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it always leads to you (and my hometown)

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“You don't love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or for their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear.”

― Oscar Wilde


Jeongguk doesn’t believe in magic. He doesn’t pray— not anymore—, he doesn’t make wishes to the stars of the August skies or the dandelions under the July sun, and he certainly doesn’t think twice when he walks under a ladder. Fate has never been his closest friend, it’s rather been an acquaintance he has no interest in getting to know.

However, Jeongguk does believe in tender touches, in shared looks from opposite corners of the room and eyes turning into crescent moons and being more beautiful than the satellite could ever wish to be. He believes in them because he’s seen them: they come in a package in what Jeongguk considers the most magical being he’s ever had the pleasure of meeting. Park Jimin.

They’ve been best friends ever since they were kids. It’s almost a fairytale, their story. Their parents were friends since high-school and, although Jimin and Jeongguk didn’t grow up in the same neighborhood, they still saw each other every time their parents hung out together. Jeongguk can’t remember when their relationship turned into a friendship— probably around his first year of college, when he finally caught up to Jimin after spending two cold years separated from each other— but he doesn’t give it much thought, either. If there is one thing he’s certain about, is that he was meant to love Jimin in every universe, in every timeline.

Jeongguk is the sun; Jimin is the moon. Jeongguk is gold; Jimin is silver. Black and white; flowers and tattoos; summer and winter. They’re a perfect oxymoron and the prettiest metaphor, but they’re also two hands that didn’t use to fit together until time warmed them up. And that, for Jeongguk, is what destiny means. Not tragedies about star-crossed lovers or an impossible quest, but a friend whose bond to you feels as old as the stars themselves yet as young as a toddler’s laughter.

Perhaps it sounds a little overboard, disgustingly corny, if you might, but he’s learnt to ignore the pressure of not loving too hard just in case they don’t feel the same. Jeongguk wants Jimin to know he owns a piece of his heart because he’s chosen to give it to him.

The only downside to such a precious friendship is Jeongguk’s mother, who’s apparently addicted to gossip and obsessed with the idea of her son finding a soulmate. She’s convinced Jimin is it for Jeongguk, and Jeongguk has already given up on explaining that they’re just friends. It’s become a running joke between the two friends now, and Jimin plays his role as the perfectly polite boyfriend as if he were born for the role. It’s hilarious.

Today, though, it’s not as funny. They’re lying on the floor of Jimin’s room scrolling mindlessly through social media on their phones after a long morning, the last class of the year. Jeongguk’s head is on Jimin’s lap and Jimin’s fingers are tangled in his long hair, and the only sound audible is Jimin’s giggles whenever he stumbles across a tweet he likes. It’s blissful, yet, unfortunately for them, the calm before the storm.

Jeongguk’s phone starts ringing and his mother’s contact flashes on the screen. With a grunt, he sits up and picks up the call.

“Mom?” Jeongguk hears Jimin shuffling by his side, his interest spiking. “Hello?”

Jeongguk-ah!” she says, a little too loudly for Jeongguk’s liking. “How are you, darling? We miss you so much.

“I’m okay, Mom. Everything alright at home?”

Yes! Your brother arrived yesterday, and we’ve been busy with the garden now that it’s stopped snowing. Actually, this is what I was calling for.

Jeongguk raises his left brow. “The garden?”

No, silly. Your brother coming home. When are you coming, Jeongguk-ah?”

“Ah, right,” Jeongguk shoots Jimin a panicked look that makes the older straighten up his back to listen closer. While Jimin rubs the back of his neck, Jeongguk replies, “I don’t know, Mom. I’ve been busy with finals. I couldn’t book my train ticket.”

Right, of course, darling. No pressure!” she laughs sweetly, forcing a fond smile on Jeongguk’s lips. “In fact, that’s perfect. Is Jiminie there with you?

Jeongguk turns his head to look at Jimin, who’s staring expectantly at him, smirking. “No, he’s not. Why?”

Jeongguk ignores the soft punch Jimin throws to the side of his arm.

Ah, I was just thinking that his parents don’t celebrate Christmas, do they?” she doesn’t give Jeongguk time to reply. “So maybe he could come visit for a few days? Spend Christmas Eve with us, at least?

Jeongguk, who was previously playing with the strings of his hoodie— the one he borrowed from Jimin— freezes on the spot. “But why?”

It’s time you introduce your boyfriend to the family, don’t you think?

Ah, there it is. Jeongguk chuckles, all the previous confusion that had taken over his limbs dissolving away.

“Right, of course, Mom,” he rolls his eyes, thankful that she can’t see him. “I’ll bring him. We can even fake a proposal if it will make you happy.”

You’re so lucky you’re in Seoul right now, Jeon Jeongguk,” she huffs, blocking the microphone for a second and therefore eliciting a loud laugh from her son. “Book your tickets tonight, you hear me? And tell Jimin I miss him.”

“Yeah, yeah. Love you!”

Love you more, darling.”

When he hangs up, Jimin doesn’t give him a second to breathe before he’s poking his side with his index. “What did she want?”

Jeongguk shrugs. “She wanted to know when I’m coming home. Nothing special. She asked about you because she still thinks we’re dating and wants you to meet the family.”

Jimin throws himself all over Jeongguk as he giggles, a habit the younger boy has learned to live with. Jimin can’t stand straight or see when he laughs, and every time he doubles over, body overwhelmed with laughter, Jeongguk falls a little more in love with his best friend.

He moves one hand to pet Jimin’s head and holds his phone with the other, unlocking it after he hears the notification sound. “Don’t laugh! You’ll break her heart if she finds out you’re not head over heels with me.”

“You wish,” Jimin says, sticking his tongue out. Jeongguk ignores him. “How long are we going to keep this up?”

Without taking his eyes from the screen, Jeongguk replies, “I’ll probably tell her over dinner next week. She needs time to heal from the news before I inevitably bring the love of my life home next year.”

“Kim Mingyu doesn’t even know you exist, Jeongguk-ah.”

Yet,” the boy corrects him. Mingyu is a senior from the dance department who Jeongguk stumbled upon once at the dorm’s cafeteria. Mingyu asked him to pass him a bottle of ketchup and Jeongguk has been planning the wedding ever since. “The day he falls in love with me, you’ll see, Jimin-ssi. You’ll see.”

He’s busy reading the accumulated texts from his family’s group chat so he can’t see Jimin, but Jeongguk is sure that he’s rolling his eyes. The messages are nothing interesting, just discussions of who’s going to visit the main house during Christmas time and where those people will be staying, but Jeongguk needs to read them to have an idea of how awful his winter break will be. He’s almost tempted to actually ask Jimin to go to Busan with him when he learns that all his homophobic uncles are visiting, but when he reaches the end of the chat, his phone almost slips from his grip, all thoughts forgotten.

“Shit,” he curses, eyes bulging. Karma is a bitch, right?

His hysterical trail of laughter awakens Jimin’s curiosity. He lifts his brow. “What’s wrong?”

Jeongguk gnaws at his lip anxiously, staring intensely at his phone as if he could burn a hole through it. After exhaling deeply, he can only curse again.

“Jeongguk? What is it?”

He flashes an awkward smile at Jimin. “Please tell me you don’t actually have plans for Christmas.”

Jimin frowns, getting up from his position in Jeongguk’s lap to get a better look at him. “No, I don’t. Why?”

Jeongguk sighs, rubbing a hand down his face. Wordlessly, he passes his phone to Jimin so he can read the message that has turned his world upside down.

“My mom has told the entire family I’m bringing my boyfriend home.”

Jimin blinks twice, looking at Jeongguk briefly only for his eyes to return to the screen. “So? Just tell her I couldn’t make it or something. It’s not like the entire family is going to be there, right?”

Jeongguk grins, looking like a mad man. Jimin’s face drops. “Shit.”

“Shit, indeed. Grandma is coming, Jimin. I can’t break my mom’s heart and hers too—”

“And you’ll never catch a break if you show up alone because all your cousins are engaged or married—”

“And I’ll be forced to go to church with them—”

Jimin grips Jeongguk’s arm, terror in his eyes. “Oh, my God, Jeongguk-ah.”

“I’m fucking doomed.”

Jimin covers his mouth to muffle the laughter coming out. “You are totally fucked, my friend.”

“Hyung, this isn’t funny!” Jeongguk groans, hugging his knees. “I’m going to die if you don’t come home with me.”

“Jeon Jeongguk, are you asking me to be your fake boyfriend for Christmas?” Jimin says with a lopsided smile, bringing a hand to his chest. “Are we having a moment right now?”

Jeongguk nods his head solemnly, ignoring how loud his heart is thrumming inside his ribcage. “I think we are.”

Jimin purses his lips, trying to suppress a smile. He looks so beautiful like this, with all his walls down; he’s just Jimin, rosy-cheeked, giggly and playful. His hair is getting longer so it falls gently over his eyes now. Jeongguk wants to push it away, but he keeps his hand to himself.

“I will be your fake boyfriend under two conditions,” Jimin raises a finger up. “One, you shall let me kiss you dramatically in front of your family so you live with the embarrassment for the rest of your life, and two, you’ll volunteer with me at the cat shelter when we get back.”

“But hyung,” Jeongguk whines. “You know I don’t get along with cats. They don’t like me.”

“I don’t like you either, but I’m here sacrificing my honor for you.”

Jeongguk pouts. “Take that back.”

“Promise me you’ll volunteer with me and I’ll go.”

Jeongguk glares at Jimin, but he clicks his tongue, resigned. “Fine.”

“Now ask me to be your boyfriend,” Jimin says, leaning forward to invade Jeongguk’s space with a smirk.

Jeongguk turns his head to the side. “No.”

Jimin grabs Jeongguk’s jaw, forcing him to look into his eyes. “Ask me out or I won’t do it, Jeongguk.”

They stare intensely at each other for a second, Jeongguk frowning and Jimin widening the shit-eating grin on his lips.

Finally, Jeongguk sighs. He places his hands on Jimin’s chest and pushes him away. He clears his throat that suddenly feels dry, and without looking at Jimin, he mumbles a proposal through gritted teeth.

“Say that again?”

“You heard me—”

“No, I didn’t.”

“I hate you.”

Say it.”

Jeongguk turns his head with a dramatic roll of his neck. He takes hold of Jimin’s hands. “Hyung, will you be my extremely platonic and fake boyfriend for the timespan of one dreadful week?”

Jimin gives Jeongguk a deadpan look, but his expression cracks almost instantly. “Fine, dumbass. I can’t believe you’re making us reenact fanfiction just because you’re too scared to tell your mother the truth.”

“You know how passionate she’s about our alleged soulmate bond, hyung,” Jeongguk says, laughing softly as he plays with Jimin’s fingers. “Plus, it was all an excuse to bring you with me. I’ll get bored otherwise.”

“You little shit,” Jimin tries to flick Jeongguk’s forehead, but he quickly catches his wrist to prevent it. “I’m going to make your life hell, just you wait.”

“I’m looking forward to it, babe.”

 

 

They leave the dorms two days after, early in the morning. They make their way out of the building, each carrying a heavy bag on their backs and wrapped up in long scarfs and warm coats.

It’s a sunny day, but the freezing cold reminds them of how deep into December they are. The bright light makes them squint their eyes as they exit the building, and when Jimin huffs, he can see his breath. It’s winter in all its glory.

Since it’s only 8 am, it’s quiet; the only sound audible for a while is birds chatting with each other. However, Jeongguk, Jimin and their friends tend to stay for a few days in the dorms after the school year ends to avoid packed trains and roads, so it’s not a surprise when the melodious chirping is interrupted by Jung Hoseok’s laughter.

He’s sitting on a bench, his legs tangled with Taehyung’s as they share a cigarette. His heart-shaped smile is in full display in the way it only does when the younger boy is around. Taehyung’s cheeks are puffed and rosy, but Jeongguk isn’t sure if it’s the weather’s fault or the dancer’s.

“Hey!” Hoseok calls them from a distance, waving the hand with which he’s holding the cigarette. “You guys leaving already?”

Once they’re standing close to them, Jimin replies. “Yeah. Our train leaves in an hour or so.”

Hoseok hums, taking a drag. “Well, have a nice trip, babies,” he says as smoke comes out through his teeth. “Be careful of zombies.”

Jeongguk groans. “That joke is so old, hyung.”

“Still funny,” he says, smiling sideways. “Are you going back to your hometown or are you staying in the city, Gguk-ah?”

“Hometown,” Jeongguk says bitterly. The apartment in Busan was Jeongguk’s home until he moved out for college, two years after his brother did. Ever since, his parents spend most of their days in the village, away from pollution and close to their roots. It’s ideal, honestly— for them. For Jeongguk, the village means poor internet connection, bugs, and loneliness. “But it’s going to be fun this year, though. Right, Jimin hyung?”

Jimin shoots daggers at him with his eyes. “I’ll obliterate you, brat.”

Taehyung and Hoseok share a look with a dumbfounded smile on their lips. “Um, what is going on?”

“Jimin hyung is coming home with me.”

“Oh!” Taehyung’s confused expression disappears in favor of a boxy grin that takes over his entire face. “So you finally realized you’re in love with him? Congratulations on being the last one to find out.”

“Shut up!” Jeongguk tries to smack the back of Taehyung’s head, but his friend dodges him skillfully. “You know we’re just friends. It was my mom who told the entire family I was bringing my boyfriend.”

“Fuck, kid,” Hoseok snickers, shaking his head and sneaking an arm around Taehyung’s shoulders. Taehyung leans into the touch. “You’re stuck in a bad American Christmas movie.”

“Tell me about it,” Jimin says, scoffing. “But don’t worry, we won’t fall in love at the end. I’m too good for him.”

Jimin throws himself at Jeongguk after that, hugging Jeongguk’s side as he giggles uncontrollably. Jeongguk rolls his eyes, but he brings his hand to pet Jimin’s head twice.

“You are,” he whispers only so that Jimin can hear. Clearing his throat, he adds louder, “We should get going, hyung. We’re going to be late.”

Jimin tightens his grip on Jeongguk, making him stumble a little. “But I’m warm here.”

“I’ll cuddle you for the entire ride if you let me go,” Jeongguk offers, knowing Jimin could never refuse such an offer. His love language is physical affection; he’d take a hug over a thousand roses any day.

“Fine,” Jimin says, stepping back immediately.

“And you say you’re not in love,” Taehyung mutters under his breath, earning a slap to the thigh from a squealing Hoseok.

Jeongguk glares at him. “I hate you.”

“Sure you do. See you next year, Jeongguk-ah. Hyung loves you.”

 

 

During the three hours that the ride takes, Jimin spends two of them half-asleep on Jeongguk’s shoulder, listening to music from one earphone while Jeongguk has the other. It’s their small tradition for whenever they go south; they’re both people who enjoy silence, who enjoy sharing silence with each other, but three hours is a long time. To not make it seem like they’re ignoring the other, or to make it feel a tad less lonely, they make a shared playlist to listen together every time.

Jimin always falls asleep at some point, but Jeongguk doesn’t mind. He takes it as a chance to listen to the songs Jimin added to the playlist, but once they stepped on the train, he got insecure about and skipped. It makes Jeongguk’s heart feel stupidly warm, the fact that Jimin is such a bold person when he has an audience, but he lets Jeongguk see these small mannerisms that showcase his innocence and timidness. Jimin is a box full of beautiful and endearing surprises, and Jeongguk couldn’t be more honored to be the one who gets to discover them every time.

From the window of their seats, Busan looked warmer than it actually is. The sea breeze forces the two best friends to link their arms while they wait for the bus, the one that will take them to Jeongguk’s town, to hopefully keep some heat between them. Needless to say, it doesn’t work very well. On top of that, the bus’ heating system is broken. By the time they reach Jeongguk’s house, they’re positive that their fingers are covered with frost.

Jeongguk’s family house is atop of a hill, concealed by pine trees. There’s a small path that leads visitors inside the fence that surrounds the small patch of land that is their garden, and the hanok stands in the middle, shining with its graceful black roof tiles and wooden pillars. Back when Jeongguk’s father’s parents lived there, Jeongguk used to find it incredibly intimidating. Now that his mother has taken over the house’s decoration, the place is inviting, familiar. There are no longer hostile ghosts roaming around, watching him as he sleeps in what used to be their rooms.

Before they can reach the entrance, a small white dog comes running towards them, barking loudly.

“Gureum!” Jeongguk exclaims, dropping to his knees to welcome the dog into his arms. “My baby,” he coos, not blinking twice when the animal licks his face. “I missed you.”

“You’re exactly three years old,” Jimin tells him when he starts rolling on the floor to play with Gureum, laughing softly. “Get up, you’re getting all dirty with dust!”

“Leave me alone! I missed him,” Jeongguk pouts, but he raises to his feet.

“Yeah, well, when your mom starts lecturing you for bringing dirt into her house don’t—”

Jeongguk-ah!”

Both snap their heads towards the door, where a woman in a red and green coat stands with her hands on her hips. She steps down, putting on a pair of slippers, and Jeongguk runs towards her.

“Mom!” his arms close around her much smaller frame, pulling her into a tight hug. He rocks them side to side, almost lifting his mother from the floor. “I missed you so much.”

She laughs brightly. “You’re going to make me fall, you big puppy,” Jeongguk lets her go then, careful to not make her stumble, but he still holds the sleeve of her coat, not wanting to break contact entirely. “I missed you too.”

“I missed you more,” Jeongguk says, smiling cheekily.

She waves a dismissive hand at him, ignoring his corny comment, and turns to Jimin. “Jimin-ah, come here!”

Jimin, who had been staying at a comfortable distance to give them privacy, walks closer with hesitance and gives her a 90-degree bow, back perfectly straight.

