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First Love

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C H A P T E R    O N E

“Aren’t you tired of the taste
of blood in your mouth?”
Emily Palermo

 

“Yoongi, dear, can you take the next order please? I’ve got my hands full with these boxes.”

My mum yelled something else over the deafening hum of the ice-cream machine but I didn’t quite catch it when the bell tinkled above the coffee shop’s brass door. The store door clicked, her voice muffled in the vacuuming basement.

My attention zoomed onto the girl who had been waiting two minutes for my mum to finish stocking the slushie packets into the freezers. Her mild frown dissolved into a coy smile when I jogged around the counter to take post as cashier. I still had three tables to wait and tax forms to fill out before I needed to dash across the city for work. Hastily, I wrapped a striped apron around my waist and flashed the customer a gummy smile–the very one my mum had sworn would get me into Seoul Institute of the Arts (SIA) on a full-ride scholarship if I just showed them what I could do with a mixing board. Turns out the admission board were looking for more than a pimply teenager who could rearrange tracks and mix generic beats. They didn’t even bother listening to my mixtape.

I had since ripened into a mellow shell because not every journey started with an easy road. At least the girl seemed to love my mum’s favourite smile.

“How may I take your order?” I asked, eyes already catching the waving hand of a couple ready to pay their bill.

The girl tucked a pastel pink curl behind her hair. “Two Americanos.”

“Name?” I asked, pen in hand to scrawl on her cup.

“Park Jinah.”

A spark of recognition lit my eyes but I couldn’t remember where I’d heard her name as I wrote it on the cup in a hasty scrawl. Maybe on a girlgroup poster somewhere? She definitely had that trainee look about her.

“Would you like any milk in your black Americano?”

The girl’s acrylic nails tapped away at her phone screen. I took that as a no, and filled her cup with black coffee from the machine. The soft whirring didn’t soothe my nerves. What was taking my mum so long? Her back injury wouldn’t sustain another fall.

“Would you like that to take away?” I rushed, nodding at the couple by the window that I would be with them in a minute. They lowered their hand and returned to their conversation.

The girl glanced up, wolfish eyes glowing when her amber contact lenses caught the light. I lowered my gaze to her oversized sweater; it bore the SIA logo. That explained her brave hairdo. All the college kids at the performing arts school fought to stay on top of fashion, imitating idols from their favourite boy and girl groups. Just last week, during Seoul Fashion Week, we had managers and paperboys asking for large coffee orders, some as big as fifty.

I couldn’t make sense of the paper clip choker the girl was wearing around her slender throat. I didn’t care either.

“Would you like that to take away?” I asked again.

She blinked. “Huh?”

“Would you like that to take away?” I droned.

The coy curve of her lips reappeared. “Yes, please.”

“Lovely,” I replied, hands already moving for a clean napkin. “Careful, it’s hot.”

“Actually, I’ve changed my mind,” the girl said to my annoyance, glancing up from a text that came through. I raised my eyebrows, but didn’t say anything, when she added, “I’d like to drink it here. Can I get two slice of carrot cake with it as well?”

I grew six more arms, transforming into an octopus as I tried to manage eight tasks at once. Once I had served the girl, taken care of the couple’s bill, helped my mum in the store room, completed our tax return for the year, served the flood of college students that poured in during their lunch break, the girl returned to the counter and asked me to reheat the americano that had gone cold. Usually I’d make customers pay for another one, but there was something pitiful about her expression.

“Thank you,” she said with a smile, rushing back to her table at the back corner.

A few minutes later, the bell above the door rang and in came a college kid with a stylish bowl cut and jeans that were folded above the ankle. The girl jumped up and waved at him to sit down, at which point I felt a tickle of breath behind my ear.

“Mum!” I cried, hitting the ceiling in fright.

“They’re dancers. Just look at their beautiful postures,” she gushed, a puppy pawing at my jumper. “Let me serve them.”

“I’ve already taken care of those customers.” I took off my apron and pressed it into her palm as the bell rang again. “But you can deal with this lot.”

When I closed shop later that afternoon, I wiped down the tables and the mopped the floor, snatching my backpack from my room–careful not to jostle it around and risk damaging my laptop and audio equipment. My work experience at SIA started in an hour and the commute was a pain. Leaving MinMin Cafe, the streets of Gangnam wailed with wind and noise, restless with activity. I bowed my head under a black baseball cap and swam with the tide of people heading towards the nearest subway station. Led down intersections and street corners, I was no longer enchanted by the neon lights and vending stalls the way I had been when we first moved here five years ago. Something about the city had died when I got rejected from SIA. The city became a bride without her tiara, still beautiful but no longer dazzling to my eyes.

The train ride to Jungang Station was suffocating and laborious. Namjoon and Seokjin were waiting outside SIA’s grand theatre, cigarette butts glowing brighter with each drag. I shook my head when they offered to light one for me.

“Am I late?” I asked, double checking the time. “It’s still early. Seokjin’s uncle told us to be there for seven twenty-five. We’ve still got ten minutes to kill.”

Seokjin remained distracted on his phone and Namjoon’s gaze bored a hole into my face.

“You answered your own question, why are you looking at me like that for?” he asked, stamping out his cigarette with his Puma trainers.

I clapped his shoulder. “No need for the cheek.”

He exhaled a chuckle and scratched at his mild stubble. “Well you’d be pretty pissed off if you had to work for the same department that rejected your SIA application.”

“You can’t go back on your promise now,” I muttered, glancing at the looming structure of the romanesque theatre. SIA weren’t shy with their money. The marble pillars glistened in the weak moonlight like a watery reflection.

“Don’t pull long faces, boys. This is the most anticipated college showcase of the year. Don’t you know that this work experience could catapult you both into stardom?” Seokjin laughed. “How do you plan to repay me when you make it as music producers after this? An apartment in New York? An island in the Caribbean?”

“A coffin,” I joked, fixing my cap when a bustling group of art majors swept past carrying large canvases.

Seokjin puffed out his chest like a robin. “You guys should be kissing my feet not acting like I’ve handed you a prison sentence.”

Namjoon glowered. “I’ll bash your head with that massive cello on your back if you don’t shut up.”

Seokjin clutched his cello case, changing the subject before he lost his instrument for good. “Wait till you guys see Park Jinah’s dance during the Swan Lake. When you see the way she moves on the stage you’ll understand this showcase isn’t an ordinary college show.”

The name tickled my mind with recognition but I couldn’t place where I’d heard it today.

“We’ll see,” Namjoon replied, dusting his edgy sweater. Only I looked out of place on this campus in a simple leather jacket and ripped skinny jeans. It shouldn’t matter much since today was the first rehearsal in the grand theatre. The dance majors had complete the first round of rehearsals in their studio across campus while Namjoon and I worked closely with Seokjin and the rest of the live orchestra to create the most chilling masterpiece for the showcase. Today was the first time both sectors were coming together.

The two boys continued to bicker while I checked my SNS to kill some time. I only jumped between them when they poked at each other’s wounds, acting like ahjussi’s on their eighth round of soju. It wouldn’t hurt Seokjin to be more considerate towards Namjoon’s flaring temper, but Namjoon did ask for it sometimes.

“Stop it, guys,” I said with little force, waving a hand without looking up from my phone. “I’m sure you’d be just as bitter if your application feedback came back diagnosing you as tone deaf.” A couple of academic teachers walked past with their briefcases. “Keep your voice down. People are staring.” They both glared at me. “What?” My eyes grew round as I turned to Namjoon. “You’re mad at me all of sudden but let the worse pass with this camel?” I said, pointing at Seokjin. “I give up. I’ll never understand the two of you.”

Eager to return to his slapstick teases, Seokjin took the load off me and poked fun at his best friend. “I did tell you to listen to your parents and apply to SNU instead,” he said to Namjoon. “Your entrance score was in the highest percentile and they’re always looking to admit country pumpkins to boost their statistics.”

“Ilsan isn’t country,” Namjoon fired back at Seokjin, jabbing a finger at me. “Here’s the real country pumpkin.”

“Guys,” I begged, prickled by the passing students who stole glances at us. “You’re making a scene.”

They both broke into laughter, faces splitting in half. I didn’t get the joke.

“We’re just fooling around. I’m actually pretty excited for this evening, aren’t you, Seokjin hyung? Sound engineering for a lame school production is way better than frying chicken for eight hours. Have you heard about the reporters dressing as students to sneak inside and watch the rehearsals?”

