“Alright, Yoongi, it’s officially summer. And I know you don’t have abs, but you’d better stay at my aunt’s beach house this year. It’s in Jeju, with really nice views and food, and it’s cheap because she’s my aunt. All the coolest people will be there.”
Hoseok is an idiot; Yoongi learned that a long time ago. Still, he holds his cell phone a little tighter and decides to amuse Hoseok. “Oh, yeah? And who are these ‘cool people’?”
For a moment, he thinks the line is dead, then he hears Hoseok’s cautious voice. “Just me and Namjoon. And maybe you, but we’re the cool ones.”
“You dumbass, I’m not going to some vacation spot on some beach. How can I trust your aunt if she’s related to you?”
He can practically hear Hoseok pouting. “Aw, why not? Namjoon doesn’t have abs either, don’t worry!”
“I’m not worried about how out of shape I am. I just hate beaches. And spending time with you village idiots. And for the whole summer?” When he says it out loud, it sounds like hell.
Hoseok lowers his voice, “Okay, at least do it as a favor. Would you rather spend a month and a half with me and Namjoon, or just Namjoon? I love Namjoon, but you’ve gotta know what I’m thinking here. I’ll go insane—”
“You’re already insane.”
“Rude. Anyway, that guy’s gonna talk my ear off for, like, forty whole days about how the tides symbolize our lifespan or something.” Yoongi hates to admit that Hoseok was right, but it’s tempting.
And he owes a lot of favors to Hoseok, small things Yoongi never paid back and Hoseok was too nice to complain about. So he says, “Fine, sign me up. We all know I have nothing better to do.”
“Well, boys, we’ve got the whole place to ourselves,” ‘The whole place’ isn’t anything spectacular—decked out in all-white furniture and a terrible shag carpet—but Hoseok’s pride makes it seem a bit more special. “I call not sleeping with Yoongi!”
Yoongi scoffs. “Fine, I’ll take the couch. I don’t want you farting on me in my sleep or some shit like that. And you’re like a nocturnal pervert, too, aren’t you?” He’s heard the infamous tales of being bunk-mates with Hoseok, and has unfortunately experienced it first-hand. Hoseok just mumbles something about how ‘we shouldn’t have invited you.’
“What about me?” For a moment, Namjoon looks genuinely offended.
“No way,” Yoongi picks his pillow off the floor and hauls it across the room, effectively staking claim on the sofa. “You sleep with your ass hanging out. And you snore.” Namjoon shrugs, not arguing with the accusation.
The ride there was terrible; Yoongi hates even remembering it. Namjoon drove, and that’s reason enough for Yoongi to be thankful he’s alive. Somehow, Hoseok got a hold of the aux cord and streamed girl group songs the entire way. The ferry ride to Jeju was even worse than the car ride, as Yoongi found himself to be seasick. And then it dawns on him that he’s stuck here, on an island by a secluded beach with two idiots, for a month and a half.
Namjoon catches Yoongi by the arm later, when Hoseok is yelling about freedom, and says, “Hey, man, I can tell you’re itching to get out of here. You can go. Hit the beach or something, do whatever. I’ll cover for you.” Yoongi decides Namjoon is truly a great friend.
So Yoongi leaves. He heads down the plain wooden stairs and finds a stretch of unbothered sand, a few minutes away where Hoseok can’t see him out the window. The space is littered with large rocks and cliffs and still blue water. The whole beach is empty; Yoongi wonders how Hoseok’s family came to own such an isolated vacation home. Yoongi crouches to pick up a shell, a large and flat one that fits nicely in his palm. He strips his shoes off and lets the pale sand filter between his toes, not entirely a nice feeling, but it wakes him up and warms his feet. Then his heel hits something like gel, cold and thick. Looking down, he sees the body of a jellyfish breaking through the sand—and he just stepped on it. “Fuck!” Yoongi calls out, scrambling away from the corpse.
“Fuck?” A voice calls back. At first, Yoongi hears it as his echo, only to realize the voice is too high-pitched, too sweet and without a trace of malice. He looks down the shoreline, and there’s a boy not ten meters away, arms hanging over the side of a rock and head barely peeking over.
There’s something about the way the light hits him, that early morning light, brushing against every muscle in his shoulders and soaking deep into his black hair, bouncing off his tan skin, that makes him appear almost inhuman. A cord hangs around his neck, strung with clear pieces of glass and bright shells and pearls. Yoongi is taken aback by the sight of him, by the purity of is features although he just said ‘fuck’. Yoongi has never encountered anyone so flawless before; it’s startling, how beautiful this boy is.
The boy laughs, and Yoongi swears the laugh draws him closer, its shimmering sound pulling him until he stops at the base of the rock. He’s magnetic, and Yoongi doesn’t like it. “Sorry, I just—I stepped on something.” Yoongi offers. The boy stops laughing and cocks his head, staring at Yoongi and blinking. It clicks. “You don’t speak Korean?” He’s rewarded with a slow head shake, like he didn’t understand the question but he knew the answer was ‘no.’
He really looks Korean. In fact, Yoongi is almost positive this boy is Korean. There’s no way he can’t be Korean. But Yoongi says, “Hey, that’s fine. I’m not that great at it either, sometimes.” he pauses, “Then you’re a tourist?” Again, more blank stares. Yoongi sighs. “Where do you live?”
“Here!” The boy smiles, and it’s the most innocent thing Yoongi has ever seen; his round cheeks scrunch up and his eyes press into little moons, and his lips are so red, parting to show straight teeth. It’s not the answer Yoongi expected, but he doesn’t follow up on it simply because of how happy the boy looks.
There’s one question itching in Yoongi’s brain, one Yoongi hasn’t wanted to ask anyone before: “What’s your name?” The boy stares for a second, then rattles off a series of short syllables Yoongi never knew someone’s throat could produce. “What the fuck, say that again.”
“‘Fuck’!” The boy laughs to himself, and Yoongi knows he’s already been a bad influence. He says the name once more; it sounds beautiful, but certainly not Korean.
Yoongi looks at the boy in front of him, really takes in his face, and decides a simple name would suit him, something common that Yoongi won’t forget. “I’m calling you Jimin.” When ‘Jimin’ says nothing, Yoongi gives him a thumbs-up and asks, “Is that good?”
And there’s that smile again, and Jimin sticks his thumb up back at Yoongi and says, “Good!” and it might be the most precious thing Yoongi’s seen all week. Yoongi lifts his leg and rests one bare foot in a groove of the rock. He feels Jimin’s dark eyes watching his leg, and he almost moves it back down, except Jimin’s hand lunges forward and grabs hold of Yoongi’s ankle. It nearly makes him fall to the ground, but he steadies himself on the rock. Jimin’s touch is soft, his skin a bit slippery. He pulls Yoongi’s leg forward and it’s almost embarrassing, the way he eyes Yoongi’s calf and foot in borderline astonishment. He beams up at Yoongi, “Pretty.” Yoongi thinks this kid is a little strange.
“My leg is pretty?” Yoongi chuckles to himself, planning to rub the compliment in Hoseok’s face later.
Jimin laughs, “Leg.”
“Yeah, that’s my leg,” He takes Jimin’s wrists and moves them away from his ankle. “No touching.”
He swears the boy is pouting. “Yes touch?”
“No.” Yoongi takes his leg down, surrendering his foot to the sand. “How long have you been swimming today?” He says it slow and clear, the way he talks to his grandmother.
Jimin reaches behind him and flicks a handful of water at Yoongi, something Yoongi does not appreciate. Right behind the rock, Yoongi gathers, there must be a pool of water. “I love swimming! I always swim!” It doesn’t answer his question, but Yoongi remembers the smoothness in his fingers; if they weren’t pruning, he must not have been swimming long at all.
Yoongi wants to dip his own feet in the water—that’s what people do at the beach, right? He moves around the rock, only to get splashed again by Jimin. “No!”
“Fine, I’ll just roast my feet over here then.” He knows Jimin doesn’t understand him, but he seems pleased that Yoongi stays away from his side of the rock. He’s not annoyed with Jimin, not like he thought he’d be, but maybe that’s because it’s someone new, and not Hoseok.
Jimin really doesn’t know much Korean, Yoongi discovers over the next few minutes, and anything he does know is bizarrely limited to sea-related conversation. He has an accent Yoongi can’t place, and seems eager to use as much Korean as possible despite not being fluent. When Yoongi tells Jimin his own name, Jimin repeats it carefully and giggles. He’s different from anyone Yoongi has met his whole life and he can’t explain why. It’s a nice kind of different.
Talking with Jimin is hard and easy at the same time. The conversation itself comes naturally; Yoongi doesn’t have to think of what to say because he could say anything at all and Jimin would listen. He tries not to laugh at the mistakes Jimin makes, instead repeating the boy’s words with correct syntax. It’s endearing, the way Jimin leans his round cheek against his hand and just soaks up everything Yoongi says.
Before Yoongi leaves, Jimin catches his hand and holds onto it gently. “Wait,” Jimin has so many smiles to dish out, and how is he supposed to leave when Jimin is smiling like that? “We’re friends?”
The question is almost shocking. Yoongi’s never made friends easily; if anything, he’s categorized as distant or unsocial. But if Yoongi says no, he’s a monster. So he says, “Sure, Jimin, we can be friends,” and Jimin’s face lights up so bright.
He lets go of Yoongi’s hand, and the last thing Yoongi hears before he’s back at the beach house is Jimin’s voice calling, “Bye, Yoongi! Later!”
Hoseok rolls over, voice laced with drowsiness, “Yeah? You’re not sleeping? I was totally awake.”
“Nah, I’m hitting the beach. Want me to get you a seashell if I find a cool one?”
“Yeah,” Hoseok gives a lazy grin and snuggles back into his pillow. “Thanks, Yoongi, love you.” That earns him a smack over the head, but Yoongi will bring him a shell anyway.
He heads to the same area as the morning before, scouring the sand for shells and trying to avoid any dead jellyfish. Then he hears, “Yoongi! Hello!” in that sweet voice and it’s music to his ears. Seeing Jimin waving at him so enthusiastically, so early in the morning, it’s refreshing and makes Yoongi forget he rarely wakes up until noon.
“Hey, Jimin,” Jimin is settled behind the same boulder, like it’s a booth or like he’s embarrassed about his body. Yoongi doesn’t think he has a reason to be; from what he can see, Jimin has toned arms and his chest muscles aren’t poor either. “How are you?” Yoongi starts with an easy question.
Jimin sticks his thumb up and says, “Good!” and it makes Yoongi melt (just a little). He reaches down and extends a handful of sopping seaweed to Yoongi. “You eat?”
He can’t say he’s ever eaten raw seaweed before, plucked straight from the water. “No, what the hell, Jimin?” And it’s the pain in Jimin’s eyes, the pure hurt and shame that makes him say, “Sorry. I mean, I already ate,” even if it’s a lie and Yoongi is hungry.
That’s when he catches something red on the side of Jimin’s throat, slightly above the shining necklace. “Hey, what’s on your neck?” he gestures to the mark, and immediately Jimin clutches his throat on both sides. “Is it a hickey?” Yoongi only says it to tease him.
“What?” Jimin grips his neck tighter, not meeting Yoongi’s eyes.
“Like when someone bites your neck,” Yoongi charades it with his own hand, finding amusement in Jimin’s horror.
He still doesn’t let Yoongi see the mark. “No!” Yoongi wonders if Jimin is hurt, or if the marks were there yesterday at all; he can’t remember.
“It’s okay,” Yoongi reassures him, “Don’t be embarrassed.” He tries to pry Jimin’s small fingers away from the spot, not rough but as if asking for permission.