“Hello, eomoni,” he says. Jeongguk gasps at the honorific. Already playing his role, huh? “You look as beautiful as ever.”

Jeongguk’s mother claps, laughing delightfully. “Ah, look at you! How charming,” she slaps Jeongguk’s chest. “Jeongguk-ah, you should learn some manners from your boyfriend.”

Jeongguk gapes indignantly. “I’m perfectly polite!”

“You’re a menace,” his mother replies, clicking her tongue. “Always too quick to drop honorifics.”

Jimin hums in agreement. “He asked me if we could talk informally three months into our relationship, can you believe it?”

“That’s not true! And Dad dropped the honorifics six months into your relationship,” Jeongguk crosses his arms. “It’s a normal thing between couples.”

“Your father was a rascal, too,” his mother says. “You are two sides of the same coin.”

“C’mon, babe, don’t sulk,” Jimin says, enchanting. He pokes Jeongguk’s cheek and pinches the tip of his chin afterwards, affectionate but teasing. “You know we love you.”

Jeongguk knits his eyebrows together. He mouths “what are you doing?”, batting Jimin’s hand away, but the elder simply winks at him. “I’ve got it handled.

Jeongguk swallows, taking his eyes off Jimin. He wasn’t expecting this to turn awkward so quickly, but he feels the sudden urge to rip his skin off, change into a new layer that shields him from the embarrassment and flushed cheeks around Jimin. If there’s a downside to their friendship, it has to be in moments like this, when Jimin puts on his mask and becomes shameless, while Jeongguk tends to hide into himself, escaping the inevitability of being perceived.

Jeongguk’s mother takes them inside soon after, babbling about boiling them hot tea while Jeongguk shows Jimin around the house. There’s nothing much to show, if he’s honest, due to the house’s nature, but Jeongguk still tries his best.

He must admit that, for a hanok, it’s not half as uncomfortable as it should be, thanks to the exhaustive reform Jeongguk’s parents carried out a few years ago. The most traditional part is the small yard around which the house is built. Usually, his mother lets her flowers and herbs flourish there, planted in stone-grey pots that adorn every window and door. Right in the middle, a Korean pine stands gracefully. Now, its branches are covered with snow, turning the ever green into white, but it’s as beautiful as Jeongguk remembers.

When they reach Jeongguk’s room, he clears his throat, already feeling an itchy sensation around his limbs, the neck of his sweater suddenly too tight around him. He slides the door open to reveal a bright room with a window covered by ivy and walls decorated with postcards, all from the different museums Jeongguk has visited over the years. The furniture— a small desk with a chair, a closet and a drawer— is all made of dark oak. A wide mattress with white and yellow blankets is placed on the floor.

“Um, I’m sorry. We’re going to have to share the bed,” he tells Jimin, rubbing his forearm anxiously. He’s lost count of the times he and Jimin have shared a bed, but this feels… intimate, somehow. He doesn’t know if it’s the familiar atmosphere, or the weight on his shoulders after having to pretend he means something to Jimin, and that everyone is aware of exactly what that something is, but it ties a knot in Jeongguk’s stomach. “I hope it doesn’t make you uncomfortable.”

Jimin gifts him a kind smile, the one that always washes Jeongguk like a wave of comfort. That feels like home, too. “It’s fine, Jeongguk-ah. You know I like it when you hold me.”

Jeongguk coughs, feeling trapped inside his coat— it’s too warm inside the room. “Right.”

Jimin giggles, ever so sweetly. “Loosen up, it’s just me, Jeongguk-ah. I’m the same Jimin I was three hours ago in Seoul.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Jeongguk exhales. “I don’t know why I’m so stiff.”

“Homecomings are always difficult,” Jimin says, hooking his arm around Jeongguk’s. Jeongguk feels it again: warmth. “Let’s go, I’m craving that tea your mom promised.”

 

The warm tea seems to put the two into a haze, lulling them into a peaceful sleep for the rest of the afternoon. The rich smell of kimchi jjigae and the sound of Jeongguk’s father’s deep voice announcing his arrival wakes them up, bringing them slowly to life as they groan and stretch on the spot in the floor where they fell asleep.

“Dinner is ready, boys!” his mother yells from the kitchen. Jeongguk’s stomach grumbles at the same time, like the timer set in his body came to an end.

Ever since they left Seoul, Jeongguk was dreading this very moment. Dinner means his brother and father will be there, which means Jeongguk will be met with prying questions about his relationship with Jimin; endless teasing that will, most definitely, turn uncomfortable as the night progresses. That’s what always happens when you let— or have no choice but to let— straight people ask questions about your romantic life.

Although Jeongguk must admit he wasn’t counting on Jimin’s people skills. He should’ve expected him to handle the situation expertly since the moment he teamed up with his mother, but he still lets himself be swooned by how gracefully Jimin answers every question, dodging the unwelcomed comments with a sweet laugh and polite smile that reaches his eyes.

At some point, his parents inevitably start telling stories of Jeongguk when he was little, which might as well be Jimin’s Christmas gift based on how much blackmail material they’re giving him. Jimin keeps laughing loudly along with them, asking Jeongguk’s mother to tell him more with puppy eyes.

Jeongguk’s face burns when she explains how he followed Jimin wherever he went and cried when they had to go separate ways. She seems fascinated by it, as if it was a sign that destiny made them fall in love with each other. She swears that she knew from the moment one of Jeongguk’s first words (after mom and dad) was Jiminie.

Jimin smiles at him with his eyebrows raised, amused. Jeongguk can only huff and kick Jimin’s shin softly under the table, but his lips curl upwards, too. It’s funny, honestly. It seems like he’s always been drawn to Jimin like he’s a magnetic field Jeongguk can’t run away from, to the point that he’s present in every one of his milestones, from his first words to his high school graduation and everything in between.

All the sceneries his parents described have changed since then, including the kitchen they’re sitting in; even some family members are gone now. One could argue that his bond with Jimin has changed, too— that everything has. However, Jeongguk likes to think that his love for Jimin and the magic of their bond remains, and that it’s rather his heart that has grown, giving Jimin more space to build up a home inside.

By the end of the dinner, Jeongguk’s father has asked Jimin to go fishing with him in five different occasions— none of which included Jeongguk in the invitation— and his brother has made sure Jeongguk is aware of just how cool Jimin is, how glad he is to have a friend of his same age around. Kimchi jjigae has never tasted so bitter in Jeongguk’s tongue.

He won’t say he’s jealous; he truly isn’t. His relationship with his brother is friendly at most, and he’d rather never attempt fishing in the middle of December. But, if there’s one thing he envies, is how Jimin’s voice never waivers. He’s flawless, confident in ways Jeongguk could only ever dream of.

Jeongguk has been nicknamed as the golden boy ever since he was a kid, but seeing how brightly Jimin shines, he wonders if, perhaps, silver has always been the most precious of metals. If humans are just too blinded by the sun that they forget it’s meant to die out at some point, while the moon remains eternal— eternally wise and breathtaking.

Before they go to bed, Jeongguk’s mother warns them that they only have three days until the entire family arrives, so they should make the most out of them because, once they spend more than an hour around the children, life will be sucked out of them.

Jimin takes this statement to heart. The next morning, he forces Jeongguk to sit down with him after breakfast and make a list of all their favorite Christmas movies so they can watch them during his stay here. After they’re finished, he practically dresses Jeongguk himself and pushes him out of the house so they can buy all the ingredients needed for orange and cinnamon cookies.

“I don’t understand why we can’t just make hotteok or something,” Jeongguk mumbles, waiting by Jimin’s side while he leans over a stand of oranges in the town’s market, searching for the perfect ones.

“Let me live my wannabe American single mom in films that make batches and batches of cookies to drown their loneliness in sugar.”

“Is that really a thing? I think you’re making it up.”

“It should be.”

Jimin turns around in his heels then, holding two oranges, but Jeongguk places his hands on each of Jimin’s sides, halting his movements.

“But, babe,” he says, staring down at Jimin with a smirk. “You’re not lonely. You have me.”

“I will shove this orange up your ass.”

Jeongguk gasps. “How indecent.”

Jimin pushes him away, the ghost of a smile lingering in his lips. “I don’t know why you’re so surprised. You should be used to it, shouldn’t you? You’re my boyfriend.”

Their conversation dies for a moment while Jimin pays for the fruit, but once they’re out of the old woman’s hearing range, Jeongguk replies.

“We’re exclusively vanilla.”

“The hell we are,” Jimin argues. “Have you seen us together? We look sinful.”

You are sinful,” Jeongguk retorts, taking one grocery bag from Jimin in a swift motion and swinging it to the sides. “You should watch out for burn marks when we go to church on Christmas Eve.”

“Shut the fuck up.”

“Make me,” Jeongguk teases, arching a brow.

That results in Jimin chasing Jeongguk all the way up to the house, leaving both breathless— yet grinning like fools. In addition, baking doesn’t bring any of the seriousness back; it only accentuates their playfulness. They turn into giggling teenagers, into children who haven’t learned that they mustn’t play with food.

By the time the oven dings, Jimin’s face and hair are stained with flour. Jeongguk, on the other hand, isn’t as lucky. There is a white hand print in his ass where Jimin slapped it, seeking revenge. In contrast with Jimin’s white cheeks, Jeongguk’s are bright red.

The cookies are delicious, though, which makes the humiliation worth it— if Jimin’s grin wasn’t already enough.

(It was. It always is.)

The following day, Jimin shoves Jeongguk inside a hideous, itchy Christmas sweater that he bought at the beginning of December. Jeongguk still remembers how he laughed and promised Jimin that, by the time Christmas arrived, he would be far, far away from his crimes against fashion.

Oh, how the tables have turned.

Nevertheless, he indulges Jimin’s mischievousness, wearing proudly the bright red piece of clothing with a terribly drawn Grinch in the center. He refuses to read the sentence that the white, bold letters on it form, but judging by the face of his family, it’s nothing good. Although judging by the way Jimin snorts whenever he looks at Jeongguk— which is, undoubtedly, a lot—, wearing it is the best idea he’s had in a while.

On the night of the 23rd, Jimin and Jeongguk sit by the wood stove, still in their ugly sweaters, with two objects in hand. Jeongguk holds his guitar, a long-forgotten friend he’d left behind when he arrived in Seoul, and Jimin his film camera, an antique relic he’d inherited from his grandfather.

It’s in moments like this where Jeongguk feels the closest to his friend. Jimin brings him safety; he’s the embodiment of a long hug after time apart or before an important match. He hasn’t said anything, but Jeongguk can tell there’s more to simply goofing around behind his actions during the last days. The baking, the constant jokes and attempts at getting a smile out of him— those are all Jimin’s ways of creating a comfort bubble around them that’s firm enough to endure any inconveniences without bursting. He’s shielding Jeongguk because he’s aware of how uncomfortable he gets around strangers, and when it comes to strangers that shouldn’t be strangers, but alas, they are— such as his relatives— he needs Jimin by his side the most.

Jimin has always been a protective person. With a heart bigger than his body and a sense of loyalty that could move a country towards revolution, he’s the best friend anyone could ever ask for. Jeongguk still isn’t certain as to why he was lucky enough to be the person destiny chose to tie to Jimin, but he won’t complain.

The best he can do is give back a portion of the love Jimin gifts him; make sure Jimin knows just how loved he is. If Jimin is the soil that keeps Jeongguk grounded, Jeongguk is the wisteria that grows on it, taking root to support it and covering its surface with the most beautiful lilac flowers of spring.

“Jeongguk-ah,” Jimin calls his name from the couch. Jeongguk is sitting on the floor, busy tuning the guitar, but he abandons his task to give Jimin his full attention. “Will you sing me a song?”

Jeongguk feels his cheeks light up. “I don’t know, hyung. It’s been a long time since I last played.”

Jimin pouts. “Pretty please?”

A sigh. “What does his Highness want to hear tonight?”

Jimin beams, delighted by how quickly Jeongguk’s resistance crumbled. He thinks it through for a while, head tilted to the right, before a lightbulb lights above his head.

“What about ‘invisible string’?”

Shaking his head, Jeongguk reaches for his phone, placed on top of the couch’s armrest, to look for the chords. “What’s with you and Taylor Swift lately?”

“Can’t a man enjoy his silly little country songs and music for wine moms?”

“Never said you couldn’t!” Jeongguk says, fighting the urge to cackle. “I’m just saying you’ve been listening to her music on loop since July.”

“It’s called therapy, Jeongguk. Look it up.”

“Whatever.”

He checks the chords a few times and plays the melody slowly until his fingers adjust to the strings. Jimin watches him fondly from the couch, filming him with his phone when he thinks Jeongguk isn’t looking.

“I think I got it,” Jeongguk announces. “But I don’t know the lyrics well.”

“Just sing the chorus; I don’t mind.”

Jeongguk bites his lip, hesitant, but he takes a deep breath and begins, the sweet melody shattering the comfortable silence that had fallen over the living room earlier. Jimin breaks instantly into a grin, and he drops his phone to the side to take his camera instead. He snaps a picture of Jeongguk before the boy starts singing.

Green was the color of the grass where I used to read in Centennial Park…”

Jimin snaps another picture, giggling when Jeongguk complains with a pout. Jimin is known for being the memory squirrel of their friend group, an avid collector of mementos, pictures, and videos from even the most ordinary events. It’s as though he’s scared of forgetting, given by the number of photo albums he owns filled with summer laughter and the nostalgia of their late-night strolls around the city.

Jeongguk can’t judge him, but it fascinates him. Jimin’s love for remembering is the complete opposite from his fear of the past— it terrifies him that he’ll look back to his most treasured moments and find nothing but mistakes, dirty looks, and signs that something was coming to an end right before his nose.

But isn’t it just so pretty to think all along there was some invisible string,” Jeongguk sings quietly, raising his eyes from the frets to stare at Jimin with a bashful smile.

When he looks back to all the days he’s shared with Jimin, however, he doesn’t feel shame burning his face. Certainly, there are a couple of embarrassing memories he’d like to forget, but he doesn’t regret anything. Maybe that’s the most magical thing about Jimin: how he turns every part of himself that Jeongguk wants to bury into a hilarious or fond anecdote. He’s forgiving where Jeongguk is the most demanding; a shoulder to lean on sent to Jeongguk by fate.

Jimin joins him for the last line of the chorus. “tying you to me?

Jeongguk meets Jimin’s eyes, two crescent moons sparking, and he swears they can illuminate the darkest nights better than any star ever did. He can’t understand why, how they manage to outshine a galaxy, but his heart shrinking a size tells him everything he needs to know.

Perhaps it’s love, what makes Jimin shine so brightly. It must be. Although the reasons don’t matter, not really— what matters is that Jeongguk is the only one who gets to bathe under Jimin’s moonlight.

 

The first thing that Jeongguk notices when he wakes up is that it’s too bright inside the room. His eyes are closed still, but the light is already bothering him, knocking on his door to get him out of bed. In response, he tightens his hold on Jimin’s waist, who’s sleeping soundly in his arms, and nuzzles the crook of his neck with his nose.

He hums contentedly, smacking his lips together before deciding to go back into Morpheus’ embrace. Jimin shifts a little, his cold foot travelling up and down Jeongguk’s calf since their legs are tangled. It sends a shiver down Jeongguk’s spine, but he’s too tired to push Jimin’s freezing limbs away.

He does sneak his hands inside Jimin’s shirt, though, a small revenge for disturbing him. Jimin gasps softly at the contrasting sensation, kicking Jeongguk’s leg by instinct.

“Mornin’, hyung,” Jeongguk mumbles against his neck.

“You’re cold,” Jimin complains.

Jeongguk presses his lips against Jimin’s skin. “You’re warm.”

Jimin isn’t faced by this action. He exposes his neck further, giving room for Jeongguk to leave feather-light kisses all over it. This kind of affection is natural for them, has been for years. Jeongguk loves kissing and Jimin adores the feeling of closeness they grant, the non-sexual intimacy. It was bound to happen.

When Jeongguk begins drawing circles in Jimin’s side, a hushed voice is heard from the hallway.

“Do you think we should try to wake them up again?”

The sound of the door sliding open just the slightest bit makes Jeongguk halt his movement.

“We probably should,” his mother says, “but they look so cute like this. I feel bad!”

Jeongguk shuts his eyes closed with more strength, as though it could make his parents go away.

“We need to leave, honey,” his father replies, “they need to be up.”

“Ah, you’re no fun…”

It goes quiet for a moment, giving Jeongguk false hope that they’ve silently left the room— and then he hears the camera clicking.

He sits up at the speed of lightning, pulling the bed sheets up to cover his exposed chest. “Mom, what are you doing?”

His mother is standing a step away from the edge of the bed with a scarf wrapped around her neck, holding her phone guiltily.

“Nothing!” She grins at Jeongguk. “Just letting you know we’re leaving to pick your aunts and shop for tomorrow’s lunch. We need you two to clean up the house before we arrive!”

Jeongguk groans, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. He gives a quick glance to Jimin, who’s curled into himself and fallen asleep again, and he sighs.

“Can’t Jeonghyun do it?”

“He’s picking up his girlfriend,” his father tells him. “He already left, but he probably won’t return until the evening. Neither won’t we.”

Jeongguk grunts once more. Stupid relatives and stupid packed roads and stupid holidays.

“Fine. I’ll wake hyung up in a second and get to it.”

“Thank you, darling,” his mother says, reaching to ruffle Jeongguk’s hair. He’s so exhausted already that he doesn’t even flinch. “Make sure you clean the courtyard too!”

