The first time Park Jimin drowned, he was at his cousin Jisoo’s birthday party.
It was summer and a blistering hot one at that. Leaving the cool relief of the kidney bean shaped pool didn't feel like an option. While all the other kids swarmed around the ice cream cake with grabby hands, Jimin had picked up someone's floaty, the kind you're supposed to fit your legs and arms into, sit in. Only he got tangled, and now the plastic was covering his head, his mouth, restricting his arms.
He drifted out to the deep end of the pool fast, a place where he couldn’t stand on his own two feet without being underwater entirely. The water was in his eyes, burning, couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t swim, couldn’t yell, water tasted gross, couldn’t breathe, lungs burning, can’t breathe, help, can’t breathe—
The wild thrashing from his legs had drawn the attention of his mother, who didn’t hesitate to dive headfirst into the pool in her pretty sundress and pull him out, hollering her head off at him, part fury and part weepy relief, Jimin coughing and sputtering pool water, breathing air like it was the only thing he knew how to do. He spent the rest of the party sitting on the lawn chairs, far away from the water, wrapped in a towel. He refused to go anywhere unless mom was holding his hand. If he was going to go anywhere near the deep end, he was not going to do it alone.
His parents had a talk shortly after, and decided Jimin should learn to swim as soon as possible.
Before ballet, before jazz, before he ever set foot in a dance studio, there was breast stroke, and back stroke, and front crawl. There were flutter-kicks with a foam board. There was learning how to dive off the high jump.
Jimin was smaller than most of the other kids. He struggled to move through the water as graceful and as quick. You'll grow into it, mom had assured him, you’ll learn. And he did. He worked harder than anyone in the class. He swam every day, and moved through the ranks quickly, despite being younger, despite being small for his age.
Graduation from swim lessons ended with a treading water test. That's all there was to be done. Jumping from the high board into that big deep end, some twenty feet of chlorine-bright blue, and treading water. Ten minutes keeping his head above the surface was all he needed. Ten minutes.
It was hell.
Jimin's legs burned. His shoulders screamed. His lungs heaved. There was a lifeguard raft for him to grab if he felt like he was going to go under, but he didn't dare reach it. He could do this. He could do okay on his own. He could swim. He could tread water.
But the water was so blue he couldn’t see the bottom it, and at six and a half years old Jimin was still afraid of great white sharks and giant squid, all those terrifying things that lurk beneath the surface, can’t see them, but you know they’re there. It didn’t matter that this was a pool, that he knew there was nothing to be afraid of.
The sense of deep water was overwhelming, terrifying, but Jimin couldn’t stop. Wouldn’t stop.
He kept his head up. His legs kicked furious, mule-stubborn. He let the pain make a home in his muscles, and he finished. Didn’t let himself sink, for a full ten minutes.
When he grabbed onto the raft, he sobbed with exhaustion. The teacher signed a certification saying he’d completed the course, Jimin’s mom bought him shaved ice to celebrate, and that was that.
Swimming wasn't hard. Really it was just knowing how to paddle. How to cup your hands to make fins, how to keep your head above water. Swimming was nothing more than staying afloat, and staying moving. Swimming was about looking at your surroundings, calculating how long you have to stay afloat, and giving it your best shot until the life raft gets thrown to you.
Right now, Jimin’s miles away from any body of water. Years away from the dumb kid who nearly drowned himself out of sheer stupidity. The situation currently—standing in his best friend’s bedroom, t-minus twelve hours and forty two minutes until The Day™—is nothing like that.
(It’s everything like that, in a way. The rules are different, but the challenge remains the same, only instead of treading water for ten minutes, it’s living for six months and eighteen days without his best friend.)
It’s going to be fine. All Jimin just has to do is stay afloat.
He knows how to do this, how to swim in deep waters. He’s done it before, and survived worse.
Like a life raft, the comfort of having a best friend is knowing they’re there for you. Not necessarily depending on them. It’s more about knowing the life raft is there on the off chance he does need it, that it’s within arm’s length rather than, say, nine thousand five hundred and eighty kilometers across the globe.
Not that anyone’s counting.
A little voice in his head says Jimin can’t function on his own without Kim Taehyung, and for the most part he knows that’s not true.
It just feels kind-of-sort-of true right now.
“T-minus twelve hours and forty one minutes until The Day™."
“You are so dramatic,” Taehyung jokes, making a glib attempt to lighten the mood, even though has no need to. Jimin’s perfected a neutral tone when talking about the departure. “The Day T.M., honestly. I am going to be fine.”
“I didn’t say you weren’t.”
“Didn’t have to. I can feel the worry coming from you in waves, so I’ll repeat myself: I’m going to be fine. I promise not to talk to any Scientologists.”
“I’m sure that’s what Katie Holmes said, and look what happened.”
They’ve been lobbying back and forth like this for a while, because there’s a big elephant in the room and that elephant is Taehyung’s suitcase, open wide on his bed. They’re doing a pretty good job of it so far, playing in the shallows, pretending like everything’s not about to change tomorrow.
“Ah, you make a rational point.”
Of course he does. Jimin smirks, taking petty satisfaction, even though all they’re doing is exchanging meaningless banter.
It’s all he can do, because right now it feels like he’s stuck in quicksand, located somewhere around the “denial” stage of the grieving scale. The dig-your-heels-into-the-ground-and-tug stage because no, no, Jimin’s best friend is not leaving him alone for six months and eighteen days to go study abroad in some godforsaken foreign country. Not on Jimin’s watch.
(He is absolutely doing that on Jimin’s watch. Taehyung has been accepted to this incredibly prestigious art program with a special grant to cover the entire semester abroad and Jimin’s so proud of him he could cry. He’s not going to demand his best friend stay behind so he can feel secure in himself. He’s not going to be needy about this. He’s not.)
“Who’s driving you to the airport? Please don’t tell me you’re going to experiment with hitchhiking tomorrow, of all times.”
“I’ve enlisted our favorite lackey,” says Taehyung with a grin. “You might know him? Tall? Muscle pig with bambi eyes? Frequently talks smack like he has the right to? You basically raised him?”
“Ah, yes. That little shit. Now that I think on it, being left alone with Jeongguk is going to be the worst part of this whole you going abroad thing.”
“Not the me being gone part?”
“Of course not,” says Jimin breezily.
Taehyung prattles on about Jeongguk’s piece of shit car and how he hopes it doesn’t explode on the way to the airport, but Jimin’s only half listening.
The other half of him, the quieter half, the half that is giving off waves of worry, is thinking about swimming.
It’s dumb and it’s morbid, but sometimes Jimin has to remind himself that he knows how to do it. Swim. Keep afloat. Sinking isn't an option when he knows perfectly well how to survive.
This isn’t life or death. Taehyung is only going abroad in the states for a semester.
Still—Park Jimin is about to be in open water. A place he hasn’t been by himself for quite some time.
This, he knows, is a half-problem. A half-concern. Sometimes Jimin gets twisted up in his own head, has to consciously untangle everything to reveal them for what they really are. An irrational thought wrapped inside an insecurity and topped with extra worry-wart sauce that whispers the entire spring semester is going to fucking suck without Taehyung and then he’s going to come back from America and be all worldly and cool and educated and he’s going to drop you just like that.
“Now, I know you said this semester is going to suck without me, so I have a new proposal.” Taehyung folds one of seventeen t-shirts that he’s been trying to narrow down to twelve for the last hour, because he's decided to procrastinate packing until the last minute, of course. “The weather here is going to be miserable, and LA is going to be beautiful and sunny. So I think you should definitely stow away in my suitcase. There’s nothing left for you here.”
"Taehyung, my dearest friend, my partner in crime, the one person on this earth that I would bury a body for, you’ve packed half your closet in that suitcase. There's no way I'm fitting in it."
“I dunno, there’s definitely room in the side pocket.”
Jimin knows by now when his friend is talking because he wants to, and when he’s talking to fill a silence. It’s the latter, right now, but he doesn’t comment on it.
Taehyung sighs petulantly, discarding one of the seventeen shirt choices to the ground. “This is unfair. Why can’t you come with me? I’m not even going to have fun.”
“Stop.” Jimin smiles, and means it. “You're going to have the time of your life and you know it.”
Taehyung looks up, shooting Jimin a small smile as he leans all his weight and tries to stuff sixteen shirts into his already full suitcase. “Yeah, I am. Still going to miss you though.”
“You’re so dramatic,” Jimin parrots back, then comes over to help Taehyung sandwich the t-shirts into his suitcase.
This is the most sentimental they’re going to get. A week ago, at Taehyung’s going away karaoke extravaganza, he’d grabbed Jimin by the face and pressed their foreheads together, completely plastered but whispering fiercely, “Park Jimin, don’t you dare let me get sentimental before I go. Don’t you let me cry, listen, look into my eyes, listen to my face. I am going to miss each you so much. But if you let me get emo, I will never get on that plane. I need you to be my rock, Jimin.”
And Jimin, equally drunk, full of bittersweet and big blooming love for his best friend, had promised.
No emo. No sentimental.
Jimin hates this feeling.
He’s known that Taehyung is leaving ever since he got the letter of acceptance to the study abroad program in early October. But it's one thing thinking my person is going away in the spring and a whole other thing thinking My person is going away soon. Tomorrow. He's going to walk out the door in just a few hours. And I won’t see him for six months and eighteen days.
Taehyung is Jimin’s best friend in the whole entire world. He didn’t think it was possible to have a friendship so solid and good. For two and a half years now they’ve been joined at the hip. The longest they've been apart since the first day of college was two weeks, tops. Even then, that first summer break, they switched off crashing at each other’s houses, taking trains back and forth between Daegu and Busan. They have been inseparable. Or, they were. Not anymore.
This isn’t a bad thing. This is a completely normal and functional thing.
This, Jimin figures, is how people grow up.
Nevertheless, Jimin feels like he’s preemptively bruised. Bracing for impact. Diving.
He knows it’s not showing on his face, but Taehyung wouldn’t be his best friend if he didn’t pick up on it anyway.
“Here,” Taehyung says, attempting to slam the lid closed. “Help me sit on this.”
They sit on the suitcase, which Taehyung takes as an excuse to lean his forehead against Jimin’s shoulder. Rub his nose into Jimin’s sleeve with a weird cryptid groan until Jimin swats at him, laughing.
They settle. They breathe.
“We’re gonna rock this long distance thing,” says Taehyung. “We totally are. We’re going to be the most functional long distance relationship to have ever existed, even with the heinous time differences. I’ll skype and text every day.”
“Snapchat too. We have to keep our streaks up.”
“I’d rather perish than lose those streaks.”
And that’s that. They can totally do this. Even if it feels daunting right here and now.
Jimin is going to miss him so very much.
Taehyung hops off, evaluating the very-much-not-closed suitcase. “Do you think the clothes have shrunk from the combined weight of our asses?”
“Something tells me that’s not how it works.”
“What if I took out all my ties and airmailed them? That’s like—at least half of the bulk.”
“Pick three ties,” says Jimin, hopping off and walking towards the door. “Burn the rest.”
“Also, please don’t forget to clean so your subletter doesn’t run screaming from the premises. Really need to not have this go south before spring semester even starts.”
Wait a second.
Jimin turns, squinting, because only now does it occur to him. He’d been too distracted with trying not to think about Taehyung’s departure to think about maybe the most crucial part of Taehyung’s departure.
“You did find one, right?”
“Find one what?”
"...A subletter. Another roommate. Someone to take over your lease until you get back. Someone to live with me so I don’t end up in destitution. Oh my god.”
For a split second, Taehyung’s expression is innocently blank. Which is all it takes for Jimin’s mind goes into crisis overdrive, run through all the possible bad outcomes in an instant. It’s the kind of thing you get used to doing when Kim Taehyung is your best friend, and something Jimin learned within the first month of their living together. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.
Bad Outcome A) Taehyung didn’t find a roommate and Jimin gets evicted; Bad Outcome B) Taehyung didn’t find a roommate and Jimin has to pick the first rando willing to move in; or Bad Outcome C) Taehyung didn’t find a roommate and Jimin has to become a cam boy to make up the difference in rent.
Before he can start mentally calculating the cost of exactly how many online jerk off sessions he’d need to do a week, Taehyung laughs, gusty and loud. “I’m kidding. God, so quick to doubt me. You should have seen your face.”
“Punk!” Jimin slugs him on the shoulder. “What does that mean?”
“Obviously.” Taehyung waves a hand in the air, casual and blasé. "Obviously I found you a roommate. A good roommate. An amazing roommate.”
“Are you lying or deliberately stalling? I can’t tell.”
“I found you a roommate, I swear!”
“You're talking a big game for someone who promised to introduce me to a Kim Taehyung replacement well over a month ago.”
“Perfection takes time, my dear Jimothy. What—was I supposed to just pick the first rando to message me about the ad?”
Jimin crosses his arms over his chest. ”I'm not the one who created a 200 question application to fill out, and then demanded three rounds of interviews."
“Look,” Taehyung sniffs, pulling out a few dozen ties from his suitcase, one by one. “You said you'd never be able to replace me. If you’ll remember, I looked into cloning myself.”
“And then discovered you couldn’t clone yourself.”
“Couldn’t get the funding. However, I dedicated the entirety of last semester to finding someone that could come as close as possible to the real thing. It wasn’t easy, finding someone as smart and as dashing and as wonderful as I am.”
“Get to the point, Tae.”
“I wanted someone solid, but you’d be surprised how many shitbags there are looking for housing, so after the questionnaire weeded out the weak, I managed to narrow it down potential candidates for interviews. I interviewed a ton of people.”
“Uh. Upwards of twenty? Probably closer to thirty though.”
Jesus christ. “That seems extreme.”
“Nevertheless, I have a feeling you’ll like my final choice.”
“Well? Who are they?”
“He’s quite the esteemed scholar.”
Jimin gives Taehyung a doubtful look. “Esteemed scholar?”
“Seriously. Kind of a legend in the gender studies department, even though he’s not even a major. Also in the music school; apparently Jeonggukie knows who he is? Somehow? I honestly don’t even know what exactly he’s focusing on school wise. He seems to be everywhere in the academic community.”
“And he’s signed the lease? What’s his name?”
“Yup! Paperwork all put in, background check approved. He seems very clean and neat and promised me to take excellent care of you.”
“I’m not a puppy, you know.”
“Embrace the Fursona, Jimin. Embrace it.”
“A name, Taehyung. Give me a name!”
“Park Jimin,” says Taehyung with a dramatic flourish to his hands, “My dearest friend for whom my whole heart beats, you will be living with none other than Mr. Kimberly Namjoonington the III, Esquire. Esteemed Scholar, Respected Gentleman, Musical Prodigy, etcetera.”
“Cool,” Jimin says, though it is not at all cool. He’s getting a brand new roommate tomorrow. For the first time since ever having a roommate in the first place. It’s chill. It’s fine. He’ll be fine. He’s just gotta swim. He just has to keep his head above water.
“Mind telling me when I’m going to meet this guy?”
“He’ll be here first thing in the morning, probably around the time I board my flight. He’s still out of town on break.”
“What the—how’d you interview him if he’s not here?”
“Duh, Skype. See? I can do the distance thing!” Taehyung says with a wide, shit-eating grin.
Mr. Kimberly Namjoonington the III, Esquire, Esteemed Scholar, Respected Gentleman, Musical Prodigy, Etcetera, is not what Jimin was expecting.
Considering how long Jimin has known of this guy’s existence, there wasn’t much time to think about it. Jimin doesn’t know why the words “esteemed scholar” and “gender studies” conjured up a short, greasy-haired bookworm in his head, someone who looks like they suffer from vitamin-D deficiency after spending too much time in the library.
Whatever the reasons, Mr. Kimberly Namjoonington the III looks nothing like that.
“It’s Namjoon. Just Namjoon.”
The guy standing in Jimin’s doorway chuckles nervously, scratching at the back of his neck. “Taehyung found it extremely amusing that I can quote Shakespeare by heart after I mentioned studying English lit, and uh, got latched onto modifying my name to ‘sound more Shakespearean’, I suppose. He thought it was funny. And then picked Kimberly because according to him ‘there can only be one’. To which I pointed out that there were significantly more Kims in Korea than the two of us. For example; my friend Jin—Kim Seokjin. But then Taehyung said he’d take care of Seokjin soon enough, and also did I want to live with his roommate for a semester and—well. Here I am. New roommate Kim Namjoon at your service.”
His new roommate bows, and it’s the sudden movement of his torso bending and then straightening once more that makes Jimin realize the guy’s looking down at Jimin as he talks. Down down. Because Kim Namjoon’s a good several inches taller than Jimin. He’s definitely not short, definitely not greasy-haired, and definitely not pasty.
He does appear nervous, though. Lifts his head before he completes the bow and meets Jimin’s gaze with a wide-eyed look, like a deer in the headlights.
Jimin’s not staring, but also he’s not not staring.
Everything is sort of a lot right now.
“I’m going to take a wild guess that you don’t go by Parkothy McJimjams,” Kim Namjoon says weakly. “Because uh, that’s what Taehyung told me to call you.”
“I can’t imagine what kind of blackmail Taehyung has got on you to make you agree to live with me if he was acting like that.” Jimin bows back. “I’m Park Jimin, your new roommate. Can I get you some coffee? I was just about to make some.”
“Nice to meet you, Jimin-ssi. Um, I’m not much of a coffee drinker, sorry. I should actually go get my stuff, my friend’s waiting with his car in the fire lane.”
“Please, ‘Jimin’ is fine. Your key is hanging on the coatrack, you need help moving stuff?”
“No, I think I’ve got it, thank you.” And then, quietly, “Jimin,” as an afterthought.
Namjoon bows again before he goes, albeit awkwardly, and Jimin thinks to himself this won’t be so bad. he seems nice. as long as he pays the rent on time, I really don’t have room to complain.
Jimin makes his coffee and kale smoothie and watches Namjoon wander in and out over the next hour. He brings in boxes and bulky trash bags of clothing, a heavy suitcase that looks to be full of books. He doesn’t ask for help, only politely inquires once where his room is.
When he’s done, flushed from exertion and damp in the forehead, Jimin gives him a quick tour of the place and a run-down of the rules. Walks him around the apartment, shows him how the shower works, points out the laundry unit at the end of the hallway, talking as he goes. Namjoon keeps apace, nodding so intently it’s as if he’s about to be quizzed.
