Chapter 1: Of Peacocking and Prank #1
In which we meet Club MXV.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
If you were to ask Kim Taehyung how exactly the ripped boy with dyed blond hair streaking down their football field is their fault, he might tell you it has something to do with a dare, a bit of lust, and a lot of peacocking.
If you were to ask Kim Yugyeom, he would say it’s all Taehyung’s fault.
It starts, like most things, at a match.
Aside from the fact that they are their biggest rivals, playing Club MXV is always particularly eventful, owed almost entirely to cocky forward Shin Hoseok. It started out innocent, banter regarding his name, jokes about playing their Hoseok against MXV’s Hoseok. Their Hoseok hated those jokes— don’t fucking compare me to some asshole from fucking MXV —but it was harmless, really.
Then they got around to playing a few more matches against MXV, and they learned about Shin Hoseok’s habit of pulling his shirt off after a win and jogging along the sidelines, arms outstretched in victory. There’s nothing really special about his brand of peacocking. The thing is, Jackson and Jimin are just as bad. At a match against XO, they upended bottles of water over each other’s heads, running hands through their wet hair and throwing sultry glances at the crowd. So it’s not that there’s anything inherently unordinary about Shin Hoseok.
It’s just that Wang Jackson and Park Jimin do not like being outshone.
It was bad enough that they lost the season’s first match against MXV that day, 3-1. Jaebum was pissed, Namjoon was lecturing Bambam on “being one with the ball,” and Yoongi was trying to comfort a devastated Youngjae. But then MXV’s Hoseok had to go running around the field with his blond hair rippling and a white-toothed grin. Worst of all, he winked, and some girls on their side cheered. Their side.
That’s about when Jackson grabbed Jimin’s arm, shook him around, and exclaimed, “Do they think he’s hotter than us?”
“He is pretty hot,” Jimin said a little wistfully.
So Jackson tugged his shirt off, too, and walked past the bleachers with his hands locked over his head, sweat dripping down his chest. Jimin followed a little while after, pouring water over himself, head tossed back sensually. Across the field, Shin Hoseok upped his game.
They ran into him that night at a bar off campus. MXV hadn’t left yet; they actually had money to stay in hotels. They didn’t have to bust their asses to get back to university after every away game like GB did. Jimin was the first one to notice him sitting alone. He joined him at the bar with a challenging glance, ordering a stronger drink than the pink one Hoseok played with.
Hoseok snorted. “You want to compete off the field, too?”
That’s when Jackson and Yugyeom came to join Jimin at the bar, Taehyung following close behind. If Jaebum knew they were out for drinks the night after a loss, he’d kill them. He and Namjoon had them running drills down the field for hours that evening.
“We’d win in any competition,” Jackson bluffed.
“You couldn’t even win the one that mattered.” Hoseok flipped his hair back with a smirk.
“You really think you’re hot shit, don’t you?”
“Clearly your fans think I am.”
Yugyeom had to physically restrain Jackson from lunging for him.
“You could run butt-ass naked down the field and our fans still wouldn’t give a flying shit about you,” Taehyung said.
“Bet you’d lose all your fans if that happened. Who’d want to cheer for GB when MXV has someone as hot as me?”
“Bet my ass that wouldn’t happen.”
“Is that a challenge?”
It wasn’t supposed to be a challenge, not really. Yugyeom denied him immediately, busy imagining Namjoon and Jaebum’s faces if Hoseok actually did happen to run down their field naked. After some more shit talking, they went their own ways, and that was that.
At least until now, when Shin Hoseok streaks through the middle of their match against SVT, and the rest of them stare at him pass in frozen shock.
The referees are the first to move, followed closely by Yongguk, their sometimes-coach. They chase him down, but Hoseok is known for being fast. He ducks through the stands, disappears behind a fence, and he’s gone. One of the referees tries to follow, but there’s no point. The damage is already done.
(They still beat SVT 4-3, saved from a draw at the very last moment by Jinyoung’s brilliant dive to catch the ball before it slides into the goal.)
It’s Jungkook who first suggests the idea of revenge when they’re mulling about the locker room.
“If we let him get away with that, it’ll go down in history.”
Bambam agrees. “They’ll talk about it for ages, that fucking MXV pulled one over on GB.”
“Can’t he get suspended for that shit?” Mark says, tugging a clean t-shirt over his wet hair. It gets stuck over the crown of his head. When he yanks it down, Hoseok (their Hoseok) is waiting an inch from his face with an ugly expression. Mark doesn’t even startle, just pushes him back with a hand to his chest. Hoseok slinks away, disappointed.
“I hope his dinner spoils,” Seokjin mutters, bitter, as he dusts the insides of his cleats with powder.
“That’s the worst you can come up with?” That’s Yugyeom, glaring, rubbing muscle cream over his sore calves. “I hope he falls in a ditch and—”
Jinyoung clips the back of Yugyeom’s head as he passes him, a towel wrapped around his waist and water dripping down his collarbones. “Behave.”
“We have to get back at him,” offers Jungkook, leaning against a row of metal lockers with his arms crossed. “Don’t they all live in the same dorm at their uni? Maybe we can teepee their floor.”
“That’s kind of mean.” Youngjae walks out of the showers, shaking the water out of his head like a puppy. “Won’t a janitor have to take care of that, not them?”
“Depends on what kind of dorm they live in.”
“I feel personally attacked.” Jackson rests his chin on Jimin’s bare shoulder, pouting, as he addresses them. “He was trying to out-sexy us.”
“Shut up, Jackson.”
“No one cares about your sexiness ego.”
“This is a serious insult to the team as a whole.”
“You better not be talking about revenge out there!” Namjoon’s shout is loud enough to be heard from the showers, from where he, Jaebum, and Yoongi still haven’t emerged. “If you get us suspended, you’re dead to me.”
The guilty looks they exchange only last about two seconds before Taehyung pops up, a grin on his face. It’s the kind of grin that means trouble for the rest of them.