Jimin ducks his head and he lets his hands fall. One thing is for sure: that’s not a hickey. It’s ugly, Jimin’s neck, and how did he not notice it earlier? There are four lines carved into Jimin’s tan skin, two on each side of his jugular. They run long and deep across his neck, flapped up to expose red flesh beneath. He watches as the lines contract with Jimin’s breathing, nearly sucked back into his skin with every inhale. It reminds Yoongi of something he’s seen before, but he can’t think of what. Yoongi runs a tentative finger over the slices, checking the sensitivity and noting that while Jimin shivers a bit, he doesn’t seem to be in any pain. “Jimin, did someone cut you?”
He’s silent, concentrating on Yoongi’s face for any vocabulary cues until Yoongi pantomimes a knife slashing his own throat. “Oh! No.” Jimin shakes his head vigorously. He takes a deep breath, holding in as much air as possible before demonstrating a dramatic exhale. Yoongi doesn’t know what the action means, but Jimin seems pleased with himself so Yoongi doesn’t argue.
Yoongi remembers something, something he has to do. “Hey, where do you get shells around here?” Jimin just blinks. So Yoongi plucks a small shell up from the sand and elaborates: “Like this, but cooler.”
And suddenly Jimin’s eyes fill with light and his smile is eager. “Wait.” He motions for Yoongi to stay where he is, and ducks behind the rock. Yoongi doesn’t hear splashing (he doesn’t hear anything, really), but somehow Jimin disappears into the sea behind them. He returns not a minute later, holding the most striking shell Yoongi has ever seen. “Shell!”
Yoongi takes the shell in his hand, feeling its weight and admiring how its opalescent underside glows in the light. “Woah. Hey, where did you get this?” And Jimin shrugs, not like he doesn’t understand, but like it’s a secret.
Then he says, “Yoongi.”
“We’re friends. Yes?”
Yoongi looks down at the shell, then back at Jimin, and he can’t tell which is more perfect. “Yeah, I’m your friend.” He wonders why Jimin is so set on cementing that as fact.
“Good!” When Jimin smiles, his eyes curve up into little arches. He doesn’t tell Yoongi where he got the shell. Instead, he reaches into the water and splashes Yoongi with it.
Half an hour later, Yoongi returns to the beach house speckled in salty water. He trades Hoseok a towel for a shell that shimmers like a galaxy.
When Namjoon is in the mood to splurge, he doesn’t attempt to spare even a penny. So when he announces, “Let’s go to a sushi place for dinner, just so we really feel like we’re at the beach,” Yoongi is not surprised to find that Namjoon’s idea of a ‘sushi place’ is undoubtedly one of the fanciest buildings Yoongi’s ever stepped foot in.
“I don’t have the money for this,” Yoongi knows it’s true as soon as he sees the low lighting and modern decorating.
“We’ll get a variety platter and split it,” He wonders how Hoseok was dragged on board with Namjoon’s delusion. “You like sushi; it’ll be good.”
“Of course it’ll be good,” Yoongi and Hoseok blindly follow the host Namjoon flagged down to a table much too long for three people. “No one’s gonna pay a hundred thousand won for shitty food.” Maybe the businessman to their right shoots Yoongi a funny look because he just said ‘shitty’, or maybe because he’s wearing flip-flops in a four-star restaurant.
He sits down anyway—they all do, and Hoseok won’t shut up about how “this is one of those restaurants where they prepare the food right in front of you, so maybe Namjoon can take some notes.”
And when the chef brings the fish out, a raw and whole mackerel, Yoongi stares at it. “What the fuck is that,” he whispers to Namjoon.
“It’s a fish, don’t be rude.”
“No, I mean what the fuck is that,” and Yoongi knows what it is, the short lacerations flapping open and closed, between the mackerel’s eye and fin: it’s a gill, on every fish in the sea, and it’s hardly a new concept to Yoongi. But he’s seen it too recently, the image burned into his eyelids and dreams at night.
Namjoon glances over at Hoseok, who seems to be mindlessly enjoying the display of fish preparation. “You’re not making sense, Yoongi.”
“Forget about it.” And Yoongi turns to watch the display himself, without really watching. He touches his own neck, almost subconsciously, and thinks about how those same slices looked against Jimin’s golden skin.
The third time he sees Jimin it’s almost an accident. At least, he’ll tell himself it’s an accident. Yoongi walks the beach, at midnight, filled with a silent hope that Jimin will be there. It’s unexplainable, the simple need to be recognized and the selfishness that comes with Jimin’s attention. Yoongi thinks he’ll never want Jimin to meet Hoseok or Namjoon, because Jimin is like a secret in the shape of a boy.
But when he sees Jimin that night, the soft moonlight making his skin glow blue and his hair look like silk, he doesn’t appear as a boy—more like an angel, some ethereal being that can’t possibly exist. He rests behind a different rock, but still pops up as suddenly as he had the first time, without Yoongi even noticing. And yet his sweet voice is still there, calling to Yoongi and pulling him across the cool sand: “Yoongi! Hi, Yoongi!”
Yoongi feels so special, so insanely important that Jimin’s voice is for his ears only. It’s nearly delusional, to be so affected by one person, especially since Yoongi doesn’t even know Jimin’s real name or anything about him. “Hey, Jimin,” he smiles at him.
“Yoongi,” Jimin whispers his name as Yoongi draws closer, even if there’s nobody else around. “We’re friend—”
“Yes, Jimin, I’m your friend.”
Jimin is quiet for a moment. “Good.” He doesn’t stick his thumb up this time. “Then I can show you.”
“Show me what?” He’s really an odd guy, Yoongi thinks, to be swimming at such hours. But Yoongi’s an odd guy, too, for wanting to find him at such hours.
The boy’s smile shakes, the full lip quivers, and Yoongi worries he might cry. “Come here, please.” Jimin bites back the tears that might not exist at all and motions for Yoongi to walk around the rock. “And have no fear. Please.” It sounds like something he’s practiced saying just for this situation.
So Yoongi makes his way slowly to Jimin’s side, looking straight ahead, and for the first time they’re really facing each other, no boulder between them. Jimin’s water-slicked hand touches his cheek so light, cold in the night breeze, and he casts his eyes down.
It’s the most miraculous sight of Yoongi’s life, and he doesn’t even know what he’s looking at; there’s the stretch of Jimin’s bronze skin, the curve of his chest leading down to a firm stomach, a natural swimmer’s body—and right at the dip of his navel begins a condensation of teardrops, of metallic gems embedded in his skin. They sparkle like a geode, little fingernail-shaped shards dotting Jimin’s abdomen. All different shades of violet and green and blue and silver. And it registers, numbingly at the edge of Yoongi’s mind, what he’s seeing.
Scales, planted in Jimin’s stomach like he spilled a bag of glitter on himself and never cleaned it up. Closer to Jimin’s ribs, the scales are more diluted, fainter and spread apart. But where his legs should be, aren’t legs at all; rather, there begins a long, flexible column of muscle, curled in such a way that no trace of human joints lie beneath its surface. And the scales disperse into a translucent film, long and veiny, both where his hips would be and at the bottom of the column—the column that was like a tail.
Yoongi can’t say anything; he stays silent until Jimin’s cool fingers press back to his cheek. He nods, gulps a few times to swallow down words he doesn’t mean. “Jimin, this is—” his index finger hovers just above the scales. “Can I touch it?”
“Touch?” Jimin holds his gaze, eyes shining with something akin to fright, “Yes.”
He does, the back of his hand shaking as it comes in contact with where skin meets scales. And it all runs together—a seamless transition between textures. It’s unbelievable; the scales are an actual part of Jimin’s body, not an effect or a trick of the light. He has familiar flaps of skin—gills?—on his ribcage, over his lungs, and Yoongi can put two and two together: He’s not human, and it both alarms Yoongi and draws him in. “Wow.” He feels down to where Jimin’s knees would be, jaw slack and eyes wide.
“It’s okay?” Jimin is so quiet, so nervous.
Yoongi gives him an honest answer: “Yeah. This is fine,” He laughs, just out of shock that he’s really touching a tail attached to a human body. “It’s—pretty cool.” Maybe he’s imagining it, maybe this is all a dream or an illusion. But he hopes it’s not; the tail is stunning on Jimin, and really, he couldn’t picture what Jimin’s legs would look like from the start.
“Good!” And Jimin’s face holds all the relief in the universe. “Thank you.”
All he does is watch as Jimin dunks the tip of a fin into sand-polluted water, rings rippling away from the silver webbing. It’s mesmerizing. “So you, like, you live in the sea, then?”
Jimin nods and tiny giggles bubble up from his throat. “But I like here.” His eyes keep cycling away from Yoongi’s legs, then back again. “Touch? Please.” And Yoongi can’t say no to him.
He sits cross-legged in the sand, not caring if his shorts get damp or if the sand itself is freezing. Jimin slides down to the base of the rock, extending his tail—an actual tail, Yoongi must be seeing things—out into the water and pivoting his upper half to reach for Yoongi’s legs. The boy takes one across his lap and Yoongi can feel each smooth scale against the underside of his calf. It tickles, almost, as Jimin’s little hands pet first his knee, then run down his shin and back up to his thigh. Yoongi catches his hand before it can crawl too high, under the bottom of his shorts, and Jimin gives him a quizzical look Yoongi doesn’t want to indulge at all. What seems to fascinate Jimin the most are the fine hairs on Yoongi’s leg, or his foot that Jimin tilts to see all its sides. “You have two,” he says quietly.
“Two what, legs?” He laughs, because the idea is so simple and Yoongi has never thought of why he has two legs before. “Yeah, I guess I do. And you have one.”
“One tail.” It’s funny to say, to know someone with a human top half has an actual fishlike tail. Yoongi’s only heard of it in fairy tales, the kind Namjoon would use to scare him when they were young, about fish-people who would lure sailors to their deaths. And Yoongi doesn’t want to use the word ‘merman’ but looking at Jimin, he can’t come up with another term.
He suddenly wants to know everything about Jimin. It’s more than curiosity. The moonlight shines down on them and reflects off of Jimin’s tail and it takes Yoongi’s breath away. “Are you okay?” Jimin asks him quietly, and Yoongi knows he looks exhausted because it’s past midnight and he just discovered that merpeople exist.
“Yeah, I’m fine, Jimin,” he untangles his legs from their position in Jimin’s lap. Yoongi’s head is swimming; he needs to lie down. “We’re still friends, alright?”
“Alright.” A silence falls over them, and Yoongi opens his ears to the waves and wind. He feels like Jimin just became more fragile somehow, like he needs to protect Jimin. When Jimin says goodbye to him that night, it’s so special—they have a secret between them, they trust each other.
Yoongi’s dreams are infected with the texture of scales and how Jimin’s face looked underneath the moon.
Jimin is wonderful and lonely, and to Yoongi that might be the saddest combination. He tells Yoongi in broken Korean about his family—Yoongi loves it when his eyes shine like that, when he can’t control his smile. It becomes easier to talk to Jimin, both because Yoongi is opening up more and because Jimin always tries out new vocabulary he learns, sometimes in bizarre context but Yoongi corrects him gently.
He says one day, “You teach Korean please?” and of course Yoongi accepts. They have ‘lessons’ in the morning and night, with Jimin pointing to things and Yoongi speaking the word slowly: “That’s a bird,” “Over there is a house,” “That’s my nose, Jimin, please stop touching it.” Or they practice grammar, Jimin experimenting with nonsensical sentences and Yoongi re-arranging them patiently. It’s challenging, to explain things when Jimin doesn’t understand or to re-teach a concept when he forgets it the next day.
