If tables and chairs weren't necessary, Yoongi would trade them for a piano. Not just any piano, though; he wants the upright from his childhood home in Daegu. He yearns for its dark wooden frame. Its heavy keys that made him work a little harder to push down all the way. Its rich, heavenly tone.
But living in an apartment means every inch of space is hard to come by. He doesn't have room for anything bigger than an electronic keyboard.
While he's not used to the feeling of plastic under his fingers as he plays, he can ignore it for the sake of learning a piece. He can set aside his opinions about the simulated twang, the poor imitation of a piano's song, that pours from the keyboard each time he presses a key. He can neglect the selection of samplings that come with. Who even uses those anyway? Only the deaf want to hear air horns squawk a rendition of Rachmaninoff.
In all seriousness, he would much rather have a ridiculous keyboard than nothing. He needs it to compose, and he definitely needs it to learn accompaniments. Not to brag, but he's the university's go-to pianist for the ballet department. If he wants to maintain that reputation, he needs to practice, and he does. Relentlessly. An instrument's an instrument. Whether it's made of plastic or of wood and ivory doesn't get in the way of Yoongi's work.
The neighbor's dog, however...
If it's not strapped to the balcony and yapping like being as loud as annoyingly possible would save its life, then it's busy evading the building's security measures and chasing Yoongi's cat. Yoongi actually thought the dog's name was Grendel for the longest time, if only because it's an unholy terror.
Upon learning this, Hoseok had snapped at him, "Her name is Hope."
Honestly, the guy's just as bad as his pet. In addition to being a dog person (which is a crime in of itself), he blares wall-shaking hip-hop in the afternoons, i.e. when Yoongi's supposed to be asleep. Hoseok wouldn't know the meaning of insomnia if it kept him up all night.
According to Taehyung, he has a beautifully big smile. But Yoongi wouldn't know. Hoseok has never aimed said smile in Yoongi's direction. Not once. Yoongi's far more acquainted with his frown of isosceles proportions.
"I don't care what its name is. Just keep it away from Sugar," Yoongi had said, clutching his cat to his chest. Her claws dug into Yoongi's skin through the worn fabric of his t-shirt. She was obviously traumatized by the heinous canine. Why couldn't Hoseok see that?
"Don't call her an it! And if it really bothers you that much, don't let your cat outside!"
"Your dog's the one that shouldn't be outside!" He said the word dog like a swear.
"I told you already, I'm not the one who lets her out. Taehyung leaves the door open for her when he comes over."
"Then stop having him over," Yoongi had spat, but he knew how difficult it was to keep Taehyung out of anything. He wasn't sure if he meant for the dog or for Taehyung when he added, "Better yet, get a leash."
He hates how often confrontations exactly like that occur between him and the dancer.
"If you could put your differences aside," Jin tells him repeatedly, "you might really like each other."
Each time, without fail, Yoongi says, "I don't care. I don't want to like him. I like my cat."
And, just as frequently, Namjoon reminds Yoongi of the building's no pets policy. It wouldn't bother Yoongi if Namjoon weren't scamming the landlord. Not that Yoongi cares. He just hates hypocrites. When Namjoon's nagging grates his nerves as badly as Hope's existence, he doesn't hesitate to bring up Namjoon's situation. That usually shuts him up.
"Of the two of us, who forgets what days Sihyuk says he's coming for inspection?"
Namjoon stares at the ground instead of meeting Yoongi's eyes when he says, "I do."
"Then I don't have to worry, do I?"
But he does have to worry about disruptions. He, like most of the building's residents, operates on a graveyard schedule. He used to work until seven in the morning, but he can't anymore. Not when the apartment's walls are paper thin and that damn dog barks every time Yoongi hits a note higher than C6. Now, he's forced to pack away his sheet music before the clock strikes six a.m. because Hoseok and Hope are up-and-at-'em by five.
