use honorifics in front of my father? Those were the days.”
“Remember when you weren’t a brat? You probably don’t,” Namjoon said with a breathy laugh as Jimin grinned. “Are these assholes going to call you or what?”
“They said seven-thirty in the morning their time. It’s…” Jimin checked his computer. “Seven thirty-three. I’ve waited long enough.” And then he exited out of his video conferencing applications and shut down his computer. His father liked to give overseas investors, business partners, or interested parties the benefit of the doubt, a five-to-seven-minute window. Jimin wasn’t exceptionally ruthless or heartless, but he had long since lost his patience. If interested investors in L.A. couldn’t call at seven-thirty in the morning on the dot their time, then Jimin wasn’t going to stick around just to placate them when they arrived late.
“I’m going home, then,” Namjoon announced, hoisting himself to his feet and picking up the beanbag chair. He tossed it into the cabinet, used a foot to shove it into place, and then shut and locked the door, his iPad tucked underneath one arm. He reached for his small glass of scotch and tossed back the tiny bit that was left, and Jimin did the same. Namjoon was the king of hanging around to listen in and take notes on whatever Jimin was doing, but tonight, they could both just go home.
“You think he’s still awake?”
“I don’t know, hyung,” Jimin sighed, watching Namjoon scroll through his phone to find his most cherished text message conversation as they rode the elevator down to the ground floor lobby, his jacket draped over one forearm. “I don’t stalk him the way you do.”
“I prefer saying that I’m ‘passionately involved,’ not ‘stalking,’” Namjoon corrected, and then he snaked his head through the strap of his messenger bag so that he was across his chest securely. “We’re sharing, by the way.”
“The shit I let you do.”
“The shit I would do if you didn’t.”
“You got me there.” The two friends pushed through the revolving glass doors onto the streets of the Central Business District of Seoul. Park Consolidated was situated in one of the most architecturally renowned buildings in CBD, but that was a given. Nothing but the best for the Park family. Jimin hated the building, wished fire and brimstone and the full wrath of hell on it on a regular basis, prayed for a typhoon to sweep it away in its entirety. But it always stood immaculate, mocking him.
Namjoon had notified Jimin’s driver, Geonwu, to meet them out front at the curb, per usual, but this time, they both slid into the backseat. Neither one of them had to say anything to Geonwu. He knew to drop Namjoon off first, since he lived closer to the office.
“You’ll be gone… ten days? Right?” Namjoon asked, still on his phone. Jimin slumped into his leather seat, leaning his head back as he closed his eyes.
“You’re my assistant, shouldn’t you know?” he mumbled.
“Yeah, I’m your assistant to get away from your father, so,” Namjoon said rhetorically, and Jimin cracked a small smile. “Ten days it is, then. If you come back earlier or later, I’ll panic.”
“I’ve never seen you panic once.” Jimin then sat up straight, the seatbelt pulling at his waist. “This is why sharing you pisses me the fuck off. You should be coming with me on these overseas trips.”
“I could do it, but your father sends a search party when I’m in the bathroom for longer than two minutes.” Namjoon peered out the window, recognizing his street. “I’ll see you in the office tomorrow—oh, look, Kyungwan-ssi already e-mailed me asking why he’s covering for you. Shame I’m dead asleep and can’t answer that until seven thirty-one tomorrow morning.”
“Real damn shame. G’night, Joon-hyung,” Jimin said. “Leave Hoseokie-hyung alone.”
“It’s not that late,” Namjoon said, and then he slipped out of the car and slammed the door shut, patting the hood to indicate to Geonwu that he was out. The car pulled away, and Jimin ran both hands down his face tiredly, subsequently staring at the passenger seat headrest in a sort of daze that he experienced often. At least two or three times as week, he stared into the abyss and wondered what he was doing. His quality of life was so piss poor in comparison to the quantity of years he had lived thus far, and he figured there had to be a breaking point. He just hadn’t reached it yet, a phenomenal achievement given his ever-fading patience.
“Anywhere rather than home, Master Park?” Geonwu asked. He was Jimin’s secret keeper in a lot of ways, never said a word about where Jimin chose to be taken when he was off the clock, and he had been driving Jimin around since Jimin turned ten-years-old. He had seen debauchery of all kinds.
“No, Geonwu-nim. Just home,” Jimin said politely.
Geonwu dropped him off in front of his high-security, multi-billion won apartment in Hannam on the top floor. Jimin slept in his king-sized bed and did very little else within the walls of his apartment. It wasn’t home. It was just cold. There was no one there to greet him, not even a dog or a house plant. He couldn’t care for anyone or anything with the way that he worked his life away. Jimin pushed through the gate and took the elevator to the top floor, and then he unlocked his door and threw his keys into the metal bowl, shrugging out of his Brioni suit jacket. He tossed it onto the back of the couch and went straight to the fridge to grab a beer, because there was no chance of him falling asleep just yet. He opened the pantry and ripped open the lid of a pack of microwave instant ramen. He added the water. He tossed it into the microwave. He’d done this yesterday, too. Maybe the day before, as well, but he couldn’t remember.
With a beer in one hand, Jimin loosened his tie and collapsed onto the couch that had a human-shaped indent on just one side where he always sat. The remote was exactly where he had left it because no one else was going to watch his 4K television. He took a swig of beer and flicked on the TV, thinking that maybe he could create a rift in the monotony of his solitary nights, knowing that there was very little chance of such a momentous occurrence.
The microwave beeped a few times. Jimin blinked at the nightly news, watching the ticker across the bottom of the screen until he saw that Park Consolidated’s stock had closed a few points higher than yesterday. The microwave beeped again. Shut up, God damn it! Jimin wanted to yell, but he couldn’t find the energy. Instead, he quietly set his beer onto the side table, got up, and grabbed his noodles. He stirred in the sauce, dropped an ice cube into the contents, and grabbed some chopsticks. This was dinner. This was dinner all the time.
One time about ten months ago, Namjoon’s modest little two-bedroom apartment was being renovated, so he stayed for three nights with Jimin. In those three nights, Jimin ate actual meals because Namjoon had bothered to cook something. It was basic, rudimentary Korean food, but it felt like home. Jimin had had someone sitting on the couch beside him for those three nights. He’d had someone sleeping in one of the two guest rooms he had that he never touched for those three nights. His dishes were dirty for three nights. His kitchen had cried in happiness from being used for three nights.
Not tonight, though. Tonight, Jimin was alone. He’d go to work alone in the morning. He would get on a plane in solitude to Los Angeles in the afternoon. He would spend ten days in Los Angeles alone. And then he would fly home by himself. Lather, rinse, repeat,
His bank account showed millions upon millions. Jimin felt poor.
“PLEASE REMOVE YOUR SHOES! PLEASE REMOVE JACKETS! PLEASE REMOVE YOUR BELTS! ONE AT A TIME!”
Jimin raised one tired eyebrow and blinked as the woman in front of him turned to her travel partner and asked if she really had to remove her jacket, and why it was necessary to put her laptop in a completely separate bin. “Efficiency,” she complained, but if only she knew that she was the wrench in the well-oiled machine of the security line.
Airports, and all aspects of flying, had long since lost their magic for Jimin. This flight was only one of easily hundreds. He was on a plane quite easily once a week and had a lifetime platinum membership to Transpacific Airlines, always in first class and always waited on hand and foot, if only he appreciated the service more. The poor flight attendants were always clambering for something to do to assist the Park Jimin, the face of his father’s multi-billion won company that manufactured automobile parts and tech for international export. Park Jimin, the face of a company he hated with every fucking fiber of his being.
But Jimin had been raised and groomed to be the face of the company, something he thought about in idle time like in line for security check. The transition had been seamless—his father’s appearance, physically and for business, had lost its luster right around when Jimin had turned eighteen. So his father had promised all shareholders and interested parties that he firstborn son, his only son, the pride and joy of the family, was going to be inheriting a larger role before eventually wearing the crown. This, of course, had shoved Jimin right into the spotlight against his will. Now he had people snapping random pictures of him on the streets of Seoul, millions following his personal account on Instagram (an idea from the board of directors), and a whole slew of women interested in him as South Korea’s most eligible yet accessible bachelor.
If only they knew.
Jimin’s father knew damn well that Jimin had no interest in women, but that was the trade-off. Jimin agreed to be the face of Park Consolidated if his father kept fucking quiet about his sexuality and let him do what (who) he wanted, as long as he hid it from the world. So, naturally, there was no love lost between father and son, and Jimin preferred to keep it that way.
“No shoes, remove your shoes! No jackets, please! One person at a time!”
Jimin had taken his shoes off five minutes ago. He laptop was tucked under one arm, shoes pinched at the heels between his fingers. His father kept telling him to get pre-check approval, but sometimes, Jimin enjoyed the monotony and normalcy of joining others in the security line. It kept him grounded—ironic, seeing as he spent so much time in the air.
“Come through, please,” the man said, gesturing to Jimin once he had set all his stuff into bins on the conveyer belt. Jimin stepped into the machine and held his arms up, and then he stepped out when asked. Once he was given the nod of approval, he shuffled over and grabbed all of his stuff, stacked the bins accordingly, and continued on to his gate. Routine.
