one hundred and one reasons - Anonymous - 방탄소년단 | Bangtan Boys (2024)

one hundred and one reasons - Anonymous - 방탄소년단 | Bangtan Boys (1)

86 miles •

Rochester, Washington

8 June, 2018

“Do you think Yoongi prefers sour cream and prawn-flavoured chips or spicy curry chips?”

Seokjin rattled two packets in front of Jimin’s face with much vigour. They were huge packets, too, nearly drowning out Seokjin’s handsome face from their sheer volume. Jimin sighed, pointing to the picture of the animated prawn on the packaging. It was a ghastly design choice. Why give personality to the thing one was about to eat?

“Yoongi is allergic to prawns,” Jimin mumbled, trying to stifle a yawn. His blunt fingernails scraped at a half-peeled price sticker on the shelf. It was a thick stack of labels too, the peeled bits revealing the previous sign that had been under it, peeling to reveal another under it. Jimin didn’t know how long they ran for, but he imagined nobody had actually peeled the entire lot at once in many years.

Half Off! Enjoy to your heart’s delight!

Jimin was not a fan of signs, especially ones that made no sense. He wasn’t sure how tins of butter were to be enjoyed to one’s heart’s delight. It felt like the opposite, actually. There wasn’t even a picture of a finished dish that involved the use of butter, or even a picture of toast. Unless the ad was suggesting people just shovel scoops of butter in their mouths. He was sure he could’ve come up with something better. Particularly last week when he’d been in between his accounting and marketing exams, and butter on toast had suddenly felt like the best meal ever invented.

“Your post-examination brain rot is evident.”

Jimin blinked. The confusion left him marginally more awake. He pulled himself out of his reverie on edible fats and turned to Seokjin.

“Exams are over. You’re done with university. You can, like, press pause on…” Seokjin trailed off, while waving his free hand towards the shelves. Jimin wasn’t sure where he’d abandoned the prawn flavoured chip packet. “Judging businesses for their advertising and stocking choices. You’re not a business student anymore.”

“I am not judging–

Seokjin raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, I’m judging a little. I can’t help it. It’s a knee-jerk reaction.”

“What a shame that your expertise cannot be put to use to elevate the business operations of…” Seokjin squinted his eyes and tilted his head, trying to read the sign posted behind the cash register. It was a replica of the one outside, sans sputtering neon bulbs. “Is that…is that Johnson or John’s Son? I can’t tell.”

Jimin ignored him. Instead, he focused his bare minimum energies on juggling the very full shopping basket on his arm. The wire dug into his skin, despite the fabric of his hoodie acting as a cushion between them. It also looked rusted, which made him grateful that there was fabric present at all. He shivered as a flake of rust chipped off and fluttered to the ground. It wasn’t the rust’s fault. Jimin was cold despite it being a very pleasant sixty-eight degrees. He had Yoongi to blame for that. The man blasted air conditioning in the car as though he was recreating the ninth circle of hell alongside Dante himself.

It had certainly frozen Jimin’s limbs in place. Although, that was possibly on him for having fallen asleep in a fairly awkward position. He had a strict rule to never have his feet on the dashboard, safety hazards and whatnot. He usually kept his legs stretched out. His knees now felt locked in the half-lounge position he’d nodded off in.

And who could blame him? It was barely seven in the morning.

They’d all woken up at four to pack last-minute things because nobody had been able to focus on packing during the examination and commencement weeks. Plus, it didn’t help that most of them had been out late the previous evening. Jimin’s parents had insisted on a final dinner before they flew back to New York. Yoongi had been at an afterparty with his classmates since all their parents had left the previous day.

Seokjin was faring the worst. Between helping Yoongi move out of their shared apartment, wrapping up work at Moonlight, and picking up his boyfriend from the airport, he hadn’t slept a wink. Thankfully, the boyfriend in question, Jung Hoseok, had slept quite soundly on his flight into Seattle-Tacoma from JFK. He was in a much better position and was driving the couple’s car for the first leg.

But that had always been the plan, right? It’s what they’d planned for the past year. Longer, technically. Seokjin had graduated last year and dutifully agreed to hold out for the rest of them before they embarked on the trip—a trip they’d all been trying to plan for a better part of two years now. It had been better to hold off.

Although Seokjin had graduated with his master's degree last summer, Yoongi had been smack in the middle of his own master's program and juggling two jobs, neither of which granted him the leave. Hoseok had been in the middle of an internship, crucial to finish before the heavy courseload of his last undergraduate year, what with the pre-med track and all. And Jimin, well…Jimin had been doing his own internships that were mind-numbingly boring but helped him push his undergraduate grades.

To be perfectly honest, Jimin hadn’t even pushed. He knew he was the one coasting most comfortably out of all of them. He could tank his entire degree and he still had a job waiting at home. The only difference was that his parents expected him to achieve certain milestones.

Look, it’s not that he didn’t take his work seriously. It was as serious to him as a heart attack. Hell, his grades and internships were the only thing he had to prove (for now) that he deserved his job by merit and not by birth. It’s what would set him apart from all the other nepotism babies running around Midtown Manhattan. It also helped that he’d transferred universities after his first year from his parents’ sphere of influence—NYU—all the way to the University of Washington with zero special incentives. His grades for the last three years were of his own making.

But privilege was privilege. So, he kept his mouth shut because he knew he had certain hoops he would never have to jump through. Like the fact that even though he was running on equally terribly low sleep, he technically could’ve slept all of the past few days and he would be on no schedule. His lease wasn’t running out any time soon. That was courtesy of his parents being family friends with the landlord, who gave him a much more flexible lease. It ran till the end of August instead of rushing him to clear out right after classes ended.

Yoongi had been on a much tighter schedule, vacating and moving into his own studio the same day as the commencement ceremony. Even Hoseok had hurried to move his things into his new apartment back in New York before hopping onto his late-night flight. And Seokjin, though on no timeline to vacate any apartments, had certainly squeezed in over a month’s worth of work simply because this was the first time he was leaving his shop in the hands of his newly promoted operations manager instead of, well, doing it himself.

They had all been tense. Excited, but nervous. So, Jimin just shut up.

Instead, he focused his energy on scouring the aisles of the little gas station shop outside Rochester. Hoseok and Yoongi were filling the tanks—a choice they’d made to beat any morning traffic and fuel up after they’d left the city. None of them had a chance to stock up on food and necessities. And it was going to be a long drive. Jimin trusted their choices, though. Both of them not only had the most experience with road trips but were also well-versed in Seokjin and Jimin's needs. That much was evident when Hoseok had pointedly lathered sunscreen on Seokjin's nose while they loaded the cars, and when Yoongi had tucked energy bars in Jimin's messenger bag, sleepily rubbing his eyes and mumbling about Jimin's sensitivity to low blood sugar.

Seokjin hummed. Jimin looked up from the shelf of bread spreads, torn out of his unnecessarily complex mental comparison scale for chunky vs. smooth peanut butter. They all preferred smooth anyway. He was the only one who liked chunky. It was just an inconvenience to opt for it. He placed the jar of smooth peanut butter in his basket and turned to his shopping companion. Seokjin practically had his SPF-protected nose buried in the corner of one shelf, his reading glasses nearly sliding off his face.

“You can’t tell me to get out of the examination mindset if you can’t get out of the business mindset,” Jimin complained, hooking his arm through Seokjin’s and dragging him away from the soaps.

“I was simply examining which fragrance combinations they were going for. Some of those are out there.”

No, ” Jimin chimed. He placed his overflowing basket on the checkout counter, just as Seokjin did the same with his. The cashier looked neither impressed nor unimpressed by their large sweep. In fact, they didn’t seem to have changed their expression at all since the two men had walked into the store. They simply paused whatever game they were playing on their phone and started ringing up the items. Jimin turned and pointed sleepy finger guns at Seokjin.

“What you were doing was figuring out if the company had white labelled their product for a wider consumer base, or if they were actually selling under their own name and had somehow managed to get their items stocked in the middle of nowhere.”

Jimin turned to the cashier, wincing.

“No offence.”

The cashier rolled their eyes and shrugged. It is the middle of nowhere, they seemed to mumble but Jimin must’ve misheard. He narrowed his eyes and turned to Seokjin, who was opening and closing his mouth rapidly. The tips of his ears were turning red, which was a telltale sign of how tired he was. He didn’t usually let himself get embarrassed over something so silly, always had a quippy remark that was three steps ahead of his conversational partner.

f*ck, they were all tired.

But the sky had turned from a gentle cerulean to lighter powdery blue just when they’d gotten into their cars, the sunrise chasing them as they pulled onto the I-5 and headed west towards the coast. And with it, Jimin hoped they managed to shake off the last dregs of their stress and dive headfirst into this trip they’d all been looking forward to.

Fifteen days. Two cars. Four best friends. Their headlights pointed south, the rest of their futures on the left, the great unending Pacific Ocean to the right.

It was going to be fine. It was going to be great. In fact, Jimin was willing to bet, it was going to be–

“Ninety-seven, sixty-six,” the cashier deadpanned.

It was going to be worth less than a hundred, apparently.

Jimin sighed and forked over a crisp Benjamin Franklin that the cashier looked at a little suspiciously, the first sign of any emotion on their face. After the most cursory of examinations, they seemed sufficiently on board with it.

“Right,” Seokjin said, blowing out a breath as he and Jimin juggled the bags of purchases outside the shop. The two gas pumps were unoccupied, and their cars were decidedly not there. Seokjin and Jimin exchanged a look and started walking out of the station, took a right turn and trudged up the side of the road. Unsurprisingly, their cars were parked about fifty feet away from the station, by the designated smoking spot.

Seokjin’s 2010 Ford Fusion was catching the glint of all the neon signs that were yet to be turned off in the wake of the sunrise. It was squeaky clean, Seokjin having gotten it deep cleaned for his boyfriend’s impending arrival.

It was a little sweet, Jimin had to admit, how he’d gone out of his way to get his car cleaned (even though Hoseok had driven it a million times when he visited), or how he’d made sure his apartment was scrubbed top to bottom (even though they weren’t even going to be there for another fifteen days and Hoseok had seen it at its worst—in the thick of the school year). It was nice to see that much effort being put towards someone, despite the fact that it had been five years since Seokjin and Hoseok had started dating. Maybe the distance was a factor…the want for limited time together to be perfect.

Hoseok didn’t stray his eyes from Yoongi, both of them deep in discussion as they looked at something on Yoongi’s phone. But Hoseok’s left hand raised and hit the key fob just as Seokjin walked up to the back passenger door.

Yoongi looked up and turned. He had half a cigarette stick clamped between his lips, smoke wafting all around his face, tendrils tickling their way through his finger-combed orange hair. It was sticking up from under the hood that was slouching over his head. He pointed his own key fob in the direction of the second car, the one Jimin was leaning against.

Jimin opened the back passenger door to the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe they were sharing. Jimin supposed it was technically his. In that, it was his name on the rental agreement. But Yoongi was listed as the additional driver, so it was a shared responsibility.

The car Jimin actually owned—his baby, his 1967 Ford Mustang Shelby—was already on its way back to New York, along with all the larger furniture items he’d decided to ship in advance. Yoongi didn’t have a car. He almost always used public transport. The few times he needed a personal vehicle, Yoongi borrowed Seokjin's or Jimin’s car, or one of his friend’s motorcycles. Those instances were few and far between. But Yoongi drove cars like he drove all the time, and that was enough for Jimin.

He pulled open the Sante Fe’s back passenger door and dumped their half of the snacks on the seat, reaching to place two bottles (one cold water, one iced coffee) in the console cupholders. He also tossed a chips packet to the front seat so that he wouldn’t be performing gymnastics within the first few minutes of them taking off again.

“No, no, trust me." Yoongi's voice was still gravelly even though he'd been the first to wake up. He'd come over to Jimin's after he was done moving and partying last night, taking only a few minutes to wash up before he fell on the bed and conked off. But that was nothing special. Both of them were always at each other's apartment, taking up more space on each other's bed than the owner. When both their alarms had blared in unison, Yoongi had freshened up first and started loading the car, giving Jimin some time to wake up. He'd even made them coffee, making sure to wash the jug and cups before they locked the doors behind them. "It’s right along the Columbia River. We’re going to be seeing the coast the rest of the trip anyway.”

“Yeah, I guess," Hoseok said, even though he sounded a little unsure. "I mean time-wise it’s not too different.”

Jimin crawled backwards out of the car’s backseat. Hoseok and Yoongi’s faces were lit up with the maps they were comparing, Hoseok’s phone having joined the fray. Seokjin closed the door of his car and sidled up to them. Hoseok was using both hands to zoom into something, so Seokjin plucked the cigarette from his knuckles and stuck it into his own mouth, his chin propping on his boyfriend’s shoulder to see what they were looking at.

“All okay?” Jimin asked, sidling up beside Yoongi. Yoongi shifted his weight from his right side to his left, opening up some space for Jimin to close the circle they’d huddled into. Immediately, like a phone plugged into a battery, Jimin started to wake up a little. He looked up. The sun was definitely shining bright, egging him to join in. Running his fingers through his hair, Jimin leaned closer to see what was going on.

On Hoseok’s phone was a screenshot of the western half of the United States. It wasn’t the Google Maps screenshot of the route but, literally, a blank highway map on which he’d clearly used a stylus to manually mark a route. It was accompanied by heavily scribbled notes, stars and circles for their planned stops, even colour-coded lists accounting for their varied interests. Yoongi, on the other hand, had the actual app open and Hoseok’s intended route had a hazard symbol blaring on it.

“There was an overnight closure on Washington-Six,” Yoongi whispered. His eyes flitted to Jimin just as Jimin raised his hand. He passed over his own cigarette, and Jimin sucked on its tip, savouring the sharp taste of cloves. His toes curled inside his socks, curving against the soles of his boots.

He didn’t like the idea of a closure. The route had been pretty straightforward. He followed it on Yoongi’s phone.

“What about–” he started to ask but Yoongi cut him off, shaking his head. Apparently, he’d already read his mind.

“Can’t. The closure is in Raymond. Even if we tried to take the one-oh-one early, we’d get stuck there.”

Shame, Jimin wondered. Google Maps said that was a clear 111 miles, which he knew must be tickling Hoseok’s brain really well. For a wild second, he wondered if they should’ve just gotten onto the 101 from Olympia, the very start of 101. But that would’ve been a whole circuit around Olympic National Park, and they’d all done that route multiple times during college (one time at the behest of one of Seokjin’s friends who really wanted to visit Forks).

They could always use backroads but that felt like a fantastic way to either get stuck in traffic or waste time. After all, they were hardly the first car setting out from Seattle for the summer. They didn’t have time for that if they wanted to get to Astoria by lunchtime, as was the plan.

“It’s cool,” Yoongi took the cigarette back from Jimin. “We’ll stick to the I-Five and turn towards Astoria along the river. Saves us, like, half an hour anyway.”

Yoongi knew Washington like the back of his hand. He’d been born here. Spent the first five years of his life here. Even after moving to New York, he’d spent all his summers and winters here, with his mother and her parents. He’d brought back stories of the Pacific Northwest to their brick school building nestled in Brooklyn, where Jimin used his mind to imagine the skyscrapers as the forests.

It’s not like Jimin had never been to places. He’d done a lot of travelling thanks to his parents. But it was always carefully curated itineraries and long flights, ski resorts and beach villas. Even road trips were chartered vans with tinted windows.

He had no concept of just getting in a f*cking car with people he loved and the world at their toes. Pulling over to smoke a cigarette and share stale chips while watching a sunrise. Brushing his teeth in a gas station after an entire night spent in a car, guzzling soda. It was weird having the world at your fingertips and yet locked away behind the other side of a sanitised glass.

If Yoongi was saying the new route would be just as fun and wouldn’t put a dent in their timeline then Jimin believed it. It didn’t leave him feeling great but he trusted Yoongi with his life, so he definitely trusted him with this. And who were any of them to argue? Hoseok’s research had been immaculate but done entirely remotely, and Seokjin had been new to Washington when he moved for college, just as Jimin had been when he’d followed Yoongi across the country. What was another journey on which to follow him blindly?

Still. He felt anxious that they’d barely gotten on the first leg of their drive and already met an obstacle.

“Relax,” Yoongi whispered, turning his head. His breath was warm where it hit Jimin’s cheek. “It’s not a big deal. It’s not a sign, Jimin.”

Jimin hummed, looking away from the phone screens as they were turned off. Hoseok pocketed his and finally glanced at Seokjin, turning in his hold to kiss his jawline. Immediately they melted into each other’s arms. The back of Jimin’s neck burned, for some reason, and he looked off to the side. Yoongi tugged him towards the Santa Fe.

“Hey!” Seokjin called out, pulling himself out of Hoseok’s hold so they could get back into their car. “I didn’t know you were allergic to prawns. How did that never come up in the three years we lived together? I…we cooked together, like, all the time.”

Jimin grimaced at Seokjin’s expression. It was curious but Jimin could see guilt swirling in his eyes. And then horror, as Seokjin’s lips parted.

“I took you fishing.

“I…” Yoongi frowned, throwing Jimin an incredulous look before turning back to Seokjin. “I’m not allergic. I just don’t like it. The allergy thing is a party line to…avoid that look.”

Yoongi waved a finger at Seokjin’s offended expression, turning his back to it and disposing his cigarette butt in the rusted disposal post. He waved a palm in front of his face to dissipate the lingering smoke, tugging on the zipper of his hoodie. It was a flimsy thing, and from the sliver of skin Jimin saw, the only thing he was wearing as the temperature rose with the sunlight.

“You fed me a party line? Jimin!”

“I’m sorry,” Jimin whined in Seokjin’s direction, holding up his palms as he backed away from the conversation. “I’m half asleep.”

“And you are a little too fanatical about seafood.” Yoongi nodded at Seokjin.

“I am not.

“You are a little,” Hoseok said, his fingers tapping a rhythm on the roof of the car as he leaned into his open driver’s side. Seokjin threw him a scathing look and Hoseok clapped his hands. “Let’s go!”

• 203 miles •

Sunset Beach, Oregon

9 June, 2018

“Are you sure?” Jimin asked. Yoongi groaned. It was probably the fifth time Jimin had asked the question. But he was positive Yoongi was lying because he did this thing where he stared squarely at Jimin’s forehead when he lied to him. So, yeah, Jimin knew for a fact that Yoongi did, indeed, want to visit Fort Clatsop. He was a history nerd. Jimin’s interest in history, while present, was not directed towards forts. He was a bigger fan of old temples and churches, museums and books.

He had been fine with the idea of driving down to Sunset Beach and hanging out while the other three explored the Fort area. Solitude had been his companion his whole life. It came with the only child territory, particularly since his upbringing had been largely relegated to nannies. He enjoyed solitude. That was the one thing he’d never been afforded during trips, caught up in the storm of his father’s timetables and mother’s enthusiasm to try and make up for their absence the rest of the year.

But Yoongi wasn’t having it. He’d insisted that he accompany Jimin. We can sit in silence. You know I’m good with silence, Yoongi had pointed out. He’d given all kinds of excuses the other four times Jimin had asked.

Let the lovebirds have some time alone.

I’m honestly too tired to even pay attention to it.

I’m pretty sure I went as a kid, and if I don’t remember it how great could it have been?

I don’t want you to get lost—you suck at paying attention to the map while driving.

They’d ditched the idea of driving right down to the beach. They didn’t want sand getting into a rental vehicle. It was unavoidable on a coastal road trip but they could minimize it as much as possible. Instead, they’d parked closer to the shops and elected to make the walk along the sandy path that cut through the long grass. The pale green strands lazily leapt and lay together, like thick hair parted to make way for them.

“Jimin,” Yoongi said, and he used a tone that forced Jimin to look at him. Jimin stopped and looked at Yoongi.

Yoongi had redone his roots a few days before graduation, so his hair was perfectly orange right down to the hairline. But the wind had undone any semblance of neatness he’d tried to tame it into before checking out of their motel earlier that day. The humidity wasn’t doing wonders for the dyed strands either, the slight frizz evident on a colour that highlighted each hair so clearly. It was a little tangled but Yoongi only pushed it off his forehead, his hands falling on Jimin’s shoulder. His sharp eyes were focused right on Jimin’s.

Jimin’s palms, clasped on the strap of his cross-body bag, broke out into sweat. God, the humidity is insane.

“I would not rather be anywhere else right now,” Yoongi said carefully, keeping his eyes on Jimin’s. He raised an eyebrow, challenging Jimin to refute.

“Right,” Jimin said. He nodded. Yoongi nodded in return, dropping his hands. He shoved them into his pockets, and Jimin kept his gaze on his forearms, exposed from the way he’d pushed up the long sleeves of his shirt. Yoongi continued walking down the path and Jimin swayed in the wind for a second, grateful for the cool gust, before following his best friend.

They found a relatively quiet spot easily, given that it was still a little early for the sunset-loving crowd to start coming in. There were only a couple of families, and some groups of friends. But they were all respectful of each other’s space and left wide margins. Yoongi pulled a blanket out of his backpack and laid it out. They took off their shoes and used them as weights to hold it down, seating themselves in the middle.

“You feeling better today?” Jimin asked while ripping open a Twix packet. He wasn’t a fan of sweets but he had a soft spot for the biscuit texture of the caramel bar. He didn’t bother offering the second half of it to Yoongi. The man had an abhorrence for desserts that rivalled his ick for seafood.

“I mean, there wasn’t anything to feel badly about, so…” Yoongi mumbled, shrugging. He pulled up his knees and rested his elbows on them, watching the ocean. Jimin knew better. He’d watched Yoongi pacing up and down their motel room for the better part of last night. He’d been subdued even when they’d dropped by a diner, Hoseok and Seokjin sensing it was better to retire early.

That had been fine with Jimin, since Yoongi and he were resolutely on a let Hoseok and Seokjin have as much alone time as possible track. Their cross-country visits were not going to be as feasible once Hoseok started med school in a few months, especially not when Seokjin’s shop was finally picking considerable momentum.

Instead, Jimin had turned on the old television set in the room and put on a campy horror film he didn’t even remember the name of. The volume had been turned low as he watched Yoongi stuck to his phone, typing with tense, harsh moves.

There had been some issues with Yoongi’s enrolment form, and the deadline was long over. Pretty much the entire administration had gone into slow mode at the start of summer, only prioritising correspondence from international students or queries directly related to their degree certificates and transcripts. Thankfully, Yoongi knew people in admin after having done a work-study stint in the admissions office during the second year of his master's program.

It had only been a few hours after midnight when he’d received a confirmation from his friend that it was a server issue and his enrolment was unharmed—he could start his PhD in the fall semester, as planned.

“No,” Jimin agreed, chomping on his candy bar. “But it was stressful as hell.”

“I mean,” Yoongi laughed, though it was a strangled laugh. The kind of laugh that could only be laughed after a situation had been resolved but the aftershocks of stress lingered too heavily to allow true humour. “Worst case I would’ve deferred to the spring semester.”

“But your life plan!”

This time Yoongi laughed properly, shaking his head and looking at Jimin. His gums glinted for a second before he covered his mouth and laughed again. Jimin leaned in and shoved his shoulder with his own, laughing along. His chest felt lighter hearing that sound coming from him.

“The life plan! Let’s see. Enrol in an undergraduate degree while waiting for your slow ass to finish high school,” Yoongi narrated while counting on his fingers. Jimin gasped, but Yoongi barrelled on. “Get my master's degree while preparing for a doctorate. Get my PhD within five years. Become a professor in gender studies and queer theory by the time I’m thirty. Looks like even if I’d waited out a year or two, that plan was still achievable.”

“First of all, it’s not my fault you’re older than me and started college before I did. It’s also not my fault I was born in October and had to wait a whole extra year before I could go to school. All my classmates were younger than me. Secondly–”

“Yeah, being a senior with a freshman best friend was so cringe,” Yoongi interrupted, and his voice was heavy with sarcasm. Jimin and Yoongi both knew they didn’t give a damn about what teenagers thought was cringe, even when they’d been teenagers themselves.

Secondly, ” Jimin continued as if he hadn’t been interrupted. “You said the extra year was a buffer in case of an emergency. An administrative error does not qualify as an emergency.”

“Okay, Mr. Trust Fund,” Yoongi said, flicking Jimin’s forehead. “For some of us, that is a death sentence. Not all of us can throw money at admin and make them fix an error they made. We have to go through all the confusing channels and sometimes we can’t control the outcome.”

“I don’t have a trust fund,” Jimin mumbled, wrinkling his nose. Though he did turn red. He usually did when he was reminded of things that were mere annoyances for him but tragedies for others.

Yoongi gave him a sideye and Jimin smacked his palms on the blanket, the Twix wrapper crushed in his palm.

“I don’t!” Jimin laughed, embarrassed. “Just a regular bank account.”

“Bank account, singular?”

Jimin cleared his throat. Yoongi stared. Jimin rolled his eyes.

“Okay, bank accounts.”

Yoongi held out his palms as if that explained everything. Jimin shook his head and flopped backwards on the blanket, watching the clouds waft across the sky.

“Chill, I’m kidding. I know what you meant.”

“I know, you always do,” Jimin said, turning on his side. Yoongi lay down beside him, using his backpack as a headrest. Jimin folded his arm to rest his cheek on it, watching Yoongi’s throat bob as he swallowed. He had a sheen to his skin and Jimin wasn't sure if it was sweat or remnants of sunscreen. Either way, it glinted in the sunlight, making him dazzle a little.

“I’m glad it worked out."

“I’m glad you were there so I wouldn’t lose my mind.”

“There’s a broken hairdryer that says otherwise, but sure.”

Yoongi whipped his head towards Jimin, and Jimin burst into a full belly laugh. He curled into himself, practically wheezing as he remembered the look on Yoongi’s face the previous night. A frustrated scowl morphing into blank shock as the hair dryer in his hand sparked and started smoking. Combined with his sopping wet hair, he’d looked like an abandoned cat in an alley with no clue of which way to go.

