"Well," Jimin says, wiping his hands. "Is that everything?"
Taehyung's apartment is bare and strange; all his posters of seminal works of Impressionist art are rolled up, all the pretty twinkling lights he strung up near the ceiling have been taken down. This is not a home any more; it’s just an empty room.
"Jimin-ah," he says, sadly. "Are you sure you don't want to come with me? I already asked my grandma. She'd love to have you!"
Jimin smiles and shakes his head. "Thanks, Tae, but I need to stay and –"
"Work, I know," Taehyung says, sighing.
Jimin smiles wryly, ignoring the sick feeling in his stomach. "Not all of us are brilliant artists on full scholarship."
Taehyung purses his lips. "Some of us are brilliant artists not on full scholarship, which is bullshit," he says. "You really should have appealed to your department head."
Jimin nods, but they've had this argument before. There is not enough time for them to rehash it now. "Yeah," he sighs. "You've got your ticket?"
Taehyung pats the breast pocket of his coat. "Yup."
"You better get going then," Jimin says. "Or you're going to miss your train."
Taehyung stares at him for a moment, and then his face crumples. "Jiminnie," he says, "You're positive you don't want to come? Really, super sure? This room you've got lined up is safe, right?"
Jimin smiles the biggest, brightest smile he knows how. "Tae, everything is going to be fine," he says. "It's just temporary, anyway, until the dorms open back up."
"Yeah," Taehyung says. "I guess." He sighs. "Give me a hug."
He doesn't wait for Jimin to respond before throwing his arms around him and squeezing tight. It feels good to be held like this. Jimin tries to savor the feeling. He's going to need it.
"You better go," he mumbles, nose still pressed to Taehyung's neck. "Your grandma is going to kill you if you miss your train."
Taehyung nods. He grabs his backpack and one of his suitcases. Jimin takes the other. They head downstairs to where the taxi Taehyung called is already waiting. The driver helps him get his bags into the trunk. Taehyung checks to make sure he's got his phone, got his wallet, got his ticket. He hesitates, lingering on the curb. The driver glares impatiently.
"Jimin," Taehyung says. His lower lip wobbles.
"Taehyung-ah," Jimin chastises, laughing. "No tears. You're going home! You're going to see your little brother and sister! Your grandparents! And the break will be over before you know it. Eight weeks isn’t very long at all."
As he says that, Jimin thinks that it sounds like a very, very long time. Fifty-six days. Fifty-six cold nights.
Taehyung nods, but he does not look happy.
Jimin feels something in his heart stretch, come very close to snapping. He’s going to miss Taehyung so much. "Taehyung," he says. "I–
"Do you need me to open the door?" the driver ajusshi says, annoyed. "I figured you could handle that on your own. Kids these days."
Taehyung laughs. "Sorry," he says. "Sorry." He gets in, and the driver gets in, and the brake lights flash red for a moment, and then they are pulling away, out into the stream of morning traffic. Before they've gone a block Taehyung rolls down the window, and leans precariously far out.
"Bye, Jimin-ah! Bye! I'll call you tonight."
He waves violently.
Jimin waves too, waves with his whole body. Then the cab turns a corner, and Taehyung is gone, and Jimin is alone.
It is the day after Christmas. The city is still bright with lights and cheer. Jimin shoulders his backpack and walks down a few blocks to the nearest bus stop. He gets on one of the blue cross-city busses, the first that shows up. It's not a route he's familiar with, but it doesn't matter. He just needs somewhere warm to sit and think.
The bus isn't crowded; he gets a window seat with no one beside him. He hugs his backpack to his chest and squeezes his eyes shut. The tears that he couldn't shed in front of Taehyung come now. He hugs his bag tighter and lets himself cry, for a little while, alone on a bus in the middle of a city of millions.
But he doesn't have time for tears. He got himself into this mess, and he needs to get himself out of it. He can; he's pretty smart and pretty tough, and he doesn't mind hard work. He just needs a plan.
And a place to sleep tonight.
The thing is, none of it was supposed to happen this way.
Jimin came to Seoul as a bright-eyed eighteen-year-old to study dance at the National University of the Arts. His parents hadn't been thrilled, but they'd been willing to support him after one of his teachers from Busan Arts had spoken to them about how talented he was, what promise he showed, how far he might go with the proper training. His freshman year had been good. Great, even. He'd done well in his classes and made friends, and the future had seemed to unfurl in front of him like a red carpet, his very own pathway to success.
He had stayed in Seoul that summer, going home only for a few weeks at the end of August. He had been so happy to see his brother, so happy to see his parents. They'd had a few golden days together before everything had gone wrong.
Jimin had realized he was gay when he was in middle school. He'd had a series of crippling crushes on the older boys in the dance academy he attended. He'd felt guilty about it, but not unsure. His parents had never said much on the subject, though, and, nervous, he'd never mentioned it to them.
His first year in school he'd started dating a fellow student, a sophomore in the drama department. Chanhyung was handsome and kind. They liked each other a lot. It wasn't serious; Jimin didn't think they were in love or anything like that. It was just nice. Normal. For the first time in his life he'd felt like he might be able to have all those things that other people had, like there really wasn’t anything different about him at all.
Then his mother had checked his phone and seen the texts, and everything had gone to hell.
There was a fight, and there were tears, and his parents said things that hurt him terribly, that dug right into his heart. They were angry and surprised, and they told him they didn't want him to go back to Seoul. They told him that they didn't want him to, if this is what living on his own in such a big city had done to him.
They made it sound like something catching, instead of part of who Jimin was, who he'd always been.
He told them he was going back to school; they told him if he did, he would be on his own. But there was no decision to be made. Jimin knew what he would do.
That night Jimin had gotten a friend from high school to drive him to the bus station in Busan. He hasn't spoken to his parents since.
He thought he could make it work. He'd thought he could figure it out. He started looking for jobs as soon as he got back to Seoul; found a number of leads, but nothing that panned out. Everything required more experience than Jimin had, and paid less than he needed. As the start of the school term ticked closer, his nerves started to get the best of him. He could barely sleep. He didn't know what he would do if he couldn't pay his fees.
With nearly all of the money in his savings account, he'd paid half his fees for the term and gotten an extension on the rest. At least he had more time. A job came through, too, helping out at a little dance studio in a far-flung neighborhood. It didn't pay great, but Jimin really liked the woman who ran it. She was a former ballerina, retired now, but full of the most amazing stories about her time traveling the world, dancing in front of presidents and queens and kings.
That had been Jimin's dream once. Now his ambitions are smaller.
First of all, he needs to find a place to sleep tonight.
He’d never imagined it would come to this. He had done his very best, but it hadn't been good enough. As the fall semester had progressed, his grades and performance in class had suffered. His teachers were critical, concerned. He was barely sleeping. The job at the dance studio didn't pay enough, but he couldn't bring himself to quit, so he got a job working in a convenience store overnight. If he wasn't sleeping anyway, why not put the time to good use?
But it wasn't enough. He was falling apart. His grades were suffering. He was failing both of his general education classes; Jimin had never failed a class before in his life. He went to his favorite dance teacher the first week of December and explained his situation. He told a lie of course – said his mother was sick, his parents couldn't support him financially anymore. Admitted he was working two jobs. She was sympathetic. She suggested he take a medical withdrawal from school to preserve his grade point average so that he could keep his scholarship.
"Take some time for yourself," she said, putting her hand on his. "You are a talented dancer, Jimin. Your talent isn't going to disappear if you take a month off. Sometimes you need to take care of yourself, first."
He had smiled and thanked her and went to the dean's office to initiate the withdrawal paperwork.
But withdrawing meant he couldn't stay in the dorms. He told Taehyung a wild lie – something about urgent repair work being done in the dorm, his room needed to be vacated. Taehyung hadn't questioned it, had just said that Jimin could stay as long as he needed. Taehyung was the best, kindest person Jimin knew; when he heard that Jimin wasn't going home for the winter break, he'd immediately offered to have him come stay in Daegu.
It had been tempting. A roof overhead and warm food and Taehyung, who was Jimin's best friend, who was Jimin's other half.
But the thought of going and staying with Taehyung's happy family had been too much to bear. Jimin couldn't do it. The thought made him sick. So he'd made up another lie about staying in Seoul to work, about having found a room to sublet. All the lies piled one on top of each other and now Jimin is slumped in the seat of a cross-city bus, alone and with nowhere to go.
He closes his eyes and rests his head against the cool glass. Tomorrow. Tomorrow he is going to find a room to rent that will fit his meager budget. Tomorrow he will start his job hunt anew. Tomorrow he'll figure it out. He is smart and strong and determined, just like his mother always said. He works harder than anyone. There's got to be a way to make this work, and tomorrow he will figure out what that is.
Tonight, though, his heart hurts and his head hurts and he just wants some warm place to go and lie down for a little while. Night rates at a jjimjilbang are hardly exorbitant, but he knows it's money he shouldn't spend. Just tonight, he thinks. Just for tonight, and tomorrow he'll figure something else out.
He has no other choice.
"Ah, Holly," Yoongi sighs.
Holly glances up at him, eyes wide and guileless even though he's decided to mark his territory right in the doorway of Yoongi's favorite coffee shop, couldn’t even wait until they were down the block. Well, Yoongi can't blame him. If he had to piss outside in this weather, he'd probably be quick about it too.
When Holly is done, they continue their walk. Yoongi sips his americano. It is January and Seoul is cold and grey. It's been a bad winter; more snow is forecast for tomorrow. He broke down and bought Holly these silly little booties because he'd been worried about the salt bothering his feet. Seokjin says he's a ridiculous dog dad; Yoongi doesn't care. It amazes him sometimes that he's gotten this far in life, that he's able to take care of not only himself but Holly too. If he wants to buy his dog a pair of damn booties, he will.
His phone buzzes. He has a text from Namjoon asking if he can come into the center this afternoon. Yoongi types a quick, affirmative reply. Someone must have called out. He is tempted to call Namjoon to see who; maybe Jungkook got that interview he's been hoping for.
Yoongi hopes so. Jungkook is such a good kid. He deserves it.
God, they all deserve it. The world is a bastard, but Yoongi hopes there's just enough good left that all the kids on their little island of misfit toys find the things they need, find the places they belong.
They turn the corner near the park. There's a row of little food carts a little further down the block: one that sells gyeranppang and one that sells bungeoppang and one that sells hotteok. This early in the day, the vendors are just getting set up. Steam rises as their griddles heat up.
There is a person sitting against the wall across from the venders, as if waiting for them to open. He – Yoongi thinks it's a he – has his knees pulled to his chest. His face is clean enough, and his clothes are clean enough, but Yoongi knows the signs. He sees all he needs to know in the way this kid clings to his backpack like it's a lifeline.
Probably, it is.
Holly stops to inspect a street sign, and as Yoongi watches, the kid unfurls, rising to his feet in a surprisingly graceful motion. He is wearing a scruffy-looking bomber jacket over a hooded sweatshirt, a big scarf, and black gloves. His jeans are dirty at the hems. The kid walks over to the gyeranppang cart. He smiles at the vendor – it's a hell of a smile – and hands over a ₩5,000 bill. The man gives him two steaming fresh egg breads and his change in return.
They chat for a minute, and Yoongi feels weird watching, like he's spying, like he's intruding on something. He's not; he just walking his goddamn dog. It's not like he's Namjoon. He's not going to swoop in and offer this kid help if he doesn't need help. He just –
He just remembers, that's all. He just remembers what it's like to be cold and hungry and alone, and if he can give this kid a chance for a hot meal and a shower and a few hours of sleep someplace safe, he'll have paid back a tiny part of his debt to the universe.
Holly does his business. Yoongi fishes a plastic bag out of his pocket and crouches down to scoop it up. He's just knotting the little baggie to toss into the garbage can when he sees the kid with the egg bread walking over to him.
"Can I say hi to your dog?" the kid asks, smile far brighter than the weak January sun. He's not as young as Yoongi thought. College-aged, maybe. He‘s a good-looking kid, and not too thin, but he's got that weary, worn down look that everyone gets after long enough on the streets.
Long enough is not always very long. It’s not an easy life.
"Sure," Yoongi says, smiling back. "His name is Holly."
The boy is already squatting down, eye level to Holly. He pulls off one glove and holds a hand out for Holly to smell. He must have experience with dogs; maybe had one of his own before he ended up out here.
"Hi there, Holly," he says. "It's nice to meet you. I'm Jimin."
Holly blinks, little tail wagging vigorously.
Jimin looks up. "He's really cute," he says.
"Thanks," Yoongi says. "I'm Yoongi, by the way."
Jimin smiles up at him, wide and unguarded. "It's nice to meet you, Yoongi-ssi," he says.
He plays with Holly a little while longer, telling the dog to sit and then – after asking Yoongi's permission – offering him tiny bits of egg bread as a reward. Jimin pats him on the head one more time, and then gets to his feet.
"He's a really good dog," Jimin says, smiling.
Yoongi nods. "Yeah," he says. "Do you have a dog?"
Jimin frowns a little, and shakes his head. "No," he says. "I'm um. I'm not really in a position to take care of a dog right now."
"Busy?" Yoongi asks. He's digging, and not being too subtle about it either.
Jimin's eyes narrow. "Yeah," he says, and there's a hard edge to his voice now. It's familiar, and it breaks Yoongi's heart a little. "Yeah. I'm in school. I don't have enough time to take care of a dog."
"Ah," Yoongi says, nodding. "Well, good luck in your studies, then."
Jimin nods, guarded still. "Thanks." He glances down at Holly, and his face softens. "Bye, Holly."
"Bye, Jimin," Yoongi says.
Jimin smiles a funny half-smile and then waves. His hands are red and raw; that's what happens when you're out in the cold all the time. He turns into the park and out of sight.
"C'mon, Holly," Yoongi says, quietly. "Let's go home."
