It’s a beautiful winter's morning for the end of the world.
A fresh layer of snow blankets the forest floor and clings to the twisted pine branches, dampening the permanent taste of sulfur that usually sulks in the air. Peaking above through the pine needles and bare branches, the sky is grey and heavy with clouds and ash and massive dark blobs of debris, floating high above the atmosphere. The sunlight, filtered by the clouds, is less of a dying red and more soft, almost orange, casting blurry shadows and golden tints across the snow.
Sleepy and bleary-eyed, Yoongi shoves a shoulder against the iron door of the bunker and steps out into the crisp forest air with a mug of thin, shitty coffee in his hand.
He’s takes a sip and a step forward and his foot falls on something soft and bony and large. He grunts and stumbles back, coffee spilling down his chin and onto his long-sleeve t-shirt and for a moment, all he thinks is shit, he only has so many un-coffee-stained shirts in the apocalypse and he liked this one -
There is a man. Lying face down. In front of the bunker.
A man. He just stepped on a man. Here. In front of his nuclear bunker hidden deep within the pine forests of Gyeongbuk two years after the world has ended.
Yoongi turns on his heel, lurches, and slams the heavy bunker door behind him, throwing the latch and falling back against it with his mug held tight. The spot of spilled coffee is warm against his chest.
Shit, shit, shit.
Should he hide? Hope the man goes away? How could anyone have possibly found him? A gang had just moved into the ruined mansions a few miles from here but they usually travel in pairs and, so far, had never made it this deep in the forest. But maybe they'd discovered him. Maybe this is a trap, a trick to lure him out.
Shaking, Yoongi pounds down the short, steel staircase and into his white, cinderblock bunker. It's small. There are only two rooms, one that's packed with supplies and the main room that houses shelves, a small table, a chair, a counter of cooking appliances, a sink, and a single bed pressed into the corner. The cement floors are freezing during winter and it always smells of paint. It's not fancy or nice, but it's secure with food and a locking door and it's his. Yoongi can't lose it.
Yoongi shoves his mug on the table and begins pulling on boots, his coat, his beanie over his overgrown hair that's poking down over his eyes and grabs the hunting knife he keeps hanging on the wall. His fingers shake as he velcroes the halter around his thigh, looping it in his cloth belt.
He could lock the bunker door and see if the man will disappear on his own, but then the man might run off and bring back more people and - No. No, Yoongi can't risk that.
Calm down, he tells himself, even though its too late, his heart is racing and his thoughts are tumbling over each other. Calm down. Calm down.
Breathing deep through his nose, Yoongi’s fingers wrap tight around the handle of the knife and he walks up the stairs slowly, pausing at the top and placing an ear against to the door. Nothing.
Yoongi pushes the iron door open as slow and quiet as he can before peeking his head out. The man is still there, motionless, splayed out in the dirt in front of the door with ragged clothes, muddy boots, and overgrown, oily black hair long enough to brush his shoulders.
Yoongi waits. Nothing happens. The man doesn’t stir.
“Hello?” His voice cracks with misuse. The man doesn’t react.
Grimacing, Yoongi shuffles out from behind the door and approaches carefully, watching for movement. Once he's close enough, he prods the man's body with his boot. It flops, limp.
Is he dead then? Yoongi squats and - slowly - reaches out a hand to check for the man’s pulse, brushing aside hair. He barely registers that the man doesn’t just feel warm, but hot when -
The man twitches, groaning low into the ground.
Yoongi squeaks and falls back on his ass.
“Are you alright?” Yoongi asks after another moment of silence.
The man doesn't move and since Yoongi can't think of what else to do, he gathers his courage and reaches out, carefully flipping the man over onto his back.
The man is unconscious with fluttering, half-lidded eyes. His breaths catch in his throat and he’s filthy, with oil, sweat, and grim streaked across his face, his hair tangled, his facial hair scraggly and unkempt over sunken cheeks and pallid skin. Black bruises peek out of his coat’s collar.
Not dead then. But almost dead.
Leaving the man on the ground, Yoongi checks the nearby forest to see if anyone is watching or waiting, but he doesn’t find anything except a trail of footsteps dragged through the snow towards the bunker. After that, he pats the man down, but finds nothing: no weapons, no food, nothing except a ring of keys and a blue rock.
Yoongi stands and frowns, exhaling slow. His breath mists in the winter air. Around him, the forest is quiet. Waiting. This feels wrong. It has to be either a trap or a mistake, but he also can’t leave the man out here in the cold to die.
If you were smart, a voice in his head whispers, You'd kill him now. The man is unconscious, Yoongi has his knife, but - no. Of course he can’t do that.
He wishes he could. There's no scenario he can think of where any of this turns out alright.
Yoongi stands over the man, then paces, then stands, then rolls his eyes up to glare at the reddish sun. But eventually, he sighs, deflates. Reaching down, he loops his arms under the man's armpits and drags him into the bunker.
The fever burns through the man like wildfire. He shivers and coughs and mumbles, twisting on the bed and crying out in the middle of the night, startling Yoongi awake.
After dragging the man in and hoisting him up onto the bed, Yoongi had peeled off most of the man's almost-molding clothes and had wiped away as much sweat and grime as he could before placing a wet rag on his forehead and tucking him into the bed. Yoongi hovers, afterwards, but besides forcing down some acetaminophen pills and trying to keep the stranger hydrated, there's not much he can do.
It's strange. Every time Yoongi's fingers brushes against the man's skin, an ache spreads out from under Yoongi's sternum, leaking down his arms and tingling in his palms and it's weird. It happens when he sponges the man down, when he lifts his head up to drink, when he fixes wet rags against his forehead. And even when Yoongi isn't touching him, is nowhere near him, the man burns like a bonfire. Yoongi feels it constantly no matter where he is in the bunker: hot, blazing, always in the corner of his eye. He's spent so long being so alone that, apparently, even a half-dead, unconscious man is too much company.
It's on the second night, when Yoongi is replacing the wet rags on his forehead, the man stirs, head falling back and eyes fluttering open.
“Tae-ung,” he slurs in a low, sticky voice.
Yoongi yanks his hand away and steps back. The stranger doesn’t notice, his dark eyes rolling and clouded.
“Where -“ The man blinks hard in the harsh, white lights and starts twisting as if to get up when the rope around his wrist pulls taut. Yoongi isn't stupid. As soon as he had drug the man in, Yoongi had tied the man's right ankle and wrist to a water pipe that runs along the bunker's floor to make sure Yoongi isn't murdered in his sleep. The man's eyes fly open wide and he tugs harder on the rope. “What?”
“Whoa, hang on. You’re fine. You’re safe, I promise,” Yoongi tries as the man yanks on his ankle so hard Yoongi half expects his foot to pop off.
“No,” the man hisses. He begins to tremble and tugs harder and now he's shuddering hard enough to shake the bed. He gasps and gasps again as if he can't breathe and in desperation, Yoongi reaches out and grabs his shoulder.
His skin is blistering hot. Yoongi holds tight, even when his palms itch and it feels like ants are spilling up his arm. The ache is back in his sternum, hot and strange and Yoongi wants to yank his hand away. Instead, he ducks his face down to grab the man’s attention. “You’re safe, I swear. I’m not going to do anything to you, OK? You’re safe.”
The man’s eyes roll up to meet Yoongi’s.
"Taehyung, please," the man whispers. There are tears in his eyes. “Please.”
"You're safe. I promise."
The man sags and Yoongi takes the opportunity to grab a nearby mug of water and prop up the stranger's head, Yoongi's fingers tangling in the man's oily hair. Carefully, he presses the mug up to the man's chapped lips, coaxing him to sip.
After a moment, the man swallows deep and coughs. “Where ‘m I?”
“You’re safe,” Yoongi says. “You’re with me.”
The man blinks but doesn’t respond. He's drifting again, back into his fever dreams, and is muttering things Yoongi can’t decipher with his eyes dancing under their lids. Yoongi falls back onto the balls of his feet and wipes his hand on his shirt, but the ache doesn't go away. It clings, like the feeling of the man's sweat against Yoongi's palm.
The next morning, Yoongi wakes with a crinked neck and a numb pain in his back. Since the stranger is hogging the only bed in the bunker, Yoongi's been forced to sleep on a make-shift mattress he threw together made of some spare clothes, a rain poncho, and a towel. Groaning, he crawls to his feet, stretching and hobbling through to pitch dark bunker, using muscle memory to find the light switch.
The lights flash and Yoongi sees the stranger sitting up. Pressed against the wall. Staring.
Yoongi’s freezes and blinks. The man blinks back.
“Oh,” Yoongi says after a moment. “You’re up.”
The man doesn’t answer. There’s a thick sheen of sweat across his skin and in his beard. It looks like the fever has broken even though the man still looks like shit. There are bags under his eyes, a tremble to his shoulders. His eyes are wide and his face is tight.
Yoongi licks his lips. “Are you feeling OK?”
“Where -” The stranger’s throat catches and he coughs hard into his elbow. “Where am I?”
“In my bunker. I found you passed right outside the door.”
The stranger’s bloodshot eyes dart towards the steel stairs, to the door in the back that leads to the supplies room, to the knife hanging on the wall and maybe tying him up and turning the lights out for the night wasn’t a great idea.
