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sensitive hearts, glowing in the dark

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There’s a tie on the floor.

He stares at it, wondering. Asking himself why he can’t just pick it up and wear it. Asking himself why he can’t get out of bed, when he’s done so for the past year and a half.

Seoul is exhausting. He knew that going in, he’d stomached it as a student, pushed through, done what had been expected of him.

But the days all look the same.

The food tastes the same.

The people look the same, and when he looks at the sky, the dust in the air prevents him from seeing the stars. It’s suffocating.

He’d wanted this, at some point. To move out of the countryside, out of the farmhouse he’d grown up in, out of a village where everyone knew him as a son, a cousin, or a brother.

He’d wanted to become invisible, a face in the crowd, drowned amongst hundreds of other people.

But it gets lonely at night, and just as lonely in the mornings.

He longs for familiar faces, for his grandmother running her fingers through his hair, for the rain to ruin the tomato plants they were growing outside.

She’s long gone, and so are the memories. It’s just him, Park Jimin, and a teaching job he took because it was the thing to do, at the time.

The students don’t care if he’s not there. The faculty barely does. 

It’s all so pointless.

So he doesn’t wear the tie. Doesn’t grab his suitcase, or take the subway. 

Instead, he packs a bag. Grabs a few things, here and there, scattered socks, a toothbrush. A picture of the tight-knit family he once had, back home.

Seven boys, a couple of stray dogs, really, aunties forcing their backs straight for the pictures.

He smiles.

When he closes the door, he takes one last look.

The tie remains on the floor.

 


 

There’s smoke coming out of the Park house.

It’s the first thing Jeongguk hears about when he wakes up from his nap. 

Summer’s here, and with it, the unforgiving heat, rendering any yard work impossible. He still feels groggy with sleep, his eyes half-shut, his back sticky with sweat, so the information doesn’t travel to his brain until he sees it for himself.

So there is smoke.

He blinks a few times, a familiar feeling returning to the pit of his stomach. A feeling he shakes off like the bug sitting on the back of his hand right now.

There’s no way he’s back.

He runs a hand through his hair, annoyed by how long it’s gotten and annoyed at the sun, at his dirty fingernails, and the fact that he wants to walk over there, and check for himself.

His mom is going to make him anyway.

“There’s a basket of plums in the entryway, go bring some over,” she points out with the knife she’s currently using to peel a potato.

He sighs.

It’s the thing to do, he knows that. It’s polite, it’s helpful, and it’ll give his mom and his aunt something to gossip about with the other women at their daily get-together.

It’s just… He would have liked it better had he had time to shower, or do something, anything to look a little more put together than he feels right now. His insides are jumbled up like a puzzle, and he’s not even sure that Jimin’s the one in that house right now.

Logically, he knows he is.

The house has been uninhabited since Jimin's grandmother passed, and he moved away to Seoul to graduate and find a job.

It’s just weird, Jepngguk thinks as he drags his feet across the courtyard, his eyes squinting, shying away from the sun. There’s no reason for him to be back. Nothing tethering him to this town that’s too small to be called one.

But as he stares at the open doors of the old country house, at the blankets hanging out to dry, he’s forced to recognize that he’s wrong.

And then, this: Long lashes, a familiar smile, and a mop of dark hair welcome him, and Jeongguk almost drops the basket on his feet.

“You’re back,” he says breathlessly.

“I’m back,” Jimin replies easily.

Oh, this is bad.

This is really, really bad.

He was supposed to get over it. Over the old high school crush, over the nights spent sleeping over, huddled together and yet never as close as he’d wished them to be.

It’s silly, Jeongguk thinks. It’s just Jimin. They’d grown up together, and grown apart the way people do. There’s no reason for him to still feel the way he does.

It’s clear he’s changed too. From the way his head tilts elegantly, to the clothes he’s wearing; Jimin is an outsider now. 

But then he smiles.

He smiles the way he’s always done, eyes closing like a cat, joy taking over, and Jeongguk loses it.

God, he's so happy he's back.

“Peaches. For you,” he manages to say after a while.

Jimin frowns, slightly amused. “Aren’t these plums?”

