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You're My Favourite Mistake

Chapter Text

He stares balefully at the pool in front of him.

Will it feel like he's trudging through a murky puddle? Or will it be like drowning in the deep? Or perhaps it won't be either extreme and it'll be akin wading through a shallow pond.

It’s almost a comical thought to think that he needs water to survive when he feels as though he’s a victim of its inexorable clutches, the tides and the waves pulling him under deeper and deeper until it feels as though terrestrial life is but a distant dream.

What nourishes me, also destroys me

On particularly trying days, he wonders if it’s the horrors below or the terrors above that frighten him more.

But as he dives in, he realizes it doesn’t matter anyway.

Chapter Text

“I think it’s best if we breakup.”

It’s not like a car collision, disorientating and sudden, abruptly discombobulating the drivers behind the wheel. 

But it’s also really not much like the gradual increase of sputters and grumbling of an exhausted engine before the inevitable demise of a tired vehicle.

Instead, it’s a combination of both, the defeated screeching and squealing of a balloon releasing air from its mouth, when Jimin and Jungkook breakup—it happens quickly enough to cause a cardiac stutter, but gradually enough that he doesn’t keel over and perish from the heartache.

Jungkook is only fifteen and had experienced only the throes of innocent, chaste love with his boyfriend for two magical years.

Heading off to college, having found an apartment to rent out with two other boys, Jimin wouldn’t be a skip and a hop away from Jungkook anymore—no longer neighbours. Jimin explains sorrowfully that he worries he won’t be able to attend to Jungkook’s needs in the same way after this summer ends and he heads off to school.

I don’t want you to think I’m a shitty boyfriend, you know? I’m all in or all out, Jimin says, his brows stitched into a pensive expression, you understand, right, Jungkookie?

But what Jimin doesn’t know is that Jungkook would leap and bound over the plains, traverse the most terrible terrains, dive into the most turbulent seas to get to him. Even if Jimin slipped him past the backburner into the bucket of ashes left behind, Jungkook would choke through the inky mess to get to him.

He’s young and he’s in love—and maybe everyone will tell him he’s being obstinately foolish—but Jungkook doesn’t think anything will change for him in the future.

But he’s still too young and inexperienced to articulate himself so when Jimin gently breaks the news to him, soft and apologetic, he only agrees. If it’ll make Jimin happy, Jungkook will follow—a moth drawn to the flame, Icarus to the sun.

“Okay, hyung.”

+++

If Jungkook’s number one fear had been how much the nature of his relationship with Jimin would change in the following months after the end of their relationship, he needn’t have worried much.

He’s still welcome at the Parks’ home, Jihyun is still friendly towards him, and his parents still love Jimin as a third son. But most importantly, not much changes between him and Jimin.

They text each other as frequently as they’d ever done (Jungkook can’t help but notice the absence of heart and winking emojis).

They see each other nearly as often as they used to, Jimin’s parents insisting he visit them for a family dinner once a week, giving Jungkook ample opportunity to see him (Jungkook can’t help but notice their greetings are no longer punctuated with stealthy hello and goodbye kisses).

They still can hangout with their same core group of friends (Jungkook can’t help but notice how none of them shoot them envious looks anymore).

So, frankly, while everything’s ostensibly still the same—everything’s different.

Jungkook might just freshly turned sixteen, but he feels aged, bogged and weighed down by his lasting love for Jimin. Puppy love has evolved into a solitary creature, a lupine beast with menacing fangs dripping with sticky salvia, hackles raised, and claws ripping Jungkook’s fragile heart into shreds for each day Jimin’s within his reach but still dodging his love.

He wonders if he’ll ever escape from the jaws of this love or if it’ll be an insidious disease, meshing and broiling his innards together until they fuse into a single being—a sad, heartbroken lycanthrope.

As he stares out of his window, perched on his windowsill, a melancholic ballad churning out of his headphones and the moon beaming down at him, Jungkook thinks that perhaps he’s destined to be alone.

+++

When Jungkook breaks the news of his breakup with Jimin, his friends commiserate with him instantly, fussing over him while he pries himself out of their sympathetic pats and conciliatory pets.

“It’ll get better with time, Jungkookie,” Junghyun had said, eyes oozing with compassion.

“You’re still young, man, you’ll find someone else. Plus, you guys are still chill, so it’s definitely the best-case scenario,” Yugyeom insists optimistically at every given moment Jungkook’s pouting.

“Jungkook-ah. It happens. You fall in love and sometimes you fall out of it. There’s nothing you can do about it except remember the good times,” Namjoon suggests wisely.

He appreciates all the love and support.

No one’s understanding the crux of the matter—Jungkook is irrevocably in love with Jimin, his young heart having been robbed by the hands of the most captivating, caring human being he thinks he’ll ever meet. It’s a heart worm, having wriggled its way sneakily into the depth of his heart, carving out a permanent home and promptly taken up residency for eternity in every crevice, corner, and ventricle of Jungkook’s heart.

But it probably doesn’t help that their friendship doesn’t suffer.

Jimin is still a well-worn visual in Jungkook’s eyes, a sight for the sorest of eyes—always welcome, always wanted.

He’ll pop up at the Jeons’ door on weekends before he leaves for his family dinners—sometimes, he’ll even stay over (Catching up with my favourite boy, he’ll coo at Jungkook).

He always asks about Jungkook’s grades, his favourite memes, his favourite television shows, and whether Jungkook’s found anyone he likes.

Jungkook hates that last question.

He finds out how much he hates that question when one night, four months after their breakup, Jimin kisses him on Christmas Eve.

Their families had rallied together for a joint evening of games, movies, and dinner—the same inside jokes intact as ever, the same fathers jolly off beers, the same mothers giggly off wine. The only difference was the social veneer preventing anyone from teasing Jungkook or Jimin about their past involvement with one another.

But their families hadn’t kept their eyes on the boys carefully enough, as Jimin and Junghyun had nicked a full bottle of wine and a couple beers, giggling unremorsefully as they’d shared with their younger brothers.

They’d all drank up, tipping their glasses up to ensure not a single drop was wasted, until they, themselves, were wasted.

The parents had eventually caught on and despite their severe expressions, they hadn’t been as angry as Jungkook had expected them to be—parental wrath eroded down by several glasses of alcohol.

Jungkook and Jimin had insisted on a sleepover, the Parks’ only relenting after the latter ardently promised to be home early Christmas morning. They’d all tidied the house before the Jeons’ all retired to their rooms.

Jungkook had been lying in his bed—face, teeth, and body freshly washed—when Jimin plops into bed next to him, draping his arm across Jungkook’s chest, with his face pressed up against his neck.

Despite their breakup, Jimin doesn’t shy away from Jungkook’s hesitant touches, nor does he deprive his old friend from gentle caresses of his own.  Sometimes, Jungkook wishes he would—especially when his heart lurches like a decrepit carriage about to lose a poorly-fastened wheel.

“Good night, Jungkookie,” Jimin whispers into his neck, the words and sensation as warm as his heart.

Jungkook’s heart is so full it hurts and if that doesn’t define their relationship, he’s not sure what does.  

“Ah, hyung, you too.”

A silence descends upon them, well-developed and cultured, the sort of comfortable silence that only befalls two companions bottled up and aged together—a fine wine with the smoothest finish, easy to polish off.

Jungkook turns his head to peer at Jimin’s peaceful face, defenses drooping insensibly when he thinks Jimin’s asleep.

But he startles as Jimin’s hand finds its former position on the high plane of his cheek, reclaiming its former throne, before his hyung leans in and kisses him.

The feeling of Jimin’s lips are as soft as ever and it’s a nostalgic feeling that Jungkook hadn’t thought he’d ever have the privilege to re-experience. He presses into the touch, longing and sadness bubbling up into his throat and spilling out, as he sighs through his nose.

Their past kisses had always been relatively tame, soft and gentle, and this kiss is replication of them. Even if it’s a more like a weak imitation—reflection in the pond, easily shattered by an errant ripple versus the tangible being, solid molecules, blood and bones, standing in front of someone. Without the security and stability of kissing someone knowing they’d reciprocated his feelings which had anchored Jungkook in the past, he’s left feeling short of breath, a fish on land, gills and fins a useless floppy mess.

Despite his insecurities flooding his limbic system, he loses himself to the abundance of kisses, afraid if he pulls away now, it’ll never happen again.

Eventually, Jimin pulls away, pecking him once more on the mouth for good measure, before turning on his side. His back is facing Jungkook and it makes him feels plain rotten. He feels cheap, used, and worn.

“Merry Christmas, Jungkookie,” Jimin says sleepily, through a spectacularly blasé yawn.

Jungkook pauses.

There are billions of things he wants to say, but in a vast ocean of possibilities, he chooses the safest route.

“You too, hyung.” 

Jimin’s soft snores envelope Jungkook, an old sound with a new meaning, a remix on a classic, and Jungkook eventually—as always—follows Jimin into slumber moments later.

+++

When Jungkook bumbles out of bed, hair messier than the condition of his head and his heart, Jimin has already left, leaving behind only faint lines of his body on the bed sheets, his scent of his body wash, and a gift for Jungkook.

It’s a homemade CD Jimin’s burned, an expensive set of portable Sony speakers Jungkook’s been begging for, and a basket of Jimin and Jungkook’s favourite snacks. There’s a little note, with Jimin’s neat writing saying, Merry Christmas, Jungkookie! Hope you enjoy the CD—yes, I know no one listens to actual CDs anymore—and enjoy those speakers you’ve been very unsubtly asking me to purchase for you. Also, those snacks aren’t for you, they’re mine because you always eat the best snacks before I do.

There’s a small, messy heart at the very bottom—the same heart Jimin always drew on the margins of Jungkook’s notebooks, on the edges of his rough sketches, and on scrap pieces of paper strewn around his room when they’d been dating. A little rough around the edges, misshapen, but projects the loving intent across—a little like Jungkook himself.

Staring at the note and the miniature heart, Jungkook thinks to himself that while he’s been trying to move on, Jimin’s making it awfully difficult.

And once he plays the CD over his dismal computer speakers, each track reminiscent of a time when they’d still been dating, he thinks that a full recovery from his heartbreak—with the way Jimin’s handling him—is simply inconceivable.

Merry Christmas indeed.

+++

He keeps telling himself that he’ll ask Jimin about their kiss, the note, and his Christmas gift before the New Year, but sixteen years of life doesn’t compensate for the additional two years of confidence Jimin wears well, so by the time it’s New Year’s Eve, he still hasn’t said anything.

Instead, it’s just déjà vu of Christmas, where the Jeon and Park parents, Junghyun, Jihyun, and Jungkook are all a little tipsy from their celebratory glasses of champagne; what their parents remain blissfully oblivious to is the extra bottle of vodka Junghyun had stashed away and concealed, given to him by a friend, and shared with the two younger siblings.

Jimin joins them right before the countdown—having been out with his roommates, Taehyung and Taemin, before bowing out, explaining to them his annual familial obligations for the evening.  

He’s equally inebriated, Jungkook quickly realizes, watching the way his ex sways back and forth like wet rags fluttering against the wind on a clothes line.

Ten minutes before the countdown officially begins, Jimin steals him away, up to Jungkook’s bedroom and shuts the door quietly behind them.

He walks over to Jungkook’s bed and sits on it, knees hanging over the edge, as Jungkook encroaches his personal space, though timid uncertainty emanates off his skin and fear cascades down his spine. Jimin doesn’t seem to mind much, pulling Jungkook in by the waist, both his hands on either side until he’s situated between his hyung’s legs.

Jimin’s eyes—sly and mischievous like a feline’s at times, wide and innocent like a canine at other times—are riddled heavily with mysteriously robust emotions. Jungkook, who’d been so adept at reading him in the past, feels like he’s illiterate in Jimin now. Or perhaps he’s selectively literate now, afraid to see what’s scrawled in between the lines.

Jimin starts rubbing at his sides comfortingly, probably sensing Jungkook’s fright.

“Jungkook-ah…”

Jungkook gulps noisily, but is tipsy enough to brave treading the waters, placing his own large hands hesitantly on Jimin’s shoulders.

“Yes, hyung?”

His hyung’s looking up at him and through the thick barrier of intoxication imposing itself in between the  two boys and reality, he massages Jungkook’s waist and hips.

It’s beginning to feel dangerously familiar territory and if Jimin’s affecting false adoration for him right now, Jungkook wouldn’t mind, feeling an idyllic tranquility that’d only accompanied moments his hyung’s eyes had been trained on him.

The moment is a cowl of familiarity on a bitterly cold winter night—it feels deceptively real to the touch, a sentimental token that Jungkook will pay mental homage in the following year when he can’t have it anymore.

“Did you like your gift?”

Jungkook nods and he begins to ramble, hoping Jimin had loved his gift too. He’d saved up money throughout the year, hoping he’d be able to save up enough money for Jimin’s birthday, Christmas, and everything else. He’s not a huge gift giver—nor receiver—but he knows Jimin is; it had been of great importance to Jungkook to show his then-boyfriend all the love he deserved. Deserves, Jungkook amends apologetically.

Though it turns out it hadn’t even mattered because Jimin’s not his anymore. They’re just friends now.  

“Yeah, I told you, Jiminie-hyung, I did. Did you like the new shoes and clothes I got you? ‘Cause if you don’t we can return it and I won’t mind, I promise—”

Jimin giggles drunkenly, a soft, clumsy swirl of harmonious chords.

“Shut up, Ggukie, I loved them. You know me so well,” he compliments affectionately.

Jungkook melts under the warmth of Jimin’s beaming smile, wax helpless against flames, the ever-shrinking wick making its way to the core and all he can do is try to survive the unavoidable detonation. But he tries with all his juvenile gumption to remain steadfast, maintaining his artificial nonchalance.

One of his hands crawl their way up behind Jimin’s nape and play with the short hairs there, an old habit of his.

While Jimin sinks into his touch, Jungkook asks, “Why’re we here?”

Hands moving from Jungkook’s waist, onto the crook of Jungkook’s elbows, he grasps them tightly and pulls him down onto the bed.

Trying to balance himself so he doesn’t crush Jimin, he grunts painfully. Jimin just laughs and adjusts their positions so neither of their legs are hanging off the edge anymore, but Jungkook is now sitting on Jimin’s lap.

It doesn’t feel like four months has elapsed.

At least, it doesn’t feel like it’d been four months since they’d officially broken up.

Jimin resumes the petting of Jungkook’s waist as he considers the question posed to him.

Absentmindedly rubbing, up and down, Jimin shrugs.

“I don’t know…I just thought we’ve spent every New Year’s Eve together since…”

He knows Jimin’s thinking about their years in young love, fresh and idealistic as they’d been, as his hyung’s hands briefly stutter on Jungkook’s hips, a speed bump in the middle of a freeway, a misplaced obstruction.

“….you were thirteen and most of them together before then too. And I just thought we’d continue the tradition,” Jimin finishes a little lamely.  

It’s another hook poised and prone in front of Jungkook, bait dangling temptingly. But just as he begins to hoist the words he needs to say out from the pits of his stomach, a crane pulling it out from the depths, insurmountable apprehension snips the line and it tumbles right back down, buried swiftly.

“Okay,” Jungkook mumbles reluctantly, body sagging a little with the extra weight in his belly—all the unsaid words and yearning foaming aggressively, in near danger of spinning over the lip of the cauldron it’s left simmering in.

Unable to face Jimin, he just slumps forward, dipping his face into the space behind Jimin’s ear and into the hollow of his neck—his former haven now his greatest nightmare.

Jimin begins petting Jungkook instead, repentance infused in his every touch.

“Okay?”

It’s his last chance for tonight, hearing the ebullient cries of the countdown in the background. It’s his last damn chance to say something for the New Year.

He’d promised himself.

I promised myself, he cries desperately to himself. But he already feels himself giving in, waving the white flag in defeat.

Ten.

“Yes.”

Nine.

“I love you, Jungkookie,” Jimin says softly into his hair, lips grazing his scalp.

Eight.

Jungkook shudders under the touch.                                                                                     

Seven.

He shouldn’t want to hear this.

Six.

“I love you too.”

Five.

Even more importantly, he shouldn’t have said it back.

Four.

Jungkook wraps his arms around his hyung, always terrified it’ll be the last time he’ll be allowed to take such liberties. 

Three.

Jimin’s fingers dig into his waist, pressing in like ten, sharp shovels into soft soil, leaving deep grooves in the aftermath.

Two.

Jungkook pulls away just enough to see Jimin’s eyes on his lips. And then they simultaneously lean in.

One.

They kiss.

+++

Chapter Text

It’s a couple months into the New Year.

Jungkook still hasn’t mentioned their two post-breakup kisses.

Neither has Jimin.

But, Jungkook reasons, if he’d mentioned the first two kisses then maybe the following ten little kisses and five intense makeout sessions probably wouldn’t have happened.

And even if it’s a slow burn, embers provoked into flames that violently explode into unforgiving blazes, Jungkook will gladly endure the scorch marks and scars for Jimin.

He doesn’t tell anyone, fearful of the certain criticism and baleful looks that’ll be shot his way.

Luckily, it seems that no one has noticed.

When he visits Jimin’s apartment, his hyung always has his arms casually draped across his shoulders and his roommates appear blissfully ignorant, attributing Jimin’s touchiness to his naturally affectionate nature. And Jungkook notices, resentfully, that the way Jimin touches him is no different than the way he would invade the personal spaces of Taehyung or Taemin.

The only difference lies in how Jungkook never shies away the same way Jimin’s two roommates do.

When he’s at the Park’s house for dinner, his hand is always on Jungkook’s upper thigh under the table when he’s talking excitedly, regaling Junghyun and the Jeons’ with tales of his university life. No one bats an eye at their close proximity, a staple sight before and now even after they’d been dating.

The only difference lies in how Jungkook had basked in the gesture in the past, a welcome refuge. Now, it’s an dreadful complication crippling him from ardent longing after only the ghost of Jimin’s touch remains on his skin.

Even when they hang out with their mutual friends, none of them seem terribly keen to point out the conspicuous lack of distance between the pair.

A familiar sight despite vastly difference circumstances, enough warning to rouse suspicions in their observant friends.

 But Jungkook begins to slowly bloom back to life, the rot of the autumn a distant past, thinking there’s hope for the pair of them.

He begins to gradually reciprocate the touches—a stray hand through Jimin’s hair or a kiss on his neck after they’ve stopped making out or leaning his head on Jimin’s shoulder when they watch movies at either of their places.

And just as quickly as the train had left the station, it sputters and putters and derails, coming to a complete stop.

One late February evening, while Hoseok and Seokjin had been sharing tales about the girls they’ve met in their university classes at an arcade they’d all met up at, Jimin nonchalantly shares something that leaves Jungkook devastated.

Over the yelps and shrieks of Namjoon losing spectacularly to Yoongi, Jimin discloses, “Yeah, I met a girl in my literature class a few weeks ago.”

Suddenly, five heads swivel Jimin’s way.

Seokjin and Hoseok both look dumbfounded, while Namjoon tries to mask his horror, discreetly shooting looks Jungkook’s way. Yoongi’s face remains relatively composed, despite a faint wrinkle of disapproval dwelling under the surface of his artificial calmness.

“What?” Yoongi asks placidly, voicing the question everyone else seemed too stunned to utter.

Jimin shrugs, looking at everyone’s faces, seemingly surprised by their shock.

“I mean, yeah? I met her in class and we’re gonna hit up a party that Taehyung invited me to later this weekend.”

Seokjin’s mouth is still open, surprise etched onto his face, but he recovers well enough, social levers and wheels working overtime to salvage the situation.

“Oh! Really, you don’t say. That’s great, that is,” he says, propelling the enthusiasm with a little too much gusto and it backfires—boomeranging and wrecking the fragile balance, the collective discomfort bleeding through the feigned polite interest.  

Jimin’s picking at his nails uncomfortably now, seemingly finally alerted to the palpable tension.

“Yeah,” he murmurs, voice lacking the cool boldness he’d started the conversation with, a spinning top slowly beginning to stagger and topple over.

And even now, with Jimin making a public spectacle of Jungkook’s heartbreak, he can’t tolerate facing the forlorn look of display on his best friend’s face, body curling in under the critical looks of his hyungs.

So, he pastes a great, wide giant grin on his face, waggling his eyebrows and teasing tone, he says, “Oh, that’s great, hyung! Is she really nice?”

He feels like a betrayed captain, coerced into walking the plank by his deceitful second-in-command, the man whom he’d entrusted the treasure trove of his love and devotion to.

But Jimin’s face brightens, relieved by Jungkook’s rescue, the ultimate twist of events.

“Yeah, Jungkookie, she is,” he promises happily.

Ignoring the looks of pity his hyungs adorn, Jungkook smiles weakly.

“Yeah, hyung, I bet she is.”

+++

The fling between Jimin and his new girl doesn’t last for more than a matter of weeks.

Jungkook only knows this because one week, the fairly commonplace sight of poorly covered hickeys on Jimin’s neck heal and then never reappear.

Perhaps it’d be more accurate to say Jungkook had suspected the affair had ended because of that. It had only been established as verifiable fact when Seokjin wryly confirms it to him when they’d been shooting pool with Junghyun, Namjoon, and Yoongi one weekend.

Jungkook can’t help the sharp burst of pleasure, wicked contentment spreading through his deflated heart.

He knows all the hyungs are disheartened with Jimin’s tactlessness and pity Jungkook; he knows they all are probably acutely aware of Jungkook’s lingering feelings for his ex-boyfriend.

But he loathes being pitied, so Jungkook neglects to mention that while Jimin’s collar of hickeys are a welcome thing of the past, shed like an snake’s old skin, there are still multiple splotches lower down—near his collarbones—that never belonged to the nameless girl to begin with.  

He ruthlessly hopes that his claim on Jimin scared that nameless girl off.

+++

But one nameless girl becomes two and then suddenly they multiply like asexual cell reproduction.  

Ironic, Jungkook sneers, considering the sexual nature of Jimin’s relation to them.

Each one becomes responsible for another part of Jungkook’s brittle heart shattering. In his silent suffering, he loathes them for being able to get their grubby, unsuspecting paws on the only person he’s ever wanted.

Logically, he knows they’re not to blame—sweet, ignorant hearts drawn to the magnetic Jimin’s charm. He knows all about falling under Jimin’s spell. After all, he’s been leisurely dying from the slow-acting poison, Jimin’s fangs having gotten buried into the malleable flesh of his soft heart years before he’d ever known.

It would be one thing to have Jimin keep him out of arm’s reach, flailing and thrashing for his ex’s attention, but the reality of their situation is a whole separate matter. Not only does his hyung keep him close by, they still indulge in regular hot and heavy make out sessions until one of them have to leave.

Jimin is still his best friend—that’s never changed.

But he’s also his ex-boyfriend—meaning the nature of their romantic relationship changed.

Or it should have—but in most ways, nothing’s changed—except Jimin hooks up with random women on the side.

Jungkook still feels trashy and used, but in all his inexperience, having the person he loves in his arms, however briefly and however minimally, is better than nothing at all.

So, several months more pass with Jimin and Jungkook kissing passionately behind closed doors, his love growing stronger and stronger to his great dismay.

Everyone knows not to talk about Jimin’s multiple rendezvous and Jungkook knows not to ask.

+++

It’s a hot day in July. Jungkook’s feeling ill, the heat getting to him.

He’s guzzled down numerous bottles of water, but his thirst feels unquenchable.

But the headache and nausea are exacerbated when he turns the corner to hear Mrs. Park and his mother discussing Jimin.

They’re lounging in the backyard, sparkling pink lemonade sitting on the picnic table between them, each woman wearing a pair of sunglasses. Their voices carry over the lawn, through the glass doors, into the kitchen where Jungkook’s standing.

“He got himself a nice girlfriend, my Jimin,” Mrs. Park tentatively admits.

Jungkook’s heart lurches, then plummets at an astonishing speed, like a sack of iridium has been plastered to it, accelerating its fall.

Jungkook’s mom is pouring herself another glass of lemonade and she peers over her sunglasses in surprise.

“Oh, that’s lovely!”

Mrs. Park clearly looks apprehensive; Jimin clearly inherited her dislike for conflict. Jungkook’s witnessed the same crinkle between his best friend’s brow and tense posture mirrored in him throughout the years.

“Yeah…uh, I just wanted to tell you personally because you know…” she trails off awkwardly.

Mrs. Jeon waves her off and pours her friend another glass too.

“I know. It’s fine. Jungkook and Jimin seem like they’re okay and as far as my son is fine, I don’t want to ruin the great relationship I have with you or your husband or your sons. We’ve all known you for so many years, I’d be distraught to lose you,” she assures Mrs. Park.

Mrs. Park looks relieved, thanking his mom, and takes an appreciative sip. 

“I feel the same way.”

They sit in silence for a while, leaving Jungkook to skulk around quietly, trying to leave the crime of the scene. But before he manages to sneak out of earshot, he hears—

“Do you think it’s serious?”

Mrs. Park hums in consideration.

“Seems that way, he said he’s been quietly seeing her since June and I just met her and they seem so happy and compatible. I do hope Jungkook will be alright—I know how he loves my son,” she says, an apologetic note hanging in the air.

Mrs. Jeon’s voice hardens a little bit, maternal instincts rearing up as she agrees, “I hope so too.”

+++

Her name is Seulgi and she doesn’t know that sometimes Jimin likes to kiss boys.

No, Jungkook corrects himself firmly, she doesn’t know that sometimes Jimin likes to kiss Jungkook.

Seulgi and Jimin have been together for four months now and if he’s to believe the anecdotes that Jihyun tells him, they’re really happy together.

He even overhears his parents telling Junghyun they’d run into Jimin and his girlfriend at the grocery store, laughing and smiling elatedly, not a worry in the world.

They’re good for each other, Mr. Jeon says, tone carefully neutral, shrewd eyes scanning his youngest son’s reception. Jungkook doesn’t say anything.  

And once when Jungkook braves asking his hyungs, they sadly inform him that the couple do seem to suit each other well.

If that’s true, Jungkook wonders miserably, why does Jimin still approach him and kiss him?

It’s a little different, he can concede to that.

Jimin doesn’t make out with him anymore and doesn’t kiss him on the lips anymore.

But when Jimin’s roommates are out or Junghyun’s in his own room when Jungkook’s parents are occupied, his hyung will gradually inch closer.

A back hug while Jungkook’s sitting at his computer desk gaming.

Or an arm around Jungkook while Jimin rests his eyes peacefully on whosever’s bed they’re on.

Eventually, Jimin will start nosing at his scalp or running his fingers down Jungkook’s cheek, each isolated touch forceful enough to crush the hardest diamond or cause a rupture in the walls of a dam. And when the tension’s too much for either of them to bear, the remaining splinter of self-control snaps and Jimin will starting kissing Jungkook’s neck with wild abandon.

Jungkook just pants under his ministrations, emitting a soft wail—of pleasure or despair, he doesn’t know. Perhaps a reluctant cocktail of both.

Sometimes, he just can’t help himself, a victim of his body’s needs and desires when the person whom he loves is in the palm of his hands, and Jungkook’s hands slip under Jimin’s t-shirt. His hyung will always let him explore for a bit, a content groan uttered next to Jungkook’s ear, before Jimin pulls away.

He’ll always have a shamefaced look before he’ll sheepishly claim he should check his phone.

For a message from his girlfriend, Jungkook knows, an exhausted sigh always the final chord in this tired song and dance.

Jimin never leaves visible marks.

But not all scars need to be visible for them to exist.

+++

Jungkook thinks its melodramatic to believe he’s grief-stricken over a boy who’d given him up for reasons that don’t quite make sense under the current circumstances.

But with his heart so heavy and his head so full, Jungkook feels like he’s drowning.

He manages to stay afloat with one singular thought.

When Jungkook had confessed to Jimin at the tender age of thirteen, voice cracking, skin blemished, and physique scrawny and slight, Jimin’s eyes and smile had widened before he’d planted a juvenile, wet smooch on his lips.

Jungkook-ah, Jimin had informed him seriously, I don’t like boys.

Baffled by the juxtaposition between his hyung’s actions and words, Jungkook’s mouth open and closed repeatedly like a fish, heart sinking in a way no aquatic creature would struggle with.

But I like you, Jimin finishes off with uncanny candor, And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a boy or girl. I really like you too. My precious boy, you’re the only boy for me.

And then they’d pressed light, inexperienced kisses—retrospectively perhaps they’d only qualify as mere pecks—on the other’s lips until they’d parted, lips red and hearts bloated with happiness.

And perhaps he should’ve realized then that Jimin’s words and actions aren’t always congruent, lacking the conciseness and consistency of a mathematical equation.

Fool me once, shame on you, Jungkook thinks ruefully, fool me twice, shame on me.

+++

Despite the complicated nature of their current relationship, Jungkook decides he’ll surprise Jimin for his birthday, having always been able to prioritize their friendship over their…whatever else.

Jimin’s a great artist and a newfound workout fanatic so Jungkook’s bought some expensive art materials and athletic gear for his birthday. With Seokjin’s assistance and Hoseok’s lackluster encouragement in the back, he’d also baked Jimin his birthday cake.

His brother drops him off in front of Jimin’s apartment.

Before he can ring for Jimin to open the door for him, some other occupant in the apartment comes rushing out and he shrugs making use of the unforeseen opportunity.

While he rides up the elevator, arms filled with his gifts for his hyung, Jungkook hopes fervently Jimin will like everything. Jungkook’s never failed him yet and he wishes to continue his streak.

Knowing Taehyung’s absentminded habit of leaving the door unlocked if someone’s home—a fact Jimin frequently gripes about and reprimands his roommate for—Jungkook forgoes knocking.

Instead he barges in, knowing he’s welcome by Taemin and Taehyung both, and heads for Jimin’s door after dropping the cake off in the kitchen.

But once he sees the scene in Jimin’s room, Jungkook desperately wishes he’d just knocked.

Seulgi—the elusive girlfriend he’s never met—is there, only clad in undergarments, Jungkook a clear impediment to what would’ve been a great birthday night for Jimin.

She shrieks, Jimin’s jaw drops in horror, and Jungkook drops the load he’s carrying onto the floor. They’re all mortified.

“Jungkook-ah, ah, hi,” Jimin stutters, face ruddy with exertion and embarrassment. He’s pulling on his t-shirt from what Jungkook can see through his fingers.

Seulgi slaps his bare arm and snaps, “Get him out of here!”

Jungkook just apologizes and apologizes to Seulgi, unable to look Jimin in the eye.

And without any other prompting, Jungkook unceremoniously runs out, hoping to the gods he can make it onto the streets before he starts crying in despair.

+++

Jungkook adamantly refuses to see Jimin for a while.

Unusually daring, he texts him and says so.

Don’t come see me for a while. You owe me this. Happy birthday.  

Jimin sends a remorseful text back that Jungkook ignores.

He tells his parents that Jimin’s busy with university assignments. Jimin seems to have told his parents the same.

Even now as they’re embroiled in some sick, twisted game, their minds are intrinsically intertwined, working off the same voltage, corroborating without consultation.

Junghyun and Jihyun appear suspicious but neither of them broaches the topic.

After all, Jimin and Jungkook are exes.

+++

It’s New Year’s Eve when Jungkook’s anger finally subsides, a full two months and a bit later.

Recognizing it’d be a hard sell to convince their families that they’re on agreeable terms if Jungkook refuses to interact with him on a night that’s a joint family tradition would certainly alert everyone to the alarming state of their friendship.

And even if it’s stupid, Jungkook really misses Jimin.

While dancing with Hoseok is fun and eating with Seokjin is enjoyable and getting tutored by Namjoon is educational and watching movies with Yoongi is comforting, it’s not the same as being around his best friend of nearly ten years.

So, he finally acquiesces.

You coming tomorrow?

Jimin instantly responds.

Can I? I miss you.

Jungkook just sends a single word reply, ignoring the sentimental half of his friend’s answer.

Come.

+++

When Jimin arrives, it’s much like last year, entering the Jeons’ humble abode after some of his frenetic energy had been petered out by going out with his friends. Last year he’d arrived some forty-five minutes before the countdown. This year he arrives a full two hours prior to.

Junghyun ribs him for it, jokingly suggesting Jimin’s aged and can’t keep up with his friends anymore.

“Well, at least, I go out,” Jimin retorts feistily.

Junghyun winks obnoxiously.

“No, my good friend, I go out after the countdown when the party really gets started.”

Jungkook just rolls his eyes and crosses his arms exasperatedly. Jihyun looks similarly unimpressed.

But before the hyungs could devolve in further childish bickering, Jimin’s attention disengages from Junghyun and hones into Jungkook, pivoting and pulling him upstairs.

What a familiar scene they’ve returned to.

Jimin pulls out a bottle of rum from his backpack, grinning wickedly. His hair looks a little stringy from sweat but it hangs elegantly in his eyes, framing them in a way that only looks hot. His clothes are tight and flattering to his body. His lips are blood red and swollen.

And for all his bitter resentment towards his hyung, Jungkook can’t ignore the profound flood of desire that surges through him, pungent and odorous, vivid and gaudy, salty and spicy, ear-splitting and shrill—completely, utterly at the forefront of his mind and senses.

“Santa’s already come and given you his presents for the year, so wanna get a little naughty?” Jimin whispers teasingly, shaking the bottle enticingly.

Jungkook can’t stifle his laughter, the seductive look Jimin wears intentionally overdone, satirical and ironic, even with their past as boyfriends being considered.

He agrees and they spend the next hour and forty-five minutes drinking companionably, catching up on what they’ve missed out on.

Jimin thanks him for the gifts, the tips of his ears red with embarrassment. Neither of them mention the promiscuous position that Jungkook had caught him in.

Jungkook nods his acknowledgement and rapidly changes the subject.

Eventually, a small lull in the conversation falls and Jungkook can’t help but ask, inquiring timidly when his curiosity becomes too omnipotent to ignore, “No…girlfriend tonight? Don’t couples spend New Year’s together? I mean, we used to…”

Jimin shrugs, unconcerned.

“She’s with her family, I said I’m going to be with mine.”

Jungkook struggles to make sense of Jimin’s capricious candidness.

He knows that Jimin’s literally with his family. The Parks are an additional but consistent variable to the Jeons’ annual tradition, so Jungkook should stop reading into Jimin’s words, seeking out invisible alternative meanings or camouflaged symbolic intent cloaking an unabashed naked emperor of truth.

“But we spent every New Year’s Eve together?” he says, partially a question.

Jungkook recognizes he’s prying, fishing for compliments in a shallow puddle.

He worries too late that he’ll make his hyung uncomfortable.

“C’mon, Jungkookie, you must know, right?”

Jimin takes another a heavy swig.

Looking blankly at Jimin, Jungkook’s confused.

Sighing fondly, Jimin shakes his head and pulls Jungkook in until their foreheads are touching.

“No matter what, you’re family, Jungkookie.”

Jungkook’s heart hurts.

He might be family to Jimin, but Jimin is home to Jungkook.

They drink a little bit more before Jimin suggests they should eventually join the rest of their families.

Reluctant, greedy enough to want more time with Jimin, Jungkook still agrees and follows his hyung out the door.

As Jungkook turns around from shutting his door behind him, Jimin presses him up against their hallway wall next to a picture of the pair of them, youthful faces smiling widely at the camera.

Jungkook thinks Jimin might finally kiss him again and even if it’s wrong, he really wants it.

But right before their lips touch, Jimin twists his head abruptly, like a terrified driver swerving madly to avoid a frightened wild animal on the road ,and pushes his soft lips against Jungkook’s cheek.

“Happy New Year, Jungkook, I love you,” Jimin says, unusually somber look in his eyes.

This year, Jungkook doesn’t say it back, smiling tightly at his hyung before leading them back down the stairs where he doesn’t have to suffocate in Jimin’s presence on his own.

Character development, Jungkook thinks proudly, ignoring the twinge of regret that’s already begun to bloom.

And when the countdown is finished and everyone is peppered in confetti flecks, Jimin’s eyes find Jungkook’s and he doesn’t think he’s imagining it when he thinks he sees his exs eyes drop to his lips and back.

+++

Chapter Text

 +++

Another year has past and while Jungkook’s not over Jimin, the hurt of his heart has scabbed over enough that he’s able to live with the dull ache.

It probably helps that they haven’t hooked up for a few months.

Jungkook thinks that he finally understands why people recommend a clean cut from their exes.

Delete them off all your social media platforms, Namjoon had promoted to their friend group, reasonably bitter after breaking up with his cheating ex-girlfriend.

Never hook up with your exes—no matter how over them you think you are, Junghyun had advised Jungkook once.

You can’t be friends with your exes, Taehyung had laughed condescendingly once when Hoseok had told them about the few exes he’s had in the past that he’s managed to remain friends with.

Yes, you can, Hoseok had argued stubbornly, widening his eyes for emphasis.

Taehyung had shook his head adamantly, snickering as he says, You know what they say about exes, man. If you’re friends with them, you’ve either never loved them or you’re still in love with them.

Jungkook thinks he knows which end of the spectrum he lies on.

But it won’t be like this for long, he tries to convince himself, it won’t.

+++

Early into the first few weeks of the year and as he ’s waiting for Jimin to return at the three boys’ flat, he’s left chatting with Taehyung.

Jungkook finds himself taking quite a great liking to Taehyung, finding his sense of humour quirky and delightful. He's also chatty and exuberant enough for the younger boy to never feel like he’s flailing for novel topics.

But he does find himself tipped off balance when—

“I didn’t know you and Jimin dated,” Taehyung says bluntly, feet on the living room table and head resting a pillow, curled up on the couch.

Jungkook coughs a little, taken aback by his frankness.  

Stammering awkwardly, he confesses, “Ah, yes. Yes, I g-guess we did.”

Taehyung assesses him thoughtfully before he proceeds, crossing his eyes dramatically and laughs.

“Weird.”

Jungkook feels a flush of irritation spreading through his body, a visceral reaction to his friend’s unpalatable evaluation.

He’s upset.

Trying to assassinate the rage he’s feeling, Jungkook remains silent for a little while. But eventually he realizes that he needs to know what Taehyung meant by his statement.

 “Weird? Why?” he demands, tone so petulant he’s bordering on being rude, his stab at subtlety an instant failure.

Taehyung gestures for Jungkook to settle down, motioning placatingly, as he elucidates.

“Jimin’s literally only ever hooked up with girls in the year I’ve known him. And he never talks about guys.”

Jungkook can’t disagree with Taehyung.

“Yeah, he said I was pretty much the only exception to his straightness. Or insinuated it anyway,” he admits, deflating as his indignance drains out of him.

Jimin’s roommate appraises him shamelessly, causing Jungkook to defensively curl up into himself.

“Well, can’t blame him.”

Astonished, Jungkook blurts, “What?”

Taehyung scowls condescendingly at him, pointing his index finger at him emphatically.

“Jungkookie—you’re hot. Honest to god, you could get anyone you want if you tried,” Taehyung insists.

Despite the strange divergence the conversation had taken, Jungkook can’t deny he’s flattered. It's hard to feel pressed when a handsome acquaintance compliments his appearance.

“That’s...encouraging, thank you.”

It’s then that Jimin returns in a flourish of an enormous hoodie and skin-tight jeans—obviously had been on a coffee or study date with Seulgi judging by the blissful look on his face and his swollen lips.

Jungkook’s a little irked that he’d been waiting on Jimin to stop making out with Seulgi, but he supposes he can afford to be a little more generous when he’s—sort of—kissed her boyfriend without her express knowledge.

Jimin’s eyes slide jealously at the way Taehyung’s arm is behind Jungkook’s shoulder. Or at least that’s how Jungkook interprets the microexpression, having never seen such a possessive gleam to Jimin’s eye in the past.

Before he can ruminate on anything else, Jimin calls to him, claiming he’s tired and wants to retire to his room to watch a movie.

Jungkook just shrugs and passively follows his lead.

Taehyung watches the guarded way Jimin positions himself, shielding Jungkook from his roommate’s probing eyes.

Interesting, Taehyung thinks, Jimin’s never done that with Seulgi before.

+++

Old habits really do die hard, Jungkook thinks.

Maybe they don’t even die. Maybe they simply take up residence in abandoned dens, settling into temporary slumber, hibernating until the temptation to succumb to old behavioral patterns is far too much to ignore.

An addict is always an addict despite their sobriety, his mother had told him once.

He’d thought she’d been rather patronizing then but now he supposes he could see some sense in what she’d been saying.

It wasn’t that she was callously suggesting that sobriety and recovery wasn’t possible. She’d just meant that sobriety is a constant battle that never really ends, a virus that niggles and wriggles under the addict’s skin, perseverance and determination the only anti-biotic for the struggle.

Not even forty minutes into the movie and Jimin’s necking him again, but he’s exceptionally aggressive today.

After the New Year, they hadn’t resumed their affair—Jungkook having never initiated the physical aspect of their friendship. He’d thought perhaps his refusal to profess his love, platonic or romantic, for Jimin on the eve had been a key component in the severance of their corporal relationship.

Unlike usual, Jungkook’s on top today, straddling his hyung, neck bowed submissively as Jimin kisses up his neck. And while Jimin’s relatively stingy with the use of tongue while he make outs with Jungkook’s neck, today he sucks and nips and bites with an almost frightening lack of self-control.

And as always Jungkook debates asking about Seulgi but within seconds of Jimin’s mouth making contact with the thin, sensitive skin of his body, the thought diffuses into a fine mist.

Riding the same high that his ex is, Jungkook kisses Jimin’s cheek and chin, leaving his lips against the soft skin until his need for air consumes him, as he breathes heavily.

And Jimin’s hands suddenly grab him roughly by the hips, maneuvering him in such a way that elicits an instant spark of ecstasy low in his belly. Jungkook, who’s lost in pleasure, hardly discerns the way Jimin is rocking his arousal against his until Jungkook releases a wail that can’t be smothered—unless it’s swallowed by Jimin’s mouth, which has finally found its way home onto Jungkook’s lips after about eight months.

They continue kissing, the sloppy wet sounds of their mouths slotting against one another loud even with their audio of the movie in the background, as Jimin eventually reaches his climax too.

While they’d been together, they’d both been too young and inexperienced to ever sleep with one another, resorting only to heavy petting and making out.

It’s odd how now that they were broken up, reduced to best friends with occasional half-benefits, and Jimin had a long-term girlfriend that they finally found physical release with one another.

But as Jungkook begins dropping from the haze of his high, watching Jimin walk away to shower any remaining evidence of their transgression, he feels lonelier and emptier than he ever has.

It’s as though all his progress has been demolished, scabs reopened and raw, while Jimin cries directly onto them—fat, salty tears on a fat, oozing wound.

+++

It’s only three months into the new year and Jungkook has reclaimed his post as being Jimin’s dirty little secret.

He wonders why he still hasn’t said anything.

+++

It’s been nearly a year and Jungkook has managed to evade being in close proximity with Seulgi if he can.

Completely disregarding the one time he’d seen Jimin and Seulgi together.

But a few months into the New Year and a few weeks into his reclamation of being a side piece, Jungkook just doesn’t make his escape soon enough one night.

As he’s just preparing to pack up shop from the flat and head home, Jimin’s girlfriend barges in and walks over to Jimin, planting herself in his lap and a kiss on his lips.

Jungkook feels ill, but pointedly looks away from them.

“Hey babe, I’m gonna grab you a beer, ‘kay?” Jimin says, pushing her off his lap onto the couch as he heads to the kitchen.

Jungkook is stress-sweating, desperately eager to find a polite way to extricate from being around his ex’s new girlfriend. The ex he’s still currently hooking up with.

Fucking god damn it, Jungkook curses angrily.  

Seulgi greets him cheerfully and he raises his hand awkwardly, a weak attempt to bridge over the obvious distance between them.

The vague rattling and clanking of bottles and glasses being maneuvered can be heard from the kitchen but the only thing Jungkook is keenly aware of is Seulgi’s heavy gaze.

She opens the conversation bluntly, but her tone is artfully crafted into something as neutral as Lousiana’s No Man’s Land. Jungkook’s both impressed and horrified.

“You guys are close, hey?”  

It sounds accusative. Jungkook doesn’t raise to the bait though.

“Yeah, we’ve been best friends since we’re young,” he shrugs casually.

Seulgi crosses her legs and leans her head on her hand, elbow resting on the backrest, facing Jungkook face-on, direct and combative. And yet her delivery still remains mild and bland.

She teases gently, “How come I don’t see you ‘round more? I’m gonna start thinkin’ you don’t approve me or somethin’.”

Yikes.

“No, no,” Jungkook denies passionately, “Definitely not that.”

Seulgi raises a penciled eyebrow suspiciously before she shrugs, mitigating the heavy tension surrounding the pair of them.

Jungkook doesn’t know what she’s getting so damn aggressive about when she has Jimin in the palm of her hands and he’s trying to prevent the last remaining grains of Jimin’s existence from escaping between the spaces in his fingers.

“So, how long have you known each other?”

He decides that he wants to be difficult, irked by her oppressive presence.

Isn’t it enough she gets to have what he’s been wanting? What he had and can’t have anymore? What else does she want?

He doesn’t care and he doesn’t owe fuck all to Jimin so he decides that, yes, he’s definitely going to be difficult.

Jungkook picks up his phone, doesn’t deign her with his gaze, scrolls through his Instagram feed as he answers her.

“I don’t even remember anymore, since we were little kids, I guess.”

He hears the couch’s springs squeaking beneath her.

“Yeah, I mean, I hear about how you guys are tight. Taehyung’s told me about you a few times too.”

His fingers pause and he looks up, startled by this revelation.

What’s Taehyung playing at?

“He has?” he inquires, honestly curious.

“Yeah, so I’m glad to finally put a face to the name, you know? Like, for the first time since that one time,” she laughs, multiple universes more comfortable than Jungkook feels as he colors, remembering the state of undress Jimin and Seulgi had been in at the time.

And the ensuing month of fragmented friendship he and Jimin had endured following the unpleasant event.

There’s an awkward pause.  

“Yeah,” Jungkook agrees reluctantly. There's not a single mote of sincerity in his voice, his previous earnestness having drained as rapidly as air bleeding out of tire with a hole. 

And despite Seulgi seemingly diplomatic attempts, he can’t resist the childish urge to provoke Seulgi, vex her somehow. And so, he tacks on a passive-aggressive adjunct.

“I guess.”

An unarticulated challenge.

Seulgi’s gaze pierces him, suddenly sharper and keener than he’d suspected she’d be from what he’s heard through the grapevine. But then again, his brother had always warned him to never underestimate the astuteness of a suspicious woman. He’s made the wrong move and she’s prepared for her turn as the aggressor, her eyes like weapons glinting ominously at him like twinkling beacons of light as she peers down at him.

She accepts his challenge.

And when Jimin sets her beer on top of the living room table, on top of a cheap coaster, she pulls him into an impolitely fervent kiss, her eyes open for a split second longer than necessary.

Back off, she says tacitly.

Jungkook grabs his jacket and walks out moments later.

+++

Jimin’s still dating Seulgi.

Jungkook and Seulgi both inherently have come to terms with their mutual distaste for the other, but they keep up appearances to appease Jimin.

Seulgi thinks she’s got the upper hand. 

Jungkook can understand why. 

But what she doesn't know are the numerous nights, Jungkook’s pressing Jimin into his bed under his vigilant hands, stoking the fires of his ex-boyfriend’s desire in concentrated doses of ecstasy.  

+++

Things remain fairly stagnant after that.

To the rest of the unsuspecting world, Jimin’s dating Seulgi happily.

Jungkook’s about to graduate high school and join his hyung at the same university. They’ve even agreed to live together. To the rest of the world, they’re ex-boyfriends who’ve demolished the odds against them and retained their best friendship.

Jimin comes back every weekend and he still sees Jungkook often.

Jungkook’s parents love Jimin.

Jimin’s parents love Jungkook.

But in secrecy, Jimin manhandles and kisses Jungkook with an ardency that they’d never possessed in their relationship before. They broach and steamroll through boundaries they’ve never even dared to touch before. Jungkook begins spending more time at Jimin’s unable to wait in between his fixes, a hungry addict, itching for his latest fix.

There’s a wildness and a heatedness that inexplicably blooms between them.

But life hates complacency and in July, things take an unfortunate turn.

+++

Jihyun texts Jungkook in late July, Hey, man, you busy?

Yes, he is.

Jungkook should really be helping his mom around the house and doing his chores.

What’s up?

The reply follows without a pause in between.

Ah, sorry to put the burden on you, Jungkookie, I know you’re his ex and I’m not sure how much you’re going to want to hear this but Jimin-hyung and Seulgi-noona broke up a few hours ago. Think she dumped him and he won’t stop crying.

Jungkook immediately lunges out of bed, grabs his least offensive hoodie, and starts rushing down the stairs and putting his shoes on. Junghyun looks at him, frowning, obviously about to scold him for leaving the house when he’s got obligations to attend to.

“Sorry, hyung, but Jiminie-hyung and his girlfriend broke up, I have to go there, I know I have to do my chores and everything still but I can’t just let him be all sad—I know you and mom will be mad at me but I promise I’ll do them later or I’ll do both of our shares next weekend—”

Junghyun’s frown only deepens and Jungkook’s afraid his older brother’s run out of empathy for Jimin.

But instead, Junghyun’s mouth curls downward and he sighs heavily.

“Jungkook-ah, I know you love him still…but when are you going to put yourself first?”

Heart smarting from Junghyun’s observation, Jungkook just pulls the front door open and rushes out next door, where the love of his life is crying, heartbroken.

+++

It’s in August that Jungkook’s resentment begins to bubble again.

After he’d spent the better half of two weeks either comforting his hyung or beginning to pack up his belongings to move into Taemin’s old room, Jungkook’s emotionally drained.

It’s difficult comforting Jimin since he’s tight lipped on the reason why Seulgi had dumped him, insisting that he’s fine despite crying into Jungkook’s shoulder, pitiful whimpers emerging every now and then.

Jungkook tries to stifle his most cumbersome thoughts but sometimes they manage to slip past his best defenses and bubble to the surface.

Did you cry like this when we broke up?

Which breakup hurts more?

Did I matter to you half as much as Seulgi did?

Why did you kiss me even when you were with her?

Did you do the same thing to me too?

Sometimes he just thinks, I’m a terrible person, as he pets Jimin’s hair while he’s pretending he’s not weeping too. 

+++

It’s been two years since Jimin broke up with him—the kind of anniversary no one ought to remember, a date to be forgotten and stashed away in the further depths of someone’s mind.

But Jungkook remembers because he’s still in love with Jimin.

All their mutual friends used to try an avoid the topic of Jimin and his serial dating habits in the first year after the breakup for Jungkook’s sake but once he’d begun seriously seeing Seulgi, they’d all figured that Jungkook had gotten over him and begun speaking about those topics more liberally.

So, two full years after the fact, Seokjin doesn’t bat his eyelashes when he ribs Jimin casually.

“I know you’re single now, kid, but take it easy, eh? Taehyungie here told me what a womanizer you’ve become.”

Jimin flushes resentfully under the attention, catcalls and whistles emitted throughout the tables, elbowing his hyung and shooting his roommate a baleful glare.

Taehyung shrugs.

“I mean, it’s true, how many chicks have you brought home lately?”

Jungkook’s frozen, a prey forced into a tight corner, shivering in utter terror.  He doesn’t notice Taehyung’s unobtrusively raised eyebrow, hidden beneath his fringe.

Jimin looks shifty, hands and legs shaking a little, clearly anxious as he shoots Jungkook surreptitious glances.

“I mean, I dunno, I figure, I’m single—no big deal, you know how it is,” Jimin mumbles embarrassedly.

Taehyung’s deep chuckle resonates under the hoots of Hoseok and the raucous laughter of Seokjin. Namjoon and Yoongi smile too, but Jungkook notices the way those two older boys observe him carefully. He tries not to squirm under their skillfully trained eyes.

Patting Jimin’s shoulder in pseudo-sympathy, eyes firmly planted on Jungkook, Taehyung reveals, “He was saying how he's going to another party tonight.”

Having had enough of this conversation, not wanting the images of his ex with someone else, Jungkook starts whining and complaining about all the boxes he still has left to pack.

Jimin offers to help him and despite everything, Jungkook’s battered heart leaps under his hyung’s attention, and he accepts with a slow, shy smile.

It’s been a few years since they’d broken up and then a few more years since they were mutually in love and Jungkook still basks under his attention.

+++

Jungkook enjoys the freedom that entails university life in comparison to secondary school.

He loves the additional time he’s got to sleep in when he has late start classes or the naps he can squeeze in after early morning classes. He loves the gaps in his schedule where he can pump iron at the gym. He loves that he has selections for courses now—instead of relying on an external curriculum course planner. He loves that his peers are less cliquey, and a large majority of people are more openminded to friends with wide range of interests that differ from their own.

He mirrors Jimin’s lifestyle in that he lives at the apartment throughout the week then commutes over to see his family on the weekends.

Taehyung’s a little messier than Jimin and a smidgen louder but he’s not bothersome in any regard and they become fast friends.

They go to the arcade together, make plans with their hyungs together, eat out together, and watch movies at their place together.

It’s a welcome change of pace from the complications that trouble his relationship with Jimin and it’s nice to have a friend who’s more accessible than his hyungs.

Jimin’s stopped bringing his ladies home after Jungkook had moved in, Taehyung privately shares with him.

And though Jungkook would suspect Jimin’s just staying over at their places now instead, considerate enough not to subject him to listening to the throes of their passion when his younger ex-boyfriend is nearby, he knows this isn’t the case either.

Ever since Jungkook had moved in, he can account for Jimin’s presence in the household each and every night. Whether he strolls in casually at eight in the evening or quietly pads around the apartment when he sneaks in at one in the morning, it doesn't matter. He’s always home and he's always alone.

Jungkook occasionally wonders if those late nights had been spent with some random girl, but the few times he’d been up those particular nights watching television until late, Jimin had always come in looking as perfectly coiffed as he'd looked when he left. Apparently, he’d just been at the library. As for the rare times Jimin comes in rumpled and sweaty, it's because of the exertion from the gym.

But more than his telling appearance is the completely relaxed expression Jimin dons when he spots Jungkook on the couch, a fond smile stretching across his face.

He eventually begins to lose the suspicious edge until he stops worrying himself sick over whether Jimin will break his heart again and each night he falls asleep soundly.

+++

Turns out it was too good to be true. 

When Jimin fucks up next, it’s egregious and sends Jungkook into an unimaginable rage.

The three roommates had celebrated Jungkook’s birthday earlier in the month, but later in the same week when they’d been with the Jeons’ for dinner, Jimin surprises him upstairs with two tickets for a band he’d been wanting to see for a while.

Overjoyed and unable to contain his unbridled excitement, Jungkook leans over and kisses Jimin’s cheek and hugs him close to his chest. When he pulls away, he plucks the tickets out of his hyung’s hands and pockets them, quickly checking the date.

When the week of the concert arrives in early October, they’d devised a plan: they'd meet for dinner after classes where Jimin will treat him, have a few drinks back at the apartment, and then head over to the concert venue.

Simple to execute in theory.

But when Jimin’s late to dinner and doesn’t respond to his battalion of texts, Jungkook becomes worried. His hyung is a chronic texter, unable to put his phone down for more than a few minutes. He sends a text Taehyung’s way but doesn’t receive a reply.

So he gets up and rushes to their apartment, concerned Jimin’s injured himself or has gotten sick or is having one of his down days where not much can make him smile. And when he barges into the apartment preparing himself an abundance of unpleasant scenarios, he walks into the one situation he hadn’t imagined.

Jungkook’s least favourite memories include his grandmother passing away when he was younger, being bullied for his quietness when he was a child, being scolded by his usually adoring parents, fighting with Yugyeom, and breaking up with Jimin.

But his least favourite memory is topped by when he’d walked into Jimin and Seulgi hooking up. He hadn’t thought there’d be a moment that could top that.

But as he walks in, realizing he’d been stood up at his birthday dinner so that Jimin could hook up with someone, Jungkook recognizes how flawed his former expectations had been. It’s disappointing to realize that he’d thought better of Jimin than he really deserves.

Because the only way the worst moment in his short life could be topped was by losing the solace that he was the only boy Jimin had ever wanted.

So when he spots Jimin, thighs bracketing a taller, muscular man on their living room couch, with their shirts off, his heart doesn’t shatter this time. No, it hardens with resolve, cemented by a thick layer of bitter resentment and love transmutes dangerously into hatred.

Jimin looks rattled, pulling himself off the boy, nearly tripping over his own feet in his haste to disentangle himself from the random boy.

Bedraggled, he grabs his shirt and yanks it over his head, hair a tussled mess.

“Jungkook! Sorry, ah, I’ll just…he’s leaving now,” Jimin stammers, voice broken and pitchy with nervousness. Jungkook can see the barely perceptible tremble to his hyung’s body.

The random boy, the other complicit fucker in Jimin’s assholery, picks up on the implicit request of the other two boys in the room and grabs all his belongings and dresses himself before pecking Jimin on the lips and closing the door behind him.

Jungkook wants to punch a hole through his face. He also knows this is Jimin’s fault, not the other fucker’s. But it doesn’t matter much to him in that moment.

“Where were you? I was waiting for you,” he demands hotly.

Anger hurtles through his veins, pumping madly and wildly, uncontrollably destructive as he witnesses Jimin’s face range from total perplexment to horrified realization until it settles with abject guilt.

“Jungkook, no, no, no, I’m sorry, I ju—I have no excuses, I just…I don’t know what ha-happened, I just—”

Once when Jimin and Jungkook had been in grades nine and seven respectively, they’d been fooling around on Jungkook’s treadmill and Jimin had tripped (Jungkook had roared with unapologetic laughter). Unfortunately, the space between the wall and the treadmill had been so minimal that Jimin had been trapped, the band of treadmill rubbing and chafing on the thin skin of his thighs. Eventually, Jungkook had collected himself enough to stop the treadmill from running.

The way Jimin stammers and stutters, jumping and jittering, blithering and blathering reminds Jungkook’s the way the band on the treadmill had skipped awkwardly due to Jimin’s thighs being an obstruction.

The memory ruptures like an wayward bubble and all Jungkook’s left with is his justified anger.

“You just forgot about me,” Jungkook interrupts callously, his face a sheet of sparkling, hard marble.

He remembers the way Jimin’s skin had been pink and inflamed, skin peeling, the sensitive layer beneath exposed and raw. Jungkook thinks if Jimin’s the exemplification of the skipping treadmill, his expression is the picture portrayal of Jimin’s bare, irritated skin, revealing the tender condition beneath the veneer of his normally affected indifference.  

Poised to apologize profusely, Jimin opens his mouth.

“Don’t bother, hyung. I’ll text Yugyeom and see if he’s got time for me instead,” Jungkook cuts him off, already heading for the door as he pulls his phone out to send a text to his old school friend.

But Jimin remains undeterred, pleading with him.

“Please, Jungkook, please, I’ll make it up to you. I will, I promise, please.”

Jungkook closes the door firmly behind him.

The sound of the door slamming behind him isn’t loud enough to conceal the sound of Jimin’s desperate cries and wild sob.

+++

Jimin’s birthday passes and for the first time in all the years they’ve been friends, Jungkook doesn’t acknowledge it.

He doesn’t attend Jimin’s birthday festivities, he doesn’t get Jimin a present, and he pretends Jimin simply doesn’t exist.

But then again, he doesn’t acknowledge Jimin much for the next few months.

+++

For the first time in years, Jungkook’s parents inform him that they’ll be going on a cruise during the New Year so they won’t be celebrating with the Parks until the second week of January of the following year.

It’s a welcome relief considering how the tides are unfavourable to Jungkook right now but he feigns outrage for platitude’s sake.

Instead, he accepts an invitation to Seokjin’s New Year’s Eve party for the first time since they became friends several years ago, his hyung delighted that both Jimin and Jungkook will finally be able to attend.

Jungkook asks if Junghyun wants to go too, but his brother declines politely, telling him his friends had already convinced him to hit up some frat block party.

Seokjin reveals to Jungkook that he’s having people over around ten or ten thirty, but expects Jimin even later since he’s got some prior obligation to attend to first—it’s more information than he’s normally privy to as he’s refused to converse with his hyung once since the humiliating ordeal he suffered in early October.

So Taehyung and Jungkook arrive together and are completely plied with liquor by the time Jimin steps foot through the door.

Taehyung’s arm is around Jungkook’s shoulder and it’s become a source of comfort as the two roommates have gotten closer in the past few months.

“Tae? Jungkook-ah?”

Jimin’s voice is quiet, a little sullen and confused, his eyes narrowed as he absorbs the domestic scene in the kitchen where Taehyung is now hugging Jungkook from behind as he pours them both drinks.

“Jimin-ah!” Taehyung cheers from his perch on Jungkook’s shoulder.

Jungkook ignores Jimin, only a cold nod as any semblance of acknowledgment, the best greeting he’s given his hyung in the past several months.

Taehyung’s chin is resting on Jungkook’s shoulder, both boys laughing over the disproportionate level of liquor being distributed amongst the pair of them.

Neither of them notice the growing cloud of dissent above Jimin’s head, scowl growing more and more distinguished, an impressive scrawl into his normally smooth forehead.

“Jungkookie, can I talk to you?”

Instead of giving Jimin an answer, Jungkook knocks back his shot, forgoing propriety by waiting for Taehyung. Jimin watches as Taehyung discreetly takes the shot, making a disgusted face, but soon his attention wanes, focus honing in on his ex again.

Jimin’s leaning against the counter, trying to wait patiently, but his calm expression drops the instant Jungkook turns away from him, heading for the living room where everyone’s mingling or dancing or settled onto couches or claiming their corner of the night.

Taehyung’s slipped away stealthily, clearly aware the other two boys need to hash something out, and Jimin exploits the opportunity, grip around Jungkook’s wrist tight and impossible to dislodge, a barnacle attached to the hull of a wide ship.

“Let go,” Jungkook snaps, bratty and petty as it comes, thrashing his arm violently.

Jimin’s face has stiffened with frustration and his jaw is set stubbornly, a look that doesn’t bode well for him.

“No.”

Body quivering with repressed rage he’d been stewing on, Jungkook doesn’t attempt to curb his angry words.

“Well, what the fuck do you want?”

Looking as though he’s slapped him, Jimin straightens up, posture indicating he’s no longer in an accommodating mood. His tone is harsh and abrasive, as he scolds him.

“Don’t talk to me like that.”

Jungkook nods, ironically somber, as he tells him, “That can certainly be arranged.”

And before he can escape, Jimin scoffs disparagingly and retorts snidely, “What, by ignoring me completely and pretending I’m not right in front of you?”

Jungkook can’t contend with Jimin when his hyung’s in a combative mood, so he instantly seeks shelter, trying to extricate himself from fiery situation before he goes up in flames.

But Jimin knows him too well and his grip on his wrist instantly tautens again, then he drags Jungkook to Seokjin’s room.

He slams the door behind him and whirls around, pointing his finger at Jungkook accusatively.

“Jungkook, I’m sorry, what else do you want me to say?”

Jimin looks like a haggard stray dog, underfed and unloved, unnourished and neglected, fiending for any scintilla of sustenance he can find—except his sweet, first puppy love is hounding for any recognition from Jungkook. It’s a little sick but Jungkook is filled with a twisted rush of triumph when he’s presented with the image of this morose Jimin in front of him.

“Nothing,” he says tonelessly, shrugging with great exaggerated apathy.

Jimin makes an aggrieved sound in his throat, sounding like he’s gargling recycled metals that cut through his vocal cords, looking wild and desperate.

“Well, obviously, I fucked up and I’m sorry and I’d try to beg for your forgiveness but you won’t look at me, let alone talk to me, and every time I wanna say something Taehyung’s just fucking there—and could you please look at me, Kook? I’m sorry,” he cries, grasping at Jungkook again, only to flinch when he steps out of reach.  

And finally, Jungkook’s carefully contained self-control crumbles and he voices his thoughts, vulnerable and raw.

“I thought you said I was the only exception,” he mumbles sorrowfully.

And perhaps it was naïve of Jungkook to believe his hyung when sexuality is all relative, swinging on a delicate balance for each individual, but he’d really taken Jimin’s word for it. And in spite of the heart wrenching breakup and the ensuing hookups they’ve had, Jungkook had always taken a very clandestine pride in being Jimin’s only boy.

Maybe it’s because Jimin’s the only boy, the only one, for him but he’d discreetly adored the idea that they’d shared one thing in common.

Or maybe he’s just narcissistic asshole and liked his ego being fed by the notion that somehow, he’s special.

But whatever it was, it’d bloodied him in a way that seeing or hearing about Jimin with other people never had.

“Jungkook, you’re so special to me, you are,” Jimin reassures him, but Jungkook doesn’t know if he believes him anymore, so he keeps his head bowed submissively.

“You’re the only one I ever loved—I liked Seulgi and she made me happy but I didn’t love her, not the way she wanted me to. That’s why we broke up, because she didn’t think she was enough for me.”

But I’m not enough for you either, Jungkook laments, You broke up with me, remember?

“I love you, Jungkook-ah,” Jimin steamrolls on, appearing to be ignorant to the tempest inside of Jungkook’s chest, navigating his way through the foggy clouds and crashing tides until his lips reach Jungkook’s.

And this time when they kiss, Jungkook promises himself that he’ll confess to Jimin again—just as he’d done when he was thirteen. It had worked out once and he hopes he can replicate the results.

Their lips have never strayed far enough from the other’s to forget the familiarity that comes with it—

Jungkook’s sharp cupid’s bow a contrast to the Jimin’s blunter bow.

The full swell and pucker of Jimin’s full lips meshing against Jungkook’s thinner ones.

Jimin’s front snaggletooth catching on Jungkook’s plumper lower lip, while Jungkook’s mild overjet swallows down his hyung’s erratic breaths.

But the rhythm of this song and dance has finally picked up a few beats, the chords and notes evolving from one key into the next, and they both miss the sounds of the countdown this year over the sight of his ex of three years between his thighs and cries of Jungkook emptying himself down Jimin’s throat.

+++

Chapter Text

Everyone’s heard it all before. Or maybe they’ve even done it all before.

Shit, I was so drunk, I can’t believe I fucked that asshole.

Yeah, I knew I shouldn’t have drank that much, I ended up making out with my old FWB.”

Fuck, that weed was so dank, bro, but man, shouldn’t have hooked up with my best friend.” 

Jungkook’s officially a cliché—or maybe he’s been one for the past few years.

I got too drunk and I let my ex I’m still in love with suck me off.

What scarlet letter would that earn him?

He shouldn’t’ve let it happen because now that they’ve been gradually upping the ante each year since their breakup, the newest visual is seared into his retinas and he can’t escape from it.

It is a strange broth of being too much and not enough.

How can Jimin expect him to have the opportunity to rake his fingers through Jimin’s tresses when he’s going down on him—each upward stroke a delight, each downward stroke bliss—and just forget? How can he think that he won’t want it again? And for the rest of his life?

Things have gone on for much too long and despite Jungkook’s shamelessness and desperation to have Jimin in any capacity that he can, he tiredly resigns himself to acknowledging that he can’t remain a doormat on Jimin’s front step anymore—forever trodden on, forever waiting until Jimin’s door opens again to catch sight of him however fleeting and temporary it may be.

So, Jungkook calls him to a café one evening in late January.

His hyung pounces on him and hugs him from behind, arms looping around his shoulders, face smushed against Jungkook’s scalp.

“Hi, Jungkookie, how’re you?”

Permitting several minutes of idle conversation after Jimin picks up his decaf coffee, Jungkook’s agitation ultimately wears on Jimin’s patience.

“Are you okay?”

He’d been hoping to delay the inevitable unpleasantry but if Jimin’s willing to cut the cord before the last loose end snaps, Jungkook’s, finally, ready to enter the battlefield.

“No, hyung, I’m not. And I haven’t been for a while,” Jungkook declares confrontationally, proverbial guns cocked and grenade belt stocked well. 

Startled, Jimin recoils, but he rallies back quickly.

“Is this about what happened back in October? I thought you forg—”

Jungkook notices the minute tremble of Jimin’s body—he’s obviously terrified of what the conversation will be about. But he’s given Jimin’s so damn many chances and protected him from the hard truth, Jungkook’s simply not in a merciful mood on this January evening so he bypasses the warning signs and steps onto the minefield with no remorse.

He growls lowly, a crumbly gurgle churning loudly in his throat, completely fed up by Jimin’s expression, hopeful and desperate that his dongsaeng won’t defy his implicit wish (please don’t talk about it) which hangs in the air, jagged and barbed, an incognito stalactite.

His hyung blanches, realizing Jungkook won’t be thwarted—not this time.

“Now, Jimin, just be fucking reasonable. You must know that that’s not true,” Jungkook snaps bitingly, chewing through the thick tension like a gelatinous tendon.

Cowering into himself, Jimin wraps his arms around himself as if to defend himself from the impending onslaught of Jungkook’s verbal bullets, thudding against the weak shell of his heart. Normally deferent under the silent plea in Jimin’s sweet, wet eyes, Jungkook’s heart jolts uncomfortably, but he ignores the blaring sirens and the flashy lights and perseveres.

“No, you just kissed me and expected everything to be better. Just like you’ve been doing for the past three years, leading me on, why? Because it’s convenient? Because I’m convenient? What, because I’m easy? You know I’ll never say no to you?”

Jimin’s mouth is opening and closing nearly imperceptibly, struggling to collect himself under the weight of Jungkook’s rage. In a unsteady voice, he tries his best, feeble and cowardly as it may be.

He licks his lips.  Jungkook ignores his weak, weak body’s instant reaction to the sight.

“Jungkook, wha-wh-what’re you saying?”

Shaking his head adamantly, he doesn’t accept Jimin’s feigned ignorance.

“Let’s just cut the fucking bullshit. Why? Why’d you breakup with me if you’re going to kiss me when you want to? Because you’re horny and I’d let you do anything if I can have you? Because I’m younger and stupid?” he demands hotly.

Jungkook’s seeing red now, verbal ammunition overstocked and all the pins of his grenades removed pre-emptively, ready for him to huck them at Jimin the moment he’s provoked in any manner.

If Jimin had been pale before, he’s downright ghostly now.

“No, Jungkook…why’re you saying all of this?” he cries, trying to keep his voice level.

Incensed, Jungkook isn’t having it. Not now, not this time.

He sneers frostily, “Give me a fucking break, Jimin. Don’t act like you’re being attacked out of nowhere and I have no reason to be angry, god damn it.”

They’d been racing towards some unarticulated goal, full speed into the horizon, and Jungkook’s finally ready to burst past the finish line.

But he doesn’t want anger to dominate the moment; he wants to recall this moment of truth, where he comes spick and span—completely clean—to Jimin and be proud of himself for raising above the fray.

Once he reaches a simmer from a full boil, he speaks.

“Hyung, tell me that you don’t know,” Jungkook says calmly, cooler than the treacherous waters of the Arctic.

Jimin refuses to catch his eye.

“I don’t know what?”

He’s gotten this far already and he’s not ready to let Jimin slip by another day, unblemished and unscathed when Jungkook feels like his heart is battered and bruised, an overripened peach.

“Tell me you don’t know why I’d put out for you anytime of any day. Tell me that you don’t know why I just seem to lose all my ethics and common sense when you come crawling to me. Tell me you don’t know why you dating Seulgi-noona hurt me so badly. Tell me you don’t know why it hurt me even worse that we stopped talking after you hooked up with that random asshole. Tell me you don’t know why I called you here today after New Year’s.”

Breaths coming shorter and shorter, panic evident after all the bitter questions and hard truths thrust his way, Jimin looks like a porcupine without his elaborate coat of quills, harmless and defenseless.

“Jungkook-ah, please…”

He just doesn’t have the patience anymore.

Jungkook shakes his head coldly.

“Tell me, hyung, stop being so fucking selfish.”

Plaintive whine makes its way out of Jimin’s mouth, the first time it’s been uttered in a nonsexual context. 

“I can’t,” he whispers sadly.

It isn’t enough anymore, Jungkook thinks angrily, positively enraged by the defeated posture Jimin wears like a cumbersome cloak. 

“It’s because you’re a fucking coward and you don’t know what you fucking want. You know that l love you and you don’t care as long as you have me hanging around like some lost puppy because it makes you feel so good, huh? I knew you needed praise and acknowledgement all the time but what you’ve been doing to me is fucking sick. And you don’t even love me back the same way, do you?”

He knows he’s being unnecessarily cruel, but Jimin has been selfishly cruel on his own terms. It feels a little like untimely vengeance.

Jimin is now begging shamelessly, distressed by Jungkook’s uncharacteristic perseverance.

Please don’t make me answer, Jungkook.”

Jungkook shrugs nonchalantly, ignoring Jimin’s growing fright and desperation spreading across from his hyung’s side of the table, attempting to stretch across and reach him.

“I won’t. But don’t expect me to want to talk to you for a few months, you asshole,” Jungkook negotiates calmly and gathers his belongings, chair squealing obnoxiously as he stands up, preparing to leave.

He feels a small tug on his sleeve and he’s not sure if its his exposed heart finally unthreading itself from the public’s pitying eyes or if it’s Jimin’s small hand preventing him from leaving. 

“Wait!” Jimin solicits lamely.

He raises one eyebrow condescendingly as he pulls his sleeve out of his hyung’s reach. The action registers with Jimin who winces dreadfully as he lowers his hand.

 “Are you going to move out?”

Jungkook shrugs blandly.

“I’ll just crash at Yoongi-hyung’s for a bit. Don’t text me, don’t talk to me, if you know I’m going to be somewhere don’t show up, don’t agree to go to my parent’s place if they invite you, you’re dead to me right now,” he tells Jimin stoically, gaze as unwavering as his resolution to get over his hyung. 

Glumly, Jimin agrees.

And he can’t help kicking the dead dog as petty as it may be.

“This,” he says, gesturing to himself and Jimin, “Just isn’t good enough for me anymore.”

His hyung flinches again, the words a sharp pelt to his ribcage, but he doesn’t argue.

“Okay.”

Jungkook nods and steps backwards and is about to turn his back on him. He pivots to face him again.

“And hyung?”

His heart is still so bloody weak.

Jimin, who’d been slumped over the table, looks up tiredly.

“Yeah?”

Jungkook thinks Jimin’s hopeful countenance is as beautiful as it’s frustrating. He decides that while he won’t give this particular dog a bone, he’ll give his abashed puppy love of his life something to chew on anyway.

