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“The most memorable moment in Japan?” Jungkook repeats. “Definitely sleeping in with Jimin-hyung.”

 

 

First things first:

There is an irrevocably perfect Jungkook. Perfect Jungkook sold bleak-looking school uniforms, even though Real Jungkook graduated in tacky canary yellow and resoundingly failed every of his third year exams. Perfect Jungkook has less face and more unblemished canvas, the Eighth Wonder of the World being airbrushing, even though he actually broke out the night before eating three cups of Shin on the wooden tiles of the living room floor like a sodium-starved freak. Perfect Jungkook is attuned to the camera. To vigilance.

It isn’t that Jungkook doesn’t love what he does, because that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s just that he can’t help but find beauty in autonomy when it is so rarely allowed of him.

When they have downtime, Jungkook busies himself with what he can get his hands on, meanders around the dorm searching. Ramen is easy; laundry is therapeutic. The others let him have things like that. The little things, like measuring out the water and the detergent and the fabric softener. Let the hum of speaker bass reverberate through the walls of the dorm as he sits, idle and restless in tandem.

The cycle of mundanity is surprisingly comforting, but—still. The menial tasks are an odd thing to take pride in, and some days a chasm in his gut bleeds wide. Tells him he was cheated out of adulting the way people his age should have stumbled into it.

“What do you mean?” Jimin asks, when Jungkook says as much out loud.

And what Jungkook means is:

The day of his high school graduation, he’d treated the hyungs to jajangmyeon. On that day he remembers this bone-deep elation and relief gripping at him, the knowledge that he was finally free of the pointless attendance SOPA had demanded from him.

“You did it,” Jimin said then, eyes crinkling behind his huge square frames. “Jungkookie! We’re so proud of you!”

Yeah, he thought. I did it. And then, almost immediately, wondered what exactly that even meant.

Because sometimes Jungkook wonders what it would have been like to live through his youth the way Yoongi and Namjoon and Seokjin had. Yoongi, determined and headstrong. A heavy world heaved onto his shoulders long before BigHit, and even then the pressure had only grown tenfold. Yoongi, shoulder shattered and pride cracked along the surface. A furious flurry of music on paper ever since he learned to pick up a pen, this whirlwind of anxious passion.

“I almost gave up,” Yoongi will say, periodically. “When all of that happened, I almost gave up.”

But he hadn’t. Deep down, Jungkook knows he never would have. After all, this is Yoongi: Yoongi, who knew independence when Jungkook was still kicking around a soccer ball in his grade school uniform. Who worked when Jungkook’s knees and palms still dirtied from play rather than struggle.

Even Namjoon, for all that he wasn’t even that much older, had been the same. Something steadfast in spite of his own inner turmoil, ready for Jungkook to reach over. Even Seokjin, for all the glitz and fortune he’d seem to affect when Jungkook was younger and more starry-eyed, had been making something of himself before BigHit. Before Jungkook.

So what Jungkook means is:

He hadn’t been afforded this luxury. Instead, Jungkook grew into himself in bursts. Like a poorly microwaved dish, hot and cold in uneven pattern. He’d become a working man a few months into seventeen, when his classmates had barely begun thinking about university. Jungkook at seventeen had been worked-to-the-bone and hopelessly reticent; in school it made him unattainable and lonely. And yet he would always be the group’s baby, and at twenty-two he still felt too much like a child, unsuspecting and careless.

Jungkook had grown up on the shaky outline of something larger than him, like a fly on the wall, in the inbetweens. Everything fast and slow at the same time. Coddled but brutal. Like someone was constantly holding his hand through life, but life was actually a blustering free-fall at 200 miles an hour.

“I feel like,” he breathes, then. “Not so much of me is to myself. Or my choice to make, really.”

Which was maybe a bit of an exaggeration. His passions and hobbies were his choice, certainly. But over time, as he drew himself thinner and thinner, he couldn’t help but find fault in the intangibility of it all. Often he worried whether his interests were even appealing, and then he wondered, too, why that even mattered to begin with. Almost always, he would tire when his interests demanded too much of him.

Honestly, It’s not like Jungkook keeps a checklist: of the things he will have loved and lost, of what he should tackle next. It's not like he draws a line through each passion and sets a timer running.

It has never worked like that. Jungkook just burns hot and quick. Always has, always will.

