Chapter 1: yoongi & hoseok.
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.
Chapter 2: jungkook & jimin.
When Jimin's AC explodes, he calls Jungkook, the building's handyman, and meets the building's resident sneak and snack burglar, Taehyung, as well.
Double post today!
The apartment building slumps between two nondescript office plazas, both of which are several stories taller, thus blocking out any natural light. The first two floors of the building were built by HLB Holdings, Ltd., but the company folded, leaving the building to molder for two years before Bang Sihyuk purchased the lien to complete construction. Sihyuk elected to build on top of the existing basement, lobby, and the first floor rather than ripping the whole thing down and starting from scratch.
This is why the west facing balconies open toward the bland concrete walls of the still-incomplete Kolon Building, and why the bulk of Jungkook's repair calls come from apartments 1A through 1D. The original wiring and plumbing is shoddy, bordering on dangerous, but Jungkook has yet to meet a machine he cannot fix.
People on the other hand...
Well, Jungkook doesn't people.
It's not that he doesn't like them; he does. From a safe distance. Preferably with his camera as a filter against unwanted human interaction.
This lack of people-ing drew Jungkook to take the maintenance job in the first place. When he moved from Busan to Seoul, the massive throngs of people intimidated him. His refusal to return home until he had made something of himself drove him to seek shelter in the suburbs. The apartment building, which hunches into a sleepy neighborhood on the southeast side of town, lurks close enough to the train station, but far enough from Gangnam and Hongdae to avoid the ceaseless masses.
And despite the perpetual decrepitude of the building, which reeks of mothballs and damp plaster, Jungkook likes his job. He likes his basement apartment with its stooped ceilings and faded orange wallpaper. He likes the dark room he's set up in the back half of his living space.
The best part, though – even better than living on-site and rent-free – is the tenants.
By no stretch is the apartment building classy. Seedy? Sure, with a downward trend toward dingy. Because of this, the building attracts an eclectic mix of artists, actors, dancers, musicians, and students like himself.
They thrive. They glow. They struggle and fight. Every one of them has a story, and Jungkook records them all.
Not in a creepy stalker way. In the two years he's worked for Bang Sihyuk, the tenants have come to know him as the shy photography kid who fixes things. They don't expect him to engage beyond what he's willing to give. Jungkook has been fine with that arrangement until two days ago.
That was when Jimin moved in.
Jimin, with the feather-light voice and the beaming eye-smile.
Jimin, the assistant dance instructor.
Jimin, who just happened to move into the dodgiest apartment in the building.
Initially, when Bang Sihyuk gave Jimin the tour, Jungkook thought of subtly warning Jimin off the place. If 1A remained empty, maybe Bang Sihyuk would finally bring in proper plumbers and electricians to refit the place.
Instead, Jungkook trailed them from room to tiny room, committing Jimin's unnervingly dexterous movements to his memory. This had taken so much of Jungkook's concentration, he ended up saying nothing. Nothing at all, not even when Jimin said, “Nice to meet you, Jungkook. I'll see you soon.”
Jungkook had panicked. He had taken the handkerchief from his pocket and polished a smudge from the stovetop.
“Nice to meet you, see you soon,” Jimin had said. And Jungkook cleaned a counter?
This is the first thing Jungkook thinks when he wakes up in the middle of the night, startled and doused in sweat. He thinks he must have been dreaming about that first botched meeting, reliving it again like some kind of tailor-made torture.
But then he remembers a sound, like an echo or an auditory afterimage. Something... Exploded?
Jungkook palms the clock by his bed. It's only 5 a. m., but someone upstairs is stirring. He sits up, stretches, thumbs the stubble on his cheek. He's not surprised at all when, seconds later, his phone begins to ring.
If the commotion caused by the air conditioning unit hadn't woken him, the stifling heat that followed surely would have. He's already sweating by the time he processes the sound of the explosion. His sheets are glued to his body and he has to peel himself free from the bed.
He strongly considers taking Soonyoung's name in vain when he glances at the clock. It is way too early for this.
The long commute from Yeonsinnae to Wangsimni aside, Jimin's previous apartment was picturesque. He never would have looked for something closer to the university if Soonyoung hadn't insisted that he knew a good place. Jimin should have asked for Soonyoung's definition of good.
He wants to call Soonyoung before the maintenance guy, just so he can vent his frustrations. Soonyoung's probably getting home from a long night of dancing and studying and then dancing some more, and Jimin's already scripted what he wants to say—
"I used to have a bathtub, Soonyoung. A bathtub. And what do I have here? My kitchen's so small, I feel claustrophobic just standing in it. You're lucky I don't have to climb more than a flight of stairs in this place, because if I did, you'd be dead by now. Not only is the elevator broken, but as of this morning, my air conditioner no longer works. There's so much sweat leaving my body, I could fill the bathtub I don't have. Why did I ever let you talk me into this?"
But Jimin's thumb skirts Soonyoung's name in his contacts list at the last second. Jungkook answers almost immediately. Instead of saying hello, the first words out of his mouth are, "Is this about the explosion?"
Jimin laughs. "Yeah, um... That was my AC."
"I'll be right there," Jungkook says, and he hangs up before Jimin has the chance to say thanks.
At least the building's got a diligent handyman, Jimin thinks. If he had to wait a week to get this fixed, he wouldn't hesitate to hightail it to his old apartment and beg the landlord to let him move back in.
There's a knock at the door. It's been less than a minute since he called. The phone hasn't even left Jimin's hand yet.
An extremely diligent handyman, Jimin thinks.
Jimin opens the door and finds a stranger on the other side. He's just as tall as Jungkook, but he's lacking the toolbelt and gauge earrings. He pushes past Jimin, letting himself into the apartment like he owns the place. He heads for the kitchen and doesn't look like he's going to stop for anything.
Jimin doesn't want to close the door. Closing the door means trapping himself with someone who's dressed like grunge is still in fashion. So he stands there, holding the door open, watching helplessly as Korean Kurt Cobain goes through his fridge.
"Excuse me?" Jimin tries.
"No, no. You just walked into my house. You don't get to be funny," Jimin says. "I don't even know who you are."
"I see you've met Taehyung," Jungkook says. His sudden appearance in the doorway makes Jimin lurch.
"You scared me," Jimin breathes.
"Sorry. Here, let me..." Jungkook says, and then he's heading for — Taehyung? Was that his name?
Jungkook picks Taehyung up and carries him without struggling. Either Taehyung's made of feathers or Jungkook's stronger than he looks. Maybe both. Taehyung squirms and protests, reaching for the fridge like there's something inside he really, really wants. Jimin knows there's nothing worth taking, but he's still upset. What makes this Taehyung think he has rummaging rights?
They make it into the hall and Jungkook throws Taehyung away.
Taehyung sinks to the ground in a discarded heap and says, “Wait, wait! Please don't be mad.” He isn't standing up, and it takes Jimin a moment to realize that's because he's literally begging on his knees. “I actually have a reason to be here!”
"What a coincidence," Jungkook deadpans. "I also have a reason to be here."
"It's about the party," Taehyung spouts. He trips over his words in his hurry. "Jin wants me to invite people. That's all I'm doing, I swear!"
"Did you have to look through my fridge to tell me that?" Jimin asks.
Taehyung's face goes pink.
"Namjoon says Taehyung likes to live as a radical socialist," Jungkook says. "He takes stuff without asking. He thinks everything belongs to everyone."
"I'm pretty sure that's theft," Jimin replies.
The blush on Taehyung's face becomes a deeper red. He chews on his bottom lip, eyebrows drawn in embarrassment. "I got hungry!"
Jimin rolls his eyes. He goes to the kitchen, swipes a granola bar from the pantry, and chucks it at Taehyung upon his return. "There," he says. "Now you can leave."
"The party's on Halloween," Taehyung says, pocketing the snack. He comes to a stand and dusts off his jeans, like that'll make them any cleaner. "It would suck if you don't go, 'cause it's kinda being thrown in your honor, Jiminie."
"Don’t call me that,” Jimin says. Then, “Wait. How do you know my—"
Taehyung cuts him off with, "Of course I know your name! You're new to the building. Besides, I know everything."
Jimin, concerned, looks to Jungkook for verification.
To his dismay, Jungkook says, "He really does. Hey, what am I doing Thursday?"
"Korean History at one o'clock. Photography at four. You've gotta drop something off at your cousin's—That jacket he let you borrow over Chuseok, right? He needs it 'cause he and his girlfriend are going to New York in, like, a week. So you're not gonna work out 'til eight, but you'll be home by ten."
Jungkook nods, and Jimin's jaw drops.
"See you at the party," Taehyung says. He points at them each in turn, a threatening finger, and adds, "Don't act like you've got plans."
Then he's taking the stairs, bounding up them two at a time.
Jungkook turns to Jimin. He's smiling apologetically. He looks sleep mussed, like maybe Jimin's AC was what woke him up. Jimin thinks he might have noticed his ruffled hair and tired eyes earlier if Taehyung hadn't been occupying 99.9% of his brain's capabilities.
"Hi," Jimin says.
"Hi," Jungkook returns.
"So, um... I have class in an hour. Do you think you can fix my AC before then?"
Jungkook frowns. "I'm not sure. There's kind of... a rule."
"A rule?" Jimin's head tilts to the side in confusion.
"I'm not allowed to work in someone's apartment when they're not there," he explains. "It might be better to wait until you're home again to get started. If that's okay with you?"
He would probably have to eat breakfast on the balcony to avoid the heat, and he's always hated ice cold showers, but... He'll be at the university until evening. It's not like he'll be left sweltering in the confines of his new apartment.
So Jimin smiles, unbridled and big, and says, "Sure! I'll see you then."
Chapter 3: namjoon & taehyung.
Taehyung crashes a date with Namjoon and Jin, and the three of them conspire to get Hoseok and Yoongi together.
Namjoon's apartment is flooded with more noise than most at five in the morning, if only because none of its inhabitants have actually been to sleep yet. He doesn't have the best track record for going to bed before midnight—or three a.m.—or even later (earlier?) in the day. He especially has a hard time settling down when it's Youngjae's turn to stay the night (or week).
Namjoon's a writer, which means a lot of his evening hours are spent tapping away on his laptop, trying to bullshit his way through another article before his next publication date creeps up on him. Youngjae, on the other hand, is an avid gamer. He likes to stay at Namjoon's better than at Sungyoon's or Jihoon's (or Sungcheol's or Jeonghan's or Wonwoo’s... He's as competent at couch-surfing as he is at PC gaming). Of the various places he takes shelter, Namjoon's the only one with a desktop that can handle half the shit Youngjae's downloaded onto it.
Yes, Namjoon has a desktop and a laptop, but don't get any ideas. He's far from rich. The laptop whines the entire time it's being used, occasionally spitting dust from its noisy fans, and it's a hand-me-down from Hoseok, the dancer in 2A (not to be confused with the dancer that moved into 1A this week).
Coincidentally, Hoseok got it as a hand-me-down from his older sister, who got it as a hand-me-down from their aunt. From the way Hoseok talked about it before he gave it to Namjoon, he made it sound like it had belonged to a lot more family members than just his sister and his aunt. Bless him and his scholarship that paid for a new MacBook Air, rendering his shitty laptop useless enough to give to Namjoon free of charge. But also, damn him. He has a fucking MacBook Air.
Anyway, Namjoon's supposed to be working at night, but he just can't when Youngjae's around. He's up during the hours Namjoon is accustomed to spending alone, and it's not like ugh, Youngjae's invading my space or ugh, Youngjae's clicking the mouse too loud. Namjoon actually finds the victorious yelps Youngjae makes when he levels up to be quite endearing.
In truth, Namjoon has lived a life in solitude thanks to his inability to shut up his brain and just go to sleep. Having someone to keep him company makes for a nice change.
So, no... Namjoon didn't get any writing done last night. But his deadlines and his existential dread can catch up to him later. Right now, the sun's coming up, Youngjae's stretching after hours spent in the same spot, and Namjoon's tabbing through the Netflix queue on the hunt for another documentary they can watch. He feels great.
"You want anything?" Youngjae asks, padding into the kitchen. He's got that lightning-strike look to him. Electric dishevelment. Evidence of the all-nighter. "I'd offer coffee, but I'm thinking we should crash soon."
"I could go for coffee," Namjoon says.
"Really? You wanna stay up 'til noon or something?" Youngjae asks. He's pulling a filter from the cupboard and gearing up to make a pot as he speaks.
"Yeah, I might as well. You can tap out if you want, though."
"Probs will," Youngjae says, raising his voice to rival the rush of the tap. The sink squeaks when he shuts it off, and with the water added, the coffee machine's a loaded weapon. He fires it up and continues to hover until Namjoon asks—
Youngjae smiles, bright as the golden sunrise. He starts banging around in the kitchen, pulling ingredients and pans from the various disarray.
This is arguably Namjoon's favorite part about Youngjae and the rest of the ensemble that is his rotating roommate brigade: Food. Namjoon is nothing if not a fire hazard on legs. He doesn't trust himself in the kitchen, and the amount of times he's nearly set the whole complex ablaze doesn't help the other residents trust him very much, either.
Namjoon nearly dozes off to the tune of oil sizzling and coffee gurgling. A distant explosion interrupts the kitchen's noises, successfully jarring him awake.
Youngjae's eyes widen. "What was that?" he asks, never faltering in his pancake flippage.
"Dunno," Namjoon says, slurring in his sleepiness. His muscles protest the tiniest movements, but he ignores the bodily uproar and makes it to the coffee maker. He pours himself a cup. He fixes it the way he likes it. That is to say, undrinkable by any coffee lover's standards. He's got a raging sweet tooth, and once he's finished with the creamer and the sugar, his drink doesn't resemble coffee anymore. "Want me to go check?"
"Tell me if something cool happened," Youngjae says, which is Youngjae's way of saying he wants Namjoon to find out what blew up.
Namjoon nods and shuffles to the door. He stuffs his feet into a pair of slippers. He's in the hallway, slurping his coffee, when he realizes he has no idea where to start looking. There's no way of telling where the explosion occurred. He thinks it came from downstairs, which doesn't help much. He's on the fourth floor.
There's footsteps on the stairwell, loud and hurried. Jin emerges, breathless and red in the face. Unsurprisingly, he's beautiful. Namjoon understands why Jin's made a career based on his looks.
Jin's relieved when he sees Namjoon. He jogs over, closing the distance between them. When he comes to a stop, he shouts, "I thought you died!"
Namjoon swallows his mouthful of liquid caffeine and asks, "Why?"
"Wasn't me this time," he says. "Did you run all the way down here from the seventh story?"
"Maybe," Jin replies.
Namjoon hides his smile behind his coffee mug.
Jin keeps talking while he's drinking. "To be fair, I was already on my way to the lobby. I'm meeting with a few directors this morning. They wanted to secure my position for the lead role. My last production's not even wrapped yet. The perks of keeping friends in the business!" He brags in a way that Namjoon knows is accidental.
"That's awesome," Namjoon says.
"They're almost done writing the script. I have a couple days off until I need to start memorizing lines again. I meant to ask..."
Namjoon blinks too slowly, or he wavers on his feet. Whatever it is, it makes Jin's expression darken with concern.
"Have you gone to sleep yet?"
"Was that what you meant to ask?" Namjoon asks. He's stalling the inevitable lecture Jin will give him about staying up too late.
"You're drinking coffee, too," Jin says. "What have I told you about drinking coffee after not sleeping at night?"
"It's a great laxative?" Namjoon tries. Jin looks like Namjoon's hurt his feelings, and Namjoon almost feels bad.
"Joonie," Jin whines. He's pouting now, with his bottom lip on full display. He's a professional at pouting.
Scratch the almost. Namjoon definitely feels bad.
"It's bad for my heart," Namjoon sighs. "I know. I'm sorry. Youngjae's with me this week. You know how it is..."
"I thought it was Jinyoung's week?" Jin asks, confused. Namjoon must look equally as confused—he can never keep track of whose week it is—because Jin shakes his head and says, "Not important. What I meant to ask was... Are you free this evening?"
"I should be," Namjoon says. "Why?"
"I got a bottle of wine from a fan recently... I thought we could pop it open? Watch something fancy and British?”
There are more footsteps on the stairwell. This time, it's Taehyung. He's dressed like an homage to the '90s. He automatically latches onto Jin, and Jin allows it. Encourages it, even.
"Jiminie's mean," Taehyung says. "I'm glad his air conditioning broke."
"So that's what the explosion was," Namjoon mutters.
Jin raises an eyebrow. He's more interested by Taehyung's first comment than the second. "Did you invite him to the party like I asked you to?"
"Yep! Jungkook, too."
Jin's tantalization morphs into pleasure. He smooths a hand through Taehyung's hair and asks, "Did you eat?"
Taehyung flashes a granola bar at him, then places it back in his pocket.
"Door's open for you," Jin says. "There's leftovers in the fridge with your name on them. In case you get hungry later?"
"'kay, thanks. Good luck with that meeting," Taehyung replies, and then he's gone, most likely penthouse-bound.
Namjoon's always thought of Taehyung as Jin's roommate, but Taehyung doesn't have a key. They're touchy-feely and Namjoon can't help but wonder. He's yet to find the courage he needs to ask what their situation is.
"Will I be seeing you later?" Jin asks.
Namjoon jolts like he's been caught, and in a way, he has. He tears his eyes away from the stairwell where he watched Taehyung disappear. He takes another swig of his coffee before saying, “I'll text you when I wake up.”
Jin flashes him a thumbs up.
Jin's character on the K-drama, December Days, is a broody romantic, a rich man's tragically poetic son who manages to get with every new girl in town, despite the character's existential moaning.
Real Life Jin could not be more opposite. The self-made gay son of a tailor and a shopkeeper, Jin is privileged, but not pretentious. He's capricious, but never cruel. He's got a laugh like a goose strapped to a windshield wiper, and the sound of it always surprises Taehyung.
Real Life Jin came to Seoul on a scholarship at 16. He then climbed steadily through Xylitol ads and variety shows before landing steady gigs on TV. Now he presides over a motley kingdom of bohemian misfits from atop his crumbling tower in the southeast hills of Seoul, and he laughs and laughs and laughs.
Taehyung loves TV Jin and Real Life Jin, and all the versions of Jin in between.
He is perfect.
Except that every side of Jin seems to share the exact same flaw:
Jin is never alone.
This evening's guest is Namjoon, the writer from 4C. They laze like kings on Jin's plush white sofa – Namjoon in black-on-black with a beanie snugged over his brows, and Jin still clad in pastel satin pajamas. They're drinking white wine in actual wine glasses and watching some British corset-y drama on Jin's giant-screen TV.
Taehyung feels a pinch of envy at seeing them sprawled so comfortably on the couch, facing each other, their legs a loose tangle between them. He tries not to be jealous of Namjoon, who is witty and punny and roguishly kind. Namjoon and Jin are from the same world, and their conversations sometimes sound like this:
“Blah blah, Herodotus.”
“Well, blah blah, Herman Hesse.”
“Oh yes, but blah blah, Oscar Wilde.”
Then they laugh, and Jin's vigorous honking fills his spacious penthouse.
Through the sliding glass doors of the wraparound balcony, Taehyung watches them. Namjoon looks rigidly frantic as he talks, gesturing with tight jabs to punctuate his sentences. Jin listens and nods, and when Taehyung pushes the door open, he waves with his wine glass but doesn't interrupt Namjoon's invective, which goes something like this:
“If I don't get the next chapter to the publisher on time, I won't get my advance, which means I won't be able to pay my rent, which means I'll lose the apartment.”
“Joonie, you won't lose the apartment,” Jin soothes. “You have, what – seven roommates?”
“Therein lies the other issue,” Namjoon cuts in. “The lease designates Jackson as my roommate, but during last month's inspection, Sihyuk found BamBam asleep on my sofa.”
Taehyung sees his window and grabs it. “Oh yeah, was that when you called the landlord a racist?”
Jin's lips purse with interest.
Namjoon rushes to explain. “Actually,” he says, “I suggested that Sihyuk couldn't tell a Thai person apart from a Chinese man.” He presses the heels of his hands to his forehead and gives his eyes a good scrub. “I think I'm doomed. I'm going to lose my place and become some homeless wretch.”
Jin laughs. He pats Namjoon's shoulder. “You aren't going to lose your home,” he says.
Taehyung thinks that's quite enough comfort from Jin and forcefully flounces down between them. “Well, if home is where the heart is,” Taehyung says. “You'll find me at the Burger King.”
Namjoon chuckles. “You can't hate on the BK,” he agrees.
Jin resettles his feet in Taehyung's lap. He passes him the wine glass, and Taehyung takes it between his palms, savoring the cool smoothness of the glass before taking a sip.
“So,” Jin says, shifting the topic. “Did you invite Yoongi and Hoseok to the party?”
“Hoseok, yes,” Taehyung says. “But Yoongi was too upset, serious anger issues, so I decided to let him cool down a bit.”
“What was he upset about this time?” Namjoon asks, though they all know by now it's always the same thing.
“Hope,” Jin and Taehyung say in unison. Jin smiles, and Taehyung feels it like a stab deep, deep down in his heart. He has to clear his throat before he can speak again.
“They were at it again this morning,” Taehyung says. “Yoongi's learning this new piece, and Hobi's just a little puppy. Then Jimin's AC exploded, and then Yoongi exploded. Things got ugly.”
“It hurts me to know those two are so miserable,” Jin says.
Namjoon swirls the wine in his glass. He says, “The miserable have no other medicine, but only hope.”
“Yeats?” Jin guesses.
“Shakespeare,” Namjoon says. Jin rests his chin in his hand and hits Namjoon with his bedroom eyes. Taehyung knows that look and knows that it can only mean one thing.
Thinking fast, Taehyung says, “What they really need is a nice, long shag.”
He realizes that mentioning sex at this moment may not be the smartest thing he's ever done. But Jin's bedroom eyes morph into an expression of puckish intrigue. “Taehyung,” he says. “You're a genius.”
“I am?” he says.
Over Taehyung's head, Jin meets Namjoon's gaze.
“Hold up,” Namjoon says. “Are you suggesting we Much Ado About Nothing them?”
Taehyung is adrift. He's in way over his head. He is lost. But he'll be damned if he lets either of them see it. So he nods and smiles and sips Jin's wine.
And Jin says, “That is precisely what I have in mind.”
Chapter 4: jimin & jungkook.
Jungkook goes to fix Jimin's AC and gets more than he bargained for.
Double post today, too!!
edit: thank you so much to our reader Justaguest for creating such beautiful fanart to go along with this chapter!! you can find the art HERE and wow it is GORGEOUS <3
When Jimin gets home, he's greeted with a blast of heat. Although it's less a blast and more like a creature of its own that unfurls itself and slowly crawls into the hallway, escaping through the opened door after a day's worth of festering. Worse, the creature's clingy and wants to drape itself all over Jimin, who's already sweaty from a rigorous two hours of dance practice at the school's studio.
He makes the mistake of calling Jungkook as soon as he's stepped into the living room. Jungkook answers, and it's then Jimin remembers he wanted to shower. He undoubtedly stinks—anyone would after dancing for two hours—and he wanted to change clothes before Jungkook came over. A little less short shorts and a lot more sweatpants, the pants intended for sweating in, because it doesn't matter if he's freshly showered; he'll be sweating sooner than later thanks to his new roommate, the heat monster.
He also really, really doesn't want to put his ass on display for a really, really cute maintenance guy that he barely knows. He doesn't want to give the kid a heart attack...
...Well, that's a lie. He kinda really does.
Jungkook's attractive and stoic and exactly Jimin's type, but he doesn't want to bust out the short shorts until he's absolutely certain Jungkook's interested in looking. Otherwise, he'll come off as desperate. Which he totally is! He just doesn't want anyone else to know that.
"Jimin?" Jungkook prompts, and oh shit, Jimin's on the phone.
"I didn't say anything out loud, did I?" Jimin asks.
"No," Jungkook says. "That's why I got worried. I thought you might have called on accident."
"No, no! I meant to call," Jimin says.
"You meant to call so you could say... nothing?" There's humor in his voice, and it makes Jimin blush.
"Sorry," he mumbles. "Just wanted to let you know I'm home."
"Okay," Jungkook says. There's some noise on his end of the line, like he's moving around. "Let me finish up what I'm doing down here. I'll be there in, like... fifteen?"
"Great!" Jimin says, because that really is great. He can absolutely shower in fifteen minutes. Or less. He's already shimmying out of his shorts.
"Bye then," Jungkook says.
"Right! Sorry. Bye."
Jungkook says bye again, which Jimin finds a lot cuter than he probably should, and then Jungkook hangs up.
Jimin's in and out of the shower in record time. Using cold water makes it pretty easy to speed up the process of scrubbing his abs clean. He really doesn't want to use the hairdryer, but he suffers through the added heat because he'd rather die than use a towel. He slaps moisturizer on his face, spritzes himself with a mildly scented body spray, and there's a knock at the door.
Has it already been fifteen minutes?
Another knock. More insistent this time. "Maintenance!" chases the sound like a lime chases shots.
"Fuck," Jimin hisses under his breath. Louder, hopefully loud enough for Jungkook to hear, he says, "Just a second!"
After getting off the phone with Jimin, Jungkook stands in red-tinged darkness, his phone still in hand, which he taps pensively to his chin. Three glossy rectangles drip into the bin on his workbench. While he watches, the ghosts of images begin to form – outlines of white against black, sharp at first, then softening into shape.
In classrooms and gallery shows, he's listened to photographers talk about the process. They invariably point to this part as their favorite: the something-from-nothing moment when the image appears on the page. They rattle on about techniques and exposures, contrasts and highlights, but they're all about the final printed piece.
In his head, Jungkook has hosted whole shows where he ambles among his colleagues and classmates (and his parents, too; they're always there, looking pleased with their son who gave up a medical career to take pictures while supplementing his income by unclogging toilets). Everyone walks around, sipping champagne and admiring his work, which is tastefully framed against the bright walls of the exhibit hall. In these imagined shows, he is eloquent and funny in a self-deprecating way, and when they gather to hear him speak about his work, they ask about his process. What is your favorite part? they say.
And Jungkook answers that he cannot isolate one favorite step from the process. He loves every painstaking second of it. Then he ponders aloud over the inadequacy of that word: painstaking. Why isn't there a better word, he'll say, like joys-taking, because that would more accurately describe what he feels? From the moment he snaps the shutter, he feels alive. As he guides an image from film, coaxing it through countless chemical baths and rinses, his heartbeat steadies and his breathing deepens. When he lifts the image from negative to test strip and then to print, every adjustment for exposure and contour soothes him and brings him... Joy.
In this fantasy gallery show of his, people raise their glasses and cheer.
In real life, Jungkook knows the fantasy is inherently flawed. First, he rarely strings together five syllables in class, much less an entire description, and the idea of speaking in front of a group... nightmare.
Second, if he possessed the skills to communicate his love for this process, he doubts that anyone would understand it.
Jungkook runs each print through a final wash, rinsing them with almost parental tenderness. He clips them to the line, weighting each with a clothespin to make them dry straight. He's tentatively pleased: the cat and the dog, both stark white against the dark, gritty alley. He knows he won't be able to look at the photographs objectively for another day at least. Until then, he has to back away, to give himself space, before coming back to them with fresh eyes.
Fortunately, he has Jimin's AC to repair, a job that will absorb his full concentration for the better part of the evening. Jungkook pulls on his coveralls and buckles his tool belt. From the kitchen drawer, he pulls the manuals for two different AC units, hoping that one of them is the model in Jimin's apartment.
Jungkook knocks, and... nothing.
He waits, bouncing on the balls of his feet. There's a flutter of noise, and Jungkook wonders if Jimin heard him. He knocks again and says, “Maintenance.”
He immediately feels stupid. Why did he say that? Jimin called him; he knows who it is. Plus, it sounds so impersonal. Hello, human. I am a maintenance robot here to service your...
Jimin opens the door.
In a towel.
“Abs,” Jungkook says. He hopes his eyes aren't as wide as they feel.
Jimin, flustered and dripping, steps back to let Jungkook in.
“I am so sorry,” Jimin says in a rush, making no attempt to cover himself. “I just came from a dance practice, I'm learning this new choreo and it's really challenging, but good challenging, not bad challenging, and then the ride on the subway plus the no AC when I got home, I had to take a shower, and you are very punctual, so... thanks for that, and I'll go change.”
Jungkook says, “Fine.” It sounds terse. Is he being terse? He adds, “Good.” This does not improve his tone.
But Jimin smiles. “Okay,” he says. He ducks into the bathroom. Jungkook raps himself on the forehead. He decides it would be best if he just got to work.
The AC unit hulks above Jimin's bed, a mildew-riddled monster flecked with old paint. Smoke smudges the wall and part of the ceiling above it, confirming Jungkook's suspicions about the unit's strain on the electrical grid. He unplugs the machine before wresting the cover plate free to find crisps of wire beneath.
He angles to the side, looking for a place to prop the cover, only to find Jimin at his elbow. He's wearing sweatpants now and a soft t-shirt with a neck wide enough to display serious collarbone business. This is impossibly worse than the towel, which left nothing to the imagination, and Jungkook stands there like a rabbit caught in cross-hairs until Jimin moves to take the AC cover from his hands.
“How's it look?” Jimin asks.
“Good,” Jungkook answers.
“Really?” Jimin springs onto the bed, craning over Jungkook's shoulder to examine the fried wiring. He's so close Jungkook can smell Jimin's freshly-washed hair. “Looks pretty bad,” Jimin says. “Like maybe it could take a while?”
“Maybe,” Jungkook admits. He glances up at the AC unit and realizes the only way he'll be able to access the wires is by joining Jimin on the bed. “Slide over,” he says.
Jimin follows Jungkook's line of sight and nods his understanding. “Okay, but you'll have to take off your boots.”
“Of course,” Jungkook says. And he does. Then they're standing on the bed together, and Jimin is so close he's practically resting his chin on Jungkook's shoulder. Jimin seems intent on watching the repair work, and although the proximity makes Jungkook's breathing feel... tight, he doesn't ask Jimin to move. Instead, he passes Jimin his flashlight, directing him to point the beam into the AC unit's blackened husk.
Silence unwinds between them as Jungkook works. Jimin angles the flashlight instinctively, as if he's taking cues from Jungkook's movements. Which he is, Jungkook realizes. Jimin's a dancer; reading a person's body language probably feels as natural to him as walking.
Jungkook barely registers when Jimin starts talking. His voice blends into Jungkook's own internal chatter. On one level, he's focusing on the job: prying the jumble of charred wires free, cleaning the connections, replacing them. On another level, a deeper level, he's listening to Jimin talk about dance. Not just dance, but the process of dancing, of breaking it down into basic steps so that all you have is breath and heartbeat and blood, and how it's so much more than people think it is.
And Jimin says, “That's what everyone wants to see, the finished product, you know, the dance itself, but my favorite part is all of it, from the first beat of the music to the last flourish before curtain fall. Every part is my favorite part.”
Jungkook freezes, his pliers poised over the wires. He meets Jimin's eyes, and there's a feverish look to him. Jungkook recognizes that feeling.
Jimin blushes. “Sorry,” he says. “I ramble when I'm anxious. Not that you make me anxious. It's just, I get nervous when it's quiet, and you're really quiet, so—”
“—It's okay,” Jungkook says. He hops down from the bed and takes the plug in his hand. “Cross your fingers,” he says. Instead, Jimin squinches his eyes shut. Jungkook thinks this may be the cutest thing he's ever seen.
Jungkook plugs in the AC and palms the power button. It shudders to life, its vents shuffling into place. Chilled air fans the damp hair on Jimin's forehead. He risks opening first one eye, then the other. Within seconds, the unit slakes the heat of the room by several degrees, and Jimin beams.
“All done,” Jungkook proclaims. He hops down from the bed to collect his scattered tools. He wonders if he imagines Jimin's reluctance upon returning Jungkook's flashlight.