“I only tied you for my own safety. You can leave whenever you want." Idiot, a voice screams in his head, even as he asks, "Would you like me to untie you?"
The man nods. Yoongi’s hand itches to grab the knife, but he ignores them and approaches the bed, socks shuffling against the cement floor.
Yoongi doesn’t look at the man as he steps up and leans, reaching for the knot around the man’s ankle. His fingers shake as he starts untying it and the ache in his chest pulls towards the man like a gravitational force. It’s as though every cell in Yoongi’s body is attuned to the stranger and he swears, he can feel warmth radiating out from him.
It takes a while since Yoongi's fingers feel like they have swollen up ten times, but eventually, the rope unties and Yoongi swivels, leaning in closer to untie his wrist. The man is so close. Sweat breaks out along Yoongi's hairline. The man is broad, Yoongi can feel how broad he is with the bones of his shoulders jutting out and his sharp eyes following Yoongi's every move.
“You were sick, you know," Yoongi says when the silence feels as though it's going to drown him. "I wasn’t sure you’d make it. Mmm, are you feeling better now?”
“I think so,” the man says softly. He has a nice voice. Low. Clear. And when the knot finally unties and Yoongi rocks back, he rubs his wrist and meets Yoongi’s eyes. “Thank you.”
“No problem.” There’s a beat of silence as Yoongi stares, not sure what to do next. “Your clothes are beside the bed, here. I went ahead and washed them. I hope you don’t mind.”
The stranger blinks as Yoongi passes him the pile of folded clothes, with the keys and the rock placed carefully on top.
“Oh. Thank you.”
Yoongi nods in return and shuffles away, starting pots of coffee and rice. Behind him, he can hear what sounds like the man pulling on his clothes, so Yoongi makes himself busy, arranging objects on the counter and cleaning out the coffee press when, out of the corner of his eye, he sees the man stand, take a single step, and keel forward towards the floor.
“Shit.” Yoongi drops the coffee press and darts over as the man crashes down onto his hands and knees.
“I’m sorry,” the man gasps, trembling. When Yoongi places a hand on his shoulder he leans in as if trying to find support.
“No. You’re fine.” A fresh layer of sweat has broken out over the man’s brow and his jaw keeps clenching and unclenching. “Is it OK if I help you?”
The man glances at Yoongi with a look he can’t place and nods.
It’s almost harder to get the stranger back to the bed now that he has function of his legs: he stumbles and trips and Yoongi has to resort to wrapping an arm around the man’s waist so that the man’s body is pressed against his side, his weight heavy but good and the weird, magnetic pulses in Yoongi’s chest magnify. When the man falls back onto the bed, Yoongi’s side feels cold. He almost forgets to let go of the man’s arm.
“You need something to eat,” Yoongi says, turning away. “And you need to rest. Your body is weak.”
The man doesn’t respond.
The bunker is quiet as Yoongi makes the coffee and rice, but not the normal silence that Yoongi had grown so used to. This silence is thin and sharp and Yoongi is uncomfortably aware of the stranger lying still and silent on the bed. But, the silence isn't looming. It's not dangerous. As the coffee seeps, Yoongi glances over his shoulder. The man is hunched over on the bed, hair hanging in front of his face.
Once the coffee and rice are done, Yoongi dips out the servings and carries a bowl and a mug of water to the man who takes them both with shaky hands. Yoongi grabs the other bowl and coffee before sitting on his makeshift bed, legs crossed.
Yoongi takes a bite and asks, “What’s your name?”
The man had been picking at the rice with his chopsticks as if trying to find something hidden in it, but he pauses, jaw clenching again.
“It’s not as though I can look you up on Naver or anything. It can be fake, if you want.”
The man thinks for a moment. “Namjoon.”
“Namjoon,” Yoongi repeats. “I’m Yoongi.”
“Nice to meet you,” the man - Namjoon - says and the corners of his lips curl up a bit and ache grows so hot Yoongi has to look away.
“How did you find this place?” Yoongi asks as the man finally starts taking bird bites out of the rice. Namjoon didn’t seem like a threat, but Yoongi still watches carefully.
“I’m heading south and I was told to avoid the cities near here and keep to the forest, but -” He pauses to swallow, “I started to feel bad, maybe, a week ago? I don’t remember much, but I was jumped by some men. I remember running in the woods and sleeping near a river, I think.”
Yoongi chews and eyes Namjoon.
Namjoon looks up and his eyes widen. "Oh. Uh. I’m sorry if I trespassed. I didn’t know.”
“What? No - That’s not the problem, I -” Yoongi stops himself, lips pressed tight. “You said you’re traveling south, right? Are you traveling with anyone?”
Now it's Namjoon's turn to pause, eyes narrowing, and the softness washes out of his face. “Why?”
“If you're going to tell someone where this bunker is, I'd like to know."
"Oh. No. I'm alone." When Yoongi frowns, he adds, “I swear I am.”
"OK." Yoongi is not sure if he believes him, but he drops his gaze. "Why south?"
"My brother’s in the south. I found someone who met him in Gangneung, said he was planning to travel to Gwangju." Namjoon sags as he speaks, voice flattening. "That was three months ago."
"There's a new government. Or something. A lot of people are talking about it. I don't remember what it's called. There have been so many."
Yoongi's brow furrows. Had there been that many?
"You hear them on the radio sometimes," Namjoon continues, his words stretching out into slurs. "They say that it’s safe. That anyone can come."
"You should rest." Yoongi stands, lower back popping, and takes the half-eaten bowl of rice from Namjoon's lap. Namjoon doesn't respond and, when Yoongi gives him a gentle push on the shoulder, he falls back down onto the bed, passing out immediately.
Yoongi looks down him. He seems sane. He seems straightforward and honest, maybe even kind, which feels far too good to be true.
There are still good people out there, Yoongi tells himself. He’s told himself that before but this time, it’s doesn't feel like a total lie.
After he's positive Namjoon is out, Yoongi quietly climbs the stairs and pokes his head out of the bunker door where a storm is blowing through the forest. Snow pelts down, whipped into whorls by a raging wind so thick that the few trees he can make out are blurred stripes.
Gritting his teeth, Yoongi closes the door, but keeps his hand tight around the icy cold handle.
The pipes are wrapped, the stores stocked with both the bunker's supplies and as much food as he could scavenge, he has plenty of firewood and equipment. He's prepared. Or, he would be if a stranger hadn’t wandered in.
It’s fine. He'll be gone soon, Yoongi thinks, as snowbanks pile up outside.
Days crawl by and the snowstorm rages on.
Usually, Yoongi wouldn’t mind a few days relaxing, rereading from the bunker's mini-collection of survival books, whittling wood for a new bow, or trying to weave a rug out of old car upholstery since the bunker floors get so damn cold. But the bunker had barely been big enough for one person, and now that there are two, Yoongi has no clue what to do. Namjoon is quiet, unobtrusive, still sleeps for half the day as he recovers, but its as though Yoongi can feel his presence no matter where he goes or what he does. Namjoon's blaze follows him, burning, always hovering in Yoongi’s peripheral.
So Yoongi usually ends up in the storage room, half-hidden behind a crate of beans and rice, and crouched in front of a HAM radio that’s set up in the back corner. When he had first found the bunker two years ago, he had been obsessed with the radio, flipping through the instruction manual and the stations, but back then, most of what he could find had been cries for help that he couldn't answer or strange discussions of things he didn’t understand, so he had given up.
There were more active stations now, although most were garbled and staticky, probably because of the snowstorm sitting over their heads. He twists the knob slowly and leans in closer when he finds a halfway intelligible one with what sounds like a man speaking. He pauses, listens -
"Found anything yet?"
Yoongi flinches hard, throwing his hands about his head, and twisting.
Namjoon is standing in the doorway. His hair’s pushed back and he’s wearing his worn jeans and a grey sweatshirt that Yoongi had given him from the bunker’s supplies. Whoever had stocked the bunker must've been closer to Namjoon's size since the sweatshirt fits him well. The clothes usually swallow Yoongi up whole. Namjoon is still weak and bony from the fever and he's clutching the doorframe to stay upright, but he's at least on his feet and there's a pink glow on his sharp cheekbones.
Yoongi looks back at the radio.
"Not sure," he mutters, fiddling with the dials to turn the signal up higher.
" ... follow us, find us ... the light and you will be feed… new dawn…”
Yoongi frowns and ducks his head down. “What is he saying? I don’t -”
“It’s a cult, I think.” Namjoon shuffles up beside Yoongi and squats, teetering, before sitting on the ground so close that Yoongi swears he can feel his heat against his side. Their knees are centimeters apart. “They’re in the west, in some ruins south of Seoul.”
“The world … but we .. brothers… new …”
“What are they saying?”
Namjoon’s face is tight and bony. “You shouldn’t listen to them.”
Yoongi frowns but turns the dial back to static. He changes stations absentmindedly while his brain switches from thinking about pressing his leg against Namjoon’s leg to scooting away as far as he can so he didn’t have to deal with desperately thinking about pressing his leg against Namjoon’s leg.