Yoongi has never taught anyone anything before, much less an entire language. And his own Korean is littered with slang and expletives and contractions—not any way to properly learn a language.
He takes what little money he brought and raids the Daiso of its children’s books, bringing them to the beach so Jimin can learn to read; he etches Hangul in the sand and swears his proudest moment is when Jimin dips his finger in the water and writes both of their names with a wide smile. His handwriting is neat compared to Yoongi’s, copying the straight font style, afraid of messing up or making it unreadable.
The things Jimin points out curiously in the books tells Yoongi how much Jimin has never seen before: cars, dogs, ice cream—and Yoongi wants to show him everything. He takes his phone out and shows Jimin pictures of whatever he wants (and while Hoseok constantly pokes fun at Yoongi for being protective of his phone, Yoongi lets Jimin play games and songs with only a little bit of reservation). And Yoongi never realized how many things he didn’t notice. When Jimin says, “I like that color,” pointing to a spot of algae on a wall of rock Yoongi didn’t even know was there; when Jimin asks, “How many are there?” and the stars are reflected in his eyes, stars Yoongi never saw.
Maybe Jimin’s favorite part of learning Korean is when he can finally form a question. Yoongi hasn’t answered so many questions in his life, but he loves it. The way Jimin stares at his mouth when he answers, as if seeing Yoongi’s lips work will help him become a better student—Yoongi loves the attention, how Jimin lays on his side and nods his head tiredly against the sand at everything Yoongi says. He never quite eliminates that accent, unable to completely form the vowels or improvising his inflection, but Yoongi thinks it’s endearing. So he starts an interview game with Jimin, and they go back and forth for hours until the sun rises.
“How many years do you have?”
“You mean how old am I?” Jimin flushes and nods. “I’m twenty-four. I’m old.” He loves Jimin’s laugh. “And how about you, how old are you?”
Jimin takes a moment to plan his words. “I’m…uh…” He writes a number in the sand: 22. “Now, what do you like for food?”
“Anything,” He really wants to run his fingers through Jimin’s hair, just to see how smooth it is. “Lamb skewers are good.”
It’s sad to know what Jimin has never eaten a lamb skewer, not even the shitty convenience store kind. He smiles at Yoongi anyway. “I like fish.”
“I figured,” He watches Jimin sink farther into the water until it laps at his chest and shoulders, “Fish Boy.”
Jimin shoots him a look. “Is that me?”
And then he’s being splashed with water, not even caring that it soaks into his shirt. Jimin reaches an arm above his head and feels around for Yoongi’s foot, sighing in satisfaction when his fingers hook onto Yoongi’s toes. “Leg Boy.”
They’re both drenched within the next three minutes, the only sounds in the night being the rocking waves, Yoongi’s quiet chuckling, and Jimin’s squeaky laugh. And Yoongi forgets the summer is nearly over.
Yoongi closes the book with a soft thump and looks expectantly at Jimin. “Do you like this one?” He’s read hundreds of stories better than this, but Jimin seemed to enjoy it.
The silky black hair bobs up and down with each nod. “Yes. It’s my favorite.” Jimin passes his fingers over the smooth cover. “Yoongi, can I tell you a story now?”
He chuckles and leans back against the rock, shoving the book into his bag. “Sure. If you don’t know a word, just describe it.”
Jimin’s eyes light up and he swivels in the sand, half in excitement and half to get more comfortable. “Okay. Once upon a time—do you like that beginning?”
“I do. It’s very nice, Jimin.”
“Good. Once upon a time there is a boy, who is called Jungkook in Korean.” Yoongi remembers Jimin’s reluctance to use any tense other than present, and he smirks. “And Jungkook loves the water, like me, but he cannot swim. One day, he is on a… boat? Yes, boat. And he falls in the water! And he… and he… he can’t wake up.”
Yoongi wonders if this story is true. “He drowned?”
“No,” Jimin smiles so brightly, “My friend finds him and saves him,” The story must be true, “He changes Jungkook into someone like me. And we are friends and we can swim together,” After a moment, he adds, “And we lived happily ever after.”
“What a nice story,” Yoongi says, “I’d like to meet your friend someday.”
Jimin gathers Yoongi’s leg in his lap. It’s almost natural at this point, how the silvery scales feel on his calf. “No! I want Yoongi just to myself.”
Yoongi likes that idea. Because Jimin is his secret, like something only Yoongi can have, and he’s never really felt that way about anything before. “What are you gonna do when I leave?” He says it as a joke, with a smirk on his lips, but as soon as the words come out they sound heavy.
“I’ll…” Jimin laughs a bit, to himself, his fingers trailing along Yoongi’s knee. “I don’t know how to explain.”
His hand finds Jimin’s hair so easy; it’s slightly damp, slightly messy, but Yoongi really likes Jimin’s hair. He likes everything about Jimin. “It’s okay.”
And it is okay, because Yoongi doesn’t know how to put it into words himself.
Jimin’s been playing the ‘I Forgot’ game lately, and Yoongi does not appreciate it. “How do you say this?” He’ll point to a bird above them, “I forgot.” And at first, Yoongi thinks it’s not bad. But soon it becomes with everything, from ‘sandals’ to ‘What time is it?’
“Why are you forgetting so many things?” Yoongi asks him one night.
“Not purposefully.” Jimin pouts, “It’s an accident.” He shifts so he’s facing Yoongi, tail brushing Yoongi’s thigh. Jimin’s hand comes up and touches his cheek softly, the contact making Yoongi flinch only for a second. “What’s this?” The pad of his thumb runs slow and repeated over Yoongi’s cheek.
Yoongi doesn’t even register he’d been asked something until Jimin repeats his question. “Oh, that’s—that’s my cheek.”
“Cheek.” Jimin whispers it to himself and trails his hand down to Yoongi’s chin, where his thumb can easily slide against Yoongi’s mouth. “And this?” There’s something different in his eyes, something dangerous that makes Yoongi burn.
“Lips,” He can’t find the strength to say it confidently, especially as Jimin’s tongue peeks out and licks his own lips. “I know I’ve told you this before.” Yoongi’s heart beating strangely, his throat more stuck than usual.
Jimin closes his eyes for a moment. “Lips,” Yoongi almost can’t hear him. He goes back to Yoongi’s cheek, stroking it with his thumb, and Yoongi sighs a bit at the affection. “And what is—” Jimin breaks off and tilts his head. It’s like slow motion when Jimin leans in and presses shy lips to the corner of Yoongi’s mouth.
Yoongi sits there quietly, letting the feeling of Jimin’s lips soak into his skin. “That’s… a kiss.” he tries to smooth out his voice, to make it calm, but there’s still a bit of shaking to his tone. And while it is technically a kiss, it’s not the kind of kiss Yoongi wants or craves or longs for: the kind where he can slip his tongue into Jimin’s mouth, the kind where they would pull apart to breathe and keep coming back in again and again, the kind where he can taste the little gasps and sounds Jimin would make.
Jimin says, “It feels…” and Yoongi knows he’s waiting, waiting for Yoongi to tell him what word to use. But when Yoongi thinks about it, there’s not any word, really, to describe what it’s like.
“Tingly?” he suggests. But that’s not right—only Yoongi’s skin is tingling, right at the edge of his mouth. It’s more in his chest, and his stomach, like they’re swirling and Yoongi hates himself for feeling like this. “New?” There’s no word for it, and it bothers Yoongi because he’s been feeling this way a lot lately.
“I don’t know!” Jimin laughs in the way that makes his eyes crinkle.
They both fall onto their backs, Jimin’s tail hanging lazy in the water, staring up at the late sky. And Yoongi has to ask him. He turns his head and says, “Jimin.”
“Did you really forget everything? On accident?”
Jimin sighs and it’s quiet for a while, so quiet that Yoongi almost asks him again. Then a wave rolls in, loud over the night crickets, but he doesn’t miss Jimin’s “No.”
“Get me another shell,” Hoseok bites down on the side of his popsicle and shivers dramatically. “Damn, I forgot it was frozen.”
“You dumbass,” Yoongi rolls his eyes, “Why do you want another one?”
The ceiling fan spins slow above their heads, but Hoseok still fans himself violently with his hands anyway, the popsicle almost breaking as he does so. “Because you probably have like twenty and I just want one, I dunno. Like a souvenir, but for free. The other one’s pretty sweet.”
He thinks about Jimin (he’s been doing that a lot lately), and the cord around his neck, with its shells and ornaments of glass. There are some things which can only come from the sea. And Jimin knows where to find those: places where no humans can go. “I only found the one shell. But I’ll keep my eye out for another cool one.”
Hoseok almost chokes on his popsicle. “You what?”
“Geez, I said I’ll try to find another one.”
“No, I mean you only found one shell?” He looks skeptical. Yoongi doesn’t like that. “Then what the hell have you been doing every morning and night?”
Time seems to stop, and suddenly everything seems very dangerous. “Just walking,” It’s the first thing that comes to his mind, but Hoseok is hardly convinced. “We’re on the beach, so I figured I might as well enjoy it while I can. And I don’t want to see your face for any longer than I have to.”
Hoseok’s laugh is the only reassurance that his cover isn’t blown. “Fine, fine. I wish I could crash your party someday, but you know I’ve always been slower at packing than you have. Seriously, I have no idea how you can just shove everything into your suitcase and—”
“Packing?” That’s a word Yoongi hasn’t heard in a long time, or thought about, and its meaning doesn’t register until a moment later. “Like to leave?”
The other man nods and takes another bite of the ice. “We talked about it last night, remember? You probably weren’t paying attention. Yeah, we’re leaving in three days. Four if there’s a storm.” And Yoongi sort of absorbs this for a moment; he knows he’d have to leave eventually, but ‘eventually’ seemed so far away. “You okay there, Yoongi?”
“Yeah,” Yoongi is not okay. There’s an emptiness in his stomach. “Who knows, maybe I’ll start packing tonight. I’ve had enough of your stupid beach house, you know?”
He doesn’t want to go back home.
Maybe it’s pathetic how much Jimin matters. Because for Yoongi, the middle part of the day doesn’t even exist. He only cares about when he’s with Jimin. It’s the only time of day he looks forward to. And this night in particular seems to be the one he needs Jimin the most. In a few days, he’ll be gone, hours away. So Yoongi needs to see Jimin; the itch grows stronger every second.
But he’s not there. In the usual spot where Jimin lounges in the sand is replaced with a cold blankness. Instead, a bit past the rock, two heads peek out of the water. Neither belongs to Jimin. It scares him at first; nobody should have found Jimin, not in such an isolated area. But something catches Yoongi’s eye, a sparkling beneath the waves. And he sees the lines on one of their necks, just like Jimin’s—these must be Jimin’s friends.
One, with dark hair and large eyes, calls out, “Are you Yoongi?”
Yoongi remembers the story Jimin told him, about the human boy who drowned and gained a tail. This has to be him; his Korean is clear, if not stained with a Busan accent. “Yes, are you—do you know Jimin?”
They both nod, and the dark-haired one speaks again, “I’m Jungkook, and this is Taehyung. I mean, that’s not his real name, but, uh,” he seems shy, “Anyway. We have some news.”
Immediately, his mind goes to the worst place. “Is everything okay? Jimin’s okay, right?”
“Jimin’s fine. Well, not really,” the boy looks almost nervous, “He’s been sad lately. We can’t get him to go anywhere anymore. He keeps talking about how much he wants legs.”
Yoongi has seen it, that slack jaw whenever he touches Yoongi’s leg, and the frustrated twinkle in his eyes when he mentions them. “Listen, if I could chop off my legs and give them to Jimin, I would. I just want him to be happy.” It’s odd, talking about Jimin to someone else.
