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The Bet

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Jeon Jungkook does not believe in fate or destiny—or comeuppance, for that matter. Sometimes Taehyung proposes that things are “written in the stars,” and Jungkook proposes that Taehyung smokes too much weed. Coincidences are coincidences, nothing more and nothing less.

At least, that’s where Jungkook stands until five Very Important Occurrences make him wonder.

 

Occurrence #1, when Jeon Jungkook learns that Timberlands are not good running shoes.

 When Jungkook entered university, he asked his mother for a motorcycle. She got him a moped. It’s small and drives so slow sometimes Jungkook thinks he could run faster, but he has to admit, it’s pretty useful to run errands off campus. He and Taehyung tried to paint it in a vain attempt to make it look cooler, but they learned quickly enough that house paint does not hold up well on motor vehicles. Now it’s baby blue with streaks of faded black. He complains about it on the regular, but he names it after his favorite superhero anyway.

He leaves Stark braked on the sidewalk next to an awfully pretty silver Tivoli that’s parked illegally in front of the store. Jungkook only wanders the aisles for a few moments to pick up enough ramen to last the coming week, with some choco pies for good measure. He stands at the register when he hears a nasty metal screeching sound that grates on his ears. The cashier leans to the side to look past him, and he turns around.

“Oh, fuck.”

Stark lies on the ground by the Tivoli, and a long scratch adorns the side of the car from the door handle down to the sill. Jungkook throws money onto the counter without counting, grabs his bag of snacks, and runs out the door. He loops the bag around his wrist and bends to straighten Stark, whose handle shows wear from the impact.

“How did you fall, huh?” he says.

He’s in the middle of lifting Stark when someone yells. A guy with enviously large muscles runs toward him, keys dangling from his hand.

“What the fuck did you do to my car?”

Jungkook prides himself on his ability to make split-second decisions. Others have told him that he’s rash, but he finds it a useful trait to have. Especially in situations where a guy twice his size is about to kick his ass. He turns around and books it so fast he almost drops his grocery bag.

“Get back here, asshole!”

“Sorry, Stark,” Jungkook mutters, weaving through confused pedestrians as he skids around the corner of the street.

“There’s no point in running, I’ll turn in your plate to the cops—”

He glances behind him. The guy is catching up frighteningly quickly. Jungkook’s feet pinch uncomfortably in his hefty Timberlands. He nearly trips over himself in his haste to turn another corner.

“You were parked illegally,” he shouts back, breath lost in the wind pushing against his face. “How you gonna explain that to the cops?”

He hears the guy swear. A surge of energy propels him over a bench and into the little park tucked between the multitude of city shops. Halfway through the park, dodging some kids playing Frisbee, he looks back. The guy’s gone.

He collapses face-first onto the grass under a tree and groans, chest heaving.

“You’ve betrayed me,” he says to his shoes. “I thought Timberlands were supposed to be a guy’s best friend.”

                              

Occurrence #2, when Jeon Jungkook learns that bare feet are even worse.

When the girl he goes home with after a party turns out to have a boyfriend, and said boyfriend turns out to be the guy with the Tivoli, Jungkook’s first thought is that Taehyung would call this “karma.”

Of course, there’s not much room to think when he’s ducking past a massive angry dude to skid down the stairwell of Eunbi’s apartment building. The Boyfriend might have bigger muscles than him, but Jungkook’s fast. That’s the only reason he got away the first time. He takes the stairs three at a time, cement cold on his bare feet.

“Get back here, you fucking prick,” the Boyfriend yells. He’s a good two floors behind. “First my car, now my girlfriend—”

Jungkook propels himself over the last railing with a rather impressive leap and bursts out the door, kicking it shut behind him. It clangs but he can still hear the Boyfriend shouting. He shields his eyes from the abruptly harsh sunlight and runs around the side.

“Jungkook!” A voice calls. He looks up. Eunbi leans out of a fifth floor window, waving, her delicate dressing gown loose around her shoulders.

“Why didn’t you tell me you have a boyfriend?” He tries to sound intimidating but it comes out like a whine.  

“Oops,” she says, and giggles.

Oops, he thinks. Fucking oops. “Can you at least toss me my clothes?”

But then the door bangs open and Jungkook starts running with an annoyed huff. His favorite snapback lies somewhere on the floor of Eunbi’s bedroom. And running through campus wearing only a pair of Iron Man boxers is not exactly how he wants to be remembered. He can almost imagine it, years after graduation, some bratty freshman—I heard this dude did the walk of shame but, like, to the max. He halfheartedly tries to hide his chest as he runs (he likes his chest, he’s worked hard on his chest, but this is not how he wants people to see it).

Thankfully it’s still a little early for campus to be too busy on a Saturday morning. He loses the Boyfriend somewhere between the dining hall and his apartment building. The girl sitting at the front desk with her nose buried in a comic shoots him a bored glance.

“What’d you do this time, Jeon?”

“None of your business, Ahn.”

He ends up in the elevator with a guy who keeps shooting him sideways glances and snickering, like he thinks Jungkook won’t notice. Jungkook flexes a little and growls when he gets off on his floor, and the guy shrinks back.

Of course he doesn’t have his keys or his wallet or his phone. So he stands outside banging on the door until Taehyung finally opens it in a Pokemon onesie. It’s seven in the morning but he’s eating out of a tub of ice cream.

“Isn’t that mine?” Jungkook says about the onesie.

“What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine, my friend. What happened to you?”

Jungkook slumps forward, dropping his head on Taehyung’s warm shoulder, the adrenaline of the run finally catching up to him. “She has a boyfriend.”

For a moment Taehyung is silent, and Jungkook wonders if he might get a lecture or something. But then Taehyung laughs so hard he snorts.

 

Occurrence #3, when Jeon Jungkook discovers the aesthetic appeal of orange hair.

He sits in his usual corner of the dining hall when a boy slides into one of the plastic chairs two tables away. The boy first catches Jungkook’s attention because his hair is bright orange. It’s parted in the middle, falling in loose waves around his forehead. He has pretty skin and pretty lips and though he’s clearly fit, he looks small even sitting down. He opens a thick English book and reads it while eating a salad. Jungkook is briefly offended that a boy so beautiful goes to his university and he’s only just found out. By rule, Jungkook knows every beautiful boy and girl on campus.

He debates whether or not to take the empty seat next to him when a girl approaches. She’s cute, the skirt of her pretty blue dress bouncing as she stops by his side.

“Um, excuse me.” They are near enough that her soft voice carries over to Jungkook.

The orange-haired boy glances up absently. “Oh, hey.” She hesitates long enough that he says, “Is something wrong?” He has a light voice, high and musical with a slight lisp.

Jungkook can visibly see her steeling herself. “I, um, really like you and I was wondering if maybe we could go on a date. Grab coffee or something.”

The boy’s brow furrows, and she deflates. “I’m sorry, but I don’t really date.” Her head bows a little, and he hurries to say, “It’s nothing personal. I just don’t really have time. I’m sorry.”

She leaves, probably pretending to act all right, and the boy drops his head onto his book with an audible groan. He doesn’t go back to reading after that. Jungkook sits there with his rice and stew and watches the boy push around his food, chin in hand. He looks like he might start crying at any moment. Jungkook can’t remember ever feeling so sad after turning someone down.

After a little while, the boy leaves, and Jungkook returns to playing Piano Tiles.

 

Occurrence #4, when Kim Taehyung almost comes in handy.

They’re sitting on a bench outside the arts building when someone calls Taehyung’s name. It’s the orange-haired boy, switching directions to walk toward them. The bench fits three people but Taehyung’s legs take up the third space as he leans his back into Jungkook’s shoulder, playing some dumb coffee shop game on his phone. Jungkook sits slumped, his legs outstretched, an energy drink dangling from one hand.

Taehyung drops his phone on his stomach to wave. “Jimin!”

Jungkook glances between Taehyung and the boy named Jimin. He’s dressed like he just got back from the gym, cut arms on display in a loose tank, a sports bag hoisted over one shoulder. He smiles, but he might as well have punched Jungkook in the face. It’s the cutest smile he’s ever seen in his life. One small dimple, eyes curved into crescents, cheeks puffed out.

Jimin stops beside Jungkook’s sprawled legs, glancing at him as if waiting for him to move so he can reach Taehyung. Jungkook blinks lazily and doesn’t move.

“Excuse me,” Jimin says, a small note of irritation in his voice. Jungkook smirks and draws his legs back slowly, Timberlands scraping against the sidewalk. Jimin passes to stop in front of Taehyung. “Hey, here are your notes.” He tugs a stack of papers from his bag and hands them to Taehyung. “Thanks again for letting me borrow them.”

“‘Course.”

“Have you started studying for the exam yet? I heard it’s wicked hard.”

“Nah. Wanna study together?”

“Uh, yeah.” Jimin looks away, biting his plump bottom lip in thought. He runs a hand through his hair. It falls back into place slightly messy. It looks soft. Taehyung nudges Jungkook; he realizes he’s staring. “I gotta work tonight and tomorrow I have dance practice and Monday I’m volunteering at the school so, um. How about Tuesday?”

“Sounds good.”

“Cool, see you around.”

He waves and walks away after a brief glance at Jungkook, who is treated to a nice view of his firm ass as he leaves. As soon as he’s out of earshot, Jungkook jolts upright, shoving Taehyung off him.

“You know him? Who is he? Is he single?”

“Ow.” Taehyung rubs the back of his head where Jungkook’s shoulder bumped into it. “What the fuck?”

“I saw him the other day and goddam he is fine—”

“You look like you’re about to cum in your pants.”

“Piss off.” Jungkook turns fully in the bench to face Taehyung. “So you know him?”

“I guess. We sit next to each other in theory class. He’s an education major, too.”

“Introduce me.”

“We’re not really friends.”

“You know his name. He said ‘hi.’ That’s pretty much all there is to it.”

“I know all you might need to get in someone’s pants is a name and a positive greeting, but unlike you, I do have standards.”

“Remember when that guy said your hair was ugly and you fucked him anyway?”

Taehyung’s mouth curls into an unnecessary pout. “That was one time and he was cute.”

“All you have to do is introduce me. I’ll take it from there.”

“Listen, Kook. I know Jimin’s hot, but it’s probably not going to happen.”

“Is he straight? Because this one time I got a straight guy to—”

“Shut up, I don’t wanna hear it.” Taehyung shoves his fingers in his ears, humming loudly until Jungkook’s mouth stops moving. “He’s not straight.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Jimin’s, like, notoriously single. As in, he wants to keep it that way.” Taehyung taps his lip thoughtfully. “I’m pretty sure everyone in our major has had the hots for him at least once, but he doesn’t date anyone.”

“I don’t wanna date him.”

“He doesn’t fuck around, either.”

“How do you know? You’re not friends.”

“Because everyone knows. Because everyone’s disappointed.”

“I could at least try.”

But Taehyung’s not listening anymore. His gaze has caught on a girl walking two Maltese puppies across the library. It’s the puppies that have his attention. Jungkook groans, knowing he’s lost Taehyung entirely.

 

Occurrence #5, when Kim Taehyung proposes a bet, and Jeon Jungkook starts to believe in fate. 

Jungkook takes Stark to a nearby auto shop to check on the brakes after the fiasco with the Boyfriend. His eyes still feel puffy with sleep, unused to waking up this early. Just his luck that the only appointment left was seven in the morning on a Saturday. The auto shop is small, barely enough room for two cars in the garage at a time, but it’s the closest one to campus and he heard that an honest and reliable man runs it.

He parks Stark outside the shopfront and jogs up to the door. Through the glass windows, he can see someone at the counter, back turned to the door. His hand touches the handle when the guy turns around, and Jungkook freezes. The orange hair really should have given it away. Jimin wears a navy blue mechanic’s jumpsuit, but he’s unbuttoned the top and let it fall around his waist to reveal a white tank top with a grease stain just under the neckline. For a moment Jungkook stares at his bare arms and smooth collarbones, and then he realizes that Jimin’s here. Jimin, who absolutely cannot know that he rides a baby blue moped.

He removes his hand and steps back, but that’s when Jimin looks up. Jungkook stares. Jimin raises a hand and beckons. He doesn’t really have a choice after that. The door chime tinkles when he pushes it open.

Standing across the counter from him, Jungkook is struck by just how small Jimin is.

“What can I help you with?” Jimin says.

“Um—my, uh—”

Jimin’s gaze travels behind him to land on the moped. His rather bored expression turns to one of amusement as he returns his attention to Jungkook. “That yours?”

He sniffs and resumes some of his usual bravado. “Yeah, what of it?”

“Nothing.” Jimin’s eyes twinkle, a soft curve to the end of his mouth. “So, what’s the problem?”

“Brakes. Parked him the other day, and he started moving all on his own.”

“You have an appointment, right?” Jimin sifts through a fat binder sitting on the counter, stopping by what must be Jungkook’s name. Even his hands are small, with cute, chubby fingers. “A mechanic should be with you in a few minutes.”

“You’re not a mechanic?” Jungkook blurts, eyeing his clothes.

Jimin raises an eyebrow. “I’m kind of like an assistant.”

“Oh, I just thought—never mind.”

“You can wait in one of the chairs.”

Jungkook mentally smacks himself. He’s usually a lot smoother than that. He takes a seat by the window and glances periodically back at Jimin, who busies himself writing in the big binder. His fluffy orange hair falls into his eyes, and every now and then he emits a frustrated whoosh of air to shake it away. When he does his cheeks puff out even more than usual, and he looks downright adorable.

Jungkook is thinking about how tiny he is when the sound of a car’s engine causes him to glance outside. A silver Tivoli with a scratch down the side pulls up in front of the shop, right next to Stark. Jungkook’s eyes widen. Three times in one week might be too much for just coincidence. The driver’s side door opens, and Jungkook makes another split-second decision.

He leaps to his feet and catapults behind the counter.

Jimin steps back, too shocked to react at first, so Jungkook tucks in all his limbs to ensure that not a single piece of himself is visible. He looks up at Jimin, who’s staring at him with an open mouth. Jungkook puts a finger to his lips and mouths please.

The chime jingles as the Boyfriend shoves the door open rather forcefully from the sound of it. Jungkook tries to breathe a little quieter.

“Whose moped is that out there?” he demands.

Jungkook looks back up. Jimin has turned to face the newcomer, a neutral expression on his face. “I’m sorry?”

“The moped. Where’s the owner?”

“I don’t think I can release that information,” Jimin says smoothly.

“Listen, dude. The asshole who rides that moped scratched up my car and slept with my girlfriend. He’s got it coming.” The note of desperation in his voice makes Jungkook stifle a chuckle, a hand pressed to his mouth. Jimin’s foot shifts to nudge his side.

“That really sucks. But I’d get fired if I told you. Sorry, man.”

The Boyfriend sighs heavily. “Yeah, I understand. I came to make an appointment to fix the scratch.”

They talk for a little while, and Jungkook makes sure not to move until the chime sounds and Jimin’s foot nudges him again, harder this time.

“You slept with his girlfriend? That’s shitty.”

“She didn’t tell me she had a boyfriend,” Jungkook mumbles, rubbing his side and pulling himself up by the counter.

“Ah.” It’s obvious that Jimin doesn’t believe him.

The entrance of an older man who must be the actual mechanic interrupts any chance to pursue the subject. After that Jungkook can’t interact with Jimin much, busy with his moped and the mechanic. But when he gets home, he kicks his shoes off into the living room with unnecessary force and barges into Taehyung’s bedroom to tell him the story.

“Look, it’s meant to be,” he says when he finally finishes. “That’s way too many coincidences for one week. Everything’s adding up like some kind of teen movie shit.”

“I thought you didn’t believe in fate.” Taehyung looks a little offended, pushing Jungkook’s head off his lap. He has every right to be, considering how often Jungkook mocks him for his outrageous claims about destiny and stars.

“I don’t but this is too weird.”

“Seriously, Jungkook, he’s a losing battle.”

“Look at me. There’s no way he’ll turn me down.”

Taehyung’s lip curls in disgust as he eyes Jungkook head to toe.

“Hey, Kim Taehyung.”

“I’m still older than you.”

“Kim Taehyung.”

“Fine, if you wanna get rejected, go for it.” Taehyung settles against the wall, crossing his arms moodily.

Jungkook drops his head back on Taehyung’s lap. “Did you see his ass?”

Taehyung pats his forehead in mock comfort. “Mighty fine ass, it is. And you’re never getting your hands on it.”

Jungkook’s glare fades quickly into a mischievous grin. “Kim Taehyung, is that a challenge?”

Taehyung narrows his eyes. When it comes down to it, he’s awfully competitive. “Maybe.”

“What’s on the table?”

“Get Jimin to sleep with you by the end of the semester and you can use my Xbox whenever you want.”

“Are you serious? You’re putting your Xbox on the line for a bet I’m definitely going to win?”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, brat. You’re guaranteed to lose.”

“In your dreams.”

“So what do I get if you fail?”

“I’m not going to fail.”

“I want you to do my laundry for a whole semester.”

“I don’t even do my own laundry.”

“Better start learning.” A wicked grin spreads across Taehyung’s face. “Deal?” He spits in his hand and holds it out for Jungkook to shake.

“Deal,” Jungkook says, and does the same.

Chapter Text

They have progressed six weeks into the new semester, and Jungkook still has nothing to show for it. He walks across campus with Taehyung to a party at Hoseok’s house, dressed to kill but not sure if he’s capable of the killing. Until Jimin, he had always proved incredibly successful at picking people up. Now he feels like a failure.

“I’m guessing Jimin doesn’t party, does he?” Jungkook mumbles gloomily, running a hand through his hair.

“You’re ruining it.” Taehyung swats his hand away and pats down the bangs. He has a bottle of Tequila tucked under one arm. “Operation Seduce Jimin not going so well?”

“He’s so fucking oblivious, hyung. I’ve never met anyone so oblivious in my whole life.”

“Is he?” Taehyung sounds far too gleeful.

“I think I’ve dropped, like, fifty hints. He never even reacts.”

“He probably just doesn’t care. Actually, I’m really impressed that you manage to pick anyone up at all. You’re awful at flirting.”

“I am not.”

“Remember that time you tried to hit on a girl by asking her if she wanted to see your Naruto poster?”

“That was high school. That doesn’t count.”

“Ah, yes.” Taehyung pats Jungkook’s cheek with a dreamy look. “The good old days, when Kookie was a shy little baby who couldn’t even answer questions in class. What happened to you?”

“Suck my dick.”

“I mean, if you want—”

Jungkook shoves Taehyung’s face away with a disgusted noise. Hoseok’s apartment building stands just off campus, a rather dilapidated place where the landlord doesn’t care how loud they party, but also never calls pest control. Flashing neon lights shine from two third-floor windows. They can hear the bass from the ground. Taehyung nimbly heads up the staircase first, long legs straining his leather pants.

“No body shots this time,” Jungkook calls after him.

“Yes, Mom,” Taehyung throws back, laughing. The sparkle in his gaze tells Jungkook body shots are probably the first thing he’ll do.

“Last week you fell asleep in my bed all sticky with saliva and alcohol. I had to sleep on the floor and wash my sheets. I never wash my sheets.”

“Then I did you a favor.”

Taehyung stops in front of Hoseok’s door at the end of the long hallway. He fixes his hair and narrows his eyes, dark eyeliner giving him a sultry look. Then he knocks, three loud bangs. Bigbang thrums through the walls, shaking the door handle. A moment later, Hoseok opens the door, flushed and grinning.

“My favorite boys!” Hoseok exclaims, flinging his arms around their necks. Their heads knock together uncomfortably. “What’d you bring me?”

Taehyung produces the bottle of Tequila and Hoseok whistles.

“Knew you’d bring me something good.”

He yanks them inside. They aren’t early, so most of the crowd is already drunk and dancing in the middle of the living room, where Hoseok has pushed all the furniture to the corners. Neon spinning disco lights sit on various tables, providing the only light other than the glow of the kitchen. Dark curtains cover the windows. Jungkook comes to Hoseok’s apartment for parties frequently, but it still surprises him how many people he manages to pack into so small a place.

 Hoseok kicks the door shut and pushes them in the direction of the kitchen. Various forms of alcohol and empty cups cover the counter, along with more than a few colored spills. A giggling couple embraces by the fridge. Jungkook and Taehyung pour each other’s shots for a while before joining the crowd in the living room. Hoseok dances in the middle amidst cheers. Off to the side, Wheein, the cute girl who’s always at every party, stumbles against a table. Hoseok beelines toward her immediately. He can be wild when he’s drunk, but he also turns into kind of a mom. Jungkook has been on the receiving end of his drunk caretaking one too many times.

Jungkook surveys the crowd for anyone interesting. Maybe he can get his game back on tonight. Jimin makes him feel like he doesn’t even have any. Taehyung drifts off to talk to some classmates, and Jungkook finds a guy from his art history lecture.

“Partying the night before the exam?” Yugyeom says, laughing. “Me too.”

“I’m not all that worried.”

“You shouldn’t be. Don’t you always get good marks in that class? Do you even study?”

“Not really.” Jungkook shrugs easily. He doesn’t really pay attention in class, either, but he’s managed to pull decent grades on every assignment thus far. It’s like that with most of his classes.

“Tried, but fuck, I’ll probably fail. Wish I had your brain.”

An arm wraps around Jungkook’s neck, tugging him away. “Jungkookie, you didn’t update me.”

Jungkook waves to Yugyeom and lets Hoseok pull him back to the kitchen for more drinks. “Update you on what, hyung?”

“Come on. You spent like half an hour trying to wheedle every tiny piece of information about Jiminie from me, and you’re not even gonna tell me what happened?”

“Oh. That.” Jungkook takes a swig of his drink moodily. Two weeks ago Taehyung had accidentally let slip that Hoseok and Jimin danced together, so Jungkook interrogated Hoseok until he found out just about everything he needed to know. Jimin moved to Seoul from Busan for university, he danced on Hoseok’s team, and he volunteered at a daycare but wished it was a school because he was studying to be an English teacher. He had two jobs: one as a barista in the café near the library, and one at the auto shop his uncle owned. He busted his ass to do well in school, send money home to his family, and fulfil his passion of dancing—and he most definitely did not have time for little shits like Jeon Jungkook (Hoseok’s words).

“Guessing it didn’t go well.”

“He’s not interested in me. At all.”

Hoseok snorts. “Smart kid.”

“Hyung,” Jungkook whines, hitting his shoulder.

“All right, Jungkookie, talk to me about it.” Hoseok steers them to a couch in the corner and shoos away two girls making out. “Tell me the problem.”

“What are you, my mother?” Jungkook complains, but he still says, “I keep trying to hit on Jimin hyung but I don’t think he knows I’m trying to hit on him.”

“Aww,” Hoseok coos. “You call him hyung?”

“Shut up.”

“So how many times have you tried hitting on him, anyway?”

“Okay,” Jungkook says. They have to yell a little to be heard, and the couch smells like alcohol, but Jungkook really wants to talk. He doesn’t trust Taehyung because he would probably try to sabotage him with shitty advice. “You in for the long haul?”

“That’s why we’re sitting down.”

“Three times. And they didn’t go very well.”

 

Attempt #1: when Park Jimin mistakes advances for friendliness.

After wringing information out of Hoseok, Jungkook takes his project for his drawing course to the little café tucked in next to the library. It’s called Dream Bean, and its wooden benches are always full of students with laptops and textbooks open and busy. Student artwork covers the fake stone walls. One of Jungkook’s paintings from freshman year hangs behind the counter. Despite that, he doesn’t come here often, which explains why he’s never seen Jimin before.

Jungkook places the sketchbook where he’s planning his project on a high stool at the bar, directly behind which the baristas make the coffee. Then he sidles up to the counter. Jimin’s at the register, wearing a black trucker hat with the Dream Bean logo of a steaming coffee cup. An apron hugs his waist, the short sleeves of a black uniform polo loose around his biceps. His coworker flits in and out of the storage room.

“Oh, hello,” Jimin says, a little surprised.

“You’re the not-mechanic,” Jungkook says as if he didn’t specifically plan to find him here. Now that he’s talking to Jimin, he feels a little like a stalker.

“You’re the guy with the baby blue moped.”

Jungkook bristles immediately. “It’s not baby blue. It’s like,” he hesitates, trying to think of something, “water blue.”

He thinks that they’ve already gotten off to a bad start, but then he realizes Jimin’s lips are curving up into a full blown grin, teeth on display. Then he laughs, a high-pitched giggle that makes Jungkook’s stomach flutter. “Water is clear.”

“You know what I’m talking about.”

“Uh-huh.” Jimin laughs again, then gestures to the chalkboard menu hanging behind him. “What are you getting?”

“Um.” Jungkook didn’t think this through. He doesn’t actually like coffee. “An Americano?”

“Why does that sound like a question?” Jimin’s eyes crinkle into a smile again.

“Americano,” he repeats more firmly. “Medium.”

“Can I get your name for the order?”

“Can I get yours?” Jungkook leans forward a little, an eyebrow raised. Jimin pauses from where he’s fiddling with the cash register to look up.

He holds his gaze for a second, and Jungkook’s sure he’s gotten the hint, but then Jimin’s face melts into a smile. “Jimin, nice to meet you!”

It’s perfectly friendly and not suggestive at all and Jungkook groans internally. “Jungkook.”

“That’ll be 4,000 won, Jungkook-ssi.”

“You can just call me Jungkook.” He passes over the money, and goes to sit at the counter.

He tries to look busy with his sketchbook. Jimin takes a few more orders before he comes to stand in front of Jungkook and make drinks. A funny concentrated expression adorns his face as he works the machine and mixes syrups. Jeon Jungkook, he tells himself, you need to up your game.

“Taehyung said you were an education major.”

Jimin glances over. “Yeah, we’re in the same year.”

“Then you’re older than me. Can I call you hyung?” He leans his chin in his hand, eyes focused intently on Jimin.

But Jimin just smiles. “Sure. Are you an art major?” He nods to Jungkook’s sketchbook as he tops off a drink with a gratuitous amount of whipped cream. “Iced coffee for Jaebum-ssi,” he says, sliding it across the pickup counter.

A good-looking guy comes up to take it. “Thanks.” He winks. Jimin looks a little flustered.

Jungkook squeezes his pencil too tightly. Now that is game. “Yeah, fine arts.”

“What’s your focus?”

“I don’t have one yet. But I like painting.”

“My friend’s in grad school here doing photography, but he was art for undergrad. Do you know Yoongi hyung?”

Every art major knows Min Yoongi. Small, blunt, and incredibly talented, Jungkook isn’t sure if Yoongi inspires him or intimidates him. Once Yoongi caught a picture of two professors having an affair and turned it in as his final project—for one of the professors involved. He’s kind of a legend. “I’ve heard of him.”