“How do you know your brother is still alive?” he blurts out instead since the question had been simmering in the back of his mind for days.
“He’s not dead. I would know if he was.”
Yoongi huffs. He meant it to be funny, but it comes out sharp. Namjoon bristles beside him.
"Sorry, I didn't mean -"
"It's fine," Namjoon says quietly. "I know it sounds stupid.”
Guilt flushes up Yoongi's neck. Namjoon is silent, staring ahead. Yoongi turns away. They listen as the station’s pass, all static and interference.
"Wait, that's it," Namjoon whispers suddenly. "That's the government down south." He scoots forward and his knee knocks against Yoongi's, sending a jolt up Yoongi's leg so strong that he twists the dial too hard and has to backtrack to find the station again.
The signal is hard to make out, but after straining Yoongi realizes that it’s not words but a song. An orchestral song.
He leans forward, his ear in front of the speakers. “What is that?”
“It’s the Aegukga. The patriotic song.”
Oh. Yoongi can hear it now, the familiar notes that used to play in the halls of Apgujeong High School, before basketball games, on the television shows his father used to watch.
“They’re styling themselves after the old government. They say that they have food and places to live. That it’s safe."
Yoongi has to work to loosen his jaw. "Is it?"
Namjoon shakes his head. "I don't care. I'm only going to find my brother."
The Aegukga plays softly, gently, behind the static and noise.
There is an ache that always sits in Yoongi’s chest, clear and sharp and vicious, that swells unexpectedly when he stumbles onto old things from the dead world. Like when he finds a cracked, dead smartphone pressed into the dirt or sees an energy bar wrapper fluttering in the wind by the highway.
The Aegukga rings out from the radio and ah. There it is. That ache. It hurts and Yoongi feels, if he just blinked, he’d open his eyes to in his small, dark, squashed apartment in Seoul with his dishwasher running, the AC humming, his laptop whirring, traffic reverberating outside his windows and he’d have food in his fridge and Netflix running on mute and his mother a phone call away. The world would be alive and normal and his.
Namjoon reaches out and turns the radio off. The Aegukga dies. The silence echoes.
“Can I ask you something?” Namjoon asks after a pause with a fake buoyancy in his voice as if they’re friends at a coffee shop and not strangers huddled in a bunker.
“Have you been here this whole time? Ever since -” Namjoon waves a hand.
“The end of the world?”
“No. I was in Seoul when it happened."
Namjoon is quiet with his gaze resting somewhere on Yoongi's legs and Yoongi has never vocalized what happened during those hell weeks when the world had been torn apart. Maybe its the ache brought on by the Aegukga or maybe it's Namjoon's soft silence, but the words spill out.
"After I finally got out of the city, I traveled down to Daegu, where my family is - I mean, was. But when I got there, got home, it -” His words die out and in the back of his head he see the piled rubble that had been his house, his street, already disintegrating and rotting in the summer heat. “It was too late. It had been too late the whole time.”
“What did you do?” Namjoon asks quietly.
“I don’t know.” Yoongi’s hands wander up to mess with the dials, even though it’s turned off. “I don’t remember much. I know I walked a lot. Traveled from place to place, looking for food. I was half-dead and stumbling through the forest when I found this bunker. It was unlocked and the door was open, but nothing was taken, so - I don't know. There are some fancy mansions down the road and I think this must’ve been one of theirs. I guess they just never made it this far.”
“That was lucky.”
Yoongi nods and looks back at Namjoon, who’s watching him with kind eyes. Namjoon smiles.
“By the way,” Namjoon says. “ I don’t think I’ve said this yet, but - Thank you. For everything. The food, letting me stay here. You saved my life.”
“You shouldn’t thank me. I almost didn’t.”
“But you did and lot of people wouldn’t have.”
“Well,” Yoongi says uncomfortably. “You’re welcome.”
“And, uh, also. I was going to tell you. The storm is wearing down,” Namjoon says, climbing to his feet and keeping an arm out to steady himself against the wall. Standing, he towers over Yoongi. “I can be on my way tomorrow.”
Yoongi eyebrows raise incredulously. “You’re going to walk through the snow all the way to Gwangju? When you can barely walk from here to the bed?”
Namjoon flushes. “I don’t want to intrude and I know that you only have so much food and I can’t -”
“I don’t mind,” Yoongi says which isn’t really true; there’s a little goblin voice in Yoongi's head screaming that he only has thirty years of supplies, even less if he gives it out to strangers, and he still doesn’t really know this man, he’s a stranger, he could hurt him. “You need to gather your strength and as long as you don’t do something stupid, then you can stay. Like I said, the bunker’s not really mine and you found it too.”
“Oh,” Namjoon says and his lips curl into a smile. “But what do you consider stupid?”
“You know. Don’t kill me.”
Namjoon laughs, rocking back with big ha-ha’s. "Alright,” he says, grinning wide. “I can do that."
They venture out into the forest the next morning. Above, heavy, grey clouds hang low but the forest is pure white and encased in snow, untouched and crisp. After the storm, the snow is deep and soft and Namjoon manages to trip over something a foot out of the bunker, falling snow-angel-style with splayed limbs and a yelp. Yoongi can’t keep the stupid grin off his face when trying to help him up and Namjoon laughs with him, apologizing over and over and it’s cute.
He’s not cute, the goblin voice screams. You’re just desperate.
Yoongi makes Namjoon wait on a log and scouts around, picking up a few, fallen pine branches still fringed with needles and showing Namjoon how to tie them flat to the bottom of their boots.
"See?" Yoongi steps side-to-side on the snow. "Snowshoes."
"Wah," Namjoon exclaims, with wide, round eyes. And OK. This can’t just be in Yoongi’s head.
He shows Namjoon the small river that flows nearby and the makeshift water filter he had managed to build last summer ("Wow"), the fishnet he had set up in a narrow bend of the river ("Amazing"), some of the unsprung rabbit traps spread across the nearby forest ("Wah"), and how to build a smokeless fire to cook the couple of small fish he had been able to catch ("I didn't even know this was possible. This is amazing, hyung").
Yoongi freezes over the fire after the last comment.
"Sorry," Namjoon says quickly. "I - I shouldn't be so familiar."
"No, it's fine. I don’t mind. How do you know I'm older though?"
"I just assumed. Sorry." Namjoon shifts awkwardly. "I was born in 94."
"93. Damn, I would have thought you were older than me.”
“It’s the beard,” Namjoon says waving a hand towards his face. “Makes me look distinguished.”
Yoongi snorts, smirking and looking away before Namjoon can see.
“I hate it actually.” Namjoon prods one of the fish with a stick. “Remember when we used to be able to shave whenever? There were razors in stores and you could just turn on the sink anytime.”
“There are razors back at the bunker,” Yoongi says. “I can give you one.”
Namjoon's head lurches up. “What, really? It has razors?”
“Yeah. How did you think I was clean-shaven?”
“I don’t know, some men don’t have beards. I didn’t want to assume.” There’s a pause and Namjoon looks up, catching Yoongi staring. “What?”
So what if he’s thoughtful and socially aware? The goblin voice screams. That doesn’t mean you should like him!
“Nothing.” Yoongi drops his head back to the fish. “Remind me when we get back and I’ll grab you one.”
Once the fish are cooked, Yoongi fills in the fire pit and leads the way back, weaving between the crooked pines and walking slow, pausing when Namjoon needs to take a breath and wondering distantly what would happen if he grabbed Namjoon's arm.
They get back to the bunker before noon and eat rice and warm fish and afterward, Yoongi digs up a razor for Namjoon before disappearing in the storage room to play with the radio. He’s started a log to keep track of which station is which and has been messing with one that sounds like someone announcing something in Chinese, but he’s not sure. He listens, he tweaks dials, and frowns at the fuzzy diagrams in the overly-technical manual until his head begins to spin. Giving up, Yoongi stands, stretches, and limps back into the main room.
Namjoon is still leaning over the sink, splashing water over his clean-shaven face but he looks up in time to catch Yoongi’s gaze in the mirror. Namjoon smiles and Yoongi stares because: (1) Namjoon looks young. So young. Without his facial hair, its easier to see the sharp edges and round lines of his face. And (2) Dimples. They sink into Namjoon’s like craters when he smiles.
Then the smile slides off and he straightens and twists and Yoongi thinks, Tall. Hot. Oh.
“Are you alright?” Namjoon asks.
Yoongi blinks hard and shuts his mouth. “Yeah. Sorry. You just, uh, look different.”
“Oh.” Namjoon laughs, drying his face and looking at himself one last time in the mirror. “I used to try and stay clean-shaven. Before all this.”
“You look good,” Yoongi says and drops his gaze fast when Namjoon looks back at him.
“Thanks,” Namjoon replies slowly as if he’s surprised. “My hair is still pretty bad though.” He runs a hair through it, pulling it down so that it touches his shoulders.
“I could cut it,” Yoongi says impulsively and wincing when Namjoon turns back fast. “If you want.”
“Oh, wow. That’d be great, actually,” Namjoon says, which is how Yoongi ends up standing with scissors in his hands, and Namjoon perched on a chair in front of him, facing the mirror together.
