There are a few things you need to know about the ocean.
The first is that it is so incredibly deep and vast that a majority of it remains unexplored by humans. No matter how curious they may be, there are just some things that come in the way of human exploration: namely, the astronomical amount of bone crushing pressure that lies at the bottom of the ocean and humans being unable to survive said pressure, even with modern science. They are so weak, after all.
The second is that in that majority of the ocean that humanity hasn’t touched, there are, of course, creatures that have been either written off as being fantasy or simply unheard of entirely.
It should come as no small shock, then, to learn that mermaids are real. Creatures with the upper body of a human and the lower body of a fish, swimming around everywhere from the Atlantic to the Antarctic.
Creatures that, for the most part, are very aware of human existence. Aware, and curious.
Jimin knew a few things about humans. He knew that they walked around rather than swimming. He knew they couldn’t last more than a few seconds under the water before they had to crash back above the surface to gasp for air. And he knew that they love to throw things into the ocean.
Some of the others collected the things that humans tossed down into the depths: girls would string together some of the smaller trinkets and wear them as necklaces. Jimin himself had a small bracelet made of shells and small plastic beads that came off a shirt caught in the wreckage of a ship he found. Most of the trinkets were things none of them had the slightest idea what they were, but it was the whole concept of not knowing that intrigued him to no end.
Every day he swam around, his eyes trained on the distant stretch of water that was a brighter blue, the layer of the ocean closest to the surface. Closest to the sun. Closest to the humans.
He reached adulthood several weeks ago; he had every right to swim up there and see for himself exactly the kind of creatures that placed so many treasures (and trash) into their waters, the creatures that his friends spoke about so frequently. He wanted to, more than anything. There was just so much that he didn’t know, and would give anything to find out, but something was stopping him.
Maybe it was fear. When Namjoon had become an adult, the first thing he did was swim up to the surface to observe the humans that frequented the beach. He returned almost as quickly, the spines along his irregular tail bristled and terror on his normally composed face. To this day, he refused to talk about what he’d seen, instead choosing to study humans from safely below the water or in a grotto obscured from view.
The more he thought on it, though, it couldn’t be fear. Whatever had scared Namjoon out of his wits hadn’t been there when Hoseok had his turn. His friend had returned hours after swimming up to see the humans, raving about all the wonders he’d seen. Giant explosions of light in the sky, he said. The humans were making light explode in the night sky, like they were launching stars up and making them rain down over the water while they watched from the beach. It sounded like the most incredible thing Jimin had ever heard of.
So maybe that was it, then. Maybe he was scared that when he finally did see the surface, and the humans, and all their mysteries, he would be disappointed. That he’d spent all his life swimming around under the waves, dreaming about what lies above, only to find that it was no better than what he already knew. That his life under the ocean was as exciting as it would ever get.
“You should go up today,” Hoseok told him, finding Jimin floating idly near Namjoon’s pile of human artifacts. They were in the Korean Strait for the summer, having migrated here from the Yellow Sea, and Namjoon was all too eager to collect as many new things as he could that had fallen here since they’d been gone. “It’s sunny out, and there’s a boat.”
“I saw it. The bottom, anyway,” Jimin said, pretending to be very interested in what appeared to be a tiny spear, a silver pronged instrument almost like a triton.
“Come on, Jimin, we all know you’ve been dying to go up there. You have to get over your fear sometime.”
“I’m not scared,” Jimin said with an indignant huff, blowing out a flurry of small bubbles.
“Then prove it. Go up and see the boat.” Hoseok swam up a little higher, swishing his fins in front of Jimin’s face. “I’ll even come with you.”
Jimin swatted his friend’s fin away and placed the tiny triton back in Namjoon’s chest of trinkets. He swam up to meet Hoseok, his lip twitching in annoyance. “Fine. I’ll go, but only so you shut up about me being scared.”
Hoseok just gave him a knowing look and grabbed his arm, pulling him up, up, up, until the water around them was so bright it was almost blinding. The boat was right there, a few feet away, sitting idly on the surface with its round underbelly curving out into the water.
“Go on, Jiminnie. I’ll be right here.”
Jimin inhaled a breathful of the clear water, and broke the surface, blinking wildly at the sudden burst of light that shrunk his pupils and made him scrunch up his face, squinting at his surroundings. It was odd, breathing air instead of water. He sunk a little lower so that the water would still flow into his slightly parted lips but not enough that he couldn’t still see ahead of him.
The boat was relatively far from the beach, which was only a dark shadow marking the horizon, but there was a piece of driftwood floating nearby that Jimin leaned on, pillowing his head in his arms and watching from a safe distance once he got used to breathing air.
There were about twenty humans on top of the boat, some of them holding bottles, others holding glasses similar to the ones Namjoon had in his collection. They all had dark hair and dark eyes, making Jimin touch his own deep red hair in wonder. Everyone he knew had hair the color of bright coral reefs or colorful sea rocks: Hoseok’s a vibrant gold, Namjoon’s a messy silver, Yoongi’s a bright pink. Humans were so dull in comparison, Jimin thought.
He was about to return to tell Hoseok that his greatest fears were realized; the humans were nowhere near as interesting as he’d thought, despite all their intricate clothing and odd movement due to their legs. He almost did, and then one of the humans caught his eye.
He seemed to be at the center of attention, a little taller than the others, and with hair so black that it looked almost purple in the sunlight. His eyes were round, and his white shirt was clinging to his broad shoulders and built torso. Jimin didn’t know a lot about human standards of beauty, but he figured that this person must be the epitome of it. Without thinking, he pushed his piece of driftwood closer to the boat so he could get a better look at the boy with black hair.
“Jungkook! Give that back!” shouted one of the others, a boy with a wide smile and dark hair that fell in his eyes. He was reaching for a small object that the boy with black hair had taken from him. Jimin was glad he could understand them; he’d been worried their words would sound foreign to his ears. He and the others had their own language, of course, but their particular group had also picked up on the languages of the countries surrounding their usual migration stops over the years.
“Jungkook,” Jimin whispered, liking how the name sounded.
He liked how Jungkook’s voice sounded even more, though. It was embarrassing how long he stayed out there, just listening to his sharp giggle of a laugh and watching the salty breeze rustle his hair across his tanned face. He was so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he barely noticed when the smell of an oncoming storm tickled his nose until it was already upon them.
The clouds darkened so quickly that it almost seemed unreal, like someone had flicked a switch and turned off the lights, casting a gloomy gray haze over the area. The humans on the boat looked up, some of them crying out when the clouds opened up and pelted them with rain. Jimin watched as Jungkook grabbed a folding chair and held it over his head, glaring up at the sky as though it had done this as a personal slight against him.
“Hey, Kook-ah, we should turn around!” one of the humans yelled over the sound of the rain barreling against the boat. “This storm looks bad!”
“Get out the life raft, at least!” another of them added.
“Maybe it’ll pass!” Jungkook shouted back, and Jimin jolted upright, pushing the driftwood away from himself. Jungkook had to bring the boat back to shore, why wasn’t he? Humans couldn’t honestly be stronger than a storm of this magnitude, could they? His friends were waiting for him back under the steadily growing waves, but Jimin had to stay. He had to know.
The storm did not, as Jungkook thought, pass. It only grew more intense, the rain feeling more like needles than water, making even Jimin feel uncomfortable. The waves were so big that they were rocking the boat back and forth, sending its passengers teetering dangerously close to the edge. Lightning spiked across the sky, followed by a deafening boom and an awful splintering sound that startled Jimin into briefly sinking under the water. By the time his heart rate had slowed back to normal, he resurfaced, only to find that the waves were growing taller than the boat itself. He fought against the waves, watching helplessly as the boat tipped over completely, dumping everything that had been on the deck, including the people, into the water.
Most of them were clamboring onto a bright yellow raft, helping each other to board, but even squinting through the rain, Jimin didn’t see the one face he was looking for. Suddenly wrought with panic, he dove underwater, still battling against the thrashing waves, and pushed past all of the slowly sinking chairs and smashed bottles and broken bits of the boat.
With a jolt of his heart, Jimin finally spotted Jungkook, his eyes closed, looking oddly peaceful as he sank down, down, down. Jimin didn’t think, didn’t hesitate for even one second. He darted for Jungkook, cradling his head with one arm and lifting him up at the bend in his knees with the other, using all of his strength to bring Jungkook back up for air. They’d only been underwater for a few seconds, but that had been one of the few things Jimin knew about humans: they couldn’t breathe for more than a few seconds underwater.
Sure enough, even when they were back above the water, back in the now significantly calmer storm, Jungkook wasn’t opening his eyes or breathing at all.
Later, Jimin wouldn’t be able to explain where he managed to get the strength to carry a full grown human all the way to shore without dropping him or slipping back under the water himself from sheer exhaustion. He figured it must be adrenaline, and the storm quieting down to a light drizzle certainly helped. Once he was no longer fighting the waves, it was a relatively quick swim to the beach.
About a kilometer away, Jimin saw the yellow raft the other humans on the boat had been on and knew that they would eventually make it over to where he’d collapsed with Jungkook onto the sand. He had to make sure Jungkook was okay before then.
Up close, Jungkook’s face looked much younger. His nose looked ever so slightly too big for his face, and his features had a youthful curve to them. Even with the imperfections that the storm caused (a split lip, bruises everywhere, matted and soaked hair), he still managed to be the most beautiful thing Jimin had ever seen.
Gently, Jimin pressed down on his chest, feeling around for a heartbeat. He found one, but there was no steady rise and fall of his abdomen showing that he was breathing. His lungs must be filled with water, Jimin thought.
Jimin was lying on his stomach, propped up by his elbows, his tail stretched out behind him into the water, and he felt a small twinge in his memory. A song, taught to all young merpeople that allowed them to call upon the Sea King in times of need. It was their special connection to him, their one deity that kept them safe and out of harm’s way.
He remembered stories his grandmother told of the day the Sea King created merpeople, and how he filled each of their hearts with the song just in case they ever needed him. He had even witnessed Hoseok sing it when their friend Yoongi had been injured years ago. He hadn’t ever sung it before, but...
Maybe, just maybe, he could use the song and ask the Sea King to help Jungkook. Keeping his hand held over Jungkook’s heart, Jimin opened his mouth and began to sing. The melody came to him easily, like a lullaby that you never could quite forget the words to, and almost immediately he felt a familiar warmth spread all the way to the tips of his fingers that were still pressed against Jungkook’s chest.
With his other hand, he trailed his fingers through Jungkook’s hair, down across his scalp, and lingering on his cheek, damp and stuck with sand from the beach. The song sounded different here on land, but it must have worked, because Jimin felt Jungkook lurch under his touch, turning and coughing up that lungful of seawater onto the beach. He took a few more hacking breaths before his dark, wide eyes turned to face Jimin.
“Jungkook! Jungkook-ah!” The others from the boat had finally spotted him. Jungkook blearily turned his head in the direction of the shouts, but when he tried to look back at Jimin again, Jimin had already retreated back into the water, left with nothing but the memory of Jungkook’s warmth on his hands and that awed look on his face when their eyes met.
Jimin didn’t consider himself to be foolish. He thought he had a relatively good head on his shoulders. Maybe a bit of naivete, but not so much that it interfered with his ability to make rational decisions.
A week after his first time witnessing humans with his own eyes, he decided that everything he thought about his own rationality had been false. Eyes so dark they could be oceans themselves and hair so black it looked purple in the light were haunting his mind, and he found that he couldn’t think of much else.
Namjoon liked humans. He liked them a whole lot to have dedicated his entire life to studying them despite a traumatizing first interaction that he still refused to talk about. Namjoon liked humans, but from a safe distance. He’d never once interacted with one, much less saved one from drowning and then called upon the Sea King himself to keep said human alive.
Jimin knew it was ridiculous to be daydreaming so much about this human who had seen him for a total of two seconds in a half-conscious daze, but there was just something about Jungkook that Jimin couldn’t stop thinking about.