“Hey! I apologised and paid for that,” Yoongi hissed, though he was also trying not to laugh. “And that thing was already on the verge of melting before I even touched it. I’m pretty sure it would’ve burst into flames even if I was in the best mood possible.”

“I’m sure.” Jimin nodded solemnly, though he kept giggling even as he turned over to lay on his back and look at the sky again. They both sighed in unison, letting their amusem*nt slowly evaporate into the warm air.

Jimin closed his eyes, staring at the red canvas behind his lids. His skin had a layer of dampness that wasn’t thick enough to be uncomfortable yet. Just on the right side of sticky. Invigorating, like after a fruitful workout.

“I don’t know when I’ll have a chance to go to a beach again,” Jimin whispered.

“Yeah, New York is definitely landlocked.”

Jimin smacked Yoongi’s chest with the back of his hand, and then left his hand there, fingers slightly curling. Yoongi tapped a rhythm on his knuckles.

“You know what I mean,” Jimin sighed. “I’m not going to have a free weekend the first couple of weeks. Months, even. If it’s not work, then it’s going to be networking events or…or, I don’t know whatever my parents concoct to make up for the time I’ve been away.”

“To be fair, you’re the one who decided to spend a good chunk of your holidays in Washington instead of going home for them.”

“And leave you here alone ? Not a chance. You would’ve become one with your bed.”

“Uh…” Yoongi objected, squeezing Jimin’s fingers into a fist. “I do have to leave my room to go to work. And Seokjin-hyung would’ve never let that happen. Also, I’ve been spending summers here my whole life. This is home for me. It’s not home for you.”

Jimin didn’t say anything. After three years on this side of the country, three very formative years of his adult life, it was hard to think of the place not being home. Sure, it wasn’t the first word that popped on his tongue when someone mentioned home.

It was always Oh, I grew up in New York. Sometimes Our family comes from Busan if he was talking to other Koreans who wanted to know where his roots were. But he barely had any memories of the Korean coastal city where his parents were born. Jimin had been born and raised in New York City.

And yet, every memory of home, regardless of the city, had always involved the moments when he felt himself cocooned in comfort. The snowy mornings in Brooklyn when he and Yoongi ran down the sidewalk to their favourite falafel stand for an after-school snack. Late summer evenings in Seattle, when he’d been new to Washington, like the one when Yoongi had invited him to his new apartment for a housewarming. Jimin had shuffled awkwardly while handing over his gift to the hosts: choice Wagyu cuts.

Seokjin had hidden his surprise well and accepted graciously but Yoongi had groaned, and Seokjin’s boyfriend Hoseok had whistled. Regardless, they’d savoured them at dinner the following weekend when Seokjin had invited them to enjoy the gift, and Jimin had laughed a lot when Hoseok had joked about how the Seattle and NYC crowd just seemed to be shuffling spots back and forth.He’d politely looked away to avoid staring at the pained look that had passed over Seokjin’s face.

Instead, Jimin had taken a large swig of the beer he wasn’t old enough to drink. We’re Koreans, Seokjin had insisted. You just turned twenty, right? If it’s legal back home, it’s legal in this apartment. Hoseok’s comments about being a terrible influence had been drowned out.

Jimin didn’t know where home was. He suspected none of them knew what home meant. When they’d lived in New York, Yoongi used to talk about Spokane like it was home. But after moving to Seattle, they’d reminisce about Brooklyn as if that’s where their souls lay.

Seokjin had moved to the States when he was a teenager, before his junior year of high school. When he spoke of home, he spoke of Gwacheon, of the smaller townships engulfed in the Seoul capital region. Jimin had been to Seoul maybe once or twice, but when Seokjin spoke of it, he made it sound like home.

Hoseok never spoke of a single home. He’d been born in a tiny town in New Mexico and had been on the road most of his life as his parents moved from city to city every few years. Seattle had been one of those cities. He’d tagged along with his parents while taking a couple of gap years after high school. The rest was history.

Jimin didn’t know where home was. He just knew it was hidden in the comforting smell of Yoongi’s overwashed hoodies, between the octaves of Seokjin’s laughter, in the vibrations of the floor when he and Hoseok spun around each other while they danced. It was between the sky and the ocean, and Jimin didn’t know where to land.

“You’re not scared of living a life in Manhattan,” Yoongi spoke and Jimin started. The red behind his eyelids had started bleeding into black, nodding off to the lull of the ocean. He blinked and squinted at the harsh light, turning over to hide his face while he watched Yoongi from one shielded eye. He was shaking his head. “You’ve talked about it since we were kids. It’s what you’ve always wanted. So what’s really scaring you?”

“Right now? I guess…I’m scared the trip won’t be a success.”

“A success?” Yoongi guffawed. He turned to his side to face Jimin, an incredulous expression on his face. “Jimin, there’s no pass or fail here. How would you even define its failure let alone its success? There is only one goal. Getting to our final destination.”

“What about the journey being more important than the destination?”

“Aha!” Yoongi gasped, holding up a finger. He flipped his body so that he was lying on his stomach, holding up his other finger, his hands looking like goalposts. “That is my point. We decided on a destination. Anything that happens on the way, happy or sad, relaxed or stressed, is part of it. Hell, if we decide to say f*ck it halfway and turn back home, that’s also a decision. It’s all part of it. Like, okay…the destination isn’t our literal destination.”

“The destination isn’t our literal destination?” Jimin repeated slowly. “What?”

“The destination is different for all of us. Like…I’m guessing Seokjin-hyung and Hoseok’s destination is the next stage of their relationship. With a long-distance relationship, I guess a lot of couple milestones are emotional. They haven’t had a chance to have their first apartment, or get their first pet together, and stuff, you know? Maybe their destination is spending time together in a meaningful way before Hobi starts med school. Like affirmation?”

“What’s your destination?” Jimin asked, also flipping onto his stomach. Their arms pressed together and he could feel how warm Yoongi’s skin was through his shirt. Through the atmospheric heat enveloping them both.

“Well,” Yoongi said, clearing his throat. “Having fun, mostly. Making new memories with my friends before we all start something new. Getting to relax before I have to dive headfirst into academia again. What’s yours? What do you have in mind when you consider a trip a success?” he asked, using his fingers as air quotes around the word success .

“Just…I don’t know. Chilling out? Being able to do whatever. Sleep all day on the beach if I want to.”

“So then sleep.”

“Oh yeah, I’m sure it’s going to be fantastic when all our stuff gets stolen,” Jimin snorted. Yoongi knocked his shoulder until the momentum pushed him over. Jimin grumbled, letting Yoongi manhandle him till he was lying comfortably on his side again.

“I didn’t say I was sleeping. Sleep. I’m not sleepy. I’ll wake you up when it’s time to leave.”

Jimin closed his eyes. His phone buzzed in his pocket but he ignored it. When he felt his skin break out into a sweat from the proximity to Yoongi’s body heat, he let himself float away into it.

• 558 miles •

Crescent City, California

10 June, 2018

“This is ridiculous. I feel ridiculous”

Jimin fiddled with the collar of his shirt. He’d packed a handful of nicer clothes, in preparation for their few stops in cities with a more happening nightlife. Most of his clothes had been better suited for daytime activities and long stretches in the car. It was warranted with all the hiking they’d done throughout their Washington and Oregon stops and the six hours they’d spent on the road that morning. The sun had beat an unforgiving pattern on their car hoods as they crossed over into California. He was anticipating heavy use of his linen shirts and tank tops for the remaining days.

What he had not anticipated was Seokjin’s eyes catching a jazz bar tucked away between a pub and a shoe store. Nor that he would insist they all drop a visit since they were leaving the next evening and wouldn’t have a chance.

“You are not ridiculous,” Seokjin huffed. “You look pretty cool, actually.”

Jimin turned to stare at his distorted reflection in the giant bay window of the bed and breakfast where they were staying. He had ditched the idea of a coat. It wasn’t super hot, the evening was actually pleasantly cool. The proximity to the Pacific coast meant the water and winds were always colder, even in June. Soothing compared to the stickier breezes and summer waters of the Atlantic coast.

But Jimin was sure he was going to work up a sweat dancing because even if he thought this was silly, he was not going to avoid dancing if the situation called for it.

“Wait, we’re doing waistcoats?” Hoseok shouted as he stepped off the porch of their B&B. He was dressed in a pastel yellow shirt, sleeves rolled up. The shirt was tucked into brown, flowing pants. “Nobody told me we’re doing waistcoats.”

“We’re not doing waistcoats,” Yoongi said, walking around Hoseok. He had opted for a loose, leopard-print shirt with cream trousers. Both Seokjin and Jimin tilted their heads, scanning him head to toe. Paying no mind to their eagle-eyed perusal, Yoongi pulled out his sunglasses and put them on, walking past them towards their cars. “We’re also taking one car. Otherwise, that’s two people who aren’t drinking.”

“Who’s not drinking?” Seokjin asked, pulling his disgruntled boyfriend down the path that snaked through the front lawn. Hoseok put his arm around his waist, fingers playing with the discourse-sparking grey waistcoat Seokjin was wearing over his white shirt. Jimin tugged the ends of his own khaki waistcoat.

“Me,” Jimin called out.

“But why?” Seokjin turned around, walking backwards. Jimin ignored the question, shaking his head and laughing.

He kept ignoring it even as Seokjin tried to ply him on the ride over to the bar, insisting that they could easily walk back to the B&B or take a cab. The car could get picked up tomorrow. But Jimin didn’t budge, as tempting as it was. The drive earlier in the day had been long and he had a crick in his neck. He was positive if he drank and danced he was going to end up with a headache.

The moment they reached the club, Jimin promptly walked up to the bar and ordered: three whiskeys, two on ice, one neat, and a Virgin Margarita, please.

The place was hardly milling, but it worked. It had a low-lit atmosphere thanks to its dark wooden furnishings and velvety maroon trims. Music was flowing through the speakers at the correct decibel to be relaxing and ambient without making any of them shout to be heard. They were the only people below the age of thirty aside from some of the staff. Some were groups of older tourists. Some looked like locals. Either way, nobody paid them much mind. Despite being a hole in the wall, the patrons were clearly used to strangers passing through the city. They only glanced curiously, a double-take here and there, before leaving them alone.

Unsurprisingly, Hoseok and Jimin were the first to get up and dance. They were the only ones on the floor on their side of the club, aside from one elderly couple swaying arm and arm across the room. They remained undeterred. Hoseok looped his arms around Jimin’s shoulders, Jimin hugged his waist, and both of them led each other across the floor before Seokjin and Yoongi simply had to join the fun.

Hoseok twirled Jimin into Yoongi’s arms just as Yoongi sent Seokjin careening into Hoseok’s. Yoongi caught Jimin with ease, his chest pressed against Jimin’s back. Before Jimin could make a move, he was flipped around, his vision catching sight of Seokjin dipping Hoseok before it was gone.

And then, there was only Yoongi.

Their tempo slowed down considerably compared to the quicker shimmying and hops Jimin had shared with Hoseok. Instead, Yoongi tucked him close and swayed at a tempo very similar to the old couple on the other side of the room. Given that they were the same height, Jimin’s slightly boosted because of his boots, he was able to look Yoongi right in the eye. Their edges were mildly crinkled, which was the only indication that Yoongi was having the time of his life.

“When was the last time we danced?” Jimin asked in a lowered voice. His fingers tightened on Yoongi’s shoulder as they took a wider step to avoid Hoseok spinning Seokjin past them.

“Literally a few weeks ago, Jimin,” Yoongi chuckled. “You went with your classmates for a…what was it…pre-exam-focus-mode night, remember? Dragged my ass, too.”

Jimin pinched Yoongi’s collar, and Yoongi squeaked, grinning.

“I meant dance like this. Without needing to yell at each other, or struggling to see each other’s face.”

“Probably…” Yoongi trailed off. He tilted his head up, clearly struggling to remember. Jimin watched the sharp line of his jaw, the way he nibbled on his bottom lip. When he let it go, it was flush and dark pink. Jimin looked away.

“Honestly, no clue.”

Before Jimin could respond, Yoongi spun him. Seokjin caught him, and Hoseok swung himself right into Yoongi’s hold.

“Did we interrupt some deep philosophical discussion?” Seokjin asked, turning on the spot and taking Jimin with him.

“More like a combined memory loss,” Jimin snorted. Seokjin nodded, though his expression gave a clear You guys are crazy message. Jimin shook his head and looked over his shoulder. Hoseok and Yoongi were taking their empty glasses to the bar and ordering more.

“Aren’t you so glad I decided we should come here?”

Jimin turned back to Seokjin, raising his eyebrows. Seokjin raised his eyebrows higher, tilting his head.

“Okay yeah,” Jimin said, looking around. “This is pretty neat. Thank you for making us come here.”

“You’re no fun to tease when you just agree with whatever I say,” Seokjin moaned. Though he had a fond look in his eyes. He poked Jimin’s nose and Jimin smiled wide, and Seokjin just made a cooing noise and dragged them to the bar. Given the four empty shot glasses, it looked like Seokjin had some catching up to do.

It didn’t make a difference. Hoseok was pretty flushed and giggly within half an hour of having the shots. He was leaning pretty heavily into the outdoor brick facade of the club while sharing a smoke with Seokjin, both of them practically inhaling from each other’s mouths. Jimin watched them from the window as he paid the bill. It didn’t feel like it but they’d spent a good three hours dancing and drinking and laughing.

He hooked his fingers into the collar of his long abandoned waistcoat, tossing it over his shoulder as he walked out. The cool ocean wind was different from the air conditioning inside. The refreshing salt in the air, settling in his lungs, woke him up. Yoongi had ditched the couple and was ambling his way across the empty street towards the benches overlooking the harbour.

“Oh, okay, careful,” Jimin warned, catching up to him. He clutched the back of Yoongi’s shirt. It was damp from sweat and made from a slippery material, but Jimin held on. Yoongi didn’t lose his balance because he was considerably good at handling his liquor. The only giveaway to his inebriated state was how heavily he dropped on the driftwood bench that looked out at the water, and the way he marginally tipped into the momentum before righting himself.

It was stunning how Yoongi was the most drunk despite having the best tolerance out of all four of them. Jimin could only assume it was the hours of driving and the weeks of sleepless nights catching up to him.

Jimin sat down beside him, blowing out a puff of air. He reached over and dug into Yoongi’s pockets, ignoring how Yoongi grumbled at being made to jostle around. Nimble fingers fished out the trusty packet of clove cigarettes. He lit two, passing the second one to Yoongi. They let out identical streams of smoke, sighing and leaning backwards into the bench.

“The lighthouse is ri-i-i-i-ight there,” Yoongi crooned, waving his hand in a vague direction towards the left. Jimin pressed his fingers to Yoongi’s elbow, moving his arm till it pointed more in the one o’clock direction. The fact that they were near the hooked arm of the Crescent City harbour, further south than where they were staying, had escaped Yoongi. Yoongi nodded as if that was the direction he'd been pointing at from the start.

Jimin simply looked at him, at the way his skin shone, moonlight glinting off the beads of perspiration. Goosebumps rose on Yoongi’s flesh thanks to the cold breeze and Jimin huddled closer, throwing an arm around his shoulders. Yoongi melted into his side. He smelled like the familiar smell of clove, undertones of sweat mixed with his signature YSL cologne. He suddenly snapped his head to look at Jimin, and Jimin realised he hadn’t even responded.

“Mmm, yes,” he quickly said. “You told us when we pulled into the city. We’re going tomorrow, right?”

“Yup,” Yoongi said, popping the p. “Low tides all morning. We’re good. Oh, and the beach next to it, Jimin. We can fish for agate.”

“Is that what the sign on that pop-up stall meant? About locally picked gems?”

“Yes!” Yoongi exclaimed, turning in his seat. He grabbed Jimin’s shirt with one hand, shaking it lightly, excitement evident in his eyes and Jimin let himself be pulled closer as he laughed.

Jimin couldn’t remember the last time Yoongi had been drunk and he had been sober. They almost always drank together, or Jimin was drunk and Yoongi was the one taking care of him. The few times they had separate weekend plans, they were both inevitably drinking at separate venues, a litany of nonsensical texts occupying each other’s phones.

The last time Jimin could amuse himself with a drunken Yoongi’s antics must’ve been back when they were in New York. When Jimin’s weekends used to be busy with school work, while Yoongi was out there in the world like a real adult. Of course, Jimin used to partake in underage drinking with his classmates but now that he thought about it, Yoongi never used to go out on the weekends when Jimin said he was going to a party. He was always there, either with a kind ear to listen on the phone, or to pick up Jimin no matter how late it was.

It felt nice to be able to return the favour. It felt like no matter how much he tried to take care of Yoongi, his best friend always beat him to it by taking care of Jimin first. Jimin was constantly trailing, and he jumped on any chance to be able to do the same. His hand moved on its own, fingers tucking back the lock of sweat-damp orange hair that had fallen into Yoongi’s face. Yoongi didn’t even notice, clicking the lighter to re-light the cigarette that the strong breeze had extinguished.

“I think my trip is a success,” Yoongi announced, after pulling a new drag.

“Oh yeah?” Jimin asked. He crossed his legs and faced Yoongi, and Yoongi copied his move. “Quarter mark check-in?”

“Yep. I am feeling good. This is just what I wanted from this trip.”

“Being drunk by the sea in jazz bar clothes?”

“No,” Yoongi snorted, using his thumbnail to flick some ash onto the ground. “I didn’t have a f*cking clue that would be a thing but you know what…it’s better than I could’ve imagined.”

“What did you picture when you packed this outfit?”

“Probably a night out when we reached L.A or San Diego. Not this. But this is better. This is nice. It’s slower but it feels more…it feels more real. Like a dream.”

Jimin tilted his head. Yoongi’s eyes, usually narrowed with focus, were now wide. His pupils were slightly blown out, no doubt because it was so dark but also because he was wasted. Jimin watched the way the street light reflected off his eyes, making them look like the watery haze of stars in a galaxy.

“Real like a dream?” Jimin repeated. He felt dizzy. Was he drunk? He hadn’t consumed any alcohol.

“Yes.” Yoongi punctuated the claim with a violent nod of his head. His fringe batted against his forehead from the movement and Jimin used his pinkie finger to push it back. “Real like a dream. You know those rare dreams where everything feels real? It has a sensible sequence of events and everything feels like you can touch it and taste it. When you wake up and your real life feels like a dream, but the dream felt real? Like those dreams.”

Jimin knew exactly the kind of dreams he was talking about. He’d had a fair share of his own, each one leaving him breathless and with a hollowed sense of emptiness. He hated having them.

He sometimes wished he only had them.

“You have a lot of those kind of dreams?” Jimin asked instead. “My dreams are always ridiculous sh*t.”

“Sometimes. Not often but they’re special enough that I don’t forget them.”

“What if this is a dream?”

Yoongi barked out a laugh. He took another drag and then frowned, staring at his cigarette. It was done, the embers pushing against the filter with nowhere to go. He looked around, his head heavy and slow in its movements. Jimin took the filter from his hand and put it out on the sole of his shoe. He put out his own cigarette too. He held both filters between his thumb and forefinger, making sure they were cold to the touch before flicking them. They soared in a neat arc, right into a trashcan behind Yoongi.

“Can’t be a dream,” Yoongi whispered. Jimin focused his gaze on him again. His breath caught in his throat. Yoongi’s eyes were still wide, but he had a small smile on his lips that, for some reason, made a weight settle in Jimin's stomach. It felt like those times when he'd watch Yoongi get hurt and feel a strong sense of help him. It was sad. A sad smile, turning down the edges of Yoongi's mouth. Jimin shuffled closer. “I know it’s real.”

“How would you know? You just said those dreams always feel real.”

“Nope. This is real. Not a dream. I know.”

Jimin held out his palms, facing upwards.

“You sure?”

Yoongi smacked his palms into Jimin’s, leaning forward. They clasped their hands tight.

“One hundred thousand million per cent sure. There’s always a tell.”

Jimin didn’t even know that dreams could have a tell. He always found himself unable to decipher them from reality until he was waking up. He tilted his head, curious. His knees brushed Yoongi’s.

“Oh really? Your dreams have a tell?”

“Yep.”

“And what is the tell that your dreams have?”

Yoongi’s eyes were no longer wide. In fact, his eyelids were drooping as he leaned forward. Jimin caught him easily, letting him snuggle into his chest. Yoongi’s hold on Jimin’s hands didn’t loosen. He simply nuzzled his face in Jimin’s shirt and Jimin thought his heart would jump right out of it into Yoongi’s lap.

“You look at me differently in my dreams.”

Yoongi’s whisper was almost lost to the strong gusts of wind.

Almost.

• 913 miles •

San Francisco, California

12 June, 2018

“Wait, shhhh,” Jimin giggled as he stumbled into the hotel room. The blast of cold air was like a soothing balm to his heated skin. They had decided to stay at a hotel for the San Francisco leg of their trip, simply because they wanted the added comforts during the busier stops. It didn’t hurt that both Hoseok and Jimin had managed to score some sweet deals with their combined credit card points. The difference in quality was apparent the moment Jimin was able to toe off his shoes and sink his socked feet into a clean carpet.

His feet hurt in the best way possible. They’d spent so much of their trip in their cars, and the past couple of weeks glued to their books, that Jimin had forgotten how it felt to be on his feet for an entire day. Sure, they’d hiked a lot. But letting gravity do its job on cobbled and paved streets seared feet in its unique way. Especially in a city with streets that ran steep curves. Besides, running up and down a city was a great way for him to avoid finding himself alone with Yoongi.

He hadn’t succeeded at that after Yoongi had uttered those confusing words in Crescent City. Yoongi hadn’t even woken up after falling asleep on the bench. Jimin had to carry him to their parked car, both Seokjin and Hoseok having snuggled into the backseat. Jimin had not wanted to know why the windows had been fogged up. It was Seokjin'scar. Jimin didn’t care what they did in it.

He’d driven them all back to their motel, making sure Seokjin and Hoseok went into the correct room before going back to the car and picking Yoongi up. Yoongi had only blearily opened his eyes while Jimin put him on the bed. He’d even cooperated while Jimin removed his shoes and socks, peeled off his flimsy delicate shirt to save it from tossing and turning. Simply rolled over and passed out again.

And while Yoongi had slumbered peacefully, barely rustling the sheets, Jimin had barely slept all night. Suddenly the warmth of Yoongi under the covers had started to feel stifling, making Jimin’s heart beat fast and his skin flush. Yoongi's heat in his bed had always been like a cocoon but it had never ached this desperately. Aching in the same delicious way his feet hurt right now. He’d had to get out of bed, splash his face with the chilled water that ran through the faucets, and pace the oddly endearing floral tiles of their shared bathroom.

Like a lovestruck teenager. Like the nights he’d spent throughout his senior year of high school, curled up with his phone, waiting on a text from Yoongi. Yoongi who was already halfway through college, and only a short subway ride away but felt like he was miles and miles apart from Jimin simply by virtue of leading a different life.

Then he had gone miles and miles away, flown across the country after he graduated, moved to the state he always called home. And Jimin had been left behind, unable to find any joy in finally being at college when the one person he had hoped to be in proximity to had left him in a way that tore through his lungs. The idea of spending the next three years, the rest of his life, almost 3000 miles away from the only embodiment of love he’d ever known…

Jimin had spent the past two days feeling a lot like the lovesick fool who had fought his parents and put in a transfer to the University of Washington. Convinced them with the same words he’d convinced himself: I’m not moving for someone. That would be crazy. Yoongi just talks a lot about how he wants to do his postgraduate there, and their business program covers the same material…it’s not like business studies are all that varied in the material. But it’ll be refreshing, a different perspective. I have to move back here for the rest of my life anyway, why not use this chance to meet different people, explore a different life, if I’m going to be studying the same stuff anyway?

So, he’d moved. He’d moved, and he’d watched Yoongi date other people, watched Yoongi bloom and grow into a version of himself that Jimin had only ever imagined from his stories of the Pacific Northwest’s air and water. Only ever saw glimpses of when they used to video call or in the photos Yoongi brought from his trips. And Jimin had quashed the weed that had taken such a firm root inside his chest his whole life and let himself bloom and grow too.

Until two days ago, on a little bench in a small Californian town. Until Yoongi had said some words that probably meant nothing but had just reminded Jimin that all those flowers he’d grown into were all growing from the same vine that he’d never really uprooted. Couldn’t uproot because it was such a visceral part of his being. Because Park Jimin was a lot of different things but he simply didn’t exist without Min Yoongi. Loving Min Yoongi was a part of the Park Jimin existential experience.

Until now, when they were a handful of days into one of the best trips of Jimin’s life but also a handful of days away from him moving back to New York and embarking on the rest of his life, without Yoongi.

So, Jimin had done what he had always done. Washed his face, curled up into a ball, and closed his eyes. Yoongi had acted completely, unnervingly normal the next morning, as he always did. Smiling at Jimin as he packed his suitcase, ordering breakfast with slightly chewy British bacon instead of crispy American bacon, leaning against his car with his sunglasses on, juggling two cups of coffee and his cigarette clutched between his knuckles while Jimin stowed their luggage. Normal. So painfully perfectly normal.

Yoongi hadn’t even complained about the silence while Jimin had slept pretty much their entire drive to San Francisco. As soon as they’d had their fill of the Redwood National Park (a park Jimin had thankfully been to before and wasn’t doing a disservice by largely ignoring in his sleepy, confused haze), Jimin had curled up in the car and let himself sleep.

Not a single complaint came from Yoongi, though he had every right to. Jimin was being the most boring road trip partner. In the heat of the scorching sun, the blast of air conditioning, slumbering next to Yoongi instead of keeping him alert and awake while he did most of the driving. Silence had never been an enemy to them, comfortingly shared over their many years as best friends. But it was far from comfortable, and Jimin had simply put on their shared playlist and let himself fall into a world of dreams different from the dream he was walking through while awake.