“Well considering that the CEO of the big three companies are coming, what else would you expect?” Seokjin said, stepping aside to let three girls in leotards pass by. His eyes followed them as they tittered and flushed, mistaking his beige straight coat and deep green turtleneck for idol material. He was just another senior but he liked to pretend he had already graduated and debuted.

Namjoon’s eyes followed the girls. “Aren’t they too young for you, hyung?”

“Well you wouldn’t want to be calling a girl noona, now, do you?” Seokjin laughed.

Namjoon agreed. “Oppa sounds so much better in bed.”

I rolled my eyes, deflecting Seokjin’s cheeky smile. “I think it’s time for us to go in now,” he said, rolling up his sleeve to squint at his watch in the early night, making a show of letting the Rolex wink in the moonlight. “The dancers and ensemble are going to be here soon and you boys need to set the equipment up. My uncle is stuck in traffic all the way in Gwanak so Yoongi can supervise for now.” He grinned. “I expect you both to use honorifics towards me whenever Park Jinah is within earshot.”

“Yeah right,” Namjoon and I chorused.

We made our way up the marble steps, falling into silence, overwhelmed by the smell of ancient library books inside the grand theatre. The deep red carpets and black velvet seats circled the main stage, concentric circles that rippled outwards, getting steeper with each level. The high ceiling shimmered with hand drawn constellations, a grapevine chandelier hanging in the centre, dousing the grand theatre in a warm sunset glow.

The dance troupe filed in just after we finished unpacking our gear and connecting them to the sound equipment. Seokjin did most of the talking, welcoming the dance director and the dancers to the grand theatre as if his parents owned the place. Actually they only owned half of it; the government had funded the rest of the grand theatre.

Two mops of pink hair appeared when the dancers took to the stage, identical by face but different in stature. The frailer figure was the girl with wolfish contact lenses and an elegance that was beyond her years. She caught my eyes before the music started and stumbled, the first break in her composure.

It was the same girl I had served earlier.

Everybody followed her gaze and stared at me while I promptly restarted the music, face on fire, hands unsteady from the sudden attention. The lights grew dim and two spotlights appeared, one haloing the girl while the other sought out a taller figure, crouching in the exact same stance as her, a boy with hair the same shade of candyfloss, an effortless bowl that moved with a body of its own as he leapt across the stage like a deer. Their limbs moved like water, falling and reaching all directions, exploding like catherine wheels, bright with youth and desperation. I almost forgot to change the track and adjust the volume to match climactic moments because I was so hypnotised by the boy’s fluid movements. The girl’s moves were sharper compared to his, as if she was imitation of him.

“Who is that?” I asked Seokjin when the first rehearsal ended. The dancers dabbed their sweaty faces with small towels and slipped sweatpants on top of their leotards, readying themselves to leave. Seokjin was too busy gawking at Jinah to hear me.

I turned to Namjoon but he was jogging after one of the secondary dancers, a girl with midnight black hair that swung like soaked climbing ropes, heavy and tightly braided as chords. He tugged at her pigtail and melted into an easy conversation. She flushed with delight when he imitated her stretching moves. Backpack slung over their shoulders, they left together. I envied how easily he made friends. Conversation came easy to him. For me it was a sandstorm.

Seokjin’s eyes followed Jinah towards the exit.

I waved a hand at the running cables. “Help me pack this stuff away.”

“Can’t.”

“We’re already short on hands,” I complained, but he was already wrestling his coat on as he hurried after the bubblegum-pink girl.

“Why am I always doing the dirty work around here?” I muttered, standing straighter when a music major came up to me and asked if I could provide a backup drum mic at the next rehearsal. “I’ll run through that request with Mr. Kim, but he should be able to provide you with an alternative mic if you’re not satisfied with the ones we currently have installed.”

“Thank you,” the saxophonist replied.

By the time I had safely unplugged all the systems, the lights in the grand theatre were dim and only a few dancers were milling around, concentrated near the main exit, faces grey with impatience.

“Jimin-ah!” one guy called out at the Jinah’s dance partner. It was the same guy who had joined Jinah in the cafe earlier. “We’re going out for chimaek. I’ve been craving chicken all day and could do with a beer.”

Jimin poked his head into his bag, searching for something that was clearly lost. “You guys go on without me. I can’t find my locker keys and need to grab something from the dance studio.”

The guy grimaced but forced half-smile. He obviously didn’t fancy trekking across campus to risk missing the next train.

“We can wait for you,” he offered.

Jimin waved a distracted hand. “It’s fine, Hoseok. Really. You guys go on out without me. ” He paused, looking around, and turned towards the door; his friends were already on the other side. “Has Jinah already left? She was supposed to wait for me.”

The slamming door answered his question, but I stepped into the light. “The girl with the pink hair?”

Jimin jumped in fright, almost tumbling off the stage, only catching himself by drunkenly jerking to the left. It was the first time his body moved like a human, rough around the edges like a sketch instead of the renaissance oil painting he had on been on stage. The break in his elegance was a stone skipping a lake, rippling outwards. He dropped his bag, yelping when it crushed his bare foot, succeeding in belly-flopping off the stage this time.

“Oof!” he cried, landing on his tailbone.

“I’m so sorry.” I rushed to his aid, scooping him into standing position. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Jimin waved a dismissive hand but winced. “It’s cool.”

“That must’ve hurt like hell,” I said, adding fire his embarrassment.

He flushed harder, skin toasted with light. The natural pink hue to his cheeks brightened to match is hair.

“I’m not usually like this,” he stuttered, scratching his hair, embarrassed. .

“Dancers can be clumsy, too. They’re human after all,” I said with a smile. He mirrored it, hesitant at first before realising that I wasn’t actually making fun of him. The softness melted his lips into a stretch of pink. I caught myself smiling more.

I shifted my bag onto my other shoulder while he rolled back on his heels, neither of us saying much.

“You know you’re a pretty good dancer,” I blurted, wishing I could master conversation like Namjoon without having to feign confidence. Instead I came across as a mouse.

Jimin passed a hand through his hair. “Just good?”

The teasing lilt was golden. I laughed and corrected myself. “You're alright, I guess.”

He doubled over in mock pain, body bent at the spine. “You wound me.”

“Only your inflated ego.”

“Alright is a bit harsh, though.”

“Then settle with being just good.”

Quick-witted, he held out a hand, rehearsed like his grace. “I’m Park Jimin, though most people either refer to me as the second lead or the Black Swan. At this college, everyone is known by their achievements.” He smiled. “And you are?”

I filled in the blank with “Min Yoongi.”

I wondered if he was this charming with everybody and felt dampened by the thought that this interaction wasn’t unique to me. I reached out, expecting his hand to be cool instead of clammy and warm. When I let go of his hand, the spaces his fingers had filled felt cool, yearning for warmth again.

“You’re Jinah’s brother, right?” I asked with my own rehearsed smile, though it became crooked and boyish when he breathed a light laugh and nodded. “She’s a great dancer. Probably one of the greatest I’ve ever seen on stage. I don’t know much about dance but my mum used to take me to the theatre all the time as a kid. Jinah’s pirouettes are something else.”

Pride broke his face into a smile. “Yeah, those pirouettes are the envy of every training ballerina. I don’t know why she chose to major in contemporary dance.”

“She probably wanted to follow your footsteps?”

He nodded. “Ballet is daunting. I’d say it’s the fiercest type of dance in the world. The control is an agony and the grace is brutal.”

I thought about my mum’s pointe shoes collecting dust in the attic and nodded. “I can’t blame Jinah. I heard it’s the first time in history that the lead role has gone to a freshman. Madame Ahn must have a lot of faith in Jinah.”

Jimin distracted himself with a ladder in his tights. “Roles are allocated by skill, not  by age. Even though Jinah is the face of this showcase, we all work pretty hard.”

“I can tell. The synchronisation is impressive.”

“I’m not her understudy or anything,” he added, heavy in voice but light in tone. His eyes shifted to his feet.

“I know.” I didn’t push any further questions, realising that I was too close to his borders. There were landmines everywhere in his expression. I didn’t want to say anything to accidentally trigger him. “I have a train to catch but I’ll see you tomorrow?” I said, beating myself up for posing it as a question instead of a statement.

“Sure thing,” he replied, hopping back on stage. As he stretched his limbs, his hair moved as if he was underwater. I couldn’t take my eyes off him even if I wanted to.

“It’s pretty late. I can walk you across campus if you want,” I offered, knowing that we were heading the same way. He seemed like a pretty chill guy and it would be cool to have some friends around here since Namjoon had already made a couple of lady friends and Seokjin was hot on Jinah’s tail.

“I’m not heading that way,” Jimin replied, resuming his dance practice even though rehearsals were long over. He moved to music even though nothing was playing.