“Here’s your Americano.” Jimin hands it to him. Jungkook takes it carefully, making sure his fingers brush unnecessarily against Jimin’s small ones. He holds his gaze as he does, lets it flicker down to Jimin’s mouth.

“Thanks, hyung,” he says, and smirks.

Jimin blinks. “Sure, no problem!” And then he’s busy with the machines again like nothing happened at all.

 

Hoseok snorts with laughter. It turns into a cough almost immediately. “I think I just snorted up vodka,” he says.

“You deserve it for laughing.”

“You can’t blame me, Kookie.” He starts to laugh again and hiccups. “Why are you trying to be subtle? Just tell him you wanna—” hiccup— “fuck.”

“I wasn’t being subtle. I’m pretty sure I stared at his ass for a good minute.”

“That’s just rude.”

“I don’t get it. He doesn’t even react.”

“He’s not interested.”

“But everyone always reacts, at least. He doesn’t even notice.”

“You need to get rejected more,” Hoseok says in a very serious tone, as if he’s dispensing important advice. “You’re too used to people liking you.”

“I’m gonna lose this bet and then have to do hyung’s laundry for a whole semester.”

On cue, the grating noise of wood scraping wood reaches their ears as a few girls drag a table into the middle of the living room. Jungkook blinks and Taehyung’s lying on it, shirtless, a line of salt just above the low waistband of his leather pants and a lime in his mouth.

“I fucking told him not to do body shots.”

“When have you gone to a party where Kim Taehyung does not do body shots?”

“Well.”

“So what happened the next time you tried to hit on Jiminie?”

Jungkook settles back into the couch, sighing. He gestures to Wheein standing in the kitchen, and she tosses him a can of beer. “Like you said, hyung, I tried to be a lot more obvious the second time.”

 

Attempt #2: when Kim Taehyung inadvertently ruins everything.

Jungkook corners Jimin when he leaves dance practice. He pretends to come for Hoseok, talking to the older boy for about one minute total. Then he turns to Jimin, who stands in the back of the practice studio chugging a bottle of water, head thrown back to expose the long line of his neck.

“Jimin hyung,” Jungkook says, stopping in front of him. Jimin wears sweats and a hoodie, the hood pulled up so that only a few strands of orange hair peek out, and he looks good.

“Hey, Jungkook. What are you doing here?”

“Had to talk to Hoseok hyung. You dance?”

Jimin wipes sweat from his nose with the back of his hand. “I’m on the team with hyung.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“How’s your baby blue moped doing?”

“He’s not baby blue—” Jungkook bristles again before he realizes Jimin’s only doing it to rile him up.

“It’s a he? Does he have a name, too?”

Jungkook mumbles, “Maybe,” and rubs the back of his head, looking away.

“I’m just kidding, Jungkookie.” Jimin laughs and hits his shoulder. It’s almost flirty. And a nickname implies a certain level of comfort.

Jungkook grins back at him. “Hey, hyung, wanna go to a party this weekend?”

Jimin tilts his head the slightest bit. He looks like a puppy, slightly confused. Then his eyes widen in understanding. Jungkook holds his breath. Is he finally, finally going to— “Did Taehyung put you up to this? He’s always begging me to come party with him but I never have time.”

“What? No—”

“He did, didn’t he? Damn it, Taehyung.” Jimin hoists his sports bag onto his shoulder, pushing his water bottle into the outer pocket. “Tell him ‘nice try.’”

Jimin moves to the door. “Wait, hyung—”

“I’ll see you around, Jungkook!”

Jimin waves and walks out.

 

Hoseok is laughing again. “Oh fuck, he swerved so hard.”

“So being obvious didn’t really help, either.”

“Dude, give up.”

“My name is Jeon Jungkook and I—”

“—never give up. Yeah, yeah.”

Taehyung has moved from body shots to making out with a girl on the table. She wanders away after a while, and Taehyung yanks a boy down by the collar instead.

“Make sure Tae gets home all right,” Hoseok says.

“I’m not an idiot.”

“That’s debatable.” Hoseok sinks further into the sofa, tucking his head in Jungkook’s neck and yawning.

“You can’t fall asleep. This is your party.”

“Tell me the rest.” His voice slurs with sleep and alcohol both. Jungkook feels Hoseok’s eyelashes flutter shut against his skin. “What’d Jiminie do the third time?”

 

Attempt #3: when Jeon Jungkook utilizes the Internet.

Jungkook returns to Dream Bean with a failed project for Studio class tucked under his arm. He hadn’t worked that hard on the painting, but it wasn’t bad. He knew it wasn’t. That’s why he had confronted his professor after class, demanding an explanation.

“I know you can do better, Jungkook,” Professor Kim had said.

“My painting was better than half the class’s, and I’m only one that failed.”

His professor was unfazed by Jungkook’s outright arrogance. “I don’t grade you to their standards, I grade you to yours.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that you’re talented, Jungkook, but you can’t scrape by on talent forever. Success requires effort, too.”

He’d left class feeling a mixture of anger and despondency. It was true he hadn’t put much effort into the project. But he never needed to, so he never bothered. He almost isn’t in the mood to flirt with Jimin again, yet he ends up in Dream Bean regardless.

Jimin looks tired, too. Dark shadows circle his drooping eyes, and his face looks drawn like he hasn’t eaten much. But when he sees Jungkook he breaks into a genuine smile, and for a brief, desperate moment, a flash of guilt spikes through Jungkook. “Hey, Jungkook.”

He leans on the counter and says, “I’ve been thinking about you a latte.”

Jimin stares. Jungkook tries not to cringe. Then Jimin bursts into laughter. His eyes curve sweetly, and the laugh is high and lively. “Oh, man, that’s a good one. Tell me another.”

That’s where, ordinarily, Jungkook would slink away with his tail between his legs. Pickup lines are usually a bad idea, but they’ve worked before, and at this point he’ll do anything. But Jimin looks so amused, the tiredness melting from his shoulders, so Jungkook says, “If you were ground coffee, you’d be espresso because you’re so fine.”

He laughs so hard he flings his whole body into it, hitting the counter with a small fist and doubling forward. When he comes back up, he wipes a tear from the corner of his eyes. Jungkook’s grinning like an idiot. “I needed that. I’ve had a rough day. My coworker called in sick.”

Jungkook’s still smiling when he says, “I’m going to start watching my caffeine intake, because baby you make my heart palpitate.”

“Is this the guy bothering you?” The deep voice behind him makes Jungkook jump. He turns around. The guy standing there has combed-back blond hair and a furrowed brow. He’s dressed well, a blue button-down tucked into slender white pants. A pair of glinting aviators hangs from the collar of his shirt.

Jungkook freezes, looking to Jimin, whose face brightens. “Hyung!” he exclaims. “Did you get out of class early?”

The guy’s expression melts from intensity to affection. “Yeah, I did. How’s work going, Jiminie?”

Jimin shrugs. Jungkook stands there uncomfortably. The guy has taken to ignoring him completely. “Ah, hyung. This is Jungkook, and he’s not bothering me. He was trying to make me laugh.”

There it is again—that flash of guilt.

“Jungkook, this is Namjoon hyung.”

Namjoon eyes Jungkook briefly before the guardedness fades and he smiles. He has dimples. He’s attractive; Jungkook wonders if he should feel threatened. But the way he looks at Jimin seems more doting than anything.

“Anyway, what do you guys want to drink?”

“Americano,” they say in unison, then glance at each other. Namjoon laughs first.

“It’s on me,” he says, sliding cash across the counter.

“Ah, you don’t have to do that.”

“It’s all right. You’re Jimin’s friend.”

Jungkook rubs the back of his head. He wonders if Hoseok or Taehyung would ever do something like that for a friend of his. Doubtful. Namjoon takes his to-go, leaving with a friendly wave, and Jungkook sits at the bar again. While Jimin mixes something with too much syrup, Jungkook looks at his art project. The despondency threatens to lurk once more.

“Is that a painting for class?” Jimin asks, pouring espresso into the sugary drink.

“I failed.”

Jimin looks honestly distressed. “Oh, no.”

“It’s whatever.”

Jimin’s lower lip curves into a cute pout. He finishes the drink and calls out for, “Hyejin-ssi?”

Hyejin approaches the counter with a cheerful, “Thanks.” As she turns away, her eyes catch on Jungkook and narrow. “Jeon.”

“Ahn.”

She glares and walks off. Distracted, Jungkook doesn’t notice Jimin until he pushes a blueberry muffin in a small plate across the bar.

He looks at the muffin and then at Jimin. “Hyung?”

“It’s a cheer-up muffin, on the house. But don’t tell anyone or I’ll get in trouble.”

Free coffee and a free muffin. Jungkook really is spoiled. He rests his forearms on the counter and tilts his head. “What are you doing tonight, hyung?” There’s no way Jimin can miss the suggestiveness of his tone or his gaze.

“Hmm? Oh, writing an essay, going to dance practice.” Jimin’s tone remains perfectly casual. “What about you?”

He mumbles some bullshit answer and watches Jimin move to the register. He drops his head on his arms and groans.

Jeon Jungkook does not give up, but damn does he want to.

 

“Jimin’s a nice boy,” Hoseok murmurs sleepily. “If he’s not interested, leave him alone.”

“It’s not that he’s not interested, he’s just oblivious,” Jungkook insists.

“You sure about that?”

Jungkook sighs. Taehyung stumbles against the table and some boy catches him, laughing. “I think it’s time to kick everyone out, hyung.”

“No,” Hoseok whines. “The night is young!”

Jungkook rolls his eyes. He shoves Hoseok off him, who protests before curling up into a ball and falling asleep with his mouth open. Jungkook retrieves a pot from kitchen and walks around the apartment, banging it with a metal spoon. “Get lost,” he yells, yanking the stereo plug.

People start to grumble and leave. Taehyung tries to follow someone out, but Jungkook yanks him back by his wrist and sits him down next to Hoseok. He knows Wheein came alone, so he tucks her into Hoseok’s bed and leaves a glass of water on the table. He locks the door from the inside before pulling it shut behind him. Then he checks the bathroom for any stragglers, and when he doesn’t find any, he tosses a blanket over Hoseok and finds Taehyung’s shirt.

Taehyung doesn’t want to put it on but Jungkook shoves his sleeves through it and tugs it over his head. He’s in the middle of finding Taehyung’s shoes when Hoseok mumbles something.

“What’s that?” he moves closer.

“You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone.”

Jungkook pulls back, troubled. “Bye, hyung.”

He wraps his arm around Taehyung’s waist and leads him out.  

Chapter Text

Approximately 76.3% of questionable situations Jungkook ends up in are a direct result of Kim Taehyung.

In his first year of high school, back when he barely spoke and flinched if anyone asked him a question, he scrubbed windows after classes for a whole month because of Taehyung. He had proposed that they change the snobby gym teacher’s ringtone to a high-pitched keening when he wasn’t in his office. Jungkook protested, imagining dire consequences, but Taehyung dragged him along regardless. He’d had that special look on his face, the smile that could probably convince a person to commit murder. In the end, the teacher’s phone rang while the class changed clothes in the locker room. Taehyung had burst into unrestrained laughter, but Jungkook looked so mortified the teacher caught him immediately.

In his third year of high school, when he had progressed from terrified silence to the occasional in-class comment, Taehyung returned from university one weekend for what would became a rather eventful visit. Somehow he managed to persuade Jungkook that drawing dicks in chalk all over the playground at three AM was a good idea. The cops made them spend the night handcuffed to the local station’s hard plastic chairs as a lesson. 

But nothing was quite as bad as his first of university, when he went to his inaugural party with Taehyung and woke up the next morning on the cold, hard sidewalk. Hungover and confused, Taehyung snoring next to him, and the ground making indents on his cheek, he had looked up at what he thought was the arts building and promised himself he would never drink again. That promise didn’t last very long, but he certainly never let Taehyung convince him to take another shot when he was already over his limit.

So, naturally, it’s entirely Kim Taehyung’s fault that Jungkook finds himself standing in the middle of a daycare playground with a mass of tiny fetuses running and screaming around his legs.

It starts with a well-aimed taunt over breakfast in the dining hall.

They collect their three plates each of various breakfast items and sit in the corner by the ceiling-high window, watching the suckers with morning classes rush around toting heavy backpacks. The night before they stayed up until four in the morning playing League of Legends. Now Jungkook droops over his breakfast, swallowing bitter mouthfuls of dining hall coffee that doesn’t hold a candle to Dream Bean’s Americanos. Taehyung, as usual, is markedly more upbeat.

“So I had class with Jimin yesterday.” Taehyung is the physical embodiment of the smirking emoji.

“Okay.” Jungkook stabs at his rice, knowing exactly where this is going.

“I asked him about you.”

“What’d you say?”

“Nothing, just said you’d mentioned him and how much you liked the coffee at Dream Bean.”

Jungkook narrows his eyes suspiciously. “Is that all you said?”

Taehyung waves away the question with a careless hand. “Maybe a few other things. Anyway, he seems to be under the impression that I’m the one who made you ask him to a party.”

Jungkook’s scowl deepens.

“Still hasn’t taken the hint, has he?”

“Fuck off.”

“Man, he must be really oblivious. Or.” One dark eyebrow quirks, the side of his mouth lifting up. “He’s just really, really not into you.”

He flushes, kicking Taehyung’s shin under the table. “It’s not over yet, asshole.”

“Are you sure about that?” Taehyung takes a smug sip of coffee. “It’s pretty obvious to me.”

“Shut up.”

“Pretty obvious you’re gonna be doing my laundry for four months.”

“I’m gonna kill you.”

“I’ll make sure to get everything extra dirty for you.” He winks.

“You know I can pick you up and slam you into this table right now, right?” Jungkook makes sure to flex his muscles as he speaks. Taehyung weighs just about nothing. When Jungkook loses at Mario Kart, he throws Taehyung across the room for revenge.

“Kinky.”

“I’m not going to lose,” Jungkook growls, shoving an angry glob of rice in his mouth.

“Aw,” Taehyung leans his chin in his hand and pouts patronizingly. “Guess you’re still little Kookie with no game, huh?”

Jungkook stands, a rush of warmth flooding to his face. He leans across the table to grab Taehyung’s collar, but Taehyung is too quick. He leaps up, grabs his bag, and runs for the door.

“Have a good day, Jungkookie!”

“I know where you sleep, you sack of shit!” he shouts back.

That’s why he braves Dream Bean again that afternoon, hoping Jimin’s working that day. He catches him just as he’s pulling off his apron and hat, fluffing out his orange hair and slinging a thin backpack over one shoulder.

“Jungkook,” he says with a smile.

“Are you leaving?” Jungkook stops by the waist-high swinging door that leads behind the counter, Jimin on the other side.

“I gotta get to volunteering. At the daycare.”

“At HSL?” he says, and then flinches. He shouldn’t know that. He only knows that because Hoseok told him.

Jimin blinks. “Yeah. You know it?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Did you volunteer there, too?”

“I’m starting,” he blurts before he can stop himself. “Next week.”

Jimin brightens. “There aren’t any other volunteers my age.”

Jungkook nods, gaining confidence. “I’m kind of nervous. I’ve never worked with kids before and the, uh, supervisor made it seem pretty strict.”

“Oh, no, it’s not bad at all!”

“Do you think you could tell me a little bit about it? I know you have to get going, but maybe we could trade numbers?”

Jimin pulls out his phone immediately, swapping with Jungkook. “Text me with any questions you have. You’re gonna love it there.”

He watches Jimin go with a surge of triumph. Take that, Taehyung. Jimin’s number and a permanent way to see him all in one go.

“Are you getting anything?” The girl at the counter calls over, slightly irritated.

“Nope,” he says, and runs out with a grin.

Halfway home he realizes that he has one week to find a way to apply, land an acceptance, and begin volunteering. At a daycare. With children. Living, breathing children around whom he has to be lively and patient, all the while trying to convince the insusceptible Jimin to sleep with him.

Jungkook is monumentally fucked.

He takes his moped to HSL during a time he knows Taehyung and Jimin have class together. Parking Stark outside, he enters through the swinging double doors into a bright lobby. The walls are red, the chairs yellow, and the desk blue. It looks like preschool.

“How can I help you?” The long-haired girl at the desk asks. She seems friendly.

He glances at her nametag before bowing politely. “Hello, Yongsun-ssi.” He shoots her a winning smile. “I was wondering how to become a volunteer here.”

“Just fill out one of these forms.” She pulls a three page packet from under the desk and hands it to him. “Someone will review it and call you in for a quick interview. It won’t be anything major since you’re only working as a volunteer.”

He doesn’t have time to wait for an interview. “Mind if I just fill it out right now?”

She hands him a pen, and he takes a seat in one of the uncomfortable yellow chairs. He races through the form in under ten minutes, jotting down bullshit like I want to volunteer so I can learn about kids and be a better hyung to my cousins and I’m really hardworking and responsible. A part of him wonders if he laid it on too thick when he hands the form back to Yongsun.

“Someone will contact you within a few days.”

“Actually, I was wondering.” He constructs his tone into one light and sweet. “Is there any way I could meet with someone right now?”

Her brow furrows, ready to deny him.

“I understand if it’s impossible. I’m sure everyone’s so busy. But I’m really looking forward to working here, and I just want to get started as soon as possible, if you’ll have me.” Her face melts but still doesn’t look very convinced. “I completely get it if that can’t happen. But I’d really appreciate it if you could help me out.” He lets his voice drop off at the end, eyes wide and imploring. She flushes.

“Maybe I can work something out. Hold on.”

She disappears down the long hallway to the side where crayon artwork covers the walls. Jungkook drums his fingers on the desk and taps his foot. Yongsun returns fifteen minutes later, leading an older woman with a stern expression. He quakes inside.

“You’re interested in volunteering?” she says curtly.

He bows. “Yes, ma’am.”

“We don’t usually do these kinds of things in one visit. I haven’t even looked at your application yet.”

“I understand.” He figures it’s best not to try sugarcoating, so he leaves it at that.

“Come on, let’s talk.”

She takes him into her office, a small one with pictures of children on her wooden desk. He sits through a few basic questions, like his major and experience and what he’d do with a crying kid. He channels his inner Taehyung. He’s the one who got him into this mess, but Taehyung is also absolute magic with kids.

It doesn’t take as long as he expected. Half an hour later, she shows him out with an instructional packet on daycare volunteering and a promise that he can start in one week exactly, at the very same time Jimin will be there, too. Jungkook rides Stark all the way home with a massive grin on his face.

Take that, Kim Taehyung.

He texts Jimin a few times over the week with random questions. Jimin always responds promptly and with three emojis minimum, but he never texts Jungkook first. Jungkook isn’t worried. His first day of volunteering arrives, and he checks his outfit in the mirror three times over. The supervisor asked that he dress well, so he wears a checked button-down tucked into dark pants. He fixes his hair to look like a Nice Boy and puts on a wristwatch for good measure.

Taehyung smacks his butt as he passes by. “Looking good. Where are you going?”

“Volunteering,” Jungkook says smugly. “At the daycare. With Jimin.”

Instead of looking appropriately disappointed that Jungkook is now clearly winning, Taehyung looks confused. “You’re volunteering? At a daycare?”

“So?”

“I thought you were trying to get Jimin to sleep with you, not fall in love with you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Putting up with screaming kids every week seems like a little much just for sex, Jungkookie.”

Jungkook snorts. “I’ll do anything to avoid your disgusting laundry.”

He doesn’t see Jimin when he gets there. They put him in a classroom with a number of large round tables occupied by curious five-year-olds. The walls are lined with smaller bookshelves for the kids and larger ones full of teachers’ supplies. A play area by the windows, surrounded by cubbies with their bags and jackets, has a comfy couch and a colorful rug. All the games are stored neatly in a room to the side.

It doesn’t stay so organized for long. He spends the first hour running back and forth wiping the remnants of snack time off tables, handing out crayons, and answering questions like how come you have so many ear piercings, hyung? One little girl asks if he’ll play an imaginary game of basketball with her, and he complies, pretending to shoot hoops and dodge around her tiny arms. But then the teacher pulls him aside and says rather sternly, as if he’s supposed to know this one day in, that the kids are not allowed to play games until they’ve finished their homework. Jungkook thinks that’s a stupid rule. This is a daycare, not a school.

By the time the teacher calls for a break, Jungkook is regretting his decision immensely. Taehyung’s laundry might be better than this. He follows the class to the playground behind the building and hopes running freely will tire them out.  A large tree near the mini basketball court offers solace, where he remains close enough to check on anyone if they fall but far enough that their screams don’t assault his skull so much. When someone taps his shoulder, he’s discreetly scrolling through Twitter on his phone at a perfectly situated angle so that the teacher can’t see him.

He jumps, fumbling his phone. Catching it before he drops it, he spins around, an excuse on the tip of his tongue. But it’s just Jimin, grinning up at him. He looks extra small in a flat pair of shoes.

“Slacking on the job, Jungkook-ssi?” he teases.

“No,” Jungkook sniffs. He knows Jimin is joking, but it riles him up anyway.

“So how’s the first day?”

He shrugs. “My teacher’s kind of a hard ass.”

“Who did they put you with?”

Jungkook gestures to the man sitting on a bench by the swing set. “I forgot his name.”

Jimin rolls his eyes. “Of course you did.”

“Hey, what’s that mean?”

“Nothing. I’m with Bom noona.” He points to a pretty, dark-haired woman playing a squealing game of tag with a few of the younger kids. “But they’re switching me to your class after break, actually. She doesn’t have as many kids today.”

Jungkook tries to look disinterested. “Oh, yeah?”

“They kind of just move you around to whoever needs it the most.” Jimin leans on the tree beside Jungkook, hands behind his back. The height difference is monumental when he slouches like that. Jungkook could tuck him under his arm if he wanted to. Not that he does. “You clean up nicely, Mr. Timberlands-and-Sweats.” Jimin tugs on the cuff of Jungkook’s button-down.

“You’re okay, too.” Jimin’s more than okay. Jimin looks like he descended from the Heavens in slacks that hug the curve of his ass and a slender dress shirt shaped to his chest.

The arrival of Yeonjoo, the girl from before, interrupts any offended answer Jimin might have. She skids to a stop in front of Jungkook with a basketball clutched in both arms. “Jungkook oppa can you help me dunk I’m not tall enough but I really want to dunk—”

Jungkook likes Yeonjoo. She stuck her tongue out at the teacher when he pulled Jungkook aside for scolding. So he grabs her by the waist mid-sentence, lifts her up, and breaks into a run so fast she shrieks. “Yeonjoo, HSL’s star player, about to make a shot that will go down in history,” he says. He doesn’t need to jump to reach the rim of the mini basketball hoop, but he pretends to anyway. She grabs the rim to drop the ball in. It whooshes through, and she cheers.

Jungkook sets her down carefully. She holds her hand up for a high-five. He complies, grinning, then returns to the tree. Jimin watches him approach, a quiet smile on his face.

“What?” Jungkook rubs the back of his head, a hint of embarrassment coloring his tone.

“Cute,” Jimin says.

Jimin joins his classroom when break ends. The teacher is much friendlier to him than Jungkook. Jungkook would be affronted, but he realizes it’s kind of impossible to be mean to Jimin. Helping the kids with homework occupies most of their time until they’re allowed to switch to playing with puzzles and paint instead. Then Jungkook and Jimin stand off to the side while the teacher disappears into his office.

“Jimin hyung.” One of the boys raises his hand. “Can I have the Pororo coloring book?”

Jimin turns to the bookshelf next to them and scans it. He cranes his neck, peering at the very top shelf. Jungkook can see it resting on top of the bookshelf rather than in it, where someone must have carelessly tossed it. He considers offering help but waits to see if Jimin will ask. He doesn’t; he hoists himself up on his tiptoes and reaches for it. His fingers barely brush the top edge of the shelf. Jungkook’s fruitless efforts to hide a smile fall through.

“Need help?” Jungkook says, unable to keep the amusement from his tone.

Jimin shoots him a side-eyed glance. “No, thank you,” he says primly, and reaches again.

“Ask Jungkook hyung to get it!” The boy calls. “He’s so tall.”

This time Jungkook can’t fight the chuckle. “Yeah, hyung, I’m so tall. Let me try.”

“If we weren’t around kids,” Jimin says through gritted teeth. “I’d whoop your—”

Jungkook hushes him theatrically. “Think of the children.”

Jimin vainly tries for the book again. He’s close, his fingers just centimeters from grabbing it. Jungkook shifts to stand behind him, near enough that his chest presses into Jimin’s warm back. He feels Jimin stiffen, hears the sharp intake of breath. Then he reaches up and retrieves the book with ease.

“Got it,” he murmurs in Jimin’s ear, resting his hand on his waist for the briefest of seconds before pulling away. “Here you go, kid.” He deposits the book in front of the boy.

“My name’s not ‘kid,’” he insists.

Jungkook doesn’t like him. He tried to take the basketball away from Yeonjoo during break. “Yeah, yeah.” He shoots a surreptitious glance in Jimin’s direction, who looks vaguely flustered. An opportunity at last; he sidles up to Jimin’s side and says, “Wanna get coffee after this?”

“I would.” Jimin really does sound regretful. “But I have to write a paper and solve equations for math and watch this English movie and—yeah.” But hesitantly, he suggests, “You could come over. We could, um, study together. If you want.”

Jungkook very carefully schools his expression into one of absolute indifference. “Sure.”

So that’s how Jungkook ends up in Jimin’s one-bedroom apartment, alone, at night, thrumming with anticipation. An untidy pile of open books and paper litter the floor between them, but it’s not so large an obstacle. Jungkook pretends to study vocabulary for art history, but really he watches Jimin scribble numbers onto paper with his tongue peeking from the corner of his pursed lips. After a while Jimin rolls over onto his back, spreading his arms dramatically.

“I hate math,” he says.

“Aren’t you studying to be an English teacher? Why are you taking math?”

“I want to be certified to teach math, too.”

“Why?” Jungkook doesn’t mask the disgust.

Jimin laughs. “I think it’d be cool to teach different things.”

“But why math? Why not Korean? Or History?”

“I dunno. Math’s not so bad.”

“You’re crazy. But I shouldn’t be surprised. You picked English.”

“English is hard,” Jimin says, as if Jungkook doesn’t know. “But Namjoon hyung is really good at English. He helps me practice.”

“Oh.” Jungkook remembers the tall, handsome guy who made Jimin smile so brightly and feels a little bitter.

“He’s my roommate, by the way.”

“You have a roommate?”

“Two.”

Jungkook glances around him with new eyes, at the small living room separated from an even smaller kitchen by a little counter, and the partially open door to the bedroom he hasn’t seen. “You all share one room?”

“It’s really cheap splitting rent three ways.” Jimin tosses an arm over his eyes, relaxing onto the floor.

