△ = present
He was in the pasta aisle at the grocery store when it happened.
It had been a good day — a good week, actually. The snow was melting and hard earth was giving way to soft, water-logged fields. Jimin had been able to string his clothes up to dry in the sun today, the wind warm and forgiving for the first time in months. He’d opened the windows for a while in a vain attempt to leech the scent of winter out of the house — it had been too cold for him to keep them open long, but he congratulated himself for trying as he struggled all windowpanes back into place.
It had been a good day, a good week, and he had let his guard down.
He was walking from one end of the aisle to the other, searching for the sole brand of wholewheat pasta that didn’t bother his stomach. In one hand he had a bag of tomatoes, and he swung them back and forth absentmindedly as he looked. His basket was deposited at the entrance, tucked neatly to the side so nobody would trip on it. There was a man he didn’t recognize walking from the other direction, and Jimin guessed from the briskness in his stride and the squeaky shine to his clothes that he was a tourist — a spring skier maybe, taking advantage of the last few inches of snow before the mountain bloomed green again.
The man paused a foot away from Jimin to grab a little bottle of sauce off the shelf, and Jimin, unable to find his dinner, breathed in a sigh.
That’s when it hit him.
The cologne was singular in it’s composition, and when the first notes of it trickled into his system Jimin wanted nothing more than to gulp it down in greedy lungfuls. He would have, if his throat stayed open long enough for him to try.
Nutmeg and espresso, a sharp combination that had always made warmth tingle in the pit of his stomach and the tips of his fingers. Jimin had smelled it fresh out of the bottle, and worn into clothing, and warm against the pulse point of a pale neck.
He had lived in that scent for years, and when it was no more he had forgotten it quickly.
The smell hit him first, and then the tightness in his throat, and Jimin reached out blindly to grab for a shelf. His legs felt weak, like he’d run up and down the length of the mountain three times over. He took in a shaky breath to study himself, and shut his eyes.
The smell was everywhere.
The man had already moved on, his brisk walk carrying him away from Jimin and whatever cosmic meltdown he was having. The cologne was strong enough that it lingered behind him like a strong riptide, refusing to be diffused. Jimin repressed the childish urge to hold his breath — he breathed in again, and darkness crept at the corners of his vision.
He was overwhelmed by the clawing, frantic urge to get out. His skin crawled, stomach rolling, and he felt like he had a fever out of nowhere. Minutes ago he had been fine. Minutes ago he had been having a good week.
It had been months since he’d slipped up, and the sickening twist in Jimin’s stomach was a cruel rebuke.
Jimin shoved his hand between the shelves, dropping the tomatoes beside something that was too blurry to be identified and stumbling backwards. He clamped a hand over his mouth, turning just in time to see a mother and her daughter enter the aisle. He recognized the white-blond hair, pleated into french braids on both generations. Through the haziness, Jimin prayed they wouldn't think him rude as he brushed past his neighbors.
His basket lay abandoned behind him, but Jimin couldn’t find it in himself to care as be picked up speed, bursting past the checkout line and catching sight of the front doors. He could still smell it, could still feel the warmth of the scent tingling in his lungs, and it made him want to scream.
He threw his hands out in front of him, palms colliding with glass, and stumbled into the parking lot. Cold air brushed against his skin, the temperature having gone down considerably as the sun set, and Jimin staggered backwards, collapsing against the side of the market and gasping. He sucked in harshly, the air scraping down his lungs, and found himself more thankful than ever for the clean bite of mountain air.
The pavement bit into his legs and butt, sore from having dropped himself down so quickly. He placed his hands on either side, palms resting flat. There were cracks in the paving job where little sprouts and mossy spots poked through, pressed close enough to the building that they were safe from the tires that rolled through daily. Jimin took another deep breath in, and pressed his hand into the sliver of green.
Slowly, surely, the blackness receded from his vision and his stomach settled. A buzzing had begun in his ears at some point, low and quiet and steadily getting louder. He figured that it was an okay price to pay, so long as the smell of nutmeg and espresso was flushed out of his system.
Jimin tipped his head back, eyes focusing on the setting sun. He’d go grocery shopping tomorrow, would make sure that the next time he saw his neighbors and their young daughter he was extra attentive. Damage control, always damage control. Right now he needed to get home, a tiredness in his bones that hadn’t been there before.
He took another breath, counted to three, and pushed himself up off the ground. Jimin brushed off his palms, crossed the lot, and climbed into the old truck.
He rolled all the windows down just to be safe, not wanting to be left alone with stagnant air just yet and not trusting himself to make it through the drive without the cold nipping at his skin.
The drive from the market back to his cabin was short, hardly five minutes off the main road, but Jimin couldn’t help his fingers from twitching and his eyes from drooping as he pressed on the accelerator. The buzzing was getting louder still, so he fiddled with the radio and settled on a staticky talk station.
When he pulled into the driveway, he slid out of the car without bothering to turn it off and took the steps up into the house in twos. When he pushed the front door open, his dog lifted it’s head and regarded him lazily, without judgement.
“Good boy,” Jimin croaked without reason, fumbling with the doorknob for the bathroom. “Good dog.”
He got it open, finally, and stepped inside. His face looked normal in the mirror, skin slightly pale from the long winter, the whites of his eyes a little larger than normal.
Jimin gave himself an appraising look, and then bent over and vomited into the toilet bowl, still smelling of nutmeg and espresso.
Jimin tucked his chin into the crook of Yoongi’s neck and breathed in deeply, relishing in the scent of nutmeg and espresso as it washed over him. He slipped his arms around Yoongi’s waist, thumbs resting on his hipbones, and smiled.
“I thought you’d never get down here,” he whispered, purposely letting his lips brush the shell of Yoongi’s ear. “I was thinking I’d have to go and get drunk without you.”
He felt the low rumble of Yoongi’s laugh rather than heard it, the bass in the club deafeningly loud. “It seems like you’re well on your way already, baby.”
Jimin put on his best pout as Yoongi turned around, lower lip jutting out. The liquor was warm in his veins, making his limbs loose and his inhibitions looser. He didn’t think twice about pulling Yoongi down into a sloppy kiss, pulling their waists flush against each other and knotting his hand into Yoongi’s bleach-blond hair.
When Yoongi pulled back, Jimin could see the shine of his lipgloss against his boyfriend’s lips. He grinned to himself, making note to clean it up later on. Yoongi’s eyebrows were arched skeptically but his mouth was pulled up into a lopsided grin, tolerant.
“Hello to you too,” Yoongi laughed. “Are you dancing tonight?”
Jimin smiled sweetly. “Only if its with you, love.” He leaned into kiss Yoongi again, missing this time and planting a wet peck at the corner of his mouth. Yoongi wrapped his arm around Jimin’s waist to steady him.
“Just how many shots did you and Hoseok take before I got here?” He asked, playful. Jimin thought hard, counting back through the night.
They were standing at the corner of the bar, and Yoongi had presumably been ordering when Jimin had come up behind him. He picked up two colorful shots off the counter, offering one to Jimin. “Then let’s make it six.”
The alcohol went down easily, and Jimin slammed the empty glass back down on the counter, grabbing Yoongi’s hands. “Dance with me!” He sing-songed. The pulse of the crowd was electric in his veins, and although the only substance Jimin had imbibed was liquor, he felt higher than he had in ages. Fleetingly, he wondered if Taehyung or Hoseok brought weed with them.
Yoongi let himself be led to the dance floor, ever a good sport despite his well established distaste for dancing. Yoongi preferred to take stints in the DJ booth, separated from the heat of the crowd but feeding just as much on it’s energy.
When they got to the center of the floor, Jimin turned and settled himself against Yoongi’s chest, one arm slung over his shoulders while Jimin grinded teasingly against him. They were face to face, and the purplish lights in the club illuminated the glint of Yoongi’s teeth as he whispered something to Jimin. It came through to his ears belatedly, words taking longer to register.
“You look incredible.”
The praise washed over him like another shot would have. Jimin threw his head back and laughed, loving the way Yoongi’s arm tightened around his waist as he did so.
“I had a much easier week than you did,” Jimin crooned. “You worked so hard this week, baby. It’s good to see you letting loose.” As if punctuating his point, Jimin lifted the hand on Yoongi’s shoulder to tug lightly at his hair, coquettish. Yoongi’s expression didn’t change, but he bent forward and pressed a kiss underneath Jimin’s ear. A slight nip followed it, and Jimin was gone.
He loved this — lived for it, actually. The solid feel of Yoongi’s body beneath him, the heady scent of his cologne mixed with sweat, the fervor of the crowd around them. He wondered if he should keep an eye out for the rest of his friends, as he’d left under the pretense of bringing Yoongi back to the group, but quickly found that he couldn’t be bothered by that any more. Not when dancing felt this good and Yoongi looked this enticing.
“If I didn’t work this hard I couldn’t afford to spoil you rotten,” Yoongi murmured in response. “And god only knows that you deserve to be spoiled.”
“Mmmm,” the tip of Jimin’s nose was brushing Yoongi’s now, the distance between them ever-shrinking. They were so close that the air between them had grown warmer, heavy with breath and anticipation. “I have the best boyfriend.”
For a split second, Yoongi’s eyes softened. He looked at Jimin with a tenderness that was out place in this environment, one so built off fleeting passion and debauchery. It was gone as quickly as it came, and the hand holding Jimin against Yoongi traveled up to tip his jaw upwards, holding it firmly in place.
Kissing Yoongi was like a combination high of anything and everything Jimin had ever tried. His mind and heart raced while his limbs slowed down, and fire burned inside him while the world outside felt cold and comfortable. When they had first met, Jimin had wondered what he’d been doing for so many years that kissing didn’t feel like this with everybody.
“Let’s not stay long,” Yoongi said once he pulled back. “I want to be alone with you tonight.”
Jimin nodded breathlessly, too dazed to offer a better confirmation. “Let me tell the rest of them that we’re going, so they don't worry.”
Yoongi nodded and released him, slipping back towards the bar, and he had disappeared from sight in seconds. Jimin turned back to the VIP section, threading his way through the crowd to the raised platform and leather ropes. As he got closer he made out the shape of Taehyung on Jeongguk’s lap, and grinned to himself. They always got handsy when they were drunk, ignoring it the next day in favor of loaded glances. Jimin far preferred the pair of them like this.
He stepped past the rope without even a glance from the bouncer, the man too used to the sight of Jimin back here to bother ID’ing him anymore. “Guys!”
Taehyung was laughing at something Jeongguk was saying to him, but stilled and turned to look at Jimin when he stepped in. On the couch opposite them, Seokjin, Hoseok, and Namjoon looked considerably more sober but just as jovial.
“Yoongi and I are heading out,” he informed them. He couldn’t help the sly grin that slid into place when Hoseok hooted suggestively.
“That might be the record for the fastest you two have ditched us to be romantic,” Hoseok taunted. “What wild pursuit are you leaving us for tonight?”
Jimin smiled innocently. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Yoongi and I are wholesome people.”
“You won’t get anything out of him, Bacardi makes him a pain in the ass.” Namjoon called out. He grinned and gestured towards Jimin. “Go, have fun. We’re gonna head to a new place downtown after this.”
“Call Seokjin if you wanna go back out after you and Yoongi are done doing the dirty,” Taehyung drawled. “He’s the only one you can trust to answer.”
“I’m sober tonight, I’ll come get you.” Seokjin promised, nodding.
“Oh, Jimin!” Hoseok called, sitting up straight. “Detox tomorrow, we can’t go out tomorrow night. We have that shoot on Monday morning for one of Yoongi’s new singers, and I’ll need everyone on top of their game.”
“I’m always on top of my game,” Jimin teased. “It’s Sanghyuk you have to worry about. Don't expect him to want to dance sober.” Hoseok rolled his eyes at that but laughed anyway, settling back into the plush black couch.
“Later, boys.” Jimin called. His skin was sticky and hot, and he expected that the summer air would feel blissfully tepid in comparison.
He found Yoongi near the entrance, eyes dark and lazy as he watched Jimin walk forward. Jimin slipped his hand into Yoongi’s easily and pulled them out into the late July nighttime, fresh air filling his lungs. The streets of Seoul smelled like gasoline and fresh-cut grass, a strange, intoxicating mix that Jimin associated with home.
“It’s late,” Yoongi had slipped a cigarette between his lips at some point and was fiddling with the lighter now. “Let’s take a cab back, the trains are bound to be a hassle.”
Jimin nodded, leaning against a lamppost on the curb. In the orangish glow of night Yoongi looked especially inviting, dressed in head to toe black that contrasted his pale skin. His bleached hair was a new development, one that Jimin couldn’t quite get enough of. He turned his head to blow smoke in the direction opposite Jimin, and his piercings glinted in the low light. Jimin knew that if he stepped closer and pulled down the corner of Yoongi’s tee he would uncover the tip of one of his tattoos, a black dragon’s head tucked into his collarbone.
He made a mental note to kiss it later that night, always paying special attention to the parts of Yoongi’s skin that were inked up.
Jimin met Yoongi’s eyes, and smiled. “I can’t help it.”
Yoongi tossed his cigarette aside, stamping it out, and lifted one arm. Jimin took the invitation, crossing the distance between them and leaning against Yoongi’s solid chest. The smell of cigarette smoke muddled his usually clean scent.
With the haze of the club clearing out of his system, Jimin was free to rest comfortably in this position while Yoongi tapped a request for a cab into his phone. Jimin dug his own phone out, checking to see if he had missed anything while he was inside.
There were four text notifications from his father’s number, a usually ominous sign that Jimin decided not to worry about for now. He’d deal with his father tomorrow morning. If it was past midnight in Seoul it was midday in America, and his father was guaranteed to have started his work day.
Yoongi caught sight of the green alerts a second before Jimin clicked his phone off. “What’s he have to say?”
