Jin was a teenager, pimply and pudgy without a manager to hound him to exercise, but that was okay, because he was in love.
He made her a bento and she laughed at him, cruel and cold and distant. His classmates giggled behind their hands, murmured 'dwaeji' under their breaths and he flushed in humiliation.
It was his first excursion into love, and he realized that just because he was earnestly looking for love didn't mean that he'd find it.
Management assigned him the role of the 'chic, cool, and handsome one.' Basically, a statue. He was instructed to remain quiet but polite through interviews, to maintain his appearance for the group's image, and, should the need arise, his laughs should be hidden behind his hand like a demure, Victorian woman.
Seokjin sulked, but what else did he have to offer his group if not his face? So he nodded, teeth nibbling on his lips, and sculpted his expressions in ice.
Yoongi was the easiest to befriend. They were nearly the same age, scant months apart, and the younger was quiet; it made Seokjin's task easier. The maknaes were free to joke and play, and he desperately wanted to join in, but not with management breathing down Namjoon's neck. He knew that their leader would take the brunt of the criticism if he couldn't keep Seokjin in line, so like a good hyung, he tried to make life easier for his dongsaeng.
They had coffee often because it was the one outing that Yoongi never turned down. They sat at a corner table, the rapper with his headphones and laptop while Seokjin fiddled with his phone and external battery. The only noise from their table was the clatter of laptop keys being drowned by the ambient coffeehouse conversations.
No sane person with a healthy relationship would mistake their table as a date. A work arrangement, sure, but never a date, but Seokjin did. If there was one thing that Yoongi liked, it was being able to hear himself think and work for hours, and if there was one thing that Seokjin preferred, it was not being alone. He affectionately recalled their coffee shop outings, even if the only thing he had to show for it was a new level on Angry Birds.
Seokjin bought most of their drinks. Surprisingly, Yoongi liked sweet beverages; the more sugar ('Suga!' he once giggled as he handed the rapper his drink) the better. Seokjin once joked that it was to counteract the bitter, old man hidden inside the smaller body. Still, he ordered a caramel frappuccino for the rapper without a hint of a tease and an oolong tea for himself. Shuffling back to their table, one of his hands burned while the other froze.
It was a good metaphor for them.
Being the eldest (and the most reliable), they were always the ones who dealt with any 'God of Destruction' catastrophes. Seokjin joked that it was their fairytale quest, with him being Cinderella, hauling a broom and dustpan into the studio on their day off, and Yoongi as the fairy godfather. The rapper ignored the giggling, his (magical) toolbox resting on floor as he inspected the splintered table. Shards of plastic were scattered around them.
They didn't question the logistics of what happened, only knew that when Namjoon walked in, everything was fine and when he left, the table leg exploded.
Seokjin sighed, but it was flighty, fond. Yoongi asked for the duct tape, and together they reassembled their table. What management didn't know wouldn't end up in their weekly scolding.
This time, and there were many, when they finished, they ordered lamb skewers. Sitting on the floor with lips full of grease, the clock hadn't struck midnight yet.
They worked well together. Yoongi would never be the one to teach him their dances, but he sat in the corner on his laptop while Jin practiced. He never teased, never criticized, only threw a water bottle at the elder every hour as a silent and painful reminder that severe dehydration was a real fear for them.
"It's not like I'm taking ecstasy," Seokjin scoffed.
"Really, hyung? You think that anyone would suspect you of using ecstasy?"
He sniffed primly.
"I could! It's not nice to stereotype!"
"Sure, hyung. When you're dehydrated from ecstasy and not because this goddamn place doesn't have A/C, I'll let you rap on my next mix-tape," the younger scoffed.
"...Really?" Yoongi ignored the contemplative look on his hyung's face and silently thanked the stars when Namjoon burst in. He didn't know what was worse, leading Seokjin towards drugs or actually having the man rap on something associated with him.
"Hey! It's the weekly meeting of the 'We dance really badly' club," the leader chortled.
"I didn't fucking sign up for that," Yoongi groused.
Seokjin rolled his eyes.
"It was an automatic initiation. Welcome. Your club membership is the shame you wear on your sleeve when they make you dance center."
"Fuck off, hyung. At least I'm not as bad as you guys."
"Yah! Show some manners to your hyung!"
"-and the President of the club!"
"... Excuse me? Are you, Kim Namjoon, trying to say that I dance worse than you?!"
The leader's eyes darted towards Yoongi, who metaphorically glued his eyes to his laptop screen. Even more sweat dripped down the boy's neck.
"Hyung, please. I can't be the leader of two clubs!" -as if their idol group was a 'club.'
Seokjin eyed him critically.
"I'm letting you get away with this just once, Joonie."
'Just once, Joonie,' Yoongi mimicked from the side.
(He should have expected the extra four shots of espresso in his frappe, really. God, how did people drink something so bitter?)
He told himself not to be greedy, that love wasn't like the movies and that he should be grateful for not being alone anymore. He should be grateful for friends where there were only holes in his heart before.
He thought that he had a right to be hopeful this time. He started off small, changed his lock screen to Kumamon and grinned like a loon when Yoongi changed his to Super Mario. It became their inside joke, a reminder that roommates came first and that the hyung line needed to unite over the terror that was their maknae line. It was their safe word too. When either of them were at their wit's end, they flashed their lock screen, and like the Bat signal, they rescued each other.
The maknaes joked about it, but Seokjin ignored their jabs. He learned that other people's laughter shouldn't be a factor in one's relationship; he wasn't in high school anymore, and she could make her own damn lunch.
Love, his mother once told him, was simple to decipher. When you changed yourself without realizing it for the other's happiness, you were in love.
So, if Seokjin put a pinch more salt than his momma told him to or added less sesame oil to his fried rice, who was going to rat him out?
Certainly not Yoongi.
He fell in love with the rapper. They were perfect roommates, quiet and the eldest, but Yoongi loved music more than life itself and Jin couldn't compete with an idea, the abstract, so he let him go.
It hurt, but that pain was a reminder that he didn't have the resolve, or the courage, or the strength to pursue love, at least, not yet.
