They were staring up in awe at the triumphal arch, eyes roaming over the detailed surfaces, capturing photo after photo with their eyes because taking a camera with them was against the rules. Rules which were set by themselves.
“I wish I brought my baby with me,” Taehyung said in a half-dazed state, hand stopping midway to his mouth, lemon ice cream in his grip.
Jimin lowered his hand from his eyes and turned his head to look at his friend, which was more like staring at the thing he was eating, now slowly melting onto his fingers. Jimin’s self-control was turning into ashes and dust.
There was a time when Jimin thought that no summer heat was worse than the one he experienced in Seoul, even when the fan was properly functioning. On the other hand, Jimin had never stood stupidly in the middle of Piazza del Duomo, gaping at the entrance of Galleria Vittorio with something much akin to veneration, as if he was waiting for the angels of death to descend upon them. Or the ghost of Giuseppe Mengoni. In almost 40 degrees Celsius, that is.
In times like these, he wanted something to calm the blistering under his skin, something that very much resembled the item Taehyung was holding. Still, he couldn’t do it. He didn’t want to do it, even though his fingers were itching to grab the ice cream and stuff it in his mouth.
“No”, Jimin replied, (to him or anyone else; he wasn’t sure) his eyes darting up to meet Taehyung’s. “We talked about this. No cameras.”
Taehyung hummed, not actually vexed by the negative answer, licking his ice cream in a suggestive manner, as if he knew something. Jimin groaned internally.
“Sure”, Taehyung slurred, eyebrow raised. “You’re gonna lose your squishy cheeks if you keep avoiding food.” He made grabby hands for Jimin’s face, only to have them slapped out of the way.
There was a constant buzz around them, the type you feel tingling under your skin more than you hear, and it wasn’t the hundreds of voices or the foreign languages surrounding them. It wasn’t the noise of the vehicles, nor the clattering of high heels on the paved streets of Milan. It appeared to be similar to a small fizzle, as if something was set on fire, ready to burn to ashes but not actually fading away. A murmur, sort of. A calling. Beckoning you to get lost, to forget, to forgive. A whisper of something very much alive - the voice of the city.
Jimin blinked, feeling the thrum in his veins, excitement set deep inside him and making him bounce on the spot. There were colors everywhere, translucent shapes in motion and getting lost in each other, basking in the hot August sun. It was almost like a scene painted by Monet; no sharp edges to define the world, only soft strokes of brushes for fleeting feelings, just as fragile as the human soul.
Maybe it was all of that, the honking sounds, the click-clack of stilettos and soft giggles, making the world spin around him - waving because of the scorching weather - but so clear at the same time, making Jimin dizzy and in love with the city, ready to make it home.
Taehyung must have felt the same, lips slightly parted in his usual boxy grin as he twisted his head around, not even remotely trying to hide his admiration.
“I can’t believe we’re actually here, Jiminnie,” he said, pointing the stick of his ice cream at a flock of pigeons a few meters away from them. When Jimin opened his mouth to question his actions, Taehyung shushed him with a finger, telling him to wait. No more than a second later, a small girl wearing a bright yellow dress screamed and ran straight into the middle of the patch where the birds were resting, scattering them in all four corners of the earth. Her laugh rang sharply in the square, the squeaky undertone making it distinguishable.
“I love this city,” Taehyung murmured, before putting away the stick and unzipped his backpack.
“We’ve been here for one day.”
“So? It was love at first sight man, tell you that. And—,” Taehyung didn’t continue, suddenly remembering something that made his eyebrows scrunch up in the middle of his forehead.
No answer came, Taehyung being more focused on unzipping his bag and searching frantically inside it, all of the souvenirs he had bought in the span of two hours threatening to spill on the ground. Jimin rolled his eyes so hard he must have seen his brain.
“Please refrain from spending any more money. I think we got more souvenirs than we could carry.”
Taehyung nodded absentmindedly, but Jimin knew better. It was like a knee jerk reaction for Taehyung to stick his hands inside his pockets and grab the bills, throwing them left and right on magnets, postcards, ice cream, slices of pizza and “Ch dio mio, is that a replica of the Castello Sforzesco? I need that so bad!”
Jimin could feel a small, no, -huge-, meltdown taking him over, but he what he could do? He couldn’t do anything when it came to Taehyung, who was too wrapped up in the joy of the moment to fathom the consequences of wasting his money. He would find out the moment they got home and the fridge was empty.
“I forgot it,” Taehyung suddenly spoke, eyes wide with fear.
“I have an idea.” Jimin was paying him no heed whatsoever. “Gimme your money and I’m gonna ration it for you.”
“No, no, Jimin. You don’t get it, I forgot the—”
“Taehyung, listen for a second!”
“—map. How are we going to meet—”
“Here, give me your wallet and whenever you want to buy something—”
“JIMIN!” Taehyung voice boomed in the piazza, making two ladies jump in fear.
“I forgot the map,” he gritted out.
“So?! I don’t know how to get to Piazza del Carmine.”
“Why would you get there? We know where we wanna go—”
“But we need to meet up wi—”
“—and we know that those places are in close proximity of this place”, Jimin spread his arms wide to emphasize his statement. ”No biggie.”
Taehyung dragged his hands across his face, a defeated noise escaping his lips. He straightened his back, straightened his shirt, adjusted his backpack and parted his legs, twisting his body in the other direction. Jimin was in the middle of explaining how saving up money worked in an unstable economy when Taehyung bolted like an arrow, straight for Galleria Vittorio, not even sparing a glance behind him.