As he walks home through the quiet evening, the guilt creeps up on him. It's not unusual. Yoongi feels this way a lot, has spent hours talking about it with his therapist, who has reassured him that it's normal, and Namjoon and Seokjin, who understand even if they don’t really understand. Can’t. They didn’t live it. He doesn't take for granted all the hard work – both his and others – and good luck that have led him here, to the front door of his very own cozy, tiny apartment. It seems like another lifetime now, but it really wasn't too long ago that Yoongi was that kid, alone and cold and desperate to figure everything out on his own. He hadn't been able to, but he hadn't needed to, in the end. Help had been waiting, when he'd been ready for it. All the stars lined up in his favor; all he can do now is hope that this Jimin has a few stars of his own.
Jimin walks quickly through the park and only stops when he's nearly at the far side. It's not like he's nervous, really. He doesn't think the guy with the sweet chocolate-colored poodle is really going to call the cops or anything, although he knows it happens. He's not stupid though. He knows what that guy had been implying. The idea that people can tell that he's been staying on the streets sets something trembling in his chest. It makes him feel sick and scared all at once, and he's not even sure why.
He's not homeless, is the thing. This is just temporary. Once he's got enough saved to pay his tuition for next semester, he can figure out a place to live. Besides, Taehyung should be coming back to Seoul at the end of February. That’s a long way off, still, but Jimin's sure Taehyung will let him crash for a while, even though he'll need to come up with some excuse as to why the room he was supposedly renting didn't work out.
He'll figure it out. One step at a time. Right now, he needs to eat. He sits down on one of the benches near the park entrance. Well-dressed people on their to way to work walk past, enjoying the morning, oblivious to the small miseries of such a cold day. An old woman sits on one of the benches across the way. She's got a little push cart full of plastic bags and other bits and pieces.
Jimin hopes she's got somewhere warm to go home to.
He glances down at his hands and frowns. Dirty. He tries as hard as he can to keep clean but it's not exactly easy to find a place to shower. He can pay the reduced night rate for a jjimjilbang, but that's got problems of its own. The desk clerks are attentive; on the lookout for people who are using their facilities as anything more than a one night stop-over. Besides, Jimin doesn't really have the money for a jjimjilbang. He doesn't really have the money for anything, not even these damn egg breads. He doesn't know what he was thinking, wasting half of one on some dumb dog.
Holly hadn't been a dumb dog though. He'd been a little sweetheart, and it had made Jimin's morning a little bit brighter to share with him, even if now he's only got one and a half egg breads instead of two.
He takes a big bite. His stomach gurgles. He'd eaten ramen for dinner last night, reheated in a convenience store. It hadn't been good, but it had been warm and filling, and that had been enough. What he's really craving right now is some bulgogi, or galbitang. Something hot and rich. His mother makes the best galbitang in the entire world –
He squeezes his eyes shut. Just thinking of his mother makes his heart seize up. He can't afford that now.
He stuffs the other half of the egg bread in his mouth.
Tomorrow he works at the dance studio. He'd like to find a place to clean up before he goes. Minhee, the woman who runs the studio, is understanding to a fault, but he knows he can't show up there looking like this. He's had good luck using the bathrooms at a coffee shop nearby. He'll have to pay for a cup of coffee, but drip coffee won't set him back too far. It'll be worth it to have a place to wash up.
Reluctantly, he eats the last piece of his egg bread. It's never a good feeling to realize all his food is gone. He hasn't been going hungry, exactly, but he's trying to save every cent he can. All he needs is enough to pay off his tuition. If he can get back into school this spring, he's sure everything else will work itself out. He'll work as hard as he needs to. He won't mess up again. He just needs to save up ₩1,000,000 by the deadline to re-enroll.
He gets a little black notebook out of his backpack, glances down at the little column of figures. He'd closed his bank account. Maybe it was overkill, but he'd opened it as a teenager with his parents and their names had still been on the account; he wasn't sure how far they’d go to get him to come home. Every cent he's got saved is in his backpack now, way down at the bottom, rolled in a wad and stuffed in an old sock. After he's back in school and got his living situation figured out, he can open up another account. For now, he's doing it the old-fashioned way.
A million won. It sounds like so much. Four weeks, and he needs another ₩600,000.
He's not going to earn it working at the dance studio, and he’s already got as many hours as they can give him at the convenience store. He’s trying so hard, but again, it’s not enough. He’s got to find something more lucrative, and fast. There’s got to be some way.
"You'd be a big hit," Jaekwon says. He's sitting with his back to a brick wall, smoking. "I'm just saying, you're exactly the type they look for."
Jimin frowns. It's cold, and he's tired, and he doesn't know where to go. In a city as big as Seoul, he'd figured that he never see the same face twice out here. How wrong he had been. There's a whole system at work, sunk beneath the glossy surface of society. Beggars have their corners. Informal gangs stake out their blocks. Jimin's tried to avoid all of it, but it's hard. He's run into Jaekwon a few times now, which he guesses makes them friends.
As close as it gets on the streets, anyway.
"What type is that?" Jimin says, frowning.
"Relax," Jaekwon says. "Don't take it the wrong way, kid. I just mean that you've got that young, pretty face all those chaebol grannies go nuts for."
Jimin scowls. "I'm sorry, but if this is such a good opportunity, why don't you take your friend up on it?"
He has an idea, actually. Jaekwon's got one of those faces that seems put together slapdash from mismatching pieces. He’s also very tall. He’s probably not the type that nice middle-aged women are looking for.
"I tried," Jaekwon says. He takes a drag on his cigarette, exhales a big cloud of smoke. "Tried, but my prick was too big. Couldn't get it in her."
His laugh turns into a hacking cough.
"Ha ha," Jimin says, rolling his eyes, cringing inside.
"Seriously, though," Jaekwon says. "If you're interested, my buddy says they're always looking for fresh faces. And you know, it's entirely up to you what you do. Some of these old ladies just want a massage, want someone to talk to. Sappy shit like that."
"Mmmmm," Jimin says. He closes his eyes. He thinks of his quiet dorm room. He'd covered one of the walls in pictures: of him and his brother and him and Taehyung and him and Chanhyung and him and his classmates. That room had seemed claustrophobically tiny at times. He misses it now. When he withdrew and moved out, all those pictures had gone in the garbage. He hadn’t known what else to do with them.
"Well," Jaekwon says, grinding the butt of his cigarette into the sidewalk and getting slowly to his feet. The cold makes everyone sore, everyone tired. It does not discriminate. "The offer stands, kid. Like I said, they're always looking for fresh meat."
Jimin nods. The metaphor makes his stomach hurt.
Jaekwon walks away, hands shoved in his pockets, but before he's gone more than ten meters he turns back to Jimin.
"Better not hang around too long," he says. "The police do a sweep here at eight."
Jimin's eyes widen. He takes out his phone. The battery is down to twenty five percent. It's nearly eight.
Hefting his backpack, he gets to his feet – his knees hurt too – and sets out to find some unnoticed outlet where he can plug in for a little while before he has to go to the convenience store.
"Ah, Jimin-ah," Minhee says in her airy, kind voice. "Wait a moment, please."
Jimin is glad to wait. It's even colder today. He spent last night curled up in a corner of a tiny, outlying subway station. His bones ache.
"School starts again for you soon, doesn't it?" Minhee's smile is gentle. Everything she does is gentle. She has been dancing so long that she moves gracefully without even thinking about it.
"Yes," Jimin says. "In a few weeks."
Minhee smiles. "I know how demanding a dance education is," she says.
Jimin nods politely. He likes Minhee, but he does not know her well yet. He is not sure where she’s going with this.
"The winter is always a slow time for us," she says. "Families are busy with the new school year starting. I expect that you will be busy, too, with your classes starting back up."
Jimin nods. A heavy weight is sinking down through his chest, through his belly, down into his toes. He feels like he is made of lead.
"Starting next week," Minhee says, still in her sweet, gentle voice, "why don't you just come in on Tuesdays and Fridays? I'm going to consolidate the six-, seven-, and eight-year-olds into one class. It will be a bit big, but with your help I can manage."
She smiles. It is a kind smile, but not the kind of smile that leaves room for negotiation.
"Sure," Jimin says. His tongue is a thick foreign body in his mouth. "Thank you, nuna. That is very considerate of you."
Her smile broadens. "Your education is your priority, young man," she says. "You are very talented, and you are going to go off and do wonderful things."
He grins. He can't help himself. "Thank you, really."
She pats his cheek. "After we get through the winter, we'll reevaluate the schedule again."
"That sounds great," Jimin says, smiling still. He thinks if he doesn’t smile, he might cry.
"I'll see you Tuesday, then," Minhee says. "Have a good weekend, Jimin-ah."
She heads out into the front room, where the parents are still bundling up their kids. Jimin tidies up slowly, and then gets his own coat and boots from the closet where he keeps them. He leaves a bag with his dance things here – it is as safe as place as any – so after changing in the bathroom he folds up his things and puts them away.
Minhee is deep in conversation with a mother when he heads out into the lobby. Probably the woman wants to know if her daughter has the makings of a great prima ballerina. All the mothers do. The daughter, Sunhee, is a sweet girl who loves dancing; Jimin hopes she is able to keep loving it, no matter where her feet carry her.
He is glad Minhee is busy, though. He does not know if he could bring himself to speak now. He waves to her on his way out the door, but as soon as he steps outside the energy sustaining him evaporates, drained away by the cold. He has enough dignity not to collapse right there; he makes it around the corner at least, and a little way down the block, and then he leans back against the cold cement brick wall and sinks down onto his heels.
Two days a week. His hours have effectively been cut in half. He feels like his knees have been cut out from under him. Even working four days at week at the studio he'd still not been sure how he might make enough to pay for school. Now there's no chance.
He swallows. His eyes sting. He gives himself a few minutes, arms wrapped around his knees, tears pooling in his eyes. He gives himself just a few minutes to feel sorry for himself. He's earned a couple of moments of pity. That's it, though. That's all. He doesn't know how he manages but somehow he pushes himself to his feet. He can't afford to get bogged down in pathos. Night is here, and it will be a cold one. He’s not supposed to work at the convenience store. He hasn't eaten in hours. He'll have to go with ramen again tonight, and then see if any of the better little corners of the subway station are unoccupied.
In his old age, Yoongi has abandoned almost all of his vices. He doesn’t drink any more, and eats his vegetables. He’s even taken to making himself go to bed no later than midnight, and sets an alarm for seven AM. He keeps the regular hours of a respectable member of society, which he supposes he more or less is.
The only vice he hasn’t been able to kick is smoking. It’s a bad one, he knows, and he’s working on it. He’s cut way down; a pack lasts him two weeks. Next year maybe he’ll kick the habit all together.
Next year. For now he’s a work in progress, and he needs a goddamn cigarette.
It’s late by the time he leaves the studio, but not so late there aren’t plenty of people still out on the streets. Yoongi heads down in the direction of the subway station. There are plenty of convenience stores on the main drag. He ducks into the first he sees; it looks shabby — the neon Cass sign hanging in the window flickers fitfully and the posters for soju are all faded and feature yesterday’s stars. Doesn’t matter. He just needs a pack of smokes.
He steps inside and a little bell over the door jingles. There’s nobody in here at this hour, just a clerk bent over counter. Yoongi thinks he’s busy counting something at first, but after a moment he realizes the clerk is fast asleep.
He snorts. “Hey,” he says.
There’s no response. The clerk shifts a little. He’s literally asleep on his feet, propped up on a forearm. His dark hair falls down, covering his face.
“Hey!” Yoongi raises his voice. He’s not an asshole; figures it’s better that he wakes this guy up than if his boss catches him asleep. “Hey, buddy!”
The clerk stirs. He mumbles something sleepy and incoherent, and staggers. Yoongi thinks he’s about to keel over sideways, but just at the last moment he catches himself. Blinking and puffy-cheeked, he manages to haul himself back to his feet.
“Uh,” he mumbles. “I’m sorry, sir. How can I help you?”
Damn. He’s just a kid. An exhausted kid, with dark purple circles under his eyes. A kid who looks strangely familiar.
The backpack Yoongi spies behind the counter is what jogs his memory.
“Jimin,” he says.
The kid’s eyes widen. “Um,” he says, confused, even though he’s got a name tag on. “I’m so, so sorry, sir. Please accept my apologies. How can I help you?”
“I’ll take a pack of Dunhills,” Yoongi says. He squints at Jimin. He looks more tired than he had the other day, and there’s a slumped air of defeat to the set of his shoulders that Yoongi hadn’t noticed then. He frowns. “You said hi to my dog the other morning. Remember?”
Jimin’s eyes widen. “Right,” he says slowly. “Holly.” He looks up and smiles again. “And you’re Yoongi.”
Yoongi nods. “Yeah,” he says.
Jimin turns to get Yoongi’s cigarettes from behind the counter. “Is this all?” he asks.
Yoongi looks at him — hollow cheeks, dark circles, greasy unwashed hair. “No,” he says. “Uh, gimme a sec.”
He heads to the back of the store, to the refrigerator case, and grabs the first thing he sees. Rice ball with spam. Not his personal favorite. Hopefully Jimin is more of a fan. He grabs a can of coffee too. Kid seems like he needs it. Most customers wouldn’t be so forgiving if they came in and found him asleep.
He puts the rice ball and the coffee on the counter, and Jimin rings them up. Looking at his hands makes Yoongi’s hands hurt in sympathy. A million years might pass and he would still remember that ache, and the way the cold had made his skin crack and bleed.
He hands Jimin his card, but when Jimin starts to bag his items Yoongi stops him.
“No,” he says. “Uh. This is for you.” He pushes the rice ball and the coffee back across the counter.
Jimin frowns down at them. His eyes narrow. He looks back up at Yoongi, sharp and wary. “Who are you?” he asks. “What do you want?”
Yoongi shakes his head. “Nothing,” he says. He still has his wallet in his hand. He rifles through it for a moment until he finds what he’s looking for. He holds the card out to Jimin, who regards it warily for a moment. He snatches it quickly and stares down at it.
“It’s a shelter, for teenagers and young adults,” Yoongi says quickly. “A friend of mine runs it. There are showers, bunk beds. Usually a hot meal.”
