When they’d given him the tickets, Yoongi wanted to tear them up, to burn them in a furnace or else throw them back at management-- take some time off, they’d told him. Go have a good time. Corporate insisted that things would be fine without him, that after working non-stop since he’d been absorbed by the company more than five years ago, it was definitely time for Golden-Boy-Tech-Specialist Min Yoongi to take a fuckin’ break. He needed to unwind. He was getting on everyone’s nerves.
And so they’d given him the tickets for the Everworld Fantasy Park: it was the company’s latest attraction, making waves all over the world as the first of its kind, and roping in all sorts of monetary investments for South Korea from tech to tourism--the park was enormous, entirely man-made with different stages populated by the best AI, made from 3D-fibers made to mimic flesh, anatomy, all of them operating on the same mechanisms as people, only made of synthesized stuff slightly different, perfected, age-proof, weather-proof. While they had the best coders, set designers, and biologists on the team, the real allure, they’d told Yoongi, lay in the story: they had Pulitzer-prize winning Kim Seokjin writing the scripts, the backstories, laying out different archs depending on what guests chose to do, where they chose to go. It was Choose-Your-Own-Adventure on drugs: complete with costumes and props, easter eggs, vehicles, even synthesized animals, pets. You got to be the hero, the outlaw, the guy who saves everyone, or the guy who burns it all down--all without the real-world implications. You never went to jail (unless you wanted to), you never had to pay up, you could send out a distress signal and everything would pause, a rescue would be initiated. It was safe, it was fun, and the arcs were constantly being shifted, recycled, re-written so you never got bored. It was The Neverending Story incarnate.
Tickets were extremely expensive. The company was doing Yoongi a solid.
Yeah right. I was just becoming a pain in the ass. Today, Yoongi is sitting on the Everworld Fantasy Park bullet train from Seoul, a red tag pinned to his jacket (he’d tried to decrypt it and had failed; guests had immunity against gunshots, killing, experiencing life-threatening danger in the park, a luxury not extended to the hosts). The city whizzes by, a flurry of gray and blue: all hills and pale blue skies, until the train heads into the underwater tunnel. The lights go out, an automated voice--sultry, female--telling them they are now entering Park property. Everything from here on in would be covered by their passes: drinks, costumes, food, accommodations.
“Excuse me, Mr. Min,” a soft voice says to him. Yoongi looks up and sees a very pretty man dressed in a black suit. “I’m Park Jimin. I’ll be your attending host today.”
Yoongi shifts uneasily, taking in the host’s movements--smooth, life-like, not a chink in the chain--the way his nose crinkles when he smiles, the way his hair moves to the rhythm of the train, the way the smile lines appear at the corners of his eyes. “Are you--”
“--am I what, Sir?”
“A...you know. A robot?” Yoongi says, lowering his voice.
The attendant raises an eyebrow, frowns. “That doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m a licensed host for the Everworld Fantasy Park. I just graduated from training and I’m supposed to help you out. But if you’d like someone else to assist you, I can find you someone else.”
Huh. They built ego in. Interesting. “No, that’ll be fine. Sorry if that was inappropriate.”
“It’s perfectly fine, Mr. Min. I get that from a lot of people, actually--I’m from Busan and it can be difficult because my Satoori claws at my accent.” Jimin sits down opposite him, signals to one of the regular attendants--androids too?--for refreshments. “Anyway, shall we proceed?”
Yoongi shifts in his seat as another attendant pours them two vodkas--on the rocks for him, neat for Jimin.
“Alright.” He takes a sip. “Let’s proceed, then.”
Jimin smiles, takes a sip of his drink, before setting the glass down and taking out a tablet with the company emblem on it--G in a circle, Gamja Corp. “Just let me know if anything I say is wrong--and then we’ll move onto answering some questions.”
Yoongi nods. “Shoot.”
“You are Mr. Min Yoongi, Senior Tech Innovator for Gamja Corp.’s Automotives Department?”
“You were born on March 13th, you are 26 years old?”
“No history of any pre-existing medical conditions, no invasive operations within the past ten years except for the extraction of a rotten tooth three years ago, the result of an unsuccessful root canal. Are there any procedures or conditions that you’d like to add to your medical file? Heart conditions perhaps? Mental health issues? Anxiety? Depression?”
Yoongi sighs. “Well, they should already have that shit on file, shouldn’t they?”
Jimin gives him a wary smile, touches his hand in a gesture of consolation. “We all go through things, but Gamja Corp’s pretty considerate huh? I used to get really anxious too. It says here you’ve been in therapy for the past three years and that your progress has been exceptional. Dr. Song gave you clearance. If you think this is a misstep, then just--”
“--no, that’s fine. I feel stable enough.” Yoongi frowns. The last thing that he wants is for management to use this as another excuse for him to be pulled from another project. “Dr. Song was right. The past three years have been very helpful.”
Jimin nods, smiles. “Great. You know when I first got here I was really scared.”
