Become a Book Nerd
When you’re not reading books, read our newsletter.
Joon’s back cracked and pores sweat in the fetal morning.
He wished it would mature already.
He wished Jin would stop crying.
Joon rubbed his back soulfully, wanting nothing more than for the tears on his cheeks and the ugly expression to go away forever.
“Jin, please,” Joon pleaded, touching the crying man’s broad and sulky shoulder. He had known all of the others on the island to cry in certain situations, but it seemed like Jin could cry in any situation. Joon just wasn’t like that, at least not for just anything, especially not for simply getting lost.
Jin was on his way to get water and asked Joon to come with him, which ended up with the two’s memories of where the waterfall resided contradicting and then getting lost. All they knew is that they were in the woods, somewhere near it.
Jin sniffed and nodded, pulling himself together. He would have preferred if this wasn’t still one of the first impressions Joon had of him. “Okay,” he said, mustering up the strength. Jin looked around them and held his satchel close. “Uh, Kookie taught me something.” He closed his eyes and listened, taking the air and animals and breathing as nothing but a distraction. “I think I hear water that way.” He pointed left.
Joon just glanced in that direction, judging it, before asking, “You can hear water?”
“I don’t know, I think we should go the other way.” Joon pointed opposite of where Jin planned to go. “The ground was softer. I think the water sunk in there.”
Jin sucked in a sharp breath, Joon mirroring it as if that breath was words and his own breath a response. “Mm, I don’t know about that,” was Jin’s worded response to attribute the look. “Maybe we could try climbing a tree instead.”
“I don’t really think that’ll work,” Joon admitted, putting his palms together to propose something else. “Maybe we should look for animals that could tell us the way.”
“Uh, that idea is sort of impractical,” was Jin’s response.
After that they just stared at one another, sizing the other up. With Jin’s stubbornness and Joon’s belief that he’s always right, the two of them could have stood there all day, unmoved by the other.
Luckily, someone moved.
Joon and Jin’s heads turned and watched Jimin and Yoongi standing sweaty and worrisome to the left of them, approaching fast as they cut through the trees with their arms and legs swinging. “What’re you guys doing? Where’s the water?” Yoongi’s judgment shining through his diction.
“Sorry,” Jin spoke up first, doing good to undermine Joon. “We got lost.”
Yoongi threw his hands up and said, “Of course you did. It’s not like everyone’s drying up like a raisin in the sun. Literally, all you had to do was walk down the cliff. I—Whatever, I’ll get it.” And with that, he stormed off in the direction Jin had been pointing to, again, showing Joon up.
Jimin was left standing there awkwardly, watching her go. They all knew how he could get from time to time when things got frustrating, but no one bothered to speak on it..not yet. “Well then,” Jimin started, throwing his own short hands up in a much less threatening way. “Let’s head back.” Jimin spun on his boot heel and started charging back the way they had come. Joon and Jin spared each other a roll of the eye before following.
It didn’t take long to get back to the cliff—despite how long it took for Jin and Joon to get lost in the first place. In the mornings, near the beach is where the seven of them reside, but once the day progresses they find themselves on the top of the waterfall’s cliff. Hobi had found it one day walking with Kookie. First, they were climbing what seemed like an endless hill and then they heard the gushing of water, breaking through the trees to find an incredibly huge field of grass with a fast-moving stream of water cutting right down the middle of it. It was the incline that Joon and Yoongi were going up before the two men cut off at the cliff overlooking the sea, unaware that there was an even higher destination. The waterfall’s wall itself was too steep to climb, but they had cut a neat path right next to it where the climb was less intimidating. Jin and Joon just had to find the path down so they could get water and bring it back up, but unfortunately, they were as bad with directions as they were with communicating.
