The first time Kim Taehyung steps into a strip club, he’s twenty three years old. His successful friend, Namjoon, is the CEO that owns that particular line of strip clubs. He invited him to the grand opening of his fifth club, just a few blocks away from the building of offices that Taehyung works in.
Taehyung is blown away by the sheer atmosphere of the place. He’s suffocating in the heat that’s developed from the dim red and purple lights, the sensual movement of male dancers at their poles, the enthusiastic calling of men with fistfuls of money waving in the air. There’s a bar to the immediate right of the entrance, where Namjoon sits with a drink in his hand, his lover resting his ass on his knee.
Taehyung feels oddly out of place.
“Heard you like to dance.” Namjoon teases as soon as he’s within earshot, gesturing with his head towards the male dancers at the pole. His lover wiggles in defiance on his lap, pouting at the attention he’s not giving him. He wears a black fishnet crop top, exposing his evenly tanned, broad shoulders, shaped with exercise and slimmed with a careful diet. His midriff shows the thin v line that creeps down and disappears into a pair of black jeans, where his legs are crossed and heels wrap like vines at his feet.
But Taehyung wouldn’t know that, because he wasn’t eyeing Namjoon’s (probably) boyfriend. Nope. Not at all.
“A long time ago, hyung.” Taehyung agrees solemnly, and sits on the stool next to him. Namjoon’s (most likely) boyfriend eyes him suspiciously, lips puckered and shiny with gloss. Nobody sat next to Namjoon, he had a very powerful presence, with expensive clothes and his personal lap dog, it was impossible to miss his dominating presence. He literally owned the place.
“I don’t think you’ve met my husband, this is Jin.” Namjoon says, and it throws Taehyung off way more than it should’ve.
Jin must’ve noticed, because his lips curl up in mild irritation. “Does it bother you that we’re married? This is a gay strip club.”
“Love” Namjoon calls, and Jin tilts his head towards Namjoon, “Trust me, I think Taehyung here is more gay than both of us combined.”
Taehyung, to quickly salvage whatever small silver of friendship there is left to form with Jin quickly blurts “Yeah- oh yeah. I was gay before I even knew I was gay.”
The smallest of smiles breaks through the glimmering peach lips. Jin lifts an eyebrow at him, revealing the most gorgeous smoky eye ever known to man, black crescents curl over his eyelids where his raven hair is parted down the middle. This man is beyond anything Taehyung has ever seen. The very epitome of beauty, an incarnation of some ancient korean god.
“Have a drink, Taehyung, you look like you need it.” Namjoon says, having noticed how his college friend is gawking at his husband.
Taehyung shakes his head, “I really shouldn’t, I have work tomorrow early in the morning.”
“Drinks are free today, grand opening and all.” Jin says, “You may as well take advantage of it.”
“What he means to say is,” Namjoon says, nudging Jin’s side lightly, “One drink won’t hurt. It’ll at least take that stick out of your ass, jesus I’m starting to think maybe your back is too straight.”
“It’s probably the straightest thing about me.” Taehyung jokes, but notices how tense his muscles are at Namjoon’s remark. He relaxes a bit, but asks for a beer like any normal person would.
“So what are you doing now, Taehyung? Haven’t seen you in at least four years.”
“I’m working at a small firm just down the street from here, lawyers a good guy. Thinking I’m ready to start applying for law school.” Taehyung says.
“Law school?” Namjoon asks, surprised. Jin’s eyes glint peculiarly. “That’s a huge change, you used to join every dance club there ever was in college, wouldn’t come back to the dorm until early in the morning ‘cause of practice, now you’re practicing law?”
Taehyung’s smile falters, he subconsciously grips the beer in his hand a little tighter. Flashing memories of distant dreams invade him, the kinds of dreams he has when he sleeps at night and forgets as soon as his feet touch the floor after waking. Four years.
I haven’t seen you in at least four years.
“-ehyung? Taehyung.” He hears Namjoon calling to him, as if pulling him out of water.
“What?” Taehyung jerks, “Sorry, can you say it again?”
