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The first time Jimin sees him, Jimin is in a standoff with a pizza.

Veggie supreme, extra peppers, hold the cheese. Yes, I’m sure. No cheese.

He’s pathetic. He’d checked the menu online three times before he even left the apartment. Spent another 20 minutes in agony once he got there and realized the menu he’d checked hadn’t been up to date, continually apologizing when the waitress came to check on him.

Eventually he’d given up on ordering any of the creative menu items the restaurant was actually known for and ordered his mainstay, the same thing he’d been ordering for years. Never by choice. Always under duress. When Jimin picked where to eat, it was somewhere that served salad. Or at least vegetables. Preferably steamed, stir fried if absolutely necessary.

Jimin hasn’t willingly gone to a pizza restaurant since he was fourteen years old and it’s infuriating, all of it. The smell of cheese and grease. The group of girls his age sitting in the corner, laughing hysterically. The couples on dates at the surrounding tables while Jimin sits at his table for two, by himself, feeling horrifically self-conscious. The fact that he’s now spent hours of his day agonizing about fucking pizza, and now he doesn’t feel hungry at all. The sense of failure mixed with sick panic. The realization that he really doesn’t know if he can do this.

Thirty minutes have passed since he first sat down.

He can do this.

Jimin closes his eyes, takes a few deep breaths.

He can’t do this.

All he can smell is grease, and all he can hear is the girls in the corner laughing, and if he opens his eyes like this all he’ll be able to see is pizza. He looks up instead, angry and sick and sad and—

And immediately makes eye contact with a guy across the room. The only other guy sitting alone, as it turns out. Sitting alone directly across from Jimin, looking up from his own plate just in time to catch Jimin in the midst of a public pizza meltdown. Jimin has no idea what his face is doing, but it’s probably something terrible. He feels like he has no control over it. No control over the stupid pizza, no control over his stupid face, no control over anything in his stupid life.

Common courtesy in this situation would be to smile, an awkward grimace of commiseration. The guy is kind of cute, honestly. Handsome. The kind of guy Jimin would smile at, on a normal day.

Jimin can’t smile. Jimin can’t make his face do anything at all, and the guy is still looking at him, kind of concerned now. Like maybe he can tell, somehow, that Jimin is having a pizza crisis. Like it’s obvious that Jimin came here for his stupid therapy homework. That Jimin was supposed to order whatever sounded the most delicious, no second guessing himself. That Jimin was supposed to eat the fucking pizza. That Jimin can’t fucking do it.

The guy’s head tilts a little, like maybe he’s going to try to say something, maybe even get up and come over, and that idea is just horrifying enough to startle Jimin out of his trance. He stands up, banging his knee on the table leg in the process. Grabs his sweater, then his bag. Doesn’t even put either of them on, just cradles them awkwardly to his chest as he rushes toward the exit. The cool air outside makes him aware of just how flushed his face had been.

He never even touched the stupid pizza.

 


 

“So,” Taehyung announces loudly from the kitchen three days later, where he and Jeongguk are doing something terrible to a package of chicken breasts while Jimin attempts to study in the living room. It’s not really going well for any of them. Jimin had an order queued up on his phone for the local Chinese place approximately one minute after he heard Jeongguk ask whether carrots needed to be washed.

“So…” Jimin calls back, when Taehyung doesn’t follow that opening with any information. He could get up, but. There’s a lot of loud sizzling happening over there, and a lot of clanging, and Jimin very much does not want to get involved. This project is worth 30% of his grade.

“Oh! Yes, sorry!” The sizzling stops, abruptly, and somehow the silence that follows is even more ominous. Jimin aggressively directs his focus towards searching for his purple highlighter rather than giving up and going in to assess the damage. “Two things. First, remember Jeongguk’s enormous crush on his TA from last semester?”

“It was professional admiration,” Jeongguk hisses, audible now that food preparation seems to have been put on hold. Both Jimin and Taehyung ignore him.

“How could I forget? He called him the platonic ideal of teaching assistants and then waxed poetic about the guy’s email signature for almost two full hours.”

“Okay! Well, apparently he’s actually really cool and agreed to mentor Jeongguk this semester, which is adorable, and also brings me to my second point.” Taehyung pauses.

“Which is?” Jimin flips to the textbook glossary, reaching for another index card.

“Which is! Cool TA is coming over in 10 minutes and we need to feed him, and this chicken is somehow both raw and burnt.”

“Jjajangmyeon’s gonna take more than 10 minutes, it’s a Saturday night,” Jimin points out, unlocking his phone anyway.

“We can’t serve him jjajangmyeon! He is a guest.”

“Oh my god. Jeongguk. The man is coming to the home of three male undergrads, he’ll probably be impressed we even have a table.”

“I told him I was making dinner!”

“Is this… Jeongguk, are you romancing this guy, or are you trying to learn something from him?”

Jeongguk lets out an agonized groan and storms out into the living room. He flops himself dramatically across the other half of the couch, disrupting Jimin’s colour-coded index card stacks in the process.

“Watch it,” Jimin says mildly, not looking up from the textbook.

“Hyung. Jimin-hyung. Hyung.”

Jimin closes his eyes, just for a moment, then puts his textbook to the side.

“Yes, Jeongguk?”

“You know how to cook, right? Like, real food?”

“Yes, Jeongguk. I can make food that doesn’t come prepackaged in a styrofoam cup.”

“Hyung. Jimin-hyung. I’ll do the dishes. I’ll do the dishes for a month. I’ll owe you forever.”

Jimin wants to be annoyed but honestly, it’s mostly just flattering. He likes being needed. Likes feeling important. He sighs deeply, pretending to think about it, just to make Jeongguk squirm.

“Fine. But forget the dishes, okay? You owe me library lattes for the rest of the semester.”

Jeongguk raises both his fists in celebration. It’s cute. Jimin smiles a little bit, despite himself.

Jimin isn’t actually much of a cook, but they’ve got kimchi and rice and a stove, so he can definitely make something meal-shaped happen. It’ll be simple, but it’s not like Jeongguk and Taehyung have any standards to speak of.

He’s got one plate finished (his own, carefully portioned) when someone knocks on the door.

“Do not ruin this for me.” Jeongguk jabs a finger at Taehyung as he makes his way to the entryway. There’s a quiet exchange, the sound of shoes hitting the floor and a coat rustling its way off, then Jeongguk reappears with a man in tow.

“Taehyung, Jimin. This is Namjoon-hyung, he’s gonna help me with my thesis.”

The fried rice doesn’t need his undivided attention, so Jimin looks up and over his shoulder to see—

“Oh,” Jimin and Pizza Guy say simultaneously. “It’s you.”

“You two have met?”

“Not r—” Jimin starts, but Pizza Guy—Namjoon—cuts him off.

“No, he just caught me weirdly staring at him at Pizza Peel last week.”

“Weirdly staring?” That is… not exactly how Jimin remembers the encounter going.

“We literally made eye contact for almost a full minute,” Namjoon laughs, clearly flustered. His cheeks are turning pink. Jimin is absolutely not charmed in the slightest. “All I could think about for two days was how embarrassing and weird I was.”

“You weren’t weird, I was weird,” Jimin insists, confused. Namjoon caught him almost crying over the world’s saddest 8” Veggie Supreme, and he thinks he was the one being weird?

“Well,” Namjoon says. “We can agree to disagree on this one, and put the whole thing behind us. We were both weird at Pizza Peel, let’s never speak of it again.”

There’s a pause. Jimin doesn’t need to look over to know Jeongguk’s gaping at him, eyes bottomless pits of confusion.

“Jimin doesn’t even like pizza,” Taehyung cuts in, also clearly mystified by the entire exchange.

“Yeah,” Namjoon laughs again. “I could tell.”

It’s not a big deal. Namjoon is helping Jeongguk, but that doesn’t mean anything. Jimin spends almost all of his time in the Education Building library anyway. He can probably make it through the rest of the semester without embarrassing himself in front of Namjoon again. He never even has to think about Namjoon’s cute smile or cute dimples or cute stupid pants again.

 

Except—

A week later Jimin is leaving an appointment with his therapist, messaging Taehyung to meet up for lunch as he makes his way back to the reception desk, when he runs head first into—

Namjoon.

Of course.

Namjoon, who turns and smiles like he’s genuinely happy to see Jimin, even though Jimin just head-butted him right in between his shoulder blades because he couldn’t be bothered to look up from his phone. Namjoon, who reaches out to hold Jimin’s arm, steadying him, and then keeps it there, like maybe he thinks Jimin needs to be soothed. Like Jimin is a spooked horse. His loose grip is warm on Jimin’s bicep.

Jimin’s apology doesn’t quite make it out of his mouth. He is suddenly, acutely aware that he spent at least thirty minutes out of the last hour crying. Dr. Lee had given him tissues, and he’d taken deep breaths before he left, but he knows his face is still puffy. His nose and eyes are still stinging, a little raw.

Namjoon’s hand is still on Jimin’s arm, heat bleeding through Jimin’s shirt sleeve. It’s a nice hand. Namjoon’s a nice guy.

Focus, Jimin. The encounter is salvageable. Just because Namjoon seems to be making a habit out of seeing Jimin at his most embarrassing and least composed, it doesn’t mean Jimin can’t turn things around.

“Namjoon, hi!” Jimin’s voice cracks a bit, because of course it does, post-cry hoarseness ruining any semblance of composure. He clears his throat and smiles up at Namjoon anyway. “Fancy meeting you here!”