He's moving toward the door, double checking his belt, when Jimin says, “So this Halloween party. Are you going?”
Jungkook shrugs. “I usually only go long enough to take photos,” he says.
“Oh,” Jimin says. “You're a photographer?”
“Yeah,” Jungkook says. “And yes, I am going. So… I will see you there.”
Chapter 5: yoongi & hoseok.
Taehyung finds a way to get Yoongi to come to Jin's party.
Namjoon and Jin put the first part of their plan into play.
Frustration falls short of describing the molten emotion in Yoongi's veins. His sheets ensnare his ankles, the remnants of his bedding after an hour's worth of tossing and turning. He sighs, flipping onto his stomach and burying his head beneath his pillows as a last resort. The position is comfortable for two seconds, maybe, before the pressing on his bladder becomes unbearable.
Yoongi groans. The guttural sound permeates the stupidly thin walls, and the dog next door howls in response. To be fair, it hasn't stopped howling since Hoseok left for class. Yoongi's groaning only serves to escalate the situation.
Typically, the dog shuts up when Hoseok doesn't magically reappear after fifteen minutes, but today, that's not the case. Today, it's throwing a fit. Yoongi's fucked if he knows why. And Yoongi hasn't been fucked in a good, long time.
He throws his pillow across the room. It hits the side of the laundry basket, and the laundry basket tips over. He leaves the dirty clothes where they are and makes a beeline for the bathroom.
Aiming's difficult when his vision keeps blurring with sleepiness. After flushing, he washes his hands and avoids his reflection in the mirror. That's the last thing he wants to see right now: his eyes, puffy and toting bags bigger than some stereotypical prep; his hair, bleached and tangled. He's probably swollen like a goddamn puffer fish.
Drying his hands by way of his pajama pants, he goes into the living room. He needs to get his headphones, and he thinks he left them on the couch, but he never makes it to the couch because Taehyung's standing there, manhandling his cat.
"The fuck, Taehyung?"
Taehyung brings Sugar to cover his face. He manipulates her paw so that she's waving at Yoongi. In a strange imitation of a woman's voice, Taehyung says, "Good morning, Yoongi!"
Sugar slips out of Taehyung's arms. Her collar jangles as she runs away.
"Good morning, Yoongi," Taehyung says again. This time, it's in his lower tenor. He smiles like a megawatt bulb.
Yoongi squints. "Why are you here?"
He doesn't bother asking how Taehyung got in. Taehyung's capable of scaling buildings and picking locks, both of which Yoongi has witnessed. Taehyung once told Yoongi that he didn't go inside the apartment when Yoongi wasn't home. Scout's honor.
Yoongi's pretty sure Taehyung was never a boy scout, so his honor means shit.
That said, Taehyung visits Yoongi significantly less frequently than he does Jin or even Hoseok, and for that, Yoongi's thankful. He only comes around when he needs something.
"I meant to tell you yesterday," Taehyung says, "but I forgot, 'cause the thing downstairs went kablooey. Jin wants me to invite you to his Halloween—”
Taehyung's jaw goes agape. "No thanks? This is Jin's annual Monster Mash we're talking about! You can't no thanks the Mash!"
"I can, and I will, and I just did. No thanks, Taehyung," Yoongi says. "Was that all you came down for?"
"You have to go to the party," Taehyung insists.
"I don't have to do anything," Yoongi says.
"You have to breathe," Taehyung argues, like that'll make Yoongi change his mind. He starts listing on his fingers, "And you have to blink, and eat, and sleep—"
"Ah," Yoongi says.
Taehyung stops. He looks like Yoongi's just said something profound, and he can't figure it out. His eyebrows go pointy, dipping down as he thinks. When he fails to assign meaning to Yoongi's ah, he tries it in his own mouth.
"Ah?" It's more of a question than Yoongi’s was.
"Sleep," Yoongi says. "I haven't had any. Go away."
Taehyung's thinking face recedes and makes way for his frowning mouth. The sleeves of his flannel swallow up his hands. He shoves them around his elbows, giving his mouth access to his fingers. Biting his nails doesn't stop him from talking. He says, "Jin will be upset if you don't come to the party."
"I don't care," Yoongi says.
Taehyung spits his fingers out and says, "Not upset with you! Upset with me! I'm supposed to invite everyone."
Taehyung's frantic with worry, like having Jin upset with him might bring about the apocalypse. At this point, Yoongi can't bring himself to empathize with the guy. If Jin being upset brings about the apocalypse, then Yoongi wants the world to end. He could sleep when he was dead, right? The phrase had never sounded more appealing.
"You invited me. I said no," Yoongi drawls. "Have your crisis in the hallway."
"I'll do anything!" Taehyung sputters.
Yoongi pauses. He's intrigued, if only because Taehyung's got a vast skill set and grey morals. Anything means anything.
"I'm gonna be honest with you, kid. I haven't been able to sleep. I haven't been able to work," Yoongi says.
"Why not?" Taehyung asks. He takes Yoongi's topic change in stride.
"That fucking dog is so loud."
"Dog?" Taehyung echoes. "You mean Hope?"
The dog unleashes its loudest bark yet, as if it were eavesdropping and heard its name.
Yoongi sighs. He craves an alteration. He wants the cold, autumn air to crack like glass inside his chest. He wants cigarette smoke to unfurl past his lips, burning warm on his exhale.
"Yes," he says finally. "I mean Hope."
"What about her?"
Of course, Hoseok left his umbrella by the door this morning when he was rousted from his house by the demonic pianist across the hall. Twelve hours later, Hoseok laments this fact when, of course, the rain doesn't hold out the five measly minutes it takes for him to dash home from the train station. He's a sweaty, moistened mess when he hits the landing of the building, and then, wouldn't you know it, there would be an impromptu resident's reunion in the lobby with Jin and Namjoon and the new kid from 1A.
Hoseok, shivering and drenched, knows there's no way out of a greeting and some small talk when Jin is involved, and so he yields, hoping that the streaming beads of rainwater will clue them in to his need to get upstairs and into dry clothes. Plus, Hope has been cooped up all day, and she hates the rain more than she hates Yoongi's imperious little feline.
Hoseok smiles through clenched teeth while Jin makes the introduction. The new kid, Park Jimin, smells like fabric softener and looks like newly-minted dreams. Hoseok wonders if he looked like that six years ago when he first moved to Seoul. He gives Jimin a once over and decides that if the set of his shoulders is any indication, he's a better than average dancer.
“Hip-hop?” Hoseok asks.
“Some,” Jimin answers, and he bows – he bows? “But my background is contemporary.”
“Where did you study?” Hoseok asks.
“Busan Fine Arts,” Jimin says. “Started with ballet, of course.”
“Of course,” Hoseok echoes. He sees ballet in the way the kid lifts his chin. Solid posture, he thinks. Excellent muscle control. “Why on earth did you move here?”
Jimin stammers, looking to both Jin and Namjoon for help.
Namjoon answers in his stead. “Why wouldn't he move here? Seoul is the greatest city in the world.”
“I didn't mean here,” Hoseok says, eye-roll very much intended. “I meant here.”
Now it's Jin's turn to look aggrieved. To Jimin, Jin says, “Don't mind him. This is a great building. We have the best people and the best parties. You are coming to Jimin's party, right Hobi?”
“Wouldn't miss it,” he snips. “See you then.” He starts for the stairwell.
Namjoon leans in and half-whispers something to Jin and Jimin, and it sounds something like, “I don't think he knows about Yoongi.”
When Hoseok enters the stairwell, he twists smoothly on his heel. He closes the stairwell door, keeping it open the barest slice so that he can peer out. Through the sliver of light, he watches as Namjoon and Jin close around Jimin. They're speaking in hushed tones, and Jimin looks from one to the other with a look of alarm blazing across his face.
“What?” Jimin says. “Oh no. But that's... it's horrible.”
“Shh,” Jin says. He raises his head, glancing in the direction of the stairwell. Hoseok shoves the door shut, his heart pounding. Why should I care? Hoseok thinks. What happens to my neighbor is not my concern.
Except... What if Yoongi was getting evicted? What if the landlord found out about Yoongi's contraband cat and decided to toss him out? And what if Yoongi outed Hoseok for having Hope, out of the pure spite of his twisted, black heart?
Hoseok props the door open an inch and listens.
Jin says, “Yoongi told Taehyung that if he doesn't admit his feelings for Hoseok, he will die.”
“Oh my God,” Jimin says.
“But then he told me that if does admit his feelings, then Hoseok is sure to reject him,” Namjoon says. “And that rejection... will also kill him.”
“Maybe Hoseok won't reject him,” Jin says, sounding ridiculously hopeful.
“Please,” Namjoon says. “They fight all the time. They're both so focused and so dedicated to their passions. Yoongi is convinced that Hoseok will never see him as anything but a thorny, cat-loving troll. And honestly, Jimin. You just met Hoseok. Does he seem like the type who would be open to an admission of love?”
Jimin's brows crease with uncertainty. He says, “Not really. No.”
Hoseok squawks an involuntary noise of indignation. Jin and Namjoon freeze. Thinking fast, Hoseok makes a series of trilling noises, gradually decreasing the volume.
“A bird,” Jin says.
Namjoon and Jimin nod their acceptance of this, and Hoseok breathes out a sigh of relief. He keeps the door parted and within a moment, Jin continues their conversation.
“What will Yoongi do?” Jin asks.
Namjoon shrugs. “He says there's only one thing he can do.”
Seconds tick. Hoseok's palms feel slick with sweat and his heartbeat ricochets against his ribs.
Jimin comes to Hoseok’s rescue. “Well,” he asks. “What will he do?”
Namjoon frowns, shaking his head. “Yoongi's a very proud person. He says he'd rather keep his dignity than let Hoseok know his true feelings. So he'll suffer alone, and Hoseok will never know.”
Jimin looks stricken, like this news rates as tragic as a cancer diagnosis or the death of the last Australian condor.
“Too bad,” Jin says with a sigh. “I’ve always thought they'd be really cute together.”
“Ah, Jin,” Namjoon says. “Ever the romantic.” He tucks his arm around Jimin's shoulders, guiding him toward the mailboxes. They continue to speak, but their words are lost in the drone of the evening rain.
But Hoseok is shaken. He's trembling and prickly and has forgotten all about his damp shoes and soggy hair.
“Yoongi loves me?” he mutters. Jin and Namjoon are rapacious gossips, so he could dismiss their stories as webs spun from pure conjecture. But the new kid said himself he didn't believe Hoseok was capable of returning someone's love.
Still... No... Impossible.
Except... What if Yoongi did have feelings for Hoseok, and the only interactions they ever had were in the defense of their pets? What if Yoongi was suffering because of his art in the same way that Hoseok did? And what if Yoongi was lashing out at him because he was constantly having to repress his true feelings?
Hoseok's memory from the other morning returns, that moment of perverse joy he felt at seeing Yoongi get so worked up.
“Oh no,” Hoseok whispers. He feels the blood drain from his face.
As he climbs the steps to the second floor, Hoseok decides there's really only one thing he can do about it. He opens the door, rattling his keys onto the hall table. He's stripping off his jacket and toeing out of his shoes, rehearsing what he'll say to Yoongi when he realizes... it's silent.
The patio doors are open. The smell of garbage wafts in on a wet breeze.
“Hope?” he says.
Nothing. No feverish yipping. No skitter of nails on the laminate tile.
A weight of dread sinks into the pit of his stomach. It's raining and the patio doors are open.
He rushes to the patio, throwing back the Venetian blinds. “Hope!” he cries.
The alley is a collection of boxes and puddles, but there's a smudge mark on the corner of the dumpster where it looks like something might have jumped and slipped.
Hoseok searches every centimeter of the apartment, frantically calling for Hope with every step. It doesn't take long at all for him to realize that she is gone.
Chapter 6: seokjin & taehyung.
Jin and Namjoon go on a date to plot the next parts of their plan;
Taehyung witnesses from afar and feels a conflicting sense of jealousy.
edit: to follow the beautiful piece that accompanied chapter four, our reader Justaguest has sent us yet another amazing fanart to go with this next chapter!! you can look at the beautiful artwork HERE
Jin loves his life. Ridiculously, but also quite seriously, he loves it.
He loves his shabby vintage penthouse and his multitude of friends. More than anything else, Jin wants them to be as happy in their lives as he is in his. This wish encompasses Yoongi and Hoseok, who are more miserable than most, but doesn't exclude Namjoon and Taehyung.
Because of Namjoon, Jin loves his mulberry thrift-shop coat, which is velvety soft and moth-nibbled around the cuffs. He loves the way the color brings out the wine in his lips, and how the dark collar contrasts against his skin, making Namjoon sneak clandestine glances at Jin's neck throughout their dinner in Cheonho.
On the way home, the mist paints the streetlights into an Impressionist's dream. Walking through the haloed glow, Jin feels electrically, emphatically alive. Beside him, his fists stuffed into his pockets, Namjoon is grinning. His deeply-dimpled smile sparks Jin's mood the way gunpowder ignites a roman candle. It's a warm, sparkling geyser of excitement, and it's partly because they're up to something.
“I still can't believe Hoseok bought all that stuff about Yoongi,” Namjoon slurs. They pause under a striped awning to gauge the rain against the remaining distance to their building.
Jin takes the opportunity to ruffle Namjoon's cowlick. He says, “Why wouldn't he? Who wouldn't want to hear a confession of unrequited love?”
“Me,” Namjoon says. “I wouldn't.”
Jin balks. “The love part?”
“No, no,” Namjoon answers. “The unrequited part. Great for the writing, horrid for the heart.”
Jin purses his lips, which produces an immediate, pleasant reaction in Namjoon. Maybe it's the alcohol talking—Namjoon's got the constitution of a paper cup—but Namjoon's attraction to him feels like a tangible, living thing.
Namjoon loops his arm through Jin's. They huddle through the rain, mincing among the street-food crowds toward their building. “So what about you, Jin?” Namjoon asks. “Did you ever have love of the star-crossed kind?”
“Me?” Jin laughs. “No, not me. I'm more for meddling in other people's affairs.”
“Like Yoongi's and Hoseok's,” Namjoon says.
Jin shrugs. “For a start.”
Namjoon's dimples deepen. “A Cupid with your arrows drawn.”
“Straight into Yoongi's heart,” Jin says.
Under the sagging stoop of their building, they pause to reel themselves back to earth. They each lean their shoulders against the door jamb, their postures mirrored, their hands loose at their sides.
“How will we manage it?” Namjoon asks. “Hoseok may have taken the bait, but he is a crab of a softer sort of shell.”
“Yeah, but he's still a crab,” Jin says. “I bet they'll fall for the same trap.”
Now it's Namjoon's turn to shrug. “Well,” he says. “You know I'm in.”
“Oh, yes,” Jin whispers. “I'm counting on it.”
Taehyung's on his way to a familiar haunt; it's not as comfortable as Sihyuk Heights, but it'll have to do for the night. It's Taehyung's responsibility to make Hope disappear for seven days. Since he doesn't have a leash for her, she might go romping back into Hoseok's open arms. So he has to take her somewhere else for the week. He can do that.
Hope wriggles inside his flannel, attempting to poke her fluffy head out. He pushes her back down into the safety of his jacket because nothing would be worse than wet dog smell to end his day. Hope, however, doesn't understand that he's just trying to keep her dry.
Taehyung has always loved dogs, and he's always loved Hope. Holding onto her for a week should be an ideal situation, but... Now that he's got her outside of Hoseok's bounds, fear grips his heart. He should be overjoyed by the prospect of having a dog. What's wrong with him?
Suddenly, too suddenly, the memory of his parents flicker in his mind. They didn't trust him around animals. His father, sipping gently from a bottle that once had whiskey but might hold vodka now, would try to explain in a way that Taehyung might understand.
Taehyung never understood. The words his father fed him felt more like expectations than proper reasoning. He didn't say they couldn't afford to have a dog, he said he thought Taehyung might kill it. Taehyung's always been careless or cruel in his father's eyes.
Taehyung thinks about his parents at the most sporadic moments. He remembers them with a bitterness that makes him want to puke, but there's a sweetness surrounding the memories. It's a nostalgic blend available only to those who escaped their situations and can't fully remember how bad it used to be.
Hope barks, successfully capturing Taehyung's attention, and he shushes her. When he scratches her ears, she goes complacent, tongue lolling from her cute puppy mouth. Taehyung's no stranger, so she's comfortable with him holding her. She's fine for the moment — if not squirmy — but what about tomorrow? What about the day after that?
"You'll be good for me, won't you?" he asks her. His voice is a pleasant mumble into her fur. "Even if you start missing Hoseok?"
Hope yips at the mention of the dancer. Taehyung can feel her teensy claws scrabbling against the front of his shirt.
"We should probably find you a leash or something... Just in case you try to jump down," Taehyung says.
Hope cocks her head. His scratching fingers go from her ears to under her chin. That lolling tongue of hers swipes over his palm.
"Get you a leash, and you can go on walks!" Taehyung tells her cheerily.
Like she truly speaks Korean, she barks at the word walk. It makes him laugh.
"You like the sound of that, huh?"
Even when she threatens to break free from his hold again, his smile doesn't let up. Fastening Hope to his chest with one hand, he uses the other to button the bottom of his flannel. He hopes it keeps her butt from poking out. Maybe it'll work like one of those baby carriers that he sees parents use at the supermarket so they can have both their hands free. The one that straps over the front and the baby sits inside like a lil kangaroo?
He's given up on keeping her head tucked inside the jacket. He probably looks like he's got a tuft of really white chest hair, or like he's some half-yeti man, which is awesome if you think about it.
Only problem is, she recognizes her surroundings. She's figured out that they have to pass in front of the apartment complex in order to get to Taehyung's second-best hangout. He used to call them his cribs before Jungkook gave him a weird look about it, but that's not the point. Point is, she's getting antsy. She thinks Taehyung's taking her home.
It would be a terrible idea to stop walking at this very moment. If he stops, she might cha-cha slide right out of his grasp. All he has to do is power walk past, and she won't have the chance to get away.
That's when Taehyung stops.
The rain's lessened considerably. Water droplets spritz the tops of his shoulders and the crown of his head. It leaves the streets thinly veiled by mist. The low-hanging clouds glow orange under the scorn of streetlamps, looking like an otherworldly entity. Like a tangerine smoke monster. And here come the stars of the horror film, strolling together, arm-in-arm.
Hope is panting with excitement at the sight of the building. Her breath is smelly and warm where it hits his neck. He clamps his arms down around her. He knows he shouldn't be standing here, gawking like an idiot, when Hoseok's dog is at stake.
He just — can't — move.
Namjoon and Jin disappear at points, obscured by passing traffic and street food carts, but they reappear within seconds each time, still linked together like they're in love or dating or something. Taehyung's stomach twists at the thought. He can't decide who he's jealous of.
They pause below the awning, finally coming undone. Taehyung thinks he sees their hands brushing, not interlacing, not yet, and it's the same preliminary tease that Jin's given Taehyung a hundred times.
Hope kicks her little legs into Taehyung's stomach, and if he hadn't done up the buttons on his flannel a moment earlier, she would have gone flying. He squeezes her, brushing his lips to the top of her fuzzy head to soothe her, murmuring things he wants someone to murmur to him. Things like it's going to be okay.
He doesn't wait to see if Jin allows Namjoon to lock their fingers together. He doesn't wait to see if they'll notice him standing there, a hair's breadth away from being directly across the road. He holds Hope close and he turns to walk away.
Chapter 7: jimin & jungkook.
Jimin's water heater breaks, but things keep heating up between him and Jungkook.
Jin and Namjoon draw Jungkook into their plot to get Yoongi interested in Hoseok.
Having already dealt with one cold shower that week, Jimin does not appreciate having to take another. Tardiness being a bad habit of his, he no longer has enough time to get out, problem solve, and get back in. He's doomed to freeze to death. So help him, if Soonyoung doesn't buy him a large coffee to thaw him out...
He can practically hear Soonyoung gently correcting him. "It's venti, Jimin. Not a large."
And Jimin would respond with—
With nothing, apparently, because ohmygod he's so cold he can't form coherent thoughts. He might not make it out of the bathroom alive. The only upside – the literal, singular upside – to cold showers are the benefits for his complexion. It's bad for his skin if he washes his face with scalding water, aka his temperature of choice, and he washes his face with scalding water anyway. Maybe now that he's scrubbing up in the arctic, dermatologists will hate him?
He gasps like he can't breathe when he removes his face from the shower's spray. He shuts the water off and jumps out. Shivering, he pats himself dry. Part of him misses the way his apartment felt when the AC wasn't fixed.
Surely if Jungkook could fix the AC, he could fix the water heater.
He does his hair and gets dressed in a rush, but racing the clock doesn't stop him from taking a detour on his way out.
He knows this can wait. If he walks out of the apartment building's doors, Jungkook will be none the wiser of Jimin's broken anything. If he leaves this very second, there's still a chance he could catch the train instead of boarding the next. He can save himself the embarrassment of sneaking into another lecture fifteen minutes late. He can call Jungkook after class. He doesn't have to do this now.
Here he is, though. Doing this. Now.
He knocks without delicacy, and it's been less than a minute, but Jimin feels like he's been standing there forever.
I shouldn't have done this, Jimin decides, when Jungkook opens the door.
Jungkook is way too cute for someone who just woke up. He's wearing boxers and a muscle shirt and his muscles are no joke. He looks like he's sculpted from marble by some fancy artist that Jimin never bothered to learn the name of. To add, he's got messy hair and bleary eyes and swollen lips.
"Jimin?" Jungkook asks, and oh no. His voice is a rumble of thunder, and the sound of it strikes Jimin's heart like a lightning bolt and makes his stomach churn like storm clouds.
How's that for extended metaphor? Take that, Yang-sunsengnim! Try failing him a second time for misusing figurative language (or whatever that means).
"Can I help you with something?" Jungkook asks.
"Yes! Sorry. I need you," Jimin says, and the words tumble out before he can fully stop them. A fire starts underneath his skin. "I-I mean, like, to fix something. It's my water heater. I don't even know how it broke. I guess that doesn't matter? Anyway, um, as much as I would love to get it working as soon as possible, I have to go to class."
"Okay," Jungkook says.
They blink at each other. Jungkook's sleepiness is dissolving with each flutter of his lashes.
Jimin wonders if he's supposed to keep talking. He's ready to deliver a full-blown ramble about how he should already be there, and Soonyoung's as good as dead, and he himself is probably as good as dead in Yang-sunsengnim's book—considering his attendance record—when Jungkook says, "I can come by when you're done."
And that's how, six hours later, Jimin has Jungkook in his apartment again. Jimin's more prepared this time around, which means he does not open the door in his towel, and he's got snacks. He's not sure if Jungkook can actually eat snacks while he's working, but they're there, just in case.
After Jimin's eighth shrimp cracker, he's pretty sure the snacks are actually just there for him. When he swipes his tongue over his lips to catch the crumbs, Jungkook flits his gaze to the side so he can watch the movement. Jimin tries (and fails, good lord, he fails) not to read too much into it.
"Did you want some?" Jimin asks, offering the bag.
Jungkook's posture goes rigid like he's been caught. He shakes his head and continues to tinker away at the water heater. Jimin doesn't really know what it takes to fix a water heater. He's just glad—so very glad—that Jungkook does.
He might even take a hot shower tonight. A celebratory hot shower! Utility bill be damned.
He's standing there at Jungkook's elbow, crunching away on the shrimp crackers, and there's so much he wants to know about the mystery that is stoic handyman and photographer, Jeon Jungkook. He has no idea where to start. His mind is going full speed.
His mouth is also going full speed, it seems. He didn't mean to start talking, but his mouth's a pistol and all it does is send the horses running. The horses are words, by the way. And there's no finish line. He really needs to get a hold of his metaphors.
"—like something weird happens every day here," Jimin's saying, and he doesn't really know what he's saying. He's just... saying it. "I don't mind, though. It's kind of fun. In a dangerous sort of way. Like, hooray, can't wait to get electrocuted someday."
Jungkook quirks an eyebrow.
"I don't know why I said that," Jimin says. "I-I don't want to get electrocuted. Um, anyway... The people here are kind of weird, too. Don't you think?"
"I wouldn't worry about that if I were you," Jungkook says.
"Yeah, you fit right in."
Jimin's jaw drops. Did Jungkook just—?
The smile on Jungkook's face makes everything better. He's got a subtle overbite and his nose scrunches up. His laugh is as cute as it is infectious. Jimin's laughing before he can stop himself.
"I'm offended," he declares, despite the whole laughing-at-his-own-expense thing. He sobers enough to power through. "What I meant by weird was... Well, Namjoon and Jin were talking to me about something the other day."
"Namjoon and Jin are definitely weird," Jungkook agrees.
Jimin swats at Jungkook's arm. "Let me finish! They were telling me about Yoongi's infatuation with his neighbor. You know Yoongi, right?"
"Pianist," Jungkook says.
"Yes," Jimin says, even though he's not sure. He hasn't met Yoongi yet. He doesn't know a thing about him, except that he's in love with Hoseok. "He's head over heels. If he were an emoji, he would be the one with hearts in his eyes."
"Really," Jungkook says, and it's too flat in tone to be a question.
"Really, really! And there's nothing he can do about it because Hoseok—I think his name was Hoseok—is a total grouch nowadays. Full stops on anything but solitude. And apparently, he used to not even be like that. Like, at all. So Yoongi's given up! He's gone for the chastity belt. Isn't that just the saddest thing you've ever heard?" Jimin asks.
Jungkook's face pinches with a frown.
Jimin takes that as a yes. He eats another handful of shrimp crackers and says, "I don't ever want to get stuck in a situation like that. Yoongi's or Hoseok's, you know? I think... if I fell in love with someone..." Jimin's seriously regretting this topic now. He feels his face getting hot. "I-If I fell in love, I would tell them. Just to get it out there. A-And I think... that's important..."
"Yeah," Jungkook says. Jimin likes to think Jungkook says it emphatically.
He's about to resume his chattering when Jungkook shuts the panel in the wall and steps back.
"You're all set," Jungkook tells him.
"Already? I mean—I'm not questioning you," Jimin stammers. "If anyone knows you're done, it's you and not me. Just—that was fast. Um, thanks."
They linger awkwardly beside Jimin's shoe rack for a second before Jungkook clears his throat.
"See you later," he says.
"I hope not," Jimin says, and Jungkook looks amused more than anything. Maybe it's because Jimin's face has contorted into an expression of sheer mortification. "I am so— That is not what I meant. I want to see you, I just— I don't want anything else to break in my apartment."
"I figured," Jungkook replies. His fingers have slipped to the piercing in his ear, twiddling it idly. He gets a strange look on his face, and Jimin doesn't understand why until he says, "This time, when I say see you later... You might want to try saying goodbye instead."
Who would have guessed that Jungkook would be stoic, mysterious, and snarky? Jimin's more than a little flustered. Jimin's whining about it before he can stop himself.
"So rude, Jungkookie! First you call me weird... Now this," he pouts. "I know how to say goodbye."
"Could have fooled me," Jungkook says.
Jimin groans. "I don't know why I ever thought you were cute. You're so mean to me."
"You think I'm cute?" Jungkook asks. He looks genuinely surprised.
"Alright, bye," Jimin says, gritting his teeth against the ferocity of his own blush.
Jungkook is smiling that bunny smile of his as he leaves.
This Jimin thing could really get out of hand...
...is what Jungkook is thinking as he pulls the door closed on apartment 1A.
And his brain, which should be hyper-focused on finishing his project for the fall semester's gallery show, churns up one bright flash of thought: He thinks you're cute.
No, no, he tells his brain. You are not helping.
He has laundry to finish and prints to develop. He has a paper due in Korean history, and dead leaves to clean out of a gutter. He has zero time for thoughts of Jimin.
As Jungkook heads for the stairwell, his brain sends up a flurry of protests like, You think he's cute, too, and He was definitely flirting, and He called you Jungkookie, and also, Remember his abs?
Jungkook pauses in the lobby to get a hold of himself. His brain drives a hard bargain; those were damn good abs.
A blur rushes past him, swiping near enough to slam into his shoulder. If Jungkook had been Taehyung, the blow would have sent him sprawling. But Jungkook being Jungkook, he merely turns with the spin, catching the arm of the person scrambling past.
And he's a mess.
If Taehyung is made of fallen leaves, Hoseok is made of taut strings. Tension radiates from him in waves, and his eyes are rimmed in red.
“Excuse you,” Hoseok croaks. He wrenches free and lunges for the door as if Satan himself is on his heels.
“Okay?” Jungkook mutters. He's at the top of the steps leading down to the laundry room when Jin and Namjoon hurry up to meet him.
“Was that Hoseok?” Namjoon asks. He says it so loud, Jungkook has to take a step back.
But Jin swiftly closes the distance. “Was he okay?” Jin asks.
“Yes,” Jungkook says. “And no...?”
Namjoon puts a hand on Jin's shoulder. “It's worse than we thought.”
“Poor Hoseok,” Jin pouts. “What on earth can we do?”
“Is it...? It's about Yoongi, isn't it?” Jungkook asks.
Jin glances over his shoulder at the open laundry room door. He leans in, but Jungkook doesn't understand why since he continues to speak at full volume. Jin says, “So you already know about Hoseok being desperately, painfully, lethally in love with Yoongi?”
“Um, well,” Jungkook says, “What Jimin said was—”
Downstairs, something hits the floor with a hollow splunk.
Namjoon's eyes widen. He says, “And Hoseok feels completely and utterly hopeless because he knows Yoongi's far too taciturn to return his love.”
“Taciturn?” Jungkook asks.
“Bitter,” Jin says.
“Antisocial,” Namjoon agrees.
Another sound, like something skittering across the tiles.
“Is someone down there?” Jungkook asks.
“A rat,” Jin says.
Namjoon stares into the middle distance beyond Jungkook and presses his lips tight.
Jin says, “It's a shame, right? In their devotion to their respective passions, they are a perfect match—”
“—But both are far too stubborn to see that they could be really good for each other,” Namjoon finishes.
Jungkook's attention shifts to Jimin.
Jimin, who loves the process of dance as much as the dance itself.
Jimin, who believes that people should just admit their feelings rather than pining on in agony.
Jimin, who thinks that Jungkookie is cute, and said so.
And, by the way, abs like those don't happen by accident.
“Excuse me,” Jungkook says. Instead of continuing down the stairs to the possibly rat-infested laundry room, he returns to the lobby where he sends Jimin a text before he has the sense to stop himself.
Chapter 8: yoongi & hoseok.
Yoongi begins to realize the magnitude of what he's done by getting Taehyung to steal Hoseok's dog;
Hoseok, while searching for Hope, has a chance meeting with Yoongi that goes unexpectedly well.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PARK JIMIN!!!!
Cameos from Jisoo and Jennie from Blackpink
The laundry room might as well be his grave. His sticky, sweet-smelling grave. By the time he's done eavesdropping, he's successfully spilled his wet laundry on the floor and he's broken the fabric softener orb. He's not a clumsy person. He's not.
Just like he's not stubborn. Taciturn, bitter, and antisocial? Irrefutably so, but... stubborn? Please. He's pliant as bubble gum.
If he weren't adaptable, he would still be stuck in Daegu. He knows he's a pain in the ass to work with, but he's not stubborn. He's been through a lot for his age. When he puts up a fight about something, there's a good reason for it. That doesn't make him stubborn. And if anyone tries to bring up that time he nearly ripped a student's head off for trying to rearrange a portion of his setlist...
That was an isolated incident, okay? He doesn't need to make his setlist something fancy. What does he look like? Fucking Franz Liszt? He's not about impressing people. He just wants to play his music, for fuck's sake. Besides, she was only trying to get into his pants. Her bad for thinking that criticizing his setlist was the way to do it, and her bad for assuming he would ever be interested in her.
Taciturn, bitter, antisocial, and gay.
