And are you afraid? 'Cause I'm terrified
But you remind me that it's such a wonderful thing to love
It's such a wonderful thing to love
Florence and the Machine, Patricia
Yoongi has his cotton candy moments, as Jeongguk likes to call them.
There’s a certain softness to him, a certain pliancy, something in the unguardness of him and Jeongguk doesn’t think Yoongi’s aware, it’s something he melts into smoothly, without shortage of breath. But, Jeongguk has always liked observing people and has mastered the art of observing Yoongi. There’s this openness for a dog in the street, for Jeongguk, seemingly at all times but Jeongguk might be biased, for a certain sea creature, perhaps a mermaid, for a Busan fairy, for some remarkable witches - one could-be-a-witch, one could-be-more-than-a-witch and two very witchy witches; and for, not at all strangely, children.
Or, more accurately, one particular child.
(Or, even more accurately, one particular demon, initially from the 9th ring of hell. But, again, Jeongguk might be biased.)
Choyeon is the first one to file through the door of their apartment, a small creature half Jeongguk’s height, a flurry of black hair, jeans covered in colorful patches, a red shirt, both items a testament to Jimin and Taehyung never being able to agree on her clothes, allowing her to pick her own outfits.
Jeongguk can’t wait to collect photographs of Choyeon’s terrible fashion choices so, when she’s older, he can whisk out an entire Photobook of Shame.
(“Guk, it doesn’t work like that,” Taehyung sighs.
“Of course it does. Have you seen my childhood photos? Those weren’t my peak fashion moments.”
“She won’t be ashamed because I’m her father and her fashion choices are impeccable.”
“Sounds fake but okay.”
“It seems to me like you might wanna document her life or something.”
“I do not.”)
(He doesn’t want to. He really doesn’t. She’s just a demon child with poor outfit choices.)
The first thing Choyeon does is, of course, run up to Yoongi, wrapping her hands around his waist and burying her tiny little face in his stomach. Yoongi bends down and hoists her up with a grunt. “When did you get so heavy?”
“‘M not heavy,” Choyeon argues.
“I don’t think I can carry you around anymore,” Yoongi teases. “Someone else will have to do it for me.”
Choyeon’s eyes light up and she cranes her neck so her eyes land on Jeongguk. “Jeongguk oppa?”
“In your dreams,” Jeongguk snorts and walks up to Yoongi. He extends his hand towards Choyeon. “Pound it.”
She bumps her little fist against his.
(When they first met she was two and it was her first birthday with them. Taehyung held her in his arms and she was only a bundle wrapped up in a turtleneck and a tulle skirt. Much like today Jeongguk said pound it and extended his fist towards her and her face looked like a round, round peach, her eyes little dark moons.
Jimin smacked him behind his head. Yoongi barked out a laugh. And Choyeon stared at him and stared and stared and Jeongguk could feel himself growing hot in the face and he wanted to take it all back, retreat, he started to withdraw his hand but then, but then-
She extended her small hand towards him and wrapped her chubby fingers around his knuckles.
Taehyung started cooing, bouncing Choyeon in his arms. Jeongguk backed away into Yoongi, Yoongi wrapping his hand around Jeongguk’s waist, saying, “That’s the cutest motherfu-“
“Language!” Taehyung yelled, horrified.
“-cking shit I’ve seen in my entire life,” Yoongi finished, his eyes only on Jeongguk.
Jeongguk felt like a sunrise.)
Taehyung is the next one to enter their apartment, something like a sea breeze washing over the room, his hair a striking pink, his clothes a mismatched flower shirt and loose pants colored rainbow. He carries a purple backpack with stuffed animals hanging from the zipper and a yellow duffel bag. “Sorry, we had to wait for another elevator.”
Jeongguk raises an eyebrow at Choyeon. “Again?”
“You little demon,” Jeongguk stage whispers.
“From the sixth ring of hell!” she exclaims with a sense of pride.
“Thought you were on the seventh when we last saw each other,” Jeongguk teases.
She has the audacity to look insulted. “It’s the sixth ring, for sure.”
“About that,” says another voice and Jeongguk almost shivers when Jimin strolls in, taking off his sunglasses, a neatly pressed baby blue shirt tucked into slanted pants, a messenger bag slung over his shoulder.
Jeongguk has always been fearful of the tiniest creatures.
“Before that,” Taehyung interrupts. “A group hug.”
He gathers Jeongguk and Yoongi into his arms. Choyeon’s belongings bump against Jeongguk’s shoulder blade.
“Dad, I can’t breathe,” Choyeon whines.
“It’s all the love that’s overwhelming you,” Taehyung counters and nuzzles his nose into her temple. She leans away abruptly, almost hitting Yoongi straight in the face with the back of her head. Jeongguk snorts into Taehyung’s neck.
“What about me?” asks Jimin, his lips in a pout.
Jeongguk grins at him. “You weren’t invited.”
Jimin starts towards him. “You little-”
Jeongguk laughs and Jimin pinches his waist. He tries to wiggle out but he makes space for Jimin, anyway. He rests his chin on top of Yoongi’s head.
Yoongi says in a flat voice, “I’m suffocating.”
Taehyung wraps his arms tighter around them.
Choyeon comes with a list of rules, which isn’t much of a surprise since Jimin is a planner type of guy, surviving off of bullet points, daily routines and a shit ton of water. Jeongguk, kindly, accepts a neatly folded piece of paper and Yoongi, carefully, accepts a neatly folded into a swan pink sheet of decorative paper.
Taehyung points at the swan. “I wrote that.”
“Go figure,” Yoongi mutters, trying to unfold the list. Taehyung comes up to him and Yoongi only has the time to lift up his head before Taehyung puts his hands on both sides of his face.
Yoongi grunts, tries to shift but Taehyung holds him steady.
“Hyung,” he says. “You know I can hold the entire world in my hands like that?”
Yoongi lifts up his hands and puts them on Taehyung’s waist and Jeongguk watches as his fingers tangle in the folds of Taehyung’s shirt. “You know I’ll take care of her. If this is some kind of foreplay into threatening me, you’re terribly off brand. Give me Jimin.”
Taehyung chuckles. He kisses Yoongi’s forehead and lets go. “I wasn’t gonna threaten you, hyung. I just wanted to hold your face in my hands before we leave.”
Jeongguk and Choyeon groan from where they’re sat next to each other on the couch. Yoongi steps back and his legs knock against Jeongguk’s. Jimin wraps his arm around Taehyung’s waist and kisses his jaw. Jeongguk tugs at Yoongi’s jeans. Yoongi sinks into his lap. Choyeon crawls on top of Yoongi and Jeongguk starts bouncing his legs up and down. “Get off, demon, this ain’t free real estate.”
She wraps her arms around Yoongi and won’t budge. Yoongi holds the paper swan by one of its wings at arm’s length.
“About that,” Jimin reinforces.
“Before that,” Yoongi says and he doesn’t seem bothered by Jimin’s tone but, again, it’s Jeongguk who cannot deal with anything small. “Taehyung-ah, I see those origami classes paid off.”
Taehyung’s face lights up like fairy lights on the face of the water. “Hyung, listen, I even made tiny fish and hung them up in Choyeonie’s bedroom.”
“And you’ve been putting folded stars in my bag every morning before work,” Jimin adds, tilting his head, quite fondly.
“It’s so you can say you carry stars with you at all times,” Taehyung says and it’s an explanation enough.
Jeongguk refocuses his attention on Yoongi’s hands who has put his arms around Choyeon and is playing with the swan, fingers catching on the edge of its wing, its beak, tentatively.
“Go on, hyung,” Taehyung encourages. “You can unfold it. It was made so you can unfold it.”
“Maybe later,” Yoongi says, quietly. He hooks his chin over Choyeon’s shoulder and turns the paper creature in his hands every which way.
And soon Jimin and Taehyung leave, saying something about catching trains and boats and they can’t decide what they have to catch so Taehyung says a trainboat and Jeongguk isn’t the one to question the existence of such things in this world. Taehyung kisses Choyeon’s forehead and she rolls off of Yoongi to press her face into the couch. Taehyung kisses Yoongi’s forehead and Yoongi wishes him safe travels and a gentle sea. Taehyung kisses Jeongguk’s forehead and Jeongguk squeezes his hand.
Jimin takes Choyeon’s place in Yoongi’s lap and hugs them both, asking Jeongguk only to cease the rings of hell system and carefully read the set of rules and asking nothing of Yoongi but to watch his mouth which, in the end, gets directed at Jeongguk, too, and it’s fair, absolutely fair. Yoongi pats Jimin on the back and Jeongguk pinches Jimin’s waist and he jumps off only to dig his tiny, tiny finger into Jeongguk’s stomach. Jeongguk curls into Yoongi.
Jimin presses very tender, very necessary kisses to the back of Choyeon’s head and hugs her as best as he can.
And then, the sea breeze and the fairy lights are gone. The house becomes impossibly still and quiet. Jeongguk thinks he and Yoongi both want to say something like thank fuck, silence, without really meaning it. Just to say it, just to say anything.
Yoongi slides off of Jeongguk’s lap, drawing his knees up to his chest, maneuvering around a sprawled Choyeon. Jeongguk watches as he, slowly, unfolds the paper swan.
He looks down at his own list which, unsurprisingly, is full of technicalities, such as foods Choyeon can and cannot eat, what bedtime stories she likes, at what time does she go to sleep, that there’s an animation airing every Thursday, 3pm sharp which she must watch, some rules foregoing him from giving her tattoos ( I can’t believe I’m saying this but no tattoos, I know you were experimenting with some inkless shit so - none of that ), from calling her demon ( angel is a cool alternative, you should try it sometime ), from swearing ( for the ever loving fuck, the two of you, please, watch your fucking language ).
At the very bottom of the list, there’s a rule number 27, not glaringly different from the rest but the only one which makes Jeongguk pause.
- Moderate uses of magic.
“Do we have the same rule number twenty-seven?”
“Dunno. I don’t have that many.”
“How many do you have?”
The fuck presses itself against Jeongguk’s lips but he tries to watch his fucking language. Choyeon slides off the couch to rummage through her bags. Ponies, books and teddy bears land on the floor. “Show me.”
Yoongi hands Jeongguk the crumpled paper. Jeongguk looks down at the messy writing, the smeared pink gel pen.
Tae’s list for Yoongi-hyung ❤︎
- some sweet, sweet vocabulary for your nasty tongue aka words you can use instead of swearing: frick, frickle*, frackle*, frickity frick*, frock, funnel, fundraiser, fumble
- hyung, just use anything that starts with an f but not the actual f word
- I love you!!!!!!!!!!!!
*bonus points if you say them in a french accent
“That’s some blatant favoritism,” Jeongguk mutters.
“More like your bad luck,” Yoongi shrugs.
Jeongguk knocks his shoulder against Yoongi’s but it’s true - Jimin’s as ferocious in loving as he is in being mad. At the same time, quietly, he’s thankful for the list. He likes to think it leaves him less room to screw up.
He likes to think he’s good at following rules.