“I’ve got an idea.”
A fact: proper pranking takes research.
In order to pull one over on the 13 members of Club MXV, the boys learn a number of very important things.
- MXV all live on the same floor of a boys’ dorm building at their university.
- The co-captains Hyunwoo and Hakyeon share a room. (They decide to leave that one alone. The co-captains are surprisingly nice.)
- The whole floor shares one bathroom.
- The dorm building has no security other than an ID key.
- MXV’s Hoseok’s room is right next to the bathroom (that’s the most important fact).
Sneaking 14 people into a Konkkuk University dorm building sounds like a recipe for disaster, so they consider drawing straws. In the end they don’t even have to. Namjoon and Jaebum are out of the picture to begin with; being co-captains, it’s best if they don’t learn about the plan at all. Yoongi and Mark count themselves out in favor of sleep, Jinyoung and Seokjin don’t want to be caught up in the mess, and Hoseok has an exam in the morning.
The rest of them dress head-to-toe in black with sunglasses, beanies, and face masks to cover up. Taehyung even suggests gloves. They park Jackson’s shitty car not too close and not too far from the dorm building. It’s four AM, and they’re banking on no one being awake to spot the rather suspicious crew of boys dressed like robbers slinking through campus.
Taehyung tinkers with the ID scanner and somehow (they don’t bother questioning the things Taehyung manages to do anymore) gets the door unlocked. According to their insider knowledge (Jimin’s little brother goes to school at Konkkuk), MXV lives on the fifth floor. They clunk around for a while, hissing at each other to shut up. Bambam is the only one who manages to walk somewhat quietly.
“Is that a community room?” Taehyung whispers, stopping by a glass door so suddenly that Jimin bumps right into his back. “Sorry, Mini.”
“Don’t call me that!” Jimin bristles.
“It looks like a community room.” Youngjae peeks through the small square windows zigzagging the wall, revealing a TV, fridge, and numerous couches. “Why?”
“All right, half of you take this room. Flip all the furniture upside down. The other half follow me into the bathroom.”
Flipping the furniture upside down doesn’t take long. They tag-team, lifting couches onto their heads as quietly as they can, placing the table legs up and even unplugging all the TV’s wires.
“Let’s turn the fridge over, too,” Jackson says.
“That’ll be way too loud,” Yugyeom protests, but they all move for the fridge, anyway. They remove the fridge’s contents (half a cake and tons of energy drinks) then, between the four of them, flip it on its head. They put everything back, upside down.
Meanwhile, Taehyung, Jimin, and Bambam flit through the communal bathroom. They toss balled-up toilet paper into all the toilets, flushing them one-by-one until they clog. They shove paper towels into the sink drains and turn on all the taps, then do the same to the showers. They even flood the tub tucked into the corner that looks like it’s never been used.
“Perfect,” Taehyung says, standing in the doorway with his hands on his hips like a king overseeing the destruction of battle. “By morning, it’ll be totally flooded.”
“Hope it floods the asshole’s room first,” Jimin mutters, still bitter.
They’re startled out of their victorious trance by Jackson, who skids into the bathroom looking panicked. “Someone’s coming, it’s one of the defenders, the scary one—”
“Jooheon?” Youngjae squeaks, eyes wide.
“He’s fucking coming here to piss or something, we gotta run—”
They dip so fast they leave a whoosh of air behind them. Jooheon is walking down the hallway in bunny slippers (bunny slippers?), yawning. The only reason he hasn’t seen them yet is because he’s rubbing his eyes nonstop.
And then a room door bursts open just before Jooheon passes it. He stops, squinting, his nose inches from the door.
“Oh, sorry.” It’s Wonshik, the purple-haired striker.
“Nah, it’s cool, dude,” Jooheon mumbles back.
Jackson waves his hand back, indicating that it’s about time they start moving. They inch for the stairs, backwards, still staring at the two guys standing in the hallway. Jungkook is seconds from opening the door to the stairwell when Wonshik looks in their direction.
“What the fuck,” he says, monotone.
Skidding down the stairwell, bumping into each other, hissing orders. They can hear Wonshik and Jooheon coming after them, yelling at them to stop. They burst out the door and speed through the grass around the building, past the first parking lot and into the second one where Jackson’s car waits. Wonshik and Jooheon are hot on their heels.
“Go, go,” Jackson shouts, leaping into the driver’s seat. It doesn’t help that his car is all manual, meaning he has to reach over to unlock the passenger seat, and when Jimin falls in, he has to unlock the back doors for the rest. By the time all seven of them have piled into Jackson’s tiny car, Wonshik and Jooheon have nearly caught up.
“Don’t tell me you’re GB assholes—” Wonshik shouts as the two of them come to a stop, catching their breath.
“Sucks to suck,” Jackson shouts back.
They lean out of their windows as they drive past them, hollering and flinging insults.
“See,” Taehyung says cheerfully as they’re driving safely away, “I come up with good ideas sometimes.”
When they first reconvened for conditioning at the start of summer, Jaebum and Namjoon had some fairly strict words for them.
“If you even think about stealing MXV’s mascot like you did in the spring—”
“I’ll literally flay your goddamn hides.”
“He doesn’t mean that. You’ll be running laps until you vomit, though.”
“Don’t prank each other, either.”
“Just because Youngjae and Jimin are gullible doesn’t mean it’s okay to tell them we’re practicing in Halloween costumes in March.”
(This was met with protestations from the two mentioned— Gullible? We’re not gullible! —and pleased giggles from the prankers.)
“And quit stealing Jackson’s clothes when he’s showering.”
“I know you all wanna see his dick, but not in the locker room.”
( Nobody wants to see his dick.
You’ve got it all wrong.
You’re kidding, right? )
“If you assholes don’t come to every practice, you can quit the team.”
“He doesn’t mean that. But you’ll have to condition extra.”
