Actions

Work Header

paw prints

Work Text:

Jeongguk never meant to start bringing treats to the cats that live on the street behind campus. There are three of them—two tabbies and a cat with black and white splotches—living in a tiny alcove at the back of an apartment building right where the residential area bleeds into school property. They have two little plastic houses and food bowls and everything.

Jeongguk isn’t even really sure what it is, but something about seeing the cats there, every morning and evening when he uses the street as a shortcut, is calming. It’s like some of the stress lifts from his shoulders each time he passes by a cat sunning itself on the roof of a car or curled up in one of the houses. He hasn’t had a cat in a long time, not since he was a little kid, but seeing the street cats brings back a kind of nostalgia.

Maybe that’s why one day when he’s restocking shelves in the convenience store he works at he finds his eyes wandering to the hardly-ever-touched row of cat treats tucked away at the end of the cosmetics aisle. It’s not a conscious decision, not really, but at the end of the night he finds himself using his employee discount to purchase a bag of cat treats.

A few months later, Jeongguk hardly ever doesn’t have cat treats stashed away in his bag. He feels a bit silly, but the cats certainly appreciate the gesture. Even though someone is refilling their food bowls pretty regularly, they’re always excited for a snack.

Thursday after soccer practice finds Jeongguk leaving campus through the back gate, as usual. Before he’s even started down the winding hill, he has his gym bag slung around his shoulder so that he can unzip it and start digging around for the bag of cat treats he shoved in this morning. He searches while he walks, and manages to locate the bag just as he turns the last corner before the cats’ home.

There’s a car parked behind the apartment building today, blocking Jeongguk’s view of the alcove with the cat houses. One of the tabby cats is perched on the hood, soaking in the sun. A track of cat paw prints runs right down the middle of the dusty windshield. Jeongguk bites back a smile. The second the cat spots him. It stands and begins to yowl. Not a nice, gentle meow, but a full-on caterwaul. The cat paces excitedly to the edge of the car, tail straight, hopeful eyes fixed on the bag of treats in Jeongguk’s hand.

Jeongguk pauses beside the car. He tries to open the bag, but struggles to get the seal open. The cat reaches out an impatient paw and hooks a claw through Jeongguk’s sweatshirt, reeling his hand in. Jeongguk rolls his eyes.

“Yeah, yeah. Hello, asshole,” he says.

“Hello yourself,” someone replies.

Jeongguk nearly jumps out of his skin. The bag of treats, now open, slips from between his fingers and hits the asphalt. Cat treats scatters everywhere.

“Shit,” Jeongguk says, staring wide-eyed at where the voice had come from. A guy is straightening up from behind the car. Judging from the bag of cat food in his hand he had been refilling the food bowls. There’s an amused smile on his face.

Jeongguk would be grateful if the ground opened up and swallowed him right now. “I’m so sorry,” he says, “I didn’t realize—”

Movement in the corner of his eye has Jeongguk glancing down. The cat has jumped off the car and started feasting on the spilled treats.

Shit,” Jeongguk says again. He immediately drops to a squat, hurriedly trying to both scoop up cat treats and push away the cat trying to guzzle them up. “No, no, don’t eat them all, you’ll get sick,” he scolds as he uses his elbow to block the cat from the pile he’s amassing.

Cat food guy laughs, and somewhere in the back of his flustered mind Jeongguk registers that it’s a nice laugh. High and a little breathy, but melodic. Then the next thing Jeongguk knows, another set of hands is entering his field of vision. The guy sets the bag of cat food—carefully closed—aside, and helps pick up the treats.

“Here,” he says, holding out a handful. Jeongguk holds open the top of the treat bag, and the guy dumps the treats in. The cat tries to butt its head in. “No, Howl,” the guy says. “You’ve already had enough.” He pours the last of the treats in and then gently pushes the cat’s face away before it can try to nosedive into the bag.

Jeongguk is overwhelmed, thoughts scattered and hands clumsy as he drops the last few treats into the bag and reseals it. His cheeks and ears are burning. He chances a glance at the guy, only to have his cheeks burn even hotter. Because cat food guy is cute. He’s wearing a plaid shirt paired with ripped jeans, a casual outfit that somehow makes him look like a runway model. He looks up, catching Jeongguk’s gaze, and smiles as he runs a hand through his blond hair.

Jeongguk gulps and quickly looks away.

“Howl?” he asks. It comes out a bit high pitched. He clears his throat. “Like from Howl’s Moving Castle?”

“Yeah, technically,” the guy says. He stands and dusts his hands off. “But also just because he never shuts up.”

Jeongguk stands as well. He’s got a bit of height on the guy, but that’s about all he has going for himself in this situation. His sweatpants and the hoodie he’d pulled on after practice have never felt shabbier.

“Um,” he says, rubbing his neck and carefully avoiding eye contact. He casts around for something else to say. The cat meows at his feet, and Jeongguk is struck with inspiration. “Are any of the other cats here?” he asks.

“Yeah,” the guy says. His voice is soft, Jeongguk notices, with some of that lilt Jeongguk had heard in his laugh. It sounds a bit like home. “Mama’s in one of the houses. Not sure where Vincent is, though. Probably off hunting or sleeping under a car.”

“Vincent? That’s, um, a pretty cool name,” Jeongguk says. His own words sound cringey in his ears, and he does his best not to wince. They do the trick though, because the guy gives another small laugh.

“Yeah, Vincent van Gogh. Taehyung named that one.” His cheeks are slightly pink. “Mama is Howl and Vincent’s mom. She had them a year ago, right around when we first started bringing food.”

Jeongguk follows the guy around the car and, sure enough, one of the cats is curled up in one of the houses. It’s the other, bigger tabby. That means Vincent must be the one with black and white splotches. Jeongguk squats and opens the bag of cat treats again—this time with considerable less difficulty. He puts one on his palm and holds it out in the direction of the cat house. Mama regards him warily for a second before cautiously crawling out.

“So you’re the one feeding them?” Jeongguk asks as Mama crunches the treat into smaller pieces. It’s kind of a redundant question, since the guy has a bag of cat food, but Jeongguk is still curious. He’d always assumed someone from the apartment building was leaving the food out.

“Well, there are a couple of us,” the guy says with a shrug. “I’m the one in charge of bringing food on Tuesdays and Thursdays, though.”

He crouches down next to Jeongguk, close enough that their knees bump. Jeongguk risks another look. The guy is looking back.

“I’m Jimin,” the guy says. He smiles, bright and playful, and Jeongguk’s heart gives a sad little thud. “You can call me that instead of asshole, if you want.”

Jeongguk makes a sound that is embarrassingly close to a gurgle. “I was talking to the cat!” he protests. “I didn’t even know you were there—”

“I know, I know,” Jimin says, waving him off with a laugh. “I’m just giving you a hard time.”

His reassurance does little to calm Jeongguk’s pounding heart. His entire face is probably a bright cherry red now. He’s never been good at talking to cute guys, but this probably takes the cake.