Jimin had learned to travel light over the years. He was about to make his second most popular trip, after all. His first was to Japan. This time, he had to go to Los Angeles for both a meeting and and big to-do over the new product that involved a walkthrough, photos, the works. Most times he got lucky, and Namjoon could book him a nonstop flight. Other times, like now, he had to make a pitstop in another country. Namjoon knew that Jimin preferred Shanghai as a layover location, and though Jimin wasn’t looking forward to it, he couldn’t fault his best friend.
Jimin had met Kim Namjoon when he was sixteen and Namjoon had just turned eighteen. Jimin’s father had been looking for a young, intelligent assistant who wasn’t interested in pay, but in experience. And Namjoon, the genius he was, had offered to do the job. Jimin had found out later that Namjoon wasn’t an idiot—he had only taken the job so that he could make the request to assist Jimin later down the track when Park Sangchul, one of the richest men in Korea with one (gay) heir to his throne, inevitably stepped down. So now, although he did a lot for Jimin’s father, Namjoon did most of his work for Jimin. They also happened to be best friends through circumstance, and Namjoon was often a buffer between father and son, making father see reason and son calm the fuck down.
“Excuse me, sorry,” a mother pushing her child in a stroller said hastily, nearly running over Jimin’s feet as she barreled towards the gate to board first. Jimin took a deep, cleansing breath and readjusted the AirPods in his ears, knowing that he wouldn’t have to deal with her once he had his seat in first class. Or so he hoped.
Jimin laid his iPhone flat on the scanner and used his electronic ticket to board, carrying his small bag with him, subsequently shoving his phone into his pocket. The only downside of being a businessman at twenty-five was that he had to dress halfway decent on flights and couldn’t bum out. He was wearing black jeans with a decent stretch to them from constant wear, paired with a white linen button-up that he had unbuttoned almost halfway. His black hair was usually styled nicely, but for long flights like this, he didn’t bother. It was soft and free from product, pushed back often thanks to both hands but hanging in his eyes as he walked down the ramp towards the front of the plane.
“Welcome back, Mr. Park,” the flight attendant said the moment Jimin stepped onto the plane, bowing to him. Jimin nodded his head with a small smile. Most of the flight attendants and pilots working Transpacific Airlines knew him rather well, recognized him instantly. Jimin took the first aisle and took his seat, the window seat open for whatever stranger would occupy it for two hours, maybe for the twelve-hour trip to Los Angeles. Sometimes Jimin got two different seat mates. Sometimes the person booked the same seat twice, just like Jimin did.
Jimin shoved his bag onto the floor, keeping room for whoever sat at the window to walk through the space thanks to the copious amount of legroom available. He collapsed into the seat and sighed, running all ten fingers through his hair and wishing the flight over already. The three-hour layover in Shanghai was what he was dreading the most. At least he got to spend it in the Transpacific Lounge away from the chaos. Was he going to be able to get any sleep on the twelve-hour leg of the flight?
“Oh, cool. Okay. Hi. I think I’m in this seat.”
Jimin glanced up from his phone slowly and look at the person hovering over him, clearly his new seat mate. Typically, Jimin just stood up and let the person by without a word, sometimes without even looking up from his phone or cutting off his music. But this time, he just stared. The man standing in the aisle shifting awkwardly from one foot to the other was young in the face and tall, almost all legs. His eyes were round and full of one-shot stories every time he blinked. He was wearing black sweatpants and a large black hooded sweatshirt, but his hair was a shocking shade of cherry red underneath the hood, which was halfway on his head. When Jimin glanced at about eye level, he saw a bunch of small little tattoos on his right hand that he couldn’t quite make out. The guy had had a black backpack slung over one shoulder.
“This is 4-B, right? I mean, um, you’re 4-A, so… yeah,” he said with a pleasant smile, and then he held up his ticket literally to eye level and read it over, his eyes converging and flicking left to right quickly. He lowered the ticket and looked at Jimin expectantly, like Jimin held all the answers to the questions of the universe. Jimin just stood up, beckoned, and let the guy through. The guy shrugged out of his backpack and held it up over his head so he didn’t whack Jimin with it, and then he collapsed into the seat heavily and dropped the backpack onto the floor with a hollow thud.
“Ah, wow,” he whispered, shoving up the window shade with the outside edge of his pointer finger and peering out. Jimin glanced in his peripheral field at his new seat mate, wondering what kind of fuckery he was about to deal with for two hours. This guy had his iPhone out, and he was taking pictures of the airport scenery on a stationary plane out the window like it was a tourist attraction.
“Ooh,” the guy breathed, looking at all the button options with wide doe eyes full of excitement. He reached out his tattooed hand to press like a tempted child, but then he retracted it, bottom lip between his teeth. He reached out again. Retracted again, hand forming a fist. Then he gave up and cracked his knuckles, sitting back in his seat.
“First time on a plane?” Jimin cracked sarcastically in a monotone voice, still scrolling through all of the e-mails he was going to blatantly ignore.
“Yeah. I’m kind of nervous. I don’t know how any of this works.”
Jimin immediately dropped his phone into his lap and whipped his head over to look at the guy. A fucking first-time flyer. Did the universe hate him? Had he done something wrong? Was this karma for sending Kyungwan to his morning meeting?
“Do you fly a lot? I have so many questions,” the guy said with round eyes, and Jimin gave him a weary look. “Mostly so I don’t have to think about how the plane stays in the air. Like, do we get snacks on a two-hour flight? Is the landing rough? Are my ears going to pop? What are all these buttons for? And if I have to go to the bathroom, is it okay if I step by you? Am I even allowed to go to the bathroom on this plane?”
“I’ll pay you to stop talking,” Jimin sighed.
“Sorry,” the guy apologized immediately with a barely perceptible bow of his head. “Um, I’m Jeongguk. I’m—I just don’t really know what’s about to happen so—well, yeah. I’m sorry. Hi.”
“Yeah, hi,” Jimin said with a short laugh, and he glanced down to see that Jeongguk had extended his tattooed hand, his left hand supporting near his wrist in a show of respect. Jimin swallowed his pride and accepted the handshake. “I’m Jimin. Nice to meet you.”
“Do you fly a lot?”
“Oh, okay. So you’re a professional flyer and I’m the rookie. I’m really sorry. I’ve never been on a plane before, so I don’t even know if I’ll like it,” Jeongguk admitted. “My mom says I’ll be fine, but she’s my mom. She has to say that kind of stuff.”
“I think you’ll be fine, too. You just headed to Shanghai?”
“No, um, I’m going to Los Angeles,” Jeongguk said, shifting a little in his seat, still clutching his phone in his tattooed hand. “For a job. Are you going to L.A., too? I even don’t know how to connect to a different flight. I’m afraid I’m going to get lost or stranded.”
“Yeah, I’m going through to L.A.,” Jimin said, trying to keep his voice even. “You won’t get lost. It’s not that difficult.”
“Easy for you to say,” Jeongguk said with a small frown, his brow furrowing. Then he slipped off his hood with a single hand and ruffled his cherry hair with the other, and Jimin took a good look at him. He was goddamn cute, looked cozy and warm. But Jimin’s lonely mind always liked to consider other looks like he was mentally visualizing a virtual closet of possibilities, so he pictured Jeongguk all dolled up in a Gucci or Brioni or Tom Ford suit, and that was when he mentally cursed himself out. Wearing a suit with that hair and that bone structure and that pretty face? A downright sin. Jimin’s deeply hidden inner fashionista was drooling.
An announcement interrupted the small talk—the captain introducing himself, welcoming everyone aboard, talking about the flight time to Shanghai and the weather conditions, asking the last passengers to board quickly so they could make their takeoff time promptly. It was then that Jimin noticed the way that Jeongguk gripped the wide armrest of the seat and peered out the window worriedly.
“How old are you?” Jimin asked.
“Twenty-three,” Jeongguk said, still staring out the window, bent slightly so he could see everything that was going on. Perhaps he was about to blossom as nervous flyer right before Jimin’s unwilling eyes. He seemed fixated on the luggage that was being loaded onto the plane, eyes narrowed like he was looking for something very specific.
“Why are you going to Los Angeles?” Jimin asked another question in hopes of quelling his nerves, or at the very least distracting him. Luckily, Jeongguk turned away from the window and offered Jimin his full attention.
“I’m a photographer,” he said. “A professional photographer. I normally do most of my work around Seoul because that’s where I’ve built my clientele, you know? But I got hired to do a pretty big job in L.A. for this huge company, so I took it. They bought my plane ticket, gave me a first class seat. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement and everything. So, like, I can’t even talk about the job to anyone.”
“I feel like it’s going to make or break my career,” Jeongguk said, chewing his lower lip nervously. “But, I mean, if I didn’t take the opportunity, I would’ve regretted it, you know? It’s not my usual work. Um, I do more artistic stuff. This is more… official, I guess. But I do fashion photography mostly. So this is kind of new—oh, God, they just closed the door.”