“Who knows,” Jimin yawned, more out of show than boredom. “I’ll check later, I don’t want to think about it just yet.” He snuggled his back further against Yoongi, and was rewarded with a light slap to his hip. “Take me home.”
Yoongi stroked up and down Jimin’s waist tenderly, soothing over where he had touched before. “With pleasure, my love.”
Jimin woke up midway through the week to a loud knocking at his door, insistent. His neck and back ached, seizing when he tried to move, and it took him a moment to register that he’d fallen asleep on the couch rather than in his bed. He winced as he sat up, knowing that he’d feel the ache for the better part of the day.
Jimin stumbled over to the front door in socked feet, slipping a little on the hardwood. When he pulled the front door open, he found Janie standing there with worry carving lines into her forehead.
“Babydoll,” the older woman said. “What are you doing sleeping at this time of day? The sun’s already halfway up in his place and you’re treatin’ him like it’s nighttime.”
Jimin rubbed at his eyes groggily, hoping that his expression was sufficiently sheepish. “Ah, the change of the season must be getting to me. What’s up, Janie?”
She sighed, but the noise was too motherly to be offensive. “The kids wanted to know if Burke wanted to come out and play. If I had known you were still sleepin’ I woulda made them wait.” She gave him an appraising once-over, brushing a strand of greying hair out of her eyes. “Maybe it’s a good thing I woke you. You eaten yet today?”
“Not yet,” Jimin supplied. “But I have food, I think. I have to make a drive down to the grocer’s today anyway. Have I missed the farmers market?”
“By a good three hours, lovie.”
Jimin peered out behind her and found that the sun was, indeed, high in the sky. He hadn’t slept this late in a while, not since he first came here. Jimin chastised himself— he was getting lazy, not keeping up the set of standards that he promised he’d hold himself to.
He turned his head over his shoulder, whistling twice. From somewhere within he heard the tags on the dog’s collar jingling, and then Burke was brushing past Jimin’s legs.
“Heel, boy.” He made a futile attempt to call the dog back, but he was already clobbering his way down the porch steps and towards the meadow. Jimin could see Janie’s kids roughhousing in the dirt and mud, and Burke on his way to join them. He’d have to wash the dog off before he could come back into the house.
“We’re taking the horses out later on, if you wanna join?” Janie asked. Jimin could tell from the edge in her voice that she was worried about him, and a small part of him was appreciative for concern. The rest of him was too sleep-addled to think about anything other than seeking out his bed and getting a proper rest.
“Sure, Janie.” He nodded. “How’s Alex doing? Think he’s ready to get back in the saddle?”
“He’ll be ready in a second if it’s you doing the asking.” She laughed. “That boy, I swear. I heard he was givin’ you trouble last week, knocking on your door everyday.”
“He’s no trouble,” Jimin reassured her. “It’s nice to have company every now and then, even in the form of a nine year old. What time should I come over?”
“Let’s say four for now. There’s a storm ‘sposed to be coming in tonight, so we’ll spend a good two hours out and then make sure all the animals are in. Do you need any help getting your house secured?”
“No, I’ll be okay. Let me know if you need help with the herd.” Jimin thanked his lucky stars that he had sold all the animals when he did, and didn’t have to worry about getting a flock of anxiety-ridden livestock into the barn before a storm anymore.
Janie lingered a moment, the early spring wind picking strands of hair from her bun. Her mouth was set downwards, and Jimin tried to ignore the worry that he saw in the creases of her weathered face. Janie was a good woman, a good friend of his father’s, and he had gotten used to her check-ins over the past few months. They had been more frequent in the winter, when Janie would drag Jimin from the solitude of his cabin into the warmth and bustle of her home. With all of her children and dogs, the constant clanging of pans or off-key piano, Janie’s home was a welcome method of letting his tired mind rest.
Jimin cleared his throat. “I’m doing okay today. You don’t need to worry about me.”
Immediately, her withered brow smoothed out. “Okay, babydoll. I’ll see you this afternoon.”
He closed the door with a gentle click. The cabin was quiet, but if he listened closely he could hear the whooping shouts of Janie’s children in the pasture. Chances were they’d end up in his backyard at some point in the day, giggly and dirty and begging Jimin to come out and play with them. Until then, he made his way into the kitchen and set a kettle on the stove to boil, rummaging through the cabinets for coffee. He stocked the shitty kind, the kind his father had liked, purely out of habit. Jimin debated fixing himself something for breakfast, and was reminded again of his empty refrigerator thanks to last week’s stunt at the market. He sighed. He’d have to take care of that today.
The quiet was nice sometimes, but today it felt oppressive, so Jimin opened the windows despite the chill and turned on the same staticky radio station that he always listened to when the mornings felt like this.
Or afternoons, he supposed, taking another glance outside. He had yet to look at a clock, and the sense of time was an evasive one.
Jimin fiddled with the radio while his coffee brewed, filling the cabin with a tangy scent far from the smoothness of espresso. He caught a few words through the static.
“Thunderin….local flooding….be ready for outages, folks!” The forecast didn’t suit the overly peppy, Midwestern drawl of the weatherman. Jimin sighed. Was he ready for an outage? There were candles somewhere in great room, for sure. He’d dig them out after he got back from riding.
“For those in the valley, expect the heaviest rains!”
That caught his attention. Jimin frowned at the radio.
“This’ll be our first real storm of the spring season, and it’s comin’ in with a bang.”
There were fresh flowers on his father’s grave that would be washed away. He had been buried only a few weeks earlier, the ground too hard for him to laid to rest when he had passed in December. Jimin couldn’t help the worry that rose in his chest that the earth would still be too soft, and that a heavy flood would uproot his gravesite. The notion made his stomach twist sickeningly. His father’s funeral had been a strange reminder of how long Jimin had been here, and to bury him a second time would surely take another ten years off Jimin’s life.
The coffeemaker dinged, breaking his reverie, and Jimin poured his mug and stepped out onto the porch to have his coffee in the fresh air. He hadn’t been able to get enough of it for the past week, and every lungful felt like it fell just a centimeter short of satisfactory.
Outside, the day was clear. When he looked towards the mountains he could see every crag and peak, save for a line of fleecy clouds towards the west. They towered on either side, jutting into the skyline like smears of black ink.
He’d grown up staring at these mountains, and as a man he found them no less intimidating than he did in childhood.
The coffee was bitter on his tongue. He’d forgotten to put milk and sugar in it.
You always take your coffee too sweet, anyway.
The cup slipped from his hand and spilled out on the wood. Jimin stared at the brown-black liquid as it filtered through the boards, leaving behind little coffee grain traces. The memory of that familiar drawl had come out of nowhere, a split second of his past that somehow fought it’s way to the forefront of Jimin’s mind.
That made it thrice.
Thrice that he had slipped up, thrice that Jimin had let himself fall prey to old memories and old habits. He kept his gaze fixed on the broken coffee cup and felt disappointment well up in his chest, frustrated tears picking at the corners of his eyes. He wouldn’t cry, not today. He had moved past this point, he knew he had. The disappointment was almost as bad as the dry, fiery ache in his chest when he slipped up, knowing that it had been so many months and he was still barely treading water in the middle of an ocean.
But treading water was okay for now, he reminded himself. At least treading water wasn’t drowning.
He cleaned up the mug and got himself another, ignoring the way the coffee was slightly too cold to enjoy as he sipped it on the back porch. When he looked east he could see storm clouds beginning to gather, hints of gray like smudged out pencil in the sky. It would take the system a while to gather the strength to move past the mountains, which towered high above the clouds. For now the valley was still sunlit and bright, all the makings of a spring day fully in play.
Jimin was warm on the porch, comfortable in his pajamas. Sleep had never quite left his mind, having been yanked out of it so uneventfully, and the coffee had done little to wake him.
He made his way over to the rusty porch swing, hinges creaking noisily as he laid down in it. The pillows were stiff and his neck still throbbed, but when Jimin closed his eyes he found comfort soon enough.
Jimin was laying sleepily across Yoongi’s lap when the call came in, his father’s number flashing across the screen. He groaned and moved to push his phone away, but Yoongi’s hand atop his stilled him.
“That’s the third call in two days, Jimin.” Yoongi warned. “I think it’s time for you to pick up. It could be important.”
“Or it could just be my father, calling to ask me if I have a girlfriend yet.” Jimin shot back, annoyed. “Can’t you just keep playing with my hair and we can forget he ever called?”
Yoongi shot him a look of pointed disapproval, and Jimin sighed. He conceded, lifting his phone to his ear with a grimace on his face.
“Jimin.” He hated the way his name sounded in English, twangy and harsh in all the wrong places. “I’ve been trying to get ahold of you for a few days, now.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry.” Jimin pushed himself up off the couch. “Things have been pretty hectic, I forgot to respond to your texts. What’s up? Is everything alright on the ranch?”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, actually.”
Jimin covered the receiver, and mouthed “tea, please?” to Yoongi, who nodded and got up to start the water boiling.
“I’m all ears.”
“Jimin, they found a tumor in my pancreas.”
Jimin stood straight so fast that he almost tumbled over, grabbing at the ottoman to steady himself. “Wait, what?”
“It’s spread to my organs.”
“Dad, I — hold on, this doesn’t make any sense, you’re the healthiest person I know.” Jimin insisted. “They have to be wrong. It has to be wrong.”
“It’s not wrong.” His father sounded tired, too tired. “I thought so, too. I went into the city and everything to make sure that I wasn’t being cheated by some quack doctor. It’s stage IV, kid.”
Jimin felt like all the lights in his apartment were suddenly too harsh, too bright. His mind was racing. “What are our options? There’s gotta be some way for you to beat this thing, right? Everyone always goes on about how America has the best doctors in the world.”
Jimin could hear his father take a deep breath in and out, and only now registered how shaky the noise sounded.
“Son, I’m going to die. I’ve made my peace with that, but I just have one request of you, alright?”
“Anything,” Jimin whispered. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Yoongi emerge from the kitchen and immediately stop in his tracks, hesitant. “Anything at all, Dad.”
“I just don’t want to do it alone, in some godforsaken hospital. I wanna do it in my own house, on my own terms. Jimin, will you move back to the States and stay with me for….for the rest of it?”
“Of course, Dad. Of course I will.”
The one thing Jimin could never fault his father for was teaching him to ride a horse. Growing up here had been hard, and moving to Seoul with his mother when the marriage collapsed had been easier only by a fraction, but no matter how old he got Jimin always felt an acute sense of safety with his legs on either side of a horse’s back.
He was a few hundred feet behind Janie and her husband, her twins Annie and George even farther behind him and her youngest son Alex at his side.
They were well out of the valley and onto a muddy trail up the mountain, deep enough in the woods that stray brown snow piles appeared around every tree. Alex had spent the past half mile flinching every time his horse’s tail whipped.
“Trust her,” Jimin tried to convince him. “She doesn’t want to hurt you any more than you want to hurt her, but she can tell that you’re nervous.”
Alex looked up, worry in his wide eyes, and flinched again when the horse paused to nibble at an early forsythia bloom that had cropped up. Despite himself, Jimin smiled.
“I’m trying!” Alex whined, his drawl especially pronounced in the complaint. He cast a doubtful look at Jimin, and then pitched his voice lower, whispering, “can she really tell that I’m nervous?”
“Oh, of course.” Jimin wiggled his eyebrows at Alex, glancing around them dramatically. “She can smell everything, you know. She can even smell that cookie you stole from your sister earlier.”
Alex flushed at that, from the tips of his ears down to the spurs on his boots. “How did you know?”
“Well, she told Blue,” Jimin nodded down at the calico horse he rode, “and Blue told me. And all three of us think that you should give Annie back her cookie, because Blue also told me that you had your own cookie this morning.”
Alex had the decency to look abashed, and his eyes flickered down to his pocket. “I was gonna have it later,” he mumbled, nose crinkling up. The sadness swimming in his wide eyes was probably a ruse, but Jimin was always a sucker for crocodile tears, so he leaned over and stage-whispered to Alex,
“Your mother gave me a cookie, too. You can have mine.”
The beaming smile he got in return was more than worth it.
“Kids!” Jimin and Alex looked up to see Janie paused in front of them, the reins taut in her hands. “Your father thinks its safer to turn back, the horses are startin’ to get spooked.
Jimin looked at the dark clouds gathering overhead, and once again was nagged by worries about his father’s gravesite. The sun had begun to set while they were out, and though they hadn’t made it very far from town it looked like the skies would open up any minute. The last thing Jimin wanted was to get stuck in a storm now, nighttime hot on their heels and a pack of children to worry about.
“Alright!” Jimin called back to her. He turned to where Annie and George were coming up behind them and relayed the message. The twins groaned in unison, but made to turn back nonetheless.
“Are you happier now that it’s springtime?”
Jimin paused. Alex was looking at him in earnest, his youthful face full of hope. “What do you mean?”
“The winter made you so sleepy and tired,” Alex explained. “Nothing at all like the way you were when you first got here last fall. Mommy says that sometimes the dark seasons make people sad, and now that it’s light again I was hoping maybe you’d be happy again.”
Jimin’s throat tightened. “I’m not sure. Do I seem happier?”
“Well,” Jimin tried to shake off the heaviness in his shoulders. “Then I guess I am.”
Alex grinned, showing off the empty spot where he’d lost a baby tooth last week. “Good.”
Janie and her husband were gaining on them now, so Jimin ducked his head and pulled a little ahead of Alex, letting the horse take his own pace. He stayed safely in between Alex and the twins, keeping an eye out on both of them but thankful for the solitude the brisk ride back provided.
When they made it to Janie’s, Jimin dismounted and led his horse in quickly. A wet drop fell on his face as he ducked into the barn, and rustling behind him alerted him to the fact that he wasn’t alone.
“A little fresh air really does wonders,” Janie remarked, removing the saddle from her own horse. “Gets the heart beating.”
