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Internecine

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Jung Hoseok's first birthday is, by South Korean standards, boringly typical.

His parents cannot go to the expense of hiring out a hall as they did for Dawon’s doljanchi, and thus their extended family is crammed into the Jungs' twenty-five pyeong apartment, seating themselves wherever they can find space; couches and chairs and mats and floors and counters, children left stranded amongst gaggles of ajummas, handbags hanging off their newly-purchased Samsung CRT TV, as it replays the final episode of Sandglass. The platters of banchan Hoseok’s mother painstakingly prepared have been well picked over, and only the unappetising scraps remain. Pictures of Hoseok adorn the walls; Dawon tows people over to them to show off the ones she took, her favourite being the one with his father nearly in tears as he attempts to yank a wooden spoon out of a wailing Hoseok’s mouth. In the middle of the hubbub sits Hoseok, exactly one year old, gawking at the fuss with mild rancour. His hanbok, borrowed from a cousin, drapes off the cushion he sits on to drag on the floor. His mother gave up on keeping the hogeon on his head roughly twenty minutes into the party.

Hoseok’s grandmother, who is kindly bankrolling the party for her third grandson, stops bragging about her first son’s new business (it folds three months later) long enough to offer the prayers to Grandmother Samshin and their temple sanshin along with the customary tribute of rice, seaweed soup and rice cakes. Hoseok fusses when they won't let him eat any of it, but he quiets, enthralled, when they lay the doljabi tray before him.

Hoseok's father laboured over its contents for hours; his wife arranged Dawon’s. What did he want his son – his first son, and, though he did not know it then, his only son, as precious as a diamond – to be? His co-workers presented their children with stethoscopes and computer mice and test tubes, in addition to the traditional rice cake, pencil and string. What life did he want his Hoshikie to have? A happy one, a successful one, a long one? Did a parent not desire all of these things? Why must they make their child choose?

His wife rolled her eyes at his concerns. “Honey, it's an excuse to show off the baby and throw a party. It doesn't mean anything. Pick whatever.”

“But…”

“Whatever,” she repeated, and ran off to finish replacing the fuse in the iron.

The tray’s final contents are a rice cake, a length of string, a fifty-thousand won note, a toy bow, a shoe, a pencil, and a stuffed toy heart. Hoseok leans forward, intrigued. The room falls silent as his mother shows him the tray. He cocks his head and examines it, hand hovering over the rice cake first. “He won't go hungry,” an auntie whispers.

Hoseok grows bored with the food and pokes at the blunted lead point of the pencil with one chubby finger. “A scholar! Omo, omo. Imagine, a Jung in a SKY university!”

Next, he examines the toy bow. “I wouldn't like for him to be a soldier,” his grandmother says, quietly. “It's a tough life, and he's such a dear sweet thing.”

He passes over the money – Dawon went for it immediately on her doljanchi, crumpling poor Shin Saimdang's face terribly – but gives the shoe due consideration. “A footballer?” asks a cousin. It's early 1995, and the memory of South Korea's defeat to Germany in the 1994 World Cup still stings.

“Maybe,” his father whispers. “Or a runner, or a dancer. Wouldn't that be nice?”

His father sighs in relief as Hoseok seizes the heart. That was what he hoped he would choose. In the end, he decided that it did not matter what sort of life his son led, if he loved, if he was loved. Hoseok's mother smiles widely and makes to lift him away from the tray, but, in a movement strikingly dexterous for a child of one, Hoseok grabs the string, wrapping its so tightly around his tiny fingers that they turn red.

“Seokseok-ah, let go. You can only choose one.” His mother tries to tug the string free to no avail. A murmur rises in the room at the oddly serious look on his otherwise babyish face.

Hoseok spends the rest of the party clutching both of his new toys tight to his chest, giving his parents no choice but to surrender and permit him to keep both. He only allows them to be taken away after the party is over, and he demands them vociferously when they put him down for the night.

His parents watch him drift off, heart cushioning his cheek, thread neatly knotted around his wrist for fear it would strangle him in his sleep. “How strange,” his mother murmurs. “He’s never usually so stubborn.”

His father agrees silently. Dawon is the headstrong one; by comparison, Hoseok is an angel. “Think of it this way,” he says. “His love will last for all his life.”

His mother takes her husband’s hand. “Like us?”

“Like us.”

Chapter Text

“One-two-three-four, one-two-three-four – Jimin, you're off again – one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three! Okay. Better.”

“Only better?” Taehyung frowns.

Jungkook tosses a bottle of water at his head. “Shush. We need to be perfect if we want to win this thing.”

“Again?” Jimin returns to his starting position.

Hoseok gestures at the mirrored wall of the practice room, steamed up by their exertions so that it reflects four blurs. “We're done here. You should go home. Don't you have lectures in the morning?”

A chorus of groans echoes around the room. “Don't remind me,” Taehyung moans.

Hoseok grins and grabs Taehyung's leg. “After we stretch and cool down, hyung will buy you drinks, okay?”

The promise of free drinks quiets them. They go through their routine with practised ease; legs first, rolling out thigh muscles and stretching calves, then arms, twisted across their back to reach for their waists, and finally their cores, rotating slowly around. They swap out and repeat until they're fit to fall asleep; Jimin ends up towing Taehyung up the stairs as they make their way out of their college dance club's basement practice room, which nestled in under the performing arts building.

“Hyung,” Jungkook mumbles as Hoseok manhandles him into a chair outside the campus 7-Eleven. “Get me banana milk.”

“No way, you'll throw up.” Hoseok apologises to the couple at the table beside them as he steals one of their chairs for Jimin.

The convenience store is deserted. Hoseok raids the soft drinks, grabbing a cola for Taehyung, a can of Chilsung cider for Jimin, a bottle of Milkis for Jungkook, and a can of sujeonggwa for himself. He picks up a packet of kkokkalcorn for good measure. They'll keep Taehyung amused if nothing else. He dumps his haul on the counter and glances around as the cashier scans them. There’s a dude hunched over a battered MacBook at one of the tables in the corner as he waits for his ramyeon to cool. Three girls confer in front of the condoms. The cashier asks for his debit card; as he hands it over, he peers at the textbooks scattered behind the counter. Who is Maxwell, and why did he make up so many laws?

Once outside, he distributes the drinks and rips the snacks open. Taehyung immediately places a chip at the end of each finger and waves them in Jimin's face. “Open up, Jimin-ah!” Jungkook darts in front of him and snaps it off his hand. “Ow! Jeon Jungkook!”

“Don't play with your food,” Jungkook says, snippily.

“That's the point of kkokkalcorn! Hoseokie hyung, back me up.”

“Huh?” Hoseok glances back at the boys. “Sorry, I wasn't paying attention.” Ever since they got here something's nagged at him, like a child tugging on his wrist. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see the dude in the convenience store check his ramyeon; it’s not ready yet.

“Ignore him, Taehyung-ah.” Jimin folds himself down onto the table, opening his mouth like a baby bird. “Feed me.”

“Get your soulmate to do it,” Taehyung snipes. Jungkook glares at him. Jimin grabs Taehyung's wrist and pulls his hand closer to eat the chips. Hoseok observes with amusement. Upon first sight, people tend to assume Taehyung and Jimin are soulmates – they have that strange, suffocating closeness that soulmates do, off in their own private world together – but they're not. Jungkook's the poor sap who got tied to Jimin. Hoseok watched the string circle their fingers and pull them inexorably together, forcing everyone else to evacuate the practice room as they worked it out. Hoseok doesn't know the specific details of how they worked it out, but Jimin's shirt was inside-out when they were allowed back in, so he has a good idea of what transpired.

As for Taehyung, his soulmate arrives thirty minutes later, dragging one of the chairs the now-gone couple was using over to Hoseok’s side. He lowers himself awkwardly into it and grabs a handful of snacks. “Didn't you get soju?”

“No soju,” Hoseok declares. “We’re competing in three weeks. Our bodies are temples.”

Namjoon ignores him and goes into the convenience store. He returns with five soju boxes; four normal and one grapefruit for Taehyung. “Don’t make me drink alone. Only alcoholics drink alone.”

Hoseok protests, but Jimin is already half-way through his. He gives in and grabs one, sucking on the straw moodily. Taehyung brushes Namjoon's hair back from his forehead; as their skin comes into contact the red thread that links them materialises, and Hoseok looks away. “How'd your date go?”

“It wasn't a date.” Namjoon frowns. “We studied together.”

“A study date is still a date. Well?”

“She's so bright,” Namjoon says delightedly. “She couldn't pronounce macabre, but she could spell it and use it. She's perfect.”

“Nerd,” Jimin says. Namjoon dimples at him.

Hoseok sips his soju and watches his friends chatter. Taehyung holds Namjoon's hand as the latter dissects his date; Jungkook holds his soju away from Jimin’s greedy grasp. They’ve forgotten about him. Hoseok wonders, for the nth time, what it’s like to have a soulmate.

It's not that he wants a soulmate. Nobody wants a soulmate, Hoseok especially, given that he’s not exactly sold on the concept yet. Everyone lives with the assurance that they have one, that they will eventually feel that tell-tale tug and meet the eyes they’ve waited their whole lives to meet. Yet, as the years pass and as his friends find the loves of their lives, be they platonic or romantic, Hoseok remains alone, the consummate third wheel.

His eighteenth birthday was four years ago. It feels like an aeon. Everyone else reassures him that he has time yet – it took three years for Jimin to find Jungkook, and it took two years for Namjoon to find Taehyung – but that doesn't stop him from feeling bitter. Whoever his soulmate is, they need to get their ass in gear, because he'll be an amazing boyfriend or best friend or what the fuck ever. They're missing out.

“We should get back,” Namjoon says when the soju's gone. “You kids'll be alright?”

Jimin nods. “Go home. Taetae's gonna fall asleep.”

“'M not,” Taehyung mumbles, but he lets Namjoon steer him out of his chair and down the street. Hoseok follows them.

“Sunbae!”

He turns around. “Jungkook-ah?” Though it sounded like he was right beside him, Jungkook is forty yards away, engaged in conversation with a stranger, Jimin tucked under his arm. “That's weird.”

“What's wrong?” Namjoon glances back at him, Taehyung swinging limply from his shoulder.

“Nothin'.” When he glances back, the stranger is gone. Jungkook and Jimin walk away, wound up in each other, lopsided halves of a whole. “C'mon, let's go home, I'm freezing.”

They keep walking. Hoseok, though he dearly wants to, doesn't look back.

 

“Budae jjigae? Again?”

Seokjin draws himself up and frowns at him like an old man. “You’re lucky I’m feeding you brats.”

“I hate Spam,” Taehyung whines.

“I’ll pick it out for you,” Namjoon offers. Seokjin clucks, unimpressed.

“You do the exact same thing for Heeyeon and tomatoes,” Hoseok points out.

“It’s different,” Seokjin pouts. “She’s allergic.”

“Only barely. She sneezes a bit, and they’re cute sneezes. Like a bee landing on a daisy.” Namjoon plucks a glob of Spam from Taehyung’s bowl. “Go on, Taehyung-ah.”

Taehyung digs in, neatly avoiding the clumps of processed meat. “Why d’you keep cookin’ budae jjigae?” He waves his chopsticks threateningly at Seokjin. “I’s yucky.”

“Don’t talk with your mouth full.” Seokjin sucks up more noodles, cheeks puffing out in a way that reminds Hoseok of an exotic marsupial. “What’s wrong with budae jjigae, anyway? I ate it all the time when I was serving.”

“You get a taste for weird shit in the army,” Namjoon says, distastefully. “Smoking, music shows, girl groups…”

“I don’t like what you’re implying,” Seokjin says, primly. “I don’t smoke and I have a soulmate. I’m faithful.”

“You own no less than three Apink albums.”

“Have you seen Naeun’s face?”

“Point,” Namjoon concedes.

“She’s pretty,” Taehyung agrees. “I want to, like, carry her across puddles and buy her handbags.”

“You should set up a fansite.”

“No way. I was at Incheon at the same time as SNSD once and I never want to do it again. I swear someone stuck a DSLR up my ass while I was going to the gate.”

The others laugh at Taehyung’s anguish, but Hoseok can’t bring himself to join in. He pushes his unappetising noodles around the bowl, feeling oddly unsettled. He was too busy helping the others to do much dancing himself; it won’t hurt to go back to the studio. Maybe he’ll work whatever he’s feeling off. He rises from the table. “You okay?” Namjoon asks. Hoseok nods.

“You’re skipping a lot of meals lately.” Seokjin leans over to press a hand to Hoseok’s forehead. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, it’s… summer? You know.”

Seokjin blinks at him. “I don’t.”

“Normal people don’t eat a lot during the summer,” Namjoon says, drolly. “’S too hot.”

“Are you saying my eating habits aren’t normal?”

“Yes.”

“Touché. But – Hoseok-ah, where are you going?”

“I wanna go to the studio.” Hoseok tugs his Pumas on and scowls at a dirty mark on the white stripe. “I’ll see you later.”

“Get me chocolate at the convenience store!” Taehyung calls.

Hoseok patters down the stairs from their second-floor apartment to the ground floor. On the first floor, he dodges Oh Sehun, who is juggling three six-packs and a white kitten, and outside, he waves hello to Jimin’s friend Sungwoon, who is arguing with his roommate Taehyun. He would stop to chat – Sungwoon and Taehyun are reliably hilarious – but he’s not in the mood.

He’s not in the mood for anything.

Which. Usually, when he gets like this (Namjoon calls it lassitude, Hoseok calls it laziness) he dances it out, but when he gets to the studio and confronts the grey phantom of his reflection, his motivation drains away to leave him crumpled on the floor.

“I’m getting old,” he mumbles as he pulls out his phone. He pulls up his photos and swipes back through the years, through first year, the army, high school–

Big Hit. He pages through the photos slowly, savouring the grainy details. Chubby-cheeked, Namjoon, Ikje and his shitty blond dye job. Him and Donghyuk, posing like NWA in the first one, mugging in the second. Yoongi in one of his many stupid-ass hats, hiding in the back of the photo. Hunchul, eyeliner smeared inexpertly into his waterline; Donghyuk punched him in the nuts ten minutes after the photo was taken and when he cried in pain, his tears were muddy grey. Seokjin, cross-legged on the floor, a lettuce wrap sticking out of his mouth.

He should delete the photos. It’s been years. All they’re doing is taking up space, and if someone doesn’t believe him when he tells them he was a trainee, he can show them that Naver video of him in JYPE. His finger hovers over the tiny rubbish bin.

Hoseok locks his phone and tosses it away. Who cares? Namjoon and Seokjin don’t know that he has the photos, and he hasn’t talked to any of the others in years. They didn’t exactly part on good terms. Thank fucking God. Half of Namjoon’s old DNH crew got ratted out for weed, and Hunchul landed himself in jail last year for domestic abuse. Hoseok doesn’t want to be friends with people like that.

Whatever. Whatever. Hoseok tucks himself against the mirror and lies as still as he can. Whatever.

 

He dreams of himself.

Not himself himself, the him that exists now; a specific iteration of himself, aged about eighteen, wearing a muscle shirt despite having no muscles to speak of and a knock-off Supreme snapback, the brim turned rakishly backwards. He leans on his computer chair, mouth ajar, bobbing his head along to the beat that permeates the studio.

“You made this? For real?”

“S’not that good,” he hears himself say, in a voice pitched too deep to be his own. The accent is wrong too, brusque and curt where his is whiny and lilting. “I threw it together last night.”

“It’s dope. Seriously, it sounds, like, G-Funk vibes, you get me? Hyung is cool!”

“Shut up,” he grumbles, and he hears himself laugh, pitching up and down, and he turns around to the computer monitor. “Ah, it went dead.”

In the split second before he moves the mouse, he glimpses his reflection in the grubby black screen. Wide, flat nose. Small, monolidded eyes, soft jaw.

It’s a nice face, but it’s not his. It’s – it’s–

 

“Hyung?”

“Kookie-yah? What are you…”

“Taehyungie called me and asked me to get you when you didn’t come home. Hold on, I’m turning on the lights.”

“Don’t,” Hoseok groans as he rolls away from the mirror, but Jungkook, the cruel child, flicks the lights on to flood the studio with harsh fluorescence. Hoseok draws his wrist in front of his face to shield his eyes. “Fuck, that burns. What time is it?” He paws around for his phone. The screen reads 03:02.

“Hyung,” Jungkook says, quietly.

“What? I’m getting up.”

“No. Your wrist…”

Hoseok wrinkles his nose and holds his wrist up. “What about my…”

It’s a string. Red. Glimmering, effervescent, real in its unreality. His red string of fate.

“Your soulmate,” Jungkook breathes. “They’re here.”

Hoseok snaps up. He shakes his wrist, and the thread follows the motion, transverse waves running down it, past Jungkook and out the door. “What the fuck is my soulmate doing here at three in the morning?”

“What the fuck are you doing here at three in the morning? Wait, wait for me!” Jungkook hurries after him, taking the stairs two at a time and bursting out the door.

It’s cold outside, the chill of spring not yet burned off, and Hoseok shivers; he forgot to bring a jacket. The string doesn’t slacken. His soulmate must be moving away from him. “C’mon, Kookie, fuck!” A vicious pull on the string makes him stumble. He squints into the darkness to try and make out where it ends, but it vanishes into the liminal space of the college campus at three am.

“Should have brought a jacket,” he hears, echoing around his head. The accent sounds – Busan?

He turns to Jungkook. “What did you say?”

“Nothing,” Jungkook squeaks, visibly pale and frightened. “Wait for me! Hyung!” Hoseok paces after the string, panic rising in his chest, but it stays taut. He’s not getting any closer. He jogs, and then runs, towards the edge of campus. Jungkook yells but he can’t hear him over his heart pounding in his chest.

Then–

Two hundred yards away Hoseok sights a black-clad figure standing on the side of the street. It’s them, it must be, but his chest hurts, and his back aches from his unusual nap. By the time he can move again, it’s too late. A battered old Hyundai pulls up and the figure ducks in. The car vanishes around the corner as Jungkook catches up to him, panting, and the string dematerialises, leaving only an inflamed striation around his wrist.

 

Jungkook brings him home. Hoseok doesn’t remember any of it. One moment he’s standing in the middle of the road, watching his soulmate disappear into the ether, and the next he’s on his couch, sandwiched between Jimin and Taehyung. Jimin smells, overwhelmingly, of orange blossom, Taehyung of lavender body lotion. It’s overpowering, but Hoseok is beyond caring. The others mill around them.

“Why could they leave? They shouldn’t have been able to. Their string should have pulled them together.” Jimin waves at Jungkook. “That’s what ours did.”

“It differs, doesn’t it?” Namjoon pushes a cup of peppermint tea into Hoseok’s hands. “Taehyungie and I were never forced together.”

“Maybe…” Seokjin pushes his hair back from his forehead. “Heeyeonie and I had to come into contact for the bond to form. Remember when my string kept appearing and it turned out she was waitressing on a different shift to me?”

“I heard him,” Hoseok says, softly. “In my head.”

“Him?” Jimin cranes around to look at him. “You’re sure?”

“Certain. I thought he was Jungkookie, but the accent was wrong.”

“Accent? What accent did he have?”

“A bit like… Taehyung’s? Where are you from again? Changwon?”

“No, excuse you.” Taehyung reels back, indignant. “I’m from Geochang!”

“Okay, we now know, like, two things about your soulmate. Namjoon-ah, what are you doing?” Namjoon runs back into the room, towing a whiteboard behind him.

“Dude, that’s my choreography whiteboard,” Hoseok says, irritated.

“Don’t worry, I took a photo. You can redraw it later.” He wipes it clean with the sleeve of his hoodie. Hoseok clucks, unimpressed. Namjoon ignores him.

 “Okay. We know…”

  • Male-voiced
  • Northern Gyeongsang accent
  • Attends our university
  • Didn’t notice string (or ignored it?)
  • Over 18 (Western age)

“It’s a start,” Seokjin says hopefully.

“He must have been near you for the bond to form.”

“You were in the dance studio, right?” Hoseok nods. “What’s near there?”

“It’s all performance, isn’t it? He could be a dance major, or theatre, or…”

“He could be in my course,” Jungkook pipes up.

“What? Isn’t the music building way over?”

“They built an extension into the basement for new production suites. My phone keeps sending me notifications saying that Hoseok hyung is nearby when I go there.”

Namjoon adds to the list.

  • Performance, theatre, music

“Or maybe he was passing by,” Taehyung points out.

Namjoon scribbles out the last point.

  • Could be literally anyone

“Fuck,” Jimin says, despondently.

“Fuck,” Hoseok agrees, staring at the board, despairing at the hopelessness of the task ahead of him.

Chapter Text

Hoseok spends most of the next two weeks ensconced in the dance studio, which isn’t unusual, but this time, he’s not only there to dance.

“The logic is,” Hoseok explains, defensively, when Namjoon confronts him when he returns from the studio at four in the morning, “if he was there before, he’ll be there again. All I gotta do is make myself available.”

Which. Making yourself available for a cosmic coincidence is easier said than done. Serendipity cannot be manufactured, no matter how late he stays at the studio, and his string never reappears. The mark it left fades within a week, and all Hoseok is left with is the memory of his figure in the middle of the road, and the echo of his voice, too familiar for comfort.

(Hoseok can’t shake the feeling that he knows him. Knew him. A dude from Northern Gyeongsang, home to how many million souls? He may as well be looking for a Kim in Seoul.)

“Maybe he was only visiting?” Taehyung suggests, three days before the tournament. At this stage, Hoseok is approximately forty per cent caffeine and one hundred per cent nervous. He almost hits him.

Jimin does it for him. “At three in the morning?” Taehyung ducks away, nursing his arm. “He’ll turn up. Back into formation.”

For once, his neuroticism is helpful. The hours he spends in the studio, waiting for, as Taehyung puts it, true love’s kiss, lead to one of the best performances of his lifetime at the tournament; the passers-by on the street stop to stare at the commotion they cause. The adulation is gratifying, but there’s no reason to be smug about winning an amateur tournament sponsored by an up-and-coming streetwear brand. Even the cash prize, though better than nothing, was insignificant. Nothing to get fussed about.

Jimin does not agree.

“Did you see him,” he wails, several hours after the tournament, empty cans of cider scattered around him. “He was perfect.”

“That’s overstating it.” Taehyung busily stacks their discarded cans and cups and bottles into a seven-sided pyramid. “He made a couple of mistakes.”

“Who cares. That thigh move? That’s fucking illegal.” Jimin flops dramatically back onto the couch, narrowly avoiding squashing Seokjin. They’re engaging in their usual post-competition ritual, which is get wasted in their apartment and maybe make it to a bar if one of them is sober enough to remember to ring a taxi. Hoseok is certain they’re going to forget, given that Jimin is going full-on drama queen. Kang Daniel was the leader of the runner-up team, and his dance break in Earned It made a lady in the crowd faint. Jimin has met his match.

“His hair is pink,” Jimin says, thunderously. “That’s my thing. He’s copying me. Did you hear his accent? He’s from Busan! He has monolids! This is identity theft!”

“He can’t help that,” Seokjin points out. “Can you get surgery to get monolids?”

“Why would you get surgery to get monolids?” Namjoon asks.

“To imitate me.” Jimin slams his fist down. “I won’t stand for this. We need to change it up. If they’re doing sex appeal, we can’t do that. We need something different.”

“Weren’t we doing Major Lazer?”

“Too sexy,” Jimin declares.

“You love sexy.”

Jimin steamrolls onward. “Kang Daniel can have his thighs and his shoulders and his stage charisma. We’re gonna blow him out of the fucking water. We need a good song. Hard-hitting. Something original.”

“Original,” Taehyung muses, and Hoseok can practically see a lightbulb ping on in his head. “That’s it! Jungkook can compose a song for us!”

“I’ve been in college for, like, three months,” Jungkook says, desperately, sloshing his water as he shrinks away. “I barely know how to use Cubase.”

“Namjoonie hyung can help us, right, right?” Taehyung swivels around to look at him, and his face drops.

Seokjin and Hoseok stare warily at Namjoon, whose head is bowed. The plastic cup he’s holding lists dangerously to the side. “No,” he says, quietly. “I don’t... Not anymore.”

“But you used to, didn’t you? You were amazing. Hoseokie hyung showed us.”

“Jung Hoseok,” Namjoon reprimands.

“Sorry,” Hoseok mumbles. “You were, though. Remember?”

“I do,” Namjoon says, ruefully, and the years fall away, the kids fall away, until it’s just them. Just Namjoon and Hoseok, dicking around in the studio, Hoseok beatboxing as Namjoon freestyled. Seokjin would poke his head in to say hello, and they’d sneak out to an arcade to play shooters until someone (probably Donghyuk) ratted them out.

Stupid kids. “You’re on your own. Work on it while we’re out.” Jungkook glares at him; Hoseok ignores him. “Aren’t we gonna leave?”

“I’ll call the taxis.” Seokjin wobbles up ungracefully. “Let’s get out before Jimin cyberstalks Kang Daniel.”

 

Frankly, it’s a miracle that they make it into the bar in one piece, though they do make a pit stop in an alley to let Taehyung vomit.

“I’ll be fine,” he pants, flapping his hands. “I needed t’ make room for more.”

“You’re an idiot,” Namjoon admonishes as he runs into a nearby takeaway to grab napkins.

When they enter Hoseok drifts away from the group to greet people in his course, and then they introduce him to their friends, and then he finds he knows their cousin from the community centre he volunteers at during the summer, and then he sees that one guy he worked with in high school, and long story short, by the time he gets back to their table, he’s too drunk to notice who they’re with.

“Oh!” A head pops up. “Jimin-sshi! It’s your sunbae!”

“Hello,” Hoseok says, with a large dose of confusion, because that’s Kang Daniel, Jimin’s newest arch-enemy (bye bye, Jongin), and Jimin is flaming red and plain flaming, Hoseok can tell because he’s got his shirt unbuttoned to the fourth button. “Kang Daniel-sshi?”

“Congrats on winning today!” Daniel fist bumps him, smiling widely enough that Hoseok can’t help but smile back in response. “Seriously, I heard people talking about you, but I didn’t know that you were that good!” His accent is thick, thicker than Jungkook’s, and Jungkook has lived in Seoul for less than three months.

“He recorded your entire performance,” the boy sitting beside him confesses, smirking. “He already watched it like five times. I’m Ong Sungwoo.”

“Ong?”

“Ong,” Sungwoo repeats, gravely. “Not Hong, but Ong. Not Gong, but Ong. Not Ung, but Ong. Ong. Ong.” Hoseok backs away as subtly as he can.

“Ong Sungwoo-sshi, may I buy you a drink?” Taehyung leers lecherously over Hoseok’s shoulder.

“I have a soulmate.” Sungwoo shakes his wrist tiredly, and Hoseok hears rather than sees Daniel get jerked towards him.

“He does too. Speaking of, where is Joonie?”

“He found the girl he was talking about. They’re probably making stilted conversation in the stairwell while Namjoonie tries not to tell her he likes her.”

“He’s ace,” Hoseok whispers to Sungwoo. “They’re platonic. Taehyungie likes collecting pretty people to be his friends.”

“Please be my pretty friend,” Taehyung pouts. Sungwoo agrees enthusiastically, and they bound off to the bar.

“Daniel was a trainee,” Jimin informs him when Hoseok is left alone. “Like you and Namjoonie and Seokjinnie.”

“Oh? Whom with?”

“B2M. Like, Spica, Lee Hyori? We got bought out by CJ E&M and they kicked me out. You?”

“BigHit. 2AM and GLAM.” Daniel makes a face. “I know. They switched concepts and half the debut team left. Ended up terminating our contracts.”

Daniel shakes his head. “It’s shitty, isn’t it? It’s such a waste of your youth. They wanted to fix my eyes.”

“They wanted to do my jaw,” Hoseok says, mournfully. “Because we all gotta have v-lines now.”

“But you’re pretty.” Daniel flushes red after he realises what he said.

“He knows.” Jimin pokes Hoseok’s nose. “You see that? That’s real.”

Hoseok pinches Jimin’s cheeks and makes baby noises at him. Seokjin turns up in time to join in, and then Taehyung and Sungwoo return with a fishbowl, and what Hoseok doesn’t know is that Taehyung is (of course) friends with the barman, and that there is a significant amount of rum in said fishbowl.

The next thing Hoseok remembers, he’s lying on the floor of his apartment, a box of fried chicken barely out of reach. Seokjin is asleep in his at the table, sauce smeared up his face. Jungkook is poking his butt with his foot. “Get up. It’s four in the morning. Bedtime.”

Hoseok rolls over and stretches his hands up to Jungkook. “Kookie-yah, you love hyung, right?”

“No.” Hoseok sticks his hands out vehemently and whines. “Stop making those noises.”

Hoseok increases in pitch, cuteness and wiggliness.

“I don’t like you.” He grabs Hoseok and bodily drags him into his room, hauling him up onto the bed. Hoseok pulls him down on top of him and wraps himself around him. It’s testament to Hoseok’s dedication that he’s known Jungkook for all of three months (wow, has it only been three months since Jungkook awkwardly bowed his way into his first dance practice? Three months since he stumbled into Jimin and brought their bond into life?), and the younger boy is already willing to bear his drunk cuddles.

“Where’s Jiminie?”

“He and Taehyung are asleep in Namjoon’s room. He didn’t come back with the rest of you.”

Hoseok whistles. Jungkook pulls out his phone and shows him a message.

Cool Hyung

Today 2:37 AM
You alive
Fine
Don’t let any of the rest ring me
I swear to God not even Taetae
K cool
Congrats on getting laid btw
Someday your disrespectful ways will land you in trouble, Jeon Jungkook
And you will rue the day you were rude to your hyung
Don’t forget to use protection!

Hoseok sniggers. “Cool hyung?”

“I thought he was cool,” Jungkook admits. “When you first introduced us. He is, but he’s a giant nerd too.”

“What am I?”

Jungkook opens his contacts and shows him that Hoseok’s number is saved under ‘Weird Hyung’. Hoseok pushes him off the bed, but Jungkook, as annoyingly athletic as ever, rolls as he lands and springs right back up. “I’m gonna go check on Seokjin hyung, he’ll kill me if he breaks out because he fell asleep in his food.”

“Fine,” Hoseok mumbles, kicking what he can reach of Jungkook’s butt. “Go, go. If I vomit in my sleep and choke, you can pay for my funeral.”

Once Jungkook is gone, Hoseok kicks off as much of his clothing as he can manage, and pulls his duvet over him. He falls asleep like that, half-off the bed, and when he dreams–

 

He stares at the front door of their old dorm. He’s exhausted – he can feel it in his heavy eyelids, in the sore muscles of his back, in the weary pain in the soles of his feet. The handle of the bag of fried chicken cuts into his hand. Unsurprisingly, given the haste of his departure, he left his keys in Daegu, and Hoseok won’t respond to his texts. “Open up, Hoseokie,” he begs the door, as if it can do anything unaided. “I swear to God, if he’s not here...”

Not a minute later, the door swings open to reveal a wan Hoseok. His eyes are suspiciously red, and he rubs at them vigorously. He must have fallen asleep – his hair is sticking up at the back like it always does before he combs it. “Hyung? What – why–”

He bulls past him into the apartment, dumping the chicken on the kitchen counter. “You said you were bored.”

Hoseok sputters. “You – I didn’t – did you seriously come all the way from Daegu? On New Year’s Eve?”

“I came back a day early. Got sick of listening to my dad.” He begins to unpack the food. “You’re not well lately. You should eat to keep your energy up. Do you want the sweet and sour one or the crispy one?”

Hoseok is suspiciously silent. When he looks back at him, he’s crying, lip trembling, tears streaming silently down his face. “Hyung.”

“It’s gonna go cold,” he says, quietly, because crybaby Hoseok hates it when people acknowledge his tears.

Hoseok calms down enough to come over and investigate the bags. “Will we go half-and-half?”

“Sure.” He pretends not to notice Hoseok wiping his face with the provided napkins.

 

When Hoseok staggers out of bed, his first thought is ‘oh God, I’m still fucking drunk, why is the world tilting.’ His next is, ‘I want to go back to bed.’ The last is, ‘why did I dream that?’

He doesn’t have time for anymore as he stumbles over a stray limb. “Shit”! What – Taehyung-ah? Was that your arm?” Taehyung yowls dramatically. “Taetae-yah, hyung is sorry, but why are you on my floor?”

“Jimin kicked me out,” Taehyung grumbles, “so he could get jiggy with his soulmate. It’s my room, not his!”

“Did I hear you use the phrase ‘get jiggy with’?”

“Yep.” Taehyung throws his arms wide. “You smell terrible.”

“Thanks, you do too.” Hoseok lies down on him. Taehyung is skinny and bony, but his clothes are soft, and Hoseok is feeling emotionally vulnerable, the dream and his hangover collectively hitting him like an eighteen-wheeler. He needs cuddles, and he doesn’t care who provides them.

“Is this what we’re doing,” Seokjin says, when he opens the door.

“Join us,” Hoseok pleads. Seokjin throws himself down and squishes them both. “Are they still going at it?”

“Jimin is loud. I’m glad they don’t live with us. Those first few months after you bond...” Seokjin makes a scandalised noise.

“Is that what you had those king-sized condoms for?”

“They were emperor size, actually,” Seokjin says cheerily. “For a wang.”

“Fuck off,” Hoseok moans. “I am too fragile for dad jokes right now, stop laughing.”

Seokjin stops with the windshield wipers, though he squeaks occasionally. “Because, in English, wang is–”

“Penis, I know, I looked up Golf Wang. Ugh, my mouth tastes like cough syrup.”

“The fishbowl,” Taehyung informs him. “It was mostly rum.”

Hoseok hiccups, and pulls the boys closer. “You’re cuddly today,” Seokjin notes. “Not that I’m complaining. Aish, Kim Taehyung! Where’s your elbow going?”

As Taehyung removes his elbow from Seokjin’s genitals, Hoseok grabs Seokjin around the middle. “I had a dream,” he sniffles. “I’m still drunk, an’ I don’t... I don’t want a soulmate, but I want my soulmate.”

“Me too,” Taehyung adds.

“Me three. Let’s be lonely together.” Seokjin sits up, dragging Hoseok with him. “Will we go get hangover soup? Over at that place by the river?”

“I want doenjang in mine,” Hoseok says, dreamily. “Ooh, and loads of pepper flakes.”

“Yuck.” Taehyung sticks his tongue out in disgust.

“Ei, you baby. Your grandmother spoiled you.” Seokjin gets to his feet as noisily as he can, Hoseok bumping around as he clings on. “Last one out of the house pays!”

 

Bellies full (courtesy of straggler Taehyung, who Hoseok shoved into the coat rack whilst pursuing Seokjin out of the apartment), he and Seokjin walk, placidly, alongside the Han River. Taehyung left in a huff to meet other friends, who ‘won’t make me pay for their food!’

Hoseok never tires of going places with Seokjin, because, frequently, he is waylaid by starry-eyed strangers asking for a selfie purely because of his face. It’s the funniest shit ever.

“You should have become an actor,” he teases, as a squealing schoolgirl runs off to show her friends her photo. Seokjin sends them a flying kiss and they nearly faint. Hoseok can already see the Pann post they’ll write tonight. (Sure enough, when he checks later, one of the trending posts is titled ‘CAN MEN LIKE THIS EXIST...?’, complete with a picture of Seokjin, hand extended, lips puckered, Hoseok’s face considerately obscured by an emoji.) “Your face is wasted as an editor. You could amass an army of fangirls.”

Seokjin shrugs. “Why would I want an army? I want a quiet life, not fame, and you know I already have fortune. Besides, nowadays, when you sign a contract with an acting agency, most of them include a clause obliging you to sever your soulmate bond.”

“Seriously? I thought only music agencies did that.” Years ago, an idol’s soulmate gate-crashed a fan exhibition of photos of her soulmate and assaulted several fans in attendance, hospitalising four girls. It caused a huge controversy, and the idol in question was kicked from his group. Shortly afterwards, entertainment agencies began requiring termination of the soulmate bond of trainees who signed with them even though, in normal cases, termination procedures had to be sanctioned by a panel of judges, and only under extreme circumstances. Hoseok doesn’t know whether to be jealous of or to pity the polished, preened boys and girls who flit across the stages on music shows. “They push the ideal boyfriend thing hard, don’t they?”

“They do. I could never do that to Heeyeon. I would rather her and anonymity than celebrity without her.”

Hoseok presses his hands to his chest and makes a pained noise, knees buckling. Seokjin laughs at him squeakily, thumping him on the shoulder. “Such a romantic!”

“Wait ‘til you get a soulmate. Then,” Seokjin gestures grandiosely, “You’ll see.”

Hoseok quiets. “I’m not sure about that,” he says, pensively. “If that’s how it works, I don’t know if I want one.”

“Hoseok-ah...”

“No, listen to me. I’ve been thinking about this lately. What if my soulmate is a monster? What if they're completely irredeemable? What if I hate them? Am I supposed to love them anyway, because they’re my soulmate?”

“You won’t get someone like that,” Seokjin says, reassuringly. “You’ll get someone who loves you.”

“But why will they love me? Because of me? Or because they have to?”

“Because you’re you. How could anyone not love you?” Seokjin slings his arm around Hoseok’s shoulders. “I know you’re a worrier, but you don’t need to worry about this. It’ll work out, in the end, and if it doesn’t, I’ll make it. I’ll send Fate a strongly worded email and tell her to get her shit together.”

“Fate has an email address?”

“She does. It’s f8@naver.com.” Hoseok takes a moment to process the joke. When he does, he shrugs Seokjin’s arm off and speed walks away from him. “Yah!” Hoseok walks faster as Seokjin pursues him. “Jung Hoseok! Stop – ah, I’m getting a stitch.”

“That’s what you get for eating three bowls of soup, you pig,” Hoseok calls back. Seokjin shouts something rude at him and apologises to the ajumma who stops to lecture him about foul language. The apology fails to dissuade her, and Seokjin only catches up to him a couple hundred yards later.

“I thought she’d never stop,” he pants.

“That’s what you get for swearing at your friend.” Hoseok ruffles his hair. “C’mon, I’m bored. Will we hit up a PC bang and play video games like we did when we were trainees?”

Seokjin’s eyes go misty. “Namjoonie always came last,” he says, wistfully. “Unless Yoongi was playing. He had no idea what was going on, he’d give up after one round and bitch until we gave in and went home.”

“Remember when Donghyuk got banned because he downloaded malware onto the computer, and when he snuck back in the ajumma caught him and tore his new jacket in half?”

“Those were the days. I bet you I’m still better at Kartrider than you.”

“Bring it on,” Hoseok declares as he rolls his sleeves up.

(Hoseok wins, best of five and best of seven, and best of nine, but Seokjin doesn’t give in until best of thirty-five, at which point he storms out of the PC bang and leaves Hoseok to get home alone.)

Chapter Text

It’s ten am on a Tuesday in late spring, and the library is deserted. Hoseok indulges in the rare luxury of an entire table to himself by spreading his study aids all over the table, a regimented mess of notes and drawings. He’s taking the fortnight-long grace period they have after their last tournament as an opportunity to get ahead on assignments. A few days ago, he applied for a showcase in Hongdae, scheduled for the end of May, and the confirmation email pinged into his inbox yesterday.

Well, his intention was to study, but then Jungkook turns up, staring at him intensely. Jungkook once told him that his parents made him wear a sleeping mask when he was small, because he kept sneaking into their room in the middle of the night to stare at them, and his mother couldn’t handle it.

Hoseok doesn’t blame her. Jungkook has been standing there for a solid four minutes without saying a word, looking at Hoseok with a vaguely constipated expression. “What? Is there something on my face?” Hoseok grabs his phone to check himself in the front camera.

“I wanna do it,” Jungkook blurts out.

“Do what?” He’s as beautifully oily as ever. He returns his phone to his pocket.

“Compose a track,” Jungkook says. “For us.”

“That’ll take ages. The Hongdae showcase is in six weeks. We need at least four weeks to choreograph it and learn it. Can you complete a song in two weeks?”

“I can’t,” Jungkook admits. “But for whatever comes after... I could.”

“Are you sure?”

“I want to.” Jungkook plants himself, a muscle in his jaw jumping. “We have to produce a demo for a project, due in June. They’re pairing us up with third-year mentors. I’ll be making one anyway, but if I’m making it for you, I know… I know I’ll do my best.”

In the face of that, of Jungkook’s determined optimism, Hoseok melts. “Okay,” he coos. “All you gotta do is say that last sentence to Taehyung, and we have a deal.” Jungkook blanches. “A third-year mentor? Do you know who yet?”

“No. They’re assigning them tomorrow. Do I gotta tell Taehyung?”

“Yes. For your hyung’s amusement.”

“He’s slobbery,” Jungkook whines.

“Get used to it. He’s your soulmate’s pseudo-soulmate, he’ll be around for the foreseeable future. He’ll be Jimin’s best man at your wedding. Oh, and he’ll be your kid’s godfather. Hell, your kids might be named after him. Taeyeon? Juhyung?” Jungkook sits down on the floor and stares, disconsolately, at the wall. Hoseok kicks him lovingly in the ribs. “Go home. Can your bond take this much distance yet?”

“It can,” Jungkook mumbles, “but only if he’s occupied. Otherwise, when he misses me a lot, it hurts us.” Jungkook’s hand jerks forward, independent of him, as their string materialises. Hoseok averts his gaze; it’s considered taboo to look at someone else’s string. “Speaking of... I guess he’s bored now. I’m gonna go start on that song.”

“Fighting!” Hoseok waves as Jungkook leaves the library, breaking into a run as he enters the stairwell. Jimin is clingy by nature, and the soulmate bond intensifies it to the point that it physically hurts if Jungkook is away from him for too long.

Hoseok is staring that co-dependent future right in the face.

He turns back to his notes, at the diagrams of muscles and bones spilt out before him, all that blood and paper. Jimin and Jungkook’s bond is fresh, less than three months old. With time, they’ll be able to leave each other’s sides for more than half-an-hour. Seokjin and Heeyeon, bonded for five years, live on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean and never complain. Taehyung and Namjoon, bonded for two years, can and do go weeks without seeing one another.

It’ll be fine, he reassures himself, skimming a hand up his forearm. He’ll find him, soon, and they’ll bond and be clingy and then they’ll get over it and Hoseok has no reason to fret, none whatsoever.

 

They choose their next song after a week of deliberation – Hoseok was considering a Major Lazer remix of a Frank Ocean song, but then Jimin discovers Stromae and the rest is history. He keeps cyberstalking Kang Daniel during their breaks – his hair is brown now, and he has two adorable cats.

“Aren’t you friends with them?”

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” Jimin mumbles as he fumes at a cute selfie with Sungwoo. He scrolls down to a group photo of their dance crew, named 101. (Which, honestly, is far cooler than their name; they’re called Sunshine.) “Hey, you see that kid?”

“The one with the snaggletooth?” Hoseok peers closely at the photo. “He was the best out of them.”

“I did a dance battle with him years ago at home.” Jimin taps into his profile. “Daniel was there too. I won, of course, but isn’t it strange? How people’s lives can intersect in such different ways?”

“Serendipity,” Hoseok says, wisely. “Why don’t we stop creeping on people on Instagram and get to work? This choreo won’t make itself. Stop worrying about the other team and focus on us.”

Hoseok doesn’t practice what he preaches. Hoseok worries about Kang Daniel. Hoseok worries about Park Jimin, and he worries about Kim Namjoon, and he worries about the choreo, and his course, and he worries about his father and his mother and his sister and his soulmate, listening to the insidious voice in the corner of his mind whispering that he missed him, that he was given one chance and he failed, that his soulmate is gone, permanently.

Between the worrying and studying and dancing and, of course, their Wednesday night ritual (i.e. play drinking games that will leave Hoseok insensate on the floor before ten pm), Hoseok forgets about Jungkook’s song, and Jungkook lets him forget. Jungkook is, he’s learning, the kind of person who would rather labour alone than ask for help.

Eventually, two weeks before the Hongdae showcase, Jungkook catches him after a lecture on cardiorespiratory care. “Are you free?”

“Yeah, I am – hey, tell Junhongie I’ll talk to him tomorrow, okay?” He waves his friends off. “Where’s Jimin?”

“Lectures,” Jungkook says, shortly. “They’re doing torts and he’s going crazy. Can you come with me?”

“I can?” Hoseok follows Jungkook down from north campus – home of the medicine, engineering and business buildings – down to south campus. At first, he thinks Jungkook is leading him to the performing arts building, where their studio is, but he hangs left instead of right and heads into the music building. “Wait, your song...”

“It’s not done, but I wanted to show it to you.” Jungkook leads him past a squad of clarinettists complaining about reeds, a lecturer juggling two tablets, and a girl wrestling with a cello. “I need a third opinion.”

The production suites, newly built, are labelled from A through F. Jungkook opens the door to F with a card. The room is close and stinks of boy, like unwashed sports gear and MSG and cheap energy drinks. One wall is dominated by an analogue mixing console under a window, through which he can see a recording booth. Jungkook sits down at the desk at the other side of the room, wakes the computer up, and navigates into Cubase, opening projectv004jk.omf. Hoseok drags the desk chair by the mixer over to Jungkook and dons the pair of headphones handed to him.

Hoseok listens. It’s interesting – a chill synth melody over an eccentric bass line, juddering out of control as the track reaches its peak. Hoseok can already visualise the point choreo in his head; seductive, maybe, but powerful. Less sleazy hip thrusts, more elegant caresses, perhaps interaction between the performers. Jimin would be totally game.

When the track ends, Jungkook reaches out and pulls one of the cups off Hoseok’s ear. “What do you think?”

“I like it,” Hoseok says. “Maybe you could pitch the synth higher, create contrast with the bassline. Why, what’s wrong?”

“That was my version. Listen to sunbae’s.” Jungkook opens another file, this one titled projectv004yg.omf, and Hoseok nudges his headphones back into place.

It’s the same song, basically, but mixed different, like a painting turned a couple degrees. The bass is cleaner, more regular, more gradual in its spin out of control – but when it does, the song reins itself back in and mutates, the melody spiking crazily over a filthy, pulsing bass line. Something in it speaks to him, something familiar, though that’s probably because it’s like Jungkook’s track. “Shit, that’s dope.”

“Problem is, I want room for a dance break, but sunbae says it should be cohesive, and mine’s not. Which one do you prefer?”

Hoseok plays both tracks again, studying the minute differences in the beats. “I like them both.” He takes the headphones off and lays them carefully on the desk, a habit ingrained in him by Hyowon hyung, BigHit’s old producer, who scolded him when he mistreated his precious equipment. “I prefer your bass, but his drop is clever. Maybe you and your sunbae should put your heads together to work it out?”

Jungkook snorts. “Work together. That’s rich.”

Ohh. That’s why you’re glaring at everything.” Hoseok scoots his chair closer to Jungkook. “What’s he like?”

“He’s a genius,” Jungkook admits. “But his head is so far up his own ass he can see out his mouth, and he’s so fucking grumpy, you wouldn’t believe. I can hardly understand him half the time, he’s too lazy to move his tongue so he slurs everything, and his accent is so thick he sounds like a gangster.”

“Says you,” Hoseok teases, imitating Jungkook’s up-and-down Busan accent. “Where’s he from?”

“Daegu. He went to college there, but after second year he transferred to our school on a scholarship.”

Daegu. A third year, like Jimin and Taehyung, who are both 95-liners, but maybe he went to the army, so he could be a 93-liner, or 92, depending on where he served. “What’s his name?”

The door beeps and swings open before Jungkook can answer. “Jeon Jungkook, didn’t I tell you not to bring strangers in here?”

“Sunbae!” Jungkook scrambles out of his chair to bow. “Sorry, I was showing one of my dance crew the song...”

Jungkook’s sunbae doesn’t turn to face Hoseok as he sheds his layers. It’s as if he’s talking about furniture and not a person who is right there in the room with him. “Which do they prefer?”

“I like aspects of both, but...” Hoseok trails off as he discards his jacket, his hat and, finally, his face-mask.

“But what?” He looks up, and Hoseok shoots to his feet. That face. He knows that face.

“Hyung,” Hoseok breathes.

“Hoseok-ah.” Min Yoongi gapes at him. “Jung Hoseok. Is that you?”

“You know each other?” Jungkook asks.

“Slap me,” Hoseok demands, pawing at Jungkook. Jungkook obeys too promptly for Hoseok’s liking. “Ow, fuck! My jaw!”

“You asked,” Jungkook mutters, shaking his hand out. “You two are friends?”

“No.” Yoongi runs his fingers through his hair, mussed by the hat, eyes fastened firmly on Hoseok, who reminds himself to stand tall. There’s no reason for him to shrink away.

He should have known. Music producer from Daegu, 93-liner, genius dickhead. Min Yoongi. “We’re not,” Hoseok agrees.

It’s impolite to stare, but Hoseok can’t help it. The years have been kind to Yoongi – he looks younger now than he did back when he knew him, when Yoongi stayed up until two in the morning studying for exams, and Hoseok bought him chicken skewers and jokbal out of his paltry allowance. His hair is bleached a brassy platinum blond, and under dark, heavy brows, his eyes are shadowed and sleepless.

Yoongi notices his gaze, and, predictably, snaps at him. “What’s your problem?” The words are biting and rude and they work; Hoseok flinches. He always quailed when Yoongi went for him, for being too loud or too touchy or too Hoseok. Time may have changed all else, but not this.

“Nothing,” Hoseok says, struggling desperately to keep his voice at a normal pitch. “I’m leaving now. Jungkook-ah, we’ll talk later.”

“Hyung,” Jungkook starts, but Hoseok is leaving. He expects Yoongi to move, but he stays where he is, blocking the door, even when Hoseok is right in front of him.

He’s taller than him now, he realises. He wasn’t even eighteen the last time he saw him, back when Yoongi stood a bare inch or two taller than him. Yoongi is still bigger, though. Still broader. Still more than Hoseok, in every sense of the word.

“Move,” Hoseok says, through gritted teeth. “Please.”

Yoongi moves enough for Hoseok to get out of the door, but it’s a tight squeeze, and Hoseok bumps into his chest. He clenches his fists and keeps his silence. Up the stairs, out the door, and this is not Gangnam, where their old building was, where the ajumma across the road treated her boys to fried squid–

No. This is Hoseok’s life now, and Min Yoongi is not in it.

He makes for home. He has a lecture in an hour, he should be staying on campus, hiding out in a library but he can’t, because Yoongi is here, and Yoongi ruined Hoseok’s dream as surely as Hoseok ruined his.

He fought so hard and then he fucked it up, and now he hates him and Hoseok won’t ever see him again and he’ll be fine. He’ll be fine.

 

Hoseok hides in his room as the others come home. He can hear Namjoon pottering around in the kitchen as Taehyung blathers on about Jack Yeats, his Artist of the Month (last month, it was Georgia O’Keeffe), and Seokjin arrives an hour thereafter, right in the nick of time, because Namjoon sets off the fire alarm right as he opens the door. They don’t know that he’s home, and he’s going to keep it that way. On principle, Hoseok spends as little time in their apartment as possible (because why would you be inside when you could be outside?), but right now he needs a safe place where he knows Min Yoongi will never be. He changes into pyjamas because he can, pulls on his headphones and plays stupid rhythm games until he goes cross-eyed, and then he listens to music on shuffle until it plays Epik High; then he tosses his headphones off to lie, silent, motionless, in his darkened room.

Except he can’t. There’s a strange yanking in his chest, like a harpoon snagged in his ribs, and it tugs him out of bed and to his mirror.

“You look like shit,” he tells himself, because he does; he’s puffy and his eyes are tired and he can’t bring himself to smile. He rubs his hands over his face, obscuring his vision, pressing his hands against his eyelids to make lights flash in the darkness.

When he opens them, the lights don’t fade. There’s a red streak stuck over his wrist. He blinks and rubs his eyes again, but it remains. Hoseok focuses, and raises his arm; the light follows.

It’s not a light. It’s his string. “What the fuck?”

Seokjin bursts into his room. “Hoseok-ah? You’re home? What’s going on?”

Namjoon’s head pops up over his shoulder. “Why were you moping?”

Taehyung shoves his soulmate out of the way. “Your soulmate! He’s here!”

Hoseok gapes. Before he can respond, the string pulls, jerking him forward forcefully, straight into the mass of boys clogging his door. They collapse in a yelling tangle.

“Aish, Kim Namjoon, my nuts!”

“Taehyung-ah, I don’t care about your nuts, you never use them. Move, move your bony ass, you’re blocking Hoseokie!”

“Hoseok – Hoseok-ah, your shoes!” Seokjin tosses a discarded slipper after him. Hoseok dodges it, bounding down the stairs barefoot, driven by a baser impulse, screaming at him to find him. Even a straw shoe has its mate, and no way is Hoseok letting his get away again.

He slides to a stop outside his building, heart in his mouth. His string runs from his wrist, terminating at what seems to be a pile of black fabric, crumpled in the road. Jungkook stands beside it, chest heaving, resembling nothing more than a rabbit caught in headlights. He can hear his housemates coming up behind him, Taehyung bitching about his balls.

The pile unfolds, revealing a wan face and a thin wrist, encircled by a red string. Hoseok’s heart drops from his mouth straight out his ass.

“Fuck me,” Min Yoongi pants, glaring at him in a mirror of the acrimony pulsing through Hoseok. “It was you dragging me around? All this time?”

“Hyung,” Namjoon says, urgently. “Is that you?”

“Who is he?” Taehyung’s voice is faint.

“Yoongi-yah,” Seokjin whispers. “Are you okay?”

“No,” Hoseok responds. “He’s not.” He falls to his knees as a wave of hate, of wrongness, washes over him. “We’re not.” They’re both gasping now, and when Hoseok blinks, he can see himself through Yoongi’s eyes, as delicate as a doll, ugly smudged shadows in the hollows of his face, fingers clenched into fists.

“It hurts,” Yoongi says, at the same time Hoseok does, and, as one – their first bonded action – they faint, receding into black.

Chapter Text

Yet again, Hoseok dreams. This time, he is curled up on a familiar couch, the one in their first dorm. It’s not his first night away from home, but it is his first night in a legitimate trainee dorm, and he looks terrified.

His insides twist as a foreign swell of pity bubbles in his heart. He steps forward hesitantly. “Hoseok-sshi?”

“Yoongi-sshi,” Hoseok squeaks, leaping off the couch and into a straight-backed bow. “Sorry, did you want to sit down?” Frantic, he strips his blankets and pillows off the couch and tosses them behind it. His cheeks are pink from embarrassment, either from being caught or because he’s imagining him in his underwear; he was fresh out of the shower when he answered the door to their new trainee, and the sight of his red boxers was too much for poor Hoseok to handle.

“Were you seriously gonna sleep out here?”

Hoseok stiffens, face turned away, but when he meets his eyes again, there’s a brittle smile pasted onto his face. “It’s okay! It’s comfy here.”

“The bedroom is that way, y’know. If you can’t find it, listen for Namjoon snoring.”

“Oh, I know where it is,” Hoseok says, accent thickening with anxiety, “but I...”

“But what? C’mon. It’s late, and I’m tired. Sleep in the room.”

Hoseok opens his mouth and closes it, abortively. “Okay. If you say so...”

The room is quiet when they tiptoe in. He guides himself, his old self, around seven sleeping forms, to the only free bunk, which is conveniently adjacent to his own. Hoseok climbs into it delicately, like the dancer he is, balancing his weight carefully to make as little noise as possible. He, the body he’s in, exhibits no such concern; he tumbles into his bed noisily, springs creaking.

“Thanks, Yoongi-sshi,” Hoseok says, after a long while, when he thinks he’s asleep.

“What Yoongi-sshi? You saw me in my underwear. Call me hyung.” He curls up into his favoured sleeping position, hands shoved between his thighs to keep his fingers warm. “Try to fall asleep before Namjoon starts snoring, okay?”

“Okay, hyung,” he hears, tentative, and to him, it sounds like the start of something wonderful.

 

Hoseok wakes abruptly. One second he is watching himself smile at the ceiling, dimples and all, as he sinks into his first sleep in the dorm, and the next he’s staring up at five concerned faces, pain lancing through him. He lets out a few choice expletives as his head and his side ache.

“Why’d you shove him off?” Namjoon sounds equal parts bemused and pissed off.

“He was on me,” someone hisses.

“You’re soulmates,” Seokjin says, drily. “That’s the point. Jimin-ah, Jungkook-ah, get Hoseokie off the floor.”

Hoseok is promptly hauled off the rug in the living room and onto the sliver of their couch that is not currently occupied by a sleepy-eyed, scowling Min Yoongi. “Why... did I faint?”

“You both did,” Namjoon explains. “As far as Jungkook can tell, you bonded in the studio, but you ran before it could solidify. You fainted because you were away from each other for too long.”