Devotion to their respective passions was right. If it means Yoongi gets work done this week, then Hoseok can devote himself to dance all he wants. He refuses to let anything change his perspective—
Fuck. Okay, maybe...
Maybe Namjoon has a point. Maybe he is stubborn. Taciturn, bitter, antisocial, gay, and stubborn.
The most interaction he's ever had with Hoseok is... yelling at him and his dog. That, and the occasional elbow-bump as they check their side-by-side mailboxes. What a stunning impression he's made of himself. What the fuck did Hoseok see in him?
He could think of a thousand reasons to like Hoseok. Sure, he's wound tighter than the curls of an idol's perm, but he's optimistic by nature. He's graceful—dancer—and he's beautiful—genetics?—and he's annoyingly funny. He's never been subjected to Hoseok's horrible puns firsthand, but he's overheard a few, mostly from Hoseok's conversations with Taehyung and Jin. Yoongi wishes he didn't have a special place in his heart for wordplay, because he does and he's weak. He's survived the past two years solely thanks to his expression of steel. Not to mention, Hoseok's sickly sentimental and close to his mother, if the letters he gets in the mail are anything to go by. He's passionate, and—
Attractive. Yoongi finds him attractive.
Sighing, he kicks his wet laundry across the floor. He uses his frayed denim to soak up most of the fabric softener that's seeping through the cracks of the plastic ball. He reloads the machine and sends it spinning.
His head is spinning. He'll be lucky if he makes any progress on that piece he's supposed to be learning, and holy shit—That's when it hits him. Hoseok is in love with him, and what is he?
He is taciturn, bitter, antisocial, gay, stubborn, and co-conspirator of stealing the dog of the guy who's in love with him. He is a terrible person.
Everything is grey.
The pavement is grey. His phone screen, grey. The rain clouds, his sheets, his skin, all grey.
Because of the stupid building's stupid no pets policy, he can't even post Lost Dog fliers around the building. He made one in the copy room of the studio, complete with the darlinest photo of Hope wearing a red bow tie, you know, back when his life still had color.
Then he recalled the strict edict against pets, remembered the threat of eviction, and while Hoseok has secured some promising parts lately, he really can't afford to move.
Much as he would like to move. Stupid building not allowing pets. Stupid paper thin walls. Stupid, cute neighbor with his stupid cat and his stupid piano that haunts his dreams. Stupid resident sneak Taehyung who has conveniently disappeared just when Hoseok could use his cache of knowledge to help him find his dog.
Leaving Hoseok with only his latest brainchild for finding Hope, which includes going from door to freaking door, because someone in this godforsaken building must have seen her. She couldn't just vanish, could she? He imagines her in a gutter somewhere, all smudged and soggy, her teeny toe-beans caked with sludge. She's probably hungry and cold and so very afraid.
He starts on the first floor, the new kid's place, and after a quick rap, Jimin opens the door, looking ridiculously hopeful. Until he sees Hoseok and his smile falters.
“Hey,” Jimin says. “Hoseok, right?”
Hoseok feels his lip twitch. He holds up his picture of Hope. “Have you seen this dog?”
Jimin ruffles his bangs. “I thought we couldn't have dogs?”
Through his teeth, Hoseok says, “Have you seen her or not?”
“Um, no,” Jimin answers.
“Thank you.” Hoseok stalks across the hall. Before he can knock on the door of 1B, Jisoo spills out of it, a clatter of keys and gym bags. She's unreasonably loud as she collides into a hug with him, and he stumbles back, holding the picture of Hope between them like a shield.
He says, “Have you seen—”
“—Aw, puppy!” Jisoo gushes.
“Yes,” Hoseok says. “Have you seen her?”
Jisoo yells over her shoulder, “Hey, Jennie, come look! It's Hobi-oppa and a puppy.”
Jennie materializes instantly. “Hey, Hobi,” she says. She's raking huge rollers from her hair while simultaneously scrolling through Kakao messages on her phone. “Are you going to Seokjin's party this weekend?”
“The Halloween party,” Jisoo says. “Everyone's going. You better be there.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Hoseok says. “Have you seen my dog?”
Jennie cranes her neck over Jisoo's shoulder and pouts. “Is that your dog?”
“No, it's a random picture from the internet,” Hoseok sneers. “Of course it's my dog, and she's lost, have you seen her?”
Jisoo frowns. “I thought we couldn't have dogs.”
Tears of frustration boil into his eyes. This was a dumb idea. This was only the second apartment on the first floor of a seven-story building. They would all ask the same stupid question, and in the meantime, Hope was out there, lost and starving, while he was accosting everyone with his rapidly-eroding mental state.
“I'm sorry,” he croaks. “It's just... if you see her, you know where I am.”
And then he's staggering off, wiping his nose on his sleeve, his eyes so blurred with tears that he doesn't see Yoongi in the stairwell until they're only a pace apart. Yoongi's frozen with one hand resting on the banister, a blue-and-white scarf twined around his neck.
“Hoseok,” Yoongi says. It's probably the first time he's ever heard his own name in Yoongi's mouth, and the way he says it—slightly slurring on the S—sends an unexpected shiver up Hoseok's spine.
“Yoongi,” Hoseok says. “What are you doing?” Perhaps the dumbest thing he could say.
It's like Yoongi's holding his breath, and that makes Hoseok's mind run amok. The silence unspools between them, yards and yards of it, before Yoongi finally answers.
“I'm going to get a costume for Jin's party,” he answers.
“Oh, you're going?” Hoseok hears himself ask, raising the bar on the whole dumbest-things-to-say thing.
Yoongi sucks air over his teeth. It's vaguely hot. He says, “You know, Halloween's dumb, but... I wouldn't want to be... antisocial.”
“Right,” Hoseok laughs. It's a sharp sound in the close space, and just as Hoseok is inwardly cursing himself for always being so loud, Yoongi sorta... smiles?
“You're going, aren't you?” Yoongi says.
“I mean, maybe,” Hoseok says. “It'll be less dumb if you're there.”
Yoongi more than sorta smiles in response. Then he goes rigid again, his eyes widening as if he's just remembered something vitally important. He glances at Hoseok's hand and asks, “What's that?”
Hoseok hugs the page against his stomach. “Uh, this? Uh, nothing,” he says. He stuffs the picture in his pocket. Then he says, “Have you seen Taehyung?”
“No. Why?” Yoongi asks. “Have you?”
So they're tied on the dumbest-things-to-say front. “Not for days,” Hoseok admits.
“Good,” Yoongi says. His face clouds. “I mean. Me neither,” he says.
“Okay,” Hoseok says.
“See you Saturday,” Yoongi says.
And Hoseok goes, “Not if I see you first.”
Fortunately, Yoongi's departure from the stairwell is quick so that he doesn't see Hoseok crumbling against the banister in a wash of pure self-loathing.
Hoseok feels dumb and stupid and annoyingly loud, and he has no idea what Yoongi sees in him.
Chapter 9: namjoon & taehyung.
Jin may be a master of seduction, but Namjoon finds his matchmaking skills a bit extravagant;
A desperate Taehyung finds an unwitting accomplice to help him hide Hope until after the party.
Namjoon isn't sure what Jin's trying to tell him. In matters such as these, Namjoon repeatedly fails to comprehend the importance of the obvious.
"It's a costume party," Jin says, excitedly and motioning with both of his hands, like he's an overzealous conductor and the apartment building is his orchestra. "A costume party. It's perfect!"
Give him puzzles and let him tinker away at the twisting of words. He will, eventually, know how to escape an inescapable room, or turn the sides of a Rubik's cube monotonous in color.
Give him the intricacies of a social situation, and he will spend the rest of his life looking for the end-all answer to any possible conversation because no such thing exists. For this reason, people make him anxious. He struggles to figure out what they want from him.
Namjoon's pretty sure he knows what Jin wants. Or, at the very least, he thinks he knows what Jin wants, and he thinks Jin wants to do— something. Namjoon isn't entirely sure whether that something is to form an alliance with the sleepless author on the fourth floor (hint: Namjoon is that author), or if that something is to sleep with the sleepless.
Taehyung has been suspiciously absent ever since the morning of the explosion, and if he properly lives with Jin, it doesn't show. Namjoon would know; this is the third time he's been inside Jin's apartment the past week, and the second time—after their date—
Let's just say, they didn't watch television. They also didn't make it to the bedroom, but in the grand scheme of things, a little necking action is a lot better than watching a modern rendition of anything intended for the Globe Theatre, and that's coming from someone who respects the arts.
Maybe—and it pains him to think it—Taehyung and Jin broke up. Maybe Namjoon is the rebound. Only, they haven't bounded anywhere below the belt, so he's not sure the term applies.
He thinks he knows what Jin wants long-term. The end goal. At this exact moment, however... He's got no earthly idea. Of course there will be costumes; it's a Halloween party.
"What did you have in mind?" Namjoon asks.
"We can disguise ourselves!" Jin says, taking Namjoon's hands in his. He squeezes with enthusiasm, and Namjoon feels that same squeezing sensation around his heart. He really hopes he isn't Jin's rebound.
"Disguise ourselves?" Namjoon asks, still confused. He blames the slide of soft palms and crooked fingers.
"As Yoongi and Hoseok," Jin says, bringing one of Namjoon's hands to his mouth. He kisses the bump of Namjoon's knuckle and continues with, "We'll get Taehyung to find out what costumes they'll be wearing, and—you don't have to dress up if you don't want, but—we'll wear the same costumes as them."
While distracting, the scalding press of Jin's lips might not be the source of Namjoon's confusion. The source could very well be that the plan didn't make sense.
"You want to play doppelganger?" Namjoon asks in an attempt to clarify.
"I am an actor," Jin points out. "I like to play."
Namjoon short-circuits momentarily at the suggestive dip in Jin's tone. He swallows thickly and says, "This sounds like it has the potential to get... trippy."
"But that's the point," Jin insists. "We get them so drunk, they can't tell who's really Yoongi or Hoseok anymore, and then... I don't know! We'll improvise."
Namjoon considers himself to be a cynical realist. The only place he allows bouts of nonsensical trials and tribulations are in fiction, in his stories, in settings where he knows failure has no consequence. Suddenly, everything about Jin seems fictional— No, not fictional. Jin isn't fake in the slightest. Rather, he's fantasy. He's everything Namjoon dreams about.
He wants to lose himself in this idea. He wants to believe that he and Jin could actually bring two polar opposites together by way of masquerade.
The rational part of his brain is screaming to call the plan into question. He ignores the urge to fix and solve and brings Jin closer for another kiss, on the lips this time.
It's brief—chaste, even—and Namjoon's mind goes blank. When they part, Namjoon is greeted by thoughts of Taehyung. Jin suggested they use Taehyung as middleman, didn't he? He wouldn't have done that, nor mentioned him at all, if the two had broken up.
"Okay," Namjoon says, and his mind's made up. "We'll improvise."
Namjoon keeps his kitchen stocked as though he expects to weather a zombie apocalypse. One bonus to having seven roommates: He has seven very different stomachs to satisfy. From Jackson's penchant for chocolate everything, JB's constant craving for spicy tofu stew, and BamBam's need to have tom kha prepared the moment he walks in the door, Namjoon's place has all the variety of a neighborhood supermarket, without the complications of standard commerce.
This has served Taehyung well for years, but no more so than the last few days. He didn't know what he was thinking, really, when he took Yoongi up on this ridiculous proposition. Except he does know what he was thinking, and it was nothing. Zero thoughts about how cold the weather turns at the end of October. Zero thoughts about the prospect of sheltering a puppy from the harsh, cruel world.
Only now, sitting sodden and unwashed on the floor of Namjoon's kitchen, does Taehyung grasp the full foolishness of his actions. He had thought fleetingly about how nice it would be to have a dog, even if it was just for one week, but he knows his motivations are baser and far more selfish.
Taehyung desires to be part of Jin's and Namjoon's plans. He wants this with such fierceness that he entered into a deal with the piano-playing devil in 2B to dognap Hoseok's most cherished possession.
And so here they are, Hope and Taehyung, both nose-deep in a jar of peanut butter, when he hears Namjoon's door as it opens.
Normally this noise would send Hope into a tailspin of frantic yipping, but as a testament to her frayed mental state, she merely licks her jowls and stares into his eyes.
Taehyung's heart plummets. She's homesick and hungry, and it's all his fault.
“It's okay,” he kisses into the top of Hope's head. “Trust me, I'll get us out of this.”
A voice calls from the living room. “Joonie? You in here?”
Taehyung pushes to his feet. Youngjae left on Sunday, which means Mark is next up in Namjoon's revolving roommate brigade. Quiet, responsible Mark with his sensible Samsonite suitcase and an actual teaching gig in a Hongdae hagwon.
Mark, who also happens to love dogs.
Taehyung wipes his eyes with the back of his arm and steps into the living room.
Mark says, “Oh, hey, Tae—aw, a puppy!” He immediately goes to scritch Hope's chin, and she wiggles her tail at the attention. “Yours?”
“You could say that,” Taehyung says. He passes Hope into Mark's eager embrace.
Mark says, “I thought we couldn't have—”
“—Shhh,” Taehyung says, placing a finger across Mark's lips. He notices his grubby fingernails and shoves both hands into his back pockets.
Mark glances from Hope to Taehyung. “Do you smell something?”
“Peanut butter,” Taehyung says. “And possibly... sewage?”
This draws an odd look from Mark, who had until that moment been cleaning the aforementioned peanut butter from Hope's whiskers. Mark says, “Are you in trouble?”
Taehyung cringes. “So much trouble,” he says.
“Can I help?”
Ah, Mark. Sweet, practical saint-like Mark. He would never let himself get drawn into a web of unrequited love, intrigue, and dognappery. Despite his apartment-hopping propensities (which in this economy can't be avoided), Mark is the model of budding adulthood and human decency.
And Taehyung hopes that if things are being recorded for the sake of posterity that one would note that it was Mark who offered to help him.
This is what tips the scales in Taehyung's brain. Instead of being a filthy dog-lifting criminal, now he's a concerned pet owner making responsible plans for his dog.
“Yes,” Taehyung says. “Yes, you can help me.”
Chapter 10: namjoon & seokjin.
Namjoon returns home to meet with Mark and his new-found friend; Taehyung returns to Jin.
Namjoon tries not to stagger as he steps outside the threshold of Jin's penthouse apartment. He feels drunk while sober and he feels companionship while alone, all credits due to Jin's energy. His Jinergy, as Jin himself might phrase it.
Namjoon expends a lot of spare thought into the natural warmth of Jin's being; his attractive aura and nurturing spirit. Aside from the awkward jokes, the loud laugh, and the fact he frequently trips over his own two feet—a redundant saying, because people typically do not possess more than two feet to trip over—he really is quite charismatic. Namjoon completely understands why he might desire the role of matchmaker in a building of fascinating yet lonely people.
Jin likes his nose to be in everybody's business, but he puts it there with that parental prowess that has everyone simply accepting the fact he would hear their life stories and offer unwarranted (but not entirely unwelcome) advice.
However, with his party rapidly approaching, and his attention split between preparations and the Yoongi-and-Hoseok charade, Namjoon doesn't want to ask him about their— Can he call it a relationship? It doesn't quite qualify as one outside the denotative meaning of the word. He gets the feeling that, until the celebratory chaos blows over, Jin will give him a diluted form of the truth if he asks about anything other than cups and ice.
When it comes to their relationship of purgatorial proportions, Namjoon wants the entire truth, as tart as it might be.
He's got a lot on his metaphorical plate currently, and he hopes Jin is understanding about his whole... mess. He lacks a more fitting term in his admittedly expansive vocabulary; no other word properly encompasses the severity his week is steadily snowballing towards. Plain and simple, it's a mess. He has stepped into a grave and he has been digging. The only difference is, tonight, he plans to dig himself out.
He's never been one for procrastination. In fact, he actively despises it. But when it comes to projects that don't hold his interest, he procrastinates no matter the paycheck that comes with. He needs to stop procrastinating if he wants to meet that deadline of his, and if he wants to meet that deadline, he has to cut his evening short (again). He can't stay over, he can't keep drinking wine, he can't keep kissing Jin. He has to go home and open his shitty laptop and just get it done.
It's Mark's week, at least, and Mark is—
Mark is quiet as a mouse. Quieter, even. Mark is quiet as a dead mouse. With Mark as his roommate, Namjoon will actually be able to focus and get work done, if he can persuade himself to start typing. This shouldn't be difficult to achieve; forcing himself to write is an easier feat than leaving the comfort of Jin's apartment, and he's already done that. He might as well keep walking if the worst is over with.
He's made it to the sixth floor already when he narrowly avoids colliding with Taehyung—a very frazzled and smelly Taehyung—in the stairwell. Seeing him only serves to remind him how badly he wished he'd stayed upstairs.
"Where you comin' from?" Taehyung asks. He's on-guard and twitchy, utilizing his dialect like a defense matrix like he's just done something he's not proud of. This isn't unusual; though. Namjoon has seen him like this a thousand times.
"It's not about where you've been, but where you're going," Namjoon says. It's an overused sentiment. Unoriginal. Cliché. If this is foreshadowing the prose he'll be employing in his writing piece tonight, maybe the worst isn't over.
"Catch me in Hell, then," Taehyung says, or Namjoon thinks that's what Taehyung says.
"What?" Namjoon asks. "Are you okay?"
"Peachy keen," Taehyung replies, voice soaring towards false cheer so suddenly that it's obviously fake.
"If you need anything..." Namjoon starts. He's trying to offer something, although he's not entirely sure what that something is. He just wants to help.
"Okay," Taehyung says, and it's clear to Namjoon then that Taehyung doesn't want his help. Probably because he knows where Namjoon has been, the same way Namjoon knows that Taehyung is en-route to the place Namjoon has left. That's the only place to go when you're on the sixth floor and still climbing.
"Alright," Namjoon returns. He's not sure what else to say.
"You mind?" Taehyung asks, motioning for Namjoon to scoot aside.
Namjoon shakes his head, migrating closer to the railing without further complications. Taehyung slips past him, and his footsteps are loud as he jogs up the remainder of the flight.
He feels itchy with embarrassment by the time he's on the fourth floor. He can't stop replaying the confrontation in his head. He fumbles with his keys before remembering the door is probably open; Mark doesn't keep it locked.
Sure enough, the knob turns. He kicks his shoes off at the door and faceplants into the couch. He groans into the cushions when he realizes he needs to sit up again to get his laptop.
"Hey," Mark says, undoubtedly roused from his room by the noise. "Are you good?"
Namjoon doesn't reply save for another long, upset groan. He shoves himself onto his hands and knees, struggling to escape the sofa's paradise. He's got his eyes closed and he's mashing his fingers against his temples like that might rid himself of his headache. "No, I'm not good. I just cockblocked myself so I could write a stupid article for petty cash."
"It's your only source of income, though," Mark says.
"I know," Namjoon sighs. And then, upon opening his eyes and actually looking at Mark for the first time since he got home, "What the— Is that a fucking dog?"
Jin still feels the tingle of a red-wine kiss upon his lips. He's drifting around his penthouse, plumping pillows into place, re-draping a wool throw, humming some Disney tune, and every few steps, he stops to touch his lips.
Jin and Namjoon have kissed dozens of times now. They've ventured beyond the mouth, necking each other breathless while getting handsy beneath their clothes. A few times it's gotten to the brink of blindingly, brain-numbingly hot. But every time, Namjoon walks them back down to sense-making land, citing some excuse or another mostly having to do with deadlines. This time was no exception.
Except. Turns out, the writer has teeth.
This time, when they kissed goodbye, Namjoon – practical, careful, cynical Namjoon – bit him. On the mouth. With his teeth.
It was not a calculated move. Jin saw that in the blush that flooded Namjoon's cheeks, and in the flustered way he gushed his apology before fluttering down the corridor in a sweep of trench coat black.
Jin goes to the balcony to pull open the double doors. The rain outside feels cool and smells of late-summer apples. He lets the drops fall on his upturned face, and they slake the heat in him, if not his thirst. He brushes his fingers to his lips and thinks of the near-feral look in Namjoon's eyes. Jin won't let anything happen, not yet, not until their schemes have run their course. Besides, it's the rising action Jin savors, the bright, delicious tension of anticipation. The denouement is just the icing on an already exquisite cake.
There's a noise, and Jin turns around to find Taehyung standing in the center of the living room. His eyes meet Jin's over the two empty wine glasses on the coffee table, but if the scene troubles him, he doesn't say.
Jin crosses the distance, leaving the balcony doors open to the gently pattering rain. “I've missed you,” he says. “I haven't seen you for days.” Upon closer inspection, he notes an added layer of scruff on top of Taehyung's normal scruffiness. “Are you all right?”
“You've missed me?” Taehyung asks.
Jin squeezes his hand. “Of course I have.”
Taehyung quirks half a smile. His other hand finds Jin's, and their fingers link. He says, “I invited Yoongi to the party. He'll be there.”
“Counting on it,” Jin says. He brushes his nose along Taehyung's jaw, and he responds with the throaty, incoherent growl that Jin treasures most. It's the involuntary groan of a man on the edge of giving in, and Jin knows the precise amount of pressure to exert to send Taehyung over the edge.
“This is all so exciting,” Jin whispers into Taehyung's neck. “The three of us playing matchmaker with Yoongi and Hoseok.”
“Exciting,” Taehyung echoes. “It's um...” He clears his throat. “It seems complicated.”
“All of the best things in life are complicated,” Jin says, stepping back. He ruffles Taehyung's hair from his forehead. It's damp and greasy and smells like... peanut butter? Jin gives him a nudge, guiding him wordlessly toward the bathroom.
Taehyung says, “Most people would say the best things in life are the simple things.”
Jin laughs. “We're not most people.”
“So you and Namjoon were making party plans,” Taehyung says. He doesn't meet Jin's eyes.
“Among other things,” Jin says. “And we have another role for you, if you're up for it?” He opens the bathroom door and steps inside, pulling Taehyung along with him. Taehyung watches, eyes wide and expectant, as Jin turns on the bathtub taps.
“Anything,” Taehyung says when he remembers he's supposed to respond. “I'm always up for anything.”
Jin sucks air over his teeth. “Counting on that, too,” he says. He twists the dial to turn on the shower spray. The bathroom fills with the warm scent of steam and vanilla bath soap. Taehyung stands there, hands loose at his sides, looking as wary and waifish as a street-urchin extra from the cast of Les Miserables.
Which calls up the host of questions Jin has collected about Taehyung over the past four years. Now is not the time to ask them, Jin knows. Taehyung volunteers little about himself on good nights; pushing for answers now will only send him over the balcony rail. While this is a figurative statement, Jin knows Taehyung is quite capable of scaling the building by way of their balconies, so it might as well be literal.
So Jin proceeds with caution. He tugs the sleeve of Taehyung's soiled hoodie, indicating that he should pull it off. He does as he's bid, and while he's struggling to wriggle free, Jin says, “First, shower. Then we'll get you some food. And then we'll talk about our plans.”
“No deal,” Taehyung says. He shucks his hoodie onto the floor, and though his hair is wild and tousled, he looks stronger and freer without the filthy sweatshirt on his back.
Jin sees this for the gambit that it is and plays along. “Fine,” he says, pulling his own shirt over his shoulders. “You want company?”
Taehyung doesn't even blink when he says, “I'll never say no to that.”
Chapter 11: taehyung & hoseok.
Taehyung hijacks the chapter in order to figure out what Yoongi's costume is. While he's at it, he barges in on Hoseok to learn what he's going to wear to Jin's party as well.
Before Taehyung can remember that Jin's got plans, panic momentarily claims him. He reaches out and feels the cold spot of mattress where Jin fell asleep, and his breath catches. He grabs Jin's pillow and wedges it into place beside him, like it's anything as good as the broad expanse of Jin's back pressing warmly against the front of his chest, and he forces himself to chill.
Jin has plans every morning, and his mornings after are no exception. Whether he's going for a run—I'm an actor! I have to keep myself in shape—or grocery shopping—I found a great recipe online, I really want you to try it—or to brunch with a casting agent—I promise I won't flirt too much with this one, Tae—he's gone by sunrise.
Taehyung tries to recall what day it is, hoping that might help him figure out where Jin is this particular morning after, but he has no idea. He's been so busy with Hope...
Hope! Taehyung had given Hope to Mark, and if Mark's the one in Namjoon's place... It's the third week of the month. Probably Thursday; Mark barely looked settled into Namjoon's apartment yesterday... Which means Eric and Yongsun—fifth-floor dwellers—are approaching an anniversary... Jungkook has one less class to attend today, while Hoseok has an extra class to teach... and that means Jin is—
"Shopping," Taehyung concludes aloud. Jin is definitely shopping if it's a Thursday. He's probably got a long list of party prep materials to pick up, too; he'll be gone a while.
Taehyung's heartbeat refuses to slow. He squeezes the pillow close and it feels as if the pillow has a pulse. He breathes in the smell of shampoo on the pillowcase; it's the same smell that's been scrubbed into his hair. His head has long since dried, but his skin still feels soft and tingly from the mint scrub that Jin insisted they use while showering together.
Taehyung has always liked sleeping at Jin's place. He's especially appreciative of being given the freedom to sleep as late as he likes. He hasn't slept well in days because he's been concerned about keeping watching over Hope, but now she's safe and sound with renowned dog-lover Mark Tuan, and Taehyung doesn't need to worry anymore. Mark will take great care of her, and when it's time for Taehyung to give her back to Yoongi so Yoongi can give her back to Hoseok, she won't be any worse for wear. Yoongi will go to the party. Jin will be proud of Taehyung for helping out. Everybody wins!
Reminded of the next task Jin has given him, Taehyung finally finds it in himself to sit up.
Legality aside, Yoongi's living room is not off-limits to anyone who knows how to get inside the apartment, and while the guy himself isn't the most welcoming house guest, Sugar is wonderful about accepting Taehyung's company when he drops by. She isn't always there when he is—which he found suspect, until he did some investigating and discovered the loose panel in Yoongi's bedroom window that she pushes open to escape through; he utilizes this knowledge when Yoongi decides to be all weirdly paranoid about people breaking into his apartment and changes his locks—but when she is there, she rubs herself on his legs and purrs really loud. He's more of a dog person, honestly, but he won't say no to loving on a lovable cat.
The apartment isn't spacious and it's surprisingly messy, considering how particular Yoongi is about the strangest of things. There are empty glass bottles living in the corners of the room, which catch the light sometimes and paint the floor with swatches of purple, green, and blue. The couch is covered in sheet music that Taehyung doesn't dare to touch, and the only other seat in the living room is the bench in front of the cutesy electronic keyboard, which is also piled up with sheet music when Yoongi isn't there to occupy it. Taehyung has no choice but to sit on the floor if he wants Sugar to sit in his lap.
She takes some coercing, and by that Taehyung means clicking his tongue at her and slapping his thighs until she gets the hint that it's okay to stand on them. Even after all that, she still hesitates climbing aboard, stopping once she's got both her front paws on Taehyung's leg. He pets her head and says, "You've been lonely, haven't you? Is it 'cause I took away your friend?"
Sugar meows at him.
"I know," Taehyung sighs, as if he really does know.
She kneads her paws into his leg, claws poking out just enough to hurt him through the denim of his jeans. He eventually asks her to let him up and when she doesn't, he scoops her into his arms and takes her with him into Yoongi's bedroom.
"Is it in here?" he asks her.
She jumps out of his loose hold, aiming for the unmade bed and perfecting the landing. Taehyung claps—softly so as not to startle her—in celebration of her skills.
"Do you know how easy things would be for me if I could do that? I wouldn't have broken my foot that one time when I didn't make it into the dumpster off the fire'scape on that building near Olympic Park," Taehyung says. "You remember when that happened, though. You got all freaked out by my cast."
As he's talking, he's combing through the dirty clothes. He doesn't know why he's checking there first— It's not like Yoongi would have dumped his Halloween costume into the laundry hamper. Once he realizes this, he scrunches his nose and drops the unwashed shirt back into the pile.
"Eugh, what am I doing?" Taehyung groans.
When he looks back at Sugar, prepared to make her swear she won't tell Yoongi what she just saw, he's pleasantly surprised to find that she's on the bed with her eyes closed and her little kitty mouth curling upwards into a little kitty smile. Giving in to temptation, he shoves his face into her tummy, which makes her yowl and slap at his head. He doesn't feel too bad about it because she's so soft and cuddly! How could he resist? She forgives him in two seconds anyway and licks his hand, almost like she's apologizing for clawing at his face, and he tells her that he's sorry, too. For good measure.
"Okay, you gotta let me go now," he says.
She won't give him his hand back. She just keeps licking and licking like she wants to properly clean him with her sandpaper tongue.
"Sugar... I need to find your person's costume. Can you let me go?"
She growls at him when he tries to pull away. He narrowly escapes getting hooked with her claws again by leaping off the bed. He holds his hand close to his chest as if he's really been struck, and he whines high in his throat.
"Sugar! Don't do that."
Being a cat, of course, she doesn't give him the time of day. She flicks her tail and starts to clean herself. Feeling betrayed, Taehyung huffs and resumes checking the room. He keeps getting distracted by this and that, like composition notebooks left open on the desk, or the occasional gleam of spare change that he swipes without thinking.
He never actually manages to check Yoongi's closet, because just as he's heading that way, he needs to pee. He announces this to Sugar before he leaves the room. He's whistling some American song and relieving himself when he sees it.
"Clown makeup?" Taehyung mutters, perplexed.
It's definitely, horrifically, irrefutably clown makeup. The black-and-orange letters on the festive packaging have titled the concealed slabs of matte white and primary red as such. There's even a scary stock image of a clown printed on the cardboard.
Taehyung zips his pants and flushes. After he washes his hands in the sink, he's careful not to drip water onto the unopened makeup kit when he has to reach over it to snag a square of towel.
The telltale screek of his front door lets Hoseok know that Taehyung has entered his apartment. Through the feverish chlorine haze that assails even him through his mask, Hoseok reminds himself that if he would only lock his doors, it might keep...
Hoseok doesn't even complete the thought. He's beginning to think a lead-lined bunker with retinal-scan security features couldn't keep Taehyung out of a place if he wants to get in. Hoseok renews the attack on his shower grout and calls over his shoulder, “Ah, the mysterious Taehyung. Were you by any chance bitten by a radioactive spider?”
“Maybe,” Taehyung says. “I've been bitten by lots of things.” He appears in the mirror above the sink, hovering in the doorway, a half-eaten muffin in his hand. Hoseok's muffin. The one he was saving as a reward for finishing the floor-to-ceiling cleaning of his bathroom.
Hoseok dips his toothbrush into the bowl of bleach and proceeds to scour the already sparkling chrome faucet. He says, “I've heard you can scale the building on an icy day.”
“Can and have,” Taehyung says, proudly. “And will again.”
Hoseok sits back on his heels. He thumbs off his mask so that it dangles from one ear. He says, “Do you... like your life?”
Taehyung crams the rest of the muffin into his mouth. Spraying crumbs, he says, “What's not to like?”
Hoseok squints at him. “Not really an answer.”
“Do you like your life?” Taehyung fires back.
Hoseok takes stock of the moment. “Let's see,” he says. “After a grueling day of teaching the most balance-challenged group of idol trainees in all of Seoul, I'm on my knees on the floor of my bathroom, cleaning fungus from tile that was probably old in the days of the student rebellion. I've got chlorine burns on my fingers, a weirdly enigmatic neighbor who loves me but for some reason will barely look at me, I've lost my most cherished companion on the planet,” here his voice cracks, but he goes doggedly on, “My Hobi Hope.” He presses his hand to his nose. “And the thing that I was most looking forward to in the world, YOU JUST ATE IT!”
Taehyung swallows. He licks his fingers. He says, “You're still looking forward to Jin's party though, right?”
Jin's party. Oh, the ambivalence. Yes, he's looking forward to the party, which promises music, dancing, debauchery, and alcohol in copious measure. And Yoongi will be there.