It was proof that his failures at love were all his own. But he was young, he told himself. He was young and naive, and he had time to perfect this. He had all the time in the world, he mother said.
All the time in the world.
He looked up at his ceiling and tried to imagine music as stars in the night sky: numerous and all-consuming. He imagined staring up into the night and composing music that touched hearts like Yoongi's did. He imagined that he had the courage that every movie heroine had.
He was alone in their room, waiting for a love that would never come, for someone who would never put him first. It was okay, he knew, because it was conceited of him to think that just because he was in love, someone would love him too.
(Some nights Seokjin wondered why he kept trying, if he'd learn his lesson one day. Some days, he wondered what it'd feel like to let go of this pipe dream.)
Jimin was different from the push-and-pull of Yoongi. His dongsaeng was always clear with him; laughed if he found Seokjin's jokes funny, but also reprimanded him if he strayed too far into the fourth dimension. There were clearer lines with Jimin, and Seokjin liked that he always knew where he stood with the dancer.
It was addictive. Jimin looked for him when they entered interviews, and even if they don't sit near each other, Jimin's eyes always found his and smiled. During fan meetings, Jimin laughed at his jokes and threw his arms over the elder's shoulders. Behind the stage, Jimin indulged in his hyung's inane chattering, being sure to nod and remain listening even as Jin's tangents reached outer space.
Jimin took good care of him, but he always took care of his dongsaengs first, like the good hyung he was. Seokjin wanted that too, but age wasn't on his side.
EatJin was their 'thing.' Jimin never turned him down, and he always asked the dancer first. Food was the ultimate builder of relationships.
Seokjin told the others it was because they refused him, but in reality he never asked them first. That, and he had an ulterior motive. Jimin never ate enough, always aiming for the 'ideal' dancer's body, and it worried him. So Seokjin always sought Jimin out first when he planned a mukbang and constantly spoon fed the younger. This way, he was positive that his dongsaeng ate at least one meal that day.
He wasn't sure if anyone else caught on, or if they were just grateful that he didn't ask them.
Jimin was their kindest member, and Jin felt bad taking advantage of that.
One night Yoongi off-handedly commented that he'd spent a lot of time with the maknae line recently, and that was true. Seokjin wasn't going to dispute his statement. He'd been trying to distance himself from the rapper, to not let himself be swept away by any lingering feelings, but he wasn't going to tell the other man that.
Instead, he told him that he'd given up trying to live up to management's caricature of him. He was going to be giggly and dorky and stay mentally young forever.
Fuck them and their two-dimensional floor plan for him.
So he hung out with the maknaes with Yoongi's blessing and learned to toe the line of being a hyung and being himself, and Jimin ameliorated that. Jimin was exactly what he needed right now.
(How foolish. He should have learned by now that just because he needed something didn't mean that he'd get it.)
Seokjin practiced, and Jimin stayed late at the studio with him. Or rather, Jimin always stayed late, but this time he spent his time trying to rearrange Seokjin's limbs into something resembling form.
It was three am, and they laughed at the creaking floorboards while they were half-delirious from sleep deprivation. They collapsed against each other, panting and exhausted, and really fucking angry at that light bulb that was about to die.
For once, he didn't feel like a complete disaster at dancing, and it was all thanks to Jimin.
Fans had ships that they preferred, and it was on 'accident' that he started looking at theirs. The maknaes dominated the lists like they did in everything else: taekook and vmin and jikook.
Seokjin looked and saw what fans saw too; there was only one option.
He took himself out of the equation.
He let Jimin go to find his own chingu.
It was a short-lived love. In all honesty, it was more of a crush than anything, and he was grateful that Ken let him down easy. Actually, all of Vixx were gentle with their honesty, and Seokjin was thankful for having great friends. (Or that his friend had great friends.)
They still skied and spent Chuseok together because that was what bros did. Yoongi snarked that they didn't do such things, and sure, Seokjin could have responded that Yoongi was a rock who barely tolerated being awake, but what he said instead was, "We're not friends, Yoongi. Remember? Our relationship is 'roommates.'"
Namjoon informed him that Yoongi didn't return to the dorms for two nights after their conversation, but he hadn't noticed; he wasn't there either.
In the end, the crush fizzled out. He loved hanging out with Ken, but they were too similar. Ken liked being a dongsaeng as much as he did, and just because Ken was a little more mature and indulged him didn't mean that he should take advantage of it. Ken was Vixx's verson of him, but less greedy and more giving. Seokjin was jealous of that, but he was also too proud to change himself. He was going to find someone who loved him for him, dammit. (Someone who didn't complain about the pink or the entitlement or the age or the silliness. Some manic pixie dream boy.)
They remained friends, and Seokjin thought that maybe he was just too blinded by the thought of love for actual love. He needed another perspective.
The fans swore that NamJin was totally a thing, so he decided to give it a try. Namjoon did stare longingly at him, but it wasn't love, not yet, he realized. For now, Namjoon leaned on him, trusted him as a hyung to be the steel in his spine. Yoongi was his second-in-command, but Seokjin was the badge on their uniforms, the glint in their eyes when they needed to assert their power.
Hyung line over maknae line, every time.
Management sat them near (if not next to) each other during interviews for the sake of their visual height. During those months after the 'Ken debacle,' Seokjin was thankful that he was placed as far from Yoongi and as close as possible to Namjoon.
He wasn't well spoken, useless at helping their leader manuever out of jams during broadcasts, but still Namjoon thanked him for being there, and if his only use was as a silent pillar, if all the support he could be was to let Namjoon absentmindedly piano his fingers up Seokjin's spine, then so be it. He was fine with that.
They stood together in the face of new choreography, their expressions concrete as they vehemently denied physical capability to move like that.
They were the wings, dammit, and if PD-nim kept giving them choreo like this (even though it did look dope) those wings were going to stay 100% grounded.
"Like a dodo bird," Seokjin stressed. Manager-hyung ignored his sass.