“I’m Jeongguk,” he says, after a moment. “Just, um, by the way.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Jeongguk.”

Jimin’s eyes crinkle when he smiles and any words Jeongguk may have said fly straight out of his brain.

Luckily, Jimin continues the conversation for him. “Are you a student here?” he asks. Howl, now done searching for stray cat treats under the car, starts rubbing against Jimin’s knee. Jimin absentmindedly reaches down to scratch behind his ears, but keeps his eyes on Jeongguk.

“Yeah, I’m in the English department. Second year.” Jeongguk braces for the inevitable comment on how his English must be so good then—which, no, it’s not that great still, but he’s working really hard to get better—but Jimin just nods, his lips forming an impressed oh.

“That’s cool,” he says. “I’m fourth year Education.” His smile turns smug. “No need to be super formal, though. You can just call me hyung.” He says it with a dramatic air, as if bestowing a huge favor. Jeongguk is pretty sure Jimin is just being silly. About 80% sure. Sure enough that he feels safe laughing.

“Okay, hyung,” he says. Jimin gives him a thumbs up, and Jeongguk suppresses a giggle. He drops his gaze to the bag of cat treats resting loosely in his hands. Mama has retreated back to the cat house and is curled up on the cushion inside, her tail over her nose. It’s cute. Jeongguk smiles.

A high-pitched alarm cuts through the peaceful quiet of the alley.

Jeongguk startles. There’s a moment of uncertainty, where he teeters back onto his heels, and then he falls—flat on to his butt.

Jeongguk sits there in shock for about five seconds as the alarm continues to shriek. He stares up at Jimin, who stares back, eyes wide in surprise. Then reality hits him and Jeongguk scrambles to free his phone from his pocket. He fumbles and almost drops it, and has to jab the ‘dismiss’ option three times before the alarm finally shuts off.

Silence falls back over the alley. Jeongguk sits there, butt on the concrete. His ears are still ringing. He blinks at his his phone until reality sets in again and he jumps to his feet.

“Shit,” he yelps, quickly turning in a full circle as he tries to locate his gym bag. He eventually spots it over by the car, where he had dropped it when he stooped to pick up the spilled treats. Jeongguk dashes over and slings the bag over his shoulder, already doing math in his head. That was his Work Starts in 30 Minutes, Move Your Ass alarm. He’s still a good fifteen minutes from home, and then it’s another five minutes to the convenience store. If he sprints, he might have time for a quick shower. Maybe, if the crosslight gods are on his side.

He whirls back around and finds Jimin watching him with a bemused look.

“Sorry,” Jeongguk gasps out. “I’ve got work.”

“Oh!” Jimin says, expression changing into a grin. “No worries.” He raises one hand in a wave; his eyes are dancing with laughter. “See you around.”

“Yeah, sorry, see you!” Jeongguk shouts, already breaking into a run. He doesn’t even have time to dwell on his embarrassment at having fallen flat on his ass in front of Jimin. He skids around the end of the alley and out onto the main street—only to run into red light number one. Jeongguk lets out a whine and hops from foot to foot impatiently. As he waits, an image of Jimin laughing, cheeks pink and a hand running through his hair, flashes unbidden through Jeongguk’s mind. He squeezes his eyes shut and begs the light to turn faster. Fuck, fuck, he’s so fucked

“Hey, you know that street behind the sports fields?” Jeongguk asks.

Yoongi grunts an affirmative.

Jeongguk worries his bottom lip for a second before continuing, “Have you ever seen the cats that live there?”

Yoongi shoots Jeongguk a look. “Yeah,” he says. “I’ve seen them before. Why?”

Jeongguk shrugs, turning his water bottle over in his hands. Yoongi had called him out for a game of basketball, claiming that if he stared at data patterns for even a second longer his eyes would fall out of his head. Jeongguk, about ready to bash his head into the novel he’s supposed to be reading, had readily agreed. When it comes to basketball, what Jeongguk has in height advantage Yoongi makes up for in skill advantage, and they’d ended up at a tie and in dire need of a water break.

“I was walking past yesterday, and there was a guy there putting out food for them. Said he was a student here.”

“Oh, Kim Taehyung?” Yoongi asks. “He’s in the music department. Comes around every now and then asking for donations for cat food.”

Jeongguk frowns. “No,” he says. “Not Taehyung… I think he’s Taehyung’s friend? He said his name was Jimin.”

Yoongi hums. He starts rolling the basketball he’s holding from one hand to the other. “Jimin? I don’t know any Jimins at this school. Why?” He switches to spinning the basketball on a finger. “Was he cute?”

Jeongguk’s silence speaks for him. Yoongi drops the ball, and it rolls a few feet away before coming to a stop. Jeongguk keeps his eyes firmly on his water bottle. He can feel Yoongi staring at him.

“Wait, you mean you have a crush on the guy who feeds the stray cats?” Yoongi reaches out and grabs Jeongguk’s cheek, cooing. “Aww, how cute.”

“Stop it,” Jeongguk snaps, pushing Yoongi’s hand away. He hunkers down and pouts. “He probably never wants to talk to me again, anyway.”

“Why, what did you do?” Yoongi asks.

So Jeongguk tells him. By the time he’s done, Yoongi is wheezing with laughter. Jeongguk pouts harder and punches Yoongi’s arm.

“It’s not funny! I don’t think I’ve ever been more embarrassed in my life.”

“Sorry,” Yoongi says, wiping a stray tear from his eye. “That’s pretty impressive, though. I don’t know if there’s any coming back from that.”

Jeongguk groans. “I know,” he says, covering his face with his hands. “But he was so cute, hyung. I really wanna talk to him again.”

“So talk to him,” Yoongi says with a shrug. “It doesn’t seem like he was mad. Besides, you’re pretty adorable when you’re flustered. Maybe he thought you were cute.”

“M’not cute,” Jeongguk grumbles. He brings his hands up to muss his hair. “Bet he thinks I’m an idiot.”

“Look, you know what days he usually stops by, right? Just... go and try to talk to him. Even if he thinks you’re an idiot, the only way to convince him otherwise is to talk to him, yeah?”

Jeongguk sighs. He hates it when Yoongi is right, although it happens frequently—which is exactly why Jeongguk comes to him for advice to start with. But still. He can’t let Yoongi know that his advice was good, or else he’ll start gloating. So Jeongguk gripes, “If you’re so good with advice, why is your love life such a mess?”

Yoongi straightens and puffs his chest out, radiating injured dignity. “I’ll have you know, I’m in a committed two year relationship—”

“Yeah, with your Master’s thesis. That doesn’t count,” Jeongguk says, rolling his eyes. He sets his water bottle to the side and pushes himself up off the bench.

Yoongi gasps. “Stop, you’ll hurt its feelings!”

“Yeah, yeah.” Jeongguk leans over to pick up the basketball. He turns to look back at Yoongi, still sitting on the bench. “You coming? Or are you too afraid I’ll crush you?”

