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not your cullinan, not my pine

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There’s no filthy credit card this time – and Jimin thanks all fucks for it, knowing full well all the places where Daejung’s wallet and fingers have been – but there’s a sleek gold knife, and he spares half a thought for whether it was swiped from the kitchens or simply carried into the club by Seoyun’s friends, watching as Daejung uses its blade to crush the powder uniformly.

His vision’s a bit filmy, his hearing’s a bit clogged, like he’s watching the scene from underwater or behind fogged glass, eyes sliding shut repeatedly to try to clear his head. Overhead the strobe lights are still going, colors blinding him when they reflect off the wall-long mirror on the other end of the room, but the hot bodies around him seem unbothered, swaying in time with the heavy thudding beat of the music playing from the speakers stuck on the ceiling above them. One of the girls Seoyun had walked in with is seated to Jimin’s left, ass and thigh rubbing against his own as she leans on Jeonghoon’s chest and whispers into his ear. Jimin shifts away, grimacing, the heat of her skin slowly dissolving, relieving one source of his infinite discomfort.

The table’s probably a petri dish of human filth, disgusting and sticky and wet, but Daejung’s trying to let him have a line before the waitress in the thong makes her rounds past their corner again, and it feels too hurried, too wrong, but he has no way to articulate it without sounding like a pussy. So he watches the gold knife turn perpendicularly to chop some more at the white, his fingers sopping wet with the condensation dripping off the sides of his rum and coke, and it’s all wrong, so wrong.

The line of powder turns into two, into three, as his vision blurs, strange sensation of nausea and over-fullness and total emptiness making his thoughts swimmy and his body hard. He thinks, if someone bumped into him right now, he might crack into a million little pieces and leave nothing but dust behind. Still, the drink in him keeps welling up like a congealed thing, a mass of disgust and low-lying horror whose source he can’t name, wave upon wave on the shore of his sanity.

Something in the music changes, screeching and loud, cutting straight through to his cerebellum and making his teeth hurt, his hair stand on end. Through the reeling overtaking him, he glances around and sees nobody else reacting like he is, and maybe he imagined it all; the wet glass in his hand is his sixth one. He drops it – or maybe sets it down carefully – he isn’t sure, it’s like things happen as they happen but it all occurs to him only in memory; his hand moving as he watches it feels like something he’s recollecting years later – and as he stares at the floor, he sees the glass standing upright in a ring of the water that’s pouring down its sides, but the glass was in his hands one second ago. He squints between his palms and the floor, and then someone’s shoe appears, kicking the glass loftily under the couch, making Jimin’s head snap up.

Daejung’s watching the table, guarding the lines of coke from the occasional breeze of a passing body, and his shoe sits neatly where the glass had been, making Jimin want to throw up.

“C’mon, man, we don’t got all day,” the former says, voice high and raspy, hoarse from screaming over the music all night. Jimin wonders what time it is, even as his body moves of its own accord to shift him to the edge of the cushion he’s seated on, closer to the table with its four neat lines, like tallies.

“C’mon, c’mon, get over here,” he hears, muted, as he stares down at the powder. A pair of legs appears on the other side of the table, and then another – bare, under a short skirt that’s riding up too high, showing streaks of spilled drinks along the knees. “Here,” the faint voice says again, and then a plastic straw is shoved in Jimin’s face, making him blink and glance up at Daejung’s four overlapping faces. “You good?”

Jimin nods soundlessly, grabbing the straw and setting one end of it on the sleek black glass of the tabletop, watching the reflection of the straw veer back toward him at an angle. When the strobe lights swing around again, everything looks a little green, and he feels it inside himself, too.

He doesn’t want to think about it anymore – he wants to give the straw back and be alone so that nobody will be waiting for him to do anything. He leans down and presses the top end against his nostril, blinking hard to focus. He feels the soft fluff of his stringy hair brushing against his temples, come ungelled after hours spent in the humidity of the cramped club, dancing with bodies he doesn’t remember and couldn’t recognize.

He counts to three. He can feel Daejung’s eyes on him. He sniffs.

Too inebriated to notice any sensations, or maybe finally hitting a stroke of luck, he doesn’t choke or start sniffling, just leans back and holds out the straw for someone else to take, eyes closed, pinching his nostrils lightly before pressing himself into the cushions of the couch. It’s leather, though barely even genuine at that, and it creaks under his weight.

He focuses on that, the sensation of the traction of hard material, the way it releases with too much pressure. Everything feels plasticky and foreign, but every time someone shifts along the couch, the sound of the creaks travels through his skin, sharp and grounding.

“God, I needed that,” one of the girls – Dea, maybe? he’d danced with someone who sounded like her – groans, presumably having just done a line herself. A giggle answers her from the opposite lounger, low whispers starting. He half-wonders if they’re talking about him but chooses not to be so egocentric for a minute. It’ll still be true once the minute’s up.

“Wipe up the dust with your napkin, Minjung,” someone grunts, then there’s silence but for the continuous music beating through their bones. “There’s a place two streets away that has a BDSM thing on the bottom floor. Munhee told me they opened last month and already had lines around the block several nights. Anyone into it?”

Jimin opens his eyes, staring at the ceiling. It’s done in brutalist style, exposed pipes and wiring of the lights hanging like décor. He’s looked at this ceiling before, but he doesn’t remember it. He’s always looking at it when everything’s wrong. The shadows are large enough that it’s hard to make out what’s where, but already his mind is clearing somewhat, sharpening enough that his vision isn’t shaking. The customary numbness of his tongue and throat are coming on, and he feels a rush to speak. “I don’t –“ he starts, but his mouth is too dry, his tongue too heavy. He swallows, feeling several eyes slide to him, lingering like hands, invasive. He keeps blinking at the pipes. “I don’t have m-my … my shit, I gotta - gotta get money from the car, I …”

“That’s fine,” Jeonghoon pipes up from around the girl that’s lying on top of him, and peripherally Jimin can see her hand moving slowly between Jeonghoon’s thighs. He swallows thickly to stave the nausea, but the numbness makes it worse. “There’s still the tab.”

The silence doesn’t seem purposeful, but it’s there. Jimin stares at the exposed pipes and wonders how much Seoyun told his friends to rack up before they showed up. Jimin’s expected to cover tabs on the nights when he’s not just randomly running into them out on the town – which is most nights, nowadays, but he’s been on thin ice with his credit cards for the past two months, and his chest tightens at the thought of his father seeing this particular night on the bill. He lets his eyes slide shut and pretends he didn’t hear any of it.

The girl on top of Jeonghoon slides back a bit, bringing her ass in contact with Jimin’s elbow, warm and soft. He jerks away.

Slowly, his faculties come back to him. He can smell the saccharine tang in the air from all the mixers they’ve spilled around their table, the acrid scent of smoke from the corner where Seoyun’s smoking with his girl for the night. It’s all a bit muted through the chemical stench of the drug in his nasal cavity, but that’s a bit of a relief. On himself, he smells sweat and the faintest remnants of the foresty cologne that had coated the inside of the car, which he’d inhaled desperately the whole ride here like a man starved.

He feels a drop of sweat inching down the back of his neck, and it tickles, but he doesn’t want to move. What he wants is for the lights to turn on and for the club to close so that he can leave without losing face. Instead, he lets his face tilt forward again, tucking his crown against the top of the cushion, and squints out at the people around him.

Daejung is fiddling with the gold knife still pinched between his stubby fingers, poking at the glass of the tabletop as he stares out at the dance floor. Minjung is sitting on Aecha’s lap, showing her something on her phone, and Jimin focuses on them for a while, feeling a bit serene. Soon enough he’ll be restless and jittery, and these stolen moments while the powder battles the liquid in him are the only peace he gets on nights like this.

“Let’s head out in ten?” Seoyun calls from his corner, shaking the ash off his cigarette and blowing smoke in front of his face, squinting tiredly. Jimin watches the little trickle of dust fall to the ground, tiny particles floating near Seoyun’s knees. “Min, you good with that?”

Jimin blinks, then sits up slowly, nodding once. “Yeah, lemme. I’m. Be right back.”

It’s nearly an ordeal to get himself to his feet, but he’s happy to get away from that girl’s ass at last, veering a little toward the bar in the middle of the establishment, propping himself up against the countertop for a second as he gives his brain time to catch up. His shoes stick to the floor a little as he teeters, making him wince, but once his vision clears he glances down and realizes he’s just standing in a minor spill.

It takes about forty-five seconds to reach the main doors, and then he’s slamming out of the clammy, pungent air of the club into the crisp October night outside, hanging off the door handle for a minute as he breathes desperately, before letting the slab of metal bang shut behind him. The car is idling where he left it, tiny blue light in the driver’s seat lighting it up, but otherwise all is quiet and still.

He sets his hands on his waist and twists under the awning, taking stock of what he knows. The music inside is still exploding from the speakers, barely muffled by the thick warehouse-style walls, and some of the clubgoers linger in the shadows around him, murmuring and kissing. One hand patting at his pocket, he’s relieved to find that his phone is still on him, tugging it out quickly to glance at the time. Ten past one. The night is still young. Seoyun will probably want to stay at the BDSM club until at least three, but without knowing the prices for their tables or even their handles, Jimin is loath to commit. Not like he thinks he’ll even have the chance to.