“I still love you, hyung,” he confesses softly, a mournful note in his melodic voice.

Hearing as acute as a wolf, Jimin’s ears prick up, deciphering the howl of agony behind Jungkook’s somber delivery.

“Jungkookie, I love you too.”

Dry smile and even drier heart, Jungkook laughs appreciatively.

“No, you don’t,” Jungkook pardons him kindly.

He turns his back on Jimin, unwilling to reveal his underbelly for any longer, the deep gashes oozing his bloody heartbreak.  

“But thank you anyway.”

+++

When Jungkook had been thirteen, he’d confessed to his first love and it’d been accepted and reciprocated, his dream realized in the most optimal manner.

When Jungkook’s eighteen, he confesses to his ex-boyfriend, his first love, and it’d been rejected and unrequited, his dream crushed in the most devastating manner.

It’s funny how life operates, Jungkook chortles humourlessly to himself.

+++

Jungkook lives with Yoongi for the remainder of January and all of February.

He has no contact with Jimin through the entirety of those months.

One day, he plucks his courage and returns to the apartment with his roommates, he doesn’t warn nor inform Jimin in advance.

Luckily, he had packed lightly enough that he’s able to sneak back into to resume his residency without a large fuss, a quiet affair. Jungkook had been given Jimin’s semester schedule prior to their enormous fallout so he knows which hours to avoid the common area and when to be out of the apartment altogether.

Jimin respects his space and keeps himself confined to his own room whenever possible.

Taehyung feels no such obligation and spends any given moment Jimin’s out of the house pestering Jungkook to explain why he’d been paying rent for an apartment he’d temporarily vacated for two months.

“C’mon, Jungkook, I know it has to do with Jiminie,” he wheedles noisily, crowding into his personal space.

Jungkook remains obstinately reticent.

If you don’t talk about it, Jungkook tells himself, it doesn’t exist.

***

Jungkook’s been moved back for about two months now and while he and Jimin are not nearly as close as they used to be, they’ve tentatively re-established an acquaintanceship.

This means instead of total silence, they occasionally exchange words when they accidentally cross paths in the small space they share. It’s something, he supposes.

If Jungkook thinks too hard about it, it hurts that they’re reduced to mere ghosts of their former selves, but it’s better than the absence of Jimin.

But as the distance between Jimin and Jungkook expands, Taehyung and Jungkook become closer.

He eventually confesses to Taehyung what he and Jimin had been up to for the years following their breakup.

It’s some random April night when Jimin had had a late night classes and the two other boys were lounging and watching television and eating snacks on the couch. Jungkook had been struck by the desire to finally confide in someone and he decides that he deserves to hear some honest input.

Taehyung had been appalled.

“What! Jungkook-ah, c’mon, you’re joking,” he gasps, horrified, leaning into Jungkook’s space comically. 

Jungkook shoves his face, disgusted by the proximity.

Wryly, he admits, “No, sadly not.”

Taehyung voluntarily backs off and just looks at Jungkook carefully. Jungkook shies away from the attention and frowns.

“It’s pathetic, I know, okay, hyung?” he snaps, a little too rattled at someone who hasn’t done anything to him personally.

Taehyung raises his eyebrows threateningly, clearly displeased by Jungkook’s unwarranted attitude. But before he can apologize, his hyung just moves on.

“No, Jiminie’s in the wrong. I love him a lot and I know he’s got his own issues but that’s super fucked up that he’s been playing you like that for so long, Jungkookie. I’m glad you fucking told him off, he fucking deserved it,” Taehyung tells him forcefully, a curl of distaste on his face.

Surprised, Jungkook blurts, “You think so?”

Taehyung nods his head persuasively.

“Hell yeah, my dude, no one deserves to play second fiddle to anyone. That’s totally fucked and you made the right call.”

Shyly, Jungkook smiles happily.

“Thanks hyung, I feel like I made the right call too.”

Patting Jungkook’s head gently before pulling away, the two of them sit in silence, only the insipid main male character’s voice penetrating the moment.

Suddenly, a thought strikes Jungkook, a little nugget that he can’t ignore.

“What did you mean by ‘he has his own issues’ though?” he asks Taehyung, assessing his reaction.

He supposes caring for someone for so many years doesn’t simply perish overnight.

“Oh…hasn’t he talked to you about anything?” Taehyung responds, looking mildly taken aback.

He can’t deny that he’s completely affronted by the notion that Jimin has clearly been honest about seemingly nothing. A fresh wave of fury runs through his veins and as he remembers the pained look on Jimin’s face the last time they’d spoken meaningfully, he is filled with vindictive pleasure.

But he tries to maintain a visage of complacency in front of Taehyung—judging by his friend’s knowing look, he’s failing miserably.

“I mean,” Jungkook shrugs, “I guess not.”

Taehyung tsks soothingly.

“Ah, I know Jimin’s in the doghouse he deserves to be in right now—and he totally deserves to be there, I have no pity considering what he’s done to you—but I’m not willing to rat out his secrets. But I mean, he’s…got a lot brewing back there behind all his public posturing, you know what I mean?”

Jungkook doesn’t.

“Sure,” he agrees shortly, disingenuous as could be.

Taehyung laughs easily.  

“You don’t,” he points out, “That’s okay though. He’s not your concern right now. Get yourself sorted out first, my man.”

Jungkook nods.

It’s been some fourth months since he’s taken time for himself and he’s happier for it, even if he can’t deny that he misses Jimin terribly.

+++

Telling Taehyung had been a small relief.

It’d felt like relieving a part of a very invasive chip on his shoulder.

So little by little, he removes more of the chip, confiding in his friends.

The ones he tells are appropriately infuriated by Jimin’s insensitivity and instantly with Jungkook.

He can’t forget the look of utter disappointment Seokjin had instantly adopted nor the expression of unadulterated fury on Junghyun’s face.

He could tell that they’d all assumed something suspect had been going on between the pair of them, but the gravity of reality crushed their loose suspicions.

Once Jihyun had come over unannounced—on a weekend Jungkook knew Jimin was also visiting his parents—dropping off a few pastries Mrs. Park had made for their family.

Since no one else was home, Jungkook hadn’t felt pressured to invite Jihyun in; he won’t deny that his hospitality towards the Parks were at an all-time low at the time.

When Jungkook just thanks him and tries to close the door on him, Jihyun suddenly shoves his hand on the door and stops him.

“Wait!”

Jungkook clenches his jaw, not in the mood.

“Jungkook. I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”

A tremor of resentful indignance rattles down Jungkook’s spine like empty cans clanking against one another, but he just nods his acknowledgment.

“I know what he did was wrong. He finally told me everything. I wasn’t impressed with him at all, because you and I are still friends too, right?” Jihyun pleads, soft eyes searching Jungkook’s for any give, any room for movement.

Jungkook doesn’t budge.

Jihyun deflates a little, but trundles on.

“He’s my brother,” he says softly.

“But he’s wrong. He fucked up, he did something awful to you, someone he lo—”

Jungkook snaps.

“Don’t say he loves me, Jihyun,” he interrupts irascibly, “don’t fucking bother. You don’t fucking do that to someone you love. Don’t make excuses for him, he was a fucking asshole to me. He fucking made me feel like nothing—forget being fucking exes, we were best friends. What the fuck kind of fuckery was that?”

Breathing heavily and hovering several metres high, his anger propelling him heavenwards, Jungkook tries to gather his senses and ground himself again.

He thinks Jihyun will retaliate and come to Jimin’s defenses.

Instead—

“No,” Jihyun admits quietly, “It’s just…he’s my brother, you understand? I’ll always still love him no matter what kind of fucked up mistakes he makes. He doesn’t have a bad heart, but he has a bad mind sometimes.”

And as much as Jungkook wishes he didn’t understand this concept, he does.

“Thanks, Jihyunie, I’ll see you around,” Jungkook says abruptly and swiftly closes the door in his friend’s face.

Jihyun’s sad, soft face is the mirror reflection of Jimin’s and Jungkook doesn’t want to see it right now and doesn’t know if he ever will.

+++

Time passes and Jungkook starts feeling lighter again.

And as the resentment finally begins to drip out of his heart like a reverse IV, he begins to genuinely forgive Jimin.

This doesn’t mean that he goes out of his way to see him or text him or speak to him.

But it just means that his heart doesn’t inflame with hatred every time he sees him anymore.

Jimin has respected all Jungkook’s wishes and remained out of sight, out of mind. 

He’s always deferent to Jungkook’s presence and always steals away to the privacy of his room when his ex-boyfriend is hanging out with Taehyung in the living room.

But just because he’s trudging down the opening to a path of forgiveness for Jimin, it doesn’t mean Jimin’s off the hook.

Not by a long shot.

+++

Jungkook’s second semester is coming to a close.

By this time, he doesn’t look at Jimin much anymore.

He might still think about him plenty but no one knows about that.

But he thinks he’s becoming less blinded by love, rose-colored glasses finally losing their pinkish tint and are transmuting into prescription glasses, and he can see clearly.

So, one day when Taehyung accidentally reveals plans with their mutual friends in front of their other roommate, Jungkook just extends the invite to Jimin.

Taehyung looks astonished.

Jimin looks even more astounded as he accepts meekly.

Later, Jungkook explains to Taehyung.

“I mean, does it even matter anymore? We’re not close the same way anymore. I’m not really a grudge-holding person, I just get bored of being angry. And I feel like I’m a lot better than I was months ago and he’s been pretty respectful about all the boundaries I set out for him, I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? It’s just one invite.”

Taehyung stares at him doubtfully.

And while Jungkook was winding up to banish the potentially sanctimonious suggestions Taehyung might say to him, his hyung surprises him.

“Okay, if you think you’ll be okay, then I trust you.”

Eyes widened and mouth a little open dumbly, he says, “Really?”

Taehyung nods.

“Yeah, just be careful, Jungkookie. Love is kind of like a concussion. If you fall in love with someone hard just one time, it just gets easier and easier to fall into the same damn trap the following times.”

Jungkook nods back fervently, in completely agreeance.

“Yeah, hyung, I know.” 

+++

Seokjin’s hosting another party.

Jungkook hopes it’ll be nothing like the last one he’d attended with Jimin also there.

That’d ended up in a definitive peak of pleasure with a sharp drop into loneliness on Jungkook’s end.

This time, despite his acquiescence in allowing Jimin to be there, he will avoid him at all costs.

And between slurping down shots and the occasional toke, Jungkook doesn’t have eyes for an ex-boyfriend he barely speaks to anymore. Not this time.

Especially when he ends the night making out with Taehyung against a wall, the cheers of mutual party attendees ringing in his ears.

He doesn’t notice the downturn of Jimin’s mouth or the quaver of his body. 

But even if he had, it shouldn’t matter to him

+++

The next day, in the early afternoon when the punks arise from their post-deviancy slumber, when Jungkook and Taehyung walk into each other heading into the bathroom it's…awkward.

They alternate turns brushing their teeth and faces and each boy takes a valiant effort to settle their messy locks.

It’s an incredibly mundane morning considering the events of the previous night.

Jungkook and Taehyung had had their lips locked for the better part of most of the night and by the time they’d separated, Jimin had already left. He hadn't been able to stop himself from looking around to the room to see whether his ex had been around still. 

Sue Jungkook for wondering if Jimin had been affected in any way.

Although, Jungkook thinks to himself, cringing a little, it probably looks bad that he’d allowed Jimin to be around him and their friends at the same time for the first time in months, only to hook up with someone else in front of him.

Almost deliberate.

Taehyung and Jungkook settle at the kitchen table with their coffee billowing steam in front of them before they take a stab at conversation.

“So…”

Taehyung leaps up, out of his chair, on his two feet and points at him.

“Jungkook, listen, I don’t want to be with you that way,” Taehyung hisses, a whisper-shout, as he shoots discreet looks to Jimin’s door (which had remained resolutely shut for the all of that morning).

Grateful, Jungkook releases a sigh of utmost relief. Then he takes a sip of his coffee, wincing at the sharp bitterness and merciless heat before he answers.

“Thank fuck, because neither do I, hyung.”

Taehyung sits back down and crosses his legs. He gulps down a few sips of coffee.

“Oh my god, lord, I was so fucking worried about this conversation—I mean, we all know how much you were hung up on Jimin, I was like what if I end up fucking Jungkook up like that too—”

Jungkook scowls across the table and then slaps his hand resentfully.

“Shut the fuck up, hyung, you’re not that important,” he informs Taehyung.

Taehyung chortles patronizingly as if he doesn’t take Jungkook’s word.  

“Well, I mean, you’re hot, Jungkookie, like a solid nine, but I’m still above you—”

“Okay, listen, you’ve definitely been talking to Seokjin-hyung way too frequently—”

They devolve into a squabble and despite Jungkook’s desire to squash Taehyung verbally, he is completely relieved that there is no awkwardness or tension or unrequited love confessions on the table this morning.

“The point is,” Taehyung interrupts, tone suddenly stern and quelling Jungkook’s sardonic words, “We’re good and there’s no feelings there from either of us, right?”

Nodding with certainty, Jungkook shakes Taehyung’s extended hand, a peaceful gesture.

Then while Taehyung toasts a few slices of bread to share between the two of them, Jungkook worries his lip as he considers something he hadn’t thought of before.

“Hyung, are you and Jimin-hyung going to be fine? Aren’t you guys friends? Like, wasn’t that kind of weird and fucked up?”

Taehyung turns to him and ponders.

“To be honest, Jungkook-ah,” Taehyung starts carefully, “When he told me you guys were exes, he talked about it like it was totally a past-tense situation. And once I met you and told him that you were hot, he told me I should go for you.”

Initially, Jungkook’s heart sinks at that, hurt that Jimin hadn’t been more possessive over him.

But then he shakes off the thought—it doesn’t matter anymore anyway.

Taehyung’s looking over at him sympathetically.

“And he never told me that you guys continued being together or anything so as far as he knows the last thing he told me was that I could go for you if I wanted to.”

Jungkook laughs, sincere but the sound's a little flatter than his usual guffaw.

“But since I told you the nature of our situation after our breakup, you’re kinda fucking around a little bit, aren’t you, hyung?”

Taehyung shrugs.

“I guess I’ll apologize to him. And it was a one-time thing anyway.”

Jungkook hums his agreement.

“To be honest, Jungkookie, we’re closer now than he and I are now. He’s been distancing himself from me ever since you guys had that falling out. We’re basically just roommates now. So, I’m going to apologize to him because I feel like I owe him that much, but I can’t say that I don’t feel like there’s some just desserts in this whole situation. It’s not really my place to teach anyone any type of lesson but if someone needs to be schooled, it’s him.”

He can’t disagree with the idea, but it also doesn’t necessarily sit right with him either.

“Anyway, Jungkookie, this situation will get too messy if we hook up again, so, just friends?” Taehyung suggests, pinky finger proffered across the table.

Linking fingers before he lowers their hands on the table—fingers still interlaced—Jungkook agrees again.

Absent-mindedly he strokes his friend’s fingers as he blurts out candidly, “You’re the only person I’ve ever kissed besides Jimin-hyung.”

Taehyung roars with laughter, his head tilting backwards, tugging Jungkook’s arm and hand across to table with him.

“Fuck, dude, you’re kidding!”

Jungkook shakes his head shyly.

“Oh, hell, dude, that’s wild.”

Suddenly, mischeviously, Taehyung raises and eyebrows and asks boldly, “Who was better?”

Jungkook tries to tug his finger and hand out of his hyung’s reach but to no avail.

At the same time as that whole commotion was unfolding, Jimin walks into the room.

He realizes too soon how domestic the entire scene must look to his ex—

Taehyung and Jungkook making out even after Jimin had left the party. Waking up to the other two, drinking coffee and eating toast together, hands linked via a pinky finger—a finger locked and loaded with sentimentality.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

Shots are fired and Jimin’s face falls like a ton of bricks as he absorbs the scene.

His eyes dart wildly from the laugh lines on Taehyung’s face to Jungkook’s pinky wrapped comfortably around Taehyung’s to Jungkook’s face.

Before Jungkook would have pulled away, if only to save face (despite no ulterior intentions behind any of the innocent gestures between Jungkook and Taehyung), but despite relenting in his anger towards Jimin, he hasn’t entirely forgiven him.

So, instead he cruelly intertwines his whole hand with Taehyung’s, and greets Jimin nonchalantly.

“Morning, Jimin-hyung, how was the party last night?”

Jungkook can feel Taehyung’s disapproval in the way he gradually begins to disentangle his hand from his—a gesture to simultaneously mollify Jimin and to prevent Jungkook from being thrown under the bus.

Jimin gulps loudly, clearly hurt.

“Oh, it was good, Jungkooki—Jungkook. It was fine,” he answers softly, “Thanks for letting me come.”

Jungkook’s skin itches, unable to stifle the bubble of his own hurt when he hears how Jimin retracts the usage of his nickname to replace it with his full name, sculpting more distance between them. And he knows Jimin’s just trying to be respectful, but it just reminds him of how much things have truly changed between them.

But he doesn’t let Jimin see any of his inner workings, shrugging carelessly as he retorts, “Whatever, just felt bad for you sitting at home all the time.”

He can clearly tell Taehyung’s getting fed up with his immaturity. Their other roommate picks up their empty plates and brings them to kitchen and begins to wash them without complaint—the first sign that he’s annoyed. Taehyung never cleans without being prompted, the messy fucker.

But he doesn’t have much time to mull that thought over as Jimin takes his place in front of Jungkook.

“No, Jungkook, I mean it, thank you. I’ve missed you over the mo—”

He doesn’t want to hear this. He’ll just fall back down the rabbit hole.

Jungkook gets up and grabs his mug and walks backward, surprisingly elegant despite the headache that’s begun to throb behind his eyes—whether that’s attributable to a burgeoning hangover or dealing with the repercussions of last night Is debatable.

“Nah, bro, don’t worry about it,” Jungkook reassures Jimin, while avoiding eye contact with him, staring somewhere above his head.

Jimin looks like he’s going to cry.

“Seriously, it’s all good. Plus, it was a pretty wild party, hey? Would’ve been a real shame if you missed out on one of Seokjin-hyung’s semester end ragers just because of some totally stupid, meaningless shit,” he rambles, ignoring the way Jimin begins look smaller and smaller.

Continuing Jungkook says, “I hope you had a good time though, I thought it’d be more awkward if we were in the same place, but it’s not that bad, right? Anyway, thanks for respecting my space ‘til now, really appreciate it.”

Jimin just looks weary and sad. But that’s not really Jungkook’s problem anymore.

When Jimin doesn’t answer him, he just turns around and locks himself in the bathroom.

He turns his music and the shower on and sits on the tub floor until he’s as pruned and as shriveled as his heart had felt the first fifteen times Jimin had broken his heart. 

Once he gets out, towels off and curls up into his blankets for a short nap, he reminds himself that he’s been getting better.

He didn’t let Jimin talk his way into his heart again and if that’s not improvement, then nothing is.

+++

Chapter Text

---

There is one thing Jimin has known for most of his life.

He’s been in love once—just once.

He’s dated more than once. He’s kissed more than one person. He’s been attracted to more than one person.

But he’s given his heart away once and just once.

And it doesn’t seem he’ll be getting it back anytime soon.

--- 

Jimin had been a competitive swimmer in his youth.

Jihyun and Jimin had been forced into swimming classes when they’d been toddlers, but the elder Park boy had had a natural inclination and talent that’d caused his instructors to encourage his parents to place him in a swimming league.

Enthusiastic, they’d agreed.

The first few years had been fun, Jimin had been precocious in school and now he finds himself flourishing in a different avenue of life. He makes new friends—pudgy cheeks, missing teeth, short-attention spans and all.

He’d been eight when he’d made it on the province’s most competitive team—he’d been geared to have a promising athletic career if he pursued it.

The first year had passed uneventfully despite his many successes. The main instructor had been kind-hearted and encouraging despite her sternness.

 His parents had attended every meet and event. Jihyun, young as he’d been had also accompanied them, cheering in his high, reedy voice for his older brother.

It was into the second-half of his second year with the team, things began to unravel.

---

One of Jimin’s fondest memories had been when his sweet, sweet love had confessed to him.

Jimin had been the tender age of fifteen, Jungkook an even greener age of thirteen—where he’d found the courage to articulate his feelings of love and admiration when he fumbled over cohesive sentences for a school essay was nothing short of a miracle.

Jungkook had been in his life for a few years now and every year had brought Jimin a sense of security and safety that he’d found in no one else he’d encountered. They’d both been so young but sometimes fate is in a generous mood and gifts its customers with a deal or bargain they hadn’t been expecting. Jimin thinks he’d been one of those serendipitously blessed individuals.

He doesn’t know much about love. He knows even less about homosexual love.

All he knows is when Jungkook confesses to him in all his young, clumsy glory, Jimin wants to accept him with his own inexperienced arms.

Instead, Jimin follows his gut instinct, like a tempting odour that his inquisitive nose can’t resist and he follows it intuitively. He places the gentlest of kisses on his best friend’s lips.

He doesn’t know how to work his lips against someone else’s.

He doesn’t know the right rhythm or right pacing or right pressure.

But it doesn’t matter—because it feels just right.

And when he pulls back to see the blissful shock written all over the canvas of Jungkook’s cherubic face, he knows that his precious boy feels the same.

He doesn’t know about homosexuality or same-sex love, he thinks to himself, Isn’t love just love all the same?  

And when they lean again to learn the shapes and contours of the other’s lips, they don’t know that they might be on borrowed time.

The first grain of sand falls below.

---

“Jimin! Get over here!”

Jimin slowly makes his way over to Instructor Lee—he knows by biding his time, he’s only exacerbating the rage he’ll have to face.

“What was that sloppy technique, Park?”

Jimin shrugs.

“Answer me, boy! You’re not mute, are you?”

Jimin shakes his head imperceptibly, afraid to make sudden movement, a fearful deer barely disguised by a light dusting of shrubs. Self-preservation under such dire circumstances seems nearly impossible.

“Aren’t you better than this?”

Jimin raises his shoulders and lowers them again, avoiding eye contact with his intimidating instructor.

He’s only nine. He doesn’t understand what he’s done to attract such concentrated ire from a man that he’s just met.

Instructor Lee leans in closely, wagging his finger imposingly in front of the young child, and hisses hatefully, “What? What’s that? Are you dumb and mute, boy? Answer me!”

When Jimin just stays still under his threatening aura, he just scoffs disparagingly and straightens up.

“Forget it, you useless child. Get back in the pool. Another five laps of freestyle and don’t let me catch you getting lazy and doing some breaststroke when you get tired. Otherwise, I’ll add ten more.” 

Obedient to a fault, he walks mechanically over to the pool.

He’s humiliated; he knows while the other kids can’t hear the awful words that he endures each practice, they’ve all begun to see him as a lazy, uncooperative swimmer with all the extraneous laps he’s forced to do.

Jimin dives in.

He’s not sure if he wants to surface sometimes.

---

Jimin has been in love with Jungkook for two years now.

Jimin’s mind has been unwell for years longer than that.

Even when he’s happy with Jungkook, simple and easy as love tends to be at their young age, sometimes the beast crawls into the forefront of his mind, smiling snidely. It’s got large, fat molars coupled with the intimidating set of incisors framed by cracked, bleeding lips. Its eyes are milky white, seeing a great expanse of nothing—no past disappointments, no future excellence.

But it’s the voice that comes booming from its neckless throat that terrifies Jimin most.

You’ll never be good enough. You’re good for nothing.  

It reminds him everyday.

Good-for-nothing, useless Jimin.

But Jimin’s nothing if not determined so he tries. He tries to be someone for everyone. He tries to be something even when he feels like a whole lot of nothing.

He tries, but sometimes he fails.

The beast always smirks when Jimin doesn’t succeed.

It lounges on its obnoxiously large paws, unretractable claws glinting and gleaming in the light.

It snarls joyfully, You’ll always be a failure.

---

Jimin used to do well in school, but lately he’s lost his focus. And his motivation.

He’s exhausted from all the extra laps from swim practice.

He’s weary from his parent’s angry expressions and voices laden with disappointment when they’re informed of Jimin’s steadily dropping grades.

He’s lethargic from playing with Jihyun when he’s already bone-tired from swim practice and bleary from hours spent catching up on homework.

Instructor Lee is never happy with him.

His times improve. His skills are finely honed, each movement, each stroke clean as a whistle. He’s doing better, constantly advancing, but Instructor Lee’s never happy with him.

Why, his mind cries, desperate to implore the hateful man for a logical reason.

But he’s timid and shy and just a mere child.

So, he endures the isolation from his former friends at swim club and Instructor Lee’s cruelty.

Sometimes, he wishes his swimming skills would be revoked from him. Maybe he’ll just sink to the bottom of the pool.

It’s dark thoughts for a child, but when he thinks of what awaits him at the surface, he doesn’t think it’s so bad after all.

---

Jungkook loves him so much, it hurts.

Not in the sense that Jimin doesn’t reciprocate the intensity of his feelings because he does.

The purity of Jungkook’s love for him terrifies him. He never is in wanting for anything besides Jimin’s attention and love. His eyes are always on him fondly. He’s always attentive to what Jimin might need. He’s two years younger than Jimin, but he loves with the maturity of someone Jimin’s own age.

But Jimin feels sullied and undeserving.

He’s not good enough.

Jungkook never asks for more and Jimin feels like he’s always taking.

He knows this isn’t exclusively the truth.

He takes care of Jungkook too—he helps him study for subjects that he’s doing poorly in, he listens to any gripes and rants that Jungkook has, he gives as much as he’s taking.

But it never feels like anything he does enough—by whose standards, he doesn’t know because Jungkook’s clearly happy with him.

And he’s moving out next year; his boyfriend won’t be his neighbour anymore.

If he’s not enough now when he’s next to the person whom he loves best, how can he be enough when they are away from one another?

It hurts, but they need to end their relationship before Jimin causes more destruction.

But he’s selfish and he waits until it’s the month before he’s due to move out to break his lovely, sweet boy’s heart.

Even then, Jungkook just crumples upon himself. He doesn’t cuss him out with the passionate hatred of most heartbroken boys their age. And even though Jimin doesn’t want to see it, he knows the distance he’s trying to enforce is only causing Jungkook to love him stronger, harder, better to compensate for the dissolution of their label as official partners.

“Okay,” Jungkook says, eyes sadder and wetter than Jimin’s ever seen them. But he doesn’t release them, his tear ducts abolishing the evidence of his emotions as best as they could.

Jimin might love Jungkook, but he hates himself.

---

Jimin loses. Terribly.

He’s lost count of how many events and swim meets he’s participated and he’s always placed in all of his races.

Today, he doesn’t even get a ribbon.

He doesn’t know what had happened.

Jimin had woken up grumpy and miserable, positively driven into the ground by his extraneous laps of the week (the month, maybe even of the past year) and the homework he’s simply not able to compete at the same quality as he’d been able to in the past.

It’s as though all the drive he’d possessed for the sport had suddenly drained out of him altogether when he’d dived into the pool for his 100m butterfly race.

He knows he’s going to pay for his abysmal loss when he catches the disgusted expression on Instructor Lee’s face.

His parents hug him without a word. Jihyun’s clenching so hard onto his brother’s body that he can barely breathe, but he’s somewhat comforted by that knowledge.

---

Jimin regrets breaking up with Jungkook with all his heart.

Whenever he sees texts from him, hears the sound of his sweet voice, and smells his aggressively teenage cologne, his stomach contracts and relaxes rapidly like a second pair of heart and lungs. The way he feels like he’s barely surviving without Jungkook, maybe it’s appropriate to feel that way.

But each time he considers confessing to Jungkook, begging and repenting for his forgiveness, the beast hoists its enormous, unsightly head over him. The shadow is so large and so dark Jimin’s completely cloaked under it.

You’ll never be good enough. You’re good for nothing.

Remember?

And after breaking the heart of the person that Jimin’s heart had decided to love for the rest of its life, Jimin does feel like a great lot of nothing.

When he sits his naïve, sweet self in front of Jimin, he’s perpetually cursed with the desire to kiss him again.

He lasts four months before he finally gives in to the omnipresent impulse on Christmas. Jimin’s tried to ignore it. He’s tried to eradicate it, a vaccination against a malicious plague. But the plane hasn’t taken flight and doesn’t appear to have any imminent plan to do so. 

He’s so damn selfish.

But he’s been told.

---

The next practice, the one following his unsuccessful swim meet, Jimin’s pulled aside by Instructor Lee.

He’ll be especially vicious today, Jimin had thought to himself that day. For the first time, he notices his mind beginning to detach from reality, a fleeting escape from the impending unpleasantry.

It’s not that Jimin’s ignoring him. That’s impossible.

He hears everything Instructor Lee says when the man pulls him aside before he can start his warmups. It’s hard not to hear such pointed comments.

“You performed terribly, you know that?”

Jimin doesn’t answer.

There’s a short pause, then a sharp intake of air.

“Answer me, boy.”

Jimin mumbles an apology.

“Louder.”

The world begins to fade in and out. It’s not like it cuts to a fully black screen like classic television when someone turns it off. It’s more like watching something sinking into the depths, the image of the object distorting under the ripples.

He can vaguely comprehend the vitriolic stream of words that the horrid man is hurling his way, but he doesn’t absorb them.

He can’t take this anymore, he can’t, he can’t, he can’t, he can’t. He really can’t—

“Leave me alone!” Jimin finally screams, his little body unable to take the weight of the persistent jabs, the relentless verbal bludgeoning.

Several parents look over when they hear his shrill roar, expressions imbued with discomfort, disapproval dripping from their faces.

“Excuse me?” Instructor Lee demands frostily, the look in his eyes wild and deadly.

Jimin’s utilized all the courage in his reserves and he falls silent again.

He avoids looking at his instructor with all the frail will he holds inside.

He hates how Instructor Lee doesn’t cut his nails enough—it looks like he’s wielding impressively fatal talons on his doughy hands. He loathes how when Instructor Lee smiles, his incisors and canines are both like animalistic fangs. He despises how Instructor Lee’s lips are always chapped—probably because not a single word of warmth has ever been uttered from his cold, cruel mouth. He detests how Instructor Lee refuses to see how hard Jimin really tries.

But Jimin finally realizes he’ll never make Instructor Lee happy—no matter what he does or how hard he tries.

When he finally looks up, there’s a sadistic curl to the man’s mouth.

As he speaks, the volume of his voice is so low Jimin can just barely hear him, there’s no way to miss the hatred that blooms ripe and rich from each word.

“You selfish, hateful little boy. How dare you speak against me when you let me down? The whole team down? I didn’t do anything, this is your fault. Take some responsibility for yourself.”

Jimin feels himself sinking further into his subconsciousness, attempting to reel away from his immediate reality.

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I mean, I can’t say that I really am,” he continues, tone so neutral and expression so blasé that from a distance no one would believe the reprehensible atrocities he’s speaking to Jimin.

“You’ll always be a failure, won’t you, little Jimin,” he jabs snidely, demeanour and attitude appearing so pleasant even Jimin’s in disbelief at what he’s hearing.

Jimin’s so still. He doesn’t know if he’ll be able to move his limbs again.

“Don’t you agree, boy?”

Jimin just shrugs.

“You don’t know?”

Shrug.

“Well, I guess I’ll just save you the trouble of you trying to use your stupid little head,” Instructor Lee says hatefully, “Listen well.”

Jimin has nowhere to escape to. His fellow members are already in the pool swimming some warm-up laps.

“You’ll never be good enough. You’re good for nothing.”

He’d been standing as still as an ice statue. With that sudden strike against his delicate heart, Jimin’s developing self-esteem shatters.

---

No one knows the curdled state of Jimin’s brain.

How could they?

His grades are above average.

He’s academically inclined, sure, but he’s also a seemingly well-adjusted young adult with competence in many avenues.

He’s well-dressed, sharp and clean. His smile has just the right ratio of teeth and curvature of lips to it to disguise the darkness that lurks ominously under the surface.

The only person who knows is Jihyun and even then Jimin’s never exposed the extent of his diminished mental health. He doesn’t think he can burden his sweet younger brother. He refuses to.

He’d loved and lost Jungkook in the span of two years. His ex-boyfriend had known him best—even better than his parents and his brother. But even then, Jimin had never mustered enough courage to confess to his ex-boyfriend the real reason he’d wanted to break up with him.

Of course, the ostensible reason was a factor in the decision. He hadn’t thought he’d be able to give Jungkook his everything. But it hadn’t honestly been much about the distance when he really thinks about it. No, it ran deeper than that—much, much deeper.

He’d led Jungkook to a puddle, only to conceal a vast ocean of sadness, loneliness, and darkness behind his back. Jimin had allowed Jungkook to dip his foot into the shallow pool, afraid of what he might say if he were to expose his weakest spot.

Would Jungkook sink under the depths, unable to carry to weight of Jimin’s sadness on his back?

Would Jungkook become an anchor, holding Jimin from drifting too far away from happiness and reality? Did Jimin deserve that stability in his life?

Would Jungkook fall victim to the industrial nets hidden underneath the ocean’s surface, trapped and imprisoned by Jimin’s personal problems?

Fuck, he couldn’t do that to Jungkook. He loves Jungkook so much, he can’t do that.

He can’t expect Jungkook to carry him.

He also shouldn’t kiss Jungkook, his ex-boyfriend, when he’d broken his heart. But he rings in the New Year with his lips against the only person who’s ever really known him.

But he’d looked so loveable and familiar with his rumpled hair and gentle smiles and Jimin hadn’t been able resist the temptation.

When Jimin’s in his own room the next day, feeling lonely and empty, he spots the beast in the corner of his mind. It winks, licking its bloodstained lips, the fleshy remains of a broken heart in between its fat paws.

---

It’s the new year.

Jimin tries to convince himself he can get over Jungkook. He also needs incentive to push his ex-boyfriend away from him, introduce further distance into their relationship.

Fuck, in his temporary indulgence to kiss him on New Year’s Eve, it had completely annihilated their former respectable boundaries as ex-boyfriends. They find themselves kissing and making out after the New Year and the lines are becoming awfully blurry again.

Once, when they’d been kissing on Jimin’s bed, music playing loudly to conceal the occasional moan of pleasure and the groan of discontentment from Jimin’s shitty bed, he’d made a horrible mistake.

Jungkook’s face had been buried in his neck, leaving behind marks, and Jimin’s heart so full of adoration and love for him…the moment had felt so real and romantic and he’d forgotten that they’d broken up and just slipped up.

Breathlessly, he unintentionally moans, “God, I fucking love you so much.”

Jungkook detaches from his neck a few seconds later.

“Did you say something?” Jungkook pants, hand tangled in Jimin’s hair.

His eyes dart around Jimin’s face, unable to conceal his sweet hopefulness.

Pulling Jungkook back in, Jimin shakes his head vehemently, heart pounding in fear.

But when his ex doesn’t press the issues, he sighs in relief—and pleasure, Jungkook found his favourite spot. It seems he hadn’t actually heard what Jimin had said.

Fuck.

Thank God he’d had the foresight to turn the music on. He just hadn’t known the only thing worth concealing had been his own foolish words.

Jungkook deserves better than you, he tell himself firmly, You have to help him move on from you.

It might not be the gentlest approach, but his next plan involves lying to Jungkook and the rest of his friends, claiming he’d met and approached a girl in his class.

His heart fell as Jungkook’s face did, but he persevered.

Jungkook needs proper motivation, a heartless push to move on.

He commits to his lie enough to hook up with some random girl who leaves behind a decorative splatter of splotchy purples and spots of deep blue on his neck once.

But she doesn’t feel like Jungkook, doesn’t smell like Jungkook—she just wasn’t Jungkook. So, selfish Jimin finds himself back in his ex’s arms plenty soon enough.

---

Jimin won’t lie.

He tries to really pledge himself to his role as an asshole—he needs Jungkook to see that he’s not worth it—and continues a string of meaningless hook-ups after his first attempt at it. The number is not nearly as high as Taehyung seems to think it, most of those nights ending in a long conversation and a few short kisses—but he allows everyone’s imaginations to run wild.

He thinks he’s doing pretty well in his plan, except it doesn’t seem to deter him properly from engaging with Jungkook whenever his dirty, rotten heart is given the opportunity.

As Jimin resigns himself to the ever-present longing in his chest, he sees the way Jungkook’s eyes always soften with love. It doesn’t ease the pressure in his chest as his guilt is growing ever realer.

Before, he’d only had one beast in his head. Now, there’s the silhouette of a hastily developing monster next to his oldest demon. Jimin decides to feign ignorance to its birth for now.

Instead he focuses on his immediate reality; Jimin knows, plain and simple, he’s being cruel to Jungkook.

But it’s like he’s lost all impulse control when it comes to Jungkook.

It’s hard when his mind and heart aren’t fused together, working against each other like two turbulent currents with individual wills, crashing together with nuclear force. Neither of them are willing to acquiesce or compromise, so its an explosive reaction, lacking cohesion or sense.

He wants Jungkook to flourish without being burdened by Jimin’s unwell mind.

But he doesn’t want to let go of him either—afraid of what he’ll become without his primary source of comfort.

He wants Jungkook to find love with someone more deserving than he is.

But he doesn’t want anyone else to have him—afraid once Jungkook’s left the nest of familiarity, he’ll never return.  

It’s all such a mess, and the desires of his heart are so incongruent with the will of his burdensome mind, that Jimin feels as though each day he unravels more.

Some days when his internal equilibrium is so disturbed, skipping like CDs with deep grooves that’ve permanently damaged the audio data, he’ll cut class when he knows Taemin and Taehyung won’t be home. As soon as the door clicks shut behind him, he runs to his room and puts on music, fingers trembling wildly and breaths coming out short and erratic.

Once it’s loud enough that no one can hear anything but the impressive belts and whistles of his favourite singers, he begins sobbing uncontrollably.

He grabs his head in his hands and pulls his hair until it hurts so badly he could scream.

It’s times like this when Jimin’s isolated, far from the reaches of any tangible being, that memories of the worst time of his life surface again.

He slams his eyes shut—

Woosh.

Instructor Lee’s bitter scowl, frowning down at him.

Woosh.

Instructor Lee’s soft, wicked reprimands.

Woosh.

Instructor Lee’s snarl, twisting his face until he looks demented.

Either he’s fucking drowning in self-hatred or his memories re-surface from the ocean of his addled brain and he just hates himself so much. Jimin always wants Jungkook at times like this.

He wants to sink into the warmth of Jungkook’s arms, drift aimlessly under Jungkook’s loving kisses, or float with the bliss of having Jungkook’s attention on him.

The worst part is that Jimin knows he could have it.

He could have everything he wants with Jungkook, have it all if he wasn’t so damn broken.

He hates Instructor Lee with all the fragmented pieces of his heart, but he doesn’t disagree what he’d said so long ago.

Jimin is not good enough— but especially not for Jungkook.

---

No pun intended, but it’s the truest stroke of luck that Jimin’s saved from Instructor Lee’s venomous behavior once and for all.

There had been a sullen boy that Jimin had never approached nor liked much on his swim team. Supposedly, he’d accidentally overheard some of the awful things that Instructor Lee had said to Jimin and impressively concerned for a boy his age, he’d told his mother. That mother had informed Jimin’s mother.

Once Jimin’s mother witnesses the silent tears that stream down his pudgy face after gently confronting him about the validity of what she’d heard, she instantly pulls him out of swim club.

He’s so relieved.

He finds out later that Instructor Lee had been the sibling of a man who’d been prosecuted for a lifetime in jail—by Jimin’s attorney father. When he’d recognized his father, he’d instantly taken a great dislike to Jimin and punished him in a way that he’d deemed the child had deserved for the “crime” against his brother.

The day that Instructor Lee had finally been caught, he hadn’t been on one of his crueler tirades so Jimin’s parents had never known the extent of his verbal abuse. Jimin had been prompted by them once but he’d convincingly reassured them nothing worse had been said to him. They sighed in relief.

Struck by childish shame that developed into rampant fright and sturdy reticence, he’s never explored the extent of the damage Instructor Lee had inflicted upon him. And with his extreme talent in posturing and pretending, no one ever catches on.

He never finds out what happened to Instructor Lee.

Jimin doesn’t care. He just never wants to swim again.

---

Jimin starts dating Seulgi.

He hopes this time he can convince his stubborn, resistant heart to move on from Jungkook.

Or is he trying to persuade Jungkook that Jimin’s not worth all the heartache?

He’s not sure whose conviction he’s trying to sway, but clearly Jimin doesn’t have the knack for litigation that his father does because the majority of his arguments and explanations for his actions are fundamentally baseless and convoluted.

Makes sense when he looks wearily at the decrepit mess in his head that he exists in.

Makes sense that I’m senseless, Jimin jokes to himself wryly.

Jimin’s frustrated with himself. He’s trying to repair his relationship with Jungkook but he knows he’s failing, every day only worsening their tenuous connection.

But with his mind thick with hostile thoughts and muddled with his insecurities and fears, Jimin finding himself sinking deep into quicksand until he realizes he can’t extricate himself anymore.

As Jimin’s being enveloped by the gluttonous quicksand, he looks up and sees everyone he’s disappointed lately.

He knows his friends are disappointed in him.

He knows his brother won’t scold him, but sometimes he’ll catch Jihyun looking at him as if he doesn’t recognize him anymore.

When he introduces Seulgi to his parents, they look bewildered.

“Does Jungkook know?” his mother blurts out thoughtlessly.

Seulgi frowns.

“Who’s Jungkook?”

How does Jimin answer?

His first love? His only love? The person whose heart he’d broken? The boy whom he still kisses because he’s a selfish, messed-up fuck? All of the above?

Jimin’s absent-mindedly clenching and unclenching his fists.

His mother looks at him worriedly.

“Ah, just Jimin’s best friend and neighbour, dear,” she informs his new girlfriend.

The beast chortles happily, tail curling lazily around itself, as it basks in the awkward scene, prowling on the outskirts of the pool of sand that’s absorbing Jimin slowly.

Get the fuck out of my head, Jimin wants to scream.

It just laughs coldly.

Good for nothing, little Jimin, nothing’s changed.

---

Though Jimin doesn’t love Seulgi the way he still loves Jungkook, he doesn’t mistreat her. His performative skills are as reliable as ever and eventually the general public—even his own friends and family—are completely convinced that he’s happy in another relationship. That he’s moved on from Jungkook.

He takes her out on proper dates.

He’s attentive and listens to her well.

He holds her hand and gets her little gifts for no real reason.

He compliments her whenever he can.

Jimin’s a total, perfect gentleman.

Well.

Except that he still hooks up with Jungkook.

He tries to lessen the egregiousness by setting some boundaries—he won’t kiss Jungkook on the lips anymore. 

But it’s still wrong.

It’s no justification and he’s completely disgusted by his own selfishness, but ever since Jimin met Jungkook, being with him is the only time he’s felt right.

And he’s selfish for still wanting it when he had tried to banish Jungkook away, exiling him to an island of loneliness and sadness because Jimin’s too scared to let his ex-boyfriend see him for the broken, damaged individual that he really is.

But with the surmounting web of lies and deception Jimin’s been spinning just to protect himself is slowly beginning to fail him. He’s beginning to forget which lines are strung to other lines, he’s pulling on the wrong ones, and he’s leaving behind traceable messes everywhere. Everything’s gradually beginning to dismantle in his head.

Sometimes, Jimin sits at home and he’s just shaking—completely overwhelmed by the clamour in his head. 

For the sake of pretense, he must keep his grades up. He must keep smiling. He must maintain his friendships well. And he will be as good to Seulgi as he can.

Jimin doesn’t want to be a complete failure.

---

A particularly poignant moment is shared between Jimin and Jungkook one mundane day in September.

Jimin doesn’t recall much else about the day, but Seulgi had certainly been busy that day.

Jungkook had come over and he’d let Jimin kiss his neck and collarbone until his mouth had been sore and bruised from all his exertion.

But surprisingly, it wasn’t the physicality and the passion that’d lingered in Jimin’s mind from that day.

After Jimin had rolled away a little, leaving enough space between their bodies to be considered respectable, Jungkook had turned to him—a pensive look in his eye.

“Hyung?”

Jimin looks up into Jungkook’s sweet faces and smiles.

“Yeah?”

“Can I tell you a story?”

He debates making a poor joke or teasing Jungkook for being childish, but always weak to Jungkook’s raw sincerity and enthusiasm, Jimin just agrees complacently.

“Yeah, of course, Jungkookie, you know I’ll always want to listen to you.” 

Jungkook doesn’t seem consciously aware of the way he moves his body closer to Jimin, closing the distance before he begins raking his fingers through his hyung’s hair.

He should stop Jungkook, but instead he just listens attentively, preening under the attention.

“So, I was in school today. And my classmate—some big, muscular dude—had a full-on panic attack. I don’t really know what happened, but I heard he got triggered by something that reminded him about his shitty childhood or something and he literally just…collapsed.”

Jimin’s body freezes, heart skips a beat, and he feels the blood rushing out of his face. He’s not too sure how deep he wants to delve into this topic, a little too close to home for him. 

“Oh. That sounds awful,” he says slowly, delivery jarring.

Jimin knows he sounds insincere.

Jungkook calls him out on it instantly. 

“Geez, hyung, could you sound less sympathetic?”

He tries to remedy his image, despite Jungkook’s cocked eyebrow and suspicious gaze.

“No, I just…I’m sorry to hear that.”

Jungkook looks tempted to inquire about Jimin’s standoffish reaction to the heavy topic but he seems to think better of it and proceeds.

“Anyway, it just made me really sad when I saw none of his friends knew how to comfort him or handle him or…handle the situation even. I saw the way their faces just changed after they saw him go through that and I’m just worried they’ll treat him differently when he comes back,” he frets.

Jimin has a soft, serene smile on his face.

He’d always loved this about Jungkook—despite his rough, awkward way with words and inability to express himself when he needed to most—his lovely boy had always had the greatest, softest heart, always tuned into the emotional vibes and auras of those who surrounded him.

It had been an inevitability that Jimin would fall in love with him.

But he resumes his serious attitude when Jungkook continues, broaching closer and closer to familiar terrain—the only territory Jimin’s ever known.

“And it’s just so crazy. When I looked at him before and saw him, I’d never have known he had, like, issues, you know?”

Jimin pauses.

“What’d you mean?”

Jungkook’s talking at rapid-fire speed now, desperate for Jimin to understand what he means. He’d always had a habit of doing this when Jimin had needed to get off the phone to do his homework or when Jimin had been walking out the door to head back home.

Some things never change.

“Like, it always just seemed like he was fine. Played football. Had girlfriends. He didn’t have the best grades but man, he’s pretty well-liked. Like, he’s chill and not an asshole. And he wasn’t egotistical or anything either. He just seemed, like, normal.”

A chill settles into Jimin’s chest, an Arctic sleet that coats his lungs and heart, making it hard for him to breath and dread trickles down his spine, terrified to hear Jungkook’s thoughts.

 “And I overheard his friends saying that they never knew or thought that he’d these issues. I mean, it makes sense if someone who doesn’t know him well—like me—couldn’t see the signs. But it’s just scary—”

Jimin cuts him off, certain he knows what Jungkook’s about to say next.

“—That even the people that are supposed to know him best never suspected anything?”

Oh, Jungkook, he thinks forlornly, as the permanent ache in his body spreads, so damn hard for him to bear as he witnesses Jungkook’s face fall, empathy written all over his face.

He’s never been able to hide a damn thing.

“Yeah,” Jungkook agrees ardently.

If only you knew.  

“Don’t blame them, Jungkookie. If someone doesn’t want you to know something and are good enough at hiding something, it is what it is. Can’t blame anyone for not reading his mind or knowing everything,” he advises him gently, tone so soft and kind, even the most aggressive rhinoceros would be hard-pressed to attack, horn whittled down into a fine dust under Jimin’s persuasive charm.  

“But shouldn’t they have known?” Jungkook insists, concern bleeding out torrentially, even as he manages to continue combing his fingers through Jimin’s hair.

Jimin nods but explains, “Maybe. But maybe he should have told them too. But he didn’t. That was his prerogative.”

But Jungkook is unyielding, insistency driven his compassion and heartfelt concern for someone he barely knows.

“Why didn’t he?” he cries.

Jimin asks the question to himself—why couldn’t he ever tell Jungkook about his own struggles? His greatest pains?

He takes a valiant stab at vagueness first, an attempt to separate his own very personal attitudes towards the entire matter.

“I don’t know. Embarrassed. Couldn’t find the right words? Couldn’t find the right time? Maybe they weren’t the right people to tell. So many reasons.”

Jungkook’s not convinced.

“Like what though?”

“I don’t know, Jungkook,” he says a little exasperatedly.

He dilutes the aggravated note to his voice when he catches the hurt look on Jungkook’s face.

“Maybe he didn’t want to burden the people he loves. Maybe he’s scared to be honest because of whatever he’s been through. Maybe he’s embarrassed because he feels weak and helpless and useless and like he can’t get anything right. Maybe he feels like he doesn’t deserve the support. Maybe he just hates himself so much he fucking wants himself to suffer.”

Jimin had really tried to modulate the shrill quality of his voice, but he’d completely derailed once he realized he’s unable to remain objective.

He realizes a moment too late, Jungkook’s stopped stroking his hair, mouth a little ajar from astonishment.

“I mean, I’m just guessing,” Jimin trials off lamely. 

There’s a short, somewhat awkward silence.

“I get what you’re saying, hyung. I promise. I’m sorry if I upset you in any way, I am,” Jungkook starts softly, a little tentative after Jimin’s abrupt outburst.

“It’s just hard for me not to think about these things and wonder. I just think about what I’d feel like if I were in his friends’ position and I just think I’d worry myself sick if I ever found out that someone I loved wasn’t comfortable enough to confide in me. I just…care a lot, you know?”

In that instant, Jimin promises to himself then and there he’ll never tell Jungkook. With a heart so big that he’d spent nearly half an hour dissecting a situation about a person whom he’s not even acquainted with, Jimin can’t imagine how much self-sacrifice and time he’d provide at the expense of himself if he knew about Jimin.

Jimin’s so selfish but he won’t be that selfish.

“I love how big your heart is, Jungkookie. Never change, you’re so special,” he confesses to Jungkook, eyes as soft as soapstone, crumbling under the pressure of his love for his ex-boyfriend.

Jungkook nods, eyes equally as full as Jimin’s heart feels as he promises, “Okay.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

And in his mind’s eye, Jimin seals the promise with a kiss.

In reality, he just snuggles up close to Jungkook, his face stuffed into Jungkook’s shoulder, snuffling against it lightly.

He presses a soft kiss against Jungkook’s shoulder and for a moment, all feels right in the world.

---

Can Jimin keep Jungkook in his life to a reduced degree? Will he ever get over his love for his ex-boyfriend? Will his love for Seulgi ever prove to be enough? Why is Jimin so fucked up?

These are the hordes of questions that take up residency in his head alongside the beast and the second creature that begun inhabiting his mind some time in February. But Jimin’s never seen its face nor its body—mainly since he’s been steadfastly ignoring it since its conception.

He finally realizes one awful day in October, on his birthday, what the secondary monster is

Its silhouette finally take begins taking up a concrete shape, shades and contours moulding into its permanent form. When it finally stops contorting, like a clump of clay with a life of its own, Jimin realizes it’s not a monster.

No, it’s just a very feeble human that vaguely resembles Jungkook. It has the loneliest eyes and the saddest mouth Jimin’s ever seen and he realizes that it is the personification of his guilt.

---

It’s a calamitous situation when Jungkook accidentally walks in on Seulgi and Jimin attempting to sleep together for the first time—not for lack of trying as she’s been expressing her interest in ‘taking the next time’ for months. It’s a shame Jimin hasn’t found…the right time. Or mood. Or…she’s still not Jungkook.

The air left behind is terse and awkward, Jimin pulling his shirt back over his head, ignoring the remarkable sense of relief he feels.

Dodged another bullet

“Geez, he just really didn’t get the hint, hey?” Seulgi gripes irritably, watching him as he settles back onto his bed and rolls under his comforters.

“What’d you mean?” he asks, frowning in confusion.

Seulgi raises her hands to the ceiling in complete frustration and shakes them violently.

She exclaims, “I mean, we were literally in our underwear and he just stood there gobsmacked like an idiot.”

He laughs easily, surprisingly unattuned to the genuine aggravation Seulgi seems to be feeling.

“He was just surprised, give him a break,” Jimin replies, playing with his fingers, deciding to give her free reign to express her annoyance.

She shakes her head adamantly and explains, “No, seriously, babe, did you notice how he wasn’t even looking at me?”

At that point, he looks up, interest piqued.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Seulgi misunderstands.

“Aw, babe, don’t be jealous. It’s not like it matters ‘cause he wasn’t even looking at me,” she coos, supposedly coaxing him down from a jealous rage. She pats his arm almost condescendingly.

Jimin pushes her hand off as discreetly as possible, not looking to incite a volatile reaction from her. 

“I’m not,” he replies in a level tone, “I just want to know what you mean by that.”

Seulgi ponders the question carefully before she replies.

“I just mean…like, he was just staring at you and like, didn’t stop until I told him to get out. Like, what the fuck? Like, that’s weird and invasive and super gross,” she complains childishly.

She’s struck a very sensitive nerve in him.

“What’d you mean ‘gross’?”

Seulgi chitters on, completely oblivious to the insensitivity of her words.

“Like, I have nothing against gays, but like…wouldn’t it be so weird and gross if your own best friend was into you? I’d be so weirded out if my best friend was staring at me the way he was when you were undressed. He’s fuckin’ gay, I fuckin’ call it.”

Jimin is incensed.

He’d always thought that he could’ve truly loved Seulgi if he hadn’t loved Jungkook first, but at with this first callous strike she’s taken against his ex, Jimin’s heart instantly hardens.

“Don’t fucking talk about him like that,” he snaps loudly, his fury hanging over the pair of them.

She looks at him weirdly and leans back in deference of his sudden protectiveness. 

“Whoa, why’re you getting so defensive?”

Jimin knows he’s being careless. With the wrong words and dissonant tone of voice, he’ll expose his love for Jungkook quicker than a cheetah springing upon its unsuspecting prey.

But he can’t remain passive when Jungkook’s being insulted. He won’t.

“Because he’s the sweetest…person I know. And you sound really fucking homophobic right now. It’s really unbecoming of you,” he tells her hotly, feeling a gush of heat spreading across his face, neck, and chest.

Seulgi stands up.

She points her finger and accuses him, “…Okay, I feel like this is getting super personal. You need to chill.”

As she collects her things, back turned to him, dropping little things out of her purse in her obvious haste to leave Jimin’s place, Seulgi coldly says, “Are you fuckin’ gay for him too? Little gay boy?”

If she’d been watching Jimin carefully enough, there’s no way his frozen face, stiff posture, and downturned lips wouldn’t have given him away.

“Fucking stop!” he yells, a little desperate now.

His girlfriend doesn’t seem to care much, heading towards the door. Before Seulgi pulls it open, she turns to him angrily and shouts at him.

“Okay, well, let me know when you stop being a fucking bitch boy and get your dick in order because I’m not in the mood anymore if you’ve even noticed, you useless sissy fuck.” 

She slams the door behind her.

Jimin’s hurt. Even though he recognizes she’d uttered the words in her unfiltered wrath, they’re all too reminiscent of words he echoes back repetitively in his head.

This is the first fissure in their relationship before their ultimate demise in the future.

---

 Jungkook refuses to speak to him.

The rare demand, his ex asks him to give him space.

Jimin hasn’t treated Jungkook well for a while now, he knows, but he can give him this.

After shooting a remorseful text Jungkook’s way, he retreats.

When he finds himself in the cavern of his mind, he sees Fake-Jungkook.

The beast is snoring restfully, comforted by the scent of Jimin’s distress lingering in the air.

Fake-Jungkook’s peering over at him resentfully and promptly turns his back on Jimin.

But he’s deserved that for a while now, he supposes.

---

He initially makes plans with Seulgi for this particular New Year’s Eve, assuming Jungkook’s anger will not have subsided enough for him to attend their regular celebrations.

Jimin’s parents are terribly unimpressed when he reveals his intentions for the night and they verbalize their discontentment.

“We’ve had this annual tradition for how many years and now that you have a girlfriend, you’re not going to attend? Why can’t you just invite her?”

Shrugging, feigning apathy that simply doesn’t exist, Jimin says, “I guess she wants us to have separate plans.”

It’s not fair of him to place the blame on Seulgi’s shoulders when its his selfish behavior that’s landed him the coveted position as an outcast—but he naturally can’t tell his parents the real reason.

But to his great surprise and immense relief, Jungkook seems to have forgiven him, judging by the break in their silence.

Come, he’d sent.

Jimin had been consumed with happiness, ecstatic with joy, having had missed Jungkook during their separation.

When he tells Seulgi that he won’t be able to make the countdown with her and that he’ll have to go to his family party, she’s expectedly displeased.

“Why can’t I come too?” she complains, “I’m your girlfriend, for fuck’s sake.”

“it’s Jungkook’s parents’ place, I can’t really just invite anybody without asking them. And it’s kind of a family tradition. Plus, we’ll have most of the night to ourselves and our friends anyway,” Jimin points out.

Her face remains pouty and irritated as she emphasizes the crux of her argument.

“But I’m your girlfriend.”

Jimin shrugs dispassionately.

“I’m sorry, babe.”

He doesn’t mention he doesn’t think Jungkook’s parents will want to house his new significant other. Seulgi doesn’t know they’re exes, after all.

---

New Year’s Eve goes as well as Jimin could have had hoped for.

Seulgi had started off the night moody and unhappy with Jimin’s final decision, but as she drank she’d brightened up and before he’d left in the capable hands of her friends, they’d left off on good terms. He waves to Taemin and Taehyung before he heads out.

Once he reunites with Jungkook, he felts his heart swell with adoration and happiness.

Seulgi’s his current girlfriend, but Jungkook possesses a loveliness—a panache—that Jimin can’t put into words, the epitome of je ne sais pas. And he’s missed being in its presence.

They find themselves drinking and catching up and Jimin suddenly feels at home, alongside the only people that really matters to him—and it warms his body faster than alcohol could ever hope to.

When Jungkook asks timidly about Seulgi’s absence, he tightens his defenses again and he swiftly lies, unwilling to confess how madly and badly he’d wanted to ring in the new year with his greatest love. He tells Jungkook that he’d wanted to be with his family, leaving Seulgi’s complaints about having not been invited undisclosed.

It’s a moot point after all, an unimportant extremity when he’s in front of the central core of Jimin’s existence.

Drunk from the pre-tradition festivities, Jimin’s memory is patchy, lurching wildly from one point to the next. But he remembers how Jungkook had looked like a blend of perplexment and hurt when Jimin tells him that he’s family.

And perhaps Jungkook just doesn’t understand what Jimin means. Maybe he thinks Jimin had corralled him into the inescapable friend-zone, but that’s not what he means.

He means everything to Jimin. The future, the past, and the present—the only inescapable thing to Jimin is Jungkook’s existence altogether.

Well, him and the enduring self-hatred he feels.

He also fails to forget his desire to kiss and touch his ex-boyfriend. But that’s simple when it was a continuous temptation that never perished throughout the night.

But for the sake of Jungkook’s sanity, Jimin resists the urge to kiss him and suggests heading downstairs before he’s unable to prevent himself from pouncing on him—pressing his lips against the homey familiarity of Jungkook’s mouth.

There’s a dangerous moment when Jimin gives into the urge to press Jungkook up against the wall in the main hallway upstairs. There’s no way he can resist kissing Jungkook when he looks so soft and pliant and like everything Jimin’s wanted since he’d been able to have him.

At that moment, the beast roars, the sound penetrating through the spaces in his skull, clouding his brain instantaneously.

You’ll never be good enough, it hollers mercilessly, What are you doing, trying to take something you’ll never fucking deserve?

Jimin flinches terribly, his body jolts, and he swerves, settling for pressing a kiss against Jungkook’s cheek and tells him with all the sincerity in his heart, I love you.

But despite his best intentions, Jungkook’s body just sags and he looks utterly fatigued and sad.

Even when he’s trying to do the right thing, Jimin’s hurting someone.

Failure, singsongs the demonic presence in his head.

He can’t disagree with its cruel assessment.

But maybe he can make peace with himself this year.

He’d like to think he could deserve Jungkook in his life—in whatever capacity that he can have him.

And with that hopeful thought, Jimin follows Jungkook down the stairs, leaving behind the sins of their past and heading into a fresh start together.

Happy New Year’s, he thinks to himself, as he watches Jungkook manipulate his body through multiple drink-laden bodies, pulling away from him. The last seconds of the old year are shredded and worn down,  Jimin’s heart with Jungkook across the room from him, and he wishes very privately that he’ll find a day where he deserves him in his life again.

---

Chapter Text

Minutes after his ex-boyfriend had left their shared apartment, marking the first time Taehyung had encountered him, his response had been nothing short of eloquent.

“He’s hot.”

Squirming uncomfortably, Jimin had bristled a bit. He’d been unable to squelch the dormant possessiveness that starts oozing from beneath his skin, tumultuous and omnipotent, unignorably present.

(Ironically, when Taehyung had similarly complimented Jimin’s choice in Seulgi, his heart hadn’t stirred or jumped a bit. He’d just hummed his agreement absent-mindedly.)

“Yeah, he is, isn’t he?” Jimin had agreed blandly, unwilling to reveal the passionate swell of distaste he’d instantly felt about his friend’s observation—however objective it may have been.

Enthusiastically, his friend had nodded, asking, “Is he single right now?”

In all the time he'd known him, Jimin’s never felt so resentful of Taehyung but in that single moment, he’d wanted to pulverize him for his daring shamelessness, utterly demolish him for his reckless audacity, irritated by the sense of encroachment he had felt upon his…Jungkook.

It hadn’t been fair and perhaps he hadn’t had the purest intentions but he can't help announcing—

“Yeah, he’s my ex-boyfriend.”

Taehyung had whirled around, spine cracking ominously with the suddenness of the motion, to face Jimin directly.

“What?”

Jimin had nodded nonchalantly, trying to bury the profound smugness he had felt when he had seen Taehyung’s wide eyes and raised eyebrows.

“Was it serious?” Taehyung had questioned curiously.

He’d remembered their first kiss after Jungkook’s bumbling confession.

He’d remembered when he’d realized he’d fallen in love despite their young age.

He’d remembers the many ways in which they’ve kissed after they’ve broken up.

He’d thought about how much he still wants to kiss Jungkook even now.

“No, I mean, you know,” Jimin had mumbled, trying to skitter away from his roommate’s piercing eyes, fearful how much he’d see if he gets the opportunity to observe him for too long, “It’s-ah-I mean, we were young. And thought it’d last forever.”

Taehyung had nodded thoughtfully.

“But it didn’t?”

Jimin had shook his head, still avoiding eye contact.

“So, would you be mad if I went for him then?” Taehyung had teased playfully, waggling his eyebrows, clearly recognizing Jimin’s unwillingness to discuss the matter for much longer. He thinks his roommate is only trying to brighten the mood, but Jimin still can't help feeling slighted, challenged and undermined. He wonders if he's just being neurotic. 

But the truth is Jimin would mind.

Jimin would mind a lot.

Jimin couldn’t be held responsible for how angry he’d be if Taehyung dared approaching Jungkook.

But his anger had dissolved when he’d remember that he has Seulgi and he’s supposed to be a reformed man now.

“Nah, man, go for it if you want,” he’d muttered disingenuously, grabbing his backpack and heading for his room, unable to bear indulging this conversation any longer. 

Taehyung had cheered joyfully behind him and while Jimin had shot a placating smile his way, trying to convince himself that he's just joking, it’d instantly dispelled the moment he’d turned his back to his roommate.

Not on his watch, not now. Not ever. 

---

Jimin’s insecurities have always gotten the best of him.

Whether it’s the odd test where he’s second-best to someone else, or when he fumbles last minute during a family game night and loses, or when he hadn’t scored the winning goal in soccer during physical education classes, and mostly illustratively—

Or when I’d lost all those races….being berated into submission in my youth, he thinks dryly, rolling his eyes.

But he’s never felt even a tendril of doubt in the presence of Jungkook since he’s known him, his younger best friend and ex-boyfriend always quick to console him and comfort him. 

He monumentally regrets introducing Taehyung and Jungkook though.

As Jimin nosedives further into the decrepit state of his own psyche, uncertainty is a deadly spear plunged into his heart when he sees Taehyung and Jungkook chatting harmoniously whenever his ex gets to his place before him.

He hates how easy it is for them.

Flame to wax, easily melted. Water to fire, easily extinguished. Birds taking flight, easily soaring in the skies. Whales swimming, easily gliding through the currents.

Taehyung and Jungkook, easily friends.

He wants that.

The malevolent illness in his mind reminds him pointedly, You did this to yourself

---

He knows Seulgi detests Jungkook.

Jungkook reciprocates her unfavourable sentiments, he’s aware.

Frankly, he can’t blame either of them.

---

 

“Babe?”

Jimin makes a strangled noise of acknowledgement, glasses on his face, as he scrolls through his texts with Jungkook, Seulgi on the bed next to him.

When she remains silent, unresponsive, Jimin turns his head and glances at her.

She’s got a strange look on her face, eyes unreadable, and mouth pursed firmly.

Jimin gets a sinking feeling in his stomach.

“I don’t mean to bring up a sensitive topic or whatever but…do you ever think Jungkook likes you?”

Ouch.

The opening is savagery, human-on-human violence, emotional cannibalism.

“What? Why’re you bringing this up again?” he deflects defensively.

She takes a deep breath and Jimin knows this look; it’s one he’s seen her wear after she’s spent multiple days preparing for a class presentation. He knows he’s in for a brutal reality check.

“Look, do not get fucking defensive with me. Have you seen the way he looks at you? And he’s always over when I’m not and he’s always gone by the time I’ve shown up. And you don’t think that’s fucking suspicious?”

Jimin recoils, startled by the vicious punch to her voice. They’re obviously words that she’d been bottling up until she’d finally found the perfect moment to pop the champagne of harsh truths, words hurtling at him full throttle like an errant cork. 

“Didn’t you just see him, like, last week?” he tries weakly.

She gives him a hard look.

“Yeah,” Seulgi says slowly, “And he bolted like the second after you got me my drink.”

Jimin shrugs and she looks like she’s in utter disbelief at his nonchalance.

“So, what’s the problem?”

Seulgi snaps angrily, “Why’re you being so fucking stubborn? Why can’t you see what’s right in front of you? Are you fucking daft?”

Probably.

He makes a weedy stab at a joke, hoping she’ll see in the humour in it.

“I see you in front of me, does that count?”

She doesn’t.

“No, don’t be cute with me right now, Jimin. It’s not funny,” she grumbles angrily, shoving his shoulder with more power than he’d expected.

He resigns, quickly recognizing that Seulgi will be defiant and unremitting; there'll be no seamless route out of this conversation. 

“Okay, okay, fine. So, what’s the problem?”                

She sighs, loudly and exasperatedly, obviously at her wit’s end.

“The problem, Jimin, is that your best friend is fucking obsessed with you and you think it’s okay dragging him around by the fucking neck because you won’t cut the fucking noose,” Seulgi alleges resolutely.

What?

Perhaps Seulgi has stumbled across a goldmine of fossilized truth, but Jimin hadn’t been expecting a visitor at this particular excavation site today.

“No, let’s not be stupid today, it’s highly unbecoming of you, don’t you think?” she sneers, parroting his words back at him.

Jimin gapes foolishly at her, completely speechless.

“I’ve let you get away with it because I genuinely thought you loved and cared about me and even if Jungkook’s just creeping in the background, wanting you, that you didn’t want him back. But I started noticing some things lately.”

He recovers enough to prompt her.

“Like what?”

She crosses her arms, as she reloads her firearm of candor. 

“Like, how you’ll take breaks from texting me when you’re busy. But even when you’re with me, you’re on your phone—and you’re fucking texting him!”

He intends to smother his snort of derision, but isn’t quick enough.

“Well, he is my best friend of so many years, Seulgi, what do you want me to do, for fuck’s sake! I can text you too, problem solved,” Jimin suggests irritably.

“No, Jimin, that’s just it, it’s not solved.”

And suddenly, her entire body just slouches over, sagging, as Seulgi releases an exhausted sigh. She places a hand on her forehead and rubs her temples with her thumb and index fingers.

When Seulgi looks up next, she takes Jimin’s hand in hers. The breakneck speed with which she manages to alter the air around them causes Jimin to experience emotional whiplash, temples throbbing and spots bursting behind his eyelids from the shock. 

“Tell me that you love me,” she requests sincerely, sweet and guileless.

Jimin promises, “I do love you.”

She nods receptively.

“Now tell me you love me more than Jungkook,” Seulgi pleads softly, her voice breaking towards the end, glass marbles fracturing beneath the weight of the question. 

Jimin grows pale and he licks the corner of lips nervously. His hand twitches involuntarily and judging by the gleam in her now wet but shrewd eyes, it hadn’t escaped Seulgi’s notice.

“What’re you trying to do here, Seulgi?”

And when he looks up, fully catching her eyes, Jimin knows that she knows the truth—even without asking, even without Jimin saying a single word.

Seulgi’s voice is nearly inaudible.

“That’s just it, love, I’m not trying anything.”

They sit in silence for a while, each lost in their own thoughts.

Braver than Jimin, Seulgi demolishes the peace.

“The truth is you’ve never looked at me the way you do at Jungkook. I’ve only met him a few times because he doesn’t like me—don’t deny it, he doesn’t—and whenever he’s there, you’re always looking at him, never me. And we’ve never even slept together—and it’s been pretty much a year—like, you’re obviously just not that into it. And I really liked you—even loved you—so I tried to let it go and ignore it, but how can I not see what’s right in front of me?”

Jimin tries not to see, but it’s hard to ignore the silent tears trailing down her lovely face.

“I don’t know who you’re trying to convince but the reality is, you don’t love me. At least not in the same way that you love Jungkook. Isn’t that right?” she asks.

She gets up and packs her belongings up and this sight is familiar. But this time he hears the whoosh of the axe swinging through the air, the sound of finality.

Before Seulgi opens his door, she turns to him.

“I don’t hate you—even though I should—because I guess I’ve known something was off about us all along. Just get your fucking life together, Jimin—if not for your own sake then for Jungkook’s. I might not fucking like the kid but even he deserves better than that.”

And when Seulgi leaves this time, she doesn’t come back.

---

Jimin cries over his breakup with Seulgi.

Not for the reasons one might expect. While he misses her and the positive qualities that she’d brought into his life, he doesn’t miss being with her.

He cries knowing that if he’d never broken up with Jungkook to begin with maybe his life wouldn’t be such a disaster and such a mess. Why was Jungkook wasting his time comforting him when Jimin had been so awful to him?

Jimin knows the pain of losing Seulgi will abate in time like a superficial cut. The loss of Jungkook is akin to an amputation—the ghost tremors and aches lingering long after its removal.

He also knows in his mind that he’s not innately a cheater; Jimin had never entertained the thought when he’d been with Jungkook. The mere suggestion of it had been so repulsing it could cause him to curl over in disgust.

Jimin knows he’s dead wrong to have cheated on his ex-girlfriend with Jungkook, but he supposes he finally had had to acknowledge that there’ll never be anyone else in the world for him.

Now, if only he could slay his personal demons.

Jimin sighs.

---

The truth is even without the pressures of feigning bliss and impregnably joy that accompanies being in a relationship, Jimin’s unraveling. There’s no other way around it, Jimin knows he’s not doing well in the following few months after his breakup. 

He wakes up in the middle of the night frequently, sweating profusely and heavily breathing. And those are on the nights Jimin is even able to fall asleep to begin with.

Sometimes, he suffers miniature panic attacks when he gets lost in thoughts of all his poor decisions and cruel behaviour throughout the past few years.

Other times, he’ll weep silently in the shower as his music blares at a deafening volume, Taehyung and Taemin none-the-wiser to his breakdowns.

His memory becomes patchier and patchier, promises and details slipping at every given turn until he’s faced with the disgruntled faces of his unhappy mother, irritated friends, and infuriated classmates.

Despite all the areas in which he’s distinctly lacking in recent days, he’s still reigning supreme at managing his pretense of being a well-adjusted adult—his grades remain high enough no one will question him, he smiles widely and frequently enough at the right times no one suspects anything, and he’s as engaged as ever in his family life.

It’s funny how the all the signs of his lonely existence can be bubbling right beneath the surface, but no one’s fishing close enough to bait him into facing the truth.

Once again, he’s resumed the pretense of sleeping with numerous girls, and with Taehyung’s unforgivably flappy mouth, his friends are informed of his ostensible debauchery. He never manages to push the image of Jungkook’s gentle eyes, floppy hair, defined nose, and soft lips out of his mind long enough to go very far with anyone.

Luckily, once Jungkook moves in, he doesn’t invest anymore effort into his “eminent” womanizing skills, figuring that his ex-boyfriend would appreciate Jimin’s abstinence. He hopes Jungkook will attribute it to Jimin wanting to respect him—maybe the only way that he could be reputable in his ex’s eyes.

God, he’s so royally fucked. And totally, irrevocably in love.

What a total fucking cliché.

---

A month or so after Seulgi and Jimin have broken up that he finds himself attached to Jungkook’s lips, spilling all his longing and love into his ex-boyfriend’s mouth. Jimin hopes that Jungkook will drink up his fill and understand the potion of unspoken words and potent emotions that’ll be swirling in the bottom of his belly.

Jimin’s on top today, kissing Jungkook fervently, trying to chase out all the ugly thoughts in his head and replace them with the sensation of Jungkook’s loving caresses, gentle strokes, and tender touches.

Their lips latch together, the perfect combination, an ornate gold key crafted by the dexterous hands of Fate, made only for its matching exorbitantly fashioned lock. In stolen moments of passion like these, Jimin really believes they were made for one another, however foolishly idealistic it may seem.

And it’s the thought of Jimin forcing them both to suffer simply because of his pervasive fears and insidious insecurities, when he knows they could be so damn happy together, which causes the moment to wrinkle, crumpling up like a frail sheet of paper when lit on fire.

Jimin tries to conceal his face from Jungkook’s observant eyes as his ex-boyfriend presses soft kisses against the column of his throat, but eventually the stream of tears create a wet spot below and the moment comes to an abrupt stop.

