Jungkook plops down in front of Taehyung on the living room floor three days later with a notebook, his sketchbook, and three colored pens he stole from Hyejin at the front desk. Taehyung stretches out on the rug in a ridiculously large pair of pajamas, fake glasses perched on his nose as he copies over notes from class.
“Okay,” Jungkook says. “Here’s the plan.”
“What plan?” Taehyung mumbles distractedly, chewing on the end of his pencil.
Jungkook points at his notebook, covered in a messy scrawl from writing too fast, and then at his sketchbook, where he’s drawn a particularly elaborate diagram utilizing all three colors (baby blue, dark green, and this ridiculously bright hot pink). “The plan. How to make it up to Jiminie hyung.”
Taehyung shoots him a look. “He doesn’t even know you did anything.”
“Yeah, but I know.”
For a second Jungkook thinks Taehyung will tell him to fuck off but then he nods and sits up, crossing his legs underneath him and resting his chin in his hands. “Shoot.”
Taehyung might come up with occasionally life-endangering plans, but at least he always humors Jungkook’s. “Okay, so there’s three goals.”
“Wait, wait. Does this plan have a name?”
“Plan Cheer Up Jiminie Hyung, I guess?”
“That’s boring. How about, ‘Operation Put the Spark Back in Park’s Life’?”
“That’s the fucking stupidest name I’ve ever heard.”
“Isn’t it perfect? Okay, go on.”
“We’re not naming it that.”
“Too late. Please continue.”
Jungkook groans. “Fine. Goal number one.”
Goal #1: Make Jiminie hyung laugh.
Taehyung doesn’t find Jungkook particularly funny, but whenever Jungkook goofs off Jimin laughs like it’s the funniest thing in the world. So Jungkook thinks making Jimin laugh whenever they’re together will be an easy way to cheer him up, at least a little bit. From then on every time he’s with Jimin he goes the extra mile to make a fool out of himself so Jimin will laugh that full-body laugh of his, falling every which way.
It gets to the point where others start to notice. He runs into Jimin and Namjoon in the dining hall and makes a stupid joke about the food that has Jimin hitting the table and snorting, and Namjoon looks at him and says rather wryly, “You could start reading from a bad jokes book and Jiminie would still laugh, just because it’s you.”
He flushes with pride at that.
He borrows Taehyung’s bicycle to ride to the arts building one day because he’s too lazy to walk, but it’s not far enough to justify taking Stark. On the junction between the library and Dream Bean, he stops to adjust his large portfolio bag, strapped across his chest and hanging off his back. Coincidentally (or perhaps it’s fate again) Jimin walks out of the coffee shop just then, removing his uniform hat to fluff out his hair. Jungkook rides up, stopping right in front of him. Jimin looks up like he’s going to yell at him for blocking his way before he registers who he is and relaxes.
“Jungkook, you surprised me.”
Jungkook tightens his jaw and jerks his head back, the universal “get on, baby.” Jimin blinks. Jungkook jerks his head again. Then Jimin dissolves into a fit of giggles and hits his shoulder. Somewhere between the first squeak that sneaks into his laugh and the moment Jungkook cracks, laughing along with him, he feels a strange sort of flutter in his stomach. He thinks maybe he could listen to Jimin laugh forever.
“You’re trying to pick me up on a fucking bicycle?” Jimin says. “With a basket?” He reaches out and flicks the straw basket filled with fake pink and white flowers hanging from the handlebars.
“Hey, this is hyung’s.”
“Why does Taehyung have a flower basket?”
“This little girl he tutors gave it to him.”
Jimin visibly melts. Jungkook’s stomach flutters again, aftershocks from before. “That’s so cute.”
“I guess it kind of ruins the image.”
“Your image was ruined ages ago.”
“What’s that mean?”
“You try to act like a tough guy, but you’re really just cute.” Jimin reaches out to pinch his cheek. Jungkook grabs his wrist, affronted.