“Win a match, and I’ll buy everyone meat. Lose, and I’ll keep you practicing until dinner’s long gone.”
“He probably means that.”
And so on and so forth, until they finally got around to talking about the upcoming season and mapping out plays. Eventually, the somewhat expected question came from Youngjae, just as they were heading out onto the field.
“You’re gonna bench me less this season, right?” He sounded so earnest that suddenly everyone was looking around the room, everywhere but at him.
“We’ll see how things go, Youngjae,” Jaebum finally said, his tone as gentle as could be.
“Just focus on working hard this summer, yeah?” Namjoon ruffled Youngjae’s hair as he passed by, and that was that.
Pranks were, ultimately, out of the question. They’d played enough of them last season that Namjoon and Jaebum were absolutely Done. But pranking is, as Bambam sometimes likes to put it, in their blood . It’s only expected that they end up breaking the rules three matches into the season.
What’s not expected, however, is that Namjoon and Jaebum find out so quickly.
Two days after they flood MXV’s bathroom, the captains call a team meeting in the locker room. They pile onto benches and the floor before practice, chattering and teasing each other with no inkling of what’s to come.
“Whose idea was it?” Jaebum cuts straight to the chase.
“Whose idea was what?” Jimin says innocently.
“Don’t fuck with me.”
“I didn’t have anything to do with it,” Jinyoung says, throwing his hands up.
“Look.” Namjoon holds up his phone, where it’s open to a video on Twitter. “My friend at Konkkuk posted this.”
They scoot closer to watch. The scary defender Jooheon wades through a few inches of water in the bathroom, sweats pulled up to his knees. Sanghyuk the goalkeeper follows, complaining loudly. They’re holding rags and buckets. In the last two seconds of the video, someone in the background shouts fuck GB . The video’s caption reads someone pranked the football team & they have to clean it up themselves , with a little laughing emoji attached.
Jungkook is the first one to start laughing, followed shortly by Yugyeom and Bambam. Then they’re all laughing, falling over each other and snorting.
“Did you see his face ?”
“That’s like two fucking inches—”
“It’s gonna take them hours to clean that shit up—”
“I hope Hoseok had to unclog the toilets—”
“—not you, the other one—”
“This is going to go down in history .”
Namjoon groans, falling back against the lockers with his hands covering his face. “You dumb fucks, they know it was you. Dorms have cameras. We could be suspended from the rest of the season because of this.”
“Their dorm doesn’t have any cameras,” Youngjae pipes up. “We checked.”
“And we wore masks,” Taehyung added. “There’s no way to prove it was us.”
“A hundred laps around the field. Go.” Jaebum’s face is stone cold. He points toward the door. A roar of complaints follow, especially from the ones who had nothing to do with the prank. But Jaebum is impassive. “Now, or I’m telling Yongguk.”
That shuts them up quick. They’re tying stray laces and making a beeline for the door to the field before Jaebum can say another word. If Namjoon and Jaebum’s wrath is frightening, then Yongguk’s is all of Hell set loose upon them.
Once the boys start running, expressions of doom upon their faces, Jaebum nudges Namjoon.
“Did you see Sanghyuk’s face, though?”
Namjoon snorts. “Those MXV douchebags deserved it.”
They run a hundred laps, and they practice for two hours. By the end of it, they’re dripping with sweat, too exhausted to even talk as they shuffle toward the locker rooms. Jimin doesn’t move to follow, dribbling a ball with his feet as he watches them go.
“You staying back, Jiminie?” Jaebum asks, lingering behind the others.
“Don’t push yourself, okay?”
true story i actually know someone who flooded a communal bathroom because the people who lived on the floor pissed him off… don’t do this at home, kids
Chapter 2: Of Robots and Pipe Dreams
In which we meet Club XO.
The third game of the season might be interrupted by a naked Shin Hoseok, but the first match is particularly eventful in its own way.
Yonsei University’s club football team XO has twelve members, and they’re good. Really good. It should be expected, coming from one of the best schools in Korea. The boys of GB are still spectacularly bitter about it.
“How come they gotta be good at school and football?” Yugyeom always says.
In fact, they’re so talented and handsome and well-proportioned and good-natured that a nagging suspicion begins to float among the other teams, a suspicion that the conspiracy-hungry GB players lap up.
“I’ve got it,” Bambam announces one day during summer conditioning. “I’ve solved the case.”
“What case?” Yoongi says with a long-suffering air.
“About XO. I figured out why they’re perfect.”
“Because they’re aliens,” Mark chimes in with a dazzling, white-toothed grin.
Jackson, who’s sitting across the bench from him in the locker room, falls backwards dramatically with an arm thrown over his eyes. “I’m blinded! Warn me before you smile like that.”
Mark throws a muddy shoe at him.
“Anyway,” Bambam continues with a glare, “it’s because they’re robots.”
Mark laughs so hard he snorts, falling over onto Yoongi, who rolls his eyes. He’s fighting a smile.
Jackson, on the other hand, stares at Bambam with a slack jaw. “Robots?”
“That makes sense!” Taehyung barrels in, towel slipping down his waist.
“Is that why they’re all so nice?” Jimin says. “Because they’re programmed to be good sports?”
“And smart. And hot. And really fucking good at football.”
“You’re kidding me, right?” Seokjin says.
“Hear me out. Haven’t you ever thought they were just a little too good? I mean, it’s impossible to be socially competent, excellent at your academics, and a talented football player all in one. You’ve either sold your soul to the devil or you’re not human.” Bambam looks smug, like he really has finally figured out the formula to XO’s brilliance. “Anyway, I heard some of the guys from SVT talking about it, and I trust them.”
“It’s like that internet meme,” Mark says with a forced straight face. “The one that’s like pick two: social life, academics, or mental health.”
This time Yoongi’s the one who snorts, burying his face into Mark’s shoulder. Mark’s lips twitch.
