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Tastes Like Victory

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“Give me your hand.”

Jeongguk looks up to Yoongi and obeys. He clenches his jaw, unclenches and wills the anxiety swirling in the pits of his stomach to disappear. He’s fearing tonight’s fight and he knows it’s visible, that the people and the opponent will be able to sense it from miles off and feed off on it.

Yoongi takes the hand provided to him, ripping off the tape with his teeth and beginning to wrap it around his knuckles skillfully. He extends it down to his wrist, doubling it up before letting go.

“Hyung… what if—”

“Don’t.” Yoongi cuts him off with a stern look. “We’re not going to focus on the what if’s, d’you understand me?”

Ever since Yoongi had heard that Jeongguk was up against Daehyun, he had been working Jeongguk harder than ever. They spent endless nights in the gym, training endlessly until exhaustion crawled under every bone in his body, until his muscles were protesting and he couldn’t feel his limbs. Still, Yoongi keeps pushing him.

As a nineteen-year old, Jeongguk excels in his fights but he’s still young. He still lacks the years the other boxers have on him and it’ll, inevitably, be his downfall.

Yoongi has been his trainer since day one, ever since Jeongguk had discovered the underground fighting circle. He had seen Yoongi fight in the ring, the way the man bled but still poured every ounce of power left within him to defeat the man he was up against. Jeongguk had been mesmerised.

Yoongi has taught him everything he knows. His techniques, his skills, the bruises that he carries with him and the achievements. They all stem down from his trainer and Jeongguk values Yoongi’s presence in his life beyond all.

“Where’s Taehyung?” Jeongguk forces himself to change the subject and remove the mental image of Daehyun punching his teeth in, flexing his wrapped up hands.

Yoongi grabs a water bottle sitting on the side idly, taking a sip and passing the cold content onto him. He accepts it, letting the liquid drain inside of him.

“He’s outside the warehouse, per usual.”

Jeongguk nods. He knows Taehyung’s eager to see him fight but it’s easier like this, not stepping inside of the warehouse. Once you’re in the underground circle, you’re a part of it and they’ll force you to fight. They prey off new blood, off the fear they hold towards the scene before them and all the newcomers nearly always end up in the hospital.

“C’mon,” Yoongi’s breaking the silence and drawing him out of his thoughts, holding out a hand for Jeongguk to take. “We have a few minutes till the match starts, we should get to the ring.”

Jeongguk swallows, nodding as he takes the support and stands up. He rolls his shoulders a few times, easing the tension off them and painting on his game face. The standbys, and fighters themselves, seem to admire Jeongguk. Perhaps because he’s so young and effortlessly defeating every match (not a single loss, so far) or because of the cold expression he holds when he knocks his opponents down.

He feels anxious and there’s a lump in his throat that he can’t swallow down, no matter how hard he tries. He tightens his jaw, stretching out the muscles in his arms. Jeongguk can do this. He’s worked hard enough, he’s trained mercilessly. He can do this.

They emerge from the dressing room, Yoongi leading him down the winding hallway where the crowd can be heard from a mile off.

The crowd is always rowdy. Usually intoxicated, exhilarated by their surroundings and always placing bets on the fighters. There’s pressure evident in the air, especially when money is involved in matters.

Today is no different. There’s a bigger gathering of people than usual, probably enticed by one of the most skilled fighters up against Jeongguk, the young upcoming boxer. He knows there’s hype for tonight’s fight and he wants nothing more than to deliver his best. They’re hollering, beers in their hands and cheering as soon as they catch sight of Jeongguk walking into the room.

Jeongguk is bare except his shorts, no shoes or shirts are allowed. He stopped feeling so exposed after his fourth fight.

“Kid.” Yoongi stops in his trail, turning to face him. There’s an uncertain look fixed on his face, like he’s unsure of what words to say in a moment like this. Regardless, he reaches out to cup Jeongguk’s cheek. “Make me proud, Guk.”

He feels the pressure weighing hard on his shoulders, to please the watchers, Taehyung who awaits outside, to please Yoongi.

“I will, hyung. Of course.”

Yoongi’s lips are pulled in a tight line but he nods, stepping aside and letting him resume the rest of the walk himself.

Jeongguk takes a deep breath, trying to calm the turmoil that he faces inside of him. He looks up to the ring for the first time and notices Daehyun already inside, waiting for him.

Daehyun is an undefeated man, much older in his early thirties and he’s been the biggest talk of the underground circle. He has a muscular, big built that’s intimidating to any person. 6’4, broad shoulders and a ripped body that makes him look like he spends every minute of his day in the gym, pumping steroids into him.

When their eyes meet, the crowd goes crazy. The cheers are deafening. Jeongguk, faintly, wonders whether or not people placed bets on him tonight, he doubts it.

Jeongguk ducks, entering the ring and shaking out his hands to stop them from trembling. He can do this. He was born to do this.

The referee steps into the middle, blowing a whistle that causes the entire warehouse to quieten down immediately.

“Welcome, gentlemen. Tonight, Jung Daehyun will be up against our very own, youngest fighter: Jeon Jungkook.” At this, the crowd goes wild again. There’s shouts, screams, words being spurted. The whistle is blown again to silence them before the referee continues, a sickening smirk spreading across his lips. “The rules are simple and follow, as always, the same: only fists can be used. If any other part of your body is involved in the fight, the fight will be stopped and you’ll be disqualified and prohibited from ever returning to this warehouse. If either person says stop,you stop. No external help can be used—such as another individual or weapons, only the two people in the ring with their fists. No shirts or shoes are allowed. The fight will go on for as long as it needs to.”

Jeongguk’s been hearing the rules on repeat, like a mantra, since he was fifteen and had his first fight. He remembers the words, can recite them with his eyes closed in his sleep if he needs to. He follows the rules well, can get by by obeying them.

He closes his eyes and listens anyway, only reopening them when the referee blows his whistle and the fight has officially started.

Jeongguk knows how Daehyun fights. He’s watched the man’s fights enough times to observe and take notes of his technique. It’s important to know your enemies dirty secrets. Daehyun likes to go straight in and it’s no surprise that’s how he starts, taking quick steps forward and extending his fist forward, that Jeongguk blocks.

Whereas Daehyun likes to be intense about his boxing, throwing sharp and fast punches—Jeongguk is the opposite. He allows the opposing fighter to start, he allows the other man have the first, second or even fifth punch. He waits, he uses strategy to deliver careful punches that’ll wear the other man out. He conserves his energy and comes out on top, at the end of it.

Unsurprisingly, Daehyun’s advancing forward again and this time, Jeongguk isn’t quick enough. His fists strike forward, catching him right on his jawline. Jeongguk staggers back from the force of the punch, spitting out the built up saliva in his mouth.

Daehyun may be clever, and undefeated but Jeongguk’s cleverer. He knows how to fight effectively rather than attempting to put on a show for the crowd. He rather win than display unnecessary skills.

That’s how Jeongguk throws the first punch, skillfully so. It’s a long-range punch, catching Daehyun on his eye when he least expects it. Daehyun is momentarily dazed which allows Jeongguk to punch him again, twice, thrice before he steps back and recollects his energy, allow Daehyun to reel from the quick assault.

Stay quick on your feet. Don’t waste your stamina. Throw a punch, then back off and conserve your energy. Think carefully about every fucking punch, Guk and for the love of God, don’t think about putting on a show. Just fucking win.

Yoongi’s words ring loud and clear to him, playing back on a loop continuously. He remembers every rule the older man ever taught him and he treasures it, lives by them. He can just feel Yoongi’s proud, wide grin from where he stands by the ring.

Daehyun’s furious. His calculated look has been wiped off, replaced by the anger and determination that Jeongguk recognises all too well. He’s running forward and catching Jeongguk off guard, delivering a harsh uppercut that’s he not expecting, followed by a several hard jabs.

It completely disorientates Jeongguk for a minute, blackness filling his vision as he steps back, body shaking. He can hear Yoongi yelling faintly in the background, the words directed towards him to compose himself and get his head back in the game. Daehyun’s stepping forward, seemingly looking forward to take advantage of his fallen state to continue his assault—but Jeongguk snaps his head up, moving forward and jabbing him hard enough for Daehyun to be rendered speechless.

Jeongguk groans. He’s still hazy from the spots of pain that explode within his body, tilting his head back as he recollects himself.

Daehyun looks more intent than before, lips curling in fury as he moves forward to continue punching.

The hook that he delivers to Jeongguk is carefully blocked, he returns with two jabs that causes Daehyun to fall back. As predicted by Yoongi, Daehyun’s tiring himself out. He keeps running forward to punch but not thinking out what he’s doing, or why. He’s trying to take advantage of every spare moment whereas Jeongguk’s taking a step back and allowing his stamina to stay up.

The end happens quickly.

Daehyun catches him off guard with a cross punch and Jeongguk’s countering it with a straight jab. He pours all his lasting energy into the punch, right on Daehyun’s face a few times and then Daehyun falls back. Jeongguk keeps going, though. He keeps punching, guarding his own face at the same time.

He keeps going until there’s blood spraying out of Daehyun’s nose, dripping to the floor.

The sight of blood electrifies Jeongguk. It’s a clear sign that he’s winning, that he’s ahead of the game and he has his enemy incapacitated. The violence that once used to terrify him now is his companion.

The crimson coloured thick liquid stains his own chest and even as Daehyun’s crying out for mercy, Jeongguk keeps going.

Daehyun falls to his knees, falling back, defeated by the punches and the whistle is blown.

He’s won.

Jeongguk blinks, coming back to reality as he registers his surrounding. The people are chanting his name and as he glances around, he notices Yoongi standing by the ring with a smile that's delighted, proud.

The referee steps back into the ring, holding Jeongguk’s arm up in victory.

“The winner of tonight’s fight is Jeon Jeongguk!”

The crowd act like Barbican, cheering so loud that it rings in Jeongguk’s ear but he can’t even find it within himself to complain. They’re cheering for him and it’s enough to boost his mood, if he isn’t already elevated.

The crowd starts to disperse quickly after that, edging towards the bar to order more beer and anticipate the next match in an hour. Jeongguk nods at the referee when a stash of notes, tucked carefully into an envelope, is handed to him and he climbs out of the ring, making his way back to Yoongi.

“Guk!” Yoongi calls for him, hints of pride peeking in through his tone. He immediately embraces Jeongguk, tightening his arms around him. He winces, still reeling from the punches he took from Daehyun but easily gives in. “You fucking smashed it. I knew you could it! I’m so proud!”

Jeongguk’s grinning when he gently detangles himself from Yoongi, a flush spreading across his cheeks from praise. No one words will matter to him like Yoongi’s does.

“Thanks, hyung. I couldn’t of done it without you.”

Yoongi nods—he knows it’s the truth—then he guides them back to the dressing room.

 

Once the blood is wiped off Jeongguk’s skin and he’s taken a shower, changed back to his normal attire, they leave the basement of the warehouse. They never stay around to watch the other fights, only come to do what they need to and then leave.

