114 The Emperors Dog Pt.1

    Jimin was nervous.

    From the corner of his eye, he stole a glance at Gyuri and quickly averted his gaze before she had the chance to notice. Curses, he grumbled under his breath as he masked his mouth with his hand. Even so much as the thought of her triggered his curious symptoms, let alone having her physically in front of him. Discreetly, he peeked at her again. From where he was walking behind her, he observed the silkiness of her ebony hair and how the top of her head was just below his chin. The slenderness of her profile and the swishing of her dress were just one of the few things that Jimin was acutely aware of.

    Why does my heart beat faster when I am around her?

    Earlier, when Zeren had suggested that he should accompany Gyuri to the dumping ground, Jimin had panicked. Ever since he had entered the storage house, his symptoms had been difficult to tame. Just Gyuri being in his line of sight had made him restless and fidgety, overwhelming him with a multitude of emotions that were contradictory and confusing.

    Jimin was out of his depth.

    "I don't think that's a good idea."

    Looking up, Jimin saw Gyuri's unimpressed expression directed toward Zeren.

    "Nonsense!" Zeren insisted. "Chim should come with you. What if you get harassed out there? At least Chim will be there to protect you."

    "I'm just throwing these away" Gyuri huffed as she showcased the pot in her hands. "It's not like I've never been there before. The dumping ground isn't that far."

    But Zeren was having none of it. Curiously hellbent on getting Gyuri and Jimin alone together, he addressed his friend, "Chim? Can you go with her?"

    "He doesn't want to" Gyuri cut in. "You don't have to go" she addressed Jimin. "Don't let Zeren bully you."

    Jimin shifted his eyes from Zeren to Gyuri as the pair bickered. But while their tiresome screeching interrupted the tranquillity of the empty storage house, Jimin couldn't drown out the internal turmoil within himself. His heart pounded at the idea of being with Gyuri alone.

    What is wrong with me? He grimaced. He couldn't understand why he was excited by the prospect. She is a scammer! A thief! Snap out of-!

    "I will go."

    The words were out of his mouth before Jimin had time to register.

    "Chim Chim?"

    Jimin broke away from his reverie as Gyuri stopped and turned to face him. In that short instance, his eyes rounded. Heat rose to Jimin's cheeks as their gazes connected, his lips only a breath away from hers. He stumbled backward as he hastily cast his gaze down, his heart drumming against his chest at the unexpected proximity. "W-what is it?"

    "I'm really sorry!"

    Jimin was puzzled. "For what?"

    "For what Taehyung did to you last time." Gyuri looked away ashamedly. "It was my fault that you got hit in the face. I swear, I didn't know he was gonna do that."

    With a soft gaze, he observed Gyuri anxiously play with her sleeves. Had she been worrying about it all this time? In truth, he had forgotten he was punched by the brat at all. "Do not fret," he reassured her with as much composure as he could muster. The image of Taehyung's hardened glare flashed before his eyes and he fought the urge to frown. "I have already forgiven him."

    "Still..." Gyuri mumbled. "I feel bad about it."

    A small smile danced on Jimin's lips as he gaped at the crease on Gyuri's forehead. Something about seeing Gyuri concerned about him made him feel a tinge of... happiness? Jimin's brows knitted in confusion.

    "I told him off" Gyuri quickly said, misunderstanding his frown, "I made him promise not to behave that way again."

    "Who is he to you, anyway?" He knew that Taehyung was the youngest of the Kim brothers, so him being reprimanded by a mere maid seemed unlikely. But that wasn't the only reason why he wanted to hear Gyuri's answer.

    Gyuri shuffled on her feet. "I told you before... He's like a younger brother to me."

    A younger brother?

    Again, the curious feeling that was manifesting in his chest made itself known as it tugged at his heart. A younger brother, huh? Jimin's lips morphed into a smirk as he repeated Gyuri's utterance over and over in his head. Hearing Gyuri say those words was like a pleasant tune to his ears.

    "I see..."

