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Hello from the Other Side (of the kitchen)

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Jungkook drums his fingers against the worktop, doing his best to remain calm. Contestants are stepping up to take their randomly assigned ‘mystery’ box, and Jungkook swears he doesn’t recognise three-quarters of them. There’s a few faces he can pick out, people that he’d spoken to briefly back at auditions, but Jungkook knows that in all reality: he’s alone.

 

That’s okay though. He’s not here to make friends, and he knows he’s got what it takes to win this season of Korea’s AdeptChef – even if he’s not 100% sure what he’s got is better than everyone else in that room.

 

Contestant Number 6 – tall, light hair, wears his apron like he means it – lifts the lid on his platter as two cameras zoom in close, revealing a slice of chicken breast. Too easy, Jungkook thinks, and the contestant must know it too judging by his relieved expression.

 

Jungkook can’t remember a cent of the introductions before they started the competition, and realises he’s probably missing vital information. Information about his judges, mostly, because it’s much easier cooking for a known guest than an unknown one. There’s someone chatting lightly behind him, and it only serves to cement just how much he doesn’t know. Everyone else has friends, it looks like, but Jungkook doesn’t care. Resists the urge to turn around.

 

Jungkook’s number is called.

 

Oysters.

 

He’s very much sure that his friends will all be gathered around a computer at home in a week’s time, when this episode is released, taking some downright ugly screenshots of his reaction. It’s not his fault he has an expressive surprised face, and it’s not like he’s unhappy with the ingredient.

 

When the last contestant has received their mystery box, the judges have a few words, directly in front of a camera but acting like it’s not pressing a little close, before the entire filming shuts down.

 

Jungkook breathes a sigh of relief, shoulders loose and face relaxing. He doesn’t like being on television. He just wants to prove his worth.

 

///

 

Oysters isn’t easy, because there’s not a whole lot of creative variety involved. Jungkook’s more than okay though, all he needs is a dish to impress – a dish that’ll live up to his newfound nickname.

 

Jungkook and his dad used to cook together all the time, it was where his love of the craft originated. Jungkook was well aware that his abilities encompassed many fancy western dishes, but he knew in his heart what he wanted to make before he even opened the first cookbook.

 

In the waiting room of the old warehouse where they filmed this cut-throat cooking show, Jungkook allowed himself a small smile. What better way to make his claim?

 

///

 

Guljeon was almost too simple, but that’s why Jungkook knew it’d be perfect. He could already see so many contestants around him panicking as their fantastical western styled platters fell to pieces at the fault of their own two hands, while he madly beat his eggs into submission.

 

(Yes, he could see the camera zooming in on his biceps. No, the producer was not being subtle about his pointing).

 

In the heat of the rush, only two people really stood out to Jungkook; not that he had all that much time to be studying his opponents. Firstly, the tall man with the light hair who’d been assigned to work station in front of Jungkook’s, and was making chicken roulade look easy. Jungkook had already decided to avoid him: he was definitely the show’s pre-designated family favourite.

 

And then, there was the man two stations over on Jungkook’s right, who had a literal flame erupting from his stovetop and was still managing to laugh at something his one of the camera-men surrounding him said.

 

It was a little bit sadistic, but Jungkook really couldn’t wait to see what kind of burnt mess the young man presented. Because judging by the way a woman was shoving her way through to kill the blaze with a fire extinguisher, that fire was totally not meant to be there.

 

Jungkook’s ‘Avoid at All Costs’ list extended to fit one more.

 

///

 

His little fried oyster balls are well received, even if he’s sure he mucked up the sauce big time. One judge’s face goes a little sour at the dipping, but Jungkook’s not too worried. He’s here to learn as much as he’s here to win, and a solid recipe has never failed him yet.

 

And then comes in Kim Taehyung, as Jungkook’s learned to call him. He’d be embarrassed about the way he leans in to peer at the tray Taehyung wheels in, if it weren’t for half of the line of contestants doing the same.

 

Jungkook’s jaw drops. Another priceless screenshot, but he really couldn’t care less right now – the dish Taehyung’s setting out on the table is not the product of a fire. No way in hell.

 

The judges, at least, look amazed too. Jungkook’s not really sure what he’s looking at, and neither does anyone else apparently, because even one of the old men behind the table is poking at it with a fork and asking Taehyung what he’s brought.