Yoongi raises an eyebrow. “Why is that?”
Jimin shrugs. “We cater to so many high profile people. I didn’t want to fuck up and anyway, it’s kind of a double-edged sword, isn’t it? It’s kind of the job of a lifetime especially if you wanted to be an actor when you were younger. You know I met Lee Min Ho once.”
Yoongi grins. Very clever. They ask you invasive questions, rope you in with the sympathy anecdote. “Is that so?”
Jimin nods, still grinning. He clicks something on the iPad before turning the tablet over and handing it over to Yoongi.
“Just one last thing, then, Mr. Min. Please fill out the final form. We’ll be at the park soon. All of the information is confidential and you may feel more comfortable answering these questions on your own.”
Yoongi looks down at the tablet at the list of fields to fill in. Sexual orientation, traits considered attractive, pet peeves, kinks, hobbies, Danger Willingness Threshold (DWT, 1-10). He pauses before filling it in, looks up at Jimin, tries again.
“Do you know that you’re a robot? Do you know that you’re not real?”
Jimin furrows his eyebrows before smiling a small smile. “Sorry, Mr. Min. That doesn’t mean anything to me--I mean, isn’t reality relative? Aren’t we all kind of robots when we work? We have to be. Corporate life can be challenging. When I left Busan, I thought that our little town was my whole world but the Everworld Fantasy Park is awesome and I’m really blessed to be able to work here. I mean. Where else can you go to a cowboy town to get ribs for lunch and then head to a 50s diner to sip on a Vanilla milkshake when you’re shift’s over before getting a nightcap at a medieval whorehouse? Employee’s privilege though, of course. Our guests have to stick to their loops.”
Yoongi shakes his head, grinning a small, amused grin. The mind is hardwired to survive. On the tablet, he fills in his information: gay; sense of humor, enthusiasm, wit; arrogance, selfishness, invasiveness; powerplay, sub; 7. “If you say so, then.”
He hands the tablet back to Jimin, who saves his information and downs the rest of his vodka. “Shall we, then?”
The train slows to a halt as it arrives at the station.
“Go offline,” Namjoon says as he takes a seat across from Jimin in the examination room. Jimin drops his smile, his features falling into their neutral predisposition: a little bit sad, a little bit of a melancholy look to his eyes, his pouty lips lilting a little bit south of neutral. Namjoon looks down at his coding platform, reviewing strings of code: a couple of aberrations, the Labyrinth Protocol going into overdrive a couple of times. He clicks his tongue. “Why do they always try that don’t you know you’re a robot shit ?”
Next to him, Seokjin lets out a small chuckle as he looks at the tablet Jimin has handed him, reviewing the storyboard vis-a-vis Yoongi’s file. “Oh, hey. It’s Boy Genius Min Yoongi.”
“You know him?” Namjoon asks, checking Jimin’s vitals over the past twenty-four hours.
Seokjin shrugs, cross-checking Namjoon’s information with the current story loop he’s being assigned to.
“I know of him. Super smart guy. Our older brothers have some common friends. He’s been employed by Gamja Corp. for a billion years. If he has a good time here, that’ll mean we outdid ourselves.”
“Ugh,” Namjoon says, getting ready for the wipe. “Not one of those evil geniuses types? It’s always such a hassle for the people in surgery to fix all those splintered bones and the hosts come back with their code all frazzled.”
“Nah,” Seokjin says. “If anything, he’s kind of self-destructive. According to the psych file anyway. On edge but not psychotic.”
“Come online,” Namjoon says.
Light comes back into Jimin’s face as he blinks once, twice. “What can I do for you, Namjoon?”
“Just give me your analysis. Why’d you trigger the Labyrinth protocol? You feeling alright?”
Jimin grins. “Robot comments just don’t really mean anything to me. I mean, why would someone equate me to an inanimate thing? Robots include computers and phones and sometimes virtual assistants like Siri. Maybe some people just aren’t used to technology.”
“Do you feel any distress? Any lingering doubt?”
Jimin shakes his head. “I’m good.”
“Alright, then. Sleep mode please, Chim.” With that, Jimin’s eyelids flutter shut. Namjoon glances up at Seokjin.
“Do you need him for the story?”
“Yeah. I think Yoongi might like the Westworld loop. Chimmy has to play the brothel owner because they just decommissioned Taemin.”
Namjoon shakes his head. “Too bad. We had some good times with Taemin.”
Seokjin snorts. “You ever wonder if maybe we broke him?”
“Nah,” Namjoon says, clicking the Memory Wipe for Westworld Loop button and then selecting Consent Mode . “If something broke Taemin, it wasn’t a perfectly enjoyable threesome with a shitton of cuddling while he was on Consent--it was the shit the guests get up to while they’re in the loop. His last run he was the ship tech in the Space World Loop someone shot him because he wanted to see what a host’s bones look like. Who the fuck does that?”
“You thinking of overriding the protection code on the red tags?”
