"Do you believe in miracles?"
The young man sitting across from him furrows his brows, a single line forming on his forehead, right in center.
"Or fairy tales, maybe," Jeongguk adds, watching the waitress approach their booth. They both order a coffee, Jeongguk some concoction of vanilla and caramel and cinnamon spice because he's never liked the bitter taste of just coffee itself- she nods, jots it down on her pocket-sized notepad, walks away. He continues.
"It's a bit of both, I guess. I'm not really sure what to call it. Science fiction, perhaps?"
A slow nod, and the corners of his mouth quirking up a little. "I like science fiction," the young man says easily. The waitress comes back with their drinks- she's pretty, Jeongguk notes absentmindedly, all soft features framed by wavy brown hair, a sweet smile adorning her lips as she places the coffee on the table. The way her eyes crinkle slightly provokes a memory that runs all the way down Jeongguk's spine, making him sit up a little straighter.
"Good," he tells the other. "You're gonna like this story, then." He picks up his spoon and starts stirring, watching the different colours swirl and blend. "It's a sad one, though."
Jeongguk first meets Jimin when he's thirteen years old. They're in the same music course at school, a few kids from different classes thrown together. Jimin, two years older than him, is the kind of student everybody loves, all polite bows and bright smiles, and just as everybody else, Jeongguk takes a liking to him. A few exchanged words and smiles, and then Jimin's family moves and he's gone. Jeongguk forgets about him after a while.
The next time he sees Jimin, he's twenty. Jeongguk himself has just moved up to Seoul for university, and he still feels a little like he doesn't belong whenever he gets lost during rush hour or when someone points out his the slight accent he can't seem to lose. He's happy though, he really is. It's a fresh start, it's meeting new people and getting to know a new home all over again, and sometimes he feels like his younger self, a curious kid first straying from home, exploring the streets of Busan bit by bit, in awe at all the wondrous and colourful things they have to offer.
He's on his way back to his flat after lectures and decides to get a frappucino at some coffee shop he's never been to. The boy behind the bar looks as tired as he feels, and maybe as lost also, hurrying to tend to all customers in rushed movements, his apron a tad too big on his small frame. Something about the elegant slope of his nose and his plump lips seems familiar, but Jeongguk can't quite place it until it's his turn to order and the boy turns towards him.
"What can I get you?" he asks, smiling, and everything clicks into place.
Park Jimin doesn't remember him.
"No big deal," Jeongguk tells him hurriedly, "it's been a while, after all. I'm sure you've met many people in the meantime."
Someone behind him clears their throat, and Jeongguk shifts, taps his fingers against the counter once, twice. "And, uh- a chocolate fudge frappucino, please."
Jimin nods. "Music course, huh," he ponders aloud while he starts making Jeongguk's drink.
"Yeah. As I said, it's been a while."
Jimin looks up from the blender he's pouring coffee and ice into, something sharp in his gaze. "You're from Busan, aren't you? That was in Busan." The last part sounds more like he's muttering it to himself, but Jeongguk nods in confirmation anyways. Something wistful crosses Jimin's face, a quick shadow freezing his friendly smile, but before Jeongguk can really see it he's looking down again to finish his order. When Jimin hands him his cup, the smile is back in place. It's a nice smile, as soft and warm as Jimin's voice, like he's letting the world see a bit of the sunlight within him, just a little to shine through the cracks.
"We should hang out some time," Jeongguk says, clutching the plastic cup just a tad too tightly. "Us Busan boys, we should stick together."
He watches Jimin's smile widen. "Yeah. Home away from home, right? We should."
It's easy after that. It becomes a routine; Jeongguk taking the longer way home from university to stop by whenever Jimin works. After a while, Jimin takes to walking Jeongguk back to the flat when his shifts are over, and eventually he comes in with Jeongguk, sometimes to keep him company while he studies- which translates to him distracting Jeongguk until he postpones the essay writing- other times for lazy nights and takeout. Jeongguk's first impression of Jimin only solidifies over time- he really is warm, welcoming in a way that makes Jeongguk think that even if he weren't from the same city as him, he'd still feel like home. Jimin's smile is both the sunrise and twinkling stars in clear night skies, liquid warmth at times and pristine, untouchable light at others.
"And as these things go," Jeongguk tells the man who is looking at him attentively, chin propped in his palm, coffee forgotten by his elbow, "I found myself falling in love with him."
It's just a crush at first, infatuation with Jimin's bright smiles and the way his voice sounds late at night when it's just them, tired but not yet ready to say goodbye. With time passing and the two of them getting closer, Jeongguk finds more and more things to love about Jimin- and one Sunday afternoon, sitting next to him on the couch under a heap of blankets and pillows, watching a drama rerun, Jeongguk realises that he's in love.
Jimin makes an offhanded comment about one of the characters, voice low and a bit scratchy, and Jeongguk shifts to look at him, his reply dying on his lips. The afternoon sun is falling in through the courtains, painting a golden halo around Jimin's tousled hair and his sharp profile, and there's a soft smile playing on his lips as he turns to face Jeongguk. And Jeongguk's staring, he really is, but for a stretching moment he can't tear himself away. Everything is hazy in the soft light, Jeongguk's thoughts still slow with sleep and a headache distantly pounding in the same rhythm as his heart, but Jimin, right in front of him, is strangely clear. He wants to say something, anything, but his tongue is tied.
"Jimin," he starts quietly, almost inaudible, not sure what he's going to say next. The smile slowly fades from Jimin's lips and Jeongguk watches helplessly as his eyes harden, almost like he's steeling himself. Then Jeongguk blinks and Jimin's smile is back, but it doesn't reach his eyes.
"You hungry?" he asks, too chipper, too sudden. Before Jeongguk can react Jimin has jumped up from the couch and is on his way to the kitchen. Jeongguk swallows, falls back into the pillows, and says 'sure' into the empty room.
One Thursday, some time in November, Jeongguk walks into the coffee shop and Jimin isn't there. He stands in the middle of the room somewhat helplessly, then takes out his phone and checks the date. Thursday. Jimin has an afternoon shift today. Jeongguk was going to get coffee and a snack and study in the corner booth by the window, as he always does. Jimin would have come by from time to time, sneaking a refill or sitting down next to him for a short break; hook his chin over Jeongguk's shoulder and make fun of his messy handwriting.
He looks around, takes in cream coloured decor and the flowers lining the back wall, bordeaux curtains framing the window booths, the artful handwriting on a framed blackboard pointing out the special of the day. It's nice, always has been. But without Jimin here, the place has suddenly lost its charm.
The girl behind the bar greets him easily, recognizing him as a regular customer by now.
"He hasn't been in since Monday," she tells him when he asks about Jimin. Not sick- he simply leaves sometimes. The look she's giving Jeongguk is strange, almost pitiful. "He just does that sometimes. Disappears. Always comes back, though."
"Hey, don't worry. As I said, he always comes back. It's weird though, he never calls in sick or anything. He just... disappears." She frowns, as though she's only really thinking about it now.
"Okay," Jeongguk says. "Thanks. I'll be back."
He texts Jimin as soon as he's outside- and the next day, and the day after that. He gets no reply.
Days turn into weeks, but there's no sign of Jimin. Jeongguk goes back to the coffee shop every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, as he always did. The looks the girl- Seohyun, he learns after the fifth time- gives him are increasingly concerned. Yet, whenever they exchange a few words, she tells him not to worry. "He'll come back," she repeats. "He always does."
Jeongguk, in turn, repeats those words to himself over and over again in hopes he'll believe them eventually. The weeks amount to a month, and his messages remain unread. Christmas comes and Jeongguk takes a train down to Busan to spend it with his family. He thinks of Jimin a few times, wonders if maybe he'll run into him somewhere here, if maybe he went back to see his family too- but other than that his mind is occupied with last minute present runs and the endless chatter of distant relatives.
He returns to Seoul shortly before New Year's. The snow turns into rain, the days bleary and grey. Everything goes on as it usually does. He spends New Year's Eve out with his friends from university and doesn't remember much of it the next day. It's a Tuesday, so Jeongguk briefly considers going to the coffee shop, but then he discards the idea in favour of a lazy day spent at his flat, trying to cure his hangover with the help of aspirin, watery coffee and 80s horror flicks. The sound of rain hitting the windows lulls him into a sleepy state, lying on the couch buried under two blankets. There's a knock, but first Jeongguk thinks it's from the movie he's only half watching while scrolling through his phone- then it sounds again, louder this time, and he realises that someone's at his door. Jeongguk sighs, stretches, gets up and pads towards the door, the laminate cold against his bare feet.
When he opens it, he finds himself face to face with Jimin.
Jeongguk is frozen in place, his feet rooted to the floor. He stares at Jimin, wearing only a thin jacket and soaked to the bone, hair plastered to his forehead and his face flushed as though he ran the entire way to Jeongguk's flat.
"Jeongguk," Jimin says breathlessly, and the ban breaks.
Jeongguk steps to the side, tells Jimin to come in. He watches Jimin peel off his jacket and run a hand through his wet hair, movements shaky from either the rush or the cold. Jeongguk wordlessly takes off his hoody and offers it to the other.
"Hold up, I'll get you sweats too," he says, and Jimin nods gratefully. He looks out of it, like he's running from something. Jeongguk musters him worriedly. When Jimin has changed into dry clothes, they stand in the living room in uncomfortable silence.
"What-" Jeongguk starts, then breaks off. Jimin is looking at him as though he's scared of what's to come.
"Where," Jeongguk tries again, and Jimin physically flinches back. Jeongguk mutters a curse under his breath. "Come on. Let's just- sit down."
Jimin looks grateful. They sit on the couch, silence taking over again.
"Sorry" is the first thing Jimin says after Jeongguk's name. Jeongguk isn't sure what to say in response.
"I- you were gone for weeks."
"I know." Jimin sighs, runs a hand through his hair again. Dark circles underline his eyes, and he keeps biting his bottom lip.
"Aren't you gonna tell me where you went? What you were doing?"
Jeongguk feels bad for even asking, with how drained Jimin looks. "I was worried," he adds quietly. Taking a deep breath, Jimin closes his eyes for a few seconds. When he opens them again he's looking straight at Jeongguk.
"Sorry," he repeats. "I can't. And I don't want to lie."
Jeongguk swallows. His thoughts are running a mile a minute, possibilites, vague theories- but in the end it doesn't really matter, he realises as he takes Jimin in, sitting right here in his flat almost as he used to. Jimin is back. He's here.