 

Taehyung’s laughing again, and explains how he completely abandoned the recipe he was following after the fire, chuckles bubbling over as he bows and retreats.

 

Jungkook can’t remember which number Taehyung was, which ingredient he drew, and he certainly can’t figure it out just by looking at the cylindrical stack of bright colours of the plate. The sauce at least looks like a basic oil, and perhaps if Jungkook hadn’t been paying attention, he would’ve guessed that the colour came from raw fish.

 

He struggles not to scowl on television, because Jungkook had been paying attention, and he’s sure that every last meat Taehyung had to offer went up in flames a little over fifteen minutes ago.

 

He does actually scowl on television when Taehyung receives almost as good a score as Jungkook got.

 

(Almost. Jungkook’s still better, Taehyung just had some beginner’s luck when he invented something new, that’s all.)

 

///

 

“And how do you feel about the nickname your fans have given you?” the woman behind the camera asks. Jungkook smiles.

 

“I’m thankful for the support of my fans, knowing that they’ll be behind me with every piece I create. This golden maknae won’t let you down!” he finishes, throwing his fist in the air. It’s cheesy, but he knows it’ll get the numbers he needs in later competition.

 

He holds his pose until the woman gives him a smile, the first one actually directed at Jungkook since he walked in, and he lets his face drop back to neutral. “Thanks, Jungkook, we got some really great stuff just now. You’ll no doubt make it on to the advertisements this week.”

 

Jungkook stands, bows, and walks out. He’s pretty sure he got less than four hours sleep last night, so he’s really not in the mood for anything right now. Not early morning interviews for the show’s cut scenes, and certainly not annoying contestants.

 

Fate really hates him. Like, well and truly wants to watch him burn and suffer in misery. Because as soon as he walks out, he comes face to face – literally, inches away from touching – the only person he has to blame for his sleepless night.

 

Kim. Tae. Hyung.

 

Taehyung throws him a cheesy grin, winks at him, and then steers Jungkook to the side with two firm hands on his shoulders before disappearing into the recording room.

 

Fuck Kim Taehyung.

 

///

 

He’d been minding his own business yesterday, just preparing a nice dish to get him through to the next round (he wasn’t too worried – there were plenty worse chefs in the same kitchen that wouldn’t beat Jungkook) when someone called his name.

 

“Jeon Jungkook!” Taehyung calls, leaning forward so he can see past the contestant between them. Jungkook struggles to come to terms with the fact that not only does Taehyung know his name – they’ve never interacted before – but the fact that Jungkook’s not even surprised that Taehyung knows. There are cameras are hovering around, like there’s some joke Jungkook missed out on, but he doesn’t have to wait long to find out.

 

“You make my heart skip a beet,” Taehyung says proudly, brandishing a beetroot in his left hand. That wasn’t so bad, just something for a little extra air time, except for the part where Taehyung throws in a completely unexpected wink and lips-licking – causing Jungkook to stutter and tip far too much oil into his sauce.

 

He hisses angrily, ignoring the deep laughter from his right and trying to scoop out the little oil that hadn’t yet merged with his spicy concoction.

 

(He knew it was a lost cause, and he’s pretty sure he didn’t stop glaring in Taehyung’s general direction for the remaining ten minutes they had left).

 

At least the Food Gods had mercy on him and saw him only drop a few notches down the ladder.

 

Still, Jungkook’s now imperfect record was stained, and it was all Taehyung’s fault.

 

When the latest challenge is revealed to be a team event, Jungkook thanks every god ever named that he’s not placed in a group with Taehyung.

 

///

 

His friends are still teasing him over the incident with Taehyung last week – admittedly, they only found out about it two days ago when the episode was released, but still. Jungkook’s had to not only lock his phone, but also turn it off just to prevent innocent eyes seeing the notifications his friends were giving him.

 

He’s barely listening to the producer as he explains the trip tomorrow. Something about not dressing inappropriately, and ensuring allergen statements were displayed clearly, and respectful conduct in public, and then it was broken up. People are drifting into their small friendship groups, or milling around alone as they waited for the producer to give them the okay to leave (Jungkook was the latter).

 

He’s pretty sure he could’ve gotten out of there unscathed if he hadn’t been so focused on turning his phone back on, head bowed and eyes lowered. Logically, everyone should’ve been moving forward, not standing still like a fucking statue.