With a glare in place, he starts to make his way down the sidewalk, closing in on the sleek black Cullinan with purposeful steps. His shoulders sway as he keeps his hands propped on his hips, and the cool air is drying his hair slowly, breeze fluffing it so that a few lavender strands poke into his eyes, making him duck his head to the side quickly, eyes flickering shut. When he opens them again, his driver is gazing at him levelly through the windshield, face stony.

He saunters close, cocking one hip as he stills beside the driver’s side door, and beckons for the window to be lowered. The eye roll he gets in response is resigned.

“Finally got your fill?” Yoongi drawls, and for no reason at all, Jimin feels his skin pebble from the timbre. He sounds like he just woke up – but Jimin knows he didn’t, he never sleeps on the job – low and husky and nasally. “Sir?”

“Shut up,” Jimin bites back instinctively, instantly regretting his tone because this is how it always starts. If Yoongi’s in a bad mood, he’ll snap back, and it will devolve into a fight before either of them even notices. He holds his breath, eyes on the roof of the car as he waits, but the driver doesn’t take the bait, turning back to his phone and swiping across the screen busily.

Jimin lets his gaze lower carefully, studying the soft profile, the sharp lines of averted eyes. One thin, strong thumb moves back and forth while the rest of Yoongi stays still, and the knuckle is thick and bony, nail trimmed perfectly, neat, and Jimin realizes that despite all the years he’s spent looking at it, he hasn’t touched it once. Yoongi’s skin looks like marble, with the blue of his phone reflecting, barest hints of cool light catching on the black of his suit jacket, on the black of the left half of his hair. “I need money.”

Yoongi doesn’t respond, but that’s how he always does this, so Jimin waits, watching the thumb hover above the bright screen before the forefinger flexes on the ridge, clicking the phone off entirely. Yoongi blinks, then straightens his shoulders, neck rolling. “For what?”

“You know for what,” Jimin hisses, shoving his hands into his pockets and looking away, toward the end of the street where the stoplights are all green. “Don’t need to fucking do this every time.”

“Yeah, actually, I do,” the elder barks, turning to look at the side of Jimin’s face finally, and he doesn’t want to look down, doesn’t want to see the fierce disappointment that always sits there on nights like this. “Is that fucking coke residue on your lip?”

Jimin jerks a hand up, swiping it over his nose and mouth roughly. “Fuck you,” he grits out. “Give me my card.”

“How much even was it? Did you even ask to see the bill? Are you going to let them max you out every goddamn time, like a chump? You used to have some dignity.”

Jimin’s lip twists, and he turns cold eyes on his driver. “Trying to get fired?”

“Like you could even manage. Daddy runs this ship, not you. He hired me because you have no self-control, which you prove, like tonight, time and time again.” Yoongi’s eyes run down the length of him once, and, finding him lacking, roll to the side to look at the double doors Jimin had just escaped from. It’s quiet for a pause, Jimin watching him watch the unmoving doors, and then he inhales quickly and leans back into his seat, turning the dial for the heat, which gets it running in the back of the car. “I’m not letting you cover their drinks and their hookers, they’re using you. Get in the car.”

Jimin grinds his teeth, unmoving. “I want my money. And I’m not going fucking anywhere with you, we’re going to another place in a few. You can go home.”

Yoongi snorts. “No, you’re not. I have a taser and a gun, if you want to test my patience.”

“A taser and a gun you’re paid to use to defend me, fuckwad.”

“I am defending you,” Yoongi says quietly, coldly, without looking at him. “Get in the fucking car.”

“Or what? You realize Seoyun’s got a driver, too? I’ll go with them if you’ll keep pushing. I don’t care what happens, I’m sick of you ordering me around. Give me my fucking credit card.”

Yoongi swallows thickly, and Jimin watches his Adam’s apple bob, heart thudding. Then, he turns slowly to the window, eyes set low on the asphalt before rising to peer straight at Jimin. “No.” The soft shape of his lips is gentle around the word, eyes unreadable. He sets his jaw and waits, giving Jimin his ultimatum.

He has meager options. He could climb in the front seat to yank the wallet out of the glove compartment, but that runs the risk of Yoongi driving off with him inside. He could lean through the driver’s window to try to get it, but Yoongi’s experienced enough that he could still drive off with him hanging halfway out. He would go back inside and offer to wire someone the money from his phone, but that would invite all sorts of questions he doesn’t want to answer. He could tell Seoyun he’ll pay him back later, but he’s a bit afraid that Seoyun will raise the final tab high in retribution. He’s stuck, always, in a maze of his own creation. Or maybe the maze assembled itself around him when he was busy staring at the exposed pipes. He can’t remember.

“Fuck you,” he spits, stepping back from the curb, watching Yoongi’s eyes follow him. His vision starts swimming again, and maybe the coke is slow-acting, maybe he’s drunk too much, maybe he’s finally mixed all the chemicals wrong and he’s in the middle of an overdose. It’s about time. He squints his eyes shut and tries to get his thoughts together. “You think I need you to babysit? Go home, fuck off, whatever you want to do. I’m not leaving with you.”

Just then, the club doors open loudly, letting out a stream of booming bass from inside, and he hears the familiar voices of Seoyun and his friends trickling out. Jeonghoon spots him right away. “Ay, Min – did you cover? The bartender’s got Munhee on the hook until you pay.”

“He’s not paying for your ten bottles, shithead,” Yoongi calls, voice low but loud. “Wipe your own ass.”

Jimin goes to shut him up, but suddenly his voice disconnects from his brain, and then he’s looking at the ground stupidly, mere centimeters from his face. His hands are there, pressed to the asphalt. They’re stinging.

Somewhere, behind him – around him? inside him? – he hears faint shouts, low and husky, the slam of a car door. A rough hand wraps around his bicep firmly, tugging him up, but he feels his insides roil as he shuts his jaw tight against the sure promise of puke tickling the back of his throat. That’s when something gentle brushes over his head, pulling his hair up and away from his face, threading through it and holding him up where he sags over the sidewalk breathlessly.

“ – fuck did you give him, I swear if you’ve given him some shitty strain, if you’ve so much as lightly poisoned him, I’m going to rip your asshole so wide – “

“Dude, nobody fucking poisoned him, chill out, he probably drank way too much. He was swinging them back for the last hour, it’s not like –“

“ – every fucking time he’s with you, it’s the same, you ruin him, you peck and peck at him until you destroy the last bit of good left, and he lets you, because you won’t let him move on – “

“Okay, now you’re just saying shit, bro. If you’ve got your little ideas about who he is, that’s fine, but don’t act like you don’t drive him here because he asks. And if you’re in that deep, maybe it’s time to – “

“Get the fuck out of here before I pistol-whip your brittle little skull, you fucking waste of space,” Yoongi snarls, and Jimin realizes that it’s his hands holding him painfully by the nape and shoulder, but he revels in the sensation, sharp and unyielding. He tries to regulate his breathing, eyes sliding shut as the voices fade away, and then grunts when he’s pulled up unceremoniously, shoved into the side of a wall to lean back on. “The fuck did you drink in there?” Yoongi barks, standing over him as Jimin’s chest pulses with lungfuls of cold air pathetically. “Did they slip you something?”

“’Course fucking not,” Jimin grits out, voice shaky. “Caused a scene for nothing, you freak.”

“Call me that again, I’ll leave you here. Your little friends don’t give a shit about you, they’re gone. See how long you last with no phone,” Yoongi waves Jimin’s in the air smugly, “and no wallet.”

Jimin groans weakly, eyes closing again, and tries to calm down. The nausea passes slowly, morphing into renewed anger. He wants to make Yoongi hurt. “Then go,” he mumbles, head twisting along the brick wall behind him. “Just fuck off.”

In the silence that follows, he thinks Yoongi might have complied. But then a foot kicks his shoe, hard, and a rough voice orders, “Get up.”

“No.”

“Get the fuck up, you idiot, you can cry in the car.”

“Why won’t you fuck off,” Jimin whispers, face crumpling with exhaustion. “You whine about having to handle me, but you’re the one who won’t leave.”

“Genius question. You’ve always been so smart. How come I don’t drop my client into a dumpster? The client I am literally paid to wait on hand and foot, by the most powerful man in Seoul? What could possibly explain my strange and illogical decision-making? Get up, you piece of shit.”

“Fuck you.”

A pause. “All right, fine.” A rough hand lands in Jimin’s hair and squeezes, then tugs. He yelps, arms jumping to smack Yoongi’s away, but the driver’s strong, resisting his clawing as he pulls Jimin along the sidewalk by his hair. Jimin crawls along to ease the strain, eyes watering from the pain, and then the Cullinan’s back door swings open, and he’s heaved with a final yank to stare at the footwell, scalp burning. “Get in.”

“Fuck you,” Jimin breathes wetly, letting tears stream down his cheeks. His hands hold him up on the sidewalk, just barely, elbows shaking under his weight, and he refuses to climb in.

His blood roars in his ears as nausea threatens him again, and he closes his eyes once again. That’s why he doesn’t notice the shadow looming over him as Yoongi sets wide palms right under his arms and lifts him easily, throwing him into the seat, wrist smashing against the wood panel of the armrest loudly. Jimin hisses, cradling the bone with one palm as he leans into the leather tiredly, and his door is slammed shut after him without preamble. It locks automatically, and Yoongi slides into the front without even a breather, turning on the engine and pulling smoothly away from the curb.