Yoongi’s wearing a smile that looks it can’t be wiped off, even if he tries which only aids to Jeongguk’s cheerful mood too. Winning is always a good feeling. He feels high just off the sensation, from the victory, from the envelope full of money he holds to celebrate his win tonight.

As they emerge from the murky warehouse, he spots Taehyung outside.

Upon their eyes meeting, Taehyung’s breaking out to a run to Jeongguk. He accommodates his best friend’s body, opening up his arms so Taehyung can fall into them. He picks Taehyung up, twirling him around in the air. He feels giddy and his system is heightened, every part of his body enlightened.

Taehyung’s squealing as he steps back on the ground, smiling.

“Did you win?!”

Jeongguk nods as he raises the envelope. “You fucking bet I did.”

“Fuck, yes!” Taehyung’s smiling so wide, it looks painful. He fist pumps the air, grinning back at Jeongguk. “How was it? Are you hurt?” He looks to Yoongi.” Is he hurt, because there’s a first aid kit—”

“Taehyung,” he cuts him off with a laugh. “I’m fine. Minor punches.”

“He fucked up Daehyun bad. There was blood,” Yoongi announces in a boastful tone.

“Really!” Taehyung’s eyes fill with pleasure—only he would get thrilled by the mention of blood, and it’s why Jeongguk loves him. “Fuck, yes. I wish I could’ve seen it, fuck.”

One of the most important rules of the underground fighting circle is that it is to remain a secret. It’s an illegal, secret organisation and the founders wants no one to find out about it. No recording, no pictures and absolutely no evidence of the fight is to remain whatsoever.

Taehyung’s never seen Jeongguk in action. He’s seen him during trainings, when he hits the pads that Yoongi holds up or when he works on the punching bag. But it’s only a glimpse of what Jeongguk’s like in the match, in his element.

“One day,” Jeongguk promises him, anyway. He throws an arm around Taehyung’s shoulder, bringing him closer. “One day.”

Taehyung leans into the touch, eyes lighting up.

“C’mon. We’re not going home.”

He raises a brow, letting out a laugh. “No? We’re not? Where are we going?”

“I’ve got a surprise for you,” Taehyung drawls as they walk towards the car in each other’s arms, a smirk spreading across his lips. “It starts at the bar, and ends at the strip club.”

**

The grasp on his hip is too tight, bordering onto painful.

Jimin knows, come tomorrow, there’ll be marks left there. It’ll be an ugly, furious dark purple that’ll be hard to cover up even with his expensive makeup. He knows tomorrow, he’ll be left with physical reminders of tonight and it’s enough to make him feel sick.

Usually, Jimin’s policy is no marks. Whatsoever. He doesn’t like to look at the marks the next morning, he despises being reminded of how he chooses to fund for himself out of helplessness. He prefers his night work to remain hidden, only to be revealed for the dark sky and the moon yet, sometimes, there’s a lingering presence and it’s coming up more often than not because his clients think he’s vulnerable, too weak to fight back.

On any other occasion, Jimin would voice his concerns. He’d be up and off the client immediately, scolding them for breaking the rules which would normally result in a physical altercation and more bruises. But tonight, he can’t afford to do that. Tonight, he needs the money.

He’s tired of Hoseok tolerating his excuses, giving him extended deadlines for the rent payments. He’s tired of Namjoon’s gentle, sympathetic gazes when they let him off for another late payment and contribute by putting more money to cover Jimin’s half.

Tonight, he’s going to bring back the right amount.

So, he sucks it up. He breathes through the sharp pain when the man thrusts into him, barely prepped and shuts his eyes tightly when the fingernails dig harder into his hips, hard enough to draw blood.

It’s been four months since Jimin went seeking out a job at the strip club in Itaewon. It had been a day of desperation. When the men had approached him the alleyway, holding him up against the wall and spitting the words on his face. Are you Park’s son? You owe us. Jimin curses his father’s addiction to gambling, which he repays for every single day. That, aided with his university fees, his bills and the rent. The need for money, fast, had led him to the club. It had been a last resort.

The club is owned by the same men who want Jimin’s father dead, the same men that he owes millions of won to. It’s no doubt that Jimin isn’t protected by the manager, by the workers here. If anything, they want Jimin to suffer for repayment.

He understands the job well. You smile at a man, you talk with them and utter a few sultry, flirty words and they’ll pay up. They’re weak and Jimin uses them like prey. Some are exceptions and they pay extra, enough for the private room where the sex ensues.

The man is rough with Jimin and it’s clear he’s drawing closer to his orgasm, if his jagged breathing and his erratic thrusting is any indicator. Jimin can’t help but feel the sense of relief rush through him. It’s nearly over.

He pours every ounce of arousal to his own cock, willing it to stir and come alive. He closes his eyes and imagines he’s elsewhere, getting fucked by someone else that is gentle with his skin and press kisses down his spine.

“You like that, you dirty fucking whore?” The man all but spits at him, fingers tangling in Jimin’s dirty blonde hair and wretching his head up.

Jimin lets out a cry at the sudden, unexpected sensation that forces his neck to stretch in an uncomfortable position. He squeezes his eyes harder, breathing through the sting on his scalp when he realises the man is waiting for an answer.

“Y-yeah. I do.” He forces through clenched teeth, voice stuttering because of the angle his throat forced at.

“So fucking tight, whore. I’m about to come, fuck—”

The man pulls out just in time and pulls the condom off, coming all over Jimin’s backside.

He grimaces but he knows it’s time for him to orgasm too, reaching down to stroke himself a few times, hard and fast before he’s coming over the table. The man finally lets go of Jimin’s hair and takes a step back, allowing Jimin to fall into the unforgiving, hard surface of the table. He lays there, letting his breath resume back to normal.

“I’m not gay.” Is the first thing the man says.

Jimin resists the urge to scoff. There’s bitterness curling up inside of him, dwelling in every organ in his body but he pushes it down. It’s none of his business.

“Yeah, okay, darling,” Jimin drawls in the same sultry tone, composing himself as he stands up. His back aches but he ignores the protesting muscles, retrieving a tissue to wipe away the remnants of the sticky substance on his body. He doesn’t allow his eyes to wander to the bruises. “If you say so.”

The man is barely sparing him another glance as he moves around the room fast, picking up his strewn clothing. He grabs his wallet, holding out the money to Jimin.

Jimin takes it off him hesitantly, counting the notes. It’s barely five thousand won.

“Are you kidding me?” He’s spluttering out before he can stop himself, anger resurfacing as he clutches onto the money. “That's it?”

It’s an insult. Jimin’s not cut out for this. He isn’t made to do this.

The man shrugs. “I’m paying what you deserve,” he says mildly, disinterested. His eyes are blank and the previous heat has faded, along with his enthusiasm. “Take it up with your boss if it’s such a problem, darling.”

With that, the man’s exiting the private room and leaving Jimin alone with bruises he didn’t ask for and money that isn’t enough, still.

Jimin curses under his breath as he stuffs the notes into the waistband of his shorts, keeping it concealed as he leaves the room. His shift is nowhere finished so he hopes he can manage to get a few more thousands, just enough to fulfill the rent but he strongly doubts it now.

 

When he steps out to the club, fresh bruises painting his skin, he notices the bustle has increased. There’s more people, more drunk than when he left and he feels nerves itching under his skin.

The strip club isn’t a pleasant place. There’s men crowded all over the place, thick cigars between their teeth and there’s always a heavy, musky scent of alcohol that’s almost overbearing. The light in the club is dull, making it almost difficult to navigate around.

He steps back onto the platform, walking down the podium to scan across for potential customers that’ll be willing to pay for him. He feels exhausted and he wants nothing more than to crawl home, into the comfort of his bed but he’s not finished tonight. Not until he gets the right amount he needs.

“There’s someone asking for you.” Jaesun instructs him.

Jimin looks up to where his manager stands, at the end of the podium. He’s smoking, eyes hooded with lust as he scans over Jimin’s body. It’s sickening how he grins when he sees the marks, the scars left by the previous client—like it’s an achievement. Jimin realises it is. Jaesun wants Jimin to hurt.

“Oh,” Jimin fixes the shorts, attempting to pull the material down unsuccessfully for how tight it sticks to his body. “Who?”

“I don’t know. Some kids. Looks like some type of party,” he takes a step forward, releasing the cigarette between his mouth and beckoning Jimin down to level him. Jaesun blows the smoke out on his face, smirking. “Go on, dance for them, sweetheart.”

Jaesun points out a small crowd of men—no more than five people—sitting in the fair corner of the club. They seem to be trying to remain discrete, hidden by the low lights but they’re intoxicated, that much is clear. Jimin analyses each person until his eyes meet Taehyung. Someone he recognises, knows all too well from university.

Jimin’s eyes widen as he instinctively takes a step back, as if to hide himself. So far, no one except Namjoon and Hoseok knows about his stripping and he wants to keep it that way. He doesn’t want anyone, especially not someone from university who he shares classes with.

“J-Jaesun, sir—” Jimin stutters. “I-I can’t…”

“You can’t, what?” He spits.

“I know that boy. I can’t, I can’t—”

“Your job is to go where you’re asked to go, dance when you’re asked to dance,” he sounds angered, eyes narrowing dangerously. “Don’t fucking fight me on it, go to the group of boys and give them a fucking show that they came for. Go!”

There’s obviously no backing out of it. Jimin tries to come out with other ways to back out of the dance, asking someone else to take over but he remembers that the group of boys have specifically requested for him. Taehyung knows Jimin works here.

Jaesun leaves no room for arguments, eyes burning holes into Jimin. He takes a deep breath and nods obediently, stepping off the podium and smoothing out the material of his shorts before he makes his way over to the couch where the boys sit.

Jaesun slaps his ass harshly before he leaves and Jimin has to bite his lip to resist the protests that sit heavy on his tongue, forcing himself to look straight rather than curse the man under his breath.

Jimin knows he gets attention. He’ll never get used to it but he’s grown to anticipate it. He can feel gazes on him as he walks towards Taehyung and his group of friends, smiling prettily.

“Hey, boys,” he announces his arrival, narrowly avoiding Taehyung’s eyes.

Of course, Taehyung doesn’t allow it to be that way. His eyes light up upon seeing Jimin, mouth falling open in surprise.

“Jimin-ah! You really work here?” He asks, or shouts, over the volume of the music that vibrates through the entire club. “I can’t believe this!”

His friend that sits besides him looks over too, interest tingling in his eyes.

His friend is really, really attractive. That much is clear. The man sits on the couch relaxed, legs spread open to ensue a natural, dominant stance. He has immaculate features—wide brown eyes, plump pink lips and a sharp jawline. His figure is toned and it’s clear he works hard for it, thick thighs and tiny waist that makes his body heavenly.

The man’s eyes scan over Jimin’s body and then back at his eyes, licking his lips.

Jimin feels a spark tingle inside of him at his heavy gaze, something stirring in the pits of his stomach as he forces a smile across his face.

“I do.” He grits out.

The man turns to Taehyung, raising a brow. “Who is he?” He asks, like Jimin isn’t standing right before them.