Jeongguk peered upward, noticing that the main door had just been sealed shut, meaning the plane was about to push back for takeoff. Jimin sat back in his seat to relax, making sure his seatbelt was fastened. Jeongguk had fastened his seatbelt the second he had sat down, safety first. The flight attendants started to stroll up and down the aisles of first class to check on their top-paying and most trusted passengers.
“Ready for takeoff, Mr. Park?” the kind woman asked with a smile and a small bow.
“All good,” Jimin confirmed.
“Ready for takeoff, Mr. Jeon?”
“Huh?” Jeongguk whipped his head over, his face a bit pale. “Um, yeah. Yeah, is this—this is safe, right?”
“Very safe, Mr. Jeon. Please let me know if there’s anything we can get for you,” the flight attendant said kindly with another little bow, and then she moved to the next seats. Jimin glanced over at Jeongguk, and then he sat up a little straighter.
“Um, are you okay?” Jimin asked, suddenly on high alert. Jeongguk was fidgeting persistently, glancing around the plane and out the window, unable to keep himself still. He was rubbing the tops of his fingernails together, one of his knees shaking incessantly, eyes fixated on the window.
“Me? Yeah, I’m fine,” Jeongguk said, but his voice was a bit strained.
“How about I answer all your questions, then?” Jimin offered, crossing his legs at the knee and leaning one elbow on the center armrest. Jeongguk took a deep breath and glanced over at Jimin. “Planes stay in the air because of straight up physics. Lift and thrust and all that. We get snacks and drinks in first class in the first half of the flight. The landing isn’t that rough, you’ll be fine. Your ears might pop, but it’s not that painful unless you have inner ear problems. All of those buttons are to turn on lights and call a flight attendant over, shit like that. You have plenty of room to get past me to go to the bathroom, and yes, you can go once the seatbelt sign turns off.”
“Oh,” Jimin said with a small laugh, trying not to roll his eyes because he could feel the panic seeping out of Jeongguk’s pores like bad energy swirling through the air, ready to suffocate anyone nearby. “Why do you keep looking out the window?”
“I was just—” Jeongguk whipped his head over to look one more time, and then he sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose momentarily. “I had an issues with my camera bag. Security and I didn’t really see eye-to-eye about it. Took me fucking ages to get through the checkpoint. I just—I checked all of it because the bag was too big for a carry-on, right? And I just don’t want them to fuck anything up. I put my entire life savings into my equipment.”
“I think you’ll be okay. Besides, if they damage your equipment, just sue them,” Jimin said with a shrug. “I’m sure you’d have a reasonable case.”
“Suing sounds like a lot of work—are we moving backwards?” Jeongguk nearly exclaimed when the plane shuddered just a little and began to back up.
“Well, yeah. It was either that or run the plane straight into the terminal. Which one do you prefer?” Jimin asked, settling back into his seat and trying not to laugh. Twenty-three years alive and this poor guy was skittish as hell over a plane in reverse. “Talk to you in Shanghai, Jeongguk-ah.”
“Wh—oh. Yeah, okay,” Jeongguk said hastily when Jimin readjusted his AirPods and settled in, ready to assume his usual in-flight routine that came complete with a playlist of choice. The plane backed up further as the safety briefing began to play, but Jimin listened to music the entire way through, his eyes closed, head back to hopefully get a little bit of rest. The plane began to cruise down the runway towards takeoff, and Jimin sniffed and ruffled his dark hair tiredly. Then he opened his eyes and turned to glance out the window at the plane began to pick up speed.
“Woah, okay, shit,” he cursed, alarmed. The plane gained its top speed, and Jeongguk was attempting to practically melt into the seat, one hand on his chest, his other hand in a fist, his eyes squeezed shut. “Hey. Jeongguk. What’s wrong? What’s going on?”
“Nothing, I’m fine,” Jeongguk whispered, but Jimin wasn’t an idiot. As the plane lifted into the air, Jeongguk abruptly opened his eyes, both hands dropping into his lap as he blinked rapidly. Jimin glanced down and saw both of his hands trembling violently as he tried to clasp them together.
“Hey, do you want to hear a funny story?” JImin said, feeling like he was rambling. Jeongguk made a small noise, so Jimin started. “Um, I was supposed to do this livestream video for the company I worked for, right? This was, like, six years ago. And I was just using my iPhone, and I set it up myself on this little tripod thing. And I thought that I did it right, you know? So I did the whole ten-minute livestream, which was just me talking to no one. Like, there was a chat bar and everything, but I wasn’t reading it because I didn’t care. I was just spewing off data and shit. And guess what happened?”
“Wh-What happened?” Jeongguk asked, and Jimin almost deflated in relief. Thank fuck he’d been listening.
“I finished the livestream and then went back to watch the replay, and the entire fucking thing was upside down. Like, the whole livestream. All ten minutes of it.”
The plane dipped a little to level out, but Jeongguk was too busy turning in his seat to look at Jimin, his brow furrowed. His face was a bit shiny, evidence that he had broken out into a cold sweat of sorts, and he was still a little pale. But he was focused fully on Jimin.
“Yeah. Upside down. The whole thing.”
“Did you—did you set it up on the tripod the wrong way? L-Lock the settings into place and s-start filming before you noticed?” Jeongguk asked.
“I guess so. But the entire chat was just all these asshole businessmen like, ‘does this kid know he’s upside down? Does he even care? What the fuck is going on?’ And I was, like, nineteen.”
“Did you a-answer the chat?”
“Nope. I just pretended like it never happened.”
“Badass.” Jeongguk sucked a breath and then coughed a little. “I—J-Jimin-ssi, I’m a little dizzy.”
“Okay. Um, just—can you get your head between your knees? That helps sometimes, I think. And then we can do some deep breaths. I don’t really know how to help you,” Jimin admitted, but Jeongguk immediately pitched forward and hugged his knees. “Okay. Just—you know. Deep breaths. In for four, hold for four, out for four. Square breathing and all that. Just do that a few times.”
Jeongguk completed three deep breaths as instructed, and then he slowly straightened up. Jimin reluctantly took his AirPods out and tucked into into their case, feeling like he was doomed to be disturbed for the entirety of the flight. He still hadn’t determined if he minded, though. Jeongguk was borderline sinfully easy on the eyes, handsome in a unique way that Jimin wasn’t used to seeing, and he had cherry-colored hair and tattoos. Not much to hate. Maybe Jimin could make a temporary friend.
“Thank you,” Jeongguk said politely, quietly, as he ran his hands over his face. Then he whacked the window shade and closed it as quickly as possible. “Um, apparently I’m not great at flying. That’s… you know, that’s really embarrassing. Sorry. Shit.”
“Once you have your first minor panic attack, all the other flights get easy,” Jimin said lightly, not making a big deal of it. “Still want your mind off things?”
“No, it’s okay. I can tell you don’t want to talk,” Jeongguk said perceptively, matter-of-factly, and guilt immediately consumed Jimin. He was so accustomed to just completely fucking off and ignoring the entire world every time he got onto a plane based on precedence, but it seemed that the universe had different plans for him today.
“No, it’s fine. I’m just—honestly, Jeongguk, I’m used to being left alone during flights,” Jimin admitted. “I’m not the most social person when I fly. I do this all the goddamn time. So this is new for me. That’s all.”
“Oh. Lucky you to get stuck with me as a seat mate,” Jeongguk said with a sad little lopsided grin. Jimin rolled his head over and raised one eyebrow at Jeongguk.
“I’ll be the judge of that. You said you’re a photographer, right?”
“Good. Show me some of your work. I’m sure you have a few things saved on your phone. Let me see,” Jimin demanded, the businessman in him creeping to the forefront. Miraculously, Jeongguk just obeyed. He quietly pulled out his phone again, and then he started to scroll through his photos, perking up a little as he searched. Jimin watched carefully, noticing that Jeongguk’s tongue poked out between his teeth as his brow furrowed while he scrolled. Even with his tongue between his teeth, he kept popping his lips, bobbing his head side to side. It was endearing, and Jimin melted a little.
This was new.
Jimin spent his days surrounded by men twice his age and then some. He was the youngest at Park Consolidated by at least a decade, and seeing as he spent twelve to fourteen hours at the office each day, he rarely spent time with people his age. Namjoon was older only by a year, but Jimin had made the horrid mistake of introducing Namjoon to his childhood best friend, Jung Hoseok, about a year ago. Now the two of them flirted with each other every fucking chance they got, and usually right in front of Jimin’s face because neither one of them knew how feelings worked. They were both smitten with each other, but Jimin had given up on trying to make either one of them see sense.
Min Yoongi was the closest thing Jimin had to an ally, and even then, it was difficult. Yoongi was an actuary with Min Technologies, Park Consolidated’s biggest rival. He was twenty-seven and made a fucking killing measuring and managing risk and uncertainty for his family’s company. The worst part was that he absolutely loved his job. He and Jimin had met in a bar one night, had gotten piss drunk together commiserating about life, and Yoongi had taken Jimin home with him that night. The sex had been great, but when they’d both woken up sober as hell, they had both just laid in bed laughing hysterically, and then they had agreed to be friends over breakfast in bed. Allies, so to speak. When shit went sour between Min Technologies and Park Consolidated, it was Yoongi and Jimin who typically smoothed things out behind closed doors.
