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A Hand to Hold (through the storm)

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Jimin’s apartment isn’t, well, the best. But he’s a college student working part-time at a catering company, so the best isn’t really an option. The only reason he could even afford to buy a sofa, and his tiny dining table and single chair, was because he’s damn good at his job, and that makes tips flow like the wine he serves. That aside, his apartment isn’t a dump, either. He’s got nice, if maybe a little scuffed, hardwood floors throughout all nine-hundred square feet. He’s got tons of natural light, from the three windows the span the length of the front of the unit that make up his living room and dining area. Jimin has great water pressure, almost too great, and yeah, so, he doesn’t have a fridge. Yet. He picks up whatever he needs from the grocery store on the corner on his way home every night. Who says you need a fridge, anyway?

Jimin’s neighbors are even nice. The lady at the end of the hall, in the apartment to the left of Jimin’s, has three very friendly cats, that love to visit every morning and talk, loudly. The man down stairs has a ton of friends, and Jimin never worries that he’ll be robbed, not with a party of ten down there at all times. Even the guy next door, to the right, a college student like Jimin, is a super nice guy. On the day he’d moved in, the other had even helped carry a few boxes in, simply because he was on his way upstairs. What a nice guy, to carry two boxes of clothes for Jimin.

Yeah, maybe the entire situation could be better. Maybe Jimin could have lived on campus for a couple more years, saved up money for a nicer place. But this place is only ten minutes from campus, the subway, and a nice-ish coffee shop. And, it’s only a portion of his monthly salary. Jimin paid for the first six months in full, to give himself some leeway for when school starts up, when he isn’t working as many hours.

Two months in, he regrets. Oh, does he regret.

Because for all the pros that his apartment can claim, there is one , one very large con, that makes everything else irrelevant; the shithole has thin walls.

The walls are so thin, in fact, that Jimin thinks they should have just saved the money, the time, the manpower, and just put up damn curtains between units. Curtains would achieve the same exact effect that the paper-thin walls currently do. Jimin is aware of everything his neighbors do, every show they watch, every song they like, every thought they have. Jimin would be happier to hear his neighbors having sex twenty-four hours a day, at least that he could drown out with headphones, or a shower.

But music, specifically powerful, bass-heavy music, cannot be buffered by headphones, or a shower, probably not even the screams of the damned. It fills Jimin’s apartment, vibrating his walls, shaking the panes in his window. The dishes in his sink clink, his pen rolls off the table. Jimin is, quite frankly, sick of it.

It only happens during thunderstorms, too, as if the thunder wasn’t enough. His neighbor, the college student (Jimin doesn’t know his name, nor does he care, honestly), always blasts his music when it’s storming. And if the asshole thinks that the monsoon happening outside is enough to shield his hip hop, he’s wrong. So ridiculously wrong.

Today, Jimin just happens to be be at the end of his patience. While he’s usually pretty benevolent, pretty accepting, today he worked a twelve-hour auction, had to walk home in the heinous weather, and now has to deal with his apartment shaking as if in a perpetual earthquake; not to mention, Jimin is really starting to loathe hip hop. And he’s totally okay with blaming his neighbor for this.

Even though he’s angry, annoyed, perturbed, whatever, Jimin has had an extremely long day. So while it sucks, in general, it’s almost a blessing, that he can fall into bed, despite the racket, and fall straight to sleep.

But then it happens again, the next night.

And the next.

And the next.

Every article of clothing Jimin owns is soaked, after half a week of storms. He has everything laid out across the apartment, hanging on his sparse furniture, doors, wherever. He doesn’t have any change for the dryer downstairs, and even if he did, the machine is nearly always broken. Besides, it’s just past eleven at night, and Jimin is beyond exhausted. He’s been picking up as many hours as he can, working to save before most of his time will be spent studying instead of working. But just like clockwork, the thunder starts up again, as does the music next door, if it can even be called music, anymore.

Every beat, every thrum, every crescendo beats straight through the wall, through the air, straight into Jimin’s skull. It stirs up a throbbing, sharp pain behind his eyes, into his brain, and Jimin is almost, almost frustrated enough to cry. He wants nothing more than a hot shower, and a long, long nap. He just wants peace and quiet. For one night; that’s all he fucking wants.

Jimin, sweet, charming Jimin, who prides himself on his people skills, his tolerance, patience, has officially lost his temper.