“It took me ages to get sunbae to go after you.” Jungkook inches closer to Hoseok, throwing nervous looks in Yoongi’s direction. “I’m sorry. If we’d come earlier...”

“Whatever. Why’d you put us both on the couch?” Yoongi steadfastly refuses to make eye contact. Hoseok’s lip curls involuntarily. “Couldn’t you leave one of us on the floor?”

“Didn’t it feel good?” Taehyung runs a hand down Namjoon’s arm. “It feels nice when you touch your soulmate. Like, what do they call it? With babies? Koala care?”

“Kangaroo care,” Jimin corrects, tiredly. They stare at him. “What? I did a project on premature babies in home economics in high school.” Jungkook visibly falls a little more in love. Hoseok barely refrains from rolling his eyes.

“I’m not his mother,” Yoongi grinds out, “and you, Kim Namjoon, you know I don’t do this shit.”

Namjoon blinks heavily. “Hyung. Don’t be difficult.”

“Why are you ordering me around?” Yoongi rises and stalks towards Namjoon, hackles raised like a predator. Taehyung tenses and moves to block him, but Jimin holds him back, eyes wide with concern. “You’re not my leader anymore. I left, remember?”

He did. Hoseok’s jaw clenches with spite. He pussied out when the going got tough, and now he has the audacity to talk to Namjoon like that? How dare he. “Yeah, you did, you piece of shit coward,” he spits. “Decided you couldn’t be around if you couldn’t have it your way and fucked off back home to Mommy and Daddy.”

“And it was your fucking fault!” Yoongi rounds on him, sneering. His accent is thick and heavy. He never got the hang of Seoul dialect, Hoseok remembers, and it got worse when they fought. Namjoon and Seokjin could never understand them when they argued. “You were too ugly to get into JYPE, why did you bother with BigHit when you couldn’t even rap? You knew what the plan was and you ruined it!”

“I’m glad I did,” Hoseok snarls. “Who in their right mind would’ve debuted your nasty ass?”

“You cunt,” Yoongi growls, and dives at him, crashing into his chest. Hoseok goes down heavily for the second time in a day, head snapping painfully against the floor. He pushes at Yoongi, but before they can get into it properly, Yoongi is dragged off him via the combined efforts of Jungkook and Seokjin.

“Yoongi-yah, stop,” Seokjin bites, as Yoongi struggles in his grip.

“What Yoongi-yah? Let me go, Jesus Christ, let me get out of here!”

“Go on, run away,” Hoseok manages, rising unsteadily from the floor. “That’s all you ever do, bail out, you’re such a pussy–”

“Your head, Hoseok-ah, be careful.” Namjoon reaches for him, but Hoseok bats him away.

“It doesn’t matter.” Malicious pleasure drips from his voice, eyes fixed firmly on his. There’s a deranged look in them, like he’s beyond giving a shit what he says anymore. “He’s got shit for brains as it is, brain damage won’t change anything. How’d you do in your entrance exams, Jung-sshi?”

“Shut your fat face or I’ll do it for you,” Hoseok threatens, mortified. He lagged behind in the lessons BigHit gave them, and Yoongi knows it.

“I’d like to see you try.” Yoongi’s face is hateful – so different from the face he knew, the one that lit up when he smiled. Hoseok wants to punch him, so he does. He gets one good whack in, catching him right in the eye socket and making him reel back before Namjoon and Jimin haul him away, yelling.

“You can’t fight this! You two are bonded. Act like it.” Namjoon shakes him. “Jung Hoseok, what’s wrong with you?”

“I don’t like it when you yell.” Jimin’s hands flex nervously around his arm.

Taehyung, stranded in the no man’s land between them, looks at Yoongi, and then at Hoseok. “What were you talking about? BigHit? Why are you using informal speech?”

Jungkook stays silent, eyes glazed, and Yoongi shrugs him off. Seokjin prods at his eye, making him snarl, and Hoseok winces at the sudden flare of pain through his eye socket.

“Hyung was a BigHit trainee. He was in the debut team with us. He left when we switched concepts and we never recovered.” Namjoon releases Hoseok.

“Switched concepts?” Jimin’s hands slide down to Hoseok’s sides, to support him.

“We were supposed to be a rap group. I auditioned for a rap group, then Fancy Feet here got in as a favour from JYP and they decided that we had to be dancing monkeys.” Yoongi brushes Seokjin’s hand off. “He ruined it.”

“It wasn’t a favour.” Hoseok takes a step towards him. “I got in fair and square, same as you. You ruined it. You left.”

“Ikje and Hunchul and Donghyuk did too. It was a sinking ship; don’t tell me it wasn’t.”

“They weren’t you.” At Namjoon’s gentle words Yoongi’s face flickers, like an extra frame in a video, a millisecond of feeling.

Taehyung takes a step back towards Hoseok. “Why didn’t you bond then?”

“Hoseokie was underage.” Seokjin returns his attention to Yoongi’s eye. “Why’d you punch him? Doesn’t it hurt?”

“He started it,” Hoseok says mulishly. “Ow. Ow! Stop poking him, I can feel that. This is so weird.” He presses against his sore head and Yoongi winces. “Out of seven billion humans, I can’t believe you’re my...”

“It’s a mistake,” Yoongi pleads. “It has to be. It can’t be you.”

“It isn’t.” Namjoon sits down heavily on the couch. “Don’t be obtuse. The sooner you both accept this, the better.”

“I don’t want to be his soulmate,” Hoseok says, alarmed. “We’ll kill each other.”

“You don’t have a choice in the matter,” Seokjin reprimands.

“I’m leaving.” Yoongi wobbles away from Seokjin. “Don’t follow me.”

“You can’t,” Jungkook warns. “Sunbae, you can’t, it’ll hurt you both.”

Yoongi ignores him and stomps towards the door. He manages to get about five feet away before the string rematerializes and unceremoniously stops him in his tracks. He tries to walk further, but the string won’t stretch, and Hoseok yelps as it cuts into his wrist, as his insides ache, his breath catching in his throat and making him cough.

“Why?” Hoseok pulls his arm towards himself and Yoongi staggers back a step. “I don’t want him here. He doesn’t want to be here. Why is it this short?”

“It’s always short to begin with, to get you to accept each other. It slackens with time.”

“Does that mean that it’ll get longer if we wait?”

“I’m not waiting,” Yoongi declares. “I got shit to do.”

“It’s, like, ten pm,” Jimin points out, unhelpfully.

“I have a life to live! I’m not gonna sit around with my thumb up my ass so he can interfere.”

“Fuck you.” Hoseok yanks his arm back to make Yoongi sway awkwardly on his feet. “What’s so important, huh? Gotta go mourn your failed music career?”

“Eat a dick,” Yoongi snaps.

“You eat a dick, you and that stick up your ass–”

“Hoseok-ah, stop...”

“I swear to God, Jung Hoseok, if you don’t shut up I’ll break your plastic nose!”

“You crazy bastard!” Hoseok lunges at him this time, and all Jungkook can do is get out of the way. Yoongi shoves him away forcefully, but the string pulls him back until he and Yoongi can only stand three feet apart.

“It’s shortening,” Taehyung observes, voice pitching high with worry. “If they keep fighting...”

“I’ll get it severed,” Yoongi threatens, chest heaving. “I will. I don’t care what they say it does, I don’t care how many times I have to apply, I don’t care if I have to get it done illegally. I refuse to have you in my life.”

“I wish. I’d prefer to be in a coma than be your soulmate, you chickenshit.”

“Yah!” Yoongi grabs him by the neck and shakes him. Hoseok spits in his face. “You fucker!”

“Hoseok-ah,” Namjoon warns. “Your string...”

Hoseok raises his wrist. Yoongi releases him in shock and Hoseok topples over, unable to keep his balance, dragging Yoongi down with him.

It’s a single foot long. Maybe shorter. Hoseok stares at it, and then back at Yoongi, who is quite as lost as he is. “Why does it keep doing this?”

“Because you’re being idiots,” Jimin snaps, and Hoseok internally freaks, because if Jimin, sweet, long-suffering, mediator Jimin, has lost his temper, they’re fucked. “You can’t fight it and you can’t fight each other. You’re in this for the long haul, and if you keep rejecting it, it’s going to make things worse. Hyung, you look like you’re gonna collapse.”

Jimin’s right. Hoseok feels terrible, and not only because of his Yoongi-induced injuries – he’s sweaty and flushed and bilious... Shit. He hasn’t gotten enteritis in years, not since his service, but now his stomach is roiling. He claps a hand over his mouth.

“He’s going to get sick,” Seokjin notes, high-pitched.

“I am not getting vomited on.” Yoongi scuttles away from him.

“C’mon, Hoseok hyung, this way.” Taehyung grabs him by the arms and tows him into the bathroom, dragging a protesting Yoongi along with him. The string isn’t long enough to let him wait outside, and Yoongi witnesses the entire affair in exact detail, the pinched grimace on his face cracking into revulsion.

“Are you done?”

“Gimme a sec,” Hoseok gasps, fumbling for the glass of water Taehyung fetched for him.

“That was so strange,” Yoongi mumbles. “I felt that.” He clutches his stomach as another wave of nausea washes over Hoseok.

“Wasn’t that bad,” Hoseok manages, once the sickness subsides. “Got it worse in BigHit.”

Yoongi doesn’t say anything in favour of glaring at him judgementally as Hoseok rolls off the toilet and onto the floor. “Don’t you dare fall asleep in there,” Seokjin scolds. “Yoongi-yah, get out of the way.” Yoongi shows no signs of movement, leaving Seokjin no choice but to manhandle him out of the doorway. Hoseok snorts as Yoongi squawks and hits Seokjin’s arms.

“Yah! Crazy bastard–”

“I’m putting Hoseokie to bed, and you’re going to have to go with him.”

“Oh, God,” Hoseok moans, and dry retches.

“Stop puking,” Yoongi complains, hunched over.

“I did!”

“This is such a mess,” Jimin mutters. “Jungkookie and I are going home. Let me know if they survive the night.”

The door slams behind them. Taehyung clings to Namjoon’s side, and they melt away. Seokjin releases Yoongi and, after helping Hoseok up to the sink to brush his teeth, foists a tube of ointment on Yoongi, to treat his black eye.

“Bedtime,” Hoseok says when he feels slightly less like dying. Yoongi scowls back at him. Hoseok heads out of the bathroom and into his bedroom, pulling Yoongi along like a sullen trailer.

Hoseok’s bed is a double, albeit a small double, but it’s big enough for two people to fit on without having to touch. Hoseok is happy to sleep in what he’s wearing, but Yoongi is dressed in a black flannel shirt and a pair of black jeans that are more rip than denim. “You... you want a change of clothes?” Yoongi shakes his head. “Do you want to use the bathroom? Brush your teeth?”

The look Yoongi gives him could strip paint off wood. Hoseok gets the message and crawls into his bed, tugging the blanket over him and leaving the quilt for Yoongi to use. He feels rather than sees him follow; the mattress squeaks alarmingly and dips.

Don’t be weird, he tells himself. This is your soulmate. Odds are, you’ll be sharing, if not a bed, at least a living space, until the day you die.

Fuck. Fuck. Hoseok doesn’t want to love someone who hates him, but Fate, the stupid bitch, has decided to tie him onto one of the few people Hoseok has ever hated.

He peeks back over his shoulder. Yoongi is tucked into a ball, hanging off the edge of the bed. “Have you–”

“Fuck off and go to sleep so this nightmare of a day can end.”

Hoseok does as he’s told. Sleep does not come easily, but it comes, and when it does, he dreams, fragmentary, as if he does not want to dream this dream, but–

 

The road is wet and he’s going too fast, he knows he is. All the other delivery boys bitch about this customer; he’s notorious for refusing to pay for food if it’s the tiniest bit cold, and he lives on the fringe of their delivery catchment, and there are roadworks everywhere and he’s going to be late, but he needs the money. His bank account is empty, and his father refuses to put anything into it unless he comes back home. BigHit is a nice company but they don’t have enough money to cover everything and he’s hungry and it’s Donghyuk’s birthday next month and he needs the money and the road is wet and he’s going too fast and he watches, helpless, as the bike skids, as he loses control, as he is thrown off and into the wall and the full weight of his bike lands on his shoulder and he can hear it breaking, can hear his bones shattering into tiny fragments, the worst sound he’s ever heard but for the scream leaving his mouth–

 

Hoseok snaps awake, chest heaving. His shoulder aches, a phantom pain that vanishes when he tries to roll over–

He can’t. He’s trapped. Someone is glued to him, arms wound around his waist, face buried in his back, legs tangled in his. The blankets are snarled around them. Hoseok wriggles; his limpet only clutches tighter, groaning sleepily.

“Taehyung-ah?” No, it’s not Taehyung. Too short. “Jimin-ah?” Not him either, not squishy enough. Who could it possibly be?

The thread appears again, a bloody bracelet, and it rushes back to him. Hoseok immediately regrets every choice he has made in life. Min Yoongi – Min Yoongi, who hates his guts, who threatened to break his nose yesterday, his soulmate – is spooning him.

(Hoseok is the small spoon for someone who is maybe five eight in boots. This is unreal.)

The worst thing is that it feels good. Hoseok knows, theoretically, that it’s nice to touch your soulmate. Research carried out by people cleverer than he indicates that physical contact with soulmates releases more endorphins than contact with non-soulmates. He has seen Jimin and Jungkook walk out of their way so they can keep holding hands. He has seen Taehyung fall asleep in Namjoon’s lap on the couch. He has seen Seokjin playing with Heeyeon’s hair, how blissful the smile on her face was after.

But it feels better than he thought it would. It feels right, not like a bubble bath or a cocktail – more like a hot shower after a workout, or a bottle of water straight out of the fridge, and Hoseok is immensely comfortable, though his brain is screaming at him to get away, to get out, to leave before Yoongi wakes up and mauls him.

Yoongi may not need to be awake for the mauling. He squeezes Hoseok’s midsection with enough force that it’s becoming difficult for Hoseok to breathe. Hoseok twists around as much as he can (which isn’t much) and cranes his head back. Yoongi’s face is contorted in pain, legs kicking fitfully against his. His hair is matted to his forehead with sweat.

“Hyung.” Hoseok pushes him. “Yoongi hyung, wake up, I can’t breathe.” He hits him. “Hyung!”

Yoongi awakens with a jerk, releasing him hastily. He rolls onto his back and peers around muzzily, eyes filmy with confusion, finally focusing on Hoseok’s face, hovering over his. “You...”

“Are you okay? Wait, does your shoulder hurt?” Yoongi’s hand is pressed against his shoulder. “Is that because of your dream?”

“My dream? You...” Yoongi blinks. “You dreamt about...”

“Your accident,” Hoseok says, and then it clicks. “You dreamt about me.”

“What?” Yoongi stiffens with aggravation. “No, I wasn’t.”

“You were! I kept dreaming about me, about – about us. About New Year’s Eve, and about my first night in the dorm...”

“Shut up, Jung Hoseok–”

“You dreamt about me, and I dreamt your dream about me. That’s weird. That’s fucking weird. Why didn’t you tell me that I looked stupid wearing snapbacks backwards?”

“That’s what you’re worried about?” Yoongi waves his wrist in his face, the string gleaming crimson. “Not about the co-dreaming and the stupid cosmic accident getting us stuck together, but your adolescent fuckboy sartorial choices?”

“And the muscle tees,” Hoseok says, sadly. “I was, like, fifty kilos soaking wet. What was I thinking?”

“You’re a freak,” Yoongi sneers. “Get off me or I’ll knee you in the balls.”

“Don’t, you masochist, you’ll feel it too.” Hoseok rears back, two hands cupped protectively over his crotch. Yoongi notices, and smirks. “You tried to kill me yesterday, I’m not taking any chances.”

“Baby is scared for little Hoseokie?”

“I’m not little–” Yoongi raises an eyebrow. “Fuck you, I was seventeen! Do you think about my dick a lot, huh, Min-sshi?”

Yoongi glares at him and hops awkwardly out of bed, wobbling on the leg that was stuck under Hoseok all night. “Ah, the string...”

It’s longer. Yoongi can walk the couple feet to the bathroom before Hoseok has to follow. “We were snuggling all night. Did you enjoy being the big spoon?”

Yoongi slams the door in his face. “Fuck off and let me piss in peace,” he calls.

“I can’t, you asshole,” Hoseok shouts. “Hurry up, I need to pee too.”

Seokjin sticks his head out the door, sleeping mask pushed up into his hair, face creased from his bedsheets. “Please shut up, Hoseok-ah.”

Shut up, Hoseok-ah,” Yoongi mocks from the bathroom. Hoseok grabs his string with two hands and pulls, hard. He hears a scream and a crash as Yoongi topples over. “Dickhead!”

“If there’s pee all over the bathroom, you’re cleaning it,” Seokjin warns. “I cleaned your vomit up last night.”

“That’s why I love you, Seokjin hyung.” Hoseok does his finger heart dance. Seokjin smiles, despite himself, and blows a kiss back at him.

“You’re so gay.” Yoongi stands in the door of the bathroom. Water drips from his fringe down his nose. He looks, to Hoseok, like reheated death.

“You’re the one with a dude for a soulmate.” Yoongi scowls. Hoseok retreats into the bathroom before the conversation gets weirder.

Fortunately, the bathroom is free of bodily fluids. Hoseok frowns at himself in the mirror. If he thought Yoongi looked bad, Hoseok looks worse. His skin, only average at the best of times, is dull, and he can sense a breakout coming around his chin. He freshens up as best as he can one-handed, extending the one with the string towards the door to give Yoongi better range of motion.

If he concentrates – really concentrates – he can feel Yoongi through the string. He can feel what he feels, echoed in his body – the dull ache in his back from his bad posture, the nascent bruising around his eye, the bump on his knee formed when Hoseok made him fall over.

“Weird,” Hoseok mumbles as he runs his fingers down the string. It leaves his hand tingling as if it resonated with the string.

Weird. Weird. This is so fucking weird. It gets weirder when Hoseok steps out of the bathroom; Yoongi is bright red, very ruffled and drowning in one of Seokjin’s hoodies. Hoseok recognises his sweatpants as belonging to Taehyung, but the hems are cuffed to fit Yoongi.

“Did you strip my soulmate?”

“He should be grateful. That hoodie cost three hundred thousand won.”

“Fuckin’ silver spoon.” Yoongi’s lip curls in distaste.

“Don’t talk to your hyung like that,” Hoseok admonishes.

“Don’t talk to your hyung like that.”

“Can we declare a ceasefire until after breakfast? I’m too hungry for this.”

“I’m not hungry,” Yoongi sniffs.

“Liar. You’re starving, I can feel it.”

“Your empathetic link is still up?” Seokjin glances between them.

“Yeah? Is that weird?”

“I dunno,” Seokjin mumbles, walking into the kitchen. Hoseok follows, as does Yoongi. “Heeyeonie and I only ever get one when one of us is feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes I get a rush out of nowhere and it turns out that she saw a super cute dog. Jimin and Kookie are the same, and, luckily for Taehyung, he and Namjoon ever get them.”

Breakfast is the remnants of whatever Seokjin made last night. Hoseok falls upon it, having not eaten since lunchtime yesterday; Yoongi cracks and eats when Hoseok threatens to eat his serving.

“It’s not vanishing, either.” Hoseok shoves another spoon of rice into his mouth. “His arm is dead.”

“Your fat ass was crushing it,” Yoongi spits.

“I didn’t put it there! You did.”

Yoongi looks close to thumping Hoseok again, but Seokjin intervenes. “Yoongi-yah, can you stop with the murder vibes? They’re bad for my skin. How’s the food, Hoseok-ah?”

“’It’s good!” Hoseok makes various pleased noises until Seokjin makes them back. Hoseok has learned to praise Seokjin, especially his cooking, at all possible times and to excess; he gets pissy otherwise. Feeding his ego is a small price to pay for food like this.

“You made this?” Yoongi nods at the soup. Seokjin smiles beatifically. “’S better than I remember.”

Hoseok can almost taste the kimchi soup Seokjin made. As an actor trainee, he never lived in the trainee dorm with the rest of them, but occasionally he dropped by in his dinky imported Mini, the back seat loaded with sesame oil and Le Creuset pans, to help them cheat on their diets.

Namjoon and Taehyung stumble into the kitchen before Hoseok can get mawkish. “Oh, you’re alive.” Namjoon grabs a litre of orange juice out of the fridge and drinks straight from the carton. Taehyung takes it from him once he’s drank his fill to finish the litre. Yoongi observes with disgusted fascination as it spills out of the corners of Taehyung’s mouth. Seokjin lets out a sigh of defeat and gets up to fix them breakfast.

“How can he look like that and be like that?”

“Taetae?” Hoseok waves his hands arcanely. “No idea. He’s an enigma. Like the Nazca Lines, or Propaganda Village, or Hyuna’s departure from the Wonder Girls. We’ll never know.”

Yoongi frowns at Taehyung and Namjoon, who are sleepily fighting Seokjin’s attempts to usher them out of the kitchen before they injure themselves. “They don’t fit.”

“They do,” Hoseok insists. “Taehyung’s pretty sharp, just... coddled. He’s the oldest son of a farming family, so they spoiled him, but he grew up when he moved to Seoul and started taking care of himself. Namjoon helps him get his thoughts out right.”

“Namjoon can’t get his own thoughts out right,” Yoongi says, scornfully.

“That’s not...” Hoseok shakes his head. “It’s been years. He’s not like that anymore.”

“People don’t change,” Yoongi argues. “Not that much. Namjoon’s still an over-educated goof.”

“He’s not!” A pained yell echoes out from the kitchen.

“It’s fine,” Taehyung shouts over the familiar sound of Namjoon apologising. “Joonie opened the fridge in hyung’s face, no permanent damage.”

My distinguished looks,” Seokjin wails.

“I want to go home,” Yoongi says, dolefully.

“I have lectures. You’re not going anywhere.” Hoseok raises his wrist. “Remember?” The string jangles. It is, perhaps, four feet long.

“It got shorter,” Yoongi says, alarmed. He grabs at it roughly, and a shiver runs through Hoseok’s body. “Oh, fuck, what was that?”

“It’s a physical manifestation of the bond between your souls,” Namjoon says, shortly, leaning out of the kitchen. “Maybe don’t touch it?”

Yoongi pokes it, making Hoseok hiss. “Stop that.” Yoongi releases it carelessly, and it vanishes. “What are we going to do about school?”

“Hyung’s timetable is crazy,” Taehyung interjects. “They’re cramming his lectures in now because he’s going on placement next year.”

“You go to your lectures?”

“Of course I do,” Hoseok says, nettled. “I’m paying millions of won to attend this school, why wouldn’t I go?”

Yoongi rolls his eyes. “You don’t need to. They’re all online. I only go when they take attendance.”

“Then what are your grades like?”

“Good enough to keep my scholarship. Why, what are yours like?” Hoseok snaps his mouth shut. Yoongi smirks.

“He only failed one module,” Namjoon calls. “Leave him alone.” Hoseok hunches down in his chair.

“Hey, don’t be like that.” Seokjin carries Namjoon and Taehyung’s breakfast in on a tray and sets it out as they sit down, smacking Taehyung’s hand away from Namjoon’s bowl. “You’re doing fine, ignore him. Besides, I got Jungkookie to give me your timetable. You barely have ten hours a week.”

“That doesn’t mean anything!”

“It kinda does,” Hoseok says. “But, um, can we not get into an academic pissing contest?”

“Aw, I always win those.” Namjoon frowns. Taehyung pats his shoulder consolingly.

“You do, that’s why we’re not getting into it. Yoongi hyung... that night, on campus, at three in the morning, when our string appeared. You must have seen it. Why did you leave?”

Yoongi quirks an eyebrow. “I don’t remember. I saw our string a lot.”

“You did? I only ever saw it the once.”

“Sometimes only one person sees it,” Taehyung adds. “I saw our string loads, but Namjoon never did.”

“It was a pain in the ass.” Yoongi wrinkles his nose. “People kept making me chase it. I did, the first couple times, but I could never find you. In the end, I gave up.”

“You gave up on finding your soulmate?” They gape at Yoongi, who shrugs, nonchalant, and spoons more rice into his mouth.

“I didn’t give a shit. I didn’t see the benefit in it.” He chews and swallows. “Still don’t, actually.”

Hoseok purses his lips. “You always give up, don’t you?”

“Not on the things that matter.” Hoseok drops his gaze, ashamed.

Seokjin and Namjoon exchange a pointed look which, Hoseok, busy drowning in humiliation (his soulmate doesn’t want him, his soulmate doesn’t want him), misses. “Look,” Namjoon says, abruptly. “You can be as terrible as you want, but it won’t change anything. You’re stuck with each other.”

Yoongi’s mouth presses into a hard line. “I wasn’t joking when I said I’d sever it.”

“There’s no way they’ll let you terminate it. Only idols and criminals get terminations nowadays.”

“I wouldn’t risk it, anyway.” Taehyung’s brows knit together. “One of our neighbours had to get hers severed when her wife was imprisoned for fraud, and she ended up in a coma. She hasn’t woken up yet.”

“Hyung, you’ll have to accept it eventually. You’re stuck here. You’ll have to live with us.”

“What?” Hoseok’s spoon clatters to the floor. Yoongi looks as shocked as he does. “You’re kidding, right?”

Namjoon shakes his head and gives Hoseok an apologetic smile. “Sorry.”

“One of Heeyeon’s friend is writing her thesis on bonding dynamics. I called her last night, and, according to her, if you won’t accept your bond, it’ll force you to by staying short.” Seokjin passes Hoseok a clean spoon.

“I’ll call the landlord and explain,” Namjoon adds. “You can share Hoseokie’s room, but you’ll have to pay rent.”

“What? My room?”

“You have a double bed,” Taehyung points out.

“Seokjin does too!”

“I’m not sharing with either of you,” Yoongi says, shakily. “I’ll sleep on the couch.”

“Will the bond let you?” Yoongi slumps back.

“It won’t be that bad,” Seokjin says, gently. “Think of it as a temporary return to your old dorm.”

Hoseok bows his head and concentrates on his food, wondering how on Earth he’s going to survive this.

Once they finish eating, he and Taehyung wash up, sides pressed together. The string pulls taut, and Hoseok can’t go any farther than the sink. “It’ll be fine,” Taehyung whispers.

Hoseok casts a doubtful look back at the table, where Seokjin, Namjoon, and Yoongi sit in tense silence. Namjoon opens his mouth now and again, as if to say something, but when he does, Yoongi glares at him and he closes it again. Seokjin watches grimly, as if observing a vivisection. “Are you sure?”

“No,” Taehyung admits, sheepish. “But it’s the thought that counts, right?”

“Right.” Hoseok drains the sink and dries his hands. “Where’s my backpack?” Hoseok can barely focus on his lectures as it is, how is he going to concentrate with Yoongi grumping around right next to him? If Seokjin’s told Heeyeon (and he has), the girls will know already, and they’re going to have a field day.

Namjoon tosses it to him. “C’mon, Hoseok-ah.” He pulls his jacket on and tugs a beanie down over his head. “You gotta leave now, or you’ll be late.”

Yoongi’s head thuds onto the table. Seokjin reaches out and pats him, tentatively. Hoseok shows no such gentility; he pulls his bag on and grabs Yoongi by the scruff of his neck. “Let’s go, asshole.” He stomps out the door and marches onward, like a man going to war, resolutely ignoring Yoongi’s indignant screeches.

Chapter Text

When Hoseok slinks into the lecture hall (five minutes late, Yoongi dragged his heels all the way, it was like walking a cat on a lead), Junhong and Youngjae are in their usual seats at the back of the lecture hall, soundly asleep. Junghwa and Hyojin are four rows down from them; Junghwa takes notes (which the rest of them will copy) while Hyojin listens to music, ignoring the dirty looks the lecturer throws at her.

Hoseok sits down the row from the boys. Seokjin is incapable of keeping secrets from Heeyeon, who is in turn incapable of keeping secrets from her best friends. He’s not in the form to listen to Junghwa’s well-intentioned needling.

Hoseok concentrates as best he can on the lecture, but Yoongi is a distraction. He can feel him, metaphorically and physically, despite the two seats between them. Earlier on, all he got was what Yoongi was sensing, his brain’s bandwidth monopolised by vain attempts to make sense of the situation, but now, in the oppressively boring atmosphere of the lecture hall, with nothing to concentrate on but the lecturer’s droning (and didn’t they do the effects of cortisone last week? Is Hoseok having a stroke?), he can feel his emotions reverberating down through the string, like sound underwater, or the bass of an amp from twenty feet away.

Yoongi is... sad. Hoseok discerns anger, discomfort, exhaustion, chagrin, anxiety, but the dominant emotion is sadness, the kind of sadness that beds down in your bones, the kind that you can’t force out with the help of good friends and bad movies and junk food; the kind you must learn to live with, and maybe, if you’re lucky, live beyond.

Hoseok’s not sure how he feels about that. Why is Yoongi sad? Did he make him like that? He didn’t intend to. He didn’t intend any of this – this fuck-up of fate. Maybe Yoongi was in love before they were tied together. Maybe Yoongi’s not attracted to men. Maybe Yoongi’s not attracted to anyone, and he’s scared that Hoseok will force him into a relationship he can’t control.

“Stop thinking so hard,” Yoongi murmurs.

“I wasn’t–!”

“I could feel your brain contorting. What’s got you confused? Not this lecture, I hope.”

“No, that’s fine – well...” Hoseok makes a token attempt to decipher the impenetrable writing on the board. “It’ll be fine if I sit down and go through the notes.” Yoongi snorts. “Fuck you. No, I’m... how is this going to work? And don’t say it’s not,” Hoseok adds, before Yoongi can open his mouth. “It’s gotta work. We don’t have a choice, there’s no way they’ll sever us. Are you in an, um...” He waves his hand generally to indicate a relationship and the nebulous forms that that word encompasses.

“Am I fucking someone?” Hoseok splutters at Yoongi’s crudeness. “No. Not regularly, and not with any feelings involved. You?”

Hoseok shakes his head. “We broke up a while ago. Not... nothing since.” Hoseok doesn’t – he can’t do casual sex. He can’t even do casual kissing, no matter how much he drinks or what he takes or how hot his partner is – it doesn’t do anything for him. He needs an emotional connection, an attraction, and with Hyejin, his last girlfriend, that fizzled out. They parted on good terms, and they still tag each other in dumb memes on Facebook. “I was wondering... what kind of relationship do you want out of this?”

“None, ideally.”

“Is any of this ideal?”

Yoongi grimaces. “Okay. Fuck. Maybe... friends. For starters. See where it goes.”

“Friends,” Hoseok repeats unenthusiastically. “I can work with that.”

“What?” Yoongi’s voice takes on a mocking tone. “You believed the soulmate shit? The ‘love at first sight, aren’t we perfect for each other, let’s get married and have babies pronto?’ How naïve are you?”

“Don’t you? I know your parents are soulmates.” The subject came up, years and years ago, back in the dorm while they watched a crap drama – out of the nine of them, the only one whose parents weren’t soulmates was Seokjin, because both of theirs passed away before they ever met. (Hoseok has heard stories of what it feels like, to lose a soulmate, even if you’re not bonded yet; they say it is the most terrible agony known to man. The opiates they use in the termination operation cannot numb it. There is no way to sedate the soul.) Yoongi falls silent. “They are, aren’t they?”

“They are,” Yoongi says, and that’s all Hoseok can get out of him until after the lecture ends, when his friends descend upon them, like vultures on carrion.

“Who’s this?” Junhong glances between Hoseok, studiously packing his bag, and Yoongi, who is steadfastly ignoring them. “Are you a new student? Dude, what happened to your eye?”

Yoongi gives him a death glare. Junhong squeaks and retreats behind Youngjae.

“I know who it is,” Hyojin announces, a wicked, ominous grin on her face. “Hmm. He’s prettier than I expected. Not exactly Hoseokie’s type.” Hoseok can’t deny that. Instead, he walks out of the lecture hall, leaving the others to pursue him.

“Who? Who?” Youngjae hangs back to walk beside Yoongi, who is following them reluctantly, wrist tucked into the pocket of his hoodie.

“Hoseokie oppa’s soulmate,” Junghwa announces, with relish, basking in the boys’ gasps of awe. She bumps cutely into Yoongi’s side and gives him a dazzling smile, brushing her hair out of her face so that her dark curls cascade over her shoulder. “Hiya, Yoongi-sshi. I’m Park Junghwa.” The act is, in Hoseok’s opinion, rather impressive, and it tends to reduce men to puddles of goo (it even worked on Jimin, who is a solid six on the Kinsey scale), but Yoongi ignores her, nose wrinkling as if he smells something unpleasant.

“Oh!” Hyojin whistles. “Seokjin wasn’t lying, was he? Heeyeonie thought he was exaggerating, like the time with the sugar gliders.”

“He wasn’t exaggerating that time either.” Seokjin minded his mother’s pet sugar gliders for a single day. Never again. “There was rodent poop literally everywhere.”

“Sugar gliders are marsupials,” Junhong points out. They stare at him. “Okay, whatever, sue me for wanting to be taxonomically correct.”

“Vets,” Junghwa says, disgustedly.

“Med students,” Junhong says, with equal rancour.

“Why do you look like someone pissed in your soup?” Youngjae asks Yoongi.

“Because I’m stuck with this idiot,” Yoongi snaps. “Are all your friends this bad?”

“Yes. Noona!”

Hyojin pinches Yoongi’s cheeks; Hoseok can feel her manicured nails digging into his skin. Yoongi swears at her, but all he does is get spit everywhere. “Yoongi-sshi,” she says, seriously. “I’m sure you’re a nice guy deep down, but you fuck shit up for my Hoseokie, I will fuck you up worse.”

“Noona,” Hoseok pleads. “You don’t need to defend my honour. Let him go.”

Hyojin releases him. Yoongi looks torn between punching Hyojin in the face and leaving. Unable to do either, he turns to Hoseok and says, beseechingly, “Can you drop out? Until your friends have graduated?”

“I wish,” Hoseok says, despondently.

Junhong rolls his eyes. “Thanks, dude. C’mon, we’re gonna be late for Ethics unless we leave now.”

Hoseok spends Ethics, and the lectures following, hunkered down in the front rows, scribbling furiously. The lecturers stare at Yoongi, who, with his bleached hair and black eye and expression of complete disinterest, is obviously not supposed to be here.

In the end, Hoseok survives the gauntlet and evades his friends by way of dodging down a side corridor. “I thought I’d never be done,” he groans, leaning against a glass display. The last tutorial dragged on for what felt like forever, and Hoseok is none the wiser as to the treatment of foot drop.

“You’re not,” Yoongi says.

“What?”

“My post-prod lab starts in half an hour. Mandatory attendance.” Hoseok crumples to the floor. “What the fuck, get up before someone notices.”

“No-one’s gonna see, we’re in, like, the scrotum of the medicine building. I’m hungry.”

“How are you still the same,” Yoongi mutters. “Are you gonna faint this time?”

“That was one time!” Hoseok shoots up defensively. “I hadn’t eaten anything but chicken breast in a month.”

“I didn’t faint,” Yoongi says, snippily.

“Yeah, ‘cause they let you eat cause of your – your shoulder...” Yoongi gets a look in his eyes that makes Hoseok decide that pursuing that particular conversational thread would be detrimental to his health. “You didn’t dance, either.”

Yoongi visited the practice room maybe five times, ever. The final time, he punched the mirror, told Hoseok that he couldn’t stand this any longer, and stormed out before they could give out to him.

He was gone by the time Hoseok and Namjoon got back to the dorm. All his various ephemera – his shoulder brace, his dented MacBook, even his prize Bulls basketball – gone, and then there were three, and then –

None.

Hoseok wonders if he will ever look at his soulmate and see him for him, not what could have been.

“If you won’t come, I’ll drag you along by the string,” Yoongi calls, setting off down the corridor. Hoseok scrambles up and pursues him.

 

Two hours later, Hoseok sits at the computer beside Yoongi as the latter works. They’re not in the specialised production suites where they re-entered each other’s orbit, but the general-purpose ones, open to all students. The lab tutor bends over Yoongi’s shoulder to point at the screen. He asks her a technobabbly question that Hoseok cannot parse, and she leans back to elaborate.

So much the same, but so much different. This lady is not Hyowon hyung, this room is not their old shared studio, the one papered with posters, and this Yoongi is not old Yoongi, who got awkward and left the room if anyone dared praise his work.

This one knows what he’s doing. Hoseok is ostensibly concentrating on his own work beside him, a pathology (he’s studying physical therapy, does he need to know this?) assignment open on his laptop, but, being honest, he’s concentrating on Yoongi. Yoongi, who the lab tutor smacks playfully on the shoulder as she smiles. Yoongi, who receives his classmates’ panicked drive-by questions with effortless grace. Yoongi, who, in the time they’ve been in here, has paid no attention to Hoseok whatsoever.

The music comes first. Always has, always will.

Yoongi stretches as the lab tutor walks away to attend to another student, and peeks at his laptop. The monitor is marred by an ugly line, formed when Hoseok tried to rip his screen off when Taehyung cheesed him during a game of Starcraft. “You get a lot done?”

“Uh, yeah, tons,” Hoseok squeaks, slamming his laptop shut. “You?”

Yoongi holds out his headphones. Hoseok gapes at them blankly. “You... uh, Hoseok-ah?”

Hoseok-ah. The familiar honorific is strange from Yoongi’s mouth, like an old t-shirt you can’t fit into anymore. He used to slur his name like that, would speed over the vowels to get to the end. “Yes? Why are you pointing your headphones at me?”

“What do you do with headphones?” Yoongi thrusts them at him. Hoseok takes them from his hands, fumbling awkwardly so as not to touch him (Hoseok can’t handle any kind of contact with Yoongi at this current stage, not with how the spooning made him feel), and slips them on over his head. His hair gets caught in the band, and Yoongi stares at him like he’s a moron as he frees it.

The cups are warm and kinda gross from Yoongi’s head. Hoseok ignores it in favour of the music.

It’s... different. It’s not like the seductive, pulsing track he made with Jungkook, and it’s not like the contrabass-heavy, old-school stuff that Bang PD trained him to make but it’s – it’s Yoongi. Indescribably so. Delicate, synth-y, cyclical, looping recursively into ever more labyrinthine melodies, added layers of complexity stripped back at the end into a final, haunting beat that peters into silence more absolute than silence should be.

“What do you think?”

“Huh?” Hoseok starts in his seat.

“Why else would I want you to listen to it? I want your opinion.”

“Why?”

Something ticks in Yoongi’s jaw. “Aren’t we trying to be friends?”

“Friends,” Hoseok repeats, as if saying it out loud will make it any truer. “It’s... I don’t know. It’s... unique? But it’s sort of repetitive. I don’t know if you want that or not.”

“Okay,” Yoongi says, dubiously. “That’s... valid.” He turns back to his computer and fiddles with the track.

Valid,” Hoseok mumbles, irate, under his breath. “Aren’t you done? Everyone else has gone.”

Yoongi gazes around as if he’s surprised that the lab is empty. “Ah. I was gonna stay on...”

“Let’s leave,” Hoseok whines. “I’m tired.”

“Okay,” Yoongi agrees, but he doesn’t budge when Hoseok bounces out the door. “But we’re not going back to yours.”

“What?”

 

Yoongi’s building is visibly run down – not in an abandoned way, but in a way that says the people managing it are doing their best but simply can’t keep up. The flower boxes overflow with brightness and life, but one of the characters in the neon sign that’s supposed to read GOSHIWON is dead, and now it reads SHIWON. Hoseok recognises the car parked outside; it’s the one that picked Yoongi up and spirited him away, that night last month, a battered old Hyundai with a faded sticker on the bumper advertising the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Yoongi leads him through the front door into a communal kitchen. “Yoongi-yah! What happened to your eye?”

“Hello, Byungchul-sshi.” Yoongi bows to the gentleman. Hoseok can smell jeon frying. “I tripped, is all. Where is ajumma?”

The man frowns. “You should take more care. Didn’t you hurt your ear last week? Insookie is down at the municipal offices sorting her paperwork.” He finally notices Hoseok and gives him a sunny smile. “Ah, you brought a friend! During the day, too! Hello, son. What’s your name?”

“I’m Jung Hoseok.” Hoseok bows. “I’m – uh – sir, your food is burning.”

The man dashes off, swearing. Yoongi starts up the stairs, and Hoseok follows.

Yoongi’s goshiwon is tiny. There’s barely enough space for a single bed, a desk, and a mini-fridge. The walls are covered with sheet music and ticket stubs and notes to self – submit that assignment, fix the door on the third floor, check in with Nam ajumma on Saturday. Clothes overflow out of the wardrobe. Yoongi wades through it expertly; Hoseok hovers awkwardly in the doorway.

“Close the door before the flies get in.” Hoseok obeys. With the door closed, the room becomes that much smaller, that much closer. The majority of Yoongi’s clothing is black or grey or navy. Ramen packets rise in plastic towers over the fridge, and there’s a scattering of CDs stacked next to a mid-noughties Sony sound system, the kind Hoseok himself saved up to buy in middle school, though he ended up wasting his money on video games. He examines the CDs; there’s the usual suspects for a hip-hop enthusiast of Yoongi’s age, 50 Cent and Eminem and Nas, Epik High and Dynamic Duo and Verbal Jint, but there are outliers; Linkin Park, Bach, and Orange Caramel.

Hoseok holds up Catallena. “Explain.”

“Catallena is the peak of modern Korean pop music.” Yoongi tosses various objects onto his bed. “Also, Nana is hot.”

“You’re sure you’re not a fanboy?”

“No way.” Yoongi wrinkles his nose. “The army didn’t indoctrinate us all.”

“You didn’t see Girl’s Day,” Hoseok says, smugly.

“I fucking didn’t, where’d you serve?”

“Jeonju. Supply management, all I did was argue with GIs over cigarettes and booze. You?”

“In the Taebaek mountains in Gangwon, near the DMZ. It was shit. Ah, here.” Yoongi tugs a duffel bag free of a stack of books and shoves his things into the bag haphazardly. He doesn’t fold his clothes properly, and it drives Hoseok crazy, but no way is he stooping as low as to fold Yoongi’s clothes for him. Yet.

“Are you going to break your lease here? Will they charge you?”

Yoongi shakes his head. “No, the owner – the ajusshi downstairs – he and his wife like me. They won’t charge me.” He steps back and sighs heavily. “Speaking of... what do you pay in rent?”

Hoseok tells him. Yoongi whitens, and Hoseok backpedals. “We might be able to negotiate him down, if...” This goshiwon can’t cost more than three hundred thousand won a month. Hoseok’s rent is higher than that.

Yoongi examines the room, the window that looks out on a brick wall, the paper-thin walls through which Hoseok can hear Infinite Challenge. “No, it’s... it’s... I’ll find a way. I always do.”

Hoseok stares at him, at the broken-down curve of his shoulders, at his gaze, fastened firmly on the floor. A sick wave of satisfaction washes over him at the thought that the guy who ruined his dream, who ran away right when Hoseok’s debut was within reach, is struggling this badly, is living a life even more pathetic than his.

But a tiny part of him – the part nestled close to his heart, the part that loves his father no matter what he says, the part that makes him get up and keep dancing when all he wants to do is sleep – pities him. Given his talent, Yoongi shouldn’t be here in this poky, glorified closet. He should be on a stage, or in a studio, making millions as an adored producer, not in a shithole like a wretch, living day to day.

(He remembers, years ago, Yoongi handwrote his lyrics, and he and Donghyuk stole them to rap them, imitating Yoongi’s spitty tone and signature baby talk. One line made them cheer – ‘born a tiger, can’t live like a dog.’ Yoongi snatched the paper off them and locked them out of the studio, only for Namjoon to come along and break them apart.)

“Okay,” Hoseok says, with finality. “If you’re sure. But, um... do you mind if I...” Yoongi regards him mistrustfully, but he nods. “Can I fold your stuff?”

Yoongi looks at him for a long while, emotions dripping down the string; confusion, exasperation, and, finally, acceptance. “Be my guest, Jung Hoseok,” he says, eventually, picking over to the desk to grab his notes. “Be my guest.”

Chapter Text

Life goes on, and so does the string. Its length is variable – some days it’s short enough that Hoseok and Yoongi are forced to brush their teeth side by side, and other days it’s long enough to let Hoseok dance while Yoongi waits outside the studio, MacBook perched on his knees, but the longest it ever gets is fifteen feet – if they go any further than that, they feel ill.

It’s driving Hoseok crazy.

Most soulmates transition into bonded life easily, as if they had never lived without the other by their side. When Jungkook and Jimin bonded, Jungkook slotted into their friend group as if he was there all along, their intolerably cocky overgrown maknae. Hoseok was serving when Namjoon found Taehyung, but when he got back and met him, he fit cleanly into their lives – it was as if he was always there, as if he was there at the kitchen table cleaning his lenses all along.

Yoongi doesn’t do that. Square peg, round hole. When they lived in the trainee dorm, Yoongi was, admittedly, a grump, especially if you caught him on little sleep, but he made conversation and participated in outings. He was friendly, in his own gruff way. Now he’s withdrawn and silent, and he makes no attempts to integrate into their friend group whatsoever. He’s like a satellite, or a stray cat; he stays on the fringes, in the armchair in the corner, walking as far behind them as he can, loitering in the kitchen while they yell at the TV.

Like a stray cat, they try to lure him in. Seokjin spends tens of thousands of won on quality meat to make galbi and bulgogi, dishes that he never bothers to cook for them, and Yoongi hardly picks at it. Taehyung, upon hearing about his interest in amateur photography, lets him use his prized Leica M7, the one he saved up for two years to have imported from the States. Yoongi takes one cursory photo of the window and hands it straight back. Even Jimin – Jimin, who has actually charmed his way out of being arrested (throwback to Namjoon’s twenty-first birthday, also the reason why Taehyung is no longer permitted to plan parties) – fails to get a response from him, no matter how sugary sweet he is.

He’s not rude, at least not without reason (and Hoseok won’t lie, he gives him lots of reasons), and if he is mean to Hoseok, Hoseok gives back as good as he gets, but he’s... closed off. Emotionally unavailable, but for what he lets trail down the string, in addition to the dreams that slip into Hoseok’s head.

(Nightmares, usually. Invasive glimpses of Yoongi’s psyche that leave Hoseok unsettled and restive. He wonders if what Yoongi is getting from him is this provocative, this private. What does the string want to accomplish by sectioning out Yoongi’s ugliest parts and parading them before him?)

Hoseok doesn’t like him, this cold, quiet boy. He’s wrong. Yoongi was many things – stubborn, prickly, foul-mouthed – but you knew how he felt. He held opinions and felt feelings and if you were willing to sit down and listen (and Hoseok, in thrall to his cool hyung, always was), he would let you know in excruciating detail what he thought, about everything from hegemonic masculinity to the West Coast-East Coast hip-hop rivalry. He and Namjoon and Ikje would talk for hours and hours about the most inane topics, to the point that Hoseok and Donghyuk would get bored and sneak off to the convenience store to try and buy soju.

(Yoongi hasn’t acknowledged Namjoon’s existence in any way more than passing. Namjoon, ever the leader, leaves him be.)

The only time Hoseok gets an emotion out of him that’s not frustration is when he’s making music. Hoseok grows accustomed to huddling safely in the corner of the studio as Jungkook and Yoongi roll between the computer and the keyboard and the mixing console. When he’s creating, Yoongi comes alive – his eyes focus, he smiles at Jungkook when the younger does something well, and, once, he whoops with joy when he finds a plugin he wanted to use for free online.

“What,” Yoongi says, defensively, when they stare at him. “It’s the Serum plugin, everyone is using it.”

“It’s illegal,” Jungkook points out.

“You’re setting a terrible example for your hoobae.” Hoseok stands up and stretches. “C’mon, Kookie and I have dance practice.” The satisfaction thrumming through the string deadens. Hoseok tries not to let it hurt his feelings.

The showcase, the one Hoseok keeps getting supportive messages from his dance friends about, is in less than a week. The choreo is about as polished as it’s ever going to get, and they haven’t gone through the full routine together in a while, more concerned with honing everyone’s performance, tailoring segments to each participant; to Taehyung’s elegant hand movements, to Jimin’s fluid lines, to Jungkook’s precision.

Today, they work through the whole thing, start to finish; then they do it again, and again, and again, stopping long enough to breathe and gulp down water, the sticky summer heat combined with their exertions bathing them in perspiration. Hoseok is in full tyrannical Dance Captain Jung mode, and he knows that tomorrow, the boys (and his body) will hate him, but this is their last chance to practice before the competition; they’ll leave a few days spare beforehand to ensure that they’re in peak physical condition. This time, when the mirror steams up, he shows no mercy; he makes them polish it until it shines and start practising again.

For those blessed hours, Hoseok escapes his reality, the reality where he is bound to someone who hates him, cursed to wake up to Yoongi, asleep on the floor or, if the string was particularly short last night, in his bed, a cruel reminder of the debut that slipped out of his hands.

(He auditioned for other companies after BigHit terminated their contracts. Bang Sihyuk pulled every string he could for his bulletproof boys; Seokjin, by dint of his traditional flower-boy visuals, was immediately accepted into a proper acting agency, Donghyuk and Namjoon got traineeships as producers, though the latter eventually withdrew, and Ikje and Hunchul returned to their respective crews.

Hoseok wasn’t as lucky. The agencies that wanted him for his delicate looks cringed away from his hard-hitting dance style, and the agencies that liked his street cred decided that soft-hearted Hoseok wouldn’t survive until debut.

He gave up. He went home, cried on his mother’s shoulder, and the next day, he got his draft notice.)

If only. He stares at Yoongi’s reflection in the mirror as he chugs water. If only he’d stuck it out, maybe they’d be in a studio in Gangnam practising for their next comeback. Maybe they would have won a daesang, or sold a million albums, or toured abroad. Maybe Hoseok could have repaid his mother’s blood, sweat, and tears.

(What Hoseok does not see, in the newly-cleaned mirror, is Yoongi’s face. He doesn’t see the wonder, slowly dawning; he doesn’t see the awe, parting his lips and straightening his shoulders.

He doesn’t see the regret.)

The practice comes to an end when Taehyung lies down and refuses to move a muscle. “I have expired,” he pronounces. “Please sing Frank Sinatra at my funeral and donate generously to my family to provide for Soonshim.”

“Get up.” Hoseok toes at Taehyung, but Jimin throws himself down on him to protect him and bats Hoseok’s foot away. Jungkook, after a second’s intense contemplation, lies down on top of them so that his juniors are stacked in a sweaty puppy pile.

“We’re going home,” Jimin says, forcefully, muffled by Taehyung’s butt. “You can stay and kill yourself, but the rest of us are heading back and showering. We smell.”

“They do,” Yoongi offers unhelpfully. Hoseok glares at him.

“The competition is in three days!”

“We’ve practised as much as we can.” Jungkook sits up and stretches. “We’re perfect. Well, I’m definitely perfect, and that’s all I care about.”

Taehyung squawks. “I’m perfect too! Did you see how well that transition went?”

Hoseok senses a fight coming. “Okay, okay, fine. Stretch and then you can go home. I’m staying.” Out of the corner of his eye, he watches Yoongi deflate. The boys roll apart and into position, tugging on each other’s limbs. Hoseok spots them, and, as punishment for being the first to fold, ‘helps’ Taehyung through a backbend.

Finally, when everyone is safely loosened up, the boys depart. The studio is far quieter without them; he turns the music up a notch, to fill in the gaps where their bodies were. In the corner, Yoongi is silent and still, face turned, for once, towards him.

“What are you looking at?” Hoseok asks, stopping halfway through his first count.

“You,” Yoongi answers, honestly. Something bounces down the string, muddled and bright. “I mean. Not like there’s anything else to do.”

Hoseok huffs and turns back to the mirror. Yoongi never pays attention during dance practices; he reads or works on his MacBook or scrolls through Twitter.

“Is that okay?”

“What?”

“Is it okay if I watch? I, um.” Is he blushing? Hoseok can feel it, in his face, but he can’t make it out from this distance; it’s either that or his own cheeks are heating up, and he can’t tell, given that his body is burning from the past four hours of dancing in May’s sticky heat. “I can... not do it. If that’s what you’re comfortable with?”

Hoseok feels it, in his mind; a plea. To let him watch? To deny him? He can’t tell what Yoongi wants, he never can, but this time Hoseok knows what he wants. “I always perform better with an audience.” He musters as sharp a smile as he can. “Can you start the track again?”

Yoongi scuttles over to the sound system and pushes a few buttons. Hoseok ignores the weight of his gaze on his flushed skin, on his shirt, which is near-translucent with sweat, on the hair matted to his forehead.

“Five, six, seven, eight–”

The piano judders, arrhythmically, into life, and Hoseok does too.

The dance isn’t complete without the other three, but, if Hoseok may permit himself to say such a thing about his own work, it’s pretty damn good. At first, his movements are stiff, unnatural, like a doll being made to dance by a child, Taehyung in the centre; as the track works past the first chorus and into the meat of the verses it grows fluid, sinuous, Jimin up front now.

Hoseok’s turn next. This is the angriest part of the song, and Hoseok delivers all the rage he can. You’re not supposed to channel your own emotions when you’re performing, but Yoongi is right there and Hoseok is furious, so he uses his ire to make his popping as clean and as sharp as possible.

Finally, the song winds up, and this is Jungkook’s time to shine. The final formation requires them to lock together like mannequins; Hoseok holds it on his own, and the song ends.

He barely catches the water bottle tossed his way. “Thanks,” he gasps, and pours it over his head, opening his mouth to catch stray drops.

“I thought you were going to dislocate something,” Yoongi says.

“Haven’t yet. Shove over.” Hoseok crumples down beside Yoongi. His pent-up frustration has vanished, leaving him exhausted.

Yoongi makes a noise of displeasure, but he doesn’t move that far away, and he hands him another bottle. “Drink it this time.”

“Yes, grandfather.” Hoseok forces himself to drink slowly, taking tentative sips. “What’d you think?”

“It was good. I didn’t see your part on its own before.” Yoongi turns his head away from him. “You got better. Not that you’re weren’t great already.”

Hoseok looks at what he can make out of Yoongi’s face in the mirror. “Practice makes perfect,” he says, softly.

“Is this showcase the one Jungkook is making the demo for?”

“No, he said it wouldn’t be done in time. I was going to apply for tournaments over the summer, but... It’ll be difficult to perform given, um, current circumstances... I don’t know when we’ll be able to use his stuff.”

“I get what he was going for, now,” Yoongi mumbles. “Now that I...” He gestures at Hoseok.

The mirror reflects them, two boys folded up like origami, right beside each other but not touching. Hoseok’s skin is flushed with exertion, and Yoongi’s roots are beginning to show through. “It’s different. Seeing it. Speaking of the showcase...”

“I can’t come on stage with you.”

“No, and right now...” Hoseok jostles his wrist, and the string materialises. Earlier on, it was about ten, twelve feet long. “It’s not long enough. Twenty feet and we’ll be safe.”

Yoongi stares at it, mute. It winds around Hoseok’s wrist, coiling in mid-air and swooping onto Yoongi’s arm, climbing down to his hand like a vine. “It’s never been that long.”

“We’ll have to do something,” Hoseok says, firmly. “I’m – I refuse to let this get in the way of what I love.”

The words come out sharper than he intended them to be, and the string fizzles around his wrist as if reprimanding him. “I get it,” Yoongi mumbles.

Does he, Hoseok wonders, as he stands up again to go another round. Does he get it?

 

The morning of the showcase, their string is the longest it’s ever been. Sixteen feet and two inches, exactly.

Hoseok, not a particularly calm person by nature, is off his head. “It’s not long enough,” he hisses, halfway under the sink, scrubbing the U-bend.

“You don’t need to clean that,” Namjoon says, distraught.

“We spooned last night!” Hoseok points a foot in Yoongi’s general direction. “We made physical contact! It should be longer!”

“Except you made me be the small spoon. I hate being the small spoon.” Yoongi lowers his coffee with a heavy thud.

“You’re, like, five three–”

“I’m five eight and a half, thank you very much,” Yoongi snaps. “Stop being heteronormative. I don’t have to be the small spoon because I’m smaller than you.”

“It’s called spooning, not jetpacking!”

Seokjin gasps. “That’s amazing. I’m going to have to come up with a dad joke based on that.”

“Stop giving him ammunition,” Taehyung whines.

“Stop staring at his butt,” Jungkook mutters to his soulmate.

“I can’t, it’s right there and he asked me for tips on squats, I’m assessing his progress. Well done, hyung!” Jimin claps his hands cutely. “Your glutes are looking great!”

Hoseok screams, not loudly, but consistently. By the tenth second, the kitchen is empty, except for Yoongi, who doesn’t have a choice. “Jetpacking?”