Jeongguk falls back against the bed once his parents are out of sight, throwing an arm over his eyes. His body feels heavy with sleep and something else— existential dread, probably. He can already hear the screaming children, the bragging cousins, the judgmental uncles. His heart is killing itself now so he can survive when the time to face them arrives, and it hurts.

He sighs loudly and turns on his side to face Jimin. His cheeks are bloated, his putty lips jutted out and his hands curled into tiny fists around the sheets. It feels heartless to wake him up. A crime against humanity. Jeongguk would watch Jimin sleep for hours and never get tired; he looks far too beautiful, at peace. A wave of fondness washes over Jeongguk before he places his hand on his shoulder to shake Jimin awake, lightly.

“Hyung, we need to get up,” he says, voice low. “We have to clean up before my family arrives.”

“Five more minutes,” Jimin mumbles against the pillow.

“It’s already 11 am and we have to clean everything.”

“Including the courtyard?”

“Including the courtyard.”

Jimin puffs out air, pulling at his hair. “Fuck.”

Jeongguk can’t help but giggle. “C’mon, I’ll make us breakfast.”

(mood; it’s beginning to look a lot like christmas)

Cleaning the house is easier than Jeongguk thought, but he has the feeling that it’s Jimin who’s making it bearable. Despite him being still caught between the land of dreams and reality and the dark bags under his puffy eyes, he keeps making jokes, breaking out into fits of laughter at the most random times just to make Jeongguk smile.

After an hour, the living room is habitable again. It’s partly their fault that it was so messy; last night they left behind all their empty plates and containers after eating leftovers while watching a film. Jeongguk’s guitar was also laying around, as well as Jimin’s socks, for some reason. Now the place is rid of any obstacles and of the piled-up dust on the shelves.

Jimin is making a show of dancing tango with the broom, holding it into his arms passionately like he’s courting a lover. He’s quirking his brows exaggeratedly as he leans the broom down to the floor and takes its imaginary leg on his hands, and Jeongguk is rolling on the carpet with laughter, tears in his eyes.

“Stop fooling around!” he exclaims, making no actual effort to get up and take the broom away from Jimin. “We still have to clean the kitchen and the guest rooms, hyung.”

Jimin pouts, straightening his back and placing the broom against the wall. “Party-popper.”

Jeongguk blatantly ignores him and, with a roll of his eyes, he brushes past him to enter the kitchen, leaving a complaining Jimin behind. He goes straight to the refrigerator, knowing that his parents will need all the space they can get for when they return with endless bags of groceries. With a sigh, he begins taking out lunch boxes and kimchi containers (why the hell would his mother need so much kimchi?) to rearrange all of it neatly. He vaguely thanks the hours he spent playing Tetris as a child— they prepared him better for adult life than school ever did.

He’s so immersed in his task he doesn’t even notice Jimin left until he hears light footsteps approaching the kitchen.

“Jeongguk-ah, can you help me with something?”

Jeongguk hums, still giving his back to Jimin while he finishes putting the fruit drawer inside. Once he’s done, he walks up to him as he rolls up the sleeves of his hoodie, too focused to spare Jimin a look and therefore, unaware of his doings.

He sees the shit-eating grin first. And then he looks up.

No.”

“What is it?” Jimin asks innocently. “Do you have any problems? Are you perhaps… trapped?”

Jeongguk glares at Jimin. He tries to leave, but Jimin is quicker.

“Ah, no, no,” he grips his arm. “You stay right here until you pay off your debt.”

“You’re insane.”

Jimin’s smile only grows. He shakes the mistletoe he’s holding over their heads. “Give hyung a kiss, Jeongguk-ah.”

“Why would I do that?” Jeongguk asks with a grimace, his heart pounding loudly in his ears.

“You’ve done it before,” Jimin teases.

Jeongguk’s heart skips a beat. He pulls his arm, attempting to escape from Jimin. “That was different.”

“Far more dangerous than a kiss under the mistletoe, don’t you think?”

Jeongguk whimpers. He’s so embarrassed— his cheeks must be so red and Jimin is staring at him like he wants to eat him— but he likes it a little too much; the butterflies, the electricity sparking where his skin makes contact with Jimin. He’s always been drawn to this sensation, but he can’t let Jimin know, or else, he’ll never let him breath.

“Hyung, let me go.”

“Not without a kiss,” Jimin singsongs. He loosens his hold on Jeongguk, though, meeting his eyes with a question to make sure he’s not actually uncomfortable, and that might be the thing that fastens Jeongguk’s heartbeat the most.

He leans in and pecks Jimin’s lips at the speed of light, running away immediately. The elder’s whining comes a beat later, like he’d frozen in time for a second before catching up to what had happened.

Cleaning turns into a game of cat and mouse then, with Jimin trying to catch a sight of Jeongguk around the house while Jeongguk hides in all the spots he knows Jimin can never find. Needless to say, the sun sets, and the courtyard remains covered in snow and fallen leaves.

For once, Jeongguk is lucky that his parents like Jimin as much as they do, because it allows him to hide in the bathroom with the excuse of getting changed and ready for church while they trick Jimin into helping them with the groceries.

Jeongguk looks at his reflection in the mirror, reluctant. His hair is brushed back, slightly wavy and fixed with a tad of gel. He hasn’t dared put makeup on, but he kind of wishes he could hide his reddened cheeks with foundation. The outfit he’s wearing is nothing out of the extraordinary, just a white collared shirt under a knit sweater that reaches his knees, black slacks and dress shoes. It’s not his usual style, but if he were to dress the way he wants to, the whole town would talk about him for weeks.

Better be safe than sorry, he tells himself. It’s just two days, after all. By the 26th, he’ll have forgotten about any of this.

A knock on the door startles him. The person behind it must be Jimin, so he holds his breath, hoping that the lack of response will make him go away, but the boy just knocks again.

It’s not that Jeongguk is avoiding Jimin, but rather that he’s too ashamed to face him. He doesn’t understand what’s taken over his body to react like that to such a meaningless thing like a peck, when just that morning he’d held Jimin and kissed his neck repeatedly, but it’s killing him. He’s being reminded of events he’d thought he’d burned and buried its ashes, but suddenly roses with sharp thorns are growing out of that very same soil. Jimin’s voice telling him “it’s okay, Gguk-ah. We were both drunk. It means nothing” is fighting to resonate louder than the flashbacks of lips sliding against each other and wandering hands, but still, Jeongguk feels haunted. Facing Jimin again will only make him cry in the spot.

“Jeon Jeongguk! Open up or I will break every single one of your fingers,” Jimin threatens, knocking with more strength.

“I’m sorry, Jeongguk can’t come to the phone right now,” he replies in a strained voice.

“Fine, then I’ll leave a voicemail,” Jimin waits until Jeongguk makes a ‘beep’ sound to continue talking. “Jeongguk-ah, hyung is sorry for before. I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable. I thought you were okay with my teasing but it’s obvious that I was pushing you too hard and I apologize. Please don’t hate me; I like you too much for that.”

Jeongguk walks closer to the door and presses his forehead against the wood. “You didn’t make me uncomfortable,” he confesses. “But what you said made me overthink and now I’m embarrassed.”

“What did I say?”

“You said it wasn’t the first time I’d kissed you.”

“Oh,” Jimin says. “I really didn’t mean it like that, I was just trying to not make it seem like a big deal—”

“I know, I know!” Jeongguk is quick to say, not wanting Jimin to get the wrong idea. “It’s just that, well. I still regret that night. You know why.”

“I’ve told you a thousand times it’s okay, Jeongguk,” Jimin says, softly. “When will you stop punishing yourself for doing the things you want?”

“I shouldn’t have kissed you that night and you know it,” Jeongguk whispers, shutting his eyes closed. The electricity returns as he remembers, waking the butterflies up. Another reason why he’s ashamed— the butterflies haven’t left. They’re simply sleeping, waiting for Jimin to turn the lights on.

“I didn’t push you away,” Jimin replies. “It’s fine. Did it ruin our friendship? No. Did you catch unbearable feelings for me? No! Friends make out all the time, baby. It’s okay. I mean,” he chuckles. “Who wouldn’t want me?”

Jeongguk lets out a laugh, relief invading him. “You ruined the moment, hyung.”

“But I made you smile, didn’t I? That’s enough.” Jimin sounds so sure Jeongguk almost believes it— that his happiness is enough. “Come out, baby. We have a family to impress.”

The town’s church is fairly small compared to other churches, but that’s its charm. There’s nothing outstanding about it, honestly. It’s a building on top of a hill made of red brick with just two aisles and a narrow nave. The only beautiful thing it owns is the tiny dome in the transept, which is painted with shimmering gold and clear blue. It used to fascinate Jeongguk as a kid; he wondered how it was possible for a human to paint ceilings and make them steal your breath. Now that he’s close to graduating in Fine Arts, he knows exactly how it was done, but he still finds it hard to breathe when he looks at it.

He makes a mental note of giving Jimin a tour around the building before he leaves. They won’t be entering the church this evening, to Jeongguk’s request, but he doesn’t want to deprive Jimin of the experience. He’ll make time to show him.

Tonight, Jimin and Jeongguk watch a big portion of the town go inside the building while they hold the tiny hands of Jeongguk’s cousins’ children. They’re three kids, two boys and a girl in between five and eight years, and they have the strength of a category five hurricane. Once people are out of sight, they start chasing each other, running and screaming all over the place. Jimin and Jeongguk try to warn them to be careful and lower the volume, but it’s pointless. They’re mere spectators of the little kids’ show.

Leaning against the church’s wall with his feet crossed, Jimin chuckles. He rolls his neck to stare at Jeongguk.

“Wanna make a snowman?”

Jeongguk smirks. “How old are you, again?”

“Shut your mouth!” Jimin laughs, detaching himself from the bricks. “I’m freezing standing here! Entertain me a little, will you?”

“You want to play with snow because you’re cold?” Jeongguk asks, raising an eyebrow. “I’m failing to see the logic behind it.”

“Would you rather play tag with me?”

“The snowman sounds wonderful.”

Jimin bursts out laughing, trips on air and almost falls on his face if it were not for Jeongguk catching him at the last second. He smiles down at Jimin, whose cheeks and nose are the prettiest shade of red and he holds him tighter, still centimeters away from the floor.

“You should be more careful, Jimin-ssi,” Jeongguk teases in a low voice. “One would argue you’re a dancer in your free time with that balance.”

Jimin swallows. “Well, you know what they say about angels.”

“I’m dropping you,” Jeongguk deadpans. Jimin laughs loudly, trying to hold onto Jeongguk as the boy lets him down into the snow and successfully pulling him down with him. “You fucker—!”

In a second, they’re rolling on the ground, wrestling while their hair and coats get dirty with fresh snow. Jeongguk feels like he can’t breathe, but it’s not suffocating. Jimin simply made his heart grow so much it doesn’t fit in his ribcage anymore.

He’s currently attempting to straddle Jeongguk, taking advantage of his fit of laughter, but he’s struggling to get out of Jeongguk’s grasp around his left wrist. He ends up losing balance again and slamming his face against Jeongguk’s chest, dissolving into giggles as a result.

“Remember when you asked me how old I was?” Jimin places his palm over Jeongguk’s heart. Can he feel how fast it’s beating? “I think I found the answer.”

“How old?” Jeongguk asks, breathless.

“We’re both three. Haven’t even started school,” he says, unable to stop his laughter. “We’re so fucking dumb, oh my God.”

Jeongguk snorts, throwing his head back. He slips his arms around Jimin’s waist and flips them around without a warning, eliciting a small gasp from Jimin when he feels the snow against his back.

Jeongguk grins at Jimin. His hair is falling into his eyes, and Jimin pushes it away a few times before he realizes he can’t fight gravity.

“Hey.”

Jimin tilts his head. “Hm?”

“Do you want to see the stars? I know a place.”

Jimin breaks into a smile. Staring into Jeongguk's eyes, he brings a hand up and caresses his cheek with his thumb. “I’m already seeing them.”

“What—?” his eyes widen comically when he realizes what Jimin means. “Hyung,” he whines, turning his head to the side. “You’re so corny.”

Jimin’s body shakes with laughter. “I saw the chance and I took it,” he pokes Jeongguk’s cheek. “C’mon, show me those stars, baby.”

(mood; epiphany — taylor swift)

Jeongguk collects the children, forcing them to link their arms together and hold Jimin’s hand at all times, before they start walking down the hill and into the small forest next to it. They follow a narrow path that has thankfully been cleared of snow, and they end up in a quiet clearing that the clouds seem to have forgotten to cover. It’s been Jeongguk’s favorite spot since he was a teen; he used to sneak out with his friends every summer night just to make wishes to the stars— a lovely replacement for the emptiness God left when he abandoned Jeongguk, although now that he’s older, he wonders if he was ever there.

He shakes his head, not wanting to fall into depressing thoughts. Those are for the nights he spends alone. Now that Jimin’s here, he wants to focus on him only, on how cared and loved he is. One day, he’ll go inside the church they just left behind and demand God answers until he explains why he took his grandparents away from him during the hardest year of his life, but it won’t be today.

“We don’t have a blanket or anything, but we don’t need to lay down all the time,” he explains, fidgeting with the buttons of his coat. “Just for a second. I promise the sky looks far more beautiful than when you stare at it while standing.”

Jimin shrugs, crouching down. “I don’t mind a little cold.”

Jeongguk suppresses the reply on his tongue, not wanting to argue with Jimin. It’s a fact that he has very low resistance to low temperatures, but if he insists he’s fine, Jeongguk doesn’t stand a chance against his stubborn friend. He scoots a little closer to him when they’re finally lying on the ground, legs and arms spread, so he can interlace their fingers together.

The kids have sat down too, a few meters to their side. They’re chatting excitedly about the sky, pointing at the stars and arguing about constellations, even though Jeongguk is positive five out of six constellations they’re mentioning are made up.

“Jeongguk-ah, this is beautiful,” Jimin says, squeezing his fingers. He sounds a million miles away, voice dreamy. Jeongguk can’t see his eyes, but he’s sure that they’re sparkling. “I love it.”

“I’m glad to hear that, hyung.”

“Do you ever think about your ancestors?” Jimin asks. Jeongguk turns his face towards him, but Jimin is still staring at the sky, his mouth agape. “About the things that crossed their minds when they saw the stars?”

“Not really, no. You know I don’t have a good relationship with spirits.”

“Right,” Jimin chuckles. “Still convinced that ghosts haunted the hanok, huh?”

“Not anymore,” Jeongguk replies nonchalantly. “I think my mom’s kindness scared them away. What about you, though? Do you think about it often?”

Jimin hums. “Remember I told you both of my grandfathers died in the war? They both died during the night, one from the cold and the other from starvation.”

“Shit, that’s…”

“Yeah. So I always wonder if they were looking at the stars when it happened. If they made a wish, and if they did, what kind of wish it was. Like, did they pray? Did they beg for health for their wives and children? Or maybe they wished for one more day on Earth, to tie all the loose ends,” he lowers his voice. “I wish I could talk to them.”

Jeongguk swallows the lump in his throat. He always talks about how big Jimin’s heart is, but right here, he remembers.

“You know, I think I saw a shooting star earlier. You could make a wish if you want.”

Jimin lets out a chuckle. “Only if you make one too.”

For a while, it’s quiet as they scan the night sky to find any shooting stars. Jeongguk’s hand is on top of Jimin’s chest, and Jimin slides his rings into Jeongguk’s fingers, laughing at how loosely they fit because they’re slimmer than his. When he finally spots a star, he squeezes Jeongguk’s hand and yelps to warn him.

Jeongguk watches Jimin close his eyes and move his lips in a silent wish. After he’s done, Jimin turns for the first time on his side to face Jeongguk, only to smile amusingly when he finds the younger’s eyes already on him.

“What did you wish for?” he asks, leaving a faint kiss on Jeongguk’s knuckles.

“If I tell you, it won’t come true.”

Jimin smiles. “You’re right. We should get back, by the way. Mass must be over by now.”

Jeongguk’s gaze stays on Jimin while he shakes the snow off him and trots to where the kids are still arguing about galaxies and rabbits on the moon, and he can’t help the smile that takes over his lips.

He forgot to make a wish, but looking at Jimin, right in front of him, he doesn’t think he needed to, anyway.

Christmas is always cruel to Jeongguk, but this year it’s particularly ruthless. For starters, he wakes up to an empty bed, and an even emptier feeling in his stomach. He fell asleep in Jimin’s arms, but the side of the mattress where he slept last night is cold now.

He sits up faster than he should, and stars blur his vision. He wants to call Jimin’s name out, but his throat is dry and his words aren’t cooperating either. His cheeks burn with shame at the thought of getting startled over such a pointless thing, but he can’t stop the panic from surging through him, leaving him paralyzed.

He can hear the distant voices of his family coming from the living room. Is it just his parents and his brother, or did the rest of them arrive? Will he have to face them first thing in the morning, stealing from him the time he needs to mentally prepare himself for it? Is he really that unlucky?

His bedroom door opens then, and he holds his breath, expecting the worse.

“Yah, why are you looking at me like that? Am I a ghost?”

Jimin is standing in front of him, wearing one of Jeongguk’s hoodies, basketball shorts and a pair of red socks with a snowflake pattern. From his index and middle finger hangs a small paper bag with a white bow in the middle.

“I thought—” Jeongguk gulps. “I thought you’d left.”

“Why would I leave?”

Because I stared at you for so long last night I was scared you knew and I freaked you out.

Jeongguk shrugs. He doesn’t even know what he thought Jimin would be weirded out by, but he can’t shake the feeling— and neither explain it. “I don’t know. I just had a bad dream.”

Jimin smiles, understanding. “Well, I have something that will cheer you up for sure,” he shakes the bag he’s holding. “Merry Christmas, baby.”