Once on the cliff, Joon squinted at the nakedness he felt when the sun fell viciously upon his skin. No one could remember exactly where they resided, but whatever part of the world the island was in, it was extremely hot. Jin and Joon walked up to all of the others as they crowded around what would soon be their new home. Since the discovery was relatively new, they had managed to get a good pile of rocks, lumber, and some other key building parts onto the riverside first before they actually started building anything. “Oof!” cried Kookie, letting the rock fall out of his sculpted arms and bang against all of the others in the big pile, the muscles in his thick claves releasing finally. He wiped his forehead, Jin just then aware that he wasn’t wearing a shirt. Despite how much he disagreed with the over-exposure, he said nothing.
Joon was also as quiet as he watched Jimin watch Kookie go for another bigger rock that he probably couldn’t handle, and Jimin still decide to go for the smaller rock rather than helping Kookie out. Both of them didn’t dare intervene.
“Where’s water?” Hobi asked, moving sticks with Tae.
“Yoongi’s getting it, stepping up as usual,” Joon muttered, taking two steps away from Jin.
It didn’t take long for Yoongi to get back with the water—quenching everyone’s thirst—and they all sat around their slightly impressive pile of junk and drank in the morning heat. “So we are switching up today,” Joon announced, although they all knew that anyway, knowing what the rules said about switching up building partners once the building actually began. Before it was Jin and Yoongi, Jimin and Hobi, and Joon, Kookie, and Tae. “Pick a name.” Joon handed a purse they had found in one of the suitcases to Jin, being the closest. Jin found it morbid the way they dug through the bags upon bags of the recently blown up plane-goers, but Joon thought of it as a tribute to them instead. They thought differently.
Too bad they would be partners.
Jin felt all the energy leave his body when he pulled Joon’s name out of the bag, scribbled down on torn off notebook paper. The others looked them up and down, suspecting that it may not go well. But they also knew the rules, and no one dared to step up and try to change them…not even Joon.
“I guess Joon and I will be building together.”
Yippee, they thought. Yay me.
As the breast-shaped rock collapsed atop of the lamp-shaped rock, Joon felt as if he wanted to collapse with it, falling onto the hard earth and closing his eyes. It felt like days had passed in only the few hours they had been working. Jin and Joon were tasked with adhesive, which basically meant they had to think of some sort of magic that would hold wood and rock together. Needless to say, it was not going well for the two. As Joon tried over and over again to try and fit rocks like puzzle pieces while chewing on a piece of mango from a mango tree they had discovered nearby, Jin was busy trying to make yarn he had found in one of the bags wrap around the rocks and make them fit. Joon’s rocks would never fit perfectly and stay that way, Jin’s string wouldn’t be able to stop the rocks from sliding against each other and collapsing; neither of their plans were working out.
Yet still, they refused to ask each other for help. There was something about turning to face one another and admitting personal defeat that didn’t set right between the two of them, both wanting to be able to work it out on their own. It was nothing like Kookie and Jin’s feuding; somehow, it was more refined and particular, meant to nurture more than hurt. Joon got on his feet and cracked his back, making Jin flinch before sighing. “We shouldn’t even be on this island.” Throwing down the tangled ball of string, Joon whipped his head around and stared at Jin’s grey, oversized shirt. “What?” Joon said, getting Jin to turn to him. “What did you say about the island?”
“Nothing, don’t worry about it,” was the older man’s response, picking the string up again to give his hands something else to do and focus on.
“No seriously Jin,” Joon’s tone changed into something sweeter. “What’s up? What about the island?”
“It’s really not a big deal, Joon,” Jin replied, holding his hand out as if that would make Joon stop persisting, but he kept on.
“If it’s no big deal then just tell me.”
“I don’t want to.”
“This island sucks!”
Joon blinked once and then again, sweat dripping off the tip of his eyelash and landing on the bags under his now widened eyes. “You are stranded in the middle of nowhere,” Jin went on. “with nothing but five other guys you just met and a sixth that hates you! Why in the hell are we building a damn house in the first place!?”
