Chapter 1: Park Jimin
I'm writing a seven-part series! One story for each member.
I'm sorry I was gone for so long but this was one of the hardest stories I've ever had to write. Anyway, I'm back and the first chapter will be up within the next few days.
This fic contains potentially triggering content such as graphic depictions of mental illness, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, suicidal ideation and anorexia. It's possibly one of the most triggering stories I've ever written so I'm issuing the warning here. DO NOT READ IF YOU ARE EASILY UPSET BY TOPICS SUCH AS THESE.
By clicking on the next chapter, you are acknowledging that I have provided the appropriate warnings and therefore any distress that this story brings you is not my fault. Please do not come after me in the comments by saying you were triggered because 1) that messes with my head and 2) it's not my fault. Please be safe. Thank you.
There will be no major character death in this series.
Chapter 2: Chubby Synonyms
Jimin never liked math.
It was the numbers that really got to him. For some reason, he’d just never managed to twist his mind around how they worked.
Sometimes you multiplied them, sometimes you divided them, sometimes there were tiny little numbers above the normal-sized numbers and he had absolutely no clue where pie was supposed to come into it.
And because of that, Jimin had never liked math. It was his hatred of that particular subject that had got him into dancing.
That required no math, no division or multiplication or tiny little numbers on top of normal-sized numbers. It was just you and your body and the music and he loved it more than he could ever express.
Jimin never liked math. He never liked numbers. He never would’ve guessed that one day, his life would revolve around them.
It started with a V-Live. Another ‘Eat Jin’ that had somehow managed to converge into an ‘Eat Jinmin’ after the younger had got the notification that his hyung was online and immediately scuttled over to his hotel room so he could invade.
He’d once seen a comment that had called him out on his consistency to appear in the other members’ V-Lives, saying that he did it because he loved the attention and couldn’t handle one of his brothers being in the spotlight without him.
And that bothered him. Deeply. He always crashed ‘Eat Jin’ because Seokjin knew exactly how to make him laugh.
In those moments when he was seated beside his hyung, the table before them strewn with delicious dishes they gorged on as the older boy spewed pathetic jokes and ridiculous one-liners, Jimin was truly happy.
That was why he crashed the others’ broadcasts, nameless dummy who commented on V-Live. So screw you.
“Hyung, you shouldn’t be drinking on camera,” Jimin pointed out as he shovelled a dumpling into his mouth, eyeing Seokjin and the Soju bottle in his hand. “You’re setting a bad example.”
Seokjin narrowed his eyes in mock irritation before proceeding to stare right at Jimin as he downed half the bottle in one go, smacking his lips in satisfaction once he finally lowered the glass back to the table top.
“I obey no one,” he hissed and Jimin looked up at the camera with a deep sigh deflating his body.
“Army,” he implored, widening his eyes to give off that puppy dog look that was so loved by everyone he knew. “Please don’t throw your lives to alcohol like Seokjin-hyung does.”
“Yah!” came the disgruntled yell from the other side of the table. “I have a sore throat, okay?”
“Come on, Jimin, you know that when you clean a wound, you use alcohol swabs to disinfect it, right? The Soju is to disinfect my throat and make me feel better, you uneducated walnut!”
Jimin slumped over the table, entire body trembling with laughter and the half-eaten dumpling in his mouth nearly lodging itself halfway down his throat.
Seokjin had the best habit of bringing this reaction out of him. The boy had just been born with the knack for comedy and if it hadn’t been for him, BTS would have fallen apart years ago.
“See?” Seokjin continued, voice rising an octave in his outraged excitement. “Army agrees with me!”
Jimin raised his head, glancing over at the phone screen to scan the comments that were, indeed, wrought with appeasements and laughing emojis and hearts, and then something else.
“Awww, Jimin looks so chubby. It makes me so happy to see my boys eating well.”
And he knew it was intended to be nice, to tell them that she liked it when they were healthy and not starving themselves.
But it was that one word – that stupid little word – that attacked the memories in the back of his mind.
Chubby. Chubby. Chubby.
Chubby was a synonym of fat.
And Jimin couldn’t be fat. Not again.
After everything he’d been through all those years ago to make himself shrink to a size he’d no longer be ashamed to share with the world, his audience were calling him fat again.
One meal every ten days, the tiniest snacks here and there, endless exercise, fainting, medication, tears and panic attacks.
All of it came back to him with just the mention of that tiny little word.
The V-Live ended a few minutes later as Seokjin decided it was late enough to warrant an evening shower and that logical part of Jimin’s brain was screaming at him to do the same.
That he wasn’t fat. That it was just a nice little comment made by a totally innocent little Army.
But he looked down at his thighs and the way they were bloated and flabby stretched out against the seat of his chair.
He’d always hated his thighs. It didn’t matter how many times the others told him it was just muscle and it meant he was strong, perfectly built for dancing, they were always too big. Always.
And he looked up at the table and the endless empty dishes he and Seokjin had practically licked clean in the last hour.
How many calories were in each of those mouthfuls? How much weight would he have put on by tomorrow? What kind of a pig ate that much in one night?
“Earth to Jimin?”
His neck almost snapped at the speed with which he looked up to see Seokjin gathering his pyjamas from the suitcase by the wall, his brow furrowed at the conflicted look on his little brother’s face.
“Hey, are you okay?”
Yes. Of course he was okay. It was nothing. Just a little insecurity. Right? They all had moments like that. Little insecurities.
It was fine. It was nothing. The thoughts weren’t coming back. The voice wasn’t returning with those degrading insults in the back of his head.
“Hyung, do you think I’m chubby?”
The words had tumbled from his mouth before he’d even processed them himself and he saw the way Seokjin frowned at him, eyebrows scrunching and mouth turning down at the edges the second he heard the whispered question.
“No, of course not,” he responded at once, straightening up with his night time clothes hooked over his arm. “You’re tiny, Chim. You always have been.”
Except that wasn’t true, was it? He used to be huge. His belly used to wobble every time he danced and his thighs rubbed together when he walked and he always had a double chin and he could take fistfuls of fat from his abdomen and now his hands were wandering absently towards his shirt, his fingers closing around the skin and pulling to see how far it would stretch from his muscles.
“Hey, are you sure you’re okay?” Seokjin cut in, genuine concern starting to creep into his tone at the glazed look in Jimin’s eyes. “You know that you’re not fat, right, Jimin?”
But he had to say that. He was his hyung.
It didn’t matter if Jimin was 250 pounds of pure flab because Seokjin would always tell him he was the perfect weight. He was too polite to speak the truth. The truth that was right in front of them.
“Yeah,” Jimin forced out, his facial muscles stretching into a strained smile as he waved his hand in dismissal. “Sorry, I’m just tired.”
Seokjin didn’t look totally convinced but still he nodded, giving his little brother an affectionate hair-ruffling before heading towards the bathroom.
“I’m going to get in the shower,” he threw over his shoulder as he disappeared into the beige tiled walls. “You can stay until I get out and then we can talk if you want …”
“No,” Jimin called after him, pushing out of his chair and glancing down to check his thighs.
Of course, they looked thinner now that he was standing but he knew what they were really like. How they bulged whenever they came into contact with a flat surface. How they were disgusting.
“I’m going to head back to my room. I’ll see you tomorrow, hyung.”
“Alright!” came the voice from behind the door as the sound of water pounding against porcelain filtered into the room. “Goodnight, Jimin!”
Maybe if he’d stayed for that talk, what happened wouldn’t have happened.
There was a mirror at the end of the hotel corridor and as Jimin shuffled towards his door, his eyes were naturally drawn to his own figure reflected back at him in the glass.
There was a reason he never liked mirrors: they showed you every single one of your flaws.
Even as he approached his room, he could count the number of things he saw directly opposite him that he hated with every ounce of his being.
The hips: too rounded, too much padding on the sides so that his figure bulged and his jeans strained at the zipper.
The stomach: he could feel the roll pushing against his waistband from all the food he’d consumed that night and he knew that if he turned and looked at himself from sideways on, he would probably be able to see the bloat in his belly.
The arms: too thick. Hammy. Not nearly enough of a curve to define his muscles.
And the thighs. Always the thighs. He hated them. If it were possible, he would happily take a meat cleaver to his legs and slice off the excess fat, sculpting himself into the perfect shape. The pain wouldn’t matter, so long as he could be thin.
So he could be perfect.
He slipped into his room, pressing his back against the door and closing his eyes for a brief second of composure.
He was not going to go back to this. He was not going to revert to these measures just to conform to what society wanted him to be. He was not going to be that person again.
But as the cool tiles of the bathroom floor met the soles of his feet, he couldn’t help but notice the scales peeking out from underneath the sink.
Because, of course, hotels would supply scales for whatever weirdo reason.
And Jimin knew he shouldn’t. He knew it was dangerous, that it was a one-way ticket back into his old habits, but the temptation was burning at the back of his eyes.
They were right there in front of him, just waiting to blurt his worth to the world, and that friendship they’d shared had been so strong.
It didn’t matter that it was toxic. Abusive. Dangerous. Because it would just be a one time thing to satisfy his urges.
One time. He would never do it again. He wouldn’t let it get to him. Those thoughts wouldn’t pull him back into that darkness he’d tried so hard to escape.
He was stronger than that now.
The sheet of glass mounted on those four rubber pedestals took his weight willingly, nipping at his toes as they touched its cool surface and there was a brief second where the screen went blank as the almighty number was calculated.
And then it popped up.
Jimin didn’t know if he’d expected some surge of horror to blaze through him or a beacon of light to suddenly shine from the heavens and engulf his body, but nothing happened.
To be truthful, it was pretty anti-climactic.
“Okay,” he muttered to himself, staring down at the answer pixelated in front of his bare feet. “That’s … Okay.”
He hopped off, giving his body a little shake to remind it of its place. It was fine. He’d weighed himself and it was fine. He wasn’t regressing, he wasn’t relapsing. It was all good.
But would it be a little lower if he took his clothes off?
He might as well try. Just for argument’s sake. He would feel better if that number was just a fraction smaller and there was no harm in it, right?
If he had managed it the first time, it would be even easier without the weight of his clothes pulling him down and hoisting his enemy up.
His jeans thudded to the floor, the denim making a peculiar flop as it hit the tiles, and his T-Shirt followed soon after so that he was standing there in just his boxers, goosebumps pricking his bare body.
And when he stepped onto the scales and that number was lowered an entire digit, something blossomed in his gut. Something he hadn’t felt in a very, very long time. Something he knew would be his downfall.
Something he couldn’t resist experiencing again.
Chapter 3: A Full Circle
You always weighed less in the morning.
It was something about your body burning calories while you slept to get you ready for the next day but Jimin didn’t care about the science behind it. He only cared that he was lighter the moment he rolled out of bed than he was the previous night.
He recognised that feeling in his gut: emptiness. Warm emptiness. The kind of emptiness he wished he could experience forever because it meant there was no food in his stomach.
There were no calories that would add to his body. He was as light as he could possibly be.
There was part of him that was screaming in protest, beating its fists against the bars of his ribcage and begging him not to let the rabbit hole swallow him up again. Not to give into the urges he knew would devour him the second he stepped into their embrace.
But for the first time in years, he got to experience that emptiness again. That feeling of euphoria when he stepped on the scales and saw that his body mass had decreased in the few short hours since he’d last checked. It was the world’s best feeling.
And when he stuffed the remainder of his belongings into his suitcase and traipsed downstairs where the others were scoffing a quick breakfast, Taehyung looked up at him with his lips puffed in a pout as he held out a pot of half-eaten yoghurt.