Jimin was left flabbergasted, blinking owlishly at the empty space that had had a Taehyung in front of him seconds ago. Before his brain could catch up with him, his legs made the decision for him and started running after Taehyung, teeth clenched, bag dangling precariously from his back. Soon enough, his forehead was drenched in sweat, black shirt clinging to his back along with the heavy weight of his backpack. He wanted to stop in the middle of the street and scream until the sky crumbled down on Taehyung and crushed him to death. However, he was pretty sure that was impossible, so he continued to run, searching for a glimpse of red hair and an army backpack, hoping to find him before his legs gave out.
He found no one that even remotely looked like Taehyung.
Jimin stopped under the dome glass, resting with his hands on his knees, chest heaving and legs trembling from the exhaustion. His heart was beating wildly against his ribcage, trying to jump out of his chest with a splash! on the mosaic underneath his feet. People were casting strange glances his way, but no one stopped. No one cared. To be honest, not even Jimin cared anymore. If he could send himself back to Seoul, he would be in his bed now, his bedroom window open, jazz playing in the background, looking at online photos of the Gallery because right now, he wasn’t enjoying the view.
“Wow” and “Grazie” and “this is bellissimo” filled his ears, but there was no sign of a deep voice going on and on about the wonders of the gallery. Jimin began to wonder if the earth had cracked opened for a second and swallowed Taehyung into absolute nothingness. He reached for the water in his backpack, but when he took a gulp, it felt like he’d dumped several heavy stones into his stomach.
He pondered for a moment and considered the option of turning around and returning to Piazza del Duomo, but he should have been there for Taehyung if he suddenly returned. Perhaps Taehyung was waiting for him on the other side of the closed street, in Piazza della Scala. Maybe he was just window shopping, but that option was so scary that he refused to think about it.
For a moment, a fleeting thought passed his mind. Maybe that legend wasn’t just a legend and he was tempted to step on the bull’s balls and spin three-time, just for his wish to be granted. Reality caught up with him the moment a small child bumped into him and nearly sent him flying to the ground. Jimin groaned, trying to make himself look decent and not like a psychotic child that had escaped from a ward. He breathed deeply. In. Out. In. Out. He needed to calm himself down. He needed to have a clear mind in order to think things through, to decide his next move.
His mind was empty.
Jimin was going to hang Taehyung upside down when he got his hands on him. Better, he would cut all of his “fashion” sweaters he had piled up in his closet and make some room for his own stuff. Or he could hide the latest version of Taehyung’s project in some obscure corner of his laptop and mess up with the settings on his Nikon. Just to show Taehyung how badly he upset Jimin.
His mind was still empty after several scenarios, so he opted for the most logical solution of them all (later, he would realise that Taehyung’s logic does not fit the standards of every other human being’s logic, but… whatever). Tugging on his sleeve, his fingers hidden by the soft material, Jimin headed for Piazza della Scala, forgetting all about where he was, not feeling like acting a happy tourist at all, snapping photos and cooing over the beautiful statues. He wanted to sit down for once, mull over his bad decision in life, and then call Taehyung. Apologize for wanting to control his funds. Promise to treat him to another ice cream or pizza once they found a cheaper restaurant.
All his plans were to no avail, though, when he took out his phone - his very dead phone. Jimin could have screamed, but there was no energy left in him, so he instead sighed in resignation and closed his eyes, head hanging low, phone lying in his lap as he messed with his cuticles.
Home was lingering in the back of his mind as he let his face be caressed by the soft summer breeze, straining his ears to get used to the song of the Milan. Dull skies to bright, blue ones. Tempered characters to boisterous ones. Cautious bows to handshakes, kisses on the cheeks, and pats on the back. Jimin, dressed in all black - inside and out - in the middle of a colourful world, with Da Vinci behind him, judging them all and their lives that lacked art. Half of his soul wished he could return to his origins. The other half made him want to plunge headfirst into what the world had to offer him, throw caution to the wind and enjoy himself.
They say the best art takes place in an old soul; he was still young. Unexperienced. Still, he found solace in his comfort zone - a shared apartment with Taehyung, in an obscure part of Seoul. It was all they could afford, but it was home. Papers scattered all over the wooden floor. The burnt smell of laptops turned on for way too long. A fan blowing lukewarm air over their heated faces in the middle of the summer, when the ice melted too fast to cool off their spirits. Mugs half empty, with stale coffee - which was actually good when you had a deadline the following morning. Jimin smacked his lips, a faint taste from the past on his tongue. His mind, having baked for too long in the Italian sun was playing tricks on him. He was out of water, with no convenience store in sight. He missed home. Home, where Taehyung was. Jimin let the tension leave his shoulders and opened his eyes, staring at the sun.
A sun which, apparently, had grown a pair of chocolate-brown eyes, their sparkle hid in a shadow cast by a hat. The eyes blinked lazily, peering down at Jimin from behind him. Jimin’s head snapped in place, changing his position on the bench to face the stranger but losing his balance in the process. If it wasn’t for the steady hands that grabbed his arms, hoisting Jimin back in place, he would have hit his head on the concrete. Jimin suddenly felt very small under the questioning, half-hidden gaze of the stranger, and he adopted a rather weird defensive pose. His hands were brought oddly to the middle of his torso, his fingers interlaced strangely, back hunched over, and one leg bent at the knee and raised up, while the other stood firmly on the grass.
A pleased smile, something akin to a cheshire grin, curved the lips of the stranger as he straightened his back and stuffed his hands in the pockets of his capris. Waiting for something. Someone. A gesture. A word. An exclamation.
Jimin gulped, words stuck somewhere under his diaphragm. He could feel his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat, with such ferocity that he thought he might crack from dehydration. He averted his eyes, becoming suddenly interested in the intricate way the pavement was designed, red bricks mixed with cold, gray concrete. The passage of time hadn’t been gentle on the materials, cracking the edges and painting them in dark colours, almost as if the stones had cried for the world.
The stranger shifted his weight onto a different leg.