"I think that we can aspire to be at least a seagull," Namjoon joked back. The elder shot him a withering glare.
"Stop encouraging Jungkook's weird obsession with those things."
Namjoon lowered his head as Hoseok made a whip noise behind the two of them. Seokjin didn't turn around, but he made a mental note to 'forget' to buy Hoseok's favorite yogurt drink that week.
It was hard to balance their hyung vs leader relationship, but they tried. Unless it was something that Seokjin felt strongly about, the elder deferred to Namjoon's judgment, and in reverse, the leader always asked for Jin's opinion before convening a group meeting. They made it work.
When the members fought, an epic battle of hyungs vs maknaes vs leader, Seokjin shut down; he said his piece and powered off. Around him, the others continued yelling, but Jin was satisfied with making his point. Amidst the chaos, his fingers reached towards Namjoon and they observed the rising tempers around them. The touch grounded them, reminded them that as eldest hyung and leader, they had a duty to listen.
Yoongi never commented on their solidarity, even when the two fought, even when Seokjin refused to look at Namjoon's face as he gripped the younger's fingers. Sometimes, when Jin saw the stress on Yoongi's forehead, heard the way his voice deepened in preparation for a lashing, he reached out to hold his hand too.
The first time, the rapper jerked his hand back and glared, but Seokjin's even stare convinced him to put his hand back. Jin squeezed it gently.
Hyung line over maknae line; roommates over everyone.
They learned to let the maknaes duke it out, and when they finished, the fighting renewed with the hyung line. It was like a bracket this way. Jimin was almost always the representative for the maknaes.
The fight turned to Seokjin, Yoongi, and Hoseok, and even while they cursed and screamed, Jin never let go of Yoongi's hand, even though the other wildly gestured. No one noticed in the chaos. Sometimes, lately, Namjoon held onto that same hand, and the three of them relished that bond. Fighting was normal, but they needed to remember that brotherhood prevailed against all.
(It made Jungkook jealous, sometimes. The maknae line were incredibly close, but when they fought, it was childish. He knew that they would get over it in a few hours, but he still he stared wistfully at the hyung line. When they fought, really fought, Seokjin never stormed away, just stared with his large eyes, unblinkingly, as silence descended. The hyungs heaved with exhaustion, their lungs strained from their yelling, and in the middle of it, Seokjin reached out with his hands and tentatively touched all of the hyungs, Namjoon's leg or Yoongi's hair or Hoseok's sleeve, and they worked it out like the adults they were.)
Seokjin knew that what Namjoon felt for him could be love one day, if only the stress of being the leader wasn't weighing him down. Seokjin was searching for love, but barking up the wrong tree. He was too late; management and expectations were the wall around Namjoon's heart, and he didn't have the strength to break through.
The youngest didn't have those walls, so he thought to try again. They were fun together, but Jungkook was young and curious. He liked his one night stands and pretty girls, and Seokjin wanted to let him experiment. This was the time for the maknae to play, after all.
So he knew from the get-go that Jungkook wasn't looking for love, but he was willing to wait if the stars aligned. He was willing to wait for a lifetime if it meant that he'd find love at the end.
They ate out together. Seokjin always paid, but he didn't mind as much he complained about it. They ate at small mom-and-pop shops anyways, random ddeokbokki stands or dumpling shops, and those places were never a strain on his wallet no matter how much they ate. Platonic mini-dates, Seokjin called them because it was the sort of thing he did with Yoongi too, but there were no feelings this time around.
Seokjin started to think that emotions were what kept ruining his chances at love; he kept forcing love into a box when all it wanted was to fly away.
They went to the gym together. He thought that exercise could be their thing, like EatJin was for him and Jimin, but Jungkook was more devoted than him to gaining muscles. Seokjin just wasn't interested enough to go to the gym every day for hours on end. Like, really. He could be eating or cooking with that time.
Jungkook found another workout partner who was more amenable to sticking to a workout schedule complete with leg and arm days. Minho-sshi was also more willing to participate in hardcore activities like rock-climbing. Seokjin had absolutely no desire to hang off the side of a fake cliff/wall for love or life or liberty.
He had no delusions about his athletic abilities. If he was ever in that predicament, he'd resort to cooking and eating his members before trying to scale rocks.
Yoongi had already given him the go-ahead to eat him first.
Seokjin didn't have the heart to tell him that was plan, regardless of consent. Really. Yoongi was handy at fixing things, but absolute shit at anything physical. Seokjin would rather have Namjoon destroy the entire cliff and plummet everyone to a quick death than to deal with rock!Yoongi.
He cooked for the younger, secretly high protein meals that he knew management wouldn't approve of, but well, the maknae wanted to build muscle and Seokjin knew firsthand how irritating it was to be boxed in by 'image.' That and it was easier to make two chicken breasts than it was to make one, like, the pan obviously fit two; cooking just one for Jimin would be a waste of valuable pan space.
Jungkook always ate his chicken breast like some sort of criminal, smuggling the plate into his room or scarfing it down in the kitchen. Seokjin handed him a glass of a water and warned him that he was going to make himself sick.
They practiced archery with Jimin, and joking with them felt natural despite their age difference. He thought that he could find a home here, but every time he surrounded himself with the maknae line, they seemed more at ease with each other and were only indulging him. He felt like an intruder, a wobbly training wheel that the maknaes no longer needed (had never needed).
He wondered why the hyung line wasn't like that. Or maybe it was. Maybe it was the maknae line and the rapper line and little, old Jin in the corner. He always knew that the problem lay with him, that so many failures at love pointed to him as the flaw.
Rapper line and maknae line and little old Jin.
He wanted to ask a fortune teller to read his palm. Maybe she would tell him that he was destined for short loves, or maybe she'd tell him that he wasn't meant for love at all.
He lost hope.
So he found J-Hope.
In all honesty, Seokjin never thought of himself as intruding until he watched Hoseok's interaction with the rest of the rapper line. These three had been friends for nearly a decade, and it showed. Yoongi and Namjoon were flowers that turned to face Hobi's sun, and Seokjin could only watch in awe.
