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it is a question of birds and of departures into neverland

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The classroom around him smelled sour and stagnant, like cheap cleaning supplies and paint, never properly aired. It was the first truly cold, windy day, rain hitting the windowsills in an even pattern bound to just increase everyone’s sleepiness since it was barely after dawn. Save for Jimin and Mina, the girl from Japan who used to go to the same ballet school he had, everyone was swaying with that half-lidded fatigue. Jimin wasn’t going to be an ass and say that only people who did ballet knew any discipline, but it wasn’t like the evidence was proving otherwise anyway.

At the front of the room Mr. Park was leaning against one of the desks, his face round and oily like a block of cheese, eyes glinting with something Jimin recognized as superiority only from years of experience.

He was the kind of a person to choose a day of grey surreality to drop the bomb.

“Think of it as a challenge,” Mr. Park said, undeterred by the stillness of the group. “Each of you came here to broaden your horizons, learn something new. If you didn’t want to learn different styles, you’d have chosen a different course in a different school, and you haven’t.”

Jimin kept his face impassive and his hands curled under too long, too thin sleeves of a sweater that kept him just cold enough to battle the sleepiness; he had chosen the school because of their nearly full scholarship program and good enough reputation, not because he had dreamt of pursuing anything other than ballet.

“I know it’s a big change for some of you,” Mr. Park continued, generously omitting the fact that among them there were approximately two people well-versed in more than one style, “which is why you get till new year’s to make it happen. It’s okay if you want to do duets, since you’re probably going to need at least one person who knows what they’re doing.”

“Why do we have to work on styles we don’t plan on doing in the future?” asked the girl with a bob cut who always wore long, black skirts and never shut up about superiority of post-modern dance. “Isn’t it a waste of time, if we’re not going to specialize in those styles anyway?”

Jimin rarely felt any kind of solidarity with her, but this time he had to physically stop himself from nodding in agreement.

“Well, this is a preparatory class,” Mr. Park said drily. “And its point is to make you into versatile dancers who don’t skulk around feeling superior to everyone else.”

Jimin knew it was a general enough statement but felt chastised anyway, could feel himself bristling slightly. There was something like a leer in the thin cut of Mr. Park’s lips.

“Don’t worry, there will also be a theoretical part for you to pass to get your credit,” he announced grandly, clapping his hands together with a slightly too-wide smile. “Maybe a presentation on the development of a certain style? Or a paper? I haven’t decided yet.”

The girl from the tango-obsessed couple seated in the back of the class (to allow more footsie opportunities) moaned pitifully just hearing the word ‘paper’. Jimin viciously prayed for its victory over the presentation nonsense which would require even more socializing.

“I’d like each of you to come to my office hours so we can decide on the dance style I think you should pursue for your project, and to discuss your potential partners.”

“When are you office hours, Mr. Park?” Mina asked politely, neat little notebook opened in front of her and already filled with notes. Her constant scribbling was filling Jimin with anxiety.

“Check the university website, I’m not Naver,” Mr. Park said with that sleazy air of someone winning an uneven fight and turned towards the blackboard, ignoring the humiliated curl of Mina’s shoulders. “So. Shall we start with the sociological and anthropological meaning of dance since the beginning of humankind?”

 

~*~

 

It was hard for Jimin to meet up with Jungkook those days. First of all, Jungkook was at the brink of debuting with his group, practicing for 16 hours day and starving himself for 24 hours of it. Second of all, Jimin was broke, which stated alone was hardly news, but in that context meant he really didn’t have any money to treat his equally poor dongsaeng to a meal.

He spent two days walking around with that weight on his shoulders and inexplicable guilt for his own empty wallet; he drafted and redrafted texts to Jungkook, cursed Mr. Park’s name, and went through his budget again and again.

His budget that didn’t allow him to even replace his own torn tights, which meant he was going to have to practice in them and boil inside of his own head. He did not have money to buy Jungkookie meat when all he ate himself was cup ramen.

Thankfully when Jimin had finally sent the text - innocent enough, just asking for advice - Jungkook had come through and invited him to his company cafeteria. He got them both a tasteless lunch for free by showing his bunny teeth and round cheeks off to the lunch lady who somehow miraculously seemed to have kept her empathy intact despite being employed in the entertainment industry. From what Jimin heard empathy was the least desired personality trait in this business, but maybe lunch ladies weren’t really considered important enough to hold them to those standards. What did he know, really.

He got Jungkookie talking about his work first, since it was always a relief to hear his butchered Seoul accent layered spottily over familiar Busan drawl, sweet and bitter at the same time. He kept slurping sticky lukewarm rice into his mouth and chewing through meager side dishes slowly, so that Jungkook got to eat more out of the two of them. Mostly Jimin stuck to kimchi, since at least that had some taste, even if it was mostly sour enough to rival his mood.

When Jungkook was finished with his unemotional detail-less storytelling he motioned to Jimin with his chin, mouth full.

“So what do you need, hyung?”

Jimin tapped his chopsticks against his bowl a few times, trying to gather his thoughts.

“I have an assignment for school,” he started slowly and took a sip of water. “My professor said we gotta do a dance performance in a style we’re not accustomed to, and when I went to his office hours he said he wants me to do hip-hop.”

What a conversation that had been, Jimin thought, and had to press down on anger building in his chest. He had had an idea of just doing contemporary, maybe some jazz, close and easy (or at least achievable) enough that he could probably ace it if he worked hard enough. But Mr. Park hadn’t wanted to hear it, had just grinned all wide and slightly unsettling and said that Jimin needed to unwind a bit, to loosen up. With hip-hop . It’s gonna be easy loosening up, Jimin thought bitterly, after he fails that assignment, loses his scholarship, and drops out.

“Hip-hop?” Jungkook raised his eyebrows, chewing loudly. “That’s like, ridiculous. You can’t do hip-hop, hyung.”

“Thanks for the reminder, Jungkookie,” Jimin said flatly. “That’s exactly why I wanted to talk to you. Do you know any dancers who are good enough and could help me out with this?”

“What about people from your school?” Jungkook asked instead, rubbing at his cheekbone where he was breaking out in red spots. Jimin pulled a face.

“I’d rather avoid having to work with them, to be honest,” he said, tugging his sleeves over his knuckles; the badly-lit cafeteria didn’t have any heating and lunch ladies were working in their coats under the aprons. “They are all not really… my speed, and I don’t trust them not to fuck me over.”

Jimin had worked furiously to maintain his top grade, had dripped that dramatic blood and sweat on the dance floor and given up sleep for days at times, and he knew what they were saying about him behind his back, especially the street dance crews. It was nothing new, bounced off him by now, but he didn’t trust them not to backstab him. The infuriating thing was, it could yet turn out he had no other choice. He wouldn’t teach himself hip-hop via YouTube in the span of a few months.

“Right,” Jungkook said. “You ballet guys are so cut-throat.”

Jimin didn’t waste his energy pointing out that Jungkook was in idol industry where people in fact ate each other alive, and that he wasn’t actually talking about ballet community.

“Do you know anyone or not,” he asked again, slurping down his already cold, too salty soup and slowly chewing on a seaweed. Jungkook rested his chin on his hand and frowned, clearly thinking hard.

“You could try Hobi-hyung?” he said after swallowing a hard piece of meat he’s been fighting with for a prolonged amount of time. Jimin waited for him to continue with his eyebrows raised, but nothing more seemed forthcoming.

“Why are you assuming I know who,” he made air quotes, “‘Hobi-hyung’ is?”

“Ah, yeah, sorry, most people in the company know him,” Jungkook sent him a dorky smile and Jimin softened like warmed up butter, couldn’t help it. “He was a trainee in JYP for a while and got some backup dancer gigs there, the rumour had it he was already training with a group and supposed to debut, I think?”

That did not sound promising, actually. Jimin respected hard work boys like Jungkookie put into achieving their dreams or whatever, but idols rarely were reliable authorities on anything, dancing included. Even if they came from a good background, in the name of profit with time their technique got slaughtered by synchronized routines.

“There were rumours that he was just going to be a choreographer-”

“How old is this guy?” Jimin furrowed his eyebrows.

“Not sure. I think one year older than you, hyung?’ Jungkook said dubiously through mouthful of rice. Jimin generously didn’t scold him for cheating on his diet. “It lasted a few months and then suddenly he dropped out, didn’t tell me anything, just… gone.” Jungkook leaned in, eyes huge and shiny with the light of flickering light bulbs. “People say that he told JYP to fuck himself.”

Jimin had to smile at the badly contained excitement Jungkook was bouncing with.

“Now, I don’t really believe that,” he said through another bite. “Hobi-hyung isn’t really the type to be so rude or anything, but who knows, right?”

“Okay, but is he any good and can he train me?” Jimin asked impatiently. “Doesn’t sound like a person who’s gonna jump at the opportunity of being a tutor.”

“I don’t know what he’s doing right now, actually,” Jungkook admitted. “But like, those few times we talked he was really nice? Guys always said that he was hardworking but a real moodmaker and stuff.”

“Okay,” Jimin said, trying not to sound too doubtful. He pushed the salt soup away, feeling bloated from it already. “Have you got his number, then?”

Jungkook shook his head, rice sticking to the corner of his mouth. Jimin stared at him unblinking for a few seconds.

“Then… why did you even mention him?” he asked slowly, squeezing the base of his nose and taking a deep breath. He had 20 minutes to get to the studio he’s booked for the evening practice and so far Jungkook’s made him eat salt and given him zero new ideas.

“I don’t have his number, but I can ask around, someone’s gotta know where he is these days,” Jungkook muttered defensively and tapped his chin. “I think he was close with Yoongi-hyung, I’ll ask around and get back to you.”

“Thank you, Jungkookie,” Jimin said tiredly, because even if Jungkook was literally no help that was not entirely his fault. “Let me know soon, okay? I need it real quick.”

Jungkook nodded solemnly and Jimin ruffled his hair, somehow managing to send him a soft smile.

 

~*~

 

Miraculously, Jungkook came through, even though Jimin had given up on the idea as soon as he had left the cafeteria that evening. Jungkook didn’t provide the so-called J-Hope’s phone number, but gave Jimin the name of a club where the guy supposedly tended to perform. For some reason Jungkook seemed to think that Jimin would find him no problem, despite the fact that all he had to work with was a lame pseudo. He hadn’t even seen a picture of his face.  

The night when Jimin was supposed to find J-Hope was rainy. Of course it was, probably because someone up there knew Jimin didn’t own anything waterproof beyond the horribly unfashionable windbreaker tourists could always be spotted wearing no matter where they were. There was no way Jimin could go dressed like that to a big shot club most likely filled with wannabe soft grunge fashionistas or whatever it was that Seoul kids were into those days.

In the end, after swiping through his meagre closet twice (actually, just a chest of drawers; his shared dorm room didn’t have enough space for him to have an actual closet , and his smart clothes hung from the hook in the wall covered with a cheap plastic case) Jimin accepted the fact that he was going to get soaked tonight and picked his only denim jacket, secondhand and worn thin on the elbows, but still a more appropriate clubwear than his collection of thick sweaters, leg warmers, and sweatpants. Not even mentioning his still torn tights.

That’s how Jimin found himself sitting in the night bus on his way to the club, dressed in his dark ripped jeans and that jacket, shivering with cold and single-mindedly not making eye contact with the drunk leaning against the window who looked more than ready to start shit.

It was pouring out there, heavy November rain that didn’t seem to have any plans of stopping, topped with hard November wind that blew into Jimin’s stiff sleeves and through tears in his jeans. At this point sweltering crowded heat of the club was actually preferable to the cold seeping into his bones. Jimin could not afford to get sick.

He found the club easily, close enough to the bus stop he ran from, and shivered his way in the short line to the entrance, paid the fee with gritted teeth to be allowed inside.

As he descended down the suffocatingly narrow staircase, its bare bricks slowly gave way to the peeling paint. Then he finally reached the gritty bottom and was inside, interior indiscernible over the tidal push and pull of bodies.

Jimin’s only reflection about it was that it didn’t seem to have much in common with those fashionable clubs full of neon lights and mysterious chaebols that he was used to seeing in dramas. No, this place was badly lit and some mindless techno pumped so loudly it felt like his heartbeat had magnified and was now resonating within the confines of his lungs. His stomach swooped nervously.

Everything he saw was more shadow than anything particular; people were nothing more than heat and light glistening off their sweaty faces and shiny accessories. Jimin felt a bit as if he sank underwater, like he was there but also out of his world, in space that was so alien that all he could do was fall into himself.

He found the bright spots of the bar and the stage, both on the opposite end from the entrance, and decided to try the former.

Getting through the crowd also resembled being underwater, assuming that that would  involve squeezing through press of slimy fish pushing right back into you. He was already uncomfortably damp with sweat and had been subjected to more body contact than he could recall ever willingly engaging in. Reaching the bar hardly helped with the uncomfortable feeling, but leaning against it still let him breathe easier.

The bartender, once she came up to him, seemed so disinterested Jimin was half-convinced he was being seen right through.

“Your order?” she asked in a voice so perfectly bland it sounded the way spiceless noodles tasted.

“A coke,” Jimin said, feeling ridiculed even though her face didn’t twitch at all. “Sorry, I… Do you maybe know where I can find a guy called J-Hope?”

It was so far-fetched that he already considered getting drunk after this, then remembered he could not afford club prices of booze. He could not afford off-license prices of booze either.

Jimin hadn’t been drunk in so long he was half convinced the minute he’d let himself off a leash he’d ruin himself with single-minded premeditation, just to taste the luxury of failure, of things being done and over with it, irreparable.

To Jimin’s shock the bartender changed an expression to almost-a-smile.

“Hobi should be near the stage, ask ‘round there,” she advised and slid a can of coke Jimin’s way, then took his money and gave him change efficiently. Jimin thanked her and avoided eye contact as he walked away, kept his can pressed to his chest not to lose it.

Once he got to the stage it became apparent he would have to ask random people and it was like a rash all over his body, feeling of discomfort strong enough to scratch at the back of his throat unpleasantly. He was taking a sip of the coke, sticky sweet and biting with bubbles, when someone tapped him on the shoulder lightly.

“Hey,” it was hard to tell through the pounding music but the voice that just spoke in his direction sounded a tiny bit scratchy, masculine. Jimin turned and saw a guy with an easy smile standing in front of him. In the darkness he couldn’t see much of him beyond the whiteness of his teeth and the gleaming sheen of sweat on his high cheekbones.

“Hi,” Jimin answered cautiously and gathered his courage quickly just as the guy spoke up.

“Can I buy you a-”

“Do you know where I can find J-Hope?”

Guy blinked at him a few times, taken aback; his mouth dropped open very slightly and he frowned. It felt just so subtly humiliating.

“That’s a first,” he commented finally, smile slowly sliding back onto his features like it had never disappeared, although it seemed a bit more wry.

“Sorry if it’s rude,” Jimin said impatiently, “but I really need to find him and-”

“Luck’s on your side,” the guy opened his arms with a flair. “You got me.”

Jimin stared at him for a few seconds. The guy tilted his head to the side but let him look his fill, lowered his arms unhurriedly.  

“You’re J-Hope?” Jimin asked to make sure, and just knew his voice would sound incredulous the moment he opened his mouth. J-Hope only laughed and caught his wrist.

“Come with me,” he yelled and tugged him once before letting go. Jimin followed despite himself until they reached some kind of a backstage and music was faded enough to allow a conversation.

“Kinda seems like you expected something else,” J-Hope said, yet seemed unconcerned; the narrow hallway they stood in had dirty white walls and a single, flickering light bulb that shone too brightly in comparison to the open space of the club. Its light was bright enough that Jimin could finally take the guy in: his long tan face and very straight nose. It was hard to pay attention to any of that because he was also sporting a sea-green short-sleeved shirt swarmed with a pattern of tropical fish.

Jimin couldn’t believe he had wasted even a minute stressing over his own casual outfit when this J-Hope guy was wearing a bucket hat .

“Something’s wrong?”

He startled, realizing he had been eyeing him down like a complete fucking creep. J-Hope’s answering grin was sharp and narrow as he fluttered his eyelashes exaggeratedly. “Am I not ulzzang enough for you, baby?”

The clear mockery in his voice was the thing that finally brought Jimin out of his stupor. He knew he’d been anything but tactful so far, so somehow he managed to swallow down the ‘I thought you’d look more like an idol’ comment. This J-Hope hadn’t got any earrings, for starters.

“I’m a friend of Jeon Jungkook,” Jimin managed to say, which was a better choice than voicing any of his ridiculous thoughts.  

He hadn’t even noticed that J-Hope had been tense, but he must have been, because hearing that made him relax almost imperceptibly.

“Ahhh, Jungkookie!” he grinned, wide and unabashed. “How’s he doing, what’s he need from me?”

“He’s fine,” Jimin squeezed his can tightly and it made an unpleasant sound. “I’m here because he, um, recommended you.”

J-Hope raised an eyebrow and waved his hand fluidly as if to say ‘go on’.

To be honest, Jimin was heavily tempted to just leave. He had been imagining the big former-would-be-idol-turned-a-hip-hop-legend-of-the-underground to be a bit - no - a lot different, not to resemble an ahjussi going fishing.

On the other hand, though, Jimin hadn’t gotten so far only to give up without trying.

“I was hoping you could help me with, um, a project,” he stumbled over his words and squeezed the can even harder to bear maintaining an eye contact and forcing his lips into a light, charming smile. “I could really use help of somebody good at dancing hip hop.”

J-Hope’s eyes narrowed slightly as he stopped smiling so widely and tapped his chin thoughtfully.

“You a dancer then?”

“Yes,” Jimin said, trying not to hesitate. Some days he knew he was, and some - he doubted he ever would be.

“Look, man, I’m honored Jungkookie sent you to me and all,” J-Hope said and Jimin had to consciously keep his face blank even as his lungs seemed to collapse, “and I think it could be fun, dancin’ with you, but I really can’t help you. Sorry, man.”

“How come?” Jimin asked, desperate and pathetic and choking on it. “Look, I’ll make it up to you, like-”

“Can you pay me?” it was blunt and not half as brightly said as before. Jimin’s silence answered for him.

“Man, I’d love to, I actually would,” and he did sound like it, would have probably looked it too if Jimin was able to raise his eyes from the dirty footprint on one of the white walls. “But I’m… Like, I don’t really have a luxury of doing shit I want to, y’know?”

Jimin didn’t, really; he’d been working on achieving his goal for so long he didn’t really spend any time indulging minor yearnings.

“There’s lotta good dancers, even here tonight,” J-Hope’s voice was kind as he sent Jimin a smile. “Ask around, for real. I’m sure someone else will be available.”

And he disappeared further towards the backstage, leaving Jimin with nothing but dubstep pumping in his ears and feeling of dissociation clogging up his head.

 

~*~

 

Jimin gave himself two days to hole up in the studio and just dance. It helped getting the whirlwind of panic and scattered thoughts in order, so at the end of it he was still absolutely fucked, but at least a bit calmer about it. It was only kind of about accepting this failure. In reality, he was just putting off the next logical step, because thinking about it made him sick to his stomach.

On the third day he skipped breakfast, which was not exactly that out of character for him, dressed sharply and approached his hip-hop oriented classmates as soon as their shared school activities ended.

It was a humiliating, exhausting experience, maybe more so in Jimin’s head than in reality. No one was outwardly hostile or taunting. They might not have been any of that at all, even inwardly, but it didn’t matter, because he still felt sneered at, felt ridiculed with every refusal, no matter how kind, how chill it was.

At his lowest, in desperation he proposed to help with ballet if anyone was in need, but it turned out that Mr. Park wasn’t quite as cruel towards them as he was towards Jimin. Everyone had projects to work on, but he was the only one thrown head-first into something on the opposite end of his skillset spectrum. None of the street dance guys were supposed to learn ballet, yet somehow he had to learn their style.

