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Warehouse Kings

Chapter Text

All you need to have a good Friday is someone to cover for you.

It's a weekday, but the classroom is miles away. Across wide open parking lots of near-bankrupt shops and the concrete-cluttered spaces of the ones that have already met their doom, school is far and forgotten. In the opposite corner of this small town under the massive sky, students are learning and Jimin is lying, saying Yoongi is sick at home today.

Here, Yoongi is pulling himself up the steel gratings on the side of the abandoned warehouse, headed to the top. It's in broad morning light, dangerous, but the cars that can see don't care. Many people in this town spend time on the roofs. Aside from watching the occasional demolitions, it's about the most exciting thing there is to do. In this town, people kill time far more than time kills people. Beauty of the empty urban lifestyle.

Standing at the top and looking down, far down, Yoongi can see the crumbling blacktop littered with empty beer cars and candy wrappers. And looking across, far across beneath the low rolling sky and over short concrete buildings, he can see the highway stretching as far away as it can from this place. If he follows it, he knows, for hours and hours, there will be a university, bright and shining and acclaimed, saved for all the bright, shining, acclaimed minds of their time.

It's nothing new, but Namjoon crosses his mind.

Maybe this will be the semester. Last semester had been weak, and so had last year, and every year before that. But maybe this semester. Yoongi pulls a candy out of his pocket and tosses a wrapper off the side of the warehouse. As it flutters down he thinks, Geronimo. It's in Namjoon's voice, as it is in all of his memories. It's a ritual in a sense, one that used to be followed by laughter but now only by the blustering of the strong wind against his ears that whips his hair, his clothes. Colours that complement the cuts and bruises that complement pale skin. Loose fabric that drapes off bones. He's flat broke, but it's always candy and beer over food. For years, it's been. Even if Namjoon's not here to share in it, it's first, always, religiously. Familiar. He's not about to change that.

There's not a lot he's about to change.

In all seriousness, this will probably not be the semester.

Because this, whatever form this absolute anti-importance takes, is how he spends his Fridays, yes. But it's also how he spends his weekends and sometimes Thursdays too, and sometimes Wednesdays, and sometimes everything in between, everything else. Tossing insignificant days like pennies into a fountain until eventually there's thousands of dollars sinking to the bottom and none of his wishes have come true.

Magic or miracles don't exist, not in this town. Landlocked and miles from anything fascinating, the best this place can do is pretend that its soulless sidewalks yet car-packed streets don't murder change or virtuosity with its heavy emissions, don't choke passion with it's rebar fingers. Yoongi pretends, too, that he hasn't fallen into comfortable step with this static-positional warfare of idling against moving on, pretends his opportunities aren't dropping dead quicker than soldiers under an immense barrage.

He inhales the town's polluted air, air that's been draining into his lungs for years, still not entirely sure if he's really ready to leave and be inhaling anything but.

- - -

“How was your day?”

“Exciting.”

“I'm sure.” Jimin hops off the bike rack and bounds toward him, backpack falling low off his shoulders. He probably has extra homework today. “What did you do, spend the entire day alone reading? How exciting.”

“No, you ass. I wrote some shit. And then Hoseok showed up a bit early, for later today.” They both start toward Jimin's house, and Yoongi adds as an afterthought, “Hoseok and everyone else.”

“Mm. All those friends of his. But they're not important enough for you, are they? And they'll never be fun, like me.”

“Jesus, just shut up.”

- - -

“Okay, so Louis the Sixteenth was king at the time, and... this lady here was his wife. Except unlike Louis the Fourteenth, the citizens... Hyung, are you listening?”

“Wh- yeah. Louis the Fourteenth was king.”

“Louis the Sixteenth.”

“Right. What did I say?”

Jimin sighs and moved their books off the edge of the bed. With a dull thud, the heavier one, Jimin's, hits the ground, and Yoongi's near-empty one clatters next to it.

“Are you even trying? We have a test on this stuff Monday and you haven't shown up to any of the classes.”

“Whatever,” Yoongi breathes, sprawling out across Jimin's bed now that there's room. “I learned all this shit last year, anyway. I remember it.”

“Do you really? Because you failed all those tests last year, and that's why you're still here.”

Childish, old spaceship blankets shift as Yoongi props himself up to look Jimin in the eye to properly tell him, “Fuck off.”

“Seriously, hyung. You're going to fail twelfth grade a second time if you d-”

“I said fuck off, Jimin.”

For a moment, they just breathe, wondering when this foreign air became so familiar.

From his pocket, out of the purposefully engulfing black sweater, Yoongi pulls out two hard candies and holds one out to Jimin. His version of a peace offering. There's been the need for too many these days. The red one, cherry, he keeps enclosed in his palm. They're better.

“Want one?”

“...Thanks.” As always, when he takes it and puts it in his mouth, he pushes it against the inside of his cheek so he can clearly tell Yoongi, “Hyung, these candies suck.”

“Yeah, well, they're cheap. Stop complaining, brat.”

They suck on their candies and swallow apologies with sugary saliva.

There are papers spilling out of Jimin's backpack, different subjects like math and chemistry looking busy against the pages. Yet here he is, detailing what he learned in European history from step one for Yoongi. Swallow. But there's the entire weekend for that stuff.

“Y'know, it's Friday,” Jimin tells his clean, white ceiling. Right now, Yoongi is looking at his fingers, delicately carding through Jimin's hair, schoolwork forgotten. Nothing new. When Yoongi turns to look at Jimin, the kid keeps his eyes up on the ceiling, staying flat on his back. Then he curls his fingers on his chest into his T-shirt. “You going?”

“Yeah. You coming?”

“Dunno... My friends say I shouldn't.”

Yoongi sneers around the candy with a ridiculous red-dyed mouth. “Aren't I your friend?”

Shrugging, Jimin snickers, “I guess you could say that.”

Fridays are excuses, just impressive but useless distractions. But more importantly, Fridays are something to do. They're excitement, upheaval, the good kind of risk, everything else this town forgets. A burst of a flashbang in the silence that leaves an empty daze until the next one hits.

“Don't be a bitch.” Yoongi gets up and pushes the window open. This is just precautionary; there's nothing wrong with the front door, but some places in the hallway creak. They'll take advantage of being on the first floor.