“I am not cute.”
Jimin has unintentionally drawn closer, wrist still hanging in Jungkook’s loose grasp. For the briefest of seconds it looks like Jimin’s eyes drop to Jungkook’s lips. But then he’s meeting his gaze again and Jungkook wonders if he imagined it.
“Whatever you say,” Jimin singsongs, pulling free. “Anyway, I gotta get to the auto shop, so I’ll see you later.”
Then he’s walking away and Jungkook’s kind of sad that he’s leaving, which is stupid because it’s not like he won’t see him again. He looks down mournfully at his stomach for betraying him with butterflies. It doesn’t mean anything, he tells himself as he resumes biking. It can’t mean anything.
Goal #2: Make sure Jiminie hyung doesn’t work too hard.
In this case, Jimin ends up inadvertently helping Jungkook just as much as Jungkook helps him.
Jungkook starts out with little things; stopping by the auto shop to drop off a cup of coffee, interrupting library study marathons with a bag of snacks and distracting YouTube videos when he knows Jimin’s due for a break, helping him out as much as he can at the daycare.
In the meantime, he’s started working on his essay for Professor Kim. He struggles to brainstorm reasons for why he chose to study art. He loves art; that’s a simple one. Art makes him happy; another obvious one. But he knows that’s not enough, that Kim wants something deeper than that. The answer comes one day when he stops by one of the dance practice rooms with a vitamin drink for Jimin.
Hoseok told him earlier about Jimin’s troubles regarding a particular piece of choreography for the dance team. Jungkook knows Jimin will kick his own ass for struggling, spend hours trying to improve. So, with Bobby’s example in mind, he decides to check on him and make sure he doesn’t go too far.
Jimin’s in the middle of dancing when Jungkook stops by the practice room. He can see him through the window in the door, flipping between sharp, strong movements and fluid body rolls. Jungkook has never seen Jimin dance before. He has this sort of sensuality to the way he dances. It’s mesmerizing. Jungkook stands there watching for much longer than he probably should, until the song ends and he pushes open the door.
Jimin sees him through the mirror and brightens. “Hoseok hyung told you I was here, didn’t he?”
Jungkook drops his bag in the back of the studio, crossing the sleek hardwood floor to the front where Jimin stands in front of the mirrors. Dressed in a loose tank and sweats, he drips with sweat, orange hair plastered to his forehead. “Here.” Jungkook hands him the drink. “You need to take a break.”
“You’re spoiling me. What’s gotten into you these past weeks, huh?” His eyes twinkle as he drops his head back and gulps the whole thing, Adam’s apple bobbing.
“What are you talking about?” Jungkook mutters, flushing. He sits down and pulls out his phone to scroll through Twitter so he doesn’t look guilty. “I’m just making sure your dumb ass doesn’t drop dead from exhaustion or some shit.”
“Well, my dumb ass appreciates it.” He sits down next to him and wraps his arms around Jungkook’s, nuzzling into his side. “Jungkookie, my hero,” he says in an annoyingly high-pitched voice.
“Get off.” Jungkook shoves him away but he can’t quite hide the smile. “You’re sweaty.”
Jimin flails back onto the ground like a starfish. “I’m so tired. I’ll never get this dance down.”
“Yeah, you will. Hoseok hyung says you always think you won’t but you do anyway.”
“Tell Hoseok hyung to fight me.” He raises his fists.
Jungkook covers one small fist with his hand. “You’re the least intimidating person I’ve ever met.”
“Liar.” Jimin rolls over onto his stomach, pressing his cheek against the cool floor, and sighs. After a moment Jungkook lies down next to him, staring at the fluorescent-lit ceiling, hands under his head.
“You really like dancing.”
“How come that’s not your focus? The dance program here is pretty good.” Jungkook’s thinking about his essay, and how it would have been easy to keep art as a side focus like Jimin keeps dance.