Fuck.

“Plums,” he repeats.

“Yes, plums.”

“Yes. Uh, Yeah, they are,” he replies, shoving the basket in Jimin's hands.

This is a disaster.

“They’re from our orchard,” he adds pitifully, scratching the back of his neck.

Jimin makes a non-committal noise. “I see.”

There’s a silence. A long, nightmarish drawl that makes him wish he could just hide, or flat out run away. But he’s twenty-two now, and he knows better.

“So, this is awkward,” Jimin points out, and Jeongguk laughs, a little embarrassed, a little thankful.

“Yeah. The last time we saw each other, I still had zits on my face.”

“So did I.”

“You still kind of do,” he says, and Jimin laughs.

And just like that, the awkwardness lifts.

“Yah, Is that the way you speak to your elders nowadays?" He sighs, shaking his head with a --oh still so perfect, albeit tired smile.

“Please take the plums, hyung. I can’t go back home with the basket still full, I don’t have a death wish.”

"Your mother sent you, huh?"

He tilts his head. "Saw the smoke coming from your roof."

Jimin stretches, arms pale, limbs lithe."Figured."Then tilts his head, carefully studying Jeongguk before adding: “You’ve changed.”

“So have you,” he shrugs, like it’s no big deal.

Like his insides are not in shambles. Like Jimin’s eyes on him are not making the hair on the nape of his neck stick out.

“Did you stay here? Or—” Jimin starts.

“I left, for a while. I came back, though."

Oh.”

“Didn’t like the city much.”

“I can understand that.”

“You can’t see the stars, there,” Jeongguk adds by way of explanation.

Jimin nods, a small smile on his lips. Like that's enough of a reason to stay here.

“Are you back for good?” he hears himself ask. Anything to keep the silence from creeping back in.

In front of him, Jimin grimaces, makes a polite effort to consider his answer. “I don’t know. Maybe? I needed some time to figure some things out. Are you the only one in town now?”

“Seokjin-hyung works at the bank on weekdays. Namjoon-hyung just transferred back from Busan, actually. They were thinking of closing the school here, couldn’t find teachers.”

“Hm. Maybe I should apply.”

“So you did get your degree, then?”

"Started teaching a year ago, as a matter of fact.”

It’s weird, thinking of Jimin as a teacher. The last time they hung out together, Jimin was showing Taehyung how to do cartwheels and tried to balance milk cartons on his knee like a soccer player.

“Do you have to like… wear a suit and everything?” he asks, nose scrunching up in what he knows to be a childish way.

"Yeah. I look really stupid, by the way."

"I'm sure that's not true."

Jimin squints, his lips stretching into a teasing smile. “You still do the bunny thing.”

And now his neck is burning. Fantastic.

“What?”

“The bunny thing!" Jimin mimics, "With your nose!”

He coughs. "Right, yeah. Some things never change, I guess."

And maybe they don't, because Jimin erupts in a burst of laughter that sounds exactly the way it used to back in the day. “Thank God! I was starting to get freaked out, you’re all tall and brooding now. It’s weird.

Jeongguk blinks, looking at his feet. He is taller than him, now. Probably stockier, too. 

It’s a pleasant thought, though.

“It’s not gonna be so easy to throw me in the river, now, huh?” he taunts, nudging Jimin's foot with his own.

“You read my mind,” Jimin replies, his eyes trained on him.

Whatever he's seeing, the weirdness or the change, it's keeping his eyes interested. Alert, and It’s enough for Jeongguk to get bolder.

“Hey, do you want to grab a drink, later? I could ask Jin-hyung if he’s free. He'll probably come by if I say I'll treat you both.”

"Will you, really?"

He nods. "Hyung, let me treat you."

Jimin nudges his foot back, smile wide as the sky above them. "Ah, when you say it like that... I feel like I can't say no.“

He smiles."Then don't."

"Alright then. It's a plan."

Jeongguk nods again, and steps back, hesitating.

It’s been four years. There are so many things he wants to say; That he’s happy to see him again. That he looks too thin, so the food in Seoul can’t be that good; That Seokjin is still a lightweight, but they don’t have to go around his dad’s stash of soju behind his back anymore. 

