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Can We Always Be This Close

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When Jeon Jungkook was a child, his father had given him the formula for happiness. Modesty, humility, and a set of perfect teeth—according to him, this was the path to nirvana. Jungkook-ah, he would say, the world has no place for fallible men. So he fashioned his son an armor made for living, with the map to success engraved on the breastplate. It was a very heavy armor, yet Jungkook wore it with ease, like he was made for metal.

However, for the first time he saw Park Jimin, he thought the armor a little too tight around the chest. A little too suffocating.

The flashing lights were too bright, the bass imitating the beating of his heart too overwhelming—but when he looked at him, at the glint of his silvery blond hair and yellow tinted glasses, surrounded by sweaty, dancing blockmates, the world went quiet. He couldn't forget that silence that came after Park Jimin smiling.

Jungkook hated it.

There was a platform in the middle of the club, made for occasional performers. Jungkook usually avoided the fiasco that occurred during the Friday nights so he never really saw the function of the platform, but now that the party was technically to celebrate him and his newfound spot in Professor Sejin's class, he was forced to see the unravelings of college parties.

Park Jimin went up the platform. It was clear that the upperclass man was a little drunk from the tequila, or whatever beverage was being served in his name. The DJ turned down the music, which made everyone look around in confusion. Jungkook, suddenly uninterested, looked down at his drink. Still full.

"Jeon Jungkook, isn't it? The man of the hour. Heard you were the kid who threw that charity for cancer patients, is that true?" the bartender asked from behind the counter.

Jungkook nodded and smiled as genuinely as he could.

"Not a fan of parties?" Jungkook watched the bartender mix a couple of drinks and pour liquor into shotglasses, which he perfectly aligned in front of him.

Jungkook tilted his head to the side. He wanted to tell the bartender that he couldn't care less for cancer patients. Well, he cared for them, but not in a fundamental level. Not enough for him to give almost half a million dollars away to charity. He also wanted to say that not once in his life has he ever enjoyed a party, where people were sweating and almost always in close proximity to him. He hated the music and the overwhelming bass, he hated the pretty girls and the ridiculously gorgeous boys who always, always approached him with vulture-esque eyes, like he was the finest thing they have ever seen—honestly, it was all just another reminder of what he couldn't have in life.

But of course, this was not what Jeon Jungkook was trained to say, so he said, "I'm just sitting it out for a bit. Can't be partying sober, right?"

The bartender gave him a friendly wink and resumed to his business.

Jungkook cleared his throat until he got the bartender's attention again. "Can I ask you something?"

The bartender casually made a joke about how polite Jungkook was. He didn't quite catch it, since the music was going back up.

"Who's the guy on the platform?" Jungkook pretended that he didn't know. Pretended that eye contact with Park Jimin wasn't tearing him apart. Jungkook knew his face and name, but he never met the guy. The last time Jungkook saw Jimin, Jimin was dressed in an apron and apologizing to Jungkook for spilling his coffee all over his blue button down shirt. Jungkook had asked for his name, asked for the manager, asked for another shirt exactly like the one Jimin spilled coffee on. In his defense, Jungkook was having a bad day at that time.

"That's Jimin from the music department. He's your hyung," the bartender said. They both turned their heads to watch Jimin's makeshift performance.

The music playing was sultry, almost taunting. Jimin moved his body to every beat, each motion had purpose, and each step had an impact. Sweat beaded from Jimin's forehead and neck—Jungkook looked away. He looked back at Jimin and was startled to see that Jimin was looking right at him while he danced effortlessly. It was as if the dancer was taunting him, his party, his stupid charity.

Jungkook loved it: the music, the steps, the performance, the performer—he loved it so much he hated it.

He swore that he would never cross paths with this taunting, invasive, and captivating performer again. Just a glint of his dyed hair, and Jungkook would willingly turn away. It was an ascetic sort of discipline, to deprive himself of things he knew he would love. But was it not the same with vices?

Until, of course, the stars aligned against his wishes. By morning his family went bankrupt—something to do with tax evasion—and Jungkook was kicked out of his expensive single resident dorm. The university knew of his intelligence, because, well, he was Jeon Jungkook, St. Louis' golden boy. So he was given a partial scholarship and was to move to the scholars' dorm, the one situated above the campus coffeeshop. Bangtan dormitories, namely.

Jungkook enjoyed being wealthy, but he was never greedy. He liked flashy things, but was fine with the ordinary. He never gave it a single thought. What mattered to him was personal space. He never liked crowds, loud music, skin shining with sweat—he shudders at the thought. So when he was informed that he was to room with another scholar, Jungkook especially purchased at least ten scented candles. So that whatever endeavor his roommate would involve himself in, Jungkook could mask the scent. If his roommate was to workout, eat kimchi, or repaint the walls, Jungkook and his scented candles would be prepared.

Much to Jungkook's contentment, the room was big enough so he didn't actually have to see his roommate. Between his space and his roommates' space was the comfort room, complete with a shower, a toilet, a sink, and a mirror. The comfort room acted as an antechamber between the two rooms, so technically his roommate wasn't really a roommate, but a showermate. Not that he would ever shower together with whoever lived right next to him.

He was aligning his candles on the windowsill when his roommate finally showed up in the most daunting, unforgettable way.

Park Jimin was singing next door. Jungkook could recognize that voice in a room full of people. He remembered last night—Jimin dancing on the platform, Jimin singing, his mouth so close to the microphone Jungkook couldn't breathe.

———————

The first time he saw Jeon Jungkook, Jimin thought he would very much like to trace the line of younger boy's collarbone with his tongue. He was sitting outside the coffeeshop Jimin worked in, wearing a blue button down shirt that complemented his fair skin. His hair was a little too long and curling at the tips, kissing his cheeks so softly. A textbook was open next to his coffee, but Jungkook wasn't paying it any attention. He was scrolling through his phone, expression almost bored, as if he couldn't be bothered with academics.

St. Louis was a very big college, but everybody knew Jeon Jungkook. Not only was he ridiculously wealthy, but one of the main halls was named after his forefathers. Jeon Commemorative Hall. Jimin only saw him in school papers and the occasional magazine, and he always thought the younger boy was too pretty. Not a single school paper prepared him for the real Jungkook. This dongsaeng was startlingly handsome. Made for the glossy pages, not for coffeeshops where Jimin personally never liked the lattes. His fair skin was clear and unmarred save it be for the subtle scar on his left cheek, his doe eyes big and curious, his lips pink and always in a state of pout, and his nose—God, his nose—was tall and seemed to have its own sense of dignity. Not only was Jungkook ridiculously gorgeous, he also had a gait that suggested that he was absolutely clueless about his own beauty. It was almost irritating, how breathtaking he was without him actually realizing, or caring. Jimin didn't know if he preferred arrogant beauts or careless princes.

Jimin always knew why God created stars to be a million miles away. So no one would see them up close—stars weren't pretty things, they burned and burned and none of it was romantic. Jimin believed the same for people. Stars were better off far, far away. Because the moment Jimin had brought Jungkook another cup of coffee—on the house, delivered with a suggestive wink—he tripped on his own foot and poured most of the coffee on Jungkook's pretty blue shirt.

And his reaction was extremely different from the golden boy in the magazines. Jungkook didn't shout, but his full eyebrows furrowed so deeply Jimin thought they might never return to their initial place.

"What's your name?" Jungkook had asked, his voice cold and mean.

"Park Jimin," Jimin hastily replied, shocked by his uncharacteristic reaction. He didn't know why, but he expected Jeon Jungkook to smile and nod, to forgive and pat Jimin on the back.

"Park Jimin, if I see you again in the next ten minutes, you can say goodbye to St. Louis. I want to talk to your manager."

So that's how Jeon Jungkook got him fired from his highest paying job. Jimin would have to walk twice as many dogs now just to pay for his insurmountable tuition.

Naturally, when Jimin found out Jungkook was going to be his roommate, he swore to all the stars and to all the planets and to all the distant galaxies that he would make Jeon Jungkook's life as miserable as hell.

At first, Jimin pretended Jungkook didn't exist. The room was designed so that Jimin had to pass through Jungkook's room if he had to leave. He walked through the shower, into his room, and outside, back to the hallway, without giving Jungkook a sideways glance. Two days into Jungkook's residency, and Jimin could already distinguish the smell of his room from his—Jungkook smelled like the most expensive laundry detergent in the market, topped by his recent Christmas scented candle. The amount of scented candles Jungkook had endeared Jimin strangely. He couldn't help but admire the boy. Even Jungkook's careless messiness: clothes on the floor, his desk piling high with biology textbooks and discarded exams, or the keyboard pushed against the peeling wall, all these Jimin found interesting. College kids, from Jimin's experience, usually spent their free time out in the field, lying in the grass and enjoying the sun. Jungkook was an anomaly. The younger boy spent all his free time in his room. He was either decorating his walls or playing a wonky tune on the keyboard, reading books, or simply just hanging out with himself. All this Jimin gathered by just walking past him whenever he had to leave the room.

Jimin was halfway out the door when Jungkook broke the silence between them.

"Hyung," Jungkook called after him.

"Hm?" Jimin asked, turning to him. Jungkook was sitting on the floor, installing a gaming console to his plasma screen.

"I was wondering if you knew the Wi-Fi password." Jungkook averted his gaze from Jimin. He looked down at his hands—his hands, Jimin thought helplessly, the things he would do to those pale hands.

"You've been here for a week and you don't know the Wi-Fi password?" Jimin asked, surprised. His train of thought, which was really just him thinking of his roommate's hands, was suddenly interrupted by the fact that Jungkook had been coping without internet for the past seven days. "How do you do your homework?"

Jungkook's eyes flitted to the pile of books on his desk.

Jimin let out a laugh. "Why didn't you just ask, dummy?"

Jungkook's brows furrowed. "It's not that easy."

Jeon Jungkook, Jimin thought, St. Louis' favorite boy, was shy. Shy.

"Aigoo," Jimin almost taunted. "What to do, what to do. Have you been to the common room to meet everybody else? Have you been to the Bangtan dining hall?"

Jungkook's cheeks flushed. He inhaled deeply and exhaled through his mouth. Then, he leaned back on the foot of his bed and rested his head on the duvet, exposing his adam's apple. Jungkook shook his head, too shy to meet Jimin's eyes.

This was when Jimin realized Jungkook was indeed his dongsaeng. He recanted his thoughts about him, rearranged his imagination—Jimin decided that instead of putting the palm of Jungkook's hand to his lips, he would instead hold it and guide it to sustenance, like a true hyung.

Jimin sat on Jungkook's desk, grabbed a pen from Jungkook's pen holder, and scribbled the Wi-Fi password on the corner of Jungkook's open notebook. "This is the password, Jungkook-ah. The internet is fastest during midnight, so if you wanna do your homework, rearrange your sleeping schedule. My time slot for fastest internet is one in the morning, so don't you dare try to interfere."

Jimin decided he would give Jungkook hell after he helped the boy get back up on his feet. There was no fun in taunting an already bedraggled dongsaeng.

Jungkook was about to say his rehearsed thank-yous when Jimin tutted, interrupting. "Don't thank me yet. You're coming with me to the dining hall."

"Hyung, it's midnight," Jungkook said. "And I'm sleepy."

"I don't wanna hear it," Jimin replied, shaking his head. "Get up. This is the price you have to pay because you got me fired from the coffeeshop."

Jungkook made a noise. "The coffee there wasn't even very good."

"I'll kick your ass all the way to Jeon Hall if you don't start doing exactly as I say," Jimin warned. To that, Jungkook smiled, showing teeth. He had a little bit of an overbite, which giddily reminded Jimin of a rabbit.

They ended up sitting across each other in the dining hall. It wasn't as intricately designed as Hwanggeum Dormitories' own dining hall. Hwanggeum Dormitories was especially for those students who could afford St. Louis' massive tuition, and most especially for those who could avail a single residence room. Which was, i.e., Jungkook of the Jeon family. Jimin had heard rumors of Hwanggeum having a pool somewhere in the basement, and he also heard of a mini theatre in one of the spacious rooms. Where Hwanggeum's dining hall had glinting chandeliers, Bangtan had fluorescent lights that attracted moths from open windows. Bangtan's dining hall sported blue tables with attached chairs nailed to the tiled floor, and the food was not much of a spectacle.

They both ordered ramen. The instant kind, since the lunch ladies had all clocked out. Jimin ripped open the thin plastic and the foil lid of his ramen and was about to tear the packet of seasoning with his teeth when Jungkook grabbed it from his hand.

"Tearing things open with your teeth is bad for your dental health," Jungkook pointed out, his voice small and tired.

Jimin snorted. "Why do you care for my dental health?"

Jungkook shrugged while he opened the seasoning with his fingers and sprinkled it all over Jimin's waxy ramen. "You have perfect teeth, hyung."

Jimin laughed. "You have no idea what these teeth can do."

With that, Jungkook's eyes widened and he immediately turned away, focusing on his own instant ramen.

They decided to eat their noodles back in their rooms after Jungkook repeated once again that he was exhausted. Before Jimin could go back to his dorm, he turned to Jungkook, who was sitting on his desk and slurping away at his ramen, and said, "Jeon Jungkook," Jimin said firmly. "Do you even know my name?"

Jungkook had looked at him with blank, innocent eyes, and slowly shook his head.

Jimin could admit a hundred times and a hundred more that he had the shortest temper in the world. He grabbed a pillow from the younger boy's bed and whacked Jungkook at the back of his head.

Jungkook burst out laughing, full and deep and genuine. He got up from the chair to evade Jimin's onslaught of newfound violence—yet failed. His hyung was shorter than him for some centimeters, but that didn't mean he couldn't overpower Jungkook with the force of his bare, angry hands. He let out an oof as Jimin whacked him again.

Jungkook ran to the other side of the room and shielded himself with his arms, but Jimin was faster, and he managed to inflict pillow damage by throwing one at Jungkook's head. Jungkook tripped over a wire and landed on his bottom with a loud thud. Jimin laughed as Jungkook's ears turned red—but then Jungkook was laughing, too, simply amazed at their own childishness.

"I was only joking, hyung, of course I know who you are," Jungkook admitted, breathless.

"Then who am I?" Jimin challenged. He didn't care that his words were almost a whine.

"Park Jimin," Jungkook said.

Jimin aimed another pillow—

"Park Jimin-ihyeong," Jungkook corrected, his voice going up an octave.

"You better start treating me like a real hyung, Jeon Jungkook," Jimin warned. "This probably isn't a thing from your old dorm in Hwanggeum, but in Bangtan we treat our dorm mates as family."

An awed expression flitted through Jungkook's face. He said, "if we're like family, then I have to tell you this. Stop using up all the hot water."

Jimin laughed. "You have to earn your hot water, Jungkook-ah. And you shouldn't have had me fired if you really wanted a share with my privileges."

"But who sets the hot water privileges?"

"You're looking at him, dummy."

"But what if I catch a cold?"

"Then you stay far, far away from me, because I don't wanna get sick," Jimin said smartly.

Jungkook frowned. He was gathering his thoughts, and as he did, his lips turned up in a pout. He probably didn't know that his lips did that, but now Jimin knew. Some things to think about. Before his thoughts got the best of him, Jimin turned away and went back to his room, throwing out a chummy goodnight at his dongsaeng. Tomorrow, he would give the boy hell, and he was planning on doing more than just use up all the hot water.

Chapter Text

Jungkook soon figured out that having a crush on his roommate was not particularly wise. A roommate was someone who knew what you looked like while you slept, who could smell any funny business in the shared bathroom, and—God forbid—possibly walk in on you doing unspeakable things to yourself. Jungkook having a crush on Park Jimin meant he had to tiptoe around his own room, and something about that pissed Jungkook off. He wanted freedom in his own skin, and he couldn't do that if he kept thinking of his roommate's lips.

 

Jungkook physically slapped his own face with his free hand just to knock it off.

 

So he nitpicked at Jimin's every move just to find something unpleasant about him. He listed down all the things he hated about Jimin and came up with three things:

 

1. Jimin doesn't know how to be quiet.

 

Jungkook noticed this after the first two days of his residency, and all the long days after that. Every time Jungkook came home from class, he could hear Jimin singing in such an appallingly careless way that he made his angel voice sound like vultures screeching.

 

2. Jimin hates that Jungkook takes fifty minutes to shower.

 

One particular morning, while Jungkook was shampooing his hair, Jimin had barreled through the bathroom door—which made Jungkook scream and Jimin shout.

 

"Hyung!" Jungkook screeched, hiding behind the shower curtain.

 

"I have class in five minutes and I have to pass through here to leave the room!" Jimin shouted back.

 

"I locked the door!" Jungkook shouted back.

 

"I have to pass this class!" Jimin half whined and half shouted. Jungkook heard him leave hurriedly—but not after slipping on the bathroom floor and landing on his bottom.

 

"Jeon Jungkook!" Jimin shouted at the top of his lungs. "Why can't you keep the bathroom floor dry?"

 

"The drain is all clogged because your hair strands are all over the place!" Jungkook countered in his defense.

 

Jimin made an annoyed noise. And then, something hit Jungkook on his head. It was a sopping wet towel that came from above—Jimin had thrown it over the shower curtain.

 

"Your towel was blocking the drain, idiot!" Jimin shouted.

 

It was one of their very first interactions, and it had not been pleasant.

 

3. Park Jimin's equally loud friends.

 

The morning after their midnight ramen fiasco, Jimin dragged Jungkook out of the room and into Bangtan's dining hall.

 

Jungkook had expected Jimin to eat breakfast with him, but had done the exact opposite. Jimin brought him to the table near the windows, introduced him to Hoseok-hyung, who, the moment he found out Jungkook was his dongsaeng, started immediately scooping his food and dumping it on Jungkook's plate in such a caring manner Jungkook wondered if Hoseok-hyung was tricking him or pulling a prank. When Jungkook realized that his hyung was being genuine, it had confused him twice as much as the former speculation. Namjoon-hyung, who was sitting beside Hoseok-hyung, then asked him what he was majoring in—Jungkook answered that he was studying medicine and would spend the next twelve years of his life in the field. As soon as the tallest heard of this news—Kim Seokjin-hyung—he was immediately grilled with questions.