Jeongguk’s mouth falls open. “Oh- is that for me?”

Jimin nods, taking a step closer to the bed. “A present for my favorite boy.”

Groaning, Jeongguk hides his flushed face behind his hands. “Shut up.”

“I also got your parents something. They’re waiting for you in the living room to open it.”

Jeongguk bites his lip. “It’s just them, right? No other family members.”

“Just your brother and his girlfriend, so you better get dressed.”

Once Jeongguk has thrown on a hoodie, he and Jimin leave his room hand in hand, since Jimin insisted they need to look more like a couple. Jeongguk wants to argue that the reason why they’re currently in this situation is exactly the fact that they already appear to be boyfriends in the eyes of anyone who stares at them for more than five minutes, but he can’t risk his family hearing it. They just need to pretend for a few more days; he can’t ruin it now.

Jeongguk sits down on the loveseat while Jimin settles on his lap, promptly ignoring the weirded out look Jeongguk’s older brother gives him. He makes Jeongguk’s parents open their gifts first and watches with a wide grin how Jeongguk’s mother gasps at the sight of a beautiful pair of earrings. Jeongguk’s dad swears he’ll go outside every day just to wear his new set of gloves, knitted by Jimin himself, and he swears that he can consider himself a part of the Jeon family from now on. Jimin blushes at the comment, and Jeongguk leaves a faint kiss on his shoulder in response. His own way of welcoming him home.

Then it’s his turn to open his gift. With all the care in the world, he unties the lace bow and digs into the paper bag, taking out a medium sized wooden box with a golden bronze lock. Jeongguk quirks a brow at Jimin, but the boy gestures at him to go on and open it, not accepting any questions. Inside, Jeongguk finds a brand-new set of Chinese ink with two brushes, an inkstone and a stick to produce the ink.

“Hyung, I- I don’t know what to say,” he admits in a low voice, wet with emotion. “This is perfect.”

Jimin cups Jeongguk’s cheek. “You don’t have to say anything. Just make me a beautiful painting with it, okay?”

Jeongguk chuckles, shaking his head. What did he do in his past life to deserve Jimin?

“I’d paint you the universe if you asked me, hyung,” he says softly. “Which reminds me— I have something for you, too.”

He rushes to his bedroom, sliding against the wood floor with his socks to gain speed. There, he takes a flat package from inside his backpack and runs back to the living room, panting like an excited puppy.

He stretches his arms out to Jimin, handing him the gift. “This is for you.”

His heart is beating so quickly it might jump out of his chest. He’s been overthinking about this ever since he came up with the idea of giving it to Jimin, but he wanted to do something nice for his friend in return for all he’d done for Jeongguk throughout the year. This was the sincerest thing he could find, a piece of his soul engraved into grainy paper.

“This is a portrait of me,” Jimin says, staring dumbfoundedly at the art piece.

“Yeah,” Jeongguk breathes. “I did it the night you came over to watch that Cold War documentary. You were so invested in it you didn’t even notice I took out my watercolors.”

Jimin lifts his eyes to look at Jeongguk. They’re filled with blooming tears, but there’s something else behind them. It’s an emotion Jeongguk can’t quite place, but it knocks the air out of him.

“Thank you so much, Jeongguk-ah,” he whispers, “this means the world to me.”

“It’s the least I could do.”

Jimin seems to want to say something else, but Jeongguk’s brother clapping and getting up from the couch startles them both, stealing Jimin’s words away from them.

“Well, that was nice, but now we need to get ready for lunch with the family. They’ll be here at any minute.”

“Right,” Jeongguk’s mother agrees, also raising to her feet. “They’ll be here early so we can visit your grandparents’ grave before the sun sets, so there’s no time to waste,” she turns to Jeongguk. “You two get dressed and then help set the table, yeah? We’ll do the rest.”

Jeongguk’s fingers tremble the entire time he tries— and fails— to button up his dress shirt and put on his tie. Eventually, Jimin slaps his hands away and ties the knot himself, straightening Jeongguk’s collar more times than necessary.

Jimin’s outfit is flawless, as always. Wine-colored slacks and a pristine white shirt hug his slim body in all the right places, and there’s not a single hair out of place. Jimin makes Renaissance paintings look worthless next to him, and that might be one of the things Jeongguk loves the most about him— there’s nothing striking about the clothes Jimin is wearing, but the way he holds himself turns them into artwork.

“Jeongguk-ah, look at me,” Jimin pronounces his name with tender authority. He grabs his face although Jeongguk refuses to meet his gaze. “It’s all going to be okay.”

“How can you be so sure, hyung?”

“You have me.”

“You sure are a sweet talker, hyung,” Jeongguk rolls his eyes, hoping to take Jimin’s attention away from his reddening face.

Jimin smiles mischievously, pulling at Jeongguk’s tie. “It works every time, so...”

“I’m just scared my family will be too harsh on you. I don’t mind them saying mean things about me, but it’s different if it’s you.”

“I can defend myself, baby. You don’t have to worry about hyung. Plus, it’s only a few hours; they’ll be gone in no time.”

They resume getting ready leisurely, taking advantage of the privacy Jeongguk’s family has granted them for being ‘a couple of lovebirds’. Jeongguk wanted to crawl into a hole and die when he heard his mother say that, but he has to admit he’s enjoying the time alone with Jimin.

He’s braiding a small portion of Jimin’s hair out of boredom when he hears the shoes hitting the wood at the front door. The intricate design of Jimin’s braid dissolves into Jeongguk’s trembling fingers, and Jimin turns around, eyebrows knitted with worry.

“They’re here,” Jeongguk announces uselessly.

“Yeah, sounds like it,” Jimin breathes. He touches Jeongguk’s elbow, careful. “Are you ready?”

Jeongguk bites the inside of his cheek. Truthfully, he’s far from it. Nevertheless, he has to believe. The world isn’t ending, and if it is, at least he’ll spend the last day on Earth with his twin flame.

“I’m ready.”

Introducing your special other to your family is as awkward as Jeongguk expected, even if Jimin and him are just faking it. Jeongguk’s aunt spends the longest five minutes of Jeongguk’s life gushing over how handsome Jimin is. He has the perfect features, she swears. How could Jeongguk have possibly ended up with someone as gorgeous as Jimin?

Ah, the beauty of back-handed compliments.

It feels as though Jeongguk’s relatives come in never-ending waves. He’s lost count of the times he and Jimin have bowed politely at the entrance and Jeongguk has had to go through the excruciating introduction to his boyfriend. When the last of his father’s brothers arrives with his picture-perfect family, they transcend into a parallel universe from how relieved they are.

It’s loud at the table, far louder than it should be considered acceptable in the eyes of the law. His uncles talk in yells, his aunts and female cousins argue in high-pitched voices and the children, much like yesterday, can’t keep still. Jeongguk sits by Jimin’s side wearing a tense smile that never leaves his lips— a sign of the anxiety buzzing through him. Jimin keeps stealing glances at him, still carrying the tumultuous worry behind his gaze that submerges Jeongguk in guilt.

This trip was supposed to be enjoyable, a getaway car from city life and an excuse to spend more time with Jimin, because, for some reason Jeongguk cannot (or hasn’t tried to) fathom, being separated from Jimin leaves him physically aching, longing for touches he wasn’t aware he needed until they’re gone. However, it’s being everything but comforting. Jeongguk feels like a burden Jimin has to carry around, a kid he has to entertain so he doesn’t break into tears at any given moment because he’s unstable. Now, he’s dragged him into a family reunion with people that aren’t his family— hell, they don’t even feel like blood for Jeongguk. And still, Jimin’s enduring, giving Jeongguk his most tender smiles when nobody’s looking.

The sentence replays itself like a prayer inside of his mind. He doesn’t deserve it, he doesn’t deserve it, he doesn’t—

“Jeongguk-ah,” his oldest cousin, Minhee, calls his name for the first time since they got here, which was almost an hour ago now. “How’s school going? Still doing your art thing?”

Everyone on the table gives Jeongguk their attention, cutting his breath short. He nods. “I’ll start my third year in March. So far it’s been going great.”

“Jeongguk is crazy talented,” Jimin buts in, back straight and smile golden. “He’s had his work displayed in plenty of galleries already; very impressive, if you ask me.”

Minhee lifts her brow with questioning amusement. “And what do you study, Jimin?”

Jimin taps lightly the corners of his lips with a napkin and then folds it neatly on the right side of his plate. “I’m majoring in Developmental psychology. I want to work with children with developmental delays in the future.”

“Ah, that explains why the kids listened so well to you!” Jeongguk’s mother exclaims, grinning. “You’re a natural.”

Jimin chuckles, the tips of his ears turning red. “Well, I don’t think that has much to do with it, eomoni…”

“Well, I’m sure your career will be prosperous, Jimin-ssi,” Minhee’s husband says. “It’s hard to find young people that follow achievable goals instead of letting their heads wander off in the clouds.”

“You could just say you think my major is stupid, Seungjun,” Jeongguk says in a dark tone, his eyes fixed on his untouched soup that’s going cold in front of him. “We all know what you mean.”

“Ah, Jeongguk-ah, don’t be like this!” his aunt adds, waving a dismissive hand in the air. “You know we just want the best for you.”

“Then you should be glad I’m studying something that makes me happy,” he replies, gritting his teeth. His knuckles are turning white around his spoon.

“Happiness won’t secure a roof under your head.”

“Oh, please, leave the kid alone!”

Jeongguk shoots Jimin a look, apology in his eyes, but Jimin shakes his head slowly, rejecting it. Under the table, he takes Jeongguk’s hand in his and interlocks their fingers over Jeongguk’s thigh. Reassuring, tight. And warm, so warm Jeongguk thinks he might melt. He feels tears stinging at his eyes, and it only makes him feel more stupid. He should be used to it, after all; it’s been the hot topic since he moved to Seoul. All his family ever talks about is his dead grandparents and Jeongguk’s academic failure. They mention him like he was a ghost, a lost kid that couldn’t find his way back into the right path— very Christian of them, if you ask him. But no matter how much he hears it, it never stops hurting like it’s a fresh wound.

Eomoni,” Jimin’s loud and clear voice shuts down Jeongguk’s arguing family. “Don’t you think it’s time to take out the meat? I’ll help you get it.”

Jeongguk’s mother looks slightly out of place, but she gets up and follows Jimin into the kitchen, leaving everyone mumbling about how hungry they are, Jeongguk’s life choices long forgotten.

“Jimin seems like a nice boy,” one of his uncles says. “Your friend is very well-mannered, Jeongguk-ah.”

“Boyfriend,” he says. The lie tastes bitter in his tongue. “He’s my boyfriend.”

His uncle grimaces, but he doesn’t say anything. Before Jeongguk can sigh tiredly, one of his cousins breaks the uncomfortable silence.

“So, how did you two meet?”

The question doesn’t take Jeongguk by surprise. While he and Jimin were buying the train tickets, they made up a story about their relationship. Of course, Jeongguk let Jimin get away with the narrative that Jeongguk was the one hopelessly pining for him until he confessed his undying love for Jimin one night under the stars. Today, Jeongguk skips the fantasy and simply gives out the basic details.

“Our parents are friends,” he explains, the tip of his nose rose-colored. “We’ve been close friends since we were little, but I guess that college changed how I saw Jimin hyung. We’ve been dating for over a year now.”

Jeongguk catches his father smiling fondly from the opposite corner of the table. In comparison with his mother, he hasn’t talked or asked much about their relationship since the first time they all ate dinner together. He’s not sure why that is, but he’s glad that at least he approves of them. Unlike Jimin, Jeongguk doesn’t feel a deep-rooted conexion to his family, but he’s far from hating them. If any of his parents were to be anything but supportive, like they have been so far, Jeongguk’s heart would take a long time to heal.

Jimin and his mother return then, each holding a tray with raw meat ready to be grilled, and the spotlight is withdrawn from Jeongguk, allowing him to breathe. After the trays are placed on each side of the table, Jimin sits again next to Jeongguk and flashes him a sunny smile.

“Is everything okay?”

Jeongguk doesn’t know why the air has been kicked out of his lungs, nor why he feels like he’s bathing under the sun rays and the moonlight simultaneously.

He’s burning sweetly when he replies, “Now that you’re here, yes.”

He wonders if Jimin feels engulfed by the flames too. If he understands what they mean, and if he would be willing to explain it to Jeongguk. Why a fire feels like home.

“I’m not going anywhere, love.”

It starts snowing a few hours after Jeongguk’s parents return to the house from the cemetery. Jeongguk and Jimin stayed back again, taking care of the children that were so loud the adults were scared they’d wake up the dead.

It’s a pleasant evening, one where Jeongguk has no choice but to agree with his mother when she says Jimin is good with kids. His giggles are almost as deafening as the children’s, and definitely twice as lovely. The four of them made a snowman in the courtyard with Jeongguk’s help and curled Jimin’s scarf around him after naming him Mr. Chimmy. Later, Jimin chased them around the house and prepared hot cocoa to drink as they waited for the kids’ parents to take them back home.

After they do, Jeongguk tries his best to distract himself and ignore two things: one is the fact that his parents won’t stop sharing anecdotes of his grandmother, saying how they can still hear her laughter around the house and that that’s probably the reason why the flowers in her grave haven’t dried yet; and two, the tingling sensation running like electricity all over his limbs whenever Jimin’s shoulders or hands brush against him. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked so far.

He has just finished beating Taehyung at an iMessage game when he receives a text from Hoseok. It’s a picture captioned with almost a dozen question marks, which raises all the red flags inside Jeongguk’s mind. It takes a while to load, since the Internet connection in the village works slower than snails walk.

When it downloads, Jeongguk clicks on it to expand it. It’s a screenshot of a tweet by Jeongguk’s ex-girlfriend, a rant about how happy she is with her new partner. It would mean nothing if it weren’t for the last line: “it’s what I deserve. Ladies, never date assholes who don’t love you back. They ain’t worth the effort.

Jeongguk feels like he swallowed a brick. He can’t breathe, much less think straight, and— fuck. Fuck, he can’t breathe.

“Hyung,” he croaks out. Jimin immediately raises his head, startled by Jeongguk’s tone. Jeongguk passes him his phone wordlessly.

“What’s—? Oh. You think this is about you?”

Jeongguk gulps. “I’m the last person she dated, so yeah.”

Jimin bites his lip. “Do you—” he trails off, hesitating when his eyes travel all over Jeongguk’s face. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Jeongguk shakes his head in panic, hiccupping.

“Jeongguk-ah…”

Jimin is aware of how hard their break-up was for Jeongguk. Chae argued that Jeongguk never paid her an ounce of his attention, that he didn’t love her like she deserved— and it was all true. That’s what haunts Jeongguk, that no matter how hard he tries, all his relationships end the same way. He’s never enough for them, can never love hard enough no matter how hard he tries to meet their adoration for him. It’s like… it’s almost as if…

“Do you think I’m broken?” he asks Jimin, pleading for a sincere answer.

Jimin’s shoulders slump, defeated. “Let’s go for a walk.”

“But it’s snowing.”

“Then tighten your scarf. You need fresh air, Gguk-ah.”

Arguing with Jimin is an impossible task, so Jeongguk has no option but to follow him, always two steps behind, outside the house and down the hill where the house stands.

Jimin is eerily quiet, considering Jeongguk has been crying the whole time they’ve been out. Usually, he would’ve ambushed Jeongguk, wrapped his arms around him and pampered him with love and affection before sitting down to have a heart-to-heart talk about what was bothering him. Tonight, he’s almost… cold. As though Jeongguk’s whining is bothering him. Jeongguk wants to hide.

They walk in silence for a while, not really caring where they’re going. Jimin doesn’t know his way around Jeongguk’s town, but the snow is falling incessantly, turning the scenery into a blur. They eventually end up next to the church, close to the forest where they watched the stars, which are now concealed behind the storm, just yesterday.

Jimin’s steps come to a halt before a bench, and he wordlessly begins to push away the snow accumulated on top of it, but it’s to no use— the bench is wet and snowflakes are falling so quickly they’ll be covered by it in a second. So, he extends his gloved hand out to Jeongguk and tilts his head.

“Let’s walk a little more while you tell me what’s wrong, okay?”

Jeongguk nods curtly, sniffling. He interlocks his fingers with Jimin's and shivers at the contrast between the warmth of his wool gloves and his freezing hand. The perfect oxymoron.

“I don’t know where to start,” Jeongguk admits. “I- it’s a lot.”

“Why don’t you start explaining why you are crying? I thought you were over Chae.”

Jeongguk tries to laugh bitterly, but it gets caught up in his throat. “There was nothing to be over, hyung. That’s the problem.”

“I’m not following.”

Jeongguk sighs. “She was right, in her tweet. I never loved her. Jesus, I’m not even sure if I liked her as much as I thought I did. And it fucking sucks because it happens all the damn time.”

“That you don’t fall in love with the people you date?”

“Yeah. It’s like,” Jeongguk gestures vaguely with his free hand, but he drops it to his side, frustrated when he can’t find the right words. “I don’t know. It’s like I’m broken.”

Jimin stops walking, pulling Jeongguk’s arm to catch his attention. When Jeongguk looks at him, Jimin’s stare is hard, his eyes sharp like knives yet so full of pain, a reflection of Jeongguk’s.

“Don’t ever say that.”

“But it’s true, hyung,” Jeongguk argues, desperation clear in his strained voice. “I can never love people the way they need me to love them. I try to get on the same level as them, give them all I have, but it’s never enough because I don’t feel it and it’s so fucking frustrating. I can never love hard enough, I can never reciprocate no matter how hard I try. And it makes me feel like I’ll never find love because I don’t deserve it. If I can’t love people, who could ever want me?”

