"I just...I'm tired," Jungkook mutters, head down, backpack slung low on his shoulders as the clouds start to thicken.
Behind him, the rain spirit likewise ducks her head, looks apologetic; Jungkook relents, glancing over, backward.
"It's not you. You're nice," he trips over his words, a frantic desire to please. "I--" He's facing her now, watching her rub her translucent hands together as if for warmth. They stand there long enough that Jungkook is saturated. It will take forever for his uniform to dry out, which means he might as well skip tomorrow -- something which both elates him and wracks him with worry all at once. Tonight: no thunder, just rain, just mist deep and treading in like the silence.
"I just thought," the rain spirit pauses, considers, meets his eyes at last with her own, and Jungkook can see more than he bargained for.
But it is always like this.
She reaches out one hand and stops just shy of his cheek where a scar still lives.
"I just thought you seemed lonely." It's the kind of thing he isn't accustomed to spirits caring about. On the typical day they are simply out for his blood, on the odd day they need his help. Days like this one are so few and far between he forgets every time. His chest hurts and he doesn't know why, stumbling when someone hurries by, umbrella clipping him in the back of the neck.
Words like "I'm fine" are easy but spirits don't do outright lies the same as people do.
"Maybe," he says instead, grips his bag tighter, and goes home.The spirit also goes home and talks to her sky arboretum (water in shapes of flowers, branches made of stars, a firmament made of the clouds that won't stop crying until morning) about the boy with two hearts.
The kind of song he carries with him.
. . .
Spring gives into Summer like a best friend.
. . .
Jungkook. 16. Excels at physical activities. May be held back for life because of math. Loves music. Has approximately two friends.
"Jungkookie!" 1/2. A warm arm curls about his shoulders, sort of hangs off of him in prelude to the shock of orange hair in his face. Only a little older than him, but sometimes Jimin can be mistaken for the youngest of all, sometimes Jungkook wonders why they work so well together, but for the most part he's just grateful. He reaches to sweep back some of Jimin's hair, out of his eyes, an unconscious gesture that tells more than anything, and Jimin just smiles wider, eyes crinkling in a way Jungkook associates with words like Happiness and Love.
"What's up?" Not bothering to shrug Jimin's arm off, he adjusts his posture, which Jimin takes as invitation to hang off of him even more.
"Want to hang out later? All of us." Jimin's chin rests on Jungkook's shoulder but none of the other students give them a second glance.
"I thought Tae had club activities." In his lap, Jungkook has a boxed lunch he's been pushing around into various formations for most of the period. Looking at how full it remains, Jimin frowns.
"Cancelled. Are you feeling okay?"
Jungkook blinks, finally nudges Jimin off of him, mumbles about the heat, and twists so he can actually see his face.
"Yeah..." It's the kind of 'yeah' that suggests: do i seem un-okay? Blank. If honest.
Jimin's nose scrunches as he flops back into the grass, arms behind his head. He knows by now how poorly Jungkook responds to any kind of cornering -- even the well meaning kind -- so he makes a mental note that they all should get dinner together tonight. If it was just the two of them he'd be more worried, but rare are the times Jungkook can say no to Jimin and Taehyung's joined forces. It has occurred to Jimin that Jungkook is, in those situations, only taking the path of least resistance and that it isn't in fact a mark of how much he enjoys spending time with them, but beggars can't be choosers.
At his side, Jungkook sighs and sets his lunch down, so Jimin reaches for his hand.
Jungkook lets him.
. . .
Because Jungkook lives alone, it is his apartment where they usually end up. It's small but it hardly matters when their typical configuration is that of a pile of exceptionally comfortable puppies. There tends to be a bit of grumbling about elbows, stomachs, knees, and sides, but it all tends to peter out in favor of laughter, mild conversation, and easy nothings set to whatever they're watching on Jimin's phone.
Tonight it's a compilation of dogs sleeping. It is roughly seven hours long. No one seems to have a problem with this.
It's only when the one light in Jungkook's apartment flickers and dies that they pause. In the dark, Jimin gives a light nervous laugh, but Taehyung curls his hand at the smaller boy's waist and the nervousness ebbs.
"Great," is all Jungkook says, untangling himself from their human braid formation. He knows his own studio by heart, not even hitting his shin on the nearby coffee table as he strides to the door. "I'm going to check the box downstairs, so just...hang out. I guess."
"We'll go with you!" Taehyung and Jimin surge up only to fall over, their ankles at odds. Jungkook snorts.
"Just stay here and don't hurt yourselves. Back in a flash."
It's his smile that leaves the other boys surprised enough that they don't follow.
. . .
In the past year of meeting and learning Jungkook, they haven't seen that kind of smile much. It's different than laughter or something smug, which they see enough of (enough to not worry too much, enough to not nag) and it's different than kindness. Taehyung once told Jimin he thought it was the kind of smile that was 100% Jungkook and Jimin asked him if all the other smiles were just 30% and 71% and even .05548539%. In complete seriousness, Taehyung shrugged and said well yea.
Jimin shoved a pillow in his face but didn't disagree.
. . .
The basement probably has mold growing. Nose wrinkling, Jungkook laments not borrowing Jimin's phone for the light, instead holding up his own flip-phone and constantly pressing buttons nonsensically to keep its brightness from auto-dimming. He always forgets if the box is on the far left or right, inevitably picking the wrong wall first. He's halfway around the perimeter when his nose wrinkles again.
It's sudden, the shift of smell from dusty and moldy to one that is piercing...clean -- how the air is right after the rain, not so much in the city but in the forest; it's so prominent Jungkook can taste it, his head spinning slightly.
Jungkook does the only sensible thing: squeaks and drops his phone. Also himself.
From his place on the truly disgusting basement floor, he looks to where the voice came from -- the little box-window that looks out at the ground-level. Jungkook always forgets that window is even there because honestly what purpose does it serve? The glass is cracked on one pane and the other side is 3/4 missing, through which he can see sharp eyes even in the dark. It helps that they are set in a rather pale face and Jungkook says the first thing that comes to mind.
The eyes narrow. But then the voice laughs. It has a deep resonance, but it's not unkind.
"What do you want? Go away." Jungkook just wants to fix the fuse box and go back to his friends. Also take a shower, he thinks, getting up and uselessly dusting grime off his hands onto his pants. The inexplicable smell hasn't gone away, in fact he's getting used to it, though he doesn't understand, frowning up at the face in the window as he adds, "Is it raining?"
"Do you want me to go away or do you want me to answer your questions? You can't have both," the pale face tilts, cat-like.
"You could answer my questions then go away?"
The stranger hums and Jungkook really must need sleep worse than he thought because that too sounds cat-like.
"1. I wanted to see what was through the window. 2. No it's not."
Then he's gone.
He's about to call out when there's a crash behind him followed by two familiar bodies tripping through the door of the basement.
From the floor, Taehyung mumbles, "Gross."
Jungkook rolls his eyes, finds the fuse box, and lets his friends shower first.
. . .
Late enough that said friends stay over, it's an improbably tight fit but all three of them somehow end up on his bed, Taehyung's arms wrapped around his middle, one of Jimin's hands stuck between his back and Taehyung's stomach. He listens to their even breathing and feels grateful. Before them he can't quite remember anything like this. Not as friends or family. Sometimes Jimin tries getting him to talk about it, but it's hard when Jungkook is being honest with there's nothing to say.
How could there be? He doesn't remember.
Somehow even knowing this is an inarguable fact, Jungkook still has strange grasping dreams. He chases answers he doesn't even know the questions to, and more often than that he can't sleep at all.
He gives it a couple of hours before carefully exiting the bed, appreciative of their deep sleep, not feeling like explaining himself.
Because Jimin is a worrier, he jots a note on a blue post-it and affectionately sticks it to Taehyung's shoulder.
Then he toes on his shoes and steals out the door with a barely-there click.
. . .