While he does that, Jimin picks up a letter from his desk, stares at it a while.

“What's that?” Yoongi asks.

“Uh. Just a card and money... a relative sent me. Maybe I could use it to pay for the b-”

“No, no. Come on.” That easily, he forgets about the letter. As Jimin is pushing his books and bag and that letter into a corner, Yoongi is already halfway outside saying, “Hurry up, we've already wasted time.”

- - -

In the evenings, the warehouse is different. Friday evenings, it's even better. It's not so much the shift in the sun's angle hitting it that makes the place more appealing, but the undercurrents of the town itself seem to change. Everyone's reminded: there's fun to be had in the enormous metal box, over in the corner of town where every second building is abandoned and nearly every other is destroyed to rubble.

Voices bounce up into the steel rafters and clang around in the roof high above their heads. Some voices still on the verge of cracking, some having dropped years ago, some ill-tempered, some elated, some of them boys and some of them girls. People, young and confined still, to toss more into the mass of crushed cigarette butts that blacken the concrete and rolling bottles and cans and then to call it freedom.

“Hey, losers!” Even over the excited buzz, Hoseok has no problem being heard. He bounds over to them, next to the makeshift entrance Namjoon and Yoongi had cut into the massive garage door years ago. The edges are ragged now, and the metal's rusting. They had plans to make it better, but those ended up disappearing even long before Namjoon did.

Hoseok takes the pack of beer Jimin had been holding. “What've you got?” This is ritual as well.

“Something cheap and shitty. Perfect for you,” Yoongi says as the three begin to head toward the back corner. Hoseok tosses the pack of cans onto the pile of multiple others and climbs up onto the tall stacks of wide metal and wooden crates next to it. They call this the throne. The irony of it is Yoongi's favourite part, because sitting up there makes you anything but king.

“Are you gonna go up tonight?” Seokjin is asking Taehyung.

“Depends on the mood, really,” he replies.

Yoongi jumps up to sit next to Hoseok, and Jimin follows. Next to the tattered black quilt Yoongi is sitting on is a plaid wool one, where Jimin sits now. It's just one more thing Namjoon left behind. Another thing of his that just seems to stick around.

Darkness is falling outside, and the weak busted light bulbs far up in the roof are only a dim excuse. What they need is screaming, powerful, hot light to burn their retinas and remind them why they're there. Some kids are meddling with the fire pit in the middle of the warehouse. A sharp ring of metal wedged into the concrete. Not the safest, perhaps, but that's not of the most priority. In fact, it's probably of the least.

Fridays are rule-free, care-free thoughtlessness that throws precaution out the window. All they have left is virtue, the honour and liberty to forget their standings and fall equal, accept victory or loss with their bloody head held high. Easy. Fridays are easy.

“How about you, hyung?” Taehyung leans over so Yoongi can hear him. “Are you going up?”

His swamping sweater is pulled off to reveal an old t-shirt half-covering sinewy and marred arms, strangers to the sun because he makes his bruises scared of the exposing daylight. There's no need to hide them in the nights, though.

“Of course I am.”

- - -

Yoongi's not a loud person. Chooses silence over big yet blank sentences because he's learned it's more respectable. That doesn't mean he won't scream, though, for the people in the middle, the two brightest in the building that dance perilously next to the immense bonfire. He'll scream like a god's just been killed, like demons are chanting into his ear and the fire is rising up inside them all, scream like the end of the world is right now, scream like he wants his lungs to fill with blood. Hell, he'll scream until they do. He'll kick respect and dignity to the curb like every other kid in the goddamn building and release his mind through his busted vocal cords and torn throat.

Because he knows how good it feels when they do it for him.

Get socked in the face and it sucks. Get socked in the face while a crowd howls for your liberty, your salvation, and it's better than happiness, better than sex, better than heaven, better than hell. It's self-will, self-sovereignty.

It's the single loud voice over the chorus of the motley crowd as someone screams, It's the law of the jungle, baby.

And it is, too. Power over prestige, because the latter is essentially nonexistent. There's no hierarchy if there's no royal blood in the first place. All there is is just blood, regular blood of regular people. Good blood decorating the fists of those who claim to favour freedom. Halfway honest blood drawing borders along the edges of the kids' faces, between their boundaries of trust. Fresh blood dripping onto what's already dried, next to the flames scorching in the massive metal ring dug into the concrete in excuse for a fire pit.

So Yoongi stands, seeking self-determination and knowing exactly where to find it. Feet planted on the concrete, facing another boy whose name he will never care to know but whose blood he will be wholly familiar with.

It's funny, he thinks. The crack of his knuckles can't be heard over the roar of the crowd, all watching with their beers and cigarettes that the legal ones bought. Funny that this is how it turned out.

Over the tumult, loud-as-ever Hoseok calls Fight! and shouts clash louder and louder against each other. Sneakers kick off stained cement and they rush, fist-first and aggressive, into the one risky thing they know whose loss can still be bounced back from.

- - -

“Whoa, look at this, man.”

Yoongi and Namjoon are just beginning tenth grade when they find the warehouse. Entering high school, they know they're on the cusp of something great. They just never thought it would be this.

“That? Yeah, who cares? It's a shithole.”

“No, come on. Let's check it out,” Namjoon insists.

It's nothing special: dilapidated and filthy, like nearly every other building nearby. There's space, though, massive and open, with an untouchable ceiling and walls that would be substantially tiring to run back and forth between. Namjoon sees a ladder in the back and rushes across to it. As Yoongi climbs after him, wiping his sooty hands occasionally on the long way up, he starts to feel a little giddy as well.

It's in the quiet corner of town, where no one comes by because there's no reason to. They're standing on the rusted steel roof that bangs hollowly with every step they take, surrounded by empty lots filled with rubble and boarded up buildings. Beyond that, fields extend for miles upon miles until all they can see is the tall telephones poles peeking over the horizon, until those disappear as well.

“This is perfect,” Namjoon breathes. Yoongi has nothing to refute with. “This can be it. I mean, we'll have to make a better door so we don't have to climb through the busted window and stuff, but... We bring some shit in, make it less empty, and boom. We're set.”