“Fuck you,” Jimin whispers, tears spilling all over again but for other reasons now, sliding down in his seat until he can’t be seen in the rearview mirror, pressing his hot cheek to the cool plastic of the door, eyelids hanging low as he watches the city speed by. The club they’d been at was an hour and a half away from city center, from Jimin’s penthouse, and the streets are shockingly full. He watches blocks pass them by at a snail’s pace, blinking himself into and out of reveries for a while. His head spins, thoughts running a mile a minute. He doesn’t know how much of it is the coke in his nose, how much of it is him.

Once they get on the freeway, Yoongi turns on some music, a low, steady beat that soothes. Jimin sighs, rubbing at his aching wrist slowly, and rolls carefully back into his seat. His clothes look fine, none too bothered by what he’s put them through. The tight black jeans he’s wearing are hiding whatever grime he’d managed to pick up from the street, and miraculously untorn from the tumble. The boots he’d tucked them into are still tied the way he’d laced them up back in his hallway, knotted twice. He twists his feet around to test if he’s sprained anything, if he’ll be unable to dance for the next few weeks, but it doesn’t feel like it. He just feels heavy in his stomach, in his chest, like some stones have grown where his organs used to be.

He tugs at the long hem of his loose sweater, stretching it out to the middle of his thighs and then letting go, watching the material snap back to pool over his hips. He feels almost energetic now, and it comes on as a gradual thing, like he’s awoken from a long sleep, eyes bright, focus sharp. It’s usually more noticeable than this, but he usually doesn’t first drink an entire handle of rum by himself. His hand starts massaging his thigh restlessly, poking into the thick muscle and pushing it around, sliding up to the kneecap to feels its edges and map out its curves.

Seoyun had always loved his legs, back when. Back when. His thoughts shimmy away from the memories, letting only vague flickers of touches percolate into his consciousness – gentle hands on his hips, the slide of skin over his bare thighs as hot exhales brushed against his neck rapidly, sweaty palms shoved into the backs of his knees as they were pressed up to his ears ruthlessly, a pleasant pang building in the muscles. But Seoyun’s got his girls now, girls he can take to his father for approval before a formal wedding can be announced in the papers and Jimin can get the mail slid under his door where a pretty invitation will be printed on thick cream paper, beckoning.

He turns his head, stares at the armrest beside him, fiddles with the dials that adjust his seat. The little cushion under his shoulder deflates under his weight when he slumps down on it, and the streetlights that pass them by flicker in the reflection off the wood panel at his nose. He feels his tears leak slowly over his temple to spread over the leather, warming it, and blinks at the edge of Yoongi’s arm that he sees in front of him.

“Want ice cream,” he croaks weakly, voice sounding as wet as if he were crying for an hour. Maybe he was. He can’t remember.

The music grows softer. “Ice cream?” Yoongi repeats, disbelieving.

“Yes, in a cone. Find a place.”

“Hey, fuck you,” Yoongi sneers, braking at a red light and sneaking a hand behind him to check the air vents in the back seat carefully, making sure they’re working, then directing the flow up toward Jimin’s face. “I’m taking you home.”

“No, I want ice cream,” Jimin repeats, patient, smacking Yoongi’s hand away roughly. The air feels nice on his face, though. “There’s at least one place in the city that’s open right now. Find it.”

He gets no response, but at the next red light, Yoongi turns to glance at him sharply from the corner of his eyes, and he must see the tears shining in Jimin’s, because he takes a deep breath silently and powers on the navigation system. Jimin lets himself doze for a bit.

When he comes to again, it’s because the car has slowed and is turning into a small carpark, illuminated by a tall, buzzing, neon sign that only depicts a brown waffle cone with three scoops of various flavors of ice cream. Jimin studies the three uniform circles, pink, green, and white, and the halogen that powers them, while Yoongi sets the car in park slowly. “Go,” the driver murmurs without looking back at him, making Jimin sit up with a grimace as his face unsticks from the drying tears he’s left behind on the armrest. Around them, the carpark is empty, the sky is pitch black. The ice cream shop itself is tiny, just four walls and a ceiling in the middle of an otherwise barren block of a bad part of town, though the lights inside the place look almost cartoonishly pink, cool and bordering on surreal.

He can just barely see the glass counter and the ponytailed girl behind it, staring at her phone as she leans against the register, bored. Jimin swallows, feeling sweaty for no reason, like if he leaves the car suddenly things will change, for the worse maybe, like he’ll lose his grasp on the things he’s got hold of now. But his hands are empty. He doesn’t even get to hold his own wallet. His fingers linger on the door handle, barely touching it, as he swipes his other hand over his face to dispel the look of drying tears.

“Here.”

Two thin fingers appear between the front seats, shiny black card pinched between them lightly, and Jimin stares at it for a moment, the pink-green-white of the glowing ice cream cone reflected off the shiny lettering along the surface. He raises an unsteady hand to pluck it from Yoongi’s grip and clears his throat. “Time’s it?”

“Quarter to two.”

“Come with me?”

Yoongi’s silence feels accented, like an interrobang is hanging in the air between them suddenly, but then he shifts in his seat, making the leather creak loudly in the quiet of the car. The music’s gone, and Jimin doesn’t know when it got turned off. Yoongi looks so tired. “What?”

“Come into the parlor with me.”

“You need a chaperone now for an ice cream purchase?”

“Can you just come with me? I feel … I don’t feel good.”

Yoongi sighs loudly, powering off the car and opening his door. When he sees Jimin still sitting frozen in place, he pivots in his seat, feet hanging out the door and forearm pressed to the headrest. “What now?”

Jimin jumps into motion, piling out carefully and shutting his door with a weak thump, shoulder brushing against Yoongi’s arm as he straightens himself weakly. The buzz of the halogen lamp is louder now that they’re in the open air, and the chill of autumn is growing less and less forgiving as the sun’s absence grows longer. Jimin raises his shoulders against the light breeze that plays with his hair, and Yoongi turns to look at him, eyes sliding to his bare neck and the collarbones that peek out of the wide neckband of his useless gray sweater.

His reaction is not quite a scoff, but a sharp little exhale of frustration out of the lifted corner of his mouth, and Jimin feels giddy at the sight of it, despite the things they did and said to each other fifteen minutes prior. He knows why, of course, but the knowledge makes none of it any easier. “What?”

“Get inside before you freeze your bony ass off, you idiot,” Yoongi snarks, motioning to the glass door ahead of them.

Already on his way ahead, Jimin stops, setting a hand on the curve of his ass boldly. “Clearly you’ve never actually felt it before.”

Yoongi kicks the back of his shoe as he walks past, and then holds the door open lazily, head tilted to one side so that his blond hair falls across his face to mix with the black. “Go.”

Jimin can hear the scuff of his own combat boots on the ground as he trudges past, can smell the foresty cologne almost more than the chemicals in his nose as he passes the cloud of it that lingers around Yoongi, but then the ice cream girl is smiling at them, and Jimin’s concentration shakes. “Hi, we have a special on the two-scoop sugar cones tonight, and all our flavors are available to sample. Let me know if there’s anything you’d like to try!” she greets cheerfully, phone still lit up in her raised hand, and then glances back at the screen as if he and Yoongi aren’t there.

They take their time staring at the flavors, and Jimin tries three before Yoongi kicks his shoe again, hissing, “Get on with it,” but it doesn’t even bother him, he simply orders the special and stands off to the side while Yoongi pays with the card Jimin had handed back to him.

“Why didn’t you get anything?” he asks as they head for the door.

“Because only maniacs eat parlor ice cream at two in the morning,” Yoongi drawls back, but he turns when he notices Jimin’s steps slow, then watches when he trots off for the little patch of dirt and grass that encircles the pole on which the neon sign hangs, surrounded by a small cement curb. Jimin lowers himself onto the curb carefully, one knee bobbing in the air as he grows jittery, licking at the caramel scoop right above his thumb.

After a moment’s hesitation, Yoongi throws the car keys into the air, catching them when they fall, and follows him across the lot. Everything looks a little eerie at this time of night. Jimin’s been out often at this time of night lately, and always wondered – does it all feel like a hallucination because human brains aren’t meant to process existence when things get so very pitch black, or because there’s a certain hour of wakefulness when consciousness begins to warp, begging the brain to power off? The pink lights that stream out of the glass that lines the front of the parlor stay solid, illuminating the street a bit, and the halogen from overhead makes Jimin’s clothes look like they glow. He straightens his legs out in front of him so that the edge of his heel sits on the pavement, feet twisting side to side in his tightly laced-up boots.

“It’s fucking the middle of October,” Yoongi grunts as he settles beside Jimin, elbows on his bent knees. “What are you doing?” His tailored suit pants have ridden up, revealing neat black socks tucked into perfectly shiny shoes. Jimin studies them as he licks at his cone, then turns his eyes up to the sky.

“My dad ever tell you to watch out for me running away?” he asks in return, chewing on the pecan he plucks off the second scoop with his teeth.

Yoongi clears his throat. “Loads of times.”

“Since the start?”

During the short pause after that question, Yoongi cracks his knuckles and then twists his neck, cracking that, too. “Yeah, Jimin, since the start.”

“Well, I haven’t.”

“Doesn’t mean you won’t.”

“You’ve been my driver since I was sixteen, and I haven’t. You really think I would?”