The afternoon Jimin meets Jungkook, it's raining. He sees a dot on the riverside, which slowly becomes a boy. He's taller than Jimin but the impression he gives is small and secret. The shivering mass in his arms is also small. Jimin watches the boy bury his nose in the crown of the bedraggled cat's head, the fur sopping and dirty with what it means to live on the streets. And Jimin hesitates because something feels personal here, but in the end he can't simply walk by and pretend he didn't see anything at all. His steps are mostly drowned by the bad weather but big dark eyes raise to meet Jimin's before he even opens his mouth. He pauses, less than an arm's length away -- close enough to cover both boy and animal with his umbrella, watches as a thumb rubs comforting circles against the back of the cat's neck.
He asks, "Is it hurt?"
. . .
The afternoon Jungkook meets Jimin he learns this first: the size of Jimin's heart. How it opens and beats for other people with ease, how it leads to him asking questions that matter instead of questions that couldn't matter less.
Jimin walks him home, insisting the rain isn't good for the cat much less Jungkook himself.
It's only weeks later that Jungkook finds out Jimin's home is on the other side of town but he's not surprised.
. . .
There isn't a vet that jungkook can afford so he takes the cat to a shelter, asks what he should do, does everything he is told.
The cat dies anyway.
Jungkook buries it near the river and bows his head, hands white on his knees, apologizes, wonders:
Why were you alone?
. . .
It's the same thing Jimin wonders about Jungkook but he never tells him.
. . .
Outside the night is dry but the smell of rain is so heavy, so thick Jungkook braces a hand against the building.
"You sure you're not sick?"
Jungkook is bad at math, bad at estimation, but if he was asked to put a number on it, he would say the jump back he makes is anywhere between 3 and 3000 meters. Give or take. His heart rate shoots so high up he's surprised he's not dead, and his back aches with the force of how hard he fell over because the ground is neither well cared for nor naturally cushy. He winces, prepares a less than witty retort, stops. The face hovering above his is...familiar?
He stares. With his mouth open. Wide.
"Mm?" So close it should be uncomfortable, Jungkook can't tell if it's the night around them that makes this stranger's eyes seem pitch black. The centers give the whites of them an unreal quality, luminous even though they are not particularly big. Something about the boy's paleness exaggerates them, maybe, and upon even closer inspection Jungkook can see a dusting of freckles. Unusual. It gives the boy a younger impression than before.
"I'm fine -- please move," Jungkook rolls to his side, avoiding hitting heads, and grounds his hands against the stale earth as he sits up. The stranger meanwhile takes to crouching down, elbows on bony knees that poke through ripped jeans. His shirt at least is uniform certified -- the same school Jungkook and his friends go to, in fact -- but that's the only thing recognizable. Despite a hardness in his features, Jungkook feels an understanding about this stranger he can't quite put his finger on. Some of it has to do with his shock of silver hair, which eats up any bit of moonlight it can.
Pretty, Jungkook thinks and it's a soft thought.
"If you're going for a walk, you might want an umbrella," the boy advises. His voice maintains that unexpected lowness but it's not weird so much as calming. Though Jungkook arches a brow, opting to fold his legs crisscross rather than stand, hands folded at his ankles.
"You don't have one either. You don't even have shoes on. That's not safe."
Mooncat -- that's his name at present since Jungkook has nothing else to call him -- laughs. It crackles, sparks: reminds Jungkook of fire.
"I do okay without."
About to point out the hypocrisy of his advice-giving then, Jungkook finds himself the victim of a surprise once again -- a hand pressing to his mouth preemptively.
Mooncat brings his free hand to his own mouth, one finger really: shh.
Some distance away, there is music. A piano divides the night from its sky and it's beautiful, sad, hurts like hands that reach out over and over only to always miss each other. The stranger's hand is soft, reminds Jungkook of flower petals, an association undermining the subtle roughness otherwise present. A song he does not recognize in name, yet it lodges hard, deep, like some indelible empathy only art is capable of forming. A way's through, Mooncat drops his hand and settles down beside him, their arms not quite touching. One song wends into another, and another, and before Jungkook knows it, the sun starts its slow hello.
He should be exhausted; he might be later. For now all he feels is a peace he's not certain he's ever felt before.
A glance to his right shows Mooncat with eyes closed, lashes full and careless against fair skin smudged with dirt.
"I've got to go...school...um...like, to get ready." Jungkook doesn't know why he's stumbling over his words but lazy eyes look at him when he stands. Shoulders shrug.
Jungkook hesitates. It feels weird to just leave, also rude, but...
"Go. I'll see you around."
He backs up a few steps and trips over nothing, which makes Mooncat laugh. Blushing hard enough to feel it, Jungkook forces himself not to flat-out run back into the building, but it's a near thing.
. . .
On the way to school, Taehyung delays progress by resting his chin on Jungkook's shoulder. Jimin already asked where he was, and when Jungkook answered honestly, both boys gave him dubious looks but the nice thing about finding their wavelength a long time ago is this: there can be room for explanation without sacrificing their natural inclinations. Most of their questions only come from a place of caring and Jungkook wants them to know he loves them just as much. But telling them he spent the entire night listening to a song with a stranger is a recipe for more worry than he's ready to handle.
He's grateful they let it go (for now, for now) in favor of holding onto him in person.
. . .
It's lunch and Jimin has to meet with a teacher while Taehyung goes to coordinate with his club captain, which usually means Jungkook eats on the roof alone. With the summer heat one would think more students would flock to the breeziest location, but most of them opt for shaded areas -- every tree worth its branches absolutely crowded. So Jungkook is surprised to spot a familiar head of silver hair out at the far end of the roof. Without much thought, he sets his knapsack down, kicking it to the side of the door before jogging over. The familiar face turns at the footsteps and breaks into a grin that's childlike with how gummy and toothy it is.
"Told you I'd see you," the smile doesn't leave, just settles in smugness, if anything.
"I didn't say I wouldn't!" Mooncat laughs at the confused face Jungkook wears after his own statement.
"That's true," he relents and some of Jungkook's huffiness dissipates as he leans on the railing beside him.
"Surprised you didn't get sent home. Those aren't the uniform pants."
"No one's noticed yet."
Jungkook finds that supremely unlikely; silver hair is enough of a beacon but ripped non-sanctioned leg-wear is basically a neon sign: send me home, please and thanks. But they don't know each other so it seems out of place to push the point. Resting his arms on the rail, Jungkook then leans his face against said arms, curious.
"What's your name?"
"What's your name?"
"Call me Jungkook," he offers easily, then repeats, "What's your name?"
A puff of air and slouched shoulders draw his attention. Then Jungkook has his second almost-death experience of the day as pale hands grip the rail and Mooncat pulls himself up to perch, befitting his name but doing nothing for his heartrate. He reaches without thinking, wraps his arms around the other boy's middle from behind, which due to the railing height means he has his face pressed between his shoulder blades. Where the boy he holds is as peaceful as can be, Jungkook's breaths come out harsh, hazy, clumsy with concern and anxiety for a person who refuses to tell him his name.
His hands spasm where they are clasped over a thin stomach and he doesn't realize he has his eyes closed until he has to open them, feeling as other hands cover his own. Warm. A little bigger. Soft. Again Jungkook thinks: flower petals.
Across campus, the bell sounds for the end of lunch but neither of them moves.
"If I tell you, I'll have to kill you."
. . .
Usually when Jungkook skips school, he's just at home -- waiting for a uniform to dry, sick, or whatever.
Today is different. Today he skips school and goes to a garden just a few blocks east of the river.
He sends a text to both Jimin and Taehyung: not coming in, see you tomorrow.
Summer has been generous this year. All of the flowers that should be blooming are, and then some. One area has nothing but bluebells leading into grassy expanses that play home to weeping wisterias and a stream Jungkook imagines cannot be natural but possesses beauty all the same. A low branch allows him to press his nose to a white bloom, and he startles only a little when a faux-shutter noise draws his attention.
Mooncat stands a meter away, hands up to form a pretend-camera with his fingers.
The way he drops down from the stone steps is deceptively light, agile for someone who -- Jungkook has learned in the past week or so -- loves being completely still more than anything. Maybe some of it has to do with how slight he is; maybe it doesn't matter.
(Jungkook's two hearts whisper: it does, it does.)
Amidst the vibrant garden, his new friend reminds him of a ghost.
For a second, Jungkook can't breathe.