Jimin didn’t realised he’d made a sound until his lips closed again over the sound.
The stranger tilted his head to the side. An odd gesture, as if he was analysing Jimin. Jimin was going to kill Taehyung. He took a glimpse at the boy from his peripheral, before going back to the pavement and mentally building a research paper on why it was better to use multiple textures to give personality to an urban square. Anything was better than focusing on the fear that was slowly consuming him.
“Ti sei perso, dolcezza?”
Here goes nothing. Jimin tugged at his sleeves again, biting his lips as he tried to remember the few words he knew in Italian. There was “dolce far niente”, but he was pretty sure it didn’t translate to “leave me the fuck alone to die in misery while I come up with different ideas on how to inflict pain on my idiot of a best friend.”
“Mi scusi. Uuh, io no…erhm…parlo…”
That was definitely Korean. Seoul accent with a tang of accent. Which one, he couldn’t tell yet.
The stranger laughed, a rich sound coming from the depths of his chest. Jimin frowned, feeling suddenly mocked, making him shrink more into himself.
“I said…are you lost, dolcezza?”
They were definitely in a cheesy movie, where a kid from Gwangju had a weird Italian accent.
Taehyung was a strange being. His obsessions were mostly born out of nothing, out of a dream he had last night because - why not? He liked to keep himself occupied all the time, claiming the title of “the most passionate man alive”, even though he changed passions almost as often as he changed socks. Still, Taehyung was a passionate man. Full of desire to know as much as possible because there aren’t enough years in human life to experience every ounce of knowledge that is out there. His latest affair with Italian soap operas was no surprise to Jimin, who came home one day, tired and drained from a long class, and found his friend focused on cheesy dramas, popcorn held tightly in his arms. For science, he said. To better understand the lifestyle. Dramas where rich bastards and hidden fiancees appeared in the most inopportune moments, spoiling the fun and throwing every second the famous line “dolcezza, I swear it’s nothing.”
The word irked Jimin, making a nerve in his temple spazz in distaste.
He was called dolcezza by a stranger, and he didn’t know how to feel about that or what to do about it.
“No,” he answered, setting his raised leg into a less absurd position. “I am admiring the pigeons.”
Jimin wasn’t a sarcastic person, per se, but the disappearance of one Kim Taehyung made him sensitive to any remotely kind behavior. Plus, the self-preservation mechanism was kicking in - Jimin was not going to admit that he was lost in front of a stranger, possible kidnapper, rapist or serial killer. He raised his eyes, setting them on the facade of Palazzo Marino and remembering some lectures from a year ago. Jimin wanted to see Salone dell’Alessi with his own eyes.
“Oh, I could tell you about the pigeons of Milano,” the boy quipped, interrupting Jimin’s train of thoughts, his hands doing this weird thing where they went in different directions, palms up as if he was asking a question or balancing facts. Instead, he was stating something really interesting. “They have a reputation, little rascals.”
What…was happening? Jimin’s mouth was slightly agape, his eyes big as he still watched the city hall, hands limp in his lap. He actually couldn’t believe he was hearing stories about birds while he was in the middle of a mid-life crisis. He blinked once, twice, frozen in place and trying at the same time to wrap his mind around the idea of a Korean person speaking Italian, an accent so strong and tongue curling over the “r” like it wanted to rip the letter in pieces, followed by smooth, calculated, Gwangju-style vowels.
“I’m lost.” Better be done with it.
The stranger pointed a finger in Jimin’s face, startling him, his eyes watching him for a second before going back onto the facade of the La Scala.
“I knew it!” The stranger said in a small, triumphant voice.
Jimin wanted to close his eyes and wake up back to Seoul. He wished he could see who was hidden in the shadows of the hat (maybe he could have if he turned his head and actually looked at the stranger), but the only thing he could spot from the corner of his eyes was a face too long, a mouth too big with a prominent Cupid’s bow, high cheekbones, and some dark strands of hair sticking from underneath the hat. Jimin’s sharp eye and intuition made the connection. A horse.
Jimin snorted, brows furrowing, still determined not to utter a word. Two minutes went by without either of them forming a sound, and the stranger’s attention was soon distracted by two little girls running around in circles. Maybe he would leave Jimin alone, noting his lack of interest in spicing up the conversation or maybe…
“I could help you if you want me to.” The lilt in the stranger’s voice was amused as if he was taking great pleasure in making Jimin fidget in discomfort in front of him.
What was the first lesson your mother taught you?
“Erhm…no?” it came out like a question, so Jimin coughed to clear his throat, still not facing the stranger. “No. I’m fine. Thank you.”
“I won’t try to trick you or steal your stuff,” Jimin raised an eyebrow at this, “or rape you in a dark alley.” The stranger paused for effect, chuckling when Jimin choked on air. “Seeing you all alone here, looking like a kicked puppy -”
“’M not a kicked puppy”. Jimin wasn’t very convincing with the way he was carrying himself.
“But I could really help you, ya know?”
No, Jimin didn’t know. Jimin was scared, a second away from trembling, and he wanted Taehyung to come back and he wanted his iPhone to be alive, not dead at the bottom of his bag. He wanted to go back to his hotel, but Taehyung had the map and Taehyung knew the directions and fuck Kim Taehyung for not waiting for him.
“Okay, calm down there, dolcezza, nobody’s gonna hurt you.”
Jimin might have made some ugly faces while thinking of 1001 ways to kill his best friend, because his face suddenly hurt from the way he was contracting his muscles, his jaw clenched and nails digging into his palms. The stranger was regarding him closely, lips pursed in an attempt to figure him out. Jimin closed his eyes, took a deep breath and shook his head, chasing away the bad thoughts.
“Sorry. I was just thinking of a good way to put my friend to rest.”
