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don't look back

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your features mix too well with this alcohol.

 

Sometimes he passes weeks feeling fine.

No sweaty palms, no hummingbird heart, no clenching stomach. No lying awake at night, repeating words they said and words he said and words he wished he’d said, letting the embarrassment, the regret, flood his thoughts like an ocean wave. Larger and larger until they’re a tsunami blocking out everything else.

When he feels fine, it’s bliss. There’s no blanket of remorse weighing down his limbs. Talking to people is easy. Trying new things is easy. He can dance without dissecting the exact problems of every move after he’s done; he can hold an entire conversation with a stranger—ten minutes, thirty minutes—and barely remember it later.

But when things get rough again, those okay days just feel like a dream.

The first time Jimin meets his new roommate, it’s for coffee a week before they move in. They talk for all of one hour, maybe, and objectively it goes swimmingly. Objectively, Hoseok is awfully friendly and easy to talk to and Jimin’s just as poised. But Jimin can’t be objective. So he lies awake for two hours that night, tossing from side to side with an itch in his bones he cannot scratch. He thinks about how he stumbled over his words when explaining his major. Per- oh, um- dance performance. Stupid. Why was it so hard to answer a simple question? He thinks about the dumb joke he made about their coffee when Hoseok teased him for the lack of sugar—I’m so sweet I don’t need it. Hoseok had chuckled but Jimin knew he must have done it out of kindness. And then Jimin hugged him before leaving. A quick, one-armed hug, sort of an awkward one, but now he was absolutely sure it was the wrong thing to do. He didn’t even know Hoseok. It probably wasn’t normal to hug someone after the first meeting. And Hoseok had hesitated before returning it. He must have thought Jimin was so weird.

Logically, he told himself none of these things really mattered. Probably Hoseok hadn’t even thought twice about Jimin’s fuck-ups, yet here he was losing sleep over them. But he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t slow down the anxious jumble of words in his head, the snippets of their conversation replaying like a broken record, mixed in with his own self-loathing commentary. Stupid. Why’d you say that, dumbass?

When he can’t stop himself from thinking he’ll do something mindless. He has nearly fifty e-books downloaded onto his phone. Late night, when exhaustion floods his limbs but the mental activity doesn’t cease, he reads them hidden under his covers, until his eyes close of their own accord midway. No time to think. He’ll watch videos, too, brainless comedy videos on Naver or lighthearted shows, maybe read news articles. He likes to fall asleep as if sleep is some sort of thief, stealing into his brain without him realizing it until it’s too late and his eyes are already drifting shut, his fingers growing slack around his phone. It’s not exactly healthy. Because there are too many days when he finishes his homework at four AM but forces himself to read in bed for another hour or two to fall asleep because it’s better than thinking about his daily fuck-ups, even for a minute. So he doesn’t get much sleep, most days.

But sometimes even that’s not enough, like the day he meets Hoseok. It’s too important of a meeting. He’s never roomed with a stranger before. For his first two years at K-ARTS he lived with his best friend, but Taehyung decided to move in with a bunch of other acting students for ease of study, so Jimin had to ask around for someone random. It’s worse that they’ll be living in a studio apartment to save money, meaning their beds will be about three steps away from each other and when Jimin wakes up every morning it’ll likely be to Hoseok’s face. He can’t make a bad impression this early on.

The morning before he moves in, Jimin visits the terrace of the Visual Arts building. He finds himself there a lot when he’s nervous. It has the prettiest garden and the nicest view, and it’s small and usually empty and it makes him feel a little melancholy but in a good way. He steps carefully around somebody’s drying art project, a collection of painted rocks with a “DO NOT TOUCH” sign next to them, and hops through the small lavender and yarrow plants around the edges of the terrace to make it to the railing. The railing comes higher than his waist and has three bars, so he steps on the bottom one to boost himself up, leaning over and gazing out at the city. Students mill around the courtyard between the various buildings. A few girls dance by the entrance of the library and a boy in the middle of the courtyard strums on a sticker-covered guitar. No one passing by gives him much notice, but he seems so caught up in his own world that Jimin doubts he cares. Someone wearing a massive hat hands out flyers near the Film building.