It works like this:
There’s a tattoo shop in Mapo district which has stood there for five years. It has started with an idea, Jeongguk’s idea, for using the light in his hands to create sparkling ink. He had no idea how blood could hold the glow in so there came Taehyung and Yoongi, accidentally, one belonging to the water and one the water belonged to. Yoongi stayed. Yoongi stayed in more than one sense. Then, they had to make this light last. Jihyo, with her purple hair, and Seunghee, with dark lips and dark nails, knew everything about the impossibility of making the sparkling permanent, spells tumbling from their mouths like snowfall.
MagInk Shop is famous for glittering tattoos in all sorts of vibrant and pastel colors and impeccable tattoo removal jobs. No one knows, unless they ask and unless they are given a real answer, that the ink isn’t a regular kind of ink. No one knows, unless they ask and unless they are given a real answer, that the tattoos are based on spells and spells are breakable.
It works like this:
Jeongguk does his best to rise with the sun. It’s not always possible but he wakes up, stretches and, if Yoongi starts work at the same time, he wakes Yoongi up. If he has time, he goes to the gym. He usually ends up going in the evening, anyway. They match their outfits without meaning to which isn’t terribly challenging considering their wardrobe consist mostly of black clothes and muted colors. They arrive at the studio, together. Their notebooks are full of magical girl wands and celestial bodies and things that glow in the dark. Their arms don’t have a trace of black ink on them. Jeongguk likes to see the look on people’s faces when he rolls up the sleeves of his black hoodie, takes off his face mask, fixes his hair and his skin sparkles, imitates a rainbow. He likes being a contradiction. He likes noticing the smirk on Yoongi’s lips. He likes seeing his own artwork tracing Yoongi’s ribcage, the curve of his arm.
His job exhausts him but on good days he’s still excited about it and he thinks it’s enough. He can watch as many animated movies as he wants to and that’s, really, where his friendship with Taehyung started and that’s, really, where he met Yoongi and that’s, really, where his downfall is but he made it work, he made it work.
It works like this:
Jeongguk does his best to rise with the sun. However, there’s a small creature in their living room so he either gets ready for work, alone or Yoongi gets ready for work, alone but their outfits still match and they kiss each other goodbye. They had time, months in advance, to schedule sessions around these two weeks so each day one of them could stay home. Jeongguk carries Jimin’s list with him at all times.
In the evening, he wonders about number twenty-seven. Choyeon is asleep and Yoongi draws by the desk in their bedroom, a desk light illuminating his face. Jeongguk wants to hang little suns in the air but it might be even harder to see anything so he doesn’t.
He calls Jimin on Skype.
“What’s with the moderate uses of magic?” he asks.
“Our Choyeonie has a big mouth,” Jimin says and smiles a crooked smile. It’s dark where he is, too. His blonde hair is sweeped back. “Her kindergarten teachers say it’s her wild imagination when Choyeon tells them how she saw her dad trip and spill fairy dust from his hands. Or when she says she jumped from behind a corner and her dad’s hair changed from pink to a swamp green for a split second, and then to purple when he realised it was her, and, only then, back to pink.”
Jeongguk wishes he could see Taehyung in those swamp greens.
“And she’s telling stories of being raised by wolves.”
Jeongguk frowns. “Wolves?”
“Yes, she’s saying they drop her off, as if I didn’t wake up at ass o’clock every single morning to drive her to this kindergarten in the goddamn traffic. Jeonggukie, do you know how-”
“Did you let her watch Princess Mononoke?” Jeongguk interrupts. He kind of knows where this is going.
“You know how I feel about-” Jimin starts but then something passes through his features, a kind of understanding. He wants to look mad, Jeongguk can tell in the twitching of the corner of his lips but it keeps shooting upwards.
He says, with that understanding, with something shooting upwards, rather softly, “Taehyungie.”
Unstoppable force versus immovable object: Taehyung’s love for Ghibli movies and Jimin’s strict policy against blood and violence.
“I had nothing to do with this,” Jeongguk lies, hands up, as if his face isn’t this striking opening.
“Jeonggukie, you got him the entire collection of Miyazaki’s movies on DVD.”
“I had nothing to do with this,” Jeongguk repeats.
Jimin sighs and looks to his right. He’s sitting alone in a dark room, at the very edge of a neatly made two-poster bed. The moonlight illuminates his face.
He looks small and pearl-white.
Jeongguk understands. He knows there are things to look for in the dark.
“Is he there?” Jeongguk asks in a tone that doesn’t belong in daylight but doesn’t belong to the hurt of the night, either.
Jimin hums and smiles something that reminds Jeongguk of a carefully waiting to unravel rosebud. He used to think it’s a sad smile but then he realised it has more to do with longing than sadness, something that should weight on you like a stone but instead weighs nothing more than a pearl.
Jimin sounds as if he were underwater. Jeongguk wants to reach out and enter this round, hardened ache. He wants to take it apart. “Yeah, he’s at the sea.”
(Jimin’s heart rests where the sunlight has a hard time reaching.)
“He’ll be back,” Jeongguk says, as if they both need reminding.
(But it will come back to him, it will come back to him.)
“I know,” Jimin replies.
(The sea has always had much compassion for his heart, for everything this heart belongs to.)
Jeongguk pauses the episode of Puella Magi Madoka Magica when he hears the sound of crying.
He’s lying in bed, his head propped up on a pillow, Yoongi asleep with his face buried in the dip of Jeongguk’s waist. Jeongguk takes out his earphones and listens. For a moment he’s sure he’s misheard it but then, just when he’s about to put the earbuds back in, there’s a quiet sob.
Before he knows what he’s doing he’s discarded the laptop, jumping out of bed and hurrying into the living room. There’s no moonlight but Jeongguk enhances whatever light bounces off of the edge of the furniture and makes it to the couch without bumping into anything. He crouches next to the curled up girl, smothered by blankets. He realises she’s holding her breath, hoping no sound escapes. (But it does. Something drops to the bottom of Jeongguk’s stomach.)
He lifts up his hand. Everything in the air feels suspended. Finally, he drops his hand down, smoothly, on top of Choyeon’s head. He whispers, “Hey.”
“It’s okay, tell me what happend.”
Jeongguk hears the shuffling of feet, stopping at the threshold of their bedroom. He doesn’t look behind his back.
“Choyeonie,” he tries, a memory of Yoongi’s voice.
She sniffles. “I wanna go home.”
Oh. Oh, oh, oh.
The last time he had to deal with children missing their homes was when he, himself, was a kid and he, himself, was the one crying at a camp or a school trip. He knows it’s something you can’t control, the missing of someone.
He moves his hand without thinking, stroking the back of her head. “I know. But your parents will be back in no time, you’ll see.”
“I miss ‘em.”
“They miss you, too.”
She lowers the blanket. Her eyes are glowing in the dark. “I miss them more.”
“Nuh-uh, not possible.”
“I miss them like this,” she says and her hands spring out from underneath the blanket, arms stretching away from each other.
“And they miss you like this,” Jeongguk says and extends his arms, a grin on his face.
“This is unfair,” Choyeon huffs. “Your arms are longer.”
“If you weren’t so tiny you’d reach mine just fine.”
“‘M not tiny.”
“You are but that’s alright. I drank lotsa milk-”
“Banana milk,” Yoongi supplies in a barely-there whisper.
Jeongguk hears him all the same but continues as if he didn’t, “So if you do, too, you’ll be as tall as I am. Wouldn’t wanna be a Yoongi forever, am I right?”
“Hey,” Yoongi grunts and comes up to smack him behind his head. Jeongguk grabs him behind the knees and controls Yoongi’s fall so he lands in his lap. Choyeon laughs. Jeongguk presses a kiss to Yoongi’s jaw. Yoongi turns his head away but he leans against Jeongguk’s chest, anyway.
“So,” Jeongguk says. “If none of us are sleeping, we can watch anime together.”
“A magical girl anime?” Choyeon asks with a rising cadence.
Jeongguk hooks his chin over Yoongi’s head. “In this household it’s only magical girl anime and Ghibli movies, my dude.”
Jeongguk brings in his laptop and places it on the coffee table. Yoongi crawls onto the couch and Choyeon lays her head in his lap. Jeongguk stays on the floor, leaning back against Yoongi’s knee.
He resumes the episode.
“I didn’t fall asleep first,” Jeongguk argues, pulling a black shirt over his head.
Yoongi watches him from the center of the bed, still in his pajamas.
“You did,” Yoongi replies in a calm manner.
“You absolutely did.”
“Hey, demon, c’mere,” Jeongguk raises his voice.
Choyeon walks into the bedroom. She’s wearing a shimmering pink dress on top of a yellow shirt. “What?”
“Which one of us fell asleep first?”
Choyeon considers him for a second. “You did.”
Yoongi laughs under his nose. Jeongguk can almost feel the shake of his shoulders with this laugh.
“Traitor,” Jeongguk hisses under his nose. “You’re denounced to the seventh ring of hell. Good luck there.”
“I have a pet dragon and he’ll help me.”
“You don’t have a pet dragon.”
“So what’s his name?”
“That’s a stolen name.”
They take Choyeon to the playground near their apartment complex. Jeongguk doesn’t know if they should go play with her because she’s hesitant at first, trying out the slide, the swing, the web that all children climb, racing who gets to the top faster. But then, there’s another hesitant kid and soon they’re running around and having other kids join them and Yoongi lies with his head in Jeongguk’s lap, a bucket hat covering his face but Jeongguk can’t stop watching Choyeon because what if she falls down and they don’t see and that web thing is stressing him out for no apparent reason, she climbs it with such ease, just a mirage of purple and orange, stuttering in some places, yet finding a hold quick, quick, quick. Jeongguk thinks he’s equally tired when, after two hours, he announces he has work, his heart spasming in his chest. Choyeon doesn’t want to let go of her friends and she calls out to him, “One more mission!”, whatever that means.
He ends up stumbling into the shop five minutes before the scheduled session. Seunghee doesn’t spare him a glance. Jihyo looks at him funny.
After work, Jeongguk lies on the fluffy, purple carpet in Jihyo’s room. There’s instrumental music playing in the background. Jihyo has hung up fairy lights around her purple, purple house. Jeongguk makes them change colors.
Jihyo comes back with tea. She lies down next to him. She asks, “How are you doing?”
Jeongguk drums his fingers on his stomach. The steam from the tea is warming his face.
“I want to think I’m doing alright,” he says.
Seunghee comes in without knocking. She lies down on Jeongguk’s other side. She asks if he has pictures of Choyeon. He is adamant on creating the Photobook of Shame so he happens to have some. She’s all patchwork of colors and shapes and patterns.
“It’s very Taehyung,” Jihyo says. “Her style.”
In the evening Yoongi runs Choyeon a bath and Jeongguk, absentmindedly, thinks of sparkling bath bombs but the thought disappears. Then, Yoongi reads her one of the books she brought, all of them colorful and magical and he falls asleep on the couch. Jeongguk has to carry him to bed.