Instantly backing away, Jungkook pushes at Jimin’s shoulders so he can take a look at his face. Initially, he weakly resists but Jimin doesn’t have the energy or the motivation to bother shrouding himself behind phantasms of wellness today, so he remains vulnerable and out on the open plains for his ex-boyfriend to carefully analyze.

“Hey, hey, hey, what’s wrong?” Jungkook asks, as he rubs Jimin’s arms soothingly.

Jimin stays silent and still, avoiding Jungkook’s eyes.

Jungkook perseveres, sweet soul, as he moves one hand into Jimin’s mottled, moderately greasy hair and massages his scalp with his skillful fingers.

“Jiminie, I can’t read your mind, you know that, right? I wish I could and I wish I knew exactly what to say or do or be to make you happy and have you smile again, but I don’t know unless you tell me.”

The beast rattles inside the cage of Jimin’s mind and the bars are rusty and brittle, an ancient construction, and he nearly releases it. He just doesn’t want to be responsible for housing such an evil monstrosity in his mind anymore. He just wants it to go, go, go.

But Jimin’s not brave, so he digresses from that appealing thought.

“Nothing’s wrong,” he swears unconvincingly.

Jungkook growls, a blatant sound of disapproval, fingers stuttering a little in their ministrations as he strives to suppress his crossness.

He deadpans, “You’re crying, hyung. You’ve literally cried all over my shirt, it’s so damp.”

Stupid, stupid, how could you be so careless and insensitive.

Dabbing and wiping at the dark spot on Jungkook’s shirt, Jimin immediately apologizes, contrite.

 “I’m sorry—”

Jungkook uses his left hand to shove Jimin’s hand away gently, explaining himself.

“No, no, don’t be silly, I don’t mean I’m mad over the shirt—it’s a stupid shirt, it’ll dry. I just want to know what’s wrong.”

No answer.

“Is it…is it the breakup?” Jungkook tries, pushing through the awkward question, stiffness in his spine the only indication he’s troubled.

Yes.

It is the breakup.

The breakup that’s troubled Jimin’s mind for years now, long before Seulgi had ever entered his life. The breakup with the boy who’s the only buoy in the ocean of Jimin’s tempestuous psyche, the only thing that keeps him from straying so far out into the depths that he’ll never be able to navigate his way safely back onto the shores of sanity.

“Yes,” Jimin admits softly without clarifying details that he oughtn’t burden Jungkook with.

Jungkook slumps a little, clearly discouraged by his answer.

“Oh.”

For a while, they just sit in silence, Jimin still on Jungkook’s lap with his best friend’s hands roaming the expanse of his torso, just kneading and stroking his sensitive spots lovingly.

Jungkook breaks the silence after a while, the crinkle in his brow sharp and defined, as he speaks.

“Jimin-hyung, you keep crying and you seem so upset by it but you won’t even tell me what happened. Like, did she break your heart? Or is it because…she found out…you know?”

Wincing, realizing how terribly tangential Jungkook’s train of thought appears to be, an enormous contrast to the direction where Jimin’s mind has taken him, he tries to reassure his ex-boyfriend without revealing his trump card.

“No, it’s nothing like that, Jungkookie, don’t worry,” he coos through his remaining tears.

Jungkook wipes Jimin’s tears off his face with one hand, the sweet gesture tainted by the roughness of the action when he’s unable to completely eliminate his justifiable petulance.  

Jungkook snaps shortly, “How am I not supposed to worry when you’re crying all the time? And you’re sad all the time? Everyone’s worried about you, you know? What can I do to help?”

Jimin panics, realizing Jungkook’s beginning to approach the barricaded region of his psyche; if Jimin makes one wrong move and Jungkook takes one right step, he’ll be exposed for the broken, battered man he is.   

“Jimin-hyung, you have to talk to me or someone. Anyone that cares about you. It’s scary sometimes looking at you when your eyes are so empty that it looks like there’s no one home. Or when you just start crying like this out of nowhere. Or when I come over to your place and your mom tells me you haven’t left your room since you arrived home. I’m worried, can’t you see that? Can’t you talk to me? Do you not trust me anymore?”

Mayday, mayday, it’s time to waylay his sweet, loving boy.

Jimin cuddles up to Jungkook and whispers into his ear, reveling in the shudder that it elicits.

“You can do one thing for me, Jungkookie.”

He knows he’s laying the seductive tone a little thick, but anything to distract Jungkook.  

“Okay. Tell me,” Jungkook pleads, hands resuming their position on his hips.

And with Jimin’s following words, the tense air in the room deflates.

“Can you just hold me?”

Jungkook looks faintly frustrated by the vague request, devoid of any meaningful content or explanation, but he instantly snuffs his personal aggravation in lieu of pulling Jimin in close, one large hand cradling the back of his head. He maneuvers Jimin’s body to contour his exact bodyline until he’s safe in the crook of his ex-boyfriend’s neck.

And it’s in the security of his best love’s arms that Jimin finally falls into restful repose.

---

A clown is a clown until he returns to the silence of his humble abode and scrubs off the gritty makeup off his face, removes the gaudily vibrant wig, and slips out of his costume.

An assassin is an assassin until she’s completed her task and goes to her sleek apartment and peels off her mask and takes off her ammunition belt and plucks the guns off their holsters, one-by-one.

The reality is everyone is someone or something in the public eye but shed their disguises when in solitude. Everyone has a story and a reason—whether other people are looking to understand them or not.

Likewise, Jimin is a functioning young adult to his peers until he’s in the darkness of his own room.

But lately, his acting has become sloppier, like a renowned actor that’s fallen into a drunken spiral, forced to make appearances in films to support his dirty habits on the side.

So, when Jimin fucks up—he really fucks up.

He’d gotten Jungkook concert tickets for October that he’d certainly love for his birthday but when the actual day arrives, Jimin’s plastered by the early afternoon, having had gone to a bar straight after class after spotting the piss poor grade he’d received earlier that

Jimin had been in utter shock, completely appalled by his grade, and all he can hear is Instructor Lee’s voice bellowing in his head—

You’ll never be good enough. You’re good for nothing. And you’ll always be a failure.

One of his classmates, an acquaintance he occasionally dabbles in conversation with had asked if he’d been alright, Jimin’s face so pale that he’d certainly looked ill.

He had just nodded sharply, thrown his backpack over his shoulder, crumpled his test in his hand, and headed straight for a pub, other classes and responsibilities be damned.

Wallowing in his pain and frustrations in alcohol, Jimin had gotten drunk, guzzling pint after pint, until his phone battery drains and dies.

Fuck it, he morosely thinks, ordering himself another.

One of his classmates from school, some guy he doesn’t really recall the name of, ends up at the same pub at him and once he spots Jimin, he cheerfully engages him in conversation. Jimin’s heard stories—he’s bisexual, highly promiscuous, and loves partying.

The guy ends up accompanying him home, not seeming to sense Jimin’s sullen mood, chatting away about classes and parties and mutual acquaintances they have. Jimin’s polite interest has obviously bolstered his confidence…a little too much. But Jimin doesn’t really want to be alone right now anyway, afraid his terrors will come storming in the instant that company leaves, so he permits this small grievance.

The monkey business begins the moment Jimin shuts the door behind them.

And maybe Jimin should have expected the sudden, sloppy kiss that’s administered to his unprepared lips.

But he hadn’t.

Jimin had never thought much about his sexuality. When he fell in love with Jungkook, he’d just been in love with Jungkook. He’d never spent a moment mulling or fretting over Jungkook’s gender. Instead, it’d always just been a background reality rather than a forefront hindrance—Jimin loved Jungkook and he just happened to be a boy. And though the ratio of women he’d been attracted in comparison to men—or just Jungkook—is significantly higher, he still hadn’t been troubled by his preferences. 

It’s funny how Jimin’s insecurities control and dictate every aspect of his young life, but for whatever reason, he had never once been troubled by his sexuality, his love for Jungkook always tipping the scale in his favour.

But as he kisses this boy, Jimin recognizes his heart nor his body is really into it.

His heart isn’t racing. His belly is empty of the heat and desire that fills it when he kisses Jungkook. He isn't driven by an inexplicable force to touch and explore the expanse of his partner's body. And while he’s sweating and overheating, it’s from the copious amounts of liquor he’s imbued and the high temperature of the apartment Taehyung’s left it in.

God damn it, Tae, he curses to himself.

Jimin is so drunk and his mouth is barely moving against the boy’s, but he doesn’t seem to register his partner’s reluctance. Or he doesn’t care—it’s hard to tell as he pulls his t-shirt above his head, running his large palms down Jimin’s still clothed sides.

He walks them over to the couch and yanks Jimin on top of him, both of the shorter boy’s legs on either side of his long limbs.

Behind the lustrous coat of intoxication, Jimin feels a budding sense of panic, body beginning to quiver with adrenaline. He hasn’t slept with anyone—not Jungkook nor Seulgi—and he doesn’t want to lose his virginity now. The guy has managed to remove Jimin’s shirt in the few seconds he’d lost desperately trying to gather enough mental resources to say something.

He really doesn’t want to do this. And since the other boy obviously has no future in being a prophet—or any occupation that involves having any sensitivity to someone else—Jimin knows it’s up to him to articulate his averseness before things get out of hand.

And really, Jimin doesn’t deserve much, but he surely deserves a better first time than this.

Oh, I got fucked by a random because I was sad over a shitty grade—just doesn’t have a quality ring to it.

And just as he’s jerking himself away from the guy, Jungkook walks in.

Jimin’s heart breaks as he sees the instant change in Jungkook’s demeanour as he processes the scene—his worried eyes turn steely and cold and the concerned configuration to his soft mouth curling into an ugly shape, ragged with rage.

The rest of the night is a disaster—from Jimin realizing in horrified shock that he’d forgotten about the birthday plans with Jungkook to his ex-boyfriend’s complete pigheaded refusal to hear Jimin out.

Jungkook doesn’t speak a word to him for a couple months following Jimin’s fatal blunder.

Jimin doesn’t deserve much, but he certainly earned this.

---

Jungkook’s silence feels much like wishing hopelessly for pardon from an bloodthirsty executioner following a public prosecution; that is, the outcome is predetermined and predictable. 

Jimin knew that he’d be at the mercy of his ex-boyfriend at some point, the inconsistencies between his words and actions ever prevalent and his inability to communicate his love in any organic fashion ever problematic, so when the axe finally slices through his neck, he’s not surprised.

And Jungkook finally shuns him, Jimin is hardly stunned. He just stoically accepts his fate and punishment.

He retreats into the dystopian reality of his mind, where the beast grunts appreciatively when he sees Jimin’s pathetic form prone in front of him, still and lifeless, ball and chains preventing him from making any progress out of his prison.

It reaches over lazily and using a single, sharp claw, it pierces through his chest cavity with surgical precision, blood spilling out of the new wound.

Just as I suspected, it chuckles coldly, you’re heartless.

Jimin looks down and sure enough, despite the litres of blood that’d come pouring from the opening in his chest, the hardy muscle is nowhere to be found.

He turns his head stiffly to see what Fake-Jungkook thinks.

The personification of his guilt has matured some since the last time Jimin really examined him (it?). His shoulders have grown broader and a thick layer of muscle has sprouted into fruition. He supposes this means that Jimin’s guilt has—quite literally—grown.

Fake-Jungkook just looks at him sadly and grabs his hand and pats it comfortingly.

Jimin closes his eyes and thinks to himself, Even my head, Jungkook is comforting my heartless, cruel self. I’m such a fucking delusional bastard.

The beast seems to hear his thoughts and smiles spitefully.

Like I always said, Jimin, you’re good for nothing.

Ain’t that the truth.

---

It’s nearly a month into Jungkook’s imposed silence and Jimin is hanging on for dear life, trying to keep afloat.

It feels like everything he does only produces crocodile tears and fool's gold. He’s become a magpie of lies, amassing roles, lines, and scenes from other people’s lives and meshing his collection together to portray some fucked up, fake act of a life of his own.

And while he hopes no one will notice, the wish is in vain.

“Jimin-hyung? Are you okay?”

The disembodied voice floats over from Jimin’s door in his parent’s home to where he’s situated on his bed, face pressed into his pillow as he’s curled into the fetal position.

“Fine,” Jimin mumbles, voice muffled.

Jihyun hesitates.

“Are you sure?”

“Totally fine, kid, I promise. Why?”

The silence this time extends even longer and it’s as though the viewer pressed “stop” instead of “pause” on this awkward moment.

Jihyun explains quietly, “You seem awfully sad these days.”

What makes anyone think that, Jimin thinks sarcastically.

Is it the way he struggles to get out of bed lately? He does it, but it’s a damn near miracle.

Or maybe it’s the way he picks at his food, appetite depleted from all the stress.

“No, no, just…got lots of school shit to deal with. And I’m just really tired all the time, that’s all,” Jimin says instead, unwilling to incite an argument with sweet, unassuming Jihyun.

He thinks the conversation will terminate there, expecting the soft click of his brother closing the door behind him.

Instead, Jihyun doggedly prattles on.

“Is there anything you wanna talk to me about?”

Yes.

“No,” Jimin snaps, temper running a little high under the barrage of questions.

“Oh.”

But he’s curious.

“Why do you ask?”

Jihyun’s answer makes Jimin flinch so violently, he’s positive that his younger brother had spotted the twitch from beneath the thick layer of blankets he’s under.

“I…just thought I heard you crying last night and was just wondering if you were okay.”

Breathing hard, Jimin denies everything.

“Ah, no, I was just stressed, Jihyunie. But thank you for asking.”

Jihyun’s sigh is audible, even above the sharp sounds of Jimin inhaling and exhaling, attempting to prevent a panic attack occurring in front of his brother. 

“Are you sure, Jimin-hyung, because I’ve heard you crying once every time you’ve come home for the past few weeks,” Jihyun demands, voice snapping as he tries to conceal the hefty concern he feels.

Jimin doesn’t answer.

Jihyun sighs loudly, his older brother missing the way his shoulders slump in defeat. But seeming to understand his brother’s implicit refusal to further the conversation, Jihyun just hops onto the bed, wraps his arm around Jimin, and hugs him so tightly he can barely breathe.

And this sensation, if nothing else, is familiar and comforting in a way that expects nothing else in return so Jimin hugs him back.

---

The year that Jimin is finally able to attend a New Year’s Party without leaving before the countdown is the year that Jungkook’s parents book a cruise.

He’s going to the same party as Jungkook and as nervous as he is, Jimin’s happy to finally be given an opportunity to confront Jungkook in person.

When he arrives, his stomach turns and twists unpleasantly as he catches the sight of Taehyung and Jungkook curled into each other comfortably as his ex pours shots, passing them generously to whomever wants one.

Jimin knows he’s never divulged all his secrets to Taehyung, only having ever once told his roommate that he struggles sometimes with anxiety that he’d claimed was “manageable” after he’d had a particular abhorrent day. The other boy had caught him on the outskirts of a panic attack, Jimin's standard rate of respiratory rhythm escaping him. Petrified Taehyung would be disgusted by his weakness, he'd forcibly reeled in his emotions. 

Reassuring Taehyung multiple times, whose skepticism diminished after a few feebles attempts on Jimin's part, hadn't been too arduous. 

When he’d claimed his anxiety was “manageable”, Jimin had just meant that he knows how to prevent anyone from discovering him when he’s a crumpled mass of bones and flesh on the shower floor or a baggie of blood and plasma plopped into his comforters.

Taehyung had just hugged him loosely and said, “Yeah, man, I get you. We all have our issues. But that sucks. Take care of yourself, okay?”

As if it was that easy.

Jimin knows Taehyung hadn’t meant any harm by his statement, an innocuous—if somewhat superficial—display of support. And it’s hard to shift blame on his friend’s shoulders when Jimin hadn’t depicted the true nature of his mental condition.

He also knows that he’d told Taehyung to go for Jungkook despite knowing his roommate found his best friend attractive.

So, can he really blame Taehyung when he’d reduced Jungkook to a meaningless ex-boyfriend, a historical artifact of his past, a peripheral choice made by his juvenile teenage heart?

The answer should be no, but it still hurts him terribly to see them so close to one another when Jimin’s hardly been allowed to approach Jungkook.

And despite his best intentions and wary heart, Jimin finds himself pulling Jungkook back in, unable to resist and unable to prevent himself from enticing his ex-boyfriend with the forbidden fruit. And when they kiss, Jimin distantly thinks it tastes like the ripe and juicy flesh of Eden’s apple, condemning them to eternal damnation and pain.

And Jimin, the minxy Eve that he is, drops to his knees, a weak substitution for prayer and redemption as he brings Jungkook to completion using his stupid, useless mouth that he never uses for the right reasons. Never used to communicate his honest feelings, never utilized to bring his demons into existence so he can relinquish them, never employed to explain himself and his behavior. 

But as he swallows down Jungkook’s ecstasy and devotion, he deludes himself into believing sinning doesn’t have to be so bad after all—not when his ex-boyfriend’s expression holds only the utmost love for him as he pets Jimin, who remains prostrate on the floor, panting heavily from the exertion.

---  

Chapter Text

A lot happens to Jimin in the first month of the New Year.

It’s funny because everyone thinks that an inordinate number of things will change because its the beginning of a new calendar year, but usually, it’s just a big hurrah before the descent from the highest point of the drop tower into redundant normalcy. However, this year takes Jimin for quite an irregular ride.

Jungkook summons Jimin to a coffee shop—unsuspecting, Jimin had been excited and cheerful, his dreary inner monologue silenced by his ex-boyfriend’s familiar presence.

Things quickly devolved.

And if he’d been startled by Jungkook’s janky mood, he’d been outright blindsided by everything else that follows.

Jungkook tells Jimin he still loves him (Jimin loves him back too).

Jungkook confesses how Jimin’s made him feel since their break up (Jimin doesn’t deserve to have him even if Jungkook’s all he ever wanted).

Jungkook wants an explanation from him for all his misleading actions (Jimin can’t explain anything without explaining everything).

Jungkook tells Jimin that what they have isn’t good enough for him anymore (Jungkook’s words are a dagger and they slice Jimin’s paper thin heart into grotesque ribbons).

He watches his ex-boyfriend walks away, Jungkook's feeble proclamation of enduring love not nearly enough to salve the damage to Jimin's heart.

Jungkook will grow to hate him in the New Year.

Join the club, Jungkookie, he thinks tiredly, And get in line. You’re not the first and you’re not the last.

---

In the two months that Jungkook temporarily vacates their shared living space, unbeknownst to his ex-boyfriend, Jimin takes up primary residency at his parents’ place.

It’s torture being in an apartment that reminds Jimin of Jungkook wherever he enters especially on nights where Taehyung’s nowhere to be seen as well.

So, he glumly stays with his parents whenever he would otherwise be left to his own devices.

He ignores the way their puzzled expressions gradually morph into twin looks of unadulterated concern.

“Jimin, honey, aren’t you going to finish up your plate of food?” his mom prompts tentatively.

Robotically, he picks at his food.

His father clears his throat and asks, “Is everything okay with your rent and bills at your place? Are you fighting with one of your roommates?”

He shakes his head dully, a nearly imperceptible jolt of movement.

One morning over coffee and buttered toast, his mother tries, “How’s school? Are you doing alright?”

He hums, a monotone response, hardly informative.

“Are you and Jungkook alright?” Jihyun finally dares one night, a bull’s eye for the expert archer, over an awkwardly quiet dinner.

His fork drops from his hands, as Jimin trembles violently, shocked by the frankness of the question. His eyes flit nervously from one area in the dining room to the next, never directed to a single focal point, hoping the excess movement of his ocular muscles will prevent tears from streaming down his face.

In the corner of his eyes, Jimin spots Jihyun sporting a grim look, mouth downturned and tight.

Bingo, his face reads.

Jimin treads carefully, trying not to accumulate much more attention than he knows he’s garnered from his worried family, as he gathers his unfinished plate of japchae and places it in the sink, unable to struggle through one more bite.

“Thanks for dinner, mom,” he thanks quietly, as he heads towards the stairs.

No one tries to stop him.

He doesn’t hear Jihyun’s timid footsteps over the sound of his muffled sobs—melancholic wails and gutting whimpers lasting until he falls asleep. And once he’s snoring softly, exhausted by his emotional breakdown, Jihyun finally leaves.

---

On days he’s not sulking miserably at his parents’ home, he’s realized he’s unintentionally taken up a new sport—

Conversational dodgeball.

“So,” Taehyung says one late February evening, “Seems like you and Jungkookie are beefing.”

His roommate is stretched out on the couch, phone in hand, as the newest episode of some shitty drama is running in the background. In the kitchen, Jimin is searching through take-out pamphlets as he waits for his water to boil.

He sighs, taking great care to ensure Taehyung won’t hear him.

“Really?” he asks, artificial confusion doused into his voice.

Taehyung sits up a bit and sets his gaze on Jimin, using one finger to mute the television.

“Yeah, I mean, no shit, you guys both look miserable as fuck and if I mention one of you to the other, you both literally clam up like I’m trying to steal your precious pearl,” he accuses.

Jimin laughs, a prickly sound, more of a bark, as he tries to glide through this unwanted conversation.  

“Wow, that was…oddly metaphorical.”

Taehyung makes a frustrated sound in his throat, a threatening growl, and suddenly Jimin feels as they are two vexed pitbulls facing off in the stifling cage of an impending dog fight.

“Stop fuckin’ around, Jimin, what’s going on?” Taehyung snaps.

Nettled as he is, Jimin shrugs, forcing himself to maintain his pretense of composure.

Shrugging, he claims, “Nothing.”

Swiveling around until his feet are on the ground and he’s fully sitting up, Taehyung glares at him pointedly and responds angrily.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of Jungkook looking sad and moping whenever I see him, and you don’t seem like you’re making any moves to better the situation.”

Temper finally rising to the occasion, accusations sliding out of his roommate’s mouth with a touch too much ease, the words rouse his fury and Jimin’s completely agitated by Taehyung's gall.

“Wait. Why the unholy fuck does it sound like you’re blaming me?” he shouts, waving his hands around wildly, infuriated. 

Taehyung raises his voice too, yelling back, “Because, Jimin, no offense, but you’ve clearly got some communication issues and you’re a piss poor sport about talking about your feelings. And everyone else fucking suffers for it.”

Jimin flinches, not quick enough on his feet to prevent Taehyung from seeing. He doesn't appreciate the muted look of triumph Taehyung adorns. 

Jimin already knows this. He knows that everything he does hurts people, he doesn’t need Taehyung to point it out.  

Injured, Jimin bellows defiantly, “Did I ask for your fucking input?”

Taehyung’s face is a cold mask despite the displeasure in his voice as he hollers at Jimin.

“No, but did anyone ask for you to be such a royal asshole to Jungkook?”

Jimin doesn’t need this.

He already knows. Jungkook had already told him what a terrible human being he is. And before him, it'd been Instructor Lee. He knows this, he really does.

Jimin’s shaking now and he’s not certain if it’s fear or anger that’s precipitating the quakes.

He cries, voice tripping and bumbling, “Seriously? Aren’t you my friend? Why does it sound like you literally are blaming me and just me? Why do you care so much about Jungkook and not me? Did I offend you personally somehow?”

Taehyung waves his hand dismissively and scoffs condescendingly.

“No, but it’s just obvious that he’s still fucking obsessed with you—not just to me, but even Seulgi back in the day.”

Oh.

He’d forgotten that there’s someone else who thinks he’s a dreadful person. His heart sinks substantially further into the depths.

“Why are you bringing my ex-girlfriend into this? How is this even fucking relevant,” Jimin demands weakly, his vehemence petering out under Taehyung’s dogged attacks.

Without a shred of empathy, Taehyung steamrolls forwards.

Come on, Jimin, God, get the fuck over yourself. It’s not rocket science to any of us. We’ve all known for ages Jungkook clearly still wants you but you’re just over him and the entire situation so why don’t you just let him go? Why are you so damn selfish?”

Selfish, Instructor Lee singsongs tauntingly. 

Selfish, Jungkook shouts furiously.

Seulgi had never said it. But she’d indiscriminately meant it.

The cord of self-control finally snaps and with it, Jimin’s fragile patience.  

“Why don’t you mind your own fucking business, Taehyung, oh my fucking god,” Jimin roars, voice cracking until he sounds completely demented.

Almost impressively, Taehyung only looks infinitesimally perturbed. 

“Dude, I know you said you have some issues or whatever,” Taehyung snarls unfeelingly, “But it’s not an excuse to fuck over everyone else around you.”

Oh, what Jimin would give to mangle that calm expression off his shithead roommate’s face, it hurts so badly because he knows there’s some sense in what Taehyung’s saying.

It hurts so badly because Taehyung’s being so flippant.

Instead of keeling over in pain like he wants to, he collects his cool, trying to pocket an Arctic breeze for this moment, as Jimin tells Taehyung frostily, “Fucking back the fuck off. If you want his dick so bad, why don’t you hop on it? Because I’m over it and this fucking conversation.”

Jimin doesn’t know he’ll have to eat his words later—hatefully and grimly, as though someone has coerced him into a generous second helping of his least favourite meal.

He slams his door violently behind him.

---

Tears cascade down Jimin’s face, high-strung after his incendiary argument with Taehyung, he’s buried under his blankets. He’s started blasting music at an impolite volume that his roommate would—under any other circumstance—berate him for, but tonight Jimin doesn’t care.

Rubbing his hands against his face aggressively, he feels himself pulling and contorting the delicate skin in a manner that would have even the worst dermatologist cringing.

Trying to settle his heartrate and busy mind down, he takes a brisk walk down memory lane.

In this particular scene, they’d both been staring blankly as the episode of their show came to a close, their chubby faces reflecting back at them from the black screen. 

A red plastic bowl of popcorn had sat on the table next to them, as they’d squished together in close quarters on Jimin’s bed, blankets wrapped all around them.

Jimin had been sixteen and they’d been together for just over a year now. It’d been the best year of Jimin’s life so far, discovering how he enjoys having someone to spoil and treat. He’d found how he likes the constant companionship; even out of sight, Jungkook is there for him and Jimin is there for him. Jimin had taken quite well to being in a relationship in spite of their young ages. 

He knows that their peers and their parents had laughed fondly, thinking that they wouldn’t last, but Jimin had been determined to show them.

Ah, to be young and optimistic again, Jimin thinks lightly.

Brows furrowed in annoyance, Jungkook had been in a critical mood, as he’d ribbed the individuals on the reality show they’d just watched.

“I don’t get why they can’t just change things though. Like before. Especially when they know they have to. Why would you just sit there and fiddle your thumbs not trying to make things better?”

Stiffening, Jimin had rigidly rebutted, “It’s not that easy, Jungkook. Otherwise, they’d just make a change. Obviously.”

He’d known he oughtn’t take it so personal, knowing Jungkook doesn’t mean any harm. But he’d heard this statement so many times. And he’d tried to change things for himself, make positive alterations and re-enforce those positive qualities—like an accomplished modiste sharping and sowing her custom garments tailored her clients’ bodies. 

Whenever Jimin hears such a generalized statement, proffered as a remedy for an idiosyncratic malady, he instantly feels slighted—even now.

That’s a personal problem though.

Jungkook had been blissfully ignorant, having not sensed the darkening atmosphere and had persevered daftly, insisting fervidly, “Why not? All you have to do is just want to change things then put some effort into it.”

Feeling his blood rushing through his body and a small vein in his temple throbbing, Jimin had gritted his teeth as he’d retaliated irritably.

“No one wakes up wanting to live like that, Jungkook.”

Jungkook had agreed but he hadn’t bothered to whittle his opinion so it doesn’t feel quite so barbed.

(Jimin had suspected even then that he’s the only person who’d take it that personally.)

“Yeah, I get that, but if you’re just so down about it, wouldn’t you want to make some changes so you won’t have to wake up every morning and look around and just hate all the mistakes you’ve made? Like, it would just fucking suck to walk in and be like, ‘well, shit, I fucked up’ every morning.”

Jimin had occasionally considered, even then, being honest about what he’d endured at Instructor Lee’s hands—no bars, no restrictions, complete liberation of the emotional trauma he’d endured. But when he’d theorized the impact it would have had on everyone who’d known him—financially or emotionally—he’d silenced those desires with an iron fist. 

“Maybe they can’t afford making those changes,” Jimin had pointed out.

Jungkook had laughed, an innocent sound remodelled into a lofty sneer, an imaginative twist courtesy of Jimin’s neurotic imagination. 

“So? They can get by with a little help from their friends, Jimin-hyung.”

Jimin had squinted his eyes and glared menacingly.

“Are you quoting The Beatles right now?”

Jungkook had giggled, “Maybe.”

Unjustifiably incensed, Jimin had huffed scornfully. 

“Well, I think you’re just being insensitive and don’t get what they’re going through,” grumped Jimin furiously, pulling the blankets around him in a dramatic show of consternation, yanking his body several inches away.

Slowly rolling over to directly face Jimin, Jungkook had looked cowed and apologetic, youthful body curling into himself, making himself look awfully helpless and small. Jimin had instantly filled with guilt, recognizing belatedly that his boyfriend hadn’t had the slightest clue that he hadn’t been discussing the ridiculous program that they’d been lazily viewing.

“Okay, Jimin-hyung, I get the feeling that…maybe we aren’t talking about the same thing here anymore,” Jungkook had tentatively ventured. 

Pushing his distress past the multiple earthy layers, then even further down past the crust and mantle of his heart, Jimin had stowed away his biggest secrets and hurts of his short life. He’d had Jungkook now, it’s almost guaranteed happiness from here onwards, he had thought naively.

He remembers the desperation he’d felt, thinking that he mustn’t let the darkness that he’s got concealed in the innermost core of his soul consume him; Jimin had refused to lose Jungkook to it, he couldn’t imagine it. 

“No, sorry, I just got really invested in this episode. Sorry, Jungkookie,” he had repented sincerely, pressing a chaste kiss to his cherubic cheek.

Jungkook had just observed him with sharp, discerning eyes for a moment before he’d smiled shyly, shrugging off Jimin’s random bout of belligerence without a second thought.

Jungkook, fourteen years of age, with the same short-term memory and big forgiving heart of any puppy, suitable for the puppy love they’d held for one another.

Because no reasonable adult would have tolerated Jimin’s temperamental breakdown over an interior design show episode where the residents’ main problem had been their instant distaste and hatred for the changes made to their formerly homey foyer.

Someone has been neglecting Memory Lane, Jimin grumbles to himself, That had been a bleak walk— extinguished streetlights, untended shrubs, and rubbish everywhere.

---

Sometime in March, Jungkook moves back in.

He never informs Jimin of his plans, so one unsuspecting day, Jimin walks in the apartment to see the back of Jungkook as his room door clicks shut behind him.

He does a quick round and spots other telltale signs of Jungkook’s return—his protein powder, his jacket hung in their closet, his Timblands on the shoe rack, and his gym bag near the door.

Heart racing and lightly perspiring, Jimin isn’t sure if he’s relieved or terrified.

It doesn’t take long for Jimin to come to a conclusion as Jungkook doesn’t engage him in conversation nearly long enough for him to feel either polar emotion, settling for a nice, neutral pint of disappointment.

Fuck it and drink up, Jimin, he tells himself, Look where that got you last time.

---

Eventually, his cautious attempts at conversation are finally accepted and Jungkook actually begins responding to him again.

It’s pretty pathetic how happy Jimin feels at whatever meager responses Jungkook pulls out of his repertoire.

One time, they’d bumped into each other in the hallway, a side effect of small living spaces combined with hectic mornings.

Attempting to re-establish balance, Jungkook’s hands clutch tightly onto Jimin’s shoulders, a ghost reaction, an imprint of his thoughtfulness prevalent throughout their relationship when Jimin had still deserved to be in his presence.

Jimin shudders under the touch, urgently wanting to pull Jungkook in, magnetic response.

“Ah, sorry, Jungkookie, sorry. Erm, good morning?”  he apologizes, hoping Jungkook won’t notice how breathless he is with their proximity.

Jungkook’s hands clench down tighter briefly, the affectionate touch so transitory that Jimin thinks it’d been a figment of his active and desperate imagination. But judging from the pinkish flush coating his ex’s cheeks, it’d been real.

“Yeah, hyung, it’s fine, don’t worry about it.”

That’d been their most successful conversation thus far. Short and hardly sweet, but a fleeting drizzle is a welcome sight during any drought.

And Jimin knows he’s a beggar, not a chooser.

---

Jimin knows everyone else knows.

He can see it in the way Seokjin’s eyes hold an inhospitable edge to them, smiles always tight and uncongenial.

Namjoon just shifts this way and that when Jimin’s around, clearly uncomfortable, despite his natural inclination to maintain group harmony.

But they still extend their best efforts to be kind to Jimin, attempting to be as impartial as they can be considering they are both Jungkook and Jimin’s hyungs. He appreciates it—especially since he’s been trying his best to make separate plans to see them since Jungkook requested Jimin to stop attending group events.

Jimin further recognizes the extent of their graciousness when he sees Junghyun at a corner store in April. They see each other and Jimin raises his hand, a friendly gesture of acknowledgment.

Junghyun doesn’t respond; he doesn’t stir, doesn’t move. At first, thinking Junghyun had honestly not spotted him, he’d shouted at his friend, waving wildly.

“Junghyun!”

Jungkook’s brother turns his back to Jimin.

“Junghyun! Hey, Junghyun!”

Finally, he stills.

And when he turns around, Junghyun’s eyes are so devoid of warmth, Jimin feels as though he’d been shoved unceremoniously into the Antarctic Ocean, drowning and freezing simultaneously.

Stunned, he lowers his arm. And soaked with sudden dread, he realizes Jungkook’s told his brother—everything. With that alarming realization, Jimin pivots with great urgency, and sprints home to his apartment.

When he comes bursting through the front door, he's dumbfounded by the sight that greets him. He shouldn't be but he's so hurt.

 Jungkook and Taehyung are on the living room couch, his ex’s head in his roommate’s lap, the older boy running through his fingers through black locks caringly.

And to make matters worse, the moment before he’d barged in, he thinks he saw Taehyung’s hand on Jungkook’s face, eyes soft and tender.

The darkest timeline.

His mind glitches, sparking violently and flickering erratically, until the pixels that constitute the scene in front of him implode in front of his eyelids and all he’s left with are tiny mites and pinpricks of light.

It’s not so incriminating a sight, nothing so suspect occurring that he should allow his blood to curdle, but the ease with which Jungkook’s substituted his presence with Taehyung’s, hurts so badly that it feels like his chest is caving in, burying his heart into the core of his body, never to be exhumed again.

He holds his chest, feeling an impending panic attack.

One.

Two.

Three.

Breathe.

“Jimin?”

It’s Taehyung.

“Ah, guys, hi. I just needed to grab these…pair of shoes. I’m going to stay home at my parents tonight,” he explains, voice wavering suspiciously, as he scrambles to leave.

He’s shaking like a leaf lobbed this direction and that by a fickle breeze.

Grabbing the first pair of sneakers that belong to him he sees, Jimin straightens up and heads back to the door.

“Don’t let me disturb you, bye,” Jimin nearly shouts in his hysteria. He carefully avoids Jungkook’s eyes, afraid to see what he’d see there.

He runs home, feeling as though he’s been chased away from the only home he’s really known—in the arms of Jungkook.

If he’d been looking, even for a split second, Jimin would have seen the brooding expression on Jungkook’s face as he’d pushed Taehyung away from him gently.

---

Panting as he runs up his parents’ driveway, he vaguely notes that they’re not home.

He struggles to open the door, hands shaking so badly, he can’t get the key into the hole. When he finally manages to get himself inside, Jimin kicks his shoes off with uncharacteristic carelessness that his mother will later reprimand him for.

He trots up the stairs, skipping each second one, heading straight to his younger brother’s room, tears already streaming and breaths galloping out of control.

His brother looks up and upon registering Jimin’s disheveled and vulnerable state, he immediately jumps up and grabs him by the arms. It just reminds Jimin of his recent interaction with Jungkook and he begins to wail uncontrollably, terrifying Jihyun into hugging him and rubbing his back comfortingly.  

“Jihyunie? Can I talk to you, please?” he begs through his gasping sobs, embracing his brother back.

Jihyun fervently concedes, “Of course, hyung, what’s wrong?”

He sags into his brother’s body, uncaring of how much weight he’s forcing Jihyun to carry—proverbially and literally. Jimin’s body begins to wrack with the ferociousness of his tears, bones rattling under the unsystematic rhythm of his puttering body, knocking ominously like a car about to stall.

“I just…I have no one right now,” he confesses brokenly.

Jihyun bears the weight amenably and directs them onto the bed until they’re both sitting and Jimin’s head is curled under his. It’s after he manipulates their bodies into something a little more comfortable that Jihyun speaks next.

“What’d you mean?”

It is now, this moment in time, that the beast in Jimin’s chest is unapologetically active, shrieking and screeching in incorrigible joy, siphoning Jimin’s abject misery and synthesizing it into its life source.  Though it’s nearly impossible to structure his thoughts cohesively above the howls of the beast, Jimin tries to illustrate his reality to Jihyun whom he’s left in the dark for so long.

He whispers into Jihyun’s shoulder sadly, “I mean, I have no one, Jihyun, I have no one.”

He pauses briefly before he gathers his courage to further elucidate his reality.

“I can’t talk to anyone, I only have you, do you understand me? No one loves me, no one wants me around anymore, I fucked up so badly, Jihyunie, I only have you,” Jimin prattles, trying to comb through the knotted mess of his mind.

“Don’t say that, hyung, what are you talking about? You have mom, you have dad, you have me—”

Jimin cuts him off sharply, intoxicated by his despondency, drugged by his ruptured psyche, driving Jihyun right off the roads of sensibility.

“Yeah, but you have to love me, that’s all, you have to, but you wouldn’t if you knew what kind of person I am—”

Jihyun won’t have that.

“What do you mean? You have your friends that love you too,” Jihyun cries, rubbing his hand down Jimin’s back soothingly.

Shaking his head spiritedly, Jimin disagrees.

He maunders on, “No, Jihyunie, you don’t understand, they don’t love me at all right now. They hate me, I’m so fucked up, I’m such a bad person, I just can’t do anything right.”

The beast roars but all Jimin can hear is failure echoing in the chamber of his ribcage, vines twisting around his lungs and heart.

“Hyung, you’re really scaring me, you’re seriously scaring me,” Jihyun confesses, voice wobbling precariously now.

Guiltily, Jimin tries to pull away, not wanting to frighten his brother. He makes to stand up and take his leave.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, should I leave. Of course, I should, no one wants to hear this—”

Jihyun wrenches him back to his perch on his shoulder. 

Despite his younger brother’s best attempts to conceal his own despair, Jimin can clearly hear he’s crying too.

Notes and chords trembling like a baby deer taking its first steps, his voice is strangled as Jihyun tries to trample past his own emotions to attend to Jimin’s.

“Of course, I do. Why wouldn’t I want to hear you out? You know I’ve been trying for months to get you to talk to me. You think I don’t know something’s up? I’ve been trying, I’ve been scared and I’ve been worried. I’m happy you’re talking to me,” he insists, audibly gulping every now and then.

Jimin doesn’t know how to respond.

“I told you I could hear you crying in your room, it hurt me so badly to hear you like that, hyung. I want you to feel like you can come to me. And if not me, I want to know that you have people to talk to.”

Unable to stifle the sob that comes bubbling up his throat, Jimin begins to cry again, both touched by his brother’s selflessness and disgusted by his own selfishness in the past year.

He wipes impatiently at his cheeks with his sleeves, before grabbing a handful of Kleenex from the bedside table next to him to dab at his brother’s wet face.

Instead of addressing anything significant his brother had brought up, he just repeats himself softly.

“I don’t have anyone. And I don’t deserve anyone.”

Jihyun clucks disapprovingly and pats Jimin’s thigh with a little too much force behind it, a rough swipe of admonishment. He tries to come with a secondary solution, one that’d worked after Jimin and Seulgi had parted ways.

“Do you want me to call Jungkoo—”

Jimin interrupts, terrified.

“No!”

Eyes widening in surprise before narrowing into suspicious slits, Jihyun says slowly, “Whoa, okay, hyung.”

Silence. Then—

“Did you guys have a fight?”

Jimin sighs.

The beast grins. Fake-Jungkook stares silently, daring him to find some gumption.

He needs to come clean to someone. About something—anything.

Whimpering before he speaks, Jimin’s body begins to shudder and he begins to cry again.

“Jihyun. I have to tell you something, but you have to promise you’ll still love me, okay? You have to promise you won’t think too badly of me, okay?”

Nodding hesitantly, Jihyun pulls his older brother in closer, an implicit gesture of solidarity.

Taking a deep breath, he pelts the words out like a canon, ripping the band-aid off in one swift movement.

“I kept hooking up with Jungkook after I broke-up with him and broke his heart.”

Jihyun’s eyes widen so much they’re comically protuberant, obviously paralyzed with shock and faint disappointment, but nods to show he’s receptively listening.

“Ah, hyung, oh boy. I mean…how many times?” he stutters awkwardly.

“Depends on the year, I guess,” Jimin spits out hatefully, repelled by himself.

His brother still looks faintly astonished but prompts him to tell him more. And he does.

Though Jimin succumbs entirely to his guilt and sorrow multiple times as he regals the timeline leading up until that present April day, sobbing intermittently, Jihyun never flinches, never darts away from him in revulsion.

The warmth in his eyes never cool and this kindness of which he’s so undeserving of is enough incentive for Jimin to confess to all his transgressions against Jungkook.

After he finishes explaining himself, the conclusion to a wet and weepy story-time, Jihyun follows up with several—admittedly fair—questions.

“Hyung, why? Why’d you even break up with him then? Why wouldn’t you save yourselves that much despair? I’ve thought you were still in love with him all this time. And it’s obvious he loves you too. And you lied so much to him and everyone else, what were you thinking?”

Jimin’s done talking for the night, sick of hearing his own voice and talking over all the noise in his head.

But when he takes an inward glance, he glances at Fake-Jungkook.

He looks a little smaller this evening. And for once, he has a tiny smile on his face.

---

Jimin feels marginally lighter after talking to Jihyun.

It’s not a lot, but it’s something.

He begins to convince himself that things are looking up because, small mercies, Jungkook invites him to attend the same semester-end party as he’s attending.

Jungkook hasn’t wanted to see him at the same gatherings or events for months now, forcing Jimin really initiate making plans with their mutual friends to maintain his friendships with them. It’d seemed like a mild sacrifice in consideration of the hell Jimin had forced Jungkook to endure.

So, when Jungkook extends his stubby olive branch, Jimin accepts without complaint.

He’s privileged to receive anything from his ex.

Jimin walks calmly to his door, before shutting the door behind himself, and leans against his door. He tries and fails to smother a small smile of sincere delight, afraid to get his expectations up.

---

He’d initially wanted to invite Jihyun to the event, but he hadn’t been able to scrounge up enough courage to text his brother for the emotional support he’d wanted.

What could go wrong, he tries to convince himself.

Jimin spends an extravagant amount of time preparing himself for the party.

Though he spends a luxurious chunk of that time sparring with individual clumps of hair until they’re set into place and selecting the perfect outfit, Jimin still entertains the monsters and wild thoughts in his head for quite a while as well.

He’s jittery and anxious, hopping from one foot to the next as he makes his way over to Seokjin’s.

It’s a relatively mild May evening, his jean jacket and distressed pants keeping him warm.

The commute there isn’t terribly inconvenient and Jimin takes discreet swigs out of his “waterbottle” whilst listening to music. He doesn’t think he could arrive dead sober.

He’d wished that Taehyung and Jungkook would’ve had enough space in their hearts to invite Jimin to go with them together, but he thinks that’d be expecting too much too fast.

When he’s at the door, he takes a deep breath and enters.

---

Namjoon and Seokjin greet him warmly at the door, the alcohol having loosened the ropes of heavy disappointment they’d been lugging around their backs, allowing them to displace the weight of their twin chagrin for the night.

He fist-bumps Yoongi and Hoseok, both of them are a little less aloof towards him in their own right. Hoseok even wraps one arm around his shoulder, a little carelessly from intoxication.

Jimin’s relieved, his anxiety drifting away some, before he squares up to try and find Jungkook.

Even if he can have one diplomatic conversation with his ex-boyfriend this night, he’ll be content. He just wants to advance into a bright tomorrow with Jungkook. He’ll take anything.

Making his excuses and promising to return shortly, Jimin heads for the stairs.

---

Jungkook’s nowhere to be found upstairs.

---

He’s not outside either.

---

When Jimin finally finds him—his attention to drawn to a standard, unspectacular wall by numerous lecherous sneers and enthusiastic catcalls— it takes him several moments to comprehend the sight before him.

His body stiffens, and his mouth drops in stupefaction—how could he have been so stupid?

Once he shuts his mouth, Jimin grits his teeth, trying to barricade the whimpers and whine of distress behind them.  

Because behind Taehyung’s statuesque build is his ex-boyfriend, mouth slotted against their mutual roommate’s. His eyes are closed as Taehyung gives as good as he gets and Jungkook makes his sloppy returns.

Jungkook’s hands look misplaced on Taehyung’s hips and Jimin is seething, frothing at the mouth as he strangles an unbridled desire to tear his roommate’s fingers out of his ex-boyfriend’s hair.

Involuntarily, Jimin begins shaking and his eyes well up, chewing his lips up until they’re a scaly mess. He can’t tear his eyes off them, but it hurts so badly.

It feels as though he’s been thrown into a vat of volcanic matter, magma spuming around him, and he’s just burning alive. He wants to scream, his heart hurts so fucking badly and maybe this is the karmic justice he deserves for breaking Jungkook’s heart, but this is unbearable.

He would rather face off with a battalion of Instructor Lees, belittling and diminishing his existence until he’s a shadowy nothing, nonexistent and fictional.

This searing pain that travels up through his bones before it disintegrates from the inside out is fresh and new, barbaric in methodology, and doesn’t spare a merciful thought for him.

Jungkook’s one hand travels up from Taehyung’s hip until it reaches the middle of his back.

Jimin feels the phantom touch of Jungkook’s hand on his own back.

How sick.

He’s so desperate, he’s literally imagining being in Taehyung’s place.

Jimin wants to move, he wants to leave, but he’s glued to his spot, first row attendee to the newest horror feature film.

When he sees Jungkook roughly pull Taehyung closer to himself, Jimin feels the first tear escape, trailing down his face.

“Hey,” a voice interrupts softly, gentle and benign.

He tears his gaze away from his worst nightmare coming to life.

It’s Namjoon.

“Let’s go, okay?”

Jimin just nods and permits Namjoon lead him away.

---

Namjoon kindly funds his cab ride home and even provides him with snack for the road when Jimin verbalizes his desire to leave through a veil of poorly concealed tears. He just pats Jimin’s shoulder before pulling him into a hug.

He doesn’t say anything.

---

The next morning doesn’t serve Jimin much better when he walks into the dining area where Taehyung and Jungkook’s hands are a tangled mess of intertwined fingers.

He tries not to allow envy to enter his system, such a damn hard pill to swallow, but absurdly effectively once consumed.

Jimin wants to tear their hands apart.

He tries his best to have a diplomatic, progressive conversation with Jungkook, but it becomes increasingly evident that while he’d licensed the approval for Jimin to attend Seokjin’s, he hasn’t remotely forgiven him.  

His answers are short and passive-aggressive and his ulterior desire to maim Jimin emotionally isn’t nearly inconspicuous enough.

But Jimin’s trying to be braver now, so he doesn’t surrender under Jungkook’s callous attitude towards him.

He tries to thank him.

He tries to express how much he sincerely wishes he'd had the privilege of having Jungkook in his life—that he's missed him.

He just wants to have a civil, normal conversation with Jungkook. Jimin just wants to see if Jungkook will have him in any capacity in his life.

But Jimin senses Jungkook’s not interested in having him around at all—if the way he describes their former relationship as “meaningless shit” is an accurate measure of how he feels.

Jimin knows he deserves this—that he’d done this to himself.

Jungkook’s insouciant behavior is enough to dissuade Jimin’s dreams of ever gaining his love back again—and deserving that love.

So, he stays silent and just watches wearily as his ex-boyfriend walks into the shower where Jungkook lingers long after Jimin houses himself and his cancerous sadness in the safety of his room.

He thought he’d been getting better, but he’s back at square one again. Except he doesn’t have Jungkook this time.

---

Chapter Text

It’s been some time since Seokjin’s party, and Jungkook’s still riding the high, taking several more dedicated steps into moving on. He’s determined this time, it will stick.

He goes on a few dates, coming home later than usual, always greeted by Taehyung’s probing questions and occasionally to Jimin’s inquisitive gaze. Jungkook ignores Taehyung as usual, shoving his nosy face away, and feigns ignorance to his ex-boyfriend’s curiosity. It’s easier that way.

Taehyung’s normally diplomatic about concealing Jungkook’s whereabouts for Jimin’s sake but on one unfortunate occasion, his overzealous enthusiasm had gotten the best of him.

Jungkook had barely stepped through the doorway and Taehyung pounces on him, an arsenal of questions stocked and prepped, intrusive bullets pelted out of the barrel of his loud mouth.

“So, how was the campus frat boy? Was it the best date you’ve ever been on? Or was he a pompous jerk? Or…realistically, was he just all brawn and no brain, ‘cause that’s what I’m bankin’ my bottom dollar on,” Taehyung guesses loudly, not bothering to modulate the volume of his deep voice.

Jimin walks in in the middle of their roommate’s imaginative conjectures.

Though Jungkook’s tried his best to ignore noticing any extraneous details about Jimin for his own well-being, but it’s hard to ignore the blue tinge Jimin’s skin has taken, the purple circles beneath his eyes, swollen and full of fluid.

He looks perpetually ill.

And as he hears Taehyung’s snoopy inquiries, Jimin’s skin takes a further turn for the worse, so pale that Jungkook feels as though he’s almost transparent.

“Yo-you went on a date?” he asks timidly.

Jungkook nods jerkily.

He’s never been a skillful liar even at the best of times—especially when it comes to Jimin.

Even if he needs to move on from Jimin, he doesn’t necessarily want to take a vested effort to hurt him. He’d already blundered by kissing Taehyung in a open area where Jimin had spotted him, judging by the stern look of disapproval on Namjoon’s face the next time Jungkook sees him after the party.

Vindication comes at too high a price, Jungkook thinks himself.

And isn’t that the truth—after all, it’s like bargaining one’s soul away, just to feel the ephemeral bliss of injuring someone else, only leaving both individuals equally bereft.

And even if it wasn’t intentional on his part—or Taehyung’s—as he watches Jimin hum weakly and walk away from him with his shoulders hunched over in defeat, Jungkook strongly feels that revenge is only for the heartless.

+++

It’s an all-out war at the Jeon’s abode.

Their mother has had to intervene numerous times, completely fed up with their hollers of indignation and shrieks of joy, at her wit’s end with her “foolish children”. They’d barely absorbed a word she’s said.

Gaming is a serious affair for the two boys.

They’d paused the game, Jungkook having had to take a washroom break, grabbing numerous snacks on his way back to the rec room.

Junghyun’s absent-mindedly tapping his fingers on his thigh and just as Jungkook’s about the complain about the extended period of time he’s taking to resume the game, he speaks.

“So, I have to tell you something.”

Jungkook stares at him blankly.

“Okay,” he responds slowly, stretching the vowel out in trepidation.

Junghyun chews his lower lip nervously, before he confesses, “I saw Jimin, like a month ago or something, I don’t know.”

Grunting in annoyance, Jungkook rolls his eyes.

“Okay. And?”

He tries to deny that his heartrate had picked up at the sound of his ex-boyfriend’s name.

“I don’t know, I just felt like I should tell you,” Junghyun shrugs, staring at Jungkook unblinkingly.

Curiosity may have killed the cat but Jungkook’s no feline, so without further ado, Jungkook encourages his brother to provide more detail.

“So, what’d you say?”

“Nothing.”

Jungkook’s irritated now, uncertain of Junghyun’s underlying motives for bringing up such an unpleasant topic when it seems as though there isn’t much enlightening content following his admission. 

“Nothing?” he parrots, deadpan and sardonic.

Junghyun nods slowly.

“Yeah, he called my name and waved at me and I just, erm, ignored him.”

Jungkook winces—he knows how hard Jimin would’ve take the slight, sensitive to any perceivable offense by his friends as though he was a goaltender who ran for shelter at every shot the opposing team took.

“Hyung…” he scolds gently.

Junghyun groans in agreement.

“I know, I know, but I was really angry, you know,” he explains desperately, “When you told me everything, I felt sick, and I just wanted someone to blame. And you’re my baby brother. I didn’t want it to be you.”

His brother’s baiting him, a verbal worm that lingers in the terse air and perhaps Jungkook is a foolishly dauntless feline after all, because he pounces on it, demanding his curiosity to be fed.

“But?” he prompts edgily.

His brother emphatically emphasizes, “Jimin fucked up.”

But?”

A pause.

“But so did you,” he finishes, his eyes holding Jungkook’s.

Defensive, he rolls his shoulders back and turns his body to face his brother.

“Uh-huh,” Jungkook answers skeptically, drawing the sound out as far as he can stretch it before it snaps.

Junghyun isn’t taking his bullshit.

“No, really, Jungkookie, listen—yeah, he hurt you and confused you and misled you and whatnot. That’s exactly why I’m so angry with him. But you weren’t innocent either, were you?”

Jungkook jumps to his feet like a domestic cat goaded by its enemies until it summons its feral instincts, hissing and baring its teeth threateningly.

“Hyung. What are you trying to say here?” he demands hotly.

His brother stands up and closer to him, pushing him back onto the couch from which he’d leaped.

He snaps unapologetically, “No, don’t fucking start with me, Jungkook. Sit down and listen to me. I mean it.”

Waving his hands around, gesticulating wildly, Junghyun explains his point like an overexuberant professor teaching for the first time.

“I’m not saying this to hurt you or be an asshole, but you can’t just sit there and victimize yourself. Jimin fucked up, we’ve already established this, but so did you. You didn’t have to keep hooking up with him. You didn’t have to take part in him cheating on his girlfriend. You didn’t have to do anything. You wanted to do it and maybe your feelings for him fucked with your decision-making skills, that’s understandable.”

Self-righteous anger quelled rapidly by the irksome realities his brother call attention to, Jungkook sits with his hands crossed and head bowed like a disobedient student.

“Anyone who hears what Jimin did to you is going to take your side. Me? I was always going to take your side even if you did to Jimin what he did to you. But I wasn’t fair to him either and gave you a free fucking pass without really thinking about your part in the situation. It was rash—and unfair—of me. But I’d hate myself if I enabled you to make poor decisions without having you evaluate yourself properly too. That’s not what people who love you should do.”

He doesn’t want to agree, but Jungkook’s not stupid. And more importantly, he’s not unfair either.

Knowingly, as though he can penetrate through the clusterfuck of Jungkook’s mind, his brother smiles empathetically.

“But Jungkookie, you know that, don’t you?”

He does.

“Of course, he fucked up badly, and I’ll always harbor some anger towards him for that,” Junghyun admits softly, kneeling in front of his younger brother.

He places his hand on Jungkook’s head and gently pats him. 

 “But so did you.”

The truth can be hard to hear, but Jungkook’s never experienced it as a dagger before, slitting the fragile material of his eardrums until they are membranous confetti. 

“I love you, you’re family, you’re my brother. But I can’t protect you from the mistakes you’ve made. I can only help you through them—without judging and without condemning you,” Junghyun promises firmly.

Jungkook nods, knowing he needs to survive this conversation and make peace with the truth in order for him to truly make progress in life, inching away from the treacherous waters he’d fallen into so many times in reprise.

His brother essentially articulates his private musings as he suggests, “Maybe it’s time that you just admit you fucked up too and just start moving on in your life—it happened and it sucked and now you’ve just gotta keep it moving, okay?”

Jungkook nods again.

+++

Evolution isn’t an immediate process.

Changing old habits isn’t either.

But this time Jungkook’s committed to bettering himself and he thinks that’s the greatest difference so far.

+++

It’s in late May that Jungkook spots a familiar, unwanted face—the loser guy that Jimin had been hooking up with the night he’d forgotten about the concert. He’s standing in front of him in line at the café near Jungkook’s apartment.

Instantly, his heart swells with potent dislike, overwhelming every other thought he’d been entertaining prior to this unfortunate coincidence.  He’s been doing so well, he doesn’t need this tangible reminder of the bleaker times of last year.

And Jungkook’s got to give it to Fate—unscrupulous at worst, mischievous at best—because as they wait in the enormous line, they’re regaling stories of past lays and bed mates at an audacious volume and in impolite detail.  

Ugh. Just what Jungkook really needed to hear.

Initially, he tunes them out until he hears a familiar name, snapping his attention to full mast.

 “Yeah, man, I thought that he’d be an easy lay, but guess that Park Jimin’s too much of a challenge for even you, hey?” his friend teases, punching the guy in the arm lightly.

There’s an interim in the conversation where they place their orders in with the barista before they continue their conversation at a further distance in front of the drink counter, Jungkook’s ears pricking desperately to hear what they’ve got to say.

“Fuck off, hater—his roommate or friend or whoever the fuck just fuckin’ stormed in and ruined my chances. I’m tellin’ you, five more minutes, and…” the guy trails off, waggling his eyebrows lasciviously, making obscene hand gestures.

Jungkook wants to vomit.

His friend looks amused. Jungkook would love to peel that smug expression right off the flesh of his face.

“Yeah? You sure about that?”

The guy snorts condescendingly, and if Jungkook had objectively thought he’d been attractive before (on nights where he’d hopelessly compared himself to this guy), his appeal dips immensely with each ugly word he utters.

“Yeah, man, he was piss drunk too when I saw him at the pub, so I’d reckon he’d be down for anything at that point. Didn’t talk much but didn’t stop him from letting me come up to his room,” the guy claims, the pair of them bursting into obnoxious guffaws.

Jungkook frowns a little, not knowing that Jimin had been drinking that day. In fact, his infallible memory for anything involving his ex reminds him that Jimin had had a full stack of classes that day before their plans for the evening.

His friend stops laughing long enough to ask, “Yeah, but dude, didn’t you say he was being a real buzzkill that day?”

The guy shrugs, completely indifferent.

“Yeah, I mean, he’d obviously had a bad day or something, but man, whatever,” he smirks, “He probably just needed a good fuck to get that sadness right out of his system. Good thing he’s super hot though, no one wants to fuck some miserable, ugly bitch.”

Jungkook steps up, positively livid, unalloyed rage flaring wildly inside his body, a feral firestorm blazing. All he can see is red. He’s never had such a visceral response to someone, the disgusting rhetoric uttered from this despicable cockroach of a human being, eliciting a level of anger he’d never experienced before. 

How dare this asshole think he’s entitled to anyone’s body or time when he seems to hardly comprehend the concept of consent.

He takes a step forward towards the two, apathetic to losing his place in line, feeling his fist forming and arm muscles bracing for impact, preparing for a few shattered bones (whether it’s his own or the filthy asshole’s in front of him, he doesn’t care) when—

“Two large Americanos!”

The guy and his friend walk over to the counter to pick up grab their orders and leave Jungkook stewing in their dust as they leave through the exit doors opposite to where he stands.

He staggers forward a bit, customers and workers alike blinking at him awkwardly, as he loses his balance—and his chance to confront the guy.

Jungkook may not have forgiven Jimin entirely, but suddenly, he thinks there’s a few puzzle pieces missing in his understanding of his ex-boyfriend.

He frowns.

+++

When he goes home that day, Jungkook does something he hasn’t done of his own volition in a while, driven by an inexplicable impulse that he just hadn’t been able to squash.

He walks past his door until he finds himself in front of Jimin’s.

Taking a deep breath, he knocks.

No response.

Jungkook leans back, brows furrowed, as he stares at the front step.

Jimin’s favourite pair of shoes and his jacket are in visible sight. Normally, that’s indication enough that he’d be home.

He tries again.

This time, a feeble croak is audible.

“Come in.”

Jungkook pops his head in cautiously, blinking as he tries to adjust to the pitch blackness of the room. The weak beam of light from the hallway is his only source of illumination.

In disbelief, he calls loudly, “Jimin-hyung?”

He pulls a face, a little embarrassed by the way his voice rings obnoxiously into the relative quiet of Jimin’s room.

But the small lump in the center of Jimin’s bed barely stirs, undeterred by his spontaneous entrance.

His heart sinks, a feeling of dread capturing it in its spidery fingers, before it crushes it, leaving a bloody mess in Jungkook’s chest. From the vanquished flesh arises suspicion which swiftly blooms into concern that Jungkook isn’t able to weed out.

“Do you need something?”

Jimin’s vocal cords are cracking and seem to be rubbing uncomfortably against one another from dehydration or underusage, Jungkook’s not sure.

Struggling through discomfort strong enough to repel him from advancing the conversation on a regular day, Jungkook clumsily dances through the painful conversation.

“Ah, no, hyung, not really, I jus—are you okay? Were you sleeping? Did I interrupt a nap?”

Silence.

“No,” Jimin replies flatly.

“No?”

“No.”

And before Jungkook can try prodding for more insightful answers, Jimin speaks.

“If you don’t need anything, can you just please close the door behind you?” he requests meekly, voice barely carrying over to the door where Jungkook stands less than three meters away.

Unable to find a reason to decline his appeal, Jungkook acquiesces, pulling the door shut with a soft click.

But he remains standing outside of his ex-boyfriend’s door, deep in thought, until Taehyung comes home some twenty minutes later.

“Jungkook?”

+++

It’s July and while the flowers are in full bloom and the sun is broiling the citizens of the city, Jungkook’s hardened heart has softened towards his ex-boyfriend.

While he doesn’t necessarily want to fault pity for the sudden emergence of clemency he feels towards his ex-boyfriend, it’s hard to not discern that his inability to tunnel his single-minded anger towards Jimin stems from his hyung’s current fragile state.

Jimin’s formerly fleshy cheeks have sunken in so deeply that its just a thin sheet of skin that coats his bones and his collarbones jut out with the aggressiveness of a barbaric caveman.

It seems brutish to target such a sickly quarry and even Jungkook isn’t that heartless.  

Besides, he’s come to recognize that he could’ve done better and been better for both himself and for Jimin. And with that epiphany, he’d been able to forgive himself –subsequently, he begins to sincerely forgive Jimin in turn.

And in the absence of his spitefulness, he rediscovers the clear reservoir holding the tender fondness he’d had for his best friend. In all the messiness of their post-breakup “arrangement”, he’d forgotten all about the love he’d always held for Jimin as his friend. And as he looks and looks and looks, his face falls as he finally remembers how deep his love for his friend had always been and how little he’s been demonstrating that love in recent days.

Retrospectively, he’s ashamed by the cruelty of his past behavior.

When Jungkook re-evaluates his merciless refusal to permit Jimin to make amends in his own timid way following the night of Seokjin’s party, deafened by the sound of his heart breaking and blinded by the sight of Jimin toying with his feelings, he’s just ashamed.

And he now acknowledges even if Jimin had only possessed selfish intentions to manipulate Jungkook to abide by his capricious whims, he still could have taken the initiative to be a better person. But he hadn’t. He’d just sunken right alongside Jimin—the sidekick to a foolhardy captain.

Besides, as Junghyun had pointed out, Jungkook wasn’t infallible—he’s smeared with the taint of his own poor decisions.

His actions would’ve and could’ve hurt Seulgi had she known about their combined indiscretions; he hadn’t been an ignorant mistress, he’d been a willing participant.

He’d also wrangled Taehyung into his chaos, kissing someone who’d been acquainted with Jimin first. And while he genuinely hadn’t selected his—their—roommate with the intentions of scrambling the mess up further, he realizes now what a terrible misstep that’d been (Junghyun and Namjoon had both been incredibly unimpressed, indisputably appalled by his idiocy).

All this time, Jungkook had been so focused on his own grievances, he’d skimmed over his own involvement in the situation. He hadn’t been taking any accountability.

And with the recognition of all his own lapses in judgments, how fair is he being to Jimin? It’s not benefiting him to leave his hatred simmering on low heat, bubbling in the background at all given times.

So, as he finally lets go, the pressure easing out of him at long last, and sitting in front of the reservoir in his heart, Jungkook’s finally left with a sense of impending tranquility.

+++

On the battlefield of love, peace comes at a price.

It’s so much quieter and stiller in Jungkook’s mind, leaving plenty of space for his worries about Jimin to meander in and eventually inhabit, camping out like unwanted visitors.

He’d been able to ignore so much when he’d stayed with Yoongi, but now that he’s back in the shared apartment—and paying attention this time—Jungkook can’t help but notice more and more unsettling details about his friend.

Jimin’s lost more weight—which doesn’t surprise Jungkook with the dedicated way he skips meals, claiming that he’d eaten earlier, blatant lies.

He’s also taken up napping at ill-advised times of the day, Jungkook frequently coming home to Jimin snoozing restlessly on the couch (infrequently) or in his room.

But most alarming is how frequently he’s prone to drifting off mid-sentence or conversation, eyes drifting out of focus before eventually dribbling back into the moment, as if he’d returned from a temporary leave.

Jungkook had always known Jimin had a proclivity for being self-deprecating to the point of being self-destructive, but he’d always prided himself on guiding his best friend off the ledge into the haven of his arms where he can guarantee his hyung wouldn’t be a lemming to his ruinous tendencies. 

But now there’s a such a conspicuous distance between the pair of them, and Jungkook worries if Jimin takes off for the precipice again, no matter how quickly he sprints to save him, he won’t make it in time to usher him away from the edge. 

+++

Jungkook knows he promised his brother—and himself—to look out for number one to better himself.

But he can’t help himself from worrying about Jimin.

Now that he’s noticed the alarming rate with which Jimin is retreating further and further into the safety of his shell, he can’t help but keep his wary eye on him—however inadvisable as it may be.

But this time, he promises himself he won’t allow his vigilant attentiveness to Jimin to stunt his own growth.

+++

He doesn’t do too much, afraid if he bursts out of the gates with too much gusto, his ex-boyfriend will get spooked, veering off track until he disappears from sight.

Jungkook begins greeting Jimin with a little more enthusiasm again. 

Sometimes, he’ll shyly offer to make him coffee in the mornings.

He buys Jimin’s favourite snacks when he makes a trip to the convenience store.

Once, he silently goes to run a bath for him when Jimin comes home holding his back tenderly, a wordless complaint of pain.

He doesn’t do all these things in the span of a single day, knowing it’d be overkill, but he does them whenever he can.

It’s not much, but he hopes Jimin will start smiling a little more again.

Because when he thinks about it, it scares him to realize he doesn’t remember the last time he’s seen or heard Jimin laugh.

+++

Jungkook has a lot to chew on tonight.

And while yes, he does mean that in the literal sense, as he’s gulping down his second helping of rice, he mostly means that he’s observed a curious little detail.

It’s in Jungkook’s recent experience that Jimin looks perpetually lost and confused at Jungkook’s lumbering attempts to reach out to him. 

For instance, Jimin might reciprocate Jungkook’s greetings to him but they’re always stilted and fractured with uncertainty, mouth agape in puzzlement.

Or he’ll leave a significant pause in between the moment Jungkook offers to make that second cup of coffee for him, his acceptance always lilted upwards as though he’s asking a question, instead of asserting himself.

(“Coffee, hyung?”

“…Er. Yes?”)

When Jungkook tosses Jimin’s favourite snack at him on the bed, his hyung will rouse from sleep, eyes heavy and swollen. Then he’ll always look at Jungkook, sad eyes unfocused and distant as he asks, “Did you buy too many for yourself again, Jungkook? Ah, maybe Taehyung will want them, you should ask him…”

And the one occasion Jungkook draws a bath for him, Jimin tries to steal away to his room, evidently thinking the youngest roommate would be cold enough to leave him in pain while he soaks comfortably under lavender bath-salted waters. 

That last interaction with Jimin had startled Jungkook, rattling him to his core, wondering if his hyung really thought so poorly of him (though he concedes that perhaps he’d deserve it if Jimin did).

It’d left him wondering how no one else around Jimin seems to be concerned as equally concerned.

But as he critically analyzes Jimin at the first Jeon family dinner that his hyung had attended with Jihyun since he’d been banished by Jungkook, the younger boy realizes how he’s been deceiving everyone.

In front of the Jeons’, Jimin is a radiant ray of light, smiling widely and eyes twinkling bedazzlingly. He makes sly jokes timed exactly right moment. He contributes intelligent, cohesive arguments to political discussions. Social chameleon, he collaborates with the climate and environment around him to ensure he won’t aggravate his dinner table peers.

It’s frightening to witness the ease with which Jimin switches from his despondent self to this effervescent, bright personality.

Shrewd eyes keeping vigil over Jimin, he sees the way his hyung’s shoulders slump forward ever-so-slightly, imperceptible to most, when he thinks no one’s looking. Jungkook doesn’t miss how Jimin frequently sighs, though he mutes the sound, as to not expose his weariness.

Occasionally, during lulls in Jimin’s participation, Jungkook notices how Jihyun will look over with soft, worried eyes at his older brother. Jimin doesn’t seem notice.

Jungkook’s eyes meet Junghyun’s over the dinner table.

His brother also looks mildly perturbed, brows furrowed in unconcealed concern, watching the way Jimin’s playing with his food, elaborately bringing his chopsticks to his mouth before eventually depositing all the food back onto his plate, a single bite never taken.

Jungkook feels the twinge of infant guilt into his belly proliferate into full-fledged remorse.

Suddenly, he’s not so hungry anymore either.

+++ 

As Jimin’s lingering in the hallway, saying his final goodbyes to Jungkook’s parents who shower him with compliments and claims of missing him, Jungkook grabs Jihyun by the arm and pulls him aside. Junghyun casually follows them.

In a low voice, Jungkook asks hurriedly, “Is your brother okay?”

Jihyun’s mouth is set dangerously, a sharp slash across his face, before he defiantly snaps at him, the malice braided into every word he spits.

“You live with him. Why don’t you tell me, Jungkook.”

He should know, but he doesn’t. He stutters under Jihyun’s towering rage.

“I-I don’t know, Jihyun. That’s why I’m asking you.”

Jihyun yanks his arm out of Jungkook’s reach and shoves him angrily. Junghyun clicks his tongue disapprovingly but doesn’t move from his post against the wall where he leans, eyes flicking nervously from Jihyun to Jungokook and back. 

“Maybe you should ask Taehyung too. Maybe he’ll know what’s wrong better than you.”

Reeling back from the unfiltered rage in Jihyun’s voice, finally understanding the depth that Jimin’s spoken to his brother about their situation, Jungkook cowers under his disparaging voice, but he still tries to explain himself.

“I told you, Jimin hurt me too. I jus—”

“Oh, give it a rest, Jungkook. You wanted to fucking hurt him and you succeeded. Are you fucking happy now?” Jihyun hisses, chest-to-chest with Jungkook, fearless despite being marginally slighter than him.

Finally, Junghyun steps in and very gently pushes Jihyun away from Jungkook. But despite the reserved way he intervenes, Junghyun’s words are less temperate, a sickly sweet edge to them.

“Now don’t forget, Jihyunie, that your brother fucked around with my brother’s feelings for multiple years before you get up in Jungkookie’s face.”

The younger Park’s face is stained red, gritting his teeth, but he nods.

Taken aback, surprised by his compliance at first, Jungkook quickly realizes it’s because Jimin had popped his head in, looking from one person to the next, gradually growing uncomfortable with the tense air in the room.

“Jihyun? Are w-we….is everything okay in here?”

Jihyun doesn’t answer, but heads for the front door, dragging his older brother behind him.

He doesn’t turn back to say goodbye to the Jeon brothers.

+++

Jungkook’s always known Jimin was prone to stress.

Throughout the duration of their relationship, he’d noticed and kept note of the little tells that Jimin had.

For instance, the way he’d isolated himself from his friends and family after he’d gotten an unsatisfactory test grade or the occasions where he’d hid his tears when he felt he’d wronged someone—however unintentionally. But despite Jimin’s longstanding poor coping mechanisms, it hadn’t been enough to stir the type of worry Jungkook feels now.

With a few lame jokes following an hour or so of coercing Jimin into opening up to him about his troubles, a wide smile would eventually break through the surface of his maudlin countenance and Jungkook’s concerns would be assuaged.

But now…

Jungkook’s disturbed by the egregious changes in Jimin. And the warning signs are just multiplying in front of his eyes.

He notices a few more distressing behavioural deviations from what he’s known to be Jimin’s baseline characteristics. 

Once Jungkook had spotted Jimin in the far-off distance of their university courtyard. He’d been debating over whether he ought to approach his hyung but before he could finalize his decision, one of Jimin’s friends had leapt over to him, grabbing his shoulders tightly and shaking him.

At first, a little embittered that his opportunity had been robbed by an nameless bandit, he’d just scowled, but eventually he’d tried his best to read lips since he was at too far a distance to hear what Jimin’s friend is saying. But what he hadn’t been too far for was missing the way his hyung had flinched back terribly.

Normally a tactile human being, Jimin would sink into the touches of his friends, even after an initial start. But instead, Jimin had instantly jumped under the scare, then gradually slunk away from his friend’s affectionate touches, slow and steady as if to abide by societal decorum.

Then there’s the way that Jimin leaves their apartment and enters their apartment always rubbing at the sides of his head, as if to alleviate the pressure of a persistent bug wriggling around the thin skin of his temples.

Once, when he’d caught him massaging his head, Jungkook had tentatively inquired if Jimin had needed any medication. Jimin had just stared blankly at him and asked, puzzled, “For what?”

As if he’d gotten so accustomed to the persistent buzzing in his head, a familiar thrumming like crickets in the backyard in early summer mornings, just simple white noise.

Jungkook had just shrugged, mumbling embarrassedly, “Never mind.”

But no one else except Jihyun and the occupants of the apartment seem to notice how far Jimin’s unravelling.

He’s so damn genial and soft in their group of friends, if a little quieter and unresponsive than before, and Jimin always manages to charm his way through questions of concern from Namjoon or Hoseok, attributing his occasionally taciturn ways to his hectic schedule. They look dubious, but they don’t press him.

Jungkook wants to scream in frustration.

What’s wrong, he cries internally, his eyes digging into the back of Jimin’s head, where he superimposes the image of a gaudy question mark, forever taunting Jungkook for his inability to penetrate through the thick bone of his hyung’s skull into the neural connections of Jimin’s mind where all the answers he seeks are being held captive.