“I asked what you do at your job, what are your duties?” Namjoon shakes his head at him, but there is no bite in his tone or annoyance in his features. He’s genuinely glad to see an old friend, to see Taehyung.
“Oh I just take cases and sort them for the lawyer, I look at all the technical stuff, what the case is about, what applications can be assigned to the individual cases and if they match up I comp-”
“Alright alright alright, my bedtime isn’t until one thirty if you want to come over and put me to sleep.” Namjoon jokes, but Taehyung understands. The stuff he does is boring. It’s repetitive.
If you really enjoy what you do then you never work a day in your life.
Taehyung’s beer turns into two, and two turns into three, and an unfamiliar buzz is starting to float around in his head. Red lights turn pink, purple lights turn bright blue, he sways.
“How’d you do this, Namjoon?” He asks, and his words are beginning to slur. He has to lean forward to make out Namjoon’s face.
“Do what, Taehyung?”
“This.” Taehyung’s arms stretch outwards, the tips of his fingers uncurled and reaching in reference to the entirety of the club. “Five strip clubs? Gay stip clubs? You were studying, what, finance? Business? Accounting? Something with math and money, which makes sense, this makes more sense than me, but it’s still a stretch. So how?”
Namjoon sets his drink on the bar table, rests his hand and firmly squeezes the skin of Jin’s hip, motioning for him to give some space. Jin takes the hint easily, and strides away with his hips swaying like a reincarnation of a goddess.
Namjoon scoots his stool closer to Taehyung, slinging an arm over his shoulder. He felt something from Namjoon, this odd kind of attraction in his brown eyes that he didn’t return, but it was definitely as if he’d dug it up from some far off memory. In this moment, Namjoon felt like a distant, buried memory.
“I saw you once, Taehyung. Your dance, you’d reserve a room just for yourself, and I saw you there. Dancing. From there, I never wanted to stop seeing it, so I opened my first strip club, and I’ve been searching for someone who dances like you do. I kept opening more and more strip clubs. The money is only a small part of it, but the dance, Taehyung. Watching the dance is what I love most.”
There isn’t a single lie in the liquid words that drip from Namjoon’s mouth. Taehyung swallows, the music has seemed to fade away into background noise as he focuses on every word, every syllable, the bob of Namjoon’s Adams apple.
“The dance?” He dares to ask, like knocking on the door of some forbidden walkway. A door he himself had closed years ago.
If you dare walk through those doors, Taehyung, you lose me. You lose me you hear?! You lose and you’ll never stop looking back at this day, regretting every second of it!
“Why don’t you see for yourself, hm?” Namjoon says, and leans away to allow Taehyung to look towards the life of the party.
The music drowns his ears again like a tsunami. Deep bass mixing with beats begging for hips to follow their rhythm. Slender forms in high platform heels, some with bare feet and painted toenails, drag their bodies over silver poles. There’s a total of six tables, three to each side of a catwalk towards the main stage. Their poles fall from the ceiling like thunderbolts, held in place by a circle of cement with mirror glass at the bottom. The small circular stages are surrounded by a series of couches where eager men sometimes vibrate from their seats and throw their money at the dancers. Chandeliers that hang between the spaces of each of the dancers spots catch the colors of light and shatter the light into pieces, forming shards of pink and blue glitter all over the place.
The dancers move like calm tides in the ocean. Their backs, legs and arms can stretch at inhumane angles, but the form of their dancing can only make it look attractive. They swing their bodies from the poles and spin around it at the beat of the music, bending backwards until their red stained lips face the audience.
Taheyung wants to look away, the dreadful feeling of flooding memories he’d spent so much time burying suddenly come up and filling his throat. But he can’t, he can’t tear his eyes away from the shimmering outfits the dancers wear, the mesmerizing way their bodies twist and move.
“I’m still surprised that you left dance for law. So tell me, Taehyung-” Namjoon turns to face him, forcing Taehyung to tear his eyes away from the dancers.
“Why did you give up dance?”
It was meant to be a harmless question, but it was something akin to stretching the skin of a freshly healed wound until the scabbing skin tears. Taehyung remembers, then.
He remembers everything.