Jin ran his fingers through his hair and it, surprisingly, stayed out of his face, revealing his pale forehead. He turned away from Joon and put his hands on his hips, staring off into the distance over the fall. Joon was shocked, sure, but not entirely surprised. He assumed Jin thought that way about the island, and Jin knew that Joon greatly disagreed with it. But despite that, despite those raging differences in thought, Joon said, “I hear you.”
Jin just whipped his head back around to look at him. Did he just talk to me like some patient? he thought, crossing his arms.
“But…hear me out.”
Jin wanted to say there was nothing to hear out, but his curiosity ruled over him. “Okay.”
Joon cleared his throat before saying, “How likely do you think it is that only the seven of us made it out of that plane before it blew up?” Jin thought about it but had no answer, and Joon knew that. “How likely do you think it is that the suitcases happened to land on this island miles away from the blow-up sight? And the fact that nothing has killed us yet? I mean, not saying this island is a walk in the park, but it could definitely have ended up worse. And that whale attaching to Kookie’s foot before? What the hell on this island makes you think this is even remotely a normal island!” Joon paused, not for dramatics but to think of what he would say next. “I think we’re here for a reason, Jin, I really do. I don’t think we can leave yet until we figure out why.”
“…And building a house is going to help us find that out?” Jin responded.
Joon’s nostrils flared and he blew air out. “No, not exactly.” He gave in just a little. “Okay, the house doesn’t have to be perfect and beautiful, it just has to protect us from whatever might happen.”
Jin nodded, surprising himself when he did. “And I guess you’re right about the island being weird…there’s definitely more there.”
Joon sighed, scratching his dirty scalp. “Still need to figure out this rock stacking issue.”
“…Well the island has everything, right?” Jin posed. “Like unnaturally everything.” Joon just nodded. “Well then maybe it has pine trees.”
“…” It took Joon a minute before he caught on, snapping. “Pine tree sap is extra thick!”
Joon and Jin watched each other, suddenly dissolving out of the world and into that moment, that moment without screams or arguments or passive aggression, Joon taking in Jin’s parted hair and melted skin and Jin taking in Joon’s reddening nose and large eyes. They noticed each other this time; they didn’t dismiss each other’s presence…and that felt good. “Did we just solve a problem?” Joon said.
“…I think we might have,” was Jin’s response, both men very surprised at the realization of it.
Jin’s boots crushed the grass under his feet, but the grass didn’t seem to care. Joon was the first to break through the field Tae, Jimin, and Hobi had stumbled upon all those nights ago. The field of flowers and sunshine enticed them on their way to find pine trees, Tae saying he had found some around there. They weren’t sure how to collect sap yet, but the two figured with their new companionship they could figure it out. Joon’s head tilted up while Jin’s turned to him, judging him. “You seem so content with everything.”
Joon shrugged, only confirming the statement. “What is there to be worried about?”
“Jimin tells me you worry about everything, though,” Jin countered.
“No, he probably said that I don’t let go of things,” Joon corrected, shaking his head. “Things will never be perfect unless you make them perfect, but to ‘worry’ about them will do nothing but ruin you and fix nothing. So, I don’t worry…I concern.”
Jin scoffed, looking down at his dirt-filled fingernails. “I wish I could play with words like that.” He chewed the inside of his mouth, wishing he had gum to occupy his mind with. “I just…” He sighed. “Things feel like they’ll never get better.”
“You never cared, did you?”
Joon clutched his forehead, feeling it ache at this memory. He shook it off. “We should…get back soon,” Joon reasoned, and Jin agreed.
Walking back, Joon stopped at a crooked-looking tree, the odd one out in the skinny forest. He slowed as they walked past it, examining its meaning; he thought that way a lot. “Do you still have Yoongi’s knife?” Joon turned to Jin, his boots halting on the forest floor. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the pocket knife, handing it to Joon. Joon didn’t question Jin and Jin didn’t question Joon as he carved his initials “YJY” into the tree’s weak bark. He handed the knife over to Jin who took it willingly, stepping up and adding his own initials “MDH” underneath it. Turning the knife over in his hand, Jin shut it and shoved it back in his pocket. “Satisfied yet?” Jin said, turning to Joon. Joon nodded, staring the tree down, as if now it was a new tree, part of a new tree family.