Jimin’s mouth turns down in a frown. “What makes you think I need this?” he asks.
Yoongi glances down at the counter. “Your hands,” he says. “Mine got like that too, in the winter. Cracked and shit. My knuckles used to bleed.”
Color rushes to Jimin’s cheeks. He squeezes his eyes shut for just a moment. “It’s just a temporary thing,” he says, but he barely sounds like he believes it.
Yoongi nods. “Yeah,” he says. “For me too.” He shrugs. “I’m sure you can take care of yourself, but if you feel like you need a break, their door is open.”
Jimin nods slowly, swallows. His eyes are dark and empty when he looks up at Yoongi again. “Thanks,” he says.
Yoongi nods. “It’s nothing,” he says. “Thank my buddy Namjoon. He’s the one that does all the hard work.”
Jimin bites his lower lip, hesitant. “Tell Holly I say hello.”
Yoongi laughs, sharp and glad. “I will,” he says. “Take care of yourself, Jimin.”
Jimin nods, still tentative, still guarded.
Yoongi nods too, and raises a hand in a quick salute, and then heads back out into the cold night.
When the door shuts behind him, he pauses, cigarettes still in his hand. He tells Namjoon all the time — we can’t save them all. Still, it would be nice to save this one, he thinks. He tears the plastic off his cigarettes and taps the pack against his palm, and then shakes one out. He stuffs the pack in his pocket and then gets out his lighter.
Yoongi has quit his vices, but he hasn’t forgotten them. He closes his eyes and inhales that first, harsh lungful of smoke with pleasure. They’re with him always, just the same way that the cold still makes his bones ache, just as much as it did as when he was out on the streets. He can’t save them all, but he can’t forget either. This wasn’t much -- he’s pretty sure Jimin won’t go to the shelter -- but he has to try.
Jaekwon’s voice is thick, froggish. He’s sick, he says, and the hacking cough that interrupts his words supports that claim. It’s not surprising. The weather has been bitter cold, the harshest winter Seoul has seen in years.
Jimin stares down at the patch of sidewalk in front of him. There’s nothing to see - a piece of gum trod flat, a receipt, filth. He shoves his hands in his pockets. His hands find the card that Yoongi had given him for Didim Shelter. He turns it over blindly. He’s memorized the address. He doesn’t need to see it to know what it says.
“If your friend is still looking,” he says slowly, “I need to make some money.”
Jaekwon’s cough is thick, gummy. “Don’t we all?” The sky overhead is slate grey. “Here, gimme your number.”
Jimin says his phone number slowly while Jaekwon types it into his phone. When he’s done he nods. “Okay,” he says. “My buddy will be in touch.”
“Thanks,” Jimin says quietly.
Jaekwon snorts. It turns into a cough.
“That sounds bad, hyung,” Jimin says, frowning. “Maybe you should go to the doctor.”
Jaekwon laughs even harder at this, laughs and coughs all at the same time. “You’re funny,” he says. “You’re a funny kid, Jimin. Don’t thank me yet. Don’t thank anyone until the money is in your hand. Remember that.”
He gets to his feet and digs around in his pocket for a minute. He takes out a nasty-looking bandana and brings it to his mouth, coughs into it, and puts it away again.
Jimin looks away, repulsed. He stares down at the battered toes of his boots.
He can hear Jaekwon coughing until he gets to the end of the block, and then the traffic noises become loud enough to drown him out.
It is Wednesday. He did not work last night. He has no work today. He is sore and cold and tired. He slept last night, or tried to, in an abandoned building, but all night he’d been nervous, thought he’d heard people coming and going. He’d woken up every twenty minutes or so, both because of the cold and because he’d been half-certain that someone was lurking on the stairs, just out of sight.
He’d heard about that building from another kid — Woohyung. He’d been glad for the tip, but Jimin won’t go back there again. He’d rather try his luck in the subway.
He feels half-frozen, but he can’t stay here. The low, grey sky suggests more snow will fall. He needs to go inside. He takes out his phone; he charges up while he’s at work, and even splurged on a spare battery pack, but he still has to be careful. He thinks this counts as an emergency though. He has a list bookmarked — free things to do in Seoul. He’s hit a lot of the top attractions already, and some are outside, but there are still a few places he can hit up. The Seoul Museum of Modern Art sounds nice. It’s not too far either, so he can walk. He’s trying to save the money on his T-money Card for when he needs to go to the dance studio.
As he walks through the quiet, somber city streets, Jimin is filled with the strange sensation of having disappeared. Nobody spares him a glance. The good people of Seoul are preoccupied — with squabbles at work and prospective promotions, with birthdays and first dates and wedding anniversaries. They are thinking of their friends and families and lovers.
No one is thinking of Jimin. No one at all.
Taehyung had messaged often, in those first few days after he’d gone home, but Jimin’s replies had been terse and infrequent, and even Taehyung knew when he was fighting a losing battle. His messages became less frequent, and then stopped.
Jimin understands. He is glad Taehyung is not wasting the precious time at home with his family.
All his other friends from school are busy with their own lives. Jimin had been popular, but only in that circumstantial kind of way. Other than Taehyung, there hadn’t been anyone who might go out of their way to check up on him. There isn’t anyone who would bother to ask how he’s doing, after his sudden withdrawal from school — not even that boy he’d been dating. They’d broken up, anyway. Jimin hadn’t known how to tell him what his parents had done, but didn’t know how to keep it a secret, either.
He stops at a crosswalk. A tall man in a heavy overcoat stands beside him. He is talking on his phone. Two high school students stand just ahead. They’re wearing long padded coats, the kind that are such a trend right now. Jimin wishes he had one of those coats. He and Taehyung had laughed at how ugly they were, at how they made people look like rolls of kimbap. Now he thinks only of how nice that enveloping warmth must feel.
The light changes. Jimin crosses, submerged in the crowd.
Barely a person at all.
“No,” Jimin says. “No. Come on!”
They are the first words he’s said in hours. He squeezes his eyes shut. If he starts to cry in this weather, will his tears freeze? He’s never considered that before. Better not to find out.
The Seoul Museum of Modern Art is closed today. The hours online were wrong. The front door is locked. All the windows are dark. Jimin feels faint and sick.
He wanders back towards the subway station, along the main street. This is a bustling, popular area, and all the coffee shops and cafes and little restaurants look very warm, very cozy. He shouldn’t spend any money. He shouldn’t.
He’s just so cold. He wonders how cold you can get before something really bad happens. If it gets cold enough, he’ll have to do something. Maybe he can ask to trade shifts with whoever’s working at the convenience store tonight. Better work all night in the warm, quiet shop than be outside.
In spite of the weather, there are people outside busking. This is an area known for that. Jimin had given that some thought too, but he’s never sang outside of karaoke, and he doesn’t think anyone wants to watch the routine he learned for his Modern Dance II class last term.
There is a guy dancing now, and he’s gathered quite a crowd. Curious but well-bundled passersby crowd around as a little boombox blasts a recent hip hop hit. The guy is talented. He moves quickly and with great energy; Jimin bets he’s plenty warm. The crowd applauds when he performs some acrobatic marvel, catching himself in a handstand for a moment before tumbling upright again.
Jimin used to do some tumbling. He could do something like that, maybe. With enough practice.
He stays to watch the rest of the man’s routine. It’s not like he has anywhere else to go. After fifteen minutes or so, though, the man finishes up, ending with a big bow. He’s got a hat set out near his boombox, and quickly he scoops up the change people have left him and secrets it into some inner pocket.
Jimin hangs around while the crowd starts to disperse, as the guy gathers the rest of his stuff.
He’s not sure what makes him do it — hunger, maybe, or cold. Lack of sleep. Normally, he wouldn’t go up to a stranger like this. Today there seems little reason to be cautious.
“Excuse me,” he says quietly, and the man looks up, startled.
“Ah, I’m just getting ready to head back home,” he says. “I’m sorry but —“
“No,” Jimin says. His tongue feels heavy. His eyes feel heavy too. It’s a weird feeling. “I wasn’t— I was just wondering. Do you make a lot of money doing that?”
The man’s eyes narrow.
Jimin laughs. “I’m really sorry,” he says. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me right now. I just…” He swallows. “I really need to find a way to make some money.”
The man’s eyes run him up and down. Jimin doesn’t want to know what he sees: scruffy kid, who despite his best efforts is showing wear. He’s dirty and he needs to shave and his clothes are looking shabby. His nose must be bright red, and his hands are raw.
“Oh,” the man says, and his mouth falls into a tiny frown. “Oh kid. Listen. Let me buy you a cup of coffee and I’ll tell you about it.”
The dancer’s name is Hoseok and Jimin wonders if he might not be some kind of angel or fairy, some divine being sent down to provide Jimin some small solace. Hoseok doesn’t buy him a cup of coffee. Instead he takes Jimin to a tiny bibimbap restaurant and buys him dinner.
“I insist,” Hoseok says, when Jimin tries to protest. “Sorry, but you look like you need more than just a cup of coffee.”
Jimin smiles, but it is a fragile smile. He doesn’t think he can laugh quite yet.
Hoseok doesn’t say much. He orders for both of them and then sits quietly while Jimin takes off his scarf and gloves and hat and coat.
He doesn’t even say anything when Jimin excuses himself to the restroom and brings his backpack. He needs to wash his face and hands. He shouldn’t, but he can’t help but think what his mother would say if she saw him sitting down to eat with such filthy hands. It’s weird to bring his backpack, but he’s doesn’t know this guy, really, and this bag contains everything Jimin has in this world. He’s not going to risk it.
When Jimin gets back, Hoseok smiles at him. “You look a little bit thawed out.”
Jimin smiles awkwardly. He used to smile all the time. He wonders if he’s forgetting how.
“It’s been really cold,” Jimin says quietly.
Hoseok nods. He waits a beat, and then asks, “How long have you been homeless?”
Jimin swallows. There’s part of him — a terrified, trembling part — that wants to get up, and run out of the restaurant. There’s a big part of him that wants to lie, the way he lied to Yoongi with the nice dog.
There's a part of him that can't bear the thought of admitting what Hoseok obviously already knows.
But another part – a cold, beaten-down part – can't shoulder the burden of lying any longer.
"Not long," he says quickly. "Not that long. I was staying with a friend of mine, but he moved back to Daegu for the winter. Three weeks. Yeah." Jimin blinks. Three weeks? Is that really all the time that's passed since he hugged Taehyung goodbye and got on that city bus? It feels like a lifetime.
Hoseok's mouth turns down at the corners. "This isn't an easy time of year to be out on your own," he says.
Jimin shakes his head. "I know," he says quietly. "I didn't mean for this to happen. I thought – I had to drop out of school last semester. I'm saving money to pay my tuition for next semester. Once I'm back in school, I'll figure out a place to stay. My friend is coming back to the city, too. It's just a temporary thing."
If Taehyung will even let him stay, after Jimin's radio silence these last weeks.
Hoseok's look is kind but skeptical. "Don't you think it should be the other way around? Get a place to stay and then worry about school?"
Jimin shakes his head. "I need to get back into school. I have a scholarship. If I stop out, I might lose it."
Hoseok nods, but does not look convinced.
Their food comes. It looks delicious. The rice sizzles against the hot stone bowl. Jimin's stomach growls audibly.
He looks up, shocked and embarrassed.
Hoseok laughs. "Eat," he says. "Go on."
Still red-faced, Jimin mixes everything up well and then takes a first bite. It's been so long since he's had anything to eat other than ramen - and the kimbap Yoongi had bought him, a tiny, welcome treat. The good, warm food fills his entire body with heat. He closes his eyes and savors the taste. He's hungry, but he wants to savor this as long as he can.
They eat in companionable silence. Hoseok doesn't interrupt Jimin, doesn't pester him with questions. Jimin feels nervous, but as he fills his belly with his first good meal in weeks, his anxiety ebbs. Things are still shitty, but they could be worse. The world is hard and cruel, but there are people like Hoseok, too.
When Jimin has eaten as much as he can, he sits back in his chair and sighs.
"Thank you so much," he says. "That was really good."
Hoseok nods. "This place is great. Cheap, too."
Jimin nods. Hoseok's got a sharp, inquisitive face but a kind smile. His hands are long and graceful. Jimin always wished he had hands like that. "You're a really good dancer," he says.
Hoseok laughs. "Thanks," he says.
"That's what I'm studying," Jimin says quietly. "Dance. Not the kind of dance you do, but um. Modern dance. Some ballet."
Hoseok looks excited. "I'd love to see you dance sometime," he says.
Jimin nods. He frowns. This feels like overstepping his bounds, but what does he have to lose? Hoseok's already bought him dinner. "Are you... you know?"
"What?" Hoseok raises an eyebrow.
Jimin blushes. “Homeless.”
Hoseok shakes his head. "No," he says. "No. It's been close a few times, but I've got a place. It's pretty much a step above being condemned and I've got about a million roommates, but it's a roof over my head." He smiles. “I’m hoping to find something better, soon, though.”
"Why do you dance then?" Jimin asks, frowning.
Hoseok shrugs. "I love it."
"Not for the money?"
Hoseok shakes his head slowly. "On a good day," he says, "I might take in ₩100,000. On a spring evening, when everyone is out enjoying the weather. This time of year, I'm lucky if I make enough for dinner." He sees Jimin's face and laughs again. "Don't worry. I have enough to cover the bill. People were generous today."
Jimin smiles, but he feels emptied out. Drained. "Oh," he says quietly. "I thought maybe you made a lot of money. I really need to find a way to make more."
Hoseok's smile is kind. "I'm sorry, Jimin," he says. "I don't think busking is it."
Jimin nods. He'd known that. He'd known that, of course. If people were getting rich busking, wouldn't the streets be filled with aspiring performers? He'd just hoped, maybe, that there might be some option other than...
"You didn't have to buy me dinner," he says, feeling panic rise up in him again. "I'm really sorry I bothered you. I don't need–"
"It's fine," Hoseok says, cutting him off. "It was my pleasure. You looked like you needed a good meal. You can pay me back by telling more about what you like about my dancing. I’m always interested in hearing the opinion of a fellow professional."
