This is moderately embarrassing.
Moderately because Taehyung’s seen and done worse things. It probably doesn’t even look that bad to those who have no idea what’s going on inside him, the rising body heat and erratically beating heart, throwing itself against his ribs and trying to crawl up his throat. But to him, stuck inside his head and very aware of everything, he’s kind of enjoying the experience.
He feels Jimin smiling beside his jaw, soft cheek stretching into happy little mounds under his bright blue eyes, and he gently nuzzles the pleasant softness.
“You’re making it worse!” Jimin laughs and reaches up, right hand holding Taehyung’s arm while the left hand more carefully finds Taehyung’s head to pat his cheek.
Mumbling an apology, Taehyung just lets himself be led. Jimin had said Yoongi hyung would help them, and Yoongi hyung is usually at the basketball courts around this time.
If Yoongi hyung is a white cat sleeping on the bench in the occasionally disrupted shade of a flowering cherry tree, then Jimin’s assumption is correct.
Jimin stops beside the dozing cat and nudges him with his knee. “Hyung, wake up. I need your help.”
Yoongi groans, jaws parting wide in a yawn that pushes his limbs out in a stretch. “Do you have any idea what time it is? It’s," he squints at his phone, "the middle of the day—” He sits up, staring blearily at the cracked pavement and bits of gravel in the grass before squinting at Jimin. His eyes are two different colors—blue and orange. Pretty.
Taehyung notices Jimin is purring softly, tail hooked around Taehyung’s calf.
“You work fast, Jiminie.”
“No! This is just an accident. His hair is tangled in my earrings…” His tail shakes and whacks Taehyung’s legs as it wags back and forth.
Sighing and shaking his head, Yoongi climbs onto the bench to stand. Clever fingers sift through Taehyung’s hair, parting it to find the silver chains and studs Jimin likes to wear. There’s a little bit of pulling, muttering, and anxious whines of pain that Yoongi ignores.
“I can’t even get the backs off… How did you manage to get tangled so bad?”
The short of it is: Jimin is too stinkin’ cute for his own good, and anyone who doesn’t want to hold him close and nuzzle him is a liar.
The longer version is more involved but not all that complicated: Taehyung’s been crushing on Jimin for months, completely unaware that his tiger stripes and round wire frames had drawn Jimin’s attention and reciprocated pining.
Love is hard. It’s cruel and unfair and makes Taehyung sad.
Sometimes. He loves his family, his friends, his pets, and that’s all a happy sort of love. It’s warm and comforting and reliable.
Other times, love is sad. “Pathetic,” as his trusted confidantes tell him. Is it really so pathetic to be over the moon infatuated with the incarnation of all things perfect? Taehyung humbly thinks not.
That very morning is the setting for the rise in action that brings them to this moderately embarrassing climax. He’s slow to wake up, as usual, but then he remembers what day it is and practically vibrates throughout his usual routine. If he’d known how his life would change that afternoon, his entire being would trampoline into the sun.
His leg won’t stop bouncing. Hoseok tries to physically hold it down, but his shoulders shake with the bounce, instead, and he sits back with a frown. “Are you really that nervous?”
Taehyung shakes his head.
Taehyung shrugs. He kinda does, actually, but that’s not why he’s shaking his leg.
It hadn’t been the reason, anyway.
“Art class today,” he says.
Hoseok ahhs and nods sagely. “Art class means you get to make love sick kitten eyes at that cat in person, rather than just across campus or in your mind.”
Art class means Taehyung gets to be in the same room as the cutest, sweetest, friendliest, and most adorable cat ever. He’s had a crush since their first year orientation, when the sunlight glittered off something shiny that turned out to be an earring hanging from a beautifully shaped white ear.
Taehyung is usually the type to make friends easily. Tigers are stereotyped as loners, but while Taehyung values his solitude, he also values companionship. He also knows his size and stripes can be off-putting, and when he’s kinda zoned out he frowns, but he really is a friendly sort of cat.
Something about that calico boy just makes him too nervous to function.
Being in the same class, odds are they’re the same age, and the boy—from Busan, he discovers, with a little brother and greater intelligence than his sweet giggles suggest—once wore a T-shirt printed with a show Taehyung really really likes.
His cuteness is a magnet, though. Even at orientation, he’s surrounded by admirers and new friends. Throughout the year, his sphere of influence spreads and expands to encompass the whole school plus surrounding areas of stores. Taehyung once made a late-night convenience store run for some energy drinks and didn’t realize he’d thrown on a sweatshirt with the school’s logo until the lady behind the counter asked if he was friends with Jimin.
The calico’s influence disheartens him a little bit.
He may be a tiger, but he’s no bully, like a lot of the the lions. It makes no sense; lionesses are perfectly tolerable and even pleasant, but those boys are just haughty. Never lost their ancestors’ hubris, he thinks.
It’s just hard to sit still when he knows he’ll get to see Jimin later, so he doesn’t. Maybe using up a bit of energy will make him more relaxed and less likely to draw unwanted attention. He bounces his leg in the aisle of his core credit math class, paces during chemistry lab and nearly implodes a flask over a burner, and plays games on his phone in-between, because even his hands are jittery.