The scissors are cold in Yoongi’s hand and he shifts his grip on them uncomfortably. “Just so you know, I’m not a professional or anything. Don’t expect too much.”
“Just getting it out of my eyes would help.” Namjoon gives him an encouraging smile through the mirror.
Namjoon’s hair is clean and dry since he had washed it the other night in the sink while Yoongi hid away in the storage room. It's not soft, but there's a nice strength to it. Yoongi has the weird impulse to pull on it.
He goes slow, snipping off big chunks at first until he gets closer to Namjoon’s head and starts circling around, only ever snipping off a bit. Namjoon’s eyes are closed and Yoongi focuses, watching the hair fall away centimeter by centimeter.
“There,” he says. Namjoon opens his eyes and peers into the mirror, moving his head. The haircut is simple, short on the bottom, long on top. It’s chunky and a little uneven, but not bad. Yoongi had even tried to give it some texture in the ways he noticed hairdressers would, but it didn’t really show.
“Holy shit,” Namjoon says running a hand up through his hair and twisting his head side to side. “This is amazing.”
Yoongi lips curl before he can force them down.
Namjoon stands and shakes his head, little bits of hair flying off, and he turns to Yoongi. “Would you like me to cut yours?”
“Oh.” Yoongi eyes himself in the mirror. He usually cuts it his own so it’s not as long as Namjoon’s was, but it is past his eyes and is getting annoying. “Sure. Yeah, that’d be nice.”
He sits in the chair, handing off the scissors, and squeezing his hands between his thighs as Namjoon steps up behind him. Namjoon places a hand on Yoongi’s shoulder that’s hot, heavy, and distracting.
“So, um. I haven’t really done this before."
“Just go slow,” Yoongi says, closing his eyes. “Take your time and don’t cut off too much.”
The scissors start snipping and Namjoon tugs lightly on Yoongi’s hair with his hand gripping tight onto Yoongi's shoulder, and it’s nice. Very nice. The scissors snips and tugs on Yoongi’s scalp, lulling him so that he’s not asleep, not really, but when Namjoon’s hand lifts and he clear his throat, it feels like waking up.
"Um. I think," Namjoon says. “I fucked up.”
Yoongi opens his eyes and stares. His hair reaches the middle of his ear on one side, the top of the ear on the other, and his bangs are slanted and zig-zagged in choppy tufts.
"What the fuck," he says.
"I'm so sorry, I thought it was fine and then suddenly it wasn't,” Namjoon says, eyes wide with horror. “I kept trying to fix it but it kept getting worse -”
Yoongi hesitantly touches his bangs and then rotates his head to either side, fingers brushing over the chunky cuts. He twists in his chair to stare up at Namjoon.
Namjoon stares back, terrified, and says, “Shit.”
A giggle bursts out of Yoongi, high and hysterical, and he slaps a hand over his mouth as another one tries to fight up his throat. He looks at himself in the mirror again and he can see Namjoon over his shoulder, looking as though he had been shot, and it’s so fucking funny, the entire thing: the hair, Namjoon, the end of the world and the giggle bursts free. Yoongi laughs and laughs until there are tears in eyes and he’s clinging to the back of the chair, trying to breathe.
“I am so, so sorry -”
“It’s fine,” Yoongi gasps, straightening and wiping his face. Namjoon is grinning cautiously, still eyeing Yoongi as if trying to decide if he should run or not. Yoongi smiles wide at him. “I mean, this is the worst haircut I have seen in my entire life, but it’s fine.”
“If you want to kick me out, I understand."
Yoongi laughs and makes Namjoon sweeps up as penance, which he does, quickly and meekly, and Yoongi laughs again. While Namjoon busies himself, Yoongi leans over the sink and begins snipping at his own hair. It’s going to be short, very short, but Yoongi honestly does not care. While he works, Namjoon keeps glancing up. Yoongi catches his gaze every time, holding it until Namjoon looks away.
“So. Have you traveled in winter before?” Yoongi asks eventually when he's done the best he can with his hair and is washing off the scissors in the sink.
“Uh, no,” Namjoon says, putting the chair back in its spot. "I was in Chuncheon last winter."
"It’s pretty dangerous out in the cold. Food is scarce and if you’re avoiding cities, you probably won’t have any shelter."
“I know. But, it’s fine. I can make.”
“Or,” Yoongi says. "You could stay here for the winter and travel when it gets warmer."
Yoongi keeps his focus on the scissors in the sink, but he can feel Namjoon pause from across the room.
"The whole winter?” Namjoon asks in disbelief. He pauses again. “I don't know."
"You can leave whenever you want, but if you’d rather wait for warmer weather, you can stay here. It’d be safe."
"I'd be eating your food all winter."
"There's plenty. Don’t worry about that."
"I could help out with chores and stuff," Namjoon says eventually. "You know, in exchange."
The tips of Yoongi's mouth curl up and he shakes the scissors over the sink, keeping his smile to himself. "That sounds great."
Days fly by.
It’s quiet and still. Namjoon keeps to himself, mostly, and tries to stay out of the way, jumping to do chores if he can, and once, he gains more strength, going on walks alone in the forest.
Despite how insane it is to let a stranger live with him in the bunker, not much changes. Yoongi has more free time and, he’s getting a bit more used to Namjoon’s presence. He can, at least, stay in the same room longer. They don’t touch; Namjoon seems to have picked up on Yoongi’s discomfort because he keeps a wide distance and that makes things easier. Or worse. Yoongi's not sure.
Sometimes, Yoongi catches himself watching Namjoon, thinking of things he shouldn’t, like the heat of Namjoon’s hand on his shoulder or how it felt to hold up the weight of his body, and he'll have to tear his eyes away. Sometimes, Namjoon catches his gaze.
But the worst thing by far is that there’s only one bed. At Yoongi’s insistence, they take turns sleeping on the bed, even though the make-shift mattress that Yoongi had thrown together that first night feels like sleeping on a bunch of brinks.
But it's fine. He’s used to sleepless nights anyways.
It’s a bright afternoon and the forest is quiet, with only the groan of trees swaying in the wind and the reddish sunlight creeping through between the shadows. Namjoon is off doing something and Yoongi is repositioning the fishnets. Or, he’s trying to. It got knocked out of place somehow, so he’s balancing on the rocks over the riverbank and leaning forward with one hand holding onto a branch, the other poking with a long stick to try and untangle his net from whatever it’s stuck on when his boot gives way, his foot catches in a gap between the rocks. He falls, palms scraping painfully against the rocky riverbank and dunking the top half of his body into the freezing water.
He gasps, twisting and fumbling to pull himself up, water pouring up his nose, through his hair, under his coat, and the shock is so strong that he doesn’t feel his ankle screaming at him until he’s mostly out of the water.
Wiggling until he’s completely out of the river, Yoongi carefully draws his leg closer, wincing. It’s his right ankle, the one that got caught. It already feels swollen in his boot and it throbs, hot and raw, pulsing up his leg.
Yoongi grits his teeth and tries to breathe through his nose, blinking hot tears out of his eyes. Carefully, he tries to flex his ankle and hisses through his teeth when the pain spikes.
Alright. Great. It’s fine. He’s fine.
He’s shivering now in his soaked clothes and he can’t sit here forever. Carefully, Yoongi pushes himself up, keeping the ankle elevated and balancing on one leg. He tests it again, gently setting his foot down when lightning bolts shoot up to his leg and he’s suddenly on the ground again, curled on his side.
Fuck, this is bad. This is very, very bad.
Yoongi whimpers into the snow and presses his eyes shut, his heart racing and mind spinning. He can’t go to the doctor, he can’t go to the hospital, if it’s anything more serious than a sprain, then he’s done for and it’s so stupid because he’s tried so hard for so long not to get hurt but he is such an idiot -
Namjoon. Namjoon is somewhere close by.
Propping himself up on his elbows, Yoongi scans the trees but the forest is empty.
Yoongi doesn’t want to shout; sounds echo in the woods and who knows who might be out there, but the pain feels like its growing and he’s shaking like a leaf as the cold seeps into his wet coat. Carefully, he tries shuffling, doing a weird kind of crab-walk with his leg elevated, but the pain spikes every time he moves and he has visions of ligaments torn beyond repair and mismatched bones healing wrong so he chokes down a sob and stops.
“Namjoon,” he says, barely louder than a whisper. The forest doesn’t respond.
“Namjoon,” he calls louder. He tries again and again and every time he pauses and every time the forest is silent until he goes as loud as he dares. Nothing happens.
Yoongi breathes in deep, holds it, and exhales in a whimper.
Shattered ankle or not, he can feel the snow leeching away his body heat and the sun is starting to go down. Despite the fire in his ankle, he starts crab-walking again, dragging his butt and raising his ankle high.
He manages to move several feet, a hot sweat breaking across his brow, when he hears heavy footsteps in the woods and -
“Are you alright?” Namjoon says behind him before jogging into view with his blue, patched winter coat, face pulled with worry. “You’re soaking.”
“It’s my ankle,” Yoongi hisses as Namjoon crouches beside him. “I fell and it caught on the rocks. I don’t know if it’s broken, but it hurts and I can’t tell where if its the bone or the ligament -”
“Hey, it’s going to be fine, OK?” When Namjoon grabs Yoongi’s shoulder tight and smiles, the terror in Yoongi’s chest lessens. He leans forward, into Namjoon's grasp. “You’re freezing, we should probably get you back to the bunker first. Can you walk?”