To Namjoon’s credit, he doesn’t ask if Jimin is okay, just laughs a little, squeezing Jimin’s arm once and then letting go.

“I’m not following you, I swear,” Namjoon says.

“No, no, I didn’t think you were!” Jimin smiles up at him, waves his hands a little to try to communicate that it’s fine.

There’s an awkward pause, then; both of them staring at each other, smiling a little. Neither of them saying anything.

“So I’m just going to—” Jimin gestures towards the receptionists’ desk.

“Oh! Right, sorry, I’m in your way,” Namjoon says, like Jimin wasn’t the one who ran into him.

“It was really nice to see you,” Jimin says, still smiling. He means it. Namjoon is awkward, and he keeps running into Jimin at his absolute worst moments, but he’s also kind and friendly and he’d complimented Jimin’s fried rice when he came over for dinner even though it hadn’t been anything special. It is nice to see him.

 

The next time it happens Jimin isn’t even really surprised. He thinks maybe part of him has been waiting for it, like his subconscious already decided that Kim Namjoon is now a part of his life. It just took the rest of him a little longer to catch up.

“Hi hyung!” Jimin beams up at Namjoon from his spot behind him in line at the second worst coffee shop on campus.

Jimin would have pegged Namjoon as a caffeine snob, if he’d had to guess, but maybe Namjoon has just reached a similar library-induced fugue state. At this point in the semester, Jimin’s long since given up on quality in favour of quantity and availability as the important factors in his caffeine-related decision-making—he can care about his tastebuds again when finals are over.

“Hi Jimin,” Namjoon smiles back down at him.

Jimin’s heart skips a beat.

Jimin ignores it.

“Fancy meeting you here,” he says, keeping his voice casual, because he is casual. There’s no reason he wouldn’t be casual.

“I’d ask how you’re doing, but I think your presence here speaks for itself,” Namjoon remarks, making a sweeping hand gesture towards their surroundings. Jimin takes a moment to appreciate the fluorescent lighting and the peeling laminated sign warning students not to replace empty carafes themselves. The guy asleep with his head on his backpack in the back corner, snuffling loudly every few seconds.

Jimin grimaces.

“I’ve been better,” he admits. Something about Namjoon makes the words just slip out, easier than it’s ever been with anybody else.

“I feel that. But, hey,” Namjoon brightens. “I’m glad I ran into you, actually.”

“Really?” Jimin wrinkles his nose in disbelief.

“Yeah,” Namjoon says, a little bashful. It’s a good look on him. Cute. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you, but I felt weird just adding you on Kakao.”

“Why?” Jimin isn’t sure which part of that sentence is more baffling.

Namjoon blushes. Jimin loses his train of thought completely.

“I liked talking to you, at dinner,” Namjoon says, seeming embarrassed about it. “I wanted a chance to see you again.”

“Even though our only other interaction took place in the waiting room at the therapist’s office?” Jimin asks, skeptical.

“I mean, we were both at the therapist’s office,” Namjoon points out. “It’d be kind of weird for me to have an issue with that, right?”

“I guess,” Jimin trails off. He must sound more judgmental than he means to, because Namjoon looks a little hurt. “Sorry. I’m just still kind of embarrassed about it. Like. Generally.”

“There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”

“It feels like there is,” Jimin admits. “Every time my therapist gives me homework it makes me feel like a freak.”

He has no idea what’s making him so honest all of a sudden. Maybe it’s the bad lighting.

“I get therapy homework, too,” Namjoon says, unfazed by Jimin’s confession. “But I kind of like doing it.”

“If you say so.” Jimin wrinkles his nose again, thinking about his failed pizza outing. This week he’s supposed to set a timer every time he goes to the gym. He feels obstinate and contrary whenever he thinks about it.

“We could be therapy study buddies, if you want,” Namjoon suggests all in a rush, stumbling over the words. “I’m good at group projects, I promise. I never make my partner do all the work.”

He smiles, then, cheeks blushing red but eyes curving up sweet and warm. Jimin wants to grab his cheeks, put his thumbs right into Namjoon’s dimples. Is that weird? It feels weird. Namjoon is so much bigger than him, but he’s still so cute. Jimin can’t decide whether he wants to pat his head or climb him like a tree.

…weird. It’s definitely weird.

“I’d like that,” Jimin says finally, smiling back. His phone is still in his hand, so he unlocks it and navigates to Kakao. “I’ll add you right now.”

 

Jimin knows Namjoon was sincere, but he’s still surprised to get a message from him the next morning. Jimin’s the kind of person who usually agonizes over every single decision in his life, no matter how minor; sometimes he forgets that other people don’t spend days on itemized lists of pros and cons before doing literally anything.

AM 10:05
Kim Namjoon
Hi
It’s Namjoon
I don’t know how serious you were yesterday, but if you really were interested, I’m going to the park today
I’d like it if you could come too :)

AM 10:09
Park Jimin
hi hyung!
of course i was serious n__n

Jimin pauses. He’s in the library, and was planning on spending the whole day in the library, but it could be good to have a little break. It would definitely be good to see Namjoon.

AM 10:10
Park Jimin
i would love to go to the park with you :)

AM 10:14
Kim Namjoon
Yay :)
Is 11:30 okay? I can come get you?

AM 10:16
Park Jimin
yes!!
i’m in the education building library! just text me when you’re here and i’ll come out and meet you :) :) :)

 

The park is nice this time of year. Jimin’s wearing a cap because he didn’t wash his hair and sweatpants because putting on jeans was an insurmountable effort, but just breathing fresh air is enough to make him feel cleaner than he has in days.

“Wanna hear something dumb?”

“Sure,” says Namjoon, agreeable as ever, from where he’s lying next to Jimin on the grass.

“I only started seeing a therapist because Taehyung and I made up a dumb competition to get Jeongguk to go. I’ve literally been going to therapy for three months just to prove a point.”

“Well. That’s… unique.”

“That’s one way to put it,” Jimin snorts, rolling his eyes in self-deprecation. “It’s stupid, is what it is.”

“It’s not,” Namjoon protests. “If it’s helping you, does it really matter why you’re doing it?”

Jimin blinks. He’s never really thought about it like that, oddly enough.

“Huh,” he says slowly.

“Nothing is a mistake if it gets where you need to be,” Namjoon says, voice a little insistent.

“Wow, you’ve really got your shit together, hyung,” Jimin laughs. Namjoon always sounds so smart, and so put-together. It makes Jimin feel like even more of a mess.

Namjoon laughs, sounding genuinely amused, like Jimin was making a joke. Jimin frowns and reaches out to pinch his elbow. Namjoon laughs even harder, pitch edging higher into a giggle, as he wriggles away from Jimin’s hand.

“I was serious!” Jimin protests, pouting.

Namjoon’s laughter fades a little, but the warm expression on his face lingers.

“I know, I know, I’m sorry,” he says, eyes kind. “It’s just so weird to hear someone say that about me.”

“Why is it weird?” Jimin asks, frowning. “You’re really smart and cool, hyung, everyone thinks so.”

Namjoon shrugs, his shoulders moving awkwardly against the grass beneath him.

“I was supposed to go to SNU, did I ever tell you that?”

Jimin rolls over on his side just to make sure Namjoon will see him narrow his eyes.

“Is that supposed to help convince me you’re not smart and cool?”

Namjoon huffs out a laugh.

“I dropped out after a year,” he says after a moment, staring upwards rather than meeting Jimin’s gaze.

“Oh,” Jimin says, feeling distinctly more uncomfortable. He shifts back onto his back, so that he’s looking up, too. It’s a nice day—clear skies, no haze of pollution.

Is it rude to ask why Namjoon dropped out? Namjoon’s the one who brought it up, so that means he probably wants to talk about it, right?

Namjoon laughs again, a hollow, aching sound that cuts right through Jimin’s spiralling thoughts.

“I wasn’t failing or anything,” Namjoon says, still staring up at the sky. “I just wanted to die. I kept going for a whole year thinking I could push through it, but. It just kept getting worse instead.”

All Jimin’s questions dry up in his throat, sticky and trapped.

“I don’t really tell people about it anymore, because they always focus on the wrong part,” Namjoon continues, gazing up at the cloudless sky.

“Which part is the wrong part,” Jimin asks, a little hesitant, when a moment passes without Namjoon saying anything more.

“They tell me it’s such a pity that I couldn’t finish my degree at SNU,” Namjoon says. “They say it’s such a shame that I had to come here instead. But I don’t mind being here. I’m happier now.”

“I’m glad,” Jimin whispers.

“When I first left, hearing things like that made me really anxious—like I was worthless because I didn’t stay. I had all that potential, and I just wasted it,” Namjoon muses. “But now it makes me so angry. It would have been a bigger pity if I’d stayed there until it fucking killed me, right? Shouldn’t that be more important?”

“Yes,” Jimin croaks, meaning it. He can’t imagine any bigger pity than that. He takes a deep breath, then another. “I’m sorry you had to leave,” he manages, finally. “But I’m really glad you ended up here, hyung.”

Namjoon turns to him, smiling softly. Jimin’s breath catches.

“It’s hard for me to talk about,” Namjoon says slowly. “But I was very unhappy, for a very long time. I hated almost everything about myself. It scares me when I think about how much of my life I wasted like that.”