Jackson, on the other hand, eats Bambam's words like they’re candy. “Isn’t Yonsei’s engineering program really good? Maybe they’re using XO to test for future military robotics or something.”
“Maybe it’s a government conspiracy,” Taehyung agrees.
“You all are fucking stupid,” Seokjin says. “Now quit talking about robots.”
They don’t quit talking about robots. They discuss the details of Yonsei University’s military robotics conspiracy for the rest of summer, to the point where even Yongguk the sometimes-coach gets sick of it. When they find out they’re playing XO for the first game of the season, collective groans are heard all around. GB has never won a match against XO.
“We’ve trained hard, we’ve improved, we can do it,” Namjoon tells them, but his optimism doesn’t rub off.
Taehyung and Bambam stand together at the start of the match, watching one of the XO players—Taehyung is pretty sure his name is Minseok, one of their best—drink water from an opaque bottle.
“I bet it’s full of oil,” Bambam whispers. “Robots need oil, don’t they?”
“What’s the co-captain’s name again? The tall one?”
“Yifan,” says Bambam.
“Kris,” says Jimin, somewhere behind them.
“Kevin,” says a passing Jaebum.
Taehyung stares. “Right. Anyway, he doesn’t look like a robot. He’s not as peppy as some of the others.”
Bambam answers quite assuredly, “Faulty programming.”
As expected, they lose the match. What’s unexpected is how close they are to winning. XO’s star player Luhan scores the first goal of the game, one that just slips through Jinyoung’s reaching fingers. But Jaebum scores minutes later, a brilliant goal that their goalkeeper Chanyeol dives to catch and fails. The rest of the match is a tense back-and-forth with both teams in equal possession of the ball. Matching so well to a team like XO is a feat in and of itself. Then Hoseok rams into one of the smaller XO players during a heated play and receives a yellow card, giving XO a penalty kick ten minutes before end time. They score, and the match ends 2-1 with GB’s loss.
They’re devastated. Mostly, it’s the closeness that gets to them. They could have made it, could have started off their season with a win against reigning champions XO. Hoseok cries, furiously dashing tears away with the back of his hand.
“It’s my fault,” he says, even though it’s not really.
Maybe the penalty kick is his fault, but there are a myriad of happenstances that lead to the final score. Jinyoung could have caught XO’s penalty kick and kept the match at 1-1; at 32 minutes and 33 seconds Jackson’s kick could have sent the ball into the goal instead of Chanyeol’s hands; Luhan’s first goal could have curved just an inch over and made it into Jinyoung’s grasp. So it’s not Hoseok’s fault, even if it is.
Jaebum and Namjoon are not as harsh on them for the loss as they pretended they would be. It’s XO, after all, and they played much better than they had expected. They are much harsher on themselves than their captains are.
Jinyoung’s the one who breaks the moroseness that follows them over the next few days of practice.
“Hey,” he says conspiratorially, gathering them around in the locker room after they’ve showered. “We’ve gotta find out if they’re really robots or not.”
The younger players brighten almost immediately, like the flick of a switch. Yoongi winks at Jinyoung behind the others’ backs.
“We have to sneak into Yonsei.” Bambam sits tense and prepared, eyes glowing. “Robots don’t need to eat, right?”
Seokjin catches on. “If we follow them around for a day, we’ll see if they go to the dining hall or not.”
“Robots don’t need to sleep, either.” Jimin leans forward in his seat, Jackson hanging onto his back. “Maybe we can sneak into their dorm at night and see if they’re sleeping.”
“Maybe they’ll just be standing there,” says Jungkook, eyes wide. “Maybe they just switch themselves off at night. Like in that one robot movie.”
“Or every robot movie,” Yoongi interjects dryly.
“So we’re going?”
“We’re going.” The finality in Seokjin’s voice has everyone grinning.
They can’t all go, fourteen of them tailing a popular football team through a campus that isn’t even their own. They draw straws, settling on four of them: Jinyoung, Yugyeom, Hoseok, and Seokjin. (Little do they know in two weeks’ time they’ll be sneaking into yet another university, seven of them dressed in black to pull a prank.)
Yonsei University is gorgeous, old-fashioned and full of greenery, all trimmed hedges and pretty vines growing on stone buildings. It stands in stark contrast to the modern practicality they’re accustomed to with Kookmin University. If they weren’t already bitter about XO’s station in life, they certainly are now.
“My parents were so disappointed when Yonsei rejected me,” Seokjin mutters as they slink through the campus, staring around with starry eyes. “I think they’re still disappointed.” He adapts a whiny, nagging voice to say, “If only you didn’t focus so much on football maybe you could make something of yourself.”
Jinyoung snorts. “Bullshit. Yonsei has an under five percent acceptance rate. No one gets in.”
“Except for robots,” Yugyeom adds dutifully.
“At least your parents care,” Hoseok murmurs, neck stretched to peer behind them at a passing courtyard with a lovely fountain and array of flowers. “Last week I didn’t go home for two days, and they didn’t even notice.”
“Next time your parents give you shit, Seokjin hyung, you should show them Bambam's grades. He’s already failed two tests.”
“He did what?” Jinyoung exclaims. “If he doesn’t keep his grades up, Namjoon will kick him off the team.”
“It’s still the beginning of the semester. He can probably salvage them.”
“He’d do fine if he got distracted less.”
“Look,” Hoseok hisses, hitting the arm of Jinyoung, who happens to be nearest to him. “Isn’t that one of the co-captains?”
Junmyeon walks out of a building, sliding papers into his messenger bag. His hair is styled perfectly, and he smiles at everyone who greets him, which seems to be about every other individual. They duck behind the corner of the building, peeking at him around the side. He doesn’t do anything particularly robot-like, just walks across the courtyard to a different building and disappears inside.
“Should we follow him in?”
“He doesn’t look all that suspicious.”
“That’s the point.”
“Not so loud, Yugyeom.”
“Come on,” Hoseok finally says. “Let’s go before we lose him.”