“Sure does,” Jimin agreed. “Sorry that I have to rush, but…” He let his words trail off, gesturing at the outside. When Janie didn’t respond he made to walk past her, but a gentle hand on his bicep stopped him.
“Mark and I were up at your father’s grave a little earlier. He was worried about the fresh earth, so we swung by to make sure that everything was held down right and proper.” Her mouth was strained and tight, eyes scanning Jimin’s face. “Thought you’d wanna know, is all.”
The knot in Jimin’s chest loosened slightly, and he found that he could breathe again. “Thank you,” he whispered.
“Go on home,” was Janie’s response. “Take care of yourself, we’ll see you tomorrow.”
Jimin left without another word, picking up his pace as the storm picked up it’s own. By the time he made it to his cabin and up the front steps he could hear thunder rolling it’s way across the valley.
Jimin stepped inside just in time to hear his cellphone ring, loud and shrill. He slid it off the table, lifting it to his ear without thinking.
“Hello?” He prompted.
“Jiminnie, is that you?” The answer came in Korean, a deep, almost nasal voice that he hadn’t heard since before the first snowfall.
Jimin swallowed. “Seokjin-hyung?”
“Oh, thank god. When you answered in English I hardly recognized your voice.”
“Sorry, I - I didn't check the name before answering.” The Korean vowels felt heavy on his tongue, stilted and uncomfortable from months without use. It was a strange sensation to have.
“It’s okay, I didn’t warn you that I’d be calling. I just — I was thinking about you today and I figured that I’d reach out. You’re not busy, are you?”
“No, I’m not doing anything. It must be early there, right?”
“Six A.M., actually.” Jimin could hear the grimace in Seokjin’s words. “Namjoon and I have a meeting at seven, so we’ve both been up for a while.”
“A seven A.M. meeting?” Jimin forced a laugh, hoping it sounded natural. It had been months since he’d heard from Seokjin, months of radio silence, and to have the older boy talking so casually to him now felt like something out of a dream. “What kind of person makes you schedule a seven A.M. meeting.”
“It’s actually with a, uh, a caterer. That’s kind of what I was calling you about.”
“Jiminnie,” Seokjin’s voice was gentle, the nickname stirring up something unnameable in Jimin’s stomach. “Namjoon and I are engaged, and we wanted to know if you would come to the wedding.”
Jimin’s throat felt dry. He clutched the phone tight against his ear, his heart beating in his throat. “In Korea?”
“This July. The service is gonna be in Seoul so that both of our families can make it, and I — It would really mean a lot to the both of us if you could come, everyone even agreed to chip in for your airfare and we —“
“Is he gonna be there?”
Saying his name out loud felt like a sharp pain to Jimin’s abdomen, a shot of ice straight into his veins. He steeled himself, taking deep breaths, and tried to focus on the sound of Seokjin’s voice through the receiver.
“Oh.” Seokjin sounded breathless. “Yeah, Yoongi’s going to be there. He’s Namjoon’s best man, actually.”
“I’m gonna have to call you back, hyung.”
There was a long moment of silence. “I hope that I’m not asking too much of you, Jimin.”
“You are.” The words felt like a weight off his shoulders. “This is definitely too much. As a matter of fact, this will never not be too much.”
“Jimin, I —“
“I have to go.” His mouth felt dry and wooden, but a strange sort of energy coursed through him. “Congratulations on your engagement. You and Namjoon-hyung are perfect for each other. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Wait, Jimin —“
He clicked ‘end’ on his phone, and immediately turned it off. Once the screen was black Jimin placed it in the far corner of the room, as far out of reach as possible.
Outside, thunder boomed as the storm rolled across the mountains.
Jimin watched the first strikes of lightning against the dry earth, and wished he could feel the same electricity in his bones again.
Yoongi was quiet the whole drive to the airport, his gaze fixed on the road. He kept one hand on the armrest, palm clutching Jimin’s tightly. They had made it thirty minutes in silence before Jimin spoke up.
“It’ll hardly be any different,” he reassured Yoongi, or himself, he wasn’t sure. “We’ll talk on the phone everyday, even if I have to wake up in the middle of the night to catch you on your lunch break. It’ll just be like an extended vacation.”
“An extended vacation,” Yoongi mused. “Except your father is dying, and you’re moving back to — what is that state called again? Codo-something?”
“Colorado.” Jimin corrected quietly. “I was born in Colorado.”
“Colorado.” Yoongi repeated. “How long is the flight?”
Yoongi was silent, but his grip on the wheel tightened.
“It-it would be shorter, but I couldn't get a direct one into Denver. I have to stop in Seattle and switch flights, the layover really isn’t that bad, and I’ll be able to sleep on both planes and probably in the terminal —“
“Minnie,” Yoongi cut him off, tired. “I’m not upset with you, baby. This is something you have to do, and I understand that. Go, be with your father.”
“It won’t be that long.” Jimin said. “It’ll only be—be a few—“ a lump rose in his throat, and Jimin blinked furiously, surprised by the sudden onset of emotion. It’ll only be a few months, he wanted to say, but the words lodged themselves in his throat when he understood what it was that he was saying.
Stage IV pancreatic cancer.
Jimin had googled it with shaky hands after his father had hung up, had stared at the little 7% next written next to survival rate. He had set his phone aside and thrown up into the toilet bowl while Yoongi smoothed his hair down, whispering soothingly in that low voice of his.
He had been better, after that. Jimin had busied himself with the preparations for a multi-month stint in the States, exchanging currency and digging out his U.S. passport, shipping boxes of his clothing that would undoubtedly arrive a month after he did.
And Yoongi had been by his side the entire time, a quiet helping hand, not voicing a single complaint. He hadn’t even said anything when Jimin pulled out of all the music video shoots and concerts he was scheduled to do for the next half year, removing himself from his work as a dancer almost completely.
Now, turning onto the final ramp into the airport, Yoongi looked just as exhausted as Jimin felt.
Yoongi squeezed Jimin’s hand where they were still locked together, an unspoken message.
It’s okay. I understand.
Jimin was almost glad he didn’t say it out loud, because then he’d have to feel the wave of guilt that came with every gentle reassurance from his boyfriend.
“I love you.” Yoongi said, turning his head slightly so that he could catch Jimin’s eye for a moment. “You’re gonna be okay. We’re gonna be okay.”
Six months is a long time, Yoongi. Jimin didn't want to say it, so he chewed on his words and swallowed them down.
Instead, he said “I wish you could come with me, is all.”
Yoongi laughed softly. “We both know that your father wouldn't have it, baby.”
“My father has asked me move back to the worst place on this planet. I think he can handle me bringing the man I love with me.” The proclamation was steely on his tongue, but in his heart Jimin knew that Yoongi was right. “Besides, he’s the smallest barrier in our way. You can’t leave Korea for that long.”
“Maybe I can try to get a week off and fly to visit you sometime in the next few months,” Yoongi suggested. “It’s only a short fifteen hours away.”
Jimin laughed at that, the noise coming out smaller and sadder than he meant. “You could make a day trip of it,” he joked.
The terminal loomed ahead of them, traffic steadily building as they neared where Jimin would have to get out.
Jimin had been back to America only three times since moving to Seoul with his mother after the divorce. The most recent time was when he was eighteen — he hadn’t made this flight in five years, closing in on six, and was surprised to find himself anxious for it.
“Did you talk to your mom?” Yoongi asked, his eyes never leaving the road.
“Yesterday.” Jimin replied. “She thinks I’m being a dumbass, but she also thinks that he’s being a dumbass, which is nothing new.”
Yoongi nodded, breathing out a hm, and let the silence sit between them. Jimin leaned back in the car seat — they had borrowed Jeongguk’s car for the drive to the airport, an oversized, flashy beast of metal and tire that drew attention wherever it went. The scent of leather upholstery was comforting as it mixed with the musk of Yoongi’s cologne.
“I think I’m gonna miss the smell of your cologne the most,” Jimin teased. “I won’t be able to steal your sweatshirts anymore.”
Yoongi paused, letting of of Jimin’s and hand and angling himself out of the seat slightly. He reached into the backseat, and when he pulled his hand back to the front there was a black hoodie clutched tightly in it.
“I thought ahead,” was his only explanation, and he dropped it into Jimin’s lap. Jimin picked up the soft fabric, lifting it to his nose, and breathed in the comforting scent of nutmeg and espresso.
His heart swelled.
“We’re gonna get through this,” Jimin echoed, voice muffled where his mouth was still buried in Yoongi’s sweatshirt. “I love you too much not to.”
Jimin caught a flash of Yoongi’s smile, teeth and all.
“You’re a fucking loser, you know that?” Yoongi mumbled. “And Hoseok is gonna miss having you to lead all of his choreography classes. He’s gonna have to teach his dancers on his own for once. Taehyung and Jeongguk need you to push them together, they’re incapable of doing it on their own. Namjoon and Seokjin are fine, they’ll always be fine. But I…” Yoongi trailed off. They were at Jimin’s terminal, and the car’s engine quieted as he slowed to a stop.
“I need you for sure, so hurry home.” Yoongi finished. He lifted his face, eyes locking with Jimin’s, and Jimin’s heart flipped in his chest when he saw the slight shine to Yoongi’s eyes.
“I’ll be home before you know it,” Jimin promised, and he didn’t know why the words felt like a lie.
Two weeks after the first storm, Jimin made the walk up to his father’s grave, feet slipping and sliding in the deep mud. In one hand he clutched fresh daffodils, and the other he swung in a vain attempt to offer him some sort of balance. It had taken a week for the roads to clear and power lines to be restored in this part of the state, and he had been reduced to long days in the cabin with only Burke and the occasional TV drama.
It had rained again last night, and from what he had gathered on the radio power lines were down across the county. Those on the other side of the mountain had suffered from powerful mudslides, but his area had been spared from the brunt of the storm.
Jimin had woken up early and attempted to take the truck up to the gravesite, only to find that the ground was so soft that driving was impossible once the road got steep. He’d parked half a mile away and resigned himself to walking.
The air felt oppressively wet after such a storm, not the same crisp cold that Jimin had grown accustomed to. Once spring fell it came fast, and he knew it wouldn’t be long before the dead trees lining the road up the mountain were in full bloom.
Already life was being breathed back into the land, browns and grays replaced by hesitant greenery. Only the early spring flowers were blooming — forsythia and daphne and creeping phlox dotted the hills. Jimin almost felt sorry for the wilted, store bought daffodils in his hand. He stopped to admire the natural flowers for a brief moment, and then went about the extra work of extracting himself from where gravity had pulled him deeper into the mud.
Visiting his father’s grave was strange for Jimin, the way he assumed it was for any child that buried their parent. It hadn’t been a surprise; Jimin had seen death creeping up on him from a mile away. When it happened it was almost uneventful, too quiet and sudden for the big production that everyone makes about the end of a life.
He had been watching TV, Jimin on the other side of the couch from him. He'd complained of a headache earlier that day, that he felt like his vision was foggy and his constitution weak. His father had been watching TV, until all of a sudden he wasn’t.
It was what Jimin had come back out here for, to oversee his father’s peaceful passing, and now that the task was done he had no home to return to.
“Will he be there?”
“Oh. Yeah, Yoongi’s gonna be there.”
Jimin closed his eyes and felt the dull throb in his chest. He wondered if saying the name aloud would be easier now that he’d done it once, ripped the bandaid off.
His father’s grave marker slipped into view in the clearing off the side of the path, and Jimin decided that now wasn’t the time for this.
The flowers that he’d left a few weeks ago were dead and rotting, their petals water-logged rather than dried out. He picked them up and turned them upside down so that the water would drip out over the wilted flowers and back into the earth. When he set down the fresh bouquet, he hesitated.
There was etiquette for doing this sort of thing in Korea, etiquette that his mother and her side of the family had impressed upon him. His father had never been one for the rules, had never quite learned to appreciate the culture that had separated him from his son and wife, and so Jimin wasn’t sure what to do now. Which culture did he draw from in paying his respects? Was he American today, or Korean?
He settled between the two, bowing his head forward in deference and brushing his fingers over the inscription on the gravestone.
“Hope you’re resting well, Dad.”
The breeze picked up, playing with the longer strands of Jimin’s hair, and settled back into place after a moment.
Jimin turned, and began the long walk back down to the truck.
Yoongi’s face slid into view on Jimin’s phone screen, pixelated and lagging, but Yoongi’s face nonetheless. Jimin sighed a breath of relief.
“Hi, love.” Yoongi’s voice was choppy, an ocean and another continent away.
“How’ve you been since we talked last?” Jimin asked, settling into the couch. He had a cup of coffee balanced in his lap to take off the edge of the early morning, but the taste of it was so unappealing that he’d hardly taken two sips since pouring it.
“Things have been fine,” Yoongi answered after a moment. “The label signed a new group, so I’ve been trying to work out a few debut songs for them.”
“And Pickles? How’s my baby?”
“Pickles threw up a hairball on my Givenchy shoes yesterday, and tried to sleep on your side of the bed afterwards.”
Jimin laughed, loneliness churning in his stomach. He caught sight of his father’s dog asleep in the corner, and whistled to get his attention. Burke popped one eye open and made a noise remarkably like a tired sigh, lifting his old bones off the floor and repositioning himself at Jimin’s feet. Jimin pet him softly as he responded. “She’s my princess, she can’t help being finicky.”
“She misses you,” Yoongi said softly. “We all do. It’s been a long two months.”
“It has.” Jimin didn’t know how to respond to the tiredness in Yoongi’s tone. “I miss seeing Seoul in September. My dad — he’s on and off. Good days and bad days, but we’re taking it one step at a time for now.”
“How are you dealing, though?”
Yoongi had set the webcam down and was sitting on the edge of their bed, pulling boots on. “I know you two have never had an easy relationship, Jimin, but this has to be affecting you in some way. Nobody can watch this kind of thing unscathed.”