My brows creased. “I thought you said you needed to grab something from your locker.”

Jimin stopped. An embarrassed smile crept onto his lips. “Actually I said that so I could practice for another hour. The other dancers get antsy when I overwork myself but competition is high around here and everybody is desperate to get scouted by entertainment companies.” He let out a long exhale, staring intently at the far horizon of the theatre. “Rumours have it that the big three are coming to our end of year showcase. Jinah is already signed to JYP so I guess that’s why everyone’s mad she got the lead role and not one of the seniors, but we all want to get noticed this year.”

I echoed his previous words. “But roles are allocated because of skill and not because of age.”

He shrugged, chewing his cheek. “It’s political.”

“I see.”

“Dayoung and Jungkook are taking electives from the Korean Music faculty. Hoseok is stressed because he’s going to be a senior next year and still isn’t signed.” Jimin blew out another long breath. “It’s all a mess, really.” He stopped rambling, eyes flicking up to meet mine. “I’m sorry if I’m wasting your time,” he said, speaking formally. “You should go.”

“Don’t be,” I replied, dropping my bag and unpacking my audio equipment. “Do you know how to work the sound system in here?”

He seemed confused. “Isn’t it the same as the one in the dance studio? I wish I could summon the live orchestra right now but everybody has clashing schedules and nobody wants to stay this late with me. And I don’t have access to the soundtrack for this year’s showcase because Madame Ahn is being so cautious. Last year’s soundtrack leaked to the press and not one person got signed which brought so much shame to our faculty.”

I unzipped another pocket in my bag and pulled out a CD. “You mean this one?”

Jimin’s lips parted, a breath forming between them. “How do you . . . There are only three copies in existence.”

I shrugged, casual. “I burned myself an extra copy.” He looked dazed, a muddled confusion that reminded me of my puppy Holly. “You can borrow it for tonight but make sure you give it back to me tomorrow.”

I tossed it, the CD arcing until he caught it with both hands. He held it like glass. I shoved both hands in my pocket and stepped back, striding towards the exit with my backpack feeling refreshingly light.

My palms were laid flat on the door when I heard the air whisper back to me.

“Thank you.”

I waved without turning back. “Anytime.”

 

_______________________________________________________________________________________

A/N: hi, it's Kaddy. how did you find the first chapter? did you like it? what did you think of the characters, both from BTS and fictional? comment here before reading the rest of my note and i'll dedicate the next chapter to best answer <3

this yoonmin fic is going to give you everything you expect and more. joon mentioned once that books should be stepping stones to our growth, so i hope we grow on this journey we're about to begin. i  hope this fic is more than just a pass-time for you. y'all are in for the ride of your life ;)

also, i was rewatching my favourite old bangtan bombs last night to cheer me up (ahh don't pretend you don't binge watch them too haha. you guys know the one on yoongi's bday where he buys armys gifts and jimin stays behind to help? it's one of my favs. what's yours?)

to make things more fun, at the end of each chapter i'm going to ask the fandom a question. i'll leave my answer so you guys can get to know me too.

QUESTION: WHO IS YOUR BIAS?
(i'm a hoe for all my boys but jiminie stole my heart first.)

don't forget to vote if you haven't. updates are every thursday. b ig things are about to happen soon. stay tuned. 

stay strong,
-- kaddy x

Chapter Text

C H A P T E R    T W O

“Night wakes up in the middle of me and

I can do nothing but become the moon.”

Nayirrah Waheed

 

 

When I walked into the grand theatre the next afternoon, Park Jimin’s eyes followed me to the sound deck like car headlights. A gentle heat cooked my insides when he nodded a greeting then tipped his chin at the mixing board, flashing me a thumbs up. I picked up the CD and smiled back at him before continuing up the aisle. The boys were waiting for me at the far back, lounging on the velvet chairs in the last row, rolling cigarettes in advance for the mid-rehearsal break. I jogged up the stairs and collapsed in front of them in the penultimate row.

“Sup, boys,” I greeted them, turning around to ruffle their hair.

Namjoon dropped his filter and flashed me a look. “Did you have to do that?”

I ruffled his hair some more. “Your hands did the crime not mine.”

“Ha ha.”

“Bite me.”

He tried to grab my wrist and plunge his fangs into my veins but I escaped and smacked him upside the head.

“Ow!”

“Where’s your uncle?” I asked Seokjin.

He lowered his voice, wincing. “I don’t think he’s going to make it today.”

“What? Again?” Namjoon asked. I smacked him again. “Ow! Stop doing that.”

I turned to Seokjin and laid a hand on his wrist. “Let him know that everything is under control and to take his time.”

Seokjin nodded. We both ignored Namjoon’s bewildered stare, eyeballs bouncing between us like a pingpong ball.

“I’m confused,” he said, pocketing his rollie.

“Stop lazing around and help me set up. Rehearsal start in ten minutes and none of the running cables are connected. Did you put in an order for a 10kW main system? We need to add a few upgrades that Seokjin’s uncle didn’t make clear. The orchestra needs more attention. If one instrument mic is faulty, it could affect the dancers.”

Namjoon smiled sheepishly. “I may have forgotten about that.”

I crossed my arms. “The instrument mics, too? What about the six wedges?” He shook his head and I groaned. “Then what have you been doing all morning?”

“Finding DJ bookings for us. There’s a club in Gangnam that need replacement DJs for next weekend.”

“What? Why would you do that? We’re too busy with this showcase.”

“They’ll pay us well. Come on, it’s only for one night.”

Betrayed that he had gone behind my back, I crossed my arms. “No way.”

“Aww c’mon, hyung.”

I shook my head. “We don’t have the time for it. It’s Friday today. You failed to place an order in time for tomorrow’s morning rehearsal so I’m going to spend the entire night chasing down warehouses before they close down for the weekend.” I pinched the bridge of my nose and blew out a sharp breath. “You had one job, Namjoon. How am I supposed to work full time at MinMin Cafe and lead this showcase while working on music for our next mixtape?”

“But I miss the old days of DJing at underground raves in Hongdae, making quick money and a name for ourselves. We could have been signed by now if you hadn’t jumped onto this lame showcase.”

“No we wouldn’t have.”

It was a lie, we both knew that. I had been approached by two entertainment companies to produce tracks for them and sell all my rights. It would be all be under anon even though I’d get the royalties. But I didn’t want to sell my art without getting recognition for it. My art was a reflection of my struggles and I didn’t feel comfortable letting someone hold my mirror while I looked at myself.

Namjoon argued, “Woolim Entertainment would have taken both of us.”

“They only wanted you.”

He shook his head. “Well I told them that it was either the two of us or neither.”

Angered, I pursed my lips. “I told you to never put yourself on the line like that. You should have taken the deal.”

“You would have done the same for me.” Namjoon grabbed both my hands and gave them a tight squeeze. “Just consider the gig at The A Club. Please.”

I clenched my jaw, tongue knotted with Seokjin’s family secrets. He had asked me for two things: to help out his uncle with this tiring showcase and not to tell Namjoon, whose mother had been hospitalised around that time.

I tried to lower my voice but I knew our hyung could hear us. “Seokjin said he needed us to do this showcase. We can’t do half a good job,” I said through my teeth. “Like you said, it’s all or nothing”I shoved a hand through my hair“so why aren’t you pulling your weight with this showcase?”

“Because they could have hired anyone else.”

“But they picked us.”

“Why did it have to be us? We were on to bigger things in Hongdae.”

“No we weren’t. We were scraping by. This showcase is where we need to be, not in a sweaty club with washed out stars and rising idols. If we’re going to make it together, we’re going to do it on our own two feet. I’m not selling my soul so you can speed date pretty trainees.” I clapped his back. “We’re bigger than anything those companies have ever offered us.”

“Everybody starts off small. This gig is just that. Plus it’ll be fun. Loosen up, Yoongi hyung. Why are you being so difficult?”

Namjoon shook his head, face bricked like a wall. He didn’t understand and I couldn’t expect him to, especially when we had been living large just a few months ago. I had asked him, begged him, to trust me and let go of what he had worked for, and he released his fingers just like that. He said, “Okay, Yoongi. I trust you.” We were thick as skin, but lately his doubts were showing like pimples. I didn’t know what to say or what to do besides work hard every night on our mixtape, praying the fire in my bones could burn a couple of great tracks.

Namjoon shook his head again. “You’re way too invested in this showcase.”

“And you’re way too invested in yourself,” I bit back.

He didn’t say anything, face tight but restrained, simply busying himself untangling the running cables.