“I’m sure Taehyung told you the big stuff. I take care of the bills, I’ll charge you accordingly. Recycling goes out on Tuesdays. Chore chart’s on the fridge, let me know if you have questions about it. You can have friends over anytime, but—any huge groups of people, parties, please check with me first. I’m generally cool with that stuff, I just prefer to know beforehand, ya know?
“Yeah, absolutely. You don’t have much to worry about, I’m not much of a partier but. Friends. I have those,” he nods. “Got it.”
“So, friends are cool. If you have a significant other stay the night, or a hookup, that’s fine just—again, let me know there’s so I don’t think think they’re a murderer if I bump into them.”
“No worries there. I am extremely single.”
It’s said in such a deadly serious tone, Jimin thinks Namjoon’s joking for a second. But there’s a visible tinge of pink stealing over his face when Jimin glances at him, like he’s more and more mortified with each sentence he utters.
“Riiight.” Jimin plows on, for both of their sakes. “There’s a list of numbers on the fridge—the super for the building, the nearest hospital, the gas company, my phone. My schedule is often packed, especially towards the end of the semester with dance rehearsals, but I text back pretty quick, so that’s the best way to get ahold of me for anything.”
Namjoon nods. It looks like he’s decided to omit verbal responses altogether.
“I usually take showers first thing in the morning. We can coordinate a schedule. Do you have a designated day that you like to do laundry?” Jimin asks, then glances down as his phone buzzes a long beat in his pocket. “Sorry, I have to take this.”
“No worries,” Namjoon says. “I’ll just—”
Then he scurries off to his room.
Jimin whips out his phone. “Tae? What’s going on? Are you alright? Did Jeongguk’s car explode? Did you bring something illegal in your suitcase?”
“Don’t be mad, okay?” Taehyung’s voice sounds weird over the phone, high and tight and wrong. A few hours ago he was bouncing on his way out the door with a shouted TTFN TA TA FOR NOW! and a kiss to Jiimin’s cheek. “Please don’t be mad.”
“I’m not mad, are you alright?” Jimin crosses the apartment, closes his door and leans back against it, clutching the phone to his ear. “Hey. I’m not mad. What’s up?”
“Hypothetically speaking, what if I didn’t go to America.”
A pause. Jimin can hear intercom announcements in the background, suitcases rolling, other voices overlapping. Taehyung breathing shakily into the phone, the way he does when he’s trying not to cry.
“Hypothetically, I wouldn’t be mad at you. But I’d want to know your reasons.”
“What better reason could there be than wanting to be with my best friend?”
“Taehyungie,” Jimin says firmly. “Remember when we binge watched Friends?”
“And remember in season ten how Ross begged Rachel to get off the plane and Rachel did and completely ruined her chances at an amazing career just to be with him?”
“Hated that guy.”
“Exactly. I’m not going to tell you to come back, babe.”
“But it’d be easier if I stayed.”
“Easier, maybe. But I don’t think you’d be very happy about it, deep down. You’re so excited about this program, about LA. Even if it means risking a kidnapping and becoming a Scientologist.”
“I really don’t want to be a Scientologist.”
“I know, hon.”
“Tom Cruise scares me,” says Taehyung, then bursts into audible tears.
“No. No no no, don’t cry Tae.” Jimin cups his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone. He doubts Namjoon is the kind of person to listen in on private conversations, but he does it just the same. Maybe it’s more for him, anyways. “It’ll be alright, I promise.”
“I don’t think I can do this,” Taehyung sobs. “I can’t get on that plane. I can’t leave my whole life and take off for another country. What was I thinking? My english isn’t that good. I won’t know anyone. I can’t do this.”
“Hey, hey! You’re going to make friends, you’re the friendliest person I know, everyone is going to love you. There’s so much great stuff out in LA. Celebrities! Palm trees! Disneyland!”
“You’re just saying words,” Taehyung wails, and Jimin has to laugh, even as he feels a lump rise in his throat. “They don’t mean anything because I’m going to be all by myself.”
“And you’re going to be amazing. You’re the most talented artist in that whole group. You’re going to be the best. You’re going to destroy all those entitled white kids.”
“You think so?”
“I know so. Remember when you got into the program? How they said that they only reward one full scholarship. You were that one, Tae. Out of all the other applicants. You have to go, you have to find out how good you are. You have to learn how to swim.”
“Right,” Taehyung says faintly, then, a little louder, “You’re right.”
“Thanks. I love being right. Music to my ears.”
Another announcement rings out over the intercom in the background, and Jimin can hear it. His eyes sting.
“It’s time,” he says gently, forcing his voice steady. “Go get ‘em tiger.”
Taehyung laughs, a wet sound. “I love you Park Jiminie. So much. I’m going to miss you every day.”
“And I, you. Now get your ass on that plane, and go be brilliant. This whole trip isn’t worth it unless I get to brag obnoxiously about my amazing best friend to everyone I know.”
“They’re gonna put my name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, that’s how good I’ll be.”
“Text me when you land.”
“Will do. Love you.”
“If you see Tom Cruise, punch him in the nads and run.”
Taehyung’s laughter is the last thing he hears before he ends the call.
In the next room, he can hear the shift of boxes, the sound of drawers being opened, of someone moving in to temporarily fill the gap. Jimin should go over soon. Finish his question about laundry.
For now he slides down the door until he hits the floor. Closes his eyes. Breathes.
hi jimin are you there?
it’s kim namjoon
there as in at home? sry, in class
hey i’m so sorry to bother you but i think i'm locked out of the apartment
what?????did you lose your key?
no, i just can't get in
have u tried jiggling the lock
i don't want to break it
you're not going to break it i promise
the lock is old and warped as shit.
turn your key a quarter turn to the left and then give it a little jiggle and a kick
works every time
i gotta go back to class, keep me posted
it's not going to work.
did it work? :)
no worries hyung
Kim Namjoon is…polite.
This is pretty much the only descriptor that Jimin can glean at first.
Whenever they run into each other—Jimin coming into the kitchen in the morning, coming home after classes, or bumping into Namjoon as Namjoon’s heading out the door—Namjoon always greets him. Always says hi how are you and Jimin says good, and you? and Namjoon says good and nods, and that is that.
Politeness isn’t a bad thing. But Namjoon’s so polite. Too polite.
He is super tidy. He’s never up late making a racket. He doesn’t leave his dirty socks lying around for Jimin to pick up and yell at him about. He removes his outdated produce from fridge regularly and takes out the trash on his assigned days. He pays wifi and utilities the second Jimin sends a reminder text. He even sorts his recyclables. There is nothing he doesn’t do to be a perfectly attentive and respectful roommate.
Well, except for the thing where Jimin doesn’t even know when Namjoon is home, he’s that quiet. Quiet as a mouse. One night Jimin is singing to himself in the living room as he tidies up and Namjoon scares the everliving shit out him when he comes out of his bedroom. But being too quiet isn’t a valid grievance for a roommate, so Jimin doesn’t comment on it.
Spring semester starts with a bang, a furious blizzard bringing them into the first week and coating the ground in white. It’s not until two weeks in—coming into the kitchen to get some water, Namjoon at the table doing homework, running through the same scripted routine hi how are you good and you when Jimin suddenly realizes that he hasn’t got a clue who his new roommate actually is. Which makes him all the more aware of how much he’s already missing his previous roommate.
Snow settles, a muted down comforter over the ground, puddles being tracked into the dance building, all the hallways slippery.
Jimin fills time in what ways he can. Not that it takes much effort, he’s insanely busy with class and rehearsal and already stressed about workload after the first week back.
But there are gaps now.
Days that would often end with Taehyung, watching Ghibli movies or really bad reality tv, cuddling on the couch next to the space heater, talking as they did homework; all those days end with a quiet apartment. End with Jimin feeling restless and cagey.
Namjoon’s not always home, his schedule seems to be perpendicular to Jimin’s most days. But even if they did have similar hours lined up, there’s a stilted politeness with Namjoon. Perfectly civil, completely awkward, Jimin often feels like that’s on him. Namjoon has given Jimin no reason to be standoffish.
But—Namjoon’s not Taehyung. And Jimin knows that’s unfair, but he’s not going to strike up a convo with someone as if they’ve been best friends for two and a half years. Namjoon is nice, but he’s essentially a complete stranger. They’ve barely exchanged more than a few words at a time, stuck on that permanent loop of hi how are you good and you every time they cross paths.
It’s things like this that make the gaps Taehyung would so easily fill almost unbearable. It’s living with a person that he’s not comfortable around, who isn’t comfortable around him, the two of them trying to speak a language that neither can understand.
It’s late on Wednesday night, around 1 a.m., when Jimin is woken up by a shattering sound.
He bolts out of bed, dead to the world seconds ago but now raring with adrenaline, sprinting to the kitchen, groping for his phone to dial 119 and—
“I am so sorry,” yelps Namjoon, standing in the center of the kitchen, the remnants of a broken coffee mug lying around his feet. “I can pay for that.”
Jimin slumps back in relief against the fridge.
“It’s fine.” He looks down at the shards, catches a glimpse of Salt Bae. “Ah, you broke Taehyung’s meme mug.”
Namjoon makes a high-pitched deflated noise, like a balloon when you pull the nozzle tight and let only a little air escape. “I’m sorry, fuck, I was making tea and the water made the mug too hot when I touched it and—oh hell, did I wake you? Fuck, I’m sorry for that too.”
Jimin waves him off. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah. Didn’t step on anything just. Surprised me.”
“Cool,” Jimin cracks a yawn. “I’ll get the broom.”
They clean up the mess in silence. Jimin’s not upset, but Namjoon seems downright miserable, brow furrowed and jaw jutting in concentration as he sweeps up all the pieces.
It’s the most emotion he’s displayed since the day he moved in, but Jimin doesn’t feel very victorious about it.
The second time it happens, Namjoon hadn’t even burnt himself this time.
Jimin had seen it, Jimin was in the room. Namjoon had literally just lifted the mug from the dish drain and somehow dropped it with a clatter and crash onto the floor.
“That was from Tae’s first ceramics class,” Jimin says, feeling apprehensive, trying not to overreact because it’s a mug, and an ugly one at that. But Taehyung had proudly strutted into the kitchen with it their freshman year and they’d kept it ever since, even with it being kind of hideous and misshapen. Then, catching Namjoon’s wince, he adds, “Seriously, don’t worry about it.”
“I’ll clean this one up,” says Namjoon with a weak laugh. “I’m sorry. I should probably buy some red solo cups and use those for drinking instead.”
“Maybe try one of those indestructible sippy-cups.”
The quip slips out on instinct, and Jimin knows he’s fucked up the second it does.
If this were Taehyung, it’d be funny, because he and Tae have a two year streak of giving each other shit. Tae would respond with some aegyo baby talk and they’d both crack up.
But Jimin catches the way Namjoon flushes, and immediately regrets it.
“Yeah. Ha,” Namjoon makes an flat and odd sounding honk, like he meant to laugh casually but tried too hard to make it sound genuine.
He darts around the kitchen, like he’s trying to be small and unnoticed. Quiet as a mouse, always. Jimin’s trying to read and relax on one of his few open mornings but he keeps getting distracted watching Namjoon trying to navigate their kitchen, timid and unsure as he looks for the dustpan, still unfamiliar with where everything goes.
“Under the sink.” It comes out sounding almost annoyed, and Jimin doesn’t like that. He doesn’t like the way he sounds.
Namjoon winces. “Right, sorry,” and opens the cabinet.
Jimin’s supposed to be reading. He’s supposed to be de-stressing. Instead, from the corner of his eye, he watches how Namjoon sweeps up the ceramic pieces so careful, hands picking up the pieces in slow, gentle movements, how he places them in a recycled paper bag before putting the paper bag in the trash can, then wipes the kitchen floor with a damp paper towel to get any bits he might have missed.
Then, mess cleaned up, Namjoon collects his laptop from the kitchen table and retreats—quiet, quiet—to his room.
Jimin almost points out that he never finished making his tea, but Namjoon seems too mortified right now and Jimin doesn’t want to be cruel.
The third time Namjoon breaks a mug, Jimin doesn’t let him get a word out before he’s picking up the shards up himself.
“It’s fine,” Jimin snaps, though he’s not mad at Namjoon, not really.
It’s one of those souvenir mugs. Taehyung bought it for Jimin the first time Jimin visited him in Daegu. It was cheap and kind of small and there’s no reason Jimin should be mad about it.
One of the broken pieces cuts his palm. Not deep, just a surface sting, thin line of red rising to the surface. Jimin swears, drops the piece to the floor.
“Do you need a bandaid?”
“I need to get to practice.” Jimin feels like an asshole. He is being an asshole. It’s just a shitty mug. He doesn’t understand why he’s so upset. “I’ll just use the first aid kit in the dance building, I'm headed there anyways.”
Namjoon’s hands flutter around Jimin’s wrist and fingers like he wants to touch, but stops with a look at Jimin’s face. Jimin doesn’t know what he sees there, but it’s enough to stop him in his tracks. School’s starting to get stressful and Jimin feels weird, pressure cooking up underneath his skin, behind his eyes, the start of a tension headache. He can only imagine what he looks like right now.
“I’m so sorry,” he says. “I’m such a klutz, I—”
“No worries,” says Jimin, and smiles at Namjoon, looks him in the eye and breathes through the seawater that’s suddenly choking him. “No worries.”
That afternoon, Taehyung calls.
It’s only 11 p.m., relax, he assures Jimin, who picks up the phone with a “Bitch why the hell are you awake,” like he wasn’t aching with missing him.
Jimin’s standing in the entry hall of the dance school, slipping on his boots and trying to avoid all the murky puddles that have been tracked in.
Beyond the tall glass windows, the world is bone white. The building is heated but Jimin can feel the chill creeping past the glass. Braces himself for it as he wraps up in his beanie and scarf, tucks his phone against his ear.
“How is it?” Jimin asks, and he hates that he can’t be mean enough or petty enough to hope that Taehyung is miserable, to hope that he misses everything and wants to come back home immediately.
His boots crunch in the snow, and Taehyung talks.
It’s amazing. The weather is gorgeous, balmy, I’m already so tan I’m basically living my most beautiful life. I love all my classes. I’ve made so many friends. My english fucking sucks and I’ve embarrassed myself so many times but I’m working on it. You’d hate it here. But they have this place called k-town? Like it’s own mini Korea? It’s amazing. It makes me homesick even though I’m not homesick yet, I’m having too much fun.
He tells Jimin about his roommate, Do Jihan, another Korean exchange student. They’ve bonded over watching lots of American Netflix to improve their english (Taehyung manages to tell Jimin the entire plot of Stranger Things in five minutes). He’s been trying all the weird bougie food that LA has to offer. His favorite is the sushi burritos, which make no logical sense but are somehow delicious.
The longer Taehyung talks, the less Jimin can feel the cold, the softer the snow crunches beneath his boots. The less frigid and stiff he feels. It’s not the longest conversation he’s had since Taehyung’s left, it’s just the first one where he doesn’t feel awkward or fake or like he’s trying too hard.
Jimin misses Taehyung incredibly.
How’s the new roommate?
Jimin thinks of the quiet apartment, of tall and nervous and polite Kim Namjoon, of the three broken mugs.
“He’s fine,” Jimin says, and instantly feels guilty for it. “He’s great.”
And you? How’s my favorite person in the whole wide world?
He glances at his watch; it’s almost midnight in LA. Everything that Jimin wants to vent about—the upcoming casting announcements for the spring recital, the financial aid office being late sending him his scholarship money for rent, his awful professor who doesn't understand that this is Japanese 102 and Jimin is not supposed to know the conditional form yet—it’s been bubbling up for days like boiling brine but he swallows it back down, ignores how it scalds.
It wouldn’t be fair of him, he doesn’t want to take up Taehyung’s time, not when Tae is probably tired.
“I’m good,” Jimin says, feels needy and selfish in a way that makes him want to crawl out of his skin. What’s wrong with him? He doesn’t know how to make it go away. “I’m good, and you need to sleep. Or go finish Stranger Things so you can recap season two for me.”
You’re right. Let’s Skype on Saturday, okay? No matter how late it is here. Miss you.
“Sounds good,” whispers Jimin. “Bye Tae.”
The line goes dead, and for a second Jimin just stands still. Breathing in the smell of snowfall and salt. Like he just stepped out of the sea back home, a place where flurries mix in with the sand, white on white.
In the nearby dollar store, Jimin beelines straight for the kitchenware aisle, combs until he finds what he needs. He makes a point to compliment the cashier on her hairstyle and donates the leftover change from his purchase to a homeless man at the nearest bus stop and things aren’t really good right now but, at the very least, he feels a little less wretched as he heads home.
He doesn’t have to wait for Namjoon to get home, as it turns out. Namjoon is already there, hovering in the doorway like an indecisive ghost, shifting on foot between the kitchen and the living room.
“Hey,” Namjoon starts, but he doesn’t say how are you. Instead, he says, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
It’s only then that Jimin takes in the scene before him, and not just the sad looking boy. The emptied bottle of glue on the table, the discarded plastic gloves, the acrid smell of chemicals.
The Daegu Mug, smack dab in the center of the newspaper covering the kitchen table. Painstakingly glued back together.
Shuffling a little closer, Namjoon says, “I think there’s enough krazy glue on there to keep it from leaking but uh, you might need to give it a trial run.”
“How long did this take you?” Jimin picks up the piecemeal mug.
“Um,” Namjoon scratches at the back of his neck. “Not too long. I just felt—feel— really bad about all the broken mugs. I am so sorry Jimin.”
Jimin looks up at Namjoon, all the worry knit between his brows. He kind of wants to laugh, because this is ridiculous, only right now he feels more like crying.
“It’s okay.” He sets down the his bag on the kitchen table and removes the thermos mug from the newspaper he’d wrapped it in. It was a little pricier than the dollar-items but Jimin felt that it would do the job. It has a Gudetama pattern on it. It is apparently unbreakable when dropped.
He holds it out. “This is for you.”
“Oh.” Namjoon’s eyes go very wide. “Oh my gosh, you didn’t have to do this. How much do I owe you for—”
“Please,” Jimin waves him off. “You don’t need to pay me back. It’s a gift. To thank you for being such a great roommate. I really appreciate you being so wonderful and tidy and thoughtful. Considering how I genuinely thought Taehyung was going to select a closeted Furry to be my roommate, I can’t tell you what a relief it is that it’s you.”
He wants to say other stuff too. Like, sorry I’ve seemed cold or sorry for not getting to know you or sorry for generally being terrible please don’t hate me but that feels like an admission of something Jimin does not want to acknowledge within himself. Not yet.