“I don’t wanna talk abut it.”
He didn’t want to talk about the fact that his father was so disoriented that he hardly recognized his own living room at times. He didn’t want to talk about the creeping incontinence, and what it felt like to clean the spills of his own parent.
He didn’t want to talk about yesterday morning, when Jimin hadn’t been able to rouse him out of a deep sleep and thought for a cold moment that he had found his father dead.
Yoongi’s eyes were dark when Jimin looked back down at the phone, his face smooth and expressionless.
Jimin’s heart felt heavy. “Anyway!” He forced cheer into his voice. “I miss working out in an actual gym, but going on runs in the mountain is nice here.” He laughed, staccato and uncomfortable.
Yoongi glanced at something out of the screen’s scope of view. “I have to go soon, actually.”
“I told Namjoon and Hoseok I’d get drinks with them tonight.”
Jimin noticed the v-necked black silk shirt Yoongi was wearing, the glimmering studs in his ears and the way his lips looked softer and poutier than normal. Something like jealousy stirred within him, hot and painful.
“That’s fine, I-um, I should probably get breakfast started for my dad, anyway.” That was a lie. His father had hardly eaten enough to feed a bird in the past two weeks, something the hospital nurse had told him was symptom.
“I’ll call you tomorrow morning, your time.”
“Tomorrow isn’t good, actually. We have to drive back up to the hospital for a check-up. What about Friday?”
“Friday is…difficult.” Yoongi didn’t elaborate further, and Jimin didn’t ask.
“Okay. We’ll just play it by ear, then.”
Jimin swallowed the lump in his throat. “I love you.”
There was a harsh knocking in the background of Yoongi’s end, and his eyes flickered away from the screen. “That’s them. I gotta go.”
“Talk to you later, then.” Jimin said hollowly, and the phone screen flashed black as the call ended.
Jimin found himself where he always did after a trip to see his father’s grave, which was the counter at the general store where the owner sold lukewarm beers on an expired liquor license. They rarely tasted palatable and the alcohol never had an effect on him, but it was a safe place to retreat to that wasn’t his father’s empty cabin.
He was nursing a particularly bitter brew when the door swung open and Janie stepped in, her beanstalk frame backlit by the sun. Walter, the owner, nodded at her in greeting. Janie moved forward and behind her came another woman of the same thin, wiry build.
This was someone Jimin had never seen before, a rare occurrence for a town of this size. His curiosity piqued despite himself, and he shifted to get a better look.
What Jimin had assumed was a woman turned out to be a girl, the kind that was walking the tightrope between adulthood and childhood, in danger of tipping and falling all the way into one or the other.
“Hi, boys.” Janie greeted. “This is my niece, Ophelia. She’s in town for a few weeks with me while my sister is away on business.” The downturn of Janie’s lips and tone in which she spoke made Jimin think that business was something that far less tasteful than it sounded.
Ophelia had a severe look in her eye, sharper than her aunt, and she looked around the general store like it was a foreign country. Still, Jimin was raised well and knew when a situation pleaded good manners, so he hopped up off his stool and raised his hand to shake hers.
“Nice to meet you,” he greeted. “I’m Jimin.”
Ophelia met his eyes, and the ice-blue of them was piercing. Her palm was cold when it slipped into Jimin’s.
“Jimin,” she murmured, in lieu of re-introducing herself. “That’s an interesting name.”
“His papa married a Korean woman,” Janie supplied. “I watched this one grow up right smack between two worlds. Looks like neither one of them got the best of you, huh lovie?”
For a brief moment, Jimin longed for the anonymity of Seoul, for a place where he wasn’t one of a kind in a sea of people who all looked like each other. He pushed the feeling down before it could settle into his bones, forcing a smile onto his face instead.
“I like to think so.”
Janie seemed pleased with the answer, and she turned her attention to Walter, rattling off a list of things she needed before she could head back. Jimin made to take his seat, but hadn’t so much as settled against the cracked leather when Ophelia was slipping into place next to him.
“So,” she began. “What are you doing living out here?”
Jimin hesitated. She had the look of a poisonous snake, all sharp edges and observant eyes. He imagined that when she was little she looked more like a doll than anything else, but adolescence had whittled her into something else. Even her hair, blonder than Janie’s, was cut in a razor-sharp bob around her chin.
“Family business,” Jimin supplied.
“What kind of family business?” She prodded. Jimin tried to keep the frown off his face, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. The general store suddenly felt too hot and cramped, the condensation on his beer glass sticky in his hand.
He had a sour taste in his mouth, but the girl didn’t seem like she would let up easy. So Jimin’s lips parted and he said the words that felt like rotting food in his mouth.
“I had to bury my father.”
Ophelia withdrew quickly, and her sharp features slipped into hesitation. With the steel gone from her expression, she looked oddly familiar. He stared for a second, trying to place what it was.
She had pale, smooth, unmarred skin. Her hair was so blond that it was almost white, falling in thin threads around her face. Jimin realized that her nose was buttonish, her lips peaking into a gentle pout when her face relaxed.
It hit him like a punch to the gut.
The eyes were the wrong color, white-blue to his brown-black, but there was no mistaking her slight resemblance to Min Yoongi.
Jimin’s grip tightened on the wood counter, splinters slipping into his palm, and he told himself he was imagining things. This was a white girl in the middle of America, nothing like the boy he had loved an ocean away.
Had loved. Do love. Who are you trying to fool?
Yoongi’s voice in his head was soft and cruel, a memory that Jimin wished he would forget once and for all. To hear his subconscious speak to him in that low Korean drawl was the worst punishment Jimin could possibly imagine.
Jimin dug two crumpled dollar bills out of his pocket and tucked them underneath his full glass of beer. “It was nice meeting you,” he told Ophelia.
He wouldn’t cry. Not now, not after he’d come so far. He was stronger than that.
He wouldn’t cry.
At least, not here.
Jimin registered the shocked expression on her face, and figured that he must look worse than he accounted for. It didn’t matter, not really. She would look at his outward appearance and assume he was a grief-stricken son mourning the death of his father. She didn’t have to know the truth — none of them did, and the thought lessened the heavy load Jimin carried in his heart somewhat.
He didn’t want to go home, not yet, so he settled for walking the opposite direction, towards the post office. It was late enough in the day that it would still be open, and he might as well pick up the bills while he was in this area.
Selling his father’s livestock after he passed had provided Jimin with an uncomfortably large sum of money, a number that looked cushy in his bank account but made him nauseous whenever he withdrew any to pay for food or hot water. Still, it prevented him from having to find another means of work for now. Jimin had entertained the thought of getting a job, and it had made him feel small and useless in a way he wasn’t used to.
He was good with his hands, he was a hard worker — but he the last thing he’d been employed to do was the only thing he could see himself doing happily, and he doubted they needed dancers anywhere near here.
Not that he’d danced a step since he left Seoul, though. Jimin laughed to himself under his breath. He had probably forgotten how to at this point, had let years of hard work and a pinch of talent waste away into nothingness. Even if he did go back to Korea, it wasn’t like there would be anything there for him.
Ophelia’s words were unshakeable.
What are you doing living out here?
Jimin didn’t really know, but he was comfortable for now, so he figured that not knowing was alright.
The post office was a dingy old building, and he was fairly certain it was the only place left in America that didn’t employ a mailman to deliver things himself. Still, he hardly minded the weekly walk down to pick up whatever bills and junk mail collected in his address box.
He was the only one there at this time of day, so Jimin ducked through the doorway and to his box. There was a small stack of white envelopes, and one cream one that looked out of place in the worn down wood box. Jimin slid the stack out and shuffled the cream one to the front. The first thing he saw was the return address, printed in neat Korean. His name was printed in neat, cursive English on the front.
He opened it up and slipped out a piece of delicately embroiled card-stock, classic white in style with flourishing type.
You are cordially invited to attend
The marriage of
Kim Seokjin and
July Eighteenth, Two Thousand and Seventeen
Half past four in the afternoon
The Lilac Room at JW Marriott Dondgaemun Square
Reception to follow
Jimin stared down at the type, at the beautiful invitation, at his name on the front of the card handwritten with care. There was something else in the envelope, so he flipped it over and slid out the remaining contents in his hand.
It was a picture, a small little polaroid with writing on the white film of the bottom. Taehyung and Jeongguk, laughing wildly. Namjoon, down on one knee, Seokjin with an expression of murderous surprise on his face. The corner of Hoseok’s eye had made it into the photo, so Jimin assumed he was the one behind the camera.
And tucked neatly into the corner of the frame, watching the scene unfold with a soft smile on his face, was Min Yoongi.
I hope you can make it, Jimin-ah.
The first tears burned his eyes like a hot iron. They fell onto the polaroid and rolled neatly off onto Jimin’s fingers. The second and third stuck to his cheeks like drops of hot glue, persistent. Jimin slipped the polaroid and invitation back into the envelope, and the envelope into the back pocket of his jeans. He closed his eyes to slow the free fall, gritting his teeth, but found that it only made it worse.When he closed his eyes, the image of Yoongi’s smile was branded into his eyelids.
If the hollow ache he felt without his friends was a gunshot, Yoongi’s absence was a cannonball straight through Jimin’s vitals.
Jimin could hide out here for as long as he felt like, it could let himself fade into nonexistence among the flat plains and craggy mountain peaks, but even in death he would love Min Yoongi. He had known it since the final words of goodbye had fallen from his lips, he had known it since the first time that he had slept through the course of day and night to avoid reality. He had known it this entire time, even as long as he had pretended not to.
Now, with the polaroid burning in his pocket and tears burning in his eyes, he was too tired to pretend anymore.
When it happened, it had started as a normal argument. It had started with Jimin insinuating that he wished Yoongi were around to talk more, and Yoongi rebutting that anything more was difficult between a fourteen hour time difference and a full time job.
Jimin’s father had been hallucinating earlier in the day because of the tumor, insisting that Jimin was being a brat and that his mother was just in the next room if he would go get her, and so Jimin had been too wound up from the start. When Yoongi’s words took a patronizing tone, the tension coiled in him snapped like a rubber band.
A rubber band with huge, life-destroying capability.
“I’m doing the best I can, Jimin.” Yoongi snarled. “I’m trying to be supportive but it’s hard when you’re acting like I’m the one who left you behind.”
“So that’s what this is about?” Jimin hissed back. “Me abandoning you? Because really, Yoongi, that’s a pretty shit argument to make right now.”
“Jesus fucking Christ, Jimin. Can you listen to anything that I say, even for a second? It’s not like I’m purposely finding time to avoid talking to you, stop acting like a child.”
“You’re always so fast to transfer the blame and tell me I’m being childish,” Jimin snorted. “But somehow you always have time to go out at night, despite your days being as long as you tell me.”
“I’m working a full time job. Just because you’re not here, I have to stay inside and pine for you? That’s bullshit, Jimin. I’m trying to have a life even though you’re barely part of it anymore.”
“And how do you think I feel?” He was seething. “How do you think I feel, alone out here, watching my father die and knowing that you’re partying every night and not bothering to call me?”
“I can’t talk to you when you’re like this. You’re just not being reasonable.”
“It’s not like you ever fucking talk to me anyway!”
“Jimin?” His father’s head appeared in the doorway. His eyes were tired and his skin looked sallower than it had in the morning. On the phone, Yoongi began to rebut, and Jimin silenced him quickly.
“What is it, Dad? Do you need anything?”
“No, I just heard yelling and figured it wasn’t in English, so I wanted to check in.” He scanned the scene before him, Jimin splayed out on the bed with his face red and his chest heaving. “Is everything alright?”
“Everything’s fine, Dad.” Jimin reassured him, trying to calm his racing heart. “It’s nothing.”
On the other end of the phone, Yoongi was suspiciously quiet.
“Alright,” his father said. “In that case, I’ll get out of your way.”
The door clicked shut behind him, and Yoongi’s voice came through the receiver, colder than the dead of winter.
“I know my English is shit, but it’s not shit enough for me to have missed you telling him that this is nothing.”
“What, did you want me to explain the entire argument I was having to my father? I bet he’d love that, getting caught in the middle of a lover’s quarrel.”
“We’re hardly even lovers anymore, so maybe it’d be more comfortable for him.” His voice was calm and venomous, a straight shot of ice into Jimin’s overheated veins.
“The fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“You know what it’s supposed to mean, Jimin. This isn’t a relationship. It’s five phone calls and a fight every other month.”
There was a dull ringing in his ears, a haziness behind his eyes. “This isn’t a relationship anymore because you’ve stopped trying to make it one.”
“If you really believe that, then maybe this wasn’t right from the start.”
He had been furious all afternoon, had been wound tight and full of rage when the fight had begun.
For the first time since he’d picked up the phone, Jimin felt deathly calm.
“I think that’s the most reasonable thing you’ve said all evening.” No. “You’re right.” Stop it, no. “I think it’s time that we call it quits. It was time months ago.” Please don’t leave me, I love you.
Yoongi’s breath stilled.
I love you, and I’m so scared to do this without you.
There were four beats of silence between them.
“We should talk about this in the morning.”
“There’s nothing left to talk about, Yoongi.” He didn’t know where these words were coming from, but they had come with a vengeance and wouldn’t be stopped. “I’m gonna go now.”
Please, please, don’t let me go.
Yoongi was still quiet when Jimin hung up the phone and plunged them both into darkness.
He had put the invitation in his father’s room when he got home, tucked neatly into the cabinet on the bedside table. The polaroid he’d left in his pocket, too scared to take it out again. Every time Jimin shifted he had been able to feel its sharp edge digging into his lower back and bottom, and with every pinprick came another flash of Yoongi’s face across his eyes. It was inescapable, so he’d changed into a different pair of jeans and left the first pair to gather dust in the corner.