So Jeongguk lets it go for now, tells himself Jimin will come around.
"Okay," he says, and he doesn't miss the grateful look Jimin sends him, relief brightening his features. Jeongguk smiles tentatively, shifts to lean against Jimin's shoulder, and pulls a blanket over them. He feels Jimin tilt his head and rest it on top of his own.
"Sorry," Jimin says again, this time quietly spoken into Jeongguk's hair, voice muffled.
"'S alright," Jeongguk murmurs. "I missed you."
Jimin doesn't answer, but Jeongguk swears he feels him press a soft kiss to the top of his head.
It's just as easy as it was the first time around; falling back into a routine with Jimin. The tension dissipates after a while and makes way for easy conversation and warm laughter, and Jeongguk watches the sun slowly creep back into Jimin's face until it reaches his eyes again.
There are moments when Jimin gets an oddly wistful look, though. He always covers it up, quickly changing the topic or cracking a joke, but it doesn't escape Jeongguk. Sometimes he wonders if Jimin misses someone, but he pushes the thought aside.
There's a lot he doesn't know about Jimin, he realises. He never speaks about his past, his family or his time at school, doesn't mention why he isn't attending university, or why he's in Seoul in the first place. One might say Jeongguk doesn't know him at all- but Jeongguk knows that his favourite food is kimchi jjigae and that Jimin can't cook to save his life, that his favourite movie is Scarface and that he's watched it a grand total of twelve times so far; he knows that Jimin's favourite season is late spring and that he loves to sing whenever he thinks no one is listening. He knows what Jimin's voice sounds like when he has just woken up, a few registers lower than his usual soft tone, a bit scratchy, sleep still clinging to his words and jumbling the syllables. He knows the way Jimin's laughter racks through his whole body when he can't hold it back, the way he tilts his head back and closes his eyes. And one thing Jeongguk knows for sure is that he's still in love with him.
The thing is- he catches Jimin looking, sometimes, gaze lingering just a second too long. He catches soft private smiles in the corner of his eye, vanishing when he turns. And there is that ever present wistfulness, that melancholy woven into Jimin's brown eyes, etched into his features as he looks into the distance, like he's expecting something, waiting for something that only he knows will happen.
Jeongguk kisses him on a night in early spring, when the snow and ice outside are almost entirely molten away, water and mud covering the sidewalks and the first flowers tentatively stretching their petals towards the spring sun in the parks.
Jimin kisses back with a fervour that borders on desperation. Then, abruptly, he pulls back, putting a hand on Jeongguk's chest to keep him from chasing after his lips. There still isn't much space between them; Jeongguk can feel Jimin's breath on his lips when he speaks.
"Jeongguk," he starts, and it sounds broken. "No."
Jeongguk asks the first and foremost thing on his mind. "Why?"
"I don't- I don't really do this." Jimin leans back further, inch by inch, making a sweeping gesture with his free hand. The other one is still resting against Jeongguk's chest, and Jeongguk is sure Jimin can feel his heart beating too fast.
"Relationships," Jimin interrupts, or maybe finishes. And Jeongguk thinks back to the times he'd seen hickeys colouring Jimin's throat; how he'd felt a pang of sadness whenever he saw them at first. Jimin never brought up a boyfriend or a girlfriend though, so after a while Jeongguk had discarded his worries.
"But you-" he starts again, but Jimin is shaking his had. There is that strange faraway look again, a pain Jeongguk doesn't understand.
"That's what you want, right? I can't give you that."
Jeongguk feels numb but- he lets it go. Tries not to think about how Jimin's expression is so full of sadness, it's almost like this hurts him more than it does Jeongguk.
"I'll-" Jeongguk falters, tries to swallow around the lump in his throat. "I'll take anything," he says quietly. He's aware of how desperate it sounds. He means it. Jimin is shaking his head again.
"You deserve a lot better than that." His voice cracks on the last word, and he turns away. A forceful exhale, then it's quiet. The clock above the door to the kitchen ticks loudly, running cracks into the heavy silence.
"I'll take friendship, then," Jeongguk says. Jimin only nods.
Jimin stays, even after that. They watch TV for a while, Jeongguk switching channels every five minutes. The absence of Jimin's obnoxious jokes and commentary is louder than the laughter he usually gets from Jeongguk in return. After an hour- maybe two- Jimin gets up, announces he's getting them something to eat. Jeongguk goes to his bedroom to fetch the last bottle of water. When he walks back into the living room, it's empty. There's no sound coming from the kitchen either. Jeongguk is almost hesitant to go and check. When he does, he finds nothing but closed cupboards and dirty dishes in the sink, everything just as he left it this morning. Jimin is gone.
This time, it takes a week until Jimin is at his door again. He's neither soaked nor out of breath, but he looks stressed. The first thing he does is pull Jeongguk into a hug, pressing his face into his shoulder. He doesn't speak until they're inside.
"I'm sorry," Jimin says, and Jeongguk suddenly feels tired, limbs heavy and head fuzzy. He doesn't ask where Jimin went. He doesn't ask why he left. Jimin sits on the counter as Jeongguk putters about in the kitchen making some instant ramen. They're chatting about everything and nothing. It feels a bit forced, like they're just spewing empty words to avoid everything else, but Jeongguk keeps going, talks about university and assignments and boring lectures with professors he hates. He mentions finals, offhandedly, and Jimin freezes.
"What's the date?" he asks, cutting Jeongguk off mid-sentence.
"Um. 17th? 18th maybe?"
Jeongguk's gaze falls to Jimin's fingers clutching the edge of the counter like it's his lifeline, knuckles turning white.
"What month?" Jimin asks, significantly more quiet this time.
"I forgot to ask, I-" Jimin lets go of the counter and rakes a hand through his hair. It gets caught halfway through and he rips at the strands impatiently. "I didn't ask anyone before I got here," he starts again. "So what month is it?" He looks panicked, eyes wide and voice too high. Jeongguk steps away from the stove to fully face him.
"April. What the fuck, Jimin."
Jimin laughs. It sounds bitter; self-deprecating. "I just- I came here as soon as-" and he breaks off again, presses his lips together. "Fuck, Guk. It's been two months, and then another few days and- I missed you so much. I went to see you as soon as I could."
Jeongguk feels something sinking in his stomach. "It's been a week," he says. His mouth is too dry. "You left a week ago."
Jimin is staring at him like he can't comprehend what Jeongguk's saying. There's so much Jeongguk doesn't know- so much Jimin won't let him know, and Jeongguk's helplessness turns into anger.
"It's been a week since you just left without saying a single word. You could have- fuck, this isn't about you rejecting me, before you say anything. It's about you just leaving afterwards. Do you have any idea how I felt? I get it, you don't want- you just want to be friends, nothing more. But fuck, Jimin. A friend wouldn't just run out like that."
He lets himself fall back against the counter, trying to keep his eyes on Jimin. The other stands there, motionless. Jimin's hair is black now, and under the neon lights hung in the kitchen his skin looks pale in contrast. His expression- and it hurts Jeongguk, even now- is shattered.
"You don't know," Jimin chokes out, voice shaky. "You don't-" he breaks off, pressing his lips together and looking up at the ceiling. His eyes are shining with unshed tears when he focuses on Jeongguk again. "I should go."
Jimin leaves, this time with saying goodbye.
Jeongguk finds himself at the coffee shop the following Tuesday more out of habit than anything. His feet have carried him there before he realises it. It doesn't matter, though, because Jimin isn't in. Seohyun flashes him a smile from behind the counter; one full of sympathy, and Jeongguk feels sick.
It's Friday evening when there's a knock on his door, and this time Jeongguk is prepared; already knows. It's getting old. He feels tired, trapped. Nevertheless, he opens the door for Jimin. What he isn't prepared for is Jimin pulling him into yet another hug, more crushing than the last, and not letting go until Jeongguk clears his throat awkwardly. A step back, and Jimin is watching him wordlessly. Jeongguk doesn't move from where he's standing on the doorstep, blocking the entrance.
He shakes his head when Jimin asks, almost tentatively, if he can come in. It feels strange, hearing him ask, simply because he never had to.
"You can't just keep doing this." Jimin is staring at him as though Jeongguk's the one hurting him, not the other way around. "You can't keep leaving for days or weeks or months and then turn up at my doorstep, over and over," Jeongguk tells him. His own words sting on his lips as he says them.
"I can't do anything else," Jimin says.
Voices downstairs, laughter ringing through the hallways. Jeongguk feels far away from it all.
Jimin shifts on his feet like he wants to step forward but can't, his hands clasped together in front of him, hair falling into his eyes when he looks down.
The lamp above them flickers. Jeongguk taps a nervous rhythm against the door frame with his index finger, not knowing where to look, what to say, how to feel.
"If you let me explain- I will. This time I'll tell you whatever you want to know, I promise," Jimin says quietly, words rushing out too quickly, voice brittle.
Another flicker. "Okay," Jeongguk says.
Jimin makes him sit down, not losing another word until they're situated on the couch, facing each other. The way Jimin huddles into the pillows and pulls his knees up to his chest makes him look so uncomfortable, Jeongguk feels obligated to tell him he doesn't have to be here.
"I do," Jimin says. "I owe you this. And I want to be."
Jeongguk never actually gets to ask any questions. Jimin starts talking before he has the chance.
"Please give me a chance to finish explaining this." He sounds a bit hoarse, like he has to force the words out. Jeongguk nods- and Jimin tells him.
It started when he was twelve. That was the very first time it happened, Jimin recounts, looking past Jeongguk's shoulder and out of the window, but it wouldn't be the last. He had opened a door- at home, the door separating the living room from the hallway- and stepped through it, skipping over the treshold as he always did. A split second of darkness, soundless and empty- then he'd been somewhere else. Not their house, not even in a room. He'd stood in the middle of a sidewalk by a street he'd never seen.
"I was only twelve," Jimin says quietly. "You can imagine how lost I was. For a while, I tried to find some place I knew so I could walk back home from there. But wherever I turned, I didn't recognize anything." He pauses, swallows. "Then, I went to look for my parents. I asked random passersby at first, where I was and how to get back home- but they only gave me strange looks. Some told me they didn't know the place I was speaking of. So eventually, I went to a police station." Jimin pauses again, hugs his knees to his chest a little tighter. "I went there only to find out they didn't exist. And according to the records, I didn't either."