“You have to try this,” he mumbled through a full mouth. “Greek yoghurt. It’s so good.”
And Jimin looked at that little white pot, smeared with thick, rich, creamy gloop that would melt on his tongue and lather his insides with flavour, and he counted the calories in his head. There was no chance he’d manage to maintain the number on the scale if he gorged himself on that pot of pure fat.
“No, thanks, Tae,” he laughed, ruffling his friend’s hair with affection as Taehyung shrugged and returned to his breakfast meal. “I’ll eat on the plane.”
The first lie. The first of many, many, many more to come. The first step towards the deceit and the hatred and the anger that would crackle between them and stretch their friendships to breaking point. And just like that, he was falling down the rabbit hole once more.
He ate an apple on the plane, just to prove to himself that everything was under control, that he was calling all the shots and that tiny little voice in the back of his head had no say in what he did. Because an apple was completely harmless, he’d learned that the last time.
Sixty calories. Sixty calories would evaporate with just a single run through of “Boy With Luv”. So it was okay that he was eating an apple. It was keeping his energy up, it was juicy and crunchy and it was proof to the rest of the world that Park Jimin was in control.
His stomach growled as he stepped into the dance studio for the first time in the last few weeks of travelling, betraying him with its weakness when he himself was so strong.
He laid a hand over his shirt and tried to soothe the ravenous monster within but Hoseok had already noticed, a grin splitting his face in two as he raised his eyebrows and commented,
“Yeah,” Jimin responded before tossing his backpack into the corner of the room and pretending to busy himself with finding his water bottle before he had to answer any questions or engage in further conversation.
Hoseok was right. He was hungry. But that was good, right? That meant that his body wasn’t shutting down and his stomach wasn't shrinking and his natural reactions weren’t dying due to malnutrition. He was fine because he was hungry.
He wouldn’t satisfy that hunger, of course not, but it meant that he was fine.
The minute they had seen the choreography for ‘Dionysus’, Seokjin had almost had a heart attack. According to him, there were too many risks.
The maknaes could fall while rolling over the table, they could trip on all the props, half of them had to fall flat on their faces without sustaining damage to their noses or their chins.
But Jimin knew it was going to be brilliant. It was only now that he realised just how brilliant, because as he flung himself across the dance floor, putting every ounce of energy he had into his movements, he could envision those sixty apple calories burning away from his body. And more. So, so much more.
He couldn’t wait to weigh himself when he got home.
“Okay, take a break,” Hoseok called out from the front of the room and everyone immediately became one with the floor as they tried to convince the wooden panels to cool their core temperatures. “We’ll start again in 15.”
Jimin downed his entire water bottle in one go. Water was good. It absorbed … stuff. He didn’t really understand the biology behind it but it was good. Water was his best friend from now on. He loved the feeling of the icy liquid dribbling down into an empty stomach. He just loved it.
But that didn’t mean he’d lost control. Of course not. He was still sane and healthy and he was doing nothing wrong. Everything was fine. He, Park Jimin, was fine.
And if he was fine, that meant he could keep dancing even though the others were slumped against the wall with their faces dripping sweat and their T-shirts stuck to their skin.
If he was fine, he could burn just a couple more calories. If he was fine – which he was – he could keep going.
“God, Jimin, you’re giving me heat stroke just watching you,” came Yoongi’s whine from where he was lying on his back with a water bottle pressed to his damp forehead. “Sit down for a minute, won’t you?”
“Nah,” Jimin answered breathlessly, continuing to dance to the invisible beat he was playing in his head. “Those of us who aren’t lazy slobs don’t stop until they’re perfect.”
He had no idea how Yoongi managed to hit him with the water bottle he threw from across the room but it bounced off his back with a crinkle of plastic and a thud of water. He straightened up, turning to his hyung with his eyes narrowed and his mouth turned down in a mock frown.
But Yoongi was either ignoring him or had fallen asleep, dead to the world with his eyes closed and his chest heaving as his body fought to recover the oxygen it had lost in the last thirty minutes.
Jimin would be lying if he said it didn’t hurt. His stomach was cramping from hunger pains, his limbs were aching from overexertion, his skin was prickling underneath the globules of sweat that were rolling down his back and abdomen. But the second their choreographer announced the end of the day, Jimin felt like he was floating.
He felt incredible. Weightless. Perfect.
As they piled into the various cars for the journey home, he chugged water like it was the elixir of life, feeding his starving taste buds with a flavourless substitute for what they really craved. He felt completely drained, on the very brink of exhaustion, but he couldn’t stop smiling.
“I’m not cooking tonight,” Seokjin yelled as he ascended the stairs with heavy footsteps and slumped shoulders. “You can all fend for yourselves.”
Jimin barely even heard Jungkook’s groan of protest as he pushed his tired body up to his room, his only motivation the thought of seeing the number on the bathroom scales he’d ordered online the other day.
All those years ago, Namjoon had disposed of any weighing machines they had lying around the house. He said that as long as Jimin couldn’t monitor himself, he wouldn’t obsess over that particular aspect of his sickness, and they had never so much as looked at a set of scales since then.
Maybe he should feel guilty for breaking their unspoken rule. But as he’d said before, he was fine. He was doing nothing wrong. Everything was under control. He was fine.
At least, he thought he was until he saw the number on that little glass strip.
He hadn’t lost anything that day. He’d actually gained a fraction of a pound. How was that possible? He’d barely eaten. He’d danced himself basically to death. Was it the water that had bloated his abdomen? Was it his clothes? Were they too heavy?
He shrugged off every item he was wearing and tried again but only the very last number switched. It had all been for nothing. Everything he’d tried to do that day had resulted in zilch, nada, squat.
The bathroom floor was cold against his back as he lay against it, the tiles digging uncomfortably into his spine as he grunted with the effort of moving his torso up and down in a series of obsessive sit-ups.
Hoseok was still downstairs, doing whatever it was he did in the evening, so he wasn’t there to hear the miniscule grunts the boy couldn’t keep from making. His abs already burned from the rigorous exercise he’d done that day but it didn’t matter. He liked the pain. It was his punishment for that apple he’d had this morning.
Thirty-six … Forty-nine … Sixty-one … Eighty-three … Ninety-nine … One hundred.
His body melted against the bath mat, heaving with relief and pride. He was still unclothed and his hand found its way to his ribs, poking itself between the indentations in the cage of bone.
They weren’t nearly prominent enough. He wanted them to jut out like great big glaciers of calcium, sharp enough to impale anything that pressed against his body. He cupped his fingers around his hip bones and hissed between his teeth. They barely protruded from his waistline.
He used to be so much thinner. How had he managed to let himself go like this? It was sickening. He could pinch the fleshy folds in his sides, and he didn’t even want to look at his thighs. They were his greatest enemy, and he wanted nothing more than to be able to fit both his hands around them.
That would be his goal: skinny enough to wrap his fingers around a quadricep and have them touch each other to complete a full circle. A full circle of perfection. Only then would he be happy. Only then would he relax this new regime he was devoting himself to.
After a few more minutes of lying there, staring up at the humming bathroom light, he pushed himself off the floor. He needed to use the sink for support but that wasn’t anything to do with how little he’d eaten or how hard he’d pushed at practice. It wasn’t related at all.
He took to the scales for the final time that day and felt his heart sinking into his stomach. It still wasn’t enough. He had to work harder. He had to eat less. He had to burn faster. He had to lose more. He had to get skinnier.
Jimin made the choice then and there: He wouldn’t be eating dinner that night.
Chapter 4: Never Not Fine
He awoke with the knowledge that he’d just experienced one of the best nights’ sleep in the last ten years.
Maybe it was the lack of energy he’d had the prior evening or the way he’d suddenly decided that fifty more push-ups in bed wouldn’t hurt but he had been out like a light the moment he’d allowed his head to touch the pillow.
I can’t wait to weigh myself.
That was the first thought that crossed his mind.
It was the same every morning now since they’d got home from the US. He woke up, rolled over in bed, remembered where and who he was and immediately envisioned his newly decreased body mass inscribed at the top of those scales.
But he was fine. He was still eating every day, his jaw grinding the fruits, vegetables and crackers until they resembled a saliva-mushed paste before he permitted himself to swallow.
He wasn’t starving. He felt great. And he’d lost a whopping amount of weight in the last seven days alone.
He was fine, but most importantly, he was happy.
His mouth emitted an unintentional groan as he rolled clumsily off the mattress, muscles straining as he stretched before numb feet carried him on autopilot towards the en suite bathroom he and Hoseok shared.
It wasn’t until he’d made it to the doorway, however, that the wave of dizziness hit him like a truck.
His vision clouded out, white lights bursting in front of his eyes and his head started up a dull throbbing that persisted with increasing severity until he found himself swaying on the spot.
His hand latched onto the door frame as he blinked rapidly, pleading the unpleasant sensation to just dissipate as quickly as it had accumulated but it was several more moments before his eyes managed to focus on the porcelain sink in front of him.
“Whoa,” he whispered, giving himself a tiny little shake as he slipped into the bathroom and locked the door behind him.
He’d never had a head rush that dramatic before. It hurt.
But then he weighed himself, and any discomfort that had remained inside of him was gone the instant he gazed upon that number.
Lower than ever. Just how he liked it.
He couldn’t afford to ruin the progress he’d made in the last few days so breakfast went uneaten, his lies to the others concealed behind bright smiles and bubbly jokes that were fuelled not from energy but from happiness.
His body was shrinking. It had only been a little more than a week since the V-Live but already he was starting to notice a reduction in the amount of excess skin he could pinch on his abdomen.
It didn’t matter that his gut ached sometimes with the pangs that hunger brought without permission, it didn’t matter that he was so exhausted sometimes that he felt like he was going to liquify, because his body was shrinking.
And that was good.
It could still go further, but for now, it was good.
“Hey, you okay?”
The unexpected question had Jimin’s head snapping up to see Namjoon hovering over him with his forehead creased in a frown and his tired eyes welling with worry.
He straightened up from where he’d been leaning against the practise room wall, forehead pressed into the plaster as he tried to blink back those fuzzy lights dancing before his eyes.
“Yeah,” he breathed, beaming brightly in the hopes that it would soothe Namjoon’s anxiety. “I’m good. Are you?”
Deflect. Turn the attention away from yourself. That’s what Jimin had learned. The only way to succeed in this self-destructive – no, self-improving – mission of his was to hide it from everyone. The minute they found out was the minute it was over.
“You look a bit washed out,” Namjoon continued, ignoring the attempt at changing the subject as he ran a hand through his own sweaty hair. “You’re paler than Yoongi-hyung these days.”
Pale. Pale meant low blood sugar. Low blood sugar meant he wasn’t eating enough. Not eating enough meant he was losing weight.
Pale was good. Pale was a compliment, and Jimin had to resist the urge to say thank you.
“Probably not getting enough sun,” he laughed. “You know how it is. Practise, practise, record, practise. None of us are ever out in the daylight anymore.”
“Yeah,” Namjoon nodded, but he still didn’t quite look convinced. “If you’re sure you’re okay, Chim.”
“Peachy,” Jimin grinned back just seconds before Hoseok rallied them all together again for another stab at the difficult routines their choreographer had landed them with.
He was thankful for the opportunity to escape the potentially dangerous confrontation but he couldn’t help but notice Namjoon pulling Yoongi aside as the others converged into the middle of the dance floor.