“Us, too,” Jungkook says, “and that’s why I wanted to tell you.” He clears his throat, “It’s like how they helped me get a tail. We can give Jimin legs. Or, you can, at least.”
The world stops around him; everything on the beach is still. And Yoongi knows he shouldn’t be, but the very deepest part of him is filled with a pure kind of hope. “Are you serious?” His hands are shaking and he’s not sure why. “That would make him so happy.” Yoongi can almost picture Jimin’s smile, seeing his toes crinkle or his knees bend.
“It’s not easy, though,” Jungkook says, “He’d be in a lot of pain. The process would last for about a month, too. And once he has legs, he can’t ever come back. He’ll never have a tail again.” His eyes are sad, and so are Taehyung’s even if he doesn’t say anything.
And Yoongi’s already accepted that he can’t love Jimin the way he wants to. The idea of hope seems almost guilty, almost selfish. All he cares about is how Jimin feels, but he doesn’t want to cause Jimin pain. The one called Taehyung says something, in that graceful language, and Jungkook translates: “He says Jimin’s never talked about the surface before. And then he met you, and now he’s obsessed. Jimin loves the sea, but he sees something in you that we think he’s meant to experience.”
That takes a while to process, because Yoongi doesn’t believe in destiny or fate or anything else, but he knows he’ll never be able to let go of Jimin, not since day one. “I don’t want to take Jimin away from his home. Away from you guys.”
“You’re not taking him,” Jungkook says, “because he’d give himself to you in a heartbeat.”
There are so many reasons to disagree, to give up on Jimin because all they know is a summer almost-romance and Yoongi has a life so different than the one he’s lived these few weeks. And there are the boys in front of him, who care about Jimin so much it radiates out of their bodies, but all three of them have something in common: Jimin.
“It’s Jimin’s choice,” Yoongi sighs, “Please ask him. Don’t tell him I know.”
“Of course Jimin will say yes. I’ll miss him,” there’s such certainty in Jungkook’s tone, like Jimin’s already given up on everything but a no-life college student and his thin legs, “but he’ll be happier like this. I’m really glad we got to meet you. Taehyung’s known Jimin forever, and they saved my life. He cares about you.”
Yoongi lets the early morning light wash over the beach, over the air, and he truly can’t imagine life without Jimin’s smile and Jimin’s laugh. “Yeah,” he looks back and forth between Jimin’s friends and their sad eyes, “It was nice to meet both of you, too.”
When the skies open up, Yoongi starts drinking. It’s a torrential downpour, escalating with each beer can Yoongi pops open. “You okay?” Namjoon just sits there, staring out the window.
“Me? Yep,” He’s not okay. “I’m just fantastic. Fucking great.”
Namjoon nods. “I’ll take your word for it. At least you’re not Hobi; that guy’s in his room, probably peeing himself under the covers.” He takes one of Yoongi’s beers and cracks the cap open for himself. “I love storms. It’s insane, how powerful nature can be. There are things humans can’t control.”
“Just crazy,” Yoongi’s not paying attention, though, concentrating more on the darkness of the sky or how he feels a little sick.
He’s never witnessed a storm by the sea, but it’s bad. It’s really bad; there are trees in the distance nearly swayed horizontal by the wind, the entire house is creaking, there are small funnels of rain manifesting over the black sea and floating closer to shore each time before dissipating. The lightning looks like strobe lights and the thunder sounds like the bass in that music Hoseok listens to.
Yoongi wants it to stop, but there’s no sign of it slowing down. So he starts on another can of beer.
He hopes Jimin is safe.
Yoongi is terrified to go to the beach. He wants, for the first time since arriving at Hoseok’s shitty beach house, to stay curled up in sheets and air conditioning and drinkable water. But he goes anyway, needing to know Jimin is alright but not wanting the truth. So Yoongi distracts himself along the way, examining the yellow flowers he’d normally not care about, or stopping to watch a small crab crawl across the sand.
When he hears, “Yoongi! Hello!” it’s like listening to Jimin’s smile; Yoongi swears it’s the purest sound in the world. He strips off his sandals and bounds toward Jimin’s usual rock.
Seeing Jimin’s face again makes him forget that stress exists. He can’t help himself; he kneels down across from Jimin, to look into those eyes, and takes Jimin’s full cheeks in his hands. “You’re okay,” he whispers, “I thought—the storm—”
“Shh,” Jimin presses a small finger to Yoongi’s lips and bumps their foreheads together. “It is not bad underwater. Only on top.” Yoongi can’t tell if he’s lying or not—he seems different, maybe shaken by the waves. But when he smiles, Yoongi has to believe him. And Jimin places his hand right over Yoongi’s, holding it to his cheek in the most reassuring way. “Yoongi,” he says, and Yoongi doesn’t say anything back because he needs to concentrate on the moment, “Can I see your leg?”
Yoongi chuckles, because he missed this. He missed Jimin. He lays his leg across Jimin’s muscled tail, the sun bouncing off it like tiny sequins or stars, casting a kaleidoscope on the sand. It’s almost therapeutic, the sensation of Jimin’s hands studying the grooves of his knee and calf, the focus fluttering in his gentle eye. Jimin spends the most time on his knee, bending the joint up and back down, passing over it every time he moves from shin to thigh. He looks desperate, and Yoongi wants to reach out and help him, touch him. The only time he looks away from Yoongi’s leg is when he slides his fingers almost-too-high and locks eyes with Yoongi just to say, “I want legs.”
He doesn’t know how to respond, so he stares—stares at the little moons of Jimin’s fingernails and how his hands look when they feel along his thighs. And he mumbles, ‘I’m sorry,’ because he is; he wants Jimin to have everything, and he wants to give all of it to Jimin, but he’s not sure if he should.
Jimin shifts and his breath passes over Yoongi’s cheek and Yoongi feels them both shiver. He keeps a hand on Yoongi’s leg, a light pressure on his knee, and moves closer, hot air tickling Yoongi’s lips and jaw. And Yoongi knows they’re going to kiss, but it’s hardly a thing he’s excited for—Jimin is perfect, he’s all Yoongi wants in the whole universe—and yet, not human. A part of him knows they can never be together, and never will, and at that moment, he can’t find it in himself to care. Because Yoongi is selfish, he gets what he wants, and he wants Jimin and Jimin’s kiss. He knows it’s doomed—he knows everything around him is doomed—and still he kisses Jimin so softly he wonders if he did it at all.
It’s short and light and wonderful, and they pull apart so slow and Yoongi is dizzy. His voice is weak, “Did you forget what it’s called again?”
“No,” Jimin’s nose is tickling against Yoongi’s own, “It’s a kiss.” And he moves to kiss Yoongi again, so brief, just lips on lips, “It’s a kiss.” He says it over and over as Yoongi takes his lips more desperately than each time before, between kisses and gasps, ‘It’s a kiss, it’s a kiss,’ and Yoongi has to kiss Jimin; if he waits one more day, one more second, he swears he’ll die. So he nips along Jimin’s mouth and licks along his tongue and Jimin’s hand is completely slack against the skin of his knee as he tilts his head and kisses Yoongi right back.
It’s nearly embarrassing, how they can’t get enough of each other. When Jimin slightly cracks his eyes open between kisses, they’re glazed over, but Yoongi can taste the passion dripping from his lips. He’s never wanted someone so badly. His hand shifts to Jimin’s bare waist and he kisses every part of Jimin’s face: his cheek, his nose, his eyelids. And the sounds Jimin makes are sinful, from his little gasps of ‘Yoongi,’ to his whispers in that beautiful language Yoongi will never understand.
As Yoongi’s lips hit his jaw, there’s nothing but concentration and the haziness that comes with such affection. But when he moves down, down to mouth at Jimin’s neck and throat, he stops cold. Because there are those gills, the flaps in his skin, and it’s a wake-up call: they can never be together. Jimin isn’t human. He tries to look Jimin in the eyes, but nothing registers; Jimin is still trailing his lips along Yoongi’s, still cupping his face and tilting his head like that, and he doesn’t realize Yoongi is unmoving. “Jimin,” he runs his fingers along Jimin’s side to snap him out of it. “Jimin, stop.”
And Jimin’s eyes are wide and his breathing heavy. “Stop? But I…like it.” He leans in again, eyes begging Yoongi to kiss him, and it takes everything in Yoongi’s body to refuse.
“I like it, too,” he’s almost afraid to admit it, “but we can’t. I’m a human. You live in the sea, and I don’t even live in Jeju.” He sounds so pitiful, saying it out loud. “Jimin, listen, you’re very important to me. And that’s why we can’t do this.” He wants to kiss Jimin again.
Jimin takes Yoongi’s face in his hands and runs his thumb along Yoongi’s cheek. “Remember when you said—‘tingly,’ did you say?” The thumb gets closer to Yoongi’s lips with each swipe. Yoongi really, really wants to kiss him again. “It feels special.”
Jimin has never used that word before; it’s come up in books and songs, but Jimin’s never said it. But ‘special’ is the right word. Yoongi pulls Jimin in by the waist and just hugs him. He holds Jimin like he’d die if he ever let go. And Jimin closes his eyes and his tail flops slightly against the sand. “Yeah,” Yoongi says, “I feel it, too.”
The only sound for a while is the white noise of crashing waves and the sea air. Then Jimin whispers in a tiny voice, almost scared, “I can get legs. I know how to.”
Yoongi’s thumb circles along Jimin’s skin. “Don’t hurt yourself, Jimin. It’s not worth it. I’ll be here for the summer, but—”
“I want them,” Jimin’s smile is so bright that the whole universe seems so dull next to him, “There are so many things I don’t know. I don’t care if it’s bad for me.” They’re both looking in the same direction, staring down the column of Jimin’s shining tail. “Picture my legs, Yoongi,” he says, “They would be beautiful. Like yours.”
“Your legs would be even better than mine,” Yoongi chuckles, “so you can decide. If you want legs, I’ll help you.”
Jimin looks so relieved, and his eyes sparkle and his head bumps at the corner of Yoongi’s shoulder. And all they do is sit there, but it’s like drowning—like the whole world is rising around them and Jimin just decided to take a breath.
He shakes Hoseok awake in the dead of night when everything’s fuzzy in his head and all he can think about is one tiny thing. “Hoseok.”
His friend stutters to life, hair springing in all directions and a thread of saliva attached to his pillow. “What? Yeah? I’m awake.” Hoseok’s eyes are still closed, and he hardly looks awake.
“I have a question.”
The question becomes stupid, the more he chews on it in his brain, but he’s too drunk on exhaustion to say ‘never mind’, so he spits it out: “What was that one movie, the Disney one where you said the princess was hot? The one with the—with the mermaid?”
Hoseok buries his face back in his pillow. “I dunno, man. The Little Mermaid? Ariel’s kinda hot, I dunno.” He yawns deeply and then he’s gone.
The next day Yoongi walks to a local consignment shop to buy an ancient VCR and a tape of The Little Mermaid for 15000 won. Namjoon finds him, after dinner and before his visit to Jimin, watching the movie for the third time in a row, tears streaming down his cheeks and catching grossly at his nose. “What the hell have you done this time?”
Yoongi blows his nose into his sleeve, eyes not leaving the small screen. It’s the scene at the end where Ariel runs out of the water like a Baywatch girl into her prince’s open arms. “Look at this shit, Namjoon!” Yoongi waves his hand at the screen in frustration. “They’re so happy it’s unfair! She just waltzed out of the fucking ocean like it’s no big deal!”
Namjoon sighs and plants himself on the arm of the couch. “In the real version she commits suicide and then turns into sea foam. If that makes you feel better.”