“Yoongi will be there, right?” Hoseok asks.
“Can confirm,” Taehyung says.
But... Yoongi will be there. Yoongi, who may converse with him. Yoongi, who may confess to him. Is he really ready for that?
Oh, I'm ready, Hoseok thinks. I'm so ready I could burst.
Hoseok advances on the moldering grout with a fierceness that frays the toothbrush's bristles. Meanwhile, Taehyung disappears from view, poking around as he is wont to do.
Let him look, Hoseok seethes. He doesn't have any spare change, and since Gracie's been gone, he's lacked the will to visit the market. He's been subsisting on cold chicken and plain rice for a week: Tough on the taste buds, rock-hard on the abs.
Taehyung reappears in the bathroom mirror, clutching a formless mass of black cloth between his hands. “This is your costume?”
Hoseok stands and turns, waving the toothbrush between them like a dagger. “I was busy looking for my dog,” he bites out.
Taehyung looks both puzzled and concerned. He says, “So you're going as a monk? At least Yoongi's going as something scary, like a clown—”
“—It's Darth Vader,” Hoseok shouts. “Dark Jedi? Order of the Sith?”
Taehyung purses his lips. “Lame.”
“One of the most – no, THE most intimidating villain of modern times,” Hoseok says.
“Head to toe black and a mask that covers your whole face,” Taehyung says. “One might suspect you're... hiding from something.”
Hoseok crosses his arms. “I'm not hiding,” he says. “You're hiding.”
This ridiculously-flung, overly-defensive statement has an odd, deflating effect on Taehyung. He says, “I'm really sorry about Hope.”
“Yeah, I know,” Hoseok grumbles. “And thank you for not saying 'I told you so.' You did warn me.'”
“You did,” Hoseok says. “The window? The dumpster? I didn't believe you, and now...”
Taehyung shoves the costume into Hoseok's arms. Hoseok has to tiptoe and dodge to keep it from brushing the freshly-bleached floor or touching the freshly-dipped toothbrush in his hand. By the time he's certain of the costume's safety, Taehyung has vanished.
Hoseok didn't hear the skrik of the door, so he trails into the hallway, peering about for any sign of Taehyung. “It's a fine costume,” he mutters. “Nothing wrong with a little villainy among friends. Frankly, I find your lack of faith disturbing.”
But no one is there to appreciate his reference. The apartment is empty, and so is his heart.
Chapter 12: seokjin & namjoon.
Arranging a party feels to Jin the way conducting a symphony must to a classical musician. Every element comes together in a precise combination to create a perfect, exquisite harmony. But, like any artist worth their weight, Jin also knows that true art must possess something extraordinary – a signature flair, a touch of the unique and bizarre – to make the piece immortal.
Enter Ken and Kidoh, his brilliant theater teacher friends who managed to score a truckload of masks and mannequins from a defunct costume warehouse in Sindong. Ken and his troupe of students spent the week assembling the mannequins, painting them first in matte black and then splashing them with garish gouts of red, yellow, black, and gold.
Jin and Kidoh and Ken ring Jin's dining room table, each of them hip-deep in feather-festooned Mardi Gras masks and mannequins, when Taehyung slides down from the roof and drops with the grace of an injured ostrich onto Jin's balcony. They watch in mute horror as Taehyung stumbles backward, and Jin suffers a moment of heart-wrenching terror when he thinks Taehyung might continue his descent to plummet to his death on the cracked asphalt below.
Taehyung recovers, though, and manages a small flourish, like he was putting on a show for Jin's company. As Taehyung slides open the balcony door, Ken and Kidoh greet him with a round of applause.
Taehyung saunters in on a brush of cool air that smells of damp leaves and blueberries. He pauses halfway across the room and says, “Jin-hyung, were you afraid I'd fall?”
Jin realizes he's standing there, agape, a mannequin head in one hand, a crimson mask in the other. “No. Please,” Jin says. “I was admiring your dismount.”
“I'd give it a solid 9,” Ken says, waving a glass of Soju.
Kidoh tsks. “8.8,” he says.
Jin consults with the mannequin beside him. “We agree,” he says. “You didn't stick the landing.”
“I'll stick your landing,” Taehyung says.
“Promises, promises,” Jin says, breezily. “Taehyung. You've met Kidoh and Ken?”
Jin is certain Taehyung has met both men, on separate occasions but in similar situations. Both times, Jin had run off for his daily whatever-it-was-he-had-going-on, leaving a half-naked, muzzy-headed Ken/Kidoh to scrounge the penthouse kitchen for breakfast. Both had been mildly annoyed and slightly surprised to find Taehyung there, even more so when Taehyung proved to be deliberately cagey about his relationship with Jin, and why he would be eating cereal and wearing Jin's bathrobe at six in the morning.
Ken and Kidoh each asked Jin about Taehyung, and Jin told them about as much as he told Namjoon, which was nothing. Taehyung is Jin's business, and they needn't know more about it.
“So your mission?” Jin asks. “Was it successful?”
Taehyung moves around the end of the table. He hefts the torso of a paint-spattered mannequin and cradles it in his arms. “Oh my dear Yoongi,” he pantomimes, “What strange markings you have. That white face, those red lips.”
“Markings?” Kidoh asks. “Is he going as a zebra?”
“Red lips?” Ken asks. “On a zebra?”
“She could be a fancy zebra,” Kidoh says. “Ready for a night of action.”
Taehyung purses his lips. “So Yoongi is now a girl zebra?”
Jin raises a masked mannequin head to confer. “Alas, poor Yoongi,” he pouts. “Confined by the gender norms of zoo animals. Perhaps he’s... stripe-cast?”
Taehyung chucks the mannequin onto the sofa. “Yoongi will be a clown,” he says.
“Eugh.” Jin shudders. “Creepy.”
Taehyung takes a step closer. “Says the man with an apartment full of naked mannequins and harlequin masks.”
“They're wonderful, aren't they?” Jin's eyes gleam. “We'll dress them up – masks, beads, feathers, sequins – and then we'll station them around the apartment. Think smoky lighting, diffuse colors, music, dancing, drinks, food. Plus, plenty of places for clandestine confessions.”
“A post-apocalyptic Mardi Gras!” Kidoh shouts. Jin's pretty sure he's drunk a whole bottle of wine already.
Taehyung entwines a feather boa around his neck. “So I'm the clown who'll confess to Hoseok.”
Jin can't resist. He slides the tail of the boa through his fingers, and then gives it a firm tug, inching Taehyung closer as he winds the slack around his hand.
Jin brings his face so close he can feel Taehyung's breath on his cheek. “And Namjoon will be...?”
Taehyung's head snaps up. “Namjoon? I thought you'd dress up like Hoseok?”
“Me?” Jin presses his hands to his heart. “But I'm the host of the party.”
“That's right,” Kidoh slurs. He refills his glass with the last of Jin's strawberry port. “Jin must keep the spirits flowing.”
“And the music pumping,” Ken says.
“And the food... fooding,” Kidoh adds.
Jin sweeps in to take Kidoh's glass. “No more for you,” he says. “You have classes tomorrow.”
Kidoh slumps, momentarily, then resumes adorning a mannequin with an emerald mask and a violet-sequined waistcoat.
Taehyung takes Kidoh's glass from Jin and drains it. “You're the actor,” he says. “You should play Hoseok's part.”
“Well I can't if I don't know what it is,” Jin says.
Taehyung pouts. “He's going as the most intimidating villain of modern time,” he says.
“Hannibal Lecter?” Ken guesses.
“Lord Voldemort?” Kidoh asks.
And Jin says, “Ryuk from Death Note?”
“No,” Taehyung moans. “He's going as Darth Vader.”
“Oooh,” Ken and Kidoh say simultaneously.
And Jin goes, “Really? The clown is scarier than that.”
“That's what I said,” Taehyung says.
Jin grips his hand and pulls him into a hug. “Taehyung-ah, this is the best plan we've ever made. Yoongi and Hoseok may as well be lobsters in a trap. Once they see how perfect they are together, they'll fall in madly in love, and they'll never have to be alone, ever again.”
Taehyung bites his lip. It sends a shiver up Jin's spine. He narrows his eyes at Taehyung and says, “You need more wine.”
There's a moment of resistance, a brief rigidity as Taehyung pans from Kidoh to Ken and then back to Jin.
“They're taking the eleven p.m. train back to Jongno,” Jin whispers. “You don't have to be alone either.”
“All right,” Taehyung agrees. Because he's like Jin; he hates to be alone.
Following the natural progression of anything in Namjoon's life, the apartment quickly descended into chaos. As soon as news about Mark's dog made the rounds, in came Jackson (toting a suitcase three days too early; was he planning on bunking with Mark so he could stay at Namjoon's longer than the allotted time they agreed upon?) and Jaebum (looking much better now that he had that cast taken off of his leg; Namjoon didn't know breakdancing-induced injuries could be so brutal) and Jinyoung (with a pet collar at the ready) and Youngjae (long time, no see; that was sarcasm, by the way) and lastly, BamBam and Yugyeom (hand-in-hand). It had been ages since Namjoon saw all seven of his roommates at once, which made him a little hesitant about asking them to leave.
Problem is, if he hesitates for over twenty-four hours, it's open season on the kitchen and the kids will make camp in the living room. This happened at Christmas, too; everyone thought it might be nicer to spend the 25th of December together instead of with their families. When Namjoon failed to get them out the door by the 26th, they were happy to overstay their welcome until the middle of January, because why not celebrate New Year's while they were at it?
Namjoon prides himself on being the introspective type, someone who learns from his mistakes, but if there's anything he's got a weakness for, it's people. Specifically, people in need. He's got natural leadership capabilities, meaning he likes gathering people like Jackson's crew and guiding them onto the right path. He's hoping, someday, the right path will not include his couch, but the current arrangement is symbiotic at best so he isn't complaining...
Until he has everyone on his couch at the same time, that is.
Their roommate swap schedule exists for a reason. He understands when Yugyeom might want BamBam over during his week on the couch, or vice versa, but this is unnecessary. Eight dudes and a dog in one apartment? Unnecessary.
Not to mention, he has an article to finish writing. He was supposed to work on it yesterday. Letting himself get swept away in the excitement of seeing everyone (and the excitement of playing with the dog) was a mistake.
The dog's sleeping on his legs as he reviews everything he regrets doing—or not doing—and, when he lifts his head off the pillows to look, he finds Jackson down there, too. He's sleeping at the end of the mattress, curled around the puppy and drooling on Namjoon's bedsheets, comfortable as can be.
Namjoon sighs as he wonders how he's going to dislodge his leg from underneath Jackson's body. He doesn't have to wonder for very long, though. Less than a minute of contemplating and gently twitching his toes against Jackson's stomach and there's a knock at the door, so loud it resounds through the entire apartment. Both Jackson and the dog bolt upright. The dog starts barking.
"Pizza guy?" Jackson asks, voice slurred with sleep drunkenness. His eyes, in contrast, are sparkling like he's wide awake and ready for mischief.
"Can you get him to be quiet?" Namjoon asks, jutting his chin to indicate the dog.
"She's a girl," Jackson corrects. “And her name is Coco.” He scoops the dog into his arms and shushes her. She isn't soothed in the slightest. She keeps barking, only now she's wriggling like she wants to jump free. Jackson lets her go.
Namjoon pushes himself up on the bed and watches as she leaves the room. Even when she's down the hall, Namjoon can hear her snuffling. These puppy-typical noises are followed by a mixture of soft cooing and irritated groaning.
Whoever's at the door knocks even louder this time than before. It makes Namjoon's head throb with a migraine, or maybe that's the side-effects of last night's drinking... Jinyoung's dinner-with-friends policy involves a lot of rice wine.
"Who d'you think that is?" Jackson asks, making no move to get off the bed or Namjoon's leg.
Namjoon shakes his head and frowns. He has no idea, truthfully. Taehyung doesn't knock, and Yoongi doesn't visit. He doubts Jin would come by so loudly, and Hoseok's been less than sociable lately. Unless someone called maintenance—or Mark's news traveled quicker than anticipated and Soonyoung (and company) is here to see the dog—Namjoon is out of ideas as to who it could be.
Suddenly, everyone—dog included, Youngjae excluded—is shoving into Namjoon's bedroom. They've got wild, scared looks in their eyes and they're talking over one another in hushed, worried tones.
Namjoon flaps his hands at them frantically. "Stop! Stop it," he says, voice not quite a whisper but not full volume either. "One at a time, please. What is going on?"
"Bang Sihyuk," Jaebum says gravely.
"He's here?" Namjoon asks, concerned. "But... why?"
"Inspection," Jinyoung says.
Mark, holding the dog like a newborn in his arms, nods.
"Oh, shit. Okay, the important thing to do here is... stay calm," Namjoon says. His eyes rove the panic-struck faces of his friends. "Quiet and calm. Can you do that for me, guys?"
Everyone murmurs in assent.
Namjoon wrenches his leg free, and Jackson smiles at him sheepishly. Before he leaves, he gives them one last reminder of what they need to do by putting his index finger to his lips. Some mirror the action to show they understood. BamBam makes a bubble in his mouth. Satisfied, Namjoon closes the door and secures them inside his room.
He approaches the kitchen, and his anxiety amplifies when Youngjae and Bang Sihyuk come into view. He has reason to be scared; he's never had more than one roommate in the apartment when their landlord visited. His fear prevents him from taking that final step into the kitchen to properly join Sihyuk and Youngjae. Apparently, it doesn't matter whether his feet are touching tiles or not. He's standing close enough for Sihyuk to acknowledge.
"Namjoon," Sihyuk says, dipping his head in greeting. "Wonderful to see you awake at this hour. You haven't missed much, not to worry—Jackson and I were just discussing an upcoming mandatory evacuation of the building."
"So this isn't... This isn't an inspection?" Namjoon asks, dumbfounded.
"No, no. That's not until next month," Sihyuk reminds him. "Our maintenance worker reported the possibility of rats in the washroom? Naturally, our course of action will be an exterminator... I'm making the rounds, leaving fliers with the residents to let them know to find an alternative place to stay on the evening of November 4th."
Namjoon feels the weight of his worry leaving him and lets out a long exhale. He's so relieved, he's legitimately lightheaded. "Thank god. I mean, that is... great news. Really great news."
Sihyuk looks intrigued by the reaction. "Have you by any chance seen these rats?"
Namjoon opens his mouth, ready to spout a cover story that would explain his over-the-top reaction. He doesn't get the chance to speak, though, because that's when it happens.
The dog barks.
Youngjae tries his best to disguise the noise as a cough, but Sihyuk's eyes narrow and dart in the direction of Namjoon's bedroom.
"Namjoon... You understand our no pets policy, do you not?"
"I do, sir. It's not what you think, it's not even—"
Sihyuk isn't listening. He walks past Namjoon, headed straight for the bedroom, and when he opens the door, he comes face to face with six individuals he believed to be Namjoon's roommate for over a year. For the longest time, no one does anything other than stare. Then, tentatively, Jackson starts to sing.
"Happy Birthday to you..."
The others join in—Yugyeom and Jaebum are even providing harmonies—and Mark slowly, very slowly, hands the dog to Bang Sihyuk like she's his gift.
Chapter 13: hoseok & yoongi.
On the evening of the Halloween party, Hoseok and Yoongi psych themselves out to get up to Jin's penthouse.
Despite whatever Taehyung might believe, Darth Vader is terrifying.
Hoseok stares at the crow-black cutout of himself in the dull sheen of the elevator doors, pleased with the baleful glow of the red sequin accents on his breast and the ominous swirl of the floor-length satin cape.
The bubble eyes of the mask tints everything carnage red, and the voice modulator smells strongly of raspberry wine. That's because Hoseok bought two (or three?) bottles of Bokbunjae at the 7-11 down the block. He drank one (or two) bottles while getting dressed, and now sips from the third as he waits for the elevator.
Only, he couldn't drink from the bottle with the Vader helmet on, so he's sipping the wine through a long, twisty straw, which, now that he thinks about it, may lessen the overall effect of the costume.
But, given the week he's had, Hoseok feels he needs the wine almost as much as he needs this party. Anything to drown the anguish of...
No. Not tonight. He promised. Tonight, he will dance and drink and flirt and drink to his heart's content. He will not think about his hopelessly talentless students or his starkly sterile apartment or his precious, absent puppy who could be out there, anywhere, alone and hungry and dirty and alone.
Hoseok goes to wipe a tear from his eye and connects instead with his hard plastic carapace. He takes another sip of his wine. He thumbs the button for the elevator and remembers, dimly, that it's broken.
Climbing a bajillion stairs in patent-leather platform shoes proves to be challenging, even for his dancer's lungs. The mask's aspirator doesn't help, and neither does the wine, as he must admit, halfway to the penthouse, that his tolerance is not what it used to be given that he's lived the last four years as a fucking monk.
He bursts into the party on a wave of wine fumes and self-loathing. He's wheezing quite convincingly as he parts through the dusky haze of the penthouse. Most of the guests turn in awe to behold him, but some of them just stand there, petrified behind their glittering masks.
The music pounds so loud Hoseok can feel it through the thick rubber soles of his boots. There are black lights and strobe lights and people splashed with neon body paint. Clouds of colored feathers drift along the floor, spiraling up in the wake of Hoseok's cloak.
He strides to the bar, brandishing his empty wine bottle at the guy behind it.
“Four years? Of nothing?” Hoseok howls. “With these thighs?”
The bartender, a lanky guy in a Batman onesie, leans over to appraise Hoseok's leather-bound legs. “Sir, do you have a permit for those?” he growls. “They look fairly lethal.”
“These are my secret weapon,” Hoseok whisper-shouts. “It is useless to resist them.”
The bartender grins. He replaces Hoseok's wine bottle with a beaker of fizzy green liquid. Hoseok stabs his straw into it and noisily sips as he scans the crowd. He spots Jin in the center of the room, resplendent in a flowing robe of white silk, his exceedingly broad shoulders adorned with opalescent wings. Hoseok notes with a snort that the halo of twinkle lights wreathing Jin's forehead is held aloft by a pair of glowing red horns.
The fizzy drink hits Hoseok's knees as he weaves across the dance floor. He jostles and sweeps until he collides with Jin, who catches him in a clumsy spin and grips his arms at the elbows.
“Hoseok, I almost didn't recognize you,” Jin says.
“How can you not recognize these,” Hoseok hisses, whipping back his cape to showcase his thighs.
Jin smiles and says, “I just figured you for the Jedi master type. You know... Hobi-wan Kenobi?”
Hoseok splutters with indignation as Jin pounds his shoulder, honking his famous windshield wiper laugh. He steps back to complete a dizzy, drunken circle as he continues to survey the guests.
“Hm,” Jin says. “Are you looking for someone?”
“No,” Hoseok spits. Just his enigmatic, cat-loving, clown-clad neighbor who has questionable taste in men but applaudable taste in music and neckwear. “Why? Are you looking for someone?”
“Always,” Jin whispers into Hoseok's ear. It's muffled and ticklish beneath his mask, and as he turns to glare sternly at him, he finds that the host has moved on, gliding through the party like some starlit cloud.
Hoseok feels a moment's frustration as he knows that his mask conceals his pointed glower. He returns to Batman the bartender for another beaker of fizzy-green, figuring that he can make up for what he lacks in real courage with the liquid kind, and then maybe, just maybe, he will finally be able to tell Yoongi how he really feels.
Yoongi isn't one to brag—
Except he is, and he's bragging now. He looks good. His hair has been spray-dyed red and fluffed off his forehead, he's sporting jean overalls and the left strap keeps sliding off his shoulder in a way he hopes is scarily sultry, and his face has been given a pat-down with a white matte. He's also got a knife. To reiterate, he looks good.
Now, for the finishing touches. He narrowly avoids tipping his knife into the sink as he grabs the boxed makeup. He douses the brush in red paint and draws very deliberate lines in designated areas of his face: over the bridge of his nose, on either side of his eyes, above his brow, beside his mouth.
When he's done, he frowns a little at the unused shades in the kit. Maybe, if the paint doesn't dry out, he can find something for the yellow and the blue? It's unlikely he'll actually follow through, but he's trying to be a better person. For Hoseok. And Hoseok seems like the type of guy who would get upset at wasting paint. He would probably think of a cute, creative outlet for all types of—
Ugh. Yoongi really needs a drink. His stomach's been chock-full of butterflies all night, and he doesn't know if he'll be able to convince himself to go upstairs if he doesn't do a little pre-game in his apartment. He's always hated parties, but he especially hates the fact he's actually looking forward to this one. Hoseok makes him contradict everything about himself. Turns him from the prestigious, stoic, composer Min Yoongi to Min Yoongi, the man who can't stop smiling. From Beast to Prince Whatshisname, or worse. He's like some love-blind, Shakespearean cliché. A goddamn fool.
He stops spacing out and returns to his smiling reflection and fuck, he doesn't look good. He looks horrific. He knows that's the point of Halloween, but maybe he should have picked a costume that shows off his... legs? His wit?
He doesn't need a drink, he needs a smoke. He lets himself onto the patio and puffs until his teeth stop chattering with nerves. Then he decides, fuck it, he needs a drink all the same. He washes down the taste of nicotine with the slim remainder of the closest Soju bottle he can find.
“You're Min Yoongi,” he announces to the apartment. “You have played in front of an audience of thousands before. If you can do that, you sure as hell can do this.”
When he leaves, the door locks behind him. He takes the stairs two at a time, and when he reaches Namjoon's floor, he finds the young author in a state of distress. He's slumped against one of the steps like he fell and decided to lay there for the rest of eternity, and by the smell of it, Yoongi isn't the only one who decided to hit the liquor cabinet before getting to the party.
“Holy shit, Joon,” Yoongi says. He leans over him and sucks air over his teeth as he pokes at the younger's chest. “You could kill someone less observant just by laying here.”
Namjoon grunts in response and struggles to sit upright. He makes it as far as propping himself on an elbow. Yoongi takes his wrist and hauls him the rest of the way. They nearly both go toppling backward, but Yoongi braces himself with the railing and absorbs most of the impact. He maneuvers Namjoon's arm so that it's resting over his shoulders and they make it to the fifth floor before they have to stop and catch their breath.
On a shaky exhale, Namjoon says, “Freedom lives hence, there is banishment here.”
Yoongi does a double-take. “You fucking what?”
“Banishment,” Namjoon says. “Bang Sihyuk, and with the rats... and I don't even know where Mark got the cocoa. She's a birthday present now?”
Namjoon looks just as confused as Yoongi feels about the statement. Yoongi assumes the alcohol is having its way with Namjoon and that there's nothing else to decipher from the words.
“Okay then, lightweight,” he says, patting Namjoon on the chest. Especially given the angle of being crammed underneath more than half of Namjoon's drunken weight, Namjoon's chest is the only place he's tall enough to reach. He just hopes it's a comforting enough gesture. He's trying real hard not to say I told you so. “C'mon. Let's get you up to Jin's.”
Chapter 14: jungkook & jimin.
Jungkook inherits a puppy and saves Jimin from a renegade clown.
We will post Chapters 15 & 16 on Monday and Tuesday in honor of Halloween!
Jungkook has zero time for parties. Shooting his fall gallery assignment takes precedence. Then he has revisions due for his history paper, also important. Work-wise, he has to coordinate the exterminator's visit and notify the residents of the evacuation on the 4th. And now, unexpectedly, he has a dog.
Not just any dog, but the same stray he's been featuring in his gallery project. Out of nowhere, Bang Sihyuk turned up with the little Papillon, muttering something about his birthday and the writer from the fourth floor.
Jungkook gives the puppy's ears a good scrub. She sits tall in a makeshift bed Jungkook cobbled together from a laundry basket and an old velvet sofa cushion. “I can't leave you alone all night now, can I?” Jungkook says.
Jungkook wonders if it's possible that the universe doesn't want him to attend Jin's party. Perhaps fate is, in fact, conspiring to keep him home with the fluffy white dog, the sleek white cat (should she deign to appear), and Park Jimin, the irresistibly shy, ridiculously hot dancer from upstairs.
Jungkook straddles the chair to sit at the dog's level. “Maybe Jimin will come hang out with us? We could order pizza, watch scary movies. Plus, fluffy white dog...”
The dog lifts her ears and sniffs.
Jungkook opens his mouth in mock surprise. “You think I should show him my dark room?” He sits back to stroke his chin in consideration. “That's not a bad idea.”
In fact, it's a great idea. It has all the earmarks of a perfect, quiet, non-peopling evening.
He ruffles the dog's fur against the grain as he plans. The dog stretches languidly on her side and yawns.
Before Jungkook can settle in for any human-avoiding date-like activities, he needs to do two things. First, he has to run to the market to pick up food for the dog. Second, he has to find out if his dating prospect actually wants to have a date tonight. When last they spoke, Jimin was like, “Makeup is better than masks because you can see the person's expressions. A person can hide everything behind a mask and who needs that kind of trickery?”
This was on Wednesday, when the pilot light of Jimin's stove went out, requiring Jungkook to crawl under Jimin's sink to re-light it. After a dozen exchanged references about Mimi and Roger from Rent, Jimin went off on a long tangent about costumes, wigs, and makeup.
Jungkook had pointed out that trickery was, after all, part of the Halloween tradition, to which Jimin responded that he preferred the treats.
Therefore Jungkook resolves to pick up candy while he's out getting dog food.
The little dog hunkers into sleep. Jungkook pets her head with two fingers and goes for the door. For a moment, he considers changing out of his coveralls and tool belt but decides against it. Too much noise would disturb the puppy, and after all, Jimin seems to appreciate the whole maintenance-man vibe. Also, the ahjumma at the market has seen him drenched head to toe in gutter muck, so he doubts that she'll care.
Jungkook bounds up the stairs, feeling good about his plan, when he hears a muffled scuffling in the lobby. Sometimes, and more-so when the weather turns cold, homeless people take up shelter in their entry hall. Usually, it's just a random drunk looking for a warm, dry spot to rest. If they don't make a fuss, Jungkook lets them sleep it off overnight before asking them to vacate the next morning.
Bang Sihyuk would not approve, but Jungkook reasons that there are roughly a million and one other things the landlord should address first before dealing with the homeless.
The scuffling noise increases, followed by a hollow shriek.
Maybe not just a homeless person, Jungkook thinks. He hits the landing in time to see Jimin slam against the mailboxes, his arms thrown over his face, as a scruffy, shambling madman lurches toward him.
Jungkook reacts without thinking. He grips the heaviest tool from his belt, fists his hand in the madman's ratty shirt, and twists him around. He raises the tool high over their heads, ready to smash it down—
Clad in his costume, stifling a scream, and hiding his face behind his gloved hands, Jimin wonders how his life went from taking the scenic route to college and plumbing without problems to calling the maintenance guy every other day and then watching said maintenance guy get into a fight with a hobo. As terrified as Jimin is in this moment, he also wonders when the apartment malfunctions and the strange neighbors and even stranger happenstances in his new style of living became preferable.
He used to live a life of boring routine while his friends talked about sleeping under different roofs. He could never tell if he was jealous of them before. Now, people he can't even remember the names of say hello to him in the lobby. Everyone shares everything, like cooking necessities and couches and gossip. He gets invited to parties. He's fawned and been fawned over. There's a sense of community here, much stronger than it's ever been between walls that don't have rats in them. He can safely say these are all things to be jealous about.
And while some homeless guy in attack mode isn't the harbinger of envy, a hot guy by the name of Jeon Jungkook coming to his rescue absolutely is.
"Jungkook, wait! It's me!" the homeless guy yells.
There's a metallic clatter as the tool falls from Jungkook's hand. Still holding him by the shoulder, keeping his back pressed into the line of mailboxes in an excellent display of strength, Jungkook asks, "What the fu—Taehyung?"
Any conversation Jimin has had with Taehyung so far has been more about other people than about the man himself. Jimin doesn't even know which apartment number is Taehyung's, assuming he lives in the building at all. He talks about the other residents like he's known them his whole life, though; the idea of him living anywhere else seems too far-fetched for Jimin to entertain.
Yes, to Jimin's knowledge, Taehyung is just another tenant in this building of misfits. An ill-mannered tenant, as shown by his habit of breaking-and-entering, followed by eating everything in Jimin's fridge, but he's a tenant nonetheless. A tenant that lurks by the mailboxes in full clown gear, apparently. Jimin hopes Halloween is to blame and that Taehyung doesn't make a habit of this at the end of every month.
"—making sure he was going to the party, like he said!" Taehyung is explaining by the time Jimin tunes back into his and Jungkook's conversation.
"Sure," Jungkook says, disbelieving. "That's why you were hiding in the shadows, right? Because you were on your way to his door? Not because you were waiting for him to come out so you could scare him?"
Taehyung laughs nervously. "What? No," he says. "I like treats, not tricks."
"That's what I like, too!" Jimin blurts, accidentally inserting himself into the conversation. He blushes when Taehyung and Jungkook turn to look at him. Jungkook's smile is sweet like the caramel candying an apple, and Taehyung's is like a razor blade embedded in the core.
"I know it is," Taehyung says, waggling an eyebrow.
Jimin has no idea how he could have known that, unless Jungkook relayed that specific piece of information to him after the whole 'fix my stove and re-enact Rent's Light My Candle' date-that-wasn't-a-date. If that were the case, that means Jungkook's been talking about him— and just the thought makes him blush a deeper shade of red. He doesn't think he can blush any harder until Taehyung opens his mouth again.
"Have you two banged yet?"
Jungkook's eyes go squinty with anger and he slams Taehyung's shoulder back into the mailboxes.
"Ow, what— I was just asking! But I'm guessing that's a no?"
Before Jungkook can do anything decidedly worse, Jimin hurries over. He feels silly in his costume of choice when his oversized white gloves come into contact with Jungkook's arm, but he shakes off his embarrassment, just like he shakes Jungkook off of Taehyung.
"It's okay," Jimin's saying as he takes Jungkook's hand between his own Disney-sponsored ones. "I'm okay, see? He scared me a little, but it's okay, because you came to my rescue! You..."
He trails off as his eyes wander from Jungkook's furrowed brow, to Taehyung's makeup-exaggerated features, to the wrench on the floor, and he gasps as he comprehends the severity of the situation. Jungkook didn't even know it was Taehyung when he went all superhero.
"You were going to wrench a clown for me!"
The upset in Jungkook's demeanor dissipates with his laughter, and Taehyung groans like he's going to be sick.
"I can't believe you guys haven't got it on, like, yesterday."
"Don't make me go Batman on your ass again," Jungkook threatens, bending to pick the wrench from off the floor. When he comes back up, he turns to Jimin with a smile that has Jimin's heart pounding. "Hey, Mickey. How about we skip the party and go to my place instead?"
Jimin shyly adjusts the blue wizard's hat on his head and nods. When Jungkook pulls him closer, he nearly trips over the hem of his velvety red robe. Jungkook fixes his hold on the small of Jimin's back to steady him.
"No, wait! Guys, you promised," Taehyung sputters as they head for the stairs. "I already told Jin that you would come!"
"Oh, we'll definitely come tonight," Jungkook says.
Jimin squeaks with a laugh. "Will you go Batman on my ass?"
They both start cackling, and Taehyung, the epitome of melodramatic, cries, "You owe me one!" When Jimin chances a look over his shoulder, Taehyung is even shaking his fist at them. "I'm serious, Jeon!"
"I'll keep that in mind, Kim," Jungkook replies.
Chapter 15: seokjin & taehyung.
Despite Namjoon's drunken state, Jin and Taehyung manage to scrap together to salvage their masquerade charade.
We will post Chapter 16 tomorrow, in honor of the holiday!
To quote the great master, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” The moment Yoongi foists a semi-conscious Namjoon into his arms, Jin realizes that some people – him, for instance – are destined for all three.
Jin huddles in the foyer with Yoongi and Namjoon, buffeted from the heavy drone of pumping EDM and the wintergreen scent of dry-ice vapor. Namjoon knots his fists into the silk of Jin's robes, clinging with all the desperation of a storm-tossed raccoon.