“They’re willing to pay 500,000 won,” he added, a whisper.

The money did not sway me but Seokjin’s shadow caught my attention. I turned around, mood already grey from Namjoon’s attitude. It was already difficult carrying the load for Seokjin’s uncle but doing all the labour alone was not what I signed up for. Working two full time jobs was impossible, yet I had been running around Seoul at all hours trying to please everybody. The only time I had to myself and my music were the early hours of the morning. When was I going to get time to rest? Lately I had been sleeping as little as half an hour a day.

Seokjin lowered his voice so Namjoon wouldn’t overhear. “You do realise he’s behind on his mum’s hospital bills again?”

The icy lake inside of me shattered. I felt a chill, followed by a heat wave of shame.

“What?”

“He won’t take any of my money. I even tried to set up a secret payment.”

“Why didn’t he tell me that?”

“He didn’t want to add to your stress. We all know that you’ve been juggling too many jobs since your father’s passing but you’re not the only one who’s supporting an entire family.” Seookjin glanced at Namjoon’s downfallen shoulders. “Go easy on him. He’s trying his best. We all are.”

I swallowed and nodded, distracted. I started the official sound check by adjusting the timbre and volume control on the mixing board but made too many mistakes, so much that the dancers had to start again seven times. The orchestra muttered complaints from the B-stage, cellos and violins with their bows poised like swords, flutes and saxophonists with their breaths holding back curses. The conductor’s arms were ready to take flight and take a dump on my head like a pigeon. Madame Ahn caught my eye, sharp as a battle-axe but my gaze was fixed on the queue of dancers waiting to take the stage. I found Jimin at the front, face relaxed like he was sleeping, as if there was music playing in his soul. I focused on his calm until my storm passed.

Deep breaths, I thought. The violinist began with a river of sadness. We started with Jinah’s beautiful solo stage, ribbon twirling in her hand, legs leaping like a dear, chin tipped back, body landing like a cat, curling inwards like a flower reversing its growth. When Jimin joined her on stage, his sure steps shattered her beauty, the illusion snatch like sunlight eclipsed by clouds. My jaw hung loose. Namjoon was tilting forwards like the leaning Tower of Pisa.

The full orchestra came in when the other dancers made their entrance, a firework of movement and music. My fingers moved fast on the mixing board, twisting knobs to magnify the volume during the climactic scenes.

The first half ended the way it began, Jinah alone on stage, curled like a foetus with her hands outstretched like a beggar, except for the extra figure on stage, no longer a mirror or shadow but a fully materialised person: the Black Swan had been born out of the White Swan. It was a spectacular rendition of the popular Swan Lake, elements of modern dance fused with the practice of ballet. I could understand why the dance faculty had the highest rate of success when it came to entertainment companies because Madame Ahn was as much a great choreographer as she had been a dancer back in the day.

During the mid-rehearsal break, Namjoon and Seokjin left to smoke with a handful of dancers. I didn’t dare add fire to the raging forest between Namjoon and I, so stayed behind like a labrador left behind on the family holiday. Moping about, I joined the circle of dancers that included Jimin and Jinah, giving her the same smile that disarmed her in the coffee shop yesterday. She hid behind hair. Jimin watched the interaction, confused.

“Your sister came into my mum’s coffee shop yesterday with your friend.” I tipped my chin at the slender guy with a cutting jaw and sculpted nose. “They talked about dance for hours. Is he her mentor or something?”

“Who? Jung Hoseok?” Jimin asked, pointing at the same guy. He was currently popping and locking, making the others laugh. I smiled, warmed by his aura. “Yeah, Madame Ahn picked him to mentor Jinah instead of me.”

“Why?”

“He led the showcase last year, and came up with my choreography while Madame Ahn specialised in the Jinah’s choreo.” Jimin gazed wistfully at Hosek. “It’s a shame the soundtrack leaked or he’d be signed by now.”

“Wow, he sounds like a legend.”

Jimin smiled. “He will be.”

“My mum insisted on giving them free Americanos on the house because of his dad jokes. He’s almost as bad as my friend Seokjin.” I wrinkled my nose, pretending to be miffed. “I was not happy about that. Freebies are bad for business unless it’s for marketing purposes.”

Jimin’s confusion multiplied. “Jinah drinks coffee?”

I laughed at his reception. He really did know which facts to cling to and which to let slide. “Black americano with no milk to be precise.”

“She seems taken to you if she’ll travel all the way to Gangnam just for your americanos.”

I froze. “What? How did you . . . How did you know I work in Gangnam?”

“MinMin Cafe, right?” Jimin didn’t seem put off by my shock. “I’ve been there once. Tonnes of trainees hang out there. It’s a favourite hangout spot with the dancers here.”

My shoulders remained stiff. “But how did you know that I work there?”

“Like I said, I’ve there a couple of times. I’ve seen you there.”

Strange, I hadn’t seen him there before. But then again his hair hadn’t always been candyfloss pink, if it had been I would have definitely remembered him. I relaxed, blowing out a breath.

“For a moment I thought you’d been stalking me or something.”

Jimin laughed. “That, too.”

“Shut up,” I laughed, lightly smacking his shoulder. Curiosity changed my face into a questioning smile. “Are you going to practice till late again?”

“Is that okay with you?”

“Why would you need my permission?” A dawn rose in me. “Ahh . . . You’re going to need to my CD again.”

Embarrassed, he nodded. “If you don’t mind, of course.”

I thought about the errands I’d be running tonight, running from warehouse to warehouse to get the sound equipment delivered by tomorrow. I had called the companies at the start of the mid-rehearsal break to arrange a pick up time, but needed to go in and sign for the deliveries myself. Tonight was definitely going to stretch into another all-nighter.

“I’d be happy to lend it to you again.”

His eyes disappeared when he smile. “Thank you so much.”

Jimin touched my hand once, then bowed slightly. I stepped back, awkward from the interaction because the other dancers broke away from their conversation to stare at us. Jinah’s large eyes followed me all the way back to the mixing board. I placed my headphones on my neck like a choker, unnerved by the pressure I felt on my hand where Jimin had touched me. It felt like the cold that follows when you move your arm away from direct sunlight, a coolness, much like opening the fridge and feeling a light chill.

When the boys returned from their smoke break, they seemed to be walking on a tightrope. Namjoon avoided my gaze. I glanced at Seokjin for an answer but he seemed just as confused.

I tried to raise the moral, upbeat. “Ready to get back to work?”

Seokjin smiled weakly and returned to his seat amongst the cellists. Namjoon answered, “I’m ready to go home, that’s for sure.”

I sighed, raising my headphones to my ears as Madame Ahn barked at the dancers to get into position. Music filled the room like a closing curtain, sudden and dramatic. The lighting technician aimed a spotlight at Jimin, which followed the fallen angel as he leapt around Jinah’s broken body. I forgot my worries, letting Namjoon’s distant eyes fall away as I fell into the music of Jimin’s dance.

I got home late that night, kicking my bedroom door open with my toe as I sleepwalked to my bed, too tired to take off my clothes. The shop needed to be set up for opening in less than two hours. On the cusp of sleep, a thought danced around the fringes of my mind, spinning like Jimin’s pirouettes, padding like his soft landings. I sat up and rooted through my bag, hauling out my laptop and then fishing out the showcase CD that Jimin had used earlier, watching the moonlight bounce of the shiny surface into pure iridescence.

Seated at my desk, I pulled open the lowest drawer and sieved through old discs until I found a blank one. My laptop had the showcase soundtrack saved in a hidden folder. I inserted the blank disc and started burning a copy, breaching my contract with SIA for the second time. It didn’t matter because art had no price or punishment attached to it besides the loss of potential when talent was left to waste.

I retrieved wrapping paper from under my bed where I’d last wrapped Seokjin’s birthday gift. It had race cars all over it, and I wasn’t sure if dancers liked that kind of stuff, but it would do for now. Careful as not to crease the paper, I wrapped the CD and taped the excess paper down. It wasn’t much, I knew that, but my mum had always sworn that thought is priceless when it comes to gifts.

Hopefully this would do the trick.

*******

The new equipment made the third rehearsal soar like a dove. Namjoon didn’t say much to me during soundcheck but plopped down besides me during break, chatting away as if nothing had happened. I let him ease back into normalcy, my own mind preoccupied with perfecting this rehearsal unlike the mess I had been yesterday.

My newfound concentration paid off. Jimin flew atop the new sound system, his arms finding new lengths, touching places they had not touched before. I tried to memorise him like a photograph, tracing his body with my eyes. A new warmth filled me, candlelit and soft. I imagined cave wall shadows inside of me, wanting to know my own Black Swan the way Jimin imitated Jinah’s White Swan to transform youth into black sorrow.