Jimin takes a step forward, invading Jeongguk’s personal space. He grabs Jeongguk’s collar, forcing the younger to make eye contact with him.

“Listen to me, Jeon Jeongguk.” He pokes an accusatory finger in his chest. “You deserve love, you hear me? You deserve to hear the loveliest words and to feel the warmest touches, and, one day, you’ll find someone who sings a song only you can hear,” he takes a shuddering breath. “But even if that never happens, I’ll love you.”

Jimin takes the sides of Jeongguk’s face and holds him firmly, so close Jeongguk can feel Jimin’s words caressing his skin. “Even if you never find that someone, even if you give up on trying to find them— I’ll be here. I will always love you with all I have.”

Jeongguk gasps, feeling every hair in his body rise up as his eyes well up with tears when Jimin’s lips press against his forehead. Jimin hides the meaning of the word ‘determination’ behind his pupils, which are slightly shaking as he stares deep into Jeongguk. It almost feels as though Jimin can reach into his soul and reveal every secret inside Jeongguk’s heart, which skips a beat at the realization that he’d willingly let Jimin learn everything about him— if there’s anything he doesn’t know yet. Jeongguk doubts it.

He’s aware that he should be saying something, that the silence is dragging for far too long now, but he’s trapped under Jimin’s touch and his gaze. The realization falls over Jeongguk like a veil, starting from the caught-up breath in his throat and expanding to his face, flushed where Jimin’s fingertips come into contact with it.

Jeongguk could ask Jimin to say those words again. He could— he could take a step forward, get closer to him and let his eyes fall to Jimin’s lips and ask him to say it again. Say that he’ll always love him, repeat the loveliest words Jeongguk has ever heard.

He could take the hands on his face and place them on his chest, right over his heart, or tangle them up in his hair, just to feel the warmest of touches.

And— oh. Jeongguk could actually just… lean in and kiss Jimin. It’d be that simple, to brush their lips together, ask Jimin to be his, at least for the weekend, and hear the song that he’s been ignoring his whole life.

But instead he tears his eyes away from his friend. Swallowing his unbearable feelings, he takes a step back and fixes his gaze on the snow.

“We should get back, hyung. It’s getting cold.”

As they walk back to the house in silence, Jeongguk wonders if cruel winters are gelid enough to break someone’s heart.

Chapter Text

(mood; sweet night — v)

Jimin vaguely registers a pair of hands softly shaking him awake. His head is spinning, sharp pain drilling into his skull as though he’d gotten drunk last night, which is far from the truth. Looking back at it, Jimin almost wishes he had. Maybe that would’ve erased all the words that should’ve never left his mouth.

“Hyung,” Jeongguk’s voice comes in a raspy whisper, giving him goosebumps. “Watch the sunrise with me.”

Jimin groans, hiding his face under his pillow. “No.”

“Please, please, please,” Jeongguk whines. He throws his leg on top of Jimin and places his head in the crook of Jimin’s neck. “The sky looks so pretty right now. Let’s climb to the roof and watch it from there.”

“But it’s cold,” Jimin argues, even though he can feel himself slowly giving up. He can try to fool himself all he wants, but nothing will ever change the fact that he’s unable to deny Jeongguk anything.

“We can take the blanket with us. And it’ll be just a few minutes, hyung, I promise.”

Jimin turns around, sighing in defeat. It takes him a few seconds to adjust his eyes to the light in the room, but when the colors return to his vision he’s faced with the most familiar sight— Jeongguk staring down at him with a small smile, his bunny teeth peeking out, and starry eyes. Jimin’s heart makes a triple toe loop.

“Fine,” he says, frowning in fake annoyance. “But if I get sick, it’s your fault.”

Jeongguk laughs. Jimin feels like his heart just won the Grand Prix. “You won’t, I promise. Now hurry up! We’ll miss it.”

They scramble off bed and wrap themselves in Jeongguk’s winter blankets since their coats are still by the entrance, hanging from the rack. Jimin follows Jeongguk through the hall in his tiptoes, careful to not wake anyone up, until they reach an empty storage room. From there, they easily climb to one of the roof’s wings that covers the courtyard, and they settle down, albeit with a little effort.

“Jeon Jeongguk,” Jimin whisper-yells, “you’re insane. We’re going to die.”

“I’ve done this a thousand times!” Jeongguk exclaims, holding onto one of the tiles to support his weight as he sits down. “You’re just a scaredy cat, hyung.”

“Sorry for not wanting to die?”

Jeongguk snorts, but the conversation dies until they’re sitting down side to side comfortably. They’re slightly shivering, and their breaths can be seen, but Jimin can’t deny that it’s worth it. The clouds cover the sky like a thick curtain, cotton candy painted tangerine orange and pink. The sun is yet to be seen, hidden behind the clouds, but a few rays filter through them, like stage spotlights during a solo performance.

It’s breathtaking.

“I can’t feel my hands,” Jeongguk confesses after a while, leaning his head on Jimin’s shoulders. Jimin places his arm around Jeongguk’s waist instinctively.

Jimin interlocks their pinkies together. He swears he hears Jeongguk’s breath hitch, but it must be his mind playing tricks on him. “There. I won’t hold it because mine are as cold as yours, but imagine I’m passing all my warmth to you.”

Jeongguk chuckles, tearing his eyes away from the sky to look up at Jimin with quirked brows. “I don’t think bodies work like that.”

“They do because I say so,” Jimin says, lifting his chin pridefully. “Who’s the science student here, huh?”

Jeongguk clicks his tongue, laughing as he nuzzles closer to Jimin. “Whatever you say, babe.”

“Have I ever told you you’re a brat?”

“Multiple times, but I think you like that a little too much, hyung.”

Jimin scoffs, thankful that the clouds are stealing all the attention away from his reddening cheeks. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Jeongguk lets go of Jimin’s pinky to slide his palm over the back of Jimin’s hand and lace their fingers together. Jimin feels his smile on his shoulder.

“It’s better that you don’t,” he mutters. In a louder voice, he adds, “The sky has turned golden now. Isn’t it beautiful?”

Jimin looks at the boy in his arms. Time slows down, granting him the opportunity to admire every detail, from the scar in his cheek and his long eyelashes to the dip of his Cupid’s bow and his lower lip that is much bigger than the upper, and— God. Jimin desperately wants to lean down and kiss him.

He could really do it if he wanted to, and that might be the most heartbreaking thing of it all. How they’ve blurred out the lines of their relationship so much that Jeongguk could freak out about a kiss under the mistletoe but not even blink twice if Jimin kissed him right there, in the most vulnerable hours of the day.

Jimin’s soul sinks to the bottom of the ocean. He’s reminded of all those fairytales that were written to stray children away from possible danger, but he can’t think of one that warned kids about the risks of falling for their best friend.

“Yeah,” he says, eyes fixed on the younger’s face. “Gorgeous.”

Jimin feels heavy, like he’s supporting the entire weight of the world in his shoulders— a divine punishment for his crimes. As if this morning he woke up feeling more, with newfound emotions that clogged his senses, making it impossible to think about anything but Jeongguk.

Have they always been there? Is it possible that he’s felt this way for so long he forgot he was in love with his best friend? Or does loving Jeongguk just feel so right he didn’t even notice?

He swallows, blinking the tears away. The sun has finally risen.

Jeongguk has fallen asleep on his shoulder now. Jimin doesn’t know if he should be glad that he’s unaware of Jimin’s inner hurricane, or if that should become another reason for heartache. Maybe if it hurts enough he could visit a doctor, beg for a cure.

Maybe then he would forget.

 

 

After they climb down, they go back to bed and sleep until lunch time. Last night must’ve worn Jeongguk out too; Jimin sees dark circles like his own when they stare at each other in the bathroom’s mirror as they brush their teeth. Jeongguk’s shoulders are slumped and his hair falls flat over his forehead, a rare sight these days.

Jimin pushes his intrusive thoughts to the back of his mind to play his role as the hyung, initiating the Jeongguk Needs A Hug operation. Whenever Jeongguk is sad, nothing else matters until he’s giggling softly again in Jimin’s arms. At some point during his teenage years, Jimin realized he struggled showing affection through his words. Unlike some of his friends, like Taehyung and Namjoon, who were born to be poets, Jimin choked up trying to say a simple ‘I love you’. He’s certainly gotten better now, but he still prefers showing his love through actions and gifts.

When it comes to Jeongguk, physical affection is his go-to. It helps that Jimin seems to fit right into Jeongguk’s arms, but it took them a few attempts to get it right. After long nights of talking and discussing their preferences, Jeongguk and Jimin found the key to the door that led to the perfect dynamic.

 Of course, there have been moments where they’ve stepped over their boundaries, times where one of them has leaned in too close to be considered friendly and when they’ve touched each other with the right intentions but the wrong desires. But they’ve never talked about it.

Perhaps that’s their current issue. They’ve been filling a pot with unresolved tension and unspoken words, and now it’s burst. It’s up to them to put the pieces back together, but Jimin doesn’t know how to. He doesn’t even know if Jeongguk feels the same— although he wants to believe.

Despite Jimin’s efforts to trick Jeongguk into cuddling him on the couch, Jeongguk’s parents have different plans.

“Boys, we have to go to the city this afternoon,” his mother announces while they’re cleaning the table. “Why don’t you come with us? I think you could use some time away from these old walls.”

Jimin is about to come up with an excuse to stay in, but Jeongguk is quicker to reply.

“Actually, I’d love that. I ran out of white paint and I wanted hyung to help me with a project before he left.”

Right, the painting. Jeongguk had mentioned it on the train, but Jimin was only half listening, too exhausted to give him his full attention. He vaguely remembers agreeing to model for Jeongguk, but the details about the project are blurry.

“You can go to the mall with your father while Jiminie and I go to the Christmas market,” she suggests, looking at Jimin with one eyebrow raised to seek a confirmation. The way she arches her brow reminds Jimin so much of Jeongguk he wants to bawl. “If that’s okay with you.”

“Of course, eomoni,” Jimin displays his brightest grin. “I’d love that.”

They leave two hours later. Jimin and Jeongguk squeeze in the back of the old family car and brace themselves as best as they can while Jeongguk's father drives through the town's road, which is bumpy and abandoned to the point it looks like it could take someone to the end of the world. During the ride, they stumble across a giant sign that reads "your navigator app lied to you! This road leads to a cliff, not the beach! Turn around". Jimin and Jeongguk laugh for the rest of the trip, hugging their sides and wiping tears away.

Small details like this remind Jimin where exactly they are, and how different his childhood was from Jeongguk's. Jimin grew up exclusively in Busan while Jeongguk was constantly going back and forth from their apartment in the city to his grandparents’ house. That was the main reason why they never saw each other during the summer. They spent only one summer together, a blissful week in Jeongguk's hometown, much like this one, but surrounded by green grass instead of snow.

It was Jimin's last year in high school. The atmosphere during the entire trip was filled with an unspoken agreement to make the most out of it, since Jimin would leave for Seoul in December, and wouldn't have time (nor money) to visit Busan often. Jimin's memories from those golden days still bring a nostalgic smile to his face whenever he listens to the songs they danced to together the last night he was there, a wordless goodbye.

Now, he wishes he could walk around Busan with Jeongguk again and reminisce about the old times, when they took the long way home after school just so they could talk as much as they wanted to. He wants to drag Jeongguk to the market and treat him to tteokbokki because he's his hyung, and make him walk until they find a photobooth just so Jimin can keep a picture of them inside of his phone case. He wants to discover Busan with Jeongguk, learn all the secrets they missed out on because they were too young to know. But they don't have enough time. The sun is already threatening to hide, and it's dangerous to drive in the village's roads when it's dark.

When they finally park, they agree to meet in the parking spot two hours later, and they part ways. Jeongguk and his father leave a trail of excited chattering as they go, and Jimin is left alone with Jeongguk's mother, who grabs his arm and tells him all the stories hidden in the streets they pass by.

Much like Jeongguk, her eyes sparkle as she talks, her smile reaching them before it shows in her mouth. They don't have the same facial features— she always jokes that Jeongguk inherited all the good looks from his dad— but they do share the same mannerisms, to the point it's clear she was an attentive and caring parent.

In the market, she guides him expertly to the stands that sell exactly the ingredients she was looking for to cook the New Year's Eve dinner. Jimin will leave two days early, so he'll miss it, but she promised to make Jeongguk send him all the recipes he wants. The way she treats him like a son makes him feel as though he hadn't left his home at all.

They run the errands quickly and escape the bustling crowd way earlier than they expected, so she takes Jimin to her favorite coffee shop and buys him a cup of sweet hot chocolate. The place is cozy, with its white walls covered by fairy lights and potted purple flowers. The ends of their spoons are shaped like hearts.

The skin around her eyes wrinkles when she smiles. "So, Jimin-ah, how are you feeling? Are you comfortable at home?"

Jimin nods profusely. "Yes, yes. Thank you for making me feel so welcomed. I'm sorry for being a bother."

She clicks her tongue, brushing Jimin's comment like she's swatting a fly away. "Please, it's our pleasure! I've never seen Jeonggukie smile that big when he's home. Usually, he hides in his room and paints unless we force him to come out."

Jimin feels his cheeks heat up. He takes a sip of his chocolate. "Ah, I'm sure he's not that bad. He's just a little shy."

She gives him a pointed look, lifting her brows. "A little?"

"Okay, maybe a lot," Jimin says, covering his giggles with a hand to his mouth. "But that's just how he is! He even gets shy around me, and I'm his best— his boyfriend," he's quick to correct himself, resisting the urge to wince at the slip-up. Thankfully, Jeongguk's mother doesn't seem to have noticed.

"That's because he likes you, Jimin-ah," she says, like it's a universal truth. “That boy has never known how to deal with his feelings, so he panics instead.”

Jimin snorts and coughs to hide it. She’s right, but he wasn’t expecting her to be so blunt about it. Throughout the years they’ve been friends, whenever Jeongguk has crushed on someone or liked anyone, he’s always gone through a phase where it was impossible for him to look at that person in the face. He carried this rosy glow in his cheeks anywhere he went, and Jimin used to find it hilarious. Now he can only gnaw at his lip, trying to simmer down the rising jealousy in his gut when he realizes Jeongguk has never acted that way around him.

“But anyway,” Jeongguk’s mother continues when she notices Jimin has gone quiet. “I just wanted to thank you for coming and agreeing to meet the family. I guessed from Jeongguk’s reluctance on the phone none of you were exactly happy to be exposed to that. Our family can be a lot.”

Jimin can’t disagree. The Christmas lunch was the most stressful situation he’s been put through in a while— not even his finals required that much energy and self-control. He can’t count the times he had to bite down a comeback or curl his hands into fists. He can deal with sharp words directed towards him, but not when they’re aimed at Jeongguk. Nobody can get away with hurting Jeon Jeongguk, not for as long as Jimin lives.

“It was certainly… an experience,” he says after a pause to find the right word. “But I could tell it meant something to you and Jeonggukie, so I couldn’t refuse the offer.”

She smiles fondly, touched by his words. She reaches out for Jimin’s hand and he lets her hold it, aware that it’s a Jeon thing, to grab someone’s hand as they’re telling them a story or something meaningful that requires full attention.

“It does mean the world to me. You see, my husband’s parents passed away pretty recently, and the family hasn’t been the same since then.”

Jimin remembers the day of the accident clearly. It happened two years ago. Jeongguk had come over to Jimin’s room to study, and while Jimin drowned in his notes, Jeongguk dirtied his hands with graphite. The younger had been playing Lo-fi beats on his phone for hours until the sound of his ringtone interrupted it. Jimin has never seen Jeongguk as pale and desolated. A part of him had died along the music.

It had been especially hard for Jeongguk for two reasons, the main one being the fact that it was his first year living in Seoul, and he missed the sea terribly. Having Jimin by his side had helped, but it wasn’t enough. On top of that, he’d gotten his heart broken for the first time just a month before. When he heard the news about his grandparents, it all came crashing down on him.

“Since then, I feel like Jeonggukie has been slowly distancing himself from us, and it breaks my heart to feel him so far away, you know?” she chuckles wetly. “I figured it’d do him well to make new memories— good memories— with someone he loved. That’s why I insisted you came with him, and I convinced the family to celebrate together, even if we never do it.”

Jimin swallows the knot in his throat, overwhelmed all of a sudden. He couldn’t have known what was going on between Jeongguk and his family, but he still wishes he could’ve helped somehow, made the pain more bearable.

“I think Jeongguk is very lucky to have you,” Jimin says honestly, smiling gently at the woman who has just poured her heart out to him. Home, he thinks. Home can also feel this way.

“Please,” she huffs out a laugh, glancing to the side. Jeongguk and his mother blush the same shade of red. “I’m just taking care of my kid. I’m his mother; it’s my job. But it’s not your job,” she says, tightening her grip on his hand to get her point across. “And yet, you’re doing even better than me, So, thank you.”

“I’m not his mother, but I love him, too, eomoni,” Jimin is surprised at how easily the confession leaves his lips. He loves him, doesn’t he? There’s no point in labelling his feelings because he loves Jeongguk in every way humans have come up with throughout history. He loves Jeongguk as a lover, as a friend, as a brother— as a soulmate. All of those and none at the same time because he also loves him as Jeongguk. The constellation in Jimin's sky. His boy. "I'd do anything just to see him happy."

"I could tell, sweetheart," she says, caressing the back of Jimin's hand with her thumb, her gaze fixed on the lines she's tracing. "I know how much you care about my kid; I've seen how you are around him. You look at Jeongguk like everything he does makes you fall a bit in love, and that, Jimin, is the best gift you could’ve ever given me.”