Namjoon laughs. “The hosts are better people than real people. They’re too good to be turned into murderers too.”
Seokjin sighs, laying Yoongi’s profile and ticket number into the loop, scheduling him for the 12:00 noon train into the west. “You know what writing fiction and winning a goddamn Pulitzer only to whore out for the big, bad corporation really hammers in?”
Seokjin clicks Initiate . The green glare from the tablet reflects off of his glasses.
“Violent delights have violent ends.”
Yoongi takes a deep breath, looks at himself one last time in the guest’s lounge mirror before heading out to the train. He gives himself a once-over: he’s chosen black riding boots that taper out to a point by the toe, the spurs on the heel gun-metal gray, along with dark bootleg jeans, a crisp, blue polo shirt, and a sunset maroon suede jacket. There was a case for guns and some weapons to choose from--Yoongi doesn’t know a thing about weapons, really, so he’d chosen the ones he liked the look of the most: a black Colt Paterson revolver with a synthetic elephant-Ivory handle slung into a black leather holster along with a set of twin daggers set in a thigh garter-held quiver.
He grins, looks at himself in the mirror, grins a little--he doesn’t look bad, looks pretty handsome, even. Like a grown-up at a Halloween party, he thinks. If only management could see me now. He furrows his eyebrows, gives his head a little shake, running his hands through his hair. He forms a gun-gesture with his thumb and forefinger, pretends to blow away run-off from a smoking gun. He rolls his eyes. Yeah right.
A bell rings through the speakers and a soft voice announces, “Calling all guests departing for the Westworld Loop on a twenty-four hour red pass, please leave your things at the lounge and head to the 125th bay fully armed and outfitted. Sensors for any outside objects which may interfere with the continuity of the plotlines will be confiscated at the entrance and returned to you upon your exit.”
Yoongi walks out of the lounge and down the escalator, headed toward the indoor station. He looks around him: everyone is dressed up according to which loop they were headed--there were gunslingers and barkeeps, ballerinas and burlesque dancers, women in Renaissance-era dresses with the gigantic petticoats, people in space-suits, people in steampunk aviator garb, there were pirates and acrobats, sailors and flapper girls, cheeks rouged and eyes sad. Yoongi walks toward his assigned train, wide-eyed and wondering how many loops there are and how many storytellers, how many coders, how many surgeons--just how much did the company funnel into this place?
He enters the train and picks a seat by the window. The warning alarm to signal the closing of the doors sounds thrice and then a calm voice with a western drawl starts to speak in English, Korean subtitles coming up on the screens which fold down from the ceiling. “Howdy, partners and welcome to the Westworld Loop, only one of the amazing story-verses at the Everworld Fantasy Park. Please sit back, enjoy your complimentary bourbon, and have a good trip. Once we pass the tunnel, feel free to roam the different carts and socialize with fellow guests. Until then, please stay seated for your safety. We are now departing from the Home Terminal.”
The train engine starts to hum, there is a whooshing sound as the doors seal shut and the train goes off, smooth as silk, swift as a river. Yoongi looks outside the window, seeing nothing but the blurring of cement, as through a tunnel, and for an instant everything goes dark--and then they’re through and bright sunlight is pouring in through the windows. Yoongi blinks in disbelief as the train’s interior has been transformed into something out of the Wild, Wild West: varnished wood and brass awning, the liquor bottles rattling against each other, the sleek, white interiors giving way to rustic wood, plush velvet upholstery. How the fuck did they do that?
And then Yoongi looks outside and his jaw drops, finally taking in the extent to which the park took its central conceit. Outside is a cliff--and then a canyon, amber and swooping and smooth, dropping off into a beautiful, golden valley. The trees are green, the sky the brightest blue that Yoongi has ever seen.
He tries to keep his awe grounded, tries to cling onto that part of him that does the tech, crunching the numbers: was it a different train, using momentum and the darkness of the tunnel to do a switch-bait? Or was it a LED laid over with textile and auditory code? Or had the modern train interface been the LED? It was certainly simpler to code it that way.
“Bourbon or Whiskey, Mr. Min?”
Yoongi looks up at a host dressed in a cowgirl outfit with Gamja Corp’s colors: black lined with red, her name tag reads Nayeon.
Everywhere, other guests are talking to each other. Yoongi overhears a couple of frat boys on vacation for spring break talking about the awesome brothel, something for everyone, every flavor available--he sees a couple in the corner arguing, the woman annoyed that the man has brought so many guns how many of them are we going to shoot this time? Yoongi swallows, suddenly anxious. What the hell has he gotten himself into?
Yoongi looks up. Nayeon smiles at him. She is slightly buck-toothed, dimples appearing in her cheeks. Why would anyone want to shoot you--just because they could?
Maybe some alcohol would do him good. “Bourbon please. And maybe some salted peanuts if you have them.”
As Nayeon walks away, Yoongi wonders how long it’ll take until they reach paradise. He presses his nose to the glass and sees a band of men on horses galloping far and away across the canyon. Behind them are a tribe of riders with spears and arrows in hand, feathered headdresses flying in the wind.