He feels himself buckle, feels strong hands catch him by the arms, hears the capable tone of the voice he knows too well too fast. Worry overwhelms him, the paralyzing, incapacitating worry (and fear, so much fear) barrels in, leaves him winded, kneeling on the ground with hands now on his shoulders and a forehead pressed to his own, words being murmured against his closed eyes: it's okay, it's okay, it's okay. A frailer part of him asks: how would you know? But he hasn't the voice for it.
It's only been a week, not even, but he looks for Mooncat all the time.
"Jungkook. Open your eyes." He closes them tighter, feels the sigh more than hears it. "I'm not going anywhere, so open your eyes."
In the end, Jungkook complies only because surprise is always a sound weapon against him and the other boy's mouth is as soft as his hands.
Breathing in air comes second to this: how a kiss happens with lips and teeth and tongue but also hands, knees, and silence shaped just for them. How this boy who goes to his school but won't tell him his name has Jungkook feeling fire at his fingertips at any given moment, moonlight on the lids of his eyes, rain in his throat like music, like the piano that one night not so many days ago. How in all his life Jungkook has seen spirits and ghosts, felt the supernatural and known it was real but never like this.
. . .
"I feel like we never see you anymore," Jimin whines without shame, rolls on Jungkook's floor like an exceptionally cute, small dog. A Pomeranian maybe.
"Sorry..." He still can't bring himself to explain, though the way Taehyung looks at him across his DS is mildly damning. They do know him, so they must have an idea, but still...
"You should introduce us." Jimin again, this time with a childish punch to Jungkook's side. He squirms, doesn't bother denying.
"Only if you want to." Taehyung, eyes locked onto his current battle on-screen, still manages to make Jungkook feel like he has all of his attention -- a talent to be used, he hopes, only for good.
"If I can," he finally says, but it's not really the right thing. Both boys stare, perplexed if patient. Jungkook looks at them helplessly and they let him be.
An hour or so later, Jimin with his head asleep in Jungkook's lap, Taehyung and Jungkook back-to-back on the floor, it's just the sound of Taehyung's videogame and the crickets outside when he says quietly, "Be careful, Jungkookie."
Sometimes Jungkook wonders if his friend knows more after all.
. . .
The day Taehyung meets Jungkook, it's raining. Jimin has dragged him and his extra umbrella over to a boy who looks significantly younger but, it turns out, is only slightly. He stares at the duck umbrella placed unceremoniously into his hands, expression wide, a bit bemused, tinged with a smile that shows teeth that sport a mild overbite. Cute, Taehyung thinks and figures he's not the first.
"Just keep it," he says and Jungkook looks up sharply, shaking his head.
"I'll return it. It's not mine," he frowns.
"It's yours now though. Come on." Between him and Jimin, they win, and this is a recurring reality in days to come.
Taehyung grins, all his teeth bared when Jungkook finally just says, "Thanks."
It's invitation enough for him to hug him from behind, compounded by Jimin leaping onto his own back, which then leads to all three of them sprawled on the floor, laughter picking apart their newness from the inside-out.
. . .
The day Jungkook meets Taehyung he is reminded of other supernatural things in his life, things that are not ghosts or curses. He is reminded instead of fox spirits with delicious oden and magic that is always colored gold. He is reminded of a warmth he thinks must come from his childhood, paired in his mind with the images of fireflies and dusks made with watercolors. Taehyung's smile is a boxy thing that makes Jungkook smile too, almost a knee-jerk reaction he cannot help; an A-to-B logic: given sun and water, a flower will grow. That sort of inevitability. He thinks Taehyung would like the nice spirits, wouldn't be too afraid of the bad ones but it's a moot consideration since only Jungkook can see them.
Sometimes, he catches glimpses of animal spirits sneaking sniffs and peeks at Taehyung's heels, on his shoulder, and when Jungkook's mouth quirks in a quarter-smile, Taehyung doesn't ask him why.
He just smiles back.
If Jimin feels like sunshine, Taehyung feels like a sunflower. Jungkook doesn't think himself ridiculous for these thoughts because to him they are only truths. People aren't just people after all. People are the world they live in. What realities in it best personify them are sometimes clearer or less clear, but the way Jungkook sees, it's usually the former. Far more common to find people who feel like almost nothing, or islands constantly at war with the oceans around them, trying to connect.
So he knows how lucky he is with the friends he has. How they chose him back.
Even if he's not ever quite certain why.
. . .
Technically the garden closes at 9PM but Jungkook always meets him around midnight. By now he is an expert at stealing in past appropriate hours and he climbs into one of their favorite trees with ease.
The voice comes from overhead and Jungkook doesn't even flinch, staring up through a few branches at a familiar face.
"You come down."
A little perturbed shifting has Jungkook smiling in the dark.
"Are you stuck?"
The indignant noise at the back of the other boy's throat is as good as a 'yes' but Jungkook is Jungkook so he scales the rest of the nearby limbs until he is sitting beside his person of choice. Sometimes he examines every inch of his skin, from tip of toe to top of head, splaying his fingers wide and looking for any sign that things aren't what they appear to be. Sometimes the other boy just lets him. Sometimes he doesn't, sometimes he pulls his hands roughly away and Jungkook presses his face into his shoulder until he stops shaking. Tonight he cautiously pulls until their noses brush.
"What's your name?"
A kiss isn't an answer but he'll take what he can get.
. . .
Fall comes and it's one of Jungkook's favorites. He loves the changing of the leaves, the shift of the air and how it smells, wearing a scarf bound up under his eyes, so on and so forth. Taehyung likes it because it gives him an excuse to shove his hands in Jimin's coat pockets, though Jungkook mildly points out that he doesn't really need an excuse in the first place. In the garden everything reminds him of fire and Jungkook can almost smell it.
Mooncat smells a little different too. Still of rain, still of forest, but also that fire. Woodsmoke, Jungkook thinks, brings it up one day and Mooncat purses his lips, a pouting look that drops years off of him.
And maybe he was going to say something but Jungkook coughs, a dry straining sound.
"I'm fine," he says before he can be asked or challenged otherwise, clearing his throat. "I just breathed wrong."
To everyone but Jungkook this sounds infinitely stupid.
Mooncat holds his hand tighter.
. . .
The season progresses and the fire smell never leaves. Sometimes Jungkook thinks he has it in his clothing, which makes zero sense but at least, he reasons, it's not some other smell -- garbage for example, or mold. There are some traditions he keeps each year (though they are only a couple years old to start) and one of them is the street fair with Jimin and Taehyung. Both boys hesitate, suggesting maybe Jungkook should rest (they can always go next year) since it turns out he has some kind of cold for real. But Jungkook is nothing if not stubborn.
"I want to go with you guys. I look forward to it all year."
And really what are they supposed to say to that?
Jimin adds one too many scarves and Jungkook ends up looking a little like a matchstick child but the pictures are cute and it helps to muffle the coughs that wrack his body a little too often.
At one stall Jungkook wins Jimin a stuffed bear, and at another he wins Taehyung a stuffed fox, and he's happy. They eat the fair food -- everything from skewers to dumplings, fried sweets and crunchy mysteries -- and he's happy. Around them the atmosphere is golden, spotted with the pinks and reds and greens of festival lighting, laughter that resonates like water rippling out out out. It's like a dream.
He doesn't realize he's spaced out but he comes back to himself, nodding, smiling.
"I think we're good. Let's go home."
"Tae and I think maybe his place? It's closer..."
But Jungkook shakes his head.
"I have to go back to my place."
"You don't look so good..." Jimin's voice is plain with worry and it makes Jungkook feel bad but he's supposed to see Mooncat later.
"I'm okay. It's just a cold...you guys get sick every year!" He tries to play it off, a lamer jab to Jimin's ribs than usual, a more tired smile than usual; and the motions are all there but his friends weren't born yesterday. They compromise by walking him home, tucking him into bed, and waiting until he falls asleep despite his best protests.
Around 2 in the morning, Jungkook wakes, feverish, sweating enough that his shirt sticks grossly to him all over but all he can think is that he is an hour late. It takes at least fifteen minutes walking to get to the garden.