Jeongguk stares at him in disbelief. Opens his mouth, closes it again because nothing comes to mind. All he can do is wait for Jimin to continue.
The city Jimin had found himself in was one he'd never heard of. He had checked a map, later, only to see that it was exactly where Busan should be.
"Some things were the same. Geographically, the world looked pretty much the way I knew it. But the people were different, the names of countries and cities. And I- I didn't belong there. I technically didn't exist there."
Jeongguk can't catch up. He's listening, but- he can't catch up.
Two weeks. Two weeks Jimin spent in a place he'd never known, sent to an orphanage by the police while they were trying to find out where he came from, who his parents were. It was a waste of time, Jimin says, a bitter smile on his lips, because there was never anything they could have found.
On the fifteenth day, he opened the door to his shared bedroom at the orphanage- and then he'd been back in Busan.
"Jimin," Jeongguk whispers. Too many thoughts are running through his head, making his temples ache and his eyes sting. He can't grasp any of them, can't articulate what he's thinking.
"Don't look at me like that," Jimin croaks. He meets Jeongguk's eyes for the first time since he's started speaking. "Don't. Just- let me finish. Give me a chance."
Jeongguk nods wordlessly, simply because there's nothing else he can do. Jimin- his friend Jimin whom he's gotten to know so well, who he's spent hours and hours with, sits in front of him and spins a tale of insanity that leaves Jeongguk reeling, speechless. He doesn't know what hurts more; seeing the sadness run free in Jimin's eyes or hearing- whatever it is he's telling Jeongguk. Jeongguk doesn't understand, doesn't want to understand, doesn't want to hear it at all. Because it's insane, and the Jimin in front of him doesn't quite match with the Jimin he knows. But he promised to listen; to give him a chance. So he does.
"My parents had reported me as missing," Jimin continues. "Of course they had. I vanished without a trace, without any indication as to what happened or where I went. I didn't think of any of that when I went straight back home. My mother, she- she wouldn't stop crying, even when she had me in her arms again. And god, I was just a kid. I wasn't thinking. So I told her what happened, just like I'm telling you now." He lets out a bitter laugh, short and humourless. "She looked at me the same way you're looking at me now."
He lets out a breath. Cars are driving by outside, people are talking underneath the window. Jeongguk's living room- the worn out couch and the shitty TV, the lamp by the table that he keeps running into just after waking up, the beige carpet that has faint stains of dropped takeout on it, and ultimately Jeongguk and Jimin- feels like it's suspended in time.
"I found out later that I had been missing for a little over two months. The police had declared me dead already."
Something clicks in Jeongguk's mind.
"Time passes differently," he mutters. Jimin looks up sharply, surprise colouring his features.
"That's why- that's why you asked for the date back then, that's why you said it's been two months when it'd just been a handful days."
Something shifts in Jimin's expression, like clouds moving to let a bit of sunlight through. The shimmer in his eyes resembles hope, and Jeongguk's head hurts.
"It's irregular," Jimin tells him. "Completely devoid of any pattern. There's no relation, nothing."
A parellel universe, that's what Jimin calls it. He didn't have a label for it back then, didn't for a long time. But it happened again and again. In between, his parents saw it for what it was; a plain and simple, yet absurd truth. That didn't stop it from happening. They adjusted, hard as it was. Travelled around the world trying to find answers- but no one had anything to offer, so in the end they gave up.
And then, Jimin had been fourteen, he found himself in yet another place he didn't recognize. He was young, still so young, but he had learned, so he was more careful this time around. Instead of officials he sought out books, studied foreign names of cities and countries. Again the city he'd come to should have been Busan- but it wasn't. It didn't resemble the alternative version of Busan he'd come to know in any way other than geographical situation either. Instead, it was yet another new world.
Six, he tells Jeongguk. There are six of them, including the one they're in right now.
"Maybe there are more." Jimin shrugs, like it's the most natural thing in the world. "But I only have access to six of them."
Over the years, Jimin has tried everything he could think of. He started studying astrophysics in a world where Europe is at war. When he left in the middle of the third semester, he continued by himself in another one; a world where the poles aren't melting. The stars, he says, smiling a little, are always the same. So Jimin read through book upon book on astrophysics, writing down anything related to theories about alternative universes and parallel timelines that he could find in a notebook he carried with him at all times so not to lose his work. He moved on to quantumphysics, read desertations about the string theory, sought out professors and scientists in different worlds. He didn't find any answers.
"I still don't know," he concludes. "I'm not even sure it would change anything if I did."
Jeongguk is silent. He remains silent, even when Jimin doesn't continue. His throat is dry, his tongue feels foreign in his mouth. All of a sudden, Jimin seems like a stranger. A minute passes, then more. Jimin is looking at him inquiringly, and Jeongguk knows he's waiting for him to say something, anything- but he can't.
"You don't believe me," Jimin says eventually. The worst part is that he's smiling through it, a fragile smile to hide everything trying to break through his voice.
"I don't know," Jeongguk murmurs. "I don't- it makes sense. In a fucked up way."
Jimin unclasps his hands, straightens his legs and starts fiddling with the hem of a blanket that's carelessly tossed onto the armrest.
"I can't prove anything to you." His fingers still, tap against the worn out material a few times. "I wish you would believe me because- I want you to understand. Why I can't-" he inhales sharply, presses his lips together for a brief moment. His hair falls into his eyes when he looks down again, but Jeongguk thinks he sees them glistening with tears for a second. "Why I can't stay," Jimin finishes. His voice cracks halfway through. Jeongguk's heart cracks along with it. And maybe, he thinks, it doesn't really matter, at least not for now. Because whether Jimin is telling the truth or not, he's sitting opposite to Jeongguk, looking small and tired and broken, and Jeongguk has difficulty breathing properly with the lump that's blocking his throat. He swallows. Shifting his weight, he carefully scoots over to Jimin.
"I believe you," he says quietly. It's not a lie, it's not the truth. Jimin lifts his head, blinks forcefully a few times before focusing on Jeongguk. Minutes pass outside while inside time continues to trickle slowly. A heartbeat, then Jimin finally moves, leans in until his face his pressed into the junction of Jeongguk's shoulder and neck. Jeongguk closes his eyes and brings one hand up to Jimin's back, rests the other at the back of his neck just lightly.
Time passes slowly, but even for them it doesn't stop. Eventually- too soon- Jimin pulls back. He looks just as sad as before.
"I'm not really here, Jeongguk." He squeezes his eyes shut for a moment. "I don't belong here. I don't belong anywhere. I can't stay anywhere."
It hurts. Jeongguk stares at Jimin and finds himself wondering how he ended up here; how he went from being a normal university student with friends to go out or to stay in and have movie marathons and take out with to having a boy on his couch who claims he can travel between different versions of the world they know.
"But you always come back," Jeongguk says. He remembers how Seohyun had told him the very same thing, back when Jimin had first disappeared. She'd been right.
"That's all I need to know."
Jimin stays, that night. Not many more words are exchanged, and Jeongguk tries to express everything he can't say in soothing touches. It starts raining outside, warm summer rain without a doubt, and combined with the dimmed lights in the room everything is lulled into a hazy, calm state. Even Jeongguk's frantic heartbeat and restless thoughts slow down eventually. A quiet understanding settles between them, a tentative sort of peace Jeongguk prays will last. Jimin leans back against his chest and eventually falls asleep- Jeongguk, though, stays up for a while longer, watches Jimin slowly slide down until his head is resting in Jeongguk's lap. He looks peaceful in his sleep, sorrows smoothed away and eyes shut to seal the sadness that resides in them. Jeongguk listens to his quiet breathing and the cars driving by under his window.
He wakes up with a crick in his neck and numb legs. Outside it's already broad daylight, the sun blinding him until he turns away and rubs his eyes. Jimin, he realises belatedly, is gone. Sighing, Jeongguk lets his head fall back against the cushions. Last night comes back to him bit by bit, every word said and every single thing felt. His train of thought is interrupted by a clanging sound from the kitchen's direction, and Jeongguk jumps up so quickly his head spins for a second, black dots marring his vision.
He finds Jimin in the kitchen, back turned towards the door and handling bowls and frying pans.
"You're here," he blurts, then clears his throat because his voice is still scratchy with sleep. Jimin whirls around, obviously not having heard him come in, and Jeongguk catches the hurt flitting over his face before a soft smile takes over.
"I am," Jimin says, even his voice carrying all the warmth of his smile. He turns back around to look at whatever it is he's attempting to cook, hands a bit shaky as he stirs. "You okay?"
"Yeah. I think."
Jeongguk quietly pads over and winds his arms around Jimin from behind. Jimin freezes for a second, then continues as before.
"It's a lot to take in, I know that," he says, subtly leaning back into Jeongguk's chest. It's a good fit, Jeongguk thinks. He hooks his chin over Jimin's shoulder, a satisfied smile pulling at his lips. "I'm glad you told me." He turns to press his face into Jimin's neck, breath hitting his skin when he continues. "I was- I was angry at you and you didn't even- you didn't do anything. I'm sorry."
Jimin hums contentedly. "'S okay," he murmurs.
Over breakfast, they fall into a heated discussion about which gaming console is the best, and it's almost like old times. Neither of them have anything planned today- well, Jeongguk has an assignment that he decides to ignore- so Jimin stays. They spend the afternoon playing mario kart with a bag of chips between them and easy conversation interrupted only by the occasional string of curses. When they've finished their tenth cup in a row and Jimin has gotten his revenge, he puts the controller onto the arm rest next to him and turns to Jeongguk.
"We should get dinner together," Jimin says, and he's glowing with an afternoon of laughter, mirth stored away in his eyes, colouring them a warm brown. Jeongguk can't tear himself away for a moment, then agrees.
It's a mild summer night, many people still out and about, but Jeongguk isn't really paying attention to anything but Jimin. They find a restaurant, hidden away in a narrow side street, a hole in the wall place with cozy dim lights and worn out but comfortable chairs. It's not really a date, or at least Jeongguk doesn't think it is- because nothing has changed, their conversations and jokes and suppressed laughter the same it always is when they order takeout to Jeongguk's flat too late at night, sitting crosslegged on the floor in sweats, an array of boxes and napkins and chopsticks between them. Jeongguk finds that he doesn't mind, though. In truth, he's just happy that Jimin is back, by his side and smiling the way he knows.