“Jimin, you … there are no rules when it comes to you. You climbed down the side of Seoyun’s building the night of your birthday because you didn’t want his boyfriend to catch you in his bed, and then you sent apology flowers anonymously to his boyfriend two years later when they’d been broken up for months. You’ve let that group of spoiled idiots drag you through every hard drug known to man, and possibly every STD, but you won’t ever take your lays up to your penthouse for an overnight stay. You punched me in the mouth the one time I asked you to stay in your room for fuck’s sake so I could have a night off to go on a date, and a month later you bought me a yacht off the port using three of your father’s credit cards – for no reason.” He tosses the keys up into the air again, absently, over and over, catching them with his other hand. “Ten years you haven’t run away, tomorrow you could.”

“I punched you because I was high and because you called me a low-life,” Jimin tells him, voice chipper, and he doesn’t know why. “Not because you asked for a night off.”

“You shot up specifically after I told you I was planning on a date, and I called you a low-life because, to avoid letting me take one night off, you overdosed in your own living room.”

“I didn’t overdose.”

“Yes, you did.”

“No, I didn’t, what, are you a doctor?”

“I have medical training, Jimin. Your father hired me.”

Jimin sighs, then bites into the caramel scoop lightly. “You were fucking eighteen then, you had no medical training, that’s bullshit. Never understood why you’d waste your whole youth on being someone’s driver.”

“He made me apprentice with your family doctor for two months before I took my post, quit questioning shit you know nothing about. And I never got why you’d take all the privilege afforded to you by your father’s money and authority and waste it on being a delinquent for twenty-five years, but here we are. We’ve all got our vices.”

“Oh, what, I bet you think mine’s drugs and partying? You think I’m just an aimless, spoiled brat who –“

“I think your vice is support and approval, which you got. But maybe not in the right way, not in the way that stayed with you. Your parents did everything to give you what you’d need to succeed, and none of what you’d need to want to.” Yoongi’s voice is steady but quiet, and Jimin lowers his ice cream cone between his thighs, staring at the cold gray ground beyond it. “Seoyun’s just unfinished business. If you’d let yourself love someone who’s actually good for you, you’d never think of him again.”

It isn’t true, of course. But telling him otherwise would mean telling him a lot more than just that, and Jimin’s not going to risk it.

“What’s yours?” he finally asks, feeling cold.

“My vice? Masochism, I guess. I watch you try to self-destruct, but maybe it feels like – as long as I’m around – you’ll never quite do it.”

“Oh, now you’re doing it all for me? Where was that selflessness when I begged you to take me to a clinic when I was hooked on downers, or to let me fly to Hong Kong after graduation? Where was it when I wanted to go on my first real date with Jung Hoseok back in college, and you ratted me out instead?” his voice grows louder with each word, consonants coming out sharper, skin hot. He twists the sugar cone between his fingers and watches the colors swirl together, and it feels like lava’s rising up inside him, to leave no one unscathed.

“You know,” Yoongi starts off solemnly, then licks his lips and laces his fingers together, propping the knuckles against his mouth, “that having you admitted any place in the city would have made front-page news, and your father would have had both our hides. There was no security detail that could ever have flown with you to Hong Kong on such short notice, and short of us hijacking a plane and getting arrested as soon as we landed, it was a completely irrational plan with no way to follow through.”

Jimin scoffs, then looks up at the bright moon shining down on them. It’s the only thing visible in the sky with Seoul’s light pollution, but it’s enough to make him shiver. “And Hoseok?”

“Nobody’s perfect, Jimin,” Yoongi murmurs. His voice is always low, but it sounds almost foreign now, grisly. “I do my best.”

“The fuck’s that mean,” Jimin chuckles humorlessly, bending his knees again and leaning forward onto them. “That means nothing.”

“I don’t need you to understand.”

“You don’t need anything. You just meddle, and you watch me, constantly, like a creep, and you never, ever, ever forgive me for my weaknesses. But if you were so fucking great, you wouldn’t have to drive some spoiled rich kid around every day for a living, so maybe take that stick out of your ass and chew on it.”

Jesus, what’s up with you tonight? Coke always makes you happy.”

“Fuck you,” Jimin snaps, and then stands and walks off toward the car. The latch jumps before he reaches for the handle, but it doesn’t please him any. He stuffs himself into the seat and shuts the door, staring at the half-eaten cone he’s still holding, feeling queasy and anxious.

When Yoongi gets behind the wheel, he doesn’t start the car right away, just sets his hands between his spread legs and stares out the windshield. Nobody’s in the street this late, and a quick glance at the navigation screen tells Jimin that it’s just past two. He rolls his eyes, glancing out his window at the parlor again, and sees the uniformed girl chattering happily into the phone she’s holding up to her ear, examining the nails of her free hand with animation.

“Can I take you home?” his driver asks evenly, still gazing at the red stoplights in front of them.

“Whatever,” Jimin mumbles back, setting the cone in the cup holder beside him and dropping his face into his hands. They’re cool against his warm cheeks, and the stronger scent of sugar on them floods past the gasoline stench in his nose, calming him. The car sways gently as it begins to move, and when he looks up again, they’re merging onto the winding residential street that Yoongi always takes to get them to Dongjak.

He stews in his irritation for most of the drive, head leaned back on the headrest as he watches lights and buildings flick by. Every so often, the air shifts somehow and Yoongi’s cologne gets in his nose again, making his face crumple as he closes his eyes against his instant tears. He doesn’t think Yoongi’s changed the scent since he started working for the Parks a decade ago, and its exact notes and spice are as familiar and homey to him as his own penthouse, his own clothes – but even more, because unlike all his material belongings it is actually unchanging, steady. The only thing that keeps him coming back to the car when he could just run off and disappear with some of his seedier friends. Just a foresty smell, like shackles. But he put them on himself.

Before long, they’re at the bridge that will take them to Yongsan, and somewhere between the little residential street they’d been drifting through and the river they’re approaching now, it's started to rain. The glass has begun to fog a bit, and Yoongi’s fiddling with the dials of the air conditioning, nimble fingers moving expertly while his eyes pierce like arrows through the muddled windshield, smeared with gushing rainwater. The yellowish lights along the edges of the bridge mix with the taillights in front of them, hues warm but full of warning. Jimin lets his head loll to the other side, staring past Yoongi’s shoulder over the center console at the car right in front of them. He can barely make out the shape of its bumper, much less the numbers on its license plate, but he lets his gaze grow unfocused on the sheet of metal for a bit, mind tumbling.

There’s still no music, just the rapid, violent pitter-patter of a storm overhead, and Yoongi’s shoulders are tense as the road grows only wetter.

So he does the first thing his brain can come up with: he says, “Let me out.”

Yoongi, surely having heard him, does not react. They’re halfway down the bridge now, and most cars have slowed down to take careful stock of those that are switching lanes, dark night lit up almost rosy by the intermixing lamplight around them. Jimin sits up, hands hanging between his spread knees.

“Let me out,” he repeats, louder.

“Make less sense,” Yoongi grits back at him, turning up the windshield wipers.

“I want out, let me out,” Jimin shouts, smacking the back of Yoongi’s seat with both hands, slap echoing. “Let me the fuck out of the car.”

“We’re in the middle of the bridge, you idiot,” Yoongi snaps. “You’re not getting out of the car.”

“Then fucking pull over, I want out!”

“Get a grip. We’re two lanes from the shoulder, I’m not pulling over so you can run around in the middle of a rainstorm on a crowded high-speed bridge.”

Pull over,” Jimin yells again, punching at the seat back uselessly, muscles turning leaden and blood boiling. “I don’t want to fucking be in this car with you.”

“Not my problem. We’re not dying for your discomfort.”

Jimin tags at the door handle, but it’s got the childproof lock on and nothing happens. He doesn’t know if he’s relieved or pissed. So his fingers stab at the window switch, feeling like he’s going to jump out of his skin, and when the glass shifts down, he hears Yoongi’s low curse and the sound of nails scraping at the remote window lock switch in the front. Jimin pushes down until the gap grows big enough for him to fit through, squinting past the rainwater sloshing in and drenching his arm and leg, then raises himself out until he’s got one elbow on the roof, and Yoongi’s screaming at him from inside the car.

The vehicles around them keep speeding past, and he can barely see anything with the layer of water sheeting his face, stinging the skin a bit from the force of the contact, but he thinks that if he died right now it wouldn’t even hurt very much. A wide hand wraps around his ankle and yanks painfully, but he only slides back in a few centimeters before kicking it away and climbing out some more. “Stop the car,” he shouts, “or I’ll keep going.”

They reach the end of the bridge then and Yoongi turns onto the street that runs parallel to the water, parking along the sidewalk sharply with a squeal of tires. “You fucking asshole –“ he starts to yell, but then Jimin ducks back into the car.

“Unlock my door.”

“Jimin –“

“Unlock it,” Jimin bellows, kicking his seat, and the latch clicks. As he reaches for the handle, he sees Yoongi’s own hand reach for the gun at his waist, and it makes his heart seize, his lungs constrict painfully. Tears prickle at his eyes as he slams his way out of the car without shutting the door behind him, sprinting along the cement wall separating him from the river. One block down, there’s a narrow staircase that lets him descend to the little platform where people line up for boat tours, and he takes the steps two, three at a time, hopping onto the railing to slide most of the way down gleefully.

There’s a small rising on the platform beside the ticket booth, whose windows are dark – the whole space around him is abandoned for the night. It’s probably half past two, but he feels awake, sorely alive. His clothes are soaked through, growing heavy, but the energy generating inside him is a match for the weight. Galloping past the kiosk lazily, he lofts himself up onto the rising, where a tall streetlamp stands, and grabs onto its post as he holds himself over the water below.