With inhuman quietness, he steps over both his friends who stayed (of course they stayed, and he almost stays too, almost, not quite) and leaves. It's impossible for him to run and he's half shaking with fear that his coughs will get him thrown out before he gets anywhere near their meeting place. But someone somewhere must like him because he gets there without being caught. Though it has not rained in weeks, the air is permeated with its scent and its weight so he knows he's been here. At the edges of all of this too: a smoky thread of heat and incense. Yes, he's nearby, he's not too late, he's--
As if in final test, a storm of coughing riddles his frame. It hurts. But he's here. It hurts, burns. And his vision is dark but it's the middle of the night so that's not so alarming...Jungkook only half feels himself hit the ground and wonders who's calling his name.
. . .
"What's wrong with him?" Jimin's voice, anxious, the shape of a plea.
"I'm not sure. He has a fever. A cough. But nothing physical explains why." Stranger. Why is there a stranger in his home? Jungkook can tell he is home after all; no place else feels like this.
"But what are we supposed to do?" Taehyung, misdirected anger. Sadness.
"Where is his family?"
Jungkook slips back into nothingness which whispers I don't know.
. . .
For a time Jimin and Taehyung do everything they are supposed to do and Jungkook doesn't get better but he doesn't get worse and one day while his friends are at school, Jungkook stumbles out of bed. He's been sleeping more than waking lately and his dreams make him uneasy, leave him shivering from loss and inadequacy. One dream has him in the garden; another at the river, still another just quiet and in the dark. He grabs a scarf and a jacket but doesn't bother changing out of his pajamas, urgent to get outside, intending to go to the garden.
But he's not a single foot outside when hands tug him forward by the shoulders. A yelp escapes him and dissolves quickly into coughing. The voice that called his name before he passed out returns, fearful and jagged.
"-kook, Jungkook. Hey!"
"Sorry," he says and once hands have helped lower him to sit propped against the building, they move to his face, pressing his cheeks in a way that would be comedic if the eyes staring at him were not so serious.
"Don't 'sorry' me." Even through his sickness, Jungkook knows something is off. His posture straightens a little (the stone wall helps) and he lifts his own hand to trace out along a cheekbone dotted with freckles.
"You asking me," he chuffs but it's hollow.
And it's true; there is no lie on this earth that the other boy could spout and Jungkook would believe because he just Knows.
The way Mooncat brings feelings of rain and with the season, the scent of fire, this tangle in front of him is his sadness.
With eyes half-shut, despite fighting it with everything he has, Jungkook is struck again by how feline this boy can seem -- his head tilted, his eyes crescent even when so desperately unhappy, the fluffy unevenness of his hair reminiscent of the way fur looks when people pet an animal the wrong way....his mutual independence and love that shouldn't go together but do.
His hands are so soft, helping support his head.
As Jungkook slips unconscious again his mouth presses to one palm.
. . .
The next time Jungkook wakes up his face is wet. He lifts his hands to his eyes and rubs hard; he can't stop crying, is shaking with it, his chest tight and heavy and it's hard to breathe.
But the cough is gone. And the fever.
. . .
The garden is empty. The spirits return -- or rather, were always there and now return to him.
Stupid, he thinks dully to himself, staring at a flower underfoot. How he never noticed.
All that time he was with him: it was as if he was normal.
. . .
A hydrangea spirit asks for his help, tells him she is dying, and Jungkook who stopped taking such dangerous requests when he first met Jimin and Taehyung, accepts. A thorn on the physical plain is poisoning the spiritual; he understands, falls into the hydrangea's arms and dreams deep enough to dig it out, runs.
He succeeds too, but the cost is harsh. What was a lost soul in hydrangea's maze, amounts to a missing body in the real world: not anyone he knows but Jungkook doesn't have to know the victim to be sick over it, and he is, throws up to the side and braces his arms on the ground, sweat plastering his bangs to his forehead.
The hydrangea thanks him and asks, her voice exhausted, why do people hurt other people so badly, aren't you the same?
Jungkook bows respectfully. Apologizes, says, "I don't know."
Thinks of dark crescent eyes and a cat's silence, repeats to himself: I don't know.
. . .
Jungkook gets better and he gets worse.
Jimin finds new things to be worried about. They have their first real fights. Taehyung wonders about the part of Jungkook's sickness that they missed entirely. But he won't tell them and there is only so much even best friends can do with no information.
. . .
What brings them back together is not what any of them would choose but it happens nonetheless.
Truth: Jungkook did not see it coming. Truth: he told him no. Truth: he was ignored.
"So it's not your fault," Taehyung is practically spitting with fury. It's an odd emotion on him but then he's always been passionate and Jungkook is glad he's on his side despite everything.
"It was just a kiss," he says but it's weak. Everything in him feels weak.
"Because we were there." Jimin is soft-spoken even while he rubs wide circles along Jungkook's back, his eyes downcast, mouth pressed uncharacteristically thin. "I wish..." he sighs. "I wish you'd be more careful."
"I wish they'd suspended the right person," Taehyung mutters darkly but Jungkook laughs. It's feeble but honest.
Jungkook walks away from it with a split lip and quaking heart, while the other kid has a black eye and bruises all up and down one side from where Jungkook shoved him when he wouldn't listen. In the end it was the worser injuries that formed the aggressor in the ruling. But Jungkook figures it could be worse. A week of suspension doesn't mean much to him. It's not like there is anyone to be disappointed with him, or waiting for an explanation.
. . .
Jimin and Taehyung visit him the first two days but both have club activities the third, so Jungkook does as he usually does: goes for a walk, and he doesn't mean to but he ends up at the river where an innocuous rock still rests. It's almost sunset, and he sits down, eyes skimming over how the light frays across the water. If Jungkook visualized how certain songs sound, he thinks it would be similar to this -- woven and rewoven refractions, elemental and never quite finished. When his eyes burn he blinks rapidly and ducks his head, presses it to his knees, pulled to his chest. He must sit like that for a while because when he looks up again it's dark.
It's so dark that when something brushes against his back he makes a sound just shy of scream, half flipping over to turn and find himself face-to-face with --
A gray cat presses itself flat into the grass, fur on end, tail rigid, set on edge by Jungkook despite having approached him first. He can almost feel its nervousness, does his best only to move his curled hand forward so the cat can investigate as it pleases (or not), let his gaze fall to the ground, since that seems less confrontational. He waits long enough that his arm starts to ache. Just as he's about to give up, a nose and whiskers rub along the edge of his wrist.
Jungkook smiles at the earth.
"Nice to meet you," he says to the cat. "I'm Jungkook."
A small gray head gets close enough that even looking down, Jungkook can see its ears, holds his breath when it looks up at him and seems to smile back.
. . .
"What's that?" A different rain spirit, at least twenty times more judgmental than the first one Jungkook ever met, asks, her brow cocked in a way that implies there is a right answer to this question. Around his ankles, the gray cat slinks and looks up to meet the rain spirit's eyes. She recoils -- slight but there. "What's it saying?"
"He says he's a cat."
The rain spirit snorts and retreats in a flood of rain that only falls up.
. . .
It's interesting to have a partner in his otherworldly excursions. Granted, the cat doesn't do much but company is company.
On the earth level, Jimin is delighted by Jungkook's new roommate, clutches at the cat and cradles him with more affection than the cat likely bargained for. Sometimes this goes on for a while and sometimes the cat flails righteously out of Jimin's small arms as fast as possible, hiding behind Jungkook's legs as if that might save him. Then Taehyung flaunts a fish treat and his allegiances swerve again and it's...cute.
For the first time in a long time, Jungkook feels a little bit more like himself.
. . .
"Where'd you find him?" Taehyung asks one day, all of them at Taehyung's home while a late winter storm blows sluggishly outside. The cat -- named Moon -- resides on Jimin's chest, curled tight, eyes lazily watching Jungkook play a videogame (the only reason Moon had settled for his current human of choice.) Jimin is absently seeing how long he can get away with playing with Moon's tail.
"By the river."
He hums in acknowledgement and he doesn't use any actual words but Jungkook gets the feeling he means yeah that makes sense.
. . .
Years pass but Jungkook doesn't look much older. Neither does Moon.
. . .