“Maybe,” Jimin starts, “you just need to do something for yourself. Selfishly.”

“Selfishly?”

“I mean,” he says, “when you’re suffocating, don’t drown yourself further. Sometimes you can lie back and let things happen, but sometimes... maybe it wouldn’t hurt to take control of something you really want. To swim up and breathe, for once.”

And that sounded suspiciously like… like growing up.

 

 

As they grew bigger, busier, it became increasingly difficult for them to actually enjoy a meal in the dorm as seven. It’s a rare day off in between the lull of promotions and upcoming award appearances that has them sprawled out in the dining area together, an infrequent but valued comfort.

Jungkook positions the pot on the marble tabletop with finality, his grip firm on the handles. Everyone but Yoongi and Seokjin is already seated, the eldest two busying themselves with plating the rest of the dishes.

“Ah!” Jimin exclaims in delight, immediately snapping forward with his chopsticks. “Ramen!” Taehyung follows with equal fervor. They take turns then predictably voicing their appreciation for the maknae’s cooking, wah!, cooing at Jungkook’s mock-irritation.

Finally, they all finish settling around. Jungkook had learned, somewhere along the line of meaning to adult better, how to hold chopsticks the proper way. His father had even teased him about it, and he’d ducked his head, shy and abashed, wondering in part why he’d gone on for so long with his grip awkward and twisted.

Jimin digs in next to him. His elbow bumps into Jungkook’s side as he inhales the billowing steam of hot noodles, and it startles Jungkook into action.

He had spent a lot of time thinking about his talk with Jimin. About choices, he thinks still, distractedly taking a bite. What it meant to be selfish in his position. Beneath the table, Jimin’s hand comes to rest on his knee.

Jimin’s laughter always rings out loud and clear to his ears during their gatherings. He likes all of the members’ laughter, Hoseok’s temperate hahahas and Seokjin’s seal-clap of a laugh, rivaled only in absurdity by his own brazen cackles. But it feels like the pitch of Jimin’s mirth exists on his own frequency, because Jungkook always hears him first. Jimin, he thinks. Leaned against him, unshakable and reassuring, revealing only the slightest movement from the quiet shake of his shoulders as he cracks a joke at Seokjin. Jimin, Jimin, Jimin.

Jungkook has a lot of himself to give, but only so much others will take. Even then, sometimes those pieces will be the few he had wanted to keep.

But he has never been too much for Jimin, and Jimin has never demanded more from him than he had. Jimin’s thumb traces the gentlest of circles, and it is as steadfast as he is. In the moment, Jungkook wants this. He wants to give all that Jimin is willing to take. Wants to melt into every empty space and remain fitted together for as long as time permits.

 

 

“Jimin-hyung, you said to take control of something I wanted. Let’s do something of our own, then.”

 

 

So it goes like this:

 

 

Side B. Malta

Malta is stupid hot.

“It’s hot,” Jimin whines from next to him. His arm is pressed up against Jungkook’s. Jungkook can feel the dampness through his own sleeve.

Jungkook is holding an ice cream cone in one hand, watching desperately as the heat starts to beat at its shape. The other hangs inconspicuously between the swing of their bodies, and the soft drag of his fingers against Jimin’s smaller ones, understated enough to pass as accident, feels like his own giddy secret.

A younger Jungkook would have probably exclaimed something along the lines of, “Hey! Why are you sticking yourself to me?!” and attempted to push Jimin away. A more foolish Jungkook, anyway.

But in Malta, Jungkook lets it happen. The contact feels like a kind of assurance. That they are here and alive, that where Jungkook burns Jimin does too. Even sticky-hot and sweating uncomfortably on old European cobble.

“Have some ice cream,” he demands, holding out the vanilla swirl expectantly. Jimin eyes it critically before reaching a fluttering palm to fan at his face elaborately.

“Jungkook-ah, you don’t understand. It’s hooot,” Jimin whines again.

“And ice cream is cold,” Jungkook reasons, before delighting at Jimin’s eventual kitten licks. He’s so forceful with it, too. His fingers grip around Jungkook’s wrist to bring the cone forward, readying his perfect pink mouth over what remains of the swirl. When he straightens back up, there is a dash of ice cream staining the corner of his mouth, and Jungkook’s thumb reaches out, unbidden, to swipe at it.