They try to look casual walking across the courtyard after him, hands in their pockets. Jinyoung whistles a cheery tune. The building turns out to be a dining hall, filled with students mulling about and the sound of clattering tables mixed in with noisy chatter. They stop by the doorway, staring around in awe.
“Is that a fucking seafood bar?”
“They have a section for pasta. What kind of fucking university has a section for pasta?”
“Forget the pasta, look at the desserts.”
“I should have listened to my parents,” Seokjin whines.
Jinyoung pats his shoulder comfortingly. “Hey, at least you aren’t a pretentious prick like the rest of these assholes.”
A passing girl whose outfit looks like it might cost an entire semester of tuition at Kookmin throws a dirty glare over her shoulder.
“You’re one to talk,” says Yugyeom. “You look like you’d fit right in here. You’re wearing a sweater vest.” As soon as he finishes speaking, he sidesteps neatly so Hoseok stands like a shield in between him and Jinyoung.
“What did you just say to me, you little brat—”
Seokjin holds Jinyoung back from his intended lunge with an exasperated sigh. “This isn’t the time, you guys.”
“At least I’m not wearing a fucking Boca jersey,” Jinyoung snaps.
“Boca is and always will be better than River Plate—”
“Say that again, I fucking dare you—”
Hoseok clips both of them on the back of their heads. “Shut up,” he says, looking rather pleased at the pained whines that answer him. “He came to the dining hall. That means he eats real food.”
“Maybe he just came to socialize,” Seokjin suggests.
“Wait, he’s looking.” Jinyoung dives into the corridor leading toward the restrooms. The others follow, scrambling for footing, once they register his words.
Yugyeom summons up enough courage to peek around the corner, just enough to see if Junmyeon is still looking in their direction. He isn’t. He has sat down among a small group with a plate of food. As Yugyeom watches, he digs in, eating with as much fervor as anyone else. Yugyeom stares for another moment just to be sure that he doesn’t secretly spit it out when he turns away.
“He’s really eating.” Yugyeom leans back with a sigh. “Guess he’s not a robot.”
“Maybe he’s a robot programmed to eat. I mean, if you think about it, what’s the point of programming a robot that can’t fit in with humans? They’d be found out right away,” Hoseok reasons.
“So let’s try the dorms. See if they sleep or not.”
“Perfect. Let’s go.”
Namjoon and Jaebum have known each other since they were small enough for footballs to come up to their knees. They’ve been friends long enough that they remember kicking balls on the steeply rising streets outside their small houses, packed close together, until the sun had long since set and their mothers came looking for them (sometimes—sometimes their parents didn’t notice where they’d gone, not for hours, not when they were caught up in themselves). They’ve been together since playing ball on the streets turned into staying late after school to join club teams, turned into scrounging for money under their couches to travel to other cities for high school matches.
It’s not an exaggeration to say Namjoon knows Jaebum like he knows the back of his own hand. So when they sit together in their shared apartment before the season starts, half-empty bottles of beer in hand, Namjoon waits for the inevitable conversation.
“Think we’ve got a real chance this year,” Jaebum says, reclining in their old, lopsided couch. His eyes are fixed on the TV screen, but Namjoon can tell his mind is elsewhere. There’s an amateur match on, Seoul United and Cheongju City FC. As expected, SU is winning, 3-0.
“The kids are good,” Namjoon agrees. The new recruits are all promising; they make the loss of last year’s graduating seniors sting a little less. Their Spring season was good enough that Namjoon can see why Jaebum has hopes for the Fall.
“Even Yongguk hyung thinks so.”
“Maybe if we fundraise more often this semester, we can pay him to coach more than one practice a week. He can be our slightly-more-than-sometimes coach.”
“That sounds like a pipe dream.”
“And winning the championship doesn’t?”
“Hey, don’t say that.”
“We’re good, but we’re not that good. The kids are still learning how to work like a team.”
“It’s been one season. That’s enough time to figure it out.”
Namjoon shrugs, taking a swig of beer. “Maybe it is.”
“Think we can add an extra practice every week?”
“We already have four.”
“We could make it, Namjoon. We could make it to the finals this time.” Jaebum leans forward, eyes alight, game forgotten. He’s looking at Namjoon like the stars are just inches from his grasp.
Namjoon knows Jaebum like he knows the back of his own hand. Every member of Club GB wants to win; every member wants to make a name for their oft-overlooked team. But Jaebum wants victory like it’s the only thing that will keep him going. The other players don’t know the extent of his desire to win, nor do they understand the reason it’s there. But Namjoon does. Namjoon knows that Jaebum needs to win like he needs to breathe.
(He can still remember a time when winning only meant the boys down the street had to treat them to tteokbokki, when it didn’t carry the weight it does now. But that time feels like a distant dream.)
“Five practices, but only every other week.”
Jaebum grins. Clinks his bottle against Namjoon’s. “Deal.”
“We can make it,” Namjoon says, and sitting on their ratty couch in their dingy apartment with a dull game playing on TV, he starts to believe it.
He believes it because Jaebum believes it.
Between running from the dining hall and locating the nearest dorm building, Yugyeom has somehow found himself trapped in a headlock by a rather pretty guy with a rather big grin.
They had been hiding behind the corner of the building, shielded by a few convenient shrubs. (Yugyeom will maintain to his dying day that he was the quietest of the four while they waited, keeping an eye out for any XO players.) Hardly ten minutes passed before they saw the cheerful midfielder and his friend with the funny laugh. They’re always together, on the field and off, causing trouble with the taller defender. Yugyeom has heard the XO captain call them their ‘beagle line.’
Anyway, Yugyeom had been perfectly quiet until Jinyoung decided to bring up his Boca jersey again.
“Can’t believe you’re repping Boca. In my presence.”
“Can’t believe someone who supports River Plate is on the same team as me,” Yugyeom had snapped back.