"Tell me you didn't pass up a priority university acceptance for a cat." Jimin is half joking.
"Believe what you want to believe," Jungkook smiles.
There isn't a day in his life that Jimin will argue with that.
. . .
For too long Jimin was afraid. Taehyung was afraid. For their friend who they love but cannot always reach. Afraid.
It doesn't take a seer to see certain things after all: how living is not enough on its own; how a lonesome struggle can swallow a person whole.
Leave nothing behind.
So when Jungkook smiles, Jimin breathes a little easier. Taehyung laughs a little lighter. Love grows.
. . .
After high school, Jungkook has two jobs: janitorial at the university and barista at a coffee shop closer to his apartment. It's barely enough but 'barely' has been getting him by as long as he can remember. He doesn't complain.
For some reason, other people do not notice Moon. Occasionally the cat follows him to the university and at first Jungkook used to try and hide him, but Moon would escape and simply follow him around. No one commented; indeed no one even seemed to see him at all. Half joking, Jungkook asks Moon on the way home,
"Are you magic?"
Moon blinks eyes as wide as his namesake.
Jungkook gets the feeling he's being called stupid but he can't bring himself to mind.
. . .
Bad nights are bad. There's just no two ways about it. Sometimes he's falling, endless. Sometimes he's running, endless.
All his nightmares are the smell of smoke and the feeling of rain and the excruciating violence of missing someone you cannot have back.
Most often, Jungkook wakes choking, crying, thin hands gripping his own arms.
Moon pads deliberately over his chest, licks his face with a sandpaper tongue until Jungkook mutters a thready, "Ow, ow..."
Days that follow these types of nights, Jungkook is swollen and puffy and claims causes such as allergies, which almost everyone accepts.
Taehyung and Jimin just force him out for ice cream, one careful hand apiece at the small of Jungkook's back.
. . .
"I wish we could have met him," Jimin says, smoothing back Jungkook's hair, thumbing away tears.
It's the kind of whisper that breaks a person in half.
A scratch at the door has Jungkook sitting up so fast he's dizzy, but he doesn't really think of it, tripping to the front door, letting Moon in and feeling -- maybe -- a little bit better.
. . .
Sometimes in his dreams, Jungkook thinks he remembers his mother and father.
Sometimes in his dreams, they remember him too.
. . .
It's the end of his usual night shift. He gives a small wave through the door's window to Sunyoul -- a boy who's always there even later than Jungkook, his hands learning and relearning the piano until he knows it by heart. Sunyoul waves back, and scurries up off the piano bench to open the door, sticking his head out. He reminds Jungkook of a cartoon.
"Done for tonight?"
"Yep. Don't study too hard."
"Oh," Sunyoul shrugs. "It's not studying really..." His ears are red and Jungkook understands just enough to look away. "Um, get home safe...see you tomorrow?"
Jungkook nods, tugging on his beanie. "See you tomorrow."
Behind him he is aware that the door doesn't shut, but to a point it's none of his business. He clocks his timecard and meets Moon just outside.
"Thanks for waiting," he says and the cat scrambles up his leg, arm, and shoulder to his usual place. "You're the reason I have so many tears in my clothing you know. You and Tae. Give me a break." Both human and cat know he doesn't actually mind so it's a wonder he says anything at all. Probably would look funny to anyone around, if there was anyone; there isn't.
Impending rain is heavy in the air and it makes Jungkook homesick. There might be a better word but he hasn't found it yet.
They are halfway home when he hears crying. It sounds like a child so he runs, disturbing Moon who leaps off to follow irritably in his wake. The sobs lead them deep into the garden, a part Jungkook doesn't recognize, an outstretch of the tallest lilies he's ever seen. In their midst: a boy maybe seven or eight years old sits. His knees are scraped raw and there's dirt on his face. He's crying so hard it looks like it hurts. Jungkook can see right through him.
Wordless, he kneels and smooths a hand over Moon's head, down his back and tail, asks a favor.
Moon treads forward, on alert but not aggressive. The boy's sobs become hiccuping things, and he squeaks when Moon gets close enough to rub his head against his side. Tears continue to run but the sobs lessen. The boy pets Moon a little clumsily and Moon purrs. Eventually Moon flops on his back and this receives a wet laugh, tiny and lost. Jungkook swallows.
Child ghosts are the worst. No one deserves to die before their time but children especially...
He thinks back to the hydrangea spirit and bites his tongue until it bleeds.
Why do people hurt other people.
He still doesn't have an answer.
From where he's crouching, he sends his voice as docile as it can go, "Hello."
The boy scrambles and Moon gets out of the way, watching warily the dilation of the boy's eyes. Jungkook stays ground-level, trying to convey whose side he's on.
"I'm Jungkook and I want to help you."
Among the lilies the boy is almost as pale and every bit as beautiful. A slow silence comes and goes; then another, but Jungkook is fine with waiting, folding his hands in his lap, blinking only when an errant firefly lights up at the corner of his eye. The quiet persists long enough that when the child speaks, Jungkook jumps a little.
"Is he yours?" The child gestures to Moon, now curled up in the boy's lap.
Jungkook nods. "His name is Moon." The boy considers, pets him again.
"I'm Seokjin." He worries his lip. "Why do you want to help me?"
"You don't belong here, do you?" Jungkook is careful to keep his voice kind above all else. Seokjin shakes his head. "So I want to help you get to where you should be, that's all."
"But why?" Seokjin's expression tightens.
It's rare that he finds himself directly asked and for a moment all Jungkook does is stare.
"Well," he shifts a little uncertainly. "I always want to help. If I can."
Seokjin fixes him with a decidedly less believing look, tilts his head. On the one hand, at least he's not crying anymore. On the other hand, Jungkook feels increasingly uncomfortable.
Then Moon reaches both paws out in a lazy stretch and Seokjin laughs, relaxes a bit again.
"Let's focus on you for now," Jungkook offers his hand and Seokjin gets to his feet, pads out of the lilies. Bare feet, Jungkook notices and is careful not to show how he feels about it.
Seokjin's hand is small and new in his own.
And that's the thing of course. Seokjin will always be new.
Moon weaves in and out between them, slow, shadow-like in spite of his name.
"I was waiting for my mom." Seokjin explains how he got distracted by a butterfire (butterfly Jungkook corrects and Seokjin gives him a look too sassy for a child, that's what I said!) and ended up in the lilies. He says she'll be worried and Jungkook agrees because he's sure that she was the night Seokjin actually went missing. This might be the worst part of being a bridge. Not all ghosts know they are ghosts.
If he's honest, Jungkook doesn't want to tell them -- kids like Seokjin who excitedly moves his hands when he talks, covers his face when he giggles, talks about a boy named Namjoon who brought him paper flowers for his birthday since it was winter and there weren't any real flowers he could find. Jungkook grips his hand a little tighter, imagines how warm it should be.
They end up near the wisteria and when Jungkook looks down he sees Seokjin's eyes are wide again. Scared.
"What do you see?" He keeps his voice gentle.
"A lady. Pretty...flowers...she's...made of flower...s." On the verge of crying but wanting to be brave, Seokjin lifts his small hands to his eyes and rubs them in a way Jungkook is plenty familiar with, so he kneels and gently stops him.
"It's okay to cry, Seokjin."
"Nuh-uh," Seokjin's eyes are huge, red-ringed and indignant, but he falters, a thought threading through his expression. "Namjoon says that too..." This makes him cry for real and Jungkook pulls him into a hug. He looks at the wisteria spirit and she spreads her hands wide in welcome: he'll be safe here. Jungkook's legs are asleep by the time Seokjin's hold on him slackens. Even ghosts get tired, though you seldom hear about it. Leaning up on his toes, he whispers to Jungkook, "I'm scared."
I could go with you, he thinks for a second. Because the temptation to cross his own bridge, to end this, is always there, the slim possibility that somewhere on the other side there is a boy who smells like fire and feels like rain and dark forests.
A thoughtful meow gets their joint attention and Jungkook swallows hard.