“Thanks,” Jimin says cheekily. There is a self-assured smirk dancing on his face, like he knows exactly how well he can read the signs of fluster on Jungkook. When Jungkook flounders uselessly for the next several moments, mouth gaping like a fish, Jimin rolls his eyes and hooks an arm around his. With one definitive tug he pulls him along, scurrying ahead. Behind them the cameramen scramble to follow. “Let’s go!”

Has Jungkook mentioned that he is kind of in love?

 

 

In Malta, Jungkook can drive.

Jungkook has had his license for a while, but no car to be driving in Seoul. Nowhere to drive himself to. What Jungkook knows is the company vans and the managers’ impatient steering, is face masks in taxis and the fact that the roads are volatile for people like him.

Malta still isn’t theirs, if the camera affixed on his face doesn’t make it clear enough, the consternation in his brow as he focuses on making each turn always captured in perfect HD. “Someday, I want us to go on a trip without any cameras,” Taehyung says. In any case, it isn’t that. But it’s somewhere along the way.

“What’s the point?” Jimin would retort, when asked why he hadn’t gotten his license yet. Before, Jungkook never had an answer. Jimin had always, always been the more practical one between them. Never doing things just to have done them.

But in Malta—Seokjin and Jimin bickering about something or another next to him, Jimin twisted around in the passenger seat—Jungkook is suddenly hit with it. Malta isn’t quite theirs, not the way Tokyo had been, but there is a fragile something between them all the same. In Malta, Jungkook is more certain of his bearings. His hands grip at the steering wheel. An energy spits into life and crackles within him.

It feels settled.

 

 

As is ritual by now, they go on a boat.

There, the six of them get pleasantly tipsy and wear each other out with laughter and easy movement. It is only when the pink of sunset bleeds away that the other members retire, and Jungkook floats forward, restless still, toward the bow.

“Care for some company?” Jimin asks. Jungkook twists to find Jimin rooted across from him. His hands are clasped behind his back and his smile flashes brilliant and sweet, like they are sharing a joke between the two of them. Jungkook, mindful of the cameras, can only chuckle lowly in response before tugging gently at Jimin’s sleeve, the movement near-imperceivable.

Jimin follows.

“It’s beautiful,” Jungkook says as he stares ahead. There is only the stillness, enveloping them like a warm and steady mother. The faint glow of the stars. The luminescence of the waterfront, and them.

“Yeah,” Jimin breathes. “Beautiful.”

When Jungkook chances a glance, Jimin is looking straight back at him. Something impossibly tender is caught in the light of his eyes. On the deck, everyone else is asleep, and the night feels awash in a bleary solemness. But between them runs a charge only they are privy to. Their bodies curving into each other like magnets, silhouettes swan-necked.

“Yeah?” He asks.

His hand inches along. His pinky finds hold of Jimin’s, hooks over it like a promise.

Jimin throws his head back, giggling. “Do you even need to ask?”

 

 

Later that night, Jimin creaks down the stairs of their accommodation and fits himself into the open spot on Jungkook’s bed.

“Hyung,” Jungkook chirps happily, not minding that Jimin had woken him.

Jimin curls his arms around Jungkook’s middle, burying his face into the angle where Jungkook’s neck meets his shoulders. Malta nights are cooler but not cool enough, and the proximity burns hot.

“I missed you,” Jimin breathes, and wonders briefly if the camera is still running. But Jungkook inhales, and his lips touch the crown of Jimin’s head, and he whispers, gently, Missed you more. Always. And Jimin finds that he doesn’t really care.

 

 

Side A. Tokyo

Jungkook doesn’t know what it is about Tokyo that makes it so easy to get lost in. He’s grown accustomed to being recognized by now, and Tokyo is no different. Often he will feel the weight of people’s stares as he enters enclosed spaces, or the too-awkward-to-be-subtle camera angling of restaurant neighbors. But in Tokyo people care just a little less. Move along just a little faster. Maybe, he thinks, it’s because everything is already so bright and bustling. No one has time for him, this fumbling tourist in his bucket cap and uninteresting black attire.

He remembers standing at Shibuya Crossing next to very official-looking men with crisp suits and sleek leather briefcases. Around them hung an immovable impatience for the idle, a distinct hunger to keep the pace. To keep it steady, straightforward. Uninterrupted.