Even Seokjin and Hoseok had sensed his sombre mood when they’d arrived in San Francisco and suggested they all split off for a bit. I need some space from you all, Seokjin had said in an exaggerated annoyed tone, his concerned eyes hovering over Jimin. Before we all get sick of each other.

Jimin had taken the unsubtly offered out, ordering room service and going to bed early. Eaten the food that was delicious but felt like molasses on his tongue. He’d fiddled with the new agate pendant that sat on his collarbone, a gift courtesy of Yoongi, per usual, bought at the souvenir shop near the Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City. As far as he knew, Yoongi had gone on a walk in the neighbourhood, stating that there was a live show he wanted to check out. Seokjin and Hoseok had presumably gone down to Pier 39 (they had, Jimin had confirmed when he’d woken up early and browsed their Instagram stories).

But today had been different.

Running from feelings was easier in a group, and they had spent the entire day as a group. Like children, they’d snaked through the crowds of the Exploratorium, getting their hands figuratively and literally dirty with all the exhibits. Touched and built and learned. Jimin and Hoseok had jumped as high as they could in the Shadow Box and danced around each other amidst a simulated tornado, while Seokjin and Yoongi took bets and tripped themselves out over the optical illusions and light plays.

Then before the afternoon swell could crest, they’d walked down to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was thankfully a slightly cloudy afternoon, so they weren’t torturing themselves. Still, it had been hot enough to finally hop on a bus to cross the bridge and get to Sausalito.

The late afternoon had been spent exploring the art galleries. Jimin slow to keep up as he read every square panel beside the frames, Hoseok filling up his camera roll with a thousand different angles of the same artwork just to capture it with varied lighting. Yoongi had stood unmoving in front of some pieces, headsets over his ears as he listened to the pre-recorded guides. Hadn't moved an inch even as Seokjin wove around him, taking notes on his notebook (Jimin wasn't sure what about but he was almost positive it was some connection he'd found that could help his store).

When they'd stumbled out of the last gallery they'd all done the mature thing and raced each other to a Froyo shop, elbows knocking about as they tried to steal spoonfuls from one another. For one day, Jimin had been able to take his fill of air without feeling like he was running out.

It was only in the evening that they’d split off again.

Since Seokjin and Hoseok had already done Fisherman’s Wharf the previous evening, they’d opted to rent some bicycles to make the return crossing over the bridge. Jimin and Yoongi had zero enthusiasm to bike and had instead taken to the water.

“Wait show me the last few pictures,” Yoongi called out, having ambled his way further into their hotel room. “I didn’t get to see them before we docked.”

Jimin rummaged through his cross-body bag, unzipping the pocket where he stashed all the Polaroids he had taken. He shuffled through the pictures while using his toes to peel off his socks, almost groaning at how good it felt to let his feet breathe. He had to make a conscious effort to not moan when he stepped into the bathroom and the cold tile met his sore skin.

“Here,” Jimin said, handing over the last few pictures they’d taken on the ferry ride back to San Francisco. Neither of them had wanted to risk missing a good shot while waiting for photos to develop, or worse, let the strong winds carry the flimsy paper away. He laid them out on the countertop now, the two best friends pressed shoulder to shoulder, heads close.

“Look at your face in this.”

Yoongi’s finger was hovering over a photo of Jimin leaning against the railing, up on the open deck of the ferry. His face was caught between a smile and a nose scrunch.

“I was holding in a sneeze!” Jimin yelled, shoving Yoongi lightly. His ears burned. “You try and take a photo while sneezing.”

Yoongi cackled and shuffled the stack, pulling up to a new photo. Neither of them was in this one. It was taken just when the ferry had departed from the harbour in Sausalito, a capture of San Francisco across the water. Yoongi tilted the photo towards the light, squinting.

“Oh my god, I didn’t realize Alcatraz would show up so clearly in this. Holy sh*t.”

Jimin beamed at the compliment to his photography skills and walked out of the bathroom. He slid off his windcheater. It had been a lifesaver all day against the gusts but he was definitely soaked in sweat. He tossed the jacket on top of the desk chair, squatting beside his suitcase. He flipped its lid, rummaging for a clean pair of pyjamas.

“I’m glad you’re feeling better today,” Yoongi called out, still in the bathroom. At once, Jimin’s spine went rigid.

Right. He had been avoiding Yoongi. It had been easy to forget with the amount of fun they’d been having. And the truth was, it was hard to avoid Yoongi when he was so easy to be around. No matter what troubled Jimin, he could always feel himself relax in his presence. Even when Yoongi was the cause of trouble.

Jimin coughed.

“Yeah,” he replied. “I mean…it’s whatever.”

Yoongi walked out of the bathroom and Jimin almost toppled over his suitcase. He’d splashed water on his face and clearly ran his wet fingers through his hair because it was fully slicked back. Droplets fell on his collarbone where he was unbuttoning his shirt. Jimin’s tongue felt dry and heavy in his mouth.

Pull yourself together. What is wrong with you?

But he couldn’t help it. In a smattering of drunken whispers, Yoongi had burst open the Pandora’s box of emotions Jimin had repeatedly wrestled with throughout his life. Inexplicable feelings he had allowed himself to feel in fleeting moments before pushing them away because they were ridiculous and he was clearly inflating their friendship to something it wasn’t because of, well, loneliness, duh.

The warmth of kindergarten puppy love, the racing heart of a teenage crush, the sunny rays of young love, the scorching pain of Yoongi moving, the feverish desperation of moving right along with him, the white-hot stings of watching him with other people. The tacky remains of every kind of want Jimin had shoved down when it tried to rear its head, even more so when he’d realised he had to go back to New York and Yoongi was going to be staying in Washington.

With one sentence, Yoongi had sent it careening through his brain.

And Jimin wasn’t even sure if he’d interpreted it correctly.

“I had a feeling this would happen. I kind of anticipated it.”

Jimin choked, staring at his clothes hanging from his hands.

“You…anticipated…”

“It’s the magic of the hotel.”

Jimin frowned, looking up. Yoongi was standing with his hands on his hips. The water droplets trailed down his chest. Jimin snapped his eyes up to his face, which looked rather proud.

“Sorry?”

“I knew you’d get travel weary,” Yoongi said, wagging his finger. “Cramped in a car and sleeping on motel beds. That’s why I suggested we spring for hotels for some of our bigger stops. I knew one night’s sleep in a decent bed would make you feel better.”

“Right,” Jimin whispered. Yoongi’s proud expression fell. He shuffled from foot to foot, suddenly unsure of himself. Jimin hated that. He hated that. He needed Yoongi to be sure. He also never wanted to be a cause for Yoongi doubting himself.

He stood up, ignoring the day’s exertions sending a lance of pain up his heels.

“It’s not the travel, is it?” Yoongi asked, watching Jimin as he placed his pyjamas on the neatly made bed.

“No, no it’s not,” Jimin admitted, and then he let out a soft laugh. “I’m actually really enjoying that part. The motel beds aren’t that bad. I’ve slept on those floors of your matchbox studio in Manhattan.”

Hazy memories from his freshman year of college rumbled through his head. Nights he was allowed to spend away from his family’s Brooklyn townhouse after he’d become a college student and had the freedom to not come home. Nights where Yoongi and he walked through Manhattan’s streets, loading up on delicious street food and Yoongi using his newly acquired twenty-one badge to buy them cheap beer.

The last year Yoongi had lived in New York.

“Hey, it’s not my fault someone spilt orange soda all over my mattress. You could’ve had a much better time on there.”

Jimin whirled around, a spark of affrontation bursting through him but it fizzled out. Then it burst into something much hotter under his skin.

Yoongi had a smug expression but it was lost because Jimin’s eyes were glued to the exposed pale skin. Familiar planes down the tight chest muscles and flat abdomen he kept hidden under oversized shirts and roomy hoodies. The faint suggestions of muscles that would be tight after a workout but had softened now. Jimin’s eyes travelled to the arms whose embrace he was very familiar with but had somehow avoided registering as being thicker than he remembered.

This was getting stupid. He’d seen Yoongi shirtless a million times. But in the wake of Jimin’s nerves, his body looked like a tempting bed to lay on. An expanse of a sandy beach he wanted to sink his fingers into, letting the waves sift through the gaps of his fingers.

“Jimin?”

Jimin looked up, meeting Yoongi’s eyes. They were slightly narrowed, under furrowed brows. When Jimin didn’t say anything, Yoongi waved his hand around, still clutching his shed shirt.

“You okay? What’s wrong?”

Yoongi stepped towards him, reaching out, as if to touch his forehead.

“Nothing!” Jimin chirped, and it came out higher pitched than he intended. He ducked under Yoongi’s extended arm, diving for his suitcase. “I’m…you can take the shower first.”

Yoongi made a confused noise.

“But you hate using a damp bathroom.”

“I know. I’m just…”

Jimin floundered for a second, digging through his accessory pouch even though he had no real use for it at the moment. His rings clacked together, uselessly, in his palms,

“I’m too wiped out to shower. I’ll order us some food. They, uh, have that steak sauce you really like. It’s really good, I had it yesterday.”

“O…kay?”

Jimin looked up and Yoongi looked hesitant, his eyes flitting between the open bathroom door and Jimin. He opened his mouth and Jimin gestured to his suitcase and spilling backpack, cutting him off.

“Go ahead. I made a mess while getting ready today anyway, I have to pack properly before we check out tomorrow and I can’t do that sh*t after we’re done with dinner. I’ll do that and wash up later. You…shower.”

• 1036 miles •

Pebble Beach, California

13 June, 2018

If there was one thing Jimin of certain of, it was that his sneakers were getting a good use out of the entire trip. He preferred Chelsea boots most of the year, his feet feeling more at home in them than in slippers. But they’d barely seen the light of day during this trip, save for the one or two dinner evenings. Even out of those, only the ones they had time to get ready for, instead of just grabbing dinner while out and about.

Jimin’s sneakers though, were truly exploring the ground. They were also his saving grace in the rugged hikes, long walks, and constant moving around. He was also glad he’d had them treated with a waterproof coating as he leapt from one rock to another across a tide pool. The winds of the Monterey Peninsula were unforgiving, and his balance tilted before he righted himself.

“Careful!” Yoongi shouted from three rocks behind. “Those are more slippery than they look. Covered in moss and seagull sh*t.”

“That’s disgusting!” Jimin yelled back. Their voices were the only ones echoing in the early morning silence of the Seal Rock trail. Thankfully, his stomach didn’t turn too violently at the concept of seagulls.

After reaching Monterey, the group had only managed to find a light morning snack, scarfed in the parking lot of a 24-hour store in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The late-night drive from San Francisco to Monterey had left them wanting for a little more the apples and Cheetos that adorned their backseats. His stomach wasn’t quite full enough, nor empty enough, to warrant dizzying nausea.

Seokjin and Hoseok had already left just before sunrise, heading for the docks. Seokjin had originally booked a deep sea fishing tour for himself and Yoongi, giving Hoseok a day off to chill at the beach with Jimin. But after the prawn fiasco at the start of their trip, he had asked Yoongi if he was sure he wanted to tag along.

Yoongi, at first, had looked almost wounded at the suggestion. Jimin was ninety-nine per cent positive Yoongi loved fishing with Seokjin only because he loved Seokjin. Yoongi was just that type of guy, who could fall in love with an activity not because he had any fondness for the tasks but because he had immense love for the person he got to do them with.

But Yoongi hadn’t fought Seokjin today. Maybe he could tell that forcing Seokjin to take him would only make the eldest of their group feel unnecessary guilt. Maybe he just had no patience today to explain the semantics. Maybe it was something else.

Instead of arguing, Yoongi had narrowed his eyes at Jimin and said: You know what, I think I’ll spend the day with Jimin. You go ahead. I’m too tired after driving, I’ll probably just end up sleeping on the boat.

Jimin was pretty positive it was Hoseok sleeping on a boat right now, refusing to abandon his boyfriend. Instead, Yoongi was with Jimin now, both of them slowly cruising their way down the 17-Mile Drive of Pebble Beach. It was still too early for tourists to be milling about, and Jimin was grateful.

He jumped over to another rock. This one was much larger, surrounded by tons of smaller rocks and a languid curve that let Jimin lean back into it like a lounger. He crossed his arms behind his head, his hair rustling against the nylon of his windcheater. Yoongi skipped to the spot beside him, leaning into the rock, as well.

“I didn’t even know you could walk this far down the beach,” Jimin mumbled. “I thought you could only see Bird Rock and Seal Rock from the viewfinders in the lot. I didn’t know you could hike up and down the coast.”

“What are you talking about?” Yoongi snorted. “Didn’t you come to Pebble Beach, like, a few years ago? You didn’t walk around here?”

“No, we just saw it from the helicopter.”

“Ah,” Yoongi sighed, holding up his hands in what could only be an imitation of swinging some kind of weapon. “Let me guess. You only golfed during the whole trip.”

He swung his arm and made a whistling sound. Right. A golf club, then. Jimin tsked and shook his head.

Appa golfed during the whole trip. Eomma and I enjoyed the spa and the pool. We had access to the club.”

“The club?”

“The Beach and Tennis Club.”

Yoongi snickered softly, and Jimin resisted the urge to elbow him. Yes, it was sometimes embarrassing when he heard the words come out of his mouth. He knew what it sounded like. But he had never hidden his life from Yoongi. Sure, he downplayed his lifestyle in Seattle, initially out of wanting to fit in and later because he just enjoyed being away from it. But Yoongi had grown up with him. He knew exactly the kind of life Jimin came from.

“Oh, fancy. Let me guess, you stayed at that Lodge place we saw all the signs for.”

Jimin frowned, trying to remember. It took him a second but then he remembered the few signs he’d seen on white and green boards. He laughed, shaking his head.

“No. Similar, though. Same owners. Pretty sure the ones we just paid toll to.”

Yoongi clicked his teeth and shook his head. Jimin smiled, biting his tongue and quickly returned to the train of thought he’d been on.

“We stayed at a place called Casa Palmero.”

Yoongi didn’t say anything so Jimin turned his head to look at him. He had his chin tilted up like he usually did when he was thinking of something. Jimin watched his eyes narrow and then widen before he turned to look at Jimin. Both of them seemed surprised for a split second to be making eye contact. Jimin’s breath hitched and he looked back up at the sky. Yoongi talked as if nothing had happened.

“Oh, sh*t yeah, I remember your photos. You came for a wedding, right?”

“Yep.”

Jimin drummed his fingernails on the rock. When Yoongi didn’t add anything more, Jimin uncrossed his arms from behind his head and straightened up. The sky was still the saturated, darker blue of early morning. There was only a very subtle gradient of yellow starting to lighten it but it was towards their back and Jimin could, literally, put it behind himself as he watched the horizon.

The waves crashed against the protruding rocks in the distance, the ones that were the highlight of this part of the 17-Mile drive. Little rest stops for birds and seals alike, which were also starting to wake up and embark on their day. Jimin wondered if he was any different from a seal, laying on a moss and sh*t-covered rock, soaking up the sun while residents passed by and watched.

His eyes moved further up the horizon, where the blues melded into each other like fabrics with a clean stitch. Nature’s craftsmanship against the foreground of jagged stones and thundering, spitting ocean waves. Soft, grainy sand interspersed with the smooth pebbles and shells that had likely loaned their name to the community.

“Imagine getting married with this view,” Jimin whispered. “I like it better than the East Coast.”

“Yeah? Why is that?”

Jimin shrugged, holding his arms open wide and gesturing to everything around them as if the visual explained everything.

“I don’t know. Feels less…I don’t know. It feels less…”

“Neat?”

“Yeah!”

Jimin and Yoongi both laughed. It was definitely ironic, given that this was a gated community and was technically neatened up. Neater than the New York public beaches they’d spent their youth meandering around. But that wasn’t the neatness or cleanliness Jimin was talking about and Yoongi knew it.

It was the lack of refinement, despite what the Pebble Beach community’s residents tried to act like. Maybe Jimin was being unfair in the assessment. He was sure the east coast had equally rugged beaches that he simply hadn’t had the chance to visit, all his experiences being the softer sandy shores of New York. He was positive the New England beaches, the ones less touched by sprawling metropolitans, were rugged.

Hell, even on this side of the country, the beaches further down south were the only ones he’d experienced. Numerous trips to Los Angeles in his youth, on private beaches with his parents. All sandy and serene. Warmth soaking his skin.

The northern part of the Pacific coast seemed nothing like it. He’d seen it in theory, of course, he had. He’d seen it here in Pebble Beach, a few years ago. But there was something to be said about seeing it from ground level, sprawled against rocks and the spray of the ocean in his face, harsh winds whipping his hair around. It felt tangible. Like the ocean was turbulent, near-violent, after having been ignored. A reminder that it couldn’t be tamed no matter how much money was thrown towards its coast.

“When I was a kid,” Yoongi started, and Jimin turned to look at him. He was staring at the ocean, his eyes a little unfocused as if he was somewhere else. “My grandfather used to take me to these coastal towns in Washington. Those were some…”

He trailed off and then laughed, shaking his head.

“Some long drives. Felt like forever when I was a kid. But they were worth it. Of course, he complained about the drives too. Used to say it was an unfair test that he should live in a coastal state but Spokane would be, like, the farthest from the ocean.”

Jimin laughed along with Yoongi. He hadn’t ever met Yoongi’s maternal grandparents. They’d passed when Yoongi was still in college in New York. But Jimin had spoken to them on video calls when he was younger and received gifts from them during festivals. He remembered the tone with which Yoongi’s grandfather would speak, would write in his postcards. He could easily imagine him grumbling about being stuck on the landlocked side of Washington.

“But we did it,” Yoongi said, clapping his hands on his thighs. “It always felt so windy and cold, rougher somehow. He used to point across to the horizon.”

He raised both his hands and pointed right towards the ocean, and Jimin followed the movement so he could see what Yoongi was seeing.

“And he’d say, Yoongi-yah, all the way across the water, on the other side, is our home. It’s where we came from.

A heaviness grew inside Jimin's chest. The feeling he got when he walked down the streets and his ears picked up the trailing sound of his mother tongue from the periphery. The feeling he used to get when Yoongi’s grandparents would send him snacks and he could taste something more than love and familiar flavours in them; something deeper. The feeling he got when he’d catch his parents reminiscing about Busan, a look in their eyes that was equal parts joy and equal parts sorrow before it was pushed away.

A homesickness for a home he’d never lived in. A longing to trail his fingers across the threads that connected them all, across boundaries and generations.

He looked at Yoongi, whose throat was bobbing. His eyes were dry but Jimin knew that they were close to flooding. Perhaps not necessarily in memory of his grandparents, though there was that, too. Perhaps in memory of the same feeling he must’ve felt when he heard his grandfather say those words, the feeling curling inside Jimin right now.

Jimin reached out to touch his extended hands but Yoongi turned to his side before he could. He had a look on his face, a kind of amusem*nt at his past self. And yet, the giddiness of his inner child seeped through his gummy smile and Jimin found himself entranced, leaning close to listen. Perhaps Yoongi was fishing, the shimmering excitement in his eyes reeling Jimin in like the catch of the day.

“Would you believe? I used to try and calculate the distance from Washington to Daegu, and then from New York to Daegu and it always felt not that different. Not in the grand scheme. I mean…the Pacific Ocean is f*cking huge. Also, technically, Japan is in the way. Not exactly a straight line.”

Jimin could picture it so easily. A young Yoongi with a map propped open in front of the family computer, scribbling away while he did the math to figure out what his grandfather was saying. Trying to extract some kind of scientific merit from the metaphorical concept to see if it could be proved.

The Yoongi in front of him chuckled, his eyes slightly glazed as he lost himself in his memories.

“But it somehow felt closer from this side. As if the only thing separating us was the ocean. Just a few sets of islands between us instead of multiple, vast continents, you know? It felt a little less like we were on the other side of the world.”

Jimin understood. He understood it perfectly. He tapped his fingers on Yoongi’s knuckle, and Yoongi used his free hand to tap Jimin’s.

“Do you have a lot of memories of Daegu?”

Yoongi shook his head and shrugged. He freed his hands to push his hair off his face, the orange so much brighter as the sun crept up on them. Jimin hadn’t even realised how quickly it had gotten light, the sky now properly bright as the morning yawned.

“None. I’ve only been once, as a kid. For my uncle’s funeral. But I think my grandparents and Eomma tried to make life in Spokane as much as Daegu as possible. Even if it was just in the confines of our house. I guess that’s what I missed most when Appa and I moved to New York.”

Jimin didn’t mention that the little apartment Yoongi shared with his father, the one Jimin spent many after-school evenings in, was the closest form of Daegu life he could’ve imagined. Maybe he just had nothing to compare it to.

“I wish I had stronger memories of Busan. I barely remember the trips we took, they were so long ago.”

He suddenly looked up at Yoongi, laughing.

“Did you know…this is so embarrassing. For the longest time, I didn’t even know I spoke in satoori ?”

Yoongi tilted his head, an incredulous expression on his face.

“What, you didn’t notice the different dialects on TV? When you spoke to other Koreans? Hell, when you spoke to my family? To me?”

Jimin laughed louder, shuffling so he was sitting up straight. He waved his palms in a no gesture, rushing to explain.

“You know what I’m trying to say. I knew it in theory. But it just didn’t register as...as something that I also did, you know?”

“And when did this realisation hit you?”

Jimin sensed a teasing tone to Yoongi’s words, only smiling to acknowledge it.

“When I visited Seoul…I think it was when I was eight? Nine years old? Someone immediately pointed out our Busan dialect and I realised it was something you could hear very clearly.”

Yoongi laughed and Jimin laughed, too. They curled up giggling against the rock they were leaning on, tickled by the ridiculous notions of their childhood selves. Kids who counted miles to their native homes and spoke in dialects acquired from their parents yet were largely lost in the scattered puzzle pieces of a diaspora. Unable to stitch together a bigger picture that was visible so naturally to those who grew up in it. A task harder for Jimin than Yoongi. Jimin whose parents went out of their way to assimilate into a different world. Left him to be raised by non-Korean nannies, and barely had time to show him the nuances of the world they’d left behind.

“I’ll bet Seokjin clocked it immediately,” Yoongi wheezed, waving his finger in Jimin’s face. “He noticed my Daegu satoori in a heartbeat.”

Jimin caught the waving finger, tugging it down.

“So easily. I wonder how different our lives would’ve been if we’d grown up there.”

Yoongi pouted, shaking his head.

“Might’ve never met.”

Jimin lightly smacked his chest and Yoongi laughed again, the tail ends of chuckles just running into each other. He clasped the hand Jimin had smacked with, holding it close to him.

“Nah, I bet we would’ve met,” he said confidently.

Good. Jimin didn’t want to imagine an existence where he never met Yoongi. He pressed his hand down a little firmer though, right over Yoongi’s heart. It felt like the rhythm kicked up under his palm. Jimin shifted his eyes to look at the ocean again, now dancing brighter under the risen sun.

“I get what harabeoji meant though," Jimin pointed out. "It’s…It feels more real. Rough around the edges, gritty, and cold. f*ck, how can it be cold in summer? Like…are we sure we didn’t hallucinate all the heat on the freeway? But man, it’s…it’s real.”

Yoongi hummed and Jimin looked back at him. He was looking down, staring at their clasped hands on his ribs and Jimin bent his knuckles, lightly squeezing. Yoongi’s breath stuttered and Jimin didn’t let it go unaddressed. Not this time. Not when they were bracketed between wet rocks and the Pacific, home on both sides, toe-deep in tidal pools holding water that could’ve travelled all those thousands of miles.

“Like that dream you spoke about,” Jimin whispered.

Yoongi’s eyes shot up, narrowing. His lips downturned in a frown, confusion evident.

“Dream? What dream?”

So he really wasn’t just acting. He did not remember how he’d thrown Jimin’s very precarious balance off its axis. No different than the coastal winds. Unknowing and unforgiving.

Jimin pressed on.

“That night, in Crescent City. You said it felt real like a dream. But you knew it wasn’t a dream because I had a look in my eyes.”

Yoongi looked confused for a few more seconds. His eyes darted around as he tried to recollect, lips smacking as he bit them. Then suddenly, like a cartoonish lightbulb going off above his head, his expression cleared. He tried to pull back but Jimin held on, moving with him so their hands could remain together, so he could keep feeling his heartbeat. Which was trotting wilder now.

“Jimin…” Yoongi tried to say, his words drying up.

Jimin still pressed on.

“What look do I have in your dreams? It’s not some horror movie sh*t is it?”

Yoongi snorted but it sounded choked.

“What? No. It’s not horror…just…it doesn’t matter.”

He tried to look away but Jimin raised his free hand and touched his cheek. It was cold, from the ocean air, yet the chill was only like a film. Underneath, Jimin could feel how warm he was, the blood rushing to his face.

Jimin caressed the skin. It was mottled with stubble. A little rough to the touch from the salt in the atmosphere. Tinged with the dryness that came from travel, summer humidity and being smack in the middle of a constant air conditioner blast. But it was still familiar.

Real.

Like the coast. Like their home across the sea. Like their satoori.

Like Yoongi’s dreams.

“How do I look at you in your dreams, Yoongi?” Jimin whispered.

And Yoongi’s spine sagged. His body lay, robbed of energy, against the rock. As if it knew there was no more avoiding it. As if there was no more hiding it. Jimin had him backed into the little corner of this cave.

Yoongi swallowed. When his eyes met Jimin’s, they were finally damp. Jimin’s own eyes watered automatically, without explanation. That had always been the way. If Yoongi cried, Jimin automatically started crying before he even knew what was wrong. A reflex.

Jimin caught a teardrop with his thumb, wiping it gently so that he wouldn’t irritate Yoongi’s skin.

“You look at me like you could be in love with me.”

In love with me.

In love.