He got some sympathy looks and phone numbers of people who ‘might be able to help’, which he accepted with head bowed and fingers numbed with failure.  

Jimin did the one thing he’d honed to perfection through his life; he wiped his mind clean same way he used to before showcases and exams, same way he had done when his parents had expressed their disapproval of his life choices both vocally and, later on, financially.

He found out about a mediocre dance school on the other side of the town, where apparently some kinda guy taught hip-hop to the troubled youth or whatever. Jimin’s life was hardly material for ‘Take the Lead’ sequel, but he had to try approaching that teacher, even if it was going to shatter him into pieces.

After all, Jungkook wasn’t going to pull any more ex-idols outta his ass for Jimin. In fact, after providing him with J-Hope’s info Jungkook had seemed to forget all about him. Hadn’t even checked in.

On the other hand, Jungkook was living the important, busy life now.

Jimin reached the street where the school was located; some kids were loitering around it, with bikes and skateboards and attitudes. The building itself was an ugly concrete cube, with dark damp patches near the roofing felt at the top. Everything about it screamed cheap, cost-effective construction, same as every other building in the industrial neighbourhood.

In a desperate last-moment attempt to gain some time to psych himself up Jimin swerved off his path and into a tiny corner shop, this kinda weird place which sold anything, from rubber boots to actual strawberries mid-December, but hadn’t stocked up on rice in three weeks. But no worries, no matter the time every imaginable size of nude tights was always available.

Jimin tucked himself into the incredibly narrow space between racks of shelves stocked to the bursting with canned goods, and slowly made his way forward in pursuit of some sodas. He turned a sharp corner next to the wall of frozen meals and almost walked into a short ladder with a guy stood atop it.

“Sorry!” he yelped, squeezing his can of a rice drink and bowing slightly before he raised his head only to do a double take.

The person on the ladder, dressed in an offensively bright neon-green t-shirt with the shop logo still appeared to be J-Hope, even after Jimin blinked a few times.

“No problem,” he said, barely sparing Jimin a glance after the initial scared little jump their crash evoked. In the fluorescently lit stillness of the store interrupted only by crackling of the fridges and snapping of the cash register his voice sounded more hoarse, lower than in the club. He had a headband keeping his floppy dark fringe away from his forehead. Corners of his mouth were pulled downward as he kept stocking cup ramen on the highest shelf.

“It’s you,” Jimin’s mouth said even as his brain screamed at him to leave the guy alone in his workplace. J-Hope turned his head again and blinked a few times as if to get his eyes properly working, to unstuck one eyelid from another. There was something about the tilt of his chin and sharp points of his elbows that whispered about bone-deep exhaustion.

“Me?” he repeated, tipped his head to the side, eyes raking over Jimin without much focus.

“Um, from the club,” he provided, felt it burn in his throat. “I asked-”

“Right, about dancing,” J-Hope nodded, went down the ladder to pick up more cups. Jimin, ashamed of his own empty hands, started handing him more, which was greeted by one raised eyebrow. “How did it go? Found someone else?”

“Not yet.”

“That sucks,” J-Hope pulled a face, hands working fast. “I’m sorry I couldn’t help, but I can ask around for you.”

Jimin swallowed the refusal on the tip of his tongue and reclined his head. “That’d be kind of you, thank you.”

The silence between them stretched, nothing but creaking of cheap plastic and foil swapped from hand to hand. A part of Jimin couldn’t stand it, wanted to break down and beg with his forehead glued to the coke-sticky floor, have customers walk right over him as he became just another stain on the linoleum. But there were some things Park Jimin was never going to do, even if it meant he was gonna crash and burn; he wasn’t going to beg for someone’s pity.

“What is it that you even need help with?” J-Hope asked, settling his big eyes on Jimin’s face uncomfortably. Jimin avoided that look, tried to find any other place to rest his gaze on and noticed the nametag entirely by accident. Hoseok.

“Um,” he started, distracted, “I’m doing a course at school, and it’s like… It’s an assignment, to do hip-hop routine, and no one in my class can help me. I have,” he cleared his throat, “quite a different background.”

Hoseok nodded slowly. “Not a street dancer, are ya?”

“Well,” Jimin felt himself smile wryly. “I’ve been doing ballet almost my whole life, so…”

“Oh man,” Hoseok laughed and it was big and bright and out of place in the shithole of the store, “that’s quite a jump you got there.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” Jimin ruffled his hair nervously. “Anyway, I should be getting out of your hair, man.”

Hoseok considered him slowly for a moment, smile still lingering in the lines of his face even as he seemed to be deeply in thought.

“I wish I could help you,” he sighed and once again it seemed genuine, “but as you can see I’m very committed to the notion of wastin’ my so-called best years away in retail to afford roof over my head and an occasional bowl of rice.”

Jimin desperately wanted to ask why he dropped the idol occupation then but it was so not his place.

“It’s understandable,” he said instead, sent Hoseok a smile because he’s been nothing but kind, after all. “It’s not like I can repay your time in any way, so I get it. The only payment I could afford is, like, a coffee.”

As Jimin bowed his head again, ready to bolt and possibly jump into Han river and choke on the chemicals, he couldn’t help but notice that Hoseok kept staring at his face, still and mulling something over. Jimin straightened up and turned around only to be stopped again by Hoseok speaking up.

“Then let’s do that.”

He whipped back to face him again and managed to knock some shrimp crisps off the shelf in the process.

“What?”

It seemed like Hoseok stilled himself before shrugging languidly and resting his elbow on the cheap shelf. He was bony, work clothes hanging off his frame limply as he raised his chin, expression bright.

“I said, buy me a coffee and let’s try.”

“Are you having me on?” Jimin blurted out, winced as he heard his accent come out, uninvited. Hoseok’s lips stretched into a wider smile.

“I haven’t splurged on an Americano in so long it’s gonna be a spiritual experience at this point, I’m pretty sure,” he said easily, like that was all it took, all of Jimin’s anguish worth a price of an Americano. He was sure his expression wasn’t doing him any favours right now, but Hoseok seemed to accept that.

“Look, this shift is probably gonna end only when I drop dead,” he said and somehow managed to sound good-natured about it. “But in case I somehow escape alive, let’s exchange phone numbers, hm? What’s your name?”

“Jimin,” he answered, feeling dizzy with the unexpected change. “Park Jimin, nice to meet you.”

“Jung Hoseok,” J-Hope repaid him with a smile and handed him his beat up Android, screen cracked in multiple places. Jimin put his number in, fingers numb with cold from the nearby fridges and brain numb with the surprise.

He left the shop a few minutes later, dizzy; forgot completely about visiting the school and passed it by, unseeing.

 

~*~

 

When Jimin had been imagining how his newly acquired dance lessons would go (which he had tried not to do, because that way lay new layers of anxiety topping the usual ones), somehow he hadn’t foreseen that it’d be quite like this .

“Could you please stop treating me like a baby?” he asked snappishly, unable to help himself, in the middle of Hoseok giving him a theoretical lecture he did not have time for. He startled even himself with that tone, so he took a deep breath to somehow smooth it out. He hated complaining, but he was on a tight, tight schedule. “I have some experience with this, and I know what an eight count is, you know? I have been dancing this whole time, and-”

“Not like that,” Hoseok interrupted him, unbothered. He came to the practice room Jimin had signed up for sporting cargo shorts, socks with rainbow stripes, and thankfully a plain white henley. Jimin’s eyes already reeled anyway.

“I’m not some kind of a rookie,” Jimin said, carefully making sure he wasn’t speaking through gritted teeth. “Don’t treat me like one.”

Hoseok’s gaze swept over him and for a first time he looked unimpressed. It was a new expression on his face and it momentarily stunned Jimin into silence.

“Then stop acting like a baby,” he suggested sweetly. It was condescending enough that it immediately raised Jimin’s hackles. “Your ballet experience and technique don’t give you a head start here. In fact, that makes it way worse than if you knew nothing at all.” Hoseok leaned against a barre; rays of setting sun gleamed in his slightly ruffled, shiny black hair. “Let’s compare it to, like, learnin’ languages.” Jimin had a very difficult relationship with English, and entirety of his Japanese vocabulary came from anime he used to watch in high school as a way of relieving stress, but he just nodded instead of letting his doubts show on his face. “Knowing Mandarin doesn’t mean you have a better chance of learning Japanese, it just means the readings and meanings are going to tangle in your head into a total mess. You know, like hanja doesn’t always equal kanji .”

That was surprisingly understandable, and made something in Jimin’s stomach squeeze painfully. Nausea was thick in his throat. After all, it wasn’t anything he didn’t actually know, just tried to somehow grow a thick skin and ignore that, bullhead through that setback without stopping to stress over it.

“So, yeah,” Hoseok continued. “I’m gonna treat you like a baby, because maybe knowing some theory will help you ground yourself in one style. Alright?”

“Alright,” Jimin said.

It was the most emotionally and physically draining evening he’s had in awhile, and he couldn’t even blame Hoseok for that. For all his cheerful exterior, very quickly it came abundantly clear that Hoseok was not the kind of a teacher who would coddle or mince his words. He was oftentimes harsh, and he was merciless, which at least felt familiar. Jimin doubted he could work with someone who softened their blows and tried to gentle him through work without feeling like he was being lied to, found lacking and unworthy of disciplining.

The problems started at the very beginning because, according to his newly-acquired teacher, he was standing wrong.

“For god’s sake, please relax your body,” Hoseok said, standing vis-a-vis him and presenting him a hip-hop appropriate posture, which apparently was just a slouch, if you asked Jimin. He shook his shoulders and relaxed slightly, parted his feet a bit further.

“...Is that it?” Hoseok asked, voice high with incredulity and this one goddamn eyebrow arched mockingly. Jimin took a deep breath through his nose.

“You told me to relax.”

“Is this… What you call relaxed?” Hoseok asked slowly and then sighed. “Alright, let’s go from the top. Lower your chin.”

Jimin did so, feeling idiotic; he couldn’t help glancing in the mirror, to see if his double chin was already visible, but Hoseok interrupted him.

“Good, like that, let your muscles looser so your fucking neck doesn’t snap. Now, your shoulders. Please, for the love of Ronald McDonald, take the stones outta your shoulders.”

“You’re acting like having a straight back is a sin now or something,” Jimin complained and rolled his shoulders again, tried to slouch them more. At Hoseok’s frown he just shrugged.

“Fine, let’s leave that for now,” Hoseok said, one hand clasped at the back of his neck. “Don’t try to like… You’re all tense in your torso, don’t stay so clenched, man.”

Jimin stared at him heavily and then rolled his eyes for the emphasis. Hoseok let out a little breath of a laugh.

“Fine, fine,” he conceded. “Bend your knees a little before you over straighten and break them or something gross like that. Yeah, let’s say that’s fine. Now, please make your feet normal, because these guys are giving me some serious anxiety.”

“What’s wrong with my feet now?” Jimin asked incredulously, stared down at himself.

“They’re so… like, symmetrical, like, straight?” Hoseok said, sounding unsure. “Just… point your toes outside, a bit, this can’t be good on your joints, honestly?”

Jimin pointed them out and had to press down on his lungs, calm the thundering of his heart.

“I spent years perfecting this posture,” he said slowly. “I’m not gonna twist my feet backwards now and lose everything I’ve worked on.”

“Jimin-ssi,” Hoseok said, and it sounded kind again, like in the store. “I’m not on some undercover mission to make you lose your, erm, super ballerina status or something, so my mysterious younger brother can play the male lead in Swan Lake, alright?”

“You put a lot of thought into that,” Jimin said dryly. “Also ballerina is a female dancer.”

“Yeah, sorry,” Hoseok waved his hand. “The point is, I’m trying to help you. Your posture right now? It’s super unnatural. Hip-hop is about bouncing, just playing around, being a bit defiant, you know? It’s not about staying in them, like, proper frames you got going right now. No one places their feet like that, it’s not comfortable?”

“It’s supposed to be pretty,” Jimin said, discomfort prickling at his skin. “Not comfortable. Nothing about ballet is supposed to be comfortable.”

“Or human,” Hoseok muttered under his breath and sighed. “You okay if I touch you sometime, to push you into the correct stance?”

“Yeah,” Jimin said, kicked his feet out a few times to relax somehow. “Whatever.”

They spent the next half an hour in a useless battle of Hoseok pushing Jimin’s shoulders down and them coming back up again, until they were both visibly on edge.

“Okay, that’s…. fine, that’s fine,” Hoseok kept chatting, pushing his hands through his hair  again and again. “The posture surely will come later on. Let’s get into them motions, some bounce, maybe. Music?”

“The room has a, um, an iPhone dock? You can plug in-”

“Do I look like I got a goddamn iPhone?” Hoseok snorted. “Does the bluetooth works?”

“I usually use a key drive, but bluetooth should work too, I guess?”

“Let’s hope this useless piece of trash works too, then,” Hoseok said and pulled his phone out of his bag.

Somehow they managed to get the music going, a steady mindless electronic beat that was punching Jimin’s eardrums something mean. He kept the scowl tucked inside, didn’t let it surface onto his face.

“Okay, so, the bounce,” Hoseok said, flicking his arms around to relax them, and jumping a few times. “It’s like the basic. You gotta stay on bent knees, otherwise you gonna hurt ya joints, yeah? You’re just keepin’ your body loose and working on the balls of your feet, okay?”

He looked positively ridiculous. His hair was flipping up and down with every step and it was hard to focus on anything but his wide shorts and bright socks, but Jimin tried. Tried to catalogue all the significant shapes - the splay of his feet, arms he raised messily with his steps, the whole line of his body.

Mostly, it looked silly. Jimin was used to elegance and technique.

He gritted this teeth, told himself he wasn’t going to learn anything while sitting on his high horse, and focused on following Hoseok’s instructions.

 

~*~

 

The rest of the week passed in a blur. Hoseok wasn’t always to Jimin’s disposition, not with his work at the store and some odd jobs that seemed to steal him away for days at time, but that didn’t mean that Jimin could afford to slack off. Now, on top of his homework and ballet practice he somehow had to incorporate hip-hop into his everyday schedule.

Maybe it was all a blur because Jimin had to significantly cut into his daily amount of sleep.

During their sparse shared practices Hoseok tried to introduce him gradually to different techniques that he deemed ‘absolutely necessary’. And so it went like this: doing a wave on Tuesday, popping on Thursday, locking on Saturday. Then back dialing and going over body isolation again and again and again, days at the time, until Hoseok and Jimin were soaked with sweat each and thrumming with tension.

Now that Jimin knew what it was that he was supposed to learn… It both was and wasn’t a relief.

He spent the weekend practicing the basic arm wave in front of the mirror so many times that in the evenings he had trouble with lifting his bag. Hoseok fucked off to do some kinda inventory at the local supermarket three nights in a row, and so during the day he was sleeping off his 13 hour long shifts. Jimin had no one but himself for a judge.

If he heard one more ‘Hey guys!’ from self-proclaimed dance gurus on YouTube he was going to smash his phone, probably against his own skull.

It was kind of a relief when Hoseok came back on Tuesday, eye bags tinted considerably more bluish than before and bruises up his forearms, bared by the short sleeves of his bright orange t-shirt. Today’s bucket hat was dotted with tiny flowers.

If nothing else, that day Jimin realized that Hoseok was actually a social butterfly, and all it took to learn that was saying absentmindedly, “How did that job go?”

“Stinky gruesome bullshit,” Hoseok said, down on his ass and bent over one leg, in the middle of stretching, which Jimin already had behind him. “Your everyday casual slaving, you know how it goes.” Jimin didn’t. “Had to stack lotta cans and such, but of course shit would fall down on me all the time, i almost lost a tooth.” That explained the bruises on his thin arms, at least. “That wasn’t too bad, though, ‘cause later on they dropped me to the frozen shit and i spent there a few hours, pretty sure I got a throat infection now. But,” he brightened up considerably, legs twisted into a pretzel. “They paid on the nail, so yesterday I could afford doing laundry.”

“Laundromats are really-” Jimin bit his own tongue and rolled his shoulders back awkwardly. “I could lend you some money for that?”

“No, I just ran out of washing powder,” Hoseok waved it away, still smiling. “Thanks, man. Now,” he stood up, groaning. “Let’s get back to the isolation thing, yeah?”

Somehow Jimin hadn’t noticed it before, but it became clear as a day now. It seemed to be enough that Jimin engaged Hoseok, even as poorly as he did; there was still that bone-deep weariness in him, but he seemed brighter already, like getting these tiny complaints off his chest actually cleansed him enough to let the brightness back in.

Either that, or as soon as Jimin said something about it Hoseok concealed it freakily well.

With that new energy he proceeded to shepherd Jimin through form after form, motions and stances blurring together into the late hours of the night, until Hoseok was finally satisfied and slid down onto the floor with his back to the mirror.

“You know,” he said, opening a bottle of water and taking a few long gulps, “you don’t need to push so hard all the time.”

Jimin toweled his hair off slowly, to figure out what he was supposed to say to that. He settled on the answer after an awkward pause. “Just trying to get a hang of it, since you already showed me the basics.”

“The basics,” Hoseok started, eyes widening. “I wouldn’t call it that. The things we covered this week, it’s more like, components than basics? Each of them is difficult in their own right and takes a shitton of work to accomplish.”

Jimin must have looked blank, because Hoseok actually flinched.

“Fuck, ‘m sorry,” he said, all sincere and shit. “I didn’t mean for you to misunderstand. I talked about all these things to give you the overall view, yet today I come here and your wave has gotten so, so much better I’m kinda freaked out, actually?”

“It’s lousy,” Jimin protested before he managed to bite his tongue. “I get it, fine, fine, but I still gotta master these, as you said, components before I can dream of using them in routines.”

“Yes,” Hoseok conceded, “but no one learns those components in a span of few days.”

Jimin avoided eye contact, massaging his sore calves and gathering his belongings.

“I’m serious, Jimin-ssi,” Hoseok continued, suddenly much more official. “I know you’re on a tight schedule, I do understand that, but you gotta take care of your body too, you know? Rest from time to time, don’t push your limits too much.”

Jimin gritted his teeth and took a deep breath.

“Thank you, Hoseok-ssi.” He made sure his voice was flat and didn’t convey any of his unfavorable thoughts.

“Hyung.”

He turned his head without thinking, caught off guard. Hoseok was already watching him, features of his face soft, low lines of his eyebrows barely visible against his tanned skin. Seeing whatever it was Jimin’s face was doing, he laughed shortly, just a sharp bark of sound.

“Don’t be so damn spooked,” he teased. “Call me hyung.”

Jimin’s hands were clammy and he didn’t know if it was from dancing or something else.

“Thank you, hyung,” he said. It’s been awhile since he was close enough with anyone to use that word.

Hoseok beamed like a lunatic.

 

~*~

 

He was a confusing dude, that Hoseok. One minute, usually when they were scrambling off the dance floor and dripping with sweat, corners of his mouth would tip down, concerned creases appearing across his forehead as he would lecture Jimin on the importance of balanced diet, rest, and stretching (Hoseok was thin like a twig and more often than not it seemed he fed himself same way Jimin did - with cup ramen; still, Jimin usually let him nag and tuned him out). Then, during the practices he would drop all the pretences of chill, poking at Jimin’s knees, cussing without inhibition, and chewing him for every lost beat.

As far as teachers went, he was far from the worst Jimin’d ever had.

“Hey, hey, Jimin-ah, look at me. Are you looking at me? Yeah? Watch my lips, then, and bend. Your. Fucking. Knees.”

“They are bent.” Jimin took a deep breath. “... Seonsaengnim.”