Jimin laughs. It's a slow thing. Hesitant, like he's rusty. Like he's forgotten how. It grows, filling him up with just as much warmth and light as the good food had. "Okay," he says. "Yeah. I can do that."
They linger in that warm cozy place over the remnants of their meals. Jimin asks about Hoseok's training, what he wants to do, where he studied. He shares a little about his own background, about his own dreams. It feels so nice to talk to someone about something as normal as dance. It feels like he could be at the cafe near school, chatting with his classmates, nothing more pressing to worry about than how he'll do on the next in-class evaluation.
But they cannot stay forever. The owner starts wiping down tables. The streets outside are getting emptier.
"Ah," Hoseok says, glancing down at his phone. "I've gotta get going." He narrows his eyes, looking Jimin up and down. "You have somewhere to go tonight?"
Jimin thinks of his little corner behind the stairs in the subway station. If he's lucky, nobody will have claimed his spot. "Yeah," he says. "I do."
Hoseok holds his gaze, but doesn't challenge him. "Okay," he says, finally. "Hey, let me give you my number." Seeing Jimin's look, he laughs. "Just in case you really end up in a bind."
Jimin smiles as he enters Hoseok's ID into KakaoTalk. "Thanks," he says. "I'll really be fine, though."
Hoseok's already done too much for him.
"Send me a message," Hoseok asks, so Jimin sends a goofy little sticker. "There. Now I have yours too."
While Hoseok pays the bill, Jimin starts to get bundled back up. He pulls his coat back on, and takes his scarf and gloves and hat out of his pocket. He's almost ready for the cold again when Hoseok comes back.
"Hey," he says. "What's that?"
Oh. The card Yoongi had given him is on the table. Jimin must have taken it out without realizing it.
"Someone gave it to me," he says quietly. "He said I could go there if I needed help."
Hoseok picks up the card, narrowing his eyes to read it. "Ah yeah," he says. "I've heard of this place. They're good people. They do a lot of good work."
Jimin nods, putting the card carefully back in his pocket.
They shuffle outside. It is dark, and very cold. Snow is falling quietly. "Thank you so much, Hoseok-ssi," Jimin says. "Really. I don't know how I can ever repay you."
Hoseok grins at him. "It was a bowl of bibimbap," he says, waving a gloved hand. "Don't worry about it. Come watch me dance again sometime, okay?"
Hoseok waits a moment longer, like he expects Jimin to say something, or like there's something else he wants to say, but Jimin has nothing else now. He is already bracing himself against the cold and the dark. With a smile and wave, Hoseok starts down the street, and Jimin is alone again.
Jimin is sleeping when the police come to clear the station. He's been warned of this. He understands the logic. There are shelters. There are places to go to get help. He is not supposed to be here, sleeping on a piece of cardboard in an out-of-the-way corner of a subway station.
Predawn, they come. He is deliriously tired, thinks he is still dreaming when he trembles awake. He does not sleep well. He cannot sleep well when it is so cold out, and his exhaustion wars with his hypothermia to see which wins out.
The cops hassle him a little, but they don't want to expend the effort to cause any real trouble. They just want him gone, so he goes.
Early morning is an eerie time. The streets are largely empty. The dregs of last night's revels spill onto the sidewalk, but even they are few and far between. The earliest of risers are getting up now, making their coffee and washing their faces, preparing to greet a sun that will not rise from behind a sheet of clouds.
Mostly, it is silent – or as silent as Seoul gets. There is still an ever-present hum of life: traffic noises and sirens, cats yowling in alleyways, a vague and unsettled murmur that never, ever ends.
Still, it is muffled now. Smothered by the snow, which has been falling for what seems like a very long time, even though it hasn't yet been twenty-four hours. The streets are pretty, with a smooth, soft blanket of white gently smoothing over all the ugliness, all the rough edges. Snow still falls, soft little flakes floating down, tinted peach and pink by the sodium lights. It's like being on the inside of a snow globe.
If only it weren't so cold.
The only thing to do is walk. It will be morning soon enough. There's not enough time left to bother finding somewhere else to sleep. He will walk to keep warm, and then it will be morning, and he'll find some other place to go keep warm, some coffee shop or restaurant where he can find a quiet out-of-the-way seat.
He walks until his boots are soaked through and his feet feel numb. His face is numb, too, rubbery and raw from the cold. He tries not to think about what he's doing, just keeps walking. One foot in from of the other. Eventually it will be light again, and eventually warmth will return. For now he just needs to walk.
A traffic light changes to red. Jimin comes up short. Stumbles, slipping on an icy patch. He catches himself before he falls, but it is a close thing. He hauls himself upright. His dance instructors would be aghast if they saw the way he slouches now. He blinks, looking around, trying to take stock of where he is.
Dongdaemun. The markets are quiet still, but showing signs of waking. How had he walked this far?
He is so tired and cold that his bones ache. He needs to find a place to sit down for a little while, so he takes the steps down into Cheonggyecheon. The park is quiet in this pre-dawn hour, and the flowing water of the stream plays a pretty tune. Jimin walks along the water until he comes to one of those sections where concrete riders provide a place for people to stop and rest and enjoy the quiet calm.
Jimin needs rest. He brushes the snow off a section of concrete as well as he can with his gloved hand, and then sits down. Slumps down. He closes his eyes and leans forward, hunched over his backpack. His back aches. His eyes burn. He is not sure how much more of this he can take.
He falls asleep like that, somehow. He dreams of something good. He can't remember what upon waking, but he is filled with a sense of warm, cozy contentment, of being safe and snug. It is a good feeling, and one he has not felt in a while, outside of his dreams.
It is morning now, and there are other people taking a stroll along the stream before they head off to work or school or wherever they're going. An old woman startles when Jimin sits up suddenly. She gives him a wary look and skirts as wide around him as she can. He swallows, suddenly thick-throated and sad. More snow fell while he slept, and collected on his hat, his back, his arms.
He brushes himself off as well as he can and then roots around in his backpack for half an energy bar he'd gotten at work the other day. He unfolds the open wrapper and breaks off a piece. It's not good, but he's hungry and it's food, and that's enough.
He takes his time, eating slowly, watching as the park becomes more crowded with kids on their way to school, well-bundled in their long padded coats. He wonders how his brother is doing. Jihyun will be done with high school now, and preparing to go to college. Jimin doesn't dare contact him yet – not while he's still at home – but maybe next year. They had always been close as children, so close people sometimes asked if they were twins. Behind the feigned outrage at being mistaken for his dongsaeng’s twin, Jimin had been pleased.
He misses Jihyun very, very much.
Jimin closes his eyes. When he opens them, he gasps. The snow has stopped falling, and the sky is a clear, pale blue beyond a lattice of lingering clouds. A beam of morning sunlight has slipped between the buildings and everything is gilded. The errant flakes of snow blown off the tops of the buildings are golden confetti. A little girl and her parents walk past. They each hold one of her hands, and she laughs deliriously as they lift her from her feet and swing her.
For just a moment, the world is bright and good and whole again.
Just a moment, and then the sun is shadowed, and the morning goes cold and flat.
Just a moment, but it is enough to kindle a little hope in Jimin's heart. It is cold now, and dark, but it will get better.
It's got to.
Yoongi can't stop thinking about Jimin. He doesn't know what it is about the kid that got to him – maybe it was just that tiny act of kindness. Sharing his food with Holly hadn't been some grand gesture, but for someone with not a lot a lot to share, it had been unspeakably kind.
So he gets together a couple of things: a pair of heavy duty gloves, some disposable hand warmers, and a light-weight emergency blanket. Some energy bars. Toothpaste. Soap. A tooth brush.
It's not much, but it's something. Those are the things he'd wished for most, when he'd been on the streets.
He puts it all in a ziplock bag and puts that in his backpack, and whenever he's at the studio he stops by the convenience store where Jimin works. After two futile visits, he asks the guy behind the counter, who says that Jimin only works at night and that his schedule changes every week, and besides, if Jimin is Yoongi's friend, why doesn't he just text him?
Yoongi says thanks, but internally he's rolling his eyes.
He plans to check back at the convenience store again the next night, but another storm blows in, and Seoul is shut down by snow. Yoongi doesn't end up going into the studio. He stays at home in his apartment, planted on the couch with Holly on his lap. He is so grateful to have this place to stay, but he cannot help but think of Jimin. Cannot help think of everyone who has to find a place to weather this storm.
It is still snowing heavily at noon, but Holly has to go out anyway. Yoongi bundles up well in his warm coat with the fur-lined hood and puts Holly's coat and booties on too.
It is on an impulse that he grabs the supply kit he put together for Jimin from his backpack. If he doesn't see Jimin he'll probably find someone else who needs it. He can always buy another pair of gloves.
Although snow is falling, it's maybe not quite as bitterly cold as it has been, and the flakes are fat and fluffy. It's not too windy out, either, and once they're warmed up from walking it's really not as unpleasant out as Yoongi feared. He'd still rather be at home, but Holly is having so much fun hopping through the snow banks that he goes the long way, down to the subway station and then circling up through the park.
There are some kids out, running and throwing snowballs at each other, and some people trudging dismally on some unavoidable errand. Holly sticks his face into a snowdrift and comes up frosted. Yoongi laughs, fond, and then kneels down to wipe the snow from his ears and his cold little nose.
He is regretting not taking a picture of Holly before wiping his face when he notices a dark shape huddled near the brick wall that edges the park. Obscured behind some greenery, the person wouldn't be visible at all, except that his dark coat stands out against the snow.
Whoever it is looks like he could really use the hand warmers in Yoongi's pockets. He gets to his feet and pushes through the overgrown shrubs.
"Hello?" he calls. "Excuse me?"
The person doesn't stir immediately and Yoongi fights back a bolt of fear. But before Yoongi can do anything else the huddled figure shudders, sending the snow collected on his jacket sliding off.
Yoongi pulls his little care package out of his pocket. "Hey," he says. "I have some stuff for you, if you..."
The man sits up, shakes his head. His cheeks and nose are red with cold.
Jimin blinks. "Holly?" he asks, in a hoarse voice.
Yoongi laughs, harsh and too loud in the snow-hush. "He's Holly," he says. "I'm Yoongi, remember?"
Jimin smiles weakly. "I remember," he says. "I was talking to Holly, not you."
And even though he's pale and shivering, even though his cheeks are hollow and the circles under his eyes are dark, Jimin laughs, high and glad.
Yoongi smiles. "What are you doing out here, Jimin?"
Jimin stares down at his gloved hands, which rest in his lap. He shakes his head. He seems a bit dazed, a bit out of it, and Yoongi hopes like hell it's just the cold and the lingering remnants of sleep.
"You can't stay out here," he says quietly.
Jimin nods slowly. "I didn't mean to. I was supposed to work, but my boss said not to bother coming in."
"Why didn't you go to a shelter?"
Yoongi is not sure why he asked. He understands why. He understands how desperately important it is to hold on to your dignity, how cripplingly difficult to ask for help.
Holly grows tired of the spot he's sniffing and turns to Jimin. He puts his booted front paws on Jimin's knee, and sniffs curiously.
"Sorry, Holly," Jimin says. "I probably don't smell too good right now."
Holly doesn't seem to mind. His tail wags. He presses his nose into Jimin's chin.
Something in Yoongi's heart shifts; he's not sure what, but he knows he can't just leave Jimin here.
"We're supposed to get more snow," he says quietly.
Jimin closes his eyes. He swallows. "Yeah," he says.
"Jimin," Yoongi says, "you need to find a place to stay."
Jimin doesn't say anything. He just keeps petting Holly, scratching the place Holly likes behind his ear.
"I can call my friend Namjoon and see if there is space at Didim," Yoongi says.
"You can go to a city shelter," Yoongi says. "Some of them aren't that bad."
Jimin nods again, but his chin is set and his eyes are flat and uncurious. Yoongi knows that look. He's not going to a shelter.
Yoongi understands. He really fucking does. "Or," he says slowly and not entirely sure he's not making a big mistake, "or, if you want, you could crash on my couch."
Jimin's eyes narrow further, and he opens his mouth, but Yoongi cuts him off before he can sleep.
"Just until the snow stops," he says. "I don't need a roommate, and I don't want one, but I've spent a snowstorm or two outside, and I can tell you it's no fucking fun."
Jimin watches him, wary, judging. "I don't need your help," he says. "I have a friend. Um. I was going to see if I could stay with him."
Yoongi shrugs. He is fairly sure this friend is not real. "I don't care where you stay," he says. "I just don't want you to end up in the fucking hospital with hypothermia."
Jimin has stopped petting Holly. The poodle makes an irritated little wuff and shoves his head back into Jimin's face. Jimin looks started for a moment, but them smiles and resumes petting.
Yoongi watches, waiting, growing a little impatient. The snow is falling more heavily. He can hear the plows scrape the streets.
"Holly," he calls, and Holly scampers over.
Jimin bites his lip, and then slowly gets to his feet. He pulls on his backpack, and brushes off the snow as best he can. "Just until the snow stops," he says.
Yoongi nods. "I already told you, I'm not looking for a roommate."
They walk back in silence, mostly. Jimin's head is bowed and his hands are shoved in his pockets. The weather is getting worse. This still isn't the smartest thing Yoongi's ever done – he doesn't even know what to think about what Seokjin and Namjoon are going to say – but at least he's not going to be up all night worrying if the kid is dead.
When they get to Yoongi's building, Jimin stands to one side with his eyes intentionally averted while Yoongi enters his passcode. He is quiet as they wait for the elevator, quiet as they walk down the hall. When they get to Yoongi's door, he looks away again.
Yoongi enters his code and hesitates a moment. "It's not much," he says.
"It's home," Jimin says, frowning.
"Yeah," Yoongi says, turning away to hide his expression. "Yeah, it is."
Jimin feels weird, stepping into Yoongi's apartment. Feels like he's breaking some law. He shouldn't have accepted Yoongi's offer. Should probably have just gone to a shelter. Could even have messaged Hoseok, like he'd lied and said he would. He's so cold though, and so tired, and the thought of mustering the energy to protest had seemed beyond him in that moment.