Her eyes are shining with tears when she looks up. Jimin wonders if she can tell he has just realized he's in love with her son, that he has been all this time. If she sees her younger self, foolish and lovesick, in Jimin, and if that's the reason why she stares at Jimin like she knows all his secrets.

He shrugs, a smile tugging at his lips. "It's easy to fall for Jeongguk."

After that, they finish their drinks comfortably, chatting about trivialities and Jimin's family and studies. By the time they reach the parking lot where they are supposed to meet Jeongguk and his father, Jimin has told her all about how babies form their first words.

It doesn't take them long to return. Jeongguk's holding a big plastic bag with a brand-new canvas inside and what seem to be tubes of paint, judging by the shape. Jeongguk's dad carries a bag of coal for barbecues, and that alone almost makes Jimin call his parents and tell them he'll be arriving after the New Year. There's nothing like a barbeque day in the Jeon household.

"Hyung!" Jeongguk exclaims, trotting towards him with a grin. Jimin mentally welcomes the butterflies living inside of him with a resigned wave of his hand. "Look at the set of brushes I bought!"

Jeongguk spends the rest of the ride back home explaining the details about the brushes, and why that certain type of hair was better than others and more environmentally-friendly. Jimin listens intently to Jeongguk's passionate list of reasons why oak wood is better for handles than plastic until the boy falls quiet, too tired to keep going. He presses his head to the cold window of the car and Jimin watches how his eyes shut close after a while from the reflection on his own window, and God. Jimin wants to kiss him senseless. He wants to kiss him so bad he thinks he might die if he doesn't do it soon.

 

 

The next days are oddly quiet, not as filled with their laughter as the previous ones had been. They watch Jimin's favorite movie, but Gureum sits between them, stealing all the cuddles from Jimin. That damn dog. Jimin convinces Jeongguk to play the guitar for him once again, but he doesn't sing, claiming he's embarrassed that his parents will hear him.

On Tuesday, Jimin forces Jeongguk to get out of bed early and help him clean the garden. Jeongguk's mother had mentioned over dinner that she had been trying to find the right moment to do it, but these days her back hurt too much. Jimin takes that as a cue to fulfil his son-in-law duties, and that's how he finds himself covered in fertilizer and sweet potato roots at 8 in the morning.

The most infuriating thing of it all is that Jeongguk isn't helping at all— instead, he keeps laughing at Jimin whenever he complains about getting his boots dirty. Jeongguk seems to have no issues carrying around weeds and rotten vegetables, or finding worms crawling around the soil, unlike Jimin, who screams every time he comes across one.

"Hyung, you're such a city boy it hurts my soul," Jeongguk says, wearing a stupid smirk on his mouth. Jimin wants to kiss it away. "A little dirt won't hurt you!"

"If you say something about 'connecting with Mother Nature'," Jimin makes air quotations, using a mocking tone, "I will bury you alive in this garden."

"I'm not Tae hyung, don't worry," Jeongguk dumps the patch of fresh fertilizer on his shovel. It's too cold to replace any of the plants they've ripped off, but Jeongguk's mother told them it was better to clean the soil, let it repair itself so it's healthy in the spring. "I'll just make fun of you without spreading ecologist propaganda."

Jimin rolls his eyes. "When will you treat me like your hyung?"

Jeongguk halts his movements, suspending the shovel in the air. He frowns at Jimin as if he had spoken in a foreign language. "Never? I thought I'd made it clear."

"You son of a—" Jimin clamps his mouth shut, biting down the curse word. "Goat."

"Goat?"

Jimin crosses his arms over his chest, grimacing when he stains his coat. "Yes."

"So who's the furry parent, my mom or my dad?"

“Jeon Jeongguk, I swear to God—"

They keep bickering back and forth all morning, taking breaks between plucking weeds off and cleaning the snow piled on top of the garden statues to mess with each other, which at some point spirals into a snowball fight. Jimin tries his best to take cover behind the sculptures and trees, but it’s to no use— Jeongguk is too fast and his aim is too precise. In just fifteen minutes, Jimin is dropping to his knees on the ground, shielding his head with his arms, giggling as he begs for mercy.

Jeongguk stands before Jimin, passing a snowball from one hand to another while he grins like a mad man. He looks like a mafia boss from a movie, sharpening his knife nonchalantly while his victim trembles, tied up to a chair— except, this time, Jeongguk’s knife is made of ice. 

“Any last words, hyung?”

Jimin considers running away, but he’s too close to the garden wall, and Jeongguk stands on the way to the house. He’s trapped. And freezing— the snow has made it inside his coat, sliding down his neck and spine.

Checkmate.

“I have a confession to make,” Jimin announces with fake solemnity.

Jeongguk frowns, halting his bouncing leg. “Um, what is it?”

Jimin presses his lips into a thin line. “I unironically enjoy One Piece.”

“What—” Jeongguk scoffs in disbelief, trying to bite down the smile making its way into his face. “You’re unbelievable. That’s your confession? Seriously?”

“What?” Jimin asks defensively, placing his hands on his hips. “I’m an angel. That’s the biggest crime I’ve committed. And I even collected figurines, Jeongguk. Figurines.”

That seems to be the breaking point for Jeongguk. He tilts his head, clicking his tongue, and he crouches down to pick up more snow. “Goodbye, hyung.”

Jimin stretches out his arms like he’s being crucified, and he curls his fingers towards himself, dropping his head. “I accept my fate. Bring it in.”

 The hit stings where it lands on Jimin’s chest, but Jimin can’t complain, not when Jeongguk’s blinding grin warms him right after; not when he’s immediately met with Jeongguk’s arms hoisting him up and wrapping him into a back hug; not when Jeongguk feels like spring, his honeyed laughter blooming close to Jimin’s neck.

Not when Jimin soars, his wings being the sunbathed boy behind him.

 

 

Jimin is leaving in three days. It’s a fact that they can’t run away from, no matter how much they try to slow time down by spending the entire evening lying down on the living room, with Gureum curled up on Jeongguk’s lap and Jimin’s feet trapped under Jeongguk’s legs in an attempt at warming them.

All Jimin wants to do is be close to Jeongguk. He always does, but ever since Christmas he’s been pulled towards him, like a flytrap so sweet he can’t escape. His newfound feelings work as the magnet, gluing him to Jeongguk although they make Jimin ache whenever he encounters the walls Jeongguk has seemed to put up lately.

Jimin is too scared to ask what’s wrong, terrified of what the answer will be. He’s worked on his confidence and self-love for years, but, at times, the voice in the back of his mind that whispers his friends are only tolerating him returns, ready to haunt Jimin in the late hours of the day. Although Jeongguk is the only exception to many of Jimin’s insecurities and fears, this one manages to trap him, too. It’s Jimin’s worst enemy.

Jeongguk knows all the strategies to fight it, though. At least, he usually does. Right now, he only spikes Jimin’s anxiety, with his lips pulled into an everlasting grimace and the distance of his body. 

It’s Jeongguk’s mother who, accidentally, breaks the uncomfortable silence that has settled between them. “Jimin-ah, what time are you leaving on Friday?”

Jimin lifts his eyes from the novel he was reading and straightens his back. “Um, I don’t know. I haven’t checked the timetable for the bus, but I guess around dinnertime?”

“The bus?” she frowns as she wipes her hands on a cloth from the kitchen. The smell of kimchi fried rice lingers in the air. “Isn’t Jeongguk driving you home?”

“Huh?” Jeongguk snaps his head up, dropping his phone on his lap. “Did you say my name?”

Jeongguk’s mother rolls her eyes affectionately. “I swear, you would leave your head behind if it weren’t for your friends,” she sighs. “I asked if you’re driving your boyfriend to Busan or not.”

“My— oh,” Jeongguk’s eyes widen for a second before they return to their original shape and settle on Jimin’s face, as though it’s the first time he’s staring at him. He gulps. “I assumed hyung would be taking the bus.”

His mother clicks her tongue and softly slaps Jeongguk’s arm with the cloth. “Yah, you’re going to let him take one of those stinky buses? Did I raise you like this?”

Jeongguk raises his hands in surrender. “Jesus, Mom, I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I’ll take your precious Jiminie home,” he says, arching a brow. “Do you want me to ride the pumpkin carriage, too?”

“Actually,” Jimin says, “that wouldn’t be so bad. You would make a good Fairy Godmother.”

Jeongguk gives him a deadpan look. “Literally how.”

“You’re cute and tiny, like a fairy,” Jimin explains like it’s a worldwide-known fact.

“I’m taller than you—”

“Anyways,” Jeongguk’s mother raises her voice to cut them off. “I just wanted to make sure you had a way to go home because my husband and I won’t be able to drive you. We’re volunteering at the church every afternoon starting from tomorrow, to help prepare dishes to hand out during the New Year in the nearby towns.”

“That’s okay,” Jimin says gently, “You’ve already done more than enough. Thank you so much, eomoni.”

“Yeah, don’t worry, Mom,” Jeongguk says, shifting on the couch so he’s sitting crossed-legged. “I’ll take care of it.”

She gifts them a warm smile before she disappears into the kitchen again, leaving them with a warning that dinner will be ready soon. Jimin and Jeongguk share a look then— an unusual one. It’s filled with hesitance.

“Uh, sorry I didn’t ask before,” Jeongguk mumbles, ears red. “It totally slipped my mind.”

Jimin shrugs. “It’s fine. I didn’t mind riding the bus, but I do like this better,” he extends out his arm to Jeongguk, hovering his hand over his knee for a split-second before he places it on top, gripping it once reassuringly. “It gives me more time with you,” he says, soft-spoken.

“Oh,” Jeongguk looks away, the red spreading to his entire face, like a stain of paint dropping into the water. “Um.”

Jimin laughs, bringing his hand up to pet Jeongguk’s hair. Relief pours out of his body. Turns out, even with all of his walls up, Jeongguk unknowingly still manages to make Jimin feel better. “You’re cute when you blush, baby.”

“Hyung,” Jeongguk whines, jutting his lip out. Jimin hears his heart shatter— he wants to kiss him so bad. “Stop.”

“Sorry,” he says, although his giggles don’t cease. “By the way, we should decide what to do until Friday, Friday morning included. I know we’re trying to ignore the fact that I’m leaving soon, but I don’t want to waste these days.”

“Right,” Jeongguk is still not looking at Jimin, and he feels the urge to grab his chin and force him to hold his gaze. He can’t stand not having Jeongguk’s attention on him when it’s just the two of them alone— and when they’re in a room full of people, too, but Jimin is learning to simmer down his possessiveness. “Well, it’s going to snow tomorrow and on Thursday, so you could maybe help me with my painting?” he asks, and there’s expectation in his question.

“Yeah, sure. You still haven’t told me what you want to paint, though.”

“It’s because it’s a little…” he trails off, the blush returning to his cheeks. “Ah, you’ll see.”

“C’mon, Jeongguk-ah,” Jimin insists, scooting closer to him. “At least give me a hint of what I’ll be getting myself into.”

Jeongguk sighs— yet he gives in. “Have you ever seen the ‘Rokeby Venus’ by Velázquez?”

Jimin frowns. “No, I haven’t.”

“Well, sucks to be you! That was your only chance for a hint.”

“You’re so—” Jimin pushes him gently, pouting. “That’s unfair! I’m not an Art History nerd like you.”

Jeongguk blinks at him, seemingly innocent. “Must I repeat myself, hyung-nim? Sucks. To be. You,” he says, bopping his head from side to side to emphasize his words.

Jimin gapes, at a loss for words. “You’re so lucky you’re cute.”

Jeongguk breaks into a grin, the light returning to the dim-lit room for a brief moment. “I am lucky, aren’t I, babe? That you like me so much.”

He’s clearly playing around, shifting into his role as Jimin’s fake boyfriend— he always does whenever he calls Jimin ‘babe’. Still, Jimin lets his heart take a leap, be lifted into the skies along the butterflies flying inside of his gut.

“Yeah,” he says, almost to himself. “You are.”

 

 

The next day, they allow themselves the pleasure of sleeping until the sun has fully risen. They skip breakfast and instead have leftovers for lunch while they stare at the falling snow from the window, blankets spread over their laps and the fire from the wood stove cracking faintly in the background.

Jeongguk’s parents leave soon after they’re done eating with a promise that they won’t take long to return. However, both of them know what that means in parent language: don’t wait up.

Jeongguk leads Jimin to his bedroom, alleging it’s essential for the painting. Knowing Jeongguk, Jimin is aware that he wouldn’t risk staining his sheets with painting if he had the chance to paint anywhere else— back in Seoul, he’s dragged Jimin to every corner, from coffee shops to parks to sketchy alleyways, just to get some company while he works, but never his room. He’s extremely picky about cleanliness and order— he’s a Virgo, after all— so the idea of dirtying his room sends shivers down his spine. Jimin knows it all too well.

He hands Jimin a roll of red satin ribbon and his palette and goes off running to the living room to pick up God-knows-what. Today, he’s extremely jittery, more than what’s common for his puppy-like self. Jimin can’t pinpoint the reason why, though. He’s modelled for Jeongguk more times that he can count, for personal pieces like this one or school projects (he still brags about the fact that Jeongguk got an A+ for sculpting his face), so it can’t be that. He constantly experiments with his art style and techniques, so it can’t be about the challenge of trying something new, either.

When Jeongguk comes back carrying a mirror in his arms, Jimin’s curiosity turns into concern.

“What the hell are you planning to do with that?” he asks, eyes slightly widening.

Jeongguk places the mirror before the head of the bed, against the wall, so it reflects its entire length. Wordlessly, he drags the chisel with the canvas to stand half a meter away from the end of the mattress. Once it’s all set comfortably, he turns to Jimin.

“So,” he says, clasping his hands together, “I need you to take your shirt off.”

Jimin blinks twice. “Pardon?”

Jeongguk sighs as if he were already regretting his decision. “Let me phrase that better. I’m going to paint you lying down on the bed while you stare at yourself in the mirror, so I can also be in the portrait?” he says, hesitant. “And like, in the original painting there’s an angel holding the mirror and he has ribbons hanging from his arms so I thought it would be cool to uh— fuck, this sounds to wrong, but I thought I could tie you up? To make a reference to the painting?”

“Tie me up?” Jimin splutters, flush creeping up his neck. “Are you insane?”

“Not like that!” Jeongguk waves his hands in panic, dismissing Jimin’s idea. “I mean like, wrapping the ribbon around your torso and maybe shoulders? I’m not going to restrain you, or whatever you’re thinking.”

“Oh,” Jimin says, releasing all the air he had been holding. “Well, that’s a relief. I mean, you did say we were exclusively vanilla, so…”

“Hyung, get your head out of the gutter for a second,” Jeongguk scolds him, but the blush on his nose betrays him. He’s just as flustered as Jimin.

“You’re no fun,” Jimin mutters. His fingers tremble slightly when he zips off his hoodie and then discards his shirt, fisting it into a wrinkled ball. Thankfully, Jeongguk hasn’t noticed— he’s staring at the wall, his back turned to Jimin, which is hilarious, if you ask him. He’s acting as if they hadn’t swum naked on a lake just a few months ago, on a drunken night during the summer road trip they organized with their friends. Jeongguk is not exactly shy around bare chests.

“Are you just gonna stand there, or are you going to wrap those ribbons around me, darling?” Jimin teases, shifting his weight to one leg and placing the opposite hand on his side. “It’s kind of cold, if you haven’t noticed.”

The truth is Jimin’s hairs do stand up as goosebumps erupt all over his arms, but he’d be a liar if he said it’s an effect of the temperature. No, it’s Jeongguk’s touch that bolts electricity through him. Jimin can’t tell which is softer— if the satin or Jeongguk’s fingers grazing his exposed skin.

The fabric surrounds his waist tightly and then crosses his chest diagonally, separating his pectorals with a line. Jeongguk carefully ties Jimin’s biceps, letting some of the ribbon fall over his forearms delicately. Then, he steps back to take a better look at it, scanning Jimin from head to toe in a way it makes him feel vulnerable— seen. Before he lets Jimin get into bed, he crouches down and wraps a ribbon around Jimin’s thigh, the bright red contrasting with his dark skinny jeans.

When he stands up, his face is just a few centimeters away from Jimin’s. This time, Jimin does hear Jeongguk’s breath hitch— it happens in tandem with his own. Jeongguk’s Adam’s apple bobs when he places a tender hand on Jimin’s shoulder.

“You can lay down now, if you want,” he tells him softly, unsure eyes boring into Jimin. “Is this okay, hyung?”

Jimin licks his lips before speaking. “Perfectly splendid. I can’t wait to visit the SeMA and see myself outshining every other piece in the museum.”

Jeongguk chuckles and steps away, breaking the spell. “You’re ridiculous. I could never be at the SeMA.”

“Hm, just you wait, baby,” Jimin says as he positions himself on the bed, fixing his eyes on the mirror so he doesn’t lose sight of Jeongguk. “Life is full of surprises. I love how you haven’t denied I would outsell the most relevant museum in Seoul, though.”

Jeongguk’s shoulder shake as he begins mixing the colors in his palette. “Why would I lie to you?”

Jimin props himself up with his eyebrows, shifting for a bit to find a comfortable position. “You could, if you wanted to. It’d break my heart, but you certainly could.”

Jeongguk paints a long streak of pink on the canvas, frowning. “I wouldn’t want to break your heart either, hyung.”

Jimin suppresses a laugh. As if he had the choice to decide. “I know, Gguk-ah. I was just messing with you.”

Jeongguk dips his brush into the water and stirs it, filling the room with the loud sound of it hitting the glass. “You shouldn’t be distracting me, you know. I’m not sketching beforehand for this one, so you might end up with two heads.”