“Probably not a good time to ask if I can wash my Fursona costume then, is it,” says Namjoon, the only show of humor in the glittering of his eyes.
“Don’t even joke about that.” Jimin shudders, and hands over the thermos to Namjoon who takes it so carefully, turns it over in his hands.
Jimin watches. Waits.
The smile that spreads across Namjoon’s face is weighted to one side, a dimple revealing itself at the corner of his left cheek.
Despite the assumption most people make when meeting the two of them, Jeon Jeongguk is not actually related to Jimin.
Okay, technically, they’re cousins by marriage, something Jimin takes great great effort to thrive on the technicality of. He is proud to be able to say that he is of no blood relation whatsoever to this embarrassing nerdy cretin of a child.
“You love me so much,” Jeongguk says, mouth stuffed with whatever he managed to find at the back of the kitchen cabinets because—like some sort of burrowing opossum or dumpster raccoon—he has foraged all available snacks from the apartment within three minutes of walking through the door. “You love me so much. I’m your Busan Bro for life.”
“First off all, I was born in Busan first. Second of all, you’re my cousin by marriage only, and I’ll die on the hill of that technicality. Thirdly, I’m your hyung, not your bro.”
“You hang out with me for the first time in weeks and this is all you have to say? That’s cold, hyung.”
“Is it my fault you never answer texts? Am I really the one to blame here when I’m the one being left on read?”
“Can I have these cheese puffs?” Jeongguk resurfaces from his cupboard reconnaissance.
“Uh. How expired are they.”
Jeongguk rotates the bag in his hand, purses his lips. “Moderately to very, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
“Love you too.”
The truth—regardless of who married who in the family—is that Jeongguk is the closest thing Jimin has to a kid brother. He’s been tagging along after Jimin ever since they were in diapers, both annoying and sweet. Equal parts wide-eyed naivety and snarky idiocy. He’s two years younger than Jimin, which is the reason they didn’t end up as roommates when Jimin went to university—and by the time Jeongguk started school, Jimin was rooming with Tae.
But Jimin thinks it’s been good for him. Jeongguk’s shy, but he’s doing well for himself as a freshman. Lives in the dorms with a mix of animation and video production majors like him, all of whom seem equally nerdy but seem to love and look after Jeongguk in a way that satisfies Jimin, makes it so he doesn’t have to worry too much.
Looking at Jeongguk, happily munching on cheese puffs so expired they’re basically atomic dust, it seems that he’s doing just fine.
“How are classes going?”
“Ugh. Boring. Like, the workload is fine, I’m doing well. I’m just—” Jeongguk licks a fine powder of neon orange off a finger. “Bored as fuck. I can’t wait to start doing the hard stuff.”
“You only say that because you’re ahead of everyone at your level.”
“Yeah well,” he shrugs. “I miss Taehyung. He’d make this semester fun.”
“I cannot think of a worse combination than your boredom and Taehyung’s allergy to it.”
“Remember the time we made the mentos and Pepsi fountain?”
“Of course I do. How can I forget when the splat mark is still on the ceiling?”
“Good times,” Jeongguk smiles dreamily. “So, what’s up?”
“Yeah, like, why am I over here eating your stale food instead of like, partying it up, getting laid.”
“You’ve never done either of those things in your entire life.”
“That you know of,” Jeongguk says peevishly. “All I’m saying is, it is out of character for you to want to hang out in your apartment on a Friday night.”
“The door is not locked, feel free to go,” says Jimin coolly. “I decided to tend to my duties as a Busan Bro and check in with my sweet dongsaeng.”
Jeongguk rolls his eyes, tears open a packet of beef jerky with his teeth, and the white lie flies right over his head.
It’s true that Jimin hasn’t seen Jeongguk in a minute but, they also have one of those relationships that exists outside of things like time and distance. He can go a whole month and not see Jeongguk and then Jeongguk shows up and within two minutes Jimin feels like they’ve been together for five months. That’s half the truth.
The other half of the truth was that Jimin got home, realized he actually didn’t have too much homework tonight, didn’t feel like going out to a party—and there is always a party to go to—but also didn’t want to be alone. Jimin had no way of knowing whether Namjoon was out or not, because Namjoon’s sneaky like that. So the apartment felt extremely empty, too empty.
Jimin had taken a long hot shower, done a face mask, pampered himself silly for all of half an hour, before he’d picked up his phone and texted come over bitch.
He couldn’t tell Jeongguk ‘what’s up’ even if he wanted to, because the second Jeongguk walked in, the antsy unsettled feeling retreated like a phantom pain Jimin might have imagined.
Before Jimin can casually evade more questions the door to the apartment opens, a cluster of voices overlapping outside in the hallway, as the most beautiful man that Jimin has ever seen walks through the door.
It’s a bit of a surprise, because Jimin was expecting Namjoon, if anything. Evidently, so was Jeongguk, who sees the beautiful man and goes very still, cheeks stuffed with food, mouth coated with orange, like a chipmunk in clown makeup.
“Greetings gentlemen,” the beautiful man says, as the door opens wider and Jimin spots Namjoon, two other figures in tow behind him. “Okay if we crash the party?”
Jeongguk swallows down what looks like a painful amount of beef jerky, and blurts, “Yes please.”
Jimin casts a sharp look in Jeongguk’s direction, but Jeongguk ignores him.
“Hey!” Namjoon shoulders through the door. “Hope it’s okay, I brought some friends.”
“It’s totally fine, just ignore the heathen at the table,” Jimin replies, and then gasps as he recognizes one of the two guys bringing up the rear.
“J-hooooope!” Jimin crows, leaning back in his chair, delighted as Jung Hoseok’s grin spreads wide and he bounds forward, ruffling Jimin’s hair and smacking a kiss to his forehead with a shriek.
He’d only just seen Hoseok a few hours ago in the dance building, but seeing Hoseok springs a well of joy in Jimin’s chest, regardless of how long it’s been. He has that effect on people.
“Park Jiminie! Fucking hell, I was hoping it’d be you. Namjoonie mentioned he was living with a Park Jimin and I said, ‘Surely that can’t be my Park Jimin, my sun and moon and stars and all that I hold dear? The only good dancer in this whole bitchass program?’ Ugh, I’m so glad it’s you. Oh, shit!” Hoseok steps backward from the kisses he’s raining on Jimin’s forehead, tugs the other guy forward, one who Jimin doesn’t recognize. “This is Yoongi, my boyfriend.”
“Uh, shouldn’t I be doing the intros around here? Am I not the host?” Namjoon says, his voice edging on laughter. He seems like a whole new creature right now, loose and relaxed. He’s smiling so much. “Well, you clearly know Hoseok. This is Min Yoongi. We’ve been roommates for eight years.”
“Oh man,” Jimin teases. “Eight years. Big shoes to fill.”
“Not really,” says Hoseok. “Hyung’s feet are tiny.”
“Now that’s just woefully untrue.” Yoongi playfully elbows Hoseok’s side, flinty-eyed as he steps forward and sizes Jimin up.
“You don’t have anything to worry about.” His voice is rough, but his smile tells another story. “You’re filling the shoes just fine, if what Namjoon says about you is anything to go by.”
“Oh?” Jimin raises an eyebrow and looks to Namjoon. “Been gossiping about me, have we?”
“I mean,” Beautiful Man interjects, “I’m not sure I’d call it gossip so much as I’d call it non-stop screa—”
“And this is Seokjin,” Namjoon half-shouts. “I met him back when I was working at the Library, he tried to hit on me to get out of paying two years worth of backed up fines.”
“Wow. Is this the picture you paint of me?” Seokjin scoffs. “That I’m a cheat? A conman? A whore?”
“You literally told me to introduce you by telling this exact story.”
“Pretty sure I told you to tell people that I graciously allowed you to be gifted by my presence after an honorable business transaction, but go off I guess.”
“But did you get the fines waived?” Jeongguk bursts, sitting oddly straight at the kitchen table, posture erect, face mysteriously devoid of cheese dust.
Seokjin blinks, like he’s only just noticed Jeongguk’s presence in the room. He tips his head and narrows his eyes slightly, considering. It’s hard to tell whether Jeongguk is titillated or terrified by the attention.
“I didn’t,” Seokjin says lightly. “But I did get three phone numbers from other student workers and Namjoon-ah’s invaluable friendship so, you win some you lose some.”
“Wow.” Jeongguk leans forward in his seat against the table.
“Well, I guess that means you’ve all met my cousin Jeongguk,” Jimin sighs. “I apologize in advance, we are related by marriage only. It’s nice to meet you Seokjin-hyung and Yoongi-hyung. Help yourself to whatever’s in the fridge, because the cabinets are officially cleaned out.”
“Bless you,” says Hoseok, making his way towards the fridge. “We were supposed to be at our favorite bar for tonight but it’s being fumigated.”
“Why is a bar that needs to be fumigated even considered your favorite bar?”
“Okay, when I say ‘favorite’, please do not take that literally,” Hoseok laughs. “Really it means ‘my boyfriend and your roommate hate capitalism and paying more than twenty-thousand won for a drink’. It’s a dive bar that’s probably condemned, but we’re unfortunately creatures of habit. Or we were, until the roaches came.”
“I hope it’s okay,” Namjoon says to Jimin as he settles down with a drink, “I know I didn’t text in advance, I’d assumed you’d be out. Just say the word and I’ll kick them out.”
“It’s okay,” says Jimin, and it is.
He doesn’t feel apprehensive or defensive of a space where his best friend should be. He likes Hoseok. And Jeongguk is shy but he doesn’t seem to mind the intrusion of new people, certainly doesn’t seem to mind Seokjin.
Jimin smiles up at Namjoon. “But I do want to hear the whole story of the library fines.”
“I just want to say,” Seokjin cuts in loudly, “Before my reputation is further sullied, that I did not know that Namjoon-ah had a girlfriend when I hit on him.”
“No offense hyung, but a dude being straight has never stopped your chaotic ass before,” Hoseok snickers, then, turning to Jimin with a cryptic wink. “Not that our beloved Joonie is at all hetero, in case you were wondering.”
“Neither am I,” Jeokgguk half-shouts, staring at Seokjin with rapt attention at the same exact moment Namjoon cuts in with, “ANYWAYS—” and launches into the saga.
The story about the library fines turns into the story of how Namjoon met Yoongi, which Yoongi does not spare any detail on. Jimin listens to all of them talk back and forth, a chorus of loud voices that overlap. They speak like people with history do—filling in the finer details of each other’s stories, peppering every moment with inside jokes and sarcasm.
It’s a strangely delightful combination, all six of them clustered together. Namjoon’s friends pull chairs up to the table and prop themselves on the counters of the tiny kitchen, cracking open beers and daring one another to try the moderately-to-very expired cheese puffs that remain. It’s one of those things that you wouldn’t think would work, but does.
For the first time since they’ve met, Jimin sees Namjoon laugh, after Seokjin tells this truly godawful pun that shouldn’t be funny, but somehow is. Jimin’s never heard Namjoon laugh, really laugh, this loud kind of gusty sound. A tiny part of Jimin, the part that’s been keeping a respectful distance, treating Namjoon like an acquaintance, wants to hear it again.
Across the stable, Jeongguk is staring at Seokjin with the strangest look on his face, and Seokjin’s looking back, something of a confident smirk playing about his mouth. It’s a weird energy. Jimin doesn’t really know what to think of it, until—
“God,” Seokjin sighs, not even ten seconds after Jeongguk has excused himself to go use the bathroom. He leans over and elbows Namjoon. “I can’t believe I’m going to sleep with him.”
“You—Jin, you don’t have to.”
“Nope,” he says, resigned. “I’m gonna.”
Jimin laughs, and Namjoon catches it, giving a smile of his own.
He’s lived with Namjoon a full month, but tonight’s the first time Jimin sees him smile, sees him truly relax, lean back in a chair, get really into a story, expressive hands, eyes flickering as he runs from one into another.
Huh, he thinks to himself, watching Namjoon rib Yoongi for sleeping through the entire first day of classes their freshman year. It’s like looking at a sunset through stained glass, the shape and color of the light changing, shifting, blooming, the more he looks at it.
The odd sharp thing plucking at Jimin’s heart strings doesn’t go away, not over the weekend, not into the next week.
He throws himself into what he’s good at—dance, school, making others feel comfortable and happy.
Sometimes Jimin has to find a way to put something in his body, process it through muscle memory and movement, to make peace with it. Usually he has dance for that, occasionally goes running and pounds it out there too. It's as if any emotion he has isn't quite real unless he has laid it in his bones.
Today, he's walking.
Jimin's usually a fast walker, but today he tries to wander. Taking himself at a leisurely pace through the winding pathways of the park instead of heading straight for home the way he usually does. Fresh air does something to his blood, churns up current in still waters, keeps the silt of his feelings from settling too much.
It comes as a surprise when he sees his roommate. Namjoon is sitting on a bench with his legs stretched out, heels crossed on the gravel, face tilted upwards, like he can feel the sunlight that’s hidden behind all the gloomy grey skies.
Around him is a literal swarm of squirrels. Five or six of them. Darting under his legs and around the bench in circles, chasing each other up the trees.
This moment seems sacred. Like Jimin shouldn’t be here. Then he thinks of the pricked curiosity from the other night, the shape of Namjoon’s smile when he’s among friends, and decides now is as good a time as any to see if he can become that too. Friends.
He’s been standing here for too long. It’s starting to feel creepy. Jimin gives himself a mental kick and trots over. “Hey stranger.”
Namjoon starts. “Jimin! Hey! What are you doing here?”
“Class is out for the day.” Jimin shrugs. “Thought I'd walk. How about you?”
“Oh, I come here all the time. That makes it sound like I have no life which—true. But here’s where I get a lot of reading done for my classes.”
“A bit cold for reading, don’t you think?” Jimin’s breath fogs in the air as if to prove his point.
“Yeah. But not too cold for thinking.”
“Ah.” Jimin nods. He’s standing an awkward yard or so away from the bench, like he could just keep walking in the opposite direction if he wanted to. He swings back on his heels, unsure of himself.
“Would you like to sit?” Namjoon takes the decision right out of Jimin’s hands, pats the bench space beside him. “Don’t worry about the squirrels, they’re friendly.”
"I can see that,” says Jimin wryly, as he sits next to Namjoon. "You seem to have quite the squad here.”
Namjoon clears his throat. “Guys, this is Jimin. Jimin, meet the guys.” Then, pointing at each of them individually, like he can tell them apart. “This is Tupac, Nas, Pharrell, and Brad Pitt."
"Ah, Jin named that one. Don’t ask, it’s a thing with him.”
Jimin takes out a taro cake from his bag that he’d bought in between classes. He’s barely had a thing to eat all day, and it’s an active effort not to shove the whole thing into his mouth.
“So, is this what you do in your spare time? Wander off and make little animal friends?”
“No,” says Namjoon and then, as if on cue, a fat little sparrow drops down from one of the low hanging tree branches and lands on Namjoon’s shoulder. Namjoon grins sheepishly. “Okay, maybe sometimes.”
“Is it just the woodland creatures in the club?”
“Oh, hardly. Feel lucky that we’re not on a beach.”
“Because I’d be digging in the sand looking for crabs, or searching the shallows for stingrays.”
“Aren’t stingrays dangerous?”
“They’re giant sea pancakes is what they are. It is my life’s greatest ambition to kiss one.”
“Oh my god.”
“Hello, sweet thing,” Namjoon coos at the sparrow, slowly raising his arm so the bird can hop along its length, closer and closer to his face.
“Jesus christ, it’s like you’re a Disney princess.” Jimin says, and Namjoon laughs, looking pleased, the movement jostling his arm and forcing the sparrow to take flight.
Jimin’s not paying attention, too busy watching the sparrow, the boy, the boy with the sparrow, and ultimately that’s why he doesn’t notice the squirrel creeping along the bench until it snatches the taro cake from his hands and takes off.
Namjoon gapes at Jimin. Jimin gapes at Namjoon.
“That squirrel took my snack!”
“Tupac!” Namjoon shouts up the tree. “Bring that back!”
Tupac does not.
“Evidently your animal telepathy skills need some practice.”
“Yeah,” Namjoon sighs, then stands. “We should probably head home before it gets too dark. You got plans tonight?”
“Nah,” Jimin shrugs. “All free.”
He doesn’t mention that there’s an optional dance rehearsal tonight for anyone who wants to go over this week’s choreo a few more times. Jimin could go, but he figures it’s okay if he slacks just this once.
At first it’s a bit awkward, neither of them seems to know what pace to walk at, whether or not to start a conversation or enjoy the silence. Then Jimin says Okay, but why did Jin-hyung name the squirrel Brad Pitt and they’re off.
By the time the story of Brad Pitt the Squirrel has wrapped—surprisingly more involved than Jimin ever expected it to be—they’re wandering along some side streets a couple blocks from their apartment. They pass by the backdoor to a restaurant, the smell of food drifting outside, and Jimin’s stomach makes a horrible, creepy, not at all cute noise.
He laughs, not bothering to pretend they both didn’t hear his stomach growl. “God, I haven’t had anything but half a taro cake today. I’m starving.”
“Oh,” Namjoon stops short, standing stiff and awkward and polite all over again. For a second it looks like he might explode with pressure before he blurts, “Um. Doyouannamaybegetsomethingtoeat?”
Jimin blinks, a little taken aback by the outburst, then smiles. “I’d love to, but I don’t have my wallet on me.”
“That’s okay, let hyung buy you dinner.”
“Oh, so you’re my protective hyung now, huh? One squirrel attack and you gotta look after me?”
“Someone’s got to. Since all you thought to eat today was a taro cake.”
They wander around to the front entrance of the building, some half outdoor half indoor ramen place, the kind of place that serves a ridiculous portion size of food for a ridiculously small amount of money.
“I’ll pay you back,” Jimin promises, looking over the menu.
“Don’t worry about it. Consider Tupac’s debt paid on my behalf.”
It’s the first time they’ve shared a meal together that didn’t feature one of them dashing out the door within a few minutes to go to class.
It’s the first time they’ve spent over an hour within each other’s company.
It’s the first time they’ve talked about something further then hi how are you good and you? and Jimin likes it.
Talking to Namjoon doesn’t feel like trying to fill empty space for the sake of having something to say. It feels good, comfortable. Their food arrives and Jimin watches quietly as Namjoon talks through the steam rising from their bowls. Jimin learns the most about people that way, letting them talk about themselves and listening, really listening, to what they have to say.
He does have some questions himself, though.