Now he is dripping in the tiled entryway to Yoongi's little apartment, unsure of what to do, unsure of what to say, like his weeks on the street have made such a tiny bubble of domesticity totally alien.
"Take off your coat," Yoongi says. "I'll find some sweatpants and stuff you can borrow, and then you can go take a shower."
Jimin tugs off his gloves and hat. He unwinds his scarf. With the weather this week, the dance studio has been closed; it's been a while since he's taken off all these layers. It feels strange, like he's shedding some brittle, cracked shell. He feels weird and raw and exposed.
He sits down to untie his boots. His fingers hurt. The skin is red and cracked. His boots are in ruins; the soles flap loose, the leather is discolored and rough. He'd bought these for himself right after he moved to Seoul for college. They'd been an extravagant and long-planned purchase. He imagined himself wearing them in bars and to parties; as it turns out, he did not have much occasion for that. Still, they have served him well.
Holly comes over to sniff vigorously and Jimin smiles ruefully.
"Sorry," he says. "I know I stink, buddy."
He digs around in his backpack for his bar of soap and his razor and the little bottle of shampoo.
"I've got soap and stuff you can use," Yoongi says, coming back from the other room. "Don't worry about using your stuff."
He's holding a stack of clothes and two towels. He hands this all to Jimin and gestures towards a door in the corner. "Bathroom is in there," he says.
Jimin nods slowly. "Thank you, Yoongi-ssi," he says slowly. "Really. Thank you."
"It's not a big deal," Yoongi says, looking a little embarrassed. "I'm gonna order some dinner. Anything you won't eat?"
Jimin shakes his head. He is not in any position to be choosy right now.
"Yeah," Yoongi says. "Me neither." He grins, a little crooked. "Go take your shower. Take your time. I have a feeling delivery is going to be slow today."
The bathroom is small but neat. Jimin hangs the clothes Yoongi gave him up on one of the hooks by the door. He strips out of his shirt and jeans, and stares at himself in the mirror over the sink. He looks thin and tired. There is a big bruise on his thigh; he'd slipped on the ice and fallen a few days back. It is sore and tender to the touch, but nothing serious. His hands are raw and his feet ache. His whole body aches, actually. His bones hurt in a way he has never known before, not even when he was rehearsing fourteen hours a day.
Jimin cannot remember ever feeling as good as he does standing under the hot spray of water in Yoongi's little bathroom. He stays for a long time without moving, just letting the steam envelope him, letting the heat soak into his skin and thaw him, body and soul. When he is pruny and the numbness has gone from his fingers, from his toes, he scrubs himself well head to toe, so hard that his skin goes red from the force of it. Even after all the accumulated dirt of weeks on the street is gone, he scrubs, like there's something lingering but unseen he is trying to wash away.
Finally, he shuts the water off. He wraps a towel around his waist and peers at himself in the mirror again. The shower has brought some color back in his cheeks. Carefully, he shaves away a patchy growth of stubble. There had been a time when Jimin had been eager to have to shave. When the thought of it had made him feel grown up. Now, it's just another problem.
He smiles at himself when he's done. It's not a very good smile – worn around the edges, and close to breaking. Still, it feels better than he could ever have imagined just to be clean, just to know that for tonight, at least, he doesn't have to worry about where he's going to sleep.
He pulls on the sweatpants and tee shirt Yoongi lent him. They're nothing fancy, but they are warm and soft. He closes his eyes for a moment and relishes the feeling of clean clothes against clean skin.
He towels his hair dry. It's too long. He needs a haircut; that will have to wait. There is a whole cascading series of things he's let slip, priorities that he's ignored. Life has been reduced to the bare essentials.
Yoongi is on the couch when Jimin comes out of the bathroom, Holly in his lap. He looks up, smiles. "Feel better?"
Jimin nods. "Yeah," he says. "A lot better."
"I ordered some food," Yoongi says. "Should be here soon. I feel shitty calling for delivery in this weather, but I'll tip to make up for it."
He sounds like he's convincing himself. In his lap, Holly shuffles and then exhales contentedly.
Jimin sits down on the floor, leans back against the couch. On the television, an audience laughs riotously at some gag man's joke. Jimin and Taehyung had been watching a drama together, both cuddled up in Taehyung's bed, laughing at the male lead's awkward jokes, talking about their own dream drama meet-cute scenarios. The drama must be over now, Jimin realizes. That much time has passed.
He hopes it had a happy ending.
Despite the weather, it's not too long before Yoongi's doorbell rings. He buzzes the delivery person in. Jimin takes the bag while Yoongi pays. The food smells really good. His stomach gurgles loudly, and Yoongi laughs.
Jimin nods, embarrassed.
Yoongi sets the bag down on his coffee table and gets a pitcher of water and two glasses from the fridge. Jimin takes out the containers of food: jjajangmyeon and jjampong and crispy sweet and sour pork.
"This is a lot of food, Yoongi-ssi," he says, confused.
Yoongi shrugs. "I wasn't sure how hungry you were," he says. "Besides, we can just eat the rest tomorrow. I'm not going back out in this weather."
Jimin takes the plastic wrap off the bowl of jjajangmyeon and breathes in. It smells delicious. He tries to pace himself, tries eat slowly with small bites, but he is hungry. It's not like he's been starving. He's got enough money to feed himself. He's just been sticking with cheap stuff. Kimbap and ramyeon, and gross convenience store sandwiches. Sitting in this apartment, watching something dumb on television and eating Chinese food, it's almost like things are normal again.
Almost. He can see the snow blowing outside. When that snow stops, he will leave here.
Better not get too comfortable.
"Yoongi-ssi," Jimin says quietly. "You said you were–"
He doesn't know a polite way to say it.
"Homeless?" Yoongi nods. "Yeah," he says. "I was. Almost two years."
"Wow," Jimin says slowly. Two years is a long time. Such a long time. He hasn't been on the streets a month yet and he feels like he's aged a hundred years. "How... How did it happen, for you?"
Yoongi sighs. "I was an idiot," he says. "I wanted to be a rapper. I told my parents that I wanted to move to Seoul, not go to college. We fought, and I got on the first bus I could."
"Ah," Jimin says. "My parents didn't want me to be a dancer either."
"You study dance?" Yoongi asks.
Jimin nods. "Yeah," he says. "At the National University of the Arts." He swallows. He gets a lump in his throat when he thinks about school.
"Nice," Yoongi says. "You must be good."
Jimin shrugs. He's good enough – not the best, but good enough to get in. It hardly matters now. He stares down at his feet. He needs to cut his toenails. Funny that he'd think of that now. "My parents–" His voice hitches; he closes his eyes. "My parents found out that I'm gay. I haven't spoken to them since. I thought I could get through the semester but I couldn't. I had to withdraw, so I couldn't stay in the dorm anymore. I was staying with a friend of mine, but he moved home to Daegu. I need to save enough to pay for my tuition for next semester. Then I can worry about everything else."
He sniffs. He doesn't mean it. He hates crying.
"Are you crying?" Yoongi asks.
Jimin shakes his head but it’s obviously a lie. He is crying.
"Good," Yoongi says, sounding satisfied. "That's fucking bullshit. You should cry, Jimin. Crying always makes me feel better than not crying."
So Jimin does, for the first time really. He's been trying for so long to keep himself together. He's been trying to pretend that he can do this all on his own, without his parents' help, without anyone's help. He can't. He misses them. He hates them, and he misses them, and he is scared that he won't be able to do this all on his own.
With his face pressed to his knees, he cries for a little while. Holly, curious about the noise, comes over to see what's going on. He presses his face into Jimin's face, sniffing, and Jimin's sobs are interrupted by a hiccuping laugh. He can't help himself. Holly is licking the tears from Jimin's chin.
"Sorry," he says, sitting up, wiping his eyes. "I interrupted your story, Yoongi-ssi."
Yoongi gives him a look he can't quite read, but he continues. "There's not that much more to it," he says. "Not easy to find a place to live when you're a sixteen-year-old kid on your own. I should have thought of that before I ran away, huh?"
His tone is light and teasing and Jimin understands maybe how in retrospect making it into a joke insulates you from some of the horror.
"I wasn't on the streets the entire time," Yoongi says quietly. "I stayed with friends. Hell, I stayed with anyone who would let me stay. But there wasn't always someone who would let me stay."
Jimin nods. It is not always easy to ask. Not at all.
"Things got better for you, though, right? I mean, you're here now."
Yoongi nods. "Yeah," he says. "I met a guy – a punk kid, really – who made me think about things differently. I thought that I could figure everything out. It took me a while, but I realized that it's okay to ask for help."
"And now you help other idiots," Jimin says, smiling. It's a weak smile. Fragile. It's the best he can manage.
"I try to help anyone who needs it," Yoongi says. "That card I gave you? I volunteer there. My friend – the punk kid – he's in school for social work, and he works there part time too."
"That's really great, Yoongi-ssi," Jimin says quietly.
Yoongi shrugs. "I'm not exactly some Mother Teresa," he says. "I'm just trying to pay my good luck forward, I guess."
Jimin nods. "Thanks, though. Really."
"It's not a big deal," Yoongi says, a little dismissive, but his smile is pleased. "And hey, Jimin, you can just call me hyung, okay?"
Jimin smiles too. "Okay, hyung."
After they clean up the things from dinner, they sit on opposite ends of the couch and watch a little more television. Yoongi doesn't try to make Jimin tell him more. Jimin appreciates that. He's already shared more with Yoongi than he has with almost anyone else. It's not easy.
Although it's not late, before the next show is over, Jimin feels himself start to doze off. His head nods. His eyelids slide shut. He catches himself with a start and jerks awake, only for the process to start over. He's in the head-nodding portion of the cycle when Yoongi gets up off the couch.
"Sorry," Jimin says.
Yoongi shakes his head. "You don't have to apologize for falling asleep, Jimin."
He disappears into the other room and comes back with a stack of blankets and a pillow.
"Here," he says. "Do you need more blankets?"
Jimin shakes his head. He's grateful just for this. So grateful.
"Help yourself to anything in the fridge," Yoongi says.
"I'm gonna shut my door," Yoongi says. "But if you need anything, just like, yell or knock, or whatever."
"Okay, hyung," Jimin says, smiling. "I'll be fine, though. Thank you. Really."
Yoongi nods. Holly circles around his ankles. "Good night, Jimin," he says, and then he goes into his bedroom and slides the flimsy door shut.
Jimin sits for a moment in Yoongi's quiet living room. Then he gets up and goes over to the window. Snow is falling thick and fast still; cars are buried to mid-tire. He is filled with a sudden sense of horror. Vertigo, almost like he is falling head first into that smooth, white expanse.
He puts a hand on the sill and steps back. He is here now, in Yoongi's apartment, for tonight at least. Tomorrow he can worry about the snow.
He goes back to the couch and unfolds the blankets Yoongi gave him. They are worn but warm. Jimin spreads them out and then climbs under. The couch is a little lumpy, probably second hand. It feels as soft as a feather to Jimin. He tries to lie flat on his back, but he can't. He doesn't like staring up at the ceiling. Instead he ends up curled around a pillow, hugging it to his chest, the same way he hugged his backpack. He tries hard to remind himself that he's warm now and he's safe now and that he can worry about tomorrow when it comes, but sleep does not come easily.
Anxiety and exhaustion war for a while, but exhaustion wins. He closes his eyes, and pulls the blankets up nearly to his nose, and finally sleeps, deep and sound for the first time in weeks.
Jimin is a good house guest, inobtrusive and polite. When Yoongi gets up the next morning, Jimin has folded up his blankets and left them at the end of the couch. He's tidied up the living room, and is sitting on the floor looking at his phone.
He jumps when Yoongi says good morning.
"Oh," he says. "Good morning, hyung. I charged my phone. I hope that's okay."
"It's fine," Yoongi says. He shuffles over to the kitchen. "Do you drink coffee?"
Yoongi goes through the motions of making coffee. He stayed up too late working on a new track, and his eyes feel gummy from lack of sleep. The apartment is cold too. Yoongi keeps the heat down pretty low; this morning it feels like the outside is creeping in.
"Still snowing, huh?" he says, glancing out the window.
Jimin nods, frowning. "Yeah," he says.
"Guess you'll just have to stay here today," Yoongi says.
"Hyung," Jimin says. "I don't want to–”
"I said you could stay until the snow stopped, right?"
Jimin nods slowly.
"Well, has the snow stopped?"
Jimin shakes his head.
Yoongi grins, triumphant. "Guess you're just going to have to stay then, huh?"
Jimin frowns, but does not protest.
It's nice, having someone around the apartment. Holly is good company, of course, but as much as Yoongi is convinced that he understands Korean, the dog hasn't quite mastered speaking it yet. Jimin is not exactly loquacious. He is guarded in a way that Yoongi remembers, a way that probably serves him well outside, but makes for slightly stilted conversation.
It's fine though, Yoongi isn't someone who needs to talk. He's not usually much of a TV person but it's nice sitting on the couch with Jimin, bookending Holly who claims the middle cushion. They just watch dumb stuff – the news for a while, to hear about the weather, and then a dumb daytime drama. Yoongi makes some breakfast, and Jimin offers to do the dishes. Jimin dozes off again while they watch more TV. While he's sleeping, Yoongi checks the weather again. The snow is supposed to stop tonight.
Maybe Yoongi can convince Jimin to go to the shelter before it does.
He broaches the subject again that afternoon. After taking Holly out he comes back upstairs to find Jimin awake, barely. Puffy-faced and tousle-haired, he looks young and exhausted.
"So you're in school, huh?" Yoongi asks.
Jimin nods. "Yeah," he says. "For dance, like I said."
"When do your classes start back up?"
Jimin exhales. "First week of March." He licks his lips. "I really need to make some money before then."
Yoongi nods slowly. "And if you get the money, and go back to school, what's your plan? Going to try to move back into the dorms?"