Hoseok wriggles awkwardly out of the cupboard and sprawls on the kitchen floor, which smells intensely of bleach. He deals with pre-competition nerves by being productive, and, with no assignments to be done, he chose to clean their apartment. “What are we gonna do? We have, like, two hours. That’s not enough time to get over ourselves.”

“If we ever do,” Yoongi says, ominously.

Hoseok stares up at Yoongi, who may be coming to the same conclusion as him. Yoongi shifts to turn toward him, but as he opens his mouth, the kitchen door slams open.

“Are you finished breaking down?” Jungkook jerks his chin at the front door. “We’re leaving. Seokjin’s driving.”

Their usual arrangement is Seokjin in the driver’s seat, Hoseok in the passenger seat, and the remaining four stuffed into the back. Yoongi’s presence complicates things.

“This is a death trap,” Yoongi protests after everyone else has squeezed in. “If we crash, we’re going to die.”

“Don’t underestimate my driving skills.” Seokjin purses his lips. “Get in.”

Where.”

“Sit on Hoseok’s lap,” Jungkook offers. Yoongi blanches. “You two spooned last night!”

“He can sit on your lap,” Hoseok spits.

“No, I’m sitting on Jimin’s.” Jimin winds his arms around Jungkook’s waist.

“I refuse.” Yoongi steps back and Hoseok follows him out.

“We’ll walk,” Hoseok adds.

“Don’t be stupid.” Namjoon sticks his head out the window. “You’ll be late.”

Hoseok contemplates his life for a second, and then sighs. “He’s right.”

Jimin grins smugly. “Who’s doing the dick sitting?” Taehyung snorts.

“He can,” Yoongi declares, and before Hoseok can say ‘no way, what the fuck?’, Yoongi is settled in the passenger seat. Seokjin’s face is an interesting shade of puce from trying not to laugh at them.

Hoseok gives in to his inevitable fate and climbs in. After some awkward shuffling (and copious complaining about Yoongi’s bony knees and Hoseok’s fat ass), they figure out a configuration that is more thigh sitting than dick sitting, but it’s far closer than Hoseok would like. He holds onto the grab handle tightly enough that his arm hurts, but he slides around when Seokjin corners, and when he accidentally whacks Yoongi in the chin with his elbow, Yoongi mutters something and wraps an arm around his hips to anchor him.

The boys chatter in the back as Seokjin hums along to whatever’s on the radio, but Hoseok is incapable of focusing on any of it; he can feel every movement Yoongi makes, every minute shift of his thighs, every flex of his arm. In turn, Yoongi can feel Hoseok jostling in his lap, and it echoes down the string, forcibly stilling him when he feels how weird it is when he adjusts how he’s sitting.

By the time they reach the square where the showcase is taking place, Hoseok is flushed red and about ready to die. Jimin looks faintly green, and Taehyung is as carefree as ever, if quieter, though he does help soothe the child Jungkook nearly murders as he practices footwork while walking.

Hoseok peers around the crowd. He’s been in this scene long enough to know the bulk of the people here, and their faces pop out at him; there’s Kim Jongin and Lee Taemin, who don’t do hip hop but turn up to watch anyway. Junghwa and Hyojin are here to cheer for him, sharing a tornado potato – well, Hyojin’s eaten the majority of it. Nam Woohyun and Lee Howon are arguing quietly. Yoo Shiah and her brother Junsu are practising locking. He catches Kang Daniel’s eye across the square; the other boy grins at him widely and pumps his fists as if to say ‘fighting!’ Hoseok gives him a thumbs-up and a tight smile.

Jimin returns from registering them right in time for the competition to start. “We’re up in forty-five minutes, give or take.” He bounces on his feet to try and see over the crowd. “Who’s next?”

They watch eight or so performances, but despite the quality of dancing on show, Hoseok can’t concentrate. Eventually, he breaks. “Stay here,” he tells Yoongi and paces backwards. One step turns into two, into three, until he’s far away from Yoongi, further than he was this morning (the dick-sitting, as Jimin put it), the furthest they’ve managed in these past few interminable weeks, but not long enough. The square is forty, fifty feet wide. They need twenty feet.

Yoongi speaks with Namjoon, covering his mouth with his hand. Namjoon replies with a nod, shoving him towards him, and then Yoongi is bearing down on him like a man marching to his death.

“Come on.” He stomps past him, towards the edge of the plaza, where side streets snake off into the city. Hoseok, with no choice but to follow, does.

“But we’ll be up soon...”

“I asked Namjoon to come get us. This way.” Yoongi leads him down a winding lane, the shop windows showcasing knockoff streetwear and cheap electronics and flavoured soju. Yoongi comes to a stop in a recessed entry in front of a nightclub. He slips inside and in the dim alcove, they are concealed from the street, alone in the middle of ten million people.

“Desperate times,” Yoongi says, and Hoseok can feel that he’s scared – no, that he’s terrified. “Desperate measures.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you want to compete in this?”

“Yes.” Yes, he does. Hoseok wants to dance.

“Can you win?”

“I...”

“It’s a yes or no question, Jung Hoseok.”

There’s only one answer, isn’t there? “Yes,” he says, quietly. “We will.”

The look in Yoongi’s eyes is blazing. “The things I do,” he says, and then his hands are holding Hoseok’s face, and then Hoseok is tilting his head down, and–

Hoseok does nothing casually, not even kissing. He needs an emotional connection, an attraction, to feel anything.

This is more than anything. Yoongi’s mouth is hot and wet and their tongues press together insistently and something in Hoseok is in freefall, driving him into him until Yoongi is pinned between the wall and his body, chest heaving, hands seeking purchase where there is none. His hands scrabble, wildly, at the concrete, and Yoongi shoves him off.

“Check,” he rasps, and Hoseok staggers backwards until it hurts.

It’s not long enough, barely, two feet, a foot, they’d be golden. “More.” He grabs Yoongi by the hips and pulls him up. This time he opens his mouth wider, licks in deeper, his hesitation and fear abandoned with his dignity, kissing the life out of Min Yoongi where anyone could see them. Yoongi’s teeth scrape along his lip, and Hoseok cannot stop the whimper that rises in his throat. It’s been ages, and Yoongi is good at this, that fucker, him and his tongue technology reducing Hoseok to a flushing mess.

This time, when they break apart for air, he expects Yoongi to push him off again. He doesn’t. He hooks his arms around his neck and drags him down, and Hoseok’s thigh is between his legs, and Yoongi’s hips press against him, oh God, Hoseok is on fire, he can feel it, reflected, through the lens of Yoongi’s mind, the hard muscle of his thigh (Jimin is right, the squats are paying off) and the dizzying shame and determination and attraction suffusing Yoongi, and it makes everything worse, better, worse–

“What the fuck?” Hands on his shoulders yank him off Yoongi. He whines at the brutal loss of contact, but cuts himself off when he sights Namjoon. “Were you trying to eat each other’s faces?”

“When a man and a man,” Yoongi deadpans, rubbing saliva off his kiss-swollen lips, “hate each other very much...”

“I don’t need to hear this,” Seokjin complains, and then he screams in delight. “Look at Hoseokie!”

Twenty feet. Hoseok nearly falls over. “When are we up?”

“Uh, now?” The jubilant look falls off Yoongi’s face, and he dashes out of the alcove, the rest following at a short distance – Yoongi can really hustle if he’s so inclined, though said hustle is more of a creaky old man waddle.

Hoseok jumps into position exactly as the clinky piano intro begins. “Where were you,” Jimin hisses.

“Giving in,” Hoseok responds, and moves.

 

They win. They accept graciously and commiserate with the runners-up, and though he cannot see Yoongi in the crush, he can feel him, kaleidoscopic, sad and afraid and proud.

 

It’s two am, and they’re at that stage of the night when no-one is enjoying themselves anymore, but they may as well stick it out until closing. Hoseok is absolutely drunk. People keep buying him drinks as congratulations, and he’s too polite to turn them down. He’d be fine if he had kept to one type of drink, but, at this point, he’s sampled everything in the bar, and it’s getting difficult for him to stand up straight. He doesn’t know where Yoongi is, but he can feel him, an inebriated buzz at the edge of his consciousness. The girl Hoseok is dancing with laughs when he trips and grabs him by the waist to right him.

“What happened there?”

“You fell.” She giggles. She’s beautiful, why is she with him? Her dark hair is cropped close to her head and her lipstick is perfectly applied, a warm pink that complements her skin.

“Oh,” he says, awkwardly, and he knows he’s blushing.

“You’re cute,” she coos, brushing a cold hand over his cheek. “Let’s go somewhere quieter, alright?”

She tows him along behind her as she heads toward the stairwell. He cranes his head around, but he can’t see any of his friends, and if he lets go of her, he’s going to fall over; he doesn’t particularly want to, but he follows.

In the stairwell, the air is muggy and sticky, lit by an emergency exit sign. The girl slides delicate hands up his neck. “You’re a good dancer,” she whispers. He nods. No point in being coy. “I dance too. I’m a trainee.”

“They let you do this stuff nowadays? Go drinking and run off with strangers?”

“They don’t.” She grins. “I snuck out. Why don’t you make it worth my while?”

She’s close enough that he can make out the parts of her t-zone where her foundation is separating, the clumps of mascara between her eyelashes, the faint scarring from her double eyelid surgery, until he can’t see anything, his eyes sliding shut as her lips press against his.

Girls are, in Hoseok’s private opinion, better at kissing than boys are. They’re softer, sweeter, less likely to lick your cheek by accident. They smell pleasant, perfume and moisturiser and shampoo, and are better at playing nice – at collaborating, rather than competing.

This girl is all those things, but all Hoseok can taste is ash. This is wrong – fundamentally, mundanely, wrong, like the sun rising in the west, like writing with his left hand, like snow in July. He pushes her off him rapidly.

“What’s wrong?”

“He has a soulmate,” someone snaps, and when Hoseok focuses, Yoongi’s thunderous face comes into view. “This is where you ran off to?”

The girl’s face drains of colour. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realise...”

“That he was off his fucking face? Maybe you should have let up when he almost fell on his face?”

“You saw that,” Hoseok groans.

“I did. You’re a mess. We’re leaving.” Yoongi grabs him by the elbow.

“We’re not!” Hoseok wrenches his arm out of his grip. “Don’t manhandle me.”

“Hoseok-ah...”

“What Hoseok-ah?” Yoongi’s face is a mask. The girl has slipped away, and it’s just them, him and his soulmate, the one who showed him that the fireworks while kissing thing wasn’t poetic license. “You being my soulmate doesn’t give you – you’re not my owner!”

“I know!” Yoongi grabs him by the shoulders and shoves him against the wall. “I don’t own you, you don’t own me, but what were you gonna do? Go back to hers and fuck her with me right there?”

“Wouldn’t you like that,” Hoseok sneers. “Closest you’ll ever get to fucking me... or me fucking you.”

You were the one moaning earlier.”

You were the one grinding up on me.”

You were the one who stuck their thigh – God!” Yoongi releases his shoulders and fists his hands in his own hair, teeth gritted. “Why do you do this to me? You turn me into this – this bitter piece of shit!”

“I get under your skin, and your worst you is right there.” Hoseok presses his hand to the skin bared by Yoongi’s t-short, the deep v-neck displaying his jugular notch. If Hoseok presses on it hard enough, curls his fingers down, he will crush Yoongi’s windpipe. “Under the surface.”

Yoongi looks up at him, eyes blooming in the darkness. The green light throws his face into sharp relief, odd curves and deep hollows, like an imagined face, not a real one. “How did it feel?”

“What?”

“When you kissed her. Tell me how it felt.”

Hoseok regards him, the flush high on his cheeks, the faint thrum of his heart under his palm. He should tell him that that is a fucking weird question and that it is none of his business. That it was like any other drunken kiss, that she tasted like soju and chewing gum and beeswax lip balm. That he should know already.

“It felt wrong,” he says, softly. “Like I was making a mistake.”

“You too, huh,” Yoongi muses. His hand comes up to cover Hoseok’s.

“You hypocrite! You ran off as well?”

“He was six feet tall, what else was I supposed to do?”

“Size queen,” Hoseok mutters, and Yoongi rolls his eyes.

“Doesn’t matter shit, anyway.” He pulls Hoseok’s hand away, down to his side. “He tasted like – I dunno. Rat poison, paint stripper. Couldn’t do it.”

They stare at each other for a long while. Yoongi’s hand clenches around his. Hoseok’s head is a fuzzy mess, and the only things stopping his drunk, lonely, horny self from kissing Yoongi are his pride and the fear that he’ll throw up on him. “It’s – it’s tricking us, it’s forcing us to... to...”

“To love each other? You can’t fake that.”

“You can,” Hoseok says, vehemently, “you can, all it is is – it’s testosterone and serotonin and oxytocin.” The hypothalamus, the endocrine lecturer said, is the size of an almond, and they say it is the seat of our soul. “Nothin’ more.”

“Nothing more,” Yoongi repeats, and his mouth flattens into a displeased line.

“You’re the one who doesn’t believe in the soulmate shit!”

“Do you?” Hoseok has no response to that. Grim satisfaction sings down the bond. “Tell me truthfully. If your soulmate was anyone else – anyone but me – would you accept it?”

Hoseok doesn’t know how to answer that. Most of him screams that he would take anyone, anyone, over Min Yoongi... but the other tiny part, the part that made him keep dancing even when the kids in school called him a faggot, the part that drove him to leave home at the tender age of fifteen to build his castle in the sky, the part that rejected the trainee coordinator when he showed him a picture of his face with his jaw sharpened, nose straightened, eyes widened, tells him that he was never sure about this in the first place.

“I would,” he says, finally. “Not easily, not peacefully, but – I would. All I want is to be happy. It’s all I’ve ever wanted. If my soulmate could make me happy, I’d let them.”

“I can’t make you happy.”

“No shit, you can’t even make yourself happy.” Hoseok shakes his head in a futile attempt to get his thoughts straight. “Didn’t your parents take you to get help? Aren’t you...?”

“Better?” Yoongi’s face is troubled. “Sometimes I am, and sometimes... I’m not. That’s how it is. I have good days and bad days, but right now, the bad outnumber the good.”

“I hate it,” Hoseok admits. “Knowing what’s wrong with me and not being able to do shit about it but keep going. People say it gets easier, but...”

“Let me know when it does.” Yoongi sags until his head is resting against Hoseok’s chest and he can only see the back of his head; he stands there, stiff and quiet, until his hand goes numb in Yoongi’s grip, until they are found by their friends and brought home.

The string is long enough to let Yoongi sleep on the couch, so he does. Hoseok dreams Yoongi’s dreams in fits and starts; of himself dancing in BigHit’s old practice room, the taste of inferiority like metal in his mouth, of Namjoon, head bowed in front of Bang PD as he informs them that Ikje has left, of Donghyuk packing his bags and tearing his pictures down from the walls of the dorm.

He wakes before dawn, unable to bear it anymore. He stays in bed and watches the sun emerge, letting the dark slough away to reveal a new morning.

Chapter Text

In the following days, as the reality of exams and the impending summer holidays dawns on them, Hoseok and Yoongi come to an agreement. It’s obvious that their string won’t magically let them lead separate lives; they’re in this for the long haul, unless one of them gets their head out of their ass, and, given that they can’t go more than three days without physically assaulting each other, that, in Hoseok’s opinion, is not going to happen in the near future. They negotiate, discussing the details in the darkness of Hoseok’s bedroom, in the ten minutes they have between lectures, in the muggy summer stickiness as they walk back home from their respective studios.

“You don’t mind if I work?”

Hoseok shrugs. “No big, as long as you don’t mind me working too.”

Yoongi nods, kicking at the ground. “It’s pretty quiet, usually. Nam ajumma is okay, she won’t mind you hanging around.”

“I’ll be honest, when you first said you worked at a noraebang, I was scared you’d be a helper.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes at him. “It’s a noraebang, not a room salon. Did Jimin say that you two teach at a community centre?”

“Yep, it’s, like, a program for deprived kids? The pay’s not phenomenal, but it’s fun, it looks good on my CV and the kids are great. Last year there was this boy, Yejun, and oh my God, he kept trying to do the worm, but he didn’t know what it was so instead he laid there and pretended to eat the floor. Jimin has a video, it’s hilarious.”

“Cute,” Yoongi says, in the flattest, least enthusiastic tone ever. Hoseok decides to ignore it.

“They’re looking to expand their program. You’re good at basketball, right? Maybe you and Jungkook could teach them! Dunking on small children might satisfy your ego.”

“You f–!” Hoseok pinches his neck. “Ow!”

“We promised Joonie that we’d stop with the name calling, remember?” Hoseok pinches him violently. Yoongi fumes, but he calms down and shrugs Hoseok off.

“This is torture,” Yoongi moans as they approach Hoseok’s building.

“Yeah, well.” Hoseok rummages around in his bag for his keys. “Wait ‘til exams start, then we can talk.”

Yoongi crumples to his knees right as Hoseok gets the door open. “Why did you remind me?”

“You comin’?” Hoseok questions, and then Taemin appears in front of him. “Oh, hey, Taemin sunbae.”

Taemin is staring at Yoongi curiously. “Hoseok-sshi. Good job at the showcase, but, uh... Is he okay?”

“Yeah, he’s freaking out over exams. What’s up?”

“Not much. I was playing pool with Jiminie and Sungwoonie.” Taemin leans over to take a better look at Yoongi, now droopier than ever. “You sure he’s okay?”

“He’s fine.” Hoseok kicks Yoongi in the butt, making him yelp. “C’mon, let’s get out of Taemin sunbae’s way.” Taemin casts a curious look back at them as Hoseok hustles Yoongi inside and up the stairs and, finally, into their room.

That’s the next part of the agreement, after ‘no rude names’ – their living conditions. Seokjin, upon attempting to improve his room’s feng shui (Junghwa’s idea, not his, in dating Heeyeon Seokjin acquired four auxiliary girlfriends, two of whom are lesbians) moved his bed and found out that it was, in fact, two single beds. This minor disaster ruined everyone’s day until Hoseok realised how useful said beds could be. Seokjin was happy to trade, and now Hoseok and Yoongi no longer have to share a bed. The room is split down the middle, one half Hoseok’s, festooned with figurines and ticket stubs and old records; the other half Yoongi’s, occupied by the crap he towed over from his goshiwon.

It’s not ideal, but it is better, and with the sliding screen they managed to jury-rig down the middle of the room (sliding is generous, it responds to any attempts to move it by falling apart) they are both granted a modicum of privacy. It’s not great, but it is superior to their previous arrangement, and though they have no choice but to spoon (well, jetpack) on the days when they argue and the string punishes them for it by shortening to two feet, the separation is appreciated.

What they need, Hoseok decides, contemplating his methods of care notes as Yoongi thumps around on his side, is separation. The string – or whatever cosmic force that powers it – seems to be under the impression that keeping them together, that broadcasting their emotions and dreams on their shared frequency, will magically make them fall in love, as if it’s not difficult enough as it is to love someone whose imperfections are shoved in your face on a daily basis. In Hoseok’s opinion, love, like all things that grow, needs space. You need mystery, to build a mythology around the object of your affections, to fall in love with the romantic idea of them before you do the ugly reality of the person.

Or perhaps Hoseok is lying to himself, and the string is right in its belief (can a metaphysical construct believe?) that if he and Yoongi are kept in close quarters, they will bond in more than name. The kiss is proof of that. Hoseok replays it, from time to time, in the privacy of his own mind; the splay of Yoongi’s hands over his jaw, the warmth of his mouth, the rightness of it, like when you’re solving an equation and the final number – the one that will turn your answer from incoherent mess to a round number – clicks into place.

“Stop that,” he tells himself, laying his head on his desk.

“Stop what?” It’s Namjoon, one hand on his shoulder, the other holding a steaming cup of peppermint tea, demonstrating the limit of his culinary abilities.

“Thinking.”

“I wish I could too,” Namjoon, says, despondently. “Life would be easier if I were, like, a sponge or a jellyfish. Or Taehyung. Here, for you.” He sets the tea down and they make small talk about exams for a while (Hoseok is fucked, as is Namjoon, but he’ll pull straight As anyway, the bastard), until Namjoon asks about Yoongi.

“How he feels about his? You ask him, he’s right next door.”

“I...” Namjoon makes a face. “I dunno? I don’t wanna bother him.”

“He’ll be glad of the distraction,” Hoseok says. “Like I was.” Namjoon chews his lip, hesitation plain on his face. Hoseok lowers his voice. “It’s only Yoongi hyung. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“Says you. I dunno, man, there’s... there’s a lot there, you know?”

“I know,” Hoseok says, ruefully. “Believe me, I know, but you’re gonna have to unpack it eventually. I’m stuck with him, and you’re stuck with me.”

“We make our lives so difficult.” Namjoon sighs gustily. “Do you know what his favourite kind of tea is?”

Ten minutes later, Namjoon comes back into the room. Hoseok smells the rooibos, astringent yet fruity underneath, and he hears muted voices from the other side of the divider.

Namjoon doesn’t leave for a long while. If Hoseok concentrates, he can hear the piece Yoongi’s working on, commissioned for a student film, muffled, as if played quietly. He hears it again, a while later, slightly different – notes lowered, chords shuffled – and muted satisfaction washes down the string in weak waves, like a placid sea.

Hoseok uncaps his pen, moves onto the next question, and lets himself hope.

 

Summer starts immediately after their exams finish, sweeping them up in a craze of sunlight. One day, Hoseok’s head is fit to burst with bioethics and clinical rehabilitation; the next, it’s totally empty. His course went out to the best barbecue spot in the city last night and Yoongi, ever the unwilling participant, managed to black knight for him often enough that he doesn’t want to die when he wakes up. It’s a golden, lazy, kind of day, and for once Hoseok takes his time getting up. When he eventually slumps out of his room, it is to find Yoongi already awake, hanging off the couch, Jungkook occupying the rest of it.

“Morning!” Jimin adjusts his handstand by the wall, where Taehyung is helping him stretch. “You look happy.”

“I’m free.” Hoseok stretches his arms wide. “How are we this fine morning?” Taehyung grins. Jungkook grunts. Yoongi groans. “Lovely!”

Hoseok’s good mood is powerful enough to make him shoo Seokjin out of the kitchen so that he can make breakfast – hotteok, one of his few reliable recipes. His mother made them for him and his sister after they came home from school, and as they got older and his mother worked later and later, he made them for her on the rare occasion he was back from the studio or the academy before her, no matter how late it was. She complained that the yeast made their apartment smell like a brewery, but she devoured them.

Yoongi watches him pack the dough with the brown sugar mixture, looking rather worse for wear. Hoseok vaguely recalls Youngjae forcing him to drink a glass of soju mixed with gochujang and sesame oil. “Are these... those things your mom made?”

“Yep.” Hoseok pats the pancake into shape. “I dreamed about them when they made us diet.”

“All I ever wanted back then was kalgebi.” Yoongi peers at the sugar, mixed with cinnamon and crushed peanuts. “You make ‘em with peanuts? The ones they sell in Seomun Market have sunflower seeds in them.”

“That’s how they make them in Gyeongsang,” Jimin calls.

“Here, they fill hotteok with walnuts,” Namjoon adds, newly awoken.

“Do you want them or not?” Hoseok drops it into the pan. “Because what I’m hearing is ‘we’re ungrateful and Hoseok is too good for us.’”

“Welcome,” Seokjin says, heavily, “to my life.”

“Please feed me,” Taehyung declares in sageuk speak, falling to his knees by Hoseok’s side. “My family have not eaten in weeks. My children are starving, good sir – ow!”

Yoongi drags him away by the scruff of his neck. “You make me feel ill.”

“Hyung! Stop! Jimin-ah, Namjoon hyung, help me!” Yoongi tosses Taehyung onto the couch, and Hoseok tunes out their bickering, but Taehyung’s defence squad (i.e. Jimin and Namjoon) get involved, and then Jungkook has to help because he’s Jimin’s soulmate, and who is Kim Seokjin to be left out of an argument? Fondness blooms in Hoseok’s chest as he watches an incensed Seokjin windmill his arms at Jungkook, and it hurts, as if he’s using a muscle long idle. Fondness for his crazy housemates, fondness for the kids, fondness for his soulmate – and that scares him, that he no longer regards Yoongi as ‘that bastard’ but ‘my soulmate’, and it terrifies him that he’s not sure when that transition happened.

Once the first batch is off the griddle, he snaps a tea towel to attract attention. “They’re ready! First come, first served!”

Seokjin tackles everyone out of the way to be first, leaving Jungkook howling on the floor. Yoongi stands clear and gapes at the avalanche of men into the kitchen. “Why does everything in this house turn into a war?”

“Because Seokjin’ll eat everything if we don’t get our share first,” Jimin says, through a mouthful of pancake, elbowing Namjoon in the nose.

Hoseok holds a plate out to him. Yoongi takes it delicately and manages to situate himself at the table such that he can keep an eye on everyone else and thereby protect his food. He picks one up and inspects it thoroughly, giving it a careful sniff as he side-eyes Hoseok.

“I didn’t poison them.” Hoseok throws him a dirty look as he sits down beside him. Yoongi grumbles and takes a bite, gooey brown sugar oozing out of the insides.

“’S good.” He makes a humming noise of approval as he chews.

Hoseok filches one off of a distracted Taehyung’s plate and tosses it to Yoongi, who promptly stuffs it into his mouth. Hoseok makes a disgusted face at him and starts in on his own pile, and is reminded, with each greasy bite, of his mother, how her smile creases the edges of eyes, how, when he was a child, she lifted him up to the sink to help him wash his hands, how she made him halve each pancake with her.

“You’ve got a...” Yoongi points at his mouth.

“What?” Hoseok tries to lick the excess sugar off his lips. “Where?”

“There – no, there – aish, I’ll do it.” Yoongi leans forward and cups Hoseok’s chin with his hand. Hoseok’s heart patters madly, and, for a wild moment, he thinks Yoongi is going to kiss him, like his life is a late-night drama and Yoongi is the undeserving first lead to his candy girl heroine.

What he does is worse. He wipes the smear of sugar from the corner of Hoseok’s mouth with his thumb. “Got it,” he says, more to himself than anything, fingers pressing into the soft underside of Hoseok’s jaw, but when Hoseok open his mouth he jolts back as if scalded. “You eat like a kid,” he grumbles. “You should wear a bib.” He sticks his thumb into his mouth and sucks the sugar off, cheeks burning.

He’s alive. Hoseok wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and avoids Seokjin’s knowing look. His old Yoongi hyung, who gave you a present by throwing it at your face, who laid a blanket over you if you dozed off on the couch, who convinced you to eat by complaining that he didn’t like what he was eating and dumping it on your plate, is there, simply made anew, older and wearier and no lesser for it. “Thanks.”

Yoongi opens his mouth and then closes it. Hoseok stares at him quizzically, until a yell from the end of the table distracts him. “That was mine,” Jimin whines, pushing Seokjin away from his plate. “Stop eating my food, you pig!”

“You’re one to talk,” Seokjin mutters. “You ate my ramen the other day – yah!” Seokjin crashes to the floor as his chair goes out from under him, Jungkook withdrawing his leg guiltily. “Jeon Jungkook!” Jungkook dodges Seokjin’s flailing limbs and, grabbing his plate (and Seokjin’s), dashes into the living room, giggling, Jimin in tow, Seokjin in hot pursuit. Taehyung jumps up and follows, camera raised to ‘document the carnage’. Yoongi tries to take his plate, but Namjoon smacks his hand away.

Hoseok looks at the mêlée in the living room, and then at Namjoon. Namjoon rests his head on the table, and says, “I’m practising solipsism. Nothing exists outside of me.”

“Does that mean I can have your hotteok?”

“Oh my God, I’ll make you more if you want them.”

“No, I want the pleasure of stealing them.” Yoongi drags Jimin’s plate over and digs in happily. Hoseok, after a small internal battle, copies him.

Namjoon eyes him. “Et tu, Brute?”

“What happened to solipsism?” Namjoon grimaces at him. Hoseok holds out a pancake; Namjoon accepts it, and the three of them munch methodically through the rest of the food, to the tuneful soundtrack of Seokjin screaming in distress as Taehyung snaps pictures and mutters about lighting.

 

As the days lengthen, and the people on the streets shed their jumpers and jackets and jeans for shirts and shorts and skirts, Yoongi begins to fit in. Things aren’t always harmonious – at best, their relationship is cordial – but nobody has been punched in two weeks, though there was plenty of pushing and shoving and forehead flicks. Hoseok, despite himself, remembers why he liked Yoongi as much as he did – his concealed kindness, his dry humour, the outlandish lies he spins for no discernible reason except to amuse himself. Yoongi asks for his input in his music, and though, as a rule, they end up in an argument, Hoseok enjoys it, the old mechanics of music production operating in his mind as if he never stopped.

Yoongi even gets on with the others. He was always friendly with Seokjin, to the point that Hoseok was under the impression that Yoongi had a thing for him when they were trainees (which, he didn’t blame him, everyone had a thing for Kim Seokjin), but Yoongi and Namjoon clashed; Yoongi thought Namjoon was a pretentious, stuck-up silver spoon, and Namjoon dismissed Yoongi as a gate-keeping superior dickhead. The years have worn those edges away, and Hoseok spots them sharing headphones occasionally, listening to what he would describe as old man hip-hop, picking up their old Tupac versus Biggie debate.

The kids take longer, but Yoongi surrenders eventually. His biggest soft spot is for his protégé, Jungkook, but Jimin and Taehyung worm their way into his good graces, the former especially. Jimin’s irresistible magnetism is such that when he begs Yoongi to let him dye his silver, Yoongi, upon painstaking examination of Jimin’s post-dye job selfies, agrees, but only after Jimin promised to fund a trip to the salon to fix it if it went wrong.

They set aside a Friday afternoon to dye it. Hoseok sits on the edge of the bathtub and reads webtoons as Jimin fusses over Yoongi’s head, straightening foils, dabbing extra Vaseline onto his hairline as the dye drips down from his hair, ignoring the insistent knocking on the door.

“I’m gonna piss myself!” Taehyung bangs on the door. “Get out!”

“Can’t,” Jimin calls. “Do you want Yoongi hyung to lose his scalp?”

“What are they doing?” There’s a rustling sound as Namjoon dumps his bag and coat on the pile by the entrance.

“Jimin’s dying Yoongi’s hair.” Seokjin tosses a cracker into his mouth with a crunch.

“It’s been half an hour,” Taehyung whines. “Aren’t you done yet?”

“We gotta wash it next,” Jimin answers. Taehyung groans dramatically. “Go pee somewhere else. How many friends do you have?” Taehyung stomps off, muttering.

“Your hair smells,” Hoseok informs Yoongi.

“I haven’t washed it in days,” Yoongi says, morosely. “I had to use a shower cap. Do you know how emasculating that is?”

“It’s better for dying. It keeps your scalp from getting inflamed.” Jimin peels a foil back. “We’re done here! Hoseok hyung, you wash it out, I need to get the toner ready.” Hoseok protests, but Jimin gives him a look and he shuts up.

“C’mon, head over the tub.” Hoseok chivvies Yoongi into place.

“I can wash it myself,” Yoongi snaps.

“No, you can’t.” Jimin measures developer out into a bowl with practised accuracy. “You might miss some, and then you’ll really get chemical burns.”

Hoseok peels the foils off as quickly as he can and dumps them into a pile on the floor. Then, once Yoongi’s head is over the tub, he grabs the shower head and rinses the dye out as carefully as he can. The water is cold so as not to react badly with the dye, and Yoongi shivers as a drop rolls down his neck and soaks into the towel around his shoulders.

“When did you start dying it?” Hoseok runs his fingers through his hair to check for remnants of dye. Yoongi’s hair, despite the havoc bleach wreaks, is thick and in good condition. It’s wet, but it still feels soft.

“When I moved here,” Yoongi mumbles. “Is it out yet?”

“Use that purple shampoo once it is,” Jimin instructs, indicating the bottle on the floor. Hoseok squeezes out a dollop and lathers it between his palms, massaging it into Yoongi’s hair.

“Don’t fall asleep.” Yoongi slumps over the tub.

“I won’t,” Yoongi protests, despite all indications to the contrary. Hoseok can feel the drowsiness, the comfort, fuzzing the edges of his mind; Yoongi (or, at least, a deeply hidden part of him) likes how Hoseok’s hands feel in his hair, on his scalp, down his neck, where Hoseok takes special care. Yoongi’s neck is sensitive, especially the nape, and he melts as he cards his fingers through the short hair there.

Once his hair is shampooed (Hoseok snaps a candid picture of him, scowling, hair a delicate of lilac) and rinsed, Jimin paints in the toner. “Shouldn’t need to leave it in long.” He sits back and cards a hand through his own hair, currently an in-between peach shade. Jimin dyes his own hair, and Hoseok genuinely can’t remember the last time it was black. It’s usually an outlandish hue of red or orange or pink. “Should I dye mine? I’ve never gone grey.”

“No way,” Jungkook yells. “I’m sick of you staining the pillowcases!”

“I don’t stain them!”

“You do! Especially when you get sweaty...”

“I do not want to hear about Jimin getting sweaty,” Seokjin says, alarmed. Jimin flushes fire truck red, and dashes into the living room to defend his virtue.

Yoongi turns around and flops over the edge of the tub, eyes sliding shut, head tipped back. Hoseok averts his eyes, even though it’s nothing, only Yoongi, the soft lines of his chin, the smooth length of his neck where his Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows. “It smells,” he grouses, lip curling.

“You’re gonna stink of ammonia for a week,” Hoseok agrees. “Better than that Paco Rabanne shit you wear.” Before Yoongi can take offence, Hoseok bulls on. “Why’d you dye it?”

“You know – I’m. I’m different inside, and I figured that I might as well be different on the outside too so people know what they’re getting into.”

“Like a poisonous tree frog,” Hoseok teases.

“Shut up. Besides, I like the way it looks. Washes me out, kinda.”

It’s true – Yoongi is paler than him, and, with his hair stripped of colour, he looks even paler. The managers always praised his skin, how comparatively light and unblemished it was, usually within earshot of Hoseok and Namjoon, both of whom were looked upon uncharitably for their country skin, ravaged by teenage acne. He remembers the stylists complaining that they had to order in foundation from abroad for them because the Korean brands didn’t believe that people whose skin was darker than shade 24 wore makeup.

The old jealousy curls around Hoseok’s throat. He could dance, but Yoongi could rap. His proportions were good, but Yoongi was broad. He was skinny, but Yoongi was pale. He had a pretty nose, but Yoongi had a pretty mouth. How were they ever going to make a group of them when they were constantly pitted against each other?

He doesn’t say any of the cruel words he would have when he was a moronic seventeen-year-old. Instead, he says, “Black hair looked nice on you. Not that – not that this doesn’t suit you.” Yoongi looks at him strangely. “What?”

“Are you complimenting me?”

“Yes? Am I not allowed to compliment you?”

“No, I...” Yoongi scrunches his nose up, visibly conflicted. “Why?”

“Why? I wanted to? It... it doesn’t mean anything.”

Hoseok meant that in the most genuine way possible, no ulterior motives, but it was the wrong thing to say. Yoongi turns his head away from him. “Whatever.”

Whatever?”

“Jung Hoseok,” Yoongi says, in a low voice. “Please leave me alone.”

Humiliated, Hoseok tosses the towel in Yoongi direction, and leaves the bathroom quickly, brushing past Jimin as he enters.

“Did you two fight again?” Namjoon doesn’t bother to look up from his book.

“He takes everything the wrong way! He’s looking for meaning that’s not there, I – I mean what I say! He’s so obtuse.” Hoseok buries his head in his hands. Namjoon pats his back absently.

He hates this, this – this – this one step forward, two steps back, like a fucked-up foxtrot. Hoseok wants to make progress, that’s the point of life, to keep going, and Yoongi is like a gigantic wall in his way, one of the ones they put in a video game to tell you to find another way around, except there is no other way around. The only way is forward.

“You know, I read this book when I was small,” Namjoon says, grandly, “and there was this quote...” He puts on a funny, childish voice. “‘We can't go over it, we can't go under it. Oh no! We've got to go through it!’ So, go through it.”

“Did you compare my life to that bear hunt song?”

Namjoon and Seokjin make onomatopoeic noises at him. Jungkook looks at Hoseok with the dead fish eyes he gets after he’s gotten in trouble with Jimin. Hoseok, because this is his normal solution to problems in his life, lies down on the floor and spends several minutes yelling into the rug, until Taehyung returns from his pee adventure and sits down on him. He stops yelling then, because that would waste valuable air, and they only realise he’s suffocating when Yoongi begins to cough out of nowhere in the bathroom and freaks out Jimin.

“I saved your life,” Yoongi yells, voice raspy, when Taehyung is dragged off Hoseok’s back.

“You should have left me to die, you slimy fuck,” Hoseok yells back. It’s a dick move on his part, but he can’t breathe, he’s allowed to be a dick, and by now fighting with Yoongi is more recreational than confrontational.

“I’ll strangle you myself,” Yoongi threatens, as he takes a step into the living room.

“Your stinky ass will suffocate me first!”

“Fuck you, it’s not my fault Jimin bought the smelliest dye he could! What the fuck is this shit made of? Dead people? Dog shit?”

“It’s the most effective,” Jimin says, snippily. “I mean, look at your hair! Didn’t I do a good job?”

“Aish, Min Yoongi.” Hoseok sits up with a wince. “Jimin worked so hard and now you’re insulting him? Are you a human?”

“How unbecoming of a hyung,” Seokjin adds. Yoongi makes a noise of pure frustration and stomps off to finish drying his hair. Hoseok, yelping, is dragged on his back after him, the string punishing them for their childish fight by shortening drastically. Namjoon locks the door of the living room after them. Hoseok wants to be insulted, but, were he in their place, he’d do the same.

Yoongi drops his used towel on Hoseok’s face; Hoseok shouts and fights it off him. Yoongi sniggers at him and Hoseok struggles to his feet to give him a piece of his mind but gets distracted.

Yoongi cards his fingers through his hair, scrutinising how he looks in the mirror. Jimin was right; he did do a good job. The blond suited him, but the grey suits him better; he looks expensive, putting Hoseok, with his bog-standard black locks, to shame. He must be proud of it, judging by his smirk as his hair flops down over his brow.

“You’re so vain,” Hoseok says, because he doesn’t have anything else to say, so he might as well revert to his default and insult Yoongi.

“Sue me.” Yoongi looks at him, for a long while. “Um, about earlier...”

Hoseok doesn’t turn to face him and watches him in the mirror instead. Yoongi’s jawline is strange; there’s a dip near his chin, where one could fit their thumb, their lips. “Yes?”

“I’m sorry. I was rude. I...” Yoongi inhales heavily. “I’m... I’m, uh, used to second-guessing people, when they’re... when they’re nice. I gotta unlearn it.”

“S’okay.” Hoseok turns to face him. “I promise I’m straightforward. I mean what I say. I’m not a liar... unlike you.”

“Yah,” Yoongi spits. “I never lie!”

Hoseok sniffs exaggeratedly. “Hmm, what do I smell? Oh, it’s your pants! They’re on fire!” Hoseok flaps his hands at Yoongi’s butt.

“Fuck off,” Yoongi mutters, shouldering past him. “Can’t stay serious for five minutes. Jesus Christ.”

Hoseok rubs his shoulder and makes a rude gesture behind his back. Yoongi responds in kind, and Hoseok catches a glimpse of a smile, the unbidden one Yoongi can never hide. Something diffuses down the string, like the fragrance of flowers; not affection, but an ancestor of it. Endearment, perhaps.

It’s a start, Hoseok tells himself, as the boys exclaim over Yoongi’s hair, Yoongi soaking up the flattery with unpractised grace. It’s a start, and starts lead to middles, and middles to ends, and Hoseok cannot help but contemplate what awaits him there, at the end this, at the end of Yoongi, at the end of their string.

Chapter Text

Yoongi works the late shift at Nam Noraebang, from ten pm to five am, taking over from a high-school girl who deflated when Hoseok trailed Yoongi in. Nam ajumma is delighted by Hoseok, oohing and aahing at his proportions, pulling down his facemask to inspect his jawline, though she docks him marks for his long face and small earlobes. “You have to go for the ones with big ears, Yoongi-yah,” she reprimands. “They’re the ones that make big money.”

“I’m afraid I didn’t have a choice,” Yoongi mutters, settling in behind the counter.

“You’ll be fine. You have such opposite features! You’re defined and Yoongichi is soft. You’ll balance each other out. What animal were you born under, dear?”

“I was born in 1994, but how is that...?”

“Ah! A wood dog, like Freddie Mercury. Yoongichi is a water rooster. That’s a fascinating combination.” She grabs Hoseok by the jaw and tilts his head this way and that. “Not ideal, he’d be better off with a snake or an ox, but water makes wood grow. He’ll inspire you, as they say, to become a better you. The only problem is, doesn’t wood absorb water? You should be careful not to block his way.”

“Yeah, Hoseokie needs to learn how to get out of my way,” Yoongi adds. Hoseok seethes.

“I’ll leave you boys to it. Ring me if those awful stockbrokers come in, I don’t want you to deal with them alone. Bye bye, children!” Nam ajumma, after bestowing a lipsticky peck on both him and Yoongi, bustles off, leaving a stunned Hoseok in her wake.

“Did she compare me to Freddie Mercury or am I having a stroke?” Hoseok grabs a wet wipe from the packet Yoongi is offering him; he scrubs at his cheek vigorously.

“Yeah, well, she did that to me too, except she roared ‘BEYONCÉ’ at me and now when a customer picks Single Ladies she thinks it’s a good auspice for me.” Yoongi, cheek clean, tosses his own wipe in the bin and leafs through the roster. “Okay, rooms 3, 5 and 6 are occupied...”

Working for a noraebang isn’t as glamorous as Hoseok thought it would be. Yoongi gives people a program of songs, takes their orders for snacks and drinks and cleans up once they’re gone. Once or twice, he has to throw out rowdier clients. Mostly, he sits there and reads a basketball manga.

“I’m bored,” Hoseok whines, at half-past one in the morning, sniffing wretchedly. He must have caught a cold; Seokjin practically gagged him earlier when he forced a facemask on him. “Is there anything I can do?”

“You can nap in the back room,” Yoongi murmurs, not looking up from his book. “Don’t you have something to do? A book to read? Music to listen to?”

Hoseok slouches over the counter. “I’m sick of sitting still. How do you do this all night?”

“Easily. Here.” Yoongi drops his book and fumbles around on the shelves. “If you want something to do, you can mind the place. I’m gonna go for a smoke.”

“You shouldn’t smoke.” Hoseok scowls at him.

“And why should your opinions have any bearing on my choices?”

“Fuck off and go deepthroat your cancer stick.”

Yoongi snorts. “That’s a stellar indication of your deepthroating skills.” Hoseok, despite himself, goes red. “The rooms are full, and I should be back before anyone’s done. Amuse yourself however you want.” Hoseok ignores him as he leaves.

Without Yoongi to annoy, Hoseok’s ennui intensifies. In a desperate attempt to alleviate the tedium, he pages through the song catalogue. It ranges from fifties trot music, to the government-sanctioned ballads his parents were raised on, to contemporary bubblegum pop girl groups.

When Hoseok is in the Is, marvelling at the scale of IU’s discography, the doorbell chimes to herald a customer’s entrance. “We’re full, sorry.”

“That’s fine.” She smiles, showing perfect teeth. “I’m not here to sing. Nam ajumma said Yoongichi was coming back tonight.”

“He’s not here,” Hoseok says, with trepidation. “Who are you?”

“A friend,” she chirps. She’s in her twenties, though it’s hard to tell exactly. Her face is buried under a layer of full-coverage foundation, cheekbones expertly contoured, lips painted in a delicate gradient. Her hair is heavy with perfectly curled extensions, the bracelet on her wrist is Cartier, and if Hoseok knows his brands right, those jeans are Gucci. “Tell him Soonyi noona is here, okay?”

Hoseok’s phone buzzes. He checks it discreetly.

Min Yoongi

Today 2:11 AM
A girl went in
Is her name Soonyi?
Yes...
Fuckfuckfuck
DON’T TELL HER I’M HERE
Get her to leave
Who is she???
Someone I don’t want to see
Tell her to go away
I’m not doing your dirty work!!! Kick her out yourself
Please
I'm begging you
As your soulmate

‘As your soulmate.’ Hoseok reads the message again and again, a strange bubbling feeling rising in his throat. Yoongi must be truly desperate if he’s willing to pull the soulmate card.

“He’s not here tonight,” Hoseok says, straight-faced. “Something came up.”

“Oh.” She pouts. “You’re covering for him? Are you a friend?”

“Yes, I, um...” She leans forward onto the counter, and her shirt gapes open. Hoseok, despite the lizard part of his brain which desperately wants to get an eyeful, keeps his gaze up.

“What’s your name?”

“Jung Hoseok, I, uh... what are you doing?” Her fingers brush across his forehead. Her breath smells of wine. She’s drunk, he realises.

“Fixing your hair,” she smiles. “You look sexy with your hair pushed back.” Hoseok flushes, and she pulls back. “How long have you known my Yoongichi?”

Her Yoongichi? “Six years,” he says. “Who – how do you know him?”

“How women know men. Hoseok-ah...” She hoists herself onto the counter and leans in close, until her perfume suffocates him, until her diamond necklace clinks against his chest. “Don’t you know?” One manicured nail drags down his neck, his chest, and Hoseok is freaking the fuck out, Hoseok does not want this–

A hand grabs her wrist and stops it from going any further. “What are you doing?”

“Yoongi-yah,” she gasps. “I thought you weren’t here?”

“I am now.” Yoongi pulls her away from Hoseok. “What are you doing to him?”

“I was only playing,” she simpers. “Since my baby wasn’t here...”

“I’m not your baby, and neither is he.” His grip tightens; Hoseok can see his knuckles whitening.

“Yoongi-yah,” she snaps. “Let go of noona.”

“I told you I was done.”

“You didn’t even explain!” She wriggles in his grip.

“Let her go,” Hoseok says, frightened. Yoongi releases her immediately and stares at his hand after as if it acted without his permission.

“See? Hoseokie is much nicer. You’re cruel, Yoongi-yah.”

“You’re drunk. Go home. I’ll get you a taxi.” Hoseok stares at the girl, tottering around on her heels, and at Yoongi, eyes narrowed, positioned between her and Hoseok as if to protect him.

“I miss you, honey. When we broke up, you didn’t tell me why...”

“You have to be in a relationship to break up. Please leave.”

The girl gives him a dirty look. “Ugh, whatever.” She staggers towards Hoseok. “Hoseokie is more my type.”

Hoseok looks at the girl, at the heavy flutter of her false lashes, at the black strappy bra visible under the translucent fabric of her shirt. “I’m not...”

“He’s my soulmate,” Yoongi snaps, grabbing her around the midriff and hauling her away in an unexpected show of strength. “Get away from him!”

She scoffs as she struggles in his arms. “Your soulmate? You’re lying!”

“I’m not! Look.” Yoongi sticks his wrist out in front of her, and the string materialises. Today, it coils around his wrist heavily, like a serpent.

The girl examines his wrist in silence and then looks up at Hoseok with a frown. “That’s a pity. Yoongichi’s tongue is wasted on another man.”

Hoseok splutters. “What? What do you... oh. Oh.” The girl cackles and Yoongi takes the opportunity to forcibly eject her from the premises; she wails insults and hits him as he carries her up the stairs. When he returns, visibly ruffled, Hoseok pulls him into the office. “What the fuck? Who was she?”

“Chaebol’s daughter.” Yoongi sits down heavily. “We weren’t involved for that long, and it wasn’t serious. She’d never bring me home to daddy.”

“Hyung...”

“Don’t feel sorry for me,” Yoongi says, tiredly. “She was hot, I was lonely, and it was always safe. I didn’t realise she was that cut up about it. I... I shouldn’t have left you alone.”

The implicit apology calms Hoseok enough for him to see the absurdity of the situation. “You didn’t have to jump in and protect me.”

“I know, I...” Yoongi looks at his hands. “I didn’t... I wasn’t thinking. I wasn’t gonna come in, but I could feel that you were terrified, and she’s... not good at boundaries.” He bites his lip. “I shouldn’t have been rough with her. I’ll apologise to her when she sobers up tomorrow. She’s sweet, really, only spoiled.”

Hoseok shakes his head and glances at the fridge. “You want a drink?”

“You’re paying.” Yoongi grabs them two cold bottles of beer and a bag of snacks and even opens Hoseok’s beer for him.

Hoseok takes the gesture for what it is – an apology – and spends the remainder of the night trying not to look at the way Yoongi’s lips wrap around the neck of his beer bottle, at how his tongue darts out to lick his lips when he eats. That tongue is wasted on another man. Oh, God.

 

As the week passes, Hoseok expects his cold to clear up; he never gets sick anymore. Jungkook is the one afflicted with a perpetual cold.

It doesn’t. In fact, it worsens, and he goes through a staggering number of facemasks trying to protect others from his germs. He feels like an emperor with all the tributes his friends are leaving him, from cold medicine to flasks of citron tea.

But he keeps going. It’s summer, after all; Hoseok doesn’t want to lounge around in his sickbed, as much as Yoongi tries to convince him that it would be ‘good for his health.’ Hoseok sees through the bullshit; Yoongi loves to laze around indoors and will take any excuse to do so. Hoseok refuses to give in.

Thus, Hoseok spends a Saturday afternoon in early July perched on a ladder, whitewashing the side of Yoongi’s old goshiwon as a favour to the owners, who forgave Yoongi his debts to them and more. Yoongi is pottering around below him, steadying the ladder, pouring the paint into a tray, scrubbing the walls clean. The sun scalds the exposed back of Hoseok’s neck, and he hopes that he put on enough SPF to ward off a sunburn. The white expanse of the wall seems endless, and he keeps repainting the same spots, earning himself a rebuke from Yoongi for wasting paint.

“Hoseok-ah!” Yoongi’s old landlord, Byungchul, comes around the side of the building. “Aigoo, look at all you did! Come down and have lunch, let Yoongichi suffer.”

Yoongi grumbles, but they tag out. Hoseok stumbles as he descends the ladder, and Yoongi catches him by the elbow to steady him. “Are you okay?”

“Peachy,” Hoseok chirps, untruthfully. “I need to sit down, that’s all. Oh my God, is that naengmyeon?”

“Insookie’s family was from the North.” Byungchul lays out utensils and bowls. “Her naengmyeon is the best this side of the 38th parallel.”

“And the other,” Yoongi calls.

“How would you know, you brat?” Yoongi’s only response is a laugh, which cuts off when Hoseok kicks the ladder.

“Yah! Jung Hoseok! I could have died!”

“I’d be happier.” Hoseok slurps up a mouthful of noodles. He can’t taste them, thanks to his cold, but they’re cool, a respite from the overwhelming heat of the day.

“You two are the strangest pair of soulmates I’ve ever met.” Byungchul pours them both water. “I’ve met many soulmates, but I’ve never seen them argue.”

“I’m sure soulmates argue.” Hoseok chews on a piece of pickled radish. “But other soulmates have the sense to fight behind closed doors. We like airing our dirty laundry.”

Byungchul shakes his head at him. They eat in pleasant silence, but for the weird sounds Yoongi makes as he struggles with the roller. The water and food revive Hoseok somewhat, and by the time he’s finished (and cleaned up, despite Byungchul’s protestations), he’s ready to ascend the ladder. “Do you want me to go up?”

“Only if you’re feeling better,” Yoongi warns.

“I am!” Hoseok turns a sloppy cartwheel to prove it, bowing as Byungchul applauds.

“Show-off,” Yoongi mutters as he clambers back down with difficulty. Hoseok wishes he had his phone to record him; he will never not be amused by how gracelessly Yoongi moves.

Once up the ladder, he revises his opinion. He doesn’t feel better. The food roils in his stomach, and, once or twice, he is forced to brace himself against the wall, leaving his hands tacky with whitewash. He’ll be damned if he says anything, though. He remembers the revulsion on Yoongi’s face when he got sick when they bonded. Yoongi already thinks he’s a weakling; he was the one who nursed him through his bouts of illness during their trainee days when Hoseok’s frail constitution could not bear the stress, the pressure, the uncertainty. Hoseok is a man grown now. He can deal with this; he will prove to Yoongi that he’s not the baby he was.

“Hoseok-ah,” Yoongi bleats at him. “Hoseok-ah!”

“Don’t yell! You’ll disturb ajusshi and ajumma!” Hoseok grips the ladder again, sweaty palms slipping on the rungs. He’s hot enough that his brain hurts. When did it get this hot?

Yoongi ignores his concerns. “I’ve been calling you for the past five minutes. Get down off that ladder. You’re not well, I can feel it.”

“I’m fine,” Hoseok says, between gritted teeth. His head is woozy, and it’s getting difficult to hold on. “Leave me alone.”

“Are you lying to me?” Yoongi tugs on his leg. “Come down here or I’ll make you.”

“Make me? Make me how – yah!” Yoongi shakes the ladder, leaving Hoseok to cling on for dear life with what scant strength he can muster. “Crazy bastard! Are you trying to kill me?”

“The opposite! Get your ass down here!”

“No!”

“Jung Hoseok, if you don’t come down here this instant I will – oomph!”

Hoseok, unintentionally, does come down. The strength in his limbs fails, and he lets go of the ladder, wheeling backwards and plummeting towards the ground. Terror jolts through him, his and Yoongi’s, and he lands with a crash and a scream that makes Byungchul and Insook run out of the building to them.

They find them in a pile, Yoongi groaning under a largely insensate Hoseok’s waist, arms wrapped around him, string tangled around them like a python.

 

Byungchul is kind enough to drive them to the hospital, despite Hoseok’s insistence that he’s perfectly fine, that all he needs is to go home. The doctors take one look at him, bruised and ashen and standing entirely under Yoongi’s power, and in twenty minutes he’s hooked up to an IV as the nurse finishes treating Yoongi’s meagre wounds, Hoseok’s already taken care of.

“You have the flu,” the doctor scolds, showing Hoseok the thermometer. She’s a student, scarcely older than Hoseok himself, and her overbearing attitude is piquing him. “You shouldn’t have been outside at all, never mind painting. You’re lucky your soulmate caught you; you could have seriously damaged your head.”

“I told you you were sick,” Yoongi adds, wincing as the nurse dabs ointment onto his forehead.

“Shut up,” Hoseok mumbles, vexed. “How – when can I go home?”

“When the IV is done. We’ll give you painkillers, but you won’t need any antivirals. With enough fluids and rest, it should pass in a day or two, seeing as you’ve already weathered the worst.” She finishes scribbling on his chart and pins it to the end of his bed. “I’ll come back to discharge you, but until then, rest, and don’t you dare move.” She trots off with a flip of her neat ponytail. Hoseok sticks his tongue out at her back; the nurse giggles at him.

“She’s just like that,” she says, apologetically. “Sorry.”

Hoseok says something unflattering and lies back, closing his eyes. The nurse talks with Yoongi quietly (she mentions contact? Perhaps she’s warning Yoongi to stay away from him if he doesn’t want to catch whatever Hoseok has), and departs, leaving them alone.

The silence is a relief. Despite his bravado, Hoseok doesn’t feel well, and the quiet is a balm to the ache all over him.

“I texted the boys,” Yoongi informs him, looking up from his phone. “Seokjinnie’ll collect us when they discharge you. They wanted to come now, but Namjoon didn’t want the kids on top of you while you’re recovering.”

“He’s right. Big surprise.” Hoseok feels around for the glass of water; Yoongi gets to it before he can and holds the glass to his lips for Hoseok to drink. Hoseok contemplates pressing his lips shut and refusing to drink, or grabbing the glass off him, but he’s parched, and he doesn’t think he can hold the glass without spilling half its contents, so he drinks.

“Just like old times, huh,” Yoongi says, once the glass is empty and back on the bedside table.

“Ugh.” Hoseok pulls the blanket up over his head. “Don’t remind me.”

“You’re the same, y’know. Like, manfully suffering through it and then collapsing and giving us a heart attack. You’re such a drama queen.”

“Guilty as charged.” Hoseok rolls over to look at Yoongi. There’s a cut above his eyebrow, and the nurse stuck a cute lilac butterfly sticker on it, incongruous with his grey hair and his pierced ears and his glare. “I’m a showman, remember?”

“What you are is full of shit. I’d hit you, but–”

“I’m sick!”

“I know. I’m not that terrible, am I?” Hoseok leaves the question unanswered, in favour of wallowing in self-pity. Yoongi sighs, and says, “The blame’s not entirely yours.”

“What?”

“I – I should have known how bad you were. Should have stopped you.”

Hoseok looks at Yoongi, at the dejected curve of his slouched shoulders. “You think you could stop me doing anything I wanted to?”