 

"What's the english word for sternum, Jungkook-ssi?" Seokjin-hyung asked after informing him that he was in his fifth year in the medical field.

 

It was such an easy question Jungkook felt insulted. He answered it confidently and then said, "Hyung, I'm not a kid—"

 

Seokjin, the most animated out of all of them at six in the morning, thumped his fist on the table. "Then tell me what are the names of each individual bone that comprises the spinal cord!"

 

Jungkook blinked. He took a breath and started to name the bones when Seokjin-hyung thumped on the table so forcefully the plates jumped.

 

"And the patient is dead, Jungkookie! You took too long to name—"

 

Jungkook made an angry sound. "What surgery is the patient having if he needs a doctor to recite all the bones in his spine—"

 

Seokjin thumped the table again, which caused Namjoon-hyung who was next to him to shove the older man irritatingly. "Your second mistake is that you assumed the patient's gender!"

 

"Kim Seokjin-ssi, it's six in the morning!" Min Yoongi—another hyung—shoved a spoonful of rice on Seokjin-hyung's mouth out of annoyance. The oldest in question gladly took Yoongi's offer. The lack of honorific made the others laugh.

 

Jimin then turned to say goodbye.

 

"You have your phone, wallet, and keys with you?" Hoseok asked Jimin, just as kindly as he had treated Jungkook.

 

Jimin nodded before starting to turn away.

 

"Where are you going?" Jungkook asked suddenly. It was a Sunday, and by law, St. Louis didn't hold classes.

 

"To look for a job," Jimin said. He took one look at Jungkook, remembered the reason for his unemployment, and thwacked the younger boy with the thick folder in his hand. Jungkook ducked, so Jimin hit him for the second time.

 

"The coffee there tastes like gasoline, hyung—" Jungkook started to say, earning another wack in the head by Jimin. The others only laughed.

 

"Come on, Jimin-ssi, you'll get a job soon enough, I know it," Namjoon said.

 

"Thanks," Jimin blundered.

 

Jungkook was about to say something—but Jimin whacked him again on the back of his head.

 

After breakfast, Jungkook retired to his room and was about to sleep again when there was a knock on the door. Thinking it was Jimin, Jungkook immediately got up and opened the door—only to see a stranger. He was as tall as Jungkook and had small, handsome features.

 

"Hey, are you friends with Jimin-hyung?" The stranger asked. "I'm Kim Taehyung. Jimin-ihyeong told me that you have a PlayStation 4. Can I play games with you?"

 

Which was arguably the weirdest thing to ever occur in Jungkook's entire college life. No one in Hwangeum Dormitories had the gall to knock on his door and ask Jungkook if he could—God forbid—play with him.

 

But Taehyung-hyung—"Just call me Tae, and then add a hyung," Tae-hyung said with a small laugh—was so polite in his ways Jungkook didn't even realize that it was a subtle invasion. Jungkook barely knew the guy. But he ended up playing Final Fantasy XV with him anyway. It was a single-player game, so they patiently took turns, exchanging information about the character's elemency and history.

 

Some time later, Namjoon-hyung joined them and promptly added more load to Jungkook's nerdiness. Hoseok-hyung followed, straightened up Jungkook's room haphazardly by picking up discarded clothes and shooting them to his hamper. Hoseok did it in a way that said he didn't want Jungkook to know he was cleaning up his mess, so Jungkook pretended that he didn't notice.

 

When Seokjin and Yoongi added to the party, the entire room buzzed with conversation. Jungkook couldn't help but talk about how he ended up in Bangtan, what kind of companies his father and grandfather owned, what it felt to be in Professor Sejin's esteemed class, and all the other random things Namjoon or Hoseok asked about him.

 

"How come Jimin-hyung has to work when he's a scholar?" Jungkook managed to ask.

 

"He has a partial scholarship, so he still has to work for uncovered fees," Namjoon replied.

 

Jungkook finally let himself feel guilty. He hated feeling helpless against his own guilt, so he devised a vague yet convincing plan.

 

The last time Jungkook had a crush on someone, he had driven for over four hours from St. Louis to Busan just to be with him on his birthday. But as he stood outside of the coffeeshop Jimin used to work in, dressed as the coffeeshop's mascot—a giant coffeebean—freezing from the evening chill and singing the coffeeshop's campaign song, he wondered if all of this was worth his silly and premature crush on Park Jimin.

 

This was how he ended up in his dreadful position:

 

It was important for Jungkook to keep a clean conscience. He had to be honest to himself always. So, right after the guys left him alone in his room after hours of Final Fantasy, he drove back to where he first met Jimin and requested for the manager's company.

 

The manager was not pleased. Apparently, news of his dad's tax evasion had already begun circling, and the people's hatred for his dad had trickled down to him. He was no longer St. Louis' brightest and wealthiest student, he could now only be remembered as the son of an unethical millionaire.

 

"But why can't you rehire Park Jimin-ssi?" Jungkook asked for the fifth time. The first four attempts were more polite and less whiny—and he was running out of options. He had approached the situation with confidence that his image as the son of one of the sole benefactors of St. Louis would get him whatever he wanted. And then the manager had spat on him these exact words: "Jeon Jungkook, last week you came in here, parked in the spot meant for persons with disability, ordered the cheapest drink, and had one of my best employees fired. So I ask you this, Mr. Jeon, why do you think I'm going to consider your request, after your display of sheer audacity?"

 

So now he was at a loss.

 

He whined some more, begged some more—until finally, the manager got tired, and had given him the mascot to wear and the chant to sing in order to compensate for the trouble he caused last week.

 

He started his coffeeshop stint at six in the evening, suffered through students taking pictures of him, kept his pee in, sang until his throat hurt, and ended the stupid stint at eleven in the evening. He stripped off his mascot then and there after the manager had given him the clear and didn't even make it to the comfort room when he emptied his bladder behind a bush after five grueling hours. It went against his inhibitions, but at this point, Jungkook was willing to upend the rule book his dad and grandfather had given him—he was pretty sure they never experienced keeping their pee in while freezing on the sidewalk.

 

"I'll give Jimin-ssi a call," the manager said as Jungkook entered the now empty shot to return the coffeebean mascot.

 

"Thank you," Jungkook said sincerely.

 

"You tell your dad to pay for what is due," the manager said with vitriol. "Ah, how hard is it to follow the law?"

 

While walking home, Jungkook decided that the moment Jimin-ihyeong got his job back, Jungkook would leave him alone. Then, he didn't have to feel guilty. And then, he could assume that he no longer owed Jimin anything, so he could finally stop this silly, premature crush.

 

It was Jimin's smile and his skin and his hair and the way he talked and the way he walked. It was his perfect teeth when he laughed and his Adam's apple bobbing up and down in the length of his throat. It was Jimin smelling like fresh laundry and apple scented shampoo every time he got out of the shower. Jungkook had to learn how to look away.

 

Thankfully, when Jungkook arrived back in his room, he immediately had something to add to his short list of things he hated about Jimin.

 

Jimin was blasting an earth-shattering, god-awful, vulgar pop song in his room, and it was so loud Jungkook could feel the bass on the soles of his feet.

 

×

 

Park Jimin had an impeccable flair for the dramatic. Theater, modern dance, method acting, singing until his lungs gave out—these were the things that defined him. Everything he did were in extremes; all his passions had to shake the earth and freeze the ocean, if not then they weren't worth a damn.

 

If doing the things he loved were heartwrenching, then his anger was sacrilegious. He was halfway through his job interview, gritting his teeth at the manager's request—that he was to remove all his piercings before he could even dream of working behind the counter—when he realized that the only reason he had to look for a minimum wage job again was because St. Louis' prettiest boy had him fired.

 

Jimin stopped breathing as soon as the manager suggested a tamer hair color.

 

He was going to kill Jeon Jungkook.

 

"Hoseok-hyung, I am not going back to black," Jimin hissed at his phone. He was now standing on the sidewalk. The manager had gladly offered him the job as a bartender, since he was so obviously perfect at handling small time jobs. While twenty-three year olds usually only had minuscule experiences in coffeeshops or grocery stores, Jimin's experiences were comparatively monumental. He had been working his way through senior year and then through college—now currently in his third year, he considered himself well-versed in minimum wage jobs.

 

Life, for Jimin, was hard. But it was all he ever knew.

 

"Jimin-ssi, you have two options. To be pretty, or to starve to death," Hoseok replied jovially.

 

Jimin would settle with starving if it meant he got to keep his bright contact lenses and his attention grabbing head of hair. He sighed, rearranging his thoughts. He knew what it felt to starve, and it had formed caves in his soul. He thought the way he did about vanity because he had been on his feet now for so long, what, with the partial scholarship and Namjoon-hyung's financial help—until, of course, Jimin lost his job.

 

He was going to murder Jungkook in his sleep.

 

"Not to sound random," Jimin said. "But hyung, can you help me install the loudest speakers in my room? I'm gonna need it. It's urgent."

 

Which was how Jimin and Hoseok ended up rewiring the sound system in Jimin's room. The speakers were half his size and ten times louder than him, which was saying a lot because Jimin was louder than any man in Bangtan Dormitories. He knew he could sing and there was no shame in his body that could ever seal his lips. One of the reasons why Yoongi-hyung quit on being his roommate.

 

"Jimin-ssi, you're too noisy," Yoongi had snapped at him. "Everywhere you go and everything you do, you think you need to make a sound. What's the deal? Can't a guy have his peace?"

 

Unfortunately, the guy couldn't have his peace. So he moved out, leaving Jimin alone. Jimin really couldn't help it—he grew up in a quiet household and now that he was out of it, he started hating the silence. Loathed it. He liked loud music and chatty people and shameless jokes, no way was he going to go back to hushed whispers and barely audible murmurs.

 

As soon as Hoseok and Jimin were done wiring the speakers while Jungkook was away, Hoseok left Jimin alone, but not after borrowing a pair of earrings from Jimin's drawer.

 

"You're never going to return that," Jimin commented.

 

"I'll return it after the screening, I promise!" Hoseok said charmingly. Jimin needed to stop being friends with cute and charming people, they always seemed to get away with everything. But it was Hoseok, the boy who brought Jimin lunch every time Jimin couldn't afford a meal. The thing about Bangtan residents was that they were a family, no matter how annoying and charming they were.

 

Naturally, Jimin decked Hoseok with both of his fists.

 

"Stop saying that and then losing my things!" Jimin whined.

 

"Aigoo, Jimin-ssi—" Hoseok ducked from another slap from Jimin and said, "I'll give it back, I swear on Bangtan's grave!"

 

Jimin made a derisive sound and kicked Hoseok out of the room by kicking him on the back of his legs.

 

"Aigoo, aigoo," Jimin mocked cruelly after shutting the door behind Hoseok. Hoseok had the audacity to shout a goodbye as soon as he stepped back into the hallway outside. Jimin swore.

 

Not even five minutes have passed when he sensed Jungkook's presence. The younger boy had a signature way of walking, and Jimin could recognize it only because his footsteps were the complete opposite of his and the other guys dorming in Bangtan. Namjoon-hyung stomped like a giant even when he was trying to be quiet, Yoongi-hyung's footsteps were almost as annoying as his complaints, Hoseok bounced around rooms and hallways instead of walking, Seokjin-hyung's walk was only recognizable because he always, always, unfailingly talked while he was in motion, and Taehyung shuffled around distinctively with his rabbit slippers. Jungkook walked very nimbly. His strides were purposeful and quiet, and sometimes he hummed to a cheerful beat. He wasn't arrogant or aloof, and when he sang sometimes, Jimin couldn't help but press his ear against his door and try to listen closer.

 

Right off the bat, Jimin knew Jungkook had an off-putting day from the way he heard his footfalls on the room's wooden flooring.

 

Jimin was going to deck himself. He really didn't need to analyze his dongsaeng's every move. Right as planned, Jimin plugged in his phone to the speaker, set the volume to the maximum level, and blasted the most appalling pop music he could find.

 

The speakers were so loud Jimin could feel the bass in his guts. He sauntered over to his desk, flipped open an art book, and began to scan his required reading. The noise didn't bother him at all, as he was accustomed to sounds blaring against his ears. Whenever he had free time, he and Hoseok would go to the dance studio, play the loudest songs, and move his body to the beat, and that was only manageable if his ears were trained to go along with earth-shattering music.

 

Jimin could hear Jungkook knocking against his door. Jimin rested his chin on the palm of his hand, delightfully smirked, and continued reading.

 

An hour passed and Jimin was about to unleash his second plan when he thought to check if Jungkook was still next door.

 

He peeked through his door and saw that Jungkook was lying in his bed, still in his day clothes and dress shoes. The light was on, and against the warm yellow of Jimin's nightlight, the light in Jungkook's room was so bright and vivid Jimin could see the sheen of sweat on Jungkook's forehead.

 

Jimin paused the music. "Jungkook-ah, go wash up."

 

Jungkook barely steered. His lips were slightly parted and his breathing was slow, peaceful. Jimin couldn't believe Jungkook could sleep through the music.

 

The wise side of Jimin urged him to turn away and call it a day. No more second plan—they were adults, for goodness' sake. Adults didn't devise intricate ways to spark revenge. But then again, real adults would never want to wipe away the sweat of another adult, untie and take off their shoes for them, turn off their lights for them—and yet, Jimin did all of it just the same.

 

He was stripping off Jungkook's shoes when Jungkook groaned.

 

"Go away, hyung," he said, still half-asleep. His voice was deeper, less controlled—Jimin mentally slapped himself, interrupting this dangerous train of thought.

 

"I wouldn't be doing this if you just got up and washed up," Jimin said in his usual jovial lilt. He knew how to take care of sleepy people—the key was to be gentle and sound like everything was okay. He had been trained as a nurse once, after all.

 

Jungkook was no ordinary patient. Once both his shoes were off, Jungkook rolled over and buried himself under the blankets just to get away from Jimin.

 

"Aigoo," Jimin said, "Is your pride in your socks?"

 

"Go away, hyung." His voice was muffled against the sheets.

 

Jimin sighed. He didn't need to be told again. He got up, turned off the lights in Jungkook's room, and went back to his own bed.

 

He stared up at the ceiling, helplessly blushing—because Jungkook, when his guard was down, spoke with a subtle Busan accent: his voice was deeper, more drawn out, almost teasing. Every time he had a complaint, or when he was arguing with Jin-hyung, or when he was sleepy, he would sound like one of the Busan boys Jimin spent his childhood with.

 

The things he would do to Jeon Jungkook.

Chapter Text

Jungkook roughly woke up to the sound of the shower running. Thoughtlessly, he rolled off the bed, took hold of his dresser—and pushed until the dresser blocked the door to the bathroom. He could hear Jimin singing in the shower, unaware of Jungkook's stunt.

 

That evening at the scholarship grant banquet, Jungkook was more than surprised to see Jimin smiling at him from across the room. Not the pleased-to-see-you smile that Jimin wore around his friends, this one was different. This one inspired malice. His teeth were showing but his eyes were far, far from happy.

 

Jungkook walked towards him and bowed. He was the main speaker of the event, since his dad had been the one who granted the scholarships. It was merely an act of saving face, but, well, as long as it helped struggling students, Jungkook figured he was fine with it. He had no idea why Park Jimin was here, dressed in tight pants, so tight they were almost inappropriate, and a loose sweater with sleeves that ended on his ringed knuckles. Jimin's hair seemed brighter than usual, the soft white light from the chandelier bouncing off his silver locks. His eyes, Jungkook thought, were the main event. Eyeshadow caressed his eyelids gracefully, making his eyes as captivating as a pile of sin. Jungkook disliked how enamored he was with the way Jimin could easily make himself the most handsome man in the room. No matter how small in stature he was, Jimin had an energy that had everyone turning their heards just to get a glimpse.

 

"How was your shower this morning?" Jungkook asked in a teasing voice.

 

"You're not gonna congratulate me for earning a full scholarship?" Jimin asked, twice as teasing. He reached out and smoothed the collar of Jungkook's jet black blazer.

 

Jungkook stared a little longer than necessary. "You didn't come up the stage when the superintendent called out all the names. I don't suppose you spent the entire day trapped in the shower for so long you almost missed your scholarship banquet?"

 

Jimin took a step closer, invading Jungkook's personal space. Jungkook stiffened, eyes darting at everybody around them—they were in public, for goodness' sake. Teachers and students were milling about them, surely Jimin knew a thing or two about social image?

 

"Why would I miss my own scholarship banquet?" Jimin asked. He tilted his head to the side. So close, that if Jungkook thought to lean down for a fraction of an inch, his whole world would fall apart. He could smell Jimin's fabric softener, could feel Jimin's palm running up and down his blazer.

 

"Why are you doing this?" Jungkook asked, feeling his face redden like a child. He took Jimin's hand and pushed it away from his person.

 

"You locked me in the shower, Jeon Jungkook," Jimin said.

 

"You made me sleep through my Chemistry class," Jungkook defended himself.

 

Jimin scowled and leaned back a little. "It's not my fault you didn't wake up."

 

"I couldn't sleep last night because of your music—hyung—" his last word came out as a whine, because Park Jimin was invading his personal space again.

 

Jimin cocked his head to the side. "Yes?"

 

"You're too close—"

 

Jimin grinned, malicious and cold. "You can always step back, Jungkookie."

 

Jungkook flushed. He took a step back and glared at Jimin.

 

"I don't like it when you do that," Jungkook said. It was the biggest lie he ever told.

 

"What's not to like?" Jimin asked.

 

"I mean, I don't like it when people touch me without my consent, like last night," Jungkook rephrased, referring to when Jimin had removed his shoes and smoothened his bed sheets for him.