“Life,” he slurs, “Is but a walking shadow. A poor player. That something, something... his hour upon the stage.”
“Oh my, you're drunk,” Jin says. He looks to Yoongi. “He's drunk?”
“Yea verily,” Yoongi deadpans. “And he's all yours.”
Yoongi attempts to step around Jin, but he's barred entry into the party proper by Jin's mighty wings. Jin squares himself in the entryway, determined to press his advantage.
“You're not a clown,” Jin observes. “What are you? Some kind of zombie farmer?”
“No,” Yoongi growls. “I'm Chucky.” He pats the pockets of his overalls, then holds up his empty hands in disgust. “Chucky!”
Jin looks to Namjoon for support, but the writer merely grins up from his placidly slack face and murmurs, “That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.”
“How much has he had?” Jin ponders aloud.
“I'm guessing eight pints of lager plus four years of undergrad lit,” Yoongi quips.
Jin narrows his eyes. “And how much have you had?”
Yoongi tightens and releases his fists and then exhales. “Not enough to feel comfortable in social situations, but plenty enough to be confounded by your wings.”
“You wouldn't be the first,” Jin says with a wink. Then he angles aside to let Yoongi pass.
But before Yoongi can sidle through into the party, Namjoon grips his shirtfront and gives him a surprisingly firm shake. “The miserable have no other medicine,” he burbles. “But only hope.”
Yoongi smirks in response. “Hope and copious amounts of alcohol.” Then he shrugs out of Namjoon's grasp and slips into the crowd.
Jin wrangles Namjoon through the party, which is complicated because, in his liquor-drenched state, Namjoon manages to become entangled with everything from fellow guests to the decorations, and at one point, Jin's enormous potted ivy. Once Jin finally slings him onto his bed, Namjoon is giggling, singing, and spouting random snippets of sonnets.
“Well,” Jin muses at the sight of the rumpled scholar-poet in his bed. “I finally get you here, and you're too far gone to do anything.”
“‘m supposed to play a part,” Namjoon mutters. “Me for Hoseok? Taehyung for Yoongi?”
“True,” Jin says as he ruffles his fingers through the damp fringe of Namjoon's bangs. “But every good player has an understudy,” he says. “I'll be honored to be yours.”
Namjoon beams up at him. “You said... understudy.” And then he passes out.
Jin unlaces and tugs off Namjoon’s boots, tucks the duvet around him, and pushes a pillow beneath his head. “Good night, sweet prince,” he whispers. Then he goes to his closet to where a long, black cloak hangs. With the deft and practiced quickness of an actor accustomed to costume changes, Jin slides off his wings and begins to pull on the Darth Vader garb intended for Namjoon.
Taehyung wishes he could say that he arrived at the party fashionably late, but a term as extravagant as fashionably late is typically reserved for those bearing alcohol. Chips, maybe. Possibly even candy.
Another excusable instance in which someone is fashionably late is if they look good. The kind of good where it's obvious as to why they arrived an hour after the party's beginning, and everyone conveniently forgets to be mad about things like punctuality and politeness.
Not only is Taehyung empty-handed, he is dressed as a clown. He turns heads for all the wrong reasons—it doesn't help that he, upon entry, lost his footing and knocked a mask-wearing mannequin to the floor; the accident resulted in a horrendous beheading—and he, ultimately, is a failure.
He couldn't take care of the dog for Yoongi. He couldn't stop Jungkook from... plunging Jimin's plumbing—or whatever it is they have planned for the evening—long enough to get them to show up like he promised Jin they would. Worst of all, he is dressed as a clown. This wouldn't be listed with his other superb failures if Yoongi were also dressed as a clown, but as luck would have it, the makeup in clown kits can actually be used for things other than advertised. Who knew?
Not Taehyung, that's for sure, and when he had seen Yoongi from across the room—
"I thought you were coming as a clown!"
"Since when?" And then, "Aren't you a clown?"
Taehyung groaned in frustration. "Yes, but what are you?"
"I'm Chucky! I just... forgot my knife," Yoongi had said, patting the front of his overalls like that would make his knife appear.
—he knew that he had ruined everything.
"You had one job," Taehyung tells himself. "Jin gave you one job! And you screwed it up, and now he's gonna—"
"Want you to stop talking to yourself?"
Taehyung spins in alarm and comes face-to-face with Darth Vader. Taehyung remembers the results of the pre-party investigation. Unless he did the same as Yoongi and changed costumes last minute, this is—
No, wait— Too tall. According to Jin's plan, Namjoon is supposed to be playing the role of Hoseok to deceive Yoongi. Right?
"Guess again," the masked person says. The voice is definitely familiar, which solidifies Taehyung's assumption that he's speaking with Namjoon.
"You're not mad at me for pawning the dog off on you, right?" Taehyung asks, words rapid-fire in his worry.
A gloved hand comes up to peel the mask away, revealing—
"Jin!" Taehyung says, almost relieved before he remembers how much of a failure he is. "Oh, no. Jin, I'm so sorry— I couldn't get Jungkook and Jimin to—"
He doesn't get the chance to finish, because Jin uses that same gloved hand to pull Taehyung closer by the chin. Jin plants a warm kiss on his mouth. It makes his lips feel fizzy like champagne, but he hasn't had anything to drink— Although some might think he's drunk, by the way he's rambling and tripping over his own feet. But he's sober. Honest.
When they part, Jin comes away with a smear of red on his lips. He says, "You're not Chucky," and runs his thumb over the seam of Taehyung's mouth to smooth where the kiss disrupted his makeup.
"I know," Taehyung says miserably. "I've ruined everything."
"Did you say something about a dog?" Jin asks.
"It's nothing for you to worry about," Taehyung says. Just being in the older's presence makes him feel calmer. Like he can breathe again.
"Funny how I've known you for so long," Jin says, "but you're such a mystery. How is it that we've slept together so many times and I don't even know where you live?"
Jin does this sometimes. For all Taehyung is able to keep track of, he can never anticipate when Jin will start talking about— Well, him. Not himself, but Taehyung. At first, it made Taehyung want to curl into a little ball or run to the nearest Burger King as a means of escape from what he perceived as scrutiny or criticism. He knows better now, though; this is Jin's dramatic way of letting Taehyung know that he's been thinking about him. About them. Sometimes, he seems enticed by the enigma Taehyung has created for himself. Other times, he seems... sad. Like he knows he can't have a future with a—
"Mask," Taehyung says, yanking Jin's disguise down the length of his face just in time for Yoongi to approach them.
"You," Yoongi says. He jabs his finger into the middle of Taehyung's chest. "Clown man."
Did Yoongi overhear his comment about the dog? Is that why he came over, finger jabbing and name calling?
Taehyung's eyes dart nervously to the pocket Yoongi patted earlier and he wonders if, since their first interaction of the night, Yoongi has since acquired a knife. Swallowing thickly, Taehyung says, "Hello, uh... homicidal... baby doll?"
Despite his struggle—both to remain calm and to think of a nickname on par with Yoongi's confidently delivered clown man—Yoongi nods like he approves completely of the given effort. His finger retracts from Taehyung's chest.
"You seen Hoseok?"
"Yes," Taehyung says immediately. He loops his arm around Jin's shoulders. "He's right here."
Jin raises a hand in greeting.
"Fuck," Yoongi says, completely losing his chill demeanor like a man in love. "Seriously? That's you in there?"
"Yep," Jin says. The mask distorts his voice well enough—if Taehyung's blunder to identify him wasn't evidence to that fact—and Yoongi's drunk enough to buy into what's being sold. "It's really me in here."
Wanting Jin alone to himself again—even if it's only for a second before they have to part ways in conducting their plan—Taehyung suggests, "Why don't you get yourself another drink, and I'll send him your way in a sec?"
Yoongi has never been the type to turn down a drink. He bobs his head before turning on his heel and disappearing into the crowd.
Jin grips Taehyung's shoulder and says, "You did amazing!" and leans in like he wants a kiss. Taehyung has to whack the front of the mask—it's more of a helmet, really, now that he thinks about it—to remind him of its existence.
"We can't let Yoongi see us kiss," Taehyung says.
He can practically hear Jin pouting beneath the layers of plastic when he tries to argue. "But... playing dress up with you is making me hot."
"Yoongi hasn't seen Hoseok yet," Taehyung says, trying not to get sidetracked. He's just found a way to stop himself from being a failure for the evening, and he can't risk passing it up. "That means—"
"—We can stick to the original plan," Jin sighs. For someone who conceived this whole charade, he certainly seems disappointed that the lovers getting together by the end of the evening aren't him and Taehyung.
"What happened to Namjoon?" Taehyung asks.
"He's out of commission," Jin replies. He pulls on the lapels of Taehyung's purple suit. It's— distracting. Jin is distracting, even when he's playing a very convincing Hoseok in a Darth Vader costume.
Taehyung gets a mouthful of red when he sucks his lower lip into his mouth. Spitting curses and crimson, he starts pawing at his lips to repair the damage. "Ugh, Jin— This wouldn't be a problem if Namjoon—"
"It wouldn't?" Jin asks, and if Taehyung weren't caked in white face paint, Jin would have a front row seat to his blush.
He can't possibly know...
"I'll behave," Jin promises. He drops the subject and he drops his arm from Taehyung's shoulder. He flicks his cape like someone who has earned the privilege to be fashionably late anywhere he goes. "The show must go on, right?"
Taehyung is 99.9999999% sure it isn't Shakespeare, but he finds comfort in the words. The show must go on— as in, Taehyung hasn't failed his Halloween mission, not completely. The show can and will go on.
Chapter 16: hoseok & yoongi
Yoongi makes a promise to a very inebriated Hoseok.
Happy Halloween, everyone!!
His vision blurs around the edges, due partly to the sweat in his helmet, but largely because of the steady supply of fizzy green drinks provided by the friendly, neighborhood bartender.
Thinking of the sweet concoction reminds him that his cup is empty. He gets to his feet (exactly when did he sit down?) and searches out the bar, which, according to his flawless sense of direction, lies at a northeasterly tack, across a thickly-misted field full of menacing monsters and creatures in masks. Also, the room feels like it's gently tilting side to side like a ship in a rolling sea. Hoseok begins to pick his way through the gloom, his cape swirling in his wake. He brandishes his empty cup at anyone who dares step between him and the bar, and for the most part, they edge around him to disappear into the haze.
As Hoseok traverses the oddly opaque void of the dance floor, he begins to contemplate.
“There must be a hundred people here,” he muses aloud. “Yet here I am, alone.”
He puts the straw in his mouth to sip his drink, only to remember he's still empty.
“Alone and empty,” he says. The sweat-damp helmet reverberates with a groggy wheeze. “Empty, and alone.”
What happens next will stay with Hoseok for years, and will be one of the only memories he'll carry with him in the morning. For at that moment, the mist parts and Yoongi materializes – a stunning figure in a purple suit, his face white, his lips smeared candy red and—
“You're taller than I remembered,” Hoseok says.
“That's because you're... kneeling,” he says.
“Am I?” Hoseok looks down. He sees his empty cup, its straw leaning against the rim. The party lights arc and gleam off the green glass, and Hoseok goes, “Oh, pretty.”
“Um, yes... yes, it is. As pretty as your eyes in the sunlight.”
Hoseok cranes his head to meet his gaze. “When have you seen my eyes in the sunlight?”
“In the... morning, sometimes,” Yoongi says. “When I come to yell at you about my cat.”
And Hoseok shoves him. “You have a cat,” he growls. Most of the growl comes from the helmet.
“Yes. I do.”
Hoseok doesn't realize he's sliding until he's already on the floor. He peers way, way up, into the painted face of his tragically cantankerous neighbor, who is alarmingly attractive even with clown paint caked to his face.
“Thank you,” Yoongi says. “I hoped you'd like it.”
“Did I say that out loud?” Hoseok asks.
“Yes, you did.”
Hoseok reaches up to grip his purple sleeves. He feels his arms slide around Hoseok's shoulders to guide him up. “I'm visiting Bartman the Bat-tender,” Hoseok slurs. “You should join me.”
“Yeah, I think I've had my fill of Batman tonight,” his handsome neighbor says. “Maybe you have, too?”
“I haven't had my fill of anything for a long, long time,” Hoseok says. He goes to prop his chin suggestively on Yoongi's arm, but his helmet blocks the effort. He pushes the mask up his face and immediately regrets it. The lights undulate in pulsating sweeps of teal and fuchsia. Dozens of dancing bodies writhe through colored puffs of sweet-smelling vapor. It's wincingly bright and overly loud without the muffling effect of his helmet.
Dizzy, he hobbles in a northerly direction, spilling his helmet to the floor before colliding with a corner. In his missteps, he bumps clumsily into a person in an all black body stocking. The guest goes sprawling in a scatter of beads and sequins. His head pops off and skitters across the floor, causing everyone in its path to scream and leap away.
“Oh my god,” Hoseok shouts. “My thighs really are lethal.”
“Ha! You just killed Mannequin Skywalker,” Yoongi laughs. Then he adds, “Maybe Jin really is rubbing off on me—”
“—Mannequin,” Hoseok cackles, taken aback, and spins to find Yoongi there – handsome, taller-than-expected Yoongi – his leering lips a smear of concern, the discarded helmet cupped between his palms.
And without warning, Hoseok vomits violently into it. His back to the wall, he slides down, tears streaking his face. Yoongi gingerly sets the helmet aside and kneels beside him.
“You all right?” he asks. “Can I get you anything? Water? Maybe some... counseling?”
“No,” Hoseok says. “No, don't leave me.”
Yoongi takes his hands. Nice hands, Hoseok notices. But his nails are grimy and nibbled to the quick. Not what he'd expect from a pianist, but his neighbor is full of surprises...
“You know,” Yoongi says. “You kinda suck at being the most intimidating villain of modern times.” His voice sounds different, too... smokier, somehow devoid of his trademark lisp.
Hoseok smiles at him. “Not like you, I guess. You've even changed the way you talk.”
Yoongi plucks a green checkered handkerchief from his lapel pocket to dab at Hoseok's tears. “Well, I am a master of disguise,” he says.
Hoseok touches his own cheek and grimaces at the wetness there. “And now I'm crying?” he moans. “How perfectly pathetic.”
“No, no,” Yoongi says. “It's not—”
“—I have been a total wreck since I lost my Hope,” Hoseok continues. “I thought that by getting out tonight – y'know, putting on a costume, having a few drinks – that maybe I could forget myself long enough to tell you...” He places his hand on Yoongi's cool, painted cheek. Then he says, “Wow. Your eyes are really wide.”
Yoongi angles his head back. “That's what you wanted to tell me?”
“No. Uh.” Hoseok coughs a strangled little laugh. “Maybe?” He stares for a minute, his eyes unfocused, as the room around him floats and spins. Then he says, “Maybe I do need that water...”
Yoongi slips to his feet. “Don't move.”
“Couldn't if I tried,” Hoseok admits.
Then Yoongi dips to heft the ruined helmet from the floor before disappearing into the smoke.
Yoongi doesn't take orders, especially not from the likes of Kim Taehyung. But when he's told to get more alcohol in his system, he won't say no just because it wasn't his idea first. This opportunistic drinking caused a lot of fights with Namjoon back in their college days.
Before they found themselves shucked into the same building, they had a composition class together. And when Yoongi showed up still drunk despite his best efforts to sleep off his consumption from the night before, Namjoon called him out for his alcoholic tendencies.
His copious amounts of concern got on Yoongi's nerves. What did Namjoon know about drinking anyways?
As if it weren't obvious enough by Yoongi having to haul Namjoon's inebriated ass up two flights of stairs earlier in the evening, Namjoon is a lightweight. Always has been, and quite possibly, always will be. Clearly, the size of his brain doesn't contribute enough to his body mass to amp up his capabilities— Otherwise, he would understand that Yoongi can handle his alcohol, and therefore, doesn't have a problem. Better yet, his drinking helps prevent problems.
Ever since Namjoon recruited six additional roommates to make ends meet, he's employed the mentality of mind your business and I'll mind mine to avoid facing the wrath of Yoongi's judgment. And while they don't fight like they used to, Yoongi does find it laughable. Has he ever been a resident without rivalry at Sihyuk Heights?
Bending over the counter, Yoongi swipes two bottles of beer--one for each hand, yes, but more importantly, one for him and one for Hoseok—while the unsuspecting, suspect-fighting Batman bartender has his cape turned. He hits the ground running, and as he weaves through the crowd, he can barely keep his balance. The dance floor is much like a pinball machine— Yoongi keeps getting jostled from person to person until he's down for the count.
And where he miraculously lands is right beside an unmasked, vomit-breath Hoseok.
"I thought you were with Taehyung," Yoongi says, leaning in for Hoseok to hear him over the pulse of club-worthy music. "And I thought you were sober?"
Hoseok can barely lift his head. It goes careening around his neck like it's about to come completely detached before he manages to look up. "I was with Taehyung?" He reaches out like he wants to grab the collar of Yoongi's shirt, and instead stuffs his fingers into the front pocket of Yoongi's overalls. "Did he help me find my dog? My little Hobi Hope?"
Yoongi doesn't hesitate to set the beers aside. With his newly freed hand, he coaxes Hoseok's from the pocket and holds it instead. Carefully, he says, "I don't think so."
Hoseok's head falls forward. Yoongi thinks he might have passed out on the spot, but then Hoseok squeezes his fingers and says, "Your nails grow fast."
Hoseok tries to sit up from the wall and fails. He tries again, fails, and goes slumping into Yoongi's chest. Nuzzling against the scratchy denim, Yoongi feels Hoseok's frown as it forms. The distinct shape is stamped against his heart given their positioning. Muffled, Hoseok asks, "What happened to your purple suit?"
Not even fifteen minutes ago, Hoseok had been helmet-clad and upright. What happened to him between then and now that caused him to be like... this? Was it really the loss of his dog that drove him to such despair and disrepair?
"This is all my fault," Yoongi mutters, petting the sweaty fluff of Hoseok's hair.
Hoseok, attempting to sit up for a third time, whacks his head against Yoongi's chin. They recoil and clutch their respective injuries, looking at one another with the typical scandalized expressions they exchange across the hall when their pets get into fights.
Then, inexplicably, they both soften.
It's in that moment, as Yoongi watches Hoseok's smile bloom, that he knows he's done for. He can't tell Hoseok the truth about his dog—Hoseok will hate him, for real this time.
Hoseok extends a hand, wanting to feel where he whacked Yoongi's jaw. He must be seeing double, because his fingers collide with Yoongi's mouth. Yoongi laughs as he spits them out. Hoseok doesn't even seem to notice what he's done. He takes Yoongi's saliva in stride and keeps searching for his chin. After he consequently punches Yoongi's throat, Yoongi grabs his wrist and guides him to the place he struck.
"Are you okay?" Hoseok slurs.
"I'm more worried about you," Yoongi says. "How's your head?"
"My head?" Hoseok asks, like he doesn't remember hitting it. With the hand not held by Yoongi's, he touches the crown of his head. "My helmet! Where's my... Didn't you take my helmet?"
"I can honestly say, I have no idea what you're talking about."
Hoseok nods like he really believes what Yoongi's saying— which is good, because Yoongi genuinely doesn't know what Hoseok's talking about.
"We should probably get you home," Yoongi says.
Hoseok nods again. Yoongi helps him stand, and together, they stumble through the glittery fog.
Through all the leather layers of Hoseok's costume, his body radiates warmth against the line of Yoongi's own. His bangs tickle Yoongi's neck as he rests his head against Yoongi's shoulder.
It dawns on Yoongi that this will be the second time tonight that he's helped someone drunk off their ass traverse a dimly lit stairwell. Hoseok's a lot shorter and more sure of his footing than Namjoon, which makes things infinitely easier.
But Hoseok makes things infinitely harder when he remembers, out of nowhere—
"You said something, didn't you?"
"When?" Yoongi asks, hoping Hoseok doesn't mean—
"Before the heads... hitting?"
Hoseok does, in fact, mean.
Fuck, Yoongi thinks. And then he says, "Yeah... I did."
"What did you say?" Hoseok asks, but it sounds like whadyasay?
There's a moment of hesitation, where Yoongi considers coming clean. He admitted to this being his fault before, he could do it again now. Except... Hoseok didn't hear anything. Yoongi can say whatever he wants, and Hoseok won't know any better.
With sudden confidence, Yoongi says, "I said I'll help you, Hoseok. I'm going to find your dog, if it's the last thing I do."
Nevermind the fact he already knows where Hoseok's dog is. All he has to do is get a hold of Taehyung, get him to hand Hope over, and bring the squirmy puffball back in one piece. He can be the hero. Hoseok will fall even more in love with him. And the truth never has to come out.
Chapter 17: hoseok & yoongi.
Yoongi helps get Hoseok safely to his apartment, where they have a bit of a moment.
In honor of NaNoWriMo, we will be going on hiatus until November 14th. Much love <3 <3
Somehow, somehow, Hoseok arrives with Yoongi on the second floor of Sihyuk Heights, and somehow still, in spite of the heat and vomit and sweat, Yoongi smells amazing. Like crisp, clean paint and soap and mint, and it makes Hoseok feel dizzier than the multitude of stairs they just traversed to arrive between their doors.
Hoseok leans heavily on Yoongi's shoulder to steady himself. “Wait,” he slurs, glancing from one door to the next. “Which one is it? 2B or not 2B?”
Yoongi pans his gaze to follow Hoseok's line of sight. Then he hisses a short, sharp laugh. “That is the question,” he says.
Hoseok stares, but everything blurs with Vodka-laced halos, so he finally says, “Uhhh, huh?”
Still laughing, Yoongi asks, “How did we never notice that before?”
“How did we not notice... what?” Hoseok asks.
Yoongi stares at him, his thin eyebrows perched high above his eyes, which seem deep and guarded and maybe a little afraid.
“Yeah,” Yoongi agrees. “There's probably a lot we didn't notice, right?”
Hoseok breathes in and exhales. The trip down the stairs plus the prolonged eye contact have put him on the path toward sobriety, but he still feels way too weak and trembly to stand on his own. So he tightens his grip on Yoongi's waist and they stand that way a long, long time.
Hours, it seems. Maybe days. Hoseok loses track of time and coherence, which for him, has never happened, maybe ever. He mumbles, “Wow. I could get used to this.”
“Standing in an empty hallway, staring at closed doors?” Yoongi deadpans. “Seems... bleakly existential.” His expression is mostly stoic but tempered with a hint of smart-ass around the eyes.
And Hoseok wants to kiss him.
Really, really wants to kiss him.
Like he can't remember wanting anything more in all his life.
But as Hoseok leans in, Yoongi sucks air over his teeth. He says, “Yeah, we should probably get you inside.” He gives him this tight grimace that doubles as his smile. “You got your key?”
Hoseok riffles through his robe until he finally finds his key alongside his phone. He passes both to Yoongi, who manages to get the door open without minimal effort before deftly guiding them inside.
Then they're in Hoseok's bedroom, with Yoongi gently edging Hoseok onto the bed.
He pauses, though, his hand knotted in Hoseok's quilt. “You wanna change first,” he asks. “Or, I dunno, maybe shower?”
Hoseok thinks, I wanna kiss you first and then maybe shower.
Yoongi narrows his eyes.
“Words,” Hoseok says. “Did I say any?” His voice is fading, as is his consciousness, but Yoongi only shakes his head.
“No,” Yoongi says. “Did you... mean to—?”
“Hm,” Hoseok moans. His eyelids feel like they're painted with mud. “Bed. Soft...”
“Yes it is,” Yoongi says, chuckling again, that subtle, sexy, smoky laugh.
“Hands also soft,” Hoseok mutters. He loops his fingers with Yoongi's and pulls them to rest on his chest.
Again, Yoongi rasps air over his teeth. “Say, you're still really drunk—”
“Shhh, no,” Hoseok says. “I'm fffine, really. I just, I lost my Hope, and she's the one who helps me when I can't relax so tonight I tried another way and I think it worked. Don't you think it worked? I feel very relaxed.”
Yoongi straightens. He bites his lip and nods. “Your dog helps you with your anxiety,” he says.
“She's my Hobi Hope,” Hoseok whispers.
“Your Hope is my Sugar,” Yoongi says.
Hoseok isn't sure what that means. He is fairly certain the room is rotating, though, and his pillow feels like something spun from a cloud. His eyes slide closed, and the only thing tethering him to the world is his fingers linked with Yoongi's.
“Will you be okay if I leave you?” Yoongi says. He sounds distant, like he's all the way on the other side of the moon.
Again, Hoseok's free hand waves him away. It's almost like it's moving on its own.
“Here.” Yoongi holds up Hoseok's phone. “I'm putting in my number—”
Hoseok abruptly sits up. “Selfie,” he demands.
“—Yes yes yes, selfie,” Hoseok hooks an ankle around Yoongi's thigh and his arm with Yoongi's arm to tumble them both into Hoseok's bed. The phone feels slippery and cold and Hoseok drops it, where it promptly becomes lost in the folds of the quilt. But Yoongi ferrets it out and angles the screen toward their faces.
“Okay...” Yoongi says. “Smile.”
And Hoseok kisses his cheek.
A flash later, and Yoongi presses the phone into Hoseok's hand. Hoseok stares at it for a long while, puzzled over how it came into Yoongi's possession in the first place.
“Call me if you need anything, all right?” Yoongi says. “I gotta see a man about a dog.”
Hoseok wakes, sweating, in the semi-dark of his bedroom. His phone rests between his steepled fingers. The screensaver of Hope stares back at him, her shiny black eyes bright above her striking red bow tie.
He remembers Yoongi's hoarse chuckle, the small crease of his lip that passes for a smile, and his promise that no matter what, he was going to help Hoseok find Hope.
In the dark, Hoseok feels the smile that stretches across his face. He presses fingers to his mouth and wonders how long it's been since he felt that facial phenomenon for himself.
He can't believe it. He has to tell someone. Right now.
So he slides the screenlock and stares a while at the photo at the top of his gallery: Him and Min Yoongi, in his bed. Kissing. Hoseok sends it to his open chat with Jin, and then he types:
I am in love. Me. Isn't that strange? Who would have ever guessed that I would fall for that cursed pianist from apartment 2B? You would, of course. Up there in your penthouse like some angel of love. And okay, maybe I am drunk, but that changes nothing. Aren't we often most honest when we're drunk? Anyway, do not say I told you so. Unless you're making waffles, in which case, say whatever you wish.
Love?? Love!! Hobi.
Yoongi stands in the hallway, contemplating his options.
Being several stories below the penthouse does nothing to hinder his ability to hear the music accompanying the moon-laden madness. This energy is par the course of Jin's parties. It's safe to say nearly everyone in the building is upstairs, dancing and drinking the night away, and will continue to do so until the early morning hours.
While he's met his limit for social interaction, he hasn't met his limit for drinking. He could join them, if he felt like it, or...
Yoongi brings a hand to his cheek. He plastered layer upon layer of pale paint onto his face, but his fingers come across a thin spot in the makeup. He lets the whorls of his fingertips trace the distinct pattern, and he recognizes it as an imprint of Hoseok's puckered mouth. While the white matte conceals the blush sweeping his complexion, there is no hiding the way he melts in memory of the kiss.
He could always return to the cloudlike comfort of Hoseok's bedding. Yoongi has been alone for so long, he can practically feel his circadian rhythms resetting from the mere concept of sleeping beside someone else. The dancer is too drunk for Yoongi to consider doing anything aside from cuddling with, of course. But a part of him—quite possibly every part of him—is afraid Hoseok might think otherwise if he wakes up the next morning with limited memory of the night before.
Suddenly, he gets an idea. It isn't a smart one, but that doesn't inherently make it stupid.
Taking out his phone, he sends a brief message to Namjoon—
I think I've fallen in love.
—and then he waits.
The conditions are simple. If Namjoon has regained consciousness and texts him back, then he'll go upstairs.
The game of chance is one that Yoongi rarely plays. And yeah, the odds are against him, because nevermind the amount of preaching he's done in the past about the importance of versatility— He doesn't actually want to go outside of his comfort zone. But the door is open, in case the universe decides today is the day he does something different.
Yoongi remains suspended between 2A and 2B for so long that he can no longer hear the music overhead. Beneath the thrum of the bassline, he thinks he can hear a contradicting melody from downstairs, coming up through the pipes; something suspiciously Caucasian.
With a retired sigh, Yoongi retreats to his own apartment. The lock clicks behind him. Sugar scurries from one shadowed corner to another, and Yoongi nearly trips over her on his way to the bedroom.
He collapses into his bed. He shuffles around, squirming free from his overalls. Just when he thinks he's comfortable, he feels something poking into his stomach. He pulls the—whatever it is—out from under him, only to discover whatever it is was his costume knife.
"I think... I've fallen in love," he tells the knife, just to hear how it sounds. It feels significantly more pathetic when it's in his own voice.
He hurls the knife in the direction of his hamper and shoves his face back against the pillows. Muffled, he says, "I've fallen on my own fucking sword, more like."
And then, he falls asleep.
Morning comes all too soon, in Yoongi's less-than-humble opinion. At some point in the night, Yoongi went belly-up, leaving him prone to the light flooding the room. The sunlight is the relentless variety, the kind that comes with the first of November. It stabs through his eyelids, rousing him after he's slept three hours at the most.
He wants to shoot his window the middle finger, turn his back to it, and go back to sleep. He indulges in the first but stops himself before the second and the third. He needs to get up. He needs to sort this disaster before it gets out of hand.
He needs to find Taehyung.
Any other time, Taehyung's whereabouts would be completely unpredictable. But in the afterglow of Jin's parties, Yoongi knows exactly where to find him.
It's easier to throw away the pillowcase smeared in Yoongi's costume makeup than it is to try and wash it. He should have known that someday, his black bedding would come back to bite him in the ass. Although he expected it to bite him in the ass after several other things happened in the same region, and not because of face paint.
He slept in the red-and-white striped shirt that he wore underneath his Chucky overalls. It's relatively clean, so he sees no point in changing out of it. All he does to prep for his return to the penthouse is pull on a pair of in-tact jeans and step into an unlaced pair of combat boots.
The entire top floor reeks of sweat and substances. The door to Jin's place is open, which Yoongi would internally criticize Jin for if the biggest risk of a break-in wasn't Taehyung himself. There are people passed out in the entrance, several of which are cuddling with toppled over mannequins. As Yoongi cautiously steps over the sleeping crowd, he recognizes a couple faces— like Namjoon's band of misfit roommates.
Yoongi expected to find Taehyung in the depths of the apartment, more along the lines of Jin's bedroom, so it comes as a surprise when he enters the trashed living room and finds the friendly felon perched on the couch. He's jittering like he hasn't had a wink of sleep. His head snaps up when Yoongi accidentally crushes an empty cup underfoot.
Not wanting to make any more noise, Yoongi decides he's close enough. He waves his hand, beckoning Taehyung to come closer. It takes a second, but Taehyung eventually unfurls from fetal position and drifts into Yoongi's vicinity.
Yoongi grabs Taehyung's wrist and totes him into the hallway. The door slides shut behind them just as Jaebum lets out a vicious snore.
Not wasting any time, Yoongi says, "I need that dog back."
Taehyung flinches. "When?"
"The fuck you mean, when?" Yoongi scoffs. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't mean now."
Taehyung's gaze darts to the door. His expression folds in on itself pitifully before he brings his eyes back to Yoongi's. Without another word, he starts for the stairs.
Yoongi follows him down, all the way to Namjoon's floor. There's a piece of paper, red in colour, stamped to the front of Namjoon's apartment. Taehyung sees it and knows what it means before Yoongi can even make a guess.
"Oh no," Taehyung says, his panic evident. He hurls himself at the door and hunches down in front of it, getting level with the crack underneath it.