He thinks about his own apartment, with its two decently-sized bedrooms and HD TV. From what he can see, Jimin doesn’t have a television. The apartment contains little in the way of adornment, no more than one threadbare armchair and a broken couch. Jungkook and Taehyung hardly use the kitchen, but appliances litter their counter; Jimin doesn’t even have microwave. “You pay for rent on your own?” Before Jungkook first moved in, he had complained to his parents for not finding him an apartment of his own.

“My parents are kind of in a rough spot right now. So I take care of myself. Send home what I can.”

Hoseok had said Jimin sent money home to his family, but Jungkook hadn’t really thought about it until now. “That’s why you work two jobs.”

“It’s not bad.” Jimin flips over onto his stomach, propping himself on his elbows. He looks like he desperately wants Jungkook to believe him. “I’m happy to help my family. I just wish I could do more.”

Jungkook wonders if he would be so understanding in Jimin’s position.

“What about you? Have you always wanted to do art?” Jimin asks.

“I guess. I’ve always been good at it, so it made sense.”

“Can I see some of your work sometime?”

“I have some pictures on my phone. I can show you.” He doesn’t know why he suddenly feels embarrassed. “Um, if you want.”

“I would love that.”

He maneuvers around the homework spread out between them to flop down on his stomach next to Jimin, shoulder-to-shoulder. Swiping quickly through a few drunken pictures of Taehyung dancing on a table that make Jimin giggle, he stops on a photo of a painting he did a few months ago. “It wasn’t for class or anything. The cherry blossoms looked pretty. It’s not that good, it was just for fun—”

“It’s gorgeous.” Jimin breathes, taking his phone to zoom in. He passes over every inch of it with such awed scrutiny that Jungkook fidgets. “Show me more.”

So he swipes through a few more, and Jimin gazes at each one with wide-eyed wonder.

“You’re amazing, Jungkookie.” He looks up. “These are the prettiest paintings I’ve ever seen.”

“You’re exaggerating.”

“I’m not.”

Jungkook’s eyes flicker to Jimin’s lips. They’re so close he would only have to lean in a little to kiss him, noses brushing, shoulders bumping. He could draw his thumb along Jimin’s smooth cheek, bring him closer if he wanted. Run his hands through the soft orange hair he’s admired for weeks.

The door opens with an unceremonious bang.

Jungkook jerks back. Jimin pushes himself into a sitting position, peeking around the couch to see the newcomer.

“Yoongi hyung!”

“Hey, Jiminie. Whose shoes are these?” A rough voice calls back. Jungkook freezes. Yoongi hyung. Min Yoongi, notorious photography graduate student, is Jimin’s roommate. He hears shuffling before Yoongi steps into view. Their eyes lock onto each other, and Yoongi’s narrow. “Oh.”

Jungkook imagined Yoongi as an imposing presence, cocky and fearless. The real Yoongi is small, about the same height as Jimin, with grapefruit-colored hair and bags under his eyes. Thin legs show through his torn skinny jeans, and the jacket he wears practically engulfs him. He has delicate features, a small nose and pretty lips.

“Yoongi hyung, this is Jungkook. He’s an art student, too. Jungkook, this is Yoongi hyung.”

Jungkook stands to bow, still shell-shocked. He had known they were friends, but roommates?

Yoongi looks him up and down, unimpressed. He may be small, but he’s still just as intimidating as Jungkook expected. “Jeon Jungkook?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ve heard of you.” His eyes narrow further, if that’s even possible. “You’re that party boy.”

“Um.”

“You come into Professor Choi’s class late every day. He always complains about you in the break room.” At Jungkook’s confusion, he adds, “I’m his assistant.”

“Professor Choi called me a party boy?” He grins. “I’m flattered.”

Jimin kicks the back of his leg from where he still sits on the ground. “Going to class late is rude. You’re so talented, don’t waste it.”

“But his class is on a Friday. The best parties are Thursday nights.”

“Class isn’t until four in the afternoon. Still hungover by then?” Jungkook makes a face, and Yoongi smirks. He tosses his bag on a stool by the counter. “Jiminie, did you eat dinner? Should I order something? Hyung’s treat.”

“I already ate. Don’t worry.” Jimin looks down at his hands when he lies. Jungkook has been with him since they left volunteering, and he knows Jimin hasn’t eaten anything.

“What are you guys doing, anyway?”

“Studying.” He points at their books.

“Ah.” Yoongi fixes his gaze on Jungkook. “Studying, huh?”

Jungkook stares back. Yoongi’s expressions tells him the older does not have much faith in Jungkook’s intentions. Even though he’s right, Jungkook feels insulted. Yoongi ducks into the kitchen and Jungkook returns to the ground by Jimin’s side, pulling over his book so he can prove that he really is doing work. A few minutes later, Yoongi emerges with a bottle of beer. He plops down on the armchair directly opposite them, pops the cap, and relaxes back, one foot tapping rhythmically.

There’s no TV in the room. Yoongi didn’t bring any books or a laptop. He just sits there and drinks his beer and stares at his phone. Jungkook had hoped he would retreat into the bedroom, but it looks like he has no plans of leaving Jungkook alone to make his move.

Yoongi catches his stare and raises an eyebrow. “Don’t mind me. Keep on studying.”

Jungkook’s head drops dejectedly back to his book. If he didn’t have enough obstacles already, now he has to deal with an overprotective roommate, too.

Chapter Text

Jungkook’s knee jostles up and down with the force of his tapping foot. He slouches back in the hard wooden chair, then sits upright. His fingers drum against the mahogany desk, then poke at a few sheets of laminated paper. It’s a messy desk, empty water bottles surrounding the computer and piles of haphazard sheets. The gold nameplate reads Kim Seokjin, and smaller beneath it, Arts Department. A little hourglass sits in the corner. Jungkook watches the sand trickle down. His foot taps quicker.

The door bursts open. Professor Kim speeds in, collapsing into his large desk chair, slightly out of breath. He loosens his tie. Even though his hair is windswept and his cheeks flushed, he still looks devastatingly handsome.

“Sorry to keep you waiting. A student spilled a can of paint near the fashion studio.”

Jungkook nods. He bites the corner of his lip.

“Do you know why I asked to see you today?”

“You didn’t like my sketch.”

“It’s not about what I like or dislike. You know that.”

Jungkook shrugs.

Professor Kim runs a hand through his dark hair. “Remember what I told you last time? About effort?”

He remembers failing a perfectly good studio project. “You don’t think I’m trying hard enough.”

“Jungkook.” From a folder by his desk, Professor Kim retrieves the sketch Jungkook turned in as a plan for his next project. He places it between them like it’s supposed to mean something. “You could do this with your eyes closed.”

“You think it’s shitty?”                                                          

“No, I don’t think it’s shitty. It’s a pretty good draft, technically speaking.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“The problem is you have so much potential and you’re wasting it. Where’s the heart? There’s nothing uniquely Jungkook about this idea at all.”

“I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean.”

“Why are you studying art?”

“I’m good at it.”

Kim looks disappointed. He rests his arms on the desk and tilts his head. The gentleness in his gaze makes Jungkook feel guilty. “Is that it?”

“I—I don’t know.” He clenches a hand around his knee, forcing his foot to stop tapping. “What am I supposed to say?”

“I’m not trying to attack you right now. Don’t feel pressured, all right? I just want to talk.”

He hesitates. “All right.” His hand unclenches. He lets his shoulders drop.

“How did your parents feel when you told them you wanted to study art?”

“They didn’t like it at first.”

“But you convinced them.”

“Eventually.”

“That must have been hard. Why didn’t you do something they would have been happy with?”

“It’s my life. I don’t wanna do what they want.”

“So art is what you want.”

“Yeah.”

“Then prove it. You might have been able to half-ass your way through life until now, but not my class. I want to see you put effort into my projects. Create something that matters.”

Jungkook looks down at his feet, chewing the insides of his cheeks. His hand clenches into a fist again.

“You’re not going to get anywhere if you just do enough to pass. Art is about more than that.”

“Can I go now?” He finally brings himself to meet his professor’s gaze, unable to keep the sullenness from his tone when he does.

Professor Kim sighs. “Don’t come to class late tomorrow.”

He slings his backpack over one shoulder, tucks his large canvas painting under his arm, and leaves. Eyes locked on his feet, he bumps into more than one pair of shoulders on the way out. The project under his arm is for a different class. A paper attached to the back of the canvas boasts stellar marks. That morning he had also received the grade for an art history exam. He did pretty well considering he hadn’t studied at all. If he had, maybe he would have gotten perfect marks.

But Jungkook doesn’t need perfect marks. He’s doing all right the way he is, he’s always done all right. He doesn’t understand why Professor Kim wants more.

“Jungkook!”

The voice startles him from his reverie. He looks up, shielding his eyes from the sun. Somehow, in his distraction, he has walked all the way to the library. Jimin bounces down the steps of the old stone building, waving. In cuffed jeans and sunglasses, he looks as good as always. One step behind him walk Namjoon and Yoongi. The latter has on a facemask and a hat pulled low over his eyes, a vitamin drink clutched tightly in hand.

Jimin hops to a stop in front of him. “You’re coming to volunteering this week, right?”

“I’ll be there. You wanna study again after?” He pointedly glances at Yoongi as he and Namjoon come up behind.

“Sure,” Jimin says, oblivious.

“Jungkook, right?” Namjoon nods in greeting.

“Party boy,” says Yoongi, with a jerk of his head that might count as hello.

“Is that another painting?” Jimin points at the canvas. “Can I see it?”

A sudden wave of discomfort filters through him. He pulls back just before Jimin reaches for it. “It’s not done,” he lies. “Sorry.”

Jimin had looked at his paintings with such awe, called him talented. But Jungkook hadn’t spent more than a night on this one. He doesn’t want Jimin to see that.

Professor Kim must be getting to him.

“It’s okay.” Jimin is unfazed. “Show me when it’s done.”

“Yeah.”

“Wanna come to the dining hall with us for lunch?”

Jungkook glances at Yoongi and Namjoon, then back at Jimin. It’s an opportunity, and he’s always looking for opportunities. But suddenly this feels like a stupid game. “Nah, I gotta get somewhere. I’ll see you around.”

He turns away rather abruptly. On his way home, he drops the painting in a dumpster.

 

Taehyung’s foot connects with Jungkook’s bedframe in rhythmic jolts. Jungkook lies sprawled on his stomach, face buried in his pillow. At first the thumping was irritating, but now it’s almost relaxing. He could fall asleep to the bed’s rocking if it weren’t for Taehyung’s annoying voice.

“Jungkook. Jungkookie. Kookie. Jeon. Jeon Jungkook. Jungkook-ah. Little Kookie.” He kicks the bed with every variation.

For a moment Jungkook lies there, wondering if it might be possible to tune him out. His voice increases in pitch and Jungkook abandons the idea. He cranes his neck to look at Taehyung, resting his cheek on the pillow, one eye mashed shut. Taehyung sits on top of Jungkook’s desk, at perfect level to kick the bed with each swing of his foot. A pile of papers lie crumpled under his butt.

“Jungkookie, Jungkookie, Jeon Jungkookie,” Taehyung continues.

“What the fuck do you want?”

“You’ve been lying in bed all day. I’m bored.”

“Fuck off.”

“Did Jimin reject you? Are you moping?”

Jungkook twists around to snatch a spare pillow and fling it. He’s close enough that it slams right into Taehyung’s face. Taehyung splutters, clutching the offending pillow, and kicks the bed hard enough that the headboard slams into the wall.

Despite the explosive reaction, Taehyung says, “What’s the matter? Wanna talk about it?”

“Nothing’s the matter.” And that’s the thing—nothing is. He’s just pissed. He doesn’t know why.

“Jackson hyung is throwing a party tonight. We should go.”

“I don’t really wanna go anywhere today.”

“If Jimin won’t bite, find someone else. You know Donghyuk will probably be there, right?”

“This isn’t about Jimin,” Jungkook insists, but the prospect of seeing Donghyuk from last year’s studio class is enticing. Donghyuk likes leather. He’ll probably show up with his collarbones on display in a white t-shirt under a black leather jacket, with that smoldering gaze he reserves for party nights—Jungkook sits up.

Taehyung snorts. “Mention Donghyuk once and your dick’s already twitching.”

“I’m not as bad as you when someone mentions Suwoong.”

“Okay but Suwoong is honestly the best lay I’ve ever had—”

“What should I wear?” Jungkook leaps out of bed in one smooth bound and tugs open his wardrobe door. “Donghyuk’s gonna wear leather so I shouldn’t wear leather, right?”

“You should definitely wear leather. I think he has a kink.” Taehyung slides off the desk and into Jungkook’s bed, wrapping his long limbs around all his pillows like an octopus. “Wear those leather pants that make your ass look good.”

“My ass always looks good,” Jungkook says, but he digs out the pants anyway.

They arrive at the party fashionably late, as always. Jackson has a much larger apartment than Hoseok, but he also shares it with three other guys. The place is packed, already reeking of alcohol and sweat. Jungkook finds Hoseok in the crowd and asks him to keep an eye on Taehyung tonight. He doesn’t try looking for Donghyuk yet. Instead he takes to the center of the living room and dances among the swaying bodies. It’s not long before hands slide around his waist, burning through the thin material of his shirt.

“Jungkook,” Donghyuk’s light voice says into his hair, a moment before his teeth scrape against Jungkook’s earlobe, catching on his earring. His calloused hands slip under the hem of Jungkook’s shirt to trace his hipbones.

There’s not much talking after that. They go to Donghyuk’s apartment, like they always do. The sex is good, like it always is. So good that Jungkook falls asleep in Donghyuk’s bed even though he fully intends on leaving before morning.

When he wakes up, the sun through Donghyuk’s window stings his eyes. He flings an arm over his face, groaning. Then he sits up, stretching until his back cracks, and leans over the side of the bed to remove his phone from his discarded jacket pocket. He has three text messages from Taehyung, all of which contain nothing but winking emojis. The time on his lockscreen reads 2:15.

“Oh, fuck.”

He catapults out of bed, shoving one leg into his pants and searching for his shirt at the same time. He has already shimmied into his pants when he remembers underwear. He takes them off, finds his underwear, then realizes he can’t arrive at a fucking daycare in leather pants so tight they show off the muscles of his thighs.

“Fuck,” he says, again.                                                          

He yanks Donghyuk’s closet door open and grabs a nice blue polo and a pair of khakis that look like they’ll probably fit him. Donghyuk’s shorter, so he cuffs the ends of the pants until it isn’t noticeable.

“What are you doing?” Donghyuk mumbles. He props himself up on one elbow, sheets tangled around his trim waist. Purpling bruises line his ribcage.

“Forgot I have volunteering. I’ll bring your clothes back later.”

“Cool,” he says, and face-plants back onto his pillow.

Jungkook finger-brushes his teeth, combs a hand through his hair, and runs out of the building. He doesn’t bother stopping for his moped, jogging all the way to the daycare instead. Yongsun at the front desk sends him straight to Bom’s classroom, where Jimin’s already handing out crayons. Some of that guilt flares with Jimin’s bright smile and little wave. It’s nothing like it at all, but for some reason Jungkook kind of feels like he cheated on him. 

They don’t talk until break. Jimin meets him under the tree by the basketball court like last time. He rests back against the trunk, right next to where Jungkook’s hand leans.

“Late night?” Jimin asks.

“Huh?”

Jimin raises his brows, gaze flickering to Jungkook’s neck. Jungkook’s hand flies up, pressing against tender skin, and realizes he must have a hickey.

“Fuck.”

“It’s okay. Kids don’t know what hickeys are. They probably think you fell.”

Still, he shifts the collar of Donghyuk’s polo around in the hopes of hiding it.

“And that definitely doesn’t look like your outfit.” Jimin’s tone is neutral, careful, but something in his eyes speaks of distance. For a brief, desperate moment, Jungkook wonders if Jimin is jealous.

“Why not?” Jungkook glances down at himself. Even though it’s obvious.

“It’s so not your size.” There’s no judgement in his voice, just curiosity when he asks, “Do you really party as much as everyone says?”

“Who says?”

“Everyone.”

“I party as much as Hoseok does, if that helps.”

“So as much as everyone says.” Jimin looks away, fiddling with the hem of his dress shirt. “Is it fun?”

Jungkook wonders if he’s imagining the longing in Jimin’s voice. “It’s fun. A way to let loose, no strings attached.”

“Sounds nice.”

He’s not imagining it. “You don’t go out?”

“I don’t have time.”

“Not even once in a while?”

“I could, I just—I dunno. I’m so used to not having fun that even when I’m free I just sleep.”

“Do you really reject anyone who’s interested in you, like everyone says?”

Jimin’s eyes flicker up to meet his, wide, a deer caught in headlights. “Who says?”

“Everyone.” Jungkook smirks, and Jimin flushes.

“I just—I don’t have time. For relationships.”

“I don’t do relationships, either. Not my thing. Like I said—I like it when there’s no strings attached.”

“So you just fuck around,” Jimin says wryly.

“You don’t do that, either?”

“That’s not really my thing.” Jimin bites the corner of his plump lower lip. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that, obviously,” he says suddenly. “I just don’t. Not lately, anyway.”

Not lately doesn’t mean not ever. Jungkook allows himself to hope. “Come on, no friends with benefits? No one night stands?”

“Jeon Jungkook, why are you so interested in my sex life?” Mirth dances in his gaze, replacing the previous discomfort.

“Maybe because I want to be part of it.” Unconsciously his voice lowers to a murmur. He shifts slightly so he’s facing Jimin, hand still braced against the tree by his head.

Jimin snorts. “Ha, ha. Very funny. Honestly, where do you come up this stuff?”

“I’m serious.”

“Sure you are.” He rolls his eyes.

“Jimin—”

“I think Yeonjoo fell.” Jimin pushes him away, small hand pressing briefly against his chest, and runs onto the basketball court without a backwards glance.

Yeonjoo sits in the middle of the blacktop, sobbing. Jungkook starts toward them. Jimin squats in front of her, lips forming words Jungkook can’t hear. He looks tiny sitting like that. Yeonjoo’s fine, he can tell, just startled. Jimin wipes tears from her round cheeks with his thumbs, an expression so tender on his face that Jungkook falters. When he helps her to her feet, she wraps her arms around his leg. His hands curl through her hair, and Jungkook draws close enough to listen.

“It’s okay, baby,” he coos. “You’re fine. You want to sit out?”

She mumbles something incoherent. Jungkook comes up next to them. “Yeonjoo, you gotta win the game. You’re the star player, remember?”

She sniffs, pulling her head back to look at Jungkook skeptically. “I guess.”

“Star players keep going even when they’re hurt. Shows how strong they are.”

“Yeah,” she finally says, letting go of Jimin. Jungkook holds out his hand for a high five and she delivers, a smile spreading across her face.

Jimin and Jungkook jog off the blacktop as the game resumes. Jimin doesn’t look at him, even when he says his name. “I forgot to ask Bom noona something,” he says, and walks away.

He doesn’t know if Jimin’s upset because of what Jungkook said or if it’s something else. Jimin stands with Bom for the rest of break. Jungkook stays by the tree helplessly, shooting periodic glances at them. He’s has never been this unsure about someone before. Never tried this hard.

When they return to class, Jimin acts like he always does, and Jungkook doesn’t know whether to be relieved or worried. Afterward, he waits for Jungkook at the door. “We’re still studying, right?”

“Right,” Jungkook says. If Jimin notices the hesitancy, he doesn’t comment.

Jimin fumbles with his keys when they reach his apartment. Jungkook leans against the doorjamb, watching his small hands pick through the numerous keys attached to his university lanyard. He’s done nothing out of the ordinary, but Jungkook still feels as though something’s wrong.

He finally summons up the courage to say, “Earlier, about what I said—I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”

“It’s okay, Jungkookie,” Jimin turns a smile on him, as sweet as ever. “I know you didn’t mean anything by it. It just sucks being known as this big heartbreaker, you know? It’s not like that.”

“Yeah. I know.” He knows that besides Taehyung, he’s never met anyone as unlikely to willingly break someone’s heart as Jimin.

“I hate rejecting people,” Jimin says, sorting through the keys with sudden vehemence. “I don’t get why anyone even likes me. It’s like—it’s almost like it’s this fucking challenge for people, now, because everyone in my major knows I don’t date and—” He finds the right key, jams it toward the keyhole and misses. “I wanna be with someone, too, you know? I just, I have to volunteer or else I won’t have any experience and English is so hard to learn and I work two jobs because my dad gets sick sometimes and has to take off days and they need me to send money and I’m just so tired sometimes I can’t even think straight—”

“Hey,” Jungkook murmurs. He rests his hand on top of Jimin’s, gently taking the keys from his trembling fingers. “You don’t have to justify yourself to me. Or anyone.”

“Yeah.” He sags against Jungkook’s side, so suddenly that at first Jungkook doesn’t react. Then he carefully slips his arm around Jimin’s shoulders. “Thanks, Kookie.”

Jungkook unlocks the door. Once they’re inside, Jimin pulls away and straightens. He braces himself visibly, as if he’s giving himself the strength to keep going. Jungkook watches his mouth change from a pout to a line and his forehead crease. 

“Sorry. I dunno why I’m acting like this.” Before Jungkook can answer, he drags him to the living room and drops his backpack on the floor. “Let’s study. I have to write a paper before work.”

“You’re working tonight?” He pauses at the sudden realization. Jimin doesn’t notice, making himself comfortable among a pile of cushions on the floor.

“Shift at Dream Bean starts at ten today.”

“That’s so late.”

“It ends at two.” He pulls a notebook from his bag, then seems to realize that Jungkook hasn’t moved. “What?”

“How do you feel about fried chicken?” he blurts, sitting down in front of Jimin and digging his phone out of his pocket.

“Fried chicken?”

“I’m hungry.” He rubs his stomach pointedly.

“Oh! I didn’t even offer you anything. I can see what we have in the fridge—” he starts to get up, but Jungkook grabs his wrist and yanks him back down.

“Nah, I just really feel like fried chicken today. And some beer.”

Jimin looks uncomfortable. “All right. It’s my treat, then.”

“I’ve got it.”

“You can’t pay. I’m the hyung.”

“So?” Jungkook dials the number, but Jimin snatches his phone away.

“I’m paying.”

“You’re not paying.” He reaches across Jimin’s body to where he holds the phone in the air. His arms are considerably longer, so he wrestles it away easily.

“Jeon Jungkook.”

“Park Jimin. Hyung,” he adds as an afterthought. “You always give me free muffins when I come to Dream Bean. I owe you.”

He means it. He knows Jimin would hate to be pitied, and that’s not why he’s doing it. Jungkook owes Jimin. For Jimin’s kindness, for his generous laugh and his free muffins. For making a shitty, childish bet over him.

“I don’t do it because I expect payback.”

“I know. But it’s only fair.”

That’s what gets Jimin to settle down and let Jungkook order, although he pouts for the entire fifteen minutes it takes the delivery guy to arrive. Jungkook fetches the chicken and beer from the apartment lobby. They eat on the floor alongside their books, watching an episode of Running Man on Jungkook’s phone. Namjoon arrives halfway through.

“Why are you dressed like that?” He asks Jungkook, stealing a chicken leg from Jimin’s box.

“Those aren’t his clothes,” Jimin says, and giggles. Jungkook flushes and hits his shoulder.

Namjoon rolls his eyes. “I don’t wanna know.”

They return to work eventually, and Namjoon joins them with his own hefty textbooks. From the look of them, he’s studying philosophy. Jungkook opens to a fresh sheet of his sketchbook and tries to rethink the project for Professor Kim’s class. He draws out a few things, tears out the sheet, and crumples it up. He does this five times because “courage” is an awfully vague theme for an art project, and nothing he drafts feels right when Professor Kim’s disappointed voice plays on a loop in his head.

Somewhere in between frustrated determination and hopelessness, Jungkook glances at Jimin. He droops over his laptop and notebook, fingers clutched loosely around a pencil. His eyes flutter shut, mouth open, as his chin drops to his chest. He jerks back up, eyes still closed. With those smooth, round cheeks and full lips, he looks awfully young. His head droops again before he catches himself, opening his eyes slowly. With a small hand, he rubs his nose and hides a yawn. It’s only six in the evening. Jimin has hours ahead of him.

Jungkook looks down at his crushed sheets of paper and empty sketchbook. Professor Kim wants him to put in effort. It’s not so bad, really. It’s just one project. If Jimin can do everything he does and still smile then Jungkook can try hard for one project.

When he returns to his building that night, it’s with a dejected air.

“Bad day, Jeon?” Hyejin says, barely glancing up from her ever-present comic.

“None of your business, Ahn,” he answers, because it’s expected.

He heads straight for Taehyung’s room. Taehyung sits cross-legged in bed, glasses perched on the bridge of his nose, switching his attention between three children’s books and a sheet of paper covered in diagrams.

“Hey,” he says without looking up.

“What’s that?” Jungkook untucks Donghyuk’s polo and loosens the collar.

“I’m writing a paper on themes of poverty in popular children’s books and how they affect childhood development.”

Jungkook shifts one of the books aside so he can make room for himself. He plops onto his stomach, rests his head on Taehyung’s knee, and closes his eyes. Taehyung’s hand strokes through his hair.

“What’s wrong, Jungkookie?”

“Volunteering’s tiring.”

Taehyung stays quiet. He brushes Jungkook’s bangs from his forehead. Jungkook thinks he could fall asleep like this. “It’s a lot of work,” Taehyung finally says. “Just for sex.”

He’s said that before. This time it resonates. “Yeah.”

When Jungkook was a first year in high school his classmates would laugh at how he stuttered when someone spoke to him. The laughter used to echo in his mind when it got too quiet. Sometimes it still does. For half the year the laughter followed him into the bathrooms where it turned cruel and the older boys threw fists to accompany it, until Taehyung figured out what was happening and started following him everywhere to keep him safe.

From his first year of high school to his last, he was in love with a boy who thought it was funny when he finally confessed a day before graduation. Taehyung still doesn’t know about that. He had left for university by then, and Jungkook had learned how to stand up for himself. He’d gotten better at it, but hearing the condescending laughter of someone who had taken residence in his heart for four years made him feel small again, like he was still the scrawny little boy who got through every day only because he had Taehyung by his side.

Hoseok’s wrong; Jungkook does have something to prove.

Chapter Text

In retrospect, Jungkook realizes how stupid it is to think he’s got Jimin all figured out.

He doesn’t really think that, knows that there’s more to Jimin than he understands. Because Jimin’s a person and people have layers. But a part of him still thinks he’s got Jimin all figured out. Jimin’s a Nice Boy. Jungkook isn’t. It’s simple enough.

Enter KIM BOBBY.

It only takes five meetings for all of Jungkook’s assumptions to go to shit.

 

The First Meeting, where Jungkook doesn’t “meet” so much as he “creeps”

He walks into Dream Bean one afternoon with his sketchbook to continue working on his plan for Professor Kim’s course. One of Jimin’s coworkers stands behind the counter. As soon as she sees Jungkook enter, she huffs and points at a little two-seater table tucked in corner of the shop.