Yoongi grins, honest and youthful and excited. They really are.

- - -

“Here.” Seokjin hands Yoongi a cigarette from his own pack.

“Thanks.”

Chaos is still charging the atmosphere and running wild through peoples' bones, but Yoongi's adrenaline rush is over. He flops onto the blankets on the throne, wincing when he falls too hard. His mind's stopped racing now and the pain is catching up to him.

“Nice going out there,” Taehyung says.

“Have I inspired you to go?” Yoongi teases, lighting his stick. “Or are you still gonna wimp out?”

Rolling his eyes, he replies, “I never wimp out. I'm up next.”

“Fight!” Hoseok yells, and the two kids in the middle start up as the crowd ignites all over again. It's brutal, fists that crack against jaws and feet that swing out in hopes of a topple and a few easy hits. But it's nothing compared to being in there, experiencing the momentum and volatility first hand. Yoongi knows. Even though he's just come out of it, is just calming down, the smoke slackening his muscles, he's already fighting the impulse to jump up and tell Hoseok, Hey, I'm going again.

“Yoongi! You won!” Hoseok jumps down from the top crate that composes the throne and joins everyone else.

“Of course I did. Are you gonna go?”

“Yeah, I think I'll go next.”

“Oh, I'm going next,” Taehyung says.

“Oh, alright. I'll go after you, then.”

Not a rule, but just something that's been silently agreed upon. You fight strangers, acquaintances, hell, even enemies, but not friends. Never friends.

Hoseok continues, “And... Seokjin! Are you gonna go today? C'mon, something about tonight... I have a feeling you'd win!”

Shaking his head and blowing cigarette smoke toward Hoseok, Seokjin says, “You know I don't.”

Hoseok huffs, “Fine.” He's not really upset though, and Seokjin just ruffles his hair playfully.

The night continues, fight after fight. Some of them seasoned veterans, some newcomers trying this for the first time. There's no such thing as a shallow end, no dipping your toes in. Some people that jump in get thrashed. But they continue. Afterwards, as custom, their opponent will stick out a hand and help them up, laugh together at their thick, dripping blood, and continue. They all continue.

“You did good,” a soft voice next to him says. Jimin. In the rush, he'd almost forgotten about him. He's leaning, just watching and smoking like he does, against Taehyung's legs, who's sitting on a crate a level above Jimin and playing with his hair, but attention focused elsewhere.

“Thanks.” The smile Jimin gives him is oddly private considering they're surrounded by people, and Yoongi can't help but return it around his own cigarette.

- - -

It's far before tenth grade that Yoongi had stopped caring about school, but it's not until then that it starts to affect his marks. Namjoon, though, is still going strong, pulling in 90s despite the fact that he wastes his days just the same way Yoongi does. If he says he's not the smallest bit bitter, he's lying.

It's still early, his parents tell him. If you pull your grades up, you may go to that good university yet.

He can't help it, though. School is boring, the same way his family is boring and this town is boring. Everyone wants out, but him most of all.

Then Hoseok says one day, “I have a fun idea.”

And the proposition's so outrageous and terrible and appealing that Yoongi can't even make fun of him and his stupid, naive ninth grade ideas. All he does is agree, despite Namjoon's ridicule and skepticism. Hoseok doesn’t know the high school environment like they do, but he knows fun better than the back of his hand. So what if it's a little juvenile, risky, or downright senseless.

Above all, it will be different.

A change is what Yoongi craves, what the blood in his veins draws to like magnets, the same blood that rushes to his brain and fills it with thoughts of possible awaiting excitement. The same blood that splatters, thin and fresh and shockingly red against the ground the first time he takes a punch.

To Namjoon, he says, “Hit me.”

“Wh- No, make Hoseok do it! It was his idea!”

Hoseok backs away from them, laughing a bit nervously. “No way, man, you guys are the same age. It's equal that way.”

“Are you fucking joking? I'm the same age as you, I just skipped a grade!”

With his shoulders squared and stance wide, Yoongi sighs. “Yeah, yeah, Mr. Smarty Pants. Come on. Hit me.”

“Yeah, no.”

“Come on, bitch.”

Namjoon bristles, but still shakes his head. Still, Yoongi can see his fist curling.

“What, are you fucking chicken? You can't ev-”

A quick fist cleanly smashes into his cheek, right against his cheekbone. For a moment, with the overwhelming flood of blood in his mouth, he worries he bit off a chunk of tongue. He's fine, though. Better than fine. Hoseok screams and guffaws, and Namjoon's immediately at his side saying Fuck, sorry, sorry.

“S'alright.” Yoongi spits blood onto the floor and looks at the dripping stain of it underneath his head, the small spots of it around him. Before this, the concrete had been relatively clean, save for a few spots of white paint. Now, next to their homemade fire pit they had put in a few months ago when they first discovered the place, there was a telling of some small violence. There needed to be more, though, for it to really change anything. With lanky, shaking arms Yoongi pushes himself up, a little disoriented from the shock. A bit more dizzied from the thrill.

“Do it again.”

At first, it's just them: Fridays and, if they're lucky, some shitty beer Yoongi manages to steal from his father. It's the one day Namjoon isn't swamped by studying or music class or language class or anything else. For Yoongi, it could really be any day.

Then Hoseok invites a friend, and it's not even gradual after that. Nothing with Hoseok is ever gradual. It's still in the warehouse and it's still the three of them, but every week there's more and more people. More and more fighting. What at one point was the three of them sitting around the fire smack in the middle of the building with blankets and conversations becomes the three of them watching, merciless hook after swing, and cheering just as loud as everyone else. Yoongi doesn't really realize it until one day, when he tries to tell Namjoon about a guy he'd just fought and realizes he can't even tell him the guy's name. Can't even recall his hair colour.

All he can draw up is red.

It becomes astronomical, or as astronomical as anything in this town can get. Not even earth-shaking, in that sense. But it changes their lives, certainly. Yoongi no longer walks back from school hating the goading letter D his teachers write out in red ink because he knows victory will come when the final bell of the week rings and Hoseok's shout echoes into the beams of the ceiling. He no longer feels the panicked rush to get out of bed and get to school, and eventually he gets to ignoring it altogether, because he knows he will do great things come Friday.