Hell wasn’t a destination, Jimin decided. Hell was being in limbo, caught between two places with no will to settle in either. Hell was the floodgate that opened when he ripped the seal off the wedding invitation, the pain he’d been able to ignore when the earth was still covered in snow.
Now that the trees were in bloom and the ground was fresh again, so were the wounds Jimin had sustained when he lost Yoongi.
Jimin wasn’t sure how to deal with the loss when it felt like this. He almost preferred the numbness of winter, because now he felt like he had been ripped open with a box cutter and left to bleed out or stitch himself up.
Whatever happened first, he supposed.
The springtime meant that, blissfully, there was work to be done. It was easy for him to occupy his hours outside of the cabin — helping Janie clean or teaching Alex how to be comfortable in a saddle. He was trying to be good again.
That was, until his phone rang during lunch one day.
Jimin’s blood ran cold when he looked down and saw the number, ten digits that he’d dreamt of every night for the first few weeks of loneliness.
His fingers itched towards the phone, and when he got it in his hands he froze, unable to do more than stare at the vibrating piece of metal. He checked the time and did a quick calculation to see what time it was in Seoul.
Twelve P.M. Mountain Time put it at two A.M. Korean Time.
It was two A.M. in the vibrant city of Seoul, and Min Yoongi was calling him for the first time in five months. It had been five months since that cold night in late November, and communication between them had been as quiet as the hollow where Jimin’s heart was meant to be.
Jimin stared hard at the phone buzzing in his hand, and eventually the buzzing stopped. Even with the moment passed, he couldn’t help the flood of questions rising in his throat.
Jimin wasn’t completely sure that he wanted to know.
Jimin was on his back porch when the sound of someone clearing their throat jolted him out of his thoughts. He turned to see Ophelia standing five feet from the steps, her thin frame cast in an orangish light from the setting sun.
“Hello,” he greeted. “Can I help you with something?”
In her hands she held a covered pot, black cast iron that unmistakably had come from Janie’s kitchen. It was shallow but looked heavy, and Ophelia struggled to raise it slightly when she spoke.
“Aunt Janie made you some casserole.” Ophelia looked uncomfortable, shifting the pot so that it rested against her hip. “She told me to tell you it’s leftover, but nobody gives away a full pot of carefully made leftovers.”
Jimin lifted his eyebrows. “Fair enough. Come on up, I’ll take it off your hands.”
“I can carry it inside,” Ophelia insisted, climbing the stairs and stepping past Jimin to wait by the door. “I need you to grab the slidin’ door for me, though.”
Her drawl was less pronounced than her cousins’, typical of someone who wasn’t born and bred in the valley. Jimin’s father used to joke that his drawl was the only natural way to speak, and people from the city were so filled with smog that they had to pinch the words out of their mouths.
Jimin stepped forward and opened the door, sensing that Ophelia wouldn’t be a quick guest. The way she walked inside was indicative enough of that, a saunter in her hips and a purposeful gait that wasn’t typical of being in a stranger’s home.
Burke had been absent for a majority of the evening, but at the entrance of strange feet and smell of food he came plodding through into the kitchen, tail whipping behind him. Ophelia cooed when he bumped up against her knobby ankles. She was barefoot, Jimin noticed, the ground warm enough that going shoeless was once again a viable option.
“He’s precious,” Ophelia murmured, stroking the old dog’s head. “Was he your fathers?”
“Hm?” Jimin glanced down. “Yeah, my dad owned him. He belongs to the neighborhood more than me at this point, with how much time he spends in every one else’s back yards.”
She looked up at him, and Jimin was struck again by the coldness to her eyes. “Alex seems to really love him.”
Ophelia didn’t move from her spot, still stroking Burke slowly, so Jimin took a seat at the dining room table and settled in.
Silence hung in the room for a few more beats before she spoke, her voice soft. “I’m sorry about your father. I didn’t mean to pry.”
So that’s what this was about. “Don’t be. Everyone that looked at him could see death coming from a mile away.” The brusqueness in his tone didn’t seem to affect her at all, and Jimin was mildly pleased that he wouldn’t have to deal with more pity.
“What was it?”
She whistled, low and between her teeth. “That’s a death sentence from the start.”
“It was.” Jimin agreed. “But we had accepted it by the time it came.”
“My question still stands, then.” Ophelia straightened, her hand falling off of Burke’s back. “If you came for your father, and he’s gone, what are you still doing here?”
“What do you mean?”
She shot him a judgmental look, sarcastic and quizzing at the same time. “You’re young. There’s no ranch to tend to anymore. And Janie says that you had a girlfriend back in Seoul.” She pronounced Seoul like See-ol, crossing her arms over her chest while she waited for an answer.
“I don’t have a girlfriend in Seoul.” It wasn’t a lie, even considering that Jimin had never been one for girlfriends.
Ophelia hm’ed like this was vital information. “So what, then? What is it?”
Jimin shrugged. “Where else would I be, if I weren’t here?”
“Anywhere,” she retorted, her eyes glowing. “You could be anywhere other than here, in this dead end commune forty miles from civilization.”
Jimin smiled sadly. “I felt like that when I was growing up here, too.”
Ophelia leaned over the kitchen counter, propping herself up on skinny elbows. “I’ve been here for a month and I’m already going crazy,” she announced. “I feel like nobody else gets it. They all love it here, love the isolation. You understand thought, right?” She looked up at Jimin with pleading eyes, and he wondered what it would feel like to be that young again, that full of fire and zeal and motivation.
In the light of the setting sun, Ophelia looked so much like Yoongi that it hurt.
“I get it.” He nodded, trying to push down the tightness in his throat. “Sometimes, you have to get out. For me, getting out was coming back home.”
He wasn’t sure when she had gravitated so close to him, but Ophelia prodded her elbow out to the side to brush his. Jimin didn’t move away, unsure if he should or shouldn’t.
“Tell me about Seoul,” she said quietly.
“Seoul is…” Jimin took a deep breath in. “Seoul is the opposite of this place in every way. Nothing stays still long enough to rust, and the city lights are so bright that even in the dead of night nowhere is dark. You can find anything and everything you could think up in Seoul. There are so many people that sometimes it feels like you could drown in the crowd and nobody would ever find you again.”
His eyes trained on the fine grains of wood in the counter top, a sense of calm setting itself in his chest. “Seoul is dangerous and fast paced and sometimes downright overwhelming. But it’s also the most incredible city you could ever imagine. The most advanced technology side by side with the remnants of ancient Korea. It’s like walking on a tightrope between generations, sometimes.”
Ophelia’s eyes were closed, a small smile playing at her lips, so Jimin closed his as well and went on.
“Nothing is ever quiet. I used to live in an apartment that was thirteen floors off the ground, and even then I could hear people on the street at all hours.” His apartment, god — Jimin hadn’t thought about his apartment in months. “It was cramped, but it was perfect. The location was right by all the best parts of Seoul’s nightlife, and there was a park that I used to take walks in after it rained. The lady who lived downstairs ran a bakery, so I’d always go down and bring up fresh baked goods for breakfast. Traditional Korean sweets, none of that ridiculously sugary American crap. It was perfect for us.”
Jimin’s eyes shot open, a painful twist in his stomach, and he was just in time to see Ophelia’s face inches from his.
She kissed him softly, shyly, with all the innocence of an infatuated teenager. Jimin kept very still, fingers curling around the wood of his table. He stayed still until Ophelia sighed and pulled back, a flush high in her cheeks.
“Sorry,” she murmured without a note of repentance. “It just felt right, you know?”
Jimin pinched his eyes shut, a messy knot within him, and missed Yoongi so furiously that it felt like it would knock the wind out of him.
“Ophelia,” he said quietly. “How old are you?”
“I’m eighteen, why?”
Jimin breathed in and out slowly, trying to calm the raging storm in his heart. “I’m twenty-four, Ophelia. You don't want that, not with me.”
She looked as petulant as anybody in her situation would, her enamored blush fading into to blotchy, embarrassed spots of red. “I’m an adult too, you know. Who are you to say that this isn't what I want?”
“Because,” Jimin slid off the chair, crossing the room and opening the door out to the porch for her. “You deserve someone who can love you, and my heart isn’t here for the taking.”
“What does that even mean?” She huffed. “Was it not a good kiss? I don’t understand.”
Jimin tried to smile at her, but wasn’t sure how far the gesture went. “For another person, it would be a great kiss. I think it’s time you go home, Ophelia.”
She hesitated, and in her sharp features and cold eyes Jimin saw the insecurity of a child.
“Thank you, for the food and for the talk.” He said. “Tell Janie that I always appreciate her cooking, even when it is ‘leftovers.’” Ophelia slid off the chair, her chin tucked into her chest, and Jimin felt bad that he couldn’t offer her a better explanation of what was going on in his ragged mess of a heart.
He hardly had the words to tell himself, but maybe someday he’d be able to explain it to the both of them.
Ophelia left without another word, and Jimin didn’t it personally. She would retreat to lick her wounds, and soon they would heal over so cleanly that she wouldn’t remember his rejection. She was lucky in that way, lucky to be younger and stronger than he.
When the door closed behind her, Jimin sank to his knees in the dark kitchen. He pulled his phone out, the brightness harsh against his eyes.
1 Missed Call
“What did you want from me, Yoongi?” He whispered to the empty room. When no answer came, he couldn’t quite find the strength to lift himself up off the floor, so he laid out on the cold wood and let his ears drown in the silence.
“Jimin, what do you call your brother in Korean?”
Jimin lifted his head from the clothesline where he was stringing up laundry, currently fumbling with a long linen dress that he assumed belonged to Janie. Sundays were always quiet, so he made a point to help his neighbors with whatever chores needed doing. Alex was sprawled out in the tall grass, overseeing him with the finesse that only a nine year old boss could possess.
“It depends,” Jimin answered. “If your brother is older than you, you'd call him hyung. In Korea, you’d call any boy older than you that you’re friends with hyung, though.”
“Really?” Alex sat up, excited. “You mean, like, anyone?”
“Anyone,” Jimin confirmed, leaning on his tiptoes to recapture the evasive clothesline. “It’d be rude not to.”
“Wow,” Alex breathed. “That’s like, a whole world of big brothers. I’d never have to worry about fighting a bully again.”
“Think about all the big brothers that need to look out for bullies, then. Life must be hard when you have a whole world of little brothers.”
Alex stretched, flopping back onto the earth. “S’not the same,” he yawned. “They’re bigger. Big people don’t have anything to worry about.”
Jimin laughed. “What makes you think that?”
“Because when you grow up, you outgrow problems.” Alex said it like he was explaining the most obvious thing in the world. “Being an adult means not having to worry about solving problems anymore.”
Jimin shook his head, grinning. “I sincerely hope that that comes true for you, because if that’s what being an adult is then I must not be one yet.”
“Well, you are short.”
“Say it again and I’ll never share another cookie with you.”
Alex squealed, an assortment of apologies tumbling past his lips, and Jimin turned his attention to the wet pair of socks in the laundry basket. He had one on the line and was struggling with the second when his phone rang, fifteen feet away.
“I’ll get it!” Alex sing-songed, jumping to his feet. “I’m gonna tell whoever it is that you died.”
“Make sure you tell them that it was violent and painful, too.” Jimin shouted. “Give them all the details.” He dropped the wooden clip, fumbling and cursing under his breath when he stooped to pick it up. The grass had shot up suddenly, growing up past his knees, and it took him a few seconds of blind grabbing before his hands closed around the familiar shape.
When he re-emerged, Alex was holding the phone away from his ear with a quizzing look on his face.
“I think it’s a prank call,” Alex said, disappointed. “If it is its a bad one, because I can’t even understand anything he’s trying to say.” He made his way over to Jimin and dropped the cellphone in his palm, bored with the game.
Jimin pressed the phone against his ear. “Who is this?”
A cold wind gusted over the valley, brushing the grass so that it ticked Jimin’s bare shins. He breathed in just as it hit his face, filling his lungs with an unseasonable iciness.
The entire world seemed to be holding it’s breath right alongside him.
“It’s been a while.”
Jimin stared at the horizon, the lush face of the mountain. It’s been five months and fifteen days, he wanted to say. It’s been five months but it feels like five years, and in five years hearing your voice won’t be any easier than it is now.
He wanted to say a lot, but Alex was watching him to gauge his reaction, so he exhaled the breath he was holding and said,
“Is now a bad time?”
“No, now is fine. Now is— it’s okay.”
Yoongi hesitated. Jimin wracked his brains for something he could say, anything that would prompt a response so that he could hear that deep raspy timbre again, could let Yoongi’s voice wash over him.
“How are you?” Yoongi asked, and Jimin wasn’t sure if he wanted to laugh or cry. “It’s the afternoon there, right? I wasn’t sure if the last time I called was bad timing, so…”
“Yeah, it’s about 3 P.M.,” Jimin responded dumbly. “I was just doing laundry.”
Yoongi breathed out a laugh — at least, it sounded like a laugh. “Park Jimin, doing laundry on a Sunday afternoon?”
Jimin closed his eyes and relished in the way his name sounded on Yoongi’s lips.
“A lot has changed, I guess.”
Yoongi breathed softly on the other end of the line, and Jimin was jealous of his calm, easy breaths.
“I’m sorry about your father. We — when I didn’t hear anything, I asked Taehyung, and he told me. I’m sorry that I didn’t reach out sooner.”
“I wouldn’t have expected you to have.” Jimin said, and found that the truth stung, too. “I don’t hold it against you.”
“I…” The Yoongi that Jimin knew never had this much trouble with his words, always spoke slowly and assuredly and like he’d planned every sentence that fell from his lips three years in advance.
Jimin was stuck, felt like he was sinking into quicksand the longer he listened to the gentle pattern of Yoongi’s words, so he steeled himself and forced strength into his voice. “Why did you call?”
“I don’t know, actually.”