 

Who’s even built that strong, is the first thought Jungkook has when he crashes into a firm body, reeling back and barely catching his balance before he tumbled over. That would be embarrassing, but honestly, Jungkook would take it over having to look and meet eyes with his arch nemesis.

 

“Woah, sorry!” Taehyung laughs, gripping on to Jungkook’s right bicep even though he’s clearly beyond the danger of falling over now. “Are you okay?”

 

Jungkook’s not okay. He just walked headfirst into Taehyung’s chest, and that guy is not as squishy as the promoters make him out to be, and Jungkook really just wants to go home.

 

“I’m fine,” he mutters, glaring down as his phone finally buzzes to life in his hands. Taehyung chuckles, and he’s staring at Jungkook like he knows something Jungkook doesn’t.

 

“Make sure you wear something cute tomorrow,” he says cheerily, framing his left eye with a peace sign. Jungkook grunts, and that’s the extent of their interaction as Taehyung hurries off to join whoever’s waiting for him.

 

Tomorrow’s an excursion event, contestants are going out to a small fair to try and entice customers to try their food. They’ve been told they should try and aim for the children’s attention more than the adults, so it’s a no-brainer as to why Taehyung told Jungkook specifically to dress cute.

 

It still has Jungkook a little fuzzy though, staring as everyone leaves the warehouse.

 

///

 

Jungkook’s avoiding everyone’s advice today, and he’s not willing to admit it’s just because he feels like it. He’s the youngest contestant on this season of AdeptChef – hence the Golden Maknae nickname – and he just knows people are going to baby him or call him a petulant brat if he pouts about anything less than a really bad mistake. So disregarding all help that’s been offered just because he’s petty and still technically a teenager? Not something he wants broadcast to the entire viewership.

 

He’s chosen black jeans and a tucked in button-down, which he’s hoping will serve him well in this utter mess of an event. It certainly beats the embarrassing costumes he’s seen strolling in today; he’s pretty sure the full-body carrot suit tops the list of things Jungkook will never sink low enough to experience first-hand.

 

He’s got a booth right near a children’s playground, and framed on the other side by an old-woman selling potted plants. He knows the producers placed him here for the drama impact – no one wants the position that has kids already distracted by something bigger, and a stall that doesn’t draw attention from anyone under 65 (although Jungkook senses this will work just fine for his plans) – but also because just across the wide path, far enough that Jungkook can really only hear his laughter and excited screaming, is none other than Kim Taehyung.

 

Kim Taehyung, who’s dressed in just a plain shirt and jeans, hands tucked behind his back as he ties his apron. Kim Taehyung, who’s hardly plain at all, with his cat ear headband, and neatly drawn black whiskers. Kim Taehyung, the only person Jungkook’s ever known to be able to pull off sparkly pink eyeliner, drawn on bold like he’s confident and just knows he’s causing trouble.

 

Jungkook flips his oven on a little too roughly, and nearly knocks his carefully selected trays from their precarious position on his benchtop. The fair doesn’t ‘officially’ open until 11, which means Jungkook still has some time to prepare his first batch of gyeran-bbang and be salty over carefully orchestrated reality drama.

 

 Taehyung waves at him when Jungkook’s just setting out the first row of egg bread at the front of his stand. He’s coated up to the elbows in flour, leaning over his front stand as he monitors several machines resembling a small sandwich-press. Jungkook merely raises his eyebrows, setting down the last of his breads before turning away to rinse out the pan.

 

A bell rings somewhere, and Jungkook mentally prepares himself for pain. It was likely that most of the contestants had taken the advice and targeted children with their street-food – no doubt Taehyung had, judging by the sparkles and whiskers. Jungkook, however, had seen opportunity in disobeying, and had instead picked out a savoury, probably-hated-by-kids food: gyeran-bbang. Fresh baked bread with an oven-cooked egg on top, and depending on the variety, garnished with other (delicious) ingredients (Jungkook was cooking three types today: the basic version; one with cheese, tomato and bacon; and his personal favourite, a variety filled with a special sauce that burst in the mouth when the egg was broken into. Jungkook’s father had taught him the third kind when he’d turned 14).

 

He was hoping he’d attract the attention from adults who didn’t want fairy-dusted cupcakes and sweet lollipops that turned the tongue purple. It only worked in his favour, then, to have the playground so near; with luck, adults would buy his food while their children ran off the excess energy. He wasn’t too sure about the older people browsing his neighbour’s botanical wares, but he was certainly not going to complain if they bought into his food as a result of slow lingering.