 

Jimin's air of silky flirtatiousness receded. "Did something happen to you?"

 

Jungkook's eyes widened. "You mean, was I abused when I was a kid? No, not like that. I just don't like it."

 

"You don't like it when people take care of you?" Jimin asked.

 

Jungkook flushed at the thought. Before he could say anything, the dean of the university started speaking at the podium. The event was about to end, and Jungkook had to give a short speech.

 

"Good luck up there, Jungkook," Jimin said as Jungkook turned to leave.

 

Jungkook was about to bow until Jimin said: "And by the way, I soaked all your shirts in water and put them in the freezer."

 

Jungkook froze in his tracks. He turned to Jimin. "Tell me you're lying."

 

Jimin shrugged innocently.

 

"Hyung." He was going to kill Jimin.

 

"You locked me in the shower and I had to beg Hoseok-hyung to come get me. But you locked your dorm so no one could get in, and Hoseokkie-hyung had to call the supervisor, who doesn't wake up until lunch time," Jimin said.

 

"Did you miss an important class like I did?" Jungkook challenged.

 

"No, but I got scared," Jimin said.

 

Jungkook faked a laugh. "Am I supposed to feel sorry for you?"

 

"Your lack of empathy astounds me," Jimin said, his eyes wide with warning. "What does it feel like when you get up there, speak about acknowledging the struggles of students, and when you step off the stage you look at us like we're not worth the trouble?"

 

Jungkook smirked. Irritarion crept up his voice. "Don't be presumptuous. I care about others, just not you, specifically."

 

"Others?" Jimin asked, bemused. "Who, your friends in your video games?"

 

Jungkook was about to say something but was interrupted by the dean calling his name. He scowled at Jimin one last time before finding his way to the podium. Everyone cleared a path before him, their gazes curious and awed. The irritation eased at the sight of people staring at him reverently, like he was some sort of messiah. His father must have messed up, however, the scholarship banquet was patching it up for him. The sight of his handsome son throwing warm speeches and shaking hands had added fuel to the fire.

 

He was so good at giving speeches that, as he packed up his things in his car, he got a call from his father.

 

"Hello?" Jungkook greeted monotonously.

 

"You can move out of that blasted dorm you currently live in. The dean will let you live in Hwanggeum rent free for an entire semester. Go shake his hand and kiss his cheek before you leave the banquet," his dad quickly instructed.

 

"I'm on the road already," Jungkook lied.

 

"Then turn back, son. Don't you want to go back to Hwanggeum?"

 

Jungkook was quiet for a while. Then, he said, "I'm fine, dad."

 

Mr. Jeon swore. "I'm not asking if you're fine, Jungkook."

 

"I mean, I'm fine living in Bangtan," Jungkook replied quickly. He leaned on the hood of his car and looked up at the stars. The parking lot was nearly empty except for Jungkook's pitch black BMW, cicadas chirping, and the occasional breeze.

 

"I didn't work until I bled for my son to live in mediocre quarters," Mr. Jeon said coldly. "You are the product of my blood, sweat, and tears, Jungkook, I think you know what I mean when I say you're going back to Hwanggeum."

 

Jungkook pinched his nose bridge. "It's not cost-effective for anyone. You're going to end up owing something to the dean, and when news spread that I'm living in Hwanggeum rent free, the students will throw a fit. They'll say you're not getting the financial scarcity that's due for you."

 

"I love you, Jungkook, and I just want what's best for you," he said, bereft of warmth and sincerity. Something about it made Jungkook so unbearably sad he felt as if something was sitting on his chest.

 

"I love you too," Jungkook replied, but the words were meaningless. He had known love once and the deprivation of it, and he feared he would never feel the warmth of it again.

 

"But you have a point," his dad said with a sigh. "You can stay in Bangtan, but only for a short while. I'm winning the case against me, and soon we'll be back on our feet."

 

His dad hung up without a farewell. Jungkook cleared his throat. He slid inside his car and started driving, trying not to cry. He wondered if it would have been better if he had never known love at all so that the absence of it would not weigh down his bones.

 

When he returned to Bangtan, he was comforted by the sounds of joy leaking from the others' room. As he walked through the halls, he could hear music from what he assumed was Namjoon and Hoseok's room. He could hear Hoseok, Taehyung and Jimin's laughter from another room, and Yoongi and Seokjin playfully bantering in the room across Jungkook's. A couple of people were walking around, crossing the stairs to the rooftop and chanting nonsense. Jungkook put his head down and narrowly avoided attention.

 

As soon as Jungkook entered his room, he went to their shared refrigerator in the bathroom and checked the damage Jimin had done. Jimin was no liar: Jungkook's black shirts were neatly frozen in the freezer, right on top of Jungkook's frozen pizza. He scraped the fuzzy ice with his palms and sighed to himself. He took all nine of them out and dumped them on the bathtub. He turned on the faucet and watched the warm water thaw out the ice—unlike Hwangeum, Bangtan's water system was scarcer, which meant that Jungkook had to wait twenty minutes if he wanted a bath. He liked the blue and white tiles, though, the tacky yellow shower curtain, the white alcove bathtub, and how Jimin promptly color-coded the sink. A blue soapdish that matched the toothbrush holder decorated the sink, with matching blue towels, and finally, a yellow framed mirror that occupied an entire wall. Every morning, when the mirror was all foggy from the shower, Jungkook would draw happy faces and silly requests like, "Hyung, if you see me enter my class with professor Sejin, can you take me out with a giant rock?"

 

Jungkook checked himself on the reflection and embodied the biggest yawn he could manage. He returned to his room, stripped off his blazer, and flopped on his bed.

 

"—Jeon Jungkook, don't you know sleeping with the lights on makes it more difficult for your brain to rest?"

 

Jimin walked in with a party on his shoulder and a voicebox of an entire zoo. Jungkook's eyes fluttered open, dreading his suspicions about the night. Dreading the smell of it, the feel of it, the happiness that came after from a single shot. Jungkook's gut clenched like a fist.

 

Jimin, Taehyung, and Namjoon were walking around giddy and electric, bottles in their hands glimmering under the fluorescent light. Jungkook watched Taehyung's new lip ring kiss the mouth of the bottle he was holding, watched Namjoon run an unsure hand through his newly bleached hair, and as soon as his gaze fell on Jimin, Jungkook held his breath.

 

Jimin had one minuscule jewel underneath each of his eyes. It glinted under the light every time he moved his head to the side.

 

"What are you doing here?" Jungkook asked, rubbing at his eyes.

 

Namjoon dropped himself on the bed next to Jungkook. "There's a party on the rooftop, we wanted you to know. You can come. I loved your speech. Who wrote it, an underpaid lackey?"

 

Jungkook blew air through his nose. "Do you have a problem with the politics of this school, hyung?"

 

Namjoon laughed. "I have a problem with disingenuous politics and the narcissism of your father."

 

"Narcissism?"

 

"It's understandable, though, seeing that he has half of the school wrapped around his finger. What does it feel like to be the son of an antipoor monopolizer?" Namjoon continued.

 

Jungkook wanted to tell him that giving out scholarship grants was not exactly an act of being antipoor. But then, he himself knew that his dad had only done that for the benefit of his reputation, and not for anything else. "I can't say I'm not enjoying the sports cars and the Rolex watches."

 

Jimin laughed at that. He knew firsthand how Jungkook lived—curiously bereft of Rolex watches.

 

"Do you hate me, hyung?" Jungkook asked Namjoon. Jimin audibly sighed.

 

"You're hard to hate, Jeon," Namjoon confessed.

 

"Jimin seconds that notion," Taehyung butted in, earning a shove from Jimin.

 

"The scholarship banquet wouldn't be possible without St. Louis' golden boy. We owe this party to you," Jimin cooed. He offered Jungkook a drink, in which Jungkook dutifully ignored, earning a couple of looks from the trio.

 

Jungkook cleared his throat. "It's a cold night, hyung. Why don't you three bring the party inside? My room is all yours."

 

As the hour trickled by, Jungkook watched the rest of the residents living in Bangtan drop by his room. As they all noticed that Jungkook was too burned out to interact, they promptly greeted him and returned to their own businesses. It wasn't a typical house party—there were no loud, obnoxious boys chugging beer and uninhibited girls dancing on tables. It was actually kind of nice. Peaceful. Jihyo and Lisa, Bangtan's only female residents who lived on the east wing of the dormitory, were sitting on Jungkook's fluffy bean bags, braiding each other's hair and talking about the politics in the campus. The older boys sat around Jungkook's desk, cheering with bottles of beer in their hands, laughing about something that happened earlier. The atmosphere was warm and respectful, so much so that Jungkook felt himself slipping into much earned sleep, until Jimin sat on the bed and shook him awake, demanding Jungkook to let Jimin use his gaming console.

 

Jungkook rolled off the bed and did what Jimin asked him to do. The older boy's cheeks were flushed and his eyes were glassy—really, with that face, he could convince Jungkook to do anything. Jungkook felt a trickle of annoyance at his hyung and at his own weak volition to hate Jimin, but as soon as Jimin had taken the controller, sat on the foot of the bed, and crossed his legs under him, his aggravation practically vanished.

 

Jungkook sat next to the carpeted floor, leaning on the foot of the bed, his shoulder resting on Jimin's knees. Jimin slithered down next to him and instinctively pressed his shoulder to Jungkook's.

 

"I can't remember the last time I played video games," Jimin said loudly, amused at himself. His cheeks were bright red at this point and his lips were messier than ever.

 

"That's because you can't afford it," Yoongi replied from the other side of the room.

 

"Why can't you afford video games, hyung?" Jungkook asked quietly.

 

"Are you asking me why I'm poor, Jungkook?"

 

Jungkook shook his head. He brushed his hair away from his eyes. "Well, yes."

 

"I ran away from home when I was eighteen," Jimin answered him truthfully. His voice was quiet and he sounded somewhat sober in his reply. The room resumed to buzz with different conversations, now uninterested in Jungkook and Jimin both sitting on the floor.

 

"Why?"

 

Jimin laughed. "If I tell you, will you stop leaving the bathroom floor wet?"

 

"I do that?" Jungkook asked, stunnned.

 

"Every morning."

 

"Okay, I'll stop." Jungkook watched Jimin choose a game. Jimin wasn't lying when he said he couldn't remember the last time he played video games, because the hyung also couldn't remember the controls. Jimin slowly made his way through the game.

 

"Well, my parents wanted me to become a stupid doctor, and I didn't want to," Jimin said quietly, only intending Jungkook to hear. "I wanted to be a modern dancer at that time. It was only until I finished my first year here when I realized that I dance because of music, so I wanted to do music. You have to know what gives a lilt to your footsteps, so you can walk sure."

 

Jungkook bit his lower lip. Jimin was unconsciously melting into Jungkook—he was leaning heavily on Jungkook without noticing that he was doing so. Jungkook hesitated, but after a while, when he saw that Jimin's cheeks were still flushed and his eyes were still glassy, Jungkook slowly leaned back on him, embracing his presence, just to balance their weight out. Jimin's hair smelled like green apples—sweet and cool at the same time. He smelled clean, and Jungkook loved it.

 

"Have you ever regretted choosing what you want over what your parents want?" Jungkook asked.

 

Jimin struggled to hit the opponent. He was glancing on the screen and then on the controller, obviously new to the controls. He had skipped the tutorial.

 

"No, have you?" Jimin asked after his character's fateful death.

 

Jungkook didn't reply. He didn't talk for a long time.

 

"Hey, Jungkook, did you hear me?"

 

"Yeah," Jungkook reassured. "I heard. And, no, I can't regret a decision that I didn't make."

 

Jimin giggled. Jungkook felt his chest constrict. "Why, do you not want to be a stupid doctor?" Jimin teased.

 

Jungkook shrugged. Jimin turned to face him at the same time that Jungkook did—they were too close. Their noses were half an inch apart, yet only Jungkook seemed to notice. He looked away, flustered.

 

"It doesn't put a lilt to my footsteps," Jungkook admitted. "Medicine, I mean."

 

"And what do you think gives lilt to your steps?" Jimin asked gently. Jungkook froze at his tone.

 

"When I saw you perform at that club, some weeks ago," Jungkook admitted lightly.

 

Jimin grinned. "I make you happy like that? Don't fall in love with me—"

 

Jungkook shoved him off, causing Jimin to burst into laughter. Jungkook could feel his cheeks turning as red as Jimin's. He swore under his breath, embarassed.

 

"I was joking," Jimin said. He put up his index finger and promptly poked Jungkook on his side. Jungkook jerked against the action—and shoved Jimin away again.

 

"Stop it," Jungkook warned as soon as Jimin put up his finger again.

 

"Okay, okay." Jimin resumed the game and turned to the television again, but not after melting back to Jungkook. "What do you mean by what you said, then? I give lilt to your steps?"

 

"No, I meant, I think I always wanted to be, uhm," Jungkook said, stuttered. He gulped.

 

Jimin didn't mock him when he stuttered. He simply waited for Jungkook to answer. Which irritated Jungkook, because he felt like Jimin was analyzing him.

 

"Tell me," Jimin said.

 

"I don't know. I always thought that it would be cool if I could move to music like you do," Jungkook replied shyly. "It's silly, I know. Why would I take medicine if I wanted to be, uhm, a performer?"

 

"It's not silly," Jimin reassured. "It's a dream. And you shouldn't be embarassed to talk about yourself."

 

Jungkook flushed. "I'm not embarassed."

 

Jimin tutted. "What to do, what to do."

 

"I'm not," Jungkook insisted.

 

"Okay. Then tell me why you want to be a performer?" Jimin asked.

 

"You'll make fun of me."

 

Jimin's brows furrowed. "And why would I do that?"

 

Jungkook shrugged. "People always do."

 

"Why do you surround yourself with people who don't respect who you are?" Jimin asked.

 

"I'm not surrounding myself with people like that. It's just—it's the world," Jungkook said. "It's instinctive for others, I guess. It's a cold world, hyung."

 

"It doesn't have to be when you're with me," Jimin said.

 

Jungkook went quiet for a while. Then, he said, "I saw an idol on TV. I guess that's what started it. When I was a kid, we'd visit Seoul and I'd drag my mom to the streets just to see street dancers. I thought, that's it, that's what I want to be."

 

Jimin looked at Jungkook and smiled. Up close, Jimin's teeth weren't so perfect. One of his front teeth were ever so slightly crooked. The flaw was subtle enough that Jungkook could never tell from afar, but it was there. Jungkook wanted to run his tongue over Jimin's front teeth—just to feel its crookedness and confirm for himself that, yes, Jimin was no infallible person.

 

"Hoseok-hyung is an incredible dancer. Do you want him to teach you? You'd have to pay him, though," Jimin suggested.

 

Jungkook was too busy staring at Jimin's lips, so he took a while to reply. "I'll see if I have time."

 

Jimin elbowed him. "You have to prioritize your dream, Jungkook. Go make some time."

 

Jungkook nodded. He leaned against Jimin and returned his gaze to the screen. "You're gonna keep dying if you keep attacking the Voretooth like that."

 

"How should I do it, then?" Jimin asked. He started randomly pressing at buttons without looking at them and seeing if it could do any difference.

 

"Press the circle and then square. Attack, then dodge," Jungkook instructed. Jimin was very warm against his shoulder, despite the cold.

 

Jimin took ten entire seconds just to accomplish a two step instruction. He was obviously skittering between tipsy and sober, tipsy and sober.

 

They both watched Jimin's character die again. Jimin spoke through gritted teeth, "They're too strong."

 

"It's a level two Voretooth. You're in my profile, so the character is at level seventy-five. It's not the game. It's you." Jungkook reached out for the controller, but Jimin violently turned the controller away from him.

 

"It's my turn," Jimin warned. He looked at Jungkook and wagged a finger.

 

Jungkook, drunk with wanting to feel Jimin closer—closer, like the distance was going to kill him—wrapped his left arm around Jimin's waist and grabbed the left side of the controller. He used his right hand to grab the other side, and said, "You have to do it quickly. Like this."

 

Jungkook's hands were over Jimin's on the controller, so he was technically controlling the game through Jimin. He put his thumbs over Jimin's and demonstrated with speed. He could smell Jimin's shampoo better, even his fabric conditioner.

 

They quietly played the game. Something warm was growing in the pit of Jungkook's stomach and spreading all over his person. He let his mind clear with thoughts. All day he had been thinking, thinking, thinking. Thinking about the four pages he had to memorize for his speech at the banquet. Thinking about his three exams next week. Thinking about buying a new vacuum because it was impossible to sweep through the carpet in his room. Thinking about the speech, mostly, and how one mistake could throw his dad into blinding rage. Thinking about the names and faces he had to shake hands with. Thinking about how boring and uninteresting his classes were. Thinking about how cold he felt inside.

 

Yet, when he sat next to Jimin, he went quiet. Meek. Unpretentious. It was Jimin's warmth against his side. It was Jimin's smudged eye makeup. It was Jimin's Adam's apple bobbing up and down his throat every time he laughed or talked. He wanted to know what Jimin's throat felt like against his lips. But more than that, it was the way Jimin talked. Patiently, gently, respectfully, like Jungkook wasn't just another pretty boy with connections and money. Jimin talked to him like he wasn't St. Louis' favorite ragdoll.

 

When the night dragged on and Jungkook had grown drowsy with exhaustion, Namjoon thought to wrap things up. Jimin seconded the notion as soon as he felt Jungkook's head droop on Jimin's shoulder from sleepiness. He shook the boy awake while Namjoon cleaned up the beer bottles littering the room. Jimin untangled himself from Jungkook and smiled as he watched the boy crawl under the covers, murmuring a hurried goodnight. Jimin and Namjoon proceeded to wake up Taehyung, Jihyo, and Lisa, who were curled up in the bean bags. Yoongi, Hoseok, and Seokjin helped tidy the room with Jimin while Namjoon picked Taehyung up.

