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a few strings attached

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“I don’t like Jimin,” Jungkook says.

Yoongi looks at him askance. “’Kay,” he says, and continues to brush his teeth.

“I don’t like Jimin,” Jungkook says.

The studio audience roars. “Our kids fight sometimes,” Seokjin laughs, “but they really love each other.”

“I don’t like you,” Jungkook says.

Jimin laughs into his neck. “Shut up,” he says, and does something with his hand that makes Jungkook’s whole body shudder.

So, okay, he kind of likes Jimin.

 

It’s not like, a thing, though. This isn’t a romantic comedy – if it was, Jungkook doubts he would wear so much contouring powder. Plus, if this was a romantic comedy, he would be with that cute KBS reporter who has nice hands and a smile that makes her cheeks dimple, or with Yoongi, who’s custom-made for a Beauty and the Beast-style makeover. He wouldn’t be with Jimin, loud, bright Jimin, whose idea of romance is stealing Jungkook’s boxers and regularly embarrassing him on national television.

If this was a romantic comedy, Jungkook thinks, he would be an architect, or a writer, or something that didn’t involve green hair dye. If this was a romantic comedy, he would be falling in saccharine love with a girl or a boy who always brought flowers. If this was a romantic comedy, his love life wouldn’t consist of frantically rutting into his roommate’s palm, trying not to moan in case their bandmates hear him or, worse, he lets Jimin’s name fall breathless from his lips.

 

So:

This isn’t a romance, comedic or otherwise. This isn’t anything except two guys horny and spatially convenient. This is a friend helping a friend; this is masturbation, just with another dick put into play.

 

Except:

They’re being herded down to the van, already late for their first schedule. Jungkook is bleary-eyed and grumpy. He had a magazine interview late last night, and by the time he got back to the dorm, sleepy and horny, Jimin was fast asleep, drooling all over his blanket. This only made Jungkook hornier, for reasons he’s unwilling to explore. When he tried to wake Jimin up, his friend sleep-smacked him in the face and turned to face the wall.

Things didn’t get better in the morning: Seokjin spent an hour in the bathroom (“It was fifteen minutes”); Namjoon spilled coffee all over his college prep book at breakfast; Yoongi took his scarf on their way out the door and refuses to give it back.

In the van, Jimin ignores the open seat next to Jungkook, instead bounding up front to chatter like a pair of howler monkeys with Taehyung. Jungkook watches them, smiling and sweet, and something rancid churns his stomach.

It’s jealousy, he realizes dully; he’s jealous that Jimin isn’t looking at him.

He groans, burying his head in Hoseok’s neck. Hoseok pets his hair, confused but comforting.

 

They’re recording an interview for KBS, and when that reporter, the one with the clean nails who Jungkook thinks about some nights when Jimin isn’t around, asks him who his favorite member is, he automatically says Jimin. It’s a rote answer, and they all respond routinely: Taehyung stands up, outraged, and Jimin reaches over to give him a high five. Jungkook hesitates for just a moment, staring at the proffered hand. He reaches up his own half a second before Jimin’s smile would have slipped.

Backstage, Jimin slings an arm around Jungkook’s shoulder and takes an impromptu selca for Twitter. Jungkook immediately excuses himself, fleeing to the bathroom. He stares down at the traitor between his legs, horrified. He’s not 12 anymore. This shouldn’t be happening.

He spends ten minutes in the KBS bathroom trying to scrub his hands clean. “Flu season,” he tells Seokjin, who looks concerned.

Jungkook manages to avoid Jimin for the rest of the day, enlisting Hoseok as his human shield. Jimin mostly doesn’t notice – he gives Jungkook a sideways look when he scoots towards the other end of the bench, avoiding sitting next to him during their afternoon fansigning, but he’s quickly distracted by a fan waving a giant cutout of his face. (“How much did that cost?” “60,000 won?” “I’m not worth that.”)

Namjoon is the only one who notices anything, because Namjoon notices everything. Jungkook catches the leader watching him a few times. Namjoon gives him a lazy smile. Jungkook frowns. The fan in front of him bursts into tears.

 

Jungkook bites his palm to keep himself from whimpering. Jimin isn’t as moved – even when he’s halfway down Jungkook’s throat, bucking hard enough that Jungkook has to press his thumbs into Jimin's hips to keep him still, he’s got a good-natured smile on his face. He’ll probably look like that when he dies, Jungkook thinks, and tells him this: Jimin laughs, and gently nudges his head back down.