“So, I have to admit, I’m a little confused. Why were you on facebook looking for a roommate when you had Yoongi?”
“Ah, nothing bad really. I chose to move out from our place.”
“But…why? He’s your best friend. You lived with him for eight years, he told me so himself like, five times the other night.”
“Honestly? Because he’s in love. Like, incredibly disgustingly in love, but he’s too nice to kick me out.” Namjoon blows on a spoonful of ramen, thinking for a second. “In the end, he didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. He insisted that I wasn’t being a burden, that he wanted to keep living with me, but like. I could tell he really wanted to live with Hoseok.”
“They’ve been together for a while, yeah?”
“About a year, but it feels longer than that. Hyung’s been gone for Hoseok for like, eons. And Hoseok was always crashing at our place anyways, it wasn’t a problem, I love them and I want them to be happy. But you kind of just. You get a sense for when you’re intruding on someone’s lives together. They’d never admit it, not in a million years, and that’s why I had to be the one to leave. I’m pretty sure they could get married and still wouldn’t ask me to move out.”
“So,” says Namjoon, “I sat them down, said ‘you know I love you both so much, but I am frankly tired of having to wear headphones to sleep as much as you’re probably tired of trying to be quiet while you bang’, and then some more emo stuff about how I love them and how nothing’s going to change. I just want them to have the life together that they’re capable of. That big great steady love.”
“That’s noble of you.”
Namjoon shrugs. “I wasn’t trying to be noble. I just. Don’t ever want someone to be sad, or hurt, or like, kept from happiness, because of me.”
“Still, finding a random roommate last minute, that’s pretty damn noble.”
By the time Jimin finishes his ramen he learns that Namjoon is double majoring in music production and English, with a double minor in gender studies and philosophy (“They won’t let me do a triple major on paper, but the gender studies is basically the third one.”). He learns that Namjoon started school and took almost a full year to decide on a major, because he took too many classes and liked too many things. That in addition to a full course-load, Namjoon makes music with Yoongi and, on occasion, Hoseok. Apparently he has an old mixtape up on Soundcloud (“I’m not giving you the link,” Namjoon swears, even when Jimin pleads. “It’s from a point in my life before I knew what sex and respecting women were. No.”) and he’s working on another one that he wants to release before he begins grad school in the fall.
He learns that Namjoon is funny, in this wry witty sort of way. Clever. Quick.
The longer they talk, the less Jimin finds himself trying to compare Namjoon and Taehyung. The more they seem like separate, different people. The more Jimin appreciates that difference, likes it even.
Outside, it’s frigid in the air. The sky a murky black, suggesting a storm is on the way.
“Hey, you’ve got an eyelash,” says Jimin, peering up at Namjoon under the streetlights.
“Do I?” Namjoon paws at his cheek, smushing his face a bit. Cute. “Did I get it?”
“No, it’s—c’mere.” Jimin stands on his tiptoes, reaches upwards, gently touches Namjoon’s jaw to hold him still with one hand while he plucks the eyelash off the bridge of his nose with the other.
Namjoon doesn’t move.
Jimin settles back on his heels, but the pavement is slick with ice. He flails, slipping about for a perilous moment, before a pair of long arms grab him and tug him close, keeping him from toppling over.
He giggles, crushed up uncomfortably against Namjoon’s chest, forehead knocking against his chin. “Sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Namjoon says, a little breathless.
“Aha!” Jimin holds his pinky up, eyelash still in tact. “Make a wish, hyung.”
Namjoon’s mouth pops open, a soft pucker of surprise as he takes in the offer of Jimin’s pinkie, going cross-eyed as he does. After a brief moment of struggle he obediently closes his eyes. Blows.
“Don’t tell me what you wished for,” Jimin warns, the two of them turning to walk back to the apartment. “Or else it won’t come true.”
“I’ll take it to the grave,” Namjoon replies.
Snow starts to fall, but Jimin doesn’t notice it until he’s brushing it off himself by the time they get home.
hey im at the grocery store, u need anything?
that’s okay, i’m good
i don’t want anything
thats not what i asked hyung
are you low on anything food-wise?
hows the toilet paper arsenal looking?
i mean yeah i guess i’m low on like, snacks
toilet paper is fine, just checked
cool! anything in particular?
hyung? you there?
okay im just gonna do some guessing, store is closing soon
hope you dont have peanut allergies !!
SORRY I ONLY JUST SAW UR TEXTS I FELL ASLEEP
midterms are the worst
looks like you’re home
and asleep too
thank you for all the snacks, jimin.
wow you really
you didn't have to go all out
no problem :D
you know i cannot believe i’m saying this
and believe you me when i say i dont want to say this
but you did a good job on the roommate search
miss u, u butt
YOU’RE GODDAMN RIGHT I DID
ugh i miss you too wtf
you hanging in there alright? haven’t been indoctrinated into a cult yet?
no cults yet
actually feeling pretty shitty and homesick today
u still up? can you talk?
[FACETIME CALL 1:09:57]
For a while, Jimin tries to simply swim. Goes to class, goes to rehearsal, pushes himself hard, keeps himself busy.
But that’s the thing about the ocean, he supposes. It’s not some tame limited thing. It doesn’t have parameters, signs that tell you how far down the bottom is. How far there is to sink. One cascading wave, one rip curl tide, and he’s pulled deep, deep, deep.
Like he’d never learned to swim at all.
The loneliness that lives in absence of his best friend is a tangible thing, a shadow out of the corner of his eye. It’s bearable during the daylight hours, when he’s busy.
But at night, the loneliness grows claws and sharp teeth. At night, it wraps gnarled hands around Jimin’s throat.
There’s a stretch of time, one of Jimin’s earliest memories as a kid, where he developed this very bizarre fear of not being able to fall asleep. He’d get ready for bed, feel tired, brush his teeth, change into his jammies, crawl beneath the covers. And then, if he couldn’t fall asleep in five minutes or less: panic. Crying. Hard to breathe. Can’t breathe. Running to the kitchen to sob into his mother’s lap. i can’t sleep. i can’t sleep. i don’t know what to do.
It was a child’s fear. Something irrational, a monster under the bed.
yes you can, sweetheart. go back to bed, go on. you just have to be patient. think about nice things. close your eyes.
It went on like that for a month or so. Started with panic, ended with his mom sending him off to bed with a cup of chamomile tea. He rarely ever managed to drink the whole cup, but the act of drinking tea in general soothed him. And eventually, like a loose tooth, like all things that just fade out with growth, the panic went away, and Jimin was able to sleep again.
But every once in a while, sitting in the dark with eyes open does that to him. Seizes all the air in his lungs. i have so much to do tomorrow. what if i can’t sleep. i can’t sleep. i have to be awake in four hours. i’m exhausted, why can’t i sleep.
Right now, Jimin is just trying very hard to breathe.
i miss you so much he texted Taehyung about an hour ago. this sucks.
It’s 3 a.m. right now, so Taehyung should be awake in LA. But he’s also busy. He has class. That’s okay. That’s totally okay. They’d just talked the other day, it’s fine, Jimin is fine.
It’s just that on bad days Jimin curls up in bed with Taehyung, or vice versa, Taehyung stomping into the room and flopping onto Jimin like an octopus.
Now, on a bad day, on a terrible day, on a day that sticks to the roof of his mouth in a way that he can’t swallow down, like stale peanut butter—Jimin’s tiny twin mattress feels too large. His room is cavernous. The walls seem to stretch up into the black without end.
He’d read somewhere once that deep sea divers hit a point where the water stops holding them up and begins pushing down, buoyancy becoming gravity as the divers are pulled into the crushing dark at the bottom of the sea.
Jimin curls onto his side, and the space is cold around him. Oppressive.
He flicks his messages open and closed again. Types out another text but doesn’t send it. This is stupid. He’s being needy. He just needs to—just.
He’s had stupider ideas than showing up at Kim Namjoon’s door wrapped in a blanket. He’s sure of it.
He just can’t think of any right now.
Can’t think of anything in general when Namjoon opens the door, blinking at Jimin through thick-rimmed glasses.
“Jimin?” Namjoon looks confused. As if there were another person inside the apartment that he was expecting.
“Hi,” says Jimin, and feels like an idiot. He peers up at Namjoon, eyes adjusting to the only source of light in the middle of the dark apartment. “I’m sorry, it’s late, I know.”
“Do you want to come in?” Namjoon asks, and the gaze behind his lenses isn’t confusion any longer, but worry.
It’s the first time he’s ever been in Namjoon’s room. Even though it’s now February and they have technically been living together for an entire month give or take.
A month. Taehyung has been gone an entire month. How the fuck is Jimin supposed to make it through another five?
Jimin surveys the space. Namjoon is subletting, so he hasn’t exactly done much with the place. It’s still all of Taehyung’s things. Taehyung’s poster collage from all his art shows. His Van Gogh posters. Ticket stubs from all the stuff they’ve done together. Unlike most things about Taehyung, there is no organization whatsoever to the walls. It’s just sort of an amalgamation of all their adventures.
There are a few changes, which Jimin notes. Speakers, for one. A pretty elaborate sound system, judging from the colorful way they glow. Empty plates cluttering the night stand, the Gudetama thermos. A gigantic bag of pixie stick candy sitting in an open desk drawer, at least half empty.
A few plushies on the bed. Or, a lot of plushies on the bed. Jesus christ, that’s a lot of plushies.
“Um.” Jimin almost jumps at the sound of Namjoon’s voice. He’s hovering in the doorway uncertainly. Like he’s the one intruding rather than Jimin. “Is everything okay?”
He’s wearing plaid pajama pants and a loose grey hoodie. The pajama pants are several inches too short. Jimin can see the knobby bone of his ankles.
“Yes. I’m okay. I was just wondering how things were going. For you. As a roommate.”
“Things are good. Just working on a midterm project.”
Namjoon nods, brow furrowing. He almost pouts when he thinks. “And you? Alright?”
“Yeah!” Jimin says, too bright. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Sorry, it’s probably not my business. It just seems like something’s bothering you.”
“Nope, just popping by.” And then, because Jimin has lost his mind entirely at this point, “Can I sleep with you?”
He realizes his mistake a second later because Namjoon’s face goes absolutely puce. “Not like that! I mean, just like, sleep. Literal sleep.”
“Sleep.” Namjoon repeats, and despite the proven innocence, the red of his face is not fading any time soon. “You want to sleep with me.”
“It’s cool if you don’t, I don’t know what made me ask. It’s just. Usually Tae and I. It’s a thing we do.”
“Yeah. He mentioned that when he was telling me about the Proper Care and Keeping of Jimin.”
“The Proper—it was a manual and a powerpoint that were emailed to me when he had me sign the lease. I think it was mostly a joke, but. He did mention the sleeping thing.” Namjoon pauses, looks at Jimin like he’s waiting for Jimin to say something. “Did you…do you want to cuddle?”
Jimin quite frankly wants to die, but there’s no coming back from this now, even with the sweet reprieve of death.
“You know what. Forget I said anything.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to insinuate—”
“You just look like you’re upset and Taehyung mentioned cuddling—”
“I can’t sleep.”
The second the words spill from Jimin’s mouth, they seem so childish. Like he’s a second grader ashamed to admit he can’t do division problems, some petty and sullen adolescent. “I can’t sleep. And, I dunno, when this happens I sleep with Taehyung. I realize how ridiculous that sounds. And I don’t need care or keeping I just. It helps when there’s another person nearby. That’s all.”
Namjoon nods, and there’s a little crease in his brow, like he’s working so hard to understand whatever mess Jimin has dumped in his lap, trying to carefully untangle it, string by string.
“Okay. Okay, Jimin. What can I do? How can I help?”
With Taehyung, cuddling is second nature. It’s easy to curl up together like kittens until they’re comfortable. Until the panic gives up tugging at Jimin’s sleeve and walks out for the night. Until he can breathe again.
It is not that way with Namjoon.
For starters, Namjoon seems terrified to touch him.
Legitimately terrified. Like he’s worried he’s going to offend Jimin by laying a finger on him which, Jimin appreciates the respect of personal space, but also he deliberately asked for this.
They lay down on the bed, and Namjoon places his arm around Jimin’s shoulder like it’s paining him to do so. That’s it. One arm on Jimin’s shoulders, a touch so light Jimin can barely feel it. Jimin tries to press his cheek to Namjoon’s chest, the way he does to Taehyung, only Namjoon is stiff as a board through his sweatshirt and not relaxing. His knees are locked. It’s like trying on new ballet shoes fresh out of the box, right before Jimin breaks them in. All the parts where they need to be, but hard and unforgiving in every sense of the word.
It is extremely uncomfortable and Jimin extremely wants to erase the entire past twenty minutes and have never left the dark of his room. Being alone in that dark would honestly be preferable to this.
“Are you comfortable?”
No. “Yeah, thanks.”
Silence. Neither of them are good at faking deep calm breaths. Nor faking sleep. Namjoon could not be more tense if he tried.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Namjoon says, and Jimin has never heard someone sound like they want to talk about anything less in the history of forever, so—
“I’m sorry.” Jimin bolts upright in the dark. He sighs and scrubs a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry, this is weird, I’ve made it weird.”
Namjoon sits up beside him. “No, please, it’s me, it’s all me.”
They sit there, breathing harshly.
“You know what,” Namjoon stands and walks back over to his desk chair. “Why don’t we put a pause on the sleeping together for now.”
“Oh. Yeah. Okay.” Jimin toes out of the bed, miserable. He didn’t think it was possible to feel worse than he was feeling before he walked in here. “I’ll just—”
“Wait, where are you going?”
“I—,” Jimin frowns. “Didn’t you want me to leave?”
“No. Sorry, I meant to say that I think me cuddling you is not actually comforting. I don’t want you to be alone, but also I feel like I’m making things worse by being the great big awkward giraffe that I am, so, sorry for that.”
“I don’t think you’re an awkward giraffe.”
“Thank you,” says Namjoon. “Why don’t I work on my project, and you try to get some sleep?”
“I don’t want to bother you.”
“You’re not. I truly don’t mind, you’re just sleeping while I work.”
“I don’t need to be here,” Jimin says, but does not move. “It’s so dumb.”
“It’s not dumb,” Namjoon says adamantly. “It’s not. Whatever you’re going through, whatever is making you not sleep, it’s not dumb. I promise.”
They stare at each other for a few beats. Jimin’s toes are pressed into the carpet, poised to run.
“Please,” says Namjoon. “Stay.”
Namjoon apologizes a few more times, for the light, for the ruckus, for having a squeaky desk chair, but eventually he gets back to work. Hunches over the desk that’s too small for him, in the chair that doesn’t properly accommodate his legs. Namjoon at work feels like watching thought in real time. The smallest movement draws Jimin’s attention, the clicking of a mouse, rattle of a keyboard, the way he’ll push his glasses up into his hair to rub at his eyes, and then pull them back down again.
For a while, Jimin thinks he won’t ever fall asleep. He’s a light sleeper. The smallest noise rouses him. He has trouble with it even in his own room, his own space.
So he keeps his eyes on Namjoon, the shape of his back as it curves when he reaches for his earbuds, his thermos mug, his phone. Watches as Namjoon drums his fingers against the keypad of his laptop, mutters to himself occasionally as he jots something down.
When Jimin’s body settles, when the taut wire of his chest loosens, he allows himself to turn over, pressing his body close to the wall, making sure there’s plenty of room for Namjoon when he decides to come to bed.
That’s how Jimin finally falls asleep, curled with his back to the room, snuggled beneath sheets that smell like sea foam and detergent and boy. Eyes on Namjoon’s shadow, stretched out across pale grey paint. Listening to the scratch of pencil, rhythms in whispers, long fingers on a keyboard.
The second time Jimin drowns he's fourteen, riding along in the backseat of his dad’s old BMW.
Dance class did not go well. Today was a lyrical style workshop, and an extremely important one at that. A well-known choreographer was visiting their school, teaching a routine, working with them on technique. It was an honor to be invited to attend, only the best made the cut.
Jimin made the cut.
It was such an important day, but then he had to go and screw it up with his fouette turn, screw up so bad that the instructor stopped the entire class mid-combination. Pulled Jimin up in front of everyone and made him demonstrate the fouette again. And again. Again.
Again, once more, he’d droned in this expressionless voice, like Jimin had unlimited energy, like he wasn’t pouring sweat. Again. Jimin did it, everyone’s eyes on him, he did it until it was perfect. Until he did not waver, not once. Landed it, again and again and again.
And then, just before Jimin felt on the brink of collapse, the choreographer had dismissed the class for a water break. Said they’d reconvene in ten to go over the eight-counts.
Your face, he had tutted disapprovingly, looking down at Jimin as he bowed, too soft for dance.
In an instant, every bit of bubbly eagerness he’d been feeling this morning had turned to humiliation, whirling with anxiety in the pit of his stomach like hot tar.
He voluntarily shifted to the back of the formation, and did not try to move forward for the remainder of the day.
Jimin is fourteen and curled against the car door in the passenger seat, feverish forehead against the cold window, breathing fog as the winter white world slides by. Dad pulls over to a gas station, heads inside to pay at the register. Jimin sits in the silence, trying to be calm, but everything in him feels so loud. His head feels so loud.
He is so stupid. Why couldn’t he do the routine right. He was so tired. Why was he so tired. So weak. He didn’t practice enough, that’s why. He must practice harder. God, it’s been hours now, but he can still hear the voice in his head on loop, so bored and detached, like Jimin’s mediocrity is not even worth expressing disappointment over.
Again, again, too soft, again, can’t breathe, again, again, again, help, can’t breathe—
There’s no deep end in sight, no bright blue water, but Jimin feels exactly like drowning. Like the water is crushing him from all sides. There’s no life raft, no timer, just Jimin and endless ocean, riptide pulling him under and down, away from the surface, from sunlight.
When his dad gets back in the car, Jimin is doubled over in his seat, gasping, shaking, tears streaking down his too soft cheeks. It takes all of his father’s gentle words, one hand wrapped around Jimin’s wrist, another hand stroking sweaty hair off his face, to get him to resurface.
Even then, his stomach hurts throughout the next day, like he’d choked down a bucket of saltwater.
Jimin wakes with a start and squints. The desk lamp is still on.
Namjoon is seated on the floor at his feet. Head tipped back against the mattress, glasses pushed up into his brown hair. Like he’d meant to take a break, rest his eyes, and hadn’t gotten back up.