Determined to keep things as vague as possible to avoid any teasing, Jimin decided to approach Hoseok and Namjoon during the day with his questions. (Yoongi was hellbent on staying as far from humans as possible, so Jimin knew he wouldn’t appreciate being talked to about them. It was understandable, since his fin was nearly rendered useless by being torn by some trash during their migration when they were young, causing Hoseok to have to use the Sea King’s healing song on him.)
He waited for a lull in the conversation while the three of them were floating lazily around Namjoon’s artifact chest, and then piped up with what he hoped was a casual tone.
“Hey, what do you guys know about humans? Besides the general stuff that the elders say, I mean.”
Hoseok bit into the coral he’d been holding, and, while chewing loudly, responded simply with, “Legs.”
“Really? That’s all you have to contribute? ‘Legs’?” Jimin said, crossing his arms.
“Am I wrong?” Hoseok demanded.
Jimin flicked his tail at him, stirring up sand and bits of plants. Hoseok waved them away with his hand, pouting. “Namjoon, what about you? I know you’ve been dying to share your research.”
“Well,” Namjoon started, an amused upward twitch of his lips betraying his mask of indifference, “they have shorter lifespans than we do. I heard most of them don’t even make it past eighty years.”
Jimin gaped. “Really?”
“Oh, yeah,” Namjoon said. “Loads of them don’t even make it that long. Humans are very fragile.”
Jimin remembered how easily Jungkook had been knocked unconscious by the wreckage, not even lasting a few seconds in the water before sinking like a rock. Even when he brought him to shore, he’d been covered in ugly bruises blossoming across his skin, his lungs full of seawater that he had to cough up before finally opening his eyes. His life could have ended right there. Barely twenty years old, he looked, and if Jimin hadn’t been there, that might have been all he saw of the world. Twenty short years. Humans were so sad, Jimin thought.
But then he remembered how Jungkook had been before the storm. Laughing loudly into the air, listening to music from his boat, and surrounded by other humans that seemed to like him a lot. He looked so carefree, despite his short lifespan and fragility.
Jimin loved the ocean; it was where he’d lived all his life. But now it just felt so suffocating in comparison.
“Do you think we could ever live on land?” The question came out before he could stop himself, and he regretted it immediately after saying it. Hoseok and Namjoon shared a glance and then burst into laughter, briefly obscuring Jimin’s vision with bubbles.
“Are you joking? How many land fish do you know about?” choked out Hoseok.
“None,” Jimin muttered.
“Exactly. There’s a reason for that. It’s really gross up there, Jimin. You know all the pollution humans throw in the water? They live surrounded by that every day. We’re better off down here.”
“Actually, I agree with Hoseok,” Namjoon said. “And besides, as he so wisely put it earlier, humans have legs. We don’t.”
Hoseok pointed at his own fins, swishing back and forth like he was waiting for something. “No legs.”
“Right,” Jimin said, not looking at either of them. This was by far the most disheartening conversation he’d ever had, and he had once spoken to Namjoon for twenty minutes about the inevitability of death and how it will one day take them all.
“Why are you asking all this stuff, anyway? You didn’t fall for a human while you were up there, did you?” Hoseok asked, going back to munching on his piece of coral.
“No,” Jimin said quickly. It wasn’t like that. He was just curious. Once, a human storybook had been left on the beach and floated down into the water; most of the pages were disintegrated by the time Jimin was able to peek at it, but on the cover, there was a boy with pitch black hair and a golden crown perched on his head. Namjoon told him that humans had something called a ‘prince,’ and they were the equivalent of their underwater deities. Jimin thought Jungkook looked an awful lot like that prince, and that had to be the reason why he was such an interesting thing to Jimin. He was just curious, that was all.
“Look at his scales!” cried Hoseok, pointing to Jimin’s tail with mirth. “They’re turning blue; he’s embarrassed. We got you, Jiminnie!”
“You fell for a human?” Namjoon said, his jaw hanging open. “Jimin!”
“It’s not like that!” Jimin insisted, though his scales were indeed betraying him, darkening from their usual seafoam green to a deep blue. “There was just this boy. He looked kind of like that prince from that storybook that you found one time. That’s it.”
“Is that why you were up there so long? You were watching a prince?”
Jimin scratched his nose. “No, I...um. There was a really bad storm, and the boy, he was going to drown, so I took him to shore. That’s why it took so long.”
“You what?” demanded Namjoon.
“He was going to die! I had to do something.”
“Jimin,” Hoseok said. “Humans are bad news. They’re fun to look at and everything, but interacting with one? Dreaming about going on land with them? You have to know that’s crazy, right?”
“Hobi’s right,” Namjoon said. “We belong in here. They belong out there. That’s just the way it is.”
Defeated, Jimin just nodded, not meeting their eyes.
It was late at night when Jimin heard the voice. The others were at an old shipwreck tending to the elders in their group, those who could no longer go out and find food for themselves. Jimin usually went along with them, as his grandmother was one of those that they provided assistance for, but tonight he heard a voice.
At first he didn’t register it as being real, as he was too wrapped up in his own thoughts about what Namjoon and Hoseok had said earlier, coupled with daydreams about what would happen if he was able to go on land. It was quiet, but the more he focused on listening, the louder it sounded, echoing softly in his eardrums.
“I know what you seek, child. Come to me, and I can give you what you want.”
The Sea King sometimes spoke to merfolk this way, with summons that sounded as though they were coming from within their own mind, and for a moment Jimin thought that it might actually be their underwater deity offering to help him. He had allowed his song to be used to save Jungkook, after all.
But the more Jimin followed the voice, listening for when it got louder, the deeper into the blackest part of the sea he ended up going. Finally he reached a cave, covered in frayed algae and plants that were piecing away with every slight push from the water. Whoever had called him here, it was not the Sea King.
He’d come this far already. He’d come this far, and there was no way of knowing exactly what awaited him inside the cave, so he closed his eyes and pushed past the rotting plants, confronting the voice that was claiming it knew what he wanted.
It was still so dark inside that his eyes couldn’t adjust, and all he could see was the faint suggestion of another being inside the cave, a faint reverberation through the water that told him he was not alone.
“Hello?” he said, not realizing how soft his voice was until it left his mouth.
“Do you know who I am?”
“No,” he said, but right as he said it, something sparked in his memory. Another deity, someone else who lived in the sea and had power beyond that of any regular fish. The Sea Witch, she was called, and Jimin had only ever heard warnings about her. She was cold, harsh, unforgiving, everything that the Sea King was not. “Yes,” he corrected himself. “You’re the Sea Witch.”
“That’s right, child. And I know what you seek.”
“I shouldn’t be here,” he said, already moving to leave the cave and forget that this ever happened. He may be a fool when it came to matters of the heart, but it certainly wasn’t his heart telling him to go back to the shipwreck with the others and put this behind him.
“That is a shame,” the witch said, her voice lilting. “I was prepared to offer you a chance to go on land as you have been dreaming of. A chance to meet with the prince you admire so much.”
Jimin paused. “How? I can’t go on land.”
The witch laughed, and suddenly her voice was almost melodic rather than sinister. “Not with that tail, you can’t. But I can offer you what they have. A nice pair of legs, and the ability to walk around as they do.”
“You mean, make me human? But--”
“It would be simple, dear. All I ask is something small in return.”
Jimin bit at his lip, his blood running cold. Her voice felt as though it was probing him, reaching into his heart and poking around, and it was terrifying. But at the same time...there was something about Jungkook that Jimin just couldn’t get out of his mind. That carefree aura he’d gotten from the boat had a pull on him that he couldn’t explain.
So he didn’t leave the cave. He faced the witch, or what little of her he could make out through the darkness, and asked, “What is it?”
“Well, you just need to prove that I’m not wasting my magic on you, child. Love is the most important thing to understand about being a human, so you need to get that prince to fall in love with you. That’s all.”
“How will I know?”
“He’ll kiss you. Humans are fickle, though, so be warned. If he kisses you but does not love you, that will be the end of your days with him. You will have to come back to the ocean, and never return to land again.”
So the one thing that would be able to tell him if he succeeded or not might be false, Jimin thought nervously. That wasn’t fair. Then again, there really were no consequences if he failed. If he couldn’t even manage to understand what the Sea Witch said was the most important thing about being human, then it probably would be for the best if he were to simply have to return to the ocean.
“Okay,” Jimin said. “I’ll do it.”
“Wonderful. When you leave here, swim up to shore, and you will find that you possess the same legs as those humans. But there is one other small thing I should tell you about. It’s difficult to turn fish like you into a human, so I’ll have to do an even exchange. Your voice, for a pair of legs.”
“My voice? But… How can I talk to Jungkook without a voice?”
“Love will find a way, child. That is what the humans say. Do we have a deal, or not?”
Jimin closed his eyes and shook his head, steeling himself. “We have a deal.”
By the time he left the witch’s cave it was nearly dawn. Once he was able to swim back up to where he’d left Jungkook on the beach the sun was already hanging brightly in the sky, making golden beams of light dance across the waves. Jimin didn’t stop to say anything to his friends; he was worried he might change his mind.
The witch had told him he just needed to leave the water. That was all. But the closer he swam to shore, the more he began to worry that this wasn’t going to work. He could still feel his tail swishing through the water behind him, brushing against sand now that he was nearly at the beach.
Just in case this all turned out to be a false hope, he chose a spot near an outcrop of rocks with a few trees hanging over the beach, casting shade over the sand and obscuring it from the other beachgoers’ view.
It wasn’t until he crawled onto the beach that he realized he couldn’t feel his fins anymore.
He had legs. Legs, with feet attached, and toes that could each move on their own, burrowing into the sand and kicking up tiny droplets of water. Legs that bent at the middle and allowed him to stand, hanging onto the nearest rock for support. Even the gills on either side of his hips had closed up, allowing his lungs to do all of the work. The air, though, felt like it was pushing him down into the ground. There was none of the usual weightlessness he was used to; up here the air was keeping him firmly in place, and on his unsteady new legs, this was rather difficult.
He was determined, though, and spent quite a bit of time practicing what he saw the other humans doing beyond his little secluded area of the beach: walking, running, standing without toppling over. He was still a bit shaky, but he had all the time in the world to fix that.
Leaning on the nearest rock, he gazed out into the group of humans laughing and chasing each other across the sand; the same carefree aura he got from seeing Jungkook and his friends on the boat that day. Suddenly he realized with a jolt that every single one of them was wearing some form of clothing.
Looking around, he found a bag near the rocks that he was able to snatch a piece of clothing out of before anyone spotted him. Once he’d safely emulated the others, he felt a bit better about leaving his hiding place and trying to find Jungkook. The fabric felt tight on his skin, but that was the least of his worries; there were so many humans on this beach, he didn’t even know where to begin looking.
He thought to see if he could find just the humans with black hair, but that described about seventy percent of the people he was seeing. Maybe this had been a mistake after all, he thought, pulling down on the fabric on his leg, feeling it riding up too high for comfort. Maybe he should go back into the water and see if he could summon the Sea Witch again, get her to change him back and pretend this never happened.
“I’m telling you, hyung, he had red hair. Like, bright ass red. You didn’t see anyone like that?”
“I think I’d know if I saw someone like that, Kookie. You were pretty beat up when we found you. You probably just imagined it.”
Jimin whipped his head around at the familiar voice and nearly cried in relief. There he was. Jungkook was standing there, just a few feet away, talking to one of the people Jimin had seen him with on the boat. He opened his mouth to call out that he was the one who saved him, but nothing came out, not even a puff of air. The witch hadn’t been lying.
“No, I swear, dude. I was so messed up, there’s no way I swam all the way back by myself. He saved me, and brought me back to the beach, and I’m pretty sure he was singing or something?” A pause. “Okay, I know that sounds like I made it up, but…”
Jimin froze. Jungkook was looking straight at him.