It doesn’t. But Yoongi watches the movie again anyway (and maybe cries a little harder).
More than water, Jimin reminds him of sand; he slips silently into every part of Yoongi, in a way where Yoongi can’t get rid of him and once he thinks he’s done with Jimin, he manages to find little parts of Jimin left over. And he’s tiny (the good kind of tiny where Yoongi can curl his fingers around his palm).
He’s supposed to be packing, but he’s with Jimin. Yoongi sits in the sand, not caring if his shorts get wet, and Jimin wraps himself around Yoongi’s arm and lets his black hair soak into Yoongi’s shoulder. Neither of them mention the woven bag sitting dark on the sand, but by the way Jimin’s practically shaking, Yoongi can tell he wants to. “You don’t have to, you know.” Jimin looks at him like a child. “If you keep your tail, you’ll be healthy. You can swim with your friends and do whatever kind of stuff you do underwater, forever.”
Jimin grins, “I know the sea. And I love it. But this is the right choice.” He looks so confident, so sure, that Yoongi gets up and starts spreading the bag’s contents out in front of them.
They’re not by the rock, but instead at the mouth of a hidden recession in cliff-side that Jimin swears nobody knows about. It’s almost like a cave, barely dipping into the water. He totes the bag past the lip of the cavity, and helps Jimin in as well. There are long strips of seaweed, too, laid out in a line; the air smells damp and salty. Just looking at the array of supplies makes Yoongi’s head spin. The last thing he wants to do is hurt Jimin, but at the same time he wants Jimin to be happy.
“I have a parting gift for you, by the way,” Yoongi says, “Just some light reading.” He rummages around in his bag for a thin almost-pamphlet, “Read this while I’m gone. You’ll need it.”
Jimin’s eyes are always bright when it comes to books, and that’s a beautiful thing, but when the book is tossed on the sand and Jimin slowly reads, “My Teen Life: A Boy’s Guide to His New Body,” his smile falls a bit. “This one looks bad.”
“Yeah, well, I had to read something like it a long time ago, too.” Yoongi had hated even buying the book for Jimin, and the Daiso cashier’s look that came with it. He doesn’t want to explain embarrassing things to Jimin, because if this works Jimin will end up with a lot more than just legs.
It might not. It might not work at all; Yoongi is instilling every ounce of confidence he has in Jimin, because he doesn’t know how this is supposed to go. It’s like a process, a step-by-step guide for transformation that sounds a lot scarier than in The Little Mermaid. But Jimin seems prepared; he’s brought enough food to last him while his legs mature, and Yoongi had taken enough woven blankets from the beach house to keep Jimin warm.
Jimin lays on his back and stretches, in that graceful way of his. “It’s okay,” he takes Yoongi’s hand and gives it a reassuring squeeze, “I want this.”
And Yoongi wants to deny him, wants to tell him he can’t, but he never finds the words. There are things spread out on the sand that he’s never seen, things only found in the deep sea that Jimin can’t even describe to him. He swallows. “What do you need first?”
“This,” Jimin reaches for a small sack filled with clear gel, some sort of ointment or salve. “All over the tail,” he instructs, and he looks so hopeful that Yoongi can’t help but grin. He dips his fingers into the cool gel and brings them cautiously to Jimin’s tail, spreading it over the surface like hot wax. Jimin’s stomach contracts as he laughs. “Sorry, it’s…”
“Ticklish?” Yoongi offers, and Jimin nods. The tail is so fragile, so sensitive, and Yoongi can feel each muscle twitch under his hand. From his fingers, the gel dries quickly, leaving only a smooth, clear layer over the scales. Once the entire tail is covered, Yoongi leans back and inspects his work. “What next?”
Jimin still grips his hand, tighter than before, like he’s afraid of losing something. “Inside,” he struggles with the description, brushing his thumb over the back of Yoongi’s hand. “In your body.” His eyes are almost guilty.
The realization dawns on Yoongi, that they’ll both pay a price for what Jimin wants. “Blood?” he asks, “You need my blood?” He’s pulled forward as Jimin’s lips hit his palm in apology. “That’s gonna hurt, Jimin. It’ll hurt me.” It’s like Jimin loses hope in then, and Yoongi decides he doesn’t care how much blood is drained. “But I’ll do it.”
Everything is worth it when Jimin smiles and gives his hand another kiss, Thank you. Yoongi doesn’t have a knife, or anything sharp on him, so he settles on a nearby stone, flattened by the waves. He slides it against the cliff wall, to lessen the pain of a dull blade. And as he slips the end of his shorts up and brings the stone to his thigh, where nobody will see the mark, Jimin sits up and holds the makeshift razor still. “No! Not your leg.”
Yoongi finds it hilarious, that Jimin is so worried about the well-being of his legs at a time like this. He sighs and rolls up the sleeve of his tee-shirt anyway, resting the thin rock against his skin, reluctant to break the surface. Jimin looks away, as though he can’t bear to see Yoongi in pain because of him. And Yoongi tries to be as quiet as possible when the stone slices through his skin, but the edge is still too dull and rough and he’s left with a dripping, jagged gash in his shoulder.
He sucks in a breath and brings an empty water bottle from his backpack to the wound, catching blood in a pool at the bottom. “Jimin,” he says, “how much do you need?”
There’s a sharp gasp as Jimin sees the nasty incision, blood draining out into the former water bottle. He takes Yoongi’s hand again. “Lots of drops, but spread out. I’m sorry, Yoongi.”
Yoongi pinches the skin of his shoulder together, pushing more blood out. “It’s fine,” Yoongi tells him, though he can’t imagine doing this for anyone else. His shoulder numbs a bit at the forced loss of blood, but Jimin steadies him and everything is okay. “Let’s see where this gets us for now,” Yoongi examines his handiwork, one-fourth of the clear plastic bottle stained cherry red. He glances down at Jimin’s tail and suddenly it seems so large. “Should I just drip it on there, or what?”
The merman looks so uncertain, so nervous, but Yoongi sees no regret in his eyes. “Okay,” he nods, leaning once again so his back is flat against the sand, “I trust you.” It’s all Yoongi needs to hear.
His hesitation only lasts a moment before Yoongi tips the bottle carefully. A few drops fall down onto Jimin’s scales, and Jimin winces and gasps at the contact. He throws his head back sharply and fidgets his hands like the blood were acid. The small hands keep extending and clutching for Yoongi’s shirt, his jaw, his hair, desperately as if it would calm him. And Yoongi wants to stop, especially as he drips blood onto the more sensitive parts of Jimin’s tail, near his fins or his navel, and Jimin’s mouth opens in silent anguish. It must burn, to mix inhuman scales with human blood; Jimin looks pale and faint, his breathing short.
The scales that were once so stunning, the mosaic colors and metallic sheen, are spotted and bloodied and it’s like a massacre. And iron smell hangs in the air, and Yoongi can’t even look at the tail. He lets Jimin’s hands fall wherever they want if it makes him more at ease. “What next?”
Jimin takes a moment to collect himself, hands moving along Yoongi’s face, until he points to a pale ground powder next to them. “That,” his voice is choked and quiet.
He doesn’t give Yoongi instructions, so Yoongi takes the powder and sprinkles it right on top of the blood, dyeing the white a pale pink color. It’s so hard to watch Jimin convulse in pain as he suffocates the scales with the powder, the iridescent quality telling Yoongi it must be some kind of pearl. But it’s too late to quit; he continues until the tail is dusted in powder, and carefully he lifts Jimin by the waist and rolls him over, onto his stomach and the long line of seaweed.
Jimin looks like he can’t even breathe, and it’s all Yoongi can do to rub little circles into the skin of his back as he re-starts the process of gel and blood and powder on the underside of his tail. Yoongi leans over him, mouth against Jimin’s shoulder blade, feeling each dry sob surge through Jimin’s body. Under other circumstances, it would’ve been arousing, his lips on Jimin’s bare skin, but in that moment it means so much—I’m here, I’ll make sure you’re okay. When Yoongi makes his way to the bottom of Jimin’s tail, Jimin’s fingers curl around loose sand and his cries are soft. But soon the whole tail is coated, and Yoongi is so relieved. With gentle hands, he wraps Jimin’s lower half in the seaweed, trying not to displace any ingredients. At that point Jimin is a mess: he covers his eyes with his forearm and his gills contract unevenly, mouth set in quiet weeping. The seaweed is secured under him, only the fins peeking out at the bottom. There are no tears for Yoongi to wipe away, Jimin’s cheeks dry, so Yoongi settles on stroking his hair instead. “How long do you have to stay like this?”
He’s quiet for a long while, trying to pull himself together, and then he says, “One month. Until the moon turns around again.” Too long. “Will you be here?”
“I can’t stay,” Yoongi pulls Jimin’s head into his lap to calm him. “But I can come back. Just rest here and I’ll be back for you. Nobody knows where to find you here.” The answer seems to please Jimin, and he closes his eyes and nestles further into Yoongi’s lap. “How are you feeling?” He already knows.
“Remember the book with the orange spikes? The ones that hurt people?”
Yoongi chuckles, thinking about how Jimin lingered on that page in curiosity. “You mean fire?”
“Yeah. It’s like fire.” Jimin clenches his fingers and tugs at the seaweed, like it’s itching him.
Yoongi tries to pin his hands down. “Jimin, relax, or it’ll get infected. You don’t want it to hurt more.”
His face is strained, discomfort marring his beautiful features, but he stops struggling. For one second, everything is quiet except for Jimin’s breathing and the distant waves. “Yoongi.”
“Yes?” Yoongi’s fingers pass over Jimin’s damp hair, eliciting a sigh.
Jimin looks up at him with gentle eyes, and when he speaks it’s airy. “Can you kiss me before you go?”
He wants to, god, he wants to. The question isn’t shocking because it’s been on his mind—on both of their minds—for a long time. And when Jimin asks like that, Yoongi can’t resist. He bends down, tilts Jimin’s chin up, presses his lips to Jimin’s with untapped control so his head is light and his chest is warm.
“I’ll be back, Jimin,” he promises, not knowing if it’s something he can actually fulfill. At the beach house, his clothes remain scattered around the sofa, far from being completely packed. In the morning, Hoseok and Namjoon will join him on a boat and they’ll be on their way back home. He has less than twelve hours. And Yoongi doesn’t want it to feel as short as it does.
Jimin seems to deal with the pain by falling asleep. Yoongi sits with him until the sun rises, trying to even out shallow breaths. He leaves Jimin with a blanket covering him and a promise to return.
Yoongi shouldn’t be here. He’s in an art history lecture he never wanted to sign up for, dozing off on the desk beneath him, and he shouldn’t be here. In his mind, Yoongi substitutes linoleum flooring for the texture of warm sand, replaces the feel of thin paper with that of Jimin’s skin.
He lives out his day like this—has been living every day like this for three weeks, his mind whirling with thoughts of sea air and soft kisses. And there’s always that mantra, repeating and repeating: I shouldn’t be here. He should be outside, where everything is open and calm; he should be looking after Jimin, protecting Jimin.
One more week.
The ferry ride is the longest of Yoongi’s life. In the past month, he’s lost countless hours of sleep, images of scales and fins floating through Yoongi’s dreams. He stops at the vacation home just to fling his suitcase at the doorstep, and makes for the beach.
It’s that time of day when Jimin would have greeted him with a cheery, “Yoongi! Hello!” but he hears none of that; instead, it’s all quiet waves and early seagulls. Yoongi knows where to go, he knows this beach more than anywhere else in Jeju, but the air feels foreign somehow. It feels like Yoongi is a stranger.