“Brat,” Yoongi says, eyes narrowed. Thankfully, though, he doesn’t call Jeongguk out on the clumsy topic change. He just stands and stretches briefly before stepping back onto the court with a gleam in his eye. “You’re on.”

It’s a week before Jeongguk sees Jimin again. On Thursday he’s filled with a strange mixture of apprehension and anticipation as he leaves the back gates and heads down the street, but there’s no one other than the cats hanging out by the alcove. The food bowls are mostly full. Jeongguk gives Vincent chin scritches and tries to swallow his disappointment. Jimin must have already stopped by.

The weekend passes as it normally does, Saturday spent almost entirely at work and Sunday spent sleeping and studying at home. He goes back to campus on Monday with butterflies fluttering around his stomach. He tries to quell them. Jimin won’t be there, he scolds himself when he’s finally leaving campus after his last lecture. Stop being stupid, there isn’t going to be anyone there, it’s not even the right day of the week. He rounds the corner, and then nearly has a heart attack when he notices someone is, in fact, kneeling down to pet the cats.

But once he calms down from the initial shock, he realizes that it’s actually two someones: a couple of girls, wearing matching letterman jackets for the engineering department, who are laughing as they try to get pictures of Howl. The cat in question is, of course, being a little shit and trying his best to rub his face on their phones. Jeongguk stops to give them some treats to bribe Howl with and some tips on how to get him to stay still for the camera. He doesn’t stay for long, but he still finds himself looking over his shoulder, half-expecting Jimin to pop out from somewhere. He doesn’t, of course, and Jeongguk heads on his way with his heart heavy with disappointment.

His heart sinks even further when he reaches the cats’ home on Thursday and Jimin is once again nowhere to be seen. The he notices the cats’ food bowls are empty. Jeongguk firmly tells himself not to get his hopes up, but he can’t help but feel a little hopeful anyway.

He distributes a couple treats to Howl and Vincent, jumping and whipping his head around every time he hears someone approach. The street is a common shortcut for students, and Jeongguk startles several times, only to find equally startled strangers looking back at him.

Eventually Howl must tire of Jeongguk’s disappointed sighs, for he meows imperiously and braces his front two paws on Jeongguk’s knee. He stands at full height and fixes Jeongguk with an unimpressed green stare that clearly says, ‘hurry up with the treats.’

“You’re a menace,” Jeongguk mutters as he pulls another treat out of the bag. “This is the last one, okay?”

Howl pays him no heed, too busy scarfing the treat. Jeongguk rolls his eyes. He can hear someone approaching again, but he keeps his eyes firmly on the cat. It’s not going to be Jimin, he scolds himself. Knock it off.

Not two seconds later his thoughts are interrupted by Jimin’s cheerful voice calling out, “Hey, Jeongguk!”

Jeongguk jerks his head around so fast that he almost falls on his ass again. Sure enough, Jimin is approaching, cat food bag braced on one hip so that he can wave with his free hand. He’s grinning brightly, and Jeongguk’s heart immediately stutters.

“Oh,” Jeongguk manages to get out. “Hey, hyung.” Thankfully his voice doesn’t squeak, but he clears his throat anyway as Jimin crouches down next to him.

The second Howl sees the bag of cat food, he abandons Jeongguk and darts to the food bowl, yowling impatiently. Jimin laughs and shakes his head as he undoes the clamp on the top of the bag.

“Jeongguk was right,” he chides the cat. “You’re an asshole.”

Jeongguk feels a familiar heat begin to creep up his neck. “Sorry about that, again,” he says.

“Why?” Jimin asks with a grin. “It was pretty funny.”

He pulls one of the food bowls closer and starts to pour kibble out into it. Now Vincent also abandons Jeongguk, opting to join his brother beside the food bowl. Even Mama pokes her head cautiously out of the plastic house.

Jeongguk makes a strangled sound halfway between a groan and a whine. Jimin laughs as he reaches past the crowding cats for the other food bowl.

“Come on, don’t be so hard on yourself. It was pretty funny,” he says, pouring out food and placing the the bowl down in front of Mama. He pauses and glances over at Jeongguk. “You should have seen your face when I stood up.”

Jeongguk looks back, hoping his ears aren’t turning red again. Jimin looks good today, too, in a simple striped shirt and black jeans—although Jeongguk has a sneaking suspicion that Jimin could wear a garbage bag and still manage to look nice. His golden blond hair is unstyled today, and the bangs make him look a little younger, more like the next door neighbor you’ve had a crush on for years than a catwalk model. Jeongguk swallows hard.

“It’s funny we’ve never run into each other before,” Jimin suddenly says. “Do you usually come by around this time?”

“Huh?” Jeongguk blinks, resurfacing from his thoughts. Jimin is staring straight ahead, watching the cats, but the tips of his ears are pink. “Um, yeah,” Jeongguk says. “I get out of practice at six on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so this is usually when I stop by.”

“Practice?”

Jimin glances down, at the gym bag sitting next to Jeongguk, before dragging his gaze back up. Jeongguk’s not sure if he imagines the way Jimin’s eyes linger on his thighs.

“I’m in a soccer club,” Jeongguk explains.

Another smile, sunshine bright, breaks across Jimin’s face. “Oh, cool!” he says.

“Do you do any sports?” Jeongguk rushes to ask, terrified they’ll fall into an awkward silence. He generally hates small talk, but he does genuinely want to learn more about Jimin. If he needs to force himself through small talk to do so, then so be it.

“Ah, I was in the Taekwondo club, but I had to drop it this year because I got too busy with school,” Jimin says with a half-shrug. “Lately I’ve been going to a kickboxing gym near campus when I get time.”

Jeongguk’s mouth goes a little dry imagining Jimin kickboxing. “That sounds fun,” he says. His voice only catches a little.

“It is!” Jimin’s nose wrinkles when he smiles, and it’s unfairly cute. “You should try it sometime.”

Jeongguk opens his mouth, ready to jump on the chance to suggest they go together but Howl chooses that moment to wander over from the food bowl, plop himself down right in front of Jimin, and meow at the top of his lungs.

“What?” Jimin asks laughingly, turning his attention from Jeongguk back to the cat. Howl butts his head against Jimin’s knee, probably leaving hair all over the black denim. Jimin obligingly holds out a hand for Howl to rub his face against.

Jeongguk bites back irrational jealousy as he watches the cat steal Jimin’s attention. He could probably still suggest that they go kickboxing sometime, but his moment of courage is gone now. Instead, he pulls out his phone—and then promptly curses under his breath when he sees the time. It’s not as dire as last week, but if he doesn’t want to sprint the entire way to his apartment again he needs to get going. Grudgingly, he braces his hands on his knees and stands.

Jimin, hand still extended to Howl, gives Jeongguk a curious look. “Heading out?” he asks.

“Yeah, gotta get ready for work,” Jeongguk says as he reaches down to pick up his gym bag. He pauses, hand on the strap, and turns to Jimin. This time he takes the chance before he can lose his nerve and he blurts out, “See you next week?”