“You goddamn cheeky brat,” Hoseok hissed but it was clear he was more amused than anything. Jimin still should have kept his fucking chill, and not pushed the patience of the one person who wasted their time on him.

Still didn’t buy him that coffee, either.

“If you straighten these any more,” Hoseok poked him right in the kneecap with his bony finger, like Baba Yaga or some shit, “they sure gonna bend, just the other way.”

“Funny, hyung,” Jimin scoffed and relished in the fact that he could make Hoseok laugh. Not that it was particularly to achieve, but considering how Jimin’s life was going recently, he was going to grasp any victory and cling to it.

There was another side to these stolen moments of practicing - and that was the more or less constant company. At some point Jimin got used to the competition, and to solitude that came with it. He had practically needed loneliness to work to his fullest potential, to smooth out rough edges of his performance. Letting someone see him unpolished and fumbling, most days it still left him reeling with reluctance. Yet there was no hiding the fact that it went faster, better, when he was under Hoseok’s scrutiny.

So he swallowed his pride and bent his fucking knees.

 

~*~

 

“Remember, Jungkookie,” Jimin said, sprawled on his back on his bed, with phone resting on his stomach.

“What, hyung?” Jungkook’s voice sounded impatient and tinny through Jimin’s cheap, sale-purchased earphones. Brat always got cheeky with the distance, because Jimin couldn’t smack him over the head.

They were talking on the phone because now Jungkook was so close to his debut that he earned a ‘privilege’ of house arrest.

All the better for Jimin, though. Not like he got any richer.

“In ballet school, they tell you that classical dance is the base for any other type of dance,” Jimin said and tried to swallow the bitterness without letting it color his words. “They will tell you that you need to learn it and that it’ll help you with everything later. Guess what?”

“What?”

“They’re lying.”

It was silent for a few moments as Jimin stared at his blotchy ceiling and relished the soreness in his muscles.

“Wow, you sound kinda… bitter, hyung.”

“Just tired,” Jimin raised his legs and rotated his ankle a bit. Pain shot through his knee, as expected. “Don’t worry.”

“Hobi-hyung’s really kicking your ass, hm?” Jungkook sounded smug, for whatever fucking reason. “He’s good, right?”

Jimin scoffed, but couldn’t exactly deny it. “Yeah, he’s great at it.”

He hadn’t actually seen Hoseok dance a full routine before, which might have been the reason for his initial wariness of the guy. But Jimin had seen how Hoseok had executed all those moves, ‘components’ as he had called them; bones liquid under his skin, joints vanishing into sweet nothings, body controlled within an inch of its life, every move precise right to the sharp finish, yet effortless.

Jimin knew just how much work effortless required.

“Are you hating it a lot?” Jungkook asked and Jimin kept lazily moving his leg as he considered the question past the initial instinct to answer in the affirmative.

“Not as much as I did before,” he answered slowly, scratching at his stubble. “It’s very different. I can like… I can see now, that it takes lotta effort too. I’m not loving it, but it’s okay.”

Jimin didn’t like it, precisely, but he liked being good at stuff. Praise from Hoseok was sparse at best, but Jimin greedily hoarded every good word that fell out of his mouth and kept it locked carefully in his head, mostly to pick apart and argue during his lowest moments.

Still, he could see that his motions were getting smoother and it started to tear him into two directions at once - into satisfaction and panic, somehow entwined.

Every success on the hip-hop field he celebrated by putting in hours of frantic ballet practices.

“I guess okay is good.” Jungkook said and Jimin had to agree.

“Still don’t understand why Hoseok-hyung dropped from his company, though,” Jimin said, mostly absent-minded. He managed to somehow work through the pain in his calf by now, his late night stretching lazy and unmotivated.

“Oh,” Jungkook muttered. “Well, there are… I dunno anything, hyung, but like, there are rumours.”

“Wow, way to sound cryptic,” Jimin teased. “What he do, knock somebody up?”

“Hyung!” Jungkook protested, somehow both terrified and juvenilely amused. “No way, no, quite like…” He coughed. “Quite the opposite, they say.”  

“What’s the opposite of knocking somebody up?” Jimin laughed, rummaging through the pile of his books for the article on Loie Fuller he got printed at the library. He still had to go through it before tomorrow class and all he remembered was her serpentine dancing.

He felt like in some ways it was applicable, learning about modern dance pioneers as he was plunging deep into murky waters of street dance techniques himself.    

“Well, you know,” Jungkook mumbled under his nose, shifty as fuck.

“Oh my god, Jungkookie, I don’t have the whole night,” Jimin sighed, only vaguely interested in the canned variety of trainee gossip.

“God, you know, hyung,” Jungkook had the audacity to sound exasperated. “Hyungs were saying that he was, like, gay.”

There was nothing but static over the line for a few moments. Jimin realized he held his breath like a dumbass and let it out.

“Ridiculous,” he scoffed, suddenly feeling alien in his skin and uncomfortable with the conversation. “So like, what, he got dumped from JYP for it?”

“From what I heard,” Jungkook’s voice was hushed like he was trying to be sneaky. “He was the one who resigned, but like, because of that.”

“And how the fuck do your hyungs know about that?” Jimin asked, eyes unfocused on his notes.

“Well, um,” Jungkook hesitated, “they said that it was, um, obvious?”

“Obvious like what?”

“That he moved like that and talked or something?”

Jimin thought about Hoseok’s exuberant laughter, terribly clashing clothes, and delicate, bird-like bones of his wrists as he forcefully pushed Jimin’s limbs into proper positions.

“Don’t believe everything people say, Jungkookie,” he settled on saying and kept staring unseeingly at the checkered sheet of paper as Jungkook fumbled through his goodbyes.

 

~*~

 

“Sharper.”

“It’s sharp already.”

“No, like… Differently, like this, see? Finish strongly.”

“That’s just jerky. You’re all… twitching.”

“Careful or you’re gonna be twitching on the floor, brat, when I kick your ass. It’s called fucking popping for a reason.”

“Hyung, I’m serious, this is too rough, a finish should be smooth.”

“Honestly, Jimin-ah, if we had it your way, you would never hit a single beat, instead just going wuss soft on it. Hip-hop’s not supposed to be polished. No one here cares about your perfect arabewhatever, the important part is, you gotta put something in it, you know? Something real .”

“... Arabesque, you mean.”

 

~*~

 

“You know, I think I know what the problem is.”

‘There’s nothing but problems’, Jimin didn’t say, choosing instead to raise his eyebrows. His eyes felt heavy and his face puffy today; after finishing the conversation with Jungkook sleep had eluded him for hours, instead looping the memory of his first meeting with Hoseok. Wasn’t he the one who had approached Jimin? Had he been trying to pick him up? What had he been even saying before Jimin had interrupted him?

“Your attitude,” the Hoseok in front of him elaborated. “Apart from the whole ballet thing. I think you need to get a feel of street dance approach more literally.”

“What’re you getting at, hyung?” Jimin asked tiredly and tried to stop analyzing what Hoseok’s henley said about him; black but with bright colorful flowers on sleeves.

“Don’t take it the wrong way,” Hoseok started, his posture relaxed despite his words, “but you should really consider a wardrobe change.”

It was actually pretty hard to not take that as an insult.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that no one performs street dance in tulle or whatever it is you guys wear.”

“Wow, hilarious,” Jimin said and it came out sounding flat. “I don’t see a problem with my clothes.”

“But you gotta be swaggy!” Hoseok said enthusiastically, as usual completely unaffected by Jimin’s distance. Jimin scoffed before he could stop himself.

“Don’t take it the wrong way, hyung,” he repeated sweetly, “but I feel like your definition of swag is at odds with what the general population thinks.”

“Nonsense, you brat” Hoseok said brightly; was it forced, Jimin wondered. “Swag is different for everyone, but it’s about confidence and comfort. What’s wrong with mine?”

There was an elective that Jimin had chosen this term, weird class vaguely named ‘Art and New Media’ during which the teacher mostly got overly enthusiastic about Stelarc’s works and the idea of transhumanism. It was on Thursday mornings at 8 am and Jimin usually zoned it out, noted everything down mechanically. Yet somehow in that moment, as he stood there frozen under Hoseok’s expectant gaze, all he remembered clearly was the Powerpoint slide explaining the concept of kitsch.

‘Your swag is too campy to be street dance appropriate,’ didn’t seem like a response Hoseok was going to appreciate.

“Nothing,” he said instead, avoiding eye-contact. Today it felt particularly heavy and drilling, and Jimin wasn’t going to think about the reason. “I only have clothes like those for practicing and dancing, sorry to disappoint.”

“Well, baggy clothes work better when you’re trying to be relaxed and going for a chill look.” Hoseok sounded matter-of-fact about it. When Jimin didn’t show a reaction, he came closer to him. “I could lend you some sweatpants?”

When Jimin looked at him incredulously he appeared to be genuine and worried just a bit, if the little downturned shape of his mouth was anything to go by.

“Me? Your sweatpants?” Jimin exclaimed incredulously. “You’re stick-thin, I don’t know think it will work well. Hyung.”

Ha barely remembered to tackle the honorific on as his skin prickled with annoyance and discomfort. He belatedly hoped that his voice didn’t sound as stained with viciousness as his insides felt.

Instead of trying to argue Hoseok just raised his hands in defeat. That was just one more thing to regret, but Jimin didn’t know how to stop being so bitingly defensive about everything. At this point he was able to accept the fact that Hoseok wasn’t trying to challenge him every step of the way, but his defensive reflexes didn’t grant him this awareness when he was being put on the spot.

Before the silence between them could stretch too long and into a territory of discomfort, Hoseok stepped closer to him again.

“I don’t think your clothes are bad or anything,” he rolled his eyes. “Obviously they are comfortable and you feel good in them. They just clearly fit ballet more than hip-hop.”

And with those words he gently gripped the hem of Jimin’s sweater and lifted it, probably to shake it and empathise a point.

Jimin slapped his hand away, flinching and taking a step back.

The silence fell over them as Hoseok stilled with his hand outstretched and mouth slack with surprise. Then, just as Jimin realized what he had done, Hoseok’s features hardened in an unfamiliar way.

“Seems like you heard some rumours, then,” Hoseok said and his voice was lower too, lacking its usual warmth. The stiff set of his shoulders and flat curve of his mouth forced Jimin to attempt some belated damage control.

“What?” he shook his head, forcing himself to look casual. “No, hyung, I’m just ticklish on my stomach, please don’t attack me like that.”

He patted his stomach down a few times, for good measure, tried to ignore the dull sound. Hoseok’s face stayed an expressionless mask for a few moments before it relaxed and they went back to practicing, topic of fashion abandoned as well as any other attempt at conversation.

 

~*~

 

It got both easier and not, with time.

“You need to stop trying to police yourself so much,” Hoseok tsked. “It’s not tragic, mind you, but how about you just let your back hunch a bit? Bow it some, what are you so scared of?”

Appearing sloppy, inelegant, heavy, fat? How could Jimin pick just one.

“It’s just something I mostly trained not to do, excuse my reluctance,” he muttered, rounding his shoulders and checking the progress of it in the mirror obsessively.

“Yeah, what’s with that constant stiff posture?” Hoseok asked as he was showing Jimin a set of steps at half-time. “I gather that’s a ballet thing?”

“It is,” Jimin said shortly, barely avoiding going en pointe during the transition. Hoseok’s lips twitched like it hadn’t escaped his attention. It probably hadn’t. He had eyes like a magpie, noticing Jimin’s tiniest hesitations and missteps.

“Yeah, what it’s about?” Hoseok pressed on. He had a habit of just bulldozing through any kind of stillness or awkwardness with sheer power of will, and that did not make sulking easy. Jimin was still out on whether it impressed or annoyed him more.

“Imagine it like that,” he started, giving in with a sigh as Hoseok motioned for him to go through the footwork they were working on once again from the top. “In ballet, your torso is a rectangle with its vertices on your shoulders and pelvis.” He smoothed his hands down his body in a rectangular shape, to make it clearer. “And you need to keep those angles at 90 degrees, and keep them straight. All the time.”

Hoseok nodded, eyes focused on Jimin’s face; it was dark outside behind the windows already, so they were relying on the illumination from the flickering light bulbs in the practice room. Hoseok was wearing his black sweatpants, baggy around the thighs but clinging to his calves, and a t-shirt with an English caption saying ‘dance or be danced’. It seemed like an easily constructed sentence, but Jimin for the life of him couldn’t understand it and it was an annoying itch at the back of his mind all day.   

“Yeah, tell me more,” Hoseok waved his hand encouragingly when Jimin fell silent, transfixing on his goddamn outfit again. Jimin himself was wearing his thighs and leg-warmers, old and already covered with pilling. Since its familiarity was comforting he somehow managed to bear the awareness of their contrasting attires, tried not to compare the thickness and musculature in their legs. Pointedly didn’t think about fucking swag .

“What for?” Jimin furrowed his eyebrows and tried the sliding move across the floor again; it was so unnecessarily heavy , with his feet flat on the panels like that.

“Am I not allowed to be curious and learn, now?” Hoseok scoffed, the indignation on his face overdone and easy to wipe off. “Or am I too dumb as well, to understand it?”

“It’s not like that, hyung,” Jimin couldn’t help but reassure, prickled with unease at the notion of insulting Hoseok like this. “Um, well, you need to always have an opened silhouette? As if, like,” he straightened up to present, “as if you want the edges of your body to be as far from the centre as possible.”

“Oh, okay.” Hoseok shook his limbs loose and proceeded to actually try doing what Jimin had just described; he opened up his chest, pushed his shoulders back and went cross-eyed as he looked down and tried to somehow measure up the vertical lines of his shoulders and hips.

Jimin couldn’t really recognize what it was he was feeling.

“Um, yeah,” he was smiling, he realized, “now check your profile out in the mirror. If you look from the side like that, your body should be a straight line. Hide the butt,” Hoseok proceeded to stick his butt out and shake it and Jimin couldn’t help a sharp bark of laughter that was shocked right out of his larynx, discriminatingly high-pitched. Hoseok laughed back, clearly delighted. “Hide it, I said! Try to roll your pelvis under yourself, kind of as if you are being ironed from the front and the back?”

“Wow, that’s weirdly specific,” Hoseok commented, trying to position his pelvis unnaturally. Jimin couldn’t help laughing at him some more, leaning against the barre as Hoseok gave up on the position and smoothed his hair back. “In street dance forms aren’t this fixed. You want to be constantly bending, moving. No restrictions.”

Easy to say for someone like Hoseok, whose entire being seemed so light and free. Like he belonged to no one but himself.

 

~*~  


Jimin practiced from six to nine, went to class, and then returned to the practice room that felt more familiar already than his shared dorm. During their last meeting Hoseok had informed him that he could only do early morning, around eight, and Jimin spared him that sacrifice. He couldn’t skip any classes anyway, and knowing Hoseok, he would probably come straight from a graveyard shift, washed out and see-through like a ghost.

Anyway, Jimin hadn’t eaten since yesterday, probably, so it was for the best; another fluorescent t-shirt might have made him dizzy even more than the hammering beats.

He practiced alone until the sound of vicious rapping bouncing around his head felt like getting punched, and then took a break. It was damp and cold outside, smelled of winter already. It’d been raining at night, and now the ground was soaked.

Momo was seated in front of one of the puddles, on a wet bench covered with a plastic bag.

“Want one?” she waved her lit smoke in the air as he approached her. Jimin took it, huddled next to her on the tiny rectangle of the bag. It felt freezing under his ass.

Taking a drag felt good, rough and scratching, bitter in his empty stomach. He tried to not make a habit out of smoking, generally, but for now focusing on it was a relief.

Momo radiated warmth next to him. She had long blond hair, tied tightly on top of her head, roots dark and neglected. There used to be a time where they had shared long glances, quick check-ups, teasing smiles.

Jimin breathed in deeply and gave up on trying to remember when they both lost energy for that.

“Practicing?” she asked, lighting another one and mindlessly dipping the tip of her shoe in the puddle. Her accent was still pretty bad, but Jimin sounded a lot worse when he attempted Japanese.

“Mmm,” he confirmed, tugged his thin jacket closer around his body. It wasn’t windy, but coldness seeped underneath his clothes. “Mr. Park’s big project. You?”

“Showcase,” she said, face blank. They only shared some theory classes, Momo and him.

“That’s good,” he tried, frowning lightly. It was slowly starting to rain again, small, rare drops of water hitting the surface of the puddle.

“It’s whatever,” she muttered, coughed. “I got like two minutes on stage overall. It’s gonna be ages before they call me back in.”

“At least stay out of the rain,” he said hesitantly, flicked his fag away. It sizzled sadly on the wet ground. “You can wait in the practice room with me or something.”

“How’s your practice going?” she asked, standing up and dusting off her windbreaker. Her eyeliner was smudged around the corners of her eyes.

“As well as can be expected,” he muttered. She seemed to accept that as they walked inside. Its warmth was a sweet relief on his cold-numbed body.

Momo sat under one of the walls and took out her homework. Jimin turned on the music and tried to convince his body that it was fluid and unrestricted instead of rigid form.

He didn’t succeed and Momo didn’t get called back to the rehearsal at all.

They fucked with the lights turned off, quick and heavy, trusting.

Jimin didn’t know if he felt burdened or lighter, getting into bed for his scheduled four hours of sleep that night.

Hoseok texted him a few minutes before, something about the next day’s practice. Jimin didn’t want to think about Hoseok’s presence in the room he had sex in less than twenty four hours before, yet somehow that’s what he ended up doing.

Needless to say, he slept fitfully.

 

~*~

 

Next time he saw Hoseok, it was a bit of a disaster. A small kind. A small kind that rattled Jimin from the inside, made him lose his appetite for the rest of the day.

He couldn’t help how jittery and tense he was being, not with the memory of Momo’s embrace in the same space, not with Hoseok’s oblivious presence.

He couldn’t focus for shit and after two hours of that, Hoseok didn’t look just frustrated, he also looked worried. Jimin violently yearned to wipe that wide-eyed concern off his goddamn face.

“Not sure there’s point working like that,” Hoseok finally said, after Jimin failed to remember more than five steps in a row. Humiliation almost choked him, burnt him inside and outside. “You seem… I guess distracted, ‘though I haven’t seen you like that before.”

Jimin took a big gulp of water; his hand was shaking.

“No big deal, though, we’re meeting tomorrow anyway,” Hoseok pattered on like a goddamn optimistic asshole. “It’s still early tonight, you should get one evening to rest, before you burn out, you know?”

A goddamn optimistic asshole who didn’t pull his punches.

“I’d rather not waste any more time, hyung,” Jimin replied. That just made Hoseok’s expression turn contemplative, light eyebrows furrowing.

“Maybe we should go out,” he said and Jimin barely contained a snort.

“What for?” he asked. It was better than ‘We’re not really that close’ or ‘I’m too broke’.

“Let’s hit a club,” Hoseok said, his smile now enthusiastic as he took off his wristbands, some cheap promotional Coca-Cola merch. Jimin knew his own face was a picture of incredulity.

“I don’t really… do that,” he finished lamely.

“Doesn’t matter,” Hoseok waved his hand dismissively, as he kept packing his stuff into a beaten-up bag. “I think you struggle not only with the technique, but also with the mood of the dance. Unlike ballet, hip-hop exists underground rather than in the spotlight. It seems logical we should go into its natural habitat, so you can actually feel it for yourself.”

It made enough sense that Jimin knew any excuse he could come up with would end up sounding petty.

It was tiring, constantly considering the best course for his studies and ignoring his personal preferences. But then again, that was what he committed himself to in the first place, wasn’t it.