Jimin’s on his feet before the next chorus, and he’s out the door in less time than it takes to blink. The lightning lights up the hallway, as he knocks on his neighbor’s door, each slam of his knuckles against the door growing louder and louder. What annoys Jimin even more, isn’t that nobody is answering, but that his knocking somehow syncs up with the damn beat of the song blaring from the apartment.

How. Fucking. Annoying.

Jimin knocks and knocks, but nothing. “Hey!” He shouts, smacking his palm against the wood. “Dude, for the love of God, please, just turn it down!”

Still nothing.

In a surge of uncharacteristic anger that he’s sure he’ll regret later, Jimin kicks the door. The contact jars the wood from the frame, for a moment, and over the thunder, over the pounding music, Jimin hears a muffled voice.

Then the door opens, swinging in with force, and Jimin comes face to face with the object of his frustrations of over two months.

Jimin’s neighbor is tall, just like he remembers, tall and broad, with dark, ebony-toned hair, and large, long eyes filled with so much all at once. The plains of his face must have been molded from bronze, his genes passed down from the gods themselves; Jimin doesn’t remember him being this handsome. He’s frozen, under the gaze of the other, unsure how to react now that he has the stranger’s attention. Jimin can still hear the music, louder now; it almost completely overwhelms the sound of thunder.

The stranger opens his mouth, his full lips turned down, but before he can speak, Jimin is turning away, and rushing back to his own apartment. He slams the door, and leans against it, praying the other doesn’t follow. Jimin isn’t afraid, no, Jimin is ashamed; he’s ashamed of his anger, his rash actions. He’s ashamed that he just kicked his neighbor’s door at midnight on a Tuesday. He feels so stupid, so childish. Why hasn’t he just tried talking to the other, during the day?

But mostly, Jimin feels… concerned. It wasn’t his neighbor’s sudden appearance, no. It wasn’t the way his frown pulled his entire face into a warped mask, or the way his eyes stared straight through Jimin. Jimin ran away because of the terror, the shame he found in those dark eyes, the worry, the panic . He has no idea what happened, if it was his knocking or his yelling, or what.

All Jimin knows is that his neighbor had been absolutely terrified.

 

After his random, and shameful, bout of anger, Jimin keeps to himself. And yes, he avoids the hell out of the guy next door. He sneaks through the halls and through the stairwell like a trained assassin, keeps his ears alert to the sounds of doors and voices. After two months of living here, Jimin knows that the other is usually gone from anytime around nine AM, to four in the evening. So, with way more effort than is probably necessary, Jimin makes sure he’s nowhere in sight during the time that the other either leaves or comes home.

Jimin decides, since his tantrum, that he has become a big baby. And he’s fine with it. Except, the one thing Jimin fails to consider is how the other might feel on the matter.

Saturday comes with sunshine and sparkles and all that other lovely shit that happens after a thunderstorm. Jimin wakes up late, happily so; it’s his first day off in nearly two weeks, and he’s sworn that he’s going to get all of the chores on his to-do list done, as well as go online and finally buy a fridge. He’s barely out of the bathroom, his face washed, his teeth brushed, in sweats and a tank top, when he hears knocking on his door. They’re soft knocks, so he knows it can’t be Taehyung coming for a visit. That asshole hasn’t even tried to come visit, not since he started dating that DJ, Yoongi, or whatever his name was. What in the world happened to bros before sugar daddies?

Jimin doesn’t think before he opens the door; he’s once again startled into a state of suspended animation, staring into dark, fathomless eyes, and wow, he feels himself turn pink.

“Hi,” his neighbors says, giving him a tight-lipped smile.

“Uh… hey.” It’s so awkward that Jimin almost physically winces. He can see the tension in the air.

“Hey,” the other repeats, shuffling to weight to his other foot, “I, um…. I’m your neighbor? Which you know, but, my name, it’s Namjoon, and I was… hoping I could come in and, uh… talk.”

Jimin actually winces this time, then regrets it almost immediately as Namjoon’s shoulders fall. “Yeah! I mean, yeah, I’m, it’s a mess, but- come in.” Cursing himself and his sudden improficiency of his birth language, Jimin steps back, giving the other room to step into the entryway. He leads Namjoon to the living room, and that’s where they pause, because shit, Jimin only has one place to sit, and that’s his tiny couch.

“I’ll…,” Namjoon says, at a loss, glancing around the room, “sit…?”