Yoongi’s mouth tightens. “It’s my responsibility to, as your soulmate.”

“You’re not responsible for me.”

“Then who is? You’re obviously not capable of it.”

“You haven’t done laundry in a month. Neither of us is capable of this.” Yoongi opens his mouth and closes it. “That’s what I thought.”

“In my defence, I haven’t needed to wash my clothes.”

“You wore that Joy Division t-shirt for ten days in a row. It stank.”

Yoongi ignores him and gets up to dim the lights. “Be quiet. Go to sleep before Janggeum comes back and rips us both a new one.”

Sleep sounds good; he’s wrecked, as if he hasn’t slept in days. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though, and minutes pass as he stares blankly at the ceiling, listening to the IV drip, to the low-level noise of the ward.

What would make him fall asleep? Exercise, warm milk, a book? He can’t do any of that, he’s too sick, and his mind is stuffy, and he wants–

He wants what everyone wants, but what he cannot want if he has any pride left. He wants his soulmate to touch him, to feel the comfort of skin against his own, another’s warmth to bolster his.

Yoongi is close, and Hoseok is weak. Just this once, he tells himself. Only the once.

“Hyung?”

“Yes?”

“Do you... do you remember? The last time I was in the hospital, when I couldn’t fall asleep?”

Yoongi is silent as he recalls it. “Yeah. I do.”

“Could... could you?”

Hoseok can’t tell how long that moment is – it’s difficult to process time with his thoughts clumped together – but it feels like an age before Yoongi drags his chair up beside him. “The nurse said that it’d be a good idea to do this. What... what exactly do you want me to do? I can’t remember.”

“You – my mom, she used to... pet me.”

“Pet you?”

“Like...” Hoseok gropes for Yoongi’s arm, finding it and running his hand up and down his forearm. “Like that.”

After a brief pause, Yoongi imitates him, haltingly, at first, as if Hoseok were not his soulmate but a stranger, as if he had never touched him before, but he soon gets into the swing of it, developing a soothing rhythm. It’s nice – Hoseok can’t come up with any other word for the relief his touch provides, superior to any painkiller. It’s even better when Yoongi threads his fingers through his hair; Hoseok is embarrassed by his response, how he burrows into Yoongi’s hands as his breathing slows and evens.

“You’re burning up,” Yoongi mutters. “Do you want water?” He removes his hand, to get him another drink, and Hoseok whimpers. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

“No, I...” Oh, God. He’s never going to live this one down. “I’m not thirsty. Can you keep...”

“Touching you?”

“Please,” Hoseok says, beyond shame by now. “It... it helps.”

Yoongi sits closer, nearly embracing him. It’s good, in the cleanest, purest way possible, like cool water and a soft bed. It’s right.

It’s right.

“The bond,” Hoseok mumbles, on the brink of sleep.

“What?”

“The bond,” he repeats. “I’m scared... it’s right.”

Yoongi sighs. “Go to sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Sleep claims him, as gentle as a lover. Hoseok dreams in metaphor; in sunlight, in skin, in solace, someone whispering his name in the background; Hoseok-ah, Hoseok-ah, Hoseok-ah. Mine, mine, mine.

 

The cicadas chirr a creaky concerto as Hoseok’s phone beeps. The muggy summer evening is no comfort, but it’s better than it is inside the pool hall. He dragged Yoongi here to meet a couple of college friends, but Hoseok was sick of losing and was also sick of Junhong grabbing his butt when he lined up to take a shot, so he stepped outside (well, as outside as he could go, given that he and Yoongi are tied together) to get fresh air. The crickets stop, to confer, perhaps, about their next piece, and start up again. Inside, he hears cheering; someone must have made a good shot. He pulls out his phone and opens KaTalk. His top conversation is, as per usual, with Dawon.

Noona

Today 9:42 PM
You should call mom ok she hasn’t heard from you in ages and she's sick of getting news second-hand
I have to give her my phone so she can look at what you say and she goes rooting through my other chatrooms
She found my Marc Jacobs order you have no idea how badly that went down
I will!!!! I promise!!!!
I was sick and I'm busy (;ㅡㅅㅡ) I’m sorry
Too sick to call mom? And busy doing what????? It’s summer
Don’t lie to noona Seokseok-ah
(ㅇㅁㅇ)
Don’t get cute with me you know it doesn’t work
Being cute always~ works~ uing~
Ok it does but is2g if u don’t call soon shes coming on the next express train

As per usual, Dawon is right. (She predicted Jessica’s departure from SNSD. Hoseok has learned to trust her.) He needs to talk to his mother. He dials their house phone and waits. “Please don’t let Dad pick up,” he murmurs. Hoseok – Hoseok loves his father, but he wants this particular piece of news to go through his mother first.

“Hello?”

“Mom?”

“Who is this?”

“It’s me, your only son.”

“Hmm. Never heard of him.”

Mom,” he whines, and she laughs down the line. “Is this a bad time? I can hang up.”

“No, no, you’re fine. I’m ironing. I have you on speaker.” She proceeds with her usual status update on the location of every member of his family. “Mickey is here on the couch, he went to the vet last week for that lump on his side but the vet says its fine, it’s benign, and we should leave it alone. Dawon is off at a night class, don’t ask me what about, I couldn’t pronounce it, and your father is at work.”

“Still?” It’s nine in the evening.

“They’re running a summer school, and your father is tutoring repeat students.” She sighs. “I’m lucky I have Mickey.”

“Mom,” he says, guiltily.

“Don’t worry, I’m used to it. You haven’t lived here in what, seven years? We should remodel your bedroom.”

“Leave my bedroom out of this.” Hoseok, despite his best efforts to suppress it, coughs, the lingering aftereffects of his illness stubbornly clinging to him, and it leads to an avalanche of questions.

“Oh, my poor Hoseokie, your sister told me you were sick! Are you okay? How are you feeling? Did you go to the hospital? Do you want me to send you anything?”

“I’m fine, it’s cleared up now. It wasn’t serious. Hyung looked after me, I’m okay.”

“Seokjinnie?”

“Yes,” Hoseok lies. It was Yoongi who minded him during his convalescence; it was Yoongi who kept him supplied with tea and water and rice porridge, who sat through terrible dramas with him, who lulled Hoseok to sleep with gentle hands. Hoseok refuses to give him the credit for it; his bedside manner was terrible enough that Hoseok, on several feverish occasions, fantasised about spitting in his food to infect him on purpose. His mother clucks, and he heads her off before she can get herself into a flap. “Any other news?”

She takes the bait and updates him on his family – on the cousin studying in the Philippines, the auntie who retired, the uncle who took over a chicken shop. “Your grandmother was asking after you,” she says, suddenly. “She gave me fifteen thousand won to put into your bank account.”

“Generous,” he says drily. “I, um, I finished my exams...”

“How’d they go?”

“Okay, I guess? I don’t think I failed anything. Uh, we won our last showcase. It got lots of views on YouTube.”

“Well done! Send me the link. Who’s in your team again?”

“Crew,” he corrects. “Kim Taehyung, Park Jimin, and Jeon Jungkook.”

“Oh, yes, Jiminie found his soulmate, didn’t he? Such a handsome boy. How are they doing?”

“Good! Jungkook’s head over heels for him. And, uh...”

“Ooh!” He hears the iron thud as she lowers it. “Did another friend find theirs? One of your classmates?”

“I... I did. I found... I found my soulmate.”

There is a long silence, punctuated only by the hissing of the iron. “Your soulmate,” she whispers. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I... I wasn’t sure about it. I’m still not...”

“What’s their name?”

“Yoongi. Min Yoongi.”

“That’s a nice name,” she mutters, offhand, and then she says, “Wait. I know that name.”

“You do.”

“No, not... not the boy who left BigHit?”

“Yes. Him.”

“Hoseok-ah...”

“Don’t tell Dad,” he pleads. “Please, not yet.”

“Why? He loves you, he won’t care.”

“I know, but, Mom... I’m not sure.”

“About him? Jung Hoseok, I’m afraid there is no such thing as ‘not sure’ when it comes to your soulmate.”

“Mom...”

“You don’t want to sever it, do you? Have you applied?”

“No,” he snaps, and then backtracks. “Well, not anymore.”

“Aigoo. How long?”

“A few months? We bonded in May. We’re, um, tied to each other.”

“What? You’re– is he there right now?”

“He’s inside. We can’t go further than twenty feet away from each other.”

“What about your empathetic link? Is that still up?”

“Depends, like, the first two or three weeks we felt everything, but now it’s only when we’re really emotional.” Right on cue, a wave of displeasure emanates from Yoongi, and he hears Youngjae roaring joyfully inside.

His mother is quiet. He can hear the crickets on her end too. Mom likes to do her ironing outside on the balcony so she can breathe in the fresh air as she works. He can picture her, among the greenery, phone propped up on the edge of a ficus, steam from the iron fogging up the patio door. “I won’t tell your father,” she says, finally. “You’ll tell him yourself. In person.”

“In person? I wasn’t planning on coming home for a while...”

“And,” she continues, talking over him, “you’ll have it sorted by then. Promise me.”

“That’s a tall order,” he says, mournfully.

“Promise me.”

“I...”

“Hoseok-ah?” Hoseok fumbles his phone to his chest. “Aish. Where are you?”

“Hyung,” he chirps, and Yoongi stares at him quizzically. “They done in there?”

I’m done,” he grouses, and fumbles around in the pockets of his bomber jacket, extracting a box of cigarettes. “You got a lighter?”

“No,” Hoseok says, awkwardly. Yoongi frowns and puts the cigarettes back.

The phone buzzes. “Jung Hoseok!”

“Sorry, sorry,” he hisses into the microphone, and he casts an apologetic look at Yoongi, which is summarily ignored. “I... I promise.”

“You do?”

“I do,” he says firmly. “I gotta hang up now. Love you, bye, bye, bye, bye.” The phone clicks off.

“Who was that?”

“My mom.”

“Oh. Uh. Does she know...?”

“She does now. Does yours...” Yoongi shakes his head. “Ah.” Hoseok, hypocritically, is hurt that Yoongi didn’t bother telling his family about him. He knows there’s bad blood there – that Yoongi lived with his grandmother for years, that when the trainees admitted their fears (needles, spiders, ghosts) Yoongi said his father, that he worked to support himself when the rest of them got allowances from their parents. He never met his mother, but judging by the way Yoongi talked about her, she seemed nice. Hoseok doesn’t know about his father, but perhaps he had the same opinion of his son’s choices as Hoseok’s own father, though he doesn’t know if he came around like his did. “I’m going back in. You coming?”

“Do I have a choice,” Yoongi says, dolefully, and follows him in anyway.

Chapter Text

The string lengthens near every day. Some days more than others; sometimes an inch, two inches, and more times a few scant millimetres – but it is certainly lengthening. Over the course of the day, as Hoseok and Yoongi clash, it will contract, and, if they go to bed angry, it stays short enough that they have to move the screen back and push their beds together to sleep, but it is getting longer. Either the string is giving in, or they are.

Hoseok doesn’t care to decide which one.

But this distance, this meagre distance, is not enough, not when Yoongi is like… like that, like –

Hoseok knows what Yoongi looks like naked. Hell, the first time they met, Yoongi was wearing nothing but a pair of bright red boxers, and that was back in his basketball days, before the accident and the dieting stripped him of his muscle, back when he was broad and beefy and honestly, objectively, sorta hot. Hoseok saw Yoongi’s dick. Yoongi saw Hoseok naked, Yoongi saw Hoseok’s dick, and one time Yoongi barged into the bathroom while Hoseok was ‘showering’ and he brushed his teeth right there, while Hoseok pretended like he wasn’t about to jack off, and Yoongi knew, he saw where his hand was, and the next time he went to the convenience store, he brought back a bottle of lotion ‘for our innocent Hoseokie!’ to embarrass him in front of the other trainees.

There is little privacy in a trainee dorm. There is even less with a soulmate.

By necessity, they dress in front of each other. They hear each other shower, and, if the day was disagreeable and the string is short, one of them is forced to stay in the bathroom while the other washes up as quickly as possible. Yoongi acts witness to Hoseok’s dance practices, and when Hoseok glances at himself in the mirror, at the expert twist and flow of his body, he frequently catches Yoongi’s reflection staring in a way that makes his skin prickle. When they do need to share a bed (and invariably end up spooning), sometimes the big spoon wakes with morning wood, and the small spoon is forced to pretend like they didn’t feel the other’s erection pressed against their ass. Hoseok tells himself that it is natural, that it’s only because he needs to pee, and that it is totally not because Yoongi’s butt is pretty good as far as butts go, not as good as Jimin’s (no-one can outbutt Jimin) but better than Taehyung’s.

The quality of said butt is irrelevant when something has apparently crawled up it. Yoongi is cranky all day, snapping at anyone who dares to interact with him. He’s working on a piece, though he’s frustratingly vague as to what exactly it is, and when Seokjin rounds them up to go get lunch as a family, Yoongi refuses to move, and Hoseok gets stuck at home with the Incredible Sulk.

“What are you doing?”

“Fuck off,” Yoongi says, without much heat.

“What, I can’t look?” Hoseok crowds into Yoongi’s space.

“Are you picking a fight or something?”

“Or something. I wanna see.”

“You’re such a baby. It’s a beat, okay?”

“Can I listen?”

“No.”

“Please? I’ll give you constructive criticism.” The look on Yoongi’s face makes him revise his statement. “I’ll praise you blindly.”

“Leave me alone.” Yoongi shoulders him violently; Hoseok tips sideways off the couch with a pained squeal. “Serves you right. Go amuse yourself, and leave me in peace.”

Hoseok stomps off to his room like a moody teenager and throws himself down on his bed. Noisy agitated blips jolt down the sting periodically, emotional debris produced by Yoongi’s creative battle. There’s an edginess fomenting under his skin, like a gathering storm, and it drives him around his room, straightening his folders and wiping down the mirror and turning the hangers to face in one direction, and, finally, and over to Yoongi’s side.

Yoongi’s side, which is passably neat, but only because Hoseok shamed him into cleaning it by dumping his dirty underwear in the hallway, where everyone could see the truth of his slovenly ways. Yoongi’s side, where there is a baby blue basket of bath stuff; exfoliating body scrubs, hair masks, bath oils. Yoongi’s side, where Yoongi is not.

Yoongi’s vices are many, and they include personal hygiene. As messy as he can be, he loves to keep himself clean, preferably by using as many fruit-scented products as possible. Every time they walk past an Olive Young, he ducks in, only to emerge five minutes later with a guilty look on his face and a tube of cleanser in his pocket. He guards his stash jealously, like a lioness does her cubs; Taehyung asked to use one of his bath bombs once, and Yoongi only handed it over when Seokjin threatened to put them on a vegan diet if he refused.

Hoseok decides that he deserves to be pampered. After peeking discretely out the door to check on Yoongi (wholly absorbed in his work), he sorts through the basket, selecting a passionfruit-shaped bar of soap, a verbena-scented foaming shampoo, an oat-based lotion and a deep conditioning serum. He pads into the bathroom with his back to Yoongi, using his body to conceal his loot.

Without the boys around to hog the hot water, the tap runs hot in moments, and Hoseok turns it up as high as he can bear until the bathroom fills up with steam. He strips, and steps in gingerly, sighing with pleasure as the spray hits his back. The one thing Hoseok insisted on when they were apartment-hunting was good water pressure. He rolls his shoulders, grabbing the shower head and aiming it at the snarled muscles in his back, knots produced by dancing and slouching and sleeping awkwardly, pressed to Yoongi’s chest. Taehyung hasn’t yet mastered Hoseok’s art of sports massage, and his back is suffering for it.

He’s generous with the products, pettiness fuelling him to use more than he would if he were the one paying out the nose for this stuff. The soap is too fragrant for his liking, but the foaming shampoo gets his hair squeaky clean, and the serum is slick and pleasant between his fingers, clumping his hair together.

Once finished, he rinses his hands off and glances down. “Ah,” he mutters. “That’s why I’ve been weird all day.”

Sometimes, when Hoseok is in a bad mood, it’s because he’s hungry, or tired. Other times, he’s stressed. Today, he’s horny; his dick is half-hard. He reaches back to turn the tap to cold. He doesn’t have the time for this, Yoongi is right there…

His hand stops. Yoongi is right there, sure, but he’s distracted, isn’t he? He won’t notice. Their emotional link isn’t as strong nowadays, and if you’re occupied, you can miss it. His housemates aren’t due back for a good hour, and Hoseok hasn’t done this in ages…

Hoseok manoeuvres himself into a comfier position, back against the wall, legs spread, the water aiming down between his legs. He sighs at the feeling, taking himself in hand, stroking lazily.

He closes his eyes and leans his head back. When he was an impressionable teenager, he thought that gay people had it easy, that all they had to do was look at their own bodies and et voilà, primo material for the spank bank. He eventually figured out that it didn’t work that way, that no matter how hard you pretended, your own hand was never going to be anything but your own hand, and he developed a small stock of fantasies, always faceless, nameless, amorphous, both male and female, in reality nothing at all.

Today, his fantasy has a face. Today his fantasy has hands, and a flat chest, and a dick. Today, his fantasy has a name.

“Yoongi-yah,” he whispers, teasing his head, tugging at his foreskin, the thrill of the familiar honorific stoking the feeling in his gut. His traitorous mind conjures up an image of Yoongi. He’s naked too, biting his lip, hands heavy around Hoseok’s waist.

Hoseok imagines him, his hands kneading down his hips, stuttering around his crotch until Hoseok snaps at him to put his hands to work. He squeezes himself, and Yoongi grabs him, smirking as his dick jumps, as Hoseok’s legs fall apart. He turns the dial further to the red side, and the heat makes everything easier; makes it easier to pretend that his hands are not his own, but someone else’s, bigger, stronger, rougher, jerking him up and down and up and down until he can’t help but moan, echoing lewdly off the tile.

Yoongi presses him harder into the tile, one hand reaching back to cup his balls, mouth latching onto one of his nipples as Hoseok reaches up to twist at one. He wriggles, forming an o with his hand, hips thrusting, water pooling in his open mouth. He imagines Yoongi tilting his head to the side, chin hooking into his neck, whispering in his ear – depraved things, things Yoongi would never say, things that Hoseok would like him to say if he never had to look him in the eye ever again.

Hoseok comes with a gasp, cum washing down the drain. He flops back, molten, a blissed-out smile spreading across his face. His frustration has vanished as if it was never there in the first place. He steps out of the shower reluctantly, towelling off with the softest towel he can find, massaging the oat lotion into his flushed skin, taking care not to overstimulate his crotch. He strolls out of the bathroom, relaxed.

He doesn’t notice Yoongi staring until he returns from the kitchen, a pack of snacks in hand. “What?” He plops down beside him.

“I, uh…” Yoongi looks back at his laptop. “Nothing.” There’s a guilty cast to his reddened face, and he can’t make eye contact, shifting strangely in his nest of cushions and blankets. He sniffs. “Did you… use my stuff?”

“No,” Hoseok says unconvincingly, and then relents. “Okay, I did, I’m sorry, I’ll buy you replacements, alright? By the way, where did you get that oat body lotion? I liked it, but I didn’t recognise the brand.”

“No, ‘s… um, it’s fine, you let me use your… your…” Yoongi trails off. He’s really blushing now, Hoseok observes, but, instead of ferreting out the cause of his embarrassment as he usually does, elects to ignore it. Hoseok is Zen now. He won’t let anything bother him.

Zen Hoseok crumbles over the course of the day, as his post-orgasm hormones ebb away, and the realisation that he got off to thoughts of his soulmate (his soulmate, who he hates – hated – hates?) while he was one room away sinks in. At least Yoongi didn’t notice. If he had, he surely would have made fun of him for it. Hoseok would do the same if things were the other way around.

(Oh, God. Has Yoongi ever jacked off while thinking about him? What would he fantasise about? Fucking him up against the mirrors of the dance studio, skin squeaking against the glass? Blowing him during a lecture, with his friends down the row? Jerking him off as they spoon, fingers in his mouth so their housemates don’t hear?)

Yoongi gives up on working shortly before eleven. Taehyung and Namjoon are out at an exhibition pretending like they’re classy dudes, and Seokjin is Skyping Heeyeon in his bedroom before she goes to work. Hoseok is currently in the middle of a Jimin and Jungkook sandwich because this way he has to watch the stupid thriller drama on JTBC; if left to his own devices, he will stick his face in a pillow and not emerge until the credits roll.

Hoseok whimpers as the villain closes in on the heroine, as the camera zooms, claustrophobically, into her tear-streaked face, her darting eyes, her jaw, slack with terror. “Why do we have to watch this?” He lets out a fearful whine as the soundtrack screeches.

“Exposure therapy,” Jungkook says, eyes fixed on the screen. “Our work will be done when you can sit through a full horror film.”

“Only five minutes left,” Jimin reassures, cradling Hoseok’s hand in his own. “You can do it.” Hoseok frowns and redirects his attention to the screen, where the heroine’s trembling hand is creeping towards a crowbar.

Five minutes, lots of fake blood, and one highly distressed Hoseok later, the villain has been dispatched for the time being. Hoseok collapses into Jimin’s lap once the screen goes black. “I hate you,” he says.

“How could you hate this face?” Jimin tosses his head dramatically and draws his hand through his hair.

“Point,” Hoseok concedes as Jimin moves him off his lap. “Where are you going?”

“Home.” Jungkook tosses Jimin’s jacket at him. “Where we live. Are we still on for tomorrow?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Hoseok says dismissively, and after one last goodbye to Seokjin and Heeyeon, they leave, and now he is alone with Yoongi, who is looking anywhere but at him.

“Hyung…”

“I counted how many times Jimin did that hair thing during that episode,” Yoongi says, suddenly. “You know, how he pushes his fringe off his face?”

“How many?” Yoongi turns his laptop around, displaying an Excel spreadsheet. “Thirty-five?”

“Assuming an episode length of fifty-nine minutes, that’s one hair rake every one hundred and one seconds, give or take a few milliseconds.”

Hoseok snorts and stretches, languidly, a yawn overtaking him. “Man, I haven’t done anything all day and I’m wrecked. I’m going to bed. You staying up?”

“No, I’ll go soon.” Yoongi shuts down his laptop.

“Wah, Min Yoongi going to sleep before two am? What is this madness?”

“Fuck off,” he says, in a cursory way, and slouches off to their room. Hoseok follows him, and they go through the motions of their nightly routines in parallel. Hoseok falls asleep easily and sleeps deeply, or at least he does for a while. Halfway through the night, his dream morphs from one about running a patisserie in a wildlife reserve in Mozambique to –

A flashback. Him, naked, in the shower, jerking off.

No, not a flashback. The details are wrong – the room isn’t as steamy, he’s standing differently, and Hoseok isn’t Hoseok, naked Hoseok, he’s – someone else. Someone else, who is aroused by the sight of him, head tipped back, eyes gently closed, thumb spreading precum down his cock, the other hand teasing his nipple.

“Yoongi-yah,” Hoseok gasps, and his voice is thick with longing and lust. “Hyung – ah, ah…”

He’s right in front of him. Hoseok opens his eyes and smiles, sweetly, dimples forming. “I was waiting for you.” Hands brace around his sides, squeezing painfully, and the water is warm and it slicks the slide of his hands on Hoseok’s cock. His hips buck, abortively, when he stops, and he whines in complaint.

“Aren’t you eager,” he says, in a voice rough with lust. “Seokseok-ah, show me how you like it.”

Hoseok’s fingers are narrower, longer, calloused from years of dancing, and they wrap around his own, guiding his movements until he finds a satisfactory rhythm – rougher around the head, twisting to the left to catch a particularly sensitive spot. All the while, Hoseok makes these tiny noises – near unnoticeable, but constant, and it’s intoxicating.

“Let me, ah, let me…” Hoseok grabs him by the hips and manhandles him until Hoseok’s thigh is between his, and, without the barriers of denim and cotton, it feels ten times better. When Hoseok spreads his hands over his ass and digs his fingers in, he starts rolling his hips against him. The water, the smell of Hoseok, all this bare skin – his head is swimming. He’s never wanted anything as badly.

“Fuck,” he whines. “Fuck, why are you like this?”

“Like what?” Hoseok’s head is tipped back against the wall, and he’s got this big, shit-eating grin on his face, like the cat that got the cream.

“So hot,” he growls, with a vicious twist of his hands, yanking a gasp out of Hoseok’s throat. “You – you don’t know, what you’re like, what you do to me, you’re – you’re fucking shameless, that’s what you are.”

“You – you’re grinding on me.” Hoseok squeezes his ass and he moans. “You’re… shameless.”

“I know.” He’s gonna come, he can feel it, like a teenager, grinding on Hoseok’s leg. He quickens his pace until Hoseok is gasping, chest heaving, lips pressed together to stifle his noises. “You fuck me up, you know that? You’re destructive.”

“I – I know – please, don’t stop, please, you fuck me up too, please – I’m gonna – I’m gonna–!”

 

Hoseok jerks awake, his body flushed, liquid and hot. His breath comes heavy, as if he –

Came. Fuck. His boxers are sticky with cum. “What the–? I did this already today!” He rips his blankets off and sits up, sweat sticking his bedsheets to his bare chest, pushing his hair off his face. “What am I, twelve?”

He stands up to strip his bed and clean up – it’s, like, five in the morning, this is unreal – but he realises that he’s not the only one panting.

His first, genuine thought is, ‘is hyung okay?’, because when Yoongi has nightmares, he has difficulty breathing after. That’s what makes him hurry over to Yoongi’s side, heedless of the mess in his pants, because Yoongi might need him, and Hoseok, for all his misgivings, is his soulmate, and that’s what he’s supposed to do; be there for him.

Yoongi does not need him. In fact, Yoongi swears at him and throws a pillow at his face. “Get out!”

“Ow! What, what’s wrong, why are you breathing so heavy?” Hoseok turns the light on. “Are you okay…”

Yoongi is bright red all over, from his cheeks to his chest, and his hair (Jimin persuaded him into dying it baby blue last week) sticks to his forehead with sweat. His lips are flushed red, and his eyes are dark and, though Hoseok is totally not looking, his nipples are perked. He looks, in fact, rather like Hoseok does, down to the conspicuous wetness smeared on his hands and clothes and sheets, the metaphorical smoking gun. That, in addition to the bottle of lotion open beside him – the one Hoseok used earlier, the one Yoongi smelled on him, the one he asked him the brand of – is all the evidence Hoseok needs.

“You!” Hoseok points at him accusingly. “You were jerking off! I was – dude, I was sleeping six feet away! You – you made me have a wet dream! I’m twenty fucking three! I haven’t had a wet dream in ten years!”

“You’re the asshole who fucking jacked off thinking about me!” Yoongi hits him with another pillow. “I was sitting there minding my own business and out of nowhere, I got a boner the size of Namsan Tower and a burning desire to fuck myself! I don’t wanna fuck myself, what the hell, I’m not a narcissist. It had to be you. I knew it was you.”

Any sensible person would deny this. Hoseok, because he’s too stupid to live, says, “How did you know?”

“I felt it. All of it.” Yoongi folds into a tiny ball with a humiliated noise. “Our bond, you idiot.”

Oh. Oh. Hoseok sits down on the floor and lets the embarrassment wash over him. “How much did you…?”

“I didn’t get the details, but I got a lot of – a lot.” A lot of Hoseok’s lust, his longing, his stupid horny mind that wanted Yoongi to talk dirty to him.

“I want to die,” Hoseok laments.

“Join the club.” Yoongi crab-walks out of bed awkwardly, keeping his back to Hoseok. Hoseok tries not to look at his ass, the one dream-him grabbed and squeezed. “Dibs on the bathroom.”

“Wait–!” Yoongi speed-waddles out of the room, and the bathroom door slams behind him. Hoseok lies down and groans. He feels gross and sweaty and dirty, physically and metaphorically.

God. God. The dream is already vanishing, leaving only vestiges of sensations – a thigh between his legs, hands on his ass, the pitch of his voice when he begged. Hoseok throws his hand over his eyes and asks himself when, exactly, he became okay enough with this to have fantasies about Yoongi, because Hoseok doesn’t do casual. He needs an emotional connection to feel an attraction and he feels… well, he wants to do things to Yoongi, and he wants Yoongi to do things to him, things he’s never contemplated, things he has to search in an incognito window because he’s paranoid that they’ll be found in his browser history.

He shouldn’t be surprised. That’s how soulmates work, after all.

The soulmate bond, predominantly, operates depending on genetic compatibility. When a bonded couple can produce children, like Seokjin and Heeyeon, the children they produce are usually genetically perfect, with no birth defects, no hereditary diseases, no harmful mutations sneaking into their DNA. With bonded couples that cannot produce children – couples like him and Yoongi, like Jimin and Jungkook, like Namjoon and Taehyung – the conditions for bonding are not as clear. Personality compatibility, they theorise, or sexual compatibility, or simple chance, the universe taking a gamble and letting the chips fall where they may.

Whatever it is, bonded couples have more sex. The statistics made him blush, because he found them while he was reading up on soulmates after his sister found hers, and he didn’t want to think about his sister having sex.

But this isn’t about his sister anymore. This is about him, and he wants to fuck Yoongi. (Or he wants Yoongi to fuck him. He’s not fussy about who sticks their dick in who as long as there’s dick sticking. Which, currently, there is not.) “Jung Hoseok, what’s wrong with you?” He kicks the air like an overgrown toddler throwing a tantrum.

“Many things.” Hoseok yelps as a pile of sheets lands on him. “I put your sheets in the washing machine with mine and got you new ones. Go clean up, you’re nasty.”

“This is your fault. Make my bed for me. Hyung. Hyung!” No response. Hoseok stalks off to clean up.

Once he’s back in his newly-made bed, thighs damp, he says, into the darkness, “If you tell anyone…”

“I won’t, but if you do, I’ll murder you and I’ll feed your body to your dog.”

“The feeling is mutual.”

 

“Kids, that’s it for today! Well done! Yay!” Hoseok, by now an expert, fends off each child and deposits them elsewhere. Jimin, who is not as adept at the art of defending himself from children, goes down under the weight of five toddlers.

Hoseok loves working with the kids – there is no purer joy to be found than in a herd of small humans wobbling around to Twice – but holy shit, if it’s not exhausting. Children are tough work. Hoseok doesn’t know how parents deal with more than one. Hell, he doesn’t know how parents deal with one all the time.

He and Jimin eventually get them rounded up, bags on their backs and bottles of water in hand. Parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and siblings come by to pick them up, and Hoseok bids them each a cheery, exuberant farewell, waving them goodbye through the glass panes by the door.

Half-an-hour later, most of the kids are gone, in addition to Jimin, who is going to the cinema with Jungkook. Most, being all but one.

Song Hayoon is always the last child to go home. She and Hoseok have gotten to know each other, over the course of his summers working here; he’s known her for a year, and he’s not yet sure if she likes him or not. Hayoon isn’t like his other students. She doesn’t like to be touched, with or without warning, and the children’s jokes go over her head. She doesn’t understand please or thank-you, and she loathes odd numbers. Hoseok says ‘two, four, six, eight’ instead of ‘five, six, seven, eight’ just for her.

But Hayoon keeps her distance, and when Hoseok interacts with her he feels like he’s having a conversation with a chatbot; it’s as if Hayoon maps what he says to her to things other people have said to her, and selects an appropriate response depending on her past experience. When he asks her a question she doesn’t know the answer to (when will your mother be here? Where is your water bottle? Why aren’t your shoes tied?), she doesn’t fib like the other children do. She simply falls silent, and stares.

At first, Hoseok thinks that she went home on time for once, but he didn’t see her mother, who is identifiable by the permanently pinched look of someone who hasn’t slept for more than four hours in years. He searches high and low and locates her, finally, in a secluded corner behind the gym mats, with Yoongi.

Yoongi isn’t good with kids. As the baby of his family, he doesn’t understand them; he’s scared of them, scared that he’ll hurt them or make them cry or come off as weird. Despite this, the children love him. The boys are entranced by him, by his basketball skills, by his dark clothes and the piercings in his ears; the girls follow him around like he’s the Pied Piper, sighing over his oh-so-romantic bond with Hoseok and his fluffy hair and his soft features.

Hayoon doesn’t care for any of these things. She prefers his laptop.

“Listen to this,” Yoongi instructs, and presses a key. The laptop chimes. “That’s up a semitone. You go up one-twelfth of an octave. It’s the smallest difference between two notes.”

They don’t notice Hoseok sitting a ways down on Yoongi’s other side. “Is it like this?” Hayoon hums, and then hums again, barely higher. “And then a tone is…” She hums a final time.

“Perfect.” Yoongi’s smile shows his gums. “Hayoon-ah, you’re very clever.”

Hayoon smiles, and Hoseok melts. Hayoon never smiles, and this one stays throughout the duration of her impromptu music lesson with Yoongi. He even makes her laugh, at one point, when he plays a chord using fart noises.

Hoseok and Yoongi wave her off when her mother comes to collect her. Hayoon gives Yoongi a brief hug and dashes off.

Yoongi shuts his laptop down. “’S a pity,” he says, when the machine finally falls silent.

“That…”

“That she won’t get the support she deserves.” Yoongi’s shoulders slump. “She could be some musician if she were given the chance.”

“You’re a real bleeding heart, aren’t you?” Yoongi doesn’t say anything, standing up to grab a stray ball. Hoseok watches him dribble it lazily, and shoot it at the hoop.

He misses. “Damn. Fucking…” He circles his shoulders awkwardly, wincing. “Keep forgetting my stretches.”

“Have… have you played? Since?”

Yoongi shakes his head. “I should get on that,” he admits. “Exercising. Self-care and all that crap. Works for you.”

“Some days it does. Some days, it… doesn’t.” Hoseok pulls his knees up and rests his chin on them. “At least now I – now I want to live properly. Now I want to…”

The spectre of it hangs between them, the unspoken admission that they ruined each other, that they could not exist in harmony with each other’s dreams. Guilt rolls off Yoongi. “Sometimes I’m glad, though. That it… that it fell apart.”

“You are?” Yoongi stares at him.

“Yeah. Like, the fame, the fans, the chance to perform, that would be amazing, and, I won’t lie, if a good entertainment agency came up to me today and offered me a contract, I’d probably sign it, but…” Hoseok digs his fingers into his shin. “I was too young. It would have come at the cost of me. Jung Hoseok. He wouldn’t have lasted as an idol, and I like who I am now. I wouldn’t like to lose myself to suit other people. Besides, now that we know about us…” He gestures at the space between them, at their invisible connection. “They’d cut one of us. Can’t have two soulmates in the group, because then they couldn’t sever the bond, we’d be spending too much time together, and the fans couldn’t pretend that we were their boyfriends.”

“I dunno, man. Some of ‘em would be delighted, they could fantasise about us fucking. Fantastic fanfic fuel.” Hoseok, scandalised, slaps his arm. “Ow! I didn’t realise how us being soulmates would have affected it. I guess it wasn’t supposed to work out, was it?”

“I’d like to have debuted with you, though.” The look on Yoongi’s face, startlingly open, makes Hoseok amend his statement. “A-and Namjoonie, and Seokjinnie, and whoever else might’ve ended up with us. Did you know that Kookie was going to sign with BigHit?”

“What? Seriously?”

“Yeah, he was on this audition show and he got love calls from loads of agencies, including BigHit. He contacted them first, but by that point, you were gone, and the debut team had fallen apart. He ended up in JYP, but he hated enough that he left. Can you imagine? He’d be our maknae. He’d be insufferable.”

“He’s still a kid. He was too young. We were too young.”

“We would’ve made good music, though.”

Yoongi nods. “With Joonie, seriously, wasn’t he amazing? He was a poet. He came up with the weirdest metaphors, shit you and I could never have written in a million years, and he made it sound so natural. I know – I know Bang PD said I was a genius, but Namjoon was the real genius.” He pauses, and a pleading note enters his voice. “He doesn’t… he doesn’t make anything?”

Hoseok shakes his head. “Not that I know of, and not in years. I guess… I guess his parents got to him. His dad’s pretty high up in his company, and he has a sister, you know? She’s Jungkook’s age. He has to set a good example for her.”

“That’s…” Yoongi grabs the ball again, the rubber dimpling beneath the pressure of his fingers. His mouth is pressed into an unhappy line. “It’s a waste. We’re– we’re a waste. I’m a waste. Shit, I’m…”

“It’s okay,” Hoseok says, gently.

“It’s not!” He hurls the ball wildly; it rebounds off the wall and hits a stack of boards with a resonant thump, bouncing to a squeaky halt. “I’m…” Yoongi turns to face him, eyes fixed firmly on his. “I have to apologise. For then, and now. I was shitty. You didn’t deserve the – the crap I called you. What I said about your grades. I didn’t mean any of it. I’m sorry.”

“I said it too. We’re both at fault.”

“Hoseok-ah…” The emotions rolling down the string are confused, thunderous, and difficult to pick through.

“You’re not allowed to martyr yourself anymore.” Hoseok stands up and approaches Yoongi slowly, as one would a wounded animal. When all he does is look at him, mouth ajar, Hoseok takes a risk and settles his hands on Yoongi’s shoulders. Their bond shimmers into existence, and the string traces delicate patterns into the air. “Apology accepted, but from now on, if we have problems, we talk them through. No fighting, no secrets, no brooding. We’ve gone through too much for that.”

“I don’t brood,” Yoongi says, after a long while. He’s calm now, shoulders pliant under Hoseok’s grip.

“You do.” Hoseok smiles. “It’s fine, I do too, but I don’t listen to angry rap like you do. I look at old photos.”

“From BigHit?” Hoseok nods. “You kept them?”

“Of course I did! Those were my blooming days. I’ll show them to you sometime, but right now…”

The janitor is peeking in the door. “You two okay? I heard a noise…”

“Bad lay-up.” Yoongi shrugs Hoseok’s hands off. The string disappears. “We’re leaving now.”

They walk home in comfortable silence. Yoongi is humming, the melody pinging off something buried in the recesses of Hoseok’s mind.

Hoseok contemplates the apology, the one he’s wanted since Bang PD told them Yoongi terminated his contract, and asks himself why he assigned the blame to him when it was theirs to share. For not helping the others, for not working hard enough on their skills, for becoming complacent, assured of their debut.

“We were stupid, weren’t we?” he says, to Yoongi, as they turn into the road their building is on.

Yoongi looks back at him. The evening sun limns him in light until his hair shines like silver thread, eyes lit up like a burgeoning sunset. The look on his face can’t be described as anything other than fond. “We were.”

Chapter Text

The summer slips away lazy, hazy, days spent teaching kids how to do ‘sha sha sha’ and nights spent ejecting drunk salarymen from their room once their sessions are up. On their days off, if Yoongi’s in charge, they chill at home, watching variety reruns and milling through Seokjin’s stash of snacks, which Yoongi found in one of his Mario figurines. If Hoseok’s allowed to choose what they do, he drags Yoongi out to go shopping or to eat or to wander Seoul, navigating markets and parks and museums. They end their days outside convenience stores eating ice pops (Hoseok likes Jaws bars; Yoongi favours Megaton bars), on the streets of Hongdae cheering dance crews, or under the red tarpaulin of a pojangmacha, splitting two bottles of soju and a plate of tteokbokki, though, humiliatingly, Hoseok always gets drunk first.

“’S because I can feel you gettin’ drunk,” he slurs, one night, as they make their way home, staggering into a wall and hugging it, “an’ it makes it worse.”

Yoongi raises an eyebrow. “Then why aren’t I as drunk as you?”

“’Cause you’re…” He looks back over his shoulder and pouts. “You’re good at drinking!”

“Am not. I’m better than you, but I’m a lightweight.”

“If you’re a lightweight, I’m a flyweight.”

Yoongi grimaces. “That’s terrible.”

“Hey, stop scowling!” Hoseok reaches out with one grasping hand and squishes Yoongi’s cheeks so his lips pop out. Yoongi makes yowly kitten noises. “You’re happy! I can feel it. ‘S like… sherbet. You think I’m funny!”

“Funny peculiar,” Yoongi says when Hoseok releases him. “Come on, we gotta go home before Namjoonie thinks we’ve killed each other.”

“I wouldn’t kill you.” Hoseok follows the cracks in the concrete, weaving along the path. “We’re friends now, aren’t we?”

“We are?” Hoseok gives him a dirty look. “I didn’t mean it like that! I… um, I don’t have many friends. I’m not good at maintaining contact.”

Hoseok has noticed this. Yoongi is friends with a couple people in his course – Kihyun, Sojung, Jihoon – and he has hometown friends, but precious few others. “Don’t you get lonely? I get lonely. I was so lonely, before…”

The sentence trails off. Yoongi allows it. “I… I like it in here.” He presses his hand to his temple. “Some days, more than others.”

Good days, and bad days. Hoseok twirls back around to face him with a flourish of aegyo. “Even when I’m in there?”

Yoongi snorts. “Stop being cute.”

“I can’t!” Hoseok wiggles his butt, prancing from side to side, getting weird looks from passers-by. Yoongi, visibly flustered, grabs at him to still him, but Hoseok dances out of reach, giggling, floating on a cloud of soju. Yoongi chases him down to the river, where Hoseok collapses on a bench, patting the space beside him.

The river is slick and dark, reflecting the illuminations of the bridges and skyscrapers, a twisted mirror of the invisible heavens. Cicadas chirrup, playing nasal concertos, and Hoseok closes his eyes, revelling in the woozy feeling of being drunk, of not having to think in straight lines, of being able to say whatever he wants even if he’ll kick himself later.

“What’s it like?”

“What’s what like?”

“When I’m in your head?”

Yoongi gathers his thoughts. Hoseok likes this about him. Though he talks an exceeding quantity of shit, when it really matters, Yoongi thinks before he speaks, weighs his words and considers his options until he has the right answer. “You’re strange.”

“Thanks, man.”

“No, I – there’s a crack down your middle.”

“Like a butt?” Hoseok laughs at his own joke.

“You’re a butt,” Yoongi deadpans. “No, like a contradiction. You’re friendly, right? You’re open and happy and people like you.” Hoseok preens. “But it’s a mask. You’re a nervous wreck. You’re terrified of coming off badly, of people seeing the parts of you that you don’t want them to see. You’re meaner than you seem. I can feel you bitching at someone, even if you’re smiling at them. I know how badly Taehyung gets on your nerves these days.”

“He’s not,” Hoseok protests though, being honest, he is. Hoseok envies Taehyung’s gorgeous carelessness, his free-wheeling nature, his artsy tendencies, but he wishes he would grow the fuck up. He’s argued with Namjoon several times over babying him, though love is, as always, blind, and Namjoon doesn’t see the harm in indulging him.

“He is. Don’t worry, he annoys me too. I wish he’d pick one thing and stick with it.”

“Does that make us bad people?”

“Everyone’s bad.” Yoongi shrugs. “Only, some people try harder to be good than others.”

Hoseok mulls over that, as best he can in his inebriation. A mask. Hoseok wonders that he noticed it. It’s a conscious effort on his part, to shield his worse self from the world. It’s good showmanship to make sure that the audience never sees anything they shouldn’t.

Speaking of things people shouldn’t see… “Hyung.” Yoongi grunts at him. “Do you ever get my dreams?” Yoongi makes an affirmative noise. “Really? Do you like them?”

“Yes,” Yoongi says, too quickly, and splutters as he backtracks, Hoseok grinning at him. “They’re, um, nicer than mine.” Yoongi dreams in memories, in high school lessons and old friends and days long-gone; sepia-toned, beautifully nostalgic, but, when he awakes, they leave him yearning for an impossible past. “They’re colourful, brighter than real life. Unrealistic. It’s nice to escape into your brain.”

“Escape?”

Yoongi searches for his words, mouth moving silently. “You know how kids keep watching the same film though they know how it ends?”

“To learn the story?” When Hoseok was small, his favourite film was an instructional one that came with a carpet steamer. He watched it often enough that he can remember the pattern of the rug they used in the demonstration.

“Your dreams are like that,” Yoongi says, contemplatively. “Repetitive. Reassuring.”

“Am I like that?”

“Reassuring? Sort of?”

“I meant repetitive.”

Yoongi wrinkles his nose at him. “No way. I never know what I’m gonna get with you. For someone who likes routine, you sure go off the rails a lot.”

“That’s the fun of routines!” Hoseok springs up, flinging his arms wide. “Breaking them!”

“Speaking of breaking routines, don’t you have work tomorrow?” Hoseok groans, and flops, dramatically, to the ground. Yoongi stands up with a curse and seizes his arms. “Up, you bastard. It’s your fault. We shouldn’t have gone out. Let’s go, there’s a bus stop up the hill.”

“Bastard,” Hoseok muses. “You know, you call me that so much that it sounds like a pet name.” Yoongi drops him and clutches his head as Hoseok collides with the ground, a rock bashing against his temple. “Ow!”

Yoongi, flushing red, drags him up off the ground. “Sorry.”

“You should be,” Hoseok scolds, probing at the side of his head with tentative fingers. “It hurts!”

“Suck it up! I can’t do anything about it.”

“You can!” Hoseok pats Yoongi’s cheek. “You can kiss it better.”

“Yah, you brat!”

Hoseok loves teasing Yoongi; he gets scattered and startled, and it’s fun to push him until he gets pissy. “I’m being serious!” He crouches down in front of him. “Kiss it better.”

“You were on the ground!” Hoseok presses his face closer to Yoongi’s until he can feel his breath fanning against his cheek. Yoongi sighs, says something rude, and presses a kiss to Hoseok’s temple.

It’s brief and close-mouthed and chaste, something his mother would give him, but it zings through Hoseok, leaving a golden streak of affection behind. “Thanks!”

“I take it back. You are strange.”

“And you wouldn’t have it any other way.” Hoseok smiles in the way he knows shapes his mouth into a heart. Yoongi rolls his eyes, but, when their bus finally arrives, he pays for his bus ticket, and when Hoseok falls asleep on his shoulder, he leaves him there.

 

In early August, when that restlessness Hoseok associates with not having danced properly in ages is making him jittery, Jimin comes to him with a prospective competition. “I know you wanted to hold off until the soulmate thing worked out, but…” He hands him his phone. “Jongin hyung got injured. His crew had to drop out, and he needs a team to replace them.”

Hoseok scrolls through the details. The competition is taking place in an exhibition hall as part of a government-funded cultural festival towards the end of September. Representatives from famous dance studios and talent agencies will be in attendance, and the prize for the winner of the adult crew category is–

“That’s a mistake.” Hoseok zooms in on the number. “Surely that’s wrong.”

“Nope.” Jimin grins.

They submit their application by the end of the day. The next morning, Hoseok gets a phone call confirming their place; he and Jimin personally deliver a vat of Seokjin’s patented juk to Jongin.

Yoongi waylays him once he comes back. “You got into that competition?”

“Yeah, we did! Shouldn’t be any trouble with the, y’know.” Hoseok waves at the space between them.

“You got a track yet?”

“No. That’s our next problem. I want it to be special. Something no-one else will have heard. I want to make it ours.”

Yoongi looks at him, inscrutable, and then he says, “Are you free tomorrow night?”

“Yeah, unless you gotta work.” Yoongi shakes his head. “Then I am. Why do you ask?”

“I’m going to this… thing. You’ll have to tag along.”

“Thing? What do you mean, thing?”

Yoongi continues as if he never spoke. “I was gonna ask Namjoon to come along but you should ask him. He won’t be as awkward about it if you make it seem like he’s doing you a favour by giving you someone else to hang out with.”

“Namjoon? I’m not asking him, you ask him, don’t make me do your dirty work – where are you going?” Yoongi scuttles into their room and locks the door. “Min Yoongi!”

“What’s the problem?” Namjoon emerges from the bathroom, towelling his hair.

“He’s being weird.” Hoseok kicks the door. “Jesus. Said he wants me to go out with him tomorrow night. Will you come with?”

“Yeah, sure, but why?”

“In case something like this happens.” He rattles the door in its frame. “Open the door or I’m taking it off the hinges!”

“You know, I don’t know why we bother with that subscription to tvN.” Namjoon plods into his room. “You two are the best drama I’ve ever seen.”

“When,” Hoseok declares, “will people stop taking pleasure in my hardships?”

“Never!” Taehyung yells from the kitchen.

“Kinky,” Jimin adds. There is a noise, as if someone has been hit by a chair, and Hoseok sits down to begin his vigil in front of his bedroom door, unwilling to force it open and risk damaging the lock, until Yoongi lets him in three hours later.

Yoongi remains cloistered all that day and the next, despite Hoseok’s efforts to rouse him. He emerges, blinking, eyes glazed, at about ten in the evening, and staggers straight into the bathroom.

“I guess we’re leaving soon?” Namjoon is speaking to thin air; Hoseok has already dashed into his bedroom. Picking outfits is an arduous process for him, and he needs all the time he can get.

By the time Yoongi and Namjoon have washed up, Hoseok has assembled an ensemble; a black t-shirt that gives him the illusion of a broad build (Jimin calls it the Beef Shirt), straight-leg dark-wash jeans kept up with a belt and adorned with the cute badges one of the kids from the community centre gave him, and the knockoff Yeezys he and Yoongi bought as unintentional couple shoes.

By the time he’s showered, Yoongi is dressed in an outsized yellow jumper printed with Gothic black writing and black sweatpants. He’s wearing the same shoes as Hoseok intends to. “C’mon, let’s go.”

“Gimme a sec, Jesus.” Hoseok pulls his clothes on as rapidly as he can. When he turns around to complain at Yoongi about the brief notice, he is stopped short; Yoongi holds something out to him. “What is this?”

“Put it on.” It’s a bracelet, Hoseok realises. Made of silver, or something that looks like it, consisting of industrial-looking links. It’s exactly the kind of thing he would buy himself. He tries to put it on, but he can’t get the clasp to fasten. “Aish. I’ll get it.” Before Hoseok can utter a word of protest, Yoongi is holding his hand, him, fingers replacing his, skin brushing against the inside of his wrist as he fastens it. Hoseok looks up at him, valiantly ignoring the flush he is certain is spreading down his neck.

Yoongi’s eyes drag upwards, slowly, up from his chest to his throat, where his Adam’s apple bobs, up to his jaw, his mouth, his nose, his eyes. Electricity jolts up Hoseok’s spine.

“Are we leaving,” Namjoon yells, and the tension vanishes. Yoongi ducks away to grab a facemask. Hoseok elects to wait outside their apartment, where he’ll get eaten by bugs, but at least he’ll be able to breathe.

Seokjin drops them into the city centre. Yoongi is fidgety, silent, knee bouncing rapidly, staring obsessively at the screen of his phone. Hoseok regrets not drinking before he left. Namjoon and Seokjin talk in low tones, and though Hoseok ignores them, he knows that they’re talking about him.

Yoongi leads him and Namjoon down a warren of winding side streets, dodging salarymen pouring out of samgyupsal places and gaggles of drunken college students. He comes to a stop in front of a dingy bar, which Hoseok doesn’t realise is open until the door opens a crack.

“’M here for eleven,” he says, shortly, and the man opens it fully and lets them in.

It’s a club, Hoseok realises, but not like the mainstream ones he and his friends frequent. There’s a raised stage, lit with fluorescent green tubes, and the clientele is clad in bucket hats and techy sneakers and the kind of clothes that only come out in drops. The music is bass-heavy, thrumming through his bones.

Hoseok beelines for the bar, which, in a stroke of hipster obnoxiousness, doesn’t let you choose what you want to drink. He accepts his beer and sips it, wincing. “Yuck.” He passes one to Namjoon, who grimaces when he tastes it.

“What is this place?”

“No idea.” Hoseok looks around, leading Namjoon into a corner where the music is quiet enough for them to hear each other, where they can scope out the crowd unmolested. “You recognise anyone? I can only see hyung.” Yoongi is identifiable by his hair, an icy blue blob bobbing around in a sea of bucket hats.

“I know these people,” Namjoon says, suddenly. “I know him. That dude to the right of the stage, he’s in the New God crew, and you see that lady, with the piercings? She owned a recording studio in Myeongdong, she rented it out for a couple thousand won an hour as long as you credited her on whatever you made. Why did he bring us here?”

The crowd rolls into life as an MC climbs on stage. Hoseok loses track of Yoongi. “First up,” the MC announces, “our old faithful, Duck Duck Goose!”

Duck Duck Goose – or DDG – is a rapper. They are all rappers; every act that appears is hip-hop. Yoongi tricked them into going to a hip-hop club. They come alone, in duos and trios, and few are female, but they are all rappers, and the crowd makes their opinions of them clear. Good flow, bad flow, messy rhymes, clever wordplay, gross innuendo – the crowd roars at each, pitching up and down with their mood. Some of them are incredible – one young boy, who is visibly trembling, whips the crowd into a frenzy when he compares their education system to the North Korean regime (Namjoon swoons over a metaphor involving warheads), and, during one of many rap battles, when one rapper insinuates something distasteful about his opponent’s exposed stomach, she rips his hoody off to reveal a beer belly and, to the crowd’s delight, dismantles him.

Hoseok is, despite himself, enjoying it. Namjoon is bright and bouncy, running a commentary under his breath, and Hoseok feels like he’s seventeen again, heckling Namjoon and Yoongi and Donghyuk as they cycle through a cypher. The amount of beer he’s consumed doesn’t hurt, either, and his head is swimming pleasantly as he sways with the crowd. He can feel Yoongi, a bundle of nerves near the stage.

But then he disappears.

At first, Hoseok ignores it, reasoning that he doesn’t need to be grafted onto Yoongi’s side, but as the performances pass, Hoseok starts to feel ill, cast adrift. They must be too far apart. He eddies through the press of the crowd, seeking, heedless of the beer that sloshes over him, of the people grabbing at him. He doesn’t know what’s happening, his head is woozy, and moving towards the stage clears it somewhat, but he can’t think straight, scared and alone. There’s a burning pain in his wrist, like it is being yanked out its socket. He ends up right in front of the stage, a tall girl in boots to his left, a short old man to his right. The tightness in his chest makes it hard to breathe, and he covers his mouth to hide his gasping before someone notices his vulnerability.

“Next up,” the MC announces. “A new face. A Daegu bastard, let’s see if we can understand him, shall we? Come on, Agust D!”

Before Hoseok can say ‘what kind of name is that?’, the pressure in his chest eases, and he lets out a sob. It’s Yoongi – Agust D is Yoongi, and this is the song, the song he and Jungkook worked on, and Yoongi raises the mic to his mouth and begins.

It’s a love song. The words are gruff and the metaphors are vile and his flow is aggressive, as if each word is being yanked out of him against his will, but for all that, it is a love song, about someone to whom he is destructive, someone he does not deserve, someone to whom he is enemy and friend, love and hate, heaven and hell. He compares him to sunshine. Hoseok’s mind drowns in Yoongi’s emotions; the adrenaline of performing, the anxiety of making a mistake, the anger, the need, the terror. Hoseok blinks, and in the milliseconds while his eyes are shut he sees through others – the blur of the crowd, the glare of the stage lights, his soulmate’s face, brighter than any beacon.

When Yoongi finishes, he stares at him, chest heaving, in the second before the crowd cheers – and do they cheer. Hoseok scrambles forward, out of the crush, and Yoongi reaches for him with both arms and, with a foreign swell of strength, pulls him up onto the stage, hands wrapping around his biceps. The stage manager yells at them, but Yoongi ignores him, dragging Hoseok backstage, into a dark, abandoned dressing room that smells of skunk.

“That’s your song,” he says, roughly, as the door slams behind him. His breathing is laboured; he’s keyed up from the performance, and in the low light of the dressing room, Hoseok can see the shine of sweat on his skin. “The one I made for you. I’ll lay down vocals for it soon, but I wanted you to hear it first. I wanted to perform it for you.”

Hoseok needs to touch him, to feel his skin against his. He grabs Yoongi’s hands and tangles their fingers together. “You left me alone.” He walks him back into a wall. “It hurt, I thought I was going to collapse. Don’t – don’t do that.” He steps in closer and rests his head on Yoongi’s shoulder. He smells like beer and sweat and smoke, and Hoseok buries his face in deeper.

“I won’t. I promise.” Yoongi’s voice cracks. “If you want me to stay, I won’t leave.”

“I want you to stay,” Hoseok admits, into the rough fabric of Yoongi’s sweatshirt. “I – I need you, and not because you’re tied on to me. I… I want you.”

The truth hangs in mid-air, near tangible. He looks up, after a long while, and in the gloom Yoongi’s gaze is liquid. Hoseok scoffed at people when they talked about honey eyes, but how Yoongi looks at him – it makes him feel molten inside. “Me too.”

Hoseok can feel the anticipation shivering through Yoongi, like bubbles in soda. He raises his arms and pins Yoongi’s hands above his head, against the wall. “You were amazing.” Yoongi colours prettily. “You were – God. You’re so talented. You did that yourself?”

