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Wide Awake

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“Your oldest fears are the worst ones.”
Kim Namjoon

June 2016 - KCON Paris

Their staff have schooled them so well on how to act in public that most often, their training kicks in on instinct. Seokjin finds a strange kind of solace in this fact, because in the narrow space between their private life and the time they spend on stage, he has found plenty of places to hide.

Though sometimes it hurts when the others don't come to find him.

Seokjin leans against a padded headrest in the back of the production van, an ice pack clasped against his neck. The minty scent of muscle cream tingles his nose, but it has helped to ease the pain. Sejin-nim's on the phone outside the open doors, relaying information that Seokjin can't hear and doesn't need to. The staff didn't chide him for not sleeping (they could have) and they haven't scolded him about his eating (they should have), and all the production manager had to say about Seokjin's neck injury was that he must stretch more before rehearsals. Which he would do, but they always run out of time.

Sejin angles in, phone still affixed to his ear. He says, “We're getting you a muscle relaxer. And bed rest tonight, all right? No after parties.”

Seokjin gives him a thumbs up and returns to messaging his Mom. She's concerned for him in her own unobtrusive way. Like Sejin, she recommends rest, but also soup and tea, which is her solution to every malady known to man. Unlike Sejin, she believes that dating a nice girl will help to keep him healthy.

She types, The Hahn family visited again last week. You remember them from our trip to Hal-Abeoji's during Seollal?

Cold water trickles down his elbow, but it isn't the reason for his sudden shiver.

Yes, he remembers the Hahn family. Mr. Hahn is one of his father's lifelong friends and business colleagues. The Hahns often visit during winter break with their two children. Kunwoo, the oldest, attends architectural school with Seokjin's brother. Then there's Minha, known as Minnie by Seokjin and his school friends. She's currently a sophomore at Ewha Woman's University. The four of them together endured the childhood woes of skinned knees, insect bites, and family ski holidays. So of course, Seokjin remembers Hahn Minha.

Yes. Seokjin replies. How are they?

I know you'll be busy, but Minha will spend some time with us over the summer, she writes back.

Seokjin winces at the tightness in his neck. Please tell Minnie I say hello, he types.

He knows for a fact that Minnie's been dating an arts professor for the better part of two years. He's half-Taiwanese and substantially older than she is, so Seokjin understands her need for secrecy.

Sejin appears again in the doorway. “They're ready for the final goodbye stage,” he says. “Are you up for it?”

No, Seokjin thinks. He's not up for anything beyond a warm bath and the aforementioned muscle relaxer. But he nods, painfully, that he is. He types a quick farewell to his Mom before slinking from the van.

 

 

Hoseok says, “I've never seen so much confetti in all my life.”

Yoongi fluffs a ton of it from his hair. “Yep,” he says. “It's everywhere. Ev-'ry-where.”

“Hyung,” Namjoon moans. “You're getting it on my floor.”

“And this troubles you, why?” Yoongi says. “It's a hotel. They've dealt with worse.”

For whatever reason, they've all packed into Namjoon's suite to get ready for dinner. Namjoon, fresh from the shower, is toweling his hair dry, while Jimin and Jungkook crowd each other at the mirror to retouch their make-up.

Namjoon says, “I don't want it sticking to my feet while I'm walking around.”

Yoongi and Hoseok laze together on the small sofa beside a window that overlooks the atrium of their hotel. Taehyung has wedged himself onto the window sill so that he can watch the endless procession of idols, starlets, and models in the main plaza below.

“I think it's already between my toes,” Hoseok says.

“Gross,” Yoongi says.

Hoseok stretches. “I've had worse.”

“You have not,” Yoongi says.

“You recall the river mud from that time in Bukhansan?” Hoseok says. Then he retches in a soft, rolling kind of way.

“Let's not,” Namjoon says. He pats Seokjin's knee as he rounds the table from which Seokjin's been numbly observing everyone. “How're you doing?”

“I'm okay,” he says, and it's not entirely untrue. The muscle relaxer did as promised. He feels as loose and boneless as a jellyfish. The nagging jab in his neck persists, but he doesn't seem to care.

“Do you wanna go out?” Namjoon asks.

“I shouldn't,” Seokjin says.

“Oh! Oh, look, it's Taemin,” Taehyung shouts. Jimin and Jungkook leap over Yoongi's and Hoseok's knees to smash up against the window.

Yoongi goes to the vacated mirror. Combing his fingers through his hair, he mutters, “Taehyung-ie, you are such a fanboy.”

“We should go down and meet them,” Taehyung says. “Minho-hyung is my Hwarang co-star. He is really nice.”