“He’s on break, flirt all you want.”

Jungkook picks his way through a few tables of distressed students and their laptops before he realizes Jimin isn’t alone. A ridiculously good-looking guy sits across from him, the kind of ridiculous that involves a chiseled jawline and defined biceps. He wears one of those tank tops with arm-openings all the way to the hem, showing off the cut of his ribs and the barest glimpse of his abs. Fluffy hair curves over his brow from beneath a purple snapback. He sits slouched back, legs spread, muscled forearms resting on the table. He laughs a lot, and he laughs loud.

He looks like the boys who used to beat Jungkook up in high school.

Jungkook ducks into the nearest empty booth and opens his sketchbook. Jimin hasn’t noticed him. His attention is so fully focused on the other guy that Jungkook doesn’t think ever will.

He’s flirting. It’s obvious from just one glance, and Jungkook takes much more than one. Every move Jimin makes is carefully calculated. The way he runs his hand through his hair, eyes narrow; how he bites his lip, not at all like the unconscious way he does when he’s thinking. He laughs with a hand covering his mouth and his head thrown back. It’s not even directed at him yet Jungkook is enraptured. He can tell the other guy is, too, because his eyes don’t stray from Jimin once. At one point he replaces the Dream Bean hat on Jimin’s head with his own snapback, perched sideways. It makes Jimin giggle.

From one sultry glance to the next, Jungkook is hit with a sudden realization.

Jimin knows.

He’s not oblivious. He hasn’t mistaken Jungkook’s advances for friendliness. Watching the way he flirts, so cognizant of the power he holds, Jungkook finally understands. It’s impossible for Jimin not to have recognized his pathetic insinuations from the start. He thinks about his laughable coffee-pun pickup line and compares it to the meaning laced within Jimin’s hooded gaze. All this time Jungkook thought he had something over Jimin, but maybe it’s been the other way around. Taehyung and Hoseok were right after all. Jimin just isn’t interested.

Because right now, tongue sneaking out to wet his lower lip, gaze so intense Jungkook would shiver to have it fixed on him—that’s what an interested Jimin looks like. Jungkook stuffs his sketchbook back into his backpack and beelines for the swinging door.  

He has never felt like such an idiot in his life.

 

The Second Meeting, where Jungkook almost betrays Stark

Jungkook arrives at the daycare just in time to see a sleek, black motorcycle pull up ahead of him. He doesn’t catch on right away. At first all he sees is the back of the boy sitting behind the driver, pressed close, arms wrapped around his waist. The boy has a nice ass, thick thighs that stand out when he swings a leg around to hop off the bike. As he reaches up to remove his helmet, Jungkook finally recognizes him.

The driver is the same guy from Dream Bean, and he isn’t wearing a helmet. He stays sitting, looking up at Jimin. Something he says sends Jimin into that signature full-body laugh, playfully hitting the guy’s arm. Jungkook looks down at Stark the baby blue moped and feels woefully inadequate.

Jimin notices him after a moment and waves him over. Somewhere between the guy pulling up and Jungkook tripping over the sidewalk on his way toward them, he decides that motorcycles are stupid and he can’t imagine why he ever wanted one.

“Jungkook, meet Bobby,” Jimin says. “He’s your hyung.”

“Hey, man, nice to meet you.” Bobby steps off his bike to greet Jungkook properly.

“Yeah.” Jungkook tries not to sound too bitter, especially because Bobby seems unexpectedly genuine.

“Is that your moped?” Bobby peers over at Stark, parked a few feet away.

For a wild three seconds, Jungkook considers lying. He almost opens his mouth to do it when he remembers that Jimin knows the truth. And he can’t do that to Stark. “It’s, uh, yeah. Mine.”

“That’s cute.” He grins.

Jungkook tries but can’t find even an ounce of mockery in Bobby’s tone. “Thanks,” he says, grudgingly.

“I’ll get going. Call me when you want me to pick you up, yeah, Jiminie?”

 “I will.”

Jungkook’s brief motorcycle hatred doesn’t last long. He feels extra bitter watching Bobby ride away, because Stark can’t fit two people. He’ll never be able to drive Jimin anywhere.

“He goes here?”

“Nah,” Jimin says easily.

Jungkook waits, but Jimin doesn’t elaborate. He feels desperate for prying but asks anyway, “So how do you know him?”

Jimin pauses at the daycare entrance thoughtfully, fingers resting on the door handle. He smiles like he knows something Jungkook doesn’t. “We used to fuck.”

Then he opens the door and walks in without waiting to see if Jungkook follows.

Jungkook freezes, brows furrowing, before it hits him and he jogs inside to catch up. He should have figured it out. Now it seems obvious. “Hey!” he exclaims. Jimin stops by the front desk and asks Yongsun where they want him today, ignoring Jungkook entirely.

“Jimin, you’re with the two-year-olds. Jungkook, they want you in fifth grade.”

Jimin waves his thanks and heads down the hall. Jungkook hates fifth grade; they have the most attitude. He catches up with Jimin and leans close to say, “I thought you didn’t—” A group of younger girls runs by them. He lowers his voice. “—you know.”

“I said ‘not lately.’ I didn’t say ‘not ever.’” Jimin looks far too amused for Jungkook’s liking.

“You said it wasn’t your thing.”

“Not anymore, it isn’t.”

“So before?”

Jimin pats his shoulder in false sympathy. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Jungkookie.” Then he ducks into his classroom, leaving a stunned Jungkook behind him.

He tries not to think too hard about Jimin and Bobby as he joins the fifth grade class. He fails, mostly, thinks about Jimin’s secretive smile when he should be handing out snacks, thinks about what came before lately. Thinks too hard about the appreciative way Jimin looks at Bobby.

Thinks too hard about how foolish he must have looked all along to Jimin, who suddenly seems much more like a hyung than before.

Sometime before break, one of the boys approaches Jungkook with hesitant steps.

“Excuse me, hyung,” he says, clutching a piece of paper close to his chest.

“What’s up, Chan?”

“I heard Jimin hyung saying you like art. Do you think you could help me with something?” He looks like his entire emotional wellbeing depends on Jungkook’s answer.

Jungkook ruffles his hair. “Sure thing.”

He takes Chan to a quieter table, squeezing himself into one of the tiny chairs. Chan very carefully slides the sheet of paper over. “I’m trying to draw a puppy but it doesn’t really look like a puppy. I don’t know how to fix it.”

The work is remarkably good for a fifth grader; Jungkook can see he has talent. For the next fifteen minutes he helps Chan with his sketch, explaining techniques in the simplest way he can. Chan grows visibly more confident as they talk. Seeing him draw with more assurance after so brief a conversation makes something in Jungkook spark with warmth. He feels accomplished. Like he did something worth doing.

“Is this what you’re in college for?” Chan asks after he grabs his water bottle for break and joins Jungkook at the door.

“I’m studying art, yeah.”

“How come?”

“I love it.” The words spring to his lips so easily. He wonders why he couldn’t say them to Professor Kim.

“Me, too. I want to be an artist like you.”

Jungkook smiles. “I’ve still got a long way to go.”

He hasn’t thought about it in a while, but now he remembers the wonder with which he used to attend elementary school art classes. He used to think art was the coolest thing in the world; he’d wanted to paint since he was old enough to learn he could make a career out of it. His parents thought he would grow out of it, but he didn’t. He drew anime characters across the margins of his notebooks in high school even though it only fueled the mockery, snuck out to spray paint graffiti in the city with Taehyung the night before graduating. He loved art. Loves it. It’s easy to forget that in sight of grades and expectations.

“Do you think you could help me again next week?” Chan asks before Jungkook’s shift ends for the day.

“Course I can.”

He waits for Jimin in the lobby after. When he comes down the hall, Jimin breaks into a grin.

“Something the matter, Jungkookie?”

“Come on, you can’t just leave me with no explanation.”

“I already did.” Jimin stifles a laugh behind his hand as he heads toward the door, Jungkook trailing behind him. “Sorry we can’t study today. Next week, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Jungkook says hopelessly, and watches as Jimin runs to the sidewalk just in time for Bobby’s revving motorcycle to pull up.

Jungkook goes home that evening and catapults straight into Taehyung’s bed when he gets there, which he seems to be doing a lot these days. He shoves Taehyung over to make room for himself, burying his face in his pillow.

“While I’m sure your personal matters are highly important,” Taehyung says, tongue sticking out of his mouth as he lies on his back with his phone held close to his face, “I’m very occupied with beating your high score in Fun Run right now—”

“You’re never going to beat my high score.”

“—so please put your emotions on hold for the next ten minutes. Thank you.”

Jungkook shimmies around until he can stick a hand between them and pinch Taehyung’s side. Taehyung shrieks, fumbling his phone so it falls on his face with a smack.

“I was so close!” he wails, kicking Jungkook’s leg. “How could you?”

He tries to kick him again, but Jungkook maneuvers around to hold his legs down. Taehyung shoves his face away; Jungkook flips him onto his stomach. He pins his hands to the small of his back and holds them there until Taehyung gasps, “Okay, okay, I give in.” Taehyung might be a sneaky little shit, but Jungkook’s always the stronger one. He rolls off and returns to cuddling Taehyung’s pillow. “So what’s the matter with you?”

“Do you know this dude named Bobby?”

“I dunno. Does he go here?”

“No.”

“Then how the fuck am I supposed to know him?”

Jungkook sniffs and curls tighter around the pillow.

“So what about him?”

“He’s really hot.”

“And?”

“He’s friends with Jimin.”

“Ah.”

“They used to fuck.”

Taehyung whistles. “How hot is really hot?”

“Really, really hot. He looks like those fuckboys in high school.”

“You’re a fuckboy.”

“No, I’m not,” he mumbles into his pillow. “Fuckboys don’t care about anyone. I care about people.”

“You’re right. Sorry, Jungkookie.” Taehyung’s arm drapes across his back, tugging him close. “I thought Jimin didn’t fuck around.”

“So did I.”

“So what you’re telling me is this Bobby guy is vying for Jimin’s attention.”

“Pretty much.”

Taehyung giggles near his ear. “So are you brushing up on your laundry skills yet?”

“Fuck you.” Jungkook snarls, and shoves his knee into Taehyung’s stomach.

 

The Third Meeting, where Jungkook learns something new

Jimin texts him a few days later, says he’s on his way to the dining hall with Namjoon and Yoongi and wants to know if Jungkook can join. He almost refuses, spends ten minutes thinking of a reasonable excuse. Embarrassment still hovers over him like a cartoon raincloud. Jimin must think he’s such a kid. But in the end he shuffles over to the dining hall anyway. After filling his plates with food, he finds them crowded at a round table by the window. Bobby reclines next to Jimin, the hood of his dark jacket pulled up.

“Hey, Jungkookie,” Yoongi says. It’s a nice change from the usual hey, party boy.  

Jungkook is more than a little peeved that Bobby is with them, and even more that Yoongi speaks to him so civilly. It’s a stark difference from the mistrustful way he first met Jungkook. But he finds it hard to stay peeved when Bobby is awfully friendly and makes a visible effort to include him in every conversation, even when Jungkook gets a little quiet. He might moonlight as a party boy, he still finds it difficult to talk to people he doesn’t really know. Parties are easier. Everyone’s drunk and no one cares if he can’t think of something clever to say.

Eventually Jungkook slips in the question he really wants to ask. “So, you don’t go here, right?”

Bobby shakes his head. “Nah, but I used to. Transferred to Dongguk after a year here. I’m just visiting.”

“Good riddance, too,” Namjoon says, but it’s clear from his smile that he doesn’t mean it.

“You were a menace,” Yoongi adds, deadpan.

“I was not. I was a good kid.”

“Remember that time you moved all the furniture from the tenth floor physics classroom to the roof?” Jimin interjects.

“Listen, I was really drunk. And you helped.”

“But it was your idea.”

“The good old days,” Yoongi says sarcastically. “Back when Jimin was an even bigger menace.”

“Hyung? A menace?” Jungkook can’t quite mask the disbelief.

“He wasn’t always like this.” Bobby turns a grin on Jimin, who pouts. “He used to be kind of fun.”

“I’m still fun.”

“He used to be kind of like you.” Yoongi’s thoughtful gaze rests on Jungkook.

“What happened?”

And suddenly everyone looks uncomfortable. Namjoon and Yoongi look to Jimin, and Bobby clears his throat. Jimin’s the only one who doesn’t look fazed. He just shrugs and winks.

“Don’t worry about it, Jungkookie.”

But that only means Jungkook absolutely, definitely, positively has to worry about it.

 

The Fourth Meeting, where Jungkook has regrets

He walks into Dream Bean to find Bobby sitting at the counter Jungkook usually inhabits, watching Jimin make coffee with a stupidly handsome grin on his face. At this point, coming to the coffee shop to work is habit; he hardly even thinks about whether or not Jimin will be there. And Jungkook likes sitting at the counter. That’s his spot. He’s not about to sit anywhere else, even if Kim Bobby’s taken his spot. Granted, he sits on the tables just as frequently, but that’s not the point.

So he stubbornly marches over and sits down right next to Bobby. They greet him cheerfully. Jimin doesn’t even bother asking for his order, just rings it up and starts making it.

“So what are you working on?” Bobby leans over to look at his sketchbook.

“Uh, a project. For my studio class.”

“Jiminie says you’re really good at art.”

He looks at Jimin, who catches his glance and crosses his eyes in response. Jungkook smiles. “I’m okay.”

Jimin hands him his drink within a few minutes and whisks away Bobby’s mug for a refill. He takes care of a few customers before returning with the coffee. This time he hovers near them, resting his arms on his head and arching his back into a long stretch. Then he rubs at his neck, brushing aside his collar to reveal a stretch of smooth collarbone and a hint of his chest. His gaze alights on Bobby, the corner of his mouth curving in a slight smirk, before he returns to the register as a new customer enters.

Jungkook looks down, flustered even though none of that was meant for him.

“It sucks to see him so swamped these days,” Bobby says. “Two jobs, volunteering, dance. It’s gotta be rough.”

The words slip from his mouth before he can stop them. He regrets them before he finishes. “What do you care? You just wanna get in his pants.”

Bobby turns to him, brows raised. “Is that what you think?” He shakes his head, holding up his hands. “Listen, it’s not like that.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“I’m not that kind of guy. I like him. A lot.” And the way he looks over at Jimin, eyes gentle, Jungkook knows he’s telling the truth. “I wanna say I’m offended that you think I’m like that. But I’m glad Jimin has friends like you to look out for him.”

“Right,” he mumbles. “Yeah.”

He wraps his hands around his mug of coffee, the heat searing through his skin. If Bobby isn’t that kind of guy, then that means Jungkook is.

 

The Fifth Meeting, a coincidence

Jungkook spends so many hours working on Professor Kim’s project that when he leaves the arts building, he’s surprised to find night has already fallen. With the bundle of material he’s been using to plan the project tucked under one arm and his backpack weighing down his shoulders, he begins the long trek back to his apartment. Weariness settles in his bones, but the draft is coming along so well he can’t complain.

Just past the library he sees Bobby walking in his direction, carrying Jimin on his back. Jimin’s arms dangle loosely over Bobby’s shoulders, and his face presses into his neck. His eyes are closed, lips brushing skin. Jungkook wonders what it would feel like to have Jimin’s breath tickle him like that. He shivers just thinking about it.

The last thing Jungkook wants to do is talk to Bobby after their recent conversation, but the latter stops right in front of him. He nods to him in lieu of waving, his hands busy holding Jimin’s legs around his waist.

“Is he okay?” Jungkook asks.

“He’s just tired. You know how he is when it comes to dancing. He just won’t give himself a break.”

Jungkook doesn’t know that. He wishes he did. But it turns out he doesn’t know much about Jimin at all. “Oh.”

“He probably would have kept going if I hadn’t dragged his ass out of the practice room.”

“I’m gonna be the best,” Jimin mumbles, so quiet and sleepy Jungkook hardly catches it.

“Go back to sleep, baby,” Bobby says. The tenderness in his voice, the affectionate way he hoists Jimin more securely on his back, makes Jungkook’s stomach churn. Suddenly he feels empty. “How’re you gonna be the best if you don’t rest, huh?”

Jimin mumbles something else but it’s incoherent to both of them.

“I’m gonna take him home. I’ll catch you around, Jungkook.”

“Yeah. See you.”

Jungkook walks the rest of the way home slowly. He’d felt accomplished after spending so much time developing his project. Now he feels lost.

When he gets back, Taehyung takes one look at his long face and says, “Wanna go to a party tonight? I can ask Hoseok hyung if anything’s happening.”

“You know, partying doesn’t actually make me feel better.”

Taehyung looks appalled, eyes wide and confused. “What do you mean it doesn’t make you feel better?”

“I’m not like you and Hoseok hyung. I know it helps you guys destress, but not me.”

“Then why do you always go out when you’re upset?” Taehyung whines like Jungkook’s just betrayed him in the worst way. It’s a little funny but also not, because Jungkook feels like he’s betrayed them both by admitting it.

“I dunno,” he mumbles. “I just do.”

But that’s a lie. He does know. It’s because it seems like the right thing to do, even if it isn’t. Because sitting at home and playing video games to cheer himself up is something high school Jungkook would have done, and he doesn’t want to be anything like high school Jungkook. He’s spent too long trying to erase him.

 

That’s the last time he sees Bobby.

Stark’s brakes begin acting up again, so he takes him to the auto shop with a cup of coffee just in case Jimin’s working. One of the other mechanics stands behind the counter. Once he checks in, Jungkook asks, “Is Jimin hyung around?”

“He just stepped out back.” He gestures to a side door.

Jungkook moves toward it hesitantly, glancing back for approval. When the man nods, he slips out. Jimin’s small figure crouches at the edge of the parking lot, orange hair bright against the dark cars on either side of him. He looks so vulnerable like that, shoulders hunched, tracing aimless shapes in the cement with a broken stick.

Jungkook approaches carefully, caramel macchiato in hand. Jimin doesn’t notice him, engrossed in his actions.

“Jimin hyung?”

Jimin glances up, startled, mouth open. “Jungkook? Where’d you come from?”

“My moped needed some work. Hyung, are you okay?”

“I’m on break,” he says, as if that answers it.

Jungkook lowers himself down next to Jimin, crossing his legs. “Here.” He holds out the coffee like an offering.

Jimin takes it, peeking under the lid. “My favorite. How’d you know?”

“I figured it would be something disgustingly sweet with hardly any coffee in it at all.” Jungkook doesn’t have any room to talk. Bitter coffee makes him cringe; he’s grown accustomed to Americanos out of forced habit.

“Are you trying to say I’m a wimp?”

“A coffee wimp.”

“Hey!” Jimin exclaims, but he’s smiling now, and that’s an improvement. He smacks Jungkook’s arm.

Jungkook flails dramatically, flopping back to the ground with his legs bent in an awkward position. “Fuck, you got me. You’re, like, stronger than Iron Man.”

“Jeon Jungkook, shut up.” But he’s laughing, looking a little brighter than before, and Jungkook just grins from his vantage point on the ground.

Jimin sobers.

“Bobby asked me to be his boyfriend.”

Jungkook sits up. His gut swoops, sinks all the way to his feet. He looks down at his hands, clenching tightly into fists. It’s always going to be like this. Even if he thinks he’s different now, he’s not. Someone’s always better.

“I said no.”

Jungkook glances up. Jimin doesn’t look at him. He remembers the first time he ever saw Jimin, turning down that girl’s invitation and dropping his head onto his book like it was the end of the world.

“The worst part is that I actually like him.” Jimin’s laugh is bitter.

“Then why’d you say no?” He waits for Jimin to give him the usual excuse, that he has no time. But Jimin opens his mouth to answer, then closes it.

“I just can’t,” he finally says. He stands up. “Come on. They’re probably looking for you.”

Jungkook can’t do anything but follow.

Chapter Text

Jeon Jungkook never gives up, but lately he’s been thinking about it a lot.

The first time he considered giving up was that long ago day in the coffee shop, when Namjoon asked if he was bothering Jimin, and Jimin said no, he was trying to make me laugh. The second time he considered giving up came with Jimin’s honest flood of words that evening outside his apartment. It’s almost like it’s this fucking challenge for people. The third time, when he sat in Dream Bean and watched Jimin flirt and realized that obliviousness and lack of interest were two very different things. The fourth, when Bobby said, I’m not that kind of guy.

Since then he has considered giving up on the bet every moment of every day. When he walks past Dream Bean and thinks of Jimin inside, flitting back and forth between making drinks and ringing up customers, pausing for a desperate breath to pull off his hat and run his hands tiredly through his hair. When he paints and remembers the awed way Jimin looked at his work, like he could do anything. When he passes the gym and thinks of Jimin dancing himself dizzy in one of the practice rooms, only now Bobby’s gone back home and there’s no one to stop him when he overdoes it.

In a fit of honesty one night, he tells Taehyung everything.

“He’s probably been fucking laughing behind my back this whole time,” he murmurs, curled up small on the couch, Taehyung’s hand rubbing circles on his shoulders.

“Jimin’s too nice for that. You know him.”

He does. He knows the Jimin who grows so upset each time he rejects someone, who hates the label of heartbreaker, could never willfully lead him on like that. But all he can think about is high school, and the boy he loved for four years, and the way his laughter sounded in Jungkook’s ears when he confessed. And the way it echoed in his head throughout the ceremony the next day, so that he couldn’t even smile when he graduated.

“Jungkookie.” Taehyung turns him around and pulls him into his chest, fingers threading through his hair. “This was just supposed to be a stupid game. It wasn’t ever supposed to get this far.”

“I know.”

“I thought you were just going to hit on him a bit and let it go. I didn’t think you’d put in so much effort. Volunteering, studying with him—you went too far.”

“Yeah.”

“Why’d you do it, huh? Why’d you try so hard?”

He thinks about the amalgamation of thoughts and events and insecurities that led him to this point, and finds it too difficult to explain how the ghost of kicks to his side landed by laughing high school boys + amusement in the eyes of someone he thought he loved + months of trying very hard to be someone very different = this, pursuing Park Jimin and blundering like an idiot. A, B, and C don’t logically equal D. He’s never been good at math.

“If you wanna stop, I won’t make you do my laundry anymore.”

It’s so sweetly innocent a gesture that Jungkook smiles. As if doing Taehyung’s laundry was ever the problem to begin with.

“You should just stop. You’re making yourself sad.”

That’s the first warning.

The second comes from Professor Kim Seokjin, and it doesn’t have anything to do with Jimin.

Jungkook goes to his office willingly this time around, his project draft in hand. He knocks on the door with a hint of excitement, and when Professor Kim calls him in, he nearly bounces to sit in the seat across his desk.

“I finished my plan,” he says immediately, handing over the folder of material.

Kim looks through it carefully, examining each piece of paper with intense detail. The only reactions he shows are the movement of his eyebrows and the occasional, “Hm.” He takes so long that Jungkook fidgets. But then, finally, he looks up and smiles. “This is fantastic. Exactly what I expected from you.”

“Really?” He can’t help the answering grin that splits his cheeks.

“It’s going to be a lot of work, you know that, right? All the small details.”

“I know. I wanted to make it worthwhile.”

“I’m really happy to hear that, Jungkook.”

“Uh, I also—I volunteer at this daycare. And one of the kids, he likes art, so I’ve been helping him out for a few weeks.” He almost hadn’t gone again, too embarrassed to see Jimin, but then he had remembered his promise to Chan.

“Are you?” Kim leans forward in interest.

“And his mom came to me last time, said his school doesn’t offer any art classes. So she was wondering if I could teach him, kind of like a tutoring thing, but for art. She even said she’d pay me. But, um, I would have done it anyway.”

And Professor Kim Seokjin looks so ridiculously happy that suddenly Jungkook feels like it hasn’t been such a bad two weeks after all.

“How do you feel about it? Helping someone else with art?”

“Good.” He rubs the back of his head awkwardly. “Really good. It kind of reminds me how much I loved art growing up.”

“You don’t anymore?”

“I do, I just—” He hesitates, trying to formulate his thoughts properly. “I get lost. In all the other stuff that comes with it.”

“That happens to me, too. Sometimes you just need something to remind you why you’re here in the first place.”

“Yeah.”

“I’d like to give you an extra assignment, if you’re interested. I know it’s just more work, but I think it’ll be good for you. And you can use it to replace the grade for the project you failed.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Write me an essay. About why you chose to study art.”

“I’m a visual arts major for a reason,” Jungkook says wryly. “I hate writing.”

“You have to write a lot as an artist, too. You know that.”

“All right. I’ll give it a try.”

“And I’m sure you’ll do really well. You’re very talented when you try.”

“So you keep telling me.”

“I want you to believe it. There’s nothing wrong with partying, having fun, sleeping around.” He gives Jungkook a pointed glance; on more than one occasion he’s stumbled into class in someone else’s clothes. “You might as well have fun while you can. Life can get pretty dull.”

“Right,” he says warily.

“It’s only a problem when you let it get in the way of what you really want out of life. Or,” he adds as an afterthought, “when you hurt someone. Even if that someone is yourself.”

He wants to be irritated that he’s getting an unsolicited life lesson from someone not all that much older than him, but his words resonate so deeply Jungkook feels a sudden weight in his chest. He finds himself unable to answer, staring at his hands resting on his knees instead. Professor Kim doesn’t push it.

“I was about to get lunch, if you’d like to join me. I can give you some tips for your new tutoring gig.”

It sounds awkward, lunch with a professor, but Jungkook’s nodding before he can change his mind.

“And since we’re technically about to leave campus, you can call me hyung.”

Jungkook follows him to the door, hands wrapped tightly around his backpack straps. “Thanks,” he murmurs. “Hyung.”

 

He sees Jimin on the walk home, leaving Dream Bean with his bag slung over one shoulder. It looks relatively empty but Jimin’s shoulders sag, head bowed, as if it weighs a ton. His feet shuffle in slow, tired movements. Ever since Bobby’s short visit came to an end, Jimin has been off.

Jungkook ducks into the nearest classroom building before Jimin sees him, walking in his direction. He sits on a bench in the lobby and waits until he’s sure Jimin is long gone. Jungkook has avoided him for two weeks now. It’s easy to act busy with the stress of midterms, easy to make excuses.  

He can’t bear to face him, not after hearing from his own mouth how much he liked Bobby, not after truly understanding how naïve he had been. Taehyung says avoiding him will only make things worse, make Jungkook’s embarrassment loom until it’s bigger than it ever needed to be. No matter his original intentions, they’re friends now. But Jungkook’s stomach churns whenever he sees him, so he restricts their interactions to the daycare.