Jimin left plenty of space for him on the mattress. He’s sure he did.
guess he didn’t want to share with me
He pulls the comforter off the bed and over Namjoon’s shoulders, props a pillow beneath his head, takes extra care to remove his glasses and set them on the night stand.
Then he slips out the door on tiptoe, careful not to make a sound.
“So, I want to apologize.”
Namjoon wandered in to the kitchen maybe ten minutes ago, is puttering about with the electric kettle. He’s a tea drinker, Jimin has learned by now. But there’s not enough room for both a coffee-maker and an electric kettle with their limited counter space. So Namjoon carefully takes his own in and out of the cupboard every single morning.
He looks up, frowning in confusion. “Apologize for what?”
“Mostly for acting so bizarre last night.”
“It’s okay. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more to help.”
“Actually, I’d like to ask for your advice, if that’s alright.” Jimin’s thought about it, hard. Namjoon seems like a good person to talk to.
Namjoon takes a seat at the kitchen table, gives Jimin his full attention.
“I think,” Jimin confesses. “I’m having a hard time adapting with Taehyung gone. And I thought I would be fine. I’m not, like, dependent on him for survival or anything. But it’s made me realize that I don’t like being alone very much. I don’t always have friends on call. And my go-to person, who would do the same with me, is currently in another country. And, please don’t take this the wrong way but—I’ve noticed you spend a lot of time by yourself. You said the other day that you go walking a lot. And I was wondering if you had any advice for how to get better at it. Being alone.”
“Are you afraid of being alone?”
“Maybe? I don’t know.” Jimin tucks his knees up beneath his chin, curls small on the kitchen chair. “I just get ansty. And my head can be so loud sometimes. Also I just—like people. I know the obvious answer here is ‘get a life, Jimin’, or ‘find some other friends, Jimin’ but I don’t want to like—find a temporary fix until Tae comes back. Whatever this problem is, I want to solve it, you know? I want to be self sufficient.”
“Because,” Jimin looks closely at Namjoon. “You seem like a person who is completely okay with being alone. So, if you have any words of wisdom, I’d like to hear them.”
“Get lost,” says Namjoon.
“No, like literally. That’s my advice. Get lost. Pick a place and go there and then wander away from it. Have an adventure not with your friends, or your classmates, have an adventure just with yourself. That’s what I do.”
“You just wander around like an idiot?”
“Yeah! Kind of.” Namjoon laughs a bit. “It’s like—we all have different kinds of relationships, right? Girlfriend, boyfriend, best friends, mentors, family. We nourish and tend to those relationships in different ways. They require time and cognizant effort, right?”
“Well, that goes for your relationship with yourself,” Namjoon says, smiling like the train of thought has at last arrived at the station. “You gotta date yourself.”
“I’m sorry.” Jimin blinks. “What.”
“Date yourself,” Namjoon repeats, and then, with more gusto in his voice. “Date yoself!”
“Oh my god.”
“Stop saying it like that.”
“Sorry,” Namjoon chuckles. “But, yeah, try doing stuff that’s fun with friends, only do it on your own. Not errands though, no grocery shopping or laundry but like. Take yourself to the movies.”
“I can’t go to the movies by myself,” Jimin whines. “People are going to think I’m a loser.”
“Lots of people go to the movies alone. I think you’ll be surprised by how many people won’t think anything of you at all.”
“Okay, and then after the movies, then what.”
“Well,” Namjoon hums thoughtfully. “Whatever you want to do, I guess. Wherever your heart takes you.”
Jimin wrinkles his nose. “That’s so corny.”
“Oh, definitely. But did it make sense?”
It’s a simple task. Take himself on a date. Do things he wants to do. Relax, and be comfortable with himself. Learn to be alone with himself.
“I think so,” says Jimin.
Jimin goes to the movies.
He spends extensive time watching trailers of everything that’s playing in the theaters, selects a few that he’s interested in. Shows up for the matinee and just sort of stays for half of the day. Sneaks out of one theater and into another. He watches some indie drama where the acting is really good but there’s a lot of crying. He watches a kids animated film that makes him laugh. He catches the tail end of a raunchy romantic comedy. Most everyone in that particular audience is couples, people ducking into each other in their laughter, arms around shoulders, kisses shared in the dark. It doesn’t sour Jimin’s stomach the way he thought it might. He likes losing himself in the experience, knowing he can react however and think however and he doesn’t have to worry about another person’s opinion.
When he gets out of the movies, the sun is on its way to the horizon, a gold coin dropping out of sight in exchange for gumball blue skies. He walks a distance from the theater, takes in the sights of the city, the cramped buildings, the food carts. He could go home, maybe he should go home.
He wanders into the night market instead. Taehyung drags him here sometimes, because food is cheap and it’s local and everything tastes good and Taehyung is perpetually hungry, but Jimin’s not hungry right now.
He wanders between the individual food carts, people hawking their fresh made eats, sweet potatoes steaming like active volcanoes in the winter air. There is a pulse to the city, a circulation to the way everyone moves in these crowded streets, couples holding hands, children ducking and weaving between the stands, choruses of laughter filtering out of the nearest bar. An old auntie with a violin sits outside in a rocking chair, her hands withered but pitch perfect as she plays a lilting aria.
No one pays Jimin any mind.
In the busy market, Jimin stands still, waits for the frantic feeling of lost to steal his breath. To drown him. For the frantic notion of being very alone in a crowded place to get to him, but it doesn’t come. The air is aglow with orange lights, smells like spices, like cooked meat, like fresh steamed rice.
Jimin feels the movement, the pulse of it all, somewhere at the base of his lungs. Somewhere in a space within that doesn’t have a name. Deeper than his marrow, warmer and thrumming faster than his blood.
For the first time in a minute, he feels like he’s experiencing life as it happens. Not life in retrospect, trapped on loop, reminiscing and running over mistakes. Not life in the future, the unknown and the doubt and the what ifs. But life now, as it is, as Jimin is, the air fragrant and cold, singing of strings and laughter and dialects that contrast, that overlap.
There, in that private primal space, Jimin finds room to breathe again. Or maybe, time to breathe. Not struggling so hard to keep above the surface, a pleasant lightness to him.
“What will it be, young man?” A kindly withered man asks Jimin from over a bakery case.
He makes it back to the apartment long after dark.
“Hey!” Namjoon’s on the couch, and judging by the rumpled look of his soft hair, he was sleeping. “I was beginning to wonder where you were.”
“Oh you know,” Jimin keeps his tone light. “Just out and about.”
Namjoon nods, a knowing glint in his eye.
“I bought you something.”
“You already got me a mug, Jimin, this is getting out of hand.”
“Just open it.” Jimin chides, and passes the box over to Namjoon, who lifts the lid and gasps.
“Yeah! It’s a ryan cake. I noticed you had a few plushies on your bed, so this seemed like a safe bet.” Jimin fidgets. “But if you don’t like cake, I’m gonna feel like kind of an idiot.”
“Oh my god.” Namjoon’s whole face lights up, like someone shook up a jar of fireflies and placed it right behind his eyes. “Oh my god, this is so amazing.”
Namjoon leaps up and dashes to the kitchen, returns a few seconds later with two forks in hand, crash landing into the couch with a huff.
When he takes a bite, the incandescent smile he gives Jimin has not one dimple, but two.
Living with Namjoon is odd at first. Not just because he’s a stranger to Jimin. But also because, well, he’s kind of a weirdo.
Not the bad kind of weirdo, but—the kind who puts not one, not two, but three heaping spoonfuls of sugar into his tea, in addition to a fuckton of cream. Jimin watches all of this happen one morning, right in front of him, and feels like he’s witnessing an honest to god murder.
Namjoon looks up, blinking innocently. “What?”
“Sweet tooth, much?” Jimin asks uneasily. “What did that tea ever do to you to deserve this?”
Namjoon shrugs, and puts a fourth spoonful of sugar into his own mouth. Jimin holds back a gag.
Not the bad kind of weirdo. But the kind who listens to Earth, Wind & Fire in the shower, a shower that takes forfuckingever.
Longer than Taehyung, somehow, who Jimin had assumed held the world record for longest ever shower. One morning, Jimin has to pee, he really has to pee, and he’s all for respecting other people’s privacy—especially people he doesn’t know all that well—but there’s only one bathroom in this apartment and Jimin outright refuses to pee in a bottle. Also, the lock on the bathroom door undoes itself if you jimmy the handle a bit.
Jimin hears a yelp and something clattering loudly to the floor in the shower. The curtain isn’t see through but he averts his eyes anyway.
“Sorry!” he chirps. “Gotta pee, couldn’t wait.”
Not the bad kind of weirdo. But the kind who’s always got a book in his hand. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if Namjoon is reading for school or reading for pleasure, the sheer fucking volume of his reading arsenal is impressive and intimidating.
Not the bad kind of weirdo. But the kind who is sort of a klutz. It’s not so much as Namjoon trips and falls like some kind of romantic comedy heroine rather that he breaks things extremely quick.
The kind of weirdo who takes a fortune cookie when Jimin offers it, and bites into the whole thing, almost eating the paper fortune inside.
The kind of weirdo who lies in the center of the carpet with headphones on—so still that Jimin nearly trips over him on multiple occasions walking through the living room.
Apart from this lying down with headphones thing, Namjoon doesn’t have many rituals that Jimin can see. He doesn’t do his homework solely in his room, or eat in a designated space of the apartment. Much of what Namjoon does is either outside of the apartment, or done so quietly that Jimin doesn’t notice it.
Except for the lying in the center of the floor thing. That happens at least once a week, if not multiple nights a week.
Jimin’s got no idea as to what Namjoon could be listening to. It’s engrossing enough that Namjoon neither moves or speaks when Jimin enters the apartment.
The first few times, Jimin’s convinced Namjoon’s just sleeping with headphones on. But it doesn’t make sense why he wouldn’t go to his own room. No. Something about whatever specific album he’s listening to demands that he be lying on his back, long limbs spread in the thick carpet, eyes closed. Jimin makes up a whole slew of possibilities. One of those weird positive affirmation meditation tapes, a hypnosis track, the entire Hannah Montana discography.
But he eventually runs out of ways to amuse himself. Namjoon is a much more interesting person when Jimin’s actually talking to him instead of making shit up in his head.
“What do you listen to?” he asks one night, as Namjoon finally shows signs of life after lying like a deadman for no less than an hour. “Is it a meditation tape?”
Jimin’s supposed to be reading on the couch, balled up in a hoodie, a dog-eared copy of the Princess Bride balanced on his knees. He’s supposed to be reading, and he kind of is, but he’s been keeping a careful eye on Namjoon.
Namjoon slides the headphones down to hang about his neck, thumbs at his phone. “Sorry, what did you say?”
“Oh I,” Jimin looks down at his book, creases and re-creases the corner. “I just noticed you seem very into whatever you’re hearing, and I was wondering what it was.”
“Not like, sea shanties about whales. I mean actual songs sung by actual whales.”
“Whales don’t sing.”
“Well, I guess the proper phraseology here would be ‘whale communication sounds’. Most people don’t know this, but whales have an immensely complex language, clicks and snorts and noises that all mean a million different things. Like, they’ve been on this earth for fifteen million years or so, they’ve had so much more time to develop a vocabulary, it’s way bigger than ours. They rely on echo-location and can have conversations for hours and hours without stopping. So, they’re not really songs, but the echoing in water makes it sound like songs and I—.” Namjoon stops suddenly. “Sorry,” he says, and Jimin watches his eyes physically dim, like splashing a bucket of water on a campfire, everything going flat and smoky with a sharp hiss. “I didn’t mean to ramble.”
He looks apologetic without reason. It’s hard to imagine anyone dismissing or belittling Namjoon for being excited about something but—Jimin can see the signs of it in the downward direction of his gaze, the offset of his shoulders.
“Can I listen?”
Namjoon’s eyelashes flutter as he blinks, surprised, like he can’t quite believe Jimin’s question.
“You don’t have to. Seriously, I know it’s weird.”
“Are you saying I can’t listen?”
“No!” Namjoon bursts, then clears his throat. “I mean, yes, of course you can. Sorry.” He lifts the headphones from his neck, holds them out like an offering, refuses to look Jimin in the eye.
Jimin slides off the edge of the couch and onto the carpet, book forgotten. Sits criss-cross applesauce adjacent to Namjoon. Takes the headphones. Adjusts the tightness. Namjoon seems to be waiting for confirmation that Jimin is braced to hear actual songs by actual whales so Jimin gives a nod and a thumbs up. Closes his eyes.
For a moment, it’s white noise silent. Then a low, almost subliminal rumble starts in Jimin’s ears, the world outside going muted, softer. The rumble grows until it just drowns him, subterranean and sinking. He’s underwater. He’s drifting. He’s—
A singular and beautiful sound falls over his ears. Resonates in his chest. Followed by another seconds later, then another. It’s not crooning, or humming, it’s not a note or a sound that Jimin could name if he didn’t know exactly what he was listening to. It bounces about in his bones, in his skull, like shouting into a cavern, the sound reverberating against the walls of him, going out one way and coming back different, unfamiliar. A higher pitch followed by a lower one, overlapping and pouring over itself.
Jimin thinks there are corners of the world that make you feel like you’re witnessing something ancient and bigger than you could ever hope to understand. Like watching the tide on a full moon back in Busan, the way she twines the waves together, or walking through the forest Jimin’s parents took him to see very long ago, trees big as houses, bigger than houses, bigger than any building Jimin had seen. Being among that forest, at that moonlit shoreline, and in this moment right here, it’s all the same feeling. Makes the hair on his arms stand up, makes his skin feel hypersensitive.
Aching. Haunting. Alive.
He understands why Namjoon refers to them as songs.
Namjoon’s voice, from above water, almost too soft to pick out. “You hear that?”
“Yeah,” he whispers, not wanting to interrupt that pretty lilting. “I hear it.”
He loses track of minutes and seconds, not asleep but adrift, listening.
When he opens his eyes, Namjoon is looking at him with rapt attention, like he’s searching for something in Jimin’s reaction. Jimin removes the headphones, and Namjoon lets out a breath.
“That was amazing. Where’d you find these?”
“Took an environmental studies class my freshman year. Apparently there’s enough boat traffic in the ocean to drown out the whale songs so they can’t hear each other, which decreases mating. So I got curious and did some research, and now it’s kind of like, my happy place, I suppose.”
“Why whale songs?” Jimin asks.
Namjoon props his chin on his hands, thinking for a moment, “I think because there’s no rhythm. No beat. No melody. There’s no physical structure to whale songs whatsoever. Yet it’s still undeniably music. It’s still beautiful. That can be difficult to find sometimes.”
“How do you mean?”
It’s only now, that he’s looking Namjoon head on, that he sees how off he looks. Like every inch of him is full, full to the brim and struggling to maintain surface tension, exhausted from holding everything together.
Jimin thinks he knows the feeling but he waits, doesn’t dare to make a sound, and lets Namjoon begin to siphon some of the feeling out.
“Some days it’s like—like I can’t make music. Which is ridiculous because I take a full course load and only two of my classes this semester don’t actually require me to think about music. But I think studying a thing so intensively kind of makes me sick of it. Or forget how to do it well. I have to like, unpack the bullshit that’s been stuffed into me by Academic Institutions.”
He makes a huffing sound that could be a laugh, only it’s bitter, sharp edged. “The irony of going to music school is that sometimes I think it’s made me hate music. I don’t like that.”
“So whale songs—”
“Help, yeah. It’s like,” here Namjoon pauses for a second, brows coming together. “It’s like forgetting breathing.”
Jimin blinks. “Okay, now you’ve lost me.”
“We’re humans, we have to breathe right? But we don’t obsess over it. We’re not sitting here constantly counting our breaths, our heartbeats, reminding ourselves to do it. We don’t have to think about it, we’re just alive and existing. Breathing.” Namjoon tucks into himself a little tighter, and he looks small. He looks very small, and young, even though Jimin knows that by comparison he is neither of those things.
“That’s what whale songs do for me with music. Make me forget. Takes out all the overthinking I do and all the worrying about stanzas and key changes and lyrics. There’s nothing about this music that reminds me of music and yet it’s still music. It just is.”
Jimin sits very still. Puts the headphones back on after a beat. Lets soft crooning and clicks wash over him again. Closes his eyes, slips back underwater. Lets himself be.
It’s like someone undoes the zipper of his spine, tension unlocking vertebrae to vertebrae until he’s no longer uptight. He wasn’t feeling particularly bad today but maybe he’d had it wrong the whole time. Maybe he’d been overthinking his tempo and his form during dance class, maybe the pressure was getting to him deep down, the way it aways does.
“Does that make sense?” Namjoon asks. He looks wary. Unsure. He’s a few feet away from Jimin but for some reason, maybe the softness of his voice, he feels much closer.
“Yeah,” Jimin says, and smiles, even as his stomach swoops. “Yeah, it does. Can we listen again, together?”
“I’ll grab my bluetooth speaker,” Namjoon says, and almost trips over himself running to retrieve it.
would you like to know some fun whale facts kim namjoon
i dont know
am i aiding and abetting some serious procrastination park jimin?
can’t argue with that i guess
did u know that there are currently a team of scientists working to decipher the language of sperm whales with the intention of saving the species by showcasing its higher brain power and intelligence to humans?
oh my god
you found the whale communication tedtalk on youtube didnt you
i did :)
what kind of smile is that
is that a passive aggressive smile or a real smile
it's a real smile!
why would i be passive aggressive about whales
they are large and noble creatures
idk because i did something to upset you
its 2018 smile emoji is the new knife emoji
a) what would you have done to upset me
b) what’s wrong with smiling!
we should come up with something else then
what do you mean something else
like if i want to smile at you but i dont want you to think that i’m going to kill you
we need an emoji for that
(Smiling Cat Face With Open Mouth )?
how is a smiling cat any better than a smiley face
you might as well send me a picture of yoongi-hyung
u know what: fair
how about (Spouting Whale )?
what does a whale have to do with smiling
it just makes me think of you now
bc of the whale songs
no i dont know park jimin
please :) elaborate :)
okay you know what that is kind of terrifying now that i’m on the receiving end
i mean you know!!!
you’re sort of big and long
not unlike a whale
but not in a bad way!
like i said! they are big and noble creatures!
guess that makes you a vaquita then
what is a vaquitSKDFDKFG;D;JF
MY SEARCH RESULTS JUST LOADED
IM SCREAMING HOW DARE YOU
how dare i compare you to the smallest porpoise on the planet earth?
i don’t know /what/ came into me
this is LIBEL AND SLANDER
they are tiny and rare creatures
you can’t tell me it doesn’t fit
but just for calling me small we have to use the whale emojis now
that’s not how democracy works
sorry! can’t debate! decision is made! gotta go study now!!!!!