Victory becomes his productivity, and he gets great at achieving it. No one expects the short, skinny, pale kid to knock out punch after punch like he does.

“Y'know, I don't really like fighting you guys,” Namjoon mutters one day, on the rare weekdays when something gets cancelled and he has the time. Rolled out onto the flat, metal roof, Hoseok nods. Even he knows this is a moment for peace. The wind whispers pretty futures into their ear and pets their hair. The sunny sky tells them they have all the time in the world.

Yoongi rolls over, wincing slightly as he bumps the wound on his arm, and says, “Yeah, me neither.”

Namjoon nods, then easily goes back to bouncing ideas back and forth, Yoongi writing lyrics into his notebook. Dreams outlined in pencil lead on lined paper. Not schoolwork, though, but music.

And they stop fighting one another. Most of the people that come in groups have been doing the same, anyway. They still fight, though, chasing the exhilaration of dopamine that dilates their pupils and lets them take in the whole world. Makes their own seem insignificant. Maybe this is why time got away from him. Passed by in the crazy sub-microscopic moments that he didn't even realize he was experiencing.

Ask Yoongi if he misses the days when it was just the three of them, when he could move without hurting somewhere and the only injuries he got were from catching his finger in the zipper of his backpack. He probably couldn't say.

- - -

“I have a fun idea.”

“Oh, God. That can't be good.”

In the night, under street lamps and next to Jimin, Yoongi is giddy. He wished he could say it was from the mild alcohol or exhausted delirium, but he knows it's not. There's something about the adrenaline, the pain beat back by surging endorphins, that essentially changes his chemical makeup. Just for the night, even.

“Next week.” Yoongi says this every week.

“Nope.” Jimin also says this every week.

Yoongi checks to make sure he's wiped the blood properly from his arm before he swings it over Jimin's shoulder. A loose, familiar motion that never comes when he's sober. He doesn’t do a good job, though. There are always open wounds. Jimin never fights, but still has shirts that are stained angry rusted iron.

“Someday?” Yoongi asks, turning to look at Jimin with raised eyebrows and a hopeful smile.

“Nope. You know I don't fight, hyung.” Jimin's a solid weight for Yoongi to lean against, slightly shorter but nowhere near as bony. He'd make a formidable fighter, Yoongi knows.

The kid mildly smells of cigarettes, a lingering scent that disappears on any other night.

When he wobbles, Jimin's there gripping his thin frame through loose clothes. Sometimes Yoongi worries him. Jimin's careful not to hold too tight, mindful of the injuries. But often there are too many, and Yoongi winces anyway.

It probably would be even worse when the sun's up, when there's no residual delirium from getting socked in the temple, no muddling alcohol in the blood that seeps from his wounds. If Yoongi would be as touchy-feely with Jimin then, he'd probably be wincing a lot more. Jimin would probably have to be a lot more careful

He's already so careful.

Jimin looks away from Yoongi. It's precarious, having Yoongi's face this close to his. Uncertain. Unfamiliar.

Yoongi's sharp angles dig into his side.

“Hey, let's go to my house. We have left-over pizza, I think.”

When Yoongi replies, he hums it into the curve of Jimin's neck, soft and lazy. Happy? Perhaps. It's Friday. “Yeah. Your place is nice.”

- - -

12. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy required church officials to be:

Fuck if I know.

He even recalls Jimin going over this with him, while Yoongi was spacing out and petting his fingers through Jimin's hair. It's not a problem, though. Yoongi just furtively glances at the wall his desk is against. Scratched pencil marks of Jimin's handwriting from the class before. Looking, 12, 12, 12... 12:B.

Ridiculously easy.

They couldn't do this last year, but now Jimin's learning the same things as him. Now Jimin seems to have less constraints over following the rules.

Yoongi walks out of class knowing he scored at least a 90, because that's what Jimin always scores. Before he leaves, though, he'll make sure to put an eraser to the wall. As promised.

- - -

“How'd you do?”

“93. How about you, hyung?”

“93. Funny how that works.”

“Pft. Yeah, funny.”

- - -

93.

Yoongi swings and his hard fist knocks against the kid's jaw.

A.

He goes again, and this time he feels the kid's teeth through his cheek.

What does it mean?

It's his second try of twelfth grade and now he has stacks of As scrawled in red to replace the disappointment of D, D, Ds. Repeat, redo. It's still written in the same angry red, though, and it still means nothing.

His opponent, taller and wider as always, cuts brutal knuckles straight across Yoongi's face.

No red will ever mean anything next to the red that he spits onto the ground.

With each punch, Yoongi releases tension over anticipation, anger over aimlessness, frustration over desertion.

What did he ever do different from him?

What does it matter?

The crowd screams loudly, but never louder than his thoughts. Those are only drowned out by the blows and bashes that reverberate through his bones, painful enough for a distraction. He's in love with winning, and losing himself. His peace is only a facade.

Over before he knows it, he's helping the other guy up. Saying, good fight. Smiling because of the lingering cracks that come from his fingers. Their dripping blood that looks thicker in the dim warehouse light.

- - -

One day in eleventh grade, Namjoon says, “I've been invited to compete in this debate.”

Yoongi doesn’t even look up from his pencil scrawling quick and smooth over his notebook. “Oh, cool. Nerd.” He writes another line, but then stops and forces himself to erase it. Just good is not enough.

“No, really. It's kind of a big deal, too. Over in the giant stadium in the city. University officials and stuff will be there. Could help me get a scholarship.”

Yoongi knows it's beyond a big deal, but he keeps his eyes on his page. He writes another line and taps out the beat that he or Namjoon might rap it to. Maybe legitimately perform someday. Wishful thinking. “Well, good luck to you, then.”

“Jesus, you're an asshole.”

“Yeah, yeah. Okay, just help me with this lyric-”

Money is a huge deal. Money means freedom, opportunity for bigger things and the excitement that comes with them. Money means everything beyond this town, chances and circumstances held in their wallets.

Wallets they don't have.

The thing about money is there's never enough of it. Namjoon and Yoongi know this better than anyone.