Everyone looks busy. Confident. Jimin knows he can’t make judgements about the feelings of strangers when he’s so high up he can barely make out their faces, but a part of him is sure that none of them are as lonely as him. It’s easy to alienate himself when he’s so far away, looking at them as if through a glass wall. He stands there for a while, until the door creaks open and a pair of students come onto the terrace. Then he slings his bag over his shoulder and leaves to finish packing.

He gets there before Hoseok does. Technically that means he has first pick for which side of the room he wants, but he’s afraid of choosing. Really he wants the side away from the door, but he convinces himself he doesn’t care which side it is, and it’s better if Hoseok picks. He’ll feel bad if he chooses a side that Hoseok wants. So he unpacks some things for the kitchen, first, listening to music to make himself comfortable, until the lock in the door turns and Hoseok shoves his way in with a shoulder, hands occupied with his suitcase.

“Hey,” he says, pausing in his endeavor to flash Jimin a blinding smile, soft brown locks falling into his eyes.

“That’s the biggest suitcase I’ve ever seen in my life,” Jimin teases, holding open the door so Hoseok can focus on dragging in the suitcase.

“It’s ninety percent snapbacks.” When Jimin’s brow starts to furrow, Hoseok laughs. “Kidding.”

“Oh.”

“Maybe thirty percent.”

Jimin laughs.

---

Hoseok has terrible luck in love.

It’s not funny but sometimes he laughs about it. He has a bad habit of falling for straight boys and an even worse habit of caring too much about hook-ups with guys who don’t give two shits about him. There are days when he wonders if he even deserves anything better, if he ends up with people who don’t care because he’s not worth caring about. His best friend Namjoon is convinced Hoseok has some deep-rooted psychological problem that stems from his parents’ tragic relationship and manifests through him subconsciously seeking out equally tragic relationships.

Hoseok thinks Namjoon is full of shit.

 Moving to a new place with a new roommate for the last year of university isn’t ideal. He had really loved the boarding house he spent the other three years in; the ahjumma running it was kind and hardly strict, and most of his housemates were choreography majors like him. But it had all gone to hell when he got into a friends-with-benefits sort of thing with one of the other guys. Hoseok being Hoseok, he’d fallen too hard while Sejun stayed pretty adamant on the no-feelings-involved rule.

It had gotten too hard, watching him not care. Watching him kiss someone else at a club and wink at Hoseok as they left together. Watching him dress and slip out of Hoseok’s room long before morning because cuddling after sex was something only boyfriends did. Hoseok started to think there was something wrong with himself. He must have been awfully lacking if Sejun couldn’t even bear to spend a whole night with him. Sejun was probably the best he would ever get, he told himself, so many times he started to really believe it.

It had been a hard decision, leaving. A part of Hoseok wanted to keep on fucking around if it meant he could just be with him. It took a lot of drunken crying, a lot of shitty mornings, a lot of scolding from Namjoon to realize how unhealthy things were getting. Finally, he found another place and packed his things. In the end, he didn’t even say goodbye.

But the first time he meets Jimin, Hoseok starts to feel uncertain.

Jimin is beautiful. He has a smile that lights up the whole room and the cutest giggle-laugh and a killer body. Not to mention he actually seems like a really nice guy. Halfway through his mug of coffee, looking at the way Jimin scrunches up his nose when he grins, Hoseok wonders if it’s too late to cancel his lease. (It is.)

It can’t be too bad, he reasons. He can survive a year of living with a hot guy. Quite a few of the guys from the boarding house were attractive, and he lived with them just fine. And if it matters at all the way he lies awake staring at the ceiling every night because he’s afraid to sleep in case he dreams about him, the way he cringes every time he passes by his favorite restaurant, the way his heart aches when he lets himself think too much, then he’s still not over Sejun. He doesn’t have the energy to fall for anyone else. Not yet, maybe not ever.