(Spouting Whale )
(Spouting Whale )(Spouting Whale )(Spouting Whale )!
“Hello?” The camera is shaky and grainy and lags every few seconds but there—just a few feet from the lens, is the undeniable boxy smile of his best friend grinning at him. “Hi! Hello! Jimin-ah, my one true love!”
“Hi,” Jimin smiles. “Hi Tae.”
The snow has begun to melt outside, first slow, then fast, everything in half puddles and half snow drifts. From what Jimin has seen of all the pictures Tae has sent him, it's balmy and sunny and has rained all of one day since his flight landed. Taehyung’s roommate is out so he takes Jimin on a little virtual tour of the tiny dorm, chatting animatedly.
Jimin tucks his knees up under his chin, lets Tae talk, basking in the familiarity of their exchange. Then Jimin talks for a bit about his classes, which are getting a little overwhelming, but nothing Jimin can’t handle. He tells Taehyung about the dance show and the latest drama between the other dance major students. Taehyung—who knows everyone’s names and personal history because Jimin is nothing if not a thorough gossip—listens intently.
A knock on the door sounds as Namjoon peeks his head in. “Hey, can I bother you for a sec?”
“Yeah sure thing, I was just skyping with Taehyung. Say hi, Tae.”
“Hi Tae!” Taehyung waves, and Namjoon laughs, waves back, eyes wide and expressive. Cute. “Are you being nice to my best friend?”
“Yes.” Namjoon shoots a small smile in Jimin’s direction.
“Did you need something?” Jimin turns away from the camera a bit, giving Namjoon his attention.
“The guys and I are going bowling tonight, thought I’d see if you want to come along? You can bring Jeongguk, if you want.”
“Ah, sorry,” says Jimin. “I’m a little swamped with work tonight.”
“Okay, no worries, just thought I'd put it out there.”
“Yeah, sure thing. Thank you for thinking of me.”
Namjoon goes. “Bye Taehyung, good to see you.”
‘You too dude!” Tae says, then—the literal second Namjoon has left the room: “Okay, what was that about?”
“What was what?”
“You told me yourself like ten minutes ago that you don't have a single assignment to do tonight. What’s up?”
“Nothing.” Jimin shifts in the desk chair, pushing his toes against the floor so it rolls to the side an inch. “Just didn't feel like going out.”
Last year, in the springtime, Taehyung’s grandmother died. For almost a month he was inconsolable—Jimin had been terrified with not knowing what to do. There are only so many ways to ease someone's pain, and no way to take it away from them completely. But Jimin made sure to be there for Tae, even when every effort made to help felt pointless. Gradually, Taehyung had stepped out of the storm of grief. And at the end of it, on the first good day in weeks, he'd turned to Jimin out of the blue and said, you’re my best friend. I will always be there for you, Jiminie. Always, and for anything, no matter how bad.
They have a code by now, Jimin and Taehyung, a system where they call each other on their bullshit when the other is lying, or keeping secrets. Jimin doesn't have anything that he’s hiding from Tae. It’s hard to hide something which has no name or definition yet. It just sits in the pit of Jimin's stomach, undefinable sludge, melting snow mixed in with ugly dirt. When he knows it, or has a grasp on it, maybe then he'll bring it up.
“Nothing” will have to do for now.
“That's not what I meant,” Taehyung says, snapping Jimin out of his thoughts. “I mean, what is up with you and Namjoon?”
Jimin blinks. “There is no ‘me and Namjoon’.”
“Listen, I’m pretty much a Geiger counter for homosexual magnetism, and y'all are hitting Chernobyl levels of tension there.”
“I don't know what any of that means.”
“Are you sleeping with him?”
“No! He’s my roommate.”
“So you want to sleep with him.”
“Sorry!” Tae throws his hands up. “Must have read the situation wrong. You're all blurry, I can hardly see your face. I got a vibe, I thought I’d ask.”
“Okay well,” says Jimin cautiously. “I’m not sleeping with him.”
“But you would given the chance, right? You would make a very complimentary couple.”
“I’m hanging up now.”
Jimin doesn’t remember all too much from applying to college, but from what he remembers it was a nightmare. Senior year as a whole—from exams to graduation to waiting waiting waiting on tenterhooks for acceptance letters to arrive—a goddamn nightmare.
That period in Jimin’s life felt exactly like drowning.
He knew how to swim but how was he supposed to swim when there’s no water. It was like that day in his dad’s car at the gas station but longer, slower—drawn out over weeks of not sleeping and working harder than he’s ever worked in his life. Drowning on dry land.
When sleep came, it was all fitful dreams about being on the bottom of the pool, being tangled in a plastic floatie, small legs kicking furiously, small arms thrashing, trying so so hard to hold his breath, keep the burn and the hurt and the sick of the chlorine out. He’d wake up gasping, drenched in sweat like he’d been hauled out of the sea. It would take hours for him to calm down, lying on his side like a fish out of water, shaking.
He developed a stomach ache that lasted a whole month before the winter holidays, like he drank too much coffee and now everything in him has turned black, acidic, bitter to the taste. Didn’t tell anyone because he figured he could take it, because he’d been handling everything else just fine. It got so bad that Jimin couldn’t eat without feeling like he was going to throw up, which felt like his body was punishing him for taking a break, for rewarding himself when he’d done too little.
As a dancer, Jimin was aware of his weight always, but it dropped so easily then. His face, so soft looking, too soft for dance, always too soft, became sharper. Hollower.
And then it was over. What once felt unbearable was suddenly behind him, fading into the blue. He made it through his exams, pulled damn near perfect scores, nailed every single one of his dance auditions. The acceptance letter he wanted most arrived, and Jimin, finally satisfied, slept for almost an entire day straight, was sick in bed for a week after.
It was a scary and awful part of his life. Worse, because it didn’t feel like there was an escape from it. No surface to break, no sunlight to swim towards, no escaping the pressure that came at him from all sides.
He hasn’t been back to that place since, but every now and then Jimin sees flickers of it. Glimpses. Thinks he can hear the deep ocean creature that had wrapped its grip around Jimin’s leg and pulled him down down down stirring again, considering him, wondering if he’s going to put up just as much of a fight.
Sometimes, like the time he first set foot on campus and didn’t talk to anyone for several days, before he met Taehyung. Sometimes, like the time he bombed his first ever college exam, and thought he was going to flunk out, despite it being just one test. Sometimes, like the time he rolled his ankle before the freshman showcase and thought he’d have to bow out to heal.
Sometimes, like now.
Jimin blinks, comes back into himself. “Sorry.”
Namjoon doesn’t look irritated. The side of his mouth twitches, like he wants to laugh, and Jimin must look really dumb right now. His hands are all twisted up in his napkin, tearing it into neat strips to lay out over one another on the table.
“Where’d you go just now?” The question isn’t accusing but rather kind, like Namjoon gets it, doesn’t feel irritated for it even though it’s clear Jimin hasn’t been listen to him.
“Nowhere.” Jimin shakes his head, forces out a half laugh, scoots closer to the table, to Namjoon, leaning in. “I’m right here.”
“You let me monologue about my existential theory class for a full two minutes before I noticed you weren’t listening. You sure?”
Around them, the quiet scrape of forks and plates. A bus boy swings by with a tray of dishes, looking harried.
They found this place a few weeks back, he and Namjoon, and immediately claimed it as their spot. Or rather, Namjoon found it, wandered in one day while he was searching for an ATM machine, and came sprinting all the way back to the apartment to tell Jimin about it. Jimin’s kind of shocked Taehyung hadn’t found it before, what with his general knack for finding as many nearby eateries as possible.
The restaurant is a scant few blocks away from the apartment, one of those hole-in-the-wall places where the entrance is part of a back alley and looks like a condemned building than anything else.
But the inside is warmly lit, and cozy, little tea tables where you sit on the ground and they serve good good stuff. The stuff that tastes too good on these sort of endless rainy nights. Hot tea, pat bingsoo, injeolmi toast and red bean buns, and open and available until midnight. Quiet, good for studying, in a way that all the bustling coffeeshops closer to campus aren’t. It was as if the place knew they needed somewhere else to be on these late rainy nights, rather than making ramen in the apartment, or hanging out in the crowded campus cafes, and decided to reveal itself to them.
“Sorry,” Jimin repeats. “Just tired. Bad day.”
There’s a hangnail on Jimin’s thumb. He’s been picking and peeling at it for the better part of their meal, along with the napkin, making the skin around his finger angry and red. It will bleed soon if he doesn’t stop.
Jimin messed up in rehearsal earlier this morning and it's been hanging over him like a raincloud ever since, like a vapor of tear gas, something that stings and hurts but he breathes through it and keeps going through because he doesn't have time to stop, doesn’t have time to recover, he does not have time to think about all the million and one ways he fucked up.
There's so much that buzzes around inside his head. He never knows how to quiet the thoughts. It’s not so much anxiety like other people have. At least, he doesn't think it is. He’s seen Jeonggukie's panic attacks, has sat with him through some of the worst ones. This feels like a landslide. This feels like the tumble off the cliff right before he crashes into the water. Like with one mistake comes one bad thought and then another, and by the end of the thought he's talked himself out of going to college, out of doing dance as a major, out of trying to hack it in Seoul, thinking he could ever make it here when he was Busan born and bred.
It doesn't always go that way. He's good at heading those thoughts off before they become actions.
you're too hard on yourself, Taehyung had told him once. what would you say to me if I was talking like that?
I would tell you to shut the fuck up, Jimin had mumbled, teary eyed, his face shoved into Taehyung's shoulder after he’d sprained his wrist in rehearsal, and had to sit out for a whole week to properly recover.
It's what he tries to tell himself. Be like Taehyung. Think like Taehyung. Tae has bad days just like everyone else, but when he makes a mistake or people criticize him, he’s unaffected. Untouchable. One time Taehyung grew his hair out so long random people started telling him to get a haircut, and he was completely unbothered. It’s maybe the one point in their even keeled relationship them that makes Jimin absolutely jealous. They are vastly different people but rarely ever does Jimin feel envy with regards to Taehyung.
Except for this. He very much envies how easy it is for Taehyung to just be.
“Is that all?” Namjoon asks, because he does that now. He asks Jimin what’s wrong and he doesn’t apologize for prying, because he cares. “What’s on your mind?”
What’s on Jimin’s mind is this:
Sometimes, he thinks he is not very good at being a person.
He’s never voiced it out loud. Not even to Taehyung. Because Taehyung is the kind of person who would say that’s ridiculous. of course you are a person. you’re my favorite person. And he would mean it, wholeheartedly, and Jimin would probably feel a little better, and think he’s right.
But the feeling would persist. Cling to the soles of Jimin’s shoes like old gum, like tar from the sand on the beach, something not easily removed, something he carries with him as he goes about his day. A niggling nuisance of a feeling that makes his stomach turn, creeps up on him if he sits still for too long, is by himself for too long.
What’s on Jimin’s mind is that he’s bad at being a person because most days he feels like he’s not his own person. Some days it feels like playing dress up. Like putting on pieces of a person, doll parts, together, and just assuming that the final product is him.
He worries, worries so much, that if you were to lay him out on a cold metal table, carve him down the middle, peel back layer by layer of Park Jimin down to his bones and take away his dance commitments, take away his friends, the interests he has because his friends had them first, that he doesn’t have much of a personality on his own. There wouldn’t be much to him, apart from his incessant need to be liked, to be good at things. He worries constantly that he’s not very interesting beyond that.
Sometimes he gets twitchy over it, frantic. Sometimes he’ll double text someone and think that was so stupid why would you do that. Sometimes a friend cancels plans and he panics slightly, wondering if they’ve grown tired of him. He works really hard to make people like him. He doesn’t like it when people don’t. Even in a competitive program where that’s almost impossible, he tries so hard.
What’s on Jimin’s mind is that he lacks the natural gravitas of someone like Taehyung, who’s exuberance comes easy as breathing. Even Jeongguk, who’s shy and anxious in his own right, has his share of friends, people who gravitate towards him because he’s naive looking and sweet. Jeongguk doesn’t have to try really hard to make friends, people drift towards him. In a different way than that of Taehyung, who just exudes light, but still, people drift towards him.
Jimin has friends too. He just feels, more often than not, that maybe they don’t really know him. Because he doesn’t even know himself. Because he’s not a real person. He’s just a slapdash mixed bag of whatever personality traits seem most agreeable to being liked, admired, attractive.
Sometimes, Jimin thinks that he tries too hard to be nice people. That he should chill the fuck out. Sometimes, when he gets the impression that someone doesn’t like him, or maybe is neutral about him, he feels everything in him tie up in knots. Over and over and over.
Some days he is fine. He tells himself that it’s okay that he puts this effort into being liked, and it’s okay that others don’t. Other days, he feels like he doesn’t know who he is on his own. Like all his interests, his passions, the things he’s liked, all the experiences who make up who he is, he’s stolen from other people. Like he’s some kind of social plagiarist.
When he has these thoughts, he tries to talk them down with the simplest mantra. That he is a good person. That he is trying his hardest to be good. That he is trying to be a kind in a world that is not often kind back. If that makes him a little neurotic, a little adrift in an identity crisis, it’s not the worst thing in the world.
He thinks the only time he feels like his own self and nobody else’s is when he dances. But somedays it’s hard to dance without feeling like he’s doing everything wrong, so even that is touch and go.
Some days feel like Jimin feels like there’s pieces he has to put together of himself before he walks out the door. Not because he’s broken but, rather because he never knows what version of himself he needs to be each day. Some assembly required.
Taehyung wasn’t really the cure to that. He was more the balm. Jimin never felt like he was pretending around him. But now Taehyung's gone and all that’s left is for Jimin to take one look at all his parts and think this isn’t working, this isn’t enough, i am such a fucking fake.
He's not fake. Not at all. It’s just that some days he’s not sure if the real him is good enough to exchange for the fake one that has all his shit together on the outside.
What’s on Jimin’s mind? Where the fuck to even begin.
He sucks in a breath as he tugs the hangnail free, a tiny bead of blood gathering in the nail bed.
“Jimin, can I touch you?”
Jimin makes a wounded noise in his throat, doesn’t even sound like him. Then Namjoon is moving across the booth. He doesn’t wrap Jimin up in his arms the way Taehyung would, seal himself to Jimin’s side like a barnacle.
Instead, Namjoon gently lifts Jimin’s red and angry hand from where it sits in his lap. Turns it over in his. Strokes one finger down the soft palm, intersecting with the life line. Then he takes Jimin’s other hand, just sort of loosely holding them, fingertips folded under Jimin’s, the lightest pressure, something unthinking, tentative. It’s not like Namjoon is holding Jimin’s hands, only touching them.
Outside, it pours.
“Sorry for being needy.”
“What?” Namjoon blinks, but his hands don’t move. “No, what are you talking about?”
“I am. I’m sorry. I know I ask a lot of you, I take up a lot of your time. It’s weird not having Tae around and I know it’s shitty to take it out on you. I should be better at being on my own and dealing with my own crap.”
“I don’t think so,” Namjoon says with a frown. “People need people. That’s not something to be ashamed over. You’re not a bad person for needing people.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Of course, anything.”
“Do you ever worry that you’re not a person?” Jimin’s talking before he can think too much about it. “Like, if you weren’t in school, if you didn’t work, if you didn’t have societal obligations, or friends with things in common, that you wouldn’t know who you were at all? Sorry, that’s dumb.”
“Jimin,” says Namjoon. “I worry about that like, all the time.”
“Yeah?” Something in Jimin’s chest lifts.
“Yeah, fucking constantly. Jesus christ.” Namjoon’s dimple does this thing. He’s not quite smiling but it’s there, barely visible, the smallest little divot in his cheek. Jimin wants to press his thumb to it. Measure it. Know the exact concavity of that tiny crease. “I have this existential crisis like, oh I don’t know, every other week or so.”
“Every week, huh?” Jimin doesn’t know why it’s so funny, but Namjoon’s voice has grown into laughter that shakes his shoulders.
“Yeah. And it’s always triggered by the smallest thing. It’s so weird. Like, someone tells me offhand that I’m so smart, I should be a college professor, and twenty minutes later I’m downspiraling because I’m worried I’m taking the wrong career path and ruining my entire goddamn life and I’m going to end up homeless and eaten by my cats.”
“You have cats?”
“In the scenario where I die old and alone, yes.”
Jimin starts to laugh, first just a low squeak in his throat. Namjoon’s expression brightens. Then they’re both kind of laughing, leaning into each other.
“It’s really not funny, but I second guess myself as a human being like every other fucking day. Sometimes I feel like Kim Namjoon is a myth, he doesn’t exist, and if he does, then I sure as hell haven’t found him yet.”
“How can you say that? You’re like—you’re so grounded. And involved. You’re studying all these amazing subjects and doing all these impressive things. You like being alone with yourself.”
“That doesn’t mean I have a clue what I want to do, or if what I want is what I should be doing, or if I’m just doing things because my friends are, the list of worries is endless.” Namjoon fixes Jimin with a somber look. “But I suppose all that really matters is what kind of person you want to be, and if you’re taking steps towards being that person.”
“I want to be a person who is strong,” Jimin says, the truth crashing over his head like a cascade of water, another riptide wave. “I want to be somebody that can handle when things get difficult, or impossible. I know I’m tiny but I don’t ever want anyone to think that I’m—that I’m weak.”
“Is that how you think I see you?”
“No,” Jimin says forcefully. “It’s how I see myself. I ask to sleep in your bed, I text you non stop, I barge in when you’re studying, I drag you out to get dinner—”
“And you think I mind that?”
“I think you don’t want to get kicked out of the apartment, so you’ll suffer however you need to.”
Namjoon takes this in, looking thoughtful. He doesn’t dismiss Jimin’s concerns with a wave of his hand. He rubs a single thumb over Jimin’s knuckles, brushing the scar on Jimin’s ring finger from that time he climbed a chain link fence in middle school. All the other kids had climbed it so easy. It had been effortless to them. Jimin ripped his hand open and had to get stitches.
“I’m sorry. I—”
“No. Just wait. I’m thinking out what I want to say.” Namjoon pauses, looks up at Jimin, then down again. Their green tea ice cream is a puddle in the bowl by now. They’ve been here for hours, Jimin thinks. The restaurant is practically empty. The harried looking bus boy has finished cleaning up all the tables except for theirs.