 

Jungkook’s ready to be swept off his feet with rush – he’d seen enough episodes of previous seasons to know that many people came to these events for the food produced by contestants rather than the fair itself, so he was definitely expecting more than the usual crowd he’d find back home – and he wasn't wrong.

 

The first customer broke the floodgates for hundreds of customers following; kids screaming louder every time, and parents gently thanking him for putting up with every single child that knocks over his stall’s sign.

 

Nearly every single child also seemed to be devouring a small, light-brown, crispy pastry – one that Jungkook would recognise anywhere. Goldfish bread, a fan favourite anywhere, and Jungkook didn’t need to look far to find where it was coming from.

 

The crowds had finally died down to a few customers every hour, now that it was nearly reaching closing time. Jungkook was mid-bow to the elderly woman selling the plants next door, apologising for the bustle that probably tore up her usual pace, when he was interrupted by a cough. Jungkook straightened, and gave the woman the box of breads he’d carefully put together as a thank-you – she’d been nothing but courteous throughout the entire day, even though it was likely most of her customers had been scared away thanks to the AdeptChef event.

 

He’d fully been expecting a customer, so he’d turned around happily, grin printed on his face even if he felt like his knees were about to give way from exhaustion. He supposes it’s a lucky thing, that he didn’t have to hold the façade for long.

 

“Taehyung,” Jungkook greeted, face falling back into neutral as he snags a damp cloth from under his front table. “Shouldn’t you be serving?”

 

Taehyung leans forward, close enough that Jungkook can see the careful effort put in to the clean shape of his eyeliner, even as his hair flops forward and his cat ears threaten to fall off. Jungkook shifts his gaze back to the bench top, running the cloth over it like cleaning is his first priority.

 

“Shouldn’t you be treating your customer nicer than that?” Taehyung responds cheekily, crossing his arms and slumping forward on the bench. He’s looking up now, and there’s no way for Jungkook to keep wiping down the bench top without meeting Taehyung’s pleading gaze. That, and Taehyung’s practically covering half the surface space anyway, so Jungkook drops the rag and gives in.

 

“You’re a contestant, I can’t feed you,” Jungkook says bluntly, sucking on his teeth. Taehyung whines pitifully.

 

“Please?” he begs, levering his hands in front of his face in a poor symbol of prayer. “I’ll do anything.”

 

Taehyung’s pouting, and Jungkook really hopes he never has to see that look again, because damn he would give in to any other Taehyung’s craziest desires with those puppy eyes. The cat ears aren’t helping, and overall, Jungkook feels extremely attacked.

 

It’s like Taehyung can sense that he’s winning, because he lowers his hands and gives a furtive glance at their surroundings. “There’s no cameras, no one has to know,” Taehyung mock-whispers, giving a desperate sidelong glance at the tray of leftover gyeran-bbang Jungkook’s keeping warm in the oven.

 

Jungkook lets out a deep sigh, a sigh that no 19-year-old should ever be forced to give, and sinks down to pull out a square plastic plate (ignoring Taehyung’s squeal that would definitely attract unwanted attention). He can feel Taehyung’s eyes trace his actions hungrily, as Jungkook opens the door and pulls out two breads, making sure one of them is the recipe his father taught him (even if it requires a little manoeuvring to fetch the desired from the back).

 

Taehyung sucks his breath in rather audibly when Jungkook stands, although he can’t figure out why. He doesn’t bother asking either, not when Taehyung’s face is positively glowing when Jungkook sets the plate down, drawing a small cat face in the corner with his sauce bottle.

 

Please be quiet,” Jungkook hisses, as Taehyung stares at his food like it’s just spoken perfect French. He nods dazedly, shooting Jungkook one of the brightest grins he’s seen yet (and he’s seen a lot from Taehyung over the past two weeks), before scooping up the plate and hurrying back to his own booth. Jungkook stifles a groan.

 

There’s only half an hour left now, but hardly anyone is in the fairgrounds anymore – they’ve all gone home most likely, and are waiting for the sun to set before returning for the evening fireworks.  The old woman comes across to admire his cooking skills, and they chat for a little while – mostly about how young Jungkook is, and how the woman wishes her grandson would grow up into a charming young man like Jungkook. He can see a cheeky glint in her eyes though, when they drift to the right every so often, gazing across the path like there’s something of great interest over there.