Love, love, love.

Yoongi’s chin dropped to his chest, hiding his face but Jimin wasn’t having it. He crowded as close to him as possible. Automatically, Yoongi’s free arm grabbed his waist, pulling him in. A reflex.

Jimin moved his fingers so that they were cradling Yoongi’s face instead of lightly caressing it. His thumb tucked under Yoongi’s chin and tilted it up so he could meet Jimin’s eyes.

Jimin’s entire body felt like it was lit on fire. The rising sun seemed to have caught up to them, finally. Its heat beat down on them, it had to be, because there was no reasonable explanation that the look in Yoongi’s eyes was the sole reason Jimin felt like he was melting inside his clothes.He felt his own heart pound harder, just like Yoongi’s was pounding under his hand.

Suddenly he understood why Yoongi liked to stay in those dreams. Why Yoongididlike fishing. Jimin was hooked, the line pulling him in and in and in.

“You said those dreams felt real,” Jimin said, voice airy. “Like reality felt fake. Which one do you wish was real?”

Yoongi flexed his fingers on Jimin’s waist, testing. Jimin arched into the touch. Because of their proximity, it pushed his face right into Yoongi’s, their noses brushing together. Jimin could practically taste the telltale hints of clove and mint on Yoongi’s breath. His eyes fell to his lips, glistening from how he’d licked and bitten them. Bait.

Jimin’s eyes flicked up to Yoongi’s. His eyes were so dark. They were blown out just like that night, except now there was no darkness, no alcohol, no glimmering street lights.

Just the unforgiving sun and Yoongi’s pupils dilating. Because of Jimin.

“I can’t tell if I’m dreaming,” Yoongi said, and Jimin shuddered because they were so close that the movement of the words caused their lips to nearly brush.

“Why not?” Jimin gasped. He could barely breathe. He felt like he’d run a hundred miles.

“Because you’re looking at me like you look at me in my dreams.”

Jimin was sure he’d moved first but somehow he was the one who found his spine pressed into the rock, and Yoongi’s mouth on his.

Oh, thank f*ck.

Because it was glorious. It was soft and Jimin could finally taste the remnants of smoke and toothpaste, and it made him dizzy. His eyes slid shut so tight he almost saw a kaleidoscope of neon lights.

Yoongi groaned right against his lips and Jimin hummed. The hand that was cradling Yoongi’s face slid higher, further back, tangling in those orange locks of hair. He dragged his nails down Yoongi’s scalp and Yoongi finally moved.

He pulled away for half a second, swallowing, staring. His fingers dug into Jimin's back as if clutching to something. But there was no alarm ringing, threatening to wake them up. Jimin licked his lips, staring at Yoongi's. He'd had a taste. He was hungry for more.

Yoongi must've been too, because he kissed Jimin again, harder. This time he really kissed him. His mouth moved with purpose, and Jimin didn’t need his other hand anymore because Yoongi’s chest was pressed right up against his. Their hearts were galloping, racing each other to see which could outdo the other.

Jimin had never been religious but God have mercy on his soul. He was going to die right here. He'd never been kissed like this, like Yoongi was a man abandoned at sea and Jimin was his buoy. Never been clutched so tightly. He feltwanted,because Yoongi kissed him like kissing wasn't a concept unless it was on the other side of Jimin's lips.

Yoongi’s palms were calloused, from days gripping the steering wheel, maybe even from years of clamping on handlebars in buses and squeezing levers on motorcycles. One of them squeezed Jimin’s waist tighter, the tips of his fingers brushing his skin where his t-shirt and jacket had rucked up. The other was gripping Jimin’s face, tilting it higher and higher up until he was fully leaning back into the rock.

Jimin couldn’t focus on any of that. Because Yoongi’s mouth was where his entire existence was focused.Warm and plump as it caught Jimin’s lower lip, sucking on it. As salty as the ocean when Jimin tasted the sweat on Yoongi’s upper lip. Yoongi breathed into his mouth and it was hot, hot enough that Jimin’s own mouth opened in response, both of them gasping into each other.

Jimin wondered what stupidity had possessed him to never do this before.

Yoongi’s tongue flicked against his lower lip, teasing, almost testing. Jimin used the tip of his own to coax it further until he felt it curl against the back of his teeth.

His ribs felt like jello, everything inside him melting and quivering. Electricity tingled inside his abdomen and up his spine and his entire body curled, overwhelmed, trying to escape it almost but unable to pull away from how good it felt.

Jimin felt a tug on his hair, and he moaned, shamelessly loud. Yoongi moaned as if Jimin’s noises were the source of his pleasure more than anything else.

A seagull squawked loudly and they pulled away from each other. Yoongi looked wrecked. His face was flushed, rosy on the high points of his cheek and his nose. He licked his lips, smacking them as if he had just devoured something worth savouring.

Jimin touched them with his fingertips, his own lips parting. Their eyes met. And they both giggled.

Jimin tugged on his t-shirt collar, trying to fan himself with it. The temperature was rising with every passing minute and he couldn’t be sure if it was internal or external. Yoongi leaned in again, pressing softer kisses to his brow, his temple, down his cheek. Jimin hummed as he leaned into them, his hands curling into the fabric of Yoongi’s clothes to keep him close. Could've confused all of this for a dream but the lines were blurring between both, and frankly, it was hard to think when his head was spinning.

He'd been on the receiving end of affection from Yoongi. He'd never been on the receiving end of this.

“You’re so stupid for someone so smart,” Jimin mumbled. Yoongi made a hissing noise against his earlobe as he kissed it. Jimin shivered. There was a very warm tongue licking near his earring and thoughts were flying out the window. “Weren’t you the one who told me…oh…um…that humans are…we can’t…dream something we haven’t seen before?”

“What are you rambling about?” Yoongi whispered into his ear, his breath tickling it. Jimin squirmed, trying to not lose his thoughts even as his feet almost slipped in the tidal pool. But Yoongi would never let him fall, so he wasn’t concerned.

“That,” Jimin said. “That every stranger in a dream is…is at the very least, some passerby we never paid attention to? An…an extra at the back of the movie scene we ignored? We can’t make up… human faces.”

Yoongi pulled back and Jimin whined.

“I can’t believe you remember that,” Yoongi chuckled. “And that only applies to faces. I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually seen a mango talk to me.”

Jimin blinked.

“I’m going to…what? A mango what ?”

Yoongi shook his head and Jimin laughed. He yanked him closer, and this time it was Yoongi struggling to ground his footing so he wouldn’t topple.

“If your dreams felt so real,” Jimin whispered against his lips. “You had to have known that you’ve seen me look at you like that before. I’ve always looked at you like that, Yoongi.”

The smile that broke across Yoongi’s face was prettier than any coast in any part of the world. Jimin couldn’t help but mirror it.

“I guess…” Yoongi sighed, shaking his head. “I guess I just thought that if you hid that look from me then you didn’t want me to do anything about it.”

Jimin laughed and Yoongi squeezed his waist.

“People don’t move across the country if they don’t want someone to do something about it.”

Yoongi reeled away, a look of distress marring his features. He tried to pull back.

Don’t say that,” he complained. “You said you were moving because you wanted a different life, a different experie–”

Jimin tugged him right in till they were pressed against each other again. Their t-shirts stuck to their abdomens from sweat, thin layers separating them, taunting them.

“I can want two things,” Jimin said, tilting his head. Yoongi followed the movement like a magnet, his lips already parting as a reflection of Jimin’s. “I can want a hundred things, have a hundred reasons, and all of them can be related to each other.”

“What things do you want now?” Yoongi asked.

Jimin answered by kissing him again. This time it was more desperate, their teeth nearly clacking from the force of it. Yoongi huffed at the sudden movement but caught up the speed pretty easily.

This time when he gasped, Jimin was the one who slid his tongue into his mouth and licked at the roof of it. Yoongi’s legs trembled. Jimin widened his stance so that Yoongi could press closer, press his knees between Jimin’s.

Yoongi had the same idea. His fingers gripped one of Jimin’s thighs and hitched it up, around his waist. Jimin ripped away from the kiss, his head thrown back as he groaned. What on earth had he unleashed upon himself, and how did he make sure it never ended? Yoongi took full advantage. His mouth descended to Jimin’s throat, an open-mouth trail that felt longer than seventeen miles.

His tongue ran up Jimin’s pulse, and Jimin’s vision swam, starbursts mingling with the searing rays of the sun. Yoongi ground his hips upwards, against Jimin’s and both of them moaned. They might’ve been wearing durable jeans but it was apparent that the stiffness wasn’t solely the fabric’s doing.

Jimin instinctively tried to raise his other leg to wrap around Yoongi’s waist too, but it put more of their weight on his back and he became all too aware of the fact that they were leaning into a rock. A very jagged, slippery rock. The sound that escaped him this time was tinged with pain. Yoongi reared back and Jimin huffed.

“f*cking hell,” Jimin said, letting Yoongi set his leg down as both of them straightened up. “I’ve gone to beaches with you my whole life, and the one time I kiss you at one it’s when there’s sharp rocks everywhere.”

Yoongi hummed as they stood properly, leaving lingering, slower kisses on each other’s lips.

“Don’t forget the moss and seaweed,” Yoongi murmured, combing his fingers through Jimin’s hair. “And bird sh*t. Pretty sure you’ve got some on your jacket.”

Jimin yelped and shot away. His hands scrambled over his shoulder as he tried to check the back of his windcheater.

“Oh, you liar…

Yoongi’s laughter was louder than the gulls and the waves.

• 1234.5 miles, and running •

Somewhere on the US-101 S, en-route to Santa Barbara

14 June–15 June, 2018 (00:00)

Yoongi was already yawning before they’d even hit the ten-minute mark after pulling onto the freeway. Jimin, frankly, was also feeling half asleep. It felt like they’d been on the move nonstop after the extremely relaxed day in Monterey.

Well, it had been relaxed for Yoongi and Jimin. They’d trudged their way back from the beach to the car, finishing the 17-Mile Drive. It was while they were lounging in a café, stealing each other's fries, that Seokjin and Hoseok had found them. Hoseok had looked like he’d been hit by a bus, his hair standing up on odd ends and sleep creasing his lashes. But he had been beaming as he watched how Seokjin had glowed.

Apparently, Hoseok had not slept on the boat (not all the time, anyway). Instead, he’d battled his sleepiness quite bravely to take pictures of Seokjin, and even clapped and hooted every time his boyfriend caught a fish. Jimin had been extremely endeared as Yoongi grinned at all the photos Seokjin showed him of the Coho Salmon and Blue Rockfish. Jimin had also been extremely grateful that Seokjin was too wired and Hoseok too sleep-deprived to notice the tension between him and Yoongi.

So grateful when they’d finally departed from Monterey and strayed from the 101 to enjoy the coast-hugging California-1, making their way through Big Sur. Grateful when, after huddling around the fire at the campsite they were spending the night in, Seokjin and Hoseok had lasted all of one hour before admitting they badly needed to pass out. Grateful, but a little disappointed for his friends. It was a damn shame they couldn't stay up longer. Objectively speaking, the spot they had chosen was beautiful.

It was perfect since it wasn’t a real campsite. Nobody had any interest in fielding RVs and passing by other summertime campers. They’d driven their cars as far as they could go on the marked dirt roads along the river and parked when they found a safe spot big enough to house their vehicles without any worry about wildlife or human life. Under a protected canopy of trees, stars peaking through the branches, they'd rolled over some abandoned stones and logs to sit on.

Yoongi had managed the makeshift campfire because he knew how to handle an open flame in a forest. Before they'd driven away from civilisation, they'd stopped at one of the many camping gear stores and rented a stove and kettle. Cup ramyeon cooked with water boiled on the fire was one of the best dinners they'd had on the trip.

Seokjin and Hoseok had returned to their car soon after. And Jimin was so grateful that once their door shut and their car lights turned off, Yoongi had finally abandoned his post from the other side of the fire and huddled under Jimin's blanket. They hadn't exchanged words. Just watched the stars, occasionally swirling their forks in the empty noodle cups out of habit and licking the spices clinging to the prongs.

Once in a while, if they heard a rustle in the distance, they whispered hypotheses on what it could be. Like the people watching they'd done in the muggy subway cars of New York. Back then Yoongi used to fan them with whatever notebook he'd used in the last period and hadn't slid into his backpack yet. Their campsite in Big Sur was no different, only Yoongi fanned them with the brochures they'd been collecting on the road. When they'd once traded cafeteria gossip under streetlights, theytraded snuggles and kisses under constellations.

When neither of them had been able to find a reason to stay out any longer, they'd returned to their car. The cramped quarters of the vehicle and sleep-laced eyes made it clear that any more kisses would be lazy, and slow. That and there was an unspoken understanding that their first time wasn’t going to be in the back of a rental car in the woods (though Jimin found himself wishing that one day they could camp just the two of them and do whatever the f*ck they wanted in a tent of their own). They had only languidly rolled against one another until sleep found them.

The morning after had kicked them all into fifth gear, though. The group had packed everything up, cleaned up the spot till there was no human footprint left. They’d dropped off their rented tools at the store near the more glamorous lodges and cabins and then hit the freeway again.

The entire rest of the day had been spent in San Luis Obispo, which they’d reached before lunch. After booking a couple of cheap motel rooms, not to spend the night but just to be able to shower and change, they’d taken to the streets of the city.

It had been fairly chilled out. As tempted as they were to do everything that was on offer, it was important to remember that even once they reached their final destination—San Diego—they still had to turn around and return. They could always choose the same stop on the journey back if they truly wanted to do something unmissable.

Seokjin and Yoongi had wanted to hike, while Jimin and Hoseok were all for doing something much more air-conditioned. So, the elder two had decided to do the climb to Bishop Peak, and the younger two caught an afternoon show of a contemporary dance performance at the Performing Arts Center. Then they’d all decided to grab some of the wine that the wineries boasted and lounge in their cars at the Sunset Drive-In Theatre, watching North by Northwest. It was not a fruitful watch with Jimin and Seokjin practically wrestling over Twizzlers, Hoseok and Yoongi adding fuel to the fire by placing bets.

So, yeah. They were absolutely wiped out. At the very least, Santa Barbara was not a long overnight drive. They could reach before the clock hit two in the morning and pass out in peace.

“Can you…” Yoongi mumbled, waving his hand towards the phone stand attached to the dashboard. Jimin nodded. He took Yoongi’s phone from the console tray, where he already had the route to their next motel open. He adjusted the brightness to something comfortable for the darkness of midnight and clamped it onto the stand.

Yoongi stifled another yawn, slurping loudly on his iced coffee.

“I can drive,” Jimin said, taking the coffee from Yoongi and taking a sip of his own. “You’re so exhausted.”

Yoongi made a sound of disagreement, rough at the back of his throat. Jimin turned to watch Yoongi’s sharp eyes, tired but very alert, as they flicked from the rearview mirror to the road ahead.

“It’s less than two hours, we’re already on the freeway.”

Jimin didn’t feel convinced. Yoongi must’ve sensed that because he reached out and patted his thigh, giving it a light squeeze.

“It’s fine. There’s more traffic than I was expecting. It keeps me awake. I’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure? We can find a zone to pull over. You shouldn’t be–”

“Jimin-ah.”

Jimin fell silent, sighing as Yoongi squeezed his thigh again. He squeezed the hand resting there in return.

“I would never drive if I didn’t think I was good to go. Especially not with you in the car.”

Despite the concern, Jimin couldn’t help but smile at that. Of course, Yoongi wouldn’t. He wasn’t reckless. He wasn’t a daredevil. He was well-versed in operating different types of vehicles and took his licenses for them very seriously. He was confident but not overly so, always cautious, always aware that accidents were just that—accidents. Could happen any time to anyone.

He wouldn’t have ever driven if he wasn’t sure he could. But Jimin still felt bad that he wasn’t the one behind the wheel.

“Also, let’s face it,” Yoongi added, chuckling. “You haven’t driven a lot in the night, not on the freeway.”

Jimin gasped, pushing Yoongi’s hand off his thigh. Yoongi shook his head, shaking in silent laughter as he put his second hand back on the wheel.

“Oh? And you’re the California expert, are you?”

“Hardly an expert,” Yoongi gave an exaggerated gasp before returning to his normal speaking voice. “But I’ve driven these specific stretches before. I’m familiar with them. And I’ve been driving overnight for years.”

His eyes flicked to the rearview again, then quickly to the side mirror. He held up two fingers in a peace sign as Seokjin’s car overtook them. Jimin watched the car speed past, Seokjin’s familiar bumper stickers glowing in their headlights.

Then he registered Yoongi’s words.

“Wait, you have?” Jimin turned to look at him. “How much of this trip have you done before?”

“Honestly? Most of it.”

Yoongi shrugged. Jimin’s mouth fell open. He racked his brain, trying to remember. He knew all of them had travelled to parts of California before, some even to the locations they’d just visited. But he’d assumed it had been bits and pieces, only a city here or there. He hadn’t realised that Yoongi had done all of it.

“Yoongi! How is…is anything on this trip even novel for you?” Jimin demanded.

He was only met with a laugh, short but genuine in its airy quality. Yoongi didn’t remove his eyes from the road but he reached his hand out. Jimin held out the coffee cup but Yoongi gently swatted his hand down and grabbed the other one. He interlaced their fingers and Jimin felt his cheeks heat up, a kind of dizziness taking over his head that had nothing to do with the lack of sleep or the caffeine.

Everything about this trip is novel for me,” Yoongi said in a low voice. “I’ve never done it with friends. I’ve never…”

Yoongi rubbed his thumb across Jimin’s knuckles and Jimin, feeling a little brave, raised their hands to his lips. Before he could kiss though, his phone buzzed in his lap. The screen lit up, a bright torch in the darkness of the car. He looked down at the glaring email notification and sighed. Instead of his lips, he ended up pressing his forehead to their hands, his other hand’s little finger swiping away the notification. He touched the screen off button on the side, pushing his phone into his thigh with some force, a little more than necessary.

The knuckle he had his forehead against lightly knocked against his brow.

“What’s on this busy mind?”

This time it was Jimin’s turn to shrug, looking outside the window. Thick, dark silhouettes of trees blurred past them, only the front ones lit up by the traffic on the road. Everything behind them was a mystery, an almost eerie one. Jimin had to remind himself that he knew there were only trees on the other side too, lush and green as the ones they’d passed by during the daytime. Nothing to be scared of.

“Still trying to decide if this trip is a success,” he answered. “Has yours been a success?”

“Of the resounding variety.”

Jimin bit his lip. If he concentrated, he could still feel the ghost of a rock pressed against his spine, the taste of clove on his tongue. The smell of campfire smoke, the scratch of a blanket. He turned his head and his eyes briefly roved over the backseat where they’d huddled up and made out like lovesick fools just one night ago. Yoongi squeezed again and then pulled his hand away, putting it back on the wheel as he signalled to overtake the truck in front of them.

“What’s…um…” Yoongi asked, his attention on the road more than the conversation as he sped up to pass the U-Haul and then returned to their lane. “What factors of success are you…trying to compute?”

Jimin tried to think of one but he drew a total blank. For someone who had ideas of what a successful trip was, he had no real clue what metrics he was calculating, what the bar was. He had no bar to compare, which should’ve made his standards terribly low. And yet he had all these images in his mind from books and movies and TV shows of what a friends' road trip should be and he wondered if the reason they looked amazing was because they were manufactured.

“I…I don’t know. I mean I know but I don’t know at the same time, you know?”

“I think so.”

Jimin took a deep breath and blew out, glancing at his phone. The screen had now gone dark but the familiar strip and icon of the email notification was seared into his mind, from days of seeing it and swiping it then to getting it again. He fiddled with the edge of his phone case, his teeth instinctively going to chew on his coffee straw before he remembered he was sharing the drink. He held it out, keeping his grip tight on it as Yoongi grabbed for it. Jimin didn’t let go till he was sure it was secure in his grip, given the condensation outside the cup and all.

“I have a decision I have to make,” Jimin slowly said. Yoongi nodded, his tongue peeking out before he put the straw in his mouth. Jimin didn’t think Yoongi even knew he had a habit of his tongue quickly darting out before he put objects in his mouth like straws and spoons and chopsticks and—and he cleared his throat, not wanting his mind to get carried away, imagining things he’d only let himself imagine in the quiet of night. He steered himself back into the conversation as Yoongi tried to pick up some speed.

“I was hoping I would’ve made it before we left Seattle. And now…now it’s hanging over my head and I think it’s affecting my whole trip.”

Yoongi hummed, keeping the cup clasped between his thumb and forefinger, his other three fingers touching the side of the wheel.

“I mean I’m having tons of fun,” Jimin quickly added. He turned a little bit in his seat, the cross-strap of his seatbelt lightly grazing his neck. “This trip, in some ways, has been exactly what I always imagined a trip like this to be. But it’s just sort of…there, in the background.”

“Were you hoping life would just decide for you on this trip?” Yoongi enquired, taking another deep gulp of his drink before handing the cup back to Jimin. Jimin watched as Yoongi swallowed it, slurping a few stray drops from his lips.

“I guess I was, a little.”

“Is there anything I can do to–”

“How did you know?” Jimin interrupted him. Yoongi’s words came to a sharp halt, and he looked at Jimin for a second. In that second, Jimin saw several emotions pass through his face, despite the shadows and glare of other cars’ lights on his face. Confusion, concern, apprehension.

“How did I know what?” Yoongi asked carefully.

“Your PhD.”

Yoongi blew out air through his nose, biting the inside of his lip. Jimin saw some semblance of relief in his body as it relaxed. He hadn’t even realised Yoongi had tensed up. He wondered what it was he thought Jimin was talking about.

“What about it?”

Jimin held out a palm, waving it as if it was supposed to somehow unearth everything going through his mind.

“How did you know it’s what you wanted to do for sure? I know it’s always been your plan but how did you…” Jimin’s voice fizzled out. He put the coffee cup in the console cupholder, using his free hands to scrub at his face. Some of the chilly droplets of water left smears on his face, the blast of the air conditioner on them waking him up. “God, I’m explaining this badly.”

Yoongi looked outside his window, through the windshield, and back towards Jimin before smiling.

“We have an open road and quite a few miles to go. Take your time.”

Jimin took a few deep breaths. Okay. He could try and explain this. He had always been excellent during presentations, in school and in college. He was always the one in the group project being asked to give the presentation because of his speaking skills. The one whose solo presentations ran over time but the professor never stopped him because of his charisma and ability to hold the attention of the room. So what was different now?

I don’t have f*cking slides or flashcards, for one!

“Like…” Jimin ventured. “You make a life plan, right? And it’s an idea you have of what you want to do. Then life gets real, you figure out what you need to do to make the plan happen. Six months, one year, five years, ten years.”

He used his hands to count, limbs picking up some energy as he found his momentum. Thoughts slowly started to tumble into place, trying to make sense as he cleared space for them.

“You’ve got steps laid out, right?” he continued. “But when you actually get to the step. One year, five years down the line. How do you know for sure you want to take that step? If the life plan is still the life plan?”

He was breathing pretty hard for such a small spiel. Yet there was a degree of clarity in his head that he hadn’t had for weeks. Like trying to write a paper, aiming to bullsh*t your way through it, only to think: Wait, I’m onto something. Do I actually have an argument if I let myself think about it?

Who would’ve thought that thinking out loud with Yoongi would’ve helped make some sense of his jumbled brain? He chuckled. Of course, it did. This was Yoongi. He’d been the constant in Jimin’s life as he tried to make sense of it.

The constant didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Either he was mulling over what Jimin had asked, or his attention was entirely on the road.Or both. Either way, he took almost a minute, chewing the inside of his lip, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, before he gave a small nod and opened his mouth.

“Is the life plan no longer as appealing or is taking the step the daunting part?”

“What’s the difference?” Jimin frowned.

“I mean, there’s a bazillion different ways to reach the same goals,” Yoongi pointed out. He pointed at a passing sign as if it was an answer when it was only Möbius-like white strips looping in confusing directions. “sh*t, we literally detoured within the first hour of our trip, right? There are different routes that different people take for the same goal. Is the step you planned the only way to reach the main goal?”

“Yes.” Jimin swallowed. “Yeah, it is. I mean I can delay it, but it’s the only way to do it.”

“And you still want that end goal?” Yoongi asked quietly. “That hasn’t changed?”

Jimin didn’t have an answer, even though he knew it deep down. But Yoongi knew Jimin well, so he didn’t need an answer.

“Okay. We’re just delaying the inevitable then. What about this is scaring you?”

“I–”

The loud ringer on Jimin’s phone cut him off. He squinted at the bright light suddenly emanating from his lap, more persistent than any notification. Who was calling him in the middle of the night? He looked down and saw the call screen.

It was a photo of a Polaroid. In the frame, Hoseok and Jimin were trying to demolish either side of a ridiculously large burger, a burger so big it had a steak knife instead of a toothpick keeping its contents together. The bottom edge of the picture had Jimin’s neat, slightly loopy handwriting: Hell’s Kitchen, February ‘17

Jimin quickly answered the call, putting it on speaker and looking around. Seokjin and Hoseok had only been a few cars apart from them but between their overtake, and Yoongi paying attention to the conversation, they must’ve lost them.

“Yeah, Hobi-hyung?” Jimin asked, sitting up to look outside his window. Yoongi also sat up straighter, leaning to check if he could see past the unmarked, slightly rusty minivan in front of them.

“What’s…” Yoongi mumbled and then cursed under his breath. Jimin quickly swivelled his head to see what was in his line of sight. Yoongi pointed to the shoulder off the freeway. “f*ck, that’s them. With the lights.”

“Hey, there’s…” Hoseok’s voice filtered through the speaker. Then it paused and he resumed. “I…okay, yeah, I see you guys. Pull over.”