This is usually the point when Jimin would bring out one of his usual lines. I’m so sorry to hear that, or maybe his old faithful: Oh, you poor thing. There’s a certain tone of voice Jimin takes on when Taehyung or Jeongguk come to him for support—a little bit babying, a little bit over-the-top.

But Jimin can’t give Namjoon that exaggerated sympathy right now, can’t put on that sugary sweet supportive voice and let the kind words flow out of him, because the only thing currently running through his head is me too me too me too, running on a sickening loop.

“That sounds really fucked up, right,” Namjoon says, grimacing.

Me too me too me too.

“No,” Jimin says. His voice sounds garbled, far away. “It sounds really familiar, actually.”

“Oh,” Namjoon says, blinking. “Well, shit.”

Jimin laughs; he can’t help it.

“Shit,” he agrees.

“It’s gotten a lot easier for me,” Namjoon offers with a wry smile. “If that helps you at all.”

“I don’t know if it does,” Jimin says honestly. It mostly makes him feel bad, like Namjoon’s managed to achieve something Jimin isn’t capable of, but it is nice to know that at least Namjoon isn’t suffering as much anymore. “I’m still really happy for you, though.”

“Thanks,” Namjoon laughs, an awkward chuckle.

“Is that why you started seeing a therapist? Because you wanted to die?”

Jimin’s afraid to say it out loud, and ashamed for being afraid. But he doesn’t know how to say it in a way that doesn’t sound childish, and small. He doesn’t know how to make sure Namjoon knows that he understands the gravity of it—that they aren’t just words.

Namjoon shrugs, fidgeting with the string of his hoodie.

“That was what made me finally go through with it, yeah,” he says. “But I’d needed to go for a long time before that.”

Jimin pauses.

The first time he saw Dr. Lee, he’d sat calmly through the entire appointment, responded pleasantly to all the doctor’s questions, and expected to be told he was doing fine, no further appointments necessary.

When Dr. Lee had recommended Jimin come back a week later for a follow-up, his smile had faltered a bit.

When Dr. Lee had given Jimin his preliminary diagnosis Jimin had left his office, shaking, and walked right past the receptionist’s desk without scheduling another follow-up. He’d walked all the way home in a daze, eaten two protein bars in a row out of spite, and vowed never to go back again.

Later that night, after Jimin had gone to the gym and then come back home again, Taehyung asked how his appointment went. Jimin lied to him, maybe for the first time since they became friends, and told him it was fine. When Taehyung asked when his next appointment was, Jimin lied again and said it was in two weeks.

He’d felt so horrifically guilty that he called the receptionist first thing the next morning.

Did he need to go for a long time, too? How long had his thoughts been poisoning him? Did it start even before his body failed him? Even before he started punishing himself the only way he knew how?

He knows the answer, but it’s almost too overwhelming to even consider.

“I think I needed that, too,” he whispers, finally. “But it scares me to think about it.”

Namjoon exhales, slow and steady.

“Yeah,” he agrees, voice low. “It’s fucking terrifying.”

Jimin hums in assent, closing his eyes.

“You never told me why you’re going,” Namjoon continues, like it’s just now dawning on him. Jimin’s heart picks up its pace in his chest.

Can he tell Namjoon the truth? He hasn’t told anyone yet; not even Taehyung. It’s still too embarrassing, too fresh. Jimin still feels like such a failure, but he can’t tell if it’s because he’s sick, or because it scares him so much to admit that he’s sick.

“Um,” Jimin says, and then falters, cheeks burning. His eyes are still closed. He doesn’t know if he can say it out loud—not when Namjoon is looking at him so intently, waiting for his response. Not when the sunlight is still so bright against his eyelids, all of him on display.

“I’m sorry, that was too direct,” Namjoon says, backing off, gracious as always. “You don’t have to tell me if it makes you uncomfortable.”

“I want to,” Jimin insists, opening his eyes and twisting to face Namjoon. “It’s just…” he trails off, wincing.

“It’s fucking hard,” Namjoon says bluntly, startling a laugh out of Jimin.

“Yeah,” he breathes out, relieved. “It fucking is.”

“It does get easier,” Namjoon says. “But I know it doesn’t really help to hear that from someone else.”

Know your boundaries, Dr. Lee is always telling him. It’s okay if you’re not ready.

“I’ll tell you sometime, I promise,” Jimin says, finally. “I will.”

“There’s no rush,” Namjoon says easily, reaching out a fumbling hand to pat awkwardly at Jimin’s arm. “I’ll be here whenever you’re ready.”

Before they leave the park Namjoon asks Jimin if he wants to go to a party on Friday, rubbing the back of his neck like he’s embarrassed. Jimin can’t help but be enchanted, smiling widely as he laughs that of course he’ll go, of course.

 

Namjoon picks him up on Friday, coming all the way out to Jimin’s apartment instead of just meeting him there.

Jimin meets him outside. The elevator in the building is temperamental on a good day so he’s a little breathless from taking the stairs instead, and he doesn’t think he imagines the way Namjoon’s eyes widen when he sees him.

“Wow, you look great,” Namjoon says. Jimin hams it up a little, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively, but he thinks the effect is probably ruined by the way his smile takes over his entire face.

They stand next to each other on the bus, Jimin stumbling into Namjoon’s chest every time the driver takes a sharp turn. Namjoon laughs every time, hands warm and steady as he helps Jimin regain his balance.

He smells nice. Clean. Jimin tries to keep his head straight.

They walk into the party together, Namjoon’s hand on the small of Jimin’s back. It feels possessive, and Jimin likes it too much.

“Let’s go get drinks,” Namjoon murmurs in Jimin’s ear.

Jimin nods, and starts to let Namjoon steer him towards the kitchen, but—

Oh no. Oh no.

Jung Hoseok is standing by the fridge, grinning sunnily at a guy who’s giving him an impressive scowl in return. Jimin watches as Hoseok says something, swats playfully at the guy’s arm. Watches as the other guy caves in the face of Hoseok’s aggressively sunny disposition, scowl melting into a half-smile.

Namjoon follows his gaze, and his face brightens.

“Oh! I have to introduce you!”

He grabs Jimin’s hand and leads him over towards the kitchen, the warmth of his palm distracting Jimin from protesting long enough that he doesn’t have time to stop Namjoon before they reach his destination.

“Yoongi! Hoseok! This is— ”

“Park Jimin!” Hoseok yells cheerfully.

Namjoon pauses before whatever he was going to say next, clearly baffled.

“You two know each other?”

“Of course! Jiminie was my protegé, back in the day,” Hoseok beams, reaching over to ruffle Jimin’s hair. Jimin doesn’t even try to duck out of it, too shell-shocked at his warm reception.

“I did dance,” Jimin manages, finally, after a prolonged pause. “My first year. But then I hurt my back so I had to quit.”

It feels like another lifetime, but sometimes it still hurts like it just happened. Like he’s sitting in the doctor’s office all over again, hearing that what he thought was just muscle strain was actually a fractured vertebra, that he’d be fine and he could walk and live and do everything he needed to do. Except, of course, the only thing he’d needed to do.

“I didn’t know that.”

Jimin doesn’t understand why Hoseok looks so kind and friendly, when Jimin dropped out of his life three years ago and hasn’t made any effort to reconnect since. At first it was too painful, those first few weeks, as he’d mourned the loss of his dream and tried to adjust his life accordingly. After that he was just too ashamed. Ashamed of his cowardice, of his ugly jealousy when he saw Hoseok post pictures and videos of himself in the studio.

He doesn’t know how to explain any of this to Hoseok, or to Namjoon, or to Hoseok’s friend, who has witnessed the entire scene with a flat, assessing look on his face.

Jimin smiles nervously.

“It was a long time ago,” he says.

“Long enough to forget me? Yah, Park Jimin!” Hoseok acts like he’s scolding him, but he’s laughing too hard for the words to sting. He makes the mood so light that Jimin can’t help but laugh along, even if he still feels a clench of nerves in his stomach.

“I could never forget you, hyung,” Jimin giggles, and Hoseok envelopes him in a sudden hug before he can register what’s happening.

“Let me get you a drink,” Hoseok says as he pulls back, beaming. Namjoon laughs, a warm presence at Jimin’s side, and he feels himself relax.

They don’t stay for much longer, Hoseok gracefully exiting the conversation after explaining that he and his friend—“Yoongi,” his friend interjects, and Hoseok laughs, flustered, when he realizes he never introduced him—prefer to head out early.

“I can’t hold my liquor,” Hoseok explains, not a hint of embarrassment in his voice. “And hyung just wants to go to bed.”

Yoongi look a little embarrassed at this, but it melts into affected irritation when Hoseok pats the top of his head. Jimin smiles at the display, endeared even though he barely knows them. When he chances a glance at Namjoon, Namjoon’s smiling too. He winks at Jimin, and Jimin’s heart startles in his chest.

Jimin likes him so much.

He’s had crushes before, had hookups and first kisses and long-term relationships before, but none of them have ever felt like this. It feels like something precious, and Jimin wants to keep it close to his chest. Somewhere safe, where he can make sure it stays protected.

Namjoon messages Jimin asking if he wants to meet at a café the next morning. When Taehyung asks where he’s going, Jimin shrugs and says the library.

 

“Oh, I almost forgot! Hoseok asked me about you earlier,” Namjoon says, and Jimin’s stomach lurches. Namjoon’s hot chocolate is almost empty, whipped cream long since melted. Jimin’s still working on his, painstakingly forcing himself to finish every last drop.