What kind of person gets up at five on a Saturday? Yoongi thinks, irritated by the distant chime of Hoseok's alarm. He can seriously hear everything that goes on in there. Every-fucking-thing.
Milky sunlight fills the room, the product of a sunrise diluted by clouds. Yoongi's fingers refuse to still on the keys. He needs to perfect this piece by next Monday, and that won't be possible if he doesn't work overtime. He's been tripping over a bothersome run on the second page for what feels like an eternity. If he could just spend another fifteen minutes on it--
His temples throb when Hoseok's voice pitches higher than humanly possible. He's screeching his dog's name in response to its excited barks.
As if to comfort him, Sugar pads over and rubs on his legs. Her nose is cold and wet, and her whiskers tickle. He picks her up and shoves his face into her fur. It doesn't take long for her to start purring.
The calamity from next door quiets momentarily, giving Yoongi enough reprieve to resume the tune. Sugar settles in his lap, unbothered by his bouncing knee as he taps his foot to keep time.
He makes it through those vexatious bars another four times when he's interrupted again. Surprisingly, neither Hope nor Hoseok are to blame. While the the shattering of glass isn't unusual, it usually comes from upstairs-- Namjoon has a habit of knocking over lamps and dropping plates. This time, though, it sounds like something downstairs broke.
It sounds like something downstairs blew up.
Sugar's claws return to Yoongi's skin, and he scowls as he forces her to dislodge them from his thigh. He scoops her into his arms, tucking her close to his chest. He shoves his fingers under her glittering collar so he can scratch at her neck, desperately trying to calm her down. He has no idea what the hell he just heard, but he doesn't like how stressed it's made his cat.
There's a bottle of Soju, half full, balanced precariously atop the keyboard. He wouldn't dare leave liquids around his upright, but this isn't his upright. He's not touched the bottle since midnight. He could use a swig right about now.
He stands up, wanting to figure out what's going on. Chances are, Hoseok doesn't know either. He's awake, though. He could at least help Yoongi determine if the sound he heard was real. Sometimes his sleepless nights went hand in hand with auditory hallucinations, so he could never be too sure. Nevermind the fact Sugar reacted outwardly. She freaks if Yoongi so much as jumps, and he had definitely jumped. As much as he hates to admit, he sometimes needs confirmation other than his cat.
He heads for the door with Sugar under his arm and his Soju at the ready.
Hoseok doesn't understand the purpose of a snooze button. When the alarm goes off at 5 a.m. – if he's not awake before it goes off – he is already out of bed and halfway to the kitchen before his brain catches up to his body.
The rest of the building operates on what seems to be the opposite schedule, finally tucking in at 5, and today proves this theory correct. At 4:48 a.m., the insufferable pianist in 2B pounds away at the keys with a kind of primal violence, the same two runs over and over and over again.
Hoseok knows four things about his neighbor, Yoongi: 1) he plays piano 2) he has a spoiled, tubby white cat named Sugar 3) he drinks enough Soju to keep HiteJinro Company at the top of the market and 4) he hates dogs.
Hoseok can tolerate the first three. The last is just inhuman.
As if conjured by his thoughts, Hope, his poufy white Papillon, skitters into the kitchen, sliding across the tile like a tiny car careening out of control. Upon seeing Hoseok, she fills the chilly apartment with high-pitched peals of ecstatic yipping. Hoseok intercepts her mid-leap, propelling her into the air Dirty Dancing style. Holding her wriggly body over his head, he matches her yelps with joyous cries of his own. He squeezes her body to his chest, squealing, “Hobi Hobi Hobi” which prompts the little dog to writhe with delight against him.
It's only seconds later he remembers the hour and the repeated so-very-unpleasant admonitions of his neighbor to keep the noise down when he's working.
Hope seems to realize this at the same moment because she goes rigidly attentive, her feathery ears perked upon her head. Hoseok holds his breath as he calculates the heavy silence. Will Mr. Insufferable pay him a visit, or will he take a break, sip some Soju, and then continue the assault on his piano?