They were... natural with each other. The three holed up in the recording studio, endlessly pouring over raps and lyrics, and when Namjoon got something perfect, it was Hobi who created the guide. Later, the leader reeled in one of the vocal line to do it over, but it was always Hoseok who sang the first guide for every BTS song.
(Hoseok noticed the loneliness that clung to hyung's shadow like a speck of dust in sunlight. He noticed, and he hated it. He made an effort to spend more time with their eldest, but in-between their crazy schedules and Seokjin's increasing goofiness, Hoseok just didn't have the energy for hyung and the fans. He tried, but it exhausted him, and eventually even he had to admit defeat and sleep.)
Even though Hoseok was part of the hyung line, he was an honorary beagle/maknae line member. Seokjin stared at their energy, and it exhausted him some days because he was old and creaking, but now jealous and lonely. All he wanted was to curl up on his bed, not jump on it.
Hobi was the true 'mom' of the group. It was he who nagged the dongsaengs to clean, who trooped them into practice. Seokjin leaned his elbows on the living room table and watched their morning antics.
The fans were wrong; he wasn't capable of motherly love.
(He wasn't capable of any love at all.)
He sat by the Han River, staring at a sky that never changed. He distantly wondered if he should stop looking, that maybe, just once, love would find him instead.
He gathered his resolve and begged management to let him act. They were reluctant- 'But it's what I'm going to university for!'- but eventually they found him a small role in a web drama.
He didn't dare jinx the opportunity by telling anyone.
The script was decent. Seokjin didn't have a working frame of reference, but the plot held his interest and he hadn't cringed at any of the characters yet. Along the way, he realized that this script was his chance at love.
He wasn't this 'Lee Hongbin,' but that character was going to be a part of him, soon. Lee Hongbin was going to be as much a part of his psyche as sleepy!Jin or hungry!Jin. At least, for the next few weeks. So, sure, Seokjin couldn't find love for himself, but Lee Hongbin had all of his life written out already: the coincidental run-ins, the cheesy lines, and the characteristics that his love interest desired. Lee Hongbin had a 100% chance at love, and even Kim Seokjin couldn't screw that up.
So he threw away Kim Seokjin, embraced Lee Hongbin, and found love with a quiet cashier of a flower shop made of painted cardboard. The small viewership praised his acting and slowly he was offered little parts here and there. Cameos in web dramas who wanted the clickbait of a BTS member.
Management scheduled the appearances between BTS' normally crazy schedule. There were a couple of flops, largely due to the script or lack of social media presence, but Seokjin enjoyed those. He liked his failures in small, swallowable doses, but the most valuable lesson it taught him was that he should stop reaching and let life happen.
The members celebrated his first re-occurring role in a larger drama with barbecue, and he indulged them. Jimin babied him and fed him pieces of meat, which he snorted was only right because he was a princess. He still manned the grill because Namjoon was absolutely not allowed to be within two people's length of it, but at least he had Yoongi to help him keep all of the other members well-fed with perfectly grilled meat.
Later, he and Taehyung took possession of the couch to practice his lines, and Jungkook was a sweetheart and brought them cut fruit as a snack.
Even later than that, he and Yoongi pushed their beds together and cuddled as they watched the director's latest drama.
It was a good day, a solid 9/10 would-definitely-like-a-repeat kind of day.
They were on the final episode. Seokjin drifted off to sleep and felt Yoongi's arm wind around him, holding him close. The rapper's breath ghosted over his hair, and a whisper buzzed through his ears, low and indistinguishable.
He kept his mind purposely numb; he didn't want to hear those words.
It was months since they hung out like this, and Seokjin missed it, but he wouldn't give up his current apathy for the pain of those days again, so he pretended to sleep. He shoved his thoughts away and let darkness claim him.
He wanted to scoff. It was ironic that now that he wasn't searching, love was trying to find him. It lost its place, though, relegated to the back of the line.
Yoongi and Namjoon finished writing most of their new album, and they all crowded into the recording studio to divvy up parts and practice. He and Hobi had the fewest lines, which wasn't new. There weren't any lines for Hoseok in 'Spring Day,' though he was tasked with a majority of the backing vocals. It was a good transition for a rapper, so there were no hard feelings, but it was still shocking to see only six names scribbled in the margins.
The rapper grasped Seokjin's hand tightly behind their backs.
The eldest smiled at him. Lee Hongbin and Kim Seunghyun and all of his other characters never cared about line distributions, and they found love, so he was trying to stop caring about that too.
Jimin hung onto his back and laughed.
"Hyung! Tell us a dad joke!"
Once upon a time, Seokjin would have loved for anyone pay attention to his puns, but he was trying something new. He stopped looking for love or approval; he was willing to wait for it to come to him, and if it didn't, maybe it was because he didn't deserve it.
He giggled at Jimin's enthusiasm and changed the subject, missing the worried glance Jimin and Hobi shared. He was off in his own world again, a perfect utopia where Kim Seokjin ceased to exist.
He dreamed of a world where he found happiness.
"Those trainees danced better than Jin-hyung!" Jungkook squealed. The others laughed too because those rookies were dayum good, but Namjoon froze. He turned to scold the others but the eldest shrugged. It was understandable; he was an awkward dancer.
Instead of a visceral reaction, he continued to happily munch on his chips as the video finished. The boys were tense around him.
"Sorry, hyung," the maknae quietly apologized.
"What for? It's true?"
The room was silent. Normally, Seokjin would have stomped away in anger or pouted or made his hurt obvious. They weren't used to this Jin, who didn't mind the accidentally careless words, who felt indifferent and calm, who didn't whine or lash out childishly.
Chae Dongwook never cared for dancing anyways. (Well, until the writers wrote that into his character profile, but that was weeks after.)
Taehyung and he practiced acting together. It was fun; usually they never exclusively hung out together; there was always someone else from the maknae line to buffer them. They ran lines, and it felt comforting because the two were known as the 4D members now, but they could be mature and stoic, and they were like that with each other. In a good way, because they didn't feel obligated to be silly or smile.