“Why?”

“I dunno, I think he just wanted to catch up. You seemed kinda weirded out at the party so I said I’d ask you if it was okay first.”

Namjoon’s thoughtfulness is almost enough to make Jimin cry, if he let it.

“Of course it’s okay!” he says instead.

Namjoon squints, looks at him a little more closely. Jimin forces a bright smile.

“It’s okay if it’s not, you know?”

“I do know,” Jimin says patiently, still smiling. “And it is okay.”

“Okay,” Namjoon says slowly. “I think that word is starting to lose all meaning, here, but okay.”

“I’ll just add him on Kakao right now, I can message him today.” Jimin doesn’t know why he’s suddenly so eager about this, why he feels like he needs to prove something. It’s Namjoon.

Namjoon visibly holds himself back from saying okay again, nodding instead and watching as Jimin painstakingly types out a message, putting his utmost concentration into sounding as cool and casual as possible.

Hoseok messages back barely an hour later using a frankly obscene number of emojis, wanting to know if JImin has time to meet this week.

Jimin should have expected it, probably, considering the warm reception Hoseok gave him at the party, but it still takes him by surprise that Hoseok cares so much.

But Hoseok is just cheerful and open as Jimin remembers him being, and he says he can make himself available whenever Jimin wants. He suggests a whole list of activities, ranging from mundane (coffee, shopping, barbecue) to slightly bizarre (making couple rings together, which he swears will be hilarious).

Jimin spends the better part of an hour thinking about what to say in response, and settles with an underwhelming coffee sounds good ^^.

He finds himself sitting across from Hoseok at a brightly lit café close to the school two days later, a sick feeling in his stomach as his fingers clench nervously around a mug of tea—he hadn’t been able to psych himself up enough to buy a tart to go with it.

Hoseok, meanwhile, is smiling brightly, a cup of iced tea and a lemon tart in front of him. Jimin tries not to stare at the tart too longingly.

It’s fine. He’ll just eat something when he goes home. It’ll be fine.

“So, how have you been?” Hoseok asks, taking a sip of his tea. Jimin flounders, his mouth opening but nothing coming out. How has he been doing?

Honestly, fucking terrible, but admitting that to Hoseok—cheerful, beautiful Hoseok, who wanted to see Jimin even after Jimin ignored him for over a year—is more than Jimin can handle.

But before he can force out some bullshit about how he’s doing fine, maybe even great, Hoseok’s mouth purses.

“What a stupid question, l’m sorry,” he says, shaking his head and laughing at himself. “Of course it’s been hard.”

Jimin gapes at him, but Hoseok just smiles sympathetically.

“I’m sorry I didn’t reach out sooner,” he continues. “I thought I’d give you space, but now I think maybe that wasn’t the right call.”

“No,” Jimin forces himself to say, voice hoarse. “It’s my fault too, I didn’t reach out either,” he points out. He doesn’t mention that he was actively avoiding Hoseok, but he thinks maybe Hoseok already knows, and has decided to forgive him for it anyway.

“Ah, let’s both agree to leave it in the past, then,” Hoseok says easily, waving his fork carelessly. “We’re both here now, and that’s what’s important, right?”

“Right,” Jimin says, a hesitant smile worming its way onto his face.

“Great! This is delicious, you should try it,” Hoseok says, changing the subject abruptly as he gestures towards his tart. He moves to hand his fork over to Jimin, smiling encouragingly. Jimin’s heart pounds in his throat.

But somehow Hoseok senses his hesitation, pulling his hand back just as easily as he’d offered it.

“Ah, you’re right,” he agrees, even though Jimin never actually said anything for him to agree with. “You don’t want to have to worry about my germs. Next time you’ll try it though, right?”

He makes it so easy for Jimin to say no.

Hoseok is trying so hard to make Jimin feel comfortable, always so effortlessly kind even though Jimin still doesn’t feel like he deserves it. Jimin lets that act as his motivation as he steels himself and blurts out, “No, I’ll try it now.”

He reaches his hand out for the fork, heart beating wildly. He hopes Hoseok doesn’t notice how his fingers are trembling, which is a stupid thing to hope for—Hoseok notices everything, he always has.

But if Hoseok can tell, he doesn’t say anything, just cheerfully digs out a forkful of tart and hands it over to Jimin with a smile. Jimin does his best to keep the fork steady as he brings it up to his mouth.

It’s just as delicious as Hoseok promised, the sugar melting away to nothing in Jimin’s mouth.

It’s just as dangerous as Jimin feared, light and fresh and leaving him wanting more. He clenches his fists against the hysterical urge to reach across the table and steal the rest for himself.

It wouldn’t be enough, he knows. There’s an aching emptiness inside of him, and it feels too dangerous to try and fill it. He doesn’t trust himself to be able to stop once he’s started, but he’s supposed to be trying.

“It’s good, right?” Hoseok asks, smiling, sunny and oblivious to Jimin’s restless panic.

“Really good,” Jimin agrees, forcing himself to hand the fork back. He worms his hands under his thighs, sitting on them to keep them still.

“Are you sure you don’t want one of your own?” Hoseok asks, nodding his head towards the counter. The café isn’t busy, the only employee sitting behind the counter without anything to keep her occupied. It would be a good time for Jimin to go up and order his own, if that was something he wanted to do.

“I don’t know,” Jimin hedges. “I wouldn’t want to ruin my dinner.”

He wants to order his own, of course he does, but the desperation is so strong it terrifies him. Could he stop after just one? Or would he keep going, stopping at the convenience store at his way home and buying boxes of cakes to eat alone in his apartment, eating and eating until the sugar sickens instead of satisfies?

Hoseok frowns, a little downturn of his mouth.

“It’s only 3 PM,” he points out. Jimin’s body tenses. Can he do it?

“Okay,” he says, shakily. “Which one should I get?”

The choices are overwhelming—they have every type of fruit, chocolate, red velvet, even Oreo and blueberry cheesecake. Jimin doesn’t trust himself to be able to pick the right one.

He doesn’t really trust himself to pick just one at all—he wants to eat all of them. Wants to keep going and going until it kills him, puts him out of his misery.

But he’s been practicing for this, right? He’s talked about it so much with Dr. Lee, all the twisted little habits he can break.

“Hmm,” Hoseok chirps, interrupting Jimin’s panicked, garbled thoughts. “What flavour do you like best?”

“I don’t know,” Jimin shrugs helplessly. He’s torn between reaching for the lightest, least offensive option (minimize the damage) and the richest, most decadent tart he can see (the day is already ruined, might as well go all in), so overwhelmed with anxiety that he can’t possibly make a decision.

“The grape looks nice,” Hoseok says. “I like green.”

He smiles at Jimin, bright and encouraging, and Jimin finds himself nodding along.

“Okay,” he agrees, forcing his own smile in return. “I’ll get that.”

The grape one does look good, shiny fresh fruit perched delicately on top of the custard underneath. Jimin’s mouth waters. His hands shake.

He tries to look normal as he cuts into the tart, tries to look like a person who’s just trying something delicious. Like a person whose entire day isn’t hinging on this particular moment.

“Is it good?” Hoseok asks, after he’s given Jimin a moment to chew.

Jimin nods, trembling with the effort it takes not to just shove the entire tart into his mouth.

Hoseok smiles at him, sweet and full of light.

“Are you really okay?” he asks, voice gentle.

Jimin pauses, then shakes his head.

“It’s been really bad,” he admits, gaze trained on his plate. He focuses on trying to get the perfect bite onto his fork—equal amounts of crust, custard, and fruit—so he won’t have to make eye contact as he says it. “I had so much trouble, remember? I was always so focused on how I looked. I thought it would get better when I quit, but it just got so much worse.”

Hoseok hums, understanding, but he doesn’t say anything more, leaving room for Jimin to keep going.

“I used to be so jealous of you,” Jimin admits, too ashamed to meet Hoseok’s gaze as he says it. “Your body was just right for dancing, and mine never seemed like it was right for anything. I always wanted to look like you.”

Sometimes he still does want to look like Hoseok, but he can’t bring himself to admit that part aloud.

He looks up, finally, and meets Hoseok’s eyes.

“Jimin-ah,” Hoseok says, a puzzled smile on his face. “My body isn’t right for dancing at all.”

Jimin blinks, frowning. What’s that supposed to mean? Of course it is. Hoseok is so lithe, all sharp angles and skinny limbs. His movements are so sharp and well-defined.

“I get tired after one song,” Hoseok says. “I can barely make it through a full performance without collapsing. I’m always getting sick because my body can’t handle the stress. Every time I go to the doctor, he tells me I need to gain more weight.”

“Well, off course your doctor would say that”—it’s right on the tip of Jimin’s tongue, and he catches himself just before he says it out loud. Wouldn’t Hoseok’s doctor know best what’s right for his body? Wouldn’t Hoseok?

Ugly shame floods through Jimin, unpleasant but not unfamiliar. He’s being selfish again, always only thinking about himself.

Maybe he wouldn’t be in this situation at all, if he could just stop fucking thinking about himself.

“Jimin?” Hoseok asks, his voice making Jimin startle in his seat. He was drifting, he realizes—Hoseok’s been waiting for a response.

“I’m sorry,” Jimin says. Hoseok smiles brightly.