Yoongi nods. “Kookie helped a bit, but… It’s for you.” He chews his lip. “Will you… will you use it?”

“I will,” Hoseok says, decisively. “It would be my honour.”

Yoongi blinks at him owlishly, and then, he smiles, and Hoseok–

Hoseok is seventeen again, fumbling over syllables, Yoongi counting for him by use of a toy metronome Seokjin got him as a gag gift; the pendulum is shaped like a penis. They’ve been here for ages, working through this one verse that Hoseok has to present to Bang PD if he wants to keep his place in the debut team. Even though he and Yoongi are technically rivals, the older boy offered to help him work through it, and when Hoseok nails it – when his flow finally flows – he smiles.

It’s childish and gummy, and his eyes are shining, and it didn’t suit him then and it doesn’t suit him now and Hoseok realises, abruptly, that he is in deep, deep trouble. That what he felt for Yoongi, so long ago, was not simple hero worship but something fathomless, terrifying; and now he is a man grown, and he feels it again, this overwhelming affection for his hyung, from his too-honest smile to the thread around his wrist.

The thread that disintegrates into fine red dust, haloing around them, as Hoseok leans in to kiss the smile off his soulmate’s face.

For a long, confused second, the kiss is chaste, close-mouthed, sweet, and then Yoongi opens his mouth and Hoseok licks into him, slow and deliberate, and this is far better, the unhurried way their lips move against each other, the faintest graze of Yoongi’s teeth against his bottom lip, the delicate tilt of his head to the side to gain better access. Yoongi’s fingers strain against his, but Hoseok is unyielding. This time, he’s in charge. He sets the pace, and he sets it as slow as he can, almost lazy. It’s difficult because every instinct in him is screaming at him to speed up, hurry on, but Yoongi is deserving of his time, and he will take as much of it as he can.

They part to breathe, and Yoongi’s head tips back. “Fucking hell.” He lowers his arms and wraps them around Hoseok’s waist. “This isn’t exactly what I had planned.”

“Fuck off. You went up there and did a love song right in front of me! You knew what you were doing.”

“I did,” Yoongi admits, shakily, pressing sloppy kisses wherever he can reach, to Hoseok’s cheek and neck. “God, I – that was fucking terrifying. If I got booed…”

“I’d kick everyone’s ass.” Hoseok pushes up and kisses him again, and Yoongi makes a satisfied noise as Hoseok brings his arms down and wraps them around him.

Hoseok doesn’t know how long they’re in that room, only that it’s not long enough. Kissing Yoongi makes the other kisses he’s had – even the ones from Yoongi himself, the ones he gave grudgingly – seem like dry, dusty pecks on the cheek. When they break apart, his head spins from lack of oxygen, but he can’t give himself the time to breathe when Yoongi is right there in front of him, smiling, eyes shining in the dark.

Right as Hoseok is contemplating giving Yoongi a hickey (he’s pretty sure he’d agree, though he’d bitch about it later), his phone vibrates. He pulls away reluctantly to answer, putting the phone on speaker.

“Where the hell are you two?” It’s Namjoon, speaking rapidly. “Get over here, I need to kick Min Yoongi’s ass.”

“Namjoon wants to kick your ass,” Hoseok informs him.

“I’ll kick his ass,” Yoongi mutters. “Finally get to kiss you properly and he’s cockblocking me.”

“Did I hear kiss? Did you get your heads out of your asses?”

“Maybe?”

“They’re halfway out,” Yoongi qualifies.

“Fuck. I owe Seokjin. Get out here, I already called the taxi.” The line goes dead.

“You heard the man.” Hoseok reluctantly extricates himself from Yoongi’s embrace. “What was your plan, anyway? Why’d you bring him?”

Yoongi shakes his head. “I hoped seeing others perform might, you know. Inspire him.” He opens the door for Hoseok and follows him out, hand in hand. “Besides, you know who runs this place? Choi Ikje.”

“Seriously? I had no idea DNH was still going.” Hoseok finds a likely exit, and they’re back in on the main club floor. He catches a glimpse of them in the mirror – there’s no mistaking what they were doing. A girl whistles at them as they walk past.

“They’re not. They’re called ROCKBOTTOM now. One of ‘em got caught with weed and ratted out the rest. Ikje got off, sued the government for arresting him on false charges, and used his hush-hush settlement to set this place up.”

“That’s real hip-hop.” Hoseok scans the room for Namjoon, who is easy to locate – he’s taller than the rest of them and he wears the kind of clothes Hoseok would love to pull off but would look like a tit in. He picks him out, engaged in an active-looking conversation with an older man. “Is that Ikje?”

“Mmm.” Yoongi grabs two fistfuls of Hoseok’s shirt and allows himself to be pulled along after him.

“Think about it,” Ikje says as they approach. “Once a brother, always a brother.” Namjoon doesn’t say anything, but he’s got that stonefaced look that Hoseok, from years of friendship, knows means he’s Thinking with a capital T. “Hey, Hoseok-ah! Long time, no see. You too, Yoongi-yah… or should I say Agust D-sshi?” Yoongi grumbles and hides his face in Hoseok’s back. “You were great. Loved the track, seriously. Anything else where that came from?”

“Depends.” Yoongi winds his arms around Hoseok’s waist. “What are you looking at, Namjoon-ah?”

“Nothing,” Namjoon says, unconvincingly. “Are you done here?”

Yoongi nods. “Thanks, sunbae,” he says to Ikje. “I did my part. Hope you did yours.”

“Anyone wanna go get food?” Hoseok asks as they emerge onto the street. Namjoon shakes his head. Yoongi doesn’t respond. “You okay back there?”

“’M tired.” Yoongi nuzzles into Hoseok’s neck; Hoseok shivers at the feeling of his lips, pressing an unintentional kiss to the topmost knob of his spine.

“Congratulations, but…” Namjoon nods at Hoseok’s hands, holding Yoongi’s to his stomach. “Do you mind refraining from heavy petting until you’re in a room with a door that locks?”

“I couldn’t even pet a dog right now,” Yoongi says, dryly. “That our taxi?”

It is. Namjoon takes the front seat and Hoseok and Yoongi pile into the back.

It couldn’t be more different from the trip in. Then, Yoongi and Hoseok sat as far apart as possible, Hoseok staring firmly out the window, Yoongi typing crazily on his phone. Now, they fold over each other; Hoseok buckles Yoongi’s seatbelt for him as best he can with one hand stuck holding his. “You can let go, you know,” Yoongi whispers.

“I – I can’t,” Hoseok admits. “I don’t want to.”

“Okay, good, ‘cause I don’t wanna either.”

Hoseok can’t believe it. Namjoon can’t either, from the bemused looks he keeps giving them in the mirror. “Hyung,” he says, to Yoongi. “Does – your song – what’s its name?”

“Internecine. It means mutually destructive – like a war. Death on both sides of a conflict.”

“That’s… grim.”

“I thought it was apt, given, well. Us.” Yoongi squeezes his hand. “I’m making a follow-up, though. I don’t know what it’s going to be called, but it’ll continue our story, and I know it’ll be better. Happier, even.”

“I have a name,” Hoseok says, eventually.

“You do? Hit me with it, genius.”

“Shut up.” Hoseok darts a look at the front of the taxi, to see if Namjoon is looking (he’s not) and presses a quick kiss to Yoongi’s lips. “Call it Faith,” he whispers, into his ear.

“Fate?”

“No, fuck fate. Faith. Like… hope, but stronger. The faith that things will work out.”

“I like it.” Yoongi ruffles his hair. “Thank you. The name is the hardest part.”

Hoseok preens; Yoongi snorts at him, and Hoseok pulls him closer.

“Keep the faith,” he says, to himself, when Yoongi has dozed off, hand held tightly in his. “Keep the faith, Jung Hoseok.”

 

Hoseok wakes up disgustingly hungover. “Oh, God,” he manages, and rolls out of bed. The problem is that he was not alone in said bed, and the poor sucker is taken along with him. With the extra weight he didn’t compensate for, Hoseok ends up face-down on the floor, someone squishing his midsection.

“I’m going to murder you,” said someone growls, “if you puke on me. Out. Get out!”

Hoseok stumbles into the bathroom. Luckily, he doesn’t get sick; instead, he shoves his head into the sink and lets the water run over his face. He entertains the idea of brushing his teeth, but he lacks the motor coordination to use the brush; instead, he squirts toothpaste directly into his mouth and swishes it around.

“Are you okay?” It’s Taehyung, face smeary from sleep.

“No,” Hoseok moans, toothpaste dribbling out of his mouth.

“Cool, but can you leave? I need to pee, and you know how I get performance anxiety.”

“Kim Taehyung,” Hoseok groans, but, after he spits out the toothpaste, he leaves and goes back to his bedroom.

His bed is exactly as it was last night; scattered with his clothes, sheets tucked tight. Yoongi is curled up in his own bed, barely visible.

“Shove over. I need cuddles.”

Yoongi moves so that he can see Hoseok, and eyes him with trepidation. “You gonna get sick?”

“No.”

“Promise?”

“Move, will you?”

Yoongi grumbles, but he holds the blanket open enough for Hoseok to slip in. He wriggles until Yoongi is cradled against his chest.

“This is so strange,” Hoseok whispers.

“I know.” Yoongi nuzzles into him, cat-like. “I hate cuddling, but with you, it’s like…”

“Feels right,” Hoseok agrees. It’s as if, he thinks, with sleep-fuddled logic, that their bodies were made for each other; that Yoongi’s nose was made to fit the dip between Hoseok’s collarbones, that Hoseok’s hands were made to span Yoongi’s back, that their legs were made to tangle together. That Yoongi’s shoulders, his neck, his jaw, his chin, his cheeks, his nose, his forehead, his ears, were made for Hoseok to kiss until Yoongi is pink and squirming beneath him.

“Your breath stinks of mint,” he scolds when Hoseok lets up and pulls away.

“Yours plain stinks, but do you see me complaining?” One more kiss, to his temple, and Yoongi closes his eyes; two more, one for each eyelid, gently, and Hoseok is internally screaming at himself, at how utterly, disgustingly sappy he’s being, and yet… isn’t Yoongi the one who went up on stage and performed a love song in front of hundreds of hardcore hip-hop heads? Hoseok owes him a few butterfly kisses, doesn’t he? He gives him more, and more, dodging Yoongi’s own lips as he tries to convert pecks into proper kisses, until, finally, he dissolves into giggles. Yoongi takes full advantage of his moment of weakness to flip him and–

The bedroom door bangs open. “EVERYONE! COME HERE! THE SUN IS RISING IN THE WEST!”

Judging solely by his outward appearance, one wouldn’t think that Kim Seokjin could produce such a high-volume noise, but he’s the worst out of all of them. In less than a minute there are seven people in Hoseok’s bedroom chattering loudly about his love life.

“I knew they were gonna get it together before the end of the summer! I’m psychic.” Seokjin sticks his hand out. “C’mon, Kim Namjoon. Pay up.”

“I don’t have my wallet! I’ll get you later. Aish, Jung Hoseok, couldn’t you have kept your hands to yourself for two more weeks?”

“Why didn’t you tell me,” Jimin whines, bouncing up and down on Hoseok’s stomach. “I tell you everything about Kookie!”

“Jimin-ah,” Jungkook says, alarmed. “What did you tell him?”

“I didn’t ask you to tell me everything!” Hoseok lets out an ‘oof!’ as Taehyung joins Jimin on top of him. “I don’t need to know about Kookie’s – mrgh!” Jungkook’s hand is over his mouth.

Yoongi, swaddled in his bedsheets, eyes them reproachfully from the corner of the bed. “Why didn’t you lock the door?”

Hoseok licks Jungkook’s hand; the boy removes it in disgust, complaining. “No point,” Hoseok wheezes. “Jimin and Taehyung can open it with the palette knife from the kitchen.”

“Is that how mine got damaged?” Seokjin’s voice pitches squeakily. “That was from the Global set Mom got me as a bonding present! That knife cost one hundred and thirty thousand won!”

Taehyung blanches conspicuously. “I wanted to wear his Bape hoodie,” he protests when Seokjin rounds on him.

You got jjajang sauce on my hoodie? You – Jimin, get off, let me at him – HYUNG!” Seokjin launches himself at Taehyung, Jimin throws himself in front of him to defend him, and this is Hoseok’s end, crushed ignominiously under the weight of three of his housemates brawling. “Help,” he squeals, pawing at Yoongi’s leg.

Yoongi drags him out of the tangle with Namjoon’s help, and the three of them, together with Jungkook, manage to separate the other three. “Now you two’ve stopped fighting, the rest of them are starting.” Namjoon kicks at the carpet mutinously. “Can’t you – seriously? Right now?”

Yoongi and Hoseok are hugging again, Yoongi’s blanket wrapped around them. “You’re welcome to join.” Hoseok shuffles Yoongi towards Namjoon.

“No thanks.” Namjoon retreats away from them, into the kitchen.

“Can I join in?” Taehyung creeps up behind Hoseok.

“Replace my hoodie and we’ll talk.”

Taehyung jumps back and pouts at him. “I don’t have the money!”

“You should have thought about that before you stole it. C’mon, I’m hungry.” Yoongi makes a noise of agreement, half asleep on Hoseok’s shoulder. He stays that way all the morning, dozing as the rest of them bicker over cereal and coffee, though he wakes up to correct Hoseok’s pronunciation of internecine.

It’s like any other morning, Hoseok thinks, warmly, as Seokjin mourns his palette knife, but the sun is brighter, the coffee stronger, his friends louder.

It’s – it’s complete. That’s the only way he can describe it. A puzzle, with him and Yoongi as the final pieces, finally whole.

(He always liked the number seven.)

Chapter Text

The following weeks pass as an oneirism. Now that Hoseok can leave Yoongi’s side, he doesn’t want to. Something on a chemical level demands his presence, like a lodestone embedded in his heart.

It is, frankly, terrifying.

Hoseok is in two minds about the situation. One half of him, the part his father raised to be honest and good and proud, worries that this is a trick, that what he feels for Yoongi is an illusion, manufactured by circumstance, by proximity and the memory of a youthful infatuation – for that is what it was. Hoseok can look back now and say that he had a crush on Min Yoongi before he knew that boys could have crushes on other boys. This is the part of him that doesn’t want him to love someone because he has to, because he has no other choice. This is the part of him that doesn’t want him to love someone who wronged him so thoroughly.

That part of him is silenced by the other part, the boy in love. The dreamy, dopey swain, who swoons when Yoongi laughs, when he sneaks extra meat onto Hoseok’s plate, when he sneaks a hand under his shirt to pet his skin while they’re talking, and acts innocent when he’s called out.

Hoseok, to his shame, ignores his instincts. Everyone else feels like this, he tells himself. Jimin felt like this, Seokjin felt like this, Namjoon felt like this, and look at them now, in bonded bliss. Hoseok is, as per usual, making mountains out of molehills, drawing swords at mosquitoes, whatever way you want to put it. It’s not a big deal.

What is a big deal is his father.

They’re in an Artbox, looking through manuscript books. One of Yoongi’s lecturers stipulated that composition assignments are to be handed up in hardcopy, and Yoongi is being particular about the spacing between the lines of the staves.

“This one?” Hoseok flips it open.

Yoongi runs his fingers over the paper. “It’s cheap. The ink will smudge.” Hoseok puts it back, chastened, and checks his phone.

 

 

 

Noona

Today 11:58 AM
Are you coming home?
For what?
Is it your birthday?
IS IT MICKEY’S BIRTHDAY
DID I FORGET HIS BIRTHDAY O_O
I’M A TERRIBLE DOG FATHER
No @_@ you’re so strange
Chuseok you dumbo
^^;
you can’t expect me to remember it when it changes every year  ㅇㅅㅇ
ㅋㅋㅋ
Mom wants to know
Also she wants me to ask u if she should set the table for one more person…?
She won’t tell me why!!!!!!!! Did you get a girlfriend

(Dawon doesn’t know about Yoongi yet, purely because she’ll scare him off, bond or no, but… he was going to have to tell her sooner or later, and he doesn’t want to land in on top of her, completely unannounced, with a soulmate in tow.)

 

Noona

Today 12:06 PM
No
Bf?
Kinda
Technically soulmate but also boyfriend ^^
JUNG HOSEOK YOU CRAZY BASTARD WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME
bc you’re reacting like this (ㄴㄴ)
I’m so angry at you right now you have no idea
I would call you to yell at you but I’m at work
But are you bringing him home? To meet the fam? Do mom and dad know?
Mom yes dad no
Mom told me to tell Dad in person once I was sure =.=
And are you?
Yes
I haven’t asked him yet though ㅎㅎㅎ I’ll get back to you

“Hyung?”

“Yes?”

Hoseok takes a deep breath, and the scent of coffee swirls up his nose. Having found a suitable book, they sought shelter in a café. A bowl of mint chocolate bingsu roughly the size of Hoseok’s head sits in front of them. Hoseok is letting his side melt in favour of watching the way Yoongi washes each bite down with a gulp of coffee. “Why are you eating it like that?”

“The heat,” Yoongi explains, solemnly, “contrasts with the ice. You try it.” Hoseok isn’t given a choice in the matter; Yoongi practically shoves the spoon of shaved ice into his mouth and then holds his americano up to his nose so that he has no recourse but to drink it.

Yoongi is right; the cold mintiness of the bingsu sets off the bitter warmth of the coffee. “That’s good,” Hoseok says, surprised.

“Isn’t it?” Yoongi is smiling, that funny smile that shows his upper teeth, and Hoseok averts his gaze.

Back to business. Stop thinking about how cute he is. “I was… um.” Hoseok fiddles with a sugar packet. “What are your plans for Chuseok?”

The smile slides, slowly, off of Yoongi’s face. “Nothing.” He gazes out the window in front of them to the street below, where pedestrians mill about purposefully. “You can go home, can’t you? Now that the bond is…”

The string, its work finished, has released them. They tested it out from Gwanghwamun station on the purple line; Hoseok got to Banghwa and Yoongi to Macheon with no difficulty whatsoever. “I can, but I was, uh, hoping…?”

“Hoping?”

“If… if you’re not doing anything else, would you like to come home with me? Back to Gwangju, I mean. For Chuseok.”

Yoongi stills. Hoseok watches his profile, and misses their empathetic link acutely, now dead unless one of them is intensely emotional. “You… you’re serious?”

“Yeah,” Hoseok says, sincerely. “My dad… my dad doesn’t know, and I want us to tell him in person, together. My mom and my sister are dying to meet you. Oh, and I can introduce you to my dog! His name is Mickey! I know you’re not big on dogs, but he’s so cute, he loves wearing clothes, you should see the stuff my sister puts him in… hyung?” Yoongi’s shoulders are shaking. “What’s wrong?” Yoongi shies away from him, but, bad luck for him, the stools they’re sitting on spin, and Hoseok grabs the back of Yoongi’s and rotates him until they’re face to face.

Yoongi is crying. Not a lot, and not hard, and maybe a stranger wouldn’t notice, but Hoseok knows what Yoongi looks like when he’s crying. He hides his face as best he can with his hands, but Hoseok grabs his wrists and pulls them into his lap, twining their fingers together. “Don’t cry,” he says, gently.

“’M not,” Yoongi sniffles.

“Do I smell smoke? Are your pants on fire? Is your nose growing?” Yoongi lets out a teary snort. “Ah, hyung. You’re such a bleeding heart.”

“I’m crying,” Yoongi manages, gulping, “because of how cruel you are to your poor dog. He has fur! He doesn’t need clothes!”

“He gets cold! He doesn’t like getting wet in the rain so we need to put a raincoat and boots on him, he won’t go outside otherwise. I’m being serious!” Yoongi is giggling at him. “Aish. Come home with me and I’ll show you.”

Yoongi nods, grinning, wiping his face with the cuff of his hoodie. “I don’t have a choice, do I?” Hoseok smiles back at him in a way he knows brings his dimples out perfectly (one night, when he and Namjoon were trainees, they spent hours practising dimpling in the mirror; it paid off), and Yoongi shakes his head. “You’re awful.” 

“I know,” Hoseok says, sunnily, and smiles wider.

Noona

Today 12:42 PM
Well?
Tell mom he loves meat
Ah… our Hoshikie… all grown up ㅋㅋㅋ
ㅋㅋㅋ
Never!!!

As weird as it was to adjust to life with Yoongi constantly at his side, it is harder to go back to life with distance. Junhong does a double take the first time Hoseok walks into a lecture without Yoongi in tow.

“Did you kill him? Dude, seriously, why didn’t you ask me to help you dump the body?”

Hoseok gives him a disgusted look. “No. What is it with you and murder? We got used to each other and now we can be separate.”

“I’m gonna miss him,” Youngjae says, sadly. “He had this way of looking through you like you were gum on the sole of his shoe.”

“He’s not dead,” Hoseok says, peevishly. “You know where he lives. You’re friends with Seokjin too, why do you never visit anymore?”

“Because when I visit, Kim Namjoon hurts me. Last time, he sprained my wrist when he hung up my coat with me in it. No thanks.”

“But that’s–!”

“Shush,” Hyojin interrupts, sliding into the seat beside him. Junghwa follows, clambering over both of them to sit on Hoseok’s other side. “The lecturer is here and I want to get a nap in.”

Hoseok does his best to pay attention but instead spends the following lecture missing Yoongi. Did he wake up yet? Will he remember to have breakfast? His first lecture is in two hours, will he bother to go? Does he miss Hoseok too?

His phone buzzes; he slides the notification open to find a rare selfie of Yoongi, showing his sleepy face, his hair ruffled and his cheeks red. His eyes are gummed together with sleep, and he’s pouting. The sheets behind his head aren’t the black ones on his bed; they’re the blue ones on Hoseok’s. (Over the course of the summer, Yoongi conducted a meticulous study of the suitability of every horizontal surface in the apartment to naps. He concluded that Hoseok’s bed was the best.) Something possessive, yet sweet, curls in Hoseok’s belly, at the thought of his soulmate asleep in his bed, awake enough to miss him.

Yoongi

Today 9:24 AM
You left before I woke up
So here’s a good morning Seokseok-ah
Heolㅋㅋㅋ
Goosebumpsㅋㅋㅋ
ㅋㅋㅋ
How’s class?
Boring
Wish you were here (ㅠㅅㅠ)
And you talked about goosebumps ㅋㅋㅋ
I can’t say I’d rather be with you right now
Bed > lectures
You lazy piece of shit
But if you were here…
Bed + you >>> everything else

“If we could get off our phones, please,” the lecturer says, nettled, and Hoseok puts his phone away, face conspicuously red.

“You two are adorable,” Junghwa squeals. “Does he seriously call you Seokseok?”

Hoseok elbows her. “Don’t read my texts!”

“Then don’t text in class,” she says, smugly. Hoseok flicks her forehead and ignores her.

Hoseok acclimatises, gradually, to the distance, and the relief, though not as complete as he imagined it would be, is considerable. No night shifts at Nam Noraebang (though, out of concern for his safety, Hoseok convinces Yoongi to call him while on the bus home), no bleary-eyed morning battles getting Yoongi out the door while he tries to talk him into skipping his lectures, no awkward showers.

The best bit is that Yoongi no longer has a legitimate excuse to watch their dance practices. Hoseok is glad of it. As nerve-wracking as it is practising for such a high-calibre competition (Hoseok knows some of the other crews competing, and they’re incredibly skilled), it’s worse practising in front of the man who made the track in question.

(The first time Hoseok played it, poised in front of his choreography whiteboard, he dropped the pen. Listening to it brought back the emotion of that night, how hard it was for him to breathe, the reverb of Yoongi’s voice through the microphone, the sweaty crush of the crowd around him, like a giant fist.)

As he puts his choreography together, deciding on formations and timing and moves, he notices that it’s different. Yoongi’s vocals are cleaner, smoother, some of the beats have been retuned, and there’s a voice harmonising in the background, one he knows he knows, but he can’t figure out who it is.

“I know that voice,” Jimin says, curiously, the first time he hears it. It’s their second day back at college, and Hoseok’s choreo is locked in; now, it’s time to learn it.

“Me too,” Taehyung adds. “Is it…?”

“It’s Seokjin hyung,” Jungkook says, softly. “I helped them record it.”

Hoseok listens back again, and he’s right. It’s Seokjin. Seokjin sang, occasionally, back in BigHit, and he could have become quite capable with proper training, but he gave up after he left the agency. Despite that, his voice is sweet, tender, even, and it complements Yoongi’s perfectly, like wine and honey.

“I can see the hearts in his eyes,” Jimin says, drolly, and Taehyung clasps his hands to his chest and flutters his eyelids in imitation. Hoseok makes them do splits as punishment and begins the lesson.

 

They’re barely back two weeks before Chuseok rolls around. He and Yoongi catch the morning KTX train from Yongsan, to be in Gwangju in time for lunch. The train is packed, but he and Yoongi manage to get seats at a table, across from each other.

“We should have gotten the Mugunghwa train,” Yoongi says, troubled. “They’re cheaper.”

“They also take, like, five hours. I don’t want to go through every pothole town and village on the western seaboard.”

“Five hours is good. I can prepare in five hours.” Yoongi fixes his cap again, pulling the brim down over his face.

“Don’t worry! It’s only my parents. They’re lovely!”

“That’s fine for you! They’re your parents, not mine. And your sister! You make her sound like a demon.”

“She’s not that bad!” Yoongi gives him a look. “Okay, she is that bad, but only to me. She’ll be pleasant to you… for now, at least. Hyung will be there and she’s nicer when he’s around.”

“Hyung? You mean her soulmate?”

“Yep. Han Wootak. Honestly, you should hear their story, makes ours seem tame by comparison. Mom and dad won’t care.”

“You’re sure? I mean… I’m…” Yoongi gestures at himself. He’s talking about BigHit.

“Mom won’t. Dad might, but as long as I… as I…”

“As you?”

Hoseok imagines his father, sequestered in his study, surrounded by towers of books; Orwell and Hardy and Brontë, Yi Sang and Lady Hyegong and Park Kyungni. When Hoseok turned eighteen, he called him in there and showed him the heart he picked on his first birthday. He presented it to him with such care that Hoseok was afraid to take it; it was if he were handling his own heart, not a two-thousand won stuffed toy. “As long as I’m loved, he doesn’t mind.”

“As long as you’re loved,” Yoongi echoes, and says little else until they disembark, in favour of biting his nails, despite Hoseok’s forceful attempts to dissuade him.

Gwangju, though only a few degrees south of Seoul, is mired in summer’s muggy heat. The air-conditioned interior of Wootak’s car is a relief after the baking heat of the station. Hoseok greets his brother-in-law enthusiastically, Yoongi less so, his nerves getting the better of him.

“How come Dawon didn’t come with you?” Hoseok is in the front seat, fiddling with the air con.

“Oh, she wanted to, so she could get a run at Yoongi-sshi before your mom, but she got stuck helping her prepare food for charye. You should see the freezer. The butcher nearly talked her into buying an entire cow.”

They make small talk, catching each other up on the small details of life. Wootak is an Assistant Inspector now, though he’d trade his lofty position to not to have to deal with prosecutors. They’re considering buying an apartment near Dawon’s workshop, but they’re worried he’ll be transferred, so they’re holding off for now. Their dispute with their downstairs neighbour over Mickey, who overnights at their rented apartment sometimes, is ongoing.

“Dawon was livid when she found out that you kept your soulmate from her.” Wootak shakes his head. “Right after she found out, Mr Lee came to the door with a muzzle, and she nearly put it on him. Ah, seriously.”

“I feel bad for keeping it a secret, but you know how she is, right?”

“No, I understand. If I were you I would have kept it from her. She told me about you two. You were trainees, right?” Hoseok nods. “Man, it’s like a drama!”

“Almost as bad as your story,” Hoseok agrees. Wootak laughs hard enough that he swerves and gets honked at.

“Hoseokie mentioned it,” Yoongi says, once the car is back to rights. “How did you two meet?”

“Oh, man. Buckle in.” Yoongi makes a show of unclipping and reclipping his seatbelt. Hoseok tries to hit him with his seat, but Yoongi scoots out of the way.

“We met… four years ago? I took her in for questioning because a shopkeeper accused her of lifting a handbag, and Dawon’s sort of short-tempered, and, uh, during questioning, she punched me in the face.”

“She punched you?”

“She has a solid left hook. Dad calls her Sonagi, after the boxer.” Hoseok shivers at the memory.

“My patrol partner says my legs were twitching when I went down. Anyway, that counted as contact, and our bond formed while I was out cold on the floor. Technically, she assaulted an officer, so I had no choice but to arrest her.”

“You arrested your soulmate?”

“The law is the law. Don’t worry, I paid her bail and dropped charges, and then we, um, eloped to Jeju.”

“I was serving, and I got a call from Mom. She was hysterical, she thought she died in custody. The army even gave me leave so I could go home to be with my family. Two weeks later, they turned up on our doorstep. Mom and Dad went crazy.”

“Moral of the story is, don’t mess with Jung Dawon. Ah, look, we’re here!”

Dawon is outside their building, holding the dog aloft like she’s Rafiki from the Lion King. Mickey is wearing an actual hanbok, patterned with paw-prints. It takes Hoseok five minutes to get Yoongi out of the car.

“Hello, Yoongi-sshi! I’m Hoshikie’s noona, Jung Dawon. Here, hold the dog.” Yoongi accepts Mickey, handling the dog’s limp body with confusion, and he doesn’t notice the picture Dawon takes of him.

“Noona,” Hoseok says, exasperatedly.

“There, sent! What? My friends want to judge him. They love you, Hoshikie. Ooh… the initial response is in, and it’s looking positive! They want to know where you got your hair done. Seungyeonnie used a sparkling Cony sticker! Han Wootak, what are you doing? Put me down!” Wootak carries Dawon back into the building in a fireman’s lift, Hoseok’s suitcase in his free hand.

“If you want to leave, you can.” Hoseok takes Mickey from his unresisting arms. “I’ll pay for your ticket.”

“I’ve come this far.” Yoongi collects the rest of their baggage, steeling himself, looking up at their building as if it’s the gate to Mordor. “Might as well keep going, right?”

Hoseok holds Yoongi’s hand all the way up to their apartment. Mickey objects vociferously to being held in one arm, and he trots off in a tiff when they get inside.

“Mom?”

“Hoseok-ah!” Only when his mother hugs him does Hoseok let go of Yoongi’s hand. His mother smells like childhood cuddles, lily fabric softener and rice flour and cold cream. He hasn’t seen her since March – a lifetime ago, it seems, as he tightens his arms around her. “You’re home. Oh, you’re skinny. Isn’t that nice Seokjin boy feeding you?”

“Believe me, he is. Mom… this is Min Yoongi.”

“Yoongi-sshi! Hello! I’ve waited ages to meet you!” She gathers Yoongi up in a hug; Hoseok turns away to compose himself. Yoongi looks like he was sucker-punched in the stomach.

Once free, he awkwardly presents her with a bag; he must have hidden it in his suitcase. “It’s nice to meet you. I, um…” He bows, respectfully, lower than his mother is accustomed to seeing from men, and holds a bag out to her. He must have hidden it in his suitcase.

“There was no need, Yoongi-sshi.” She accepts the present anyway and peeks inside. “How lovely! Look, Hoseok-ah.” It’s a simple amethyst pendant, the stone carved like a lotus in bloom, exactly the kind of thing his mother would wear. She takes Yoongi’s hands. “Thank you, Yoongi-sshi. You’re better at buying presents than my son is.”

“Mom,” Hoseok whines.

“Don’t be rude, Jung Hoseok. Here, Yoongi-sshi, sit down, there’s songpyeon on the table, have some before Dawon eats them.” She ushers Yoongi into the living room and seats him in Hoseok’s normal seat; Hoseok grumbles and sits down where his dad always sits, to his left.

“I’m not eating them,” Dawon yells, muffled by her mouthful of dumpling. “Try the arrowroot ones.”

“Where’s dad?” Hoseok takes a red bean dumpling.

“He’s at the park playing janggi. He should be home soon unless he starts gambling.” Dawon picks out two songpyeon for Yoongi and plops them down in front of him with a sparkling smile. “Each time we see him, he’s got a new ajusshi habit. Next thing we know, he’ll be doing tai chi in the park and wearing gilets.”

“You’re terrible,” his mother scolds, and bats Dawon in the back of the head as she sits down beside Yoongi. “Does your mother make songpyeon, Yoongi-sshi?”

“Yes, but hers are different. She makes them with these leaves, I don’t know the name, and Dad says she overcooks them.”

“Ah! You must not have any sisters. A woman who cooks her songpyeon well has sons, but if she undercooks them, she has daughters.”

“And if you make pretty songpyeon, you have pretty daughters,” Dawon adds, fluttering her eyelashes.

“I only see ugly ones,” Hoseok snipes, and neatly dodges the one Dawon throws at his head.

Hoseok argues with Dawon, Wootak munches his way, unnoticed, through the majority of the songpyeon, and his mother and Yoongi talk, quietly, about him, his family, his course, and Hoseok. He can feel his nerves settling, and Yoongi’s posture relaxes as they talk. Mickey noses up to them and settles his head on Yoongi’s knee; Yoongi scratches his belly absently as he laughs at his mother’s account of Hoseok’s part in a school talent show, where he broke a lectern while dancing.

Hoseok, occupied with insulting Dawon’s outfit, doesn’t notice his father coming in. Nobody does, except for Mickey; the dog skitters to the doorway in anticipation of food, and his father comes through with a piece of jerky that Mickey drags off to his hideout behind the TV.

“Is Hoshikie home?” His mother gets up to help him hang his jacket up and put on his slippers. Yoongi grabs Hoseok’s hand and squeezes it, pale-faced.

“I’m here,” Hoseok calls, thinking calm thoughts, as Yoongi’s anxiety bleeds into his mind.

His father enters, his smile broadening when he spots Yoongi. “Your mother said you were bringing a friend! Will you introduce me?”

Hoseok rises, pulling Yoongi up with him. “This is Min Yoongi,” he says. “My… my…” His father is looking at their clasped hands, face inscrutable. “My soulmate,” Hoseok finishes, with what confidence he can muster.

Yoongi bows, again, as deeply as he did for his mother, and Hoseok copies him. He’s shaking, Hoseok notes. ‘My father is scarier than ghosts.’

“Young man,” his father says, eventually, after they’ve straightened up. “Do you speak?”

“Yes, sir,” Yoongi says, in a near comically heavy Gyeongsang accent. Hoseok holds his hand tighter. He must be incredibly nervous if he can’t control his dialect. “Oh – I’m sorry, I didn’t…”

“I can understand you fine, barley-eater,” his father says, grinning. “I grew up listening to that bastard Park Chunghee. Come, sit down. You too, Hoseok-ah. Tell your father about it.”

 

The next day finds Hoseok in a cemetery, cleaning a great-grandfather’s grave. Dawon is crouched beside him, plucking weeds carefully, root and stem, while Wootak attempts to fix the weed-trimmer. His mother is four graves over, chattering with an auntie. He doesn’t know where the other two are; his father asked Yoongi to accompany him when they arrived, and he hasn’t seen him since. Wootak gives the weed-trimmer up as a bad job and collapses onto the grass with a pained groan. “Why don’t you ever do this during the week like normal families? Why on Chuseok?”

“It’s too busy during the week. He likes being able to work in peace without having to avoid third cousins.” Hoseok leans back, regarding the surface of the gravestone with resignation. This ancestor must have hunted pheasants or something, because the monument is encrusted with bird shit. Hoseok had to wake up early to help his father with the charye ceremony, and he didn’t sleep much last night; he spent ages trying to wheedle Yoongi into fucking him in his childhood bedroom (what?), but Yoongi refused to, given that his family was home and would hear – even from their brief trysts, which haven't really gone very far beyond some under-shirt fumbling, Hoseok has proved unable to keep himself quiet. He is in absolutely no mood to clean this up.

“Hoseok-ah, pass me the hoe.” Dawon works on digging out a particularly stubborn burdock. “Dad is being suspiciously nice to Yoongi, isn’t he?”

“He noticed how scared he was,” Wootak adds. “Why was he scared?”

“I don’t think he gets along with his father. Like dad and I, back when I was a trainee.” Dawon makes a sympathetic noise.

“What do you mean?” Wootak looks between them.

“He didn’t want Hoshikie to become an idol. He told him that, no matter how talented he was, he wouldn’t succeed, and that he’d be better off getting a proper job. He refused to pay for lessons. Mom worked an extra job to cover them.” Dawon tosses a weed over her shoulder, into the bucket behind her. “They stopped fighting when Hoseok gave up and went to college. Yoongi does music, doesn’t he?”

“He studies music production and he performs. He’s amazing, but I guess… I guess his dad never came around.” Hoseok pulls his gloves on again. “C’mon. Less gossip, more cleaning.”

Yoongi and his father reappear in time for his father to lead the memorial ceremony. They stay respectfully silent as his father recites the usual stuff, thanking their ancestors and asking them to guide them and protect them during the year.

Once the ceremony is over, Hoseok pulls Yoongi to a great-great grandmother’s grave. “Where’d you go? You were gone for ages.”

“He showed me where you’re going to be buried.” Hoseok’s jaw drops. “Oh, and then he asked me if I wanted the plot beside it, or if I already had arrangements made in Daegu.”

“I’m so sorry,” Hoseok says, frantically. “I thought he was being nice to you!”

“No, he was genuine. I said I’d have to check, but that it was kind of him to offer. Isn’t it a pretty positive indication of his opinion of me that he wants us to be buried together?”

“That DVD set you bribed him with worked.”

“It was a Chuseok present! Ah, seriously. Look, you have grass in your hair.” Yoongi picks it out and discards it, but as he moves to step away, Hoseok grabs his arms and pulls him into a hug. “Hey, not in front of your parents!”

“Shush, they won’t care. Dawon grabbed Wootak’s butt earlier and no-one batted an eyelid. I’m glad you’re getting along! I was scared that he wouldn’t like you.”

“Of course your family likes me.” Yoongi pushes his hair off his face in a perfect imitation of Jimin. “I’m a delight.”

“You were the one who wanted five hours to prepare yesterday – ow! Don’t pinch me!”

“Don’t say pointless things,” Yoongi says, primly.

Hoseok can’t stay annoyed; Yoongi’s smug smile is too funny, and it makes him giggle. “Ah, hyung. Will my ancestors be annoyed if I kiss you here?”

“Yes. Don’t do it, Jung Hoseok, I don’t want to be cursed by your crazy Jung forebears – mmfh!”

“Gross,” Dawon calls, and Hoseok would make a rude gesture at her, but his mom would see, and she’s perfected the art of the cuff to the back of the head; the last time she did it to him, he couldn’t see for a solid fifteen seconds.

“That’s us cursed.” Hoseok pulls away and presses one last kiss to Yoongi’s nose. “Was it worth it?”

Yoongi looks up at him with a smirk, cheeks flushed. “Totally.”

 

On the last day of Chuseok, Dawon and Wootak wave them off from the station; his mother is tired after the holiday’s culinary exertions, and his father has essays to mark. Hoseok watches the city recede behind them as Yoongi types on his laptop. “Would you come back?” Yoongi shrugs. “Ah, don’t be like that.”

“I’ll be however I want, Jung Hoseok. Your parents were kind to me, considering…” Considering. Hoseok’s mother brought up BigHit in passing this morning when discussing a news report on entertainment companies. Yoongi froze up and didn’t talk for the rest of breakfast.

“That’s in the past. Don’t worry about it.” Yoongi sits back, rubbing his neck with his hand. His sleeve slips down, and Hoseok glimpses a flash of red, like their string, but when he checks his own wrist, it’s bare. “What’s that?” Hoseok reaches for his hand, and holds it between his own, palm up.

It’s an old piece of string, scarlet red, unravelling at the ends. It winds around Yoongi’s wrist a few times, fastened by a neat, decorative knot; Dawon’s handiwork. “Your father gave it to me,” Yoongi says, quietly. “He said I should have it. Your sister tied it. It’s from…”

“My first birthday. I know.” Hoseok runs his thumb over the thread, the fabric rough where Yoongi’s skin is soft, the red contrasting with the pale blue-green veins that snake up his forearm, under his skin, his summer tan fading away. “He’s gotten sentimental in his old age.”

The scenery passes by, morphing from concrete and glass to the rolling fields of the southern countryside. The paddocks are yet verdant, and Hoseok spots a few calves sleeping under a tree.

“Maybe…” Yoongi says, long after Hoseok releases his hand, “for Lunar New Year, you can come to Daegu.”

“I’d like that. I’ll bring the fried chicken this time.”

It takes Yoongi a second to figure out what he’s talking about, but when he does, he presses a hand to his mouth to withhold his laughter. “You owe me for that. I got it from the expensive place down by the bridge.”

“Ah, Min Yoongi! I got such a big crush on you after that. Seriously! I was loopy for you.”

“I know.”

“You knew?!” Hoseok’s voice cracks. Oh, God. Was he that obvious?

“No, not then, and if I had realised, I would have talked myself into thinking you were being polite.” Yoongi fiddles with his bracelet. “But, like, looking back… You followed me everywhere, like a duckling. Ikje called you my sasaeng.”

Oppa,” Hoseok whines, teasingly, in his best imitation of a fangirl, and Yoongi bursts out into ugly, snorting laughter, attracting undue attention from their fellow passengers.

“Never do that again.”

“If you say so, oppa,” Hoseok says, grinning wickedly, and then yells when Yoongi kicks him. “Ow!”

“You might have pulled that off as a seventeen-year-old wimp. Not now. Here, the food cart is coming, buy me a coffee as an apology for being weird.”

Hoseok buys coffee and fancy pastries and checks their apartment group chat as Yoongi sorts through the pile.

Seokjinnie and the Four Babies

Today 1:31 PM
Taehyungie
Whoever’s back first can you turn on the heating?
I won’t be back til like 11 and I need to take a shower our one broke this morning
I smel ㅜㅜ
Namjoonie
I won’t be back until tomorrow ㅠㅠ
Seokjinnie
Me either ㅠㅡㅠ
I’ll be back!!!
I can >3<
Taehyungie
Thank u hyung <3 <3 <3

“Nobody else is going to be home until tonight.” Hoseok swipes out of KaTalk and grabs a cinnamon cookie. “Ugh, are those raisins?”

“Yeah?” Hoseok doesn’t realise the implications of what he said until he notices the leer on Yoongi’s face.

“You pervert.”

“I didn’t say anything.” Yoongi, who, of course, took the cannoli, picks one up, and delicately sucks the filling out of one end. “What are you looking at?”

There’s a smear of white on his lip. Hoseok wants to lick it off him. Instead, he kicks him under the table and occupies himself by picking the raisins out of his cookie, mind racing as fast as the train carrying them home.

Chapter Text

His mind still races hours later once they’ve unpacked and settled in. The excess food his mother sent with them is in the fridge, the dried washing they hung up before they left has been taken down and folded and distributed, after a short debate over a pair of fluffy socks (conclusion: Seokjin’s, they Navered the brand and Hoseok dropped his phone when he saw the price) and the heating was turned on. Hoseok is curled up by Yoongi’s side, the hand under his t-shirt petting his back, as they watch a documentary about sloths. Currently, the narrator is describing one male’s perilous journey through a forest of mangroves to seek a mate.

“Why is he green?” Hoseok squints at the screen.

“It’s moss. It grows on their fur.”

“Really? They’re that slow?”

“Yep. Other animals evolved to hunt better and to consume more food so they could be more active. Sloths… evolved to eat less so they could move less.”

“Reminds me of someone I know,” Hoseok teases, tugging on a lock of Yoongi’s hair. “You should dye it green next. Oh, do it mint green! Like the coffee trick you showed me. You can be Mint Yoongi!”

Yoongi blinks at him, unimpressed, and grabs his leg to sling it across his lap. “You spend too much time with Seokjin.”

“Yeah, I do,” Hoseok admits. “Man, look at that guy hustle. How fast is he going? Like, two hundred, three hundred meters an hour?”

“According to Naver, they move through the trees at an average rate of three meters per minute…” Yoongi touches his nose as he calculates. It’s a habit of his; whenever customers order at the noraebang and he needs to figure out what change he owes them, he presses two fingers against the side of his nose. Hoseok must be properly obsessed to notice that. “One hundred and eighty meters an hour?”

“He’s moving faster than usual, though,” Hoseok argues. “He wants to find a mate.”

“As do we all,” Yoongi muses, and grabs Hoseok’s other leg and pulls until Hoseok is straddling his lap. “Don’t you?”

“Are you using a sloth metaphor to get into my pants?”

“Is it working?” Hoseok leans in and kisses him. Yoongi sighs into it, mouth opening easily, hands running up Hoseok’s back. “I’ll take that as a yes,” he says, breathlessly, when Hoseok pulls back to hold his face.

“I’m sort of ashamed, actually.”

“Don’t be. Sloths are great.”

“They are,” Hoseok coos, squishing Yoongi’s face to make the elder squawk.

“If you’re gonna be like this,” Yoongi huffs, “there won’t be any mating.”

“Don’t lie. You’re thirsty.”

“Am not.”

“Are too. When was the last time you had sex?”

Yoongi closes his eyes to think. Hoseok runs his fingers through his hair, pushing it off his face. “God. Was it with Soonyi? Five months.”

“And…” Hoseok leans in until his mouth is mere millimetres from Yoongi’s ear, “when was the last time you got fucked?” He feels the shiver that runs through Yoongi’s body. “Did you let her fuck you? With a strap-on, a dildo?”

“She wouldn’t,” Yoongi says, quietly. “I asked her, but she wouldn’t.”

“Why not?”

“She didn’t think I was – ah, Hoseok-ah!” He smiles against the bitemark below Yoongi’s ear. “She said, she said… she didn’t think I was the type.”

Hoseok runs a hand down Yoongi’s thigh. “She thinks you can’t take a dick because you’re tough?”

“Who says I’ll be taking a dick?” Yoongi worries at his thumb; Hoseok pecks him to stop him.

“I do. Your friend down below does.” Hoseok shifts in Yoongi’s lap, until he can feel Yoongi’s cock, half-hard, against the inside of his thigh. Hoseok would make fun of him for getting so excited over a little dirty talk, but he can’t, given that he’s in the exact same situation. “You like it, don’t you? What are you thinking about?”

“I’m not telling you.”

“Can I guess?”

No.”

“Aw. Can I tell you what I’m thinking about?”

Yoongi takes Hoseok’s hand, presses an open-mouthed kiss to the soft inside of his wrist, to the divot in his palm. “Please.”

“I’m thinking about making you beg.” He nuzzles into Yoongi’s neck, keeps his voice as low as he can. “I’m thinking about you pleading with me to fuck you. I’m thinking about you with your ass in the air.”

“Hoseok-ah…” Yoongi’s breathing is speeding up. It would be unnoticeable to anyone but Hoseok, innately attuned to him.

“I wasn’t done.” Hoseok kisses under his jaw, down to his jugular, where he can feel Yoongi’s pulse thudding against his lips, iambic. “I’m thinking about you riding me. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Bouncing on my cock?” Hoseok bites, and Yoongi gasps, squeakily. “You’re lazy, though, You’d get tired, and then I’d hold you up and fuck into you and you’d come, all over me, and I’d keep going, and you’d be oversensitive and teary but you won’t care, will you? As long as I’m inside you?”

Yoongi grabs him by the neck and pulls him up, viciously enough that Hoseok yelps, into a messy kiss, sloppy and careless but, God, Hoseok doesn’t care, it’s perfect. Yoongi is perfect, from the flex of his hands around his ass to the slide of his tongue against his. “You bastard,” Yoongi spits when they part for air. “Where’d you learn to talk like that?”

Hoseok taps the side of his nose. “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies. Have I convinced you?”

“Yes.” Yoongi rolls his hips up, and Hoseok sighs at the friction. “God, yes – but–?”

“But what?”

“CanIsuckyourdick,” Yoongi says, all in one word.

“Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. Can you say that again?”

“Fuck off.”

“Hyung…”

Yoongi frowns at him, and then says, in a clipped, proper Seoul accent, “May I perform fellatio on you?”

“That is so unsexy,” Hoseok whines, hitting his shoulder. “We were doing so well! We had a mood and everything!”

“You were the one being an ass.” Yoongi hooks his arms around his neck. “Seriously. Can I?”

Hoseok gives in with a show of reluctance. “Fine. Not here, though. The couch is off limits.”

“Dibs your bed,” Yoongi says, instantly. “My sheets are clean, I’m not washing them again.”

“Mine are too!”

“Do you want a blowjob or not?”

“I want a blowjob.” Yoongi giggles at him, and leads him into their room. Hoseok expects him to head for his bed, as agreed, but, immediately after Hoseok closes the door, he is pressed up against it.

This kiss is less sloppy, not as rushed, but no less heated. Hoseok winds his arms around Yoongi’s waist and pulls him as close as he can. He could do this forever – Yoongi is a good kisser, never slobbery, never overly rough, and always loving, even as he slides Hoseok’s jeans down his legs and takes his cock in hand.

“I formally apologise for calling you little,” Yoongi says when they part. He strokes him, and Hoseok sucks in a sharp breath at the unlubricated friction, more painful than pleasurable. He bats at Yoongi’s hand. “Wow, you’re impatient.”

“Do you want to blow me or not?”

Yoongi rolls his eyes as he sinks to his knees. He’s got that scary look of concentration in his eyes, the one he gets when he’s really into a song. It’s unnerving, having that intense attention directed at him, but Hoseok soon forgets it as Yoongi begins to kiss and lick along his length, barely-there touches, coaxing him to full hardness. His hands smooth up and down his thighs, the delicacy of his touch at odds with the slick warmth of his tongue as he mouths at the head of his dick, sucking intently, making pleased noises as Hoseok’s thighs spasm.

“You’re such a fucking – oh, fuck.” Hoseok scrabbles at the wall as Yoongi grabs his dick with both hands, pumping up and down rapidly, mouth coming off him with a lewd pop.

“What were you gonna say?” Yoongi squeezes, none too gently, and Hoseok moans, wriggling his hips.

“Tease,” he gasps. “You’re a fucking tease.”

“It’s hard not to tease you, Seokseok-ah. You’re cute when you’re desperate.” Yoongi licks his head again, sucking it into the side of his mouth, one hand pumping his length, the other trailing back to cup his balls.

“Don’t call me cute with my dick in your mouth – fuck. Oh, fuck.” Yoongi’s mouth slides down to take Hoseok in, bit by bit, infuriatingly slow. Hoseok splays his hand over the back of Yoongi’s head and pushes.

He expects Yoongi to stop, eventually. He doesn’t. He keeps going until his nose is pressed against Hoseok’s skin. He opens his eyes then and looks up at him. If his mouth wasn’t full, he’d be smirking. His throat flutters around the head of Hoseok’s cock, and his eyes are wet.

“Fuck,” Hoseok whispers. “How are you – how are you so hot? You should see yourself.” He cups Yoongi’s cheek, to feel the weight of his own dick against his hand; he presses, and Yoongi moans. The vibrations shiver through him, and Hoseok whines as Yoongi pulls off, only to go down again and again and again, not as deep this time but just as liquefying, drool spilling out of the corners of his mouth as he licks and sucks and hums around Hoseok’s dick until Hoseok is gasping, his hips stuttering.

Yoongi pulls off, abruptly, a string of saliva connecting his mouth to Hoseok’s leaking cock as he presses a kiss to the head, digging his tongue into the slit to elicit a final whimper. Hoseok pulls him up and kisses him again, forcefully, unbuttoning his shirt with fumbling hands to push it off his shoulders, pulling his trousers off with his boxers as he walks him back to the bed and pulls him down on top of him. “Why’d you stop?”

“Want you to fuck me,” Yoongi murmurs, voice raspy, leaning over to Hoseok’s drawer and emerging, victorious, with a condom and a bottle of lube.

“How’d you know they were there?”

“I went through your stuff.” Yoongi leans over Hoseok and pulls his t-shirt off over his head.

“You fucker!”

“Don’t be hypocritical. You went through my bath stuff.” Hoseok closes his mouth and watches as Yoongi sits over him, knees against his hips. He pops the bottle of lube and pours it over his fingers. “What, you wanna prep me? You can if you want.”

“No, no, lemme watch.” Yoongi rolls his eyes.

Hoseok wonders if Yoongi always looks this wanton – dark-eyed, flushed neck and chest, thighs spread wide – when he fingers himself, or if he’s putting on a show for Hoseok. Either way, it’s a sight for sore eyes. Yoongi’s methodical, careful, circling around his rim maddeningly slowly, biting his lip. His other hand plays with his nipple, hips jittering as he pinches it. His nose scrunches as he pushes his finger in to the first knuckle.

“First one’s always weird,” Hoseok says, breathless, watching one long finger disappear into him.

“Yeah, it’s like, putting a fucking suppository in or – ah, fuck.” Yoongi lets out a breath as he crooks it. “There, that’s g-good. Oh, God.” His jaw slackens as he thrusts into himself, beginning to speed up. Hoseok grabs his thighs and pushes them wider, to make his job easier, and Yoongi moans as his hips buck.

“Can you do another one?”

“I – I think…” Hoseok watches, mouth dry, as he adds another finger, scissoring them to make himself gasp. His other hand falls from his chest to support himself, back arching. Hoseok decides that he’s sick of being a passive observer, and kisses at Yoongi’s chest, from his collarbone down to his clavicle, and, finally, to his nipples, mouthing lazily at one and circling the other with rough fingers. Yoongi’s head lolls back, and his fingers pump faster as Hoseok sucks. “Seokseok-ah – please…”

Hoseok pulls off. “What do you want?”

“Your fingers,” Yoongi gasps. “Put them in – ah, ah, ah!” Three fingers now, and he’s grinding against himself, stuttering, arrhythmic. “Put them in my mouth. Now, Seokseok-ah, do it now.”

Hoseok obeys, sliding two fingers into Yoongi’s slack mouth, and Yoongi sucks him sloppily and carelessly as he fucks himself on his own fingers, exhibiting none of the finesse he displayed earlier, but fuck, if it isn’t one of the hottest things Hoseok has ever experienced. God, if he’s like this already, what’s he gonna be like when he fucks him?

“Hyung – please, you gotta be ready…”

“Condom,” Yoongi manages, pulling his fingers out of himself with a squelch. Hoseok grabs it with spit-covered fingers, tears it open after a few attempts and rolls it on, and Yoongi uses his lubed fingers to stroke him, adding more straight from the bottle.

“That’s cold!” Hoseok hisses as it drips down onto his pelvis.

“Don’t be such a baby. C’mon, lie back for hyung.” Hoseok grabs a pillow and shoves it under his head before he lies back, and no sooner is he ready than Yoongi is sinking down on him, head thrown back.

There’s a silent moment as Yoongi takes him in. Hoseok can feel everything – the tight, slick warmth of him, the weight of him across his hips and, in Yoongi’s own head, the stretched feeling of Hoseok filling him up, the ache in his jaw, the frenzied mixture of love and lust and Hoseok Hoseok Hoseok swirling in his head.

“You okay?” Hoseok reaches up to caress Yoongi’s jaw, stroking one thumb across his lips, which are red and swollen from earlier. “You want to stop?”

Yoongi shakes his head. “No, I…” It takes a Herculean effort, but he lifts his hips up, barely enough, and fucks back down. Hoseok hisses, back arching. “‘S been a while.”

“If you’re sure…”

“Go on, pillow princess. Let hyung–” Yoongi snaps up and down again, jolting a moan out of Hoseok, “do all the work.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” Hoseok wriggles back until he finds an angle that feels good. It must be good for Yoongi too – he squeaks the next time he brings his hips down. “That was cute.”

“Fuck off,” Yoongi mutters, pulling back up again until only the head of Hoseok’s cock is inside him. “I’m sitting on your dick and you’re calling me cute?”

“I can – fuck!” Yoongi falls back down, heavily, with an obscene sound, and Hoseok grabs his waist. Hoseok expects him to stop, to start ribbing him, but Yoongi is focused on something else now, eyes filmy as he bounces up and down, gasping, head lolled back and mouth open, each thrust punctuated by a whimper, the kind of noise that stays in your mind and sticks your thoughts together.

Hoseok fumbles for the lube and slicks his hand, completely uncaring that he’s dirtying his sheets, and rubs his hand against the head of Yoongi’s neglected cock. Yoongi falls forward against him as he palms down his length and kisses messily at his neck as he keeps grinding, staccato circles in time with Hoseok’s hand.

“You giving up?”

“I’m – fuck, go on, that’s good – I’m sick of doing all the work.”

“Really?” Hoseok stills his hand and crushes Yoongi to his chest with the other, preventing him from moving his hips. Yoongi lets out a noise of pure frustration. “What do you want me to do?”