It goes like this: a human ghost invited is no poison at all but a blessing, a protection for someone like the wisteria or the river. And if invited, the ghost may have one companion because this ward is forever and forever is a long, long time. Moon will live longer this way, Jungkook reasons weakly with himself as he tucks Moon into Seokjin's arms, tender the way love requires. What time would he have left here? Another ten years at best, ten years cherished by Jungkook but then what? He kneels down one more time.
"You're okay with this?"
Seokjin understands it's not him being asked the question and waits. Moon gives his hand one definitive lap.
"All right then," he says and ruffles Seokjin's hair. It's a small gesture but Seokjin blushes, shuffling his whole way to the waiting wisteria.
He turns at the last second, already half faded away in a thousand pink lights -- flower constellations.
Jungkook sees him bow, small frame bent from the waist, carefully holding Moon to his chest. Then nothing. The garden is dark and Jungkook tastes salt joining the iron on his tongue.
. . .
The loss of Moon is quieter than the loss of the boy but it's there every day just the same. Sometimes Jungkook catches a flash of silver or gray out the corner of his eye and his heart doesn't return to a normal rate for hours. Once he ran right into traffic, Taehyung's shouts and Jimin's yell just shy of keeping him out of it. Small blessings: no one was hurt and no one was sued. Well, Jungkook scraped his hand up catching himself from a fall but they all agreed he deserved it -- don't do that I swear to god I'll kill you (Jimin), you're making me go gray (Taehyung), please please please (both.) Jungkook apologizes and they order pizza but for the next month whenever they're near intersections two hands grab the back of his shirt or jacket.
. . .
One of the perks about working as a janitor is no one looks at you. The work is mindless and nobody cares what you look like. You're wearing a jumpsuit; people couldn't care less, it's more accurate to say. So Jungkook has no compunctions about going through his nightly routine with a face mask to cover most of his puffiness, just tired eyes and part of his old scar showing. He has his head down as he turns a corner, trashcan in tow, so it's not all that surprising he runs into someone. The collision itself is two times more disastrous than it needs to be though -- both of them bouncing backward, Jungkook almost barreling back into the trash, the other person sprawling on the floor, roughly 90% legs if Jungkook would make an estimation.
"I'm so sorry," he offers his hand then realizes the other person's things went everywhere and retracts it to try and help pick them up. It's awkward and takes forever before they are both standing, Jungkook anxiously holding a notebook and some pens, the other person clipping his glasses on the front of his sweater vest and shoving the papers back into the manila folder. Jungkook has to look up at him, which is interesting, but it's hard to get a handle on age. "I wasn't looking where I was going." Might as well cop to it.
"It's okay seriously. My fault probably," the voice is low, resonant, good natured. Jungkook lets go a relieved sigh. The stranger smiles at that, betraying dimples. "Ah...Jungkook?"
"Er...yea but how did you know...that."
"Sunyoul mentioned you," he says and then frowns. "Maybe I wasn't supposed to share that."
"Okayyy...well never mind." Awkward.
"It's nothing," the other man insists. "Just, I asked him if he felt safe practicing alone so late. You never know these days. And like, he said there's always Jungkook and I was like well who's Jungkook and--"
"Professor?" A voice squeaks.
"...Sunyoul." Both 'professor' and Jungkook turn. Sunyoul seems split pretty evenly between wanting to melt into the floor and just trying to be himself -- nice, kind, willing to roll with the punches.
"Hi?" Jungkook waves. Sunyoul waves. The other man coughs.
"Well I'm going. Away. So." He pauses. "Nice to meet you Jungkook." True to his word, he starts to leave, notebooks and folders clutched tighter. It's only as he turns that Jungkook notices the curling ink of a flower at the back of his neck.
It looks like a lily.
He stares after him until he's around the corner, doesn't even realize Sunyoul has come out of the practice room until he feels a hand at his elbow.
"Jungkook? Jungkook..." The worried tone gets his attention.
"You um..." if Sunyoul wanted to melt into the floor before, he wants to cave into himself now, based on his expression but instead he presses his palms together as if he might apologize, says, "Y-you're crying. I...are you okay?"
Sure enough when Jungkook presses his own fingertips to his cheeks, they are wet.
A press of his lips confirms salt. Ah.
He rubs his eyes, ducks his head, laughs in pieces.
"Oh my god...I'm sorry."
Sunyoul assures him it's okay to cry and Jungkook almost laughs again.
"Professor always tells me it's okay. I'm here so much it's frustrating. I...I want to do well," Sunyoul explains and Jungkook has peace of mind to recognize the loveliness of the person talking to him, the kind of person who will share a vulnerability about himself to balance a situation. Yet on the heels of that appreciation, his words weigh and anchor. Jungkook looks up.
"I didn't even get his name," he says and holds his breath. Sunyoul smiles, a little easier now, touches his hand to Jungkook's shoulder, brief but no less compassionate.
"Namjoon. Well, Professor Kim but he says that makes him feel old so we're not supposed to call him that."
An aborted sound escapes him, unintentional, and Sunyoul's gaze gets worried again fast but Jungkook shakes his head, half-smiles, "It's a nice name. That's all."
. . .
It's not technically any of his business. Seokjin was a child and maybe this Namjoon isn't his Namjoon. Bullshit though. Maybe Jungkook has no explanations for his powers but he's lived with them long enough to listen to them. This is Kim Seokjin's Namjoon. He knows it. Then there is the problem of bringing up horrible things. Jungkook looked it up later, what little there was to look up anyway: Kim Seokjin, eight, missing around the Spring festival, body never found (which explained why he needed help passing), leaves a mother, a father, and an older brother. Something like that. What Jungkook got out of the news was that authorities didn't care enough to pursue. It stirs illness in him to think a murderer of children got away just like that; scares him. He thinks about how brave Kim Seokjin is, how strong, to be able to walk forward into the unknown, how he smiled at him and bowed, how carefully he held Moon in the dying light.
Trying to avoid crying for the second night in a row at work, Jungkook slaps his face harshly.
This is of course when Namjoon rounds the corner, mouth pulled to one side in an 'Ummm...' expression.
Jungkook lowers his hands.
He didn't, it occurs to him, plan this out. Really.
"I was just..."
Namjoon holds up a hand.
"No explanation necessary."
Today Namjoon is significantly more casual -- a black t-shirt that shows more of the tattoo, black slacks belted, black oxfords. It works on him somehow, the plastic frames sitting handsomely on his face. For the second time, Jungkook wonders how old he is. He forgot to do the math when he looked up Seokjin's article. Well, then who's to say they were exactly the same age? Some of his perplexity must show on his face because Namjoon laughs. It's a deep, reassuring sound. Warm.
"If you want to say something just go for it."
Easier said than done, Jungkook thinks dryly, drops his gaze to the floor. Just walk away. He's an adult now. It would just be painful wouldn't it? But part of his mind thinks: if it was me, I'd want to know. Except not everyone is Jungkook, not everyone sees spirits or even believes in them. Or ghosts or the ramifications of those words. His eyes focus on Namjoon's hands and he distantly remembers Seokjin's -- small and a little crooked? Maybe an accident when he was younger. Maybe. He thought at the time: gentle.
"Did you..." he starts, stops, looks at the lily still beautiful, unchanging on Namjoon's neck, and swallows. "Why a lily?"
It's not what Namjoon expects but why would it be? Jungkook wants to hit himself again, barely restrains himself. Namjoon scratches the back of his head, ducks it a little and his glasses skim down his nose, making him seem younger in a nanosecond.
"Ah....well they're beautiful right?" He smiles and it makes Jungkook sad, the deep abiding sadness you can't move on from, the kind you move with. "They were..well, they are...a favorite. My," his voice doesn't quite crack. "Best friend."
Jungkook's mouth is dry. Maybe nothing is the right thing to do here.
He takes a deep breath.
"Can we talk outside?"
Namjoon blinks, confused again, pushes his glasses up to where they belong and nods.
. . .
It's somehow not surprising to find Namjoon smokes, though Jungkook thinks it's a shame and believes Seokjin would too.
You didn't know him, his own mind berates but he's fairly certain he's not wrong. They stand around the corner of a lesser used wing in the university, brick at their backs, Namjoon standing in a slouch and Jungkook crouched closer to the ground where he draws circles in the gravel with his index finger.