It is a remarkable thing, he thinks. This unquestionable flow. By now Jungkook is veteran enough to not fear routine, either. Meticulous planning has defined his life at home for so long that even the most minuscule fractions of time are treated like water amid desert sand, something far too precious and rare to be wasted.

Maybe, he thinks, it's why getting to break any semblance of it with Jimin is so particularly liberating.

 

 

They check into the hotel with little fanfare. The receptionist is cordial and efficient, and when he hands Jungkook the room card it’s with a pleasant smile and a smooth, “Please enjoy your stay.” He doesn’t mind that Jungkook communicates in a soft jumble of Japanese and English, Jimin snickering fondly at his effort. On the way up in the elevator, Jimin’s hand tucks stubbornly into Jungkook’s. It runs a pleasant thrill up his spine.

“Thank you for planning this,” Jimin says, sweet, and Jungkook thinks—all of this is for you. But he doesn't say that.

“Of course, Jimin-ssi,” he teases instead. They open the door to the hotel room and set their suitcases aside, promptly delving for the nearest bed.

“Ahhh,” Jimin whines. For a while, he just lies there. Takes in their surroundings. Then he tilts his head to the side and catches eyes with Jungkook. “My Jungkook is all grown up now, aren’t you?”

 

 

For us.

 

 

Jimin is ethereal in motion, Jungkook thinks through the viewfinder of his digital camera.

(The first time Jungkook took out his camera, Jimin had groaned lightly in protest.

“Don’t we get filmed enough?” He'd asked. Or rather pouted, the words muffling as he wrapped his arms around Jungkook’s waist and smushed his cheek against the muscle of his back.

“Yeah,” Jungkook had conceded. “But this is just us. I… we get to choose who sees. What they see.”

And that had been enough. It would be enough.)

Jimin takes him through Tokyo with insistence. Jungkook has never liked walking around that much—prefers the luxury of rest to busy touristy sights—but he'd let Jimin plan out the finer details of the trip anyway knowing it would make him happy. The way Jimin’s smile widens so hard it threatens to split when they spill into the entrance of Tokyo Disney has Jungkook’s knees weakening on sight, and he's suddenly grateful for his past wisdom. Jimin’s arm snakes around his back, pressing him closer, and he exclaims, “Oh, teacups! Jungkook-ah, come on!” They’d picked out a cheesy Mickey Mouse hat earlier and he tightens it as he climbs in, Jungkook laughing as he enters afterward.

Something about Disneyland is magical and soft. They spin and spin, and spots of light dance on Jimin’s skin. There is a brilliance to the entire park, a perennial light-beam cast against the dark of the night. But Jungkook thinks that even when everything else is bright, Jimin shines above it. When he throws his head back and shouts, dizzy, eyes curving into crescents—nothing about him is artificial.

Jungkook could get lost in this, this cycle. He thinks of the incessant spin of the washer in their dorm. How he watches it sometimes, in wonder and deliberation. The way the zippers of his jackets hit the metal, how the tumble is a clanging thing, banging at the walls. He thinks of their routine, their push and push and push, never pull.

This is not routine, but it feels right.

 

 

In the end, what it really comes down to is:

It's 11am. There is the barest sliver of light stealing through the slot that the blackout curtains don't quite extend to. The gold of it warms Jimin’s face, and Jungkook is maybe in love, maybe ridiculously so, maybe definitely so.

Maybe the whole thing is a touch ridiculous. That they're lazing around in their hotel room in Tokyo in Jimin’s bed (Or was it Jungkook’s? They don’t know anymore, acquainted enough with it that it’s just theirs, the two beds a mere technicality). Jimin kisses him long and slow, tongue licking deep into Jungkook’s mouth, fingers splayed across the nape of his neck where the touch tickles at his baby hairs.

Today and tomorrow and until it is time to go home again they will sleep in. They won’t have to worry about the early wake-ups and dance practices. Instead Jungkook is here, back turned to the world, shivering under Jimin’s attentive touch. Let’s do something of our own, then, he had said. So Jungkook had. Booked his own flight and his own room and brought the clothes on his back, had taken his own camera and put himself behind it, turned the tides on their focal point.

Jungkook is not a giant cog in the machine. Above all, he is human.

This, here, is human. Of all the things—this is a choice. Theirs alone.

 

 

“I love you,” Jungkook says, resolute.

When Jimin mouths the reply into his skin, Jungkook can't hold back his smile.