Jimin smiles. “Sure,” he says. “See you next week.”

This time Jeongguk doesn’t run the rest of the way down the hill, but somehow it still feels like he’s flying.

It’s kind of funny, because Jeongguk knows for a fact that he had never seen Jimin with the cats before, but suddenly their schedules seem to overlap every week. At first Jeongguk tries to keep himself from overthinking it; he feels guilty for assuming things. But as time goes on and Jimin continues to show up, Jeongguk finds it harder and harder to explain things away, until he finally gives up and lets himself think that there might be something there.

Sometimes they barely have time to exchange greetings before Jeongguk has to run off to work or Jimin has to get back to a study group, but other times they get to talk for a bit longer. The cats are their usual topic, a safe common ground. The next easiest topic is school, which primarily means complaining about classes or classmates. They wander into other territories too, though, and somehow Jeongguk finds himself knowing that Jimin has a younger brother, hates seafood, and broke his arm falling off a bike in middle school.

Over the next month Jeongguk also gets to meet Taehyung a couple times, as well as a girl named Nayeon who also helps out with the cats. But Jeongguk is a little selfish, and he likes the days when it’s just him and Jimin the best. Likes the way Jimin starts gesturing with his hands when he gets excited. Likes the way Jimin listens intently to whatever inane story Jeongguk ends up telling. Likes the way Jimin’s eyes light up when he laughs, and the way he’ll sometimes collapse against Jeongguk’s shoulder when something is especially funny.

Likes Jimin, period.

Jeongguk isn’t a stranger to crushes, but this is the first time in a while that he’s really liked someone, and the thrill is exhilarating. But unfortunately, Jeongguk has never been very good at playing it cool in front of someone he likes, and he’s, like, 80% sure Jimin has figured out that Jeongguk has a crush on him. Yet he’s also about 60% sure that Jimin likes him back. Maybe, possibly, going by the way Jimin has taken to calling Jeongguk cute and occasionally ruffling his hair; the way he smiles behind his hand and blushes when Jeongguk makes an attempt at flirting.

And so, Jeongguk lets himself hope.

Jeongguk has just finished up soccer practice and is trying to muster the energy to haul himself up off the grass when he notices a familiar head of golden hair walking along the side of the soccer field. Immediately Jeongguk perks up, pulling himself into a sitting position and squinting in the direction of the hair. Sure enough, it’s Jimin—today in a black t-shirt and tight acid wash jeans, hugging a full bag of cat food to his chest. The sight knocks all the breath Jeongguk’s been trying so hard to recover right back out of his lungs.

He didn’t expect to see Jimin here. He never has, in the months since soccer practice started. In fact, he’s never seen Jimin anywhere other than the alleyway with the cats. Somehow it never crossed Jeongguk’s mind that Jimin might come this way, even though the path along the sports fields is one of the main routes to the back gates.

Jeongguk stands, planning to call out, but someone else beats him to it.

“Hey, Jimin!” Hoseok hollers, trotting across the field and waving his arms above his head. He looks ridiculous with his arms windmilling and his hair still pulled back with the sweatband he uses during practice. “Fancy seeing you here.”

Hoseok is another player on Jeongguk’s team—one of the midfielders, fast as hell. Jeongguk doesn’t really know him all that well. They’re friendly, but not friends exactly, and have never hung out outside of practice. He has no clue who Hoseok is friends with—although now that he thinks about it, Hoseok is in education, so it makes sense he knows Jimin. Still, the entire thing catches Jeongguk off guard.

Jimin stops walking to grin at Hoseok. “Yeah, well,” he replies, just loud enough for Jeongguk to make out. Jimin uses his chin to indicate the cat food. “The cats live out this way.”

“Yeah, but it’s such a coincidence for you to stop by just now.” There’s a lilt to Hoseok’s voice, as if he’s poking fun at Jimin for something. Jimin’s expression immediately sours.

“I was busy earlier. I only got a break now.”

“Uh-huh.” Hoseok doesn’t sound convinced. He reaches out, maybe to ruffle Jimin’s hair. Jimin scowls as he ducks away, but laughs anyway when Hoseok gets an arm wrapped around his shoulders.

Jeongguk stands there, gym bag in hand and the greeting he’d had prepared sitting uncertainly on his lips. It’s obvious that Jimin and Hoseok are close, much closer than Jimin and Jeongguk are. Jeongguk feels bad interrupting them, like he’ll be shoving himself in somewhere he doesn’t really belong. He hesitates, about to turn and sneak off the field a different way, when Jimin pulls away from Hoseok’s hold to glance around. His eyes land on Jeongguk, and immediately his face lights up.

“Jeongguk!” Jimin calls out cheerfully.

Jeongguk gulps, all thoughts of ditching evaporating in the warmth of Jimin’s smile. He wavers for a second, then decides fuck it and jogs over. “Hey, hyung,” he says.

Hoseok holds Jimin at arm’s length, glancing between him and Jeongguk. “You two know each other?” he asks, voice pitched so high that the surprise in it sounds almost fake.

“Yeah,” Jeongguk replies, rubbing at the back of his neck. He feels overwhelmed and more than a little out of place, and of course his tongue chooses this moment to betray him. “We, uh.” He gestures between himself, Jimin, and the bag of cat food. “Cats.”

Great. Good job, Jeongguk. Absolutely nailed it.

“Jeongguk’s been helping feed the cats,” Jimin supplies helpfully. His words are accompanied by a sharp look in Hoseok’s direction.

“Ohhh,” Hoseok says, nodding slowly with his eyebrows somewhere in the vicinity of his hairline. “I see.”

See what? Jeongguk wants to ask.

Jimin’s cheeks flush pink. “Hyung!” he says.

Hoseok smiles beatifically and dances out of reach, even though Jimin’s arms are still full of cat food. Across the field, someone calls out Hoseok’s name and he waves a hand over his head in reply. “All right, then, I’ll leave you kids to it,” he says. “Have fun!” He wiggles his eyebrows once more, and then he’s gone, leaving an awkward silence in his wake.

Jeongguk says, “Um.”

“I’m—” Jimin starts to say at the same time.

They both fall silent again, staring at each other.

“You first,” Jeongguk says, but Jimin just shakes his head.

“No, you go,” he insists.

“Oh,” Jeongguk says. “I was just gonna say… we’re done now, so I was actually about to head out? If you wanna walk together?”

“Oh! Sure.” Jimin is smiling again, one of the bright ones that makes his eyes scrunch cutely.

Jeongguk beams back. “Cool,” he says. “Your turn now, what were you going to say?”

Jimin fidgets, fingers picking at the edges of the cat food bag. “Nothing, just that I’m glad I ran into you.” He looks up at Jeongguk and he seems almost shy. HIs smile is small and sweet, a hidden thing only for Jeongguk, and it sends Jeongguk’s stomach somersaulting.

“I’m glad too,” Jeongguk says. “Just lemme grab my bag, and then we can go…?”