“That’s okay! You were thinking,” he says, forgiving Jimin instantly, even though he doesn’t deserve it.

“No,” Jimin says. “I’m sorry for what I said. That’s not fair to you.”

“What’s not fair to me?” Hoseok asks, looking genuinely confused. Jimin laughs a little in disbelief. They were just talking about it—how could Hoseok have let it pass so quickly?

“For me to say I’m jealous of you,” Jimin says. “I shouldn’t have made you feel uncomfortable like that.”

“It didn’t make me uncomfortable,” Hoseok protests, shaking his head, somehow still smiling even though his eyebrows are knit together in confusion. “It just wasn’t true.”

Jimin pauses, letting that digest.

“Thank you, then,” he says, finally. “For correcting me.”

“Of course!” Hoseok laughs, breezy, as though it’s nothing. Which, Jimin supposes, it is, for him.

He thinks Hoseok will drop it, then—he’s been so careful to make Jimin comfortable for the whole conversation, and Jimin knows he hates talking about anything unpleasant. But Hoseok’s face grows more serious, and he lets out a little considering hum as he looks at Jimin.

“Jimin-ah,” he says, voice kind but serious. “The most important thing about your body is what it does, not how it looks. You know that, right? You have to take care of it.”

Jimin blinks, trapped, caught between defensive anger and wild, panicked fear. How can Hoseok read him so well, even after this time? How could he just say something like that so clearly? So easily?

And how can Jimin possibly respond to that?

“I know,” is what he settles on, voice coming out weak and pathetic. Hoseok’s eyes narrow for a moment, sharp and assessing, before his face melts back into its easy grace.

“Okay,” he says kindly. “As long as you know. Are you finished eating? Do you want to go for a walk?”

Jimin doesn’t, not particularly, but it would be rude to refuse and he doesn’t want to be alone, so he nods anyway.

Hoseok’s answering smile is so dazzling it’s almost overwhelming.

 

There’s something guilty weighing in Jimin’s stomach, steadily growing. He doesn’t think it started when he met Namjoon, but the honesty of their conversations has probably been making it worse.

It bubbles up when they’re sitting outside the library a week later, side by side on a bench enjoying the fresh air.

“I’ve been lying to Tae,” Jimin bursts out, breaking the comfortable silence.

“Okay,” Namjoon says slowly. “About what?”

He doesn’t sound like he’s judging Jimin, or like he thinks Jimin is being stupid. He just sounds like he wants to know. He always sounds like he honestly wants to know.

“About everything,” Jimin says, miserable. “Therapy, pizza, you. Everything.”

“That doesn’t sound like everything,” Namjoon says, still in that calm voice. “That sounds like three things.”

“I told him I hate pizza because I hate melted cheese, but I was lying. I love cheese,” Jimin admits. It sounds even dumber out loud than it did in his head, but now that he’s started saying humiliating things he can’t seem to make himself stop. “I told him my therapist is helping with my anxiety but that’s not it, it’s not anxiety. My therapist is helping me eat like a normal person because I’m so messed up that I can’t even look at a slice of pizza without freaking out. I’m so messed up that I’ve been lying to my best friend about melted cheese.”

Namjoon reaches out, grabs Jimin’s hand. He squeezes once, gentle, and ducks his head to meet Jimin’s eyes.

“And what did you tell him about me?” Namjoon asks, soft.

“I didn’t tell him anything at all.” Jimin has to look away, too ashamed to meet Namjoon’s understanding gaze. His cheeks are heating up. Namjoon’s hand is warm around his. “It wasn’t because you weren’t important! You are important, that’s why… I felt like if I told Taehyung about you I’d have to explain why you mean so much to me. And I couldn’t do that without telling him everything else, too.”

“Why do I mean so much to you?”

“You always make me feel so comfortable, you know?” Jimin’s entire face is on fire. “Like I can tell you anything, and it won’t change what you think of me.”

“But if you told Taehyung anything, it would change how he thought of you?”

Jimin immediately wants to protest that that’s stupid—of course it wouldn’t. Taehyung knows (almost) all of Jimin’s secrets, up to and including that year he spent thirsting after Leeteuk from Super Junior.

Hell, Taehyung’s seen Jeongguk snort banana milk out of his nose and subsequently get escorted out of a public library, and he still willingly hangs out with him on a regular basis.

Namjoon’s hand is on his thigh, warm and heavy. His fingertips curl around Jimin’s knee. It’s clearly meant to be a comfort, and it is. It is. It’s just —

Namjoon has really nice hands, is the thing. Nice, big hands. Strong hands. Jimin is maybe losing his mind a little bit. He swallows, throat sticking.

“I’ll talk to Tae,” he says quietly. Namjoon smiles and gives Jimin’s thigh another squeeze.

Jimin tries to hold it together.

 

“Tae, can I ask you something?”

“Mm.” Taehyung doesn’t look up from the TV screen, where Yoshi is currently doing his best to avoid a watery demise.

“When you started that stupid therapy competition with me and Jeongguk, was that like… some weird Machiavellian thing? To trick me into going?”

“What? Why would you think that?” Taehyung pauses the game and turns to look at Jimin, eyes serious and wide.

“I dunno, I just thought like… maybe you knew there was something wrong with me, but you just didn’t know how to say it. You know?”

“Jiminie… Why would I ever think there was something wrong with you?”

“Because I feel like there’s something wrong with me all the time, and I thought…” Jimin trails off, pulls his sleeves over his hands. Shoves his hands under his thighs. “I thought you could tell. I thought maybe you could see it too.”

Taehyung laughs then, a quiet little huff.

“Jiminie. I started the therapy competition to trick me into going. Because I felt like there was something wrong with me.”

Jimin looks up, sharp.

“Taehyungie… Why would you ever think that?”

“Why would you?”

Jimin doesn’t have a response. How could I not? he wants to say, but then he thinks about all his appointments with Dr. Lee. Thinks about Namjoon, with his steady voice and steady hands. Everyone has a hard time sometimes, Jimin.

“We’ve both been kinda silly about this, huh?” he says instead, reaching over to squeeze Taehyung’s knee.

When Taehyung laughs it takes over his whole face, like he’s a little kid. For a moment Jimin is so overwhelmed with fondness that he forgets what he was going to say. He grabs both Taehyung’s hands, squeezes them once. Laughs with him.

“Tae. I think I was a really bad friend to you,” Jimin admits, sniffing. “I was so wrapped up in my head that I never even stopped to consider what was going on in yours.”

“I think,” Taehyung starts, voice a little clogged. “I think maybe I was a bad friend to you, too. So maybe we’re even.”

“Why did you think there was something wrong with you?” Jimin asks softly.

“I dunno.” Taehyung’s voice is quiet. “I just kept thinking so much about everything, and it felt like I didn’t know what was real anymore. But every time I tried to say it out loud I couldn’t say it right, or I just felt dumb.”

Jimin squeezes Taehyung’s hands again. “It’s not dumb, Tae. Nothing you’re feeling is ever dumb.”

Taehyung laughs again, head ducking down, then looks back up at Jimin. “I could say the same thing to you, you know. Whatever’s going on with you, you can tell me.”

Jimin nods. Keeps nodding, because he doesn’t know if he can tell Taehyung. It’d been so easy with Namjoon, who’d just met him. Namjoon, who didn’t have any ideas about who Park Jimin was or wasn’t. But Taehyung is the least judgmental person Jimin knows, and maybe it’s unfair to assume Taehyung wouldn’t understand. Wouldn’t at least try to understand.

“My therapist thinks,” Jimin starts, but his voice fades out into nothing. He clears his throat and starts again. “I think that. That, um. That I’ve been some trouble staying healthy? Like. Trouble eating healthy. Trouble eating enough.”

It comes out stilted and it sounds wrong, not how Jimin wanted to say it at all. But Taehyung still smiles at him, crooked and a little watery, squeezing his hands. They’re the same age, but Jimin has always felt older, more responsible. The one who needs to take care of Taehyung, when he’s sick or sad or clumsy. He’s never once felt as young next to Taehyung as he does now.

“Where’s Jeonggukkie,” Jimin laughs wetly, looking around like he’s going to find Jeongguk lurking in a corner of their living room, or maybe hiding behind the couch cushions. “I feel like he needs to be here too.”

“I’ll text him,” Taehyung says, digging his phone out from somewhere underneath his ass. He unlocks it and starts typing, tongue caught between his teeth. “I’m telling him it’s an emergency.”

Jeongguk bursts out from his room a bare moment later, looking wild-eyed and determined, flinging the door open so aggressively that it slams against the wall. He pauses, brow furrowing in confusion, when he sees Jimin and Taehyung cuddled together on the couch, safe and in one piece.

“Jeongguk-ah, come cuddle! We’re talking about our feelings!” Taehyung hollers unnecessarily loudly, as though his voice needs to carry across a stadium and not their tiny apartment. Jeongguk hesitates, looking suspicious.

“It’s a required roommate event,” Jimin giggles, gesturing for him to come closer. “Non-negotiable. Get over here.”

Jeongguk doesn’t seem particularly convinced, but he does venture close enough for Jimin to reach out and grab him by the waist, pulling until he falls on top of him, crushing Jimin’s body with all his stupid muscles.

“Oof, Jeongguk,” Jimin wheezes. “When are you going to stop growing, huh?”