“Oh, Minho is my Hwarang co-star,” Jimin mimics.

“He is the nicest hyung,” Jungkook chimes in.

“Do you wanna die?” Taehyung says. He smacks at them, missing them both. Jungkook hops back, colliding with the table, bumping it and Namjoon into the wall.

“All right, all right!” Namjoon yells. “Seokjin-hyung needs to get back to his room.”

Taehyung draws up from Jimin's headlock. “You're not coming with us?”

Jimin unwraps himself from Taehyung to flounce down beside Hoseok. Jungkook promptly sprawls across their laps.

Seokjin gestures weakly at his neck.

“You want me to stay?” Taehyung asks.

Yes, he thinks. He wants nothing more than a warm, snuggly Taehyung in his bed while they drink hot tea and watch From Up On Poppy Hill. But it's their last night in Paris. There will be parties and dancing, and Taehyung's Hwarang co-star is down there. They should all be out celebrating, enjoying the vivid Parisian night and all it has to offer.

So Seokjin shakes his head. Painfully. “Sejin-nim says I need rest,” he tells Taehyung. “But you should go. Everyone would talk if you stayed behind with me.”

At least Taehyung looks miserable as he's forced to agree.

 

 

It's another half hour before Namjoon finishes his hair. By then, everyone but Taehyung and Seokjin has lost their patience and headed downstairs. They escort Seokjin to his room like he's their doddering invalid uncle, and when they reach the door, Taehyung asks, “Do you have your key?”

Seokjin hands it to him.

“Aw, Jinnie-hyung,” Taehyung pouts. “You're so out of it.”

Seokjin sighs, “Yeah.”

Namjoon waits by the door as Taehyung tucks Seokjin into bed.

The moment they're gone, Seokjin rolls onto his back. He takes out his phone and pulls up a chat window for Hahn Minha.

You will not believe what my Mom texted me today, Seokjin writes.

Several minutes lapse before Minnie responds, What is it this time? Did she send pix of my horseback riding in Spain?

You went horseback riding in Spain? Seokjin texts back.

She sends, Last month. Never again. Horses are terrifying. What did ur Mom say?

They text back and forth another ten minutes, but it's clear from the delay between responses that Minnie is busy. It's 7 a.m. in Seoul; she's probably getting ready for class. Their conversation dwindles, as it usually does, and Seokjin sets his phone aside. He tries not to think about his Mom and her designs on his childhood friend, but...

Every young person in Korea knows the drill. The progression goes as follows: Grade school, college, enlistment, engagement, marriage, career, children, and death. No one ever bucks this system, not even idols. He is a young man of a certain age, one with a single semester left at university. It's only logical that his Mom would begin to make her plans.

Seokjin wonders what his mother would say if he told her that he's already been involved in a significant relationship for two and a half years. That he's in love with a man.

She wouldn't say anything. She would die. He's sure of it.

It's dark in the room, save for splashes of halogen gold cast across the wall. He knows he should be asleep, but he's come to despise these quiet moments. The times when he's alone, rare though they are, remind him of Minyeong, and his parting words to Seokjin.

It's an old fear, a holdover from his childhood, when Seokjin was an ordinary child with nothing more interesting than a nervous tick and the trips he took with his father. In his looks, he was a late-bloomer, and though he learned to use them to his advantage, Seokjin always envied the easy intelligence his older brother possessed.

Dumb luck and good genetics landed him on the street when SM scouted him in second grade; even dumber luck found him signing on with BigHit Entertainment in his freshman year of university.

In the beginning, his average-ness didn't show so much. Not like it does now. And the gap between him and the others is widening. No matter how hard he works, no matter how hard he tries, he can never keep up.

He feels the truth of Minyeong's words like the brutal sting of a razor blade. He is destined to be left behind. At some point, his good fortune is bound to run out. At some point, this dream will end, and he will be forced to wake up and face the truth.

He falls into fitful sleep, believing that tonight might be the beginning.

 

 

Only.

Seokjin wakes to the familiar weight of Taehyung in his bed. His damp hair smells of smoke and roses.

“Slide over,” he says, his voice gruff and sleepy. Seokjin does, and Taehyung nests into the curve of his body. Seokjin piles the pillows beneath his chin to support his twinging neck.

“I was afraid you wouldn't come find me,” Seokjin whispers.

“That's silly,” Taehyung says. “Go back to sleep.”

Seokjin slurs, “I'm your elder. You go back to sleep.”

“Okay, hyung,” Taehyung says.

He curls their linked hands around his waist, and together, they finally fall asleep.