Earlier, when they’d just started this, when they fumbled and swore and avoided making eye contact even as they fell upon one another, desperate, Jungkook would creep across the room back to his bed, trying not to make a sound. He would sleep facing the wall, and avoid Jimin’s eyes the next day.

Now, they wrestle over the wet spot; Jungkook, thanking God and Bang PD for those mandatory weight training sessions, scoots into the dry and laughs at Jimin’s glower. When Jimin falls asleep, his mouth wide open and his limbs sprawling every which way, he snuggles into Jungkook. It’s muscle memory, Jungkook knows that, or maybe Jimin’s more heat-seeking reptile than human. But it feels good, lying here with him.

It feels right.

“Oh, fuck,” he says out loud. Jimin, still unconscious, kicks him in the shin.

 

Last leg of their Asian tour, two hours into their concert: Jimin slides his hand across Jimin's back, in the blind spot of the stage so that not even the most persistent of fans could see. It's a watchword they've developed, a touch in place of a kiss, a smile in place of an embrace. Jungkook hasn't slept in 28 hours, and the only thing in the world he wants to do right now is rest his head against Jimin's shoulder, just stay there, static, until the stage lights go down and the arena goes quiet. There's been a buzzing in his head for the last two days and he's sick or almost there, but his skin isn't hot enough to send him home so their managers give him Ibuprofen and tell him they'll take him to the doctor when they get home in four days time. The lights aren't fuzzy yet but they'll be there soon. They halo Jimin. The imagery is so banal it almost makes Jungkook choke with laughter, until he realizes that he's miced, and he's dizzy. 

"Jungkook," he hears Jimin murmur. "Jungkook, can you stay with me?" 

He nods. The inside of his brain sloshes against his skull.

"Jungkook," Jimin whispers, not against his ear, that's not one of the codes, but near enough to count. "I'm not going to leave you."

Later, Jungkook will wonder what he said back which made Jimin go so pink. He can't remember, just as he can't remember the rest of that night. He faints the moment the concert is over, and Yoongi and Seokjin and Namjoon yell so much their managers let him sit out the last two days of the tour. He doesn't want to, but the looks on their faces say he can't protest. Jimin darts backstage every chance he gets, bringing Jungkook food and cold washcloths and stories about Taehyungie's voice cracking, it was hilarious, and Jungkook watches him, and smiles, and feels a little relieved when Jimin stops bouncing around for half a second to press a kiss, chaste and cool, against Jungkook's temple. There are no cameras back here. He can do that.

He falls asleep to the sound of the stadium echoing with the sound of microphone feedback and fan's shrieks, loud enough to shatter glass. 

 

Jungkook asks, “How do you know when you like somebody?”

Seokjin frowns. "Don't date, Jungkookie, she’ll break your heart."

Yoongi gives him a sideways look. "Uh, I'm flattered, Jeon, but you're a little young for me."

Hoseok squeezes his cheeks until Jungkook has to push him away. "This is so cute, you are so cute, tell me everything."

Taehyung shrugs. "Usually when she starts kissing me."

Namjoon just laughs and walks away.

He is in a band full of useless idiots, he decides.

 

Jungkook asks, “How do you know when you like somebody?”

Jimin rolls his eyes. "Like this," he says, and kisses Jungkook with his mouth a little open so that Jungkook has to dart his tongue out to lick his bottom lip, because when he does that Jimin always gives a little shudder of pleasure Jungkook never gets to feel otherwise. Jimin reaches down between their legs, and rubs his palm against the front of Jungkook's boxers. It's been a few weeks, and Jungkook has to stop himself from coming right then. It still only takes a few embarrassingly quick minutes, but he spends the next thirty with Jimin clawing at his back, murmuring harder and slower and please at all the right places, in between quick, undone smiles, and by the time they're both curled up on Jimin's mattress, panting and sore-mouthed, Jungkook's forgotten he even asked a question in the first place.

He falls asleep to the feeling of Jimin combing his sweaty hair from his forehead, and placing soft, feathery kisses against his bare shoulder.