“You don’t know?”
“I woke up this morning — or yesterday, I guess, it’s already tomorrow here — and I just. Felt like I had to.” He paused. “I tried last week, too, but I think I must have missed you, or something.”
Jimin remembered the missed call, the kiss from Ophelia, the long night he’d spent in a ball on the floor. “Must have just missed me,” he echoed. “It’s early there. In Seoul.”
“Yeah, it’s early.”
“Have you not slept yet?”
“No, not yet.”
“You never used to sleep enough, anyways.” He tensed when the words slipped out, cold fear shooting through him. He had made a mistake, speaking to Yoongi like nothing had happened between them.
“I know. I should be better about that by now.”
The tsunami wave of anxiety inside Jimin smoothed out, dissipating into foam and froth.
“What are you sorry for?”
Yoongi didn’t answer the question, but Jimin heard the sound of a can opening and a strange chill ran down his spine. It was the noise of a container of cat food being peeled open. In the background, there was a faint, insistent meow.
“Is that Pickles?”
“Hm? Oh, yeah. Can you hear her?”
“Yeah,” Jimin said, his voice surprisingly thick in his throat. “Yeah, I can.”
“She gained a lot of weight this winter.”
Jimin almost laughed at that, or the ridiculousness of the situation, he couldn’t be sure. Here was, standing in the middle of a field and talking to Yoongi like it was any normal part of his day. He wanted to ask more, about their old friends or the life that had once belonged partially to Jimin.
He opened his mouth but the words died in his throat, where they were guaranteed to do him no harm.
“I have a dog here.” Jimin said dumbly.
“That’s nice. I’m glad that…I’m glad that it’s not just you out there.”
And maybe, just maybe, Yoongi’s words were a glimmer of hope that Jimin could latch onto.
“Can I call you again?”
Alex was still stealing furtive glances at Jimin, most likely puzzled by the sudden switch to Korean. The afternoon was warm and bright, and Jimin watched the drying clothes as they floated in the breeze around him.
“Yeah.” He said, squatting down and twisting a strand of grass around his pinkie finger. “Yeah, you can call me again.”
The springtime was warm, and it felt like hope.
Once the calls from Yoongi had been established, it seemed like a floodgate had been opened, and Jimin was bombarded with texts from old numbers that he hadn’t seen across his screen in months. It started with Taehyung, a few tentative texts and updates about what he was doing in Seoul.
Messages from Taehyung morphed into messages from Taehyung and Hoseok, and suddenly Jimin had been thrown into a group message with the two of them and one Jeon Jeongguk, who seemed just as perplexed by the conditions as Jimin was but with a moderately better handle on the lightning fast pace of the conversation. It was about a week afterwards that the first message came from Namjoon, two lines of simple text that Jimin wasn’t sure how to respond to at first.
i heard that you and yoongi are talking again
its good to have you back, jimin.
And Jimin wasn’t quite sure what ‘back’ meant, or if he even was back at all, so let the message stagnate for a few days before typing in a hesitant response.
its good to hear from you, hyung. congratulations.
He never received a text back, but considered the interaction a profitable one nonetheless.
His phone bill was higher, and he was constantly being jolted out of sleep by the sound of a buzzing cellphone, but somehow the texts made the cabin feel a little less empty, the valley a little less lonely.
Spring soon turned it’s budding leaves over to early summer, and Jimin found that he didn’t mind the days getting longer again.
He looked up from his phone where he was deciphering a string of intelligible Korean, vowels and consonants all mixed up with emoji reactions. It was courtesy of Taehyung, and not the first of it’s kind, but they never failed to make Jimin wonder how he had understood them before.
Janie was making her way up the porch steps, the twins in tow behind her. It had been a hot day, too hot for June, and sweat had creased her dress at the neckline.
“Hi, Janie. Hi Annie, hi George.”
“Hi, Jimin.” Annie said shyly. George settled his thumbs into his jeans and jerked his chin up as a greeting. His fifteenth birthday had brought an awkward sense of manhood upon him, and Jimin tried to hide his smile at the unsureness in George’s movements.
“You sure are spending a helluva lot of time on that phone nowadays,” Janie remarked crisply. “What’s so interesting that it’s got your nose buried in there?”
Jimin ran a hand through his hair, sheepish. “Some old friends have been reaching out, and they're hard to ignore.”
“Are they your Asian friends?” Annie asked, leaning forward on her toes. “They’re not trying to get you to come back there, are they? Because Alex would be so mad if you left before you taught him how to do that card trick you did last week. Like, so mad.”
“Hush, Annie!” Janie fretted. “Jimin is a grown man, you’d best think twice before you try and tell him what to do.”
“I didn’t mean it like that, mama!”
Jimin laughed. “It’s okay, Annie, I understand.” He turned his phone over in his hand, pressing it screen-down against his thigh. “They’re not trying to get me to go back. At least, not all of them.”
“Good.” Annie looked all too pleased with herself. George looked like he was trying very hard to look bored. “We’d miss you too much.”
“All right, you two, scram.” Janie wiped her hands down the smocked front of her dress. “Jimin and I have some talking to do, and I won’t have you interrupting me every five minutes to ask him questions you have no business askin’ him.”
George started to protest, indignant at being ordered around, but a withering look from his mother was all it took to silence him. The twins shuffled off Jimin’s porch with trained efficiency, and he tipped his head to where Janie stood when they disappeared around the corner.
“I don’t think I’ll ever meet someone who can give orders as well as you can, Janie.”
“That’s a lie and we both know it,” she hmphed. “Your mama can give orders with the best of them. How is she?”
“The last time I heard from her, she was doing well.” Jimin didn’t mention that the last time he’d heard from his mother was a week after his father’s death, when she’d called and demanded he take the first available flight back to Korea. What Janie didn’t know wouldn't hurt her.
“I’m glad to hear it,” she nodded primly. “Now,” Janie dragged a deep-reclining chair over and plopped herself down in it with a sigh. “It’s time we had a talk, Jimin.”
“I won’t pretend to know what it’s about, but alright.”
She leveled him a pointed look. “I think you should know by now, sweetheart.” When Jimin was silent, turned her gaze to her withered hands, tracing lightly over her wedding band.
“You and I both know something that not a lot of people in this town do,” Janie said softly.
“We both know that this isn’t home for you, Jimin.”
Her words were gentle, spoken with just enough love that they chastised but didn't rebuke him.
“I think…” Jimin trailed off. “I think I’m doing well here, all things considered. I think that this could be home.”
“Babydoll,” the nickname was sugar-sweet in Janie’s drawl. “You aren’t meant to be wasting your life away in this valley. You’re meant for the hustle of that city, and the fancy clothes you wore when you first showed up here last August. Most importantly, you’re meant to return to whoever it was that being away from caused you so much hurtin’ this winter.”
Jimin bit his lower lip. “I didn’t think you noticed that.”
“I could tell it wasn’t your father that made you feel like that. A broken heart and a broken family are two very different things, Jimin. Maybe not to just anyone lookin’ in, but I’m not just anyone.”
He laughed, the noise hushed by the rising sound of crickets in the grass. “You sure aren’t, Janie.”
Jimin loved this place, loved it like he never had when he was young and restless. He loved the harsh steepness of the mountains and the way the valley seemed to stretch on for miles. He loved the quiet and solitude, even if the endless expanse of sky made him feel insignificant whenever he looked up.
He loved it, but deep down in his heart, he knew that Janie was right.
“What now, then?”
Janie looked at him with eyes wise beyond her years. “Now you do what feels right. Now you live for yourself again, whatever that looks like.”
Jimin thought about the wedding invitation that was gathering dust in his father’s bedside table, and felt his heartbeat stutter. Fear and anticipation tasted remarkably alike, and Jimin figured that it was a healthy time to be feeling either of them.
He leaned back in his chair and followed Janie’s gaze to the open fields, nothing between them but comfortable silence and the low chirp of crickets.
“Ah sorry, I was in the middle of cooking. What’s up, Jimin? This is unexpected.”
“I didn’t mean to get you at a bad time, I just had to ask you something.”
“Don’t worry about me. Ask away.”
“Is that invitation still open?”
“Oh my god. Oh, Jimin, really? Jesus, I — of course. Of course it’s still open. You have no idea how open it is.”
“That’s good to hear, hyung. Really, really good to hear.”
When all was said and done, planning his trip back to Korea was as simple as booking a plane ticket and making sure Burke was looked after while he was gone. Janie’s words stuck in Jimin’s heart as he made arrangements to fly across the world, but he wasn’t sure if he was ready to dive in and follow her advice that quickly.
So instead he booked round trip tickets for the wedding, and eagerly accepted Taehyung’s offer to sleep on his couch for the three nights he was back in Seoul.
Jimin packed his bag the night before, dragging the box that held his suit out of the back of the closet. He’d worn it last to his father’s funeral, and when he pulled it out from beneath the rest of his belongings hit brought a slight ache to his chest, a bitterness for the loss of his father that would rest within him for as long as Jimin lived.
He’d packed his bag, and afterwards he went and retrieved two things that he had hidden from himself in the past few months. One was the polaroid, still pristine and untouched where he had deposited his jeans.
The other was a familiar black hoodie, softer than anything originally in Jimin’s closet. Winter had leeched the scent of nutmeg and espresso from it’s threads, but when Jimin lifted it to his nose he could still make out the faintest hints of both notes. He tucked it deep into his suitcase, where it could be out of mind but still easily in reach should he want it.
Jimin had gone through all the motions. Had made sure his wedding gift to Namjoon and Seokjin was wrapped carefully before it was loaded onto the place. Had lugged his bag through security barefoot, and sat patiently though the flight from Denver to Seattle, sleeping fitfully through the connecting flight from Seattle to Seoul. Had thanked the flight attendants and even applauded with the rest of the passengers on board when they landed.
When the wheels of the plane slowed to a stop on the tarmac and the pilot announced the local weather in both English and Korean, it took Jimin a moment to remember that he had somewhere to be that wasn’t the cabin of a stuffy KoreanAir plane.
Jimin made it through the customs check without trouble, still sleepy and dazed from having crossed oceans to get to where he was. It felt strange to read the directional signs in Korean after speaking and reading in English for so long. He had forgotten how crowded his country was, how quickly people moved past him and how brusquely they spoke to each other. When he rounded the corner through to baggage claim, he caught sight of a familiar tall frame leaning against one post, back to Jimin.
His hair was blonder than it had been when Jimin saw him last, almost a year ago, but when Taehyung turned his smile was just as bright as Jimin remembered.
Jimin wasn’t quite sure what he was expecting from this reunion — Taehyung had been his best friend once, and maybe he still was, but he hadn’t set his mind to thinking what would happen when they found each other again.
He definitely wasn't expecting to be picked up and spun, princess-style, a full 360 degree rotation in the middle of the airport. When Taehyung got his hands around Jimin, though, that was what he got.
“I—agh!” Jimin squeaked as he was manhandled and set back down, stumbling backwards. “Taehyung, what the—“
He was immediately pulled back into a bone-crushing hug, a gesture that included a complimentary mouthful of Taehyung’s t-shirt.
“I missed you so much,” Taehyung mumbled into the crown of Jimin’s head, and Jimin relaxed into the embrace once and for all.
“I missed you too, Tae.”
“You look skinny.”
“You look tall.”
Taehyung pulled back, lips pressed together to contain his smile. “You look short, but that’s nothing new.”
“At least give me a second to get my bearings before you try to knock me down a peg, wouldn’t you?”
Taehyung laughed, deep and booming, so loud that a few heads turned in their direction. Jimin felt warm at the attention from all sides, strangely shy and unsure of himself. He shifted uncomfortably, backpack hanging down from where he clutched it in one fist.
“Let’s get your bag and head to the car, yeah?”
Jimin nodded. “Are we taking a cab into Seoul? We can take the subway, I don’t mind a little extra time.”
“Oh, no — Jeongguk’s outside in the kiss and fly.” Taehyung strolled towards where the bags from Jimin’s flight were starting to emerge. “You think we’d make you take a cab or public transportation, when you’ve been away for so long?”
Jimin thought of Jeongguk waiting in the long line of cars for them, thought of the last time he had been in that car, when Yoongi had been behind the wheel. The though of getting back into it made this stomach clench and his fingers tremble with anticipation.
He felt like he was getting a second chance, all these months later. At what couldn’t be said for sure, a concept too gray and abstract in Jimin’s mind to take shape just yet, but it felt like a second chance nonetheless.
“How’s everything been with the wedding preparations?” Jimin asked once they had his bag in hand. “Namjoon-hyung must be nervous.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man sweat through a shirt as quickly as he did when he was trying to write his vows,” Taehyung said seriously. “Everything is all put together now, but Seokjin-hyung took charge of the preparations early on and we all thought it was going to kill him before they could actually have the wedding. So many color-coded notes were involved.”
Jimin laughed. “That sounds like Seokjin-hyung. I bet the service will be beautiful.”
“It better be, because they're not doing an open bar.” Taehyung grumbled. “There’s Jeongguk, hold on.” He lifted an arm and shouted, waving, and Jimin saw the hulking black Jeep farther back in line pull out and forward. When Jeongguk rolled the window down, Jimin was struck by how much older he looked from just the course of a year.
“Hyung!” Jeongguk smiled, peering out from within the car. His shoulders had broadened considerably, and he filled out the shirt he wore with lean, well-defined muscles. His jawline had hardened as well, but there was a bunny-like softness in his eyes that had remained the same.
“Jesus,” Jimin breathed in English, below his breath, before switching back to Korean. “Jeongguk, what the hell have you been eating?”
Jeongguk laughed. “Get in the car, and we can tell you all about it.”
Beside him, Taehyung patted Jimin’s lower back lightly. “Grab the front, I’ll throw your bag in the back.” He encouraged.