Are you insane?” Yoongi roars, descending the stairs behind him, no jacket on his shoulders as he unbuttons the sleeves of his pressed white shirt, rolling them up his thick forearms. “You don’t know how to swim, either - you’ll fucking die if you fall in, get the fuck down.”

“Nah,” Jimin singsongs back, twirling around the pole and catching himself after a short pirouette. When he glances back at his chauffeur, Yoongi’s got his jaw clenched so tightly that the lines are visible in the dark. His eyes are shadowed but glued to Jimin’s every movement, shoulders tense, stance ready for attack. “Don’t think I will.”

“You’re high and drunk, you have no idea what could fucking happen. Your instincts right now are fucked. What are you playing at?”

Jimin settles into an arabesque slowly, letting go of the lamppost and closing his eyes. Rain continues to sluice over his head, cleansing, and he shifts into a ballonné. A car honks somewhere nearby, back on the bridge above them probably, and he opens his eyes into narrow slits to process his position in space. Yoongi stands in front of him, mere meters away, hands fisted by his sides, head lowered with a look of misery etched over his face. It’s nuanced, something like pain, something like sadness mixed in. He’s looking Jimin right in the eyes, unblinking, and for the first time in the ten years Jimin has known him, the elder looks gaunt, unfriendly.

It’s always been Jimin behind him while Yoongi stood like this, facing the world; it’s never been Jimin in front of him while Yoongi stood like this, facing Jimin.

“Don’t look at me like that.”

“Please get down, Jimin.”

“There’s nowhere to go,” Jimin groans, feet lock stepped. “Live a little. Dance in the rain.”

“Jimin.”

He stomps one foot irately, arms smacking against his sides as he deflates. “You were going to shoot me, weren’t you?”

Yoongi blinks. “No.”

“Yes, you were, I saw you. You were going to –“

And then his foot lands wrong, fails him, and he’s falling. The water’s not too far, there’s no fear. It’s barely moving, anyway. But as he drops back into the river, he hears the strangled way that Yoongi calls his name, catches the ghostly whiteness that floods his face. As he sucks in a quick burst of air before dropping below the surface, he sees Yoongi sprint to the rising and jump into a twisting dive over it, aimed straight for Jimin.

It’s cold and dark and tranquil for a second, but then he starts kicking his feet arbitrarily, panic seeping in. He can’t see much, but he knows he’s not too far under. Opening his eyes, he squints through the murkiness around him and expels a small burst of air. The bubbles trail up and to the right. He follows them.

Just as he starts to see the lights at the top, a strong arm wraps around his waist and pulls, up, up, until he’s breaking the surface and gasping in a gulpful of cold air. Something warm is pressed to his temple, and it takes him a few seconds of blinking blearily at the rippling water around them to realize that it’s Yoongi’s lips. One of his rough hands is dug deep into Jimin’s armpit as he uses the other to lug them forward through the waves.

He’s not sure what happens then, limbs growing stiff and extremities growing numb in the icy cold they’re surrounded by, but the next time he blinks they’re floating up to a ledge on the far end of the platform, and Yoongi grips it with one strong hand, tendons popping through the skin as he keeps them both from drifting off. Jimin squeezes his eyes shut and wraps his arms around the other’s chest, holding onto him as his face turns into the elder’s wet neck, their skin connecting through the water before they actually touch.

“I’m gonna fucking kill you,” Yoongi growls, voice cracking midway, and Jimin doesn’t have to look at him to know that he’s probably still ashen, eyes blown wide, nose flared.

“Should have let me drown, then,” he chatters back.

“Should’ve,” Yoongi grunts, and then he pulls his face away from Jimin’s skin and inhales deeply, making Jimin’s arms shift around his ribcage. “Put your hands on the ledge where I’m holding it. Hurry.”

Jimin does, flicking his wet hair out of his eyes with a snap of his head, and watches as Yoongi grips the cement with both palms, takes three breaths, and then pulls himself up until he can throw one leg over the edge and get to his feet. Water drips off his pants and untucked shirt, and Jimin wonders if he lost the gun and taser in the river, since their holsters aren’t hanging off his belt anymore.

Firm hands wrap around Jimin’s wrists then, hauling him up and over, and he lands on top of Yoongi as they both heave labored breaths, Yoongi’s heartbeat thrumming under his ear.

“On the list of fucked up shit you’ve done,” Yoongi pants, “this isn’t even in the top five. And that’s what’s fucked up.”

“You were going to shoot me,” Jimin whispers back. “I saw you.”

“No, I fucking wasn’t, what are you talking about?”

“When I opened the door, you reached for your gun, I saw you.”

“Yes, to fucking leave it in the car when you would inevitably make me chase you down and I’d either end up shooting us both by accident, or I’d lose it in the water. I left the taser, too.”

“How could you know you’d go into the water?”

Yoongi breathes for a long pause then, silent, and Jimin revels in the way his skin is pulled taut where the cold air touches it, but warm and soft where he’s pressed against Yoongi’s breadth. “I know you, Jimin.”

It makes his hair rise, the way Yoongi says it, the things he wishes it would mean. Instead, he presses on. “Well, so what if you’d lost it? They’re cheap as fuck, you’d get a replacement with no punishment.”

“It takes a week to process paperwork for reassigning firearms in your father’s security detail. I’d be off the clock for a week, and you’d have another driver until I got a new gun.”

“So? You’d chop your own arm off for a week away from me.”

“Jimin.”

He blinks, studying the kiosk down the platform from them, near the lamppost from which he’d been swinging. It’s got three bright round halogen lamps sticking out of its façade, and if he lets his eyes relax a bit, they all mold together into one bright blob. “What?”

Yoongi doesn’t respond for a long time, so Jimin shuts his eyes. Then, softly, “Get up. We’ll freeze our dicks off like this.”

Jimin feels his face heat at the words, but he lifts himself up and scoots to the side, studying the scene around them. They’re utterly alone, two spots of shivering warmth between the cold walls damming the river in, but overhead cars continue to pass by, sounds of life floating through the rain that’s started to die down. He hardly even feels the droplets make contact with his skin anymore, and whatever hyperactivity the cocaine had given him, it has just as quickly been taken away.

When his companion sits up with a grunt, Jimin glances over at him. The hair Yoongi’s usually got parted down the middle, half blond, half black, is mussed now and looks more like a shade of unwashed gray all over. His dangling earrings drip water that runs down his ears from his fringe, lips tinted blue as they part over the hot breaths that steam up the air of October. He’s as bulky as ever, though probably decidedly more firm than he had been in his all of eighteen years on the day he and Jimin had met, back when he’d been holding onto the job by the skin of his teeth, likely rationing ramen every day to avoid starving.

“You should punch me in the mouth,” Jimin voices, teeth chattering. When Yoongi doesn’t look at him, eyes closed and breaths slowing, he adds, “I won’t even duck.”

“Why would I do that?” Yoongi drawls, unmoving with his hands at his hips, just barely holding himself up.

“Payback. For tonight, for before. For all of it. For the time I punched you in the mouth.”

“I don’t want to punch you, Jimin.”

“Punch me in the mouth, Yoongi.”

“No.”

“You want to, I know you do. Shouldn’t you be jumping on the chance? I make your life a living hell, I spoil your days and your nights, I take so much more from you than you ever earn back with money. Punch me, come on.”

Yoongi huffs out a breath, unamused, and starts to climb to his feet slowly. “Let’s go.”

“No,” Jimin protests, holding onto the elder’s shirt hem, keeping him in place. “C’mon, c’mon, let it out. You’ll feel better, won’t you?”

“Jimin,” Yoongi sighs. “Get up.”

He obeys quickly, standing upright more easily than it should have been, body still compelled by forces he’d subjected it to at the club. How far away those moments seem. Like they passed him by days ago, rather than centered on him mere hours ago. He can hardly remember.

He and Yoongi are the same height, have been for most of the time they’ve known each other. Once they’re face to face, he lets his eyes run over Yoongi’s face. The familiar planes of it, at one point angular and cutting, and softer once he had a steady, sizable paycheck, have grown sharp again. He has circles under his eyes, but maybe they’ve been there for longer than Jimin has noticed them. He hardly lets himself look at Yoongi anymore.

The space between them has grown and shrunk and grown again repeatedly, but it has never been this small. As he catches his own breath finally, sopping wet and freezing cold, he feels reckless. And maybe Yoongi deserves to be free of him.

“Too chickenshit, huh?” he goads quietly. “Your hands have been in fists for the last hour, but you’re too terrified of the shitty son of a powerful man – you could be earning twice this if you’d go to the Sungs or the Byuns, you’d have half the hours. You’d never have to drag one of them unconscious and foaming at the mouth from a crowded party bathroom, perform CPR, get vomited on. What, you this keen to keep living in that run-down little hole in Itaewon? Too attached to the –“

“Jimin, shut the fuck up,” Yoongi breathes, but they’re close enough that it cuts through the stream of Jimin’s words instantly. “You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”

“So hit me.”

“No.”

“Hit me,” Jimin shouts, slapping flat hands onto the space just above Yoongi’s pectorals, and the contact feels painful, because he’s hit solid muscle. Yoongi doesn’t budge. “Hit me then!”

“I won’t hit you.”

“You have to hit me, you do, because all this hatred you keep carrying around inside you isn’t healthy, you’ve got to let it out, come on, come on, I’m asking you to – you wouldn’t get fired, nobody would even hear about it. How good would it feel, come on.”