But even in those small moments, Jungkook can tell Jimin’s mask of positivity is thinning. He looks tired, smiles coming to his face a little slower than normal. The first time Jungkook rejects his offer to study, claiming he has a meeting, it’s at the daycare. Jimin’s smile drops with Jungkook’s refusal. He only asks once more after that, and when Jungkook feigns another excuse, Jimin doesn’t ask again.

But he’s gotten used to studying in Dream Bean and Jimin’s apartment, listening to Jimin’s frustrated sighs and high-pitched laughs. He misses him. One day he stops by the practice rooms to say hi to Hoseok just as Jimin’s walking off down the hall. Hoseok catches the wistful way Jungkook stares after him and asks, “Do you like him?”

“No,” Jungkook answers, and he means it. Jimin is beautiful and his ass makes Jungkook want to die and he’s sweet and funny and lively, but Jungkook hasn’t liked anyone since high school. It might be a long time before he can bring himself to like anyone like that again. But he cares about Jimin, a lot. He’s realized that much.

So it hurts to see Jimin so down, and it’s lonely being away from him. He hadn’t realized how much time they were spending together until he pulled away. He wants to know why Jimin would turn Bobby down if it clearly hurt him this much, but he doesn’t think it’s his place to ask. He wants to comfort Jimin, find out what’s wrong, bring him a cup of coffee when he’s studying too hard. But that’s not his place, either.

He doesn’t know what to do other than run away, so he runs away.

But watching Jimin walk away that afternoon, he realizes the first warning didn’t come from Taehyung after all; it came from Hoseok, murmured half-conscious on a couch soiled in alcohol. You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone.

Jeon Jungkook never gives up. When he was in high school, Taehyung dared him to scale the fence around the field behind their school. Much taller than him and made of noisy mesh metal, it seemed like an impossible feat. He tried and failed for three days straight, so he practiced jumping in the school gym until he could leap high enough to grab onto the top of the fence and propel himself over with his feet braced against the mesh. In his first month of college, he went to a party where the girl hosting refused to let him at any of the good alcohol because he was “just a kid.” He went to every party she threw and hounded her until she finally gave in.

And when he was twelve his parents told him he couldn’t be an artist because it wasn’t practical, that art had to remain a hobby and nothing more. It took him five years to convince them otherwise, but he did. Because Jeon Jungkook never gives up.

But lately he has learned that there are times when giving up is the honorable thing to do, not the cowardly.

It’s long overdue. Hoseok’s words should have made him realize it. Taehyung’s doubt should have done it, his own doubt should have done it. Instead, it’s Kim Seokjin’s words that make him pause and take a good, hard look at himself. Maybe partying isn’t the best way to push away the doubtful, anxious high schooler he used to be, but that’s something he can explore later. Because right now, partying isn’t the problem. The problem is that he’s doing something that could hurt Jimin—something that’s already hurting himself.

Maybe if he had learned soon enough, he wouldn’t be here, ducking out of sight every time he sees Jimin across campus, fighting a mix of crippling guilt and utter embarrassment. He wouldn’t have done something so foolishly disrespectful as make a bet toying with the emotions of a boy who has good reasons for keeping to himself.

He reroutes to Taehyung’s afternoon classroom in the education building. Sinking to the cold linoleum floor by the door, he waits until class lets up and students flood out. Taehyung doesn’t notice him, turning in the other direction, but Jungkook chases him down.

“It’s off,” he says, a little breathlessly. “The bet’s off.”

 

With the alleviation of his guilt comes a new understanding: he has to make it up to Jimin. Even though Jimin has no idea about the bet, Jungkook owes that to him. At first he doesn’t know how to do it, just that he has to do something. The answer arrives, unexpectedly, from Jung Hoseok.  

Hoseok’s phone call comes when Jungkook leaves his last exam Thursday evening, asking him if he’s going to Minji’s celebratory end-of-midterms party. He remembers the longing way Jimin had asked if his parties were fun, and how Yoongi said he used to party as much as Jungkook did. Maybe he missed it.

He stops by Dream Bean on the way home. Luckily, Jimin’s on shift; he switches with his coworker to stand at the register when Jungkook enters.

“Hey, Jungkook,” he says hesitantly. “You haven’t been here in a while.”

“Sorry. I was, uh, busy.”

“The usual?”

“Actually, I’m not staying. I just came to ask you something.” He tries to keep his voice steady, shielding his nervousness.

“Ask me what?” The dark circles under Jimin’s eyes look awfully prominent. His face is thinner, too.

“Are you working tomorrow night?”

“No, why?”

“Do you want to go to a party with me? And Hoseok hyung, too. And Taehyungie hyung, probably, he can’t stay away from parties.”

Jimin bites his lip and glances away, brow furrowing slightly.

“You should bring Namjoon hyung and Yoongi hyung, too,” he says, in the hopes that it will deter Jimin from thinking Jungkook’s still trying to hit on him. “It’s just one night. You don’t have to stay for long if you don’t want to.”

“Why are you asking me?” Jimin finally says, dragging his eyes up to meet Jungkook’s. “All of a sudden.”

“You just—” he falters. “You seemed really stressed lately. I thought maybe you could use a break.”

A few customers line up behind him. Jimin peers over at them, then back at Jungkook. “I’ll think about it.”

“No pressure. You don’t have to. I just, um, thought you might want to.”

“See you later, Jungkookie.”

He paces the nineteen steps from one side of the living room to the next about thirty times (he counts). His phone rests on the coffee table on full volume, and he glances it at after every turn. Taehyung munches on tteokbokki crackers, watching him stroll back and forth from the floor.

“What if you, like, walk so much you wear the floor down,” Taehyung says with a full mouth. “And then you fall into our downstairs neighbors’ apartment. That would be funny.”

“Shut up, hyung.”

“You’ve been avoiding him for weeks and now you’re desperately inviting him to a party? That’s kind of out of the blue, you know.”

Jungkook pauses by the TV. “I miss him,” he mumbles, looking anywhere but at Taehyung when he admits it. “He’s been down and I want to cheer him up. I owe him.”

“Jungkookie,” Taehyung coos. “You’re so cute.”

Jungkook lunges toward him. He dives out of the way, shrieking with laughter and dropping his bag of crackers in the process. Jungkook has him in a headlock when a blip of the Shingeki no Kyojin theme song startles them. He freezes, then pushes Taehyung away and snatches up his phone.

He stares at the text message notification for so long Taehyung kicks him. When he finally swipes to check, it’s Hoseok. He’s sent two pictures of skinny jeans and asked which one he should wear.

Jungkook groans and throws his phone on the couch.

Jimin’s text comes after midnight, when Jungkook has almost forgotten he was waiting at all. So where’s this party? ^o^ it reads. Jungkook scrambles to answer, stops himself, and wonders exactly how many minutes he should wait to not seem desperate.

 

“Are you ready yet?” Taehyung yells from the kitchen.

Jungkook skids out of his room, runs back in to grab his phone, then vaults back to Taehyung. “Do I look okay?”

“You look fine. Come on, they’re probably already waiting.”

“Hyung, you don’t understand, do I look okay—”

Taehyung grabs him by the collar and yanks him out the door. Jungkook frets all the way down, running a hand through his hair at each floor the elevator dings past, fixing the hem of his shirt and securing his pants and checking his laces.

“You’re only this worried about your outfit because Jimin’s coming.”

“I dunno what you’re talking about.”

Taehyung giggles. “Cute.”

Jungkook makes as if to punch him. Taehyung leaps to the other side of the elevator just as the doors slide open to the first floor. “Coward,” Jungkook says triumphantly, marching off through the lobby.

“Don’t drink too much!” Hyejin calls from where she sits with her legs kicked up onto the front desk, a bowl of instant ramen in hand. When they turn to her in surprise, she says, “I mean, like, don’t throw up in the lobby or something.”

“Would you look at that? She actually cares about us.”

“I do not care about you dumb fucks.”

But her expression looks suitably guilty, and they leave the building laughing. They reach the halfway point between campus and Minji’s apartment to find the others already there. Hoseok stands with his arm slung around Jimin’s shoulders, saying something that has Jimin in a fit of laughter. Namjoon’s dressed to the nines, Yoongi looks effortlessly good, and Hoseok is as flawless as ever. And Jimin—Jimin.

Jungkook doesn’t realize he’s stopped until Taehyung looks back at him, two steps ahead. It’s deceptively simple, Jimin’s outfit, but Jungkook feels his heart flutter and stumble in his chest and suddenly he’s not quite sure this is a good idea after all. He’s dressed head-to-toe in black, a loose shirt with a wide neck that displays his sharp collarbones and broadens his shoulders, tucked into these jeans that hug him so well. His black boots make him the slightest bit taller. A long silver chain hangs to just above his stomach. The monotone outfit only makes his orange hair stand out more, parted in swoops on either side of his forehead. He’s wearing eyeliner. The intensity it grants his gaze is almost painful.

“Hey,” Jungkook says, a little breathlessly. He wants to tell him how good he looks but all that comes out is, “Uh, nice shoes.”

“Jeon Jungkook,” Yoongi intones, and Jungkook tears his eyes away from Jimin to look at him. He bears an amused smirk. “Good to see you, too.”

“What, no hey for us?” Namjoon says.

“I—I was—I mean—” he splutters, a flush creeping up his neck.

Hoseok snorts and suddenly they’re all laughing, clapping him on the back and pulling him along. It’s fifteen minutes to Minji’s place, and Jungkook spends all of them with a minimum of three people between him and Jimin because he’s not sure if he can talk to him without stammering.

“I can’t believe you managed to convince these old men to come party,” Hoseok says to Jimin. “You’re the only one who could, honestly.”

“Hey, I like parties,” Namjoon objects.

“Me, too,” Yoongi says.

“Wrong. You like getting drunk.” Hoseok jabs a finger at Yoongi, then turns to Namjoon. “And you like girls. There’s a difference.”

“What else are parties good for?”

“The atmosphere! It’s the feel of it, you know?” Hoseok swings his arms out wide, as if the air around him can testify. “Taehyung’s the only one out of you idiots who really gets it.” He says it like appreciating parties is some kind of secret held close by the universe.

“What about me?” Jungkook says.

“You.” Hoseok swings the bottle of whiskey he’s bringing Minji in Jungkook’s direction. “You, Jungkookie, are a different story.”

Jungkook’s not sure what that means but he doesn’t ask.

Like Hoseok, Minji has gained notoriety for throwing the best parties. She always provides good alcohol and good music, and her apartment has a balcony and enough room for a fair amount of guests. Her neighbors are usually in attendance, so she rarely gets noise complaints.

The balcony doors are propped open when they get there, a few people lounging by the rails. Leftover lights from streetlamps and passing cars add to the black lights hung in corners of the living room. Drake blasts from large speakers hooked up to a flatscreen TV. They head to the kitchen, where bottles of various alcohol line the counters and the fridge’s shelves. Hoseok adds his whiskey to the collection and pours them all drinks per preference.

Jimin takes three shots of tequila in quick succession.

“All right,” Hoseok says, watching Jimin. “Somebody’s gotta not get piss drunk and make sure all of us make it home.”

“I’ll just drink a little,” Jungkook says. He doesn’t really want to get trashed. He kind of just wants to talk to Jimin. Granted, a party isn’t exactly the best place for that, but at least he won’t feel as nervous.

"Then I'm getting fucking wasted," Taehyung says cheerfully, and proceeds to pour himself another shot.

"I'm gonna dance." Jimin grabs Hoseok's wrists and pulls him off into the crowd. Jungkook watches them go, shuffling his feet awkwardly. Now that he's here he doesn't know what to do.

"Here, kid." Yoongi shoves a can of shitty beer at him. He takes it reluctantly.

They disperse after that. Yoongi and Namjoon disappear onto the balcony, and Taehyung joins a game of beer pong. Jungkook stops to chat with Yugyeom from art history for a little while, grabs a second beer when he finishes his first.

At some point he catches sight of Jimin dancing with Hoseok, his back pressed to the latter's chest with hardly space for air between them. He drags his hips in tantalizing movements. Hoseok's hands rest on his waist, holding him close, a grin on his face as he whispers something that makes Jimin throw his head back onto Hoseok's shoulder and laugh.

Jungkook knows there's nothing between them, but he feels a burning pit of jealousy anyway. He bumps into Jisoo from his Study of Contemporary Artists class, and after some mindless conversation they start to dance. Any other day and it would have been great, but today’s not any other day. He tries not to look at Jimin, until he finally does and realizes he's gone. Hoseok has made it to the couch instead. Jungkook pulls away from Jisoo and goes to him.

"Where's Jimin?"

"Getting another drink."

Jungkook finds Jimin in the kitchen taking shots. He waves him over.

"Jungkookie, wanna take a shot with me?" His voice is slurred. He's already drunk.

"Are you a lightweight?"

"I dunno what you're talking about, Jeon Jungkookie." Jimin pats his arm, then squeezes. "How come your arms are so big?"

"Um."

"Take a shot."

"Nah, I'm good." He waves his can of beer for proof.

"Okay. Then you gotta dance with me. There's this really hot guy eyeing me up, over there by the TV, you see him? Gotta make him jealous."

"Hyung," Jungkook says, and doesn't manage to keep the hint of upset from his voice.

"Never mind," Jimin says. "That's stupid. I'll just go talk to him."

"Hyung, wait-"

But Jimin's already halfway into the living room, heading straight for the guy standing by the TV's speakers. Jungkook doesn't like his hooded gaze, the way he looks at Jimin when he nears him and puts a hand on his chest. With a groan of despair, Jungkook collapses into the fridge and bangs his head against the cool metal.

He finds an empty space of wall in the living room and slides to the ground, leaning against it with his third can of beer dangling from his hand. The stereo’s playing some atrocious pop song and it’s giving him a headache. Dancing bodies fill the space in front of him, the game of beer pong over to the side getting awfully loud. He probably can’t walk two steps without his shoulders brushing someone else’s but he feels lonely.

When he was younger all he needed to cheer him up was his sketchbook and a good graphite pencil. Sometimes he’d call Taehyung and they would play video games and watch anime all night, piles of junk food scattered around them. Or he would walk to the park and climb trees; he liked that, the physical activity, the quiet. Taehyung needs to be around people to feel better, but Jungkook has never been like that. He wonders why he ever thought parties would make him happy.  

He sits there for so long he loses track of time. Eventually he pushes himself up and heads to the balcony to check on the others.

Namjoon reclines on the ground in the corner, a bottle of soju and a shot glass in hand. Yoongi stands next to him, leaning over the rail.

"I just don't get it, you know? Like why are there people in this world who have to be alone? I mean, there's, like, seven billion people in this goddamn world and there's still people who are all alone-"

"Joonie," Yoongi says. "Shut the fuck up."

"Hyung, are you drunk?" Jungkook notes Yoongi's flushed face with amusement. He must have been sitting there for longer than he thought if they’re both drunk already.

"I'm not drunk, you brat," Yoongi growls.

The sudden sound of cheers from inside has them all turning their heads.

Yoongi narrows his eyes. "Where's Jimin?"

"I dunno, dancing with some guy."

"You have to take care of him," Namjoon says from the ground. "Don't let him do anything he’ll regret."

They're both looking at him like he should have known that. He spins on his heel and runs inside, dread stirring in his stomach. But it’s not Jimin who lies on the table with a lime in his mouth—it’s someone else. Jungkook cranes his neck to peer over the crowd gathering to watch and sees Jimin by the wall, suddenly looking rather lost. He breathes a sigh of relief and ducks through to reach him.

"Hyung, are you okay?"

“Huh?” Jimin looks at him, eyes glazed, as if he hadn’t notice him walk up. His smile is dim. “Oh, yeah, I’m fine. Where's everybody else?"

"Around." From where he stands he can see Taehyung and Hoseok on the couch, the former nearly asleep.

"I gotta pee."

"Okay, come on." He leads him down the hallway, past a couple making out against the wall. The room at the end of the hall has its light on, so he assumes it's the bathroom. When he opens the door all the way he finds a dude pissing in the toilet. "Sorry," he mutters, turning away until he leaves. Then he pushes Jimin inside and closes the door after him.

He waits there, hands shoved in his pockets. It's probably been a few hours and everyone's already drunk, and he's not, so maybe that's why he isn't having fun. He just wanted to cheer Jimin up, but now Jimin doesn’t look very happy, either.

He hears the toilet flush. The door opens a moment later. Jimin has straightened his shirt and fixed his hair. "I'm hungry," he says.

Jungkook shrugs helplessly.

"Can we go somewhere and eat?"

"I dunno if we should leave everyone-"

"Hoseokie hyung isn't that drunk. He can take care of them."

"I dunno, I-"

"Come on." Jimin takes his hand decisively and pulls him back toward the couch where Taehyung’s head rests in Hoseok’s lap. "We're gonna leave to eat."

“Okay,” Hoseok says easily.

Then Jimin pulls him out toward the balcony, where Namjoon has started another rant and Yoongi is rolling his eyes. “Hyung,” Jimin says. “We’re gonna leave to eat.”

Yoongi’s eyes narrow, dropping to their joined hands. “Is that all you’re gonna do?”

“Uh-huh. I’m gonna eat so much.”

Yoongi ignores Jimin, staring at Jungkook instead. “I swear,” Jungkook says. “We’re just gonna go eat. Then I’ll take him home.”

“Listen up,” Yoongi pushes off the railing, stumbling a little. He’s half a head shorter than Jungkook but still rather intimidating as he jabs a finger into Jungkook’s chest. “He better get home safely or I’ll—”

Namjoon yanks on the end of Yoongi’s jacket. “Relax, hyung.” But then he looks at Jungkook, too. “You take care of him or I’ll kill you.”

“Let’s go.” Jimin tugs on Jungkook’s hand.

“Hold on.” He turns his attention to Yoongi and rather gleefully says, “Hyung, you’re drunk.”

“I’m not fucking drunk you little shit—”

Jimin pulls a laughing Jungkook back into the apartment before anything else can be said. They take the elevator down to the lobby. As soon as they’re outside, Jimin stops walking.

“I’m tired. Piggyback.”

“You want me to piggyback you all the way to—”

“Jungkookie,” he whines.

Jungkook sighs and bends so Jimin can hop onto his back, securing his arms around his neck. He curves his arms under Jimin’s knees to hoist him up securely. Jimin doesn’t weigh much; carrying him like this hardly feels like anything. “There’s a pojangmacha not far from here.”

“Okay.” He’s taken no more than five steps when Jimin’s voice sounds by his ear, breath tickling skin. “Faster!”

Jungkook makes a noise of complaint but then he speeds up so fast Jimin shrieks and tightens his hold around his neck. His shout turns into laughter as Jungkook bends low and runs through the streets, zooming left and right just for fun. After a little while, Jungkook’s laughing, too. When the pojangmacha’s plastic tent comes into view, Jimin jumps off and walks beside him instead. Jungkook holds open the flaps of the tent for Jimin to duck inside first. They squeeze into the tiny plastic chairs of a table in the back.

“Soju, please,” Jimin calls to the woman serving.

“No soju,” Jungkook quickly says. She shrugs. “You shouldn’t drink more.”

“You’re boring.”

“Can we get dakkochi, mandu—hyung, what else do you want?”

“Tteokbokki.”

“And tteokbokki.”

Jimin’s energy seems to go down a little while they wait for their food. He rests his chin his hand, shoulders sagging. “I haven’t gone to a party in such a long time,” he finally says.

“Did you have fun?”

Jimin shrugs. “Just reminds me of how things used to be.”

“How come you—” he hesitates. Jimin stares at him expectantly. “How come you stopped? Partying and stuff. Yoongi hyung said you used to be like me.”

Jimin swirls his finger on the table, eyes downcast. “My dad got sick. So I grew up.”

He remembers Jimin fumbling the keys outside his apartment, that evening after the daycare. My dad gets sick sometimes and has to take off days. “Is he okay now?”

“He’s better. But sometimes he gets bad again.”

“I’m sorry, hyung.”

“Yoongi hyung likes me better now, anyway. Since I’m not a menace.”

Jungkook snorts. “I can’t imagine you as a menace. Yoongi hyung said you used to be like me.”

“You’re not really that wild, you know.”

“I dunno, this one time I got a straight guy to—”

But just then their food arrives, and he snaps his mouth shut. The woman places the steaming plates in front of them and Jimin’s eyes widen comically. He digs in as soon as she moves away. “Anyway,” Jimin says after a little while of eating. “I’ll tell you a secret.”

“Okay.”

Jimin leans across the table and stage whispers, “I have a tattoo.”

Jungkook laughs. “Oh, so wild.” They may be illegal, but everyone has tattoos these days.

“On my ass.”

Jungkook shuts up quick.

Jimin giggles and returns to eating like nothing happened at all. “Actually, that’s not really that wild, either. I just thought your reaction would be funny.”

“Right.”

“I hardly ever eat this much. When I was a freshman Bobby and I used to go to a pojangmacha after every party and we’d eat so much.” Jimin sighs into his food. “Bobby and I had all sorts of fun.”

Jungkook squirms from the reminder.

“I thought if I got really drunk I wouldn’t miss him as much but now I miss him more.”

“You said you—you said you liked him.”

“Uh-huh.”

“So why’d you turn him down?”

“Because the last time I liked someone it was so bad, Jungkookie, so bad sometimes I still cry about it. It was the worst decision of my life and I don’t ever wanna like anyone again.” The words come out in a flood, like Jimin hasn’t said them in a long time and now that he’s started he can’t stop. “It was so bad.”

“Hyung.” The knowledge burdens him even more than before. People out there, himself included, have turned Jimin into this willful heartbreaker when really he’s been the one with a broken heart all along.

“How come you’re asking me so many questions? Now you have to tell me a secret.”

“The last time I liked someone it was really bad, too.”

“Really?” Jimin takes a bite out of his dakkochi and waits with wide eyes for Jungkook to continue.

“It was, um, high school. But when I confessed he laughed at me.”

“Oh, Jungkookie.”

“I liked him for four years.”

“Why’d you like such an asshole, huh?”

“I didn’t know he was an asshole,” Jungkook murmurs, fiddling with the bowl of tteokbokki. “I thought he was everything.”

“That’s always the problem.”

“So then I got to college and I was like, well, I gotta prove I’m not someone to be laughed at. I don’t ever want to be laughed at again. That’s why I started sleeping around and stuff, I think. To prove I could.”

“To yourself.”

“Yeah,” he says heavily. “Yeah, I guess.”

“Don’t do that. He was an asshole. Don’t make yourself sad because of him.”

“You, too.”

“Touché.”

“Do I get to ask a question now?”

“No, you asked, like, ten. It’s still my turn. So what’s your favorite color?”

“Seriously?”

“I couldn’t think of anything.”

“Red. Black. White.”

“You can’t have three favorite colors.”

“Can too.”

“I’m done eating, we can go now,” Jimin announces, standing up.

“Hold on, lemme pay.”

“You’re not paying.” He runs up to the woman and tugs his wallet out before Jungkook can even move. Jungkook’s not sure how he managed to fit a wallet into pants that tight, but he doesn’t question it.

Jimin demands a piggyback ride again when they leave the tent, and Jungkook calls him annoying but picks him up anyway. Halfway to his apartment, Jimin serenely says from where his head rests on Jungkook’s shoulder that he doesn’t have his keys.

“You didn’t bring your keys?”

“Joonie hyung has them.”

“Well, what the hell are we supposed to do without your keys?”

“I’ll just sleepover at your place.”

“Oh.”

“You have room, right?”

“Yeah.”

So he carries Jimin home, and even when they reach the building, Jimin doesn’t get down. It takes Jungkook a minute to realize Jimin has fallen asleep, soft breaths warm against his shoulder. He thinks with a twinge of amusement of the last time he saw Bobby, carrying Jimin just like this. How he had wished to be him. Now he realizes it’s not so simple. It doesn’t mean anything after all.

Hyejin is half asleep at the front desk when he enters. She peers at him and Jimin curiously. “Where’s Taehyung?”

“Still at the party.”

She narrows her eyes.

“Don’t worry. I didn’t leave him alone.”

“Night, Jeon.”

“Night, noona.”

She hides her face behind her comic book but he can tell she’s smiling, thrown off by his words.

His apartment is dark. He stumbles around a bit before making it to his room and lowering Jimin gently into bed. With careful fingers he undoes the laces on Jimin’s boots and removes them, tucking the blanket over his sleeping figure. He strips to his boxers and an undershirt and shifts Jimin closer to the wall so there’s room for him to lie down next to him. Taehyung’s bed is empty and he could sleep there if he wanted to, but he doesn’t. Jimin’s warm and sleepy and he’d rather stay.

Jimin stirs and mumbles, “Jungkookie?”

“It’s okay, go back to sleep.”

“Night.” He curls closer to Jungkook, their knees knocking together. Jungkook slides his arm around Jimin’s waist.

“Night, hyung.”

Chapter Text

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.”

“Yeah.”

“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.”

“Ah.”

“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?”

“Nothing, hyung.”

“Did you have a shi—a bad week in school?”

Chan shrugs.

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.

“The river.”

“Why?”

“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.

“Huh?”

“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.”

“Yeah.”

“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.”

“Fuck that.”

“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—

“Jungkook, listen.”

“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.”

Chapter Text

“I can’t tell him.”

He whispers it into the darkness of his room like a secret. The words curl around him, suffocating. Now that they’ve left him they’re a part of the air. He can’t take them back.

He holds out his fingers and counts off all the reasons he can’t tell him.

  1. The last time he confessed to someone it turned out terribly. (Just thinking about it, just thinking about doing it again makes his hands shake.)
  2. Jimin said he can’t be with anyone after the last time. (He turned down Bobby who he made bedroom eyes at, Bobby who he liked. He turned down Bobby, so what’s Jungkook?)
  3. Jimin doesn’t like him. (Forget the blushes and the laughter and the affection, he doesn’t like him, Jungkook knows it.)
  4. Jimin will reject him. (It’ll ruin their friendship and it’ll be two for two and Jungkook won’t ever confess to anyone again.)
  5. Jimin’s leaving. (He’s leaving he’s leaving he’s leaving he’s leaving.)

“I can’t tell him.”

He turns over and buries his face into his pillow, inhaling a trembling breath. No matter that he wants to. No matter that he’d give anything to be the reason for Jimin’s smile. Because even in a perfect world, if Jimin liked him and he weren’t leaving, it wouldn’t matter. Jimin’s past won’t let him open his heart to anyone.

But how he wants to; oh, how he wants to. How he wishes that instead of whispering a denial into the stifling air of his room, he were whispering a confession into Jimin’s lips. Now that he’s let himself feel it, the want rushes over him until he’s drowning in it. And he knows it’ll only get worse.

Maybe it’s best that Jimin’s leaving.