It had been a long week. Jungkook’s father was furious that he hadn’t checked the weather report before taking the family yacht out onto the water, and even more furious that he’d almost drowned in the resulting wreckage from the storm. To top it off, Jungkook wasn’t even sure how exactly he managed the whole ‘not dying in a horrific drowning accident’ ordeal. He remembered being knocked out by something during the storm, and then his mind was a complete blank, right up until he woke up on the beach with a faint song in his ears and someone with red hair leaning over him that disappeared before he could get more than a bleary glance at them.
A long week, indeed.
Which is why at first, when he spotted a boy who looked to be around Taehyung’s age wandering around the beach with the same fiery red hair as the apparition who saved him, Jungkook thought he must have lost his mind.
But then, while Taehyung was explaining exactly how he and the others had found Jungkook completely alone on the beach that day, the boy turned and locked eyes with Jungkook, and he knew it was him. Somehow, he knew.
“Hyung, hyung, shut up for a second, hey.” He grabbed his best friend’s head and turned him to face the boy, who was just standing there looking lost. “That’s him. Holy shit, that’s him.”
Taehyung squinted. “The one wearing kid’s swimming trunks?”
“Yeah. Oh my god, I’m not crazy.” As if in a daze, Jungkook left Taehyung and approached the boy, who upon closer inspection was indeed wearing child size swimming trunks, and came to a dead stop. He was a bit on the shorter side, only coming up to Jungkook’s nose, but he definitely had the muscle to potentially have hauled Jungkook to the beach. His hair was even more vibrant up close, without a hint of darker roots growing in. (He was also gorgeous, but Jungkook wasn’t about to bring that up.)
“Uh, hey,” he said, suddenly realizing how awkward this was. What if he was wrong? What if this was just some random guy with red hair trying to relax at the beach (wearing kid’s swim trunks) and now Jungkook was coming to him with an insane story about how he’d been saved from a storm by someone who looked exactly like him?
But then again...what if he wasn’t wrong?
“Do I, um. Do I know you?”
The boy just stared at him, looking as though he was about to say something, but not opening his mouth. (His nicely shaped mouth, Jungkook couldn’t help but notice, with pillowy lips rivaling his friend Seokjin’s.)
Oh god, he wasn’t saying anything. “Sorry. Sorry, I just thought… I thought you were someone else,” Jungkook laughed, scratching at the back of his neck, which was growing warmer by the second. He could even feel his ears getting hot and thank god for his tan, or he’d surely be visibly blushing right now. “The other day someone helped me through that bad storm, and I thought that might’ve been you. Sorry.” Wishing for swift and immediate death, he turned and was ready to barge through the crowds of beachgoers back to Taehyung, who would surely tease him to no end, but then he felt a hand close around his arm.
The boy was stopping him. He still wasn’t saying anything, but there was something on his face that looked like...awe? Recognition? Jungkook couldn’t tell. It wasn’t annoyance, or anything that looked like he thought Jungkook was out of his mind, which was enough to stop him from running away.
Still keeping his mouth shut, he pointed at the ocean, then at Jungkook, and then at himself. Then, he swiveled around and pointed at the exact spot where Jungkook had been taken to after the storm.
“So it was you!” The boy nodded enthusiastically and Jungkook felt relief settle in, glad that he hadn’t been hallucinating that day. “But, um. Sorry if this is rude or something, but are you not able to talk?”
The boy nodded again, looking apologetic, and Jungkook bit his lip. “I thought I heard someone singing that day. That wasn’t you?” The boy shook his head and pointed at himself, and Jungkook coughed nervously. This wasn’t making any sense. Luckily he was saved from embarrassing himself further when Taehyung decided now would be a good time to join him, slinging his arm over Jungkook’s shoulders.
“Hey. What’s going on?” he asked, more directed at Jungkook than the boy, though he wasn’t looking at Jungkook while he spoke.
“This is the guy who saved me. I told you I wasn’t making it up.”
“Seriously? I owe you one, then. You saved me from a lifetime without my best friend,” Taehyung said, giving him a warm smile. The boy smiled back, but still didn’t say anything, making Taehyung’s forehead wrinkle in confusion. “Are you shy or something?”
“He can’t talk,” Jungkook muttered under his breath so that only Taehyung could hear him.
“What, like he can’t speak Korean?”
Jungkook shook his head, giving him a warning look to keep his voice down. “No, like he can’t speak at all.”
The boy seemed to have heard them, and nodded in agreement.
“...Right,” Taehyung said, turning his gaze back to Jungkook. “He might be foreign, dude.”
“No, he understands us,” Jungkook insisted, addressing the boy next. “Can you hold up three fingers?” He obliged, looking about as confused as Jungkook now, but at least it cleared up any doubts about their communication.
“Shit,” Taehyung said. “Do you know sign language? I could look it up and we could try to communicate.”
He shook his head again.
“Okay, well, where do you live? Around here?”
He nodded and pointed behind them, toward the ocean.
“In the ocean?” Taehyung asked, and Jungkook swatted his arm.
“No, you idiot. He probably means overseas,” Jungkook said, but Taehyung was looking at the boy like it was his first time seeing him, not even bothering to retort back.
“Look, okay, we’ll figure this out. I’m Jungkook, and this is Taehyung. Can you like, sound out your name or something?” He mimed saying his own name, and the boy nodded.
“I’m good at reading lips,” Taehyung said, leaning in closer and watching the boy sound out a name. “Ji…ming? No, Jimin. His name is Jimin.” The boy grinned and nodded.
“Jimin,” Jungkook repeated, nodding to himself. “Alright. You saved my life, so I owe you one. If you want, you can come back to my place and we can help you contact your family. You’re here alone, right?”
Jimin mouthed “yes,” for some reason glancing at the ocean again. He seemed to do that quite a bit.
“Maybe he’s from Okinawa,” Taehyung whispered as they walked away from the beach and over to the parking lot where Jungkook’s bike was sitting. “It’s sort of in that direction, right?”
“Doubt it,” Jungkook muttered back, watching Jimin stop and stare at nearly everything they passed, stumbling a few times like he forgot he had feet or something. “I think he might’ve escaped from a cult.”
If Jungkook wasn’t having second thoughts about all of this already, he certainly did once he saw Jimin’s reaction to his motorbike. Jungkook handed him the helmet, figuring that Jimin was probably more in danger than he was, but he ended up just holding it and blinking like he didn’t know what to do.
“You put it on your head,” Jungkook said, flipping it over and pressing it over Jimin’s hair. He buckled and tightened the straps around Jimin’s chin, then climbed onto the seat of his bike and patted the small space behind him. “Come on, sit here.”
Hesitantly, Jimin nestled into the curve of Jungkook’s back, and jumped a bit when Jungkook kicked up the guard and started the engine. “You should hold on,” Jungkook said, and immediately Jimin’s arms crossed around his middle, his nose nuzzling into the nape of Jungkook’s neck.
“Good luck, Kook-ah,” Taehyung said, grinning at him as he revved the engine again and sped off down the highway.
By the time he came to a stop outside the garage, Jimin was practically trembling, his eyes wider than Jungkook knew was possible.
“You alright?” he asked, helping him to unbuckle the helmet and strapping it into the bike lock. Jimin nodded shakily, then turned away, as if to try and compose himself.
Jungkook sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Truthfully, he was ready to part ways with Jimin; if he really was an escaped cult child or something, that was not a scene that Jungkook was particularly interested in getting himself involved in. It made sense, though. The poor kid looked like he had never stepped foot outside once in his life, and Jungkook couldn’t imagine spending an entire day with someone who had never even heard of a bike before.
“Wait. Shit,” Jungkook cursed, looking back down at Jimin’s shorts, which had ridden up while they were on the motorbike. “You don’t have another change of clothes, do you?” Jimin shook his head, and Jungkook breathed out. “Yeah, didn’t think so. Okay, wait here. I’ll be back with something for you to change into in a second.”
Jimin just looked at him, which Jungkook took to mean that he understood, so he crept around to the other side of the house and hoisted himself up on the slightly lowered roof. Really, it was criminal how simple it was to break into his own house. (He supposed it helped that he and Taehyung had spent an entire summer trying to learn parkour, but that was beside the point.)
He grabbed onto the railing lining his balcony, and lifted himself over the top, rolling into the glass sliding door. It took him a record twenty seconds to jam a discarded stick into the lock and push it up, allowing him to slip inside his bedroom and grab a plain white shirt and adult size shorts for Jimin. He hesitated near his underwear drawer, realizing that if Jimin was wearing swimming trunks, he probably needed…
Cursing, he grabbed a clean pair and left the same way he came in, sprinting back to the garage, praying Jimin hadn’t wandered off. To his relief, he found him sitting on the toolbox, looking around at everything with the same wonder Jungkook remembered having at Disneyland when he was a kid.
“Here,” he said, holding out the clothes balled up in his fist. “You can change into these.”
Jimin took them and examined each one, looking at Jungkook as if using him as a reference, and nodding to himself. Then, to Jungkook’s horror, he started pulling off the shorts right there in the middle of his garage.
“Wait!” Jimin stopped with one thumb hooked on the waistband, looking at him with his eyebrows raised and his eyes wide. “Uh. I mean. Go ahead, I’ll just turn around.” Feeling his ears and neck burning, he turned resolutely around and waited for the rustling of fabric to stop.
Jimin tapped his shoulder and Jungkook turned, bracing for the worst, but Jimin seemed to get the hang of clothes. Somehow, nothing was inside out or backwards, and the kid’s swim trunks were folded carefully and placed on top of the tool box.
“Okay. Cool,” Jungkook said. “Let’s go inside and get you back home, alright?”
Jimin didn’t say anything, but allowed himself to be lead around to the front door, where they were greeted by the head housekeeper, a middle aged woman named Junghee who Jungkook thought of as the older sister he never had.
“Oh, Jungkook-ssi! Who is this?” she crooned, clapping her hands together when she saw Jimin.
“Um, this is Jimin. Uh…” He ran through a list of excuses in his head, but none of them sounded believable, so he settled on, “He’s my ...friend.” Smooth.
“He’s just adorable!” Junghee gushed, fluffing his hair with her hands. “Your hair is so unique!”
Before she could get offended that Jimin wasn’t responding, he cut in quickly, stuttering over his words. “Noona, he can’t talk.”
Her hands flew to her mouth, her eyes opening wide in sympathy. “Oh, no. Poor dear.” She stood aside, ushering them in. “Don’t let me keep you.”
Jungkook steered Jimin out of the foyer, startling him out of his dazed staring contest with the crystal chandelier. “Come on, I’ll take you to the study. You can show me where your house is on the map and I’ll have someone take you back.” He closed the door behind him, grateful that he hadn’t seen his father’s car in the garage, so they would have the room to themselves without worrying about explaining anything to his dad. “As a thank you for saving me the other day.”
The plan was to have Jimin type in the address on the map and Jungkook could have the family driver take him back. He really should have anticipated that Jimin would have absolutely no idea how to use a computer, or even what it was in the first place.
A week ago, Jungkook had been caught up in the thought of finding the person that had dragged him through a storm and saved him from drowning, but it was a week later and now Jungkook half wished he hadn’t found him at all.
When it was established through a very confusing and one-sided conversation that not only did Jimin not know where on the map his family was, but also that he was unable to return home, Jungkook decided it was perhaps best to leave this to the police to deal with. He slid his phone out of his pocket, glancing back at Jimin typing nonsense into Google Earth, and dialed Taehyung’s number.
“Yeah, what’s up? How’s your redheaded savior?”
“He is seriously in trouble, man. He doesn’t know, like, anything. And he basically said he can’t go home, so what the hell am I supposed to do? I think I’m going to take him to the police station and have them deal with it. Will you come help me get him there?”
Taehyung gasped through the speaker. “Jungkook! Are you kidding me? He saved your life, and you’re going to just abandon him?”
“What do you want me to do?” Jungkook hissed, checking over his shoulder to make sure Jimin wasn’t listening. “He’s smart, and clearly understands shit, but it’s like he’s been living under a rock his whole life! I’m not equipped to handle this.”
