“You’re welcome to set up whatever in the corner.”
The volume of Jimin’s voice startles Hoseok, a contrast to the otherwise painfully quiet apartment. Apart from overly rehearsed introductions and pleasantries, they have yet to talk much at all. Jimin stands by the kitchen bartop like he’s itching to help Hoseok move in but is too awkward to offer, pretending not to watch Hoseok shuffle across the foyer and figure out where to put all his DVDs.
Hoseok has Namjoon to thank for this awkwardness, though he should’ve been more prepared because it’s Namjoon. But Hoseok doesn’t have the spoons or even a shitty plastic straw to make small talk and try to extract the awkward from this situation, so he doesn’t, instead electing to silently open cupboards to find a place for his mugs and hand soap and cosmetics.
“I don’t really know him personally,” Namjoon had said, standing over Hoseok like some kind of impressive monument as Hoseok squinted up from the couch, barely awake. “But Donghyuk says he’s a good guy, and I trust Donghyuk.”
“And how does Donghyuk know him?” Hoseok grumbled, throwing an arm over his eyes.
“Donghyuk was best friends with his old roommate. He’s only met Jimin a handful of times but he’s said Jimin was always nice.”
So Hoseok took Jimin’s number from Namjoon, and two days later, Hoseok was signing a lease and looking forward to moving off Namjoon and Yoongi’s couch.
Right now, though, he thinks maybe living on their couch wasn’t so bad. It trumps this uncomfortable situation by far, because at least on Namjoon’s couch he wouldn’t be ogled by a near-stranger and his intestines wouldn’t be performing acrobatics behind his navel.
Luckily, Jimin takes his leave before long, explaining with a wave that he has a soccer thing, and then Hoseok is alone for the first time in what feels like years.
He’s alone, but that doesn’t stop him from feeling as if the walls are about to sprout eyes and ears and start staring, too. This place has yet to feel anything remotely like home (not that Hoseok knows what that feels like anymore), and Hoseok is tired, but his sheets are still packed away somewhere and he has so much to do that he can’t justify stopping to take a nap.
Jimin had made it clear Hoseok was welcome to the TV, so he turns on a music channel and lets throwback SISTAR quietly accompany him in sorting clothes and refiguring the tiny bedroom he’d gotten. Every time the refrigerator kicks he jumps, and when the walls creak or neighbors laugh too loudly, Hoseok twitches and freezes. He tries to calm himself by arranging figurines on top of his dresser and shoving boxes in the closet so he no longer has to see them, and it works enough that (after he unearths his sheets and rolls them over the mattress) he finally allows himself to flop down onto it, promising to himself that he’d unpack at least one more box today after he catches up on notifications.
namjoon: hows it go
namjoon: u still waiting for ur first paycheck 2 go thru
namjoon: hyungs buying lunch if ure hungry
And more than the food, familiar company drags Hoseok back out of bed only moments after falling into it.
you: please???? where. i’ll leave rn
One of the perks (of which Hoseok is trying to remind himself, taking deep breaths and chanting internally that it’s okay it’s okay it’s okay it’s fine you’re fine) of this apartment is the location. He’s a fifteen minute walk from downtown and across the street from a convenience store (not, unfortunately, the one where he’s employed) and, to his delight, he’s a seven minute walk from the little hole-in-the-wall that claims to have homemade kimchi and specializes in kimchi fried rice and pork belly.
Yoongi and Namjoon are already seated at the barbecue when he arrives, shrugging off his jacket in the doorway and bowing at the waitress when she greets him.
“How’s unpacking?” Yoongi asks colorlessly, fidgeting with the settings on the barbecue. “Namjoon says the place is big?”
“It’s all right,” Hoseok says to both questions. “My room is pretty small but the rest of the place is all right.”
“You look gray,” Yoongi says, pouring hot black tea into a cup and sliding across the table to Hoseok, ceramic rolling against polished wood. “Drink.”
“I’m fine,” Hoseok says, waving a hand but taking a long gulp of the tea nonetheless. From the inside the heat of the tea breathes energy and life into his veins, and suddenly the prospect of finishing out his day isn’t so daunting. “‘S just tiring. You know.”
Namjoon and Yoongi wear matching faces of pity and concern.
“Stop looking at me like that,” Hoseok grumbles.