 

Jimin escorted them outside. He accompanied Jihyo and Lisa all the way to their side of the dormitory and made sure they both locked their doors as soon as they got inside. Jimin, now sober, walked back alone to his own room. Once he got inside, he saw that Jungkook wasn't on his bed anymore.

 

"Jungkook?" Jimin called out.

 

Jungkook made a sound from the bathroom. Jimin, who couldn't return to his room without passing through the bathroom, took a seat on Jungkook's desk chair and waited. Not a long while passed when the bathroom door swung open and out came Jungkook, visibly seething.

 

He didn't have to say what happened.

 

The bathtub had overflowed with water. Shirts littered around the bathroom floor, sopping wet.

 

"Idiot," Jimin swore at Jungkook.

 

They spent hours mopping the bathroom, swearing at each other, and going up and down the main stairs of the dorm just to fetch Jungkook's shirts to the laundry room. They were both hazy with the lack of sleep and, in Jimin's case, the alcohol still in his system, so they had first gone down to the laundry room only to realize they had remembered to bring detergent but had forgotten Jungkook's shirts. Not wanting to be left alone in the laundry room at two in the morning, they both cowardly stayed together to get the shirts. And then, once they had returned to the laundry room, Jimin realized he had dropped the detergent on Jungkook's floor. Which meant they had to go back again.

 

Jimin watched the clothes in the washing machine while Jungkook sat on the pink and white tiles, resting his back on the wall, his eyes closed. It was quiet in the building, and only the sound of the washing machine whirring and Jungkook humming filled the air.

 

Jimin felt his gut clench. He had moments like this back in Busan. He didn't have a word for this kind of peaceful silence, he could only describe it as what it felt like to be back home. He felt it once, when Hoseok and him spent an afternoon buying orange and melon popsicles after a difficult exam. They barely spoke that day. Hoseok and Jimin had merely sat on the park bench and watched the breeze pick up and assault the foliage of the sprawling trees. To have the same comfortable silence with Jungkook—Jimin didn't know what to make of it.

Chapter Text

Handsome boy.

 

That was what Jimin had started to mumble to himself every time Jungkook did something remotely pleasing.

 

Jungkook had previously left a message on the bathroom mirror—check the bathroom floor. Dry, right?

 

Handsome boy, Jimin thought, as he smiled to himself.

 

Contrary to preconceived notions of what having roommates was like, Jimin and Jungkook barely saw each other during the busy weeks. Jimin would already be halfway out the door as soon as Jungkook woke up in the morning, Jimin would be half knocked out on his bed when Jungkook was coming home from class, and they were almost always outside for the entire bulk of the day.

 

Until one evening, when time seemed to stand still, Jimin got up from his bed and sauntered over to his roommate's quarters.

 

He couldn't stop thinking of Jungkook's arm around his waist, the weight of his hand resting on top of his. He had been tipsy back then, skirting around drunk, so the memories had returned in quiet pulses. In the bathroom, right when Jungkook had just left, when the smell of his shampoo still lingered—that was when he remembered Jungkook's head leaning on his shoulder, softly snoring. He stood behind the door to the other room, staring at himself on the bathroom mirror.

 

One look, Jimin said to himself. One look at his handsome face, and then I'm going back to sleep.

 

The truth was that he wanted to know if Jungkook liked men. Jimin thought to decipher this by taking one, inconspicuous look.

 

Jimin rapped his knuckles on the door twice before proceeding to intrude.

 

"Hey," Jimin greeted, as nonchalantly as he could. Not like he wasn't sidling against Jungkook merely two nights ago.

 

"Hey," Jungkook said, obviously startled at the intrusion. He was sitting on his bean bag, a textbook over his lap, watching a show on the television. The fluorescent lights were off, and in its place was a lit yellow lamp, illuminating the room like it was from an old, 80s movie.

 

"Just came to say hi," Jimin said, the same time Jungkook said, "Come watch with me, hyung."

 

Jimin gulped. "Hm?"

 

Jungkook turned beet red. "It's kind of scary to watch alone."

 

Jimin turned to the television. "Stranger Things?"

 

"The second season."

 

So Jimin sat next to Jungkook on the floor, grabbed a pillow and a blanket from Jungkook's bed, and wiggled around until he was perfectly comfortable. All questions about sexuality forgotten. Because this thing that they had—this tentative curiosity, this unnameable peace that settled between them during the quiet—Jimin didn't want to ruin it. He met a lot of people in life, and only a handful ever had the same, unassuming, unpretentious aura.

 

Without both of them even realizing it, watching Stranger Things became a nightly routine whenever they couldn't sleep. Exhausted from the day, they barely spoke a word to each other. It was nice, Jimin thought, to have a friend in the gaps. To be with someone in a place where one was usually all alone.

 

Jimin had been alone for more than half his life. He was arrogant in that, too. He had always been so arrogant. So keen on self-sufficiency. During the day he could never admit on needing anyone, but on nights like these, when time seemed to stop and all the watching eyes slept, Jimin sat next to Jungkook and wished that the sun never rose.

 

He also wished, though, that he could stop thinking about Jungkook's hands.

 

One particular night, when Jungkook was a little antsy, a little delirious from exhaustion, he lay his head on Jimin's lap. They were sitting on Jimin's couch—the overstuffed sofa that the both of them dragged out of Jimin's room and installed in Jungkook's room instead after Jimin complained about his bottom hurting from sitting on the floor for too long.

 

Jungkook sagged against Jimin. This was new. When the sun was up, Jungkook avoided human contact like it was a disease.

 

"You okay?" Jimin asked, now knowing how futile it was to ask Jungkook such baseless questions. Jungkook could never answer questions pertaining to his well-being honestly.

 

"Don't wanna watch anymore," Jungkook replied, his voice muffled.

 

Even this came off as culture shock. Jungkook never clipped his words. He gave off speeches with his entire body, his entire soul emanating whole, unmarred words. But this Jungkook, heavy on Jimin's lap, covered with blankets, exhausted—well, it was a night of discovery.

 

Jimin reached out and mussed Jungkook's soft, too-long hair. He gently raked the tips of his nails against Jungkook's scalp, humming a ghost of a lullaby.

 

When Jungkook sighed from the sensation—a deliciously rich sound that Jimin wanted to feel against his own mouth—Jimin abruptly told himself to stop doing what he was doing. Stop trying to make Jungkook feel good.

 

"Come see this," Jimin murmured instead. Jungkook lifted his head.

 

Jimin pulled out his phone. They started watching anime analyses.

 

That was that, and nothing more.

 

×

 

Jimin had just gotten out of class when he decided that he would spend the rest of his free time inside the music department's dance studio. As he walked under the foliage of trees that lined the campus' walkways, Jimin could already hear the haunting bass from the studio. Hoseok was playing JiHope Mk 3, a dance routine that they performed two years ago—this was the routine that granted Jimin his partial scholarship. Jimin had performed exquisitely, but what bothered him the most, at that time, was that making the track made him feel more invincible than doing body rolls. Making music was like pressing your bare hand on the wet pavement of the universe. Once a song was created, no sinister method could ever unmake the rhythm or the flow. A dancer's muscles and bones grew tired and atrophied, but music lived forever.

 

He passed through a windowless white tiled hall, put his messenger bag on one of the benches pushed against the wall, and approached the door to the studio. Two pairs of familiar shoes lay next to the doormat—Hoseok's, and, Jimin thought with a jolt, Jungkook. Jungkook was here.

 

Jimin immediately started banging on the door. This was how they knocked, with loud bangs trying to overcome the equally loud music.

 

The door swung open after a short while. The sight of Jeon Jungkook in the studio left a chill in the bottom of Jimin's stomach. Seeing Jungkook was an attack to Jimin's senses. Tall and well-defined, with a face like that—Jungkook was attractive by default. He hailed crowds by merely existing. But Jungkook in motion, that was a completely different story. Completely different, even, from the Jungkook that leaned against Jimin in his exhaustion. He wondered if this was the same Jungkook who sighed under Jimin's reassuring hands.

 

Something about Jungkook dancing to Jimin's self-composed song sent him in a daze.

 

"Hey, how was class?" Hoseok asked Jimin. Jungkook turned to the both of them, distracted.

 

"Easy," Jimin replied. He was barely thinking about academics right now. "Hey, Jungkook."

 

Sweat was dripping down the tips of Jungkook's jet black hair.

 

"Hey," Jungkook greeted back, out of breath.

 

"You're following your dreams?"

 

Jungkook laughed. Full and contagious. Jimin felt his heart shatter. "You're my dream, hyung."

 

"Shut up," Jimin snorted. He turned to Hoseok. "I'm gonna practice here for a while. But really, Jihope Mk 3?"

 

Hoseok laughed. "It's the easiest to teach. Come, watch. He's a natural."

 

Jimin felt grateful that he didn't have to ask for permission. He'd watch Jungkook dancing to his own song through a peep in the wall. Hell, he'd watch it on binoculars from a mile away.

 

The moment the duo began again, Jimin looked away. It was pretty much inappropriate to stare too much. But there it was: Jungkook's sweat dampening his black shirt, his neck glistening. His composition began with a bass drop, and Jungkook was quick to react. The song was followed by a series of quick, techno beats, and Jungkook had managed to hit every single one of them.

 

"Ah, you're no beginner, Jungkook," Jimin commented, almost annoyed at how good he was. Too annoyed. Frustrated. Bothered. The amount of control Jungkook had on his movements—

 

"I told you, he's a natural," Hoseok butted in.

 

Jungkook was watching himself on the mirror as the dance unfurled. His brows were furrowed, and his jaw was set in a way that his dimples slightly showed. He was so focused, so engrossed in what he was doing, all his attention on his own reflection. It was until his eyes flitted to Jimin that Jimin realized that he really, really wanted to see Jungkook stretched out in the sheets of his bed, sweating, eyes closed, Adam's apple bobbing up and down in his throat, whispering nonsense, whispering things you could only say in the dark—

 

The song ended with a bang, almost snapping Jimin away from his thoughts. Almost. When Jimin wanted something, he was never shy about it. So many of his flings began with him staring, looking at them up and down, giving them his charming smile and following up with conspicuous innuendos. Whispering in their ears, touching their waists, their hips.

 

But when Jungkook laughed from one of Hoseok's jokes, he felt his stomach drop. It was complicated. It was not a one time thing. This was his dongsaeng and his roommate, and he really, really liked the sound of his laughter.

 

Jungkook had no inhibitions when he laughed. His shoulders rose to his ears and he smiled with his eyes. He had subtle wrinkles—laugh lines? Jungkook existing was a prim show on a proper stage, but Jungkook in motion—he was a thunderstorm and a desert wind. He was the silence after war. Jimin wanted to unspool every nook and cranny in Jungkook. He wanted to know his secrets, the dreams in his head, the mess between his strong legs. Too bad, Jimin thought. Too bad, too bad. Just too bad. So unfortunate. Simply debilitating.

 

Because Jimin, well, he was just not the type to have crushes.

 

"What do you think?" Jungkook asked Jimin after Hoseok went to the other room to get something.

 

Jimin grabbed a cold bottle of water from the cooler next to the couch, cracked the lid open, took a sip, put the cap back on, and threw the bottle at Jungkook's direction. Of course he would catch it.

 

"You didn't tell me you were actually good at dancing," Jimin commented.

 

Jungkook took a swig. Once the bottle was empty, he put the cap back on and wiped his chin with the back of his hand. "I can tell you all the things that I'm good at, hyung."

 

Jimin raised an eyebrow. "Why tell? Come here and show me."

 

A moment of silence fell between them. Just the two of them staring at each other. Then, Jungkook burst into laughter. "You're so transparent, Jimin."

 

"I can tell you all the things that I'm good at, hyung," Jimin mocked lightly. "You're so bad at this, Jungkook."

 

"You're cold," Jungkook said. "Not even a tiny, inconspicuous blush?"

 

"Do you want to see me blush, Jungkookie?" Jimin watched the boy grin from ear to ear.

 

"Stop," Jungkook pleaded, but he was laughing.

 

Jimin got up from the couch. He walked over to Jungkook, never letting go of his gaze, until he stood inches away from him.

 

"Why don't you make me?" Jimin flirted. But there was something so funny about the situation, he couldn't help but mirror Jungkook's big smile. If Jungkook were Taemin, Jimin would have kept a straight, unmoving face. He would have been challenging the boy, making sure he wasn't the first one to break. But it was Jungkook. And Jungkook was now giggling. Barely containing his laughter.

 

Jimin loved his laughter. Maybe because of the scarcity of it, or because of how it shook Jungkook's entire person. He wanted to kiss Jungkook's nose.

 

Instead, Jimin went on his toes and bit Jungkook's nose. Aggressively, so the younger boy knew that there was nothing behind the gesture. Jungkook burst out laughing even more, so shaken by the gesture. Jimin let go and felt himself laugh alongside Jungkook. They filled the studio with unruly laughter, shoving at each other until Hoseok returned to the room.

 

"Dance with us, Jiminnie," Hoseok asked. He used the tiny voice that he always used whenever he wanted something from Jimin, and, well, Jimin always relented.

 

"I need to practice for modern dance. Mk 3 is hiphop," Jimin reasoned, but he was already stretching his arms. He saw Jungkook laugh from the corner of his eye.

 

The best dancer out of the three of them was easily Hoseok, Jimin going second, and Jungkook, evidently, going last. He had talent, but he didn't have experience. He didn't have Jimin's fluidity or Hoseok's diligence to the music, and this was something Jungkook was completely aware of. Jimin saw his brows furrow at the realization that he may not be the best, and for Jungkook, that was enough conflict to start a spark in his movements. As the hours trickled by, Jimin carefully watched the way Jungkook quietly disciplined himself after every subtle mistake. He never did the same mistake twice.

 

"You'll get there, Jungkook," Jimin said during a water break.

 

Jungkook looked at Jimin. He was breathing heavily, obviously out of breath. Hoseok patted him on the back.

 

He was looking at Jimin with chilling reverence. "You have to teach me, hyung."

 

Jimin shook his head. "I can't."

 

Jungkook frowned.

 

Jimin was too out of breath to laugh, so he just gently shoved Jungkook away. "I'm busy, Jungkook."

 

He wasn't busy at all. Jimin just couldn't handle seeing Jungkook like this everyday. It was going to break his heart.

 

"Hey, let's go eat," Hoseok announced, halfway out the door.

 

"By the way," Jimin said. He looked at Jungkook, who raised an eyebrow. "Don't you have class?"

 

Jungkook's eyes widened.

 

He was out of the studio in less than ten seconds.

Chapter Text

Med students did not minor in dance. They also did not believe in karmic comedy. Yet, there it was.

 

Jungkook was two hours late in his five hour class with Professor Sejin, and the old man did not allow tardiness. He tried to sneak in the room, but one of the students had caught him and tattled—so now Jungkook sat behind the wheel of his BMW, lost and afraid. He tapped his fingers on the stirring wheel, turned the radio on, turned the radio off, read some of his notes. He now had three extra hours and he had the liberty to use them however he liked, but he found himself unable to start the car.

 

"Why do you think people succeed, mister Jeon?" Sejin had asked from behind his desk.

 

"People succeed by following their responsibilities," Jungkook had answered.

 

"That's where you're wrong. It is consistency that paves the way to success. Sure, I'll grant you a shovel, and you will dig me a hole. You're responsible enough to follow, but are you consistent enough to return to me, ask for another shovel, and dig another hole?" Sejin said. "You're not here to dig a hole, you are here to dig hard enough to make tunnels. Find the light at the end."

 

"I understand, sir."

 

"No, you do not. Mister Jeon, you have aced the past exam, you always come ten minutes early, and you never fail to answer all my questions. You were on the right path. But ninety-nine percent is different from a hundred. I don't care about the ninety-nine, I want your one hundred. And if you cannot give that to me, mister Jeon, then you have no place in my class."

 

That left Jungkook in the dark. He wasn't even sure jf he was still in the most esteemed class of St. Louis. He didn't know anything, and it did not sit well. Never sat well. Uncomfortable. He was so uncomfortable. The feeling of unknowing, of being strung along, of simply not being trusted enough to know anything—it was too uncomfortable. Jungkook felt like he was choking on his sweat soaked shirt.

 

He started the car. Started driving. Jungkook needed water, and there was a convenience store close by. Ninety-nine percent. What the hell did that mean, anyway? Jungkook knew what it meant. It meant trying his very best, and then not reaching excellency. Consistency. Consistency. He was so uncomfortable. He wondered if all his happiness would demand sacrifice. His happiness felt like two cards in a poker game—a game of gamble. If he won in one game would he win in another? What did it feel like to breathe without a cage?

 

Stop thrashing in your cage.

 

He had a dog once, in his childhood. She was a beautiful shih tzu with white and black fur. He and his mother would always wash Minnie every three days, just so Minnie could sleep next to Jungkook every night. His dad had bought Minnie a cage the moment he found out Minnie had bitten Jungkook while he slept.

 

"She's teething," Jungkook said, defending his dog. "They need to do that to satisfy themselves."

 

"It puts you in danger, Jungkook," his dad had replied.

 

He put Minnie in a cage. And Minnie kept freaking out inside, crying, howling, which made Jungkook uncomfortable. So uncomfortable.

 

"Stop thrashing in your cage," Jungkook whispered to himself. To Minnie. To himself.

 

It was around this time that Jungkook could safely say Yoongi-hyung saved his life.

 

The soft rumble of a white sedan pulling up right next to his car interrupted his poisonous thoughts. He didn't know what he could have done if Yoongi had not arrived.

 

Inside the plain car, behind the wheel, was Yoongi, hair bleached up to the roots, expression unreadable.

 

"The light's been green for quite a while now," Yoongi called out.

 

Jungkook looked at the traffic lights and was surprised that his hyung had been correct.

 

"You're trying to cook up a race, Jungkook?" Yoongi asked.