Far past midnight finds them standing outside, and Jimin is saying something about how he should get home because he has an early shift tomorrow- but Jeongguk interrupts him, tongue loosened a bit thanks to the four shots of soju they had after dinner.
"You know, I've never actually been to your place."
Jimin stills. "It's not nice like yours," he says quietly, looking down as his feet. Jeongguk isn't sure if he catches him shrugging.
"Don't mind," he says, watching Jimin with concern. "So where do you live? You've honestly never even-"
"I don't really have a home," Jimin cuts in, suddenly sounding impatient. The look he gives Jeongguk is as sharp as his tone.
"I have a bed and a few things in a storage room." Jimin sighs, tilts his head back to look up into the night sky. Jeongguk swallows.
"Look, I- I mean, you could've said something. You could crash at my place more often, it's big enough. Fuck, you could move in if you wanted to."
Jimin shakes his head, but at least he's facing Jeongguk again. "It's fine, Jeongguk. I'm used to it, you know? Switching between six different worlds kinda makes you feel like you're on the run all the time. No real sense in trying to make a home in one of them."
It's the first time since last night that he's brought the topic up. Jeongguk- still- doesn't quite know how to react.
"Then how do you- where do you stay, when you're-" he breaks off, considers. "When you're elsewhere?"
Another sigh escapes Jimin's lips, but at least his features have softened. "Come on, let's walk," he says, motioning for Jeongguk to come along.
Traveling between six worlds makes it hard to settle. Jimin carries most of the money he has with him wherever he goes, different currencies stowed away in his pockets, simply because there's no way to tell when he's going to end up somewhere else. He's always somewhat short on money- after all, who wants an employee who just disappears without notice from time to time?
"There's no reason for me to try renting places that I only occupy- well, every once in a while," Jimin says, kicking at an empty plastic cup lying on the sidewalk.
"Then what do you do? Where do you stay when you're not here?" Jeongguk tries not to let too much of his concern slip into his voice, but he feels like it bleeds through regardless, judging by the brief glance Jimin spares him before resuming his stoic staring ahead.
"I stay at friends' places. It's- it's kinda hard to make friends, what with me never sticking around but- I have a few." He laughs. It's not a nice sound. Jeongguk shudders and pulls his thin jacket a little closer to his body.
"Yeah. They know. It's funny," Jimin muses, "I have one of those friends in every world. This one was the exception, and then I met you."
Jeongguk feels sick, still, but that doesn't stop the light flutter he feels at Jimin's words. He forces himself not to stare at Jimin again, instead keeps walking besides him, trying to match his brisk pace.
"So wherever you go, you stay at a friend's place, but you won't stay at mine."
"That's not." Jimin stops, takes a deep breath. "That's not the same."
The end of the semester comes around, and Jeongguk celebrates it the only appropriate way- he throws a party at his flat. The job he's taken a few months ago has paid considerably well; well enough that with the help of a few friends he can fork up enough to provide drinks completely on the house.
Jimin has been around for a few weeks. Things are as normal as they could be, considering. He's started telling Jeongguk about his friends from the other worlds from time to time. Jeongguk wonders if he ever misses them. He finds out that Jimin himself is a dancer in a world where he's best friends with a guy called Jung Hoseok; that he works at Kim Namjoon's library in another one. "Jin's place is my favourite to stay at," he tells Jeongguk with a small smile on his lips and mirth in his eyes, "because he's the best cook."
Jeongguk almost says 'I wish I could meet them', but then thinks better of it and swallows his words.
He's already on his way to being drunk when Jimin arrives at the party. Jeongguk can't really hear what he's trying to tell him over the thumping bass, but Jimin shrugs and flashes him a brilliant smile and it's just as well. Jeongguk grabs his wrist and pulls him over to his friends just in time for a round of shots. That one is followed by another, then another, and eventually Jimin's smile becomes more loose, his gestures fluid and careless. And Jeongguk- Jeongguk can't stop staring. He's not the only one, with how people seem to gravitate towards Jimin, and after a while he gets whisked away by some of his friends. When he sees Jimin again, an hour later, maybe two- the other is properly drunk. Jeongguk laughs when Jimin loops his arm around his shoulders and pulls him into a hug. Jimin takes a somewhat wobbly step back and mouths something Jeongguk interprets as a greeting, cheeks glowing and a cheeky smile in place of the usual open one. Jimin's eyes flicker down to his lips and it's natural then; to bring a hand up from his back to his neck and to lean in until they're only a few inches apart. It's Jimin who closes the distance, this time. And maybe it's the alcohol, or the taste of rum and coke that lingers on Jimin's lips, the stuffy air in the flat and the pounding bass line of the music- but Jeongguk's world is spinning, tilting on it's axis and all he can do is watch everything shift and realign. Jimin's hands clutching his shirt are enough to ground him a little, but still, he feels delirious. A heartbeat and then Jimin pulls back, just enough that their eyes meet, and all breath Jeongguk has left is knocked out of him. For a second he's scared Jimin will push him away again, subconsciously pulls their bodies closer together- but then Jimin smiles, tentative and warm, and Jeongguk can only briefly think how ethereal he looks on this summer night, hair pushed out of his eyes and cheeks flushed, before Jimin leans back in to kiss him again. It's slower this time, oddly gentle and sweet in the middle of so much movement and sound. Jeongguk forgets about all of it, his mind and his body chanting Jimin's name on repeat. Jimin runs his tongue along his lips and bites down briefly, and Jeongguk is pretty sure he makes an embarassing high sound in the back of his throat. Jimin smiles against his lips before separating again. "I'm gonna get us another drink," he murmurs, lips barely grazing Jeongguk's as he speaks. Jeongguk nods, steals another kiss before Jimin can turn away. He can't hear Jimin's laughter over the music, but seeing the way his eyes shut and he throws his head back is more than enough.
Jeongguk sighs, momentarily gets lost in the memory.
"I wish this was the happy ending I'd love to hear, but I get a feeling it isn't," the young man across the table says quietly.
Jeongguk's fingers find the straw sticking out from his cup. He starts slowly tracing patterns in the remaining foam, looking but not really seeing.
"Thinking about it, it's just the beginning, really."
A few minutes pass. Jeongguk takes out his phone to glance at the time, then keeps looking at it to keep track. Ten minutes, then twenty, then thirty. Maybe Jimin got caught up in some drinking game, or someone's holding him up in conversation, he thinks. Jeongguk makes his way through the crowded living room to check the kitchen; there are only a few people in there, all considerably drunk, getting refills. Jimin isn't among them. Jeongguk sees Yugyeom and walks over, steps a little unsteady, to tap him on the shoulder. Yugyeom jumps, spills half of the Bacardi he was trying to pour into a red cup, then turns around.
"Ah, Jeongguk!" He claps Jeongguk's shoulder a little too forcefully. Jeongguk smiles.
"Hey. Yeah, me. Have you seen Jimin?"
Yugyeom furrows his brows in thought. He looks so concentrated, it's almost funny. "Well," he starts. Pauses. Squints a little. "I mean. Bambam saw him earlier? Funny, he swore up and down he saw Jimin in the doorway to the kitchen one second and- he said he was gonna go over and talk to him, but then Jimin vanished in the next. Like. Just gone." He makes a vaguely descriptive motion with both hands, effectively spilling the rest of his drink. Jeongguk is frozen in place.
"But dude," Yugyeom continues, "Bambam got crossfaded. Ten minutes later he asked me to give him another one of those pink drinks. We don't have pink drinks."
"Right," Jeongguk manages. "Right," he repeats mechanically. His head is spinning, and this time it really isn't courtesy of the alcohol. Yugyeom laughs lightly and shrugs, turning around to pour himself a new drink.
Jeongguk shakes his head. "Nah, I'm good. You know where I can find Bambam?"
Yugyeom knocks back a shot, pulls a face. "I think I saw him leave, what, ten minutes ago?"
Jeongguk nods again. Jimin is gone. Jimin is gone and there's no way to know when he'll be back. Jimin will be gone for god knows how long and- Jeongguk just kissed him because he's drunk and in love and always scared Jimin won't be there the next time he turns around and-
"Man, you okay?"
It takes him a few seconds to even notice Yugyeom's hand resting on his shoulder. The other is looking at him with mild concern, with all the graveness a drunk college student can muster. Jeongguk, in turn, tries his best to muster a smile.
"Yeah, sure. Just had too much, I guess."
Yugyeom nods and lets his hand fall back, arms hanging awkwardly by his side now that he isn't occupied with a bottle.
"I saw you and Jimin earlier, you know. Hope you guys can work it out, whatever is going on between you." He flashes Jeongguk a grin. "Bit of a flighty one that Jimin, huh?"
"You could say that," Jeongguk murmurs.
As is protocol, Jeongguk gets drunk. Well, more drunk. In fact, he gets fucked up enough that for a minute he worries he's going to throw up on the balcony. He doesn't. Instead he stands outside and stares at the city lights stretching to the horizon, fingers clutching the railing too tightly. Everything before that is a blur, like the lights moving underneath. The party thins out in the early hours of the next morning, the barest hint of a sunrise colouring the sky behind the skyscrapers in the distance peach and orange tones. A few of Jeongguk's closer friends feel generous enough to stick around and clean up with him. As in; Wheein makes him sit on the couch and keeps bringing him glasses of luke warm water that she forces him to drink under her supervision, while the others do their best to rid the floor of glasses and bottles and the occasional article of clothing. It's 6am when everybody has left. Jeongguk lets out a heavy sigh and lets his head fall back onto a stack of pillows. He's tired. The effects of all the shots he took earlier are wearing off, and now he's mostly feeling sick. He manages to drag himself into his bed, then he's out.
He's awoken by someone gently tapping his shoulder.
"Guk, hey. Jeongguk."
It takes Jeongguk a while to come to his senses. The first thing he feels is a distant headache. He carefully cracks one eye open, then the other, only to be blinded by the sun falling in through his bedroom window. Jeongguk groans and screws his eyes shut again, reaching out to pull the blanket over his head. There's a muffled giggle from somewhere behind his back.
Jimin. It's Jimin. Jeongguk kicks the blanket off and sits up so fast his head spins.
"You're back," he croaks. His throat is sore, the taste of alcohol lingers, his headache is getting worse by the minute. It doesn't matter. Jimin is sitting crosslegged on his bed, wearing an oversized hoodie that Jeongguk is pretty sure is his own, and there's something so gentle in his eyes, Jeongguk's heart misses a beat.