“You know what I think?” Namjoon says, after a long moment.
“What do you think?”
“I think you spend a lot of time taking care of other people. And that’s wonderful and admirable and means you’re a good person, because you listen when people talk and you take in what they say. You care. But that doesn’t mean you’re devoid of a personality. Or that you are fake. Or weak. If you weren’t a person, or you were a fake person, you wouldn’t have a roommate posting a 200-question application just to find someone worthy of living with you. You wouldn’t have Jung Hoseok—the literal prodigy of the dance program—rant endlessly about how great you are. People adore you because you are a good person. And for what it's worth, I happen to love spending time with you. Period. I get that that’s confusing, and you still need to find that feeling within yourself. But I hope you understand that.”
Namjoon gathers Jimin’s hands in his, folding his fingers over and giving them a squeeze. “You deserve to feel like a person as much as anyone in this world. But I don't think it’s as easy as it seems, so don’t beat yourself up, okay?”
Jimin squeezes back.
Later, back at the apartment, after taking a hot shower and bundling into his warmest flannel pajamas, Jimin walks down the hall by Namjoon’s bedroom, toweling through his hair.
The door is propped open.
Namjoon is bent over and peeling rain spattered jeans off his legs and reaching for pajama pants. He’s already traded his t-shirt for a baggy sweater with the neckline cut out.
The fabric stretches beyond the delicate angle of his collarbones, kisses along his sternum. He looks a little cold, but gradually warming, skin gone dusky with flush.
Right…there, in a place down low low low in Jimin’s belly. The barest flicker.
He remembers the day Namjoon first moved in, how he knew even then, meeting Namjoon and feeling slightly bowled over by his height, the shape of his eyes, even as Jimin’s mind was hung up on other things.
He has always been aware that Namjoon is attractive. Long as he is limber, the shape of his mouth just as lovely as his eyes.
But it had been a passing observation then, a far off and momentary thing. Like seeing a lightning strike from a distance, white veins streaking across a dark sky, and not thinking much of it until long after, as the low rumble of thunder echoes in the pit of his stomach.
Namjoon yawns, stretches his full height, shoulders flexing, wiry and lean, both big and small. He is beautiful.
Thunder rolls through Jimin, rattling him.
He raps his knuckles on the doorframe, before he overthinks it.
“Oh, hey. You feeling better?”
Jimin nods, runs the towel over his head again. The roots of his hair are getting dark again, he’ll need to rebleach them soon. “I think so. Thank you, again.”
“No problem,” says Namjoon, and then, casting his eyes down, then forcing them upwards once again. “Do you want to sleep in my bed tonight?”
Jimin nods, too tired and grateful to feel guilty.
In bed, they curl up, opposing parentheses. Not touching. Jimin wriggles closer to Namjoon but Namjoon almost-but-not-quite flinches away.
“Does this bother you?” Jimin asks. “Am I making you uncomfortable?”
Jimin props his head up on his hand, looking at Namjoon. “Then what is it?”
Namjoon’s breath ghosts over the shell of Jimin’s ear. “I guess I’m just not used to it. I don’t mind being cuddled, I’m just, not a particularly cuddly person.”
“Kim Namjoon, you have a bed full of plushies that says different.”
“Hm. Maybe I’m not very good at it.”
“Maybe,” Jimin says, sneaking an arm around Namjoon’s waist, “you need to practice.”
He doesn’t pull any closer, but lets his arm hang loose and thrown over Namjoon’s side, and closes his eyes.
When Jimin wakes up, Namjoon is asleep on the floor again, sitting with his back to the mattress, face tilted towards Jimin.
Quietly, Jimin reaches forward, buries his fingers in the soft brown of Namjoon’s hair, sweeps his bangs back.
Namjoon makes a quiet noise in his sleep, the tail end of a sigh. Jimin’s heart clenches in his chest.
He slips out of bed.
did u know that the aorta of a blue whale is so big that a small child can crawl through it?
now look who’s procrastinating? (Spouting Whale )
in my defense i have been in this prison bunker of a music lab for ten hours straight
i think i’m losing my mind
what a conundrum
the music lab by the dog statue?
hmm maybe i can distract you
have you seen that video of the beluga whales who like listening to mariachi music?? ?
oh my god
they’re so cute wtf
(Spouting Whale )(Loudly Crying Face )(Spouting Whale )(Loudly Crying Face )(Spouting Whale )(Loudly Crying Face )(Spouting Whale )(Loudly Crying Face )
do u think they’ll kick me out if i weep over belugas who love El Mariachi
i feel that you’re actually in a healthy middle ground re: beluga induced weeping
based on what i’ve seen
good to know
speaking of public campus locations
let me into the studio
i come bearing gifts (Spouting Whale )
hey! what are you up to rn
on a date
a date with mySELF hyung
remember? like you told me to?
or have u already forgotten that time u shouted “DATE YOSELF” at me for like, an hour
what is this, the third date?
sounds like things are getting kind of serious ;)
if you must know
things are quite serious between me myself and i
really finding myself hard to resist
i cant imagine who wouldnt
okay this extended metaphor is getting weird im not gonna lie
lmao thank god
are you near campus rn?
yah, im at that new cat cafe that just opened up
omg are u really
are u cuddling with kittens
yes and its the best date ive EVER BEEN ON
ive NEVER been so content
they take pictures of customers with the cats and print them out to decorate the walls
LOOK HOW CUTE
that’s very cute jimin
I KNOW RIGHT!!!
LOOK AT HER FACE.
HER NAME IS STELLALUNA.
I WANNA /CRY/
i mean same, she’s so freaking cute
im in heaven
anyways, whatd ya need?
oh! i was going to ask if you wanted to grab some food, but don’t let me interrupt your date!
not quite ready to take things back to my place
you’re right. this metaphor is getting weird
wanna meet at our usual spot?
well actually i’m
sorry that sounded a lot less weird in my head djhfgsjdhfsdf
there you are
(Spouting Whale )(Spouting Whale )(Spouting Whale )
its 3am, are you okay?
were you asleep?
come to my room?
what’s poppin jimin-ssi
huge favor to ask
might not even be possible but you’d literally be saving my life
can you grab my leg warmers and bring them to me?
its probably out of your way and idk if youre even home so please dont do it if its too much
i’m on my way to meet yoongi hyung i’ll swing by
where are ur leg warmers?
should be in the bottom of my closet next to my shoes
which dance building?
building C, room 204
you're my HERO kim namjoon
(Spouting Whale )(Cherry Blossom )(Spouting Whale )
“Who is that?” Youngjae hisses in a whisper, directing a jerk of his head towards the door. “And what is he doing in the dance building.”
Youngjae makes a point, even if his tone is more condescending than it needs to be.
Namjoon could not look more out of place, more awkward, standing at the threshold in a room full of dancers, people lifting their feet over their heads, showing skin, wearing their hair back in neat buns or cut short entirely.
“Is he here for you or me?” Hoseok asks, untwisting from a backbend and looking over.
“Me,” says Jimin. “Just me.”
He detaches from his own little corner, sidesteps someone doing a grand jete across the floor—showoff, he thinks—and beelines for Namjoon, skipping, almost careens into him as he skids to a stop.
“Hi.” Jimin smiles, popping up on his toes so he’s right up in Namjoon’s face, bouncing back on his heels with a laugh.
Namjoon grins back and his whole face sort of scrunches up with it. Like Jimin’s done something particularly cute or endearing.
“Hi,” Namjoon says, then blushes, weirdly enough. “I hope I’m not interrupting, I should have texted and waited outside.”
“It’s okay, thanks for coming.”
Namjoon nods, and his gaze drift over Jimin’s shoulder, inquisitive. “What are you rehearsing for?”
“End of the semester recital,” answers Jimin. “Today we’re learning floor work.”
“Cool.” Namjoon bobs his head up and down.
Around them, Jimin can sense curious eyes, as the other dancers in the hall take notice of Namjoon’s presence. It’s not against the rules for “outsiders” to come into the studio, it just doesn’t happen often. Dance majors are kind of clique-y and run in their own tight knit circles. They stick to their own kind.
Meanwhile, Namjoon’s wearing loose fitting overalls over a grey t-shirt, complete with a pink baseball cap, thick rimmed glasses and these clunky lumberjack boots. He’s got a philosophy book tucked under his arm. His eyes skitter shyly away from the wall of mirrors every time he spots his reflection. Everything about him just screams not a dancer, but it’s not a bad thing.
If anything, it’s a comfort. Jimin’s been in this room going on four hours now. He finds the change in persona is incredibly refreshing.
That it’s Namjoon in particular just happens to be a perk.
“So this recital,” Namjoon asks, fiddling with the straps of his overalls. “Are you in it?”
“Yeah, I’m a dance captain.”
“Yeah, like, I’m in charge of knowing all the choreo, even for the songs I’m not in, so I can teach it to the others or go over it with anyone who needs help. Basically like a teacher’s aide. It’s fun, Hoseokie-hyung used to do it, but he’s choreographing this time.”
“Wow. You have to know every single dance?”
Jimin shrugs, suddenly flustered. “It’s no big deal, really.”
Namjoon is outright grinning now, eyes wide. “It’s a very big deal. You are very cool, Jimin.”
Jimin laughs despite himself. “Very cool?”
“Yeah.” Namjoon nods, smiling. “Very.”
If there is a name for whatever emotion goes alongside wanting to gently cup someone’s dimpled cheeks, just because, Jimin doesn’t know it. Whatever it’s called, he’s chock full of it. This entire long Saturday has been one large impending headache, and now it’s as if the headache never existed in the first place.
He doesn’t realize he’s just sort of smiling stupidly at Namjoon until Namjoon politely asks, “When’s the show?”
“Uh, about a month from now. So, if I stop coming home, just assume it’s because I’m sleeping here.”
“Yikes, that doesn’t look very comfortable.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” says Jimin sagely. “See, I’ve been rehearsing here for almost three years. I can sleep anywhere in the dance building. I take power naps in the 2nd floor stairwell near the professor’s offices. Keep a pillow in my locker and everything.”
It’s probably not a big deal, the way that Namjoon smiles. It’s probably not a big deal that Jimin loves it, the way he smiles. It’s probably not a big deal that he needs to stretch out his hamstrings some more. That everyone’s full out watching them in the doorway. That the professor’s going to come back from their smoke break any minute now. Jimin should get back.
But the afternoon sunlight streaming through the open door turns Namjoon’s eyes the prettiest shade of brown, coffee with an extra dollop of cream. Jimin doesn’t want to budge.
Somewhere off to Jimin’s left, he can hear Hoseok’s very distinct cough. It seems to startle both of them.
Namjoon gives an odd salute. “Well I'll see ya,” followed by an outburst of, “Oh! I almost forgot, duh.”
He shoves a hand in his book bag and emerges with a bundle of emerald green leg warmers. “Here you go.”
Jimin takes the leg warmers, cradles them to his chest, looks up at Namjoon. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Namjoon nods, voice all-business. “Have a good rehearsal, captain.”
And then he winks. He fucking winks. Jimin cannot.
He holds his hand up in a small wave. “Bye.”
There’s an absolutely wild moment, where Jimin imagines forgetting class entirely and following Namjoon out into the sun.
“Is that your boy toy?” Youngjae asks peevishly when Jimin comes back, “What a strange gangly man.”
“Mind your own business, bitch,” Jimin says, and bends over to put on his leg warmers so Hoseok can't see him blushing.
A few weeks later, Min Yoongi is waiting for Jimin after class.
The appearance of Yoongi himself isn’t totally out of the ordinary. He swings by on occasion, usually to bring Hoseok lunch or tea or sometimes just to say hi. Not always, but enough that all the other dancers tease Hoseok, cooing and cat calling whenever he sashays over to Yoongi, beaming.
Yoongi doesn’t seem to mind the ribbing, and neither does Hoseok. Half the time, it’s like they don’t even notice what’s happening around them.
But today, when afternoon ballet wraps up and lets out, Min Yoongi is standing at the door and his eyes do not drift towards Hoseok. They settle on Jimin, and stay there, a fixed intensity that Jimin knows is a yeah, I’m talking to you, kid.
“What’s up, hyung?” Jimin jogs over.
“I need a favor,” Yoongi says, voice pitched low. “Regarding Namjoon.”
Other students file out the door past them. Jimin should be joining them, he’s got Writing 340 in about half an hour, but Yoongi’s words vanish the thought from his mind.
“Have you seen Namjoon-ah today?”
Jimin thinks. He’s been up since six, but he hadn’t run into Namjoon in the kitchen for their morning go-around. The apartment had been quiet when he left, Jimin had just figured Namjoon had overslept, or was already gone.
“No,” says Jimin, stomach lurching guiltily. “No, I haven’t.”
“I think he’s upset about something, he won’t tell me what, but he’s AWOL. He didn’t come to class this morning, and when I texted him I didn’t really get a response.
“Did something happen?” Jimin’s throat feels tight (hard to breathe, can’t breathe), “Did something—”
“We had music project crit together yesterday, but he seemed fine then. Maybe he got bad feedback from our professor, though I don’t understand how—,” Yoongi breaks off, pinches the bridge of his nose. “Look, I’m probably overreacting, he’s most likely fine, probably under the weather or something. But I’ve known him for eight years. I know him, and I know something’s off. And if it’s not, then I’m just being a worrisome hyung. Would you be willing to check on him? Please?”
Hoseok joins them. “You hear from Joon yet?” he mutters to Yoongi, who shakes his head.
“I—.” The words dry up in Jimin’s mouth. “Do you want my apartment keys? I can let you in if you want to talk to him.”
Yoongi shakes his head. “If he wanted to talk to me he would have. Same with Hoseok, or Jin-hyung. We’ve tried. Please, Jimin.”
Jimin looks between the two of them. Hoseok’s eyes are wide, forehead creased, and Yoongi’s staring more intensely than Jimin’s ever seen him stare.
“Okay,” Jimin nods. “I’ll try.”
He takes his time getting home, walking instead of sprinting the way he wants to, trying to think up a way to make Namjoon feel any better, while simultaneously battling the voice in his head saying why me why did yoongi ask me. Yoongi could have taken Jimin’s house keys, he could have come with Jimin, but he asked Jimin to do this, and Jimin alone.
Though Jimin isn’t always sure of himself, he is sure that he is a good friend. He knows when someone’s not feeling themselves, he has a talent for making them feel better. Taehyung once told Jimin his super power was crazy mad sixth sense empathy, and that sounds about right.
It’s not even that he can tell what’s bothering them—be it sadness or anger or something else. It’s just this solid coarse feeling of wrong that goes off in his chest. Rubs the wrong way against his skin.
The apartment walls are bleeding with that feeling when he lets himself in.
It's like being suddenly colorblind. The air feels thin, the yellows and blues sapped from the picture of their apartment, the red and greens blurring together in a muddy olive.
Namjoon’s not seated in the center of the soft rug doing homework, nor haunched over the kitchen table with his mug. He's not laid prone on the carpet, eyes closed.
He’s so still that Jimin nearly misses him, balled up like a crumpled paper, sitting in the farthest corner of the couch like he’s not sure how he got there. Like he’d been tossed. His eyes are open, but it’s an absentminded sort of staring. Vacant. Sad.
Jimin wants to fling himself across the distance and burrow himself against Namjoon’s side, but he swallows that urge down.
“Hey!” he chirps, going for false brightness just in case he's misreading the situation and Namjoon’s just feeling tired. Though he knows, he knows it’s not just tired. The room feels drained of all it’s warmth. Namjoon is not looking at him, nor speaking.
“Hoseok-hyung says hi,” Jimin chatters on. “I’m so happy to have some free time before things start getting nuts with rehearal. How was your day?”
Namjoon’s gaze slides over to Jimin, slow moving, like tires spinning in a snow drift.
There are shadows under his eyes, Jimin can see them from where he stands. When was the last time he slept?
If Jimin’s going to help Namjoon at all, it’s not going to be here.
Jimin thinks of the big blue-grey weather outside. Of the sun's prying fingers in beams. Of finding Namjoon on a park bench all those weeks ago, looking completely content among the squirrels, even in the cold weather.
"Do you want to go for a walk with me?"
Namjoon’s gaze focuses a little more and he blinks, like he’s not quite sure he heard Jimin correctly. Like he’s half asleep and only just starting to gain consciousness. “What?”
Jimin looks at the crack in the curtains, as if he can see the big wide sky. “It's a nice day out. I'm kind of keyed up but I don't feel like doing homework. Walk with me?”
A pause, where he can't tell whether or not Namjoon's going to say yes.
Then, a movement, a fold and crease, Namjoon untucking his legs and setting his bare feet on the carpet.
“Okay,” he says softly, like he’s trying to talk himself into it, psych himself up. “Okay, yeah, let’s go for a walk.”
At first, they just go in circles within the neighborhood, and Jimin doesn’t say anything because he considers it a feat that he got Namjoon outside in the first place.
The air in his lungs feels good. Rains came hard again last night, that particular after-storm smell inescapable, soaked into the pavement beneath their feet. It’s nippy out, despite the sun peeking through the clouds. Jimin bundles up in his leather jacket and a warm scarf that Taehyung gifted to him and walks alongside Namjoon in silence.
Namjoon doesn't even seem to be thinking, gaze locked on the grounds. He moves on autopilot, like the brakes in the engine are broken and there's no point in stopping or trying to slow down. He just goes and goes and goes. Doesn't even realize his long legs have pushed him far ahead until Jimin shouts, from twenty feet behind, “Hey! Wait up!”
Namjoon halts, blinking like he’d been startled awake again. Finally looks up from the pavement. Jimin jogs up to him, slightly out of breath.
He doesn’t quite smile, but there’s something playing at the corners of his mouth. Like he’s thinking about it.
“Sorry. I forget.”
“Forget to let the rest of us normal sized people keep up with your legs?”
That not-quite-smile grows like vines, almost reaches his eyes. “Something like that. You walk very slow.”
“Hey,” Jimin pouts. “That’s offensive. I’ll have you know that I am a natural born power walker. It's not my fault you take one step and suddenly you're in another country.”
Namjoon shrugs, but his lips are still curved. “Fair.”
It goes on like that. Every once in a while Namjoon gets ahead, like he's forgotten he’s with someone, goes off a bit on his own. Until Jimin softly calls to him, joonie, wait for me, and catches up. Save for those fleeting almost-smiles, Namjoon isn’t saying all too much. But that’s okay. Jimin doesn't need or want Namjoon to be anything more than what he's capable of being for right now and that's okay. That's very okay.