After a painfully prolonged interval of quiet, Hope yips again, this time at the rattling sound of something outside.
Not something, Hoseok knows. Someone...
“Ugh, not today,” Hoseok groans. He starts for the living area, only to run headlong into the intruder in the dim hallway. This evokes an earsplitting shriek from both Hoseok and Taehyung, even though they both knew they would find the other there. Hoseok shoves Taehyung's shoulder, which is damp and cold with dew. Taehyung presses his lips together in his sorry/not sorry grin. And Hope, the neutral party, licks Taehyung's neck.
“I told you not to climb onto my patio,” Hoseok says through a forced smile.
Taehyung squeezes by him into the kitchen, where he seems disappointed to find it bereft of tea or breakfast. “If you don't want me on your patio,” he says, “You shouldn't leave your patio door open.”
This is an argument-go-round. Hoseok knows it all too well.
He says, “I have to leave the door open for Hope.”
Again the unapologetic smile. For two years, Hoseok has failed to keep Taehyung out of his apartment. For two years, Taehyung has been as persistent as the other vermin in this place. Arguably more charming and handsome, but persistent nonetheless.
“Shall I make tea?” Taehyung asks. Hoseok stands there, sputtering and indignant, as Taehyung helps himself to the kitchen, setting the electric tea kettle to boil and nabbing Hoseok's last banana.
As Taehyung peels said banana, he says, “There's a new guy in the apartment below.”
“I know,” Hoseok says, relishing the way Taehyung's brows dip in disappointment. “His name is Jimin, a dancer like me, an assistant ballet teacher at Wangsimni Performing Arts, and he's a friend of Soonyoung's.”
Taehyung's eyes narrow as he bites the banana. “Yeah? Well, Jin's throwing a party to welcome him to the building.”
Hoseok feels his eye twitch. Taehyung smiles, satisfied that his position as the building's purveyor of knowledge remains secure.
“When?” Hoseok says.
“Halloween,” Taehyung answers.
Jin's parties, which rank as stellar on the standard weekend, elevate to legendary status on holidays. And Halloween means costumes, glitter, makeup, exposed skin, reckless abandon, and copious amounts of alcohol. Normally, Hoseok abstains from all of the above. But Halloween isn't normal. Halloween is a night for masks and intrigues, temptation and enticement.
“You don't have any plans,” Taehyung says. “You should go.”
While it's true that Hoseok has no prior engagements on the night, Taehyung's suggestion rankles him. He doesn't bother asking how Taehyung knows these things; Taehyung just knows. Beneath his scruffy mop of tawny hair, Taehyung holds secrets. Taehyung tracks the comings and goings of the building's residents like a walking day planner. He knows when the landlord will show up for a 'surprise' inspection. He knows which of Namjoon's rotating wheel of roommates will arrive and when, which is something not even Namjoon can keep track of.
And Taehyung seems to know what Hoseok tries to conceal from himself: that he's a hopelessly lonely workaholic who hasn't had so much as a coffee date since Park Geunhye first took office.
“Oh, I'll be there,” Hoseok says. Already, he's weighing costume options, makeup versus masks, an ironic send-up versus something upbeat and poppy, when a strange, guttural growl reverberates from below. Hoseok glances at Taehyung who glances up at Namjoon's apartment. A moment later, Hope torpedoes from Hoseok's arms, bouncing toward the entryway with near-rabid ferocity. Her frantic barking compels Hoseok and Taehyung to investigate, but really, they should have known.
Hoseok throws open the door to find Yoongi hovering in his own doorway, a half-empty bottle in one hand, his cat cradled in the crook of his arm. Yoongi, his bleach blond hair more disheveled than usual, squints across the dim hall like he's peering at them from far away. He says, “Did you hear that?”