 

Jungkook doesn’t want to know, but of course he’s forced to find out anyway, because ten minutes before closing, his favourite chef is back (Taehyung’s words, not his), bearing a pink and white, zig-zag striped paper bag. Jungkook can see a crew member a few stalls down, clearly telling the contestant there to pack up – and Taehyung must know his time is coming short too, because he hands the bag over to Jungkook hurriedly.

 

“Thanks for feeding me,” he says quickly, waving over his shoulder as he jogs back to his stall. The old lady is chuckling when Jungkook peers into the bag to find two carefully wrapped goldfish breads, and a square of leftover fried pastry with a familiar face drawn in pink icing balanced gently on top.

 

Jungkook is eternally grateful that there are no cameras around (seeing as they hardly need to film the last empty hours of the event), and that the only person who sees his ridiculous reaction is the woman next door. He’d die if his friends got their hands on a screenshot like this.

 

///

 

Jungkook’s not too confident about the challenge today – patbingsu, or shaved ice. He rarely eats anything of the sort, and doesn’t really understand what’s ‘good’. He’s relying on the internet study he spent all evening doing yesterday, and he thinks he’s figured out what defines a good bowl of shaved ice, but he’s also resigned to his fate of being second best.

 

As long as he’s not last, that’s all that matters right now. He can reclaim his position at the top another day, when he’s more prepared and better equipped for the task at hand. For now, though, he supposes he’ll just have to be happy with stirring his red beans in with condensed milk, and just hoping that this is something delicious.

 

He can’t help but sneak glances over at the other contestants every so often – and Jungkook is definitely placing emphasis on that plural, because he is sharing his attention evenly between all his competition, not just the one man casually hitting on light-hair-broad-shoulders. Jungkook could not care less if Taehyung wants to throw away his chances at winning on a tall man who, although extremely handsome, is definitely not Taehyung’s type.

 

Jungkook doesn’t know when he came to understand what Taehyung’s type might be, doesn’t even know when he decided that Taehyung was wholesomely gay as all hell, but he figures that’s something to look at later. Perhaps while he’s in bed, trying to sleep, so that he can suffer yet another night of existentialism without rest.

 

Taehyung’s not even looking at his worktop, leaning forward to blatantly flirt with the man in front of him. Eliminations had slowly moved their workshops around, and now Jungkook was (thankfully) stuck behind someone who didn’t make him feel incompetent in the art he’d practised all his life, but he couldn’t help but feel bitter that others misfortune had brought Taehyung to his new crush.

 

Jungkook hissed softly when a bubble burst in his pot, splashing his hand with a few drops of boiling liquid and decidedly reminding him to focus. This wasn’t some game, even if that’s how Taehyung was treating it, and Jungkook was going to win.

 

///

 

Jungkook wasn’t counting, no, it was just a rough estimate that Taehyung had spent only 36 minutes of his time actually looking at his food preparation. The remainder of the two hours went to Mr Perfect in front. (Jungkook wasn’t counting the two minutes, if that, of gathered time that Taehyung spent making faces at Jungkook every time the younger was caught staring).

 

And yet here they were, all 13 contestants lined up facing the overwhelming fear of going home, and Taehyung was presenting a perfectly produced bowl of green shaved ice – green tea flavour, Taehyung had announced proudly.

 

He came in at second in scores that challenge, while Jungkook fell in at fourth place. Surely it’s understandable that Jungkook isn’t happy about his performance, when he’s been beaten by a man who hadn’t cared for his dish at all.

 

He knows his entire afternoon has been spoiled by the poor results, and he purposefully stretches out the time it takes to return all his ingredients to the storeroom hidden at the back of the film set. He doesn’t want any mishaps, doesn’t want to talk to any of the cameras about his shocking failure today. With luck, the crew would be too busy rearranging for the elimination filming tonight to even bother catching Jungkook on his way out.

 

He slides an unopened tin of beans back on the shelf, gritting his teeth. Today is only Tuesday, so they’d be filming again tomorrow – the program aired five nights a week, only one week after each episode’s filming. It was supposed to help with keeping things accurate and live, as well as allowing avid fans to participate in excursions and meet the stars.