“The least you can do is give it a shot,” Taehyung said.
“What am I supposed to do, have him stay with me?”
“Why not?” Taehyung countered. “You’d treat him better than wherever they’d end up sending him, and it’s not like you don’t have room for him in your big-ass house.”
Jungkook ran a hand down his face, closing his eyes for a second and leaning his head against the door frame. He watched Jimin stretch his legs out and wiggle his toes, laughing to himself and felt his heart melt a bit. Just a bit.
It ended up being enough to kill the idea of getting rid of him, though, at least for now.
However, he did end up regretting that decision about two hours later when he left Jimin alone to take a bath (after first showing Jimin how to use a bathtub, and that no, you can’t go in with your clothes on, and for god’s sake, Jimin, don’t take them off in front of me--). It was admittedly a little awkward knowing that someone else was in his bathroom, so he went downstairs and told Junghee that Jimin would be staying with them for a few days, and as he was explaining the extent of Jimin’s speaking ability, he heard a distinct splash from upstairs.
“Um, hold that thought, noona,” he said quickly, taking the steps two at a time and nearly tripping over the top one in his haste to get to his bedroom. Well, what used to be his bedroom.
Somehow, Jimin had managed to flood the entire bathroom, the water seeping out into the main room and soaking everything Jungkook had been too lazy to pick up off his floor. ...Which was most of his possessions.
He held up his sketchbook, now sopping wet and running with ink, and just looked at Jimin, unable to think of a single thing to say.
They spent the next hour and a half cleaning up the water, his bedroom now a rainforest of clothes and books and (in a desperate attempt to salvage them) game controllers hanging from every free surface, and his wooden floors so marked up from the water damage that he thought he might have to buy a rug to hide it from his father.
Jimin couldn’t say a word so by default he couldn’t apologize, but Jungkook couldn’t even bring himself to be angry due to the expression on Jimin’s face alone. His eyes were clouded over, and he’d been worrying at his bottom lip so much that it was bright red like it would start bleeding soon.
“Don’t worry about it, okay?” Jungkook said, turning away from that face and pretending to be absorbed in wringing out the water from an already dry shirt. “You didn’t know. I shouldn’t have left you alone.”
It was getting late now, and the slowly dimming light was painting dark shadows across Jimin’s already forlorn face.
“Hey, cheer up,” Jungkook tried again. “I can set up a futon for you, and you can get some rest. I’ll clean the rest of this up.”
If Jimin understood any of that, Jungkook wasn’t sure, but it did bring a smile to his face, and hell if it wasn’t the most dazzling smile he’d ever seen on a human being.
If nothing else, it was that smile that kept him level headed through all of this. Focus on the way his front tooth was adorably crooked instead of the fact that he’d flooded Jungkook’s bedroom a few hours ago. Focus on the way his smile pushed his cheeks up, nearly obscuring his eyes instead of the fact that Jungkook had a complete stranger who may or may not have escaped from a cult staying in his bedroom right now.
It worked, for the most part.
“Here’s some pajamas,” Jungkook said, handing him an old pair. Jimin took them, and then looked down at the clothes he was wearing (he never did grasp the concept of taking a bath earlier), giving Jungkook a quizzical look.
“Right, so there’s two kinds of clothes, okay? Ones for daytime and ones for nighttime. These are so you can sleep.”
Jimin nodded, and yanked his shirt over his head, holding up the pajama top and examining the Pokemon characters on the front with interest.
“Hey, you really gotta stop just stripping your clothes off all the time--” Jungkook trailed off, his eyes drawn to three long puckered scars across Jimin’s hip. They’d been covered by the swimming trunks earlier, and by his borrowed oversized shirt, but Jungkook’s shorts were falling down a bit on Jimin’s smaller frame, and he could see them clear as day. Jimin, realizing that he’d stopped talking, turned and peered at him, and Jungkook noticed he had matching scars in the same spot on his other hip.
Three parallel lines, like someone had taken a knife and cut into his skin. Jungkook felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up; suddenly the idea that Jimin had escaped from a cult didn’t seem so far fetched.
“Hey, who did this to you?” Jungkook asked, pointing to the scars.
Jimin glanced down to where Jungkook was pointing and gave him a funny look.
“The scars, right there--Hey! What are you--” Jimin set the shirt down on Jungkook’s bed and crossed the small distance between them, tugging on Jungkook’s pants. When he saw that the skin beneath was unbroken, marked only by a tiny freckle, his lips pursed in confusion. Jungkook should have pushed him away, but for some reason he stood there frozen in place while Jimin’s curious fingers ghosted across his hip.
Of course, Junghee chose that exact moment to walk into his room, asking something about the laundry, only to stop dead in her tracks when she saw what was happening.
Jungkook knew how it looked. Jimin didn’t have a shirt on, his shorts were barely held up, and he was halfway to pulling Jungkook’s pants down. (Not to mention the contents of Jungkook’s bedroom being hung from various doors and dressers.) He knew how it looked, but he couldn’t even manage to find the words to explain himself. All he could do was gape at Junghee until she, blushing red as a tomato, slowly backed out of the room, shutting the door behind her.
“Shit. Oh my god,” Jungkook said, finally coming to his senses and pushing Jimin’s hands away. “You can’t do that kind of stuff, dude!”
Jimin nodded, though Jungkook could tell he had no idea what he’d done wrong. And really, how could he explain it to him without blushing just like Junghee? Best to shelf that for now, he thought.
At least until he returned from changing in the bathroom to find Jimin sitting on his bed, pressing his hand into the pillows and grinning when they bounced back.
“I laid out the futon for…” he trailed off, not even believing he was about to do this, and then corrected himself. “Sure, you take the bed.” This was above and beyond what he’d planned to do for the person who saved him, but that was before he actually met him. Circumstances were different now. He felt cruel banishing Jimin to the futon when he looked so comfortable snuggled into the fluffy blankets and pillows. It was a king sized bed, swallowing up his tiny frame and making him look like a child.
From the floor, Jungkook called up, “Good night,” and half wished he would hear Jimin finally pipe up and wish him good night back. It never happened, so he rolled over and tried his best not to think about the person in his bed.
Jungkook woke up to warmth and a pounding headache.
The headache, he understood. He definitely remembered the whirlwind of the day before, especially the whole part where his bedroom was flooded. He’d have been surprised not to wake up with a headache after that.
The warmth on the other hand, took him a moment to pinpoint. He knew he was lying down on the futon, that much was clear. It wasn’t until his eyes adjusted to the light and his senses kicked in that he realized there was someone on top of him. It wasn’t long after this first revelation that he realized that someone was Jimin.
There was a moment of calm before the reality of his situation hit him. A long moment, during which he found comfort in the way his arm was wrapped around Jimin, his hand resting at the small of his back, and the way Jimin’s head was nestled in the crook of his neck, one arm looped around him.
This is nice, he thought and ran his hand down Jimin’s back, thinking of him as a giant teddy bear, only to become fully aware of his surroundings the next second.
His next thought was oh, shit.
Panicking, he tried to sit up, but thanks to Jimin apparently being ninety percent muscle, it felt as though someone dropped a boulder on top of him. To make matters worse, from the way the first rays of sunlight were breaking through his curtains, he knew Junghee would be by soon to wake him up. She’d already seen the two of them in an accidentally compromising situation once, and he definitely did not want a repeat of yesterday.
The room seemed to have gotten about a hundred degrees warmer, and his heart was thundering in his chest. The steady breath on his neck hitched and Jungkook fought the urge to make a sound when Jimin nuzzled his face into his collarbone as he slowly woke up. There was a split second where Jimin tightened his grip on Jungkook’s torso, and then sat up, untangling himself from the blankets (and from Jungkook) and stretching with his face scrunched up. It was adorable, and Jungkook was momentarily stunned.
Then, “What the hell, Jimin?”
Jimin’s arms fell down to his sides and he blinked at Jungkook, his hair sticking up on one side and his eyes still half lidded from drowsiness.
“You were sleeping in the bed, why did you come down here?”
Jimin pointed at Jungkook as an explanation, but even if he was fully awake, he didn’t think that would be something he’d be able to decipher.
“Are you scared of the dark?” Jimin shook his head. “Cold?” Another shake of his head. “Lonely?” That one got a pause, and then a nod.
Jungkook breathed out, his headache only feeling more and more like a marching band banging around in his skull. “Okay. This was a one time deal though.”
There was a timid knock at the door and Jungkook blanched. “Quick, go back in the bed,” he whispered. “Noona can’t see us like this.” Jimin obliged, crawling back into the mess of pillows and blankets just as the door creaked open, Junghee peeking her head around with trepidation.
“Jungkook-ssi?” she called. “Are you awake?”
“Yes, noona,” he responded, giving Jimin the thumbs-up when the door closed again.
The plan for the day had been to go back to the beach in case Jimin was able to at least show Jungkook the path he’d taken to get there; it was a starting point, at least.
The plan had not been babysitting Jimin every moment of the day, and yet somehow that’s exactly what ended up happening. Every time he left Jimin alone in a room, be it while he was brushing his teeth or even just taking his laundry down to Junghee, the image of his flooded bedroom crept into his mind. Eventually, he just told Jimin to follow him everywhere, as it was the only way to make sure he wasn’t messing with something he shouldn’t be.
They made it to the beach around two in the afternoon, and luckily it was a bit overcast, so there weren’t as many swimmers crowding the sand. Jungkook parked his motorbike and helped Jimin off the seat, unbuckling his helmet and giving him a hesitant pat on the arm. He was still nervous about the bike, if his wobbly knees were any indication of that.
Unfortunately, it looked like Jungkook put Jimin through another round of riding on the motorbike for nothing, because every time Jungkook asked how Jimin got to the beach in the first place, all he did was give Jungkook a helpless look and point vaguely in the direction of the ocean.
“Does your family live on a boat or something?” Jungkook asked out of sheer desperation for some iota of a hint as to what he could do to help Jimin get back home (aside from going to the police, which still didn’t quite seem right).
Jimin glanced at the ocean, bit his lip, and half-shrugged, then nodded, though he wasn’t meeting Jungkook’s eyes.
As it was obvious that they weren’t getting anywhere anytime soon, they returned to the house after another bout of motorbike-induced panic from Jimin.
“We’ll figure something out,” he said absently while, at a loss for what else to do, the two of them sat on the large leather couch downstairs watching variety television shows. “I’ll get you home somehow.”
Jimin didn’t say anything.
Waking up to Jimin lying on top of him was one thing. Waking up to the house alarms going off because Jimin had woken up at three in the morning to head off toward the beach was another thing entirely. His father was out late at a business meeting, so luckily he didn’t have to worry about waking him, but poor Junghee was the one who lead Jimin back up to Jungkook’s room, rubbing sleep from her eyes and giving Jungkook an exasperated look.
It had been two weeks now. The plan had been for Jimin to stay with him for a couple days, at most, until Jungkook figured out exactly what to do with him. But two weeks had passed, and Jimin was still staying with him, and somewhere along the way the two of them had just ended up sharing Jungkook’s bed, and his bathroom, and his food, and every moment of his free time.
Two weeks had passed, and now it was three in the morning and Jimin was trying to leave, not knowing to deactivate the house alarm system first. And of course, he couldn’t even explain himself, so Jungkook had no way of knowing what he needed outside this late. It looked like he might have been headed in the direction of the beach, but it was such a far walk, and there wasn’t a single good reason Jungkook could think of to go to the beach at ass o’clock in the morning. Stumped and cranky and fed up, Jungkook grabbed Jimin by the arm, apologizing to Junghee, and took him back upstairs to his bedroom.
“Jimin, this has to stop,” he cried, his voice coming out much more loudly than he’d intended. Immediately regretting raising his voice after seeing the look on Jimin’s face, he took a softer approach, and continued, “If you need to go somewhere, you can ask me. Were you trying to go home?”
There was a brief moment’s hesitation, and then Jimin nodded, a far away look in his eyes that Jungkook couldn’t quite place.