"Do you know what happened to Seokjin?"
The inhale above him is abrupt and leads to a coughing fit so harsh Namjoon drops the cigarette. Not quite idle, Jungkook picks it up, eyes the smoldering end and puts it out with his fingertips before looking up. The expression he meets is maelstrom worthy -- fear, loss, anger, sadness, desperation...to name just a few. But he doesn't say anything, even when he catches his breath so Jungkook stands, leans his shoulder hard into the brick and keeps going.
"You don't have to believe me. But. I wanted you to know he's...not alone."
"What is that even supposed to mean?" Namjoon sounds hysterical, caught between laughter and tears and something else.
"I mean," Jungkook's hands twist in his jumpsuit sleeves -- too long, always too long. "I mean I...he...he'll be protected now. I know it's...it's too late but I mean for him, it's not...he's..." His words won't work the way they want him to. Some bridge, he thinks irritably, slaps his own face again only to have other hands circle his wrists and hold them still.
"Stop. It's not helping. I swear."
Jungkook's hands spasm a little, argumentative, but he lets his focus drift to Namjoon's shoulders -- rigid, terrified, waiting.
He tries again,
"I'm gonna repeat: you don't have to believe me but...I can see spirits. And I can see ghosts. I met Seokjin. He was in a field of lilies as high as my waist and...and he said you told him...it was okay to cry..." The hands around Jungkook's wrists shake badly. "He...was waiting. So I helped him pass. I...just...I read about him and they never seemed to find out anything concrete and I thought if someone important disappeared...if I ever got the chance to know...anything...I'd want to. I..." At this point it's no use. They're both crying. Thank god for darkness.
It feels like hours but it's probably only minutes before Namjoon speaks; it's quiet, the understatement of a man who can fall in love but not out of it.
"Was he hurt?"
Jungkook pauses. The hands on his wrists grip harder. He winces.
There isn't a word for the sound Namjoon makes. 'Wounded' doesn't cover it.
"--but you helped him."
"...and he's not alone."
"He's not alone."
Namjoon's knees give out, but Jungkook is strong. He catches him first by the bends of his elbows, then helps lower him to the ground, leans him against the building and prays for no security to come out on patrol.
"I'm sorry," he whispers. "I didn't know what would be worse, I--" He bows his head and curls up next to him. Namjoon has one hand over his own eyes, still crying. And for another hour or so that's what they do, the night's stillness perforated by sobs and nameless sounds. Feeling like a villain, Jungkook has another apology on the tip of his tongue when a warm hand rests on the back of his neck. No explanation, and nothing more for a longer time still.
When it brushes through Jungkook's hair it feels like words, though all Namjoon says is, "Thank you."
. . .
Because they don't live as close anymore, get togethers are fewer but no less like a homecoming. No matter whose place they go to, Jungkook finds love and laughter with his two best friends who also happen to be his family. Questions they never asked before do come up, however, things such as, "What've you been up to Jungkookie?"
And where to begin. Jungkook is never sure. It's as though when his living-world friends moved further away, he filled the gaps with the dead and the not-human, which isn't a problem except he hardly has anything to share.
"Just working," he says and Jimin groans, claims he's as good as wasting the prime of his life. Taehyung suggests they all go camping in the summer, and Jimin points out that it's already Fall but all Taehyung has to say to that is: more time to plan!
Over a cutthroat game of Mario Kart:
"So what're you guys up to?"
"Tae is leaving me for another man," Jimin deadpans. Taehyung squawks denial. Jungkook swerves clean off the rainbow path and curses.
"Explanation!" A blue shell puts Jungkook back in the game and this time the cursing comes from Jimin's side.
"One, I'm not. Two, his name is Hoseok and he's Jimin's dance instructor so if anyone's being left for another man it's me!" A series of red shells has Taehyung whooping as he clears in first place and adds, "Besides he doesn't have a dog. I'm not interested."
"Jimin doesn't have a dog either," Jungkook sighs, cycling through the different track options; he really hates rainbow road. Hates.
"Yet." There isn't quite a cackle.
"Hobi really likes Tae. He keeps trying to get him to join even though it's not even his major, I mean what even???" Jimin bites his lower lip and zooms off at the countdown, the agenda: vengeance.
"I'm confused," Jungkook admits. "You have a nickname for him but you're mad at him for hitting on your boyfriend who might consider him if he had a dog but he doesn't but you are going to soon?" He pauses. "What kind of dog?"
"Pom," Taehyung supplies and curses as one of Jimin's bombs sends his racer straight into the lava.
. . .
His job at the coffee shop is more tiring than the janitor stuff because it directly involves other people. For the most part, Jungkook can handle it, wins people over with his smile though perhaps not with his dialogue. But this particular shop was made in a very old building and Jungkook more often than not sees patrons who aren't even alive. When a living person goes to sit where they are sitting he tries to suggest alternate seating but usually they ignore him. And it's not as though the ghosts aren't used to it, but it can't feel good -- not being able to speak for yourself, and even when someone else can, seeing those wishes ignored.
When no one else is around, he'll speak to them. It works out best when he opens or closes, an hour to himself and the supernatural.
. . .
During the day, he still looks for gray cats and silver-haired boys, still hopes. During the night, he runs, and sometimes he doesn't know if he's awake or asleep, the headlight of an oncoming car blinding at full speed.
. . .
Once in the garden a fairytale happened. Jungkook doesn't remember because he was asleep for it. That was his role. Pale except for the blood on his lips, the poison of kissing a ghost ran rampant in his system as equally pale hands lowered him into a bed of flowers: all kinds, shapes and colors the depth of mortality, the pulse of love, all smelling of rain and fire and the heart of the woods. Words were whispered over him, pressed into his hands, the hollow of his throat, between closed eyes, and where a heart should beat. Once, a boy loved Jungkook so much he let him go.
When the ghost returned to where he came from, another ghost said but you could have had him forever.
But the ghost with silver hair and eyes like obsidian shook his head, crouched low on his cloud and said, who would kill what they love?
. . .
Once, Jungkook jumped off a bridge because for a second he genuinely believed he could fly.
A breeze smelling of wisteria softened his fall and whispered not yet.
. . .
Jungkook doesn't remember that either, only remembers waking up sopping on the shore beneath the bridge and having a cold for a month afterward.
. . .
At some point, Namjoon gets Jungkook to apply for a scholarship despite Jungkook's protests that he's too old and unqualified for it. Namjoon says talent-based scholarships are different and orders him to just put the damn portfolio together. It's a mix of drawings and photographs, photographs which he reminds Namjoon aren't up to snuff. Namjoon plucks the portfolio out of his hands and delivers it to the appropriate board member. He doesn't care if it's not exactly fair; he cares that Jungkook can do better than janitorial service and mixing lattes just right. Don't get him wrong. If that was his new friend's passion, he'd be the first to support. But anyone can tell: it's not.
And after seeing some of Jungkook's drawings, Namjoon figures it's at least worth trying.
Maybe no one else will understand. Just Jungkook and Namjoon and anyone else looking in with some mild belief in magic or ghosts or whatever. Maybe it won't matter.
He reassures Jungkook if nothing comes of it and he doesn't want to pursue it any further, he'll let it go.
But Jungkook gets the scholarship.
Suddenly he doesn't know what to do with himself. He has a class roster at an unseemly age but Sunyoul (so happy to have Jungkook on campus at regular hours) insists his face doesn't show it. The fact that he gets enjoyment out of these classes is also surprising. He doesn't remember feeling this way in high school. Art periods are his favorite, predictably, and the assignments even more so. Jungkook grows a reputation rather fast too -- attention already on him regarding the scholarship, flaring up with his focus on night photography that evokes something unsettling and beautiful, and paintings that several have reported crying in front of.
His old routine gets replaced by a new one. A better one. And while his dreams are still exhausting, his hands still reaching, it feels...almost...okay.
Sometimes better than okay.