That he’s missed him, a lot.

Instead, he says: “I’m really glad you’re back, hyung.”

He leaves the basket between them, and waves at him as Jimin answers: “I’m not here for long, though!”

 

He notices the seeds already planted in the soil next to the house on his way out.

Yeah, Jimin is here to stay.

 


 

“So you just quit your job, and moved back?” Namjoon’s tongue clicks disapprovingly.

Jimin’s head hits the table, and he hides his face under his arm, like a coward. This is exactly what he’d expected the minute he’d dropped his bag back home.

A drill of questions, all variations on the same theme.

Are you a failure? Did you give up? What about your job? What would your grandmother say?

And he wants to defend himself, because it’s not that he gave up.

It’s just that it made no sense to him to be staying in a place he couldn’t call home.

“What was that?” Namjoon asks, pushing the bottle of soju out of the way.

“I didn’t quit. I just left,” Jimin whines.

Alcohol makes him weepy. He knows that about himself. And yet, here he is, with his cheeks flushed, his head spinning, two of his childhood best friends making fun of him.

Jin barely counts, though. He’s been half asleep for the past hour, a mocking smile still plastered on his face, his head angled against the wall for support.

Jimin-ah. You need to sort things out, you can’t just run away like that!” Namjoon objects.

Like a brother. Like they haven’t lost touch at all.

It’s nice.

Why did he wait so long to come back?

“--Mhnot running away,” he pouts. “Why are you so mean to me? Were you always this mean?”

“That doesn’t work on me,” Namjoon retorts, circling his face with one long finger. “I’m not Jeongguk.”

Jimin hums. 

“Where is he, by the way? I thought he was supposed to join."

Seokjin opens one eye. “Part-time job. Finishing late.”

The thought escapes his lips before Jimin has time to quiet it down: “He looks so different, now.”

“That’s because you haven’t bothered to come back in four years. He still looks the same to me,” Namjoon retorts.

He groans. “He’s taller than me. I don’t like it.”

“Everyone’s taller than you.”

“Hey!” He protests, his hand swatting at his friend.

Namjoon blocks him easily, gently shoving him back to his seat. “I’m cutting you off, you can’t even handle drinking anymore. Look at you! Were you even eating back there?”

He rolls his eyes. “I’m—fine.”

“Hey,” a voice says, and Jimin’s eyes trail up from long, tan legs to a friendly, if a little distressed, face.

“Ah, we were just talking about you,” Namjoon nods. 

Jeongguk sits down, pushing hair out of his face, trying to tuck it behind his ear, and Jimin smiles.

It’s nice to see him. So nice.

Memories of long, quiet nights spent catching fireflies, and bicycle rides come to mind.

Things were easier back then. Not easy, but easier.

All they ever had to worry about were grades, and who’d have to distract Tae from his short-lived run as convenience store clerk long enough to grab enough snacks to eat by the water. 

It’s weird, seeing him now, all grown up. Serious eyebrows and a sharp jawline replacing a tragic bowl cut and teeth too big for his mouth, and while he’s aware he’s probably changed, too, there’s something different about Jeongguk. It’s in the way he carries himself, like he knows who he is, like he’s comfortable in his own skin. 

It’s nice.

It’s all so nice.

He sits down next to him, and Jimin practically rolls his head on his lap like a house cat.

“What took you so long?” He asks, and he can feel Namjoon roll his eyes so far into the back of his head, he’s tempted to warn him against aneurysms.

Jimin is needy. He always has been, and he’s probably a little too drunk to care about what’s proper right now, but who cares? Jeongguk smiles, his fingers gently combing his hair, so things are fine. He smiles like he’s missed him, too. Like Jimin didn’t leave without so much as a goodbye, a sticky note on the door of his house.

“A customer took his time to finish his drink, and I couldn’t close up until he was done."

He smells like freshly mowed grass. Like sunshine in a bottle.

“Don’t pass out on him, ah!” Seokjin suddenly yelps, and Jimin frowns.