When it’s Jeongguk’s turn to stay home he, still, takes her to the playground and his heart, still, deflates, and he buys her treats afterwards because he’s not sure whether you’re supposed to do that so he’d rather do it than not and he prepares lunch, either something you can just heat up or something to do with eggs, he’s good with eggs, can make them scrambled, boil them either soft or hard, cook up an omelette.
He draws a lot, too, draws wands and transformation outfits for magical girls and houses in forests. Yoongi is out with Joohyun, probably somewhere among the clouds, sipping red wine on her broom. (The broom is not confirmed but Jeongguk might as well add that to the legend of the witch.) Choyeon sits in the dining room opposite of him, her own drawing kit in front of her. She asks him what he’s drawing. His first instinct is to shrug but he shows her his sketchbook and then her eyes find the tattoos peeking out from underneath his shirt and she presses her tiny, tiny finger into his skin, into a sparkling magical girl wand in pinks and yellows and purples.
“I want this one,” she whispers, her mouth agape. She holds his forearm with two hands, watches as the light shimmers on his skin, ever changing depending on the angle.
“This stuff’s permanent, demon. You can’t have it.”
“But I wanna.”
Jeongguk sighs and withdraws his hand. “Ask your parents.”
And she does ask Jimin, and Jeongguk only hears a horrified “Jeon Jeongguk!” from the laptop in the living room so he slams the door to his bedroom shut.
there are other ways i can reach you
“Jimin’s asking me to tell you to check your phone,” Yoongi says before Jeongguk leaves for work. “Have you done something?”
“I have done nothing wrong, ever, in my life.”
“This is a reference to something, right?”
“Google it, old man.”
A pillow hits Jeongguk straight in the face.
i know this and i love you
i’m getting intel from a third party that you’re checking your phone
Thursday, five to 3pm Jeongguk has already pulled up a streaming website for Choyeon’s tv show and has placed the laptop on the coffee table in the living room. She jumps onto the couch, draws her knees up to her chest and wraps her hands around her legs. Jeongguk considers handing her some blankets and a hot chocolate because he knows Taehyung would do that if he were here but instead he starts towards his bedroom, considers checking the text messages he’s left unread since yesterday’s night.
“Where are you going?” he hears.
Jeongguk stops. He answers, almost hesitantly, “To the bedroom.”
“Aren’t you gonna watch with me? Daddy always watches with me when he’s home.”
Jeongguk considers. It’s not something he thought about and not because kid shows are below him, he would be the last to disregard any form of animation but because he assumed it’s her own thing and he understands the importance of doing things alone. But, if either Taehyung or Jimin watch this tv show with her he’s not going to be an asshole. Besides, it’s another excuse to postpone replying to text messages.
(And maybe, maybe, maybe he felt, for a split second, sheer and illuminated like the wings of a dragonfly.)
(There’s something obvious, here, but he turns his face the other way.)
He plops down on the couch.
The show is some new animation about witches slash magical girls with a lot of vibrant colors and strange creatures and a mystical forest. By the end of the episode he’s leaning forward, elbows on his knees.
He stares blankly at the to be continued… fading off the screen. He turns to Choyeon. “Is there gonna be another episode?”
She slides off the couch, kneeling on the floor to close the website. “Nah, it’s one every week.”
Jeongguk’s utterly appalled.
“What the- Hell? What the hell? How am I supposed to live now, not knowing if Nerice saved Cassidy? How am I supposed to live?”
Choyeon shrugs. Jeongguk slides down to the floor next to her, his fingers on the keyboard, muttering, “This can’t be, this just can’t be.”
He looks up the tv show online, finds the entire first season, half with korean audio and the rest with subtitles. “I’ll be watching from the beginning but there’s no dubbed version for the entire thing. You wanna watch? With me?”
Choyeon hops back on the couch.
Yoongi finds them like this, Choyeon curled up next to Jeongguk, Jeongguk nearly tearing up towards the finale. He hardly registers Yoongi’s prescensce until he’s pressing a kiss to Jeongguk’s forehead, asking him about dinner.
“We’re eating magic for dinner,” Jeongguk whispers, voice thick. Choyeon giggles.
Yoongi presses another kiss to his temple and shuffles to the kitchen. Jeongguk tunes him out. He cries during the last episode and Choyeon wraps her little arms around him and he doesn’t know what to do with them so he sits stiff. There’s a smell of meat and steamed vegetables in the air.
“Dinner’s ready,” Yoongi calls and Choyeon’s the first to run to the kitchen, her loud voice coloring the story of her day. Jeongguk joins them and helps Yoongi carry the foods to the table. When it’s all set Yoongi slides up to him and Jeongguk’s body shifts so they’re chest to chest and Yoongi holds Jeongguk’s face in his hands and kisses him, sweetly, and Jeongguk’s hands fall to his hips and Yoongi wipes the tears off his cheeks.
“Thank you for making dinner,” Jeongguk whispers.
“Thank you for taking care of Choyeonie,” Yoongi replies with a tilt to his head, curiously fond.
Jeongguk turns his head away. He can feel Yoongi’s eyes on him. “I did nothing.”
“I think you did everything.”
Choyeon talks about their visit to the playground and how Jeongguk bought her a croissant on their way back because she said she’s never had one before and how she picked the dumplings for lunch and how they watched her show together and how she wishes she had the power to make flowers grow.
Yoongi chuckles. Jeongguk thinks they both might be thinking of Rose.
“Seokjin’s coming over,” Yoongi announces when Jeongguk gets back from the gym.
Jeongguk drops his duffel bag in the bathroom and starts unloading clothes to the washing machine. “Oh, is he, now?”
Yoongi follows him but stops at the door.
“Yeah, he’s staying the night.” Yoongi’s voice echoes off the tiles.
“And where is he gonna sleep, pray tell?” Choyeon has, quite obviously, taken residence of their only couch.
Yoongi’s shrug is almost a tangible thing. “We have some spare futons.”
Jeongguk relaxes his shoulders. “Okay. Okay, good. Right.”
He grabs the laundry bag and selects clothes to wash. Yoongi’s a hesitant prescensce.
“You doing the dark now?” Yoongi asks.
“Hold up, I have some jeans to wash.”
Yoongi leaves and Jeongguk unloads their sweaters and T-shirts and underwear and sweatpants and socks, most of it dark, Jeongguk’s white tees and a stray blue button-up from when Jeongguk went to the dentist’s last week left at the bottom. He pours the detergent into a compartment. Yoongi comes back and hands him his jeans. Jeongguk crouches back down. Yoongi’s knee knocks into Jeongguk’s side. Jeongguk can’t control the sway of his body, the leaning in. He takes Yoongi’s pants.
Yoongi presses a thumb into the protruding bump of Jeongguk’s spine at the bend of his neck. “How’s work?”
Jeongguk runs his hand up and down Yoongi’s shin as he slams the washing machine shut and chooses the settings. He exhales. His bones are full of things hardly keeping their eyes open. “Alright. How was your day?”
“You first. Tell me about today’s designs.”
The washing machine starts up. Neither of them moves.
“I tattooed a set of Sailor Moon wands on a girl’s thigh. The one with flowers all around. It glows blue.”
“I remember. What else?”
Jeongguk leans his temple against Yoongi’s thigh. Yoongi runs his thumb in circles at the top of Jeongguk’s spine. Jeongguk’s hand rests wrapped around Yoongi’s ankle. Water sloshes inside the basin of the washing machine.
“This one I finished designing last week, the construction with the crescent moon and the stars, in pinks and yellows.”
“I love that one, Jeongguk-ah. I have a spot left on my arm where it would fit just right.”
Jeongguk doesn’t look up. “I’ll draw you a new one. If you really want it?”
Yoongi’s fingers tangle in Jeongguk’s hair at the nape of his neck. “Of course. I thought the amount of times I talked about it the last two weeks was enough.”
Jeongguk humms. “So how was your day?”
Yoongi taps his index finger on the bump of Jeongguk’s spine. “I’ll tell you over some tea, how about that?”
Jeongguk takes his hand. He follows him to the warmth of the kitchen. He sits at the dinner table where Choyeon is drawing girls with wings. She’s wearing a white skirt with blue clouds sewn on and a fuzzy sweater with a cat. Yoongi boils the water. Choyeon starts telling the story of her cartoon girls. Jeongguk thinks it would make a pretty good tv show but he says nothing and yet Yoongi says it out loud and, sometimes, it’s a little scary how alike their minds are, how the bend of one’s spine or the shying away of their eyes or a silence after words or a certain sentence structure makes them think the same things. But Jeongguk doesn’t want to think it’s scary, he wants to think it’s that same red string that everyone keeps joking Jimin trips over, spilling fairy dust all over, the one that nobody sees and nobody really believes to be true, but which everyone keeps joking ties Jimin to Taehyung and Taehyung to Jimin. This world has a lot of magic in it and perhaps soulmates are one of them, perhaps more than one soulmate for everyone, perhaps Jeongguk has several strings tied to his fingers, and then some.
Yoongi sets down the tea in front of him, black with two spoonfuls of sugar. Choyeon continues talking about her drawing. Yoongi sits at the head of the table. His hands lie, curled loosely, on both sides of his mug. Jeongguk reaches out and wraps his pinky around Yoongi’s index finger.
Like a string.
No one really knows what Seokjin is.
He says he’s a witch and Jeongguk did visit his shop, once, but he never returned after Seokjin told him that if he touches this one stone for more than five seconds, he will be cursed for all the following lives, unless he finds a way to return to this one and ask Seokjin to break the spell.
(Jeongguk drops the stone. “The fuck, hyung?”
“I’m kidding,” Seokjin says with a straight face.
“Wouldn’t you be able to reverse the spell in my current life?”
Seokjin tilts his head. “No.”
And then he disappears into thin air.
Jeongguk calmy exits the shop.)
Seokjin says he’s a witch but Jeongguk thinks he’s some divine entity who decided to play human just for fun. He would rather push him off the cliff than say it to his face, though.
And no one really knows what Seokjin is and sometimes he disappears off of the face of the earth, maybe quite literally, but every now and again he graces Seoul with his presence and ends up in Yoongi and Jeongguk’s apartment. And as much as it is a calming presence, it is also a chaotic one.
Choyeon is absolutely smitten. It’s not their first meeting, he always brings gifts for her birthdays, a rose changing colors enclosed in a snowball or a pot which grows a different flower every day. He calls her pumpkin.
Yoongi receives a bracelet made out of white oval stones. Jeongguk helps him clasp it around his wrist. It rests among other strings of stones and colorful straps, mirroring the ones on Seokjin’s left wrist.
Jeongguk receives a tea bag. He has stopped asking questions long ago.
“You won’t die if you drink it,” Seokjin assures him but his face is impossible to read.
Jeongguk hopes it’s true. He boils the water for the hot drinks while Seokjin tells Yoongi about his dealings with mermaids from Busan.
“They’re not to be trusted, Yoongi-chi.”
“I think fairies from Busan are much more dangerous,” Yoongi says with a smirk.