“Jung Hoseok, don’t–” Yoongi fumbles for his hand, to get him to move again, but Hoseok keeps them where they are. “Don’t make me…”

Hoseok kisses him, sweet and chaste, making him grumble. “Make you say what?”

“Fuck me, will you?” Hoseok pinches his cheek. “Aish. Please?”

“There we go. My pleasure.” Hoseok lifts him off his dick, and Yoongi scrunches his nose at the loss. “How’d you want it?”

“Any way. I don’t care, get on with it.” He runs his hand down to his cock, palming it with a broken hiss.

Hoseok slaps his hand away and flips him, leaving his face squished against the mattress. He pulls and pushes him this way and that until Yoongi’s ass is up in the air, perfectly level with his cock as he gets up on his knees. “We alright?” Yoongi reaches back and spreads his ass cheeks, revealing his hole, red and fluttering around nothing. “Okay, Jesus, let me…” Hoseok grabs the lube again, pouring it directly into Yoongi’s ass. Yoongi gasps at the cold. “That’s revenge.”

“You’re so petty.” He wriggles. “Fuck me, please, want your – ah!” Hoseok thrusts in in one solid movement, and he doesn’t give Yoongi the chance to adjust, too frenzied by the feedback loop of their bond. (He gets why Jimin is so loud now.)

He pulls out and pummels back in, quick and rough, until Yoongi’s fingers are clutching the sheets, until he’s whimpering with each thrust as it shoves him up the bed. Hoseok grabs his hips and angles him until he knows he’s hitting him right where he needs it because Yoongi isn’t even making words anymore, only fragmented curses, in which Hoseok’s name can occasionally be discerned.

Hoseok is no better. He doesn’t know what he’s saying to Yoongi right now, only that he can’t stop saying it and it’s sappy and dirty and fuck, he’s gonna come.

Yoongi must feel it. He turns his head and glares at Hoseok, cheek squished against the sheets, hair dark with sweat. “Don’t you dare – don’t come before me!”

“I’ve got you, hyung, I’ve got you.” He reaches around to fist Yoongi’s cock and jerks him, rapid and hard enough that Yoongi wails. “C’mon. Please. For me.”

Right as Hoseok says that, Yoongi comes, finishing all over his hand and the sheets with a sob, thighs trembling, body clenching around him. That, in concert with the rush of satisfaction spreading from Yoongi’s mind into his own, pushes Hoseok right over the edge and he comes with a moan, hips jerking unconsciously, each thrust making Yoongi keen from overstimulation.

Hoseok pulls out and falls back on his legs, watching as Yoongi collapses down into the sheets, body quivering, breath laboured. It takes him a few tries to get the condom off, and he spills his own cum on the sheets but whatever, it’s off. He crawls up beside Yoongi and pulls him into his side. “You okay? Don’t fall asleep on me.”

“I’m good,” Yoongi manages, fumbling blindly for Hoseok’s hand. Hoseok grabs it. “You were good. Didn’t… didn’t know you had it in you.”

“Had what?”

“The dirty talk. Be careful, God, ow.”

Hoseok quickly retracts his knee from between Yoongi’s legs. “Sorry. I mean, me neither, I’ve never done that before, it just – happened? You do things to me. It’s… frightening, actually.”

Yoongi kisses his forehead fondly. Everything is sticky and sweaty and gross, and they stink. Soon he’ll haul both of their lazy asses out of bed and into the shower, and he needs to wash his sheets and air the tell-tale smell of sex out of their room unless he wants to listen to the boys ragging on them for the next three weeks, but for now…

“Seokseok-ah,” Yoongi says, sleepily. “Have you had any of my dreams lately?”

“Maybe.” He thinks back, dredging through the past weeks. There was one, now that he thinks about it. He played basketball with someone with Yoongi’s cat-like smile, someone he called hyung, and when he stumbled while shooting and sunk a three-pointer anyway, they laughed hard enough that their bellies hurt. “Why?”

“I try to dream nice ones. For you.” Yoongi smiles, then, eyes crinkling. Hoseok pulls him closer and nuzzles into him, heart swelling at the thought that Yoongi is here in his arms by his own choice, dreaming sweet dreams for him, no dumbass string required to keep him by his side.

Chapter Text

Between college and assignments and practising for the competition, the month passes in a blur. The competition pounces upon them; before he knows it, Hoseok is sitting on an uncomfortable couch in a green room with his juniors, surrounded by five other crews, one of them squashed onto his couch. Jungkook and Jimin are stuck to each other in distress. Taehyung is showing strangers pictures of Soonshim, even if they don’t want to see her.

Hoseok is scared. He knows many of the people in this room, has danced with some and battled against others, and he didn’t always win. Usually, he doesn’t care this much – he’s not competitive by nature, more interested in producing a good performance than winning, though the former, especially for him, leads naturally to the latter – but this is Yoongi’s track. Yoongi made this for him. Yoongi thought about him, about his style of dancing, about his feelings for him, as he laboured over it, over beats and loops and tones. Hoseok wants to reward his work with a victory; a recognition that they made something great together.

Right on cue, his phone dings.

Yoongi

Today 2:06 PM
How are you doing?
Fine~~~ Fine~~~
Jungkook is grooming Jimin!!!
Taehyung is making strangers look at his dog!!!
I’m sitting here staring blankly into space!!!!! freaking out!!!
We’re
Doing
Great
ㅋㅋㅋ
I’m nervous too
But you’ll be fine
You’ll kill it
We will
I know we will (-ㅅ-)
I'm just
Urghhh OTL

An assistant darts into the green room and calls the name of the team sitting on the couch beside Hoseok. They clasp hands with the others as they file out.

 

Yoongi

Today 2:10 PM
Oh god they’re starting @.@
Yeah the announcer told us to turn our phones off
Seokjinnie is giving me a dirty look bc mine’s still on
No go on
I'll be fine
Good luck...

“Hoseok hyung? Are you okay?” Taehyung plops down beside him, now that there’s room.

“Yeah.” Hoseok stares at his phone screen. Good luck… “You?”

“Not really,” Taehyung admits. “I…” He looks at Jimin and Jungkook, wrapped up in their own little world. “Sometimes, I can’t figure out why I’m dancing with you.”

“What do you mean? Don’t you like dancing?”

“I do,” Taehyung assures him, hastily. “I like performing, and I’m good at it, right?”

“You are! You’re one of the most expressive performers I’ve ever seen. I admire that. I’m not as good at expressions; I get bogged down in technical stuff.”

“That… that’s why. The technical stuff. I’m not as good as the rest of you.” Taehyung chews his lip. “I used to be jealous of you, you know. Back when I first met you, you were… You’re amazing, you know that? You were born to be on stage.” Hoseok makes an embarrassed noise. “I… I worry that I’m slowing you three down.”

“Hey, hey, don’t be like that.” Hoseok turns to face Taehyung full on. “You know, before you bonded with Joonie, I hadn’t danced in two years.”

“What? Why?”

“I stopped when I gave up on becoming an idol. It was too painful. I didn’t love it anymore.” He didn’t have any time to dance anyway when he was drafted, and by the time he finished his service, he had lost his spirit. “When you asked me to teach you… I still didn’t love it, but, watching you improve, I remembered what I missed about it. Taehyung-ah, without you, I might never have danced again.”

“And that would be a pity.” Jimin leans over the back of the couch to poke Taehyung’s cheek. “Besides, we need you. What kind of Sunshine would we be without our Taetae?”

Jungkook doesn’t say anything (typical), but he sits on Taehyung’s other side and presses against him. “You started dancing again because of me?” Taehyung’s voice is thick with astonishment. Hoseok nods and Taehyung grasps his hands. “Then promise me you’ll keep dancing,” he says, eyes fervent. “With or without us. Even when you graduate. Do you promise?”

“I promise.” Hoseok knocks against Taehyung’s side with his shoulder. “I’ll keep dancing, no matter what.”

They stay there, entwined, until their names are called, and Hoseok wishes he knew what he did, to have such wonderful people in his life, the three on stage beside him and the three in the audience (Seokjin is holding up a gigantic paper heart, Namjoon is standing up to whoop and blocking the view of the people behind him, and Yoongi is… well, he’s wearing a gigantic bucket hat that obscures his face, but he can feel the fondness and anticipation and anxiety tangling inside him).

He can’t disappoint them. The MC yells their name, Yoongi screams, and the track begins.

 

They come second. That’s fine. Hoseok knows the calibre of the other performers, and placing is an honour. When he steps, shakily, off the stage, strangers and friends alike engulf him in a wave of praise and congratulations.

It’s dizzying; so dizzying, in fact, that when someone introduces themselves as a representative of an entertainment agency, Hoseok thinks he’s misheard the agency’s name and asks the agent to repeat himself. He hasn’t.

“You’re really with them? Um, Sungjin-sshi?”

“Yes,” the man says, with a kind smile. “Well done, Hoseok-sshi. Silver is quite respectable.”

“Thank you,” Hoseok says, with trepidation. “It wasn’t all me, though. My teammates are talented.”

“They are,” he agrees. “And your music, I didn’t recognise the name… Agust D? Did you compose it yourself?”

“No, my soulmate did. He’s…” Hoseok glances around, and finally locates Yoongi, who is vigorously resisting Jungkook’s valiant efforts to lift him. As if he heard him mention him, he looks up and beams gummily at Hoseok from under Jungkook’s arm. “He’s over there.”

“I see.” The man looks Yoongi’s way; Yoongi extricates himself from Jungkook and shoots Hoseok a puzzled look. Hoseok shrugs at him subtly. “You’re both quite skilled young men. How old are you, Hoseok-sshi? When did you two bond?”

“I was born in 1994, and, uh, four, five months ago? Why…?”

“Hmm. Not young, but… you’re within the limit.”

“Not… not young? What limit?” Hoseok is twenty-three, going by Korean years. How is that old? And what limit is there to age?

“Hoseok-sshi. My agency is looking for trainees. We’re planning to debut our newest boy group late next year, after a reality show. We have many skilled rappers and vocalists, but, unfortunately, our agency does not attract dancers, and in today’s industry, you need a strong dancer to lead choreography. Someone with years of experience. Someone with legitimate hip-hop roots.” The man pauses, expectantly. “Someone like you.”

“Like… like me?”

“Like you. I’ve already contacted our development team.” He smiles, in a fatherly way. “They’re eager to meet you.”

“You mean to say…”

“I can’t offer you anything concrete yet. You should come and meet us first, do an audition. Would you mind giving me your details?” The man holds out an elegant black notebook, emblazoned with the company’s logo; Hoseok takes it with shaking hands and scribbles down his phone number, cursing his messy handwriting. “Can you give me your soulmate’s? Our production team is looking for interns, and, I must say, what I heard today was impressive.” Hoseok, half-dreaming, adds Yoongi’s name and number. “Good. We’ll contact you soon, Hoseok-sshi. Here’s my business card, if you have any concerns in the meantime.” Hoseok accepts the card with both hands and bows to him. “Enjoy your celebrations, and congratulations once again.”

Hoseok stands there unblinking until Yoongi snaps his fingers in front of him. “Yah. Who was he?” Hoseok, incapable of speech, hands him the business card. Yoongi’s mouth drops open when he spots the logo. “What was he doing talking to you?”

“He wants to recruit me,” Hoseok says, in a voice that seems not to come from within him, but a faraway place. “As a trainee. And he said they’re looking for production interns, and he wanted to know if you would be interested.”

“Hoseok-ah.” Yoongi grabs his hands. “Are you serious?”

“Hyung,” Hoseok says, desperately. “I might debut. With them.”

“Hoseok-ah,” Yoongi repeats, and hugs him tightly, heart hammering against his.

 

After the initial excitement, Hoseok returns to reality and expects nothing more of it. He saves the man’s number in his phone under ‘when pigs fly’. He spends a few guilty hours trawling through online forums, looking for rumours about the company’s other trainees, but comes up with precious little. A company as big as this keeps everything under wraps.

“You’ll have to drop out,” Jimin points out, one night, while they study in the library. “You have to go on placement next year to graduate, don’t you? They won’t let you do that as a trainee.”

“It might not work out,” Hoseok dismisses. “Besides, I can always transfer my credits. I dunno. I’m sure I’ll figure it out.”

“Have you said anything to your parents?” Taehyung scribbles something with a highlighter. Hoseok has no idea how he deciphers his notes; they’re a psychedelic mess of green and pink and yellow. “How do they feel?”

“They’re… not happy.” His father went icy quiet until he heard the company name. “But, y’know, this company is way bigger than BigHit was, so they’re getting used to it. I promised Dad I’d go back to college if it doesn’t work out. That’s his big sticking point, that I get my degree.”

“And what about sunbae?” Jungkook is looking at him with big, worried eyes. “What are you going to do about him?”

“They mentioned an internship…”

“That’s not what I meant,” Jungkook interrupts. “What about your bond? If you debut, they’ll make you sever it.”

“That’s a big if.” Hoseok shakes his head. “Even if they do accept me, they don’t have any plans to debut for a year.”

“But you’ll have to make that decision eventually, won’t you?” Taehyung looks to him, as do the other two. “Will you sever it, if they ask?”

Hoseok thinks about Yoongi, about the cute faces he makes at Hoseok when he thinks he can’t see, about concern expressed via quiet solidarity and cups of peppermint tea, about the glow he gets when a track flows. He thinks about his mother, slipping extra pieces of mackerel onto Yoongi’s plate while he’s distracted. He thinks about his father, asking him if he wants to be buried with his people. He thinks about the toy heart, secreted away in his father’s study, as if to keep his real heart safe, and the strings around Yoongi’s wrist, the abstract one and the concrete one. “It’s up to hyung,” Hoseok says, with finality. “If it ever happens, which I doubt.”

 

It happens two days later. Hoseok sits on the stairs outside the apartment, as he is told when and where and what. He hangs up, numbly, and presses a hand to his mouth. A week from now, at their building in Gangnam. No make-up, plain clothes. Prepare two dance pieces, one hip-hop and one boy group cover, a vocal piece, and a rap piece. Bring your soulmate and make sure he has samples of work prepared. Good luck, Hoseok-sshi.

 

The building rears before him, monolithic, the glass façade reflecting the autumn sunlight. On the approach, he and Yoongi, both wearing face masks, are swarmed by a group of fans who mistook them for their oppas; they scatter when a security guard chastens them.

“Jesus,” Yoongi snarls, tugging the brim of his hat lower over his forehead, throwing a dirty look back at the girls and sticking closer to Hoseok’s side. “What’s wrong with them? What if we were those idols, why would they behave like that?”

“Idols aren’t human, to them. They’re objects they own.” An image furthered by the company, by eye-contact videos and severed bonds and hi-touches, the possibility of clasping hands with your bias and claiming them forever as your soulmate. No wonder you have to buy two hundred albums to get into a fansign. “Man, that makes you think twice, doesn’t it?”

“Don’t back out on us now, Seokseok-ah.” They present their IDs to the security guard, Hoseok poking Yoongi in the side at the sight of his ID picture. His hair is black and neatly parted; he looks about twelve. Yoongi stomps off in a huff ahead of him, into the lobby, where the agent Hoseok met awaits them, alongside a young woman in casual clothing.

“Hoseok-sshi.” The man shakes his hand affably. “And you’re Min Yoongi-sshi, correct? A pleasure to meet you. Please go with Eunji-sshi, she’ll take you to the production suites.” Hoseok squeezes Yoongi’s hand once, briefly, and mouths ‘good luck!’ Yoongi gives him a thumbs-up and trots after the lady, scurrying to keep up with her long strides. “Now, Hoseok-sshi, if you’ll follow me…”

Hoseok auditions on his own, thank God, in front of a panel of four judges and a camera. If they made him audition in a group with fourteen-year-olds, he would have chickened out. He should be far more nervous than he is – he was so freaked before his last auditions, for BigHit and JYP, that he almost collapsed – but he can feel Yoongi, placid waves of composure washing over him and soothing his nerves away. Thus, Hoseok begins to enjoy it, taking the opportunity to show off, playing up to the camera and joking with the judges and adding flair to the choreo he carefully prepared.

The judges he performs in front of are silent and stone-faced through his vocal pieces (Jungkook and Yoongi drilled him through a ballad and a rap, but he’s only passable), but when he gets to the boy-group cover, they lean forward in anticipation, eyes glimmering. The hip-hop piece makes one of them gasp as he executes a flawless death drop, and when they ask him to freestyle, they applaud him after. Hoseok smiles, broadly, at the praise, and one of them snaps an unexpected photo even though they recorded the full audition with Hoseok’s permission. “That’s your killer point, Hoseok-sshi,” she tells him, later, as he leaves after a short verbal interview. “Keep smiling, and things will work out in your favour.”

Keep smiling. Hoseok does as he’s told as he waits for Yoongi in the lobby. He can’t sit still; his knees bounce up in down, he shifts in the seat and when he knocks a magazine off the coffee table the receptionist side-eyes him. When Yoongi strides into the lobby Hoseok shoots up too quickly, trips over his own feet and bangs his knee off the coffee table. The receptionist rises, hesitantly, out of her chair; Yoongi waves her off with an awkward smile and she sits back down, not even trying to conceal her confusion.

“Hyung!” Hoseok rights himself and, hobbling, pursues Yoongi out of the building. The sasaengs have dispersed; either security ran them off, or they got a tip-off to their oppa’s location. Hoseok and Yoongi make it to the bus stop unmolested.

“Hyung,” Hoseok repeats. “How’d it go? Good?”

“Good,” Yoongi says, gently. “Did you enjoy it?”

“I did!” Hoseok throws his arms wide and breathes deeply. “Man, I know I should be humble, but it is so nice to show off!”

Yoongi pushes his arm away from him with an irritated noise. “Did they say when they’d get back to you?”

“By Monday. You?”

“Same, but I’m pretty confident they’ll take me. The lady said they’re hiring like crazy because of their new group. They want them to have a distinct sound from their other acts.”

“Their new group,” Hoseok says, dreamily. “I can’t – I can’t believe this is happening. Can you?”

Yoongi shakes his head. “I’m…” He looks up at the sky, now obscured by a viscous layer of cloud. “I feel like – it’s too good to be true.”

“Maybe it is,” Hoseok admits. “But nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? If they don’t accept us, we won’t lose anything, and if they do…”

“If they do…” Yoongi smiles up at the sky. “I called my parents to tell them. My mom cried. My dad wouldn’t believe me until I sent him a picture of their business card.”

“Did you tell them about me?”

Yoongi shakes his head. “Not yet. What you did, telling them in person – that’s the right way to do it. But…”

“Hyung,” Hoseok says, smiling.

“My dad said he was proud of me.” Yoongi sounds dazed. “The last time he said that to me, I was fifteen. He said that he was glad someone recognised my talent and that he was going to go to the temple to make an offering for me. He didn’t even do that when I sat the entrance exams.”

“The power of a big company,” Hoseok jokes.

Yoongi snorts. “Right. He’s – I know he was an asshole, but he was scared that I wouldn’t succeed and that people would take advantage of me, and this time he might come around. This is success on a silver platter. Even if they don’t keep me past the internship, having their name on my CV would be a huge help.” Hope flourishes down the bond, and the only reason Hoseok doesn’t kiss him then and there is the arrival of the bus.

Halfway to their stop, the rain comes pouring down. The clouds implode into severe squalls, fat drops beating iambic against the glass. Yoongi stares out at it, flinching when the wheels send up a curtain of water, and Hoseok studies his face, reflected in the glass, the exact shape of his lips as he grimaces, the fall of his hair, now mint green (he gave in to Hoseok’s teasing), across his brow, the dart of his eyes to Hoseok’s reflection.

There is a space of about three inches between his right pinky and Yoongi’s left thumb. He leaves it be, and redirects his gaze to the front of the bus, pulling his hand closer to him.

 

Seven days later, exactly, they are called back to the building. This time, instead of being led into the practice rooms and production suites on the lower floors, two assistants usher them onto a lift that soars up towards the floors where the bigwigs reside. Both the shaft and the lift are made of glass, and Hoseok watches the floor drop away from them with dread.

“What’s wrong? Are you still afraid of heights?” Yoongi bumps into Hoseok with his shoulder, grinning at him.

“Yes,” Hoseok says, in a half-truth. He’s scared about how high up they are, about how the lift cable could snap and kill them in the space of time it takes for a wire to corrode.

That fear is dwarfed by his terror of what awaits him upstairs. What if they say no? His hopes, so briefly raised, dashed in a second? It would defeat him. He went through this once already, and once is one time too many for one person.

But what if they say yes?

The lift slides, smoothly, to a stop, and the doors ding open. The assistants bring them to a conference room where everything, from the wall to the table to the bottles of water provided, is embossed with the company’s logo. They sit him and Yoongi down, leaving an empty seat between them.

He recognises two of the people sitting in front of him – the judge who told him to smile is sitting at the end of the table, scribbling on a piece of paper. The producer who took Yoongi is on the opposite end, talking to the man beside her.

“Hoseok-sshi, Yoongi-sshi. I’m glad that you could make it.” The casting agent claps Hoseok on the shoulder and takes his seat beside the judge. “Shall we begin? You first, Miyoung-sshi.”

The judge from his audition shuffles her papers. “Hoseok-sshi, we were impressed with your audition. Your vocal and rap performances were decent, but your dancing was superb. Your isolation, your musicality, your flow… I have never seen anything like it. There are few true freestylers active in the industry, and you surpass them all.” Hoseok ducks his head under the praise. “You comported yourself well, I must say. You weren’t nervous in the slightest, you weren’t shy about making eye contact, and you engaged with the camera. There are professional idols with less stage magnetism than you.”

“You’re too kind,” Hoseok manages, as he wills himself not to blush.

“Eunji-sshi? Do you have anything to say?”

The producer nods. “We were delighted with Yoongi-sshi. His compositions, if unpolished, were original, and I can see him influencing the creative direction of the debut team. I would be delighted if he were to train with us. We could do with young blood.” Pride floods into Hoseok, Yoongi’s pride in himself and Hoseok’s pride in him. He peeks at Yoongi; his cheeks are red, and his lip twitches like he’s trying not to smile.

“We made the decision immediately,” the agent says, “Hoseok-sshi, Yoongi-sshi, we’d like to offer you both contracts.”

Hoseok doesn’t hear what he says next, some legal mumbo jumbo, that they’ve already drawn up the terms and they can look over them now if they’d like, but they don’t have to sign until next week. He’s aloft, soaring to his castle in the sky, buoyed by his elation and Yoongi’s, swelling in waves through the string. He’s a trainee! He could debut! He might be an idol! He hears Yoongi ask to see the contracts, and he doesn’t come back down to Earth until he hears the snap of the binder on the table.

The contract is largely the same as the one he signed with BigHit. It’s a two-year contract, with no severance terms; they have the freedom to cut him, and he has the freedom to quit. No trainee debt unless he debuts, full living expenses provided for, including accommodation in a dorm, and no outside jobs or studies permitted.

One term is different. It is on the last page, on its own, separate from the other ones, in heavy print.

If the trainee has bonded, they are obliged to sever their bond.

No way. No way. He reads it and rereads it, but the text doesn’t change, heart sinking letter by letter.

“What’s wrong?” It’s Yoongi, swivelling towards him, jubilant smile faltering.

“The last… the last…”

Yoongi pages through his. “What, about… about…” He finds it. Hoseok knows exactly when he realises what it means; the string deadens, void of all emotion.

He looks up at the judge. “Company policy,” she says, apologetically. “We’ve had issues with trainees being unable to take the separation and abandoning their training. Besides, you have to do it when you debut, so we may as well get it out of the way. It’s riskier, the longer you’re bonded.”

“You’re joking, right?” Yoongi’s voice is edgy and desperate.

“We’re perfectly serious. We require termination of the soulmate bond for all artists,” the agent says, calmly. “Trainees included.”

Hoseok fancies he can hear Yoongi’s heart stop. “No. No way…”

The judge shakes her head. “We understand that it’s a big ask, but it has to be done. No matter how good their intentions are, soulmates always cause problems, down the line.”

“We provide world-class training to our trainees,” the agent adds. “Vocal lessons, dance lessons, foreign languages, image training, etiquette… It’s expensive, as one would imagine. We can’t risk losing out on our investments.”

“You don’t have to decide now,” the judge tells them. “Take your time. Make your choice, and make sure you have no regrets.”

“We need a decision by eleven am this day next week,” the agent informs them. “You will fast the night before, and the surgery will take place immediately after. It’s all or nothing. If you agree, we’ll accept both of you. If you decide not to, neither of you will be accepted. If you don’t respond, we’ll assume that you are no longer interested in our company.”

For a long while, as they come to terms with it, neither of them respond. Eventually, Yoongi looks the agent directly in the eye, hand tight around Hoseok’s. “Is this legal?”

“Perfectly. You’ll find documentation in the folder.” The agent nods towards the assistants. “Jihye-sshi, Hyunwoo-sshi, please show our guests out.”

The moment they enter the lift, their string, all at once, bursts into life. Hoseok’s head rings with emotions, his own and not his own, commingled in a chaos of terror and shock. The bond burns, tightly, into his wrist. Yoongi fumbles for his hand; he takes it, holds on for dear life, but it doesn’t calm the bond. The lift isn’t half as scary this time. The assistants peek at them, pity clear on their faces, as Hoseok clings to Yoongi, holding his hand tightly enough that his knuckles hurt.

“Did you know?” It’s pouring outside, drops rattling against the windows of the lobby. That doesn’t deter Yoongi; he strides out into the rain, Hoseok in tow, even though Seokjin is coming to collect them.

“I didn’t. I had no idea, I promise…”

“It’s bullshit,” Yoongi spits. “I just – I just found you! I haven’t – my parents don’t know you exist. We only got our act together now, and they want me to let you go?”

“We won’t – I won’t–”

Yoongi wrenches out of his grip. “They’re lying. It can’t be legal. I’ve never heard of this before, why – why?”

“I don’t know,” Hoseok says, white-faced. “What the judge said – it sounded plausible.”

“Plausible? Plausible? If it’s that plausible, why don’t you go in there and sign that contract?”

“I would never–”

“Would you? Then why don’t you tell them you’re not interested?” That silences Hoseok. “Answer me.”

“I can’t,” Hoseok says, in a small, plaintive voice. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” Yoongi snorts, shaking his head incredulously. “How can you not know?”

“I don’t – I don’t – this is everything I’ve ever wanted. The only thing I’ve ever wanted. This is my dream.”

As Hoseok says it, he realises how true it is. Ever since that first talent show, when the kids, the ones who liked him and the ones who bullied him and the ones who didn’t know him from Adam, stood up and cheered his name, he has had one, singular, ambition; to debut. A foolish one, perhaps, for someone like him, old (by idol standards) and plain (by idol standards) and comparatively untalented (by idol standards), but he aspires to it nonetheless, and it is close enough for him to reach out and touch it, if only he can sacrifice his bond. Sacrifice Yoongi.

Could he? Could he do that? To him, to Yoongi, who he might be in love with, who is yet again in the way of his dreams?

Yoongi sinks to his haunches, covering his face. Hoseok crouches next to him and holds him, in a vain attempt to shield him from the rain. “We don’t have to decide now. We have a week.”

“You don’t make a decision like this,” Yoongi says, thickly. “You’ve made it already. You don’t know it, but I know it. I know you, Jung Hoseok.”

Hoseok says nothing. He holds Yoongi as closely as he can to lean his head against his chest, and there they remain, listening to the rain patter on the road, loud enough to drown out everything else.

 

“You’re joking.”

“No way. No way…”

“You’re being serious? Holy shit, they’re serious.”

“That can’t be legal. Can it?”

“You’re not… You’re not thinking about doing it, are you?”

The avalanche of questions keeps coming. Taehyung clambers into Namjoon’s lap, staring at them with wide eyes. Jungkook’s jaw is tense, and his hand is tangled with Jimin’s. Seokjin is frowning, one hand playing with the rose gold Cartier love bracelet encircling his wrist; a gift from Heeyeon on the fourth anniversary of their bonding, given right before she left to get a PhD in psychology from Stanford.

Hoseok shakes his head. “They gave us a week. If we don’t agree, they won’t sign either of us.”

Yoongi is silent, dark-eyed, lost in his own thoughts. His skin is pink from the shower Hoseok made him take. They both got soaked in the rain, and Yoongi was shaking like a leaf. He still is; there’s a fine tremor in his hand, one Hoseok recognises from the time Bang PD asked him to perform in front of potential investors. Hoseok takes it, hoping to pacify him, and it works. “That’s ridiculous,” Seokjin says, firmly. “They’re using you as leverage against each other. They’re dividing you to make you agree.”

“Maybe you can negotiate?” Jimin’s voice is hopeful. “Maybe Yoongi hyung can promise not to claim Hoseok hyung publicly?”

“And let them fire you if you do,” Taehyung adds.

“I met trainees in JYP who were in that company,” Jungkook says, softly. “They said they don’t negotiate. No matter what.”

A silence falls over them. Yoongi stands up, suddenly. “I’m – I’m leaving.”

“Yoongi-yah, don’t…”

“Let him.” Hoseok ignores Seokjin’s glare and gets up to help Yoongi out the door, gathering his shoes and coat and an umbrella. “Promise you’ll be home by midnight?”

Yoongi nods, as he pulls on his shoes and shrugs on the jacket. “Promise.” He presses a brief kiss to Hoseok’s cheek, and, before Hoseok can say goodbye, he’s gone.

Hoseok spends the remainder of the evening combing through the terms of their contracts with Seokjin while stress-eating their way through a good portion of Seokjin’s stash of snacks. There’s a small envelope at the back of the binder containing documentation about the severance, and they pick through it, Hoseok feeling worse word by word.

Though the process is government sanctioned, that doesn’t mean that it’s safe. Entertainment companies are only allowed to terminate bonds less than a year old; the termination of older bonds is dangerous, with subjects frequently becoming comatose or, worse, brain-dead. The subjects will be sedated, though only enough to stop them from struggling and interfering with the procedure. They may be awake throughout the operation; he will see the doctors prepare the bond, irradiate it, and, finally, sever it with a blade made of obsidian, the only thing sharp enough to cut it. But that is not enough; they cannot come into contact for a year after the procedure or else the bond may not die properly.

“Upon termination of the bond,” Seokjin mumbles, “any emotions induced by it will disappear permanently. God.” He screws his face up, crumpling an empty bag of honey butter chips and tossing it into the bin. “That’s grim.”

Hoseok makes a small noise of agreement, attempting to decipher a chunk of wordy medical mumbo-jumbo. “It sounds…”

“Awful.” Seokjin grimaces. “My parents have nightmares about the pain they experienced when their soulmates died. My mother nearly died giving birth to me, and she maintains that losing the bond was worse. My dad says it was like torture.”

“You don’t want me to do it?”

“My opinion isn’t relevant. But if I was in your shoes…” He lays a hand on his forearm. “I would have called that agent and told him to stick his contract up his ass.”

“Hyung,” Hoseok says, scandalised, and sighs. “I don’t… I don’t know. I… on one hand, you – you know how I feel about him.” He can’t put words to it, that depth of affection, the endlessness of what he feels for Yoongi, but he doesn’t need to; Seokjin, given that he has his own soulmate, knows exactly how it feels. “We wasted our time. It still annoys me that he quit BigHit.”

“That was years ago.” Seokjin raises an eyebrow

Hoseok makes a noise in the back of his throat. “Not over the debut thing. If he stayed, we would have bonded the moment I turned eighteen. Four more years with him… I’d give anything for it. But, on the other hand…”

“When are you ever going to get an opportunity like this again?”

Hoseok leans back and covers his eyes. “If this works out, if I debut – my mom will never have to work another day in her life, and she deserves that. Dawon can set up that boutique she always talks about. I’ll get to perform.”

“Is it that important to you?”

“Yes,” Hoseok says, desperately. “You don’t understand, what it’s like. You can’t unless you’ve been up there.” The stage is the only place Hoseok feels that he truly belongs, where he can show the truth of himself without fear of mockery.

“Is it more important than Yoongi?”

Hoseok lets his hands fall, limply, by his sides, and stares at the ceiling. That’s the crux of it, really. Which does he love more? His dream, or his soulmate?

Seokjin closes the contract. “You should go to bed,” he says, tiredly. “Talk to Yoongi tomorrow. Whatever you decide, we’re here for both of you.”

Later, as Hoseok lies in bed, wide awake, he hears Heeyeon’s voice; Seokjin must be calling her, seeking her comfort after today’s revelations. Hoseok wishes he had his own soulmate, but Yoongi isn’t back yet. Hoseok contemplates texting him, but when he opens KaTalk, he can’t write the message. What on earth could he say? (Please come home. I miss you. I’ve made up my mind.)

He tosses his phone away to watch his string trace shapes in the air, visible by its muted red glow. It doesn’t do this often, but when it does, it makes him wonder if the images come from his mind or Yoongi’s mind or an unknowable place, beyond human ken. Here, it draws a mountain, the three peaks of Mudeungsan instantly recognisable. Next, it shapes the river Han, the bend of it as it swoops around Yongsan, the meander off towards Incheon. It imitates a heartbeat, for a long while, chaining intervals and segments together in time with the rhythm of a foreign heart. Finally, it forms sound waves, noises he doesn’t know or recognise. He speculates on what it’s saying.

It seizes up into a ball of string and crumples to lie motionless and flat, eventually disappearing into a wisp of carmine smoke, as Hoseok hears a key rattle in the front door. Hoseok turns away, and towards the wall as doors open and close, as someone mutters, as water rushes through the pipes.

Finally, the bedroom door swings open. It’s Yoongi, he knows it is; he would know him by his gait, his breathing, his silence, even if he didn’t know that his other housemates were already asleep. Fabric rustles as he undresses, and Hoseok thinks of him, of the tan skin gone pale from a life spent indoors, of the deceptive broadness of his shoulders, of the dip in his jawline that Hoseok swears was made to fit his lips.

There is quiet, for a long moment. Hoseok should get up and embrace him, pull him down by his side where he belongs. Tomorrow is a Saturday; they could wake up late and have morning sex, Yoongi fucking Hoseok lazy and slow, mouthing sweet nothings into his neck as he shudders apart. They could go into the city and walk down the river to get steamed sweet potatoes. They could come back to the studio later, and Yoongi could work with Hoseok beside him, chin hooked over his shoulder, watching him make magic.

He doesn’t. Yoongi sighs, a forlorn noise, and Hoseok hears him crawl into his own bed, at the other side of the room.

Hoseok rolls onto his back and tells himself that this is what they wanted, ever since that fateful collision; to debut, to become a producer, to be separate. This is what they asked for.

Do they still want it?

Chapter Text

Hoseok puts on a show. He attends his lectures, he works in his labs, he goes out with his friends. He talks, in hypothetical terms, with the admissions office about dropping out, he sorts through his various belongings, trying to remember how small a trainee dorm is, and he digs out his old lease agreement from the depths of Namjoon’s desk (the worst thing is that Namjoon obviously attempted to maintain a filing system, with documents from early on in the year sorted, but, as the year wore on, he seemingly gave up on it) to see if he can wriggle out of it, if need be. He works out, he dances, he cooks, he cleans; he does everything he can to distract himself from his soulmate’s glaring absence.

He can count on both hands the number of times he’s seen Yoongi since they got the contracts. Hoseok leaves early before Yoongi awakes, and Yoongi comes to bed long after Hoseok has fallen asleep. Their bond is unnaturally quiet, like the calm before a storm.

The boys tiptoe around him as if he’s a bomb primed to explode. Namjoon, as earnest as ever, mediates between them, though his efforts are received coldly; apparently, Yoongi said he should ‘keep his fucking nose out of it’. Seokjin acts theatrical all week, cracking awful jokes that not even Jimin laughs at, and Jungkook follows Hoseok around like a lost puppy, planting himself in his way as often as he can. Taehyung is withdrawn and sombre; Hoseok can’t offer him any comfort.

In the end, it is not Hoseok who catches Yoongi. Instead, Yoongi collars him, the day before they’re scheduled to make their decision. Tomorrow, they are expected at the building at eleven in the morning, to inform the agency of their choices, and, immediately thereafter, there is an appointment scheduled at a clinic outside the city, where the procedure will be performed, if they agree.

It’s seven am, and, outside, the world is winter dark, lit by the glare of sodium lights. Hoseok is hunched over the counter by their coffee machine (a cast-off from Namjoon’s father’s office), watching the liquid drip into a cup. He’s tired, down to his bones, his soul. Namjoon theorises that it’s the separation; he says that if he doesn’t see Taehyung for a while, he gets run-down.

Namjoon is right. When Yoongi enters the kitchen, Hoseok instantly feels better, though he doesn’t know he’s there until he turns around, like a sunflower seeking the light. “Hyung.” The machine beeps as it finishes. Hoseok picks the cup up and offers it to Yoongi with both hands.

Yoongi shakes his head. “I’m going to bed. You drink it.”

Hoseok sits down in the chair Yoongi is standing behind and takes a sip, wincing at the bitterness. “You’re only back now?”

Yoongi nods. “I wanted… I wanted to catch you. Can you stop, for a second?” Hoseok lowers his cup and swallows, craning his head to look up at him. Yoongi inhales, hand seeking the back of Hoseok’s chair as if he needs the support. “I went to talk to the agent today. Well, yesterday.”

What? Without me? Why?”

“What the kids said,” Yoongi says, in a small voice. “About negotiating. I wanted to try it.”

“You…”

“I, I thought… Like Jimin said, if I promised not to claim you publicly, and if I did, I’d let them fire me.” A plaintive note enters his voice. “And I wouldn’t, you know I wouldn’t…”

“You wouldn’t?”

“What?”

“Claim me?”

Yoongi stills. “If that was what it took, then yes. I would. I don’t… I don’t care if I have to be your dirty little secret.”

“Hyung.” Hoseok grasps for his hand, behind him.

“Doesn’t mean shit, anyway.” His voice is desolate, emotionless. “He said the terms wouldn’t be changed under any circumstances. Either we sever it and get the contracts, or we don’t.”

It’s the kind of ultimatum Hoseok hoped that he would never be faced with in his life; an impossible, insurmountable choice, a lose-lose situation. But he must make it, and now, if possible. They’re out of time. “You said I’d already made up my mind. You’re right. I have.”

“What… what did you…?”

Hoseok shakes his head. “You tell me first. It was your decision last time.” Last time, when Yoongi was seventeen and an idiot and Hoseok was nowhere near as in love with him as he is now, in love enough to turn down the opportunity of a lifetime. Yoongi will make the right choice. He knows he will. “It should be yours now.”

In the months to come, Hoseok will regret this. He will regret letting Yoongi talk. He should have known better. Yoongi is no longer seventeen, headstrong and self-obsessed and passionate; he is an adult, with responsibilities other than himself, and what do adults do but make sacrifices?

“Let’s sever it.” There’s steel in that statement, and it jabs into the tenderest parts of Hoseok. “I’m not… I refuse to ruin your dreams again.”

“You’re…” Hoseok springs up and wheels to face him. Yoongi is somehow tiny, diminished, as if he’s shrunk since Hoseok last saw him. “You’re giving me up?”

“That’s not what I…”

The music comes first. Always has, always will. “You’d break our bond, for an internship and a traineeship? Is that my worth to you?”

“No, no, you’re – you said it to me, you told me you refuse to let this get in the way of what you love.” He’s right. Hoseok remembers wincing internally at how badly his words came off, but he meant them then.

Does he mean them now?

“I won’t! Do you know how much I regret it when I see you dance? I wish – I wish I could go back in time and convince myself to stay.” Yoongi’s voice cracks. “Even if we ended up bonding and they kicked me out, I wouldn’t care as long as you debuted. You were born to perform.”

Many people have said nice things about Hoseok. They have praised his dancing, his isolation, his musicality; they have admired his looks, his heart-shaped mouth and megawatt smile and strong jaw. They have complimented his professionalism, his dedication, his passion, his magnanimous heart and his friendly nature, his hopeful enthusiasm and high energy.

What Yoongi just said to him is possibly the nicest thing anyone has said about him, ever. You were born to perform.

“Okay.” He takes one shaky breath, and another, and another, until he’s hyperventilating, chest seizing as the bond shrieks at them. Yoongi reaches for him, but Hoseok backs away, out of reach. “Okay,” he repeats, and leaves, gasping, pulling on his shoes and letting his legs carry him to sanctuary, wherever it may be sought.

 

Jungkookie

Today 9:10 AM
Hyung
Where are you???

 

Jiminie

Today 9:45 AM
Hoseok hyung please answer
At least tell us where you are
Yoongi hyung is going out of his mind
The bond is hurting him

 

Taehyungie

Today 10:36 AM
Are you okay
Call me
I know you're reading these don’t do this

 

Seokjinnie

Today 11:59 AM
Did you seriously turn off your location services???
I can’t find you on Find Friends???
Please come back we’re worried
Yoongi is this close to calling the police he’s in actual pain

 

Noona

Today 2:00 PM
Yoongi called me and asked me to text you
Why did you run off? What’s wrong?
Today 2:23 PM
Seriously I can see you read my messages!!! answer me you crazy bastard
Today 2:48 PM
I'm telling mom

 

Mom

Today 3:00 PM
You have a missed call from Mom.
Today 3:09 PM
You have a missed call from Mom.
Today 3:14 PM
You have a missed call from Mom.
Today 3:20 PM
You have a missed call from Mom.
Today 3:23 PM
You have a missed call from Mom.
Today 3:36 PM
You have a missed call from Mom.
Today 3:42 PM
You have a missed call from Mom.
Today 3:51 PM
You have a missed call from Mom.
Today 4:04 PM
You have a missed call from Mom.
Today 4:08 PM
You have a missed call from Mom.
Today 4:10 PM
You have a missed call from Mom.
Today 4:15 PM
You have a missed call from Mom.
Today 4:22 PM
You have a missed call from Mom.
Today 4:27 PM
You have a missed call from Mom.
Today 4:31 PM
You have a missed call from Mom.

 

Yoongi

Today 4:44 PM
hoseok-ah
i'm sorry
please be okay
please come back

Hoseok turns off his phone before Yoongi finishes his last message and leaves it on the table, dead, beside his coffee, and stares out at a familiar vista; the street in front of the BigHit building, the street they slogged down after practice.

Som ajumma’s restaurant is no more. Now, the building houses a café. Hoseok went down the stairs to the old practice studio when he walked in and was reprimanded by an employee.

BigHit’s name is gone from the plaque on the front of the Cheonggu building, replaced by Source Music. Their CEO was friends with Bang PD, as he recalls; they probably traded because Source needed more room, given GFriend’s recent success. Seeing them on TV is surreal. Two of the members used to be BigHit trainees, though he never got to know them; the managers scrupulously kept their few female trainees separate from the boys.

Hoseok doesn’t know why he’s here, reopening old wounds. He walked miles and miles after he ran away, following no path. He watched the sun rise over the Han, and then he kept walking, past schoolchildren and street cleaners and office workers, people with purpose. He must look crazy, wandering Seoul in October without a coat on. He left in such a rush that he forgot, and now that it’s late afternoon he feels like his arms are going to freeze off. He rubs them, wincing, and takes another sip of coffee, which he promptly chokes on when his name is called.

“Hoseok-ah!”

Hoseok snaps up. “Nam – Namjoon-ah?”

“I knew you’d be here,” Namjoon pants. “God. Did you – did you walk all the way here?” He flops into the chair opposite Hoseok.

Hoseok nods. “I didn’t come here on purpose,” he says, softly. “I just… ended up here.”

Namjoon flags down the waitress and asks for a coffee. After she dashes off, he turns to Hoseok. “What’s wrong?”

“Yoongi hyung didn’t tell you?”

Namjoon shakes his head. His mouth presses into a grim line. “I can make a good guess, though. He made his decision, and you didn’t like it.”

“He wants to sever it,” Hoseok admits, in a voice that is not his. “He’s willing to give us up. Give me up.”

Namjoon lets out a heavy breath. “I knew it.”

“Knew what? That he’d – he’d…”

“Yes,” Namjoon says. “This is Yoongi hyung we’re talking about. You know – you know what he’s like. He’s pragmatic, not like me or you. He knows that this is your best shot at success.”

“Success? Is success worth… worth this?” He gestures at his wrist. “Like, if you got this choice, would you give up Taehyung?”

Namjoon shakes his head vehemently. “No. Never.”

“Then why is hyung…”

“It’s not – we’re in wildly different situations.” The waitress comes back with Namjoon’s coffee; he accepts it, fumbling the spoon onto the floor. Hoseok picks it up for him. “My life is easy. My parents don’t care what I do if I’m happy, but hyung… You know how difficult it was for him. For you.”

Hoseok thinks about Yoongi, hunched over his phone, arguing with his father in hushed whispers. He thinks about how he used to rifle through his mother’s purse, stealing bills to pay for the academy. He thinks about Dawon hugging him into her side as they waved their mother goodbye because the best paying job she could find was in another city. “I know,” he says, softly.

“Never thought I’d be back here,” Namjoon admits, with a sheepish grin. “Remember Som ajumma?”

“Her kimchi stew was the best,” Hoseok says, wistfully. “It was like my mom’s.”

“I wonder why she closed up shop.”

“I asked the manager. Apparently, her daughter got married and moved to Gangneung, and she went with her.”

“We’ve moved on.” Namjoon sips his coffee, scrunching his face up at the taste.

“Namjoon-ah,” Hoseok says when the last of his coffee is bitter on his tongue. “He won’t change his mind, will he?”

Namjoon smiles at him ruefully, lowering his own empty cup. “Why are you asking me when you know already?”

 

He and Namjoon part ways at the dance studio. Hoseok promises he’ll be home soon, but Namjoon must not trust him; Hoseok isn’t there half-an-hour before the kids show up.

They say nothing. That’s fine. He can see the pity in their eyes, in the looks they throw each other in the mirror; he does not need to hear it. Jungkook opens his mouth to talk but Hoseok turns the music up a few decibels, and Jungkook gets the message.

They dance for hours, all their old routines, the ones Hoseok would scribble onto his whiteboard as Jimin sat behind him and insulted his handwriting. Hoseok isn’t in his own head; he’s disconnected, watching them move in the mirror. Taehyung is half a beat behind. Jungkook fudges a spin. Jimin is as flawless as ever, except for his face, the ice prince expression cracking into distress when he happens to make eye contact with Hoseok.

“Hyung,” Jungkook says, eventually, when the playlist comes to an end.

“What?”

Jungkook stares at him, skin shining with perspiration, looking exactly as young as he is. “Hyung,” he repeats.

Distracted, Hoseok forgets to pause the playlist, and it loops back around to the beginning, to his newest routine, and Yoongi’s voice fills the studio, backed by Seokjin, wine and honey. Hoseok–

Hoseok doesn’t move. He can’t. He’s paralysed, shivers running through him as Yoongi’s voice resonates with something inside him, inside his bones, inside his soul. He raises his hands to his neck and clutches at it as if threatened.

Jimin takes a step towards him. “Pause it,” he hisses to Taehyung.

Taehyung shakes his head. “No. Hoseok hyung…”

“Let it play,” Hoseok says, hollowly. He can see the choreo, can see himself doing it, how his body will shape itself, legs and arms and hips and feet and shoulders, all of him, under Yoongi’s sway. He can’t take it; he sinks to his knees, shaking. In a flash, the kids surround him, wrapping around him protectively, as if to shield him from the music. Jungkook’s face fits into the side of his neck, Taehyung’s arms wind around his waist, and Jimin pulls him into his chest.

“It’s okay.” His voice is pitched low, and his hands are gentle over his back. “It’s okay, hyung.” Jungkook holds him tighter; Hoseok buries his face in Jimin’s shoulder, and there they remain, for a long while, long after the song is over, long after Hoseok’s tears have dried.

 

“Hoseok-ah!” Seokjin engulfs him in a hug the moment Hoseok enters. Hoseok scrambles away, but Seokjin is relentless, clinging to his back as he scolds him. “Don’t – never do that again. I thought you were dead.”

“Hyung, aish, I won’t, let me take off my shoes!” Hoseok extricates himself from Seokjin with difficulty. “I was gone, what–”

“Thirteen hours. I counted.”

Hoseok pushes him away, grumbling. “You’re too much.” He walks, backwards, into the living room, fending off Seokjin’s attempts to hug him. He doesn’t see who’s in there until his string tugs at him and spins him around.

Yoongi gapes at him, white-faced. His arms twitch as if he wants to reach out to him; instead, he wraps them around himself, looking infinitely young. Namjoon is beside him, giving Hoseok those sad, puppy-dog eyes he learned from his soulmate. Said soulmate slips past him and Seokjin to grab Namjoon’s hand.

“We should eat,” Namjoon says, eventually, when it becomes clear that neither Yoongi nor Hoseok is going to break the silence.

“We waited for you to come back.” Seokjin clangs around. “Yoongi-yah, can you come help me?”

Yoongi looks like he wants to complain, but he doesn’t. He brushes past Hoseok on the way into the kitchen; the contact is soothing, like aftersun on a sunburn, and afterwards, Hoseok has to sit down, heavily, on the couch. Namjoon takes the seat beside him. Taehyung drifts into the kitchen, to observe; he was banned from culinary pursuits after the palette knife incident.

After the revelations of this morning and the endless day he’s had, home is a relief, with his friends around him, his soulmate one room over. A part of him always finds solace in Yoongi, no matter how dickish he is.

What is he going to do without that? That guarantee of a safe person, a safe place?

Hoseok closes his eyes and leans back against the couch. There’s a tension headache building in his brain, and his jaw is sore; when he gets stressed, he tends to clench his teeth unconsciously. Namjoon taps his chin. “Open.”

Hoseok loosens his jaw and cracks it. “Thanks,” he says.

“He’s not changing his mind,” Namjoon tells him, in lieu of a ‘you’re welcome’. “Seokjin did his best to persuade him.”

“Seokjin’s weirdly invested in our bond.”

“You know what he’s like. Seokjin goes all-in for the soulmates thing. I think it’s because of his parents…” His parents, who were unbonded. Not rare, by any means, but it certainly put their children at a disadvantage; children of non-bonded relationships are far more likely to have disabilities or simple genetic quirks, and Seokjin was no exception with his hypermobility. “He really believes in it. Did he ever talk to you about Heeyeon?”

“What about her?” Seokjin constantly talks about Heeyeon in superlatives; her voice is that of an angel’s, her hair is like silk, her mind is unparalleled, on and on and on. To be fair to him, he’s right. She’s as close to perfect as a mere mortal can get.

“He didn’t want her to go to Stanford. He couldn’t understand why she would leave him.”

“I didn’t know…” Heeyeon left over a year ago and has only returned once, as far as Hoseok can recall, last Christmas.

“I didn’t either until I walked in on them arguing. He asked me not to tell anyone, after, but you deserve to know, now. He was ashamed that he couldn’t stop her.” Namjoon frowns, fiddling with the TV remote. “I guess… her dream was abroad, and his dream was her. Maybe he wants you to succeed where he failed.”

Hoseok thinks about the bracelets the two men in the kitchen are wearing. One, worth thousands, made of rose gold, screwed onto his arm; the other, a twenty-one-year-old piece of string, secured by a knot. “I’m not going to,” Hoseok admits. “I … I don’t want to.”

“Hoseok-ah…”

“He’s right.” Hoseok stands up. “We should sever it.”

There’s a loud clang from the kitchen. Namjoon startles but calms when he hears Seokjin scold someone. “Tell him, then.”

“I will!” Hoseok hesitates, and tacks on; “After dinner. In private. Like the adults we are.”

Namjoon makes a funny face at him and stands up. “If you say so. Come on, let’s set the table.”

Uh-oh. Hoseok manages to persuade Namjoon into staying away from the crockery. Instead, Taehyung ferries in what’s required, and Hoseok lays it out, even when Taehyung brings in strange things, like a sauce dish shaped like a pickup truck (the sauce goes in the truck bed), salt-and-pepper shakers in the form of a taeguk, and a dish with a squirrel in the middle that serves no recognisable purpose.

Dinner is strained. Namjoon, Seokjin and Taehyung chat about mundane, boring things, like the lecturer for one of Taehyung’s modules who decided not to bother with continuous assessment, or Namjoon’s younger sister’s college entrance exams next month, or Seokjin’s ongoing beef with the sound editor he was paired with for a project. Hoseok contributes, occasionally, and Yoongi doesn’t; they are too busy looking at each other when the other is not.

He is so distracted, in fact, that he doesn’t notice Seokjin calling him until Taehyung pinches him. He yelps. “What was that for?”

“Hyung asked you a question,” Taehyung says, shortly.

“I wanted to know what you’re going to do about college.”

Hoseok shrugs. “Drop out, I guess. I talked to a lady from the admissions office, and she said if I reapply within one year of dropping out, they’ll take me back. I’ll have to pay fees again, and they won’t refund what I’ve paid for this semester.” As an afterthought, he adds; “I’m going to have to talk to the landlord about breaking my lease unless someone else wants to move in.”

“Can’t Yoongi take the room on his own, like you did?”

“No,” Yoongi says. It is the first thing Hoseok has heard him say all evening. “I’m moving out.”

Namjoon lowers his spoon with a thump, splattering kimchi over the table. Seokjin is too shocked to scold him. “What?”

Yoongi stands up, abruptly. “Please excuse me.” His dinner left largely uneaten, he retreats into the bedroom, door slamming shut. Hoseok rises, unsure.

“Follow him,” Seokjin hisses, so Hoseok does.

The room is unlit; the only light that enters is by way of the window, through the curtains. It limns Yoongi in faint, orange light. “Why are you moving?”

“I didn’t come here by choice.” Yoongi’s voice is hollow, raspy. “I only came here for you. Now that you’re… now that I won’t have you, there’s no reason to stay.”

“Hyung,” Hoseok says, quietly enough that he hopes Yoongi won’t hear how weak his voice is.

It doesn’t work. Yoongi whips around. “Don’t,” he threatens. “Don’t you dare.”

“Dare what?” Hoseok swallows, heavily. “Sever this? Leave you? You want this.”

Yoongi’s shoulders slump. “I do, and so do you.” It is a question; Hoseok nods. Yoongi fists his hands in his jeans. “Right. You’re right. We’re right. We’re doing the right thing.”

Hoseok takes one tentative step towards him. “We are.”

“Stay away,” Yoongi warns, voice cracking. “Don’t do this to me. I want a clean break.”

“Aren’t we too far gone for that?”

Yoongi looks at him, directly at him, eye to eye, man to man, and all Hoseok sees is heartbreak. He reaches for him; Hoseok stumbles over himself to sink into his arms, breathing in the scent of him, sweat and cigarette smoke and his shitty cologne, the one Hoseok bought a bottle of on the down-low to smell when he misses him. Hoseok lets out a single sob. He thought he was all cried out after the dance studio, but, crybaby that he is, he should know by now that he always has more tears to shed.

“Don’t cry,” Yoongi pleads, drawing a hand through his hair. “Please don’t cry.”

“Fuck you,” Hoseok gasps, pressing his face into Yoongi’s sweatshirt. “We’re breaking up! I’m allowed to cry, you bastard!”

At the words ‘breaking up’, Yoongi pushes him away slightly. “Jesus,” he breathes, searching Hoseok’s face. “We’re actually doing this.”

Hoseok hiccups and cries harder. Yoongi, in a panic, grabs Hoseok’s face. “Stop,” he commands, shaking him gently. “I’m serious, Jung Hoseok, you gotta stop.”

“I can’t,” Hoseok wails. “My – you broke my heart! How do you expect me to stop?”

Yoongi presses desperate kisses to his face, to his wet eyes, to his flushed cheeks. “I’m being serious.” His voice is tremulous. “You’ll set me – you’ll set me off. Hoseok-ah. Hoseok-ah.”

Hoseok kisses him, opening his mouth against his. Yoongi shakes as Hoseok’s hands dig, desperately into his back. “Hyung,” he manages. “Don’t.”

“Fuck off,” Yoongi blubbers, and grabs Hoseok again, sealing their lips together with none of their usual care. Hoseok responds with what enthusiasm he can gather; there’s a desperation to the kiss, to how Yoongi’s teeth dig into his bottom lip, to how eagerly Hoseok licks into him, borne by the knowledge that their time together is limited.

This time, tomorrow, their bond will be gone, and with it, everything Hoseok feels towards Yoongi – that confusing cocktail of love and regret and hatred, envy and infatuation and yearning. It will be as if it were never there at all. They may as well be strangers.

“Stay,” Hoseok says, breathless, when they have to break apart. Yoongi’s chest is heaving, and his eyes are dark, pupils dilated to see what he can in the darkness. “Don’t move out. Stay here, so I know you’re being taken care of.”

“I can’t.” Yoongi punctuates his words with greedy kisses, to the line of Hoseok’s jaw, to his cheek, his mouth. “I can’t move on here. Seokjin, Taehyung, Namjoon – they remind me of you. I have to forget you.”