Madame Ahn came to personally thank me, nose bent like a hawk. Her face was taut and tense, jet black slicked back into a high bun. There wasn’t a loose strand in sight.

“Good job. Much better than yesterday’s shambolic experience.” She bowed, stiff with grace. “Send my kindest regards to Mr Kim. You’re doing a great job in his place. Last year every rehearsal had technical difficulties. I’ll talk to the school board about considering you for the winter showcase.”

I didn’t know how much she knew about Seokjin’s family so I kept my tongue tight and bowed deeply instead.

“Thank you, seonsaeng-nim.”

Jimin jogged towards me after she left in a sharp click-clack of Louboutin heels. He bowed continuously as he passed her, reaching me with his hair damp from a sweaty performance.

“Hey,” he said, out of breath.

I smiled, touching my hair. “Hey.”

“Are you leaving right now?”

“Well, rehearsals are over.” I glanced to the sound deck where Namjoon was frowning as he turned off all the systems. Jimin followed my gaze, smile drooping. “Don’t worry. I asked him to leave the speakers be so you can enjoy a soulful practice. Just insert the CD as you always would and the new system will take care of the rest for you.”

Jimin’s face broke into a sunlit smile. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Madame Ahn seems happy with our progress. She was just congratulating me on all my efforts.”

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen her compliment without a cryptic criticism hiding in there somewhere.”

“I think she just appreciates the progress I’ve made. Most teachers credit progress more than end results. It’s about how far you come as much as how well you do.”

“You must be something special.’

I laughed. “I am.”

“Compliments usually end with a thank you. You might want to try that sometime.”

“Why? I know I’m great,” I joked.

“Actually you’re just alright,” he replied, throwing my own words back at me.

I laughed, louder this time. His eyes had a sparkle to them when he teased me. “Hey, I work pretty hard so your ass can shake it on that stage.”

“Contemporary dance is more than ass shaking. It’s an art.”

“Sure it is.”

Our laughter was just another chiming bell in the bustling conversation as dancers and musicians mingled. Some were changing out of their pointe shoes whilst others were wrestling their instruments into leather cases, both groups lost in buzzing excitement. We were just another pair, but the interaction felt solid to me.

I rummaged through my bag and pulled out a package the size of a thin square bathroom tile. Jimin’s eyes jumped at the sight of the race car wrapping.

“What’s that?” he asked, smile growing to his ears.

I took his hand by the wrist, fingers curling, barely skimming his skin. My thumb touched his pulse and warmth spread through me until I streamed with light. My other hand pressed the gift into his palm.

I released his hand, dizzied. “Take it.”

His face danced with confusion. “What is it?”

I wrestled the heat in my stomach, hot from holding his hands. It was a silly warmth, reminding me of elementary school crushes.

“I burned another copy of the soundtrack so won’t have to use mine all the time. It’s against my contract to make copies so keep it on the downlow. I won’t just lose my job if anyone finds out, I’ll be facing a lawsuit, too.”

“I-I . . . You didn’t have to . . .”

“It’s fine. You don’t have to feel indebted to me or anything.” I smiled, soft and crooked. “Just practice diligently and don’t overwork yourself.” I reached forward, hand on his shoulder, a gentle squeeze. “You danced really well today. Keep up the good work.”

Before I could pull my hand back, Jimin covered it with his own and returned the squeeze. His voice broke when he spoke.

“Thank you.”

An ocean passed between us, warm and mediterranean. The continent between us held hands, and in that moment, I felt as close to him as I’d felt to no one ever before. We both harnessed pain to colour our art. It was our language. I knew he could speak it in that moment, our hands tied like knots.

Jimin let go of my hand but for the first time the warmth lingered, a stirring delight, fluttering like butterfly wings until it took off inside my stomach, a thousand of them, wings brushing my insides until I was tickled with so much warmth I couldn’t help but smile at him.

Jimin smiled back.

“What was that all about?” Seokjin asked when I joined the others. He glanced over his shoulder where Jimin was still clutching the CD to his chest.

I laughed to myself, singing, “Nothing. It was nothing.”

__________________________________________________________

A/N: hey, me again! posting in record time as always. don't forget to comment here what you thought of the chapter before reading the rest of this author's note <3

i'd say that things are starting to warm up for yoonmin in this chapter, eh? my lips are sealed, but the next chapter is really gonna meddle with your emotions haha. good luck keeping your edges laid ;)

QUESTION: WHO IS YOUR BIAS WRECKER?
(as we know i'm bts trash so i switch up all the time, but the past month namjoon has made me feel so soft. his growth reminds me of the most beautiful rose. i love watching him bloom into smiles. happy joon is a happy me....... then they're hobi who just makes me feel some type of way. and don't even get me started on tae's heart-stopping selcas and jin's voice in Awake...and who could forget our maknae who makes me want to fight him non-stop.... shit, i'm trash for them all. min yoongi breathes and i want to sell him both my kidneys.... guys, send an ambulance for me. RIP Kaddy.)

don't forget to vote if you haven't.

stay beautiful,
-- kaddy x

 

 

 

Chapter Text

C H A P T E R    T H R E E

"Even when I look away

I am still looking."

Richard Siken

 

The siblings spoke in Busan satoori, quick and fiery, vowels shaped like bullets. Jimin's face was shadowed whilst Jinah dabbed his brow with a towel, delicate as a sunflower that was apologetic for how much sun it had received.

I tried to keep up but their conversation moved fast like cursive handwriting, impressive to watch but difficult to separate into standard Korean. My own Daegu dialect had become diluted over the years. I still found myself slipping into it when I felt anxious or threatened.

After taking my sweet time packing up the sound equipment, I said my goodbyes to the orchestra but Jimin noticed my deviation, breaking away from his sister and coming up to me, a puppy on a summery field. It had been a week since I'd given him the soundtrack CD as a gift and we'd been spending our breaks together, chatting about trivial stuff. It was funner than bearing the cold with the other smokers since he didn't smoke and it was only a stress habit for me.

Jimin had a way of fishing opinions out of me, ones that I didn't even know myself. The way my tongue loosened around him terrified me because I wasn't used to talking about myself for long bouts of time. But he was a good listener and the frequent brush of his hand on mine caught my breath. Jimin had one of those loud laughs, always funnier than the joke, the kid who set everybody else off, collapsing back, chin tipped, neck stretched, eyes shut tight as tears squeezed out of the corners. It was beautiful. I liked it best when his hand clapped my shoulder in explosive hilarity.

But it was the campfire of warmth in my chest that petrified me the mostpretending it didn't exist was my best bet right now.

"Yoongi hyung!" Namjoon was waving at me from the exit because we had to get to the club in Gangnam within an hour to set up before the night began.

"You're coming out tonight, right?" Jimin asked, eyes shrinking behind his smile. It was my favourite smile of his.

I turned around to look at Namjoon, letting out a groan. Seokjin must have invited all the dancers to come to our night out in Gangnam. I guess he had point, it was so much easier working when you could enjoy the rest of night with friends instead of sleazy strangers and brooding bouncers.

"I haven't got a choice," I answered. "I'm working as one of the DJs for tonight."

Jimin instantly perked up. "You are?"

"Sadly."

"Then I'll be there." Jimin grinned, brushing my shoulder. The campfire inside me glowed. "I want to see you in your element."

I laughed, touching my hair. It was in desperate need of a trim. "It really isn't anything special."

"Well if it's anything compared to your skills here then I'm sure you'll set the night on fire."

I laughed again. "Whatever. I'll catch you later."

Jimin's hand brushed my shoulder again. "You can count on that."

Reluctant to say goodbye, I moved towards the exit without turning my back to him. Jimin grinned at me, only breaking eye contact when he was spun around by Hoseok who draped an arm around him and began cracking jokes that made the second lead throw his head back with hysterical laughter. I wanted to make him laugh that way but I wasn't a funny person.

At the door, Namjoon wrapped a scarf around my neck.

"Thanks, man."

"It's cool." He studied my face. "You're not still mad about tonight are you, hyung?"

I tugged the scarf up to my nose, hiding my slight grin. "Yes, I am."

He breathed a laugh, relieved. "Good."

I socked his shoulder. "Loser."

"What? Can't I have kink for your rage?"

"Don't make me vomit."

"It's gift to look good when you're angry. Your passion on stage is unmatched when you're pissed off," he laughed, trotting down the marble stairs.The wind weaved fingers through his quiff. "Do you want to get grab a drink with the dancers after we set things up at the club? They're having pre-drinks and dinner at the restaurant near the station. It's all within the radius of the cafe if you wanna stop by home first."