 

Jungkook's mouth went dry. He checked the geography and found himself a little shaken. He wasn't even paying attention to the road. He had driven himself to the more hidden parts of St. Louis' sprawling campus—the parts where the ultra rich set fireworks in parking lots, drag raced, and smoked whatever substance they could get their hands on. And no one ever tattled. Because Hank's End served the outlaws and the rulemakers—so many times had Jungkook stumbled into this part of St. Louis and ended up higher than heaven, right next to Dean's listers and borderline drop-outs. Their names, no matter how golden, were hidden.

 

But that was before. You couldn't quite flush drugs out of your system in a second or two, now that the school had implemented random drug tests. Jungkook would rather get caught dead than high.

 

But now, in this moment, Jungkook thought it no longer mattered. He might as well be kicked out of Sejin's class.

 

He slowly turned to Yoongi. Stepped on the gas while on neutral, letting the engine answer Yoongi's question. They watched the light turn orange, and then red—as soon as the pixels hit green, they were no longer Jungkook and Yoongi, but two taut lost adults chasing thrills on the road. Their tires screeched and their engines rumbled—hungry for speed, hungry to fill up the emptiness they held inside themselves.

 

Hank's End was really just a vast abandoned parking lot. It was built ten years ago to accommodate a mall, but now, with the mall nonexistent and the students restless and bored, Hank's End became a geographical spot famous for its secrets and explosions.

 

During the weekdays, though, the students hosted some sort of devil-may-cry stunt involving two four-wheel cars running on ninety and crashing into each other. The rules were simple:

 

1. You sacrifice your car.
2. You start your engine.
3. You run into the car opposite to you.
4. The first one to swerve loses.
5. Sometimes no one bothers to swerve.

 

Thus the toxic explosions.

 

Bets were placed as Jeon Jungkook of the biology department took himself and his sleek BMW into the center of the parking lot. His opponent: no one else but Min Yoongi, infamous for his trigger happy impulses. Yoongi, Jungkook quickly learned, had a track record of crashing zero cars. Cheers flooded the parking lot. Drinks were exchanged. Blunts were passed around. It smelled like smoke and something sweet—something that tasted a little more like salvation.

 

"My Bangtan brother!" Yoongi shouted from his car. His windows were rolled down.

 

Jungkook gave him the finger, causing a collective ooh. The crowd egged them on.

 

"Is that how you want to play, Jungkook-ah?" Yoongi shouted.

 

"Shut up," Jungkook shouted back, getting impatient.

 

Yoongi's sentiments were thrown only to distract Jungkook. Barely halfway through his sentence, Yoongi had stepped on the gas so suddenly—fast and mighty and impossible to swerve away from.

 

Jungkook stepped on the gas as hard as he could, until he no longer had control, and was hurtling towards his possible death.

 

Yoongi, a seasoned player, swerved away last minute.

 

Jungkook didn't.

 

He hit a parked car and watched, at awe, as the stars exploded.

 

×

 

Crashing was the hardest part. It was this: getting all the chemicals in your head jumpy and excited, reaching for the heavens, only for it to crash just minutes after. That was the downside of catching thrills, they never had the kindness to last forever. The more dangerous the thrill the longer it lasted was Jungkook's favorite philosophy. To stretch the impossible until he ripped it apart. To reach a high so egregious and seemingly unattainable that the crash tore you to hopeless threads: that was Jungkook's goal.

 

As soon as his eyes opened, Jungkook thought: Jimin-hyung is very pretty.

 

Jimin was looking down at him, a silver necklace hanging down his neck, his eyes impossibly sparkling. For one, hazy moment, Jungkook thought that maybe the most dangerous thrill of all was kissing Park Jimin's infamous, messy mouth.

 

As Jungkook propped himself up on his elbows, he figured out that he was lying down on the bed of a pick-up truck, the stars twinkling above him. He could hear cheers and small explosions from afar—he was still at Hank's End.

 

"How could you do that to Yoongi?" Jimin asked coldly, taking Jungkook away from his thoughts. The first thing Jungkook always noticed about Jimin was his lips—and his lips, right now, were not very pleased. "You wanted to kill yourself and you used my hyung as means. How could you do that to him?"

 

Jungkook furrowed his brows, shocked at the accusation. "I wasn't trying to—"

 

"You're so selfish," Jimin spat. "You could have ruined Yoongi."

 

"I'm not that fragile, Jimin," Yoongi butted in.

 

Jungkook groaned—his entire skull was throbbing.

 

"I've seen kids like him in the pit do that to themselves all the time," Yoongi continued. "It's a release. A thrill."

 

"He could have died, hyung," Jimin said.

 

"And we care so much why?" Yoongi almost taunted.

 

"Because he's just a kid," Jimin said, a little angry.

 

"He wasn't going to die. He had airbags. It happens all the time."

 

"I wasn't trying to kill—" Jungkook tried to explain but was quickly interrupted by the throbbing in his head. "Can someone please—?"

 

Jimin climbed up on the back of the truck, took one look at Jungkook, and reached out—

 

"Don't touch me," Jungkook snapped. He gulped. There was a haziness to the air that magnified his senses a thousandfold. He could see the glitter under Jimin's eyes. The sparkle of his subtle lip gloss. He wouldn't know what to do if he felt Jimin's skin. "Just call a fucking uber and take me to a hospital."

 

Yoongi snorted. "Really, Jimin. He's not going to be your new comfort boy toy. Quit it already."

 

"What the hell does that mean?" Jungkook asked, now annoyed. Not only was he clocked out from the impact of crashing into another car, now he had to deal with the possibility that Jimin, his roommate and probably the most beautiful man on earth, had been doing the things he had been doing to Jungkook to other boys, too. Or girls. Whatever. He really had no right to feel this creeping jealousy. Did he look at everyone else like he looked at Jungkook? With a sickly desire that he barely tried to cover up?

 

"Shut up, hyung." Jimin glowered at him. He took out his phone and began to book for an uber when Yoongi audibly tutted.

 

"I can't believe you're actually booking an uber," Yoongi said.

 

"He's dying, for goodness' sake—"

 

"Jimin, he is not dying. He is not. He's having a concussion, and he swore at you," Yoongi almost hissed. "And you're still going to do as he pleases? Aren't you sick of always being treated like crap? Is that what you're going to do for the rest of your life? Be a doormat?"

 

Jimin was quiet as he climbed down from the truck.

 

"You're no longer that small boy from Busan," Yoongi growled. "Stop letting people walk all over you."

 

"You don't know me," Jimin snapped.

 

"Shut up, I do. I do know you. I was your roommate for two years, I know you—"

 

"And then you left—"

 

"Stop changing the subject!" Yoongi shouted, causing a little bit of attention from the people around them. "Stop letting people like him take advantage of your kindness. He got you fired, Park Jimin. He got you moping around, anxious as hell, because for some time you had no idea how you were going to keep putting food in your mouth. So stop. Stop forgiving people and respect yourself, goddammit!"

 

Jimin pulled back his fist and swung at Yoongi, who barely dodged.

 

Yoongi and Jimin did not have a lot in common. The only thing they agreed on was the unmissable fact that they both had the shortest tempers. So when Jimin swung, Yoongi didn't have to think twice to do the same.

 

A fight breaking out at Hank's End wasn't unusual. The moment there was heat, the crowd only egged them on, fanning the fire like they were cooking barbiecue. Jungkook, now made of electric and slightly panicking as he saw the crowd that was beginning to form, got up from the bed of the truck and threw himself between Yoongi and Jimin. He towered over Jimin, causing him to back up.

 

He was wordless as he shoved Jimin away from Yoongi, fighting the incessant throbbing in his head. The entire place smelled like sweat and gasoline, mixed up with stale weed and vomit—Jungkook wanted to throw up on the sidewalk somewhere. He was drunk with pain and was crashing with adrenaline, his knees and back aching, begging him to lie down.

 

Jimin pointed his anger at Jungkook.

 

"Who the fuck do you think you are?" Jimin spat at him. Jungkook thought that it would take a long, long time before he could forget what Jimin looked like when he was livid. He pulled back his arm and swung at Jungkook—but Jungkook dodged, smart enough to read his movements and evade the attack.

 

"I'm sorry, okay?" Jungkook almost pleaded. "I'm sorry I got you fired—"

 

This time Jimin's fist hit Jungkook's gut. He doubled over, shocked by the surprise and the sharp pain that emanated from Jimin's fist.

 

Jungkook's senses were suddenly filled by the scent of strong cologne—Taehyung. He straightened up as Kim Taehyung dragged him away from Jimin, shouting swear words at his hyungs and flipping people off.

 

Namjoon and Hoseok had gotten into the fray, grabbing Yoongi and Jimin by the arms and pulling them apart. He could hear Jimin and Yoongi shouting the foulest, vilest words at each other, their voices hoarse and just so hurt, so hurt. Jungkook wondered what kind of life have they lived to have such hurt in every quiver of their voice. The chants only grew as Yoongi managed to slip away from Namjoon. He barreled his way through until he could get near Jimin—until Namjoon took hold of him again.

 

Jungkook, sick with too many sensations, pushed Taehyung away from him. Too many people. Too close. So uncomfortable. Ringing, relentless bells went off in his head, urgent and demanding space. Taehyung wasn't helping—Jungkook disliked the smell of men's cologne. Too acidic and sharp.

 

"Don't touch me," Jungkook said as politely as he could, gently shoving Taehyung away. "Can you please call an uber? I think I'm going to pass out. I'm lightheaded and—" Jungkook recalled the symptoms of anemia, fainting, and heavy concussions. "Can't see straight. Please. I'll pay for the uber."

 

×

 

"Jimin." Kim Namjoon had him sit on the empty cafeteria, miles away from Hank's End. He had dragged his dongsaeng by the ear just to get him out of the crowd.

 

"Shut up," Jimin said, annoyed. "You're not my dad. You're not my mom. Just shut up, Namjoon. You're not the authority figure you so badly want to be. We're not your stupid experiments, you philosophizing, psychological fuck."

 

"Jimin—"

 

"I'm not your dongsaeng. I'm not your brother—"

 

"Jimin, tell me what's wrong," Namjoon said. Gentle and unimposing.

 

Jimin swore under his breath. He ran his hands through his hair, pissed off and annoyed and ready to set something on fire just for the sake of it. His makeup was smudged, he smelled like smoke and sweat, and a bruise was beginning to form on his jaw. "Stop psychoanalyzing me."

 

Namjoon swore under his breath, brows furrowed. "I'm not psychoanalyzing you. I'm trying to be your friend."

 

Jimin tried to calm down. But as he did so, tears started filling up his eyes—so he assumed anger instead. It was better this way. Less messy. He looked away from Namjoon, ran a hand through his hair, swore under his breath, and laughed to himself. He was losing it.

 

"What were you even doing in that place?" Namjoon asked, referring to Hank's End. "Have you been using?"

 

Jimin glared at him. His voice was almost a growl when he said, "I would never do that to myself."

 

Although, it was only fair for Namjoon to assume the worst. Only a handful of students were scholars in St. Louis. Everybody else were either sons or daughters of wealthy politicians, exploitative CEOs, corrupt congressmen, the likes. For the scholars, alienation was a pretty common thing. If there were only eight of you in the whole campus: six boys and two girls, it would be a wise decision to stay together. Family, Namjoon had dropped one drunken night, when the six of them sat around the rooftop. After that, they swore upon themselves that they would take care of each other, no matter their differences. One of their bigger differences always had something to do with Hank's End: Yoongi's insatiable need to over speed and orchestrate car crashes, Taehyung's addiction to countless vices, and Jimin, well, Jimin's obsession with heedless, hedonistic sex. All three of their predilections could be found swimming around Hank's End. All three, however, right after they had found each other and swore to protect each person, curiously stopped trying to ruin their lives and clung on to each other's happiness like moths to flames. Namjoon wanted to keep it that way. He was the wisest among them—but only because he had tasted rock bottom. You had to know every corner of Hank's End to end up being as seasoned and aware as Namjoon. He knew, this old, wizened soul, that nothing in Hank's End could ever be worth ruining your life for. So they watched over each other. Tried their best to take care of each other. Loneliness was a chasm, and there they were, all six of them, hanging by a thread, with nothing but their bond keeping them suspended.

 

"Then what were you doing there?"

 

Jimin looked away. "I just—I saw Yoongi. I thought I'd get him out before he did anything dangerous."

 

He was lying through his teeth. Yoongi could take care of himself. The truth was that Jimin was looking for Taemin, or Jongin, or Jiwon—anyone, if he were to be painfully honest. The night had been crackling with unrest, Jungkook wasn't in his room, and everybody else was busy doing other things. Months ago, he would have been buried under work. But only some days after getting a full scholarship, Jimin had already found himself stone cold bored. He just got out of rehearsals, and it always left him extraordinarily needy for things he'd rather not say.

 

But well, Yoongi had masterfully interrupted. Like he always did. Upon seeing Jimin enter the circle, he dragged the younger boy to the pick up truck, humiliated him, pointed out every flaw that Jimin was already aware of, as if Yoongi had every right.

 

"Something's wrong with me, hyung," Jimin said. He let his tears go, feeling them slide on his cheeks. "Something's—something's—"

 

"Did something happen back home?" Namjoon asked. "Have you been eating enough?"

 

Jimin shook his head, and then nodded at the second question. He stopped crying, just like that. Wiped away his tears. Looked up at the lights. The cafeteria was empty except for him and Namjoon. The group had been separated into three: Hoseok and Jin were to calm Yoongi down. Taehyung and Jungkook had gone to the hospital. So Jimin had Namjoon. It only made sense. When Jimin was at his worst, Namjoon was there to help him get back up. He was one of the very few people who knew what Jimin's worst looked like—teetering on broke, starving, and delirious with keeping his grades up.

 

"Am I being a doormat, hyung?" Jimin asked quietly.

 

Namjoon raised his brows. "What gave you the idea?"

 

Jimin gulped. "That's what Yoongi told me. That I was letting people walk all over me."

 

"You have a natural people-pleasing disposition, Jimin. It's just who you are. If Yoongi sees this as a weakness, then that's on him. But, well, he made a point. You shouldn't let people walk all over you," Namjoon said.

 

Jimin scowled. "I don't do that at all."

 

Namjoon made a face that meant he disagreed. "You do it so subconsciously, you probably don't realize it. You just have to be more aware. Focus on self-preservation."

 

Jimin looked down at his hands. His knuckles were turning purple. "You want to tell me why you think I'm like this, psychologist?"

 

Namjoon sighed. "You'd have to pay me."

 

Jimin smiled at that. "Come on. Humor me. Why do you think I'm like this?"

 

"I think it's because you grew up with little love, Jimin," Namjoon replied monotonously. Uncaring, just like what Jimin preferred. He didn't like being pitied, and of all people, it was Namjoon who knew that best. He cleared his throat. "There are holes in you where love should have been, early on in your childhood. And this has significantly affected the way you interact with others. It's like you're always begging to be liked, to be loved, even by the people who aren't good for you."

 

"Thanks for that, professor," Jimin replied, unamused. "You should probably buy me ramen since I'm so broken."

 

"You can go and kiss my ass, Park Jimin," Namjoon said, dismissing his request. He got up, stretched, and yawned. "Take care of yourself, chim."

 

"Don't call me that."

 

"Goodnight, chimmy."

 

"I will kill you," Jimin shouted at Namjoon's back.

 

×

 

Jimin wasn't surprised to see Taehyung and Jungkook sitting on the couch in Jungkook's room. Jimin's couch. In Jungkook's room. He leaned on the doorway as he examined his feelings. The initial anger was gone, the only thing left was this cold, hard suspicion that Jungkook was just using Jimin. For his couch. His presence. Did it even matter who he was with, as long as it was anyone in the moment? Would he have asked Taehyung to watch scary episodes with him if it were Taehyung who lived ten steps away?

 

"Hyung," Taehyung whined the moment he saw Jimin. "I think the doctors killed Jungkook."

 

"What are you saying?" Jimin stared at Jungkook. He was sitting down, leaning on the back of the sofa, legs crossed, arms crossed, eyes closed.

 

"They put him on painkillers," Taehyung replied.

 

"For what?"

 

"I didn't hear much, but he was talking about bone fractures," Taehyung answered.

 

Jimin's eyes widened. "Bone fractures?"

 

"It was just a concussion, Tae," Jungkook mumbled impatiently, his eyes still closed. "And then I had a migraine so I asked for something to ease the pain."

 

Jimin saw his vision darken. "Don't condescend to Taehyung."

 

"I wasn't. I was just explaining," Jungkook half snapped, his eyebrows furrowed.

 

"Don't talk to him like he's a child," Jimin reiterated.

 

"I'd be gentle if the bruise you gave me wasn't hurting so much." Jungkook opened his eyes and immediately zeroed in on Jimin.

 

"I don't care if you're hurting," Jimin replied coldly.

 

"Bone fractures?" Jungkook imitated what Jimin had gasped out a few seconds ago in a slightly higher pitch.

 

"Shut up, Jungkook."

 

"Whatever Jimin."

 

"I don't regret punching you," Jimin said haughtily.

 

"Maybe you should come here and do it again," Jungkook huffed.

 

Jimin barely hesitated. He crossed the room and stood right in front of Jungkook, and as he did so, he felt his stomach turn. Looking down at Jungkook, at his long eyelashes framing his doe eyes, his wavy hair kissing the skin of his forehead, the way he leaned back on the couch like he owned the place, the way he was dressed in all black—he was so beautiful it was giving Jimin a headache.

 

"Maybe I should give you hell, Jungkook," Jimin said darkly.

 

Jungkook looked up at Jimin, his expression odd and unreadable. Not quite pleased.

 

"Maybe you should," he replied, his voice dropping an octave.

 

Taehyung cleared his throat. "I told you, Jimin. He's on painkillers."

 

Jimin cocked his head to the side, his attention still on Jungkook. "If I hurt you will you feel it?"