 

Jungkook is more willing to accept that the producers are sadists. He’s never lost this much sleep in his life, and even now, he’s well aware that he is only going to go home and practice until he gets it right. Never mind that he’ll probably never need to make another bowl of shaved ice in his life, Jungkook clearly needs to improve.

 

If he thinks about it hard enough, he doesn’t really blame Taehyung at all. The guy never follows any recipes, which is Jungkook’s sworn-by, tried-and-tested method of success, so who does it really reflect on when Taehyung beats Jungkook by two places?

 

If Jungkook isn’t good enough to beat someone coasting on the mere hope they’ll hit gold with a random combination, he certainly isn’t good enough to deserve these opportunities. And so, as he clenches his fingers against the shelf hard enough to turn his skin white, he vows that he’ll practice until he does get it right.

 

If he makes smaller portions, quarter of the sizes being shown today, he can give the final products of his hard work to his mother to take to work tomorrow. At least he’s adored by his mother’s co-workers – enough delicious free food can win over anyone’s heart, and god knows how many times Jungkook has repeated a dish twenty times over just to get it right before realising he’s got no one but himself to eat it all.

 

He can almost picture his mother’s stern face now. Not angry because Jungkook’s done so poorly, as she ought to be, but at his sheer lack of faith in his own skills. It was nice, sometimes, to have someone who supports Jungkook no matter how much he screws up. If she were here, she’d probably peel him away from where he’s slumped against the shelves, scolding him for overworking himself without allowing any self-recognition.

 

But she isn’t here, won’t even be home when Jungkook steps off that rundown old bus he’s been catching since he was 12. She’ll be at the office for another few hours yet, and by that time, Jungkook knows he’ll have his emotions back under wrap. Forget frustration and blinking back tears he didn’t even know were ready to fall, Jungkook knows how to play the role of emotionally stable son down to a tee.

 

He’s startled out of his self-pitying thoughts when there’s a hand being placed over his own, gently prying at his fingers that are still gripping the metal shelf hard enough to hurt, and it briefly flickers through Jungkook’s mind that maybe his mother is here, maybe this is all some weird dream.

 

His mother doesn’t have long fingers like that though – pianist hands, she would’ve called them, and probably been childishly jealous of. Jungkook is stunned, can’t move, until the newcomer is entwining their hands together in some intimate fashion.

 

Only when Taehyung uses his free hand to lift Jungkook’s chin is Jungkook startled into action. He leaps back, hand tearing away from the grip to press the heel into his eyes, in what he hopes looks like a frustrated gesture and not just a quick method at shielding himself before Taehyung sees watery eyes and an open heart.

 

“What the fuck, Taehyung,” Jungkook grumbles, turning back to his basket and unloading the last can of beans like he hadn’t just spent the last five minutes chewing himself out. He can hear Taehyung huff behind him, but no footsteps signalling his departure.

 

“You were squeezing that shelf pretty hard,” he comments lightly, toning it like a joke. And yet when Jungkook peeks out of the corner of his eye, through his fringe, he can see the look Taehyung’s giving him, at complete odds with his words. Fuck.

 

“Just lost in thought,” Jungkook mutters out through gritted teeth, dropping his now empty basket in the corner. He doesn’t really want to hear whatever Taehyung’s got to say about beating him today, so he hurries on, crossing his arms to face Taehyung accusingly. “Why are you here so late?”

 

“Why are you here so late,” Taehyung repeats back, stepping a little closer.

 

Jungkook scoffed. “Isn’t it obvious?” he says, gesturing wildly at the stock around them. Taehyung must be more ignorant than Jungkook originally guessed; he’d even put away his unused ingredients in front of him. And yet, Taehyung’s answer follows no expectations – much like Taehyung himself.

 

“Yeah,” he says softly, where Jungkook had been expecting a biting retort. “It is.”

 

Jungkook bites the inside of his cheek, pushing past Taehyung and leaving without a word. He is really, really not in the mood for these mind games today.

 

///

 

It’s another mystery box, but Jungkook’s back to his old confidence. Desserts certainly aren’t a strong point, but nothing can be worse than the patbingsu yesterday. At least he’s actually made tarts before.

 

Today’s challenge is focused on the term ‘exotic’, so Jungkook was more than prepared to not recognise his ingredient when he revealed the little orange balls – achacha, apparently. A tropical fruit from Bolivia, one that Jungkook had spent most of his morning studying.