The leader muttered something to the second eldest and Jimin felt his stomach curdle unpleasantly as Yoongi glanced over his shoulder, looking right at him.
Were they discussing his paleness? That wasn’t enough of a concern to warrant a conversation, right? They couldn’t know about his … extra-curricular regime yet, could they? He’d kept it hidden so well. He’d thought he’d kept it hidden so well. They couldn’t know.
Seokjin joined the miniature huddle and by now, Jimin was properly agitated. He was just about to storm over there and tell them that if they had something to say they could say it to his face but Hoseok had already started counting beats and the three broke their tight circle to filter themselves into the routine.
They were looking at him. Jimin could feel it. And he didn’t like it. They thought he was weak, that he wasn’t stable enough to manage a little diet without reverting back to his old ways.
He would show them. He would show them his strength and they would instantly regret the doubt they’d placed in him.
He danced his heart out, spinning, twisting, turning, jumping, and he smiled throughout. The choreographer called out his name, praising him for his technique and his stage presence, and he wanted to throw those words in Namjoon’s face.
But then he must have spun too fast or his body had just lost its balance for a split second because he lost all sense of direction, vision swarmed with electric pops and he staggered clumsily to the side before dropping to one knee.
Head bowed, hands planted firmly on the floor and breaths short and sharp, he could hear the concerned questions and the hands that closed around his arm, pulling up and up and up.
“Sorry,” he chirped, moulding his face into that smile he knew would get him whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it. “Tripped.”
Jungkook and Taehyung were chuckling, mimicking an exaggerated version of what Jimin’s face had resembled as he’d fallen, but Namjoon was still holding onto his elbow as though he was worried his little brother would just combust right there and then.
“Why don’t you sit down for …” he started but Jimin didn’t let him finish.
He couldn’t let him plant a seed of needless concern in the others for fear that they would blow everything out of the water.
“Come on, hyung. I tripped. It happens. You should know that better than anyone.”
It was harsh. It was unfair. He knew how self-conscious Namjoon was about his dancing despite how good he’d gotten but he needed – needed – to show them the truth: that he was fine. He was always fine. He had never not been fine. And if he had to ridicule Namjoon to prove that then so be it.
They returned to practise without another word said on the matter and there was a sharp sense of guilt gnawing at Jimin’s gut but he pushed it aside.
Namjoon was a grown man. He could handle a little joke. So long as the leader didn’t cross anymore lines, Jimin wouldn’t need to embarrass him like that.
Rehearsals lasted another four hours and Jimin would have been lying if he said the lightheaded feeling wasn’t a constant reminder of just how little he’d consumed in the last day, but he liked the sensation. There was something about it that was reassuring him.
Good job, Chim, it was saying. Your body’s showing you just how well you’re doing. If you feel dizzy then it means you’re getting skinnier.
And he trusted that voice. He wasn’t submitting to it. It wasn’t dominating him. He just trusted it because he knew that the moment he reached his goal, he could hold up his hands and say, ‘okay, enough is enough. Time to stop’ and that voice would just have to listen.
“Incoming!” came the cry to his left and he looked up just in time to spot the green packet that came soaring across the room towards him.
He caught it easily, smirking at Jungkook’s scowl of disappointment – if he’d wanted it to hit Jimin in the face then he shouldn’t have offered up a warning – and glanced down to take in the newly acquired goods in his hands.
It was one of those protein snacks designed for athletes and middle-aged women with an addiction to all things ‘healthy’ but as he scanned the nutritional information, the numbers leapt from the confinements of the wrapper and crushed him with their sheer size.
Too much sugar. Too much saturated fat. Too many calories. Just … Just too many. There was absolutely no way he could eat that and stay on track.
But then he saw Seokjin glancing over at him. It was subtle, he wasn’t being blindingly obvious about his spying techniques, but Jimin knew he was watching, waiting to see if the skinny little boy would sink his teeth into something so inaccurately advertised as healthy.
They were already suspicious. If he refused this offering then he would be admitting his guilt and they would swoop down upon him like vultures to pluck at his vulnerabilities and strip him of his rights until they were taking control of his every move.
That’s what had happened before.
“Thanks, Kook,” he hollered at Jungkook, ripping into the packaging and biting down on a hunk of the nutty, cakey brick-like wedge in his hand.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Seokjin turning away, apparently satisfied, and he took the opportunity to tug the rest of the snack out of the packet and conceal it in his pocket.
Still chewing the mouthful he had between his teeth, exaggerating his movements to make it look like he had the entire bar in his mouth, he made a show of tossing the empty wrapping into the bin in front of Namjoon.
He was good at this. He knew the tricks and the traits and he knew how to distract and deceive. He knew what they needed to see to make themselves believe that their suspicions weren’t correct and he knew that as long as he was careful – that he didn’t make any stupid mistakes – his intentions would remain undisturbed.
And he would just keep shrinking, thinning, dwindling, disappearing, until he was the perfect size.
Every day brought him closer to his goal and he loved the feeling of water on an empty stomach while the others were stuffing their faces around him. He loved it.
He wasn’t stopping anytime soon.
Chapter 5: He Would Be Fat
“I got Chinese!” Hoseok hollered the second he paid the delivery boy at the door, waddling into the kitchen and depositing the numerous plastic bags on the table. “Come and get it!”
There was instantly a thundering of footsteps above as Taehyung and Jungkook were drawn from their respective bedrooms like moths to a flame, nostrils flaring with the aroma of deep fried … everything.
“Jimin, this one’s your favourite, right?”
Jimin just stared, still in his chair at the table from where he’d been scrolling through his phone and when Hoseok dumped what was indeed his favourite dish right in front of him, he felt the beginnings of panic beginning to creep through his gut.
He had to resist. He hadn’t lost nearly enough weight today to even eat a mouthful of this stuff. It was all coated in grease and oil and the calories were literally queueing up to pile the pounds on his body. It didn’t matter that he loved Chinese food with all his heart. He had to resist.
And the best way to do that was to remove himself from the grasp of temptation. He pushed out of his chair and made a beeline straight for the door but alas, timing seemed to be against him as Yoongi chose that exact second to walk into the room and the two of them collided over the threshold.
“Where are you going?” he asked, the corners of his mouth turned up in amused confusion. “You’ve barely eaten anything all day.”
It was posed as an innocent quip but Jimin saw the subtext. It was an accusation. Yoongi was telling him that he knew how little he’d ingested in the last twenty-four hours and now he was wrestling him into a corner. There was no way out.
“Yeah,” he responded, trying to persuade his facial muscles to form that fake smile he’d gotten so good at but they didn’t appear to be functioning so he just turned around and headed back to the table where the others were already dolling out the dishes.
It smelt so good. Jimin bet it tasted good, too. What he wouldn’t give to guzzle every last mouthful. And he was so hungry.
The seven of them spread out over the living room, some cheesy drama stretched over their TV screen, and they were all taking great pleasure in groaning loudly at the cringiest of scenes. And Jimin was so hungry.
He pushed the food around his plate, chopsticks trembling ever so slightly in his hands, as he tried to chop it up and make it look small and diminished. To make it look like he’d actually eaten something. But he couldn’t stop himself from wondering what it would feel like to let the flavour melt on his tongue.
His stomach rumbled and he pushed down on his shirt in an attempt to silence it and his mind was screaming at him, just one bite. Just one bite won’t hurt, but the rest of him was screeching, no! Don’t! You know what will happen! You’ll gain weight and all of that work will have been for nothing! Don’t give up now! You’re doing so well!
But he was so hungry.
And if he thought about it realistically, just a few bites weren’t going to add an entire kilo to his body mass. It wasn’t possible. Just a few bites weren’t going to make him visibly fatter. Just a few bites … Just a few bites … He was so hungry … It smelt so good … It tasted good, too.
If he’d been paying attention, he would have seen Yoongi and Seokjin exchanging a satisfied smile with each other as though they had somehow achieved something by tying their brother down and practically forcing the food down his throat. But Jimin wasn’t paying attention.
He was fixated on the sensation of the sauce slipping down his throat. The juices from the meat quenched that ravenous beast residing in his stomach and he never knew how amazing food could taste. For so many days he had deprived himself of something so wonderful and now he couldn’t get enough.
And he couldn’t stop.
By the time the credits were rolling, he had Taehyung’s head on his thigh, the younger’s eyelids slowly gravitating towards each other as he succumbed to a post-binge coma. Yoongi and Hoseok were fast asleep on the couch opposite and by the looks of Seokjin, the eldest was starting to drift away, too.
But Jimin couldn’t. Jimin wouldn’t. All Jimin could do was stare down at the empty plate on the coffee table in front of him. His empty plate. The plate that he had emptied. Empty. Licked clean. All those calories devoured. Every last bit. Empty.
He wasn’t empty. Now he was stuffed, bulging out of his clothes and layered in blankets of blubber. He felt his stomach pushing against his waistband, could see how his thighs had inflated beneath Taehyung’s head. His hands no longer tingled, he no longer felt like he was going to pass out.
And that meant he was fat.
Stupid. Weak. Useless. Pathetic. All he’d had to do was hold out for a little longer but he couldn’t even do that. He had to go and scoff the entire lot like the greedy pig he was. It would take hours of sit-ups to burn all of it off. He’d have to starve for days to make up for the steps he’d retreated with this awful, selfish mistake.
“I’m going to bed,” he suddenly announced, unable to sit there and look at his big fat thighs any longer.
He turfed Taehyung off his lap, the younger boy rolling onto the floor with a comical oof before he went right back to sleep. A tiny part of Jimin niggled at him to check on his little brother, to make sure he hadn’t hit the ground too hard and to apologise for such rude behaviour but he was running out of time.
“Goodnight!” he called over his shoulder in response to Namjoon and Jungkook’s identical well wishes and then he was sprinting up the stairs, pumping his arms and lifting his knees in the hopes that it would somehow make all that fat disappear.
He couldn’t go to his and Hoseok’s en suite bathroom. That was too dangerous. He knew what he had to do and he knew that Hoseok would hear him so he chose the one furthest from any of their rooms and locked the door.
Heavy. That was the only word he could think of to describe himself. There was a sharp twisting pain in his gut that he couldn’t help but believe was his body punishing him for being so obsessed with food that he couldn’t resist gorging himself half to death.
He stood with his back against the door, staring at the toilet. He’d never done this before, not even when he’d been at his worst all those years back, and he didn’t want to do it now. It would probably hurt. It would be uncomfortable and disgusting and noisy but he had to. He had to.
Or he would be fat.
The tiles felt brutal beneath his knees, the prominence of his bones causing the posture he took to be nothing short of painful. He braced his hands on the sides of the toilet seat, trying to gather the courage he needed to do this. Because he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to. But he had to.
Or he would be fat.
He took a deep breath and then he just went for it, before he had another chance to chicken out. His fingers crawled down his throat and he gagged around them, his tongue instinctively bucking against the foreign object but he didn’t stop. He couldn’t stop. He had to do this.
Or he would be fat.
His nails scraped the very back of his oesophagus and he pitched forwards, ripping his hand from his mouth and retching over the toilet bowl. But nothing came out. It hadn’t worked. His eyes were watering and he could already feel his face going red and blotchy from the choking and he didn’t want to do this. But he had to.
Or he would be fat.
So in they went again, voyaging further and further and further until tears were streaming down his face and his fingers were lathered with his own saliva. He scraped at the back of his throat and then out of nowhere, a sour liquid was rushing up through his body and he finally managed to empty the contents of his bloated stomach into the toilet.