Yoongi nods sharply. Namjoon helps, holding Yoongi stable and pulling him up. Yoongi wavers and takes a step, but just like last time, his ankle screams and his legs fold. He would've slumped to the ground, but Namjoon loops an arm around his waist and pulls him tight.
"I'll carry you," Namjoon says. He bends and wraps an arm behind Yoongi’s knees.
"What? No -" Yoongi tries but then Namjoon lifts him up in a fireman’s carry and hikes him up against his chest.
Yoongi’s arms automatically loop around Namjoon’s neck and he holds on, dazed as Namjoon begins to march through the forest, his face tight.
Neither talk. Yoongi is trying his best to keep his ankle from bobbing up and down, but the warmth and the feeling of Namjoon's muscles are distracting. He's just forming enough thought to ask if Namjoon needs to breathe for a moment when he hears something, muffled and approaching. He looks over his shoulder and sees a shadow moving between the trees.
“Fuck,” he whispers. “Hide.”
“What?” Namjoon twists in the direction that Yoongi was staring, but Yoongi’s arms tighten around his neck.
Namjoon drops to his knees behind a thick pine tree and presses his back against the trunk, still holding Yoongi against his chest and in his lap.
Carefully, Yoongi leans forward until he can peek around the tree and -
There. Two figures walking between the trees. The sun’s light has grown redder as it sets so it’s hard to make out details, but they’re both big and bulky and wearing all black. And they have guns. Big, two-handed guns with long barrels and scopes.
“What is it?” Namjoon whispers.
“Shh,” Yoongi breathes, hardly daring to move.
One turns side to side as they walk as if looking for something through the trees and Yoongi catches a glimpse of a yellow rag tied around their arms.
They must be with the group that has taken over the mansion ruins. Yoongi’s only ever seen them at a distance, but he knows they attack travelers on the highway and he’s heard gunshots and screams come from the mansions the few times he had ventured further out that way. They’ve never come this far before.
They could find his traps, his nets, the bunker. Hell, his and Namjoon's tracks must scatter the forest, why hadn't he thought to hide their tracks -
Carefully, Yoongi pulls back. He’s freezing, his ankle is throbbing, and icy bands of anxiety are wrapped tight, squeezing and squeezing and he lets himself fall against Namjoon, feeling his warmth and the solidness of his chest. Namjoon lifts an arm to hold Yoongi close and that’s all the invitation Yoongi needs. He leans forward, nuzzling his face into Namjoon’s neck and pressing. He’s cold and aching and terrified. Everything’s falling apart but the feeling of Namjoon underneath his body is like alcohol: warm, hot, syrupy, painful almost.
Eventually, Namjoon whispers something and moves, lifting Yoongi up again, but Yoongi's drifting. Namjoon’s neck is warm against his cheeks and he clings.
They get back to the bunker without any problems and Namjoon takes care of Yoongi without a word, setting him on the bed, slipping off his boots, and helping Yoongi out of his wet clothes and into a warm, worn sweatshirt and his sweatpants. Using one of the survival books the bunker had come stocked with, Namjoon declares that Yoongi's ankle is not broken, just sprained, and wraps it up tight in gauze before propping it up with some bundled-up tarps from the shitty mattress.
Despite the ache, Yoongi dozes; he dreams of warm beds and taxi cabs and men with bloody clubs and yellow rags around their arms until the dip of the mattress wakes him. He cracks his eyes open to see Namjoon, sitting on the edge of the bed with two bowls of steaming rice.
“Hey,” Namjoon says, smiling softly. “Feeling better?”
Yoongi nods. He begins to sit up and Namjoon helps, propping up the pillows and hovering, which is unnecessary since, besides the constant heat of his ankle, Yoongi feels fine. But he stays quiet and settles back, taking the bowl of rice when Namjoon offers it.
Namjoon takes a bite of his own and shakes his head. “No problem. There’s more in the pot.”
“No, I mean,” Yoongi licks his lips. “I mean thanks for carrying me. If you hadn’t been there -”
He thinks about crab-walking through the snow with those people walking, looking.
Namjoon smiles with his lips pressed together and his dimples sinking in. “You saved my life, so I owe you anyways.”
“What happened?” Yoongi says softly.
“Nothing. Whoever they were they moved on and didn't come back. Were they that group you told me about?”
Yoongi nods, poking at his rice. “They’ve never come this far into the forest before.”
“Maybe it’s a one-time thing.”
“Maybe.” A sick feeling is settling in Yoongi's gut; he was supposed to be safe. “We should be more careful about our tracks for now on. And make sure we don’t leave things out in the open.”
Namjoon nods in agreement and Yoongi bites at the rice, chewing. He’s been wondering about making some sort of screen to prop up against the bunker door to make it more difficult to find or maybe setting up some sort of tripwire system -
“Have you seen Naruto?”
Yoongi looks up. “What?”
“Naruto. The anime?”
For a moment, Yoongi's brain stalls while it tries to process and file those words. Yoongi blinks. Namjoon blinks back. “Why -”
“Who’s your favorite character?” Namjoon takes a big bite and chews.
“Uh. Naruto, I guess.”
“Naruto?” Namjoon mocks choking on his rice and pounding his chest. “You can’t choose the main character.”
“Why not? I liked him.”
“Out of all of the characters, you think Naruto was the best?”
“You didn’t ask me who the best was, just my favorite.”
Namjoon shakes his head. "I guess I was expecting more from you.”
Yoongi snorts. Grins. Namjoon grins back.
He asks about Yoongi’s favorite arc next which leads to themes and character choices then onto other animes when Namjoon admits that he’s only seen a few episodes of Slam Dunk (“I never really got into sports anime”) and Yoongi explains why that’s a shit opinion and why it’s an incredible show and Namjoon laughs and Yoongi gets so into it he doesn’t realize how late it is until his eyelids start drooping.
“Ready for bed?” Namjoon asks. Yoongi nods. Namjoon helps him over to the sink and back, lowering him onto the bed gently and pulling the sheets over him which is nice, nice, so nice.
“Good night,” he says, before flipping the lights off. Yoongi can hear him shuffle, trying to find his way across the now pitch black bunker to the makeshift mattress.
Yoongi’s exhausted. His ankle still throbs and exhaustion is setting in hard, but there’s a weird thrill running through his veins and he gets a bad idea. A very bad idea. Usually, good night is the signal for no more talking, but after a few minutes of silence, Yoongi licks his lips.
“Are you asleep?” He asks into the darkness. He hears Namjoon shift.
“Uh, yeah. You?”
Yoongi smirks. “Yeah. I was just thinking, that, if you want, you could sleep up here. On the bed.”
There’s a pause. “What?”
“We could share the bed if you want, or, you know, are comfortable with that. I know sleeping on that thing is shit, so - It’s not a big deal,” Yoongi lies because his heart is thundering and now he wishes he could dig a hole in the wall to hide in because what a shitty way to ask -
“Is there room?” Namjoon asks slowly after another pause.
“Yeah, there’s enough.” Yoongi licks his lips again and swallows. He stares up into the darkness. “It’s just an option.”
The bunker is silent long enough for Yoongi to begin wondering if Namjoon had already dozed off before there’s a rustling noise and then footsteps padding on the cement floor. Yoongi scoots over and rolls on his side as the blanket lifts and the bed dips and Namjoon settles in, hot and stiff beside Yoongi.
“Thank you,” Namjoon says into the emptiness of the bunker.
“Good night,” Yoongi whispers in reply.
It’s silent. Yoongi feels like wiggling, but he stays still as a board, completely aware of Namjoon’s smell, Namjoon’s warmth, the way the bed dips down, the way the blankets slant up. Maybe this was a bad idea, he thinks but the exhaustion wins out and sleep tugs him under.
The next morning, Yoongi wakes to find his arm slung around Namjoon’s waist. Namjoon is already awake and shifting as if trying to sneak out of Yoongi’s grasp. He freezes when he sees Yoongi, but Yoongi turns, pulling his arm back, and twisting to face the wall.
“Sorry,” he mumbles and pretends to fall asleep. Namjoon slips away.
They don’t talk about it, but that night, Namjoon asks to sleep on the bed again and Yoongi agrees.
When the world ended, it was bizarre to keep living. Governments had fallen, the earth was dying, nature curling up into herself, but Yoongi still had to eat, sleep, shit, move on. It was exhausting and long and boring and Yoongi knew he should be thanking his lucky stars every day for the safety and food of the bunker, but still. Even after everything changed, life was still somehow the same.
But, Yoongi thinks, the opposite is true too; something as simple as finding a stranger outside of his door could flip everything around, charging everything with an energy Yoongi hadn't realized that he missed.
Yoongi wakes up in the morning warm and tangled up in Namjoon’s limbs. He cooks for two and has actual conversations and someone to show things. Namjoon helps with the chores and praises Yoongi and laughs at his rants about past reality shows and Yoongi sneaks glances at Namjoon's hands as he ties his boots or at the way he waddles when trudging over snow, or how his face would tighten, chin sliding out like a drawer when he’d look up at the reddening sun and the black clouds of space debris.