"Of course," Jimin replies quietly, voice soft. He looks like he belongs here, sitting on Jeongguk's bed, the sun falling in through the window and hitting him just right, the soft light painting his skin golden and making his dark eyes gleam. Jeongguk stares. He feels like he's still dreaming.
"I thought I lost you again," he mumbles through his teeth, finally averting his gaze and staring down at the sheets.
"I promised, didn't I?" Rustling, then Jimin is sitting beside him. The silence is comfortable. Jeongguk is comfortable.
"Sorry I woke you up," Jimin says, and Jeongguk doesn't need to look at him to know he's smiling. "Your door was actually open, before you ask."
Jeongguk hums. "What time's it?"
"Ten." Jimin shifts again and leans his head against Jeongguk's shoulder. "You should go back to sleep."
Jeongguk is silent for a moment. He can feel a smile tugging at his lips, regardless of the awful headache and how dry his throat is. "Will you stay?" he asks quietly, tilting his head to rest it on top of Jimin's.
"Yeah," Jimin utters on an exhale, and Jeongguk lets the smile through.
The next time Jeongguk wakes up the sun is already low in the sky, faint orange illuminating his room. He's alone, but he can hear music playing from the living room and the sound of plates clattering in the kitchen. Jeongguk smiles to himself and gets up, only grabbing a bottle of water and chugging back half of it before walking out of the room. His headache is better but still there, yet Jeongguk feels like he's floating, everything hazy and soft, the knowledge Jimin is here and they're alright tugging at the corners of his mouth until he can't help but smile again. Jimin is standing at the counter with his back to the door, and Jeongguk lingers at the entrance for a bit. He's not sure where they stand after last night- Jimin had come back as soon as he could so Jeongguk assumes he isn't mad, but part of him is scared of being rejected again, of Jimin dismissing the kiss as a drunken mistake and letting him down easy. Then again, the last time Jimin told him no was before he let Jeongguk in on his secret, and Jeongguk realises that Jimin never really said that he didn't like Jeongguk- only that he couldn't stay.
"What's got you rooted to the spot?"
Jeongguk, admittedly, jumps a little. Jimin is looking at him over his shoulder, smiling in thinly veiled amusement. "Good morning," he adds, smile widening, then he turns back to whatever it is he's cooking. He's still wearing Jeongguk's hoodie- it's a size too big on him, the sleeves covering half his hands. Jeongguk chokes out a 'morning' and decides to take another risk.
In the end it's easy, wordlessly padding over to Jimin and winding his arms around the other, fitting his chest to Jimin's back. It reminds him of that morning earlier in spring, just after Jimin had told him. The memory seems like it stems from a different lifetime, and maybe, Jeongguk thinks, in this one he has another chance.
When Jimin sighs contentedly and leans back into Jeongguk's embrace ever so slightly, it's easy to bend down just a bit and press a soft kiss to Jimin's neck. Jimin tilts his head to the side and Jeongguk smiles before softly biting down, only to immediately kiss the tender skin again. Jimin utters his name on an exhale and lets Jeongguk trail kisses up to his jawline for a few more seconds before carefully closing his hands around Jeongguk's and moving them from his hips, giving him enough space to turn around. Seeing Jimin so close and with an expression so open, vulnerable yet happy, the tiniest upwards quirk to his full lips, the smile more in his eyes than anything- it takes Jeongguk's breath away. Jimin pulls him closer again, the force of it contrasting the brief moment of hesitance before his lips find Jeongguk's, hands sliding up his chest and to the back of his neck.
Jeongguk remembers everything about that late afternoon in odd clarity. It's more than a memory; never faded with time. It remains vivid and colourful in the back of his mind, like something to hold on to even when Jimin isn't there. He remembers Jimin leading him back to his room and the look in his eyes changing from warm to something darker when Jeongguk takes off his shirt. Remembers Jimin pushing him back into the still crumpled sheets, leaning over him and trailing kisses down his chest. Remembers threading his fingers through Jimin's hair when he leaves marks on the insides of Jeongguk's thighs before finally taking him into his mouth, remembers Jimin's fingers stretching him and Jimin moving back up to distract him with open mouthed kisses. The feeling of Jimin inside him, Jeongguk arching his back up from the bed, bunching the sheets in his fists until Jimin's hands find his and he gently interlaces their fingers. Jimin looking down at him with something like awe written in his features, panting a broken 'god, Jeongguk' before leaning back in to kiss him, sloppy and rushed and perfect. Jeongguk remembers moaning Jimin's name against the other's lips when he comes, Jimin collapsing on top of him afterwards and knocking a breathless laugh out of him, lazily kissing his neck, his jaw, and finally his lips, this time much more languid and slow. He remembers how happy he'd felt, relieved like he'd been holding his breath for weeks and could only come up for air now with Jimin in his arms, but most of all he remembers the tone of Jimin's voice when he softly uttered Jeongguk's name after a while, moving to lie on his side, propping his head up and looking at Jeongguk through his fringe.
"You know I didn't mean to-" he starts, and Jeongguk's heart sinks. It must show in his expression, because Jimin quickly reaches out to tenderly brush some hair out of his face, fingers wandering down to his cheek and lingering for a few seconds.
"Hey, it's not what you think," he tells Jeongguk quietly. Jeongguk swallows, nods, tries his best not to look worried.
"I need you to know that I didn't mean to hurt you, back when I-" Jimin exhales heavily and closes his eyes for a moment. There's a small line between his brows now, and Jeongguk is overcome with the need to reach out and brush it away.
"I just didn't mean to. Quite the opposite, actually." He lets out a breathy laugh. Jeongguk moves over, closer, and winds an arm around Jimin, pressing a hand between his shoulder blades. When Jimin scoots closer as well he presses his face into the other's chest.
"We can talk about it later," Jeongguk murmurs, tilting his head to mouth at Jimin's collarbones. "Please."
He feels more than sees Jimin move, a brief nod probably. "Alright," Jimin answers quietly.
Truthfully, both of them would rather not bring it up; would prefer to keep the moment simple and sweet until it inevitably shatters. But everything that prevented them from having this lingers between them still, making the air thicken like tarr above their heads waiting to drip down and suffocate them, and it doesn't take long for Jeongguk to try and free his lungs, lift the constricting weight from his chest by speaking up. In true Jeon Jeongguk manner, he tries to get straight to the point so there isn't much room for doubt and hesitance.
"I don't mind, you know," he tells Jimin, just so arranging his thoughts before rushing to continue. "It's not like it changes how I feel about you," he says quietly. Jimin sits up and turns to look at him, gaze both inquiring and hopeful. "You're the same Jimin, it's just that now I know a bit more about you. I- I liked you before and I like you know. Really, it doesn't change anything."
Jimin sighs, and Jeongguk tenses.
"It will, though. One day you'll get sick of me leaving. One day I'll stay away just long enough for you to get over it. Either way, one of us will get hurt."
Jeongguk knows. He's thought about it, lying awake in the darkest hours of the night after chugging one energy drink too much, trying to meet deadlines for assignments. He's thought about it, watching the sun rise above the skyscrapers of Seoul, mind still somewhat hazy with sleep yet already filled with Jimin, Jimin, Jimin. He's thought about it sitting in his booth at the coffee shop, waiting for someone he knew wouldn't appear.
"Doesn't it hurt already?"
Jimin takes his time to answer. When he does, his voice is shaky, like it can't quite contain whatever he's feeling.
"It's easier this way, you know? Safer. It's not just- it's not just about you. I don't want you to be dragged too far into this, yeah, but it's also me being egoistic. I can't do it, Jeongguk. I'd feel guilty whenever I leave, even though I can't do anything about it. I'd count the hours wherever I am even though there's no way of knowing how much time will pass here while I'm gone."
Jeongguk isn't made for this. He doesn't want to think about it, doesn't want to waste more time on what ifs. He doesn't know what the future holds; doesn't want to. What he does know is that Jimin is here with him, right now. He can still taste Jimin's lips if he closes his eyes, can still feel his hot breath against his skin and the sound of his name coming out in broken moans.
"Why don't you have more faith in us?" He sounds exasperated, he knows. Jimin lets out a huff of laughter. Jeongguk's ribs constrict a little more around his lungs.
"Please, Jimin. Give us a chance."
Jimin stills. "You're serious."
Another deep breath. "You know," Jimin says quietly. "You know the answer to that. I kept coming back to you, time and time again. I told you the truth despite thinking I'd lose you, just because I couldn't stand to see you sad, thinking you were the reason I never stayed. The only time I feel at home in this world is when I'm with you, wherever that is. It's not Seoul, not even Busan- it's you."
Jeongguk wishes he had something to say in return- but he doesn't. He's nothing short of speechless, staring at Jimin until the other averts his eyes and looks down at his lap. Jeongguk wonders if like Jimin he's showing too much with his eyes, isn't concealing enough, isn't hiding the true gravity of this, the importance of it.
"I'll be waiting for you," he manages to say, voice barely above a whisper now. "If you want to come back to me."
It's the closest thing Jeongguk comes to a confession, the words he really wants to say shifting into something else, a quiet profession to his love hidden between the words; a question directed at Jimin with his heart on the line.
And maybe Jimin's answer holds the same message, is an assurance and a promise at the same time.
"I will," he says, now smiling at Jeongguk tentatively, and Jeongguk thinks Jimin has the stars in his eyes and the sun on his lips.
"You know I will."
They're like any other couple their age, really, trying to balance their new relationship between jobs and college and friends. Jimin, he tells Jeongguk, loves the illusion of stability. Illusion, because- from time to time he will tell Jeongguk about the other worlds, the differences and the surprising similarities, and most of all his friends in each of them. It takes Jeongguk some time to wrap his head around all of it, but after a while he gets used to it. It's exciting, hearing Jimin tell him stories from a place he's never been to, a place he will never see. Like a fairytale, a myth, a carefully spun plot for a series. "You know I'll be gone again," Jimin warns after a few weeks have passed. Jeongguk only nods, the smile never slipping from his lips. "And you'll be back again," he says.
True to his word, Jimin leaves on a Wednesday the next week. He doesn't show to pick Jeongguk up after his art history lecture, and after waiting for twenty minutes and checking his phone a few times, Jeongguk comes to a conclusion. He shoulders his backpack and walks home on his own.