“Says the guy who’s been sleeping for the last two hours!”

“I have a very exhausting job, okay?”

“You spend the day teaching ajummas to use the direct deposit machines, hyung,” Namjoon points out, and Jeongguk laughs, so Jimin laughs along.

Oh, good, his smile is still great.

Definitely grew into his features.

Seokjin tilts back, a drunk pendulum if Jimin's ever seen one. “And they come back the next day, having forgotten everything! It’s a groundhog day disaster, I’m telling you!”

“They just wanna hang with Handsome Jin, is all,” Jimin grins, turning his head to enjoy the scandalized expression on his friend’s face.

“I have a girlfriend !”

“In Canada?” Jeongguk teases, and Jimin hits his stomach with a fist, making eyes at him.

“She’s STUDYING abroad!” Seokjin’s ears redden, the way they always do when they poke fun at him, and Jimin looks at the lot of them.

Both him and Namjoon are wearing ties, loosely knotted around their necks, slacks held up by belt buckles that now fit.

They’re acting, pretending to be adults, but their smiles betray them. 

All in all, they're still the same: the envelope may vary, but the contents remain unchanged.

Their bond is still there, right below the surface, and it warms Jimin's heart in a way he can’t quite explain. 

It’s a sense of belonging, a family made up of random cogs and screws that somehow make the wheels turn. So hours later, when they’re the last ones at the bar and Namjoon’s arm is gingerly holding Seokjin’s body together like a scarecrow, Jimin lets himself feel it.

He’s home.

And if he's slightly tipsier than intended when he makes that realization, so be it.

“How are you even going to get back to your house, look at you,” Namjoon sighs. “I can’t believe I was considering giving you a job. A drunk teacher? We already have enough of those.”

“It’s summertime. And you’re drunk too!” He protests.

“I’ll help him out,” Jeongguk says, gesturing to his back. “Hop on"

Jimin frowns. “Can you even carry me? How much have you had to drink?”

“Less than you, that’s for sure. Come on, I owe you one. I didn't even treat you tonight.”

Jimin pouts. "Right. You little liar, coming in late to avoid your promises."

"There's always next time."

He wavers, legs feeling like jelly and smile easy, too easy-- he can't help it. Namjoon was right, the soft spot he had for their youngest friend had never really vanished, not even eroded with time.

“I guess this is payback for the number of times I had to carry you back home from the river,” he shakes his head. “And now look at me, you stunted my growth!”

“So you admit it, Jimin-ah! Now, that’s growth!” Seokjin sing-songs, and Jimin gets about ready to throw hands.

“Oh I’ll show you growth, come here,” he starts, and Jeongguk just grabs him by the waist.

“Alright, that’s enough for tonight, bye!”

Namjoon steps away then, carrying an elated Seokjin, screaming into the night sky, and he hops on Jeongguk’s back without too much thought.

It’s not like he’s never done it before. There’s muscle memory, there, and soon he lets the sound of crickets match the even breaths he lets out. 

The night is warm around them, and he nuzzles his nose against Jeongguk’s neck.

“This is nice,” he says. Or he thinks. Everything is fuzzy, right now.

“Hm? How so?”

“The quietness. I never realized- how loud it was, in the city.”

Jeongguk nods. “Yeah. It used to drive me crazy, looking out the window, and seeing buildings that all looked the same. And it was always so busy outside, like those ant farms we used to look at when we were kids.”

He smiles at the mention. “Even in Busan?”

“Even in Busan.”

“You know, I missed seeing them too,” Jimin offers.

“What?”

“The stars.”

Jeongguk stops, then, his feet dragging on the road. “Do you wanna stop and look at them?”

So simple. So easy, being back. Jimin stares at him, and Jeongguk just stares back.

There’s something in the back of his throat, a feeling he vaguely remembers.

Something about entangled limbs, and sleepy looks. Featherlight touches and soft smiles.

He trains his eyes on the sky.

"Sure."

There’s no light pollution here. No noise, barely any cars driving around. It’s just the two of them, looking up at the immensity of it.

A big universe, seen from a small part of their world.

Yeah, this is nice.