Are they guests? Hosts?
He watches as one of the tribe members nocks an arrow and sends it flying through a cowboy’s chest. The cowboy falls to the floor, his horse galloping away, his friends giving chase once again, dust kicking up in their wake. Yoongi leans back.
Hosts. The stories go on whether or not we’re here.
The train pulls into the station and Yoongi jolts awake. The steam engine cries clear, loud. Everyone gets ready to disembark. He looks down at the empty glass of bourbon by his seat, the empty bowl of peanuts, and follows the stream of passengers outside. It’s hot outside, sand creating fine, golden whirlwinds of dust as it kicks up beneath their boots. White steam billows from the train’s chimney. Yoongi looks up at the synthetic sky in awe. The clouds curl, feather in perfect simulation--LED? Green screen? Yoongi’s eyes scan the horizon. A hawk flies overhead. He looks for a tear in the fabric of reality, finds nothing.
With that, he turns around and heads into town. It’s quaint: here, a bookstore, there, the general shop with hand-drawn pictures of ice cream in the window, advertised for less than a dollar each. On the corner there is a house with an old man spitting into a spittoon as he smokes his pipe, by the post office, the Sheriff--hair shining in the sun, complexion golden, his smile easy--is giving a pep-talk to some of the town’s men, his badge gleaming where it sits on his chest.
“We’re going to find him and tie him up the minute we do, understand? Throw him in jail, goddamn. Jeon Jungkook is a dangerous man.” The Sheriff is holding up a drawing, a portrait of a young man Yoongi thinks is actually pretty good looking. Everyone here is good looking.
Yoongi crosses the street, notices the brothel sitting beside the town saloon. Of course: get drunk, go to bed. Well played, Kim Seokjin. On the stoop of the brothel, Yoongi sees a familiar face, except now instead of the black, immaculate suit, he is made up in a suede shirt that sticks to his body in the heat, top buttons open, tucked into too-tight flared pants. His belt is slung low--too low--on his hips, his eyes are done up with kohl and colored shadow. His hair is mussed slightly and a small kerchief is tied around his neck.
“Hey, pretty boy,” Jimin says to him, smiling seductively, letting his tooth snag on the plumpness of his lower lip. “I haven’t seen anyone who looks quite like you around here in awhile. Come in for a drink and I’ll give you a discount.”
Altered script, probably a memory wipe, Yoongi thinks. He smiles politely at Jimin, tipping his hat.
“Sorry. Maybe later.”
“Oh, you should be, pretty boy. You won’t find anything hotter than this in there,” Jimin says, letting his hand skim over his lips, his torso, his hips, following Yoongi with his eyes as Yoongi heads up the porch and through the saloon’s swinging doors. Jimin grins. “But have fun, whatever you do.”
The music is lively, playing an upbeat, twangy-guitar tune. Several guests are drinking at the tables, a couple of them with hosts--both male and female--on their laps. Yoongi wishes he’d taken a friend with him. Maybe all of this would be more fun. The only problem being, of course, that Yoongi doesn’t really have friends. Except Mr. Bang, but Division Chief and friend aren’t exactly synonymous.
Yoongi takes a seat at the bar, eyes still taking everything in--the saloon doors squeak as they swing open, closed, the crystal awning on the chandelier trembling as the train makes to depart again. He looks at his red tag, the number blinking 23.6 at him. Barely half an hour has gone by.
“Hey,” a low, pleasant voice says, followed by the sound of a glass hitting wood. Yoongi spins around on the bar stool and comes face-to-face with the most handsome man he’s ever seen in his life. “What’re you drinking?”
“Vodka,” Yoongi says out of instinct, taking in the way the man’s dark hair brushes over his almond-shaped eyes, the way that his polo shirt clings to his toned but strong frame, the way that he smiles at Yoongi as if to say howdy , with lips that remind Yoongi of a love heart, two dimples appearing at the corners of his mouth.
A bee buzzes near Yoongi’s ear. He swats at it but it flies away too soon.
“Fancy,” the barkeep jokes, taking one of the glass bottles and pouring him some vodka, neat. “You new here? I haven’t seen you around before, I don’t think.”
“Yeah,” Yoongi says, tipping his hat. “I’m--a guest. Min Yoongi.”
“Jung Hoseok.” The barkeep smiles again, sliding Yoongi’s glass toward him. “A guest huh? We gets lots of guests dropping by here. This is halfway between the mines and the plantations, the gangs trading for gold and the wilder tribes. Pretty safe in here but you’ve got to be careful out at the edges. None of the people in this town have a bad bone in their bodies--hell no, everyone here is as nice as if Jesus himself raised us. Some of the guests though--they aren’t very, well, polite, I guess you could say.”
“I can imagine,” Yoongi says, peering at Hoseok. Is he--? “What stuff do they get up to?”
Hoseok nods toward the window through which Jimin is escorting a couple of guests into the brothel.