Jimin shrugs, but he shakes his head no. "Probably not," he admits. "They're really expensive. I know I can find something cheaper. I can ask my friend Taehyung if I can stay with him for a while, I guess, and I am working." He exhales more deeply. It is a weary noise.
"You know there are organizations that can help you," Yoongi says. "They can get you into subsidized housing. It might mean you have to wait another semester to start school again, but uh, that's how I got my first place."
Jimin's brows are knit. His arms are wrapped all the ways around his knees, one hands clasped around the other wrist. "I can't not go back to school," he says stubbornly. "If I stop out another semester, I might lose my scholarship."
"There are other scholarships," Yoongi says, very carefully. "Anyway, it couldn't hurt to go talk to them, right?"
Jimin shrugs, dismissive and closed off now. Damn. Yoongi's lost him. He sighs. He's forgotten in these past four years of easy living what it feels like to be so young and so scared, what it feels like to pin every single one of your hopes and dreams on that desperate last ditch attempt.
That's what he'd done, isn't it? He'd been so sure that he could break through the general white noise of the Seoul rap scene and rise to the top in one meteoric burst. He'd foregone sleep and safety in pursuit of that goal, and if Namjoon hadn't literally dragged him to talk to Seokjin, he might have foregone a lot more.
Yoongi is on his way to where he wants to be now. He works as a producer for a mid-level entertainment company and has even released some of his own tracks. It took some time for things to pan out, and he spent a long time working menial jobs, but at least he got to do it with a roof over his head.
Jimin needs to figure that out on his own. Yoongi just hopes it doesn't take him too long.
As the pale afternoon is fading into a grey evening, Jimin gets a message. He reads it with creased brows. "Hyung," he says carefully. "I need to go make a phone call. Would that be okay?"
Yoongi nods. "It's fine," he says. "You can use my room."
Yoongi's apartment isn't really a one bedroom, but he put up a partition between the living area and the space where he sleeps. It's not exactly noise proof, but Jimin speaks quietly, and Yoongi isn't trying to eavesdrop. He actually gets up to feed Holly and wash a couple of coffee cups, so that the running water further obscures Jimin's conversation.
Jimin comes out of the bedroom with a fixed, determined look on his face, but he doesn't say anything else about his phone call – and there's no reason he should. Yoongi is nosy, but not enough to ask.
They eat the leftovers from the prior night for dinner, and then watch a movie on the couch. The snowflakes are finer now, like falling glitter instead of the big, fat flakes from earlier in the day. Yoongi takes Holly out one more time. He feels a bit antsy, a bit ill at ease. Part of it is just from being cooped up inside for so long. He's a homebody, but he doesn't like the feeling of not being able to go out. He needs to get back to the studio, too. Hopefully by tomorrow the streets will be clear.
He can tell Jimin is tired before the movie is over, so he turns it off and with a big feigned yawn that makes Jimin grin, says it's time for bed.
"I'm not sleepy," Jimin protests.
"Well I am," Yoongi says. "We did a lot of very exhausting nothing today, and I need my beauty sleep."
It's a dumb joke, but it makes Jimin giggle, a high, sweet noise.
Seokjin would be proud.
"Thank you so much for everything, hyung," Jimin says, smiling still. "I really really don't know how to thank you."
"You don't need to thank me," Yoongi says. "I offered, didn't I?"
"Sometimes you have to take what the world sends your way, Jimin," he says, thinking of how much he'd fought, how very desperately he'd wanted anything but the hand fate dealt him.
"Good night, hyung," Jimin says quietly.
"Night, Jimin," Yoongi says.
He waits for Holly to get off the couch, where he is curled at Jimin's feet, but he does not stir.
"Huh, I see how it is, Min Holly," he huffs, feigning offense. "Fine. Abandon me for the kid."
Jimin grins, reaching down to pat Holly's head. The dog huffs and rolls over, legs splayed in the air.
Crazy dog. Yoongi rolls his eyes, and goes into his little makeshift bedroom. He changes into another pair of sleep pants, another sweatshirt, and shuts off the lights. He isn't tired, but he doesn't feel like he can do anything else tonight, so he just lies in the dark for a long time, thinking about other darker nights, until he falls asleep.
In the morning, he wakes up and the sun is shining on a glistening world. He slides open the door to the living room. Holly is curled up on the couch, and there is a note on the coffee table.
Thank you, hyung. I owe you forever. I will pay you back, one day!
Jimin's backpack is gone. His boots are not by the front door. Goddamnit.
Yoongi wishes he was surprised.
Jimin makes a face in the mirror of the convenience store’s tiny bathroom. A single bulb hangs overhead, and the mirror itself is warped and spotted with black. He stopped by here on some pretense about checking his hours; really, he’d just needed a quiet place to psych himself up, to make sure he looked okay.
He is not sure he looks okay. He is freshly showered, thanks to Yoongi, and he is wearing his nicest, cleanest clothes, but there’s still something ragged and worn down in his expression that he doesn’t like, that he doesn’t think will sell well with the upper-class matrons of Seoul.
After several days of silence, Jimin finally heard from Jaekwon’s friend who might be able to get him a job as a masseuse.
Jimin is not an idiot. He understands what that means. He knows what is being asked of him, in spite of promises that he will never need to do more than offer massages, never need to do anything he’s not comfortable with.
He understands how money is made. He’s not going to get what he needs rubbing someone’s back. The thought makes his stomach hurt, makes him feel pinched and strange, but Yoongi hyung had it right. It was stupid to worry so much about getting enough to pay for school when he doesn’t even have a place to live. It’s not like he can rely on Taehyung forever -- Taehyung would let him, but Jimin can’t, not when Taehyung is already working so hard to put himself through school without relying on his grandparents. Taehyung is his best friend; Jimin can’t burden him even more.
Maybe this way, he’ll be able to manage on his own.
This is just a meeting anyway. He hasn’t even been offered the job yet. He needs to impress this friend of Jaekwon’s first.
Ryowon had sounded fine on the phone — a bit less friendly than Jimin might have hoped, but not unfriendly either. Professional. Serious. Like this was a business. Maybe that is a good thing. He’d arranged to meet Jimin at a particular coffee shop in Hongdae at five o’clock, provided the snow stopped.
Jimin had woken to a golden morning. He takes that as an omen of good luck. He feels bad still for leaving Yoongi the way he did, but he felt his heart softening. If he stayed longer, he might let himself get talked into doing something he couldn’t do. He might let himself get talked into going to that shelter, into putting off going back to school, into working with Yoongi’s social worker friends to find a place to live.
He can figure this out. He knows he can. If this job pans out, he’ll have enough money to take care of himself.
Everything will be fine.
He looks in the mirror again, narrows his eyes and makes an insouciant face. It looks idiotic. When he’d been dating Chanhyung, he’d felt sexy. Not all the time; a lot of the time he still felt like the dorky kid he secretly was. But he’d been starting to edge his way into an understanding of what it might be like to be wanted. Desired. To want to feel that way.
He does not feel that way. He feels stupid and tired. Old news and far too young, all at once. He takes a deep breath in and breathes out.
It will have to do. This is the best he can manage. This is all he has.
He picks up his backpack again and heads out into the store. He smiles and waves to the owner, who is a good but disinterested boss, and says he’ll see him for his shift tomorrow.
Outside, it is very cold. The air is full of a brittle crispness that makes Jimin’s teeth chatter. He hopes this cold spell breaks soon; he hasn’t even thought about where he might sleep tonight.
It takes a while to get to Hongdae; he has no option but to take the subway, as much as he hates to waste money on that. He is nervous. More nervous than when he auditioned for the National University of the Arts, which is the most nervous he’s ever been. After he gets off the subway he walks around for a while, trying to calm himself. He repeats the lyrics of a song his mother used to sing to him over and over to himself. It’s always been a foolish little luck charm, something he did to center himself before performing.
This is the biggest performance of his life, and he needs all the luck he can get.
He shows up at the coffee shop at five exactly. Lingering just inside the door he looks around. He doesn’t know what Jaekwon’s friend Ryowon looks like, but he knows he’s wearing a red coat. For a moment horror seizes him. He sees no red coat. Then, in the back corner, he spies his man.
Ryowon is not what Jimin expects. He is older than Jimin thought he would be. Bigger. Tall, and heavyset, like an athlete gone to seed. His face is heavy, too. Heavy brows and heavy jawline.
Jimin can’t imagine him giving anyone a massage, but he doesn’t really know what women like.
He walks up to Ryowon’s table as confidently as he can manage, standing tall, shoulders back. His dance training comes in handy sometimes.
“Are you Ryowon?”
Ryowon looks up. His face is neutral, but his expression shifts into something pleased as he takes in Jimin.
“Jimin? Yeah. Hey, good to meet you.”
They shake hands. Ryowon’s hands dwarf Jimin’s. Jimin hopes that’s not a disqualification.
“You want to grab some coffee?” Ryowon asks.
Jimin shakes his head. He can’t afford it and he doesn’t need it. He is nervous enough.
“Right,” Ryowon says. “Let’s get going then.”
They head back out into the evening. The streets are busy, full of people out getting their first breath of fresh air after two days of storm.
“So,” Ryowon says. “Jaekwon hyung told you what we do?”
Jimin nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Uh, he told me. Massages, and stuff.”
Ryowon laughs. “Yeah. ‘And stuff’.”
Jimin smiles, even though he feels like the joke is made at his expense.
“We arrange the appointments,” Ryowon says. He is leading them away from the main drag, and Jimin supposes that’s prudent. It’s less crowded here. Less chance of being overheard. “All of our clients are screened. These are high class ladies. The wives of judges and doctors. They’re just a bit lonely, get it? Who wouldn’t be lonely, sitting at home all day while your husband is at work.”
“We arrange the appointments. We get sixty-five per cent, you get thirty-five.”
Jimin frowns. That doesn’t seem like a very fair split, considering they’re not doing any actual work, but before he can question it Ryowon continues.
“Any tips, you keep,” Ryowon says. “But the tips depend on how much of that ‘and stuff’ you’re willing to do.”
“Ah,” Jimin says, understanding now.
They turn down another street. Dark. Buildings close together. A trash can overflows onto the sidewalk, refuse uncollected because of the storm.
“You’re kind of short, but you’ve got the right look,” Ryowon says. “They go nuts for pretty boys like you. You in good shape?”
Jimin feels his cheeks color. “Um, pretty good, I guess. I’m a dancer.”
Ryowon barks a laugh. “Oh, they’ll love that,” he says. “A dancer.” He snorts, like he finds it amusing, somehow.
“How much do your um, staff make?” Jimin asks. “In a week, how much could I make?”
Ryowon glances at him, eyes narrow, expression cool and appraising. “At first? Not that much. You need to build up a reputation, establish some clients who will keep coming back to you. Our most popular guys make as much as ₩3,000,000 a week.”
Jimin nearly gasps. “That much?”
Ryowon nods. “That much.”
Jimin closes his eyes. He can’t imagine it. He could earn in one week as much as he needs for school. More! Enough for school and rent and everything. Enough so that he would never have to worry about where he was going to sleep.
“That’s really good,” Jimin says.
Ryowon laughs again. “Yeah,” he says. “And it doesn’t happen overnight. But the potential is there.”
Potential. That’s all Jimin needs. He can make this work. He just needs a chance. He nods, slowly. “I’m interested, Ryowon-ssi.”
“Good,” Ryowon says. He glances up and down the street. They are alone. “I need to take some pictures of you for my boss,” he says. “If he likes your looks, he’ll want to meet you, and then he’ll offer you a job. Take off your coat and stand against the wall there.”
Jimin hesitates, but he needs this job. He needs this to work out. He takes off his backpack and his coat and sets them down on the snowy sidewalk. He poses in front of a scruffy brick wall, trying to stand as tall as he can, trying to look like whatever it is Ryowon wants.
Ryowon snaps a few pictures on his phone.
“Okay,” he says. “Let me just get one of your face.”
The flash leaves white spots swimming in Jimin’s vision.
Ryowon looks through the pictures, nodding, satisfied. “Nice,” he says.
There is someone coming down the block now, from the other way. They are walking in shadow, but when they call out a greeting their voice is familiar.
“Hyung,” Ryowon says.
He has a big smile on his face. “Ah, so it all worked out, huh, Jimin-ah?”
His too-familiar tone sets Jimin’s teeth on edge.
“What are you doing here?” Jimin asks, confused.
Jaewon comes to stand beside Ryowon. They are both taller than Jimin. Jaekwon is thinner, but not by much.
Jimin swallows. He is starting not to like this. Starting to feel nervous. The hair on the back of his neck stands up.
“What are you doing here, Jaekwon hyung?” he asks again.
“Ah, Jimin,” Jaekwon says. “Didn’t I tell you? I take a commission for my referral.”
Jimin’s blood turns to ice. “What are you talking about? Commission? Hyung, you never mentioned a commission.”
Jimin takes a quick step towards his bag.
“Ryowon,” Jaekwon barks. “Grab him.”
Moving more quickly than Jimin would have guessed he could, Ryowon snags Jimin, thick arms wrapped around Jimin’s waist.
Jaewon walks slowly over to Jimin’s backpack. He picks it up and jostles it a bit, like he’s some connoisseur, assessing the value of what’s inside.
“You must have something good in here, right? You don’t let the damn thing out of your sight.”
Cruel and careless, he unzips the bag and upends it.
Everything Jimin owns falls out onto the dirty snow.
Jimin’s pulse is pounding in his ears. He stamps on Ryowon’s feet, digs his fingernails into Ryowon’s arms, but it does no good. He’s not strong enough.
Like a vulture picking over a corpse, Jaewon shifts through the pitiful remains of Jimin’s life.
“Hmph,” he sniffs. “Figured you had a laptop or something. An iPad at least.”
Jimin has nothing like that. He sold his laptop weeks ago.
He paws greedily through Jimin’s clothes, but there’s nothing of value there. Jimin thinks maybe — just maybe — Jaewon might overlook his little cache.