Jimin looks golden in the late afternoon sunlight, and his eyes are warm as he says, “Yeah, let’s go.”

Jeongguk knows something’s wrong before he’s even made it out the back gates. He can hear raised voices—one that sounds like Jimin and another, female, that he doesn’t recognize. They’re obviously arguing, and Jeongguk picks up his pace, jogging down the hill and around the twist in the street until the cats’ alcove comes into sight.

Jimin is standing there, his back to Jeongguk. He looks more tense than Jeongguk has ever seen him. His hands are balled into fists at his sides. “Please, just listen—” he’s saying, but the lady standing across from him obviously plans to do no such thing.

“I want them gone, you hear?” she screams. “I’ve told you kids time and time again—”

“And we’ve told you that they’re not on your property. The building owner gave permission for them to live here.”

Jimin’s cheeks are flushed with anger, but his eyes are colder than Jeongguk has even seen them. He looks like he might have been carved from steel and ice. It’s a startling contrast the the easy smiles and warm laughter Jeongguk has come to associate with him.

“I’m going to call the city,” the lady threatens. “See what they have to say about your so-called permission.”

Jeongguk gulps, nerves shooting through him. He hates confrontations, hates getting involved in any sort of fight, and this seems just short of a full on war. His first instinct is to turn tail and run, but it seems like Jimin could use some support—and besides, the lady’s waspish gaze is already turning to him.

“Are you another one of them?” the lady snaps, breaking Jeongguk out of his thoughts.

Jimin turns to look, surprise passing over his face when he sees Jeongguk. Jeongguk wants to offer him a smile, but the lady is staring him down, so he decides to address her first.

“Am I another… what?” he asks. Not the most eloquent answer; he’ll need to do better. He feels ready to jitter out of his skin, but he forces himself to continue. “Sorry, ma’am, but I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Could you start from the beginning?”

“I certainly can,” she says, pulling herself up. She barely comes up to Jeongguk’s chest, but somehow in front of her he feels like a tiny child. She reminds him distinctly of a social studies teacher he had in sixth grade, who was tough as nails and had scared him shitless. “One of those cats”—the lady spits the word out like it leaves a bad taste in her mouth—“left a half-eaten rat outside my house. They’re unsanitary monsters and I want them gone.”

A wave of anger, hot and sharp, pulses through Jeongguk’s veins. Next to him, Jimin inhales sharply. Monsters. Jeongguk thinks of Howl, plopping down the the ground to noisily demand chin scratches after gorging himself on treats. Mama, coming out of her plastic house to rub her cheek cautiously against his hand. Vincent, climbing right into Taehyung’s lap and purring away. Monsters.

Jeongguk’s fear and apprehension evaporate. They leave behind nothing but an anger so strong he’s thrumming with it. He can feel tension building, manifesting in pinpricks behind his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Jeongguk says slowly. His voice sounds distorted in his own ears, like he’s listening from far away. “But can you explain to me how the cats killing rats is a bad thing? I mean, I’m not trying to be rude, ma’am, but if the rat is dead outside your house then it isn’t alive inside of it.” Distantly, he’s surprised that his voice came out so evenly—it has an annoying tendency to waver when he’s upset.

The lady pales, then turns sort of green, but continues to hold his stare. Jeongguk reminds himself to breathe. Inhale, exhale, and the lady is still glaring at him. Finally, after a long moment, she scowls and crosses her arms.

“I want one of you to come clear the rat away,” she says, stiffly, then turns on her heel and marches off.

Jeongguk’s adrenaline-induced bravado lasts until she’s out of sight. As soon as she’s gone, he feels himself crumpling inward. He drops into a crouch, letting his gym bag hit the asphalt beside him, and cradles his head in his hands. “Shit,” he mumbles into his palms.

“Hey,” Jimin says, sounding alarmed. He immediately kneels beside Jeongguk and lays a gentle hand on his arm. “Jeongguk, are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Jeongguk insists, but his voice finally betrays him and breaks. “Fuck.”

His pulse is hammering now, filling up his throat, his ears. A tension headache is already spreading across his forehead, from one temple to the other, and the pinpricks in his eyes, traitors that they are, start to well into tears.

Jeongguk squeezes his eyes shut, willing the moisture away. He rarely cries. Yoongi’s the one who ends up sobbing when they go to movies, not Jeongguk. He hadn’t even cried when he got rejected from his first choice university. But for whatever reason, when Jeongguk gets angry—really and truly angry—his tear ducts suddenly decide to go into overdrive.

“Jeongguk.” The concern in Jimin’s voice is palpable and Jeongguk hates this. Hates that he’s making Jimin worry, hates that his own traitor body is embarrassing him yet again in front of this guy he likes so much.

“I’m—” Jeongguk starts to say, but interrupts himself with a reflexive sniffle. He freezes, horrified. Beside him, Jimin does the same, hand tensing on Jeongguk’s arm. Then he’s moving, massaging Jeongguk’s shoulder lightly, comforting.

“Hey,” Jimin says again, softly, and that’s all it takes for the dam Jeongguk’s been desperately building to break.

Jeongguk doesn’t bawl, but the tears leak out from behind his eyelids in a steady stream, tracking down his face. Jeongguk pulls the heels of his hands away from his eyes so that he can scrub angrily at his cheeks. “Fuck,” he says again, hating how his voice catches in his throat.

He can hear Jimin inhale, knows he’s going to say something and dreads what it might be, but just then Howl crawls out from under a car parked across the street and makes a dash straight for them, meowing all the way. Within seconds, Jeongguk has a purring cat rubbing against his knee. Jeongguk sniffles again—god, how embarrassing—then reaches down to rub behind Howl’s ears in the way he likes.

Jimin’s hand continues to rub soothingly against Jeongguk’s shoulder. “Isn’t it crazy how cats always seem to know when you’re feeling down?” he asks softly.

“Yeah,” Jeongguk says. His voice is thick with snot, but otherwise steady. He clears his throat and laughs as Howl butts his head against his knee.

“That lady’s been giving us shit for over a year now,” Jimin says casually, voice light even though Jeongguk can still hear the annoyance in it. “Ever since Howl and Vincent were born. She threatens to call the city, like, at least once a month.”

Jimin lets out a frustrated sigh and runs his free hand through his hair. He hasn’t styled his bangs up today, Jeongguk notices now, and as soon as his fingers leave his hair it flops right back into his eyes. It’s cute. Jeongguk sniffs again, and realizes the tears have stopped.

“No matter what we say, she won’t listen,” Jimin continues. “I’m pretty sure this is the first time anyone has gotten the upper hand. You were amazing.”

The back of Jeongguk’s neck goes warm. “I didn’t really do anything,” he mumbles as he scratches under Howl’s chin.

“You were great,” Jimin insists, squeezing Jeongguk’s shoulder. Jeongguk is definitely blushing now, both pleased and embarrassed.