But he’s lost the right to ask Jimin anything. And he was the one who’d chased him away.

This just isn't good enough for me anymore, he’d snippily informed him in January, ignoring the way Jimin looked crushed, blinded by his self-righteous rage.

He can’t blame himself entirely, he knows this, the residual smear of bitterness left on the canvas of his heart reminding him frequently of Jimin’s faults—after all, his hyung had been plenty culpable in their combined mess.

But for all of Jimin’s selfish ways and questionable decisions, Jungkook really begins to reel in fear as he recalls the way his hyung had recoiled from answering his sharp questions that fateful day half a year ago, nearly in tears and curled over as though he was internally keening in despair.

Please don’t make me answer, Jungkook, Jimin had begged, body shaking and mouth quivering.

Why hadn’t Jungkook noticed then that something had been awry then?

And at the time Jungkook hadn’t been ready to consider leniency, paltry rage consuming him, discounting any of Jimin’s explanations or prosing as redundant minutiae that he didn’t have time to listen to.

He knows this. He’s replayed those awful memories before he falls asleep so many times in repetition sometimes Jungkook wonders if the words and actions of his mind are accurate anymore or if they’re just a sick parody of his former reality. 

The anger that he’d accumulated over those months—years—feeling used and discarded by Jimin had amassed like hoards of disgruntled cicadas, shrieking in alarmingly shrill tones, deafening him and muting any sense of logic or mercy he would’ve otherwise been able to summon in times where he hadn’t been under such duress.

Sometimes, even as he takes step in forgiving Jimin, he regresses when he really revisits the feelings and aura of that period of his life—his own personal zeitgeist.

But as time continues to elapse, mind a little clearer and heart a little fuller, each vessel emptied of his petty resentment, draining until he’s peering through transparent lenses again, he’s constantly battered with the knowledge that the tenderness for he feels for his hyung hadn’t perished—just dormant, in hibernation as Jungkook licked his wounds so to speak.

And as Jungkook works to better himself, he can’t help but notice that Jimin’s getting worse.

Judging by Jihyun’s contempt towards him, he has good reason to be worried.

+++

Jungkook worries over Jimin, he won’t deny this.

But this time, he still manages to keep himself together, prioritizing his own health as well.

He attends the gym regularly, games with Taehyung and Junghyun when he’s got time, hangs out with his friends whenever he’s able to, picks up the very occasional book, and explores new hobbies to pick up.

He buys himself a new phone (“Treat yourself!” Hoseok enables cheerfully).

Jimin’s always on his mind, but he never capitulates his own self-worth or self-preservation—not this time.

He thinks he’s beginning to figure it out.

But can he still help Jimin after everything?

+++

Chapter Text

It’s a lazy July weekday evening, Taehyung and Jungkook are leaning into each other as they scan the television for programs to watch in their boredom. They’ve both got their feet on the living room table, cups scattering it without coasters beneath them, snack bags littering their surroundings.

They’d had every intention of cleaning up before starting another television show, but that’d been about two and a half programs ago that they’d said that.

Taehyung suspects that neither of them is really paying attention to what they’re supposedly watching, minds full and occupied.

Lately, he’s had a lot of invasive thoughts and despite his reticent personality, tending to stuff his feelings into the decanter of his soul until it can't be contained and combusts into a multicolor explosion of poorly worded rants, Taehyung isn’t sure he can keep his silence for much longer.

“Jungkook-ah?”

Remotely unstartled, Jungkook doesn’t stir.

“Yeah?” he grunts from Taehyung’s side.

He pauses, then softly, a bit insecure—

“Can we talk?”

***

He isn’t even able to talk in full sentences when his mother leaves for the first time.

Taehyung is just two years old.

***

Sensing his somber tone, Jungkook starts a little, and angles his head to face Taehyung.

Dreading the discussion ahead, Taehyung breaths in deeply, summoning every morsel and mote of courage he possesses in his body, and when he breathes out, he’ll exhale his truth.

***

Taehyung is five, nearly six, when she returns, with a small, worn grey rucksack with her financial resources and dignity depleted. Taehyung’s father, Hyunsik, looks flabbergasted. But once he recovers, his expression of bafflement disappears and one of utter adoration covers his face.

Having never met her, only hearing about her fondly from anecdotes his father shares or through polite answers his grandparents stiffly provide him with when he asks them about her, Taehyung’s a little bewitched.

Everyone’s told him that he favours her in looks. He thinks maybe he has her eyes and mouth.

He also notices a peculiar odour follows her around, a little too acrid and potent for his sensitive nostrils and he makes a face.

Luckily, she’s obvious. That could be because she’s barely spent a moment looking at him.

What do I call her, he wonders.

From the moment she’d entered the house, she’d headed straight for Hyunsik’s arms as if Taehyung was an ordinary fleck on the wall, forgotten and unnoticed. She begs Hyunsik to let her come back.

“Taehyung needs me, he needs his mother, don’t you, Taehyung-ah?” she pleads, holding on to his father’s shirt by the scruff, as she looks over at her son, the first she’s spared him any of her attention.

He can’t help the childish pleasure that rushes through him, finally acknowledged by the woman who’d conceived him as he longs for her touch and her love.

But shy, little Taehyung doesn’t answer, holding on to his favourite toy, a grubby and well-loved bunny stuffy, staring at a woman he doesn’t remember.

She grows impatient, shuffling and squirming as the silence stretches, and finally she turns her attention away from her quiet son.

“Besides, don’t you want me come back too?”

A loud sigh is the only response Hyunsik gives her, staring at her wearily. He’s buckling under her doe-eyes and wide mouth. Taehyung thinks for the second time that his grandparents weren’t wrong when they’d informed him that he resembled her.  

“Hyunsik-ah, you know I love you, right? I love you,” she promises, shaking him. There’s a coy little swing to her voice, a bop and a dip, tantalizing to her long-estranged husband.

Taehyung watches with curious eyes as his father draws his mother into his arms, back hunched over in defeat as his eyes close, concealing the hidden repository of love that his son doesn’t miss.

But Taehyung doesn’t say anything.

***

Jungkook nods.

But childish punk that he is, he can’t resist his pretense of being disagreeable.

“Sure, of course, unless it’s about that mug that you’re still trying to blame me for breaking last week beca—”

Refusing to be derailed before he even embarks on this conversationally tumultuous journey, Taehyung makes a frustrated noise in his throat and interjects irritably.

“No, Jungkook, it’s not.”

Not even in a minute into this conversation and Taehyung’s already finding this dialog intolerable.

Abashed, Jungkook rubs his scalp sheepishly.

“Oh, erm, okay. What’s up?”

Without a pause, Taehyung blurts out, “I just…I don’t have feelings for you.”

Jungkook looks insulted as he shoves Taehyung roughly. After he settles back down, leaning into Taehyung, no real offense taken, he points out wryly, “Okay, great, hyung, I thought we established that already.”

More anxious than he’d ever been in life before, unaccustomed to openly baring his honest feelings and thoughts—even less adapted to revealing his past—Taehyung starts trembling a little.

His leg shakes and his fingers quake in nervousness.

He’s a polar bear tossed into a tropical jungle, specialized evolutionary adaptations useless in a foreign region.

It doesn’t escape Jungkook’s notice, as his eyes dart around curiously. A look of apprehension begins to cloud his visage, and his younger roommate straightens up a bit as if proper posture was the cure for everything.

Taehyung wishes.

“Yeah, but you know that, right? I’m not in love with you,” he reiterates firmly.

He pauses, wondering if he really has the audacity to bludgeon Jungkook with the harsh reality.

“And you’re in categorically still in love with Jimin.”

Affronted expression sliding into an artificially neutral one, Jungkook mumbles incoherently.

“I mean…”

Taehyung shoots him a meaningful look and leans in, eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“Are you going to deny it?”

“We’re just friends,” Jungkook defends himself defiantly, rolling his eyes and crossing his arms like a sulky child.

Despite the deflection, Taehyung notices the absence of an outright denial, and he backs off, smiling triumphantly.

“Okay then.”

A short silence falls, Jungkook left perplexed and Taehyung contemplating how to best attack this conversation.

Impatient, Jungkook eventually breaks the silence, asking shortly, “So, why’re you bringing this up again? Just to wound my ego?”

Taehyung snorts.

Affronted by the casual approach Taehyung seems to be adopting for the ostensibly serious discussion he’d opened the floor to, Jungkook can’t seem to refrain from dipping into his stockpile of sardonic comments. 

“There’s only so much rejection I can take before you break my heart.”

Taehyung tries to suppress a violent flinch.

Ah, what poor wording, Taehyung thinks.

***

Hyunsik is a dependable and loving man—a relief since the extended intermissions between each of Taehyung's mother's appearances are long and unpredictable. And while his father is running a single man show, Taehyung relies on being sustained by his paternal love.

(He always feels fortunate that Hyunsik’s love never ebbs and flows with the tide of Taehyung’s mother’s presence.)

Taehyung doesn’t remember much during the period when his mother had left for the first time, but he does remember when she leaves next, six months after coming back.

One would expect the meteoric departure of their maternal figure to be a noteworthy event, but it'd been unspectacular by all definitions.

“Where’s mom?” Taehyung had asked one day, chubby fingers still grasping tightly onto Hyunsik’s hand, when they enter an uncharacteristically quiet home.

Normally, when they’d enter, Taehyung would hear the distant sounds of glasses being washed and bottles clinking loudly, like haughty wind chimes that’d been struck by a particularly quarrelsome breeze.

At Taehyung’s innocent inquiry, Hyunsik pauses.

He kneels in front of Taehyung and holds him by his small, feeble shoulders as he tells him, “She’s gone, Taehyung-ah. I’m sorry.”

Taehyung thinks he should want to cry.

But he hadn’t gotten to know her well enough to know if he’ll miss her.

Spotting the bereaved look in his father’s eyes, he wants to cry anyway.

Hyunsik had looked at Taehyung’s mother as if she was a celestial blessing when she’d arrived on their doorstep six months prior. Now, he looks like a man who’d been robbed of the only sliver of heaven he’d ever known.

Taehyung wants to cry in his father’s stead, but instead he gives his father an enormous hug, squeezing as tightly as he can, trying to absolve Hyunsik from the burden of his sadness.  

Hyungsik hugs him back, nuzzling his face into his son’s hair and if Taehyung feels wetness on his scalp, he doesn’t say anything.

***

Despite the unforeseen ripple, Taehyung tries to swim through the unforgiving currents of their awkward conversation, trying to surface in a pocket of still waters where he could tread carefully forward without fear of drowning in the dark depths of memories he doesn’t like to plunge into.

 “No, I just thought to myself. I haven’t been a great friend lately,” he confesses.

Jungkook hums, a sound to showcase his interest in the conversation, but he seems to take offense to the way Taehyung’s portrayed himself.

“I mean, you’re pretty great to me.”

This truth comes at a cost.

And Taehyung forces himself to speak, sweating a little under the pressure of acknowledging his transgressions.

“To Jimin though?”

The silence following his question is answer enough.

Taehyung wonders if Jungkook is remembering the conversation they’d had in the kitchen after they’d hooked up at Seokjin’s party—even then, his younger roommate had been skeptical about his treatment of Jimin.

Rightfully so, he scolds himself reproachfully.

“No, I can’t say that you have been—to be honest. If you’re asking” Jungkook concedes gently, trying to soften the blow.

But it’s a seamless assault, strike landing just where it should injure him the most, but Taehyung thinks that he probably deserves it—for his thoughtless reactions to Jimin’s senseless actions.

“I wasn’t. But I know that.”

Jungkook’s completely facing him now, crossing his legs on the couch as he faces his roommate, a small frown on his face.

Taehyung’s really trembling now, knowing the impending conversation will have him delving into past wounds and hurts that he hardly willingly exposes in fear of total emotional annihilation. It’s his soft underbelly, one that’s already reasonably bloodied and scattered with gaping gashes, an open bar cocktail party for bacteria to congregate at and infest, until the infection kills the beast.

He doesn’t want to reveal his most vulnerable innards only to have someone take the insurmountable pains of his life and turn it into a joke. But even greater than that worry is the fear he possesses they’ll hear what he says before he comes to realize that they weren’t listening to anything he’s said at all.

“Are you going to tell me why that is?” Jungkook prods curiously.

He tries to delay the inevitable.

“It’s a long story,” he insists, a spineless attempt to divert the trajectory of Jungkook’s attention.

But it’s fruitless as Jungkook just shrugs and pats his arm comfortingly.

“I can listen. You’ve listened to me a lot over the months.”

Sighing, Taehyung inhales, feeling as though any gulp of air is too infinitesimal to support him through this conversation.

“Well, then, it started when I was two years old and I couldn't speak in full sentences...”

***

The next time his mother returns is when Taehyung’s nine years old.

By then, his favourite toy has been left long forgotten and he’s been gifted fresh new kicks and a snazzy red backpack for school.

Other than that, nothing else too drastic has changed—Hyunsik is still his primary guardian and a pillar of support for Taehyung, always listening and providing for his son in whatever ways he can. When he’s unable to watch Taehyung, his son is left in the care of his grandparents’, some ten minutes away from their own place.

They still inhabit the same small apartment kept clean by their mutual cooperation. Taehyung still attends the same elementary school and has trouble keeping still during class. Hyunsik’s life still only really consists of tending to his son and working to keep their finances afloat. Taehyung’s grandparents still dote on him as if he’s remained a toddler.

But what has changed is Taehyung’s understanding of why his mother is so absent.

In the past, he’d been far too young to comprehend the significance of maternal absence. And since his father and grandparents were too busy to permit house visits from his friends or allow him to go to their places, Taehyung had never witnessed the discrepancies between the average kid’s household in contrast to his own.

But this is the year that he’s forced to understand her absence.

Alcoholism.

He first hears it from his grandparents’ mouths a month before he’d begun fourth year and a month following his mother’s return. He’d been eavesdropping when they’d been discussing her in resentful tones he’d never heard them use in the past, when he hears a foreign word, terminology absent from his lexicon.

Alcoholism, he mouths to himself, wondering what it could mean. 

Despite his rampant curiosity, Taehyung forgets about it relatively quickly when he’s given his dinner later that evening and his grandparents engage him in conversation about school, his peers, and Hyunsik. He’s far too excited to sacrifice a moment he could entertain his affectionate grandparents with his wild, childish tales.  

But when he enters school the next month, it becomes the the only word he remembers—

“Can I play with you guys,” he asks enthusiastically to a group of larger boys his own age, desperate to kick around a ball and expend his limitless energy during the recess a few short weeks into the term.

He fails to notice the condescending air about them.

The first boy, boss man even at his tender age, guffaws and declines Taehyung’s earnest request with unrestrained glee.

No, go play by yourself, we don’t want to play with you.”

Taehyung is bewildered by the instant rejection but he finds himself more focused on the patronizing expression on the leader’s face and feels slighted.

Angered by the injustice of it all, Taehyung cries, “Why? I can kick a ball just as good as you guys, I promise, I’ve played before and my dad says I’m not bad—”

The boy, standing multiple centimeters over Taehyung, insinuates himself in front of him and sneers, “What about your mom, Taehyung, what does she say?”

Quelled by this unexpected line of questioning, Taehyung takes a step back, slinking away like a chastised cub. He’s inexperienced at confrontation, only ever loved on and spoiled by his caretakers, so this turn of events is most unideal.

He stutters awkwardly, “Wh-what?”

The boy just meanly laughs and begins to back away, his minions following like a mindless herd of muscular sheep, heading back to the field to kick their ball around, giving Taehyung no further explanation.

But they aren’t far enough when Taehyung overhears the boss boy say to his friends, “My mom says not to play with boys like him. His mom’s an alcoholic and that runs in the family.”

This is the first time Taehyung’s heart throbs painfully, pulsating a little venom into his small body, spreading.

And when he hears the other kids talk about it—his mother—as if he’s not in earshot, he begins to hate her as much as the word that shadows him each day that year, taunting him mercilessly.

As desperate as he is to defend himself, Taehyung never seems to find the proper words.

Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

If only.  

***

Taehyung glances over at Jungkook as he hops into a mental vortex, rewinding to his past. His memory reels like a VHS tape, wheels madly spinning, making soft whirring sounds as it works to reach the beginning. Perhaps that could explain the buzzing in his head.

Jungkook stays silent, an avid listener, but his frown grows and mouth curls in distaste as he hears the cruelty of the other children. But small mercies, he keeps his face carefully blank when Taehyung speaks of his mother.

His mother, the woman who’d carried and given birth to him. The woman behind his inception. One half of Taehyung’s genetics.

 And the woman who remains wholly the origins of his pain.  

***

Within one year, she’s gone again.

Taehyung’s not surprised. He’s not even hurt.

Not even eleven summers deep into his life and he knows that the decay of life and torrential downpours follows a magical season of sunny days.

Hyunsik, for all his years of experience and life, doesn’t seem to have received the memo, his father becoming quieter and sullener each time she turns her back to them, leaving only traces of petrichor and rot.

***

Jungkook looks like he’s about to cry for Taehyung and he pulls his friend in, hand on the back of his nape. His fingers knead Taehyung’s neck and the touch grounds him, even if his memories threaten to sever the cord keeping him tethered to reality.

He doesn’t resist, leaning further into Jungkook’s familiar touch, as he continues his narrative in drone-like accuracy, flat and monotonous like a tone-deaf singer.

***

Taehyung has spent much of his short life watching his father’s heart break, shattering past logical reason.

Perhaps he ought to resent Hyunsik for his weakness and for his inability to turn his flighty, manipulative wife away.

Why doesn’t he just learn, he thinks frequently. It’s a belligerently loud question, as he shrieks in outrage, the shrill sound pummeling the cage of his skull with relentless persistence.

But Taehyung doesn’t resent his father. And he can’t.

Not with the way his father perseveres through life, trundling through every hurt like he’s never been knocked down. Hyunsik also never carries his own trials and sorrows like medals with him onto a podium, leaving Taehyung ignored and neglected on the steps below. Instead, he secures the spotlight for his son and only allows himself to sink into the futility of his love for his wife when he’s alone after Taehyung’s sleeping.

He tirelessly works to provide for his son, getting him all the materials or assistance that he might need in school.

He always asks Taehyung questions about his life, perpetually caught up on his son’s daily activities. And Hyunsik’s enthusiasm for his son’s trivial topics never dullens either—even after all the mundane stories he’s listened to, pretending each was more riveting than the last.

And they still have breakfast and dinner together despite their busy lives.

Taehyung loves his father.

His love for his father will never perish, even if he knows that his father is trying to feed a dream that’s in a persistent vegetative state, forcibly sustaining its life, driven by his futile hope.

He loves him, even if Hyunsik doesn’t have the fortitude to escape from the clutches of a phantom lover, settling for the idyllic image of the potential they’d had as a couple in the past.

Taehyung watches as year in and year out, his mother manipulates his father. And it’s so damn easy too.

“I love you, Hyunsik-ah. You know that, don’t you?”

When do starring words without a supporting cast of complementary actions stop being meaningful?

***

At this, Jungkook stiffens a little, beginning to decode the cypher of Taehyung’s thoughts, interpreting the incentives behind Taehyung’s frostiness towards Jimin in recent days.

His arm twitches behind Taehyung a little, as if he’d had to smother the desire to pull his arm back as a show of support for Jimin, but Jungkook manages to resist.

***

Taehyung’s mother returns and leaves multiple times throughout the year when he’s twelve.

By the third time, he doesn’t stir when he finds her in their living room. He’s bone tired from school and his extracurriculars. He just nods at her, bare minimum acknowledgement, before he pours himself a glass of water and goes to his room.

She’s getting older now, beauty submitting to the substances that she’s consumed over her lifetime. But despite this, Hyunsik still seems as enamoured as ever, welcoming her back as lovingly as he’d done the time before that. And the time before that.

And the time before that, Taehyung sighs.

Taehyung is twelve when he wonders if loving someone is a disease too.

***

Taehyung’s crying.

Beside him, Jungkook’s grimacing, eyes glistening with unshed tears. He seems determined to stay strong for his friend, combing his fingers through Taehyung’s hair, but it seems to be a losing battle.  

***

Things haven’t changed much since he’d been twelve. His mother turns up when she needs somewhere to stay. And when she needs someone to supply her with money.

And once she has the funds to satisfy her habits, she’s gone.

Taehyung lives in Heartbreak City. He doesn’t know which fool thought that only romantic love can kill someone via heartbreak. No, love itself can sometimes be a murderer and there’s no clear demarcation line informing people what type of love was the culprit.

He knows this as he watches the way his grandmother weeps silently each time his mother returns like a relentless plague to Hyunsik’s life, Hyunsik’s home, Hyunsik’s bed. Into Hyunsik’s heart.

He knows this as he witnesses his grandfather stifling his own tears as he tries to console his wife.

He knows this because everyday his own heart breaks.

Taehyung is thirteen and he thinks his heart has been broken more times than the years he’s been alive.

He can’t imagine how Hyunsik feels, heart like a balloon that inflates with joy for each time she meanders back in and deflates with anguish each time she unceremoniously departs—pattern continuing until the rubbery material is so worn and completely prone to tears from over usage.

The worst lesson he’s learned in life so far is that people can’t control who they fall in love with.

***

Jungkook fails in spite of his best efforts.

His mouth jerks erratically under the pressure to contain himself and his emotions, but he begins crying.

Neither of them speak.

 But they both know what Taehyung’s trying to say.

They both know why Jungkook’s been spared Taehyung’s wrath and why Jimin hasn’t.

It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right, but at least Jungkook understands now.

***

 When Taehyung’s fourteen, she doesn’t come back at all.

Hyunsik’s especially quiet that year.

***

Taehyung’s sobbing, the pain nearly unbearable now that he’s reached this point in the story.  

He’s never articulated this epoch in his life before because the the pain has always been too immeasurable and immense for him to ever want to revisit the era—much like a triggering historical exhibition at a museum, one that he’ll skim past, afraid of the potential emotions the images could evoke. 

Shoulders shaking as Jungkook succumbs to his emotions, whether its from empathy or from the distinct relatability of the situation, Taehyung doesn’t know, but his younger roommate looks devastated too.

But still he continues. He’s almost at the finishing line and the exit sign’s glowing promisingly ahead.

***

She returns and leaves one last time the year Taehyung’s fifteen.

But this last occasion proves to be too much for sweet, kind, loyal Hyunsik’s heart and it finally gives out, the day after she leaves.

Taehyung gets a call in the middle of class. His grandmother’s sobbing uncontrollably on the phone.

“Taehyung-ah. I’m sorry, he had a heart attack. He’s gone.”

He doesn’t respond.

But he thinks to himself, as silent streams of tears cascade down his tight, crumpled face, that he’d borne witness to a special brand of violence that no one’s ever warned him about—love.

Cancer kills.

Cigarettes kill.

Guns kill.

This is public knowledge.

But does everyone know that love can kill? Taehyung wonders in despair as he cries quietly on the way to the hospital to say his final goodbyes. 

***

As he bursts through the proverbial exit doors, finally liberated from the torture of his past, Taehyung’s face is streaked with the evidence of his heartbreak.

One tear for each time Taehyung’s mother returned.

Ten tears for each time she left.

Several hundred tears for each time she’d carelessly uttered, “I love you.”

Several thousand tears for each time she broke Taehyung’s heart.

Several million tears for each time she broke Hyunsik’s heart.

She doesn’t deserve a single one, Taehyung thinks, but she’s still my mother.

All he sees in front of him is an desolate wasteland, a ghost town since his mother had abandoned him, leaving him with only the warm memories of his heartbroken late father.

But Taehyung shatters the disheartening illusion, coming back into himself and reality as the two boys continue leaning into each other as they both cry silently.

Chapter Text

Some time passes before either boy collect their wits about them, sniffles continuing to permeate the air.

But eventually Jungkook rubs his eyes dry with his sleeve and turns to Taehyung to speak.

Fuck, hyung, I’m really sorry. C-can I do anything for you?”

Taehyung thinks about it for a moment, then shakes his head, thankful that the weight of his secrets have finally been revealed— and relieved from him. He runs his fingers through his greasy hair, sighing tiredly before he says, “No, not really. I just wanted to…tell my story to someone for once, I guess. I don’t really want to get into the shittier details more than I already did. And talking about my dad is really hard. Can barely stand it, to be honest.” 

Choking up again at the mention of his father, Taehyung has to clear his throat, loudly and numerous times before he’s able to proceed.

***

The first thing Taehyung notices when he meets Jimin’s best friend is that he’s hot.

The second thing he notices is the way Jungkook’s eyes trail after his roommate, round eyes dedicated to following every movement of Jimin’s silhouette, ears pricking and hanging on to his every word. Whatever Jimin says, whatever Jimin does, Jungkook’s his most receptive audience.

And theoretically, he’d think it’s cute. He might even furtively try to hook them up.

But then he sees the dense nest of overwhelming longing that sits behind Jungkook’s eyes.

It’s a particular look that Taehyung’s witnessed in abundance in his childhood.

Suddenly, he frowns and his mouth purses in disapproval.

He’s suspicious.

***

Once he regains his composure, Taehyung takes a rattling breath and continues.

“But I’ve just been filled with guilt about how shitty I’ve been treating Jimin—don’t get me wrong, he’s been super shitty too—but I’m just kind of worried about him lately and I didn’t think my involvement’s been helping much.”

A few stray tears make their way down Taehyung’s face and Jungkook hands him some tissues from the table wordlessly before he agrees.

“No, I think we all did some fucked up shit to someone. None of us are blameless.”

Jungkook hesitates, then confesses with a soft tone, “But I won’t lie, I was kind of surprised you were more on my side. Thought you would’ve been more neutral to be honest.”

He tacks on quickly, afraid to hurt Taehyung, “Not that I don’t appreciate it.”

Taehyung laughs, though it’s more like a watery gurgle than anything else, punching Jungkook on the shoulder.

“Jungkookie, I know. I knew that,” he admits guiltily, “But when I saw the way Jimin was treating you at the time when it was so obvious you were still into him and he’d just bring up girls casually in front of yo—”

Jungkook shakes his head and he frowns as he points out, “Hyung, to be fair, you would kind of bring it up in front of me too.”

Thinking back on it, Taehyung acknowledges, that did happen. Why’d I do that?

He takes a few moments to consider his own past motivations.

“At that point, I guess I was trying to get you to move on,” he reasons slowly, “In my own fucked up way.”

***

Taehyung tries to stay out of it.

He does.

He invites Jimin to the same parties he attends (inclusion was good, right?).

They occasionally run in the same social circles, meeting up with their hyungs when they can.

On a wholistic level, he likes Jimin—what’s not to like? He’s amiable and kind, the universal giver, never mind his blood type.

And Taehyung can’t find fault with his habits as a roommate either.

The reality is, there’s no immediate need for Taehyung to hold such a personal vendetta against Jimin.

But then he'll see the way his friend wraps his arms around Jungkook, smile so wide, even Taehyung’s deceived into believing Jungkook and Jimin are romantically involved. But they’re not. And Jungkook clearly wants to be.

And he sees the way it’s whittling down Jungkook’s confidence by the day—not to mention it’s impossible to miss his poorly disguised hurt when Jimin reveals his escapades with a nonchalance that leaves Taehyung internally gawping in disbelief. 

But the permanently crestfallen expression on Jungkook’s face when Jimin starts dating Seulgi is what really stokes the flames of Taehyung’s anger.

He isn’t consciously aware of it but it's then that Taehyung saddles up and sits upon his high horse, carelessly forgoing the usage of a bridle, allowing it to run itself into the ground. The imposing pair then ride off into the distance, full throttle gallop into the hidden village where his longstanding bitterness resides. Abrasively pelting through the door of the cabin where he’s left his despair simmering, he finds the just desserts belonging to his mother that he’s never been able to serve her with sitting there idly—untouched poison.

When he thinks of Jungkook, he sees Hyunsik, and his heart bleeds for him.

And suddenly, he’s struck with a perverse desire to give the acrimonious leftovers to Jimin.

***

Cross-legged and balancing his head on his crossed hands, Jungkook sits on what Taehyung’s just told him.

But in the spirit of the moment, Taehyung disengages his fears and decides to be bolder, confessing, “And if I’m being honest, I wanted to call out Jimin. I was so fucking pissed off watching him just toying with you, that I just wanted to make sure that he wasn’t getting away with anything.”

Jungkook looks putout and his mouth is stiffly pursed in disapproval. He uncrosses his legs and shifts his balance to get the blood flowing again.

“It sort of hurt me too though. Feels like you were kinda telling me shit to call him out on...just so you could feel vindicated punishing Jimin-hyung,” Jungkook declares, a droplet of resentment diffusing through his words.

Taehyung winces and grabs Jungkook’s hand, patting it softly in remorse.

“I’m sorry, I just got so caught up in my own head.”

A long pause follows, and Taehyung thinks their conversation has come to its clunky conclusion, but Jungkook doesn’t seem to be finished quite yet judging by the way he straightens up and inhales.

***

He thinks he’s going crazy sometimes.

It’s not my problem, Taehyung tries to convince himself. 

When Taehyung discovers that Jimin and Jungkook had dated in the past, he's flabbergasted. With the flippant way Jimin still swathes Jungkook in his warmest hugs and caresses, he thought—at worst—they were on a steady path to their happily-ever-after.

It’s really not your problem, Taehyung insists.

But he can’t help the way images of his devious mother swindling her way back into Hyunsik's life in exchange for shelter and resources from clamouring his head. He can’t forget the way she’d used her carefully plotted touches and dependable allure to reel Hyunsik in.

And once the memories of his mother cluster in enough abundance to mix into each other seamlessly, like a mass school of small fish, it discombobulates Taehyung—much like the opportunistic sharks and seals the shoals leave bamboozled.

So when present reality and ancient history begin to muddle into each other, Taehyung gradually loses the ability to differentiate between the two situations.

 

***

 “So, I’m guessing us hooking up was kind of the same thing? Just a revenge type thing?”

A deadly blow.

Taehyung sighs but he recognizes it’s a fair inquiry.

“I don’t have anxiety or depression or whatever, Jungkookie, but it doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally get lost in my own thoughts and feelings.”

***

When Jimin forgets Jungkook’s birthday concert in lieu of hooking up with a guy, Taehyung’s livid.

He can’t tell if it’s Jungkook’s doleful eyes or Hyunsik’s distraught expression that haunts him more these days.  

And while he’s got more personal investment in his parents’ tragedy, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to the melodrama unfolding in front of his doorstep.

***

Taehyung stops.

Then, he cocks an eyebrow sardonically, as he snidely remarks, “I mean, I don’t know, maybe I’m still a little fucked in the head over what I saw in my childhood too but I really didn’t think I was traumatized or anything like that.”

Jungkook looks vaguely uncomfortable by Taehyung’s self-directed vitriol.

“But the fucking point is—I fucked up. I just kept looking at your guys’ situation and seeing my mom and my dad. It wasn’t right to villainize Jimin like that or victimize you like that either. But it was hard not to see the comparisons. Especially when you told me that he kept telling you that he loved you before hooking up then getting himself a girlfriend or hooking up with some other guy or girl or whatever.”

Understanding floods Jungkook’s face and with it, a little of his former abrasion seeps out.

“I see,” he acknowledges.

“It’s not an excuse.”

“No,” Jungkook says, “But it definitely explains things.”

Taehyung nods, grateful Jungkook’s able to grasp the nuances of his perspective—even if asking for empathy’s a stretch when he’d fucked up so badly.

“I mean, Jungkook, listen. It was hard for me. I just kept watching you guys and after a while, all the lines just started blurring—maybe because I was so angry—but all I could see was the way my mom’s issues were slowly ruining my dad. And maybe for a short time in my life, I loved them both, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I just couldn’t watch how my dad just kind of ceased to exist outside of wanting to be loved by my mom.”

At that, Jungkook just looks sad.

***

If Taehyung had thought the distress of watching Jungkook long for Jimin been intolerable, it was nothing compared to the deleterious fury he experiences when Jungkook regals everything that followed in the three years after their breakup.

His rational faculties all dismantle with a rumbling whine of anguish and he’s suddenly fueled purely by emotion.

It hadn’t mattered to him in that moment that Jungkook hadn’t slide safely into moral high ground either. By then, all he hears is the story of someone manipulating someone else’s love for them to their advantage until it no longer conveniences them.

And without Jimin’s story to corroborate or clash with Jungkook’s retelling, it feels like his mother’s spirit had slipped into Jimin’s pores and past his natural defenses, until it possesses him to employ the same scheming techniques his mother had used.

And the way Jungkook crumbles under Jimin’s rejection—

Taehyung’s seen it all before.

And he abhors it.

***

Taehyung pauses, feeling all his energy drain until he feels like little more than a jumbled mess of molecules—hardly living, just existing.

But he pushes through.

“And I’m sorry, Jungkook, but sometimes it just really seemed like you were just repeating history that I’d lived through before. And it scared me.”

Jungkook nods again.

“Okay, hyung, I believe you.”

Then—

“Thank you for caring about me.”

Looking at the state Jimin seems to be in lately, Taehyung wishes he’d gotten his act together sooner.

***

Taehyung and Jungkook get closer.

Disdainful of Jimin's sly ways, using his charm and Jungkook's love against him, Taehyung silently sides with their youngest roommate (Retrospectively, Jimin had probably noticed a change in Taehyung’s behavior and progressively shunned himself in deference to their newfound friendship). 

One day, when Taehyung hadn’t been able to defend himself from an onslaught of painful memories from his childhood, he snaps at Jimin.

He’s rabid, snarling viciously, growls and barks of disapproval resonating around their small living room. Proverbial fangs sinking into Jimin’s throat, suffocating him until he’s speechless, Taehyung’s cutthroat. 

Despite Jimin’s best stab at shielding himself, he’s a mousy chihuahua, an impressive poof of fur trying to defend itself against a pit bull.

And when Jimin storms away, tremors wracking his body from the incursion he’d experienced, Taehyung feels an ephemeral sense of bitter triumph.

***

He tries to clearly articulate those thoughts to Jungkook.

“I didn’t mean to isolate and hurt Jimin. I even told you that we were growing distant but that’s probably just my fault. I was just harboring so much anger and spite towards him at the peak of things that I just didn’t really listen to anything he said—just in one ear and out the other. I was an asshole and he probably just got discouraged after a certain point.”

His younger roommate looks disappointed in him.

“Hyung…”

Taehyung deserves it though.

“Yeah, I know,” he mutters timidly.

The television buzzes on in the background but Taehyung finds comfort in the drones and mumbles of the news’ anchor’s voice. The man is self-assured and well spoken, neither of which Taehyung feels he is at the current moment.

But he must endeavour on, so he declares, “I was selfish, Jungkook. Or at least, short-sighed. And I was definitely mean. I was being totally self-righteous, thinking I had any right to punish someone just because I went through some fucked up things in my own life—”

Jungkook interjects for a second time.

“Taehyung-hyung, I just have to ask—you said that he had issues, that he talked to you about them a little bit?”

Confused, Taehyung nods his head slowly.

“…Yeah?”

“How’d that conversation go?”

Wrinkling his brow and mouth jutting out in concentration, Taehyung tries to recall the nature of their conversation.

“I mean, to be honest, it was brief. Didn’t really say much, seemed like he just had a shitty day or something and he said he was fine and he could take care of himself. Looking back on it, I don’t feel like I really said enough.”

We all have our issues, he’d said, Take care of yourself, okay?

Taehyung cringes.

“I’m not very good with words though,” he admits, whilst conceding, “Normally.”

Overcast spreads across Jungkook’s face and stonily, he asks, “So, if you knew he was going through shit, how could you…hook up with me.”

The question of the century has arrived at last, Taehyung thinks wearily.

***

When Jungkook had invited his ex to the party, Taehyung had felt as though he’d been struck by surprise so violent, that his head is left pulsating with the impact.

It’s not his business and he should trust Jungkook’s intuition, but hadn’t he trusted Hyunsik to get himself together? Where’d that gotten his father?

A cozy coffin in the morgue, he thinks, his mood taking a turn for the worse, expression darkening as the dormant pain of his father’s death starts sparking with life again.

He snuffs the pain before it can erupt and cause irreversible damage.

And when he finds himself kissing  Jungkook at that party, he doesn't think too much of it at the time.

The next day, he acknowledges he didn't know what he was thinking when he’d kissed Jungkook—if he'd been thinking at all. 

Maybe he’d just been drunk. But if he’s being brutally honest with himself, he suspects they’d both acting out of spite—albeit driven by different purposes.

The next day when Taehyung’s in his room after he’d dismissed himself from the common area, allowing Jimin and Jungkook to talk in private, listening to music alone, he considers the absurdity of the entire situation.

The kiss hadn’t been particularly meaningful—neither to him nor Jungkook.

This is the first instance Taehyung begins to feel a budding sprout of guilt.

What am I doing? He asks himself.

***

It’s a fair question, but the pious delivery of Jungkook’s inquiry doesn’t sit well with Taehyung, verbal shrapnel embedding themselves deep into his chest, metallic words propelling from his roommate’s mouth with enough momentum to impair the regular rhythm of his heart.

As he sits there, further absorbing the way Jungkook had articulated himself in manner that transferred the entirety of the blame onto Taehyung, a sniper with a friendly face taking a pot-shot, he finds himself terribly disgruntled.

He shifts away from Jungkook a little, the injurious question leaving his heart still throbbing which leads Taehyung to frown at his friend.

 “Jungkook...I mean, I could ask you that same question too. You were there too. Remember?” Taehyung points out peevishly, “Don’t act like I was the only culprit in the situation. The fact we both did that to him means we fucking co-signed on being assholes together.”

Jungkook puts his hands up, a gesture of submission, as he grants Taehyung his point.

“Okay, you’re right, but I’m asking you right now.”

He’s still smarting from the remark, but he decides to disregard it for now.

“I don’t know, Jungkook. It was fucked up and a bad mistake on my part. I was angry and wanted Jimin to have a taste of his own medicine.”

It doesn’t sound good and Taehyung knows it. Jungkook’s downcurved mouth has Taehyung inclined to believe that he doesn’t come off well to his roommate either.

“I probably have a fuck ton of anger leftover from my mom and since I began to see your situation as a weird Xanaxed version of my past, I guess I was just taking it upon myself to hurt him in a way that maybe I thought my mom deserved to be hurt,” Taehyung confesses faintly, hearing how callous he comes off.

Without hesitation, Jungkook agrees, “That’s shitty.”

Cowering after his admission of guilt, Taehyung decides the floor’s Jungkook’s now, spinning the question back around to him.

“Now, you. Why’d you hook up with me? That was shitty on your part too. You know that. And he was your ex-boyfriend. And your best friend.”

All at once, Jungkook looks his age, completely lost—a wanderer left meandering in the endless curtain of darkness, a vast expanse devoid of life. All the earlier haughtiness leaks out of Jungkook and all that’s left is a melted pool of heartache and confusion.

Taehyung’s seen this expression before and he strives to drive out the memories of his father before they take precedence over everything else, grabbing Jungkook’s hand to soothe him.

“I guess…I was trying to hurt Jimin for hurting me too.”

Unsurprising.

“So then, we’re on the same page then,” Taehyung remarks softly, “Same sentences, just paraphrased.”

They sit in silence for a moment.

“At least we can both agree we instantly regretted it,” Jungkook adds, though his sullen expression of contemptuous guilt lingers.

Taehyung shrugs and agrees. He knows it’s not quite that simple.

“True.”

In theory, it’d be nice though.

***

There's always an aftertaste following a shot. Everyone knows that. 

Why didn't anyone tell Taehyung about the pungent aftertaste following a ruthless act of revenge?

Taehyung's never liked himself less.

***

The eternal spring of Jungkook’s curiosity continues to swell and overflow, a new interrogative stream for Taehyung to try and stay afloat in.

“Also, hyung, you just seemed so casual about everything—as if it all didn’t matter that much, but you were that angry at Jimin-hyung the whole time?”

Taehyung covers his face with his hands, sighing through the cracks in his fingers, mouth crushed by his palms.

“Jungkook, the trouble is, you can ask me all these questions and hope I have all these profound answers that’ll just make so much sense and everything but the reality is people are more complicated than that. And sometimes, we’re just more fucked up than that.”

“What do you mean?”

He rubs the entirety of his face vigorously, wishing he could scrub away his poor choices with the exfoliant of sheer will power.

But he can’t.

Instead, he tries to explain himself as best as he could.

“I mean that I want to give you these awesome answers that really just make me look like the good guy and make Jimin look like the bad guy. But I can’t. Like fuck, yes, I’ve been through some traumatizing shit. And yeah, it’s gotten me real twisted and fucked up—and I didn’t even know how messed up I’ve been over it until this situation happened—but it’s not like I’m going to use it as an excuse or justification.”

He speaks coolly, trying to maintain the steadiness of his voice, despite the barrage of unpleasant memories from his childhood and of the past few months subtly indulging in a one-man quarrel.

“I fucked up and I really hurt Jimin. I don’t agree with Jimin’s decisions and I still stand by the fact that I think he was treating you badly, but you fucked up too—like Junghyun told you. And then, I just had to get myself involved in an already apocalyptic situation and make it worse then it blew up and got more fucked.”

He begins crying.

“So, the answer is, Jungkook, yes, I was angry. I’ve been angry for a long time and didn’t address it quickly enough. And now, I’ve hurt other people because of it. It’s as awful and as simple as that, I guess.”

Neither of them speaks for an extended period of time.

What's there to say?

***

Taehyung doesn’t recognize this version of Jimin.

He’s eerily quiet and it seems like even the most menial tasks seem to enervate him.

If it’d had been an isolated incidence of self-imposed exile and silence, Taehyung wouldn’t have been as worried.

But it’s not.

It’s his primary state of being these days.

Taehyung had never known—or been informed—of his mother ever having felt guilt for how she’d treated her late husband. She’d never checked in on her son nor her parents-in-law after his passing.

The message had been loud and clear: I don’t care.

So, Taehyung’s baffled by Jimin whose behavior makes it consummately obvious that the severance of relations between him and Jungkook had unnerved him enough to derail him.

This collapse of normalcy is not how inherently selfish people behave. This knackered, downcast Jimin is the poster boy of someone with a broken heart—or worse, the image of a broken person.

And then suddenly, Jimin doesn’t resemble his mother in behavioral traits at all. No, this incapacitated human being is the mirror image of Hyunsik, broken and battered after being abandoned numerous times by his wife.

Taehyung really begins to think that his suspicions that he’s made a huge error in judgment are valid. 

***

After some time elapses, the two boys finding themselves leaning on each other again, Jungkook speaks.

“Hyung?”

“Yeah?”

This time, when Jungkook speaks, it’s a mild and gentle salve, tempering the burn of Taehyung’s hurts—past and present.

“For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re a shitty person. I think we just both fucked up—like you’ve been saying. And you were a good friend to me. Or you were really trying to protect me.”

Taehyung smiles feebly.

“And the thing is…the fact you’re acknowledging the shit you’ve been through and the things you did wrong too, it’s a good first step, isn’t it?”

Is it enough, Taehyung thinks.

He agrees reluctantly, “I guess.”

Rubbing his hyung’s shoulder comfortingly, Jungkook continues.

“Don’t be too down on yourself, hyung, please. I know you’re hurting over your dad. And that hurt doesn’t go away, I bet.”

It doesn’t.

It hasn’t and it doesn’t.

***

He can’t keep doing this.

Jimin isn’t his father.

And Jimin isn’t his mother.

Jimin is Jimin and he’s been unfair to his friend because of past prejudices.

Hyunsik would be disappointed in Taehyung. He’d never encourage Taehyung to become this jaded.

It hurts, finally discerning the reality that he’s dishonoring the memory of his loving, patient father by being so cruel to his friend.

That day, Taehyung vows to change.

His first step is to explain everything to Jungkook.

If he’s lucky, maybe one day Jimin will forgive him.

***

The pain of his loss is an unceasing echo, a resounding peal of thunder, bellowing ominously before it strikes him down thoughtlessly on bad days and simply flashes glitzy bolts in the sky on good days. On the good days, the pain remains at an amenable enough distance that he can ignore the soft chimes and turn a blind eye to the lightning.

Jungkook’s round eyes are soft and wet with empathy and his voice is low and gentle.

“Not then and not ever.”

Taehyung’s still crying, mouth pinched with the effort to suffocate the urge to sob. So, Jungkook carries the burden of continuing the conversation.

“I’m guessing you just learn to manage it until it’s like another one of your limbs you have. And I’m really sorry that you went through everything that you did.”

Then, he apologizes with all the sincerity in the world.

 “I’m sorry I didn’t notice either.”

No one should have to apologize for not noticing his pain.

It’s no body’s fault they hadn’t known. Taehyung hadn’t wanted anyone to notice; he’d prioritized being treated regularly instead of facing the possibility of seeing pity in his friends’ eyes. He didn’t want to give anyone the chance to view him as being weak.

He really doesn’t blame anyone, not really. 

Hyunsik didn’t decide who he fell in love with. And for all his flaws involving his mother, weak and prone to surrendering to all her selfish whims and desires, he’d never left Taehyung in wanting for a better life.

Jungkook couldn’t help whom he loved either. And he’d been as flawed as Jimin in their situation, a fact that Taehyung had steadfastly ignored in his great pursuit to assign roles to the two boys once he observed general similarities between his parents and his friends.

And Jimin—well, he had to have his own reasons too. Maybe Taehyung can finally be better to him again.

“Hyung, I don’t have experience with depression or anxiety,” Jungkook declares, “So, maybe I’m not the greatest person to confide in, but all I know is that I’m glad you talked to me. I can’t promise I’ll know the right things to say or do the right thing all the time, but I can tell you I’ll do my best. So, thanks for telling me.”

His tears don’t abate—but the seemingly ungovernable cyclone whirling in his heart finally calms until it stills, leaving behind a pleasant breeze.

“Thanks, Jungkookie,” he says, voice a warbling whisper, watery from his emotions.

Jungkook grunts his acknowledgement and picks up the remote, sensing their solemn conversation has reached its natural end.

But before it does conclude—

“I have one more thing to add, Ggukie.”

***                                                                                                                                              

He’d finally managed to stop crying before he reaches the hospital.

Taehyung is quiet as a mouse sneaking past a ferocious domestic cat as he courses through the hallways of the hospital, keeping his head bowed to ensure his drawn face remains concealed.

As he hears their soft footfalls next to him, it feels like his grandparents are escorting him to his own deathbed, feeling sure that the pain of confirming his father is dead will kill him next.

He doesn’t have the survival instinct to get by without Hyunsik. Or maybe he just doesn’t have the will.

The walk to the room stretches excruciatingly on, each second feeling like an individual lifetime. As he walks, now trailing behind his grandparents with his eyes vacant and unfocused, he finally explores the boundless well of his mind where the darkest thoughts of his mind pools in.

Headfirst, he dives in.

He wonders if Hyunsik had spent his life feeling as though he was lamb raised for slaughter once he'd met his wife. Living his life in ignorant bliss as a young child, only to meet the icon of his dreams, materializing from his innermost desire to love and be loved in return. And once she'd appeared before him, he'd instantly been enchanted by her and promptly fallen into the abyss of her greedy clutches, never to surface again.

Gritting his teeth until his jaw hurts with the effort, Taehyung stifles his tears.

Hyunsik had begun carrying the arduous task of carrying his wife’s cross the moment he’d met her. But he’d never complained, had he? He’d shouldered the burden without a pitiful bleat or a mewl, revealing the intense pain he must’ve endured all that time, despite his impending future as veal for his gluttonous wife to devour.

And even as she’d nailed him to her own cross, sealing his fate, he’d smiled at her lovingly as his own blood splattered over his face.

Taehyung’s fisting his hands, shaking with the injustice of it all. But before he could lose himself to his despair, his grandparents stop before him—they’ve arrived.

When Taehyung sees his father through the doorway, still and lifeless on the hospital bed, suddenly, it all becomes real. Hearing the agonizing declaration of Hyunsik’s death from his grandparents or visualizing excruciating images on his way to the hospital had been undeniably wretched. But neither of these weak apparitions of the material world do cruel reality justice.

It’s akin to the swiftness of a supercar racing down the track, until it takes a curve at the wrong angle and the wrong speed and it ends up in catastrophe. The car fishtails out of control until it collides with a sickening crash, a vehicular detonation, bits of metal and smoke drifting in the air amongst the plumes of smoke.

That’s how Taehyung feels as he loses his composure, control of his body irretrievable in his anguish, running towards his father’s body on the bed and as he crumples onto Hyunsik’s body.

He nearly flinches back as he feels the absence of his father’s warmth, eyes pricking with tears, but he suffers through the variation in body temperature.

How can Taehyung still be so warm when his father lies there so cold? Why is the contrast so damn unforgiving? Why won’t cruel Fate let him just have this single moment where he can pretend Hyunsik is still here with him? That it’s possible he’ll rouse from slumber and pull Taehyung into the greatest warmth he’s ever known?

Why can’t Taehyung have this?

“Dad?” he whimpers in a low, broken voice.

His grandparents stand a few feet behind him, weeping softly into their hands.

He knows they deeply wish to console him, but he doesn’t want them right now.

He wants his father, no one else will do.

He wants his father the same way he’d sought him out when he’d bruised his palms and knees when he’d fallen on ragged concrete when he’d been three.

He wants his father the same way he’d searched for him when he’d won his first soccer tournament when he’d been six.

He wants his father the same way he’d dredged through the other parents at his silly elementary graduation ceremony.

And the same way…he’d thought he’d scour the audience for Hyunsik when he’d graduate high school.

But he’ll never get to share that experience with Hyunsik now—the opportunity robbed from him forever.  And there’s nothing he can do about it.

Grimly, he realizes, it’s nothing but a futile dream, a hopeless basket to put his eggs in.

Taehyung fists his father’s gown by the collar with strength he’d never known he possesses, driven by the force of his pain. The tears that stream down his face are a downpour of his grief, leaving wet spots on the fabric beneath him.

“You’re not really gone, are you?” he demands desperately, compelling his voice to make its way through the lip of the heavy canister of emotion trapped in his throat.

When Hyunsik doesn’t stir, his face remarkably peaceful in a way that’d never been his default expression during his life, Taehyung feels a stab of vicious betrayal.

How could he look so content when Taehyung’s left here to suffer life without him? How

“Don’t you know I love you, right, Dad?” Taehyung cries, breath hitching, “You know you never let me down, right?”

Silence.

Taehyung’s furious now, his shoulders wracking with the violence of his grief, body hunched over in defeat (the same way he’d seen Hyunsik bowing in his own sadness after his wife left for the umpteenth time).

Maybe this is how Hyunsik had felt every time she’d left—like he’d been experiencing a miniature death until the little taste of death accumulated incrementally into such concentrated amount of agony, he couldn’t bear it anymore.  

She’s a komodo dragon, snaking her way through life until she discovers the perfect prey, gentle and dignified. She’d sunk her venomous fangs in at the first opportunity, allowing her poison to spread through his body until his blood couldn’t coagulate and the infection that was his love for her fucking killed him.

He loathes his mother. How could she do this to someone who’d loved her so unconditionally, to someone who’d never set limitations or restrictions to his love despite all her fucking selfishness?

Hyunsik had been so good and so kind.

“How can you leave me here by myself? I don’t have anyone but you, dad. Please, come back to me. I need you,” he wails without restraint, tears coming down so quickly that there’s no hope that his father’s gown won’t be drenched.

“Don’t you love me too, Dad?” he bellows at a volume entirely inappropriate for the solemnness of a hospital wing.

He doesn’t give a fuck.

Taehyung loosens his fists on Hyunsik’s gowns and punches the mattress a few times in rage.

“Why wasn’t I enough, Dad? I love you,” he sobs, the braying sound so pitchy that it could shatter glass.

But the only thing that shatters are the three beating hearts that Hyunsik had left behind.

His grandparents don’t stop him as he bawls uncontrollably into the night until they lead him away.

The pain in his chest so sharp and profound, Taehyung wants to die.

At least he’ll be with Hyunsik again.

As his grandparents drive him home, he promises himself that he’ll never drink a sip if it means hurting someone the way his mother had hurt Hyunsik.

Never.

***

Raising his eyebrows, Jungkook turns his head to face Taehyung.

“Yeah?”

Taehyung hesitates.

“You know how my mom had…that issue?”

Jungkook nods slowly.

“Yeah?”

It’s time for Taehyung to make a confession.

He divulges firmly, “The truth is…I don’t like drinking.”

Looking faintly startled, Jungkook’s mouth is ajar.

He’s clearly reminiscing all the times he and Taehyung have imbibed alcohol together.

 “Okay…”

Breathing in deep, Taehyung continues, “I just drank because everyone else did and it’s more convenient to do it than explain why I don’t. Or wouldn’t want to.”

Jungkook’s surprised features fall back into place and he nods sympathetically.

“Fair enough.”

“And most importantly, even though I know it’s a disease and I could be predisposed to it, I just never liked the taste or the effects enough to be addicted to it.”

Here, he briefly pauses before he adds, “So, I thought I was safe.”

Jungkook looks confused.

“Are you not?”

Then, being the snarky asshole that he is, he teasingly laughs as he asks, “Have you drinking my secret stash of moonshine? I won’t be mad if you did.”

Taehyung glowers at the joke.

“No,” he refutes unnecessarily, “You snotty little fuck, I didn’t.”

But despite his annoyance, they both crack up which lightens the mood profusely.

After their laughter peters out, Taehyung explains, “I doubted l could ever get addicted to liquor because I fucking hate the taste so bad, so I thought there’ll never be any real chance of me hurting someone ‘cause of it—the way my mom always did. To me. To my dad.”

“Right,” Jungkook agrees.

“But the reality is, I did hurt someone,” he admits shamefully, “I hurt Jimin. Really badly.”

Jungkook looks as guilt-ridden as Taehyung feels.

“It was my one condition to myself.”

He stops.

“If I hurt someone ‘cause of liquor, I’ll quit cold turkey,”, he says, enlightening Jungkook to the most important promise he’d made to himself after his father’s passing.

Looking skeptical, like a young pup taking its first steps out of the safety of its den, Jungkook hesitates before he speaks.

“Will you?”

Taehyung considers his question seriously.

“I think so. Even if I’m not an addict like my mom, I don’t want to hurt people and use alcohol as my crutch.”

Jungkook extends his palm out to Taehyung before he leans his head onto his hyung’s shoulder.

“Okay, hyung,” he accepts softly, “I’ll support you.”

Taehyung nuzzles his face into Jungkook’s hair, touched by his unwavering support.

“Thank you.”

They sit comfortably together on the couch, intertwined and close, the coziest, easiest moment of the entire evening.

“Love you, hyung.”

Taehyung smiles.

“Love you too.”

And finally, Taehyung really feels some peace. 

***

Chapter Text

Jimin’s finished his errands for the day.

It’s July so he hadn’t needed to bundle up, thank God—after all, he’s hoisting the load of his unattended emotions on a daily basis.

He trudges his way home.

---

Everything has a natural threshold.

When water reaches 100 degrees Celsius, it boils.

When it descends to 0 degrees Celsius, it freezes.

When pressure builds up in the channel of a dormant volcano, magma making its sluggish way to the surface, it will eventually reach a point where an eruption is inevitable.

Once a stellar body has expended all of its hydrogen fuel, it enters a new phase, existing as a red giant until it eventually perishes.

Jimin wonders what the threshold of existing is.

What is the limit he needs to surpass before he transverses from life into death?

He laughs morbidly.

I’m just having a bad day, he tells himself, That’s all. It’s just a bad day.

---

It’s a temperate evening and Jimin manages to relax some as he listens to his favourite playlist.

Jungkook's been kinder to him lately and he's confused. He doesn't mean to be so damn paranoid, but had he done anything to be deserving of Jungkook’s attention?

He recognizes it’s most likely the pitiful way he hasn’t been able to take care of himself properly lately and flushing with the realization, Jimin huddles into himself, tucking his hands further into the pockets of his light jacket.

He kicks at an innocent pebble, watching the way it pitifully skips and hops over the deep grooves in the concrete pavement, desperately trying to make peace with gravity again.

How relatable.

---

Seconds blur into minutes, minutes become hours, hours accumulate into days.

And days evolve into weeks.

Weeks develop into months.

The only thing that remains unchanged is the flimsy garb of normalcy Jimin sports for his family and friends to disguise the gnarled thatch of sorrow he keeps concealed from the world.

---

About two more blocks and he’ll arrive at the apartment.

He flinches every time he thinks of his roommates—his friend and his ex together, melded together by their mouths, breathing the essence of the other in.

Jihyun’s suggested moving back home multiple times and he entertains the thought frequently, certain on a logical tier, it’s the sensible decision.

But he just can’t stomach the idea of giving Taehyung and his ex free rein to freely reign over the dominion of the love Jungkook and Jimin had shared for all those years. If he’s not there to remind them of his existence, who’s to say that they’ll even remember him at all?

Then again, they hadn’t even spared him a thought when they’d all attended the same party together.

He’s made good work of the first block.

One more to go and he’ll be home.

---

He doesn’t want to die.

But he’s sure as fuck not living either.

No one told him the feeling of being tethered to the material world to simply exist, floating aimlessly, is the loneliest pain one could experience.

---

On the last block, he thinks about the gentle way Jungkook’s handled him lately; it’s more than he’s deserved.

The beast frowns in consternation, huffing, Why would he treat you well after you bungled everything?

Even at his most low-spirited, Jimin blooms under Jungkook’s attention.

---

He doesn’t expect anyone to save him.

On a rational level, he’s aware that he needs to better police his mental state, his well-being under his own jurisdiction, but it’s so fucking hard when he's only a mere sergeant under the tyrannical thumb of his captain. And his cold, frigid captain happens to be his snowballing melancholy.

He doesn’t expect anyone to save him when he can’t even save himself.

---

He enters the lobby of the apartment.

---

It’s not all bad, he can’t complain.

He knows sometimes it’s his own impractical neurosis that causes him to isolate himself.

His friends may have disapproved his actions regarding his ex-boyfriend, but they hadn’t actively shunned him. No, that’d been of his own volition, afraid he’d see in their eyes hatred and disgust that he knows he’d imposed upon them.

His friends care. They send him texts, they’d invited him places when Jungkook hadn’t been able to attend.

The reality is, as much as his friends care, life gets busy. People get busy and sometimes, they fail to notice their surroundings and the organisms that occupy them—like a leopard slinking through the shrubs and bushes of their habitat, undetected by oblivious grazers, Jimin’s an impressive thespian.

And his family care too.

But Jimin’s just not around them enough, a deliberate move on his part to ensure he won’t arouse any parental concerns of his well-being.  

He’s not unloved.

He just doesn’t love himself.

---

Stepping out of the elevator, he pulls out his keys from his pocket and he opens the door.

---

Jimin’s floundering.

Arms jerking around wildly, fumbling as he tries to stay above the gooey glop, the basin of his mind murky with the viscous mud of his despondent thoughts. It's gluey and thick, a filthy hodgepodge of his darkest thoughts and feelings.

Gulping down mouthfuls of muck in his desperation to breathe, to stay alive, he’s suffocating slowly, body beginning to wear down from all his laborious thrashing.

It’s a slow, slow death being a ward of his own mind.

After all, the only person you can’t escape from is yourself.

---

His heart sinks.

On the couch lies Taehyung and Jungkook, curled into each other, looking as comfortable and at ease as Jimin had always felt when he’d still had the right to be near his ex.

They’d been resting peacefully until he’d interrupted their slumber.

Is this how it’s going to be from now on, Jimin wonders sadly, watching the way Jungkook jerks to attention, straightening up.

“Hyung.”

He knows he should move out.

But when he sees the way Jungkook’s eyes, bloodshot and swollen from what Jimin presumes is exhaustion, soften the moment they land on him, his cursory conviction to finally move out evaporates—just like that.

Chapter Text

After the emotional evening of revelations and confessions, Jungkook and Taehyung drift off to sleep in their snug, interwoven positions. Taehyung still has his face in Jungkook's neck, head resting on his shoulder. Jungkook leaves his head angled on top of Taehyung's, bits of his friend's hair tickling his nose.

They’re both spent, completely exhausted by all the tears they’d both shed.

Neither boy stirs until the front door swings open and Jimin walks in.

Instantly alert, Jungkook starts.

“Hyung,” he exclaims.

It’s difficult to eradicate the sight of Jimin’s disconsolate expression as he spots the way his two other roommates are enveloped in each other comfortably. Jimin’s already rigidifying with nervous energy, body hunkering down protectively, as he observes the points of contact Jungkook has with Taehyung’s body.

“Oh, I-I’m sorry, I’m interrupting, aren’t I?” Jimin stammers, slinking away instinctively, walking backwards towards his room.

Jungkook sits up firmly, dislodging Taehyung’s head from his shoulder (ignoring Taehyung’s grumbling protests) and trying to discreetly insert more space between their bodies.

Cursing wildly to himself, thinking its absurd how they both possess a knack for walking in at the most unfortunate of times, Jungkook emphatically insists, “No, you’re really not, want to come join us?”

Unconvinced, Jimin’s eyes continue to roam and examine the scene in front of him.

“It’ll be fun,” Jungkook insists animatedly, “We’ve got this great, erm, television show…ah, on.”

Taehyung raises his eyebrows discreetly as Jimin and Jungkook peer blankly at the news programming running in the background.

Rolling his eyes to the heaven inwardly, Jungkook groans to himself.

He probably looks like a liar and Jimin’s already in the hallway by the time he responds.

“No, really, it’s okay, I’ll just go to my room.”

Jungkook gives it one last valiant attempt.

“Are you sure?”

Jungkook doesn’t think he mishears the shakiness of Jimin’s voice when he answers, and judging by the guilty expression on Taehyung’s face, he’d heard it too.

“Yeah, don’t worry about me, it’s all good.”

Jimin’s door closes.

+++

He tries.

He really does.

He really tries to sit still and pay attention to whatever Taehyung had selected to watch in lieu of the fucking news, but after twelve minutes pass, Jungkook stands up and smooths out the wrinkles on his sweatpants.

Without a single word, Jungkook heads for Jimin’s room, suspicion and dread propelling his legs to move faster. He feels Taehyung’s eyes on him, but the other boy doesn’t follow him or say anything.

Before he can barge in, Jungkook hears the unmistakable sounds of someone stifling their tears and all his worst misgivings are confirmed. He stands there without moving, like he’d done over a month ago, for a few minutes, trying to plan how to best approach the situation.

But once he realizes he’ll be standing there for hours if he tries to delineate a definitive plot to a volatile situation, his own eyes welling, Jungkook just makes his way in, completely uninvited.

The room is as dark as the last time he’d been in it and Jimin is situated in the center of his bed, under his comforters and blankets like last time—the only difference is he’s not slumbering, he’s crying.

Swallowing around the painful lump in his throat, Jungkook accuses weakly, “Hyung, yo-you’re crying.”

Despite the yelping wail that Jimin had emitted before Jungkook had entered, he’s quick to vocalize a firm denial. 

“No, Jungkookie, I’m not. I’m not, I’m just tired and it’s fine, don’t worry,” he claims, face crushed into the pillow and back turned to Jungkook.

Wiping the one errant tear that falls down his cheek, Jungkook snaps, “You’re not fine, you’re crying.”

Even for a short instance, he’s glad Jimin’s not facing him. He knows if his ex had spotted the lone tear on his face, Jimin would instantly try to comfort him instead. But Jungkook’s unwilling to make this situation about his own remorseful sorrow rather than whatever’s been plaguing Jimin for months.

But Jimin obviously doesn’t feel the same need to divulge and explore the topic. 

“No,” Jimin whimpers, testing the elasticity of the vowel, extending it as far as it’ll go, “If you just leave, I promise it’ll be fine, don’t worry about me.”

Jungkook’s horrified by the mere notion of leaving Jimin when he’s clearly so troubled, the visuals enough to make him feel debilitatingly ill.

“How can you ask me to just leave you when you’re crying?” Jungkook cries, heart pounding erratically, “How awful do you think I am? What kind of person do you think I am?”

Jimin snorts disparagingly, the effect of reproachful sound minimized by the accompanying sniffles. 

“You’re not awful, I’m awful,” he mumbles in a nasally voice, nose so stuffed he sounds like he’s got a head cold.

“And you probably have better things to do than being here and trying to help me through shit. So, don’t worry, just go do what you have to do,” he insists flatly, still talking through a mouthful of fabric, as he still hasn’t surfaced from the comfort of his sheets and blankets.

“Those things don’t matter right now, hyung,” Jungkook disagrees, shaking his head firmly, “You do.”

Jimin doesn’t answer, so he hesitates.

In this instant, Jungkook feels like an insecure child that’d been turned away from his mother too many times and now is skittish to even approach her. But then he recalls Taehyung’s heartbreaking history and the way his normally cheerful friend had diminished into tears and emotion, unable to stifle his lifelong pain any longer, and Jungkook thinks maybe that’s not fair for him to make that comparison.

Which gets him thinking.

He’d never seen the clefts and chinks in Taehyung’s armour in all the time he’s known him—not because Jungkook had been intentionally inattentive or self-centered. But Taehyung had tended well to it, ensuring it sparkled and gleamed under the scrutinizing eyes of society; he’d devotedly scrubbed the dirt off his breastplate on the daily, rubbed the grit off his helmet when no one’s looking and wiped the grim off his gauntlet when he notices a smear.

And Jungkook had been fooled. He’d seen the glimmer of his friend’s smiles and the vivacity of Taehyung’s personality and assumed all had been hunky-dory.

But life doesn’t work like that. And more importantly, people don’t work like that.

Once anyone peels the armour off, all the realest wear and tears are hidden behind the protective metal encasement, hard shell shucked off to reveal the soft innards that each human being possesses—however hardened they may believe themselves to be.

But then swimming against the current of rational thought, Jungkook takes an unexpected turn, as he asks gently, “Remember what I told you that day in the café?”

At first, the bundle of blankets housing Jimin’s body doesn’t move. But then Jungkook spots an nearly undetectable motion, an uncomfortable squirm indicating that his hyung probably remembers a great deal of what he’d said after all—and judging by the accompanying silence, most of what he remembers is not pleasant.

Wanting to alleviate the darkness in Jimin’s mind, Jungkook, in voice so low it’s a wisp of sound, dissipating from the moment he utters them, confesses, “I still love you.”

Then instantly realizing how it sounds, Jungkook, panicked, tacks on a jumbled, “As a friend. I still…I still love you as a friend.”

He pauses again before he awkwardly clarifies himself further.

“We aren’t together. That’s fine, I’ve made my peace with that. And with myself. And now, I want to make peace with you. I still love you as a friend, Jiminie-hyung, I want you to know that. So, please tell me, what’s wrong?”

Jimin finally moves, rolling onto his other side so he’s facing Jungkook.

He can only really see Jimin’s bloodshot, swollen eyes peering over his blanket mask. His heart jolts with sorrow as he observes the wetness on Jimin’s cheeks, tangible evidence of his upset.

“Jungkook?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s just…hard for me sometimes,” Jimin discloses quietly, curling into himself even further, looking so small and vulnerable that Jungkook’s heart aches.

This isn’t his arena of expertise; Jungkook’s like a hockey player roughhousing and skidding over cracks on the unfamiliar ice of another team’s stadium, but he thinks his conversation with Taehyung—if anything—had given him a little bit more of an edge than he would’ve otherwise had.

He encourages him, hoping his gentle approach will convince Jimin to illuminate his thoughts and feelings in more detail.

“What do you mean?”

Though he doesn’t shy away from Jungkook and roll back over, Jimin just lays a hand over his eyes, so wearily as if the single gesture had zapped all the energy he’d had in his body, the quarter-life left in his battery abruptly drained, completely dead. Jungkook waits patiently, but it doesn’t seem like Jimin has any urgency to elucidate any further. 

Jungkook can’t deny the frustration he feels, sensing his attempts had been rejected with a briskness that leaves him faintly offended, but he pushes the annoyance back down, knowing there’s no use in rushing Jimin—or worse yet indulging in a spat that’ll cause the distance they’d just begun closing to be re-established.

Instead of forcing Jimin’s hand, he decides to set an example—he opens his heart to his hyung.

“I’ve been so worried about you, Jimin-hyung.”

Jimin removes his hand away from his eyes, observing Jungkook with distant confusion.

“I know I made you think I don’t care and that I hate you or whatever fucked up ideas I put in your head because I was angry but…we were best friends once, remember? And I just realized lately that I haven’t been a good friend to you. And I was doing shit that made me feel really shitty about myself too.”

He takes a deep breath.

“I was just so lost in what I wanted that I forgot about having self-respect. I didn’t fucking bother thinking about what I did wrong. And I just blamed everything on you—”

In a soft voice, Jimin intervenes. 

“I deserved it. You had a good fucking reason to be angry with me.”

Nodding pensively, Jungkook mulls it over.

He wants to lie and sugar coat the truth. But he can’t be an overzealous child dumping exorbitant glops of icing sugar on a gingerbread house until the zesty snap is overwhelmed by artificial sweetness. But he doesn’t want to lie to Jimin anymore, that just hadn’t worked out for them.

So, he tries his tentative hand at gentle honesty.

“I was angry and maybe…” Jungkook starts but trials off.

He’s so scared that he’ll hurt Jimin. But he doesn’t want to make amends at the expense of being dishonest; it would feel so disingenuous to him.

He tries again.

“Okay, maybe, you’re right but I didn’t have to be such a fucking dick back, you know? I just hate that I made it seem like everything was only your fault, but the thing is I wasn’t really thinking about the ways I could’ve been better too,” Jungkook admits.

But as he confesses, bare and honest as he can be, a sharp tang of anger zips through him as his mind fast forwards through a montage of the years following their breakup. Despite his best efforts, gritting his teeth, the bitter words spill out past his tightly squeezed lips.

"I’m not saying I still don’t feel angry and fucking pissed about the shit you pulled because I do—”

“Sorry,” Jimin bleats, wincing a little.

“—But I’m just angry because…I mean, I really loved you, hyung.”

A silence falls, then they both sigh in unison, still interconnected even after all this time.

After a brief silence, Jungkook extends his pinky finger.

“Friends?”

Jimin just stares at it, face caked with doubt and timidity that’d never been present in their relationship when they’d been together.

The air is charged, flickering and crackling with the concentrated emotions of the two boys. But instead of coexisting peacefully, their feelings are misaligned with the other’s, like puzzle pieces, shapes clunky with mismatching edges and fissures that won’t piece together to create peace.

Jungkook waits with bated breath.

Finally, Jimin emerges from his blankets, the soft material falling past his chest, as he sits up to extend his own pinky finger.

And with the smallest—but still brightest—smile Jungkook’s seen in quite some time, Jimin wraps his stubbier finger around his longer one.

“Friends,” he agrees genially, the force behind it not enough to ruffle even the smallest leaf, but Jungkook won’t nitpick.

And when he looks at Jimin with his greasy hair, chapped lips, pallid face, and ratty pajama top, Jungkook thinks he’s learned how to really see him this time around. He sees that his friend is not perfect, not an infallible deity that he should idolize or revere. He’s imperfect and selfish and insecure, but Jungkook loves Jimin in spite of that.

He also knows Jimin could use someone in his life to depend on and he sincerely hopes with all his heart he could become that for him again. Because when things had been good, they’d been good. But after everything, Jungkook might not deserve to—he might not even be the best candidate for the position anymore. He knows this, but he’s really determined to do better by Jimin this time—do better by both of them.

And the reality is, he still doesn’t know what’s causing the overcast, dark clouds and perpetual downpour in Jimin’s life. And it’s obvious Jimin’s not ready to discuss any of it with him. He won’t push.

He won’t pull either.

He’ll just be there. This time, without ulterior motives, absent of romantic incentivization.

But when Jungkook looks at his tired, rumpled looking friend, his heart so soft and warm, he suddenly wonders if he can keep this promise. And how honest he’d been when he’d told Jimin he just loved him—as just a friend.

+++

Despite Jungkook’s daunting premonitions from that emotional night in June, to his great and pleasant surprise, he doesn’t falter in his journey of self-discovery and progression.

He doesn’t overprioritize Jimin like he had in the past. He doesn’t rank him with more importance than all the other significant responsibilities, people, and hobbies that he has in his life.

Hitting the weights hard everyday, taking photographs and editing them in his downtime, and seeing his group of friends (with Jimin tagging along again). The only activity left on hiatus is his brief re-entrance into the dating world; he finds himself too preoccupied to bother. 

It’s also nice that he hasn’t cracked the screen of his phone too, an additional bonus that Junghyun hadn’t expected (“Bet you’ll break that sucker in a week,” Junghyun had snidely remarked.)

If Jimin still reaps the occasional benefits of some preferential treatment, since Jungkook knows he’s more balanced about it this time around, he figures he can let it slide. 

And though Jungkook can tell his friend’s relieved that they’ve managed to overcome some of their differences and formerly unspoken issues, it doesn’t change much. It doesn’t change enough. The simple fact of the matter is Jimin’s still unwell.

+++

Jungkook thinks he’d been naïve.

He doesn’t know if he’d been narcissistic or egotistical for assuming that the reparation of the relationship between himself and Jimin would have caused a greater inflation of improvement in his hyung’s despondency, but he quickly realizes that whatever’s been hurting Jimin is deeper than he’d expected.

Jungkook had been envisaging dipping his toes into a shallow wetland, only to fall into the depth of an impossibly deep bay.

He’d also been hopeful that the profundity of Jimin’s struggles would reflect his—another era in which Jimin and Jungkook would share similar experiences, something they could bond over.

But that just isn’t the case. It’s clear now that Jungkook had been projecting his own subjective experiences onto Jimin; because he’d been able to recuperate reasonably well after confiding in his brother, friends, and taking essential steps to better himself, he’d imposed these expectations onto his hyung.

If the dreary expression that still remains on Jimin’s face is of any indication, it’s apparent that Jimin’s demons won’t be expunged that easily.

+++

Jimin’s trying, Jungkook can tell.

But he’s focusing his attention on the wrong things. Frankly, he’s worried his friend is too concerned about attending to Jungkook at the expense of tending to himself. It’s an ill-contrived attempt at penitence.

And while his thoughtless younger self might’ve opportunistically basked in the generous attention Jimin's slathering him in, Jungkook’s matured just enough through his hardships to know better this time.