At a mid-year exhibit Jimin and Taehyung show up. They have a bouquet of yellow roses (for friendship, Jimin explains) and a bouquet of what looks like every flower the florist had to offer (for everything else, Tae grins.) It makes Jungkook self-conscious so they hold onto the bouquets themselves until Namjoon offers to put them in the back, saying they can just pick them up when they leave. Having only seen his work in bits and pieces over the years, seeing it cohesive and curated is a whole other experience. At one painting (one of two, Jungkook having struggled with the oils and gotten so frustrated he almost destroyed his whole studio) Taehyung reaches out only to have his hand stayed by Jimin. He shrinks back, unlike him, but well aware he almost did something he oughtn't have. Jimin doesn't blame him though. The paint weaves across the canvas, its aberrations like the ocean gone choppy just before a storm, tangles and fights with the centered quality of a moon whose reflection on closer inspection is a lily -- one petal torn along the side with another yellowing closer to the center. Heart stopping.
Later, Jimin asleep on his left, Jungkook awake on his right, the flowers hanging upside-down to dry from Jungkook's ceiling, Taehyung asks, "Who's the moon and who's the lily?"
Jungkook fumbles with his pen, drops it.
He's quiet long enough that Taehyung doesn't expect an answer.
"Ghosts," Jungkook says.
. . .
It's raining but the weather report promised sun and Jungkook is cursing seven ways to Sunday as he tucks his camera into his jacket and runs to the nearest shelter. He has to battle a ton of other people doing the exact same thing, but that's what he gets for being in the center of the city on a Friday night, he supposes. At the edge of the overhang, he unwraps his camera and inspects it, deems it undamaged and looks through the finder just to be sure, scanning the throngs of people smart enough to have umbrellas on them and the people who just don't care.
He's halfway through his pan when his heart stops and his hands fail him. Thank god for camera straps. Not that it matters when he takes off like a shot back into the rain. He even leaves his jacket behind -- which someone tries to shout at him about but he couldn't care less. He runs, and it's like his dreams, running, trying to avoid people, umbrellas, dogs, cars that are going too fast, and he's doing pretty well; he even has the walk signal as he dashes forward but the car doesn't seem to agree; and it really is just like his dream. He tells himself to move but he can't, his legs won't listen.
Something pulls him forward hard.
Jungkook goes flying, rolling and scraping across the pavement with the force of whatever grabbed him out of his would-be demise. The car's horn blares and the driver curses about stupid kids and how he could have died. Dazed, Jungkook isn't sure where his camera flew to and he can't see very well because the rain is falling right into his eyes so he closes them, feels woozy enough to want to ignore the voices around him, except the one that is closest -- too close.
"Kid! Hey. Come on. Jeon Jungkook. Open your eyes."
Suddenly Jungkook can't open his eyes for an entirely different reason. Because he knows this voice. He knows the hands fisted in the collar of his shirt, he knows this smell and this feeling: rain and fire and a forest like a garden not so far away. A white cat he couldn't save; a gray cat he let go. A lunatic moon he can never paint just right. It hurts, he thinks, but it hurts from the inside. Burns. He's spent years figuring and reconfiguring how to live as a bridge but when it comes to his own ghosts he's back at square one and just who made him this way? God he wants answers. Wants this.
Another voice yelps, "He's bleeding."
It takes his legs giving out on him for Jungkook to realize he was standing all along.
. . .
When Jungkook wakes up he's not at home and he's not in a hospital. He smells rain and a bit of fire. Also cedar. Also incense? Lavender?
He raises a hand to the bandages around his head and feels something shift next to him. Someone.
Dark eyes peer at him from the bedside. Freckles. Silver hair almost white in some places. Articulate hands that reach out and hold Jungkook's face like he's somehow both infuriating and precious. Singular.
"You," he says and it's the first time in ever Jungkook has heard this voice break. Later he'll hear the fairytale, how all that voice could be that night was broken, how it sang even though it was no good at singing and prayed even though it didn't believe in god, and how it hoped -- desperate, dying, some things could be saved.
"I waited." He doesn't mean to say that exactly but it's what comes out, Jungkook's eyes stinging in a way he finds all too familiar these days. "I looked for you. Why weren't you...why did you..." Jungkook is older now. Mooncat looks rather the same but maybe that's just the dreams at work. He can't keep from crying so he pulls at the hands on his face to no avail. "I never even got your name. What the hell is wrong with you?" It's not crying now so much as sobbing, the shaking that goes through one's whole body: earthquakes in human form. He can't breathe, is gasping, dizzy. One hand moves to his back and the other over his heart, damp with Jungkook's tears.
"I'm sorry. Hey listen. Don't...hey. Breathe." A forehead leans against his and Jungkook can't but he does, manages a few unsteady breaths that actually go down, sways and feels hands move to his arms, holding him up. Their noses brush and the smell of fire and rain makes Jungkook's head spin all over again, makes his eyes flutter shut. "I couldn't tell you then. I'm telling you now."
Jungkook feels lips brush his ear.
"Call me Yoongi. And I'm in love with you. In case you didn't know."
. . .
That's the only time Yoongi says those words to him but that suits Jungkook just fine. What he needs aren't necessarily words though Yoongi this time around seems to be an expert in them -- at least in his work. For the first few months Jungkook never wants Yoongi out of his sight, and the feeling is mutual but reality dictates this just isn't how it's going to work. Jungkook's school and Yoongi's job are not especially close, so they have to settle for meeting in the morning and meeting at night. It rattles both of them in different ways, Jungkook missing deadlines and Yoongi forgetting basic needs such as eating and sleeping. To call the first months rough would be an understatement -- so all associates would agree. But they make it.
And then Jungkook has break. He all but moves into Yoongi's apartment and demands what he knows, deep down, he deserves: the whole story.
Yoongi tells him he wasn't wrong. He was the cat and he was the boy and the cat again. All versions of him trying to find Jungkook because, he murmurs into Jungkook's temple, his neck, his shoulder: I knew you before.
It's startling to know someone else who is a bridge, but it's different for Yoongi who remembers specifically the people he once knew. Apparently in one life he knew everyone Jungkook knows and seven of them were in an idol group of sorts. Yoongi tells him this under great duress but Jungkook laughs for days so Yoongi figures it was worth it. Other times they were just kids, falling apart together. That was the last time Yoongi claims he saw Jungkook -- before this life, where Yoongi has had many but never one that stuck.
"I won't let you go," Jungkook promises and Yoongi doesn't have the heart to tell him it's not really his choice.
What he says instead, both of them reclining on the riverside, is, "I kept messing up. Pretty bad. And I thought if I went with Seokjin I could learn how to stop messing up." With Yoongi's fingers carding through his hair, Jungkook has been nearly asleep but he perks back up at the familiar name.
"Was he okay, when you left?"
Yoongi hums. Pauses.
"I think so. It was hard to tell with Seokjin. I think he felt he was supposed to smile. But...I asked the wisteria spirit. She thinks he'll reincarnate soon. And sometimes it happens like me, you don't always start out from childbirth...and sometimes you even look the same...beats me how that works though." Jungkook shifts in his lap and reaches a hand up to press fingertips to Yoongi's mouth, which of course makes Yoongi frown. "Whuh -ou do'n'?" He tries speaking against them anyway. Jungkook dances his fingers down to Yoongi's chin instead, tugs, and oh.
Yoongi thinks Jungkook tastes a little sweet and very clear but he's not certain what element or what-have-you embodies that. It would be like Jungkook though, Yoongi also thinks, to be his very own thing.
. . .
Sometimes at night, Jungkook wakes up crying. He tries to be quiet but Yoongi always knows, kisses his eyes, nose, lips, and says, "I'm here."
. . .
Sometimes at night, Yoongi wakes Jungkook up and asks him if he's real.
Jungkook kisses him on the mouth and says "Yes, yes, yes."
. . .
Once in the city a fairytale happens.
It takes years for Jungkook to learn everything he never knew. Then there's all the other things, the things happening right now: the moon, the garden, the fire, and the rain. The lilies outside their window. The piano crammed into their office. The postcards from Jimin and Taehyung pretending to hug the Tower of Pisa. The little orange stray they take in and name Kitten for lack of imagination and the future irony when Kitten becomes a cat. The too small bed and the perfect amount of blanket.
Yoongi saying: open your eyes. Jungkook: opening his eyes.
The world dreaming.
You're here. You're finally here.
. . .