Taehyung, the touchy man that he is and knows no boundaries about personal space, reaches forward to grasp Jimin’s hand and tugs him forward like he weighs nothing.

“Jimin! He attends my university, we share the same classes. We’re friends! Yah, I can’t believe you work here!”

Jimin’s cheeks flush and he’s grateful for the darkness in the club, concealing the redness on his cheeks. He gently, but firmly, snatches his hand back and looks to Taehyung.

“Small world,” he says. “Nice to see you here. What brings you here today?”

Taehyung does all the talking, grinning as he speaks.

“My friend here, Jeongguk, he won an important match tonight! We’re celebrating and I paid for a dance, from you. I didn’t realise you were the Jimin, from university but well! It works out well!”

Jimin nods. “Ah. Okay.”

The man, Jeongguk, is insanely attractive. There’s something about him that’s piercing, demands attention from everyone in the room. His eyes darken as he glance up to Jimin again, stretching out his legs some more and pats his lap.

“Go on, then.”

Well, then.

Jimin has to blink at the confidence that Jeongguk oozes of, a sure smile sprawled across his lips that resemble more as a smirk.

Jimin has a job to do, that he does really well and he gets to work immediately. The music volume increases and the entire club continues as normal but for Jimin, no one exists in the room besides himself and Jeongguk in the moment.

“Jeongguk,” Jimin’s voice drawls as he whispers the name under his breath, only for Jeongguk to hear. He takes a step closer, letting a single finger wander over Jeongguk’s thighs. “Celebrating a big win then, are we?”

Jeongguk tilts his head to the side, blinking languidly like he’s trying to take in every inch of his body.

“I am.”

“Mmmm. What big win, darling?”

Jeongguk let's out a small laugh under his breath, looking over to Taehyung and rolling his eyes like he’s sharing an inside joke with him before his dark eyes resume back to Jimin.

“Defeated someone, in a big fight. I’m a boxer, you see?”

“Boxer…” Jimin repeats, raising a brow as he slowly climbs into Jeongguk’s lap and straddles him. “Yeah, you look like a boxer.”

Jimin raises his arms to wrap around Jeongguk’s neck, situating himself and getting comfortable. Jeongguk is warm and his lap is pleasant, helping to relax the first of the nerves that turn inside of Jimin. He closes his eyes, rolling his body in time to the beat of the music over Jeongguk’s crotch and letting out a breathy moan.

“How well can you fight? Mmm. I can see your muscles.”

Jeongguk’s laughing again—like this is all a big joke to him, and it probably is—as he flexes his arm, showing off his biceps.

“Very well.”

Jimin hums in approval as he’s doing another hip roll, grinding down on Jeongguk and at the same time, swaying his body. He lets his body loose. He knows he can do magic with his moves. He can mesmerise men and make them fall to their knees, for him. He holds the power over them, through his sexuality.

Jimin runs a finger down Jeongguk’s chest, feeling the ripped abs under the thin black t-shirt he wears. He moans again, throwing his head back and grinding down harder. Jimin keeps strong eye contact on Jeongguk, observing every flick of his eyes as he scans down Jimin’s body.

Jimin gulps, feeling both aroused and sure of himself even if he feels a tiny bit intimidated. It’s not likely he feels anything but resentment when he’s working his shifts and it encourages him to follow through with the dance.

Under the dull light, Jimin knows he looks sexy. Jeongguk’s intense, heavy gaze and his blissed expression is enough indicator.

Before Jimin realises, Jeongguk’s reaching out to touch him but Jimin tuts and backs out of his lap.

“No touching, darling,” Jimin scolds him lightly, pushing the man back with a firm finger on his chest so he hits the back of the couch. “Just sit there, and enjoy,” then he leans in, his mouth brushing over Jeongguk’s ear. “Or you can pay extra and we can go to the private room.”

Jeongguk seems to contemplate the offer but seems to not take it up, his hand falling limp to his side and lets Jimin resume.

Jimin turns around so his back is in view, backing up into Jeongguk’s lap again and sitting down. He bends over, knowing his ass looks glorious in his shorts and in direct view as he shakes his hips, grinding down.

Jeongguk releases out a low sound, something that resembles close to a moan and it encourages Jimin to whimper himself. He looks over his shoulder, back to Jeongguk—noticing the hungry eyes staring back at him.

“You like that?” Jimin whispers, loud enough for only them to hear. “You getting hard yet, baby?”

Jeongguk scoffs. “You wish, darling, you’re boring me.”

Jimin raises a brow at the blatant lie. Jeongguk’s breathing is accelerated and he can hear it, the pounding of his heart even over the heavy bass of the music. But he takes the comment into stride, doubling his efforts.

“I am, huh?” Jimin giggles, a sound he had to practice. “Just gotta work harder then, don’t I?”

Taehyung’s reaching over, gently slipping in a wad of notes into his shorts and the first song finishes. Jimin checks that he’s been paid for two songs so he changes up his movements, getting off Jeongguk’s lap and standing before him as he sways his body in tune to the music.

“This is torture,” Jeongguk laughs.

“You wanna touch?” Jimin asks, biting his lip as he leans into him.

He laughs again, shaking his head as he looks away. “You’re not that special, peaches.”

Peaches. It’s not a pet name Jimin’s been called before and he decides he likes it, he only wants Jeongguk to call him that.

The second song is over too quickly and Jimin pauses, doing one last body roll against Jeongguk’s body before he’s extracting himself. It’s a shame that Jeongguk, or Taehyung on his behalf, aren’t paying up for the private room because there’s no doubt he wouldn’t mind initiating something more with Jeongguk.

“You liked that, baby?” Jimin asks.

Jeongguk rolls his eyes as he runs a hand down his jeans, smoothing out the material. He looks flushed but trying to ignore the obvious.

“Sure. You want a drink? Least I can do for a hooker.”

Jimin halts. He reels from the way Jeongguk throws that word in his face, like it’s disgusting. Jimin supposes it is. He doesn’t like being a stripper, he doesn’t like dancing for money—especially not when it’s out of his hands, practically forced to do so to pay back his father’s debts. But it still stings. It hurts the way Jeongguk says it, the way the word causes his lips to curl downwards.

Jimin’s not usually allowed to accept drinks off his clients but even then, he wouldn’t want to.

Jimin lets out a bitter laugh, shaking his head.

“This stripper gave you a fucking hard-on, in front of countless people, in a club. So, watch your mouth. Keep your fucking drink.”

And with that, Jimin’s walking away as he hears Taehyung hollering at the remark he threw back in Jeongguk’s face.

**

“Who’s that?”

Jimin snaps out of his trance. He looks up to see Namjoon standing by the door, leaning against the wall with interest tingling in his eyes. He smiles at the sight of his best friend, lowering the paintbrush that he’s been holding for three hours straight. His fingers ache with the need to stretch. His back burns from being hunched over his canvas all day.

It’s evening now, dusk falling upon them as his room darkens and his stomach rumbles from the lack of food.

This happens every so often. It either happens when a project is due and Jimin hasn’t started it, forcing him to exert every minute of his day to his work so he can scrape by a grade. Or, it happens when he’s hit with a sudden surge of inspiration.

Last night, dancing for Jeongguk, had been an experience.

It’s not often that Jimin remembers the clients he works for, the men he dances for. They’re all the same. Old married men, claiming they’re in fact straight but entertaining the idea of young twinks shaking their ass for them. Every night, Jimin forces himself to push the memories of the lapdances, of the fucks in the private room to one side of his brain where he can’t access them.

Yet, with Jeongguk—he wants to remember.

He wants to remember how attractive the man was with his piercing dark eyes and his alluring aura, wants to remember how good he smelt, musky yet a whiff of something sweet, the perfect balance.

It’s a shame that Jeongguk ended up disappointing him in the end.

It still, however, didn’t stop the surge of inspiration that hit Jimin. As soon as he woke up, he had pulled out his blank, unused canvas and his acrylic paints and started to work on his new piece. It’s hard when he has no reference to go by, no picture to look back at as he paints. But every time he closes his eyes, he remembers Jeongguk’s blissed out expression and he can easily continue.

“Hi, Joon,” Jimin mumbles, rubbing his eyes and smearing paint over his cheekbones. “This is… someone, no one. A client.”

Namjoon hums, raising his brow in interest as he steps into the room and sits down on the bed.

Jimin puts his paintbrush down, crossing his leg and angling away from the canvas to give Namjoon his undivided attention, smiling.

“He’s pretty.”

Jimin glances back at the painting. It’s not nearly finished, he’s barely started but the eyes are coming together and the sharp, prominent features are clear.

“Mmm. He is, isn’t he?” Jimin agrees. “I gave him a dance yesterday.”

“Ohhhh. What was that like?”

“Interesting,” he answers truthfully. “He was an asshole, though. So.”

Namjoon’s lips curl downwards, fists clenching. “Did he hurt you?”

Jimin shakes his head. “No, no. Nothing like that. Just with his words, y’know?”

He conveniently leaves out the part where the man before Jeongguk, the one from the private room, had scattered bruises all over his pale skins. He feels them even now, as he sits but he pushes away the wince, all too accustomed to the pain.

Namjoon sighs as he leans in, gently touching Jimin’s shoulder.

“I wish your father would just fucking die already,” he lets out a heavy sigh, eyes tortured as he squeezes them shut. “You don’t have to worry so hard about paying the rent. Hoseok and I, we’re your hyungs and we’re going to take care of you. Just focus on getting rid of that man’s debts, so you can stop this.”

“I know, Joon hyung,” he says quietly. “But I feel bad. You let me move in here, the least I can do is pay the rent.”

“You do, Jimin-ah. Without fail, you bring money to the table every month and that’s still something.”

Jimin heaves a heavy breath at his words. He knows, deep down, that they’re sincere and there’s honesty with every syllable. But it’s hard to be okay with that, it’s hard to accept that they’re okay with not bringing the sufficient amount of money required. Jimin’s working his ass off everyday—there’s literally bruises to prove it—and he’s trying his hardest to cover all aspects, his rent, his tuition fees and the debt.

“Thank you.” Jimin smiles, effectively ending the conversation about money. “I couldn’t ask for better brothers, really. Thank you.”

Namjoon looks like he wants to argue some more but he decides against it.

“Finish your painting. I’ll call you when dinner's ready.”

Namjoon leaves the door slightly ajar so Hoseok’s music can be heard lightly from the living room. Jimin smiles, turning his attention back to his canvas. Jeongguk is a masterpiece and he wants to continue painting. He picks up his brush, dipping it in the peach colour and starts working on his cheekbones, bringing him to life.

**

Jimin walks through campus, headphones in full volume and his art folder containing his unfinished Jeongguk painting that he aims to complete today. He’s making his way to the art building, to find an empty room where he can unwind down before his next shift tonight. Painting always relaxes him.

Blackbear’s music is mellow but angsty and he walks in time to the beat, closing his eyes as he embraces the cold air of Seoul today.