“Fine,” he said and smiled at Hoseok who made a delighted little fist bump. “But fair warning, I really don’t have much experience clubbing.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Hoseok said again and got that awful look on his face that Jimin had started to recognize as a sign of him cooking up some horribly lame and/or cutesy line. It happened surprisingly often, unless he was dead on his feet. “We’re going there on a mission of finding your inner swag.”

Jimin groaned as Hoseok cackled.

 

~*~

 

Hoseok took him to the same club they had first met at, an unimpressive basement, damp and hot with sweat of its occupants. The difference was, this time Jimin was let in without waiting in line and for free, all just because of his company. The bouncer hit Hoseok on the back with a loud thud and yelled a bit about the rap nights and J-Hope’s recent absence. Hoseok, in turn, was graceful with his excuses and generous with praise as he spotted a new tattoo on the guy’s neck. Honestly, it was ugly as hell, a sports team name, but the bouncer’s chest almost popped with pride as he rambled on about it.

Jimin felt a stab of guilt. It was obvious why Hoseok hadn’t had much time to visit the place where he was clearly well-liked and established like some kind of an underground celebrity. Jimin hadn’t even known it was a thing before he had gone on his little search party.

It wasn’t much different once they descended the narrow staircase. On their way to the bar Hoseok got several friendly taps on the back and high-fives. Jimin was kind of impressed, in that distant way. He felt a bit like he was suddenly teleported right into some American tv show, with red solo cups and yelling dudes in tank tops.

“Want a drink?” Hoseok shouted over the pounding music when they finally gripped the bar’s edge. The sentence alone gave Jimin another flashback to their first meeting; his own obliviousness that day didn’t feel any less humiliating right now, there was no more clarity in his thoughts.

“I’m kinda broke,” he answered, quieter than he should have. Hoseok inched closer, made a motion asking him to repeat himself, so he did.

“Nonsense,” Hoseok waved his hand, smile firmly in place. “My treat. What do you want?”

“What’s cheap?” he asked cheekily and got swatted on the back of his head for his troubles. “Beer’s fine, I don’t drink much anyway.”

“Me neither,” Hoseok admitted with an expression of a person giving away a secret. “If I get to choose my poison, I’d rather fuck with weed, not that I can actually afford it. Yo, Hani!” He started waving like a person possessed, face bright and unguarded as the bartender approached them from the other side of the bar.

“Hobi!” she yelled back, reaching over the high counter and grabbing him by his forearms. She had a cute bob cut and big, round eyes, like someone surprised her greatly and she never got over it.

“What the heck are you doing here?” Hoseok asked, a bright smile on his face as Hani ruffled his hair with a harsh kind of affection.

“You’re supposed to call me noona, asshole,” she said and he grinned at her, sweet and sly.

“Noona~” he pursed his lips in an exaggerated pout and Jimin gaped at him in surprise.

“Dumbass,” Hani laughed, then bowed slightly in Jimin’s direction. “Nice to meet you…?” She let her voice trail off, eyes swiftly jumping to Hoseok, eyebrow quirking up.

“That’s Jiminie,” Hoseok said and frowned at Hani for some reason. “I just teach him some hip-hop sometimes.”

“Oooh, a dance prodigy,” Hani said, easy as breathing. “How are you liking this one as a teacher?”

“It’s okay,” Jimin said, uncomfortable with being put on the spot out of the blue. “I’m very grateful Hoseok-hyung is devoting so much time to help me.”

“Ahhh, look, isn’t he just the cutest dongsaeng?” Hoseok exclaimed loudly, ruffling Jimin’s hair. Jimin spluttered in indignation.

“The cutest, hm?” Hani asked with a cryptic smile and Hoseok’s expression tightened up a bit.

“Let’s not do that,” he said. “Got some beers in that joint, noona?”

“No, we only sell lemonade,” she deadpanned. “The cheapest, I presume?”

“You know me so well.”

Jimin took a sip of his room-temperature beer as soon as Hani slid it across the counter. It was bitter and bit at his throat, but he still welcomed the reprieve of not having to participate in their conversation, which seemed to have moved from exchanging words to just shooting weird face expressions at each other.

Jimin took a moment to consider if it was possible to talk shit about somebody without using words, and then remembered with a sobering discomfort that yes, it absolutely was. He drank again.

“Alright, I got customers waiting,” Hani said easily, the face-conversation apparently done with for now. “You boys go have fun. Hob-ah, hit me up soon, yeah? We gotta catch up.”

She waved and skipped to the other side of the bar.

“Don’t mind Heeyeon-noona,” Hoseok said over his beer bottle which he sipped from with a visible wince.

“You guys close?” Jimin asked, unsure if he was crossing a line, but also at loss of any other appropriate response. Hoseok didn’t seem to mind.

“Yeah, we were trainees together,” he disclosed. Jimin realized that it was the first time Hoseok actually mentioned his almost-idol past. “Even used to live together shortly after it was over.”

“Oh,” Jimin said, a weird feeling in the pit of his stomach. He took a sip of beer. It didn’t help. “So, it’s like… Why aren’t you anymore-”

“Oh no,” Hoseok said, apparently understanding Jimin’s expression. His own was twisted with what could be described as an overdone shock. “It was never like that . We just didn’t have really anyone else here and it’s way cheaper splitting rent.”

“Why did she move out?” Jimin asked, curiosity peaked.

“Ah,” Hoseok said and seemed to ponder, drinking again. “She found someone so, um, they’re living together now.”

Jimin nodded, unsure what to make of Hoseok’s tone.

“Are you,” he cleared his throat, “very upset over it?”

“What?” Hoseok glanced at him and sent him a reassuring smile, quick and effortless. “No way, it was months ago. I miss her, ‘course, but she’s happy now, so all’s good.”

“Alright,” Jimin accepted and finished his beer. Hoseok’s was still half-full, so he felt obliged to talk. “Got an assignment for me already? Should I go be single and ready to mingle? Dance on the counter top? Breakdance in the middle of the floor?”

Hoseok had been taking another sip as Jimin had started talking and he almost choked, coughing now and laughing at the same time.

“All of those, please and thank you,” he managed to rasp out and coughed again. “Shake that booty, Jiminie, make Hani shove you off that counter with a broom. Give your hyung one bright memory he can cherish until he rots in the ground, would you?”

“Hyung’s always so dramatic,” Jimin said, voice brighter than he himself was used to hearing. Hoseok’s eyes were dark and full of mirth. “If noona’s your friend she surely would join me.”

Hoseok laughed again, helpless against it.

“If she wasn’t an employee in this joint, I’m sure she would put you to shame,” he allowed, grinning. “But back to your original question, Jimin-ah, I don’t have any assignment for you, what even?”

“Well,” Jimin started, suddenly unsure; he curled his fingers into slightly too long sleeve of his shirt. “You said I needed to see the actual hip-hop scene and that’s why we’re going, so I though-”

“Ah, not like that,” Hoseok kept smiling. “We’re not on a field trip, you can relax, Jimin-ah.”

Jimin rolled his eyes at that. Hoseok seemed unrepentant. “I didn’t take you here so you could take notes and then try your choreography under one of the walls.”

His smile was bright, teasing.

“Hyung!” Jimin complained, didn’t even regret it because Hoseok cackled like a hyena.

“We’re just gonna have fun and feel the mood, Jiminie. Jus’ a bit of good old grooving, ye?” Hoseok said and it sounded very soft. Jimin had to look away. “Fuck, I’m finished. Why does beer taste like piss, what’s that about?”

“Wow, you’re such a badass,” Jimin deadpanned and got hit over the head.

“Respect your elders,” Hoseok snottily commanded and then tugged him to the dance floor.

The colorful lights overhead stained Hoseok’s shirt (white with pattern of tiny pills) with rainbow. His skin, usually oily, glistened now and it looked… It didn’t look bad.

Despite his reassurances, Jimin felt tense as soon as they mingled with the crowd. Clubbing scene was so not his cup of tea, but he could distantly feel a certain kind of pull, of attraction in the big anonymity and indifference of the people around him, because they wanted nothing from him.

Here on the dancefloor the sensations were magnified. The pounding of the bass and the swarming mass of bodies made him feel like he’d gotten swallowed up by a creature larger than life, got sucked into its underbelly and could now feel its heartbeat with his entire body; could only mindlessly bounce off other people who shared his fate, but had been here long enough that they had stopped minding it.

If he had been honest with himself, he would have admitted that one of the reasons for his nerves was certainty that Hoseok was better than him. It wasn’t exactly a new information, but they were now on a new, different ground. Until now Jimin had conveniently forgotten, just a bit, that they both existed out of the artificially lit shoebox of the dance studio.

He was afraid… Maybe even less of Hoseok and more of his own reaction, of his pride getting hurt and swelling inside his head, blocking everything else. He feared the comparison between them and the ridicule he would sense no matter what.

And yet, not for the first time, Hoseok turned out to be a surprise.

Jimin knew of his skillset, knew Hoseok could have easily attracted interested glances and murmurs of admiration. But he didn’t.

Instead, he was goddamn goofy . He kept his eyes trained firmly on Jimin as he shimmied his whole body no matter what song. As he dabbed at the most inappropriate moments. As he broke into Red Velvet choreography during some dubstep and attempted a very overdone twerking. And Jimin looked right back and he laughed and laughed and laughed, clothes soaked through with sweat, voice almost gone and muscles sore with fatigue.

 

~*~

 

They left the club hours later. Jimin felt tired, but not in this bone-deep, weary way he was used to from accumulated months of exhaustion; instead, this time there was a certain kind of giddiness coursing through him even as his body ached and his legs didn’t listen to him properly.

“Fuck, it’s cold,” Hoseok cursed, pushing his hands deeper into the pockets of his padded winter jacket. They had been outside for all of two minutes, but the tips of his ears and nose were already stained red.

Jimin just grunted his confirmation. His jacket was old and worn thin and it didn’t keep any warmth in, left him shaking underneath it. He zipped it up to his chin, not that it protected his throat any good from the freezing wind, a herald of winter to come.

They reached Jimin’s bus stop and he checked the timeline, ran his hand down his face when he learnt that the last one left six minutes ago and the next one was supposed to come in an hour.

“Well, that won’t do,” Hoseok said from behind him. “You gonna turn into an icicle if you stay here this long. That, or you’re gonna get mugged.”

“I can’t afford a taxi,” Jimin huffed, giddiness from pleasant night fading in the face of the indeterminate amount of time spent in the chill.

“Can anyone?” Hoseok snorted. “Come back to mine for the night. It’s a pit, but at least it’s close and warm. Well. Warm-ish. Warmer than here, in any case.”

Jimin turned and stared at him incredulously, unsure how to answer. Hoseok wilted a bit underneath his gaze, hunching his shoulders and looking aside.

“‘s a simple offer,” he huffed, eyes fixated on his sneakers.

“Don’t wanna impose on you, hyung,” Jimin said for the lack of anything better as his brain whirred tiredly and tried to conjure up all the reasons why it was a bad idea. Jungkook’s voice rang around his skull, as welcome as mosquito’s buzzing.

“Hyung wouldn’t offer if he didn’t mean it,” Hoseok said in just barely offended voice.

In the end, the fear of freezing to death won against his numerous but blurry doubts, so Jimin nodded with hesitation and they set down the street, into narrow run-down alleys.

The block of flats Hoseok lived in was old and made of concrete. Dirty gray thing with water stains down its facade and graffiti-covered doors with broken locks, flickering lightbulbs and overflowing dumpsters to the side.  

They climbed the sticky staircase until they reached the second floor. Hoseok wrestled with the lock on his door, pulling it as close as he could and turning his key around a few times until it finally clicked loudly.

Jimin followed him inside carefully, blinked when Hoseok turned on the light and locked the door behind them.

“Welcome to my humble abode,” Hoseok said, and his voice was dry like a bone. He kicked his sneakers off next to a single furniture, tiny shoe cabinet.

The cramped hallway barely fit both of them, so Jimin had to steady himself while he took his shoes off, gripped Hoseok’s shoulder once and felt nothing but tense muscle and protruding bone. He quickly took his hand off.

“You can hang your jacket here,” Hoseok said, nodding at a lonely hook nailed into the wall which already carried its fair share of clothes. Still, Jimin did his best to throw his thin windbreaker over the lump of Hoseok’s stuff. “Is that all you gonna wear this winter?”

“What?” Jimin startled, glancing at him and feeling his shoulders curl. “What’s wrong with my jacket?”

“Seems super thin to me,” Hoseok said, walking through the door.

“I’m fine,” he said, uncomfortable, and followed him.

Hoseok turned on the light in the room that seemed to be a mix of kitchen, bedroom, and living space all in one. It was, in fact, the only other room in the whole flat. It had one window and a tiny kitchenette tucked to the side. Its interior couldn’t be described as anything other than ugly and mismatched. There was an old sofa-bed under one of the walls, and simple desk next to the window. Even with such sparseness of furniture it seemed cramped. The only thing that somehow saved the place was its admirable cleanliness.

Hoseok started boiling water and leaned against the sink, thin and haunted in the artificial lighting.

“You’re very tidy,” Jimin said, trying to somehow lessen the tension visible in Hoseok’s shoulders. “I never make my bed in the mornings.”

“Just a habit,” Hoseok waved his hand, but a small smile returned to his face. “Otherwise this pit would get hella more depressin’, you know.”

“At least you got a window,” Jimin pointed out, glancing in its direction; there were two tiny KAWS bears on the windowsill. In the overall meagerness of the place they seemed like a display of overindulgence.

“Is that a luxury these days?” Hoseok laughed, pouring boiled water into the mugs.

“You’d be surprised,” Jimin sighed, gingerly sitting at the desk; there was no other table in the room. “My dorm room hasn’t got any.”

“The fuck?” Hoseok said, passing him a mug of tea.

“My scholarship is too low,” Jimin shrugged. “Not enough to land me in a room with a window. Got a lovely fucking “Starry night” reproduction on the wall, though.”

Hoseok snorted and almost spilled the hot tea on the wall-to-wall carpet. Jimin was relieved; there were enough stains on that already.

“I’m sure it, like, more than compensates for living in a darkroom,” Hoseok grinned, sitting on the sofa.

“You bet,” Jimin sent him a grin and took a careful sip of the tea, hot and bitter. “It’s A4, what more do you need?”

Hoseok laughed again, a high bark of sound, and they grinned at each other over their mugs.

Exhaustion started catching up with Jimin again. He was afraid to check the time on his phone, instead he just drank the tea, grateful for its warmth. His hands had yet to stop aching from the cold, and Hoseok’s tiny flat wasn’t exactly toasty.

“Fuck, one day this fucking light will just dry me eyes out,” Hoseok muttered, rummaging through his modestly-sized closet. “My eyeballs just like, falling right outta my goddamn skull, like two ping pong balls or something.”

“That’s morbid, hyung,” Jimin said, eyelids low and heavy. Hoseok wasn’t exactly wrong though, the overhead light in his flat was particularly harsh.

“Got some stuff for you to sleep in,” Hoseok turned around with an armful of clothes, all carefully folded and ironed. Jimin didn’t even own an iron.

“You’re kinda a neat freak, aren’t you, hyung,” Jimin said, his filter weakened. Hoseok just shrugged, unbothered, and started setting up the sofa bed, motions practiced and sure to the background noise of creaking bedsprings.

“Hope you don’t mind sharing this thing,” he said, back to Jimin. “The only alternative is the floor, but I last vacuumed two days ago, and also it’s cold as shit. ‘s big enough for both of us anyway.”

“It’s fine, hyung,” Jimin said, too tired to try discerning his own emotions, let alone Hoseok’s. He finished the tea and carried his mug to the sink, anxious of somehow cluttering the space Hoseok obviously took great care of.

“Fuck, I’m beat,” Hosek groaned, flopping down onto the still bare sofa. “Jiminie, please turn this demonic light off before I claw my face off.”

“Dramatic,” Jimin muttered under his breath but did as asked. The room plunged into dimness, nothing but reddish glow from the outside street lamps lighting Jimin’s way to the sofa. He carefully lay next to Hoseok, almost groaning when his head touched its surface.

The fridge started buzzing, loud enough it almost drowned the sound of neighbors watching TV behind the wall. In the chill of the room Hoseok seemed to radiate warmth. Jimin wriggled around to somehow ignore that balmy temptation, and in the end landed in the space between two lumpy mattresses, uncomfortable but too aware of Hoseok’s stillness to move even more.

“There’s only one bathroom on the floor, everyone shares it,” Hoseok said, quiet, a bit hoarse. “But it’s late enough that you have a chance to shower.”

Jimin tried to avoid looking at him, starfished so close the air between them felt tangible, but no dice. In the meager blushing light of the street the high planes of his cheekbones glowed like highlighted with something more potent than sweat.   

“You can have my flip-flops,” Hoseok continued, unaware of Jimin sneaking glances at his face. His eyes were closed, corners of his mouth tipped down. With his hair ruffled like that, his forehead was uncovered. Jimin didn’t know why it seemed in any way significant. “Try not to touch any walls, or, like, anything, actually. I try to clean there sometimes, but…” Hoseok gave a jerky little shrug, like stung. “Lock the door and if anyone tries to get in, yell real loud, yeah?” Hoseok opened his eyes and drowsily nodded towards the baseball bat that was tipped against one of the walls. “So I can sweep in and save you.” He grinned.

“You don’t seem like a person ready to use this.”

“You do what you gotta do,” Hoseok yawned and covered his mouth with his hand. “But I’d rather not, I’m sure I’d just start screamin’. There shouldn’t be any trouble, just be quick.”

Jimin nodded and sat up, sleepy beyond measure. He took the towel, some sleep clothes, and a bar of soap that Hoseok left out for him, and made his way to the bathroom in the hallway. There were two doors, separate for the bathroom and the toilet. Jimin couldn’t shake off the feeling that dirty stains down the toilet door were from people pissing directly at them, unwilling to wait their turn.

The shower he took was rushed and uncomfortable, as he repeatedly knocked his elbows on the walls of the narrow space or slipped in Hoseok’s flip-flops. The room was painted with beet-colored oil paint and lined with matted blue tiles. The tiny gable vent did nothing to lessen the humidity in the room, so Jimin tugged his borrowed clothes on while his body was still damp and left in a hurry, avoided glancing into a spotty, old mirror. Thankfully it was too fogged up anyway.

He had been sure Hoseok would have been asleep already, but instead he was up, making the bed for them and distributing blankets fairly, clumsy with sleepiness.

“You’re alive, nice,” he muttered. Almost asleep like that, his accent came out, thick, almost screechy if not for the grovel of his voice. Jimin didn’t even know where Hoseok was from, but it sounded like Jeolla.

Hoseok didn’t make any comments about the stretch of his boxer briefs on Jimin’s thighs, and so Jimin could breathe easier, could help with smoothing down the covers.

“I’m gonna be back super quick, then,” Hoseok said and left. Jimin spent the time waiting for him letting his eyes roam the room, its spartan furnishings and bare surfaces. There was a kettle on the old, gas-powered stove, and an empty fruit bowl, at odds with the rest of the place. Hoseok had two pictures pinned to the fridge, so Jimin got closer to examine them. One pictured a blurry, fluffy dog, and another showed a girl. Her resemblance to Hoseok was honestly too prominent for her to be anyone other than his sister. There was too much of him in her high, round cheekbones, expressive mouth, and big eyes.

After circling the limited space twice Jimin gave up and lay on the bed. Hoseok’s sheets were threadbare but smelled fresh and clean, unlike the fusty room around him. Hoseok gave Jimin a throw pillow to sleep on, which meant he didn’t have any normal ones beyond his own.

Jimin relaxed, limbs aching now that he let himself feel their strain. It took barely a minute or two for Hoseok to come back, white t-shirt and washed out green boxers on. Jimin’s eyes were clearly malfunctioning, because Hoseok seemed blurred and hazy in the dimly lit room as his bony hands folded neatly all his clothes.