Maybe it was symbolic, or maybe it was just Joon. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s go.”
Kookie and Yoongi’s eyes were wide in surprise as they watched the two of them chatting away, shoulder to shoulder as they smiled and slapped arms and sighed in unison. It was quite the spectacle to watch, and Kookie and Yoongi decided to bring it to attention. Kookie asked, “What happened to you two?”
Joon and Jin turned to them; now their eyes turned wide. “Oh,” Jin replied with, catching the others’ attention as well. “I think we just had a really good conversation working on the house.” Joon shrugged to corroborate Jin’s story, unsure what else he could say.
“I thought you argued a lot?” Jimin said. “Literally yesterday you guys disagreed about fish or red meat.”
“And now,” Joon started off. “We think it’s important to have both in your diet.” Jin and Joon nodded, high-fiving each other. Yoongi recoiled at the act when they did, completely taken aback by the nonchalant friendship they had just enacted in front of his own very eyes. “I mean…alright, then,” Yoongi decided, ignoring them from that point on. “Just hope it stays that way.”
Jin sighed, feeling isolated. When they had all finally laid down to sleep—which was a process within itself—Jin tended to stay close to Joon. Usually, Joon didn’t notice, and Jin was glad for that as he would lay his long body next to Joon’s long body at a distance so close there really was no distance. But, as Jin had gone to lay down, Hobi had quickly taken his place. Not on purpose he knew, but they all tended to lie down wherever they pleased.
So Jin lied next to Hobi, adding a little bit more distance between them. But before they had all fallen asleep, Joon spoke up. “Hey Hobi, can I switch with you?” Jin’s back was facing them, so he wasn’t sure what was going on as bodies began to shift under their large tree and smaller blanket.
Jin breathed in as a new body settled next to his, much closer than Hobi’s was. “Sorry,” Joon whispered to him, catching Jin’s ear, he knew. “It’s nice to sleep next to someone with the same height.”
Ah, Jin thought, grinning as his eyes closed. That’s why I do it.
Trudging through the woods again, Jin and Joon were still searching for pine trees. They had gotten close yesterday, but once the sky began to darken, they had to head back. In the morning, they went out earlier to get a head start on the day.
Walking through that same field again, they finally passed it and fell back into the scattered forest. Joon’s feet were just starting to hurt when Jin hit his shoulder and pointed. “Look! Pine!” Joon had to blink hard before seeing it, quickly noticing the spines stuck to the tree. “Yes!” Joon exclaimed, high-fiving Jin again. It was beginning to be a thing.
As Jin approached, his foot landed on a twig and snapped it, gaining a rather husky response from the woods beyond. Both of them paused immediately, stomach and butt clenched as they analyzed the noise. “Was that a…” Jin whispered, turning his head to Joon. “…growl?”
And to confirm it, the noise came again, but more intense this time. It also came with a visual, a great big, black ball of fur making its way around their holy grail of a pine tree. Joon and Jin’s mouths dropped as they watched the bear move, sniffing the tree before getting on its legs and wrapping its other appendages around the bark, hugging it. Their shocked expressions turned to ones of confusion. “Is this what nature is like?” Joon asked, both of them far enough away not to be heard. Jin just shrugged, wanting to back up but thinking better of it.
As Jin thought about backing away, it triggered a stronger and more relevant thought in his head, getting him to the question, “Joon?”
“…Do we even have a hatchet like Jimin said we needed?”
Joon shut his eyes and sighed. “We had a knife…but I forgot it.”
Jin cursed at him, and Joon just took it. “But look!” Joon pointed and Jin looked up at the tree, noticing what Joon was noticing. The bear was scratching away at it, digging its claws into the bark. “No knife needed.”