He doesn’t see Jimin when he nears the small cave. But peeking past the hollow part of the cliff-side, the image hits him all at once: Jimin lying on his back, half-submerged in water with Yoongi’s collection of colored blankets over the seaweed wrap. Jimin’s arms are by his ears, like he’s sleeping, but it hardly looks like a pleasant rest; Jimin’s mouth is caught open slightly and his brow is furrowed. He’s so pale, paler than Yoongi had ever seen him, and his stomach lost its firmness, having receded to hug his bones in poor health. And there’s a smell, something like death, and Yoongi hopes it’s not Jimin.
Yoongi falls to his knees beside Jimin, taking the boy’s limp hand—colder than he’s comfortable with—and holds it to his cheek. “Jimin,” he whispers with a shaky voice, “Jimin, wake up. I’m here now. Please, Jimin.”
He tries for a long minute to wake Jimin up, to wake this beautiful boy who deserves everything, and cups his palm against Jimin’s face (it’s thinner than he remembers). Yoongi really, really doesn’t want to cry. His heart stops entirely when Jimin’s long lashes twitch and his lip quivers. And Yoongi can’t do anything but encourage him in whispers (“Jimin, wake up for me,” “You promised you’d wake up,”), careful touches trying to warm Jimin’s skin.
Finally, finally he hears it: “Yoongi.” It’s the smallest voice he’s ever heard, but it’s unmistakably Jimin’s voice, sweet as ever, and Jimin’s whole body shivers as he tries to sit up. He fails, resorting instead to lying with his chin tipped back. “You’re here,” Maybe it’s the voice of someone who hasn’t talked in a long time. Jimin smiles like it takes all his energy, and he eagerly accepts the water bottle Yoongi brings to his lips. “Thank you.” Jimin doesn’t seem to care that the water drips down his chin and into his hair to stain the sand.
“It’s so good to see you, Jimin.” Yoongi can’t stop looking into those eyes again, that go for miles and miles. He takes the blanket half-covering Jimin’s abdomen and pulls it up to his neck—an effort to warm him.
Jimin keeps repeating it, testing his Korean again, “Thank you, thank you.” Then he lifts a weak arm and rests it on Yoongi’s knee. He’d missed that touch. “Yoongi, I have legs. I can feel them.” He sounds overjoyed, with so much light burning in his eyes. “But it hurts, Yoongi. What are those things inside of you? That you can’t eat?”
“Bones?” Yoongi tries, smirking. He missed Jimin.
“Yes, bones. I could feel them grow.” He pulls the blanket back down, lower than before, and guides Yoongi’s hand to the top of the seaweed wrap. “Help, please. I want to see my legs.”
And Yoongi can’t refuse; he takes a shaking hand and slowly peels back the dark green film, layer by layer. As he nears the center, where Jimin’s tail was, it becomes clear that the death-smell is coming from beneath the seaweed. He doesn’t want to go any further, doesn’t want to see what’s underneath, but as he locks eyes with Jimin, Yoongi knows he’ll keep going anyway.
It’s disgusting. That’s the only way to describe the sight before him: disgusting. Because those are certainly not legs, and Yoongi had been a fool to think Jimin’s tail would just dissolve. No, the tail is still there, or rather, the husk of a tail: rotten flesh and chunks of muscle hang off the translucent casing of scales, so fragile that entire scales are ripped in half, gathered at the bottom of the seaweed in a pile. It’s dead, everything is dead. There’s fat and bones forming a tube shape, the shape of Jimin’s old tail, and everything is rotten and wasted. The fins are torn and dull and flaky. And Yoongi knows Jimin can never go back, not with a tail that looks as it does. He’s stuck like this, whether that be for better or for worse. When Jimin sees the mess below his waist, he starts shaking. “I’m ugly,” he gasps.
“You’re not.” Yoongi thinks it’s a good time to tell the truth, “You’re beautiful, Jimin. And under all this are your new legs.” He hopes that part is true as well—that underneath the shed tail, Jimin can find happiness.
Jimin only nods at him, so Yoongi begins at the top of the tail. He finds where scale meets skin, and the little scales fall right off, leaving fingernail-like marks on Jimin’s navel. Yoongi had only brought three things with him: water bottles, old swimming trunks for Jimin, and a First-Aid kit. From this, he takes a pair of tweezers and is able to pluck the more stubborn scales from Jimin’s skin, like splinters. At the top of the tail, Yoongi can peel the shell back like dried glue. And there is definitely skin underneath, the young and untouched skin of Jimin’s hip.
He tries not to look as he pulls the molt down further, anxious to get Jimin in those swimming trunks. The tail sloughs right off, almost splitting into strips and curling into the sand beneath them. Even with the weakness in Jimin’s body, Yoongi can tell he has wide thighs and small feet. His skin looks like paper, stark white and wrinkled, veiny as an infant’s. The feet are perhaps the hardest part, constricted flush against the crumbling fin, toes curved under. They’re also the most surreal part, looking at something Jimin had wanted for so long, actually attached to his body.
Because it had worked. The whole thing had worked. Jimin has legs. Yoongi can’t stop smiling; it’s magical and it had worked. He helps Jimin sit up, holding his waist and back, and Jimin flings his arms around Yoongi’s neck. “Yoongi, I have legs!” he laughs, “I love them.”
Yoongi slots an arm under Jimin’s knee—his knee, he has knees—and lifts him out of the debris of his tail, settling him instead on the warm sand. “That’s so great, Jimin. I’m so happy for you.” He reaches into his bag and digs around for the pair of trunks, revealing them to Jimin. “And now that you have legs, you get to wear clothes.”
Jimin claps his hands together in excitement, eyes transfixed on how he can move his ankle in little circles. He hardly seems embarrassed by his body, not even flinching when Yoongi slides the trunks over Jimin’s hips. Yoongi swaddles Jimin in a blanket like a newborn and steadies him on never-used legs. “I love them,” the boy keeps whispering it, and just as Jimin had loved the sea Yoongi’s sure he just fell in love with the human body as well.
He carries Jimin with one arm hooked under the joint of his knees and the other holding his back steady. The skin on Jimin’s legs is slimy and thin. Jimin’s hands lock behind his neck and Yoongi can feel the boy’s smile against his shirt.
Hoseok’s spare key—which had taken a lot of convincing to obtain—is sandwiched between Yoongi’s fingertips, and he unlocks the door while still balancing Jimin in his arms. It occurs to him that Jimin has never been in a house before, or indoors at all. Jimin picks his head up and takes in everything around him, from the tacky white flooring to the dated shag carpet to the sun-beached furniture. And he gasps, tapping Yoongi’s shoulder as a hint to set him down, so Yoongi lays him carefully across a plush chair.
While Jimin surveys the room, Yoongi heads to the bathroom and returns with some painkillers and a glass of tap water. “Eat these,” he says, “It’ll help with the pain. They’re life-savers.” Jimin takes them greedily with only half a gulp of water, but grimaces like something’s wrong with the taste.
“Thank you,” Jimin’s voice is almost shy, and he reaches for Yoongi’s arm, trying to stand up. “Help please,” Yoongi steadies him at the waist, and Jimin digs his toes into the carpet. He laughs and his smile is worth everything. “Feel this! I like it.”
Yoongi hates that carpet. He’d prefer a normal carpet, one without so much texture, but he sees the way Jimin’s eyes light up and he says, “I like it, too,” even if that’s a flat lie. “Let’s get a tour of this place, shall we?” His grip is firm on Jimin’s waist as he slowly shuffles Jimin into the kitchen area. He wishes he’d brought a shirt for the boy as well, because his fingers on Jimin’s bare skin is almost too much.
He hates the carpet, hates the white furniture, hates how shiny the tiles in the kitchen are. He just hates the beach house, but inside it is everything Yoongi could ever want. He wouldn’t mind living here for the rest of his life, and judging by the awe-struck way Jimin gapes at the refrigerator and microwave, he guesses the feeling is mutual.
They settle down that night in one of two large beds, and it’s Jimin’s first time seeing a bed at all so Yoongi feels the need to watch after him the entire night. There’s no hope for sleep. In fact, it’s like Yoongi downed five strong cups of coffee; rather than dreams, every thought in the world seems to dance around his brain. The future, forgotten responsibilities—stupid things he shouldn’t get stuck on but still does.
Soft moonlight streaks Jimin’s face, so different from the nights on the sand. Here, everything is safer, warmer. And with Jimin next to him, Yoongi already feels at home.
It’s paradise. Not living right on the beach, not escaping all the worries he has back home, but getting to see Jimin all hours of the day. Yoongi takes Jimin to every place he knows, and they walk together and run together and it’s amazing. Yoongi has never explained how to walk before, but Jimin picks it right up and after that Yoongi can’t get him to stand still. Yoongi treats him like a prince, because Jimin doesn’t know how to cook or do laundry or work the television.
Yoongi’s favorite time of day is after dinner (which is usually simple, if Yoongi tries to cook something), when they set up the VCR and watch The Little Mermaid, and Jimin’s eyes are wide and beautiful. And at night, Jimin sleeps in Hoseok’s old bed and Yoongi sleeps in Namjoon’s (except on the nights when Jimin curls into Yoongi’s side and they fall asleep together).
Jimin’s gills close up. The ones on his neck, and Yoongi sees the ones on his ribs are gone too, because Jimin has the unfortunate habit of going shirtless. They stop flapping whenever Jimin takes a breath, and just sort of scar over until they’re only visible up-close. He doesn’t need them anymore.
Yoongi forgets when he started to fall in love. Maybe it was when Jimin woke up next to him for the first time and he smiled like that. Maybe it was when Jimin kissed him on the beach. Maybe it was when he first saw Jimin. But Yoongi is certainly head-over-heels in love, and it doesn’t bother him.
All he’d wanted was to make Jimin happy, to give Jimin anything he asked for. But now Yoongi allows himself to be seduced by simple pleasures and Jimin’s laughter and he’s not sure how he lived before this. It’s ridiculous, the notion that he had a life before the beach, when now everything is consumed by Jimin.
It’s one of those mornings when he wakes up to Jimin’s face, when he hadn’t been there the night before. And Jimin is already awake, eyes clouded with something that might be fondness. His hair is messy, his skin coated in a thin sweat, and Yoongi could stare at him forever.
Jimin mumbles out a, “Good morning,” and his arm falls across Yoongi’s body and it’s the most natural thing in the world. The man’s eyes are heavy on him; it makes Yoongi swallow. He barely gets out his own ‘Good morning,’ before Jimin’s full lips find the corner of Yoongi’s mouth, so shy.
Yoongi almost says, ‘Jimin, we can’t,’ but they can. They can because Jimin is now a human and he can walk, and because it’s 8:00 in the morning and Yoongi’s a bit in love. So he takes Jimin’s lips properly, kissing him deep and slow, and he feels Jimin’s smile on his mouth and Jimin’s hand on his chest. They spend that morning in bed, dizzy from heat and emotion, exploring each other in careful touches and long kisses.
After that it seems Jimin can’t get enough, like kissing is easier than breathing, and Yoongi doesn’t have any problem with it. Everything is suddenly different—when they’re in town and no one else can see, Yoongi’s hand slides easily to Jimin’s hip; when the princess kisses her prince in The Little Mermaid Jimin smiles at Yoongi and says, “It’s like us,” and that takes Yoongi’s breath away.
Jimin’s a fast learner. When it comes to speaking Korean, or walking, and love. He does things without thinking, like trailing his tongue hotly into Yoongi’s mouth, like rolling his hips into Yoongi’s and slipping a thigh between Yoongi’s legs. Jimin is brazen and curious and it makes both of them crazy. But Yoongi doesn’t want to go too far, not when Jimin is so special to him.