He coughed harshly, his throat burning and his eyes bloodshot as he stared at the reappearance of his dinner and couldn’t help but wonder if that was all of it. Was there still some inside of him? Waiting to be digested, waiting to turn into fat, waiting to make him fat.
Before he knew it, he was vomiting again and his stomach was rolling and lurching and it hurt. It hurt so much. But he couldn’t stop. He had to keep going. He had to do this. There was no other way. He had to do this.
Or he would be ---
“Oh, hyung, are you alright?”
Jimin almost had a heart attack, whipping around just in time to see Jungkook kneeling down beside him, sympathetic eyes widening at the sight of his friend’s swollen eyes and puffy lips dripping with his own sick, and he felt panic seizing him as tightly as the stomach cramps.
Jungkook couldn’t see this. Jungkook would know what was happening and he would tell the hyungs and they would blow all of this out of proportion. Because he was fine. Absolutely fine. He was still in control. Right?
“I’m fine,” he rasped out, his voice hoarse as his hand shot out to flush the toilet, disposing of the incriminating evidence. “I must have got food poisoning or something.”
Jungkook frowned as he passed his hyung a wad of tissue paper so he could wipe his mouth, wincing in disgust as the taste of half-digested food still lingered repulsively on his tongue, and Jimin could feel the maknae’s uncertainty pulsating off him.
“None of the rest of us are sick, hyung,” he said, rubbing a soothing hand up and down Jimin’s back. “We all ate the same stuff. If it was food poisoning then we’d all be throwing up.”
“Then maybe it’s a virus,” Jimin shot back, balling up another wad of tissue paper so he could dab at his still-streaming eyes.
He couldn’t deal with this right now. He couldn’t handle coming up with all the lies he needed to explain his way out of this. All he wanted to do was go back to his room and do sit-ups until he passed out for the night so that sleep could help him melt off the fat.
A hand came out of nowhere, pressing itself against his forehead and he slapped it away in panic, but not before Jungkook had gotten what he needed.
“You’re not hot so you don’t have a fever.”
“Well, then I don’t know, Jungkook!” Jimin exploded, hauling himself to his feet and pushing past the maknae in his desperate bid for the door. He didn’t want to yell at him. He didn’t want to do that. But he was so tired and his stomach hurt so much and he still felt so fat.
But he’d already slammed the door in the kid’s face. Hoseok had made his sleepy way up from the living room and now resembled a lumpy mound underneath the bed covers, and Jimin was thankful that the older boy always wore earplugs to sleep.
It meant that he didn’t hear his roommate curling up in his blankets and muffling his sobs with his hands pressed over his mouth.
He still tasted the vomit but he didn’t have the energy to get up and brush his teeth. He wanted to weigh himself but his legs were too weak from all the puking. He pinched the layers and layers of fat on his stomach and cried even harder.
Why hadn’t he just gone upstairs when the food had gotten here? Why had he let Yoongi stop him? Why had he made his plate so full? Why hadn’t he been strong enough to resist his body’s desperation for the food he knew would ruin everything he’d worked so hard for?
Why was he so disgusting?
Why was he so weak?
Why was he so fat?
Chapter 6: Okay, Normal, Fine
By now, Park Jimin’s life revolved around numbers.
The numbers in the nutritional information on every single thing he ate. The numbers on the scale that gradually decreased as he weighed himself at least six times a day.
The number of calories it said he’d burned as he pounded his feet into the treadmill every single evening until his body was dripping sweat and his legs no longer worked.
Numbers. Always numbers. The numbers kept him sane. They kept him in check. They made sure he didn’t slip up. Not like he’d done last night.
Jimin rose the morning after the ‘Great Purge’ as he’d decided to call it, and immediately felt for his hip bones.
They jutted out beautifully, perfectly sculpted in their prominent peaks and his skin seemed as though it were being sucked into the spaces between his ribs, showing every single indentation.
It was almost perfect. Almost. But he could still go further. There would always be that tiny pinch of fat on his stomach or his thighs, and that needed to go. Only then would he be satisfied. Only then would he be the definition of perfection.
He sidled down to the kitchen, at least an hour earlier than the others usually woke, so that he could deposit some empty yoghurt pots here and there and toss a banana skin in the bin so that it looked like he’d eaten some breakfast, but the minute he opened the door, he knew that wasn’t going to happen.
“Morning,” Seokjin chirped from where he was frying bacon on the stove, far too cheery for his usual morning demeanour. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yes …?” Jimin murmured, pushing aside the obvious question as to why Seokjin was up so early as he shuffled over to the fridge and wrenched the door open.
“You want some bacon?” his hyung asked, turning off the gas and shovelling several crispy rashers onto a plate.
“No, thanks,” Jimin shot back as he scanned the fridge for whatever was the least fat-inducing product before finally settling on a shop-bought fruit salad pot and swiping it off the shelf. “I’m just going to eat this in my room.”
But he’d barely made it two steps towards the door before Seokjin was protesting, grabbing the smaller boy by the elbow and steering him back towards the kitchen table where two plates of greasy, fried fat lay waiting for them.
“Come on, Chim. Eat here with me. I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages.”
“We spent the whole evening together last night,” Jimin pointed out but Seokjin just ignored him, throwing them both into a whole new topic of conversation that Jimin wished he could just excuse himself from and retreat to his room.
But Seokjin wouldn’t let up, constantly pointing his fork at his little brother’s plate and mumbling the muffled words, “eat up,” at least three times a minute before Jimin finally realised there was no way he was getting out of this situation and started to nibble on the breakfast.
“I’m full,” he tried after a few bites but of course, he was shot down at once, and now he knew what had happened.
Jungkook had blabbed about the previous night. Jungkook had run straight to the hyungs and told them about the bathroom incident and now they all knew what he was doing and they were trying to stop him but they just didn’t understand.
He was fine. He was perfectly in control. He could stop any time he wanted.
They didn’t understand.
One by one, the others started filtering into the kitchen, helping themselves to Seokjin’s homemade delicacies and making casual conversation.
They were trying to act normal but Jimin could see the way they were checking on him, the way Jungkook kept looking up from his plate before lowering his gaze the moment he met his hyung’s eye.
And he was so angry.
He shovelled the rest of the food in his mouth, ignoring the voice in the back of his head that screamed in protest, and pushed out of his chair so violently that it almost toppled over backwards onto the floor.
“Jimin …” somebody started but Jimin was already marching out of the door and thundering up the stairs, making a beeline for the bathroom.
They had made him do this. They had given him no choice. He didn’t want to make himself sick again but now he had to. He’d eaten too much and it was their fault. He hated them for it.
So that was why, when Jungkook overtook him on the stairs and blocked his path to the bathroom, he snapped like he’d never snapped before.
He took the maknae by the shoulders and shoved him up against the wall, tears of anger burning his eyes as he hissed under his breath.
“You told them. You had no right to do that. Why couldn’t you just keep your nose out for once in your life?”
Jungkook held his ground. He didn’t flinch. He didn’t look afraid. He just looked sad.
“I’m worried about you, hyung,” he whispered. “I don’t think you’re very well and I don’t want you to get hurt. We’re only trying to make sure that you’re not getting sick again.”
“I was never sick!” Jimin shrieked, completely losing control and having to force himself a few steps away from Jungkook for fear that he might start throwing punches. “I’m fine! I don’t need to be treated like a child and I don’t need all of you acting like you know what’s best for me when you don’t!”
He whipped around, knowing the others would be watching from the bottom of the stairs and confirming his suspicions at the sight of Hoseok, Namjoon and Taehyung in the hallway, expressions stony and unreadable.
“Do you understand?” he yelled down at them. “I neither want nor need what you call ‘help’ so just leave me the fuck alone.”
He didn’t even wait around to see their reactions before he was slamming his bedroom door shut and locking the door, fully aware but not interested in the fact that it was Hoseok’s room too.
He wasn’t going to let his hyung listen to the sounds of his little brother forcing himself to throw up into the toilet.
MAMA was in two days. They would be on display to half the country and even if the main cameras weren’t projecting them onto the screens then fancams would capture every movement, every interaction and every facial expression. The internet would pick up on the tension between them in a heartbeat and then it would be everywhere.
Jimin buried his sweaty face in his hands, still kneeling on the bathroom floor with his fingers coated in the spit from the back of his throat and his eyes watering from the effort of choking up his breakfast.
He was okay. Right? This was okay. He was still handling the controls. He could press the STOP button any moment he wanted. This was all good. He was all good.
His legs trembled beneath him as he used the sink to pull himself to his feet and immediately his vision was assaulted with the popping lights that blossomed across his eyes with their electric white light and he swayed on the spot, white-knuckled fingers gripping the basin for support.
He was okay. This was okay. This was all good. He was all good.
He had to be. MAMA was in two days. He had to pull himself together.
This was okay. This was normal. This was fine.
“Okay, we need you on stage and ready in five minutes!”
He was fine. His head wasn’t spinning. His limbs weren’t aching. His legs weren’t about to give out beneath him. Everything that was happening right now was absolutely fine.
“You’ve got this,” he whispered to himself from where he was hunched over on the couch in the dressing room, his elbows resting on his knees and his face in his hands as he tried to blink through the blossoming bulbs bobbing about in the darkness in front of him. “You’ve got this, Park Jimin. You’ve got this.”
He raised his head and then stood up, slowly. The last thing he needed right now was to pass out. He remained stationary by the couch for a few moments, taking deep breaths and pleading – please, God, please – for the pain in his head to go away.
A stagehand was shepherding the others through the door and Jimin forced his legs into motion, reaching up to adjust the microphone strapped to his cheek. It was cold out here. So, so cold.
“Jimin,” the voice beside him made him jump, almost losing his balance before a hand fastened around his wrist and something round and pastel purple was shoved in his face. “Eat this.”
Jimin turned his face away, swatting at Yoongi’s hand in protest. He’d been doing so well recently. He’d been so strong. He wasn’t about to give all that up now, especially not when he was about to have a thousand cameras all focused on him. He couldn’t afford to gain any weight in these last few seconds.
“Please, Jimin,” Yoongi begged, refusing to let go of the smaller boy. “It’s just a glucose tablet. It won’t make any difference at all except for the fact that it will stop you passing out on stage, I promise. Please.”
Maybe it would be okay. It was just a glucose tablet. Just a oblong of sugary sherbet. It would give him the burst he needed to get through this and then he could starve for the rest of the day to make up. Maybe it would … No!
Be strong. Be strong. Be strong.
“One minute, on stage now!”
He pushed Yoongi away from him and took his position, staring down at the floor with his eyes closed. The song was three minutes long. He could get through three minutes. Just three minutes.
He could do it. He was fine. This was all fine.
The music started.
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Chapter 7: Improving, Not Hurting
By some miracle, he made it to the end of the song. He smiled, he winked, he hit all the right moves so it didn’t matter that he couldn’t actually see anything or that he was finding it increasingly difficult to breathe through a chest that felt like it was collapsing in on itself.
“Than a boy with love …”
Jungkook’s last line reverberated around the stadium, alongside a multitude of screams and cheers and bobbing light sticks, and the seven of them turned to face the back of the stage, right arms raised to shoulder height.
And Jimin waited. He waited for the lights to go down and the transition music to start playing because he wasn’t sure how much longer he was able to keep standing.
His eyes remained screwed shut, arm trembling as he was forced to hold it aloft and he looked up at the ceiling in the hope that it would get his blood flowing properly again.
After what felt like eternity, they were plunged into darkness and Jimin joined the others in the stagger for the wings.