Jin now, unafraid of noise, turned fully to Joon and punched him in the shoulder. “We are not approaching a bear!?” he hissed.
“The bear will leave?!” Joon hissed back.
“It looks like it’s making its claim on that tree, and believe it or not, I don’t want to die!” He snapped his head back to the bear, made sure it was still preoccupied, and turned back to a disappointed Joon. “Joon, we can just go back, get the knife, and find a different tree, okay?”
Air came out of Joon’s nostrils, but he nodded in contempt anyway. “Good,” said Jin, and the two walked away.
Oh how they walked.
“I still can’t believe all of those trees had bears.” Jin kicked his rock and regretted it right after. Joon laughed at him, carefully placing his last piece of rock on top of the other one. “I like to think that it’s the other way around, but yeah. I am not sure what’s up with bears and their pine trees.”
Jin walked back over to the suitcase—they didn’t have a bucket—of mud and plopped it next to his now 5-foot high wall. “At least the mud worked out.” They had been working on the wall of rock and wood for days now, slaving in the sun’s heat all the way into the moon’s chill to make up for their days of venturing for sap. Eventually, both of them had decided it was a lost cause.
Mud worked just as well they realized, although the idea of sap was much more enticing. But they knew things wouldn’t always work out the way they wanted it to; that was their fact.
“Okay,” Joon said in finality, finishing up his own suitcase of mud. “I think I’m done.” They had set the walls 2 yards from each other, building them long and high but narrow. The roof was another team’s department, but they were just proud to get the structure going. “I have to admit,” Jin said, sealing his last rock. “It’s kind of beautiful.”
Joon just nodded, not having to look up too high to see the tops of the wall. “Although we should probably make it a bit higher for us tall guys!” Joon exclaimed as Jimin walked by.
“Shut up,” Jimin responded, carrying the rest of their left-over mud away with his dumbfoundedly strong hands, doing better to accept that part of him. Joon felt some pride with that.
“Share with Kookie or he’ll start hunting small animals again,” Jin instructed and Jimin nodded, walking away. The two of them were left alone again, the day approaching day-break. “So, I guess this is it,” Jin said to Joon.
Today was their last day as partners, leaving a daunting fear over their heads. It was like they had discovered each other through the house, so what would they be without it. Joon cleared his throat, trying not to think too hard about it. “Yep, but nothing will change.” This was not a question toward Jin, it was a statement for Joon himself, a mantra for him to remember. Both knew they didn’t need a specific project to work together and compromise ideas…but the mind was a dark place with dark thoughts, and the light was very easily hidden.
All Jin was able to muster was, “‘Kay,” before walking away. He didn’t want to be the one that initiated the promise; he was always more of a backseat driver. But Jin didn’t know all of Joon yet, and he had no idea how badly that simple “‘Kay” would make him feel.
Night had officially come and the seven of them were back around the fire, Jin and Joon now on opposite sides. This, unlike the sleeping arrangements, they made this way. Despite the distance, they didn’t stop noticing each other. Jin wouldn’t stop shifting every few seconds from one side of his butt to the other, seemingly wanting to get up. Joon, on the other hand, wouldn’t budge a little. Kookie had to put the pieces of banana directly in Joon’s outstretched hand because he wouldn’t stretch any further. Wanting to get rid of the silence, Hobi spoke up. “You guys did a great job with the walls.”
Jin nodded with his fast-moving self. “Yeah, we were gonna use the sap but…bears.”
“Yeah, bears,” Joon confirmed. Big bears, Joon thought. Bad bears, Sad bears, ‘Kay bears, Emotional bears. Stupid bears.
He shook his head, moving for the first time since sitting down. “But to hell with bears, right?”
Jin gaged the guys, looking for anyone else to speak up. “Uh,” he started. “I mean bears can kill you, therefore…”
“Oh, they definitely can,” Joon noted, getting to his feet. Jin looked up at him, the fire casting a shadow behind him; it made him seem bigger than he knew he was. “But who cares, right?” Jin was astonished by this new side of Joon, or perhaps appalled. “I think I’ll just go get the sap in case we might need it someday, ‘kay?”