They stop sleeping alone, opting instead for sharing heat and sharing blankets and sharing light kisses long into the night, until they’re both asleep.
Yoongi’s never been so happy. This is what married life must be like—he and Jimin have no obligations, no rules. He realizes Jimin is everything he wants in the world, and spending every day with him makes Yoongi believe stupid things like how two people can be destined for each other.
“What do you say,” Jimin looks at him one day with half-lidded eyes, tongue passing over his lips in a way that grabs Yoongi’s full attention, “when someone is important to you and you care about them?” Yoongi doesn’t pay attention, just concentrating on Jimin, until he asks, “Isn’t it ‘I love you’?”
Yoongi can taste the words in his mouth, the words Jimin hasn’t said to anyone before. And he’s not saying them to Yoongi now, but it’s very close. They sound beautiful in Jimin’s voice, the slight accent and soft tone. “Yeah, that’s it. Why?”
Jimin shrugs and leans in for a lazy kiss. “Why can I say, ‘I love the sea,’ or ‘I love my legs,’ but when I say, ‘I love you’ then it’s different?” He asks the question too close to Yoongi’s face, breath warm on his cheek.
And how can Yoongi know an answer like that? How can he know why words sound fragile or important or dangerous? How can Yoongi know anything at all with Jimin in his arms?
In the end, Jimin’s question is absorbed by bedsheets and white-plaster walls, because Jimin always forgets about little heavy details. And that day, Yoongi doesn’t feel like using many words at all.
They make love in the shitty beach house to a soundtrack of birds and waves. And Jimin clings to Yoongi, encouraging him with each kiss and touch and ‘Yes, Yoongi, please.’ It’s all gentle and Yoongi would swear it’s vanilla if he weren’t rocking into Jimin slowly, if there wasn’t convenience store lube on the sheets.
He’d checked at least ten times, asking, “Are you sure you want this? You have to want this, Jimin,” in between kisses. And Jimin carried such confidence in the way he said, ‘I’m positive about you,’ that it was sexy without trying. Now, everything is careful and slow and Yoongi feels dizzy to know that nobody has ever touched Jimin like this, seen Jimin like this: cheeks flushed in ecstasy, tiny stars set into his dark eyes. He’s beautiful.
They finish together and this must be what it’s like, Yoongi thinks, in the movies with the fireworks. It feels like one heartbeat when they lie side by side after, on the verge of sex-induced sleep. And maybe it’s the full moon or maybe because Jimin is so perfectly unreal, but Yoongi’s eyes start watering. And then there are quiet tears on his skin but Yoongi doesn’t care because he just made love to someone so beautiful.
“What’s that?” Jimin’s voice is soft and breathy.
The boy maneuvers himself over Yoongi, wraps thin arms around him. He kisses first Yoongi’s left cheek, and next his right, catching tears on full lips. “Don’t be sad,” he whispers, then, “It’s like the sea. Like salt.”
Yoongi thinks if he has the tiniest part of the sea inside him, he’d cry every day to make Jimin kiss him so light.
The coughing starts on a Wednesday.
Jimin is in the middle of a story, eyes lit up and hands punctuating every word, and then he stops. He stops and lets out a violent cough, one that leaves Jimin wheezing and makes Yoongi ask if he’s okay. And Jimin says he is, but he says it so weakly.
It happens a lot after that, until Jimin’s lovely voice becomes raw and crackling, his sentences broken up by tiny gasps. Yoongi can’t even kiss him for too long before Jimin has to breathe or cough. He always smiles at Yoongi and says, “Don’t worry. I’m great.”
Yoongi sees the blood-soaked tissues in the trash, and the little dots of it on Jimin’s clothes. Something’s hurting him and Yoongi wants it to end so badly. Jimin stops eating, even the cheap lamb skewers Yoongi loves, saying, “They make me sick.” Jimin looks guilty and Yoongi hates it. He hates how thin Jimin’s become, feels the bone of Jimin’s hip jut out more each day.
They go through aspirin like it’s candy. Yoongi has never had to care for someone sick before, aside from Hoseok every time he gets drunk. But this is very different from drunk Hoseok, and much more terrifying.
By Monday, Jimin’s running a blazing fever and both of them are too worried to feed him medicine. So Yoongi takes care of him; he brings Jimin food, reads to him, presses kisses into his hair until Jimin protests with, “Stop, you’ll get sick like me.”
“I’ll be fine,” Yoongi says, even though watching Jimin fall ill in front of him isn’t fine. He doesn’t care if he gets sick. Yoongi could be on his deathbed and as long as Jimin’s okay, so is he.
Pale light and the sound of waves are Yoongi’s alarm clock, and he wakes up to warmth all around him. It’s Jimin, huddled into Yoongi’s side like he’s freezing when it’s boiling inside. His ringtone startles him, and he answers with a whispered, ‘Hello?’ before the noise wakes Jimin.
Namjoon’s voice is one he hasn’t heard in weeks, but Yoongi recognizes it immediately. “Finally, you pick up. Hoseok and I have been calling you for days—what, did you lose your phone or something?”
He hadn’t lost it, not really; he just doesn’t need it when he’s with Jimin, paying attention to Jimin. “Well, I picked up this time.”
“Oh, great,” Namjoon says flatly, “That’s why I called—just so you could pick up.”
“You sound angry.”
“I am,” Yoongi hears something crash and he figures it’s Namjoon being clumsy again. “Where the hell are you? You’ve been MIA for a week and a half, and I know you’re with someone.” That comes as a slap to the face, but before Yoongi can defend himself, Namjoon continues, “And we’re happy for you—really, Hoseok’s been trying to set you up for forever—but you can’t disappear like this. People are asking where you are. Hell, we’ve enlisted Seokjin from my Calculus course as your temporary replacement. At least, I hope it’s temporary—not that Seokjin is bad, he’s kind of cool, actually—but damn, Yoongi, this is like one of those kidnapping shows on TV. Hoseok wants to print your face on milk cartons.”
Yoongi doesn’t care. The words float past his ears. “Namjoon, I’m an adult. I know what I want and right now, I don’t want to come back home. Let me live a little.” He brushes everything aside like it’s not important—like Yoongi doesn’t have to stay, like he doesn’t need to be with Jimin when in reality that’s the only thing he needs. And Yoongi wants so badly to ramble about Jimin, to hang posters everywhere that read, ‘Jimin is real, Jimin exists,’ but he can’t tell Namjoon and maybe he never will.
Namjoon starts up again, lecturing him as if Yoongi were a child, about responsibility and the greater good and all kinds of stuff Yoongi doesn’t care about. He doesn’t care. Behind Yoongi, there’s a faint rusting sound followed by Jimin’s high, familiar yawn, and Yoongi is in the middle of turning around when the yawn turns into a violent cough.
Jimin sits up, kicks the covers off himself like it’s too hot, and the entire time Namjoon’s voice is buzzing in Yoongi’s ear. He cuts him off, “Namjoon, I have to go now. We can talk later. Sorry.” A second later he ends the call and is at Jimin’s side, hand clapping Jimin’s back with a vague guess that it will help.
Then there’s blood, straight from Jimin’s mouth and onto the sheets. The sounds Jimin makes—the rattling, the gagging—send panic straight to Yoongi’s stomach. Jimin scratches his fingers over his ribs in a way that shocks Yoongi with how frantic it is, as if Jimin were trying to re-open the gills with his fingernails. “I can’t—”
Jimin catches air in jagged breaths, and his cough sounds like radio static and everything a person’s not supposed to sound like. He manages to choke out a, “Water, please,” and when he drinks it a minute later, poured hurriedly into a plastic cup, Jimin doubles over. Blood drips into the water like food dye.
The back of Yoongi’s hand meets Jimin’s forehead. Still feverish. “Jimin, what’s wrong?” He doesn’t respond, only slumping back onto Yoongi’s body. “Jimin, I need to take you to a doctor. You’ve been coughing for almost a week.”
It makes him ache to watch Jimin in a fit of shivers, eyes closed, mouth open in dry sobs. He speaks after what feels like an hour: “It’s something inside. And the water. It’s—it’s flat.”
Yoongi pops him against a pillow and sprints to the kitchen, returning with a fresh cup of water and a salt shaker. All Jimin manages is a weak laugh that breaks into a cough halfway through. He shakes the salt in anyway, and takes a long drink.
He doesn’t need to ask how it tastes, or if it’s more like the water he knows. Jimin’s face contorts into something like a smile, but with so much pain in his eyes. If his cheeks weren’t so dry, Yoongi would think he were crying. “What am I doing wrong?” he asks, “Everything hurts me except loving you.”
They don’t see a doctor. Instead, Jimin swallows an aspirin and they wait it out together with a salt shaker on the nightstand. Nobody could help Jimin anyway; nobody would know how.
He gets better for a while. A week and a half passes where Jimin is quiet in the best way: no coughing, no heavy breathing. Jimin goes outside again, stretches his arms up to the sun with a laugh, splashes Yoongi with sea water, kisses him dizzy in the sand.
But it’s the calm before the storm.
The next day, Jimin begins walking tenderly, knees giving out as if they’re boneless. He says it doesn’t hurt. But a fool could see the crease in his forehead, the struggle in his eyes.
Then it’s two in the morning and Jimin’s hand is pushing at his shoulder. “Yoongi. Yoongi, wake up.”
“Mhm?” He rolls over and Jimin’s eyes are much too wide for such a late hour. “What’s wrong, Jimin?”
He takes a shuddering breath and says, “I can’t feel my legs.”
There’s a rawness to his face, a new kind of panic which immediately surges through Yoongi as well. “Jimin, what—what can I do for you? I don’t know what to do, fuck, I’ve never—”
“It’s okay,” Jimin’s voice stays clam when the rest of him looks like a mess. “You’re tired,” he says. But Yoongi’s wide awake and has been for the past few minutes. “So go back to sleep. Maybe they’ll be good in the morning.”
They both know it won’t happen. Yoongi tries to hang onto a thin shred of hope, but Jimin’s expression is broken. It makes Yoongi understand some things can’t be healed by humans. “I can’t now. You need help, Jimin. Here, I’ll start a warm bath for you.”
A small hand reaches out, stops Yoongi from removing any blankets. “I’ll be okay,” Those eyes. “Just stay here. I’ll go back to sleep, too.”
And maybe everything was the calm before the storm, this wild and breathtaking storm called Jimin.
Jimin’s body is two sides of the same coin. Yoongi loves it—loves him, covets him, finds sweetness in every curve, every inch of him. But it’s a hostile body, one rejecting the idea of humanity, one destroying the man Yoongi cares about most.
Living with Jimin becomes like watching sand drain from an hourglass. And the sand has already started to slip; Yoongi can see time running out, can feel Jimin filter through his fingers. He always knew Jimin was like sand.
He thinks about Jungkook and Taehyung. Remembers them, wonders how they are. Yoongi imagines they’re healthy, and he pictures Jimin swimming beside them with a tail of shining silver.
But Jimin is here—next to Yoongi, fingers tight around Yoongi’s own, just lying in bed and listening to the familiar dialogue or The Little Mermaid because Yoongi had lugged the VCR into the bedroom. His breath is tight, smile weak, forehead coated in a thin sweat.
“Jimin, I need to do something,” Yoongi says, “I don’t want to see you in pain like this.”
Jimin doesn’t even look up. “It’s okay. Let’s watch the movie.”
He keeps saying that: It’s okay, it’s okay. But words won’t make anything better. “It’s not okay, Jimin. You’re hurting.”