Jimin hung up and pocketed his phone. Yoongi turned on the indicator and started swapping lanes, while Jimin pressed the hazard light button on the middle console to send a message to the cars around them. The traffic had cleared out a little so there wasn’t a barrage to make their way through but that also meant cars were moving much faster, confident in all the free space.

Seokjin and Hoseok’s sedan was parked on the right shoulder, their own hazard lights blinking brightly. Yoongi pulled up behind them, turning off the car and yanking the hand brake. Jimin opened his door, the sudden warmth of the outdoors throwing him off for half a second. It felt like stepping out of a refrigerator into an oven.

Seokjin was squatted beside the front left tyre, fingers gliding along something behind its frame. Hoseok was leaning against the passenger side, his phone still in his hand. He had a disgruntled expression.

“What’s wrong?” Yoongi shouted, to be heard over the sound of passing traffic. “Tyre blew out?”

“No!” Seokjin shook his head and stood up. He dusted his hands on his thighs, leaving a streak of dirt on the denim. His expression was equally disgruntled. Now that he was also standing, the difference in the expressions was evident, despite both being frustrated: Seokjin’s had an edge of irritation and chagrin, Hoseok’s was anxious and angry.

“Then what’s wrong?” Yoongi wasn’t shouting anymore as he and Jimin got close enough to be heard. Yoongi ducked his head through the open driver’s side window, glancing at the dashboard.

“Brakes feel off,” Seokjin muttered, the toe of his shoes gently kicking the tyre. “I’m not driving with the brakes feeling off.”

Jimin opened his mouth to suggest something but Hoseok was already waving his phone, his internet browser open on the screen.

“There’s a mechanic shop about fifteen miles out,” Hoseok said, his voice flat. “It says 24-hour service, but the listed phone number is out of order. Says they’re open though, and the last review is from a few days ago.”

“Must’ve changed their number,” Seokjin waved his hand towards the phone. “Google has delays sometimes in updating information on the console.”

Jimin had no doubt that Seokjin was very aware of how Google Business worked, what with maintaining his little shop’s online listings himself. So he didn’t question it. He did however quietly walk over to Hoseok, frowning at his stiff frame. He glanced at Yoongi, who was also eyeing Seokjin with a frown.

Yoongi looked up and caught Jimin’s eye, giving a near imperceptible nod. They fought.

“Okay,” Yoongi said, rubbing his palms together. “We can drive to it. Fifteen miles out, you said?”

Hoseok nodded.

“Just about,” he said. “If you don’t hit any snags, it might take like forty, forty-five minutes, to and back. Maybe a little longer if it takes time to explain the situation.”

Yoongi paused, raising his eyebrows at Jimin. Ideally, they could’ve towed the car but fifteen miles in the dark on a freeway felt like a gambit. Jimin also knew their rental contract explicitly forbade it—and this was not so dire an emergency that they needed to break that clause.

Then there was the obvious. Jimin got the feeling that Seokjin and Hoseok needed their own space for just a little while. Jimin knew what Yoongi was asking, and nodded quickly.

“I’ll stay with Hoseok-hyung and the car,” Jimin called out. “Seokjin-hyung, you should go with Yoongi. Might save some time if you can explain the situation directly to them. You know the car the best.”

Seokjin hummed but his eyes were on Hoseok. He opened his mouth as if to say something but Hoseok groaned and pushed off the car.

“Go,” Hoseok insisted, waving his palms but with a resolute voice. “I’ll be fine. Jimin is with me. Go, hurry up. I’ll text you the mechanic details.”

Seokjin looked torn, squinting at the tyres and then at his boyfriend. His hand reached out over the roof, tapping his nails on the metal once before retracting. Hoseok's eyes were glued to his phone so Seokjin could only sigh as he leaned into his car and grabbed his phone and wallet. Then he shut the door and walked to the other car. Yoongi was already there. He grabbed something and whistled to Jimin.

“Jimin-ah!” he shouted. “Wallet!”

Jimin turned and instinctively caught the leather wallet that flew in his direction. He clutched it tightly and waved at them. Yoongi and Seokjin didn’t waste any time getting in and pulling back onto the freeway, picking up speed until they were out of their sight. It felt odd watching his car’s tail lights disappear down the road.

He turned to Hoseok, who was pacing beside the broken-down car. Now that Jimin had a second to think and process, he noticed how Hoseok was wringing his hands, the slight flush to the back of his neck illuminated by the glow of the car’s console light.

“Hyung, why don’t you—”

“I told him!” Hoseok exclaimed, kicking a rock. It blew up a small cloud of dust. “I told him to renew his Triple-A membership. Why have a shared calendar if you’re gonna ignore the reminders? I took ages to set those up.”

He ran his fingers through his hair, fingers twisting and tugging the white-blond ends. He kept ranting. “Then I’m the crazy one for being too particular, too over-the-top with my organisation. If this was my car, guess what?”

Jimin swallowed, smiling weakly.

“You would’ve called Triple—”

“Nope!” Hoseok shouted, whirling on the spot and pointing a finger at Jimin. “My brake pads wouldn’t have failed. Because I would’ve gotten the car checked before we left for the trip.”

Hoseok kicked another rock before making a frustrated sound. It was something between a tired moan and an angry groan. It faded into a squeak before he sat his ass on the barrier fence separating the paved road from the wilderness beyond.

Jimin wanted to hug him but he knew Hoseok hated being touched when he was upset. So, Jimin sat down in the passenger seat. The door was still open, and he faced Hoseok, letting his legs stretch out. He ran his fingers over the cold dashboard, the open window frame that was quickly warming up now that the air conditioning was off.

“He did get it cleaned,” Jimin tried, keeping his voice calm and low. Hoseok made another pained noise and looked up. Suddenly, his face looked so tired and weary, eyes slightly bloodshot. Carried over remnants from the days on the road, the fatigue after the late-night flight that hadn’t fully left him, the exhaustion of his own undergraduate degree that he’d hurried to finish before flying here. Perhaps years of exhaustion piled up—from constantly moving, from keeping up cherished relationships across thousands of miles.

He looked so small, curled on himself on the side of the freeway, the larger-than-life personality and warmth had escaped him like air from a popped tyre.

“Sorry,” Hoseok finally said after a few minutes of silence. He scrubbed his face with the heels of his palms as if rebooting. “Don’t mind me. I think we’re all cranky.”

Jimin didn’t say anything and Hoseok clicked his tongue, chuckling half-heartedly.

“It was a good day,” he said, smiling a little. “A really good day. But, sh*t, it was long. I can’t wait to get into a bed.”

Jimin fiddled with his necklace chain, one elbow leaning on his thigh as he looked at one of his closest friends.

“I think,” he said, carefully choosing his words. “All of us were really busy and tired leading up to the trip. Things get missed.”

“Oh, I know,” Hoseok sighed. He stood up, twisting and stretching his limbs as he scuffed his shoes on the ground. Jimin moved to stand up too but Hoseok held out his palms, motioning for him to sit again. Jimin let himself slouch a little as Hoseok walked up to him, leaning against the car, beside him.

“He would never…” Hoseok whispered, then cleared his throat. “Seokjin would never call me crazy, by the way. Or even think it. He gets really pissy and defensive when other people do.”

Jimin finally laughed, looking up at Hoseok. He reached out with his hands and let their knuckles brush. Hoseok turned his hand, patting Jimin’s.

“Sounds like him.”

Hoseok smiled, a little dimple appearing above his lip.

“None of us think you are, either,” Jimin added, still rubbing his knuckles on Hoseok’s hand, up his wrist. “We know you have a system and it’s important to you. We respect that.”

Hoseok’s breath faltered and he caught Jimin’s fingers, giving them a tight squeeze.

“Thank you, Jimin. That means a lot to me. Thanks.”

A system was one way of putting it. Hoseok had a million systems, all interlinked, none of which were apparent unless you paid attention. Jimin hadn’t entirely noticed in the first couple of months after meeting him. In all fairness, it had only been over two parties at Seokjin’s house before Hoseok’s summer had ended and he’d flown back to New York

It was only after the third time, some months before the winter break of sophom*ore year (his first year in Seattle), that Jimin had noticed how Seokjin would always rush off when he had a video date planned with his boyfriend. For someone who always quoted The Princess Diaries ("A queen is never late; everyone else is simply early"), Seokjin sure did make all his video calls and dates on time.

Jimin had just assumed it was excitement. Until one time it had been a group call and Yoongi had reminded Jimin thrice to dial in on the dot and not be late. That was the first time he’d had a feeling that these things held some significance for Hoseok.

Then, over the three years of vacations, he’d noticed more. Especially the few times he was back in New York for an occasion and had a chance to hang out with Hoseok alone. The way his eyes always flicked to the panels on the subway platforms, counting down minutes by tapping the rhythm on his thighs. How he’d keep his eyes on the timer that Uber showed for the cars they ordered. The one time he’d started hyperventilating because the restaurant where they’d decided to have lunch was closed and the information hadn’t been updated online.

No matter how much Jimin had tried to reason that they could go somewhere else, it had not gotten through to Hoseok. His face had been scrunched in discomfort, talking about how he’d planned what to order and how long it would take to eat and he’d timed their arrival based on expected foot traffic. His words had been a rambling jumble as he tripped over them. It had taken gentle coaxing from Jimin to convince Hoseok to go to a quieter restaurant with the same cuisine a few buildings down. Taken Jimin highlighting how they would get their meal quicker and make up for lost time for Hoseok to finally breathe easier.

For one second, Jimin was so immensely proud of Hoseok.

So many things on the trip had gone off plan, right from that morning when they’d realised the first leg of their route was shut down. The rest stops they’d planned sliding back and forth a few hours because they were either having too much fun in one place or too wiped out to stop somewhere they’d initially wanted to. Possibly a million more moments Jimin hadn’t even caught, all taking place in the confines of Hoseok and Seokjin’s car or their room or on the instances when they split off into groups.

A part of Jimin knew Hoseok had mentally prepared for this trip. Had likely planned for pockets of time changes, accounted for their health and moods, likely even planned alternatives. It was likely that Seokjin had already talked to him in advance about changes to prepare him for them, like when Hoseok had taken Yoongi’s place on the fishing trip.

But it didn’t change that Hoseok was still on unsteady territory. It didn’t matter that he’d spent his whole life on the road and knew how to prepare for it. This was a trip he had a say in—not his parents.

Jimin was so proud of how well he’d held up, held off on letting out some of his frustration. It had been inevitable. And, to be fair, even the most indifferent people tended to lose their nerve under the circ*mstances. Travelling wasn’t always relaxed. Shared rooms, interdependent itineraries, lack of sleep, new territory—they all had a way of testing relationships and temperaments.

Jimin tried to put himself in Hoseok’s shoes.How it must’ve felt to be in a car with the person you loved and hear them say the brakes weren’t working. On a busy freeway, vehicles of all sizes going at high speeds around them, the middle of the night. It would’ve made Jimin panic if Yoongi had said it. He couldn’t imagine what it would’ve done to Hoseok.

Even if short-lived, even if Seokjin had thought on his feet, safely navigated and pulled over. How it must’ve felt when Hoseok suggested calling AAA and found out his meticulously planned reminders hadn’t worked.

Jimin didn’t fault Seokjin. He knew these things happened. He’d missed one thing, and they had still found solutions. He’d remained calm and done the smart thing instead of ignoring what his car was telling him. He’d opted to throw their plan off because worrying Hoseok for a few minutes was better than taking a risk with their lives—a best-case scenario where their car would progressively get worse and cause a domino effect of delays for the rest of the trip, or worst-case scenario where it would hurt them.

He’d done the right thing. But Hoseok was tired, they all were. For a few short minutes everything had fallen apart, and those few minutes had probably felt endless to Hoseok whose mind worked at a mile a second.

Things happened. Difficult things, bad things. But Seokjin and Hoseok weren’t alone. They had Jimin and Yoongi.

Besides, it was probably the fact that nothing bad had happened that was letting Hoseok feel this way. He was safe now to let himself feel the difficult emotions. There was no imminent danger where he had to push those feelings down, no blaring emergency that was freezing him up.

“He’s been really stressed because of the shop,” Hoseok said, voice finally clear. Jimin started at the sudden words but craned his neck to look at Hoseok. Hoseok tapped Jimin’s shoulder and pointed at something inside the car. Jimin turned, eyes scanning before it clicked. He grabbed the half-empty cherry slushie in the cupholder and held it out to Hoseok. After a second, he also grabbed the abandoned chips packet on the dashboard and fished out one, tossing it in his mouth.

“I know it’s making him nervous,” Hoseok said while taking a few slurps of his drink. “That he’s going to be away for so many days. That he can’t oversee.”

Yes, that Jimin knew well. He was really proud of Seokjin, too. Indebted, even. Seokjin was the one who’d decided to put off this trip until the rest of them graduated. He’d done it knowing that when the trip happened, he’d be in the middle of a working calendar instead of a student one. Jimin had watched his stress levels soar as he trained his staff, his new operations manager, on every in and out, reminded them repeatedly that he was only a phone call away and to not hesitate.

As far as Jimin knew, his phone had remained absent of any such calls but Seokjin was also fantastic at keeping his problems to himself. Another possible hiccup that had probably dealt with itself behind Seokjin and Hoseok’s closed doors. For all of their proud displays of affection and fondness and humour, the couple were very private about their relationship and troubles. Not secretive, not hesitating to lean on their friends when needed. But largely protective of the safe space they shared just with each other.

Jimin knew Seokjin. Even if he hadn’t received any worrying calls, he was still probably speculating about the business he’d temporarily left in the hands of someone else, for the first time ever.

“The shop is doing well,” Jimin observed after he’d chomped on a few chips. The bag in his palms crackled as Hoseok took a few chips for himself. He had an energy to him that was finally tinged with excitement and happiness instead of nerves. Jimin felt a smile crawling across his face as he watched Hoseok get animated.

“So, well!” Hoseok said, almost shouting. “The Instagram page hit fifty thousand followers the other day! Did you see?”

Jimin hadn’t but he nodded regardless because he had a rough idea of how the page was growing. He sort of remembered a story Seokjin had posted about it, and texting him congratulations, but it was shrouded with the chaos of his exams and dealing with his parents’ arrival for graduation.

“I can’t believe it,” Hoseok continued, grinning while taking another sip. “Mind you, he has no budget to pay influencers. It’s all been word of mouth. I’m so proud of him.”

Jimin didn’t doubt that for a second. Hoseok was Seokjin’s number one cheerleader, even more than Seokjin’s own family (who were all very supportive to the point of it being downright cheesy). He knew Hoseok kept a meticulous track of Seokjin’s growth, shouted out and celebrated every milestone. Constantly promoted the page, and contributed a lot to the word of mouth in question. He’d even flown to Seattle to celebrate when Seokjin had hit his first thousand orders, surprising him so successfully that Seokjin had burst into happy tears. It was a memory so pure that it made Jimin choke up a little even now, just as he’d choked up and wiped his eyes the night it had actually happened.

And it was a new, louder, more insistent noise that rang in his ears. A voice he’d tried to mute for a long time but had been blaring louder and louder over the past few weeks: I want that.

He wanted it so badly. Wanted someone who understood him on that kind of wavelength. Who could read his mind, celebrate his achievements, hold him through his failures. Who would clean up a car for his arrival even if he’d been in it a thousand times, who would run to make a video call if it was important to him. Who would dip him on a dance floor but also spin him through the air at the airport simply because they’d missed being able to hold Jimin.

Someone who would put his photo as their phone background and stare at it, rubbing their thumbs on his smiling cheeks when they had an argument, missing him even if he was only gone for an hour. Like Hoseok was doing with his phone right now.

Mostly, Jimin didn’t care if he had any of those things because maybe the person who loved him would have a different love language altogether. He just wanted someone to share that unique language with, the one that changed with every relationship’s circ*mstances and people but invited learned fluency over the time spent together.

He wanted someone he shared that kind of language with.

He kinda knew he already did.

“Hyung?”

Jimin’s voice must’ve given something away because Hoseok turned off his phone screen and angled his body so he was fully paying attention.

“You always knew you wanted to be a doctor, right?”

“Not in the least,” Hoseok snorted, grabbing another chip. Jimin kept staring ahead at the vast expanse of nature beyond the road barrier. “I would’ve gotten started a lot earlier if I could’ve.”

“But you don’t regret the gap years you took?”

“I mean…” Hoseok crossed one leg over the other as he leaned his weight on the car. “I wouldn’t have even been sure I wanted to do medicine if I hadn’t taken those years. Besides, I never would’ve met Jinnie. How can I ever regret that?”

That made sense. Seattle had been just one stop for Hoseok’s parents, the family only planning to spend one year there. But Hoseok had met Seokjin and decided to stick around even as his family left Washington.

If Hoseok had never taken a gap in his education, he would’ve already been away at college, never setting foot in Seattle. Never quietly counting the minutes for the train to arrive at Capitol Hill Station before being quite literally run into by a man who looked like a supermodel, huffing and wheezing: Am I late? Did I miss it?

Jimin had heard that story enough times he could almost visualise every detail. None of those things would’ve happened if Hoseok had always known what he wanted and grabbed it.

“Why did you decide to study in New York, though?” Jimin asked the real question that had always tickled his brain. He’d asked it casually once or twice, never prying for a deep answer because it wasn’t his business. But now he wanted to know, if only to understand how to make such a decision for himself. “Why not go to a university in Washington? Or closer to Washington?”

“To be close to Seokjin, you mean? I’m guessing that’s what you mean.”

Jimin nodded. Hoseok leaned his elbow on the roof of the car, thumb scratching at his temple as he squinted in the distance.

“I don’t know,” he answered, sincerity dripping from his words. “I mean, I’ve been on the road most of my life. I’m pretty used to jumping states.”

“But you were always with your parents, with your sister,” Jimin stressed. “You weren’t leaving alone, right?”

Hoseok held up a finger, shaking it slightly.

“But I was always leaving behind friends, memories,” he said. “Every time I felt like I was finding my footing, I’d have to pack up and get out again. Over time I learned how to carry that with me instead of putting it down.”

How heavy, Jimin wondered.

“It didn’t get tiring?” he asked instead.

“It can be,” Hoseok admitted, chewing on a hangnail by his thumb. “Especially at first. And it catches up with you from time to time over the years. But overall?”

Hoseok took a deep breath.

“No,” he finally said. “I like carrying it with me. It makes me feel like no matter where I go, all those people, all those memories will be with me. That I can uproot without worrying about losing them.”

On one level, Jimin understood that. He carried his parents with him wherever he went. Had made space to carry them in his heart because he always knew that, even in the same city, sometimes in the same house, there were miles between them. It was like he’d been born with that space to accommodate them.

But carrying Yoongi had felt different. As if they were knit too tightly to be neatly separated and stowed apart from one another, as if they carried so much of their love for each other on their sleeves that there was no place inside them to fit it. So he’d let those tangled strings drag him across the United States, unaware of how to untangle them as the knot grew tougher and harder to separate.

Perhaps it was a muscle inside him he hadn’t flexed enough, never needed to learn how to carry something. Not like Hoseok who’d honed it his whole life. He wondered if it was a skill he could learn now, or if he was too old to learn it.

“And you knew, for sure, that it would work out with Seokjin-hyung even if you were on opposite sides of the country?”

Hoseok snorted so hard he almost inhaled some chip dust. Jimin chuckled, brushing off crumbs from Hoseok’s wrist.

“Oh, f*ck no,” Hoseok laughed. “Not one single clue.”

“Seriously?” Jimin laughed with him. Hoseok shook his head very seriously despite the grin on his lips.

“I’m an expert at managing long-distance friendships, you know that,” he said. “And I had, like, one girlfriend in high school where we tried long-distance.”

Hoseok was staring over the car roof as if he were trying to remember the girlfriend. He blinked once and then shrugged, as if it was so long ago he couldn’t even conjure a picture. Then he refocused on Jimin, pointing at him.

“But I mean, the complexity of it changes with age and seriousness. I’d never tried it with someone I loved like I love Seokjin.”

“What do you mean complexity changes?” Jimin asked, turning a little in his seat so he could look at Hoseok more clearly.

“I mean, it depends from relationship to relationship…person to person,” Hoseok answered, snapping his fingers. “Distance to distance. But, for the most part, it’s like…”

He took another sip of his slushie, shaking the cup to try and melt the crushed ice and flavouring, the only thing left.

“You might be more invested with someone and want to put in the extra effort and patience that long-distance requires,” Hoseok explained. “But if you’re that invested, you might also want more things with them that you can’t always have over the distance. Living together. Going to the park on the weekend. Attending your kid’s recital together. That kind of stuff, you know?”

“How do you–”

Hoseok’s head snapped up and Jimin paused. A car slowed down next to the shoulder, pulling up almost beside them but not killing its engine. Hoseok straightened his spine. Jimin made a move to stand but Hoseok’s eyes drifted down and he quickly clamped his hand on Jimin’s wrist, squeezing, silently asking him to stay seated.

Jimin opened his mouth to refute but Hoseok squeezed again. Looking down, Jimin quickly put two and two together. Hoseok’s fingers were wrapped around his wrist, over his watch—his very visibly expensive watch. Jimin’s free hand ran across the seat, under his thigh, where he’d tossed his wallet earlier. He quickly slid it into his pocket as the windows on the other car rolled down.

From his vantage point, Jimin couldn’t see much. He turned as much in his seat as possible to watch through the other side of the car, but it was pretty dark. A high-pitched voice called out in English.

“Do you guys need help? Are you okay?”

“We’re good!” Hoseok shouted back, switching to their other language. His voice was firm but polite.

“Are you sure? We can give you a tow or something if you need it. If it’s your battery, we’ve got jumper cables. Jack, we’ve got jumper cables, right?”

“Always do, sweetheart,” a deeper voice tuned in.

“It’s alright, really,” Hoseok repeated. “A tow is on the way. Our friends are a few minutes out.”

“Okay. Good evening, then.”

Hoseok nodded, his lips in a flat line, not rude but also not inviting. Jimin heard the dirt and stones crunch under rubber as the car pulled back onto the highway. He watched the tail lights of the car vanish. Both men blew out a sigh of relief.

“Rare good samaritan?” Jimin asked, unclipping his watch as soon as Hoseok let his arm go. Maybe it was better to keep it pocketed until they were all safely on the road again. Hoseok shrugged his shoulders. He pushed off the car and walked around the front, opening the driver’s side door.

Jimin tucked his legs back into the car just as Hoseok slid into the other seat, both of them shutting the doors. Hoseok hit the central lock, double-checking the handbrake before turning on the car. Immediately the air conditioner kicked up again.

Jimin hadn’t even realised how much of the cool air had escaped. This far south on their trip, even the breeze and thickets of trees weren’t enough to lower the temperature. He fanned himself with his shirt. Hoseok did the same while reaching up and turning off the console light.

“You never know. Better be safe. And we didn’t need help.”

Hoseok checked his phone. It had been almost half an hour since Seokjin and Yoongi had left. They were probably already at the mechanic’s, hopefully already on their way back. Hoseok put his phone aside, turning in the seat to look at Jimin. Jimin turned in his seat, too.

“Anyway,” Hoseok said, thumping the middle console. “What were you asking?”

Jimin took a few seconds to remember. When he did, he pursed his lips, fiddling with the edge of his t-shirt.

“How did you choose?” he asked, tilting his head and resting his temple against the headrest. “Between moving to New York and staying with Seokjin-hyung?”

“I didn’t choose,” Hoseok said while mimicking Jimin’s move, leaning into his own seat. “I’m in New York and I’m in a relationship with Seokjin.”

“I mean–”

“I know what you mean.”

Hoseok waved his hands, pouting and Jimin giggled. Their phones chimed at the same time and Jimin didn’t check his because he could see from Hoseok’s phone notification that it was their group chat. Hoseok unlocked the phone, eyes flying over the text before he turned the screen for Jimin to read.

WA 🔁 NY

[Baby 🥺, 00:43] On our way back, with tow. 30 mins ETA.

Jimin nodded and Hoseok turned off the screen, tossing his phone into the console tray. The car was once again drenched in darkness.

“It is a choice,” Hoseok said, and Jimin looked up at him. His eyes were closed but Hoseok’s hands were twisting and untwisting the clasp hugging the headrest bars, the ones that held the caddy hanging behind the seat. “I could’ve stayed in Seattle, studied there.”

“But you chose not to.”

Hoseok shook his head, eyes still closed.

“It wouldn’t have been the program I wanted. And if I didn’t do the program I wanted, it very well could’ve fully derailed my interest in doing medicine at all. Something I didn’t want getting affected. I would’ve been miserable and resentful.”

Hoseok opened his eyes, and in a flash that was quickly hidden away, Jimin saw the weight of all he carried. Countless memories, a bazillion airline miles, the painful loneliness of constant separation. And the unwavering resolution that made him wade through it.

“I know me,” Hoseok said, reaching forward and snagging the chip packet. It was near empty save for broken pieces and the thick flavour dust settled at the bottom. Hoseok tightly tugged on the packet till the opening was straight and narrow, folding the free edges to avoid spillage. Then he tilted it into his mouth and shook out the last of the chips.

“I need to do things the way I plan or it f*cks me up and everything around me,” he said after he’d finished chewing. “I mean, sure, people call me crazy for it. It’s also gone a long way in making sure Seokjin and I can make plans and stick to them instead of disappointing each other. He gets that. He knows it’s important for our relationship. And he knows when to pull me back if I’m in danger of spiralling.”

Jimin remembered how, even as Seokjin used to rush to their video calls, how he always cleared his schedule to make space for them. The way his eyes shone when he talked to Hoseok, or even about him. Like Hoseok was his burning sunlight, and all those rays lit up the moon. He had zero doubts that whatever their personal system was, it worked for them.

“So what happens now?” Jimin asked, tracing patterns on the lid of the empty slushie cup. “You’re still going to med school and staying in New York.”

“I am,” Hoseok agreed, folding up the chips packet and reaching behind himself. Hanging from the caddy was a paper bag, clearly functioning as an on-the-go trash can. “I don’t want to practice there, though. I just wanted to study there.”