Joon and Jin stared each other down, neither making a move to stop the other. The world was melting away for them again just like the first time they really saw each other, but now the surroundings had color on them. It was black and red, like blood splattering in endless space. It didn’t feel safe. As soon as Jin stood up, Joon stormed off, rushing down the hill’s path. “Joon!” Jin called, running after him. The others stood up and watched them go, worry painted onto their faces.
But this chapter wasn’t about them.
“Joon! Joon wait!” Jin shoved branches and such out of the way, tripping ever so often in his hurry. Joon was surprisingly calm as he ran, panting but extremely on beat with his steps. Somehow in his panic, he was so organized. The world around the two had not loaded back yet, still a wave of fear and tension swirling around them like a barren desert, pain like cold stinging their skin. They seemed to be walking a tightrope, their line of sight and specific path all they could comprehend, the other like a lighthouse to their ships.
They made it to the flower field without stopping, Jin nor Joon making the effort to say anything to get the other to stop on their journey. It might have been because they wanted to see where this tightrope path of theirs would lead. Finally, approaching where the bears were seen, Jin made the effort. “Stop!” he called, expecting it to do nothing. But to his surprise, Joon did stop, bending over and heaving. Jin stopped too, but not until he was right behind Joon, a hand on his back. Joon didn’t look up, too unbelievably sick to his stomach to say anything. Maybe he did really want to get eaten by bears, but even he doubted that. Still, he continued on—walking now—toward the pine-infested bear trees. “J-Joon…” Jin breathed out, also too tired to make the effort. His hand slipped from Joon’s back, and now even the effort to stay together seemed to dwindle. Jin didn’t start making the effort again until he saw the beast charging toward them. “JOON!”
Joon didn’t even look up when the black bear came down on him, feeling its claws scrape his arms as he was crushed by the beast, its weight squeezing all of the air from his body. Joon wanted to cry out as he felt its breath on his skin, fearing his own death. Even his crazy wasn’t crazy enough not to be scared in a situation like this. Joon’s body shivered as the bear wailed in his ear, the claws retracting from his skin but the weight doubling. There were grunts, but human this time, as the weight fell all on his left side and eventually rolled off of him completely. Color came back to Joon’s face, his surroundings diluting back in, including Jin as his frantic expression fell onto him. Joon noted Yoongi’s knife that Jin was holding, a crimson liquid coating his right hand.
“Oh my God,” Joon said. “…You just stabbed a bear.”
“Yeah!” Jin exclaimed, pulling Joon up. He winced at the movement, sitting now. He felt the blood running down his arms and realized the bear had gotten deeper than he thought. The pain in itself was numbing, so he didn’t exaggerate. “I tend to stab bears in situations of danger!”
“But…” Joon looked Jin in the eye, somehow his expression belittling him. “How could you? The bear was just protecting his territory?”
Jin made a gargling sound before the scoff came out, having to process what it was Joon had said before finding the right response. “A-Are you serious?” He waited for a response, but also knew one probably wasn’t coming. “I just saved your life and you don’t…care?” Again, he paused, but this time to give Joon a chance to think of an answer but not enough time to actually answer. “What the hell is wrong with you, Joon?!” Joon started pouting, not for sympathy but out of guilt. “Even when you know something is stupid, you do it anyway! Why are you so optimistic about everything!? Why don’t you just accept the fact that things will never be that easy!”
And then Joon realized where he had heard that before; what that memory was of.
“This is Seokjin.” Joon looked on at the new kid, wondering why he was in his house. “Jin, this is Namjoon.” Their moms seemed pleased at their meeting, even if neither of the boys really understood it. “You guys will hang out together.”