"This was nice, hyung," Taehyung said shyly when they finished. "Let's do this more often?"
Jin nodded and tried to not think about how just half a year ago those words would have made warmth bloom in his chest, but now he simply agrees, packs up his things, and goes.
Half a year ago, he would have done anything to prolong his time with the other members, to snuggle into their side and never let go. Taehyung and he were both tactile people, and any amount of time spent together usually ended with snuggles and puppy videos.
Now, he was engrossed in his lines. Could he deliver them well? Would his expressions translate onto the screen?
Taehyung grabbed him around the waist and rocked him and Seokjin went with the flow, absently patting the other's arms.
The rest of the maknae line crashed into the conference room, and he smiled at their bickering. He wasn't jealous anymore; he didn't know why he was in the first place.
He detangled himself from the almost-maknae and managed to dodge before Jungkook tackled them. Amidst the chaos, he escaped, like liquid mercury through poisoned fingers.
(Or like a shooting star through an empty sky.)
He kissed Namjoon on the cheek in front of the cameras. The purple-haired man shrieked, but the members spied the blush on their leader's face.
"Shiro!" Seokjin laughed.
He did. Hate it, that was. Because it was cruel that he could finally peck Namjoon on the cheek now that he had no intention of love, now that the first thought running through his head was how to improve Song Daehwan's or Kim Hongki's love scenes. There was no recollection of how cute his dongsaeng was, or how the others cheered throughout this weird rendition of a public spin-the-bottle.
There were laughs and gagging, and through it all, only Taehyung realized that Seokjin conjured up his acting mask.
It wasn't Kim Seokjin that kissed Kim Namjoon, it was Kim Hongki.
(Kim Hongki already found his love, and Kim Seokjin stopped looking long ago.)
Taehyung grabbed his arm once filming was over, long fingers wrapped around a thin wrist.
Jin slid away with a smile, and Taehyung stared in horror.
Underneath that beautiful visage was a cracked man, like Humpty Dumpty who fell off the wall or a night sky with its constellations missing.
Seokjin escaped because he wasn't ready to face his dongsaeng; his character was still in-progress.
Taehyung let him go because that wasn't his hyung anymore.
There was a stranger lurking in Seokjin's body, pretending to be the hyung they loved.
"There's something wrong with hyung," Taehyung whispered to the group. They agreed, but no one could pinpoint what was different about him. All of the examples they witnessed could be explained by age, by the natural progression of maturity. At his core, Kim Seokjin was still the same, but on his fringes he was becoming someone else.
Taehyung tried to explain what he saw that day, that kissing Namjoon had knocked something loose in their hyung. It had been a tipping point.
Seokjin saw the signs.
The other members continuously tried to hang out with him, on coffee dates or shopping, and he recognized these behaviors. He used his upcoming drama as an excuse to decline even in the face of their aegyo.
It was better to nip love while it was small; he learned. It was better to let it die before it bloomed.
Jungkook may have been the last to notice, but he was the first one to confront him. It is he who stared at this impostor in his hyung's body and swore to find the truth. Seokjin stared up at the stars from his blanket on the Han River as the youngest asked him what he was doing.
He closed his eyes.
"I'm looking at the sky."
The sky was beautiful, he wanted to say. The night sky was calm and mysterious in all the ways he wasn't, and it was something to aspire to.
Jin turned his head.
"I'm wondering what it'll feel like to see all of the stars in the sky as music notes."
Jungkook scrunched his nose in confusion.
"Yoongi can, you know. He looks at the world and can make music that touches our fans hearts while all I can see is that stars are pretty. I can't even point out constellations," the eldest sighed.
Jungkook sat next to him.
"Uh... I can point out the North Star to you, but, hyung... is something else wrong?"
"No." No. Everything was finally right.
Just not those stars, because they still looked like dots on a black canvas.
Seokjin's eyes fluttered behind their lids, and he breathed in the crisp night air.
Jungkook was undeterred.
"You've been really busy recently."
Seokjin shrugged. He had a new part as a side character of a suspense drama, and all of his new actor friends warned him that the director was particular about his love scenes.
"We're always busy." Usually them moreso than him.
"The other members agree that you've been really distant."
Jin opened his eyes. Moonlight struck his face, a soft glow dispersed by the light pollution of the city. It felt cheap, like a staged photo shoot.
"I'm putting the group first, now."
The maknae's brow furrowed again.
"What do you mean, now? It doesn't feel like you're putting us first!"
"You're definitely first, now."
"What was first before?" Jungkook snarled. Seokjin gazed at him with calm eyes.
The air was wet from the river, and it tasted stale in his mouth.
Jungkook didn't realize how much he missed his hyung until he was face to face with this impostor.
"Hyung! Let's eat at the new kebab cart!" he crooned from the door. Jin looked up from his laptop and smiled.
"Aw, JK! Aren't you meeting Yugyeom today?"
"Oh. Um... tomorrow?" he asked. Seokjin nodded his head.
"Hyung! Skewers!" he chimed from the bedroom doorway. Jin chuckled.
"Ah, isn't today your gym day with Minho-sshi?" Jungkook faltered. It was.
"You can come with us!" Jin shook his head.
"Nah. Your new gym is too far from my campus," another smile, "Next time?"
He started to pay more attention. Hyung was pulling away and no one knew why. The other hyungs noticed as well. They floundered together.
They prepared for a lot of inevitabilities before they debuted, but management never gave them a course on what to do when your bandmate became a mind controlled stranger.
New Jin was flawless. He was graceful and serene, professional in front of the camera and patient off of it. Management was thrilled. They sent more scripts his way, delighted that he enchanted the staff and audience. Everyone commented on how 'dreamy' he was, how nice and behaved and mannered and good-looking.
'How can such a man be real!' the internet exclaimed. They dug through photos, hoping to find him smoking or drinking or fucking, but they only found his goofy pictures.
'He grew up.' They said about those. They don't look too closely, don't see what BTS does, that this wasn't Seokjin anymore.