“The most pleasant of them have a drink here and then go over to Chimmy’s, have a good time. Maybe get a couple of the good girls, the sweet boys. The half-bad ones come in here to start trouble--”--Hoseok pulls a shotgun out from under the bar--”which is why I’ve got good old Shooting Mickey here to protect me. The ones with a mean streak go out reaving with Jungkook, go shooting and robbing the people who live on the farmlands on the edges of town, or maybe go chasing some of the tribes. The really rotten ones are even worse than Jungkook, go off on quests of their own, torturing people in all manners of ways that I can’t even describe for the life of me. The tribes aren’t evil, you know. People say they’re wild but they get more flack for it than they deserve.”
“Yeah?” Yoongi says, a little more relaxed now as the vodka courses through him. He feels himself relax a little. “Have you ever been out there? With the tribes?”
Hoseok nods, grabs another glass and pours himself some whiskey, as if the tale is too terrible to tell sober. “I grew up at a cattle farm on the edge of town. My father was one of the Sheriff's men--well, obviously, not Taehyung, but his father. One day, a group of bandits, worse than Jungkook, men from one of the towns south of Santa Monica road, rough men, looking for food and shelter and a good lay, came up to our farm. It’s just me and my Momma because my Pa’s out with the Sheriff sorting out some altercation in town when these men come up to us with their guns and knives, asking for everything we’ve got including the cattle--I tried to get at the shotgun but I was only fourteen and one of them kicked the door in, had me wedged under their boot with nothing between me and wooden floor. They would’ve gotten everything they wanted too if one of the tribesmen hadn’t been on their trail. Shot them all dead with their arrows and spears, saved our damn lives. Of course no one believed us--except Sheriff Tae’s father.”
Yoongi finds himself absorbed in the tale, catches himself leaning across the counter. At that moment, Taehyung swings in through the doors, makes straight for the bar.
He’s even more handsome up close, Yoongi thinks: thick lashes, wide mouth, something easy in his swagger as he takes the seat beside Yoongi and leans on the bar, tilting the rim of his hat up with a long finger.
“Hey, there, Hobi. How ‘bout a bourbon for your Sheriff?” Taehyung winks.
Hoseok blushes but rolls his eyes. “Well aren’t you smug? You put Jeon Jungkook behind bars yet?”
Yoongi catches it--his eyes dart back and forth between Hoseok and Taehyung. He feels a flash of jealousy and then embarrassment. Fuck, they’re robots. Pull yourself together, Min Yoongi.
“Be patient with me, will you?” Taehyung takes his drink, drinks it in one go. “I said I’d catch him, I’ll catch him.”
“This is Yoongi by the way,” Hoseok says, putting a hand over Yoongi’s for the fraction of a second. Yoongi flinches. His hand tingles from the warmth of Hoseok’s palm. “He’s a guest. Just passing by.”
“Nice to meet you,” Taehyung says, smiling at him. “Kim Taehyung, Sheriff. Don’t worry, I know you might’ve heard talk of hooligans but we try our best to keep things saf--”
--there is the sound of the doors swinging open after being kicked, hard, and then glass shattering as gunshots ring in the air.
“Get DOWN MOTHAFUKKKKKKKASSSSSSSS!” A tall, handsome man with a smoking gun revolving on each of his pointer fingers is grinning from under a black cowboy hat. Yoongi’s mouth falls open. His heart is thundering in his chest. It’s the guy from the poster, the bandit: Jeon Jungkook.
Taehyung cocks his gun, glances back at Hoseok. “Hobi, hide under the counter. You too, Yoongi.”
Hoseok cocks his gun behind the bar, nods at Yoongi to get in behind him. Yoongi complies, running quietly behind the bar. He tries not to notice as Hoseok unconsciously grips his forearm, puts Yoongi behind him as if to shield him. Don’t worry about me, they can’t hurt the guests. Save yourself.
With that, Taehyung gets up, the spurs on his boots jangling as he walks toward Jungkook. “Well, well, well. If it isn’t Jeon Jungkook. You not had your fill yet? You wanna rob these good people of what, cards? Whores? Money? I heard you wiped out the entire town west of Santa Monica road. Spent it all on drink already?”
Jungkook lets out a loud, ringing laugh. “Oh no, Sheriff. I came here for you. I heard you put a bounty on my head and I really, really hate it when that happens. See, it sends people coming after me.”
“How about a duel, then?” Taehyung says, signaling with a freehand to one of his men who are seated behind Jungkook, rope in hand.
“Don’t be stupid, Taetae,” Hoseok mutters under his breath, his grip on Yoongi growing tighter. Again, that irrational jealousy, that strange fear. Yoongi tries to push it out of his head.
Jungkook cocks his gun, points it at Hoseok. “Maybe I’ll just take the love of your life instead.”
Everyone in the pub gasps, including some of the guests, not expecting trouble.