"What?" Yoongi asks, squinting at the paper. He sees eviction and notice and his jaw drops. He bumps his knee into Taehyung's back, prompting Taehyung to look up. "Is this for real?"
Taehyung's chin trembles like he's on the verge of tears. Brokenly, he says, "I don't know."
Yoongi has never, not once, heard Taehyung utter those words before.
Taehyung whips back around to the door, sticking his fingers underneath and wiggling them as he calls for Hoseok's dog.
After a long moment of nothing, Taehyung tries a different approach. He uses his hand to push the door up. His other hand slips into his pocket and produces a sliver of metal— Yoongi thinks it's a bobby pin, but it could be a more professional tool. Taehyung slides it into the keyhole and goes to work.
Yoongi stands there and stares at the stoplight-red square emblazoned on Namjoon's door. He recalls the sorry state of his long-term friend the night before with a sense of understanding. He's wrenched from his thoughts when the door shudders, then opens. Taehyung scrambles inside, and Yoongi continues to stand there and stare.
Frantically, Taehyung checks every room. As he does, the word hope streams from Taehyung's lips in a hopeless way. Tears fill his eyes when it's apparent the apartment is empty.
"Well?" Yoongi asks.
Taehyung slowly turns toward him. He opens his mouth like he's going to say something, but all he does is wheeze. He slams into Yoongi on his way out, knocking Yoongi backward. Yoongi almost loses his footing on his untied shoelaces.
By the time he's caught his balance, Taehyung is gone.
Chapter 18: seokjin & jimin.
Jin reveals that he doesn't know where Taehyung lives, but Namjoon knows how they can find out. Meanwhile, Jimin wakes up to a certain familiar puppy, an empty basement, and three intrusive and very demanding building residents.
Jin's bathtub contains the following: a bottle of champagne (pink, half full), a berry-mocha scented shampoo (maybe from France), a tube of rainbow glitter (a gift), a cactus (wearing a silver bow-tie), a goldfish (in a martini glass), a rice paper fan (crinkled), and two young men (sleeping). Jin doesn't know which two men they are, except that they are crisscrossed over his body, and one of them is dressed as an iguana.
Jin unfolds himself from the bathtub tableau. He peels a mat of sweat-damp feathers from his cheek and steps to the door to survey his living room. After a few moments of bleary-eyed bemusement, he begins to smile. If last night's theme was Mardi Gras Apocalypse, then today it's Glitter Zombie Wasteland. An even two dozen semi-clad bodies lay entwined and snoring across his white shag rug. Another eight or so sprawl over the sofa cushions, which have been repurposed into a kind of ramp/slide thing along the edge of his chaise lounge.
Some of the mannequins, most now prone and defrocked, lay scattered between the dozing party-goers, their costumes and masks redistributed among the guests in random, haphazard fashion. For example, Batman now sports a gold-and-red sequined mask over his regular matte-black one, and Jackson wears nothing but his leather pants and a glaring green feather boa snugged around his waist. Quiet, soft-spoken Mark, on the other hand, who came to the party dressed as a lamb, now sports a saucy top hat, someone's taffeta tutu, and a long, studded, spiky tail.
Jin glides through the wreckage, a beatific smile on his swollen lips. Feathers, empty cups, and beach balls drift in the wake of his robe. He breathes in the not-unpleasant scents of sweat, smoke, and stale wine, and decides, in that moment, that if this decadent panorama is any indication, then his party is an unequivocal success.
However, important though Jin's opinion may be in this matter, it's not the one that matters most. Jin pans a slow circle, scanning the faces of his sleeping guests in search of one in particular.
A few seconds later—thank you, open floor plan—Jin determines that Taehyung has not crashed out in the living room, which means he's probably in the bedroom...
And that's when Jin remembers Namjoon.
As Jin picks his way gingerly across the body-strewn floor, he entertains a delicious fantasy of finding Namjoon and Taehyung snuggled up in his bed. How much less complicated and more wonderful would that make things for them? Jin has noticed that Taehyung harbors a kind of starstruck crush on the writer, and Taehyung must have seen the soft spot Namjoon holds for him. Both obviously have feelings for Jin. How magically, amazingly, brilliantly wonderful would it be if they woke up (literally!) and realized that they made perfect sense, the three of them together.
Jin's more thrilled by the idea than even he might have guessed. Which is why, when he pulls open the door to his bedroom, he lets out an audible squawk of disappointment.
“You're not Taehyung,” Yoongi says, blandly, as he pops an unlit cigarette between his lips.
Jin snatches it up and snaps it in half. “Neither are you.”
Yoongi, frowning, ferrets out another cigarette from his overalls pocket. “You seen him?”
At this moment, Namjoon, previously face down and in the fetal position, twitches free of the sheets to squint up at them. “Misery,” he moans, “acquaints a man with such strange bedfellows.”
“Still on the Shakespeare, huh?” Yoongi says. He angles toward Jin, gesturing with the cigarette. “I've seen this before, hyung, and there's nothing for it except hair of the dog. A white Papillon, to be specific. Goes by the name of Hope. Taehyung was supposed to know where she is, but he's gone and buggered off, as the poets say.”
Jin touches a thumb to his lip and ponders aloud, “He ran away?”
“Yeah,” Yoongi says. “Saw the eviction notice on Joon's door and split. Naturally, I thought he'd come up here.”
Namjoon draws himself upright and rubs his watery eyes. His voice soft and distant, he goes, “Naturally... But... why would he come up here?”
“He lives here,” Yoongi states. “Obviously.”
Irritated, Jin snaps, “Taehyung doesn't live here. And you got evicted?”
“I did?” Namjoon says. Then, “Oh yeah, I kinda did.”
“Oh dear,” Jin sighs. “Well, we'll discuss it later.” The sleeve of his silk robe slides down his shoulder; he forcefully tugs it back up. “First we have to find Taehyung.”
Abruptly and unexpectedly, Jin feels his heartbeat in his throat. The first stab of a headache pinches behind his eyes.
“Hey.” Namjoon caresses Jin's forearm. “Don't worry, I'm sure he's around. The guy turns up like a bad penny—”
“—You don't understand,” Jin says, the words thick in his throat. “This isn't like him. He's my scoreboard guy.”
Yoongi and Namjoon exchange a look of wary uncertainty.
“He's here after every party,” Jin explains. “I make waffles and we drink coffee, and together, we score the night. He wouldn't miss the opportunity to score this night!”
Yoongi's lips twist into a smirk, like he's about to make a quip about scoring, but Jin wheels on him, fully prepared to smack the still-unlit cigarette from his hand.
“Okay, okay,” Namjoon says, scooting from the bed to stand between them. “Let's think about this logically. Have you tried to call him?”
“Taehyung says he doesn't need a phone,” Jin answers hollowly. “Everyone he knows and loves lives here.”
“Figures,” Yoongi mutters.
Undaunted, Namjoon continues. “Fine, then. He probably just went home. We'll go knock on his door—”
“—I don't know his apartment number,” Jin whispers. He doesn't know why, but he feels the sudden, sharp sting of tears. “I don't even know where he lives...”
“Maybe we don't,” Namjoon says. “But we know someone who does.”
“Oh yeah, who?” Yoongi asks.
“The photography kid in the basement,” Namjoon says. “You know, the maintenance guy.”
Soft-edged shadows sit in Jungkook's room longer than anywhere else in the building. Everything is tucked beneath a blanket of cozy darkness, and Jimin is tucked beneath the blankets of Jungkook's cozy bed.
In the time Jimin has lived at Sihyuk Heights, he has come to rely on the window in the wall beside his bed as a secondary alarm clock. Being in the basement quarters means no windows, which means no natural lighting, and he definitely hadn't set an alarm last night. Without either of those things to rouse him, he's guaranteed to sleep until he's achieved a full night's worth.
That is, of course, unless something else happens to awaken him before then. Like the wet nose of a fluffy Papillon.
Jimin's fingers twitch as the top of his hand is snuffled by the puppy. He's still sleeping when a smile starts to form at his lips. The dog sweeps its tongue several times over the inside of Jimin's wrist. Jimin is quick to retreat into the tangle of bedding around him, wanting to escape the invasive wetness.
"Jungkookie, stop it," Jimin whines.
The dog whines in response to the pitch of Jimin's voice. Only then does Jimin fully wrench himself free of the dreaming world.
Jimin sits up. He blinks a dozen times, his eyes trying to pull images from the overwhelming dark. When that fails to make anything more or less visible, Jimin leans across the mattress, reaching to turn on the lamp that sits at Jungkook's bedside. He hears something crinkle beneath his weight. He reclines in surprise and finds a piece of paper in the spot Jungkook had slept.
Jimin picks it up and squints at it. There are handwritten words on it that he can't read without the light. He tries for the lamp again, but the dog climbs onto his lap, successfully locking him down in place.
"I can't move if you're on me," Jimin says, and the puppy promptly licks his palm.
Besides, he can't complain too much about the arrangement. It's actually rather comfortable. He's more than ready to curl up on the crumpled comforter when suddenly, there's a sharp knock at the door.
The dog bolts in the direction of the noise, yipping excitedly.
For someone so willing to fall back asleep, Jimin is quick to make chase. He stumbles over a multitude of items in the dark. If it weren't for his dancer's grace, he would have been sent sprawling to the floor.
Somehow, he makes it to the door in one piece. But once he gets there, he trips over the excitable dog and sends it into another barking frenzy. That inspires whoever's on the other side of the door to start knocking again, louder this time.
Jimin stoops to pick up the noisy puppy. He's still holding onto the unread piece of paper as he does, and the dog has no qualms about ripping into the loose leaf.
"Bad dog! Very bad dog," Jimin gasps, holding the torn page away from said bad dog.
At the sound of his voice, the knocking stops and is replaced by a swell of conspiratorial whispering. Simultaneously, the dog goes quiet. It shoves its cold nose against Jimin's jaw and licks him.
With both of his hands occupied, it's a struggle to get the door open. At least the dog isn't fighting to get free anymore— He doesn't even want to imagine the disaster that could have been if it went sprinting into the lobby.
Jimin is surprised to see Jin waiting at Jungkook's door, although he supposes it's just as likely for the penthouse suite to have issues in a building as old as this one. And then he notices Namjoon beside him, and then Yoongi beside them both.
Jimin's never met Yoongi in person before, but he's heard plenty about him from Namjoon and Jin... so much so that he can instantly recognize him when they're face-to-face.
The man in front of him certainly seems like the suffering artist type. There's a desperation in his eyes that perfectly conveys just how hopelessly in love he is, and his stance—chin high, staring down at Jimin like he's done something wrong simply by existing--definitely makes Jimin think he's too proud to do anything about it.
And then Yoongi says, "That's Hoseok's dog."
The dog barks happily, ears perking up at Hoseok's name.
Jimin gives a pointed look to Jin, and then Namjoon. "You guys weren't kidding... He really is in love with him."
Yoongi sputters. "Excuse me?"
"This isn't Hoseok's dog," Jimin says, bouncing the puppy in his arms to indicate it. "It belongs to one of Namjoon's roommates!"
"No," Yoongi said firmly. "That's Hope, and she belongs to Hoseok."
"Now that you mention it..." Namjoon squints and cocks his head to one side like that might jog his memory. "I thought Cocoa looked familiar."
Jin clears his throat and commands the attention of everyone present, including the dog. "What are you even doing here, Jimin?"
Jimin had completely forgotten whose door he opened. He blushes when he remembers and almost loses his grip on the dog. He attempts an explanation, but he doesn't get past saying, "I was just—"
"Not showing up for my party?" Jin asks. As he continues, his volume increases, and so does his taken offense. "The party I threw for you? In honor of your arrival to the building?"
The dog gives a sharp yelp, sounding about as panicked as Jimin feels under the scorn of the handsome actor.
"And you spent the whole night with Jungkook? I practically raised that kid by myself! Anything he learned about cinematic shots he learned from me and my expertise with movies," Jin continues, going red in the face for a completely different reason than Jimin. "This is how he repays me? By not showing up, and by whisking away my guest?"
Yoongi steps forward, and for half a second, Jimin genuinely believes Yoongi is going to de-escalate the tension, going to redirect Jin's anger, going to do something on Jimin's behalf.
But all Yoongi does is make a fork it over motion with his hands. He says, "Give me the dog and we'll be on our way."
"No!" Jimin cries, shielding the dog. "Jungkookie says the landlord still has to interview all of Namjoon's roommates to figure out who she really belongs to. You can't just take her!"
"That's... not what we're here for anyways," Namjoon sighs.
There's a squeak of heavy work boots on the lobby floor and it makes everyone turn to look.
Jungkook's standing there, a beanie shoved over his bedhead. There are at least three bruises blooming on the column of his neck. He's also holding onto a bag of dog food like someone might hold a baby. With a curious expression, he asks, "What are you here for, exactly? Is this about the eviction notice?"
"We're here because of Taehyung," Jin says. He's still lacking composure, but he's quieter about it now.
"Probably should go inside for this conversation," Jungkook suggests. He doesn't look like he's struggling with the feeding bag in the slightest, which makes Jimin think Jungkook has other reasons for wanting to corral everyone into the basement.
Namjoon goes first, followed by Jin, and Yoongi lingers behind to glower at Jimin until Jungkook ushers him along.
"Light's on the left," Jungkook calls out, and somebody flips the switch.
When Jungkook steps to close the distance between him and Jimin, they also close the distance between the dog and her food. She starts scrabbling at the bag with her little nails and gruffing in annoyance when it won't come open. Jimin starts laughing, bringing their kiss to an abrupt end.
They step into the entrance of Jungkook's apartment, sneaking glances like they haven't seen each other in a lifetime. Jungkook sets the bag of food at the door. The dog impatiently squirms out of Jimin's arms and springs into the other room, seeking out the others.
"So... where were you?" Jimin asks.
"Didn't you get my message?" Jungkook asks in return.
Jimin's eyebrows fly upwards when he's reminded of it. He holds the paper to the light and finally reads what Jungkook wrote.
Going to the store. Be back soon. xo
"Oh," Jimin says, smiling. "You left me a kiss?"
Jungkook points to the o beside the x and says, "And a hug."
They're close to doing both when Yoongi reappears at the end of the hallway. He glares at them both, and that alone is enough to make them separate. Smiling sheepishly, they follow Yoongi into the depths.
Chapter 19: jungkook & yoongi.
After an unbelievable night with Jimin, Jungkook has to reveal an equally unbelievable truth to Jin, Yoongi, and Namjoon.
Yoongi then makes a heartfelt appeal to Bang Sihyuk about the building's no pets policy.
He can't believe his good fortune. In fact, if he really thinks about it, he absolutely cannot believe his good fortune. So, he's decided that he's not going to think about it. Instead, he will simply enjoy the fact that he had the most mind-blowingly awesome night of his life in the company of a man whom fate has conspired to move directly upstairs from him.
Jungkook pauses, angling his shopping cart into the next aisle, as he considers both his breakfast items and his choice of words.
Not conspired. That sounds mischievous and tricky.
Devised. He nods, grinning like an idiot. The fates have devised to move the man of his dreams into Apartment 1A.
The dodgiest apartment in all of Sihyuk Heights.
But that's okay because Jungkook is the handiest of handymen. And he's definitely looking forward to more of that action in the future. The hands business.
He unloads his items onto the register counter and then hefts the twenty-pound bag of dog food into the pile. Ignoring the inquisitive eyes of the ahjumma at the counter who will definitely grill him to the point of extra-crispy the next time she sees him, he leaves the market, bound for home, floating on a cloud of pleasantly disjointed thoughts. Like his gallery show, which is coming together as though it's been directed by the hands of providence, much like the events of the last month, and the existence of a dancer named Jimin, who has opened Jungkook's eyes to more possibilities than he would have ever imagined. Sure, he seems all demure and awkward until you get to know him, and then oh-holy-hell, the things he can do with his mouth...
And so maybe Jungkook's a little more than lost in his thoughts when he opens his door expecting to see Jimin and the puppy, because finding them plus Namjoon, Yoongi, and Jin catches him completely off his guard.
Anyway, it's way too early for so many people. He's grateful for his brief, sweet interaction with Jimin as it serves to ground him, because then everyone's tensely expectant as he stows his groceries and feeds the dog.
Then he guides everyone inside where Yoongi's the first to break the chilly silence. “Hey,” he says, pointing. “That's Sugar.” He jabs across the dim apartment to the row of prints drying on the line. Then he does a kind of double-take and doubles his volume as well. “And that's Hope!?”
Jungkook feels heat bloom in his cheeks. “Yeah, the cat and the dog,” he explains, stepping around them to gesture to the beautifully-rendered photos on his wall. “They're the subjects for my gallery show. I got some great shots of them together, but they haven't developed yet.”
“Together?” Yoongi spits. “You got shots of them together?”
“Well of course,” Jimin says, going to Jungkook's side. “It's a really beautiful story. Jungkookie says they're friends—”
“—Nah, that is fucking impossible,” Yoongi cuts in. “They despise each other, like seething, bloody hatred. I've seen it a thousand times. Jin-hyung, tell 'em. These two fur-bags have been the biggest contributor to my chronic insomnia.”
Jin, distracted, glances up from a book he's been perusing on Jungkook's counter. He offers a mutter of assent before returning to the page, and Jungkook stares a moment, trying to determine which book in his collection would so absorb the attention of the princely tenant from the seventh floor.
But then Jimin snags Jungkook's attention. “Anyway, how would you know?” he asks, a note of sassy sexiness in his tone.
“Sugar is my cat,” Yoongi snarls. “I think I would know my own cat.”
“You have a cat?” Jungkook asks.
“There are bigger issues at hand,” Yoongi sidesteps. “Like the fact that I need that dog to take to Hoseok before he wakes up because I made a promise—”
“—Look,” Jungkook asserts, quietly yet firmly, “you can't have the dog. And you can't have a cat. This building has a no pets policy. The lease agreement is perfectly clear.”
“Don't 'lease agreement' me,” Yoongi yells. “I'm one of this joke-of-a-building's longest renting tenants, and I think that in exchange for all of the crap that we have to endure with this place's aging pipes and the broken elevator and dangerously faulty wiring, that we should be able to have a goddamned cat or dog or even llama if we wanted to.”
Jungkook shrugs. His pulse is racing, but he manages to at least appear calm when he says, “It's not really up to me. You'd have to talk to Bang Sihyuk.”
“Fine,” Yoongi says. “Let's go. Right now. Where is he?”
“He is supposed to be on property today,” Jungkook says. “He was planning to interview Joon's roommates to determine the proper owner of the dog, but since you know who she belongs to...”
“We'll simply intercept,” Namjoon says. “And make our appeal to him then.”
“And you?” Jungkook turns to address Namjoon. “Will you be okay?”
Namjoon lifts his shoulders in response. “What's done can't be undone,” he says.
“Will you stop with the Shakespeare?” Yoongi snaps.
“Is that Shakespeare?” Namjoon asks.
“You know," Yoongi groans, "only you would get evicted for a dog you don't even own.”
“Why are you turning this on me?” Namjoon says, going shrill. “You're the one who made the promise to Hoseok, I just got evicted.”
“It's because he's in love with him,” Jimin chimes in. “Jungkookie, look, his cheeks have gone all pink.”
Yoongi wheels on him, fists knotted if not fully raised. “I'm going to make your whole face pink in about four seconds.”
And Jungkook's already moving to intervene when Jin says, “Will everyone kindly shut the hell up?” There's a note of hollow severity in his voice that bids everyone to turn, cautiously, to listen to what he has to say.
Jin raises the book and gestures with it toward Jungkook. “Is this register up to date?” he asks.
Jungkook gets a good look at the book, then, and knows that it's the manifest of renters for Sihyuk Heights. “Yes,” he tells him. “It's current. See, Jimin's the newest resident...”
Jin scans the page. He flicks back several more, then glances hard at each of them in turn. “He's not here,” he says.
It takes a moment for Jungkook to place who he is, partly because they've been talking about a lot of men this morning, many of whom (Namjoon's roommates, for instance) would not be listed in that book.
Then it clicks.
“You mean Taehyung,” Jungkook says.
“Yes I mean Taehyung!” Jin rasps, and it's clear that he's more unsettled than Jungkook had previously guessed. Suddenly he has to reappraise everything he thought about the actor and the company he keeps, and his attachment to the building's favorite, friendly vagrant, Taehyung.
“Oh,” Jungkook says. “Oh, I thought you already knew...”
Jin slowly shakes his head, like he doesn't want to hear what Jungkook's about to say.
But Jungkook knows he has to tell him. “Taehyung is homeless.”
For as long as Yoongi has lived in the building, Taehyung has been there. Everyone knows him, but no one knows him. With his skittish nature, and his ability to deflect harder than anyone else Yoongi knows—nay, anyone else alive—it isn't surprising that he could keep his state of homelessness an entirely private affair. Completely secret, even from Jin.
Had Jin been aware of Taehyung's situation, then all others present for the big reveal would be required to feel a lot worse about themselves for never noticing before—
"How did we never notice it before?" Namjoon asks, sounding bluer than a French horn.
Yoongi takes Namjoon by the shoulder and gives him a squeeze of consolation. He says, "Look, Joon... It's not our fault."
"But it is," Namjoon replies. "Did anyone ever ask if he was okay?"
—or maybe Yoongi's not exempt from fault. They all should have known something was wrong. But it was never about his problems; it's always been about theirs.
Every time Taehyung stole food, or pocketed change, or borrowed clothes... What were they thinking? Did they seriously believe he did it... for fun? Just because he could? No, he needed something to eat. Something to buy. Something to wear. And nobody took the time to stop and ask why.
Not even Namjoon's roommates—all of whom are crammed into the living room of their (former) apartment, awaiting the landlord's arrival—required as many handouts between the seven of them.
There's a knock on the door and everyone sits up straighter at the sound. Somewhere behind Yoongi and Namjoon, Jackson whispers, "Showtime."
"It's unlocked," Namjoon says.
The knob twists, agonizingly slow. And then the door swings open faster than Yoongi's heartbeat.
Bang Sihyuk has a very particular face, in Yoongi's personal opinion. He's the type of guy that can look extremely friendly, even when he's glaring disappointedly at an entire room of people. Namjoon stands to bow, and everyone hurriedly follows his suit, which Sihyuk doesn't seem swayed by in the slightest.
Sihyuk sits in the armchair across from the sofa. They had purposefully left it vacant for him, at the expense of everyone aside from Namjoon and Yoongi, who occupy the aforementioned sofa. There's a third seat available on the sofa, but it's taken by a lumpy bag that Yoongi has his arm around. The cushions squelch embarrassingly as Namjoon shifts uncomfortably.
The first thing Sihyuk says is, "I expected more, Namjoon."
Namjoon gulps. "M-More roommates? But... this is everyone."
Yoongi fights the urge to smack Namjoon upside the head.
With a pained look, Sihyuk says, "From you, Namjoon. I expected more from you."
"Oh... right. I'm sorry, sir."
Sihyuk continues without acknowledging Namjoon's apology. "There have been... a lot of opportunities for you to be truthful about your arrangement. To say that you broke my trust is an understatement. So if you don't mind, I would prefer to get this over with."
"With all due respect," Yoongi cuts in.
Sihyuk looks annoyed, but he nods to let Yoongi continue.
"Namjoon and I have been in this building for years now, sir... and I hate to break it to you, but it hasn't exactly felt like paradise. It's arguable that people might lose their goddamn minds without the help of a pet's company in their apartment."
Sihyuk's annoyance increases in the form of an eye twitch.
"You've had a lot of good people come and go because of this policy," Yoongi says. "Like the guy from the fifth floor who liked to make soap! Sir, his German Shepherd may have howled extremely loudly, but he couldn't help that it was deaf. Do you know how much money he saved everyone by supplying us with bath products? And don't get me started on the seamstress from the third floor. She could mend anything... except for her broken heart when you asked her to leave on account of her ferrets."
"If you could let me finish, sir?"
Sihyuk gives a long sigh. He reclines in the armchair before hesitantly nodding again to permit Yoongi's continuation.
"Namjoon has been a good tenant. He's trying to make an honest living off his writing, and sure, he breaks things sometimes, but what else is a maintenance man for? Am I right?"
The amalgam of roommates around them voice their agreements.
"And I don't mean to brag, but you're not going to find a better tenant around here than me. Who else is going to yell at people for being too loud and putting you at risk for noise complaints? I think I speak for all of us here when I say the last thing we want is the police to show up at Sihyuk Heights' doorstep. Sir, I'm keeping the police away for you. And in case you've forgotten, I'm a very important figure at the college. I play for the ballet department?"
"If you have a point," Sihyuk says, "I'd suggest you get to it. And fast."
"You shouldn't let this no pets policy evict more of your best tenants."
Sihyuk raises an eyebrow. "What does the no pets policy have to do with you, Yoongi?"
Yoongi's fingers find the zipper to the misshapen duffel bag beside him. "I'm going to let the cat out of the bag, sir."
Sihyuk's eyebrows go from arched to pinched within seconds. "What?"
And then Sugar pushes her face out of the bag's unzipped opening. Yoongi tries to pet her cute little face, but she's rightly pissed about having been shoved inside a bag for the last half hour and she scratches the top of his hand. Yoongi winces but smiles through the pain.
"This is my cat, Sugar."
For the first time during their exchange, Sihyuk laughs. It causes everyone else to do so as well, albeit nervously. As soon as he catches his breath, however, they shut up and let him speak.
"You do realize I'm evicting Namjoon on account of his roommates, and not the dog we found?"
A bright pink blush fills Yoongi's complexion. "You're..."
"Here to figure out who the dog belongs to, yes, so that we can return it... but that's not why I'm asking Namjoon to leave. Although our no pets policy is still very much in place."
Yoongi drops Sihyuk's gaze at the same time his stomach drops in fear.
"But I must admit... you bring up a good point."
Yoongi snaps his head back up. "I do?" he asks, voice breaking in surprise. He clears his throat and takes another stab at the statement. "I mean, of course I do."
"I'll reconsider my position on pets in the building," Sihyuk says. "After all, a cat's presence might help with our recent issue of rats... Yes, you'll be hearing my official decision by tomorrow at the earliest."
Namjoon and his roommates rejoice, several of them leaping to hug each other. They're quite noisy about the whole thing until--
"That doesn't change anything regarding your eviction! You're still going to have to find a different complex to reside within."
The rambunctious eight of them deflate instantly.
Chapter 20: hoseok & namjoon.
Hoseok's rejoicing at his reunion with Hope is cut short by Yoongi's confession.
Namjoon consoles a heartsick Seokjin and then gets re-tangled in his plots.
Hoseok wakes feeling as though someone had made his intestines into balloon animals. His tongue feels thick, his mouth sticky, and bits of confetti glitter plaster across the bare skin of his arms. He sits up, slowly, and attempts to take mental stock of his memories.
For instance, how did he get here, in his own bed, when last he remembered he was adrift in a sea of sweaty bodies and pumping hip-hop, along with a disturbingly attractive, gruff-voiced clown man? A clown man named Yoongi, who smelled like toothpaste, fresh laundry, and the teeniest whiff of Soju.
A clown man who left a smudge of white paint on Hoseok's pillow?
Wincing, he cups a hand to his mouth. “Oh my God,” he mutters. “Did I take the clown to bed with me?”
Hoseok casts back through his thoughts, which surface in fragments like debris from a sunken ship: a pair of wings, a purple suit, oddly-ragged fingernails, and a broad, lipsticked smile. And then, the dreamlike recollection of some incredibly deep, passionate eyes.
The blood drains from Hoseok's face. “Oh no,” he whispers. “I think I took the clown to bed.”
Slowly, slowly, more pieces slip into place. Further back in his mind, in the dim prehistory of the party, he recalls heaving his guts into his helmet – Rest in Peace, Lord Vader – and then collapsing against the wall.
Everything afterward blurs again into a smeary, sweaty mess.
But there was something about Hope. Hoseok scrabbles toward the memory, and then scrabbles through the blankets for his phone. As he searches, he hears first the door, and then a voice.
“Yo Hoseok, you awake?”
Hoseok frantically swipes down his hair and checks his breath (horrid) before answering, “Yes, I'm here.”
Then he hears a short yip followed by the familiar skitter of toenails on linoleum tile. In .28 seconds, Hope bounds into Hoseok's bed, slathering his arms and face with sloppy, droolly kisses. Shrieking, Hoseok lifts her squirmy body to his chest, beneath which his heart pounds like a double bass drum.
A moment later, Yoongi and Namjoon appear in the doorway.
“You found her!” Hoseok shouts. “How did you find her?”
“Told you I would,” Yoongi says, hooking his thumbs in his pockets.
Hoseok pauses to peer into the twinkling eyes of his beloved puppy. “You're a little grimy around the whiskers, aren't you?” he coos. Hope squiggles with glee, so Hoseok continues, “We'll just get you a scrubby bubble bath and some breakfast – you got a little skinny, huh? – And oh, what an adventure my Hobi-Hope must've had!”
“Yeah, Hope. She, um...” Yoongi edges onto the corner of the bed but then stands back up. He then gives Hoseok this wan, sheepish look, which could be part hangover, but looks a lot like contrition instead.
Which sends up the yellow flag of caution in Hoseok's heart. He settles Hope into his lap, where she continues to eagerly nibble at his fingers.
Yoongi drags air over his teeth. “So, yes. I found her... Because I knew where to look.”
Hoseok squints. “What?”
A second later, Namjoon goes, “Huh?”
“I needed to finish this piano piece and your dog was digging hard into my sleep schedule,” Yoongi explains. He presses his hands together. “So I hired Taehyung to take her.”
“You... again, what?” Hoseok stammers.
“Yeah, I know,” he says. “And then things went awry as fuck, because Taehyung lost her, which then sorta chain-reactioned into Namjoon getting evicted—”
“—But that wasn't,” Namjoon interrupts. Yoongi dismisses him with a wave.
“Look, Joon. Bang Sihyuk wouldn't have uncovered your whole big roommate charade if Hope hadn't landed in your hands. Now you're homeless, and Taehyung is, regrettably, also homeless,” Yoongi says. “So what I'm saying, basically, is that all of this—” He gestures vaguely around the room, “—All of it. It's my fault.”
“Except for Taehyung,” Namjoon adds, sounding miserable. “That's kind of all our bad.”
Hoseok remains still for a long span of seconds while he absorbs this information. With a swell of melancholy, he remembers again the longing gaze from the night before. And now, in the light of day, the guardedness in Yoongi's eyes takes on a new meaning. Hoseok rakes his fingers through Hope's dingy fur and frowns. “Why are you even telling me this?”
Yoongi coughs a small laugh. “Yeah. Well. We... shared a moment last night that made me realize... there's something between us. And I thought—” He brings his eyes to Hoseok's and looks truly regretful as he says, “—We can't build something strong on a foundation of lies, right? Isn't it best if we, I dunno, come clean about everything and just tell the goddamned truth?”
Beside him, Namjoon is nodding like suddenly everything makes sense.
But in Hoseok's brain, everything whirls around like a house caught up in hurricane, and nothing makes sense. Nothing at all.
“The truth?” Hoseok mumbles. He feels a tight pinch of anger in his throat. “You... you want to start with the truth ? Fine. Let's go with this. You paid someone to steal my dog.”
Yoongi pales. “I mean....”
“That someone then lost my dog?”
Yoongi swallows. “Well, you know how Taehyung is...”
Hoseok carefully enunciates every word of his next sentence, slicing out each syllable so that Yoongi couldn’t possibly misunderstand him. “Then you find her, return her, and now you want some sort of credit for coming clean, like it wasn’t your fault she got lost in the first place?”
With a shrug, Yoongi says, “All's well that ends well?” Then he gives Hoseok a fragile and almost devastatingly hopeful half-grin.
“Get out,” Hoseok says.
Namjoon goes, “But he—”
“—I said, Get out ,” Hoseok snarls. In his lap, Hope adds a firm little growl of her own.