He’s drawn out of his thoughts when he feels a hand on his shoulder. Jimin instinctively nudges the hand away, drawing himself back and swirling around, ready to attack but softening immediately upon noticing Taehyung standing before him. He feels a wave of nerves overcome him, the first time he’s seen Taehyung since the strip club as he takes his headphones out.

“You fucking scared me,” he mutters, pausing his music.

Taehyung only grins, though. Looking pleased with himself. He has no idea how much Jimin despises how people creep up behind him, how it reminds him of always having to look over his shoulders because of his father’s dirty and dangerous habits. How Jimin has always taken the fall for them and the amount of times he’s been dragged into a corner, used and abused.

Taehyung’s smile only helps him smile, too, though. He turns the art folder over to conceal the painting, not wanting to reveal the fact that he’s creating Jeongguk on canvas.

“Good afternoon,” Taehyung greets, bowing a little. “How are you?”

“I’m okay, thanks. Yourself?”

“I’m great! I just wanted to say, thank you for the dance. I really, really didn’t know it was you when I chose you for the dance but. Um, you were great, so.”

Jimin flushes a little as he runs a hand through his blonde hair, pushing it off his face. Taehyung knows his dirty little secret, how he looks when he’s strutting around a dim, illegal club full of drugs and alcohol and needy men in nothing but skimpy shorts—and he doesn’t seem to care.

“It’s my job,” Jimin shrugs. He lifts the backpack higher on his shoulder, continuing to walk but gesturing Taehyung to follow. “The pay was good, though. So, thanks.”

Taehyung shrugs. “Of course. I’d tip well, you’re my friend.”

He and Taehyung have been friends, somewhat, for a year now. Taehyung had slid into the spare seat next to him during a lecture, picking out a box of chocolates and offering some to Jimin, acting like they’re long lost friends and talking to him like they’re related. Taehyung is easy to befriend and easier to talk to, good company for boring lectures that stretch on for hours.

Jimin’s grateful to have met him. The past year university has been overbearing and hard but with Taehyung by his side, it’s felt significantly easier. Less burden on his shoulders.

Taehyung doesn’t seem to be treating him any different, not even after learning about his secret. There’s no judgemental looks, no presumptions and no sly, curious comments. Just genuine respect.

“Well, thank you.”

“I didn’t realise you worked there but it’s cool. You dance well.”

Jimin laughs at the compliment which would usually irk him but only pleases him from Taehyung.

“Thank you, Taehyung. I searched up Jeongguks’s name on Google, he’s a boxer, right? But I couldn’t find any information.”

That causes Taehyung to stop in his path, looking over to Jimin. “He told you he’s a boxer?”

Jimin stops too, confusion clouding his expression. Did he say something wrong? Judging by Taehyung’s face, he feels like he has. He tightens the hold over his folder.

“Uh… yeah?”

Taehyung sighs. “He’s such an idiot,” he mutters, running a hand through his hair. “I trust you, so I’ll tell you. But don’t tell anyone. He’s not a boxer, boxer. He’s an underground fighter, y’know?”

Jimin blinks. “No, I don’t.”

He laughs before he continues. “It’s an illegal organisation of men who want to blow off some steam, vent out their problems with their fists. It’s in a basement of this old, abandoned warehouse and Jeongguk’s been fighting there since he was fifteen. He had an important fight, and won, hence why he had gone to the strip clubs to celebrate. There’s no laws, regulations put in place for the boxers, hence why it’s illegal. But, yeah. It’s always a victory with Guk.”

Jimin allows the words to process, eyes widening a little. He understands now. There’s something about Jeongguk that screams authority, just by the way he sits and talks. He seems to have everyone wrapped around his finger.

“Ah..” Jimin hums as he nods. “I understand. That’s interesting.” He can’t seem to remove images of Jeongguk fighting from his mind, how he’d look in his element. He licks his lips. “Well, his secret is safe with me.”

A burst of new muse explodes within him. He’s riddled with new ideas, now. He wants to paint Jeongguk again, more. He wants to paint the man in his boxing gear, with his gloves on and sweat pouring down his forehead. There’s no doubt in his mind that it’s a wonderful sight and a part of him yearns to see it.

They come to a stop outside the art building. Jimin withdraws his university ID, tapping it on the barriers to grant him access.

“Wanna come in?” Jimin offers.

Taehyung shakes his head politely. He gestures to the library behind him. “M’alright, thanks. I gotta run and finish off my essay but um, Jimin.” A smile sprawls across his face. “Just know, you’re fucking hot when you dance.”

Jimin flushes and he can’t wipe the smile off his face as Taehyung waves, walking off in the opposite direction.

**

Jimin walks in for his seven hour shift and as soon as he’s through the door, he feels the first wave of nerves crawl through his throat. He takes a deep breath, keeping his gaze diverted downwards as he shifts through the drunken bodies to make his way to the back. In his dressing room, at least, he’ll be alone to unwind down before he starts his shift.

His heart beat is already racing. It’s happens every time. The club has the ability to make him feel weak to his knees, fearful of every man that looks his way even if he has the power over them with his body. He knows, in the end, that he’s young, vulnerable and attractive and the older men can take advantage of him.

The club smells of cigars, the smoke thick and hazy around the air and Jimin coughs as he pushes the staff door and walks in.

It already feels like a long night. His bones are already aching with fatigue and the first minute of his seven hours hasn’t even started.

Jimin clocks into the system, pressing down his thumb on the reader so his time is counted. He internally sighs as he avoids people’s looks lingering on him, walking into his dressing room. He pulls out his shorts from his bag, wrinkling his nose at the sight of the material that makes him feel sick.

“There’s a client for you.”

Jimin looks over his shoulders when he’s directly addressed to, narrowing his eyes at his manager. Jaesun leans against one of the tables, a blunt between his teeth and the smell of the marijuana nearly makes Jimin choke. Jaesun is looking at Jimin with hooded, lustful eyes with a hint of sick amusement behind them.

It’s no secret that he fears Jaesun. He tries his hardest to avoid the older man, at all costs but it’s hard when he’s the manager and the co-owner of the club, when he’s the man that’s directly managing Jimin’s pay carefully for the debt that he owes. Or his father owes, but Jimin’s constantly paying for.

There’s intent behind Jaesun’s eyes, the way his posture slouches forward to Jimin. He exhales the smoke in front of Jimin’s face, smirking.

“Already?” Jimin feigns indifference, clutching the shorts to his chest.

“Yeah. He booked you beforehand, a regular man of mine. A friend,” Jaesun explains as he takes a step forward, cutting all the space between them. “He wants you tonight. You’ll be good for him, won’t you, sweetheart?”

Jimin wants to throw up.

Instead, he manages a forced smile and nods. Does he even have a choice?

“Sure.”

Jaesun leaves at that and Jimin quickly changes into his uniform, not wanting to disappoint his manager. It only leads to consequences he’d rather not face. He peers at his reflection in the mirror, hating the figure staring back at him and sighing heavily at the sight of himself. He grabs the powder compact, patting it down on his skin to reduce the redness before walking to the private room.

The man is highly intoxicated. His orbs are wide and his words are slurred, a sure sign that he’s both drunk and high. An unhealthy mix. Jimin knows he’s trouble as soon as he enters the room, feeling out of place and panic rising in his chest, settling heavy over his lungs, making it hard to breathe.

The man seems to be in his late forties. His hair is greying and he’s well built, a larger frame.

Jimin knows there’s not a chance in the world that Jaesun will allow him to get up, walk out of the private room. He has to follow through with what’s expected of him and it makes him feel disgusted, feeling like there’s ants under his skin with how he feels.

The man barely spares him a glance, doesn’t even bother asking for a name or sweet talk. He simply gestures with his hand for Jimin to get on his knees. He does. Whether he does it for the fear of Jaesun, for the money—or both—he obeys without a sound and sinks down.

He knows what’s coming yet, it throws him off guard.

The cock is down his throat and he can barely breathe, feeling it envelop his entire being. His eyes brim with tears that he refuses to shed, that is until the man reaches down and slaps him harshly across the cheek. That does it. The first of his tears fall and they don’t stop, not when the man bends Jimin over the couch and fucks him raw.

Jimin’s not prepped. Not even stretched out. A condom clad cock enters him and the pace is rough, brutal right from the start. Jimin has to gasp out loud, squeezing his eyes shut from the uncomfortable, burning sensation.

The man doesn’t address him, not once.

He reaches over with the hand that’s not gripping into his hips, digging into his bone and causing pain to wrack through his body, and spanks his ass.

Jimin freezes, eyes widening in shock. The clean sound shocks him the most, the sting arriving afterwards.

“Uh.” He’s about to protest.

But the man cuts him to the chase, spanking his ass once, twice, thrice and spits in his ear.

“Shut the fuck up, you slut,” he sounds angered, like he’s venting out all his anger upon Jimin and using him like an object, not taking note of the fact that Jimin’s a human, not a stress toy.

“You can’t—”

Jimin’s cut off by another slap which makes him draw out a pained gasp, realising quickly that the more he objects, the more the assault will continue. He’s not sure whether he should somber up and accept his fate, or if he should get up and try to leave. He only knows what’ll happen. The man’s bigger, stronger. There’s no doubt that the physical fight will only end in one way.

The man picks up his pace, it’s brutal and it hits him right against his prostate but Jimin’s not even aroused. He’s not hard, not at all.

Out of instinct, Jimin tries to move but the man is clamping a hand down on his back and forcing him down again. He digs his finger into his ribs from underneath the couch, immoblising him.

The pain is almost unbearable now and Jimin’s rendered completely speechless, not even speaking nor moving. Just taking it.

It only lasts a few more minutes.

The man comes inside of him, inside the condom but nonetheless, inside Jimin and keeps fucking him through his orgasm. Until he’s entirely soft. Then he pulls out, pulling the condom off and discarding it on the floor besides Jimin.

He pulls off, all hands leaving Jimin’s body.

Jimin exhales a breath, feeling immense relief cross through him now that there’s no foreign hands holding him down.

“You look like a fucking vision,” the man is speaking—the most he’s said the entire time. “I’d go for seconds but I don’t have the money tonight, so. I’ll be waiting to see you soon.” He puts the wad of notes besides Jimin’s head before buckling his jeans, leaving and slamming the door shut behind him.

Jimin’s not sure how long he lays there. He doesn’t move, finds him unable to do so. He’s in pain. Then the first of his tears overcome him. It starts off slow, a few tears rolling down his cheeks and when he licks his lips, he can feel the salty bitter taste of the moisture. Before he knows it, it hits him harder.

He sobs.

He lays bent over the couch, not finding the strength within him to move and he sobs. He’s crying loudly, unabashedly, his body shaking with the force of his sobs as he buries his head into the cushion of the couch to muffle his sounds.

Jimin doesn’t remember the last he cried. He never allows himself to, always bottling down his overwhelming feelings and brushing it off. He wants to be tough, strong. He’s grown accustomed to suffering, starting with his father and then ending up here. But there’s something that broke inside of him today, merely minutes ago when he was pinned down, slapped, used and abused.