All of them were tired, all of them were in desperate need of a drink, but not all of them crumpled onto the ground the second they were out of the view of the cameras.
“Are you okay?”
“Hyung, get up!”
“We need some help!”
Jimin just lay there, curled up on his side with his chest heaving in effort and his muscles spasming gently beneath his skin.
He felt like his entire body was prickling, his head was pounding, he couldn’t see a single thing and he briefly wondered if this was what it felt like to die.
Hands hooked themselves beneath his arms and he moaned in protest as he was hoisted to his feet.
He wanted to be left on the ground to get a hold of himself before they were due to appear back in the crowd and await the next award.
He wanted them to stop fussing because they were acting like he was about to have a heart attack when really, all of this would calm down in a few moments.
“Jimin-ssi, we’re getting you to the dressing room,” came the voice of a staff member in his ear and hands started pulling him forwards but his knees gave out before he could register what was going on.
Two muscular arms slipped around him and then he was floating, being carried through the darkness with voices melding together all around him and he didn’t have the energy to lift his head so he just hung there in this man’s grip like a limp marionette with its strings cut.
“What’s going on?”
“Is he going to be alright?”
“Shouldn’t someone be calling an ambulance?”
“No …” Jimin whined in response to the latest panicked question just as his body was lowered onto the floor. “No … No hospital … ‘m fine …”
He was so hot. His skin felt like it was being pricked with a trillion tiny white hot needles and he just wanted someone to help him take this jacket off before he suffocated in his own sweat.
He clawed at the buttons on his collar, trying to pop them off and release his constricted chest before someone else swatted his hands aside and ripped his shirt open to expose the ribcage he knew was sticking right out of his body.
Now everybody could see his bones, and he wasn’t even bothered, because now they would realise why he had done this to himself: so he could get a body like this.
But even without the damp cotton clinging to his skin, it was so difficult to draw breath. He felt like his lungs were grating against each other but all that was filtering through his airway were thick clumps of dust and he just needed oxygen. He needed it now.
“I tried to get him to take a tablet,” someone was saying above him, but he couldn’t be bothered to identify the owner of that guilt-stricken voice. “But he wouldn’t. He should never have gone onstage like this.”
A hand slipped around the back of Jimin’s neck and his upper body was heaved upwards so that what remained of his shirt and jacket could be tugged from his back.
The moment his arms left the sleeves, they flopped uselessly back down to his sides and he didn’t even have the strength to be embarrassed with his pliancy.
He just needed oxygen.
“We need some ice in here. He’s overheating. And someone get me a respirator.”
Finally something hard and circular was pressed over his mouth and he inhaled the gush of fresh air like he hadn’t breathed for hours. It was so cool passing through his dry throat and his lungs devoured it with so much desperation that his breaths were starting to wheeze ever so slightly.
Something cold was pressed against his neck, a freezing spread blossoming across his skin, and finally he felt like his body was starting to calm down.
“We’ve got you, Chim,” came a whisper from above him as someone raked the sweaty strands of hair from his forehead. “You’re going to be okay. Just breathe.”
Jimin finally opened his eyes and looked up into Taehyung’s face, shiny with its own perspiration and creased with concern, as the younger boy continued to stroke the mop of faded pink hair atop his best friend’s head.
“No ambulance …” he whispered from behind the respirator. “’m fine.”
“You’re not fine,” Taehyung chided, his expression a combination of anger and despair. “You’re not fine at all, Jimin, but no one’s calling an ambulance.”
Jimin closed his eyes for a brief second of relief, still sucking on the oxygen like his life depended on it – maybe it did – as he finally started to regain sensation in all his limbs.
He realised that someone had tugged off his shoes and socks but thankfully, they’d left his pants on. He wasn’t sure he would have been able to handle that level of humiliation.
“Why did you do this to yourself?” Taehyung murmured and Jimin looked back up at him with his bloodshot eyes to see a boy on the verge of tears. “Why would you hurt your body like this?”
He wasn’t hurting it. He was improving it. He was making it better, prettier, nicer to look at for both the fans and himself. There was no hurt here. He was just a little tired and in a minute, he would get back up and step out in front of all the cameras with a big – and real – smile on his face.
“This has to stop, Jimin.”
Jimin ignored him. He simply relished in the feeling of a fresh ice pack against the skin of his forehead and waited for the aches and pains to diminish and die.
This was just a necessary side effect of what would later result in pure perfection. It wouldn’t be stopping any time soon.
“They’re announcing the Daesang soon so we need to make a decision about what we’re doing,” a staff member called from where he was kneeling beside Jimin’s head, controlling the respirator. “I’d prefer it if Jimin-ssi stays here where we can keep an eye on him and the rest of you can go …”
At that, Jimin gave a groan, his hand swatting away the plastic oxygen cylinder as he wrestled his body into a sitting position, ignoring the protests from those surrounding him.
“I’m fine,” he announced. “I just felt a bit funny but I’m good now and I want to go on.”
He was in the middle of the dressing room, shirtless, barefoot, drenched in sweat and had the attention of every single person in the vicinity. His face flushed in embarrassment but he ignored it and reached for his shoes so he could put them back on.
“Jimin, you need to rest,” Hoseok cut in, and Jimin had to resist the urge to roll his eyes as he started to do up his laces.
“We’ve done the performance,” he said coldly. “All we have to do now is sit there and clap. It’s hardly going to kill me, is it?”
He could practically feel the disapproval radiating off every one of his members as he took the spare shirt from the stylist and slipped his still-aching arms into the sleeves but he paid them no attention.
He had to go on stage. If he was absent just for a moment, the fans would start talking and then theories would start flying and that was the last thing he needed.
He was fine. Sure, five minutes ago, he felt like he was going to die but now he was fine and he wanted to show them that. He wanted to show them that he wasn’t the fragile flower they treated him as.
Jimin looked up halfway through buttoning his shirt, his eyebrows raised in surprise. He really hadn’t been expecting them to cave that quickly, but there Seokjin was, kneeling in front of him with his head nodding in reluctant acceptance.
“But you have to eat this first.”
A protein bar was tossed into his lap and Jimin hissed in irritation. He was just on the verge of tossing it aside and using the couch to push himself up when Seokjin grabbed him by the upper arms so tightly it might leave bruises and held him still.
“Jimin, you are starving,” he said, blunt and brutally honest. “You have a problem and as soon as the show is over, we’re going to have a serious conversation about it. Now you can go back out there, I’m not saying you can’t, but first you have to boost your sugar levels because if you collapse in front of all those people, we’re going to have a real issue on our hands. So stop with this stubborn little kid act and eat the fucking granola bar.”
Jimin glared at him with a look he hoped would wither an oak tree before he ripped open the wrapper in his lap and inhaled the snack in just a couple of bites.
He hated it. He knew he would have to throw it up later. But he ate it.
“Happy?” he spat at Seokjin, his mouth still full.
“Not even close,” his hyung shot back but he straightened up and turned away before the conversation could go any further.
Jungkook wouldn’t let go of his elbow for the rest of the evening, but his worry was for nothing because the show ended without further incident.
Jimin stood up for every award that was presented and he smiled at a group of nearby fans who’d been screaming his name.
They won the Daesang and he had lost his footing on the stairs but Jungkook had been right there, pulling him back up, and he waved to the audience with a sheepish smile, trying to play off his lightheaded feeling as embarrassment.
But when it was all over, even Jimin couldn’t ignore the fact that he felt so weak, so unsteady and so sick that he had to steal a respirator and lock himself in the bathroom to hide from the others’ infuriatingly caring concern.
He lay on his back on the floor, his jacket discarded in the corner as he let the cool tiles press up against his perspiring skin, clutching the respirator to his face with both hands and pumping his lungs full of fresh air.
The protein bar was still residing inside him and he knew that it had to go but he was just too tired to move. And how many calories had been in that thing? Surely it couldn’t be that many. It was just a thin strip of fibre and nuts. It was supposed to be healthy. It wouldn’t make him gain any weight.
That’s not how science worked.
It was fine. He was fine. Everything was fine. Everything was under control.
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Chapter 8: #JiminYouArePerfect
The following morning came way too early as far as Jimin was concerned.
They had the day off after the award show to recover from the late night so he took advantage of the rest time and rolled about in bed for at least forty minutes before finally reaching for his phone.
He opened up Twitter, wanting to see the well wishes and congratulatory messages from the fans after their multitude of victories the previous night, and immediately the pictures started flooding his screen, complete with comments and quips about how handsome the boys looked and how passionately they’d danced and etc. etc.
And then there was one that was different.
It caught Jimin’s eye automatically because it was … Well, it was him.
The camera had been solely focused on his frail figure standing at the end of the line they’d formed at the microphone stand but it was the comments below that truly had Jimin’s insides twisting in something that was closer to pride than anything else.
He looks so skinny. I hope he’s eating well. I wish they wouldn’t work so hard.
Is he okay though? I mean, there’s thin and then there’s … that. It’s not healthy.
He looked so ill when they were collecting the Daesang and he even tripped on the stairs. I’m really worried. I think something’s going on with him.
GUYS! START TRENDING THE HASHTAG: JiminYouArePerfect to show Jimin that he doesn’t need to lose weight. I couldn’t bear it if we had a repeat of 2016.
They thought he was thin. Just the idea was enough to make Jimin grin giddily from where he was still curled up in the warmth of his blankets.
They thought he was thin. They thought he was so thin that he looked unhealthy. Some part of him knew that wasn’t quite right – that he should be worried about that – but he wasn’t. He was happy. Because they thought he was thin.
He wanted to see more. It wasn’t that he liked the fact that his fans were worried. Not at all. But whatever concern he had for them was surpassed easily by the desire to hear them praising his body.
They thought he was thin. That was definitely praise. That was the best kind of praise it was possible to receive because they thought he was thin. “Skinny” was the words they used, and it ignited a warm bubbly sensation in his stomach. His empty stomach.
He scrolled further down, eyes searching the pixels for further posts dedicated to his new and improved body type before his attention was snagged by yet another Tweet that defied the normality, but it wasn’t about him.
It was about Namjoon.
There was a picture of him standing behind Taehyung and Jungkook, Seokjin holding onto his elbow to keep him steady as his hands remained folded behind his back with his face turned to the floor, eyes closed and lips biting down on one another.
He looked pale. And sweaty. And … sick.
Then there was another of the moment they’d finished “Boy With Luv” and the cameras had switched to the MCs where Jimin’s leader – Jimin’s best friend – had dropped to his knees in the middle of the stage, shoulders hunched and head down.
A hashtag was already trending: GetWellSoonNamjoon, and Jimin felt that warm fuzzy feeling of happiness dwindle and die to be replaced with the harsh bite of guilt.
Namjoon was sick and everybody had been so focused on Jimin that they hadn’t noticed. Jimin himself hadn’t noticed.
The door cracked open before he had a chance to give himself an internal kick and Hoseok poked his head into the room.
His expression was solemn and tired-looking, a drastic contrast from his usually sunny persona and Jimin already knew what was about to happen.
“Come downstairs,” his hyung ordered. “We need to talk.”
There was no softness to his voice like there should have been, and it wasn’t a question. It was more of an order, and Jimin found himself wriggling out of bed immediately on command, stuffing an extra hoodie on as his third layer and following his hyung down the stairs.
The others were already gathered, dotted about on the living room furniture, either fiddling with their hands in their laps or staring blankly at the floor.
None of them looked like they wanted to be there and Jimin understood perfectly. He’d known this was coming.