“I wanted to. But my family needed me to find something more stable to support them quicker. And I like education, too.”
“But I couldn’t give up dance, obviously. Now it’s kind of, like, a way for me to escape everyday stuff. Get away from it all for a while.”
And it clicks, because Jungkook understands that. It’s how he got through high school, especially after Taehyung graduated. He would lose himself in art. Let it engulf him until he could forget the troubles of the day, let it take him somewhere that wasn’t as shitty as his reality. Maybe that’s why he chose to study art—because he wasn’t sure he could survive without it.
Lost in his thoughts, he doesn’t notice Jimin shift closer until he curls into his side, slinging an arm around his waist.
“Goodnight,” he says into Jungkook’s shoulder.
“The vitamin drink was supposed to energize you, not put you to sleep.”
“Try harder next time.”
“You’re all gross, hyung, get off me.” But there’s no bite to his voice, so Jimin doesn’t move. His breathing slows, his body relaxes. Heat rushes to Jungkook’s face. It’s not like the night after the party, when Jimin was drunk and Jungkook was buzzed and it was that time of night where anything could happen, free of meaning. The day isn’t made for secrets.
It’s two in the afternoon and he can’t hide from the way his heart aches at the warmth of Jimin’s body.
Goal #3: Make sure Jiminie hyung has fun.
The third goal is the hardest. Jimin doesn’t have time for fun. And now that Jungkook’s working harder in school (at least he is with Professor Kim’s class, anyway—baby steps), along with the daycare and tutoring Chan, he doesn’t really have time, either. He convinces Jimin to spend a night watching anime with him and Taehyung after they’ve studied, but that’s as far as he gets for a while.
An idea hits him when he’s with Chan one evening. He takes his moped to his home every Saturday with a portfolio bag full of art supplies, and lately Chan has really started to open up to him. Jungkook almost thinks of him as a little brother; a novel feeling, since he’s always been the youngest.
On the particular Saturday he gets the idea, Chan seems off. He’s not as engaged, barely doing what Jungkook tells him, saying little more than a few words at a time. Eventually Jungkook asks him to put his pencils down.
“What’s wrong, Channie?”
“Did you have a shi—a bad week in school?”
Jungkook nudges him. “Need me to teach you how to punch someone the right way?”
He smiles a little. “That sounds like a good idea.”
“Who do you need to punch?”
“There’s just some guys in my class.”
“Are they annoying?”
“They just, um, make fun of me and stuff.”
Jungkook snorts. “Why, ‘cause you’re cooler than them?”
“They just think I’m weird, I guess. ‘Cause I don’t really like the same stuff as them. Or hang out with them.”
A resigned sort of smile tugs at the corner of Jungkook’s lips. “Yeah. That happens.”
“I just don’t like the stuff they like. Maybe I should try to?” He looks to Jungkook like he holds the answer.
But Jungkook’s still trying to figure that out himself. He could tell him what everyone always told Jungkook growing up—fuck what people think, be yourself. Only he knows firsthand that it’s not as easy as people say it is. Being yourself has consequences for people who don’t fit the standards of those around them. So what he gives Chan instead is a variation on Professor Kim’s words. “Do what you think is best. But whatever you do, just make sure you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else while you do it.”
Chan nods. Jungkook’s not sure if he understands, or if he ever will, but that’s the best he can give him for now.
“You know, whenever I used to feel down I’d go to the Han River and draw.” He used to run to the river a lot in high school, with his headphones and a sketchbook in hand.
“Did it help?”
“Sometimes. Wanna give it a try?”
With his mother’s approval, he takes him down to the river by bus, where they sit and sketch together. Looking out over the water, at the passersby along the paths, Jungkook thinks it would be a nice place to bring Jimin.
So that night he shows up at Dream Bean unannounced, just in time for the end of Jimin’s shift. He takes Jimin’s backpack from him and slings it over his shoulder. “Let’s go,” he says without preamble, walking off with a jerk of his head.