But finding a gentle way to deliver his opinion is trickier than he anticipates. 

Once when Jungkook had very delicately suggested that Jimin should rest instead of staying up into the late hours of the night watching television with him and Taehyung, it hadn’t gone well.

His intentions had been pure and guileless. Jungkook had truly wanted his sickly looking hyung to rest and after the umpteenth time Jimin had suppressed an enormous yawn, under-eyes baggy and blue, he couldn’t help himself from chiming in and offering unsolicited advice.

But he knew Jimin hadn’t interpreted it that way when he witnesses how his friend’s eyes instantly droop sadly, a wounded look scribbled into the otherwise colorless canvas of his face, the easel of his spine brittle and frail.

He doesn’t miss the way Jimin’s upset eyes observe the interstice between Taehyung and Jungkook, clearly wondering if the small gap between the pair was enough to be considered platonic.

Jungkook shuffles over, widening the gap.

“Okay,” Jimin had agreed tonelessly without argument, standing up. He looks like a child that’d been berated then dismissed from class for acting up.

Jungkook dares to grab his wrist, wanting to explain himself.

“Hey, hyung, I just want you to rest well, okay? You’ve just been looking tired.”

Though he looks suspicious and untrusting, Jimin opts out of dissenting, nodding and walking away.

“Night.”

“Night,” breathes Jungkook, watching him and listening as he hears Jimin shuts his door.

He’s beginning to get a better grasp of why Jihyun’s been so worried about his brother.

Jungkook doesn’t sleep well that night.

+++

It’s July and Jungkook knows things now.

(“Such an adult,” Seokjin teases.

“I’m proud of your growth,” Namjoon kindly informs him once.

“You seem like you’re doing well,” Hoseok notes. Yoongi nods his head in assent with a soft smile.

“Jungkook, you traitorous POS, grow a pair of fuckin' balls,” Junghyun roars at him.

But Jungkook might’ve slayed him in a game after promising him family immunity from friendly fire.

Oops.)

He knows he’s flourishing, blossoming into something a little fresher and brighter than he’d been a few months ago, never mind a year ago.

And as he watches from a distance as his hyung struggles to stay afloat, his heart swells and encapsulates Jimin inside—holding him as near and dear as Jungkook can without smothering him. His protective instinct for Jimin may be duller than a rusty tool in a forgotten, dilapidated shed but it’d sat there, waiting patiently until the day it would be useful again.

He’s still waiting for the day Jimin will let him.

+++

When July ends, Jungkook and Jimin are a little closer. But only by proxy.

There’s always a buffer friend accompanying them—whether it’s all the hyungs at their get-togethers, Taehyung at the apartment, or their brothers at their respective homes.

They haven’t spent any time alone together.

But it’s more progress than Jungkook would’ve expected, so he counts his blessings.

+++

A few weeks before the new semester is about to begin, Jungkook comes home to his parents’ home and finds Jihyun waiting for him.

Jungkook stumbles a little bit before he scuttles awkwardly to a stop. He was already sweating from the August heat, but now he’s really dripping—stress sweat’s a real fuckin' bitch.

Despite his misgivings and injured pride, Jungkook tersely raises his hand and smiles tightly.

“Hey.”

Unreadable expression, Jihyun nods his acknowledgement.

“Hey.”

Jungkook pries his front door open and beckons Jihyun into his home. They both greet Jungkook’s parents warmly and indulge them in a brief conversation until Junghyun arrives home to relieve them of the duty. Jungkook then leads them upstairs, two bottles of water in his hand.

Once they get settled—Jungkook on his bed and Jihyun on the floor with his legs sprawled in front of him—they start talking.

“How’s it going?” Jungkook asks politely.

“Okay, I guess,” Jihyun shrugs, “Not stoked for school to start again, but what can you do?”

Jungkook laughs freely, a little of his nervousness ebbing out of him when he hears the familiar trepidation that’d coated Jihyun’s voice whenever they’d discussed school in the past. He smirks and teases his friend.

“Well, I was surprised you even got into university, but I’d be way less surprised if you dropped out—”

Jihyun hurls his water bottle at Jungkook. It bounces off Jungkook’s thigh with an impressive thud before it rolls onto the floor.

“Asshole!” he exclaims, laughing.

The lightness of the moment drains out then when Jungkook speaks.

“I can’t’ve changed that much,” Jungkook points out casually, “Since...we last spoke.”

In the short pause, they're both obviously remembering the nature of their heated disagreement over Jimin and the subsequent ensuing silence. A range of emotions flood through both of their faces, a short film on the rugged plains of their juvenile visages, and Jihyun cringes and apologizes instantly.

“I’m sorry.”

Jungkook admits quietly, “I am too.”

Shaking his legs, a telling reaction, Jihyun’s clearly anxious. Jungkook doesn’t speak—sensing the other boy is gathering his thoughts together before he allows them to fumble into the universe for Jungkook to analyze and explore.

“No, listen, Jungkook,” Jihyun finally says, “I’m sorry for the way I approached the situation but I’m not sorry for confronting you or calling you out on your shit. I’m not sorry for defending my brother—”

Jungkook’s slumbering engine roars to life, sparked by the ember of his temper, and he can’t help sniping back at Jihyun.

“You’re not? Because he did some pretty shitty things to me too, remember.”

Noting Jungkook’s flared nostrils, pursed mouth, and tense posture, Jihyun retreats and he raises his hands in resignation.

“Yeah, okay, you’re right. I agree,” Jihyun quickly acquiesces.

At Jihyun’s acknowledgment, Jungkook’s anger dwindles before the tiny flame is extinguished.

A deathly silence, an unbearably soundless intermission, falls upon then before Jihyun dares to speak.

He whispers softly, “But to be fair, it’s not like he fucking bewitched you, he’s not a fucking wizard, Jungkook, you made these choices on your own.”

He’s not wrong but—

“Jihyun,” Jungkook informs him solemnly, “He had me all fucked up. When you love someone and they’re in your ear all the time, fucking tell you that they love you too, it’s hard not to get all caught up in your feelings and make fucked up decisions. It’s not right…but that’s what happened.”

Exhaling loudly, Jihyun shakes his head in exasperation.

“Okay. And you’re right too, and I’m sorry. It’s just hard for me not to blame you.”

Jungkook recalls his conversation with his own brother.

“Yeah, I understand that. Junghyun said the same thing,” he grants.

“It’s what we’re wired to do. Jimin and I, we’re brothers. And family. Same with you and your brother. No matter what our brothers do, we’re always going to take their side. But I shouldn’t have blamed everything on you. That was wrong of me.”

Jungkook apologizes too. 

"I was wrong too. I shouldn't have been so mean to Jimin-hyung and made it seem like I was the only victim when I drove myself into that hole and then just kept digging myself in deeper. I should've accepted my own personal faults and wrongdoings and I'm trying to be better now. Not just for myself, but for the sake of my friends and everyone else. Jihyunie, I'm really sorry." 

Jihyun raises his fist to where Jungkook’s lying prone on his bed. Without hesitation, Jungkook bumps his friend’s extended fist with his own.

Truce.

But Jungkook’s got some questions.

“Jihyun…”

Jihyun hums.

“Can I ask you again, for real this time, what’s going on with your brother?”

Jungkook can immediately tell it’s a sensitive topic, clearly having stroked and provoked a sensitive nerve ending, as shudders and trembles start wracking Jihyun’s body.

“It’s not really an easy answer, Jungkook. I know some things, but I don’t think even I know everything. I’ve never seen him like this, you know. He just seems so sad. And I’m frustrated because I keep trying to make things better, but nothing seems to work,” Jihyun confesses, a forlorn look on his face that Jungkook’s never seen in all their years of friendship.

He prompts him delicately, wanting further explanation.

“What do you mean?”

Jihyun plays with his hands, eyes staring off into the distance with a vacant look in them, as he speaks.

“Like, I try to get him and try different restaurants with me, but he says he’s too tired. But then, when he’s home, he’s always in his room and if he’s not studying, he’s always asleep. And when we do eat together, I don’t know that I’ve seen him eat more than a few bites before he says he’s full.”

Ah, Jungkook thinks to himself, This all sounds very familiar.

“And when we all thought you and Taehyung were going to end up—you know—I tried to convince him to move back, but he refused, and we got into a fight over it too. He just point-blank said ‘no’.”

Jungkook flinches at Jihyun’s casual mention of Taehyung before he really processes the rest of what he’s said. A little alarmed that he almost lost access to Jimin altogether and very troubled that the Park brothers had gotten into an argument, Jungkook’s astonished.

His confusion is evident to Jihyun who simply aggrievedly sighs and runs his hand through his hair.

“Why?” Jungkook tries.

He doesn’t even really know what the question is pertaining to, doesn’t know what answer he’s seeking. 

“Doesn’t it seem like he’s a little better?” he asks a little foolishly.

He wonders why he’d bothered to ask when Jungkook himself knows that Jimin hasn’t been able to drag himself out of the well of his malaise yet. The stupidity of the question clearly irks Jihyun.

“I don’t know, Jungkook,” Jihyun snaps, “Does it even matter?”

Offended by his callousness, Jungkook bristles.

What?

Groaning in frustration, Jihyun just slumps forward and rests his forehead against the edge of Jungkook’s mattress.                                                                                                                                                                                          

“No, I don’t mean that I don’t care. I just mean—even if it seems like he’s better, does it matter if he’s not actually better? And the thing is, I’m beginning to realize I can’t even tell. He always seems to be genuine when he’s smiling and it fuckin' sucks that I’m always questioning which ones are real and which ones are a mirage that I’m just desperately wanting to believe.”

Jihyun falls silent and this time, Jungkook doesn’t respond. He just pats his friend’s arm consolingly as he thinks over everything Jihyun had said.

It all sounds hauntingly similar to all of Jungkook’s thoughts of Jimin for the past few months.

“Jungkook?” Jihyun mumbles into his fluffy comforter.

“Yeah?”

Jihyun squirms a little bit and Jungkook frowns over his slouching figure, waiting for him to continue.

“Can I ask you to do something for me?”

His frown grows.

“What’s that?”

Jihyun finally lifts his head and scans Jungkook’s expression, analyzing it pixel-by-pixel like a barcode scanner at a grocery store.

“I don’t expect you to be his babysitter or his guardian angel or take him as your fully responsibility because my brother is a full-grown adult,” JIhyun begins, “But will you help me to look out for him? And be there for him when you can?”

“Why wouldn’t I?” Jungkook asks, fully startled by the notion that he’d intentionally leave Jimin to wither away.

Jihyun makes a face and gestures a little erratically from his position on the floor, before he comments wryly.

 “Because you’re his ex.”

“Hasn’t stopped me from anything before,” Jungkook drily remarks before he pauses.

Then—

“Hasn’t stopped you before either, has it?” he mentions, giving Jihyun a pointed look.

The other boy flushes as he recalls the way he’d summoned Jungkook over the night Jimin’s relationship with Seulgi had ended.

“Guess not,” Jiyun mutters shamefacedly before he continues.

“The point is, Jungkook, I know it’s not your responsibility and I’m not trying to make it out to be. And I’m doing my best on my end over here, but if you could be there for Jimin’s friend like you promised him in July, I’d appreciate it. I know that was the one time in a while I saw a little tiny spark of life behind his eyes and it seems like—for whatever fucking nonsensical reason—after everything, your presence in his life is anchoring to him. So, no fucking pressure, but pressure’s on. If you could be there for him and be a decent human being, I’d really appreciate it.”

Jihyun’s almost panting after his impassioned rant and Jungkook’s eyebrows are raised so high they blend into his fringe.

After the tension bleeds out again, Jihyun amends, “If you could. And want to. Please.”

“…Okay,” Jungkook agrees faintly.

Jihyun, looking satisfied, just lolls around on the floor and the two boys change the topic for the rest of the evening.

 

***

September is wet and dreary.

Jungkook hates it.

But on the other hand, the strain between the three occupants of the apartment has drastically reduced— the tautness of everyone's faces diminishing like an elastic band that’s been snipped with precision and the stress levels collapsing like building littered with bombs. There’s only the residual mushroom cloud left around the perimeter, causing each individual to ensure they’re not stepping on someone else’s bare toes as they stumble around blindly in the blinding, ensuing smoke.

Jungkook also watches the way Taehyung shyly extends his warm reach out to include Jimin again, rescinding his frosty behavior from before. Jimin often looks flummoxed and apprehensive, but like an abandoned pup starving for maternal affection, he doesn’t seem able to reject Taehyung’s advances.

Instead, he’ll nuzzle into the touches and smile appreciatively under Taehyung’s care whilst his narrowed eyes follow him around with a suspicious cast to them.

Remembering his promise to Jihyun (and his promise to himself), Jungkook does his best to care for Jimin.

And for myself, he reminds himself.

+++

It’s two weeks into the new semester.

Taehyung had just headed to bed (yawning too wide considering it’s so pathetically soon into the new term) and Jimin had just gotten home.

Jungkook hadn’t really been watching television but he’d left it running in the background as he half-heartedly skims his syllabus on his laptop and mostly catches up on his Instagram feed; Jungkook’s always liked the background sounds of people’s voices cheeping and chirping in the background like birds greeting the morning.

He’d heard the familiar sounds of both of his roommates preparing for bed so he’s pleasantly surprised when Jimin sinks into the couch next to him.

“Hey,” he asks uncertainly, “Not going to sleep yet?”

Jimin just shrugs, avoiding eye contact.

The way his shoulders sag pitifully, his mouth curls downward, and his eye-bags are swollen and full, Jimin looks like he’d gotten into a mismatched battle with gravity and been overpowered terribly.

Jungkook twitches uncomfortably.

When they’d been dating, Jungkook would have had an abundance of options on how to treat the delicate matter of comforting Jimin. It could range from soft kisses to an all-consuming embrace to a clever joke to offering his mere presence as consolation.

When they hadn’t been dating but they’d been hooking up, he still could’ve plucked any of those same options out of his sufficiently stocked larder to offer as comfort for Jimin.

But now? He isn’t sure what the restrictions are. They’re friends, but it’s a little different from before.

They’re friends who’d been scarred and marred by love. They’d once been cast under the enchantment and durable red string of Yue-Lao** as the glimmering stars and smiling moon had borne witness. But somehow, they’d both fucked it all up and now, they sat in the remains of their former splendor.

So, what now?

At the very least, Jungkook desperately wants to hold Jimin close to him.

He doesn’t think he can.

So, he doesn’t.

Instead, he hopes his presence will be enough.

+++

Over the next few weeks, Jungkook spots a pattern—

When Jimin’s especially sad, he’ll come seek out Jungkook.

He won’t speak, he won’t cry, he won’t move (much).

Also, they never touch.

But the cumbersome distance between them grows incrementally smaller and smaller each time Jimin approaches him until one day, their thighs graze each other’s.

It’s small and basically nothing, but it’s something.

In some ways, Jungkook strongly believes, it’s everything.

+++

Chapter Text

There it is, in bold letters, the deadline—

11:59pm, Thursday, October 13th, 2016.

That’s today.

Jungkook balks.

“Oh my god,” he whispers to himself, as he scans his chemistry syllabus.

He doesn’t know how he’d gotten the dates mixed up, but he’d been certain the deadline had been next Thursday. In fact, if it hadn’t been for his chemistry classmate’s snivelling text about the impending deadline of the day, Jungkook would have went about the rest of the day, oblivious to his approaching doom.

 “Fuck,” he roars angrily, in complete disbelief at his own idiocy.

He leans back into the living room couch, dread circulating through his system. Jungkook cannot afford to fail this course. And if he fails this assignment, well.

Horrified, he whimpers fearfully, “Oh, my fuck.”

Alerted to Jungkook’s distress through his animalistic howls of aggravation, Taehyung comes trotting into sight from the hallway. His hair tousled casually, and his outfit is as gaudy and vibrant as ever. He’s scrambling to pull his backpack on, obviously about to head out for class, but he looks worried for Jungkook.

 “What’s going on?” he inquires urgently.

Normally, he’d appreciate the concern, but Jungkook’s fucking rattled like the snake and his fangs are dripping with venom, heckled enough to sink his venomous teeth into the first victim he spots.

Unfortunately, that person happens to be Taehyung.

“I jus—I totally fucked up. Like, epically fucked up,” he hisses, greatly aggrieved.

Taehyung’s patting himself down to check whether he has his wallet and keys and absently asks him, “What’d you do? Fuck the professor’s daughter? Get into a fight with the dean’s son? Send nudes to your mom?”

Sputtering in astonishment, Jungkook yells, “What? What goes on in your rubbish bin, trash bucket mind of yours for you to even come up with those as potential options?”

Taehyung shrugs indifferently.

“I dunno, seems like something stupid you’d do.”

Jungkook snaps, “No, you catastrophic fuck wit, no.”

Rolling his eyes, Taehyung asks again, “Okay, then, what’d you do?”

When Jungkook doesn’t answer as he runs about—yanking a binder from one cranny, a pile of crinkled notes from another, and an assortment of stationary items from a crook in his bedroom—Taehyung just sighs.

“Alright, well,” Taehyung drawls lazily, “Good luck then, man. Tell me about it later.”

He shuts the door quietly behind himself. No need to anger the beast.

Taehyung recoils when he hears a bellow of anguish from behind the door.

He scampers away.

+++

By the time Jimin arrives home in the early afternoon, Jungkook’s nearly in tears.

He’s also surrounded by an explosive storm of papers with scratches and tears in them after Jungkook had tossed them around in his rage, at an utter loss on how to complete this assignment. His chem partner has also proven to be as useful as a hose on a torrentially rainy day, only making the situation much wetter and much worse until they’re both about to drown in their collective failure.

Jimin scans Jungkook’s environment, eyes flitting from the mess of crumpled papers to the red ink stains on Jungkook’s hands to the tattered chemistry textbook to Jungkook’s tears.

“Wh-what’s wrong” Jimin asks timidly from the doorway where he’s undoing the shoelaces of his sneakers.

And though he promised himself he’d be strong for himself and for Jimin, Jungkook can’t suppress the tears.

“I fucked up, Jimin-hyung,” he confesses, waving a hand over the dune of papers, “I fucked up badly.”

“I fucked up the deadline for this assignment and I’m horrible at chemistry and barely understand anything and my classmates are as equally dimwitted as I am when it comes to chem and now I’m going to fail and my parents are going to box me up and stuff me into a storage unit until they aren’t ashamed to call me their son in public anymore,” he wails through his tears.

Suddenly, there’s fingers combing through his hair—his greasy, unwashed, gross hair that he wouldn’t have wished his worst enemy to touch or catch scent of.

But when he looks up, Jimin’s just looking down at him softly, not a shred of disgust in his eyes.

He continues to run his fingers through Jungkook’s hair, petting him affectionately.

“I can help you,” he offers hesitantly, uncertainty dimming the softness in his eyes for a brief moment before he treads on, “I’m, um, not too shabby at chem.” 

Jungkook’s mouth is left ajar, lightbulb flashing over his head as he recalls Jimin’s ingenuity at all the hard sciences and mathematics that he’s so troubled by. But all the same, he struck by a sense of guilt and principle, not liking the idea of asking Jimin for such a large favour so shortly after they’d reconciled.

When Jungkook doesn’t respond, leaving the pause lingering for longer than what’s conversationally acceptable, Jimin hastily amends, “If you want me to—only if you want me to.”

Still, Jungkook doesn’t respond.

“I mean…I’m not, like, saying you’re stupid or…inept or bad or, I just want to help, and you look really sad and I feel bad because I’m all caught up on my assignments, no, wait, now I feel bad like I’m bragging or something? No, I just mean, I have some extra time and it looks like you need help and I just…I, fuck, Jungkook, please answer me,” Jimin rambles, his voice cracking and pitching violently as he tries to explain himself.

“You’d help me?” Jungkook asks, wetting his lips, mouth dry from the sheer shock of Jimin’s kindness.

Jimin starts a bit at the question.

“Of course, why wouldn’t I?”

Avoiding eye contact, Jungkook doesn’t answer him.

He hopes the silence speaks for itself.

“Jungkook, you said that we’re friends, right?”

He nods.

“It’ll be easier if I help you, I think. You can get by with a little help from your friends,” Jimin declares softly, a little singsong-y nuance to his proclamation.

A small smile makes its way across Jungkook’s wet face.

“If you don’t mind then, please,” Jungkook requests sweetly.

Jimin just smiles and pulls up a chair next to Jungkook and picks up a pen.

The lovely moment, soft and whimsical as a new layer of sentimentality connects the pair of them, ruptures like a stale bubble as Jimin suddenly adopts a stern, scholarly expression.

He glances over at the only sheet that’s escaped Jungkook’s wrath and scowls.

“Listen here, Jungkook, wha-wait, how’d you even end up with this? Oh b—”

Jungkook sighs and picks his own pen up.

+++

11:52pm.

Jungkook’s entering his last few answers onto the online template provided for him, trying to decipher his appallingly illegible scrawl at the same time.

Jimin’s chin is now hooked over his shoulder (his hyung had gotten painfully invested in the assignment, slapping Jungkook’s pen out of his hands when he’d lost focus and growling threats when Jungkook had whined for a break and terrifying them both when he’d walloped Jungkook’s head for complaining about Jimin’s teaching methods).

“No, that’s wr—”

Hyung, I know, it was just a typo,” Jungkook retorts shortly, gently pushing Jimin away.

It had been long multiple hours, but he’s almost finished.

11:54pm.

He saves his document.

11:55pm.

He attaches the document to an email.

11:57pm.

Sent.

They both cheer and whoop happily, Jungkook picking up all his papers and throwing them in the air like an ecstatic college graduate tossing her Oxford cap into the air. He doesn’t know how that’ll feel like yet, but in this moment of small victories, he really thinks the sensation will be similar.

12:00am, Friday, October 14th, 2016.

Suddenly, something registers with Jungkook and he whirls around aggressively to face Jimin, jutting his finger at him maniacally.

“Hyung! It was your birthday!” he accuses in a loud voice, totally inappropriate for the lateness of the hour.

Jimin shushes him with an enormous frown on his face, before he shrugs.

“Oh, yeah, I guess.”

Jungkook’s stomach drops and his short-lived joy dissolves like sugar melting under heat until it caramelizes into thick, clumpy guilt.

What kind of person promises themselves to be a pillar of strength for someone else then crumbles under the first tremor from a wobbly tectonic plate? And what’s worse is that he’d had to depend on the person whom he’d sworn to watch over to scaffold him back to sturdiness.

He feels sick with guilt.

 “What the fuck! Why’d you spend your birthday on a stupid fucking chemistry assignment that I fucked up on, oh my god,” he cries.

Jimin shrinks into himself, insecurity and fear fully evident on his face under Jungkook’s emotional outburst.

“Oh, I ju…did you not want my help? Did I misstep?” he asks quietly.

Fuck, Jungkook keeps exacerbating the situation. God damn it.

He tries to rein his temper back in, a mulish stallion that reluctantly settles down with a final huff.

Once he composes himself, Jungkook tries again, this time with a softer tone and a more tactful approach.

“No, no, hyung, I can’t even put into words how fucking grateful I am, but it’s just. Why would you do that for me?”

Jimin’s playing with his sleeves now as he mumbles, “I told you—we’re friends.”

Jungkook tries very hard to ignore the way Jimin sounds vaguely resentful when he says “friends”. He tries even harder not to read into why that may be.

Instead, he retorts, “Dude, if I told Junghyun-hyung about my mistake, he would have laughed at me and told me to learn from my mistakes for next time. And he’s my brother.”

Jimin gives him a pointed look.

“He wouldn’t’ve.”

“Okay, no, but theoretically he might’ve. And I was just trying to make a point.”

Jimin rolls his eyes dramatically, but the gesture is mostly fond and light-hearted, so Jungkook laughs.

“My point is, I’m super grateful but I feel terrible that you spent your entire day on me—helping me, teaching me, helping me fix my own stupid mistake when you could’ve spent it doing literally anything else instead. Seriously, fuck, I feel terrible,” he confesses, voice lower and steadier now, trying to really convey the depth of his appreciation and his guilt.

Jimin seems to understand and he tentatively places his hand on Jungkook’s arm.

The way he’d been so carefree and thoughtless with his touches (or attacks, Jungkook thinks sardonically) when he had been helping Jungkook with his assignment, it’s a bit harrowing to recognize the way he’s retreating into his gun-shy ways again. Without the impromptu tutoring session as a rationalization for initiating contact, Jimin’s leery at every abrupt movement and suspicious at every compassionate act directed towards him again.

Jimin’s tongue swipes across his full lips, wetting them before he speaks, petting Jungkook’s arm now, leaving behind a trial of sparklers popping and snapping against his sensitive skin until his fine hair are standing on end. 

“Jungkook-ah, I spent my birthday exactly the way I wanted to,” Jimin croaks out nervously.

Jungkook makes a face and jokes, “Doing a chemistry assignment?”

Laughing and smiling widely, Jimin’s eyes are twinkling with life and Jungkook’s heart bursts with adoration.

He’s missed their easy interactions—the easy love that they’d shared. And even if it’s not exactly the brand of love he desires deep inside, it’ll be enough for him. He’s not as greedy and selfish as he’d been before and now Jungkook realizes, even if his heart is breaking, he’ll stand by Jimin—always.

When Jimin speaks next, Jungkook’s cardiac condition only worsens with his hyung’s tender words—a zephyr tickling his sticky and sweaty skin, much like the way Jimin’s hand lingers on his forearm, rubbing softly.

“No,” Jimin professes softly, “Here, with you.”

Jungkook’s heart flutters, beating painfully against his ribcage.

+++

It’s edging towards the year, when Jungkook and Jimin decide to attend a Park family dinner on the final weekend of October together. It’ll be Jungkook’s first in quite some time and he finds it difficult to quell the burgeoning anxiety as the hours tick by.

How will he be received? Will they still welcome him with open arms? How much do they know about Jungkook’s part in Jimin’s lows and woes? Do they know about them? Will Jihyun be a hindrance or a welcome boost to the situation?

The entire commute there, Jungkook’s buzzing with nervous energy as if he’s housing an entire colony of bees in his chest, a hive that’s full to the brim with thick, starchy unease. It clings to his ribcage and lungs and heart, a heavy substance, that makes it difficult for him to breathe right or think straight. 

 Judging by Jimin’s concerned looks, he notices. 

But upon walking into the Park home, they discover the house had been left entirely vacant. They both exchange looks, a little perplexed by this anomalous event.

Jungkook silently releases a sigh of relief, pleased that he’ll have some more time to himself to prepare for the dinner. Even if its not much, he’s still grateful.  

While Jimin’s texting his family to inquire about their whereabouts, Jungkook just takes in his surroundings—nothing’s changed much and somehow, this fact reassures him. The living room contains all the same furniture, the small crack on the wall next to the refrigerator is still unfixed, and it’s as tidy as ever.

“My parents are out right now, but they say they’ll be home in an hour or two. Come to think of it, I guess we’re a little earlier than normal. And Jihyun didn’t answer me, little rascal,” Jimin informs him as he closes multiple windows on his phone.

After he puts down his phone, Jimin looks up and asks, “What’d you wanna do ‘til then?”

Shrugging, Jungkook casually suggests a walk despite the crummy weather.

Jungkook’s not the greatest fan of walks, preferring to work out or play sports, but today he’s feeling as though he’s temporarily afflicted by restless leg syndrome and he wants to expend his remaining energy.

It’s just ‘cause of the dinner, he tries to tell himself.

Now, if he’s being completely candid with himself, Jungkook suspects this sudden jitteriness stems not from the impending dinner with his “second set” of parents. Rather, it’s from his pre-determined aspiration to confront Jimin in order to try to understand his hyung’s mental health and state with better clarity. He knows it’ll be an arduous task akin to swimming without fins or flying without wings or digging without paws.

But he digresses.

Looking unconvinced as he steals a doubtful look at the window, Jimin says, “It’s kinda…dreary out, no?”

But eventually Jungkook manages to persuade him through a battery of whiny pleas and forceful application of heavier jackets, beanies, and scarves. Jimin doesn’t go down without a fight, grumbling and moaning his discontentment throughout the entire process.

And so, they find themselves outside walking to a nearby park, each boy subtly glancing up at the sky intermittently. Drapes of dark, ominous clouds lurk overhead, swollen with deep pockets of moisture, and Jungkook doesn’t doubt a downpour is inevitable. 

He’s not sure if he’s talking about himself or the weather.

The walk itself isn’t particularly strenuous or long, and despite the frosty nippiness, it’s enough to settle Jungkook’s inexplicable edginess. It’s nice how the pair of them are drawn together, magnetized by the appeal of sharing body heat; it’s a familiar warmth that his memory had treasured and hoped would experience once again.

Words are scarce on the way to the park, but Jungkook’s always been a proponent of the notion that meaningless conversation has a way to debase an interaction. So, this mutual exchange of enjoyable company and subtle touches as they bump into each other feels intimate enough that Jungkook has no complaints.

Once they reach the park, they wordlessly head towards the park apparatuses, selecting a couple swings first. After they settle in, Jungkook swiftly strikes.

Like a starving predator with cubs to feed, there’s no waiting for the perfect opportunity; there’s only waiting for an opportunity. He’s allocated a time slot for this very conversation, so Jungkook shoots his shot.

“Hyung, how are you?”

Hands on the chains adjacent to his head, they clink loudly as Jimin jolts, obviously startled.

He stutters, “What’d you mean? We live together, you know what I’m up to.”

Jungkook shakes his head, unaccepting of Jimin’s shifty response.

“No, I mean, how are you really?” he presses insistently.

Jimin’s grip on the chains tighten, fingers going white with the effort, and from his profile Jungkook sees the way his jaw tautens.

Even the way he shrugs is strained, as Jimin claims, “I’m okay. Better some days than others, but you know, it’s like that for everyone.”

The explanation is bland and colorless and a complete lie. Jungkook hates it.

But he’s got to tread lightly here, and he knows it.

“I mean, I guess, but are you doing better than before?”

He’s trying for a light tone, but it’s clear that Jimin’s not taking it as such.

“What do you mean?” Jimin snaps a little shortly.

Jungkook very carefully tries not to feel hurt, but it’s hard not to when his intentions are pure and good and Jimin’s snapping at him like a Venus fly trap plant.

“I mean, Jimin-hyung,” Jungkook says quietly, taking another stab, “I told you before—I’m worried about you. I’ve been worried. And I just wanna make sure you’re doing okay.”

Though Jimin’s still tense, he loosens up a little at Jungkook’s soothing words and composes himself.

“I’m alright. I’m doing well in school and I see you. And Taehyung’s been pretty nice to me again lately, which has been nice,” he confesses.

Again, the response is generic and conventional—an answer that’d satisfy anyone that’d been asking but not seeking for a real response. And suddenly, Jungkook thinks he understands how Jimin’s deterioration has gone unnoticed to most of the general public. With the level of emotional intelligence Jimin possesses and harnesses, he wouldn’t squander much effort to convince people that he’s alright—even if he’s not.

Jungkook refuses to be like everyone else though. He hadn’t seen through Taehyung’s masquerade, but he won’t fall victim to a similar ruse again. He promises himself that.

“Yeah, I’m glad to hear that. He was just going through his own shit at the time. I know he feels pretty badly about it now though. Glad he’s being chill again,” Jungkook says.

“Oh,” Jimin frowns, “What do you mean? Is he okay?”

Of course, Jimin’s big heart is concerned about someone else, Jungkook sighs.

Jungkook intones mildly, “He’s fine and he knows he can talk to me whenever.”

“Can I do anything for hi—”

Frustrated, Jungkook cuts him off.

“It’s not about Taehyung right now. It’s about you,” Jungkook exclaims, raising his voice.

Jimin gets up from his swing, affronted by the rude attack, and starts walking away. 

He angrily yells over his shoulder, “I told you, Jungkook, I’m fucking fine.”

Getting up from his own swing, Jungkook instantly shadows him, matching his fast-paced scurry.

Jimin’s still walking away from him, but Jungkook shoulders him lightly to prevent him from making any more advancement away from him. He cuts him off like a border collie herds its cattle and Jimin’s betrayed eyes inform Jungkook instantly that he’s not too keen on the gesture.

He holds Jimin’s shoulders tightly and stares at him in the eyes, shaking him a little.

“Are you though, hyung? I’ve noticed the way you don’t eat much but say you do. And I see the way you sleep at random times—”

Snorting, Jimin interjects sarcastically, “Oh, can I not nap anymore? Or do I need your permission to do things now?”

He’s on the defensive and Jungkook knows that this version of Jimin is a feral creature to contend with.

Jungkook pleads softly, “No, hyung, no, that’s not what I mean.”

“So, what are you trying to say then?” he demands, any semblance of warmth absent from his normally melodic voice and his eyes are two impenetrable beads, glaring fiercely at Jungkook.

Jungkook emphatically tells him, “I’m trying to say what I’ve been trying to say—I’m worried.”

Evidently, Jimin doesn’t care much for his concern as expressed in his haughty countenance and sardonic comment.

“Yeah, I know, you’ve only mentioned it a couple times now,” he snidely remarks, rolling his eyes.

But despite the impregnable fortress that Jimin’s heart lies in, Jungkook’s a valiant knight and he finds a small chasm in Jimin’s defense and he firmly chips away at it until he’s able to scramble through the tiny entranceway and get him to share what he’s hiding behind his walls.

“Don’t get snappy with me, hyung,” he begs, “I’m not trying to attack you or condemn you or whatever the fuck you think I’m trying to do right now.”

But despite the desperate appeal, his hyung shakes him off briefly and storms off again before Jungkook catches him and shoves him up again the perforated wall of the park structure. Once he realizes he’s not able to push Jungkook away from himself, he just shoves the younger boy once on the chest with great effort.

“Fine, fucking fine, Jungkook,” Jimin yells angrily, “Tell me, if you’re so fucking desperate, what are you trying to do then?”

Ignoring Jimin’s prickliness, Jungkook just closes in on him and pushes his forehead against Jimin’s and closes his eyes. He hears and feels the way Jimin’s breath hitches, body shuddering in great jangles that wrack his bones. Then he wraps his fingers around Jimin’s shoulders and rubs them soothingly, trying to ease the tension.

“Jimin-hyung, I love you. After everything we’ve been through and the amount of time I’ve known you for, you think love dies just because we both fucked up monumentally? You think that I don’t care or notice things about you? Do you think my love for you is that shallow? We’re just friends now but that’s never changed the amount I love you. I still love you exactly the same—if not more,” he confesses softly.

Jimin’s standing rigidly, but he still responds.

“Why though? I don’t deserve it,” he mumbles hatefully.

Before Jungkook can console Jimin, the sky above them rumbles ominously before a splatter of wetness lands on his face; the clouds have burst, and they’ve begun to deposit their reservoir of water upon the city. But Jungkook’s not willing to allow a little precipitation and sprinkle to prevent this conversation from happening.

But Jimin appears to have no intention of riding out the rain and he makes a break for it.

Rolling his eyes, privately thinking that it wouldn’t be a melodramatic extrapolation to assume Jimin’s trying to flee from the conversation, Jungkook blockades his escape route. Then, he roughly grabs him by the hips and wrestles him onto the park structure. This leaves Jungkook exposed to the elements and Jimin sheltered from them, the former standing and the latter sitting.

More importantly, this means Jimin’s caged in. Jungkook’s gaze is fierce, intensely staring down at him.

 “It doesn’t matter, hyung, it doesn’t matter,” he insists firmly, “I don’t always deserve to be loved either—when I’m a fucking asshole to my mom because she wants me to do my chores, or when my brother needs five minutes before he can help me, and I bitch up a storm. Or when Seokjin-hyung can’t make time for me, and I don’t answer him for an hour or two out of spite. Or when Hoseok-hyung doesn’t share food with me that’s not mine to have and I get pissed off. Do you see what I mean?”

He’s getting drenched by the rain and he’s cold like a hairless cat caustically abandoned in an unforgiving tundra, but Jungkook doesn’t care. He trembles as he places his wet, cold hands on either side of Jimin’s face and he impatiently tosses his head back to remove his clotted fringe from irritating his eyes.

Jimin’s staring up at him, the stormy expression on his face more calamitous and chaotic than the tempest Jungkook’s weathering right now. Jungkook’s eyes scout the heath hidden behind Jimin's eyes, an uncultivated shrubland mostly devoid of life with only a few smatterings of coarse vegetation to it and upon prodding and plodding around, he recognizes the soil’s infertile and acidic; it’s simply not an ideal environment for much to blossom or bloom.

And it hits Jungkook then—how much pain Jimin’s concealing from the world. And how much it hampers his ability to function at full capacity.

Unable to bear the pain that he’s finally sees, Jungkook closes his own eyes and presses his cool lips against Jimin’s temple as he speaks.

 “No one ever always deserves to be loved. We’re all human and we’re all gonna do fucked up shit. And mostly fucked up shit to each other, but if we all stopped loving the people in our lives because they’re being a dickhead every now and then…well, then love would’ve ceased to exist ages ago.”

Jungkook’s crying from behind his eyelids now and he’s thankful the rain disguises it so well. Jimin’s warmth travels from under his skin to heat up Jungkook’s numb mouth, so he’s somehow able to continue. Jungkook strokes his thumbs across Jimin’s cheeks lovingly; he doesn’t notice the way Jimin’s hands have found their way onto his hips and pulls him in. 

“Love isn’t dictatorial or selective about who deserves love. It isn’t. If it were, then we wouldn’t have ever been in love to begin with—would we? Because same-sex love is wrong or twisted or evil or whatever. But no, realistically, that’s horseshit. Because love isn’t like that. Not at all,” Jungkook rambles through an occasional sob.

One of his hands has made their way onto Jimin’s nape and caresses the fine hairs and soft skin there. The other hand remains on his face. But it drops as Jimin pulls Jungkook in even closer until his hyung’s face is concealed in his stomach region. He can tell by Jimin’s shaking shoulders and tight embrace that they’re both crying now.

But he doesn’t falter, and he perseveres on.

“Love doesn’t set boundaries on when we love people either. Meaning even when my mom’s at her tipping point with my nonsense or my brother’s about to pummel me into the ground for my bratty behavior, they still love me. And even when I thought I hated you, no, I just hated what we were doing to each other—yes, what we were doing to each other—but I never stopped loving you,” he admits through his sniffles, now using both hands to pet Jimin.

For a while, neither of them responds and all they can hear is the down of the rain falling and Jungkook’s teeth lightly chattering from the cold. 

“Do you see what I mean?” Jungkook eventually prompts.

Jimin detangles himself from Jungkook and pushes him away a little. Before Jungkook’s stomach sinks and he feels hurt, Jimin uncrosses his legs and places them over the edge of the structure, so he can pull his ex in the space between his thighs. He then places his hands back on the small of Jungkook’s very damp, very cold back.

“Jungkook, I love you still too. You’ll always be my best friend,” Jimin admits softly, hardly audible over the muted splattering of the rain. 

“Of course, hyung,” Jungkook beams, then adds, “But don’t worry about loving me.”

He places his large hands on Jimin’s thighs, squeezing them comfortingly, before leaving them stationary. But Jimin draws back a little. His mouth is pursed, and he looks faintly offended.

“Do….d-do you not care if I don’t love you? Does it not matter? Why doesn’t it matter?”

Jimin looks thoroughly putout, completely injured, and Jungkook can’t have that.

“No, listen, hyung,” Jungkook asserts, “I just want you to care about yourself first. Take care of yourself, please. It hurts me so fucking badly to see you hurting. And see you hurting yourself. Please, please, take care of yourself.”

He pauses then adds, “Self-love first, hyung. You can try your best to love other people when you don’t love yourself, but it always gets fucked up somehow.”

Jimin watches him, enraptured by his words, body completely still.

“You either give too much of yourself when you don’t have enough to give in the first place or you end up taking too much from the people you love because you don’t love yourself enough. Either way, it’s not ideal, you see?”

Jungkook continues rubbing Jimin’s thighs soothingly, his wet hands on the dry fabric.

“So, I’m not saying I don’t want your love, but I just want you to focus on yourself for now. And when—”

He coughs awkwardly and amends his sentence.

“…And if you still can find some space in your heart for me one day,” he says lightly, “I won’t be upset about that.”

There’s a small pause where neither of them says anything. Jungkook just moves in closer, desperately seeking some body warmth now, and when his hands involuntarily seize, he clenches the meat of Jimin’s thighs again causing his hyung to jump a little. He nuzzles into Jimin’s mostly dry locks and his wet lips are crushed against the side of his head again.

They both stifle the shivers that run their spine as the points of contact grow in abundance, but finally, Jimin speaks.

“I can’t promise anything,” he declares, “But I promise I’ll try.”

Jungkook smiles, lips stretching across his face and he moves his hands from Jimin’s thighs to around his shoulders and embraces him.

“Okay,” he agrees softly.

And even if that half-promise won’t be enough forever, it’s enough for now.

This time when Jungkook shivers, he can't tell if it's from the cold of the rain or from the warmth of the love he still holds deep in his belly. 

+++

Some days are good.

Other days are decidedly not.

Some days, Jimin will smile so brightly that Jungkook forgets that there’s a demon lurking deep inside his soul. These days leave Jungkook lighter than buoy and he really feels like a beacon of the seas, delimiting the secure parts of the ocean from the treacherous ones, guiding Jimin to safety and wellness.

Other days, Jimin’s spirit is duller than a rusty knife and Jungkook can’t believe he ever forgot that his hyung’s unwell.  Those days leave Jungkook fidgety and laconic, rubbing his face in frustration and feeling like ineffectual friend.

But he tries not to let it get to him, knowing if they both maroon themselves to their own separate islands, they’ll never be able to reach other, never be able to understand one another. So, he picks up the oars of self-motivation and begins rowing through the ocean of trials and tribulations, making his sluggardly way to reach the lonely shores where Jimin sits. And there are days where he feels like he’s finally closing in on the distance, in close enough proximity to coax Jimin onto the boat with him, when the tide suddenly changes and his hyung scampers off.

It’s not always easy for Jungkook, but then he reminds himself how hard it must be for Jimin.

+++

Unfortunately, in November, Jimin falls ill.

He tries to conceal it from Jungkook, even going insofar to try and persuade Taehyung to keep his trap shut, but Jimin really ought to have known better. Taehyung’s mouth has always had some rusted and busted hinges, leaving his mouth flappy and loose for secrets to come spilling out. Combine that quality with the matter of his inherently soft heart, preventing him from being intentionally deceitful, leaving him as conniving as the weakest link in a high stakes poker game—that is, he tries but doesn’t succeed.

Within twenty seconds of Jungkook entering their shared space, Taehyung blurts—

“Jimin’sreallysickbutdidn’twantmetotellyoubutIthinkyou’dwantmetotellyouso.”

Jungkook just freezes and stares.

“What?”

Taehyung inhales again, as he makes his way towards the door, and repeats himself.

“I said, Jimin’s really sick but didn’t want me to tell you. But I think you’d want me to tell you, so, erm. I did.”

Jungkook dumps his knapsack on the floor next to the couch and worriedly makes his way to Jimin’s door. Taehyung just watches and shakes his head fondly before he leaves the apartment to go to his final class of the week.

The door slams open and Jungkook rushes into Jimin’s room.

Bedside lamp still on, Jungkook’s able to absorb the sight in front of him.

Jimin looks positively miserable, lying prone on his back, a damp cloth on his forehead, with bunched up tissues littering his bedside table and garbage bin. He looks as though he’d tried to leave his blankets on himself, but eventually tired of the unbearable heat, and kicked them off.

“Hey, hey, hey, are you okay?” he whispers, settling in carefully on a small sliver of space on Jimin’s bed that’d been left unoccupied.

Jimin groans pitifully, the sound nasally and sickly.

He moans, “Fine.”

Jungkook grabs the wet cloth off his head and dunks it into the metal basin on the floor. Then, he squeezes the excess water out before he folds it and places it back on Jimin’s forehead. He leans back a little and gently massages Jimin’s head before he responds, a soft accusation ringing offensively in the air.

“That’s what you always say.”

Jimin grunts faintly, before he starts shoving Jungkook’s hand away.

Stop, Jungkook, or you’ll get sick too.”

Jungkook shrugs despite knowing Jimin’s eyes are closed and he won’t see it.

“Mom and dad made me get the annual flu vaccination. And I can beat a cold, no problem, so, nice try,” he rebuts defiantly.

They sit in relative silence, only the sounds permeating the air are Jimin’s occasional sniffles and Jungkook’s frequent yawns. Jungkook continues petting his hyung and body sluggish and heavy with illness, Jimin stops resisting.

“What’s wrong?” Jungkook demands again.

He ensures the tone is still fluffy like beat up eggs and mashed potatoes, with enough solidity to make an impact but still easy enough to swallow.

But damn, Jimin’s picky, and he doesn’t bite.

Jimin frowns, despite his closed eyes, and his mouth scrunches up as he denies, “Nothing, I’m fine.”

“Okay, well, judging by your stuffed nose, sweaty face, box of medicine, and the cold towel on your forehead, I’m going to make an educated inference that you, dearest Jimin-hyung, are not fine,” Jungkook remarks drily.

Jimin huffs but doesn’t respond and Jungkook just sighs exasperatedly.

“Can I get anything for you?” he offers.

Jimin seems to actually think it over.

Eventually, he admits, “Not really.”

They sit in silence again. Jungkook’s ass hurts so he shifts around uncomfortably and Jimin, having mercy on him, scoots over a little bit to make some room for him. This gives Jungkook an idea—

“Okay, well, I can stay with you if you want.”

Jimin rejects his proposal so swiftly, Jungkook’s unable to prevent the stab of hurt that jolts his heart.

“No, I’ll feel really guilty if you get sick.”

But then again, fair enough.

Jungkook just wants to feel useful, like he’s contributed something meaningful to alleviate Jimin’s ailment. And he has one final trump card, so he’ll use it—

“How about some honey ginger tea?”

Jimin perks up a little bit.

“…Fine, okay,” he accepts.

Jungkook groans as he moves his stiff legs, having settled into Jimin’s bed despite the unideal shape he’d been positioned into to ensure maximum comfort for his sick friend. Before he pulls the door open and leaves to tend to Jimin, a stuffy and soft voice carries over.

“Jungkookie?”

He cranes his head and peers at Jimin whose eyes are finally open and blinking heavily at him.

“Yeah?”

Jimin smiles appreciatively and shyly says, “Thank you.”

He returns the smile.

“No problem.”

He then shuts the door quietly behind him and sighs again.

If he’s being perfectly honest, he’d wanted to ream Jimin out for his poor self-care routines.

His circadian rhythm is still basically non-existent and sometimes Jungkook feels like everyone should count their lucky stars if Jimin remembers to eat. They all try their best, he knows. He’d even spotted Taehyung forcing a soggy slop of instant ramyeon on Jimin multiple times, evidently catching onto Jimin’s crappy eating habits (though he privately believes anyone would be deterred from wanting to eat again once they sample Taehyung’s attempts at cooking).

And ever the meticulous student, Jimin stays up until random hours to complete his mandated schoolwork while catching up on his sleep at other random hours. It’s unbelievable how presentable and well-adjusted Jimin ostensibly appears to be, but Jungkook knows better.

But Jungkook’s also aware that if he pushes Jimin too hard that he’ll scare him away until he’s sitting on the other side of the stately gates of the palatial estate of Jimin’s heart. And he doesn’t want to revert back into sitting in the dark again, allowing his friend to suffer unbeknownst to him.

It’s a very delicate balance of enduring what he can without enabling Jimin to further disintegrate.

And the funny thing is, it’s not a steady or consistent calculation. It’s not like an old recipe passed down by great-grandparents to their favourite son or daughter with looping scrawls and messy scribbles delineating exact measurements and precise quantities of each individual ingredient. It’s nothing like that. There are no numerical estimations on how much of one thing Jungkook can and should be—or shouldn’t be.

It’s a disorderly, untidy art and Jungkook knows, deep inside, he’s simply not qualified enough to shoulder this by himself. He knows he’s out of his depth.

But for now, what he can feasibly do is make a slammin’ cup of honey ginger tea.              

Jungkook heads to the kitchen.

+++

Since Jimin’s sick, both boys inform their parents that they’ll be staying at the apartment over the weekend under the guise that they’re drowning deep in their assignments, not seeing a real purpose in worrying their parents.

Both the Jeons and the Parks express their disappointment but still send encouraging texts with varying amounts of emojis.

(“Ugh, who taught my mom to use emojis?” Jungkook gripes, staring at his colorful screen in astonishment, “It’s so weird and I feel like I’m texting one of my girly classmates who wear pink and fake glasses and have a small miniature toy poodle and squeal in excitement all the time. Bleh.”

Jimin laughs, though it’s more like a honking sound thanks to his clogged nasal passageways.

I like emojis,” Jimin informs him teasingly, “And so does Tae.”

“Like I said,” Jungkook counters loudly, “I feel like I’m texting one of my girly classmates—”

Jimin pushes him off the bed unceremoniously and into his accumulating pile of sullied tissues.

Jungkook shrieks.)

Jungkook stays in the confines of Jimin’s room when he’s got time or they both venture out into the living room to watch Netflix when they both have enough energy to pay attention to a feature film. Taehyung pops in and makes frequent appearances, causing periodic squabbles between Jungkook and his hyung over who’s taking up too much room.

Jimin watches them, his amused expression mingling with residual skepticism, still clearly wary on how to interpret the camaraderie between the other two boys. But the doubtful looks quickly washes away like imprints in the sand once the tide climbs its way up the shore, when the other two pounce on him instead, ribbing him for using his sickness as an excuse to occupy the most luxurious amount of room.

That weekend ends up being mostly a tremendous loss of time and productivity.

The only time they had branched off and scuttled to their own respective rooms is when it had come time to select their courses for the upcoming spring semester. Even Jungkook, having taken it upon himself to become something of Jimin's guardian, had been anxious enough to drift off into his own room without second thought. He really needs to be able to get into the courses he's selected for himself if he wants to graduate as planned. 

Once he'd finished the tedious task, he'd gently placed his laptop on his desk and ventured back into Jimin's room where his hyung had remained incubating in his sickness. Jimin had been at his desk with his back turned to Jungkook. It'd been the first instance since he'd fallen sick that his posture had been so ramrod straight since he'd mostly been lounging on the couch or luxuriating in his bed. The way he'd been squinting at the screen and before slowly clicking on some option had told Jungkook that Jimin had been taking whatever he'd been doing seriously. 

Jungkook had frowned a little, unable to recognize the website's unfamiliar interface. But he'd been certain it didn't belong to their school. He'd then tried sneaking up on his hyung, but Jimin had startled abruptly and slammed his laptop shut. 

He'd tried with great effort to wheedle Jimin into telling him what'd got him so jumpy, even teasing him about being too sick to attend school but energetic enough to jerk off. Jimin hadn't taken too well to Jungkook's jibes, hitting his younger friend with impressive gusto. Taehyung's curiosity had gotten the best of him once he'd heard multiple of Jungkook's yelps and he'd entered the fray, chortling away as he tries with suspect eagerness to guess what category of "erotica film" Jimin had been trying to watch. 

Eventually, Jungkook had recognized Jimin had clammed up and had no intention of revealing his online activities anytime soon and he'd given up. Taehyung had recognized a lost battle soon afterwards. 

Maybe Jimin was just too shy to admit he'd been horny, Taehyung shrugs off. 

Aside from that minor irregularity in Jimin's behavior (but Jungkook figures everyone is entitled to their own secrets), the weekend had been an overall triumph—especially on the front of inter-house unity. 

They all know they each have left many secrets unspoken and have left many neglected demons unattended to, but for now this short interim of harmony is enough.

+++

 

Chapter Text

Isn’t it the strangest thing how when one has their eyes on their most precious person anything the object of their attention does is suddenly euphemized?

Take an ecstatic mother watching her cherubic son staggering and flopping through the motions of their first dance class feels as though she’s watching a primo ballerina.

Or a father watching his reticent daughter tumble through her a national spelling bee falling just short of first place feels as though he’s witnessing her win a Noble Prize.

Or even a proud boyfriend accepting the flawed handcrafted clay bowl that his partner made at their pottery class on Christmas morning feels as though he’s receiving rare China set.

Maybe it’s not strange at all, Jimin muses as he watches the way Jungkook make awful jokes no one laughs at and unattractive faces at Junghyun’s nonsensical comments.

It’s not that Jimin modifies the original content the universe provides and alters it so significantly that its completely unrecognizable like a prominent model plastered over the cover of Vogue or Elle, so heavily photoshopped she looks like a caricature of herself.

No, he’s practical enough to comprehend that Jungkook’s grimaces belying his distaste for his brother’s snarkiness are hysterical but…not cute. And Jungkook’s jokes have always left a lot to be desired; it’s a rare treat when his material wouldn’t make an accomplished comedian want to perish in mortification.

And it’s not just that. Jungkook isn’t perfect. Sometimes, he’s childish and stubborn, temper unrelenting like an unwelcome solicitor. Other times, he’s such a perfectionist that he can be insensitive to the feelings of those he oversees.

While Jimin’s travelling on that train of thought, he recognizes that they aren’t even perfect for each other. It’s not a fairy tale where Prince Charming will serendipitously appear on Cinderella’s doorstep with her glass slipper or where beautiful Belle will be charmed by her beastly imprisoner, Stockholm Syndrome romanticized.

No, they must navigate around each other without directions and without the aid of compasses. They must traverse forward up a gently inclining mountain each day with a refreshed state of mind, carrying the lessons they learn from each of their missteps. They must work with each other to be with each other—in whatever capacity that may be.

But all that work, it just so happens that it doesn’t matter.

It didn’t matter then, and it doesn’t matter now because even after everything, Jimin’s still in love.

When Jungkook looks over, the moment involuntarily pausing in Jimin’s mind as he absorbs his ex-boyfriend’s lovely face—caught in mid-laughter with his faint dimples and teeth on display—nothing’s changed. Not one bit.

But as the year comes to a close, Jimin smiles softly, wishing Jungkook happiness with great vehemence that he hadn’t been able to muster in the past.

He’s going to try to deserve to be part of that happiness.

Jimin raises his glass of champagne at Jungkook and grins before he gulps it down.

Cheers, my love.

Jungkook flushes under the attention.

+++

It’d been mid-December after all their exams are completed. Jimin and Jungkook had been sitting on the couch, each boy taking a corner of the couch, as they’d watched a generic drama together. The younger boy had been mostly scrolling through his social media accounts and Jimin had been playing a video game as their eyes occasionally flick up to ensure they’re following the storyline.

Some time later, Taehyung had walked in, posture severe and mouth pursed but neither boy had acknowledged him. He’d sat at the kitchen table, pulling out a chair and sitting on it with his face hanging over the backrest as he’d scanned the domestic scene in front of him.

“So,” Taehyung had started, unusually solemn, “I have a question.”

Jungkook and Jimin had remained stationary, each glancing up, but neither had bothered to answer him.  

“Hey,” Taehyung had protested, when no one had acknowledged him, “Guys!”

He’d gesticulated wildly, fanning his hands to catch the attention of his uncomplacent roommates.

Though he’d tried his very best to ignore Taehyung, Jimin had broken first, unpracticed at being as impudent as Jungkook.

“Yes?”

When Jungkook hadn’t responded, Jimin had snatched his phone away and shoved it into his hoodie pocket and smiled innocently. Raising his eyebrows and nodding pointedly towards Taehyung, Jimin had meaningfully stared at Jungkook until the youngest boy had groaned in annoyance before turning his attention to their third roommate.

“Yes,” he’d gritted through his teeth, “What’d you want?”

Taehyung had feigned hurt.

“Why are you acting like you’re so busy,” he’d protested loudly, “You’re just on your fucking phone!”

Jungkook had sputtered foolishly while Jimin had laughed gleefully in the background.

“I’d just like to impolitely inform you, Taehyung-hyung, that whatever you have to say will be spectacularly less important to me than these cute little owls taking their daily baths on Instagram.”

“Why’re you so antagonistic? You’re such a hater,” Taehyung had whined, kicking his feet out petulantly from the sides of the chair he’d been straddling.

Jimin had just gurgled in his throat—the sound had crescendo-ed as Jungkook had tried to retaliate until the youngest’s efforts had eventually petered out.

“What’re you guys doing for New Year’s?”

Jungkook had started.

And he’d turned to Jimin and raised his eyebrows.

Despite the careful steps they’d taken to repair their relationship, Jungkook hadn’t been sure whether Jimin had been intending to attend the regular family festivities.

But he hadn’t needed to worry as Jimin hadn’t missed a beat, instantly relaying his plans to Taehyung.

“Oh,” Jimin had shrugged, “I was just going to go to Jungkook’s family’s place like normal.”

Jimin hadn’t looked remotely apologetic as Taehyung had bitched and moaned about his annual exclusion from their celebration.

Jungkook hadn’t blamed Jimin for his apathy since both boys had invited him in past years before and Taehyung had always declined, claiming he needs to be wildin’ with people his own age.

Over the background sounds of Taehyung’s complaining, Jungkook had just shyly smiled, looking forward to resuming their tradition of starting the year of with Jimin—even in spite of all the trials and tribulations they’d had to endure together.

Jimin had noticed, and the sweet moments blooms as he’d smiled back at him.

+++

Jungkook’s preparing to sock Jihyun with all his inhumane strength when he catches Jimin’s eye. At first, he’s embarrassed, worried his hyung will call him out for assaulting his younger brother, but eventually the blush darkens under Jimin’s continued scrutiny as he raises his glass to him.  

He doesn’t know if Jimin’s aware, but his eyes are heavy with something that’s simultaneously familiar and foreign (And damn him for licking his lips a moment later).

But whatever’s sitting in his eyes tempts Jungkook, beckoning to him like a siren. But he’s a world-weary sailor who’d nearly fallen victim to this beguiling spell once and isn’t looking to repeat his foolish mistakes in reprise.

So, he briefly breaks their eye contact for a moment and whatever hypnotic trance they’d been sharing snaps like an overused belt. Then, he backs off Jihyun’s cowering form and just offers his hand and helps him up.

Jihyun looks confused and suspicious. He follows Jungkook’s gaze, scoffs imperceptibly, and discreetly fake-gags but doesn’t say anything.

Instead, the two younger boys grab a glass of champagne and sink into the couch, each on one side of Jimin. They all talk about mutual interests and topics until Jihyun leaves the room, summoned by his parents, leaving Jungkook and Jimin alone.

It’s a touch awkward, as each boy reclines on the couch and sips at their champagne when they’re too jittery to sit next to each other without conversing. Every gulp of the bubbly liquid sounds like an obnoxious slurp by a lifelong alcoholic craving to sate their thirst, every sound amplified in the silence between them.

Jungkook starts shaking his leg next to Jimin, anxiety hurtling through his veins.

It’s not the silence that’s making him nervous; in fact, the two are notorious for allowing comfortable stretches of quiet to expand between them like a lovable family pet nestling in between the bodies of its owners.

The mood is just a little atonal, lacking the harmony and melody of their regular tune, and it’s causing Jungkook to feel offbeat and apprehensive.

Without warning, Jimin ruptures the bubble of silence between them.

“I made a promise to be better at taking care of myself, right?”

Jungkook visibly startles at the abrupt stab at conversation, jerking enough that some of his champagne tips over onto his pants. Flushing in humiliation, Jungkook chances a look in his hyung’s direction as he dabs the wet spot uselessly with his hand but Jimin’s flustered enough that he doesn’t seem to notice the flurry of activity next to him.

But despite his lucky fortune that Jimin hadn’t noticed his blunder, Jungkook’s relief dissipates rapidly as he notices the perturbed look in his hyung’s eyes.

They’re wide and wet, unblinking as he stares off into the distance aimlessly. Jimin’s also leaning over with his head on his crossed fingers, elbows on his knees. He’s clearly curling into himself defensively and Jungkook’s heart throbs a little in pity and concern.

“Yeah?”

“I don’t know if I did a great job of that,” Jimin admits sadly, “You’ve ended up taking care of me instead.”

Jungkook tentatively places a reassuring hand on Jimin’s shoulder and rubs it. He then shrugs nonchalantly as he rebuts Jimin’s point.

“…Well, I don’t know, I think I’d be a pretty shitty friend if I didn’t take care of my best friend when they were sick. I don’t know that I’d count that as poor self-care.”

Self-deprecatingly, Jimin laughs and the sound is hollow, emptier than a dead tree after termites feast on its remains.

“That’s sweet, Jungkookie, but I know that you wish I could take care of myself better, so I wouldn’t end up sick,” he deadpans tonelessly.

The grip on Jimin’s shoulder tightens in Jungkook’s frustration before he loosens it again as he chants a mantra of composure and cool to himself.

Relax.

Trying to protest without behaving like a coddling helicopter parent, Jungkook tuts, “Well, I don’t mind being there for you.”

Jimin cracks his neck, a sharp jolt to the right followed by an aggressive lurch to the left like a ship trying to maintain its balance on stormy seas. His body trembles like the thin membrane of a sail catching in the violent gusts of wind and his eyes are as wet as a crew on the main deck of the ship, floundering around as they try to regain the advantage, as Jimin stares into Jungkook’s eyes—his anchor.

“Fuck,” Jimin grouses, “I just wish you weren’t so good to me. It makes me feel bad and shitty and undeserving—like I don’t do enough for you.”

Closing the minimal space between them, Jungkook jumps in quickly, eager to make his point.

“Don’t say that, hyung, you literally sacrificed your birthday for me.”

Looking vaguely startled, Jimin’s speechless—as though he’d forgotten his own act of mercy and kindness. Jungkook laughs easily and elbows him teasingly.

“Remember?”

Recovering awkwardly, Jimin mumbles from the corner of his mouth, “It’s not a sacrifice if I wanted to do it.”

Jungkook’s touched by Jimin’s embarrassed confession, knowing this moment of honesty between them isn’t something to take for granted. Despite the relative stillness of the room, devoid of anyone else but the pair of them, Jungkook and Jimin both slouching into each other, their bodies heavy with drink, the moment vibrates with sentimentality.

It’s a club that’s been emptied out of any other occupants, each word strobing like colorful LED lights. Each impactful sentiment slams into Jungkook causing him to convulse under the attention and each poignant admission has him pulsating with affection for his hyung. And he wants Jimin to experience this epileptic moment with him, so Jungkook swivels the spotlight to face the other boy.

“Well then, Jiminie-hyung,” he parrots gently, “It’s not a sacrificing caring if I wanted to take of you.”

Jimin shudders; it doesn’t reflect the violent way Jungkook had seized with fondness, but it’s an appreciable twitch of acknowledgement nonetheless.

“You’re the best.”

Smugly, Jungkook waggles his brows.

“I know.”

Jimin groans in disgust and he pushes Jungkook as hard as he could.  

“Ugh, you make me sick.”

Unbothered by the act of aggression, Jungkook laughs easily and his body boomerangs back into position, shoulder-to-shoulder with Jimin again. He can’t help but continue teasing his hyung.

After all, Jungkook laments, it’d been years since the air had been light enough for them to act so casually.

“No, I make it better. Remember?”          

Jimin snidely responds, “Fuck off.”

While Jungkook continues chortling in his amusement, Jimin scooches over, his movements extravagant and flagrant, so his ex-boyfriend couldn’t mistake his intention to insert distance between the pair of them.

 “I could,” Jungkook quips.

The comment falls flatter than a pancake and Jungkook’s left slipping and sliding on the buttery residue of his poorly timed joke. And since his mind is slushy with intoxication, Jungkook’s too slow to notice, unable to slice through the awkward tension with the dull knife of reassurance.

Jimin’s eyes are wide with panic and he moves right back over as he grabs at Jungkook, short stubby fingers webbing over large, veiny hands.

“No, please, don’t,” he begs.

Mirroring Jimin’s dread, Jungkook feels himself sobering up at the sudden intensity of the predicament he’s found himself, and he squeezes Jimin’s hands tightly. He hopes the pressure of the touch will ground Jimin.

Jungkook promises softly, “Hey, hey, I won’t.”

Stiffening like a shirt that’s been coated with too much starch, Jimin interjects swiftly.

“No, listen, Jungkook. You’ve done so much of that for me, but I’ve hardly said anything. So, let me talk for a quick second, okay?”

Jungkook’s a little frightened by the immense urgency in Jimin’s voice but he reins himself in and agrees.

“Okay, I will.”

Jungkook waits a while as Jimin clearly gears up for the impending conversation, revving his proverbial engine and releasing the clutch as he preps to gun it full throttle. Jimin’s left leg is twitching and he cracks his knuckles absent-mindedly.

Each nervous tick is driving Jungkook mad; he just wants to hear what Jimin has to say. But despite his restlessness, Jungkook sits on standby, waiting patiently.

Finally, he speaks.  

“I really owe you an apology for a lot. You know that, right? I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”

Jungkook’s heard an awful lot of apologies lately. He thinks he’s given a lot of apologies too.

But for years, Jungkook’s only ever wanted to hear one person’s apology in particular. And even more than that apology, he’s really wanted an explanation.

Today, he’s gifted with one of those two things he’s been seeking from Jimin.

And it really alarms him.

Jungkook doesn’t know what to say, all his mental faculties and mechanisms twinging and cramping erratically. He’s wanted this for so long, but in face of receiving something he’s thought he’s desired for so long, Jungkook’s a lost foal. He just can’t seem to catch his bearings.

“Oh, ah, I for—”

Jimin seems to understand his internal struggle.

“I know,” Jimin quietly concedes, “But I want to say it for real.”

He pauses for a moment.

“The thing is, I’m really fucked up in my head sometimes. I know it’s a lot to expect people who haven’t been in my position to completely get where I’m coming from. But it’s not fair to think they can relate or even sympathize for me if I never speak up, right? So, it’s okay if I tell you some of this, right?”

Jungkook’s brain engages again when he hears the discernible tremor in Jimin’s voice and he squeezes Jimin’s hand in little pulses, the same way his heart races every time he gets to hold his ex-boyfriend in any capacity.

Bordering on desperation, Jungkook insists hotly, “Of course, hyung, I want you to talk to me. It’s what I’ve wanted from the beginning.”

Jimin’s eyes are scanning his and it seems like something really clicks for the first once in a few years—as though the still line is jerking to life, the bait finally having enticed its intended target.

“I’ve gone through certain things in life—”

Jungkook raises his eyebrows and softly prompts, “Like what?”

The levelness of their conversation suddenly evaporates. Reeling with unadulterated emotions, Jimin tries to tug his hand out of Jungkook’s grasp in his discomfort, but the younger boy isn’t having it. Instead of loosening his grip, he pulls Jimin in closer and puts his arm around his hyung.

Then, he forces them to both lean into the backrest of the couch and he rests his head on the top of Jimin’s.

Judging by the rigidness of Jimin’s body next to his, Jungkook recognizes he’s touched an extremely sore spot—like a physiotherapist prodding and exploring a patient’s injured body for the first time until they localize the most aggravated areas.

He decides to wait it out.

“Not tonight, please. I’ll tell you one day; just not tonight,” Jimin finally promises, words muffled, as he mumbles into Jungkook’s shoulder.

Jungkook ignores the way the region where Jimin’s mouth touches is searing through his shirt.

He tells himself it’s the heat of Jimin’s breath.

(It’s desire.)

“Promise?”

Jimin nods.

“I promise.”

But despite his evident reticence, Jimin still provides Jungkook with some context for his actions. It's a small concession Jungkook's grateful for. 

“I just have these voices and thoughts in my head sometimes that I can’t really stop. And they just really tell me I’m not good enough. That I’m not worth anything and no matter how hard I try to be something for someone that I won’t succeed—”

Incredulous, Jungkook interrupts rudely, knocking Jimin’s head off his shoulder as he whirls around to face him. He places his hands on Jimin’s shoulders and shakes him.

“But hyung, you’re so smart. And you’re studious. Plus, you’re kind and a great friend and you’re a good son—”

Jimin impatiently shoves Jungkook’s hands off his shoulders and, heated, he cuts him off in return.

“Yes, and I’m sure objectively all those qualities and accomplishments on paper make it difficult for people to understand why I feel the way I do. But it’s just this subjective experience that’s hard to adopt unless you’ve been through it before.”

Jimin’s voice has incrementally been raising as he speaks, and each word feels like a dagger to Jungkook’s heart. He can’t decide if he’s hurting more for Jimin or himself under the accusation that he could never understand his hyung.

He feels his face and neck reddening, a physical projection of his emotional state.

“That’s hurtful, hyung. Are you basically telling me that I’ll never understand you and not to bother?”

Jimin makes a noise of frustration in his throat, a low growl.

He sharply snaps, “No, of course not. But it’s just the reality of the matter. But you don’t have to have experienced those exact same things. And I would never wish these experiences on anyone else, so if you can’t fully understand what I’m saying, I’m just happy that you haven’t felt like me before. And I hope you never do.”

Though the sentiment is kind, it’s annulled by Jimin’s tone, cutting like a barbed fence, and Jungkook feels like an unsuspecting rodent that’d had its back broken under the mouse trap set up for him.

It hurts.

And Jungkook can’t help retaliating, fire burning bright under his ass, propelling him into action.

“I mean, I felt pretty fucking worthless when you led me on for three years. That was pretty dark time for me. And I felt like I wasn’t good enough. And I wasn’t worth your time. Does that count?”

Jimin flinches terribly, his arm actually spasming so aggressively that he nearly thwacks Jungkook’s leg. He wants to feel remorseful, but he just feels resentful.

They’re both still facing each other on the couch and Jungkook can’t miss the curtain of darkness that cloaks Jimin’s face before he draws it back and the bare expression of repentance is all that remains.

“I’m sorry I was so selfish that I made you feel that way. I made a lot of mistakes because I was trapped so far into my own head and thinking about how fucked up I was.”

He wishes the apology could completely alleviate his sense of worthlessness from the years past, but he needs to say what he’s been wanting to say for so long to Jimin. He can’t compromise himself again just to save Jimin time and time again. Because, at the end of the day, as many promises Jungkook had made to himself to be there for his hyung unequivocally, he also made an equal abundance of promises to ensure he wouldn’t become a doormat either.

But he’ll tread lightly.

“You made me wonder if you ever loved me at all to treat me like that,” he professes bitterly.

Jungkook can tell he’s sulking and Jimin shifts his body on the couch to further face him, directly aligning with his own.

He jumps a little when Jimin’s cold hands make their way onto the nape of his neck and curl into the glossy black strands there, but once he acclimatizes to the temperature difference, he leans into the touch.

Jimin’s gaze is boring into him and Jungkook’s breath hitches under the intensity.

“Jungkook,” Jimin presses ardently, “Don’t you know? Please tell me you know that I’ve always loved you. And I was wrong. I’ll never wrong you like that again, I promise.”

He pauses.

“I can’t promise that I won’t fuck up again. I can’t promise I won’t ever hurt you again. I can’t promise I won’t accidentally offend you. None of those promises are realistic ‘cause we’re two different human beings and we’re both flawed as fuck.”

Jungkook nods and Jimin continues under his tacit compliance to continue the conversation, fingers dedicatedly combing through his locks.

“But I wouldn’t ever wrong you like that again. I would rather drink poison or run myself over before I do something as twisted as what I did to you for those years after I broke up with you.”

Jungkook nods slowly, accepting Jimin’s apology. But he wants to know something.

“So, why’d you do it?”

He told himself for months he doesn’t care about the answer to this question, but Jungkook cares. He cares a lot. It’s beyond just wanting to know at this point, a voracious curiosity that he’d wanted to quench, he needs to know.   

Jungkook holds his breath in anticipation and he knows Jimin can feel it by the way that he pets his neck consolingly.

As Jungkook exhales, Jimin takes a deep breath.

“Jungkook, I don’t think I’m good enough for myself—never mind about other people.”

And he’s not surprised by the answer in consideration of the beginning of this conversation, but Jungkook’s not wired to mute his protective instinct towards Jimin. He knows Jimin will trample over his kind, sincere words but he’ll try anyway.

He places his own large hands over the juncture where Jimin’s forearms and upper arms meet, in the crook of his elbow. Jimin’s grip in his hair tightens a little bit in order to hold up the extra weight and if it wasn’t for the heaviness of the conversation, Jungkook would’ve been hard pressed to ignore the flicker of desire that sparks in his belly.

Then, he speaks.

“Jimin-hyung, please, no, don’t say that. It hurts me so bad—”

Jimin shakes his head profusely, silencing him instantaneously. While Jungkook’s terribly irritated at being quelled so soon, his anger quickly diffuses as Jimin speaks.

“No, don’t stop me, if you do, I’ll lose all my courage and I can’t promise I’ll want to talk about this anytime soon—if ever.”

Jungkook nods agreeably, if a little stiffly.

“My point is,” Jimin continues tiredly, “I don’t think I’m good enough for anyone. I didn’t really lie to you when I said that I didn’t think I could give our relationship the attention that I’d wanted to. That’s essentially true.”

“But?” Jungkook prompts.

But it's just how extreme that feeling was. I didn’t think I was good enough for myself, let alone for you. I was just trying to save you the unnecessary heartbreak and disappointment.”

Jimin laughs humourlessly, sound so broken it’s as offensive as a barbaric heathen with no mealtime decorum, audible sounds of chewing carrying impolitely over everyone else’s conversation.

He doesn’t need Jungkook to voice the unspoken crux of his entire statement as he adds, “But because I was dishonest and deceitful, I ended up being the cause of both of our mutual heartbreak and disappointment. And I fucking hurt more than a few others along the way too.”

Jungkook can’t disagree with him, thinking regretfully about their combined involvement in wronging Seulgi, so he maintains his silence.

“I’m not trying to convince you that I deserve your forgiveness or even your time, but I just didn’t want to leave you completely in the dark anymore. I thought to myself that you really deserved an explanation for sticking with me throughout everything.”

Jungkook contemplates everything Jimin’s admitted to him.

He sifts through his memories of the past several years, culling specific instances corroborating Jimin's claims. When he resurfaces from his thoughts, Jungkook thinks that he'd be able to curate an entire collection of occurrences where Jimin's self-esteem issues mingled with his own mangled communicative skills had combined into scenes of catastrophic proportions.

“I see,” he says tonelessly.

He understands better.

Does it make a difference though?

Jimin hesitates.  

“Are you angry, Jungkookie?”

The reality is that he’s still upset.

Just because Jungkook has a more comprehensive understanding now, it doesn’t mean that he necessarily condones Jimin’s actions. And if he’s being completely fair, he knows he, himself, isn’t off the hook either.