After a moment of hesitancy, he sank onto the sofa beside Hoseok, glancing up at his members with nervousness etched in every feature of his sleepy face. He pulled his sleeves over his hands to protect them from the cold that pricked at his skin and tinted his nails a pale bluish colour.
Now that he was actually taking the time, he could see how sick Namjoon really was.
His eyes were half closed already, heavy lids being dragged down by the weight of the purple bags beneath them, and he was shrivelled into the corner of the couch with his hood up and a mask over his nose and mouth.
Therefore, Jimin felt no surprise when it was Seokjin who initiated the conversation.
“I think we can all agree about what’s going on here,” the eldest started and Jimin returned his attention to the floor. “And we tried to trust you, Jimin. We tried to believe that you were telling us the truth when you said you were fine but after last night, I think I speak for all of us when I say that what we’ve been doing so far hasn’t worked.”
Jimin remained silent.
He wanted to shout at them, scream that they knew nothing and then storm off to his room so he could weigh himself, fingers crossed inside his sweater paws in the hopes that the protein bar he’d been force fed yesterday hadn’t wrecked his progress.
But if he objected yet again, he would just be proving their points. He would be showing them all that their suspicions were correct and he really was spiralling back into that very, very dark and dangerous place.
So he shut his mouth and decided to let Seokjin say his piece.
“You need to start eating a full meal at least three times a day. With the amount of exercise that we do, starving yourself is just not an option. You’ll make yourself really, really ill, Jimin, and I know that’s not what you want.”
Maybe it was what he wanted. He wasn’t ill – not like they thought he was – because he felt great but if he did fall behind that red line they’d drawn in the sand, it would just be another testament as to how far he’d gone. How thin he was.
Being ill didn’t actually sound so bad.
“The best case scenario,” Seokjin continued. “Is that we get you a therapist.”
Jimin snorted in amused distaste. He didn’t need a therapist. His mind was perfectly sound. If anyone needed a therapist it was these guys.
They were so traumatised by the sickness that had taken him during the “Blood, Sweat & Tears” era that it was all they could see when they looked at him. They were just jumpy and paranoid and he was suffering because of it.
“But I don’t want to put you through that.”
His head shot up, eyebrows crinkling in inquisition, silently urging Seokjin to elaborate.
“I know how much you hated it last time so although its not ideal, we want to try and help you through this at home. That means, Jimin, that you’re going to have to listen to us when we tell you that you have to eat. Either Yoongi or I will make your meals and then one of us will sit with you until you’ve finished the whole plate …”
At that, Jimin could contain himself no longer.
“I’m not a child!” he yelled, making Hoseok jump with the sudden change in decibel, but Jimin didn’t care. “You can’t take away my control like that! I’m a human being, not a pet for you to play with however you want! Don’t I have a basic right to choose what and when I eat?”
“No,” Yoongi snapped, speaking for the first time since the conversation had begun. “You don’t, Jimin. Not anymore.”
Jimin stared at him, dumbfounded and furious. How dare they treat him like this? How dare they speak to him like that?
Just the thought of being handed a plate of food and then have his every move scrutinised until he licked it clean made him want to race upstairs and hunch over the toilet bowl with his fingers down his throat.
“And what do you know?” he screeched, leaping up off the couch and starting forwards, forcing Yoongi to rise to his feet before he was towered over by the smallest of them all. “It’s not like what happened last night hasn’t happened a billion times before! We’ve all fainted! You collapsed just a couple of weeks ago!”
“This is different,” Yoongi countered, standing his ground and keeping his tone level despite how irate Jimin had become. “You’re too thin, Jimin. Pretty soon, you’re going to keel over and then you’re not going to be able to get back up again and then we’re going to have a serious problem.”
“You say that, but I feel fine! I am fine!”
“Jimin, you’ve lost all sense of what ‘fine’ is supposed to be. Your mind isn’t working properly anymore because it isn’t getting enough sustenance. You’re sick and if we don’t do something now, you’re just going to get sicker and sicker.”
“You’re just twisting everything you see so that you can play the hero and tell everyone you saved me from something that doesn’t exist!”
“Jimin, you’re anorexic.”
He hadn’t heard that word in a long, long time, and the moment it left Namjoon’s lips, Jimin felt like his insides had turned to concrete.
Those four syllables had turned into a taboo in this household. No one uttered them for fear that it would trigger some subconscious urges they had tried so hard to abolish.
He stared down at his leader who had finally pulled down his mask, unfurled himself from the sofa and was standing beside Yoongi, his hairline slightly damp and his legs shaking even as Jimin watched him.
Namjoon wasn’t well. He wasn’t well at all.
But neither was Jimin, and Jimin was the one who was angrier, trying to defend himself from a recovery that was being forced upon him without his consent, and Jimin was the one whose mind was no longer functioning as it should.
And then Jimin was the one who had slapped his best friend.
There was a sickening snap of flesh on flesh and Namjoon’s head was knocked sideways with the surprising force of the blow.
For the longest time, nobody moved a muscle as everybody tried to process what had just happened.
Jimin’s hand was still hovering in mid-air, trembling violently and starting to go numb, but he was too terrified to move it.
What the hell had he just done? And why? Why would he hit Namjoon like that? What the fuck was wrong with him?
All he’d wanted was to lose some weight, to be thin and handsome and perfect, and now he’d just struck his best friend in the face for no reason whatsoever.
Namjoon was staring back at him, fingers gently tracing the spot on his cheek where Jimin’s palm had made contact, and his brow was furrowed in what looked a lot like confused betrayal. And it broke Jimin’s heart.
Why wasn’t he getting angry? Why wasn’t he hitting him back? Someone needed to hit him. Someone needed to make him pay for what he’d just done. But nobody was doing anything. Nobody was even breathing.
So Jimin made the first move.
Still too stunned to formulate a proper apology, he stormed from the room without another word or acknowledgement to any of the people who gawped after him with shocked incredulity.
If he had to be the villain in order to get them to leave him alone so that he could keep shrinking in his own body then that was what he was going to do.
He stumbled into the bathroom and locked the door, his chest tightening painfully and the beginning pinpricks of tears starting to stab at his eyes.
“It’s okay,” he whispered to himself as he started to strip off his clothes. “This is good. This is okay. It’s okay. This is good.”
They hated him now. That meant they wouldn’t want to help him. They wouldn’t want anything to do with him.
He was free to lose as much weight as he wanted, to purge until his heart’s content, to starve until he was reduced to nothing but a pile of bones in a cocoon of dry flaky skin.
Only then would he be perfect.
He planted his feet on the scales that were now his one and only companion and it whispered reassurances in the form of an ever-decreasing number.
It comforted him even though its replies were limited to pixelated digits. Its embrace was all he would ever need.
Someone was shouting downstairs but he couldn’t bring himself to think about it.
He didn’t want to know if they were ripping into each other as they passed the blame around the circle or if they were just shrieking their frustrations in the form of Park Jimin’s name. He didn’t want to. He just didn’t.
His body was starting to shiver from the cold so he layered it in protective clothing once more, hugging his hoodie against his flattened stomach in the hopes that he could push the goosebumps back into his skin.
Footsteps thundered up the stairs, across the landing and then back again. There was more shouting. It sounded panicked and frightened and only then did Jimin’s brotherly instincts start to kick in.
He slid the lock back and cracked the door open, not wanting to run into anybody in case they wanted to avenge Namjoon, and the volume from downstairs increased tenfold. Voices became more distinct, words were clearer and then one sentence leapt from the cacophony to stab Jimin right in the gut.
“I need an ambulance.”
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Chapter 9: A Stiff Neck
Jimin padded down the stairs, his heart in his throat as he tried to move as fast as possible while making virtually no noise. He didn’t want the others to see him but he needed to know why they were calling an ambulance. He needed to know it wasn’t because of what he’d just done.
Yoongi was standing in the hallway, his back to the stairs as Jimin came down, and he had his phone stapled to his ear. He was talking quietly, not loudly and in a panic like the first few noises Jimin heard had been, as though he were trying not to let the people in the kitchen hear him.
“He’s been sick for about three or four days now,” he was saying and Jimin froze on the bottom step.
Was it Namjoon? Did Namjoon need the ambulance? Was it because Jimin had hit him?
“Yeah, he just collapsed and he can’t get up. His skin’s really hot, he’s throwing his guts up and he said that his neck’s really stiff. He can’t move without it hurting and I know it’s a long shot but I also know what those symptoms made me think of and I really want to get him to a hospital just in case I’m right.”
Jimin stumbled into the kitchen, indifferent to whether or not Yoongi had registered his presence in his desperation to set eyes on Namjoon. He didn’t know what was going on but if Yoongi was worried like that then it must be bad.
The moment he took in the sight before him, he knew his hyung had a right to be worried.
Namjoon was sitting on the floor with his back to the cabinets, eyes closed and breathing shallow as he winced with every tiny movement his body made.
Sweat plastered his hair to his forehead and the second that Jimin walked in, the leader lunged for the bowl Hoseok was holding and emptied the contents of his stomach.
Three or four days, Yoongi had said. That’s how long Namjoon had been sick. Jimin hadn’t noticed. And then when he finally had, he’d hit him.
And now they were calling an ambulance because Namjoon’s neck was stiff.
Did that mean something? A stiff neck? Was that a sign of something awful? Some kind of terrible disease that could kill him? Was he dying? Is this what dying people looked like? Was Namjoon going to die?
“I’ve got the ice,” came a voice from behind him and Jimin stumbled sideways to make way for Jungkook as the maknae barrelled into the kitchen with the ice pack in his hands.
He dropped to his knees beside Namjoon and pressed the frozen lump against the back of his hyung’s neck.
Hoseok was emptying the vomit into the sink, readying it for another round, and Seokjin was biting his lip as he tried to wipe away the sweat with a flannel.
And Jimin just stood there, ignored and unimportant.
“Where’s the ambulance?” Hoseok muttered under his breath, and Jungkook responded immediately.
“Yoongi-hyung says it’s coming. Now he’s calling Sejin to organise some security for the hospital and Taehyung’s waiting in the driveway to wave the paramedics in.”
Namjoon opened his eyes, revealing bloodshot whites and glazed corneas, as he looked up at Seokjin and slurred out the words, “This is really bad, isn’t it?”
“We don’t know that,” Seokjin said, but his voice was quivering and his expression just confirmed Namjoon’s worries. “This is just a precaution, okay? It doesn’t mean anything other than that Yoongi’s anxious and overprotective.”
Namjoon’s glassy eyes moved from his hyung’s face and his gaze met Jimin’s as the smaller boy cowered against the wall, biting the inside of his cheek and trying to resist the urge to start crying.
The leader looked at him, expression as blank as it could be in the condition he was in, and Jimin was just starting to think that he needed to say something – apologise, get on his knees and beg for forgiveness, help them – but before he could, Namjoon was throwing up again.
“It hurts …” he panted once he’d finished and his hand reached for his neck but his coordination was off and he gave up, arm flopping uselessly back into his lap.
If it were possible, Jimin would have switched places in a heartbeat.
He was the one who wanted to be sick. The one who wanted to be throwing up so that he could get rid of all that food he’d eaten. The one who wanted to be so terrifyingly weak from malnutrition that he could barely lift his limbs.
But he wasn’t. Namjoon was. And that wasn’t fair.
The sound of the front door’s latch reached them from the hallway and just a few moments later, people in green were marching into the room, setting their equipment down on the floor and ushering Hoseok, Seokjin and Jungkook out of the way so they could get to Namjoon.