This Jimin did not know. He straightened himself out, leaning forward a little. Curious. Something like a flicker of hope woke up inside him.

“It’s going to be another four years, which are going to feel like a lifetime. And then I can apply for residency and hopefully,” Hoseok said, holding up his fingers and crossing them. “I get matched to a program in Seattle.”

“Okay, Grey’s Anatomy,” Jimin blurted out before he could stop himself. Hoseok suddenly shot up, wide awake, pointing a finger at Jimin.

“Don’t. Do not.

Jimin cackled, slapping his thighs. Grumbling, Hoseok turned off the AC and the car engine. The thrum died down, the only sounds being Jimin’s chuckles and the traffic, much louder.

Hoseok rolled down both the front windows, and the air rushed in. After waiting a second to see which way it was blowing, Hoseok nodded and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes. The car’s in-built lighter had been removed to make space for charging chords, so he pulled out the lighter he’d squeezed in beside the cigarettes. He lit one, letting his hand hang outside the window, the bluish-grey smoke from his lips carried away by the wind.

“I know that statistically there are doctors who smoke, would be near impossible if some didn’t,” Jimin said. “But you’re the only one I’ve seen actually do it.”

“Not a doctor yet,” Hoseok replied, raising his hand to his mouth to take another drag. “I’m an outlier in that sample. What kind of statistics are they teaching in business school these days?”

Jimin lightly shoved him, crossing his arms and turning so he was facing the front of the car again. For a few minutes, neither of them said anything, and Jimin almost considered pulling out his phone to play some music.

“You moved across the country for Yoongi once, didn’t you?”

Jimin’s heart lurched. His head whipped to the side, staring. Hoseok was looking outside, wrist snapping as he waved his cigarette-toting hand to some silent melody.

“How–” Jimin scrambled. “I never–”

“Oh, please.” Hoseok rolled his head to stare at Jimin, a stare that scanned him despite the lack of light. “Nobody is buying that. We know this is about Yoongi. f*cking who else?”

“I didn’t move for him!” Jimin exclaimed. Hoseok raised his eyebrows, his lips twisting to say: Really? Come on now.

Jimin crossed his legs, fully turning. His hands forearms rested on his knees, hands curled.

“I didn’t,” he repeated. Hoseok didn’t say anything, though curiosity was evident in the silence. Jimin continued. “I know everyone thinks that, but I didn’t. The only role he played was telling me stories about Seattle, and pretty much making me fall in love with the idea of Washington our whole lives.”

“You get it, right?” Jimin asked. “You’ve heard how passionate he can be about…about art and history and music.How many times have we all watched movies we never would’ve watched just because of the way he talks about them? He makes you love it before you’ve even seen it!”

Hoseok’s eyes flickered up and down Jimin’s frame.

“Yeah,” he said, smiling and looking away as if he was in on a joke. “I know how easy it is to love something Yoongi talks nonstop about.”

“Exactly!” Jimin snapped his fingers. Hoseok chuckled, still looking outside the window. Hoseok got it, even though this was all tickling his sense of humour for some reason. Jimin supposed it was a little funny if he looked at it from some angle.

“Look,” he said, and Hoseok looked at him after blowing out a puff of smoke. Jimin held his hand out and Hoseok passed him the cigarette. It tasted acrid after the weeks of stealing Yoongi’s clove cigarettes. He’d ruined him for other smokes.

“Him moving was–” Jimin said, inhaling a drag and blowing it out. “It was more like a push for me to go somewhere new. And I chose Seattle because it felt familiar and he would’ve been here so I wouldn’t be alone but…no, it wasn’t for him. I don’t know if I’m explaining that well.”

Hoseok took the cigarette back, pressing it to his lips.

“I get it. I think.”

“But…what if it looks like I did?” Jimin demanded, and his voice broke into an anxious whine. “And then I move back to New York? Won’t it look like…like I came all the way here, created some false hope, and now I’ll leave again when we’re just…”

As his voice lost conviction, he squeezed his eyes shut. They hadn’t talked about this. For all the kisses he’d traded with Yoongi, they’d always either been pulled out of their little slice of heaven because of a time crunch or because they’d both lazily drifted off to sleep. They hadn’t talked about it.

“Just what?” Hoseok asked, quietly. Jimin watched his fingers flick ash out the window.

“sh*t,” Jimin cursed. “I was going to say just starting out but I have no clue. I don’t even know if we’re…we haven’t talked about it.”

Hoseok stabbed his finger on the steering wheel.

“Firstly, you need to do that,” he said, stabbing it again. “Talk to him. Figure out if this is an actual relationship you guys want to try or if it’s a summer thing.”

A summer thing. As if Jimin wasn't living every fantasy he'd tried to ignore. As if his entire future wasn't resting in the palm of one hand, every desire in the other. As if it was a memory to be stowed away and shipped off. Jimin made a pained noise but Hoseok barreled on before he could even let himself feel hurt over the prospect.

“No, I’m not minimising it by calling it that. People’s flings can be the one great love of their life. It happens.”

“It does?” Jimin choked. Hoseok sucked his teeth and then shrugged.

“Trust me,” he sighed. “You see a lot of that when you hop places your whole life. The length of the relationship doesn’t diminish its value. I’ve seen people give away their whole hearts over one Christmas, yet never able to feel the same kind of love for someone they’ve been married to for decades.”

Jimin furrowed his brows. Hoseok’s words were oddly passionate, and he didn’t know if he was just trying to drive a point or if he was referring to something Jimin had no clue about. Either way, the weight in his voice was honest and Jimin trusted Hoseok.

“What I mean is,” Hoseok continued, passing the cigarette back to Jimin. Jimin clasped it as Hoseok kept talking. “Figure out if this is going to be your one big hurrah or it’s going to be the jumping pad for more together.”

Hoseok let him sit with that for a few minutes, both of them cooking in smoke, silence, and summer heat. They passed the cigarette back and forth until Hoseok took a final drag. He clicked open the little tin in the console tray, an old mint tin from the looks of it. All its original design had peeled off from constant use, and Hoseok used it to put out the cigarette, disposing the filter in it. He quickly shut it before the smell of cold ash could fill the car. It wasn’t full so Jimin didn't doubt that Hoseok and Seokjin emptied it during rest stops.

“Why do you want to go back to New York? Homesickness?” Hoseok asked after he’d put the box away. “Because I’m pretty sure you could easily get a job in Seattle. Tons of New York-based companies have Seattle offices.”

“Yeah, I know,” Jimin responded, running his fingers over the seam of the glove compartment. “I just…not our company. And the role I’m supposed to take, I can’t do that in another city. It has to be at headquarters.”

Our company, huh? Not your parents’?”

“It’s always been mine, too.” Jimin’s response was a whisper. “Since I was born.”

He looked up and met Hoseok’s eyes. Hoseok frowned.

“That something your parents tell you or do you really think of it as your own?”

Jimin smiled, though he felt like he had no real energy to anymore. If only. If only this was some story I could throw away as easily as the other things my parents handed to me on a platter. Jimin wished sometimes that’s all it was.

He knew his parents had his back. They might not know him very well, they might fight him from time to time because they didn’t understand what drove his decisions, but they’d always had his back. The past three years, living a fully separate life, their occasional lack of understanding was free of malice.

Even when Jimin had made the change, their considerable resources were always at his disposal. There was no catch. They had worked their ass off to build a company, a name, in a different world than the one they knew. And never had it been told to him that it was his to inherit. There was always an unspoken implication that the wealth and reputation they’d earned was his to use as their child, not as a salary.

It was Jimin who wanted to. Their family business was nothing the general audience got to experience, like food or appliances or fashion. It wasn’t a direct-to-consumer product.

They manufactured standard aeroplane components that not one single passenger or flight crew ever touched. But they were crucial and they built and supplied them to hundreds of commercial aviation companies.

And Jimin cared. He had cared since he was a little kid and his father’s office was still attached to their primary factory. Since he could see the sparks flying and smell the grease. Since he’d first taken a trip to an assembly line and watched how their product was attached to other people’s products, watched it come together to make a plane. Sometimes when he was flying, he’d close his eyes, hear the hum and smile, knowing that somewhere in that entire aircraft were parts that their company workers had built.

He’d wanted a chance his whole life. He’d spoken about it to his parents his whole life, the few times they got to speak about his ambitions. That’s why they’d encouraged him to take those classes in college. He didn’t know anything about building things with his hands but he wanted to be in the rooms where decisions were made about what they produced, who they sold to, and how to create value for the people who did that work.

No, his parents had never said the company was his. Jimin had been the one to start calling it theirs.

“If I didn’t think of it as mine,” Jimin said. “This would be the easiest decision of my life.”

Jimin laughed a deflated laugh.

“Not even for Yoongi,” he added. “I like the life I have in Seattle. I’d move here just for that if nothing else. And New York isn’t home without him. It’s got my parents and I have friends, I’d have you, but…he’d always be missing in a way I couldn’t ignore.”

The memories of his hometown were too full of the deep grate of Yoongi’s voice, the higher pitched giggles of their youth weaving through the streets, the rougher whispers in the back of Jimin's chauffer-driven car as they grew up and expanded to other parts of the city that never sleeps.

“I think I’ve always known that,” Jimin admitted. “That New York was too small to hold Yoongi. That he’d always make his way back to Washington. I think moving to Seattle was just one way for me to hold onto him for as long as I could. Be taken along for the ride even if it was just for a short while.”

sh*t, he realised as his eyes flooded with tears. He didn’t want to cry about this. He’d cried all the tears he wanted to in the weeks leading up to the summer. He’d promised himself he wouldn’t cry, not about this, on the trip. Hoseok rubbed his knee.

“Does New York have to be permanent?” Hoseok asked, after a couple of minutes.

“What do you mean?” Jimin sniffled. Hoseok pointed to the glove compartment, and Jimin opened it, snagging himself a tissue. He dabbed at the corner of his eyes.

“You said you have to go back to headquarters, right?” Hoseok continued as Jimin gathered his wits. “But after you’ve established…whatever it is that you want to, after you’ve gained the experience you need there. What’s stopping you from coming back to Seattle?”

“I…” Jimin leaned back, confused. He swiped the tissue under his nose. “We don’t have an office in Washington.”

“Not even one?”

“I mean…” Jimin knew the company directory pretty well but he still flipped through it in his mind, as if he’d somehow forgotten things he had memorised. “We have a manufacturing plant in Arlington. But no corporate offices.”

Hoseok pursed his lips before he tried again.

“Do you have any corporate offices on the west coast?”

“In Palo Alto,” Jimin answered in a heartbeat.

“No plans to establish one higher north?”

“We’ve…we’ve talked about it,” Jimin explained. “Hypothetically. We just haven’t done it. It hasn’t…”

It hadn’t come to fruition. They did that all the time, with multiple cities. Seattle, Charlotte, Jacksonville. Names in conversation when discussing operations. But it hadn’t happened. What was Jimin supposed to do in any of those cities if there was no office to work in? He was of no real use in any of the factories. He didn’t contribute anything and he would get in the way. It needed to be corporate.

“So what’s stopping you from establishing one and running it in a couple of years?”

And what a thought that was. Jimin just setting up shop in a city of his choice. He almost laughed. Was he meant to magically conjure the legal paperwork, set up the bank accounts, find some random office building and get started?

Well, technically…a voice in his head trailed off. Sure, he’d learned all about the ins and outs of starting a business when he was studying. But…

What? Was it even possible?

“I…I just never…” Jimin stumbled. He’d never considered it. He’d never thought about it. As always, he’d expected it to just be there for his parents to point to and for him to go take his place. For someone confident that this decision was his own, he sure did rely on his parents to put up the directions.

Not just his parents. Always someone else. The email notifications he’d been ignoring were a reminder of that. Always relying on someone else to hand him an out.

“Think about it,” Hoseok said, almost pleading. “Really think about it, Jimin. You don’t need to have an answer right away. It can take a lot of thinking. A sh*t ton of logistics too, I’ll bet. I don’t think people can just establish offices like they’re pop-ups.”

No, but if he could. If he could set things in motion…

“But if there’s a way for you to combine the two great things you want,” Hoseok said. “And the only thing stopping it is your imagination, then…trust me, you can get around that. And it will be so, so worth it.”

Jimin had to place a hand on his stomach from how hard it was flipping, equal parts dread and excitement. Was this really something he could do?

“You really have no regrets?” Jimin asked.

“A million.” Hoseok chuckled and then suddenly looked up. Headlights shone in the mirrors, and Jimin recognized the licence plate as the car came to a stop behind them. The passenger door opened first, Seokjin getting out. Jimin looked at Hoseok, who was smiling at the reflection. “Also not a single damn one.”

Both of them stepped out of the car as soon as Hoseok unlocked it, the elder of the two throwing open the door.

“I’m sorry,” Seokjin said, walking over to them. He had his hands up, palms out. “I know you just want to get to Santa Barbara, but we’re here. It shouldn’t take longer than—oof.”

Hoseok cut Seokjin off by throwing himself at him. Seokjin caught him easily, like muscle memory, his arms latching around Hoseok’s waist before he could even process.

“I love you,” Hoseok mouthed, squishing Seokjin’s cheeks in his palms.

“Did…we were gone for less than an hour right?” Seokjin was frowning, looking at Yoongi over his shoulder.

“Shut up,” Hoseok said, swatting his boyfriend’s shoulder before massaging his thumb into it.

“I have literally seen you rant for longer than that,” Seokjin pointed out, raising his eyebrows. “Forget cooling down.”

Hoseok pulled back a little, raising his own eyebrows.

“You want me to get fired up again?”

Seokjin grinned, shaking his head. He tugged Hoseok close again, kissing his cheek.

“Nope, not at all, forget I said a thing.”

“What’s all that about?”

Jimin bit his lip, turning to look at Yoongi to answer his question. He looked more awake than he’d been earlier, eyes narrowed as he tried to figure out what was happening.

“Nothing we need to worry about,” Jimin said, walking over to the car they were sharing. He glanced at the mechanic who jumped out of the tow truck, a middle-aged person in overalls.

“What’s the issue?” Jimin asked in English, looking between them and Yoongi. The mechanic knelt in front of the sedan, already popping the latch to attach the tow anchor.

“From what your friends explained,” they called out while working. “The brake pads need to be replaced. I would offer to do it roadside, I have the parts but…”

The mechanic stood up, hands on their hips, looking up and down the freeway.

“We can tow and do it at the shop,” they said. “It’ll be easier. And it’s the same direction you guys are headed, right?”

Jimin looked at Yoongi, and then both of them looked at their friends. Seokjin whispered something to Hoseok.

“You guys can relax there," the mechanic offered. "We have a lobby. Don’t need to waste your gas on air conditioning.”

Hoseok nodded. Yoongi clapped his hands, pointing his fingers at the couple.

“Okay, you two. Grab whatever you need from the car and get into ours.”

Ours. Jimin tried not to feel giddy whenever Yoongi called it that but he must’ve not hidden it very well judging by Hoseok’s very loud snort. He ignored him. Instead, he went around to the back seat and moved some of their stuff to the floor, making space.

Hoseok grabbed his phone and wallet from the other car, Seokjin snagging their chargers and water bottle before they got into the back seat of the Hyundai. Once everyone was set, they waited for the tow truck to lead the way.

Jimin felt a swell of relief, being in a moving car again. A car that smelled like his and Yoongi’s combined cologne, upholstery he’d become familiar with over the past few days. Instinctively he reached across the gear stick, and instinctively Yoongi caught his hand, interlacing their fingers.

It took him a second of staring outside to remember they had company. Blood rushed to his cheeks and he wiggled his hand but Yoongi held on. Jimin’s eyes flitted to the side mirror, where he could see a sliver of Seokjin’s face in the backseat. His mouth had dropped open.

But Hoseok had his back tonight. Jimin simply saw lithe fingers tug on Seokjin’s chin and distract him before he could address the elephant in the room.

• 1330 miles •

Los Angeles, California

16 June, 2018

Jimin sat his ass on his heels, hovering over the tray as he poised his Polaroid camera. He was running out of film again, only two strips left in the device. It couldn't be helped. Even though he'd visited Los Angeles multiple times before, he always found something new to do and he always filled his albums to the brim. And who could blame him today?

The sun was shining down on them, no longer overhead but having made its way towards the horizon. Barnsdall Art Park was fresh green with its rolling lawn. After a morning spent at Griffith Observatory, marvelling at the solar telescope and celebrating local noon in the Gottlieb Transit Corridor, the park was the perfect place to unwind. They were all too keyed up, particularly after Yoongi had swiped the free logo-stamped pen behind his ear and led them into a discussion about their minuscule existences in the face of the expansive universe. He'd sharply tuned out Seokjin's cosplay as a flat earther because they all knew he was just being satirical.

Really, after that, it was necessary to be sitting here. Even as the discussion had diverged into others, it was more fun while partaking in a wine-tasting workshop.

“Jimin, my arm hurts. Hurry up,” Seokjin whined, holding his glass aloft in the frame. Jimin didn’t say that it was his own fault that he was hovering his arm awkwardly, outstretched, while he lay on the blanket. Jimin checked one last time through the viewfinder and clicked.

Seokjin quickly pulled back his arm, letting his elbow drop on the soft ground. As soon as the camera finished its telltale whirring noise and the photo had been spat out, he grabbed the paper and shoved it into his pocket, away from the harsh light.

Then he dropped his camera on the blanket and took his own wine glass, indulging in a rather large sip. It was delicious, he was sure. But after an entire afternoon of taste-testing reds, he was starting to slowly become immune to the different notes. All he knew was that he’d liked this variety, and he trusted that.

Hoseok sang under his breath while leaning back on his palms, one of his hands holding his glass down by the base. The softer orange light of the late afternoon sun glinted off his bright pink sunglasses. Seokjin had his head in Hoseok’s lap, his one hand resting and holding the photographed wine glass. His other hand was balancing an open book on his tummy, a forefinger flipping the pages without somehow letting their bottom edge get caught in his shirt.

“Oh, holy sh*t,” Yoongi exclaimed, mouth half full of wine. His hand that was holding the glass covered his mouth as he quickly swallowed.

“What’s up?” Hoseok asked, still looking up at the sky. Or Jimin thought he was looking. He might’ve had his eyes closed, and Jimin couldn’t tell through the shades.

“My friend from New York! You remember him?” Yoongi asked. “Namjoon? Kim Namjoon?”

“From college?” Jimin tried to remember while staring at his drink, swishing it around his glass. He followed Namjoon on social media and remembered his handle and display name clearly but for some reason, when he tried to imagine a recent photo, he blanked. Slightly hazy memories of SoHo nights were all he had. “Sort of. I met him, didn’t I?”

“Probably. He’s here, in L.A.”

Jimin looked away from his drink to Yoongi. He was hunched over deep, as if the messages were yanking him into the device. His glass was clasped very precariously, in danger of sloshing from the speed with which Yoongi was typing.

“Really? I thought he lived in Nevada.”

Yoongi nodded without looking away from his phone. He only haphazardly placed his glass on the tray and went back to texting, his wrist stopping to wipe a trail of sweat on his temple while on its return journey.

“He does. I think he’s here on a trip. One sec.”

Jimin watched Yoongi type some more. He grinned after a few seconds.

“Yep, he’s travelling. He’s here right now,” Yoongi said, smiling. He rolled his eyes, pointing at his phone. “Well, technically, he’s not. He’s at some temple. But he’s here in L.A.”

Jimin didn’t know Namjoon very well, only by association. The one or two times he’d met him had been during his freshman year at NYU. From what he remembered, Namjoon was a sophom*ore at the time and one of Yoongi’s dear friends. But Jimin had little memory. Those parties were always too chaotic, and he’d always been more focused on the particular senior who’d invited him. The one looking like a shrimp right now from how dedicated his texting was.

“Ask him to join us?” Jimin offered.

“I am. Oh, wait, no,” Yoongi interrupted himself, his mouth downturned into a pout. Jimin refrained from reacting, though he had to grip the blanket under them to stop himself from poking it. “He has dinner plans. But he said he’s staying at…can you Google where this is?”

Yoongi didn’t even name him a direction, just beckoned Jimin closer to peep at the screen while he kept texting. Jimin squinted and tried to read.

Namjoon’s text thread was open and he’d sent a screenshot of a map, one with a pin and one with the live location beacon over a site marked Hsi Lai Temple. The caption said: this is where i am, that’s where im staying. if ur anywhere in between we can meet up. doing dinner near our motel.

Jimin opened Google Maps on his phone and plugged in the address of their own inn. It was in the Santa Monica area. He keyed in the location Namjoon had sent, checking the distance.

“He’s staying like seven-ish miles from where we’re staying.”

Hoseok cleared his throat and finally looked at them. His glasses slid lower on his nose from the sudden whiplash and the sweat, and Hoseok just stared over their frame.

“We’re heading to Venice Beach for dinner anyway,” he pointed out, pushing his sunglasses back up. “Why not ask him if he wants to combine dinner plans?”

Yoongi nodded and started typing again as Jimin scooted back to his previous spot. He didn’t want to read the texts Namjoon was sharing with Yoongi, even if Yoongi wasn’t hiding them.

Rather than doing that, he drank the last of his wine and watched Yoongi’s face instead. He was grinning, flushed now—either from excitement or the sweltering heat. His tongue poked at the inside of his cheek. Then his smile faltered. Jimin frowned, but the smile corrected itself. Yoongi put his phone away, taking a big gulp of his wine and finishing it.

“Okay, yeah, he said he can change plans. They’ll join us.”

Jimin’s frown deepened. He stared as Yoongi scratched the spot behind his ear, the one that was his nervous tell. Jimin didn’t like that. Yoongi was meant to be happy to meet his friend.

“They?” Seokjin asked, putting his book flat down on his tummy. “They plural or they singular?”

“He’s here with some friends, apparently.”

Ah.

For a moment, Jimin felt a stab of irritation at Namjoon. He’d been very good friends with Yoongi, and they’d definitely been in numerous social situations. He should’ve known Yoongi deeply disliked being thrown in with strangers without any warning.

But Jimin tried to tamp down his flair of protectiveness. Namjoon, for all Jimin knew about him, didn’t seem like the type to do something that would make other people uncomfortable. Yoongi had always praised his perceptive skills. Jimin tried to remind himself that travel meant one couldn’t always control which group people moved in—after all, they had been the ones to ask Namjoon to join them. And a text was a warning of sorts, even though a little short notice for Yoongi’s scale.

Would Namjoon have the time flexibility to abandon his friends and go off on his own adventure? And would he purposely bring someone along that Yoongi might dislike? To be fair, Seokjin and Hoseok were also strangers he was meeting for dinner, Jimin only an acquaintance.

Still, his inner voice grumbled. Maybe he doesn’t mind strangers. That’s Yoongi’s boundary. Boundaries can be different for different people.

But Yoongi seemed adamant. He didn’t voice anything, even when Jimin tried to ask to him about it. He only quietly made his way to where their taxi was waiting, put on his earphones, and asked the driver if he could ride shotgun.

Jimin knew what he was doing, so he let him. Forcing Yoongi to talk or getting him worked up before he had to meet these people was not something Jimin was interested in. So, he simply climbed in the back with Seokjin and Hoseok, looking out the window and focusing on the route, letting Yoongi quietly centre himself to prepare for the social situation.

It simply wasn’t Jimin’s decision if Yoongi decided to do this. Yoongi’s decisions were always made by balancing his fondness for another person versus his distaste for an activity. Like always going fishing with Seokjin, but putting his foot down against attending any of the parties Jimin’s parents threw. Pros and cons.

If Yoongi decided he missed Namjoon enough to do this, then Jimin could only offer to be there by his side. He mentally crossed his fingers that Namjoon’s friends were good company. They had to be, right, if Namjoon’s choice of company was people like Yoongi?

They reached the restaurant first, an Italian place that was a five-minute walk from their inn, and a ten-minute drive from the motel Namjoon and his friends were staying at. The place wasn’t crowded yet, and it had open-air seating for people to watch the sunset. Seokjin had made reservations in advance, and the team was accommodating enough to add another table and three more chairs.

The group sat down, Seokjin beside Hoseok. Jimin sat across from them, Yoongi on his left and at the head of the table. While they waited for the rest of their party to arrive, Hoseok suggested ordering some drinks. Not wanting to get super inebriated, they decided to stick to wine. Just something to keep the vibes going. Seokjin was flipping through the food menu and reading the appetiser options when the door to the balcony seating opened.

“Well, look who it is!” a voice called out in English and everyone looked up. Jimin turned in his seat since he was facing the coast. “Mr. Yoongi Min, in the flesh.”

The familiar gummy smile across Yoongi's face threw out all the apprehension Jimin had sensed. He watched as Yoongi stood up and pointed an accusatory finger.

“You know I hate it when Koreans do that!” Yoongi whined, also in English. “Come here, you.”

The newcomer held his arms open and hugged Yoongi, both of them locked in a tight embrace for a few seconds. Jimin objectively knew Namjoon was tall but he’d forgotten just how tall until he watched his frame engulf Yoongi’s. He’d also gained some muscle, his lanky edges from college disappearing under a toned build, evident from the tank shirt he had on.

They separated and Namjoon’s eyes drifted to Seokjin and Hoseok. He bowed his head, holding out a hand and introducing himself. Now he was speaking in Korean, clearly sensing that their group clung to their mother tongue when they were together. Then he turned to Jimin, the outstretched hand turning into a fist. Jimin smiled and bumped it.

“Hi, Jimin, right?” Namjoon asked, even though Jimin could see on his face that he knew exactly who he was. The fitter build, the light purplish-grey hair hadn’t changed the warmth on his face. The same sharp eyes, crinkled in delight. Deep dimples and an inviting smile. “It’s been ages. It’s great to see you.”