He’s never been so into a person before. It’s bad. When he has a crush, he doesn’t get goofy and moony over them; he just gets anxious, like there’s pent up energy from the anxiety of wanting to know someone well enough to just be himself without judgement.
Behind the dramatic flair of his natural stripes is a huge nerd.
In his head, there’s always been the scenario of just bumping into Jimin in the bathroom. A simple, casual meeting brought about by the simple, casual bodily necessities. He’s met a few people that way, actually, so it’s very plausible, but Jimin apparently doesn’t use the same restrooms Taehyung does, but he must visit one a few times a day or carry a mirror or something, because he always looks fantastic.
And yes, Taehyung is very aware of how biased he is.
His little fantasy never plays out, so he buzzes through the days and lets his crush fester in his chest, electrified when he catches sight of a calico or hears effervescent giggles.
Finally, it’s time for art class on the day of moderate embarrassment. He’s early and sits in a spot he’s claimed by the wall of windows. From this vantage point, he can see the yard and the door, so he’ll know when Jimin’s coming and can make sure he’s not doing anything embarrassing.
They’re working on still lifes again, a different set up each class. They’re timed in growing increments and encouraged to move spots and use different mediums. A more ambitious classmate has her oil paints out. There are already smears of color on her jeans and remnants of white on her black fur, picked out rather than washed out.
A pair of jaguars not in the class push into the room, flanking Jimin the calico. They’re all pushing and clinging to one another at the same time, but the jaguars only walk with Jimin a little ways into the room before flicking his ears, dodging a retaliatory kick, and leaving.
Jimin’s smiling as he makes his way to a seat; he’s not shy about sitting in the middle of the room.
Neither is Taehyung, but he sometimes rolls out of bed late or gets too caught up in his show and slinks into the back of the room once class has already begun, so there’s just no opportunity to sit in the middle of the room. It’d be distracting, anyway, because the calico is really cute. Taehyung’s weak for cute people.
The professor claps his hands. “Same as last time—We’ll split the time to work on four pieces. Use your time wisely.”
Class is relaxed, as usual, but Taehyung’s tense like a stretched rubber band. He lays his head on his arm, curling it over him, and tries to focus on the form of an unnecessarily large amber glass bottle. It’s surrounded by other bottles, some with labels and some completely bare, as well as old children’s toys. He can see the backs of some dolls on the opposite end of the table; one looks like a clown with pom poms on a pointed hat.
He looks over at Jimin every once in a while, just to ogle and to be sure he’s still there, because who knows when a dimensional rip will tear through space and start claiming innocent victims.
He never notices Jimin looking his way, too, always turning away when the other boy turns his way. They’re attached to the same pendulum of pining monotony.
Apparently, Jimin is more impatient or definitely more bold than Taehyung, because the pendulum’s chain snaps today, and when Taehyung sneaks another peek at the cutest of all calicos, he’s caught in blue eyes.
Jimin smiles, and his tail curls up into a question mark. He picks up his sketchbook and pencils, leaves his spot in the middle of the room, the circle of attention and affection, and drifts to the outer ring where Taehyung feels faint and hot.
“...Hello.” He almost forgets how to talk. Jimin is even cuter up close, and apparently the reason his eyes are so noticeable today is the bit of makeup over his eyelids. Subtle but effective.
Jimin lifts a desk and places it closer to Taehyung’s. For being a domestic breed, he’s doing a remarkable job of making Taehyung feel small.
“What are you drawing?”
“Huh? Oh!” He hasn’t been paying attention. The bottle on his page has started to become a robot, with legs and arms, lecturing a rapt audience of smaller robot bottles. A lot of the time, he’ll be drawing fanart instead of working on class projects, unless they’re drawing models. He’ll flip between pages to fool the professor, when he makes his rounds, but otherwise he’ll do his projects the night before they’re due, hand it in, and skip classes for that day to catch up on sleep.
He doesn’t try to hide his drawing, however, and only flinches a little when Jimin leans over to look at his sketchbook. The brown and white ears sit forward, and he makes a soft, excited sound, pointing at the scribbles on another page.
“I love this show!” As he rattles off his favorite characters and analyses scenes he’s enjoyed, Taehyung zones out.
Jimin’s excited energy over something he likes is contagious, and Taehyung feels himself leaning closer. Their tails bump, flinch at the contact, but weave a little more slowly to brush beside one another.
“You’re not afraid of me?”
“Why would I be afraid of you?” He smiles, soft cheeks lined like whiskers. “Because you’re a tiger?” His fingertips ghost over Taehyung’s face, but his fur still stands on end. “I think your stripes are beautiful.”
“Really?” he squeaks. His voice broke and dropped to the floor sometime in high school. Even singing, he’s a baritone but can transition to falsetto with relative ease. Clearing his throat, he ignores the burning over his cheeks. “You do?”