 

Jungkook dabs a speck of blue paint on the corner of the canvas, covered in a patchwork of old, torn paper. With his tongue sticking out from the corner of his mouth, he blends it carefully into the neighboring green. The sound of someone’s foot kicking the door nearly startles him into dropping his brush. He spins around. Taehyung walks toward him holding two cups of to-go coffee with the Dream Bean logo plastered on the sides, a face mask over his mouth.

“Hey. Here.” He hands him one of the cups. Jungkook peeks inside; it’s an Americano. He wonders if Jimin was the one who made it. “You’ve been here all day. Take a break.”

Jungkook glances around him, suddenly realizing that the small studio is now empty. When he had arrived there early morning (not because he woke up but because he never fell asleep), a girl worked on a tissue paper collage by the window, another sketched a still life, and a boy had been in the middle of a painting. Now it’s just him, standing alone with his canvas and easel in the corner, old t-shirt and sweats covered in stray splotches of paint.

“Oh.”

Taehyung slides into one of the rolling chairs in front of the white table that protrudes from the wall of the studio, stretching from one end around the corner to the next. “How’s the project going?”

“Uh, all right. I’ve just got three more portraits to add, and I’m not really happy with the blending.”

“It looks fine to me.”

Jungkook brushes his hair out of his eyes, leaving a wet streak of paint on his forehead in the process. “Nah, it’s not there yet.”

“Take a break, Jungkookie.”

“I just wanna finish a bit more.”

“Have you even eaten anything all day?”

He scuffs the toes of his Timberlands against the paint-covered cement floor and thinks about it. “I had breakfast. I think. Actually, never mind.”

“Come on, let’s go to the dining hall.”

“In a bit.” He tries not to sound annoyed as he turns back to his canvas.

“Jimin was asking about you.”  

Jungkook pauses in reapplying paint to his brush. So Jimin did make the coffee. “Oh, yeah?” His tone is carefully neutral.

“Jungkook,” Taehyung says it gently, the way his voice gets when he’s actually acting like a hyung. “It’s been a week. He looked upset.”

Jungkook dabs another speck of blue elsewhere.

“He said you weren’t answering his calls.”

He applies too much blue and swears, jabbing at the spot with his pinky to catch the excess and leaving a nasty smear.

“Jungkook, look at me,” Taehyung says very seriously. Jungkook sighs and turns to him. “Stop avoiding him. Stop.”

“What’s the fucking point?”

“The fucking point is that he’s your fucking friend.” Taehyung hardly ever gets like this. Something in his interaction with Jimin must have pissed him off enough to confront Jungkook. “You can’t just run away from shit for the rest of your life. If you’re not gonna man the fuck up and tell him, then at least have the decency to spend his last days here as a good friend. You’ve just wasted a whole week.”

Taehyung doesn’t get it. He doesn’t know what happened the last time Jungkook confessed. Jimin is the only person Jungkook has ever told. So Taehyung doesn’t understand why Jungkook can’t man the fuck up. “Fuck off.”

“Quit acting like a kid, Jeon Jungkook. He’s graduating in one week and if you hurt him like this you’re going to regret it forever. Confess or don’t confess, that’s your problem. But don’t shut him out. He doesn’t deserve that.”

Taehyung grabs his coffee and marches to the door. Halfway there he turns back, grabs Jungkook’s coffee, too, and resumes his exit.

“Where the fuck are you taking my coffee?”

“I bought it!” Taehyung sniffs. “You don’t deserve it.”

“You’re such a fucking baby.”

“Look who’s talking.” At the door, Taehyung sticks his tongue out, blows a raspberry, and leaves.

Jungkook splutters. A minute too late he yells, “Suck my dick!”

But Taehyung’s already gone and he only succeeds in scandalizing a professor passing by.

That night he stands in front of Jimin’s apartment door. He raises his hand to knock. Drops it. Raises it again. Huffs in frustration and runs a hand through his hair, walks to the end of the hall toward the staircase then back again. It’s a stupid idea; he doesn’t have any way to explain the last week. Hey, hyung, sorry I just wasted a whole week we could have spent together because I realized I really fucking like you but it doesn’t matter anyway because I’m scared and you’re scared and you’re leaving. He snorts quietly, spins on his heel, and marches for the staircase. But halfway there he thinks about Taehyung’s stupid disappointed face, the one where he pouts a little and his eyebrows form this weird shape and he just looks like an idiot but somehow manages to make Jungkook feel bad anyway.

And he thinks about the way Jimin looks when he’s upset but doesn’t want to show it. How he gets stiff and quiet but his pretty eyes give everything away, and his lips will quirk in that sad way. He doesn’t deserve that.

Jungkook shuffles back to the door and knocks, three quick raps. He waits for a minute; no telltale noises sound on the other side. With a sigh, he stuffs his hands in his pockets and turns away.

The door opens with a bang. “Jeon Jungkook.”

It’s Namjoon, leaning in the doorjamb with ink-stained fingers and a pair of massive glasses perched on his nose. “Hyung.”

“Are you looking for Jimin?”

“Is he home?”

“Uh-huh.”

Jungkook tries to move past him, taking that as an invitation, but Namjoon takes him by the shoulder and pushes him back. He crosses his arms and stands there, blocking the way. “What?”

“Jeon Jungkook,” Namjoon says again. “We need to have a talk.”

“What kind of talk?” Jungkook sniffs, looking anywhere but at Namjoon’s face. He scuffs the ground with the toe of his boot.

“About you and your coping mechanisms.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You find out Jiminie’s graduating and you hide for a week. Running away isn’t exactly healthy, you know.”

Jungkook sinks into himself, shoulders tight. He feels small. “Yeah, I know,” he mumbles.

“He’s really upset. Thinks he did something wrong.”

“He didn’t.”

“Of course he didn’t. Jungkookie, you can’t run away from things that make you sad. You have to face them to overcome them.”

Half of him wants to say something snarky like thanks, Mr. Philosophy Major. But he knows Namjoon’s just being a hyung. “Yeah. That’s why I’m here.”

“Hey, Jiminie, come here,” Namjoon yells back into the apartment. Then he says to Jungkook, “You should be grateful Yoongi hyung’s not here. He would have kicked your ass to hell and back.”

Jimin steps out of the room in an oversized sweater, hair ruffled and lips swollen like he was sleeping not that long ago. His socked feet slide against the floor. “What—” He sees Jungkook, and he stops. “Jungkookie?”

Namjoon claps Jungkook’s shoulder and slips into the bedroom, closing the door behind him. Jungkook stands in the doorway. Now that he’s looking at him, soft and tired, he doesn’t know how to act. Now that he knows the burst of butterflies he gets every time Jimin looks at him actually mean something after all. “Hyung.”

“How come you haven’t been picking up my calls?” His mouth curves into a frown, his voice pitched high. “Where have you been?”

“I—I’m sorry, hyung, I just—I’m sorry.”

“You’re such an asshole. I only have a week left here, you know?”

“I know. I’m an asshole.”

“Why have you been ignoring me?” His voice gets higher with every question.

“I was just—you caught me off guard. I didn’t know. I didn’t know you were leaving.”

“So you fucking ignore me for a week? Right, that makes so much sense.”

“It doesn’t. I know it doesn’t.”

Jimin’s lower lip wobbles. His nose scrunches up. He spins around, standing there with his hand on the couch, his back to Jungkook. And then Jungkook’s moving toward him with quick steps, sliding his arms around Jimin’s waist and pulling him into his chest. Jimin stiffens, breath caught in a gasp, but he doesn’t pull away. His back is warm against Jungkook’s chest, and in his arms he feels so incredibly small. It’s so easy to hold Jimin like it means nothing, even if it makes Jungkook’s heart thump so hard he’s sure Jimin can feel it.

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs into Jimin’s hair, tickling his cheek. “I’m sorry.”

Jimin relaxes, leaning his weight into Jungkook. Jungkook’s arms tighten, holding him up. The sleeves of Jimin’s sweater are soft against his skin. He thinks it would be nice to stay like this forever. But of course nothing lasts forever, and after a moment Jimin turns around in his hold. They’re close, so close their chests brush. Jimin reaches up and threads a hand through Jungkook’s hair, from his forehead to the nape of his neck. A shiver runs up Jungkook’s spine and he knows Jimin feels it.

“I forgive you,” he says.

His hand stays there, curled in the hair at his nape. It would be easy to kiss him. They’re already breathing the same air. He could just lean down the slightest bit and their noses would brush, and then their lips, too. He could pull his hips against his own and kiss him like he’s wanted to since the first time he saw him, sitting in the dining hall reading an English book that made his brow furrow in frustration. He realizes he’s staring at Jimin’s lips and he thinks Jimin’s staring at his, too. It would be easy.

They pull away at the same time.

Jimin turns back to the couch, holding onto it and clearing his throat. Red spreads from his cheeks down to his collarbones. Maybe it means something, maybe Jimin feels something after all. But in the end it doesn’t matter. He felt something for Bobby, too.

“Have you been studying for finals?” Jimin asks, a rapid change in subject.

“Uh, yeah. Do you—do you want to study together?”

Jimin smiles. It’s a breath of fresh air. It only took one week for him to miss that smile; he doesn’t know what he’ll do when Jimin leaves. “Yeah. Let’s study.”

 

Jungkook sits in the hall outside Professor Kim’s office with the other ten people in his class, linoleum floor cold against his ass. Kim wanted to meet with each student individually to turn in their final projects and talk to them about the semester. He’s nervous. He can’t remember the last time he worked so hard on something for school. The past three days he spent cooped up in the studio with Jimin coming by to study near him every now and then.

One of the girls in class whose name he can never remember steps out of Kim’s office and says, “Jungkook, your turn.”

He hops to his feet and carefully lifts his canvas, carrying it into the office. Professor Kim smiles when he enters, his eyes crinkling. “What have you got for me, Jeon Jungkook?”

Jungkook turns the canvas around and holds it up. Kim looks over it, scribbling down some notes.

“Okay, talk to me. How are you showing courage?”

He props it against the back wall and stands by it, fiddling with his fingers. “Well, um, when I think of courage I think of people. Like, people I know who are courageous. So I made a collage of portraits.”

He looks back at his painting. Over the patchwork of old paper covering the canvas, he’s painted a collage of faces, soft edges in blurred acrylic. There’s his mother because if anyone’s courageous it’s her, dealing with work and two sons and his father’s family. Taehyung for the way he stands up for what he believes in, and the way he would stand in front of Jungkook to take the punches meant for him. Hoseok for all the love he has in him, because it’s not easy loving everyone. His middle school teacher who first encouraged him to pursue art and argued with his parents when they spoke out against it. And Jimin. Jimin because despite everything he’s been through, he still manages to smile and let someone like Jungkook into his life when he doesn’t deserve it at all.

“You’re not on it,” Professor Kim says.

“Huh?”

“You don’t think you’re courageous?”

Professor Kim Seokjin, always meddling. Jungkook has found that he doesn’t really mind it. He shrugs.

“I think you’re pretty courageous, Jungkook.” He beckons, and Jungkook takes the seat across from him. “Just look at how much you’ve grown in one semester.”

Jungkook rubs the back of his head and blushes.

“And the paper you turned in last week was fantastic.”

“Thanks. And, uh, thanks for all your help this semester. If I’ve grown, a lot of it’s because of you.”

Professor Kim beams.

 

He could still tell him.

There’s not much time left, but he could still tell Jimin the truth. That’s what he’s thinking the day they throw Jimin a graduation party—a small affair for the six of them that have somehow become a group over the course of the semester, beer and fried chicken and anime and laughter. It’s nice. For a little while they pretend that things aren’t going to change.

But they are, and when the night’s over Jungkook can think of nothing else. Everyone around him is laughing and happy and so is he, but a part of him is so acutely aware of their impermanence. Jimin will leave and then second semester will come and go and Taehyung and Namjoon and Hoseok will leave, too. Sparked by Jimin’s graduation, he understands with startling clarity the inevitability of change. They won’t be laughing, careless college students forever. Maybe one day they won’t even know each other. Maybe one day he’ll think fondly back to this moment and wonder where everyone else is and wonder if they’re doing all right. We had fun together, he’ll think, it’s been a while. One day he’ll be somewhere different, someone different, and so will they.

After his second year in university ends, Jungkook will be alone. He knows a lot of people on campus. He has people he can call up if he’s looking for a party or looking for good alcohol or good sex. But in the end Taehyung and Hoseok were his only real friends, the only ones he wanted to spend his down time with. Jimin will leave and then they’ll leave and Jungkook will have to learn to fend for himself.

It’s like high school all over again. For the first two years he had Taehyung by his side, and he didn’t need anyone else. Taehyung warded off the bullying and sat with him during lunch and winked from the windows when he passed his classroom. But then he graduated and Jungkook spent the next two years trying to function without him. In the end, he did all right. He broke out of his shell a little and made some acquaintances to pass the time. But it wasn’t the same.

It won’t be the same, after this year. After this semester.

They’re growing up now. At least after high school he had university to anticipate. Now there’s only real life. Struggle and more struggle, like he sees the adults around him endure. And when life gets in the way maybe he won’t ever find friends like these again.

But for the time being he revels in their togetherness. He laughs at the way Hoseok does his best impression of Yoongi, and the way he slings his arm around Jimin’s neck and bumps their heads together by accident when he laughs too hard. He yells along with everyone else when Namjoon almost spills an entire bottle of beer all over the carpet, snorts at the way Yoongi huffs at all of them in exasperation but throws them the fondest glances when he thinks they aren’t looking. Smiles at Taehyung when he gets on the table to dance for his favorite anime opening. And watches Jimin, his bright eyes and offended exclamations when someone teases him, his body-flinging laugh and snarky comments.

But the night ends like all things, and they’re saying goodbye. Hugging and making jokes to ward off the sadness. Jimin holds Hoseok and Taehyung for a while and Jungkook stands to the side, watching. Then Jimin turns to him and says his name, quietly. The air around them grows heavy and Yoongi shifts, Taehyung clears his throat, Namjoon looks away. They step toward each other at the same time, him and Jimin.

He tucks him into his arms carefully at first, but Jimin holds on tight, so he lets himself feel. He holds him to his chest, face buried into his hair, inhaling the scent of shampoo and Jimin. Jimin’s small hands clutch the back of his shirt, breathing into his shoulder. Standing like that he could forget there’s anyone else but the two of them, anyone else but Jimin, so small in his arms. But things are changing, and Jungkook has to change with them.

He had thought, foolishly, hopefully, that it might have been fate that led them together. But in the end it was just a series of stupid coincidences and stupider decisions. Fate hasn’t aligned for them to work out. There are an amalgamation of hesitations, of locked-up hurt and flawed hearts that keep them from each other. It’s not the right time. It might never be.

He lets Jimin go. He could still tell him, but he doesn’t. He lets Jimin go.

 

Timberlands, Jungkook learned quite some time ago, are not good running shoes.

He weaves around a girl on a bike and leaps over some guy sitting on the sidewalk drawing in chalk. His boots pinch his feet but he’s making pretty impressive speed, if he does say so himself. A girl carrying groceries steps onto the sidewalk just outside the apartment building, and Jungkook careens to the side to avoid her, bouncing back to zoom inside. He takes the stairs two at a time, wonders if running like Naruto does will make him go any faster.

Not that he’s on a time limit, not really. Jimin’s bus doesn’t leave for another hour.

He wasn’t supposed to see him today. Last night had been the end. But this morning he woke up and realized he couldn’t let some asshole he made the mistake of liking in high school get in the way of right now. If he lets his fear govern him, then he hasn’t changed much at all. Just look at how much you’ve grown in one semester, Seokjin had said. Jungkook wants those words to be true.

Because even if Jimin says no, at least he’ll have tried. At least he can walk away and say that he didn’t cave into fear. That he was as courageous as all the people he loves.

He skids to a halt outside the apartment door, nearly stumbling over in his haste. He knocks quickly. Yoongi opens the door. He’s clearly seconds away from making a dry comment about Jungkook’s out-of-breath state, but Jungkook beats him to it.

“I gotta—gotta talk to Jimin,” he gasps.

Yoongi gives him a look but lets him in. Jimin’s sitting on top of his suitcase, legs straddling the handle. His eyes widen in surprise as he stands up. “Jungkook, what happened?”

“Can I talk to you? Privately.”

Jimin’s brows furrow, but he points outside the apartment. “Go in the hall.”

So Jungkook goes, still trying to catch his breath. Jimin follows, letting the door click shut behind him.

“What’s up?”

The words spill out of him in a jumble because if he speaks any slower he’ll lose courage. “Hyung I like you a lot.”

Jimin’s never been good at hiding how he feels. The play of emotions is written across his face so clearly. Confusion, then understanding, then the telltale drooping of sadness and frustration. Jungkook pulls into himself. He knows what’s coming. Two for two. “Jungkookie, I thought you understood.” His voice cracks, his eyes trained resolutely on the wall behind Jungkook.

“I do. I do understand.”

“Then why are you doing this to me? I’m leaving in an hour.” He sounds so pained that Jungkook regrets it. Maybe he had only been thinking of himself.

“I couldn’t let you go without telling you.”

“I can’t. You know I can’t.”

He shoves his hands in his pockets, clenching them into fists against his thighs. His shoulders scrunch together so tight it hurts. Even though he expected it, nothing quite prepared him for the way his heart sinks, swooping to his feet like dead weight. “I know.”

He had hoped, anyway.

When he looks up, Jimin is crying. “Hyung, I’m sorry. Please don’t cry.”

“You don’t get it.” Lower lip trembling, red spreading across his nose, lashes wet. “It doesn’t matter how much I like you, I’m scared.”

“I know. Maybe we can—we can work around it. Take things slow.”

“I’m leaving.”

He doesn’t have an answer for that. Defeated, he leans back against the wall, slouching over. “Please.”

“Thinking about—thinking about being with someone again makes me want to vomit.” The words come out distorted through his tears. “You don’t get it.”

It took Jungkook a year and a half just to move past a failed confession. Maybe he’s asking too much of Jimin. “I’m sorry.”

“Go home.” The tremble leaves his voice. He wipes his tears on the back of his hand and stands straighter.

When he turns his back, Jungkook crumbles. “Have a safe trip, Jiminie hyung.”

Jimin pauses at the door. His shoulders shake. “Thanks, Jungkookie.”

Chapter Text

then

Park Jimin and Love had a bitter past.

In preschool, he asked a boy in his class to marry him. Of course, at the time he didn’t really know what marriage was beyond that it required a ring (he used blades of grass) and that it meant they got to walk past the swing-set while the other kids threw flowers from the school garden. The boy said no, Jimin wasn’t cute enough, and the teacher told him boys didn’t marry each other anyway.

As a rather naive eleven-year-old, he fell for a boy who was thirteen and had a skateboard and smoked behind school during lunch. Jimin thought he was the coolest boy he had ever seen, and the boy thought Jimin was a kid. So that didn’t really work out, either.

In high school, he fell in love with his best friend and was very gently turned down. The friendship, unfortunately, never quite recovered. At the start of high school, they spent every evening at each other’s houses; by graduation, Jimin didn’t even know where she was going to university.

Then he met Minsoo, and everything went to shit.

 

now

They don’t talk.

He doesn’t delete Jungkook’s number. He looks at it enough that he could probably recite it by heart. He could text him or call him but he doesn’t. Jungkook doesn’t, either. Sometimes he lies in bed and locks and unlocks, locks and unlocks his phone in the hopes that at some point Jungkook might message him. Sometimes he types out a whole message, his finger hovering over the send key, then deletes it.

Talking would make things difficult. Talking would keep the fire surging in his heart every time he thinks about Jungkook alive, keep him from letting Jungkook fade into memory. He probably doesn’t even want to talk to Jimin after the way he left.

Sometimes, when he’s typing out a message that won’t ever get sent, he thinks about their last conversation. I couldn’t let you go without telling you. It would have been easier if he had. Jimin could have held onto the shred of doubt that Jungkook liked him back, but now there’s nothing. It hurts more knowing they could have had something if Jimin wasn’t so scared.

Maybe we can work around it. Take things slow. He wishes Jungkook weren’t so sweet. He wishes Jungkook had fallen for someone better than Jimin, someone who wouldn’t break his heart because of an old fear. The quicker he forgets about Jimin, the better.

So they don’t talk.          

 

then

The rumors spread like wildfire.

He turned down three date invitations in one semester, and apparently that was all it took for people to talk.

“I heard Park Jimin refuses to date anyone.”

“He says he’s busy but I think he’s just a prude.”

“Didn’t he used to be such a party boy?”

“I bet he’s secretly in love with someone.”

“I heard an idol asked him to date but he even turned her down.”

Before long, everyone in his major and quite a few people outside of it knew he didn’t date. It wasn’t until he got asked out by a boy in one of his classes that he understood it had become something of a game. The boy approached him while he sat on a bench outside the gym. His friends stood ten feet away, closer to the gym entrance. The guy glanced back at them before he asked Jimin, “Hey, do you wanna get coffee some time?”

Jimin could see his friends laughing. They were whispering to each other. The guy looked back again. “No,” Jimin said, coolly, because he didn’t like the way it had turned into a spectacle.

He accepted his defeat and slunk back to his friends. Jimin grabbed his sports bag and prepared to leave when he saw it—money passed from the guy to one of his friends. It was a bet. He stared at them so long they noticed, nudged each other, and turned away.

Jimin walked back home with a strange sort of burning in his eyes.

Namjoon suggested that it may have been Minsoo fueling the rumor mill as post break-up revenge. Jimin figured it was only one more way for Minsoo to ruin his life.

 

now

Change is hard. Four years away from Busan have turned it into a new city. Most of his old high school friends are gone, scattered around the country. Falling back into a rhythm at home with his parents proves difficult, especially in the time it takes him to find a job. But it’s a fresh start. Maybe that’s what he needs to move on. Maybe he can finally stop thinking about Minsoo if he doesn’t have to see him every day.

Sometimes when he talks to the others, they’ll tell him about Jungkook.

“He doesn’t party all that much anymore,” Hoseok says. “He only goes if it’s with us. I think he has more fun that way.”

“We’re getting an apartment together next year,” Yoongi tells him. That makes Jimin start in surprise, because Yoongi takes a while to warm up to people. “What? I’ve still got two goddamn years left for this graduate program and all of you assholes are ditching us, so. Better him than some idiot who pisses on the floor or something.”

Which in Yoongi-Speak translates to I miss you, he’s a nice kid and we’re friends now.

And two months after Jimin leaves, he receives a text from Jungkook himself. It’s long and comes out as three messages.

jungkookie
hey hyung i hope you’re doing well. i know you probably don’t want to talk to me but i just wanted to tell you something. today i saw the guy i used to like and i didn’t feel anything at all. i wasn’t even mad. it took a year and a half but i don’t care anymore

jungkookie
and that made me really happy. so i thought about you. and even though it’s hard now i just want you to know that one day maybe you’ll see that guy again and you won’t care either.

jungkookie
i’m not saying this because i think you’ll want to date me or something but i just want you to be happy, that’s all. so i hope one day you won’t have to be scared anymore.

The message makes him cry. Jungkook doesn’t like talking about his feelings. He’s not one to send sappy messages or send messages at all, really. But Jimin cries because he’s missing out on someone like Jungkook, and because he’s so happy that Jungkook’s moved on, and because he wants to do that, too. He wants to know what it feels like to not care.

 

then

The first day of his last semester of university, Jimin walked into his senior seminar for education majors and saw him. Sitting in the back, carefree, laughing at something the girl next to him said. Jimin froze, feet like lead, and before him he could see the rest of the semester stretching out—endless, impossible, full of bitter remembrances. It wasn’t until another student bumped into his back that he finally started moving to take a seat as far from Minsoo as he could get.

Minsoo saw him, he knew it. All throughout class he could feel his eyes prickling his skin, making the hair on the back of his neck stand. Jimin fixed his gaze resolutely on the front of the classroom, stiff and unmoving for the next two hours. When the teacher called on him, he answered in a pitiful stammer. He tried to slip out quickly at the end of class but found himself trapped behind a group of students who exited with painful slowness.

In the end, Minsoo caught him halfway down the hall.

“Jiminie,” he said, and Jimin shuddered.

He didn’t realize he was backing away until he hit the wall behind him. Minsoo stood in front of him, not too close but close enough that it made him tremble.

“How have you been?” Minsoo asked, as if he had the right to ask that question.

Something about the way he looked at him, a hint of the tenderness that used to make Jimin weak, had panic settling in his heart. “Go away,” he said. Minsoo took a step toward him, brow furrowing in confusion. Now he was really shaking, so hard he wrapped his arms around himself to control it. “Go away, go away, go away.”

“Jimin, what the hell—”

“Go away, go away, go away.” He had his eyes squeezed shut, shrinking into himself. He wasn’t sure if his brain was connected to his mouth anymore because he couldn’t stop the words that flooded out.

“All right, I’m going.”

Jimin stood there for a minute before he dared to open his eyes. The hallway was empty save for a girl bent over the water fountain further down. Jimin clamped his shaking fingers around his backpack straps and ran, around the corner until he found a sitting area near the vending machines. Collapsing into one of the chairs, he pulled his knees into his chest and held tight, trying to regulate his breathing.

Namjoon found him like that. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but Namjoon looked like he had just gotten out of class.

“Jimin.” He made for him with worry etched into his face. “What are you doing?”

Jimin couldn’t find it in him to answer. He hugged his knees even tighter. Namjoon knelt next to him and rubbed his back.

“Hey, it’s okay. I’m here.” For a while they stayed like that, until Namjoon asked, “Can you tell me what happened?”

“Minsoo,” he managed to say.

Namjoon’s eyes narrowed immediately. He glanced around. “What the fuck did he say to you? Where did he go?” When Jimin didn’t answer he stood, eyes blazing, hands clenching into fists. “I’ll fucking kill him—”

Jimin grabbed his wrist and pulled him back down. “I just want to go home.”

That night Namjoon spent one hour with him trying to see if they could switch his schedule around. But there was no other time he could take the course, and he needed it to graduate. He had to resign himself to a semester of facing his biggest fear every day.

 

now

“It wasn’t your fault, you know.” His little brother’s words come after Jimin finally tells him everything that happened with Minsoo.

“I know.”

“Because you sound like you kind of still think it’s your fault. But it wasn’t.” They’re sitting in front of their neighborhood convenience store with cups of tteokbokki. Jihyun has finished his. He pulls at a loose string hanging off his sweatshirt angrily. “It’s that asshole’s fault.”

“Yeah.”

“You’re never going to feel better if you keep thinking it’s your fault.”

He doesn’t like being told what to do by his younger brother, but maybe Jihyun’s right. So a few days later he sits down and makes a list of all the things Minsoo made him feel bad about. And then next to each one, he comes up with a reason why it’s wrong. Some of the things are so ingrained he can hardly even begin to think of them differently.