The stranger paused in the middle of a weird hand gesture - Italians - and chuckled nervously.
“Not unnerving at all.”
Jimin could’ve smiled a bit, assured him that he meant no harm, but he was hungry and thirsty, and he wanted to find Taehyung. His face was set in a scowl, the forever resting bitch face he had when school was taking its toll on him and he wanted nothing more than to set everything on fire.
“It’s really ok. I’m just gonna wait here until -”
“What?” the boy interrupted him, voice dropping an octave in annoyance. Jimin’s stomach swooped in fear and he gulped. Yes, he wanted to wait there until his friend filed missing persons report at the police station and cops started to search for him. He was not about to trust a random man on the street just because he was speaking his home language. The only one he had met so far. The only one who could actually help him.
“Your friend is lost in the Galleria and he won’t find his way here. Too many people, too many ways out.” He sighed as if he was done with Jimin. “Look, I could lend you my phone. Call him. Here.” He dug out his wallet and his phone from the back pocket, handing them to Jimin. “Inside you can find my info. ID card. Drivers license, all that jazz. And here is my phone. Do you know your friend’s number?”
Jimin hesitated for a second. Not many random people came to him when he looked helpless, not even back in Seoul. Maybe this boy was actually kind-hearted. The hope fluttered its wings inside Pandora’s box. Jimin turned his head. He looked from the objects to the stranger’s slender hands to his hidden face and back again to the objects before he reaching a shaky hand out to grab them and settling them in his lap. He opened the small, tattered wallet and took out the ID card.
Jung Hoseok, born 18.02.1994. Gwangju. South Korea.
“See. We’re practically like family…” Jimin cast him an unimpressed stare, putting away the card. Another one poked out from one of the pockets, Bicocca - Dipartimento di Psicologia written in beautiful, cursive writing.
“Compatriots. Country pals. You can trust me.” If Jimin didn’t know better, he would have said that the boy sounded almost hopeful, mixed with something else. His intuition was running 100 miles per second, but Jimin couldn’t figure out why. There was something, maybe in the air, that created a strange sense of deja-vu.
“You could still sell my kidneys, you know?” Jimin meant it as a joke, but the tone of his voice implied something else. He’d seen enough movies to know what happens next if he was not careful enough. Jimin closed the wallet and handed it back, setting his eyes in the middle of the stranger’s chest. Bad move, since the word “Psycho” was written in big, bold letters.
“In broad daylight? I doubt it. We’re talking about Milano, dolcezza - “
“Stop calling me that.”
The stranger smiled before he continued, the same joyous tilt to his voice still in place. “-, not some slump in Daegu or Busan. You need to get out of the city if you wanna get away with murder.”
He was a smooth talker, Jimin had to give him that. His decision not to trust him and wait for Taehyung was crumbling down, bit by bit.
“Ok. I remember his number”, Jimin said after seconds of turning the device in his hand. He still felt restless, stomach in knots, but there was no other choice but to set his fears aside and call the number. Jimin unlocked the phone, the tips of fingers poking from behind the sleeves, only to hand it back to its owner.
Hoseok took his phone, entered the passcode and returned it to Jimin.
“You didn’t tell me your name.”
Jimin looked up from the phone held tightly in both of his hands, knees pressed together down to the heels. He blinked owlishly, before figuring out what he meant.
“Jimin”, he said flatly, no further ado, much to the disappointment of Hoseok, and returned his attention to the phone. His thumb pressed the call button, bringing the phone to his ear, waiting and praying he didn’t snap once Taehyung picked up his call. That never happened though, and when the computerized voice of the robot made itself heard, Jimin cursed softly.
“He’s not answering”, he rasped out, a headache waving at him from far away. Good luck betrayed him and Jimin didn’t know what chants he had to say to bring it back. Maybe offer some of his blood as a gift? Jimin ran a hand through his hair, ruffling it up and styling it over his forehead and half of his eyes, returning the phone to Hoseok. The latter looked at it with a raised eyebrow, half amused, half “I can’t actually believe this happened” and Jimin shut off his brain from asking any questions. There was no point in prolonging the odd encounter or asking for answers when there were none to give. They had to part ways, both of them minding their own business.
Jimin wiped his hands on the dark jeans, looked left, right, and back at Hoseok before standing up. His shoulders were a little drawn together, but it was just a normal stance for him, mastered in all those years when he chose to be a pretty wallflower instead of the center of attention. He raised his hand in an awkward gesture, not sure if he wanted to wave goodbye or point to a random direction when his eyes lit up like fireworks, the corners of his mouth curling up.
Jimin made a weird sound, something between “oh my” and “ah” and placed his hands on Hoseok’s shoulders, squeezing lightly and shaking him. And, ok, Hoseok was tall, much taller than he imagined him to be, and Jimin struggled not to make a strangled noise, because the difference in their heights was visible, making Jimin tilt his head back.
“He said we’re meeting a friend in Piazza del…Calmine”, Jimin said rapidly, stumbling over his words, and Hoseok laughed at the way he pronounced the “r”. “From what I remember, it should be close, right? Right?”
“Ten-minute walk, maybe 15. It depends on how fast you walk.” After a pause, Hoseok added. “Do you know if your friend is going to be there? The time of the meeting?”
Jimin gave him half a shrug, trying to remember if Taehyung mentioned something about the hour. His mind was blank, so his only chance was to go there and wait for someone who would recognize him.
Hoseok seemed like he was doing some thinking too, rolling his phone in his hands.
“I can take you there if you want.”
“Uh, maybe, like, could you explain it to me? I don’t wanna be an inconvenience to you or something.”
Hoseok laughed, throwing his head back, and waved a dismissive hand in the air. “No worries, dolcezza. I don’t have much to do anyway.”