“Like what?” Namjoon asks though he’s already carefully rearranging his face and leaning back from the table. He knows like what.
And yet Hoseok still answers, “Like I’m a fuckin’ kicked dog or something. I’m fine.”
Yoongi frowns. “You’ve been through a lot lately, Seok.”
“And I don’t want to talk about it,” Hoseok pleads, twisting his chopsticks in his fingers. “Please. I just want everything to be normal.”
“Fine,” Yoongi says. “But we’re worried about you and we’re here if you need anything.”
“Thanks,” Hoseok says almost shyly, then the waitress brings the meat and the topic seems forgotten anyway.
“You work tonight?” Namjoon asks.
“Yeah, at seven,” Hoseok says. He can’t help himself so he’s already picking at the banchan and rice while the meat cooks between them. “Work ‘til two.”
“Rough. But I might need a midnight ramyun tonight.”
Hoseok bites back a grin. “Don’t drive all the way out here just to come to my gs25, seriously, there’s one literally one block from your -”
“Oh, but they just don’t make it as well as yours.”
“We don’t make it!” Hoseok laughs. “Fuck you, Namjoon.”
“Should I bring you anything when I come by?” Namjoon asks.
“Will you stop babying me, please?” Hoseok asks.
“Fine. I won’t bring you anything, and I’ll make you tell me about every kind of ramyun you have and ask you if it cooks the same at different altitudes and whether you have a military discount and once you call the manager to find the answer, I will have conveniently lost my military ID anyway, and then I’ll just buy cereal and aloe water instead.”
They laugh, and by the time their meat browns, they’re hungry enough that conversation falls to the side while they eat. The cacophony of clinking silverware and cheerful conversation drapes around them, warm and comforting like a childhood blanket in a way that distracts from the cold emptiness Hoseok’s held inside for much too long.
Jimin’s seen better try-outs.
The one thing he can say confidently is that turn-out was impressive; there are just over three dozen players in shin-guards and cleats lined up across the field, sweat glistening on their faces and pooling on their shirts.
Maybe it’s because they’re mostly freshman. Maybe it’s because Yonsei’s soccer team had a blow-out season last fall and now everyone wants a piece of the soccer glory. Maybe it’s because three quarters of last year’s team graduated in the spring, so now Yonsei needs nearly twenty new players to fill up the roster, and everyone who’s ever watched a soccer game thinks this is their chance.
As a captain, Jimin could’ve imagined a handful of ways to start the season that are better than this. At least one of them involves Taehyung, star forward with the Yonsei Uni record for number of goals in a single season and second for goals in a game, dropping the team.
“Toe taps, two minutes, go!” Jimin shouts, and he walks down the line of players and watches their footwork. At the one minute mark, he jogs over to the coach.
“Numbers 34 and 18,” Jimin mutters low enough that he knows he won’t be overheard. The co-captain, Jackson, stays behind to motivate players with over-enthusiastic cheers and overall obnoxious positivity.
“Oh, I’m aware,” says Coach Lim, hands on his hips. “I think I can tell when people can’t dribble, Park.”
“Just wanted to make sure we’re on the same page,” Jimin says.
“Anyone stand out to you in a good way?”
“Yeah,” Jimin says. “Number one.”
The aforementioned number one is tall and broad, biceps notable even through the baggy material of his jersey. His thighs bulge when he does his toe taps, spine straight but relaxed, and he’s barely breaking a sweat.
“His form is incredible. Did you see the rakes? Tell me you saw his rakes.”
“I saw his rakes. Jackson did, too, judging by the totally inconspicuous look he gave me after he passed Number One.” Jimin shakes his head and tries not to be obvious as he watches Number One stretch. “I also saw him showing off before try-outs. He can juggle for, like, years.”
Coach Lim whistles a descending noise, then sighs. “Any idea who this kid is?”
“Nope,” Jimin says. “A freshman or a transfer, I’m sure. I’d recognize him otherwise.”
“Cool. We’re lucky to have him. Now go make them volley.”
After volleying comes more sprints, more to test strength of will than strength of body. A handful of players make it halfway through suicide sprints before they go slack, clutching stitched sides and hesitating on the turn in the hopes of swallowing another gasp of air. The strongest players persevere, and to Jimin’s delight, Number One is among them.