They stay like that for another minute before Jimin gives Jeongguk’s shoulder one last squeeze and stands. He stretches his arms above his head, and Jeongguk catches the brief flash of toned stomach in his peripheral vision.

“Hey,” Jimin says, casual as can be. “Wanna get dinner?”

Jeongguk’s hand falters and Howl meows in protest. Jeongguk hurriedly resumes his chin scritches.

“It’s okay, hyung,” he says, keeping his eyes fixed on the cat. “You don’t have to take pity on me just because I have overactive tear ducts.”

“I’m not. I’m asking you to dinner because I want to.” Jeongguk can practically hear Jimin rolling his eyes. “I’m starving, and there’s this really good tteokbokki place just down the street. C’mon, I’ll buy.”

Jeongguk really shouldn’t. He has work in a little over an hour, and he needs to go home and shower and try to get the swelling around his eyes to go down. He opens his mouth to say as much, but what comes out instead is: “Okay.”

(The tteokbokki is delicious. It’s so spicy that Jeongguk’s eyes start watering again and his nose runs embarrassingly. Jimin orders him extra odeng and fusses about making sure Jeongguk gets enough to eat. So you won’t get hungry at work later, he says, ignoring Jeongguk’s protests that he has free rein of the expired snacks.

Jeongguk leaves the restaurant with his stomach full of rice cakes and his heart full of something that feels suspiciously like love.)

Jeongguk looks skeptically between the tube-shaped packaging in his hands and Taehyung.

“So I just like, open it? And squeeze it out?” Jeongguk asks, eyebrows furrowed.

“Yup!” Taehyung says. “It’s like, a purée thing? Should squish right out.”

He’s crouched nearby, fiddling with his phone camera. He had showed up with Jimin today, fancy imported cat treat from Japan in hand. Apparently an Instagram he follows had sworn that cats go crazy for this particular brand, and Taehyung wanted to try it out. He’s hoping to film the cats’ reaction for the Instagram he runs for the little cat family.

Jeongguk isn’t quite sure how he ended up being the one chosen to offer the treat. Jimin is standing behind Taehyung, looking like he’s trying to swallow back laughter. His eyes crinkle and his nose scrunches and Jeongguk hurriedly looks away before he ends up staring like a lovestruck idiot.

“Alright,” Jeongguk says. “I’m gonna go ahead, then.”

He pinches the tear tab at the end of the tube and rips it off. Howl is already circling him curiously. Mama is hidden away in her house, and Vincent is off somewhere—probably catching more rats to leave in front of people’s houses. With one last mental shrug Jeongguk squishes out some of the paste and holds the tube out to Howl.

The effect is instantaneous. Howl falls upon the treat, not just lapping at the purée but full on devouring it. Bits of mashed chicken and cat spit fly as he gnaws away. Jeongguk, taken aback, hurriedly tries to squish out more of the treat out. But Howl outpaces him, and soon Jeongguk has to lean back on his heels, pulling the tube away.

“Just a second,” he tells the cat. He holds the tube out of reach, starting to roll the end so he can squeeze it more efficiently.

Howl is having none of it. He lets out a particularly impatient yowl, then hooks his claws into Jeongguk’s sleeve.

“Wait—” Jeongguk laughs, holding the treat even higher. Howl responds by grabbing further up the fabric and launching himself. He climbs his way up Jeongguk’s arm, not stopping until he’s perched on Jeongguk’s shoulders, meowing directly into his ear.

Jeongguk freezes. He sits there, cat on his shoulders and one arm still outstretched, and looks slowly up at his friends. Taehyung is grinning as he films. Jimin is bent nearly in half with laughter.

“Um,” Jeongguk says. He’s suddenly grateful for the chilly weather today and the heavy sweatshirt he had chosen to wear. He can feel Howl’s claws even through the fabric, although they’re nowhere close to drawing blood.

Howl, unimpressed by the hold up but not quite willing to venture out onto Jeongguk’s precariously outstretched arm, lets out another yowl.

“I’ve never seen him do that before,” Taehyung says, lowering his phone. “That must be some good shit.”

Jeongguk gives him a desperate look. “What do I do?”

Taehyung props his hands on his hips and tilts his head to the side, considering. “Maybe we can use the rest to lure him back down,” he suggests.

“No, wait!” Jimin says through his laughter. “I want to get some pictures first.”

He’s still giggling as he whips out his phone and takes several photos. He continues to film as Taehyung attempts to get Howl off of Jeongguk. Bribery fails, and eventually Taehyung—who is considerably less scared of claws than Jeongguk is—simply shrugs and picks Howl up. He plops him onto the ground, appeasing the cat’s protests with the remainder of the purée.

Taehyung is much more efficient at the whole thing and gets the rest of the treat out without further incident. Before Jeongguk has time to feel embarrassed about this fact, Jimin is squatting next to him and leaning against Jeongguk’s shoulder.

“Look at this,” Jimin says, tilting his phone so Jeongguk can see. “I got some really good shots.”

They laugh as they flip through the photos together. Jeongguk’s expression is hilarious, a complete deer-in-the-headlights look. There’s a particularly funny picture of Jeongguk with his eyes screwed shut as Taehyung starts to pick up Howl.

“I’ll send you these—” Jimin starts to say, then cuts himself off with a quiet ah of realization. He grins sheepishly. “I forgot, I don’t have your number.”

“Oh,” Jeongguk says, heart thumping. “Right.”

He actually knows very well that they don’t have each other’s numbers—he’s been agonizing over how to ask Jimin for his for literally months now. He almost can’t believe the opportunity has been handed to him like this.

“Here.” He takes Jimin’s phone and closes out of the gallery app. He quickly adds himself as a contact. They exchange shy smiles as Jeongguk hands the phone back. Jimin’s cheeks are tinged pink, and Jeongguk is sure he isn’t much better.

The moment is broken by a low whistle from Taehyung. “Wow, Park Jimin,” he says with an eyebrow wiggle. “I think that’s the smoothest thing you’ve ever done.”

Tae,” Jimin says sharply.

Taehyung just cackles and goes back to giving Howl chin scritches. Jimin makes a sound halfway between a whine an exasperated sigh. He’s blushing harder now, but he doesn’t move out of Jeongguk’s space. Instead he leans in even closer. Their shoulders are pressed together as Jimin texts a heart emoji to Jeongguk’s number.

Hours later, behind the counter at the convenience store, Jeongguk is still smiling.

Jeongguk isn’t much of a texter. He’d warned Jimin right away, and Jimin has been pretty chill about it. He doesn’t spam Jeongguk with emojis and memes anyway, the way some of Jeongguk’s other friends do. But he does text from time to time. A simple ‘hey, are you on campus rn? :)’, or a ‘wanna grab some coffee before class?’, or sometimes a picture of something that reminded him of Jeongguk.

They start meeting up around campus, even on the days Jimin isn’t responsible for feeding the cats. Sometimes they study together, and sometimes they just hang out. It’s nice, and comfortable, and soon Jeongguk finds that they’ve settled into a new sort of routine.