He brews the gifted tea for himself. He can’t lie, he’s kind of curious what a tea that has a potential to kill him or curse him or whatever Seokjin could possibly do to this poor collection of dried leaves would taste like. Even if it’s the last thing he tastes.
Yoongi glances at his mug which smells pleasantly of wild berries. He doesn’t look concerned and Jeongguk knows Yoongi would never look concerned about anything Seokjin gifts them.
Jeongguk thinks it’s quite endearing considering Seokjin could, in fact, make them perish in the blink of an eye.
(But he understands. He understands.)
Jeongguk is rather occupied with trying to discern whether the poison is hidden underneath the sweetness of fruit when he hears the word Monopoly.
“No,” he says forcefully.
Yoongi rests his hand on his knee.
“Oh, c’mon, Jeonggukie, indulge me,” Seokjin whines, bouncing Choyeon on his knees. “This little pumpkin wants to play, too, right?”
“Yes!” Choyeon cheers.
“It’s for ages eight and up,” Jeongguk counters weekly.
“It’s not that hard and she did say she’s almost six. Let’s go, I’m impatient.”
They own the original version of Monopoly which lies at the bottom drawer of Jeongguk’s wardrobe. He would’ve burned it years ago if Yoongi wasn’t so adamant on keeping it and Jeongguk doesn’t really want to burn this game as long as Yoongi enjoys playing it.
As long as he himself doesn’t have to play it.
Jeongguk tosses the board game onto the coffee table. Clouds of dust flutter in the air. “You guys play but I’m out.”
Seokjin tells Choyeon to hop off and then motions for Jeongguk to sit in his lap. When he doesn’t move, Seokjin gets up with a groan and Jeongguk has half a mind to drop down next to Yoongi before Seokjin splays himself over his knees.
“I haven’t seen you guys in a year, Jeonggukie, I brought you this nice tea, and you’re denying me?”
“Yeah, a tea that could kill me.”
Seokjin huffs and wraps his arms around Jeongguk’s neck. “I told you it won’t kill you if you drink it.”
Jeongguk tries to wriggle out. “So, it’ll kill me if I don’t drink it?”
“I did not say that.”
“It is not.”
“Hyung, tell him,” Jeongguk whines.
“If he says it won’t kill you, then I trust him,” Yoongi says, like the unhelpful love of Jeongguk’s life he is.
“Of course you’d say that,” Jeongguk grunts. “You’re lucky that I love you.”
“I am, indeed, lucky.”
“Oh God.” Jeongguk hides his face in Seokjin’s shoulder.
“Good to know you still make him blush,” Seokjin says, his head turned towards Yoongi.
“‘M not blushing,” Jeongguk interjects.
“You are but it’s okay. We love you,” Yoongi assures him, his hand back on Jeongguk’s knee. He squeezes it gently. “Come out, lover boy. We’re playing Monopoly.”
Yoongi ends up being the bank. Quite early in the game he starts cheating. Rather soon Choyeon picks up the pattern and starts cheating, too. Jeongguk thinks it isn’t logically possible for them to have this much money.
It is not going well for him.
He quits after Choyeon has put multiple hotels on her most expensive parcels and he has to pay her up, twice. He’s at the edge of bankruptcy. He gets up from the floor where they lay down the board and flops onto the couch. He drinks the leftover tea, bottoms up, cold sweetness sliding down his throat.
He thinks of that vine with the child looking at a toy gun and saying shoot me.
Monopoly is the only game he could never win and he thinks that just isn’t fair.
“Let’s say we were to play another game,” Jeongguk says, lights out, Seokjin’s voice no longer audible from behind closed doors. “What’s something I could beat the demon in?”
Yoongi snakes his hands underneath Jeongguk’s T-shirt and splays them on Jeongguk’s back.
Jeongguk hisses. “Your hands are cold. Get ‘em off.”
Yoongi presses his his nose to the dip of Jeongguk’s collarbone. “How else am I supposed to keep them warm?”
“Steal someone else’s body heat.”
Yoongi nuzzles closer. His hum reverbates all through Jeongguk’s rib cage. “Want yours.”
“Hyung, I’m serious. I need to win.”
“Do you, now?” Yoongi kisses the column of his neck.
“I mean-” Jeongguk swallows and dips his head back. Yoongi kisses the underside of his jaw. “Now, doesn’t have to be- Doesn’t have to be now.”
Yoongi tugs Jeongguk’s head down, kisses the corner of his lips. Jeongguk tightens his hand on Yoongi’s hip, shuffles closer, the bed sheets rustling.
“That’s what I thought,” Yoongi murmurs against Jeongguk’s lips.
tell yoongi jennie is about to curse him
you were supposed to confirm the weekend
i know you’ll answer me tomorrow
but hope you guys are good
jennie’s already talked with yoongi
i don’t wanna know
cool cool cool cool
Over the weekend they travel to Jennie and Rose’s house, which is a small cottage on the outskirts of the city, a thing made out of wood standing at the edge of a forest. Jennie says she only bought it because it’s in their witch agenda but Jeongguk knows it was Rose who has always dreamt of a house in the woods and there’s very few things Jennie wouldn’t do for her. Though, he figures, the witch agenda isn’t entirely a lie.
Jeongguk drives and Yoongi chooses the road trip playlist, the one which Jeongguk knows all the lyrics to by heart. Choyeon falls asleep in the backseat. They both receive a text from Jimin that Taehyung came back. Pearls tumble out of Jeongguk’s heart. Yoongi looks as if the world regained something in the morning light.
Rose and Jennie stand in the doorway when Jeongguk parks the car, the sound of an engine audible the moment a car hits the road leading to their house, rocky and full of thick tree roots. Choyeon asks to be carried on Jeongguk’s back and Jeongguk shoots her a glare and she says “You always carry Yoongi oppa. Now carry me.”
She’s wearing a strange combination of dinosaur sweatpants and a T-shirt with a giant heart print on the front. She’s reaching out her hands towards the sky.
(These are things he keeps turning away from.)
He bends down and Choyeon hops on his back with a happy, happy sound and she sounds like all the birds in this wonder of a forest. Jeongguk grabs their black duffel bag and Choyeon’s purple backpack and Jennie and Rose hug them both. Jennie moves on to Yoongi but Rose stays behind. She holds her hand to Choyeon’s cheek. She makes flowers grow around Choyeon’s birdlike wrist.
“Moderate uses of magic,” Jeongguk mutters and Rose looks over at him, shily. Even if he can’t see her face, Choyeon’s marvel is a tangible thing.
He doesn’t have the heart to repeat it louder.
“Seokjin had some business to attend to, in Incheon,” Yoongi says somewhere behind Jeongguk.
“But he will come?” Jennie asks, her voice close to his.
“He will, he will.”
The inside of the house looks bigger than anyone looking from the outside could ever think it to be, the living room this wide, open space, warm, flooded by sunlight dropping from the wooden panels, ginormous couches and two armchairs standing in front of a fireplace, behind which is the dining room and the kitchen, nothing separated by walls, and then floor to ceiling windows leading to a terrace, leading to a garden, leading to the forest.
Jeongguk's lungs are full of trees, of every living thing in the universe.
Yoongi helps Jennie with dinner and Rose takes Choyeon out into the garden. Jeongguk stands next to the sliding window, watching as Rose points to the flowers and names them for the girl and Choyeon repeats their names under her nose. She screeches when a bee comes too close and runs up to Jeongguk, clinging to his legs. Jeongguk’s lungs tighten and expand at the same time. He beckons her to go back out there, “The bees are more scared of you than you are of them.” He might, gently, stroke her hair once, twice before he, again, gently, pushes her towards the garden. And she goes back and sits in Rose’s lap and all around them flowers grow.
“The witch is here,” Yoongi announces. Jeongguk realises the window frame has been painfully digging into his arm for quite some time now. The house smells richly of spices and vegetables, the rice cooker letting off steam.
For the record, Jeongguk isn’t entirely sure whether Joohyun is actually a witch or if it’s just a nickname which Yoongi and Taehyung made up when they were kids. He’s never actually seen her do any magic but she does look like she could throw a nasty, elaborate curse on you, one you wouldn’t be able to reverse.
Or, at least, that was his first impression of her, when he was sure he would be getting the if you break his heart… talk in the months following his and Yoongi’s gentle transition from years of pining to actually telling each other there might be a tender feeling involved, or two. Jeongguk wouldn’t call her cold, only reserved, only keeping her heart closed for a long, long time, much like Yoongi, if he looks at it a certain way, very much like Yoongi. But, he only had to see her in the presence of Yoongi and Taehyung and Jennie; unguarded, open like a bare tree. He’s seen, countless of times, this certain unfurling in her eyes, only for them, only for the three of them.
Maybe they all belong in a coven. Maybe if he was certain Joohyun was a witch. Maybe if Yoongi picked up calls from unknown numbers and read his emails he’d have someone tell him hey, you’re a witch.
But Yoongi doesn’t know what he is and Jeongguk doesn’t know what he, himself, is and he thinks there are a lot of people and creatures and planets that don’t know who or what they are but they go on living and existing and it’s enough to be in this world, without knowing much, without knowing anything at all.
Jeongguk doesn’t know if Joohyun’s a witch but he knows she has a gentle heart and kind hands.
So she rests her kind hands on Jeongguk’s shoulder and then around Yoongi’s back, holding him close, and then on Jennie’s waist and Rose’s wrist and her arms are open as she hoists up Choyeon into the air and all of them just stand and watch.
Soon, there’s Seokjin boisterous laugh in the air and he drapes himself over everyone and Choyeon runs up to him, arms in the air and he calls her his pumpkin and Jeongguk wishes wishes wishes he could be this open, that he could light up his heart, that he could light it up and wouldn’t be afraid of people seeing.
His face is open, though, his face is always terribly, terribly open, every delight, every ache visible on the tips of his lashes, in the shell of his ear. And Yoongi holds his face in the kitchen when everyone else is in the garden and Jeongguk bows his head and Yoongi kisses his temple, almost in the corner of his eye and then his neck, right below the lobe of his ear. And Jeongguk wants the whole world to be this incredibly bright, he wants to make the whole world this warm color of honey. And even when the sun dips lower and the trees hide the gold of it Jeongguk keeps the house aglow and he catches everyone’s knowing eyes and his heart is still a rabbit heart and it stills wants to run away but he doesn’t take off the light, he doesn’t take off the honey.
When the food is ready Jennie calls everyone inside and Choyeon is the first to stumble into the dining room, Rose stepping in right behind her, Seokjin and Joohyun at the edge of the woods, strolling languidly towards the house, talking over each other, their hands animated.
“Help me set up the table,” Jeongguk says when Choyeon sits on one of the chairs. The grandness of the table makes her look smaller than she is. There’s always a lot of people in this house.
She shakes her head. “Don’t want to.”
Jeongguk glares at her, a hand wrapped around chopsticks lingering in the air.
“Choyeonie, go wash your hands,” Rose reminds her. “You’ve touched the earth today.”