The sound of lockers slamming greets Jimin as he ushers the last player into the locker rooms. The sweat and foot stench is just as pleasant is always, ripened by months of summer heat and an AC on leave.
He claps some of the friendlier players on the backs as he passes, congratulating them on hard work and reminding them to check the website by the end of the week for callbacks.
And then, Number One.
Number One, who Taehyung and Jackson seem to have cornered already, shrinks back into the corner and frantically mops the sweat off his face with a towel.
“Transfer student?” Taehyung is asking when Jimin finally comes into earshot. “Or freshman?”
“Shut up, there’s no way he could be a freshman, look at him,” Jackson says, a hand curled around Taehyung’s bicep.
“Exactly! Look at him! That is not the face of a man. He’s a freshy.”
“Why don’t we let the fresh meat speak for himself?” Jimin suggests, parting the two seas of his fellow returning teammates. “You are fresh meat, yeah?”
The kid gives one shaky nod, eyes only meeting Jimin’s for a fraction of a second before they flicker between Jackson and Taehyung.
“I could tell. You have that look.”
“What look?” he asks.
“You still have hope in your eyes,” Jimin grins. “But don’t worry, Yonsei will take care of that.” He shoots two gentle finger guns in Number One’s direction, hoping to soften the news with a touch of non-threatening dudely conduct. “Welcome to adulthood. And Yonsei. I’m Jimin, and these idiots are Taehyung and Jackson.”
“Before you ask, yeah, I’m Chinese,” Jackson says, throwing out a hand to shake the freshman’s. The other hand comes to his shoulder, tugging him in uncomfortably close considering that they’re both shirtless, sweaty, and near strangers. But that’s just Jackson: too much but harmless in all actuality.
“Jeongguk,” he says. Awkwardly pats Jackson’s neck then recoils quickly like Jackson smells something offensive (he probably does, considering, y’know, college dude and soccer practice).
Taehyung, of course, has to get in his fair share of hottie skin-to-skin, so he incites a very enthusiastic, very close handshake, and then Jeongguk slips away, presumably to shower, but more likely to escape being sexually harassed by a pair of upperclassmen.
“Dinner?” Jimin asks, one arm over each Jackson and Taehyung. “I swear I haven’t had a real meal in days. I was busy all morning helping my new roommate get moved in.”
“Oh yeah? How’s that?” Jackson asks, guiding them towards the showers.
“Fine, I guess. He’s a quiet one, but so was I. I’m not about to make nice with him.”
Taehyung huffs. “What, wasn’t he nice to you?”
“Well, yeah. But we’ve gotta be roommates first, then friends. We can worry about being friends once I know for a fact he’s not gonna go apeshit and try to kill me.”
“Valid,” Taehyung allows, shrugging off Jimin’s arm to undress fully. “But food? We were talking about food.”
“Food, yeah. Actually, uh, Eunji and Namjoo wanna hang out.”
“Gross,” Taehyung frowns. “You know they’re just looking for excuses to hang out that aren’t dates.”
“Yeah, well, I think it’s cute,” Jackson sighs. “Let them be all shy and shit. Budding love and all that.”
“Budding love,” Jimin scoffs. “They’ve been dating for eight years. They’re the only ones who don’t know.”
“They’ll figure it out,” Jackson says sagely, crowding under Jimin’s claimed showerhead and disregarding common practice of personal space acknowledgment, especially in the nude. “Patience.” He pats Jimin’s bare chest.
“So dinner,” Jackson says, cheering loudly at the prospect.
Not much has changed when Jimin gets home many hours later, fully aware that he reeks of greasy food and cheap beer. The apartment is no louder and barely more full than it was before Hoseok moved in, and the main difference is the stack of DVDs next to the TV and the fact that the door to the spare room is shut tight, signalling that Hoseok is either sleeping or unwilling to see Jimin.
So Jimin takes extra care to creep quietly through the apartment, dropping his soccer bag in his room and skipping ice in his water to avoid the loud crunch of the grinding icemaker.
At 2:47, Jimin slides into freshly laundered sheets and turns on a podcast to muffle the sniffles he can hear through the wall. At 3:02, he sinks into sleep wondering what he’s gotten himself into and whether Hoseok will turn out to be a good roommate after all.