But Jimin is not so lucky. Jaewon feels the lump in one of Jimin’s old socks. He reaches in and pulls out a fat wad of cash.
Everything Jimin has. Every won he’s saved.
“Ah,” Jaewon says. “This is better. Knew there must be some reason you hung onto that bag like it was your fucking lifeline.” He shakes his head. “Gotta learn a little subtlety, kid.”
He rifles through the rest of Jimin’s things, takes even his headphones, which are just a cheap replacement pair he bought at the convenience store. He takes a few other bits and pieces — Jimin cannot even bring himself to watch. He feels faint. He is crying now. He hates that he’s crying, but he can’t help it. Tears run down his face. They sting in the bitter cold.
When Jaekwon is done with Jimin’s bag, he turns out the pockets of Jimin’s coat. He takes the pitiful ten thousand won note in Jimin’s wallet, takes his T-money card. He scowls down at Jimin’s phone — it’s old, not some flashy new model — and must decide it’s not worth his time.
“Guess you’re really gonna need that job now,” Jaekwon laughs. “Let him go, Ryowon.”
The bigger man drops Jimin, who staggers, falling to his knees in the snow. Somehow — he is not sure where he finds this strength — he gets to his feet again.
“You asshole,” he sobs. “You fucker!”
He charges at Jaekwon, slams into him. They both go flying. They land sprawled on the ice, Jimin on top of Jaekwon. He punches wildly, slamming his fists into anything he can find. His vision is red. “You fucker!” he screams, over and over, and there is a wild note in his voice that renders it unfamiliar.
But Ryowon is on him in a moment, pulling him off Jaekwon, hands on his neck, hands on his arms. He throws Jimin into the ground, and kicks. Jimin curls into a ball, head tucked to his knees. Ryowon keeps kicking, catching Jimin in the small of the back, in the face. It hurts. It hurts so bad.
“Cut it out,” Jaekwon says, annoyed. “You’re going to fuck up his face, and what good is he to us then?”
The bludgeoning stops. The pain does not. Jimin’s ears are ringing. His heart is racing. He can’t feel his hands. Can’t feel anything. He sees something bright red on the snow. He brings a hand to his face. His nose is bleeding.
Jaewon looks little worse for the wear.
“You have a lot to learn, Park Jimin,” he says. Slowly, he leans down and picks up Jimin’s phone. “Gonna be hard for Ryowon to get in touch with you without this,” he sneers.
He sticks it in his pocket.
“Come find me when you’re ready to talk business,” Jaekwon says. “The job is still yours, if you want it.”
And then they leave, walking down the street side by side, a mismatched pair of monsters, dark against the snow.
Jimin watches them go. His heart is still throbbing. When they turn the corner he scrambles to his feet. It hurts. Everything hurts, but he can stand. He does not think any bones have been broken. He staggers over to his backpack, which lays empty on the snow like some deflated balloon. Hastily, carelessly, he shoves everything left to him back inside.
Jaekwon left him his wallet. That is a small mercy. He still has his ID.
He closes his eyes. His nose is still bleeding. It’s all over his shirt now, too. He pulls on his coat, heedless of the blood. His head is spinning. He is still crying, he realizes. Quietly and steadily, tears fall down his face. Now that he realizes it, his breath catches. He swallows back a sob, pushing himself back to his feet, and takes off at a run.
Jimin does not remember stopping. He does not remember sinking to the ground, does not remember curling up around his backpack, hood pulled over his head. He has no memory after leaving that terrible dark street. Somehow, though, he found his way back to the bright lights and cheerful storefronts of Hongdae. Somehow he found his way back to the clamor of the main streets, and then collapsed in a dirty little alley between a fried chicken store and and a colored contact lens outlet.
He wakes up because someone is standing over him, looming. He recoils, terrified.
“Hey,” a kind voice says. “It’s okay, buddy. I’m not going to hurt you.”
Jimin blinks. His face feels stiff. Strange.
Ah. His nose is not bleeding anymore. The blood has dried.
He blinks. His vision swims, and then snaps into focus.
The man — and he is fairly sure it’s Hoseok — frowns.
Jimin wonders how bad he looks, that Hoseok can’t even recognize him.
“You bought me bibimbap,” Jimins says. “You were so kind. You didn’t have to do that.”
Hoseok’s eyes widen. “Jimin?”
Jimin nods slowly. His head feels weird, like it’s connected to his body by only a spring, too heavy for his neck to properly support.
“Jimin,” Hoseok says, urgently. “What happened to you? Do you want me to get the police? Are you okay?”
Jimin shakes his head. No, he is not okay. No, he does not want the police.
Things start to right themselves. He remembers. Twenty-four hours ago he was cozy on the couch in Yoongi’s apartment. Now, he is bereft.
“No,” he says. “No. I was robbed, but — no.”
There is no point. He knows nothing of Jaekwon and Ryowon but their first names, if those were even real. No address. No phone numbers now. He has nothing.
He can’t even call Taehyung. That had always been the very last resort, and now that has been taken from him.
He has nothing.
“Are you crying?” Hoseok asks,
He hadn’t been but Hoseok’s question sets him off. He presses the heels of his hands into his eyes and sobs. Hoseok, kinder than Jimin has any right to expect, wraps his arms around Jimin and lets him cry.
It takes him a while to get himself together. He cries into Hoseok’s shoulder in that dirty alley next to the fried chicken shop. The alley reeks of fast food and cooking oil. They are so close to the busy road that he can hear people laughing as they walk past, hear them talking on their phones. Finally, though, Jimin is cried out. He pulls away from Hoseok.
“I got your shirt all dirty,” he says. “I’m sorry, Hoseok-ssi.”
Hoseok frowns at him, concerned. “What happened?”
Because there is nothing left, because he has nothing left to lose, Jimin tells him. What he’d been planning. What Jaekwon did. What Ryowon did.
“Oh, Jimin,” Hoseok says, when Jimin is done. His face is twisted into a deep, pained frown.
“How did you find me, hyung?” Jimin asks.
Hoseok shakes his head. “I didn’t realize it was you,” he says quietly. “I was busking just over there —“ He nods towards the busy main street. “I saw someone lying in the snow, and I couldn’t just leave without trying to help.”
“You’re too nice,” Jimin says, a little delirious.
Hoseok shakes his head. For some reason, he looks close to tears too.
“Jimin,” he says. “You need help. Do you want to go to the hospital?”
Jimin shakes his head. No. He does not want that.
“Where do you want to go?” Hoseok’s voice is pained.
Jimin closes his eyes. Where does he want to go?
There is nothing left for him. Nowhere. He has nowhere to go but back to that sad corner in the subway station, until he’s chased away again.
He bows his head, and shoves his hands in his pockets.
There’s something in his pocket. Smooth, glossy card stock. He frowns, confused, and takes the card out of his pocket.
It is the card Yoongi gave him what feels like a lifetime ago, for Didim Shelter. Ryowon and Jaekwon must have thought it worthless; it is more precious than gold now, to Jimin.
He’d wanted so badly to manage on his own. He had wanted so badly to make things work.
He realizes that he cannot now. He just can’t.
“Hoseok-ssi,” he says, in a voice he barely recognizes. “Could you take me here?”
Hoseok frowns down at the card. “Yeah,” he says, in a thick, choked voice. “Yeah, of course.” He takes out his phone. “Hold on a second, Jimin-ah. Hold on while I get a cab.”
The man behind the front desk of Didim Shelter has a very kind face.
Hoseok does all the talking.
“My friend had your card,” he says, sounding a little hysterical. “He needs help. Um, I don’t know exactly what happened, but I think he got mugged. He didn’t want to go the hospital, though.”
Jimin, head swimming, nods. He had gotten mugged. He does not want to go the hospital.
“Hey,” the kind man says. “Calm down. It’s okay. Tell me that again.”
Hoseok repeats himself. He sounds no less hysterical.
Jimin shakes his head, annoyed. “I got the card from Yoongi,” he says, words a little slurred. “He helped me. Let me stay with him. He said you could help me.”
The kind man’s eyes go wide. “You stayed with Yoongi?”
“Huh,” the kind man says. “Is your name Jimin?”
Jimin nods. “Yeah,” he says quietly.
“I’m Namjoon,” the kind man says. “Yoongi mentioned you. We’re going to get you cleaned up, okay?”
Jimin doesn’t remember a whole lot of what comes next. He is taken into a bathroom where Namjoon wipes the blood from his face with a wet washcloth. Hoseok hovers nearby, concerned and anxious. Jimin’s head is still spinning a little. All he remembers from the drive here is the shimmering aura of the city lights reflected by the snow.
When his face is washed clean of blood, Namjoon takes careful stock.
“Well,” he says. “I don’t think your nose is broken. You’re just banged up a bit, huh?”
Jimin nods. He feels bruised and tender. Sore. Exposed.
Like he is dreaming, he follows Namjoon into another room with three sets of bunk beds. Namjoon produces a set of warm, clean pajamas from a cupboard, and then he and Hoseok leave Jimin alone to change. He strips off his blood-spattered clothes with relish. He wants to shower – is consumed suddenly with the need to stand under hot water and try to wash himself clean. There had been no shower in the bathroom Namjoon had showed him, though.
Pulling his dirty clothes back on, he walks back to the lobby, where Namjoon and Hoseok are talking quietly, faces grave.
"I'm sorry," Jimin says softly. "Do you think I could take a shower?"
Namjoon looks aghast. "Yes, of course. I'm sorry, Jimin-ssi. Let me show you to the shower."
Namjoon gets him a ziplock bag full of tiny toiletries and a pair of plastic shower shoes and then shows him to another room off the main hall.
"Shower's in there," he says. He frowns, then. "How's your head?"
Jimin shrugs. It hurts, but not that badly.
Namjoon holds up a hand, two fingers folded down. "How many fingers am I holding up?" he asks, but he's laughing. His smile is charming.
"Twelve," Jimin says, joking feebly, feeling in Namjoon's calm serene quiet a bit of his soul start to thaw.
Namjoon rolls his eyes. "Go take your shower," he says. "I'll be out in the lobby when you're done."
The shower room is cramped and a little dismal. Everything here is clean, spotlessly clean, but shabby, too. Jimin supposes they don't have a ton of money. Everything is so much more expensive than he would ever have dreamed. Nobody has much to spare.
He strips off his clothes – they are the nicest he owns, but he knows he can never wear them again. He turns the water on as hot as it will go. The little room fills with a cloud of steam. The heat feels good. Jimin closes his eyes and stands under the hot spray for a long time, letting water run down his hair, down his body. It runs pink for a little while, and then clear as all the evidence of his ill-fated encounter is washed down the drain.
He washes his hair and his body with the little toiletries in the bag Namjoon gave him. When he is as clean as he can manage, he turns the water off and dries himself off with the thin towel. He pulls on the clothes Namjoon gave him – just cheap grey sweatpants and a sweatshirt. It's nothing fancy, but it feels so good to be clean, to be warm, to be out of those blood-soaked clothes. His head is starting to clear; the horror has ebbed. He feels like he can think again.
The truth of his situation dawns afresh. He has nothing now. No one.
Hit with a wave of nausea, he leans against the doorframe and closes his eyes.
But here, at the very bottom, there is at least consolation in the thought that the only place he can go is up. If things can't get worse, they have to get better. They have to.
He is surprised to see Hoseok still in the lobby, talking to Namjoon.
"Thank you, Namjoon-ssi," he says. "I feel a lot better."
Namjoon smiles. "You look a lot better."
"Seriously," Hoseok says. He puts a hand to his chest, a slightly dramatic gesture. "Geeze, you scared the heck out of me, Jiminnie."
Jimin grins, embarrassed. "I'm sorry."
Namjoon shakes his head. "Don't be sorry," he says. "You have nothing to be sorry for, Jimin."
Jimin nods. He closes his eyes. He knows Namjoon is right, but he has made so many mistakes.
"Can you tell us what happened?" Namjoon asks gently. "I understand if it's too soon, but can you tell us who did this?"
Jimin opens his eyes. The truth is a painful bur, something he can ignore, something he can paper over with unconvincing lies, but he cannot get rid of it. It's all he has left now. Truth, and his mistakes.
He sits down in the shabby armchair beside Namjoon, and tells his story.
He tells all of it – about how his parents had never wanted him to go to Seoul, and had been convinced to let him go. About Chanhyung. About his parents' discovery, and the cruel things they'd said. Those words are burs too, lodged in his soul. Namjoon asks a few questions, but they are not intrusive. Hoseok just listens, frown growing deeper.
Jimin explains, feeling very foolish, how he thought he could manage on his own. How he'd been wrong – how work had taken up too much time, and his grades had suffered, and he'd had to withdraw. About living with Taehyung, and not knowing what to do when Taehyung moved home. About the money he'd saved. About the cold nights, and long, empty days. About how Hoseok had helped him, and Yoongi. About Jaekwon's offer.
"I didn't want to do it, really," Jimin says, staring down at his bare feet. His toes are pale and wrinkled, toenails long and yellowed. They need badly to be cut. Maybe he can ask if Namjoon has a nail clipper in the morning. "I just – I thought that if I could just make enough money to get back into school, everything else would work itself out. I just– I want to dance. I don't want to give up. I don't want to prove my parents right."
He can't help the way his voice catches.
"Oh, Jimin," Hoseok says, sadly.
But the story is not over. Jimin tells about leaving Yoongi's apartment – had it only been that morning? It feels like years ago, a gilded epoch of the distant past. He tells about meeting Ryowon, about the job offer. About Jaekwon. What they'd done. What they'd taken.
"My phone," Jimin says, ticking it off on his fingers, like somehow reducing it to a concrete list will make it easier to stomach. "The money I'd saved. Um, it was a little more than ₩600,000. Some jewelry. Nothing really valuable, I guess. They weren't even going to beat me up. I was just – I was so mad. I wasn't thinking straight. I punched him first, but then the friend – Ryowon – caught me. They just. They just roughed me up. I was in shock I guess. I don't even remember walking back towards the subway."
"It's a good thing you did," Hoseok says. "I'm so glad I saw you. Wow, Jimin."