So to have a twenty-three-year-old beautiful photographer sitting beside him on a plane showing even mild interest in him? Absolutely novel. Jeongguk was muttering to himself as he scrolled, and Jimin watched him carefully, wondering what it would be like to run his fingers through that cherry hair. Stop it, he then scolded himself. He probably has a girlfriend. Look at him.
“I have two favorite subjects,” Jeongguk said proudly, holding his phone to his chest for a moment. “My two best friends. This is Kim Seokjin. He’s just kind of… like, it’s a sin how handsome he is.” He then turned his phone, and Jimin felt his eyes bug a little. Kim Seokjin was tall, broad-shouldered, and (as Jeongguk said) sinfully handsome. In this particular photo, he was in a winter scene, and he was stunning, his black hair and porcelain skin contrasting perfectly with the white snow.
“He’s beautiful,” Jimin commented.
“Yeah. He’s five years older than me, but he’s like my big brother. I only met him because my best friend is a model, too, and he introduced us.” Jeongguk flicked to another photo and showed Jimin, and this time, Jimin’s jaw actually dropped. “This is Kim Taehyung. We grew up together. He’s two years older than me, but he’s, like, the most beautiful man alive. It’s annoying as fuck. And he has a great personality, which is a huge bonus to go with a pretty face.”
“Holy shit,” Jimin muttered.
“Yeah, he’s a walking wet dream. His career is fucking taking off in Korea because he’s so easy to photograph,” Jeongguk said proudly. “But I’m his favorite photographer. He says that as long as he has a job, I have a job. And they’re dating.”
“The two of them. My two beautiful model friends. They’re dating,” Jeongguk said with a grin. “The visuals in that relationship alone are enough to end war and famine, right?”
“That’s… grossly unfair,” Jimin commented.
“Yeah, look. Here’s a photoshoot they did together for Vogue that I photographed.”
Jeongguk turned his phone and let Jimin scroll through a series of photos of Seokjin and Taehyung posing together, and it was nothing short of art. They were stunning, but regardless, Jimin couldn’t help but admire Jeongguk’s talent with photography. He had an eye for the details that most run-of-the-mill photographers missed.
“You’re pretty talented,” JImin commented out loud. “You captured some really cool moments.”
“Thanks,” Jeongguk said proudly, still holding out his phone for Jimin to scroll. “I have good subjects. They make my job easy. They’re good at what they do, too. What they’re not good at is telling funny jokes and playing matchmaker.”
“No funny jokes, huh?”
“Dad jokes. Dad jokes everywhere,” Jeongguk sighed, shaking his head as Jimin snickered appreciatively. “And as far as their talents with setting me up on dates? Horrendous. Every guy they’ve set me up with has been a total fail. So bad it’s like a sitcom.”
“Oh yeah?” Jimin cleared his throat quietly. Every guy, he had just said. So maybe Jimin having fantasies of running his fingers through that gorgeous head of hair wasn’t so farfetched. Did that mean that he had a radar for that sort of thing? For fellow gay men?
“Don’t sound so interested,” Jeongguk teased, and Jimin immediately looked away, feeling his ears burn a little. Jesus Christ, he was losing it. This was just one random stranger on a plane.
“I’m not,” he said quickly, almost childishly, but Jeongguk’s proud little bunny grin didn’t help his cause. He pulled his phone away and started scrolling again, but he was sitting up a little straighter with pride, and Jimin wanted to smack him for being so smug but cute while doing it.
“These are some nature shots,” he said, showing Jimin his phone. Then the plane hit a small little bump, momentary turbulence, and before Jimin could even see the photo, Jeongguk retracted it and flew back into his seat, eyes wide, phone pressed to his chest.
“It’s just some turbulence.”
“I’m gonna die,” Jeongguk declared.
“It’s over already.”
“I just saw my life flash before my eyes.”
“You’re so dramatic. Let me see the nature shots,” Jimin requested, suddenly feeling nervous, like he had to fix his hair or check how he looked. Jeongguk took a deep breath, and then he showed Jimin some of his photos. Surely they were more impressive as prints, but even on an iPhone, they were spectacular.
“Pardon me, Mr. Park. What can I get you to eat and drink today?” The flight attendant approached and bowed politely, ready to take an order.
“Oh. Uh… vodka soda is good. And then maybe the gimbap,” Jimin said, since he knew the offerings by memory. He glanced over at Jeongguk. “Do you want the same?”
“Oh. Um, I don't know. I thought usually it was soda and mixed nuts,” Jeongguk said, fiddling with his fingers nervously.
“You’re in first class, Jeongguk-ah,” Jimin reminded him. “Vodka soda and gimbap, or are you going with Coke and mixed nuts? You can have whatever you want.”
“Um, can I get a Coke and the gimbap?” Jeongguk asked like there was a chance he would be denied. The flight attendant nodded, and then she made a note on her tablet and moved to the next row of seats. When she had her back turned, Jeongguk glanced over at Jimin. “Fancy service.”
The drinks and food came, and Jimin stirred his drink with the tiny little straw, listening to Jeongguk crack open his Coke can and gulp down a good third of it in one go. Then they both popped open their gimbap containers at the same time.
“So, you said that you fly all the time,” Jeongguk said, smacking his lips a little between bites. “Business?”
“Yeah,” Jimin said. “I practically live on planes. I go to Japan at least once every two weeks. I fly to the U.S. maybe once a month. Everywhere I need to be isn’t in Korea, but I’m not living anywhere else, you know? Korea’s home.”
“i get it. I mean, I’ve never been on a plane until now, so you know I’ve never been anywhere but Korea. I heard Japan is nice to photograph,” Jeongguk said with a bit of longing in his voice. “But you’re not that old, are you? Your business must be pretty popular if you’re traveling the way you do.”
“I’m twenty-five. Business is, uh… booming, I guess,” Jimin said with little enthusiasm. “It’s a lifestyle choice, I guess. I have an apartment that looks like a hotel room because it’s clean as hell and I’m barely there. I don’t have a car.”
“A minimalist,” Jeongguk offered with a little smile.
“Sure, we’ll call it that.”
“And then there’s me with the studio apartment where I have clothes fucking everywhere and I game in my free time and you can’t even see the walls because of all the photos I have hanging up,” Jeongguk said vaguely, picking up another piece of gimbap. “And Taehyung-ssi practically lives in my bed. Different lifestyles, I guess.”
“I don’t know.” Jimin too a small sip of his drink. “I’ve never really had that kind of life. It’s been business since I was young.”
“So you’re looking for a walk on the wild side,” Jeongguk said with a very obvious and very terrible wink, and Jimin snickered.
“Sure, Jeongguk-ah, that’s exactly what i’m looking for on a plane over fucking Shanghai.”
“So what does that mean for your relationships? Friendships? Family?” Jeongguk asked, sipping on his Coke. “If you’re traveling all the time and working the rest of the time, then when do you have time for everything else?”
“I don’t.” Jimin picked up his drink, crossed his legs at the knee, and shifted a little to face Jeongguk. “I have one-night stands with random men and a few good friends that I keep close who don’t mind me not being around. I don’t talk much about my family.”
“Sounds kind of lonely,” Jeongguk commented carefully, glancing over at Jimin. He had these round eyes and the type of expression that suggested innocence, even though Jimin had a feeling he wasn’t. But his words made Jimin feel something. “Lonely” was something Jimin knew all too well. He was constantly surrounded by people, but he often felt alone. He had his close friends, but it was difficult to escape the feeling of loneliness. He often wondered what it would be like to finish a day at work and open his apartment door to something other than stark, cold silence. He wanted to walk in and see the man he loved lying on the couch in sweatpants, dinner cooking on the stove. He wanted to lie on the couch and watch a movie with someone instead of hugging a pillow. Instead, he had to hug his laptop and answer e-mails at two in the morning from middle-aged men who were cheating on their wives.
“It’s not that bad,” Jimin lied. “I see enough action in my lifetime that I don’t really worry about it.”
“Oh yeah?” Jeongguk chuckled. “With the way you fly, I should be asking to see your Mile High Club card.”
“Please,” Jimin muttered, leaving Jeongguk to laugh and clean up his small mess as the flight attendant came by to collect trash. As Jimin settled back in, the announcement sounded overhead to indicate that they were beginning their descent into Shanghai, and that everyone needed to stow away their laptops and large electronic devices.
“You know what? This wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” Jeongguk declared, making sure his bag was tucked away safely. “I mean, I was expecting a rough flight. Total chaos. Pandemonium. This wasn’t horrible.”
“This was only the first two hours,” Jimin reminded him. “You still have twelve more hours to Los Angeles. Don’t get too excited.”
“Yeah, but at least I can sleep,” Jeongguk said eagerly. “And these seats recline, Jimin-ssi. I can actually get a decent nap.”
“You’re a child,” Jimin teased, and Jeongguk shrugged.