It's alright, at first. Jeongguk has enough going on, distracts himself by actually doing his coursework and catching up with his friends. After a week, he starts missing Jimin. He puts his assignments to the side and flops down on his couch to watch Scarface, but it's not the same alone. Another week passes, and Jeongguk starts thinking. It's harmless in the beginning, simply wondering where Jimin is, which of the worlds he's gone to, who he's with. The more time he has with just his own thoughts, the more Jeongguk understands all the complications, the difficulties and dangers that come with being in a world that isn't your own. For the first time he really allows himself to think about it, and the more he does the more he realizes how strong Jimin must be, to make it in not one world but six. Jeongguk sometimes worries about his own future, about where he'll be five, ten, twenty years from now; if he'll find his place in the world, if he'll be happy, successful, safe. It seems futile now, ridiculous almost considering that Jimin has so much more to be concerned about. He remembers how he'd felt when he first moved to Seoul; like he'd stepped into a world too big for him, leaving his home and everything he knew behind. Jimin, he thinks, must feel like that wherever he goes. The words 'I don't really belong anywhere' echo in Jeongguk's mind until he decides to drown them out with alcohol and loud music. He stumbles home some time between night and morning and wakes up to the taste of disappointment bitter on his tongue when he sees Jimin isn't back and waiting for him like he was last time.
Jeongguk tries, he really does, to be strong. He had known this would happen. He'd told Jimin he would wait for him, no matter how long, and it's what he does. What he hadn't expected was the crippling uncertainty of it, not knowing when Jimin would be coming back; if it'd be only a few days, or another week, or months.
On Monday of the third week, he comes back home to Jimin sitting on the staircase leading up to his floor. The way his entire face lights up when he sees Jeongguk makes everything worth it.
"I was staying at Taehyung's," Jimin tells him, later, voice drowsy with exhaustion, hair plastered to his forehead. Jeongguk lets his eyes roam over Jimin's bare skin before pulling a thin blanket over them.
"The singer," Jeongguk remembers. Jimin nods, smiling softly, and shifts to throw an arm over Jeongguk's side.
"I told him about you."
Jimin laughs quietly, the sound getting lost in the sheets between them, the dim lighting and the distant sounds of traffic. "He said if you hurt me he'll find a way to kick your ass."
Jeongguk huffs out a laugh. "I like him," he decides, and Jimin's smile widens.
There's still a lot Jeongguk doesn't know. It shouldn't come as a surprise, considering, but it's not just the other five worlds- it's this one too. Jimin is an open book in some regards, showcases his every emotion in his eyes on some days, but on others he'll be closed off, monosyllabic at best whenever Jeongguk tries to approach certain topics. "We should go to Busan this summer," Jeongguk says, and Jimin's face falls. "I like it here," he replies, and that's it. "Tell me about your parents," Jeongguk says on a rainy summer day, sitting on the windowsill and looking out at the city, the sun reflecting in the puddles on the streets. "Another time," Jimin mumbles from where he's lounging on the bed, and that's it.
They spend the summer in Seoul, Jimin disappearing every now and then, but thankfully only for a few days at a time.
"We're lucky," he reminds Jeongguk, "you know it's not always that easy."
After two times of assuring Jimin it won't matter; it'll be okay, he simply shrugs in response.
All in all, Jeongguk is happy. Sometimes, when Jimin snuggles close to him on the couch after a long day out, or when he shares a soft private smile, looking at him like he's not really seeing anything but Jeongguk- that time they took a train to the outskirts of the city to spend a day hiking only to be caught in the rain at sundown, Jimin laughing it off, hair a mess and skin glistening- those times, Jeongguk thinks this might be the happiest he's ever been. He had thought Jimin's predicament would be looming over them, that the uncertainty would make him nervous even when Jimin is right by his side- but it doesn't. If Jimin feels differently about it, he doesn't let it slip.
Jeongguk tells him what he's known for a long time, that day in the mountains, clothes soaked with rain and heartbeat matching the rhythm of the drops hitting his skin. "I love you," he says, almost too quietly. Jimin stops from where he's spinning, splashing up water that's collecting in puddles. He pauses for only a brief moment before extending a hand towards Jeongguk. "Come on," he says, fingers closing around Jeongguk's wrist, "let's go home. We'll catch a cold." It's only when the train station comes into sight that Jimin stops short, tugging Jeongguk back towards him on the slippery trail. He keeps enough distance between them to regard Jeongguk silently for a moment. Jeongguk, in turn, stares back, marvelling at Jimin's plump lips, the slope of his nose, the sharp cut of his jaw.
"I haven't liked this world for a while now," Jimin starts, voice wavering as though he's not sure he actually wants to speak his mind. But he's looking straight at Jeongguk still, and the cautiousness in his eyes is mixed with a forceful current of determination.
"I hated it, for a long time." He's smiling, not sad but rather like the memory is one that has stopped hurting; a smile of relief. "And then I met you, and now- now it might just be my favourite."
Maybe Jimin has more to say, but Jeongguk will never know- because he can't stay still any longer, can't just look, needs to touch, to feel, to be close. He surges forward, bridging the last remaining distance between them, hands winding up in Jimin's damp hair. Their teeth clack a little with the force of it but they laugh it off, and the feeling of Jimin smiling against his lips, warm breath hitting his skin and his soft giggle like sunshine on Jeongguk's entire body- is almost better than kissing. Jeongguk has the fleeting thought that Jimin himself feels like rays of sun no matter where or when, warming him even in the cold downpour. Jimin kisses him again, just briefly, before pulling back slightly.
"I love you," he exhales against Jeongguk's lips, and the rain stops and merges into waves, currents reeling Jeongguk in and dragging him away from the shore.
"In hindsight, maybe I should've wondered why this world was his least favourite of all." Jeongguk sighs, looks out of the window onto the busy street. It's starting to get dark.
"Did you ever find out?" the young man asks, childlike, genuine curiosity written in his features. He's a good listener, Jeongguk decides.
"I did. Part of me wishes I didn't."
Summer comes and goes, a swirl of colours and heated kisses and blurry nights out followed by muted mornings filled with unhurried touches and softly whispered 'I love you's. Jimin's bright laugh is in the center of it, guiding Jeongguk like the stars guide a lost man at sea. His heart feels so full sometimes he fears like it might burst should he look at Jimin too long.
Autumn rolls in with shades of red and gold in tow, and a new semester drowns Jeongguk in papers and assignments and reading to catch up on. Jimin signs up for an advanced dance class not far from campus. The first time Jeongguk comes to the studio to watch him he almost forgets to breathe. Because Jimin dances as he lives, like the ocean, fluid grace of slow tides followed by the terrifying and forceful beauty of raging torrents. Once again Jeongguk realises that there's so much more to Jimin than he could possibly know, so much he has yet to discover, so much more to love.
"Sometimes I feel like there's five other versions of you out there that I don't know," he tells Jimin on their way home. Jimin laughs. "I'm always the same, Jeongguk," he replies easily. "You know me, you just don't know everything about me." He pauses, throws Jeongguk a sidelong glance. "I'm actually a wanted criminal in one of the worlds."
Jeongguk chokes on his latte. "You're what?"
Jimin's expression shifts from half amused half concerened to incredulous. "You believed that."
"You actually-" Jimin is wheezing now, bending over with laughter. "You actually believed me-"
A push at his arm, Jimin only laughs harder. Jeongguk watches, trying his best to look sulky, but it's hard when Jimin's laughter is so infectious.
On their way home, Jimin tells him how it is to be nobody, to have no identity, no records. Jeongguk, once more, feels like he's only beginning to comprehend all the things Jimin's strange ability entails.
Time doesn't stop when Jimin is gone. It sounds so simple, like a matter of course, but in reality it's different. Some nights, when the stars in Jimin's eyes seem dull and far away, he'll tell Jeongguk about the downsides to all of it in a low, hushed tone, face pressed into his chest, effectively hiding his eyes, the stars, the sadness. Jeongguk suspects that the things he hears then are the reason for the sorrows lingering in them, not always present but always returning, like the tides of the ocean. It's on one of those nights that he learns how fleeting everything truly is.
"There was a time when- I didn't return home for a long time," Jimin tells him quietly, fingers tracing invisible patterns on Jeongguk's bare chest. "I had left shortly after my 18th birthday, I still remember how happy my mother was that I was there with them that day. Or rather, that they could be with me. It didn't last long, but she was so happy. We all were."
He sighs, and it carries so much sorrow that Jeongguk wraps his arms tighter around him, bad with words but trying to reassure and comfort in a way he knows, a safe one.
And then Jimin continues, and Jeongguk doesn't know what to do anymore, has no clue what he could possibly do to make this better, how to help heal a wound he can't even see.
Jimin leaves three days after he turns eighteen years old. He stays at Taehyung's for a while- then at Namjoon's, then Yoongi's. Then, he comes back home. Time has taught him to check the date first thing. He does, and- and at this point Jimin's voice breaks- it's been over a year.
"Of course I went back to my parents' house as fast as I could. I still remember, it was summer and I got on a bus without AC, cramped and suffocating and- I ran as soon as I got off at my stop, all the way to our house, up to the door. We kept a spare key under a pot of flowers on the windowsill next to it but it wasn't there, so I rang. And the door opens, slowly, and a woman I've never seen before is standing there, in our house, right where my mother used to greet me. She'd always be there, wherever I went, no matter how long I stayed away- she was always there when I came back."
Jimin's voice is all choked up, he's stopped running his fingers along the planes of Jeongguk's abs, clenched them into fists instead. Jeongguk feels something wet on his chest and- Jimin is crying. Quietly, almost unnoticable, as his misery always is.
"This time she wasn't," Jimin continues. "I asked that woman where the former owners of the house were, where they'd gone, but she didn't know. I tried calling both my parents, but the line was dead."
Jeongguk lifts a hand to his hair, gently threads his fingers through it.
"I didn't know where to go, where to start looking. In the end I ran all the way to my parents' friends home, arrived at the door a complete mess, and-" He breaks off again, shifts and turns until he's looking up at the ceiling, head still resting on Jeongguk's chest. Jeongguk can feel something forming in his throat, made of threads of fear, premonition, hurt. There's nothing he can do but hold Jimin and listen.
"They were at home. I was so, so relieved, but that didn't last long. The husband came to the door and- he told me."
And Jimin, in turn, tells Jeongguk; tells him the story of a son who lost both his parents without knowing, who was searched by family and friends and finally the police but had vanished without a trace, who wasn't there to mourn with everyone else.