He was different. No longer did he joke on breaks, no more MapleStory marathons or Mario Kart races. He still smiled indulgently when the maknaes woke him from slumber with their silly dancing, still participated in their pranks, but everyone who knew him before realized that there was something different. Not missing, because this Jin was full and whole and enviable, but different.
Seokjin slept in the corner of the recording studio while Yoongi produced his beats. He slumped atop boxes, swaddled in his favorite pink hoodie, and looked so warm and rumpled that the producer couldn't stop himself from reaching over. His fingers ruffled Seokjin's hair, the brown locks sliding between his digits. The light touch was enough to satisfy him.
This was the one thing he couldn't allow himself to have. Not for long, at least, and certainly not more than once.
His bandmate scrunched his nose in annoyance, and Yoongi reached out to smooth the wrinkles with his pointer finger. He was weak tonight.
The soundboard siren-called him, and he went to it, rejuvenated.
(Months later, he saw Namjoon do the same, a wistful expression in his face as the eldest slept. They were back at the dorm, the living room light still on as Jin futilely clutched a Mario Kart controller. Namjoon turned off the tv and the lights before scooping the eldest into his arms. Yoongi trailed behind as the leader gently settled their visual into bed.
Neither of them talked about the kiss Namjoon pressed against Seokjin's forehead.
Perhaps that was the harshest truth of idol life, that love was a luxury.)
He didn't know if 'love' was the most accurate term, but he was 'affectionate' with Seokjin in a completely tsundere way. This, he acknowledged.
Yoongi observed his members much like a coach observed its team. That was, essentially, what they were. He sat quietly and cataloged their expressions, took note of who fought with whom or who seemed to have a bad week. He utilized the title of 'hyung' more freely than Seokjin did, so when he asked a member what was wrong, they knew better than to bullshit him.
But he didn't have that leverage with Seokjin.
Perhaps he noticed the strangeness before everyone else. Seokjin was usually clingy and affectionate, liked to snuggle into a member's side and pout from underneath their arm. He liked to use his legs to barricade them into their seats, decrying the loss of body heat.
And then he wasn't. It wasn't a gradual thing either. Some days, with the winter chill rolling in, Jin looked like a different person, like a stranger leaning against the window, the cold summoning goosebumps on his neck. A stranger who stared at Yoongi with a question in his eyes, but not with affection and barely any recognition.
Some days, there was no recognition.
At first, he feared a disease.
Later, he realized that the truth was worse.
The forgetting was a conscious decision.
It was his gut reaction to go to Namjoon with his observations, but he couldn't, not yet. If Seokjin was stubborn, this could re-ignite the epic fight of hyung vs leader again. This wasn't (strictly) a BTS problem, so did being a hyung trump being the leader? Or, if the other members noticed, was this a team issue?
Yoongi vowed to keep his mouth shut for now, but wouldn't shy away from confrontation when he knew more.
The Jin he spoke to smiled at him with Seokjin's eyes but none of his affection. This Jin was an ice sculpture, who looked like his bandmate, same height, same smile, but there was an emptiness to his soul.
"How were your classes?" he asked. Jin gave him an exasperated sigh, perfectly timed. 1.2 seconds + an eye twitch + a wry grin.
It wasn't the first time this fake Jin gave him this song-and-dance.
"It's so boring, Yoongi-yah!" he whined. The rapper held back his fist, wanted to smash the man's face in for calling him with Jin's voice and Jin's familiarity, but with none of the Jin that mattered.
"Why don't you skip?" he continued.
"Yah! What a bad boy! Why would I do that?"
"Skip class and find yourself a lover; that's what Jungkook did." Yoongi watched as something stuttered behind those eyes, something hurt and dark and lonely. The impostor stared at him, frowny face and empty eyes.
"Aish, that brat. Was that why his grades were so low?" the man chided, and Yoongi swallowed the deflection. There was a mental fight hidden there, and Yoongi prayed that his Seokjin came out victorious.
The fake lost, his icy eyes disappearing behind a new impostor.
The new Jin was emptier than the cold one. Yoongi stared into his eyes and thought, 'black hole.' This Jin didn't reach out for him, didn't curl his fingers around the rapper's arm like the other Jin would have tried. This one stood silent, watching.
"Was that really how he found love?" this Jin asked.
Yoongi shivered. There was something dead in his voice, like someone lost and drifting in outer space.
"He was just messing around, hyung. He's just a kid."
There was something contemplative in his expression, now. Curiosity, Yoongi knew. This didn't bode well.
"I suppose that's a new method."
Every night, Seokjin returned home late and stinking of sweat and sex. At first, the maknaes teased him, but the man shrugged off their words with a playful grin. The difference in their ages was apparent. This Jin seduced easily, did the walk of shame with confidence, and had no insecurities about his skills. The others pretended to be knowledgeable, to make lewd jokes, but this Jin knew.
This Jin was a shark in the best possible way.
It made them shiver.
From his perch in the corner, Yoongi realized that this Jin was looking for something that he still hadn't found yet. This pattern would continue until he found his answers.
Namjoon preached discretion, but his words were sucked into the silent vacuum of space. That hyung was back.
It was his fault, Yoongi admitted; he was the one who pushed this version of Jin to forefront.
The thing was, though, that he wasn't sure that they could bring their Jin back.
They competed at ISAC, and during one of their breaks, Jin slept in Ken's lap. The Vixx member flicked Jungkook's knee and beckoned him closer.
"Does something seem different about him?"
'He's more popular now,' others might say. 'Stop being jealous,' they might snark. To those that didn't know him, this Jin was to be envied; it made those that knew him hesitant to speak out against this largely 'favorable' change.
But Jungkook understood.
He understood how hard it was to stare into his hyung's face and find a stranger there, to gaze up at the first star at night and wish for time to turn its hands back. All Jungkook wanted these days was to return to the mornings where Jin woke up him with a light touch for their gym dates. All he wanted was to laugh with his hyungs and see Seokjin laugh back.
This stranger frightened him, and he was relieved that Ken was as discomfited by this alien with their friend's face as he was.