“At least I kept you entertained,” he fired back, and then the plane dipped a little. “Woah, okay. Okay, so it’s kind of like a rollercoaster where it—woah. Shit, this is scary. Is the landing gonna be rough? Level with me. I can take it.”
“It shouldn’t be. But, you know, it’s a multi-ton plane with hundreds of people onboard touching down at top speed on some old-ass, used up blacktop, so you never know,” Jimin said calmly, and Jeongguk narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
“You’re lucky you’re cute, or I’d be pissed,” he said, and then he turned and slowly lifted the window shade to take a look as the world flew by. Jimin’s stomach swooped, and it wasn’t because of the plane descending. The last time he had been called cute was in high school. Any of the men he crawled into bed with to let them fuck him always called him other things—“gorgeous,” “hot as fuck,” even the more peculiar names like “vixen.” Jimin typically tuned it all out in the interest of getting off. But being called cute? At twenty-five? Sitting on an airplane? When he was the face of Park Consolidated? By a handsome photographer?
“Don’t call me cute,” Jimin said, and he saw Jeongguk turn to retaliate with some snide remark, but then Jimin added, “Unless you’re gonna do something about it. Then you can call me cute all you want.”
“Don't tempt me,” Jeongguk said smoothly, and then he stifled a laugh to himself and looked back out the window. “I’m about to spend twelve hours on another plane and you want to flirt now? I thought you only had one vodka soda.”
“I did, but you said nothing about being interested in men until the eleventh hour. I would’ve started way sooner had I known,” Jimin teased back.
“Missed opportunity,” Jeongguk said. “Because you really are cute. I’d do something about it if I wasn’t on a metal death trap hovering in mid-air—will it stop doing that?”
“It’s called a descent,” Jimin reminded Jeongguk with a small smile as the plane dipped again, trying to ignore the small little flame of arousal in the pit of his stomach. “We’re landing in a minute. Does baby need to hold my hand?”
“Asshole,” Jeongguk murmured, but then the plane descended rapidly, so he jutted out his right hand sharply, palm up. Amused, Jimin took it and laced their fingers together, and then he flipped Jeongguk’s hand to look at the tattoos. On each knuckle was a letter: BOKEH. There was a cherry blossom below his thumb, a letter J above the K on the middle finger, and a smiley face on the top of the middle finger.
“What’s this word?”
“Photography word,” Jeongguk said, his eyes closed as the plane continued to descend. He knew exactly what Jimin was talking about, though, because Jimin was using his pointer finger on his other hand to touch each letter individually. “Bokeh. It’s that effect where you take a picture out of focus and the lights create those orbs. Google it.”
“I’ll take your word for it. Ah, look, we’re landing.”
The plane hovered over the runway, and then it touched down heavily per usual. The moment the wheels hit the ground, Jeongguk nearly squeezed Jimin’s hand off, cursing under his breath. The entire plane rattled back and forth, the noise increasing, and Jimin swore Jeongguk was going to draw blood the way he was biting his lower lip. As he chanted something under his breath to himself, Jimin stared.
Jimin had flown countless times, but this was the first time he had been reckless enough to do something as uncharacteristic as hold some stranger guy’s hand during landing. Jeongguk had managed to crawl under his skin in a matter of two hours, something JImin had never experienced before—or perhaps something he had closed himself off to for fifteen years or more. He was so used to disguising himself in dark clubs, following random men home so that nobody ever came near his luxury apartment and found out who he was. So used to touching when only necessary. So used to getting naked only when he was drunk enough not to care how random men saw him, only when he was numb enough to not be hurt by judgmental mindsets.
Jeongguk had never asked for intimate details about Jimin’s job. He didn’t seem to care about businessman-slash-part time CEO Jimin, only seemed to care that Jimin was willing to hold his hand through his traumatic flying ordeal and that perhaps he seemed lonely. Men typically asked a thousand questions of Jimin and only received two or three answers. They wanted to know what it was like to be the heir to a multi-billion won throne once they found out.
“Do all planes land like that?” Jeongguk asked as they began to slowly taxi to the gate. Jeongguk, however, just has questions about planes, not about my eleven-figure fortune, Jimin thought to himself.
“Every single time,” Jimin replied, and then he wiggled his fingers a little, indicating to Jeongguk that he could let go. Jeongguk was too busy staring out the window, so he still had a grip on Jimin’s hand. “So, how was your first flight ever?”
“It would have been pretty shitty without you.” Jeongguk rolled his head to look straight at Jimin, leaning an elbow against the center armrests, their fingers still intertwined. “I’m usually pretty brave. Kind of an adrenaline junkie. But getting on a plane? Fucking terrifying. So thank you, Jimin-ssi. For making my first plane flight memorable.”
“I didn’t do much,” Jimin said as Jeongguk finally let go of his hand. Jimin immediately hid his face as he busied himself with his bag unnecessarily, knowing his ears were red.
“You did enough. Whatever it was, it helped. I won’t be as nervous for the next flight now. Thank you,” Jeongguk said again as a soft ding sounded overhead, and seatbelts began to unbuckle all around like a disjointed symphony. Jimin unbuckled his own, and then he stood up and stretched, and Jeongguk did the same.
Fuck. I forgot that I have kinks, Jimin thought to himself, noticing that Jeongguk was taller than him, broader than him, and just.. shit, he was something else entirely. Jimin didn’t inherit much in the height department from his parents, so he made up for it with confidence. Jeongguk seemed to thrive in both areas. He was a photographer, he was impressed by a plane staying airborne, he willingly chose to hold Jimin’s hand during landing, he had tattoos about photography, and he was built like that. Jimin had just spent two hours or so searching for some kind of flaw that Jeongguk didn’t seem to have.
Jimin didn't meet people like Jeongguk in clubs and bars.
“How long is your layover?” Jimin asked conversationally as the flight attendants prepared to disarm the doors. He felt oddly heavy as he leaned against the seat in front of him. Get off this plane and you can move on, he said to himself. It’s just another chance encounter with a random stranger. Keep moving. Treat it like business.
“Uh, three hours,” Jeongguk said, checking his phone and holding it right up to his eyeline just like he had with his ticket earlier. It was like everything Jeongguk held in his hands had to be treated like a camera. “So I have some time to kill.”
“You on the eight-thirty flight to L.A.?” Treat it like business. Yeah fucking right. Who am I trying to kid?
“The very same. Damn, one flight and I feel like a pro. I think I’m getting good at this flying thing. So now I have…. three hours to wander the airport and figure out where I need to go. My Mandarin is garbage, so here’s to hoping I don’t get lost," Jeongguk said with a chuckle as the doors opened, and the flight attendants began to usher out the passengers in first class. Jimin scooted into the aisle, and Jeongguk followed.
“You don’t have to wander,” Jimin said over his shoulder, and he wasn’t quite sure why. He could have easily just said his goodbyes to Jeongguk and gone his own way, but somewhere in the cobweb-infested pits of his heart, where companionship should be, he wanted Jeongguk to follow him. He didn’t want to be alone, even if it was just for a few hours. “I know this airport pretty well.”
“You’e been here before?”
“About a million times. We can just go to the lounge,” Jimin said as they began to walk down the pristine, massive halls of the airport.
“The what?” Jeongguk asked, confused as Jimin spotted the Transpacific Airlines Lounge thanks largely in part to the sign hanging overhead that was illuminated. He tilted his head a bit to the right in that direction, indicating for Jeongguk to follow, and he did.
“Get your ticket out,” Jimin said. Flustered, Jeongguk fumbled around until he pulled is ticket out of his sweatshirt pocket, a bit crumpled, and Jimin pulled his neatly folded ticket out of his wallet. If that wasn’t the perfect snapshot of personalities, Jimin wasn’t sure what was.
“I don’t understand,” Jeongguk said, looking around wildly for some kind of answer.
“You have a first class ticket, Jeongguk-ah. You're allowed to be in the first class lounge,” Jimin said, holding the frosted glass door open. Jeongguk tiptoed in like he was walking on eggshells, and then he quietly presented his ticket to the concierge, the woman waiting with a hand extended. He was given the nod of approval, so he waited for JImin before the two of them walked into the lounge together.
Transpacific Airlines had a rather impressive first class lounge in several airports across the world, and Shanghai was one of them. The ceilings had a few crystal chandeliers, the carpets were deep burgundy red, the tables were cherrywood, and the buffet always had hot food waiting and ready for weary travelers. The main room had soft jazz music playing and several places for patrons to sit—couches, chairs, the works. There was a quiet lounge for travelers to rest, a technology room with charging ports and desktop computers and a phone able to make international calls, and then there were the bathrooms with their floor-to-ceiling wooden doors for each stall, marble finishes, and fancy sinks.
“Holy shit. I need to fly more often,” Jeongguk breathed, gripping his backpack straps with both hands and turning in a slow circle. “This is amazing. What do you usually do here?”
“I usually park myself in one of those massage chairs and live my best life for my entire layover,” Jimin replied. “And by best life, I mean I enjoy answering e-mails and dealing with work shit while getting out all the knots in my lower back.”