Yoongi glares at him a moment longer, then turns around and starts walking for the staircase.

Last resort, Jimin runs after him and kicks at his knee, making Yoongi stumble lightly, and then shoves his head forward with the blunt heel of his palm. Yoongi hisses, jerking himself back around, and raises two rough hands between them to keep Jimin away. “Fuck off, Jimin,” he growls.

“Not until you hit me.”

Yoongi makes to turn away again, and Jimin grabs him by the shirt collar, finding it frozen cold and stiff, painful on his fingers. “You’re a coward. A normal person would have left long ago, but you just keep sitting in that stupid shitty car and driving me around like you’re the world’s biggest martyr. No dignity, no self-respect, you don’t ever even ask for holidays off, you just sit there like a little bitch –“

When the fist finally flies for his face, Jimin is both elated and sad. He sees it coming, and his instincts make him stiffen, breath stuck in his throat. The punch knocks his head back, loosening his grip in Yoongi’s shirt, and he leans to the side as the pain spreads through his mouth, bone vibrating with the force of contact. His teeth feel strange for a second, but he swipes his tongue over them and finds nothing amiss. There is only the faint taste of iron, and he laughs to himself a little, impressed.

Still bent over his knees, he twists his head to look at Yoongi from the corner of his eye, finding the latter with tears running down his face, expression blank.

“Good one,” Jimin says, a little vengefully content. “Was that so hard?”

He has a feeling that, when he smiles, his teeth are covered in blood, because Yoongi’s eyes shut quickly for just a moment, blinking rapidly afterward as he turns his gaze to the ground.

Without a word, the driver turns and climbs the steps silently, drawing away from Jimin almost too quickly to catch. Jimin watches his retreat with his heart in his throat, wondering if this will, finally, be the thing they can never move past. Yoongi had always taken Jimin’s shenanigans in stride, given back as good as he got, and forgotten most of his transgressions unless forced to throw them back during a fight. But Jimin’s never used himself against Yoongi, never let Yoongi think that he thought any less of himself despite all the flaws, and maybe that was the only reason Yoongi stayed. But who would stick around now? Knowing the truth of what Jimin knows about himself? Aware now, without a doubt, that there was truly never anything there, behind the shield of self-assuredness?

He ascends the steps slowly, legs feeling heavier than they’d been in the water, and when he gets to street-level again, he sees Yoongi facing the open driver’s door, latching his gun and taser to his belt. The hair that falls over his face drips down to the ground still, locks of salt-and-pepper curling in the frigid air. It feels like it takes forever for Jimin’s feet to bring him to the car.

Just as he reaches out to grasp the door handle, Yoongi swivels, taking the soggy material of Jimin’s sweater in two fists until it’s pulled taut across his chest, and slams him against the concrete wall that separates them from the platform below. Jimin’s ribs ache, shoulder blades throbbing, but he only releases a small huff, staring at Yoongi with, for the first time, fear.

“You’re a piece of shit,” Yoongi tells him, teeth gritted and wet eyes wild. “You make my life hell.”

Jimin swallows against the cold air that fills him from within, blinks like none of it’s painful. “I know,” he whispers.

“You don’t care about anything. You think you were some artistic phenomenon who never had a chance to make it big, but when have you ever worked for anything in your life? You were born with an extraordinary predisposition for all kinds of shit, and all you did was dabble in it like you’ve got hundreds of years to live and quadrillions of won to burn. Your dance instructors told you how much talent you had, but why go to practice when you can snort coke off some creep’s dick in Seoyun’s kitchen at four in the morning? Why bother attending showcases, choreographing, caring about anything at all when you can sleep around with half of Seoul and get reported on by every sordid gossip site in Asia? Why sing, why compose, why find a community somewhere that cares about the things you care about, when you can waste your prime years away on nothing, until all of you is empty? Why, why, tell me!”

Yoongi’s voice turns louder as he speaks, voice growing hoarse with every word, like it hurts him to release them. Jimin cowers against the uneven stone at his back, eyes on the little dip between Yoongi’s heaving clavicles that he can see between the wide-open shirt collar.

“And when I go, finally, when I leave you behind, it’ll be my choice. I’ll have a clear conscience that I did my best, but you know what, Jimin? Some people can’t be saved. And no matter how many doors I kick in to get you away from the druggies you like so much, no matter how often I have to pick you up off beds and couches when you pass out and your fucking freak friends try to take advantage of you, maybe there is nothing left in you anymore, maybe there hasn't been for a long time. But I’ve done what I could, and I did it consciously. When have you ever been able to say that?”

Jimin’s vision’s blurring, but he doesn’t know if it’s tears or exhaustion or frostbite at this point, and he doesn’t really care. He wants to sleep, he wants to be nowhere for a time.

“You goad and you provoke and you wheedle and you never, ever demand more of yourself. So what, your parents didn’t hug you and kiss you enough, so what? Neither did mine, and I didn’t have money, and I didn’t have connections, and I didn’t have constant surveilling protection. You chose your life, and I chose mine. Don’t fool yourself into thinking any of it was outside of your control.”

“Would you think so little of me if you didn’t believe that I go to Seoyun because I love him?” Jimin asks, gaze on the street over Yoongi’s shoulder. “You keep using him as an argument, all the past six years. But you don’t even know who he is to me.”

Yoongi pants in his face, fluttering the bits of Jimin’s purple fringe that have dried over his nose and brow bone. The foresty cologne is all but gone, though Jimin thinks he can conjure it up in his head at will, deep enough into him as it has dug. “Fucking difference would that make? Point is, you keep letting him use you and throw you away, because you’re too weak to cut him off.”

“’M not,” Jimin argues, shaking his head rapidly, eyes sliding shut with exhaustion. “I’m not, I’d cut him off if I wanted to.”

“Oh, so you don’t want to get rid of the asswipe who fucked you in secret, humiliated you in public, dropped you for a newer model when he got bored, and then started shopping around for all the shit he told you that you could never be?”

“I don’t,” Jimin shrugs.

Yoongi stares at him, and then unclenches his hands from where they were bunching up Jimin’s sweater, pushing him away in the process. He steps back, lip curling with disgust. “Well, then something’s deeply wrong with you.”

Continuing like Yoongi hadn’t spoken, Jimin leans more comfortably back against the wall, shoes skidding over the wet sidewalk, “I don’t want to get rid of him because even with all that he does, he still hurts me less than you do.” The rain’s turned into a light drizzle now, so he only squints a little when he looks up to see Yoongi’s face. The latter looks ashen once more, like Jimin’s falling into the river all over again. “And he’s hurt me for a much shorter time. And because at least some of the time that I’m with him, I get what I want, I get his attention. He’s no saint, but there’s nothing he could ever make me feel that comes close to what you do to me. And the joke of it is that you always think you’re doing me a favor.”

Feet stumbling back inelegantly, Yoongi puts more space between them as his lips part and his eyes widen. He uses his wide, steady hands to catch himself against the closed back door of the Cullinan, exhaling quietly when he bumps against it, and Jimin watches him closely.

“There’s no way,” Yoongi croaks, shaking his head once, twice. “No way.”

“Don’t play this game,” Jimin tells him tiredly. “You knew.”

“I never fucking – Jimin, how the fuck would I know?” Something helpless washes over the driver’s face then, and he raises his arms at his sides, maniacal smile spreading over his stiff face as he turns to glance searchingly at the relatively empty street around them. When he turns back to Jimin, his arms slap against his sides, his shoulders curling in. “All you’ve ever done is shit on everything about me.”

“You shit on me first,” Jimin argues. “You started on the day we met. I was still sweet then, I really thought you’d be my friend. And I don’t know how to keep loving someone who hates me so much. I don’t think there’s a healthy way to do it.”

“You don’t,” Yoongi starts, and then stops abruptly, laughing. It’s empty laughter, hollow. “You don’t.”

Jimin shrugs. “Anyway,” he murmurs as he pushes away from the wall and tucks his hands into his wet jean pockets. His skin feels like glass, frozen over with a layer of ice. He might never be warm again. “Take me home now.”

Yoongi doesn’t answer him, stepping aside without coordination when Jimin accosts the car door, and it takes him a few long seconds to climb behind the wheel once Jimin has shut it behind himself. The inside of the car is chilly, and when the driver starts the engine hot air blows instantly at Jimin, making him shiver more than if he’d just stayed outside. As they start to move, the air gets warmer and warmer, though, until he almost thinks his clothes could dry right on him. Yoongi’s hand keeps twitching over the dials, and Jimin looks away.

The melted ice cream cone has left a mess in the cup holder, but it's something somebody else will clean. He wonders if that apathy is worse than everything else. At the stoplight, Yoongi’s dry suit jacket flies over the center console and lands like a blanket on Jimin’s knees. He stares at it numbly, and doesn’t touch it. His thighs tingle.

Once they pass through Yongsan, the streets are entirely barren, and it takes only about another ten minutes to get to Pyeongchang. Jimin keeps his eyes closed, head rolling on the seat back slightly, stiff fingers rubbing at the wrist he’d banged into the armrest earlier. 

When they pull up to the front of his building, Jimin opens his door and meets Yoongi’s eyes in the rearview mirror. The elder has blue circles under his eyes, nose tipped red. “Coming?” Jimin asks, pitching his voice to remove room for argument.