"You saved me," Jimin says, slowly. "Thank you, Hoseok-ssi. Thank you so much."
He feels like he might cry again, and is tired suddenly too.
"Jimin," Namjoon says seriously. "Do you want me to call the police? I am going to be honest. I think it is a very long shot that they would recover anything, but you have the right to report the crime."
Jimin thinks for a long time. He hates Jaekwon more than he has ever hated anyone in his life, but he is not stupid. "No," he says finally. "No, thank you, Namjoon-ssi. It's okay. It's... it's all gone now."
He isn't going to start crying again. He won't. It's just his stupid eyes watering up of their own volition.
Everything is gone.
Before Namjoon can say anything else, the doorbell rings. Namjoon gets up to answer it. Jimin presses the heels of his hands into his eyes – not crying, just aching in some deep and fundamental way.
Then Namjoon steps aside and the door flies open and someone small and vibrating with anger is standing right in front of Jimin.
"I'm going to fucking kill them," Yoongi says, and Jimin has never heard him say anything with such vehemence. "I'm going to kill the assholes who did this."
"Calm down," Namjoon says, a hand on Yoongi's shoulder. "He's fine, hyung. He's just –"
"I'm sorry I left without saying goodbye," Jimin says, looking up at Yoongi.
Yoongi shakes his head. There is some fragile light in his eyes. "You didn't have to go, Jimin."
Jimin nods. He knows. He had known, and he'd gone anyway.
"I'm sorry," he says, hanging his head.
Yoongi shakes his head. "I'm sorry," he says, and without any warning, he wraps Jimin in a tight hug. They stay like that for a moment. It is not the most practiced hug Jimin has ever gotten, and it ends quickly and a little awkwardly, but it feels really good.
"Don't do anything that stupid again," Yoongi mutters, cheeks warm, not meeting Jimin’s eyes..
"I won't," Jimin says, hanging his head. "I won't, hyung." He swallows. "I need to. Um. I don't know where I'm going to go now."
"Jimin," Namjoon says. "You can stay here tonight. You don't have to, but we have room. If you want to stay, tomorrow, Seokjin hyung will be here, and he can talk to you about how you can get more help. There are organizations that can help you, with housing, with everything you need."
Hoseok looks thoughtful for a moment. "I actually know someone who's looking for a roommate," he says, smiling gently.
"It's your choice, kid, but we're all here to help you," Yoongi says, arms folded over his chest, cheeks still suspiciously red. "All you need to do is ask."
Jimin closes his eyes. He is so ashamed. So embarrassed. He's lost so much that it seems like his pride is the only thing he has left.
And yet, is it really worth pain and hunger and cold and fear just to preserve his pride? Would it really cost him so much, just to ask for help?
"Please," he says, in a tiny voice. "Yes, please."
Yoongi relaxes, grinning. Namjoon smiles too, and Hoseok lets out a little whoop.
“Good,” Namjoon says. “Good. I’m really glad you’re going to stay. We’ll do anything we can to help you.”
Jimin nods, feeling a little dazed. “Thank you,” he says quietly. “Thank you.” He swallows. “I think I’d like to sleep now, if it’s okay.”
Namjoon nods, and gets up. He quietly shows Jimin to another room, dark except for a night light at one end. There are four sets of bunk beds, some of them full of people sleeping quietly. There are blankets folded on one end, and a pillow.
“If you need anything,” Namjoon says. “I’ll be on duty all night.”
Namjoon smiles at him, and then leaves, shutting the door behind him.
Jimin puts his bag under the nearest bed, and then climbs in and pulls the blankets up over his head. He is achy and heart sore, and he knows things will not be better in the morning. Not yet. But as he closes his eyes and tries to sleep, his heart is flooded with the almost-forgotten feeling of hope.
On the happiest day of Jimin’s life, everyone is there. Hoseok and Namjoon, Jungkook and Seokjin, Taehyung and Yoongi – they’re all waiting for him in the lobby, with all the other proud families. They may be a little out of the ordinary as families go, but they are Jimin's, and he loves them with every atom in his body.
It has taken Jimin longer than he ever thought it would, but finally -- finally! -- he is a college graduate. As the recessional plays, he and all the other graduates march two by two down off the stage and up the long center aisle of the auditorium and finally out to where their loved ones wait.
Taehyung and Jungkook reach him first. Taehyung, his oldest and dearest friend, wraps him in a tight hug. Jimin hugs back. He is never going to let go of Taehyung again. He is ashamed and appalled that he ever thought he could.
After Jimin got a new phone and logged back into his KKT account, he’d been horrified to see the messages he’d missed from Taehyung -- first joking that he wasn’t going to let Jimin ignore him, and then annoyed asking if Jimin had found a new best friend, and finally desperate, pleading for information, for a simple word. Hoseok had come home to find Jimin sobbing at their tiny kitchen table. He’d let Jimin cry, and then sat with Jimin while he typed a message to Taehyung -- not attempting to explain, just asking for forgiveness. It was the hardest message Jimin had ever sent. There were more hard days after that. Taehyung had been hurt, had not understood why Jimin hadn’t asked him for help. Jimin had been ashamed, and unable to explain why he hadn’t been able to.
It had taken time for them to thaw, but they are better now than they’ve ever been. Closer. There are no secrets between them now.
"You did it," Taehyung yells, delighted. “Congratulations, Jimin-ah!” He squeezes once, and then lets go.
Jungkook steps forward, and squeezes so tightly that Jimin is momentarily lifted from the ground. "Hyung," he crows. "You did it!"
Namjoon and Yoongi and the others are just a step behind. Hoseok has a truly enormous bouquet of flowers in his arms. He presents them out to Jimin with a flourish.
"Hyung, they're beautiful," Jimin says. He opens the little card and reads it. "'Happy graduation to the world's best roommate'."
Hoseok grins. "I'm not even going not complain that you left your wet towel on the floor again this morning, Jimin-ah, even though you know that when you do that –"
"– they dry all weird and start to smell," Jimin finishes, grinning too. This is a familiar debate. Jimin and Hoseok have lived together for almost four years now. They are good roommates, and genuinely enjoy each other's company, but they don't always see eye to eye where tidiness is concerned.
"Congratulations, Jimin-ah," Namjoon says, smiling.
"I knew you could do it, kid," Seokjin adds.
Namjoon and Seokjin helped Jimin – and Jungkook, and a hundred more kids beside – find his way out of that terrible dark, that terrible cold. He owes them so much. Seokjin showed him how to apply for housing support, guided him through talking to the advisors at school so that he didn't lose his scholarship even when he took an extra semester off. Even after that, it hadn’t been easy, but each time Jimin had been ready to give up on school, Namjoon and Seokjin never stopped insisting that they’d be guests at his graduation some day. They've helped him in so many ways, big and small. They believed in him even when he couldn’t believe in himself. He can hardly believe that they were right.
"Thank you so much, hyungs," Jimin says, hugging them both as well as he can with the flowers in his arms. "I could never have done it without your help."
He is smiling so widely his cheeks hurt. He can't help it. He can't believe he's a college graduate. It seems so implausible. The day is not free of shadows. His parents are not here. That is a wound that has not healed. But all the people that matter are here. All the people that love him, and that he loves in return, are here to see him graduate.
Yoongi, wearing a face mask, lingers at the back of the crowd.
Jimin turns to him, eyes wide. "Oh my god," he says in a mock whisper. "Is that Agust D?"
Taehyung cackles. Namjoon snorts. Yoongi gives him the finger.
Last year, Yoongi had done a rap feature on a single by an up-and-coming singer named Suran. Unexpectedly, the song had been a big hit. Yoongi's star is on the rise.
Jimin shakes his head. "Don't be vulgar, hyung," he says, a little primly. "You know you love me."
He steps closer and hugs Yoongi, half-shoving the bouquet in Yoongi's face.
"Yeah," Yoongi mutters. "Good job, Jimin-ah."
Jimin kisses him on the cheek, quick and chaste. This is a new thing – not entirely unexpected, but new and careful and tender. Jimin has always cared about Yoongi; it is only in the last year that he realized that care might be more than simple friendly affection. Even then, he had never imagined Yoongi might feel the same way.
He would be ignorant of Yoongi’s feelings still, but one night when Yoongi had been holed up in his studio Jimin had stopped by with food. He knew Yoongi had a tendency to get caught up in his work, worried he wasn’t taking care of himself. He’d meant just to drop the food off and go, so that Yoongi could keep working, but when he’d been about to leave Yoongi had shrugged and said, that since Jimin had come all this way, he might as well just stay.
Yoongi did not let just anyone invade the sanctity of his studo. Jimin sat in the other chair, knees pulled to his chest, and watched him work. It was two o’clock in the morning when Yoongi sat up and stretched. He smiled, and Jimin thought he would say that it was time to pack up, to head home.
Instead he had said, “Jimin-ah, can I take you out to dinner sometime?”
Jimin had been so shocked he couldn’t reply right away, and Yoongi had turned, red-cheeked, towards his console.
“Sorry,” he’d muttered. “Sorry, I don’t know what I was--”
“Hyung,” Jimin had burst out. “Yes. Of course. Yes!”
They are not unaware of the risks and they've talked about it and talked about it – with each other, with their therapists, with anyone who will listen. What they have is very new, and Jimin is trying not to get ahead of himself, but he knows he cares deeply about Yoongi. He knows Yoongi cares deeply about him, and understands that some small part of Jimin is still out there, sleeping in the snow on that cold evening.
Jimin doesn’t want to rush anything, but he is amazed anew each day at how right this feels.
Yoongi's arm slides comfortably around his waist.
"Where are you taking me out to dinner?" Jimin asks, beaming.
"Who says I'm taking you out?" Yoongi scoffs.
Jimin rolls his eyes. "I saw the reservation on your calendar," he says, teasing.
"Jihwaja is the place you wanted to try, right?" Yoongi asks, a little nervous.
"Yup," Jimin says, delighted. "You remembered, hyung."
Yoongi looks extremely pleased.
They mill around for a little while so Jimin can congratulate his classmates, say thank you to his teachers – all these people he's leaned on, people he's helped and who have helped him. It's taken longer than he thought it would, but he's finally made it. He’s a graduate.
The path ahead is not clear. He has a new job as a dance instructor at a big busy studio in Hongdae, and a little money in the bank and a lot of big dreams still. It makes him excited and nervous but not afraid. Not anymore. He might mess up again. He will. But he has his people now, and he knows with their help he can get anywhere he needs to go.
The crowd is dispersing, in tears and hugs and congratulations. Jungkook is talking wide-eyed to Lee Jieun, the star graduate student in the vocal department. Taehyung goes over to wrangle him up as everyone else starts to bundle up in winter coats and scarves and hats.
After he puts on his own coat, Jimin grabs Yoongi’s hand again, weaves their fingers together.
“Thank you, hyung,” he says quietly. “I really couldn’t have done this without your help.”
Yoongi shakes his head. “You could have,” he says quietly, “but I’m glad you didn’t have to.”
Jimin smiles and rests his head on Yoongi’s shoulder for a moment. Yoongi squeezes his hand.
“Come on, you guys,” Jimin says. “We’re going to be late for my party!”
They all head out into the snowy evening. Jimin still hates the cold, but the visceral horror of it is not as keen now. He can appreciate, even, how beautiful the snow looks, when he has a warm, snug apartment to go home to.
Yoongi and Namjoon are arguing about the best train to take to the restaurant, and Jungkook looks mildly dazed after his exposure to his crush. Hoseok is holding Jimin’s flowers, and Seokjin is checking something on his phone.
“Wait,” Jimin gasps. He can’t believe he nearly forgot. “Hold on. We need to take a picture!”
One of his teachers is just stepping outside. “Seonsaengnim,” he says, “Could you take a picture for me, please?”
“Of course, Jimin-ah,” she says, smiling, pulling off her gloves.
He hands her his phone, shows her how to take a photo.
Laughing, she says, “I do know how a phone works.”
He grins, abashed, and then says, “Come on! Photo time!”
He loops one arm around Taehyung’s hand, and grabs Yoongi’s hand with the other. Hoseok drapes himself over Jimin’s back, and Namjoon and Seokjin stand on either side of him. Jungkook crouches in front.
“Ready?” Jimin’s teacher asks.
There’s a moment of near stillness, and the flash goes off, blinding them all.
“One more,” his teacher calls, and the flash goes off again, but Jungkook is stumbling backwards into Taehyung, which knocks Jimin off balance. He starts to fall, but Yoongi catches him and steadies him.
“Careful,” Yoongi says, patting Jimin’s shoulder with a mittened hand.
“Here you go, Jimin-ah,” his teacher says, handing back his phone. “Are you sure you don’t want one inside?”
It’s not the greatest photo. They’re washed out by the flash, and Jimin’s tassel is hanging in front of his face. Seokjin is giving Yoongi bunny ears. Jungkook’s eyes are closed. The snow is falling, and in the cold, dim evening light Jimin sees a shadow of something he wishes he could forget.
Something he knows he never will.
But, right now, surrounded by his dearest friends, Jimin’s heart has never felt so warm.
He shakes his head. “No, thank you. This is great, seonsaengnim.” He grins. “Thank you so much, for all of your help.”
She smiles kindly. “It was my pleasure, Jimin. Please stay in touch.”
Then she smiles and is gone.
Jimin eyes are watering. It might just be the cold.
He wants to say more, but he can’t find the words. Namjoon hails a cab. It pulls up to the curb. Jungkook and Taehyung argue about who gets the front seat before Seokjin thwarts them both by taking it himself.
Jimin and Yoongi end up in the back seat, in the corner. Seokjin and Namjoon are both giving directions to the annoyance of the driver, and Taehyung and Jungkook are arguing still, and Hoseok is attempting not to crush the flowers.
Yoongi leans over, lips next to Jimin’s ear. “You okay?” he whispers.
Jimin nods. “Yeah,” he says, snug and warm and so full of love. “I’m perfect, hyung.”
Yoongi smiles, satisfied, and reaches out to take Jimin’s hand again.