“Okay. If I take you out on my bike tomorrow, will you lead me to where you live? It’s probably time you went home, right?” He felt bad, sure, trying to get rid of him like this, but enough was enough. He was just a kid; he was in no way shape or form equipped to handle a situation like this.
But to his dismay, Jimin shook his head no, letting out a tiny sigh and biting his lip.
He let it go, and tried to go back to sleep, figuring he’d deal with this in the morning, but then he heard the gentle rumbling of the sliding door to his balcony opening about twenty minutes later. Stifling a groan, he threw back the blankets and walked over to the door, only to stop when he saw what was outside.
Jimin was standing there, leaning against the railing on the balcony looking over the ocean, Jungkook’s oversized clothes hanging off his smaller frame, making him seem so young. His head was bowed slightly, and his shoulders were shaking.
Shit. He was crying.
The past two weeks had been hectic and frustrating and he was almost out of excuses for his friends as to why he couldn’t hang out, and his Playstation 4 controller had to be replaced after his room flooded, but right then all of that seemed insignificant. Jimin was crying, looking out to the ocean in the middle of the night, staying in an unfamiliar house with a bunch of strangers, completely unable to communicate. Jungkook knew how it felt to not know where his family was, with all of his father’s business trips, but this was something else entirely.
Perhaps that is why he never made a real effort to get rid of Jimin over the past few weeks. Although he was annoyed on the surface, deep down he just felt incredibly sorry for him. And now, watching him tremble outside in the cold, wearing clothes that were far too big for him, Jungkook felt sorry for him and responsible for him. He couldn’t send him away. Not now.
He slid his fingers across the throw blanket draped across the foot of his bed, balling it up in his arms and sliding open the balcony door, stepping out into the chilly night air. Jimin stiffened when Jungkook draped the blanket over his shoulders, but once he realized it was just Jungkook, he seemed to melt into a state of relaxation. His face was a bit damp, his eyes a bit glassy from crying, but the moment he locked eyes with Jungkook there was already a gentle smile on his lips.
Neither of them said a word, but on that day, at three in the morning, something began to shift, a subtle change beginning between them.
“It just makes me sad, you know? He looks like he has so much to say, but he can’t. I can’t imagine what that’s like,” Taehyung said, resting his cheek against his fist while he sipped at his soda. He was laid out on a towel spread over a warm patch of sand, his legs sprawled out in front of him and oversized sandals dangling off his toes. He was the only one of Jungkook’s friends who at least somewhat understood his situation with Jimin, and so in an attempt to help Jimin feel more comfortable with his new surroundings, he came down to the beach with them nearly every day.
“If I could trade your voice for his, I’d do it in a heartbeat,” Jungkook said, dodging the swipe Taehyung aimed at him for that comment. Further down the beach, Jimin was knelt down over the rocks, his hands in the water and his knees drawn up to his chin like a child. It really was heartbreaking to think of all the times he did look like he had something to say, only to open his mouth and have nothing come out. Jungkook didn’t even know what his laugh sounded like, only that it made him fall over, usually onto the person next to him, and smile so hard that his eyes disappear.
“Hey. Earth to Jungkook,” Taehyung said, waving his hand in front of Jungkook’s face and jolting him out of his stupor. “You’re staring.”
“Am not,” Jungkook said under his breath, aggressively drinking his own soda to avoid having to say anything else.
What Taehyung had said kept echoing in Jungkook’s brain, though, and that night he had an idea.
Approaching Jimin, who was hunched over on the bed poking at his own foot, Jungkook asked, “Can you write? Like, if I gave you a pencil and paper, would you be able to write stuff out instead of just having to point?”
Jimin just looked at him, and as cute as his slightly confused expression was, it wasn’t doing much by way of communication. Jungkook blew out a puff of air, making his messy fringe flutter a bit, and he grabbed the nearest notebook off his desk, along with a pen. “Here. Can you write with this?”
Jimin took the pen and squinted at it, then brought it to the paper and drew a line, his lips spreading into a blinding smile. It was like watching someone learn how to use a pen for the first time. Seeing Jimin cover the page with scribbles, an awed gleam in his eye, Jungkook thought maybe that’s exactly what he was witnessing.
“Okay,” Jungkook said, steeling himself. “Okay. That’s fine. You understand me, so you know Korean--”
Jimin nodded, still apparently determined to run the pen out of ink.
“--so I can teach you to write. That way we can talk.”
Flipping to a new page, Jimin drew a large smiley face that covered the entire paper, then spun it around to show Jungkook.
Jungkook smiled back, his face growing a little warm for reasons he wasn’t entirely aware of.
It wasn’t bad, teaching him. He was a fast learner, and after only a few hours, the clock ticking as the night deepened, he was able to write every character that Jungkook recited out loud for him. By the time he was rubbing sleep out of his eyes and stifling a yawn every couple minutes, Jimin could put together basic blocks of sounds using hangul.
“You’re awesome,” Jungkook said before he was cut off by a particularly violent yawn. Jimin’s face lit up in the darkness, and he reached out to hold Jungkook’s hand, then pulled back just as quickly, setting the notebook on the nightstand next to him.
That notebook quickly became like an extra limb for Jimin; he carried it around everywhere he went, along with a pen shoved in the pocket of Jungkook’s shorts. He was catching on to the whole writing situation exceptionally well, so much that they could basically communicate now.
It didn’t help solve much, but Jungkook was able to learn that Jimin was definitely unable to go home, he was not part of a cult as Jungkook thought (though he still wasn’t sure if Jimin actually understood what a cult was in the first place), and he was born “on the sea,” which Jungkook took to mean that he was born on a boat. He wasn’t able to get a straight answer on anything else, but he had already somewhat accepted the fact that Jimin wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so that wasn’t much of an issue.
What was an issue, however, was Jimin walking around in clothes three sizes too big for him. His pants bunched up over his feet, making him trip, and his sleeves went down so far that they covered his hands up to his fingertips. It was, admittedly, very cute, but it made Jungkook feel guilty that he was forced to wear such ill-fitting clothing. If Jimin was going to stay with him, he was going to get the Jeon Treatment.
So Jungkook called Taehyung and asked him to come with them while he took Jimin to the mall to get him a whole new wardrobe. He pocketed the credit card his father gave him that he mostly used on video games, and figured he wouldn’t mind too much if Jungkook added another big expense. His father was a CEO; it’s not as if they couldn’t afford it.
Jimin seemed to gravitate toward blues and greens for his clothes while they looked around the shops, but what surprised Jungkook the most was when Jimin took out his notebook in the fitting room and wrote out, “I like wearing your clothes.” Jungkook’s face lit up like a crimson sign and he forced out a cough to hide his reddening cheeks.
“They don’t fit you. These will be more comfortable, I promise.”
Jimin nodded and took the clothes from Jungkook, slipping out of the oversized boots he’d been borrowing and closing the door to the fitting room behind him.
To avoid thinking about the rustle of fabric and clothes dropping to the floor coming from inside, Jungkook wandered over to where Taehyung was rifling through the sale rack, lingering on the clearanced mom jeans with interest.
“I think Jimin’s a mermaid, dude,” Taehyung said without looking up.
“Hyung, I swear to god--”
“No, hear me out! I’m serious,” Taehyung said. “You said he saved you from the storm, but he wasn’t on your dad’s yacht, so he must’ve been in the water already. He has red hair that definitely is not natural, but somehow never has to dye it. He wears little seashell bracelets and necklaces made of shells you can’t find on the beaches around here. He takes baths that last like two hours, and he’s always just staring at the ocean.”
“He’s a little weird, yeah,” Jungkook said, crossing his arms, “but that doesn’t mean he’s a mermaid. Come on, man, even you have to know how crazy that sounds.”
“Fine,” Taehyung said with a huff, holding up one of the jeans to his body, examining how it looked in the mirror. “But when he grows a fish tail, just remember it was your best friend that called it.”
Jungkook waved him off with an eye roll and went back to the dressing rooms where Jimin was timidly peeking around the door, his eyes lighting up when he saw Jungkook approaching. He swung open the door and held his arms out, showing off the outfit Jungkook picked out for him. It was a simple faded blue top with a bit of a scoop neck, showing off his tanned and slightly freckled collarbones, round sunglasses perched on his head, and a simple pair of distressed shorts.
“You look really good,” Jungkook said, giving him the thumbs up and coughing awkwardly. Now that he was in clothes that fit him, it was difficult to ignore how sculpted his body looked. In an attempt to steer his mind elsewhere, his eyes landed on the tiny pink shells encircled around Jimin’s wrist, and Taehyung’s words echoed in his mind for a brief moment before he was interrupted by the salesperson sneaking up on them.
“Wow, sir, that is a great look!” she chirped. “Will you be purchasing it?”
“Yeah, we’ll take it all,” murmured Jungkook, handing her the card.
The months passed oddly, fast and slow all at once. The summer was hot and humid, and the waves at the beach were the highest they’d been in years, but without a boat, Jungkook didn’t pay much attention to that anymore. Most of his time was spent with Jimin, though lately he didn’t need to keep as close of an eye on him. For the most part, he seemed to have gotten the hang of living like the average person; he didn’t flood the bathtub, he didn’t look around at everything like it was his first time seeing it, and he didn’t tremble with fear when he had to ride on Jungkook’s motorbike. He was, at this point, just another one of Jungkook’s friends aside from the fact that he couldn’t speak. (That, and he wasn’t sleeping in the same bed or sharing a shower with any of his other friends, but he’d gotten used to that whole arrangement too.)
Even Junghee had finally stopped asking when he was going to go back home, and Jungkook had stopped wondering that himself. He almost didn’t want to think about the prospect of Jimin going back to wherever he came from. He’d become such a permanent fixture in his life, even for just these short summer months, and the thought of waking up one morning and not seeing a mop of red hair poking out from the blanket next to him left him feeling a bit hollow inside.
He supposed Jimin felt the same too, as he wasn’t spending nearly as much time on the beach, and he wasn’t waking up in the middle of the night to stare out at the ocean anymore. He seemed perfectly content sticking to Jungkook’s side.
So much of his summer had been dedicated to Jimin that it was nearly August before he realized he’d been blowing off his friends for weeks; without his boat, he had just sort of figured that they had no interest in hanging out anymore. When he got a text from Seokjin asking if he wanted to go out to dinner with their usual friend group, Jungkook almost was embarrassed. He couldn’t skip this, not after dodging Seokjin and the others all summer.
“I’m going to hang out with some friends tonight,” Jungkook said to Jimin, the pair of them curled up on the couch together, Jimin’s legs draped over Jungkook’s lap while he laid against the armrest. Jimin blinked at him and began reaching for his notebook when Jungkook got an idea. “Why don’t you come with me? You can meet my other friends aside from Taehyung.”
“Will they be okay with me not talking?” Jimin scribbled out, biting his lip when he showed Jungkook the page.
To be honest, Jungkook had been worried about the same thing. For the most part, his friends were like Taehyung: accepting of most anything, but there was still that tiny niggling feeling in his mind that he would bring Jimin to dinner and his friends would admonish him for taking in a stranger and prioritizing him over them. And really, how could he explain to them the odd obligation he felt toward Jimin? The feeling that he had become part of home, that if he were to leave, he would feel so empty? He’d just sound crazy.
“They’ll be totally cool with everything, don’t worry,” Jungkook said after careful deliberation over what to say, drawing a tiny smile out of Jimin.
Jungkook was wrong to doubt his friends in the first place. The moment they walked into the restaurant and sat down at the table with the others, they were already completely smitten with Jimin.
It was a small little family owned place, and the group of them were crammed at one table, shoulder to shoulder. Jimin was sandwiched in between Jungkook and Taehyung, and looked a bit nervous at first due to being the center of attention, but by the time everyone received their appetizers he was reveling in it.
“It’s nice living with Jungkookie, isn’t it?” Seokjin said, stealing a piece of meat off his boyfriend Jaehwan’s plate while he wasn’t looking.