After a moment of rigid tension, Yoongi's the one to bend. “Fine,” he snips. “I'll go.” He rattles Hoseok's keys onto his dresser before he and Namjoon both leave.
Hoseok rubs his face on Hope's fur to dry his eyes. The balloon animals of his intestines have begun to parade around inside his abdomen. First thing on his agenda: feed Hope and then maybe find some Saltines for himself.
As he drags himself from bed, Hoseok wonders how Yoongi managed to get his key. Then he constructs a barbed-wire barricade around that and all future thoughts of Min Yoongi.
Yoongi, with his stupid cat and his stupid, soulful eyes...
And in that moment, Hoseok doesn't know what's worse: the fact that Yoongi orchestrated all of this, or the fact that, in the end, he didn't even stay to fight.
Much like there is a devised system that measures hurricanes and earthquakes and other assorted natural disasters, Namjoon thinks there should be a way to categorize emotional turmoil.
Initially, Namjoon believed his lack of housing to be an eight, possibly even pushing the limits of a nine. When put into direct comparison with Taehyung, who is arguably at the pitiable peak of a solid ten, Namjoon's entire perspective changed; losing his apartment became a meager four, maybe four-point-five on the scale.
It's not healthy to compare himself to others, but it's just as much human nature as it is a toxic mindset. Not to mention, his empathy is being exacerbated by two things: he's aware of the planning Jin put into getting Yoongi and Hoseok even close to liking one another, and he witnessed the exchange firsthand. The fight between the cat- and dog-owners had Namjoon's view shifting once again. He's down to a two, if that.
Yoongi didn't stay to fight with Hoseok any more than he had to, not after Hoseok downright told him to get out, and he didn't stick around in the hallway afterwards to give Namjoon any pieces of his mind. No volunteered sarcasm, no self-deprecating comments. Obviously affected by what transpired, he disappeared into his own home without so much as a farewell.
Namjoon lets his legs carry him up the stairs to the penthouse. He doesn't know what he's thinking when he pushes the door open without knocking. He thinks the truth is as simple as, he wasn't thinking. Not at all.
When Namjoon steps into the apartment, he can see Jin from the doorway. The actor is slumped over the dining table, his fingers curled loosely around a mostly empty mug of coffee. At the sound of someone entering, he sits up with a frantic hopefulness and Namjoon cringes at the teary-eyed look Jin fixates on him because he knows—he knows—Jin thought he might be Taehyung.
And just like that, Namjoon feels his problems dropping to an insignificant one. His heart aches for the beautiful mess that is currently Jin. He closes the door behind him with such haste, he breaks it; the lock crunches awkwardly as he forces it shut. He tries not to mess with it too much, worried that in trying to fix it, he's actually making it worse. But he has to do something, he can't leave it like this—
Namjoon tenses up as he turns around. He's been caught, and he's as equally red with embarrassment as he is red-handed. With a tired smile, Jin beckons to him the way a lighthouse might a ship at sea. Namjoon instantly joins him in the dining area.
They greet one another with a kiss and let themselves dwell in it. Namjoon's hands come to rest on Jin's broad shoulders, while Jin's fall to Namjoon's waist. Their height difference isn't much when standing, but with Jin sitting down and Namjoon over him, it's like the world's gone upside down. They part, only to meet once more, and then again before they actually pull themselves away.
"You've got updates for me?" Jin asks. His voice is softer than usual, more tender after he's undoubtedly been crying.
"I'm still getting evicted," Namjoon says, wanting to get that scrap of news out of the way first because it feels so much lesser than anything else he has to tell Jin. "Yoongi fought Sihyuk about the pets policy so that he could get Hoseok his dog back, but as it turns out, he paid Taehyung to steal her from him in the first place. He came clean to Hoseok about that, and now... Well, we're back to square one. Those two hate each other all over again."
"I wouldn't be so sure about that," Jin replies.
Jin pulls his phone from the pocket of his jeans. As he thumbs through his contacts list, he snuffles. Not because he's on the verge of tears again, but because he's still clogged up from having already cried earlier. Namjoon feels weird for finding him attractive, even with all the snot.
Namjoon takes the phone from Jin once it's offered to him, and there, on the screen, is an unexpectedly long-winded confession from Hoseok.
The message inspires Namjoon to check his own phone— He hasn't looked at it since the night before, what with all the drinking followed by passing out and then subsequently having to nurse a hangover while simultaneously running up and down the whole of the building for the entire morning after. When he retrieves it from his pocket, the battery's almost completely drained. It lasts long enough for him to see how many calls he's missed and unread messages he's got—one of which is, in fact, from Yoongi—and then it dies dramatically in his hand.
Jin lets Namjoon borrow one of his chargers, and Namjoon would be an absolute liar if he said he and Jin didn't make out the entire time they waited for his phone to revive. It startles Jin tremendously when Namjoon's phone beeps as a signal of its coming back to life, and Namjoon laughs against the pout of Jin's mouth while he rubs Jin's arms to soothe him.
As soon as Namjoon's opened the messenger app, Jin asks, "What does it say?"
Namjoon doesn't answer until he's navigated to his and Yoongi's chatroom. And then, he can't answer because he's struck speechless.
Jin takes the phone and his eyes go wide. "This is perfect," he gasps. "Our plan worked!"
"But... it didn't," Namjoon says. "You should have seen the look on Hoseok's face when—"
Jin cuts him off. "That doesn't matter. We can use this."
Namjoon sees what's happening here. The actor is slotting himself back into a role he knows quite well, allowing the tension to be lifted with the promise of being able to fix Hoseok and Yoongi's problems. Namjoon's sure that Jin is aware that not everything can be solved with these texts, but he's sure that Jin will be more than happy to pretend like he's okay, like he's got composure, like he's the one with the answers and a plan.
"What do we do about Taehyung?" Namjoon asks, and sure enough, Jin deflates.
"I don't... I couldn't find him anywhere," Jin admits. "I'm not even sure where else to look."
"Where all did you check?"
"The park, the grocery store, the dumpsters. Train station, too. I asked a few people if they've seen him around, and no one has."
Namjoon hums on the end of a long exhale as he goes over every scrap of information Taehyung's let anyone know about himself. It's not much, but because there isn't an abundance to go off of, it makes things a little easier to narrow down.
"Did you check the Burger King?" Namjoon asks.
"Burger King," Namjoon repeats. "I know he likes to eat there, and he said that thing once, about home being where the heart is? And he said—"
"'You'll find me at Burger King,'" Jin exclaims. "Namjoon, you're a genius!"
Namjoon fails to keep himself from getting flustered. "Well, my IQ is above—"
"Come on, we have to go. Right now," Jin says. He's already at the door and stepping into his shoes. He holds his hand out for Namjoon to take, and Namjoon doesn't resist getting swept away. When their fingers interlace, Jin lifts their joined hands and presses a kiss to the top of their knuckles.
"To Burger King?" Namjoon asks.
Jin nods. "To Burger King."
Chapter 21: seokjin & taehyung.
Seokjin and Namjoon track Taehyung down.
As Jin and Namjoon dash through the frosty November morning, their hands linked, their breath pluming from their lips, Jin can only think one thing: He should have known.
Thoughts are pesky things. He avoids them when he can because they tend to land him in trouble. He prefers feelings because they help him navigate complicated social interactions. He's able to read people really well, which has always proven a unique advantage because most people think they can also read him.
Which is partly true. They read the version of himself that he shows them.
Few people glimpse beyond the charming outer wrapping into the true gift that is Kim Seokjin.
The man straining to keep up with him right now is one of them. Namjoon must suspect there's more to Jin than the glittering package. He's been gallant as a medieval knight in his patient pursuit, and Jin has long been a fan of chivalry. And now, as they race together toward what might be the end of their brief romance, Jin has to wonder how someone so cerebral could ever be attracted to him.
While they pause beneath the trestle bridge, Jin also ponders how someone like himself can be so hopelessly and nonsensically attached to someone as streetwise and resourceful as Taehyung.
As if reading Jin's thoughts, Namjoon wheezes, “He's gonna be there.”
“But then what?” Jin breathes. “We find him, we confront him, we tell him we know what we should have known for years—”
“—And then we help him,” Namjoon says.
Palming the tears from his cheeks, Jin asks, “We?”
The writer's blush seems heightened beside the dingy gray of the railway bridge. He scratches his forehead beneath the band of his beanie.
Jin sighs and nods, but says nothing. He inhales in the frigid morning air, reveling in the way the warm scent of freshly-baked walnut tarts contrasts with the bitter cold. This sparks in him a montage of memories. He starts to jog again, as if in a futile attempt to outrun them.
Instead, once Namjoon catches up, Jin begins to speak.
“Taehyung would arrive some mornings with paper bags full of pastries or donuts or sometimes fresh fruit,” Jin tells him. “I never gave them a moment's thought. I was just so happy to see him. Then we'd indulge in a bite or a kiss or sometimes more before I'd rush off to whatever casting call I had for the day.”
Namjoon says, “You couldn't have known—”
“—But I should have,” Jin cuts in. “Even when I think back, I remember his grubby fingers and tattered gloves. And there were countless laundry nights when I should have paid more attention to the state of his clothing rather than how I might get him out of them.”
“Right. So. Okay,” Namjoon says, but Jin doesn't slow down. They cross at the light, dodging between commuters and courier bikes, and when they round the next corner, they see the dull red and gold of the Burger King marquee. Namjoon catches his arm and hauls him to a stop. “Okay,” he says again, firmer than before. “That's the past. We can't fix it. We need to know what we're gonna do now.”
“Again... We?” Jin asks. He tightens his scarf and folds his arms.
Namjoon shrugs. “Yeah, I realize I'm not in the greatest position to help at the moment, being recently evicted and all, but... Taehyung and I seem to be in remarkably similar straits. We've both been running long-term scams to ensure our survival. We're both homeless. And... we're both in love. With you.”
Namjoon might as well have struck him over the head with a hammer. Dazed, Jin plods up the steps to the Burger King. It's open for breakfast, and the smell of coffee and hashbrowns overwhelm him. A dozen people mill around inside, sleepy-eyed and bundled against the frost, but none of them are Taehyung.
“This place must be maddening to a homeless person,” Namjoon observes from the door. “The smell alone would drive me...”
Shaking his head, Jin brushes past him. Anger floods his face as he scans up and down the street in search of any sign of shelter. “He's not here,” he seethes. “He can't be out here. It's freezing.”
Namjoon lays a hand on his shoulder and turns him. “Not out here,” he says, pointing. “Up there.”
Suddenly, Taehyung's boasts about his ability to spiderman the sides of buildings make sense, because there, wedged beneath a striped awning, hangs a metal platform almost undetectable from the street. From his vantage, Jin can only see a shabby lean-to of cardboard draped with what looks like a lumpy army quilt.
Hot tears spill from Jin's eyes. He's in motion before he can think. He clambers up the outer scaffold, muttering soft curses as the icy metal bites into his palms. He's three-quarters of the way up when he feels the structure shudder beneath Namjoon's added weight.
Jin hazards a glance in his direction.
“I care about Taehyung, too,” Namjoon calls. “Kind of a lot.”
Jin hears a scuffling above them, like someone's shifting awake at the noise they're making. Jin's not sure the scaffold will bear the weight of the three of them, and if it collapses, they'll be a heap of broken limbs on the Burger King sidewalk.
In that moment, Jin's thoughts and feelings collide like an American movie car crash. He's too far up to turn back and too far gone to give in. So, whispering an inner prayer to the civil engineers of Seoul, he inches over to allow Namjoon to slide up beside him. He's immensely pleased to see that, despite being green over the precariousness of their position, Namjoon looks as fiercely determined as Jin feels.
“If we survive this without falling,” Jin says. “I have a plan for us, and I'm hoping you'll both hear me out.”
A quixotic smile twitches across Namjoon's lips. “Pretty sure we've both fallen already,” he quips, “so I'm game to listen.”
Jin nods, once. Then, drawing a long breath to steady himself, he calls out Taehyung's name. Seconds lapse before they hear his muffled response, which is, unexpectedly, “I don’t want any.”
“Any… What?” Jin yells. “Taehyung-ah!?”
“Whatever. I've ruined everything,” he mumbles. There's a papery scrabbling as Taehyung burrows further into his cardboard den. “Just please, leave me alone.”
Jin shimmies further up the scaffold, when Namjoon snags his sleeve. “Wait, I got this,” he says. An expression bordering on maniacal lights Namjoon's eyes as he grabs Jin's phone and thumbs to the open chat screen showing Hoseok's drunken confession from the night before.
“Whaaat are you doing?” Jin whispers.
“Giving him something tangible,” Namjoon answers. Then he reaches up to lob the phone grenade-like into the shelter.
Understanding clicks home, and Jin begins to smile. “It worked, Taehyung-ah,” he calls up to him. “Read for yourself. We did it. Our plan worked.”
For a tense handful of heartbeats, they listen for movement. Then Taehyung mutters, “It doesn't matter.” But then they hear a crinkle of motion, and they can only hold their breaths and wait.
If there’s one thing Taehyung isn’t used to, it’s being looked for.
A distinct memory from his childhood: playing hide and seek with his older cousins in the confines of their poverty line apartment. He tucked himself away in the back of the pantry and listened to the steady stream of numbers as the seeker counted. There weren't a lot of places to go, so it should have been relatively easy to discover everyone within the hour—
If they were actually playing, that is. But as it just so happened, the game had been a ruse to get rid of Taehyung for a while.
He stayed until his legs cramped, breathing as quietly as possible and thinking himself the best at hiding in the world since they had yet to discover him, only to emerge and find himself alone. Left behind, even. He later asked his cousins why they didn't tell him they were done playing, and yielded an unsatisfying result:
"Because you're annoying, Taehyung. You make every game into something weird. We didn't feel like playing with you anymore."
When he first took to the streets, his family didn’t send the police out of parental panic. They just let him walk. He dropped out of school, and his classmates didn't try to figure out what happened to him.
He made new friends, ones with lifestyles scarily similar to his own. Occasionally, he disappeared for reasons of his own, and each time he returned to a familiar haunt, nobody asked where he went.
He latched onto Sihyuk Heights and the people inside like a lifeline. Not a single one bothered to track him down during his sporadic disappearances.
He almost can't believe it when he hears not just Jin, but Namjoon too, outside of his fast-food roost. At the sound of their voices, his heart swells to fill where it had once been broken—but he's grown into the role of homeless Houdini, and now that he's been found after years of being lost, he's hurting too badly to receive their company with anything other than petulance.
And then there's a phone in his face.
He squints at the lovesick words, baffled by their boldness. He didn't take Hoseok as the type to wax poetic while drunk—if anything, he would have pegged Yoongi as the sender if the name at the top of the chatroom didn't clearly state otherwise. He sits up, holding the phone between his shaking fingers like one might hold a baby bird.
"It worked?" Taehyung asks, disbelieving out of his own insecurity's sake in spite of the evidence to the contrary.
"Of course it worked," Jin says. "We're a dream team, anything we do together is going to work."
Jin has always been so bright and beautiful. His confidence, both in himself and in them, is shiny and out of place when slotted into Taehyung's dreary day-to-day. But Jin is an actor by nature, and he has always possessed the unique ability to make anywhere his stage—even if that means the rickety platform beside a Burger King where Taehyung lives in a cardboard tent. He's taken up a role in Taehyung's life for so long now that Taehyung feels like his whole world might fall apart without him.
Just like the aforementioned rickety platform might fall apart if all three of them are on it at the same time.
As if he's just read Taehyung's mind, Namjoon says, "Can we finish this discussion somewhere else? I feel like I'm going to break something up here..."
Jin reaches for him, and Taehyung hesitates before scooting forward. He feels oddly shy, like it's their first time all over again, and instead of taking Jin's hand he returns his phone to it. Jin laughs as he slips the device away into the folds of his coat, but he isn't fooling anyone—Namjoon and Taehyung can't possibly miss the sparkle of gathering tears in his eyes.
"Come on," Jin tries again, and this time, Taehyung does.
Descending the scaffolding, Namjoon nearly loses his balance several times which inspires Jin to frantically yell at him to be careful. Luckily, they make it all the way down without any injuries. Once they're all safely planted to the ground, Namjoon careens into Taehyung's side and pulls him into a hug.
The affection is unusual between them but not unwelcome. Taehyung burrows into Namjoon's chest and warmth spreads through him when he feels Jin's hand come to rest on his back.
"Did you need to get anything before we go back to our place?"
Taehyung and Namjoon both go still. Synchronously, they ask, "Our?"
"You don't seriously think I would let my boyfriends go without a proper place to sleep, do you? I have more than enough room at the penthouse, and I am an excellent host," Jin says.
Taehyung's eyes pop impossibly wide. "But... what about rent? I don't have a job, I can't—"
Jin shushes him. "Sure you do," he says. "You had everyone fooled for years, Taehyung. In my professional opinion, you have a career in acting to look forward to."
Namjoon scrubs the crown of Taehyung's head affectionately. "We'll figure everything out together, okay?"
"Okay..." Taehyung agrees. "Then, can we get some food?"
As if responding to Taehyung's question, Jin's stomach gives an immense growl. He rubs it with an embarrassed laugh. "Where did you want to go? You can pick anything you like."
"Anything?" Taehyung asks.
"Anything," Jin agrees.
Taehyung pretends to think, long and hard, about his choices. He's smiling when his eyes settle on the grease-filled establishment directly behind them.
Jin turns around to see where Taehyung's fixed his stare, and he laughs again. "Really?"
"Can we?" Taehyung asks.
"I could go for some hashbrowns right about now," Namjoon chimes in.
Jin gives an affection-saturated headshake. "Alright, fine. Let's go."
Chapter 22: jungkook & jimin.
Jungkook prepares for his final gallery show, with some friendly assistance from Jimin, who wants to try their hand at matchmaking.
hello everybody~ parker here with some closing notes on our last jikook-centric chapter. a lot of this turned out to be exposition and cheese but i hope you all find it to be an enjoyable read nonetheless. we're nearing the end now (only one chapter left and then the epilogue!) and celesteavonne and i are very excited to hear what y'all think!
by the way, i made a thread on my twitter consisting of fic updates (with graphics to go along with). it takes me about 24 hours after posting the chapter itself before i add to this thread but if you feel so inclined please take a look at it! thank you everyone and much love <3
“Well,” Jimin asks. “What do you normally do?”
And Jungkook smiles at the word 'normally.'
Side by side, they stand before the work table as Jungkook carefully walks Jimin through the process of developing each print. A series of developing prints drip from the line he's strung there, and he stares at them, willing them to develop with uncharacteristic impatience.
On the spectrum of cynical to sentimental, Jungkook places himself squarely in the middle. Never one for gushing overtures, Jungkook likes the quiet circumspection of his basement apartment as opposed to the flashy glitz of Jin's penthouse. At the same time, he prefers the careworn cleanliness of Hoseok's place as opposed to the Soju-goth stylings of Min Yoongi.
But today, he basks in a fresh set of circumstances, and they're nearer to the sappy side of things than he would ever guess he'd enjoy. Aglow with candlelight, his apartment has been converted into a kind of romantic hideaway, and Park Jimin is the author of its transformation.
Jimin smooths a hand through his sex-roughed hair, his lips pursed and happily distracting. Jimin vaporized any notion of 'normally' the day he moved into Apartment 1A, because now and forever, Jungkook will regard busted appliances and blown-out pilot lights as a bridge to brighter things, opportunities for connection rather than bumbling inconveniences, and he has Jimin to thank for that.
He also has Jimin to thank for the bloom of soft bruises at the base of his throat, kissed there the morning after Halloween. Then they had the building evacuation and the exterminator's visit to keep them occupied, which meant a night spent in a Gildong love hotel. Jungkook wouldn't soon forget how far from his normal, dull routine that eye-opening experience had been.
So this is a big question: What would he normally do? Because honestly, back then, not a whole lot. Now, however... who knows?
“Jeon Jungkookie,” Jimin drawls. “Is it really that bad?”
“No,” Jungkook answers, his voice pubescently squeaking. Jimin giggles, making Jungkook's ears go hot. “It's not bad,” he hurries on. “It's just, normally, I go to Jin's parties, where there's so much color and glitter that the photographs practically take themselves—”
“—And instead you stayed here with me,” Jimin says, playfully pudging out his bottom lip.
“That's not what I mean,” Jungkook insists, but Jimin's pout deepens, belied only by the glint of mischief in his eyes.
So Jungkook, surprising even himself, bites Jimin full in the mouth. In response, Jimin yelps, and they tumble the few feet to Jungkook's bed. They kick back the bedclothes, struggling unsuccessfully to pin each other down. Jimin's core strength both amazes and arouses him. Though he appears slight, there is power in Jimin's tight, lithe body, and by the time Jungkook wrestles him into the pillows, they're both laughing and breathless.
They're about to venture into far more interesting things when a startling cacophony of piano music bursts to life two floors above, followed in short order by the tinny repetitive thump of hip hop.
Jungkook braces himself for the inevitable flood of noise complaints, as Jimin hollowly intones, “They're at it early today.”
“True,” Jungkook scoffs, and he doesn't know what disappoints him more – the interruption of his morning sexy time with Jimin, or the fact that Yoongi and Hoseok are, once again, at each other's throats.
“I just don't get it,” Jimin huffs. “I thought they were in love.”
Jungkook only knows the barest scaffold of the story, relayed to him in fragments by Namjoon, who seemed remarkably chatty for a man who'd been forcibly evicted. During the final inspection of his eerily empty apartment, Namjoon intimated that Yoongi might have paid someone to 'take care' of Hoseok's dog while Yoongi finished learning the piano piece he's currently plodding through with fiendish abandon. Then, separately, over a leaky showerhead in Jin's bathroom, Taehyung confirmed that he had, in fact, exchanged favors for said dog-napping, which had figured somehow into a convoluted match-making plot to bring Yoongi and Hoseok together.
Jungkook remains foggy on the details, save for the knowledge that Taehyung and Namjoon both now live in Jin's penthouse, and that Bang Sihyuk relented on his pets policy, levying a hefty deposit in addition to the normal cleaning fee. The latter happened in response to Yoongi's impassioned plea to Sihyuk in order to save Hoseok's beloved dog.
“Maybe they are,” Jungkook wonders, “But they just don't know how to show it?” He draws himself up beside Jimin and hooks a leg over Jimin's thigh.
“Maybe...” Jimin says, sliding in for a kiss, when the phone rings.
Jungkook must lean over Jimin to answer it. Jimin proceeds to harass Jungkook's ribs and hipbones as Jungkook listens to Jisoo's tirade about Yoongi's unwanted recital. Jungkook hangs up, fully prepared to tackle Jimin when his eyes snag on the photos he and Jimin hung up to dry.
Jimin, intrigued, follows his line of sight and angles up beside him.
“I don't think you have to worry about the final shots for your gallery show,” Jimin breathes as they take in the whole series of photos. “These are amazing.”
The newest editions – four brilliantly contrasted black and white prints – perfectly complete the narrative Jungkook hoped to convey. They capture the individual personalities of the cat and dog in a way that's both unapologetic and unsentimental. The piece de resistance , though, is the final shot: A close-up of Sugar and Hope asleep like a heap of snow, blissfully oblivious to the fact that one of them is a cat and the other is a dog.
He has to agree with Jimin. They are amazing.
Jimin turns his wide eyes to Jungkook, and he can practically see the fireworks igniting behind them. “Oh my God, you know what this means, right?”
When Jungkook can only blink in his confusion, Jimin gestures expansively to take in the entire series of photos.
“Jungkookie,” he says. “I think have an idea.”
Much like a waltz is danced in threes, Jimin often feels as though his life is composed in the same time signature. While both possess the ability to become more complex, they are ultimately repetitive routines. A process of one-two-three, one-two-three.
Five days out of the week, Jimin used to take the subway from his less-than-cozy apartment in Yeonsinnae to his classes in Wangsimni. In addition to his transportation fees, he paid for the luxuries of a tub and appliances that worked year-round.
He felt very isolated, although not in the sense of lacking social interaction. He had people that talked to him and he had people to talk to. But he didn't give himself time for anything.
He studied hard while his friends had fun. He hardly saw his neighbors, let alone said hello to them. He didn't stop to make food for himself. He didn't take breaks. He spent his evenings exhausted and his mornings felt the same, even after a good night's sleep. He felt isolated the way a plant gets pushed into the corner of a room and left to dry up without its essentials.
Jimin texted with Soonyoung on a lonely, homework-filled night about wanting a change of scenery. This was no different from any other lonely, homework-filled night. But then, suddenly, Soonyoung seemed hellbent on fixing Jimin's problems. He said, "I'm tired of seeing you live like this, my friend."
Soonyoung proceeded to provide details regarding a cheap apartment complex several stops from campus. Repeatedly, he told Jimin about how great it was. How much he'd love it there. How great it would be if they lived closer together— Mind you, Soonyoung hasn't been over once since Jimin officially became a resident at Sihyuk Heights.
Even now, Jimin doesn't know what was the final straw. He doesn't know what made him snap. He doesn't know why he took such a big risk. But there must have been something that pushed him past his breaking point, because he signed a new lease without a second thought and dragged his mattress across Seoul.
And with the move came an endless stream of unprecedented problems. Who knew moving within the same city would have been harder than when Jimin initially had to move away from his hometown? While faced with broken appliances and exploding pipelines, he missed the unimaginable about his old apartment. He regretted the changes he committed to, resisted them at first, before he found comfort in them.
He ultimately attributed this comfort to Jungkook. How could he not? Without the frequency of his visits, Jimin would have felt no different here than he did in Yeonsinnae. Several times, he considered breaking something purposefully to have a reason to call Jungkook to his apartment again— and as if brought to life by his own thinking, inevitably something broke again.
And again. The stovetop light went out. Once it got fixed, it makes sense to give the whole stove a test run in the form of dinner for two. Jungkook, aren't you hungry after all that hard work?
And again. This outlet sparked something fierce earlier. It's just a matter of security to check it and then proceed to watch a movie on the television that's plugged into that very same outlet, don't you agree?
And again. The freezer stopped cooling. It's a good thing the only thing in there was two pints of ice cream, maybe we should go ahead and eat them together so they don't melt while you take a look at what went wrong?
Every other day, something else broke. And every time Jungkook came to visit, something else mended within.
Jungkook allowed Jimin the pleasure of watching his process from start to finish. A lot of it was waiting for film to be developed, and afterwards, Jungkook made an arduous effort in picking which lineup of which photographs should be blown up into larger prints for the exhibit. Three hours of Jungkook holding up frames with hardly a second between each one and asking do you like this one, or this one? Jimin often joked about wanting to touch them, and every time without fail, Jungkook redirected Jimin’s playful hands elsewhere.
The week before Jungkook had to finalize his project, he declared Jimin too distracting. Jimin pouted for quite a while over his dismissal from Jungkook’s dark room, but he understood the importance of being alone during those last moments of creativity.
Besides, it’s not like he wouldn’t be able to revel in the end result.
After some time apart, they reunite on the evening before Jungkook’s exhibit is open to the public. And Jimin has to admit, the gallery on its own is beautiful. It’s spacious and warmly lit; its pristine walls matched with hardwood floors; it’s utterly perfect for an exhibit of utter perfection.
To articulate this, Jimin gasps, “Oh, Jungkookie… it’s wonderful. It’s exactly how I imagined it would be!”
“You like it?” Jungkook asks. He tucks Jimin against the line of his body, his hand coming to rest along the bend of Jimin’s waist. He presses a sweet kiss onto the crown of Jimin’s head and Jimin feels himself go hot.
“Yes,” Jimin says. “I love it. They’re going to love it. They better love it! If they don’t, I’m going to fight them.”
Jungkook’s nose scrunches with his amusement. “You? Fight them?”
“Yes!” Jimin says again. “That Yoongi has been a pain in my leg lately. If he’s not getting after his estranged lover for something, he’s taking out all his frustrations on me. I’m pretty sure he hates me.”
“Ass,” Jungkook says.
Jimin’s blush deepens. Stammering, he asks, “What?”
“The phrase,” Jungkook clarifies. “It’s ‘pain in my ass,’ not ‘pain in my leg.’”
“Oh,” Jimin says. “No, I… I know. It just felt too harsh. I mean, I don’t really know him that well. I didn’t want to say anything like…”
“Are you sure you can fight anyone?” Jungkook laughs. His hand slips down to pat Jimin on the ass and Jimin shivers closer to him.
Smiling, Jimin says, “Yeah… I’ll fight you.”
“Which one’s your favourite?” Jungkook asks, abruptly changing the subject but leaving his hand where it is.
“Um… Walk me through the rest of it,” Jimin says. “I can’t decide yet.”
As they walk, Jungkook points and explains where he took each one. He’s already done this with Jimin, in a sense; after he took the dried photos off their lines, he told the story behind them in detail. Jimin doesn’t mind listening all over again. It isn’t often Jungkook lets himself speak freely like this.
The grand finale, of course, is the picture taken of the two animals sleeping entangled. It’s been made big enough to fit most of the wall at the very back of the gallery, and underneath are several other additions showing the closeness of the dog and the cat in differing ways. Jimin points to the one of Hope and Sugar bumping their petal pink noses together, both of them wide-eyed and curious like newborn babies.
Jimin points. “That one’s the cutest,” he declares.
“They’re doing this,” Jimin says, and then turns inward to Jungkook and recreates the posing in the photograph.
Jungkook turns his head slightly to meet Jimin in a warm kiss. Underneath the soap and aftershave and cologne, Jimin can still catch the barest scent of metal and grease.
That’s when Jimin notices the faint chiming of music over the gallery’s PA system. One-two-three, one-two-three. It’s a classic, the kind everyone’s heard but nobody knows the name of. He smiles into the kiss, and when he pulls away, he says, “Jungkookie, dance with me.”
It’s Jungkook’s turn to blush and stammer. “I don’t—”
“Yes, you do. Come on, like this,” Jimin insists. He takes Jungkook’s hand and starts pulling him along.
Jungkook fumbles the first few counts, but after a moment, he relaxes into Jimin’s hold on him and lets their heads rest close. Jimin urges them around the room, and their shadows stretch wide over the hanging photographs on the walls. Because of the multiple points of lighting, their shadows multiply; it’s as if they’re surrounded by a whole whirl of dancers instead of by themselves.
Chapter 23: hoseok & yoongi.
"Some Cupids kill with arrows, some with traps."
Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare
Before leaving his apartment, Hoseok checks his reflection. He borrowed a shirt from Jin – black button-down, embroidered rose on the collar – and he looks... Well, he looks damned amazing. New haircut, new color (the stylist called it Fatal Scarlet; Hoseok approves), new jeans to accentuate his tighter-than-evil thighs.
If he's doing this tonight: Going out, in public, with everyone there, including the pianist-who-shall-remain-unnamed, then Hoseok must be 130 percent sure that he's in the proper frame of mind.
“Seething hatred,” he sneers to his reflection. Behind him on the bed, Hope whimpers uncertainly, and Hoseok melts. He scoops up his puppy to bury his face in her furry belly, cooing her name at the top of his lungs. She wriggles and writhes, gleefully yapping, and Hoseok doesn't care a bit that she slathers his face with her drool.
When she squiggles from his grip and gallops off to the kitchen, Hoseok turns back to his mirror. He schools the smile from his face, narrowing his eyes and curling his lip. “Seething. Hatred,” he states again. “Like you mean it.”
He spritzes himself with his new cologne, something dark and musky with a tinge of spice. At the door, he stuffs his keys into his pocket. He pauses to marvel at the loose change in the dish, an accumulation of nearly 1,100 won not collected by the building's resident dog-napper and thief... who will also be at tonight's gallery show, and again, Hoseok has to wonder why he ever agreed to attend.
He pockets his phone and pulls the door closed.
To show them all , he reminds himself, as he pounds down the stairs and out into the crisp November evening. To show them all how much he's changed .