Jimin eyed him wearily. “Really though, you —”
“From Piazza della Scala you go on Via Filodrammatici and go straight ahead till you reach Piazzetta Maurilio Bossi. From there, turn right, and then the first one to left, on Via de Lauro, and go stra—”
“Ok, ok, ok,” Jimin stopped Hoseok from rambling, understanding only Via from whatever it was he had said.
Hoseok smiled and waited. Jimin bit his lip and looked around him, searching for that sign that showed him it was okay to trust Hoseok. He was met with beautiful architecture, green trees, the statue of Da Vinci and lots of people. No divine answer, though.
“If I say yes, do you promise not to eat me?”
“What am I? Hannibal Lecter?” Hoseok half scoffed, half laughed and started to walk backward, a decision already made. He raised his eyebrows, from what Jimin could tell, one hand going up to play with the string of his headphones around his neck. Twirling it in air, round and round, the motion sucking Jimin in. An open invitation to the boy who was still rooted to the spot, bouncing on his heels as if he was standing on pins and needles.
He could stay, take in the space around him, admire the architecture in the halcyon weather, sharp shadows on the symmetrical facades - it was sort of calming, the order of every detail - distorting forms and creating invisible monsters.
He could stay - listen to the rustle of the leaves, breathe in the dust with a tinge of strong coffee and lilacs - Milano smelled like flowers in the fall.
“You might be”, he said to no one in particular, the meaning deeper than it was supposed to be, and started following Hoseok, small steps on the small bricks, almost walking on tiptoes. A bubbly feeling wormed its way up into his chest, adrenaline filling his veins to the brim, but he stomped on it, locking it away in a corner of his mind. Jimin was going on an adventure, with some stranger he met in a strange city, and that was terrifying enough.
He caught up to Hoseok at the crossing, waiting for the light to turn green, not a word spoken in between the chirp of the birds and the passing whispers. People gathered around them, and Jimin started to count the cracks in the pavement, hands clammy and shoulders sagging. He heard the quiet “ping” of the light, signaling that it was time to go, but he couldn’t find the strength to leave his place. He would be caught up in the middle of the crowd, tall persons all around him, breathing the same air, touching him - involuntarily, bumping into him, stepping on his toes, maybe cursing in his direction since he was small and not easily—
Hoseok placed a warm hand on the middle of his back, stopping his overthinking and guiding him through the masses. Jimin swore he didn’t feel overwhelmed from the gentle pressure or the promise of safety that came with it, but he couldn’t help relaxing, tension leaving his body as he crossed the road. He turned his head, surveying the cars and his eyes were met by those of a woman, maybe in her forties, and he suddenly wanted to get away from Hoseok and his touch, before registering the fond look on her face. Jimin’s breath stopped.
On the other side, away from the crowd, Hoseok slid his hand up between Jimin’s shoulder blades, fingers dancing playfully on his black shirt. There, he flattened his hand once again, this time with more force behind it, pushing Jimin forward and making him straighten his back. Hoseok smoothed the crumpled lines on his back, letting his finger touch the exposed skin of his neck before giving Jimin two powerful smacks, propelling him forward.
What was that? died on his lips as his eyes settled on the lines of the building, fading away in linear perspective, projected onto the blue canvas of the sky. The street was narrow, like a corridor, all cold stone and barricaded windows, but the world was waiting above their heads, wide enough for every soul to dream freely. He followed the invisible traces, eyes big as two round teacups. His vision was blocked again by Hoseok, who laughed and turned away from Jimin, walking forward. Jimin caught up with him, hands wrapped tightly around the straps of his backpack.
“Can we stop to buy some water? I’m thirsty.”
Hoseok was typing something furiously on his phone, and the way he kept his hands half-covering the screen made Jimin curious. He tried to sneak a peek at what he was doing, but as soon as he lowered his eyes, Hoseok noticed it, pressed send, and tucked away the phone. Jimin wanted to say sorry, shame washing over him in rapid beats, but he was meet with a heart-shaped smile he didn’t notice before. Of course, he hadn’t when he was staring at his feet.
“There is a small fast-food restaurant around the corner. We could go there and eat something. It’s—”
Jimin shook his head, ignoring the swishing of Hoseok’s hands by now.
“Just water. It’s fine. I wanna get to the piazza so—”
“We need to eat. And no buts, those are for sitting. Now come,” he ordered, and grabbed Jimin's wrist, tugging him forward.
The fast-food restaurant, no, the pizzeria, was pretty small, warm air from the oven surrounding them like thick fur. Jimin lingered behind as Hoseok ordered their food in rapid Italian, trying to come up with excuses on why he didn’t want to eat. It was not exactly noon - he looked at his watch and saw that it was past 3 in the afternoon - and he could survive another few hours until he could eat a salad. Jimin just wanted water, but Hoseok returned with two slices of pizza Napoletana and a triumphant smile on his face. Did he ever take off his hat?
Jimin looked down at his hands, fingers hid inside the sleeves. He actually didn’t…
“Dio mio.” Hoseok placed the food on the table and grabbed his hands, rolling the sleeves up to his elbow. “Now, we don’t want you to mess your shirt, do we?”
Jimin glared at Hoseok for the blunt move. There was no way he could hide his hands now, so he resumed fiddling with his fingers, lowering his hands once again.
“Hai delle mani così belle,” the lady behind the counter said, voice bubbly, followed by a short laugh.
“What did she say?” Jimin’s voice was small, so insecure, but the woman wasn’t laughing at him, was she?
“She said you had pretty hands.” Hoseok took a bite from his pizza, while Jimin choked on his.
“Oh…”, he mumbled, the tips of his ears turning pink. He smiled to himself, flexing his fingers before bowing slightly and turning away, running out of the shop.