“Never,” Jeongguk laughs, wriggling to make himself more comfortable instead of making any moves to stand up. Jimin wraps his arms around his waist and squeezes even tighter, trapping him in.

“My big baby,” he coos, giggling. He can tell Taehyung is laughing next to him by the way his shoulders are shaking against Jimin’s, even if Jimin can’t turn his head properly to really see him.

“I don’t actually have to talk about my feelings, do I?” Jeongguk asks after a moment of quiet, adjusting how he’s sitting so Jimin’s knee isn’t jabbing him in the hip.

Jimin snorts into the fabric of his t-shirt.

“I don’t know, do you?” Taehyung asks, voice as calm and meditative as though he were asking about the weather.

Jeongguk pauses, either out of discomfort or because he’s really considering it. It’s hard to tell when Jimin can’t see his face.

“Nah, I think I’m good,” Jeongguk says, finally. Jimin squeezes him again in response, while Taehyung hums thoughtfully.

“I’m pretty good now too,” he says, contemplative.

“Well, I have an eating disorder,” Jimin announces into the comfortable quiet. His voice comes out weaker than he’d like, a wavering note to it that he hates, but he can’t take it back so he just sets his jaw and waits.

There’s a pause, and then Jeongguk rolls off of him, hitting the floor with a thump. He blinks up at Jimin, eyes wide.

“Hyung?” Jeongguk asks carefully, voice uncertain. “Are you okay?”

Jimin flushes under Jeongguk’s gaze, the concern on his face almost too much to bear.

“Yah, Jeongguk-ah,” he laughs uncomfortably. “Don’t make it weird.”

Jeongguk frowns, clearly hurt, and Jimin immediately feels a stab of guilt.

“I’m sorry,” Jimin concedes, reaching out to ruffle Jeongguk’s hair. Jeongguk lets him, leaning into it. “It’s still weird for me to talk about it, that’s all.”

Jeongguk nods from underneath Jimin’s hand.

“I’ll help you,” he says, voice firm and decisive. “Whatever you need, just tell me, okay? I’ll do it.”

Jimin had imagined would go a certain way if Taehyung ever found out: Taehyung would monitor him constantly. What he was doing, what he was eating, how much he was eating, would all be under scrutiny. The pressure would become unbearable, Jimin would have to start avoiding him, and their friendship would be over, all because some days Jimin is too afraid to eat a bowl of rice for two meals in a row.

Jimin is willing to admit that this was incredibly stupid of him, both because Taehyung is the least judgmental person he knows and also because Taehyung absolutely does not have the attention span necessary to monitor Jimin’s every move.

It’s a little harder with Jeongguk, but Jeongguk has always taken constructive criticism seriously. When Jimin says stop watching me, it’s making me uncomfortable, Jeongguk just nods, eyes wide, a look on his face that says if he had a pen and paper available he’d be taking notes.

 

The first time Jimin got an EKG done it was terrifying—it was barely a few days after Dr. Lee’s diagnosis, when he hadn’t wanted anyone to know. It had been terrifying, sitting alone in the waiting room. Jimin hadn’t ever needed to get anything more serious than basic blood work done, and it felt like a confirmation that there was something really wrong with him.

This time it’s just a formality—Dr. Lee reassured Jimin that there’s no cause for concern, and they just need another confirmation for his patient file.

Still. Jimin doesn’t want to go alone, not again.

He asks Namjoon, but Namjoon has office hours for the class he’s TAing this semester. Taehyung’s Ethics professor always takes attendance, and Jeongguk frowns as he explains that he has a big project due that day.

“Seokjin-hyung might be able to go with you, though,” Jeongguk says. Jimin wrinkles his nose.

“You don’t think that’ll be weird?”

Jimin and Seokjin get along, sure, but they aren’t close enough that Jimin feels comfortable calling him out of the blue and asking Seokjin to accompany him to the Cardiovascular Unit.

“Why would it be weird?” Jeongguk asks, shrugging. He digs in his pocket for his phone. “Hyung always helps me when I need it. I’ll text him.”

“I don’t really think—” Jimin starts, but it’s too late. Jeongguk’s already sent the message, staring down at his phone as he waits for a reply.

“Hyung’s typing, one sec,” he says. Jimin winces.

“You really didn’t have to—”

“He says he’ll go!” Jeongguk interrupts, looking up with a big toothy smile. Jimin’s answering smile is considerably weaker, but it’s sweet that Jeongguk wants to help him so badly.

Seokjin meets Jimin at the subway exit, looking beautiful and windswept. Jimin feels like a sweaty mess in comparison, even though he just took a shower before he left.

“Thanks for doing this for me,” he says, feeling awkward and ill-at-ease. Jimin regrets not stopping Jeongguk from messaging Seokjin in the first place more and more with each passing moment. How could he ever have thought this would be a good idea?

But—

“Who says I’m doing this for you?” Seokjin counters, nose scrunching in faked irritation, coming to stand next to Jimin as he double-checks the route on his phone. “Maybe I just really like hospitals.”

“No one likes hospitals,” Jimin argues, distracted, as he looks toward the closest intersection to try and orient his location on the map. “It’s this way, come on.”

“You don’t know that,” Seokjin insists, but he drops it easily enough as he moves to follow Jimin towards the crosswalk.

He keeps up the easy banter all the way to the hospital waiting room, where he stands a respectable distance away while Jimin checks in with the receptionist.

“It’s on the fifth floor, come on,” Jimin says, and Seokjin just nods, following Jimin again without any fuss.

Jimin still feels flustered, embarrassingly on display, but Seokjin isn’t acting as though it’s strange at all.

“Did Jeongguk tell you why I’m here?” he asks, unable to help himself, once they’re seated in the waiting room of the cardio department. Seokjin looks up from where he’d been messing around on his phone, gaze suddenly sharp.

“No,” he says carefully. “He just said he didn’t want you to have to come by yourself.”

“I have to get an EKG,” Jimin says.

“I gathered that much,” Seokjin says. Jimin rolls his eyes and shoves at Seokjin’s arm in annoyance, even though Seokjin’s teasing tone was still kind.

There’s a pause, then, and Jimin hesitates to fill it. Seokjin’s waiting for him to explain, which is fair, because Jimin brought it up in the first place. But it always feels so stupid, saying it out loud.

“I lost too much weight,” he admits, finally. Seokjin pauses, eyes sharp, and then nods.

“Are you doing okay now?” he asks. Jimin pauses, thinking about it, and then shrugs.

“Maybe,” he laughs, helplessly. “I don’t know.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re trying,” Seokjin says.

“I don’t know if that’s true,” Jimin admits, his cheeks starting to heat up in embarrassment. His gaze flits away from Seokjin’s face.

“You’re here, aren’t you?”

“I guess,” Jimin mutters, and then the truth spills out of him before he can stop it. “I don’t want to be.”

“That’s okay,” Seokjin says, voice calm. “You did it anyway.”

“I wish I didn’t have to,” Jimin says.

“I wish you didn’t, either,” Seokjin says. Jimin frowns.

“I wish it was as easy as it is to say that,” he huffs, sulky and exasperated. He’s so fucking tired—tired of thinking about his stupid problems, tired of explaining his stupid problems. Tired of having his stupid problems.

Seokjin laughs, startlingly loud in the quiet waiting room.

“Jimin-ah,” he says, not unkindly. “It isn’t easy for anybody.”

“I know that,” Jimin whines, even if that isn’t precisely true. It’s not that he thinks everyone’s life is easier than his—that would be ridiculous. He’s not so self-centred as that.

But he does think that other people can make it through a day without having to talk themselves into eating every single meal, and without inevitably crying afterwards. Other people don’t think about food all the fucking time, every minute of every hour of every day, a constant obsession sated by neither absence nor overindulgence.

Seokjin’s eyes are still on him, more intense than usual, assessing. Jimin looks down at his plate.

“Being happy doesn’t come easily to anyone,” Seokjin says, finally, voice very quiet. “I have to work for it, every single day.”

Every single day.

Jimin’s tired of thinking about every single day.

“I don’t want to have to work for anything anymore,” he croaks out. “I’m too tired. It’s too hard.”

“Yah, Jimin-ah,” Seokjin says, so softly it makes Jimin want to cry. “We love you so much, you know that right? Our sweet Jiminie. No matter what you look like, or how you feel. We love you so much.”

That doesn’t seem right; Jimin and Seokjin aren’t even that close. But there’s nothing but sincerity in Seokjin’s voice, and Jimin sits frozen, feeling totally helpless as warm tears run down his face, dripping down into the collar of his shirt.

“I don’t feel like something worth loving,” he admits, stripped bare. “I feel like I ruined myself.”

Jimin hadn’t even realized it until the words spilled out of his mouth, horrible and true. He sniffs loudly, scrubs the back of his hand under his nose.

“Yah, Park Jimin,” Seokjin says. His voice is raised in mock anger, over-the-top to mask his obvious concern, so predictable it’s almost soothing. “What’s that supposed to mean, huh?”

Jimin shrugs uselessly.

“I’m so messed up now,” he says weakly. “I’m not sure I can ever get better.”

It’s shameful, he knows, wanting to give up like this. Jimin wishes he wasn’t so weak. He wishes he wasn’t always thinking about how much easier it would be if he just stopped trying at all.

It wasn’t that bad, right? He was surviving, before. He had it basically figured out—the delicate balance between pushing himself to the limit and total collapse. It was kind of thrilling, knowing he was getting away with something.