“Don’t you fuckin’ dare.” Taehyung cocks his gun too, walks toward Jungkook.
Jungkook fires the shot at Hoseok. Yoongi pushes him back, steps in front of him to take the bullet. It deflects--the protection code. Hoseok screams. “What the hell are you thinking? Yoongi no--”
Yoongi refuses to budge, holds Hoseok’s hands to his sides, making sure he’s covered from any other bullets Jungkook might let fly.
Taehyung sneers at Jungkook. “How dare you--”
They aim at each other, both ready to fire--and then Taehyung’s men are all over Jungkook, disarming him, tying his hands behind his back with rope. Taehyung disarms his own gun, slips it back into the holster at his hip. Jungkook struggles against the rope, looks up at Taehyung against his will as the Sheriff tilts his chin toward him.
“You ever threaten anyone I love again, I swear to god, you’ll think prison is a mercy--”
“I swear to god you’ll pay for this.” Jungkook says, spitting at Taehyung. He misses as Taehyung steps back.
“It’s five years of prison for you. Let’s go, boys. Hobi, you’ll pardon the inconvenience. I’ll make it up to you.”
Hoseok smiles a small smile. “Catching that hooligan Jungkook is enough.”
Yoongi’s heart is pounding in his chest. He doesn’t notice that Hoseok is looking at him now, head tilted slightly to the side, a curious smile playing at his lips. “What?”
Hoseok grins. “Sit down, I’ll pour you another drink. On me.”
Yoongi emerges from behind the counter, takes his old seat back. Hoseok pours him another drink, this time bourbon over ice. “Thanks.”
“That was really brave what you did,” Hoseok says, smiling at Yoongi. Yoongi’s heart thuds in his chest. He notices that there is a small mole on Hoseok’s upper lip. What a fucking detail to put in. This place is goddamn evil incarnate.
“I--it--really, they can’t hurt guests--”
Hoseok shrugs. “That doesn’t mean anything to me. Guests, townsfolk. Death comes for everyone. Not everyone can step up to it like that.”
“It’s really--” Yoongi is interrupted by Hoseok’s finger on his lip.
“--please. Let me make it up to you tonight.”
“But what about Tae--”
“--he was my first love, that’s all. But things aren’t like that between us anymore.”
Yoongi furrows his eyebrows, frowns. He’d expected a lot of things but not this. He feels desire twist in his gut like a double-edged sword: on the one hand, here it all was, plain as day. Hoseok had asked, they were both free men. He was here to have fun. Whatever happens, happens---what happens in Westworld stays in Westworld. But on the other hand, he can’t help but wonder if this is part of the story, if it was written out for him, copied off of his forms: sense of humor, enthusiasm, wit.
He looks up at Hoseok, tallying the day’s earnings, checking the alcohol catalogue. Hair falls across his face as outside, the sunset turns the sky amber, Hoseok’s skin following suit as the light let in glows gold. His eyes are the darkest brown, Yoongi sees now. He takes a deep breath, finishes off the rest of his drink.
The room is small but comfortable. The ceilings are low, the floors made of creaky, aged wood. Yoongi is sitting on the bed, boots off, his socked feet dangling short of the floor. Hoseok stands by the dresser, his vest already undone and slung over a chair, his shirt tucked out of his pants, unbuttoned to the the fourth button, his white undershirt peeking out. He’s wearing a silver chain with a pendant of a moon around his neck. He catches Yoongi’s eye in the mirror.
Yoongi nods. “Yeah. You?”
Of course he’s okay, Yoongi, you idiot. He’s a robot. You’re about to fuck a robot and you still can’t fucking unwind.
“I’m fine. A bit nervous though, not gonna lie.” Hoseok’s laughter is warm, rippling. Yoongi wants to take it home, save it for a rainy day.
Yoongi lets out a small chuckle. “Why are you nervous? Wasn’t all of this your idea? We don’t have to if you don’t want to. I mean seriously. I would’ve taken the bullet for anyone.”
Hoseok blushes a little as he makes his way onto the bed, sits down beside Yoongi. Their shoulders brush, their fingers barely touching. He leans against Yoongi’s shoulder. He smells sweet, like vanilla.
“I know. Somehow that makes you more attractive. I just--I’m not usually so bold.”
“Why’d you ask me, then? You know, I know this won’t mean anything to you--but really, I wasn’t that brave. The guy couldn’t shoot me. I know you don’t understand but there’s something about me. I can’t get hurt--”
Hoseok laughs softly brushing hair away from Yoongi’s eyes. “--everyone can get hurt, Yoongi. See that’s what gives the things we do value. I know guys like you: the strong, silent types. You all like to believe you’re invulnerable but the world has a way of chewing you up and spitting you out. Trust me. When we lost my Pa, I saw the strongest man I knew, my hero, go down in a gunfight. We fight for what we get to keep.”