He’s right, mostly. Living with Jimin turns out fine. They fall into a nice routine. They wake up around the same time to hit the practice rooms before classes; Jimin always gets up five minutes before him and puts on coffee. Their schedules don’t match up for the rest of the day, but sometimes they’ll catch dinner together; more often, they’ll find themselves watching a drama or doing homework over a midnight pot of ramen. Jimin is a little sensitive but he’s easy to get along with once Hoseok figures him out.

Of course, not everything’s perfect. Most nights Jimin sleeps in nothing but a tight pair of boxers (sometimes they’re red, and that’s the worst) and Hoseok has to bury his face in his pillow so he isn’t tempted to look when Jimin inevitably kicks the covers off in his sleep. He likes to do push-ups shirtless every morning so Hoseok has timed brushing his teeth to avoid it. Hoseok tries his hardest to curb his attraction because he’s pretty sure Jimin is as straight as can be and he’s definitely not making the mistake of falling for someone he lives with again.

He’s confident that he’s succeeding, at least until one day he gets home early from class and hears the shower running. Just over the sound of the water comes a high, angelic voice, singing some Taeyang song. Jimin is just slightly off pitch but he floats through tinkling adlibs with ease and frankly, Hoseok wonders why he’s only a dance major when he should so obviously be a vocal major, too. He knows he shouldn’t but he sits down on the floor outside the door and listens, eyes drifting shut, letting Jimin’s voice lull him to a sense of calm. It’s not a sad song but Hoseok feels sad listening to it. There’s something in Jimin’s voice that speaks of melancholy.

That’s around when he starts to think this might be harder than he expected.

---

“Free condoms!” Hoseok kicks open the door with a cheerful yell, dropping an armful of packets onto the kitchen counter where Jimin is eating a salad.

Jimin stares at him, blinking, a fork full of lettuce shoved in his mouth.

“There was a huge basket in the library so I just grabbed a bunch. Half are yours and half are mine.” He separates the pile with his arm and stares at it, trying to gauge if they’re distributed evenly.

Through the mouthful of salad Jimin says, “Nah, I’m good. Thanks, though.”

Hoseok looks scandalized. “Are you saying no to free condoms?”

“Yes?”

Hoseok squints, peering at him closely. Jimin chews uncomfortably, raising an eyebrow. “Are you a virgin?”

He flushes immediately. Everyone always makes fun of him for it, and he doesn’t really want to admit it to the very experienced Hoseok, who went home with a guy after a night at a Hongdae club just last week. Hoseok’s good at partying and drinking and sex and Jimin finds it difficult to interact with large groups of strangers for longer than fifteen minutes. Sometimes he feels kind of stupid around Hoseok. There’s no use lying, though, so he gives a small nod, staring at his protein shake instead of the amused look he imagines Hoseok will have.

“Half’s still yours, never know what might happen,” Hoseok says. Jimin glances up, and there’s no judgement on Hoseok’s face. Only thoughtfulness.

That’s probably what drives Jimin to say, “Um, actually, I probably won’t ever need condoms.”

“Why?” He looks a little confused, but still not judging, so Jimin clarifies.

“I’m asexual.”

The confusion clears. “Really? Well, more for me then.” He scoops up the pile and proceeds to dump it at the foot of his bed.

Jimin laughs, and the relief he feels must show because the smile Hoseok turns on him is comforting. Hoseok doesn’t seem like the judging type. Jimin knows this. Nothing in his reaction drives Jimin to think he cares at all. But it feels so strange to reveal such a large part of himself that Jimin regrets it almost immediately after. He spends the rest of the day with an uncomfortable churning in his stomach. He feels like he’s let go of something important, lost a piece of himself.

And like he always does, he lies awake thinking about it, running through their conversation in his head, making it bigger than it really was. Everything had gone fine. He knows this, too. But he can’t help it. It’s while he lies awake that he hears it—soft sniffles, a shaky intake of breath. The unmistakable sound of Hoseok crying.