This had promptly dissolved into a hissed back-and-forth argument about the merits of both teams, mixed in with choice personal insults. By the time Seokjin and Hoseok got around to silencing them, it was too late. Baekhyun and Jongdae the grinning midfielders were already looking around the corner.
“Well, well,” Baekhyun had said with a wicked glint in his eyes. “What have we here?”
“Smells like GB,” Jongdae chimed in. The whole ordeal rather reminded Yugyeom of two serial killers toying with their victims during the apex of a horror movie. In another minute, they’d probably get their throats slit to a backing track of deranged giggling.
“What are we gonna do with GB, Jongdae?”
“Why, Baekhyun, there are so many things we can do with GB.”
They took Jongdae cracking his knuckles as the cue to run.
Yugyeom might have made it away with the others if he hadn’t tripped over his untied laces. And that’s how he ends up in Baekhyun’s headlock, Jongdae crouching in front of him with an eyebrow raised. He watches the other three stumble in their haste to escape, abandoning him to his fate.
“Fuck you,” he shouts after them, squirming in Baekhyun’s hold.
“What are you guys doing here? Trying to spy on a practice?”
“Nobody practices at lunchtime.” Yugyeom slumps. He could probably fight Baekhyun off if he wanted, but he supposes the damage is already done.
“We wanted to see if you were robots or not,” he mumbles it against Baekhyun’s arm.
Baekhyun and Jongdae exchange a glance. They burst into laughter, snorting and slapping each other’s backs. Baekhyun lets go of Yugyeom in his amusement, flinging himself into Jongdae.
“Robots!” He wipes at a tear. “They thought—they fucking thought—”
Jongdae bends over to catch his breath, holding onto his knees. He starts laughing again as soon as he straightens. “You thought we were fucking robots? What’d you think, we drank oil out of our water bottles?”
He makes it sound like the most ridiculous idea. Yugyeom rubs his head and scuffs his toe against the ground with a sullen pout. “I mean, yeah.”
“Luhan hyung was right. GB kids are wild.”
“Hey!” Baekhyun suddenly shouts, waving his arms in the air. Yugyeom turns to see Junmyeon walking toward them, evidently done with his lunch. His very human lunch. “Hyung!”
“What’s going on? Aren’t you from Kookmin?” Junmyeon stops before Yugyeom, brows furrowed in confusion.
“Hyung, get this,” Jongdae says between laughs. “GB came here to find out if we were robots.”
“Chanyeol never sleeps.” Baekhyun wiggles his fingers in what Yugyeom assumes is meant to be a spooky manner. “He’s gotta be a robot.”
“Zitao buys Gucci bags every month. He’s definitely a robot.”
“I had a shit ton of alcohol last weekend, and I didn’t vomit. I must be a robot.”
“Shut up,” Junmyeon says, even though he’s smiling. “I’m going to call Jaebum to come pick you up, okay?”
Yugyeom’s eyes widen. “No, not Jaebum, please don’t call Jaebum—”
Junmyeon pats his shoulder comfortingly.
“Consequences, kid. These are what we call consequences.”
Chapter 3: of head-butting and not-pot brownies
In which we meet Club BT.
this took 10 yrs im sorry
The summer before the season begins is marked with conditioning, more conditioning, arguing with the thirteen-member women’s team, and still more conditioning.
Kookmin University has only one field appropriate for football practice. With two club teams plus various other athletics, competition for the field is severe. Much of their summer practice time is spent navigating how and when to book the field.
That summer, they butt heads with Club BT three times. By the end of it, Namjoon discovers something very important.
Metaphorical Head-Butt #1
“Taehyung.” Jaebum ruffles Taehyung’s drying hair after conditioning that day, ruining his careful attempts to fix it. “Sign up for the field for Monday?”
“Got it, hyung.”
That evening Taehyung works at his second part-time job until midnight and returns home dead tired only to tuck his younger siblings into bed; his father’s working the night shift again, and his mother’s still sick. He forgets to sign up, and then he forgets that he forgets, so on Monday evening they show up at the practice field to find BT, the women’s team, already running drills.
A few of the girls stop to look when they walk up in their practice clothes. Namjoon beelines for Jihyo, the captain.
“We had the field booked.”
“No, you didn’t,” she says. “We booked it on Saturday.”
“We booked it on Friday.”
“Obviously you didn’t, considering we were able to sign up.” That’s Lalisa, BT’s new Thai freshman recruit. She’s already made a name for herself, known for being the team’s top goal-scorer based on her high school skill.
Namjoon walks backward to the others, turning to Taehyung. “Hey, you booked the field, right?”
Taehyung’s face falls, anxiousness written clearly in the set of his mouth and furrowed brow. “I think I forgot.”
“Fuck.” Namjoon’s shoulders droop.
“Where the fuck are we supposed to practice?” Jaebum mumbles, running a hand through his hair.
“I’m sorry,” Taehyung says. He looks kind of devastated. Jimin slips his arm through his, patting his stomach comfortingly.
“Hey, it’s okay.” Jaebum’s tone changes immediately at Taehyung’s expression. “It’s not a big deal, yeah?”
“We can just reschedule,” Namjoon adds.
“Or we could go to the high school’s field,” suggests Youngjae. “The one not far from here, the really posh one. They’re out for vacation right now, too. No one will be there.”
Bambam bounces with excitement. “I heard their field is really nice.”
“What if we get kicked out?” Jinyoung sounds skeptical.
“Nah, we won’t get kicked out.”
“Yeah, we’ll be fine.”
“Who’s gonna be there, anyway?”
They last about an hour before they get kicked out by a janitor.
Metaphorical Head-Butt #2
The next time they forget to sign up for the practice field, it’s Seokjin’s fault, but only because he spends all night studying for an exam he’s probably already prepared for. The girls are less irritated this time; in fact, as they walk away, a number of them giggle.
The younger members of GB are especially mortified.