Yoongi's father will come home with a stack of lottery tickets pinched between his fingers, justifying it by saying chance is the game of life. Holding nothing but her head held high will be his mother, coming home smelling like the casino and reeking of complaints that the machines are rigged.

In a sense, Yoongi's been brought up to gamble.

The only person Yoongi ever goes to is Namjoon, and vice versa. They know that if they moan about having nothing to eat, the other will offer nothing out of pity because they have just as little. They know the casual joking tone of monetary complaints go far deeper than that, and know that neither of them want to delve into it.

Mutual understanding.

They share dreams of music and dreams of escape and so so many dreams.

In truth, this debate brings stabs of fear through Yoongi's heart. He's always known Namjoon's strived harder than he ever has at getting an opportunity to leave, but he never thought anything would come of the work.

Pessimism comes at a price.

Change is inevitable. Yoongi's spent too long doubting it.

Namjoon's been reaching up, up, up for years, and he's finally begun to grab onto something. And Yoongi's still sitting on the ground, playing with the dirt and wishing he'd gotten up and started trying years ago. Now he feels too late. Too far behind.

- - -

“Hey, hyung?”

“Yeah?”

Over the mild din of the crowd, in the more relaxed atmosphere that comes between fights, Jimin asks, “What's it like?”

Yoongi snickers and cracks open a beer can. It bubbles over a bit and the liquid drags away some of the dried blood on his hands. “Why, you finally thinking of trying?”

“No, I'm just curious.” Some navy blue threads come loose as Jimin fiddles with the blankets they're sitting on. Ashes fall from his cigarette.

There's so much to say.

It's exhilarating. You know that feeling when you ride a bike down a hill with no hands? Jump off a tree once you've climbed as far up as you could? That rushing, windy feeling that fills your lungs and blocks your windpipe at the same time? It's that, but ten-fold. A hundred-fold. In the moment, it's everything. After the moment, you just wish you could go back. And with this, you can.

It's boundless, as far as you can see. But then again, that's only so far.

Yoongi just sips his beer and says, “You've got to try it to know.”

Jimin huffs, “Fine.”

In the middle, they're preparing for the next fight and stoking the fire. The eerie light flickers and hits Jimin's face at uneven angles, makes his hair look a warmer shade. Bruised fingers rise to push through the strands gently, and Jimin's fingers still on the frayed fabric and he nearly drops his cigarette. They do this often, but they're normally more alone, or Yoongi's more drunk.

“Why are you asking?”

“...I've just been wondering. About you.”

Humming, Yoongi works through a knot in Jimin's hair, rough hands with soft motions. Hands that Jimin hates to imagine curling up and turning white, tense and drawn. Taking advantage of Yoongi's relaxed mood, Jimin moves to rest his head in his lap.

“I wish our Fridays could be more like this instead.” He's a small person, already had two beers. Enough to loosen the tongue.

“What's wrong with what we do now?” Yoongi laughs, mellow.

Then above them on the throne Hoseok yells Fight! and the crowd roars so loud that Yoongi can't hear Jimin's answer.

It's not until later that it happens. Not a rarity, exactly, but uncommon enough to shock. At first it's just them, just normal. Pain chases after Yoongi and he runs through can after can until he's far enough ahead that it can't catch up. Chatting with Jimin, Taehyung, Hoseok, Seokjin, Jimin. Jimin. Jimin.

It's not until later that he regrets it.

Why did he have to be here?

Two people are caught in a dangerous dance in the centre of the warehouse, nearing the end of their fight.

Why did he have to see this?

Because Jimin's seen bad, but he's not seen this.

They're fast and blurring, flickering in the fickle firelight like a film reel on fast-forward. Then one goes down.

Pause button.

Because one goes down into the sharp metal, a repulsive crack against the rim of the bonfire pit.

One stays down, the other one stops. Everyone goes silent. Yoongi feels Jimin tense in his lap. Usually they're fine, but he doesn’t know that. When the kid twitches and then pushes himself up, shaky but quick, prideful, Jimin doesn’t know why the crowd cheers. Metal is a bigger deal than flesh. It's a victory, in essence. It's just customary. But he doesn't know that.

Metal is sharper than knuckles. That's all he knows, all he sees.

Running, running, running down the boy's face, forehead to hair to eyebrow, nose, jaw, neck, shirt is blood, blood, blood.

Yoongi sees Jimin's hand twist into the fabric of the blankets.

He hasn't been coming here long. It hasn't been that long since Namjoon left.

It's not barbaric or anything, he wants to say. It's not like it seems.

This kind of thing is rare.

Rare, sure. But often enough, familiar for most.

“Guess I've gotta check if he's not gonna die or something,” Seokjin jokes and jumps down as the kid is brought over to the throne. The crowd is cheering and laughing that he's okay and that he's experienced it and the kid is marvelling at the abundant blood that pours from him and Jimin is a board in Yoongi's lap.

Jimin thought he'd gotten over his apprehension, thought it had passed without him having to admit it to anyone. Turns out there's a lot of blood in a body. Enough to change that thought.

“Relax,” Yoongi leans down and murmurs. “It happens all the time.”

Hoseok's laughing and Taehyung's clapping the kid on the back as Seokjin lightheartedly ridicules him while bandaging him up.

“He's gonna be fine.”

That's not what Jimin's worried about, but he nods anyway.

- - -

For as long as Jimin's known Yoongi the boy's had scuffs, rough against what was once smooth, and purple bruises spreading under his skin like ink in water. If there's ever been a time when he's seen him unmarred, he can't recall it. It's rare that he ever sees much of Yoongi's skin to begin with. Always drowning in massive sweaters and long pants. Hoping to cover all he refuses to share.

Jimin will take advantage of it when he can. Yoongi's often so closed off, but there are days when he asks Jimin to tag along on a weekday. Days that hold a certain significance, because the two often only get Friday nights and the weekends that follow, when Yoongi remains at Jimin's house claiming it's because he needs help with what he missed in class.

So it's special. Special and sporadic.

“I fucking hate this.” Yoongi scribbles out an answer next to the equation. “Why am I here?”

Taehyung and Jimin look at the number he wrote an copy it into their books.