Hoseok doesn’t talk about himself much—at least, not about the serious things. It’s only because of one night where Hoseok came home a little drunk that Jimin knows about Sejun. Even then, Hoseok hadn’t said much, just that he had left his old place because he fell too hard for someone who should have been nothing more than a fuckbuddy. And Jimin knows Hoseok still thinks about him because one day he catches Hoseok looking at a picture of a good-looking guy laughing and he can tell by the pained quirk of Hoseok’s lips that it’s Sejun.

So he grabs his pillow and tiptoes over to Hoseok’s side of the room, where Hoseok’s back is to him, shaking slightly.

“Hyung?” he murmurs, touching his shoulder gently.

Hoseok freezes. For a moment he doesn’t move, and Jimin is afraid he’s done something wrong. But then he exhales a shaky breath, wiping his face on the back of his hand. “Yeah?”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” But his voice cracks at the end and Jimin knows he isn’t.

“Scoot over.” Jimin places his pillow next to Hoseok’s, pushing him over until there’s room for him to curl up on the sleeping mat by his side. He rubs his arm. “You can keep crying if you need to, hyung. But it’s probably better not to do it alone.”

Hoseok sniffs a few times. Then he murmurs, “Thanks, Jiminie.”

---

Hoseok comes home one day to the sight of Jimin perched on the floor between their beds, taking notes on a textbook, singing along to the radio. Absorbed in his work, he doesn’t notice Hoseok enter. So he stands there, leaning his shoulder on the doorjamb with his arms crossed, and listens. Like last time, the song he’s singing isn’t sad, but Jimin’s voice holds a particular loneliness that makes Hoseok’s heart clench. It makes him think about Sejun.

When Jimin finally glances up, he drops his pen in surprise.

“You scared the shit out of me,” he says, flinging a blank notecard at him.

“Sorry,” Hoseok laughs. “You should be an idol. You can dance and sing.”

Jimin snorts. “I can’t sing.”

“Are you kidding me? You’re amazing.” Hoseok slips off his coat and digs through his closet for his tightest pair of black jeans and a slender blazer.

“I used to think I was good but then I tried out for a musical in high school and I guess I got nervous because I really fucked up the vocal audition and when I got off stage all my friend said was you didn’t practice did you and the judges looked so pained and all the other kids auditioning were there too and it was really bad. I didn’t sing for a whole year after that. It was so embarrassing.” The words fall from Jimin’s mouth like a tidal wave, as if once he starts speaking he can’t stop. It’s rare for him to be so honest.

Hoseok turns back to look at him. He’s fiddling with his pen, looking down at his hands. With his hair not styled, falling softly over his brow, swimming in an oversized sweater whose sleeves are tucked over his knuckles, he seems much younger than he is. “Not even on your own?”

“Nope.”

Hoseok can imagine it, almost. Jimin afraid to sing along to the radio anymore, even when no one’s listening, because the sound of his voice makes him cringe and think about standing there on stage, vulnerable to the eyes of people he will have to see every day for four years, makes him think about the hollowness of his voice compared to theirs and how they must have laughed at him when he left the room. Makes him think about you didn’t practice. Because he must have practiced. If Hoseok knows anything about Jimin he knows Jimin must have practiced day and night for that audition.

“Must have just been stage fright,” Hoseok says carefully as he shimmies into his jeans. “Because you sound really damn good to me.”

“Thanks.” Jimin smiles, and the anxious clicking of his pen stops. But Hoseok still isn’t sure if Jimin believes him. “Are you going to the club?”

“Yeah, don’t have class tomorrow.” He swipes on eyeliner with practiced ease, using his phone as a mirror.

“Are you coming back tonight?”

There’s an odd note in Jimin’s voice. Hoseok glances at him. He’s looking back, a slight downturn to the ends of his plush mouth. “Depends on how lucky I get.” Hoseok winks, but they both know the humor is fake.

“Does it make you feel better?” He doesn’t explain himself, but Hoseok hears the end of the question anyway. Does it make you feel better about Sejun?

Hoseok laughs quietly. He slips into his boots and makes for the door. “Nothing makes me feel better.”

He hits his usual spot, a club in Hongdae where he’s on a first-name basis with the bartender. Yoongi pauses in wiping down glasses to roll his eyes when Hoseok enters.