Except—no, that isn’t right. Even in this moment of weakness, even in the privacy of his own thoughts, Jimin can’t hold the illusion for long without remembering the rest of it. The aching limbs, the constant exhaustion. The agony of feeling his own heart struggling to beat.

What he feels now—the self-hatred, the sense that he’s always doing something wrong, the anxiety every time he sees his own reflection. The constant, never-ending fear—it’s still better than that. Jimin has to believe that it’s better than that.

“You don’t really believe that, right?” Seokjin asks softly, voice kind.

Jimin shrugs, and then shakes his head, tentative. He does and he doesn’t, depending on the day. Depending on the moment. Depending on the breath.

“You can always get better,” Seokjin says. “You can always try.”

Jimin breathes in, a shaky inhale, and nods.

He remembers the first time Jeongguk brought Seokjin over to the apartment: Taehyung did an actual, physical double-take.

“Yah, Jeongguk-ah,” Taehyung said as soon as Seokjin left the table to go to the bathroom. “Where are you finding all these hyungs, huh? Did you put out an advertisement or what?”

“I told you, I met Seokjin at the gym,” Jeongguk said slowly, eyes darting between Taehyung’s serious expression and Jimin’s attempts at holding in his laughter, clearly confused.

“So you went to the gym and just happened to pick the most beautiful man you could find to spot you while you lifted weights?” Taehyung asked seriously, eyebrows narrowed in suspicion.

“No?” Jeongguk said. “I bumped into him in the shower.”

“Oh my god,” Jimin managed, the laughter spilling out of him before he could catch it. Taehyung, impressively, managed to control himself a little better, but Jimin could see his mouth twitching and knew it’s only a matter of time.

Hyung,” Jeongguk whined, but Jimin just laughed even harder. “You’re making it weird, stop making it weird!”

Jimin had absolutely no intention of stopping, but Seokjin chose that precise moment to walk back into the room, loudly complimenting their choice in hand soap so he let it drop, sharing one last conspiratorial smirk with Taehyung.

“So, Seokjin-ssi,” Taehyung said loudly, his smile deceptively guileless. “Jeongguk tells us you work out?”

But really, all jokes aside, Seokjin didn’t turn out to be anything like how Jimin expected him to be—he’s beautiful, sure, body built in a way that should make Jimin seize up with jealousy, but he’s so charming and irreverent that Jimin can’t help enjoying his presence.

They’ve known each other long enough now that Jimin doesn’t really notice Seokjin’s face anymore, focuses more on his squeaky laughter and horrible jokes, or on the way he always makes sure his friends eat before he does.

“Park Jimin!” The receptionists’ voice cuts through Jimin’s thoughts, startling him. He sits upright, glancing sideways at Seokjin. Seokjin nods, motioning for Jimin to stand.

“Do you want me to come with you?” Seokjin asks, and Jimin falters. He thinks he should say no, probably. He and Seokjin aren’t even that close, and Jimin has already embarrassed himself so much.

But Seokjin is already standing, checking the seat behind him to make sure he didn’t leave anything behind.

“Thanks, hyung,” Jimin says softly as he grabs his own sweater and moves towards the desk, Seokjin a comforting shadow behind him.

Seokjin doesn’t push him to talk about it anymore, and Jimin’s embarrassingly grateful.

He can’t help thinking about what Seokjin said, though, the conversation lingering in his mind for the rest of the day.

It stays on his mind when he’s trying to sleep, the thoughts so persistent in his lonely bedroom that he ends up pushing himself out of bed and creeping into Taehyung’s room instead.

“Taehyung,” Jimin whispers into the dark. The Taehyung-shaped lump on the bed groans, muffled into the pillow, but doesn’t move.

Taehyung.”

Jimin feels exponentially dumber with every second that passes, hovering in the doorway to Taehyung’s room because he can’t quite make himself cross the threshold.

Taehyung whines, something wordless and unintelligible, then snuffles. The barest light from the hallway illuminates the shapes of the furniture in the room, but not much more. Jimin stays in the doorway.

He doesn’t want to go back to his room. Doesn’t want to be alone with the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“Tae,” he says one last time, his voice too loud in the 2AM quiet.

There’s another pause, and then—

“Jiminie? Is that you?” Taehyung’s voice comes out in a croak.

“It’s me,” Jimin confirms, quietly, finally moving forward to sit on the edge of the bed.

“What’s wrong?” Taehyung reaches out to pat Jimin’s knee but he misses, gets the comforter instead. He leaves his hand there, limp against the fabric, like moving it back would be too much effort.

Jimin shakes his head even though he knows Taehyung can’t see him. He can’t say it out loud. Can’t make it real like that. He crawls over to lie down next to Taehyung, instead, and hopes Taehyung will understand.

Taehyung drops the pillow he was holding and pulls Jimin close, wrapping all his limbs around Jimin’s body. His breath smells terrible. Jimin loves him so much it hurts.

“I don’t think I can do this.”

Jimin whispers the words into Taehyung’s clavicle, where they’ll be safe. Taehyung is quiet for a moment, squeezing him even tighter.

“You can,” he says, finally, his deep voice still gravelly with sleep. Jimin doesn’t think he believes him, but Taehyung sounds so sure that he can almost pretend.

“You’ll still love me even if I can’t, though. Right?” His voice sounds pathetic, whiny and thin, half muffled by the worn fabric of Taehyung’s t-shirt.

“I’ll love you forever, Jiminie. You know that.”

Jimin nods into Taehyung’s neck, throat too tight to say anything more.

He wakes up the next morning to a picture of a frog, sent from Namjoon at 6 AM.

Jimin buries his head in the pillow and smiles.

 

“Jeongguk-ah.”

“Huh?” Jeongguk looks up from his computer screen, then immediately goes back to his game once he sees it’s Jimin at the door. Rude.

“Can I talk to you for a sec?”

Jimin must sound more serious than he intended, because this time Jeongguk actually does pause. He swivels his stupid expensive desk chair to face the doorway, raising his eyebrows.

“What’s up.”

“Namjoonie-hyung…” Jimin trails off, embarrassed.

“What about him?” Jeongguk sounds wary.

“You’re really not interested in him, right?”

“Everything Namjoon-hyung does is interesting,” Jeongguk says, automatic.

“You know what I mean,” Jimin huffs. “You’re not interested in him like that, right?”

“I don’t want to date him, no,” Jeongguk says, sounding unimpressed.

“You’re sure?”

Jeongguk rolls his eyes.

“Yes. And yes, I know you guys would accept me no matter what, and no, I don’t have anything important I want to share with you.”

Jimin laughs, despite himself.

“We just want to make sure you feel safe and accepted,” he manages between giggles. “University is a time of self-discovery!”

Jeongguk rolls his eyes so intensely that it actually looks a little painful.

“Why were you asking about Namjoon-hyung?” he asks, clearly trying to veer them away from his own discomfort and towards Jimin’s.

“I just wanted to make sure it would be okay if I was, like,” Jimin pauses. He can feel himself blushing, and he hates it. “Like, into him?”

Jeongguk squints at him.

“Obviously it’s okay,” he says, slowly.

“Obviously? Why is that obvious?”

Jimin thinks back to his interactions with Namjoon. Has he been obvious? Does everybody know? Does Namjoon know? Has Namjoon just been humouring him this whole time?

Oh God. He’s going to have to leave the country. This is even more embarrassing than the time Jimin had a visible crush on the reporter who interviewed him for the school website. Everyone could tell as soon as the video got posted, and that one down took weeks to live down.

“Because you guys are dating?” Jeongguk says a little hesitantly, like he’s not sure he understood the question.

“What?” Jimin laughs in disbelief.

“You guys… are dating?”

“Why would you say that?”

“Because you are? You hang out with him all the time.”

“I hang out with Tae all the time too, and I’m not dating him.”

Jeongguk makes a face like he’s buffering, mouth gaping in confusion.

“Are you saying… you and Namjoon-hyung aren’t together?”

“No! We’re not!”

“His last…” Jeongguk pulls out his phone and scrolls until he finds what he’s looking for. “Five Instagram posts have been captioned ‘camera emoji colon at sign pjm.1995_,’ and the one before that was a picture of you.”

Jeongguk reads out every character of Jimin’s username separately, because he’s the worst person Jimin knows.

“He needed someone to take his picture! I just happened to be there!” Jimin protests weakly.

“Five days in a row?”

“Yes, because we’re friends.” Jimin glares at Jeongguk as he emphasizes the last word, crossing his arms in frustration.

“Last night you closed your textbook before midnight so you could focus on messaging him.”

“He was telling me about his therapy appointment!”

“You tell each other about your therapy appointments.”

Jimin opens his mouth to retort that he tells plenty of people about his therapy appointments, thank you Jeongguk, but he catches himself just in time, because. Well. Jimin doesn’t actually talk about therapy with pretty much anyone, except for Namjoon.

Taehyung and Jeongguk know he’s going, and now they vaguely know why he’s going, but he’s never come home from an appointment, sprawled out on the couch, and whined to Taehyung about how fucking insulting it was to have nutritional diagrams explained to him like he was back in elementary school. He’s never texted Jeongguk to ask him what he thinks about square breathing.

But that doesn’t have to mean anything, right? Taehyung is Jimin’s platonic soulmate, Jeongguk is his shitty little brother. Namjoon is his therapy friend.