“Sounds like you work too much. Ah-h-h,” Jeongguk sighed as he collapsed into one of the empty massage chairs, dropping his bag onto the floor. He picked up the little remote and pressed a button, and then his entire body wiggled as the massage began. He jokingly let out weird noises and groans, and Jimin couldn't help but laugh. It wasn’t the fake laugh that he usually reserved for every single person in his life, because very little amused him. This was a genuine laugh that came from the pit of his stomach, that almost hurt his chest on its way out, foreign to his body. Then he sat in the massage chair beside Jeongguk and turned his on to his favorite settings.
“I-I-I-I lo-o-o-ove f-f-f-flying,” Jeongguk stuttered on purpose, his body twitching again as Jimin grinned. “How do you answer e-mails like this? The amount of typos must be staggering.”
“You get used to it,” Jimin said, his eyes already trained on his phone. In just a two-hour flight, his once empty inbox had accumulated thirty-five new e-mails, including one from Kyungwan surely providing a brief about the morning meeting that he opted out of purposely. Namjoon had also given Jimin the courtesy of forwarding said e-mail with the subject: JUST SKIP THIS BULLSHIT E-MAIL, ENJOY SHANGHAI. Because he was that fucking perceptive.
“How many e-mails do you answer per day? Ballpark estimate,” Jeongguk asked.
“Anywhere between fifty to one hundred, depending on level of importance,” Jimin said, eyes still on his phone, thumbs flying.
“Mhm. How many assistants do you have?”
“One in Seoul, one in America.”
“How many times per week do you get laid?”
“Like, once or twice, depending on—okay, what?” JImin dropped his phone into his lap, and Jeongguk snorted with laughter as he leaned his head back just in time for a small neck massage. Jimin narrowed his eyes accusingly, but Jeongguk didn’t seem ashamed to have caught Jimin in a state of half-listening.
“Got it,” Jeongguk said with a shit-eating grin as his first massage finished. “Should I go for a second massage?”
“I don’t know you,” Jimin reminded him, ignoring the question. “And you don’t know me.”
“Isn’t that usually how one-night stands go?” Jeongguk asked innocently, still fiddling with the massage chair remote, his eyes a bit bugged, his mouth a bit pouty as he examined the different options.
“Doesn’t mean that you can pry.”
“I just asked a question,” Jeongguk replied innocently. “You didn’t have to answer.”
“You asked when I was vulnerable.”
“Whoops,” Jeongguk said, still grinning as he leaned his head back again, his next massage beginning. “I told you before that I’m an adrenaline junkie. I like taking risks. Things like that.”
“Okay, and asking that question was a rush for you?” Jimin asked, deleting five e-mails in a row.
“How many time per week do you take real risks?” Jeongguk asked, using similar phrasing. “And I’m not talking about business shit. I’m talking about in real life.”
“I don’t measure my quality of life by risks taken.”
“Have you ever been skydiving? Bungee jumping? Driven a car too fast? That kind of shit?” Jeongguk asked. “I’ve been skydiving twice before. Climbed Mount Bukhasan a couple times. Went bungee jumping in Gapyeong. But I’ve also done riskier things.”
“What’s riskier than that?”
“Getting your heart broken. Shit like that.”
“Oh yeah? Who broke your heart?” JImin asked, finally looking up from his phone.
“Some asshole back was I was at university,” Jeongguk said ambiguously. “But it was one of this evil things, you know? Where I really thought I’d found him. The one, you know? I was at the point where I was going to make life choices based on him. But he ended things right before I started that.”
“Why’d he end things?”
“Because he didn’t want to commit. Just the lame ass way of ducking out of a two-year relationship.”
“And that’s an adrenaline rush to you?” Jimin asked, interested.
“It’s not the kind people normally talk about,” Jeongguk said, his second massage finishing. He sat forward and stretched with a little noise. “But it’s still valid.”
“So what kind of adrenaline rush are you after now? You’ve had skydiving and heartbreak,” Jimin said. “Now what?”
“Just how fancy is this place? What are the bathrooms like?” Jeongguk asked, seemingly ignoring Jimin’s question as he hopped out of the massage chair and stretched a little more. He pivoted slowly and stared Jimin down. “Cute guy like you in a first class lounge should know that.”
“Uh, the bathrooms are nice,” Jimin said as his massage also stopped. Jeongguk swept up his backpack and slung it onto one shoulder and ruffled his hair a bit.
“Think I’ll go find out for myself.”
Jimin stood there slightly dumbfounded, watching Jeongguk walk off and bow halfway to a few passersby. All total strangers and he was still polite, even though he towered over most of them. He disappeared down the hall into the bathroom, and Jimin drew in a breath, holding it at the top as he gripped his phone. As he exhaled, he considered all the times in his life when he had taken a real risk, when he had put himself out there in fear of the worst. Something he could rub in Jeongguk’s face. Anything. He considered a few of his one-night stands, trying to determine if those were risky, but he couldn’t compare any of them to skydiving or heartbreak.
Twenty-five years alive and Jimin hadn’t taken any significant risks in life, and a man he’d known for three hours total had just shown him the light.
And it hurt. It stung as Jimin stood there with his phone in hand, vibrating incessantly with messages and e-mails as other passengers strolled around, knowing that his actions in life had barely done a damn thing to dazzle spectators of his existence. This was the last thing he needed in the middle of a layover to L.A., like a slap to the face or an Ice Bucket Challenge dump over the head, but it was loud. It was so fucking loud, and the vibrating in Jimin’s hand kept reminding him that he was living a life someone else had set up for him. That he’d gone through university and spent all his days shadowing his father at the office and had gone home to an empty apartment, and for what?
Jimin abandoned his entire bag by the massage chair. Dropped it like trash, like its contents weren’t worth thousands. He shoved his phone into the front pocket and walked away. Never once in his professional life had he ever left his phone in a room where he wasn’t, but he, too, made a beeline for the bathrooms Jeongguk had wondered about only a minute ago, his heart pounding.
An adrenaline rush.
“Jeongguk-ah?” Jimin stood quietly as the door to the bathroom closed, echoing a little. Jimin stepped forward and pressed a few fingers against the first stall door, which opened with a little creak. He tried the second door.
”Get in here.”
JImin stumbled when the third bathroom stall door flew open and a hand yanked him in, and the door slammed and locked quickly. Then Jeongguk put him up against the wall and pressed his palms right by Jimin’s shoulders. His pleasant, warm honey eyes were darker now, pupils visibly blown, and he was eying Jimin up and down without a word, though he looked quite happy.
“You better make this really fucking fast,” Jimin said breathlessly. “Before I regret this. Because now I’m horny as hell and you got to me with all your risk-taking shit, so do something.”
“Done. I’m—what are you—shit, okay, you meant fast.”
Jeongguk stumbled backwards into the opposite wall when Jimin dropped to his knees and took the hem of Jeongguk’s sweatpants with him, glancing up for approval and permission. Jeongguk nodded quietly, and then he ran his tattooed hand through Jimin’s hair. Jimin shuddered inwardly, feeling a spike of arousal at the very thought of how fucking hot it was that Jeongguk even had tattoos in the first place.
“You sure?” Jeongguk whispered. “I can just do it myself and—fuck, okay. Okay, okay, okay.”
Jimin leaned in and mouthed at the black fabric of the briefs, hands gripping the sides of Jeongguk’s thick thighs, fingers digging into skin as he easily coaxed Jeongguk to near full hardness. Then he crawled his fingers up and grabbed the waistband of Jeongguk’s briefs, glancing up again. Jeongguk had his head back against the stall wall, but he was watching Jimin, and it was so hot that Jimin’s hands almost slipped. Jimin tugged, and then he stared.
“Shit,” he murmured to himself. Jeongguk wasn’t lacking in any way. His cock, almost fully hard, wasn’t so big that Jimin was alarmed, but goddamn, he was going to make Jimin feel a whole hell of a lot. So Jimin chose not to waste time.
“Ah, fuck,” Jeongguk breathed, his cock now in Jimin’s mouth. Jimin typically hated giving blowjobs to random men, mostly because it made him feel dirty putting his mouth on someone entirely unfamiliar, made him feel lonelier than he already was. But something about Jeongguk was different. Something about Jeongguk made Jimin eager to please, eager to pull out as many pretty sounds from Jeongguk’s mouth as possible.
“Shit,” Jeongguk sighed, his hands gripping the hem of his sweatshirt. “Feels so fucking good.”
Jimin hummed, pleased at the response. His risk was paying off almost immediately. One of Jeongguk’s hands carefully, almost tentatively fell into Jimin’s hair again, and Jimin eagerly scooted forward, taking more of Jeongguk down his throat. Jeongguk let out a small whimper and thrusted slightly a few times, both of them shifting to work quietly as someone came in and out of the bathroom quickly, washing their hands and departing.
“Just—j-just—God, please tell me I can fuck you,” Jeongguk pleaded desperately once they were alone again, and his words made Jimin shudder, made him harden in his pants, made his technique sloppy. He surrendered and pulled his mouth off Jeongguk, sucking shortly at the tip before fully releasing. Jeongguk pulled him to his feet hastily.