“Fuck you, Jung Hoseok,” Yoongi says as greeting, resuming his cleaning with a flick of irritation.

“What’d I do now?” Hoseok grins and sits down right in front of the small, blond bartender. “You look awfully pretty today.” Yoongi always looks pretty, with his sweet mouth and delicate features. Too bad everything that comes out of that mouth is shit.

“It’s Thursday, you asshole, go home and fucking sleep.”

“It’s never too early to start the weekend.”

“It’s literally too early to start the weekend because it’s literally not the weekend.”

“Every day is the weekend if you try hard enough.”

“Don’t you have a cute little roommate waiting for you at home? Go and cry to him about your miserable life instead of bothering me.”

“How did you—”

“By now you should know how much you talk when you’re drunk. Jiminie’s got the cutest smile and his abs are—”

“Shut up, hyung.” Hoseok reaches across the bar and smacks his arm to stop the horribly high-pitched impersonation.

Just as quickly, Yoongi’s teasing turns to seriousness. “Go home, Hoseokie.”

“Hit me up with the usual.” Hoseok nods to the rows of alcohol behind Yoongi.

“It’s not worth it.”

“What isn’t?” He looks away, fiddles with his phone moodily. He really needs to find another club to go to. One where the bartender acts like a bartender instead of a well-meaning older brother.

“All of this.” Yoongi gestures from Hoseok’s head to toe. “It’s not going to make you feel better.”

“How do you know?”

“Does it make you feel better now?” When Hoseok doesn’t answer, he says, “It never will.”

“Just gimme a drink, hyung.”

For a silent moment Hoseok is sure Yoongi will refuse and he really will have to go somewhere else. But then Yoongi sighs, and before long plops a glass down in front of him. He doesn’t stay after that, moving to the other side of the bar to help more customers. Even so, Hoseok can feel his judging gaze on him throughout the night.

He tosses back shot after shot and loses himself in the crowd of sweaty bodies. He’s a choreography major so all he does is dance but there’s something different about moving to the beat of a song so loud it thrums in your blood, something different about being just another face in the crowd. It’s easy to lose himself. Easy to forget. And when someone’s hands come to rest at his waist, the warmth of another body pressed into his back, he glances back and smirks.

He lets the guy push him against a wall and mouth at his neck, cold fingers slipping under his shirt to trace across his stomach. Hoseok’s eyes drift shut. He gasps, and then suddenly he’s thinking about Sejun and the way his lips felt and the way his voice sounded when his mouth was pressed to the shell of Hoseok’s ear and the way he threw his head back when he laughed so hard tears came out. He hasn’t had enough alcohol for Sejun’s face to blur in his mind. It’s not worth it, Yoongi said. Does it make you feel better? Jimin asked. And now suddenly he’s thinking about Jimin and that note of loneliness when he sings and the awfully vulnerable way he had asked, are you coming back tonight?

“I gotta go.” Hoseok pushes the stranger off and stumbles out of the club, dizzy from alcohol or fatigue or sadness, who knows.

Jimin is in the same position as when Hoseok left him, except now he’s slumped over sideways, steady breaths coming from his open mouth. The textbook is still open in his lap and his glasses dig into the side of his head and he’s probably going to strain a muscle sleeping like that, so Hoseok removes the glasses carefully and sets the textbook aside and lifts Jimin up, easily. Too easily considering how muscular Jimin is, but then, all he eats is salad and chicken breast. He sets his small form in bed and tucks the covers in around him. Jimin shifts slightly, mumbling something, but he’s still asleep, cheeks puffing out from where they rest on the pillow.

Hoseok kicks off his clothes and climbs into his own bed. It’s cold. He could have had a warm bed tonight. But all he ever really wanted was someone to stay. Someone to warm his bed for a whole night instead of a few hours. All he ever really wanted was Sejun’s arms around him, his face buried in his hair and his chest rising slowly with sleeping breaths against Hoseok’s back. It must have been too much to ask. It must have been more than Hoseok deserved.

He curls into himself and cries, but this time Jimin’s asleep and there’s no one to comfort him.