Yoongi pulls his lips between his teeth, considering, maintaining their eye contact through the glass, and then waves to the valet who’s watching them from behind the little desk near the doors. The young kid runs over, catching the keys Yoongi throws to him as he climbs out from behind the wheel, and bows to both of them with whispered greetings. As the two of them trod for the sliding glass doors, the car behind them zooms off toward the back of the building, and Jimin takes his phone back from Yoongi lethargically when the latter holds it out to him.

There are three security guards behind the wide front desk further into the lobby, and they all nod in greeting as the two pass, summoning the elevator for them through the buttons near their landlines.

Jimin stares at the metal doors idly as they wait for the cabin to descend, and it takes him a second to notice Yoongi’s eyes on him. He looks up, finding the driver staring at his lips scrutinizingly before turning away to face the doors. Something about it strikes him as so absurdly funny that Jimin grins, and it hurts, and he remembers the punch, winces lightly as his hand comes up to cover his mouth self-consciously.

When the doors slide open, Yoongi doesn’t move, waiting for Jimin to step in ahead of him, and the large mirrors on each side of the cabin show them the tortured messes they’ve both become. Jimin walks straight toward the back wall, steps slow, considering, as he studies his reflection. At the very corner of his mouth, on the edge of his bottom lip, sits a bit of crusted blood. His smile a second ago had split the wound all over again, and it shines red now under the bright lights of the elevator. He tips his chin up to study it, and when his eyes slide to the side, he finds Yoongi staring at him again, arms crossed under the suit jacket he’s folded over them. His eyes are dark, shadowed, veiled as always, but he’s chewing his own lip like there’s more going on where it can’t be seen.

They reach level thirty-two with just a swoop in their ears, and Jimin yawns as he walks out through the doors, padding over the shiny floors quietly until they reach his apartment. He presses one thumb against the reader right below the keyhole, and it beeps, unlocking, for him to swing the door open into a familiar foyer.

Yoongi, after years of practice, makes himself master of the space by quickly turning up the thermostat and switching on the lights in the living room and hallway. The panoramic windows slowly disappear behind shutting blinds, remote in Yoongi’s hand doing all the work, while Jimin kicks off his boots and patters over to the couch, dropping onto it slowly.

He doesn’t realize that he’s drifted off until a hand shakes his shoulder lightly, and he opens his eyes to find Yoongi seated on the edge of the coffee table, watching him. “Shower’s warmed up. You should go in before the water cools.”

Jimin closes his eyes again. “You go. I’m sleep.”

“Jimin, you need to warm up.”

“So d’you.”

It grows quiet, and Jimin thinks that’ll be the end of it, but then firm arms slide under his knees and his ribs, hefting him so he folds and then raising him into the air. He yelps, wrapping his own arms around Yoongi’s neck, and watches the elder’s shifting jaw as he walks them through the winding hallway over to the bathroom, where the running water grows louder as they approach.

When they reach the marble counter, Yoongi sets Jimin down on it slowly, and then walks to the shower stall, pulling back the fogged glass door to stick his hand under the water. He walks back slowly with his whole forearm wet, unrolling the sleeves of his shirt to let it settle down to his wrist. “I’ll lay out some clothes by the door outside.”

Jimin doesn’t respond, hands clasped between his knees, and watches the way Yoongi tucks his own shirt into his pants carefully. At his silence, the elder glances up. They stare at one another for a long while, unmoving, and it’s unclear whether they communicated anything at all.

Then, Jimin grips the hem of his sweater and tugs it up over his head, slowly pulling the sleeves off as he watches Yoongi watching him. The latter doesn’t drop his gaze, almost defiant with how strictly he maintains eye contact. When Jimin slides off the counter slowly, Yoongi steps back and leans on the wall, arms crossing.

It takes no time to tug the button out of its hole, to pull the sides apart so that the zipper falls down. The thumbs he tucks in the sides go under the band of his briefs also, but he keeps his head up and his eyes locked on Yoongi’s when he bends over to tug them both to his knees, kicking off the rest of the material roughly when it sticks to his damp, cool skin. The steps he takes toward the glass stall feel surreal, like he’s dreaming them. He’s barely even let Yoongi see him shirtless before, and that had always felt like more than his heart could bear. This, if it really happened, would kill him instantly. Wouldn’t it?

Yoongi doesn’t move, hip cocked as he continues to list beside the door, but when Jimin turns to open the shower, he glances into the mirror to find Yoongi’s eyes sliding down his form slowly, unburdened.

When the foggy door shuts behind him, and all he can see is the dark shape of Yoongi beyond the blurry shapes of water droplets skidding down the glass, he shuts his eyes and stands under the hot spray, buzzing. His ears feel like he’s at a concert, like something’s just shattered nearby and the ringing won’t stop for hours.

He twists and turns under the water, washing himself quickly, half-asleep under the warmth, and when he’s nearly done he turns to find the blob of Yoongi still in the bathroom with him, perched on the lid of the toilet, leaned forward elbows on knees as he stares at the floor.

Jimin props the door open a bit, swiping his towel off the hook, and steps out with a cloud of steam once it’s wrapped tight around his waist. Yoongi looks up, gaze skidding over his chest, and swallows audibly, chin quivering.

“Your turn?” Jimin asks, turning to the mirror and pulling a small hand towel out of a drawer to rub at his hair. The lilac is growing out, three weeks out from his latest color treatment, but the shade is dark enough on its own that the gradient looks natural. Wet, it borders on deep purple, and will slowly turn lavender as it dries, but Jimin flicks at it nervously for lack of anything better to do as he waits for Yoongi to speak.

“You never even asked,” he says, and it’s not what Jimin’s expecting. He struggles to understand what it’s attached to, how it would relate to him. “I mean, confessing is scary, I know. But you – for all that you ever showed to me, my life and identity and interests were less than the dirt under your feet. There was never even a hint.”

Jimin sucks his bottom lip into his mouth and sets his hands on the edge of the counter, leaving the towel hung over his shoulder as he gazes at himself in the mirror. His mouth is bleeding more freely, skin softened by the hot shower, and he licks at it uselessly before letting his lip pop out and sit stiffly in a numb pout.

“You didn’t want me to know. Can you admit that, at least? That it was a voluntary thing, on your part. Because if you – if I had the chance to – and I just didn’t see it, I just ignored it or something, then –“

“I asked you one time, on my twentieth birthday, when you were driving us to the bar. What if you got a client someday who was in it deep, but too rich to ever give you a shot, or something. What if she was a real piece of work, bane of your existence, but wrote your paychecks and had it bad for you. Stupid example from a movie I watched around that time. You said it would probably be the worst thing that could ever happen to you.”

Yoongi exhales loudly through his nose, glancing at his clasped hands again. “That part’s still true.”

“Nobody’s keeping you here,” Jimin snaps. “You’ve had ten years to leave. Don’t think you’re a hero for sticking around with a nutcase like me, out of some moral obligations you convinced yourself you had.”

“I’m not a hero,” Yoongi scoffs, rising to his feet slowly. His clothes are drying badly on him, formerly pressed and ironed neatly and now clinging to him in strange spots, wrinkled and stretched out from their own weight. Jimin thinks, briefly, which clothes he should give him to change into – if Yoongi would even want to touch his things.

He watches the elder approach him slowly, footsteps soft and silent with only his socks on, until Yoongi’s chest grazes his shoulder lightly. Jimin watches them in the mirror, studies the strange look on the half of Yoongi’s face that’s visible, the way he seems to be memorizing the shape of Jimin’s body.

As he opens his mouth to ask him what the fuck he’s doing, Yoongi’s hand crosses over Jimin’s chest to wrap around his nape, tugging, and his other one catches Jimin’s jaw when he turns, stilling him as he presses their lips together tightly. He doesn’t let it be soft, or slow, or even unsure. His tongue flickers out to land right on the spot of blood that’s been welling on Jimin’s broken skin, like he was aiming for it from the start, and Jimin’s low moan gets swallowed up by an eager mouth, teeth nipping at him as hard, warm fingers handle him quickly, turning him to face Yoongi all the way.

It takes a while for his brain to catch up, but then Jimin’s got both hands buried in Yoongi’s hair, tugging at it painfully enough to make him grunt, but the pull doesn’t do anything except spur him on, hauling Jimin in with both arms and licking over the cut, again and again, making it sting so much that the pleasure gets mixed up with the pain in a way that’s intoxicating in its strangeness.

The only sound in the bathroom is of the dripping shower head and their wet mouths moving together, and if Jimin hadn’t already washed he’d be warm anyway, face hot from the things he’s feeling, body tingling from the blood pumping through him in his nervousness, his relief. Yoongi turns them slowly, pressing the small of Jimin’s back into the counter, pushing the towel off his shoulder so that his calloused hand can stroke over the bare skin instead, raising goosebumps in its wake and making Jimin keen lightly. The sound seems to make Yoongi rabid, movements sporadic and uncontrolled, hips pressing tight, fingers unable to still on any one part of his body.

It’s not until his teeth graze over Jimin’s cut and stretch the skin painfully, making him whisper, “Ow,” when they part to breathe, that Yoongi stills. A small strand of spittle stretches between them before it breaks, and Jimin knows he's the only one who saw it, and it feels funny. Yoongi's eyes slip open just barely, staring at what must be a downright bloody mess on Jimin’s mouth, swollen as it is, and he leans in to kiss him again more gently, slowing until he’s taking only little sips of Jimin’s lips. After the last peck, he steps away entirely, leaving only coldness where his warmth had been, and Jimin swallows, watching him.