Yoongi and Taehyung were in the doorway, watching nervously as the questions started and Namjoon relayed just how awful he felt, vomiting a few minutes later to emphasise his point.
“Hyung?” Jimin whispered tentatively, tugging on Yoongi’s sleeve. “Is he going to be okay?”
There was no anger in Yoongi’s eyes. No blame. No contempt. But the way he looked at Jimin was not sympathetic either. It was a kind of expression that said: “I love you and I want to help you but right now, I’m trying not to hate you.”
“I don’t know,” he finally settled on, returning his attention to Namjoon and signalling the end of the conversation.
It was another ten minutes or so before the paramedics decided they wanted to get Namjoon to hospital and a further five before he was lying in the back of the ambulance.
Jimin just watched from the living room window as Seokjin and Yoongi exchanged a few solemn words in the driveway before the eldest joined the leader in the metal machine of flashing lights and wailing sirens.
Yoongi returned to the house and after strongly reassuring Taehyung and Jungkook that he would immediately report any information he received, the two youngest retired upstairs with heavy footsteps and low-hanging heads.
Jimin made to follow but the call of his name stopped him.
“Chim,” Hoseok sighed, already turning his back and retreating to the kitchen. “You need to eat some breakfast.”
Jimin blanched. Maybe it was selfish and awful but in the midst of Namjoon’s medical emergency, a small part of him had hoped that the conversation beforehand would be forgotten.
He’d thought that the others would be too wrapped up in concern to remember the fate Jimin had been sentenced to.
But it seemed not.
He glanced at Yoongi, not sure what he was expecting in terms of help or consolation but all he got was, “Just do it, Jimin. Please,” and Jimin felt too guilty to refuse.
Two slices of buttered toast were put down in front of him and he stared in horrified disbelief.
The bread was white. Not brown. That meant at least 50% more calories embedded in that sugary dough. And he could see the way the butter had been lathered far too generously over the surface, a greasy fatty sludge soaking through to the other side.
He hadn’t eaten breakfast in forever. It was the easiest meal to skip considering they almost never ate it together, but now Hoseok was sitting opposite him with his arms folded on the table and his mouth turned down at the corners.
“You don’t have to watch me,” Jimin mumbled, picking at a loose thread on his sleeve. He hated the attention. It made him feel like a prisoner and it was already bad enough that he was being forced to do this. “I don’t like it.”
“I don’t like it either,” Hoseok countered, slightly more harshly than he appeared to have intended because then he sighed and raked his fingers through his hair. “But we both know that if I’m not here, you’re not going to actually eat that, Jimin.”
It was the truth and there was no way for Jimin to deny that. He’d been waiting for Hoseok to turn his back so he could break off a huge chunk of toast and stuff it into his pocket or his slippers or somehow toss it into the bin just behind him. But now there was no chance of that.
“There’s too much butter,” he whispered. “And I don’t like white bread.”
“Please, Jimin!” Hoseok begged, and Jimin raised his head at the sound of his hyung’s voice cracking to see that the boy in front of him was trying not to cry. “I can’t deal with this right now. Namjoon could be really sick and I’m already freaking out as it is so can you please just eat it?”
Jimin wished he could tell him that it didn’t work like that. That he couldn’t just scrap all these weeks of progress he’d made by gorging on a plate of greasy carbohydrates and saturated fats. But he didn’t want to cause anymore problems.
So he pushed the thoughts away, closed his eyes and tried to think of something else as he chomped down on the toast which had now gone cold from its negligence.
He couldn’t deny that it tasted good, because it really did, but he knew that when he revisited it in just a few minutes when he knelt in front of the toilet bowl, it wouldn’t be nearly as succulent.
“I finished,” he mumbled, head bowed to hide the involuntary tears that sparked to life without his permission. “Can I go upstairs now?”
He needed to get rid of the pre-digested lumps before his body could start breaking them down and storing fat, and just the thought of all those extra calories inside of him – contaminating him, poisoning him, ruining him – was enough to make him want to take a pair of scissors and just cut away at the flab on his stomach.
Then the plate was retracted from in front of him but he didn’t raise his head, too humiliated from the degradation of being ordered around like a toddler, and too angry at Hoseok for making him do that.
“Thank you,” his hyung murmured. “I’m sorry I snapped at you, Chim, but I’m just worried about Namjoon.”
“I understand,” Jimin responded deftly as he listened to the sound of Hoseok retreating to the sink so he could deposit the dirty plates in the basin. “I am, too.”
He pushed out of his chair and started towards the door, stomach already twisting in preparation for what it was about to be subjected to, but then something made him stop dead in his tracks and he turned slowly on the spot to see Hoseok leaning on the countertop with his chin dropped to his chest.
“What does it mean if you have a stiff neck?”
Hoseok glanced over his shoulder, eyes narrowed and brows knitted in confusion as he silently indicated for Jimin to elaborate on the bizarre and impromptu question.
“I mean …” the younger boy stuttered, still struggling to raise his eyeline and fiddling with the sleeves of his hoodie. “I heard Yoongi-hyung on the phone and he said that Namjoon-hyung had a stiff neck and that it meant something bad so I was … I was just wondering what that was.”
Hoseok sighed and Jimin prepared himself for whatever disease Namjoon had potentially contracted that had only been made worse by his little brother hitting him right across the face when he was already fragile and frail.
But whatever he was expecting, it wasn’t what he got.
“Meningitis,” Hoseok reported flatly. “Yoongi-hyung thinks it could be meningitis.”
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Chapter 10: Playing Overwatch
Jimin could barely see through tears as he stumbled for the stairs, one word reverberating around his head without mercy or relenting.
Meningitis … Meningitis … Meningitis …
That was really serious, right? That was like … really, really serious. People died from that. They lost their limbs.
Namjoon couldn’t die. Or lose his limbs. Namjoon couldn’t have meningitis. Jimin couldn’t have hit someone who had meningitis.
That wasn’t the kind of person he was.
He needed to throw up. He needed to get rid of the toast and butter slowly churning around his insides before any of those calories could sink into his body and make him fat.
Fat. Fat. Fat. Fat. Fat.
He couldn’t be fat. He wasn’t allowed to be fat. He couldn’t be fat.
Jimin barely heard the concerned murmur before he ran into Taehyung’s chest halfway up the stairs.
Muttering a hasty apology, head bowed to conceal his tears, he tried to push past the obstruction and continue on his dash for the bathroom but hands closed around his shoulders and fused him to the spot.
“Jungkook and I are playing Overwatch,” Taehyung said, trying to make his voice sound casual and carefree but the worry for Namjoon was still lowering his tone. “Come play with us.”
“I don’t want to, Taehyung,” Jimin ground out, trying to sidestep but failing yet again as his frustration and desperation began to grow.
“Come on, Chim,” Taehyung continued. “It’ll be fun. You hardly ever play with us anymore.”
Jimin knew what he was doing. They’d probably discussed this while he’d been sleeping this morning: how they were going to prevent him from purging the calories they would force down his throat.
Taehyung was trying to find a distraction, trying to help him, but all it did was make Jimin angry.
“I’ll play with you later!” he growled, once more attempting to push past to no avail. “Taehyung! I said I’ll play with you later!”
He finally raised his head and looked into Taehyung’s sad, sad eyes.
They were glazed with concern and heartbreak at watching his best friend breakdown like this, but there was a sense of solemn determination to his posture as he ignored the raised tone and slipped an arm around Jimin’s shoulders, turning him around and leading him back down the stairs.
“Come play Overwatch,” he whispered, and Jimin just started sobbing.
They weren’t going to let him throw up. They weren’t going to let him get rid of these extra calories. They were going to make him fat. They knew how badly he didn’t want to be fat and yet they were still going to make him. He hated them. He hated them. He hated them.
But Namjoon was in the hospital, possibly because he’d been so stressed out about Jimin that the pathogens had burrowed further into his brain until his body shut down. So he didn’t have the right to hate them.
“Please, Taehyung,” he whimpered as his younger brother steered him into the living room where Jungkook was already setting up the console. “Please, just give me a few moments and then I’ll come and play with you.”
Taehyung guided him onto the sofa, his arm still clamping the smaller body at his side, in an action that was probably meant to be comforting but felt more like a restriction. A restraint.
“I don’t want you to hurt yourself, Jimin,” Taehyung said softly, watching Jungkook’s back as the kid started connecting the remotes. “And we both know that’s what you’re going to do if I give you those few moments. I know this is hard but it will get easier. I promise.”
How could he say that? How was he supposed to know what this was like? It wasn’t hard. It was torture.
Every second Jimin spent on this couch was another second his digestive system had to latch onto the food in his body and never let it go. He needed to throw up. Now.
“Okay,” Jungkook suddenly chirped, gathering the three controllers in his arms and flopping down on the sofa, sandwiching Jimin between him and Taehyung and preventing any possible escape route. “Which character do you want to be?”
Jimin gave in. The only other option was to fight his way out of this situation and after what had happened with Namjoon, he wasn’t prepared to do that.
So he gave in. And he accepted their refusal to let him go and empty the contents of his stomach into the toilet bowl.
He cried profusely, but they never addressed his tears. They squeezed his stick-like thighs and held onto his bony fingers to provide as much reassurance as they could, but not another word was spoken on the matter of his predicament. All they did was play.
It was a good technique, even Jimin couldn’t argue that, but that didn’t mean it was working. The second they let their guard down, he would be out of this prison and lock himself up in the bathroom so they couldn’t interfere as he vomited until he died.
But then his tongue spewed a sentence he hadn’t consented to without warning or chance to let him prepare.
“Is it my fault that Namjoon-hyung’s sick?”
Jungkook and Taehyung glanced up sharply, exchanging a quick look with each other before returning their attention to the trembling being between them.
“Why would you think that?” Taehyung asked tentatively and Jimin took in a shaky breath.
He’d only just managed to stop crying but now he could feel the waterworks returning.
“I … I hit … I hit him and then he collapsed and I can’t stop thinking that … he could … die and the last thing I ever did was … hit him.”
There was a split second’s silence before both his brothers had their arms wrapped around him from either side, faces nuzzling into his shoulders as his body gave in to the urge it held to sob until he dried up all the moisture within him.
“It was nothing to do with you, hyung,” Jungkook whispered over the sounds of Jimin’s snivelling. “There’s no way that anything you did would have made him any sicker than he already was. It’s not your fault.”
“But he could still die,” Jimin wailed pathetically. “And I’ll never get to say I’m sorry.”
“Jiminie,” Taehyung soothed him, stroking a thumb over his best friend’s thigh. “It might not be meningitis. Yoongi-hyung just got scared and you know how protective he is.”
“And even if it is meningitis,” Jungkook continued. “That doesn’t mean he’s going to die. Seokjin-hyung said that if it’s bacterial then they’ll keep him in the hospital for a few weeks so he’ll be safe and everybody there knows what to do to get him better again, but that’s the worst-case scenario.”
Jimin sniffled, pawing at the snot accumulating on his top lip as he made a small noise of confusion and craned his neck to look down at Jungkook who still had his face nestled into his hyung’s shoulder.
“What’s the best-case scenario?”
“It might be viral,” Taehyung explained.
“And if it is?”
“He can probably come home tomorrow.”
The two of them drew back and Jimin switched his gazes from one to another, hope starting to sprout inside of him. Maybe it really hadn’t been as bad as he’d first thought.
Everything he knew about meningitis had come from news stories of people who’d had all four limbs amputated and TV shows that always overdramatised everything.