“I’ll take the chair,” Jimin offers, reaching for his single dining room chair, “you can sit on the couch.”

Amidst all the awkwardness, they manage to sit, and then sit some more, in perfect silence. Finally, Jimin, unable to take the thickness in the air, speaks.

“Is… everything okay, or…?” he tries, hoping the other will just… talk. Surprisingly, it works.

“Yeah, well… no. I wanted to apologize, for uh… yeah,” Namjoon mutters, looking at his hands. He wrings his wrists, cracks his knuckles; he’s nervous.

“It’s fine,” Jimin tells him, even though it’s really not. But Jimin feels like a dick, after the other night, and Jimin is never a dick.

“It’s really not, but, I feel like I need to explain something.” The other is looking more uncomfortable as each second passes, and Jimin just wants to get this over with.

He sighs. “Look, I don’t need to know what’s… going on. I mean, as long as you’re not like, murdering people over there, it’s really, really, fine-”

“I have astraphobia,” Namjoon blurts out, his tongue tripping over the words. “That’s why I play the music so loud, so I can’t hear.”

Jimin nods, slowly, but, honestly, he’s lost. “Uh, I have no idea what that is, but I mean, do what you gotta do.”

Namjoon looks terrified, again, his eyes wide. “It’s… I’m… afraid of thunder.”

Oh.

Oh. Wow, Jimin is a dick, a major dick, the dick of the year.

“That… makes sense now,” he says, frantically searching for something a little more intelligent to say. “I’m… sorry, that’s… God, and it storms here for like, what, four months every year?”

Namjoon nods, sucking on his bottom lip. “Yeah, it’s… look, I’m sorry I didn’t just, warn you, or… I dunno. It’s not.. Something I’m proud of.”

“Well, it’s not something to be ashamed of either.” Jimin has no idea what he’s said, but suddenly, the other looks at him as if he’s just found the cure to every type of cancer in the world.

“If you want, I’m totally willing you paying off your lease, you can move somewhere where you won’t have a maniac living next door-”

Jimin cuts the other off, shaking his head. “No, Namjoon, no, that’s… no, I’m fine. I can deal with it, I just had a bad few days is all. Listen, if you can somehow manage to deal with your… as-a-whatever, phobia, then I can deal with Kanye for a few nights every now and then.”

Namjoon frowns. “You don’t like Kanye?”

Jimin has to bite back his laugh, though he fails. “Not anymore.”

Much to his surprise, this launches them into a discussion about music, and that’s something that Jimin definitely didn’t foresee. Jimin, he knows his music, but Namjoon, even though he plays the same Kanye album on repeat during his episodes, really knows music; Jimin is both impressed, and intrigued. He’s even flattered, when Namjoon asks for the titles of his favorite albums, saying he’ll see how they help him cope during storms.

“I’ve just never found another solution,” Namjoon tells him, looking worn, “therapy, medication, meditation , uh… sex. Nothing helps besides drowning out the thunder.”

“I understand,” Jimin assures him with a smile, “do whatever you need to do to be okay. I can’t stop you from doing that, and I don’t want to.”

Namjoon is smiling, a genuine, full smile, about to speak when his phone rings. They both jump, but Namjoon curses. “Ah, shit. I’m late for work.”

“Oh, sorry!” Jimin springs to his feet to see the other out. But Namjoon pauses at the door, his eyes searching Jimin’s face; his stare is intense, and Jimin finds himself nervous under it.

“Are you sure?” he asks, one more time, it seems.

Jimin gives a quick nod, and as friendly a smile as he can manage. “I’m definitely sure. Don’t worry about it.”

“Thank you, Jimin, so much.” Namjoon nods, then he’s gone, shutting the door behind him with a gentle click.

Yeah, Jimin is definitely the dick in this situation.

 

The weather stays fair, thankfully, as the semester rolls into a rapid start. Jimin is quickly overwhelmed with his heavy class load, and finds that he could probably sleep through a nuclear war, given he even has time to close his eyes. And although there are no more storms, no more confrontations with Namjoon, Jimin does run into the other sometimes, at the mailboxes, or in the halls, one of them rushing to or from work, school, or other obligations. They even get stuck together at the intersection across from the apartments, once, before they split, Namjoon heading downtown, Jimin heading to campus.

Over these small interactions, Jimin learns that Namjoon is a year older, a senior at a technical college on the other side of the city. He’s majoring in composition and literature, works part time at a restaurant as a host, and ironically, knows Taehyung’s boyfriend, Yoongi.