Choyeon runs off to the restroom but she doesn’t know where the restroom is, yet, so Rose follows her into the hallway.
“Can you believe this?” Jeongguk asks incredulously when he passes Yoongi, his arms full of plates.
Yoongi tucks his head into his chest. Jeongguk stops. “What?”
Yoongi looks up at him, amused. “She sounds exactly like you.”
Jeongguk hyperventilates. “She doesn’t- I’m not- What?”
Jennie places the rice in small bowls. “You do sound like this.”
“But I’m helping you right now! This is unfair.”
“She does have a point,” Seokjin says when he steps into the living room.
He denounces Choyeon to the 4th ring of hell in his mind and tells her about it when she comes back, hands clean and smelling of cherries. Over the course of the week she has moved through most rings but recently she climbed onto the 3rd one. She tells Seokjin about it, delighted. Seokjin looks over at him. Jeongguk pretends he doesn’t see.
After the dinner Yoongi pours everyone but Jeongguk and Rose wine and Seokjin tells stories of a necklace he made for a mermaid from Busan and how, instead of making it into a lucky charm, he messed up the spell. He laughs, as if almost having his house flooded is no big deal.
Jeongguk asks Rose how was her trip to Brussels last month, where she volunteered to help with arranging the flower carpet in Grand-Place. Jennie says she’s never seen this many begonias in her life. Rose explains the process, all movement. Begonias grow in the wine glasses, the plates; they hang from the ceiling, from the windowsills. Choyeon can’t stop looking up. Jennie can’t stop looking at Rose. Jeongguk allows himself to create tiny specks of light, like glowing dust, to float in the air. Joohyun smiles at him, red, red lips. She’s never been much of a talker and he thinks she likes appreciating people for who they are, without interruptions. Just being with them, saying nothing at all. He understands.
He asks Rose if he can borrow her laptop and she agrees. He calls Taehyung and Jimin on Skype and everyone gathers around him. Taehyung nearly bursts into tears when he sees them. He says, “My Choyeonie, you’re in such good hands. Such good hands.” Jimin wraps himself tighter around Taehyung’s body as if he can prevent him from spilling over, and maybe he can. Out of the corner of his eye, Jeongguk sees Joohyun gripping Jennie’s hand.
“Daddy, you look like the sun gave you lots of kisses,” Choyeon says. She placed herself, strategically, on Yoongi’s lap. The quality of the video isn’t the best but Taehyung and Jimin sit in a bright room, all white furniture and they both look warmer on the skin but it’s Taehyung who answers.
“I know.” He rests his chin on the top of Jimin’s head. “The sun was giving smooches left and right.”
Jeongguk and Seokjin help Rose clean after the dinner. Yoongi sits by the laptop, chin propped up on his hand, Joohyun next to him, Jennie in her lap. Jeongguk thinks there’s a wide, wide ocean in their eyes, enormously heavy, tremendously open. Rose asks who wants tea. Outside, darkness grows.
Seokjin takes Choyeon out into the garden. Jeongguk watches her touch the flower petals. He watches and drinks his tea and listens to Rose talk about poetry. It strikes a cord in him. He wants to let something out. He illuminates the flowers and Choyeon dances in the center of the grass, her face a prism of colors. Seokjin conjures soft, cotton clouds. Choyeon moves through them, like a dream. Rose takes Jeongguk’s hand and they file outside. The clouds feel cold on Jeongguk’s skin. Rose makes him dance something slow, her hands on his shoulders. It reminds Jeongguk of university, when they skipped parties and danced alone in Jeongguk’s dorm room, before Jennie, before Taehyung, before Yoongi.
The clouds fill up with sounds of a piano. Seokjin’s eyes glow in the dark. Jennie runs down the steps, dragging Joohyun and Yoongi behind her. They stand in those clouds, among illuminated flowers. Rule number twenty-seven is somewhere in the back of Jeongguk’s mind but he doesn’t want to care, he doesn’t want to care. He wants to exist in this pantheon of dreams.
When, hours later, song in their bones, Jennie says he and Yoongi will have to sleep in one bed with Choyeon because they have many guest rooms but not that many, Jeongguk’s too exhausted to put up a fight. Besides, there’s hardly any fight left in him, against the world, against anything.
Yoongi pulls the covers higher up Choyeon’s chin and his tattoos peek out from underneath the collar of his sleeping shirt. Choyeon pokes her finger into the side of his neck where a flower blooming in pastel purples wrapped in strings of pearls rests.
“I want a tattoo,” she says.
Yoongi lies down, tucking himself close. “You’ll get one when you’re older.”
She shakes her head and the hair brushes against Jeongguk’s cheek. “I want one now.”
“Your dad would kill me,” Yoongi tells her and it doesn’t matter which dad because they both have it in them.
(Okay, it would be Jimin. Taehyung would be a sweetheart and help bury their bodies.)
They fall asleep bickering, quietly, their mouths stuffed with sleep and clouds and Jeongguk kisses Yoongi’s forehead and turns off the light and lies down and thinks about inkless tattoos.
Jeongguk wakes with the sun and goes for a run with Rose. On their way back they pick up groceries and Jeongguk stops in front of a section with yogurts and there’s one for kids which offers temporary tattoos shaped like animals. Jeongguk passes over it twice and only comes back for it when he’s at the register and tells the cashier to be kind enough to wait a second. When they leave Rose looks up at him curiously but she doesn’t say anything and Jeongguk doesn’t say anything, either.
They come in from the back and Seokjin’s in the garden, stretching. Rose goes inside to unpack groceries and comes back with two extra mats. They go through some yoga poses together and the birds are singing their songs and the sun is filtering through the leaves and it’s kind of chilly in the morning, still, and the grass is damp and sparkling with dew. Jeongguk likes being the quiet creature in the morning, likes for other creatures to be louder, likes to listen to the world like this.
When they’re done Jeongguk helps Rose pick up fresh strawberries and wild berries and he rolls up the edge of his shirt and he places the fruit in his makeshift sack. They go back inside to boiling water and mugs lined up at the edge of the counter, the clinking of jars as Seokjin rummages through the cupboard with tea. Jennie is up, too, and she kisses Rose good morning and Rose moves to make her coffee.
Seokjin glances at Jeongguk who stands next to him. He asks, “Did you bring your tea?”
(A strange revelation Jeongguk had the previous morning:
He woke up early to pack for the trip. Choyeon was already awake after he was done with stretching. She said, “You didn’t drink oppa’s tea yesterday.”
“Is it because I’m still alive?”
She shook her little head, not tearing her gaze away from the book in her lap. “It’s in the kitchen.”
And sure enough, there was a fresh bag of tea lying on the counter. Jeongguk smelled it. It reminded him of something flowery.
“Maybe Seokjin left another one?” Jeongguk wonders.
“He didn’t,” Choyeon says. “I asked him before he left. He said he only gave you one. And that this one will last you a long, long time.”
Jeongguk doesn’t much trust long lasting things.)
“I did not,” he answers Seokjin, now.
Seokjin nods. “That’s a pity.”
Jeongguk tries to read his face. It looks like the flame of a flickering candle. There’s nothing for Jeongguk to see.
“Well, what other tea would you like?” Seokjin asks, his hand hovering over bags and jars full of dried tea leaves and fruit.
Seokjin brews tea for three people.
Jeongguk offers to help Rose with making a tart and she stands to the side, cutting strawberries, Jennie sort of falling asleep with her head on her shoulder. Rose takes the coffee mug out of her hand and puts it back on the counter. She leans down, kissing Jennie’s forehead. Jeongguk mixes the dry ingredients well. The sun enters the house in a square patch on the floor near the windows.
Choyeon walks into the living room, drowsy but already eyeing the garden. She steals a blanket from the couch and Rose gives her a bowl of cut strawberries sprinkled with sugar. Jennie returns to reality enough to grab Choyeon’s toy ponies from the floor in the living room and follow her outside. Jeongguk watches Jennie spread the blanket on the grass. Choyeon sits down and Jennie lies by her side. Jeongguk’s hands are full of freshly cut fruit.
The entire house smells of coffee and such sweetness of strawberries and Rose is cooking up some rice, boiling a small pot of stew. Seokjin is setting up the side dishes because Yoongi and Joohyun have a taste for savory breakfasts. When Jeongguk hears the door open he starts up the stove and takes a carton of eggs out of the fridge. The sound is followed by “Good morning, witch.” and “Morning, Yoongi-yah.” when Joohyun and Yoongi meet in the hallway. Jeongguk kisses the top of Yoongi’s head and tugs at his hair, sticking in every direction. Today’s morning Yoongi is pliant like a cat. He steals Jennie’s coffee and takes a sip. He stands next to Jeongguk at the stove. Jeongguk leaves his hand tangled in Yoongi’s hair.
They eat breakfast outside, at the table set on the terrace. Jeongguk brings in the children’s yogurts. Turns out it’s half vanilla, half strawberry. Choyeon eats one. She reaches for the second one to which there’s a small packet plastered, containing the tattoo. Her fingers hook around the foil. Suddenly, Jeongguk feels incredibly shy and wants to hide behind the nearest tree.
Yoongi knocks his knee against Jeongguk’s. He unpacks the tattoo and it’s in the shape of a tiger.
“Could’ve been a dog,” Joohyun mutters. Jeongguk thinks it might as well have been a pig because Choyeon was born in the year of the dog but has been with them since the year of the pig. All animals have their significance.
Yoongi lifts up the dew from the grass with a roll of his wrist. It raises in droplets and settles in an empty glass. He pours the dew over the paper which Choyeon holds up to her neck. Nothing spills over. Seokjin dries the tattoo off with the edge of his hoodie.
“It’s a pretty tiger,” Joohyun says when the tattoo is uncovered.
“Does it sparkle?” Choyeon asks.
“No,” Yoongi says and the next question he asks, looking at Jeongguk. “Do you want it to sparkle?”
Rose and Jeongguk stay behind to clean after the breakfast and then they sit on the terrace next to each other, mugs of black tea in their hands. Jeongguk looks out at the garden where Jennie’s talking, he can tell that much, though she speaks too softly for him to hear. Seokjin’s head in Yoongi’s lap, his eyes closed. Yoongi nods his head a lot, his lips slightly parted, glancing at Jennie every now and then. Joohyun lies curled up on her side, laughing in tune with a small smile tucked into the corner of Yoongi’s lips. Choyeon sits among the flowers, playing with the ponies, her hand flying up to her neck from time to time, as if light is a tangible thing that she can reassure herself of.
(Maybe it is. Maybe she can.)
“So what’s it like?”
Jeongguk startles. “What?”
Rose looks out at the garden. Jeongguk watches her profile. “Being a dad.”
Jeongguk’s heart jumps out of his chest. “‘M not a dad.”
Rose turns to face him, a tilt to her head. “Well, how would you feel if you were one?”
This question terrified Jeongguk when Yoongi first asked it last year and it still terrifies him when he hears it now. Because it somehow all boils down to this. And he doesn’t want anything to boil down to this. Not quite yet.