They did not talk much outside of chewing their food, Hoseok watching him carefully from the corner of his eyes until Jimin finished his slice. It was like Hoseok knew something and wasn’t willing to share his secret, but who was Jimin to pry, even if he was curious? Was Hoseok some kind of psychic, reading minds and taking care of boys with low self-esteem? The earlier feelings of excitement ebbed into annoyance at the thought of being treated like a baby. He threw away his trash in a nearby garbage can, and downed half the water in one go. He looked for a street sign, reading Via del Lauro, and wondered how close they were to Piazza del Carmino.
“You should treat me to coffee tomorrow, as a thank you for what I did today.”
The line on Jimin’s forehead creased, but he did not glance up at Hoseok. Jimin didn’t plan on meeting this person again, and surely not by himself. Finding Taehyung was a priority, and staying with him for the rest of their trip was his new goal.
“Ya’ know, this is a poor attempt at asking me out,” he said, instead of a flat out refusal. Jimin could at least be nice to those who helped him.
“One can try, dolcezza, one can try.” Hoseok hummed to himself. “So, what do you say?”
Two girls in front of them stopped in their tracks and turned their heads at the mention of the pet name, regarding them with curious looks. Jimin averted his eyes, not wanting to meet their stare, but Hoseok greeted them cheerfully with a wave of his hand. Jimin chewed on his bottom lip, hair falling in his eyes and hiding him from the world. Making him small. Puff. He was gone, inside his crystal bubble, where nothing could touch him. Where the walls were-
A warm hand on his shoulder brought him back to reality.
“Okay. Lemme try again. If I make you laugh, you’ll take me out tomorrow.”
It was then that Jimin realised he hadn’t laughed, not even a small giggle since Taehyung had disappeared on him. He startled because he remembered that he was not supposed to have fun with strangers, but searching for his friend instead.
“Sono un po’ stanco.”
What? Jimin raised his eyes and looked at Hoseok, tilting his head.
“If you cursed me, I’ll scream.”
The girls didn’t even try to hide the fact they were eavesdropping on their conversation, waiting in anticipation for the next move.
“Ask my why,” Hoseok said, not phased by the innocent threat.
The girls burst out laughing, one bending in half and clutching her stomach, while the other hid her mouth behind a delicate hand covered in rings.
“Perché è tutta la notte che ti rincorro nei miei sogni”, Hoseok laughed, hiccups coloring his voice.
Maybe it was the confused face Jimin was making, feeling the tips of his ear getting hotter by the minute. Or maybe it was the way he opened and closed his mouth, torn between snapping back or taking out his phone to access google translate (oh, wait, that wasn’t possible). Either way, the smallest of the girls came to them and kindly placed a hand on his shoulder to get his attention. Jimin’s stomach plummeted - not another stranger, not again - but turned to meet her -amazingly, clear as the sky - blue eyes and tried to school his features into something less menacing, more neutral.
“I am sorry to intrude”, came her voice in little slurred tonalities, rolling the r hard. “He said he was tired. You asked why and he-” she dug her elbow in her friend’s ribcage, who was still snickering without really trying to hide it, “answered: “because I’ve run after you all night in my dreams. Thought you wanted to know.”
Oh. Okay. How was he supposed to answer that? He looked from the girl’s face to her friends and then turned to Hoseok, the corner of his lips trembling.
“You’re smiling,” Hoseok said, poking him in the ribs. Jimin swatted his hand, trying to control his emotions.
“No, ‘m not. Leave me alone.”
“Yes, you are”, came the girl’s voice.
“I’m…”, he tried again, but the words died in his throat the moment his mouth stretched, into the most blinding smile Milan had ever seen, eyes disappearing behind two crumpled lines, his laugh coming out in squeaky bursts.
“Cute”, one of the girls said, folding her hands behind her back and bouncing on her heels. Jimin blushed.
The girls eventually went on their way, leaving Hoseok and Jimin in the middle of the road, one still sporting an amused look on his face, while the other tried to calm the fire under his skin.
“Cute”, Hoseok singsonged, pinching Jimin’s still red cheeks, pinky raised up in the process and making them bloom even more than before. Jimin swatted at his hands, touching his face with the tip of his fingers, the waves in his stomach ravishing him from the inside. Maybe it was the pizza.
“Could you please stop and continue walking? I really want to meet up with that friend-”
“Whose name you don’t even know”, Hoseok interrupted cheerfully. Jimin narrowed his eyes at him.
“-that friend so I could at least get in touch with Taehyung. I’m tired and I wanna get back to the hotel. Today was no fun.”
Hoseok pouted, for the love of God, he actually pouted, his mouth turning into a triangle. “I should go then if you say I’m no fun.”
“No no no no. You’ve gotta take me there.”
They were walking for a while, side by side, when Jimin stopped in the middle of the road without any warning, head tilting back, eyes narrowed, bottom lip caught between his teeth. His left hand was being used as a sunshade, while the other tried to catch Hoseok, but grasped only air. He was a peculiar traveler. His eyes were always up, while people’s eyes were casting down, set on a 16:9 screen. A professor told him once: “architecture happens when you take your nose out of your phone and look around you. Your eyes are better lenses than any other camera. Your mind - greater than any memory card.” As a rule for the first day, Jimin had tucked away his precious Canon in a corner of his suitcase and ventured on the streets of the city with an open heart and big eyes. Ready to absorb. To feel. To live. It was his duty as a student, as a human being, to be present then and there, to pay attention to even the smallest details, because that’s what life was made of, after all. Frame after frame, colours, fragrances, a dog barking in the distance, the sun setting low over the burgundy roofs. There are no heroic moments in the life of a person.