“Where are we going?” Jimin looks like he wants to object, but he’s following Jungkook anyway.
“Because I want to. We can grab ramen at a convenience store on the way.”
Surprisingly enough, Jimin doesn’t argue further. He just shuffles along after Jungkook and fights him for the window seat when the bus comes, ducking past and plopping down before he can do anything.
“You can sit on my lap, if you want.” He flashes him a cheeky grin.
Jungkook curls his lip and falls into the seat next to him. “I’m only letting you off because you’re my hyung.”
“Since when has that ever stopped you?”
As the bus jolts to a start, Jimin leans his head against the window and closes his eyes. A few nasty bumps later, he sits back up, rubbing his temple and grumbling. Jungkook sniffs and lifts his shoulder, the one brushing against Jimin’s. Jimin looks at him. He wiggles his shoulder again. Jimin blinks. Fed up with the blank stare that meets him, Jungkook stretches his arm out to pull Jimin’s head onto his shoulder.
He’s surprised to see Jimin’s cheeks turn pink.
They stop at a convenience store first, where they microwave cups of instant ramen and tteokbokki. From there they walk down to the river. Despite the hour, the odd group mills along the bordering paths or reclines on the grass. They find a secluded spot on the bottom of some steps leading down to the water. Jungkook inhales his ramen pretty quickly. He jumps down the side of the steps to the riverbank, kicking around the pebbles and dirt. With a calculating look, he shifts around to find a flat stone and flicks it across the water. It skips six times.
Jimin exclaims, pointing with his chopsticks at the ripples left in the water. “That was so cool.”
Jungkook shrugs. “Not really.”
“Can you teach me?” He sets down his ramen and joins Jungkook.
He crouches and digs around for another stone. “You have to find one that’s kind of flat. Like this.” Jimin takes the one he proffers, examining it carefully. Jungkook hops up, brushing dirt from his knees. “Then just flick it.”
He demonstrates the wrist movement a few times. Jimin tries to copy it, but the rock sinks after the first plop. “It didn’t work.”
“You gotta, like, flick it. Don’t throw it like that.”
He tries (and fails) a few more times before giving up with a pout. “How come you’re good at everything?”
“It’s not that hard.” He rubs the back of his head, embarrassed.
Jimin returns to his ramen with a huff. Jungkook joins him before long, sprawling back on the steps, holding himself up by his elbows. The city lights flicker beautifully over the water, a medley of oranges and yellows and whites blurring together. Not far from them, a well-lit bridge stretches across the river, busy with traffic even at night. It’s a little chilly despite the season, a cool breeze ruffling their hair. In the distance they can hear cars honking but it seems awfully far away. Jungkook can pretend it’s just them, him and Jimin and the water.
“What was he like?” Jimin shatters the quiet so suddenly Jungkook takes a moment to answer.
“The guy you said you liked. In high school.”
“You remember that?” Jungkook inspects him carefully, but Jimin doesn’t look at him, swirling the last vestiges of ramen around with his chopsticks. His side profile is stunning. Sharp, slender jaw; straight, small nose. Those full lips, parted slightly. The rings in his ears, one in the lobe and one hugging the curve of his ear, glinting prettily. The thought hits him like a tidal wave, powerful and sudden: Jimin’s the most beautiful boy he’s ever seen.
“I wasn’t drunk enough to forget.” He sounds regretful, like he wanted to be.
“What do you mean, ‘what was he like’?”
“Why’d you like him?”
Jungkook shifts, lying back, crossing his arms under his head. The steps dig into his back but he doesn’t mind. It’s been a while since he thought so closely about the boy who broke his heart. Mostly he tries to forget the details. “He was the kind of guy who commanded attention. Walked into a room and everyone looked. Everyone liked him, everyone knew him. He was so good at talking, you know? He could talk his way out of anything.”