And it’s this realization that has Jungkook, sick and ill, jaundiced with lingering paste of resentment.

Plus, Jungkook thinks, the apology and the explanation feel a little late.

“Of course, I’m still angry, hyung, I’m not gonna bother lying to you.”

But the way he strokes Jimin’s forearms soothingly betray the tenderness and affection he feels for his hyung, contrastive to the waspishness of his tone and the way he bristles thinking about what’d happened in the past between them.

Jimin seems to recognize Jungkook’s internal conflict and doesn’t contend with him, allowing him to experience his warranted ire.

“But," Jungkook starts slowly. 

Jimin raises his eyebrows and asks, “But?”

“But I’m thankful that you were finally honest with me. And I appreciate the fact that you opened up to me even a little bit tonight. I really do. And I hope you’ll be able to be more honest with me in the future,” Jungkook expresses honestly.

Jimin’s hackles seem to shuffle back down into place and he sighs in relief, before he smiles softly.

“Me too.”

They unravel themselves from the pretzeled position they’d found themselves in and pick up their glasses of half-finished champagne from the table in front of them, both wondering to themselves at what point they’d deposited them there.

Quietly drinking down the rest of the contents, they’re in sync as they place the empty glasses back down onto the table and slouch into the couch again.

Silence hangs in the air between them for a while and they’re each lost in their own thoughts.

Jungkook can hear the stifled shouts of their exuberant parents and the bellows of Junghyun in the background. He knows they must’ve been comparably noisy even throughout his discussion with Jimin, but he’d completely blocked them out until now.

His thoughts maunder and meander like a lost animal under the billowing blankets of the night sky using only pinprick of light to guide its path when suddenly, Jungkook realizes he’s had an inquiry that he’d wanted to pose to Jimin for quite some time.

As the rush of newly consumed champagne bubbles leisurely into his empty little head, the gossamers of self-control violently snap, splintering into a shower of shards that embed themselves into his mind like slivery brain worms. Despite knowing the untimeliness of the question, he senselessly blurts it out into the universe.

"Hyung?" 

Jimin hums. 

“Can I ask if there’s a reason you’re so down on yourself? Do you have anxiety? Or—”

He takes a stab and he misses.

“Jungkook?”

Jimin’s mouth is downturned and heavy with sorrow.

“Yeah?”

Jungkook’s heart beats painfully as Jimin makes a timid request.

“Can we leave it where we left off for tonight?”

And despite his unbridled curiosity, Jungkook swallows his pride.

It’d certainly been a year of metamorphosis for the pair of them and Jungkook had blossomed into a butterfly that’d siphoned a well of information from Jimin today.

He feels a little cheated out of this last nugget of truth from his ex, but…

“Alright, hyung,” Jungkook respectfully allows, “We sure can.”

Jimin hesitates before he rests his head on Jungkook’s right shoulder, taking his sweet time before he really nestles in. It’s as though he was giving Jungkook ample time to reject his tentative advances; his implicit desire to seek out comfort.

But there wasn’t a chance that Jungkook was going to turn him away after their raw conversation. Using his right hand to pat Jimin’s cheek comfortingly, he rests his head on top of his hyung’s, and they both sit there companionably for quite some time in silence.

Beside him, Jimin breathes in deep…

±±±

…and he heaves out a great sigh of relief.

He knows he hurt his best friend terribly over the course of the past few years, but for once, he feels as though he hadn’t maligned himself to Jungkook through poor communication and incongruent actions. Jimin really feels as though there’d been some real progression today, and his heart bellows stridently like a second-string trumpeter who’d finally managed to usurp his rival for the first time.

And despite the speedbumps, suspect alleyways, and obstructive concrete islands he’d had to maneuver over, Jimin finally thinks there’s hope at the end of the tunnel. Not just for himself, but for the pair of them—as people and as friends. He won’t ask for anything else right now.

He knows that his demons have not been permanently slain, but he’s relieved that they seem a little less prominent, a little less domineering today. The beast hunkers down under the beaming light of Jimin’s unadulterated joy and snarls pathetically, combatively trying to dominate him again. But Jimin strikes it down and it whimpers morosely before it scuttles away, retreating for the night.

Not today, you bastard, Jimin thinks in muted happiness.

And when Jungkook smiles over at him, small and faint as it is, Jimin can’t help the wide grin that brims on his lips until it spills over and floods the room, the tenderness in the moment drowning him—the first time Jimin feels like he swam and defeated the recalcitrant currents of life in a long while.

If Jimin leans over and plants a lingering, soft kiss on Jungkook’s cheek and Jungkook blushes under the affectionate display, no one says anything.

±±±

Chapter Text

Jungkook’s spent most of the years following his break-up with Jimin heartbroken and pining.

But for the first time in four years, Jungkook has hope for this new year.

He doesn’t expect anything romantic out of his relationship with Jimin anymore (even if his heart steadfastly beats for another chance with his beloved); he only wishes for their individual happiness.

And whatever else happens…happens, he thinks to himself.

± ± ±

The first quarter of last year had been a tumultuous time in Jungkook’s life. He’s still spooked by the visions of being rejected by Jimin. He's still occasionally shadowed by the wraith of his former self, hollowed out and decrepit from all the wounds he'd been afflicted by in his single-minded pursuit of Jimin. Sometimes, on bad days, he’ll skulk into the ghost house of his darkest thoughts and experiences and find himself trapped, screaming and hollering to be released from the phantom pain.

But most days, he’ll find himself reacquainting himself with Jimin.

It’s mostly simple.

Since they’re both still students and maintain similar schedules and lifestyles, they’ll go to cafes together to study. Jimin’s much better at staying focused, slapping Jungkook’s wandering hands and pens when he tries to scribble in the margins of his paper. Jungkook mostly accompanies him just to spend time with him.

Other days, they’ll lounge about the apartment and watch Netflix together (Some things really never change, Jungkook will think fondly, as they amicably bicker loudly about what to watch).

He’s also taken it upon himself to drag Jimin out of the house. Ostensibly it’s for Jungkook’s benefit, as he whines and pleads his hyung to entertain him on a random endeavour to a pet store or an abrupt but vital excursion to the local park, but in all honesty, he’s trying his best to ensure Jimin doesn’t fall victim to his ugly thoughts by isolating himself for too long.

He doesn’t always succeed, but he always feels better if he knows he tried.

In line with this new manipulative tactic he’s adopted in his repertoire of techniques to help Jimin, Jungkook will oftentimes insist on stopping by hole-in-the-wall restaurants each time they’re out, claiming his insatiable hunger has struck again. Jungkook knows if he openly tells Jimin that he’s just worried about his hyung’s health and physical upkeep, he’d get instantly denied (He can already envision the image of Jimin’s prickly expression and tight mouth as he flatly declines the invitation to eat).

Most times, it works, Jimin taking pleasure in seeing his best friend eating well. Even if he doesn’t eat enough to satisfy Jungkook’s standards of being well-fed, he knows it’s an uphill battle and small triumphs are akin to accolades early in the process.

Jungkook takes what he can.

And what he can take is much better than what he’d been settling for early last year.

± ± ±

1:14AM.

Jungkook should be asleep on this random January night, but he’s not.

He’s freshly showered, and his damp hair hangs loosely into his eyes as he edits some new photos he’d taken on his computer. Settled onto his bed, he lies on his belly with a pillow tucked beneath his chin in the darkness, blanket cloaking his head. His face is lit up by the blue light of his monitor.

The only sounds in the relative quiet of the night are the snuffles he makes as he breathes, the scratching of his fingernails on the mousepad, and the soft plods of his fingertips on the keyboard.

Until he hears a soft knocking at his door.

He whirls around in surprise as he sees Jimin’s face pop through the crack in the door.

 “Hi,” Jimin whispers.

“Hey,” he greets, waving his hand, “Need anything?”

When he doesn’t immediately answer, Jungkook scans his face carefully for any tells. There isn’t enough information for the average Joe to make educated inferences, but Jungkook now knows just enough about his hyung to be able to sense a gloomy air emanating from him. And judging by the timorous expression on his face, his hyung is seeking out comfort but doesn't know quite how to ask for it. 

“Wanna help me out?” Jungkook offers.

Jimin hesitates.

“With what?”

Jungkook turns back to his laptop and points at the picture he’s currently working on.

“I’m just editing some shit, but if you wanna tell me your opinions and thoughts, it’d be cool. Plus, it’s pretty tedious work, so it’s always nice to have someone around to talk to.”

He’s blasé enough that Jimin won’t feel he’s being pitied but still tries to articulate his sincerity in wanting his hyung’s company.

Jimin doesn’t respond, but he scuffles in and shuts the door quietly behind him. He then treads over to Jungkook’s bed and slides in next to him, leaving a small space between them. Jungkook tries his best not to feel injured by the offensive distance but he doesn’t quite succeed. He thought they were past this awkwardness.  

Ignoring the twinge of irritation that he feels, Jungkook lifts his blanket enough that Jimin can roll beneath it and the older boy doesn’t dither around, immediately hustling to get his cold body into the safety and warmth. With that action, the distance is greatly reduced and so is the emptiness in Jungkook’s heart.

Jungkook asks for Jimin’s opinion here and there, but the older boy is mostly quiet, playing with the loose fabrics of his sheets and beddings. He can tell his hyung is plagued with a pandemic of hurtful thoughts and while he doesn’t know the catalyst for them for today, Jungkook knows better than to interrogate him right at that moment. Better acquainted with Jimin’s moodiness, Jungkook senses he wouldn't be responsive to inquiry today. His body is stiff, and his face is tight, illuminating his cantankerous mood, and Jungkook himself is not in the mood to cross his hyung’s barbed spines and thorny spikes.

Instead, Jungkook allows him to stay next to him and as time elapses, he notices how his hyung gradually creeps closer to him until he’s completely pressed up next to him. As Jimin encroaches his personal space and then eventually bulldozes through it, Jungkook’s relieved to feel the rigidity lessen with each passing moment until steel melts into liquid metal and candle softens into wax.

Jungkook’s still on his belly and Jimin’s curled onto his side. The warmth and familiarity of the scene causes Jungkook’s heart to swell in equal torrents of heartbreak and love. It hurts so good and Jungkook can’t help himself as he looks down at his hyung’s face. He doesn’t notice how he licks his lips, mouth suddenly dry with unebbing desire, as he considers the scene.

He’s on a bed with someone whom he loves and is attracted to. And the object of his affection is closing the distance with each passing minute like sharks migrating from one ocean to another in search for prey. He feels like a sardine, swimming hopefully, only to inevitably fall victim to the awaiting jaws of fate.

But now’s not the time, Jungkook scolds himself.

He’s so damn tempting, but Jungkook’s always going to prioritize Jimin’s health and well-being first.

The heat eventually peters down to a sweet, sweet simmer when Jimin tentatively wraps one arm around his back and snuggles further into him, his breaths running hot and damp through Jungkook’s shirt.

He works for forty minutes or so more, but Jungkook eventually places his laptop carefully onto a nearby chair before he falls into restful slumber in Jimin’s arms.

± ± ±

It’s the end of January and Seokjin insists on rounding up the troops to go to the ice-skating rink for a final hurray before everyone’s consumed by the flurry of activities following the opening of a new year.

(“Hyung, it’s the end of the first month already,” Namjoon reasons slowly, “Doesn’t that negate the purpose of this hangout? The new year has already been in session for a full month. Where have you been?”

Seokjin inflates with indignance.

“Namjoon.”

Jungkook stifles his snort of laughter. He can’t wait to see what Seokjin says.

“Yes,” Namjoon naively entertains his hyung.

Seokjin just raises one hand up melodramatically, apathetic face indicative of his disinterest in what Namjoon has to say.

“No one asked for your unsolicited logic. I know with your big brain, it’s hard not to have a big head with it, but no one needs your reasonable interjections in this chaotic lifetime.”

Jungkook and Namjoon both frown over at Seokjin, but they both shrug indifferently, unwilling to complain about someone else taking the responsibility of organizing a group gathering. Neither of them want that burden on their shoulders.)

Seokjin, for all his comedic farces and complaints that trickle into the terrain of tragedy, is a fantastic shepherd.

He’s shameless enough to connive reluctant introverts like Yoongi into a large group gathering.  He’s persistent enough to convince indecisive Taehyung, who is an undeniably poor skater, to attend. He’s just shy of being annoying, but Seokjin pulls it off with great finesse.

When the three roommates approach the front of the ice arena, where the older boys have already been waiting around for them for a while, they can hear Hoseok making his discontentment with their tardiness known. But Taehyung puts his hand around his shoulders and loudly drowns out his whines (“Now, now, hyung, let’s not ruin this night already, we’re all here.”)

The instant they enter the rink, a rush of frigid air greets them and Jungkook regrets waving off Taehyung and Jimin’s suggestions to have bundled up better. He’s well protected by his warm down jacket and fluffy scarf and he’s got Jimin to thank for that; before they’d left, the older boy had spotted his flimsy jacket at the door and he’d fussed and bullied Jungkook into heavier articles of clothing.

But he’s still left cursing his forgetfulness, having forgotten gloves or mittens despite knowing that his extremities never retain an adequate amount of heat. He decides to sulk wordlessly, unwilling to concede that Jimin and Taehyung were right.

Jungkook stuffs his frosty hands into his pockets.

As they make their way to the rink after renting out skates, Jungkook conspicuously shudders and the rattling motions awaken Taehyung’s rapt attention, he raises his eyebrows suspiciously from beside Hoseok.

“Cold, Jungkookie?”

Jungkook shakes his head stubbornly.

Taehyung makes a pointed face.

“Really?”

Just as Jungkook hotly asserts his denial, a traitorous tremor wracks his body, and he scowls. Taehyung just grins knowingly. But before Taehyung can open his mouth and jokingly taunt him, Jimin materializes next to him, proffering a pair of red gloves.

An angel, Jungkook thinks in awe.

Though he’s tempted by the notion of having toasty hands again, he can’t accept this—not if it means that Jimin’s left cold because of his own idiocy.

“Hyung, no, I can’t take this,” Jungkook insists, pushing Jimin’s offering away gently, “Then you’ll just be left cold. It’s my fault for not listening to you and Taehyung-hyung.”

Jimin just shrugs, as he pulls out a matching blue pair of gloves from his butt pocket.

“I have my own,” Jimin mumbles, obviously embarrassed as he avoids eye contact altogether, “I figured you’d get cold eventually. You never remember gloves even if you nearly end up with frost bitten fingers.”

Jungkook flushes, embarrassed, but he’s touched by the thoughtful gesture.

Ignoring Taehyung’s scrutinizing eyes and Hoseok’s confused expression, the image of his other two hyungs fading into the background, he places his cold hands over Jimin’s as he moves to take the gloves. 

“Thank you, hyung,” he says softly, the whisper ringing in between them softly like wind chimes following the mildest of breezes.

The sounds of their rambunctious friends, the squeals of children, and the delighted bellows of strangers dissipate into the air like steam and all that’s left is the invisible warmth of the shared moment as they both flush with color, Jimin’s eyes never leaving Jungkook’s.

Jimin’s face breaks into a wide smile and he interlocks his fingers with Jungkook’s briefly before he lets go.

Jungkook’s heart starts jumping and skipping like hyper children on the playground playing Double Dutch and leap frog, cadence and rhythm completely off, until it falls out of his chest and skitters on the floor, waiting for Jimin to just notice.

And he doesn’t see how badly Jungkook still wants him, but under Jimin’s sweet smile, it doesn’t really matter. He feels cared for and seen by Jimin in a way that he hasn’t been in years.

“You’re welcome, Jungkookie.”

Jungkook misses his touch already, but he smiles back, not wanting to ask for more than Jimin can give.

± ± ±

“Where’s Jungkook?” Seokjin demands.

They’re all on the curb waiting to head to a highly anticipated dinner after skating, but the youngest member of their group is still missing. Luxuriating on the bench outside, Hoseok and Taehyung’s grumbles are audible, but neither boy make a move to go search for Jungkook, thigh muscles protesting after the hour and a half long exertion.

Just as Jimin and Namjoon hesitantly offer to go look for him, Jungkook bursts out of the doors.

He looks oddly ruffled, with his coat haphazardly slung on, his hair slightly damp with sweat, and his cheeks ruddy and flushed. He resembles a chick that had fallen out of its nest and is still trying to get its bearings again. He’s holding something in each hand and all the hyungs squint curiously at him. 

“Sorry, sorry guys—”

Taehyung perks up, removing his head from its perch on Hoseok’s shoulder.

“What’s that?” he demands over Jungkook’s harried explanations.

“Uh,” Jungkook says, peering down at the small cups of warm, buttery liquid, “Hot chocolate?”

A ravenous scavenger, Seokjin leans in and makes grabby hands, lured by the sweet scent of the enticing fluid.

Jungkook reels away, taking great care not to spill the contents from over the brim, and snaps, “It’s not for you, hyung!”

Pointing at the two cups in Jungkook’s hands, Taehyung protests, “You have two! And you aren’t going to share? Why are you like this?”

Jungkook just shuffles away from Taehyung and Seokjin’s greedy hands, walking backwards with impressive evenness, as he sternly clarifies himself.

“Who said I wasn’t going to share?”

And before anyone else felt obliged to release a litany of complaints about him being selfish, Jungkook hands over the one of the small cups to Jimin, who raises his eyebrows in polite surprise and leaves his mouth slightly ajar.

Neither of the two boys notice the cocktail of astonished and suspicious expressions on their friends’ faces. Only Yoongi doesn’t look surprised, eyes flitting between the two younger boys momentarily before he corrals the other boys into a new conversational topic, a small blessing.

Jimin’s hands hang tentatively in midair before he delicately accepts the cup, as he looks up at Jungkook for confirmation.

“For me?” Jimin asks.

Jungkook nods shyly, stuffing his free hand into his pocket.

“It’s a small token of appreciation for the gloves, hyung,” he explains quietly, “You still know me so well.”

Blushing as he takes a sip, Jimin looks embarrassed but moved by the small gesture.

“It’s nothing, Jungkookie, I just wanted to take care of you,” Jimin confesses from the corner of his soft, gentle mouth, a murmur of a spark that jolts Jungkook’s heart into action again.

Jungkook can hear the implicit words.

I just wanted to take care of you. For once.

Releasing his hand from the confines of his pocket, he rustles Jimin’s hair affectionately (he wishes he could feel it, the cotton barrier of the glove an unwelcome presence now). And as his hand slopes down the back of Jimin’s scalp, he leaves it sitting at his nape and he massages the area tenderly. He hopes Jimin can read in between the lines, spending time on the fine print like a fastidious lawyer, as he speaks softly.

“I want to take care of you too.”

They take simultaneous sips of the hot chocolate and it’s so, so sweet.

± ± ±

It’s February now, and Jungkook and Jimin’s time together for fun, shared activities have become limited.

They’re both clamoured with assignments and responsibilities, and the degree of work they must invest in their studies has multiplied as they approach their final years as university students. Because of this, Jungkook knows he’s not as conscientious at watching over Jimin in the early weeks of the new semester.

Between sweating it out at the gym and playing with photo editing on his free time, he invites his hyung to join him whenever he’s indulging in something that he enjoys—sometimes Jimin accepts, other times he won’t.

It helps that Jungkook can see a noticeable effort from Jimin too. Even if he won’t confide in Jungkook about what’s ailing him, he won’t isolate himself entirely. He’s even content to be around Jungkook in silence as they both work. Sometimes, he’ll just doze away next to Jungkook on the couch or play idly with his phone on his bed.

Things aren’t completely resolved, but they are still continuing to look up.

± ± ±

In the first week of March, Taehyung insists the roommates go out to a club. He wheedles and whines, insisting they need one night off to just get plastered and re-experience their youth.

Though the other two are initially doubtful (Jungkook because he isn’t fond of loud spaces with hoards of people and Jimin because he hated wasting time he could be studying), they eventually acquiesce.

After two months of hard work and minimal socializing, they all agree that the upcoming Saturday would be the most opportune time. They’re all delighted by how effortlessly they’d been able to confirm a date for their shenanigans and they’re easily deceived into believing it’ll be a complication-free night.  

This night turns out to be a horrific miscalculation on Jungkook’s part.

± ± ±

It’s the highly anticipated Saturday night, Jungkook is intensely drunk by the time they pass through the doors of the club. He'd pre-gamed before their evening festivities, and Taehyung and Jungkook are both obnoxiously leaning on each side of Jimin who grunts occasionally but doesn’t outright complain.

Jimin himself had had a few sips of beer throughout the pre-drink, but Jungkook had noticed he hadn’t indulged much, keeping his alcohol consumption to a record low from their collective recent memory. On the other hand, Taehyung had kept maintained his promise of sobriety, insisting he'd get 'drunk off the atmosphere'.

It's a little strange being the drunkest, but then again, he's also the youngest. 

Giddy with a couple months worth of pent-up excitement, Taehyung instantly bounds off off, right past the bar into the mass of people on the dance floor. Remembering he said he's looking for some mutual friends that he'd promised to meet up with, Jungkook doesn't stop him. However, Jimin moans in affectionate frustration, grumbling about their pact to stick together, before he turns to their youngest companion.  

“Hey, listen, Jungkookie,” he yells, “I’m going to go collect Taehyung. You just go wait by the bar and stay there. I’ll buy you a drink if it takes too long, I promise!”

Thinking himself as having gotten the easier end of the deal, Jungkook just nods and obediently walks over to the ornate display of luxury liquors, distantly wonderstruck by the outrageously intricate bar.

He catches the bartender’s eye in the speed of light, an event that would normally rouse his sober self’s suspicion.

Everything’s happening too easily.

Impressively intoxicated already, Jungkook just patiently waits for the return of his hyungs and orders himself a double rum and coke.

It’s then that cruel, brutish Fate comes meddling in Jungkook’s life, a cutthroat degenerate looking for heartbreak and pain to entertain its idle mind.

This grim intervention in the hands of Fate comes in the form of a familiar voice from behind him uttering—

“Oh. Jungkook.”

Dread instantly starts drizzling down into his belly until it accumulates like a clogged sewer, a cesspool of waste and filth fizzing and churning violently. He feels sick.

Jungkook slowly, reluctantly, turns around in resignation.

“Ah, Seulgi-noona, hi,” he garbles out nervously, “How are you?”

He’s drunk but not nearly drunk enough for this particular interaction.

The first thing he registers, to his great chagrin, that she, as always, looks good—perhaps even better than when he’d last seen her. Her eyes are darkened by kohl, smoked out by shadows, and her pursed mouth glistens with clear gloss. The wispy outfit she wears clings flatteringly to her body and her hair runs down the length of her back, a shimmering sheet of black.

She might look great, but he feels awful.

Jungkook coughs and rubs his head uneasily, thanking the bartender who deposits his order onto the marbled counter. The unsuspecting bartender’s eyes dart between the pair of them, sensing the heavy tension between them, and quickly settles up with Jungkook before making his escape.

Meanwhile, Seulgi still hasn’t responded to Jungkook’s polite inquiry, eyes harder than diamonds and sharper than obsidian. Jungkook shifts his weight from one foot to the other, but its not enough for him to get comfortable.

He wishes he’d run into absolutely anyone else. Or right off a cliff. Maybe the latter.

Jungkook gulps down his drink, simply to have something to do with himself, recoiling from her shrewd gaze. The dormant guilt and remorse he’d stowed away months ago comes tumbling down like poorly stacked boxes and it drops on his head, bludgeoning him in the process.

As Seulgi stands in front of him, arms crossed and a deadly scowl on her pretty face, it's not difficult to surmise that she’s not interested in superficial pleasantries. She’s parched for revenge, walking straight past the aqueduct and straight for his jugular. Unquestionably out for blood and she strikes like Count Dracula after a century long drought, fangs bared and monstrous expression on her lovely face.

But before Seulgi speaks, she rearranges her face into an exaggeratedly bland smile, strained and contrived like bootleg Louis Vuittons and Christian Louboutins. Then, in the in the most affected nonchalant tone, she cuffs him with the contrasting belligerence of her opening statement.

“So," she queries offhandedly, "Are you fucking Jimin yet?”

Jungkook starts abruptly, the contents of his drink sloshing around and landing on his shirt, before he comes to a complete stop. He's frozen. 

“What?”

Seulgi doesn’t even stir. She just stares disinterestedly as she watches him pathetically dab at his shirt and when she grows bored by him, she just shrugs.

“You heard me.”

Sweating, beads of perspiration collecting by his temple, Jungkook anxiously licks his lips and feigns ignorance. 

“Wh-what’d you mean?”

Judging by the repercussions of this manuever, Jungkook's clearly no shoo-in for a military leader of any sort because his first plan of attack abysmally fails, the diversionary tactic only succeeding to further enrage Seulgi. 

Incensed by his response, Seulgi mercilessly strikes again, a shower of daggers peppering down onto his back.

“Cut the horseshit, Jungkook,” she snaps coldly, “It’s very unbecoming. Let’s just face the facts—I don’t like you and you don’t like me. And we both fucking know why.”

Jungkook sips what’s left of his drink and despite the burn he normally feels, he tastes nothing. It doesn’t wet his palate like he’d hoped, and his mouth is an arid desert. No wonder he can’t find anything meaningful to say, he’s a dry well, a barren wasteland.

Seulgi is undeterred.

She taunts unkindly, “What? Now you have nothing to say?”  

He winces and stares down at his feet, but despite Jungkook’s obvious misery, Seulgi has no sympathy. 

“C’mon, speak up, I want to hear what you fucking have to say for yourself,” she demands, shrill voice carrying over the booming bass, a lion’s roar echoing across the Serengeti.

Jungkook begins to tremble a little, ill-equipped to deal with the personification of his long-standing guilt and remorse. This conversation has long been his clandestine worst nightmare and he’d always hoped he’d never have to face her in the aftermath of everything, but he deserves this, and he knows it.

Suddenly, without warning, Seulgi roughly grabs him by the chin and hisses in his face angrily.

“Don’t just sit there, fuckin’ say something, you fuckin’ pussy.”

Jungkook moves sluggishly, gently removing himself out of her hold. He doesn’t know whether he should attribute his lethargic movements on the drinks or his debilitating fear of infuriating Seulgi, but either way, he feels great relief when she steps back and gives him his personal space back.

He doesn’t notice the way his body slackens in relief, but Seulgi doesn’t miss a thing, revolted look sketched across her prim features as she stares up at the boy she blames for her former heartbreak.

As Jungkook tries to compose himself, Seulgi carefully picks up the drink the bartender had poured her in the interim of their discussion, slapping some cash down on the counter, before she gulps it down whole. She doesn’t even flinch.

Finally, Seulgi speaks again.

“If you won’t say anything, then I will.”

She steps back into his space and jabs his chest to emphasize each word.

“You wanted to fuck Jimin when I was with him,” she accuses.

It’s beyond a paltry slap in the face, it’s a bush of needles to his eye, and he’s blindsided by the extent of loathing he can hear in her brittle voice. It’s a visceral experience and her hatred hangs palpably in the air around them like muggy air, steamy and oppressive in a way that can't be overlooked. 

 “You wanted Jimin when I wa—"

Jungkook wants to vomit. He tries to defend himself, but what he wanted to be a howl comes out as a subdued whimper.

“It wasn’t like th—”

Seulgi scoffs disparagingly and Jungkook instantly quells at the sound.

She stops stabbing his chest with her finger, but now Seulgi’s waggling it in his face. Jungkook smothers the desire to push her arm out of his face.

“No, no, don’t interrupt me. Don’t you fucking interrupt me. Not when I blame you for the reason we broke up.”

Jungkook looks in her eyes for the first time. He feels abject misery when he sees the nauseating distaste in her eyes, mouth curled in utter disgust, as though she's a haughty empress looking upon a leper.

“What’d you mean?” he croaks pitifully.

Seulgi steps away long enough to order two more shots and then turns back to him.

“You mean he didn’t tell you what happened?” she asks, raising an eyebrow delicately, bringing Jungkook back to the day that he’d run into Seulgi at Jimin’s apartment. He turns away.

“No,” Jungkook tells her quietly, unable to directly face her wrath, “He didn’t.”

She pauses.

“You guys aren’t together?”

He shakes his head.

A hard pill to swallow.

For a second, Seulgi seems to compose herself enough that Jungkook sincerely believes they might be able to have a civilized discussion. She passes him the shot and though Jungkook sends her a bemused look, he drinks up when she gestures at the drink pointedly.

After all, Jungkook can’t deny her much of anything in this situation, feeling remorseful enough that he’d guzzle down a litre of poison if she asked.  

He hopes that they’re just wrapping things up, the final bow slapped onto the last present of the holiday season. And with the way Seulgi’s body is loose, absent of tension, and the way she casually flicks her hair behind her, Jungkook’s cautiously optimistic.

But then the serenity of the moment warps and an innocuous pasture transmutes into a hostile battlefield.

He blinks heavily, like a sleepless soldier, and before Jungkook knows what's happening Seulgi  strikes again, eyes red with blood thirst and rage, gearing for total annihilation. 

“You’re fucking disgusting, you know that?”

The hammer lands right on target and Jungkook’s left feeling dizzy with the impact, blunt force trauma to the brain. But Seulgi’s on a rampage, a verbal crime of passion, and she assails him with the truth, blow after blow after blow.

“You think I never noticed the sick, disgusting way you looked at him? The way you looked at me? As if it’s my fault that he chose me and not you? So fuckin’ jealous that you were sick with it, weren’t you? Weren’t you?

Jungkook’s beginning to find it hard to breathe, stricken with guilt and hurt and horror. But he totally deserves this confrontation, he reminds himself when he finds himself surrendering to the torment Seulgi doles out as he abandons his stubborn pride.

“You think I don’t know that you were completely in love with a taken man? You’re a fucking filthy, disgusting, vile whore of a boy that doesn’t know when to step the fuck down. Do you know why that is?”

Jungkook’s completely still, but then he spots a malicious flash in her eyes. He’s incited into action, shaking his head once, frightened of what she might do if he doesn’t respond. Seulgi’s face lights up with ruthless excitement as she rushes to educate him.

“Because you’re a despicable selfish, fucking loser,” she sneers in his face, hand clutching his chin.  

Jungkook doesn’t know when she’d closed the proximity between the two of them again, but he’s paralyzed by his terror. It’s something out of Harry Potter, an ethereal Veela transforming into a monster at a blink of an eye.

 “Jungkook, I want you to remember one thing,” she whispers in his ear sweetly, “Just the one thing.”

Jungkook hates the way her cold fingers dig into the bones of his chin and the way her fingernails dent his skin.  He despises the way her tacky lips are moving against the shell of his ears. He feels like he’s choking on the thick scent of her perfume. He resents the way he feels cornered and belittled like the runt of the pack, but he also can’t deny that this might be his comeuppance.

He wants to push her away, but he also just wants to pull her in and tell her everything and just say he’s sorry. He’s really fucking sorry.

But Jungkook’s aware it’s too late. He can’t just confess to all the trivial details of both his and Jimin's past transgressions to Seulgi now, hoping she’ll take a saintly approach to all the devilish sins they’d committed. At this point, Jungkook knows, he’d only be disclosing intimate details about an awful situation that would end up hurting Seulgi more than she already is. It would be like hacking at someone in an uncontrollable rage, before pushing them into a saltwater lake in hopes of cleansing their infected cuts—one would end up exacerbating the sites of the open wounds despite their best intentions.

So, instead of raising his shields and swords in preparation for warfare, he concedes. He waves the white flag.

He’s pliant and motionless, just listening as she susurrates cruelty and wickedness into his ear.

“Even after all this, if you somehow manage to slither your way into Jimin’s pants, you’ll always know you were always his second choice, right? That he chose me first?” 

Jungkook’s shaking, the injuries and batteries upon his heart so painful he thinks he’ll be sick. Seulgi leans away to absorb the hurt on his face, before she leans back in.

“How does it feel knowing that despite being in love with him for so long and wanting him for so long, you’re still not with him? That he still hasn’t chosen you? That even after all that pining and whining, you still haven’t got shit to show for it?”

Seulgi steps away, fully pulling back to peer into his face, a mock pout of sympathy on her shapely lips.

He feels detached, completely untethered from reality, and he doesn’t think it’s the alcohol. He feels like he’s in an alternate dimension where he’s somehow holding onto the last remnants of life and existence despite all his molecules and atoms rearranging themselves, trying to plot themselves back into place after being viciously beaten into disarray.

He doesn’t know if he’ll ever be the same after this encounter; Seulgi had found all his biggest insecurities and exposed them into the raw universe, cackling heinously as the wounds blister and leak globules of pus following the aggravated assault.

“You were gross and disgusting and completely intrusive on my relationship, Jungkook. And now I’m glad you know your place. It’s only fair, don’t you think?” she asks him tonelessly.

Jungkook bleats feebly, "What about Jimin though?" 

Seulgi laughs humourlessly. 

"What about him, Jungkook? It's not his fault that you were always watching and waiting, lurking around in the shadows until the day that Jimin might've finally wanted you. But it doesn't seem like that day ever came, did it? So fuckin' pathetic, it's so sad to watch," she jeers frostily. 

Ah, Jungkook realizes, Seulgi doesn't know about hyung and me.

Therefore, since Seulgi doesn't know about Jimin cheating on her, it'll always be easier for her to blame Jungkook for causing enough contention between the former couple to catalyze their breakup. 

“Jungkook, after all this, one thing’s clear. Even if Jimin wanted you, he doesn’t seem to want you enough to be with you. It’s been how many years and he still hasn’t found his way to you? And the fact you’re still waiting around like some hopeless doormat is completely fucking pathetic. You’re a good-for- nothing, piece-of-shit trash. All you know how to do is drool over unavailable men. And no one likes a slut.”

It hurts so fucking badly, Jungkook doesn’t know what to do. He curls into himself and tries to block out verbal lashing he’s receiving.

Seulgi squeezes his arm in artificial reassurance before she steps back and smiles, unfeeling and emotionless. She orders them one more round of shots.

“Seems to me,” Seulgi says, walking away from him after paying for the drinks, “That even if Jimin’s everything to you, you’re nothing to him.”

Could that be true?

“I’m just being honest, the way I see it, Jungkook, you really ain’t fuckin’ shit.”

Maybe Seulgi's right, Jungkook thinks hopelessly.

He hopes she's wrong, but the lacerations she's leaving behind hit all his most vital vessels as she gashes through the flesh of his throat and heart with no remorse. She's not playing around, Seulgi's here for the kill. 

“Might as well drink up, Jungkook,” she suggests, “You might be nothing, but maybe it’ll be nice to feel...something.”

As she turns around, Jungkook finally finds his voice. He jumps forward and reaches out hopelessly, knocking over his shot in the process, ignoring the dirty looks other bar patrons send him when they feel the dampness on their flashy clothes.

“Seulgi-noona,” he calls out weakly, barely discernible over the club music.

She cranes her head over her shoulder and raises her eyebrows.

“What?”

Jungkook’s lower lip starts trembling and he begins to cry. He’s totally mortified that he’s in the middle of a busy club scene and he’s breaking down.

“For what it’s worth, Seulgi-noona, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”

And Jungkook’s being completely honest. And he’s sorry for everything Seulgi rightly accused him of. And he’s sorry for everything he’d done to her—unbeknownst to her. He’s so sorry.

Seulgi just shakes her head, and for a moment her face falls and she looks small and sad. She’s devastated. Jungkook knows that despite the onslaught of uncharitable assaults, at the core, this hurt is what’s driving her to attack him so relentlessly.  For a brief moment, a reprieve in the unabating discord between them, Jungkook’s tempted to try and reach out and perhaps console her—even if he’s the last person she’d seek comfort from.

But then the moment passes, her countenance hardens again and her mouths firms with determination.

“Doesn’t mean shit, Jungkook. It doesn’t mean anything. I don’t accept your apology.”

This time, Jungkook's the one who turns away as he rushes to the bathroom, wiping his wet eyes as he tries to smother down a sob.

Chapter Text

Where the fuck is Taehyung going? Jimin grouses to himself irritably, watching as his sight of his friend’s back ebbs and flows, concealed behind the shadows of other drunken silhouettes before materializing again in an empty gap in the mass.

Jimin grows increasingly frustrated as he bellows out Taehyung’s name, each call left ignored. He’s certain that he’s in acceptable hearing distance, so he grumbles discontentedly as he trudges behind him. He grimaces as he shoves past plumes of unpleasant odors.

His friend is simply sliding and gliding past sweaty, grinding bodies with surprising ease while Jimin’s hindered by his smaller stature which only exacerbates his annoyance.

When he finally sees where Taehyung’s headed, Jimin makes a face, totally perplexed. He’s struck by the sudden temptation to turn back and return to Jungkook. Before he commits entirely to following Taehyung, he chances a quick glance behind him to see how Jungkook’s doing.

Their youngest friend is kind of a blip in the distance for Jimin’s poor eyesight, but he sees Jungkook has dutifully followed Jimin’s orders. Situated at the bar, Jungkook’s talking to some scantily clad girl.

Jimin’s stomach rumbles in discomfort when he feels a clump of acid sick settling in at the unwelcome sight. 

He tries squinting to better distinguish her, but since her back is directly facing Jimin, he’s unable to observe his competition (It might be immature and petty, but he’d really been hoping to discern her features well enough to make unsolicited comparisons to himself, unable to smother his desire to see whether if he can measure up to Jungkook’s new companion).

His brows furrow in annoyance.

But while Jimin’s heart might throb jealously at the sight, it’s a moot point. It doesn’t matter.

Or importantly, it can’t matter.

Sighing, he figures he shouldn’t be a shitty friend to Taehyung. He also understands he shouldn’t prevent Jungkook from…well, he doesn’t want to explicitly think about it.

So, in hopes for a distraction, Jimin finally pushes past the exit doors of the club and finds himself in a dim, sketchy alleyway. Taehyung’s leaning against the wall parallel to the exit doors, with a dark look on his handsome face, clearly having been waiting for Jimin’s arrival.

Perhaps he’s being presumptuous, but Jimin finds himself pre-emptively stiffening in preparation for a hostile interaction, instantly forgetting about the unpleasantry waiting for him inside the club.

Jimin doesn’t have a moment to breathe because without prompting or provocation, Taehyung immediately springs into action. He’s like a rattlesnake with keratin so inflexible, its shaker doesn’t warn its prey before it strikes. Jimin winces as he feels Taehyung’s fangs sink in, an unpleasantly nostalgic feeling as he reminisces about the argument he’d had with his friend the previous year.  

“So, man, like, what’s going on here?” Taehyung demands unapologetically.

Jimin is aggravated by his friend’s brazen audacity, but his rage multiplies when Taehyung provides him with no reference point to work off. Revealing his ignorance so soon into the clash isn’t optimal so Jimin doesn’t hesitate, snapping back coldly.

“What do you mean?”

Taehyung’s voice begins rising, an unforeseen crescendo on prima vista, and he gestures emphatically as he speaks.

“I mean, are you and Jungkook together again? Or are you guys just fucking around again?”

Jimin’s heart drops and once it starts falling, it doesn’t stop.

This isn’t a topic that he’d been willing to entertain for quite some time. He knows the answer to the question, but it’s something Jimin had been hoping their awkward situation would be something no one would address.

Because while the question is as simple as a sentence mundane words strung together, the answer is convoluted and complicated as a tome of chemistry equations fusing with unsolved mathematical problems would be for an illiterate civilian.

His heart has never hardened towards Jungkook, but now more than ever, it’s softened.

In the gentle ways Jungkook tends to him despite all of Jimin’s shortcomings and failures throughout the years, Jimin sees tenderness. In the relentless ways Jungkook hovers behind and above him, ensuring he doesn’t fall so deep into his dark headspace he’ll never emerge, Jimin sees love. In the Jungkook’s expressive eyes, Jimin sees caring.

Jungkook is the embodiment of TLC and it makes the answer to Taehyung’s question so damn difficult, when Jimin feels so lost and confused—wanting to accept what his ex is giving him, but feeling completely undeserving.

He thinks back to the soft tilt of Jungkook’s head, confusion evolving into understanding as Jimin had handed him his extra pair of mittens—ones he’d bought for Jungkook long before their cold war and had been longing to gift to him. Then, there was the way Jungkook’s fingers had felt through the barrier of those same mittens as he’d passed the hot chocolate over to him, leaving Jimin wishing that there wasn’t anything between them.

So now, being pressed to answer a question he’s completely unprepared for, he feels like a slovenly student that’d been hit with a pop quiz.

But despite the dread that starts curdling his blood, he jibes back in his anger.

Why, what do you fuckin’ care? Are you gonna try and get with him again?”

His taunt works, causing Taehyung to step up and abandon his comfortable spot on the wall until he’s close enough to get up in Jimin’s face, baring his teeth as he speaks.

“First of all,” he retorts angrily, pointing his index finger at Jimin’s chest, “You said it was fine. Did you not? Or did you conveniently forget?”

Jimin snorts condescendingly and steps away from Taehyung, widening the distance between them again.

“Yeah, of course I did because I didn’t want to be a possessive asshole ex-boyfriend,” he points out irritably, “But you were my friend! You were supposed to take it with a grain of salt. You weren’t actually supposed to go for it.”

An awkward silence falls over them, both boys glaring at the other, daring the other to back down.

But then, Taehyung surprises him again, raising his hands high above his head, as he steps back even further until he’s leaning against the wall again. With his neutral expression and passive body language, it’s not hard to believe Taehyung’s being earnest when he speaks next.

He concedes, “Okay, you’re right.”

Flabbergasted at the admission, Jimin sputters.

“Wait, w-what?”

Taehyung nods acquiescently, then apologizes.

“You’re right. I’m sorry for that, Jiminie.”

Jimin breathes.

“Oh.”

Kicking restlessly at the pebbles on the cracked pavement, Taehyung stuffs his hands into his front pockets and shamefacedly mumbles.

“I’m really sorry, I shouldn’t have done that.”

Somehow, the apology doesn’t sit well with Jimin.

He really tries to accept it like an upstanding person might, but Jimin’s never been good enough to be good anyway. He’s shitty enough that he doesn’t want to be the better person.

So instead, Jimin closes the space between them, desperate to sink his claws into Taehyung’s heart and tear it out of his disloyal chest. He can’t help himself when he feels his pent-up frustration finally getting the best of him, as he remembers the emptiness he’d felt that night when he saw Jungkook and Taehyung’s lips lock.

It’s hard for him to forget the floaty sense of detachment he'd felt that night. That awful sensation had only gotten worse when the familiar shawl of harrowing worthlessness came to envelope him as Jimin had recognized that he was completely invisible to his roommates—his fucking friends.

It’d hurt so badly that he'd been completely enshrouded into remote obscurity as he’d begun to realize that he wasn't being considered at all in that moment.

He snaps.

Shouting remorselessly, ignoring the odd glances from the occasional pedestrian, Jimin pushes Taehyung into the wall.

“If you’re so fuckin’ sorry, then did you even do it? I want to know why!”

Taehyung doesn’t take kindly to his explosive display of aggression and he shoves him back, blank expression evaporating in his obvious crossness. He hollers accusations at Jimin.

“Why did you break up with Jungkook if it was gonna bug you so fucking much? Like, you didn’t want to be with him but then you just kept fucking stringing him along for years! Don’t you think that’s an awful thing to do? Like, man, who even shit like that? Were you thinking about anyone except for yourself during that time?”

Feeling every nut and bolt in his body clinking ominously, Jimin's fine thread of control snaps. He feels himself dismantling quicker than a line of Dominos swooping seamlessly beneath the weight of its predecessor.

The ensuing wreckage is not promising.

He begins yelling at the top of his voice.

“Fuck you, Taehyung! Seriously, fuck you. So, what, are you just going to attack me again? Even though you were my friend first? I don’t understand why you and Jungkook are fine, but then you’ve got such a personal issue with me, you fucking asshole.”

Gobsmacked into silence, Taehyung just gapes at him. Jimin exploits the opening and continues braying into the space between them.

“I genuinely don’t fuckin’ get it. Did I do something to you personally? And if I did, can’t you just fuckin’ tell me, so I can maybe explain myself? I’m so sick and tired of walking on eggshells with you. I just want to understand why I can’t make you fucking happy and why you’re so against me and the mistakes I make. Didn’t Jungkook make mistakes? Didn’t you? Didn’t we all fucking hurt someone we probably shouldn’t’ve?”

Pinpricks of tears begin forming at the corners of his eyes, but Jimin just gnashes his teeth and purses his mouth until he’s able to temporarily stifle them. He then speaks, hoping Taehyung will overlook his doddering voice.

“I don’t mean to play the victim, I don’t, because I’m not. I really fucked up and I did some awful shit, but aren’t we friends, Taehyung? Doesn’t that mean something? Am I not good enough for you?”

Taehyung’s frowning in complete confusion at the last sentence Jimin utters. But leaving no room for interruption, Jimin clumsily plods on, words catching painfully as he barrels past the lump in his throat.

“I thought we were doing okay lately, you were finally being nice to me again, and even if I didn’t deserve it, I appreciated it. So, why now? Why are we here again? Why now?”

 Rubbing his temples, Taehyung looks completely exhausted. But then he interjects gently, cutting Jimin’s impassioned speech short.

Thank God, Jimin thinks. He’d been moments away from a meltdown like a thawing scoop of ice cream, dribbling down the sides of the waffle cone until the precarious angle that it’d had slumped over causes it to fall onto the concrete sidewalk.

He’d managed to hang on for dear life.

Taehyung’s shaking his head now, shoulders and mouth drooping sadly.

“No, Jiminie,” he sighs, “I’m not trying to attack you. I’m sorry for that last time where I did attack you. And I’m sorry now.”

He groans in frustration, stamping his left foot childishly, while Jimin waits patiently for Taehyung to speak again.

“It’s just…like, I just genuinely want to understand this whole song and dance you and Jungkook keep repeating. But I don’t want to fucking ream you out and get on your case again, I really don’t.”

He pauses. 

“Not this time.”

A silence stretches between them, each boy lost to their own thoughts and how to proceed in the conversation. Taehyung breaks the silence first.

“Jimin, you have to understand something. No one else seems to be calling you out, so I feel like I kinda have to.”

A mirror reflection of how Jimin feels, Taehyung’s body crackles with anxiousness and takes another moment to briefly pause.

“But I promise I won’t be cruel. I won’t be an asshole.”

Jimin nods his assent against all odds, trying to ignore the tidal wave of trepidation that comes thundering against his chest with the force of a million hammers.

“I just want to know, Jimin, if you understand,” Taehyung starts hesitantly, “That Jungkook’s still in love with you?”

With that question, it suddenly feels as though the hammers are proliferating at the same rate that overactive rabbits reproduce, accumulating until the pressure against his ribcage is nearly intolerable. The burgeoning pain expands like a rapidly spreading spill and Jimin feels like he's hopeless as the strain grows by the second.

Jimin doesn’t respond.

He just stares blankly at the floor, meticulously observing a smudge mark by Taehyung’s shoe, one that would’ve gone unnoticed had it not been for this particular line of inquiry—one that he’d hoped to avoid escape from.

When the silence continues for longer than what’s polite in a standard conversation, Taehyung seems to make inferences about Jimin’s feelings and sighs in defeat. Jimin looks up to see his face.

Taehyung’s so disappointed.

Jimin gulps noisily, but he keeps his face firmly tilted away from Taehyung’s line of vision. He’s afraid what his friend will see on his traitorously expressive face, illustrative and simple, as easily read as a children’s nursery tale.

“You do, don’t you?” Taehyung asks quietly, barely audible over the club music.

But even though he can be predictable as a juvenile storybook, Jimin doesn’t anticipate the way he starts softly crying. A sudden plot twist has him jerking further away from Taehyung’s sad eyes.

“You know, Jiminie, before I thought you were just dragging him along for some kind of sick ride. Maybe you just felt good about someone stringing someone along—like you were using him for a confidence boost or some shit,” Taehyung says mildly.

Jimin shakes his head, feeling his tears sliding down his face.

“It wasn’t like that,” he cries out, “It isn’t like that. And it was never like that.”

Taehyung nods sympathetically.

“Lately though, I didn’t think so. I did think so for a long time and it made me so fuckin’ angry, dude, you had no idea. I would just watch you guys and the way Jungkook would just fuckin’ turn the world upside down if it meant he could just get you to look at him the right way and then when I saw you with Seulgi-noona or just out partying or whatever the fuck it was, it made me sick.”

Jimin cries harder, knowing everything Taehyung’s saying is valid.

“I know, Taehyung, I know,” he manages, despite the hacking cough of a sob he tries to smother, “I know I did Jungkook dirty, I didn’t mean to, I swear.”

Taehyung grunts in acknowledgement. Then, he crosses his arms and sighs again.

“Jimin, what’s going on with you? Do you just not care? Doesn’t it matter to you that you’re hurting Jungkook? Why are you doing this? I’m just confused now. Before, I was confused by the way you treated someone who clearly loves you so fucking bad and now I’m just confused by what’s happening to you.”

Here, Taehyung steps a little closer to Jimin, reaching out slowly as though not to alarm him. Once he’s in close enough proximity, he places his hands on Jimin’s shoulders gently and continues.

“You’re not well, are you? I look at you and I can see it. Jungkook can see it. You aren’t eating well, you aren’t sleeping well, you aren’t doing well. The only things you’re doing well is anything that’ll help you maintain your pretense of being okay. What’s going on?”

At this, Jimin finally drops to the ground, sliding down the wall, and starts wailing into his knees in utter despair. Frantic and frightened at this sudden loss of control from his friend, Taehyung follows him down without a single word or thought spent on considering the grimy stains and splotches on the disgusting alleyway.

“Hey, hey,” he coos softly, “What’s the matter? You can talk to me, Jiminie, I promise.”

The sobs that wrack Jimin’s body are terrifying intense, each movement so jerky and violent that Taehyung’s afraid that he’ll dislocate his bones and snap a few of his tendons. But still, he tries to stifle his own fears in order to tend to his friend.

“Taehyungie, you have to promise not to tell Jungkook, okay? Promise me,” he gasps in between sobs.

Eyes jerking frenetically to try and absorb the scene in front of him, Taehyung doesn’t reply quick enough to Jimin’s desperate pleas.

“Please, Taehyung,” Jimin begs, “Promise me.”

Taehyung’s frowning, but he agrees.

“Yes, of course, Jimine, I promise.”

Jimin’s tearstained face and swollen eyes emerge from the enclave of his knees and he swallows audibly. Taehyung’s worried, itching to batter Jimin with questions, but he waits patiently instead. Then, he places his arm around Jimin’s shoulders, pulling him in to comfort him.

Finally—

“I love Jungkook,” Jimin confesses tonelessly, “But I don’t deserve him.”

Taehyung doesn’t know what to say.

Does Jimin mean he doesn’t deserve Jungkook after breaking up with him? After hooking up with other people? After cheating on Seulgi with Jungkook?

As though he dipped into the pond of Taehyung’s muddled thoughts, Jimin elucidates further.

“I broke up with Jungkook because I don’t deserve him.”

Taehyung’s baffled. He tells Jimin so.

“I’m confused, dude.”

Jimin smiles tightly, the gesture not reaching his eyes. It’s just a motion a to placate Taehyung, but it doesn’t work when he sees the twin beads of darkness swimming behind a veil of tears in his friend’s eyes that pool up until they overflow and he’s crying silently.

“Do you have time for a story?” Jimin asks softly, sniffling a bit.

Though his curiosity has been piqued, Taehyung hesitates, glancing back at the club for a moment.

Then, he wonders out loud, “Should we leave Jungkook alone for that long? I feel kinda bad, we’ve been out here for a fuckin’ minute, bro.”

Waving a hand dismissively, Jimin just scoffs and Taehyung can tell he’s trying to look defiant, but his downcurved mouth betrays him instantly.

 “Jungkook? I saw him before I came out here. He’s preoccupied talking to some girl.”

Ah, Taehyung mouths soundlessly.

Jimin chitters nervously, trying to conceal his discomfort, but Taehyung sees right through it.

“He’s got a phone too, right? He can text us if he really wants to find us. See? Here? I’ll just put my phone on my lap, so we can definitely hear it if he tries to get a hold of us. But I’m sure he won’t want to.”

He pauses.

“I’m sure he wouldn’t want me to…” Jimin trails off, wiping his tears with the back of his hands. It’s a bit of a useless maneuver since the stream hasn’t abated and if anything, it’s only gotten steadier. But Taehyung doesn’t say anything.

Instead, he raises his eyebrows.

“I’m sure he wouldn’t want me,” Jimin mumbles inaudibly, Taehyung straining to hear what he’s said.

When he asks Jimin to repeat himself, he refuses and just asks again—

“So, do you have time to hear me out? For real this time?”

Chancing a glance at the club again, but figuring Jungkook will be fine, Taehyung nods. Before he speaks, Jimin takes a deep breath in and tentatively rests his head on his friend’s shoulder. Taehyung then rests his cheek on the crown of Jimin’s head, closing his eyes as he listens attentively to what he’s got to say for himself.

---

They’re both holding each other and crying now.

Taehyung’s utterly devastated. His heart howls in torment like a lone wolf with broken limbs and open wounds, bleeding out onto the forest floor until he drowns in the scarlet fluid.

Jimin had wearily regaled the small horrors of his childhood. The stories of his past are like the sharpest needle, pricking Taehyung's sentimental heart until Jimin's final words had punctured a hole so deep that he feels all his confusion and residual resentment billowing out, leaving behind a huge gape in his chest.

Taehyung’s so damn sorry. Even after he explained what he’d experienced as a child in turn, he feels like he was just grasping at the stubbiest straws to provide justification for what he’d done to Jimin.

He cries regretfully, “I’m so fucking sorry for what you had to go through, Jimin. I just got so caught up in my misdirected anger and I did all these awful things to you because of what I’ve been through when all along, nothing I’ve had to go through in my life could even compare.”

But Jimin shakes his head stubbornly, an insolent curl to his mouth.

“Taehyung-ah,” Jimin chides gently, “We can’t compare our pain. We had different experiences, didn’t we? We saw different things and felt different things. They were both really hard and tough and awful, but I didn’t tell you so that you would feel bad about yourself.”

Taehyung just cries harder and Jimin perseveres effortfully.

“We both hurt people because we were hurting inside. Because we are hurting inside. And I’m not saying that that it makes things right or it’s an excuse for what we’ve done to other people. I told you so that now, at least we can say understand each other, right?”

Jimin dabs at his eyes again, this time with his sleeves, but like before, it doesn’t do much for the newcomer tears. Taehyung’s too overcome with emotions to speak.

“I know maybe you can’t forgive me for what I’ve done to Jungkook all this time right away. And I can’t forgive you for hooking up with Jungkook right away either. But now that we understand each other, we’ll get there eventually,” Jimin promises.

A conciliatory pinky finger is extended.

Taehyung accepts.

Then—

“For what it’s worth, Taehyung-ah, I understand why you felt the way you did about me for so long. And I’m sorry about your dad. And your mom. I really am.”

Taehyung nods and then sniffles.

In a watery voice, Taehyung says, “I just wish instead of jumping to conclusions and thinking about myself only, I just took time to listen to you and hear you out. Maybe tried to have a proper conversation before thinking I was in any position to punish you. It wasn’t even really you I was seeing anyway—it was my mom.”

Jimin listens silently.

“I really loved my dad, Jiminie,” Taehyung continues weepily, “He was just the best person. Never complained and never really hurt anyone around him. He was just nice and kind and had the best heart. He always listened to me when no one else wanted to. And whatever shit my mom put him through, he never failed me as a parent.”

He breaks down for a little bit and Jimin just rubs his shoulder soothingly.

“He’d be ashamed of me for what I did to you. I’m ashamed of me after what I did to you. Especially knowing everything going through your head this whole time,” he sobs.

After a short moment of shared tears, Taehyung laughs weakly.

“Look at me,” he says, “Making this about me. I’m sorry, Jimin.”

Jimin just shrugs.

“It’s fine.”

“No, Jiminie, it’s not fine. You told me you’re not okay and the shit you’ve been fucking struggling with and it’s not fine. It isn’t fine. And you don’t want me to tell Jungkookie? Why? You know he loves you, he’ll wanna be ther—”

Jimin cuts him off impatiently.

“No, Taehyung, listen to me.”

Taehyung stops.

“I don’t know how to explain it but it’s this weirdly ironic thing where I do know Jungkook cares about me, but most of the time, I’m left wondering why. And if he really does. And if he does, why he’d even bothered because I’m constantly feeling like a shitty person. My impulse control when it comes to him is completely shot and I’ve made a fuckin’ mess of everything because I’m a disaster. I don’t want to bring him into this anymore than I’ve already have,” he rants passionately.

Jimin takes a deep breath before he continues.

“He deserves better than me and anything I have to offer. I’m scared that if he sees me for the fucked up, fuckwit loser that I am that he won’t want me anymore. And I’d rather assume that’s the case than try telling him what’s going on and making my biggest nightmare some reality I actually have to face and can’t escape from.”

His voice trembles as Jimin confesses, “I love Jungkook so much. It would break my heart completely if he turns me away.”

Taehyung turns to him, a severe look upon his swollen face and when he speaks, his tone is rigid and stern.

“Jimin-ah, I’m sorry to tell you this but you have to fight through that fear. If Jungkook just gave up every time you turned him away, then who knows if he’d even still be in your life? Maybe you would’ve lost him right at the breakup when you turned him away for the first time.”

Jimin winces, but Taehyung steamrolls on mercilessly.

“Or maybe you would’ve lost him when you started hooking up with other people and talked about it and shit. And hooked up with him at the same time.”

Then, he stops and sheepishly amends his statement.

“Well. At least, when you said you were hooking up with randoms and it seemed like you were runnin’ around wildin’. But anyway, I digress.”

Taehyung pauses before he makes his final, quiet suggestion.

“But let’s say, even after all that, if he’d stuck around, maybe you would’ve lost him after you started dating Seulgi.”

Flinching when he realizes he’s accelerated the rate of Jimin’s cascading tears, Taehyung pulls up his sleeve, so he can wipe at his friend’s face with delicate vertical strokes.

Once he’s cleared as much of the snotty, wet mess as he possibly can, Taehyung places both of his hands on Jimin’s cheeks and looks directly at him as he says his final piece.

“Jimin-ah, you need to get it together if you really love Jungkook. We can all be here for you and listen to you—and I promise I’ll be here for you anytime and any day from now on—but we can’t help fix you. We can’t do the groundwork for you. We can only help support you.”

Licking his lips, Taehyung struggles to continue, words escaping him when he needs them most.

“Ah, Jimin. I wish I had all the solutions to heal us both, but I don’t. I don’t want this sadness for you anymore and I promise I’ll do better by you. And if you love Jungkook­—if you really do—you need to start being better and kinder to yourself too. Don’t make him pick up the slack of loving you all on his own. He doesn’t deserve that either. Neither do you.”

Jimin’s red, swollen eyes are wide and alert.

“I lost my dad, Jiminie, but I don’t want to lose you either,” Taehyung says, voice breaking, “And the path you’re going down right now is really scaring me. And I know Jungkook’s worried too, so let’s figure this out together.”

Taehyung gulps when he sees the way Jimin’s face twists in pain, empathetic even when he’s suffering but his heart settles when he hears what his friend says.

“Okay, Taehyungie,” Jimin agrees softly, “I’ll try harder. I already promised Jungkook I’d try, but I’ll try harder.”

Finally, they get up, dusting off the dirt from their pants and jackets. They groan simultaneously when they realize that the wet spots on their asses will linger for the rest of the night but despite their obnoxious complaints, Taehyung can’t help smiling.

It’s been months and months of hurt and unsaid words and he’s relieved to finally feel the dust settle—even after their wild night turned into some other animal altogether. Though it’s obvious there’s much work and effort needed to be invested on both their parts for a brighter (and healthier) tomorrow, Taehyung’s just happy that there’s going to be a tomorrow. One that includes Jimin.

And when Jimin turns to head back inside, Taehyung grabs him by the arm and pulls him into a hug. It’s the warmest, tightest, and most genuine embrace they’ve indulged in for months. In the absence of physical distance, it makes Jimin’s heart tremble in sorrow when he realizes how detached he and Taehyung had become from one another.

And despite still hearing the whisper of the beast in his ear, reminding him how undeserving and worthless Jimin is, he valiantly ignores it. Instead, he listens to his soft, gentle heart and so Jimin pulls Taehyung in closer.

It’s such a warm feeling, Jimin sighs in contentment as Taehyung huffs in surprise before reciprocating.

---

When they head back in, soft smiles lingering on their tearstained cheeks, they almost instantly run into Yugyeom.

“Oh, Yugyeom-ah!” Jimin exclaims in surprise, shouting over the music.

The three greet one another, but before they could get into any type of polite pleasantries, Yugyeom suddenly cuts them off. It’s unlike him.

“Hey, Jimin-hyung,” he starts hesitantly, “I don’t know if you know this but uh. I mean. Well, erm, have you seen Jungkookie tonight?”

Jimin startles at the question but rushes to answer him.

“Oh, yeah! We came here with him and we were outside for a bit. But he was talking to someone, so I thought he’d be alright. He’s got his phone on him, so we thought when he’d want to meet up with us again, he’d text us. But he never did.”

Jimin pauses, a sour look plastered on his face briefly, before it dissipates.

Off to the side, Taehyung smirks knowingly.

“Doesn’t matter, we’re actually just coming back in to find him,” Jimin reassures Jungkook’s friend, ingratiatingly smiling.  

Yugyeom gives him a weird look.

The way he licks his lips and sticks his hands in his pockets, back slouching over nervously has Taehyung and Jimin feeling apprehensive.

“Oh, well, I don’t mean to scare you guys, but I saw him,” Yugyeom informs them stiffly.

Then he pauses.

“But maybe, like, half an hour ago or something.”

They nod curiously, the older boys exchanging a confused look, knowing there must be more.

“We weren’t planning to meet up or anything and we didn’t talk about our plans for this weekend, so I didn’t even know he’d be here. So, I was, like, stoked when I saw him. But then I saw his face. I dunno, man, he looked like he saw a ghost and was about to get sick or something,” Yugyeom explains.

He looks uncomfortable.  

“Did he seem okay?” Taehyung asks with a frown.

“Well, that’s just it,” Yugyeom says regertfully, scratching his head, “I don’t know.”

Jimin looks fretful and he worries out loud as he questions Yugyeom.

“What makes you say that?”

He shrugs.

“I don’t know, like, it was so fuckin’ bizarre. I didn’t see who he was talking to because we just kinda ran into each other, but he wasn’t looking me in the face and he didn’t mention who he came with or what he was doing or anything,” the youngest boy informs them.

“Uh-huh,” Taehyung drawls.

“But…” Yugyeom trails off, glancing at Jimin nervously.

Taehyung raises his eyebrows and gestures for him to keep talking. Jimin just stands beside him, anxiously tapping his finger against his elbow, chewing his lips viciously, like crocodile teeth on carcass flesh.

“I’m pretty sure he’d been crying. His face was all swollen and his eyes were red, and he was all jittery like he was worried I would notice or somethin’. Then, he just shoved past me and ran out the doors before I could ask him if he was okay.”

“Are you sure it was Jungkook? I don’t think he would leave without saying something, that’s not like him at all,” Jimin fusses, patting down his pockets to locate his phone.

Again, Yugyeom shrugs uncomfortably, his eyes and face flushed from alcohol consumption.  

“I mean, it was definitely him, hyung,” he answers drily, “He’s been my friend for years, I definitely didn’t have the wrong dude.”

He pauses, then adds an afterthought.

“And maybe that’s not like him, but he also didn’t seem anything like himself when I saw him tonight.”

Once he finally locates his phone and pulls it out, Jimin instantly frowns at his empty inbox. Taehyung’s phone has a few notifications from various social media apps, but none of them have Jungkook’s name in the preview, so he doesn’t bother opening them either.

“I’m sorry to put this on you guys, I tried calling him and he didn’t answer. Didn’t answer my texts either. I didn’t know what else to do at this point because by the time I got out the doors too, I couldn’t see him anywhere. I guess I was hoping you guys would know something about it. But I guess not. Sorry,” Yugyeom apologizes, looking ashamed.

“No, man, don’t worry about it,” Taehyung says, looking worried, “We’ll deal with it. I’ll get him to text you back tomorrow.”

The night already plenty dampened by their tears and the stain on their pants from the alleyway, Taehyung and Jimin decide to head out when their progressively surmounting concern for Jungkook takes precedence over anything else.

They’re able to leave the club shortly after saying their brief goodbyes to Yugyeom, who’d looked anxious and torn up, insisting they get in touch with him as soon as they hear from Jungkook. They’d had to make the same promise multiple times before he’d finally loosened his death grip on Jimin’s arm.

(And even then, it’d only been possible after Taehyung pointed out that the sooner they left, the sooner they’d know what happened for certain.)

While Jimin tries to hail a cab, waving his arms like a madman on the streets, Taehyung sits on the curb and sends a smattering of texts to his youngest roommate, hoping to receive a prompt reply.

Jimin takes a more direct approach, blowing up Jungkook’s phone with phone calls while simultaneously pursuing taxis.

Finally, they lug themselves into Jimin’s fine catch, cabbie looking exhausted and fed up with the hoardes of drunken morons he'd had to put up with. It’s a few moments later, when their journey home begins, Taehyung and Jimin leaning into each other comfortably that they’re able to breathe a temporary sigh of relief. With a soft ping, that Jungkook sends Jimin a text—

Don’t worry. I’m fine.

Jimin jostles Taehyung a bit, moving him out of his perch on top of his head to read the text. Then, Jimin shows the text to Taehyung wordlessly and the two boys exchange a look of relief, but as they resume their former positions, they're each wearing individual grimaces of concern.

What neither boy don’t bothering saying is, right now, after everything they learned about one another, nothing and no one seems fine. It's obvious they're all battling their own demons, each malevolent entity adorned with their own idiosyncratic set of shields and weapons, crafted from different metals best suited to wound each person. 

They're better, but they're not quite okay yet. 

And more importantly, contrary to his text, Jungkook doesn’t seem fine.

Chapter Text

Jungkook doesn’t remember much after his conversation with Seulgi.

All he recalls is the way he’d tried to leave the club, humiliated that he’d been crying. Cursing when he’d run into Yugyeom, he’d skipped from foot to foot, desperate to escape. Ordinarily, he’d be delighted to have run into his close friend but under the circumstances, he’d only wanted the solace of his bedroom and the safety his duvet and blankets would provide.

So, he’d endured the barest minimum of conversation he possibly could, without raising too much concern or red flags, before he’d booked it. He had been so troubled by his savage thoughts, barbaric and primitive in their bloodthirsty attacks on his normally stable psyche, he’d plum forgotten to tell his friends that he’d left.

He’d hopped into the first cab he’d spotted and had rattled off his address before he’d spent the rest of the trip home crying silently.

The cab driver had given him a strange look.

Jungkook had just paid him quickly, before he’d sprinted to the elevator, hopping from foot to foot, until he could run to the shared apartment. He then slammed his room door behind him. The moment his face had met his pillow, he'd bawled morosely.

Under Seulgi's ruthless onslaught of cruel words, he’d crumpled like paper, wrinkled and crinkled in the aftermath. He’d been reminded of how worthless and alone he’d felt in the past, Seulgi having taken no prisoners as she recaps how he’d been a desperate stray pup nibbling on the scraps and crumbs that Jimin had left out for him.

You’re nothing to him.

And as Jungkook had cried into his sheets, a puddle forming under his squished cheek, he'd wished he’d feel nothing instead.

+++

The jingle of keys and a soft whoosh announces their presence. 

When Jimin and Taehyung arrive home, the latter begins scolding him from the moment he enters Jungkook’s room. Jimin just creeps in, worry etched onto his forehead as he stands by the door, holding the doorknob tightly.

“Jungkook-ah, I love you, kid, but you can’t just leave like that without telling us—”

Once Taehyung notices he’s crying, he immediately rushes to the bed, falling to his knees, and exclaims worriedly. His face is inches away from Jungkook’s face, but his features are muddled and sloppy.

Jungkook’s so drunk.

“—Oh, oh, no, no, what’s wrong, Jungkookie? Tell us what’s wrong.”

Jimin begins approaching too, looking sick with concern himself, but he doesn’t want them near him right now. Jungkook firmly tells them to leave.

“No, not today, guys, please leave me alone,” he snaps, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Over Taehyung’s loud protests, Jimin shoots his shot at consoling Jungkook, fingers reaching out tentatively. Jungkook thinks he’s trying to pet him and right now, his consciousness is blaring loudly with the shrieks of warning bells and he slaps his hyung’s hand away impatiently.

Seulgi’s planted a seed of doubt in his head and right now Jungkook can’t trust Jimin.

Wild with hurt and drunk off alcohol, Jungkook doesn’t notice Jimin’s face plummeting at being turned away. He also misses the way Taehyung shoots a compassionate look in Jimin’s direction.

“Leave me alone, I don’t wanna talk now,” he insists feebly, demand falling a bit short when his voice wobbles precariously.

Taehyung nods sharply, a disapproving frown on his face, but he still tucks Jimin under his arm before the older boys vacate his room. He can hear them whispering furiously from behind his door. He’s too drunk, tired, and sad to care what they’re saying.

Jungkook falls into uneasy sleep shortly afterwards.

+++

The next morning, when Jimin’s out of the house, Taehyung confronts him sternly. 

Jungkook’s tending to his hangover over a black coffee, massaging his temples haphazardly, his elbows on the counter. When Taehyung strolls in, situating himself on their couch, Jungkook’s in the process of considering every ugly word Seulgi had uttered to him the night before. 

Neither of them speak and Jungkook’s too embarrassed to start the conversation. Moments later, he’ll realize Taehyung has no such qualms.

“So,” Taehyung drawls casually, “Are we going to talk about what happened last night?”

He grabs the folded blanket on the arm of the couch, draping it over himself, as he observes Jungkook from his spot.

“Is ‘no’ an option?” Jungkook mumbles, the smart remark earning himself a dirty look from his hyung. Taehyung stares unblinkingly and flatly denies him.

“No.”

“Okay,” Jungkook grumbles childishly, “Then why’d you ask?”

Taehyung shrugs genially.

“Figured the pretense of free will would ingratiate you to me and you’d indulge me willingly, but I overestimated how much of an adult you’d voluntarily choose to be.” 

The combination of his hangover and the events of last night already has Jungkook fatigued, but the prospect of the now looming conversation has him near comatose. But he realizes Taehyung won’t be deterred so he bites the bullet early, flecks of metal and gunpowder sitting heavily on his tongue.

“I ran into Seulgi last night,” he admits reluctantly, crossing his arms defiantly as he stares at his hyung.

Taehyung’s eyebrows meld into his fringe and his jaw opens as he mouths, “Oh.”

Jungkook scoffs.

“Yeah. ‘Oh’.”

Taehyung gets up and grabs himself a glass of water from the kitchen, shuffling around quietly before he sits back on the couch, looking up at Jungkook. Then, he resumes the conversation.

“So, what happened? What’d she say?”

Jungkook laughs humorously as Taehyung looks on, bemused.

“Oh, nothing serious, you know. I just apologized because I felt super shitty about everything that went down and then she just told me that I'm pathetic and a worthless slut and that Jimin will never want me. The usual. Just the Friday night special. Oh plus, can’t forget the way we exchanged words, you know, one of my apologies for her five of her carefully crafted insults.”

Taehyung makes a sympathetic face and exclaims, “She didn’t really say all of that. That’s so fucking rude.”

Chucking under his breath darkly, Jungkook continues.

“Oh, she did. And you want to know the funny part, hyung?”

Bedraggled, Taehyung looks up in confusion, sleepy eyes expressing their obliviousness. He clearly doesn’t see much hilarity in Jungkook’s encounter with Jimin’s salty ex-girlfriend.

“What?”

Jungkook tries to hold back his tears, as he speaks.

“It’s the truth. Nothing she said was wrong, she’s right. She’s totally right.”

Taehyung chortles, evidently dismissive of Jungkook’s concerns which irks him greatly.

“Oh, c’mon, Jungkook, don’t be like—”

In his self-righteous fury, Jungkook interrupts rudely.

“No, hyung, think about it. She thinks I’m garbage and a piece-of-shit who fucked around because I’m selfish. Is she wrong to hate me for what I’ve done to her?”

His hyung looks distantly startled by the vitriol in his voice, but that doesn’t prevent him from trying to reason with Jungkook. 

“She doesn’t even know—”

By this point, Jungkook’s deaf, dumb, and blind to anything but his own despair and he doesn’t care what Taehyung has to say at all. Ignoring the way Taehyung’s beginning to bristle under his stubbornness, Jungkook cuts in again.

“I know she doesn’t know but it doesn’t matter, ‘cause she’s right anyway. And there’s more! Let me just tell you the best part, hyung.”

After a long silence stretches between them and Jungkook eyes him rebelliously, Taehyung finally speaks. He looks reluctant, body sluggish with the weight of his unwillingness.

“What?” Taehyung asks slowly, “What’s the best part, Jungkookie?”

Jungkook laughs, the sound so empty it rings and echoes like it’s taking up residence in a hollow chamber—one in which he could stash away all his fragile hopes and frail dreams, stingily guarding them from the harsh edges and sharp blades of reality. 

“She told me how I’ll always be his second choice and I’m nothing to Jimin-hyung. And she’s hit the nail on the head, hasn’t she? I’m so pathetic—”

Taehyung’s had enough.

“No, shut up, right now, Jungkook,” Taehyung shouts, finally getting up to his feet, pointing angrily, “Don’t speak about things you know nothing about. Don’t talk about yourself like that. And don’t talk like you really believe Seulgi ever really knew Jimin.”

Jungkook’s a little perplexed and he just stares at his hyung in bewilderment.

He’s seen Taehyung riled up like this before. This isn’t new. He’s definitely seen the way his hyung can get like a solitary jaguar defending his territory from ambitious competition, threatening curl to his mouth accompanying his glinting eyes as he slinks into sight to make a kill—like when Jimin had triggered Taehyung’s worst memories of his mother.

But now, it seems random, an erratic reaction without a stimulus to incite it, so Jungkook’s confused by how Taehyung seems to be steadfastly defending Jimin.

What’s changed?

“How can you say that, hyung? Weren’t you the one telling me that Jimin had wronged me and that he was fuckin’ me over and shit? Didn’t you say you were glad I fuckin’ told him off?” he stonily points out.