“Because you like seeing us,” Taehyung says.

“I see you every week.”

“That's different.”

Quick and careless, Yoongi scrawls out another number. 28.

This is the one class he shares with Jimin. The one class Jimin can't write on the wall for during the period before.

143

From the front of the room the teacher watches Taehyung and Jimin blatantly glance at and copy from Yoongi's book. Then she blanks her face and looks away.

“What a joke,” Yoongi mutters.

“Well you're learning,” Jimin reasons. “Maybe now you won't waste both my time and yours trying to get caught up.”

92.5

“Shut up.”

5.75... No-

“And you're still helping me with European History.”

5.25. There.

“After school.”

As he writes down Yoongi's answers, Jimin's quiet. Then, “It's Wednesday.”

Yoongi pushes his book towards Taehyung so he can see it.

“I know.”

The last class of the day always feels the longest, but Yoongi doesn’t mind it. Not as much as he says he does. Tick, tock, goes the clock, and conversation will fill the moments in between. Uninterrupted. The usual, constant, breakneck sprint slacking to a stroll. A friendly change of pace.

Later, when the bell rings, Taehyung catches Yoongi's loose, fraying sleeve.

He says, “Hey, I won't be coming Friday. Just to let you know. And so others know, too.”

Giving him a confused look, Yoongi assures, “Sure, man. It's not like we've got some attendance list, though. You're not obligated or whatever.”

Taehyung nods. “Yeah, alright. Just though I'd say something.”

As Taehyung leaves, Yoongi watches him step out the door and smile to someone in the halls, out of his sight, before running off. For such a small interaction, it gives him a strange feeling that weighs heavy and hard to shake off, an unwelcome weight sabotaging an otherwise perfect balance. 

- - -

“You know why he told you, right?” Jimin asks with words flattened by a candy on his tongue.

“I don't care.” Yoongi peels another and tosses the wrapper off the metal warehouse roof. As it falls it says, fainter than the wind, Geronimo. Another piece of litter to further spoil this dead town.

Jimin explains anyway, “He's never missed a day since he started.”

Impressive, Yoongi would say if he wasn't the same.

“He sees it as beyond an obligation. A religion, maybe. No, a cult. Yeah.”

Yoongi turns his head to the side to look at Jimin laying on his back as well, wonders how he got that idea when they're both looking at the same sky.

“Sees it as kind of a cult. They all do.”

“Don't be stupid.”

“I never said I thought it was a cult! But a lot do.”

“Then they're all stupid.”

In the lull, Jimin reaches into the pocket of Yoongi's windbreaker to pull out another candy. He gets a red one, puts it back, and grabs another. Green.

“I figured it was because he got scared,” Yoongi admits.

“Well can you blame him if he did?”

“I dunno. Can you?”

“...I dunno.”

They let the world do its talking, the far-off cars, the far-reaching breeze, then the concentrated quiet that masks it all, acts like the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Like it never did.

“It wasn't him, though,” Jimin continues. “It was another one of his friends. Heard about what happened, told him not to go. And he's always looking to please, so...”

'What happened.' As if it was some freak accident, as if nine people died and twelve more lost a limb.

Yoongi scoffs, “It's not even a big deal.”

“But it's kind of frightening, don't you think?”

“Eh, comes with the fight. What's fun without a little fear?”

Jimin nods but his heart's not in it and his eyebrows knit. Yoongi hands him another candy as he gets one for himself. Their hands are so different. Near-white and torn knuckles next to completely scar-free, golden skin. Jimin's healthy hands that stiffen to hide the tremor as they grab the candy.

Yoongi sighs. “Jimin, relax. That kind of shit always happens. It's just a matter of who.”

“Exactly.”

Tension crackles in his syllables as their eyes meet, voltage exchanged in the crisp air.

“Jimin,” Yoongi begins in warning.

“No hyung, you know what I'm saying. You get it. I know you do. You always do. Taehyung's got the right idea. That guy he's with, Jungkook's his name; him too. He's smart. Going places, that kind of guy. Taehyung could be, too.”

And what about me, Yoongi wants to scream. He's got heaps of dreams, lists of destinations, just like any other person in this beat down place. Coupled with absolutely no means of attainment, and the crumbled grains of hope that trickled through his fingers like soft sand long ago. Some things exist to be forgotten.

Jimin breathes. Everything between them has been so delicate recently. Under the habitually returning weight of impending change, them hurtling through each semester with even momentum than the last, there are tensions of unspoken words to last a lifetime. A few moments of them and Jimin's already winded.

“I just think it's a bad idea.”

“What's one more bad idea?”

“It's... risky. This one. I'm just not sure-”

“You're just scared, is what you are. Hesitant.” Jagged words meant to bite. Jimin flinches when he feels them on his unscarred skin. “I get it; blood is frightening. But here's the thing. That kid smashing his head in like that doesn’t change anything, because to us, it doesn't happen. Hoseok, Taehyung, or I. There's a reason we sit on the throne and not on our own shitty chairs and blankets we have to bring in to the floor.”

He says, “That doesn't happen to us.”

He says, “Not to us.”

Never in the old world's history has a commoner held the crown. In the classes Yoongi has made it a religion to skip, they only learn of the townspeople as a mere collective body. The names they learn, the royalty, the ones that get printed in ink a thousand times over throughout history, are the ones that stick. In time, in memory.

He says, “I fucking invented that throne, Jimin.”

Jimin asks, “What about Namjoon?” It's not a question, though. Not a real one.

“Namjoon too,” Yoongi has to pull deliberate and hard to shrug his shoulders, indifferent. “But Namjoon's gone.”

“Namjoon's been gone a while.”

“He has.”

“Long enough, I suppose.”

“Suppose so.”

And that's usually as close as they get to talking about it.

If you ask either of them when their amicable friendship changed, shadowed into something more concealed yet equally powerful, they would have different answers. Jimin would say over the summer, when Namjoon began to pack up his things and Yoongi began to pick up his fights. Yoongi would say it was gradual, though, sometime between Jimin's awkward tenth grade body and now, twelfth and sure.