Jimin took a deep breath in, and opened the door to slide into the same seat that he had slid out of eleven months ago, a different set of conditions holding his heart heavy in it’s place. This time, the silence in the car felt like a homecoming instead of a sentencing.
“Hyung,” Jeongguk said, grinning. “Just wait till you see everybody else.”
At some point in the drive, Jimin had given up and fallen into sleep’s grasp. The blur of countryside and spotted buildings had lulled him into it, combined with the low blast of lukewarm air through the car and the gentle voices in which Taehyung and Jeongguk conversed.
He was hardly asleep enough to dream, but somewhere in the blurry line between conscious and unconscious Jimin found himself thinking about Yoongi.
They’d spoken the night before he left — two nights ago by now, considering the time he’d spent in between terminals and continents. Jimin had been laid out in his bed late at night when his phone rang, the generic call tone sounding brighter and more cheerful than it had to him in the past.
“What time will you be getting in?”
“Close to midday, your time.” He’d brushed his hands down over the rumpled front of his t-shirt, ratty with overuse. “Taehyung-ah said he’d come get me from the airport.”
“Yeah, I know. The second Seokjin-hyung said that you were coming back he demanded he be the one to do it.”
Jimin had laughed. “There was demanding involved? I didn’t think anyone would be eager to make the drive to the airport in the middle of the work day.”
Yoongi’s voice had been soft, unoffensive. “I would have done it.”
Jimin’s heart had jumped in his chest, and he had tampered it down with a harsh rebuke. “You wouldn’t have been able to take the time off of work.”
“If you wanted me, I would have done it. Work isn’t as important.”
Jimin had closed his eyes, warm all over, and bit his lower lip to calm himself. “Do you mean that?”
The car jolted to a stop, and Jimin was shaken out of whatever dream-memory he had been wading through. He lifted his head, blinking the bleariness out of his eyes, and his heart twisted when he saw an all-too familiar building rising from the sidewalk beside them.
“What are we doing here?” He asked, twisting in his seat. “This is…”
This is where Yoongi and I lived.
“You’re staying in your old apartment, obviously.” Taehyung dragged Jimin’s bag out of the trunk. “We worked everything out beforehand, and the whole group figured you’d be most comfortable in familiar surroundings.”
Jimin felt like there was ice water in his veins. “Your apartment is familiar to me, Tae.” He croaked. “Why don’t we don’t go there, instead?”
“Don’t be silly.” Taehyung was humming, either oblivious to Jimin’s plight or uncaring for it. He had to know what this meant, what this implied.
Because when Jimin and Yoongi had spoken, two nights back, Yoongi had told him that he’d never left their old apartment.
Which meant, Jimin reasoned, that Yoongi was inside that apartment right now. And Jimin was expected to share it with him once again.
“Taehyung,” Jimin grappled for his sleeve, tripping up onto the curb after him. He had hardly registered the complete change in surroundings, the busy rush of people by them on Seoul’s streets. “Taehyung, stop.”
“Is something wrong?”
“I can’t do this.”
Taehyung’s expression was smooth, innocent. “It’s just your apartment, Jiminnie.”
“No,” he felt like he was choking, and he needed there to be some way for Taehyung to understand that. “I can’t — you know I can’t — I can’t just up and waltz back in there with him right—“ Jimin swallowed. “Taehyung, I’m not ready for this yet.”
The building door swung open with a buzz, the sound of the security system being relaxed for a moment, and in the doorway stood Min Yoongi.
Jimin felt very much like he was going to faint.
Yoongi looked the same, like the passage of a year was a day in his book. He looked sleepy even in midday, eyes heavy-lidded, face barely flushed like he had woken up from a long nap. The only difference Jimin could see was that he had dyed his hair back to it’s natural black, the flashy white-blond that Jimin had loved so much covered up.
He looked like the Yoongi that Jimin had left behind last August, and it hurt.
Jimin let go of Taehyung’s sleeve slowly, hands falling to rest by his side.
Yoongi broke the silence first, stepping aside to hold the door for them. He looked down at the ground as if he were embarrassed, cowed by the situation, and that was unusual for him. “Come in,” he said. “You must be tired.”
On the contrary, Jimin felt so awake that he could run five miles without slowing. “Thanks,” he whispered, the words lost to the sounds of the city. He tried again, louder. “Thanks.”
Yoongi’s eyes were dark, unreadable. He held out his hand for Jimin’s bag, which Taehyung passed to him wordlessly. Jimin stepped through the doorway like he had done a million times before, and followed Yoongi to the elevator.
“I, uh.” Yoongi began. “There’s not a ton of food here, so if you’re hungry I can go out. I grabbed a few of your favorites — almond milk and those protein bars you really liked, but I don’t know if—I didn’t know what else to get.” He looked like he was struggling to get his words out, and Jimin wished that he could say something to dissipate whatever hung between them.
It struck him that he was here, in Seoul, riding the elevator up to his old apartment with Yoongi like he used to daily.
Jimin wanted to grapple around until he could find the threads of reality and wrap himself in them, because whatever this was, it surely wasn’t his reality.
“I had something in the airport and on the plane, so I’m okay for now. You don’t need to worry about me.”
Yoongi’s lips pursed, downturned. “It’s not a worry.”
“I mean, I can take care of everything. You don’t even have to know I’m here, I’ll stay out of your way.”
Yoongi leaned back against the railing, turning his head to the side. In the glass walls of the elevator, Jimin could see how small and pale his own face looked.
“This is your home too, Jimin.”
The lump in Jimin’s throat was so large that he could hardly breathe around it.
“If,” Yoongi paused, sucking in a sharp breath. “If you want to get a hotel room, I’ll book you one and pay and you can be on your way, but. If you feel comfortable being here, and staying with me, I’d really like you to.”
Yoongi’s shoulders slumped, and for the first time Jimin saw a man across from him who was just as tired as he was.
Jimin stood up straight.
This is probably a bad idea.
He stepped forward, across the two feet of space between them. Yoongi was staring at him, expression just as unreadable. Exhaustion occupied the hollows under his eyes. They both seemed to be holding their breath, waiting for something.
So Jimin closed the last few inches of distance, and wrapped his arms around Yoongi’s neck, pulling him into a quiet hug.
Yoongi’s arms immediately came up to rest on Jimin’s waist, muscle memory stronger than manners. Jimin tucked his head into the crook of Yoongi’s shoulder and breathed.
Nutmeg and espresso, as always.
He didn’t realize he was shaking until Yoongi pressed a gentle hand to the top of his head, smoothing downwards and hushing him. Jimin’s mind was screaming at him to hold tighter, to move closer, but his limbs were frozen still with fear. He stayed still, breathing in the scent of Yoongi’s cologne, feeling how warm Yoongi’s chest was pressed against his.
“Hey,” Yoongi said, his voice sounding strained. “Hey, Jimin, it’s alright. It’s okay.”
The elevator dinged for their floor, doors opening, but neither of them made any attempt to move out of their current position. Jimin kept his eyes shut, not wanting to see himself reflected in all four walls around them, and Yoongi kept stroking his head with a feather-light touch.
“It’s okay,” Yoongi said again, but it didn’t sound like he was talking to Jimin anymore. “You’re okay.”
Jimin wanted nothing more than to cry, to stand in the elevator and mourn the life he had shut himself out of when he hung up that phone call last November and ignored all the ones preceding it. It seemed like Yoongi would let him, but Jimin wasn’t sure if he could handle that yet and they still had a wedding to make it through, so he extracted himself gently and picked up his bag where he’d dropped it.
“I’ll stay here, if that’s okay.” Jimin told Yoongi, and let Yoongi unlock the door to their apartment to lead them both inside.
Jimin found that moving around the apartment was easy, effortless. Hardly anything had been moved out of place since his departure, almost as if Yoongi had rearranged everything so that it matched perfectly with the scheme from the day Jimin left. Once inside Yoongi had left him to his own devices, retreating and allowing for some space between them.
Jimin was too tired to worry about what had happened in the elevator, exhaustion in his bones and the grime of the airport on his skin, so he padded down the hall to the bathroom and drew himself a bath. It wasn’t until he was finished, steam rolling off his skin in gentle waves, that he heard a small, angry meow outside the bathroom door.
The second the door had been opened wide enough, a small spot of orange and white slipped through. Pickles made a straight shot for Jimin’s ankles, brushing up against them, and Jimin laughed when bits of her fur stuck in the water on his skin.
“Hello, gorgeous.” Jimin squatted, the towel bunching around his waist. “How has my princess been?”
Pickles’ only response was to bump her face into his outstretched hand, and that was more than enough for him.
He toweled the rest of the water off his body, slipping into a t-shirt so that he could gather the cat up in his arms. Pickles purred softly against his chest, and Jimin shifted her up onto his shoulder so that he could use his free hand to secure the towel wrapped around his lower half. He pushed the bathroom door open and slipped into the hall.
From somewhere in the apartment, he could hear the faint sound of a piano being played.
Jimin’s bag of clothing was still in the living room, tucked neatly into the corner where he had left it after getting a clean shirt. He spared a glance down at his toweled lower half, and figured that he had no easy way out.
Holding Pickles so that she wouldn’t be jostled too much, Jimin followed the soft notes to their source.
Yoongi was bent over the grand piano, head ducked beneath a piece of sheet music, his fingers traveling up and down the length of the keys. Jimin leaned against the doorframe, unsure if he should alert Yoongi to his presence or merely observe.
It was a simply melody, a repeating triad punctuated by one much higher note. There was nothing overtly impressive about it, but Jimin could tell from the way Yoongi was hunched towards the piano that he wasn’t intending to impress — or even to be heard, for that matter.
The piano had been a gift from Yoongi’s grandfather, and in all the years he and Jimin had lived together Yoongi had hardly touched it.
Pickles let out a small noise, letting Jimin know that she was done being held, and Yoongi’s eyes lifted to meet his. Almost immediately, pink crept into his cheeks. He looked down quickly, clearing his throat, and Jimin remembered that he was in a towel and a t-shirt.
How the times had changed for them.
“Sorry,” Jimin apologized. “I just heard it from the bathroom, and got kind of curious.”
“It’s nothing to apologize for,” Yoongi murmured, gaze fixed on the keys in front of him. He cleared his throat again, quiet and strained. “Are you settling in okay?”
“Perfectly,” he responded. “Seoul is…different.”
Jimin shrugged, kneeling by his suitcase to dig out a fresh pair of pants. “I guess loud would be the best way to explain it, but that doesn’t really do it justice. It’s strange just how quickly I got used to how quiet Colorado was. There’s too much light here, too many sounds.”
“Your town is small, right?”
“Just under a thousand people.”
“I can see how after that Seoul would be…different.”
The room slipped back into silence, but the quiet between them was comfortable. For the thousandth time since he’d stepped off the plane, he found himself wondering how this could possibly be real.
“Your flight home,” Yoongi said, and there was a strange edge to his voice. “You’re only staying in Seoul for a few days, right?”
Jimin nodded, and felt a heavy stone settle in his stomach. Janie’s words replayed in his mind once more.
Most importantly, you’re meant to return to whoever it was that being away from caused you so much hurtin’ this winter.
Here he is, Jimin thought dryly. Right in front of me, and I don’t think that returning to him is an option.
“Hm?” Jimin looked up, and Yoongi had finally lifted his head to make eye contact.
“I just mean — why are you going back to Colorado, Jimin-ah?”
There it was again, that godforsaken question. Everybody seemed to need to know, to need a definite answer from Jimin about what he wanted or why he did the things he did. His temper stirred and died out like a stray breeze, never picking up enough strength to stay.
Yoongi was looking at him in earnest, like whatever Jimin would say next would solve every problem and answer every question he could pose of the universe.
“If I don’t belong here, and I don’t belong there,” Jimin said tiredly, “then where do I belong, hyung?”
“Who ever said that you don’t belong here?”
Jimin laughed. “Nobody had to.”
Yoongi stood then, his movement so sudden that it made Jimin flinch backwards. “I’ll say it, then.” There was a newfound fervor to his voice, different from the gentle tone he’d been speaking to Jimin in all afternoon. “You belong wherever you want to be, Jimin, but I hope that you want to be here.”
Jimin stared at Yoongi, at the strong set of his shoulders and the fire in his eyes. His black hair was dusting down low on his forehead, and it made him look younger but no less grave. He’d taken most of his earrings out, and just two simple silver hoops hung down from his ears now.
It was Jimin’s turn to ask, his voice barely above a whisper. “Why?”
For someone who had been struggling with his words since the moment he begun speaking to Jimin again, Yoongi’s answer was as fast and sure as any promise.
“Because it’s not the same without you here.” Yoongi responded. “Not for anyone, and certainly not for me.”
Jimin’s heart was thudding in his ears, blood roaring through his veins. “I—“ he started, and found no words to follow it up with. “I think —I think I need to sleep.”
Yoongi said nothing, but his hands curled into fists where they rested on the smooth wood of the piano’s lid.
“I just need to rest for a few hours, is all.” He laughed awkwardly, and it dissolved into a short cough. “Sorry to— sorry to bother you. I probably won’t eat dinner. I’m just gonna,” Jimin started towards the guest room and tripped over his feet, face burning. “I’m just gonna go sleep.”
Just as Jimin was pulling the door to the guest room shut, he heard Yoongi whisper a quiet “fuck” from the living room. Then the lock clicked into place, and Jimin was left alone with his thoughts once more.
The rush to get out of the house and to the service the next morning saved Jimin the task of speaking directly to Yoongi, of having to face the implications of their talk last night. It was a theme now, he supposed. He’d successfully avoided talking about what happened in the elevator, and now he would avoid talking about the things Yoongi had said to him.
Jimin wasn't sure what to think of them, wasn’t sure if he could allow himself to take those words to heart, so he pushed them into the back of his mind and focused on how their cab driver wove his way through traffic to get them to the venue on time. It was an unsafe practice that Jimin and Yoongi had only goaded with an advance tip and urgency in their request.