“You guys should really get your shit together,” midfielder Nayeon says with a toss of her dark hair.
Metaphorical Head-Butt #3
An unfortunate error in the university’s computer system means that a week later, BT and GB both book the field at the exact same time.
“Look, I took a screenshot this time,” Namjoon says, holding out his phone. “We definitely booked the field.”
“So did we!” Jihyo beckons to the goalkeeper, Jisoo, who pulls a folded piece of paper from her shirt. “I printed out evidence.”
“Bet you photoshopped that picture,” Nayeon accuses.
“Bet you photoshopped yours,” Hoseok fires back.
“Don’t accuse us of lying, you liar!” Jennie marches right up to him, hands clenched into fists by her sides.
“Guys, calm down,” Sana says, worried.
Jeongyeon yanks Jennie back, stepping in front of her. “Fine. Rock, paper, scissors.”
“No way!” Jackson exclaims. “You stole our spot twice already. It’s only fair that we get the field this time.”
“We didn’t steal your spot. It’s not our fault you guys are idiots.”
“We aren’t idiots--” Bambam bristles.
“Look, just let us have the field,” Roseanne says. “You guys get everything else. Let us have something for once.”
“What do you mean?” That’s Namjoon, brows furrowed, turning to face her.
It’s Jihyo that answers, glancing between them, a little hesitant, like they should already know. “You guys get more funding. More people come to your matches. The university advertises your matches better than ours. Everyone knows your star players, but hardly anyone knows ours.”
“No one ever cares about the girls’ teams,” Jisoo says.
Namjoon frowns, then he’s nodding, stepping back. “The field’s yours. Come on, guys, we can find somewhere else to practice.”
He walks off, ignoring his team’s protests.
Their third encounter is what Namjoon would call inspiring. He thinks about Jihyo’s words a lot after that, zones out over breakfast and throws offhand comments to Jaebum.
“Wonder how many people show up to BT’s matches,” he says when they’re walking back from a party.
“Did you know the American women’s team got 3 million dollars for winning the World Cup but the German men’s team got 35 million?” he says while they’re watching FC Barcelona play on TV.
“Apparently BT has to pay ten thousand won more for their uniforms than we do for ours because the university gives them less funding than us,” he says, lounging on the couch while Jaebum’s trying to nap. “And we hardly get any funding to begin with.”
When the semester starts, Namjoon drags Jackson to BT’s first match of the season against Club RO from Konkkuk University. RO are notoriously good, BT’s biggest rivals, but BT plays well-- brilliantly, even. Lalisa scores two goals within the first half, Momo scores the next two, and Jisoo blocks three of RO’s. The match ends 4-2, and Jackson’s face is red from screaming.
That’s all well and good, but Namjoon’s troubled by something entirely different-- the stands are nearly empty.
Aside from them, there are only three other small groups of people scattered through the bleachers. GB’s matches have a low turn-out, too; they’re only a club team, after all. But the difference between their audience and BT’s is massive. And if Namjoon’s being honest with himself, Club BT play much better than GB do.
It’s not that Namjoon didn’t know women’s sports garner much less attention than men’s. Of course he knows. He’s read articles on the pay disparity between men and women’s teams before, heard other guys joke about how “boring” women’s sports are to watch. It’s just that he’s never really thought about it like he’s thinking about it now. GB and BT have always been too caught up in arguing with each other for Namjoon to consider that the preferential treatment of men’s teams applies to them, too.
“We’ve gotta do something.” Jackson walks out of the stadium with a determined look on his face, the one he gets when he’s planning a nasty prank or trying to convince everyone to eat dinner at his favorite barbecue restaurant.
“They said their matches aren’t advertised as well as ours, right?”
“So.” Namjoon turns to Jackson, and this time he’s the one with the determined eye sparkle. “Let’s advertise.”
Four practices a week, five every other, with one to two matches on weekends leave very little free time for the players of Club GB. Each practice runs two hours, longer more often than not. They condition in the campus gym on top of all that.
Still, the summer before the Fall season, Youngjae promises himself he’s going to practice even harder than that.
Youngjae isn’t a bad player by any means, but he’s certainly not GB’s best. He gets benched more than anyone. He can count up the minutes he played during Spring season games far too easily. At the start of every season, he asks Jaebum and Namjoon the same thing. Am I gonna get benched less this time? And they always answer him the same way. We’ll see, Youngjae .
We’ll see generally translates to you wish .
No one’s harsh on him. In another team with more unforgiving captains and players maybe they might have been; maybe they might have kicked him off, told him he was useless to the team. But no one ever says that. Namjoon spends extra time correcting his form, and Jaebum always calls him out on his improvement. Seokjin pats his back after every practice to tell him he did well.
But Youngjae can see the disappointment Jaebum tries to hide when he messes up a play, the way Namjoon winces when he can’t keep up with the others. More than anything, Youngjae hates being benched.
When the semester begins and Youngjae returns to campus after a brief stint in his hometown, the first thing he does is hit the field.
They have five practices the week before their match against XO, and Youngjae stays for an hour extra after each one. At their first practice the week after, he shows up early. The last thing he expects as he runs drills down the field is to see Jimin walk up, dragging a net bag of footballs after him.
Youngjae jogs to meet him. “What are you doing here, hyung?”
“Getting some extra practice in. You, too?”
They end up practicing together for a few hours. It’s easier having Jimin there to guard while Youngjae practices goals, and Jimin gives good tips. When they’ve worn themselves out, they collapse on their backs in the grass to watch the sun dip over the horizon, smattering the sky with pink and orange. A breeze cools the sweat on Youngjae’s forehead, the grass scratchy against his back. It’s nearly time for their actual practice to start.
“Why the extra practice?” he asks.
Jimin folds his hands beneath his head, eyes drifting shut. “I kind of needed it after that disaster of a match against XO.”
“It wasn’t so bad. We were pretty close.”
“Yeah, but I lost the ball to XO players, like, three times.” He sighs. “What about you?”