  1. I wasn’t funny enough. Wrong: Minsoo only said I wasn’t funny to make me feel bad. Yoongi hyung laughs at my jokes sometimes, and he’s a tough critic.
  2. I’m bad at sex. Wrong: I’m awesome at sex, Bobby said so.
  3. I didn’t care about him enough. Wrong: I cared about him too much. He didn’t care about me.

And it goes on like that for pages. If he’s being honest, it doesn’t really help that much. But it helps a little. A little is better than nothing.

For a long time, he tried to push back the memories of his time with Minsoo. Now he understands that running away from what happened isn’t the best option, at least not for him. All it has done is let the feelings boil until they’re suffocating. So over the next months, Jimin does a lot of thinking. He thinks about what happened and how he felt and how he feels now. It hurts so bad sometimes he wants to crawl into a hole and never get up.

He finds a job teaching English as a fill-in for a teacher who left halfway through the year, and it helps ground him. Forces him to wake up and confront the world every day even when he doesn’t want to. He starts training at a dance studio in the city. That helps, too. He makes friends, and dancing has always helped him feel better. His dad only gets sick a few times over the next months, and he goes to work almost every day.

Unlearning the cruel words of a manipulator is hard, but for the first time, Jimin really tries.

 

then

Jimin became enamored of Jeon Jungkook so quickly Yoongi would laugh at him.

Jimin thought Jungkook was cute; not the kind of cute that erupted fluttery butterflies in his stomach, but the kind of cute that made him want to coo and pinch Jungkook’s cheeks. Jungkook’s bumbling attempts at flirting were painfully obvious, and for a while Jimin thought he was just doing it to be funny. There was no way he landed himself with the kind of reputation he had being that bad at flirting.

In fact, Jimin had a lot of doubts about Jungkook’s so-called reputation. The same way rumors flew about Jimin, they flittered through the mill about Jungkook, too. He had sex with a professor to pass a class. His alcohol limit was practically nonexistent. Once he got really drunk and told a police officer to suck his dick.

Jimin didn’t believe most of them. Yoongi assured him that there was some basis to the rumors, if Professor Choi’s constant complaining was anything to go by. But it was nothing like they said. And Jimin only had to be around Jungkook for a little while to learn that he was little like the act he hid behind. Sometimes the shy, sweet side slipped through, and Jimin’s heart burst with affection.

Jimin’s partiality toward Jungkook grew to the point where Yoongi set up a jar in the kitchen with “Jimin won’t shut up” scrawled on it in messy permanent marker. Every time Jimin complimented Jungkook, Yoongi made him donate a 50 won coin to the jar.

“I do not talk about him that much,” Jimin insisted the first time Yoongi sat there, labeling the jar with his tongue sticking out of his mouth.

Jungkookie’s such a good artist, Jungkookie’s so good with the kids, Jungkookie got an A in his seminar. You’re literally so annoying.” Yoongi’s high-pitched impersonation had Namjoon in fits.

“He does have a point,” Namjoon added.                                                                       

“You guys are just jealous!” Jimin yelled, but once the jar started filling up with coins he realized maybe they weren’t exaggerating after all.

 

now

“You’re coming, right?” Namjoon’s scratchy voice crackles through the line.

Jimin holds his phone between his shoulder and ear as he juggles textbooks and keys in his hands. “Um.” He backs out of his classroom, fumbling to lock the door.

“Come on, Jimin, it’s graduation. You have to come.”

“I, uh, dunno.” Jungkook will be there. Jimin bows to a teacher walking by.

“I’ll pay for your damn bus ticket if I have to.”

“You don’t need to do that.” He stuffs his books in a messenger bag and slings it over his shoulder. When he makes it to the door out of the school, he loosens his tie and sighs.

“So you’re coming.”

“Hyung.”

“I’m sure Hoseok and Taehyung will ask you, too. We all want you here.”

Jimin rubs his face tiredly. It was a long day. Fridays always mean the kids are too antsy to listen. “I’ll have to see if I can get off work.”

“The ceremony’s Friday evening. You’ll only have to take off a day. Stay the weekend.”

“I’ll try, hyung. I gotta catch a bus so I’ll talk to you later.”

He stares at his phone, resting in the palm of his hand. Jungkook will be there.

 

then

Bobby and Jimin had a long history.

The first year they met, they messed around, no strings attached. Bobby transferred schools at the year’s end, just weeks after Jimin met Minsoo. They stayed in touch for a while, faded off during the time Minsoo and Jimin dated, until by coincidence or fate Bobby witnessed something he shouldn’t.

He only ever met Minsoo once. A lot of people might have seen what happened at the party and let it go, thought it was none of their business. But after Bobby saw a guy that looked an awful lot like Minsoo slip into a bedroom with someone at a party, he called Yoongi. Yoongi came to Jimin that night and very casually asked, “So where’s Minsoo this weekend?” Jimin told him about an education seminar at Dongguk University, and Yoongi’s face fell.

Jimin was mad at Bobby. He was mad at Yoongi. Stupidly, he tried to defend Minsoo, tried to blame himself. To say Yoongi was kind of mean about it was maybe an understatement; he was harsh enough that Jimin didn’t talk to him for three months after that. Three months it took him to get his life back together and understand that Yoongi and Bobby had only been trying to help.

The summer before his last year, he and Bobby met up a few times and spoke more frequently. When he visited for a few weeks during the semester, Jimin couldn’t help but fall. Bobby was so good to him, so much better than he deserved. He didn’t fall as hard as he could have but he did fall, and he knew Bobby did, too. But Jimin couldn’t imagine being with anyone even after all that time. The memory of being with Minsoo haunted him. Bobby confessed and he said no and that was that, even though it hurt.

After Bobby left, Jungkook’s presence in his life suddenly increased. The flirty jokes disappeared entirely and left a kind, flustered Jungkook in their stead. Whenever Jimin felt tired or stressed, Jungkook was there cheering him up or bringing him food, pretending like it was nothing and blushing when Jimin teased him. The real Jungkook, the one hidden underneath all that bravado, started to shine through.

He didn’t realize how much he liked Jungkook until it was too late to pull away. He figured it out in bursts. Suspected it when he stared at Jungkook’s lips for too long one day, or when he curled up with him on the dance studio floor and didn’t want to let go. But it didn’t click until the night at the river, when Jungkook said because he wasn’t anything like me and Jimin’s heart just ached. It wasn’t the normal kind of ache; it was the kind of ache where he would do anything to drive away Jungkook’s pain, to show him that he was beautiful and talented and perfect just the way he is.

And once he realized it, it flooded over him in relentless waves. Yet even though he liked Jungkook so much it hurt, he still couldn’t do it. He still couldn’t shake Minsoo. There were only two weeks left and then he would be gone and he figured it was best to just let it go. He would leave and nurse the feelings quietly and hope they faded with distance. He thought, a small part of him, that Jungkook liked him back. If the way he reacted when he found out Jimin was leaving meant anything, then he did.

But it didn’t matter. He doubted Jungkook would confess regardless. Jungkook hid from him for a week and the distance stung even more than liking him stung, and Jimin started to fear the upcoming parting. He didn’t want to let Jungkook go. He didn’t ever want to let him go.

He didn’t expect Jungkook to confess, an hour before he left.

He cried all the way to Busan.

Somewhere between the two cities, looking out the window through blurry eyes, Jimin thought, I hate myself.

 

now

No matter what he does, he can’t let go of Jeon Jungkook.

He hears his voice in his head, telling him a bad pickup line or a stupid joke that makes him laugh anyway. He’s sitting on Jimin’s bed, kicking his feet back and forth and asking matter-of-factly how many assignments he can skip and still pass because he’d really rather play Piano Tiles than do his homework. He’s riding down the street on his moped and insisting that Stark is water blue, not baby blue.

He’s in the corner of Jimin’s eye before he turns, he’s in the air he breathes, the beat of his heart, imprinted on the back of his eyelids when he closes them. He’s everywhere, a shadow slipping through Jimin’s fingertips. Always out of reach.

He dreams about him. Little ones, where they’re sprawled out on the couch watching anime and Namjoon’s yelling at them to shut up because he has class in the morning. And big ones, with Jungkook’s lips against his throat and his hands hot on Jimin’s skin.

Maybe it’s too early to tell, but sometimes Jimin thinks he’s never liked anyone quite as much as he likes Jeon Jungkook.

Chapter Text

Jeon Jungkook and Kim Taehyung are very, very late.

Granted, they’re kind of used to being late. Jungkook generally finds it rather difficult to make it to morning classes on time, and Taehyung running out the door with his shoes half-laced is a regular occurrence in their apartment. Taehyung was late to his own birthday party once.

But in this particular case, they absolutely cannot be late.

“Let’s go, let’s go!” Taehyung shouts, straightening his robe as he runs for the door.

Jungkook hops after him on one foot, tugging a loafer onto the other. Halfway there he catches sight of Taehyung’s graduation cap sitting on the counter. Tapping his toe against the floor to make sure the shoe is snug, he grabs the hat and catches up. “Don’t forget this, you idiot.”

“Come on, my parents are going to kill me.”

They beeline for the stairs, taking them two at a time. Jungkook gets close enough to jam the cap onto Taehyung’s head. They make it there with seconds to spare. It’s the first graduation of the day; the university separates them by department. Taehyung’s is early morning, Namjoon’s is after lunch, and Hoseok’s comes just before dinner.

Jungkook finds Taehyung’s family in the audience and sits with them after they shower him with hugs and kisses. He cranes his head to look for the others but can’t find them amid the crowd. Their education department is rather large. He satisfies himself with taking unnecessarily zoomed-in photos of Taehyung standing in line to shake hands with the department head. Just before Taehyung’s turn, Jungkook snaps an extra embarrassing one of him looking across the audience with his mouth open. He sends it to the group chat immediately.

jeon where are u sitting

meet us in the back after

come to the corner look for joons big head

hey that’s mean :(

As soon as the last student shakes hands, everyone stands up to mill around. Jungkook slips away to find them, heading for the back corner away from the door. Namjoon’s blond hair really does lead him in the right direction. He’s almost there, ducking around a group of girls, when he realizes there’s someone else standing next to them.

He’d known it was a possibility. How could he have not, with how much the others kept mentioning him? But up until the last moment, no one had known if he would make it or not—or maybe they had known and kept it from Jungkook. Even so, he’s not prepared. He halts in his tracks like he’s hit a wall.

Jimin has dyed his hair black again. He looks good. Thinner, but he’s smiling, glowing. Or maybe it’s just that Jungkook has restricted his image to memories for so long that seeing him in person reminds him of how beautiful Jimin really is. His mind hasn’t done him justice. Jimin is dressed up like the rest of them, black pants and a light dress shirt. His eyes soften when they land on Jungkook, and the smile he sends is hesitant. Jimin raises a hand—a small, pretty hand—and waves.

“Hi, Jungkook.”

 

They crash at Hoseok’s place that night, all six of them.

Their last night together is not as sad as it was when Jimin left. Jungkook is more at peace with himself now than he was then; he’s not as terrified of spending two years without his old friends. He’ll miss them, but he knows it won’t be forever. Anyway, at least he still has Yoongi.

Aside from a few cursory words and the occasional response, Jimin and Jungkook don’t talk to each other much. They sit on opposite sides of the room. Jungkook has a perfect view of him, catches himself looking even when he doesn’t mean to. Sometimes he thinks Jimin’s looking at him, too, but neither of them acknowledge it. The others don’t try to push them together, though Jungkook sees the way they look between them.

Six months shouldn’t make a difference but somehow Jimin looks older. Jungkook knew it already but now it’s reaffirmed; six months of zero contact haven’t lessened his feelings for Jimin at all. If anything, they flood him with even more power than before, every time he throws a glance his way.

Namjoon passes out on the couch, Jimin and Hoseok share his bed, and the rest of them take the living room floor in a pile of spare blankets when they grow too tired to stay awake any longer. Yoongi complains about the hardness of the floor, but he still falls asleep first. Before long Namjoon’s snores join him, and Taehyung’s soft breaths, too.

Jungkook can’t sleep. He thinks about Jimin, just a wall separating them, about his face soft in sleep the way it was the night of the party. He’s been waiting to see him again for every minute of every day but now that he’s here Jungkook doesn’t know what to do. Because the reality hasn’t changed. Jimin still turned him down.

He stares at the ceiling for what feels like hours, hyperaware of every sound and movement around him. At some point Taehyung shifts and mumbles something about “dog, cute dog” and Namjoon snores so loud the others can probably hear it from the bedroom. It may not be as bad as when Jimin left, but he’s still sad. He’s not going to lose them but it won’t ever be like this again. In a way, change is always a little sad.

Hoseok’s bedroom door creaks, soft footsteps sounding as someone emerges and quietly closes it again. Jungkook closes his eyes and holds still. A soft whoosh of air brushes his cheek as whoever it is passes him. He hears the telltale sign of someone pulling on shoes. Cracking one eye open, he catches Jimin bent over by the door as he laces his boots.

Jimin glances behind him and Jungkook squeezes his eyes shut quickly. The door opens then closes just as softly. Jungkook waits for a span of three breaths, debating, then jumps up to follow. He kicks on his shoes as he walks out, peeking down the hall to see Jimin heading for the stairs. Jimin enters the stairwell; Jungkook waits until the door closes behind him to follow. He opens the door carefully and sees the sole of Jimin’s shoe disappear around the bend as he ascends. A voice in his head that sounds an awful lot like Hoseok’s says stop being a creep, Jeon Jungkook, but he ignores it.

He stands in the doorway and waits to hear where Jimin stops. The sound of another door opening doesn’t come until much later, and it’s the sharp scraping of a particularly heavy one. He must have gone to the roof.

Jungkook has been to the roof of Hoseok’s apartment building many times. A few spare chairs and tables dot the center, mostly bent and wobbly, and the sides are blocked off by short ledges that border the building’s air conditioners and wiring. Jimin stands on one of those sides with his forearms leaning against the ledge, the wind ruffling his hair. He’s looking down.

Jungkook moves to the short ledge and says, “Hyung?”

Jimin glances back, eyes wide. He bites his lip but doesn’t look away. “Jungkook.”

With a quick hop, Jungkook scales the ledge and maneuvers through the machines and wiring. He joins Jimin at the ledge, keeping a careful foot between them. “What are you doing?”

“Couldn’t sleep.” Jimin turns back to look out over the city. Hoseok’s building is a little ways off campus, but the tall classroom buildings are still visible from here. There are so many lights it’s hard to see the stars. The occasional car or moped revs past.

“Me neither.”

They stand quietly for a while. Jungkook fidgets, moving his hands from his pockets to the ledge to his pockets again. He can’t think of anything to say. He wants to ask how Jimin’s doing but he doesn’t want to come off as presumptuous. He’s not sure if he’s imagining the heat from Jimin’s body or if they really are standing close enough for him to feel it. Running a hand through his hair, he rocks back on his heels.

In the end they both speak at the same time.

“I heard you got a job.”

“I got your text.”

They glance at each other, eyes meeting briefly, then away. Jungkook flushes. “You first.”

“No, you,” Jimin mumbles. Jungkook peeks to the side and sees that his cheeks are pink, too.

“Namjoon hyung said you got a teaching job.”

“It’s kind of tough. The kids don’t really like me yet because I came in the middle of the year, but it’s okay.”

“That’s good.”

Jimin hesitates. Jungkook clears his throat awkwardly.

“Uh, you were saying something.”

Jimin nods, so quickly his bangs fall into his eyes. Jungkook’s having trouble getting used to him without orange hair, but he likes it. “I got your text. And I’m sorry I didn’t answer. But I was—am—really happy for you.”

It had been a shock, seeing his old crush that day. Jungkook had left campus to get lunch with Seokjin when he saw him sitting three tables away. He watched him for a long while, waiting. But he didn’t feel anything. No anger, no loathing, not even a hint of past attraction. He thought of the way he had laughed at Jungkook’s stammering confession, but the memory didn’t make his stomach swirl with regret like it once did.

Instead he thought about Jimin, and how he spent an entire semester in class with a man who hurt him so bad he still cried about it. How it must have made him sick to see him across the room, laughing like he hadn’t done anything while Jimin couldn’t even let himself be happy because of him.

But his old crush didn’t hurt Jungkook anymore. It took a year and a half, but he had finally moved on. Maybe they were right when they said wounds healed with time; even if they didn’t go away, they did fade. It gave him hope. Because if he was all right, maybe one day Jimin would be, too.

So on a whim he had texted him without letting himself pause to think about it. He hadn’t expected Jimin to answer, but it still hurt when he didn’t.

“Thanks.”

“It, um. It made me cry.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

But Jimin smiles. “Don’t be sorry. It wasn’t a bad cry.”

Jungkook doesn’t really know what that means, but Jimin’s smiling. Maybe it was always a trend, but today it seems like every time Jimin smiles, he loses his train of thought.

“So you’re rooming with Yoongi hyung next year?”

“Yeah. I mean, it made sense. We both needed roommates, and neither of us really wanted to find strangers.”

“You guys will be good together.”

Over the past semester he discovered that he and Yoongi have much more in common than either of them expected. After Jimin left, their ragtag group of friends had grown even more close-knit, and in the process Jungkook learned an awful lot about Yoongi.

He learned that even though Yoongi was rather hostile during their first weeks of meeting each other, he didn’t actually think Jungkook was all that bad.

“If I really thought you were going to hurt Jimin do you think I would have let you into my goddamn house?”

He learned that Yoongi drinks beer like other people drink water, and photography is the most important thing in the world for him, but not as important as the people he chooses to care about. Somehow Jungkook managed to become one of those people, and Yoongi started treating him like a wayward little brother.

“Jeon Jungkook,” he said once when he got really drunk, slinging his arm around Jungkook’s shoulder. “You’ve got a lot to learn in life. Follow me and I’ll help you figure it out, eh?”

(Namjoon had chimed in to say that if he followed in Yoongi’s path he would turn into a bitter old man who slept like a cat.)

The most vital piece of information he learned about Min Yoongi, however, was that he used to struggle like Jungkook did.

“These assholes, they’d follow me around in a pack after school because I was small and skinny and I kind of sucked at defending myself. I could think of a snarky comeback in about two seconds, but throw punches? Nah.”

“How’d you get over it?”

“I can’t answer that. There’s not really any answer for that. But I just had to stop letting them control me, you know? Even when they weren’t around. I had to learn to do things my way, not the way my memories of them dictated.”

Jungkook thinks of those words a lot when things get hard.

When the middle of the semester neared and students began to sign leases for the upcoming years’ housing, Yoongi asked Jungkook if he wanted to live with him. And in all honesty, the next two years without Taehyung and Hoseok and Namjoon didn’t seem as frightening after that.

“Yeah,” Jungkook says, turning to Jimin. “I think so, too.”

They hold each other’s gazes until Jimin flushes and looks down, his lashes casting shadows against his cheeks. “So how’s Stark?”

“Actually,” Jungkook says. “Stark’s done for. He died a week into the semester.”

“You didn’t even have him for two years. As a mechanic, I’m offended.”

“You’re not even a real mechanic. Anyway, he was already three years old when I bought him.” Jimin shoots him a look. “Okay, maybe I didn’t take as good care of him as I should have.”

“Did you get a bicycle like Taehyung?”

“I got a car.”

“No way.”

“I got a job, actually. My dad said if I pitched in half the money he’d pool the rest.”

“Impressive.”

“He’s kind of old and shitty and he doesn’t really start all the time, but. He works. I guess.”

“Did you name him, too?”

Jungkook rubs the back of his head, sniffing. “Maybe.”

“Jeon Jungkook, I can’t believe you. What’d you name him?”

“Tony.”

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.” Jimin’s laughing, falling against the ledge. He’s so beautiful Jungkook forgets to breathe. When his laughter dies off he rests his cheeks on his forearms from where they lean on the ledge, facing Jungkook. His cheek and lips puff out cutely. The silence is more comfortable this time.

“How have you been, hyung?” Jungkook finally asks. He knows Jimin will understand that his words hold more weight than a simple how are you.

Jimin closes his eyes and sighs. “I miss you guys.”

“We all miss you, too.” He lets himself take one small step closer.

“I’m okay. I’m trying to adjust.”

“Yeah.”

The rooftop lights make Jimin’s skin glow. His cheeks look so soft. Jungkook doesn’t notice that he’s taken another step toward him, and now they’re so close they’re almost touching. He raises a hand, reaching for Jimin’s face, then stops. Jimin’s eyes flicker open. He stares at him, and he doesn’t pull away. So Jungkook runs his fingers along Jimin’s cheekbone with a feather-light touch. His skin is even softer than it looks. He cups Jimin’s face in his hand and strokes his cheek with his thumb, the light touch turning surer.

“I miss you,” Jungkook whispers.

Jimin blinks slowly. Then he turns his head and kisses Jungkook’s palm. His lips are light and barely there, his hot breath more prominent against Jungkook’s skin than the kiss itself. Goosebumps erupt on Jungkook’s skin, a shiver running down his spine. He stares at Jimin’s full lips, imagines the light, teasing touch on places other than his hand.

The rooftop door scrapes open. He jumps away so fast he almost trips, catching himself by bracing a hand against the ledge. Jimin laughs, a quiet chuckle that he stifles behind his hand as he straightens. A man steps onto the roof and lights up a cigarette.

“We should go to sleep,” Jimin says. He steps over the wires without waiting to see if Jungkook will follow.

But at this point he must know that Jungkook will always follow.

 

Two months into the semester without Jimin, Namjoon had revealed a marvelously important fact.

They were studying in Dream Bean, whose Americanos Jungkook never appreciated quite as much when Jimin wasn’t there to make them. Namjoon had cleared his throat and asked in a pitiful attempt at sounding casual, “Have you, uh, heard from Jimin lately?”

Jungkook didn’t glance up from his sketchbook, but his fingers tightened around his pencil. “We don’t talk.”

“Right.” Namjoon pretended to leaf through his textbook, but Jungkook knew he wasn’t really reading. He rolled his eyes and waited for Namjoon to spill. “He’s doing well, you know.”

“Yeah?”

“He found a job teaching in an elementary school. And he joined a dance studio.”

“That’s really great.”

“Maybe you should, uh, try texting him or something. To say hi.”

“He doesn’t want to talk to me.”

Namjoon had sighed and let go of his book, abandoning the pretense. “He really liked you, Jungkookie.”

Jungkook had fumbled his pencil. “He did?”

“A hell of a lot.”

Jungkook’s eyes had widened. He tried to say something but the words didn’t come out. So he shrugged helplessly. Part of him had suspected it, from Jimin’s blushes and teasing, and from his last words. It doesn’t matter how much I like you. But in the end Jungkook had never really known how Jimin felt, or how he might have answered if his fear hadn’t stopped him. “He didn’t—I had no idea.”

“But you know he doesn’t date, so no matter what he wasn’t going to say anything to you.” Namjoon smiled softly, his dimples clear. “Yoongi told him maybe he should distance himself from you, to make things easier. But he couldn’t do that. Because that’s the kind of person Jimin is. If he likes you, he wants you around even when it hurts him.”

A lump rose in his throat. To know, to really know, that Jimin had felt something for him—somehow it hurt even more.

“And that’s a problem. But that’s why you should talk to him, Jungkook. Because there’s no way he doesn’t want to talk to you.”

And he’d tried, a few weeks later when he texted him about meeting his old crush, but Jimin hadn’t answered. So Jungkook had thought maybe Namjoon was wrong. Even if Jimin liked him, maybe he had decided that distance really was the best.

So when Jimin books a bus ticket back to Busan for Saturday night, Jungkook doesn’t ask him to stay.

He wishes he could reiterate his feelings for him. But the last time he confessed, he upset Jimin right before he left, and he regrets that. So this time he vows not to say anything. If anyone’s going to confess, it has to be Jimin. Jungkook knows how much it stresses Jimin out to have someone confess to him when he’s only going to turn them down; he has to be comfortable enough to do it himself.

Jungkook doesn’t really think he’s going to. Kissing his hand is not an indicator that Jimin has changed his mind. But he does think that maybe if he stays quiet, Jimin will at least call him once in a while. That’s not enough, but it’s better than nothing. The thought of another six months without hearing Jimin’s voice makes his stomach churn.

Taehyung and Namjoon leave with their families in the morning, and Hoseok packs his things for Sunday. Close to evening, when Yoongi and Jungkook are helping Hoseok scour his apartment for any last minute possessions, Jimin enters holding what looks like his bus ticket.

“You got it?” Yoongi calls from where he crouches by the kitchen cabinets.

Jimin opens his mouth to answer, and then he freezes. He stands there in the doorway, mouth open, eyes wide, glancing between the three of them. It takes him so long to move that they all stop what they’re doing to look. Then he says, very decidedly, “No.”

He hides the ticket behind his back.

They’re all looking at him in amazement.

“What the fuck,” Yoongi begins, but Jimin cuts him off.

“They’re all out of tickets to Busan. Uh, totally out.”

“There’s literally no way—”

“Jungkook, can you drive me?” he blurts.

Yoongi and Hoseok both spin to look at Jungkook, who has paused in the middle of tying up Hoseok’s trash bag. “Huh?” Jungkook gapes back at them.

“You’re fucking kidding me.” Hoseok throws his hands up in defeat. “You both are literally impossible.”

“I can’t believe you just spent, what, forty thousand goddamn won just to come back and say you didn’t get a goddamn ticket. Why didn’t you just ask him in the first place—” Yoongi slams the cabinet closed in frustration.

“I didn’t spend forty thousand won, they didn’t have any tickets!”

“Buses to Busan run every half an hour, Park Jimin, you lying piece of shit.”

It’s a four hour drive to Busan, roughly. Gas is expensive. Jungkook’s not even sure his car can handle a drive that long. If his parents find out he went to Busan unannounced and didn’t stop to visit his grandparents, they’ll kill him. Logically speaking, it doesn’t make any sense to drive Jimin all the way there just to come back. “Okay,” he says.

They all spin to look at him again. “Huh?” Jimin looks like he really didn’t think Jungkook would agree.

“I’ll drive you,” he says easily. He knots the trash bag and makes for the door. “When do you wanna leave?”

From behind him, he hears Hoseok and Yoongi’s exasperated exclamations.

“You guys are fucking idiots.”

“If you don’t come back with good news then I’m disowning both of you.”

Jungkook doesn’t listen. He’s looking at Jimin, who’s looking back with a wary smile. “We have to talk, Jungkookie.”

“Yeah. Yeah, we do.”

Chapter Text

“Jungkook!”

The excited voice comes as they walk across campus later that evening, Jungkook trailing just a step behind Jimin, still reeling from the sudden decision. It’s Hyejin across the sidewalk, still dressed in her graduation cap and gown. She waves, a massive smile on her face, and speed-walks toward him.

Jungkook grins back. “Noona!”

He meets her halfway, and she pulls him into a hug.

“Congratulations on making it out of hell.”