    With a slight tilt of the head, Gyuri observed how Jimin's eyes were playful. He quickly turned away as he suppressed a goofy grin from surfacing. "We should hurry to the dumping ground" he hurriedly said as he increased his pace.

    "Huh? Er, yeah, okay." She raced after him, matching his large stride.

    As Gyuri and Jimin resumed their journey to the dumping ground, Gyuri couldn't avoid wondering how things were between her and Jimin. She snuck a look at his hand and pursed her lips when she saw that he wasn't wearing his ring. Gyuri hmphed. I guess he remembered to take it off today. Passing by the dark alleyway, Gyuri abruptly halted as she recalled the cat. "Hey, Chim Chim?"

    Jimin looked over his shoulder.

    She beckoned for him to follow her as she took a step into the dark alley.

    Befuddled, Jimin watched Gyuri blend into the shadows. "H-hey..." He jogged after her. "Where are you going?" Once he reached the mouth of the dark alley he was stunned to find Gyuri plunging deeper into the darkness. "Hey, this is not the way to the dumping-"

    "Shh!" Gyuri hissed while pressing her index finger to her lips.

    Jimin arched a brow. As he watched Gyuri creep forward, the pot of scraps outstretched in her hands, he followed suit. A frown accompanied his squinted eyes as he traced his hand across the wall for guidance. With only small pools of light seeping through the crevices of the dilapidated building, Jimin struggled to see what was in front of him. It was only when he noticed a pair of glowing eyes, did he manage to avoid stumbling on Gyuri's hunched profile.

    "Here, kitty-kitty" Gyuri prompted.

    Jimin watched in silence as Gyuri tried to lure the stray feline from the shadows with the pot of scrap meat. With wary steps, the cat lurked forward, its topaz eyes trained on the pot. As the cat hesitantly revealed itself, Jimin took note of the striped pattern of its grey fur and the scrawniness of its emaciated body.

    A small smile appeared on Gyuri's lips as the feline cautiously approached her. The savoury smells of the meat bones, while bereft of meat, was seemingly enough to entice the small creature to come closer. Gyuri's smile widened when the cat finally took a tentative lick.

    "Good, kitty" she whispered as the cat mewled in satisfaction.

    With the cat occupied, Jimin carefully squatted down so that he was next to Gyuri. He whispered, "Whose cat is this?"

    Gyuri continued to gape at the feline. "It's a stray. I've been feeding him every time we serve stew." She inclined her head so that she was looking at Jimin. "I think he's finally warming up to me. This is the closest he's ever been."

    Jimin observed as Gyuri turned to face the cat again, her hand firmly gripping onto her skirt. To him, it looked like Gyuri was resisting the urge to touch it. When he voiced out this thought, Gyuri just shook her head.

    "You know," Gyuri began, "you and this cat actually have a lot in common."

    Jimin regarded her quizzically and she smirked.

    "Both of you are hard to get close to." Once the cat had its fill, it got up and left like it always did. Gyuri sighed as she watched it leave. "The more I try to get close to him, the more he pushes me away." She got up to dust her skirt, simultaneously picking up the pot with both hands. "I guess it's better just to keep my distance."

    Jimin opened his mouth to say something but changed his mind.

    "We'll go to the dumping ground now," Gyuri said with a whimsical expression before leading the way out of the alley.

    As Gyuri trudged ahead, Jimin trailed closely behind. There was something about her words that bothered him. Me? The same as the cat? He shook his head. What did she mean by that? But as he mulled over her words, he failed to notice that he had begun to outpace her.

    "Chim Chim!"

    Jimin turned and found Gyuri several steps behind.

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    "Wait up!" She jogged to close the distance between them. "Geez, it's not a competition to the dumping ground, you know."

    "Ah, I apologise... I just want to get back to the others as soon as possible."

    Gyuri's lips formed a hard line. "Oh, okay" she muttered, her tone somewhat hurt.

    Jimin peered at Gyuri questioningly. Had I said something wrong?
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