 

He finds himself wondering, when Jimin kisses him, when Jimin pets his hair, when Jimin pulls him onto the couch and smothers his face with kisses as Yoongi and Seokjin snigger in the background, what it would feel like if this was real. Not that it's not, there's an entire library's worth of quotes proving that Jimin loves him. But it's not the same, Jungkook knows that the same way he knows his hands and his feet and his breath. Jimin telling the world he loves Jeon Jungkook isn't the same as Jimin telling him alone, whispered, into the crook of his neck, a gift given freely and without expectations. He would cherish a gift like that, he knows, for the rest of his life. 

 

It’s not without a certain amount of professional and personal horror that Jeon Jungkook realizes that he has a crush.

Professional, because he really can’t start getting boners/a fluttering heart/fluttering heart boners every time Jimin touches him on stage, which is a lot, and would probably derail whatever ‘moody prince of the night’ theme the visual department has started pushing on him.

Personal, because Jungkook doesn’t get crushes. Ever.

Jimin gets crushes. Jimin gets crushes all the time, and he tells Jungkook about each and every one of them in excruciating, face-meltingly intimate detail. It should make Jungkook happy - Jimin wants to tell him about this stuff, Jimin loves him, he’s Jimin’s best friend, except now that he’s got these shitty feelings to lug around his stupid heart has started contracting every time Jimin mentions how cute that Caffebene barista was, or what nice legs their new dance instructor has.

Lately Jungkook has started kissing Jimin just to shut him up, which is nice, but once he’s gotten Jungkook’s lips good and chapped he just goes back to moaning about Yujin or Donghyun or whoever it is that week. It’s not that much of a solution.

He searches “my penis might have gotten me friendzoned??” on Naver. 2 results.

 

“Tell him,” Namjoon says.

Jungkook jumps about ten feet into the air. “Jesus,” he says, picking up the dropped PS3 controller, “don’t sneak up on people like that.”

“I knew he was there,” Taehyung says. He’s taken Jungkook’s momentary distraction to fire a flash cannon at his face. ‘PLAYER ONE WINS’, the screen announces. “Also, you owe me a Coke.”

“Tell him,” Namjoon says again. Jungkook glares at him; Namjoon looks thoroughly unimpressed. “Seriously, Jungkook, it’s not because I want you to be happy-”

“Thanks,” Jungkook mutters, choosing a new avatar as Taehyung pokes him impatiently.

“- It’s getting really noticeable. Nobody’s said anything, but, you’ve been drifting off a lot, that time you forgot your intro - it’s not a thing, but it will be if you keep staring at him instead of paying attention.”

“Are you talking about Jimin?” Taehyung asks, still staring at the screen. “Wow, Jungkook, hyung is right, you suck now.” He slams yet another cannon blast into Jungkook’s avatar.

Jungkook doesn’t notice. He’s too busy staring at Taehyung.

“What?” Taehyung says, finally looking over. “You and Jiminnie? It’s really obvious, don’t worry. Me and Hobi talk about it all the time.”

The world is ending. Nobody seems to notice except Jungkook. Namjoon and Taehyung stare at him, expectantly. He knew they would be useless in an apocalypse.

“Okay,” he manages.

“Don’t worry,” Taehyung says, “I don’t think Jimin realizes.”

“Cool,” Jungkook says.

“I mean,” Taehyung continues, “if he did notice, I don’t think he’d be mad. He loves you.” Seeing Jungkook’s flat expression, he continues: “Don’t be dumb, Jungkookie, you know he does.”

“Yeah,” Jungkook says, button-mashing his own character to death, “just like he loves you, and hyung, and Hobi, and Seokjin hyung, and Y-”

Taehyung and Namjoon exchange looks. It’s infuriating.

“Jungkook,” Namjoon says slowly, “do you really think Jimin likes you the way he likes us?” He raises his eyebrows.

Jungkook doesn’t get it. “I don’t get it,” he says.

Now Taehyung raises his eyebrows. “This really isn’t as helpful as you think it is,” Jungkook says.

“Jesus,” Namjoon says. “You’re having sex with Jimin. We’re not having sex with Jimin. It stands to reason that Jimin likes you more than he likes us."

There is a soft but persistent humming noise in his ears. “We haven’t had sex,” he says, not hearing himself, “just hand stuff.”

“That’s so romantic,” Taehyung says.

“Why would you tell us that,” Namjoon says.

“I have to go jump off the roof,” Jungkook says.

Instead, Namjoon spends the next twenty minutes giving him a lecture on safe sex. It’s not the worst thing that’s ever happened, but it’s close.