“Why?”

“Or else I’ll go crazy,” Yoongi says, in that deep, rough voice of his, that shapes lyrics and moans and curses alike, for Hoseok’s ears only. “Knowing what I gave up.”

Hoseok’s legs fail him; he crumples, bringing Yoongi down with him onto his bed. “You fucker!” He pushes Yoongi as if he can hurt him. “You fucking bastard. Why – why you? Of all the people in the world, why did I get you? Why didn’t I get – Seokjin? Jimin? Namjoon?”

“I wish you had.” Yoongi grabs his fists and clutches them to his chest. “They wouldn’t get in your way like I do. But…”

Hoseok calms himself down enough to look at Yoongi. “Yes?”

“These past months – I’ve had many good days with you.” He smiles, then, full force, eyes crinkling, gums appearing. “I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

How can Hoseok respond to that? There’s nothing he can say, so he doesn’t say anything. Instead, he kisses him, as fiercely as he can, past the tears, until Yoongi is bawling as hard as he is, until they, shamefully, cry themselves to sleep, tangled up in each other, the string snaking around them, as if it can keep them together by force of will.

Chapter Text

Hoseok is dreaming.

It’s beautiful and strange in equal measure. He’s standing on a stage, in front of thousands of screaming people, white lights waving gently above them like low-hanging stars. They yell the letters, rhythmically, as if there’s an order to this that he is missing.

Namjoon’s voice echoes around the auditorium. He thanks – Ami? Pee dog? He holds a cubic golden statuette in his hands as delicately as a baby. He’s caked in makeup, coloured contacts in, hair dyed, skinny enough that the lines of his long legs can be seen through his tight leather pants. The other men on stage are similarly primped, eyes shining with tears, wearing frilly shirts and glittering jackets, pastel hair soaked with sweat. He realises, suddenly, that he knows them; there is Taehyung, Seokjin, Jimin and Jungkook, lined up like ducks in a row, slimmer and taller and more perfect than he is used to, like glossy magazine cover versions of themselves.

He feels like there’s one missing. He looks to his left and there is–

Hoseok. Hair pale pink, eyes wet, mouth set in a strict line. He’s looking at him with concern. “Hyung? Wake up.”

“Wake up,” Namjoon says, over the microphone, and the crowd echoes it in chorus.

“Wake up!”

There is a flapping noise as Hoseok’s quilt is pulled off him, leaving him open to the vicious, icy fingers of the October air. His screech is nothing compared to Yoongi’s. “Kim Seokjin, you motherfucking son of a–!”

“If you’re moving, you need to pack up.” Seokjin takes the quilt with him, presumably to pack it. “Get up. Now.”

“What time is it?” Hoseok fumbles for his phone. Seven am. “Shit. Shit, c’mon, he’s right, we have, like, three hours to pack before we need to be in Gangnam.”

“I’m going to die,” Yoongi moans.

Hoseok, the words cardiac arrest and oxygen starvation and brain death rattling around in his head, after his ill-advised read-through of the severance procedure’s risk assessment, does not react well. He punches Yoongi in the dick. Yoongi lets out a horrible noise, comparable to the noise Taehyung made the one time they hotboxed in Namjoon’s room and ended up watching a crap porno. They haven’t smoked since because Taehyung refuses, and then Namjoon refuses, and then it’s no fun. Hoseok levers himself out of bed. “Come on, lazybones.”

Yoongi eyes him with resentment. “I hate you.” He gets up anyway.

If the last week was awful, this morning is worse. Hoseok and Yoongi are as fine as they could reasonably be expected to be; they’ve come to a realisation, an acceptance of what is to come. It’s the others making things awkward as they help Hoseok and Yoongi pack up their meagre belongings. Seokjin refuses to look in their direction, and he treats their belongings roughly, clashing crockery and crumpling notebooks and balling up clothes. Namjoon behaves similarly, though not on purpose; this is what he’s like, especially when he’s distracted watching them as if they’re going to shatter. Taehyung is unhelpful, behaving like a stray dog and making off with the possessions Yoongi and Hoseok discard. Luckily, Jimin and Jungkook show up, and between them they get the room packed up, in addition to the stuff abandoned in the kitchen and living room and bathroom and the other nooks and crannies of their apartment.

The apartment which isn’t theirs anymore.

It’s nine by the time they’re done. “Let’s go out.” Seokjin surveys boxes and bags they’ve managed to shove two lives into. “I want bibimbap.”

“At nine in the morning?”

Seokjin ignores Jimin. “But we don’t have any leftovers. There’s a nice place five blocks over.”

The others chorus their agreement, but Hoseok shakes his head. “We have to fast. NPO after midnight.” Even though it can’t numb the pain, he and Yoongi will be put under general anaesthetic to keep them still for the duration of the procedure. “We’ll go with you, though.”

That turns out to be a terrible idea. The way Seokjin eats would make anyone hungry, and neither Hoseok nor Yoongi ate their dinner last night. The ajumma keeps trying to take their order, but she gets huffy when they turn down everything she offers them, including water, and tosses them out.

“Can we do anything right?” Yoongi kicks a stray rock.

“Nope.” Hoseok sighs. “Man. What an auspicious start to the morning, huh?”

They make their way to the banks of the Han. The grass there is deadening, autumn slipping inexorably into winter. The river itself is murky and unattractive; the sky is heavy with oppressive clouds.

“Hope it doesn’t rain.” Yoongi squints up at it.

“Don’t bring it on us.” Hoseok leans over the railing at the side of the river. The tide is low, and on the walls he can see the tidemarks, where the stone has been polished by the surging waters of the river. “We should have stayed home.”

“Could have had some private time,” Yoongi says, in a tone that ensures that Hoseok knows exactly what kind of privacy he’s talking about.

Hoseok doesn’t have the energy to blush. “Yeah, on whose bed?”

“Seokjin’s.”

“Definitely. Fucker.” Hoseok contemplates the surface of the water. “It doesn’t feel real, does it?”

“No, it doesn’t. I feel like I’m in a terrible makjang drama. Do you have an evil stepmom?”

“Only an evil sister.” Hoseok presses into Yoongi’s side. “Maybe the Han river monster will emerge and put us out of our misery.”

“Don’t say that,” Yoongi chides. “You know that movie is based on a true story?”

“No. Fuck off.”

“It is! Honest!”

“You’re such a terrible liar.”

“It’s a true story!” Hoseok gives him an unimpressed look. “Okay, the true story is that they caught a fish with an S-shaped spine. Seriously, no-one knows what could be down there.”

Yoongi’s face is so sincere, so earnest, and he is so full of shit. Hoseok flicks him on the forehead, and Yoongi yowls, patting at it with a wounded expression. “I’m going to miss your bullshit.”

“You’re not.”

“I will. I’m going to miss a lot about you.” Even the bad bits, how he takes over the bathroom, how he hoards used coffee mugs in his room, how he crowds him off the path when they walk together.

Yoongi turns back to the water. “I… We’ll miss out on a lot together, won’t we?”

Hoseok hasn’t let himself think about it, the future that last week seemed so certain. A lifetime with Yoongi by his side; meeting his parents, his childhood friends. Figuring out how to propose before he can beat him to it. A wedding, outdoors, with sunlight and fresh air. Surprising him at work in his studio with impromptu visits, humiliating him in front of his colleagues. A cat, a dog, two dogs, and, perhaps, if they would ever be ready to subject themselves to South Korea’s rigorous adoption procedures, a child. “It would have been nice,” Hoseok admits.

“Technically, we only have to be apart for a year. After…”

Yoongi sounds hopeful; Hoseok hates himself for ruining it. “They have a dating ban.” It was in the contract. “Starting with your traineeship and ending two years after debut.”

“That’s a long time to be alone.”

“It’ll…” Hoseok breathes in heavily. “It’ll be worth it. It has to be. But…” Hoseok takes his hand; it’s cold. “I don’t want you to wait for me. Like you said, you have to move on.”

Yoongi looks down at his feet. “I know,” he mumbles. “And the severance kills… kills…”

Upon termination of the bond, any emotions induced by it will disappear permanently. “My mom says that you can’t catch two rabbits at the same time. We have to choose.”

“And we have.” Yoongi’s phone shrills. He checks it, frowning. “They’re done. They want to see us to the company building.”

Hoseok steels himself. Each minute he spends dawdling, their deadline grows nearer, like a moon about to come crashing down. “Let’s go, then.”

 

The meeting room is exactly as it was; the same people, the same contracts, the same air of breathlessness.

“Have you made your decision?”

“We’re going to sign.” Four simple words, as deadly as anything Hoseok has ever heard.

The agent grins, broadly, and claps his hands together. “I was hoping you would! I’m happy to have you two with us. Please, do sign these two documents.” He slides two sheets of paper towards them, already signed and initialled by the company, requiring only their signatures. There’s only one pen provided; Hoseok signs first, his trembling hand turning his signature, already inelegant, into an illegible mess. He hands the pen to Yoongi, who takes a moment before he scribbles his signature onto his own, leaning hard enough on the paper that he punches a hole in it.

“What about the… the…”

“The procedure?” Hoseok nods. The judge smiles kindly. “We have an appointment scheduled at a governmental research facility in Gyeonggi. We’ll transport you there. It shouldn’t take more than forty minutes. You’ll have a consultation with the head doctor and, if all goes well, the procedure will proceed as planned.”

Transport takes the form of an expensive car; not an import, but a top-tier Hyundai with tinted windows. Initially, the agent makes to take the passenger seat, but the producer holds him back subtly. “Good luck, Hoseok-sshi, Yoongi-sshi.”.

The judge shakes their hands, clasping onto Hoseok’s for longer than is strictly polite. “I look forward to working with both of you.”

The driver in the front seems to know the purpose of this trip; the screen separating them is raised, leaving Yoongi and Hoseok, to all intents and purposes, alone, as the car pulls out onto the road and drives off.

Hoseok wonders how many times he’s held Yoongi’s hand. Under the table at cafés, while walking down the street, held to his stomach as he sleeps. He could never get tired of the feel of Yoongi’s skin against his. He picks it up now, examines it in the low light; his fingers are long, broad, disproportionate to the rest of him. “You have puppy hands,” he says, inexplicably.

“What?”

“They’re too big for you.”

“Yah.” Yoongi flexes his fingers. “You’re jealous that your hands aren’t as nice as mine.”

“Excuse you! My hands are perfect.”

Yoongi tangles their hands until one of Hoseok’s is laying, palm up, between both of Yoongi’s. “They’re delicate,” he says, contemplatively. “Like the rest of you. Your wrist is so narrow. When you do that tortoise thing…”

“Turtle freeze,” Hoseok corrects.

“That’s what I said. I’m scared that they’ll snap. I don’t know how you go so hard when you dance. You don’t have good stamina.”

“Low blow, dude.” Hoseok makes to pull away, but Yoongi clings on, obstinate as ever.

“I’m being serious. Don’t push yourself.” Yoongi’s eyes are serious. “Don’t get injured, but if you do, don’t push through the pain. Go to the hospital and don’t let the company bully you into doing too much work. Don’t do any crash diets, and don’t eat unhealthy food. Take care of yourself. This time, I won’t be around to take you to the hospital.” A murky, muddy, memory floats to the surface of Hoseok’s mind; Yoongi, eighteen and washed-out looking, shaking Hoseok’s shoulders in an attempt to wake him, sprawled out on the floor of the studio. “Don’t drop your friendships. Keep talking to the boys and your friends from college. If you need help, seek it, no matter what others may say.”

“Promise.” Hoseok links their pinky fingers. “But only if you do too. Take care of your health. You should keep working out, it’s good for your shoulder. Remember to dress warmly, and don’t sleep in the studio. Be good to yourself.” He smiles, as brightly as he can. “You deserve it.” Yoongi gets that look he does when he wants to disagree. Hoseok squeezes his hands tighter. “Don’t be a hypocrite.”

“I’ll be whatever I want.” Hoseok elbows him. “Aish, fine. I promise.”

“Good,” Hoseok says, softly. “Good.” He darts a thoughtful look at the front of the car.

“Jung Hoseok,” Yoongi reprimands. “Don’t you dare.”

“C’mon,” Hoseok pouts. “One last time. For the road.” Yoongi raises one eyebrow. “You know you want to.”

“Of course I do.” Yoongi hands are careful, delicate, on his jaw, tilting Hoseok’s head towards him, and then–

Last night, they were desperate, overwrought, careless. This is deliberate, slow, more of a goodbye than any words could be. Hoseok lets Yoongi do as he will with him; lets him direct his mouth, lets him press him against the seat, lets him kiss the ticklish places that make Hoseok flinch. They don’t notice the car slowing to a gentle halt; only the click of the driver’s door opening breaks them apart.

“We should get out,” Yoongi says, into his shoulder.

“We should,” Hoseok agrees, but he stays where he is, grabbing Yoongi’s head and pulling him up until his face is an inch from his, close enough that he can make out each individual eyelash, the fine lines creasing the corners of his eyes.

There’s a knock on the window. “We’ve arrived.”

“Hoseok-ah,” Yoongi says, quietly enough that Hoseok only knows what the words are by the shape of his lips. Hoseok gets out.

The clinic resembles, more than anything, a military bunker. It is a governmental facility, after all. He supposes that, instead of springing for a new place, they repurposed an existing building, one, by the looks of it, left over from the fifties, and the road up to it is little more than dirt. It is surrounded by trees, the kind of ancient forestry that carpeted the land before the farmers chopped it down to make room for towns and crops and animals. They are gnarled, and ancient and make Hoseok feel insignificant.

“I feel like there’s a firing squad waiting for me.” Yoongi looks faintly green.

Hoseok grabs his hand. “Let’s go.”

Inside, the scope of the facility is more immediately obvious. A colour-coded map shows the floors that wind down into the earth, each one with a different purpose; B3 studies longevity, B8 focuses on platonic bonds, B14 researches first contact, down and down until floor B24, the operating theatre.

“Excuse me? Are you Jung Hoseok?” A middle-aged woman approaches them.

“Yes,” Hoseok answers, bowing as Yoongi does. “And you are…?”

“I’m Doctor Lee. I’m going to be your surgeon today.” She gestures at the lift. “Do follow me. We’ll need a consultation before we can carry out the procedure.”

Two forms await them, on a desk in front of two chairs. “A medical.” The doctor sits down behind her desk to wake her computer. “Please fill them out.”

Hoseok does as he’s told. No pre-existing conditions, fully inoculated, non-smoker, blah blah blah. By the time they’re done, two other people have entered the office, talking in hushed tones with the doctor.

The doctor collects their forms and enters their details into the computer as she talks. “This Doctor Song; she’ll be your anaesthetist. Nurse Choi will be the head nurse during the procedure. Others will be scrubbing in, but we’ll be the main participants. Our radiographer is busy currently, but you’ll meet her later. Now, Hoseok-sshi, Yoongi-sshi, tell me about your bond. In full detail, please.”

They take turns. Yoongi starts, gets as far as their fistfight, and Hoseok takes over from there. They tell her about the dream sharing, the empathetic link, and the bond’s insistence on staying short. It’s a long, convoluted story, and Hoseok can hardly follow it himself. Once she’s finished with the forms, the doctor takes notes, stern-faced throughout.

“Am I correct in saying that you two met before you bonded?”

“Yes. We were trainees together.” Yoongi fiddles with the cuff of his jacket; a thread is coming loose. “How did you know?”

“Dream sharing is a marker of a meeting prior to bonding. It’s the bond’s way of leading you back to each other, in addition to the physical manifestation of the string.” She leans forward. “Do you still share dreams?”

Hoseok nods. “Last night.”

‘You did?’ Yoongi mouths. Hoseok shrugs.

“I see.” She steeples her fingers. “I must say, this is going to be complicated.”

“What do you mean?”

The anaesthetist answers. “We can’t put you under general anaesthetic. You can’t be asleep during the procedure.”

“There’s a chance that you would dream share while sedated,” the doctor clarifies. “If we sever the bond while you dream share, we could damage your soul irrevocably. But, if you’re awake, it’s certain that you’ll both respond violently to defend your bond. We’ll immobilise you, but there’s a high chance that you’ll go into shock.”

“Damage?” Soul damage? How do you damage a soul? And shock? Hoseok isn’t – how serious will the pain be if it could cause shock?

The nurse shakes her head. “It won’t happen. We’ll secure you, and that should be fine.”

“And administer a muscle relaxant,” the anaesthetist adds.

“We’ll have a full team in attendance,” the doctor reassures. “You’ll both be perfectly safe. If anything does go wrong, we’ll stop the procedure immediately.”

Hoseok doesn’t know how safe he feels. Yoongi’s presence is the only thing keeping him from running out into the wilderness of the mountains. He’s come this far, though. He signed the contract and dropped out of college and packed up his things. He can’t go back now.

“It’ll be okay,” Yoongi reassures, as the nurse leads them to get ready for the procedure. (They have to wear surgical gowns. Yoongi isn’t happy.) “They’ve done this before. Nothing’s going to happen.”

They reach a fork in the corridor, where another nurse waits. The sign above his head reads ‘OPERATING THEATRE’, with arrows pointing both left and right.

“Yoongi-sshi, please go with Nurse Kwang.” The other nurse bows. “Hoseok-sshi, you’re coming with me.”

This is it, Hoseok realises. Under the fluorescent lighting, Yoongi looks exactly like he did that first night, outside their apartment building, kneeling on the tarmac, except for the look in his eyes. Back then it was hatred, pure, unadulterated loathing. Now, Hoseok can’t put words to it. They don’t exist. He reaches out to Yoongi, ignorant of their two observers, and grabs the back of his neck. He pulls him in, until their foreheads touch, until their breath mingles. Hoseok would kiss him, but he wouldn’t be able to stop.

“Good luck,” Yoongi whispers. “With everything.”

“You too.” Hoseok squeezes his neck. “Be careful.”

One of the nurses coughs. Hoseok takes the hint and steps away.

Everything passes in a daze. The nurses bustle around him, handing him a hospital gown (patterned with dahlias) and taking his blood pressure and heart pressure, until he finds himself laid on a hospital bed in a theatre, the lights above his head blinding. He can’t move; the muscle relaxant, in addition to the restraints on his wrists and ankles, has rendered him limp and immobile from the neck down. His left wrist is propped on a stand, and the string gleams red around it, chafing against his skin. They didn’t blindfold him, because they don’t want him to be more disconcerted than he already is, but they put a plastic device with a hole in the middle into his mouth. “To stop you biting your tongue or breaking your teeth,” the nurse explained, as she fitted it. Hoseok wonders why she didn’t say it was to stop him screaming.

He’s hooked up to an ECG monitor. He can hear it bleep more frequently than he thinks it should. When he looks at it, it reads eighty. Earlier on, it read fifty. When he turns the other way, he can’t see anything; there’s a curtain in the way, drawn back to allow his string to pass through. His view is blocked by the radiographer’s back. They were introduced briefly earlier, but Hoseok forgets his name.

Hoseok lies back and stares at the ceiling. He needs to stay calm. Yoongi is doing his best, he knows; he can feel him, a blazing light on the periphery of his senses.

He concentrates on that light, and it works, until it dims.

“Increasing temperature.” The light dims further, and Hoseok’s string contracts around his wrist. A hot, stinging sensation runs up and down his limbs, not painful but highly uncomfortable, and it gets worse and worse until the light is close to being extinguished. “We’re maxed out. Irradiation complete. It’s up to you, Doctor.”

A hush falls over the theatre, the various attendings quieting as the moment of truth approaches. The only thing Hoseok can hear is his breath, and the beeping of his heart monitor, echoed by Yoongi’s, their heartbeats in sync to the last moment.

“Severing now.”

The first stroke is like a hot blade, sunk deep into his flesh, down to the nerve. The bond screams, inside his head, ears ringing, as the doctor keeps going, each cut worse than the last, deep and awful until Hoseok himself is screaming, muffled by the mouth guard, but horrifyingly distinguishable. Someone else is screaming but Hoseok can’t tell if it’s real or an invention of his tortured brain.

“Halfway. Can you quiet them?”

“No, Doctor.” The door slams as the observers who are unable to take the noise leave.

“Jesus. Is he okay?”

I’m not, Hoseok wants to say, but he can’t, blocked by both the mouth guard and his swirling mind. His arm is spasming, and when he looks at his wrist he swears he can see it drawing blood.

“His arm,” someone says, alarmed. “The other patient too. The muscle relaxant is wearing off.”

“Can you give them more?”

“Not like this,” the anaesthetist says, tone fearful. “We’d have to stop the procedure, and the bond would heal and we’ll have to start over again. They won’t survive that. The restraints will have to do.”

Hoseok wants to tell them to stop. Why aren’t they stopping? It hurts, it hurts, his bones are shattering, his muscles are tearing, he can’t think; his mind is piecing apart as each cut causes a wave of agony to crash into him, leaving him hyperventilating. He’s dying, he’s sure of it. No-one can go through this and live, this horrible, awful torture, like the cells in his body are shredding themselves. He tries to pull away, and, to his surprise, he does. His back arches off the bed as he yells, restraints digging painfully into his wrists.

“Patient Jung is loose! Quick, hold him down!” Two orderlies emerge out of nowhere, pressing Hoseok back down onto the bed. He can’t breathe, and his heart monitor is no longer beeping, instead emitting one continuous shriek.

“Patient Min, stop him, he’s going to – he’s broken one of them–”

“Doctor, hurry up!”

“Nearly there! Keep them still, I need the string to be stationary.”

The orderly forces his shoulders down. “Hold still, sir, please!”

Hoseok tries to tell them he can’t, how can he? The light – it’s flickering, he needs to protect it, he needs to get Yoongi and go, he’s made a mistake, he can’t do this–

“Done!”

Hoseok freezes. The light goes out. Yoongi is gone. He can’t feel him – not what he’s feeling, not where he is. Nothing. Hoseok is, for the first time in five months, alone. Entirely, utterly alone.

“Hoseok-sshi. Hoseok-sshi.” The nurse from earlier hovers over him, mask pulled down to her chin. “Are you okay?” Hoseok shakes his head. His brain is fuzzy and sticky, his vision is going dark, and he can’t breathe. “Lee-sshi, get the oxygen, Gu-sshi, you get an IV, he’s going into shock. Hoseok-sshi, stay with me, stay with me…”

 

When Hoseok wakes, it’s dark. The room he’s in is unlit; someone is snoring in the seat beside his bed. Hoseok listens and concludes that it’s Namjoon. He would know that drowning pig snore anywhere.

There’s a needle in his arm, leading to an IV. An oxygen mask covers his mouth. The screen of an ECG machine is bright in the darkness; it reads sixty. Pretty good, considering that he feels like a tank rolled over him, and then backed over him to finish the job.

The door creaks open, and a nurse pokes his head in. Namjoon startles awake. “Is everything… ah!” He smiles at Hoseok. “You’re awake. I’ll go get the doctor.” He flicks the lights on as he leaves; Hoseok flinches at the brightness, covering his eyes with his hand.

“How do you feel?” Namjoon pulls his chair up closer, eyes wide with worry.

“Like shit.” Hoseok tugs at the mask. “Can I take this off?”

Namjoon pulls his hands away. “Don’t do that. You almost died, you idiot. You went into shock on the table and knocked out. Your heart stopped! Yoongi asked them to call me.”

Yoongi. Hoseok lets his arms fall, limply. They said the feelings he had for him would disappear, and they’re right; the only thing Hoseok feels when he thinks about Yoongi is pain. “Where is he? Is he okay?”

“He’s fine. Out of his mind about you, though, they were shocked he didn’t go the same way you did. He left the moment they gave him the all clear. I don’t know where he went, he wouldn’t tell me.” Namjoon pats his arm. “He’s my friend. I won’t let him disappear. I have my ways of keeping tabs on him.”

Hoseok sighs. “You better, Namjoon-ah. Promise.”

“Always.” Namjoon smiles at him, eyes screwed shut, mouth stretched wide, dimply and comical; Hoseok lets out a hiccupy laugh.

 The doctor sweeps in, several attendants in tow, and Namjoon moves back to give them space, knocking a humidifier over in the process. Hoseok allows himself to be poked and prodded at as the doctor barks orders.

Finally, once they’re finished removing the mask and the IV and the ECG’s electrodes, they pull back. “You’re perfectly fine, Hoseok-sshi. The procedure went well, all things considered.”

She keeps rambling on, but Hoseok tunes out. He went into cardiac arrest, and she says it went well? How do severances normally go? He interrupts her rudely. “When can I leave?”

“Your company will come to collect you in the morning. You’ll have to come for outpatient check-ups, to make sure the bond is dying off properly, but otherwise, you’re a free man.” Hoseok snorts. He’s far from free. The doctor hangs his chart on the bottom of his bed, and leaves, entourage in tow.

Namjoon pops up, red-faced and soaked, mop held limply in his hands. “Why do these things have so much water in them?” He lowers the mop, swinging it and inadvertently splashing Hoseok’s face. “Oh my God, I’m sorry.”

Hoseok pats his soaked bedsheets and sighs. “Will you please sit down?”

Namjoon does as he’s told. Hoseok watches him check his phone, thumbs flying across the keyboard. His own is on the bedside table, but he doesn’t want to use it. His wallpaper is a picture of Mickey, fast asleep on Yoongi’s face. He should have changed it earlier. “You should go home. There’s no point in you staying here.”

“I promised hyung I wouldn’t leave you alone.” Namjoon aims his phone at Hoseok. “The kids send their love. They want a picture as proof that you’re alive.”

Hoseok poses, flashing a peace sign. He smiles, but it’s a weak effort. “Tell ‘em I’m okay, and that I’ll see them… whenever I get a day off, I guess.”

“Trainee life. Man.” Namjoon sends the message and slips his phone into his pocket. “I wonder how people survive it. I look at these sixteen-year-olds debuting after four years of training and I wonder, what kind of life have they had? We didn’t have any.”

“It’ll be tough,” Hoseok says. “But it’ll be worth it.” The last phrase is like a mantra, now. It has to be worth it, what with all he’s given up.

“Hoseok-ah…”

“It’s okay. I’ll be okay. I need time, s’all. Will you turn the light off? I’m tired.” Namjoon flicks the switch and folds his long limbs into the chair; Hoseok feels sorry for him.

In the darkness, deprived of sight, he feels the absence of the bond more acutely. At its quietest, he was always aware of its presence; he could feel Yoongi, even when he could feel nothing else, but now…

Namjoon speaks up. “What… what does it feel like?”

“The surgery, or…?”

“The bond.”

“It’s like…” Hoseok quiets, probing at the bond’s raw edges. “You know the way amputees feel?”

“Like, phantom pains and stuff?”

“That’s it. Even though I know that it’s gone, that I shouldn’t feel anything….” He inhales sharply, reminding himself to breathe. “It’s like I’m lost. Alone. Constantly.”

There’s a warmth on his hand. It must be Namjoon. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m not.” Hoseok takes his hand anyway. Namjoon’s hand is nothing like Yoongi’s; his palm is broader, and his fingers are longer and narrower, but Hoseok needs the physical reminder that someone is here for him.

He’s not sorry, he tells himself, as Namjoon’s breath slows into the cadence of sleep. He isn’t. Is he?

 

Returning from the facility to the city takes longer than the outward trip. After they drop Namjoon off at the college, Hoseok bites the bullet and calls his mother to tell her what he’s done, though he leaves out the respiratory shock bit.

“Hoseok-ah…”

“It’s done, Mom. I can’t change anything.”

“I know, I know. He was such a nice boy. I hope he’ll be okay.”

Hoseok swallows and steers the conversation in a different direction. “I’ll send you the money for my fees this year. I’m sorry for wasting it.”

“Don’t you dare. Education is never a waste.” A door clangs shut; she’s in the staff room at work. “When do you start at the company?”

“Today. They sent me a big long email. They collected my stuff from my old place and brought it to the dorm. I’m going to meet the other trainees there, and then we’ll meet the trainee coordinator at the company building and run through choreo.”

“It’ll be like old times,” she murmurs. “Promise me you’ll be okay. I remember how sick you used to get.”

“I’ll be fine! I’m not a kid anymore.”

“You can’t stop a mother from worrying any more than you can stop the sun from shining. You’ll always be my Hoshikie. Remember when you convinced yourself that there was a dragon in the boiler and you asked me for Spam to feed it?”

“There was! I’m serious!”

His mother laughs; Hoseok sinks into the sound. “Oh, honey. Look, I have to go now, I’m needed in the foyer. Keep in touch, alright? If you need money, come to me, not your father. He’s not happy about this.”

Hoseok bids her a lengthy goodbye and hangs up as the car glides to a stop. He steps out, squinting up at the building in front of him, far more impressive than BigHit’s dorms.

He closes his eyes and pretends that he is sixteen, and that it is Christmas Eve, and that when he knocks on the door the person who answers will be wearing a pair of red boxers and a look of disgust. That, when he goes to sleep tonight, he will wake up to Namjoon breaking the ladder on his bed. That when he goes to the studio, Sungdeuk hyung will be there, full of praise for him.

He opens them. It’s October, and he is twenty-two and thoroughly alone and he’s wasting time. A debut – his dream is right in front of him. All he must to do is reach out for it.

He enters the building and starts to climb.

Chapter Text

TRAINEE EVALUATION | 20th NOVEMBER 2016

JUNG HOSEOK

Fully recovered from procedure. Appears to be sleeping through the night, consuming proper meals and hitting weight loss targets. Cut down on time spent in gym – needs to be slimmer to fit group image. Getting on well with other members, has taken an especial shine to Ino. Taking lessons in both rap and vocals, better in rap though he seems to prefer singing. Attempt to push him into rapping, no need for another baritone. Dancing is, as always, superb. Performance director is interested in letting him have input – could help with making an ‘authentic’ image. Appointments with orthodontist and dermatologist going as planned, consultation with plastic surgeon scheduled for January.

 

 

Seokjinnie

27 Dec 2016, 12:26 AM
Hoseok-ah!!!! You were on TV!!!
I only recognised you bc of your nose bridge but still!!! You were a backdancer at a Gayo! That’s seriously impressive
You should have told us you were gonna be on it! We only saw you because Jungkook made us all sit down to watch IU’s bit and you were on right beforehand
I know you’re busy but don’t be a stranger, lets go out to eat sometime! You look so skinny!!! Hyung will treat you~~~

 

Marcel

29 Jan 2017, 3:03 PM
Hyung! will you pleeeeeease go over the choreo with me tonight?
Is your thigh any better?
No...
Then no!!!
ㅠㅠ
Please!!! I really can’t get this one down and we need to be ready for sunbae’s MV
No-one’s gonna notice us…
But what if they do? Every fan counts!
Let’s make a deal
I’ll go through the choreo slowly and you can watch me
But let me have a look at your leg first
Why?
I have ~~~~~magic hands~~~~~
Okay okay~~~ only because I don’t want to go to the coordinator again, she’ll make me ice it ㅠㅠ
Thanks hyung! I’m so glad you joined the company
Me too <3

 

Namjoon

18 Feb 2017, 12:01 AM
Happy birthday Hoseok-ah~ I hope everything’s going well at the agency
Jimin bought you one of those tiramisu cakes you like and sent it to the building but they said they don’t accept gifts for trainees
But call me and we’ll arrange something this weekend, Jungkook is getting unbearably bratty without you around to embarrass him

 

 

PANN: LOOK AT THE BACKGROUND OF THIS MV…

Posted 25th March 2017

These back-up dancers are rumoured to be trainees in the debut team for this company’s next boygroup

Doesn’t the one at 2:44 dance so well?

+453 | -32
  • My friend follows these trainees and she says he’s new. They don’t know anything about him but he’s seriously daebak
  • wow they’re going to launch a little brother group??? Seriously fighting it’s going to be tough that fandom is scary
  • ah he’s seriously my type ㅠㅠ him and the boy at 0:51… noona will get her credit card ready
  • looking forward to lots of good music <3 <3 let’s debut together!

 

 

PRESCRIPTION For: Jung Hoseok Address: 22 Nonhyeon-ro 45-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul Date: 16th April 2017
Name of Medication Strength and Frequency Notes
Ondansetron 8mg orally twice a day To be taken until nausea ceases
Orlistat 80mg orally with each meal Avoid fatty foods

 

Jiminie

9 May 2017, 3:31 AM
diminie lonely
hyung I miss yiu
I miss you aLOT
im druuuuuuunk wann cuddles and kookie is away
hyng’s cuddles r the best
you smel best
9 May 2017, 4:02 AM
diminie call now
You have one missed call from Jiminie.

 

Manager Lee

2 Jun 2017, 4:37 PM
Hoseok-ah, are you taking your medicine?
The nutritionist’s report just came in and you’re over sixty kilos again
You promised you'd get under sixty
I’m sorry hyung
When Jingwang's sisters and Yeongsu's brother came to visit they brought rich food and I couldn’t not eat, I didn’t want to be rude
And I didn’t want to risk the pills because I get sick when I take them with food like that
Then you should have taken the nausea pills with it
I’ll have to talk to the parents, it’s not acceptable for them to break your diets
Okay!!! I promise I’ll be better!
Better isn’t good enough
I’ll talk to the nutritionist about adjusting your meal plan, a thousand calories is too much for you
What do you think about seven hundred?
Whatever hyung thinks is best

 

Mom

30 Jun 2017, 8:33 PM
You have one missed call from Mom.
3 Jul 2017, 10:14 AM
You have one missed call from Mom.
6 Jul 2017, 5:48 PM
You have one missed call from Mom.

 

 

BLIND ITEM | 11th AUGUST 2017

After reports of infighting among members of their flagship boygroup over unequal profit sharing, a certain company has decided to accelerate the debut of their next boy group. With members ranging from former child actors to ex-JYP trainees to a famed underground dancer, the new group seems destined for stardom… if they can avoid the pitfalls their seniors fell into.

 

 

PRESCRIPTION For: Jung Hoseok Address: 22 Nonhyeon-ro 45-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul Date: 22nd September 2017
Name of Medication Strength and Frequency Notes
Ondansetron 10mg orally twice a day To be taken until nausea ceases
Orlistat 100mg orally with each meal Avoid fatty foods
Methylphenidate 15mg orally, with breakfast and lunch Do not consume alcohol
Alprazolam 2mg orally, once nightly as needed Do not consume alcohol or grapefruit

 

 

Potential stage names for Hoseok

Justin (no!!!)

Sirius (isn’t he in Harry Potter)

Hui (I think someone else took that)

Hope (add something to it?)

J-Hope!!!!!!!!! I like it!!!!!

 

 

PANN: THE GROUP WHO WILL DEBUT AT MAMA

Posted 7th November 2017

It’s Polaris!!!

The teaser is here

There’s going to be individual teasers every week until MAMA

They’re the little brother group to RE:Star

+1683 | -277
  • Their dancing huk!!! They’re amazing!!! Im shivering
  • they already have lots of i-fans~~~ they’re going to be the godly rookies next year
  • as a reply, im looking forward to this group <3 <3 its going to be difficult to live up to RE:Star oppas but im sure they can do it!
  • I like their name~~~ Polaris is the north star, so they’ll be their fandom’s guiding light, it’s so lovely

 

 

Shine On: The First Mini Album | Released 1st December 2017

  1. Intro: Millenia 1'37"
  2. Supernova Galaxy 3’14"
  3. Illegirl 4'08"
  4. In the Deep 3'48"
  5. Every Day 4'19"
  6. Outro: For Now 1'11"

Lyrics by Kim Kiyoung, Ino, Kwak Eunhui, J-Hope, Sehyeon

Produced by Mad Room, tripleA, SeeSee, Jang Aera, Suga

 

 

CALL SHEET MAMA IN HONG KONG DECEMBER 1ST 2017
Group Performance Audio
Polaris Debut Stage: Supernova Galaxy MR ONLY

 

 

Who are Polaris? Getting to know the new stars of k-pop

6th January 2018
By Lee Yeon-bok

It seems like only last year that RE:Star burst into prominence with their 2014 stratospheric smash hit ‘Faultline’. With their dizzying eighties synth and power vocals, they made themselves distinct from their compatriots. But that was four long years ago, and with their contracts, signed in 2011, set to expire, it’s time for a new star to be born.

Or stars, more accurately. “We’re like a galaxy,” leader J-Hope smiles. “We’re burning bright.”

He’s telling the truth. The members of Polaris don’t seem like nervous rookies; they bounce around the interview room like ping pong balls. Maknae Marcel descends upon a plate of sweets like a small, coiffed monster, followed shortly by Ino, who only consents to being fed after a brief intervention from Kwon, who helps J-Hope to round up the members for their introduction. They clasp hands, extend their fingers, and yell ‘Burning bright! We are Polaris!’ followed by a sharp bow, only disrupted when Sehyeon’s rakish ballcap falls off. He looks up shiftily and retrieves the hat, cheeks burning.

It’s easy to see why Polaris has attracted as many fans as they have upon debut. Their concept is individual, marking them out from the flood of classy concepts; Sangjun describes it as ‘sparkle, with a little bit of steel’. Their music is lush, avalanches of synthy sound, leaning into the city pop of their senior group but toughening it up with skilfully executed rap verses and precise choreography. It’s the kind of thing one could imagine hearing in a nightclub on Mars, whenever Elon Musk gets us up there.

More than their music, the bond between members is tangible. J-Hope, despite being the oldest member by a full two years, takes no offence at being called an ‘old man’ by Super and teases Kwon when the latter accidentally shoulder-checks a cameraman. Sehyeon, upon discovering that a chair was not provided for me, offers me his and plops down on Sangjun’s lap. Fans have watched their relationship flourish through pre-debut videos and live broadcasts, where the members play games and put on face masks or talk at length, about trainee life and music and the perils of adventurous coordinators. For all that this group is, as many other groups in this industry, are manufactured, there is a sense of authenticity about them, like the boys you went to school with.

But, for now, they are celestial. They have one week of promotions remaining, and then it’s back to the drawing board for their next EP which, I hope, lives up to the promise they show.

 

Taehyungie

18 Feb 2018, 12:07 AM
Happy birthday hyung!!!!!!!!!
I bought your album! We all did~~~~ I got J-Hope’s photocard~~~~ He’s handsome~~~~~~ I put it up on the fridge <3
Seokjin was going to try for a fansign but Heeyeon said that was creepy ㅋㅋㅋ
Did you do the choreography for your title track? I think you did but Jimin doesn’t
Anyway I hope everything is going okay, I know you’re busy but Taehyungie misses you a lot :( Stay healthy <3 <3 <3

 

Equinox

"Equinox"

[EP] EQUINOX THE 2ND MINI ALBUM

2018.03.22

Ino, Super, Marcel, Kwon, Sangjun, J-Hope, Sehyeon

Lyrics/작사: Lee Hyunji, Ino, Kwah Eunhui, J-Hope, Sehyeon

Composer/작곡 Mad Room, tripleA, Jang Aera, Suga, Quasar

Translation

They say it gets darkest right before dawn
I hope it’s true
It’s hard to see a way out
But at least I can see you

 

 

Synnara Fansign, 180401

Q: Hobi oppa~ I know you haven’t met your soulmate yet, but what do you want them to be like? Choose below please :)

A:
Tall or short
Slim or curvy
Monolids or double eyelids
Cool or sweet
Tan or pale

 

 

POLARIS LIVE THE STAR SCRAPER GLOBAL TOUR IN AMERICA

18th June | New York City, NY

20th June | Grand Prairie, TX

26th June | Rosemont, IL

28th June | Los Angeles, CA

Tickets on sale 6th April 2018, 6 am KST

 

 

 

Billboard - Polaris goes supernova in America

Comments

Madgirlsadgirl commented on the 18th of June 2018

it was SO GOOD. they performed everything i hoped they would. i cannot get over how much better looking they are IRL, i couldn’t take my eyes off hobi and marcel is like a little prince.

enolababu commented on the 18th of June 2018

it was so funny when kwon tripped, we went dead silent and then he popped back up waving and we lost it

canyounotplease commented on the 18th of June 2018

INO THREW WATER AT ME I AM B L E S S E D and also very grateful to urban decay for their setting spray for keeping my makeup on despite that

 

 

Ino

4 Jul 2018, 12:02 PM
Hyung look at this Pann post
ㅋㅋㅋ that gif of Yeongsu ㅋㅋㅋ
is that from the concert ㅋㅋㅋ
Let’s put it on the display in the company lobby when we get backㅋㅋㅋ
Isn’t it nice to see more posts about us?
As long as they’re nice
I didn’t like those ones about you, I’m glad the company took them down
Being in other companies doesn’t mean you’re a failure
Ah I’m touched ㅠㅠ you’re so worried for hyung
Don’t pay them any mind
The more hate we get, the more popular we are~~~
True ㅋㅋㅋ

 

 

cafe.daum.net/POLARIS

Sangjun, on the 22nd August 2018

Our lovely Stellas~~~ How are you?

I miss you too ㅠㅠ Thailand is fun but I miss Korea ㅠㅠ

I want kimchi!!! I want ramyun!!! I want chimaek!!!

ㅋㅋㅋ I didn’t come here to complain!!! I have a question…

How many of you have found your soulmates?

I haven’t found mine yet so I’ve always wondered what it’s like…

They say its like having another part of your soul

But aren’t Stellas like that? I get love from all of you <3

I’m happy without a soulmate because I have my Stellas~~~

 

 

Jungkookie

1 Sep 2018, 12:22 PM
Jungkook-ah!!! Happy birthday!!!!
Thanks!
Are you going to be able to come tonight? Namjoon said you’d come
I can’t ㅠㅠ I’m sorry
Our comeback is tomorrow so we'll to start music shows and everything we have a pre-recording at 4 am and a conference at 9 am
Oh
I’m seriously so sorry I know I promised but we thought the comeback would be later after the tour
I brought back presents for you from America, I promise I’ll visit and bring them with me
Jungkook-ah?
Read 12:31 PM

Jiminie

13 Oct 2018, 4:55 PM
Jimin-ah~~ Happy happy birthday~~~
Your message was not delivered.
Jimin-ah?
Your message was not delivered.

 

 

 

 

cafe.daum.net/POLARIS

Sehyeon, on the 17th December 2018

Hello. This is Sehyeon.

I’m okay!!! I’m in bed. I’m resting. Sangjunie is looking after me ㅋㅋㅋ will he give me a foot massage if I ask ㅋㅋㅋ I already got him to do my laundry

I’m sorry. I feel a lot of regret. I was too excited to perform and I ignored how bad I felt. It’s all my fault. Hobi hyung and the managers tried to keep me off stage, but I didn’t want to disappoint any of you. I’ve received so much love from our Japanese Stellas and even though it’s inadequate, I wanted to perform for you, even if I can only give you a fraction of the love you give me.

My head is fine! It hurts but my skull is thick ㅋㅋㅋ we Busan men are tough

I’m getting tired now, so I’m going back to sleep. Rest well Stellas. Please protect your health. I’m incredibly grateful for all your kind wishes. Bye bye~

 

 

PANN: POLARIS’S FIRST FULL ALBUM ANNOUNCED…  ‘A MATURATION’

Posted 4th January 2019

The release date is the 24th of January! I’m excited~~~ I feel like they can pull off a mature concept well, don’t you?

+787 | -355
  • Hul what are they doing announcing an album so quickly after a member collapsed on stage??? Do they want to work them to death???
  • I want to support them ㅠㅠbut I want Sehyeonie to rest…
  • I’m sure they worked on this for a long time… but it feels wrong to release it right now… can’t they leave it a few weeks and give Sehyeon a chance to recover?

 

 

Noona



18 Feb 2019, 9:01 AM
Happy birthday Hoseok-ah!!!
Ah I can’t believe you’re twenty-five… you’re… old…
Look who’s talking ㅋㅋㅋ
Here look at the support I got!!! They even sent presents for Mickey~

Oh my Godddd
I wish you were a girl so I could steal it!!!
Like I don’t buy you everything you wantㅋㅋㅋ
Excuse you I am a career woman I earn my own keep
How many of your Instagram followers are Stellas?
Shut up
Don’t forget, I have a reservation at that place in Lotte Tower for seven pm
And wear a disguise, I don’t want fansites to crash again
Okay okay~~ I’ll see you then!!! I’m gonna do a V Live first and then I think we have a photoshoot
 

 

WOOF WOOF HYPE SQUAD

5 Mar 2019, 9:44 PM
Ino
Hey
Do you guys know Yoongi?
Yeongsu
I do, he’s one of the producers!
He taught me Cubase, he’s a hardass but he’s cool
Marcel
Which one is he?
Jingwang
He’s the short one who looks like he wants to murder you
Marcel
Oh I know him
Ino
It’s his birthday on Friday and I was thinking we and the producers could go to a bar or something?
We need to blow off steam and he helped me a lot with my mixtape
Sehyeon
HYPE HYPE HYPE
Marcel
SKKRT SKRRT
Sangjun
BRRRRRR
Yeongsu
THE DROP OF THE CENTURY
Jingwang
BY SHIN INO THE GOD OF RAP
Ino
I will murder you and feed your entrails to my mom's Pekingnese
Sangjun
Moving on~
I’m down for a night out
Hobi hyung? What do you think?
We shouldn't do anything for him explicitly
What if he doesn’t like that kind of thing? It would be rude to put pressure on him
Sehyeon
Hyung is right as always~
But we could still go out
Like incidentally
I heard there’s a new samgyetang place a couple blocks over it’s supposed to be good
Marcel
SAM
GYE
TANG
Yeongsu
I'm in
Jingwang
Sounds good
Ooh maybe we can get the company to pay
Sangjun
I’ll come along to look after our delicate Sehyeonnie
Sehyeon
Come say that to my face and I’ll show you how delicate I am
Ino
Cool so all of us?
I’m busy on Friday ㅠㅠ I booked a workshop with Jaesang hyung
Marcel
Aww hyung...
Jingwang
Come with us!!!
I can’t cancel ㅠㅠ
And I don’t hang out with the producers anyway so I’d make things awkward
I’m going to the dance studio now, does anyone need help?
Sehyeon
Yeah I want to check that footwork change
Okay okay~~~ if anyone’s awake when we get back I’m telling the managers
Yeongsu
Snitch
I prefer the term ‘effective leadership’

 

 

MARCEL ET J-ESPOIR À MANILLE

27:19 | Broadcast on 5th April 2019
►1,014,675 | ♥ 13,876,234

 

 

POLARIS OFFICIAL THREAD

Page 1892 of 1892
maiacel | 9:07 a.m., 11th May 2019

do any of u think they’ve found their soulmates yet?

 
supergirlxzx| 9:10 a.m., 11th May 2019

i hope not D:

 
97Angel | 9:22 a.m., 11th May 2019

They’ve never said it but at least one of them must have. Like, Hobi is twenty-five, he’s had seven years. Eight-seven percent of people find their soulmates by twenty-three…

 
foreveryoungsu | 9:27 a.m., 11th May 2019

I heard from K-Stellas that his died…

 
gwangjinjus | 9:31 a.m., 11th May 2019

That’s so sad :( I hope they find soulmates they deserve it

 
oursunshine | 9:34 a.m., 11th May 2019

hobi’s soulmate isn’t dead i’m sitting right here

 
inouno | 9:35 a.m., 11th May 2019

Guardhouse

 
SeSangsIsReal | 9:40 a.m., 11th May 2019

duh sehyeon and sangjun r soulmates, didn’t u see the video?

 
foreveryoungsu | 9:44 a.m., 11th May 2019

lmao that wasn't a red string... it was a laser from a fansite camera… u sesang shippers are soooooo delulu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

190822 Polaris: Follow the Star E01 – Watch Your Favourite Celebrities on V LIVE

flowino

they’re so USELESS oh my god where are the managers

lahiemal

i can’t believe they left marcel behind the poor child

hyeonjunie

I thought Kwon was going to kill someone lmao

LaughingOnMyOwn

I don’t know what’s more ridiculous, that Yeongsu lost his passport before they left Korea or that his passport cover cost three hundred dollars

 

 

PANN: POLARIS MAIN RAPPER TO RELEASE FIRST MIXTAPE

Posted 7th September 2019

He’s calling it Woof Woof ㅋㅋㅋ because fans say he’s like a Rottweiler ㅋㅋㅋ

+789 | -121
  • I’m seriously looking forward to this, Ino is an amazing rapper!
  • Woof Woof ㅋㅋㅋ he’s such a weird kid ㅋㅋㅋ
  • Even though they’re busy with tours and reality shows, he still found the time to make music for us ㅠㅠ my bias is the best ㅠㅠ
  • Ino fighting!!! hope the other members feature on it~

 

 

End of Me: The Fourth Mini Album | Released 6th October 2019

  1. Intro: In Essence 1’32”
  2. Wither 3’16”
  3. Be Okay Again 4’10”
  4. As You Were 3’50”
  5. To Algernon 4’21”
  6. Simple Reminder 2'56"
  7. Reality Check 3'39"
  8. Outro: End of Me 1’49”

Lyrics by Ino, J-Hope, Sehyeon, Kim Kiyoung, Kwak Eunhui, Super, Kwon

Produced by Suga, Ino, Mad Room, SeeSee, Jang Aera, Quasar

 

 

POLARIS MEMBERS PROFILE

Polaris (폴라리스) consists of 7 members: J-Hope, Ino, Kwon, Sangjun, Sehyeon, Yeongsu and Marcel. Polaris debuted on December 1, 2017 with the lead single ‘Supernova Galaxy’ from the album ‘Shine On’.

Polaris Fandom Name: Stellas

Polaris Official Light Stick Colour: Silver and Gold

Polaris Official Accounts:

Instagram: @polaris_official

Twitter: @polaris_twt

Facebook: polaris.official

Official website: polaris.com

V LIVE: Polaris channel

Official Fan Cafe: Polaris

 

J-HOPE

Full Name: Jung Hoseok

Position: Leader, Main Dancer, Lead Rapper

Birthday: 18th February 1994

Zodiac Sign: Aquarius

Height: 177cm (5’10”)

Weight: 59 kg (130 lbs)

Blood Type: A

Birthplace: Gwangju

Family: Mom, dad, older sister

Hobbies: Listening to music and window shopping

J-Hope facts:

  • Education: Gwangju Global High School, University of Seoul (studied Physiotherapy but left to join Polaris)
  • Chose the name “J-Hope” as his stage name because he wants to be a source of light and hope to his fans.
  • He loves kimchi
  • His favourite season is spring
  • His favourite colour is green because it’s the colour of hope
  • His favourite number is 7
  • He has auditioned for JYP and trained at BigHit
  • He hates exercising and working out
  • He shares a room with Marcel

J-Hope’s ideal type is a cheerful friendly puppy-like girl who loves him.

 

 

INO

Full Name: Shin Ino

Position: Main Rapper

Birthday: 28th October 1996

Zodiac Sign: Scorpio

Height: 181cm (5’11”)

Weight: 65kg (143 lbs)

Blood Type: O

Birthplace: Seoul

Family: Mom, younger brother

Hobbies: Producing music, gardening, playing sport

Ino facts:

  • Education: Seoul School of Performing Arts; Global Cyber University
  • He loves dogs and wants to get a German Shepard
  • His favourite food is beef bulgogi
  • J-Hope said he’s the music leader of Polaris
  • Released his mixtape Woof Woof on 27th September 2019
  • He likes going shirtless
  • He was banned from ISAC for starting a fight during a soccer game
  • His favourite movie is Drive
  • He has his own room

Ino’s ideal type is a stylish noona with more money than him.

 

KWON

Full Name: Lee Jingwang

Position: Main Vocal

Birthday: 21st September 1997

Zodiac Sign: Virgo

Height: 190cm (6’3”)

Weight: 70kg (154 lbs)

Blood Type: A

Birthplace: Gongju

Family: Mom, dad, three older sisters

Hobbies: Reading books, going to musicals

Kwon facts:

  • Education: Seoul School of Performing Arts; Global Cyber University
  • His sisters are 15, 12 and 10 years older than him
  • He loves pickled radish
  • His idol is Beyoncé
  • He was scouted from Kpop Star where he sang Cherry Blossom Ending
  • He can play guitar
  • He’s never had a girlfriend
  • His eyes are uneven because he fell into a toilet seat when he was four
  • He shares a room with Yeongsu

Kwon’s ideal type is a quiet girl who can take good care of him when he gets nervous.

 

SANGJUN

Full Name: Noh Sangjun

Position: Lead Vocal, Face of the Group

Birthday: 20th June 1998

Zodiac Sign: Cancer

Height: 174cm (5’8”)

Weight: 61kg (134lbs)

Blood Type: B

Birthplace: Incheon

Family: Mom, dad

Hobbies: Fixing everything the others break, finding music no-one else likes

Sangjun facts:

  • Education: Seoul School of Performing Arts; Global Cyber University
  • He looks like a mouse
  • The thing he is best at is singing high notes
  • He likes sunny and cool weather
  • His favourite number is 2
  • He can speak Japanese
  • Sehyeon said he has the best butt in Polaris
  • He loves romantic films and dramas
  • He shares a room with Sehyeon

Sangjun’s ideal type is a nice and cute girl who is smaller than him.

 

 SEHYEON

Full Name: Chan Sehyeon

Position: Lead Rapper, Lead Dancer, Centre

Birthday: 30th July 1998

Zodiac Sign: Leo

Height: 178cm (5’10”)

Weight: 66kg (145lbs)

Blood Type: AB

Birthplace: Busan

Family: Mom, dad

Hobbies: Reading fantasy novels, napping

Sehyeon facts:

  • Education: Seoul School of Performing Arts; Global Cyber University
  • He sneezes a lot even when he sleeps
  • His favourite TV show is Game of Thrones
  • When he was little he wanted to be a fantasy novelist
  • He loves Ghibli films
  • He’s trying to learn piano
  • He speaks Mandarin
  • His dream is to retire to the English countryside
  • He shares a room with Sehyeon

Sehyeon’s ideal type is a sweet girl who loves to read and is smarter than him.

 

SUPER

Full Name: Jun Yeongsu

Position: Lead Vocal, Lead Dancer

Birthday: 8th November 1999

Zodiac Sign: Scorpio

Height: 178cm (5’10”)

Weight: 62 kg (137 lbs)

Blood Type: B

Birthplace: Chuncheon

Family: Dad, older brother

Hobbies: Reading comics, going on the computer

Super facts:

  • Education: Seoul School of Performing Arts; Global Cyber University
  • When he was little he wanted to be a superhero
  • He has a niece called Jinah
  • His favourite part of being an idol is going on variety shows
  • He wants to have a radio talk show
  • He’s the best at cooking but he makes a mess so J-Hope has to clean up after him
  • His favourite anime is My Hero Academia
  • His favourite food is fried chicken
  • He shares a room with Kwon

Super’s ideal type is an outgoing girl who laughs a lot.

 

MARCEL

Full Name: Marcel Lavoie

Position: Lead Vocal, Maknae

Birthday: 24th June 2000

Zodiac Sign: Cancer

Height: 176cm (5’9”)

Weight: 64kg (141lbs)

Blood Type: O

Birthplace: Québec, Canada

Family: Mom, dad, younger sister

Hobbies: Playing videgames, eating at restaurants

Marcel facts:

  • Education: Seoul School of Performing Arts; Global Cyber University
  • He speaks three languages fluently; French, English and Korean
  • He grew up in Canada and moved back to Korea to audition
  • His favourite position is DPS in video games
  • His charm point is his chubby cheeks
  • He’s very weak to tickles
  • He has a bad habit of making weird faces on broadcast
  • He is allergic to crabs
  • He likes doing impressions even though he’s not good at them
  • He shares a room with J-Hope

Marcel’s ideal type is a kind, honest girl with a feminine style.

 

Who is your Polaris bias?

Results

Sehyeon

203,230 votes

Sangjun

189,117 votes

Marcel

161,331 votes

Ino

147,229 votes

Kwon

131,808 votes

Super

122,927 votes

J-Hope

61,377 votes

 

 

2019 Mnet Asian Music Awards

From Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia

Qoo10 Artist of the Year (Daesang)

Polaris

Chapter Text

POLARIS 2ND ANNIVERSARY LIVE

45:01 | Broadcast on 1st December 2019
► 2,976,675 | ♥ 138,876,234

“Bye-bye!” They keep waving and waving and waving, fixed grins growing increasingly strained, until Manager Song gives them the all clear; the broadcast is over. Marcel scrambles up and grabs the tablet they use for V Lives to check the stats.

“Aw, we didn’t hit three million,” he pouts.

“Really?” Sehyeon takes the phone from him. “Ino hyung’s abs are safe… for now.” Ino grabs Sehyeon by his hood and pulls sharply. “Yah! Hobi hyung, help!”

“What?” Hoseok tunes back into the real world.

“Ino hyung tried to murder me,” Sehyeon pouts, massaging his inflamed neck.

“Did you deserve it?”