Jimin takes the wrapper he had been hanging on to and unfurls his strong fingers. The wrapper falls. Contemptuous, but not destructively so, he says, “Geronimo.”

Along with the piece of plastic, the words, too, drift with the breeze. Like they don't weigh a thousand tonnes, enough to drag down their lungs until they burst straight through the bottom. Like those words hadn't been first spoken and carried by Namjoon. Like Yoongi doesn't know what Jimin means when he says them.

Yoongi wonders if they can ever go back, back to when a no to hanging out meant nothing, back to when the only things Jimin knew of the warehouse were the rumours he never gave a second thought about. Or was there even ever anything worth going back to? With Namjoon, everything had been so focused, zoomed in. Namjoon, the only person he could be honest with, who understood the honesty and met it with his brutal own. Without Namjoon, what's still zoomed in has become a blurry mess of tunnel vision. The picture has always been so big and all Yoongi can see is brawls through crossed eyes.

When he looks at Jimin, he wonders what's worth focusing on.

Jimin gives him a regretful look after his words, but doesn't apologize. Nothing has been done out loud. All nuance. What they need might be admittance. Recognition. Light to shine on everything they hide from themselves. But there's no way to know. Not for sure.

Everything feels better again when Yoongi smiles softly and Jimin does too. He doesn't know what happened between them, what Jimin's ever thinking, but perhaps it's better that way.

What little of their papers that had been laid out in an excuse for studying shift in a strong gust, and a few go flying off the flat warehouse roof.

“Wind's picking up,” Yoongi says.

“Let's go.”

“...Where?”

“My house.”

- - -

Yoongi hates this town. Hates the dreary sky that reflects their boredom back onto them. Hates the flat streets, flat buildings, flat faces of everyone that wishes they were elsewhere. Hates that the one building that isn't concrete brick is the casino. Its bright lights and allure and everything it stands for. There's plenty to hate.

Yoongi hates this town, sure, but that doesn't make him special. Everyone hates this town. What makes him special is that he's still here, nearly a year later.

A boy like him, he's always heard, a boy like him will be sure to leave here the minute he can.

As he's grown up he's been told, You've got dreams to last ten lifetimes, kid.

Don't let it go to waste, they said.

You only get one chance, they said.

I didn't take it, and look where I am now.

You don't want to end up like me, do you, kid?

No.

Yet he's still here.

If there's one thing he's ever liked, it's the comfort. What is preserves, unceasing. But now the calendar's flipping by and even that is slipping right through his fingers. He can grab, make desperate fists with practiced resilience, but it will always escape him. Time. Chance. It's all reaching the far end of the continuum. Nothing feels gradual anymore, not like it did before.

Whatever happened to before?

“I think...” Jimin says mostly to himself. “I think it's on the desk. Hold on.”

He hops across the room to his desk. He pushes aside some papers and that letter from his relative and grabs a book to bound back to the bed with. For once, it's not a schoolbook. There's something about these extra days they share that remove obligation.

“It's really good.” Jimin hands Yoongi the book. “Promise you'll read it, hyung.”

“Yeah.” Yoongi flips the book over in his hands.

“Promise.”

Meeting Jimin's wide, insistent gaze, Yoongi can't help but return a grin. “Fine, you dork. I promise.”

Entirely unnecessary, because he would have read it regardless. He's always liked reading the books Jimin lends him. Although he won't admit it, there's a mild intimacy hidden between thin pages and among full words that he knows Jimin had at one point held, experienced, just as he is. Something just between them. Namjoon's never been one for fiction. Hoseok's never been one for books.

Just one more morsel of comfort Jimin provides.

Yoongi pops another cold spring roll in his mouth.

“Jesus, when was the last time you had food?” Jimin says it jokingly, but there's truth clinging thick to the sides.

“Fuck if I know.” Things like that always fall flat.

The truth, essentially. Too grand and daunting for either of them to face alone, Yoongi too prideful to share, Jimin too cautious to ask. They fear it, a veiled, powerful thing that stretches and looms, grows as their responsibilities do. Right now Yoongi confronts it with a shield and a mask, false bravery, and throws blame at his parents. Give him the remainder of the year, though, and he'll no longer have the supplied roof or the unsteady, insufficient financial pillar. Although they never provided much else, it's more than he has himself.

He can't fail again.

“You know,” Jimin says. Yoongi's always liked his voice. “You know you can always come to me, right?” That doesn’t mean he has to like the words his voice forms, though.

“Yeah,” he clips. “I know.”

Here it is again, the fat, mile-long elastic band that stretches between them even further. Too far to be slowly returned. Inevitably, when it snaps, everything between them will shatter from the bounce and shock wave. Then they'll cut their fingers on the shards of what broke as they reach for each other.

Yoongi feels it. Jimin feels it.

Ever since Namjoon left.

“I'm serious,” Jimin persists, which is new. A lot between them is new nowadays. “I'm your best friend. I'm always here.”

“Psh,” Yoongi says to lighten the mood. He likes Jimin better when he's smiling and not focusing on his problems. “Please, you're not even close.”

He giggles, and a lot between them is familiar as well. Like the feeling Yoongi gets at his smile, easy and pulsating. Warm.

“C'mon, hyung. Name one person you're closer to than me.”

“Uh, Hoseok? Seokjin? Namjoon? Hell, I'd even say I like Taehyung better than you, and he's bailed on us for some bitch friend of his.”

“Don't lie. When was the last time you even talked to Namjoon? And the others, fuck them. Seriously. Fuck all of them. Especially Tae.”

Rolling over to rest his head on his arms and put his face close to Yoongi's, Jimin says, “Admit it. I'm your favourite.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes and grabs a spring roll from the container placed next to Jimin's pillow. “Fine. Whatever.”

“No, say it.”

“Christ, okay.” Their bodies are nearly parallel to each other, still bent comfortably and lying on their sides. Close together, Yoongi tells straight to Jimin's eyes, “You're my favourite.”

“Damn right.”

Perhaps he should feel weird. Instead, he's just warm. Jimin's bed is comfortable. This is the first time this week he's had proper food in his belly. Jimin smiles. Warm.

Black, baggy sleeves are pushed up to his elbows. With delicate fingers, Jimin traces the exposed skin. Old scars and new cuts. Perhaps he should feel uncomfortable.