“You too,” Jimin grinned and then patted the empty seat next to him. “Come, sit.”

Namjoon nodded and moved to the chair but he didn’t sit just yet. He just gripped the back of it with one hand, angling his body. His other hand rose to point at the two people with him.

“Hey guys,” he said to the table. “These are my friends.”

Everyone waved, and the two strangers waved back. They were both tall as well, though not the same height as Namjoon. One had black hair in an undercut, with tattoos sweeping down their arm, visible because of the short-sleeved, oversized white t-shirt. The other had lighter brown hair, streaked with blond, and Jimin couldn’t tell if it was intentional or from spending ages in the sun. The second person was wearing a loose beige shirt, half tucked into brown trousers. They both lightly bowed their heads, smiling.

“He’s Jeon Jungkook,” Namjoon said while pointing to the tattooed person. Then he pointed to the other. “And he’s Kim Taehyung.”

“You’re a magnet for Koreans aren’t you?” Yoongi blurted out. His skin turned a little pink as soon as he said it. Grabbing his wine glass, he took a sip and looked over at the ocean.

“Woah, are you from near Daegu?” Kim Taehyung asked, stepping forward. His Korean had a quality to it that sounded free of American influence, like it was communally acquired instead of the limited confines of a single household. Even though Jimin was equally fluent, he could tell. To his own ears, he never sounded the same as people who’d grown up listening to it 24/7. Like Seokjin, like this Kim Taehyung.He must’ve either spent some time in Korea or somewhere with a really solid Korean community.

For a second, Jimin envied that kind of upbringing. His only formative exposure was his often absent parents. And Yoongi, sometimes Yoongi's family though he didn't talk to them that often. For the longest time, it was just the two of them, crowded into a classroom with non-Koreans. Heck, half the time he and Yoongi were trading between English and Korean, even picking up phrases from each other's dialects. He only envied it for a second. The way Yoongi's face lit up was too beautiful and it distracted him.

“Yes,” Yoongi said, his head turning back to look at the newcomers. His eyes were wide, holding a small sparkle that had not been seen since he’d found out about the strangers joining them. “I mean…my family is. Are you?”

“For all my life.” Taehyung was grinning. He sat down on the empty seat beside Namjoon’s, while Jungkook quietly went around the table and sat in the chair next to Hoseok.

“What brings you to the States?” Seokjin asked Taehyung, passing the menu to Jimin. His ears were also picking up the edge of fluency that was probably undetectable to outsiders, but so easily perceptible to them. The slim edge between a native and a heritage speaker.

“College,” Taehyung said, once everyone was seated. “I moved here to study. Just got done, actually.”

“Oh, me too!” Jimin leaned forward to look at him. Taehyung’s eyes were bright.

“You wouldn't happen to be ninety-five born, would you?” he asked, excitedly. Then he tilted his head a little, his brows twitching. He looked up as if he was trying to recollect something. “I’m still not totally sure how you guys match birthdays and school years here. Or if you went to college right after school.”

“Nineteen ninety-five! Yes!”

Taehyung held out his fist and Jimin bumped it with his own. He’d never had a friend who was the same age as him. Everyone was always either older or younger.

“Hoseok-hyung just finished college, too,” Jimin added. Hoseok tipped his wine glass. “But he’s older than us.”

“And you?” Hoseok asked, turning slightly to look at Jungkook beside him. Jungkook had been quiet the entire time aside from the mumbled greeting when he’d been introduced. “You here to study, as well?”

“The exact opposite.”

Jimin blinked at Jungkook’s tone. It wasn’t hostile by any means. Incredibly polite, actually, as was the small smile playing on his lips. But there was something to it that sounded defensive, inviting a challenge. Hoseok made a curious sound.

“I dropped out of college,” Jungkook added. He raised his eyebrows. Daring someone to say something.

“Ah…” Hoseok said, holding his wine glass next to his neck, the fingers on the same hand wiping a drop from the corner of his lips. “You’re…does that not affect your visa?”

“Oh.” Jungkook frowned. He leaned back an inch, as if physically taken aback by the lack of negative response or judgemental side-eye. “I’m American. From Phoenix.”

“I feel like the accent gave that away, babe.” Seokjin patted Hoseok’s shoulder. Hoseok’s mouth dropped open and he turned red.

“I didn’t wanna assume,” Hoseok whispered furiously, loud enough for everyone to hear. Jimin burst out laughing, unable to stop himself in the face of Hoseok’s floundering expression. Hoseok pinched his nose but even he started chuckling. Namjoon and Yoongi snickered, and Jungkook finally relaxed in his seat. He even smiled, a dimple appearing next to his lips. His eyes shot up towards Namjoon and Taehyung.

Their server returned and the remaining members of the group ordered their drinks, Namjoon a whiskey on ice and Taehyung a white wine. Jungkook explained that he was still a couple of months shy of twenty-one, so he ordered a Virgin Bloody Mary. They also put in an order for appetisers.

“So,” Yoongi asked, looking a little more engaged now that he’d become acclimated to the new presence. He gestured to the group of three. “How do you know each other?”

“Ran into them on the road,” Namjoon said as he used his fork to spear a piece of chicken from the salad the server had brought out.

Upon more prompting, Namjoon explained how he’d driven down to the Grand Canyon. He’d apparently only intended to go to Las Vegas, a short trip from his home base of Carson City, but he’d been tempted to take a spin around the natural wonder he hadn’t seen since his childhood.

On his first evening, he’d run into Jungkook and Taehyung at the lodge. The pair of them had just returned after two days of camping further into the national park. A long night of eating, drinking, and laughing had turned into an invitation to join Taehyung and Jungkook further west. Namjoon had agreed, hopping into his car and following theirs.

“Wow,” Seokjin exclaimed as he brushed crostini crumbs from his fingers. “Do you guys plan on ending the trip in L.A. and turning back?”

“Probably,” Jungkook said. He had flipped a switch the moment Namjoon started narrating their story. Interspersing Namjoon’s experiences with his and Taehyung’s journey and camping experience. “We haven’t decided. We’ve got some time before Tae-hyung starts his job. We were actually scoping parts of Route 66.

“Oh, no way!” Hoseok clapped his hands. “That’s awesome! I did some stretches of that with my family!”

“Yeah!” Jungkook grinned, his nose scrunching with the force of it. “We’re thinking of doing it on our bikes at some point.”

“Surely not in this weather,” Hoseok gasped, concern bleeding into his words. “You could get a heat stroke.”

“No, no,” Taehyung interjected, waving his hand. “Now is way too hot. Maybe in September or something.”

Jungkook looked up at that as he licked at the salt rim of his glass, smiling. He pulled away from his drink and nodded.

“We’ll have to figure out…” Jungkook added. “Work and stuff. But yeah. September sounds good.”

“Something special in September?” Yoongi wondered out loud while attacking a crouton with his fork.

“Weather will be better,” Jungkook pointed out while picking up a crostini for himself. “Fewer chances of tornadoes on some stretches, too.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung agreed, swirling his wine. “Might get a little rainy in some bits but I think we can work around it. And, it’s Jungkook’s birthday month.”

“Mine too.”

Namjoon’s words were a mumble, but since he was sandwiched between Jimin and Taehyung, they heard him clearly. Both turned to look at him. He had a small smile on his face, half sheepish, half pleased. Jimin’s gaze rose to Taehyung’s, who was pressing his tongue to his lower lip, eyeing Namjoon in a way that looked almost hungry. Jimin blinked and Taehyung looked at Jungkook. Jimin’s gaze wandered across the table. Jungkook was also looking at Namjoon the same way, and the fleeting hunger in his eyes didn’t die even as he met Taehyung’s eyes.

Jimin got the feeling he was looking at something he wasn’t supposed to. Unable to help it, he felt his cheeks get a little hot. He quickly turned to Yoongi, who was also watching the three-way tennis match. He glanced at Jimin and both of them silently tamped down an immature giggle. They looked to the other side of the table where Seokjin was watching with his chin on his hand, a finger tapping his cheek, an eyebrow raised in amusem*nt. Hoseok had his head tilted.

Yoongi coughed, pointedly, and the tension at the table broke.

Just in time, or perhaps waiting for an opportunity, two servers brought out more food. They’d decided on just repeating the same process as the appetisers—order a bunch of main courses, seven empty plates, and help themselves to whatever. The table was suddenly laden with three different types of pasta, a seafood casserole, Milanese-style pork chops, and a plate of beef braciole.

They were all glad that their table was a little ways off from the rest of the crowd milling about, especially as more patrons came in to watch the setting sun. Their group was able to bask in the orange glow, the salty breeze funnelling through their corner and keeping them from overheating. They had enough space to get up and move around, swap seats as multiple conversations broke out.

Seokjin had dragged Taehyung’s abandoned chair to the other head of the table to talk to Jungkook about his shop. Jungkook offered his own tales, having helped his mother with her small business in Arizona. They were sharing bites from the casserole, which Jimin was grateful for. Any time Seokjin was around clams, Jimin remembered the time their elder friend had accidentally fed Yoongi an empty shell.

Taehyung had occupied Seokjin’s empty seat beside Hoseok while they traded stories about New York. Taehyung was wide-eyed with curiosity, not having had a chance to venture much to the northern states, nor the east coast. It gave Yoongi a chance to catch up with Namjoon, and Jimin soaked it up while lounging between them.

“We don’t know yet,” Yoongi spoke after swallowing a bite of ragù-coated fettuccine. Namjoon had asked about which route they were returning via. “There were a couple of things on some stops we want to do, so it wouldn’t be a total bore return by the one-oh-one. But on the other hand, a new route is exciting. Makes it less depressing that the trip is over.”

“Well,” Namjoon offered while cutting a piece of pork. “If you decide to switch routes, there’s a limited exhibit in Reno. At the Nevada Museum of Art. Right up your alley.”

Yoongi fished his phone out of his pocket, probably Googling the exhibit. The chatter of the restaurant was pretty loud now, giggles and conversation permeating the air along with the delicious smells of the food and the ever-present scent of the beach. Somewhere behind them, a table broke into uproarious laughter.

Yoongi’s knee started bouncing automatically. He didn’t even seem to realise it, focused on reading about the exhibit. But his body reacted to the sudden noise before his brain could catch up.

Just as automatically, Jimin’s hand slid to Yoongi’s thigh. He rubbed gently, hopefully comfortingly, and Yoongi’s leg slowed down until it came to a stop. Namjoon chuckled and Jimin looked at him. He was smiling while he chewed and swallowed his food.

“I didn’t know you guys got together,” he said, pointing between Yoongi and Jimin with his fork. His words were whispered low enough that even Yoongi didn’t look up from his phone. “Good for you.”

“Oh, we…” Jimin blushed, glancing at his best friend and then back to Namjoon.

Namjoon took a sip of his whiskey, licking his lips.

“Not surprising, actually.”

“Really?” Jimin asked, leaning back into his chair. He placed his elbow on the armrest, raising his chin lightly in a silent tell me more gesture. Namjoon looked back at his plate, ruffling his hair lightly.

“I remember how torn up Yoongi was when we graduated college,” he said while cutting another piece. “He hated the idea of leaving you and moving to Washington.”

“No way,” Jimin denied, waving his hand back and forth. “He was so excited.”

“Of course, he was excited!” Namjoon laughed. “That man is a walking talking brochure for the Pacific Northwest.”

Yeah, that was true. It wasn’t surprising that Namjoon had come to learn that, as well.

“But no,” Namjoon continued. “I mean, he was pretty sad about having to leave you like that. I’m really glad you guys figured it all out.”

“Yeah,” Jimin said, turning his gaze to Yoongi. He was still reading something on his phone, scrolling one-handed while his other hand joined Jimin’s on his thigh. He stroked Jimin’s knuckles absentmindedly. “We’re getting there.”

Namjoon made a happy sound. It was not too different from the sounds he’d made when Jungkook and Taehyung had narrated their camping stories. Like he loved soaking up the energy of best friends…or perhaps best friends who shared something more. A lover of love.

“So,” Jimin ventured. Namjoon looked up at him, his cheeks bulging. He suddenly looked like the sophom*ore Jimin had met ages ago. Jimin hid a smile and pointed subtly at Jungkook and Taehyung with his little finger. “You and those two? How…am I misreading something…?”

Namjoon scratched the tip of his ear, his eyes going to where Jimin had pointed. Taehyung was using his hands to describe something to Hoseok, practically sitting cross-legged in his chair. Jungkook and Seokjin were both wheezing over something as they clutched their drinks.

“I don’t know,” Namjoon sighed, though it wasn’t either tired or disappointed. It was relaxed. Like he was in no hurry to answer or even find the answer. “I don’t know if I’m misreading something. But, I mean, we’re just going with the flow I guess.”

“I’ll say,” Yoongi suddenly added and Jimin jumped. He hadn’t even realised Yoongi had put away his phone. How much had he heard? Yoongi seemed unfazed by Jimin’s startled expression. He continued playing with his fingers while talking to Namjoon. “Do you usually just change travel plans and join complete strangers based on vibes alone?”

“Never in my life!” Namjoon slapped the table lightly, without disturbing the others’ conversations. “But…I don’t know. Some vibes are just…it clicks, right? We’ll see.”

“Mhm,” Yoongi said, lips twisting into a smirk. He shook his head and took another sip of their wine. His hand didn’t let go of Jimin’s hand, except to cut food or pass something to someone else. Either way, their hands always found their way back to each other, sometimes fiddling, sometimes tightly clasped.

As the night went on, and the check arrived, the hold on Jimin’s hand got tighter. Jimin rescued his fingers for a few seconds to hand over his card, ignoring the outrage of the elder members of the group. There was a new voice added to that, Namjoon’s opposition joining the protests.

“Oh, hush,” Jimin waved them off, giving his card to their server. “If you’re feeling so strongly then just Venmo me.”

Seokjin pulled out his phone, but Hoseok was a little too tipsy for that kind of quick response. He just giggled while promising that he’d buy Jimin a couple of dinners some other time during the rest of their trip. Yoongi didn’t reach for his phone either though he did shake his head and pinch his eyebrow. His eternal struggle, in his own words, between eating all of Jimin’s money and taking care of him. Namjoon promptly took out his phone, too.

Jimin felt an arm land across his shoulder and the smell of sandalwood invaded his senses. He turned his head but didn’t have much space because Taehyung had his chin practically on Jimin’s shoulder. The hand that hung over Jimin’s chest waved a phone.

“Add your number. I would’ve taken it anyway,” Taehyung explained. “I don’t have any same-age friends.”

A flutter of excitement went through Jimin. He took the phone and added his contact information.Making new friends.That was not something he'd anticipated for this journey, assuming that the four of them would just stick to each other. Who would've thought that Kim Namjoon would intersect them, bringing along more people?

“So, we talked about this on the way over,” Namjoon announced as they all stood up to gather their things. “We’re going to head to this party at the beach. It’s a couple of blocks down. You guys wanna join us?”

“Ooh!” Hoseok turned to look at Seokjin, practically falling on him. Seokjin steadied him, grinning at his lightweight partner. “I wanna dance.”

Jimin liked the idea. He would love to dance. He was always up to dance. But he was very aware of Yoongi’s grip on his hand, which had tightened at the mention of a party. And Jimin could see it unfurl in real time across Yoongi’s face—the putting of the foot down. The decision after weighing fondness versus social battery.

“I’m going to head back to the inn,” Yoongi announced. Everyone turned to look at him. “I’m not…it’s been a busy day.”

“Really?” Jungkook asked, looking around. “They have great music, from what I’ve heard.”

“Nah, too tired,” Yoongi said, pulling his hand free from Jimin. He put both his hands in his pockets, his shoulders shrugging. “I can feel a migraine coming on. The heat, probably.”

Seokjin and Hoseok tilted their heads identically. It would’ve been endearing if Jimin wasn’t distracted by Yoongi, his concern for him. Yoongi smacked his lips and smiled a lacklustre smile.

“I’d rather call out one night than ruin tomorrow,” he explained. “We still have to drive to San Diego, and back to Seattle. Don’t wanna fall sick.”

“We can all head back if you’re feeling down…” Hoseok said, letting his words hang. As excited as he was about dancing, it was evident from his expression that his concern for Yoongi also outweighed anything else.

“No!” Yoongi said, louder. He shook his head. “I don’t wanna ruin the fun. You guys carry on.”

Everyone hovered around the table, uncertain. It was evident that nobody liked the idea of somebody feeling unwell, but it was also a reminder that they were different groups with different plans and priorities.Jungkook and Taehyung had their phones in their hands, standing quietly as they watched. Seokjin and Hoseok were sharing some kind of silent conversation with raised eyebrows and nods. Namjoon was watching Yoongi carefully before he nodded.He stepped forward to hug Yoongi and Yoongi enthusiastically returned it.

“Let’s grab breakfast tomorrow?” Namjoon asked in a low voice as they clapped each other’s back. “Just you and me?”

“Definitely,” Yoongi replied, pulling away and patting Namjoon’s shoulder. Namjoon waved at everyone else and joined Jungkook and Taehyung, the three of them waiting.

Seokjin and Hoseok still looked uncertain about letting Yoongi leave alone.

“Why don’t you all go ahead?” Jimin finally spoke up, tucking away his wallet and grabbing his messenger bag. “I’ll get Yoongi back to the inn.”

“No–" Yoongi started to protest but it was cut off by Seokjin.

“You sure, Jimin?”

“Yeah. I’ll take him back. I’m feeling pretty full anyway, and I honestly just wanna sleep,” Jimin laughed. “You guys go on.”

“I mean…”

Hoseok looked around. The silent question hung in the air. Were they still invited if Yoongi wasn’t going? Yoongi was the one who Namjoon was friends with.

“Please,” Taehyung spoke up. “You’re welcome to join us if you’re feeling up to it.”

Seokjin and Hoseok shared one final silent look before nodding. They all shuffled out of the restaurant, ambling down the narrow stairs to the ground level. Once they were all done exchanging goodbyes, light bows and waves, Jungkook, Namjoon, and Taehyung took off towards the left. Hoseok patted Yoongi’s head once before interlinking his arms with Seokjin, pulling him to follow the other three.

“So,” Jimin looped his own arm with Yoongi’s once the group was out of view. “Uber or walk?”

“Uber?”

Jimin ordered one immediately, keeping his body close to Yoongi’s while they waited. It was less than a minute, a car just around the corner and easily available in the touristy spot. Once they got into the car, Yoongi leaned his head back and closed his eyes. Jimin massaged the back of his neck while his other hand juggled his phone. It had lit up with multiple text notifications.

You’ve been added to a group chat with [Unknown Number] and [Unknown Number]

[Unknown Number] named the conversation “maknaeeeeeeeeee central”

[Unknown Number, 22:16] does this logic apply if both of u are same age?

Jimin quickly used context clues and saved the correct numbers, smiling.

[Kim Taehyung, 22:16] it does bc all 3 of us are maknae in the GROUP. keep up jk

[Kim Taehyung, 22:17] jimin pls let us know what our share of the bill was

[me, 22:19] hey guys! thanks for adding me. you really don’t have to pay me back. i don’t mind, seriously.

[Kim Taehyung, 22:20] ok apparently logic also applies bc jimin texts like a boomer

[Jeon Jungkook, 22:22] hyung will pay for me? 🥹

[Kim Taehyung, 22:22] behave urself jungkook. don’t scare him off.

[Jeon Jungkook, 22:23] 🥺🥺🥺🥺🥺

[Kim Taehyung, 22:23] 😫😫😫😫😫

[Kim Taehyung, 22:23] jimin don’t let him 🥺 his way out of this. he’s a sneaky little brat.

[me, 22:24] when is your birthday taehyung?

[Kim Taehyung, 22:26] dec 30. why?

[me, 22:26] so then i’m you’re hyung too, in a way. october.

Jimin bit his lip, trying not to grin. Despite his constant gripe that his peers were almost always younger than him, his friend group had always been older. He’d always been babied, and he’d always assumed that it was a position he held onto very tightly, refusing to give it up because it felt good.

But now he was being presented with the opportunity to spoil and he realised, with a thrill, that he liked it. He liked it a lot. Especially when it came with the opportunity of having a friend who was so close to his own age, and another who was so endearing he invited being spoiled.He was really glad Namjoon had brought those two along.

He couldn’t be sure Yoongi shared that view though. After paying the driver, he walked with Yoongi back to their room. For once, instead of beelining to the bathroom to wash up, Yoongi flopped face first on the bed.

“Outside clothes!” Jimin lightly whacked his ankle. “Off the bed, off!”

“Relax,” Yoongi grumbled, his voice muffled. “It’s just the bed cover. We won’t sleep with it anyway. That’s what it’s for. To protect the bedding.”

Jimin crossed his arms, using his toes to move their abandoned shoes aside.

“You don’t actually have a migraine, do you?” he asked.

“No,” Yoongi said, flipping over. He spread his arms, starfished. “I don’t have a migraine. It’s just…”

He didn’t say anything else and Jimin walked up to him. Towering over Yoongi, he nudged his knee with his own. Yoongi pushed himself up, leaning on his palms.

“They’re really nice. They genuinely are. It’s just…”

“I know.” Jimin rubbed Yoongi’s shoulder. “Unexpected. A lot at once.”

“Yeah.”

Yoongi leaned forward, pressing his forehead to Jimin’s stomach. Jimin combed his fingers through his hair, letting him take a moment’s rest. His fingers massaged the tense muscles of his shoulders, scratching lightly when Yoongi's breathing evened out. It was only after a few minutes that they pulled apart and started getting ready for bed.

Jimin showered first, grateful for the soap and water washing away the stickiness of the L.A. heat. He did his skincare while standing in front of the mirror near the room door as Yoongi took his turn. He was tucked into bed, in an old t-shirt and shorts by the time Yoongi came out. Yoongi donned his own pyjamas and did his skincare before sliding into the other side of the bed.

Yoongi turned on the television, putting on some random sitcom at a low volume. Jimin was unfamiliar with it, and also not paying attention. He kept staring at the actors on the screen while his thoughts were far away. Halfway through the episode, he finally spoke.

“Namjoon said he was glad we got together.”

Yoongi lowered the volume till it was practically muted. He didn’t say anything but it was a clear signal that he was listening.Swallowing, Jimin mustered some of the energy he had gained after an entire night of holding hands.

Are we together?”

Yoongi didn’t say anything. Jimin looked at him. He was staring at the ceiling, patting the remote on his chest to a steady beat. Jimin turned, laying on his side, propping his head up on a bent elbow. He reached across the space between them with his other hand crawling across the sheets.

Suddenly, Yoongi seemed to snap out of his thoughts and looked at him. His eyes were wide.

“Do you want to be together?” he asked.

That wasn’t an answer.

“Do you ?” Jimin asked.

It wasn’t an answer either.

“Jimin.” Yoongi sat up, turning off the television and tossing the remote aside. He crossed his legs and faced Jimin properly. “I’m asking you if you want to be together. And what does together even mean to you?”

“How many definitions are there?” Jimin asked, pushing himself. He propped himself up on the pillows.

“Like a hundred different ones.” Yoongi smacked the bed. “We’ve been together our whole lives.”

“That’s not the same thing,” Jimin responded, almost laughing. “We haven’t been in a relationship.”

“No, we haven’t,” Yoongi agreed. He scooted forward slightly. “Why is that?”

“What do you mean?” Jimin pushed off the pillows, sitting up properly, too. “Have you wanted to be in one?”

“Jimin,” Yoongi laughed, though it was kind of desperate. His fingers ran through his hair, the freshly washed strands flopping back on his forehead. His eyes held a kind of emotion that made Jimin feel like he was running out of air. “I’ve wanted to be in a relationship with you since I knew what it really means to have one.”

Jimin’s heart thudded so loudly in his chest that he heard it in his ears. With him? Yoongi wanted to be in a relationship…no, Yoongi had been wanting to be in a relationship with him since when? Jimin opened and closed his mouth, almost choking.

“But,” he spluttered. Was the air conditioner not working or was he coming down with a fever? His skin felt flushed, his face burning. “You…you’ve dated other people.”

“Yeah, of course, I have!” Yoongi rubbed his temples. “I couldn’t pause my life waiting for you. I didn’t know if that’s something you’d ever want. I had to try and move on. And I did, a little. Learnt how to like and love other people. But you’ve always been the one.

Jimin’s ears were ringing.

“I’m the one?”

Yoongi scooted further until his knees were brushing Jimin’s leg.

“And only.”

There was a loud buzz. Jimin’s phone, lying between them, lit up. Yoongi’s eyes fell on it for a second and then did a curious double-take. Jimin looked at his phone. The damn email notification banner blinked at him.

“You’ve been getting a lot of emails this whole trip,” Yoongi mused. He propped his elbow on his knee, scratching his scalp. “I thought you turned off all notifications except for texts and phone calls?”

“I did,” Jimin whispered, swallowing. He closed his eyes and shook his head, trying to focus on the conversation instead of the way his heart was drumming in his ears. “It’s…it’s just something I’ve been waiting to hear back about. It’s fine, I have my vacation auto-reply on.”

“Something for work? Your parents?” Yoongi asked, running his fingers across the sheets. He was obviously trying to veer the topic of conversation to something familiar, something comfortable after his little truth bomb.

He didn’t know this was part of the same conversation. Part of the thoughts Jimin had been stewing in for weeks.

“Work? Yes,” Jimin said. “Parents? No.”

Yoongi subconsciously pouted while continuing to trace patterns on the bedding. Distracted.

“I thought you don’t start until you get back to Manhattan next week.”

“I haven’t signed my contract yet.”

“No?” Yoongi asked, smiling half-heartedly to himself as his fingers moved to trace the edge of the pillow covers. “Eh, I mean how long can that take when your parents own the company, right?”

“The emails are from a different company.”

Yoongi’s fingers paused. He frowned.

“You applied somewhere else? I didn’t know that.”

Jimin took a deep breath.

“It’s a company in Seattle.”