"I'm alright thanks. I have to finishing arranging a new track I'm working on. I know I won't have time to do it when I get home."

"Workaholic."

"You know it."

We cut across campus in the dying light, the cutting breeze making our eyes stream. In the main courtyard, the grass was just coming through, growing like the hairs of a gel-obsessed teenagerspiky and tousled. Our boots crushed baby dandelions but as Namjoon lit a cigarette for us to share, I crouched down for a second, blowing a dandelion until it went out like a birthday candle. I didn't know what I was wishing for except change. Life had been a dull hum of grey since I'd been rejected from SIA four years ago. Since then I'd been drifting from club to studio to rave, playing music to dead ears, writing lyrics in my room until sunrise. My name was whispered in the underground scene but I didn't want applause, I just wanted to make art. My art. I had only applied to SIA to please my mum so the rejection letter came like sweet wine, but now I was drunk with aimlessness and didn't know what to do with myself. Having no direction didn't always mean freedom if you were stuck in the same spot, trapped. Lately I found myself busy with the coffee shop but the smell of coffee beans was like death to me now, abandoned dreams that I had forgotten to sow and reap.

Namjoon took a long drag and passed the cigarette to me. "So are you going to tell me what's bothering you or am I going to have to buy you drinks all night long until you talk?"

I tapped off the ash and took a long drag, holding it in until my lungs collapsed like a house of cards. Smoke rushed out of my nose and mouth.

"It's nothing," I replied, leaning against the tree behind me. Tipping my head back, I marvelled at the sky until my eyes stung from the brightness. "I just feel stuck here."

He reworked his face from curiosity to confusion. "I thought this showcase was something you really wanted to do."

"I do . . . I did." I winced. "I just feel like I should be doing more but the days are short and I'm just so busy all the time." I sighed, pulling my leather jacket tighter around my chest. "You were right about moving onto to bigger and better things. Maybe this showcase isn't a step up."

"It is."

I chuckled at his defiance. "But Seokjin"

He spoke at the same time, imitating me. "Seokjin specifically asked us to help him and we honoured that request because that's what friendship is about. Loyalty. Plus you two are all I have," Namjoon paused. "Did he ever tell you why it had to be us? We're not exactly qualified sound technicians." Patting himself on the back, he added, "I'm pretty much learning as we go along. And you're only a whiz because your dad was one of the best sound engineers ever."

I passed him the cigarette and blew on my cold hands. "No he didn't. I figured it was best to just leave it, but I'm sure he had a valid reason."

Namjoon grew quiet with thought. "I guess so." He looked around the courtyard. "Speaking of the devil, Seokjin's finally done talking to Jinah. That lasted shorter than I expected."

When Seokjin arrived, his hands forked through his hair one too many times.

"You okay?" I asked as we set off, the wind messing his hair even more.

He yanked a beanie over his unruly locks and nodded. "Why wouldn't I be?"

Namjoon and I glanced over my shoulder where Jinah and Hoseok were just exiting the grand theatre, heads close like two mushrooms growing too closely together. Hoseok's face was shadowed and Jinah seemed to be talking in a hurry.

"You didn't try anything, did you?" Namjoon asked, turning back to face Seokjin.

"Of course I didn't," he answered, pulling his hat further down. It didn't cover his blushing ears.

 

*******

Neon lights skated over the walls in cones, spotlighting the dance floor in rainbow polka dots. Sweaty arms were raised like crooked branches, drinks slopping everywhere, their eyes half-shut and mouth sagging open with laughter and shouty conversations. From the upper deck at bird's eye viewthe best vantage pointI tried to spot a mop of pink but under the changing neon lights everybody looked like they had pastel pink hair.

"You should take a break," Namjoon shouted over the music, pushing his headphones around his neck like a choker. "You've been standing here for two hours and even covered half my set. Go enjoy yourself. I'll wrap up the last hour with a dubstep mix."

My arms were heavy with exhaustion. I hadn't slept in two days straight, each movement sloppier than the first. My set had been full of unnoticeable errors but who would call me out for it? Drunk people danced to anything you played for them. The only person sparing me concerned glances was Namjoon, who returned after the clock passed one in the morning with a water bottle in one hand and a girl in the other. I knew she'd be impressed by the mixing board and disc player, making me eager to escape.

"Do you want a drink?" I asked him as I unhooked my headphones and put them in my bag so I wouldn't forget them later.

"I'm good," he answered, grinning. "I had a couple of beers earlier."

"Whereabouts is Seokjin again?"

"He went home about an hour ago. Said he didn't feel too well and has a paper to hand in on Monday. I think he's just really upset about the whole Jinah situation. Who knew she had a thing with Jung Hoseok?"

I groaned. "So he didn't really kiss her?"

The answer was obvious when Namjoon grimaced, a wan smile. "I told him not to be so bold with freshmens but he never listens to me. The younger girls aren't like the seniors noonas. Those girls have experience. Freshmens are too delicate."

"You should have told me what he was planning if you knew so much about it."

Namjoon switched the best to an uptempo echo, the bass shaking over the track. I had to hold my ears to keep myself from jumping at the sudden change.

"Stop cutting tracks. Cross-fade from one track to another. Are you sure you can take over for the rest of the night?"

He nodded. "I'm sure."

I pointed my chin at the controller. "Keep your hand on the fader then."

"Go have fun, dad." To my irritation, his hand left the controller again. "Tonight might be your lucky night. I've never seen you take someone home before."

"Neither have you."

He winked, waving me down the stairs to the main floor of the club. "Not to mine I haven't. The SIA kids are by the bar by the way."

I pushed my way past the throngs of sweaty bodies, getting crushed between gyrating pelvises and elbows. A guy who was fist-pumping too violently got his wristwatch stuck to my jacket and tried to pick a fight when I got shoved into him.

The bar felt like a desert away and my lips felt parched. Even a smile from Jimin could make me forget the taste of water for weeks. It was strange the way crescent-shaped lips could arrange themselves into something so perfect, effortless and pure. Everybody felt more relaxed when Jimin smiled.

When I reached the far end of the club, Jimin and his troupe were nowhere in sight, instead a disorganised queue cluttered the bar's counter, groups of girls and eager men were chattering like kids in a playground. I pushed my way to the front and leaned over the marble counter, amazed at the hexagonal territory that the counter marked off-limits. Bartenders rushed to pour drinks from a fountain, rainbows of liquor pouring, moving so fast they looked like they were hopping on hot coal.

"What can I get you?" a lanky bartender asked, his uniform crisp as a butler.

Over the bartender's shoulders on the other side of the hexagon, I spotted a bobbing mop of pink hair moving in the background. Another flash of pink appeared next to the first. Butterflies took off inside me like doves at a wedding. I cursed my pathetic bubble of pre-teen happiness because it was silly to get excited over people I barely knew.

"Uh, three mojitos and a shot of double vodka please?"

The bartender nodded, a grasshopper on rollerblades with the way his twiggy arms skated back and forth between the shelves of bottles.

"That'll be 40,000 won." He slid the glasses towards me, taking the outstretched cash in my hand. I downed the shot with a sharp wince. "Can you give two of these glasses to the pink-haired boy and girl over there?"

The bartender looked as if he was going to drop a rude remark before mumbling, "For fuck's sake, what am I? A delivery man?" He crossed the inner perimeter of the hexagon, sliding the two glasses towards Jimin and Jinah before pointing at me. "Your friend over there paid for these."

Jimin glanced up. Then broke into a dazed grin. Jinah squealed and waved her hand at me to come and join them, so I snaked my way past pulses of people, dancing like heartbeats that could drop dead any moment. Most people were at the height of euphoria, but I had only started drinking. Once glance at Jimin and the night felt young, as if the seconds were shuffling backwards to make time for us. He pulled me forward when I was an arm's distance away and slung his arm around my neck. It was too crowded not to press my side against his, but my face doused itself in flames when he studied my side profile.

"Hey," he greeted me, shouting over the music.

His sister laughed at his light-bulb, bright smile and explained. "He's been looking for you all night."

I smiled at Jinah. "He has?"

She smiled back. "He has."

My gaze found Jimin "You have?"

He snorted a laugh, a mask struggling its way over his face. "No I haven't. Oh, there are the others. I thought we'd lost them." He waved excitedly, jumping up and down. "Hyung!"