“Yeah, we went to school together,” Namjoon tells him one day, as they check their mail, “but he graduated last year. He’s a great producer, you should listen to his stuff.”

Jimin also learns that one, Namjoon is a big softy, who has several pairs of Ryan pajamas, two, that he’s definitely not what one would consider graceful (he’s tripped over the curb at least a dozen times that Jimin has seen), and three, he’s incredibly intelligent. Namjoon always has a different book in his hands, seemingly every other day, and some of the books Jimin has read, and needed a thesaurus, a dictionary, and Google just to understand; and Jimin is a full-scholarship, A++ student.

Another thing, probably the most important thing, Jimin discovers, is that Namjoon is a gentleman, kind and caring. He’s always helping out the neighbors, with whatever they need, whether it’s bringing in groceries, pet sitting, fixing a door or a sink. Even if he’s terrible at it, Namjoon helps however he can.

“But what I don’t understand,” Jimin asks him, holding open number fifteen’s door, while Namjoon carries in a new microwave for the older couple that live in the unit, “is why you do all these things for other people, but you didn’t help me move in. Not that I’m offended, but I did almost break my neck trying to get my mattress up the stairs alone.”

Namjoon, apparently, has no other answer for this besides a ducked smile.

 

August ends with an abrupt thunderstorm, that rolls in from the south with pitch black skies at barely four in the afternoon. The rain and the wind hit first, slamming against the windows like a sentient being. Then comes the lightning, arcing across the sky in the distance. For a while, Jimin thinks maybe there won’t be any bone-rattling thunder, and he’s grateful, moreseo for his neighbor than himself. But just as Jimin curls into bed, just before ten, the room lights up ice-blue, quickly followed by a sharp crack, a pop, and everything goes dark.

It’s the following silence that worries Jimin. There’s no music, no sound at all; even the rain has stopped.

Three seconds. Five seconds.

Another startling boom of thunder, the blinding lightening, but still nothing. Jimin, tired and confused, reaches for his lamp, but when he turns the knob… nothing.

The power is out.

“Oh, shit,” he whispers, launching out of bed. He trips on the blanket, on his way to the door, barely pausing to struggle into his sweats. The next thing he’s aware of is slapping his hand against Namjoon’s door. “Hyung!” he calls, pressing his ear to the door. “Namjoon, are you home? It’s Jimin, let me in, hyung!”

Jimin knocks and knocks, part of him praying that Namjoon had put on headphones and crawled under the bed; but the feeling in his gut tells him otherwise. So Jimin does his best to beat down the door, calling Namjoon’s name, over and over. Finally, fucking finally, he hears the scraping of a chair against wood, and he holds his breath, face pressed against the door.

The lock clicks, and Jimin almost falls directly into Namjoon’s arms as the door opens; he’s shaking, they both are at this point, but Namjoon’s wide, terrified eyes shine in the darkness.

“Hyung…,” Jimin breathes, searching the elder’s self for any signs of harm, despite the fact that he knows anything wrong with Namjoon is purely psychological. Unsurprisingly, Namjoon is wearing headphones, big, shiny, expensive looking headphones; Jimin can hear the music from them clearly, even from two feet away. But unfortunately, they don’t seem to be doing the job.

Before Jimin can say anything else, he sees a flash in his peripheral that comes from above the blackout curtains; then the jarring thunder hits not even a moment after, and Namjoon recoils away, cowering. He presses his palms over the earcups, hard, as if he’s trying to make them a permanent fixture of his skull. Namjoon, tall, broad, kind Namjoon, looks so small. Jimin’s heart screams in his chest.

Jimin has never had a panic attack, but he’s had anxious thoughts, and he knows that the last thing he would want in this situation is physical contact. He knows this, but even so, he reaches for the other, and wraps an arm around Namjoon’s waist. He can feel every uneven, quick breath, feel the adrenaline-pumping through the elder’s body, as he curves his arm around Namjoon’s back. Jimin leads Namjoon to the couch, without a clue as to how to help him, and immediately drags the armchair closer.

Seated in front of the elder, Jimin frets, wracking his brain for any idea, anything at all, but he just can’t think of anything. Namjoon looks like he might cry, like he might implode, maybe both. Without thinking, Jimin cups Namjoon’s hands, lightly swinging them from side to side, as he thinks. He’s desperately searching for an answer, as another wave of thunder rolls through the room, but he stays as calm as he can, without reacting. He has to stay calm, he has to, for Namjoon.