And then he does look up, directly into Yoongi’s eyes. “Yes, it hurts. It’s hurt since I stood up for the first time. It’s not supposed to hurt, Yoongi. They said it wouldn’t hurt, but it does. I don’t care, though. I’m happy like this.”
Yoongi never knew he’d been in pain for weeks. All this time, everything they’ve done together, and he never knew.
The bed, with a television at its foot and the neat white sheets, looks like a hospital bed. And Jimin fits right in—weak, sick, thin. It’s surreal, how this is the same boy he’d met in sunlight on the beach.
There’s nothing he can do. Nothing he can do to keep from losing Jimin, because with every day that passes the sand in the hourglass drains faster. Yoongi cherishes every moment, but he’s been losing sleep knowing Jimin is getting worse and worse.
And then Jimin looks at him and says, “I love you, Yoongi. But I’m fighting inside myself and I don’t know if I can do that anymore.”
A silence falls over them—different from long ago, when they’d sit quietly and listen to the night sea together. Yoongi takes Jimin’s hand, puts his lips against the back of it. “One more day,” he can’t gather the strength to raise his voice above a whisper, “Spend one more day with me. Please, Jimin.”
When Jimin nods, he appears exhausted. Like he’s been working so hard, like all his bright energy is gone. Yoongi lies down next to him and wraps his arms around Jimin’s frame. Maybe if he holds Jimin tighter, or refuses to let go, then Jimin will stay forever. It’s the only thing he can do.
In the morning, they don’t say anything to each other. Yoongi has no idea what to say. Jimin is awake before Yoongi. He wonders if Jimin slept at all. Yoongi decides to take a shower, make some food, freshen up. It’s just routine; he can’t think about anything with Jimin so close. “Are you sure?” he asks, voice rough, “You can’t… you can’t make it another day?”
Jimin flashes the closest thing to a grin he’s seen in weeks. “If I could spend forever with you, I would.” He doesn’t need to say more.
They turn on the TV but they end up looking at each other instead. And suddenly Yoongi feels like every second he’s spent with Jimin wasn’t enough. He could stare at Jimin for days and it would never be enough.
Jimin holds back his discomfort until he can’t anymore and it all comes out in tremors and coughs and pained groans. He’s trying so hard to act fine when he never was. And after Jimin calms down from his fit, his eyes tell Yoongi he’s given up. He’s ready. “Yoongi,” he says it so weakly, so softly, clutching with frail fingers at the string of Yoongi’s jacket, “take me to the sea.”
Yoongi is sick to his stomach, but if this is the only thing he can do for Jimin, then he’ll so it. So Yoongi carefully draws an arm under the bend of Jimin’s knees, and at his waist, and he’s far too light. Jimin’s eyes flutter shut and his chest moves in shallow breaths. They make their way to the beach, and Jimin looks so small in his arms. He looks like he could break.
There they are again, on that same stretch of secluded sand, where nobody will find them. This place is theirs. It is the place where Yoongi learned impossible things can be real, the place where Yoongi fell in love.
“Set me down, please,” the last word is cut off by a violent cough on Jimin’s part, and blood squeezes out the corners of his mouth.
He remembers when Jimin’s skin was golden and glowing with color, when he looked healthy and his smile was the sun. Today his cheeks are grey, arms thin, smile weak and wavering. Yoongi doesn’t notice the tears until they slip to his chin and fall on Jimin’s chest. And once Yoongi begins crying, it’s impossible to stop and his body is wracked with chills and shudders.
“Don’t,” Jimin’s small hand cups his face, brushes the tears away, “I don’t like when you do that. It makes me sad.”
Yoongi is sad as well. He’s sad because the earth doesn’t deserve Jimin, doesn’t deserve this beautiful creature with so much pain inside him. He’s sad because the world is going to lose Jimin, and he’s going to lose Jimin, and both of those are miserable facts. He’s sad because, like a fool, he’d actually believed for the sweetest instant that they could give in to each other. He’s sad because he didn’t get to love Jimin for longer.
Jimin’s frail fingers hook themselves on the cord of shells, strung up at his throat, and carefully he tries to untie the cord but it’s too strong. “Help, please.” Yoongi does, and Jimin’s neck looks bare without the brightness around it. “This is yours now,” Jimin says, “Keep it safe.”
He doesn’t want it. A part of him wants to forget Jimin before he’s even gone. “I can’t take this, Jimin. You always wear it.”
“It’s perfect for you,” Jimin manages a shaky smile, “I love it. So I want you to have it.”
That’s when Yoongi realizes how far from human Jimin ever was. Without the necklace, he can clearly see the faded slits on Jimin’s neck. And as Yoongi cries, Jimin doesn’t. It makes him think that maybe tears are the most human thing of all.
He leans down, kisses Jimin so softly it’s like their lips hardly meet, but Yoongi will always remember this. He’ll always remember the smooth press of Jimin’s full mouth, the way his heart quickens at the feel of Jimin’s skin. He’ll always remember Jimin. It’s their last kiss.
“I love you,” Jimin whispers in a crackling voice, and it makes Yoongi ache all over, “I’m so happy today. The happiest ever.” He coughs, the blood resurfacing. Yoongi hardly registers the words through his silent tears. “But you have to go now. You can’t see me when I… when I leave.”
It dawns on Yoongi that Jimin never learned the verb ‘to die’. He never needed to; Jimin lived in goodness and sunlight, with no reason to think of death. But that makes it so much more real, that miserable things can happen even to the most precious people. That’s not something Yoongi can watch—for the life to fade out of Jimin’s brown eyes, for his skin to grow stiff and white and cold.
He cries as he holds Jimin’s hand. There’s blood pumping in his head and the world is spinning a bit, or maybe it’s just changing. The whimpers and sobs falling from his mouth don’t feel like they belong to Yoongi; nothing feels like it belongs to Yoongi, except the token necklace in his lap. “I love you, Jimin. So much.” He wishes he said those words sooner, maybe months ago, because Yoongi is sure they’ve always been true. Jimin’s entire face relaxes, like Yoongi just brought him all the relief of a lifetime, and Yoongi knows he has to leave like this: when Jimin is peaceful, when there’s a brief wash of color in his cheeks again.
Yoongi rises on wobbling legs and manages the blurry trip back to the house. He can’t look back. A hollowness stretches his stomach apart, stretches his whole body apart. Blindly, he strings Jimin’s necklace around his own neck like it’s the only natural thing to do. The cord falls beneath his shirt collar, but each shell and glass burns into his flesh.
It’s too much. Everything is too much. Yoongi folds into some couch in some room and his heart breaks as rain begins to fall.
In the morning, the beach is empty.
And Yoongi hates that it’s beautiful; the day more ethereal than any Yoongi can remember. Something about the sky, something about the water. Everything seems to shimmer and it takes Yoongi’s breath away. If Yoongi hadn’t loved so deeply, he’d believe Jimin never existed.
By nightfall, Yoongi is back home.
“This piece of shit doesn’t look a day older,” Yoongi plops his bag down and takes it all in: the disgusting shag carpet, the all-white furniture.
“Yeah, ‘cause people actually live here now. Or, they rent. But they’re on vacation, so we can just hold down the fort.”
Yoongi thinks the new owners could’ve at least replaced the carpet.
Seokjin enters then, followed shortly by Namjoon, who’s carrying enough bags for two people while Seokjin carries nothing. The older man whistles, “This is nice, Hoseok. Real cute place.”
They settle in easily, except for Yoongi. It’s been nearly a year and yet the air still clings to every memory of Jimin. Hoseok and Jin are quick to map out a rooming arrangement; Yoongi ends up sleeping in the bed he’s known so well, and it’s like putting on an old article of clothing after a long time or reading a diary he’d written as a child.
The first morning, he expects to roll over and see a small frame under the sheets, but he’s met with the broad shoulders and dark hair of Seokjin. The second morning, it’s the same. Yoongi almost cries.
The third morning he’s woken up by Hoseok climbing on top of him in a very unnecessary way. “Wake up, Yoongi,” he’s even loud when he whispers, “We’re going shell collecting.”
It soon becomes clear that ‘We’ meant ‘You and me’, because Namjoon and Jin are both fast asleep in different rooms and Yoongi’s stuck on the beach with Hoseok.
“We never got to do this last time, remember?” Hoseok swings a plastic bucket at his side, and Yoongi wonders if he brought it just to put shells in. “But you found the coolest ones.”
“I didn’t find them,” Yoongi says. He’s not sure how Hoseok interprets that, but his friend nods anyway. “And I don’t know where to get cool shells. They’re far away, I guess. Real deep underwater.”
Hoseok’s smile is too natural, too bright for an early morning. “Then we can collect lame shells. It’ll still be fun.”
They do have fun. Everything’s fun with Hoseok, and Yoongi wishes he realized that sooner. Wishes he paid more attention to his friends when they didn’t seem important for a while.
The beach looks the same. A new rock here and there, a fallen branch that had moved from before, but the same over all. Together, Yoongi and Hoseok pick up tiny shells like they’re breadcrumbs, and when they reach a familiar rock Yoongi stops walking. He almost expects to hear his own name, called soft in an airy voice, but nothing comes. “Something up?” Hoseok’s smile is brighter than the sun.
“I’m alright,” Yoongi says, “Let’s keep walking.”
They decide—or, Hoseok decides—to wade in knee-high water and scan for shells at their feet. And Yoongi can’t figure out why it’s so important to Hoseok that they find something amazing, but he looks anyway. His fingers hook on the neck of his tee in concentration, absently slipping below the neckline and fiddling with—
“Did you get that here?”
“Your necklace.” Oh. “You always wear it. I’ve been wondering, you know?”
All the shells and pearls are still in place, separated by small pieces of glass, vibrant as ever. “I did,” Yoongi can’t help the faint smile at his lips, “It was a gift. Long story.”
“We’re staying here the whole summer, man,” Hoseok laughs, “The story can’t be that long.”
He wants to tell Hoseok. Wants to tell Hoseok about the beautiful time he fell in love, the time he felt carefree and peaceful, the time he lost all of it. He wants to tell Hoseok it is that long, even longer than a summer, but he eyes are too busy searching the sand and his mind is too busy remembering little things that happened a year ago. “Someday I’ll tell you. Namjoon, too.”
Hoseok lets out a sharp gasp then, bending to pick up a handful of pearly shells. “These are perfect! Here, take a few.”
They’re not quite the same as Jimin’s shells—a bit rougher, duller. Yoongi gathers some in his palm, holds them up in the light. They go in his pocket rather than in Hoseok’s bucket, and he keeps one for his fingers to fiddle with.
Besides the greyness in the sky, it’s a clear and mild day. Yoongi wants to head into town later, to eat popsicles and take photographs of stupid things. He feels like he’s on vacation, when yesterday he could’ve sworn the beach was eerily like a home. To his right, Hoseok swings the bucket back and forth, back and forth, the soft click of colliding plastic and shell swallowed by the wave sound.
“Let’s head back,” Hoseok says, “We got some good ones.” It’s open-ended, punctuated by the question of, ‘Do you want to leave? Are you okay?’
Yoongi turns the shell over in his palm, “Yeah, we can go. I just wanna do something first.” He backtracks, jogs over to the large rock where he used to see Jimin’s smiling face every day, and sets the shell down in a small groove where it will be safe.
Hoseok doesn’t ask any questions. He lets Yoongi do whatever he needs to. And when Yoongi comes back, Hoseok beams at him, slings an arm over Yoongi’s shoulders.
That’s when the sky becomes golden, sun bouncing off the sand and waves. It looks like a vague idea of heaven, or of silvery scales under the moon. Together they walk back to the beach house on glowing sand, a bucket of shells between them.