Hoseok's head snapped in our direction. He cheered and rallied the others. A large group of ten waded their way towards us and we formed a circle. Wedged between Jimin and Jinah, I sipped my cocktail, a light warmth flurrying to my head. I rocked back and forth on my heels as the dancers chattered about the rehearsal while the musicians jumped into a debate about their favourite classical masterpieces, ordering round after round of shots, knocking them back like water. I stopped drinking after the fifth, but the dancers kept going until they hit the eighth shot. Some dispersed to the smokers' lounge outside whilst the rest of us gravitated towards the dance floor. Unable to handle any more alcohol, Jinah transformed from elegant lead dancer into baby giraffe legs, knees knocking together as she laid her head on Hoseok's shoulder. The tenderness in his gaze made me look away, afraid that I had invaded a moment that wasn't mine to share.

I noticed Jimin staring at me.

"What?" I asked, touching my hair.

He laughed. "Did you hear a word I just said?"

I pursed my lips. "Yeah of course."

He laughed again, softer. As the waves foamed in my mind, my vision began to fracture and I lost trail of the conversation again as it bounced around like a ball. I couldn't focus on Jimin when he was studying my expression wearing that dazed smile of his, so I conjured up his face behind my eyelids, my eyes shut and head nodding in time to the crazy beat that Namjoon was playing. I lost myself in a daydream of sweet nothings before snapping out of it and glancing up at the VIP area on the first floor, running my eyes around the inner balcony to find Namjoon flashing a thumbs up at me. He knew I loved this song. I shook my head, embarrassed of letting go of my self-control. Drinking made me young and reckless. It dumbed down my age back to twenty-two instead of the adult I had become since my dad passed away. I didn't like to go back because it felt like undoing time's progress and my healing.

Namjoon cut the track to a popular dance anthem. The club roared with delight, hands shot out, wrists were grabbed; I found myself being yanked into the centre of the dance floor with a shot in one hand and Jimin's fingers caught in the other.

"Dance with me," he said breathlessly, throwing his arms over his head, carefree as a child in a field of sunflowers. His laughter spiralled like balloon released into the sky.

"I don't know how to dance," I answered, shuffling from side to side.

"'Course you do." His eyes fluttered shut, entirely consumed by the music.

The warm liquor in my stomach dizzied me. Something came undone when Jimin spun in circles around me, the music lifting him off the ground like gravity trusted him enough to let him go. He always came back, landing and rising, the dance floor becoming his trampoline. We danced like a pillow fight with no feathers, full of back-bent laughter, too funny to stand straight. I was all elbows and angles, but Jimin softened my corners until I was swaying with my eyes shut. I wanted to move like him, like dye in water, spreading into the colourlessness around him.

I wanted to live in the song forever, but like all things it came to an end.

My eyes opened slowly. Jimin was already looking at me. I blinked into the spray of neon lights and asked, "What? Is there something on my face?"

I couldn't tell if he moved closer or if the ground between us shrunk.

"I didn't know you could dance."

I barked a laugh. "I can't."

His eyes melted into mine. "Funny. You do know how to let go."

"What does that have to do with dancing?"

"Dancing isn't about keeping control. It's about losing control so you can find it again."

Confused, I sidestepped a couple that pushed past. "I don't understand."

Jimin's eyes crossed together, dazed. "It's okay." He paused, adding, "I like it though. You look so . . . young."

"I'm still your hyung."

The heteronormative hierarchy troubled his face. "Of course." The eclipse passed when the track cut to an Agust D number and I cringed, making a mental note to kill Namjoon later. 

"Oh my god, I love this song."

"You do?"

"Yes," Jimin breathed, pulling me closer.

I stumbled, staggering whenever my vision split into twos and threes. I felt like a butterfly on hallucinogens, full of beating warmth and excitement at this new life of freedom. This is must be how summer feels when spring finally surrenders to longer days and beachy Sundays.

We danced to a few more songs, hands catching each other, hair flipping onto our foreheads and back. Sweat dampened my upper lip and nape, but the neon lights echoed behind my eyes like ambulance sirens and the next round of drinks struck my limit like a wall.

"I need fresh air," I said suddenly, stirring to life like a robot born again. Self-control stiffened my limbs and I lost the elasticity that came from dancing with Jimin. "Do you want to go outside for a bit?"

Before Jimin could reply, a few of his friends broke us apart with another round of shots. I shook my head, unstable to stomach any more. The girl with ropy braids shrugged and offered my shot to Jimin who downed both in seconds. My stomach gurgled. He swiped a sleeve over his mouth and grinned at me, the asymmetrical kind, goofy and aloof. I hated that my insides burned more when he smiled than it did with the hard liquor the dancers had egged me to down earlier.

"You okay?" I asked when he staggered towards me.

"Yeah," he breathed, jerking upwards in an ill-planned jump. Gravity didn't trust him this time. He slid down my arms like melting wax. For a dancer he sure was clumsy. First the stage and now this?

"Okay, you need a break, mister." I tightened my arm around his waist and tapped Jinah with my other hand. Hoseok's face was buried in her hair. I didn't know how they were slow dancing to an upbeat song.

"Jimin-ah," he called over the music. His smile fell when Jimin burped and clapped a hand over his mouth.

I hoisted Jimin upright as he giggled, a sound much like bells. My chest flipped itself and I felt myself about to melt like wax too. Jinah's eyes dilated with concern, her words continued to blur. "What'swrongwithhim?"

"I think he's had too much to drink," I said.

"He needs water," Hoseok said, detaching himself from Jinah. "I'll be right back."

"I'm fine," Jimin said, giggling again. He didn't make an effort to stand on his own.

Jinah and I exchanged a look. Hoseok returned with a glass and we all watched Jimin's adam's apple bob up and down as he chugged it down.

"Better?" Jinah asked, cupping her brother's cheek.

He nodded in slow motion, eyes lit like a child on Christmas morning. Hoseok chuckled and clapped me on the back.

"He's a real keeper, this one."

I couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic or suggestive. I brushed away their concern with a reassuring smile. "He'll be fine with some fresh air." I pointed at the nearest exit where two bouncers were talking closely. "We'll be outside if you need us."

Hoseok nodded but Jinah still looked unconvinced. "Make sure he sobers up." She blinked slowly, disorientated, her own drunkenness betraying the stern edge to her voice. "I'm not taking him home like this."

Jimin's face contorted. "You . . . water . . . first."

The sudden friction between the siblings caught me off guard but Hoseok seemed untouched by the sting.

I hauled Jimin to the nearest exit that opened up to an alleyway full of smokers. Red-bricked walls glistened under red neon signs, mostly aesthetic quotes and lyrics in English. Wading through the mass of bodies and smoke, we trudged towards the far end of the alleyway near the dumpsters, I balanced Jimin against the wall where he threw up a waterfall and coughed violently. I rubbed circles on his back, my free hand clasping his shoulder when he leaned forward and teetered like a collapsing building.

"Go easy, buddy."

I let him slide down the wall. press his head between his knees.

"I feel like shit."

"I'll get you water."

He didn't say anything, just a defeated nod. I returned with two cups, pressing them both into his palm. He sipped one and left the second untouched.

"Aren't you going to drink that?" I asked, sitting cross-legged in front of him. The gravel pinched my bottom, making me wince every time I shifted.

"You need it more than I do," he answered, toneless. My smile fell. Jimin picked up on it, his lips stretching out a little. "I didn't mean anything by it. You're just a little too buzzed right now."

Liquid confidence made me bold. "So what? I feel good."

He looked around, then up at the sky, his angular jawline cutting and masculine yet softened by the rest of his exhausted expression.

"You wanna get out of here?" I asked, crawling into a standing position. I brushed gravel off my jeans.

"Mmm hmm," he murmured, nodding.

"Can you walk?"

"I think so."

He limped alongside me as we entered the club again so I could grab my bag from the VIP area. The smell of sweat and liquor hit me, a strange mix alongside cologne and flowery perfume. It's weird how you can't notice bad smells until you go back inside a room. My nose prickled and I sneezed.

"Cute," Jimin said, tripping over his feet. He caught himself and broke out into a sheepish smile. I followed the staircase of warmth inside me, going higher up the ranks until my face was a shade short of red.

When we reached the upper balcony, he asked, "Are you sure we're even allowed up here?"

"I am," I replied, holding out my stamped wrist. "You're not."

"You're telling me now?"

"Just stick with me and you'll be fine." I lifted a hand and waved over the dancing couples to grab Namjoon's attention. "'Sup, bro."

His eyes ran tracks over my face, finishing at my crooked grin and misty eyes. "Well someone's having the time of their life. How much did you have to drink?"

I pinched my fingers together. "That little."