 

Slowly, Jungkook reached out for Jimin's wrist. Fingers on his skin, Jimin thought with a gulp, feeling a bud of panic rise. He let Jungkook stir him until he was sitting beside him on the couch. Jimin and Taehyung sandwiched Jungkook, their thighs pressed together, something Jimin was grateful for—because of the added warmth, of course, and nothing else.

 

"Yes," Jungkook answered, his voice cold, contrary to his actions. His gentle hand still on Jimin's wrist. There was nothing violent about this boy. Jimin felt the beginning of guilt settle in his gut. "I'm on pain meds, not anesthesia."

 

Jimin faced Jungkook and hooked his elbow on the back of the sofa. He leaned his cheek on his palm, as if Jungkook was a movie and Jimin was the audience. And Jungkook was a very interesting movie. His eyes were glassy and his cheeks were pink, as if he were stuck in a haze. So handsome, Jimin thought, so unbearably handsome. From the curve of his nose to the peak of his cupid's bow. From his eyebrows to the strong line of his jaw. Jimin had never seen anyone this pleasing to look at. He could look at Jungkook for days without getting bored. He'd start with the veins lining Jungkook's arms and end with the nape of his neck. He'd count all the moles on his face, from the one under his lower lip to the one hiding under his nose.

 

Jimin, so enamored, barely saw that Jungkook was staring back with the same, sobering intensity.

 

"How much does it hurt?" Jimin asked, his voice softening.

 

Jungkook glared, pissed off. He leaned back on the back of the couch, exposing his throat. "Don't condescend to me."

 

Jimin reached out and tucked a curl behind his ear—he watched Jungkook close his eyes and slightly shudder under his touch.

 

"I'm not condescending to you," Jimin replied. He wondered if Jungkook shuddered all the same if it were Jimin's mouth on his skin. God, Jimin thought. He wasn't even supposed to be kind to him—what happened to all those questions about Jungkook's authenticity? About treating Jungkook like a dongsaeng? But, really, who was Jimin kidding? He liked Jungkook like he liked certain dark things. With caution, indefinite, and inconsistently. He liked Jungkook in the sun, his smile, his laugh, his movements to his own song, but this Jungkook, this dangerous, handsome boy—was a side of him that belonged to the dark. He wasn't sure which side he liked best. He only knew he wanted to see through it until the very peak. Jimin wanted to drive Jungkook to the edge—what did his deepest laughter sound like? He wanted to make him laugh until laugh lines were etched around his eyes. He wanted to put Jungkook in his mouth and hear him gasping in the dark, begging, writhing, saying Jimin's name as if it were a prayer.

 

"I didn't even know you could get high from painkillers," Taehyung thought offhandedly. Just like that, Jimin's attention was ripped away from Jungkook.

 

"Don't even think about it, Tae," Jimin warned, brows lowering. He knew that Taehyung had little to no impulse control, with the "little" coincidentally being Min Yoongi. But Yoongi was just as caught up in his own predilections, and no matter the weight of the friendship, Yoongi was still not responsible for Taehyung's decisions. So, all of them in Bangtan had to claw each other out of each of their holes. "What were you even doing in Hank's End?"

 

"I don't know, what were you?" Taehyung replied smartly.

 

"I asked you first," Jimin said.

 

"You were born first. You should answer first," Taehyung said pointedly, as if it made sense.

 

"Come on, Tae. I won't tell anyone," Jimin said. It was a straight up lie. Any sign that Taehyung was drowning and Namjoon was the first one to know.

 

Jungkook exhaled. His eyes were closed now, his lips slightly parted. Jimin gulped, attention now on the younger man. "Go sleep on your bed, Jungkook."

 

Jimin spared his bed a glance and saw that every inch of it was covered with discarded clothes, some books, and sheets of paper. He had a habit of leaving all his important things on his bed and never giving space for himself, something Jimin noticed some weeks before.

 

Jungkook scooted closer to Jimin, pressing hips against his as naturally as he could. He buried his face on Jimin's arm and shoulder and whispered incoherent things against the fabric of Jimin's sweater.

 

Jimin could not move. He could smell Jungkook—laundry detergent and flower scented shampoo. Lavender, Jimin thought, and something more than that, something else, something personal. A scent that only belonged to Jungkook: cool and refreshing, like if Jimin could smell the purest water instead of taste.

 

Taehyung snorted. "How come you're cuddling with Jimin and not with me? I was here longer."

 

"He's—he's on painkillers, Tae. Don't take it personally," Jimin said.

 

Jungkook made a small noise against Jimin. He was scooting closer and closer, as if the minuscule distance was killing him. "I like the way Jimin-hyung smells."

 

"Are you saying I'm stinky, Kook?" Taehyung said, almost demanding.

 

Jimin reached out and ran his fingers through Jungkook's hair slowly, relishing the feel of his soft hair between his fingers. He gently raked his nails on Jungkook's scalp and felt him shudder—again—against Jimin. Jimin kept doing it, making Jungkook feel good, until Jungkook put an arm around Jimin's waist to still himself, now self-conscious about the way he couldn't control his movements against Jimin's hand in his hair.

 

Jimin knew he was slightly taking advantage. Jungkook had gone through a concussion, was apparently going through a migraine, and was now marching through the effects of painkillers. Something about this was cunning and wrong, like he was taking something from Jungkook that Jimin knew he would never give. His gentleness, Jimin thought. Or the way he sighed when Jimin pressed his cheek against the top of Jungkook's head, almost hugging him.

 

"You sleepy, Jungkook?" Jimin whispered. He felt Jungkook shake his head against him. Jimin was stealing this too—his honesty.

 

"Can you stop hating me, hyung?" Jungkook asked, surprisingly firm. He moved away from Jimin to look him in the eyes.

 

It was like his words were a match and Jimin was an oil spill. Just a determined stare and an almost-request, and Jimin was already burning.

 

"I don't hate you," Jimin answered honestly. "I just—I don't understand you. You were ruthless when we first met."

 

Jungkook's stare traveled to the ceiling. Jimin watched his Adam's apple bob up and down.

 

"He's just shy," Taehyung said sleepily from beside Jungkook. "Can't you see?"

 

Jungkook smirked at that. "Am I, Tae?"

 

"Shy and a bastard," Taehyung reiterated.

 

"You know him well?" Jimin asked monotonously.

 

"Yeah," Taehyung replied. "Only because he reminds me of you, hyung."

 

Jungkook lazily went back to staring at Jimin. "How so?" He asked Taehyung without looking away from Jimin.

 

"When Jiminie-hyung moved here, he locked himself in his room for days," Taehyung said with a huge yawn. "Reminds me of someone in particular."

 

Jimin looked away from Jungkook and leaned back on the couch, looking at the ceiling instead. "Come on, Tae. Don't spill my secrets like that."

 

"Tell me more," Jungkook said with a slight nudge at Taehyung's side.

 

Taehyung stretched his arms and got up from the couch. He looked at Jimin and Jungkook, at how their shoulders were touching—and smirked, like he knew something they didn't. Taehyung kept up this air of obliviousness, but really, he wasn't what he seemed. "You should ask him. Kiss his neck and he'll tell you everything."

 

Jimin kicked at Taehyung. "Go away, Tae."

 

Taehyung shrugged with a teasing grin before walking himself out of the room. "Goodnight, you two."

 

"How does he know that?" Jungkook asked after a while.

 

"Why, do you wanna test it out if it's true?" Jimin teased. Something he could manage if he averted his eyes from Jungkook. He knew he was staring, knew he was studying Jimin as much as Jimin studied him.

 

Jimin felt him move away. He moved to the other end of the couch, detaching himself from Jimin, and put his feet up as he lay sideways, his ear pressed on the back of the couch, his gaze zeroed in at Jimin. "Do you want me to try, hyung?"

 

Jimin snorted. "I want you to go fuck yourself."

 

"Would you like to watch me?"

 

Jimin grabbed a slipper from the floor and flung it at Jungkook, who blocked the throw. Jungkook broke into a fit of boyish giggles at Jimin's reaction. When he laughed, Jimin slowly noted that his shoulders shook and his laugh lines showed around his glassy eyes—so uncharacteristic of how Jimin perceived Jungkook. He had thought of him as someone cool, brooding, and full of himself, but really, Jungkook was alarmingly just a boy. "I'm only joking, hyung," Jungkook explained.

 

Jimin put his socked feet up on the couch and lay sideways, too, imitating Jungkook. He dug his feet in between the partition in the middle of the cushions, seeking warmth. He leaned back on the couch and smiled, too tired to match Jungkook's quiet laughter.

 

"Are you sleepy?" Jungkook asked.

 

"No," Jimin lied. He wanted to stay like this just a little bit longer. "Tell me why you're so different from the first time I met you."

 

"It was—an anniversary of some sort," Jungkook answered nonchalantly. "The first time I met you was on the day my mom left my dad and I. A year ago on that same day. I wasn't thinking straight. I know it's not an excuse to be terrible to others. That day—I wasn't—wasn't really being—"

 

"It's okay, Kook," Jimin said with a sigh. He understood. He said it in the gentlest way possible, working his way into Jungkook's easy side.

 

"Sometimes it isn't okay. I lashed out. Couldn't manage to calm down," he replied. Jimin learned that Jungkook was easily affected, no matter how gentle his words. The laughter in his eyes slowly faded, and his gaze had gone far off, inaccessible. He seemed to grow still—until Jimin placed his socked feet on Jungkook's, giving him some semblance of warmth.

 

"Do you still talk to her?" Jimin asked, rubbing his socked feet against Jungkook's almost playfully. He didn't understand why he had to look so pained, as if the mere act of being an asshole caused some kind of turmoil. It was life, Jimin thought. You win some you lose some. He had lost his job, and earned a full scholarship in return.

 

Jungkook gave him a ghost of a smile. "Yeah, sometimes."

 

"But it's different now, isn't it," Jimin connected for him.

 

Jungkook nodded. "Because she'll never be home again."

 

Jimin watched as Jungkook placed his feet over Jimin's.

 

"We have the same size feet," Jungkook noted, smiling a little.

 

"You have to forgive yourself sometimes," Jimin blurted out. "For reacting. For having emotions."

 

Jimin could pretty much tell when another person returned to their neutral headspace. Like the comedown of drugs or the slow, painstaking sobering of a drunk person. He could see Jungkook's eyes get clearer, could see how he subtly retracted his feet from atop Jimin's. Guilt worked its way in Jimin—maybe he shouldn't have ran his hand through Jungkook's hair, maybe he shouldn't have taken a step when Jungkook taunted him to hurt him again. There was a difference between what Jungkook needed at the moment and what he wanted in the long run. He sought for someone who smelled good—merely for comfort, and that had been Jimin. He needed physical closure, just as much as other people who had been through pressure and impact.

 

It dawned to Jimin that Yoongi was wrong. Jungkook wasn't Jimin's comfort boy toy. In fact, it was the other way around.

 

There was a reason why, a year ago, Jimin and Yoongi had fooled around in their shared rooms. It was nothing more but physical need, and whoever was pretty enough within a ten step radius and was also as willing—in their case, Yoongi and Jimin to each other. Between them, affection and sex meant only the result of a failed date or a need for release before a particularly daunting exam. Jimin had an inkling that grew into a stone in his stomach that Jungkook was merely pulling a Yoongi. That this attraction between them was only the result of their nearness to each other—literally right next door.

 

Jimin realigned his thoughts. Turned them over. He looked at Jungkook and watched him get up from the couch and stretch, leaving Jimin alone.

 

Two could play at this game. He could be friends with Jungkook, sure. But all the subtle touches and the late night semi-cuddles, he would have to train his mind to interpret them as nothing but physical needs, not necessarily weighing anything. Jimin could draw the lines. He was very good at drawing all the lines. He had lines around him and Taemin; don't call after sex, Jimin would say, if it makes you feel like you're cheating on Minseok. He had walls built especially for Jiwon; if we pretend this never happened, Jimin would whisper, then we can pretend that you're a straight man when you walk out of this room. He had a barricade especially crafted for Jongin—after every strenuous rehearsal for another local competition or a screening, the loud bass from the huge speakers in the studio was enough to overwhelm the sounds that they whimpered at each other's mouths—call me, Jongin would always tell him, if you're ready to stop being an arrogant son of a bitch and let me give you kisses that actually mean something. In which, naturally, Jimin ignored. Jimin had all the lines in the world.

 

Jungkook frowned at him. "You have a bruise forming on your cheek, hyung."

 

"You wanna kiss the pain away, Jungkook?" Jimin taunted. He was drawing all the lines. Scratching them on the carpet.

 

"You flirt too much," Jungkook said. He turned away to go to the bathroom.

 

Jimin got up from the couch, shaking away the haziness of being caught up on Jungkook's gentleness. He stepped into Jungkook's personal space as the younger boy emerged from the bathroom with a pack of ice in his hands.

 

Jimin cocked his head to the side. He was dangerously close to Jungkook. Judging. The first thing to know where to draw the lines was to know the limitations. He watched as Jungkook turned pink—

 

"You should use this to stop the swelling." Jungkook grabbed a shirt from his desk, wrapped it around the ice, and softly pressed it on Jimin's cheek. Religiously. Like he was scared of hurting Jimin. Not like Jimin didn't just clock Jungkook in the gut, knowing exactly where it would hurt the most, and landing his fist true.

 

Jimin inaudibly sighed at the cold against his cheek. He put his hand over Jungkook's and pressed a little harder, melting into the comfort. He instinctively closed his eyes.

 

"Thank you," Jimin murmured.

 

"Where else hurts?" Jungkook asked.

 

"I have a headache," Jimin almost whined. He caught himself dead and cleared his throat before Jungkook registered any of it.

 

He didn't know what to feel when Jungkook looked at him like that.

 

"I'm sorry about your mother," Jimin said, redirecting Jungkook's concern. Jimin seemed to fail at drawing lines when Jungkook was looking at him like that.

 

Jungkook laughed a little. "She's not dead, hyung. I can talk to her whenever I want to. Do you want me to get you something for your headache?"

 

Jimin took the makeshift ice wrap from Jungkook and shook his head. "No, I got myself covered. Night, Jungkook."

 

He was halfway to his room when he stopped. He turned around, peeked through Jungkook's door, and found him making space in his bed.

 

"Jungkook?" Jimin called. He could work with friendship. He just had to make the lines a little thicker.

 

Jungkook looked up. "Yeah?"

 

"I don't hate you."

 

"What if I lock you in the bathroom again?"

 

Jimin groaned. Rolled his eyes. "It's like you're asking for me to punch you again."

 

They laughed.

Chapter Text

It was easy to not think about Jungkook's internal turmoil when he was knee-deep in school work. In St. Louis, there were lazy days when the professors barely showed up and all Jungkook did was stay in his room and play video games for hours, but then there were weeks when Jungkook barely got any sleep, too busy hunched over his messy desk, pouring through handouts and modules and textbooks thicker than the bible, preparing for four exams stuffed in just three days.

He had asked his dad to give Professor Sejin a persuasive call to get Jungkook back to Sejin's good graces, knowing the sinister nature of abusing his provilege. He discussed this with Jimin one night, on the rare occasion that Jimin hung around Jungkook's room. He was sitting on his bed, reading a book about heart conditions, and Jimin was stretched out on the couch rewatching Naruto on Jungkook's Netflix account.

"Think about it. It's either you pull some strings and feel bad, or you drop the subject and still feel bad," Jimin reasoned, focused on the show. Jungkook looked up from his book to ogle at him. Jimin's face was bare. He was dressed in a loose tee and pajama pants, his shirt so thin Jungkook could see the outline of his clavicle on the sleeves of his shirt. He dazedly thought his hyung was built like a bird: lithe and strong, slim yet lean. A dancer's body, if Jungkook could describe one.

Jungkook looked away.

Ever since that night in Hank's End, Jimin seemed to be more distant. More disinterested. He barely even looked at Jungkook these days. He'd pass through Jungkook's room with a nonchalant greeting, heading straight for the door every time he had to leave. Sometimes Jimin didn't even bother to go home, spending days in places only Jimin knew, and only returning to their dorm during the weekends.

Jungkook was okay with that, though. His roommate was a music major who minored in modern dance, and judging from how tidy he kept the bathroom and how early he got up in the morning and how late he got home, Jungkook assumed Jimin was probably twice as hardworking as him, which was saying something, because Jungkook's own bloodless process was akin to a frantic, well-oiled machine. They barely got any free time, and on the off chance that they did, they were usually too tired to talk, always letting Hoseok or Taehyung do the talking whenever one of them dropped by.

Although sometimes Jungkook couldn't deny that he wanted more of Jimin. Every time he visited the dance studio, he always had his fingers crossed, wishing Jimin was there to practice with him and Hoseok, have a beer or two while making up choreographed dances for one of Jimin's premature songs.

To repair something that he couldn't even name yet—friendship? They were already friends. Was it their almost-flirting conversations, their hidden smiles, or Jimin's lingering stares that he missed—? Jungkook, as casually as he could, asked Jimin what kind of body wash did he prefer, and after Jimin had shrugged and nonchalantly replied that he liked the smell of coconut, Jungkook found himself standing alone between two grocery aisles, a half-full cart in front of him, and two different brands of coconut scented body wash on his hands. He sniffed the first one, found it too strong and tropical, and sniffed the other one, only to find it too mild.

He was stuck in this coconut scented conundrum when he felt two arms wrap around his waist and almost lift him up from the ground—Taehyung, Jungkook thought.

"Jungkook-ah, what are your thoughts on going to a frat party?" Taehyung asked, giddy and excited.

"Depends on the frat," Jungkook replied as Tae untangled himself from him.

"It's Lee Taemin's." Yoongi, who was picking up bottles of shampoo and putting them on the basket he was holding, butted in the conversation. "Hey, Jeon. How's your BMW?"

"Took my entire allowance to get it fixed," Jungkook replied. "Now I live on instant ramen and Jimin's leftovers."

Taehyung and Yoongi laughed. "Make sure your roommate eats, yeah?" Yoongi requested monotonously.