Jeongguk’s finger drums on the rim of the mug. He fills his lungs with the smell of the garden, the smell of the forest.
“I don’t have the answer to this question.”
Rose smiles her special flower smile, the one that makes you feel as if you were touching a petal, smooth and very delicate. “That’s okay. You don’t have to answer any questions. You still have time, right?”
Rose flips her hand palm up on the arm of the chair. “Jeonggukie, hold my hand.”
Jeongguk reaches out and laces their fingers together. Both their hands are warm from holding the mugs of the tea. Daffodils grow between their knuckles.
“I was serious. You still have time. You don’t have to feel like you have to answer all the big questions right now.”
She smooths her thumb over the ring on Jeongguk’s finger.
“Besides, the biggest question was already answered, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah. Yeah, it was.”
In truth, Jeongguk doesn’t know if that was indeed the biggest question because maybe there are bigger questions ahead of him and, really, he has no way of knowing unless he lives to answer them. And anyway, what he has right now, what he wakes up to every morning, what he breathes in the winter air for, what he holds the rain in his hands for doesn’t translate to much. What it translates to doesn’t require any questions or answers, any sort of permission.
What it translates to is this: sometimes all he wants to do is breathe for another day and be able to say I love you and look at the world like it’s meant to be looked at, even if he does it in silence, even if he doesn’t ask any questions, even if he doesn’t wonder, even if all he does is notice.
(Notice the mole on Yoongi’s cheek. Notice how his own feet hit the beaten down path in the forest. Notice how hands hold other hands. Notice how Rose looks at Jennie first thing in the morning. Notice how Choyeon lifts her face up to the sky. Notice how food melts on his tongue. Notice how light sparkles on a tattoo. Notice someone’s laugh.)
Jeongguk thinks this, here, is rather small and luminous and unassuming, like a lightbulb. And yet, it’s something grand. And yet, he could never recreate this sort of light with his hands.
The first night after the weekend trip Choyeon crawls into Jeongguk and Yoongi’s bed and Yoongi says nothing so Jeongguk says nothing, too.
The first night Jeongguk thinks of kissing two foreheads goodnight but he ends up kissing just one, like all the nights before.
Yet, he can’t sleep so he picks up his sketchbook, his favorite crayons and turns on the light in the dining room. He sits by the table. He draws tigers, first, and then dogs and pigs and as he draws pigs he’s reminded that Hayao Miyazaki said he likes pigs and he thinks he, too, in some way, likes pigs. He outlines them in pink and colors them yellow. He draws baby blue wings on their backs. He searches for glue in one of the kitchen drawers and opens a new bag of glitter. He makes his drawings sparkle. He imagines them on skin, in the sun. He draws flowers, the trees, long hair on grass. A field of strawberries, a house, two hands folded over the roof. A heart, beating, in pinks and reds and yellows, crowded with leaves.
It’s 4am when he notices the time. It’s a strange hour to be awake. The sun is not yet up. No one knows whether it’s still night or already morning. If he were still at Jennie and Rose’s he would hear the birds sing. There would be some sort of movement but here, there is none. He turns off the light. The sky is a wavering shade of blue, a blue which isn’t sure it wants to be blue anymore. Something exhausts him.
He wishes 4am was a kinder hour.
Jeongguk is asleep when Yoongi leaves for work and wakes up, only, when he returns. The afternoon sun has crawled into the room. Yoongi sits at the edge of the bed, Jeongguk’s sketchbook in his lap. He feels Yoongi’s fingers carding through his hair. He looks up. Yoongi’s looking at him. Jeongguk feels, gently, a thudding.
“You’re a good person, Jeongguk-ah. You’re a good person.”
“Why are you saying that?” Jeongguk slurs, lifting up his head to Yoongi’s lap and burying his face in his stomach.
Yoongi cups the back of his head. “Don’t know. Just wanted to remind you.”
“Come, we will take Choyeonie to the playground.”
Jeongguk yawns. He thinks about skipping gym. He probably won’t but he likes to think he will lie motionless in bed once they come back.
They walk to the park. Choyeon walks between him and Yoongi. Yoongi holds her hand. It’s a sunny day, however on the horizon there are clouds gathering. Nothing heavy, yet. There’s not many kids on the playground. Choyeon runs off before they can settle on the bench. Yoongi presses himself close. Jeongguk rests his head on top of Yoongi’s.
Loving Yoongi, it used to terrify him. It used to mean turning his head the other way, pretending he wasn’t staring at Yoongi’s lips, making Yoongi call for him once, twice, Jeongguk ignoring how Yoongi’s voice raised clearly above the thrumming of a party, how it tore through the fabric of his dreams whenever he fell asleep in his and Taehyung’s dorm, how it wove through and above the ebbing of the sea. It still grips him, this terrified thing which he had to name countless of times. It has a different face each time but Jeongguk has learned to recognize it. It makes him question everything, every single thing that shouldn’t be questioned and then one of them (always two people in this) gets hurt and one of them leaves the apartment and one of them comes back and one of them meets the other halfway and they tell each other it’s okay and they fold reassurances into the creases of each other’s hands. Jeongguk is terrified of anything stable, of anything long-run, worn-out, of consequences, mostly. He wishes, most of all, for his heart to be open and plain. He wishes he could love openly, plainly, palms-up, something asleep in his chest, not stirring.
He grows fonder every day. There’s a wide-eyed thing sitting atop his lungs. Yoongi is aware of it. Jeongguk is not the only one turning his head, pretending, ignoring. They both have something terrified inside of them.
But, they also have this fondness. And it’s more important to have this fondness even if sometimes it’s not enough. It’s important to have it. Because every time Jeongguk wants to dig out his roots he hears the rustling of leaves and he’s terrified, still, but he’s reminded there’s something alive in the forest and it doesn’t want to harm him. It doesn’t want to harm him, it only wants to curl up by his side and let him sleep.
(All animals have their significance.)
Jeongguk can’t seem to stop growing fond of Yoongi. There’s a choice, always, to run away or to stay. He digs his fingers into the earth, stains his nails black. Something reminiscent of a long, quiet song takes root inside him, something that grows under the sun, in the rain. Questioning everything exhausts him. He wants to be reminded that while nothing is forever, some things come very close. He wants to remember.
I’m very fond of you. A lot of things terrify me, still, but you know that. I don’t think anything inside me needs words, anymore.
“Do you see it? There’s a flock of birds, right there, see?”
Yoongi raises a hand to shield his eyes from the sun.
“Mhm, I see.”
“It’s going to rain soon.”
Yoongi nods. “It seems like it.”
Jeongguk can’t stop looking.
I’m the birds, the rain, whatever falls for you.
“We should get the child and head home.”
“Go get her. I’m too old to move.”
Jeongguk crouches down with his back to Yoongi and Yoongi slings his arms over his shoulders without much of a pause and Jeongguk grabs him under the thighs and doesn’t say any of the stupid fond terrifying things he wishes to say and, anyway, very little inside him can be put into words which could be said out loud. There’s a faint pressure at the nape of his neck, a barely there touch of lips, a whisper of something that doesn’t need words or, maybe, doesn’t have words.
Jeongguk knows Yoongi gets the core of him. That’s why he allows himself to grow fonder and tries to be kinder on himself when he grows terrified. Yoongi sees the core of him, every animal that has never learned the human tongue.
Yoongi sees the core of him.
“Hey, demon, it’s ya boy!” Jeongguk shouts once he spots Choyeon running circles around the playground, a girl and a boy with her, the three of them reimagining something. He gets some questioning looks from the parents around him. Yoongi smacks him across the chest.
Choyeon lifts up her head and shouts back, “Five more minutes!”
“C’mon, it’s going to rain!”
And, in the end, they have to run home, the sky darkening in the lightning-quick span of time, opening up, the rain swallowing them whole. Yoongi, still on Jeongguk’s back, creates a sort of bubble over them but only for a second because Choyeon, running beside them, waves her hand, says, “Oppa, don’t. I want to feel the rain.”
Yoongi pops the bubble. The rain falls and falls and falls. Choyeon runs into a puddle and screeches. Jeongguk laughs. The rain soaks him up. Choyeon splashes rain on his jeans. On their street, Jeongguk drops Yoongi down, making him land in a puddle. Yoongi does nothing to protect himself from the water. Jeongguk grabs his hand and slows down to a walk and Choyeon runs ahead, yelling, “Knew you wouldn’t be able to keep up!”
Yoongi only has the time to squeeze his hands before Jeongguk drops it and takes off, Choyeon screaming as he catches up to her. He grabs her by the waist, a momentary suspension in the air, without putting much thought to it, and, quickly, he puts her down. But then she’s clinging onto his arms, chanting, “Again, again, lift me up.”
So Jeongguk does. She tells him to twirl and he twirls. She screams and laughs. She tells him not to stop. Jeongguk doesn’t stop. He doesn’t want to think about it too much.
When Yoongi strolls up to them Jeongguk puts the girl down. He wants to lie down on the pavement, in this rain, his face towards the sky. He thinks Taehyung would do it without hesitation. He thinks Jimin would follow him without question. He thinks both of them, while putting much thought into what they say, don’t put much thought into what they do, but in the greatest sense, in a sense Jeongguk wishes he could.
Jeongguk a ruthless, ruthless opening.
“I want to do something stupid.”
He feels, stronger, this thudding.
“Like lie down, here.”
“So lie down,” Choyeon joins in. “I’ll lie down with you.”
The pavement is cold. The rain falls into Jeongguk’s eyes. Yoongi sits beside him, incredibly close. He holds Jeongguk’s hand in his. Jeongguk looks to the side. Choyeon has her eyes closed. He, too, closes his eyes. Cold, cold and a bit of warmth. He knows in a couple seconds he’ll want to get up, rush into their house, take a hot bath, drink something that will scorch his throat.
But he likes how he doesn’t need words, here. He likes this lack of movement, this not-stirring.
The sky is a wide, yawning opening.
All animals have their significance.
Jeongguk gets up 5 seconds after the morning alarm goes off, kissing Yoongi on the temple before he does, the top of his head being the only unburied part of his body.
“Morning,” Jeongguk says, his voice raspy. Yoongi stirs but no sound escapes the blanket.
Jeongguk stands in the center of the room and stretches, the timer set for 10 minutes as he bends towards his toes and then extends his hands to the sky, his torso bending left and right, his back unraveling, the muscles in his legs shaking. Yoongi still hasn’t moved when he’s done so he pokes him in the ribs, reminds him to get up. Yoongi’s eyes blink open. He looks as if he hasn’t been asleep for some time. Jeongguk almost thinks of something sad but he moves to the living room before he can. He spots the child right away.
She’s lounging on the couch, a book in her hands. The skin of a banana lies discarded on the coffee table. Jeongguk walks up to her and she barely moves as she mutters a good morning under her nose.
“Did you-” Jeongguk nods at the sad banana peel. “Did you eat my last banana?”
Choyeon looks up at him and nods.
Jeongguk drums his fingers on the side of his thigh. “This is fine. This is- This is absolutely fine. So I take it you’ve already eaten breakfast?”