“Let me,” he said breathlessly. “Please. Please, Jimin-ssi.”
“Hyung,” Jimin whispered, giving permission.
“Hyung,” Jeongguk corrected himself. “Let me fuck you.”
“Yeah, okay. Go for it,” Jimin whispered, and Jeongguk wasted absolutely no time in getting to work, making it fast just like Jimin had originally asked.
“Packed my bag smart for a reason, I guess,” he whispered, and then he yanked on a side zipper and pulled out a condom and a packet of lube.
“First time flyers always come prepared,” Jimin joked breathlessly.
“Yeah, well, my idiocy paid off,” Jeongguk replied, and then he started to help Jimin undress. Jimin only managed to get one leg out of his pants, but Jeongguk didn’t seem to care care. He pressed Jimin up against the stall wall and grabbed one of his legs, lifting it up. Jimin wrapped it around the younger’s waist, and Jeongguk put enough space between their hips that he could sneak his hand in between. Jimin sucked in a breath and let his head fall back against the wall when Jeongguk teased the first finger at the tight ring of muscles, the lube warmer but still slightly shocking. Jimin let himself sink down onto the first finger, gripping the back of Jeongguk’s sweatshirt as his leg slipped a little, feeling his brow furrow a little at the foreign sensation, trying to relax and adjust. This is just another one-night stand, he thought to himself. You’re used to this. Relax.
“Keep it there,” Jeongguk whispered in Jimin’s ear, and then he used his free hand to help keep Jimin’s leg up. “I can hold you up, you know.” And then he slipped in a second finger, and Jimin let out a small whimper, biting his lower lip. He blew out a breath through his nose, and Jeongguk decisively curled his two fingers.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” JImin cursed, his entire body trembling in fresh pleasure. There weren’t many men who could effectively find his prostate and make him feel this weak, but Jeongguk had found it his first go-round. “Oh, God. Feels so good.”
“Yeah?” Jeongguk whispered, leaning in and pressing a few kisses to Jimin’s neck. “Good. Just relax. Let me make you feel even better, okay?”
“J-Jeongguk,” Jimin managed to say as Jeongguk carefully and efficiently scissored his fingers to stretch Jimin. Jimin’s leg finally gave out, and Jeongguk set him down onto his feet carefully, removing his fingers. The moment he did, he surged forward and pressed his lips to Jimin’s.
Kissing Jeongguk was nice. Jimin usually hated kissing with stranger men at a time when all he wanted was to just get off and go home, but goddamn, Jeongguk was good at it. He wasn’t all teeth and he wasn’t harsh about it. His lips were soft, and he pulled gently at Jimin’s bottom lip with his teeth. What a way to get to know Jeon Jeongguk, an unconventional “nice to meet you” kiss with the man’s fingers deep inside him. Jimin melted into the wall with Jeongguk’s tongue in his mouth, bringing his hands up to grip the front of Jeongguk’s sweatshirt instead to pull him closer. No one had kissed him like this in a long time.
“Fuck, Jeongguk-ah,” he breathed into Jeongguk’s mouth when Jeongguk’s clean hand reached around and gripped his ass firmly, rolling their hips together slowly. The kissing was so fucking hot, and Jimin felt like his entire body was aching, begging for Jeongguk now. “J-Just—please. Please just—just do something.”
“You ready?” Jeongguk asked, and Jimin heard the condom wrapper ripping open.
“I was ready five minutes ago,” JImin said breathlessly. Jeongguk chuckled, rolled the condom on, and used the leftover lube on his fingers to slick himself up. He sucked in a breath when he touched himself, and Jimin’s heart leapt in anticipation. He watched Jeongguk’s eyes flutter closed, long eyelashes nearly brushing his teeth, head tilted upward a little, a few strands of hair falling over his eyelids, lower lip slipping between his teeth. He was stunning.
“Tell me how you want it,” Jeongguk said.
“Just—not—not from behind,” Jimin whispered with his eyes closed, not wanting to see Jeongguk’s reaction to his snap-decision request. There was a time and place for that, a mood and maybe a few drinks, and Jimin didn’t want that now. As embarrassing and vulnerable as it made him feel, he wanted to see Jeongguk.
“Up,” Jeongguk murmured. Working together, Jeongguk lifted Jimin up and pressed him into the wall, and Jimin wrapped his legs around Jeongguk’s waist. He usually hated such a position, but Jeongguk was bizarrely strong and made Jimin do little work. He propped Jimin up with one arm, took his cock in one hand, and guided it right to Jimin’s entrance. He slowly released his grip on Jimin, and Jimin slid right down, full in an instant.
Typically, when Jimin was in the middle of being fucked, he did a lot of the work. He had to concentrate, think about things that turned him on so he could get somewhere close to a decent orgasm. Ever since he was a curious, horny teenager, he had been sneaking around to get off, to understand himself, but he had never been able to just close his eyes and enjoy. But this time was different.
“God, Jeongguk,” he sighed, his body sliding up and down the stall wall slightly, his eyes rolling back in his head as he dropped his forehead onto Jeongguk’s shoulder, his entire body humming in pleasure as Jeongguk slowly rocked into him, getting comfortable as Jimin tried to breathe properly. Jeongguk shifted a little and thrusted deeper, eliciting a gasp from Jimin’s mouth. He dug his fingernails into Jeongguk’s shoulders, his cock hard and standing proud against his stomach but aching for some kind of relief, even though he wanted more than anything to not touch it once.
“You feel s-so fucking good,” Jeongguk panted, hoisting Jimin up further and then finding a new angle, keeping a steady rhythm that had Jimin whimpering and whispering breathless pleas, breathless curse words. “Bet you don’t regret this now, do you?”
“N-Not at all,” Jimin managed to say, and then he cried out when Jeongguk pulled out nearly all the way and then thrusted back in, finding Jimin’s prostrate while also securing his arms around the elder’s waist. Jimin let his eyes fall shut again, and then he just felt. He felt everything—the trickle of sweat dripping from his neck to between his shoulder blades, Jeongguk’s large hands on his waist, the wood of the bathroom stall on his lower back, the fire of arousal burning wild in the pit of his stomach, and the way Jeongguk perfectly filled him up like Jimin had been missing it all this time.
Jeongguk switched to hold Jimin up by the bottoms of his thighs, never once letting Jimin slip or struggle to stay upright. He slipped one foot forward a little to steady himself, tilting Jimin’s entire body with an incredible amount of ease for the position they were in. It should have been uncomfortable. Jeongguk was trailing kisses all along Jimin’s neck and the bottom of his jaw like he had never been more at ease fucking someone in his life.
“How—the fuck are you—ah—doing this?” Jimin gasped. “Fuck, how are you even doing this? Feels s-so fucking good.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Jeongguk said breathlessly, and then he inhaled sharply, fingertips digging into Jimin’s skin. Jimin knew he’d feel ten fingers, have ten little bruises in the next twenty-four hours, but Jeongguk’s confidence made it all worth it. “Doesn’t matter just—just keep—shit, I’m not gonna last.”
“Me neither, it’s fine,” Jimin breathed. “B-But if you—fuck, fuck, fuck, right there. Right there, keep going right there and I swear to God, I—shit, I swear I could cum like this.”
“That’d be fucking impressive,” Jeongguk said with a small laugh, leaning his forehead against Jimin’s, his breathing a bit labored. “Would also make you a show-off.”
“I metaphorically step all over baby boomers for a living,” Jimin said, trying to catch his breath and failing. “I’m a fucking show-off every single day. Could make me insufferable.”
“It doesn’t,” Jeongguk said, licking his lips and rocking forward and up into Jimin again at a deliciously slow pace, like he was trying to feel everything all at once, everything that Jimin could give. “It makes me glad I lured you into this bathroom.”
“Lured me into—ah, ah, okay, right there, fuck—lured me into the bathroom? I came here myself.”
“You followed me,” Jeongguk said with a shit-eating grin, tongue between his teeth as he moved his head forward and nuzzled the side of Jimin’s neck before pressing a few hot kisses to his sweaty skin. “I lured you, and you followed.”
“Y-You were talking about fucking skydiving, you little shit,” Jimin panted, and then he threw his head back against the stall wall with a thud, whimpering and biting his lower lip, trying to keep himself from orgasm prematurely. There was no way he was going to be able to hold out with the way Jeongguk was steadily fucking into him like he had memorized every inch of Jimin’s body already.
“And you’ve never been. Damn shame. Are we gonna fight over who finishes first? Because I’m gonna lose,” Jeongguk finally said.
“Not if I lose first,” Jimin panted competitively, and then he let out a few breathy curse words, tightening his thighs around Jeongguk’s waist and holding on for near dear life. Jeongguk’s hands slid around and grabbed his ass firmly, giving him more leverage to continue his assault, and Jimin lost first, as promised. He didn’t care how loud he was, didn’t care if anyone walked ingot he bathroom at that moment. He kept one arm wrapped around Jeongguk’s neck and used one hand to keep from getting cum all over himself, because the orgasm that hit him was like a freight train at top speed. He cursed senselessly and tightened around Jeongguk, trying to remember how to breathe. Jeongguk was no help. He pressed Jimin harder into the wall as he came himself, lips pressed to Jimin’s skin, desperately trying to draw in a normal breath.