Jimin nodded immediately, his smile growing. His fingers twitched toward the pen lying near his glass of water for a moment, but he didn’t write anything down. Jungkook side-eyed him, wondering what it was that he was about to say; sometimes Jimin’s gestural methods of communication were too vague. Jungkook would kill to know what he was actually thinking.
“I wanna know what dye you use for your hair. It turned out amazing,” Minjae said appreciatively.
Jimin wrote out, “I don’t dye it,” prompting Taehyung to stare bullets into the side of Jungkook’s head. He still hadn’t dropped the whole mermaid thing for some reason.
“Oh, come on,” Jaehwan said, still oblivious to the steadily shrinking pile of meat on his plate. “That can’t be your natural hair, right?”
Jimin just shrugged and nodded, sighing happily when he took a bite of his food. That was another thing Jungkook found so charming about him: he ate more appreciatively than even Seokjin, who acted as though he was having a religious experience every time food hit his tongue. It was so cute to watch Jimin’s eyes light up when Jungkook passed him more of his favorite things off his own plate.
The night was going well, much to Jungkook’s surprise. If this kept up, he’d be able to take Jimin out with him whenever his friends invited him out. He didn’t have to worry about keeping an eye on him anymore, after all. The night was going well, right up until Jaehwan finally noticed that half his plate was currently sitting in his boyfriend’s stomach.
“You are the worst person in the world,” he huffed, shoving Seokjin’s shoulder and sighing dramatically.
“But you love me,” cooed Seokjin, kissing the barbecue sauce off Jaehwan’s lips, grinning all the while.
“Get a room,” Jungkook said, but he only half listened to Taehyung chiming in to tease the couple further. For some reason, Jimin suddenly looked downcast, his eyes drifting everywhere except at Seokjin and Jaehwan.
It couldn’t be because he didn’t understand relationships. That was impossible, given how many dramas the two of them had watched all summer. It couldn’t be that he wasn’t okay with two guys kissing, could it? No, that couldn’t be. For how sheltered he was, there was no way Jimin even had time to learn bigotry.
That night, Jungkook couldn’t stop thinking about the look on Jimin’s face. It wasn’t upset, or annoyed, or (god forbid) grossed out, but almost...lonely?
“Jimin?” Jungkook said, rolling over on his back and staring at the ceiling. Jimin scooted closer and touched the inside of his elbow in response, so he continued, “Why did you act all weird earlier when Seokjin hyung and Jaehwan hyung kissed?”
Jimin didn’t move for a few seconds, and then he reached over for the nightstand, fumbling around for his notebook and pen. When he showed Jungkook the page, all that was written was, “Do they love each other?”
“I think so? I mean, they’ve been together for three years, so,” he shrugged and shifted his head so he was looking at Jimin, whose eyes were suddenly very sad, even in the lowlight from the lamp. He added to the page and showed Jungkook again. It said, “Does it always take three years to fall in love?”
This was not exactly Jungkook’s area of expertise. How to put on a motorcycle helmet? Easy. How to write? Sure. How to use chopsticks? Alright. Explaining the concept of love to a pretty red headed boy who couldn’t speak? What the fuck, universe.
Jimin’s face was so downcast, though, that Jungkook said as gently as possible, “Not always. Sometimes it happens a little faster. I mean, I’m pretty sure those two have been in love since they met.”
There was a slight shuffling sound, and the notebook was moved back to the nightstand, and the room descended into silence once more. Jimin was looking up at the ceiling, the only signs that he was still awake being the way the lamp light reflected on his dark eyes, casting small twinkles in his irises.
“No one ever taught you about this stuff?” Jungkook asked, already knowing the answer. If whoever raised Jimin never even bothered to teach him basic human functions, then they probably left out the whole lecture on love. “It’s okay,” he said, after a stretch of silence that seemed to last a bit too long. “I don’t really understand it either. All I know is that it happens when you don’t really expect it. But I guess you’ll know once you feel it.”
Jimin’s eyes were on him again, but once Jungkook tried to meet his gaze, suddenly Jimin was turned the other way, staring resolutely at the ceiling with a light dusting of pink across his cheeks. He made no attempt to communicate further, and after a few seconds even pretended to be asleep.
Maybe he was just tired. It would be understandable. But...Jungkook knew him well enough by now to know that he was embarrassed. There was an explanation floating around in Jungkook’s mind as to why he suddenly decided to pretend not to listen, but...
He was only twenty years old; he didn’t have much experience with love. He supposed he loved his father and elder brother, though he never saw them. He loved Junghee, who had practically raised him. He loved Taehyung, who had been his best friend since they were kids. He loved all of these people in different ways, but familial love was something Jungkook could get his head around. It made sense. He figured most people had experience with this kind of love.
But then he looked at Jimin, who had hair as vibrant as the sun, and eyes that seemed to hold the stars, and plush lips as pink as the tiny seashells he collected down by the shore to make the bracelet that was now circled around Jungkook’s wrist to match his own. He looked at Jimin, and thought maybe he loved him too. Not in the way he loved his father, or Junghee, or Taehyung, but in a way he hadn’t ever really felt before.
In a way, he already had the answer to Jimin’s question. It didn’t always take three years to fall in love. It had only taken one summer for Jungkook to fall completely, utterly in love with Jimin.
And once Jimin’s embarrassed faux sleep became a real one, tiny puffs of air escaping his lips as he snored, Jungkook whispered, “This is what love is,” though he wasn’t sure if he was answering Jimin’s question at that point, or the one in his own mind.
Somehow, in the past few months, Jimin was beginning to forget what it felt like to be underwater without having to worry about breathing. He used to hold his head under the bath water until stars burst in his eyes and he had to come up gasping for air, just to pretend that for a moment, he was back home under the waves.
But somehow, in the past few months, home didn’t feel like the ocean anymore. Home felt like the smell of cinnamon and wood floors against his feet, like white blankets and warm touches, like the feel of soft black hair on his fingertips, like the sound of one boy’s laughter in his ears. Home felt like Jungkook.
He missed his old friends, of course, and sometimes would dream of them while he sat on the rolling sand with Jungkook looking out over the sea that used to be his whole world.
This, though. Jungkook’s fingers brushing against his, and his voice chattering on about nothing in particular was enough to dispel any homesickness from his mind.
Still, he supposed it would be nice to have a little taste of his old home for a while, and so he tapped Jungkook on the shoulder to let him know he was going to wander around, and headed over toward the grotto where Namjoon used to do his people-watching.
It was a small area, half hidden by the high cropping of rocks that almost formed a cave, with a deep drop-off into the ocean. He had never been here before as a mermaid, but Namjoon told him story after story of the odd things humans did, all observed from his hiding spot near a large rock in the water. Those stories didn’t seem so odd anymore, not now that he was living them.
“Jimin? Is that you?”
Jimin turned, stunned to hear a friendly voice in his own familiar tongue rather than Korean, like all the humans spoke. He knelt down over the rocks and mouthed, Hobi?
His friend’s head was poking out, the water rippling by his chin, and Jimin could’ve cried. Seeing the familiar face of his friend and hearing his own language again was like getting a taste of the past again after all this time. He really had missed them.
“I can’t believe it’s you. You disappeared, and we didn’t know what happened! Namjoon said you might’ve tried to come on land, but we had no idea you turned human…” Hoseok hoisted himself up onto a rock, shaking his head in disbelief. “What the hell happened?”
Jimin opened his mouth helplessly, unable to respond. He pointed at his throat, and then at the ocean, making an “x” with his fingers.
“You can’t talk?”
“Shit. You didn’t...you didn’t make a deal with the Sea Witch, did you?” Hoseok’s eyes were perfectly round, his face scrunched up as though bracing himself for the response. When Jimin nodded, Hoseok let out an exasperated groan, running a hand through his hair. “Jimin, did you exchange your voice for being human?”
“Why? Is it because of that boy? The one you said was like a prince?”
Before Jimin could attempt to explain himself in whatever limited way he could, Jungkook chose that time to catch up with him, stumbling into the grotto and leaning against the wall to catch his breath. He must have been gone longer than he thought for Jungkook to be so breathless looking for him.
“Jimin! There you are!”
Jimin turned in horror, waving his hand to Hoseok to go back in the water, but it was too late. Jungkook’s eyes landed on Hoseok, at his fins ever so slightly protruding from the dark water, and his jaw dropped. “What the…”
Hoseok flicked his fin out of sight and was about to dive under when Jimin held out his hand, stopping him. Maybe it was time that Jungkook knew the truth. Jungkook had already shared so much with him, it was only fair that Jimin do the same. So he got to his feet, slightly wobbly from kneeling for so long, and took Jungkook’s hand, leading him to the water.
“Jimin, what are you doing?” Hoseok asked, making Jungkook furrow his eyebrows at their melodic sounding language. Jimin gave his friend a meaningful look, pointing at the place where Hoseok’s fin had been moments ago.
Hesitantly, Hoseok lifted it back above the water, flicking it a few times, its purple sheen reflecting on the dark surface.
“What. Oh my god,” Jungkook whispered. “This is… he’s not...is he a…” He turned to Jimin helplessly, but all Jimin did was take his other hand and nod solemnly.
“Jimin…” Hoseok warned.
But this was only fair. Jimin didn’t want to keep any secrets from Jungkook. So he pointed at Hoseok’s tail, and then at his own legs. Jungkook looked confused at first, and then the realization dawned on him.
“Jimin, you’re not saying…”
Jimin smiled, a small one that barely changed his expression, and nodded one more time.
“Oh my god,” Jungkook said, slipping his hand out of Jimin’s to bring it to his forehead, staring up at the steadily darkening sky. “Taehyung was right. You’re a mermaid. You are a mermaid. Mermaids are real, and I’ve been living with one.”
Jimin turned back to Hoseok, who was giving him the saddest look he had ever seen cross his friend’s face. “You gave up everything so you could be with him?” he asked.
And Jimin nodded, secure in knowing that Jungkook couldn’t understand what Hoseok was saying. He pointed at Jungkook’s heart, hoping Hoseok would understand.
“You love him?”
Jungkook cut in, not giving Jimin a chance to answer. “What are you guys talking about? Is that mermaid language or something? Like, holy shit. Hang on, I’m still processing this.”
And Jimin knew that Hoseok already knew the answer to his question, just from the way he was looking at Jimin with all the sadness of the sea in his eyes. “Be careful, okay? We’ll miss you.” Then he sank back below the water, his fin flashing above the surface for only a moment, and then he was gone, leaving behind tiny ripples in his wake.
Jungkook was still babbling to himself, still unable to process what he’d just seen, so Jimin fished out the tiny notebook from his pocket, and uncapped the pen with his teeth. He scribbled out some words and showed Jungkook.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. It’s kind of a lot to take in. Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Jungkook said. “Yeah, I’m fine, but like. Wow. This actually...explains a lot. That’s how you saved me. That’s why you can’t go home. That’s why you take such long baths, and why you didn’t understand anything when I first found you.”
Jimin nodded, relieved that Jungkook was taking this so well.
“Who was that? Was he trying to get you to go back to the ocean?” Jungkook asked, pointing to the spot where Hoseok had been moments ago.
“Hoseok is my friend. He was worried about me.”
“Can he become human too?”
“No, just me. I made a deal with the Sea Witch. I traded my voice for legs.”
“So you could talk, but you gave up your voice to become a human? Why?”
Jimin hesitated with his pen just slightly touching the paper, and then he scribbled out another sentence.
“I wanted to find a home.”
“Well, you’ve got one,” Jungkook said quietly, taking both of Jimin’s hands in his own, the pen and notebook dangling from Jimin’s fingers. “As long as you want to stay.”
Jimin’s heart swelled and he nodded.
“Then let’s get back, okay? I have so many questions, and I think I owe Taetae-hyung an apology for calling him crazy.”
Jimin followed him back to the motorbike that used to be one of his biggest sources of fear but was now a source of comfort, holding on so tightly to Jungkook while they zipped past all the cars and trees and knowing that he could trust him to keep him safe.