Jimin nods, smile softening shyly. “I saw you my first day here, and I wanted to introduce myself, but it seemed weird to just be like ‘Hi, I’m Jimin; I like your stripes!’”
Taehyung shrugs. “I dunno. I met a lot of my friends in the bathroom. No words needed.”
“That...That is weirder,” the calico giggles. He picks up a pencil and leans over, scribbling on the corner of a back page. Taehyung drops his right arm to his lap and switches his pencil to his left hand to give Jimin more room. “We don’t have classes in the same building at the same time aside from this art class, or maybe we’d have met up in a bathroom sooner.”
“We have the same math teacher.”
Bi-colored ears stand upright curiously, silver pendant earring swinging freely. “Really?”
“Yeah. I...asked a friend who’s a friend of a friend of yours.” Jimin laughs again, softly, filling in the little triangle stripes of his doodled tiger.
“Gentlemen.” They jump, not having noticed their professor standing over them. “You know I don’t mind soft conversation during work time, but please do your actual work.” He continues his circling, and Taehyung nervously cleans his glasses on his shirt. Jimin sits upright and pulls his tail around to smooth the fur. They flip their sketchbooks to clean pages but don’t put forth much effort.
When Jimin moves seats to get away from the majority of bottles, Taehyung follows.
When Taehyung moves to get away from the clown doll’s gaze, Jimin follows.
“What’re you doing after class?” Jimin sharpens a colored pencil and brushes the shavings to the floor.
Taehyung pulls his eraser apart and folds it back together, trying to find a spot without chunks of pencil lead sticking out. “I usually just go to my room and nap until my next class.”
“Me, too. I purposely chose morning and evening classes, because that’s when I’m most awake.” The calico’s ears lay back against his hair. “You wanna maybe...I dunno, hang out?”
“...Sure.” His heart is screaming, shaking his rib cage. Hang out? With Jimin??
Class is longer than usual; something must be wrong with the old wall clock. It gives him a chance to chat more with Jimin on neutral ground, and for as excited as he is, there’s a calm sort of relief, too. Jimin’s just a super cute, average cat. He laughs at Taehyung jokes, even if they’re bad or not even entirely a joke; he mentions things Taehyung’s never realized or thought about. A different perspective, a better perspective, on someone he already knew was great.
Class doesn’t have to hurry, if they can just sit together and talk while slipping back into doodling.
And then it’s over, the professor is asking for everyone to continue working on still life drawing by picking a subject from their own rooms and having a complete piece for the next class. Taehyung listens with half an ear, the rest of his attention focused on pulling his things together and meeting Jimin at the door. The calico is more organized or just packs fast.
Outside, they walk closer than necessary. The halls are wide, and each building opens to greenspace with a few large trees spaced out. They don’t need an excuse to be close, though; they both figure that after pining for so long, they’ve earned some proximity and don’t comment when their arms brush together.
He hadn’t really recognized it earlier, but Jimin’s a fair bit shorter than Taehyung. Including his ears, he stands at Taehyung’s forehead and tilts his head back to talk to him.
“You wanna go someplace or just...maybe my room? It’s close. My roommate and I share consoles, so there’s lots of games. Or,” he shrugs, “whatever.”
Taehyung wraps an arm around Jimin and presses his cheek to Jimin’s hair. He slowly nods his head, nuzzling Jimin with great purpose. “I can’t purr,” he remarks with a content chuff, “but if I could, I would.”
“Oh, yeah? Why’s that?” Jimin’s being cheeky. They’re both over the moon, excited.
“Because—” He tries to stand straight, but there’s a tug at his hair, and Jimin flinches. “What the…” Sifting his fingers through his hair, he feels metal. Jimin’s earring. “Because I’m already very attached to you.”
“That’s sweet,” Jimin laughs.
“I mean I’m literally attached to you. My hair’s tangled in your earrings.” Their steps falter to a stop as they both reach blindly. Pulling just hurts, and neither of them can see to untangle it easily. They sigh, and Taehyung succumbs to the never-out-of-style buzz cut hairstyle. “Scissors?”
“No!” Jimin tries to face Taehyung but quickly gives up and fights to keep his ears still. “My friend Yoongi hyung’s usually at the basketball courts, now. He’ll help.” Taehyung puts both arms around him to make walking a bit more natural. He does his best to ignore Jimin’s tail between his legs.
To the casual onlooker, they just look like a grossly in love couple.
To Yoongi, they look like a grossly in love couple with a distinct lack of boundaries. “So that’s what happened…” Single strands of fur pass through his claws, free from the decorative chain. He tries to tuck them away. “Let this be a lesson to you. Learn from it. Or shave your head.”
“I like his hair, though,” Jimin mumbles.
“Is that all?”
“No!” He smiles. “I like your stripes, too, remember?” They sigh and lean into each other, patiently waiting for Yoongi to finish his work and stop cursing under his breath.
Students pass by with curious looks, but no one says anything, probably deterred by the determined white cat but maybe not wanting to impose on Jimin and Taehyung’s cuddling.
Taehyung will accept any moderate embarrassment, if it means spending time with Jimin.