The elder tries to pull his hands away, but Jimin holds them firmly in his own, tangling and untangling their fingers, rubbing their palms together, trying anything to comfort him. Jimin hyper-focuses, and he traces the lines in Namjoon’s palm with his fingers, maps the knobs of his knuckles, follows the veins down the back, to his wrist. He gets lost in the actions, but he thinks maybe Namjoon does too, because he’s frozen, watching Jimin’s hands move in the near-darkness.

The next time the thunder shakes the room, Namjoon jerks, but only slightly, inhaling a short, sharp breath; he narrows his eyes, sets his shoulders, and before Jimin can see what he’s doing, he’s copying Jimin’s actions.

He takes one of Jimin's smaller hands in his, touching the palm with the tips of his fingers. He repeats the steps that Jimin had taken, tracing his lines, veins, massaging his knuckles. His hands shake, but with each minute that passes, they steady, grow bolder, fingers roaming up Jimin’s wrists, his forearms. It tickles, almost, his touch is that light, but Jimin doesn’t mind, doesn’t care. He sits still, ignoring everything in favor of watching Namjoon’s face, which, even with the claps of thunder that still reverberate around them, relaxes bit by bit.

Namjoon moves onto Jimin’s other hand, releasing a shaky, deep breath, and Jimin thinks the worst has passed, or at least, he hopes. Then the elder opens his mouth. “So small,” he murmurs, and although Jimin would bristle at the words any other time, right now, he lets them go. The only thing he’s concerned about, the only thing that carries any significance in this moment, is getting Namjoon through the storm.

Namjoon, sweet, selfless Namjoon, who doesn’t deserve an ounce of the pain he’s experiencing. Namjoon, who blunders through life with a wide smile that’s so blinding, it hides his inner demons. He’s the man that bumps into furniture, then mumbles awkward, embarrassed apologies, as if it were his fault. He’s the man that his friends call at three AM, wailing into the phone, because they’ve accidentally deleted their entire term paper, and Namjoon is the one who calmly reminds them that the ‘undo’ button exists. Namjoon is the man that gives up his spot in line at the grocery store, for the single mother with a crying baby, when everyone else gives her sidelong glances full of contempt and annoyance.

Jimin likes to think that he’s known kindness, in his short life, that he’s given kindness to others. But he’s aware that every good deed he’s ever done pales in comparison to just how bright Namjoon tends to shine. Jimin thinks maybe that’s why the universe cursed him with his fear of thunder, his aversion to darkness; one person can only be so perfect.

It’s when Jimin begins to lose track of time, just as Namjoon finishes his third pass on Jimin’s hands, that the lights suddenly flicker back on. Jimin jumps, looking around, then smiles, but as he turns to Namjoon, he sees that the elder’s eyes are wide.

“Please stay,” Namjoon pleads, tugging his headphones off, his voice low, worried. Jimin doesn’t think twice before he nods, pressing his hands firmly into the other’s; he has absolutely no intentions of leaving, not tonight, at least.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Jimin assures him with a smile.

Time passes gently, as the storm dies down, while Namjoon works on memorizing every cell of Jimin’s hands. Jimin watches, lulled into a half-asleep buzz by the feeling of the elder’s fingers on his skin, pressing and fluttering, smooth and soft. They both yawn, suddenly, in sync, as if they’ve both realize just how long they’ve been sitting in Namjoon’s living room.

“I should go,” Jimin says, even though he doesn’t want to leave, not yet. Not until he knows for sure Namjoon is okay. But he’s exhausted, and he can see it reflected in the other’s eyes, though it’s multiplied countless times over. Fear is exhausting.

Namjoon nods, then dazzles Jimin with a smile, his eyes shining, almost. “Thank you,” he chokes, “just… thank you.”

There’s almost an awkwardness, as Namjoon walks Jimin to the door, but it’s more like a silent, thick anticipation; Jimin’s hands still tingle, and they feel slightly… bare.

“Uh- Jimin?” Namjoon asks, his words rushed and high, just before the younger can walk through the door. Jimin turns, maybe a bit too fast, too eager. He’s looking at his own hands, as he speaks again. “Do you have… plans, for dinner tonight? Maybe we could, uh… go out?”

Jimin, his heart swooping somewhere behind his kidney, only smiles.