“Figured I’ll keep getting benched if I don’t get my act together.”
“I can help you out any time you need, yeah? I’m not that good, but I’ll do what I can to help.”
“What are you talking about? You’re great.”
Jimin snorts. “Did you see me on Sunday?”
Youngjae props himself up on an elbow so he can look at Jimin, who stares at the sky instead. “Hyung, you’re a really good player. Seriously.”
“Thanks, Youngjae.” Jimin sticks his tongue out teasingly, reaching up to bat Youngjae’s head away.
Hearing Jimin downplay his own skill feels almost insulting to Youngjae, considering Jimin is a much better player than he can ever hope to be. Youngjae would kill to be in Jimin’s position. He can’t see what Jimin has to worry about when he’s clearly talented, not like Youngjae, whose ass is permanently glued to the bench.
But looking at Jimin’s downturned lips and the troubled set to his brow, Youngjae realizes maybe it isn’t quite that simple.
“We were wondering where you guys were!” Taehyung jogs down the field, the others ambling behind him, dressed for practice. He flops down next to them. “Namjoon hyung says he has something important to talk about.”
They sit up, cross-legged, waiting for everyone to catch up and settle around them. Namjoon and Jackson stand in front of them, Jaebum off to the side, arms crossed.
“How do you guys feel about making posters?” Jackson says, and the way he grins spells trouble. Youngjae exchanges a glance with Jimin.
“I’d rather shoot myself in the foot,” comes Yoongi’s dry response.
Jackson shoots him a glare, clears his throat, and continues. “Well, too bad, because we’re making posters. And flyers. And like, online flyers to send people on Facebook. And maybe cards--”
Namjoon pats his shoulder until he shuts up. “To explain, we’re going to advertise for BT’s next match.”
“We’re gonna do what ?”
“No way we’re advertising for those field-stealers--”
“I’d really rather shoot myself in the foot.”
Jaebum stomps on the ground. “Shut up!” Everyone quiets immediately, and he gestures to Namjoon.
“Jackson and I went to their last match, and the stands are practically empty. They’re paying more for their uniforms than we are. The university puts up one flyer in the library when they’re about to have a match, even though we get signs all over campus. And the thing is, they’re winning more matches on average than we are.”
“If anyone deserves better treatment from the school, it’s them,” Jackson says.
“That’s messed up.” Youngjae rubs the back of his head, frowning. He’s never really thought about it like that. “Can’t they complain about that? It can’t be fair.”
Namjoon shrugs. “It’s not. But no one really cares.”
“So we’re going to,” Jackson says. “We can advertise the hell out of their upcoming match and hand out schedules so that people come to the others ones, too. And we’re all going to their next match.”
“Required attendance,” Jaebum adds. “Miss it and I’ll mark you down for missing practice.”
“Mass comm majors get free printing,” Jinyoung says. “If someone designs a flyer, I’ll print a hundred.”
“I can whip one up,” Youngjae offers. He’s good at photoshop. Before declaring his major as English, he’d almost considered graphic design.
“And I can make posters,” Jungkook suggests.
“I’ll help,” Mark says.
“Me, too,” Jimin pipes up.
“All my science classes are really big lectures,” Seokjin says. “I can make an announcement at the start of each one.”
“This guy I smoke weed with works at the campus radio station. I’ll tell him to give BT a shoutout,” Hoseok says.
“Perfect.” Namjoon claps his hands together. “It’s a plan. Now run six laps.”
They rise with collective groans.
Operation Hype Up Club BT, as Taehyung likes to call it, turns out something like this:
At the crossways between the dining hall and the arts building, Jackson, Jimin, and Taehyung dance to “Nobody” by Wonder Girls while holding up posters advertising BT’s next match. Behind them, Yoongi threatens people through a megaphone. (“Hey, you in the red shirt, you’re probably not doing anything interesting next weekend--”)
Youngjae and Jinyoung hand out flyers in front of the library, and after Seokjin and Hoseok show up with a tray of brownies made from scratch, the stack of flyers depletes rather quickly.
Mark does front-flips to catch attention by the gym while Jungkook waves around a painstakingly drawn poster, complete with a swirling border and painted letters. Namjoon launches into facts about the mistreatment of women’s sports teams whenever anyone stops by for details.
Jaebum, Bambam, and Yugyeom challenge passersby to arm-wrestling. In the seconds they spend facing-off with random students, they tell them all about the match. (“Club BT is playing Saturday at two in the afternoon, free entry--”)
By the end of the week, they’re optimistic that BT’s turn-out will be at least a little more than last time.
The boys attend the match decked out in their school’s colors. It’s not exactly warm out, but Jackson and Jimin go shirtless with their torsos painted, the letter B for Jackson and T for Jimin. The others hold up various signs; Taehyung and Bambam take pompoms.
The stands aren’t full by any means. They aren’t full, but there are people surrounding them, on the row behind them and the row in front. There’s a line at the concession stand. They look around at the fruits of their efforts with satisfaction. When the girls come out onto the field, a few of them stare at the bleachers in amazement.
Club BT wins their match 5-0. The boys are the loudest in the stands, hollering and whooping, leading everyone else in chants. Even if the bleachers were empty, the noise they make would be enough for a full crowd. When it’s over, after the girls have finished congratulating each other, Jihyo turns to the stands and waves them down with both hands.
They meet BT at the fence, grinning.
“Heard you guys, like, advertised or something,” Dahyun says.
“I heard you flipped all the way down the sidewalk,” Tzuyu tells Mark.
“And I heard you handed out pot brownies,” Chaeyoung says to Hoseok.
“Just regular brownies!” he defends.
“Thanks,” Jihyo says. “That was pretty cool of you guys.”
Jackson puts his hands on his hips and grins. “All in a day’s work!” Then he deflates. “Or, like, a week.”
“Idiots,” Mina says, but it’s rather fond.