For the first time, he began to wonder if he couldn’t just stay like this forever, and ignore the witch’s deal. It was okay if Jungkook didn’t love him. He could live like this, silently loving Jungkook and just growing old with him in this sprawling house up on the hill, a fish out of water but not out of a home.
It was odd, really, how finding out the truth about Jimin didn’t end up changing much. He was still the same brightening presence in Jungkook’s life, and all that was different was that now he didn’t have that little feeling in the back of his head that one day Jimin might return to whatever family he’d left behind.
He didn’t have to worry anymore.
“This is what my tail looks like,” Jimin was writing, while the two of them sat side by side in the grotto where they’d seen Jimin’s friend. “It’s green, but turns blue sometimes.” He sketched out a tail that looked basically like what Jungkook had been expecting, though he hadn’t expected Jimin to be so good at drawing.
“It’s really pretty,” he said without thinking, and Jimin looked up at him, his eyes a little wider. He was so close. Jungkook was fully aware of how close they were, and it was making him feel a bit light-headed. The push and pull of the waves hitting the rocks and sand nearby was the only sound breaking the silence that had fallen between them. For just a moment, just a second, Jungkook swore that Jimin was moving closer, tilting his head, closing his eyes--
And then he was looking down again, back at his notebook, hurriedly adding lines to his already finished sketch, his hair falling in front of his eyes, masking his expression.
Just a few days ago, Jimin had bared everything for him. Told him about something he hadn’t even known was possible, and exposed part of his heart by telling him the reason he came on land. Maybe it was time for Jungkook to do the same.
“Jimin,” he began, jumping right before his nerves got the better of him. “Can I...can I kiss you?”
Jimin raised his head again, his lips parting in an adorably shocked expression, but then fell just as quickly, his eyes clouding over and his lips clamping shut in a tight frown. Slowly, he shook his head.
“Oh. Okay. I’m so sorry I asked, shit. I’m sorry.” Jungkook felt his cheeks burning, and was about to give Jimin some space when his fingers closed around his wrist. Jimin pointed a finger at Jungkook’s chest, brushing against his shirt, then pointed at himself, and shook his head.
“You think I don’t like you?” Jungkook said in disbelief.
Jimin shook his head and went through the same motions again, but with a bigger emphasis on pointing at Jungkook’s heart.
“You think...I don’t love you?”
When Jimin nodded, Jungkook could have cried. “You’re so dumb, you know that?” he choked out, shaking his head. “You’re so, so dumb. I fell in love with the dumbest mermaid in the ocean.”
Jimin’s eyes widened, and he silently repeated “love,” as though he couldn’t believe he just heard Jungkook say it.
“I can’t believe you’re so surprised. How did you not realize it before? I was being so obvious.”
The smile that crossed Jimin’s lips was so beautiful that Jungkook felt his heart rate speed up, and he leaned his forehead against Jimin’s, feeling so weightless now that he’d said it out loud. It didn’t matter what happened now; at least Jimin knew.
When he felt that same pair of pretty pink lips pressed against the corner of his mouth, he forgot everything else. Nothing else mattered now. He shifted his head, threading his fingers through Jimin’s hair and kissing him until he was breathless.
How had he not known all along that Jimin was a mermaid? The clues were all there. His hair was as vibrant as coral reefs, his touches as gentle as waves rolling up onto shore, his skin kissed by the sun, his lips as pink as seashells. Kissing him was like finding a home in a place he’d never been before, but suddenly felt as though he’d known it all his life.
Jimin made a tiny noise at the back of his throat and Jungkook pulled away, searching his face for any sign of discontent. “Are you okay?” he asked, feeling slightly dizzy.
He didn’t say anything, because of course he didn’t, but he also wasn’t looking at Jungkook at all. Instead he was staring at his feet stretched out in front of him, his toes wiggling against the soft ebb and flow of the tide. The water was casting a greenish hue over his skin, making it look like he was underwater, but then the color deepened. It didn’t look like it was coming from the water anymore. It almost looked like--
It took Jungkook a second to realize that the sound he just heard hadn’t come from his own mouth, but from Jimin’s, a tiny sound so quiet that Jungkook almost thought he’d imagined it. Before he could react, or think, or do anything, the tide grew, crashing down over the two of them and soaking them up to the waist, and Jimin’s eyes were wide when the current pulled him with it.
A flash of an iridescent seafoam green fin similar to the one he’d seen in the grotto broke the surface of the water for only a second, and then Jimin was gone, along with the sudden high tide.
“Jimin? Jimin!” Jungkook didn’t hesitate; he jumped straight into the water with his clothes on, the weight bogging him down each time he dived under, opening his eyes against the salty ocean looking for that shock of red amongst the brown and green. Each time, he came gasping up for air empty handed, his eyes burning and bloodshot.
Jimin couldn’t be gone. Not like that, not so suddenly. Not after everything. Again and again he dove beneath the waves until his arms were so sore that he could no longer move them and he finally collapsed on the beach, staring out at the ocean that swallowed up the person he loved faster than he could blink.
The first thing Jimin noticed was that he had his voice back. The second thing was that he was also a mermaid again, miles under the ocean, away from Jungkook. He breathed out, bubbles briefly obscuring his vision, and then he realized that he wasn’t alone. The Sea Witch was here, looking more corporeal than the last time they’d met, but still only barely visible in the shifting water.
“What happened?” Jimin asked, his voice cracking a bit from disuse. He’d forgotten how his own voice sounded after not using it for so long, and it only made him miss Jungkook more. “He said he loved me. That was the deal, so why am I back here?”
“Poor dear. You didn’t learn a thing up there, did you? Humans lie. Humans steal, and take advantage of everything they can.”
“Not him,” Jimin said. He knew that what she was saying was true; he saw all kinds of awful things on television, and from what Jungkook told him. But he also saw good up there on the surface, and that couldn’t have been a lie. “Not Jungkook. He was different, I know he loves me, you have to let me go back. He’s probably so worried--”
“We had a deal,” Jimin insisted, and the water surged a bit, the Sea Witch pulsing with anger at being interrupted.
“The deal was that you got him to fall in love with you, but he kissed you before that happened, so this is well within the terms of our deal.”
That couldn’t be true. It wasn’t just because he’d said the words out loud. It was the way Jungkook had given up his entire summer to let Jimin in his life, even though it was frustrating that they couldn’t communicate in the way other humans could. It was the way he didn’t complain about sharing a bed, even though Jimin had realized fairly early on that most humans slept alone. It was the way Jungkook looked at him, like he wasn’t just a stranger who couldn’t speak, imposing on his life, but like something...beautiful. Something loved. That couldn’t have been a lie.
“No. No, he loves me--”
“He lied to you!” the Sea Witch cried, her voice making the water around them feel ice cold and goosebumps prickled on Jimin’s skin. “That’s what humans do, naive little fish. When will you get it through your thick skull? He doesn’t love you.”
And with that, just like the past few months, Jimin opened his mouth, but found he had nothing to say. The water calmed, returning to a tepid temperature, but Jimin still felt as though he was inside a freezer.
“Don’t look so upset, dear. You’re better off without him.” Her presence began to fade, taking with her Jimin’s only hope at seeing Jungkook again, but then she hesitated. “Well… perhaps I could give you a second chance to be human, if it truly means this much to you.”
Jimin lifted his head, his lips parting slightly. “Would you?”
“I would just need one more tiny favor. You see, when I returned your voice, I gave you a song. A simple melody, nothing fancy. I only ask that you wait until tomorrow night, under the full moon, and sing it for me.” The shift in color where her semi-corporeal form was floating shimmered a bit. “Then perhaps I’ll consider allowing you on land again.”
“What will the song do?” Jimin asked hesitantly, though his heart was already beating erratically at the thought of being able to go back. He had to know. He had to know if Jungkook had been lying to him, or he’d never be able to live with himself.
“It’s nothing to trouble yourself over, dear. You want to see him again, don’t you?”
“Yes,” he said in barely more than a whisper, only a few tiny bubbles escaping his lips.
“Then I will be waiting.” And with that, she disappeared, the water back to its normal temperature and the suffocating feeling that always accompanied her presence lifted, and Jimin felt weightless once more. Tomorrow night he’d sing whatever song she taught him, and he could ask Jungkook if everything really had all been just a lie.
For now, though, he had some catching up to do.
“Well, look who it is,” Yoongi called out, turning immediately when Jimin approached the shipwreck he knew his friends would be hanging out in. Yoongi always had the most heightened senses, and probably felt him coming from several kilometers away. Hoseok and Namjoon darted out once they saw what Yoongi was looking at, and within seconds Jimin was being swarmed by his friends, fluffing his hair and touching his tail and asking a million questions.
Hoseok especially looked shocked, though he didn’t say anything about what he’d seen in the grotto, so Jimin assumed he hadn’t shared any of it with the others.
“Why are you back? Did you finally realize humans are the worst?” Yoongi asked.
“Oh, hush, you,” Hoseok said, batting at Yoongi’s fin with his own. “He’s been through a lot.”
“What happened?” Namjoon said, and Jimin exhaled deeply, biting his lip. He had nothing to gain from keeping the truth from them.
“I made a deal with the Sea Witch,” he began, prompting an exasperated sigh from Namjoon. “I traded my voice for becoming human, and I...I just had to get Jungkook to fall in love with me, but the Sea Witch said that he lied, so now I’m here.” Another deep breath. “And I can never go back.”
“Jimin…” Namjoon started, his dark eyes looking more solemn that Jimin had ever seen them. “You shouldn’t have done that. The Sea Witch doesn’t play fair.”
“Mhm,” Yoongi made a noise of agreement.
“Was there any other part of the deal you made? Anything else?”
The melody Jimin was given was floating around in his mind, oddly sinister, and he shook his head. “No. That was it.”
Yoongi and Hoseok shared a glance so subtle that Jimin swore he imagined it, and none of them brought up the Sea Witch again after that, but Hoseok was oddly quiet while they went around to the others announcing Jimin’s return.
That night, Jimin swam up to the topmost layer of the ocean, the part where he could see the glow of the moon through the waves and feel the strong pulls of the current around him. He felt closer to Jungkook here. The moon was almost full, just one more sliver until it was perfectly round, and his lips twitched with the song, like it was begging to be let out.
There was a shimmer of movement in the water, and Jimin saw a familiar swish of purple scales out of the corner of his eye.
“Hey, Jiminnie,” Hoseok said, looking up at the moon with him. “What’cha doing?”
“You know, don’t you?” Jimin said, already knowing the answer. “You and Yoongi knew I wasn’t telling the truth back there.”
“Yeah,” Hoseok said sheepishly. “Yoongi knows a lot about the Sea Witch, you know? He could tell there was something else.”
Jimin nodded, looking back up at the reflection of the moon. “She wants me to sing tomorrow night, under the full moon. It’s a song she taught me, and she won’t tell me what it’ll do. But…”
“But she said if I do, she’ll let me see Jungkook again.”
“That’s what she does, Jimin,” Hoseok began. “She makes deals with you, flakes on them, and then acts like she’s giving you a ‘second chance,’ just so that you’ll be desperate enough to do whatever she wants. Whatever that song is, it’s nothing good.”
“How do you know?”
Hoseok grimaced. “Yoongi’s mother made a deal with her years and years ago. She’s dead now, and it’s all thanks to the ‘second chance’ the Sea Witch gave her. He doesn’t like talking about it.” Jimin was silent, remembering how distraught Yoongi had been at the death of his mother, so Hoseok continued, “It’s best that you move on.”
“I just… I have to know, Hobi. I have to know if he really loved me or not.” He could hear how pathetic he sounded, pining after a human that was probably lying to him the entire time, but he knew Hoseok wouldn’t judge him. He really did have good friends here beneath the waves.