"You two are good now, right?" Jungkook asked.

He watched Taehyung reach out and arrange Yoongi's hair around the thick black headband he wore, watched Yoongi swat Tae's hand away with a small smile on his face.

"Jimin and Yoongi always fight, it's a daily occurrence. Then they make up five minutes later," Taehyung answered with a shrug.

Jungkook handed them the coconut scented bottles of body wash. "Which smells better?"

Their opinions frankly didn't help. After Tae chose the first one and Yoongi chose the second one, Jungkook nipped the argument in the bud by asking, "This frat party you were talking about, is it the one at the end of Rayleigh Drive?"

"Exactly that one," Yoongi said.

"You should come. All the Bangtannies are coming, even Jihyo," Taehyung chimed in. "I think she likes you, Kook. She has you painted as this ex-frat boy med student who wears all black and woos all the women in his life. Wait until she sees your tattoo."

"Everyone from Bangtan?" Jungkook asked. He felt a flower bloom in his gut and crawl its way up his throat just at the thought of seeing someone.

"You have a tattoo?" Yoongi asked while he and Taehyung deposited the coconut scented bottles of body wash in Jungkook's cart.

"Buy both, just in case," Taehyung advised.

"I can't buy both," Jungkook whined. "I spent all my cash on my stupid car. I'm on a budget. Can you please just tell me which one Jimin-hyung would like more?"

Silence ensued. Taehyung and Yoongi glanced at each other.

Yoongi cleared his throat. "He would love the milder one. Did he tell you to buy something for him?"

"No," Jungkook answered honestly.

Yoongi blinked. "So, it's a gift?"

"Jimin never asks anyone to do his errands for him," Taehyung lightly informed. "He's very keen on independence. If you're trying to sweep him off his feet, you should—"

"I'm not trying to do that," Jungkook corrected rather harshly. He ran a shaky hand through his hair. "I just thought it would be a nice gesture."

"You're so cute, Kook-ah," Taehyung cooed, which Jungkook retaliated with a glare.

"We better get going," Yoongi said after some seconds of Taehyung poking Jungkook and Jungkook shoving him away.

"Should I tell Jihyo you're coming?" Taehyung asked just as they were about to wave goodbye.

"I have an exam in two hours. Might not get there before eight," Jungkook replied. He also had a speech to throw in an hour in one of the biggest charity drop off-campus.

Exactly an hour and five minutes later, Jeon Jungkook of the Jeon family name was caught throwing up inside a sickly blue portapotty, his father's assistant waiting at his side with a plastic cup of water in her hand.

"That's good, Jungkook," she remarked, as if she was proud of his inability to keep it together. "Does it feel good?"

Jungkook looked up, sweat dripping down his neck, and glared at her with utter disbelief. "What do you think?"

"I think it's bad for your throat. I think you want to cleanse your mouth with this." The assistant handed him the cup, in which Jungkook gladly accepted.

He gargled and spat on the potty, closing his eyes at the putrid stench. He was sweating down his waistcoat, his slacks uncomfortably sticking on his thighs.

"That's the novelty of pain. Every time you think you want to retch, remember how it hurts your throat. Then, never do it again."

She earned another heartfelt scowl from Jungkook.

"You're not making any sense," he said.

"Because you're not looking at this the way you should. I'll ask you again, does it hurt—it's a yes or no question."

Jungkook nodded painfully.

"Then, remember, and never do it again. Numb yourself." He watched her button and unbutton the front of her blazer, discomfort stitched between her eyebrows. Maybe it was the ordeal of being stuck inside a cramped portapotty with Jungkook, the stench of vomit circling the air.

"Did my dad ask to marry you again?" Jungkook asked. He tried to flush the toilet.

"Yes," the assistant sighed.

"Is it because he loves you?"

"That's a stupid question."

"Come on, Kiko," Jungkook whined, exasperated.

"Your father is a shark," Kiko replied coldly. "If I were to swim inside an aquarium full of sharks, I'd pet every single one—except him."

Jungkook laughed. "Yeah, but he's a wealthy shark."

"And I am, too," Kiko replied with a snort. "I'll build my castle, somewhere far away from sharks."

"Can I be the butler?" Jungkook asked with a small smile.

"Oh, Jungkook. You're nothing but the spine I lay my feet on," Kiko answered.

Jungkook and Kiko laughed as they stumbled out of the portapotty and back into the event.

"You're looking a little bit pale," Kiko commented as they wove their way through the crowd. People of all shapes and sizes decorated the field, their attention turned to the podium situated under the large sycamore tree. The sun was high and unforgiving, the smell of sweat and something sweet growing exponentially in result. Everyone was dressed in suits and loose money, jewels kissing the women's necks and silver teeth glinting just beneath aged lips. It was a political party disguised as a high-stakes auction and then dipped in pretty names like 'charity for the children' or 'hearts with hands.' Jungkook had chosen to stay in the dark—whatever title they named the gathering, it all boiled down to one thing: the greed of men.

"Maybe you should ask your roommate to help you with your sickly pallor," Kiko suggested, zapping Jungkook back to reality. "Maybe borrow a foundation or two? He is an absolutely gorgeous man."

"How do you even know about my roommate?" Jungkook asked, a little agitated.

"I care about you," Kiko joked.

Jungkook snorted. "God, Kiko."

"Your father asked me to do some light sniffing around. You told him you didn't want to leave the dormitories for the poor—"

"It's for scholars, not for the poor—"

"Having a little fun living in austerity? Let me tell you, you'll miss the automated hot water soon enough."

"That's unsolicited advice," Jungkook shot at her.

"And about the circulating video of you dressed in a, what, coffee bean mascot? That was questionable. But I had one of your father's PR manager report and delete the video," Kiko said. She flipped her dark hair off her shoulder. "Have you been drinking again?"

"Why don't you just marry my dad if you're so bent on getting him exactly what he wants?" Jungkook sniped.

"Because you would be a terrible stepson."

"I'm not so bad," Jungkook said.

"You would never give me grandchildren."

Jungkook rolled his eyes. "I'm just a baby machine to your eyes, aren't I."

"I'm never going to be the mother that you always wanted, Kook," Kiko said, dropping the words as if they didn't sting every nerve in Jungkook's skin. "To marry your father, no matter how much I love him, I would need your blessing. Not your expectations of me filling the gap your mother left behind. You understand?"

Jungkook didn't say anything.

Kiko cleared her throat. "So, I did some investigating on the residents of Bangtan. And I must say, Park Jimin is quite a looker."

"You're twice his age."

"He's a dancer and a musician—and he has the voice of an angel. I heard him sing in this dingy karaoke I stumbled across downtown—"

"Kiko," Jungkook warned.

"Okay, I followed him there. I saw him walk out of Bangtan and I thought, why not? If this is the man who lives with our precious Jungkookie, isn't it just right to do some background check?"

"You are so annoying."

"It's my job," Kiko said. She sighed. "I'm sorry this is your life, Jungkook."

They reached the podium. Kiko put a hand on Jungkook's shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

"You're never going to make him proud," Kiko whispered. "Your father is a monster. But let it end with you."

Jungkook stared at her as the podium cleared out for him. It was his turn to speak.

"Let what end?" Jungkook asked.

Kiko sighed. There were wrinkles around her eyes that Jungkook hadn't noticed before. "The pain. Let the pain end with you."

Jungkook stepped on the podium. He found his place behind the pulpit, adjusted the microphone, and gave the crowd his most genuine smile.

 

×

 

As Jungkook sat on his desk hunched over the exam, he saw Sejin's wrist dazzle with his father's Rolex watch.

He shared twin popsicles with Hoseok-hyung on the parking lot. They sat side by side on the hood of Hoseok's car, listening to the night air and bobbing their heads to the tempo of cicadas' singing.

"You know what I hate about you, Jungkook?" Hoseok asked between licking his own melon flavored popsicle.

Jungkook grunted.

"I have this feeling that something is bothering you, and I want to ask you about it, but, well, you never answer," Hoseok said pleasantly. He was one of the rare people who delivered his words with genuine concern, and it made Jungkook feel warm inside.

"I think—maybe," Jungkook stuttered out, honest this time. He had to lean on Kiko's words. To listen, for once. He cleared his throat. Rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand. "I think I missed out on a lot of things in my—in my childhood."

Hoseok reached out and ruffled Jungkook's hair. "What things?"

"This is my first time eating popsicles," Jungkook said. He waved his half-eaten popsicle around.

Hoseok laughed. "Oh, Jungkook. You've smoked weed before yet this is your first time with popsicles?"

"I had a sugar restriction."

"Oh, baby."

Jungkook sighed.

"Here. Let's go to Rayleigh Drive, get drunk, and go swimming until we don't know which way is up and which way is down, shall we?"

Hoseok saw Jungkook's expression and found himself unable to get up. He saw the stitch between Jungkook's eyebrows, the growing pout that he was probably unaware of. "Hey, Jungkook?"

"Yeah?"

"Shotgun!"

Jungkook groaned loudly. "You can't call shotgun on your own car! I don't know how to drive a stick!"

 

×

 

"Think it sounds better if the tempo is a little bit faster," Jimin humbly suggested. Namjoon leaned back on his chair as he nodded, muttering things to himself as Jimin rewrote his readings on a pad of paper. He had been taking advanced classes to fill his free time, something that he never had the privilege of doing when he was still working part-time jobs.

"What are you doing here again?" Jimin asked, clueless. He watched Namjoon fiddle with the volume and the synthesizer on the table, the low yellow light illuminating his tan skin a shade of muted bronze. The silver buttons on the varnished wooden tables twinkled under the light, emitting nostalgia. Jimin remembered the first time he saw the recording studio. He saw the cobwebs and the dust on the glass and began to work on a song—except the microphone was the end of a wet mop, the beats were soap suds, and the lyrics were buckets of water. The recording studio of the music department wasn't his, but somehow, being the one to tidy it up made it feel like it was. He even stole some of Jungkook's scented candles to erase the stubborn smell of mold. Which was probably growing under the cushioned walls. He made a mental reminder to work on that next week. Also, another reminder to replace Jungkook's candles.

Namjoon had plugged his phone to the speakers inside the recording studio to make Jimin listen to his underdeveloped song. Jimin thought the gesture was nice—but this was Namjoon, and Namjoon only wrote songs when something was troubling him.

"I was gonna ask you if you wanted to take this song I made until you started pointing out everything wrong with it," Namjoon replied.

"Aren't you majoring in psychology? Go do science things. I'm not taking your song," Jimin said dismissively.

"Why not? It's vocal-centric," Namjoon said.

"So? Go ask Jin-hyung."

"He's a med student."

"And you should be in a clinic," Jimin pointed out. He leaned back on his own chair and sighed. "Come on, hyung."

"Come on, Jimin."

"I don't like the lyrics."

"So? Change it," Namjoon said. "Change it fit to your preferences."

"It wouldn't be the same. It's a love song called Serendipity. I don't believe in superfluous love. So, I'm not taking the song because that would make me dishonest," Jimin replied.

"You're always dishonest, though."

"Not when it matters," Jimin countered. He wiggled his index finger at his pad of paper. "Not in art."

"Come on, Jimin."

"No, hyung."

"But I love your voice," Namjoon said.

Jimin squinted at him. "Thank you. But I'm sorry."

Namjoon finally sighed in defeat. He packed up his messenger bag as he realized Jimin wasn't going to budge.

"This isn't the last time you're gonna hear about Serendipity," Namjoon warned as he got up on his feet.

Jimin smiled. "I know."

"Call me when you change your mind?" Namjoon half-asked.

"Close the door on your way out."

"You're so mean when you're in the recording studio. I keep reflecting on all the somewhat wrong things I did to you," Namjoon commented with a laugh.

Jimin was about to reply when his phone rang in his pocket. He fished it out quickly, waved Namjoon, goodbye, chuckled at his new wallpaper (it was a perfectly timed photo of Jungkook pouting and Jimin flapping his arms—they were arguing about Naruto, naturally), read the caller ID, and put the phone to his ear.

"Hey, Hobi-hyung," Jimin greeted cheerfully.

"Hey, this is Jungkook. I'm with Hoseok-hyung. He wanted to ask something."

Jimin blinked. Blinked a couple more before clearing his throat. "Why can't he answer his phone?"

"He's driving," Jungkook replied. His voice sounded—different. Deeper. Serious.

"Is something wrong?" Jimin asked.

"No, no. He just—wanted to ask if you've eaten," Jungkook said. "Have you? Do you want me—I mean, us—to go buy you food? Hyung said you were studying."

"No, it's fine," Jimin said. He couldn't believe he was actually blushing at how deep Jungkook's voice was.

"Are you sure?" Jungkook asked.

Jimin nodded. He abruptly remembered that it was a phone call and Jungkook couldn't actually see him. "Yeah, I'm sure."

"Hyung also wanted to ask if you're on the way to Taemin-ssi," Jungkook continued.

"I still have to finish something. Will you be there, Jungkook?" Jimin asked.

"Oh, sorry."

"What?"

"No—hyung, stop laughing," Jungkook said, his voice fading as he distanced his phone from his face to talk to Hoseok, Jimin assumed. "Sorry. I was nodding like an idiot before I realized it's a phone call. Yeah, I'll be there."

Jimin beamed. "Alright, Kook. See you and Hoseok-hyung in a minute."

"Sure. Bye, Jimin-hyung."

Jimin hung up. He watched the clock tick, tuned in to the metronome that was always playing in his head. He grabbed his pen, found a small space between the paragraphs he had been writing, and wrote, as carefully as he could, Jungkook's initials. Neatly. Reverently. It was a beautiful name, Jimin thought. So selfishly korean, non-natives found it difficult to pronounce. Jeon Jungkook. He could put it in a song. Carve it on a block of marble. Hold it in his palms, kiss it goodnight. Say it, again and again.

 

×

 

"Haven't seen you around in quite a while." Lee Taemin handed Jimin a red solo cup with a wink. With his hair bleached blond, his eyes decorated with golden glitter, and his clothes dazzling under the faded white light of the frat house, Jimin sometimes thought that Taemin was a distorted mirror image of him. A version of Jimin with money and a loving family. He looked at Lee Taemin from afar and saw only what he could have been—expensive and excited for the future.

"I've been taking extra classes," Jimin replied, accepting the cup.

Taemin tapped his chin and frowned. "I miss you."

It would have been a sweet gesture if Taemin, in barely half a second, got swept away by the next most glittery thing in the room: the arrival of the school's football team. They poured in the living room with loud greetings, patting everyone's backs and jostling each other just to get to the alcohol in the kitchen. When they started chanting the campus' famous cheer, Jimin was struck with an image of talking buffalos, colliding against each other in a desert stampede.

He checked his phone.

"Park Jimin!"

It was Jennie and Lisa, both tipsy at eight in the evening. He watched the two of them giggle their way to his spot behind the kitchen counter, their matching leather outfits shining as Taemin switched to colorful lights. The frat house pulsated red, blue, green, and yellow, splashing colors on every surface.

"Hey," Jimin greeted, smiling at the two of them enthusiastically.

"So here's the thing," Jennie said with an adorable hiccup. "Jiwon's in the pool right now with this guy from accounting, right?"

"Is he now?" Jimin asked, leaning his head to the side. He watched as Lisa slung her arm around Jennie's waist, steadying her.

"Yeah, so I asked him, do you think Jeon Jungkook is single? You know, since they were, like, both med students—I mean, before Jiwon changed his course—"

"Jiminnie knows," Lisa said with a dazed grin. "They're roommates."

"But Jungkook lives in Hwanggeum, it can't be—"

"What did Jiwon say?" Jimin nudged on. He leaned forward, closing in on their personal space. Jimin had no idea why all the it girls flocked to him like moths to flames. But it was fun, Jimin admitted. He liked attention as much as the next guy, probably even more.

"He said, he saw this video of Jeon Jungkook floating around on Instagram—he said Hanbin posted the video, but then the guy from accounting was like, no, it was Jongin who—"

"Speaking of Jongin, how are you?" Lisa cooed, caressing Jennie's cheeks.

"It's whatever," Jennie hissed, surprisingly in a sober manner. "He can do whatever he wants—"

"What video?" Jimin reached out and twirled Jennie's hair between his two fingers.

Jennie's eyes suddenly watered at the closeness. She was half-leaning on Lisa, almost-smothered by Jimin, and apparently, it did wonders.

"It's like—" her voice cracked as she spoke. "I can have whoever I want, you know? I'm pretty."

"So pretty," Jimin added.

"Yeah, I know," Jennie continued with a sniff. "But it's like, he doesn't even see me. Am I not enough for him? I asked him what was missing, what does he want, what do I not have, for him to just, dump me like that?"

A penis, Jimin thought to himself. He sighed. He knew too many secrets from all the bar hopping he did, both as the customer and as the bartender. He knew too many students from St. Louis doing unspeakable things in the club alcoves, things no one dared to even dream.

"I know he likes men," Jennie said. "I know that. But he told me he liked girls, too. Did you know that, Jimin?"

Jimin had to stop sleeping around. God, he really had to put back the brakes. "Oh, Jennie."

Jennie whined. "Everybody knows. God! Everybody knows and it's like, he told me on the third date!"

He shared a look with Lisa before they both started laughing.

"You two—" Jennie said with vitriol.

"Jennie, honey," Jimin cooed. "Listen. It's Kim Jongin. He doesn't know shit about being in a relationship."

That was technically a lie.

"Let me tell you something about men like Jongin," Jimin said. "They're all beautiful. They're all gorgeous."

"Drop dead," Lisa continued. "Drop. Dead. Gorgeous."

"But they're like, mannequins," Jimin continued. "On the inside, they only care about themselves. They're the most narcissistic people, Jennie. They're heartless and too obsessed with themselves, and they don't even realize it."

Jennie nodded. "Do you think I'm a mannequin, Jiminnie?"