Jimin feels worthless.

He’s not sure how long he stays in that position until the way his back is bent starts to ache, the dull pain registering to him.

It’s only going to be a few moments before Jaesum comes looking for him, demanding he gets back on the floor and he wants to be out of here before that can happen. Jimin doesn’t bother taking the money, leaving it on the floor for Jaesun to collect as he gets up, cleans himself up and with trembling fingers, walks back out on the dancefloor.

 

At the end of his shift, he clocks out and narrowly avoids Jaesun as he runs out of the club before anyone can stop him.

Jimin hasn’t stopped shaking since the ordeal at the private room and walking back into the freezing temperatures doesn’t help either, wrapping his arms around himself in the denim jacket and pulling a mask over his mouth and nose. It conceals him. He finds solace in that.

He walks down the street until he notices Hoseok’s car parked up. The window rolls down, revealing his friend sitting in the car. Hoseok shoots Jimin a reassuring smile.

“Get in, loser.”

Jimin halts before he opens the door, settling inside. He still feels a lump in his throat and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t swallow it down. He buckles up his seatbelt, avoiding Hoseok’s heavy gaze as he pulls the hood of jacket over his head.

“Bad day?” Hoseok muses with a smile that’s more delicate now, imploring. Jimin doesn’t reply, fixing his eyes to the windscreen and pleading silently that Hoseok will leave it alone, just drive them home. “Ey, Jimin. Honey, you okay?”

The comfort, oddly, is what does it.

The dam bursts and Jimin’s vision blurs with fresh wave of painful tears, his composure cracking as he curls upon himself and starts to sob. Hoseok curses under his breath, clearly taken aback from the sudden turn of events and gets out from the car. He walks over to the passenger seat, opening the door and immediately embracing Jimin.

“Hey, hey. You’re okay, Jimin. You’re with me now, you’re okay.”

 

Hoseok and Namjoon had sat Jimin down with a blanket, a warm cup of mint tea and asked him questions. They tried not to pry but still, Jimin didn’t want to talk. He had felt sick even just remembering the man. Eventually, they stopped talking but didn’t leave his side until Jimin fell asleep.

He awakes to an empty apartment. There’s a note on the fridge door from both Hoseok and Namjoon, claiming they’ve gone to work but they can come home as soon as he needs them.

Jimin feels pathetic. He’s not a child and he doesn’t need his friends hovering around him, afraid that he can’t spend some time alone with his own company. He crumbles up the note, throwing it in the bin.

He makes himself another cup of tea as he sits back down, switching on the TV.

He doesn’t dare look in the mirror, wanting to look at his reflection and not wanting to see his own body that he’s sure is riddled with bruises, marks. He knows he’ll throw up if he looks at himself yet so he forces his mind elsewhere.

He can’t help but wonder how last night could’ve gone different if he had the ability to fight back, was strong enough to do so.

Jimin looks across his living room, to his room where the unfinished painting of Jeongguk sits by his bed. He stares at it for a moment. He wonders how Jeongguk ever got into boxing, what compelled him to turn to violence.

Without pondering too hard about it, he makes a split second decision.

He’s not thinking straight, not planning out the consequences, when he grabs his phone and opens up a new text message with Taehyung.

‘Tell your boxer friend, Jeongguk that I need him to help me. I need him to teach me how to fight.’

Jimin sends it off and locks his phone, throwing it one side of the room. If he learns how to defend himself, he’ll be able to fight off anyone else who dares try to raise their hands on Jimin like that again.

**

Jeongguk emerges from his bedroom, Calvin Klein boxers hugging his waist low and showing off his abs. He yawns behind his fist, walking into the living room where Taehyung’s humming to a Shawn Mendes’ song under his breath, bopping his hips in time to the tune.

“Morning, sunshine!” Taehyung announces brightly upon noticing him, turning over his shoulder where he’s preparing breakfast. The pan sizzles as it cooks pajeon. “Sit, sit. Breakfast’s nearly ready.”

His eyes linger over Jeongguk’s body for a microsecond before he’s scoffing, whispering ‘show off’ under his breath and turning back to where he’s cooking. Jeongguk releases a hearty laugh, sitting down on the island.

“You have a good body, too,” Jeongguk says absentmindedly, picking up the stack of mail waiting for him on the table. He flicks through them, most of them proving to be bills as he sighs and throws them back down. “I mean. Obviously, not my body but damn, that ass.”

Taehyung turns back around, swatting him with the spatula.

“Shut up, asshole,” he warns playfully. He produces a plate of the Korean style pancakes, handing one over to Jeongguk.

“Thank you,” he smiles at his friend, accepting the plate and digging right in.

Taehyung hums as he turns off the heat of the pan, preparing his own plate and sitting down besides him. Jeongguk reaches over to pour them both a glass of orange juice as they sit quietly and eat their breakfast together. It’s their routine. No matter how busy they get, they’ll make time for one meal to sit together, as roommates, and eat together. Normally, their schedules only ever allows them to have food together in the early morning before Jeongguk runs his errands, before Taehyung runs to university.

“Are you going to train today?” Taehyung makes small talk as he breaks apart the pajeon with his fork, biting his lip.

Jeongguk hums. “Yeah. When don’t I?”

“Mmm.” He stares off into the distance, something more that he wants to contribute to the conversation but isn’t.

Jeongguk’s spent years, since he was sixteen, with Taehyung. He’s known Taehyung as just friends, then as best friends and now as roommates and he knows exactly when his friend is hiding something. Taehyung wears his heart on his sleeves, too big and too accommodating for everyone. He can’t hide how he feels, even if his life depended on it.

It’s what Jeongguk adores about him. They’re complete opposites. Whereas Jeongguk’s cold, aloof—Taehyung’s charming, trapping everyone into his trance upon first meetings.

Jeongguk waits for a minute, two for Taehyung to speak and declare what’s bothering him. But he doesn’t. He just looks sheepish, fiddling with his food and playing around with his phone.

He drains the last drop of orange juice in his glass before he reaches out, placing his hand atop of Taehyung’s.

The contact seems to startle Taehyung as he quickly withdraws his hand, nearly jumping out of his seat before their eyes meet and he sighs, the first sign of tension rolling off him. He runs a hand through his hair, looking distressed.

Jeongguk furrows his brows. “Babe.. you can just talk to me.”

He looks up and sighs again, nodding. “I need to talk to you but I know you’re going to say no, so.”

“We won’t know that until you tell me.”

“Fine,” his voice sounds heavy as he tugs on his bottom lip with his teeth. “D’you remember my university friend, Jimin, the stripper? He gave you a dance?”

Jeongguk halts where he’s about to eat the last bit of his pajeon, raising a brow. There’s no doubt in his mind that he can’t just forget someone as alluring, as attractive as Jimin. He remembers exactly how Jimin moves his body languidly, sure of himself and his smooth, velvet voice that whispered into Taehyung’s voice.

He doesn’t want to admit that he got himself off that night, coming hard and fast at the thought of Jimin moaning his name.

“Yeah,” he hums. “What about him?”

“He texted me yesterday morning and I haven’t replied yet because obviously, I need to talk to you about it.” Taehyung’s face darkens just slightly, sobering up as he grabs his phone and unlocks it. “I think there’s something wrong with him, y’know?”

“Uh. I don’t believe I do.”

Taehyung rolls his eyes as he opens up a text conversation, handing it over to Jeongguk who accepts it.

It’s a single sentence. A request. He rereads the message once, twice. He can detect the sheer amount of desperation from the text, how Jimin chooses to use ‘need’, instead of want like it’s a necessity for him to be trained. Jeongguk reads the words over and over until it’s imprinted in his mind and then, he pushes the phone away.

“I’m not a fucking teacher.” Jeongguk’s voice is firm as he places the last bit of the pancake into his mouth, chewing. “I’m not giving lessons to a hooker on how to fight, what the fuck.”

Taehyung halts, narrowing his eyes.

“He has a name, Guk. He’s not a fucking hooker. Stop calling him that, stop degrading him.”

“Taehyung—”

“Do you realise how shit his job is?” He presses on. “What it’s like to have to parade your body like that, around a club where everyone is drunk and wants to take advantage of you and eye fucks you? Probably even fucks you, for real. Do you realise that?”

He clicks his tongue. “Then, he shouldn’t do it.”

“People don’t always have a choice.”

Everyone has a choice, Tae. Just like how I chose to be a boxer when I was fifteen, like you chose to study English at university. We all have a choice.”

There’s a deafening pause and then Taehyung’s getting up from his seat, scoffing.

“You have a really one-sided view of the world,” Taehyung says, tone icy. He opens the bin, discarding of his unfinished pancakes.

Jeongguk swallows. The regret slams into him like a truck, as he watches his best friend maneuver around the kitchen, strained as he holds himself together. Jeongguk has never given a second thought about keeping his mind and potentially offending people, but he never wants to hurt Taehyung.

“Taehyung.”

“What?” Taehyung looks over his shoulder, as he wipes down the counters. “What is it?”

“I’ll do it. I don’t want to, but I’ll train Jimin, or whatever.”

Taehyung pauses, surprised. “You will?”

“For you, yeah.”

“You really will?”

Jeongguk groans. “Did I not just say yes?”

Taehyung’s mood evaporates within seconds, replaced with a cheerful expression as he giggles and abandons his cleaning. He throws an arm around Jeongguk, embracing him. The hug is tight and almost suffocating but Jeongguk welcomes it.

“Thank you, Guk. I care about him, okay? I need to take care of him.”

**

Jeongguk sits in his gym. It’s not technically a gym, rather it’s a room that Yoongi had brought for him and built upon. It contains all the equipment he needs to train. It has weight lifting machines, with extra weights and dumbbells, there’s a treadmill and a spin bike for cardio days. In one side of the room, he stores all his boxing equipment.

Yoongi had demanded he completed a cardio day today so he sits on the floor, exhausted from his vigorous three mile run. He crosses his legs, sipping at his water.

Yoongi and Seokjin sit opposite him, sharing a cigarette between them. They’re reminiscing about the days before they started training Jeongguk, when they were boxers themselves and why they retired.

“Shut up!” Jeongguk mumbles loud enough for them to hear when they say they’ve retired to become babysitters for him, letting out a laugh. “I can hear you!” He picks up his boxing glove resting on the floor, hurling it towards Seokjin.

Seokjin catches it easily, though. “It’s true! You’re a pain in the ass. I’m not even your main trainer, and you’re still insufferable.”

“Who are you, again?” He teases.

“Yah! Watch your mouth, boy!” Seokjin’s cackling as he throws the glove back at him, hitting the side of Jeongguk’s face before he returns to take a drag of his cigarette.

Jeongguk had met Seokjin not long after he had signed his contract to join the underground boxing circle. Yoongi had taken him under his wings and promised to introduce a new life to him. It was full of corruption, money and drugs, but there was trustworthy people within the circle, and one of them was Seokjin.