Jimin fakes a horrified gasp. “Okay, I’ll shut up now. Can I look at my phone?”

Jeongguk gives him a pointed look. “No.”

“Boo, boring,” Jimin complains with a childish pout, getting a giggle out of Jeongguk. “Guess I’ll have to watch you for four hours straight—” he tilts his head, suddenly struck by a thought. “Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad.”

He mostly says it to fluster Jeongguk— which works, judging by the high-pitched hyung he lets out— but there’s some truth behind it. Jimin wouldn’t mind watching Jeongguk for hours. He happens to find everything the younger does extremely entertaining or endearing, so he lives for those moments where he gets to do just this: look at Jeongguk without a mind-clock ticking, measuring how much he gets to stare before it turns weird.

They don’t talk much afterwards. Jeongguk rolls the sleeves of his plaid shirt up, exposing his tattoos, and throws himself into his work, tongue poking out in concentration. He sometimes asks Jimin to move a bit to the left or try different poses with his legs until Jeongguk is satisfied with the way the light hits Jimin’s skin, but there’s no use in trying to chat. Jimin needs to let Jeongguk do his thing and ask all the questions later.

Jeongguk seems frustrated, though. He keeps huffing and pushing his tongue against his cheek, but Jimin can’t see what’s making him struggle from the mirror.

“Is everything okay?”

Jeongguk pinches the bridge of his nose. He doesn’t seem to notice he’s left two spots of red paint on each side. “Yeah, yeah. I just can’t concentrate well, I guess.”

“Oh?” Jimin rolls on his back slowly so that the ribbons stay in place. He sits up carefully and tilts his head. “Maybe you should take a break, Gguk-ah. How long has it been, anyway? An hour?”

Jeongguk smacks his lips, still glancing at the canvas. “Yeah, but I still haven’t finished painting your arms or the bed. It’s bad, hyung.”

“That’s exactly why you need to take a break,” he pats the space next to him on the mattress. “Sit next to me while you let the paint dry, maybe we can figure out what’s wrong.”

Jeongguk seems hesitant to come close to Jimin, but after a moment of struggle he takes a seat, at a comfortable distance from the elder. Jimin frowns.

“You’re fidgeting,” he says bluntly. Jeongguk lets go of the hem of his shirt immediately, but he ducks his head, refusing to look at Jimin. “Jeongguk, I’m going to ask you again if there’s something wrong and I don’t want you to lie to me this time, understood?”

Jeongguk nods.

“Is everything okay?”

Jeongguk breathes. “No. I set myself up by thinking I could paint this.”

“What do you mean you ‘set yourself up’? You’re not about to tell me you’re not good enough to do it, right? Because I’ll kick you if you do.”

“No, no, it’s not that,” Jeongguk pushes his hair back with an exasperated sigh. “It’s nothing, forget it.”

Jimin leans forward, placing a hand on Jeongguk’s shoulder. The way the boy flinches doesn’t go unnoticed, but Jimin leaves his hurt pride to the side, wanting to focus on what’s bothering Jeongguk. “What is it?”

Jeongguk eyes him momentarily before he’s drawing his gaze away and biting his lip. “It’s embarrassing,” he mumbles.

“I’m sure it’s not that bad,” Jimin says softly, moving the hand on Jeongguk’s shoulder to the back of his neck. He starts applying light pressure there, knowing Jeongguk’s muscles tense up there the most. It seems to work, because Jeongguk lets out a sigh and cranes his neck, exposing it so Jimin can massage the side, too. “You’re so tense, baby.”

When he presses down on a sore spot, Jeongguk shivers, moving away from Jimin. “Hyung,” he gulps, rubbing his forearm. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why not?” Jimin inquires, moving closer with an arched brow.

Jeongguk turns his head away. “It just isn’t.”

“But why?” panic surges through Jimin. Does Jeongguk know? Is that why he’s avoiding him?

“Because…” Jeongguk trails off, looking conflicted. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Jeongguk,” Jimin crosses his arms, feeling the strain on the fabric around his biceps. “Tell me. Please,” he adds, softer.

“It’s just—” Jeongguk huffs, running a hand down his face. “You were distracting me, okay?” he stands up. “I couldn’t focus because of you, because you were laying there looking like that and I—”

Jimin gapes, his eyes slightly widening. “Oh,” his stomach flips as he’s overtaken by a sudden rush of something— Jimin doesn’t know if it’s anxiety or arousal. “Were you flustered, Jeongguk-ah?”

Jeongguk hides his face in his palms. “Stop, it’s literally so embarrassing—

“Hey, come here,” Jimin stretches his arm out, reaching for Jeongguk. He needs the boy as close as possible to make sure he doesn’t feel guilty over such a silly thing. If only he knew. “Talk to me.”

At first, Jeongguk shakes his head, even taking a step back, but he eventually relents. He approaches Jimin with unsure steps and cheeks colored with furious red. Jimin can hear his own heart beating in his ears with anticipation.

Once Jeongguk stands in front of him, Jimin pulls down at his sleeve. Jeongguk immediately gets it— the gesture is a part of their routine at this point— so he straddles Jimin’s lap, placing his hands on Jimin’s shoulders to keep his balance.

He can’t hold Jimin’s gaze when he speaks. “I’m sorry for making it awkward.”

“You’re not making it awkward,” Jimin hooks his fingers under his chin, tilting Jeongguk’s head up. “Look at me, Gguk. You feel it too, don’t you? The tension.”

Jeongguk’s eyelashes flutter as he looks down. “I think it’s mostly distress,” he croaks out, an attempt at humor that does little to discharge the thick air in the room. “But, um, yeah. I guess.”

“Why can’t you look at me?” Jimin whispers, a hint of sadness in his voice. “Are you uncomfortable?”

“No—,” Jeongguk is quick to deny. There’s panic in his eyes when they make contact with Jimin’s. “I just feel like I’ll do something really stupid if I stare at you for too long,” he confesses, almost inaudible.

Jimin feels like he’s at the top of a rollercoaster. There’s that pull in his gut, filling his veins with adrenaline. “Like what?”

Jeongguk’s fingers press into Jimin’s skin. It burns. “Like kissing you.”

And there it is— monarch butterflies migrating in his stomach, turning Jimin’s body into a myriad of wings. He’s suddenly aware of how close they are, which he never does because it’s like a second nature to them. Jeongguk is his satellite. A part of him. He’s supposed to be close, but this time is different.

This time it feels as if they were back at Min Yoongi’s birthday party all of those months ago, although their positions are reversed. Back then, Jimin was sitting in Jeongguk’s lap, alcohol buzzing through him and turning him giddy, flirty. Jeongguk was just as gone as him, letting his hands wander under Jimin’s shirt and tugging at his hair.

Jimin wonders if Jeongguk’s lips are still as warm as they were in March.

“Do you really want to kiss me?” he finally asks, watching Jeongguk’s reaction closely.

His breath hitches, and then he exhales. “I shouldn’t—”

“But do you want to?”

Jeongguk swallows. “Yeah.”

Jimin leans in cautiously until his mouth lingers right above Jeongguk’s, brushing them. He breathes in once and tilts his head, letting his eyelids flutter shut as he parts his lips. And he waits.

Jeongguk is not moving. Jimin notices how his grip on his shoulders tightens for a second and then loosens, and he begins to lose hope. He almost moves away, but then he feels it— warmth.

He lights up on a wild, bright fire, heat spreading from where Jeongguk’s lips are pressed against his to his fingertips, making a stop on his heart to keep it beating.

He doesn’t register the gasp he lets out, but he knows it happened because Jeongguk’s hands start travelling then. One ends up on his waist, firm, and the other is spread over the back of his head, tangling in his hair. Jimin’s curl around Jeongguk’s back, digging into his sweater.

There’s a hint to their want now that wasn’t there before. They’ve always been moved by it, and perhaps by a sense of loneliness, too— much like Jeongguk, Jimin has never been able to find that person for him. All his partners have been fleeting, bittersweet stops in a grander quest. That, and his unbearable feelings for his best friend, made him drawn to Jeongguk in the first place, whether it was platonic touching or more.

In contrast with the first time they kissed, they’re sober. They’re completely aware of the way Jeongguk shifts on top of Jimin, of their short breaths, of the sense of need lingering in the air. Which is terrifying, because it means that addressing the situation will be unavoidable, but it also makes it better. Realer. The boy on Jimin’s lap, the one kissing him like tomorrow’s the end of the world, is Jeongguk. Bare, desperate, with his chest ripped open for Jimin to take his heart and do whatever he desires with it.

Jimin feels lips latching at the skin on his neck, and he lets his head loll to the side, suppressing a moan. Jeongguk has always been a good kisser; it’s a known fact that spread like wildfire on campus. Jimin had been admittedly jealous, learning new names of people he didn’t want to know every time they went to a party, but he can’t be in this moment. Not when Jeongguk’s clouding Jimin’s gaze with arousal and filling him with want just with a kiss. Right now, he can only agree.

He sneaks his hands inside Jeongguk’s sweater to touch his defined back muscles, but he can also feel the stress built up there. Jeongguk’s distress might have been fueled by his desire for Jimin, but Jimin knows it’s mainly a product of his perfectionism, that doesn’t allow room for mistakes.

He pushes Jeongguk away gently, getting a clear sight of how ruined the boy looks. His lips are red and shiny with spit, and his cheeks are flushed, hair tousled.

He cups Jeongguk’s cheek. He leans into it, eyes wide open as he stares up at Jimin. “You’re so tense, baby,” Jimin says, “let hyung help you feel better.”

Jeongguk holds his breath. “How?”

Wordlessly, Jimin manhandles Jeongguk, who turns pliant to the touch, until he’s sitting between his legs, his back pressed to Jimin’s chest. Then, Jimin shifts a bit until they’re staring at their reflection in the mirror, and he begins caressing the side of Jeongguk’s face, running his thumb over his lower lip. Jeongguk’s mouth falls agape at that, his eyes rolling back. From their position, Jimin gets a full view of Jeongguk’s erection, strained against his jeans.

“Look at how hard you are,” he whispers against Jeongguk’s ear, not really knowing what’s taking over him. This is wrong— dangerous. They’re putting their entire friendship on the line, and Jimin isn’t doing anything to mend it. He’s being selfish, because he wants— no, he needs more. “Let me help.”

A whine comes from the back of Jeongguk’s throat, desperate. “Hyung—”

Jimin doesn’t risk touching him in case he’s uncomfortable, but his hands rest on each side, itching to get a hold of the boy. “Just say the word and I’ll do it, Jeongguk-ah. Or I’ll stop. Whatever you want.”

Jeongguk seems to struggle internally for a moment before he’s nodding curtly, his Adam’s apple bobbing. He takes Jimin’s left hand and presses it against his chest, letting Jimin feel his accelerated heartbeat. “Do it,” he says, voice hoarse.

Jimin can’t hide his smirk. He rests his chin on Jeongguk’s shoulder and noses at his neck as his hand slides down to Jeongguk’s thigh, where he grips the flesh tightly. They’re as firm as Jimin expected them to be, and fuck— it’s so hot. He’s driving him insane.

“Say please,” he mumbles.

Jeongguk lets out a shuddering breath. “Hyung, please touch me. Please—"

Jimin shushes him sweetly, leaving a soft kiss on the side of his neck. In a swift motion, he unzips Jeongguk’s jeans and pulls down his underwear to take his cock out, letting it spring free from the restrain and curl against Jeongguk’s stomach. The younger sucks in a breath at the sensation of the cold air, but it’s immediately replaced with a moan when Jimin’s warm fingers curl around his length.

Jeongguk’s head falls against Jimin’s shoulder, but he holds it up firmly and forces Jeongguk to stare at their reflection.

“No, baby, look at us,” Jimin reprimands, voice sultry and thoughts hazy from desire. He begins stroking Jeongguk painfully slowly, eliciting a stuttered curse from him. “Remember what I told you? We look sinful together, don’t you think?”

Jeongguk doesn’t answer; he only moans again, his hips bucking up. Jimin holds one down as best as he can with his free hand, clicking his tongue. “Answer me.”

Jeongguk whimpers, flustered. He presses his lips into a thin line, refusing to answer. Jimin moves his hand up to play with the head of his cock then, smearing the precum over it with his thumb.

“Don’t be shy, it’s just us,” he says, feeling himself twitch at the sound of Jeongguk’s delicate noises. “You like watching yourself, don’t you? Seeing just how fucked out you are,” Jeongguk nods his head frantically, and Jimin coos. “My filthy baby, so good for his hyung. So pretty, too.”

Jeongguk gasps at the praise, painting an amused smirk on Jimin’s lips. He’s now holding Jimin’s gaze through the mirror, his blown pupils boring into Jimin. Unlike the rest of him— his flushed face, hanging mouth and leaking cock, which scream submission— his eyes are daring, sharp, meaning he’s focused. His full attention is on Jimin and Jimin only.

“Hyung,” he says, voice strained. “Hyung, I—”

“I know,” Jimin loosens his grip on Jeongguk’s hip, following his erratic rhythm rather than restraining it. “You’re close already, huh? You want to come?”

Jeongguk’s answer comes in the form of a hoarse moan. His eyes shut close as he begins fucking Jimin’s hand sloppily, but Jimin can’t reprimand him. He simply fastens the pace of his strokes, watching how Jeongguk crumbles in his arms, washed by a wave of lust.

Jimin doesn’t know how long it takes— he only registers Jeongguk’s quiet gasp and the way he spills all over his hand, his body going limp, finally rid of all the previous stress. Jimin jerks him off through it, kissing his neck faintly and whispering praises, until he comes down from his orgasm. It’s only then when silence falls over the room, accompanied just by their heavy breathing.

Jeongguk slowly raises his head, detaching himself from Jimin’s chest to look at him. He swallows. “Jimin hyung—”

A knot ties in Jimin’s stomach. The tension between them has vanished, but it has been replaced by reluctance. Fear, almost, as the realization of what has just happened is dawning into them.

“I’m sorry if I— this shouldn’t—” Jeongguk fights to find the right words, but he gapes like a fish out of water, speechless.

“As long as you’re fine with it, it’s fine for me, too, Jeongguk-ah,” Jimin says, lowering his gaze to the floor. “It’s not like it’s the first time this has happened.”

“Right,” Jeongguk agrees after a beat.

“It doesn’t have to mean anything.”

Jeongguk’s lips are curled downwards when he speaks. He’s not looking at Jimin. “Yeah, sure. I— this is fine.”

“Consider it a friendly favor,” Jimin’s smile doesn’t reach his eyes, but he still tries to pull through it. “You don’t have to return it either.”

Jeongguk looks like he wants to say something. He’s frowning slightly, and he extends his hand out as though he wanted to reach for Jimin, but the sound of the front door opening startles them. They share a panicked look and silently agree to postpone the conversation until they’re rid of any evidence of Jimin’s favor.

Jimin runs to pick up his shirt and get dressed while Jeongguk zips his jeans and frantically folds his stained blanket, holding it in his arms.

“What the hell am I going to do with this?” he whispers, eyes bulging in terror.

“Just put it inside your closet for now and if your mom comes in, tell her you stained it with paint,” Jimin hisses as he struggles to open the window, praying that the cold air will wash away the smell of sex lingering in the place. He’s still semi-hard, but the scenario of Jeongguk’s parents running into this mess does wonders against the little arousal left in his body.

When they hear footsteps in the hall, Jeongguk rushes to grab the cologne his father had gifted him on Christmas and sprays it thrice around the room, earning a glare from Jimin.

“Suspicious much?”

Jeongguk blushes furiously. “Shut up, I’m trying here!”

Jimin slaps his palm on his forehead and runs it down his face, groaning. “You’re one of a kind, Jeon Jeongguk.”

Thankfully, whoever was in the hallway walks past them, letting the two boys take a deep breath, something they probably hadn’t done since Jeongguk walked into the room with a mirror. And once again, it’s just the two of them, and a half-finished canvas.

“So,” Jimin clears his throat, staring out the window. It hasn’t stopped snowing all day. “Do you want to keep painting, or…?”

He can tell Jeongguk is grimacing. “I think that might not be, uh, the best idea. Maybe another day.”

“Yeah, okay,” Jimin runs his fingers— the ones that aren’t dirty with cum— through his hair, pushing it back.  “I’m going to take a shower now.”

He walks past Jeongguk and slides open the door carefully, wishing he’d turn around and force him to stay, to really talk for once. He waits for a heartbeat and leaves the room with a sigh when he doesn’t hear the boy move. It’s a lost cause.

Jimin vaguely remembers how people, their friends, used to call them the sun and the moon. Jimin and Jeongguk are like a black and white movie, Taehyung had explained once. Alone, they’re completely different people and nobody would expect them to get along. Jimin is white, Jeongguk is black. But when they’re put together… then you simply cannot separate them. You can’t have a white movie in the same way you can’t stare at a black screen, but if you mix them you get grey.

Grey comes in all different shades, depending on how much white or black you add to the mixture, and you end up with a really fucking amazing film when you put all of them together.

It’s also like when there’s an eclipse, you know? In this case, Jeongguk is the sun because he’s a fucking sweetheart and Jimin is the moon because he’s sexy like that— don’t laugh, I’m being serious! Anyway. Alone, they’re beautiful. But nobody gathers around to watch them like we do with eclipses, because we know they’re a different kind of special. Together, they’re breathtaking. So I guess what I’m trying to say, in summary, is that you two are really fucking good for each other.

Eventually, the whole speech turned out to be one of Taehyung’s many drunk ramblings about why he deserves to be the best man at their wedding, because they’re so going to get married, but Jimin stuck with the beginning of it. The comparisons.