"In the end I was just as dead to them," Jimin whispers into the silence after a stretching pause. Jeongguk feels tears prickling in his eyes. The lump in his throat is now threatening to cut the air off. "They looked and looked but when they didn't find me, not a single fucking sign of me- as soon as they were gone- really gone- so was I. I didn't just lose my parents, I lost everything. Because I couldn't be there when it mattered." Jimin sniffles quietly and uses his sleeve to wipe away the tears on his cheeks.
"I-" Jeongguk starts, then breaks off. "I don't know what to say. I'm sorry."
"You don't have to say anything." Jimin's voice is croaky, like he has something lodged in his throat just like Jeongguk does. But when he finally lifts his head and looks at Jeongguk he's smiling, and it's genuine. Jimin shifts his weight onto his elbows and moves up, presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth.
"Thank you," he breathes.
There's a lot more Jeongguk doesn't know, but most of these things Jimin doesn't have an answer to either. He learns not to think about it too much, not to question too much. It's what Jimin concluded after years of trying to find out the how or why- all in vain.
"Sometimes I think it's just a glitch in our physical precepts." Jimin shrugs. "Other times I think the universe is playing a neverending bad joke on me."
When Jeongguk asks too many questions, Jimin explains the general principles of the multiverse theory to him. There's something mischievous dancing in his eyes as he speaks, corners of his mouth quirking upwards around the words whenever Jeongguk's brows furrow in confusion. Jeongguk stops asking after that.
"The thing is, no scientist would be all too surprised if I told them there were multiple universes out there. It's more of a consequence of our current understanding of theoretical physics than it is a theory." Jeongguk nods slowly. "The tricky part is- well, the one where I travel between them." Jimin laughs, the sound high and clear.
"Through doors," Jeongguk supplies.
"Right. See, I wasted time on quantum physics and here you are, just as far as I am."
Jimin leaves for another week in early October, but Jeongguk is busy with an upcoming exam and work, so time passes relatively fast. It sounds impossible, but they really are like any other couple, he guesses. They go on dates or stay in, watch movies cuddled up on the couch like they did before they were even dating, just with more kissing now- and they're happy.
Jimin is gone for the entirety of November and Jeongguk misses him, but when he comes home to Jimin sitting on his couch, like he was never even gone, the dull ache in his chest disappears, replaced by warmth and butterflies. Christmas comes and Jeongguk leaves for Busan to see his family. Jimin declines his invitation and stays back at the flat. He's still there when Jeongguk returns a week later, just in time to spend New Year's together. Jeongguk thinks back to this exact time last year; thinks about how far they've come- then the clock strikes midnight. He doesn't stop kissing Jimin even after that, not for a long time.
January is an odd month, always has been. It's continuously cloudy and grey, the air dry and cold. Jimin has pretty much moved in at this point, most of his belongings strewn about Jeongguk's bedroom. He stays over more often than not, and they spend their weekends in bed, only occasionally getting up for food or a shower.
"I'm going to build us a house with no doors," Jeongguk tells him, hand hovering over Jimin's cheek, thumb tracing his lips. Jimin smiles against the pad of his finger.
"Everyone could just get in and out," he says, taking Jeongguk's hand and interlacing their fingers between their chests. He's just humouring him, the same way Jeongguk is just joking around, really- but there's so much affection and warmth in his eyes, it makes Jeongguk's breath stutter.
"Or we ditch permant residences for good, move across the country. The world, maybe."
Jimin lets out a soft giggle, shifts to hide his face in the crook of Jeongguk's neck.
"I'm good right here."
It's a night in late March when Jimin wordlessly sits next to Jeongguk. Jeongguk glances at the clock; it's 2:46am. He sighs, shuts his laptop and stretches. Jimin watches.
Jimin shakes his head. By now, Jeongguk knows that sometimes he has to be drawn out of his shell, that for all he is open and genuine, there are certain things Jimin keeps all to himself, hidden behind a wall that's suprisingly hard to take down.
This time it takes longer for Jimin to react. It's almost visible on his face; how he contemplates whether he's ready to share whatever is bothering him or not. Jeongguk waits patiently.
"Yeah," Jimin finally says. "It's about the worlds. Well, not all of them- but some."
Jeongguk hums. "Hot chocolate?" he asks, already getting up.
"I'm not twelve, Jeongguk. You're incredibly bad at this whole thing." There's a smile playing on Jimin's lips though, and Jeongguk shrugs sheepishly. "It makes me feel better," he mumbles.
So Jimin's sitting crosslegged on the kitchen counter while Jeongguk makes hot chocolate. It's there and then that he tells him.
"I haven't been to some of the worlds in a while," he begins. Jeongguk's motions only briefly still before he resumes pouring cocoa powder into the milk.
"Not too much- anyways, I haven't been there in too long, and I'm worried."
Jeongguk nods slowly, starts stirring. "It's probably just coincidence, right? You said nothing about it was regular."
Jimin tilts his head, eyebrows drawn together. "That's what I'd say but- something's different this time." He sighs again, takes the cup Jeongguk is offering him. "You know how every world has its different history and timeline? None is significantly more advanced than the other, but things are very different, still." He smiles down at his hot chocolate, just watching, not drinking. "It's almost like- like a split point in one timeline, and now there are multiple alternative worlds for each option; for the different ways for it to play out."
"Like- like the butterfly effect?"
"Not quite. The butterfly effect implies that the tiniest actions can, through a chain of events, lead to an outcome on a huge scale. This is more along the lines of Everett's many-worlds interpretation, which implies that there's a universe for each and every alternate history and future. I can't tell you if that's true or not; if it is, I only have access to an extremely remote number of those worlds. But either way, if this is what we're going with- and trust me, it's the best we got right now- that would mean-"
Jimin pauses, thinks. Jeongguk's mind tries to catch up while he's sipping his hot chocolate, looking at Jimin over the edge of his cup.
"Okay, look at it as- as an experiment. You have a starting point, then multiple options. Instead of just choosing one; a definite one, you choose several. For each of them there is a world for it to play out. But the nature of experiments is that sometimes, they fail. That you made the wrong choice, and now one world is stuck with it. It's foredoomed, so to say."
Jeongguk puts his cup to the side, the ceramic clanking loudly against the counter in the quiet of the night. "You mean that they're fated to end?"
"Sooner or later."
Another pause. Jimin is fiddling with a ring on his left hand; a nervous habit of his. Jeongguk stares at him, then at the window, at the empty cup, at the lamp above the counter.
"But that's. That's just a theory." It sounds a lot more like a question than he'd like.
Jimin bites his lip, clasps his fingers together. "Yeah. One of many." He leans forward, rests his elbows on his knees. "I didn't give it much thought before. But now- things are going wrong, in some of the worlds. Like, grand-catastrophe-scale wong. And those are exactly the worlds I haven't been to in a while."
More silence. Jeongguk lets the words sink in. With realisation, dread settles heavily in his stomach.
"You think- fuck, you think they're- they're done?"
"The end of the world. Of worlds. Yeah."
"That's. That's insane." Jeongguk is kind of at a loss for words. He doesn't even feel like he can grasp the whole extent of what Jimin is saying. Isn't sure he ever could.
"It's a fucking tragedy," Jimin corrects, but there's no bite in it. "I know this might be hard to really, truly understand- but those are real people, Jeongguk. Real people dying. I know some of them. I have friends there."
Jeongguk decides it's time to move. He pushes himself off the counter and steps over to Jimin's side, hopping up to sit next to him.
"There's no way for me to really know. What if I really just never go back there? It's- fuck, it's already driving me insane, not knowing what happened."
Jeongguk reaches out, runs his fingers up from Jimin's nape into his hair. Neither of them say anything else.
It doesn't let Jeongguk go. He tries to shake it off, the worry, the uneasiness, the presentiment. Yet he keeps waking up in the middle of the night only to stare up at the ceiling and let his thoughts run wild. On most nights, he can tell Jimin is also lying awake next to him.
There's a certain kind of desperation to every touch now, Jeongguk's worries manifesting in the way he clutches Jimin's shoulders too hard when they fuck, nails raking over his skin and leaving marks. Jimin is gone again the next week, and Jeongguk can't stop thinking, can't really focus on anything. Jimin returns only a few days later, and neither of them address how they refuse to let go of each other.
"I'll tell you if there's anything new," Jimin snaps, when Jeongguk asks, for about the fifth time, if he's been back to either Taehyung's, Namjoon's, or Yoongi's world.
April comes and goes. "I wish I could just keep you here," Jeongguk tells Jimin, the words spoken into the fabric of his shirt. Jimin doesn't say anything. "What if one of the worlds end while you're there?" Jeongguk asks into the dark, eyes pinned onto Jimin's back. He knows the other is awake, but Jimin takes his time acknowledging his question.
"I'll come back to you," he whispers, and Jeongguk wonders if he's crying, so fragile and scratchy is his voice. "I always do."
"That was in May," Jeongguk says quietly. "And that was the last night we spent together."
The cafe is mostly empty now, the only other customers students getting a coffee to go after evening lectures. The waitress has come to their table several times to ask if there's anything else she can get them. Jeongguk had declined every single time- he's not really hungry, barely has any appetite these days anyways. The young man had ordered pancakes at some point, then some sugary sweet drink. His attention never strayed from Jeongguk, though. He's nice, Jeongguk thinks, warm in a way that's different from Jimin, voice like honey and a smile emanating contentedness, as opposed to Jimin's radiance. He's a likeable guy, someone people trust easily, all kind, round eyes and attentive looks. Now, he looks genuinely shaken by Jeongguk's story, like he's empathetic enough to feel some of Jeongguk's sadness.
"It's July. Two months, that's a long time but not too long, right?" The young man is smiling again, and Jeongguk musters a smile as well, to show his gratitude more than anything.
"May last year," he adds quietly, and watches the smile vanish.
"I'm sorry." He sounds like he means it. "It's happened before though, hasn't it?"
Jeongguk nods. "Yeah, but it's- it's unusual. And with everything else-"
Jeongguk nods again. The young man reaches forward and places a hand on his, a gentle, reassuring gesture that forces Jeongguk to look back up.
"When I was younger, my parents always told me two things. One, that love always finds a way. Two; that the world, in the end, isn't as big as it sometimes seems to us. I didn't really understand any of it back then, but the older I get, the more I think it's true." He smiles to himself, pats the back of Jeongguk's hand before pulling back.