Hoseok is close now, so close Yoongi can see the way his lashes feather out, the way his dimples crease at the corners of his mouth. That damned mole. “That’s not what I meant--”
“--it’s okay if you don’t want me,” Hoseok says, frowning. Something in Yoongi’s heart keens, lurches. He looks so sad. Tears start to well in Hoseok’s eyes. His lips are downturned. Yoongi thinks of an upside down v. No. No, no, no. “I understand. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry--I just thought that for a moment there we had a connect--”
“--we did,” Yoongi says, reaching out for Hoseok’s hand as he makes to get up off the bed. His hand is warm, so warm.Yoongi tugs him back down onto the bed. “I--we did. I think you’re probably one of the most handsome people that I’ve ever met.”
Hoseok blinks at him, smiling softly. “I--okay--I--wow--”
Yoongi smiles at him. Hoseok reaches out to cup Yoongi’s cheek before moving a hand to his nape, letting his fingers brush the soft hair there. Yoongi closes his eyes, releases a breath he hadn't known he’d been holding. It’s been so long. Slowly, Hoseok pulls him closer, presses their lips together in a soft kiss.
Yoongi feels Hoseok’s breath warm against his lips as they tilt their heads, Yoongi letting his lips part to let Hoseok in. He’s breathing. Hoseok’s tongue is warm in Yoongi’s mouth, slick and sweet from the liquor, as it flicks against his. Slowly, Hoseok pushes Yoongi back onto the bed. It creaks beneath their weight.
Hoseok pulls away from kissing Yoongi to bring his lips to Yoongi’s neck. Yoongi hates the way that his breath hitches, hates the way that Hoseok’s soft kisses undo him. He writhes under Hoseok’s ministrations, squirming as Hoseok peels off Yoongi’s shirt, kisses his shoulders, his collarbones, lets his lips graze Yoongi’s soft nipples until they’re taut. Yoongi moans softly, pressing Hoseok toward him, hands on his hips, squeezing his ass.
Hoseok starts to grind, letting out raspy breath as he lets Yoongi undo his belt. Yoongi pulls it out of the belt loops and tosses it onto the floor with a clatter.
“Fuck--” Hoseok whispers into Yoongi’s ear as Yoongi undoes the clasp on his pants, starts to palm him through his underwear. He grows hard against Yoongi’s hand. Flesh and blood. At that, Hoseok lets out a small, growling noise, pushes Yoongi back onto the bed and undoes the button on Yoongi’s pants, pulling his underwear along with it, tugging them off him until they’re pooled at his ankles. Yoongi kicks them off.
“Hmmm,” Hoseok says, grinning, tracing soft figure-eights along the thin skin of Yoongi’s ribs. “You’re pretty excited for someone who was so hesitant earlier.”
Yoongi smiles back, letting out a moan as Hoseok kisses the dip of his pelvis, starts to lick down the crease where his hips meet his leg. “I--it’s been a while--oh fuck--”
Hoseok holds Yoongi’s legs apart, kissing his inner thighs, leaving bruises like flowers to bloom on the soft flesh. “You okay?”
Yoongi is breathless. “Okay.”
Hoseok pumps Yoongi’s now-hard cock slowly in one hand, smiling slyly as Yoongi lifts his hips, starts to thrust into Hoseok’s grasp. He licks slowly at Yoongi’s hole, nipping at the soft flesh of his cheeks. Yoongi starts to whine, his hands gripping the sheets.
“--Yoongi,” Hoseok says the name soft, low, like a secret. His tongue draws circles around Yoongi’s soft pucker, pushing in slowly, softly, his hand still going at his cock, still driving Yoongi crazy. “You taste so good--I--you’re so beautiful--”
Yoongi closes his eyes, takes in the way that he feels in Hoseok’s grasp, the way that the bed rocks to their rhythm. I’m going to die. “Please fuck me, Hoseok. Please just.”
With that Hoseok lets off, strokes himself back to fullness before slowly guiding himself into Yoongi. It’s a little tight--so they go slow, Hoseok pushing slowly, Yoongi feeling himself relax, become at ease as Hoseok starts to set their pace. Hoseok kisses Yoongi on the mouth, each kiss sloppier than the last as they go deeper, faster, closer. Yoongi moans into Hoseok’s mouth until the first syllable of his name is forgotten, discarded, lost in the tides of pleasure--all that escapes him a soft, broken, raspy Seok--Seok--Seok.
Yoongi climaxes first, cumming hot and fast and thick into the space between them--barely anything now, Hoseok holding him so close and tender, so wanted and warm. Hoseok kisses him hard then, nipping at his lower lip until it feels swollen, on the verge of drawing blood, and then Hoseok goes fast, hard, slamming in and out of Yoongi with the urgency of a storm. He cums inside Yoongi, filling him up, moaning his name into his hair, hands hungry, holding Yoongi close.
For a while, they just lie there, in one another’s warmth. Yoongi basks in this sensation: tingling, warm, spent. He came inside me. What the fuck. He looks up at Hoseok who pulls out to get them some hot towels the innkeeper put on the dresser.