So Jeongguk isn’t surprised when he gets a text from Jimin one rainy Monday afternoon.

‘do u have an umbrella? :(((’

Jeongguk bites back a laugh, smiling at his phone as he texts back.

‘sure. where are you?’

‘library :((( i was trying to wait it out but i have class at 3:30 :((((’

Jeongguk glances out the window. Water overflows from the gutters of the liberal arts building in torrents. It’s been raining for well over an hour now, the kind of relentless downpour that will soak you in seconds.

‘k’, he texts. ‘be there soon’

Jimin is waiting under the overhang outside the library, bouncing on the balls of his feet and looking nervous. He brightens as soon as he sees Jeongguk, waving enthusiastically.

“I’m so sorry,” he says when he steps under the umbrella. “I forgot to check the forecast this morning.”

“It’s fine,” Jeongguk says with a shrug. “I don’t mind.”

Jeongguk’s umbrella is on the smaller side, one of those compact ones that fold up easily so that he can keep it in his backpack. There’s barely enough room for the two of them under it, and as they step out into the rain Jimin huddles in close. He links his arm through Jeongguk’s, so that his hand sits in the crook of the arm holding the umbrella.

Jeongguk pauses, just for a second. Jimin is a tactile guy, constantly putting his arm around shoulders or patting knees. This feels different, though. More intentional. Jimin is pressed in close, closer than he even needs to be. When he notices Jeongguk’s hesitation he stops and looks up, biting his lip.

Jeongguk’s heart hammers as loudly as the rain hitting the umbrella. He smiles, a little shakily, and then starts walking.

They press together and giggle as they sidestep puddles and dodge other umbrellas. Jimin asks Jeongguk about his day, teases him about the project he’s been whining about for the past week. It’s weird, because there are people all around them—heads down and huddled under their umbrellas as they rush along—but it feels like the two of them exist inside a separate bubble. Their own little corner of the universe.

“Shit, my shoulder got wet,” Jimin laughs when a gust of wind briefly catches the umbrella.

Jeongguk isn’t sure what possesses him. Maybe it’s the warmth of Jimin against his side or that look from earlier, or the giddiness of dashing through the rain together, but suddenly Jeongguk feels brave. He switches his umbrella to his other hand and gently frees his arm from Jimin’s grasp, only to wrap it around his shoulders. He pulls Jimin in, making sure to hold the umbrella so it’s more over Jimin than himself.

“How’s this?” Jeongguk asks, glancing over at Jimin, ready to pull his arm away if Jimin seems uncomfortable.

Jimin is looking back at him. His eyes are wide, but his expression quickly softens into something affectionate. He brings his own arm up and wraps it around Jeongguk’s waist. Jeongguk could swear he feels the warmth of Jimin’s touch, even through the fabric of his t-shirt.

“This is good,” Jimin says. He brings up his free hand to shove the umbrella back to the halfway point between them, so that Jeongguk won’t get wet. “We’re almost there, I’ll be fine.”

When he glances back over to Jeongguk, he’s smiling. Jeongguk swallows. He’s not sure he would be able to reply even if he knew what to say, so he just nods.

They stay like that for the rest of the walk to the education building, and when they step under the overhang and Jimin pulls away Jeongguk immediately finds himself missing the warmth. He lowers his umbrella slowly, watching as Jimin laughs and runs his fingers through his hair in an attempt to tame it. There’s no one else around, and the only sound is the cascading water from the roof and Jimin’s bubbling laugh.

“Thanks for saving me,” Jimin says once he’s satisfied with his hair. He still looks tousled, in the best kind of way; he’s unfairly cute.

“No problem,” Jeongguk says. “Text me when you get out. If it’s still raining I’ll come get you.”

Jimin hums and steps closer. “Hey,” he says softly.

There’s something in his eyes, the same gentle affection from before, but also something more that has Jeongguk’s stomach fluttering. It’s that intention from before, calm and determined.

“Let me know if I’m reading this wrong,” Jimin says. Then he’s reaching up, just slightly on tip-toes, and placing a hand on Jeongguk’s shoulder. He hesitates, then kisses Jeongguk’s cheek.

Jeongguk drops his umbrella. It thumps as it hits the floor.

Jimin leans back but doesn’t pull away completely. His hand stays on Jeongguk’s shoulder, although the touch is feather-light—ready to be pulled back in an instant. He smiles at Jeongguk, mostly amused but also shy.

Jeongguk stares. Gapes, really, as his brain struggles to process. “Oh,” he eventually manages to say. His face must be a picture, because whatever Jimin sees there has him breaking into a grin.

“Yeah,” Jimin says. He finally pulls away; takes a couple steps back and runs his fingers through his hair one more time. His cheeks are pink. “Well, I need to head in. I’ll text you!” He starts to leave.

“Wait!” Jeongguk calls out.

The shock has worn off and now he’s scrambling, desperate not to let Jimin slip between his fingers. Jimin turns back. He’s already at the door, and his expression changes from confusion to surprise when he sees Jeongguk dashing toward him.

Jeongguk makes it to Jimin in only a few strides. He cradles Jimin’s face gently and then kisses him right on the lips.

“You didn’t read things wrong,” he says after. “Just by the way.”

Jimin looks stunned for second, and then bursts into laughter. He wraps his arms around Jeongguk, pulling him in for a tight hug.

“Good,” he says against Jeongguk’s shoulder.

They stand there, lost in each other, until Jimin reluctantly loosens his grip. He sighs and pouts.

“I really do have to go to class,” he says.

“Alright,” Jeongguk replies. And then he darts in to place another quick kiss against the corner of Jimin’s mouth.

Jimin smiles at him, wide and happy.

“I’ll text you,” he says. “Promise.” And then he’s pulling away for real, waving before pushing through the doors.

Jeongguk watches him go, feeling a little punch-drunk. He’s in a daze the entire walk back to the liberal arts building, replaying everything over and over in his brain. Jimin’s lips on his cheek, Jimin’s lips beneath his own, Jimin’s bright smile—sunshine on this rainy day.

When he gets back to his desk his phone, accidentally left behind in his rush to leave, already has a new message.

‘i get out at five,’ it says. ‘wanna get dinner? ❤’

Jeongguk can’t text back fast enough.

“Hey there, asshole.”

Jeongguk looks up from untying his cleats and pulls a face. “Can you please let that die?” he whines.

“Nope,” Jimin says, popping the ‘p’. He’s grinning smugly, and manages to look stupidly hot while doing so. It’s unfair. Jeongguk pouts harder.

“Hey, no flirting on the field!” Hoseok yells as he jogs past.

“I’ll flirt with my boyfriend anywhere I want, thanks!” Jimin calls back.

Boyfriend. The word still sends shivers of excitement through Jeongguk. He realizes he’s blushing and quickly ducks his head, focusing on switching out his shoes.

He’s not fast enough to hide his face from Jimin, though. That, or his bright red ears betray him.