You’ll miss him, the goblin voice whispers sometimes, like when they had started a fire right at dusk and Yoongi had watched the glow of the flames light up Namjoon, casting shadows and ridges along the planes of his face. And he will. Yoongi will miss him and that is terrifying, but today, Namjoon is here. With him.
They don’t talk about the end of winter. Really, even though they talk often now, they don’t really talk. Namjoon doesn’t talk about his brother or how he’s survived the last two years. Yoongi doesn’t talk about his own past. They don’t talk about the apocalypse at all: if they ever get close, they dance around it, doing figure-eights and trickshots, anything they can to dodge.
Some scars still show through. Sometimes even the presence of one human being becomes too much and, when his ankle heals enough, Yoongi slinks away for hours to any of his usual haunts in the forest. Namjoon has nightmares. He shakes in his sleep, mumbling pleas that Yoongi can’t make out. Once, a formation of aircraft had flown by overhead while they were gathering up the nets. They had swooped by above, high but loud, great streaks in the sky that roared suddenly and then away. Yoongi had ducked and twisted, so he hadn't realized at first that Namjoon had disappeared from view until he found him curled up in a ball and pressed against the trunk of a pine, shaking and breathing so hard Yoongi thought his ribs might snap.
That day, Yoongi had crouched in the snow, and spoken low until Namjoon could move again. He had gently pulled him up and held his hand, leading him through the snow and back to the bunker. And that night, when they crawled into bed they had laid an inch closer, hands almost touching.
Every day they grew closer, and Yoongi tries to tell himself that these warm feelings are all in his head, that he is so desperate for companionship and conversation and touch that he’s making up moments that aren't really there. But then Namjoon will help him through the snow and his hands will linger too long on Yoongi’s arms. Or he’ll catch Namjoon looking fondly sometimes through the mirror while brushing his teeth. Or Namjoon will fluster and blush when Yoongi praises him for a job well done.
And every time Yoongi feels tension in his chest and buzzing warmth under his skin and he likes to watch Namjoon, likes to hear him laugh, likes to lay in wonder at night that somehow people can still be good and one of these impossible people is hot and laying an inch away.
Pathetic, the goblin voice whispers, when Yoongi’s thoughts stray to places they shouldn’t, like when he watches Namjoon chop wood, ax swinging down hard, face sweaty despite the cold, or when he squats down low to pull out another bag of rice from the counter, and Yoongi’s mind screams ass!
Namjoon is the only eligible human in miles, the goblin voice says. Of course you’re attracted him.
And so what? Maybe it’s not a bad thing. It’s the end of the world, of the earth, of civilization. So what if Yoongi had a crush on the last available hot, kind, smart man? Who the fuck cares?
He’s going to leave you, the goblin voice would say and it's right. Having butterflies and getting off on Namjoon’s veiny hands is fine and all, but Yoongi follows the rules. He stays at a distance and tells himself not to get too attached.
Still. It’s nice.
“Here,” Namjoon says one day, a few days after Yoongi began walking again.
Yoongi is perched on a log, tying together a simple rabbit trap to make up for one they had lost, but he sets it aside and takes the small, wadded up a rag from Namjoon's hand. “What, did you blow your nose with this?”
“No, gross. It’s a present,” Namjoon says. He dusts snow off the log and plops down beside Yoongi. “Merry Christmas.”
Yoongi examines the package and bounces it in his hand. It’s light enough that it really could be just a ball of rags. “Christmas?”
“Yeah, it’s Christmas day. December 25th.”
Namjoon holds up his wrist and pushed back his coat sleeve, showing his watch. Above the hands on a chipped, digital display, it read 12/25.
“Huh,” Yoongi says. He wrinkles his nose. They’ve had several arguments about the accuracy of that watch, but Yoongi knows better than to bring that up now. “We never did Christmas.”
“Neither did we, really, but I wanted to give that to you and it seems like a good opportunity.” Namjoon’s knees are bouncing and one hand reaches up to rub behind his ear. “Open it,” he says softly. “It’s nothing special, but I - uh. Yeah.”
Yoongi tugs on the package which peels away because it really is just a wadded up rag, and finds a cord, thin and made of braided thread with a little, wooden bead strung around it. The bead is round and roughly cut with a lopsided taegeuk carved into the side.
“It’s not great,” Namjoon says, crossing his arms as Yoongi holds it out for a better look. “But, uh, I wanted to say thank you, I guess. For saving my life. And, maybe it can be something for you to remember me by later.”
Yoongi looks at him and Namjoon flushes, his knees bouncing faster.
“Thank you,” Yoongi whispers, his throat tight. He rubs a thumb across the taegeuk, feeling the rough edges of the wood. “Could you tie it for me?”
“Sure. Of course.”
Yoongi hands Namjoon the necklace who loops it around the back of Yoongi’s neck and leans in close to tie the knot. Yoongi can feel the coolness of the bead against his spine, the heat of Namjoon’s breath, and can see the stumble where he needs to shave, the cracks in his dry lips, the bits of snow caught in his lashes. He smells like smoke and sweat and Yoongi lets himself fall into Namjoon’s pull, leaning closer.
Namjoon finishes the knot. He twists the necklace, hands brushing Yoongi’s skin so that the bead is laying in the front.
“Good,” Namjoon breathes and he touches the bead, pressing it against Yoongi’s chest. He’s still so close. Just an inch away. Yoongi hovers, waiting for Namjoon to leave. He doesn’t. Namjoon’s eyes drop down to Yoongi’s lips and he’s moving forward now and Yoongi is too and he's pressing his mouth against Yoongi’s and -
Yoongi’s kissed before. Before the world ended. And he’d be lying to say if he didn’t miss having someone to hold late at night when buried under the empty bunker under an empty forest in an empty world. He dreams, sometimes, and in those dreams, he remembers the good kisses, the ones that were slow and hot and deep. Once he had made out with a girl in an empty classroom in high school. His hands had tangled in her long hair and she had shoved him against a desk and they had kissed with the fervor of discovering something new. Once he had kissed a boy he barely knew on a faded couch in the corner of a dying party. It had been early morning and they were both exhausted, pushed to the brink, and they had kissed desperately as if to find something they had lost. Both kisses had been passionate and immersive and had spilled over Yoongi’s skin like hot wax.
This kiss is nothing like that.
Namjoon pushes forward and Yoongi’s not ready, not prepared. Their skulls bump instead of fitting together, their noses push against each other awkwardly, and their lips drag across each the skin of the other’s.
Yoongi pulls away. There's spit on his lip that is freezing in the winter air and Namjoon’s eyes are wide.
Snow wafts down around them.
“I’ll get the rice going,” Namjoon whispers before pushing to his feet and walking away, leaving Yoongi alone in the forest.
They eat in the bunker that night with a thin silence that Yoongi wants desperately to break, but his thoughts chase each other, a circle of He’s leaving, You don’t deserve this, He doesn’t deserve this, You only feel this way because you’re the only two left.
Yoongi retreats to play with the HAM radio, discovering a station in the north where two operators are narrating a chess game between themselves. It’s comforting and funny and the one with the call sign Blue Tiger wins. They laugh and set a date a week from now to play again and Yoongi marks it on his notepad to tune in.
He doesn’t want to go back into the main room, but he can't hide forever and there’s an itch under his skin that he can’t scratch, so he picks himself up, dusts himself off, and walks back to the main room, closing the door loudly behind him.
Namjoon is sitting at the table, reading a survival book on herbalism. He’s already looking up when Yoongi walks in.
“Ready for bed?” He asks.
The bunker seems darker that night. They lay in silence and Yoongi can feel Namjoon inches away, radiating out Namjoon-energy at an exponentially higher rate than normal. Things will get be back to normal soon, Yoongi thinks. They’ve toed this line before and every time it snapped back. This won’t be any different. It needs time to -
“Hyung,” Namjoon says quietly. “Are you still awake?”
“Can I tell you something?”
Yoongi’s chest feels shaky and he opens his eyes into the darkness. “Sure.”
“I had a partner for five years that I thought I’d love forever, but we broke up a few weeks before the world ended. Also, I had two hermit crabs named Hyesoon and Heeduk after some poets I like.”
Yoongi blinks into the darkness and twists his head up. “What?”
“I’m from Ilsan, too, and I graduated from SNU with a degree in biochemistry and was working in a lab in Seoul. I was eating gimbap outside when,” he pauses to swallow. “When it happened. My brother’s name is Taehyung, by the way. I don’t think I told you. We were on the phone when it was happening because I was telling him about this stupid thing our cousin posted and, just before the phone lines went down, we promised to meet at a restaurant in Songnam where our father really liked to eat, but I couldn’t get there for several days and when I did, the building was destroyed and he had left a note that told me where he was going. I’ve been following him. He leaves clues or notes telling me where to go but he’s always gone by the time I get there. I think he thinks I’m dead. He isn’t expecting me to actually find him.”
“Also, I killed someone. This summer. I was traveling and some guy jumped me in the streets, trying to steal my food and I hit him in the head with this pole that was laying on the ground, and - there was so much blood. It was everywhere, just pouring out, and I didn’t know what to do so I left. I left him there.”