"You and Jimin, for example. Jimin has been to six different worlds- and he ended up falling in love with a boy from his hometown. All the odds were against you, but still you made it. You're not giving up, are you?"
"No. I'm still waiting. Just waiting." Jeongguk huffs out a humorless laugh, watches people walking by outside, some of them alone, others in groups, talking, laughing.
"I'm sure if you keep your promise, Jimin will keep his."
It's quiet for a while. Jeongguk has said everything he had to say, has emptied his heart out for this stranger to see its contents. He doesn't feel better; not worse, either. Just different.
Eventually the young man stands, putting a few bills onto the table. "On me," he says, sending Jeongguk yet another smile.
"Thank you for sharing your story with me. And good luck, Jeongguk."
Jeongguk can only nod. It's not until the young man is at the door that he realizes something.
"Hey," he calls after him, watches the other stop and turn. "What's your name?"
Another bright smile. It has an odd shape, Jeongguk notices belatedly, but that doesn't take anything away from its kindness.
"Kim Taehyung," the young man answers. Before Jeongguk can react, the door slams shut behind him.
Jeongguk leaves soon after, returns to an empty flat just like he has for the past year. A coincidence, he tells himself, nothing more. He does think about what Taehyung had said, though, thinks about it while warming up some leftovers that he eats standing in the kitchen, thinks about it while working on his summer project, thinks about it when he's lying in bed, mellow music softly playing from his speakers. He dreams of the past.
Life goes on. Jeongguk spends time with his friends, visits his family whenever he can. Yugyeom asks him about Jimin one night, and he tries his best to act unphased. "He moved," Jeongguk answers. He receives nothing but a hum in return, Yugyeom too focused on the game they're playing.
It's not like it is in the movies or the books. Jeongguk doesn't see Jimin wherever he turns, doesn't find him in everything. It's the absence that hurts, the emptiness in spaces Jimin used to take up. Jeongguk dreads spending time in his empty flat, so he only really goes home to sleep. The funny thing is- no one even notices that anything's different, or wrong. Jeongguk goes through the motions, but in truth he feels like part of him left along with Jimin. Sometimes he wonders if it's the same for him, and other times, rarely, he wonders if maybe Jimin is forgetting about him, if too much time has passed wherever he is now.
Autumn passes by in a blur of projects and exams and work, the gaps filled with nights out that Jeongguk never quite remembers in detail. Time slows down when he's alone, so he tries not to be. On Helloween he gets too drunk again, almost hooks up with some girl whose name he never quite catches- but when she kisses him all he can think of his how different this is from kissing Jimin, and he pulls back too fast and walks away mumbling excuses he knows she can't hear. Four more shots in the kitchen, then everything is too much, the noise, the people, the contrasting emptiness he feels. Jeongguk grabs a half empty bottle of cheap vodka and walks out. Unsurprisingly, he doesn't find anything new at the bottom of that bottle, but he sits outside on the patio for a long time even after he's finished all of it, staring into the dark, letting the memories run free for the first time in a while. There's already a thin strip of light at the horizon when he takes out his phone and opens his messages. He has to scroll down a bit to find the contact he wants, and he tries not to look at the date next to the name. His fingers are trembling; Jeongguk tells himself it's the alcohol.
I miss you, he types.
Jeongguk visits his family again in early November. His mother keeps throwing him concerned looks she probably thinks he won't notice, phrases all her questions carefully, hugs him too much. Jeongguk assures her he's fine. His mother sends him to a nearby bookstore to pick up something in her stead and he ends up spending the afternoon there, cuddled up in the cozy arm chair with a copy of some book the friendly looking sales assistant claims is is favourite. Jeongguk only frowns when he sees the young man's nametag; Kim Namjoon spelled out in fading letters. Coincidence, he tells himself.
He keeps going to the coffee shop, these days mostly out of habit than anything else. Seohyun asks him, once and only once, if he's heard anything from Jimin, but he just shrugs. His expression must give away more than he intends, because she tells him his drink is on the house that day, that sympathetic smile of hers back in place. He keeps an eye out for Kim Taehyung, but he doesn't see him again. He isn't sure what he'd say if he did.
Finals come and go, and when Jeongguk goes back to Busan for Christmas he sleeps through an entire day, goes back to bed early, sleeps in again. When he wakes up and checks his phone it's already late afternoon. After a quick shower he shrugs into a winter jacket, takes his phone and his camera, shouts "I'm going to the beach!" in the general direction of the kitchen, and leaves. "Be back for dinner!" is all he hears his mother say before he shuts the door.
The sea has always made Jeongguk feel at ease. Something about it is calming even when the waves crash onto rocks, the water splashing up in thousands of tiny drops. Jeongguk sits in the sand and lets his sorrows be washed away, be dragged underwater and drowned in the deep blue. It's a nice day, only a slight breeze dancing across the wide expanse of the beach. Jeongguk waits, staring out at the endless waters until the sun is low in the sky, almost touching the water at the horizon, making the sky and the ocean merge, colours bleeding into one another. He takes out his camera to capture it- something he's always done whenever he comes here. Jimin had gone through his photos once and pointed out the many pictures of the ocean. Jeongguk had told him that no sunrise or sunset looks the same, that he's been trying to capture them for a long time because no memory will do them justice- that he whenever he looks at the photographs, he remembers what he was thinking about that day.
The ones he's taken over the course of the past year all remind him of Jimin, Jimin, Jimin.
His phone rings just when he's adjusted his camera, Jeongguk groans and hurriedly puts it back into the case, swiping across his phone's screen with his free hand, not really looking at the display.
Static. Jeongguk sighs, waits. Then-
"Jeongguk?" someone says, and Jeongguk almost drops the phone. Because he knows that voice, knows every nuance it has to offer. He hears it in his dreams, sometimes.
"Jimin, he breathes.
Jimin laughs. It's the best thing Jeongguk has heard in over a year.
"Yeah. I'm back."
Jeongguk tries to form words, but his mind is blank.
"I'm at the flat," Jimin says, "where are you?"
"Busan. Fuck, I'm in Busan."
A moment of silence. Jeongguk listens to Jimin's quiet breathing over the line, mixing with the sound of the waves lapping at the shore.
At last, Jimin speaks up.
"I guess it's time to go home, then."
Jeongguk does go back home for dinner. He keeps checking his phone even though he knows it'll take Jimin hours to get from Seoul to Busan. His lips are fixed in a smile, he feels giddy, doesn't know what do to with the happiness spreading from his heart through every fibre of his body.
"You're in a better mood today," his mother observes. "I haven't seen you this happy in a long time."
"I am," Jeongguk says, smile widening. "Happy. More than I've ever been, maybe."
Jimin texts him after midnight. I'm here, is all the message reads, and Jeongguk bolts from where he'd been sitting, runs to get a jacket. His phone buzzes again
just as he's about to shrug into a coat. It's Jimin again. Jeongguk unlocks it and reads the new message.
I missed you too.
Jeongguk drops the jacket and runs outside.
Jimin laughs. Jeongguk feels like it's sunlight hitting his skin for the first time in months. He all but crashes into Jimin, both of them stumbling a step back with the force of the impact. Jimin winds his arms around him too tightly, Jeongguk ducks down to bury his face in the junction of his shoulder and neck. The stay like that for minutes; it feels like it's only seconds but hours at the same time. Jeongguk turns to press a kiss to Jimin's neck, murmurs a muted 'I missed you so much' against his warm skin.
"Let's go to the beach," is the first thing Jimin says when they finally separate. They fetch Jeongguk's coat from the house, sneaking in quietly and leaving immediately. It's two in the morning when they reach the coast. There's so much to say, so much to catch up on, yet they mostly walk in silence, stealing glances every other minute. Still, Jeongguk can't keep the smile off his face. They sit in the cold, damp sand, pressed up against each other, facing the water. The silence extends but it's comfortable, easy. It's Jimin who speaks up first.
"They're gone," he says softly, voice blending with the sound of the waves. He turns to face Jeongguk. "But they're merging, Guk. The worlds. It doesn't make any sense, but-"
"I think I met Taehyung and Namjoon," Jeongguk interrupts. Jimin hides his face behind a hand, the way he always does when his smile shows too much. The unshed tears in his eyes glisten like liquid moonlight, reminiscent of the reflection of the moon on the ocean.
"I know," Jimin breathes out. "It's not- there really is no explanation for it. I have no idea how- or why but- I saw Taehyung in Seoul and Yoongi on a train." He pauses, takes a deep breath. "They didn't recognize me. But it's alright. Just knowing that they're okay is enough."
Jeongguk considers for a bit. "Maybe they've forgotten. Wouldn't that make it easier? Like a new start?"
"That sounds too easy," Jimin says. "It's strange- parts of this world have been replaced by others. Just small things. And people, but I can't tell how many. It might be just them, but that's-"
"Insane," Jeongguk laughs. "All of it is. Hey, maybe you're their connection to this world. Ever thought about that?"
Jimin hums and drops his head against Jeongguk's shoulder. They drop it, because as always, there are too many questions, too little answers. Jeongguk entwines his fingers with Jimin's, rests their hands in his lap.
"Let's watch the sunrise here," Jimin says quietly. He shifts, starts pressing kisses against Jeongguk's neck, up to his jaw.
"Why?" Jeongguk asks, heart beating too fast, like he's just fallen in love all over again, like he's about to kiss Jimin for the first time all over again.
"You like sunrises, right? You said they're always connected to a memory." He kisses the corner of Jeongguk's mouth, just briefly.
"Make this our memory." He's whispering now, breath hitting Jeongguk's lips. "Remember me, even when you come here alone. Remember me when I'm gone."
Their kiss isn't rushed, this time. It's sweet, gentle, careful. And Jeongguk- Jeongguk hasn't felt at home anywhere in the past year, not in Busan, not in the house he grew up in, not even in his mother's arms- but now he does.
"Thank you for waiting for me," Jimin mumbles, lips touching Jeongguk's as he speaks. "Thank you for keeping your promise."
"You kept yours," Jeongguk says. "You came back."
Jimin smiles, and Jeongguk thinks that he'd miss all the sunrises in the world for him, that he'd follow Jimin anywhere because he has the sun in his eyes and home lies in his touch; that if he can't follow he'll wait, no matter how many times, no matter for how long.
"I always do," Jimin says, smiling, "and I always will."