There was Jimin, staring at the girl on the third floor, elbows propped on the window sill, chin resting on her right hand, the left one holding a cigarette. She was looking somewhere in the distance, taking a drag from time to time, letting the smoke slip through her thin hair, dancing with the sun rays, making her seem translucent. Jimin wished he could see the look in her eyes. Distant? Regretful? Calm? He craved for his camera.
“Architecture students should carry a camera with them. All the time.”
Jimin jumped in surprise, having forgotten for a second that he was not alone. He blinked once, committing to memory the tableau in front of him. He blinked twice and turned to face Hoseok, only to freeze with his foot midair, rendered motionless by what others would call - “an enticing replica of David”.
The building on their left - a bank maybe - was an unfortunate fusion between neoclassicism and modern-day safety measures, ugly steel bars closing the arches of the portico that lead to the interior garden. Poorly executed, they ruined the pediment in which they were fixed, cracked edges fixed with cement of a different color. Destroyed! Jimin’s sixth sense, reserved especially for architecture, tingled in dissatisfaction. He was sure he could peel off the rust with his index finger if he were to scratch it off, pick up chunks of fissured stone, and maybe come up with another ten thousand reasons why they should hang the restorers in the Piazza del Duomo.
Jimin could do that and much more, if it weren’t for the gentle shadow cast by those bars on Hoseok’s profile, turned away from Jimin. It gave him a mystical aura, bending and curving on the planes of his face, hiding his eyes in dark tones and making the teasing sparkle in them shine even brighter than before. The line of Hoseok’s shoulders was relaxed though he was leaning back slightly, hands in his pockets, chin raised in the air as if he were admiring the beautiful details of the edifice. It would seem that way, if his demeanor wasn’t accentuated with contrapposto - oozing confidence, bordering on arrogance. And while David’s left hand was raised to his shoulder, veins bulging in his forearms and eyes set with the determination to fight and defeat Goliath, Hoseok looked like he had already conquered the world, eyeing Jimin with a steady gaze from the corner of his eye. Jimin blinked and the spell dispersed into the atmosphere. Hoseok threw his hands into the air and called for him to hurry, or they wouldn’t get to the meeting place in time. Huh, he might have been imagining things.
“You’re spending too much time in your head, dolcezza.”
Jimin mumbled something under his breath in response.
Hoseok chuckled to himself and got hold of Jimin’s wrist, tugging him forward through the masses of people and chatting his ear off. In the span time of 10 minutes, he found out that you could eat the best ice cream near his flat - and not the expensive kind from Grom - in a big, old house, and it was house-made by zitella Giuseppina - who, apparently, had too many cats for his liking. They could eat it inside Hoseok’s house, under the cooling air of the AC. Jimin was ready to ask Hoseok to take him there, eager to taste the delicious flavours, only to mentally facepalm himself the very next second, as he realised the implications of his desires.
“I am not going to your house, Hoseok.”
“Sei così ottuso, dolcezza.” *
Jimin growled, not even bothering to ask for a translation, and freed his hand from Hoseok’s hold, bumping shoulders with him as he walked past him. Hoseok laughed and Jimin’s blood sang in his veins.
Jimin turned his head to look at him.
“Isn’t it better when you look up, towards the sky? The world seems different, right?”
Jimin blushed, the ghost of Hoseok’s touch on his back still alive. His eyes dropped down for a second, from habit or bashfulness, he wasn’t sure, but he raised them again and smiled brightly at Hoseok, missing the sharp intake of breath.
Jimin’s smile was like sunflowers in the summer. Yellow, radiating warm, making Taehyung happy when he was sulking in the corner of their room, buried in blankets because their professor didn’t agree with his concept. Jimin’s smile could make children stop crying, cure cancer and spread love across the globe. Jimin’s smile brought Taehyung happiness, but what it couldn’t do was predict the weather. The light hid behind stormy clouds, a low rumble shaking the skies.
“Cazzo!” Hoseok cursed. “Non ho dietro l'ombrello!” *
Jimin felt the first drop on the tip of his nose before Hoseok pushed him inside the portico, the ugly renovated portico that had set Jimin’s senses on fire. He glared at the steel bars, the faint sound of rain in the back of his mind.
“We should wait for the rain to calm down,” Jimin mused, looking back at Hoseok. The latter regarded the sky, hands in his pocket. The hat sat low on his face, hiding his features, and Jimin wanted to snatch it and throw it to the ground. He had a vague idea of what was behind it - a long face with heart-shaped smile and mischievousness in his eyes -but he wanted to see it all the more clearly.
“Summer rains, you can never predict 'em.”
“Did you just quote…?”
“What? That cartoon was fun. Didn’t you watch that?”
Jimin shook his head without answering, choosing to stare at the rain that was chasing the people away from the streets. Apparently, the sight gave Hoseok an idea. He took his hand, interlacing their fingers tightly, and exited the safety of the porch.
“What? What are you…”
“Feel the Italian rain, Jiminnie,” Hoseok hollered, voice muffled by the thunder that split the sky in two.
“Italian rain? What are you talking about?”
They ran through the puddles, zig-zagging in the middle of the sidewalk. Jimin’s shoes were drenched, and he could feel the water seeping up his pant leg. He could have screamed or thrown an angry fit about the whole situation - because getting wet with no clean, dry clothes in handy wasn’t ideal, but he let go. For once in his life, he let go. Closed his eyes, leaned his head back and felt the rain, letting himself be guided by Hoseok. The rain was just rain. Soft and chill on his sun-kissed skin, soaking his bangs and sticking them to his forehead. He pushed his hair out of his face, catching Hoseok watching him over his shoulder. His hands were slippery in Hoseok’s hold, but the latter didn’t let go. He just squeezed harder.