When they said ‘hang out,’ they meant do homework together, and when they said ‘do homework,’ they meant hang out. Jin and Joon knew the game and knew it would be a whole thing. However, sitting at the kitchen table side by side with pencils in their hands, they would never complain about making a new friend, especially at their age.
“So your name is…uh…Seokjin?” Joon asked, his pencil no longer moving. Jin looked up at him and smiled, showing his missing teeth. “At school, they call me Jin.”
Joon squealed a little bit, finding the name funny. “I think Namjoon sounds so long! Just call me Joon.” The two reached out their mutually small hands and shook, cautiously looking out to see if Joon’s mom was around. Since she was nowhere to be found, Joon leaned over and whispered, “Why did your mom…bring you here?”
“Oh!” Jin did not keep his voice low as Joon had done. “She thinks that you’re like…reeeeaallllyyyy reeeaalllyyy smart and that you can help me do math. I don’t really get word problems. Why are numbers words anyway? What!?” Joon shushed Jin quickly but giggled at his comment. “Who cares about math!” Joon whispered, pushing his homework aside. “Let’s just talk and play!”
“But what about your mom?” Jin asked, head tilted much too far to the side.
“I’ll just tell her we practiced on…paper. I’ll tell her we practiced on a different paper so you could do it at home.”
At that moment, as Joon got up from the table and ran to the kitchen, Jin felt uncertainty. “How many people…come here?”
Joon shrugged as he closed the fridge, pulling out two juice boxes. He walked back over. “I don’t know at this point, but my mom has a lot of mom friends with the other moms. Now your mom is her friend! That means we’re friends too!” Joon stuck out his hand with the juice box to Jin, Jin staring at him. He smiled that toothless smile again, giggled, and took the offering.
“Seokjin?” Jin looked up at the bulk of a teacher, his presence hovering over him. “Here, I think we need to talk to your mom and dad after school, okay?” Jin nodded, but he was not sure what his motives were until he saw the paper he handed back. It was their homework assignment from a few nights before, the one he had done with Joon. Jin didn’t know everything, but he knew what red “X”s meant, and what a lot of them on a paper could do.
Jin looked around the room self-consciously, wondering what the other faces might reveal. In general, there were no sad faces. Tae looked happy…but Joon didn’t. He seemed complacent, uncaring. Jin figured it was to cover up the embarrassment. After school, he decided to make the effort to reach out to him, console him on his bad—
Jin stopped when he saw the crumpled piece of paper shoved in the water bottle-slot of his backpack. “Aww,” Jin said aloud, right behind his friend now. “It can’t be that bad.” He grabbed the crumpled paper and unraveled it, very clearly against Joon’s wishes. The smile dropped from Jin’s face immediately, seeing the green check marks and smiley faces and—He stopped looking; it made him sick. Jin looked up at Joon almost longingly, looking for a proper answer. There was none, and both of them knew that. Joon snatched his paper back, triggering Jin’s words. “W-Why did you get a good grade and I didn’t?” At first it was just a question, and then it became rhetorical. “Why did you even invite me over if you weren’t gonna help me!?”
“I…” Joon was having trouble thinking of a proper answer. “I just wanted you to be my friend. I thought…you wouldn’t like me if we just studied.”
“Why would I hate you if you helped me with math!?” Jin’s voice was going up now. “What’s wrong with you?!” The answer, Joon just realized, was that he didn’t know.
“You never cared, did you!?” Joon’s mouth opened and then closed quickly, unsure of what to say in response. Jin just scoffed, cheeks rosy pink from embarrassment. “I hate you!” He threw his sheet down and ran off to his car, climbing inside and then driving off, leaving Joon alone and scared…
“Joon,” Jin gripped Joon’s stone-cold shoulders, his expression frozen in one of terror. “…Namjoon!”
Joon snapped out of it, peering up at Jin in the dark moonlight. “…I remember you.”
Jin’s head tilted. “What? From where? Wait, were you the one that got my order wrong at that burrito place?”