Seokjin was an older, retired fighter who had the experience an individual can only dream of having. He had to give up boxing when he was burdened with an injury after a car accident, leaving him incapable of stepping back into the ring. It’s clear it bothers him, losing his career so early on, so he began to train newcomers alongside Yoongi.

Every now and then, Seokjin will stop by the gym and he’ll check up on Jeongguk, give him advice for fights and enforce the importance of keeping up a new routine.

Jeongguk values and trusts his opinion and though he’ll never voice the sentiment, he knows the way he treats the older man is enough.

“Yeah, right, right.” He rolls his eyes.

The door to their gym opens and all three of their head snaps up in the direction. Taehyung enters with radiant expression, grinning from ear-to-ear as he holds up the case of beers he holds.

“G’morning, my loves!” He practically yells to the room.

“Fuck, yes!” Yoongi cheers as he gets up, taking the case of beers off him and handing one over to Seokjin, opening one for himself.

“Morning, Taehyung,” Seokjin greets.

Jeongguk gets up from where he sits on the floor, picking up his equipment and putting them back in their rightful place before turning to his best friend.

“What brings you here?”

It’s not uncommon that Taehyung stops by the gym. Whenever he finishes his lectures for the day and hasn’t got any work to catch up, or any social events to attend to—he’ll come to the gym and watch Jeongguk train so they can go home together at the end.

Taehyung smiles sheepishly at the question and before he can reply, there’s another figure entering the gym.

Jeongguk looks up and he feels his smile fade upon recognising who it is. Jimin.

He had almost completely forgotten that he’s going to train Jimin, had completely left his mind. But seeing the same stripper from the other night, walking into the gym, is a quick reminder that Jeongguk’s now a fucking teacher.

Jimin looks different, perhaps because he’s clothed. It’s strange. His skimpy tight shorts are gone, replaced with a baggy striped shirt that swallows him whole and extends past his thighs, giving him sweater paws. He’s wearing black tight jeans, hugging every curve. He looks out of place. He looks timid, the complete opposite of the confidence he drips of at the strip club.

It’s hard for Jeongguk to warm up to new people that waltz into his life, whether it’s fleeting or not. Ever since he was fifteen and had to run from his home, had to save his life—he fails to be a nurturing person. He’s not trusting of others. The only people he allows into his life are his intermediate circle: Yoongi, Taehyung and Seokjin and he has no plans to extend the invitation. He keeps his friends small so he doesn’t appreciate Jimin’s recurring presence.

But he had done it for Taehyung. Who glances at him now, a pleading and hopeful expression fixed over him.

Jeongguk swallows his distaste and sighs, walking to the corner of the gym to pick up the boxing tape.

“Hey,” Jimin introduces himself, awkwardly. “I’m. Um, Jimin. Taehyung’s university friend.”

The room remains silent for a moment or two. Yoongi’s warily scanning his body, like he’s unsure if the man should even be in the room as he sips on his beer cooly. Seokjin continues to smoke, his lips curled around the cigarette as he exhales.

“Yeah, this is my mate, Jimin,” Taehyung’s speaking as he steps forward and squeezes Jimin’s shoulder. There’s a slight strain in his voice and Jeongguk recognises it as frustration, probably to the three of theirs aloofness. “These are my friends. This is Yoongi hyung and Seokjin hyung, both of them are Jeongguk’s trainers.”

Jimin attempts a smile, nodding. “S’nice to meet you.”

Yoongi nods back at him, raising his beer can up to him in salute. Seokjin mutters a small ‘hello’, and waving.

“Let’s get started,” Jeongguk cuts the bullshit introductions, that no one needs. He steps back into view. “Give me your hand, please.” Jimin does so without a compliant, eyes burning into Jeongguk’s. He refuses to return the eye contact as he roughly tugs the hand to him—ignoring Jimin’s wince—and begins to wrap the tape around his knuckles, doing it twice.

“Thanks,” Jimin whispers when both his hands are protected withdrawing them. “Thank you for this, Jeongguk. I appreciate it.”

He takes a step back. “What do you know about boxing so far?” He asks instead, refusing to look anywhere but at the ground, at his own hands.

“I’ve never done boxing before, so.”

“Right… but have you watched any mainstream fights, y’know, the ones on TV?”

Jimin hesitates before he shakes his head. “No.”

Jeongguk groans, the sound cutting off when he feels Taehyung throwing daggers at him with his eyes.

“You come to learn how to fight from me, yet you didn’t do your research?”

Jimin looks down to the ground, at his own feet as he shuffles painfully awkwardly. He looks ashamed.

Jeongguk, faintly, realises how intimidating the whole situation must be for Jimin. He arrived to a dodgy, mostly abandoned building, to a self-built gym and stands before three boxers who don’t seem all that accommodating to Jimin. There’s a flash of pity he feels for Jimin, the man who’s in a completely different situation right now to what he knows from the strip club.

But there’s no time for pity.

Yoongi stands up from where he sits, throwing the beer can in the bin.

“I’m out,” he announces, with Seokjin in tow. “Kid,” he addresses Jeongguk. “Training tomorrow. Don’t be late.”

“Yes, hyung.”

They offer a wave as they exit the gym, leaving just Jeongguk, Jimin and Taehyung in the room. He turns his attention back to Jimin once the olders have left, watching his uncomfortable position and he wonders why he ever agreed to this.

“Okay..” Jeongguk breathes out. “Fine. Why do you want to learn how to fight, then?” He decides he might as well learn Jimin’s reasons, it’ll help him understand the end goal and maybe, if there’s a goal, he might find the ordeal easier.

“It’s good to have some skills up your sleeves.”

“You’re wasting my time because you’re bored and want a new hobby?”

“No, no!” Jimin’s interjecting before he even finishes.

“Jeongguk,” Taehyung groans from the far corner where he sits, his voice warning. “Stop it.”

“Fine.” He sighs, picking up the tape again and gesturing for Taehyung to help him.

Taehyung hums as he gets up from his seat, putting down the can of beer he’s sipping on. He makes his way over, a smile stretched across his relaxed face as he turns to Jeongguk and takes the tape off him. He wraps it around both of his hands, securing it twice before cutting it loose with his teeth.

Jimin seems to be drinking in every detail, watching with mesmerised eyes.

“Watch and learn.” His voice is stern. He doesn’t want to have to repeat himself. “When it comes to fighting, it’s all about protecting yourself, okay? There’s three basic stances you need to learn that’ll help you stand in a way that protects your body. D’you understand, Jimin,” he says the name with a light drawl like he’s mocking the boy. “Protect yourself.”

Jimin, however, doesn’t seem to notice and if he does, he doesn’t seem to dwell on it. He just looks ready to learn.

“The first stance is an upright stance.” Jeongguk gets into position, adjusting his body accordingly. “You stand with your legs shoulder-width apart, rear foot in front, keeping them parallel at all times, you see? Try it.”

Jimin bites his lip as he looks over the stance and nods, following the instructions and attempting himself. At least, he listens. It’ll make this a lot more bearable.

“That’s it, Jiminie!” Taehyung praises once Jimin follows through correctly, nodding. “You got it.”

Jeongguk looks over to his friend, shooting him a soft smile. He looks genuinely content with helping Jimin. He wonders how Taehyung shoulders so much grief in the world on his shoulders, after losing his grandmother and being the eldest son that the entire family relied on for income, and still be the person he is today. Charming, loving and accepting of everyone he meets. He wishes he could share more of Taehyung’s personality.

The praise enlightens Jimin. He smiles, for the first time, before his eyes filter back to Jeongguk and he nods, ready for the next task.

“You have to adjust,” Jeongguk says. “Keep your left fist in front, it always leads, at eye level. Your right fist is tucked besides the chin, your elbow helps protect your ribs and body. Do you get it?”

Jimin copies what Jeongguk does and Taehyung, once again, tells him he’s doing great thus far.

Jeongguk follows through with the rest of his stances, showing him the semi-crotch and the full crotch. Jimin struggles a little but he seems determined to do it right, completing them in the end with a little help of adjustment from Taehyung who steps in and bends his arm in the right positions.

“Now, the punches.”

Taehyung nods dutifully as he walks to a corner of the gym, retrieving the pads.

“I’m going to teach you the basic punches, okay?” Jeongguk turns to Jimin as he flexes his knuckles, stretching his hand out and getting ready. “This is how you fight, with your fists. With your knuckles.”

Jimin nods once again, ready to learn some more. He instinctively is, also, repeating Jeongguk’s motions with his hands and he can’t help but notice how dainty Jimin’s hands are, how small his fingers are. He forces his gaze elsewhere, back at Taehyung who holds the pads up.

“The first one is the most popular one, the one you must know,” Jeongguk explains as he holds an upright position. “It’s called a jab.” Taehyung holds up the pads for him, a smile spread across his lips.

Jeongguk has done this a million times over. He throws a quick, straight punch on the right pad, and then the light pad. As he alternates, Taehyung starts to move in circles, prompting Jeongguk to follow too. He groans a little under his breath from the force of his punches and after a dozen or so jabs, he stops and turns to Jimin expectedly.

“Now, you try.”

Taehyung turns to Jimin with a reassuring smile, nodding as he holds the pads up.

“You can do it, Jimine.”

Jimin bites his lips. He looks uncertain of himself and it’s clear he’s never been in a physical fight before, if his trembling fists are any indicator. He pushes through, anyway, as he attempts to throw a jab.

The punch is weak. Really weak. There’s no force, no drive behind it and Jimin’s fist falls limp to his side right afterwards. If Taehyung wasn’t here, Jeongguk would’ve laughed and told him to give it up, go home.

Jimin seems to notice his failure as he looks ashamed, the red colour creeping up on his neck.

“Jimin-ah,” Taehyung voice cuts into the silence, soothingly. He lowers the pads. “Don’t worry. You’ve never fought before, have you? Neither have I, okay. It’s okay, you’ll improve. You just need to stand in the right position, your stance was off and more force behind the punches, okay?”

Jimin tries again, after the words of reassurance, and it’s still weak.

Taehyung turns to Jeongguk. “Show him the next punch?”

“No.” He cuts off, shaking his head. “He’ll do the jab, before he moves on otherwise he’ll never learn.”

Jeongguk, faintly, remembers his first few training sessions. They had been brutal and with a trainer like Yoongi, who overworks you till perfection, he had thought of giving up. He had spent nights alone crying in bed, a lost fifteen-year old who has bruises on his knuckles from the force he keeps exerting into his punches. This, right here and now, is nothing compared to what he went through.

Taehyung sighs but turns his attention back to Jimin.

“Go on. Try it again, you can do it.”

Jimin most definitely can’t do it. He’s not even close, not on his second or third attempt and no matter how much Taehyung instructs, and Jeongguk guides, his effort is minimal at best and he looks tired, exhausted.

“I don’t think I can,” he finally resigns.

Before Taehyung can rush to comfort him, Jeongguk cuts in.

“I don’t have time for fucking wimps, cowards, okay?” His voice is harsher than he intends it to be, gesturing uselessly to Jimin. “Go home. Go practice what I taught you and next week, when we train, you better fucking get it because Taehyung won’t be here.”