They ran and ran, breathing ragged and clothes glued to their bodies, until they got to an opening. A piazza. Piazza del Carmine, written beautifully on a golden plate. They stopped near the south corner, gasping for air but not shielding themselves from the downpour. Jimin felt relieved. He was finally there, in the place he was supposed to meet their friend. Taehyung’s friend. He was going to see Taehyung again and maybe kick his ass, but hug him nonetheless because Jimin missed him and he had thought he was going to be alone forever. Jimin breathed an incredulous laugh and passed a hand over his face.
“Sei bellissimo, dolcezza.” *
Jimin’s stomach jumped in his throat, choking him. For once, he understood what Hoseok said, but he didn’t have a reply. He just stared, eyes wide at the stranger that somehow became a pal, a companion in just one hour. Jimin raised his hand, grabbing the hem of Hoseok’s hat when he noticed a red dot in the distance. Growing larger and larger as it approached them, and then tackling Jimin to the ground. Taehyung.
“Taehyung! Oh my god! Taehyung!” Jimin took Taehyung’s face in his hands, pressing his thumbs into his cheeks. Taehyung was there, drenched from the rain, angry, tired. He was there, and Jimin felt like he could hug him to death - he was that happy.
“Where were you?” Jimin asked, ready to tell him about his own adventures of the day when Jimin realised.
Taehyung let out a yelp, feeling Jimin’s hands tightening their grip around his neck. “Where. The. Fuck. Were. You?”
Taehyung let out a nervous laugh, averting his eyes and catching his friend’s wrist, trying to ease the hold on him.
“Well, haha, you see…”
Hoseok. Jimin forgot for a second about him.
“Ohmygod!” Taehyung was gaping at this point. “How did you two met?”
“You never told me you knew Hoseokie-hyung.” Taehyung pried off Jimin’s hands and ran to hug his friend. What? Jimin blinked, confused with what was happening, but then something clicked. Hoseok approaching him. Hoseok talking about his friend being lost in the Galleria when he clearly didn’t mention it before. Hoseok talking about him being an architecture student when he didn’t say anything about his occupation. Hoseok taking his phone the moment Jimin was done with the call. Of course, he would take his phone, since he had Taehyung’s number in it.
“That’s why you told me to wait for you here? That you’d be late.” Taehyung looked like a puppy. Jimin was done. He was taken for a fool by some freak who was Taehyung’s friend.
“You never told me about him”, Jimin seethed between his teeth, crossing his hands over his chest.
“Oh, but I did. When we were on the plane, but you were too busy staring at the clouds.”
“That”, Jimin starts “doesn’t count. You should’ve told me when we landed.”
Taehyung threw his hands in the air in a gesture of exasperation. “But I did! But you were rambling about money and how I should save up and I ran off.”
Jimin shut his mouth, biting back the stinging words. Maybe it was his fault, but Taehyung could have slapped him across the head and gone with him to meet Hoseok. Hoseok. Jimin leveled him with a stern look.
“And you knew me, right?”
Hoseok chuckled. “Of course, dolcezza.”
“Did he just call you dolcezza? Ew.”
“Shut up, Tae.”
“But the fact that you didn’t know my face when I know yours, hurt my feelings a bit.” He shrugged. “So I wanted to play with. I actually know your blood type—”
“Why would you know my blood type? What the fuck, Taehyung?”
“Of course you’d play with Jiminnie. You’re studying psychology at that fancy university,” Taehyung snickered under his breath, eyes looking for a second at Jimin’s forearms, not covered with that ugly shirt of his. A fond smile settled on his lips and Taehyung ruffled Jimin’s hair.
Hoseok muttered something, and took his hat off, keeping Jimin from throttling Taehyung. The rain stopped, but the clouds were still looming over them, casting a gray light over everything, the facade of the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Carmine turning a deep shade of brown. It didn’t matter though, because when Hoseok smiled, face unhindered by the hat, Jimin thought he was staring at the sun. He gulped, taking in the small dimples beside Hoseok’s mouth, his almond-shaped eyes and their dark color that was shining brightly, deep and understanding.
Hoseok winked, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand.
“Where were you, though?”
Taehyung, who watched the small scene with hooded eyes, something dangerous swimming in them, threw his arm around Jimin and pulled him out of his stupor.
“I was there, in the Galleria, near the Prada store. How come you didn’t see me?”
“What the fuck? You weren’t there!” Jimin had looked everywhere for him, but he hadn’t found him. “Tell me you didn’t buy anything?”
“What? No. Chill. I just saw a cute kid and went to say hi. He’s Korean and younger than us by two years, but damn he sure doesn’t look like one.” Taehyung paused, tapping his chin with his finger. “And he’s got two cute little teeth that make him look like-”
“God, why am I friends with you?”
“-a bunny. But he was cute Jiminnie. I even got his num—”
“I don’t care. You left me there.”
“You were fucking my brains with money talk, dude”, Taehyung deadpanned, smacking Jimin in the shoulder with his free hand.
“Boys, boys, dear boys” Hoseok interrupted them, twirling the cap around his index. “How about some ice cream? My treat.”
Taehyung beamed. “Yes yes yes yes!”
“I know this place near my house…”
“So, I heard you made Jiminnie watch soap operas,” Hoseok, purred, biting the tip of his ice cream and looking straight into Jimin’s eyes.
Taehyung stopped mid-chew, gulping loudly because Jimin was currently incapacitated to form a coherent answer. “Yes. And it was so much fun watching him cringe every second of it.”
Jimin groaned loudly at his side.“It was torturous. Please don’t make me do it again.”
Hoseok laughed, rubbing his shoulder sympathetically.
“C’mon, Jiminnie, you sure did enjoy Daniel Ventimiglia’s emotional roller coaster.”
“Oh my fucking god”, Hoseok hollered, bending in half due to the power of his laughter. “You made him watch Tierra de Villanos?
“I hate you. Both of you.”