So, yeah, he understood the question, but this wasn't a problem easily explained to others, because by all accounts, this was Kim Seokjin.
No amount of blood tests and fingerprints proved otherwise; they tried.
Taehyung screamed about changelings. It was a Western myth, Namjoon informed them. Faeries took away loved ones, usually babies or children, and left behind a replica who was completely contrary to the person; it was an excuse for parents to make about their unruly children.
Yoongi scolded Taehyung about bringing up the supernatural, but there had to be some truth to the myth because this wasn't the Jin they knew just months ago. This Jin was the shell of a real person, an imitation that someone dreamed up.
So Taehyung screamed about changelings and Yoongi didn't have the evidence to prove him wrong. They snarled at each other and Yoongi's fingers reached out to find air. He stared at his twitching hand and looked across the table to see Namjoon do the same. Amidst the chaos, Yoongi changed seats, put his hand on Namjoon's knee and waited for the chaos to stop.
He was afraid that he'd be left waiting for a while.
Namjoon started wearing pink: pink hair, pink shirts, pink hat, all in the name of drawing out their pink princess.
Yoongi too, thought about bringing back his pink hair, but management needed a balance of hair colors, so they refused his request. 'Personal reasons,' as he told them, was too vague of a reason.
When Namjoon's color faded, Jimin's bright pink hair outshone them all. The boy took to hanging off Seokjin's arm, flashing his hair in the other's face.
All of the members carried something pink, always hoping that it might trigger their Jin back. Sejin-hyung noticed, but didn't ask. The kids had always done things with purpose, and love was reason enough for him.
Jimin watched closely. Jjangu didn't sense anything wrong, but that didn't mean that everything was fine.
Namjoon was their lyricist. Alone in the recording studio, Yoongi finally gathered the courage to ask.
"What do you think happened to Seokjin?"
It was a loaded question.
Everything happened: popularity, acting gigs, modeling.
Nothing: singing, dancing, variety shows.
Yoongi knew that Namjoon saw details that he missed; it was why they had heart-to-hearts that they both would deny to their graves. They needed the binocular sight.
Namjoon's fingers tapped idly on his keyboard.
"Hyung's like the night sky now-" There were no windows in the room, but Yoongi imagined the scenery in his mind's eye.
"A December sky where the wind chills your bones but the stars are brighter than the snow hitting you in the face. Picturesque, but the kind of night where you snap a picture and then huddle back inside. The kind of night sky where seeing it once a season is enough."
'This is why he's the lyricist,' Yoongi thought. Namjoon was right, of course. Seokjin was just like the sky, open and emotional. Beautiful, like a clear night, and sad like rain on rooftops. Happy like sunlight streaming through the clouds and angry like a monsoon.
"He was," Yoongi sighed wistfully. Namjoon leaned his head against his palm. Stared. Gestured for him to continue.
"This Jin is like a piece of navy blue tissue paper that someone stuck to a lamp and poked holes in to imitate stars."
"A piece of wet tissue paper, with the water making creases and depth where none are, making the paper dark with mystery. A fucking lying panorama of a night sky."
"That's pretty lyrical of you too, hyung," Namjoon quipped.
"If only I could write every song about Seokjin."
"Why not?" the boy's face dimpled, "I have."
Outside, it snowed. Yoongi didn't know this for sure because, again, no windows, but in his head, it was snowing. The flakes floated, like Namjoon described, white globs hanging like lights. Some fell, melting on Seokjin's fevered cheeks and dripped down like tears.
He was a messed up fucker to have Seokjin crying in his head, but he couldn't change this. All Yoongi could do was to imagine the sun to warm the vocalist, but he failed at that, the lamp posts flickering weakly before dimming back down. He tried to make the leaves bloom, only for the skeletal remains to kowtow with snow.
God. Was his mind really this desolate?
Yoongi's eyes were closed, and it snowed in his memories, and he could only stare at a crying Seokjin.
He couldn't even keep his mind's image of Seokjin happy; he was so fucking useless.
Hoseok swore to take this secret to the grave; he lost hope, once.
Seokjin and he were the only ones awake, as tradition for Sunday mornings. The pan sizzled in the background, and like a commercial, Seokjin turned and smiled at him over his shoulder.
Hoseok stilled. No one's called him that since his rookie days; not any of the members and not even their fans. It was always 'Hoseok' or 'Hobi,' now.
It was six in the morning on the weekend (not that idols had weekends as rest days). Seokjin cooked because he felt that it was his duty, that it was the best he could offer them (as an apology for not being a good enough visual or vocal, a drunken Seokjin once told Hoseok; those words still haunted him).
'It's because none of you can cook anything other than ramen,' he said when he was sober, but they all knew that hyung was insecure. If cooking helped him feel like he was contributing to the group (and he already was, without the chores) then they would let him have that satisfaction.
It was six in the morning, and usually, hyung was a muttering mess. Hoseok knew, had known for years.
Normally by the second call, Seokjin leveled him with an unimpressed glare and a, "It's ass o'clock in the morning, Hobi-ah. Get to the point."
Jin turned again, still serenely smiling.
(Their Jin would be smiling with a threat on his lips. Would you like raw onions up your ass, darling dongsaeng?)
"Was something bothering you, Seok-ah?"
Everything. Like how you forgot that no one calls me J-Hope anymore, hyung.
Everything. Like how this Jin was pretending too hard to be what he thought Jin was like, what the media imagined him to be.
The fans called him their mother, but Seokjin hated it. Sure, he nagged, and he was the eldest, but all the members agreed that Hoseok fit the more traditional role. Hoseok was then one who comforted the maknaes, who did most of the cleaning, the laundry, and who forced everyone to eat on time, especially Jimin. Seokjin helped out with all those too, but it was his way or get your ass beat. He cooked, but it was to his tastes, no matter how many complaints of blandness filtered through his ears. He cleaned, but he'd shame you and your dirty laundry as he did it. If he was angry, he'd mix the underwear sizes so that no one except for him had a pair that fit properly.
Also, Jin cussed a storm, only marginally less than Yoongi, who was their go-to grumpy old man/rapper.