Taehyung has always moved Jimin with his words; it’s his gift as a poet, to make people feel something when he writes. But right now, Jimin can only recall them with a bittersweet taste in his tongue, thinking that perhaps Jeongguk has been the sun all this time, but Jimin hasn’t been the moon. He’s rather been Icarus, flying towards the sun carelessly, unaware of his fate.

It was about time he burned.

 

 

Jeongguk doesn’t sleep in his room that night, and neither on Thursday. He stays in his brother’s room, which has been empty since he left for Busan with his girlfriend after Christmas, claiming he needs the space to finish his painting. Jimin knows better than to push it, but it doesn’t take away the fact that it hurts, nor the tears that stain the pillow on Jeongguk’s bed that smells like him.

It’s on Friday morning when Jimin snaps, tired of Jeongguk’s attitude. They’re sitting on the kitchen table, munching quietly on their cereal while Jeongguk’s mother chats with her husband about an article they read on the newspaper that lays open over the surface.

Jeongguk is curled on himself, the faint light of his phone illuminating the deep bags under his eyes. He looks like he hasn’t brushed his hair in decades, and he’s sad. Jimin can feel it, how his heart shrinks at the sight of the boy.

Jimin’s bag is somewhere in the living room, packed and ready to go sometime after lunch, and Jeongguk is doing nothing to make it seem like he wants to enjoy his last day with Jimin. He’s closed off entirely, like avoiding him will make him leave faster.

Jimin is sick of it.

Eomoni,” he says softly, “could I ask you for a favor?”

She turns around, halting the conversation with Jeongguk’s father by placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Of course! What is it, darling?”

“Can I borrow the car in an hour or so?” he asks, ignoring how Jeongguk perks his head up, frowning in confusion. “I want to go up to the mountains; I heard the sight is really beautiful after it’s snowed.”

She seems taken aback by the request, but she immediately agrees. “Just be careful!” She warns, “The roads are cleaned of snow now, but they might still be slippery. And make sure you’re back before the sun goes down.”

“We’ll be back before lunch,” Jimin promises. “I’ll be very careful with the car.”

“You’re not driving,” Jeongguk’s voice startles Jimin. That might be the longest sentence he’s said to him since Wednesday. “I am.”

“The hell you are,” Jimin argues, crossing his arms over his chest. “You literally got your license yesterday. You can’t drive on a road like that.”

Jeongguk huffs as if someone had kicked him in the gut. “You’re the one that got his license less than a year ago! I’ve been driving since I was eighteen—”

“But you look like a kid!”

“That doesn’t mean—” Jeongguk groans, exasperated. He turns to his mother. “God, you’re insufferable.”

“Okay,” his mother clasps her hands together, smiling awkwardly. “Let’s not fight over silly things, yeah? Jeongguk-ah, I think you should let Jimin drive, since you’ll be driving him home later. You don’t want to be too tired for that.”

Jeongguk's expression darkens, and he pushes his tongue against the inside of his cheek, knowing he’s been defeated. “If he crashes the car, it’s on you.”

“You little—” Jimin’s curse is cut short at the sight of Jeongguk’s mother’s glare. He sighs. “Go get dressed, we’re leaving as soon as you’re done.”

Jeongguk shoots him another deadly look, but it’s glazed by something else— confusion. Jeongguk doesn’t like not being in control, missing information. And he hates spontaneous plans. But Jimin needs to get him out of his comfort zone to push him away from the dark cloud that’s engulfed his figure the past two days. If his bubble doesn’t burst, Jimin won’t get him to his senses, and he needs his best friend back at least for a few more hours.

Jeongguk returns to the kitchen thirty minutes later with a pair of gloves and a wool hat for Jimin. He places them on the counter without sparing the elder a word and he goes outside to wait in the car. Jimin resists the urge to cry and puts the beanie over his head, keeps the gloves in his pocket and exits the house, crumpling the piece of paper in his other pocket between his fingers, holding onto it like his last piece of hope.

In a way, it is. Many things could go wrong today, but Jimin could also be granted a late wish from the stars they watched together on Christmas Eve. Jimin has never been a dreamer, but today he allows himself the privilege of fantasizing for a brief moment before he gives Jeongguk his heart to break.

Once he’s inside the car, Jeongguk gives him a quick tour of the controls just in case he needs to turn on the blinkers or the windshield wipers. It’s awkward at best, but Jimin is thankful for the explanation.

“Does the radio work?” he asks, eyeing the old artifact curiously.

“Not up here, but we have some old CDs laying around, wait,” he opens the glove compartment and takes out a bunch of albums, ranging from trot singers to old 80s western rock and first-generation K-pop. “Are we feeling like Seo Taiji and the Boys or a selection of The Cure, David Bowie and… whatever my dad wrote here,” he gives Jimin an apologetic look. “Sorry, his handwriting is awful.”

“I like David Bowie,” Jimin smiles warmly at the memories of his mother dancing around their apartment to the sound of his music. He sounds like home, just like Jeongguk’s voice calling his name.

Jeongguk inserts the CD as Jimin starts the car and leisurely drives from the parking spot into the road. While Starman plays faintly in the background, they navigate through the narrow and bumpy roads that surround the nearer houses until they finally reach the highway. Jimin glances both ways before accelerating, shifting gears with expertise.

 (mood; friday, i’m in love — the cure)

The song that plays next isn’t by Bowie, but Jimin loves it anyway; it’s a classic. He catches a glimpse of Jeongguk’s grin from the corner of his eye, and he smiles, too, infected by his happy virus.

Jeongguk rolls the windows down, letting the wind hit their faces. Usually, it annoys Jimin, but not right now. He enjoys the feeling, how it seems to wake him up. It brings life back to them, as if they had been in a deep slumber since Wednesday and they’re now shaking it off their bones, letting them soak with the spirit of winter.

He doesn’t know any of the words to the song, but Jeongguk knows it by heart. Out of their group of friends, he’s the best at English after Namjoon. Jeongguk’s insatiable curiosity has manifested in every form of culture out there, from visual arts, his specialty, to language learning, sports, and even programming.

He’s non-stop. He thrives off knowledge, alleging he won’t feel complete until he tries everything that interests him. He doesn’t actually have to be good at it— although his perfectionism doesn’t allow him to give up until he’s bleeding on the floor, beat up by his own burnout body—, he just needs to know he tried. Jeongguk never settles for less, and Jimin admires him endlessly for it.

He’s thankful that the road is straight for now, because it allows him to steal glances of the boy. The torn expression in his face has been replaced by a content grin, and he swings his head to the music with his eyes closed and his arm propped against the car door, enjoying the sensation of the wind hitting him at its fullest as he sings quietly.

“I can’t hear you over the wind!” Jimin yells, craving the sound of Jeongguk’s sweet vocals.

“I’m not saying anything!” Jeongguk replies. “Just singing.”

“Then sing louder!”

He doesn’t catch the way Jeongguk raises his brows in amused confusion, but he complies, reaching out to turn the volume up. Jimin can’t stop the smile making its way into his lips when he feels the bass pulsing through him.

I don’t care if Monday’s black, Tuesday, Wednesday, heart attack,” Jeongguk practically screams, managing to miraculously stay in tune. “Thursday, never looking back—”

It’s Friday, I’m in love,” they yell in unison, shoulders shaking as they laugh loudly. When Jimin speeds up, Jeongguk extends his hand out and spreads his fingers, not caring if the air is pulling at him with strength and that it’s freezing outside.

Jimin realizes belatedly the irony of the song. It is indeed a Friday, and he’s sitting in a car next to the boy he’s in love with, completely entranced by him although he’s not looking at him. It reminds him of the reason why he’s doing this in the first place, taking them away from the root of their issue to salvage their relationship, which was put at risk by a kiss.

It’s ironic, how on Monday Jimin didn’t feel any of this— no, he did feel it, but he wasn’t aware of the difference between the way he stared at Jeongguk from the way he looked at others. It took him a week surrounded only by Jeongguk and the people who loved him to understand how his love was different.

He should’ve known when he wished under the stars for Jeongguk to always love him the way he does now. He could’ve wished for a long friendship, or for health for the two of them, but he wished for his love, and not even thinking about romantic feelings— but not thinking platonically, either.

He simply wanted Jeongguk. The starry-eyed boy that sings like an angel and smiles at Jimin like he hung the moon, that talks to him softly and indulges in Jimin’s shenanigans because he knows how much it means to Jimin.   

It’s Friday and Jimin’s in love with his best friend, singing his heart out to the lyrics of a song he doesn’t understand while they drive up a road that takes them nowhere and everywhere at once. And Jimin… Jimin can’t even care if Jeongguk turns him down, because now it’s clear to him what’s been torturing him these past couple of dreadful days.

Jeongguk isn’t going anywhere. Whether he reciprocates Jimin’s romantic feelings or not, he loves Jimin. That might be the only universal truth in the world, that Jeon Jeongguk loves Park Jimin as a friend, as a brother— as a soulmate. And love is inexplicably grand and complex and breathtaking, just like eclipses and old films.

Once they reach the mountain’s parking lot, it’s easy to find a spot. It’s empty since it’s a Friday morning and people are busy preparing for the new year. It’s perfect.

The only person there is the forestall guard, who sits in his stand with a bored expression until he sees Jimin and Jeongguk approaching him. The man, of greying hair and a kind smile, goes over his fabricated speech and warns the friends about possible fire hazards and wild animals. He lets them inside the path with an energetic wave and wishes them a good hike, and their mood is instantly enhanced.

They walk in relative silence, only breaking it when they catch a squirrel jumping from tree to tree or stumble across flowers that were strong enough that even snow couldn’t beat them. However, it’s not uncomfortable like before; it’s like they’re remembering how to enjoy quietness together again.

They don’t reach the peak, though. By the time they arrive at the first lookout, Jimin is out of breath, grabbing his sides as he pants and begs Jeongguk to stop.

“Woah, hyung, the old age is finally getting to you, huh?” he teases, taking advantage of Jimin’s miserable position.

“I will—” Jimin inhales sharply. “Kick you off this cliff.”

Jeongguk gives him a deadpan look. “Oh, I’m so scared.”

Jimin was smart enough to bring a blanket— along with rolls of kimbap that were stored in the fridge—, so they carefully climb the biggest rock in there and spread it over its surface, grateful for the sun that has melted most of the snow. They’re not in the mood for talking, but Jeongguk tells Jimin briefly of the times he’s been here before with his family, explaining how the entire city of Busan can be seen from the peak.

“It’s best if you see it at night,” his words come out muffled as he talks between bites. “But it’s pretty dark and there’s a lot of deer around the area so you have to be really careful.”

Jimin hums in agreement. “Deer can be pretty scary when they want to.”

Jeongguk laughs softly at that, but it falls short. He coughs, setting his food to his side and folding his hands over his lap. “Hyung, why did you bring me here?”

Jimin knew this moment would come, but he was expecting to be the one that eased Jeongguk into the conversation, so he could gain some sort of control over the situation. He wipes the corners of his mouth with his thumb and puts down his roll to reach for the letter inside his pocket.

“You know how I like to write my friends letters before the year ends to thank them for everything?” Jeongguk nods. “Well, in light of recent events, I, uh, I decided it was best to rewrite yours and read it aloud.”

Jeongguk gnaws at his lip, visibly anxious. “Okay?”

“You don’t have to worry, though. I’m not mad, or anything,” Jimin reassures him, aware of what kind of thoughts are passing through his friend’s head at the moment. “I just need you to listen to me.”

“You know I always do.”

Jimin smiles, his heart aching. “I know. Which is exactly the reason why I need you to hear this.”

With trembling fingers, he unfolds the piece of paper, which is terribly wrinkly and has ink stains all over it. Jimin couldn’t help it; he’s a messy writer. But it’s not helping his nerves.

“I’m going to read it,” he announces, voice wavering. “Um, you might be wondering why, uh, why I’m writing this—” Jimin takes a deep breath. “Ah, fuck it.”

He stands up, crumpling the letter in his hand and shoving it into his pocket. Jeongguk is quick to follow him up, a concerned frown adorning his features.

“You know I hate sugarcoating,” Jimin begins again, shutting his eyes closed for a second before he faces Jeongguk again. “So I’m just going to say it. Please don’t interrupt me until I’m done.”

Jeongguk nods, still confused but willing to respect Jimin’s petitions. “Go ahead; I won’t stop you.”

“Right, so,” Jimin takes a deep breath. “I’m in love with you. I don’t know when it started or how I fell because I realized literally five days ago, but I’m damn sure I love you. I’ve probably loved you since the day we met, if I’m being honest, but it only hit me when we were talking about your issues with your exes, and I could only think that when I was describing the love you deserved, I was talking about the way you make me feel.”

“I’ve never experienced something like this, which I guess is the main reason why I’ve been so slow at understanding what really was going on. You’re really fucking special, you know that?” Jimin chuckles, shaking his head with fondness. “You’re objectively good at everything you do, too fucking handsome for your own good and sweet, so, so sweet. How could I not fall for you? I’m sure you remember I used to laugh at that one phrase, ‘in a room full of art I’d stare at you’, because it seemed fake, forced. I didn’t understand how someone could be so drawn to another human that they’d reject art in their favor… and then we watched the stars, and I had to stop myself from glancing at you because I was scared that you’d catch me staring and learn something about me I myself didn’t know yet.”

Jimin inhales shakily before continuing. “But I don’t want to drag this for long because my disgustingly sappy feelings for you aren’t the main topic. I wanted to, firstly, apologize for not being honest with you. That day in March and Wednesday were more than a kiss for me, but I was selfish, so I hid it because I didn’t want to lose you. And secondly, I just wanted to say that it’s fine if you don’t love me back. I don’t expect you to, and the love and respect you hold for me as a friend is enough for me, Jeongguk-ah, I swear,” Jimin exhales, relieved that it’s coming to an end. He feels his wings expanding, preparing themselves to soar. “Whatever version of your heart you want to lend me is enough for me.”

“Are you done?” Jeongguk asks softly, his eyes glistening with an unreadable expression that terrifies Jimin.

“Yeah,” he breathes, finally free.

Jeongguk takes a step forward then, and before Jimin knows he’s being wrapped into a tight hug, Jeongguk’s arms around his back and nails digging into his coat.

“Hyung, you’re an idiot,” he mumbles against his shoulder. “You’re a hopeless idiot. I can’t believe I’m in love with you.”

“Hey! I’m not an— wait, what did you say?”

Jeongguk leans back to lock his eyes with Jimin, and Jimin sees them. The years of unconditional love spilling over the brim in the shape of tears, unhinged and raw. Jimin hears it, too. Their song.

“I’m in love with you, too,” Jeongguk’s voice is as fragile as glass. “I was so scared I’d lose you I didn’t even consider it an option until that night,” he lets out a wet chuckle. “All I wanted to do was cross the distance between us and kiss you, and it felt like I was being hit by a truck.”

Jimin is sure he’s stopped breathing. “So we were both idiots?”

“Pretty much,” Jeongguk sniffles, grinning. Jimin wipes the stray tear running down his cheek with the back of his thumb, and then cups the side of Jeongguk’s face. “But I don’t think it could’ve gone otherwise. We needed to break to realize it, or else we’d be like ‘oh, I might be in love with him!’ and then cuddle and forget five minutes later.”

Jimin laughs along with him, unable to disagree. “It really makes you wonder for how long this has been obvious to everyone else.”

Jeongguk shrugs. He curls his fingers around the wrist of the hand that’s holding him, and he caresses the skin there. Warmth. “I don’t think it matters, to be honest. We should focus on what this means for us now, on what we’re going to do with this information.”

Jimin hadn’t planned so far. He was so sure he was going to be rejected that he didn’t picture the possibility of moving forward with his feelings— their feelings. He needs Jeongguk close like the sea needs the earth, but that’s as far as it goes.

“I don’t know what to do,” he admits. “We’ve been friends for so long it’s weird to think this is real and not a product of my imagination. It’s like,” he removes his hand from Jeongguk’s face and cups an imaginary sphere in his palms. “I have all this love for you that’s gotten so big I don’t know how or where it fits in my body.”

Jeongguk smiles fondly. “I think we just need to figure it out together and not push it. Act the way we did before but without holding ourselves back, and one day we’ll know. It’s like riding a bicycle; one day you wake up and you don’t need training wheels anymore.”

“You’d be a good writer if you tried, you know?”

Jeongguk rolls his eyes affectionately and moves forward, sliding his arms around Jimin’s neck. They’re standing close, their noses almost touching as Jeongguk towers over him with a lopsided smile. The winter sun caresses his features gently as though he were made of gold. Silver and gold, Jimin thinks. The perfect oxymoron. The prettiest metaphor.

“Hyung,” he whispers, “Can I kiss you?”

Jimin’s breath catches in his throat. His words betray him, so he can only nod and close his eyes, waiting for the tender lips to graze his own. Jeongguk kisses him leisurely, like they have all the time in the world, and maybe this time they do. This kiss doesn’t feel like it’s forbidden nor tastes like lust. It’s pure and gentle, slow-paced. Warm.

Jeongguk holds Jimin’s face in his hands and Jimin pulls him closer by the waist, only breaking the kiss for a second to breathe. He’s pretty sure that his shoes are starting to get soaked with snow, but he doesn’t care.

It’s Friday, and the sun is up, shining over the pearl city that is Busan as if it were summer. Jimin has the boy he loves pressed up against him, leaving mellow kisses over his face and promising him wordlessly that they’ll figure this out together, that he’ll stay for as long as Jimin wants him.

Promising that he loves him, too.

For the first time in years, December feels like the beginning of something— a road that used to take Jimin nowhere, but now it will always lead him to Jeongguk