“Namjoon,” Yoongi hisses, twisting away from the wall so he’s facing Namjoon somewhere in the darkness. “That wasn’t your fault.”
“It was. I know that I didn’t have a choice, but it was still me.”
“I really miss galbi. And pizza. And soju. I miss food so fucking much.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Yoongi whispers. Namjoon shifts onto his shoulder, the mattress dipping done further, and Yoongi has to tighten his core to stay upright.
“I’m trying to say I want to kiss you again.”
Yoongi breathes out in the darkness.
The bunker is silent and Yoongi realizes that he’s supposed to be responding, but he can’t find the words. Instead, he worms an arm from out under the blanket and reaches out blindly until his fingertips brush the warm skin of Namjoon’s face, gravely with stubble.
“Is this OK?” he asks. He feels Namjoon nod so he spreads his hand out, sliding it across Namjoon’s face and into his hair and he shifts forward, linking and ankle around Namjoon’s and pulling their legs together.
“Tell me when to stop,” he says.
Namjoon doesn’t respond.
Yoongi moves closer, letting his hands travel through Namjoon’s hair and trail down his back and he’s pressed against Namjoon now, can feel his heat, his pressure, and he thinks of the cold lonely nights and of the ache in his chest and pushes forward.
His lips meet hair and Yoongi presses his kiss against Namjoon’s forehead. Then he bends his neck down to kiss what feels like his eyebrows and now Namjoon is scooting up and Yoongi can feel him move, his legs sliding through the tangle, hands wrapping around his waist. Namjoon presses a kiss to his chin and Yoongi drags his lips down his nose and there.
Their mouths meet and Yoongi pushes in and Namjoon opens up and they kiss in the darkness, Yoongi clinging to Namjoon as tight as he can.
They hold hands in the snow and watch the stars on clear, winter nights. Namjoon presses kisses against Yoongi’s temples and tries to explain the jokes from Friends while Yoongi rubs his back and listens to everything he has to say. They talk and laugh and touch and for the first time in years, Yoongi feels alive.
When the snow begins to melt, the rivers rise, surging with white-crested, icy water. The pines begin to shake off their snowy-blankets, throwing great lumps of slush to hide from the sun under the forest shadows. Bushes bud and grass peaks out and birds begin to come home, twisting through the forest branches or flying high above in massive swarms.
“Look how many there are,” Namjoon says one early morning as they’re standing on the crest of a hill, hand in hand. Somewhere, the sun is rising and the sky is a motley of blues and violets with bubblegum pink clouds and a dark murmuration of starlings swooping above. “They’re coming back. I told you, they’re coming back.”
Yoongi frowns up towards the sky. Namjoon swore that the sun was healing, that the animals were returning and the sulfurous air filtering away. Yoongi wasn’t so sure; there was the whole world to think about and the sun looked the same to him. Either way, he liked to watch Namjoon get excited about it.
They watch the birds fly by in silence, before Namjoon says, “It’s not very chilly.”
“No. It’s nice.”
“It’s getting warmer.”
Yoongi presses his lips tight and keeps himself from squeezing Namjoon's hand. “Yeah.”
Days pass. Soon, the only snow left are dirty patches hidden under rocky crevices. The air warms. Neither of them talks about it, but they know what’s coming next. At least, Yoongi does. It’s all he thinks about at night now when he snuggles into Namjoon’s chest.
Maybe, he thinks to himself at night when Namjoon’s fallen asleep propped up in the bed with a book still open in his lap and Yoongi cards his fingers through his hair. Maybe he’ll want to stay.
It was the beginning of March by Namjoon’s estimations when Namjoon pokes his head into the bunker door as Yoongi putting away dinner. “Hey, you should come up,” Namjoon calls. “The stars are pretty tonight.”
Yoongi huffs, but grabs his jacket and slips on his boots. When he reaches the door, Namjoon takes his hand and pulls him out into fresh, spring night, guiding him through the dark trees to a clearing nearby where he sits against a tree with his legs spread out in front of him and Yoongi lies down, plopping his head in his lap so that he can stare the stars above. One of Namjoon’s hands slither across Yoongi’s chest and lays, heavy.
Insects chirp and leaves rustle and frogs croak somewhere closeby. The stars really are beautiful; without pollution or any mass concentrations of light, they shine bright and plentiful, decorating the sky like scattered dust. The moon is full and shining and red, of course. Although it came out unscathed from the apocalypse, the dying sun touches and pollutes everything. Even with the bloody light reflecting off of it, the moon continues to circle the earth diligently, as if holding its hand as it takes its final breaths.
“It’s getting warm,” Namjoon says.
Yoongi doesn’t want to respond. He wants to have this moment crystalline and frozen forever to keep in his pocket, but he licks his lips. He says, “Yeah.”
“I’m going to have to leave soon.”
Ice pierces and stings and Yoongi is glad that Namjoon’s head is angled up, that he can’t see the way his face is twisting.
“And,” Namjoon continues. “I was wondering if you would come with me.”
Yoongi freezes. Namjoon shifts, looking down at Yoongi in his lap and there's a dangerous, hopeful glint in his eyes.
“With you?” Yoongi whispers, trying to wrap his head around it. “Out there?”
“We could watch over each other,” Namjoon says and his hand rubs down Yoongi’s side.
Yoongi’s head is spinning and Namjoon’s hand is distracting; he sits up fast and pulls away, trying to think. “You want me to leave the bunker.”
Leave the bunker. The only safe place left in the world, and no, that’s not true, not really, but that’s how it feels. Yoongi’s lived in the bunker for two years, it has food, a locking door, privacy. If he left -
He thinks of ruined cities and smoke and mud and rotting bodies still lying in the streets, their blood indiscernible from red sunlight reflecting off of puddles, and he thinks of men with guns and hungry mouths and he shudders.
“I can’t, I can’t. I just - I can’t.”
Namjoon doesn’t say anything at first. He sighs. “I know.”
“But you could stay. It’d be safe, here, you wouldn’t get lost.”
“I have to find my brother.” Namjoon’s eyes meet Yoongi’s and the moon glints red in his pupils. “I have to.”
Yoongi feels sick. His hands clench and his fingernails dig into the ground’s cold, packed dirt. “I know.” He looks away. “When?”
A strangled laugh bubbles up Yoongi’s throat “Tomorrow? But - ”
“I know and I know its shitty that I’m just now bringing this up, but - I thought it’d be harder if we knew I was going to go. It’s better to do it like this, I think. Rip the band-aid off.”
It is and Yoongi gets it but he lets himself be angry and curls into himself, knees pulling up. Namjoon moves, the grass crunching underneath him, and his arm wraps around Yoongi’s shoulders.
They don’t say much that night although Yoongi can’t sleep and he doubts that Namjoon does either as they hold each other tight in bed. Yoongi had thought that they would talk that morning, but when he wakes and crawls over Namjoon to make the rice and coffee, the enormity of it all crashes down. He stands, letting the water boil and the rice sit untouched and feels unmoored, floating, distant, even as Namjoon hugs him from behind.
A frenzy grips Yoongi after this and he digs out a large, canvas backpack, stuffing it full of food, supplies, a light sleeping bag, a change of clothes, anything he can think of, anything that could keep Namjoon alive.
“You don’t have to,” Namjoon says awkwardly as he watches from the doorway.
“I want to.” Yoongi forces himself to look up and smile.
And now they were walking through the forest together, slowly and steadily, Namjoon with his backpack on and their hands intertwined. The sun is red, the air smells of rotten eggs, and the forest is bright and green. Yoongi feels like barfing but his stomach is too empty and all too soon, they get to the top of a slope where the forest rolls down and away.
They stop. Yoongi breathes in and swallows.
“I guess I should head back now,” he whispers, looking down on their intertwined hands.
“Yeah.” Namjoon’s thumb rubs little circles into Yoongi’s hand. “This isn’t goodbye forever. We’ll see each other again.”
“I mean it. I’m going to find my brother and then I’m going to come back and find you.”
Yoongi looks up, locking eyes. “Swear it.” His fingers cling to Namjoon’s and he steps closer staring as deep as he can into his eyes. “Swear.”
“I swear. We’ll find each other again.”
Yoongi stares up and then huffs, looking back out into the forest.
“What," Namjoon asks. He frowns. "You don't believe me?”
“No. It’s just cheesy.” His eyes roll up towards the sky and a stupid smile spreads across his face.
Namjoon laughs and steps forward, wrapping his arms around Yoongi and holding him tight. “Thank you,” he whispers, and Yoongi knows him well enough now to hear the desperation and the ache. “You saved my life.”
"You always say that."
"Because it's always true."
There are more to say, things Yoongi wishes he could articulate through the knot in his throat, but instead, he leans forward, pushing Namjoon off balance and pressing a kiss against his mouth, hard and fast and awkward, like they had the first time, just a few months ago.
Namjoon looks at him a second longer and then pulls away. He nods, smiles, and says, “I’ll be back soon."
He turns and walks away.
Yoongi watches him go, anger and ache choking him and he swallows hard, hands balling in the pockets of his coat. He thinks about running after him. He thinks about dragging him to bunker. He thinks about screaming or crying or giving up.