“I swear, water pressure is getting more and more shit,” he said, uncharacteristically quiet, finally climbing into the bed and under the covers. Next to him Jimin tiredly tried to worm into the sleeping bag Hoseok left out for him without actually sitting up for that.

Hoseok snickered.

“If you wriggle around any more those poor old springs may just bite the dust,” he said, voice raspy as he laid his head down onto his pillow and sighed with the relief of it.

“I don’t wanna get up, hyung,” Jimin said, finally successfully sliding into the slippery comfort of the sleeping bag.

“Understandable,” Hoseok mumbled into his pillow. Jimin forgot how much louder the outside was when you had a window in your room, so he felt a bit overwhelmed with the ruckus of the streetlife.

“No offense, hyung,” he said, tongue like lead in his mouth and lips uncooperative, so he was sure his accent must have come out, provincial and appalling; then again, it wasn’t like Hoseok was Seoul born and raised, “but this place stinks like death.”

There was a damp patch on the ceiling right over his head, grotesquely menacing in the twilight. It looked a bit like a turtle.

“That’s probably from the last two people who killed themselves here,” Hoseok slurred conversationally and Jimin almost choked, “either that, or mold. Can’t get the motherfucker out.”

“I don’t wanna know,” Jimin said, and promptly turned on his side to face Hoseok, forgetting all about his earlier reluctance. “Did they really?”

“Ye,” Hoseok muttered, eyes fluttering open, shining with the streetlamps’ light, “that’s why ’m rentin’ it in the first place, mad cheap.” He yawned into his fist, then continued, eyes drilling into Jimin’s. “Thank fuck they all just hung themselves, no way blood could be scrubbed outta this nightmare of a carpet.”

Jimin knew he should cut their eye contact but it felt nice, just staring at somebody’s face without reservations.

Hoseok had a tiny mole on his cupid bow. It was… pretty, and Jimin uselessly storaged that knowledge away with greed he didn’t want to examine.

“That’s fucked up,” Jimin decided finally, stretching out his legs and sighing with simple pleasure of that. “I thought you were more squeamish about shit like that, hyung.”

“I am,” Hoseok said easily, no posturing. His hair was long enough now that it was getting into his eyes. “Wanna know a secret, Jimin-ah?”

His mouth curved into a sleepy smile, soft and sweet.

“Yeah,” Jimin nodded and shuffled minimally closer.

“First two months here I was constantly scared of ghosts,” Hoseok whispered with a certain kind of solemnity on his puffed up face. “Jus’ straight up ready to piss m’self every night.”

Jimin laughed.

“For real?”

“Yeah,” Hoseok yawned again, turned onto his back and threw one hand behind his head. “Truth be told, I still sometimes feel like these miserable fuckers are lurkin’ round here. So I try to be, like, respectful or some shit. I even set a shrine sometimes.”

“You giving them meat?” Jimin asked sleepily, putting his elbow under his head to lie comfortably.

“I barely give myself meat, you brat,” Hoseok said and clapped his hands. “Apologies to all the dead in the room.” Jimin snickered. “When I’m finally not dirt-poor, I’ll try to give you meat as well.” Hoseok lowered his hands and seemed to think deeply, then sighed. “But don’t get your hopes up. The chances of me not being poor as fuck ain’t lookin’ too well.”

The fridge was quiet for a while now, but it suddenly whirred into action again. Jimin almost fell off the sofa as Hoseok let out a startled yell and clutched at his own chest.

“Fuck, hyung,” Jimin groaned tiredly. “You were supposed to be chill ‘bout it.”

“Obviously I’m not,” Hoseok huffed. “Fuck, I gotta sleep, I see two of you.”

“Yeah,” Jimin muttered nonsensically, eyelids slipping shut where he was staring at the gentle bump of Hoseok’s clavicle.

“Night, Jiminie,” he heard him mutter before exhaustion finally caught up with him.

 

~*~

 

“I don’t know how to put it into words,” Hoseok admitted, uncharacteristic frustration pulling at his features. Like a switch in a game, it unlocked a whole layer of exhaustion usually hidden by his controlled, relaxed expression.

They were hours into the practice. Jimin was startled to realize that they had woken up in the same bed only mere hours ago. It felt so distant already; chilly air in the flat after they both left their covers behind, bitter bite of the cheap instant coffee Hoseok made for them as they munched on some warmed up leftover rice, child crying in the neighbouring apartment.

It felt good to be able to look out the window, and share a wordless smile with someone.

“It’s like,” Hoseok ran his hands through his hair. “I feel you need to be both lighter and heavier?”

Jimin squinted at him, unimpressed.

“Like,” Hoseok tried again, sighing; his t-shirt of the day was a washed out piece of Epik High merchandise, but he balanced its plainness out with an orange headband and hawaiian shorts that bloomed with pale purple flowers, so Jimin felt almost comforted, in an unexplainable way, “obviously you’re a pro at being light like a feather or what the fuck ever, but I guess what I mean is,” he took a frustrated breath, “that I still need you to put some kinda gravity, force, into your motions. I don’t just wanna see you floating away, a freaking speck of dust, I dunno. I want you to really smack me, to make an impact, scratch the floor up, you know?”

“Oh,” Jimin said, distantly aware he was staring at the serious purse of Hoseok’s mouth, into his dark eyes. “I… get that.”

Hoseok nodded, visibly relieved.

“Think about them, like, emotions,” he continued, waving one hand in the air. “You say ballet is, how do you put it, impersonal, right?”

“Yeah,” Jimin said and cleared his throat roughly. “More, um, classical. You’re supposed to be awed by its beauty and elegance, and the storyline, but it’s not about dancers’ personal emotions, I guess. They’re, like, actors.”

“Exactly,” Hoseok nodded. “This thing here, that we’re practicin’ right now, it’s about you. No one else. There’s no big fat vision of some mighty old dude above. You’re dancing for yourself, not for this Tchaikovsky guy.”

Jimin couldn’t quite help laughing, inexplicably warm and buzzing, energized with Hoseok’s lame ass pep talk.

“Thanks for summing up my feelings so well, hyung,” he said and sent Hoseok a wide smile, couldn’t quite stop himself. “I’ve only ever danced to please Tchaikovsky’s ghost.”

“What, am I wrong?” Hoseok had a half-serious confusion painted across his features, lips turned into pouty little triangle. It was honestly mad cute. “Whenever you get into this, like, ballet mode, you’re always so severe. I bet it’s all Tchaikovsky’s cold ghostly fingers.” He shuddered exaggeratedly.

“Back to the ghost phobia, I see,” Jimin teased softly and grinned when Hoseok groaned.

“I’m gonna shake in my bed today again,” he whined, then cleared his throat and turned to fiddle with the music. “But I meant it. We’re making this shit as we go, and we’re making it for you. You can put whatever you like into it. You ain’t gotta smile. You can be,” he shot him a quick look over his shoulder. “You can be upset, or angry, or like, dirty, I guess. You can sensually tell them to fuck themselves or you can just be furious, smash them inside. You know? It’s all however you want it.”

Jimin took it in along with a deep breath, sat down to massage the kinks out of his calves.

It was the first time someone told him he could just. Be angry. Dance with something else than pleasantness painted over his face hiding the agony pulling at his limbs.

The realization of truth in Hoseok’s words was a heady, maddening thing. Jimin reveled in it even while Hoseok sat next to him.

“Want me to give you a quick rubdown?” he asked, and the only thing betraying his anxiety was his smile - a touch too wide - and restlessness of his hands. Jimin surprised himself by noticing that staged calm of his.

He considered Hoseok slowly, easily, letting himself feel a spark of pleasure at his own serenity. He was right before, it really did feel good, being able to look someone - him - in the eyes.

“If you could help me with my shoulders, that’d be swell, hyung,” he answered with a smile. Hoseok’s grin immediately lost its slightly frenzied edge, turned sweet like a peach.

“Can do,” he said easily and sat behind Jimin. “Lose the sweater?”

It was both a suggestion and a question. Jimin answered it by gripping the hem of his cappuccino-colored sweater and quickly wrestling it over his head, like ripping off a bandaid. He was feeling exceptionally alright and didn’t want to spoil the hard-earned rewards of today’s practice with an attack of draining anxiety, so he pointedly didn’t look in the mirror to check how he presented with his shoulders bared in his undershirt, pale next to Hoseok who was always sun-kissed, even after most gruelling graveyard shifts.

Hoseok didn’t comment at all, just gently swept his hands over the curves of Jimin’s shoulders, like he was getting them both used to the touch. It was light, ticklish. Jimin didn’t even remember when was the last time someone touched him, apart from Momo this once, which was different from Hoseok’s calloused fingertips anyway; they were making tiny hairs stand with static on his shoulders, but it felt good.

“You should be getting this done more often, you know,” Hoseok said, breezy. His fingers finally dug into Jimin’s shoulders, unforgiving and harsh, shocking enough that Jimin had to take a quick breath. “You’re stiff as fuck.”

“Sorry for not having a personal trainer,” Jimin managed to cough out, clenching his fingers in the fabric of the sweater bunched in his lap. Hoseok laughed, but wasn’t fucking around, circling all the most insistent knots around his spine with a maddening pressure. It ached so deeply Jimin could feel it in the pit of his abdomen and bones of his fingers.

He focused on breathing, on inhaling and exhaling evenly even as pain pulsated across his back in waves. Hoseok kept making tiny sounds of effort, which meant that digging so firmly into Jimin’s stone-like muscles must have cost him a lot of energy.

After going at it for what felt like hours but most probably didn’t cross a quartet, Hoseok dropped his hands with a quiet sigh, letting them rest around Jimin’s hips as he leaned his head against Jimin’s, tipped his forehead so it rested on the back of Jimin’s neck. His hair was soft and tickled.

“Thanks, hyung,” Jimin muttered into this precarious silence, too aware of goosebumps breaking across his skin, of Hoseok’s warmth.

“Don’t mention it,” Hoseok answered, backing away and standing up. His cheekbones were oh-so-slightly blooming with pink, but he sent Jimin a bright grin. “This wonderful break aside, I think we should go back to turning you into an unrestrained butterfly!”

Jimin groaned.

“Some days I’m convinced you’re trying to make another Isadora Duncan out of me,” he said, getting up and stretching with a groan. His back popped gratifyingly. He glanced in the mirror and saw Hoseok watching him, dark, unreadable.

“I do not know who that is,” came his easy, unbothered answer, as he took a sip of his water.

“Wow, hyung,” Jimin teased, hanging his sweater on the hook by the door. “Please brush up on your modern dance history knowledge, would you?” He smiled wide and unguarded at the dark look Hoseok shot him. It worked surprisingly well; Hoseok didn’t last more than a few seconds, breaking out into a grin of his own, the curve of it almost fond. “It’s embarrassing, do you even know anything?”

“Eee, I know Yanis Marshall?” Hoseok scoffed, like it was an end to any possible discussions. That was troubling, to say the least, because Jimin didn’t have a slightest idea who the fuck that was, and couldn’t exactly call Hoseok out on it without exposing himself.

So he just rolled his eyes and stored the name to search out later.

 

~*~

 

In the evening, instead of being a logical person and going to sleep just a little bit earlier, he wrapped himself in his blankets, opened YouTube on his phone, and started clumsily researching Yanis Marshall.

Jimin had thought, maybe a bit unfavorably, that Hoseok was most probably having him on, probably feeding him a made up name, or a name of someone associated with a meme. He did not expect that .

The choreography as well as the styling definitely weren’t Jimin’s cup of tea, but he still watched a long string of videos in a row, earphones securely in, any sound blocked from reaching his roommate, a guy with small eyes and greasy fridge studying art history. They didn’t really interact if they could help it.

It wasn’t even the stilettos and booty shorts and slut drops that rattled Jimin. It was the idea of Hoseok watching it, clearly liking it if it was the first name he offered. It could just have been a joke on Jimin’s gullibility, but it didn’t feel like it. It felt more like a sign of trust, Hoseok sharing this little thing with him, like giving him a sharp blade and knowing he could get stabbed.

Was this kind of… American, Western dance something Hoseok admired? Or did he, Jimin wondered, eyes unseeing on his phone screen, actually dance like that when he was alone?

Jimin was sure he himself would have sooner broken a leg than taken even a step in such high heels. Would Hoseok?

All in all, the whole evening was a bad idea. When he finally turned in, generic pop music kept pounding in his skull, and his mind kept replacing sleek dancers from the video with Hoseok, dressed in his tackiest eye-searing shorts but rocking the stilettos like he was born wearing them.

Instead of yelling in frustration he started going through every single step of their choreography in his head, detailed and exhausting until it put him to unsatisfying sleep.

 

~*~

 

“Yeah, like that, like that,” Hoseok called over the music, perched on the windowsill and following Jimin’s every move with sharp, sharp eyes. When he first had come in today he was sporting a bucket hat, but had lost it during the practice. His hair was just on this side of curly, probably dried badly, but it made him look softer. “Now, as soon as you get your legs together, kick them out to slide- Yeah, exactly, like that, just bend your knees more.”

Jimin was sweaty but perversely pleased. Feeling physical effects of his work felt tangible, at least; he couldn’t see himself, not really, but he could feel the ache and strain and know he didn’t make it up. He didn’t slack off.

Yet again, he thought, at this point it felt like the phrase “bend your knees” was going to be engraved on his fucking tombstone.

“Now, you wanna tease them, yeah?” Hoseok said, voice just a tiny bit crazed, as usual when they were five hours in and riding the exhaustion high. “You wanna show them, this ain’t ballet, ain’t their high fucking culture , yet they still can’t touch you. Whether you’re their perfect poppet, or your own person, you’re outta their actual reach. But,” Hoseok leaned in, eyes dark and focused completely, exhilaratingly, on Jimin. “you wanna make them want you.” He considered for a second. “If you wanna, that is. We can go another route. But you got great, like-” his voice wavered and he seemed to be at loss, suddenly. His hand rubbed the back of his neck again. Jimin didn’t even know what he was trying to say. “You got a great instinct for this, you know, lookin’ good on stage or whatever, just gotta look at them, y’know, some kinda half-lidded sultry bullshit, cock a hip, whatever,” he was speaking fast, so much that some vowels blurred together. He was determinedly looking just a bit over Jimin’s head, avoiding eye-contact. “I think that could work great, goin’ jus a bit sexy, ‘course only if you’re comfortable with that , obviously-”

“Tell me what to do, then,” Jimin said without thinking. He was too warm, too charged, completely lost.

“Oh,” Hoseok said, mouth just a tiny bit slack, before he snapped it shut and seemed to steer himself. “Okay, yeah, sure, we can do that. Um. When we hit this part, right now, yeah?” Jimin nodded. “Right. So, you can go for a little shimmy down here, make sure you’re making some eye contact. Don’t, like, stare, don’t go wide-eyed, yeah? You wanna look fucked-out, in that bit.”

Jimin had to look away. His heart was pounding so badly it was painful.

“Then,” Hoseok continued, jumping off the windowsill. “When you go into the next count, be just a little bit nasty ‘bout it, yeah?”

“Nasty, like?” Jimin raised his eyebrows and took a sip of water. His mouth felt dry.

“Here, when we do that popping bit,” Hoseok said, getting into position; he had a yellow shirt on today, and he already undid top two buttons. The base of his throat gleamed, damp with sweat. “When you rotate your hips, go just that lil’ bit slower, yeah? Make sure you look right at the audience, lower your chin a bit, give them ideas. Here, look.”

Jimin didn’t have any choice but to do just that. To stare as Hoseok popped his every goddamn joint, isolation flawless, eyes down, focused, until the part he mentioned came on. Then, he circled his hips just a bit slower, more sensual, and looked up, dark and wanting, right at him.

Jimin used to be painfully familiar with all of his own desires, but not anymore. Now he just ached, and didn’t know where, didn't know what for.

“Like that,” Hoseok said, finishing on the floor the way they choreographed. “Slide down here, show them what you can do so, Jimin-ah.” His voice was raspy, but his face open, vulnerable. “Make them all see.”

 

~*~

 

Jimin didn’t even notice when Christmas came. He would probably completely miss it if not for Momo who sent him cute holiday wishes and asked about his plans. Turned out neither of them had any, so they got coffee together in the morning, navigating carefully around each other until they were sure awkwardness wouldn’t trip them up. Jimin had made sure to be friendly and respectful to her after their impulsive hook-up, but still felt relief, letting go of that unverbalized fear of ending up resented.

Momo explained how her family in Japan didn’t care at all about Christian holidays. Jimin nodded and hummed, sipped his Americano, hesitantly told her that he didn’t really visit his own, and that was it for personal. They changed the subject and badmouthed their history teacher for at least an hour.

So it was thanks to Momo that Jimin got reminded about their homework for the next day. He wrote a note on his phone on the way to the practice room, cursing under his breath as his numb fingers tried to hit proper letters.

Hoseok also spent Christmas in the city. Whatsmore, thanks to the holiday, for once he didn’t have any shifts looming about. As Jimin rushed to the emptied building with another coffee clutched to his chest, he was glad for the idea and the distraction from sitting in his empty room.

It wasn’t the first coffee he bought for Hoseok, but that didn’t matter. He kind of made a habit of that, of saying ‘thank you’ as often and as subtly as he could, ever since he had presented Hoseok with the first coffee and had been met with such genuine surprise. Like the thought Jimin could actually buy Hoseok the promised coffee hadn’t even crossed his mind despite their agreement.

As usual, Hoseok lit up like a goddamn Christmas Tree when he got a still warm cup, and ruffled Jimin’s hair with affection. It was kind of hard to mind, when it was clear Hoseok wasn’t at his brightest today.

“What got you so down, hyung?” Jimin tried after half an hour of internal debate. Hoseok glanced up at him, and sighed.

“Nothing much, Jimin-ah, don’t worry your busy head,” he said. But Jimin’s expression must have let his disappointment on, because Hoseok easily caved, sighing. “Noona sent me a pic of Mickey, my dog, and it just-” he shrugged, focused on his shoelaces. “You know the drill.”

“Yeah,” Jimin said quietly, at loss for any remedy. It wasn’t like he had one for himself. “Christmas, huh?”

Hoseok laughed, a graceful soul. Jimin didn’t let himself be comforted quite so easily, liked it to hurt a bit longer.

“So it is,” he hummed, stretching. “Got any nice plans for the rest of the evening, Jimin-ah?”

“Got homework to catch up on,” Jimin replied dryly, tugging his hoodie on.

“Forgot how that feels like,” Hoseok laughed and chucked down some water.

“Lucky you.”

“Anything hard?” he seemed genuinely interested, so Jimin replied honestly, even if it wasn’t his favourite subject.

“Just this one dance performance to watch for tomorrow class. It’s not that bad, but I have to go to the library, ‘cause I don’t have a laptop.” And didn’t that feel like lead on his tongue.

Hoseok didn’t even bat an eyelash, his forehead creasing with concern.

“Isn’t library closed today, though? Holidays and all?”

“Fuck,” Jimin said, running a hand down his face. “It is.”

Hoseok considered him for a moment, back against the radiator, as he stilled in his process of tying up his winter-inappropriate sneakers.

“Come back to mine,” he said, face smoothing out save for the little concerned pout of his lips. “My laptop might blow up on us, that’s how old the piece of shit is, but that’s still better than nothing, right?”

“Hyung, I can’t just-,” Jimin tugged his cheap Timberlands knock-offs on, felt how tense his own shoulders were, “I already owe you so much, I can’t just keep taking up your time-”

“That’s called being friends, asswipe,” Hoseok said, voice airy and unconcerned, as he jumped to his feet and groaned. “Wow, I should have stretched more before. You coming?”