The usual tales of terror that bash inside his skull, whisper vibrating worry through his bones, go silent at Jimin's house. Money, food, future. Who needs it? Superficial comfort.

Real comfort is here, in the occasional scratch of Jimin's fingernails that he forgets to trim, the dryness of his skin that matches Yoongi's own. Moisturizer is expensive. Jimin's just lazy. Everything is nice, though. Reminiscent of good things, easy things. Stress-free and right.

“Just remember,” Jimin says as his index finger traces down a long, white mark on his forearm that used to be a gash, then circles a bruise from some punch at some point. “I'm always here. Always will be."

What a dirty lie, Yoongi thinks but would never dare say.

“Yeah, yeah.”

Although not openly, he will admit that there are things he shared with Namjoon that he will never want Jimin to hear. Dignity is a factor. Another one, though, is that they are two different people, think different, see different. Namjoon knows how it feels to crane his neck up at the world with an empty wallet, while Jimin, his whole life, has sat among the comfortable. It's not for better or worse. Simply different. Changed.

What's wrong with change?

You need change.

Don't you?

Truth is, though, Jimin knows. And Yoongi knows Jimin knows. Jimin's smart, ninety percent average smart, multiple close friends smart. Academic, social, everything else, Jimin understands it.

So he understands the mild uncomfortable flit in Yoongi's eyes that he tries to hide when he's wearing thin fabric and catches Jimin staring at it hanging incredibly loose from his jutting bones. Understands why he's almost always in sweaters and jackets. Understands the artificial nonchalance as he asks Jimin for a few bills to cover this week's beer, just this week's, promise.

Beyond that, though, he knows there has to be so much more he will never unravel. A million years and he'll still be stuck with the convoluted rope that is Yoongi, tangled beyond saving.

Their eyes meet, both thinking the same thing, both knowing it, both pretending not to.

The thing is Jimin can't do anything until Yoongi admits it. The thing is Yoongi doesn't accept help. Assurance. Anything.

Jimin's hands are still touching Yoongi's arms.

“You're fucking weird,” Yoongi says.

“Shut up, hyung. You like it.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Just said I was your favourite, didn't you?”

“Hm, did I?”

Jimin's bed smells nice. Jimin smells nice. Up close, Yoongi can see individual strands of his hair, ones that he knows are soft from his habit of running his fingers through them when they're together. He does so, lifts one hand to push Jimin's hair from his eyes. His other hand is left with Jimin's tracing fingers.

“You like it,” Jimin repeats, a little quieter but still with conviction.

It should be intimate, lying and facing each other like this, but it's not allowed to be. At least not out loud. Maybe in Yoongi's head, beneath the thoughts of don't let this get to your head, don't get too attached, remember your friendship, remember that at some point everyone has to leave, it is. Incredibly. For far too long.

But isn't the first step supposed to be admittance?

“I might.”

As if it's debatable. Years go on years and he knows: it's solid, stable. He likes Jimin's touch, his presence. His eyes. They're closed now. His lips. God.

With the way they are, with Jimin being the only person Yoongi ever really touches besides the ones he's beating into the ground, with Jimin being the only one allowed to break the unspoken rule of don't ever touch Yoongi, it's expected. That said, it's still nice.

When their lips meet, Yoongi allows himself the pleasant surprise. Discovery. If he were to admit anytime soon that he's already imagined what Jimin's lips might feel like, he'd find that they're drier than he expected with a still nice warmth to them, his kiss a bit rougher and more deliberate than what Yoongi had imagined.

It's not a total surprise. More of something they knew was in the build up for years. Nothing is earth-shattering. The wind doesn't even stutter. Just Yoongi's own breath, a little. Hopefully Jimin didn't notice.

Yoongi laughs and pulls back slightly to tease, “C'mon, kiss me like you mean it,” just to make sure he doesn't seem nervous.

Under his golden skin, Jimin's flushed.

“Fuck you, I do mean it.”

Reality is always different than what you hope for. It's not sweet and slow, but they're foreigners to that anyway. The only sweetness they know is the artificial kind from candy and its sugar-high, the only slowness they know the calm, rising curl of smoke from the warehouse bonfire, surrounded by its rush. Everything is dizzying. Even this.

Especially this.

Playful teeth scrape against Yoongi's lips, and he realizes Jimin's body is slowly rolling them over to put Yoongi under him. He can't have that. More forcefully than he needs to, Yoongi moves one hand up Jimin's arm and the other into his hair just above his neck. When he pulls on the strands, Jimin's mouth falls open, a pleased sound belatedly stopped in his throat.

Then Yoongi rolls them over, so they're proper. Positioned how he wants them. This shouldn't be a competition, but he's making it one.

“Yoongi.” Jimin's mutter is muffled by his lips, and then his tongue as Yoongi licks into his mouth. With one hand, he squeezes Jimin's bicep and feels the power. Clasps his waist with the other and feels the solidity. Normally, feeling Jimin's body when they get a bit too close when he's a bit too tipsy, he'd think how good a fighter he would make. Now, he's only thinking about how this boy, with all his muscle, is lying beneath him.

Pliant isn't the right word. Jimin still growls when Yoongi bites down hard enough to hurt on his plump lip, still bites back even harder when Yoongi snickers. Maybe playful. Playful is a good word.

It's hot. The temperature in Jimin's house can always be set a little higher, but that's not why. Fire passes between their skin and in their breaths, spills hot from their blood into their bellies. What stops them and causes Yoongi to pull back and jump to the other edge of the bed is a knock on Jimin's door and his mother asking if either of them are hungry.

Yoongi answers no and feels weird doing it. Partly because that's usually never the answer. Partly because he's just made out with her son.

She leaves and Yoongi flits his eyes to Jimin, still lying on the bed and breathing hard through red lips. He stares back with equally wide eyes and a secretive giggle bubbles from his lips. And with laughter, the tension leaves Yoongi's body as well.

“Hyung-”

“Are you-”

“We just-”

“And you-”

“I know-”

“And I-”

“And we-”

“Yeah-”

Ridiculous, sure, but they've never been anything but.