"Would you like your eggs sunny-side up or scrambled?"
Jin loved them, but if he felt like scrambled eggs, he'd just make them scrambled, and if you wanted sunny and he turned off the stove already, good fucking luck to you.
"I'll just eat whatever you're making, hyung."
'Damn right you will.'
This was nonsense.
So Hoseok sat at the table with an impostor and tested the fucker like crazy. He failed all the tests that mattered and passed all the tests that people thought mattered.
Hoseok lost hope once, and he was still trying to find it again.
He woke up to a sliver of sunlight hitting him in the face through a part in the curtains. He shuffled, tapping a rhythmless song on his chest.
He rubbed his eyes and yawned, stiff after such a long sleep.
The others stared at him, Kim Hongki and Song Daehyan and Yoon Baegi and Justin Quin.
"Are you finally awake, Kim Seokjin?" They asked. They hauled him towards a door.
"Yah, you took your sweet old time getting to the front of the line!" Daehwan scolded. Seokjin stared behind him.
Boxes littered a worn sidewalk, words like 'career' and 'military service' trampled under footprints. Hongki shrugged.
"We may have kicked some things out of line to help you out."
Baegi, with Seokjin's eyes but Joseon dynasty hair, urged him towards the exit.
"They've been waiting."
They stared at him.
It was cold. He wore a thick, white Puma jacket with hot packs stuffed into each pocket, but he was still cold. Taehyung leaned on him and he repositioned them so that he could wrap his arms around the younger and press hotpacks into his back.
He absentmindedly stroked Tae's hair when the boy woke up.
"Whha?" Tae blinked sleepily before he took note of their position. The younger jolted.
"Um...I'm sorry! I thought that you were cold and-" he was so embarrassed, and oh god, why did Baegi leave him at a time like this? His Joseon counterpart was better with words.
Taehyung grabbed his cheeks and forced their eyes to meet.
He was searching for something, and Seokjin wasn't sure of what.
Taehyung breathed out.
"Hyung, you're back," the younger whispered. Seokjin's eyes shifted. Was this a prank?
"Um... I'm pretty sure that I've been here?"
"No. You're back!" and he gets a crying armful of Tae who sobbed into his jacket and wailed loud enough to rouse the other members who came flocking.
"Um..." Seokjin looked helplessly at Namjoon who was semi-sleepwalking.
"Hyung's back!" the younger continuously exclaimed.
"... I'm pretty sure he's been here all night," Namjoon stated. The others nodded.
Taehyung scowled at them.
"Can't you see?"
They don't, but he was starting to. He thought back to the dreams he had recently, to the dark alleys and the Joseon carriages, to the flower shop and the river, and thought that maybe there was something significant to them.
He woke from a deep sleep to find Yoongi by his bed, stroking his fringe and face. It felt routine, intimate, like the rapper had done this a million times before.
He feigned unconsciousness, evening out his breathing and squinted past the laptop that illuminated his roommate's face.
Yoongi didn't look tired, but he did seem stressed. His fingers rubbed a lock of Seokjin's hair between them as the producer sighed at a beat that wasn't going well. The laptop hummed loudly, blowing hot hair into the eldest's face. Yah. He was going to get dry skin at this rate.
"Yah, Yoongichi," Seokjin called out. He intended to scold his dongsaeng, but with his voice raspy from sleep and his mind still in dreamland, the sound came out fond.
The hand that had migrated to petting his head stilled. Its counterpart gently closed the laptop.
The rapper's breath ghosted over his cheek, and Seokjin was too afraid to open his eyes fully.
The other was content to just sit around, but he was losing his patience.
"Yah, Yoongichi-" he tried again.
Hands clutched his face as Yoongi kissed him full on the mouth. There was a wetness to his cheeks that Seokjin felt like tasting, so he did.
Kim Hongki cheered.
Yoongi pulled away, and Seokjin was still sleepy and dazed and just stared at him.
"That little fucker was right; you're back."
They were reluctant to let him go to his drama rehearsal, which was just absurd.
"We just want reassurance that you'll come back," Jimin spoke up. The rest nodded.
(BTS went on air and praised Seokjin's looks and the maknaes proclaimed that he was their favorite hyung because he was, but also because as long as Kim Seokjin had more fans than Kim Hongki or Song Daehwan, there was a better chance that Kim Seokjin would be the one to stay.)
The members treated him like glass, and Seokjin slowly pieced together why. Apparently he hadn't been himself for a while now. Taehyung muttered about 'changelings,' and lined Jin's floor with salt lines that he stepped in every morning. His chopsticks were also mysteriously changed out with an iron pair, and Seokjin didn't know what that meant, and he was too busy to actually worry about it. So, he ate with iron chopsticks that were heavy as fuck but did it with a smile, and gulped down too salty food that Yoongi personally seasoned for him before every meal.
He felt that it was something he should look up, but the other members stopped him every time. Their fingers snatched his phone from his hands, as if they were afraid that if he knew, it might jog something in his memory.
"What happened?" Seokjin asked Yoongi one night when the rapper was curiously home on time. They faced each other. Jin was honestly concerned because he didn't know what happened to warrant such babying behavior from his members, and it bothered him that he may have lost time. Dramas taught him that it was a sign of 'VERY BAD THINGS TO COME.'
Yoongi gazed solemnly at his face.
"You were eclipsed."
Yoongi closed his eyes like he was in pain.
"You were eclipsed, and we were going blind looking at the sky."
Seokjin didn't understand, wouldn't even pretend to, but he responded.
"Love makes us blind."
Yoongi looked pained again.
"Was that what it was?" he muttered. Seokjin's eyes were already closing.
"Was it love that made us blind or were we blind to love?"
'Love,' Lee Hongbin thought, 'was a terrible thing.' His fiance of three years cheated on him, and season two was about climbing out of the frozen pit of despair he'd fallen into and finding a new love.
Lee Hongbin clucked sadly at the script.
Being sad and lonely wasn't really his thing, but it sounded like the perfect role for Kim Seokjin.