Jimin realized he stilled, and had to take a quick breath to remind himself to be a normal fucking person. He got up, smoothed his hands down his jeans.

“Does that mean I can drop the honorific?” he sent Hoseok a scrunched-eyed smile, made sure to cock his hip cutely.

“Don’t push it, brat,” Hoseok replied, but he seemed a bit flustered.

Jimin didn’t understand anything anymore, least of all the feeling of satisfaction stirring in his chest.

 

~*~

 

When they reached Hoseok’s flat, the neighbourhood now vaguely familiar to Jimin, the sun has already set. It felt like a repeat of their night out, and yet, not at all. They were chatting about mundane stuff on the way. Relaxed. Jimin realized he was smiling all the time.

It was hard not to, with Hoseok’s beanie folding his ears sideways, cute like dumplings.

Jimin was startled to realize that Hoseok meant what he said and they actually were. Friends.

“Get comfortable, yeah?” Hoseok called out, already out of his shoes and jacket, setting the kettle on. “I had a sad one-man pizza party yesterday, so I still got some leftovers if you wanna.”

“Yeah, I’m starving,” Jimin admitted without thinking and winced. But it was too late, Hoseok already fishing the cardboard box out of the fridge and turning his oven on.

Jimin stepped out of his shoes carefully and walked into the main room.

“What is it we’re actually watching, hm?” Hoseok asked, and then, “Tea or coffee?”

“Coffee,” Jimin said at once, fishing around in his bag. “And it’s Cafe Müller.”

“Thanks,” Hoseok answered and Jimin only noticed he was being sarcastic when their eyes met and Hoseok had his eyebrow quirked.

“Oh, um, sorry. It’s, ah, for my history of dance class, all theory stuff. Cafe Müller is like, an example of Tanztheater and a lifework of Pina Bausch-” he faltered, noticing Hoseok’s wide shit-eating grin. “What?”

“You sound like such a cute nerd,” Hoseok declared unabashedly and cooed when Jimin immediately broke their eye contact. “My laptop’s on the desk, go set it up, we can watch on the sofa.”

Jimin eyed the sofa, narrow and restricted by throw pillows.

“There’s very little space on it,” he risked saying. Hoseok turned his way again, now raising both of his eyebrows.

“It’s enough for two people, ain’t it?” he asked, a bit perplexed. Jimin felt like a complete fool, but pushed through.

“Maybe if they sit really close,” he said, trying to sound nonchalant. Considering the way Hoseok’s mouth tightened and his expression flattened, it probably didn’t work.

“I’ll make sure not to touch you accidentally,” he said, already turning again and pouring water into their mugs. Jimin goggled at his back, until he remembered the rumours Jungkook mentioned, and felt like slapping himself.

“What, no, hyung, it’s not like that,” he said, frantic. He felt restless. “It’s just, I’m,” he winced. “I didn’t get to shower, I’m so sweaty?”

He felt it, too. His clothes were damp and sticky against his skin and he was sure he must have been stinking.

Hoseok took both of their mugs and put them on his desk, then turned his incredulous gaze Jimin’s way. Jimin scowled back at him.

“Jimin-ah,” Hoseok said, and it seemed patronizing right down to his mean little smirk. “Back in the day I lived in a dorm with twelve other guys. You know what we did? We danced, twelve or more hours a day, and we had one shower to share. There’s literally nothing you can throw at me that will phase me after that . Pretty sure your sweat’s gonna smell like them tulips or such.”

“Do tulips even have a smell?” Jimin inquired, somehow doubtful as he tried to shake off the awkwardness crawling up his nape.

“No goddamn clue,” Hoseok hummed cheerfully as he made his way to the oven and put his leftover pizza inside. “Fuck knows if this piece of shit hit the right temperature, the light’s broken anyway.”

“Maybe the oven will warm the room up, at least,” Jimin said, teasing and laughing when Hoseok scowled at him.

“Heating’s expensive, you ass,” he said easily, and Jimin admired that so much it left him reeling, breathless. “Anyway, have you got it?”

“Oh, not yet,” Jimin admitted sheepishly, and Hoseok rolled his eyes, put the laptop on his own lap. It really was whirring alarmingly loudly, the browser already crashing. Hoseok seemed used to it, simply waited while taking a careful sip of his coffee.

“What should I search?”

“Pina Bausch-” Jimin started and promptly stopped when he saw Hoseok’s expression. “Or just Cafe Müller?”

“Jimin-ah, I swear to god,” Hoseok muttered, slowly starting to type, “jus’ ‘cause you got that big university education-”

“Oh, very funny, hyung,” Jimin scoffed, shuffled closer to point Hoseok to proper keys, “I’m fucking hopeless with languages. M - U - L - L - E - R, yeah-”

“Okay, wait, this laptop is in a very precious condition,” Hoseok said easily as YouTube site crashed again. They were sitting side to side and Jimin appreciated sharing body heat even through layers of clothing.

Just as the browser started working again, the alarm on Hoseok’s phone went off and he jumped up to take the pizza out of the oven. It smelled so good Jimin’s stomach twisted itself into knots, so he got up and followed him to the kitchenette.

“You know, hyung, I’ve been wonderin’,” he said, watching as Hoseok carefully took the pizza out, hand wrapped in a dishtowel. “What do you need that fruit bowl for anyway?”

He pointed to the empty bowl, sitting on the counter, sticking out like a sore thumb.

“Fuck me if I know,” Hoseok muttered, distracted, pulling out plates for them. “It’s not like anyone who ever lived here could actually afford fruit.”

“Wow,” Jimin said slowly, realization hitting him. “I think it’s been like a year since I last had any.”

“Back in Gwangju, I used to eat watermelons sometimes,” Hoseok said, distracted. So, Jimin was right about his accent. “Man, that was years ago though. Here, pizza’s ready.”

He distributed the slices between two chipped plates and pushed one in Jimin’s direction.

“Alright, I’m ready,” he said, grabbing a water bottle and plopping down on the sofa. “Hit me with this… How did you put it?”

“Tanztheater,” Jimin said, aware of his butchered German pronunciation. Hoseok didn’t seem to mind.

“I’m gonna nod a lot and pretend I know what that is,” he said, blowing gently at his pizza slice.

“Just, it means dance theater,” Jimin explained, hesitantly taking the seat next to Hoseok. “It appeared in Germany around the 20’s, because of all the, you know... “ Jimin struggled with finding words, but Hoseok didn’t hurry him at all, just sipped his coffee, their sides pressing together. “Because people were tired of the classical ballet, and of the restrictions it posed for their creativity.”

“Uuuuh,” Hoseok drawled, and cackled when Jimin elbowed him gently in the ribs. “Violence’s not an answer, Jimin-ah!”

“Says the guy with a baseball bat next to the door,” Jimin said dryly and sipped on his own coffee with a smirk.

“Yeah,” Hoseok snorted. “As if there’s a chance in hell I’ll ever use it.”

“I knew it! You’re such a wuss, hyung.”

“You were saying something about ballet bein’ horribly boring and limiting?” Hoseok said sweetly, YouTube finally loading their video. “Killin’ creativity and what else?”

“Wow, aren’t you being clever right now? Eat your goddamn pizza before it gets cold.”

Hoseok made an offended face and Jimin couldn’t quite stifle his amusement.

“Are we watching or what?” Hoseok asked grumpily, trying to fight the light smile playing with the corners of his mouth. When Jimin nudged him with his shoulder the grin broke out on his face, sunny and sweet with the hint of dimples.

Jimin realized he’s been staring and cleared his throat.

“Yeah, let’s watch.”

 

~*~

 

In hindsight, maybe taking Hoseok up on his offer hadn’t been the best idea.

“Fuck,” Hoseok whispered as a pixelated dancer on the screen once again tumbled towards the pile of chairs. He’s been startling and tensing up whenever anyone in the play collided with furniture. So, almost all the time.

“Hyung, don’t you wanna… I dunno, stop?” Jimin asked, partially annoyed with the constant disrupting, but mostly uncomfortably aware that watching Hoseok jump out of distress like that had stopped being funny after first two times and become a nagging unease in the back of his mind instead. He was supposed to be taking notes, but couldn’t focus on any analyzing, too tuned in with what was happening next to him.

“No, it’s interesting,” Hoseok protested, and he actually sounded like he meant it.

Jimin wondered if he should mention how Hoseok was shaking, but he didn’t even manage to do that, because pile of chairs fell to the floor with a loud smash and Hoseok jumped so hard he almost spilled what was left of his coffee. Their gazes met and Hoseok’s mouth did this embarrassed grinning thing before smoothing again into concern.

“I’m just,” he searched for words, putting his mug safely away. “It’s just upsetting, seein’ them like, like this. It feels so desperate, you know?” His dark eyes settled on the screen as he absentmindedly scratched his ankle. “I can’t stand how they keep walking into the walls and stuff, makes me all,” he waved his hand in a circular motion as if to visualize the sensation, “wobbly, weird, I guess.”

“The one walking into the wall, that’s Pina Bausch,” Jimin said, once again anxious about his pronunciation but needing to somehow pull Hoseok out of his flat-mouthed reflection. “She’s the one who choreographed all of that.”

“She’s like, the most painful,” Hoseok winced, pulling his knees up to his chest and tilting his body slightly towards Jimin.

“All of them must have been bruised pretty bad after this,” Jimin said, impressed but wincing, discomfort prickling over his skin.

“You think it’s gonna be like that till the end?”

“I don’t think so,” Jimin shook his head. “I think there’s supposed to be some kinda, like, important duet?”

Hoseok slowly nodded, looking at him calmly. Jimin felt bare, charged with pointless, unexplainable energy.

“Do your notes say anything ‘bout this?”

“Haven’t got any yet,” Jimin shrugged. “We’re supposed to analyze by ourselves first, then during class we’ll learn what them great minds plucked out of this masochistic mess.”

Hoseok snorted.

“Makes sense, I guess,” he said, and startled again at another loud crash coming from his laptop’s speakers.

When the duet part came on, they sat side to side, Hoseok’s hand lightly resting on Jimin’s shoulder, their legs tangled together under the blanket Hoseok pulled over them when coffee’s warmth started wearing off. They watched with bated breath all through the expressionless crescendo of motion bursting on the screen. Jimin could hear Hoseok’s breathing, quick and shallow. That’s when he realized the reason he felt so dizzy was because he was holding his breath, so he let it out with a loud swooshing sound. Hoseok leaned on him and put his hand on Jimin’s leg, an anchor of sorts. It burnt, but Jimin appreciated its grounding presence as the female dancer on screen plummeted down again and again and again until even getting up must have hurt her entire body.

Hoseok’s fingers were pressing painfully into Jimin’s thigh. Jimin wrapped his own around his wrist, unsure and hesitant, but Hoseok sent him a quick grateful smile, and it seemed to work for both of them.

Jimin didn’t have the biggest hands, but Hoseok’s wrist was thin and delicate, and it felt safe holding on to. Like he could be a support for him too.

“Well, that was intense,” Hoseok said once the video ended and left them both sitting in stillness, limbs still tangled. Without the buffer of Cafe Müller, it was suddenly too much and Jimin quickly got up under the pretence of putting both of their plates in the sink. He felt flushed, overheated in his sweater.

“Yeah,” he confirmed, leaning against the sink now that his hands were free and he didn’t have Hoseok’s soft skin underneath his fingertips. “God knows what I’m gonna write about it for class, though.”

“There’s a lot, to be honest,” Hoseok said, stretching lazily and starting to fold the blanket back into a perfect square. “It’s certainly, like, impactful, you could say?”

“Yeah,” Jimin muttered, rubbing his shoulder. “That it is.”

“Honestly tho, why are they making you watch white people be overly dramatic again?” Hoseok asked dryly.

“I don't know, because the entire world turns around them, apparently?” Jimin shot back and watched as Hoseok threw his head back and barked out a laugh. “Also,” he added after a second of consideration. “I'm pretty sure my teacher is still bitter she didn't get accepted into the Moscow ballet.”

“Is she Korean?”

Jimin snorted, raising an eyebrow. “You bet your ass, hyung.”

This time Hoseok snorted out loud enough to start hiccuping. Jimin couldn’t help but grin, watching him slowly calm down.

“Now, though,” Hoseok said, getting up and opening his closet, “although there’s a danger of you biting my head off, I was thinking ‘bout your performance again, and I really do believe you need some certain clothes for that, so-”

Jimin felt his mood souring instantly.

“Hyung, god, I don’t-”

“You don’t have anything appropriate to wear,” Hoseok interrupted him sharply. “And it’d be dumb as fuck to buy something new and wear it only once, so for god’s sake please just borrow some of my clothes and stop being so coy, a‘right?”

Jimin felt embarrassed about how speechless it left him, but didn’t even have time to scramble for an appropriate response; Hoseok was already pulling clothes out, all neatly folded or hanging, and putting them on the couch.

“You don’t even need to try them on here,” he continued, not looking at him. “But please give them a chance. I swear hip-hop comes that much easier when you feel comfy and swaggy.”

“And why would your clothes make me feel swaggy?” Jimin snapped, feeling pointlessly humiliated.

“Christ,” Hoseok answered in a similar tone, turning. Jimin almost flinched. “I’m incredibly sorry I’m trying to help you out. By all means, please go popping and locking in your tights.”

He grabbed the clothes he’s just pulled out and started staffing them angrily back into the cabinet.

“No, hyung,” Jimin dropped to his knees next to him and gently took them out of his hands. “I’ll take them, I just… I’m sorry.”

Hoseok immediately slumped over, all fight leaving him along with his exhale.

“Don’t be sorry,” he sighed, rubbing his face. The shadows under his eyes were oh-so-deep, almost bruised purple. “I do just wanna help, Jimin-ah. Honest.”

“I know,” Jimin answered, head down as he uselessly patted down the clothes. “I’m just dumb.”

“Untrue,” Hoseok leaned against the sofa, sighed. “It’s fine to go at your own speed, y’know?”

Jimin wasn’t sure he wanted to understand.

 

~*~

 

Jungkook finally contacted Jimin again in the middle of January, mere days before Seollal. The first snow fell over Seoul and managed to disappear overnight, squashed under car tires. Jimin’s been hours into his ballet practice, an entire day to himself, no hard beats and instructions to be more ‘dope’.

“This time it’s official, hyung,” Jungkook sounded sure but throaty, rough.

“That’s what you said the last time too, you know,” Jimin took this break to stretch again, rotate his hips and knees and ankles, a slow wind down.

“But now we got a date and all,” Jungkook assured him, a tiny excited note in his voice. “It’s gotta be, hyung. I just- I want it to be it, finally.”

Jungkook was too determined to ever say something like ‘I can’t do this anymore’, but even Jimin knew that nothing killed one’s spirit more than being suspended in a trainee stage, forever in between, hopeful but not good enough.

“It’ll be, Jungkookie,” Jimin found himself comforting him. “We’ll blink and next thing we know, you’re gonna have your own fansite and even a saesang, hm?”

Jungkook giggled, giddy. “And how are you, hyung?”

“I’m always okay, Kookie, you know it.”

“Wow,” Jimin was completely sure that Jungkook has just rolled his eyes. “Something more, maybe?”

“Got the hip-hop thing soon,” Jimin reluctantly admitted.

“Oh, right. How’s it going? Still talking to Hobi-hyung?”

“Yeah, I am,” Jimin took a long gulp from his water bottle. “I guess it’s okay. I should have it more or less polished till then.”

“‘Course you will,” Jungkook laughed. “You always see things through. Any plans for Seollal though?”

Jimin didn’t scoff, but it was a near thing.

“I have a lot of work still,” he settled on saying. “So I’ll probably be takin’ care of that.”

“Same old, then,” Jungkook hummed. “You and me, hyung. I swear I don’t remember how Busan looks anymore.”

“Take that back, you brat,” Jimin threatened, laughing a bit at the dramatic tone of Jungkook’s voice. “You’re gonna debut, make a lot of money, and visit your poor, poor mother.”

“Yeah I will,” Jungkook replied solemnly and Jimin smiled fondly at his own reflection.

“Anyway, I’m making tteogkuk with the guys. You shouldn’t be alone either, yeah?”

“Who’s the hyung here, hm?” Jimin scolded him lightly, his ribcage suddenly empty, sore with it. “I’m taking care of myself. You too, yeah? Remember to rest and don’t overwork yourself. You can’t get hurt so close to your debut, you hear me?”

“Yea, yea, you’re such a nag, hyung,” Jungkook grumbled and Jimin breathed easier again, set the phone aside and went back en pointe.

 

~*~

 

This time, it snowed for good, or as good as it could in cramped alleys and in spaces between fumes-heated cars. At six am when Jimin left for his practice, the janitor at his dorm already had the sidewalk neatly swept and gleaming with salt.

Down the road, snow squeaked under his boots, like a funny sound effect in a variety show. He zipped properly his jacket - another thing Hoseok thrusted at him, unamused and nonchalant, claiming otherwise it would land in the dumpster - and savored its warmth as he let his eyes get used to the streaks of blinding whiteness among the concrete jungle.

Sidewalk in front of his school wasn’t half as well-kept, so he gingerly made his way through heaps of snow and entered. His favourite practice room was mere degrees warmer than the outside, so Jimin didn’t even try taking his thick sweater off, just put The Rite of Spring on and allowed himself an hour of mindless ballet practice.

When Hoseok showed up, Jimin was deeply focused on his routine, already warm under his multiple layers. He startled when the door slammed shut.

“Goddamn fucking public transport,” Hoseok ranted right away, unwrapping his big, checkered scarf and slowly baring the bottom half of his face. His cheeks, nose, and ears - once again sticking out from underneath his beanie, - were ruddy from cold. “Sorry I’m late, snow once again was so freakin’ unexpected literally everything got held up.”

“No problem,” Jimin waved his hand, turning the music off to change it to something more upbeat. He took the opportunity to take off his top layer, a sweater vest that has seen better times. “Sorry for dragging you halfway across the city, hyung.”

“Nah,” Hoseok waved his hand, already changing into his moro shorts despite the lingering chill of the room. “I was jus’ doin’ a delivery a few blocks away anyway.”

“Delivery?” Jimin frowned chugging down some water. “That’s a new one.”

Hoseok just shrugged, sending him a bright, bright smile. Jimin dropped the subject as was expected of him.

“Should we start from the top?” he asked instead.

“Actually, I’ve been thinkin’,” Hoseok spoke up, bending his knees and slowly stretching his legs and back. “That we could step it up a bit-”

“Hyung, there’s like a week left,” Jimin interrupted him, suddenly colder despite feeling too sweaty mere minutes before. “You really want to change the routine a week before-”

“You’re pretty flexible, aren’t ya, Jimin-ah?” Hoseok asked, without a pause in his stretching.

Jimin blinked. “Well, it’s kinda expected of me.”

“I was thinking that we should add something extra, just a little show-off,” Hoseok dropped to the floor and focused on his arms. “We worked hard on teaching you proper technique and all, but it wouldn’t hurt to add somethin’ just a bit flashy, right?”

“Like what?” Jimin asked, wary. “I won’t learn breakdancing in a week, there’s no way-”

“You can do splits, right?”

“You know I can.”

“Right,” Hoseok nodded to himself, then got up and smiled at Jimin. “This part when you drop to the floor, I think you should do a split there.”

“What,” Jimin said, “just like, randomly?”

“No, see-” Hoseok counted out the beats, smoothly extending his arm and hitting the beat, his popping nonchalant yet so natural. “Now, when you usually landed in a crouch, instead go like,” he dropped to the floor hands first and then slowly opened his legs, down and down, until his groin was almost level with the wooden panels.

Jimin gaped.