With that, Jeongguk grabs his backpack, throwing it over his shoulder. He doesn’t spare either of them a look, knowing full well that he’ll be facing the brunt of Taehyung’s anger later, and walks out of the gym.

**

The following week, Jimin reappears at the gym.

He doesn’t want to. He actually fears the place and after last time, he hates to admit that he had cried. He had gotten back on the bus and had buried his head in his arms, letting out weak, choked up sobs so he didn’t disturb the other passengers. Jeongguk’s words had rang inside of his mind on a loop. Weak. Coward.

But despite it all, Jimin forces himself back to the gym.

There’s no doubt that Jimin’s afraid but he’s doing it for himself, to learn how to defend himself. Whilst his skills may be rusty now, he knows with time they’ll improve. He also wants to prove to Jeongguk that he’s strong, that he can do better than measly punches.

It helps that there’s a new collection of bruises scattered alongside his inner thighs, fueling his determination.

Unlike last time, Jeongguk’s the only one in the gym today. The room is eerily quiet despite the radio playing lowly in the background. He’s on the floor, doing push-ups as he sweats excessively and Jimin has to physically tear his gaze away as he swallows at the sight.

Jeongguk notices his arrival and his expression changes, looking irked.

“I don’t have much time today.” Jeongguk’s tone is cold, detached—not much more than the usual. He stands up, stretching his legs out as he pulls his arm bands off.

“Oh, okay.”

Jeongguk crosses to the other side of the room, grabbing some gloves and throwing them in his direction. Jimin barely catches it in time and he grits his teeth in irritation. He knows that his existence is a nuisance to Jeongguk, that it’s taking precious time out of his schedule to have to train Jimin. But Jimin’s only human and he needs this more than Jeongguk realises.

Instead, Jimin slips the gloves on. He tests his hands out and finds that he feels more stable now that he has more layers protecting his bones. He struggles to velcro them but Jeongguk doesn’t offer any help and he doesn’t dare ask.

“Where’s Taehyung?” Jimin asks.

“What do I know? I’m not his keeper,” Jeongguk’s quick to rebuttal before taking a deep breath. “Probably university.” He picks up the pads they use, slipping them onto his hands and holding them up. “We’re using gloves today so you can exert more force without fearing that you’ll damage your knuckles, d’you understand?”

It’s like Jeongguk purposely talks down to him, likes to make him feel inadequate. It takes everything within Jimin not to yell at him and tell him that he’s not someone he can just push around, pick on, treat like he’s stupid but he refuses to give Jeongguk the satisfaction that it bothers him.

Instead, he merely nods.

“We’re going to continue the dabs, which I trust you practiced. You’re going to keep doing it until you get the hang of it.”

There’s an aura of intensity that Jeongguk is oozing of today. Jimin can’t figure out why, wonders if he’s on edge because there’s a fight coming up but he’s all business-like, eager to get on and not waste anytime. His eyes are ablaze and he’s staring into Jimin like he can look right through him.

Jimin wishes Taehyung was here, knows the atmosphere would be much more at ease if his presence was around to lighten it up.

“Well, go on.”

Jimin bites his lip at Jeongguk prompting him to start. He raises his clenched fists and when he jabs the pad the first time, he learns that Jeongguk is right. Because of the gloves, there’s a sense of confidence that overcomes him. He moves forward and jabs the pad again, twice, thrice and then he stops. He looks up to Jeongguk for approval but the boy only shakes his head, indicating him to keep going.

So, he does.

Jimin keeps jabbing the pads until his arms ache from the fatigue, the continuous punches that demand all the power from his biceps. Jeongguk doesn’t tell him to stop and he doesn’t want to appear feeble, wants to prove his worth for once.

He’s caught off guard when Jeongguk suddenly starts to move in another direction, forcing Jimin to move along with him.

Jimin stops, taking a step break.

“Stop, wait,” he requests.

Jeongguk rolls his eyes as he lowers the pads like he can’t believe that’s all it takes to tire him out. Jimin’s not a full-time, underground fighter, his stamina can’t compare and it exasperates him that Jeongguk’s treating him like so.

“There’s water there,” Jeongguk tells him, pointing to the dispenser in one far corner of the gym.

Jimin’s grateful though he’ll never let it show, ripping one of the gloves off so he can grab the paper cup and fill it up with the cold liquid. He sighs in relief as it goes down his throat, soothing how dry he feels before looking back up at Jeongguk whose intense gaze is boring into his.

If Jimin didn’t know any better, it’s almost like Jeongguk hates him. He hasn’t done anything, has barely interacted with him despite a measly dance and yet, he’s giving Jimin a look that screams he’d rather be anywhere than here.

It causes his stomach to turn, feeling nauseous as he puts his gloves back on and makes his way back to Jeongguk.

“I—”

Apparently, Jeongguk doesn’t want to hear it. He raises the pads, nodding for him to continue and effectively cutting off any chances of communication he had to get across.

Jimin clenches his jaw but he doesn’t argue, doesn’t have the fortitude within him to do so.

They repeat the motions a few times. Jimin keeps jabbing the pads until he’s sure his knuckles are raw and splitting even underneath the gloves and starts to keep up with the brutal, unforgiving pace Jeongguk makes him adapt to. Whenever Jeongguk starts to move, Jimin’s moving alongside with him and still manages to keep up the jabbing.

He feels triumphed when Jeongguk announces the end of the training session, pulling off the gloves with a smile.

“I did good.”

Jeongguk turns back to face him from where he’s crouched over his equipment box, throwing the pads back in. He laughs—it’s bitter, empty—and shakes his head in disbelief, grabbing his water bottle.

 

“You’re fucking mediocre.”

It shouldn’t hurt. Jeongguk’s opinion shouldn’t matter, not really but still, it pings at Jimin. He’s trying his hardest. For someone who’s never fought before, he’s managed to keep up with a pace that he’s sure only professionals can. Even now, with sweat beads running down his forehead and his chest heaving with his pants, he had felt accomplished. Until Jeongguk’s words broke it all down.

“Did I do something to you?” Jimin’s asking before he can stop himself, furrowing his brows. “Because you treat me like fucking shit and I’ve only met you, what? Twice, three times in your life?”

Jeongguk straightens up, eyes disinterested as he takes a sip of his water.

“I don’t hate you,” he says. “I have no concern for you, or what you do. You’re only here, in my gym, because Taehyung wants you here.”

Jimin clamps his mouth shut, burying his teeth into his bottom lip.

“I don’t want to be here either, y’know?” Jimin forces himself to retort, actually scoffing. “I’m only here because I need to learn and I’m helpless, so.”

“Next week,” Jeongguk’s saying, seemingly to ignore everything’s he just said. “Same time.”

**

Jeongguk walks through the college campus, in tow with Taehyung who had insisted he came and visited him. He had never been university himself so it was enlightening for him, as much as he won’t admit it. He’s mesmerised by the atmosphere, the bustle of students interacting with each other and hanging out together. He wonders how different his life could’ve been if he had gone through with university instead of getting sucked into an illegal organisation at fifteen-years old.

Taehyung takes him through the entire campus because of course, he’s giddy. Excited.

He sits with Taehyung through one of his lectures only to realise it’s so boring, so tedious that he practically falls asleep. He pulls the hood of his jacket over his face, burying into Taehyung’s side and snores softly through the duration of the two-hour lecture.

Taehyung shakes him awake gently as the student filter out of the lecture hall, a fond smile over his face.

“C’mon, it’s over.”

Jeongguk grumbles, his deep slumber still evident as he yawns behind his fist and rubs his eyes. He glances around the nearly-empty room now.

“That’s what university is like?” He mumbles as he gets up, grabbing Taehyung’s books and helping him pack as they walk out of the seats, and down the steps. “I’m glad I didn’t end up going. That was so boring, fuck.”

“S’not so bad,” Taehyung chides. “You have to be interested in what you’re learning, I guess.”

“It’s shit.” He deadpans.

Taehyung slaps his shoulder playfully as they walk out into the open again, surrounded by the greenery. Taehyung’s university is really elegant. It’s spacious and stretches on for miles, surrounded by trees and flowers planted by students themselves. There’s something grand about it, somewhere that Jeongguk definitely does not belong. He doesn’t belong amongst pristine, elite students and immaculate gardens for campuses.

He belongs in the damp, dirty, murky corners of the world where he fights to survive.

“Are you hungry?” Taehyung asks as they walk through a path towards the cafe. “I think you’ll quite like the food here, actually.”

He shrugs. He’s used to following a strict diet regime, guided by Yoongi to ensure he keeps up his health and stamina for boxing. Right now is his prime age and both Yoongi and Seokjin are persistent that he remains on top. But sometimes, he likes to indulge and what better time than when he’s visiting Taehyung’s university.

So, he nods. “Sure.”

There’s a variety of cafe’s to choose from, right on campus but they enter the quieter, more mellow looking one. Jeongguk scans the menu, looking for something that’ll still somewhat fit along with his diet.

“Hey, what about gimbap? That’s not too unhealthy.”

Jeongguk shrugs. “Yeah, s’fine,” he grabs a bottle of water from the fridge. “What’d you like?”

Taehyung orders noodles for himself and Jeongguk pays for all the food, guiding them to a spare table by the discrete corner of the shop. That is, before, Taehyung squeals and runs off to someone else. Jeongguk frowns, looking to see where his friend is going only to halt when he realises it’s Jimin.

He doesn’t know why he’s surprised. After all, this is Jimin’s university too and it only makes sense for him to be on campus. Jeongguk’s just not used to seeing him outside the context of the strip club and the gym. Not used to see him… so normal, wearing a normal attire, thick black glasses perched on the bridge of his nose with his laptop in his lap as he sips on a coffee.

“Jiminie!” Taehyung’s embracing him from behind. “Hey!”

Jeongguk puts their food down on the table before making his way over, feeling almost sheepish. The last time they had interacted, at their last training session, wasn’t the most pleasant he could’ve been.

He freezes, though, when Jimin looks up.

There’s a obnoxious looking bruise blossoming on his cheekbones, extending near to his eyes. It seems fresh enough, red and angry, raised with specks of purple dotting around it. It looks painful and Jeongguk is suddenly remembered of the marks that he’s left with, often, after his fights.

Jimin seems surprised when his eyes filter up, meeting Jeongguk’s gaze but he swallows audibly and focuses his attention elsewhere.

“Jimin…” Taehyung’s voice is softer now as he lets go, turning to stand before him. “What happened, are you okay?”

Jimin puts his coffee cup down, struggling to smile because it seems to stretch out his bruise. “M’good. You?”

“How did this happen?” He asks, touching the rednesss lightly.

“This?” Jimin pulls Taehyung’s hand down carefully, avoiding looking anywhere but at his laptop. “I just walked into a door, it’s fine. Really. It’s fine.”

It’s a weak, pathetic excuse. Jeongguk knows it’s not the true and his chest hurts a little, feeling too tight for his breathing. He’s not sure why but it’s a terrible feeling, to see a bruise on someone as delicate as Jimin.