“So why’d you like him?” Jimin asks, quieter this time.
“Because he wasn’t anything like me.”
“Oh, baby.” He finally looks at Jungkook, tenderness etched into the soft lines of his face. He reaches for him, gentle fingers brushing the hair from Jungkook’s forehead.
“I was the kid who hid in the back of class and he—he glowed. I guess I thought being around him would let some of that glow rub off on me.”
“You’ve got enough glow on your own.”
“Hard to remember that, sometimes. Especially back then.”
“What about you? What about that guy you used to like?”
Jimin’s hand drops to his side. “I would have done anything for him.” He pokes the empty plastic bowl with his chopsticks, harder than necessary. “I did a lot.”
“What’d he do to you?” Jungkook can’t quite mask the anger that laces his tone. Jimin’s voice, thin and wobbly, still echoes in his mind from the night at the pojangmacha. Sometimes I still cry about it.
“You know, Namjoon hyung warned me. The first time he ever met him, he said, don’t fuck with that guy, Jiminie, I don’t like him. But I didn’t listen.”
“I’ve made that mistake.” He thinks about Hoseok’s warning, months ago, and how he had ignored that, too.
“We were just fucking at first, you know? Nothing else. But, um, I get attached to people. Pretty easily. Fell hard. He took advantage of that. Made a lot of promises I was stupid enough to believe. You and me, babe, we’ll go places. He used to say that a lot.”
“But he didn’t mean it.”
“’Course not. I was just a lay to him. But he liked the attention. Liked knowing I’d do anything for him. So he kept me around.” Jimin pauses, inhaling a shaky breath, his eyes downcast.
“You don’t have to talk about it if it’s hard.”
“It’s always gonna be hard.” He rests his eyes, then opens them. “He kept me around while he was fucking around with everyone else and—and laughing behind my back, probably. Me, the stupid, clueless boy who thought I meant something.”
“It’s not your fault. You couldn’t have known.”
“He was, um, he was really manipulative. He’d twist things his way so I’d do what he wanted. Make me feel bad for saying no, like I was the unreasonable one.”
Jungkook realizes his hands are shaking. He clenches them into fists, hiding them under his legs. “How’d you get out of it?”
“Bobby, actually.” He smiles a little, playing with the rings on his fingers. “He’d already transferred schools by then, and he saw him. At a party at his university, messing with someone else. Bobby didn’t want to hurt me so he told Yoongi hyung instead. Yoongi hyung knocked some sense into me. He was kind of mean about it, actually—you know how Yoongi hyung gets. But I think I needed the bluntness; it woke me up. And I finally said no without feeling bad for it.”
It makes sense, now, why Namjoon and Yoongi are so protective of Jimin. Why Yoongi had so mistrusted Jungkook’s intentions. “Where is he now?”
“I have class with him this semester.”
“What?” Jungkook sits up so abruptly he startles Jimin into glancing at him. “He goes to school with us?”
“It probably makes him really happy, hearing all the rumors about me. Knowing I couldn’t get close to anyone after him.”
“I’m not lying when I tell people I’m busy. That’s part of it, a lot of it. But part of it is also that I just can’t, you know? I put everything I had into him, trusted him with everything. I can’t do that again.”
“So that’s why you turned Bobby down.”
“Yeah. He was—he was too similar. Fuck buddy turned into something else. It scared me. Even though, logically, I know Bobby’s not like that. I know I would be happy with him. But I just—I can’t.”
“And here I was complaining about a guy who laughed at my confession. That’s nothing compared to what you’ve been through.”
“Don’t do that. Don’t compare. That’s not how this stuff works.” He jabs a chopstick at him, and Jungkook finds himself smiling despite everything. “You hurt and I hurt and that’s all there is to it.”
“Namjoon hyung’s rubbing off on you.”
“He reads his philosophy textbooks out loud when he’s studying. Can’t help it.”