Taehyung walks over to him in the kitchen and leans in over the counter, hissing at Jungkook.

“Jungkook, we also had a whole fucking conversation about how I feel like I went too far, and I was an asshole to him and that I didn’t wanna treat him like that anymore. Remember? Are you fucking joking right now? How’re you pulling this shit right now? You know I regret it, so why would you throw that back in my face? You’re being an asshole,” Taehyung yells, voice reverberating ominously throughout their small living room.

Under the dense pressure of Taehyung’s justifiable anger, Jungkook’s temper deflates like a pufferfish after danger’s passed and his spine retracts like the quills of a porcupine.

Jungkook just feels small now and Taehyung’s voice mirrors his attitude, lessening as the younger boy sits passively. But he doesn’t stop persisting, asking questions Jungkook doesn’t want to answer. 

“Tell me, why are you doubting Jimin right now?”

Jungkook stays silently, sulking as Taehyung rolls his eyes.

He chances a guess.

“Because of Seulgi?”

Jungkook’s eyes flit up and he nods stiffly.

“Really, Jungkookie,” Taehyung sighs tiredly, “Why? That’s so fucking disappointing.”

Taehyung turns away and returns to the living room to gulp down the remains of his water, wiping his mouth with his hand. When Jungkook catches the steely look in his eyes, he instantly winces, feeling the weight of Taehyung’s frustration.

“Why’s that disappointing, hyung? Aren’t I being reasonable?” Jungkook asks, desperation pitching his voice higher than normal, tears stinging his eyes again.

Ugh.

He loathes crying.

“I’ve been trying really hard to move past everything, but she just reminded me of the reason Jimin-hyung and I fell apart. And she’s just a living reminder of the time when I felt like I wasn’t important to hyung. Like, I was an afterthought. Or leftovers that he’d just remembered to eat up when he was starving and looking for anything to settle for,” Jungkook confesses quietly.

Taehyung’s severe expression dissolves a little, leaving behind a thoughtful look to his face as he listens attentively to Jungkook’s impassioned admission.

“I know things are a little different between us now. And I’m always worried about him these days. I know you are too, hyung. I see the way you watch him sometimes too. But even when I’m sitting there trying to be there for him, it’s hard not wondering whether I’m just a bother to him. Or if he even wants me around still.”

A flash of sorrow crosses Taehyung’s face, but it disappears before Jungkook can decipher it.

“And Jimin-hyung and I talked a little bit before New Year’s and I feel like I understand him a little better after we talked. But I don’t know if we’ve talked enough or if I know enough. And I don’t want to ask him to reassure me when he’s got his own shit going on.”

Here, Jungkook’s composure begins really cracking, threads loosening and unraveling.

“I know that he loves me, hyung.”

Taehyung gives him a strange look and straightens his posture, mouth opening.

Jungkook corrects himself before Taehyung can. He doesn’t need anyone declaring the painful truth for him.

“No, not like that,” Jungkook reassures him, “I know he loves me as a friend. As a hyung.”

Oddly, Jungkook notices that Taehyung looks decidedly not reassured, joints and limbs discreetly moving around shiftily. In his discomfort, his hyung’s eyes flicker around but Jungkook stares at him straight on, angling his body so that he faces Taehyung and his back is to the front door and the hallway.

“It just hurt being reminded of that time in my life, I guess. And she really kicked all my worst insecurities right in the dick, so it just hurt a lot. And even now when we’re with one another, I’m just scared he’ll shove me to the side again when everything gets to be a little too much for him. Or if I want more from him than he’s able to give, you know?”

Taehyung squirms a little but nods.

“I just want him to love himself the way that I love him. And hyung—”

Here, Jungkook’s voice breaks.

“Hyung,” he tries again valiantly, “I love him so much. And I don’t think there’ll be anyone else for me.”

Taehyung’s eyes are wet, empathy coming to life as tears bead neatly on his lashes.

“Jungkookie…”

“It doesn’t matter to me anymore what kind of love I’ll get in return because at least we’re doing friendship right this time. We’re being good to each other again and if I have to settle for just that, I could. But seeing Seulgi last night, reminded me of a time when friendship wasn’t enough. And when I felt like I wasn’t enough either,” Jungkook reiterates.

“So, are you doubting Jimin or not?” Taehyung prompts gently.

“It’s not about that, hyung,” Jungkook insists forcefully, “I know Jimin-hyung has insecurities and struggles that are deeper than mine and I try to ignore my own insecurities in lieu of his because I’m worried about him all the time. But sometimes, sometimes, it’s hard not to worry that I won’t be enough for him and that my presence will never make him happy enough.”

Taehyung shakes his head.

“Jungkook-ah, listen. You can’t make him happy if he’s not happy to begin with. That’s just a mirage of happiness. It’s not real.”

Jungkook grunts in acknowledgement. Rolling his eyes, Taehyung continues.

“I know you’re insecure about how much of a difference you can make in his life. And sometimes when you love someone it’s hard not to feel completely responsible for them and their happiness, but it’s just unrealistic. He’s gotta do the legwork too. You guys are supposed to make each other happy. And if you guys are just making each other sad…”

Taehyung trails off.

He knows Jungkook won’t like what he has to say, but he has to say it. And so, Taehyung endeavours to advise his dongsaeng. His voice shakes, feeling as though he’s swallowing a pill the size of a maraca as he tentatively speaks. 

“…If you guys are just making each other sad, then just give it up. Just give it up. It’ll be better for you that way. There’s no point repeating tired cycles or dragging each other down because you’re both too scared to let go of something for the sake of sentimentality. If you’re making each other sad, Jungkook, give it up.”

Jungkook looks as though Taehyung has force fed him sour milk and mouldy bread, a breakfast for counterfeit champions. His lip curls in disgust and he pouts resentfully.

“I’m not giving up on him, hyung. And don’t you dare either.”

Taehyung smiles fondly on the outside, sighing exasperatedly on the inside.

He just wants these two foolish bobbleheads to get themselves in order. He knows they could be happy together.

But, he thinks to himself, It’s up to them.

“I won’t,” he promises Jungkook.

There’s a pause.

Then—

Taehyung says, “But maybe let’s not let other people get into our heads anymore then? Just think about it this way. Seulgi will never be happy for you and Jimin as a pair. And neither of you can blame her considering the circumstances. And tough luck, bud, but she doesn’t have to accept your apology, no matter how sincere I believe you were being, just like Jimin di—”

He stops, looking guiltily at Jungkook. The younger boy frowns and opens his mouth, curious to hear where that train of thought had been headed but Taehyung gently steers his focus away again.

“Uh, sorry. What I was trying to say was Seulgi didn’t have to accept your apology. Or Jimin’s. She never has to if she doesn’t want to. Straight up, you guys both chose to willingly shit on the sanctity of their relationship, so you can’t hold it against her for being angry. But that being said, why let someone who bears a grudge against you two ruin anything? She’s never going to give you her blessing, so don’t let her poison your mind, Jungkookie.” 

“I mean, I know you’re right. But it’s hard. I never gave her a chance and I never liked her because I was always so jealous. And now, retrospectively, I feel pretty god awful about it.”

Jungkook stops for a moment, pouring himself a second cup of coffee and clearing off some of his litter off the counter before he continues. Taehyung just waits patiently.

“I guess I hoped that she’d see I was being sincere, and I really meant my apology. And I really thought she’d accept the apology too. But at the end of the day, if I were her, I guess I’d hate me too. And I wouldn’t want to hear jackshit of anything I’d ever have to say.”

Taehyung nods and adds, “Yeah, man, if I were her and felt like I was always in the shadow of my partner’s best friend, I probably wouldn’t be their biggest fan either. And realistically speaking, she must have had some suspicions about you guys to be so hateful towards you.”

Jungkook picks up his nearly full mug of coffee and drains it.

“You’re right, hyung,” he admits softly, “Thanks for listening to me.”

Taehyung just gives him a small smile, before he reminds Jungkook to text Yugyeom.

Once Jungkook’s in the clear with his longtime friend, the pair of them sit next to each other on the couch companionably, watching cartoons and game shows mindlessly until their third roommate returns.

+++

When Jimin comes home, Jungkook immediately jumps to his feet and rushes to the door. He then apologizes multiple times for his bratty behavior from the night before and for worrying Jimin. From behind him, Jungkook feels Taehyung’s encouraging gaze on the pair of them.

Despite still in the process of peeling his shoes off, Jimin doesn’t hesitate—

“Are you okay?”

Impulsively, Jungkook pulls him into a warm, tight hug, ignoring the way Jimin’s half unlaced shoes falls from his hyung’s hand onto the floor. The world narrows to only the two of them, so he even fails to notice (or care) as Taehyung surreptitiously leaves the scene. He’s too busy nuzzling into the nest of his hyung’s silky locks.

“Now I am,” he says quietly, spilling little grains of tenderness into Jimin’s ear, lips brushing against the shell. Jimin shudders a little but isn’t shy in reciprocating the embrace, hands settling into the small of Jungkook’s back.

They stand there holding each other for a little too long and a little too intensely for it to qualify as being platonic, but no one’s there except them so they catalogue it as a small, safe indulgence—much like sneaking a sweet after an arduous workout at the gym.

It doesn’t count, Jungkook swears to himself, If no one knows then it doesn’t count because we’re just friends.

Just this one time, Jimin tells himself sternly, I’ll let myself have this one time.

Even if they don’t know the matching painful thoughts of love and loss that plague the other one’s head, deep inside, they both know it’s only a matter of time before something has to give.

They just don’t know that that something will happen much sooner than they’d think it to.

At any rate, the melodrama that’d been following them around—adhering to their heels like shadows, plastered onto their skulls like splatters of brain matter—comes to a temporary close as Jungkook and Jimin touch, love and affection soothing the ache in their collective hearts.

±±±

Much later that evening, Jungkook and Jimin are drinking together, both boys having declined Taehyung’s invitation for a party with his friends. They’re in Jimin’s room on his bed, taking (many) occasional sips of beer over conversation until they’re both agreeably drunk.

If anyone were to ask, Jungkook couldn't place what exactly they'd been doing or talking about at that point in the night. Much of it was mundane activities and topics that wouldn’t have a lasting effect on him or his mind, but the feeling he'd had that night was memorable. That warmth had stealthily slunk into his meek heart and his malleable body until it settled in like a cat curled in front of a fireplace and he knows that sensation will endure.

They’d started off the night on separate poles of the bed, each boy leaving a respectable few inches of spaces in between their bodies, but drink makes the body weak.

And it makes the heart weaker.

11:53pm finds Jimin’s head on the ridges of Jungkook’s abdomen, while the latter fiddles with his phone in one hand, taking control of the playlist for the night, and carding his fingers through his hyung’s hair now and then with the other.

Sometime after midnight, a lull between topics occurs, both boys exhausted of discussing the pros (Jungkook) and cons (Jimin) of gaming. This is when Jimin strikes, a small line denting his forehead, as he questions Jungkook.

“So,” Jimin starts, an artificially blasé tone to his voice, “Taehyung told me you ran into Seulgi then?”

Jungkook groans, internally plotting the intricate details to Taehyung’s impending demise for exposing his secrets. He knows that denial isn’t an option, his rigid body and tight expression too conspicuous, easily read by even the most boorish of individuals. Jimin peers up at him, squinting his eyes suspiciously.

“Ah, I guess I did,” Jungkook admits.

“So, how’d that go?”

Jungkook shrugs one shoulder and sardonically tells him, “Oh, you know. Really spectacular, we just took shots together before we left the club to have a nice, pleasant chat over high tea and crumpets. Couldn’t be better.”

Displacing Jungkook’s hand in his hair, Jimin sits up and crosses his legs. Then, he shoots him a steely glare and Jungkook finds himself wilting rapidly under the venomous stare. He loudly attempts defending himself.

“What? I’m not lying, we did take shots together.”

He pauses, then makes a flaccid joke, unable to stop himself when he sees Jimin’s disbelief.

“Although, I’ve gotta be honest, I’m surprised she didn’t even try to poison me.”

After humour falls terribly flat, Jungkook demonstrates an impressive dedication to avoiding the subject, like a restless student skipping class on the day of a critical test, but this isn’t Jimin’s first time at this particular rodeo. Eventually, he tires Jungkook out, lassoing him into his clutches until he’s lackadaisical enough for Jimin’s interrogation.

The following conversation is tired and worn, especially after Jungkook had already told Taehyung about the events of the previous night once earlier that day. But Jimin’s astonishment morphs into disapproval before it turns into outrage.

Eventually, the fire fizzles out and diffidence spreads across the planes of Jimin’s face, when Jungkook confesses all the sore spots and critical points that Seulgi had struck cold-heartedly. He still remembers the polished look of disparagement on her beautiful face, eyes devoid of warmth and mouth a red incision on her pale face, spewing out bloody words, shredding the small chinks in Jungkook's armour into little metal filets.

Jimin’s eyes are slanted with remorse and he apologetically curls into Jungkook’s side, wrapping an arm around his best friend hesitantly. But when Jungkook doesn’t shake him off, he pulls himself in closer until they’re completely pressed together like melding molten rock.

“I’m sorry she said those awful things to you, Jungkookie, that was really wrong of her. She should’ve blamed me and wanted to hurt me, not you,” Jimin mutters, rubbing his hand down the expanse of his best friend’s upper arm consolingly, lips moving against the fabric barrier of Jungkook’s shirt.

Jungkook desperately smothers the violent shudder that threatens to jolt down his spine at the heady contact, drunken heart purring with pleasure.

He tries to distract himself by talking.

“I mean, to be perfectly fair, we’re both to blame here, Jiminie-hyung. I understand why she’s angry with me—”

Suddenly, there’s a single digit on his mouth, vertically positioned to shush Jungkook. Jimin’s silencing Jungkook and in his complete surprise, it works.

He abruptly veers from the path their conversation had been going. He’s driving the same vehicle as he maintains Seulgi as their main topic, but he takes a sudden sharp left to directionally alter the ultimate destination of their discussion.

“Jungkook, remember I told you that one party that Seulgi-noona broke up with me because she didn’t think she was enough for me?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Jungkook says slowly, “But I don’t know very much about it. You never really wanted to talk about it all that much and I didn’t feel right prying about such a personal topic. Especially considering everything else.”

Jimin nods pensively and starts playing with his own fingers, a sure sign that he’s nervous. Jungkook thinks he even spots a small twitch at the corner of Jimin’s left upper eyelid.

“I did love and care for her. That's the honest truth, even if you don't want to hear it and as much as I don't want to say it to you—because I know it'll hurt you. But the night we broke up, she asked me straight up, no bullshit, if I loved her.”

Jimin pauses, then adds, “Naturally, I said that I did.”

Jungkook’s heard all of this in varying degrees, but it never gets more appealing to his ears. Never sugary, never sweet, it’s just bitter and sour and foul all at once and leaves him feeling disoriented from the audio blast.

He just grunts disagreeably.

Jimin laughs softly.

“Aw, c’mon, don’t be like that. She and I aren’t together anymore, Jungkookie.”

Neither are you and me.

Then, Jimin continues.

“Anyway, then she put me on the spot and she asked me—pretty much begged me—to tell her that I loved her more than you. And she didn't know shit about anything. Never told her that we were exes, never told her anything except that we were best friends, but out of the fuckin’ blue, she asked me that."

He pauses again.

Then—

“Imagine that, hey?”

Jungkook feels his stomach turning uncomfortably, acidic stress surmounting, as he quietly parrots Jimin’s words back at him.

“Imagine that.”

Then, he prompts Jimin to keep talking.

“So? What did you say, hyung? What did you tell her?”

Jimin takes a deep breath, then releases it through his nose. He then hides his face in his hands and speaks through the bars of his fingers, an inmate howling for his freedom through his prison cell.

"I couldn't answer her. It’s totally fucked, I feel like such an asshole even now, but I didn't even have the decency to tell her that there's nothing wrong with her. And she didn't do anything wrong to me personally. But that we just weren't right for each other.”

It’s all a jumbled mumble, so Jungkook cranes his neck and sits up onto his elbows so he can lean in to hear Jimin better.

“I promised you I’d be more honest with you. So, I just want you to know something right now, Jungkookie. I couldn't answer Seulgi-noona because I loved you more. I love you more. I loved you more then and I love you more now," he clarifies.

Jungkook’s heart nearly leaps out of his chest.

They’ve exchanged mutual declarations of love even after all the strife following their break-up—the day in the rain a standout moment for more than one reason.

But this feels different.

In spite of this, Jungkook’s weary to allow himself to feel too much reckless optimism, long since realizing that anticipation in relation to Jimin frequently leads to disappointment. He licks his lips nervously and he feels the way his palms are wet with perspiration. He subtlety wipes them on his sweatpants.

“I know you do, Jimin-hyung,” he reassures a little blandly, working to avoid inject too much egregious hope into his voice, “I know you love me, and I hope you know I love you.”

Petrified that Jimin will feel all the love he keeps stored emanating from his chest, he pathetically strives to correct himself. He heaves a great rush of air into his lungs to amend the mistake, a necessary rectification.

“As friends, Jiminie, I mean as—”

But what happens next completely disassembles the delicate display of composure he possesses. 

Jimin roughly pulls away from and leans over him, pressing a firm hand into Jungkook’s chest. Jungkook knows he must be able to feel the thrums and throbs of his heart, jumping hysterically under his palm. The frenetic energy beneath Jungkook’s ribcage doesn’t discourage Jimin as he stares firmly into Jungkook’s eyes.

The air around them is buzzing, a roar so loud that cripples Jungkook from action, sitting in the sludge of their emotions.

He can’t help himself when his eyes flit like bowling balls darting and skipping over unpolished floors of a rickety old lane, until they inevitably plow into the pins of Jimin's lips. Hypnotized by his touch, Jungkook doesn’t protest as Jimin wrestles him into sitting up and they’re both upright.

Then, Jimin leans in and hugs him so tightly, Jungkook doesn’t think he can breathe. His left hand ends up on Jimin’s nape and the right on the middle of his back. His lips buried near Jimin’s neck and the warm air from his own mouth surrounds him and combines with his hyung’s scent. It smells like a combination of aromatic cologne and alcohol.

All the alcohol finally bashes into him at the speed of a maglev, the impact unpreventable and unforeseen. Jungkook’s so drunk and his self-control has packed up shop for the day, suitcase and tie in hand, without taking a second glance back.

He doesn’t stop himself from intoxicatedly kissing Jimin’s cheek, the hand resting on Jimin’s neck moving to cup his cheek adoringly.

In his drunken sloppy display of affection, he doesn’t realize Jimin’s been talking. When he finally tunes in, he’s lost—a few episodes in too deep to follow the premise of the show.

“—it’s not even about her anymore, Jungkookie, it’s not. It’s about how much I love you and how much I’ll always love you. I’ve never lied to you about that, I swear, I’ve never said it to gain anything from you. I know I’ve been selfish and awful to you and I know I’ve hurt you so bad, but I’ve never lied about it. Do you believe me?”

Jimin’s just rambling now and with his higher alcohol tolerance, Jungkook’s not sure if his nearly hysterical explanations and distress is stemming from his emotions or his drunkenness. And normally, he’d be working in overtime by now, in a complete frenzy trying to soothe his hyung at the first sign of his anguished outburst, but Jungkook’s drunk. Plain and simple as that.

At breakneck speed, Jimin’s still ranting passionately.

“I’m a mess all the time but I’m trying harder lately. I made a promise to you and I’m really trying to be better. Better for you and better for me—because I love you. And I’m not saying that to manipulate you or deceive you or make you feel like shit. I mean, that was never my intention anyway, but I know I did and I’m sorry.”

Jungkook tries to focus, the words sliding in and out of his consciousness. His common sense is lying dormant, tucked beneath the drizzly membrane of intoxication. As it slumbers restlessly, Jungkook torpidly moves his hands beneath the slip of fabric covering Jimin’s torso.

Jimin shivers at the cold touch, but it doesn’t stop him.

“Jungkook, I’m still in love with you. Do you know that? Taehyung told me you love me back—is it true, I hope so because I’m still so in love with you.”

Something clangs around in Jungkook's sleepy conscious, a resting monster who's been awakened by the vociferous jingle of Jimin's words, but it just doesn’t register with him. The only thing that he really discerns is the shady way Taehyung had been acting earlier that day when Jungkook had been talking about Jimin now makes sense. If he'd known about Jimin's feelings for Jungkook, of course the youngest boy's denials about that love would make him wary.  But everything else is just a touch out of reach for him.

But Jimin’s in reach tonight, so Jungkook clumsily pulls him in, digging his fingers deep into Jimin’s back until the pressure has him falling onto his lap.

Intoxication aside, he’s still trying not to violate any boundaries Jimin might have, so he doesn’t do anything as rash as he might innately want to. Instead, he holds Jimin close to his own body, hands returning to their most familiar places—Jimin’s nape and his back.

Jimin’s stopped talking.

His hands are gripping Jungkook’s shoulders tightly. He can hear Jimin panting in his ear and his blood starts boiling, the fire of arousal sitting at a scorching temperature beneath the pot of his love. His belly is turning inside out, and he starts wearing his organs over his skin, and a pool of all his blood sits around him, and it’s an acidic explosion of color, and Jungkook’s totally tripping out.

What was in that beer?

He hasn’t held Jimin like this in so long and he’s so tempted to kiss him.

Yanking Jimin closer again, battling his deepest desires and wildest fires sitting in his soul, Jungkook presses his mouth to his hyung’s neck.

He’s tired and drunk and sad and happy all at once.

Unintentionally, Jungkook causes more ripples to cascade down Jimin’s spine as his mouth moves against his neck.

“Ah, hyung, I’m so wasted,” he mumbles, ignoring the breathy way Jimin laughs against his head, puffs of air displacing his hair.

An odd climate permeates the room, a mixture of pleasant warmth that comes with longstanding affection and unbearable heat that accompanies fresh arousal, and it bewitches the two boys in the room.

“You said you love me still, hyung? Well, I love you back,” he confesses softly, the words crumpled up by the column of skin he rests on, “And I don’t know if it’s ever going to change, hyung. That really scares me. Not knowing what’s in store for us.”

Jimin combs Jungkook’s hair with one hand lovingly and kisses the side of his head.

“What’d do you mean, Jungkookie?”

Jungkook shrugs, causing Jimin’s remaining hand on his shoulder to slip onto his bicep. Then, he looks up and how they’re positioned, Jimin’s mouth is a hair’s breadth away from his own.

It’s such a fucking bad temptation and Jungkook doesn’t want to capitalize on their inebriated states to encroach on territory he’s not welcome on. Instead, he just breathes his truth into Jimin’s waiting mouth.

“We were good once, hyung, weren’t we? But then we weren’t good together anymore and we just dragged each other down. We were toxic, and we did bad things to each other. And to other people. I don’t want us to go down that same path, because we’re doing better this time. We’re doing well as friends. We’re amazing as friends.”

Jimin starts shaking a little in his arms, and the first flutter of motion has his bottom lip brushing against Jungkook’s philtrum and upper lip. And god, the way his belly fills up with wanting makes Jungkook positively sick with desire.

Fuck, he wants Jimin so badly.

“You don’t want me?” Jimin asks in a small voice, retreating in microscopic movements, as Jungkook grapples with the opposite conundrum.

But while Jungkook’s trying to strap his self-control down, Jimin hurries to modify what he’s said. He simultaneously hastens to remove himself from his best friend’s lap.

“I mean, you don’t have to. I get why you wouldn’t want me anymore after everything. And I’ll be happy to take anything. I’ll be your friend, I want to be in your life anyway you’ll have me. I know I’m not good enough for you—”

With more strength and roughness than he intends, Jungkook pulls Jimin back in yet again, fingers completely knotted in his hyung’s hair. He doesn’t miss the light wheeze Jimin utters, equal parts pain and lust intermingling into a cloud that further pervades the air around them.

Stop talking yourself down to me, hyung,” he hisses.

Despite the cloudy haze of drink and lust, there’s an anomalous clarity he abruptly feels, enraged by Jimin’s ability to make himself a diminutive entity in Jungkook’s life when he’s the most important thing to him.

Jimin’s eyes are wide with shock.

Jungkook perseveres, “Even if you talk yourself down for the rest of your life, I’ll talk you up and it’ll balance out. But I told you—again and again and again—that that’s not how it should be. You need to recognize for yourself how amazing and wonderful and beautiful you are as a human being. For yourself.”

Shrinking in shame, Jimin progressively wilts on his lap. The weight of all of Jungkook’s compliments are too heavy for his slender shoulders, it seems. Jungkook wants to breath life back into him.

“And if you think for one second that I don’t want you now,” he confesses hoarsely, “You’re damn wrong.”

There’s a vast contrast between his affectionate tone of voice and the careless way he pulls Jimin’s hair again, forcing him to bare his neck a little. It’s the perfect exhibition of the chaste love he feels in his heart and the smoky tendrils of lust his body is consumed by each time he’s around Jimin.

With that placating statement, Jimin surges back to life and infringes on Jungkook's personal space. He easily disrupts the fine sheet of dust that's coating the areas of his best friend’s heart Jimin hasn't dared to explore in a while.

He delicately places each of his hands on Jungkook’s cheeks and leans in, smoldering eyes torched with a feral flame.

In the back of his mind, Jungkook imagines bringing a cannister of gasoline for the wildfire in his hyung's eyes. He would then raise an eyebrow seductively at Jimin. Next, without hesitation, he would dump the whole lot of it on the fire Jimin had provided, dousing the inferno until it’s a solar force that makes the sun whimper beneath its power. 

The moment stops and then it'd explode, little scraps of metal and concrete spewing everywhere. When the fog of uncertainty and fear would finally abate, there’d be nothing left. Nothing but Jungkook and Jimin kissing.

In the eye of the storm in his dream realm, the world seems like its about to collapse into rubble and ash, but when they’re together—well, it feels like nothing else would matter in that moment.

But dreams and reality finally coincide, because Jimin and Jungkook have their lips pressed against the other’s.

It's a convergence of two minds and hearts as their lips unite. It's nostalgic in a manner of speaking and yet feels so novel that Jungkook thinks he'll never get sick of the sensation. Because after all this time, he still doesn't want anyone else's mouth slotted against his as much as Jimin's.

It hardly whets Jungkook’s appetite, but he pulls away when Jimin tries moving their mouths against each other in that familiar rhythm that will have him spiraling out of control. 

“No, hyung,” he denies kindly, “I don’t want it to be like this. I love you too much to have you like this again.”

Jimin looks disappointed, but he slinks back. But he can’t quite seem to silence his insecurities.

“Why?”

“Because, hyung, we did this all wrong the last time. And I don’t want us to end up resenting each other forever if we keep repeating our mistakes and doing the wrong things in the wrong order,” Jungkook tells him, the vowels and consonants tumbling into each other clumsily.

Jimin looks confused.

“I just mean, hyung, we’re doing so well. Let’s not wreck a good thing until we get our bearings and our footing as better people who like ourselves better,” he promises Jimin, who looks skeptically at him.

But eventually Jimin resigns himself and sighs reluctantly.

“Okay, Jungkookie,” he acquiesces, “I understand.”

Beaming, Jungkook leans in and gives him one more lingering conciliatory peck on the mouth. Jimin tests his luck, pushing into it longer than necessary, trying to stoke the fires of Jungkook’s desire by putting his hand on the back of the younger boy’s neck and pulling him in. It’s a little wetter, a little more open-mouth courtesy of Jimin.

Devilish little bastard, Jungkook curses, as he pulls away a little starry-eyed.

But when they eventually fall asleep that night in each other’s arms, they feel closer to one another than they’d been in years. Perhaps that’s because they’re breathing in the scent of minty toothpaste from the other person’s mouth and they can’t tell which arm belongs to whom. But then again maybe it’s because they bravely exposed their enduring love for one another at long last.

When Taehyung returns much later that night, he peers into Jimin’s room after noticing he’d had uncharacteristically left his door open, squinting at their intertwined bodies before smiling fondly and shutting the door behind him.

±±±

The next morning when they wake up, Jungkook doesn’t remember many specifics of the conversation. He can’t remember the sentences they’d uttered verbatim, substituting each content item with a suitable synonym until he thinks he’s able to vaguely recall the message of what they’d discussed at length.

But what he doesn’t forget is the feeling.

The feeling of closeness as Jimin snuggles in closer after saying their goodnights. The feeling of intimacy when Jimin had wrapped his arms around him before they’d fallen asleep. The feeling of happiness when Jimin had interlocked their fingers in the middle of the night.

The feeling of being loved.

And judging by the way Jimin smiles shyly at him, he hasn’t forgotten either.

±±±

A month later, in April, Junghyun had followed Jungkook to the Parks’ door to drop off homemade food for their favourite neighbours on a random Friday when the younger Jeon had returned home for family dinner.

Jihyun answers the door and after breathlessly telling them his parents are out shopping with Jimin, he invites them in. They accept and they all pile in, leaving their shoes neatly at the door.  

Jungkook quickly stops off at the bathroom and after rinsing his hands thoroughly, he returns to the living room where the brothers are.

Before he steps in, they start in on him.

“So, you and Jimine-hyung are pretty close again, huh?”

“Yeah, I saw them canoodling suspiciously underneath my bedroom window the other day, it was just vile and disrespectful.”

Jungkook makes a face at Junghyun and snaps, “Hyung. I literally just said ‘bye’ to him.”

“I said what I said,” Junghyun snidely remarks.

Then, he adds, “Besides, you didn’t just say ‘bye’. You hugged him too. All tight and close and long as if you were never going to see him again. And the next day we went to a movie with him and Seokjin-hyung!”

Jungkook just groans while Jihyun laughs amiably in the background.

But it’s not just their family members who make observations about them.

One April evening when Jungkook has dinner at Seokjin’s with Hoseok and Namjoon, they tease him mercilessly for some twenty minutes before they ask him seriously whether he’s doing alright with everything.

The worst of the lot is Taehyung.

He doesn’t need to say much, but his mindbogglingly active eyebrows and lecherous expressions are enough to make Jungkook want to take the first plunge off the highest peak in the world. But even if he doesn’t need to say much, he certainly takes great liberties to say as much as he humanly can.

Perhaps Jungkook should toss him off the highest mountain instead.

It doesn’t seem like an awful idea considering the murderous intent he’s felt towards his third roommate ever since he remembered that Taehyung had revealed his feelings towards Jimin to Jimin behind Jungkook’s back.

But despite all the joking abuse and taunts he endures, it’s of no consequence to Jungkook. Not when he returns home to Jimin’s smiles and embraces.

April is an alright month overall.

 ±±±

In mid-April, Taehyung informs them that he’ll be out of the apartment for a week, staying with his family while his aunt is in town to help with his younger siblings. He packs up a small rucksack of his things and stuffs a few unnecessary articles of clothing in an Adidas gym bag (If the way Jimin glares at the bag then looks up accusingly at its wielder is of any indication, it doesn’t belong to Taehyung).

They see him off at the door, Jimin and Jungkook waving at him before shutting the door behind him.

Once he leaves, they share a glance before Jungkook quips, “So, what should we do, hyung?”

Jimin just laughs.

±±±

They spend most the week preoccupied by their own individual responsibilities in the day and reconvening at night to chat over tea or to watch a film together or to simply do assignments at opposite ends of the couch. It’s nice having someone there, such easy comfort, allowing them to bask in the familiarity of the other person’s presence despite the silence.

They establish a rhythm between the pair of them and the domesticity of it all is almost embarrassing.

If Jimin makes the food, Jungkook washes the dishes.

If Jimin is resting on the couch watching the news when Jungkook rises, the younger boy sits next to him to go through his phone.

If Jungkook is stressing over his least favourite subjects, Jimin will offer his help. When Jungkook accepts, he’ll smile encouragingly before earnestly providing his best services. When he denies the help, his hyung will sit nearby, waiting on standby until Jungkook inevitably grovels for assistance.

If Jungkook is doing his home workouts and push ups, Jimin’s tossing bits of paper and rubbish at him (He always cleans it up later). It would be annoying if it was anyone but Jimin, but Jungkook doesn’t mind, enjoying his hyung’s joyful giggles from behind him.

He knows Jimin just finds solace in being around him and it’s hard to feel angry at someone for seeking him out for comfort.

All this feels very homey, but nothing’s cozier than the way they’ll curl into each other on most nights. They initially go through the motions of sleeping in separate beds in their individual rooms—especially since neither of them are consistent about the times they get drowsy enough to go to sleep. But Jimin will find himself in Jungkook’s bed when he gets too lonely or Jungkook in Jimin’s when he feels too cold.

It’s not a bedmate selection born from sheer convenience or simple laziness, but a decisive choice made by two maturing human beings who want nothing more than to be around each other.

It’s not quite friendship, but it’s not quite romance.

But whatever limbo they’re suspended in together, they’re content for now.

±±±

Chapter Text

It looks unwell, Jimin callously observes, staring the beast down.

As of late, the creature been an unfed detainee surviving off a poorly established diet of Jimin’s recent joys and accomplishments. And despite being equipped with sharp fangs and a deadly bite, its gnarly teeth are unable to chew through the rubbery sinews and tissues of happiness.

It’s been that way whenever Jungkook’s presence dominates the majority seating in the Senate of Jimin’s life. He pulverizes much of Jimin’s anxieties and stresses with ease, a remedy for a malady he’s never been able to trump on his own.

He broke up with Jungkook because he hadn’t wanted that responsibility on his young ex-boyfriend’s shoulders. But now, accepting Jungkook back into his life, Jimin realizes not much has changed.

Jungkook still soothes the aches and pains away, the single greatest panacea.

But this time Jimin is taking the baton for himself, taking furious swipes at the beast when it becomes too presumptuous, knocking it several notches down until it’s sitting in the pit of his stomach again—where it belongs. Instead of relying solely on Jungkook as his primary source of consolation, he’s now an aid instead, providing a boost when Jimin needs it.

I won’t make the same mistake again, he swears to himself as he leaps out of the beast’s way, jaws snapping viciously like twin snares.

---

Most of this year has been kind to Jimin.

Only four months in, so it might be a little too early to make any real declarations, but thus far it hasn’t been as trying as the starts of previous years past.

This being said, Jimin does encounter a minor complication in late January.

It’s late into the night, Taehyung’s snores distantly audible over the gentle dripping of their broken communal tap. Jimin’s on his laptop scanning through his upcoming assignments, when a notification blips softly, indicating that his chemistry marks have been returned to him. Calmly, he clicks on the notification and scrolls through his grades.

When he sees the grades inputted for his most recent assignments and test, his heart suddenly drops.  

The grades he’s received are lower than he’s ever gotten in his seemingly endless career as a student. To be fair, his test marks are above the class average and he’s still in the upper percentile of the class, but for his standards—and his parents—they are abysmally low.

It oughtn't to be surprising, as Jimin had heard from numerous former students from semesters past that this particular professor extends past being a hardass into sitting comfortably in his throne as being a plain, old ass. But he'd taken little heed from the cautions from other students as he'd been confident in his own academic prowess in chemistry. Hadn't he even helped Jungkook last semester bump his grade up? He can do chemistry. 

But perhaps he should've listened to his peers because now, due to his stubborn will, Jimin’s left undeniably devastated. 

It’s deeper than a poor grade though. He knows it.

There’s something about the professor’s smug demeanour, condescending attitude, cruel mouth, and snide remarks rattles the bars where Jimin’s heaviest demons lie. The professor feels oddly familiar, a shadow of an experience Jimin’s already encountered, and the sensation is deeply unsettling and uncomfortable.

Jimin despises the way he’s struck by a deep-rooted urge to please this professor. He feels like a disoriented toad, leaping and skipping from place to place, trying to avoid the distinctly patronizing cast of his professor’s disparaging gaze.

It’s too fucking familiar and hits too close to home.

In the first few weeks, Jimin manages to run with the current, streaming past the odd pebbles and wayward logs sitting in the river where many of his classmates get trapped—small blessings.

He feels terribly sympathetic as he spots one of his peers earlier that same January day, an unlucky individual caught in the undertow, being berated by their professor. Feeling cowardly as he breathes a sigh of relief, he shamefacedly slinks past them to slip out the door.

But that comfort is a mere droplet in an ocean of aggravation, in the dead of night when his inferiority and his misery is the only company he has.

He pulls at his hair nervously and grinds his teeth in frustration.

Jimin’s eyes begin to well and he can already hear the ghostly murmurs of everyone he’ll disappoint. He envisions the stern looks of disapproval on his parents’ face and the ghastly expression of sick glee from his professor. He can see Namjoon’s countenance twist in confusion, his mouth curling apathetically as he incrementally loses faith in Jimin. He imagines the way Jihyun’s proud smile drooping until it sinks into hateful disappointment, disillusioned after years of admiring his older brother.

But most of all he visualises the malevolent little smirk on the beast's unkind mouth. It simpers and titters ingratiatingly under the rancorous eyes of Jimin's professor, delighted to be in the presence of its kin, a pernicious brotherhood.

He tries to distract himself for another forty-five minutes. Jimin tries a new Netflix program, before he gives up, mind too active to pay any attention to the necessary details of a pilot episode. Then, he doodles a little bit with some melancholic music blasting through his headphones; this only worsens his bleak mood, so he stops.

He huffs in annoyance.

Next, he does some push-ups and sit-ups, hoping the activation of his body and the strain in his muscles would pull his attention from his mental state to his physical. It works for a brief period of time, but there’s only so many exercises he could do in the cramped space of his room. 

Flat on his back, panting lightly after the exertion, Jimin’s feeling and looking worse for wear.

He leaps up and ambles into the kitchen, gulping down two full glasses of water, ignoring the lump in his throat that he has to swallow around. Then, he just drums his fingers on the kitchen counter, eyes staring vacantly at the ticking clock in their living room.

The rush of inadequacy he suddenly feels slams into him with the urgency of an ambulance, manned by an amateurish, slaphappy driver who fails to turn on the sirens before mercilessly striking him. Choking on his inferiority, he moves into action, legs leading him to unsuspectingly find himself at Jungkook’s door.

Jimin’s been doing so well, but he knows he could use a little additional reassurance tonight. He hopes it’s not too selfish to go to Jungkook.

His unsteady heart stops bounding arrhythmically the instant he spots Jungkook's wet mop of hair covered by his blanket and his wide, soft eyes settling onto Jimin’s silhouette in the doorway. His heart finally, finally stops jumping like its fortified by cocaine, relaxing into a serene, natural pace. Jungkook, his homeopathic solution.

And when Jungkook whispers kindly, "Hey, need anything?", Jimin feels himself further swell with his adoration for his ex, he’s astonished the claustrophobia-inducing room doesn’t flood under the weight of his tidal emotions.

Ah, he thinks distantly, this is the effect of love.

It might be temporary alleviation, but it’s tranquility he hadn’t been able to muster on his own that day and later that night, when he succumbs to restless slumber in his ex-boyfriend’s loving arms, he feels peace.

---

On a random Thursday in mid-February, Jimin makes the mistake of agreeing to run errands with Jungkook.

Jungkook is normally low maintenance, preferring to slide in and out of shops with his recent purchases with the slickness of an unusually agile snail. His lowkey, uncomplicated attitude towards errands is why Jimin never minded accompanying Jungkook wherever he went in all their years of dating.

But today, Jimin’s duking it out with a sufficiently grumpy Jungkook.

He’s not entirely sure why Jungkook even asked him to tag along when it’s evident that he’s not in the mood for any type of company. Jungkook’s answers are as short as they are snappy and when he’s not trying to overcompensate for his sullenness with shitty responses, the silence is taut and uncomfortable as they commute from their place to Jungkook’s family home.

Jungkook’s mother greets them brightly and Junghyun nods his head in acknowledgement. Jimin ignores the way Jungkook just mumbles a half-hearted greeting to his family members before he rushes upstairs, long legs carrying him smoothly to his destination.

It’s just as well, Jimin rolls his eyes irritably and thinks to himself, since nothing else has been going smoothly today thanks to his deplorable attitude today

Jungkook’s mother and brother give Jimin a sincerely puzzled look and he shrugs helplessly, allowing the sounds of his friend rummaging through his things upstairs to comfort him as he engages the Jeons in conversation.

Within a few minutes, armed with his wallet and the list of things Jungkook’s mother wanted him to complete, the two boys head out and pile into the Jeons’ flashy family car. When Jimin inquires softly about what they need to accomplish for the day, Jungkook tosses him the list a little rudely. Jimin resists the urge to scold him, stifling the burgeoning sense of genuine annoyance bubbling in his stomach, as he just reads the to-do list.

It looks as though Jungkook needs to get several items from the grocery store, purchase clothing from the mall for some family event in the impending future, pick up dry cleaning for his mother, and go to the bank for a meeting with a financial advisor that his parents had set up for him.

The two boys hit up the grocery store first, a short distance away from the bank where Jungkook’s due for his meeting.

Unfortunately, the tenor surrounding Jungkook doesn’t improve much at either location, the ambiance remaining an intriguing juxtaposition of scalding heat from his temper and cold frostiness from the displeased set of his mouth.

In the grocery store, Jungkook just lumbers around sulkily collecting what he needs into his basket, the items slowly accumulating. At one point, Jimin grows weary of the tense atmosphere and he chances a quick scan of the list of things Jungkook’s still missing and he meanders off in search of them.

He feels a little guilty at the wash of relief that overcomes him at the temporary reprieve from his best friend.

Occasionally glancing down at the list, Jimin picks up a strange array of goodies ranging from bananas, sponges, dish detergent, sleeping pills, antihistamines, vitamin supplements, yogurt, eggs, and toilet paper.

Eventually, they reconvene as Jungkook silently pays for the haul. Jimin just watches on helplessly.

He wonders if this is how Jungkook often feels on Jimin’s own bad days.

The thought adheres to him uncomfortably, sticky and tacky like an undesirable coating of liquid sucrose, but the feeling it leaves behind is certainly not sweet. It’s an unwanted dosage of reality, leaving behind a residual taste of bitterness in the back of Jimin’s tongue and sits heavily in his gut like a beaker of fatty oil.

They then walk over together to the bank, Jimin taking valiant stabs at conversation and Jungkook replying snippily.

It’s not Jungkook’s reticence that hurts Jimin most, but rather the realization that Jungkook’s taking great care to refrain from engaging in any type of loose touches and grazes. Once again, when Jungkook disappears behind the hefty door of his financial advisor’s office, Jimin finds himself reluctantly releasing another sigh of relief.

Inhaling deeply, he begins scrolling through his phone, searching through the newsfeed of his various social media apps to recharge his rapidly draining patience before he must endeavour through multiple other tasks with this increasingly more unpalatable version of Jungkook.

After Jungkook reappears and grunts as a response to Jimin’s inquiries about the meeting, they head back to the grocery store parking lot to pile back into the car.

On the way to the car, Jimin finally begins to feel the weight of the shopping bags cutting his blood circulation off, heavy and cumbersome, but nothing has more impressive density than the dark climate ensconcing the two boys.

The trip to the dry cleaner goes just as well as their two other stops. It’s in the mall, when Jungkook finally snaps at him one too many times that Jimin simultaneously loses his tried patience and summons his tepid gumption and stokes it until it’s an imposing blaze.

But despite his complete aggravation, he doesn’t trample his way into a confrontation. He knows how much he’s always appreciated Jungkook’s gentle approach, always hunkering down to Jimin’s level when he feels down and small, and he’s determined to emulate the tactic.

Instead of raising to the bait of Jungkook’s barbed comment, he just stubbornly tugs his younger friend by the hand, pushing down the hurt he feels when he tries to pull away. Jimin leads his friend out of the store and manhandles him around until they are situated in a relatively sparsely populated parking lot.

He doesn’t waste any time.

“Jungkook-ah, are you okay?”

At the question, Jungkook instantly further stiffens and Jimin swears he can hear the knobs of his friend’s spine twisting and turning uncomfortably as the knots of his back cluster together tighter and tighter. Jungkook refuses to meet his gaze, stuffing his hands into his front pant pockets, and he just kicks at the pebbles at his feet.

He resembles a crotchety adolescent who’d been caught in the middle of nabbing his parents’ unopened bottle of Grey Goose. The air surrounding him is glum and his defensive stance does little to convince Jimin that nothing's wrong.

But he tries to evade Jimin’s question anyway.

“What do you mean?” he unwillingly answers, words slow and careful.

Jimin shrugs. 

“I don’t know, I mean, you just seem pretty…moody today?”

He's trying to be cautious, afraid to spook Jungkook into shutting him out. He doesn’t want that, but maybe he deserves it—especially since Jimin still hasn’t come completely clean about his own dark past.

But he’s been so hopeful after all their progress in the past few months.

Jungkook’s reply, tone sharp and cold, has his heart plummeting further towards his feet and Jimin’s mouth curls in disappointment.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Are you sure?” Jimin asks softly, tilting his head, trying to wordlessly beckon Jungkook’s full attention.

Ignoring Jimin, Jungkook groans softly as he seats himself on top of parking stop of an empty lot. Jungkook’s tall enough that his arms rest at an odd angle on top of his knobbly knees, but it doesn’t stop him from resting his cheek on his forearm. 

Mumbling into his arm petulantly, a sharp contrast to his words, Jungkook insists, “Of course, I’m sure.”

Jimin just looks down at Jungkook and he sighs tiredly, running a hand down his face. He’s at a loss and he’s terrified of making the wrong move—of hurting Jungkook. He promised he wouldn’t do that anymore and he won’t. He knows it’s not possible to be perfect, but Jungkook he wants to try being everything that he can for him.

How does Jungkook do this so often? How does he keep trying to pick me back up when I’m down? Does he even want to? Jimin frets.

If Jungkook quits on Jimin, he’ll understand. Jimin won’t hold it against him and he’ll never hate Jungkook for growing tired of him.

But in this historical game of love, nothing will prevent Jimin from loving Jungkook from the sidelines, from the next stadium over, from the next city over, from the next country over. He’ll always be there for him in whatever capacity he’s allowed to be—always respecting Jungkook’s boundaries, but always ready to take up his post as a friend or lover or anything in between.

And with that gritty resolution, Jimin takes a deep breath in and frowns. He then parks himself in front of Jungkook, sitting cross-legged on the grimy ground, taking little care for his pants.

They’re shitty fabric anyway, he reasons.

Jungkook flinches a little when Jimin slides a little closer until the older boy is resting his chin on his ex-boyfriend’s forearm too. Jimin is scared, but he wants to give Jungkook comfort, so he wades through his paralyzing petrification and starts gently raking his fingers through the other boy’s hair.

“I’m here if you want to talk about anything,” he promises gently.

His gamble, unfortunately, doesn’t pay off. Jungkook pulls away with a pained expression on his face. And though there’s a sad little pout to his mouth, the soft shape of his mouth doesn’t filter out the hard words from his throat.

“I said I’m fucking fine, Jimin.”

Pulling his body away from the one person he longs to be close to, Jimin feels dejected. His peace offering was rebuffed, and his expression of love was rejected. His heart is sore and aching, and he can’t help the way he jumps to his own defense.

“Hey, listen, asshole,” Jimin snaps menacingly, “Don’t fucking talk to me like that. Especially when you fucking asked me if I wanted to come and help you with your errands.”

Jungkook looks bewildered at the loudness of Jimin’s voice, but his puzzled expression quickly evolves into a hardened mask of indignation. He stands up again and points accusatorily at his older friend.

“Well, if you didn’t want to fucking come, then you should’ve said so. No one said you had to come.”

He shoves Jungkook’s hand out of his face with his own clammy one.

Neither boy notices the way that Jimin doesn’t let go once he's grasping it and the way Jungkook shivers under the touch.

“You’re right—no one said I had to come. But I wanted to because I thought you might want the help. Or maybe that you wanted company. Or maybe you just like my company. But now, I’m starting to wish I didn’t come at all,” Jimin yells, at his wit’s end after bending and arching and warping to all of Jungkook’s whims and attitudinal antics all day.

Jungkook looks hurt, but he doesn’t relent in his own barrage of verbal warfare as he demands, “Well, then, fucking leave.”

Infuriated by the turn of events, Jimin’s fingers loosen their grip on Jungkook’s wrist and his hand drops as he turns to leave. Jungkook then instinctively reaches out and his long fingers snap around Jimin’s wrist, a stranglehold on the neck of his arm.

“You wanted me to leave, I’m leaving. So, let go, you fucking moody brat.”

Jungkook scoffs haughtily.

“I’m moody? I’m moody? Don’t fuckin’ talk to me about being moody—”

At Jungkook’s thoughtless words, the heated moment takes a sudden swerve, deviating from the straight track that they'd been racing down. Jimin's stomach lurches unpleasantly and he feels as though he's spiralling down a bottleneck, sure to be trapped in the thick, roily contents of his long pickling insecurities and pain.

Judging by Jungkook’s guilty countenance and contrite eyes, he knows he’s royally overstepped. Jimin doesn’t quite cry but his eyes aren’t quite dry either.

His face is contorting under the injury and his shoulders hunch over under the unforeseeable assault and it feels like his knees will buckle under the shock. It’s a great overload of sensations.

“Okay, you know what, Jungkook? Fuck you, if you’re going to rub it in my face that I have bad days and I’m fucked up sometimes then I just won’t fucking trouble you anymore,” he cries out angrily, trying to wrench his hand away from his ex.

“Wait, Jimin, no, I didn’t—”

“No, that was fucking mean,” Jimin shouts angrily, words desperately trying to make their way around the clump of emotion in his throat, “You know that’s fucked up. I’m trying really hard to be better for myself—and for you. All day today, I was really fuckin’ trying. Can’t you see that? I was really trying, Jungkook. But I can clearly see I’m just a burden.”

He begins shaking, the tremors are uncontrollable, and he hates the way he must resist the sniffles that are fast approaching visible horizons. The hard expression from earlier has completely dissipated and Jungkook just looks remorseful.

Before he can crumble under his hurt, Jungkook closes the distance between them for the first time that day and despite the resentment Jimin’s overwhelmed with, he can’t turn away from his flawed, greatest love. When Jungkook tucks Jimin’s head under his chin and rubs up and down his back soothingly, he just sinks into the familiar embrace.

Jungkook continues whispering comforting words of acknowledgement and remorse into his ears until Jimin stops quaking.

He wrestles Jimin down until they’re both sitting on the parking stop that he’d been occupying earlier. Then, he speaks.

“Jiminie-hyung. I’m really sorry. I just…Ah, I’m taking my mood out on you. I know it’s a fucked up thing that I implied, I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean even anything by it, and I shouldn’t’ve said it at all. I’m just in a bad mood.”

Jungkook adjusts their positions until Jimin has his head leaning on his shoulder. After a few minutes of quiet, Jungkook puts his arm around Jimin’s shoulders and continues massaging him.

Finally, Jimin rasps, “Are we going to talk about why? Even if you didn’t mean it the way I took it, why would you say something that coulda been interpreted so badly considering everything you know? It just felt like you were taking a stab at the most personal thing I’ve confessed to you.”

Jungkook winces something awful and Jimin’s head nearly dislodges from its comfortable position under the intense jolt.

“Ah, hyung, I honestly didn’t mean it the way it came out. It just slipped out and it was such an awful thing to carelessly blurt out. I’m such an asshole for that. I’m really sorry,” Jungkook quietly concedes, the shame evident in every stitch and thread of his existence.

He pauses.

“I’m just really stressed and I’m having a little trouble getting out of my own head.”

Removing himself from the concave divot of Jungkook’s neck, Jimin frowns and looks up at his friend’s troubled face. Pulling his hand out of his sweater sleeve, he gently smooths out the worry lines on Jungkook’s forehead. Then, he just resumes petting Jungkook’s hair as if the contention between the pair never occurred.

“What do you mean?” he prompts kindly.

Jungkook gurgles a sound of frustration in his throat and it echoes around the empty lot. He buries his face into his knees and moans.

Unable to stop himself, Jimin snuffles into Jungkook’s hair like an affectionate cat and plants encouraging kisses onto his head. Jungkook just nuzzles into the touch and murmurs his worries to his knees.

“It’s just…I’m scraping by in school—mainly because of you—and I’m pretty okay at sports. I think I’m alright at photo-editing and I think I’m okay at a lot of stuff. And I feel like I’ve gotten better at trying new shit and being more independent and whatever the fuck else the new age health addicts and mental health advocates recommend. I’m supposedly livin’ my best life.”

Jungkook’s right knees begins knocking, an anxious habit that only arises when he’s really struggling. Jimin’s worry expands quickly at the sight and he resists the urge to pat his friend’s thigh the way he always used to in the past to console him.

He blushes a little at the thought. 

“But I just feel like lately I’m running out of time and I’m not even sure why it feels like time is going by so quickly. I feel like we just graduated high school just a short while ago and I’m just getting my feet all stable on the ground now but your university career’s, like, pretty much over soon. And that means…well, you’ll be gone.”

Jimin hums into Jungkook’s scalp, an indication that he’s paying attention, lips accidentally brushing against the shell of his ear. They both ignore the way their breaths both hitch in tandem to one another.

Jungkook raises his head a little and their positions shift just enough that their lips are mere inches away from the other’s. Jimin tries to really tries to keep himself focused, but it’s so damn hard when he witnesses the way Jungkook’s eyes take a steep nosedive to his lips and stay there for countless moments.

Jimin hadn't noticed until that very moment, but time had elapsed since they'd first arrived at the Jeons' home in the late morning and the errands they'd completed since then. The expulsion of the daytime and afternoon leads to the admission of the evening.

And with the evening comes the intercourse between everything sensual with everything sad. With the duskiness of the night comes the unlikely coupling of all that's sexy and all that's sorrowful. They’re the perfect companions, dancing in the mattress of the sky, stars twinkling like the beads on the outfit of an erotic pole dancer and the pores of the moon bleeding with the arresting but lonely light of the lunar queen.

And somehow that description suits the moment dangling between Jungkook and Jimin just right. It vicariously hurts Jimin terribly to hear Jungkook confessing to his fears and worries; suddenly, the angry boy of earlier diminishes into something smaller and sadder than a neglected childhood toy stowed away in a forgotten chest in some storage unit.

But with their lips so close that they’re almost kissing under the illuminative tapestry of the night sky, with Jungkook spilling his innermost sorrows onto the bow of Jimin’s upper lip until it tips into his mouth and he can swallow the pain down, it’s almost a sick brand of sensual.

Jimin can’t breathe from the pain and the love; he feels sick with emotion.

It seems Jungkook is similarly afflicted as he guzzles down his lust and love in one audible gulp and heaves out the crux of his fears.

“Jimin-ah,” he confesses so quietly Jimin has to strain to hear him, “I think I’m just starting to really like myself.”

He pauses.

“But I’m scared. I’m so scared.”

Jimin presses his nose into Jungkook’s temple as he kisses Jungkook on the cheek.

“Why are you scared?”

Before he responds, Jungkook grabs Jimin’s left hand and intertwines their fingers slowly. His grip is a little too tight to be comfortable but Jimin doesn’t complain, just observing the way Jungkook’s eyes drift back over to the mall with an unsettlingly vacant look sitting in them.

The distance between their faces had been quite small up until then when Jungkook wriggles closer to Jimin, concealing his face in the crevice of his hyung’s neck instead. Now, he’s talking onto the thin skin of Jimin’s throat, words skating figure eights until it feels like each one is tattooed onto his body and absorbed into his bloodstream.

“I just, my parents keep asking me about moving on and whether I’ll have a partner again anytime soon. You know this family event that I’m shopping for right now?”

A little confused, but still following, Jimin ignores the prick of doubt he feels before he nods his understanding.

“I mean, first of all, it’s ridiculous I’m shopping in February for items that I’ll need for the summer or something, I don’t know why my mom has to be like this,” Jungkook rambles tangentially.

Smiling discreetly, charmed by Jungkook’s irrelevant footnotes, Jimin continues to listen raptly.

It’s then that Jungkook drops an unpleasant bomb.

“Anyway, it’s at the end of June and my parents want me to have a date for it—someone that they’ve definitely implied is not you.”

At this revelation, Jimin’s heart sinks terribly and it aches at the thought of some nameless, faceless, shapeless human being that could allure Jungkook’s heart away from him indefinitely—if not, eventually permanently.

His heart sinks further as his imagination has the scene drifting from a ballroom floor where Jungkook’s crinkly smile and sweeping gaze could bewitch any lucky soul to the bedroom floor where his body and clean, rhythmic motions could propel any lucky body into the next dimension.

“Do you…”

Jimin clears his throat painfully and tries again.

“Do you have someone in mind?”

Pulling away, tangled bodies straightening out again, Jungkook’s denials are vehement and profuse. He seems to sense the upset he’s caused in Jimin.

“Jimin, no, I’m not even thinking that far ahead. I don’t want to think about it right now.”

If Jimin fails to demonstrate a show of support for Jungkook finding someone to love that’s not him, it’s not for lack of effort. He searches high and low in his heart, through the wet and dry lands of his soul, for the courage to convince Jungkook to definitively move on.

When he’d broken up with Jungkook ages ago, it was his first attempt at forcing his ex-boyfriend’s hand at finding someone better than himself. He’d failed then. When he’d started dating Seulgi, it’d been his second stab at persuading Jungkook he wasn’t worth his time. And now, given yet another opportunity, if not the best one so far, to do right by Jungkook, Jimin fails him again.

But he tries.

“Oh, but maybe you should?” he weakly suggests.

Jungkook glares at him, gaze unrelenting and fierce.

Through his gnashing teeth, Jungkook hisses, “Should I?”

Trying his best to upkeep his pretense of nonchalance, Jimin shrugs, but the motion is so unreasonably stiff, and the artifice of the action is so egregious even the most visually impaired bat could spot it miles away. But for Jungkook’s sake, Jimin still tries.

“I think you should do whatever makes you comfortable.”

Jimin pauses.

“And happy. Whatever makes you happy,” he adds, a whisper that bobs in the air like a fluttering leaf on the surface of a still pond.

Jungkook looks unimpressed by Jimin's passive compliance, mouth downcurved in conspicuous disappointment and eyes indurating into twin marbles of defiance.

He’s childish and bratty as he forces Jimin to face him. And as he shakes Jimin by the shoulders roughly, he demands, “And what will make you happy?”

Jungkook is pushing his luck, Jimin thinks.

He's pushing and Jimin's already exhibited once today that he doesn't harness much control over his patience. He feels his stock of patience depleting swiftly as his distress feeds ravenously on his composure.

After all, a person’s fortitude is only as strong as his greatest weakness and the embodiment of his single greatest weakness is sitting in front of him, pressing Jimin for details he doesn't want to expose to the world.

He tries to dodge the question.

“This isn’t about me right now, Jungkookie. It’s about you and why you’re stressed out.”

An abysmal failure.

Jungkook persists. He rattles Jimin’s body lightly this time, taking care not to disturb the alignment of his hyung’s spine.

“Please,” he begs softly, “Tell me what you really think. Tell me what’ll make you really happy? Do you really want me to take someone else? To be with someone else?”

Jimin hears all the other tacit questions Jungkook didn’t articulate.

Will you fight for me? Will you fight for us?

Do you want me? Like I want you too?

Is this still love? Or is it only lust?

It’s still real for me, is it still real for you?

It's got to be pathological the way Jimin gives into Jungkook time and time again; it's an illness. But this one, he mightn't want to remedy. Not when it fulfills him, flowing down his esophagus and pipelines until it sits in his belly like an Irish coffee on a frosty November evening, heavy like cream and warm like the liqueur.

He suddenly gets up and screams his frustration into the vacant nothingness of the parking lot. It echoes back at him and Jimin feels the monstrous pain he’d released into the universe, walloping him in the face again.

Jimin walks away from Jungkook and begins pacing back and forth in front of the nearest wall of the mall. His younger friend gets up from the parking stop and brushes the grit and dirt off his ass before following him.

It's always such a goddamn internal skirmish with him.

He hates it.

He hates how he's always clashing with his desire to have Jungkook and to let him go.

Because when he says he wants to have Jungkook, he really means he wants to have him. In the most selfish depths of his heart, he wants to continue to monopolize Jungkook's heart romantically. Jimin wants Jungkook to only see him the way he's only ever seen him (even throughout all their struggles).

He doesn't want anyone to contest him for Jungkook's attention.

But he sometimes feels like he’ll never deserves Jungkook the way he wants to.

His heart runs a campaign to resign and let their love unfold and consume the pair of them, but his head is on a crusade to ensure that Jimin will never have Jungkook. It's war in such a small, insignificant vessel; after all, human life is so fleeting. It’s an ephemeral blessing before it's robbed again at a moment's notice.

When Jungkook tries to reach out for him, Jimin’s too far gone to allow him to be the gamemaster of the conversation anymore. He’s as volatile as a man who’s got nothing to lose and everything to gain. He slaps Jungkook’s hand away, ignoring his cry of surprise, and manipulates their positions until he’s got Jungkook trapped in the cage of his arms against the wall.

Then, Jimin finesses one hand in Jungkook’s locks and he tugs enough that the younger boy’s throat is bared to him and the other hand bullies him against the wall roughly.

To any bystander, it might’ve looked like a suspect scene, a robber holding a freshman at knifepoint or a drug baron threatening a lowlife seller. But for the participants, judging by the combination of Jungkook’s shallow panting and dilated pupils with Jimin’s rosy cheeks and accelerated heartrate, it’s a behemoth of a situation governed by a brew of emotions that’d been left to marinate for many years.

Jimin doesn’t remember the last time that he hasn’t felt completely subjugated by his domineering demons, but in this moment, with Jungkook under his fingertips, shaking with wanting and desire—it’s refreshing. It’s not that he seeks control over Jungkook by any means, but rather that Jimin wants to take control of his own life.

And in doing so, it involves not lying to Jungkook. 

So even though it’s indisputably a little self-serving, he decides to take a little—just this once.

Running his nose down the right side of Jungkook’s throat before pressing the briefest kiss at the base of his neck, a little wetter and longer than it necessarily needs to be, Jimin pulls away. Only just a little though, the remaining points of contact leaving both of them shuddering with yearning.

“Jungkookie,” Jimin admits quietly, “It wouldn’t make me happy if you took someone else. It wouldn’t make me happy at all. In fact, I honestly don’t want you to be with anyone else. I don’t. I know it’s selfish of me, but I don’t want you to.”

He runs his fingers lightly down Jungkook’s spine and he revels in the way he shivers under the touch.

“I don’t think I have any right to ask anything of you after—”

Jungkook grabs his face between his large hands. The way the touch sets Jimin’s skin on fire with the ardent love behind the gesture contrasts with the way it extinguishes the cataclysmic flames of the older boy’s insecurities—stoking and snuffing the inferno all at once.

“Stop talking about the past, Jimin-hyung,” Jungkook begs, “We’ll never get past anything if you keep thinking I’m holding everything against you. Remember the shitty things I said to you, like, half an hour ago? We’re not even talking about that anymore. You let it go. And even if it takes or took longer, I could never think poorly of you forever either.” 

Jimin just nods.

“Thanks for being honest with me, hyung. I don’t want to take anyone else either anyway.”

I don’t want anyone else anyway.

Jimin hears the implicit message loud and clear.

For a while, they just stand there, Jungkook just staring heavenward, clearly a little bedazzled by the stars festooning the sky that night, and Jimin softly observing him. Jimin’s hold on Jungkook’s hips tighten briefly when he hears him speak again, the words tumbling out in a shaky, wobbly fashion, betraying his deepest insecurities.

“Hyung, I’m scared that you’ll slip away again. I know I said to stop talking about the past. But I’m scared there’s this big and beautiful world out there for you and I won’t be able to keep up with it—and you. I’m scared one day I’ll look over and you won’t be there anymore. I’m scared one day you’ll look over and you won’t care if I’m there anymore or not.”

The confession ails Jimin something awful. It leaves him feeling indisposed and all out of sorts, so hurt by Jungkook's fears. It wounds him to hear that he's such an integral component of that fear.

He doesn’t have words, so he just massages the tension out of Jungkook’s muscles and bones as best he can. He listens as well as he can as Jungkook continues to unravel.

“And it scares me sometimes, thinking I won’t be enough for you. I’m scared that I won’t be able to fulfill you. And even though I like this version of myself better than any other version of myself—because I respect myself and I’m trying to better myself all the time—you have such a big heart and I worry I won’t be able to fill it up.”

Jungkook’s voice is thick now.

“I’ve always had these insecurities but knowing that you’re graduating so soon just made them resurface again and being around you was hard after my mom made that comment about bringing someone else as my date for that family event. But I’m sorry for being an asshole to you all day today.”

Jimin understands.

And maybe he even understands Jungkook a little better today, finally comprehending how behaviors can’t always be excused but they can be explained. He understands how it’s easy to forgive and turn a blind eye to the flaws of whomever one loves most. Jimin thinks, on an incredibly miniscule scale, he finally understands how Jungkook’s anger towards him had abated.

After accepting Jungkook’s apology with a small smile and a lasting embrace that has Jungkook humming an omnipresent pop melody under his breath and swinging them absentmindedly from foot-to-foot, Jimin is deep in pensive thought. He eventually comes to a decision.

He’s probably going to end up ruining the tranquility of the moment with what he has to say. 

But he feels obliged to come clean after allowing Jungkook to believe grubby untruths and sooty artifice about him for such an extended period of time. He’s had numerous chances before, but somehow, now is the right time.

Jimin tries to gently wrench himself out of Jungkook's arms, but the other boy determinedly latches on, and eventually he gives up and just mumbles into the general neck region.

“I have something to confess to you.”

There’s a brief stutter in the rhythm that Jungkook’s rocking them back and forth in.

“Uh,” Jungkook says a little uncertainly as he licks his lips tensely, “Okay.”

He pulls back just enough so that he can scrutinize Jimin’s expression and it doesn’t escape his notice that Jungkook’s eyes are hardening again.

Jimin gulps before he continues.

“I honestly probably should have told you this earlier—and I don’t want you to blame Taehyung or anyone else because it isn’t their faults, but I didn’t really get around like you heard I did,” he blurts out, words running into each other like a seamless line.

Jungkook looks as though he’s still processing everything he’s heard at a delayed rate and his face grows a little darker with each microsecond as the full meaning of Jimin’s words hit him. And though he doesn’t pull entirely away from his hyung, the distance between their chests is ever widening as the truth is further revealed

Jimin doesn’t blame him when he demands loudly, “What do you mean? What’re you saying?”

“I’m saying, I was trying to…motivate you into moving on from me at that time. So, I kind of let you believe that I was putting out more than I actually was in reality. As in, I didn’t really, uh, hook up with anyone. Like, I basically didn’t sleep with them—any of them.”

Jungkook’s eyes are wide and upset. He looks faintly betrayed and Jimin cringes under his glare.

“Just trying to be honest with you,” he finishes lamely.

When Jungkook speaks next, Jimin is relieved that he doesn’t sound angry. But he does sound offended and it’s clear that he is displeased by the extent Jimin had gone to deceive him.

“What the fuck, hyung?”

Jimin grovels.

“I’m sorry, Jungkookie. That was an asshole thing of me to do.”

He doesn’t disagree.

“What the fuck? Why would you do that?”

“I just thought maybe if you thought I was scum and that I wasn’t thinking about you anymore, you’d move on faster. It was really stupid and cruel and mean of me. I’m really sorry,” Jimin explains shamefully. He tugs Jungkook back in enough that he doesn’t have to look at his face, feeling appropriately chastised.

Jungkook moans irritably and allows his head to fall backwards.

They stay silent for a while and in the short reprieve from the uncomfortable discussion, Jimin acknowledges his shock that Jungkook hadn’t stomped away from him already. He thinks he would’ve had Jungkook dropped such an unpleasant revelation on him.

Finally, Jungkook speaks. His voice is controlled now.

“Why are you even bothering to telling me this now?”

He appreciates this opportunity to explain himself.

“I’m telling you because we just spent, like, four eons talking about how you’re scared that I don’t want you anymore and that you can’t keep up with me or whatever.”

He pauses.

“But the truth is anytime you feel like we aren’t walking at the same pace or that you feel like you can’t spot me in a crowd, it’s because I’m always behind you. I’ve been behind you—watching and hoping that you’ll find someone more deserving than me. I’ve told you this enough times before.”

Jimin cuts Jungkook off before he can start speaking, the younger boy displaying every intention of interrupting.

“And I’m telling you this now because I don’t want you to feel down about yourself. I’ve never been able to move on from you anyway. So, we’re just on the same page at the end of the day, aren’t we? You think I’m going to slip away, and I think you’re a mile ahead of me. We aren’t so different in some ways. And our fears are essentially the same—they’re just manifesting differently.”

Jungkook hesitates, but looking as though it’s taking all of his courage and his face resembling a luckless chap who's forced to masticate pebbles and gravel, he asks, “And Seulgi. What about her? Or that guy that one time?”

Shrugging a little defensively, Jimin says, “So, okay, maybe she was an outlier. And, uh, let’s not even talk about that loser. But never mind that, Jungkookie. My point in telling you this now is because I want you to know that I’ve never really stopped wanting you in my life. It doesn’t matter how or in what way I can, I always want you in my life.”

Jungkook rumbles an acknowledgement in his throat, before he groans.

“Ugh, why do you have to be so complicated, hyung? I can’t even tell if I’m fuckin’ royally pissed off or just plain relieved to hear I’m not a dime a dozen.”

“Relieved?” Jimin suggests hopefully, peering up at Jungkook through his eyelashes trying to make them look as wide and unimposing as possible.

Wryly, Jungkook snarks, “How convenient.”

Throwing his head back, he laughs.

“Nah, just foolishly optimistic.”

Jungkook pushes him away in feigned exasperation for his insolence, before releasing an annoyed bark of laughter and pulling Jimin back into his arms again. Jimin exploits his chance and snuggles in as close as their bodies will allow.

“Besides,” Jimin points out, voice muffled by the fabric of Jungkook’s shirt, “I think me being pissed at you earlier today counteracts you being pissed now. So, basically we negated each other’s stupidity and we should get married and buy a quaint little cottage with a white picket fence with chickens in our backyard that lay eggs you can make me breakfast in bed with.”

Jimin can feel Jungkook’s chest wracking with his chortles of amusement.

I have to make you breakfast in bed? I can’t even cook, hyung.”

Jimin sighs dramatically.

“Guess the engagement’s off then, never mind the nuptials.”

Jungkook sniggers and pinches Jimin’s side in retaliation.

“That easily? Wow, I guess you only like me for my body then.”

His waist throbbing under Jungkook’s attack, Jimin sniffs haughtily and pretends he’s trying to pry himself out of his arms. Then he scoffs, “Obviously, because after today your personality isn’t what I’m here for.”

At first, dread drips into his stomach and he worries the joke arrived too soon after their serious discussion but judging by Jungkook’s squawk of disbelief and the way his body remains relaxed, he isn’t offended.

It’s possible that’s because he’d been gearing up to insult Jimin anyway.

“You’re a poorly mannered Neanderthal. Who’s this rude all the time?”

“Well, why’d you invite me out with you today if being around me was so rough, you brat?” he teases, ruffling Jungkook’s hair.

Jungkook shrugs unapologetically, though as he speaks a sheepish expression takes over his countenance. 

“Wanted to be around you—even when being around you is hard, I guess.”

Jimin blushes a little and pushes Jungkook into the wall, ignoring his friend’s raucous laughter.

Could Jimin be more in love?

With Jungkook, probably.

---

The rest of February passes uneventfully.

Jimin’s too busy trying to keep up with his schoolwork and it seems Jungkook and Taehyung are similarly weighed down by their academics as none of them are able to catch the other frequently enough.

But whenever Jimin’s down, Jungkook manages to make time for him.

He’s so lucky.

---

March is a tumultuous affair of a month.

Between Jungkook’s ghastly encounter with Seulgi and the watery confrontation between Jimin and Taehyung on their club night, March is noteworthy enough—based purely off a single eventful night.

Then again, it’s not all bad.

Not when Jungkook and Jimin finally kiss again. Not when this kiss isn’t a jumbled-up highball containing shots of carnal desire and a mixer of miscommunication with a sickly-sweet puree of dormant love to chase the pungent aftertaste away.

It’s a little bittersweet when Jungkook insists they take their time when all he wants to do is kiss his ex-boyfriend until the obnoxious prefix is dropped and he’s all Jimin’s again.

But Jimin’s beginning to really feel that with any cons that come with a situation is accompanied by a profound list of pros too. And while maybe he can’t capriciously kiss Jungkook like he might like to, he gets to finally bask in the recognition that his ex’s smiles are pure, simple bliss—devoid of the shadow of doubt and hurt that’d always trail shortly behind.

And perhaps that small triumph is the greatest victory of all that month.

---

On the penultimate day of Taehyung’s weeklong absence, Jimin and Jungkook have Hoseok, Namjoon, Seokjin, and Jihyun over.

Jimin’s always been a better host, so he just shoos Jungkook out of the kitchen into the living room to “entertain their guests”. He sighs in resignation when he quickly realizes that Jungkook’s interpretation of his lax instructions was to play a Marvel movie in the background while a rambunctious conversation drowns the scripted dialogue out.

He proffers bowls of snacks and condiments and returns to the kitchen before carrying errant cans of beer and pop on his second trip. His offerings are met with appreciative cheers.

Jihyun’s on the floor next to Namjoon, while Seokjin is lounging on the couch next to Jungkook. Hoseok sits on the arm of the couch next to Seokjin—considerately leaving room for Jimin on the couch.

Faintly, Jimin smiles.

Some two hours later, the movie has finished (unbeknownst to any of them) and their TV screen is left on the Netflix main screen. The conversation jumps from one individual to the next as they all catch up with one another, a collaborative interaction as another person pipes in whenever a topic reaches its natural conclusion.

Jungkook always has an arm behind Jimin’s head or if he’s particularly roused by a subject, he’ll lean forward to holler his input with his hand lingering on his hyung’s upper thigh. The volley of casual touches drive Jimin a little bonkers, but in the best way possible.

It’s as though there’s a humid little bubble where Jungkook and Jimin co-exist and it leaves him a little breathless and feverish. The unspoken intimacy is as potent as the invisible rays of the sun, Jimin is sweating under the solar discharge.

It’s towards the end of their night that things take a turn.

“Let’s have a pool party,” Seokjin suddenly declares, unintentionally shelving Namjoon’s anecdote about one of the students whom he was TA-ing in all his senile excitement. Hoseok and Jungkook laugh at the disgruntled expression on Namjoon’s face, while Seokjin apologizes for the heedless interruption.