“Go put on some fresh clothes,” Yoongi tells him lowly, leaning into the shower again to get the water started for his own shower. “I’ll make us tea when I’m out.”

“Yeah,” he whispers, feeling small, and turns to open the door. He chokes out a gasp when he’s pressed up against it instead, two hands on his hips and a wide chest at his back, lips moving over his jaw as he tries to glance behind him. Yoongi leans in and kisses him again, and the angle is odd, Jimin holding on the wall as Yoongi’s tongue plunders his mouth, and then the towel he’d knotted over one hip falls, leaving him bare. He stills, eyes popping open.

“Put ointment on the cut,” Yoongi rumbles, and then the door opens and Jimin’s being pushed out gingerly, left alone and naked in the hallway, the graze of cotton over his knee telling him that Yoongi had kept his towel for his own shower.

After a spare second blinking at the darkened corridor and listening to the rustle of movement behind the closed bathroom door, he pads slowly to his bedroom, dressing himself robotically as all his mental strength goes toward keeping himself upright. The sensation of dry cloth skidding up wet skin is unpleasant, so it takes him a while, leaning on walls and chairs and bed posts at random as he tries not to just go horizontal in the middle of the room. In between hopping around on one foot, he finds a small salve for his lip and applies it gently, wincing. He’s got on a large yellow shirt hanging over clean boxers when Yoongi walks in, one bath towel around his hips and another hanging off his shoulders like a cape, body hidden from Jimin’s eyes purposefully.

“Those are for you,” Jimin says in a small voice, pointing to the dresser near the door, on the corner of which lies a pile of freshly laundered leisurewear. He’s sitting on the windowsill, watching the street down below. As it nears dawn, the sky takes on a murky indigo color that glows, and he’s got one hand spread flat over the glass, watching it steam up around his skin from the chill outside. He doesn’t even notice how warm he is now, and remembering that he’d been in the river mere hours ago feels like convincing himself of something that never happened. He wants to forget.

Across the room, the driver tugs on the sweats over bare legs, and Jimin can see him in the reflection of the window. He thinks Yoongi knows he’s watching, but he watches anyway, drinking in the flashes of pale, thick muscles that shift in the relative darkness of the room. His bulk is so different from the leanness in Jimin's own strength, built up from long weights sessions at the gym, while Jimin's only ever dancing himself to death. Maybe, given enough time, he could dance seriously again, without it hurting. Maybe he could try going to the gym.

“Get in bed already,” Yoongi tells him, pulling the cape towel onto his head and massaging it quickly over his hair. His voice sounds soft, obscured through the material, and Jimin’s eyes prickle irrationally.

“You gonna file your two weeks' tomorrow?” he asks, hushed, as he continues to look at the moving streets below.

“What?” Yoongi barks, pushing the towel down and then throwing it through the open door into the hallway, like he’d thrown the other one before it. “No.”

“Why not? What’s keeping you here?”

The single light Jimin had turned on, near the bedside table, turns off. He can just barely see the shadow that moves in the reflection of the window he’s pressed himself into, and the shadow morphs into warmth at his back, solid, assuring.

A hand snakes around his neck, pressing against his throat tightly, and he stills with surprise, wondering. The pressure shifts to the soft bits right beneath his jawbone, a little painful, and Yoongi pulls up and back, turning Jimin in his perch to face him fully, knees spread around Yoongi’s thighs. His fingers keep pulling, lifting Jimin nearly into the air, before he leans in and kisses him again, making their teeth clack in his haste, and they both hiss, pulling back. Jimin sniggers a little, blowing out the laugh through his nose, and sets his fingers on top of Yoongi’s, coaxing him to be gentler.

“You’re not allowed to hit me ever again,” Yoongi whispers against his lips. “And if I ever so much as swing at you, I’m giving you permission to take the gun and shoot me.”

Jimin shuts his eyes tight, squeezing until stars appear. He doesn’t think his voice could work right now even if he wanted to say anything. As it is, he doesn’t have anything to say. None of this feels like something he’ll get to keep – and he's not sure how he'll ever forgive Yoongi for setting him up for disappointment.

“If you ask me to drive you to Seoyun’s parties ever again, I really will quit.” He pulls back, keeping his hand loosely around Jimin’s neck, sliding down until the heel of it presses into Jimin’s chest, and then down some more until his fingers tug the collar of it low, past the dip of his solar plexus. Through the pervasive darkness around them, he seems to stare at the skin he’s unveiled, lost in thought. “It was one thing when I thought it was what you wanted, and what you thought you needed. But knowing … I won’t.”

Jimin swallows thickly, and his nod is so small that it might not even register.

Leaning in, Yoongi grazes their lips together so lightly that it doesn’t feel like anything at all, and then once more, harder, wetter. Jimin chases him, rising off the sill to keep from losing the touch, but Yoongi tightens his hand on Jimin’s neck and leans back. “Promise me.”

Jimin’s lashes flutter, eyes opening to take in the strange illumination of Yoongi’s face. Rain has started up again outside, soft thumps on the glass obscuring the rays of light that reach them from the streets below, but the blues and greens and purples play over Yoongi’s skin and make him look as unreal as he’s always partway seemed to Jimin, oozing across the planes of marble skin that always pinkens when he’s angry, and how many times has Jimin seen that? Thousands, millions. He could watch it for the rest of his life.

“I promise,” he whispers. “But I can’t – I don’t know how to … the other stuff, it’s - ”

Yoongi’s eyes shift between each of his, and then he nods, satisfied, hands sliding to still over Jimin’s shoulders. “Baby steps.”

Jimin lets his chin fall, gazing down at where Yoongi’s set his feet wide apart, so that his knees are spreading Jimin’s own. The sweats sit differently on him, but he looks just as soft as Jimin imagined he would. It’s the first time he’s ever worn anything of Jimin’s, possibly the very last. “You don’t smell like you anymore.”

Yoongi frowns. “What do I smell like?”

He pretends to think about it, though the answer's always on the tip of his tongue. “Like a forest. Fir and cedar or whatever. Leaves, dirt, fresh air.”

Yoongi seems bewildered for a long time, before suddenly he laughs, little perfect teeth reflecting the light from the window, and the sight of it is enough to heal the hundred or so wounds inside Jimin, enough to give him a hundred or so more. Jimin smiles with him, slow to understand, and Yoongi steps fully away to press his hands over his mouth as he keeps chuckling throatily, head shaking.

“What?” Jimin asks, eyes riveted.

“Jimin, that’s the air freshener. It’s the only fragrance I could buy after your father gave me a list of your allergies.”

Blinking stupidly, Jimin feels his skin heat, glad for the darkness. “But it always smelled stronger on you.”

“Yeah, the little Pine Air bottle sits in the vent that blows right at my face. I hate the fucking smell.”

Jimin curls in on himself, defensive. “I think it smells really nice.”

There’s no answer, but he knows Yoongi’s watching him, gauging what he’s displaying. When he steps closer again, there’s no preamble before he leans down to catch Jimin’s mouth, licking over the sealed cut carefully. Jimin makes a small noise, and he’s not ignorant of the way it riles Yoongi again, the way he crowds in closer and thumps the back of Jimin’s head into the glass. He sets his own hands on the outsides of Yoongi’s thighs, letting his mouth grow lax as he takes what Yoongi gives him, and emits small sounds intermittently, testing, playful.

“Fuck,” Yoongi groans after a while, pushing himself away and stumbling back into the middle of the room, fingers swiping over his mouth. Jimin turns shy for no reason, hunching in small and watching him retreat. “Go get the kettle running,” Yoongi grunts, brash, eyes averted.

“Oh,” Jimin murmurs, standing quickly to shuffle from the room. It feels like he's risking everything, by leaving this moment, by ending this particular instant where things are good. Ten years it was bad, and it's only been good for an hour or two. How arrogant to let it go just when he's finally caught hold - and what if Yoongi leaves? This is all he'll have, and what is it? A kiss or two, a small room where they both got to be wrong, both got to be right, some hot water. And, before that, some cold water. Already, he can't remember.

As he passes Yoongi, he tugs his shirt to sit properly over his form, then brushes a hand through his hair as he dips his chin to his chest, ruffling the strands a bit messily before setting his hand on his waist.

“Fuck,” Yoongi repeats, making him pause. “Don’t do that.”

Bashful, Jimin presses himself to the doorway, hiding most of himself from view, and peeks back from behind the jamb. Beyond the city skyline, the sun is growing closer, making everything brighten just as he gazes out across the stretch of his bedroom to where Yoongi's got one hand on the footboard of Jimin's bed, territorial. He looks better in natural light, less like he's standing on his very last leg. “I only brushed my hair,” Jimin tells him.

“Well, don’t do it.”

Sucking his lip between his teeth, Jimin watches Yoongi’s eyes zero in on the motion, and smiles at him through the bite. “Just from that?” he asks, trying to pitch his voice so it’s a little mean, a little mocking, but it feels more like he’s young and unsure, scuffing his foot over the floor and waiting to be reassured.

His driver turns away, pacing back toward the window aimlessly, then blows out a breath through his lips and follows Jimin to the doorway, striding straight past him without a glance. Jimin turns around, watches him lean down to grab the discarded towels to throw them in the hamper near the laundry room, and then disappear into the kitchen. And when he hears Yoongi sulkily mutter, “Fuckin’ do it myself," as the sounds of the kettle running fill the quiet they'd been couched in, he drops his head back and laughs.