This was always how it was going to end, the goblin voice whispers.
Yoongi waits and watches and soon, he’s alone again in the forest.
The men with the guns and yellow rags find Yoongi during the middle of summer, when the air is hot and sticky, insects buzz, and Yoongi has long since gone numb again.
The man stumbles into the clearing, catching Yoongi sewing up a t-shirt on a log in front of the bunker. They stare for a dumb moment before the man raises his rifle and Yoongi falls to the ground. Bullets ricochet off the bunker behind with deafening bangs. Somehow Yoongi manages to dart inside the bunker and slam the door shut. For what feels like hours, the man slams against the door, shouting threats, crude slurs, while Yoongi slumps just on the other side with wide eyes and trembling hands pressed over his mouth.
Eventually, the man disappears, but it's too late. They know, it's not safe, they're coming, so Yoongi packs, throwing clothes, food, kindling, as much as he could think into his backpack before pulling on his boots, his beanie. With one last look at the cinderblock bunker, he pounds up the steps and away.
Looking back, Yoongi could’ve stayed. The bunker was impenetrable, and had food, running water, everything he needed to survive, but ever since that day in March when he had let Namjoon walk away, there had been an itch under his skin, growing hotter and fiercer. The bunker didn't feel safe anymore, in his mind, it had grown into a cage and when given the choice of being trapped inside or break away, he had run, fast as he can with a frenzy he didn't know he felt and a dull hope that maybe, he could find what he lost.
So he goes south, naturally.
Days blend, seasons change and even though terror still sometimes grips him so hard he can’t breathe and all he can think of is the safety of the bunker, Yoongi doesn’t immediately die. He knows how to fish, how to cook, how to avoid being seen, and where to look to scavenge both the forest and ruins. Since he can, he sticks to the woods and mountains as much as he can, weaving around cities and settlements, over broken highways and cratered earth, always going south, until he reaches Gwangju.
When he arrives, he finds nothing.
Yoongi avoids going directly into the city since the shadows of ruins are usually where the very worst tend to lurk, but it appears mostly abandoned with recent signs of fighting, like wartorn earth that have yet to fill in with grass or bodies that still have flesh clinging to them, and after scouting for several days, Yoongi gives in and asks an old man he finds walking slowly down a cracked highway, pushing a squeaky shopping cart in front of him into the sticky, morning mist.
"Them?" The old man laughs. "They’re gone, boy. Picked a fight with Hongbin - you know Hongbin?"
Yoongi shakes his head.
"He's a warlord over that ways," he says jabbing a thumb to the left. "They picked a fight - mmm - and didn't survive the winter."
"Last winter?" Yoongi asks as the man pasts him. "But -"
He stops himself. Last winter - that would mean this government had fallen when Yoongi still had Namjoon. That would mean Namjoon came searching for his brother in a place that didn't exist and the Aegukga had played from a dead station.
The old man continues on steadily, his cart's wheels squeaking over the wet asphalt.
"Wait," Yoongi calls. "Do you know where the survivors went?"
"Survivors?" The man barks over his shoulders and cackles.
It should have been devastating. It should’ve hurt, but it doesn’t. A part of Yoongi was expecting this because the world is too big and too cruel and Yoongi’s used up all of his miracles, first when he found the bunker and second when Namjoon found the bunker.
Good things come in threes, the goblin voice mocks but Yoongi can’t find it in himself to care.
A year passes.
Yoongi moves place from place, hunting and scavenging to keep himself alive and selling it to communities and pop-up cities, even though food is becoming harder and harder to come by. No matter what Namjoon had hoped, the earth is dying. Plants shriveling up, birds falling dead, water turning brackish and toxic. Someday soon, there will be nothing left.
He's in the east, in the ruins of Busan where he's come to a religious settlement to sell rabbit meat. They're kind and clean and Yoongi arrives at the same time as a festival of theirs. Usually, Yoongi would do his best not to get involved, but they're offering food and soju and a place to sleep. Yoongi shrugs and accepts.
There's singing and dancing. Great bonfires are lit down the beachfront blazing high and strong. The group had apparently invited anyone who would listen because crowds of people show up to eat food that Yoongi doesn't understand how they got. They drink. They laugh. They dance. Compared to Old World crowds, it's not large, but the chaos grows too much for Yoongi. He slips away from the noise and fire to walk along the dark beach.
The moon is bright and full above. The stars scattered and shining. The bones of Busan stick up from scorched earth a few miles down, eating up the night's sky with shadow and twisted steel. Yoongi walks towards them, but with his face turned out towards the black ocean, marbled with red moonlight and seafoam, its waves crashing and pulling away. Other people have had the same idea as him and dark silhouettes pass by, some walking like he is, others seated, together or alone, all watching the ocean. All faceless in the night.
Yoongi passes behind three people sitting close together on the sand and he stops. He doesn't know why. There's nothing special about these shadows out of all of the other shadows on the earth, except - A familiar slant in the shoulders. Long hair. Yoongi is about to tear his eyes away and move on -
A third miracle: the figure in the middle - the man with the familiar shoulders and overgrown black hair - turns. His gaze lands on Yoongi.
Yoongi freezes and blinks. Namjoon blinks back.
"No," Yoongi whispers as the man - Namjoon - stands up slow as though Yoongi is a rabbit he's trying not to scare. The two men with him, both young and cautious, look between him and Yoongi with tight faces.
“You’re here,” Namjoon says, dazed. Even with only the moonlight and the fuzzy orange cast from the bonfires behind, Yoongi can see that he's older, with more lines on his face and what looks like grey by his temples, but it's him, with his tall body and wide, sharp face, eyes wide enough for the fires behind to dance in his eyes.
“Yes,” Yoongi breathes.
Namjoon steps closer, his mouth open with wonder. “I - I thought you were dead. I went back to the bunker with Taehyung, I went to find you, but -”
“They found me,” Yoongi says in a whisper because his throat is closing and his heart racing. He stares at Namjoon because he knows if he blinks, if he looks away for a second, Namjoon will be gone. "Last summer. I didn't think you'd come back."
"Why? I said I would. I promised."
Yoongi shakes his head, feeling as though he's teetering on a ledge, about to fall. "We were never going to see each other again." He holds his arms close to his chest. "I went to Gwangju to find you, but it was too late. It had been too late the whole time -"
"It's alright. I still found him, my brother," Namjoon and he smiles and, god, it's just as beautiful as Yoongi remembers: soft, wide, dimpled. Namjoon waves a hand to one of the other men, the one with the long, curling hair and strong features who continues eyeing Yoongi with distrust. "I found him, and I found you too, hyung. Holy shit, we found each other."
Yoongi shakes his head hard and steps back.
But Namjoon is reaching out, hand wrapping around Yoongi's arm and it burns and aches and holds Yoongi down, dragging him back into his body on this cold, dark beach in this dead, rotting world.
“You should've come with me.”
Namjoon whispers low and raw, and Yoongi wishes he could open his chest and spill everything out to show Namjoon, to give to Namjoon, to make him understand.
“I know. I know,” Yoongi whispers and his throat is growing tighter and his voice higher and tears prick his eyes and he wants to open his mouth and scream. “I should’ve come with you.”
Namjoon’s hand tightens, iron hot, and he steps forward and Yoongi can feel that magnetic tug in his gut, pulling him closer. “It’s alright.”
“They found me and I tried to follow you but I couldn’t find you.”
Namjoon is looming above him, pulling him in. Every cell in Yoongi's body is screaming and when Namjoon’s hand travels up from his wrist, trailing across his forearm to wrap above his elbow, it feels like the first time, over a year ago, in the snowy pines and silence of the forest.
“You shouldn’t have left me.”
The secret leaves Yoongi’s lips unbidden, a whisper. It’s stupid and unfair and Yoongi wishes he could take it back or that Namjoon wouldn’t hear, but he does. His face tightens. Yoongi can see hurt flashing across his eyes.
It’s not fair, but it’s true. Or, no, it's not even true but - Yoongi’s brain stutters to cover it up or apologize or smile, but then Namjoon pulls and wraps his arms around Yoongi.
And now Yoongi’s fingers are clawing in the back of Namjoon’s shirt and he breaths are sharp and hard and full of Namjoon and the smell of sweat and alcohol and smoke, and Yoongi squeezes, pulling himself against Namjoon and feeling the firmness of his bones, of his body. Namjoon holds him tight and Yoongi feels a ghost of what its like to be Home.
Namjoon’s hand cards up into Yoongi’s hair and his face lowers, lips pressing against Yoongi’s temple. “Stay with me.”
There’s more to say. More to do. When Yoongi cracks open his eyes, blinking away the fuzz of tears, the two boys on the beach are watching solemnly with the black ocean crashing ceaselessly behind them. People scream and laugh somewhere up shore where the bonfires cast orange, hellish light, and shadows stretch and stretch. The dead city around them is empty and haunted and the world is dead, rotting away. But what the hell. Why did any of that matter right now. Yoongi is still alive.
So Yoongi nods. He presses his face against Namjoon’s neck and clings as the waves crash and the moon shines, red and gentle, above them.