Taehyung doesn’t look convinced. He has a stern expression on his face as he pulls out the chair, sitting opposite him.

“Don’t lie to me.”

“I’m not—”

“Y’know, I care about you?” He presses on though, ever the maternal Taehyung.

Jimin reaches out to touch his hand, intertwining their fingers for a second before withdrawing.

“I’m fine, Taehyungie. Thank you.”

It’s clear that the topic is making him feel uncomfortable and Jeongguk can sense it, the way Jimin fidgets and tries to evade the conversation. He sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose as he walks towards them.

“Taehyung, c’mon. Leave it,” he says.

Jimin looks up to him and there’s a flash of something, closely resembling hesitance, even fear, before he nods.

“Listen to him. It’s fine.”

Taehyung doesn’t look like he wants to drop it. He has been tending Jeongguk’s bruises for years now, always keeping a first aid kit in hand. He’s always ready with plasters, with antiseptic creams and bandages and it’s no wonder he has the instinct to protect against any hurt.

Jeongguk doesn’t know why Jimin’s sporting a bruise. But he understands being littered with marks, scars that he never asked for. He understands being told love is a fist to the face, a kick to the ribs. It’s why he turned to underground fighting in the first place, to displace his resentment towards something productive. To reclaim violence and not fear it. He thinks he finally, finally understands Jimin’s unspoken reason to want to learn how to fight.

When Taehyung finally gives in and they return to their table, Jeongguk makes sure to give the slightest, tiniest hints of a smile to Jimin. Barely there. Practically non existent.

Jimin only looks down, shame on his face as he puts his headphones back in and gets back to work.

**

Jimin hates the bruise.

Every time he looks in the mirror, he wants to smash the glass so he can destroy his own reflection. He remembers how it felt, to get punched in the face by Jaesun’s son just because he could. Because Jaesun practically owned him until the repayment was up and the debts were done.

He remembers how it felt to be curled into Hoseok’s side as he sobbed for what like the millionth time that week. Hoseok, the loving best friend, hadn’t complained. Not once. He kept trailing a hand down his back in comfort, drifting up to Jimin’s hair and tugging his fingers through playfully.

He remembers Jeongguk’s expression, resembling something like understanding but also confusion. He remembers the smile the boy threw him before he walked off with Taehyung and how it had unsettled him.

Jimin stands before the mirror, dressed in workout gear before he runs out to Jeongguk’s gym for the third session. He looks over his body, frowning as he looks back up at his face. The bruise, if anything, has become more prominent.

Hoseok enters the room with a knock, waltzing in.

“Here,” he hands over a suspicious, skin colour looking tube. “Concealer,” he explains. “It’ll help up the bruise.”

“How do I use it?” He asks lamely.

Hoseok chuckles as he unscrews the top, pouring some of the makeup onto the back of his hand. He dabs his fingers into it, standing before Jimin.

“You’re a dancer and you don’t know how to use makeup?” Hoseok has amusement tinging in his tone as he gently touches the bruise and covers it up. Jimin hisses and he apologises under his tone, his touch lighter. “How do you survive there?”

“They taught me how to use powder. I just press the sponge against my skin, I don’t even know what it does.”

Hoseok rolls his eyes. “I only know because of my sister,” he explains. “This is powder.” He holds up the next makeup product, opening it up. “It sets the face like I am with your face now, so the concealer stays on.”

Once Hoseok’s done with his face, Jimin turns to look in the mirror. It does look significantly better. With the makeup, it’s still evident but not so colourful that everyone stares at him with pitiful, sympathetic gazes that he wishes he could drown out.

“Thank you, hyung. Looks perfect.”

Hoseok only shrugs with a grin, clasping his shoulder.

“You know, I worry about you?”

Jimin sighs as he grabs his backpack, throwing in a spare change of clothes. He’s never been able to use the shower after his training sessions with Jeongguk but considering how hard last time had been, he had a feeling he’s going to need it.

“You don’t have to.”

“But I do and I can’t help that, you can’t stop it, either,” Hoseok furrows his brows. “Just tell me, these training sessions—are they helping? Do you think you’ll be able to fight back next time?”

Jimin bites his lip. “Maybe. Jeongguk’s good, really good.”

Hoseok hums. He doesn’t look convinced and Jimin understands that. Hoseok has always been overprotective of Jimin, has been taking care of him for as long as he can remember. They were neighbours when he was still living with his parents and when his father went down the dark path and disappeared, leaving behind a debt too big for anyone to repay—Hoseok had helped him escape.

Whilst they still stayed in Seoul, they moved to a remote, quieter area. They rented an apartment together and have been living together ever since.

Jimin owes his entire life to Hoseok. He owes a lot of people a lot of things, apparently. But Hoseok has never asked for anything in return, never asked for anything more than cuddling up on the couch at the end of their day with takeaway.

“I’ll be fine, hyung,” Jimin reassures. “I’ve already paid off half the debt, okay? There’s not long left now.”

Hoseok sighs. “I can’t take it, knowing they hurt you like this.”

“Jeongguk is helping, Hobi. It’s going to be okay.”

The words are weak and he doesn’t believe them but he doesn’t want Hoseok to worry over him, not when he’s at work, not when he’s home and Jimin’s at his shifts.

Reluctantly, Hoseok nods and steps aside to let him go.

 

The bus ride is miserable and Jimin’s squished to one side of the vehicle, trying to relax as he listens to music. When his stop arrives, he barely nudges past the crowded bodies and gets off. It’s a quick walk down the road till Jeongguk’s gym is in sight. It’s normal for him to feel a wave of anxiety every time he approaches the gym, knowing that Jeongguk silently, and loudly, hates him.

It’s obvious in the way he looks at Jimin, talks to him, treats him. Jimin doesn’t understand why. He hasn’t done anything except take his time.

He has a few notes tucked into his back pocket this time, though. He’s been taking, unjustly, Jeongguk’s time and has had no time to pay back for it but after last night, a private party he attended for Jaesun’s clients, he got paid heavily and he can finally give back.

Once again, it’s only Jeongguk in the gym. He’s sitting on the couch in the gym, staring into space and his head snaps up when he sees Jimin.

Jeongguk is attractive, that much Jimin knows but it strikes him every single time. There’s something effortless about him, when he looks sweaty and unkempt like now in a loose black shirt that hangs off his body and sweatpants. His eyes bore into Jimin as he stands up.

“You’re late.”

Jimin looks up to the clock on the wall, frowning. “Public transport, sorry.”

“Don’t be late.” Jeongguk’s walking to where his equipment is, picking up the pads and throwing them in Jimin’s direction.

Jimin barely catches it in time, gritting his teeth. He’s not sure why but Jeongguk’s unexplained behaviour towards him gets on his nerves, irritates him beyond words but he refuses to say anything about it. He refuses to give Jeongguk that satisfaction.

“I said, I’m sorry.”

Jeongguk’s, apparently, done with that conversation though as he puts the tape around his hands. He struggles and Jimin almost offers to help before stopping himself, knowing it wouldn’t be appreciated and it’s unlikely he’ll let Jimin touch him.

“We’re learning a new basic punch today,” Jeongguk drones on like he’s a professor talking to a bunch of students in a monotonous tone. “It’s called a hook and I already know you’re going to be fucking terrible, hence why I’m tired. But let’s just get on it.”

Jimin takes a deep breath, controlling the burst of emotions within him because he really, really doesn’t want to lose his temper. Not when Jeongguk is as strong as him and he doesn’t trust the man not to hurt him.

He puts the pads onto his hand, steps forward and lets Jeongguk demonstrate the punch.

“It’s a semi-circular punch,” he explains. “It’s supposed to hit the side of the opponent’s head. But you must guard yourself, d’you understand? Elbows drawn back and bent, protecting your ribs.”

Then he’s punching one of the pads. Jeongguk’s practiced and professional as he punches the pad a few times, moving in circles which prompts Jimin to turn in time. The hook looks like a much more complicated punch but Jimin observes carefully, eyes focused on how his fist works.

“Got it,” Jimin mumbles.

“Yeah, we’ll see.” He drawls sarcastically. “There’s some gloves for you on the couch.”

Jimin obeys at the silent order, putting the pads down and walking to the couch. He notices the pack of marijuana and some sort of white powder, presumably cocaine but diverts his attention elsewhere as he grabs the gloves and walks back. He puts it on as Jeongguk holds the pads up.

It takes a while to get the hang of. The stance is difficult and the actual punch requires a lot of force. Jeongguk’s, surprisingly, patient though and it helps ease some of Jimin’s nerves as he begins to punch the pads correctly.

They try for a few times, taking a short break where Jeongguk checks his phone, and then they continue.

An hour later, Jimin’s exhausted. His muscles are screaming with the need to relax them, all bunched up in position as he keeps delivering hooks to the pads. Jeongguk doesn’t seem like he wants to stop anytime soon, though and there’s a sadistic smirk sprawled across his lips as he watches Jimin struggle.

Jimin stops. “I don’t have your stamina, you know? I need a fucking break.”

Jeongguk lowers his pad. “About time you fucking said it, then. D’you let everyone push you around like this?”

The words feel like a punch to Jimin. He halts, actually stops what he’s doing as he’s removing the gloves and looks up to Jeongguk. There doesn’t seem to be a hint of remorse for his choice of wording. He has no idea what Jimin has to go through, what he has to burden himself with, how hard he’s trying not to let people take advantage of.

“Are you always a dick?” He asks instead.

Jeongguk looks disinterested as he takes the pads off his hand, throwing them to one corner.

“Do you always cover your bruises up? How many times?”

Jimin feels backed into a corner at Jeongguk’s casual questioning, like he’s staring right into his soul.

“Are you always a fucking judgemental asshole?” Jimin punctuates the words with throwing the gloves on the floor, like a child throwing a tantrum.

“I think we’re done for today,” Jeongguk’s saying instead, effectively cutting off the conversation as he walks to the water dispenser and filling up a paper cup. “You can show yourself out.”

Without thinking, Jimin’s storming up to him. He’s never had much courage to do so before, especially not with people like Jaesun but for some reason, he feels confident enough to get right up in Jeongguk’s space. Maybe it’s the anger coursing through him, temporarily blinding him or it’s how he feels buzzed but he raises a hand.

“You have no idea. You have no fucking clue what I go through so don’t you dare even make comments.”

Jeongguk’s quiet, eyes alight with some sort of amusement. He reaches over, grabbing his hand and lowering it.

“I said, we’re done for the day, Jimin.”

Jimin thinks it’s the first time he’s ever addressed him by his name. He stops and snatches his arm back, feeling both frustration and embarrassment flooding his system. No matter what he says, it doesn’t seem to affect Jeongguk in the slightest. His eyes cloud with tears, further humiliating him.

He stuffs his hand in his pocket, drawing out the notes and thrusting it into Jeongguk’s thrust.

“I’m done. I don’t want to train with you anymore,” he says. His voice breaks and the first of his tears fall. When he removes his hand, the notes fall to the floor.

Jimin turns on his heel and runs out of the gym.