“I brought you here to have fun. Now look at us.” Jungkook fiddles with the hem of his shirt. “I’m sorry you still have to see him around.”
“It’s all right.” Jimin rubs his eyes, finally putting his empty bowl and chopsticks into the plastic bag they’re using for trash. “I’ve only got, like, two weeks left now? Then I’m out of here.”
Jungkook frowns. “What do you mean?”
“Semester’s almost over.”
“What about next semester? Is he graduating?”
Jimin tilts his head, brows furrowed. “I’m—didn’t you know?”
“Know what?” His chest clenches and he’s not sure what’s coming but he knows he doesn’t want to hear the next words that leave Jimin’s mouth.
“I’m graduating. This semester.”
He stares at him, mouth forming words that don’t come out. Then, “You’ve still got second semester. There’s still second semester.”
“I’m graduating a semester early, Jungkookie. That’s why I’ve been busting my ass with all these extra classes.”
Hoseok and Namjoon have stayed back an extra year but here’s Jimin saying he’s leaving early. “Why?”
“I gotta go back to Busan. Find a job. Help my family. It was possible to finish early with some extra work, so I decided to do it.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I’m sorry.” His eyes are wide. He looks it. “I thought you knew. Everyone knows, I just assumed you knew.”
“Nobody told me.” Jungkook’s arms slip around himself, wrapping tight. How could he have missed it? How could he have gone all these months without hearing anything? “You didn’t tell me.”
“Jungkookie—” Jimin reaches for him, but Jungkook stands up. It was one thing knowing Jimin would be graduating at the end of the year like Taehyung, but to have it pushed upon him so suddenly?
He doesn’t know why he’s acting like this but he can’t help it. It hurts so much and he doesn’t know why, it’s not like Jimin’s going forever, it’s not like—
“We should go. It’s late.”
He plucks the plastic bag from Jimin’s side and walks off toward a trash can on the walkway without waiting. He doesn’t look back once, all the way to the bus stop, but he can hear Jimin’s steps close behind him. He stands near the curb waiting for the bus; he thinks Jimin sits on the bench but he doesn’t check.
When the bus comes he beelines to the back, slipping into a seat by the window and crossing his arms over his chest. Jimin hesitates in the aisle; Jungkook can feel his eyes on him but he doesn’t look. His own eyes are burning. He blinks furiously. In the end, Jimin doesn’t sit next to him. He moves quietly to a seat three rows in front of him. Back on campus, he gets off first and doesn’t wait.
“Are you okay, Jungkook?” Hyejin says when he walks into the building.
He shakes his head, kicks open the door to the stairs, and runs all the way up to his floor. When he enters the apartment Taehyung’s sitting there with his laptop and glasses, wearing Jungkook’s Pokemon onesie again.
“Jungkook, you’ve gotta see this—hey, what’s wrong?”
“Why are you wearing my onesie?” Jungkook says. He kicks off his shoes by the door furiously. “I told you not to wear it.”
Taehyung’s just beginning to frown when Jungkook starts crying. The tears turn into heaving sobs that tear from his throat as he sinks to sit on the ground in front of the entrance, wiping furiously at his eyes in vain because they won’t stop coming. Taehyung flies to him, tugging him into his arms and running desperate hands over his hair.
“Jungkookie, tell me what happened, are you hurt—”
When he was younger and Taehyung would tease him, he’d get all pouty and his eyes would water so Taehyung would mockingly ask, Jungkookie, are you crying? And that’s all it took to make the tears come. He hated it, hated looking like a baby. He hasn’t cried like that in a long time.
But with Taehyung kissing his hair and murmuring nonsense words of comfort, he lets himself cry until his throat is hoarse and his head throbs with pain.
“Tell me what’s wrong, Jungkookie, please.”
He’s not sure if he’s crying because Jimin’s leaving or because he finally understands and he’s terrified, so, so terrified.
“I like him. Hyung, I like him.”