Joon’s eyebrows furrowed, head tilting. “What? No, I mean…from 2nd grade. You and I were studying together and you…” Joon choked up. “…you said I didn’t care.” With Jin’s expression, Joon could tell he didn’t remember. “You dropped me after you failed that homework assignment.” Jin, slowly, was remembering that day, or rather that week they had spent together. He had never felt so bad after failing that assignment, never felt so…stupid. Jin looked through Joon’s eyes and saw the little boy that was once there. For a moment, he forgot about Joon’s conditions, forgot about why he was out there…and he hated him again. But Joon kept going, lessening the older man’s hate. “You…you made me feel useless.” Joon’s nostrils flared, his eyes shifting. “You…I…I was never like you thought I was, Jin.” He paused, letting a hand tighten on Jin’s elbow. “I was just as hopeless as you think I’m not…I still am, I—” Joon’s frantic expression drooped into one of contempt. His grip on Jin’s arm loosened and then fell to the ground, aching like the rest of his body. “I don’t feel confidence in this island, or anything really…I’m just more scared of the world outside of this island more than I am of the animals and things inside it.” Joon sniffed, holding back his tears. “I just feel so helpless.”
Jin blinked, surprised that he never realized this about Joon before. He, as well, let go of Joon, feeling like the distance between them was needed, like they would fall apart if not. Jin stood up fully, reaching a hand out and grabbing Joon’s and pulling him up. They were level now, the same height, the same page, the same wavelength. But that felt…weird to them, both of them. Jin was the one who was practical, who was more likely to kilter to these sorts of thoughts and meltdowns. Sure, Joon could have his meltdowns if he pleased, but only if he did it silently without ruining his image; his perfection. But now he had ruined it—part of it—for Jin. He had ruined himself…for Jin.
Jin didn’t want that.
His hand didn’t leave Joon’s blood-covered one, neither of them currently concerned about his health but rather his mental state. “No,” was what Jin came back with, gaze shifting from one of Joon’s bloodshot eyes to the other. “I won’t let you feel that way.” Jin shook his head as if the movement would make his movement truer. “You’re not helpless, Joon, literally everyone on this island will do anything you say, I will do anything you say…maybe with some input myself.” That, at the least, made Joon’s mouth flinch. “…You’re not hopeless like me.”
Joon wiped the snot from his nose, looking around himself at the field, re-associating with his surroundings. Jin was right about Joon, which confused Joon for two reasons: One, Jin was never fully right in his mind, and two, Jin surely couldn’t be right about a thing even Joon didn’t understand. But when he thought about it again, Jin really never could know for sure. But in this situation, Joon would just take his word for it.
The two of them tended to do that for each other.
Even the night fire lit now on top of the waterfall was not as hot as the tension filling the area as the five other members got the news. They looked at each other suspiciously, curious and nervous of what could be revealed with just a sentimental glance. Even the slowly roasting bear before them did nothing to satisfy their hunger for answers.
“So, what’s more shocking?” Hobi asked, always asking the questions. “Us forgetting that we all use to know each other in 2nd grade, or the fact that just looking into each other’s eyes could make us remember?”
Joon and Jin had to admit, it was a good question. They looked at each other and shrugged. “No idea, it might equally be both.”
“Are you sure it’s not just you two?” Tae posed, and Jin nodded. “I saw you, Tae, in it…but in the background…like I couldn’t access that memory yet.” It sounded strange to Tae, but he liked strange, and said nothing in opposition to it, rather: “But, what if we never have that moment of realization? What then?”
Joon, although reluctant at first, turned to look at Jin leaning back beside him. His eyes seemed to burn away in the fire’s light, Joon’s somehow glowing to Jin. Jin smiled at him, feeling content with how far they had gotten in just a few days. “You will,” Jin decided, nodding as if he was positive. Joon joined in the positivity, turning to look at the others as a whole.
“It seems impossible now that we wouldn’t.”
When you’re not reading books, read our newsletter.
Join the conversation