But also, because of Jimin. Because, in the time following Halloween, Mr. Unspeakably Horrible from Apartment 2A shifted his considerable ire from Hoseok onto the hapless youth, and Jimin, with all his cherubic sweetness, lacks the emotional fortitude to fend the guy off.
So Hoseok agreed to attend this shindig in an effort to redirect Evil Min's wrath from Jimin as much as anything else. After all, tonight was Jimin's boyfriend's night, and it would not be upstaged by that pretentious, peacock-ish windbag.
Hoseok glimpses Jimin through the frosted glass doors of the Sung-Je Gallery. Even from this distance, Hoseok can see the waves of exuberance bouncing off of him, like he's a bell stricken with the perfect chord of love. Hoseok shudders with a mixture of revulsion and pity as he yanks open the door and steps inside.
“Hoseokie!” Jimin shouts as he flits over to take his hands. “I'm so relieved you could make it. Everyone's already here—”
“—Everyone?” Hoseok growls.
Jimin, grinning, pulls him close to whisper, “Isn't it exciting?”
“Palpably,” Hoseok agrees, swallowing hard. He scans the crowd in search of the open bar, glimpsing among them several of the same guests who attended that fateful party of Jin's. Hoseok feels absurdly naked until he remembers his costume concealed him completely, and how nice would it be to wear a mask again tonight...
Hatred is my mask , he reminds himself as Jimin tugs him into the crowd. Seething hatred .
Yet in the lobby, he spies Jin with Taehyung at his side. Jimin glides him along to join them, and Hoseok finds himself momentarily speechless at the sight of Taehyung, almost unrecognizable in his black turtleneck and vintage tuxedo coat.
“T-Taehyung?” Hoseok stammers. “You look—”
“—Amazing.” He grins. “I know.”
At that moment, Namjoon arrives with three cups of punch. “What a miraculous difference the mundanity of regular meals can make for a man.”
“Shakespeare?” Jin asks, taking a cup for himself.
“Nope, just me,” Namjoon says. He passes a drink to Taehyung.
“Showers, too,” Taehyung nods. “Fantastic.”
“Yes, we like the showers,” Namjoon agrees.
“And honest work,” Jin adds, fussing with Taehyung's collar.
“Acting is lying for a living,” Taehyung says, raising his glass.
“Hear here,” Jin calls, and the three of them touch their cups in a toast. Namjoon takes out his phone and the three jostle together to snap a selfie.
Hoseok glares at them through the full exchange, feeling the bitter seed of jealousy taking root inside his gut.
“Ah, there he is, the man of the hour,” Namjoon says, and Hoseok tenses as for a moment as he thinks Namjoon must mean the Horrid Gnome from Across the Hall.
But it's Jungkook who crosses the crowded room to join them. He squeezes Jimin's hands, radiating excitement as he nods to each of them in turn. Then, his gaze lingering on Hoseok, he asks, “Well, are you ready?”
Hoseok senses the trap as it snaps shut around him. Suddenly wary, he asks, “Ready for what?”
Jin and Jimin exchange a pointed look. Then Jimin, puffing with pride, loops his arm with Hoseok's.
Jungkook leads the way, followed by Jimin and Hoseok and then all the rest. They enter the gallery, which is tastefully-lit and toastily-warm. And that's when Hoseok sees them: framed and overlarge on the gallery walls, the Cat and the Dog.
He's spellbound; there is no better word for it. The black and white photos clearly depict the slow but certain progression of Hope and Sugar's relationship, gradually growing from mutual disdain to quiet curiosity to obvious attraction and finally...
“Are you kidding me right now?” Hoseok snarls as they enter the final room.
For there in the center, caught beneath the lance of a single spotlight, stands Satan himself. And all at once, Hoseok's hatred bubbles to the top.
Half an hour before Hoseok arrived, Yoongi sauntered into the building with the aftertaste of nicotine and Soju stuck on his tongue, an overplayed tune stuck in his head, and a look of disdain stuck on his face.
Upon his less than subtle entrance, the annoyingly in-love Kims gave him a three-pronged series of pointed looks. He ignored them and immediately began patrolling the gallery itself, which caused the annoyingly optimistic—and equally in-love—Park Jimin to trail along after him like the dreaded neighbor's dreaded dog.
Repeatedly, Jimin asked him, "Do you get it, Yoongi?"
The first time, Yoongi replied with, "What's there to get?"
But now that he's lapped the gallery several more times, he knows exactly what there is to get, and he's decided he doesn't want any of it.
If Yoongi were spending his evening the way he actually wanted to tonight, here's how it would go:
He's sitting on his couch with Sugar on his lap. She purrs in delight as he scratches her chin and behind her ears. He isn't wearing any pants, because the chances of Taehyung walking in on him is significantly smaller now that the younger man has a permanent address. He's also smoking indoors, because landlord be damned, this is what he wants to do. Additionally, he's blaring Vivaldi and he's satisfied with the knowledge that his unforgiving wretch of a neighbor is hating every bar, every note, every measure—
Wait, no. No. There shouldn't be a heartless neighbor in his picturesque evening; this is supposed to be an idyllic fantasy.
And then Yoongi feels nothing but sorry for himself when he realizes... That's his perfect night? That's what he wants to be doing right now?
He shakes himself. First his head, then the rest. He needs a drink, followed by a serious reorganization of his priorities.
The sad truth is, however pathetic his conjured alternative may be, he would still rather be a pantsless loser spending the night with his cat than standing in front of photographs—even if those photographs are, by no coincidence, of his cat—with his pants very much on. Business slacks, no less. He even went to the trouble of ironing them.
"Alright," Yoongi declares. "I've seen enough. I'm leaving."
"No! You can't leave," Jimin cries.
As if spurred on by the word can't, Yoongi starts for the exit. Jimin grabs his arm and continues to beg in a manner Yoongi can only describe as pathetically.
From across the gallery, someone begins to whistle a very distinct tune. Yoongi can't place it, but it's intriguing enough to the natural musicality of his self that he stops in his tracks. Jimin, however, seems to recognize it. He perks up at the sound and his eyes immediately go searching for something.
"Ah!" Jimin says, just as suddenly as the tune began. "Yoongi, please, you just have to stay here for, like, fifteen minutes — Can you do that? For me? Please, please, ple-"
"Okay, fine! Just... stop doing that," Yoongi gruffs. "Have some pride, for fuck's sake."
Jimin puffs out his chest. He counters, "I do have pride. That's why I can't let you leave yet!"
Yoongi once tried to limit his number of eyerolls per day. In the process, he nearly gave himself an ulcer due to the sheer frustration he experienced on behalf of the stupidity of others. Since then, he's given up on altering his behaviors to appear more polite in public—
After all, you don't see anyone altering their stupidity to keep Yoongi from losing his shit, now do you? So when Yoongi luxuriously rolls his eyes at Jimin, it's for the sake of his own health.
Jimin frowns, wounded by the sight of Yoongi's eyeroll. He turns away with a deliberate hmph and waves Jungkook over. The whistling stops, and Jimin and Jungkook trade places— Jungkook now stands before Yoongi, and Jimin hurries far, far away from him.
Jungkook awkwardly scuffs his shiny black shoes against the wooden floors before he looks up at Yoongi with a smile. "So, what do you think?" he asks.
Yoongi scoffs. "If you were going for subtle," he replies, "then you failed horribly."
Carefully, like a newly hired circus performer walking on stilts, Jungkook says, "Subtlety wasn't exactly in my mission statement."
Closer to the gallery's entrance, voices clamour together in a toast.
Jungkook perks up like someone's just set off an alarm inside of him. Suspicious, Yoongi narrows his eyes, and under his ferocious scorn, Jungkook shrivels.
"That's my cue," he says.
"For what?" Yoongi asks.
Jungkook shakes his head and mimes zipping his lips. It's a good thing he puts the imaginary key inside the very real pocket of his blazer. If he attempted to throw it, Yoongi would have grabbed it and unzipped Jungkook's lips quicker than the kid could blink.
There's not much he can do other than watch as Jungkook scurries away. He's tempted to follow him, but decides against it. He's then tempted to just up and leave, but decides against that, too.
Frustrated with the very real truth that Yoongi doesn't want to go before he's seen Hoseok arrive, he returns to the centerpiece of the room. He withers like a salted slug in the presence of its simplistic beauty and wonders... Why?
Why couldn't that be us?
Why did you have to see me for who I actually am, and not the person I want to be?
Ouch. Yeah, his mind isn't the best place to be right now. Deciding that introspection is not only unnecessary but also overrated, he turns to leave—
"Are you kidding me right now?" Hoseok asks, loud and painfully clear.
—and anyone and everyone bearing importance is right there, staring at him. Not the photograph, but him.
And Yoongi says, "Well, shit."
Chapter 24: everyone.
At last, the confrontation.
The light casts down on Yoongi, pooling his flinty eyes into shadowy voids. The gallery space dwarfs him against the backdrop of Jungkook's canvas, while across from him, Hoseok looms large, seeming to swell within his anger. Hoseok's placement in the scene – several paces off-center – serves to sharpen the rigid lines of his body, making him appear almost menacing as he squares up with Yoongi.
In the airless silence that follows, Jin fights the urge to shout, “Action!” because if he was a director, then this tableau would be his tour de force.
Yoongi breaks the silence with a crisp, acidic chuckle. “Well, well,” he snarls. “How pleased you all must be. You've cast your net and caught us. But we—” he gestures toward Hoseok “—We are not some... tuna that you can catch and play around with. Our lives are not a game.”
“Right,” Hoseok sneers, nodding. His hands on his hips, he angles to address Jin, who has moved to strategically block the exit with his shoulders. “Look at you, leering like a pack of hyenas. Don't you have lives of your own to tend to without meddling in ours?”
“Exactly!” Yoongi shouts, startling everyone with the ferocity of his voice. “I was content and comfortable and my life made sense. And then you—”
Jin observes as Hoseok, still nodding, catches Yoongi out of the corner of his eye and realizes a moment too late that Yoongi has shifted his fury onto him.
“—You have some nerve,” Yoongi bites out. “Showing your face here.”
“Pardon?” Hoseok gasps, placing a hand over his heart. “Of the two of us, you're the one who perpetrated a puppy-napping.”
“I did not nap your puppy—”
“—Oh right,” Hoseok says, wheeling sharply on Taehyung. “You hired the local indigent wretch to do your dirty work.”
“Hey!' Namjoon interjects, but Taehyung, shaking his head, lays a hand on his shoulder.
Hoseok continues. “Of all the lazy, scheming, bad-tempered, drunken, delusional imbeciles I have known—”
“—Can't have been too many,” Yoongi quips to Jimin. “His only consistent visitor is Domino's Delivery.”
Jimin backs away into Jungkook, who catches him and holds him steady.
Hoseok growls, “His would be the H-Mart, if only they delivered Soju—”
“—The only drink so much to drown out the piteous wailing of your insufferable dog,” Yoongi grinds out.
“Funny,” Hoseok says, stroking his chin. “But Hope only weeps when she hears music badly played—”
“—Then it must be the insipid hip-hop you drone all day,” Yoongi says, slicing out each syllable as if his tongue is made of glass. “Because that music's so bad, it's given Sugar tinnitus and me, chronic anxiety.”
Hoseok steps in, so that now they're practically nose to nose. He grates out, “The only chronic condition you have is a pathological aversion to the truth.”
Yoongi says, “Perhaps the real tea is that I would rather tell myself a thousand lies than ever look at your face again.”
At this point, Jin has begun to wonder if maybe they should white-flag the whole endeavor. If either Yoongi or Hoseok were strung any tighter, they could fire crossbow bolts to the moon. But that's when Namjoon meets Jin's eye and gives him a subtle nod. They move in, slowly, Namjoon to skirt Yoongi and Jin to flank Hoseok.
“Ah,” Namjoon says, lifting his index finger. Both Yoongi and Hoseok turn withering glares at him at the sound of that one syllable, but Namjoon remains benignly smiling as they sputter to an indignant halt.
“Better have it out, Kim,” Yoongi seethes. “My patience grows as thin as his hair.”
“Thin as your sobriety, you mean,” Hoseok fires back.
To the room, Yoongi says, “Let the record show that one doesn't count. He's already ridiculed my drinking.”
“Were you not saying five minutes ago that this isn't a game?” Hoseok says. He glances over Yoongi's head to the enlarged canvas of Hope and Sugar so sweetly, so peacefully ensconced, and the veneer of his mask briefly cracks. “How can you – with those hands and those eyes – stand there and act like this? Do you not know me?”
“Know you? What else is there to know?” Yoongi smirks. “Do you have some kind of secret identity? The Dancing Vigilante?”
“Well,” Hoseok sniffs, crestfallen. “These idiots all swore you're in love with me.”
Now Yoongi laughs, a dark chuckle as bitter as burnt coffee. “Love you?” He rolls his eyes. “They said you were lovestruck at the very idea of me.”
Hoseok narrows his eyes. “They said you were sick with love.”
Yoongi squints right back. “They said you would die without me.”
They both softly retch at the very suggestion.
“So, then...” Hoseok rubs his nose with the back of his hand. “You don't love me?”
“Sure,” Yoongi answers. “Like a corpse loves a hearse.”
“Oh really,” Taehyung says. He steps smoothly around Namjoon, placing Namjoon's phone into Hoseok's hands. Then he swipes Jin's phone to pass to Yoongi. Beaming with pride, Jin gives him a thumbs up as both Hoseok and Yoongi read the chat messages open on the screens.
Hoseok's shoulders soften as he muses, “You sent this on Halloween—”
“—Yeah,” Yoongi says, blinking, “so did you.”
They hold up the phones to compare their messages, and after a moment, they each release an audible sigh.
“Our own hands,” Hoseok says.
“To our own hearts, confessed,” Yoongi agrees.
They grin sappily up at each other until, all at once, they sense the electric tingle of silence in the air. In that moment, they understand that everyone has gathered around to watch them.
“All right,” Yoongi declares, hooking a thumb into his belt. “I'll take you, I guess. But by this light, it's out of pity.”
“Okay. Fine,” Hoseok replies. “I guess I'll have you, too, but only because they assured me that, as a genius, you'll die young.”
“Oh!” Yoongi exclaims, and then, surprising everyone – maybe even himself – he kisses Hoseok full on the mouth.
Jin begins to whoop and applaud, inspiring all of the rest to follow. Soon, an attendant glides in with a tray of sparkling champagne. Namjoon seizes one crystal flute, raising it while everyone else snags a glass.
Yoongi parts from Hoseok, who pants, breathless, as he reaches for the last two glasses. Passing one to Yoongi, he says, “Maybe we should toast to alcohol, since without it, neither of us might have committed our feelings to words.”
“Also, to leather pants,” Yoongi agrees, lifting his glass as well.
“To well-meaning friends and ill-conceived plans,” Namjoon says.
“And to idiots who fall in love,” Seokjin agrees.
They raise their glasses and sip, and then Jimin says, “Wait, but who is worse? The fool, or the one who falls for him?”
“Definitely,” Taehyung says, draining his glass.
And Jungkook, who cannot keep from smiling, says, “I completely agree.”
Chapter 25: epilogue.
On inspection day, we take one last look at where everyone is now after the explosive yet wonderful confession at the gallery.
to all of our readers: thank you for following this story, and for continuing to give us so much love on it. writing the epilogue was such a nice way to revisit this hilarious universe that celesteavonne and i have spent months crafting together. we hope y'all enjoy the final addition to much ado, and we hope to see y'all again on any projects we do in the future!!
From the outside, Sihyuk Heights looks quaint and quirky in that mottled blend of old and modern Seoul. The renovations are mostly done—emphasis on mostly—and the water damage isn’t as visible as it used to be. Bringing in the exterminator left the whole building under a thin layer of powder, and it took several months before the smell of kerosene subsided, but there hasn’t been a single complaint about rats or birds since.
Despite all of the improvements, however, routine inspections are still a requirement to keep the place running.
Sihyuk enters the lobby, flanked by his flunkies. The normally dimly-lighted space looks… different. Brighter, and far less occupied by those without jobs or homes. Also, someone has decorated the area with potted rubber tree plants. Strategically-placed kimchi urns are propped up against the corners of the room, turned at specific angles to hide the cracks in their dark surfaces. Sihyuk briefly recalls giving the maintenance man permission to decorate the space, but this is the first time his employee has taken advantage of the offer since being hired.
Sihyuk tells one of his assistants to make a note of a raise in that kid’s future, and then he commences the next portion of the inspection: Checking each unit for liabilities and violations.
Logically, the first floor inspection starts with apartment 1A and ends with 1D, but Sihyuk spontaneously decides to work backwards today. 1D and 1C are both empty at the current hour, their residents at work. They quickly walk through both of them, and leave behind a written notice that the inspection commenced as scheduled. 1B takes a little longer, because the tenant insists on supplying Sihyuk and his cronies with lemonade and rice cakes.
To his surprise, when he knocks on the door to apartment 1A, the tenant that answers is no tenant at all; it’s the maintenance man with a surprisingly good eye for design.
“Bang Sihyuk?” the kid gasps. He’s wearing his uniform, although it’s been partially peeled away from his body. The top half is folded over the bottom half, limply hanging to obscure most of the toolbelt around his waist. His upper body is exposed, what with there only being a white muscle tank underneath the navy blue jumpsuit. He holds himself self-consciously, like he’s just been caught in the act of doing something he shouldn’t be doing.
Unfortunately, Sihyuk has a hard time with faces and an even harder time with names. There’s a reason Namjoon was able to get away with so many roommates for as long as he did. Because of the peculiar way the kid has fashioned his uniform, the part with the conveniently placed nametag is no longer visible. Without it, Sihyuk is drawing a blank on anything aside from his surname.
“Jeon,” Sihyuk says, and conveniently mumbles the rest of his name. “You didn’t forget about the inspection today, did you?”
“Of course not, sir,” he says. He flattens his hair and, with a sheepish grin, he goes on to explain why he’s in apartment 1A. “I just got… carried away. Working.”
“What are you working on, exactly?” Sihyuk asks. He cautions a step into the apartment and begins scanning the room for anything obviously malfunctioning.
“Um.” The kid’s big eyes go shifting back and forth like he’s looking for the same thing as Sihyuk. “Uh. The… bed. It’s broken.”
From the back of the apartment, a melodic voice rings out as boldly as a tower’s bell at noon. “Jungkookie, who is it?”
Oh, right— Jungkook. That was his name.
Rather than say who it is, Jungkook calls back, “Jimin, don’t come in here!”
It’s exactly that moment that Sihyuk notices several garments left in a trail down the hallway. Knowingly, he says, “Ah…”
Jungkook cringes, bracing himself for the worst.
Sihyuk throws an arm around Jungkook and turns them away from the hallway. He walks them back to the door, where Sihyuk’s two assistants stand waiting for further direction. Sihyuk gestures widely to indicate the lobby and says, “Now I understand why you’re so wonderful with interior design!”
Jungkook turns bright red. “Sir…”
“In the future, though,” Sihyuk advises, “please try and keep your relations separate from work. Can you do that for me?”
The red in Jungkook’s face doesn’t alleviate in the slightest. With their close proximity, Sihyuk can hear the kid gulp.
“Yes, sir,” he chokes out.
Sihyuk releases Jungkook from his hold and steps out of apartment 1A.
Going one floor up brings Bang Sihyuk to the loudest of his residents. Together and separately, the dance instructor and the pianist in apartments 2A and 2B have amassed more noise complaints than anyone else in the history of the building. That’s why, when Sihyuk reaches the top of the staircase, he feels concerned by how quiet the storey is.
Seeing as how working backwards on the first floor did not favour him, he decides to stick with his tried and true method: Alphabetical. His assistants are whispering behind him as he approaches 2A, but as soon as his fist connects with the door in a knock-knock-knock, they hush up.
From behind the door, there is a slight stir followed by the click-click-click of tiny toenails on the flooring. Then, all too suddenly, the spell of silence is broken as a tiny dog starts to bark-bark-bark.
Inside the apartment, a dialogue begins to unravel. It’s difficult to decipher with the dog barking up a storm, but Sihyuk can make out most of it once the speakers get closer to the door:
“-is even more annoying when you’re in the same room as her than when you’re an entire apartment away.”
“She’s not annoying! She’s attentive, and protective, and a very good girl! Isn’t that right, Hobi? Who’s a good girl?”
“Oh, how I wish you talked as sweetly to me as you did your damn dog.”
“Yeah? Who’s a good girl, Yoongi? Is it you? Is it you, Yoongi?”
“You are unbelievable-”
“Yeah, but was that better for you?”
Sihyuk knocks again, hoping to remind the residents within of his presence. It works, and this time, the door comes open instantaneously.
There, with his platinum hair and tired eyes, wearing nothing but an oversized sleep shirt and boxers, is the pianist from 2B. Behind him stands the dancer, who is equally as sleep ruffled. Cradled in his arms like a newborn is the very same puppy that was given to Sihyuk as a happy-birthday-but-not-really-because-it’s-not-your-birthday gift and subsequently led to the rewriting of the building’s pet policy. The dancer is smothering her in kisses, and she is clearly enjoying every second.
The last thing Sihyuk expected was to see these two together—
Or perhaps he should rephrase.
He has seen the pianist and the dancer together many times over the years. Bickering beside the mailboxes, or engaged in bouts of fierce, verbal combat while standing defensively in front of their apartment doors. Even when seeing them separately, they had a penchant for bringing up the other. Always complaints, though. They never had anything good to say, unless it was some backhanded compliment. Like, “Does he have to play that pretty music of his so noisily?” Or, “I get that he’s a great dancer, but I’m trying to sleep while he practices!” They fell just short of being healthily concerned and landed more so in the zone of completely obsessed.
Now that he thinks about it, maybe the first thing Sihyuk should have expected was to see these two together.
“Good morning,” Sihyuk says awkwardly.
The pianist’s eyes go boggling, like he’s only just registering Sihyuk’s presence in the doorway. “Shit,” he mutters, whirling back around and pushing past the dancer. He disappears into one of the back rooms of the apartment.
“Good morning,” the dancer replies cheerily, as if nothing happened. “You sure are here early.”
“It’s inspection day,” Sihyuk reminds him. He subtly leans to one side, trying to look past the dancer and into the apartment, but the dancer mimics his leaning and obstructs his view.
“Is it really?” the dancer asks. “Wow, I completely forgot! It sure is a good thing you changed your mind about our pets, sir.”
Sihyuk straightens back up. “Why is that?”
“Well, I wouldn’t have known what to do with my widdle biddy baby here!” The dancer turns the little dog in his arms and gives her several smooches on her nose. “Can’t exactly hide her at last minute, can I? No, I can’t! I can’t!”
From the back room, the pianist gives an almighty, “Eugh!”
Abruptly, everything about the dancer’s demeanor goes back to normal. He looks over his shoulder, obviously concerned. “Is everything okay?”
“She’s a dog, babe,” the pianist calls back. “Not a toddler.”
The dancer rolls his eyes. “Like you don’t talk to your cat the same exact way!”
Sihyuk clears his throat, and at once, the dancer and his dog snap to attention. They look like bobblehead dolls, both gently wiggling with an ungodly amount of energy for the early morning and staring at him with unblinking eyes. Sihyuk isn’t sure if he’s enamoured or disturbed.
“The inspection won’t take long if everything’s up to code,” he says. “We just need to look around the apartment.”
“Oh, sure! Go right ahead.” The dancer steps aside, letting Sihyuk and his two assistants get by.
The apartment is close to spotless, even after they turn the lights on. There are no fractures around the outlets or in the ceilings. The faucets don’t squeak. There is one distinguished scuff from a sneaker on the hardwood floor of the kitchen, and Sihyuk is quick to ask about it.
“Where did this come from?”
“Dancing, sir,” Hoseok say. “I’ll get it taken care of, sir. Don’t you worry.”
Sihyuk, pleased, gives a nod and moves onto the next room.
The bedroom is where they find the pianist. He is fully dressed now, and checking his hair in the closet door mirror.
“We’ll have to check your apartment next, uh…”
“Yoongi,” one of Sihyuk’s assistants cough.
“Yongki,” Sihyuk attempts.
“Right,” the pianist intones. “I figured.”
If there’s one thing Sihyuk remembers about the pianist, aside from his poor temper and his drinking habits, it’s that he usually doesn’t get dressed while inspections are being conducted. More than once, Sihyuk has walked the length of 2B with the pianist stomping along behind him in a bathrobe and nothing else. Needless to say, it strikes the landlord as a bit odd that the pianist chose to get dressed this time, but didn’t care about his attire any other time.
“Any exciting plans for today?” Sihyuk asks nonchalantly as he checks the locks on the bedroom windows.
“Yeah, actually. We have a brunch thing,” the pianist says. “I guess it is good you’re here. Would’ve slept through it if you hadn’t come knocking, so… Thanks.”
Sihyuk isn’t used to seeing the pianist’s pleasant side— If he’s being honest, he didn’t think the pleasant side existed. When the dancer comes bumbling into the bedroom, Sihyuk knows at once that he must be the reason for the pianist being pleasant at all. Funny, considering it was not long ago that the dancer was also the reason for the pianist’s unpleasant side.
“Well, thank you for paying your rent on time,” Sihyuk replies. He checks with his assistant to make sure they’ve gone through everything, and once he sees that they have, he gives the couple a smile. “And we are just about done here.”
“I don’t have to be there for my inspection, right?” the pianist asks.
The question momentarily throws Sihyuk, but then he notices the look the pianist is giving the dancer and he has all the answers he needs.
“Of course not,” Sihyuk tells him. “We’ll leave you two to… erm… finish getting ready for that brunch thing of yours.”
“Thank you, sir,” the dancer says. He raises the dog up to the pianist’s face, and she gives a loving little lick to the pianist’s cheek.
The pianist scrunches his nose, but he actually doesn’t seem to be too bothered at all.
Bang Sihyuk rarely knows what to expect from the occupant of the penthouse, who has, in the past, answered the door wearing a feather boa and silk boxers, and who has, with alarming frequency, sent an overnight companion to answer in his stead.
But Jin is famous, and he's paid up on his rent for the next two years, and he's infectiously charming and witty and possibly one of the building's most consistent draws for new, eclectic, mostly gainfully-employed clientele (emphasis on mostly). So, really, what can one do?
He glances at his lackeys, as if they might have anticipated his internal questioning and come up with observations of their own. However, they're both busy attempting to look impassive. Sihyuk knows, though, that they're simply interested to see what's on the other side of this.
Sihyuk knocks. They wait. And nothing.
“Maybe he's not in?” one of his assistants suggests.
Sihyuk huffs. He doesn't have time for this. The surprises from the lower floors have put him off his schedule, and now it's nearing noon, and he is a busy man. He has important business!
He presses his ear to the door. He hears the muffled sound of light jazz crisscrossed with what sounds like knife blades scraping against each other.
Perplexed, he knocks again, this time really pounding.
Again, nothing. He listens once more, but this time, there's only the sound of jazz.
“Boss, you do have the master key,” the other assistant reminds him.
Sihyuk's nose twitches. “I know I have the key,” he says, darkly. His volume grows with each syllable until he's all-out shouting, “The building is called Sihyuk Heights, do you think I don't know that I have the key to my own building?”
At that moment, the door flings open. There stands Jin in a shiny metal breastplate with a sword raised aggressively over his head.
The lackeys flinch behind Sihyuk for cover. Jin looks confused for a half second before he brightens.
“Oh, Mr. Bang,” he says, lowering his sword. “We're just having breakfast.”
Sihyuk smiles to hide his nerves. “Breakfast?” he asks, his eyes darting from the breastplate to the sword.
“Well, brunch.” Jin stands aside, waving them in with his sword blade. “Care to join us?”
The apartment smells of vanilla and bacon and fresh-squeezed oranges. His assistants gaze at him with hope-filled eyes.
“Us?” Sihyuk says. He strides into the penthouse like he owns it (because he does) and takes in the long dining table, the plush white shag carpet, the white leather sofa, and the man in flannel pajamas, a silver mask, and matching breastplate who is standing in the hallway, also a sword raised defensively across his chest.
Jin points at the man, winking as he clicks his tongue. “You know Namjoon,” he says to Sihyuk.
Namjoon lifts his mask. “We were just, um—”
“—Sword fighting?” Sihyuk guesses.
“Rehearsing,” Namjoon says. He salutes and adds, “Sir.”
There's a loud clatter then in the kitchen. Both of Sihyuk's assistants leap to his side as a third somewhat-familiar-looking young man shuffles into the living room wielding a spatula.
“Oh, so you'll protect me against a kitchen utensil?” Sihyuk grumbles.
The spatula wielder greets them with a boxy smile before asking, to the room, “Do we have a waffle iron?”
“We?” Sihyuk asks.
Jin says, “Under the sink.” He sidles alongside the third young man to give him a kiss. “Are we having waffles?”
“Waffles or pancakes?” the young man says. His voice sounds so familiar Sihyuk must tread through his thoughts in an effort to place him. Perhaps he's one of the impostors Namjoon paraded through his apartment for the last two years? But since he can't remember any of their names, let alone their faces, Sihyuk thinks it best to simply play along.
“Joon-ah,” Jin calls over his shoulder. “Waffles or pancakes?”
Namjoon comes to the table. He sets down his mask and sword. “Both?” he says.
Jin gleams at Sihyuk. “Both,” he says, grinning. “I like both.”
“Mr. Kim,” Sihyuk says. “Are these men your...?” but then he struggles and flounders and finally gives up.
“Lovers?” Jin asks. “Yes. Boyfriends? Yes.”
“Roommates,” Sihyuk says. “I was going to say roommates.”
“Also yes,” Jin says. “Would you like a coffee? I have a lovely fresh-ground Sumatran.”
His assistants nod eagerly at each other.
“The others'll be up any minute,” Namjoon says. “Best you get some before Yoongi stakes his claim.”
“I think he already has,” one of the assistants says, and the other hacks out a surprised laugh.
“The others ?” Sihyuk asks. It's rare that he's caught so off guard, but today has been a lot to take in, what with his maintenance man and the boy in 1A, plus the pianist with his dancer, and now Namjoon and Jin and this third strange fellow, and didn't Sihyuk evict Namjoon? Yet here he is with...
“Wait a minute,” Sihyuk says, leveling a finger at the third young man. “I know you.”
“I would hope so, sir,” he says, “I've lived here for three years.”
Sihyuk sits heavily in the first vacant chair. “Three years?” he mutters. Jin passes him a mug of fragrant black coffee.
“Taehyung-ah,” Jin says. “Let’s get our guests some breakfast.”
He casts a look at his assistants, but they're too busy salivating at the prospect of free bacon to offer him any help. Anyway, there's a knock on the door, and Namjoon goes to answer it. It's the pianist and the dancer, 2A and 2B, and then before the door closes, that Jimin kid and Sihyuk's own enterprising maintenance man files in. They all seem to be in the middle of a conversation about Sugar and Hope – whoever they are – and they're laughing and teasing each other like some wild, weird extended family.
Noise and laughter fill the penthouse apartment, and within minutes so does the scent of waffles and syrup. The guests arrange themselves around the table, offering up the parcels they've brought – strawberries, a bottle of cheap champagne, drugstore chocolates, and chestnuts. Before long, Taehyung, Namjoon, and Jin return with platters of waffles and pancakes and stacks of plates.
Sihyuk snags Namjoon's wrist on his way by, dragging him to a halt. “Does this happen often?” he asks.
Namjoon wipes his sweaty hair from his eyes. “Well,” he says. “It's a thing we do every Saturday now. I mean, Jin and I don't normally wear suits of armor, but...”
Sihyuk narrows his eyes. “This better not be another roommate scam,” he says.
Namjoon sends a panicked look to Jin and then the others. “No sir,” he says. “I promise not.”
Then Sihyuk smiles, and beside him, both of his lackeys smile, too. “With so much ado up here, I suppose it’s necessary for me to begin weekly inspections.” He sips his coffee, which is very, very good. “Every Saturday. Just to keep an eye on you.”