 

He can see everyone else already milling about, minus a few who were probably yet to arrive. Taehyung’s there, talking to short girl Jungkook predicted to be eliminated within the next two rounds, so Jungkook quickly ducks out towards the break room. No point in hanging around if they can’t start filming yet.

 

Jungkook immediately regrets his decision when he reaches the break room, because he’d forgotten that trouble follows him regardless of how hard he tries to avoid it. He doesn’t leave, though, not when he peeks through the door and recognises both men within.

 

The producer has his arms crossed, frown set deep in his wrinkled face – nothing new. What is new however, is the tall contestant Taehyung had been set on flirting with yesterday, glaring down at the producer like he’s the one in charge here. Jungkook ducks back, pressed against the wall, knowing full well that if he’s caught listening in his entire competition career could be on the line.

 

But Jungkook is curious, god damn it.

 

“It was a joke,” the contestant says, sounding exasperated. “Of course I’m not their real mother – I just cook for my roommates who would otherwise die.”

 

The producer huffs. “It is not biologically possible for you to be the mother of four university men only a few years younger than yourself, I would think the audience would understand that. The promotions are simply a way to market your character.”

 

“But that’s not who I am,” the man says, pitch rising. “Eomma-Jin is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard to label a 24-year-old single man.”

 

Jungkook frowns. He knows most of the contestants had been given ‘nicknames’ to help sell their personalities to the audience – Jungkook is the Golden Maknae because he’s the youngest on set. He doesn’t talk enough to the others to know what they’d been tagged as, but clearly this ‘Jin’ person wasn’t at all happy.

 

“It’s an ideal – people want to love the good guys, it’s in their nature. Take that Jeon kid for example, everyone loves him.”

 

Jungkook is so glad he stayed.

 

“Even if he’s a prickly piece of work, he’s playing right into the hands of his fans whenever he’s on camera – the fact that he’s attractive just helps draw them in,” the producer explains. “Eomma-Jin is the same, you’re drawing attention as the kind, caring one. People want to see you win, Seokjin, because they like you.”

 

“Then why can’t they like me for me, not as some stereotype? Don’t you think that’s rather disrespectful to actual mothers everywhere?”

 

The producer laughs, clean and cold. “Why does that matter? As long as we’re getting the views, those women mean nothing.”

 

Seokjin’s voice clicks over like he’s flicked a switch somewhere, enough so that even Jungkook has to pause for a moment to realise it’s still the same two people. “Enough,” he says, tone low and straight, like he’s carefully monitoring a set rage. Forget the weird relationship between Seokjin and Taehyung, Jungkook is harbouring all kinds of respect for this man now. “This is a violation of contestant rights, and I won’t have you talking so lowly about some of the most important figures in our lives.”

 

The producer doesn’t respond, and Jungkook can only imagine the look on his face right now. Seokjin hasn’t dropped any of the honorifics or formalities, but his words are laced with a poison Jungkook never wants to be on the receiving end of.

 

“I’m asking you to change my promotion tactic, and I’m asking you nicely. Get this done, or expect my forfeit from the competition within the week.”

Jungkook’s shocked to his core, enough that it’s too late to make a move when he hears clean footsteps moving towards him. He holds his breath, pleading with all his might that it’s not the producer, and they don’t see him tucked away against the wall like this.

 

Seokjin blinks once, twice, and Jungkook stares with his mouth gaping. He’s half-expecting this cold man to tell the producer about Jungkook eavesdropping – but instead he receives a small nod, and a bright smile in complete contrast to everything he’s just heard. Seokjin has a finger placed to his lips in the universal symbol of ‘quiet’, and Jungkook just watches him leave with the same stunned expression.

 

He can hear the producer on his phone in the break room still, and he can see his opportunity to escape with little trouble – except for Seokjin knowing that he heard everything. Still, he pauses when he hears the first words from the producer, because nothing’s really making sense right now.

 

“Yeah, it’s me. Seokjin, you know the one, he’s pissed about the promotions.” Pause. “Yeah, I know, I know, but he’s threatening to leave.” Pause again. “No, I don't think he’s worked it out, I think he’s just actually going to leave if it goes ahead…we can’t just-”

 

Jungkook shakes his head, scurrying away when he hears the producer begins pacing. This is too much for his head right now, and he’s really just going to try his best to forget he heard anything.