Jimin freezes.

Paralyzed by alarm, he fails to observe the way Jihyun’s shrewd eyes slide over to him, concern flickering feebly behind his pupils.

Jimin absently pats Namjoon’s shoulder in consolation, trying to mask the ballooning sack of intense discomfort that expands in his stomach. As he watches the way Seokjin and Hoseok's elation increase, Jimin shifts around uncomfortably, feeling way the rancid pouch of latent fear and rabid horror fattens rapidly.

He hasn’t approached any manmade body of water since his childhood, never mind dipped his toes in a pool. He doesn’t even take baths unless his aching body is positively protesting in pain. 

Luckily, Jungkook’s disdainful attitude towards the idea saves Jimin the anxiety of jettisoning an idea that seems to be picking up momentum in their friends’ collective minds.

“What? It’s April. It’s still fucking cold,” Jungkook complains insolently.

Even as he broods nervously, Jimin can’t smother the small smile as he watches Jungkook whine shamelessly from beside him. Hoseok laughs unabashedly at the pouty expression on their youngest friend’s face while Seokjin just dismisses Jungkook’s concerns.

“So? It’s an indoor pool.”

The pungent pocket of unease is swelling at a rate where Jimin's afraid it's fit to burst. And if it combusts, Jimin knows he'll vomit.

(He hopes to avoid that; he suspects the sudden expulsion of everything he’s eaten that day will lead to a concerned but unwanted interrogation from his friends.)

Jungkook scoffs.

Where? Are you a chaebol and everyone just failed to tell me? Or do you just have, like, a temporary bourgeoise class membership? And if so, how do I get my hands on one?”

Seokjin reaches over nonchalantly and swats Jungkook with a swift strike on the top of his head. He ignores the yelp of pain that Jungkook utters and talks loudly over him.

“What? No, asshole, I just make friends with people. Something you know nothing about.”

Rubbing the tender region on his head, Jungkook glares sullenly at Seokjin and mopes childishly.

“That’s fuckin’ rude, hyung.”

Seokjin is clearly unbothered.

He then crosses his legs like a prim heiress before he points out, “So is the way you talk to me, but you don’t hear me complaining.”

Pointing at Seokjin in indignation, Jungkook wears a look of astonishment and betrayal.

“You’re literally complaining right now,” he cries.

“And rightly so.”

Jungkook just stares blankly at Seokjin.

The conversation about the potential pool party eventually dissolves in an unflattering collapse of juvenile bickering between the eldest and youngest men of the room and Jimin breathes a sigh of relief as the conversation drifts away like an abandoned raft.

With his confidence shot and his stability pillaged by archaic trepidation, Jimin fails to notice the way his brother remains uncharacteristically quiet for the rest of the night, apprehension laden heavily on his youthful features.

---

After everyone finally departs around two in the morning, after haphazardly helping the two boys clean up scraps of food off the floor and bringing the bowls into the kitchen, Jungkook yawns widely.

Jimin smiles and rubs the space between his shoulders and encourages Jungkook to head to bed. Unhesitatingly, the younger boy agrees, heading to the washroom to wash up and shower. Jimin heads into the kitchen in the meantime, tidying up the remaining mess quietly.

Once he finishes, he rummages through some drawers to find a lighter and some candles that they stored in their cupboards in the case of a power outage. He carries them into the living room and situates himself on the couch before staring blankly into space. He waits until he hears Jungkook say his goodnights before he heads to the washroom himself, picking up a bottle of beer on the way.

After he closes the door behind himself, he turns the tap of the bath on, but he doesn’t bother modulating the temperature. Then, he strategically plants the candles in various areas of the bathroom so that the light will be distributed evenly throughout the small space.

He sits on the toilet lid until the water is sloshing dangerously around the lip of the tub then peels his clothes off.

The water is steaming a little ominously.

Maybe it’s just his imagination though. Even this tiny body of water, completely controllable, seems sinister to him. Despite the fact he knows that with a single tug of the drain chain, the water will swirl like a miniature whirlpool until the tub is emptied, the still surface still frightens him.

The scene in front of creases a little, distorting and warping eerily, until he feels like he's standing in front Coach Lee and the dreaded pool of his childhood. The garlands of reality wave gracelessly in the air like a mirage and he’s a little lost to the curse of his trauma.

He knocks the lights off and steps into the uncomfortably hot tub, wincing a little as he submerges himself deeper. Once his body is completely beneath the depths, he takes an enormous swig from the bottle of beer until he’s nearly polished it off.

The heat burns, but it doesn’t compare to the painful sensation that the trip down memory lane causes.

He dunks his head under the water and suddenly he can remember everything with discernible clarity.

(He doesn’t know why he’s subjecting himself to this experience, but something about the conversation from earlier on the day has him regressing.)

He remembers the day he’d taken a breath on the second extension of his arm instead of the third when he’d been practicing his freestyle. That particular crime had been rewarded with a snide remark about his inability to listen to constructive criticism.  

There’d also been the swim meet where he’d accidentally gulped down a lungful of water when he’d been in the middle of the flip turn. The unexpected hindrance had cost him a win, but it had bought him cruel reprimands about being talentless.

Then there’d been the one practice where he’d been so exhausted that he’d failed to utilize the myriad of suggestions the assistant coaches had given him about his breaststroke. Instructor Lee had gleefully taken it upon himself to loudly declare Jimin’s failures of the day. The monster of a man had used him as a primary exemplification of how to be a poor teammate.

The days where the team had focused on honing their technique for butterfly were the days that had left him feeling so bereft of confidence that he wished that he’d sink to the bottom of the pool until he decomposed into nonexistence. It had been his least favourite style to swim.

Those days which had brought Jimin so much abject misery had been Instructor Lee’s greatest source of joy.

He remembers wishing he’d never surface again.

But he loses his ability to keep his breath and he emerges from the surface of the bathwater. He gasps and gulps in oxygen desperately before he plugs his airways again as he guzzles the remaining beer.

Bare and naked, he sits with his head resting lightly on the tops of his knees. He wraps his arms around his legs and quivers under the burdensome load of his heavy memories. His drenched hair cling annoyingly to the sides of his face.

He pretends the cascading rivulets of moisture on his face is from his soaked hair and if he whimpers pitifully a few times, there’s no one to hear him in this dead of night.

It’s better this way.

After sousing in the bath for an immeasurable amount of time, skin sufficiently pruned and wrinkled, he steps out and snuffs out the baubles of light in the room with a hulking exhale. He groans in muted annoyance when he realizes he’d forgotten to check whether there was a bath towel (Taehyung and Jungkook always forget to replenish the towels after they use them).

He just runs his fingers through his wet hair and trickles of cooling water run down his back, causing violent shudders. Standing stagnant, still as naked and wet as the day he’d been born, he just lingers in the darkness on his own.

Alone.

He’s always alone anyway.

Suddenly, he’s doused in light.

“Jimin?”

Jungkook stands in front of him and he’s sleepily rubbing at his swollen eyes with one hand, the other resting loosely on the clearly unlocked doorknob.

A little tipsy from the drinks from earlier in the evening and a little loopy from exhaustion, Jimin doesn’t start or shriek in fright. He remains slouching over, back hunching from his emotional excursion through his most harrowing memories, and he doesn’t even bother attempting a pretense of acting prudish.

He just stands in the nude, uncovered and exposed, in front of Jungkook and he doesn’t even notice himself shivering.

The sight must be awfully chilling because Jungkook’s lethargy sheds quickly, his sleepy stupor transforming into an expression of disapproving shock.

“Hyung? What are you doing? It’s almost four in the morning and you’re soaking wet—you’re shivering too! Ah, I forgot to bring a new towel, I was meaning to, I swear, but then I just closed my eyes for probably a second and I ju—anyway, I’ll go get you one.”

No, don’t leave me, Jimin wants to cry.

In reality, he doesn’t say anything.

He only startles a little when Jungkook returns and begins to carefully towel Jimin off, the younger boy having seemed to sense the anomalous atmosphere through the strange way Jimin was behaving. The touches are gentle and non-invasive; Jungkook takes great care to ensure the dabs of the cloth don’t linger anywhere and that his fingers are wary of how intrusive they’re being.

As Jungkook dries off his hair, Jimin’s eyes tear up a little.

Recalling a lifetime of his worst memories has him feeling completely disoriented. He feels as though he’d embarked on poorly researched BDSM voyage, leaving him in the hands of a tyrant who’d whipped and beaten him black and blue. It’s as though each memory had battered him down, slapping and burning him, tormenting him until he’d nearly lost consciousness.

And when he’d finally come to again, he feels as though he’s lost his own identity under the abuse, convulsing from the void in his chest and trembling from the scars on his skins, waiting for the aftercare that never comes.

But Jungkook, always the sweetest breath of fresh air, comes with his warm affections—wide arms to pull his body in, soft eyes to melt his soul, and silky words to soothe his heart. And this display of love, as Jungkook meticulously removes the moisture from his bare skin, has Jimin so emotional that he initiates an embrace.

Ignoring his flagrant nudeness, he pulls Jungkook in by the scruff of his top and tosses the drenched bath towel in his hands hastily aside. He then yanks his fully clothed (oversized sweater, plaid pajama bottoms, cotton socks, and all), big-hearted ex-boyfriend in and wraps his arms around him.

Jumping a little in surprise, Jungkook emits a squeak but then eventually returns the hug. It starts off tentatively, Jungkook trying to maintain some semblance of propriety, but once he realizes that Jimin’s snuggling in incrementally closer to compensate for the microscopic gaps he’s leaving behind he relaxes and pulls him in closer.

“Hey, are you okay?” Jungkook whispers into Jimin’s damp hair after he recovers from the shock.

Jimin shakes his head.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Another shake.

Jungkook imperceptibly stiffens and Jimin knows he’s taking personal offense to the rejection. Before he can try and mollify him, Jungkook just sighs, kisses the top of his head, and just comfortingly runs his hands down the sheet of velvety skin of Jimin’s back. The tension eases from both of their bodies as Jimin drags him in even closer.

They stand there for quite some time until Jungkook steps away. Before Jimin can voice a complaint, a whine climbing up his throat, prepared to hop off the ledge and out of his mouth, he finally registers the scene in front of him.

Jungkook’s pulling his oversized sweater over his nether-regions, a pale flush of pink dotted across the planes of his cheeks and it’s quickly spreading to the rest of his face. His ears already look like they’ve been dipped in a vat of scarlet shame and his lips are equally red—as though they’ve oxidized in the long moments he’d held Jimin in his arms.

Then there is the matter of his pupils which have expanded monumentally and looking as though an explosive has been set off in his eyes, leaving behind a mushroom cloud of pitch black behind, the regular honey brown of his irises almost completely absent.

Without doubt, Jungkook’s aroused.

He starts apologizing.

“I’m sorry, hyung, I’m really sorry. It’s not like I’m actually turned on—not when you’re this way and you’re sad and looking for a friend. I promise. I know it looks so bad, and I’m gonna probably jump off a cliff into the nearest ocean of toxic waste, because holy shit this is embarrassing, but I swear.”

Jimin frowns a little at “friend”.

“It’s not me. It’s not my mind or my brain. It’s not my head at all, ah, well, uh, you know, not that head anyway. It’s just my body reacting to—”

“My naked body,” Jimin drawls in a surly tone.

As Jungkook shrivels in front of him, he crosses his arms.

“No,” Junkook stammers and denies, stepping away further, as Jimin instinctively pouts a little. He misses the close contact and even now, as they change the topic to something more immediately precarious, he’s desperate for the comfort Jungkook’s provided him with.

“I mean, yes, my body reacted to your…uh, it reacted. But it’s just a reaction. I had no plans for relieving myself or asking for anything. I didn’t even want anything, I just pulled away because I didn’t want you to get uncomfortable around me. Because we’re friends.”

Jimin doesn’t care. He doesn’t want to hear about friendship right now.

“Jungkookie,” he demands, “Hug me. I want you to hug me—I’m not going to get uncomfortable.”

When Jungkook declines awkwardly, still stuttering his worries and concerns, Jimin’s shoulders slink downwards in defeat. He hates the distance between them and he wishes that Jungkook hadn’t robbed him of the solace that he’d provided Jimin with when he’d held him.

Recognizing that artificial stroppiness won’t get him anywhere, he abandons his stab at challenging Jungkook and instead appeals to him from a more organic place of insecurity.

 He quietly speaks.

“I’m not asking to just to be difficult, Jungkookie, I just…I need a friend tonight. I don’t feel so good.”

Hearing the desperation in Jimin’s voice, Jungkook flounders a little bit before he tugs the sweater unhelpfully over himself again. Then he places the water-logged towel over Jimin’s bare shoulders, before guiding his hyung into his room.

Jimin helpfully ignores the comical gait that Jungkook uses, trying not to press his luck. He isn’t quite able to staunch the weak smile that pulls at his lips though.

Shutting the door behind them, Jungkook helps Jimin into his baggy clothes and gently encourages him into his small bed. 

Jimin settles onto the side he implicitly recognizes as his, while Jungkook quickly follows suit. It seems his problem has deflated and he's ready to finally sleep again. 

Initially, the younger boy is on his back, eyes shut and mouth slightly agape as he begins to fall back into slumber. Jimin’s on his side, arms tucked beneath his head and pillow, and he just scans Jungkook’s peaceful expression with such intense adoration that the intimacy of the moment would make any interloper sick.

Eventually, Jungkook looks over and catches him staring and as he smirks teasingly, he mimics Jimin’s position and inches in until minimal space is left between the pair. They don’t speak during this exchange, but Jimin feels an incalculable amount of gratitude towards Jungkook, for prioritizing Jimin’s emotional needs over his own physical ones.

And maybe that shouldn’t be a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but Jimin feels that it is. The respect and thoughtfulness that his younger roommate had demonstrated tonight was something that shouldn’t be so highly commendable because, frankly, it should be commonplace and common sense.

But in a social climate where people are inspired to “do you” and “take life by the balls” without stipulations that include consideration of others, selfish people continue to thoughtlessly take and take from their partners, friends, and family. So, to Jimin, it is remarkable that someone so young has illustrated such model altruism.

It makes him hopeful, that after people like Instructor Lee can wreck havoc upon his life by uprooting the newly budding seeds of his life, people like Jungkook can carefully assist Jimin into nursing and tending them back to health.

It’s on me, Jimin reminds himself. It’s on me, but it helps that someone like Jungkook still loves me.

Despite his earlier alertness when he'd been catering to Jimin, Jungkook's sleepiness comes rushing back as the graveness of the situation escapes slowly. His breathing begins to slow, the movements of his chest cavity are depressed and slack like the gradually slowing activity of a salmon nearing the end of its life.

Tangible evidence of his gratitude, he courses his fingers through his friend's hair. Jungkook hums in torpid appreciation causing Jimin to smile fondly.

And just as Jungkook’s dozing off, Jimin doesn’t stop himself from pressing the softest kiss on his lips. Jungkook’s lips twitch in mock disapproval and Jimin frets he’ll pull away. But instead, he pushes into the tender display of affection with his own lips and moves against Jimin’s mouth in motions so inappreciable it borders on undetectable.

“I love you,” Jimin breaths his endearment into Jungkook’s mouth.

Jungkook inhales the love and exhales a reciprocation.

“I love you too.”

Chapter Text

Jimin’s had some bad ideas before.

He can’t really deny that—not when he’s got a whole exhibition in the museum of his memory to prove that.

For instance, there was the time when he’d foolishly convinced Jihyun to climb a tree too dangerous for his eight-year-old limbs and sparse muscles to finesse. That’d ended up in disaster when his brother had fallen off the lowest branch and he’d started crying, alerting his parents to his distress.

Or the time when he’d overindulged for the first time after a few years of casual drinks and he’d blacked out entirely, waking up to Jungkook’s cherubic face looking simultaneously amused and unimpressed. The taunts that’d shadowed him for months following that incident hadn’t amused Jimin much (though he figures he’d deserved it).

And he definitely can’t forget the time he’d thrown a snowball at the back of Hoseok’s head, having lobbed it so hard that the impact caused his hyung to faceplant into the snow. He remembers roaring with laughter at first, before realizing Hoseok had been genuinely livid, face red from the snow and his anger, and it had taken cajoling on both Seokjin and Namjoon’s parts before he’d even spoken to Jimin again that day.

And then, he can’t ever forget the haunting look of despair Seulgi had sent his way when they’d broken up. The breakup had been necessary, but to have started dating her with his ulterior intentions had been his worst idea to date; Jimin’s heart still aches for her.

To reiterate, Jimin thinks dryly, I’ve had some bad ideas.

But as he stares at Taehyung in front of him, with his embarrassingly flashy outfit and his shamelessly animated grin, Jimin’s sure this moment belongs in his Hall-of-Fame piss poor ideas.

“I’m in actual devastation you convinced me this is a good idea,” he informs Taehyung bluntly.

It doesn’t leave a dent in his friend’s enthusiasm and he barely graces Jimin with acknowledgement. He can tell his friend poses a question purely to pacify him, not bothering to remotely conceal the fact he’s feigning his concern.

“Why isn’t this a good idea?”

“Taehyung,” Jimin hisses quietly, “Look around us. No, seriously, look.”

He gestures at the scene in front of him, nose wrinkling in horror and worry lines embedding themselves beneath his epidermis onto his skull. Taehyung follows his line of vision, then turns around to blankly stare at Jimin.

“Uh-huh. And what of it?”

Obviously, he doesn’t comprehend Jimin’s concern.

We are at a putt-putt course, Taehyung.

“First of all,” Taehyung corrects haughtily, “It’s mini-golf. Mini-golf. Don’t be doin’ this sport injustice. And second of all, I know, Jimin, it was my idea, remember?”

Jimin leans in and furiously whispers, “We are literally decrepit fossils compared to the actual herds of children in this place. The only adults here all look like they’re aging by the second from all the screaming, misbehaving kids they’ve been delegated to babysit. None of them want to be here.”

Taehyung just chortles dismissively and pushes Jimin’s face away from his.

When his friend shrugs glibly and announces that he can’t be responsible for Jimin’s uneasiness, he swears he’s moments away from punching Taehyung’s face in.

His fist twitches longingly when Taehyung sighs—as though he’s being hard done by.

“Well, you know what they say, Jiminie,” he lectures gravely.

Ugh.

Jimin already hates where this is going. He’s heard this sanctimonious tone before, and it’s only ever lead to him wondering how he’s getting reproached by the owner, manager, and primary star of the peanut gallery.

He just isn’t able to cuff and rein in the waspish quality of his voice when he speaks.

“No. I don’t know what they say. What who says anyway? Please educate me, wise one, impart your knowledge upon us meager peasants. Tell me more about the fucking art of putt-putting.”

Taehyung frowns and shakes his finger under Jimin’s nose.

Mini-golf.”

Jimin ignores him at first, but Taehyung keeps chanting the modification until he grunts in acknowledgement. Face lighting up, Taehyung then bows dramatically and when he straightens up again, his amused expression betrays his awareness of Jimin’s raising temper. 

“You’re only as old as you feel, hyung, and I don’t know about you, but I feel pretty fuckin’ youthful,” he declares. Jimin winces as Taehyung’s voice, just several decibels too loud to be considered proper, catches the attention of several haggard parents who instantly herd their delinquent goblins away from them. He doesn’t miss the nasty look they shoot Taehyung’s way.

Jimin sighs.

It’s going to be a long day.

---

It turns out to be a pretty fun day.

Though Taehyung occasionally cracks jokes about Jimin's fretful attitude about being the only young adults they see that day (and is also incredibly insensitive to his failures on the pitch itself), he finds in spite of everything he’s really enjoying himself.

It helps that Taehyung is equally—if not formidably more—inadept at putt-putt than Jimin is.

After many rounds of consistent failures and fucking around, much to the ire of the parents that assemble and guide their flock of critters around, they call it a day and decide to head to a nearby pub for drinks.

Jimin thinks he can hear the collective sigh of parental relief as the doors of the pitch shut behind them.

The pub’s a skip and a hop away so the boys agree to walk over there despite the slight chill in the air. They don’t talk much during the walk, tired enough from their earlier antics that they just putter along until they catch sight of their destination. 

By the time the pair of them walk through the pub doors and have themselves seated at a corner booth with a window adjacent to it, Jimin realizes more time than he’s expected has elapsed, spotting the sun sinking lower into the sky.

They both order draft beers, Taehyung settling for the lightest lager and Jimin opting for a darker ale. 

Late afternoon advances further and further until it encroaches on evening territory, but neither boy notice time passing. They sip their first round of beers slowly, catching up and relearning each other as true friends again.

Jimin laughs affectionately when Taehyung requests to be brought a sprite instead of a beer for their next round. Taehyung blushes but ignores his friend as he places a few tapa orders with their drinks.

By their third round of drinks, Jimin is pleasantly bloated with both food and drink. He’s also got a light buzz going on, making the edges around the moment a little softer and a little duller, but it only heightens the sharpness with which Taehyung dominates the forefront of the scene.

A lighter weight than he, Taehyung is obviously past tipsy and is borderline drunk, but he’s still as handsome and exuberant as ever, the sharp lines of his striking visage remaining ever prominent. And as Taehyung laughs, wrinkles at the corners of his eyes and mouth wide open as he brays his delight, Jimin feels a deep peace in his heart that his friendship with him survived the storm.

And it’s with a great start, it hits Jimin that this is the first time in many moons that he and Taehyung have voluntarily spent time alone. And it fills him with joy to realize that they’d had uncomplicated fun, jokes running as easily as the rest of their conversations. The occasional silences that’d befallen them hadn’t been terse either.

And as they clink their glasses on their fourth round, the gentle fondness swimming in the cistern of Taehyung’s eyes mirror the tender affection in Jimin’s sensitive heart. This soothes his perpetually aching heart and it lets him know that his friend feels exactly the same.

“Cheers, Tae,” he says softly, hardly audible over the din of the pub.

It’s the most succinct way to express his emotions in the moment.

A small smile lingers on Taehyung’s lips as he raises his glass to Jimin’s.

“Cheers, Jiminie.”

---

When the two stumble back into their apartment around midnight or so, they catch Jungkook mid-yawn on the couch, bundled under an impressive heft of blankets.

He waves amicably at them as he sits up slowly, the blankets slipping down his body as he jostles around a bit.

“Hey guys,” Jungkook says softly, as he scans Taehyung’s ruddy face and Jimin’s tousled hair with an amused expression. “How was putt-putt?”

Taehyung whirls around ungracefully and glares at Jimin, before he loftily corrects Jungkook. 

“It’s mini-golf, you brutish ruffian—Jimin, I swear if you defile the name of this sport one more time I’ll toss you out of a window and hope all the birds in this godforsaken city suddenly take flight over your head and shit on you—get it straight.”

Jungkook whistles and raises his hands up in a show of peace.

“Right, okay, okay, mini-golf then. How was that, hyung?”

As Taehyung launches into the many stories of Jimin’s failures in such extensive detail that the anecdote becomes borderline drivel, Jungkook listens raptly and laughs at all the right moments. Jimin just shakes his head and groans in embarrassment as he heads into the kitchen.

After he pours and drinks down a full glass of water, Jimin returns to hear Taehyung in the midst of regaling another one of his stupendous failures of the day. He fights the urge to defend himself and instead of just walks over to Jungkook and boldly plants himself on his lap.

He doesn’t think he’d have been quite so daring had his paltry courage not been bolstered by liquid courage, but as it is, he sinks into Jungkook’s warmth without much qualms. Any remaining scanty skepticism is eliminated when he feels Jungkook's chin hook onto his shoulder and his arms wrap around his waist.

“—anyway, so he takes this great, heaving swing and the fuckin’ club flies out of his hands and it lands closer to the hole than the fuckin’ ball is. Like, I kid you not, the ball is like one inch away from his foot and this club is like a mile away. I swear I almost popped a gut from laughing so hard—maybe scared off a few kids too, come to think of it.”

Jungkook laughs easily, and Taehyung revels under the attention.

“So, dude, listen to this though. The next shot Jimin took—no, no, don’t look so hopeful, Jungkookie, he didn’t improve at all—the club went flying and almost knocked me out cold.”

Taehyung pauses, and his laughter suddenly falters. His face, tinkled pink with wicked glee at his friend’s failures, suddenly darkens to a shade of arresting red, shooting Jimin an alarmed look.

 “Wait. I’m thinking maybe that might’ve been a little more calculated than I thought.”

Ignoring Taehyung’s abrupt campaign of unfounded accusations, Jimin leans his head back skyward, the back of his skull resting on Jungkook’s bony shoulder, now cheek-to-cheek with their youngest roommate. He places a palm on his forehead in exasperation and sulkily complains.

“Taehyung, do we really have to do this? I get it, I sucked major balls, but it’s not like you were bangin’ out winning shots yourself.”

Jungkook doesn’t supppress his laughter and it rings in his ears, pitched in the tenor range, alleviating Jimin's present stresses with the familiarity of the sound.

Elevating himself enough that he's hovering above Jungkook's lap, Jimin squats as he maneuvers the blankets beneath his ass until he's able to pull the warm fleece over his own lap to cover them both up nicely. 

He just ignores Taehyung and Jungkook as they tease him jokingly in the background.

Once he’s settled back onto Jungkook’s lap comfortably, he feels his youngest roommate slip his fingers underneath his sweater and start running them up and down his belly. He closes his eyes and relaxes into the sensation.

Eventually, Taehyung starts yawning too frequently for him to ignore his drowsiness and he bids his roommates goodnight. They echo the sentiment back smiling sincerely at him, but the moment begins to close in exclusively around them before Taehyung even leaves the room.

+++

Before he disappears behind the main wall of their living room, Taehyung peers at the scene contemplatively.

He watches the way Jungkook teases Jimin and the way the eldest roommate digs his knobbly elbow into his ex-boyfriend’s side.

But then they eventually settle and Jungkook’s still, chin positioned on Jimin’s shoulder. He’s listening carefully to Jimin talk about his day. Though his expression is mostly neutral, Taehyung can see the unabating tenderness fizzing discreetly beneath the surface, only visible to those who know him well.

Though it’s mainly in the way his eyes only leave Jimin’s face fleetingly and the relaxed way he moulds to his hyung’s body, it’s also in the quiet way he attentively listens to him.

If the proof is in the pudding, then they’ll be consuming many spoonsful of sweet, sugary love for years to come, Taehyung thinks.

He’s being a little ironic, but he mostly means it.

As he walks into the washroom, stifling yet another yawn, he hopes he’ll be able to find a love like theirs.

They’re a small pack of two desert lupines, painted wolves with their unwavering stamina and they’re persevering as they chase down their prey—true love. At times it must feel hapless when the quarry is the ultimate prize, hulking and imposing with the huge fat reserves of intimacy and affection, and they’re just a diminutive pair lacking numbers.

But through the arid terrain of life, they endure until they’re able to feast on the tender flesh of love itself.

He closes his bedroom door behind himself, effectively muffling the quiet murmurs from the living room.

***

Jungkook strikes before Taehyung’s even fully leaves the room, the sing-songy quality of his voice apparent despite the low volume he speaks at. He’s even got the audacity to lightly tickle Jimin’s sides as he teases him.

“So, were you as bad as he said you were?”

Jimin elbows Jungkook viciously and looks putout as he defends himself.

“No, I really wasn’t!”

Jungkook nudges him knowingly and he slinks down in embarrassment.

“Ugh. Fine. If you really must know, I was worse then he made it sound. He was actually being generous,” he grumpily admits, the confession barely audible as he mumbles under his breath.

Chuckling quietly, they fall into a short, comfortable silence.

Jungkook’s hands are still tucked beneath his shirt and Jimin can hear the soft, rustling sounds over the quiet. After a few minutes, Jimin interlocks his fingers in the space between Jungkook’s and rests them over the center of his belly. 

Jimin can tell Jungkook’s dying to ask, so he decides to sate his burning curiosity before his jaw locks from the amount of times he’s opened his mouth before closing it again.

“Relax,” he coos soothingly, running his thumbs down the sides of Jungkook’s hands, “It went fine.”

Jimin pauses to give Jungkook some time to loosen the tension in his bones and muscles. Then, he continues.

“It was actually a lot of fun. I thought maybe it might be a little awkward since we haven’t hung out in ages but it sort of just…made me feel better about our friendship and it felt like old times again before shit got complicated between all of us.”

Jungkook hums understandingly as they both look down the hallway where they hear Taehyung close the door behind himself

“I’m really glad he and I cleared things up, Jungkookie,” he concedes, voice much smaller than it’s been so far.

“I really missed our friendship a lot. It was hard acting as if things were fine when he’d pull away from me all the time, and he never really looked me much in the eye either, and he never responded to me unless it would’ve made the situation awkward if he didn’t.”

He feels a light kiss pressed to the side of his temple, but he doesn’t react. He’s lost in the tempest of his thoughts now, the gales of hail and flows of windy blows causing a ruckus in his mind.

“We were both so angry with each other. And for what? Complete lack of communication and understanding of one another,” he rambles a little aimlessly.

“It just made me realize that there’s no person out there who isn’t hiding something, who isn’t troubled by something in their past. It made me realize that I’m not the only person who endured pain and I’m not the only person who’s been hurt by someone.”

Jimin feels Jungkook nod into his back, his nose rubbing against the knobs of his spine.

“It made me think and I just thought to myself that, like, whoa, it’s totally selfish for any one to think that another person has it completely better than themselves. We just face different struggles and we all have varying levels of internal strength to bear that pain.”

The silence sits, the depth and sincerity of Jimin’s words simmering between them.

Finally, Jungkook speaks.

“Hyung? Do I understand you well enough? Are we communicating better now?”

He intones the utterance and so to a poor listener or a new friend they’d never suspect something is bubbling beneath the surface, but Jimin hears him. He senses Jungkook’s biggest fear lurking behind his words, a great obstacle of a shadow on the moment. 

Jimin twists and turns. It’s an ungainly cocktail of graceless movements as he shifts around until he's directly facing Jungkook. He’s still perched on his lap and he smiles as Jungkook’s hands adjust to their new position, planting themselves on Jimin’s hips. 

He leans in and kisses Jungkook chastely.

When Jimin pulls back, he smiles so bedazzlingly that Jungkook’s breath catches a little and he looks starstruck. Jungkook’s reaction might sound cliché to the average cynic but Jimin sometimes thinks that, for all the flaws and cracks and fissures in their relationship, it’s one for the books.

“Jungkookie, my love,” Jimin whispers conspiratorially. “You understand me best.”

Jungkook looks as though he might like to argue, obviously recalling the secrets that he knows haven’t been exposed to him yet, but Jimin’s relieved when he lets it go. He knows eventually he’ll have to tell Jungkook everything, but he doesn’t want to ruin the moment now.

“I’ll always want to understand you best.”

With Jungkook’s loving promise as the final memory of the evening, the final polyp floating in their tired minds, they both eventually drift off into peaceful slumber.

They wake up the next morning on the cheap, uncomfortable couch to the booming clangs of Taehyung duking it out with kitchen utensils. They share matching aching backs, sore necks, and expressions of utter confusion. And the warmest, warmest feeling in their chests as they smile shyly at one another.

But they’re not sure whether they should attribute that tightness beneath their breastbones on the rancid odor of whatever Taehyung’s burnt trying to cook.

Jimin groans.

---

Jimin’s working on his final chemistry assignment for the semester.

He’s hard at work at the dining room table, back throbbing from the sedentary day he’s had so far.

He’s brimming with haughty pride after acing test after test and killing assignment after assignment. After his poor marks in chemistry had catalyzed a catastrophic reaction in him back in January, he’s proud to announce that he’s now blessed with the sight of watching his heinous professor’s ugly smile droop whenever he returns Jimin’s assignments, pages empty of any messy, red scrawl criticizing his marks.

He’s not sure this last assignment will be as highly scored.

But he doesn’t blame himself.

The blame is entirely on his dopey, loud, annoying, needy ex-boyfriend—who hasn’t shut up for the past half an hour, trying to garner Jimin’s full attention. He doesn’t know what’s gotten into introverted Jungkook, but he’s clearly been possessed by the most irritating extrovert spirit in the netherworld.

Over the past hour or so, Jimin had exerted a significant amount of effort into ignoring Jungkook. He’d even migrated from one room to the next, seeking out peace and quiet, but the task had grown progressively more difficult since Jungkook’s taken up a cozy seat right next to his hyung at the table.

He tunes back into Jungkook’s whines.

 “Are you finished yet?”

He doesn’t respond, intentionally hunching his back over and tilting his body away from Jungkook. He even picks up the remote and clandestinely turns up the volume on the television.

The program is about some trial.

He doesn’t know if its his father’s litigator blood running through his veins, but Jimin’s vaguely interested in the content the broadcasting is narrating. But he somehow manages to corral his focus back onto his assignment.

Well.

Tries to corral his focus on his assignment. Mostly, he’s still trying to ignore Jungkook.

“Are you ignoring me?”

Finally, Jimin snaps.

He sighs loudly and massages his throbbing temples. After he primly places his pencil on the table, he turns to Jungkook with frightening composure.

Jimin demands, “What gave it away, Jungkook? Was it the past twenty minutes I didn’t respond to you? Or was when I put earphones in when you wouldn’t stop singing prepubescent Justin Bieber at the top of your voice? Or was it when I turned the television on, hoping you’d shut the fuck up?”

Much to Jimin’s great chagrin, Jungkook doesn’t seem remotely cowed. He goes nearly cross-eyed as Jungkook points his index finger at him patronizingly, jutting and jabbing the air carelessly.

“Well, first of all, I could tell you were listening to me even when you didn’t answer because you stopped writing. And second of all, I saw you mouthing along with me—so, stop frontin’. I know you’re still into contemporary throwbacks,” Jungkook points out.

Jimin can’t argue with most of these valid points, so he just glares at Jungkook balefully.

But they’ll always find something to amicably bicker about.  

“How can something be ‘contemporary’ and a ‘throwback’? At the same time? That’s totally oxymoronic," Jimin asks flatly.  

Jungkook shrugs.

“Well, like, I—unlike Seokjin-hyung and Yoongi-hyung—am not a fossilized relic from the Jurassic era, so I wouldn’t know anything about real throwbacks like The Beatles or Aretha Franklin. Or like, The Kim Sisters or Tae Jinah. I only know recent throwbacks. So, you know. Contemporary throwbacks. Justin Bieber.”

Jimin just stares at Jungkook in astonishment.

He doesn’t know how to unpack the problematic delivery of stupidity Jungkook had just bestowed upon him.

“Ugh, never mind oxymorons,” Jimin laments sympathetically, “You’re just a common moron.”

Jungkook laughs sarcastically. 

"I mean, yes, fuck oxymorons," he agrees genially. "But you could always just fuck this foxy moron." 

Jimin's horrified, but he can't help but laughing so hard that he thinks his gut is about to rupture. Jungkook looks pleased at the reaction. 

And if it hadn't been obvious enough that Jungkook clearly didn't give a single fuck about Jimin’s offensive barb, he further cements his apathy by trampling on to the next topic. 

“Any-fucking-way. Never mind that nonsense. I won’t take any offense by your pitiful attempts at wounding my generously bloated ego. But what I am offended about is…what makes you think for one second some stupid court proceeding would distract me from distracting you? Haven’t we been friends for eons now?”

Jimin should’ve known that his innate interest in the program should’ve been an instant and classic indication that Jungkook would’ve felt bored to tears.

Ah, he curses silently. I’ve had a terrible lapse in judgement.

He tries to regain control over the situation.

"Okay, right, but listen, Jungkook. I was grasping at straws at this point, ya feel me? I literally went room-hopping to try and get this damn assignment done and you’d think me retreating to my own room would make you have some misgivings about barging in—”

Jungkook swiftly interrupts.

“Why? You barged in that one time when I was reading my comic, remember? I was super into my comic and didn’t hear the doorbell ring and—” 

Jimin doesn’t remember at first and he stares blankly at Jungkook. But when he does, he suddenly perks up, his grin a touch malevolent and he chuckles loudly.

“Oh, that time when you had your first foray into hentai, you mean?”

“—my comic, Jimin,” Jungkook corrects loudly, his face turning red from embarrassment, talking over Jimin entirely. Jimin doesn’t miss how he’d audaciously dropped the honorific. “You barged in when I was on a bad page, okay, and also, I was in my parents’ house. And I’d locked the door and you’d used the spare key. Which I told you was only for emergencies.”

Jimin protests instantly.

“It was an emergency.”

Sputtering his denial, Jungkook stands up and points dramatically at Jimin. He’s looming, but Jimin can’t help but smile fondly at him anyway.

He’s so annoying.

“What’d you mean? No, it wasn’t. You literally got lonely because Jihyun had gone to hang out with his own friends for once and your parents were off having dinner with my parents. There was literally no emergency. I told you an emergency is like....running out of tampons. Or your water breaking."

Jimin's smile vanishes. 

"What the fuck? When would I ever encounter those emergencies, Jungkook? Pray tell. I'm waiting." 

Jungkook has the decency enough to look sheepish, but he doesn't recant the conditions behind the usage of his house spare key. 

"I don't know, hyung, but science has come a long way and we never know what the future will hold." 

Jimin threatens lowly, "I don't know about the future of science, but your future is looking increasingly dimmer each time you speak." 

“Ugh, whatever, hyung,” Jungkook moans. “Okay, anyway, the point is you went to your room until I came in and then I followed you back out here into the living room because I was hoping by gracing you with my winning presence, you'll let me inside your world and ensure there would be one less lonely girl." 

Jungkook pauses. 

"I'm Justin Bieber in that situation, by the way."  

He can't stifle his laugher despite his annoyance. He finally resigns, recognizing at long last that Jungkook’s determined to pester him until the end of time.

 “Okay, fine then."

Jimin releases an extended moan of frustration, drowning out the sounds of the prosecutor on the television in the background. Then, slapping his palms onto the table and spreading his fingers out wide, he bemoans.

“I’ll just casually put aside my entire future for you. Forget my dreams of a house with high ceilings and marble countertops and my double refrigerators.  And don’t worry about my three cats and one dog that I was planning to spoil. Let’s just put all that aside because you need my undivided attention right now.”

Jungkook hums encouragingly, swiftly repelling all of Jimin’s forceful sarcasm with maddening ease.

“But,” Jimin hisses, “If my aspirations don’t come into fruition, the first person I’m gonna take up my grievances with is you, you parasitic little barnacle." 

Nodding slowly, Jungkook adopts an artificially serious expression and crosses his arms across his chest.

“Well, you don’t have to worry about anything. Because we always knew if one of us was going to find a sugar guardian, it was going to be you. And if you find one within the next ten years—you know, evolutionary peaks of Asian heritage—you’ll still look young enough to pull one, so. No pressure.”

Jimin groans.

Jungkook grins charmingly.

He pats Jimin’s head patronizingly.

Jimin might scream.

Instead, they both retire to the living room couch and they chat about inane nothings and everyday somethings.

The conversation lasts well into the night. It’s all terribly mundane and especially unspectacular.

And perhaps the dull drone of the defendant’s denials on the stand or the persuasive purr of the proud prosecutor in the background had subliminally influenced him, but the conversation between Jungkook and Jimin feels a little bit like jury duty.

That is to say it’s certainly more time-consuming than it necessarily needs to be. And the topics they trudge through are all inundated with a gluttonous amount of details and thought.

But somehow, it’s still everything.

And as Jimin looks at Jungkook’s twinkling face, eyes crinkled with happiness and mouth stretched with contentment, it’s nothing like jury duty after all. It’s not a burdensome civic duty that he must complete to listen to Jungkook.

To be fair, maybe I have been summoned by a greater power in the shape of Jungkook, Jimin thinks wryly, smiling softly as he listens to Jungkook recount his day. But I’d could listen to him for the rest of my life if I have to.

And which juror has ever willingly wanted to put their life on hold?

Jimin suspects not many.

Unless they’re as in love with the defendant as he is with Jungkook.

---

Jimin’s parents are wonderful. And if anyone dares refute that, he’ll fight tooth and nail. He’ll batter them bloody until his opposition are left as toothless as a newborn baby. He’ll hammer their rusting souls until they’re stiff and grimacing with their new gummy smiles.

Like he said, he’ll fight anyone tooth and nail.

They’ve given him and Jihyun a life in which they’re not wanting for much. All their primary needs are met; they’ve always been well-fed, well-educated, and well-off.

(With the life that they’ve provided, Jimin’s found it hard to respond to inquiries of how he’s doing with anything other than “I’m well, thank you”. How could he anything but well? )

His parents are also compassionate, magnanimous people. And his relationship with Jungkook having remained successfully intact for many years in the past is in part due to their benevolent natures; after all, it had a decade or so ago that they’d invited their new neighbours, the Jeons, over for the first time.

But they aren’t perfect.

They’re a little traditional—to say the least. They resemble two imposing pillars, artfully handcrafted and lovingly manufactured by an archaic people. They tower over Jimin with their statuesque nobility and he sits a little anxiously beneath their shadow. And while he looks up to his parents for their diligence, he’s also intimidated by their rigid expectations for him.

Jimin’s mother had protectively removed him from swim club when she’d discovered how Instructor Lee’s attention had honed onto Jimin. She’d been utterly horrified at how he’d worked tirelessly to chip at the fragile veneer of her eldest’s child fragile heart. Jimin’s father’s face had mutated into an alien expression, a fibrous blend of malevolence until his facial features was black as carbon.

He didn’t doubt for a moment they loved him.

Even when he and Jungkook had approached them—meager and meek as a bratty child who’d stubbornly run away from home only to return after a few short hours to his terrified parents—to announce their romantic relationship when they were adolescents, they hadn’t been unkind.

While he can’t possibly deny their visages hadn’t remained in a stagnant illustration of bemusement for the span of several months, they’d never risen to the occasion of being the prototypically offended traditionalist parents. They were film stills of uncertainty and poster children of tastefully concealed confusion, but they'd never behaved in a way to cause an uproarious maelstrom of hatred or discomfort in Jimin.

(And even more importantly, they’d continued to treat Jungkook as their second child, always beckoning him inside when they spotted him.)

So, all in all, he’s always been grateful.

But all this being said, they also aren’t perfect. 

They’ve always hounded Jimin, nipping and chewing at his heels, to make sure he’s always keeping on his toes. With all his time spent avoiding criticism and reproach, Jimin’s mastered the craft of being on pointe—a figurative primo ballerino.

And while Jimin’s back aches and his fingers twitch from overuse to maintain the image of perfection, Jihyun escaped fairly unscathed from the carnage of their tacit expectations. It may not be fair, but it’s been the steadiest status quo and Jimin doesn’t wish the same pressures of life on his younger brother, so he’s never complained.

But as his heart sinks in dread at the end of April, as he reads that his graduation application’s been denied, he feels that his parents will certainly have something to complain about.

---

He stares at the declination of his application for what feels like minutes.

When he chances a look at his laptop’s clock, the digitized numbers inform him it’s been some thirty minutes that he’s been sitting on the rejection.

He takes a deep inhale through his nostrils and releases it through his mouth, a sharp gust of wind making its way past the spaces between his gritted teeth and fluttering lips.

For a young adult whose nest egg is an accumulation of praise and acknowledgment from his parents, he feels this instance of utter failure is a steel cudgel on the side of his vulnerable noggin, mangling the soft, yolky matter of his brain from horror and shock.

And against his better judgment, he decides he’ll deal with this later. He’s suddenly filled with an unfathomable degree of exhaustion and he decides he can’t bear being awake for a second longer.

Later, he promises himself as he shuts his laptop and crawls into his bed.

He’s unaware that his body is wracked with guilt and fear as he shudders from the overload of emotion.

Later, he tells himself firmly, as he pulls the comforters around his body.

He turns onto his side, facing away from the desk where his laptop rests, looking as unimposing as a common rabbit despite hiding the monstrous burden of his failure on the front page.

Later, he swears as he drifts off.

He falls into a restless slumber—a short distance away from his immediate problems in the real world.

In the chasm of his chest, the beast cocks its head. It has heard the summons of Jimin’s abject misery and it rises to its feet.

Then, it grins maliciously.

---

Jimin’s dream are quite the visual experience.

His pathologically ill mind dabs the bristles of its imagination into one trippy scene before exploring another eclectic explosion of emotions in the next. The fusion of each moment gives birth to a nightmarish reel of film—a grisly kaleidoscope.

It’s awfully visceral too.

The atmosphere in his dream is completely psychotropic. It's prickly and thorny like coniferous trees, needles and scales puncturing his tender skin carelessly. He bleeds in globules and eventually it pools around him like a grotesque puddle. Meanwhile, the pungent odor of his fear floats in the air and it burns his nostrils as he flinches away from it, wheezing painfully on the smog clinging to his lungs. He also chokes on the acrid taste, a poorly distilled rum trudging its way down the ridges of his throat.

In the background, he hears an acute keen. He can’t discern its exact location; nevertheless, it's shrill and piercing, penetrating through the distance with ease, disrupting the time and space in between. He nearly keels over from the pain, his eardrums wailing under the pressure.

Everything feels unfocused and blurry, an oily residue over the dreamy scenes, whisked together in a psychedelic cocktail.

But what he sees is beyond articulation.

He’s sitting in court, an enormous shadow cast over him and everyone else in the grim space. He can’t make out anyone’s faces, each person an indistinguishable blob and it causes a tremor to go hurtling down his spine.

“What am I doing here?”

As if to respond to his internal musing, a high, reedy voice floats out from beneath the darkness.

“Park Jimin, how do you plead?”

The thin quality of the voice set momentarily aside, Jimin strains to understand the words. They’re garbled slush and it sounds like the speaker is choking through a mass in their throat. But he can’t miss the accusative tone.

Not a chance.

He stands up and slams his hands on the table in front of him—the sound rings ominously in the quiet room.

He demands aggressively, “What’s my crime?”

The figure mirrors his actions and it too rises to stand.

“Which charge do you want to address first?”

Though it was initially difficult to place, Jimin suspects this is the prosecutor. Maybe the judge. It seems most likely that she’s a woman too, if her svelte figure and airy voice is of any indication. But he ignores his inferences and focuses on the more immediate causes of concern.

“What’d you mean?”

She ignores him and talks loudly over his protestations.

“Your misdemeanours, perhaps?”

Jimin’s lost.

“Huh?”

“Those would be your charges for your heartlessness. Your selfishness. Your greediness. How do you plead?”

Her voice is stern, lacking any empathy whatsoever, and Jimin shudders under the oppressive air surrounding her. She continues with her condescending approach.

“I’m judging by your silence and lack of adequate representation to defend yourself, you’re guilty?”

Jimin doesn’t speak.

In some ways, he can’t even really disagree with her.

“Just as well,” a new voice intones, a gentle clinking following the utterance.

It’s soft and light, but there’s a heavy delivery to the words like a booming bassline. But before Jimin could give the new participant much thought, the first voice bulldozes over his musings and scans the documents in front of her before proceeding.

“Very well. But how do you plead to your felony charge?”

“What do you mean,” he cries, panic billowing through his vocal folds until they crinkle and crease with such franticness that his voice cracks horribly.

“Oh, Mr. Park, please. Let’s set aside the theatrics and pretenses in this court of law. You must know,” the disembodied voice admonishes him unkindly.

He doesn’t know.

He doesn’t understand what’s happening.

“I don’t. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Clucking disparagingly, the prosecutor shakes her head. At long last, she reveals herself as she steps out of the shadows.

His breath hitches and Jimin almost vomits at the sight.

It’s Seulgi.

Hardly surprising that he’d envision her as an authoritative figure fronting a squadron of people planning to discipline him, but it’s not the shock of seeing her that causes such a powerful reaction within him.

It’s how she looks.

Her makeup is smudged, oily rings of black soot around her eyes, and her lipstick is smeared around her mouth. It looks like a bloody mess. She’s scowling heinously. But nothing is more terrifying than the dark, inky contusions in the shape of hands around her neck.

If the knobby pinky finger and stubbiness of the rest of the digits are any indication, they’re in the shape of his hands.

She pulls up her collar defensively and tries to conceal the marks.

“Don’t bother defending yourself. I know you’re guilty. You know you’re guilty.”

He sits down slowly and swallows around the knot in his throat.

Calmly, she stares him down, a vacant look in her hollow eyes.

“What do you have to say for yourself?”

Tears begin dribbling down his face and he sniffles pathetically.

She doesn’t care.

“Nothing?”

The prompt is nearly entirely devoid of intonation, but there’s a touch of sarcastic affectation that belays her true emotions. Her face remains as placid as ever. 

“Really? After all this time, you’ve got nothing?”

Seulgi takes a deep breath and when she speaks her voice holds nothing but scorn in it. There’s clearly no remaining affection and her hair begins to fan out behind her. She looks like a gruesome villain as she snarls at him, lips curling hatefully.

“Well, let me tell you something. I’ll remind you that you are guilty. You’re guilty of stringing me along like your understudy lover until your main star finally made his comeback to play his role as your main squeeze. That’s fucking heartless. Do you remember yet?”

She gestures at herself, drawing Jimin’s attention to her grimy attire. There’re random tears in the fabric and stringy, loose threads all over. He can’t tell if the dark stains on her clothes are dried bloodstains or spots where she’s wiped off her makeup. Either way, his stomach squirms in repulsion.

“Do you see what you’ve done to me?” 

Jimin lowers his head in shame. He can’t look at her.

He won’t.

“I just want to remind that you that you left me suffocating in my love for you. You knew it was hurting me, killing me. You knew. And you didn’t care. You were too selfish to admit to yourself that you didn’t love me the way I loved you. And you were too greedy to let go either.”

It’s dead quiet.

Suddenly, the moment explodes.

A typhoon erupts in the courtroom and the tempestuous wind has Jimin clutching onto his seat to remain stationary. Papers flutter all over the room and errant objects are swept away. It’s a natural disaster in an enclosed room.

At the head of the Bench, Seulgi looks wild with rage, the whites of her eyes disappearing until they are sable gems, twinkling malevolently at him.  Her hair clump together in the gusts of wind until they resemble ebony serpents, rendering Jimin motionless in his terror. There’s an eerie shade of vibrant green emanating from behind her.

Her voice booms in the limited space and there’s a deep baritone lurking behind her natural soprano, making her sound almost inhuman in her anger.

“Look at what you’ve done to me, you bastard,” she screams angrily, “Do you feel no shame?” 

Jimin begins weeping openly.

Abruptly, the cord is cut, and the court room settles again. It looks as though nothing had disrupted the natural order of things, every paper and item replaced to its original position. Jimin blinks through his tears.

“Even if you are innocent in the eyes of this courtroom, I’ll tell you this now. You will never be innocent in my eyes. The law and the justice system fail victims everyday. But even if they fail me, you will never be absolved of your guilt. And even if you aren’t punished the way you rightly deserve, I hope the weight of your guilt will be punishment enough. I hope you choke on your guilt.”

And with that ugly final imposition on Jimin, she shivers violently and takes a step back.

The only sounds are the those of Jimin crying, his heart open and bleeding for the entire jury and audience to witness. He doesn’t care.

Though he'd acknowledged the remorse he feels towards his ex-girlfriend openly to his ex-boyfriend, he doesn't think he's ever really scouted the true depths of the canyon of guilt in his heart. All at once, everything declaration of penitence he's claimed feels cheap. Ten Hail Marys and One Our Father, five times over, and he still feels as dirty as when he'd started his repentance.

But the harrowing pain he’d felt when he’d seen how he’d hurt Seulgi is nothing in comparison to the punch to his heart when he sees Jungkook stepping out from the darkness to stand next to her.

His appearance is as decrepit as Seulgi’s, but the injuries he’s sustained are horrific. There’s a knife lodged in his chest, favouring the left side just a smidgeon, right where his heart should be located. His shirt is white and there’s an enormous, maroon stain on it—this time unmistakably a bloodstain.

But his expression is yards more benign than Seulgi’s, no malicious intent scrawled on his face. But there’s an undeniable sorrowful curl to his mouth, lower lip pushing outwards. His eyes look red and wet, lashes clinging together from the leftover dampness from tears past.  His hands are trapped in front of his hips, restrained by a pair of handcuffs.

“You suffocate those you don't love enough, and you kill the ones that you love with your whole heart. You're a curse upon this earth and being involved with you is a Deathwish from the start. You don't love yourself, so forget about loving anyone else. You can't give something that you don't yourself have and, to watch it all unfold, is really kind of sad,” Jungkook recites solemnly.

“Jungkook, no, no, no,” Jimin wails in desperation, finally standing up. He reaches out to Jungkook.

He’s miles too far away to close the distance adequately. His heart throbs painfully.

“Is there someone you haven't readily disappointed in recent times? Is there someone you haven't let down you can recall and quickly bring to your mind? You say sorry an awful lot, but I don't see anything's changed. With you in my life, there's a lot I've lost but not much I've gained.”

Jungkook’s gaze is vacant and he’s staring above Jimin as if he can’t even see him.

“There’s a trail of evidence to show where you've left your mark—wet and red spots that expand until they're dry and dark. I found what I love, and I let it kill me. You found what you love and let it die. I found what I love, and I let it fill me. You found what you love and let it go on by.”

Finally, Jungkook’s eyes find his and lock on. Target found.

He speaks lowly and slowly, voice trembling something awful when he speaks next.

“I found my love and you found me too. I found you, love. And you turned me blue. I found you, love, and you bled me dry. I found you, love, and you let me cry.”

Jimin’s crying so hard, he can hardly hear Jungkook now. His hand that had been stretched out, lingering in the air, lowers and he clutches at his own chest where the majority of pain is localized.

His eyes, wet with tears, widen when he touches his chest. A sharp intake of air follows his surprise—he hadn’t realized his shirt wasn’t dry.

Heart sinking, sinking, sinking, he looks down at his hand in dismay.

It’s wet with blood.

He looks up at Jungkook, heart pounding away in dread. His mouth is dry, and he feels himself perspiring. A bead of sweat makes its way down his face and he wets his chapped lips. One tear trails down Jungkook’s impressively stoic face as he watches Jimin struggling to make sense of the situation.

Then, he speaks.

“But I love myself enough to say goodbye,” Jungkook finishes, turning away from him. And once he concludes his testimony, he allows his tears free rein to steam down his face.

Jimin is crying out behind Jungkook, his voice creasing with the vehemence behind his protests. He simultaneously pats himself down with intense vigour, trying to find where he’s bleeding from.

He needs to staunch it, he needs to stem the blood flow if it’s really bad. Never mind that, Jimin just wants to rush to Jungkook and convince him that everything he thinks isn’t true. It’s not real. He doesn’t want to be Jungkook’s worst nightmare.

He loves Jungkook.

“Pathetic.”

He looks up at Seulgi who’d just scoffed at him. Then, he licks his lips nervously.

“What?”

“Didn’t you hear a word Jungkook said?” she snaps irritably.

He doesn’t understand.

She sighs.

“Whose blood do you really think you’re covered in, Jimin?”

“What?” he asks again plaintively. He’s implicitly begging for mercy, but he sees Seulgi’s not biting the bait.

She just repeats her question again, her eyes sliding over to Jungkook’s bloody wound before she shifts her gaze to Jimin’s glossy, scarlet hands. The way she raises her eyebrows is purposeful. It’s meaningful in a way Jimin can’t ignore, the tacit accusation ringing loud and clear.

No.  

He tries to ignore the niggling voice of reason in his head, but Seulgi speaks—entirely eliminating his ability to avoid reality.

“Because judging by the way you’re trying to victimize yourself again tells me you weren’t listening to what Jungkook said at all. He may have been speaking in riddles, but he wasn’t speaking a different language. So, let me ask you again: whose blood do you think you’re covered in?”

His chest begins heaving up and down, breaths hard to come by, and he can tell he’s really beginning to panic.

Seulgi can clearly tell when it clicks with Jimin.

She shakes her head. 

“You see the wound in his chest, Jimin. You see the marks around my neck. You’ve can see the damage you’ve caused and even now you’re think you’re the one who’s been injured?”

At the admonishment, Jimin slinks out of his chair and sinks to his haunches. Arms wrapped around his legs defensively, he sobs into his knees. The small pocket of air is not enough to replenish his lungs with clean oxygen and the space between his face and his knees rapidly becomes humid and uncomfortable.

But he doesn’t care.

In the distance, he hears soft footfalls belonging to multiple people, but he doesn’t bother looking up.

When he eventually manages to regain some self-control, he looks up, and he sees his friends step out of the shadow: Namjoon, Yoongi, Seokjin, Hoseok, and Taehyung. They’re all wearing varying expressions of disgust on their faces as they peer between Jungkook and Seulgi, everyone observing Jimin’s exes’ prominent injuries.

More people step out of the shadows. It’s Taemin, Jongin, and Sungwoon. Their handsome faces are all blemished with confusion, before they analyze Jimin positioned at the defendant’s stand with his bloodstained hands. Their eyes eventually hop over to where his exes are at the Bench. Realization dawns upon them and they instantly look horrified.  

Slowly, some people gather behind Seulgi supportively, her friends shaking their heads at Jimin reproachfully. Then, Yugyeom and Junghyun rally behind Jungkook, hard stares at the defendant in front of their eyes.

Finally, Jimin’s family emerge from the shadows.

They don’t speak.

They don’t even look at him.

But it sparks a new bud of desperation in Jimin.

“Mom, dad, Jihyun-ah!” Jimin begs through his sobs.

He struggles to get up to his feet, but once he does, he reaches over the railing separating him from everyone he knows and cares for. He feels invisible tendrils acting as law enforcement officers, restraining his wild attempts to clamber over to his parents.

Seeing his loving mother’s blank face and Jihyun’s normally sweet countenance twisting in repugnance is one thing. But it is absolutely petrifying, a bone-chilling experience, to see his litigator father in his element, staring his own son down with no warmth on his face. 

“Please, I didn’t do this, I didn’t hurt anyone—”

Jihyun interrupts, his head tilted patronizingly at his older brother.

“But didn’t you, Jiminie-hyung?”

Jimin stills, before he sputters as he tries to defend himself.

“I mean, I hurt people—I know that—but I didn’t hurt them like that, I swear to you. I didn’t do this. I didn’t kill anyone, I didn’t. I didn’t. I swear I didn’t!”

He’s screaming now, desperately looking from one person to the next, trying to find an ally. He just wants some compassion. He mightn’t deserve it, but he doesn’t want to be hated by everyone he loves.

“You didn’t kill their bodies,” Namjoon interjects through Jimin’s snivelling protests. “But you killed their souls. The body may perish where the soul might survive. But when you slay the soul, there’s only a shell. You consumed what they had from the inside out, and you left an empty vessel behind. Can you really claim you’re innocent?”

When Jimin looks at Jungkook’s dispassionate gaze, vacant eyes barely skimming over the scene in front of him, his heart hurts so badly he thinks he wants to die. He looks over at Seulgi too and for the first time, he sees a chink in her coldness. He even sees a pearly sliver run down her pale face.

He really hurt them. He really, really hurt them.

Maybe he truly is indefensible.

The silence in the courtroom stretches, Jimin’s panting the only audible sound. A pin could drop, and everyone would be able to hear it like it was a herd of horses thundering into an open pasture.

His mother finally speaks.

“Jimin-ah. Instructor Lee always told us.”

Jimin breaks out into a cold sweat at the sound of his terrorizer’s name.

His father nods his head complacently.

“Yes, he always warned us about you, son. He told us, and I ignored him for so long. A parent always can’t help but hope their child will be the best. Or at the very least, you hope that they'll do their best. Or try to be better. But it’s become very obvious to us over time that he always knew what he was talking about.”

He stares at his hands. The blood’s beginning to dry. Whenever he clenches and unclenches his fist, small creases appear in the claylike residue. He doesn’t want to talk about Instructor Lee.

“He told us you were a worthless child. He was only trying to rear you for success. He said you needed a good hard push to be successful,” his mother continues. “He said you were unmalleable and difficult, a stubborn child who wouldn’t amount to much.”

He feels the bands and tendons of his body coiling and fidgeting as he bellows. Jungkook stirs a little, the emotion behind Jimin’s cry awakening something deep inside him. Seulgi turns away from the volatile scene, wiping her face discreetly.

“Mom! Please, stop, I know I let you down. I know I let everyone down, but please, that’s not true. Don’t believe anything that man said about me. Please, don’t do this to me. I’ll prove it to you, I promise, I won’t let anyone down again. I’ll be the perfect child, I promise I’ll be good. I promise I’ll be a good son. I’m sorry, please, stop—”

“Jimin,” his father says sternly, “Don’t be silly. It’s too late for you. We know all about your graduation application.”

His eyes widen, jaw drops, and heart sinks. Jimin doesn’t think he can even breath and it only gets harder as he really processes the way his mother and father stand above him at the Bench. They look down their nose at him—along with everyone else.

His guardians and protectors, friends and family are standing against him. And he deserves it.

(He doesn’t notice the way Jungkook’s hands twitch a little in Jimin’s direction. He doesn’t see the way Jungkook’s face flinches at the sight of Jimin succumbing to his emotions.)

While he’s wallowing in his insecurities and heartache, the monster of a man finally makes his appearance. The shadows that’d been curtaining the room begin to cinch, growing smaller and smaller, until the darkness in the room materializes into the man and the monster himself. Instructor Lee squishes in between Mr. and Mrs. Park and crosses his arms.

He doesn’t say anything, but the cruel smile on his face says enough. It only grows larger when Mrs. Park turns away from Jimin with her final blow.

“You’re a failure, Jimin. I’m ashamed of you. You’re good for nothing.”

Jimin falls to his knees, a hard fall that’s sure to leave bruises, and he can’t even make a sound. Hands breaking his fall as he lands on all-fours, his tears cascade down his face at such a swift rate there’s no hope to clear them. His vision is completely obscured.

And just before Jimin wakes up in a flurry of tangled blankets and a rattling gasp, the scene dissipating in an instant like a bubble finally rupturing, Jungkook seems to snap out of his daze and his eyes soften at the sight of his ex-boyfriend curling into himself, by himself on the court room floor.

Jungkook breaks free of his shackles and rushes over to Jimin, ignoring the way he bleeds out everywhere and on everyone else.  He pulls the dagger from his own chest and pulls Jimin into his arms and rocks him back-and-forth, putting all the fragment and pieces of his broken heart into consoling his ex-boyfriend.

He knows Jimin would never hurt someone intentionally, he knows.

“You didn’t mean to, Jimin,” he promises, whispering soft words of comfort into Jimin’s hair. He doesn’t think Jimin can hear him over his wails of despair. But he tries soothing him anyway. “You didn’t mean to hurt us and you’re trying your best. We know that. I know that. You’re okay, my love.”

Jungkook coos and soothes Jimin as best as he can until the tense body in his arms grows increasingly laxer to Instructor Lee’s great dismay. And as his dream counterpart drifts off to sleep into Jungkook’s arms, Jimin comes back into reality all by himself.

He doesn’t remember the ending of his nightmare, the soft conclusion to a horrible experience. Jungkook’s kindness is concealed behind the unimaginable horrors of everything else that’d occurred in his dream, the covert agent and a hidden face behind the exposure of a conspiracy.

All Jimin remembers is the emptiness of behind abandoned by everyone he’s ever loved.

He doesn’t notice he’s crying until he hears someone entering the apartment. 

Grabbing a bath towel, he quickly runs into the bathroom and turns on the shower. He steps under the unbearable heat, trying to absolve himself of his sins, as he continues to cry under the downpour. He watches the way the water swirls until it goes down the drain and he wishes he’d wash away with it.

This feeling, at least, is familiar.

---

It’s been some three day after his nightmare, late April, and Jimin still hasn’t shared his terrible blunder with anyone.

He’d spent the better part of three days making quiet calls to inquire about what’d happened. When his investigation further progresses, unfortunately, it becomes obvious fairly soon that it isn’t an error on the part of the school nor is it a computational failure.

During his appointments with both his graduation advisor and academic counsellor, they inform him that he’d had a lapse in his course planning and he’s currently missing a necessary credit for graduation. Skimming through the contents of his memory, he realizes he’d made a crucial mistake the previous year.

He remembers now. Oh, how he remembers.

He’d selected his courses during his bout of illness, when his mind had been muddled, addled and disrupted.  Though things had been on an upward trend, he’d still been doing poorly.

Put plainly, he hadn't planned his spring semester well. 

The fact of the matter is that the cards had already been dealt the year prior, and when the dealer flips them over, the ranks and suits transparently exposed, the grim reality is it’s solely Jimin’s fault.

There’s no one else to blame.

He dreads informing his parents whom he knows, through Jihyun, have been planning to celebrate his graduation in late June or July with a party with extended family members. They’ve spent much of his adult life harping on to anyone who’ll listen about his academic accomplishments and he knows how this mistake will devastate them. He hasn’t even told Jihyun, afraid to burst his younger brother’s elevated opinion of him.

The thought of confiding in one of his friends had come to him when he’s feeling especially trapped. The manacles are restricting his movements and decision-making skills now. He feels so lost and he doesn’t know what he’s going to do.

He knows repressing his struggles will make things worse, but he doesn't know where to start. If he tells his parents, he knows they’ll want an explanation for his oversight. He can already hear them berating him.

Why did you make such a stupid mistake? What made you so uncharacteristically careless? How could you waste our resources and money like that? How could you waste your own time like that? We thought you knew better.

If he told them that he’d been mentally occupied, well, that’d also warrant further questioning.

And he didn’t want to explain himself.

Between the battery of worried questions from his mom and the unhelpful logic from his father, he’s sure he’ll want to die by the end.

Why are you so sad, honey? Did we do something to make you sad? Could we have done something differently for you? Who made you so sad? We love you so much, isn’t that enough?

We gave you everything, son, we don’t understand what’s bringing you so down. And don’t be ungrateful, son, there’s much worse-off people in the world. You should be grateful for everything you have and all the people who love and cherish you.

He knows his parents had barely understood but had accepted his very gay love for his ex-boyfriend anyway. But he doesn’t want to test the limits of their traditional knowledge of their world.

They are great, wonderful people but they are traditionalist in the medical sense and believe ailments are mostly limited to the corporeal realm. He’s heard them talk about anxiety and depression before, and he knows that the notion of an unhealthy brain, bogged down by a mental illness, is beyond their current comprehension.

(Once day a few years back, the Parks’ family friend had come over.

Over a few rounds of manly beers, the Parks’ family friend Mr. Oh had had been lamenting to Mr. Park about his life woes. As he unintentionally overheard Mr. Oh’s litanies of complaints about his wife’s erratic behavior, Jimin had recognized the signs all too quickly; he’d known it wasn’t laziness, but depression or anxiety. He hadn’t known what it was, but it was something.

It was once Mr. Oh had resigned himself to returning to his wife’s side that Jimin had heard his parents opine about mental illness for the first time.

“Why don’t Mrs. Oh just change her outlook on life? I don’t understand, you have to be proactive to get things done. You can’t just sit in bed and think you’ll be happy,” his father had griped to his wife.

“Oh, honey, I don’t get it either. She just needs to try a new hobby or challenge herself to do something new. She just needs to get out of her comfort zone. I think she’s just having empty nest syndrome after her kids left,” she’d shared conspiratorially. His father had just nodded slowly as though agreeing with her.

Jimin remembers how he’d sighed.

But he hadn’t spoken up.)

There were days when Jimin juggled between variations of telling his parents the whole truth and keeping them in the dark. He even debated telling them something more central, neither a lie nor the truth.

It was then he’d question why he’d intuited that they’d accept his love for Jungkook but he instinctively knew they would be more bull-headed about his demons.

Jimin believes there’s something about accepting homosexuality that, in some ways for some people, is easier to understand than a mental illness.

It sounds incomprehensible at first, he knows, but he’d thought long and hard about it.

And his logic that it’s easier to accept lies inherently in the idea that most reasonable people wouldn’t choose the path of social ostracization and condemnation if they didn’t have to. Only the most foolish, close-minded people would claim that the path of same-sex love was based purely on individual choice, when there are inevitable consequences following the act of coming out.

But Jimin understands for some people, mental health is harder to understand. For those who’d never experienced it, whether on a personal basis or vicariously through a loved one who’d struggled with it in the past, a victim of a chronic mental disease doesn’t necessarily get it.

It’s hard for them to understand why people like Jimin can’t just get out of bed. If Jimin’s tired, well, so is everyone else in the world. They don’t understand why Jimin can’t just look at the bright side. If they be optimistic after a cloudy day has passed, why can’t Jimin? 

For people who haven’t experienced a mental bog, it’s akin to living their whole lives on a tropical island with the occasional storm and light drought. There are certainly hard days, but those bleak ones come and go like fair-weather friends. In contrast, people like Jimin start off in the tropics like their peers until they find themselves relocated to a jungle where most days of the year are spent soaked after tempests, trying to keep their feet ground as ominous gales try to blow them away—never to be seen again.

Jimin can distantly recall what normalcy on the island with everyone else felt like, but those that’d never stepped foot in the jungle are ignorant to his daily struggles.

That being said, Jimin knows his parents don’t understand his love for Jungkook but they’re compassionate enough to understand he didn’t make a choice. He knew that they’d be able to discern that.

He doesn’t know that they’ll be able to empathize with his innermost demons though.

But that’s not the real problem at hand right now, Jimin thinks to himself. He runs his hand down his face and sighs loudly.

Despite how much Jimin hates himself for making such an avoidable mistake, he’s blessed that he caught himself before he missed class selection day.

Which happened to land three days after his unexpected discovery.

He’s sitting at his desk, lapping up the last drops of his lukewarm coffee from his mug, waiting for his sign-up slot.

It arrives.

He signs up for his final class.

Then, he slams his laptop lid shut.

He sits for a while, stewing in his proliferating frustrations and stresses, twirling a pen between his fingers absentmindedly. Abruptly, he throws his pen at the wall in anger and hangs his head. He pulls at his hair as hard as he could, and he feels a few locks detaching from his head.

He does it just once, so that he could feel something besides his heart and his chest and his brain pulsating in pain. His nerves on his scalp are whining pitifully.

Jimin has already popped a few too many painkillers that day.

This doesn’t stop him from taking two more.

---

Heading into May, Jimin continues the pretense that he’s about to graduate in the following month.

The sincere way Taehyung smiles at him when he congratulates him makes Jimin feel sick. The occasional texts Yoongi sends asking about his impending post-graduation plans make Jimin feel undeserving. His brother’s warm hugs whenever Jihyun sees him makes Jimin feel nauseous. The lingering pecks Jungkook leaves on his cheek and his warm, scalding affection…well.

Ah.

Jimin is a fake and a bootleg, an artificial bastard.

He’s lying to everyone he knows.

And he knows his health is suffering under the pressure.

He’s always got a headache. It could be from being slightly malnourished from being unable to eat. He knows well enough to consume food when he’s with company to continue the façade that he’s doing better than he was last year. But when he’s alone, it’s a caffeine and ibuprofen diet.

He manages to procrastinate his confession to his family and friends throughout finals seasons. Everyone is too preoccupied by their own exams to notice he’s disintegrating from a catalyst entirely isolated from mere academic stress. It’s a convenient veil and Jimin utilizes it to his benefit.

And people normally don’t see things unless they’re looking and right now no one’s looking at anything except grade scale calculators and their textbooks.

Sometimes, Jimin will take too long to respond to Jungkook’s question or joke or story. It’s only then Jungkook will falter, eyes squinting suspiciously. His eyes will sweep across Jimin’s face and body analytically, but Jimin somehow manages to always waylay him.

The look of vague skepticism is always sitting on Jungkook’s face, but he doesn’t seem to want to push Jimin’s hard limits. He seems to trust Jimin will approach him if he really needs him.

He still understands Jimin better than anyone else.

But sometimes, Jimin wishes Jungkook could just see through him and his lies. Other days, he’s glad he can’t.

Either way, Jimin starts May off feeling very lonely indeed.

---

He passes all his exams with flying colors.

Jimin’s exams were all condensed into a short period of time so while he’d had to persevere to study well for each and every exam, it meant that he was home-free before everyone else.

He avoids going to his parents’ home for a few weekends by lying to them. He tells them he wants to stay near the university and library for easy access, more convenient than the family home in preparation for his theoretical exams. They accept this explanation without a word of question or complaint.

He’d been especially nondescript when talking about his exam schedule with his loved ones so even Taehyung and Jungkook don’t know that he’s finished all of them.

At this point, he should be a certified con man and a fraud. He’s trapped in the pothole of his lies, and he really doesn’t know how he’s going to emerge unscathed this deep into his deception.

He knows he’s going to hurt someone’s feelings because of his dishonesty, but he’d inadvertently bought into this black-market lifestyle and he doesn’t know how to come clean without exposing each and every one of his poor decisions leading to where he is now.

Sometimes, he roams the city aimlessly on his own to bolster the credibility of his lies. He knows details are important in supporting his storyline—especially when both Taehyung and Jungkook are always carefully assessing Jimin’s condition.

(He’s surprised he’s still trundling along with such meager remaining fuel and he’s even more taken aback their watchful eyes haven’t picked up on his anomalous moods.

Perhaps he’s a better actor than he’s given himself credit for.)

Today is one of those days. A relatively mild day with a touch of sun, he’d spent most of the day going through small shops. He’d dressed down discreetly since he’d lied to his roommates and said he was going to the library. He’s hoping by not wearing any flashy garments, he can ensure he won’t be catching any unwanted attention from anyone he or his roommates are mutually acquainted with.

After believable amount of time elapses, he ambles home reluctantly and eventually walks through the doors. The other boys are both home, watching TV together and they look over.

“Hey,” he greets them quietly.

Jungkook pushes Taehyung gently and pats the new spot between the pair of them on the couch.

“Join us.”

Jimin walks over slowly.

He's a liar and a fake, working a cloak-and-dagger operation to keep everyone from worrying about him. But as Jungkook slings his arm over his shoulder, Jimin feels so awful.

The backdrop of his mind’s eye is an alarming shade of red. The exact shade of scarlet matching the blood of the wound in Jungkook’s chest he’d seen his nightmare. And now, each lie he tells and each omission of truth morphs into a serrated blade that he’s underhandedly digging into Jungkook’s heart. And the misplaced trust Jungkook holds in Jimin is an anesthetic that prevents him from feeling the hurt until it wears off.

He’s such a damn asshole, but he doesn’t know what to do.

But though he doesn’t want to be an asshole, he can’t be a failure even more.

He can’t even stomach the thought of it.   

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