Hoseok cleans them both up, wiping the mess off his cock, off of Yoongi’s belly. He’s real. Whatever he’s made of--it’s what I’m made of. “Are you alright?”
Yoongi nods. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m good. Do you want to sleep here with me tonight?”
Hoseok smiles at him, the full thousand megawatts, and something in Yoongi’s heart takes flight: hope, maybe. “Of course. I’d love that.”
They fall asleep laughing, Yoongi telling Hoseok about his life “in his town”, about how his job had to do with making carriages and trains, developing the mechanisms, changing them so they were always up to date. Hoseok says it means nothing to him which makes Yoongi laugh at the irony of all of it which in turn makes Hoseok laugh because he likes how Yoongi smiles. Hoseok curls around Yoongi and Yoongi falls fast asleep, the too-perfect moon in the too-perfect sky shining on them through the window.
“Hobi, come back online.”
Namjoon and Seokjin sit across from a newly-cleaned, freshly clothed Hoseok in the examination room.
Hoseok’s expression and affect come back on, smiling bright. “Hello, Seokjin-hyung. Hi, Namjoon.”
Seokjin grins smugly at the exclusive use of hyung . “That’s why I love Hobi. He never lets me down.”
Namjoon rolls his eyes, goes through Hoseok’s strings of code from the most recent run. “How are you, Hobi? Report mood please.”
“I’m fine. I feel really, really happy actually. I think I’m in love.”
Namjoon looks down at the tablet, sees the Love Protocol lining up, breaking into Hoseok’s code. Ah, love. He selects the strings of code, isolates them, getting them ready for deletion. This is what Namjoon hates about Seokjin’s stories where love is involved: he always has to go and clean it up after.
“You are, are you? I mean we know that but how do you know that?” Namjoon grins, wondering what Hoseok’s going to come up with.
Seokjin rolls his eyes at Namjoon. “You think you’re being so clever.”
“Well,” Hoseok says, contemplative. “I found him handsome and I really liked talking to him. He made me laugh and he took a bullet for me. He just stood right there and took a bullet for me, I’ll never forget it.”
“Of course, he’s the Sheriff,” Seokjin says, reviewing which points of Hoseok’s default narrative had clicked into place. He’d met Taehyung, recalled their past love, as a result Jungkook had lost the bar fight, meaning everyone got to keep their money, no one died, less hosts for clean up.
“Did you protect the guests who were there with you?”
“Did they tell you they couldn’t get hurt in the bar fight?”
“Yes but it didn’t mean anything to me.”
“Good,” Namjoon says, turning to Seokjin as he stumbles on some anomalous strings of code. “Huh. Sorry--Seokjin--did the Taehyung arch reach completion?”
Seokjin rolls his eyes. “Try to keep up? Yes, he won again, our Sheriff TaeTae.”
“Hobi triggered the love protocol more than once--not as a continuum but as a unique event bracket.”
“That’s impossible,” Seokjin says, flipping back. “He’s hardwired to only fall in love with Tae. I wrote the damn thing remember? And to be honest, if I was going to fall in love with a robot, it’d probably be with Taehyung. Look at him.”
Namjoon rolls his eyes. “Maybe it’s a glitch? Maybe it just took off a few minutes too early or maybe he was riled up by the adrenaline? Who was he talking to that day? Any of the guests have a high sentimentality affect? Maybe some mental health issues? I know we put a lot of them into this loop because it’s relatively safe.”
Seokjin looks up the list of first-time guests in the loop submitted to him by Surveillance. “Ah. Well, there’s a couple of people like Park Bom, Jang Hyunseung, and Min Yoongi--they could’ve brought up some emotional topics, maybe? They all definitely could’ve been sitting by the bar.”
Namjoon nods “Increased vulnerability. That could be it.”
“Analysis, please, Hobi. Why did you trigger the Love Protocol the second time?”
Hoseok smiles, all dimples and half-crescent eyes. “He understood me.”
“He was my first love so it’s only natural although--”
Namjoon points at Seokjin. “--aha! Your fault, Story. Too much emphasis on the past! You always make that mistake.”
“Christ. No need to get pushy.” Seokjin sighs. “I’ll fix it. Can you wipe Hoseok for the Joseon Loop? I’ll put him there for a couple of runs before taking him back west. Maybe some time in the actual past will do him good? No love story for him there.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Namjoon says, frowning at his console.
“Please don’t,” Hoseok says.
They both jump. Namjoon forgot to put him on sleep mode.
“I really enjoy being in love. He was so beautiful and he really liked to laugh of course he said he was only passing through but--”
“--sleep mode please, Hobi,” Namjoon manages to croak.
Hoseok’s eyes flutter shut.
Seokjin lets out a nervous laugh. “That one’s on you, Code.”
Namjoon presses Memory Wipe For Joseon Era Loop . “Yeah, yeah.”
He and Seokjin both watch the strings of code run fast and steady as the present overtakes the past, wiping the love away. Just another day’s work.