They stop by a coffeeshop at Jimin's request, where Jimin orders two teas and briefly sneaks a text to Yoongi with him rn, will keep u posted.
Tea in hand, they drift out of the neighborhood, head towards the park nearby, the one with the cherry blossom trees.
In early spring, most of the trees are only just beginning to bloom, grey branches dotted with pink buds. The air smells just on the right side of sweet, just the right side of good. The sky is true blue and periwinkle where the clouds threaten to overtake the sun. They reach the park, the trees, all the signs of winter coming to a stop, and Namjoon slows his steps a little more. Jimin no longer has to skip a bit to keep up. A cool breeze brushes against his warm cheeks. Their shoes crunch on the gravel in the quiet.
At some point, Jimin spots a bench under one particular cherry blossom tree. The one in the fullest bloom. He takes a seat, crushing fallen petals under his thighs as he does so. Tips his head back, lets some of the flowers fall into his hair, one getting caught on his lip for him to sputter around and spit out with a laugh.
When he opens his eyes, Namjoon is looking at him, standing still in the middle of the empty path, looking stunned. Then the expression is gone just as quick as it came, and he walks over to stand right in front of Jimin. Reaches out a hand to playfully ruffle Jimin’s hair, brushing blossoms into his lap.
It feels good, being touched like this, but Jimin doesn’t know how to say that without destroying the very subtle net he’s constructed over the last hour or so of walking so he just smiles and pats the seat beside him until Namjoon sits. He does not put purposeful space between him the way he often does. His knee knocks Jimin's and it feels like permission. Or a question. So Jimin settles his hand on Namjoon's knee. It feels like the right thing to do.
Namjoon looks down at Jimin's hand for a pause.
He doesn’t say anything.
Then, after a while. After their tea has cooled, after the steam has fettered out, after the sun has passed overhead, begun to sink gently beneath the trees, like a marble falling through thick honey, Namjoon speaks.
“You remember when you said sometimes you feel like you’re not a person.”
“Yes.” Jimin shifts, crossing his legs on the bench and turning to face Namjoon fully. “Are you feeling that way right now?”
“I feel that way most of the time,” says Namjoon, quietly. “But today it feels especially bad.”
Jimin hums a low, sympathetic sound, can’t help it. “Did something happen?”
“No. And that’s what’s awful about it. I was writing a paper, going about my evening yesterday, thinking about grad school next fall. And then suddenly I was like, freaking out about my future. Freaking out about my career. Freaking about who I am, am I Kim Namjoon, am I my music, am I my grades, who am I, do I even have an answer to that question.”
“I’m not sure there is one,” says Jimin truthfully. “At least, not right now. Not so early in life.”
“I think I just need to—” Namjoon huffs, like he can't find the words and he's frustrated about it. “I’m unspooled. I guess. You know when you buy yarn and it's all nicely woven together. Well, I feel the opposite of that. I feel tangled and messy, nothing in the right place.”
“Okay.” Jimin squeezes his hand at Namjoon's knee, strokes his hand over the frayed hole in the kneecap. “That's okay, hyung.”
“It’s not. I’m supposed to be better at this. I really am. I have so much to do, this really isn’t the time to be having a breakdown about my place in the universe.”
“Are you trying your best?”
“I think so.”
“Then you don't need to be better,” Jimin says simply. “You’re doing exactly what you need to. You are good, and kind, and trying your best. The rest will sort itself out in time.”
“Oh,” says Namjoon, and looks up at the streaky blue sky.
Namjoon doesn't speak anymore about why the aura around him is greyscale and rainy and Jimin doesn't try to offer any further words of comfort. It’s possible that’s not what Namjoon needs right now. Maybe he’s sick of words and thoughts and needs the quiet. Jimin feels his phone go off, knows he’s missed his weekly Skype call with Tae, but he keeps his hand on Namjoon's knee. Every once and a while scrapes his thumb over the rough material of the jeans. Namjoon never moves away or asks him to stop.
“You had class today.” It isn’t a question, and Namjoon says it with a frown, like he only just realized.
Jimin shrugs. “So did you. I like to think that the world won’t end if we take a little time for ourselves. Plus,” he loops his arm through Namjoon’s, pulls them together, “It’s such a lovely day.”
“It is.” Namjoon tips his head towards the sky, in the direction of where the sun would be if it weren’t sinking behind the trees, like he can feel the rays tucked just behind the cherry blossoms.
Then, when the sun disappears entirely, Jimin leans over, setting his forehead against Namjoon’s shoulder.
“Let’s go home.”
Not back to the apartment. But Home, with a capital H.
At home, Jimin takes out Namjoon’s electric kettle. He pushes another cup of peppermint tea into Namjoon's hands like that’ll do something to help him thaw. Namjoon keeps inhaling so deep. Like he's trying to keep all that fresh air inside him, locked deep in his belly.
Namjoon goes to take a shower but even after that he hovers, the way he used to when he first moved in. Unsure of himself, unsure of what to ask for, how to ask for it. It feels like an admission. Namjoon’s talking to him in code. In quiet body language, in the way his frame is bent and compressed, like he is trying very hard to be small.
“Okay if I crash in your bed?” Jimin asks, keeping his voice casual and his eyes focused on washing the dishes. “Think the AC has been busted in my room, it’s kind of warm in there lately. The breeze never quite drifts in the way I want it to.”
Namjoon nods silently, hugs himself a little tighter, and that's that.
After brushing his teeth and changing into his own sleep shirt and boxers, Jimin finds Namjoon already in bed, curled up facing the wall, in the space where Jimin usually ends up. He lies so still, the exposed skin of his shoulders equal parts vulnerable and closed off, with plenty of room for Jimin to crawl in beside him.
An idea flits through Jimin’s mind, and he moves to the desk, thumbing through his phone apps until he finds what he needs.
Then, he settles one knee on the bed, easing slowly down. Hesitates, for just a second.
“Hyung,” he whispers. “Can I touch you?”
Namjoon lets go of a shuddery sigh, nods against the pillow and Jimin doesn’t hesitate. Plasters himself up against Namjoon's back like it’s something he's done every day for the last few months. Which they have, in a way. They have shared the bed enough times that Jimin has lost count. Just not like this, exactly.
Jimin squeezes Namjoon around his middle, tight. Spreads his hand as wide as it’ll go over Namjoon’s stomach, covering what ground he can. Tucks his knees to the back of Namjoon’s, fits them together like puzzle pieces, like lock and key. He can’t exactly hook his chin over Namjoon’s shoulder so he just pushes his forehead to the wing of Namjoon’s shoulder blade, nuzzles the skin there, breathes in deep, breathes out warm, presses himself against Namjoon’s back like a second skin.
He can feel Namjoon’s chest expand through his tank-top, the curve of his ribs against Jimin’s wrist and forearm. The breaths are long on the inhale, but shaky on the exhale. Jimin nuzzles at Namjoon’s shoulder some more, brushing a freckle with the tip of his nose. After a minute of just breathing, Namjoon’s hand slips over Jimin’s, fingers folding over his knuckles, absently stroking over the bumps one at a time, like playing a scale on piano keys, over and over.
The sounds of the ocean of whale songs bloom gently throughout the room, the blue-green light emanating from the speaker casting them in an underwater glow. Jimin anchors himself in the sound of that, in the feel Namjoon's breath. The way it coasts through both of them. The sensation of his soft skin, the pads of his fingertips as they drag over Jimin’s knuckles, again and again. The way Namjoon trembles every once in a while, shudders that he cuts off by breathing deep, by stroking over the back of Jimin’s hand.
“Thank you,” Namjoon whispers, and tucks his knees a little tighter.
Jimin holds him tighter in response. Curls around Namjoon as much as his body will allow. He doesn’t know if he is helping, but the shudders are coming farther and farther apart, and the forced deep breathing becomes genuine, as Namjoon goes entirely still in Jimin’s arms, his hand curled in a loose circle about Jimin’s wrist. Finally asleep.
He should go. Namjoon didn’t tell him to stay after he fell asleep. Maybe Jimin should do Namjoon the same courtesy that Namjoon does him, go down to the floor and fall asleep there. He should probably go. He should—
Namjoon rolls over in his sleep, a soft grace note slipping out of him. Almost like he’s humming in his dreams. He pushes his face into Jimin's chest, throws an arm over Jimin’s waist. His hair smells like shampoo. Like cool air. Like peppermint tea.
Jimin is so fond.
He falls asleep before he can draw up the courage to leave.
hEY im sorry i missed you yesterday (Loudly Crying Face )
no worries! we’re even now bc the last time u Skype called me i was drunk and hung up on u by accident so
ur good <3
i feel like we haven’t talked in ages lmao
even tho it’s only been a few days
we’re about to be on spring break here and my friends are planning a trip up the coast
might be out of service for a bit
but things are okay? you’re okay? how’s namjoon?
omg that sounds fun ;;
things are okay, i am okay
namjoon is good
you two getting along?
yeah i think we are
but not TOO good, right?
he’s a good roommate like he’ll never hurt you or leave dishes in the sink
but he’s not the bEST, right?
that spot is saved exclusively for you
Living with Namjoon is odd at first. And then, quite suddenly, not odd at all.
Talking to Namjoon is easy. They talk about everything, even when their tastes don’t quite align. Namjoon’s favorite books are pretty much the polar opposite of Jimin’s—who prefers fantasy and the escapism of magic, while Namjoon likes the kind of books that make you think and feel. But they have a two hour debate about their respective Hogwarts houses, and Jimin borrows one of Namjoon’s Murakami books to read in-between classes.
So they talk about books, and music, their families, how they grew up. Namjoon never runs out of questions about dance, and Jimin is endlessly curious about Ilsan, and somehow, between all the things they don’t know about each other, and all the things they don’t quite agree on, they find this endless common ground.
Jimin really likes the way Namjoon talks.
There is something about the consideration he puts into his responses, the space between the words that gives them weight. Like how sometimes he will ask Namjoon a question, or offer a point, and Namjoon will take a long pause. Jimin can always tell here that he’s thinking, really truly thinking, about the words he wants to put out into the world.
Namjoon is conscientious in every way. He speaks like pruning flowers. Gently, with careful hands and slow movements. Sometimes he’ll say something and then backtrack, correct himself, elaborate on what he really meant. Namjoon means everything he says. Sincerely. Genuinely. They never have a conversation where Jimin feels like he’s being lied to, like Namjoon is being dishonest, or hiding his real thoughts.
When Namjoon asks him for his opinion, like he genuinely wants to know what Jimin thinks. He listens like Jimin’s words have weight too. And it’s not that Taehyung and Jeongguk and his other friends don’t do that. But it’s different—they feel grafted to him in their love, unconditional.
With Namjoon, it’s new. And it makes Jimin feel like more of a person every day, makes him aware of how he matters.
Life pushes on the same as it always does, but Jimin begins to measure days in conversation, in interaction, each increment of the week marked by times he sees a dimpled smile.
And just like that, it’s April.
The city gives one last vicious shake to free itself from winter’s grip. Like a dog after a rigorous bath, winter goes and spring comes in with a spray of showers that fade in and out. The air smells sticky sweet with dew and blooming flowers. It’s still cool out, but the frigid bite to the air has retreated altogether. In its place, the crisp smell of new and green and life pushing up through the soil. Beneath the smell of city—beneath the asphalt, the tinny metallic metropolis smell—there’s spring, there’s warmth, and the reminder that not all cold things last forever.
About once a week Jimin gets home from class early or Namjoon is heading to the library for an all nighter or they just happen to run into each other with a handful of free time and Namjoon says want to go for a walk? and Jimin finds that he can’t say no, no matter how tired or sore he may be.
Truthfully, Jimin’s more the type to cluster himself in some hideyhole coffeeshop with friends, go somewhere with Tae, stay in and play video games with Jeongguk. But Namjoon seems to like the fresh air more than he likes anything else in the world, so when Namjoon says want to go? Jimin says of course, yes, let me get my shoes.
Missing Taehyung doesn’t really go away—Jimin never expected it to. They text every day (Taehyung’s doing great, he’s putting together a portfolio concept for the art show at the end of the semester, he’s making plans to go with his friends to LA Pride before he flies home, he saw Lady Gaga in a Starbucks and nearly passed out).
Jimin misses him like crazy, but the panic has ebbed away. The sense of not being able to do this on his own goes. And in its place grows a different feeling. Something a little more solid takes root in Jimin’s bones, keeps him stable, keeps him from capsizing, both when he’s alone and when he’s with people.
In the moments he feels stressed out or sad or frustrated or lonely, he tries his best to tell himself that it’s okay that he feels these things. That he’s a person. That he’s allowed to feel.
It’s a work in progress. Jimin feels pretty okay with that.
And on the days he doesn’t feel okay with it, on the days where his head feels like it could explode with the pressure of rehearsal and class and trying to figure out exactly who he is, being around Namjoon is a balm, a boon. Something good and untouched by bad things in the world.
He tries as hard as he can to be that for Namjoon in turn.
“Are you an angel?” Namjoon asks, on the third day in a row that Jimin brings him green tea. He’s been practically chained to a desk at the library, working on a particularly grueling essay.
“I’m a fairy,” Jimin insists, and boops Namjoon on the nose just to be cheeky.
Namjoon laughs. He has been doing that more and more around Jimin. These loud deep booming sounds.
Their schedules are both horrifically full, but they’ve taken to having study dates in the park. Grabbing dinner in the local markets and strolling back to their campus on nights where Jimin has rehearsal until late and Namjoon has free time to spare. It calms Jimin more than he can say.
Some nights, Jimin still can’t sleep. He doesn’t worry anymore about disturbing Namjoon when he knocks on his door, but Namjoon still always maintains a careful distance between them. He touches Jimin only when Jimin asks, and more times often than not Jimin wakes to find Namjoon asleep on the floor again, back leaned up agains the mattress, jaw slack, eyes closed.
Some nights, neither of them sleep. And from the bluetooth speaker on Namjoon’s dresser drifts the crooning sound of whales.
In mid-April, a few weeks away from tech, a boy in one of Jimin’s classes asks him out.
His name is Taemin. He’s music major who played first chair violin in the orchestra pit for one of Jimin’s ballet recitals last year. They’ve talked a few times, when Jimin was stretching before warmups and Taemin was tuning up in the pit. He seems very nice. Handsome, with a sharp cheekbones and jawline and intensely dreamy eyes. He asks Jimin out for a coffee Jimin seriously considers saying yes, because Taemin is sweet and cute and Jimin could use a good time.
Taemin takes the rejection gracefully. Plays it off with a smile. Sorry, Jimin says, and means it, it’s just that I’m sort of interested in someone else right now.
He says it because it’s the easy way out. But once the words are out there, floating in the air like dust motes, always there but suddenly visible in sun, Jimin can’t stop thinking about them. The simple statement multiplies, spreading off into further fidgeting thoughts until they fill his head so he can’t think about much else.
interested in someone else—
“Hey, can you take a picture of me?”
This is a thing he and Namjoon to do now, when there is time to be found. Taking photos of each other, when the weather is nice, when the lighting is just right.
It’s cherry blossom season. Namjoon’s wearing a loose blue shirt and flowy pants, hair burnished gold in the afternoon light, holding out his phone to Jimin, eyebrows raised.
It’s not as much of a lie as he’d originally thought, but that’s beside the point.
The point is that Jimin knows how to compartmentalize casual dating while crushing on other people, but for some reason isn’t able to do it now.
The point is that he’s in way over his head, which is not something Jimin has ever been when it comes to dating.
The point is that Jimin has never had an issue getting what he wants.
The point is that there are cute boys, there are hot boys. There are even, on rare occasion, sexy as hell boys.
But then there’s—
Namjoon, sitting cross-legged on the floor, hair sticking up in tufts, dragging a pen against his bottom lip as he thinks, chews on the tip. His legs go for miles, knobby knees and a jut of ankle that is inexplicably cute.
Namjoon rolling out of bed in the morning, stumbling into the kitchen half-asleep, in a tank top and boxer shorts. The weather is warming up now, and the flannel pajamas have been stored away. Namjoon’s arms are long, his legs are longer. His skin is golden tan. He is always so damn tall.
Namjoon taking Jimin’s hands in his, playing with them idly, sometimes mid-conversation. He’ll be saying something to Seokjin or Yoongi but he’ll be turning Jimin’s hands over in his, tracing over the life line in Jimin’s hand, brushing a thumb over his knuckles. When he lets them drop, it’s only ever because he seemed to notice what he was doing. Like he’d forgotten himself.
His hands are so much bigger than Jimin’s.
How Namjoon falls asleep with his mouth hanging open. How Namjoon pouts when he’s thinking, pushes his bottom lip out just so. How Namjoon bites his lip, scrapes his teeth, when he’s worrying over something. How Jimin sometimes wonders if Namjoon’s mouth is as soft as it is pink.
The way Namjoon falls against Jimin sometimes. Bends and curves around Jimin when they’re talking real close. Jimin loves it. Loves it. Craves it constantly. Hates when Namjoon isn’t touching him. Hates when Namjoon laughs and falls away from him instead of towards. He wants to be the sun in Namjoon’s orbit, and he knows its selfish to want that, to desire that sort of gravity, but he wants it. Wants. It makes him ache.
Sometimes there’s something in the way Namjoon looks at Jimin, something in the pitch of his voice when they’re up late at night talking in between bouts of silence as they do homework. There’s something about Namjoon’s voice, unnamed and intangible, that makes Jimin feel seen. Like he has weight in this world, like his presence here alone is meaningful. Not that Namjoon completes him, but rather that knowing Namjoon has made him aware that he is a complete person in and of himself. And that’s a concept which Jimin feels shaky and unsure of every day but Namjoon looks at him, and Jimin thinks he gets it.
Meanwhile, there’s a calendar in Jimin’s room counting down the days until Taehyung comes back. Until Namjoon moves out. The days crossed out in red are beginning to exceed blank ones. And Jimin is so excited, so ready for Tae to be back. But it also means Namjoon leaves, and Jimin isn’t quite sure how he feels about that.
Occasionally, in the midst of life updates and live blow-by-blows of American TV, Taehyung will ask how’s namjoon?
he’s good! is what Jimin always responds with.
He sometimes thinks about telling Tae the truth, telling him about whale songs and cuddling and Taemin and squirrels and teahouses and how Namjoon is fine, he’s wonderful, he’s brilliant, he makes me so happy.
But Jimin gets the feeling that once he’d get started, he’d never be able to shut up.