But before Hoseok can answer, Hope plunges across the hall like a tiny white rocket, going straight for Sugar, who explodes into a screeching, hissing hairball of death before high-tailing into the dark foreboding of Yoongi's apartment. Hope pursues, because of course she does, and Yoongi begins to swear with the forceful, seasoned expertise of a frustrated artist.
This does something to Hoseok, more than he would freely admit. Yoongi's passion seems to permeate every shouted syllable, and Hoseok gets it. It's like when he's practicing a particularly difficult piece of choreography and no matter how many hours he hammers away at it, he can't seem to make it flow.
If he was interrupted in that moment, Hoseok knows he would respond in a similar fashion.
But now was not the time for the commiserating of artists. Hoseok dutifully crosses the hall to join Yoongi's endeavor to separate their rampaging pets.
Sugar cowers beneath a sprung brown armchair in the corner, her ears flat against her wide, white head. Her rhinestone collar glitters menacingly in the half-light of Yoongi's apartment, which smells of pickles, ginger, and cigarette smoke. Several tense moments and multiple scratches later, Hoseok manages to extract Hope from the conflict.
Hoseok stands, drawing his shoulders straight. He tries to cross in front of Yoongi with some dignity, but it's ruined by Hope's continued attempts to squirm free, resulting in a less-than-graceful exit.
Once Hoseok has returned to the neutrality of the corridor, Yoongi says, “Keep that damned dog quiet, will you?”
Hoseok turns to object, to explain that this time it was Yoongi in the hallway that prompted Hope's outburst, and that Hope only attacked because Yoongi had foolishly left the door open to his apartment.
But Yoongi has already slammed the door, is already back at his piano, leaving Hoseok alone with Taehyung, who has witnessed the whole ordeal with a kind of impish grin on his already impish face.
“What?” Hoseok shouts.
“Oh, it's nothing,” Taehyung says, all full of infuriating mystery.
Hoseok realizes that he is shaking and hugs Hope tighter to his body. “It's okay, girl,” he whispers against her neck. “The evil troll man can't hurt you now.”
“It's true,” Taehyung says as he follows Hoseok back into the apartment.
“Glad you agree he's an evil troll man,” Hoseok says, his smile returning.
“No, I mean he can't hurt Hope,” Taehyung says. “With the zero tolerance pets policy, he can't say anything to the landlord without endangering Sugar.”
At the mention of the cat, Hoseok remembers the scratches on his forearms. He goes to the bathroom for antibiotic spray, passing Hope to an all-too-eager Taehyung.
He says, “I'd be more worried about that patio. She can jump down from there to the dumpster, you know.”
Hoseok hisses over his teeth at the sting of the spray. “No way,” he says. “She's too scared to jump that far.”
“If you say so,” Taehyung says.
Hoseok takes Hope from him and rubs her nose against his. “You wouldn't jump that far, would you?” he croons in babytalk. “Why would Hobi want to jump into a damp alley full of trash, like Yoongi's dreams and the last shreds of my sanity? You wouldn't go there, would you? No, why would you?”
Taehyung spies loose coins in a bowl on Hoseok's bar. He scoops them into his palm, rattles them, and then stuffs them into his pocket. Hoseok doesn't know why he keeps emptying his loose change out in the open like this, when Taehyung always takes it...
...But then, maybe he wants Taehyung to take it, the same way that maybe, just maybe, he wants Hope to bark in the middle of the night to provoke a reaction from Yoongi, to get him to open his door and swear at him.
That would be masochistic.
Hoseok looks up to find Taehyung watching him, that telltale wry expression on his lips.
“What?” Hoseok shouts.
“Nothing,” Taehyung says. And as he shuffles down the hall to the door to let himself out, Hoseok thinks, He knows.
Ridiculous, he decides. Taehyung may be a sneak and a thief, but he's not psychic.
Still, the idea thrills and terrorizes him all the rest of the day.