“I didn’t know you were this flexible, hyung,” he said, rubbing the back of his head. Because of the stretch Hoseok’s shorts rode up over his thighs, baring the thick, flexed swell of his quad muscles.

Jimin forcibly tore his eyes away, then peeked down again when Hoseok promptly collapsed onto the floor.

“I’m not,” he whimpered. “Well, this hurt.”

Jimin snorted as Hoseok rolled belly up and groaned loudly. “Anyway, I’m sure you can put me in my place and show me how it’s done, hmm, Jimin-ah?”

“Impressive, hyung,” Jimin rolled his eyes, closed the distance between them and slid down into a split, slowly and making sure to maintain their eye contact. Hoseok scoffed, but his heart wasn’t in it; it was just a quiet huff of air as his eyes slid down Jimin’s body, tangible and tender like a caress.

It felt, inexplicably, like a victory. Jimin suppressed a shiver and stayed splayed like that. Watched Hoseok lick his lips, a thin shine over the chapped pink.

“Jimin-ah,” Hoseok said, catching his eyes. He seemed ruffled, still down on his back and weirdly vulnerable with the way his hawaiian shirt draped over his bony frame. “You goin’ home for Seollal?”

It was random enough to snap him out of his stupor.

“Um,” he managed, quickly scrambling up into a normal position. “No, I’m not.”

“Oh,” Hoseok mused it for a moment, his sharp cheekbone resting on the floor, mere inches from a black smear on the panels. “There is… I’m going to a party. You could join me if you wanna.”

“During Seollal?” Jimin clarified. “Who even throws a party at such a time?”

“It’s kinda… a closed thing,” Hoseok muttered, suddenly a bit shifty, eyes coming to rest on the ceiling. “Nothing too wild, just some booze and dancing. For little city rats like me.” He grinned, the shape of it sharp. “The crowd’s nice.”

“I-”

“Take your time, Jimin-ah,” Hoseok finally climbed to his feet, brushing down his shorts. “Just hit me up till then and lemme know what you decided, yeah?”

Jimin nodded slowly, watching as Hoseok took his place again.

“C’mon, from the top, we gotta figure out how to do the transition now,” he nagged and Jimin got up, drank in the small smile it earned him. “We gotta do it well,” he continued. “You want them guys to be like ‘wow, that’s so nasty’, yeah?”

“Sure,” Jimin said, deadpan. “I’m sure Mr. Park will see me and go ‘That’s so dope, bro’.”

Hoseok, who had had the dubious pleasure of seeing Mr. Park once as he and Jimin had been leaving the practice room, needed another five minutes to calm down after that.

 

~*~

 

At night he lied awake for hours, his mind a vast, open space without a single anchor that could get it to moor and settle down. Across the room - so actually an arm length away, uncomfortably close - his roommate was choking on his own snores, jerking in his sleep and huffing. It was so loud in their shared, airless darkness that it appeared unbearable. With each snore Jimin tensed up, feeling wetness under his eyelids. It felt like he could cry just from this, pointlessly.

With no window the only light was emitted by their extension cord, red and weak. It was enough for Jimin’s eyes to distinguish the lumpy heaps of clothes shed around his roommate’s bed. Even that was enough to bring his thoughts back to Hoseok, to the practiced work of his hands as he folded his clothes, to the dustless figurines adorning his windowsill, to the gentle slope of his cupid bow, marked by the lonely dot of a mole.

Jimin needed to sleep, but instead he pondered, helplessly and without a hope of a handy distraction, about his life. How the months blurred into a soundless montage of grey exhaustion, yet Hoseok stood out, too loud and colorful to get swept under the rug of Jimin’s dissociation. He tried to bring into focus a memory of the last half a year that didn’t contain him, and couldn’t. Everything was so pale in comparison.

Jimin needed to sleep, but instead he hurt his eyes typing out a text accepting Hoseok’s invitation to the party.

It probably said something that he got a reply a minute later, nothing but a row of overexcited emojis.

 

~*~

 

Seollal came barely a few days before his hip-hop performance and was grey with rain and mud and concrete. Jimin spent the dawn with nausea thick in his throat and panic numb in his chest, the morning rehearsing the phone conversation with his mother, the noon finishing that conversation in five minutes flat - nothing but generic wishes of prosperity and well-being, - and afternoon staring at his clothes. History truly liked to repeat itself, he thought as he resigned himself to his only black jeans once again.

It was by no means a day that passed in a blink of an eye, yet Jimin felt like he snapped back to life only when he met Hoseok at the bus stop, the night around them swollen with rain but quiet, the city humbled with tradition.

Hoseok was swaying nervously on the balls of his feet and tugged Jimin into a one-armed hug with a jerky kind of energy. This close he smelled sharp, fresh. It was dark around them, but his eyes seemed bigger, more distinct than usual. Stage experience told Jimin it was probably make-up and for the next few minutes he felt cheated for being unable to see it properly.

“As I said, it’s a small thing, very discreet and private, completely safe,” Hoseok blabbered on as they weaved between the streets. “You don’t need to stress about it at all, and if you feel uncomfortable we can leave-”

“The way you keep talking about it, I feel like we’re going to a striptease bar,” Jimin teased him, actually curious.

“That’d probably be more socially acceptable,” Hoseok muttered under his breath and Jimin frowned at him.

“You can’t just be so vague, hyung, where are you taking me, is it some kinda drug den-”

“No, no, nothing dangerous,” Hoseok promised, eyes quickly searching for Jimin’s as he continues his brisk pace. “You’ll see once we get there, I promise. It’s nothing- I hope you won’t think it’s anything bad.”

Jimin could push for something less muddled and more direct. But there was something in Hoseok, something trustworthy, that had appealed to Jimin in the beginning, and that kept him from asking now.

“As if hyung could bring me anywhere bad,” he quipped instead, gently hip-checking him. Hoseok, being his graceful feather-light self, almost tripped on the uneven sidewalk.

“Ah yes, because I’m a wonderfully kind spirit,” Hoseok nodded solemnly.

“I meant it more like, because you’re scared of your own shadow,” Jimin teased and laughed loudly when Hoseok guffawed with indignation.

“Brat,” Hoseok huffed, taking another turn and finally stopping in front of plain metal door. There was some kind of name above it, but the neon letters didn’t work, only 유 flickering off and on with a weak violet hue.

“Not very flashy, for a club,” Jimin noticed, curiosity peaked. Hoseok shrugged, more a nervous jerk of a shoulder than anything else.

“That’s kinda the whole point,” he said, pushing the heavy door and grunting. It finally gave way, so Jimin stepped in. Right away there was an entrance booth, a bored bouncer that accepted Hoseok’s money and wordlessly pointed with his thumb to the stairs in the back. Jimin could hear the pounding music already and it eased his nerves a bit.

The club didn’t really stand out from other places Jimin had visited before. The space was limited, crowd divided into rooms rather than gathered in one place. Overall it wasn’t very impressive, just a dark basement with dingy floors and comparatively low ceilings.

Hoseok grabbed him by the wrist and tugged him confidently in the direction of the door. It gave Jimin a sudden feeling of a deja-vu, like their first meeting all over again.

The room they entered was much bigger and brighter than the first one. For one, there was a bartop there, well lit and buzzing with customers. For another, an actual disco lamp hang from the ceiling, tacky but weirdly fitting.

In the corner DJ set up his booth, and there was a rainbow flag pinned to the wall behind it. Jimin frowned, willing his brain to remember its meaning, and almost stumbled over somebody’s leg when it came to him.

Hoseok was still leading him towards the bar, so Jimin took a quick second to look around. It wasn’t an obvious thing, but wasn’t hidden either; a lot of couples joint at the dance floor were same sex. Right next to him a bald guy with a lip piercing was pressed flush against some bulky, masculine dude, and they were swaying together.

Jimin averted his eyes quickly, desperately took a few quick breaths to appear relaxed when Hoseok would inevitably look his way.

He felt off-kilter, lost in that colorful maze, yet sobered coldly with the gravity of the situation. He wasn’t sure how, but he knew with unexplainable kind of certainty that he couldn’t freak out on Hoseok.

In the end, hadn’t he actually known for a long time now? There was a jittery sort of energy coursing through him, the kind of restlessness that didn’t allow his eyes to settle, and deep down he knew it had nothing to do with how queer the place was. It had all to do with that heady realization of being trusted, intimately, wordlessly, with something so big and dangerous.

“Want something more fancy to drink than beer this time?” Hoseok’s voice reached him, words high-pitched and quick. Jimin steeled himself to meet his gaze. Couldn’t do anything but try to make his own soft and grateful.

“You recommending something, hyung?”

“A drink, maybe? How about a mojito?”

“Sure thing,” Jimin shrugged, leaning against a bar. There was another rainbow flag, tucked into an empty beer cup.

Hoseok waved the bartender over, his fingers clutching tightly the counter. If Jimin was reading the situation right, it must have been nerve-wrecking for him. Not for the first time though Jimin thought that Hoseok truly could hide any discomfort if he really wanted to. His face was smooth and unpinched. Only his hand, tightly holding onto the bar top, betrayed anything was amiss.

They both stayed quiet while waiting for their drinks. Jimin wasn’t sure what to say, how to start. Instead he took his surroundings in, tried to convince his heartbeat to slow down even after seeing a couple kissing, unconcerned, intimate.

Jimin had never seen two men kissing like that before. Like it was real.

His pulse was going crazy. He kept shooting glances at Hoseok, at his peach-colored shirt, open at the collar and with its sleeves rolled up above the elbows. At the smooth line of his throat interrupted by a black barrier of a thin choker, its charm dangling long enough to rest between his collarbones, sweet and enticing. At the baby blue, skinny jeans, hugging his dancer thighs. At the gentle lines of kohl around his eyes.

He wrenched his eyes away, suddenly breathless again. Somehow the image of intertwined couples was more soothing than the sharp line of Hoseok’s jaw.

Jimin wasn’t trying to be obtuse on purpose. Yet it felt like he had cotton stuffed inside his head, something always preventing and distracting him from actually considering the implication of Hoseok inviting him to this hidden party. Like the weight of that trust was clogging up his perception.

Even now, he had to grab his freshly mixed drink and busy his mouth with the straw.

“Wow, easy there,” Hoseok teased, his own drink leisurely in one hand. “That thirsty, huh?”

He wiggled his eyebrows, cheeky and impossible.

Jimin sucked in another gulp of minty sweetness and managed to roll his eyes only with mouth numbed and full.

“So,” Hoseok said, gently putting his drink away, untouched. “I guess you can. Say what you think.”

The line of his shoulders was still relaxed as he rested his elbows on the counter. But he didn’t look Jimin’s way, and his next words followed quickly, impatient.

“It’s fine if you’re… displeased, or something,” he continued, tapping his fingers against the counter. His hands were slender but veiny. “I just wanted it out in the open.”

Jimin didn’t disrespect him by saying something stupid like, ‘why would I be displeased?’ He bit his lip and chugged down the rest of the drink, rum on the bottom burning its way down his throat.

There were no great, good words, and Jimin couldn’t think anyway.

“Wanna dance, hyung?” he asked instead, bold and scared and inarticulate.

He met Hoseok’s gaze head on this time, drank in the quick rise and fall of his chest, let him read whatever there was written on his face. If there even was anything.

“You sure you can keep up?” Hoseok asked, cocking his hip, solemnity wiped clean off his face. “No one here needs ballet shoes to dance.”

“Funny how some of us couldn’t stand in ballet shoes if they tried,” Jimin shot back, grinning when Hoseok flicked his fringe aside.

“You have no proof of that,” he said indignantly and quickly finished his drink. After swallowing the last of it his lips were already pursed, pouty.

He drank so badly Jimin didn’t even have the heart to tease him about it.

“I vaguely remember the last time you promised me a breakdancing performance in the club,” Hoseok said, cackling when Jimin shot him a glare, “yet you didn’t provide.”

“Funny how I remember it a bit differently,” Jimin answered, letting himself sway a bit. Hoseok was clearly gearing up to another one of his overdone routines, but before he could launch a full girl group choreo, the song changed.

“Somethin’ slow and sweet for the lovebirds,” the DJ crooned into the mic, suggestive and sleazy. Half of the couples sprang apart, appalled.

Hoseok stilled, visibly torn.

“Well, that would require some slow dancing,” he started to say, a rare spark of awkwardness on his face. “So-”

“Yeah, but I’m used to leading,” Jimin said at the same time and almost bit his own tongue.

“You mean,” Hoseok started and left it hanging again, eyes surprised, mouth just this side of soft and slack. “It would be boring-”

Jimin could make it weird in two greatly different ways, and one of them suddenly seemed cowardly.

“I don’t mind,” he said, shrugging. “We’ve barely got here, so-”

On their left two girls were swaying together, their cheeks touching.

“Fine by me if you wanna lead then,” Hoseok said, but left it to him to actually initiate anything. So Jimin let his hands grab the crisp, body-warm fabric of Hoseok’s shirt and settle on a curve of his waist underneath. Hoseok reacted easily, naturally, wrapping his arms loosely around Jimin’s neck.

“Careful of my love handles,” he instructed Jimin in a staged, fake-solemn whisper as he swayed and went easily with each careful push of Jimin’s hands. Jimin felt breathless, like he swallowed up all the artificial smoke curling around the room. Hoseok read and reacted so easily to anything Jimin tried to wordlessly tell him, it felt liberating and terrifying at once.

“What love handles,” he scoffed instead, squeezed his sides, thin and barely giving. Hoseok’s entire body jerked like electrocuted.

“Fuck, please,” he groaned, hiccuping out a laugh. “I’m so fucking ticklish, have some goddamn mercy, Park Jimin.”

“You’re a disaster, hyung,” Jimin said with wonder, and had to forcefully keep himself from pushing a bit more.

“I’m layered, thank you very much,” Hoseok turned his nose up, his mouth heart-shaped and sweet with lingering laughter. They were so loud that a girl from a nearby lovey-dovey couple shot them a glare. Jimin quickly hid his face, trying to cover up his grin.

In the split second when he had been making the decision, the thought of such closeness had made him break in cold sweat, yet here he was.

“I can’t believe I took you to a gay club just to have a fun evening and now we’re swaying like a straight couple during a middle school dance,” Hoseok complained, his voice more high-pitched again now that he laughed a bit. “I’m gonna get nauseated soon.”

“J-Hope, the star of the underground, badass as usual,” Jimin intoned, ignoring the swoop of his stomach at the words ‘gay bar’. It was the first confirmation Hoseok gave him so far. “Well, I’m sorry I’m not providing you with any better entertainment. What do you need?” Jimin lifted his arm to twirl Hoseok in the middle of the unchanging, boring ballad; a few people now glanced at them as Hoseok executed the move with fluid grace, grinning. “Wanna dance some tango?”

The gaze Hoseok turned his way was definitely too contemplative for his comfort.

“That was a joke, hyung,” he provided dryly, letting his hands curl around Hoseok’s waist again, slide just a bit over the damp material on his back.

“I bet you can do them fancy stuff though, can’t you,” Hoseok shot. One of his hands was now on Jimin’s bicep, bared by the sleeveless white top he had on, thumb caressing the flexed swell of the muscle there. The pressure was barely there but maddening in the weirdest way, difficult to ignore like a mosquito’s buzzing. With his other hand Hoseok was playing with the hair on Jimin’s nape, tugging gently and smoothing it out again. He seemed contemplative, probably unaware of the liberty his hands took.

“Them fancy stuff,” Jimin repeated, doubtful. The impromptu scalp massage was tickling his nerve ending so good he had to fight to keep his eyes open. “Like what, pirouettes? You gotta be more specific, hyung.”

Hoseok rolled his eyes, his smile barely there yet enough to dent his cheeks with dimples.

Without thinking Jimin pressed closer and grabbed one of Hoseok’s thighs, slender looking yet meaty with hard muscle in his palm, and hooked it up over his own hip. “Fancy like that?”

“Not exactly,” Hoseok admitted without making any attempt at breaking away; he avoided making eye contact and his fingers stilled in Jimin’s hair, his body heat more intense than Jimin expected. It was... distracting. “I was thinking that you must probably know how to do all the heavy lifting, right?”

“What, like lifting a partner?”

“Ye,” Hoseok shifted a bit when Jimin let go of him.

“Sure, I do,” Jimin admitted. “So?”

“Even a guy?” Hoseok inquired, still looking more over his shoulder than at his face. “Like, you would be able to lift me?”

It seemed to be a night of split-second decisions as Jimin bent, wrapping his arms around Hoseok’s thighs just beneath his ass and raising him up in the air, face suddenly full of that peach-toned cotton; it didn’t even smell of sweat, just washing powder, generic and familiar.

Hoseok shrieked, because of course he did. Jimin couldn’t see anything, but somehow he could just feel the heat of gazes burning the back of his head. Hoseok’s body swayed in his arms, and next thing he knew a few people around them whistled; someone actually clapped.

His face started burning. He tried to take a deep breath, but instead just filled his lungs with that fucking scent of the body-warmed shirt.

“Satisfied?” he managed to ask as Hoseok balanced with his fingers gently resting on Jimin’s head.

“Moderately,” Hoseok rumbled cheekily above him. “I hoped for some spinning, maybe over-the-head lifting.”

“I’m gonna lift you up over my head,” Jimin said sweetly, “and dump outta window.”

Hoseok’s answering cackle was positively delighted.

“You’d never, Jimin-ah,” he said confidently and shifted again. “Put me down before your spine cracks.”

“You have a posture of a fucking toothpick, hyung, I’m not too worried,” Jimin said dryly, but carefully set him back down. It was a relief as he was starting to sweat from the overwhelming body heat.

Hoseok seemed flustered, fussing with his hair and straightening the folds on his clothes.

“Drink?” Jimin proposed, eager to leave the crowd that was now eyeing them suspiciously, perhaps anticipating another flashy display of affection.

“Yes, please,” Hoseok nodded, patting his own sweat-gleaming cheek with the back of his hand, the motion dainty and strikingly elegant.  

It was just one of these small graceful gestures that Jimin catalogued subconsciously as something he never saw another dude doing. Just that supple body language Hoseok spoke.

He waved the bartender over and asked for another two mojitos for them both. Jimin didn’t speak, just watched the dance floor.

“Hob-ah!” a voice called out. Jimin turned his head, startled, just as a familiar girl squeezed Hoseok in a short but powerful hug.

“Hani-noona!” Hoseok answered with equally loud enthusiasm, his hands grabbing hers for a moment. “I should have known I’d meet you two here.”

Only his words made Jimin realize that there was another girl next to Hani, with long, artfully curled hair and shining eyes.

“Could say the same to you,” Hani smirked, grabbing Hoseok’s mojito once it arrived and taking a carefree sip from the straw. “Where else would two sad fucks such as you and I go on a night like that?”

“Good point,” Hoseok admitted easily, even though it never occurred to Jimin to even consider him in categories of sad or otherwise.

“I see the thing here,” Hani lazily gestured between him and Hoseok, “left the frames of your typical student/teacher dynamic-”

“-Yes, into the friends dynamic,” Hoseok interrupted her, resolutely taking the drink out of her hand and sipping from it himself. “I just figured it was time I was a bit more honest with Jimin-ah here-”

“Ah, so that now he knows you’re a big ol’ flaming homo?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at Jimin. There was something steely and challenging in her eyes, something he didn’t feel equipped to deal with. He didn’t at all expect the issue at hand to be addressed this crudely.

“Thanks a lot for that description,” Hoseok said, his expression pained. “Now I’m sure he won’t forget anytime soon.”

Jimin took a large sip of his drink, afraid they’d expect him to actually give a reaction. His heart was pounding in his chest like a painful drumroll.