But Namjoon might come home. Namjoon might be okay.
“It’s late,” Taehyung stated, pushing off the sofa and cracking his back with a grunt. “I’m going to go to my art studio.”
He stooped to kiss the top of Jimin’s head, whispering, “Please don’t blame yourself,” before he was gone, his older brother staring after him in surprise.
He’d never expected Taehyung to just give up like that. He’d thought he’d be confined to this couch for the next three-or-so hours but now he was free. Free to race upstairs and crouch over the toilet bowl with his eyes streaming and his scalp sweating.
“I’m …” he started awkwardly, not really knowing what to say to excuse himself from the room where Jungkook was still blowing up various characters on the TV in front of him. “I’m going to go upstairs and find Hobi-hyung.”
He left without another word, not wanting to give the maknae a chance to stop him, and pounded up the stairs so fast that he knew he would be dizzy when he reached the top.
But then he wasn’t. He wasn’t dizzy. And that was bad. Dizziness meant malnutrition. Malnutrition meant weight loss. If he wasn’t dizzy then he wasn’t losing weight. That was bad. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.
He had to throw up right now.
His knees ached from the impact they made against the bathroom tiles as he clutched at the toilet seat and tilted his head back, untrimmed fingernails scratching at the back of his throat.
His gag reflex kicked in and he pitched forwards, a strangled choking sound bubbling from his mouth, but nothing came out. Not even a sliver of bile. Nothing. At all. Nothing.
And then Jimin knew why they’d let him go. It had been just long enough since breakfast for his body to digest his sworn enemy and now there was no chance of ridding it from his system. They had played their game perfectly.
He couldn’t purge. He needed to. He needed to. But he couldn’t.
And that meant he was fat.
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Chapter 11: Cheesy Hoodie
Jimin stared down at the number printed above his toes on the glass surface beneath his feet, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. The increase shouldn’t bother him this much. He should be able to handle just a few pounds’ difference, but he couldn’t.
Just a few pounds was bound to turn into just a few kilograms and then he would be right back to where he started and all that work – all that exercise, all that starving, all that sacrifice – would be nothing more than a failed attempt. And most terrifying of all, he would be fat.
He briefly wondered if he could make himself throw up, just to get that number back to where it was yesterday, but his common sense got the best of him. If he hadn’t eaten yet that morning then there would be nothing for his body to eject.
And he had made himself a promise last night: he was not sick.
So he pushed down the guilt and the shame and the self-loathing and emerged from the bathroom, pulling on his biggest hoodie in the hopes that it would swallow him up and at least make him appear as thin as he wanted to be.
There were voices in the hallway, soft and gentle, and he rounded the corner to see Seokjin, Yoongi and Hoseok gathered outside Namjoon’s bedroom door. They looked exhausted, eyes laden with purple circles, but there were faint smiles on each of their faces.
“You’re home,” Jimin whispered as he approached, wondering if it was okay to wrap his arms around Seokjin’s stomach and bury his face in his hyung’s chest after everything that had been said the previous day.
“Yeah, Jiminie, we’re home,” Seokjin supplied and pulled the smaller body towards him before its occupant had a chance to ask permission. “I’m sorry we left on such bad terms.”
“Wait,” Jimin exclaimed, pulling away from the embrace he wanted just a little less than the answer he was about to request. “Does that mean … Namjoon-hyung …?”
“It’s viral,” Seokjin concluded for him, grinning sleepily. “He’s going to feel like shit for a couple of weeks and then he’ll be back to bossing us all around, just you wait.”
Jimin felt like the clouds were clearing after an infinite period of darkness, finally allowing the sun to stream through and illuminate their inferior little bodies. Maybe it was the lack of energy getting to his brain – no, he was not good at science – but he’d truly believed that they were going to lose Namjoon.
“Can I …?” he asked timidly, pointing towards the closed bedroom door.
“Let him sleep,” Yoongi answered, but the smile he gave Jimin was kind. “He’s in for a rough recovery period and he’ll need all the rest he can get.”
Jimin nodded his understanding, unable to help the feeling of dejection at being barred from his leader yet again. He wanted to apologise. Profusely. And he couldn’t do that until he was allowed in, but it seemed that would have to wait.
“Come downstairs,” Seokjin interjected, looping an arm around Jimin’s shoulders. “I’ll make you some breakfast.”
Breakfast. The thought was sickening. Literally sickening, and after the message the scales had given him this morning, the prospect of shovelling food into that big fat mouth of his without the opportunity to purge it all later on was positively torturous.
Then Seokjin took his hand, squeezing gently and led him down the stairs without another word. He was trying to show him that it was okay. That he wasn’t a prisoner who was unloved and restricted from all kinds of affection. And it was sort of working.
But then he looked down at the plate in front of him, and whatever comfort had managed to slip through his iron-tight barriers was gone in an instant.
That was too many calories. Too, too many calories.
The carbohydrate-packed rice, the fatty cheesy omelette, the triangular slice of toast drenched in butter on the side. How much did that add up to? Weeks and weeks of constantly researching the number of calories in certain dishes meant that he could name the contents of almost every single Korean snack.
And the meal before him may have been prepared lovingly and with completely innocent intentions by Seokjin as a way of encouraging him to indulge himself, but he couldn’t eat that. There was absolutely no way.
“Hyung, I was so worried!” came Jungkook’s breathless voice as he flew into the room and practically flung himself on Seokjin. “Namjoon-hyung’s okay, right? I mean, of course, the doctors wouldn’t have sent him home if he wasn’t okay but he really is okay, right?”
Seokjin was chuckling. It was a tired chuckle, one that could only belong to a man who had spent the last twenty-four hours sitting at the bedside of his potentially very sick best friend, but it was lathered with affection as he squeezed Jungkook’s shoulder and then dived into an explanation detailing exactly what the doctors had said.
And Jimin took it as his opportunity.
The omelette was disgustingly slimy as he scooped it up with his fingers and stuffed as much as he could into his pocket. He would have to wash his hoodie thoroughly as soon as he got upstairs or maybe even throw it out but it was a necessary sacrifice.
Seokjin looked up from his conversation with Jungkook, periodically checking on Jimin’s progress, but the younger boy was always prepared with a fork in his hand and his cheeks chomping on air as he feigned consumption.
The deceit wasn’t something he would ever be proud of. He was lying to them, hiding from them, betraying the trust they had in him and the guilt was chewing his empty stomach. These days, guilt was the heaviest emotion balancing on the scales inside of him. There wasn’t a second that he didn’t feel it like a boulder nestling on top of his heart.
“I finished, hyung,” he said, wiping his mouth and lowering his gaze to hide the secretly proud smile on his face as he pushed the plate across the table, back towards Seokjin.
“Thanks, Chim,” came the eldest’s reply as he scooped it up.
That was one thing Jimin loved about Seokjin. The others all had hearts of gold but whenever he finished a meal, they would praise him and compliment him, telling him how well he’d done. But to him, it sounded like they were mocking him and his greed. Seokjin didn’t do that.
“I really want to talk to Namjoon-hyung,” Jimin pushed, and at least that part was the truth. “I promise if he’s sleeping, I won’t disturb him.”
He was still glaring at his lap but he could feel the silent exchange taking place between the eldest and the youngest before Jungkook piped up:
“I’ll come with you. I want to see hyung, too.”
Jimin supressed his frustrated sigh. Of course, they wouldn’t let him go alone in case he made a dash for the bathroom to throw up. They couldn’t even give him a few private moments to grovel on his knees, begging for Namjoon’s forgiveness.
But it was the best he was going to get at the moment.
He pushed open the door as quietly as possible, feeling Jungkook’s presence behind him as the two of them tiptoed into the cavern and tried to navigate the way to Namjoon’s bed without stubbing their toes in the darkness.
Jimin left the door ajar, allowing a stray beam of light to illuminate vague shadows across the room, before crouching down beside the mattress and reaching out a nervous hand to rest on top of the Namjoon-shaped bundle of blankets.
“Hyung?” he whispered, squeezing gently, and the corner of his eye caught Jungkook perching on the end of the bed. “Hyung, are you awake?”
There was a sigh from under the duvet before the corner was moved aside and Namjoon’s face emerged from the depths of warmth he’d managed to create for himself.
Even in the darkness, Jimin could see he looked awful. Pale and still slightly sweaty, and Jimin noticed for the first time that there was a trashcan beside his knee in case his leader needed to throw his guts up.
But then Namjoon hummed in greeting, one hand voyaging up through the covers to rub sleepily at his eyes and rake his fringe out of the way.
“Hi,” he mumbled groggily, probably too out of it to see the way Jimin’s eyes were starting to tear up.
Jungkook remained silent at the foot of the bed, probably realising that Jimin had wanted this time for himself but still not prepared to leave him at the mercy of his own delusional compulsions.
“How are you feeling?”
Namjoon closed one eye, squinting up at the shadow of his little brother looming over him, before clearing his throat with an unpleasant-sounding cough and finally managing to form the syllables he was aiming for.
“Like there’s a virus in my brain.”
He was trying, in his own delirium-fevered way, to be humorous but Jimin winced at the painful reminder. He was still trying to figure out the appropriate way to apologise for what he’d done.
“Hyung …” he started, inner conflict growing to a peak. “I … I’m so sorry.”
It was pathetic. It was nowhere near what it should have been. But it was all he could think up at the time, and he was already kicking himself before Namjoon’s hand came groping around in the darkness until it wrapped around Jimin’s.
“Hyung, it’s not okay. I shouted at you and I was rude and horrible and I … I hit you, hyung. None of that is okay, and then you collapsed and I thought you were really, really sick and I just feel so awful, hyung. I feel so awful and I’m so, so, so …”
“Jimin,” Namjoon interrupted, his syllables slurring slightly in his exhaustion. “If you really want then we can talk about this when I’m feeling better but I don’t see the need to. It’s okay. I’m not mad.”
Jimin just sat there on his heels, head hanging in shame even as Namjoon’s fingers tapped gently against his pudgy little hand. He didn’t deserve his hyung’s forgiveness. He didn’t deserve anything they were giving him and yet they were still determined to fix him of this illness they were so adamant that he had.
It felt suffocating. He didn’t want to confront them and tell them how he was absolutely fine, because he was afraid of another episode like the last, but living like this – being constantly scrutinised and chaperoned – was going to drive him insane if it didn’t stop soon.
“Hey, Jiminie?” Namjoon whispered, sounding as if his throat had suddenly given up on producing anything more than a harsh rasp.
“I love you but is it okay if I get some more sleep? I’m not feeling too hot right now.”
“Of course,” Jimin hastened to reply, squeezing Namjoon’s hand and pushing himself to his feet. “I love you, too, hyung. I hope you feel better soon.”
He could tell that Jungkook wanted his own exchange with their leader but had seemed to realise that Jimin was leaving at that very moment and therefore he had to accompany him or he would risk violating their new schedule.
“See?” the maknae muttered as they emerged from the bedroom, shutting the door quietly behind them. “I told you he’d be okay.”
“Yeah,” Jimin muttered, chewing on the inside of his cheek as Jungkook took his arm and led him to the living room where the next hour of playing Overwatch awaited them.
The majority of Seokjin’s omelette was still sliding about in his pocket and the spiky crumbs were digging into his ankle as the buttered toast flopped about in his slippers, but there was no chance to get rid of it.
He could only hope Jungkook couldn’t smell the cheese wafting from his hoodie, and then he wondered what his life had become.