Jimin thought she was probably the worst of her kind, but he kept it to himself. Jennie, despite being campus royalty, was actually brilliant and talented. He remembered countless rehearsals with Jennie, how strict and disciplined she was on her own art. Perhaps that was worth admiring, if she weren't such a shopaholic drama queen whose sense of self-worth depended on her reputation.

He subtly checked his phone again as Jennie cried on Lisa's shoulder.

"You know what? You're right, Jimin," Jennie said. She wiped her tears with the back of her hand. "You're so smart. I'm like, in love with you."

"Get in line, then," Jimin said with a giggle.

"I'm gonna go get a drink," Jennie announced before sauntering away, leaving Lisa and Jimin alone.

Jimin sighed. "Why would Jongin even..."

"Probably because he thought she'd peg him," Lisa replied monotonously.

They grinned at each other before laughing.

"Don't say that, Lisa-ya," Jimin said in singsong.

Lisa only smiled at him. She leaned on the counter and rested her chin on Jimin's shoulder. "When will it all make sense, oppa?"

"Maybe stop hanging out with the ultra rich and start hanging out with us," Jimin answered. "Come on, Lisa."

"You guys are no fun. All emotional support, or whatever," Lisa said, sticking her tongue out. "I just want to have fun."

"Hey, I'm fun," Jimin said, jutting out his lower lip.

"Yeah, on the weekends," Lisa whined. "You don't even reply to my texts."

"Your last text was an invite to a party on a Tuesday night," he said with a nudge. "You know I can't."

"See? And that's why I hold back the hair of the ultra rich everytime they feel barfy," Lisa said, wiggling her index finger.

"Where's Jihyo?" Jimin asked.

"She's in the basement talking to Jungkook, I think." Lisa swirled her drink with the other end of a spoon as she watched Jennie, who was now actively talking to a football player by the living room. "You wanna see the video?"

"Send it to me," Jimin requested.

 

×

 

Contrary to popular belief, Park Jimin was always irreparably aching. It was either his head or his neck or his chest; tonight, his sternum throbbed so bad it left his entire body cold all over. He wasn't sure why, he had so many reasons to hurt sometimes he couldn't tell if it was all of them at the same time or if it was just one thing spearheading his skull. He wasn't sure if it was the homesickness or the loneliness or his inability to write a proper hook, write a proper verse, dance a certain way. It was always this: Jimin teetering over losing his mind, too wrapped up in his insecurities and incompetencies, too obsessed with how, for him, it was always two steps forward and one step backward. How breathing took a little more from him, like everything he tried to do always required a sacrifice. Couldn't laugh without bleeding. Couldn't walk without falling.

So, he took everything Taemin gave him. Let Taemin refill his solo cup with the strongest liquor. Let Taemin stir him to the middle of the room. To dance with him amongst boys and the girls, to pretend he was having a good time, until he was drunk enough to believe that he actually was.

It was nice, Jimin thought. Everybody was laughing, dancing to the egregious song playing from the loudspeakers. It smelled like alcohol and fabricated joy. It wasn't until Taemin pressed his lips to Jimin's temple that he thought, maybe he was meant to live with all this pain. Maybe he would be thirty years old, and he would be just as empty.

The thing was, Jimin really once thought he could have loved Taemin. He was very performative even when the situation didn't require him to, just like Jimin. He giggled and charmed and people-pleased, but when it was just the two of them, he was brusque and he was disciplined, and god, Jimin thought, he could have really loved Lee Taemin.

Until, of course, he woke up one morning, alone and cold. Taemin didn't even bother to write him a note, pull the blanket over him, kiss him goodbye.

It doesn't matter anymore, Jimin thought sharply. He had his revenge. He had broken Taemin in more ways than one. Reminded him that he wasn't just another boy from the province that he could play around with. Taemin had apologized over and over again without understanding how big of a crime it was to break Jimin's heart. Apparently, rich people were not wired the same as everybody else. They didn't know what it was like to lose everything but their pride, so for that to be ripped apart—

Jimin finished his stupid drink.

"Go get me another one." Jimin giggled as Taemin took his cup from him with a bow.

"You're driving me crazy, Park Jimin," Taemin said. He tapped Jimin's chin with the mouth of his cup.

"Good way or bad way?" Jimin asked, smiling.

Taemin leaned in and whispered in his ear, "Guess?"

He was about to answer when someone nudged his shoulder. Jimin stepped back—

"Hyung!" he shouted.

Hoseok pointed at the ceiling as the song changed. "It's our song!"

"It's our song!" Jimin laughed alongside Hoseok as the older boy began squawking and squatting to the beat of the music.

The crowd parted, forming a circle, and in the middle of it all was Jung Hoseok, dancing like he was all alone. His unbuttoned polo flapped against his striped white shirt as he imitated a bird flying. Jimin joined in shortly after, mimicking Hoseok's deadly drops and comedic bird arms. The house came alive with cheers and laughter, and for a moment Jimin closed his eyes as the song slowed, swaying to the rhythm as he clung close to Hoseok. The air smelled like spilled alcohol and saturated sweat—this was it. This was what Jimin was always chasing for.

They were curled next to each other on the couch, Hoseok running his hand through Jimin's hair, when Hoseok said, "Tell me what's wrong, Jimin."

He was quiet for a long time. Jimin pressed his forehead on Hoseok's shoulder and let the older boy wrap his arms around him. They watched the crowd cheer, watched Taemin go upstairs with the football captain, watched Lisa dance with Jennie. Pretty much watched Jennie throw up on a potted plant whilst Lisa pulled her hair back.

"It's the usual," Jimin said with a grunt. "Just the usual crap."

Hoseok hummed against Jimin's forehead. They had spent many moments like this where Jimin listed down every excruciating detail of his turmoil. Rare nights when Jimin let himself be known only for Jung Hoseok and no one else. When he let himself be held.

"How are you, hyung?" Jimin asked.

"I'm nervous all the time," he answered. "Because of the screening next week."

"I'm sorry I can't be there," Jimin apologized.

Hoseok was quiet for a moment. "Come back, Jimin."

"Jungkook can take my place for a while, hyung," he explained.

"He's a med student with a tight schedule—who's also an alcoholic," Hoseok said. "I don't think he'll want to join our group."

"I just sacrificed too much, hyung, and I don't think I can ever get it back," Jimin said. He was talking about his stamina, his neck pain, and sleepless nights that carved holes in his health. Hoseok reached out and massaged his neck area attentively.

"I told you to consult a doctor," Hoseok said with a sigh.

Jimin perked up. "Wait—alcoholic? What's that mean?"

"He told me downstairs, when we were playing this stupid drinking game where loser gets to—"

"And did he drink?" Jimin asked, suddenly tense.

Hoseok nodded.

"Hyung," Jimin chastised. "It's not good for him. When an alcoholic tells you they're alcoholic, you simply don't let them—"

"He told me two drinks in!" Hoseok chirped.

"Hyung!"

"I'm sorry?"

"Where is he now?"

"Relax, Jimin—"

Jimin scowled at him.

"Sorry?" Hoseok half-apologized, ignorant over the matter.

"It's just, it's Taehyung all over again," Jimin explained with a frown.

"Taehyung was addicted to hard drugs, it's not the same," Hoseok said.

"It's still an addiction, hyung. Where's Jungkook?"

"I'm sorry," Hoseok apologized. "I think he's by the pool."

 

×

 

He was alright. Jeon Jungkook was alright.

He was sitting by the pool alone, his slacks pushed up to his knees as he dowsed his feet on the water. The pool, rectangular in shape and dotted with floaties and half-naked college kids, smelled like chlorine and childhood memories. It was surrounded by a white picket fence, bushes and pool chairs, and somewhere near the door was a table armed to the teeth with empty bottles of liquor. As Jimin slid open the glass door separating the living room from the backyard, the music spilled through, filling the night air with erratic techno beats and heavy bass drops.

Jimin sauntered his way to Jungkook, suddenly nervous. "Hey, Mr. Jeon."

Jungkook looked up, consequently causing Jimin to freeze. His wavy hair had gone past his eyebrows and was swept aside carelessly, framing his face in a way that reminded Jimin of a prince. His doe eyes were—twinkling?

No, Jimin thought. His eyes were glassy and he was properly flushed.

"Hello, Mr. Park," Jungkook said. Jimin watched his lips split into a boyish grin, showing his teeth and his overbite and his dimples and the way his nose and cheeks reddened—

"How was your exam, good sir?" Jimin crouched next to him. He wrapped his arms around his legs and rested his chin on his knees, perched on the edge of the pool as he fixated on Jungkook, wondering if it was appropriate if he suddenly asked about his alcohol addiction.

"Oh, it was excellent," Jungkook replied. "How's your song going, mister producer?"

Jimin smiled at that. "Hey, Jungkook-ssi. How do you even know about that?"

"Mr. Jung is very talkative," Jungkook replied.

"Is he very talkative?"

"Yes, he is very talkative, PD-nim."

Jimin flushed. "You wanna hear my song, Mr. Jeon?"

Jungkook nodded.

Jimin pulled out his phone from his back pocket, scrolled down his gallery, and brought the phone to Jungkook's ears. As he leaned towards Jimin, Jimin took an inconspicuous sniff—just to see if he reeked of too much liquor. Fortunately, he smelled like his favorite detergent. Soap and flowers with a hint of vanilla. Jungkook smelled like freshly laundered pillows, Gypsophila, and something that was so uniquely Jungkook—like if Jimin could smell the color blue.

"—A coffee bean a day could brew all the sleepiness away—"

Jungkook yelped, revolted at Jimin's phone. He got up to grab Jimin's phone, but Jimin was quick on his feet and sprung away from Jungkook in a blink—he crawled out of Jungkook's reach, bolted upright, and started running.

"Hyung!" Jungkook whined. He swung his legs up from the pool and chased Jimin around, avoiding all the pool chairs and floaties. "Delete that!"

"A coffee bean a day could brew all the sleepiness away!" Jimin half-sang and half-screeched as he escaped Jungkook's almost-grasp. "Come on, Mr. Jeon, sing it with me."

Jungkook lunged and pulled at Jimin's sweater—

"Hey!" Jimin shouted as he wiggled his way out of Jungkook's hands. "I just want to say—"

Jungkook sped up in a sudden burst of energy. His silky blue dress shirt flapped against his black inner shirt as he reached for Jimin again, this time grabbing Jimin by the arms. Jimin, narrowly avoiding Jungkook's hands, dodged a pool chair and found himself flying—he had tripped over a potted plant.

Jimin shouted, almost in glee, as he plunged straight into the pool.

"Jeon Jungkook!" Jimin growled, now realizing the weight of what he had just done. He had managed to save his phone by putting his hands up so as to not let them submerge, but the rest of him, from his chin to his toes, was undeniably underwater. He was dressed in a thin sweater and skin-tight jeans, but the real problem was his socks and his sleek leather ankle boots. Also, he was freezing all over, shivering so violently his teeth clacked together.

He found Jungkook watching him by the edge of the pool, his eyes distant. He tutted as the younger boy discarded his dress shirt, his watch, his shoes, his own phone—and his wallet. Jimin looked at him, and he realized that no way would he ever be able to follow Jungkook's capricious thought process.

Not when Jungkook jumped into the pool in a cannonball position, yelling nonsense as if they were battle cries.

Maybe, Jimin thought, maybe had greatly misjudged this campus royalty. Maybe he wasn't as disingenuous as his peers. Maybe there was truth in every word he uttered to Jimin, every smile he flashed.

He resurfaced right next to Jimin and tried to steal Jimin's phone, but Jimin was quick and swam away as best as he could while he kept his phone above the water. He looked like a waddling duck. Some of the students had gone inside the house, leaving Jimin and Jungkook alone in the pool. The air crackled with the warm smell of dreams—there was something very intimate about being left alone in a pool with a boy.

"Jimin-hyung," Jungkook called out, almost whining. Jungkook vigorously shook his head like a wet dog, sweeping his hair away without using his hands. His black shirt clung to his shoulders like it was second skin, showing the curve of his collarbone and the dip on the base of his throat.

"Just sing—just sing a verse," Jimin requested from the other end of the pool, shivering. "Sing and I'll delete."

Jungkook looked up at the starry sky and sighed. Jimin watched his Adam's apple bob up and down. "I don't know the lines."

"Yeah, you do, Mr. Medicine. I know you still know the lines."

"Come here," Jungkook said, his voice scratchy. "I'll sing for you."

Jimin was glad that he was already red from the alcohol in the first place. He swam to Jungkook until they were a foot away from each other. From up close he could see how the water glistened on Jungkook's skin, how his already-wavy hair curled against his forehead and the back of his neck.

"Your makeup," Jungkook pointed out, his voice going a little too soft. A little too gentle. "You look like a rock singer."

Jimin laughed. He had been wearing eyeliner. He couldn't exactly see himself, but he could imagine what he looked like. Jungkook cupped his hands to collect pool water—and immediately rubbed at Jimin's face.

Jungkook, like any other boy with too much electric inside of them, aggressively caressed Jimin's face—his eyelids, brows, chin, and cheeks. Like he wanted to rub away all the dirt out of Jimin.

"Ouch!" Jimin swatted his hands away from his face.

Not even half a second had passed when Jimin felt Jungkook slow down. He was struck by how gentle Jungkook could be. The pads of Jungkook's thumbs slid on his cheekbones carefully, like he was afraid Jimin would break. He felt the heel of Jungkook's surprisingly soft hands press on his cheeks, eyelids, brows, until Jimin, feeling like he would catch flames under Jungkook's touch, once again shoved his hands away. He was hot and cold at the same time, his skin tingling where Jungkook's fingers had been.

While Jungkook sang a verse, albeit less aggressive than he had in the video, he held Jimin's face and squished his cheeks.

"Hey!" Jimin protested, but he was shaking with laughter.

Friends, Jimin thought. This was what it was like to be friends with Jungkook. He would never survive this. Jimin didn't have a minuscule drop of chance.

"How was your week, Mr. Jimin?" Jungkook asked as Jimin deleted the video, swam to the edge of the pool, and safely tucked his phone between Jungkook's dress shoes.

He was about to answer when his name wafted into the air.

"Park Jimin!"

Taehyung burst out of the frat house, wearing only boxers and a bandana around his forehead. He jumped into the pool and wrestled with Jimin until they were both drowning—Jungkook had to drag Taehyung away—and they ended up sitting on the pool chairs, Jimin coughing water out of his lungs and Taehyung peppering him with kisses as a form of apology. Jungkook laughed from the pool, his shoulders meeting his ears and his voice carrying over the frat house, causing people to come out and start swimming, too.

Only then did Jimin find it comfortable enough to breathe. Only when Jungkook was surrounded by other people did Jimin relax.

Some sinister part of him was highly annoyed. He wanted Jungkook's hands again. On his skin. On his tongue. He wanted to be alone with this stupid, idiotic boy and his stupid, idiotic laughter. He wanted to kiss Jungkook until Jungkook saw stars.

"Jiminnie," Taehyung called for him as soon as he sorted himself out. "Come inside? Jin-hyung just arrived."

 

×

 

Jungkook's alcohol issue was only ever brought up again when he, Jimin, Taehyung, Hoseok, and Seokjin was on their way back to the dorm. The younger ones sat in the backseat, Taehyung sandwiched between Jimin and Jungkook, while Hoseok and Seokjin sat up front.

"I'm worried that you're not taking care of yourself, Jungkook," Seokjin stated as he took a turn.

It was dead silent on the road. The party had died down after two in the morning, so the group had opted to dip some minutes after. They had just dropped off Yoongi at the recording studio after the older boy had viciously demanded so—he was sickeningly sober as he shouted at Seokjin to pull over, earning everyone's trust that he wouldn't pass out on the sidewalk.

"Isn't he so annoying?" Taehyung had commented after Yoongi's departure, dazed. Jungkook noted the endearment in the way he said his words.

Seokjin carelessly driving over a speed bump jolted Jungkook back to the present.

"Huh?" Jungkook grunted.

"Hoseok told me about, you know—"

"I'm sober," Jungkook replied coldly. "It's nothing."

"Hey, Jungkook," Taehyung said. "I was addicted to weed once. It's just a stupid party drug, but it got me good. I smoked so much it was all I could think about. So I know that sometimes you feel like you have it under control, and then sometimes it feels like you don't."

"You're telling me everybody in this car knows, Hoseok-hyung?" Jungkook asked.

"Hoseokkie-hyung is very talkative," Jimin echoed.

Jungkook sighed.

"Confide in us," Taehyung continued. "They pulled me out of it. And besides, Jin-hyung is basically a doctor."

"I'm not a lightweight," Jungkook confessed. "And I wasn't lying when I said that I do have it under control. I had my first drink in months tonight. But I don't want to—I don't want to talk about this again."

Taehyung nodded. "I hate talking about it, too. Like it becomes your identity. I hate that the most. I'm still me. You're still you."

"But it's important to talk about it when you're, you know, there." Seokjin cleared his throat.

"Real doctors don't hesitate," Jungkook chided.

"What we're saying is we can help you, but only if you let us," Jimin said.

"We're family now, Jungkook. Welcome to poverty," Hoseok chimed in from the passenger seat. "How has your stay been?"

"Warm," Jungkook admitted. Warm, wherein Hwanggeum never was. Cheerful; something Hwanggeum had always been bereft of. "Sometimes I wish I could stay in Bangtan forever."

"Only sometimes?" Jimin asked.

"I don't know, I have this roommate who steals all my scented candles, he really makes me regret ever being in Bangtan."

Jimin laughed, full and loud.

And then he pretty much screeched for Seokjin to pull over. Climbed his way out of the car, and threw up on the sidewalk. Acid climbed up his throat, stark and disgusting—

"Fuck," Jimin swore. He felt the world sway.

"Jimin?" Hoseok followed him out.

"Hyung." He looked at Hoseok. At how the yellow streetlights illuminated the planes of his face. How it reminded him of home. In Busan. Near the mountains and far from the sea.

"I think I drank too much," Jimin said in a small voice before passing out.