The girl shrugs. “I’ll have some cereal after I finish the book.”
They all look the same to him, these books, full of pictures and very little text. Jeongguk bends to see the cover. “Don’t you get tired of reading the same book three days in a row?”
“Don’t you get tired of wearing the same clothes three days in a row?”
“I don’t- What? I don’t wear the same clothes three days in a row. What?”
“You wear black clothes. Every day. They all look the same. It’s boring.”
“You know what, demon? I’ll wear a yellow sweater today, how about that?”
Choyeon jumps up to a sitting position and slams the book closed. Jeongguk’s stunned to see the awed look on her face.
“That’s awesome! I can wear my yellow dress and Yoongi oppa can wear his yellow, what was it-”
“Sweatpants,” Jeongguk supplies.
“Yeah, sweatpants! And we can be a bee family.”
If Jeongguk had already been onto his morning tea he’d choke on the drink. “A bee family?”
“Yes, we’ll be a family of bees. And you can wear black jeans so it’s like you have stripes.”
Jeongguk gapes at her.
“What, you don’t like it?” she asks and her face falls. Jeongguk’s heart follows.
“No, no,” he scrambles for a reply. “It’s a super great idea. One of the best I’ve heard this week. I’ll tell Yoongi after I make breakfast and we’ll all wear yellow clothes and turn into bees. Sounds good?”
The smile on her face reappears without hesitation. She claps her hands. “Yeah, sounds good. And also, I already made breakfast.”
The girl hops off the couch and waddles to the kitchen, her bare feet a happy sound on the floor. Jeongguk follows and, as he rounds the corner, she’s already presenting the plates, a huge grin on her face. Jeongguk stands next to her and raises his eyebrows.
There is a bowl with, Jeongguk guessed, yoghurt but he can’t quite tell since it’s covered with whole strawberries and blueberries and dried apricots. Next to it lies a plate with a single uncooked toast.
“I can’t use a knife or a toaster so Yoongi oppa will have to do everything by himself and I couldn’t cut your fruit but I think it’s all the same, right?”
It’s not at all the same, in Jeongguk’s opinion, especially the uncut strawberries but there’s something in these messily throw together fruit and the lonely piece of bread that makes Jeongguk feel like he’s a basket full of candy canes.
“Right,” he agrees and ruffles Choyeon’s hair. She swats at his hand. “You’re the nicest demon I know.”
She looks at the plates and nods. “I know. I’m the best.”
Jeongguk opens his mouth to disagree but then thinks better of it and instead goes for, “So, you want these cereals?”
“Yeah, but I can get all the things myself. You should go. You’ll be late.”
Jeongguk looks at the clock in the kitchen. He’s 5 minutes behind schedule. Huh. He goes back to the bedroom and from the moment he steps in he realises Yoongi hasn’t moved an inch. There’s a tightening in his chest when he sits down and puts his hand where Yoongi’s waist is supposed to be, pressing down.
Yoongi’s voice is almost imperceptible but heavy. “I can’t- Today.”
Jeongguk’s chest tightens and tightens.
He lies down on his side, facing Yoongi. He reaches out to wrap his arms around him, tucking Yoongi’s head underneath his chin. He exhales. “It’s okay.”
Jeongguk feels the slightest movement and then Yoongi’s fingertips are pressing at the center of his chest, just staying there.
“Do you want me to stay?” asks Jeongguk, his breath ruffling Yoongi’s hair. He wants to put flowers in it. He wants to lie in a field of flowers with sunlight streaming down. He wants to hear the sounds of a piano.
“No, you go,” Yoongi says. “You only have two sessions today.”
“Yeah, but one of them will be like, four hours, at least.”
“It’s fine, Jeonggukie. It’s fine. Go today.”
Jeongguk doesn’t move.
“You heard Choyeonie, go. You’ll be late.”
Jeongguk chuckles. “You heard that?”
There’s a puff of breath against Jeongguk’s collarbone. He can’t help the shiver. “Of course, you guys are so loud. Makes me wonder which one of you is the almost-six year old.”
“Oh, shut up.”
Jeongguk allows himself another minute and then he cranes his neck to press a lingering kiss to Yoongi’s forehead. He whispers, still lingering, “I love you lots. I love you, I love you, I love you.”
It feels as if Yoongi presses himself closer, for a split second. “Love you, too. Love you lots.”
Jeongguk feels like there are ropes coiled at the bottom of his stomach when he sits up. “I’ll make you some tea, okay, honey boy?”
Yoongi groans and Jeongguk tries to smile but it falls halfway.
He goes back to the kitchen. Choyeon is at the table, finishing up her cereal. He grabs the bowl with yogurt and fruit and leans against the counter.
“Get dressed quick, I’m taking you to the shop with me today,” announces Jeongguk from around a mouthful of food.
“You have to press the dress for me first.”
Jeongguk rolls his eyes. “When I was your age I didn’t give a f- I didn’t care if my clothes were pressed or not.”
Choyeon’s mouth falls open. “My dad would cry if you told him that.”
Jeongguk chokes on the yogurt and wipes his chin. He can make a good guess but he still asks, “Jimin?”
The girl nods. “Are you okay?”
“No, yeah, I’m fine. You’re just- You’re funny, sometimes.”
“Is that a good thing?”
Jeongguk shrugs. “I guess. It’s good when a demon is funny because it makes it more bearable that they’re evil.”
“So it’s a good thing?” Choyeon presses.
Jeongguk sighs. “Yes, it’s a good thing.”
When Jeongguk enters the tattoo parlor, the first person to notice him is Jihyo. She’s at the desk, opening up boxes with new ink. Seunghee is sitting on one of the couches. Her hair is a hazelnut brown.
“Jeongguk-ah, is this yellow?”
But before he can answer, Seunghee raises her head from her phone and says in a very low voice, “A child.”
Jeongguk snorts, “You sound like this one vine, there’s only one thing worse than a rapist.”
Jihyo exhales loudly. Seunghee glaces back at her phone, the screen illuminating her sharp nails.
“The fu- The frick, you guys. Don’t tell me you don’t know this one. Seunghee noona, c’mon.”
Seunghee doesn’t look up, her fingers furiously tap, tap, tapping the screen.
“Since when do you say frick?” Jihyo asks. “And it’s because we have a life outside the internet, you know.”
“That’s not- That’s not true. I do. Things. That require real life activities.”
“Oppa,” Choyeon starts and Jeongguk immediately knows there’s no way this oppa will end well.
“You said your Youtube stats,” and she says that like a latin name of a flower, foreign on her tongue. “Told you that you spend four hours a day on there.”
Jihyo rolls her eyes and turns away but Jeongguk still catches her smile. Seunghee looks up.
“Those stats are skewed because I had very important stuff to look up this week and- And it’s not nice to eavesdrop, Choyeonie,” Jeongguk says through gritted teeth.
“It’s not eavesdropping if you’re talking about it when we’re eating dinner.”
Seunghee barks out a laugh. “I think I like her.”
“Thanks,” Choyeon says sweetly. Seunghee walks up to them and crouches down in front of the girl. She introduces herself. Jeongguk watches Choyeon eye Seunghee’s arms, full of colors and sparkling ink.
Seunghee smiles at her and says, “You can touch them, if you want.”
“It’s okay. I have a tattoo now, too.” She points at her neck.
Seunghee quirks up an eyebrow at Jeongguk. “Does Taehyung know?”
Jeongguk looks away.
“Or, more importantly, does Jimin know?” Seunghee presses further.
“Know about what?” Jihyo asks.
Jeongguk searches desperately for a topic change.
“Uh, so, the yellow?” Jeongguk scratches his neck. “We’re, uh, we’re bees. That’s the concept for today. We’re a bee family.”
Seunghee opens her mouth, something cunning in her eyes but then Choyeon nods her head enthusiastically and no sounds escapes her.
Jihyo tilts her head, a curiosity of a bird. “You know, I almost shouted we’re not open yet when you entered the shop.”
“Yeah, Jeonggukie, what’s up with the yellow? Did you lose against the charm of this lovely little girl?”
Jeongguk almost sputters. “No, noona, I didn’t lose to anyone. Actually I was the one to propose wearing something in color since someone,” he looks down at Choyeon but she pretends she can’t see. “Since someone here implied I look like I wear the same clothes every day.”
Jihyo raises her eyebrows. “Don’t you wear the same clothes every day?”
“Is this some kinda conspiracy? I don’t-”
“All your clothes look exactly the same,” Seunghee shrugs.
“Is it because I wear all black? So, Yoongi, too?”
“No, he definitely changes his clothes.” Seunghee’s voice borderlines on offended. Jihyo nods.
“But- We share clothes. Mostly. Sometimes.”
“Yeah, but Yoongi’s a classy bi- Wait, am I allowed to say something like, bish? Biotch?”
Jeongguk sighs, exasperated. “Whatever. Whatever, I’m done.”
“Gukie, don’t worry, you don’t look that bad,” Jihyo says, coming up to him, a warm hand on his shoulder.
“You just look like you own a single pair of jeans and a T-shirt to go with that.”
“Exactly!” Choyeon agrees with Seunghee.
Jeongguk storms off to his work room. He hears an echo of a high-five.
for the record
i know which vine you were talking about
“What’s this?” Yoongi asks when Jeongguk collapses next to him on the bed, face first, a cup of tea, still full, cold, left on the nightstand. A barely-there scrape of nails against his arm, the puzzled pads of fingertips. Jeongguk turns his head. Yoongi watches the movement of his own hand.
“The drawings. I thought they were new tattoos, at first, and I don’t even know why because you would never get anything this simple done but they smudged a bit, after you went to the gym.”
Jeongguk groans. “Made the mistake of opening up a drawer full of markers right in front of our Choyeonie.”
She sat in their break room during his session, littered with markers, paper sheets scattered across the floor. He joined her in between the clients, sitting down next to her, a peanut butter toast split in half between the two of them. He nodded, absentmindedly, when she asked if she could draw something on his arm.
(There’s almost no fight left in him.)
“Okay, look, see this potato with a sprout growing out of it, you see it? Okay, so apparently, it’s you? And the two smaller potatoes, the one with a yellow sprout is Jimin and the pink sprout is Taehyung and- Why is yours blue? I guess- You know, you used to have blue hair and she says it’s her favorite and she says you’re actually a dragon.”
Yoongi gapes at him. “A dragon.”
Jeongguk huffs. “Yes, apparently dragons all have blue hair in their human forms. And she says Taehyung is a mermaid. And Jimin is a fairy.”
Yoongi raises an eyebrow. “Well, she’s sorta right.”
“And what are you, then?”
Choyeon says everyone’s a magical creature. On their way home from the cottage, for example, she said Joohyun is a witch. Yoongi’s mouth twitched. Jeongguk wanted to have a moment of triumph but he contained himself.
However, Choyeon hasn’t told him, yet, what creature he is, which is fair, it’s alright, his hair isn’t painted any fancy color, it’s just black, though he did sport a cherry pink last year in time for her fifth birthday but, he guesses, it wasn’t that worthy mentioning.