“Cute,” Jimin says. He reaches out a hand—the one not occupied by holding a bag of cat food—and ruffles Jeongguk’s hair.

“You’re cuter,” Jeongguk says, chancing a glance up.

Jimin laughs, delighted.

“And Howl is the cutest of all,” he says. “So let’s get going and give him some dinner before he starts serenading the neighborhood aunties.”

Jeongguk gives a dramatic shudder, remembering the auntie he’d faced off with before. He finishes lacing his regular tennis shoes up and throws his cleats into his bag. Jimin holds out a hand and Jeongguk takes it, letting Jimin pull him to his feet. Even once he’s standing, Jimin doesn’t let go.

Jeongguk turns and waves back at Hoseok for the both of them. He calls out goodbyes to the rest of his teammates, and then he and Jimin make their way off the turf, toward the back gate.

“You looked good out there,” Jimin says.

“Yeah? You were watching?” Jeongguk asks, preening.

“Yeah. Just a little bit at the end, after I got out of class.” Jimin squeezes Jeongguk’s hand lightly. The fact that he can't come watch practices because of his class schedule is something that bothers Jimin, even though Jeongguk has told him repeatedly it’s fine.

“I promise I’ll come to your next game,” Jimin says with a sly grin. “I’ll scream your name every time you do something cool. Jeon Jeongguk!

“You’ll just make me flustered,” Jeongguk whines halfheartedly, even if the thought of Jimin cheering for him has him feeling hot beneath his collar.

“That’s the plan.”

They laugh and bicker as they round the last corner before the cats’ alcove. Vincent is curled up on top of a car, soaking up the sun. Howl is sitting right next to the food bowl, impatient as ever, and begins to meow the second he spots them. Jeongguk and Jimin look at each other, then break into a fresh round of laughter.

Howl comes forward and winds between their legs. Jimin lets go of Jeongguk’s hand so he can wrangle the cat food bag. He chats with Howl as he does so, the sound of his voice even coaxing Mama out of her house.

Jeongguk watches him, smiling without even realizing it. His heart feels full and his fingers still tingle from Jimin’s touch. The sun is shining and Jeongguk is here, with his boyfriend and the cats who brought them together, and he can’t imagine any place he’d rather be.

 

 

BONUS:
The day after Jeongguk and Jimin meet for the second time

Jimin taps his pencil against his textbook, staring at the page without actually seeing it. The study room is quiet—only Jimin, Hoseok, and Taehyung are sitting at the large table—and the sound echoes. Tap, tap, tap.

“Park Jimin,” Hoseok says without looking up from his own notes, “if you don’t cut that out I may actually murder you.” The tone of his voice is light, perfectly pleasant, and Jimin immediately stills his pencil.

“Sorry,” he says.

Hoseok hums and finishes highlighting a line of text before looking up. “What’s bothering you?” he asks.

Jimin frowns. He starts to tap his pencil again, stops himself, sets the pencil down and smooths a hand over his textbook page. “Nothing’s bothering me,” he says.

“Really?” Hoseok asks, raising his eyebrows.

“Yeah,” Jimin says, even though it’s a blatant lie. Something is very much bothering him. Yesterday he had run into the cute guy who likes the cats—Jeongguk—again. And it had been nice, but Jimin is maybe a little nosy, and he wants to know more. More about Jeongguk outside of the fact that he brings treats for the cats, outside of his age and his major. And Jeongguk had mentioned something—

“Hyung, can I ask you something?” Jimin asks.

“Sure,” Hoseok says.

“You’re in the soccer club, right?”

Because Jeongguk mentioned soccer, and Hoseok does soccer, and Jimin has spent the entire afternoon twisting himself into knots trying to decide if he should try asking Hoseok about it or not.

Hoseok blinks. “I’m in a soccer club, yeah. There are a couple of them on campus. Why? I thought you thought soccer was, how did you put it, boring as fuck,” he says, voice turning teasing at the end. The soccer debate is a long-standing disagreement between them.

“It is boring,” Jimin easily counters. He trails off, biting his lip for a moment before continuing, “It’s just that someone I met said he was in a soccer club, so I was wondering if maybe you knew him.” He shrugs, as if it’s not a big deal.

“Oh, really?” Hoseok perks up even more, capping his highlighter and setting it aside. “I mean, usually the clubs are divided by major, although some of the smaller majors combine into teams. But even if he’s not on my team, I might know him from games or something. What’s his name and major?”

“Jeongguk,” Jimin says, then hesitates. “I don’t know his last name, but he said he’s an English major?”

Hoseok instantly lights up. “Oh, Jeonggukie! Yeah, he’s on my team. Great kid.”

“Ah,” Jimin says. “Cool.” His heart is beating a little too fast, palms sweaty. Now that he has the information, he doesn’t quite know what to do with it. He wants to ask more, press Hoseok for details, but he has to be careful. Because the second Hoseok realizes why Jimin is prying—

“Is he cute?” Taehyung drawls, making Jimin jump. He’d been so quiet that Jimin had almost forgotten he was there.

Oh,” Hoseok says. His smile immediately turns impish and damnit, Taehyung. “Yes, he’s very cute. Got these large sparkly eyes and an adorable smile, kinda like a bunny. But he’s also like, super hot. He’s our best defender, like he’s really good. And his thighs, man. He’s got absolutely glorious thighs.”

Hoseok is smirking now and Jimin glares, because he knows. He knows, okay. He had noticed Jeongguk’s nice thighs that very first day, even through the sweatpants.

“Thighs, huh?” Taehyung asks, casual as can be, as if he’s discussing the weather. “Interesting, since we all know how Jimin feels about thighs.”

Jimin groans, burying his face in his hands. Hoseok cackles and leans across Jimin to high five Taehyung. Jimin’s cheeks are flaming—he can feel the heat coming off of them. He groans again for good measure.

Hoseok takes pity on him and calms his laughter. “How do you know Jeonggukie?” he asks, picking up his highlighter again and twirling it.

“He came to give the cats treats,” Jimin mumbles, hands still pressed to his cheeks. “He didn’t see me there, and I kind of scared him and teased him a bit and like—hyung, he’s really cute when he’s flustered.”

Taehyung snorts and Jimin elbows him.

“Yeah, he is,” Hoseok agrees easily. “Hey, did you know that soccer practice runs from four to six every Tuesday and Thursday? You should come see him in action sometime.” He wriggles his eyebrows, sending Taehyung into another bout of laughter.

Jimin whines. “Please don’t be weird about this, hyung.”

“Okay, okay, I won’t,” Hoseok says, in a tone that does absolutely nothing to inspire confidence in Jimin. He reaches out to pat Jimin on the head before gathering up his notes. “I’ve gotta head to class now, but you two have fun studying. Remember what I said about soccer practice times, Jimin.” Then he’s grinning and waggling his fingers as he heads out the door.

As soon as he’s gone Taehyung turns to Jimin and says, “You know, he’s totally going to be weird about it.”

Jimin groans and drops his head onto his textbook.