They rode side by side in a silence that was only broken when the car door swung open, and Hoseok’s face popped into view.
“Jimin!” He crowed. Yoongi shuffled out awkwardly first, and when Jimin stepped out of the car he was immediately wrapped up in Hoseok’s arms. He figured that he’d been hugged more times in the past twenty four hours than he had in the past year, and it stirred warmth in his chest.
“Everyone is inside, but you,” he turned an accusative glare on Yoongi. “Namjoon needs you, and he needs you right now.”
Yoongi’s mouth pinched in annoyance. “What now?”
“He thought he’d have a glass of wine to take the edge off, and spilled it all over himself.”
“Jesus christ,” Yoongi sighed. He glanced at Jimin, hesitant. “I’ll…I’ll find you after the ceremony, then.”
“Yeah,” Jimin responded. “Good luck. With Namjoon, and everything.”
Yoongi nodded, and then he was gone, jog-walking through the double doors of the hotel to find Namjoon and control the situation. Jimin smoothed his palms down the front of his suit, sweaty from anxiety and the oppressive heat of Seoul in July.
Hoseok smiled at Jimin like he was the only good thing in the world. “How are you, Jimin?”
Jimin felt the burning urge to tell Hoseok everything that he’d felt in the past eleven months, the ins and out of every moment of his life, but he knew that was a side-effect of Hoseok’s personality more than anything else. “I’m better.” He said honestly. “A lot better.”
And Hoseok, always observant, knew to move on. “Good, because Seokjin’s great-aunt is here and she’s making a fuss over the napkins. She likes you best, so you’ve got some work to do right now.”
Jimin laughed and let Hoseok lead him into the hall, the first guests just beginning to arrive. There was no sight of Taehyung and Jeongguk, and when Jimin asked he got the news that Taehyung was doing a similar kind of damage control to Yoongi — as Seokjin’s best man, he was being sent on every check up and errand imaginable.
“They’ll be in place when it starts, don’t worry.” Hoseok reassured him. “Namjoon’s younger cousin is the ring bearer, and she’s decided she’s in love with Taehyung, so at least there’s a promise that everyone will attempt to be in the same place when the music starts.”
The wedding hall was massive, bigger than Jimin had pictured it and draped in white and gold cloth from every angle. It was modestly decorated past that, white folding chairs and fluted lilies lining the aisle up to a simple, raised arbor. It was perfect for Namjoon and Seokjin, Jimin decided. Understated and modest, but beautiful enough that it took your breath away for a moment.
His best friends were getting married today. They were making a promise based on how they knew they wanted to spend their lives, and Jimin still couldn’t figure out what side of the world he was supposed to be on.
He was told to start living for himself, and he wondered just where along the line he had stopped.
Seokjin cried during Namjoon’s vows.
He had caught Jimin’s eye as he passed by, walking down the aisle arm-in-arm with Hoseok — the resident father of the bride, a stand-in for the man who had given up his son based on who Seokjin had fallen into love with. That bitter fact hardly seemed to damper Seokjin’s spirits today, and when Jimin’s eyes met his, Seokjin winked.
The ceremony had begun smoothly, and Jimin found himself seated next to Jeongguk.
“We’re the only ones they didn’t trust enough to be in the wedding,” Jeongguk had grumbled to him at one point, and Jimin had torn his eyes away from the scene in front of him, breathing,
“We’re the only ones who get to see how beautiful this is going to be.”
And he had been right.
Seokjin’s vows were exactly what Jimin would have expected, starting with a light tone and a series of bad jokes only to morph into something more serious. When he promised to fix up the broken glasses Namjoon dropped daily, Jimin knew there was a significance to those words that stayed between the two of them.
Namjoon’s vows, on the other hand, had Jimin and everyone else in the hall holding their breath.
“Kim Seokjin,” he began. “When I met you the first time, I was convinced that you wanted me dead, because I had tripped and broken a lamp five seconds into your apartment.”
The crowd laughed.
“But you were understanding,” Namjoon went on. “You knew it was a mistake, and through the exasperation and cut fingers of cleaning up, I knew that you would never hold my mistakes against me. Not many people would be so casual about a stranger breaking their great-aunt’s fine china lamp.”
Jimin glanced over at Seokjin’s great aunt, the only one who seemed disapproving in a time like this, and he tried not to smile.
Namjoon cleared his throat. “I’ve messed a lot of things up through the years. Not just furniture, believe it or not. I’ve experienced some colossal failures and setbacks the way that I know everyone has. But the only difference is that after all those setbacks, I was rewarded with you.”
Jimin saw Seokjin lift one hand to cover his mouth.
“I was rewarded with you, and I could lose everything I’ve ever worked for so long as it meant that I could come home to you at the end of every day. It will never cease to amaze me that I can make so many mistakes, can get so many things wrong, and have been so right in finding you.”
The glimmer in Seokjin’s eyes definitely wasn’t caused by the soft lighting overhead. Jeongguk coughed next to Jimin, rubbing suspiciously hard at his cheeks.
“I love you, Seokjin. Even if I get everything I do wrong for the rest of my life, I know that I have you — and you are everything right for me, everything I need. Thank you for deciding to spend your life with me.”
Seokjin wasn’t a pretty crier, and he seemed well aware of the fact. The moment Namjoon’s mouth closed, Seokjin smacked his shoulder and whispered something furious to him. Namjoon smiled widely in response, and a tiny, tearful laugh broke out of Seokjin’s throat.
Jimin was surprised to find his cheek cold, wet with a single tear track. He looked next to Seokjin, and his eyes met Yoongi’s.
Yoongi looked calm and collected, the only one who had remained composed through the reading of the vows. Someone who didn’t know him might make the mistake of thinking he lacked compassion, but Jimin knew better.
Yoongi held Jimin’s gaze, and his eyes glowed with words unspoken between them. Jimin couldn’t find it in himself to look away.
When Seokjin and Namjoon finally kissed, the applause was deafening. Jeongguk whooped and whistled. Hoseok broke the quiet he’d been forced to maintain with a loud screech. Taehyung, who had been standing tall and elegant at Seokjin’s side, slipped into a cringe-worthy dance move that Jimin couldn’t say he had ever seen before.
And Jimin and Yoongi clapped quietly, twenty feet of space between them, eyes never leaving the other.
When the ceremony had ended and the wedding party moved to a larger hall for food and drinks and dance, Yoongi was tugged out of sight by Seokjin’s hand, and Jimin was left anchored in place by himself.
Just like that, he knew.
Jimin knew what Janie meant when she told him to live for himself, and he knew how to do it.
He walked made a beeline for the door he had seen Yoongi and Seokjin disappear through, an unassuming white exit pressed against the far corner of the room. Jimin pushed the door with more force than strictly necessary, picking up speed as he went. The door entered into a long, thin hallway. Jimin jogged to the other end of the hall, scanning for any sign of the pair, and stumbled to a stop when he found one door slightly ajar.
He slipped through, and caught sight of slender shoulders and messy black hair, a suit-clad back to the entrance.
Yoongi turned from where he was leaning out the window, a cigarette dangling between his fingers. There was a slight redness underneath his eyes, and when he exhaled the smoke went up in a cloud around him.
“Hi.” Jimin said.
“Hi.” Yoongi replied.
“Your bowtie is crooked.”
Yoongi looked down. “Couldn’t figure out how to get the god damn thing straight,” he sighed, his voice sounding heavy. “Bet I ruined the whole wedding, didn’t I? Everyone’s gonna look at the pictures and think, the best man sure is a slob.”
Jimin stepped forward, slipping into place in front of Yoongi. He let the cigarette drop from his hand, falling out the window and taking the thick smell of smoke with it. Jimin held his breath as he reached out and took the black silk in his hand as delicately as possible.
The only noise in the room was the sound of his heartbeat as he undid the knot, tying it back into place so that it rested evenly against Yoongi’s throat. His fingers brushed the soft skin on Yoongi’s jugular, and for a split second he felt the pulse there, thrumming fast and strong.
Jimin stepped back. “Better,” he whispered.
“Jimin,” Yoongi croaked, stepping forward. “Jimin, I —“
He felt calm, warmth radiating throughout his body. “Save me a dance?” He asked Yoongi, cutting him off swiftly.
Yoongi, it seemed, wasn’t going to let him get away that easily. “Now,” he said, voice even. “Let’s go now.”
“They only just started.”
“Don’t care.” Yoongi’s hand wrapped around Jimin’s, and the feeling of their fingers intertwining put butterflies in the pit of Jimin’s stomach. “Dance with me now.”
His words were strong, demanding, but his grip on Jimin’s hand was ever so gentle. Jimin let himself be lead out of the room, down the hallway and to another nondescript door. Yoongi held it open for him, letting go of his hand for just long enough that the both of them could slip through the doorway.
Classical music filled his ears, and Jimin breathed a little easier when he saw that they weren’t the only ones on the dance floor by a long shot. It was mostly older couples around them, laughing and talking as they spun in slow circles around each other.
Yoongi stepped in, holding up his hand for Jimin to meet, and Jimin let him lead them into rotation with the other dancers.
The steps felt almost unfamiliar, but Jimin’s body was made for both dance and Min Yoongi, and he quickly settled into time. Yoongi’s hand curled around his where they were clasped, squeezing tightly.
It was now or never, he supposed.
“When I was in Colorado,” Jimin began. “I was alone for months. I had neighbors and they were especially supportive after my dad died, but it was nothing in comparison to being in Seoul with you and everyone else.”
Yoongi was quiet, obviously understanding there was more to come.
“It was kind of weird, going from being active and around others 24/7 to being alone on a ranch in the middle of nowhere.” Jimin continued. “I really hated it for a while, the way I did when I was younger and growing up there, but once it was just me in the house I figured out why people love it there.”
“They love it there because it’s hard to not know yourself when that’s all you have. In the city, when you’re never alone for too long, it’s easy to forget what makes you who you are and forget how to take care of yourself. Being out there was a chance for me to learn it again, but I don’t think it’s something I need to spend my life there to remember.”
Jimin paused to steady himself, breathing deep. “I loved you so much that I’d forgotten to love myself, Yoongi. So when things got difficult and I felt like I was losing you, I lost so much more than just that. That’s why I hung up that night, and while I wish I never had to lose you to grow the way I did, I think that I’m better now. And I’m ready again.” He bit his lower lip. “I’m ready to love you again, Yoongi, if you’ll let me.”
Yoongi stopped dancing so suddenly that Jimin almost lost his footing, stumbling just a bit. The redness under his eyes had grown more pronounced, and Jimin held his breath for the long moment it took him to respond.
“Jimin,” Yoongi whispered. “I’ve been waiting for you to come back to me since the second you stepped into that airport terminal.”
When Yoongi finally kissed him, it was like Jimin had been starving all his life, and was served a full meal for the first time.
His hand came to wrap around the base of Jimin’s neck, fingers spearing through his hair and holding him in place. Jimin dropped Yoongi’s hand in favor of placing both of his on Yoongi’s waist, noting how much thinner it felt now. The smell of nutmeg and espresso was everything, in his lungs and his head, and he was drowning in the heat that came with it.
Jimin kissed Yoongi softly, slowly, and for the first time he felt like he was home again.
That night, after Yoongi had laid him out and pressed kisses into every inch of bare skin, they laid on the mattress and breathed together. Jimin’s body was loose with a post-orgasm high, sweat drying on his skin, and he took a moment to admire the dark hickeys that he had worked into Yoongi’s neck and collarbones in the heat of the moment. Yoongi caught him staring and pressed his own hand over the marks, sighing a complaint about having to wear a scarf to work all week now, in the middle of summer.
Jimin soothed his concerns with another kiss, sweeter than the smell of the flowers that bloomed in the valley in Colorado.
He stared at the bedroom ceiling, legs tangled in Yoongi’s, and listened to the sound of Pickles scratching and crying to be let into the room.
Yoongi turned to look at him. The flush was still fading from his skin, and Jimin loved the color of it. “What do you want now?”
“All my clothes are still in Colorado,” Jimin admitted. “I can’t just stay, as much as I want to. There are things that need to be taken care of — the property, and the dog, bank accounts and other stupid adult things.”
“Then we’ll take care of them.” Yoongi said it like it was the simplest thing in the world. “We’ll do it together, if you’ll let me help. I’ll call the airline tomorrow and see if I can get a seat on your flight still.”
Jimin rolled over, kissing the crook of Yoongi’s shoulder where the head of his dragon tattoo curved in. “I’d like that a lot. I want to show you the valley, and all the places I used to go to when I was growing up.”
Yoongi threaded their fingers together. “We’ll make a trip of it. And when we get back, I won’t—I won’t make you rush. Personally, I’d have you move back in here as soon as possible, but if you want more time, I understand.”
Jimin laughed at the hesitance in Yoongi’s tone, covering his mouth so as not to seem rude. There was something new to this, a stumbling nature to their relationship that they hadn’t had in years. It was endearing to him, to see Yoongi so flustered.
“I’ve had a lot of time,” Jimin told him earnestly. “I don’t want to spend any more of it alone.”
Yoongi brushed Jimin’s bangs back from his forehead. The glow of the city lights were casting his face in hues of blue and purple, and he looked almost otherworldly in Jimin’s arms.
“Good,” Yoongi rasped. “Because I don’t plan on ever letting you be alone again.”
Pickles let out a particularly loud meow, thoroughly enraged at being ignored, and the two of them laughed in unison.
“I don’t think you’re the only one who feels that way.” Jimin teased, propping himself up on his elbows so that getting out of bed would be easier. Yoongi halted his movements, wrapping an arm around Jimin’s waist to anchor him in place.
“Stay in bed a while longer,” Yoongi urged, his eyes wide and earnest. “Just stay with me.”
And so Jimin complied.