Yoongi’s head shot up, eyes flickering back and forth between Jimin’s. His lips parted and then closed again, and he swallowed roughly. His chest heaved as if he was the breathless one now.

“I didn’t…” he said, stumbling over his words. “I didn’t know you wanted to work in Seattle.”

Before Jimin could answer, Yoongi pushed himself up, sliding his feet under himself and kneeling. He was lightly rocking back and forth.

“You—you’ve wanted to work for your family business since forever,” he added, rubbing his forehead.

“I know,” Jimin said.

“Jimin,” Yoongi said, closing his eyes. He chuckled and shook his head, a strangled kind of sound. Disbelief all over his face. “You do still want to work there, right? In New York.”

Jimin didn’t give an answer. He responded with a question, again.

“Do you want me to stay in Seattle?”

“Of course,” Yoongi answered like a reflex, staring at Jimin's forehead. “I’d love for you to stay in Seattle.”

Jimin leaned back, gasping. Lies. He scooted backwards, putting a little distance between them.

He was lying when he said he wanted Jimin to stay in Seattle. Of all the lies Jimin had imagined being told by his best friend, he’d never imagined one like this. Perhaps some kind of white lie to let him down easy, to reject his advances.Never a lie about living in the same city. Never about being in the same proximity.

Jimin really couldn’t breathe now. He wanted to leap out of the bed and run but his limbs were frozen in place.

Yoongi said he’d love for Jimin to stay in Seattle.

Yoongi had lied.

“Yoongi.” That was all Jimin managed to say, in a strangled whisper. His eyes burned and he blinked, trying to get them to dry up. Yoongi made a choking noise and crawled forward. He stopped beside Jimin, right up against him, his hands hovering over Jimin’s shoulders. He took a deep breath and cradled Jimin’s face, angling it towards himself to get his attention.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and this time he looked Jimin right in the eyes. “Jimin. I want you to achieve all your dreams. If that means going to New York, I want you to go, okay?”

Jimin’s lower lip trembled, and Yoongi’s thumb rubbed his cheek, his fingers massaging the parts of his scalp they brushed against.

“Jimin,” Yoongi whispered. “Do you want to go and work in New York?”

No, he wanted to say. No, I don’t want to go to New York. I want to work in Seattle. I’ll work at this other company. I don’t care.

It would be a lie.

“I do,” Jimin said, his voice breaking. He shuddered, the truth, the decision finally making its way to his voice. Pros and Cons. All weighed, all inevitable. “It’s all I ever wanted.”

Heartbreak tore across Yoongi’s face and Jimin could see it wasn’t for their relationship, or lack thereof. It was for Jimin’s attempt at trying to find a job in Seattle, at lying to himself, at trying to convince himself that a fun life in Washington was an acceptable substitute for a dream he’d dreamt forever.

“Then why did you apply somewhere else in Seattle?”

“I don’t want to live apart from you.”

“Oh, Jimin,” Yoongi groaned, dropping his head. He shook it and pulled back. Jimin followed him, grasped his hands while pushing up so that he was kneeling, too. A feeble attempt was made by Yoongi to free his hands but Jimin held on.

“That’s what I mean when I think together,” Jimin said. His tears burned, one finally slipping over the edge and running down his face. “I…don’t know. I don’t know what else to tell you. I love you.”

Yoongi inhaled sharply, and Jimin tightened his hold, the words spilling out of him like sand from an hourglass.

“I’ve always loved you,” he said, pressing his forehead against Yoongi’s. Yoongi leaned into it, his lips parting as if he could taste the words. “And I will love you forever. I’ve loved you as my best friend, and I don’t know what being in love even means.”

“Jimin…” Yoongi groaned.

“I mean I don’t think I do,” Jimin rambled on. His knees slid on the sheets but he dug them into the mattress, holding his own. “I know I’ve dated people, but I don’t think I’ve ever loved them. I… maybe I thought I did for a second but nothing like… nothing like this. They were nice and it was good…but when I think of spending forever…”

Yoongi’s eyes flickered up and Jimin let himself be tugged into them.

“When I think about having a future,” Jimin whispered. “You not being a part of it makes me want to cry. And I don’t mean as the friend who breezes through town every year for the holidays. I mean by my side. Through it all.”

“Jimin,” Yoongi mumbled. He freed his hands, tugging them free. One hand tipped Jimin’s chin closer, the other rested on his chest.

“And I…I look at you,” Jimin said, brushing his lips across Yoongi’s cheekbones. Yoongi shuddered. “I feel like my heart is about to…”

He didn’t have the word. He didn’t know if there was a word, in any language. Jimin moved the hand resting on his chest until it sat in the centre, until Yoongi could feel how fast his heart was racing.

“You love me?” Yoongi asked. He tipped Jimin’s head further, breathing down his throat. Inhaling. The tip of his nose across his thundering pulse. Jimin’s knees were going to give out.

“I do,” Jimin gasped as he felt the tip of Yoongi’s tongue flick against his earlobe.

“I love you too,” Yoongi whispered in his ear. Goosebumps erupted across Jimin’s neck, down his spine, up the arms he wound around Yoongi’s waist.

“As a friend?” Jimin choked. Yoongi pulled back, letting his lips leave a wet trail across Jimin’s jawline until their lips were a hair's breadth away from pressing against each other.

“As everything,” Yoongi mumbled against his mouth. f*ck, as everything, Jimin.”

Jimin pulled away. Yoongi swayed on the spot where he was kneeling, blinking as if coming out of a stupor. Confusion travelled across his brows as he watched Jimin fall back on his pillows. Jimin held out his arms, beckoning him closer.

“Show me.”

Yoongi swallowed, not moving. His eyes flicked down, from Jimin’s mouth, down his neck, across his chest, lower. They quickly flicked back up, meeting his own.

“Show you what?” Yoongi asked.

“Show me what being in love feels like.”

Yoongi fell on him faster than any ocean wave against any rock. Their lips found each other as if already, in a handful of days, it had become ingrained in their bodies how to do so. Jimin’s fingers raked through Yoongi’s hair, tugging him closer, closer, as close as possible.

The past few times they’d made out, Yoongi had always carefully hovered over Jimin’s body. As if this was a fruit dangling out of reach, only meant to be caught with hungry teeth with arms tied behind the back. This time Yoongi tore off any restraints and plucked it with ease.

“f*ck me,” Jimin moaned as they kissed. He didn’t know how to stop kissing Yoongi. His mouth was so hot against his, his lips moving with complete conviction that they knew best how to make Jimin feel good.

“Are you cursing?” Yoongi whispered against his mouth. “Or is that a demand?”

“Request.” It was all Jimin could manage as Yoongi kissed him again. He licked the seam of his lips and Jimin happily let his mouth fall open, Yoongi’s tongue dipping into it. His entire body shuddered. No matter how much he kissed Yoongi, he would not get used to this feeling. He would never get used to it. He never even wanted to.

He wanted to always feel this way, his entire body arching, aching from the way Yoongi’s tongue learned his mouth, the way he kissed his lower lip, then his upper lip, and then tilted his chin and kissed him some more.

“You can also demand,” Yoongi gasped as he nibbled on Jimin’s jaw. He left bites across his neck, not gentle anymore, uncaring if anyone saw. Let his teeth drag across the sensitive skin before he found a spot to latch his lips and suck.

“I don’t want to demand,” Jimin moaned. His hands ran up Yoongi’s back, one drifting under his shirt. He felt the shudder run down his spine, chasing in the opposite direction, all the way up until his fingers grasped the back of Yoongi’s neck. “Do whatever you want to do to me. I want you to.”

“Dangerous request, Jimin-ah.” Yoongi moved lower, tugging on Jimin’s t-shirt collar to suck another bruise on top of his chest. Jimin bit his lip, his eyes sliding shut. “What if I keep you here forever?”

“Don’t threaten me with a good time.”

Yoongi pulled back, Jimin’s hands slipping out of his shirt. He sat on his heels and then swung his leg over the side of the bed, sliding off. Jimin made a desperate sound but Yoongi only walked over to his suitcase in the corner of the room. Kicking it open, he rummaged through it. He even threw some shirts aside, flinging them away, uncaring where they landed before he found whatever he was looking for.

A travel-sized bottle of lube and a couple of condom wrappers landed on the bedside table.

Jimin had once been told, a couple of years ago by a partner, that he had a wicked tongue. He’d assumed it meant that he was maybe a good kisser, or good at giving oral. His partner had chuckled and agreed but also said he didn’t mean that. He meant that Jimin had a dirty mouth. At the time, Jimin had taken it as a compliment—the delighted sparkle in his partner’s eyes and his curved smile had implied so, anyway. It had been Jimin’s favourite sexual weapon.

The quiet unassuming boy, with very little to say, unleashing in the confines of a bedroom. Running his mouth however he saw fit until he had his partners moaning, whimpering.

Now, he wasn’t able to get a single word out. Perhaps because he’d never been quiet and unassuming in Yoongi’s presence. He’d always felt safe to say whatever he wanted. He had no more words left to give. And he didn’t need to.

Jimin had wanted for so long to find someone who spoke his language, whom he could create a love language with that only both of them understood. Jimin was now realising that Yoongi was the Rosetta Stone to speaking Park Jimin.

Besides, it was hard to get words out when he was grappling for air.

For all the words he’d wanted to spill for Yoongi, now he was left speechless. He could only gasp as Yoongi yanked him up, pulling at his t-shirt. Jimin quickly took the hint and crossed his arms, yanking it off. Yoongi tugged at the back of his own neck, throwing his shirt to the ground.

Jimin wondered for a second and then raised his hips, sliding his shorts and underwear off too. He didn’t want them to part even for a second more. Yoongi’s eyes didn’t trail lower, though he did clench his jaw. As if he was teasing himself but was having a hard time doing it. Jimin kept his eyes on Yoongi’s, reaching for his pants. He raised his eyebrows and Yoongi gave a light nod. Jimin pulled his pants down, and Yoongi helped, bending to slide them off until he could kick them aside.

Jimin did not tease himself. He’d been teased long enough. Down smooth, familiar planes his eyes travelled, down the trail of hair that grew thicker. Yoongi wasn’t fully hard yet, but Jimin could tell he wasn’t far off. Jimin let his fingers trace down his own body. When they brushed his nipples, he shivered, running his hands lower and lower, as if he was imagining touching the expanse of skin in front of him.

As expected, Yoongi did fail the task of teasing himself. He threw his leg over Jimin’s thighs, gently pushing him back until he lay flat in the middle of the bed. And then finally, he let himself look.

And as he looked, he touched. His fingertips running down the centre of Jimin’s throat, over the fresh hickeys. Southbound they travelled, down his sternum, down the abs that were admittedly invisible after almost a week on the road, but still flexed under the touch. When they made contact with the trimmed hair, Jimin almost jumped. It was as if the feather-light touch was making him more aware of follicles tugging on his skin, making his thighs flex and tremble.

A moan ripped out of Jimin’s throat, his head thrown back when Yoongi finally got to his destination. He wasn’t teasing now. He gripped Jimin’s co*ck firmly, giving it a tug and Jimin’s body curved under the sudden stimulation.

“You really want me to show you?” Yoongi asked, stroking him. All blood abandoned its post in Jimin’s head.

“Show me everything.”

Yoongi made love like the Pacific Ocean. Nothing about it was neat. It thundered and crashed, offended to be kept at bay for so long. Wet and messy. Jimin could only let himself be flung into it.

He might not have had coherent words but he definitely put his voice to work. Gasping, moaning, as Yoongi put his mouth to work. Yoongi sucked, used his tongue, a wicked tongue that memorised and became fluent even in Jimin’s body, learning and decoding how he felt pleasure.

Running up the length of his co*ck, wrapping around its head. Yoongi let himself drool over it, unbothered by the spit running down his chin, dripping onto Jimin’s skin. He only used his fingers to spread it, massaging Jimin’s balls as took him deeper into his throat.

Yoongi’s love was salty, or perhaps…perhaps it was Jimin’s, as he tasted his own pre-come off Yoongi’s tongue. Yoongi lay fully pressed against him, stealing kiss after kiss as he poured lube on his fingers and massaged between Jimin’s cheeks.

“You’re–" Jimin whimpered as Yoongi’s fingers traced the same patterns on his rim that his other hand was tracing across his ribs. “You’re teasing me.”

“But you like it so much when I tease you,” Yoongi said, kissing Jimin’s chin, the skin under his jaw. Yoongi did listen, as he always did. He let his middle finger slide in, and Jimin could’ve come just from that. From how long his finger was, how it reached deeper than any fingers had ever reached before.

Yoongi’s love was patient. It waited, receded like low tide as Jimin caught his bearings. Ebbed and flowed, in and out, till his resistance eroded and he was begging for another finger. Yoongi listened. He poured more lube, added more fingers, and tugged and tugged until Jimin was squirming, his legs kicking in desperation for more, and more.

But all things said and done, an ocean was lethal. And when Yoongi finally rolled on a condom, and pushed into Jimin, he realised this was as permanent for him as sleeping forever. Nothing, nothing would ever wake him again. This was as real as his every dream.

“Move,” Jimin begged, raising his hips, hiking his legs higher up. Yoongi helped him, pressing a palm to the back of Jimin’s thigh, keeping his leg hoisted against his chest. His other hand rose up to grip the headboard. Jimin said his final prayers for the sanctity of the walls.

Yoongi moved. Jimin leaned. Together, they unravelled.

Jimin’s whines increased in pitch as Yoongi f*cked into him, hips snapping with a force that promised shaky legs tomorrow. His grip anchored Jimin’s body, kept him from sliding up but it would’ve been a moot point because Jimin was already dizzy, seeing stars brighter than any telescope could show. His hands slipped against Yoongi’s skin, against the sweat running down his back.

He roved one higher, tangling its fingers in Yoongi’s hair. The other slid lower, gripping Yoongi’s ass. Together they pulled him closer, driving him forward. Yoongi’s sharp gasps leaked into Jimin’s mouth, both of them too worked up to properly kiss. They simply traded breaths, desperate for air, tongues curving and teasing around each other.

“Touch yourself,” Yoongi demanded. Jimin listened. He reached between their bodies, wrapping his palm around himself, touching in a way he knew would feel good. He just hadn’t anticipated that it would feel this good combined with Yoongi burying himself in him.

A storm without warning, he came. Yoongi’s name like a chant on his tongue, that was all he could manage as pleasure tore through him. It left nothing in its wake. Too strong, so strong that Jimin’s nails dug into Yoongi’s back, his body bowing off the mattress. He was sure he must’ve snapped his neck and floated away, the force with which he threw his head back.

And Yoongi, Yoongi was the ocean. He didn’t stop.

He f*cked him through it, holding him up, lips panting against Jimin’s neck even as Jimin coaxed him further and further until the storm broke.

Jimin had been right.

What a view.

His head bowed, eyebrows furrowed. Mouth open in a sharp groan. Pleasure looked phenomenal on Yoongi. Jimin stared in wonder, watching him come undone until his arms gave out.

They breathed in tandem, gulping air. The room was quiet, even the sounds of the waves muted against the fogged-up window next to their bed. Jimin slowly lowered his leg, tightening his arms around Yoongi, holding him close.

“You definitely showed me,” he finally said after a few minutes. Yoongi’s chuckles tickled his shoulder, and he pulled away from them. Yoongi pushed up, their skin peeling apart from the layer of sweat and come between them.

“Just the previews.”

“There’s more?” Jimin asked, his words rough and low. He needed water. His throat was parched. Yoongi pushed back his damp hair, holding up a finger, asking Jimin to wait.

They were gentle while cleaning up. Exchanging kisses while they wiped each other down with damp washcloths, and finally sliding into bed together.

Jimin opened his arms for Yoongi to curl into, his orange mess of hair tucked under Jimin’s chin.

“I’ll show you the f*cking world, Jimin,” Yoongi said, rubbing his thumb across Jimin’s ribs. He kissed his chest, nuzzling into him. “What it means to be in love and everything else.”

“I’d like that very much,” Jimin replied, running his fingers down Yoongi’s back, rubbing his hand down his arm. Yoongi rested his chin on Jimin’s sternum, the movement forcing Jimin to look at him.

“But,” Yoongi sighed, and Jimin closed his eyes. He hadn’t cried when they’d made love. He might now. “I can’t let you give up your dreams for it. And I don’t want to give up my dreams for it either.”

Yoongi let all of one tear slide down Jimin's temple, but he didn’t let him mourn. There may have been possibilities to mourn, but not their relationship. That would not meet its demise. He tugged Jimin lower on the mattress, rising higher, until they were face to face. He rested his elbow on Jimin’s pillow, wiping his tears with the side of his palm, kissing his brow.

“We can figure it out,” Yoongi whispered. “We’ll figure it out. We’ll find a way that works.”

“As long as we’re together right?” Jimin choked. Yoongi smiled, tilting his head and kissing Jimin. Once, twice, another.

“Of course, together,” Yoongi mumbled against his lips. “Where else would I be, silly?”

• Reset Trip Odometer •

• 0 miles •

US-101 South Terminus (East Los Angeles Interchange), California

17 June, 2018

Yoongi cursed, wiggling around in his seat. Jimin almost cursed in return. The movements were deeply distracting in the periphery of his vision, especially when he was keeping an eye on the mirrors to be able to merge lanes.

He’d let Hoseok drive ahead as soon as they left the inn parking lot. Yoongi had been right, in that Jimin sucked at paying attention to a map while driving. He didn’t need to accidentally turn the wrong way on one of the busiest and most confusing terminals in the state. Trust him to end up on a completely different freeway.

“Maybe it’s in my backpack?” Yoongi asked, reaching for the bag he’d tossed at his feet. Jimin sighed and cleared his throat. He pointed at the overhead case, beside the console lights.

“Oh, sh*t, yeah.”

Yoongi popped open the case, his sunglasses politely tumbling into his palm. Jimin snickered as he merged lanes, picking up a little speed as he chased Hoseok. The overhead hoardings neatly laid down their path. They were at the end of the line with the US-101.

Up ahead, Hoseok turned on his indicator, merging towards the I-5. After more than a thousand miles, they were back on the same freeway they’d first pulled onto in Seattle. They still hadn’t decided if they were taking the same route back or a different one. There were many things they’d missed on this trip, new stops with new things, and old stops that also had new things.

They still had a few days to decide before they made the drive back. For now, Jimin had only one goal. And he was focused on it. It was easy to focus on it. His foot on the pedal, Yoongi beside him…he just had to get to the next stop. What they did after that was tomorrow’s problem.

“You good?” Yoongi asked. As always, he was perceptive to Jimin’s mood. He sounded amused, putting his arm behind his neck as he stared out the window. He didn’t even need to look at Jimin. He always knew.

Up ahead, cars split in different directions as they headed on diverse routes. Jimin kept his eyes on Hoseok’s licence plate, turning the same way.

“Yeah, I’m good,” Jimin answered. He flicked Yoongi’s thigh. Yoongi grabbed his hand and quickly kissed it before Jimin put it back on the wheel.

As soon as the freeways merged, the traffic heading in the same direction as them sheared considerably. Hoseok’s car shot forward, picking up speed as the road curved lightly east, pulling them out of the thicket of the city.

Jimin followed and waited. When they finally hit a clearer stretch, he let his foot down harder. He didn’t need a map anymore. The signs were enough. His fingers flicked down on the indicator lever, and he overtook Hoseok. He caught Seokjin blowing a kiss from the passenger side of the car, so he pressed two fingers and blew a kiss with a peace sign right back at them. He kept his indicator on even after merging back, waiting before moving to the fastest lane.

Hoseok would catch up. They had the same destination anyway.

There were a hundred reasons to take either route back to Seattle. Frankly, Jimin didn’t care. Seattle would come later—they had one more major stop to finish before thinking of Washington.

Besides, there were a hundred different definitions of being together, and he and Yoongi were creating the hundred and first. They’d find a hundred and first reason for one of the routes too, and when they did, they’d take that one. There was always one more reason to outweigh one choice against another.

Jimin noticed Yoongi fiddling with the Bluetooth dial and putting on a song, whistling along to its opening beats. Jimin turned to watch him for a split second, at the way his lips blew out the tune. Then he looked ahead again. Yoongi’s voice and warmth beside him were pretty fantastic company as he kept his eyes on the road.

No, hundred didn’t matter. Only the hundred and first.

• Epilogue •

Squire Park, Seattle, Washington

18 June, 2024

“Ah!” Jimin gasped as Yoongi scraped his teeth on his throat, his body arching. “Late!”

Yoongi hummed but he wasn’t hearing his words Jimin was very tempted to let him not keep hearing. The bed was just so cosy, the sheets nice and soft. Granted Jimin was a little sweaty, but sweat was part of this game.

“f*ck,” he hissed, arching as Yoongi’s mouth roved lower, sucking the skin on his collarbone. A spot that was already covered in hickeys. Yoongi tightened the arm he had around Jimin’s waist, pulling him closer. The fingertips on his other hand grazed Jimin’s ribs, his thumb dipped in his belly button, and then the hand moved under the flimsy blanket covering them.

Okay, okay maybe a few more minutes wouldn’t hurt. Yoongi’s mouth swallowed Jimin’s next gasp just as his hands wrapped around Jimin’s co*ck. A helpless moan caught in his throat, one Yoongi took advantage of by dipping his tongue, caressing it against Jimin’s, almost smiling into the kiss—

Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz.

The snooze on Jimin’s phone had run out. His eyes flew open as he pushed Yoongi off. Yoongi slid to his side of the bed, taking his warmth and the tantalising touch with him, and Jimin almost threw his phone out the window and jumped back onto his boyfriend.

Almost.

“Late!” Jimin shouted as he ran into the bathroom. Yeah, wearing a t-shirt was out of the question. It didn’t matter how hot Jimin was going to feel during the day. Yoongi had managed to suck a bruise right towards the centre edge of his clavicle, and on the inside of his elbow. So, short sleeves were out, too.

He would’ve whined about it, but as his watch reminded him...he didn’t have the luxury to spend time on that. He splashed his face as he squeezed some toothpaste onto his haphazardly wetted brush.

“You are not late,” Yoongi called out. Jimin leaned back into the doorway to glare at him. Yoongi was propped on the bed on his elbows, his eyebrow raised. He pointed to the clock. “You’re literally early.”

“Ah, ah.” Jimin wagged his finger, shoving the brush under the tap to wet it and the paste. “I’m getting breakfast with Hoseok-hyung, remember?”

Yoongi rolled out of bed while laughing. He picked up his discarded boxers, pulling them on as he opened their bedroom door. Immediately, Holly burst through the doorway.

“Oh?” Yoongi asked, also entering the bathroom. He reached past Jimin and snagged his own toothbrush. “Now Hoseok has time to get breakfast before his shifts? Since when?”

“Technically,” Jimin tried to say, but his words were garbled. He spat toothpaste and met Yoongi’s eyes in the mirror. “Technically, it’s his dinner. He’s finishing a shift. And, therefore, I am late.

Yoongi pouted but didn’t say anything. He was always pouty when Jimin made plans on the same mornings that Yoongi didn’t have a class to teach. Given that it was summer vacation, that was every single day for a whole three months. But, Jimin also understood his disappointment. Yoongi was leaving for Seoul to attend a conference in two days, and he’d be gone for a week.

Neediness was evident as he followed Jimin around, brushing his teeth at an unhurried pace while Jimin practically moved like a hurricane. He threw on a pale blue shirt, tucking the ends into his trousers. The strap of his messenger bag almost groaned with the speed at which he shouldered it, pushing it behind so he could slide on his shoes in the foyer. When he straightened up, Yoongi was standing in front of him, still mostly naked. He’d put on pants. The toothbrush was gone, so he must’ve spat and rinsed while Jimin had been fixing his hair.

Yoongi held out his navy blue, spotted tie. Jimin didn’t need the tie to cover the bruise sitting at the base of his neck. Not at breakfast, anyway. At most, Hoseok would point and laugh. It was a toss-up. He could either be in robot doctor mode and zero in on a bruise, or he could be completely wiped and not notice even if a storm ripped the roof off. Jimin would have to see.

He did however need the tie for work after breakfast. Sure, the Seattle office was pretty chill. They still technically followed all the rules the other cities’ corporate offices followed, for fairness and uniformity's sake, of course. But it was understood that Mr. Jimin Park’s leadership style was more laid back and he paid more attention to the quality of work than whether someone wore jeans on a random day other than casual Friday.

It was, however, Jimin’s policy that he always followed the rules. In his eyes, it set a bad example to break the rules as the regional manager. Especially if the regional manager was the son of the COO and the Chairman. Yeah, he did not need his colleagues seeing hickeys.

He blew Holly a kiss and stumbled towards the door, plucking the Hyundai Sonata keys from where they hung beside his Mustang keys.

“Wallet!” Yoongi called out. Jimin turned and caught it, stuffing it in his pocket. He yanked the door open.

“Wait!” Yoongi called out again.

“What?” Jimin whirled around. “What did I—oof.”

Jimin’s words were trapped in his throat as Yoongi yanked him by the waist. Automatically his hands came up to Yoongi’s shoulders to stabilise himself.

“Show me what being in love feels like,” Yoongi whispered. Jimin couldn’t help but smile. He kissed his boyfriend, letting him mess up his hair just a little bit. He kissed with purpose, a promise that they’d continue when he came home, that he’d let Yoongi keep him in bed for as long as they wanted. For now, he needed to run, but they had all the time later.

When he couldn’t breathe anymore, he pulled away, dropping another quick kiss on Yoongi’s lips before walking backwards towards the elevators. Yoongi kept leaning against the doorway, arms crossed, Holly yipping by his feet.

He wouldn’t close their apartment door until Jimin was out of sight.

That was Yoongi’s policy for himself.

Never let Jimin leave thinking that the door had closed.

one hundred and one reasons - Anonymous - 방탄소년단 | Bangtan Boys (2024)
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