“By flaming I just meant that you shine the brightest, sweetheart,” Hani said, unconcerned, tapping Hoseok’s cheek gently with her hand. He rolled his eyes, but a smile was already breaking out onto his face.

“You two having fun?” he asked, dropping the subject as Hani threw an arm around her companion.

“‘course,” the girl answered in a nasally voice. “We’re here pretty often.”

“Not many places to choose from if you wanna be openly on a date,” Hani said. Her voice was dry and nonchalant yet all three of them fell quiet, matching expressions on their faces.

“We’ll leave you to your… Um, friendly night out,” Hani said, shaking that seriousness off and shooting Jimin a wink. Hoseok groaned.

“Please take your awful innuendos and your lovely girlfriend and leave already,” Hoseok groaned.

“Leave already, noona ,” Hani prompted and laughed loudly at the disgruntled pout his mouth turned into. “Fine, fine, we’re going. See you during the next inventory, Hob-ah.”

“Don’t remind me,” Hoseok groaned after her, “my bones already ache just thinking ‘bout it.”

He turned to Jimin who sent him an awkward sympathetic look. Their eyes met and Hoseok turned to the bar and downed his entire drink with an unusual for him dedication.

“Let’s go dance,” he said, once his empty glass got pushed away. He jumped off the the barstool with a nervous kind of energy manifesting in the restlessness of his limbs.

Jimin could relate to the tangible need to somehow leave behind that gaping void of awkwardness that stretched between them like an old elastic. He nodded his assent.

This time the music didn’t betray them with a challenge of intimacy. They easily swayed and jumped through a few mixed american hits, all of them so generic they would blend together anyway even without DJ’s breakneck attempts. They finally broke from their wordless spell when some old BigBang’s song came on and they both performed its point dance (or as much of a point dance as BigBang ever had, to be honest) without thinking.

Hoseok laughed brightly when their eyes met. He was flushed all the way down to the loosened collar of his shirt. Thanks to the disco ball his sweat-damped neck kept catching glimpses of the light, colorful and distracting.

That’s how another dull slow song caught them, a painfully average guy’s voice crooning out about never trusting again.

“For christ’s sake, did the DJ get his ass dumped today or what?” Hoseok went off, grabbing Jimin by the wrist and ordering them both some shots at the bar. Jimin snorted, knocking his down as soon as it got served. It burnt hot and painful seemingly everywhere.

Hoseok certainly already looked affected by the alcohol. The motions of his limbs were even more fluid than usual and there was a reddish hue to his cheekbones. His dark hair was slowly curling around his face from the humidity. Looking at Hoseok, it was hard to somehow match all these descriptions of him, to link what Jimin knew him as to the little tidbits of insight he was served today.

Jimin didn’t know what he was supposed to do with words like ‘gay’ or ‘sad’, or even ‘friendly’. So instead he ordered another shot and downed it as well before marching back into the crowd, Hoseok hot on his heels.

They swayed the last few beats of that mass produced, no-longer-even-relatable sadness recipe pressed together. Jimin hadn’t really had any occasions to drink in a company before, so it was only a guess, but he felt like alcohol definitely made him more handsy. He was burning too hot, and Hoseok’s skin was like a still plugged-in light bulb to touch, shining and charged with energy. Yet somehow they kept pressing into each other, more and more with each passing song.

Jimin kept catching Hoseok’s hands, long-fingered and elegant, turning him around and leading wherever he pleased. It was by no means a ballroom dancing kind of a party, let alone music, and Jimin had no experience with that anyway, yet there was something about Hoseok that just made Jimin’s palms tickle with the need to touch, to let their sweaty skin catch and slip on each other’s. A dangerous thing, to be refused touch for years and suddenly offered so much of it without a second thought. Jimin just wanted to keep taking, to feel warm and tangible finally.

Ambitiously they challenged the entire Abracadabra choreo, and when it was over they fell into each other, sweaty and giddy with laughter, downing shots and swaying inside their little bubble. The bubble was created mere hours before but Jimin was already sickly possessive of it.

“So you can dance like a real human being when you wanna,” Hoseok cackled, no control over his volume, hanging off Jimin’s shoulders. No one around them paid them any mind anymore, the crowd too drunk and lost in it.

“Even if I only danced classical,” Jimin started, raising his chin defiantly, “someone would buy it as a post-modern artistic expression.”

“Love it when you speak academic,” Hoseok said in a tone that suggested otherwise. Somehow Jimin ended up plastered to his back, hands on sharp hipbones trying to pierce through thin cotton.

“Just sayin’,” he shrugged. They were more or less same height and Jimin thought it unavoidable; he nosed at Hoseok’s dark hair, smelling strongly of something sweet and cheap, like whatever was on sale in a drugstore. He stayed like that, letting his body pulsate lazily to the beat.

“Imagine if I was like, rapping, and you were doing Tchaikovsky in the background,” Hoseok hummed, his head tilted slightly back.

“Not sure what you mean when you say just ‘Tchaikovsky,” Jimin started, laughing when Hoseok slapped his wrist lightly, “but sure. I bet that’d count as a performance. I could get some extra credit from it.”

“Art schools, man,” Hoseok said, shaking his head.

At ten to midnight their sad, unambitious DJ played something slow but with a nasty beat, slow and curling. Hoseok at that point was glassy-eyed, his shirt soaked and unbuttoned more, revealing the bony line of his sternum. Jimin had a significantly higher tolerance, but he too was at the very least tipsy, overheated with alcohol and body contact.

They were pressed flush, Hoseok’s head bent enough that his forehead was tipped against Jimin’s cheek. Hoseok’s shirt was long since untucked from his jeans, and Jimin had his hands on the scorching bare skin on the small of his back. What they were doing with their fronts joined fully could only be called grinding.

It felt good. It was pressure and little tingling sparks of pleasure igniting in the tips of his fingers and toes, and the overwhelming weakness in his elbows and knees. Hoseok’s breath was quick and sharp against his skin, his hands clutching Jimin’s top. Jimin would chase that feeling even farther, but suddenly the music was gone and everyone around them was counting backwards from ten, as if he was an unaware pedestrian who got mixed up in a happening.

Hoseok slowly peeled himself from Jimin with a dazed expression; his mouth was slack and wet and he looked crumpled and familiar.

“Oh, right,” he said, shaking his head clear a tiny bit. “Seollal.”

Jimin could only nod, a lot colder and dizzier now that Hoseok wasn’t plastered to his front. They counted their way to zero together with the rest of the clubgoers, and as the clock struck midnight Jimin tried to pretend he didn’t see all the kisses exchanged around them.

Somehow that felt easier.

 

~*~

 

They met for the last rehearsal on the day before scheduled performance. The snow falling that day had an unsatisfying, powdery texture and turned into sludge even before the early sunset. Jimin’s roommate had left muddy footprints on their floor when he had come back from his class at noon, and there was little hope he was going to clean it.

He shipped all his laundry to his mother, after all.

Jimin had so many anxieties piling up one onto another that that part of his brain just shut off. Instead of throwing up stomach acid (no food there for a while) he was just blank, even as he put on clothes borrowed from Hoseok for the first time, the black sweatpants full of zippers, loose white tank top with big arm holes, a blue bomber jacket. None of which was an eyesore, surprisingly. Still, even blurred, the anxiety about ruining them was enough to somehow make all the bones in his arms feel hollow, like someone was blowing air right into them.

Hoseok’s eyebags were dark smudges on his already ashen face. Jimin could see the hangover lingering in the dipped-down corners of his mouth and in his clothes, mostly dark and plain. At least his snapback was orange, a familiar splash of color, even if only accentuating his unusual paleness.

“You fine, hyung?” Jimin asked, watching as Hoseok greedily gulped down coffee Jimin brought him as the last symbolic payment. He received a nod.

“Yeah,” Hoseok croaked out, then cleared his throat loudly. “In case it wasn’t clear, I’m really not made for drinking.”

“No hope for a rock’n’roll life for you then, hyung,” Jimin said with faux-worry, clapping his hands on his cheeks for emphasis. “Is that why you gave up the fame?”

“I really hope you didn’t just suggest that idols lead a rock’n’roll life, Jimin-ah,” Hoseok said with exaggerated seriousness. “That’s just wrong.”

Jimin laughed. “Here I thought I had you all figured out.”

“No, please,” Hoseok scoffed, took another sip, less ravenous this time. “It was because of the gay thing.”

“Oh,” Jimin said.

“Obviously,” Hoseok rolled his eyes and got up, groaning and stretching his legs. “Fuck, I feel like one of them string puppets, you know? All broken at the joints.”  

“So that’s why you always make such weird faces,” Jimin teased and laughed when Hoseok tried to swat him in the middle of setting up music.

They started with basics, just to warm up. But after half an hour of just mindless bounce practice even Jimin’s numb hollow brain felt stretched to its limits.

“Hyung, hey,” he said, trying to control his breathing. “Wanna learn what you’re supposed to think about Pina Bausch?”

“The one from that play?” Hoseok inquired, losing his hoodie. “Sure thing, Jimin-ah. I lost so much sleep over that.”

“Thought so,” Jimin said, laughing at Hoseok’s scowl. “Well, see, in ‘Cafe Muller’ Pina Bausch depends heavily on the symbolism of the space, already dividing it into-”

“Did they finally mention some Koreans?” Hoseok interrupted, throwing his now empty coffee cup into the trashcan. His t-shirt was pale pink and worn thin.

“Actually, yeah!” Jimin said, collapsing onto the floor and drinking some water. “We’re finally talking about Hong Sincha. So that’s a win.”

“Shocking,” Hoseok shook his head. “Once we perform our rapping-Tchaikovsky combo, next generations will be learning about you.”

“No offense, hyung, but ballet with rapping is super weak, considering what some of these contemporary dance folks come up with.”

“Like what?” Hoseok pushed his hair back with his hand and trapped it back underneath his snapback.

“Like, for example, Xavier Le Roy or Jérôme Bel, you know, this whole movement of ‘non-dance’ and stuff,” Jimin kept talking as he went through his stretches again. “Like, just doing crab walk in a big jumper or whatever. Weird shit.”

“I do that too when I’m drunk enough,” Hoseok scoffed. “Where’s my recognition?”

“You’re just bad at advertising yourself,” Jimin made sure to make a sympathetic face and Hoseok rolled his eyes.

“Alright, enough of that chit-chat,” he said, “let’s go from the top.”

From then on he set a ruthless pace, making Jimin repeat the entire routine over and over again, making tsking noises and pointing out even the most miniscule mistakes. Jimin took that all in, corrected and corrected until Hoseok seemed almost relaxed, at ease.

“Good,” he said, throwing panting Jimin a bottle of water. “I liked the last one, it was nicely aggressive. Pretty lit.”

“You just gotta be in the class and annoy the hell outta me, then I’ll do good,” Jimin smirked, gulping the water down greedily. Hoseok laughed, taking off his snapback and putting it on a windowsill.

“Noted,” he said. “I’d come if I could, I wanna see them dropped jaws.”

Jimin just scoffed, rolling his eyes. “Delusional, hyung.”

“You’re so bull-headed,” Hoseok shot back, sitting down on the floor with a groan. “Come here, Jimin-ah. We’re done.”

“Already? It’s only,” he checked the phone, “one in the morning?”

Hoseok raised his eyebrows judgmentally.

“Yeah, okay,” Jimin conceded the point, sitting down. He didn’t really buy all that bullshit about ‘not practicing right before performance’ and ‘resting’. That was some cute fairytale for people who had luxury of failing, of having a future after that. Jimin was glad Hoseok didn’t even mention something as ridiculous as not having a rehearsal until early morning hours. Hoseok got it.

Hoseok probably got more than Jimin did; he actually lived through his dream, a carefully stacked up house of cards, falling down around him and leaving him on the bare ground. You couldn’t even see it in him; god knew Jimin didn’t. Maybe that was the thing Hani had meant, maybe there were cracks only she saw.

Jimin didn’t want to think about that.

“You worked hard, Jimin-ah,” Hoseok said with a fond smile on his face; smiling came so easily to him, like he didn’t have to drag it up onto his face, arrange uncooperative lips into uncomfortable shapes. “Come here, let hyung give you a quick rubdown before the big day. You gonna be good, Jimin-ah.”

Jimin hesitantly sat down next to him, unsure what to say to that. Instead he took off the bomber jacket so that Hoseok had an access to his naked shoulders. It was the biggest vulnerability he felt ready to show.

Hoseok put his hands on Jimin’s skin, no fanfares or overthinking. His grip was as sure and unforgiving as Jimin remembered from the last time, and the mostly pleasant sensation quickly turned into agony of being pulled apart and kneaded together like a piece of dough. Hoseok’s hands were dry and rough, calloused. He wasn’t gentle, but he was attentive. He had the kind of precision that only came with years of awareness of one’s own muscles.

Jimin let his fingers tangle in the folds on his borrowed pants and held all that miserable suffering inside, focused on the warmth bleeding across his shoulders, warming up skin chilled with dried up sweat.

“Tense,” Hoseok hummed, almost to himself, digging into knots with what had to classify as sadism. Jimin bit his tongue accidentally. “Good thing I thought about that. Gonna get cramped as fuck like this, Jimin-ah.”

“Hyung is such a nag, god,” Jimin huffed, gently turning his head so Hoseok knew he was smiling.

“Ungrateful asshole,” Hoseok muttered back and ground his entire fist into the base of Jimin’s spine making him cry out like a cat that had its tail stepped on. Jimin didn’t need to turn to be able to see Hoseok’s satisfied smirk. “You were saying?”

“N-no,” Jimin grunted, hands braced on the floor. “Hyung’s an angel sent from heavens above.”

“Damn right,” Hoseok muttered darkly. His hands swept down Jimin’s back, suddenly soothing. Their gentleness felt loud after harsh rubbing, like Jimin could somehow hear it through his pores alone.

He cleared his throat. “Thank you, hyung,” he said, keeping his eyes straight ahead, unfortunately on a mirror; his own black hair was falling over his forehead and there was flush blooming on his squished up cheeks. He looked down at the floor instead and tried to somehow drag the words out of his larynx without getting choked up. “Really, you actually- You saved my ass-”

“Jimin-ah,” one of Hoseok’s hands unceremoniously grabbed him by the cheek and turned his head around, so they were suddenly eye to eye. His palms on Jimin’s cheeks felt hot and dry, and this close he smelled familiarly of sweat and cheap deodorant that seemed more sweet than typically masculine. “Come on, let’s not get sentimental. You know I have a weak heart.”

Not for the first time Jimin marvelled at the fact that Hoseok's smile was truly heart-shaped, pink and toothy. It felt dangerous, and not because of the teeth.

His nose was oily and there was acne breaking out in the hollowed valleys of his cheeks. The skin around his eyes seemed thin enough to break, abused by sleepless nights. He didn’t shave properly under his chin.

Jimin kissed him.

There was still some hip-hop beat pounding in the room, yet Hoseok’s gasp was audible. As Jimin blindly put his hand in his hair, Hoseok relaxed into his grasp, soft and mellow and not nearly as toothy as it seemed.  

The air around them felt dense and stretchy like nattō . Jimin couldn’t think. He kept pressing their mouths together in completely uncoordinated, open-mouthed kisses which Hoseok answered breathlessly, clutching at his already stretched-out tank top. Jimin’s hands kept slipping down his back, sliding underneath his t-shirt, touching any damp skin he could reach.

Lines of Hoseok’s body were hard and narrow. Jimin couldn’t get enough of squeezing his sharp elbows and jutting hipbones, of stroking his prominent clavicles, of touching his sensitive knees.

He was ticklish everywhere anyway. He kept making tiny sounds of protest into Jimin’s mouth every time another thing bothered him. The low, whiny quality of it was driving Jimin insane with things he couldn’t even name. He couldn’t help pressing closer and closer, mindlessly revelling in the heat and pleasure and sheer fucking wonder of closeness.

Once again, he kept taking anything Hoseok would give him.

 

~*~

 

Jimin’s alarm rang after two hours of sleep. His morning routine was a blur, everything just a fog of paradoxical apathy interrupted by sobering waves of nausea.

As he stared into the mirror to apply some light makeup, he noticed that his lips were bitten. The synapses in his brain refused to work and connect anything. He wondered if he could even remember his routine and almost threw up.

He left his room so out of it that he forgot his scarf. Maybe it was a good thing; he managed to feel a bit more alert and real with the coldness seeping underneath his clothes. He walked briskly and reached the school way too early, which left him with a satisfying amount of time left to visit the practice room and warm up before his class. It helped a bit, cleared more of that fog, heated his stiff limbs up. He just let the music sweep through him, gently put him back together, ground him in the despicable but familiar prison of his skull.

The sound was soft and soothing, and when memories of Hoseok’s kisses resurfaced, Jimin didn’t fight them, let himself have them, relive them.

He stayed there as long as possible, more reluctant than ever to approach the real world, where he’d have to attempt small talk and compare levels of stress with his classmates. Where everything that happened the previous night would have to become an impossible, unachievable dream and stay that way.

Still, the clock ticked away.

As he gathered his things, he noticed an orange snapback left on the windowsill. Hoseok’s.

Jimin was minutes away from his performance, yet he could barely force his legs to approach it. He lifted it gently and put it on his own head. There was a small folded piece of paper on the windowsill, previously hidden.

Jimin-ah , it read after he smoothed it out; it was literally scribbled on the back of the receipt, I have an early morning shift and can’t come cheer for you. I doubt you’d be comfortable with that anyway. You’re gonna smash it, hyung just knows. Break a leg. Hobi.

There was an awkward drawing of a flower, signed, Instead of a real one .

When Jimin faced his class mere minutes later, he felt weirdly collected and powerful and met Mr. Park’s gaze without flinching. He just fixed Hoseok’s snapback on his head and kept the eye contact until the music started and he moved, inhibited and free .

 

~*~

 

“I can’t believe ‘it was good’ is all you’re giving me,” Jungkook tried to sound snappy, but to no avail. Jimin knew him too well and could hear the smile in his voice all the same. “I’m super happy it was good, but like, what else? Did you get a grade?”

“Not yet, but I’m not too worried. I didn’t make any mistakes.”

“That’s good, hyung,” Jungkook softened his voice. “I know you were super stressed ‘bout it.”

Jimin hummed, unlocking the door to his dorm room. Thankfully empty.

“I have news too,” Jungkook continued, more shyly now.

“Yeah? Hit me up, Kookie.”

“I didn’t tell you before, I guess I was… Uh, whatever, the point is,” he cleared his throat. “We filmed an MV and it’s dropping tomorrow.”

“What?!” Jimin yelled, laughing. “You sly fuck, you kept that a secret?”

Jungkook laughed as well; it sounded so relieved .

“Can’t believe this,” Jimin kept complaining, while putting his things away and toeing off his shoes. “That’s so fucking big, fuck.”

“Yeah,” the bright sound of Jungkook’s voice was a spark of warmth inside of Jimin. “I gotta go, the schedule is crazy. Um, congrats again, hyung!”

“You too,” Jimin said with a smile and disconnected the call. There were two notifications waiting on the screen of his phone, a text and an e-mail.

The text turned out to be from Hoseok: just a long row of question marks and some overwhelmed emojis. Jimin let his thumbs hover over the keyboard, wondering how to answer while his heartbeat was beating like crazy. Just from reading a goddamn fucking text .

Frustrated, he pressed the mail notification instead.

It took him three times to understand what he was reading, to parse through dense, polite sentences. To realize that he truly was being recommended by Mr. Park for an internship at a dance company outside of Korea.

As he exited his inbox the screen went back to his half-finished message to Hoseok. His hands stilled over it helplessly.

He couldn’t focus on anything, let alone remember what he was supposed to write. There were no words useful when he couldn’t even gather his own thoughts.

For the time being, he let the message sit in the drafts.