"Clearly," he drawled. "Are you leaving already?"

I nodded, jerking a thumb behind me where Jimin was leaning over the banister and surveying the thinning crowd below. The SIA students were nowhere in sight.

"I need to take this one home," I said, reaching for my bag.

"My set finishes in twenty-five minutes. Stick around and we'll split the cab?"

I laughed at his attempt to save money. "I live less than ten minutes away, why would I pay for a cab?"

"I was talking about Park Jimin. He lives on campus, right? That's at least an hour away."

I hadn't thought that far ahead. "In that case I'm gonna look around for Jinah. Pretty sure his crew are waiting for him outside."

Namjoon shrugged. "I haven't seen them in a while. Wanna give them a call?"

"Have you got their number?"

"Not Jinah's. Use Jimin's phone."

After grabbing my things, I waved goodbye to Namjoon, the lights changing his blonde hair into shades of red, blue, purple and green. It was nice of him to burden the workload tonight. Usually I was the one letting him off the hook after an hour and half of a set. Did I really look so drained these past few days for him to cut me some slack? I wanted to ask him how his mum was faring but couldn't find the time or place to ask the important questions. We all seemed so busy all the time.

"Hey, mind if I use your phone to text your sister?"

Shaking his head, Jimin pocketed his cellphone. I considered getting him another glass of water but it'd only make him need the bathroom; as long as he could walk without my support, then we were all good.

"I already texted to leave without me," he confessed.

My heart jumped, frenzied. "What? Why?"

Jimin's face grew muddled. "Aren't we going to go someplace else?"

"Yeah . . . Home."

"Yours?"

My throat tightened. I swallowed spit, a boulder. "What are you trying to suggest?"

The tips of his ears reddened. "No, no . . . nothing like that. I just thought we were going someplace to hang out . . . Shit, that sounds wrong too." He turned up the collar to his leather jacket. "To talk," he finally corrected himself.

My face was on fire. I kept my back to him as we descended down the stairs, the cold banister tethering me to a reality that was becoming too hot and uncomfortable. Hell could have been beneath me with the way Jimin was scorching my thoughts. I didn't know what to do with myself but to continue charging towards the main exit.

Yet my feet took me to the bar.

"What are you doing?" Jimin asked, eyes bouncing between the bartender and me.

"I need a drink," I replied, paying for a shot of whisky. It tasted vile, but the burn coated the wildfire Jimin kept waking up inside me. I felt hot again but it was a different kind of hot. Safer.

"I'm good thanks," he said.

I snorted a light laugh. "As if I'd let you drink after earlier."

"That was a tactical chunder."

"Of course it was."

"Didn't you used to do that in high school?"

"Chunder?" I asked, appalled as I pushed myself away from the bar towards the left exit. "Why would I throw up just for the sake of drinking more?" Turning around, I caught his eye. "Why? Did you?"

"Sure, everybody did it."

"Didn't have you down as a follower? You seem like a leader."

The night swallowed his face as we fell into step. "Haven't you noticed? I'm playing the Black Swan. I'm just a shadow."

I didn't know what to say so I kicked forward a stone. "But what is a person without a shadow? Aren't shadows proof that light exists? The White Swan is nothing without you."

I continued walking before realising that Jimin was no longer beside me. I came to halt. My steps were zigzagged and I imagined a tightrope lay between us as I found my way back to him.

"Why did you stop?"

Jimin looked up from the pavement. A spot of moonlight bleached his hair. "Why do you keep staying?"

Confused, I rocked back and forth on my heels. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Yes you do." He kicked a pebble forward, trudging forward again. I latched onto his wrist and he spun into me like a ballroom dancer. I dropped his hand before his chest could touch mine. "The practice room. The dance floor. This, right now. You're here."

I had more questions to ask but he seemed to be looking for an answer. I knew what to say, but I didn't know what it would mean for us.

"I'm here," I echoed, taking his wrist again, letting my fingers slide until they fell between his, limp and afraid. He gave me a grateful squeeze and I realised that he needed a friend as much as I needed one from this showcase. "I'm here," I repeated. "Right now. Here. With you."

His face, a lake that had frozen over with agony, broke into a whispering smile. "It's silly but I can't help but feel like this isn't a coincidence. That your being here is for a reason. You're here to say all the right things to me because no one else can tell me the truth about myself."

It was a lot to swallow so I returned the squeeze. "I can be that person if you want."

Jimin wiped a sleeve over his eyes and nodded. I thought that gravity really hadn't let him down tonight. It lived inside of him, sometimes a centrifugal force that exploded with passion, other times a collapsing black hole. It kept him grounded, too. But what if it consumed him and broke the ground? What if he let his personal hell take over? The Black Swan wasn't known for being merciful. She was cruel and restless.

As we staggered to mine, I thought about many things, mostly how I didn't want to be the person who takes a ice-pick to his lake because fragile people shattered easily. So I hailed a taxi, wrapped my scarf around his neck and bundled him inside, giving the driver the campus address.

"We'll hang out another time, I promise. But you need to get some sleep tonight. You're tired."

He didn't protest or make excuses. "Okay."

"Can I borrow your phone quickly?" I asked, leaning against the open door. Jimin wrestled his back pocket to fish out his cellphone, unlocking it before passing it over.

I scrolled through the address book, copying Hoseok and Jinah's number into my phone, before remembering I didn't have his number either. A boyish smile tickled my lips as I saved my number in his phonebook.

"Yoongi," he read out loud when he took his phone back, stifled.

I shut the door, giving the driver a handful of cash, and patted the taxi's boot. My eyes stayed on the yellow plate until it became a dot in the horizon. The sunrise throbbed in his wake, a pomegranate pit, spilling like cranberry juice on a blue tablecloth, a red smile over the concrete jungle of Seoul. A gust of wind nipped my cheeks as my feet sleepwalked home, carefully tiptoeing up the backstairs of the coffee shop to our apartment.

My mum had fallen asleep with the TV on again, an empty glass of wine slack in her hand, a home video playing from our summer vacation to Taiwan in '97, my dad's weathered face holding laughter and youth. I looked away, heartbeat rising to my throat.

"Mum," I called softly, putting the glass on the coffee table. She murmured a sob. I returned from her room with a bundle of blankets, raising her head to slip a pillow beneath her head.

In the privacy of my soundproof room, I left the curtains open so the race-car blue walls could be dyed purple in the red sunrise. My desk sat opposite the window, tax receipts cluttering the side and sketches for an update menu on the other side. I shuffled everything into a neat pile and collapsed into my desk chair, playing my latest project, and listening to it with my eyes shut. Something still wasn't right. It sounded like a rainbow missing every other colour, pinks and blues without reds and greens. I thought about Jimin danced tonight like a prism shooting out a full spectrum of light. My thighs tensed but I kept going, eyes fluttering shut as I mapped out his eyes on the midi keyboard, tracing his jawline on the mixing board, a beat materialising from the sound of his laughter. Just like a painter, I drew his face in sounds, listening to the smooth dip of his cupid's bow, swallowing his breaths like smoke.

The room grew hotter. My fingers stopped producing, putting the track on repeat like a lullaby so Jimin could come alive behind my eyelids. My hands traced my own body like I wanted to trace him, hesitant at first, then sure as blistering summer drought. I remembered how Jimin talking about losing self-control to find it again, a rediscovery.

My bedroom glowed and I bit my lip. Jimin's name was the last breath to leave my lips that night.

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A/N: hey, this chapter was so fun to write. i know y'all want explicit shit, and the time will come  (trust me) but i don't want smut to overpower the theme just yet. i need to establish the story first before shit gets heavy... but it will get hot and heavy real soon.

i'm easing back into my old style of writing and it feels SO good, like slipping on your favourite old sweater. i love it. 

anyways comment how you find this chapter! yoonmin feels were pretty strong. i bet y'all are curious about taekook's whereabouts ;) be patient my loves.

QUESTION: WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BTS MUSIC VIDEO?

(HYYH era was my favourite, each member's storyline was beautiful filmed: the scenery, the ships, the colour imagery, the theories. the Prologue short film is so underrated. bighit really delivered us christmas with every comeback. we're so lucky... i mean INU was aasdjklajdfdljal but the RUN mv really holds a place in my heart. it wasn't my first BTS mv (i watched Boy In Luv back in 2014 but when I watched RUN, that was it. i found my home. i've always drawn to aesthetic mv's like NCT U's The 7th Sense, and Monsta X's Beautiful . . . so For You and Spring Day are tied 1st with RUN.)

don't forget to vote if you haven't :)

- kaddy x