“It’s not like a dating thing, though,” Jimin protests weakly. “We’re just hanging out, and like. Talking a lot.”

“That’s literally how you start dating, but okay,”Jeongguk says, looking deeply skeptical.

“But we’ve never even kissed,” Jimin counters.

“But do you want to?” Jeongguk asks, and Jimin flushes. Thinks about all the times he’s come home after spending an afternoon with Namjoon, his whole body tingling because their thighs brushed when they sat next to each other. Tries very hard not to think about all the times he’s jerked off thinking about Namjoon’s delicate hands, about his biceps and his long legs. About his fucking thighs.

Judging by the horrified expression on Jeongguk’s face, he’s not particularly successful.

“Nevermind, please don’t answer that,” Jeongguk says, nose scrunched up like he just got a whiff of rotten cabbage.

Jimin sticks out his tongue at him.

“Sexual attraction is a natural part of the human experience, Jeongguk-ah,” he adds, just to be a shit.

“Get out of my room, Jimin-ssi,” Jeongguk deadpans, his straight face lasting for about twenty seconds before he starts cackling.

Jimin huffs and tries to pout, but Jeongguk’s amusement at his own sense of humour is contagious, his honking laughter impossible to resist.

 

Namjoon takes Jimin to a bookstore off campus the next day. It’s a thirty minute bus ride to get there, and they spend the entire thirty minutes with their hands next to each other on the seats, pinkies brushing.

It’s the most erotic thirty minutes of Jimin’s life, possibly, knocking the time he got to cover the district swim meet for his high school newspaper right out of first place.

Is this a date?

He desperately wants to ask, smiling in delight as Namjoon shows him all his favourite authors.

Is this a date?

It’s on the tip of his tongue as he watches Namjoon crouch at the opening of an alleyway, crooning with an outstretched hand until the suspicious alley cat comes close enough for him to pet.

Is this a date?

He almost manages to ask over ice cream, taking delicate bites of his vanilla to make it last, watching as Namjoon tries to make it through his own strawberry-pistachio-swirl.

“Let’s trade,” Jimin laughs instead, holding out his cup and taking Namjoon’s cone instead.

He doesn’t let himself compare the sizes, doesn’t let himself think about whether he’s eating more than Namjoon, whether he’ll need to punish himself for it later. He just focuses on the sweet strawberry tang, and how it melts together with the creamy pistachio on his tongue. Namjoon’s smile, his eyes squinting in the bright sunlight. The smell of the barbecue restaurant two doors down, already crowded even though it’s barely 3 p.m.

Is this a date?

If it isn’t, Jimin doesn’t want to know. He falls asleep on the bus on the way back, his head resting comfortably on Namjoon’s shoulder. When he wakes up their pinkies are intertwined.

“Is this a date?” Jimin blurts out.

Namjoon pauses, blushing. Rubs his hand at the back of his neck, looking flustered.

“Um,” he starts, then pauses. “Do you. Do you want it to be?”

It’s surprisingly easy to answer.

“Yes,” Jimin says, voice firm. “If you do too, then yes.”

“Of course I do,” Namjoon says quickly, blushing even harder. Jimin coos at him, reaching up to pinch at his cheek. He figures he’s allowed, now.

 


 

“Okay okay okay,” Taehyung says, taking his hands down from where they’ve been covering Jimin’s face. “You can open your eyes.”

Jimin blinks, taking in the scene before him. There’s braised chicken in the middle of the table, surrounded by small bowls of rice and neatly plated side dishes—Jimin didn’t even know they owned this much tableware. He’s pretty sure the cushions on the floor are new.

He squints at the food, looking closer. It looks… surprisingly edible.

“Did you really make all this?” he asks, turning to look at Taehyung skeptically.

“I helped,” Taehyung protests, just as Jeongguk comes bustling in behind him from the kitchen, holding cups and silverware.

“Jeongguk-ah, was this you?” Jimin asks, taken aback by the ease with which Jeongguk fusses at the table settings and pokes at the chicken.

The last time Jimin checked, the only thing Jeongguk knew how to cook was ramen.

“Jin-hyung let us practice at his place,” Jeongguk offers, which doesn’t really do much to explain his sudden transformation. He’s wearing an apron.

“How many times?” Jimin asks weakly, staring at the chopstick rests placed neatly at each setting. Since when do they own chopstick rests?

“Twice, I think,” Jeongguk says distractedly, fussing with the plates.

“Three times,” Taehyung corrects him. He turns to Jimin, smiling proudly even though it’s abundantly clear that his role in the whole endeavour was supporting, at best.

“Three times,” Jimin echoes faintly, so overwhelmed that he has to grab at the back of the couch for support.

“My mom helped me,” Jeongguk says, looking up suddenly. His eyes are so wide—it’s disarming. “And Jin-hyung, too. And I watched a lot of videos.”

“Jeongguk-ah,” Jimin says helplessly. He can feel the tears lurking, threatening to spill over. He drags a hand across his face and tries to smile instead. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“Of course I did,” Jeongguk says seriously. “I want to help you.”

And Jimin can’t help but cry, then. It’s just a lot: that earnest note in Jeongguk’s voice, coupled with Taehyung’s wide-eyed, hopeful stare. The fact that they did all of this because they knew Jimin was afraid, and they wanted to make it something bearable.

Taehyung makes an urgent, startled noise when the first tear makes its way down Jimin’s cheek, fluttering over so he can meet Jimin’s eyes.

“If you guys keep making me cry like this, I won’t be able to taste the food,” Jimin laughs wetly.

“But it’s okay?” Taehyung’s hand comes up to cup the back of Jimin’s neck as he asks, warm and reassuring. Jimin shudders and nods, taking a deep breath.

“It looks really good,” he manages. “You did so well. Both of you,” he says, looking up to look at Jeongguk, who’s still standing anxiously, waiting for Jimin’s approval.

“I didn’t make all the vegetables,” Jeongguk says, gesturing at a few of the side dishes, a distraught expression on his face like he’s admitting to some great failure.

“Jeongguk-ah,” Jimin laughs again, this snotty, ugly thing. “It’s perfect.”

He wishes he could be perfect, too. He wishes that he could enjoy his food in the same simple way that his friends do; that he wasn’t already thinking about what he’s going to eat tomorrow, and when he’ll have time to go to the gym, and whether this single meal is going to ruin everything.

“Taehyung,” Jimin forces himself to say. “When I try to go to the gym tomorrow, I need you to sit on me until I stop moving.”

He tries to make it a joke, but Taehyung looks up sharply anyway. There’s a moment where it seems like he’s seeing straight through Jimin, like maybe he can hear every ugly thought tumbling around inside Jimin’s head. The assessing look shifts just as quickly as it had appeared, Taehyung’s face melting into a wide smile instead.

“Sure thing, Jimin-ah,” he says cheerfully. “I’ll sit on you all day if you need me to.”

Jeongguk grimaces from across the table, where he’s been methodically shovelling food into his mouth since he sat down.

“Don’t let Namjoon-hyung hear you say that,” he says around a mouthful of rice.

“Oh, he can come too,” Taehyung says with a lecherous wink. Jimin laughs, delighted. Jeongguk’s expression doesn’t change at all, except for where his mouth gapes open.

“Yah, Jeon Jeongguk,” Jimin calls out fondly across the table. “Close your mouth, would you?”

Jeongguk opens it even wider in response.

“I don’t know why I put up with you,” Jimin sighs, feigning deep exasperation. Jeongguk just laughs, obviously not convinced in the slightest.

“I made you this nice dinner,” Jeongguk says, pointing to the table. “You should be grateful.”

“Yeah, and I’m older than you, right?” Jimin counters, fluttering his eyelashes. “So you should speak to me respectfully.”

It’s pretty blatant bullshit—in all the time he’s known Jeongguk, Jimin has never been strict about how Jeongguk addresses him. When he chastises Jeongguk for being a brat, they both know it’s mostly lip service.

So Jeongguk just smiles, toothy and obnoxious, like he knows that what Jimin really means is Thank you.

“We should do this again,” Jimin says, after a moment. He takes a deep breath. “You can show me how you made it.”

“Yeah?” Jeongguk says carefully, neatly picking out a piece of chicken.

“Yeah!” Taehyung pipes up. His mouth is very full, but he doesn’t let that stop him from joining the conversation. “That’s a great idea, Chim.”

Jimin smiles and hands him a napkin.

“We could invite more people, too,” he continues, heart pounding in his chest. “Like Hobi-hyung and his Yoongi-hyung, and Taehyung’s weird theatre friends.”

“Namjoon-hyung too, right?” Jeongguk says, wiggling his eyebrows at Jimin. Jimin laughs and nods, caught.

“Namjoon-hyung too,” he agrees, blushing a little.

“And Jin-hyung, so you can show him how well you did,” Taehyung adds, and it’s Jeongguk’s turn to blush, freezing comically in place. Jimin giggles even harder.

“I love you guys,” he says, the words spilling out of him in a rush.

Taehyung drops his chopsticks immediately, crawling over to crush Jimin in a suffocating hug. Jeongguk follows soon after, laughing maniacally as he squeezes them both together.

“You’re killing me,” Jimin moans. “I just told you I loved you and now you’re killing me.”

“What a way to go, though,” Taehyung says, sounding perfectly comfortable even as Jeongguk’s forearm digs into his ribcage.

Jimin laughs, clear and unburdened, because Taehyung’s right.

What a way to go.