“Don’t be dramatic,” she scoffs, and hits him on the head with her diploma. “I’m not gonna be here to yell at you anymore, so stay out of trouble, okay?”

“No promises. Good luck in the real world.”

“Yeah, whatever. See you around, Jeon.”

“Good knowing you, Ahn.”

She walks away with another wave. Jimin comes to a stop next to Jungkook, his bag hiked up on one shoulder. “You guys have come a long way from glares and passive-aggressive greetings.”

“We were kind of just doing it to do it after a while, you know? She’s actually pretty cool.”

They head to the edge of campus, where Jungkook tells Jimin to wait so he can fetch the car. Tony has chipped forest green paint and manual locks and windows. Two of the four windows don’t roll down, and the passenger seat doesn’t have a sun visor. One of the backseat doors doesn’t open, not even a little. It takes five minutes of whispered compliments for the engine to start before he pulls up to the curb in front of Jimin. Just for old time’s sake, he leans out of the window and jerks his head as the universal get in, baby. He’s half-afraid Jimin won’t laugh, but he does. He always does.

He can still remember the jealousy that stirred in him the day Jimin arrived at the daycare on the back of Bobby’s motorcycle. How he had loathed Stark, who could hold a driver and no one else. How he’d wanted to boast that he could take Jimin places if he wanted, how inadequate he felt that he couldn’t. Now he’s picking Jimin up in his car and he’s realized it doesn’t really matter all that much, after all.

Jimin tries to open the door that doesn’t work to put his bag in the back.

“Other side,” Jungkook says wearily.

“Nice car you got here, Jungkookie.” Jimin slips into the passenger seat with a cheeky smile. “As a mechanic, I can tell you with extreme confidence that it’s not going to last very long.”

“Hey, don’t insult Tony. He’s sensitive.” Jungkook rubs the steering wheel comfortingly. “You’re not even a mechanic.”

As they pull out of campus and into the city, Jimin fiddles with the radio, which only sometimes works. Jungkook tries to focus on driving and not on what Jimin might say to him after so long. Or on what he should say to Jimin. It feels surreal having him here, a few feet away, like he never went away at all. During the time they spent apart, Jungkook thought a lot about the bet. How it was a pretty shitty decision on his part that led him to Jimin in the first place, and how wrong it was to use Jimin like that. But at the same time, if it weren’t for that stupid bet, they never would have gotten close. And while maybe life would have been easier if he hadn’t met Jimin and had his heart broken, Jungkook doesn’t regret it. Even if at the end of this car ride Jimin turns around and never speaks to him again, he still wouldn’t change a thing.

But he wants to tell him. He owes it to him, at least, to be honest.

He’s working up the nerve to say something when Jimin settles on a radio station and says, “Hoseok hyung mentioned that you don’t really party much anymore.”

“Yeah, not really.”

“How come?”

“I kind of figured out that I was using partying and sex as a way to run away from myself. Once I figured that out, I tried to stop. So I could find out who I really was under all that hiding.” It’s hard to say it out loud, even now. He’s ruminated on these thoughts for months, but he doesn’t like talking about his feelings. Years of societal conditioning lead him to believe doing so makes him weak, and overcoming that is easier said than done. He tries to keep his voice steady, but the way Jimin glances at him tells him he doesn’t succeed. “I never really liked it much, anyway, all of that. I don’t really like being around crowds or people I’m not comfortable with. I was just forcing myself because I thought I had to.”

“Then I’m glad you’ve stopped.”

“Me too. I mean, it’s not like the partying or the sex were inherently the problem. Taehyung hyung got laid twice last weekend. Hoseok hyung went to, like, three ragers after finals last semester. They’re fine. They love it. It was just me that was the problem, you know?”

“It’s like Hoseok hyung always says.” Jimin throws out his arms and does a terrible impersonation of Hoseok. “It’s the feel of it, guys, the atmosphere! None of you assholes understand!”

Jungkook snorts.

“You never got the feel of it. You were doing it for the wrong reasons.”

“Yeah.”

“I used to get the feel of it.” Jimin sighs, leaning his cheek against the window. Jungkook slows down extra before going over a bump in the road so it doesn’t jostle him.

“You miss it.”

“I never would have stopped if I didn’t have to. But I guess we can’t have fun forever.”

They fall into a weighty silence. Jungkook thinks about growing up and a future that doesn’t involve his friends and feels a little of the old despondency. Jimin’s already there. He wonders if it’s lonely.

But then again, growing up doesn’t have to mean leaving everyone behind. It just means putting more effort into staying together.

As he pulls onto the expressway, Jungkook says, “I kept on volunteering at the daycare.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“And tutoring Chan. I’m an art major with an education track, now.”

Jimin turns to him in surprise. “Education? You want to be a teacher?”

“I realized I love art the most when I’m helping Chan. And Seokjin hyung, my studio professor from last semester, he really changed the way I view art. And life, too, really. It’d be really cool to have that kind of effect on someone one day.”

“You finally figured it out.” Jimin’s eyes crinkle with genuine happiness.

“I feel a lot better about myself. I actually want to work hard because I know where I’m going, you know?”

“You’re not so lost anymore.”

He nods, pride flaring in his chest. It’s nice to have Jimin look at him so fondly. And it’s nice to feel confident after spending so long conflicted about what he wanted out of life. He still doesn’t know, not entirely, because no one ever knows exactly what they want. But he’s on the right track, at least.

They drive for a while on the busy expressway before Jungkook summons up the courage. He clears his throat. His fingers tremble a little on the steering wheel. “Hyung. I have to tell you something.”

Jimin turns toward him, waiting.

“You might—” he falters, licks his lips. Gathers strength, eyes fixed resolutely on the road ahead of him. “You might hate me for this. And if you do, I understand. I deserve it. But I have to tell you.”

“What is it?”

“The first time I saw you, it was in the dining hall. You didn’t know I was there. You were a few tables away, reading this massive English book.”

“That’s creepy, Jungkook.”

He smiles a little. “And then this girl came up to you and asked you to coffee.”

He feels rather than sees Jimin shift.

“You said no, and you put your head down and looked so sad. I couldn’t figure out why you’d be so sad over turning someone down.” Jungkook’s hands tighten around the wheel. “Honestly, the first time I saw you all I could think was that you were the most beautiful boy on campus.”

Jimin makes a small noise, of discomfort or amusement or what, Jungkook doesn’t know.

“A few days later, you came to talk to Taehyung hyung when I was with him. So I asked him to set me up. He said you didn’t date. I didn’t want to date you. He said you didn’t fuck around, either. And he was so adamant on it. I saw you again at the auto shop and fuck, you were gorgeous and I couldn’t accept that I didn’t have a chance. So Taehyung and I made a bet.”

Jimin doesn’t say anything, doesn’t even move. Jungkook’s too terrified to look at him, so he looks forward, chewing on his lip, trying to control his shaking fingers.

“He said I couldn’t get you to sleep with me by the end of the semester. I said I could. If he won, I’d have to do his laundry for a whole semester. If I won, I got to use his Xbox whenever I wanted.”

Jimin laughs. It’s not an amused laugh, rather a harsh one, and Jungkook’s stomach constricts painfully.

“That’s why I kept trying to hit on you and find you everywhere. It’s the shittiest thing I’ve ever done, hyung, I know that. I called it off in the middle of the semester.”

“When?” Jimin’s voice is stiff. “I want to know exactly how long you kept it going.”

“A few weeks after Bobby left.”

“So when you started volunteering at the daycare. That was because you were trying to get in my pants?”

He swallows past the lump in his throat. “Yeah.”

“And when I told you everything. When I told you how people started to see me like a conquest. Even then?”

“Yeah.”

“When you got me chicken. All those times we studied together. The whole time?”

“Yeah.”

“So you could use Taehyung’s Xbox.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s fucked up, Jungkook. That’s really fucked up.” He says it hard and unyielding, and he’s right.

“I know. I know, it’s awful. I’m awful.”

“Why’d you do that? Even after I told you, didn’t you feel bad?”

“I felt bad all the time. I felt so—I felt so damn guilty all the time, sometimes it made me sick. That doesn’t change anything. But I did.”

“Then why’d you do it?”

The car rounds a bend in the expressway only to run into a jam; all the cars skid to a stop behind the stalled traffic. Jungkook brakes, throwing his arm out in front of Jimin to keep him from jerking forward. When the car stills, Jungkook finally looks at him. He’s staring down at Jungkook’s arm.

“Why’d you do it?”

He puts his hands back on the steering wheel. “I’m only explaining, not excusing myself, okay? It doesn’t make it any better. But when I was in high school I used to get beat up a lot for being kind of quiet and passive. I couldn’t stand up for myself. It was—it was pretty bad. And you know how things went with the guy I liked. When I got to university, it was a fresh start. I wanted to be someone different.”

The traffic starts to move, inching along at a snail’s pace.

“I didn’t want to be anything like the boy who couldn’t talk in class and had everyone throw around insults about him. I wanted to be confident. Someone who wouldn’t get rejected like I did. The bet just turned into something I could do to prove I really wasn’t that boy anymore. At first it might have been, but after a while it wasn’t even about you, really.”

“Stop the car.”

Jungkook glances at him sharply. Jimin’s looking out the window. “Hyung—”

“Stop the car.”

He waits until he can merge over the right. It takes a while in the traffic jam, but he pulls over onto the shoulder and drops his hands in his lap. Jimin yanks the door open and steps out. Jungkook’s hands are shaking so bad he doesn’t know what to do with them. Jimin must hate him.

“Get out,” Jimin says through the open door.

Jungkook slips out of the car and walks around to Jimin. He stands in front of him, thrumming with nervous energy. The drivers of nearby cars stalled in the jam stare at them.

Jimin socks him in the stomach so hard a whoosh of breath leaves him as a pained exhale.

He brushes off his knuckles and slips back into the car. Jungkook stands there, hand on his stomach, reeling. He doesn’t move until Jimin leans out and says, “Are we leaving or not?”

So he gets back into the driver’s side and starts the car, stomach aching with every movement. “Are you—you still want to go with me?”

“I gotta get home, don’t I?”

Jungkook nods. His face is hot with shame. He deserves it, after all. When he finds space, he merges back into the traffic jam. They sit there in silence, miles of stalled traffic ahead of them. Jungkook wonders if Jimin will ever talk to him again.

Then Jimin sighs. “Jungkook, look at me.”

He doesn’t want to. He’s burning with regret.

Jimin’s soft hand presses into his cheek, turning his head to face him. He doesn’t look angry. He looks tender, and maybe a little sad. It’s in the curve of his lips.

“I’m sorry,” Jungkook says.

“I know, and I accept it.”

He dares to breathe.

“What you did was shitty. And you’re right—you explained it but you can’t excuse it. It’s still shitty. But if the way you acted after that is any indication, I know you’ve learned from it. You did a bad thing but you’re not a bad person.”

He looks at Jimin in disbelief. “Really?”

“I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.”

“You’re not mad at me?”

“I mean, yeah, I’m kind of pissed. But it doesn’t change how I feel about you.”

Jungkook’s realizes his mouth is hanging open. He snaps it shut. “How you feel about me.”

Jimin stares back, a flush rising on his cheeks. He turns away and crosses his arms, sitting back with a huff. “Don’t you know by now?”

“I’ve never heard you say it.”

“Keep dreaming.”

Jungkook looks back at the road, and now he’s smiling, giddy. He hasn’t lost Jimin. He doesn’t hate him. The truth hasn’t changed anything except how unburdened he feels. Traffic inches forward two feet.

“Your turn,” Jungkook says.

“Huh?”

“I’ve told my story about figuring myself out. What about you?”

“Have I figured myself out?” Jimin scoffs, returns to looking out the window. “That’s not going to happen so fast.”

“I know. But you didn’t really answer me when I asked how you were doing.”

The cars move another two feet and Jimin fiddles with the hem of his shirt. “That’s because I don’t really know.”

Jungkook stretches up in his seat to try and see beyond the rows of traffic. There must be some kind of accident ahead.

“But I’m trying. So I guess that’s what matters, right?”

“Right.”

Jimin switches the radio station again, flipping through three without pausing on any for more than a second. He’s biting his lip.

“Why’d you change your mind about the bus ticket? You bought it and then said you didn’t.” When Jimin’s brow furrows like he’s going to deny it, Jungkook adds, “Come on, you were literally holding it.”

“After seeing you it was—it was hard to imagine leaving again. But I was going to. And then I got the ticket and came back and saw you and realized I couldn’t do it a second time. So I, uh, panicked.”

“Idiot,” Jungkook says fondly.

“I didn’t want to say goodbye again.”

“Me neither.” The unspoken truth hangs between them: it doesn’t matter if it has been delayed by four hours. Goodbye is still inevitable.

They move along with traffic at a snail’s pace for the next two hours. In that time they should be halfway to Busan; instead they’ve covered the distance they might have in just one hour. Jungkook’s not even sure how much longer Tony can last through the constant stopping and starting. The radio talks of a large accident that’s caused the expressway to be backed up for miles, worst of all right outside Seoul. It might take them double the amount of time to make it to Busan if this persists.

“We’re gonna be stuck here forever,” Jimin groans, slumping in the seat. He’s taken off his shoes and pulled his feet up.

“And it’s getting late.” It had already been dark out when they left. At this rate they’re going to make it to Busan well after midnight.

Jungkook toys with an idea and wonders how to put it to Jimin without sounding sleazy. He’s not doing it to be sleazy. He wants to delay the inevitable again, perhaps, like Jimin tried with the bus ticket. And anyway they have a pretty reasonable excuse. Of course, there’s always the chance that the traffic will clear up not much further down the expressway, and they’ll make it to Busan with only an hour or two of delay. But then again, there’s also the teensy tiny chance that it might take much longer than that.

“It’s, uh, probably gonna take ages to get to Busan,” Jungkook says, rubbing his nose nonchalantly. “And it’s, like, nighttime already.”

Jimin looks at him. The way his eyes narrow tell him he might have caught on. “And who knows how much more of this Tony can take.”

“Right. What if it’s blocked all the way to Busan?” he says, even though the radio was very clear that it wasn’t.

“Exactly.” Jimin nods very seriously. “You won’t be able to drive all night, that’s crazy.”

“I’ll be so tired.” Jungkook bites the inside of his cheek to keep the laughter from slipping out. “I guess we should, uh, stay somewhere.”

“That’s probably the smartest decision. Honestly, we don’t really even have a choice.”

He can’t help it. Jungkook snorts. Then Jimin splutters, and they’re both laughing, the all-out can’t-breathe kind of laughter. Jimin shifts to lean on him as he laughs. Jungkook can feel it all the way to his bones.

Jimin’s not mad—not unforgivably mad, anyway. He’s not mad and he’s here and they’re going to have one more night together. Goodbye is just a little bit further away.

He pulls onto the nearest exit as soon as they reach it, following signs to a small motel near a bus stop. It’s lit with bright neon lights and various gaudy signs. When they park and head toward it, Jimin starts laughing all over again.

“First the ticket, now this.”

“Why can’t we ever be honest?”

The lobby is nice and cozy and not nearly as sleazy as the motel’s exterior suggested. “I’m paying,” Jimin says immediately, shoving Jungkook out of the way so he can duck toward the window behind which the hotel manager sits. “A room for tonight, please.”

He passes money under the window. The hotel manager, an older man who looks like he’d much rather be asleep, glances at Jimin then back at Jungkook. His lip curls. He slides them the room key without saying anything else.

“Isn’t he supposed to show us the room first?” Jimin mutters as they head for the elevators.

Jungkook shrugs. “I don’t think he likes us.” Besides Jimin’s messenger bag, nothing about them suggests they are prepared to spend the night in a motel. The manager has clearly already made his assumptions. Jungkook’s just glad they didn’t get kicked out. If one of them were with a girl, the manager wouldn’t have batted even an eyelash.

“Yeah.” Jimin looks a little despondent.

Jungkook nudges him. “Hey, maybe if we’re really annoying we’ll scare off his other customers. That’ll show him.”

The room is nice, small but comfortable, with a little yellow armchair in the corner next to a large TV and stand. The bed faces the TV, covered in floral sheets that match the yellow curtains on the small window. A painting of a scenic forest hangs above the bed, and the tables flanking it hold lamps and magazines. They’ll have to share the bed unless someone wants to sleep on the floor. Jungkook doesn’t know why he didn’t think of that before. He flushes suddenly.

“I gotta, uh, use the bathroom.”

He locks the door behind him and leans on the counter, staring at his red face in the mirror. He’s not a kid, he shouldn’t be blushing, but it’s Jimin. It’s Jimin and they’re going to share a bed perfectly sober and Jungkook will get to see his face when he wakes up again, cheeks and lips puffy and eyes soft. With cold water he splashes his face twice before returning to the room.

Jimin has dropped his bag to the side, kicked off his shoes, and fallen back onto the bed, spread-eagled. He shifts to the side when he sees Jungkook, patting the empty space next to him. Jungkook sits down gingerly.

“I’m not going to bite,” Jimin says wryly.

He flushes again, but he’s not about to back down, so he gets up and steps out of his Timberlands. Then he steps out of his pants, too, because he’s not going to sleep with those on. He lies down next to Jimin on top of the covers.

Jimin scoffs. “Is this a competition?”

“It’s not my fault I don’t have pajamas.” Jungkook rubs his stomach, still aching from Jimin’s punch. He’ll probably wake up with bruises.

“Does it hurt?” Jimin asks.

“Yeah.” He tries to look sympathetic, pouting a little.

Jimin smacks him on the stomach, right on the sore spot. He winces, curling up with a groan. “Good.”

Jimin slips out of bed to shift through his bag for his change of clothes from last night. Right there, with his back to Jungkook, he strips off his shirt and pants. His back muscles shift as he pulls on shorts. He’s built so compact, small and strong, slender waist and narrow shoulders. Jungkook doesn’t realize he’s been staring until Jimin’s t-shirt comes on to cover every last sliver of skin, and he returns to his senses.

After rolling up the blinds and turning off the lamps so only the warm streetlights and a hint of moonlight filter into the room, Jimin returns to bed. They lie side-by-side, staring at the shadows that play across the ceiling. It’s quiet and warm and an almost foreign feeling creeps up on Jungkook: contentment. Even though he doesn’t know where they stand or what they’ll do at the end of their trip, he’s content.

“When did you figure out you liked me?” Jimin’s voice is soft, as if he doesn’t want to disturb the peace.

“That night we went to the river and you told me you were leaving in two weeks.” He remembers it too clearly. If he tries hard enough he can call up the exact feelings that washed over him when he finally understood exactly how much Jimin meant to him. “I went home and started crying on the kitchen floor.”

Jimin’s voice cracks. “You liked me that much?”

“I still do.” He remembers how difficult it was the first time he said to Taehyung, I like him, hyung. I like him. Now it’s easy. He could say it a thousand times, a million times. “I still like you that much.”

“That’s the night I realized it, too. When you told me about that guy you liked and how he hurt you and I realized I’d do anything to make you happy.”

Jungkook holds his breath. Jimin is unmoving beside him, warm. “You were never going to say anything.”

“No. I didn’t think you would, either, even though—even though I kind of suspected how you felt. I didn’t want you to say anything.”

“Because then you’d have to say no.”

“You don’t understand how much it hurts saying no when all you want to do is say yes. I wanted to slip out of your life, let distance come between us naturally. I wanted you to forget about me.”

“I could never do that.”

“I wanted you to find someone better.”

“You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Jimin laughs, and it sounds a little choked. “Don’t say that.”

“It’s true.” He turns onto his side, propping himself up on his elbow so he’s facing Jimin.

“I’ve never liked anyone as much as I like you.”

To hear him say it is a breath of fresh air that cradles Jungkook’s skin. Relief turns him light and giddy. He’s never said it outright. Until now it’s been nothing more than hearsay and implication. But hearing him say it—Jungkook wonders if like is too weak a word to describe how he feels about Jimin.

Jimin’s looking at him, eyes gentle. The glow of outside light shines across his face until his eyes sparkle and his piercings glint. He reaches up and brushes his fingers along Jungkook’s cheek. Jungkook leans toward him, cupping his face in his hand. He stops when there’s just a sliver of air between them, his lips hovering in the space above Jimin’s, their breath mingling. He could count Jimin’s eyelashes if he wanted, lose himself in the warm brown of Jimin’s eyes.

“Can I kiss you?” he whispers, and they’re too close, so close that his lips brush Jimin’s when they move. Jungkook forgets how to breathe.

Jimin’s fingers run from Jungkook’s nape through his hair. He pulls him down.

His lips are softer than Jungkook has ever imagined, plush against his. He kisses his lower lip once, twice, three times, tugging it between his own. Hesitant, slow like he’s savoring it, memorizing the way Jimin feels. His free hand moves to Jimin’s hip, the other keeping him upright so he hovers over him. When he pulls away Jimin chases his lips for another kiss. His hands thread through Jungkook’s hair, tugging him closer. If Jungkook were poetic he’d compare the kiss to stars exploding from Jimin’s mouth to his; maybe he’d say kissing Jimin felt like going home after a long, hard day. Maybe he’d marvel that nothing has ever kindled him to flames with the ease that Jimin’s touch does. But all he thinks is that he’s really, really fucking happy.

“Jungkook,” Jimin breathes against his lips. The name sounds new and beautiful like Jimin’s never said it before—not like this, not so close Jungkook can feel him say it, so close they’re breathing the same air.

Jimin kisses him again and Jungkook melts into him. He kisses away the longing and the regret and all the doubt until there’s nothing but this, nothing but Jeon Jungkook and Park Jimin and the feelings that have gathered between them. And if Jungkook wasn’t sure before he’s sure now; Jimin’s all he wants.

They break away to breathe. Jimin’s cheeks are pink. Jungkook’s sure his own are, too, his hair mussed. He’s almost entirely positive that he’s never seen anything as beautiful as Jimin lying under him with a flushed face and soft eyes. He trails his fingers along Jimin’s cheek, down his neck, touch as light as can be.

He’s been waiting for this for a long time. Since the first time he saw Jimin, sitting in the dining hall with a pretty pout on his lips. An innumerable amount of missed chances have passed between then and now, but finally. Finally.

“I think,” he murmurs, “that maybe I more than like you.”

Jimin laughs, breathless. “Don’t move so fast, baby.”

Jungkook’s face heats up. He likes the way that sounds, likes it more than anything. He hides his face in Jimin’s neck, grinning. God, he’s had so many boys and girls call him ‘baby’ but nobody’s ever made him feel like Jimin. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever stop marveling at the way Jimin makes him feel.   

“What?” Jimin says, and now he’s really laughing. “Baby.”

“Shut up,” Jungkook mutters.

“Cute.” He kisses the top of Jungkook’s head.

Jungkook pulls back to look at him again. “Am I—you think we’re moving fast?”

“No.” Jimin strokes his thumb along Jungkook’s mouth. “But I’m not better, Jungkook. This—all of this still scares me.”

Jungkook can tell it’s difficult for him to admit it. He leans down to drop a kiss to the corner of Jimin’s mouth. “Then we’ll take it slow.”

“We should talk about this, yeah?”

“In the morning. We can worry about it in the morning.”

“Okay, baby.”

“Stop.” Jungkook lies back down, flushing. He can’t believe he’s fucking blushing at being called ‘baby.’

Jimin shifts closer to him, throwing his around Jungkook’s waist and curling into his chest. Jungkook wraps an arm around Jimin’s shoulders, tucking him close. “Goodnight, baby.”

Hyung.”

 

He wakes up to Jimin’s hand stroking his hair.

“Jungkook,” he hears Jimin murmur. “We gotta get going.”

He opens his eyes slowly, groggy from sleep. Jimin’s lying on his side at eye-level, face puffy and hair sticking up in various directions. Jungkook slings his arm around Jimin’s waist and tugs him close so he can plant a kiss on his lips. “Five more minutes.”

“I have a meeting today, idiot,” he says fondly before pulling away and slipping out of bed.

“Come back.”

Jimin snorts. Jungkook rolls onto his back, stretching, and watches Jimin slip out of his t-shirt and shorts and into yesterday’s clothes.

“So does this mean I get to see your ass tattoo?”

Jimin pauses in digging his toothbrush out of his bag and looks over. “Listen, we haven’t even figured out where we’re going with all this yet. I don’t fuck on the first date.”

“Liar.”

“You’re right,” Jimin smirks. “I fuck before the first date.”

The way he’s looking at him, eyes hooded, makes Jungkook shiver. “Is this our first date?”

“No.”

“Then I guess we better get that out of the way before we have one, right?”

Jimin wags his toothbrush at Jungkook, the sultry look replaced with an amused one. “Nice try, big boy.”

“Don’t underestimate me. This one time I got a straight guy to—”

A banging on the hotel room door interrupts him. “Checkout in one hour,” the manager shouts from the other side.

“Okay,” Jimin calls back. He tosses Jungkook’s pants at him. “Time to get up.”

By the time they make it to the car, Jungkook’s high has worn off. He’s remembered the purpose of their trip and what awaits them at the end of it. He tries starting Tony three times before the engine finally revs, but then he just sits there, shoulders slumping.

“Hyung,” he says. “Before we go. We should talk.”

From the corner of his eye, he sees Jimin nod. “Yeah.”

“I want to be with you.”

“We’ll take things slow, like you said.”

“I can come visit. Busan’s only four hours away.”

“You have a car. I can take the bus.”

“We can make it work.”

“And the distance will be good for me, maybe. Help me ease into things.”

“My grandparents always wanted me to move to Busan after graduating.”

Jimin’s startled into a laugh. “Don’t look so far ahead.”

“Sorry.”

“Look at right now. One day at a time.”

“We’ll make it work.”

They look over at each other at the same time, and they’re both smiling. “Yeah. We will.”

Jungkook shifts the gear to drive and pulls out of the parking lot.

The trip doesn’t feel so daunting anymore, knowing that goodbye no longer waits at the end of it. It wasn’t inevitable after all. It’ll be a see you later, this time, and maybe they won’t ever have to say goodbye again.

Jungkook has come a very long way from the boy who begged Taehyung for a phone number and ended up with a bet that changed his life. He’s come a very long way from the boy who hid from the others in high school bathrooms, from the boy who cried before graduation because his crush laughed at him when he confessed, from the boy who spent a year and a half of university trying to prove himself to no one but himself. Those experiences won’t ever go away; he’ll always be who he is because of them. But over the course of the past year he’s learned not to let to them control him, and that’s all that matters.

He thinks about the series of strange coincidences that led him to Jimin, and how they had almost made him believe in fate. Taehyung will tell him it was destiny that led them together, the universe moving in its infinite wisdom to bring them to this point in time, where they can look at each other and be honest instead of guarded. Maybe it was fate. Or maybe it was just a line of strange coincidences, happenstance, the universe’s accident.

Or maybe he’s just thinking too hard.

“Let’s go, baby,” Jimin says, and Jungkook smiles.