“Dunno, don’t care.”
Yoongi narrows his eyes. “You do care.”
Jeongguk shoves his head back into the pillow. “Whatever.”
There’s a knock on the door, followed by, “Oppa, are you okay?”
“Why shouldn’t I be okay?” Jeongguk hears the surprised lilt in Yoongi’s voice.
“I have eyes, you know,” she says with such sincerity that only a child can have.
(And maybe Taehyung. Maybe it’s more of a family trait.)
There’s a stillness to the room, to Jeongguk’s shoulders, to Yoongi’s hand on Jeongguk’s arm. “It’s okay, Choyeonie. Don’t worry.”
“Is it, really?” Tiny steps on the wooden panels, nearing the bed, stopping beside Jeongguk’s head. “You didn’t drink your tea. Jeongguk oppa said in the morning he made you tea with lots of honey because you are a honey boy and honey boys need all the sweet stuff.”
“He said that?” A tap at the bend of Jeongguk’s elbow.
“Yeah, hyung, I did. Stop doing that. You can’t make me blush anymore.”
“Are you certain? I’m pretty sure I can see your shoulders blushing.”
“Shut up, they’re not.” A pause. “Demon, are my shoulders blushing?”
A deep laugh against his neck. Two hands dipping into the mattress on his side, a small weight pressing in, “Hm, I don’t think so. It’s dark so I can’t see well but your shoulders are okay.”
Jeongguk turns his head towards an amused Yoongi. “You lying liar.”
“You fell for it, though.”
“I can’t control how and where I blush. I would fight blushing, if I could.”
“I know you would. You’d fight lotsa things if you could.”
Jeongguk stares at him, without saying anything back. It’s dark and he can’t see well but he feels a rush of fondness, a hurried song. Everything inside him that has a name is dusted pink. He can’t control how and where he blushes.
“Oppa, are you going to drink that tea?”
Yoongi breaks eye contact and looks beyond Jeongguk. Jeongguk sighs and says, “It’s cold, now, dude. Cold tea is no good.”
Even as he says it, he knows what’s going to happen next. So he props himself up on his elbows and reaches for the tea before Yoongi even has the chance to open his mouth for a clever remark that weighs down on his tongue.
Jeongguk hands him the mug. He repeats, “Cold tea is no good. Better drink it steaming hot. So the sweetness mixes well.”
Yoongi holds the cup with two hands and after a couple seconds there’s steam rising off of the surface, curling in the air. There’s a soft gasp on Jeongguk’s other side. Right.
“I think I accidentally reinforced the dragon agenda,” Jeongguk murmurs.
Jeongguk pulls up Howl’s Moving Castle on his laptop after the mandatory Skype conversation with Jimin and Taehyung. For the entirety of it, Choyeon had a blanket pulled up to her chin. Nothing about it was accidental.
Choyeon sandwiches herself between them on the bed and before the movie starts she says, “Daddy always cries on this one.”
Jeongguk knows she means Taehyung so he says, “I know. We used to watch it a lot, together. We used to cry at the end a lot, together.”
“You still cry a lot, Jeongguk-ah,” Yoongi reminds him gently.
Jeongguk rolls his eyes but during the a heart’s a heavy burden moment he cries, all the same, and he finds a way to put his head on Yoongi’s shoulder when Choyeon slides down, all the same, and Yoongi kisses his forehead, all the same.
And when Choyeon says, “When they fall through the stars, I like it. I want to touch the stars.” Jeongguk flicks his wrist without caring much for the rule number twenty-seven, just wanting for things to be easy, just wanting for things to be plain, and the room darkens, slightly, only to erupt moments later with constellations and stardust and all the glowing things the universe has to offer. Choyeon gasps and hops off the bed and twirls in the center of the room, with her hands outstretched, her face aglow with a celestial kind of light, gasping, “Look, look, I’m touching the stars!”
It feels sort of cathartic to be able to cry and create magic because right now everything weighs down on him and he simply wants his life to be like a cup of warm tea with honey just pouring in, pouring in.
And maybe both their hearts are heavy tonight and maybe their hearts are always kind of heavy but there’s another heart with them and it feels airy and drenched in starlight and maybe all Jeongguk can do in this moment to feel okay is to allow the stars to enter their house so this one single heart sings happy in the dark and maybe that’s all he can do in this moment, period.
But he hopes it’s enough and he holds Yoongi close, and Yoongi holds him as close as he can and the room, like a heart, shimmers with starlight, the tears, like starlight, dry on Jeongguk’s cheeks and a girl, like a thing that glows in such a way that only the vastness of space allows, dances across the room and the stars, unlike tears, stream down her fingertips.
“Seokjin’s coming over,” Yoongi says. The lights are out.
“I know,” Jeongguk sighs into his hair.
“He texted you?”
“No. But I know he will come. He always comes.”
Yoongi doesn’t ask any further questions. They both just know.
It’s Seokjin’s last night in Seoul. Jeongguk finds him and Yoongi in the bedroom, lying side by side on the bed, staring at the ceiling. Yoongi’s quiet. Seokjin’s saying something Jeongguk can’t quite make out from where he’s standing at the threshold.
Stepping into the room feels like stepping into a crystal, Seokjin’s presence like walking into transparency. Jeongguk only notices Choyeon when he’s stood next to the bed. She’s curled up into a ball between Yoongi and Seokjin, wrapped up in a blanket. There’s a mug with leftover hot chocolate stains on the nightstand and a cup still half filled with tea.
Seokjin reaches out his hand. Jeongguk takes it and lies down next to him.
Jeongguk feels like an opening, like a wound, like something throbbing. He wants to force it closed.
“I was telling Yoongi-chi about seeing the Northern Lights.”
Jeongguk’s hands are already moving.
Seokjin talks about standing there, in this cold, collecting the lights into jars, how they turn almost liquid and, with the right spell, gather at the bottom of the container, how the jars shine in the dark with an eerie kind of glow. And Jeongguk creates their own aurora borealis above their heads, the greens which Seokjin describes, the blues, the purples, slipping into each other, spilling like liquid, moving like a serpentine body of a dragon. Jeongguk throws his leg over Seokjin’s and nudges Choyeon awake.
“Let her sleep,” Yoongi murmurs.
Jeongguk says nothing.
He watches Choyeon tilt her head upwards. With eyes half-closed, she watches the lights. Her face is illuminated. She extends her hand towards the ceiling. Jeongguk allows the light to wrap around her wrists.
“Hey, Jeonggukie.” Seokjin says, later, when the lights have spilled onto the floor and dissipated.
Yoongi and Choyeon are breathing steadily, quietly. It’s the only sound in the room, the only sound.
“Hm?” Jeongguk’s voice falls into this darkness.
“About the tea I gifted you.”
Jeongguk hasn’t drank it ever since it reappeared for the first time. Yoongi put it in the cupboard for hot beverages.
“I haven’t died yet, as you can see.”
Movement in the dark. Seokjin turns his head to look at Jeongguk. Jeongguk watches the ceiling.
“You won’t die if you drink it. But I’ve been traveling the world and I’ve been collecting tea and you always drink tea and I’ve collected all these flavors. So this tea, if you don’t drink it, the flavor you didn’t experience that day, it disappears. There’s a new flavor every day. The flavor never repeats.”
Jeongguk nods, a strange tightening in his throat. He says, “I knew you’d come today.”
“Yes, you always come for him.”
“Jeonggukie. Jeonggukie, I always come for you, too.”
(A wound, a wound. He wants to force it closed.)
In the morning, Seokjin is gone. Jeongguk finds the bag of tea in the cupboard. He watches the steam rise off the surface, he watches it curl in the sunlight streaming in through the windows. The tea tastes like raspberries and the summer air with two spoonfuls of sugar.
(Maybe it’s not a wound which opens up in him. Maybe it’s something much more resembling a ready to take flight, delicately searching for sweetness bumblebee.)
It’s late evening when Jeongguk comes back from the gym and it’s quiet when he drops his duffel bag in the living room but then he hears a muted laugh and he follows the trail of giggles and he stops just outside of the bathroom, the door halfway open.
Yoongi’s crouching next to the bathtub with his back to Jeongguk and Choyeon is sitting in the water, bubbles everywhere, her happy face visible over Yoongi’s shoulder. And Yoongi’s arm is in the air and he’s drawing shapes with his fingers and Jeongguk watches as trails of water lift up from the bathtub and swirl in the air like ribbons, as they disintegrate into droplets, suspended, before they rain down, colored by the kid’s laugh. Yoongi’s shoulders shake with a quiet happiness.
Jeongguk’s heart turns into water, with how much it wants to break out of its confines.
He lifts up his hand and the next water show is filtered through a rainbow and every shape is colored pink, purple, yellow, flashing, changing, illuminating the bathroom. Choyeon gasps. Her moving hands disturb the face of the water, splashing it everywhere. Bubbles rise into the air and Jeongguk colors them, too.
Yoongi cranes his neck and Jeongguk’s smile is a thing that creeps up on him on tiptoes, reluctantly, unsurely.
Yoongi's smile is a work in brilliance. Jeongguk’s hands suddenly feel inadequate, like they were imitating something that couldn’t quite match up to this. The contents of Jeongguk’s heart flow over the edge of a basin. Choyeon laughs when the water turns into a glimmering sunrise. Yoongi turns back around. Jeongguk sighs and his heart spills on the floor.
When he tucks Choyeon into bed and lies down on his side next to her, he says, “Hey, demon?”
She curls up in the space between his chin and his slightly bent knees. Her voice is muffled by the covers. “What?”
“You’re growing on me.”
“I’m not a plant.”
Jeongguk huffs out a laugh. “No, you’re not.”
But you are something lovely.
He wakes up before the alarm clock and a patch of perfect sunlight is stretching across his face. One of his arms is curled loosely around Choyeon and the other rests in the dip between the pillow and Yoongi’s neck. He doesn’t want to disrupt their sleep but he wakes Yoongi up, for a second, when he stirs. Yoongi’s eyes half-closed, looking up at him. Jeongguk stills. Yoongi moves his head. He presses his lips to the inside of Jeongguk’s arm. His nose brushes up against the tender, tender skin. Jeongguk’s exhale is a trembling thing. Then, Yoongi closes his eyes and Jeongguk slips his hand from underneath him. Yoongi’s breathing steadies, quiets down. Jeongguk cards a hand through his hair, gently, like one might welcome spring.
Jeongguk has always come into love with hands poised for a fight. There is always some sort of resistance, some sort of a hand clenching into a fist, some sort of turning your back to the sea.
But, he’s awake and it’s very early and in the morning light his heart feels open and it feels like such an unnecessary thing not to look at the world like it’s meant to be looked at.
So, he cards his fingers through Yoongi’s hair and watches the slope of his nose and feels the breathing of a smaller body underneath his arm and he presses a kiss to the crown of Choyeon’s head and he lets the sunlight stream in, stream in.
In the morning, his heart opens.
He allows it to stay open, for the face of the waking sun to see.