 

He avoids Jimin the next day, and the day after that. He stays up all night working on music with Yoongi, and has an impromptu sleepover with Hoseok and Seokjin. He stands next to Taehyung during interviews, and when they get their third music show win, he hugs Namjoon, not Jimin.

Jimin doesn’t say anything until the third day; then, he waits until everyone has gone to bed, and when he pushes Jungkook up against the refrigerator to kiss him he doesn’t let him go until Jungkook’s moaning for it.

“Don’t ignore me, Jungkookie,” Jimin says, somber, soft against his throat. Jungkook closes his eyes.

 

Jungkook decides he’ll do what you do with any bodily illness: wait it out, and hope it goes away.

One week passes.

Jungkook starts to feel better.

Two weeks pass.

It’s working, Jungkook can tell.

Three weeks pass.

Their hands brush as they both go for the last slice of pizza. Jungkook gets so flustered, he knocks over Namjoon’s beer.

Fuck.

 

Jungkook,” Jimin moans, and Jungkook’s whole body freezes.

Slowly as he can possibly manage, he turns his head to the side. Across the room, Jimin murmurs in his sleep, and shifts over to face the wall. It takes Jungkook two minutes to calm his heart rate; thirty more to convince himself he didn’t just hear what he think he heard.

 

Jungkook makes a pros and cons list, because that’s what his advisor told him to do when he wasn’t sure if he should quit the group that semester in sophomore year when it really looked like he would fail, and okay, his PROS column ended up being 20 items long, and his CONS column ended up just being “I could never tell them I’m leaving”, but it still made sense to him.

He steals Taehyung’s dream journal (blank), and draws a line, carefully, down the first page.

PROS:
Even if he doesn’t like me back he could be okay with it
He could tell me shitty stuff about himself so I stop liking him
I could decide to tell him and then get hit by a car so I don’t actually have to tell him
He could like me back

CONS:
He could hate me

He could like me back.

Jungkook tears the paper out from the dream journal, and tears it into shreds.

 

“I’m not going to tell Jimin,” Jungkook tells Namjoon.

“Okay,” Namjoon says.

Two hours later:

“I’m going to tell Jimin,” Jungkook tells Namjoon.

“Okay,” Namjoon says.

They repeat this for a week and a half. It got old the first day.

 

If his life was a romantic comedy, Jimin would:

a) find the scraps of paper and, curious to see Jungkook’s handwriting, tape it back together; as he pieced the paper bit by bit his breath would come faster, his cheeks would flush a delicate teacup-pink, his eyes would sparkle with tears he’d been waiting to shed and he would throw himself against Jungkook, who would inexplicably be waiting behind him to catch him, like he’d been waiting to catch him his whole life;

b) in a hilarious turn of events, confess his undying love for Namjoon.

 

Jungkook’s life is not a romantic comedy.

They’re in bed, not really doing anything although Jimin has that one smile on, the kind that says maybe or soon, Jungkook never can tell. They have the morning off, so Yoongi and Namjoon and Taehyung are holed up in the studio, and Seokjin is recording something for his stupid foodie blog, and Hoseok is out with the girlfriend they’re all pretending is a secret, and it’s just them, and the apartment, and a tense, warm pulse burning in Jungkook’s throat.

“You should dye your hair blond next,” Jimin says.

“I like you a lot,” Jungkook says.

“I like you too, Jungkook!” Jimin says.

“No, like, like-like,” Jungkook says.

“Oh,” Jimin says.

He's looking at Jungkook, and he's still got that stupid little smile on his face, and he doesn't get it. Jungkook needs him to get it.

“Like, like-like-li-” he says.

“Shut up, Jungkookie,” Jimin says.

Jungkook shuts up.

It’s half because Jimin told him to, half because he’s too busy being kissed to think of anything else to say, anyway.

Jimin kisses Jungkook the way Jungkook has been meaning to kiss Jimin for months now: soft and long and chaste, closed-mouthed, and with his hands all tangled up in Jungkook’s hair, so that his thumb caresses the nape of Jungkook’s neck just so, and it’s the warmest Jungkook has ever felt, here, right now.

“Took you long enough,” Jimin says, but he’s laughing, and it feels good against his skin. Jungkook feels lighter than he has in months.

When Jimin kisses him again, Jungkook kisses back, and it’s all he can do not to tell him to not to stop, to never, never stop.