“…Goddamn, that was amazing,” Jeongguk finally managed to say, clearly not shy. “Fuck, Jimin hyung, that was—Jesus Christ.”
“That’s my risk for the day,” Jimin said as Jeongguk slowly, gently, carefully lowered him to the ground, still inside him as they both tried to catch their breath. Jeongguk chuckled, reaching up and brush some hair behind Jimin’s right ear.
“Was that better than a chair massage and answering e-mails?”
“It was still a massage,” Jimin retorted, and even though the two of them were in a cramped bathroom stall trying to clean up and dress themselves, they both snickered. “Way fucking better than those chairs, though.”
“Imagine sitting in a first class lounge massage chair for your prostate,” Jeongguk said, and Jimin burst out laughing, stumbling as he tried to put his pants back on. “What a fucking sight that would be.”
“You’re insane,” Jimin declared.
“And you just took a risk that I hope paid off,” Jeongguk reminded him. “Thanks for indulging me.”
“Well worth it.”
“Yeah?” Jeongguk sounded pleased as he straightened out his clothing and pulled the hood of his sweatshirt up and onto his messy cherry hair. “Good. After you.”
Jimin swallowed heavily, and then he slipped out of the bathroom stall first and immediately stepped up to the sink to wash his hands. Jeongguk did the same, both of the rinsing off. Jimin washed his mouth, and Jeongguk wordlessly handed him a mint with an amused grin before he left the bathroom first. Jimin rolled his eyes and popped the mint in his mouth, and then he gripped the edges of the sink and glanced up at himself in the mirror.
“Shit,” he murmured, and then he hastily fixed his hair, trying to make sense of it. Then he smoothed out his linen shirt, glad that it hadn’t gotten too sweaty or dirty or wrinkled during their bathroom tryst. He craned his neck, noticing a few red marks that he could at least cover up, or that would fade, given time. He could still feel Jeongguk’s hands on his thighs, feel the grip on his ass, and it made him inhale shakily.
He had literally just let a near stranger fuck him in a first class lounge bathroom.
Jimin turned on the sink water again and made sure it was cold before he splashed it onto his face several times, trying to sense if his hands were shaking or not like they often did when he felt out of control. He blinked the water out of his eyes and held his hands up, palms down.
Jimin dried his hands off, blew out a breath through his nose, and headed out of the bathroom to collect his stuff, hoping it was all where he left it. And it was—no one had touched it. Jimin crouched down and pulled out his phone, watching it light up as he stared at the screen, feeling it vibrate in his hand. Goddamn, they never left him alone.
“Attention, Transpacific Airlines passengers,” a pleasant voice said overhead in English. “Boarding for flight T613 will commence boarding in thirty minutes. Please make your way to the designated gate with a valid boarding pass. Thank you.” The message then sounded off in Mandarin, and then Korean, and then Japanese. Jimin shoved his phone into the pocket of his jeans, grabbed his bag, and straightened up, glancing around the lounge. He didn’t see Jeongguk lingering around, so he just made sure he had his ticket and headed out of the lounge alone.
The corridors were busy with passengers headed to their gates, headed to do some shopping, headed to get something to eat. Jimin had to make it to the gate at the end of the hall. He phone vibrated yet again, and as he reached for it, he heard heavy footsteps coming fast behind him, maybe a passenger late for boarding.
“Would you like to hear some fun facts about airplanes and flying?”
It wasn’t a late passenger. Jeongguk fell into step beside him breathlessly, so Jimin glanced to his left and raised one eyebrow. There was Jeongguk with his hood half up, looking back with wide, innocent eyes like he hadn’t just caught up with the man he’d had sex with in a lounge bathroom. Who the hell was this guy? One minute he was holding Jimin up on his cock like it was no big deal, and the next he looked like a baby deer in the headlights, sweet as ever.
“I’d rather answer e-mails.” Jimin held up his phone as evidence.
“Did you know,” Jeongguk began while gripping his backpack straps, and Jimin snorted with laughter, shaking his head slowly as they continued to walk. “That the average 747 airplane is made up of six million parts? Six million, hyung. That’s six million parts that could fail and end us all.”
“Oh, heavens, no. Sounds catastrophic.”
“Did you know that if someone dies on the plane, they can just keep the body onboard?”
“That’s fucking morbid.”
“Did you know that almost forty-three percent of pilots have admitted to falling asleep while flying planes? Forty-three percent! Just fall asleep while flying this metal death machine,” Jeongguk whisper-yelled, and Jimin snickered.
“At least they get some rest.”
“Did you know that the deadliest part of a plane flight is takeoff and landing?” Jeongguk rattled off. “And that landing is the worst? Almost fifty percent of fatal accidents happen at landing.”
“Is that why you needed to hold my hand?” Jimin asked in a singsong voice, jutting out his lower lip and batting his eyelashes at Jeongguk, who rolled his eyes, fighting a smile.
“Well, the safest place is in the back of the plane, so first class is fucked,” Jeongguk reminded Jimin. “I’m just letting you know all of those important facts because, you know, you fly all the time, so it’s good to know that airplane water has a shit-ton of bacteria and the dirtiest part of the plane is your tray table.”
“Awesome. Good. Thanks,” Jimin said dryly, and Jeongguk snickered. “You flying first class to L.A.?”
“I have no idea,” Jeongguk admitted. “You ask like I have experience with this kind of thing.”
“Ah, Jeonggukie. You’ll learn soon enough. Listen, I’m gonna go stop at the shops, maybe get a snack or something before I get on the plane. So you go to the gate, and, uh… maybe I’ll see you on the plane,” Jimin said, his heart flipping at the thought of just walking away from Jeongguk but knowing he had to for the sake of his sanity.
“Oh. Yeah, that’s fine. Maybe I’ll see you onboard,” Jeongguk said with a small smile. “Um, thanks for—you know, showing me to the lounge. And stuff.”
“Yeah, ‘and stuff,’” Jimin added with a grin.
“Shame all my flights from this point forward won’t be this interesting,” Jeongguk commented, taking a few slow steps backwards.
“Yeah. Look, if I don’t see you, Jeongguk-ah, I hope you have a good flight,” Jimin said.
“Yeah. Thanks, hyung,” Jeongguk said, looking like he had ten thousand other things to say. He pursed his lips with another little smile, one dimple in his left cheek, and then he pivoted and headed towards the gate, glancing up to find the signs. Jimin peeled off and headed straight to the shops, trying to take a few deep breaths.
He had to separate himself from the situation. He was a professional, the nearly-installed CEO of a multi-billion-won company, the face of Park Consolidated. Did he really have time to be fooling around in foreign airports? Was he really ready for that kind of wrench to be thrown into his routine life?
Jimin picked up a bottle of mineral water and a packet of vitamin C, and then he made his way towards his gate, where he saw passengers already lining up to board. He glanced at the screen and saw that Platinum members were being asked to board—that was him. He butted in front of just about everyone loitering and presented his boarding pass, bowing slightly to the woman who let him through. He hitched his bag over his shoulder further, running his fingers through his hair and letting it fall right back into place.
“Hello, Mr. Park, welcome aboard,” the flight attendant said the moment Jimin stepped onto the plane. Jimin bowed with a small smile, and then he turned the corner down the aisle and found his seat per usual—4A. Namjoon knew him well, knew to always pick the same seat if he was able to. So more often than not, Jimin was on the aisle in row 4 of first class. Jimin sighed heavily, hugged his bag in his lap, and leaned his head back quietly, letting his eyes fall closed. A nap sounded good, but so did a decent meal. He also wanted to listen to some music, but he supposed he had twelve hours to do whatever he wanted.
Yet all he really wanted was to think about Jeongguk. Think about Jeongguk’s hands all over him, think about Jeongguk’s scrunched-up smile, think about the way Jeongguk’s voice sounded whispering sweet nothings in his ear.—shit, he knew this guy for all of five or so hours and he couldn’t erase the memories from his head. He was so good at deleting one-night stands from his brain, but his tryst with Jeongguk wasn’t his usual one-night stand, and Jimin was quietly reeling.
Jimin felt someone scoot past him and drop into the window seat, and all he did was bring his knees in a little, eyes still closed as passengers continued to board. Just stop thinking about it, he told himself like a never-ending mantra, trying to take a few deep breaths. Stop thinking about it. You were in Shanghai. No one saw you. It was a one-time thing. You’ll never see him again. It doesn’t matter. No one will know.
Jimin opened his eyes slowly, and then he glanced over at his new seat mate.
“Looks like we both had the same idea for seating.” Jeongguk pulled the hood of his sweatshirt down with a proud little grin on his face, leaning back in his seat. “So, what would you recommend for dinner?”
Holy shit. Jimin had just gotten the life fucked out of him in a bathroom by this man, and now he had to sit beside him for twelve hours without any of it being awkward. And he wanted a dinner recommendation?