“Jimin,” Hoseok began, his voice gentle, with none of the usual playful tone he was usually sporting. “I don’t know a whole lot about humans, but I saw how that prince boy was looking at you up there in the grotto. When he came in, he was running, like he’d been looking for you.” Jimin nodded as he spoke, remembering that day well. “I don’t know him as well as you do, but if I had to bet on it, I’d say he loves you a whole lot.”
“Thanks, Hobi,” Jimin said, grasping his friend’s hand briefly and smiling at him. “I needed to hear that.”
“I know you’ll make the right choice,” Hoseok said, smiling back before swimming away, leaving Jimin to mull over his words and try his best not to think of the song still floating around in his mind.
Jungkook woke up to the sound of a motorboat in his ear, and he jolted awake, panicking for only a moment when he realized he was on his own speedboat, miles from shore, slumped over the railing with a flashlight dangling from his hand. Then he remembered.
Jimin getting his voice back for only a split second before his feet became fins. The ocean literally dragging him under. Jungkook diving under again and again until he became so exhausted that he could barely move.
Jungkook taking the speedboat out that night without telling anyone and searching the ocean for hours, until he, apparently, fell asleep.
“Jungkook!” cried the voice from the nearby motorboat. Taehyung had found him, and was shining a flashlight directly into his face. “What are you doing, you idiot? Your father has been looking for you. He said you never came home, and the speedboat was missing.” He glanced around. “Where’s Jimin? I thought you two might’ve been on a date out here or something.”
“I’m looking for him,” Jungkook choked out.
“In the ocean? He didn’t fall in, did he?” Taehyung asked, his eyes widening as he shined his flashlight into the nearly black water around them.
“I messed up, hyung,” Jungkook said, feeling more defeated than he ever had in his life. “I messed up, and the ocean took him back. He’s gone.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
There was no point in hiding it now. He was never going to find him again. “You were right. He was a mermaid.”
Taehyung’s eyebrows straightened out, and his jaw set. “That’s not funny, Jungkook. If something happened to him--”
“Does it look like I’m laughing?” Jungkook demanded. “I saw his fish tail grow back right in front of me, hyung. Then I saw the water drag him down and I think something bad happened to him, but I can’t find him. I’ve been looking all night, but…”
Taehyung was quiet for a long time, and then he started the engine on his boat again, gripping his flashlight and turning to face Jungkook. “Okay. C’mon, chin up. I’m gonna help you.”
Time passed differently underwater. Jimin still wasn’t entirely used to it again, and before he knew it, he was already back near the surface, but this time staring up at the light from the full moon. The Sea Witch’s song was burning on his tongue, but Hoseok’s words never left his mind. He’d already made his decision.
Closing his eyes, he drew every last feeling of warmth still lingering in his heart from his time with Jungkook, and began to sing. It was a familiar melody, one that made even the water around him feel warmer, more gentle. It was the same one he sang to Jungkook that first day they met, breathing life back into his lungs.
When a voice spoke to him, his eyes flew open in surprise, but it wasn’t the Sea Witch.
“My child, you have grown so much,” the calming voice of the Sea King said, exuding power and gentleness in equal measure.
“I-I’m sorry,” Jimin stammered. The Sea King was their deity; the other merfolk felt connected to him, and sang his songs like a prayer, but he had never spoken to Jimin personally like this before. It was humbling to think that he would answer to such a silly prayer like his. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“You did not disturb me. That melody is for comfort, and for when you are in need of guidance. I am glad you came to me instead of the Sea Witch.”
“I do need guidance,” Jimin said softly. “I know that the witch is tricking me, but if it means even the slightest chance I can see Jungkook again…”
“It does not. The song she gave you is one that bodes death. If you sing it, the one you love will die here and lie forever at the bottom of the ocean.”
The image of that felt like a white hot burn in his heart, and he squeezed his eyes shut to dispel the thought of it from his mind. “No…”
“You see, child, long ago the Sea Witch was but a siren. She met a human one day, much like you did; a sailor whom she fell deeply in love with. The Witch promised to make the sailor immortal, so that she could be together with her forever, and the sailor agreed. However, before that could happen, the poor sailor girl was killed in a ship accident and drowned. The witch became distraught, and swore she would seek revenge on the sea for stealing her love away, and she does this in the only way that she can: fooling young fish like you into reliving the same tragedy that she did long ago.”
“What can I do?” Jimin asked, only feeling more hopeless the longer he spoke with the Sea King.
“Prove her wrong. Prove that love can last.” With those final words, Jimin felt the Sea King’s presence disappear, leaving behind only the lingering feeling of the strength and love of the ocean.
Just as Jimin was trying to work out exactly what that meant, a distorted rumbling sound came from somewhere above him, sending ripples through the water. A boat was approaching, one with a motor. He swam down further, not looking to be caught in some late night fisherman’s net, but then he heard a voice. It was muffled, as though it was coming from far away, but he’d know that voice anywhere.
He didn’t think; he shot up toward the surface and burst above the waves, looking around and settling his gaze on the speedboat floating right above where he’d been moments ago, looking up at the moon. Jungkook was leaning over the side of the boat with a flashlight trained on the water, calling out, “Jimin! Jimin, are you there?”
Choking back a sob, Jimin swam closer, right into the circle of light that the flashlight was casting. Jungkook’s eyes widened, his jaw dropping, and he made a tiny noise of surprise.
“I’m right here,” Jimin said, pushing his soaked hair out of his face and smiling through his tears.
“Jimin,” Jungkook said in more of a gasp than anything else, nearly dropping his flashlight in the water. “Oh my god, you’re here. You can talk!”
Jimin nodded, laughing. “Yes.” He hoisted himself up to lean on the side of the boat, bringing their faces closer, and Jungkook set down his flashlight to cup Jimin’s cheeks with his hands, rubbing his cheek with his thumb and brushing his fingers through Jimin’s hair in awe.
“What...what happened to you? I thought something awful...I didn’t know what I thought. I even got Taehyung here out looking for you.”
“I got tricked by the Sea Witch,” Jimin explained. “I never told you the whole deal I made with her. I traded my voice to become human, but part of it was that I had to get you to kiss me, but if you did it and you weren’t in love with me I’d be banished back to the sea. And, well…”
Jungkook’s eyebrows furrowed together, his nose scrunching up in disbelief. “That’s crazy. I don’t know who this Sea Witch is, but she doesn’t know a goddamn thing.” He ran his thumb across Jimin’s bottom lip, tears clinging to his eyelashes. “I love you, silly fish.”
“And I love you, silly human,” Jimin said, kissing Jungkook’s next words right off his lips. Jungkook responded just as enthusiastically and hooked his arms under Jimin’s, lifting him halfway out of the water. To think, he’d been agonizing for months over one kiss, and now Jungkook was barely even giving himself time to breathe in between each kiss he was giving Jimin.
Finally he broke away long enough to just stare at Jimin, his eyes traveling over every part of his face as if committing it to memory. “I just can’t get over how your voice sounds,” he said, still grinning stupidly. He looked down over the side of the boat where half of Jimin’s tail was coming out of the water, and his eyes widened excitedly. “And your tail! It’s so cool, and--”
“You talk too much,” laughed Jimin, leaning in to kiss him again. He felt he could stay out here for hours just like this, with Jungkook’s arms wrapped firmly around him, Jungkook’s slightly chapped lips pressed against his own salty ones, the moon glowing above them and the soft sounds of the quiet ocean around them.
But Jungkook pulled away, a shadow growing over his face, and said, “When you mentioned that you were banished from being on land…”
“I can’t go back,” Jimin said, the mood crashing down like a wave against the beach. “No legs anymore, remember?” He lifted his fin up to illustrate his point, watching Jungkook’s eyes follow it as he waved it back and forth a few times.
“It’s okay,” Jungkook breathed, determination in his voice. “It’s okay. I’ll come out here every day to see you, and you can teach me that song you were singing, the one you sang when you saved me. I’ll listen for it, and I’ll find you. We can make it work.” His shoulders sank as he gazed at Jimin. “We can make it work,” he repeated, barely above a whisper this time, more to himself than Jimin.
“We migrate,” Jimin said. “Summer ends soon, and we’ll have to leave.”
“Then I’ll wait.”
“Are you sure? I’m not human, Jungkook,” Jimin reminded him. “We can’t have what Seokjin and Jaehwan have.”
“I don’t want what they have. I want what we have. How many times do I have to tell you? I love you.”
Jimin couldn’t think of a single thing to say, his heart feeling like it was overflowing, so he just pressed his lips against Jungkook’s again, moving his arms up to wrap them around his neck, further anchoring himself to Jungkook in an attempt to forget about having to leave him soon. If he could just make this moment last, this one perfect moment…
As if on cue, he began to slip out of Jungkook’s grasp, ever so slightly, and the look of panic on Jungkook’s face was enough to make Jimin’s heart race. He felt lighter all of a sudden, and the shift in his weight cause Jungkook to lose his grip for just a moment. There was only one reason Jimin could think of that would cause that, and it came in the form of the tail that he could no longer feel. Instead, his knees were knocking against the side of the boat, his gills closed up again, his fins now ten wriggling toes.
“You’re kidding me,” Jungkook gaped, and in one swift movement he tugged Jimin over the side of the boat, sending both of them tumbling to the ground. They were both so stunned that neither of them were embarrassed that Jimin was completely naked save for the jewelry he never took off. There wasn’t even a hint of red in Jungkook’s cheeks as he appraised him from his spot on the bottom of the boat, looking up at him and the way the moon was creating a halo of soft yellow light around his body. “How did this...how did this happen?”
“I guess I proved the Sea Witch wrong,” Jimin said, feeling the lingering warmth from the Sea King through every bone in his body, looking down at the wonder lighting up Jungkook’s face and knowing that he had indeed proved that love can last.
Things didn’t change much after that. Jimin fit right back in where they’d left off, Jungkook telling everyone that they’d been away for the past two days at the hospital, where Jimin had a procedure to cure the illness that had made him unable to speak. Somehow, no one questioned it very much. It was hard to, with how utterly charming Jimin was now that he could actually speak to everyone.
Junghee had absolutely no issue when Jungkook told her that Jimin would be staying with them permanently. He never said a word to his father, but he didn’t have to; the man never once brought up the fact that when he was home, there was another face at his dinner table. Jungkook figured he’d just accepted it.
Taehyung, of course, was sworn to secrecy about Jimin’s origins, though when the three of them were alone, he pulled no stops with his endless questions, and never stopped lamenting the fact that he’d never gotten to see Jimin’s tail.
There were times, of course, that he found himself missing the ocean, and his friends, and the Sea King’s presence, but now that Jungkook knew everything about him, every summer the two of them visited the grotto at least once a week. There, Hoseok, Yoongi, and Namjoon would wait for them, eager to see their friend that had shed his fins for a pair of legs. With the help of Hoseok, and the fact that Jimin was now human, Yoongi was able to overcome his fear of humans enough to join them, and even struck up somewhat of a friendship with Jungkook.
Namjoon, of course, was overjoyed at getting to study humans so closely, and now that he had someone on the inside, so to speak, he reported back that his research was advancing like it never had before.
Hoseok was pleased to say that no one had heard from the Sea Witch in a very long time, but now all the merpeople talk about the story of how the Sea King helped a young mermaid become human to find love up on land.
“You’re a bad influence, you know,” Yoongi told Jimin, though there was a fondness in his voice.
In the end, Jimin just hoped that the Sea Witch managed to find peace, or at least managed to finally feel at home in the ocean, where she was closest to the one she loved. After all, Jimin had found home in Jungkook, and Jungkook found home in Jimin, and that was proof enough that not all love has to end in tragedy.
This love in particular had a happy ending, just like the storybook lying in tatters at the bottom of the ocean, whose destroyed pages told the story of a black haired prince who fell in love with a red haired mermaid, and the two of them lived happily ever after.
There are a few things you need to know about the ocean.
It is cold, deep, and ruthless, and most of it is a complete mystery.
The same can be said about love, of course, but some of us know that it isn’t always like that. It can also be forgiving, and gentle, like the soft push and pull of the tide against the beach on a clear summer day.