“Yes,” Sangjun interjects, stepping back from the makeup artist. Sehyeon hisses at him. Hoseok leaves them at it and presents himself to the makeup artist, now that she’s finished with Sangjun. If there’s one thing he’s learned in the past two years, it’s that removing stage makeup is not a job for amateurs.

The boys squabble loudly in the background, though Hoseok, being well accustomed to their noise, is able to filter it out. It takes him a while to get back to Earth after V Lives, after concerts, after fansigns. Being in contact with so many Stellas, getting so much love, and then having it abruptly removed – it’s difficult to adjust to. It makes him feel alone, adrift, even with his members and staff around him.

“Hyung?”

“Yeah?” It’s Jingwang. He blinks down at Hoseok, as overgrown as ever.

“Are you okay?”

Hoseok smiles as brightly as he can, given that his face is dripping with cleanser. “I’m totally fine! Why do you ask?”

“You seemed quiet,” Jingwang mutters. “You talked less than I did. You’re never like that.”

“Did I? Ah, it’s nothing. I was thinking about how old I’m getting. I promise I won’t take your cool solemn image. Ugh!” Hoseok grimaces and sticks his tongue out; there’s cleanser in his mouth. Jingwang chuckles and drops it.

Occasionally, Hoseok wonders if Jingwang should have bothered with the idol life. He’s withdrawn and awkward and plain bad with people, and lives agitate him. On more than one occasion Hoseok has had no choice but to pull him out mid-performance and calm him down. On the other hand, there are few singers as skilled as Jingwang in the industry. He possesses the purest, cleanest tenor Hoseok has ever heard, a voice like a mountain stream. It would be a pity to waste it.

Once his face is clean, Hoseok drifts over to Marcel and lets him cling to him. As a good leader, J-Hope doesn’t play favourites, but Hoseok has a soft spot for Marcel. He’s excitable and chattery and tactile, and he’s useful camouflage for when Hoseok doesn’t feel up to being J-Hope. He listens to Marcel’s back-and-forth with Sehyeon over a game they’d played during the broadcast. It had to do with the music video for their last comeback, from October. Each member had to pause the video to get the ugliest screenshot possible. Hoseok got one of Yeongsu mid-twirl, mouth gaping wide, but Marcel won with an intimate shot of Sehyeon’s nostrils. Hoseok anticipates its spread across Twitter in memes.

As things wind down, he thinks through everything else they have scheduled for today. The Melon Music Awards are next weekend, and they’re working on a special stage for that one. They still don’t know what slot they have. This time last week, he would have expected to go up on stage mid-show, but after the miracle that was last Friday’s daesang, they might have the ending stage. Awards season is insanity, stage after speech after stage, but Hoseok likes it, the constant occupation, the glamour of the red carpets, the rush of performing. It feels like validation.

Finally, once everyone is scrubbed, the managers and stylists file out of the room and leave the boys to Hoseok. “Listen up, boys,” he chirps, backing towards the door, opening it noiselessly and hiding it behind him. “Last one to the studio has to wear a bowtie next Friday!”

He leaps backwards, slams the door shut, locks it, and dashes away, almost taking out a few stray helpdesk staff, listening to the melodious sound of six bodies crashing into a plinth of plywood.

He never said he was a nice leader. Just a good one.

It’s worth it, for the five minutes of peace he gets in the studio before the boys tumble in and the performance director shows up. Hoseok stretches, loosely, wincing at the crack in his back, watching it twist his features. It disappears, and he frowns at himself. Without the pancake and the lights and the crush of his members, he looks wrung out. It’s his fault; he hasn’t slept well lately. At times like these, Hoseok misses the benzos they put him on pre-debut, the ones that countered the uppers and took the nightmares away. The managers were afraid that he would develop a habit, so they took him off them, and though he understands, he’d do anything for a night of unbroken, dreamless sleep.

Whatever. He can sleep when he’s dead. He pairs his phone with the speakers and puts on mumble rap for him to bounce around to. Eventually, the door of the studio crashes open, and he whirls around to welcome his boys with open arms.

“And it’s… Jun Yeongsu! Congratulations! You get to be the cutest penguin on the red carpet next weekend!” Yeongsu says something intelligible, but Hoseok knows from Marcel’s reaction that it was rude. “What did you say to your hyung, Yeongsu-yah?” Hoseok keeps grinning, and the boys break out into giggles. They love it as much as the fans do when he gets bossy, though the fans love it for different reasons.

“Thank you,” Yeongsu simpers. Hoseok bounds over and hugs him, cooing, and Yeongsu reciprocates. By now, he knows that submission to J-Hope makes life easy.

Hoseok releases him and smiles at him genuinely. Yeongsu relaxes. “C’mon, let’s get a head start before the director turns up. It’ll sweeten him up.”

The boys stretch, Sangjun hissing as his knee clicks. Hoseok watches him, for a moment. Short and cute as he is, he looks so like Jimin that it pulls him into memories of a different studio, but then he opens his mouth and ruins the illusion.

“Stop being lazy, leader. Get to work.” Hoseok rolls his eyes and falls into a stretch. No more memories. He hasn’t talked to Jimin in over a year. That chapter of his life is finished, and he’s moving onto bigger, better things, heights so dizzying his head spins.

 

Halfway through December, awards season begins to wear. Hoseok stops going home to the dorms to sleep, resorting instead to catnaps in his studio, christened Hope World; Ino does the same in his Dog Kennel. Sehyeon’s studio, the Hobbit Hole, lies vacant, owing to the fact that its occupant can only sleep horizontally in a mound of pillows. It makes flying with him torturous, and they play rock paper scissors to decide which poor soul has to sit beside him.

It’s not a good habit. It leaves Hoseok with strange pains in his neck, and, frequently, he and Ino end up ordering shitty takeaway instead of getting proper meals. It is, however, good for his work ethic; the company is making positive noises about possibly using one of his compositions in their upcoming album. It was a steep learning curve figuring out how to get to the level of being considered, given that he’s only allowed to interact with the producers under strict supervision, but he’s confident in his work now. He might not be as good as Ino, or any of their in-house producers, but he knows how to make a good beat to dance to.

That is, if Cubase will cooperate. “What do you mean, unexpected argument? I’m not arguing with you!” The software he was using is hanging, despite his best efforts to resuscitate it. “Ino-yah!” Hoseok bangs on the wall, too lazy to get his phone. Ino’s studio adjoins his.

“Hyung! What?”

“I have an emergency! Hurry, hurry!”

Ino slides in, headphones trailing wires, completely shirtless. Hoseok doesn’t bat an eyelash. Ino is most comfortable in some state of undress. “Emergency? Are you – oh.” He peers at the screen. “Did you update it?”

“No? Should I have?”

Ino rolls his eyes and nudges Hoseok out of the way. “It gets stuck in Windows Update Centre,” he mumbles, clicking around. “You should get a Mac. They’re better at that stuff.”

“No way.” The computer shuts down. “Is it fixed?”

“Let it reboot and it should work. I’ll wait and see.” Ino throws himself onto the beanbag in the corner of the studio. Hoseok stretches, sighing with relief as his shoulders pop. “You have anything done?”

“There’s one piece… I’d like you to listen to it.” Hoseok watches the screen flicker back into life. “You?”

“Still working on the lyrics for that track I laid down last week. I want Marcel to look at it, see if I’m not saying anything embarrassing in English.”

“Good plan,” Hoseok grins. The computer beeps back into life, and Hoseok holds his breath as he logs in and launches Cubase. “It works! Thanks!”

Ino grunts, as shy of praise as ever. “Show me what you’re working on.”

It’s a short track, maybe ninety seconds. It’s a fragment, but Hoseok likes it like that, a jagged piece of an unknown whole. It opens with wind chimes and maintains that airy, contemplative tone throughout, Hoseok crooning as softly as he can. Ino listens, rapt, and when it ends, it takes a while for him to come back to reality. Music always sweeps Ino away, as if he’s a child listening to a lullaby. Even more endearing (well, it’s endearing to Hoseok) is Ino’s habit of constantly making music. He drums his fingers on the table during meetings, he hums in pleasure as he eats, and he clicks his tongue rhythmically as he poses for photos, like an overevolved dolphin, thoroughly disconcerting the photographers.

“It’s pretty,” he says, eventually. “Sad, but pretty. What do the words mean? Inside my blue dream? It sounded like… like it was about someone.”

Hoseok shrugs. “Nah, I made them up. Don’t mean nothin’.”

Ino raises his eyebrows, obviously disbelieving. Hoseok purses his lips at him. “Aish, whatever. It might be worth sending to the producers. They’re stuck on the outro.”

“Yeah!” Hoseok perks up. “I’ll email it to them now.”

“No, don’t. Go to them with it. Do you have a USB stick we can use anywhere?”

Uh oh. “I’m tired,” Hoseok mumbles. “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

“You won’t.” Ino rolls over on the bean bag.

“What?” Hoseok’s head snaps up.

“You never go to the producers. When we record, only the sound engineers are there. You email the lyrics you write.” What Hoseok can make out of Ino’s face is tense. “I don’t get it. Don’t you want to perform something you made?”

“I do,” Hoseok concedes. Ino found him in a moment of drunken weakness, one night a month or two ago when he woke up after a nightmare. That’s not exactly a rare occurrence for him, but this particular one left him rattled enough to raid the stock of shitty soju Manager Lee keeps behind the ironing board to numb it; he never dreamed when he went to bed drunk. Ino caught him, flushed all over and face-down on the kitchen counter, snivelling at his phone. (Hoseok is a weepy drunk. It’s awful. It also exacerbates his hangovers, because the crying dehydrates him.) When Hoseok needs catharsis, he calls Jimin and complains. Jimin never picks up, and Hoseok doubts he cares enough to listen to the long, rambling, whiney voicemails Hoseok leaves.

But Ino heard. He heard Hoseok admit, as slurred and incoherent as said admission was, that he wanted to dance to something he composed himself, even if it was nothing but a beat, a sequence, a single chord. Ino heard, and he’s needled Hoseok about it ever since.

“You’ll have to work with them sooner rather than later.” Ino struggles out of the beanbag’s all-encompassing embrace.

“Ino-yah…”

“I don’t care!” Ah, here it is. Inoweiler, as the fans have christened Ino’s nastier side, his habit of latching onto things and refusing to let go. Back around their second release, someone set up a Twitter solely dedicated to Tweeting photos of Ino where he resembled a Rottweiler, alongside the Rottweiler he resembled. Hoseok follows it on his lurking account. (He’s a Yeongsu stan. His handle is @superyeong.) “I’m going to the managers and making them let you help!” Ino softens at the look of terror on Hoseok’s face. “They’re in a rut with the newest album. Aera noona quit for two days. Your tracks could help them along.”

“Try it, then.” Hoseok doubts he’ll be successful. The company has gone to huge lengths to keep him away from the studios. All of Polaris’ facilities – their personal studios, their wardrobe, their dressing rooms, their dance studio, even the servers for their website – are located on the opposite side of the building from the music studios. Hoseok rarely has reason to go near the studios, and if he does, it’s with a manager in tow. It seems like a lot of effort to keep him away from one person, but Hoseok knows by now not to criticise his company. The last time he did that, they stuck a death drop in the middle of their title track’s choreo that left him hobbling at the end of promotions.

“I will! Right now!” Ino storms out, bare chest and all. Hoseok grabs a stray hoodie and pursues him.

He catches him in the hallway. “Put this on first, you exhibitionist!” Ino shrugs it on and hares off. Hoseok watches him leave, unable to quash the fond irritation that wells up inside him.

They drive him mad most of the time. Ino’s predilection for nudity, Marcel’s random tangents in vulgar Québécois, Sangjun and Sehyeon’s incessant bickering, Yeongsu’s demands for attention, and Jingwang’s bouts of stage fright; they have all made Hoseok reconsider pursuing this.

But, the rest of the time, he loves them. How can he not? Marcel is nineteen, and he hasn’t seen his family in six years. Sehyeon sneezes in bright sunlight. Sangjun is so insecure about his height that he once drank five pints of milk in one go and had to get his stomach pumped. Yeongsu calls his two-year-old niece at night to sing her a lullaby. Ino has been trying, for two years and with little success, to grow a strawberry plant in their dormitory. Jingwang’s sole ambition in life is to meet Beyoncé. They’ve grown hugely since that first day he met them, that heavy October morning when Yeongsu split his pants doing a cartwheel to impress him and made him smile for the first time since – since.

They make his life hard, but they make his job easy. Hoseok is eternally grateful to them for that. Lots of the other leaders he knows aren’t as lucky – they have to deal with infighting, members being ostracised or bullied over their popularity or lack thereof, or members refusing to communicate in person over perceived slights. Hoseok will take squabbles over styling and space in the fridge over that, though he would appreciate it if they stopped stealing his bucket hats.

“Stop being mushy,” he tells himself, settling back in front of his computer. Back to work. This music won’t make itself.

 

Hoseok’s ears are still ringing when he gets home.

One daesang was a miracle. Two? That’s an accomplishment. When they called their name out – “Melon Music Awards Song of the Year 2019, As You Were by Polaris!” – Hoseok thought it was a mistake. The video of the maknae line’s reaction – eyes bugging out of their head, mouths wide open, gazing at each other in utter disbelief – when they heard has gone viral. Hoseok is proud of himself; at the MAMAs, he full-on ugly bawled, but this time he only cried a few elegant tears.

As You Were was a stroke of luck, an OST for a hit drama that dominated the charts for weeks. Hoseok was sick of it, but now… It got them their second daesang. He feels nothing but love for it. The rest of them are out celebrating, but Hoseok was tired. As of late, he’s passed many sleepless nights in his studio, bathed in the glare of the computer screen, anxiety wracking him, and when he does fall asleep, the nightmares follow quickly, and he awakes less rested than before. What happens if they approve Ino’s request? Will they let him work with the producers? Will they let him work with – with –

In any case, once the adrenaline of their win faded, Hoseok made his excuses and caught a taxi home with the intention of sleeping for twelve hours solid. Even so, once he’s struggled through his nightly skincare routine (he’s twenty-five, does he really need to use eye cream?), he’s too wound up to sleep. It’s one in the morning. Dawon would murder him if he called her this late, so that’s out, and his room is neat and orderly, given that he’s barely used it in the past month. How is he going to tire himself out? He sits down in front of the desk in their room, the one Marcel used for his homework when he attended SOPA. On his side is a neat basket, piled high with fanmail.

Hoseok is diligent about reading every letter he gets, even the ones in foreign languages. His Chinese and Japanese are passable, Marcel translates the ones in English and French, and the others he mauls with Naver Translate. He responds when he can to the people who seem like they need it, the ones who talk about absent parents and disrespectful partners and distant friends, though infrequently as of late, given that the volume of letters he receives has increased exponentially.

He sorts through the letters, setting aside the ones with foreign return addresses; he’ll read them later when his head is in a better place. Some of the letters come in plain envelopes, white or manila, and the ones with company logos amuse him when he imagines a fan sneaking into their workplace’s stationery stock and filching it. Others use cute stationery, emblazoned with strawberries or sparkles or bunnies, the kind of thing you can buy in knacky shops in Namdaemun Market.

One envelope catches his eye. It is made of creamy, heavy card stock, and his name is written not in Hangul, but in Hanja, using what looks like a calligraphy brush. Hoseok flips it over to look at the return address. It’s unfamiliar. The name is written, again, in Hanja, and Hoseok hated learning characters in school. His father eventually gave up on teaching him the advanced ones. He only recognises the first one – it’s Kim – but that doesn’t narrow it down, given that one out of every five people he knows is called Kim.

He examines them again. He knows it, he knows them, he knows this name –

It hits him with the force of a truck. Seokjin. It’s Seokjin’s name in Hanja, he knows because one time when they were drunk Seokjin showed them how to write his name in characters and insisted that they do the same, and Hoseok, who could barely write Hangul legibly, made such an awful mess of his that the next morning, when they sobered up, Seokjin stole his phone and called his dad to ask him to write it out and send him a picture.

Why on Earth would Seokjin send him fanmail? Doesn’t he have his number? Did Hoseok remember to give it to him the last time he changed it? Hoseok opens the letter carefully and finds another piece of expensive paper, graceful flowers painted on the front in ink wash. He flips it around, and–

Together with their families,

Kim Seokjin

and

Ahn Heeyeon

cordially invite

Jung Hoseok

to celebrate their marriage


11:00 a.m., 31st January 2020
Yeongbin Gwan, The Shilla Hotel, Seoul

Holy shit. Holy shit. Seokjin is getting married next month and Hoseok didn’t have a clue. Seokjin remembers him. Seokjin cares about him enough to invite him to his wedding. He fumbles for his phone and dials his number, only realising that he’s probably asleep when he picks up.

“Who is it? It’s one in the morning! Jeon Jungkook, I am not a taxi service–”

“Seokjin hyung.” Seokjin sounds exactly the same, nasal and pitchy and distressingly familiar. “You’re getting married?”

“Hoseok-ah? Jung Hoseok? Is that you?” He hears sheets rustling as someone mutters ‘Hoseok?’ It’s Heeyeon, Hoseok realises – of course it is, she must have finished her PhD.

“Yes, oh my God, you’re seriously getting married? Congratulations! I mean, we all knew it was going to happen, but that’s amazing!” He owes Namjoon money. Back when Jimin met Jungkook (four years ago, how has it been that long?), they made a wager on who would get married first. Hoseok bet on Jikook; Namjoon went for Seokyeon.

“I am indeed the luckiest man in existence.” Hoseok can visualise the smug look on his face. “How did you only find out now? I sent you an invite months ago and you missed the RSVP!”

“I’m sorry, I – we were busy, I haven’t looked at my fanmail in months…”

“FANMAIL?” Hoseok jerks the phone away from his ear. Time has not quieted Kim Seokjin. “Jung Hoseok, how is an invitation to my wedding fanmail?”

“You sent it to me at our company building! No wonder they thought it was fanmail!”

“Aish.” There’s a thump; he must be getting up to go somewhere where he can yell at Hoseok without disturbing Heeyeon. “I couldn’t find your new dorm’s address, and your old number doesn’t work. The company was my next best shot, short of getting into a fansign and giving it to you in person. I sent one to your parent’s house, didn’t you get that one?”

“Any post they get for me is redirected to the company as fanmail. Did I really forget to give you my number?” Hoseok changes his number regularly, not by choice, but because sasaengs keep getting it. He must have forgotten a few numbers along the way.

“You did! It stopped working last June. Didn’t you wonder why none of us texted you?”

“I… I thought you gave up on me,” Hoseok mumbles. “Like Jiminie.”

“Jiminie? Jiminie – Jung Hoseok, he enlisted two years ago! Of course he’s not replying to your texts!”

“What? You’re serious?” Hoseok had no idea.

“He and Taehyung were drafted at the same time. Jimin’s in the police and Taehyung is in the marines. Joonie and Kookie are unbearable.”

“I didn’t know,” Hoseok mumbles. “Will they be out soon?”

“Middle of January. That’s why I waited to have the wedding, I wanted them to attend. Did you seriously not know they were serving? I thought someone would have told you…”

Hoseok doesn’t know whether to feel relieved that Jimin wasn’t blanking him or feel disappointed that none of his friends cared to inform him that Jimin and Taehyung enlisted. “It’s okay… It’s my fault. I was a bad friend. I didn’t keep up with you like I should have.” That first year, before they debuted… Taehyung would call it his blue period. Hoseok barely got to breathe, never mind text anyone; he didn’t call his mother for four months. He was off his head half the time on uppers, and the rest of it he spent unconscious, drugged into blank sleep. The managers said that the benzos didn’t have side-effects, but Hoseok’s memory of that time is spotty, hazy, incomplete. The doctors also said the weight loss pills were harmless, but any time he ate anything vaguely fatty, it came back up, spotted with blood, and he’s paranoid that it damaged his stomach. There was no other choice, though. The company wanted him skinny, and they wanted him skinny fast.

It worked, in the end. He debuted, he was beautiful, and in the rush of fame he forgot about his friends, and they, in turn, forgot about him, or so he assumed until he opened that wedding invitation.

Seokjin sighs. “It’s not. We’re… We should have done more. I can’t imagine what it was like for you.”

“It was…” Hoseok can lie to his company, he can lie to his band members, and he can lie to himself, but he can’t lie to Kim Seokjin. “It was tough, but it was worth it. Did you see us today?”

“I did! Ah, seriously, congratulations. How do you look so handsome when you’re crying? Can you teach me? I’ll need it for the wedding.”

Hoseok laughs, unbidden. “Kim Seokjin, don’t be ridiculous. Have you ever not been handsome?”

Seokjin makes a pleased noise. “You’re right. How silly of me.” Hoseok snorts. “Back on topic – can you come?”

“Yes!” He grabs his iPad to check their schedule for January. They’re in Japan for the week of Seollal, but they get back on the night of the thirtieth, and they have the following two days free. “I’m free that weekend.” Something pings in his mind. “Actually… do you have a wedding singer booked?”

“We’re having issues with that. You know Solji, Heeyeon’s friend? She used to be in a ballad group. She agreed to sing. She suffers from hyperthyroidism, and she’s been ill lately, so Heeyeonie is worried. She tried to book another performer to spare her the stress of it, but she can’t get anyone on such short notice.”

“We could sing? If you want?” Seokjin falls suddenly silent. Hoseok backtracks. “I mean, I know the majority of our stuff isn’t wedding-y, but we do have slow songs. Or if you don’t want one of ours, Jingwang’s voice is beautiful – he can cover anything you want, Korean or English or whatever. Did you hear him on Masked Singer? He sang For You. I’ll send you a link…”

“Hoseok-ah?” It’s a different voice, one Hoseok hasn’t heard in over four years.

“Heeyeon noona?”

“It’s me. It’s good to hear from you. Seokjinnie is… indisposed.”

“Indisposed?”

“Seokjin-ah, can I do a video call with Hoseokie and show him what you look like?”

Nooooo,” Seokjin wails, cutting himself off with an almighty sniff.

“Oh,” Hoseok says, in a small voice.

“We’d be honoured to have you sing. Unnie’s not well, and you’d be doing me a huge favour if you could replace her.”

“Of course! We can’t do a rehearsal or anything, will that be okay?”

“Unnie will take care of that. All you have to do is show up in your Sunday best. I’ll send you pictures of what the bridesmaids are wearing so you’ll match. Do you mind singing your Song of the Year?”

“It would be my pleasure. Is… Is Seokjin okay?”

“It might take him a while to recover,” Heeyeon admits. Hoseok hears sniffles and a stifled wail. “Keep in touch, okay? Not about the wedding, but as our friend. Hyojin unnie and Junghwa won’t admit it, but they miss you loads, and Namjoon can’t help but worry about you. Jungkookie collects your photocards, do you know that? He showed me the last time I was over.”

“I will,” Hoseok promises. “I’m sorry that I woke you up, and for, you know. Seokjin hyung.”

“No need to apologise! I’m marrying him, I know what I’m getting into. I think. I hope.”

They bid each other goodbye, and the line goes dead. Hoseok has absolutely no idea how he’s going to convince the company to let them perform at the wedding, or, indeed, how he’ll get the boys to work on a rare day off, but he’s determined to do it. He owes Seokjin, for years of friendship and ridiculousness and late-night junk food.

Jesus. He’s marrying his soulmate. For most people, it’s a given, a fact of life, as certain as death and taxes. For Seokjin, the hopeless romantic that he is, it’s his greatest wish, the one thing his parents never achieved. For Hoseok, it’s an unattainable dream. He gave that up, knowingly, along with so much else, and he knows it was worth it. It was. It was. He will go to this wedding, he will sing his heart out, and he’ll be the happiest fucking person there, soulmate or no.

The door thumps open and Marcel flounces in, jacket missing, face flushed bright, bright red. “Hyung! I need you to – what’s that?”

“Marcel-ah,” Hoseok beams, with all the wicked aegyo he can muster. “How do you feel about doing your favourite hyung a favour?”

Chapter Text

Hoseok, despite his initial myriad misgivings when the kids voted him into the position, enjoys leading Polaris. He does a good job, or at least he thinks he does. No-one has attempted to leave the group yet. He’ll take that as an endorsement of his leadership skills. He likes coordinating interviews to ensure the shyer members get their time in the sun, he likes giving pep talks before they perform, and he loves doing their corny greeting.

There are, of course, parts he doesn’t like. He dislikes getting raked over the coals for things he has no control over, he dislikes disciplining members without proper reason, and he loathes attending administrative meetings like the one he’s stuck in now. There’s no point in his presence. He doesn’t contribute – even if he wanted to, nothing he could say would be warmly received – but he is expected to sit in, given that it’s his life they’re discussing. He pays attention sporadically as they debate song concepts and variety shows and what PDs they need to suck up to for the end-of-year shows. He slept for two hours last night before a nightmare forced him awake, and the ghost of it followed him ever since; a string slicing through his wrist, deep enough that the gleaming whiteness of his bones was visible, though no blood spilt from his lifeless flesh.

“One last item of business… Hoseok-ah, are you listening?”

“Ah? Yes!” Hoseok smiles vapidly at Manager Lee, pretending like he knows what they’re talking about.

“Ino is kicking up a fuss about getting you involved in production.” Oh, fuck. The one time Hoseok wanted Ino to be full of shit, he wasn’t. “I know we have rules…”

Stick to the rules, Hoseok pleads in his head, wishing desperately for telepathic powers, even if you don’t know why they’re there. The only people in the company who know why Hoseok is kept away from the producers are the people who were there when he signed his contract, and they’re too high up the ladder for meetings such as these.

No such luck. “I’m inclined to agree with him,” a supervisor says. “Aera PD is seriously struggling, and you know how the other group’s being marketed.” The name of Polaris’ rival group is such poison that nobody in the building can say it. “Having Hoseokie’s name in the credits would lend legitimacy to it. After all, he is the leader.”

There’s a murmur of agreement. The meeting leader shuffles his papers. “Anything else?”

Hoseok clears his throat. “Manager Lee, I was wondering if you came to a decision on the wedding performance? The one for my best friend?”

They asked as a group, the members coerced by a couple thinly veiled threats on Hoseok’s part, though he likes to think it’s because they love him. They were sweet as pie this week; Hoseok doled out massages to anyone whose shoulders appeared vaguely hunched, Jingwang’s mother sent a confectionery’s worth of sweets for the staff, and Yeongsu reorganised the cables in the server room, winning him the affections of their IT department.

Manager Lee contemplates him for a long while. Hoseok widens his eyes and pouts in the way that brings out his dimples.

“Okay, okay,” Manager Lee concedes, powerless in the face of Hoseok’s strongest tool, his manipulative aegyo. “But only for the performance. You can’t stay for the rest of the ceremony or the reception.”

“Make sure you get a video,” the social media manager adds. “The fans eat that kind of stuff up.”

The meeting adjourns; as soon as his seniors leave, Hoseok springs up and races out of the room. He needs to tell the kids, he needs to ring Seokjin and let him know, he needs to arrange outfits and transport…

“Hyung! Hyung, wait for me!”

“Ino-yah!” Hoseok slides to a stop and catches Ino by the shoulders before he hurtles right past him. “What are you doing here?”

“What did they say?” Ino practically vibrates. If he had a tail, it would be wagging.

“About the wedding? They said we can do it!”

Ino waves an imperious hand. “Aish, not about that. About producing! Will they let you help out?”

“They said I can – yah!” Ino launches himself at Hoseok. There is a precarious moment of vigorous wobbling, but Hoseok regains their collective balance with some fancy footwork. “What’s going on?”

“We’re going now,” Ino proclaims, dragging Hoseok along by the wrist. “Before you chicken out.”

“Hey, I wouldn’t–”

“You would,” Ino interrupts. “Here, here, here.” He shoves Hoseok into the lift on the northern side of the building. “I don’t know who’s in today, they’re weird about Fridays.”

“Shin Ino, don’t we need to go get my stuff first?”

Ino silently withdraws a familiar USB stick from his pocket. It’s engraved with Hoseok’s name and birthday and their debut date; it was part of the first line of merch they ever released. They’re sold out now, only available on eBay for extortionate sums of money, but Hoseok stole one when no-one was looking. “I got it here.”

“What – how–”

“Your password is the name of your first fansite,” Ino dismisses. “The Star Wars one. You’re super predictable.”

A New Hope. The master’s name was Yumi. One of her incisors was sharp, like a fang, and at their third fansign she brought along a set of vampire teeth for him to wear to match her. The first time they clasped hands, she was shaking, but when nothing happened, she looked oddly relieved. She stopped showing up to their fansigns in the middle of last year. Sangjun maintains that she got a cease and desist from Lucasfilm. Hoseok thinks she got bored of him and moved onto someone else, someone more photogenic, more profitable. He kept the letters she sent him, and at his parents’ house, the first photo she ever took of him hangs in a frame near the front door; head inclined to the side, eyes heavenward, a wry smile playing at his lips as the glitter on his suit jacket casts spangles up his neck and jaw and chin.

The lift’s doors slide open, and Ino drags him out. “I hope Yoongi hyung is in, Aera noona said your stuff was his style.”

Yoongi hyung. Oh, fuck. Hoseok digs his heels in, but Ino is relentless. They end up in front of a frosted glass door, safely secured with a bell and a keypad. Ino presses the bell, yells something that Hoseok hardly hears, and bangs on the door. Abandoned on the welcome mat (which is only a welcome mat in that it is located in front of a door; everything else about it says go away, from the actual words ‘go away’ to the cartoon cat flipping them off) is a pair of threadbare slippers. Pinned to the door is a sticky note that reads:

Please remove your shoes before entering.

(I mean you, Shin Ino.)

The writing is terribly familiar. Hoseok stares at it, transfixed. Blocky, precise, far neater than his own.

“Crazy bastard won’t let us in. I know he’s in there, those are his slippers.” Ino gives up and leads Hoseok further down the corridor. Hoseok, dazed, follows.

They enter a studio attached to the recording booth they use for albums, though Hoseok usually enters said booth via a different route, having never been in the studio itself before. The room is dominated by a gigantic analogue mixing console, and the rest of it is strewn with drum machines and gutted synthesisers and worn keyboards. A selection of guitars, electric and acoustic, lean against a wall beside a disassembled drum kit. Two wall-mounted monitors display beat sequences; a woman, slumped in a computer chair, stares vacantly at one, hair scraped into a messy bun, wearing a worn college hoodie, yoga pants and Kumamon slippers.

“Aera noona!” She doesn’t stir. Ino grabs the back of her chair and spins her around, her only response a lethargic blink. “Ah, she’s alive.”

“I wish I wasn’t.” She rubs her forehead. “Pomegranate soju is terrible,” she informs Hoseok. “Don’t go near it, Hoseok-sshi.”

“Duly noted.” Hoseok wends his way past the electronic detritus on the floor. “Is this a good time?”

“As good as any. Sit, sit. Strange to see you down here. I thought you were allergic to us.”

Hoseok laughs, tinny even to his own ears, and watches as Ino inserts the USB and loads his files into Cubase. Aera pokes around as the track plays. Hoseok’s shoddily recorded vocals sound terrible over the studio’s high-end sound system.

Aera hums along as it ends. “Interesting. I like the lack of triples. It’s unexpected. The lyrics gotta to go, though. You can’t talk specifically in love songs.”

“We could rewrite it to sound like it’s about Stellas?”

“Good idea.” Ino smirks at Hoseok. Hoseok bares his teeth at him. “Now, about this particular segment…”

Aera is an expert at her craft; she dissects the ninety-second track with unerring precision, narrowing in on beat sequences and chords, making minute adjustments such that the track is still recognisably the piece he made, but superior, so finely honed as to be perfect. Hoseok forgets about the problem lurking down the hall and enjoys himself. It’s been years since someone that wasn’t Ino helped him with music, and Hoseok feels like he could learn a lot from Aera.

“We can use this,” Aera says, finally. “I’ll run it past Yoongi first, the one without the guide vocals. See what he says.”

Shit. Shit. Hoseok plays dumb. “What? Why?”

“Suga PD is the lead producer for this album,” Ino explains, hands waving in the air. “Each track must be approved by him.”

“Did he approve me contributing?”

Aera shakes her head. “Nah. Lazy asshole wouldn’t reply to my emails. He wouldn’t answer the door either. He might be dead, for all I know. I hope he is.”

Hoseok doesn’t want Yoongi to hear this. It’s difficult enough, choreographing for music he produced, but Hoseok gets past it by concentrating on the bits of it that aren’t him, though they’re lessening as Yoongi’s influence on their music grows. The first time Hoseok read those four letters right after ‘Produced by’, he didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. When a fan slides an album towards him to sign, he averts his eyes from the credits.

But this track, like everything he makes, the words he writes, the step sequences he designs, is a part of him. Yoongi shouldn’t – he won’t – he doesn’t deserve that.

“Can you leave my name off?”

Ino’s head whips around. “Why?”

“I…” Hoseok looks wildly around the room. Make something up, Hoseokie. Talk shit, you’re good at that. “I, um. I hear he’s a hardass? Wasn’t he underground? I’m only an idol, after all. Maybe he’ll receive it better if my name isn’t on it. We can credit me when the tracklist’s locked in.”

Aera makes a face. “Why would he be like that?”

“I – it would put me at ease,” Hoseok pleads.

“Then whose name will I put on it?”

Hoseok shrugs. “Yours?”

“I would never in a million years make this, and he knows it.” Aera leans back, tapping her nails on her chin. “Could make someone up, I guess.”

“Can you? I’ll owe you…”

Aera cuts her eyes to him. “Get me Heize’s number,” she demands.

Hoseok sticks his hand out. “Deal.” They shake on it. Poor Dahye.

It’s late, and when the file is saved, Hoseok and Ino make their excuses and leave. The slippers on the go away mat are gone. Ino doesn’t say anything as they hail a taxi back to their dorm. The building, which they moved into four months ago, isn’t that far away, but they don’t risk the walk back anymore, not after the time Jingwang was nearly run over by a sasaeng on a bike.

“I don’t get it,” Ino says, once they’re within the safe embrace of their dorm.

“What don’t you get?” Hoseok removes his shoes delicately – they’re Balenciaga, and they cost an ungodly amount of money – and slips on the slippers Sangjun bought him for his last birthday. They’re cruelty-free, lined with soft, synthetic fur, and delicate sunbeams are embroidered on the uppers with iridescent golden thread.

“Why don’t you want your name on the track? That idol stuff doesn’t bother you. Hyung’s not like that either. He helped me with Woof Woof, remember?” Ino is not as careful; he tosses his shoes away haphazardly, making Hoseok mourn his poor Air Jordans. Those shoes are too good for him.

“I don’t know, I… I…”

“You’re not telling me something,” Ino argues. “That’s unfair! You’re the leader. How can we trust you to lead us when we know you’re lying to us?” Ino’s eyebrows are drawn together; his eyes are sharp, focused acutely on Hoseok.

There’s nothing for it. Hoseok leads the way into the living room, and Ino follows. “I… Remember my old company?”

Ino settles on the couch beside him, their limbs sprawling together. “What was their name? Big Pit? Isn’t that where you met that Seokjin guy?”

“BigHit,” Hoseok corrects, gently, prodding Ino’s knee out of his groin. “Not just Seokjin… Suga PD was a trainee there at the same time.”

“What? Seriously? Wow. How long ago was that?”

“Nine years ago. We… we didn’t get on. We sort of ruined things for each other.” It’s the truth – not the whole truth, admittedly, but enough for now. “I would prefer to avoid him if I can, and I would guess he feels the same.”

Ino mulls it over for a while. Hoseok waits with bated breath. “Huh. Maybe you’re right. But… like you said, wasn’t it nine years ago? That’s nearly a decade. Don’t grudges have expiry dates?”

“I… I…” Hoseok blinks heavily. Ino pulls him down onto his lap to pet his hair. The kids think how it turns him into a malleable puddle of goo is hilarious, and they take advantage of it at every available opportunity. The fans love it; they gif the moments where Hoseok’s face slackens into pure comfort. Hoseok, for his own mental safety, doesn’t venture into the replies to those Tweets. “If he doesn’t… He’s the main producer. I don’t want to piss him off and get treated like I did in Resonance.” Hoseok’s lines in the title track of that album were so few that the fans complained on the fancafé, which was bad enough, and then Marcel got involved and agreed with them. The managers refused to accept that he did it on his own and claimed that Hoseok put him up to it. They took his phone away for a month, locked him out of his studio, and misprinted Hoseok’s photocard in the reprints of Resonance.

“They hardly treat you decently now. You had five lines in the last comeback. Five!”

Hoseok wants to argue, but he knows it’s true. Over the years, it’s only worsened. The company’s excuse, the one that gets trotted out when journalists comment on it at their showcases, is that he’s the main dancer, and they want him to concentrate on leading routines, not on keeping his breathing steady, but a part of Hoseok knows the truth. Yoongi is the one who decides line distribution. He doesn’t want to listen to him for a second longer than is absolutely necessary and thus gives him as few parts as he can manage. Hoseok doesn’t blame him. “Ah, Shin Ino. It doesn’t matter. Let me go, let me go, it’s midnight, I’m going to bed.” Hoseok levers himself up.

“Hyung…”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Don’t stay up late. We have an early schedule tomorrow morning, we’re filming a New Year’s special.”

The bathroom is blessedly quiet, a refuge from Ino’s probing questions. Hoseok switches the shower on, stripping off without ceremony, taking care not to look at himself in the mirror. He hasn’t been following his diet recently, and he’s scared it shows.

The water, as hot as it is, does nothing to ease his troubled conscience. Hoseok is not accustomed to keeping secrets. It simply isn’t in his nature; he is open, free-spirited, carefree. But he must keep this one. The kids can’t know. What would they think of him, he who gave up his soulmate for fame? As much as they love him, and as much as he loves them, his role as leader functions on respect, and if they found out, they would revile him. Hoseok will not let that happen. His career – his reputation – is all he has. He must protect it, and if he must lie to do it…

It wouldn’t be the first time, and it won’t be the last.

 

“You’re only staying to perform,” Manager Lee warns, poking his head out to glance at the garden, where Seokjin’s brother is making a speech. “Don’t drink anything and don’t eat anything. Sing, make your excuses and leave.”

The boys agree in a bored chorus. Marcel glances at Sehyeon, and Sehyeon juts his chin at him. Hoseok knows, immediately, that there is something afoot, but he’s too keyed up to figure out what it is.

The morning dawned clear and crisp, unusually warm for January, allaying Seokjin’s frequently communicated fears that it would snow. Hoseok wondered why Seokjin picked an outdoor venue for a winter wedding, but when he first arrived half an hour ago and took it in, he understood immediately. Graceful hanoks are arranged around a tranquil garden filled with white seats, adorned with snowdrops. The Shilla Hotel looms over it, a glittering totem to opulence, and in the distance, the mountains soar above them, peaks dusted with white.

Seokjin’s mother met their van and ushered them into a side room. The guests don’t know that they’ll be performing, so they must stay hidden, watching the wedding from the gap between the screen doors. He can make out Seokjin’s face, nose red with cold, and little else. The stylists ensured that they’ll be warm; their suits are navy tweed, to match the bridesmaids, and the camel overcoats are made of soft, cosy angora wool. Hoseok’s hair is shorter than he is used to; he asked the hairdresser to trim the red dye out. He liked it well enough, but it’s not appropriate for a wedding.

“Hyung,” Sangjun says, awed. “She’s stunning.” Heeyeon is resplendent in a white bias-cut dress with a plunging neckline, a matching fur cape around her shoulders.

He’s stunning,” Sehyeon adds. Seokjin is wearing a simple black tuxedo, no frills, no fuss; his face is enough decoration. He looks like a chaebol’s son. “No wonder they’re soulmates.”

“Where are your friends?” Yeongsu cranes his head. “I want to meet them. You talked about them when we were trainees. I’m pretty sure I can take that Jungkook kid in a fight.”

“You can’t.” Hoseok bumps him out of the way, ignoring his noise of complaint. “They’re…” He scans the crowd, searching for two men seated closely together with short hair (they were discharged recently, it can’t have grown too long), one broad beanpole and the other pocket-sized, but fails.

Seokjin’s brother cracks one final joke before finishing his speech, earning himself a death glare from his baby brother, and that’s their cue. They grab the handheld mics lying on a dresser as Junghwa, in a navy velvet gown embellished with delicate silver chains, steps up to the microphone. “I’m happy to present our singers for this afternoon,” she chirps, too excited to be demure. “If you haven’t heard of them, where on Earth have you been? Singing their Song of the Year, it’s Polaris!”

They file out in the same order as usual, perfectly balanced to compensate for their uneven heights; Sangjun, Sehyeon, Jingwang, Marcel, Ino, Yeongsu and Hoseok. They line themselves up to face Seokjin and Heeyeon and bow before righting themselves and switching on their microphones. The pianist plays the first notes of As You Were, and Marcel launches into the first verse.

Hoseok does his best not to let it show, but he gets bored when they perform ballads. It’s difficult for him to stay still and sober for upwards of three minutes, though it helps that his part in As You Were is more backing vocals than rapping. He vastly prefers their high energy songs, the ones where he can let loose and display the true extent of his talent.

This particular performance is different. Jingwang’s belts are powerful, Sangjun’s run in the bridge is flawless, and Yeongsu’s harmony with Marcel is clean enough that it’s near impossible to tell that there are two people singing. Seokjin’s lower lip is wobbling, Heeyeon’s hand clenched in his. During the chorus, the entire wedding joins in, and in the cacophony Hoseok can discern a familiar baritone, coming from the same direction as a smooth tenor and a sticky-sweet falsetto.

It ends too soon; Hoseok is taken aback when Sangjun trails into silence and the guests burst into thunderous applause. Hoseok steps forward once they’re finished. “Thank you, Seokjin hyung, Heeyeon noona. Thank you for letting us perform on such an important day. Congratulation, and good luck, noona! You’ll need it!”

Seokjin squawks at him. Heeyeon covers his mouth with one hand. They bow to the audience one final time. When they straighten up, Hoseok searches the crowd again but is interrupted by a tug on his wrist. “Yah, who – Yeongsu-yah?”

“We’ll handle Manager Lee,” Yeongsu whispers, leading him down a side aisle. The rest of the boys have vanished. “Sit down and stay here and if you’re back before midnight we’re rigging our next live to give you the punishment.” Hoseok, despite his resistance, is pushed down into a chair.

“Jun Yeongsu, I swear to God…” He turns around to his neighbour. “I’m… Jimin-ah?”

It is; it’s Jimin, hair shorter than Hoseok has ever seen it, eyes crinkled by the force of his brilliant smile.“Hyung!” He clasps him in a hug. “It’s you!”

“It’s me!” Hoseok pries him off to admire him. “Park Jimin, look at you! Your hair!”

“Taehyungie’s is worse,” someone sniggers from behind Jimin. “He shaved it wrong.”

“Jeon Jungkook, you brat, it’s Taehyungie hyung. I’m sorry, Hoseok hyung, none of us were around to discipline him.” Hoseok gapes at his kids. Jimin beams, eyes crinkled up into that infamous eye-smile. Jungkook is a proper adult now, no baby fat clinging to his cheeks, and Taehyung is as unrealistically handsome as ever. “No crying,” Taehyung admonishes. “Seokjin hyung said we can’t cry because we’ll set him off and he doesn’t want to be weepy in the photos.” Jimin sniffs heavily. “Jimin-ah!”

“I’m sorry we didn’t tell you,” Jimin says, contrite. “I… I can’t give you an excuse. I can’t believe you thought I abandoned you.”

“Me too,” Jungkook adds. “I, uh… kind of threw my phone into the Han River that night and lost my stuff? In my defence, I was plastered.”

“It’s okay,” Hoseok says, and he means it. “It was my fault too. Let’s talk about it later, okay? Where’s Joonie?”

“There’s an emergency,” Taehyung says, airily. “He’ll be back soon. Quick, look, they’re doing something!”

The rest of the ceremony is beautiful. Hyojin makes a surprisingly pretty speech, with none of the bluntness Hoseok associates with her. One of Seokjin’s younger cousins reads out a poem Seokjin wrote when he was a kid, cheesy enough that it goes straight to cute. The officiant drones through the legalities as Seokjin and Heeyeon say their vows, which are lovely and heartfelt and traditional up until Seokjin promises to stop leaving the toilet lid up and Heeyeon swears she’ll stop burping at the dinner table. Hoseok can see Seokjin’s mother go red with fury as the guests giggle.

They exchange rings, two glints of rose gold and, finally, with what will, according to tradition, be its last ever visible appearance, their string swirls around them as they kiss in a joyous skyward helix, dissolving into red shimmers as they part. They sign the register hastily as the guests receive gossamer bags of flower petals.

It was perfect, Hoseok thinks, tossing the petals into the air with the kids (except for Jungkook, who aims at Seokjin’s face and scores a direct hit) as Seokjin and Heeyeon sail down the aisle to the warmth and safety of the hall, swiftly pursued by their immediate family for the first round of photos, and he is so jealous he could cry. Hoseok lets it ebb away as he chatters with the boys.

“Where are you working now?”

“He’s not.” Jungkook nods sourly at Taehyung. “He’s freeloading off Namjoon hyung.”

Taehyung shrugs. “I’m getting reacquainted with Instagram, and Namjoonie is supporting me. I got a couple odd jobs here and there, like…” He rummages under his chair and emerges, triumphant, with his prized Leica. “Seokjin hyung asked me to take candids. Technically, I’m on the clock.” Jungkook mutters something rude. Taehyung pulls an ugly face at him.

“Aish, you kids. What about you, Jimin-ah?”

“I joined the SMPA! They stationed me in Gangseo. They let me skip being an assistant because I did my service in the auxiliary police.”

“Gangseo! Isn’t that neighbourhood dangerous?” Jimin’s lifelong ambition was to join the police, but Hoseok can’t imagine him chasing down murders or tangling with gangsters.

“That’s what I said,” Jungkook adds, pained.

“The worst thing so far was a cat giving birth.” Hoseok raises his eyebrows. “An ajumma reported it as a public nuisance. I volunteered for their school outreach programs, and I’m looking forward to that. Honestly, I’d rather be stationed in Busan, but there’s no work there for Jungkook.”

Hoseok frowns at Jungkook. “Aren’t you still in school?”

“My final exams are next week,” Jungkook admits, sheepish, cringing away from Hoseok’s disapproval. “But Yoongi hyung got me a couple of interviews, and one of them called me back!”

Of course. He presses his lips together as Jimin swings his hip into Jungkook’s. Yoongi, for all his tough talk, would not abandon Jungkook. “That was kind of him.” Hoseok hopes that the kids won’t pick up on the strain in his face. “What agency?”

Jungkook starts to elaborate, but a yell interrupts him. “Kim Taehyung!” Hoseok whips around. “Stop slacking and – Hoseok-ah?”

“Kim Namjoon!” Hoseok almost launches himself at him and then remembers that the last time he did that, Namjoon stumbled and fell into a street stall loaded with rice cakes. Instead, he hugs Namjoon gently, though he can’t resist some enthused wiggling. Taehyung snaps a photo as Namjoon scrutinises him, eyes narrowed behind his glasses. He’s eschewed a shirt for a turtleneck. “You look like a college professor!”

Namjoon smiles broadly. “A hot one?”

Hoseok licks his finger, pretends to press it to Namjoon’s arm, and hisses. “Sizzling.”

Namjoon snorts at his antics. “Wait. Are you wearing makeup?”

Hoseok touches his face, staining his fingers with setting powder. He forgot. He spends so much time with his mask on that it feels like a second skin. “No idol goes near a camera without any makeup. Besides, I’m only wearing BB cream…” And lip balm, and subtle eyeliner, and a dusting of highlighter.

Namjoon shrugs. “C’mon, we can catch up after the photos, Seokjinnie wants one of us together.”

The hall is swarmed with people, dotted with waiters bearing trays of champagne flutes. Hoseok rejects a glass as Namjoon leads them to where Seokjin stands, besides the photographer and–

Yoongi. Dressed in a black suit with matching shirt and tie, he stares at him openly, too distracted to push up the glasses sliding down his nose, only looking away when they clatter to the ground.

Hoseok backs away, grabbing Taehyung’s arm to steady himself. Of course Yoongi would come to Seokjin’s wedding; if he invited Hoseok, why wouldn’t he invite Yoongi? His hair is black and overgrown, fringe grazing the upper rims of his glasses. It suits him. His suit strains around his biceps. Maybe he kept his promise and took care of himself. Too bad Hoseok can’t say the same.

“Are you – hyung!” Hoseok releases Taehyung abruptly and doubles back to grab two flutes of champagne. Taehyung makes as if to take one, but Hoseok downs both promptly. By the time Taehyung drags him back to the photographer, Seokjin has arranged the rest of the kids in a line. Hoseok ends up at one end, beside Jimin, with Taehyung is at the other, muttering in an ashen Yoongi’s ear.

“Say kimchi!” Hoseok smiles. He hopes it’s not as brittle as he feels. The flash blinds him and he blinks several times to clear his vision. Another tray of champagne floats by; he snags a flute and drinks it.

“Ease up.” Jimin deftly takes the glass from him and finishes it. Hoseok rolls his eyes at him. When he glances away, Yoongi is looking at him.

(Looking is too weak a word, but it’s the only one Hoseok has.)

“PD-nim!” Hoseok addresses him as the co-worker he is. Fake it ‘til you make it. “Fancy meeting you here!”

“Hoseok-sshi,” Yoongi says in an uncomfortably even voice. “Your performance was good.” His accent is worryingly present. He’s nervous.

“Only the best for Seokjin hyung,” Hoseok trills. Seokjin slings an arm around him and leads him to a table, the others following.

“I’m delighted you did it,” he tells him as they sit down. Yoongi hangs back, silent, and seats himself as far away from Hoseok as he can. “Mom can’t get angry at me over the vows now, because she can brag to her friends that an idol group performed at her son’s wedding.”

“Well played,” Namjoon says, awed. “Seokjin hyung, you said Hoseokie couldn’t make it. What happened?”

Seokjin can’t stay, his presence required at the top table, so Hoseok, to his friends’ great amusement, explains the fanmail mess. “I didn’t think idols read fanmail,” Namjoon confesses.

“Some don’t, but I read every letter I get. It’s an honour that people bother to sit down and go to the effort of writing a letter to me. When was the last time you got a handwritten letter?”

“Jungkookie wrote me one while I was in the army.” Jimin tickles his soulmate under the chin. “It was cute, but I couldn’t read half of it.”

“Why didn’t you write me one?” Taehyung frowns at Namjoon.

“I did,” Namjoon admits. “But, um, they sent it back to me because it broke the size restrictions.”

“How long was it?” Yoongi, having poured for everyone there as the oldest hyung, pushes a glass of wine towards him, and then toward Hoseok. Hoseok turns away politely as he takes a sip.

“Thirty-six pages…” Hoseok nearly spits up his wine, pressing a hand over his mouth to repress it. Namjoon shoots him a dirty look and drinks moodily, not bothering to turn away from Yoongi like he should.

Aided by the wine, they slip into conversation, taking occasional pauses to toast when the speeches call for them to, eat whatever fancy food is served to them (as a matter of fact, the rest eat; Hoseok is sticking to a liquid diet) and to ask for more wine.

He's pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to fall back into their old cadences, the shit-talking laced with affection, the toothless bickering, the running jokes they pretend to be sick of. He thought the new reality of his life, his overwhelming fame, would create a gulf between him and his friends that would be impossible to bridge, with him stranded on one side and Yoongi lost to the chasm and the rest of them on the other, but he worried for nothing. There is a gap, of course – he was largely absent from their lives for years, and he missed out on a lot. Namjoon is doing a PhD in something Hoseok can’t pronounce, Taehyung adopted a Pomeranian named Yeontan, and Jimin’s younger brother found his soulmate two months ago. They catch him up as best he can, but references go over his head, to people and places and experiences Hoseok was absent for. Yet there remains a space for him, and he fits it with slight discomfort.

When they press him, he tells them stories of his life as an idol and about the industry, omitting the more salacious parts, to Yoongi’s visible displeasure. When Hoseok glosses over particular incidents – his run-in with a Music Bank producer (whose phone is filled with the numbers of underage idols), the MC he helped up on the stage (who collapsed the moment the show finished), the eccentric nutritionist (who gave them supplements that made Sehyeon’s hair fall out) – he purses his lips and finishes what’s in his glass. How does he know, Hoseok wonders? Maybe that’s what the producers do when they’re stuck in the studio, gossip about their clients, who got surgery and who’s fucking who and who pissed off the CEO. Either that, or he’s closer to Ino than he thought.

Hoseok pokes at his beef as Taehyung rambles through an army story. It’s Hanwoo (Seokjin probably refused to serve anything as inferior as normal beef at his wedding), sweet and melt-in-the-mouth delicious, but as fatty as it comes. Hoseok can’t stomach it; he’s full of acid and bile, and the delighted laughter emanating from the top table makes him feel worse. What kind of awful person is so spiteful towards newlyweds? Jungkook is already finished; Hoseok quickly transfers his food from his plate to Jungkook’s. “I’m full,” he says, by way of explanation. Jungkook smiles broadly and digs in, nose wrinkling happily as he chews, his resemblance to a bunny clear enough that Hoseok can’t stop himself from petting his cheek. When he glances up, Yoongi looks unimpressed, lips pressed together tightly enough to render them bloodless. Hoseok hides behind his glass of wine in vain; it is, to his great dismay, empty.

Namjoon gestures at Jungkook’s overfull plate. “Are you on a diet, Hoseok-ah? Do you have a comeback soon?”

“Nope, but Kookie’ll appreciate it more than I will.”

“You could have Hanwoo daily if you wanted,” Taehyung mutters, pouting.

“I’ll send you some,” Hoseok reassures. “As a late birthday gift, okay?” Taehyung brightens up.

“Speaking of late things… When is your next comeback? It’s going to be tough to live up to As You Were…” Jungkook hums a bar or two.

“Ask PD-nim! I don’t have a clue.”

“PD-nim,” Jimin giggles. “That sounds funny!”

“That’s who he is! You should be respectful, Park Jimin.”

“PD-nim,” Jimin simpers. “When is the album coming out?” Yoongi shrugs, hunched over his wine. “Aw, c’mon. Tell me!”

“I can’t.”

“Why?” Jimin kicks him under the table.

Yoongi kicks him back with a growl. “Because I don’t know. It’ll be out when it gets finished.”

“You’re no fun.” Jimin throws himself over the back of the chair. “Hoseok hyung, you’ll help with the album, won’t you?”

“He won’t,” Yoongi says, at the same time Hoseok says, “I will.”

“Wait, what?” Yoongi whips around to face him.

“I mean, uh…” Oh, God, he wasn’t supposed to know that. Hoseok has had way too much to drink. “I’m practising a lot! I wrote some verses that Ino liked…”

Yoongi doesn’t look convinced. He opens his mouth, but Hoseok is saved by a rippling in the crowd. A squadron of servers heaves a wedding cake up in front of Seokjin. Heeyeon’s hand is on his shoulder as if to stop him from plunging into it head-first. Taehyung leaps out of his chair to follow the crowd and snap pictures of them cutting the cake; Hoseok takes the mass distraction as an opportunity and slips out into a back corridor.

Though he loves Seokjin, Hoseok can’t take this wedding any longer. He’s too drunk, too tired, and too fucking jealous. He grabs his phone, swipes past the irate texts from Manager Lee, and opens his chat with Ino. He doesn’t want to risk a taxi, given that he’s swaying gently on his feet and has nothing to conceal his identity.

Inoweiler

Today 5:57 PM
When are you collecting me?
What? Now??? Remember what we said about lives???

Hoseok is constructing an excuse when the door swings open behind him. He doesn’t need to look back to know who it is. He knows that walk.

“Hoseok-ah!” He tries to ignore the familiarity of the honorific as he turns around to face Yoongi. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I’m – I overate. I’m calling one of the kids to take me home.”

“Bullshit.” Hoseok’s jaw snaps shut as Yoongi advances on him. “You barely ate anything!”

“I ate before I came!” He had an energy bar. That counts, doesn’t it?

Inoweiler

Today 5:59 PM
I drank too much and I don't feel great
I’ll take the punishment if I get to lie down
Lightweight
I’ll get Manager Song to collect you
Thank you (o´ω`o)

“Hoseok-ah.” Yoongi addresses him with tenderness, taking care to lengthen the vowels. It makes Hoseok’s mind spiral to dangerous places, places where Yoongi has called him like that for the past three years.

Hoseok resorts, as he is accustomed to doing in these situations, to cold, hard manners. “I’d appreciate some professionalism, PD-nim.” Yoongi flinches away. Hoseok half-expects an echo of pain, but their bond is long dead. He feels nothing.

“If you’re leaving because of me…”

Hoseok heads him off. “I’m going to wait outside. If hyung asks, tell him that I wasn’t feeling well.”

He makes to leave, but Yoongi seizes his wrist. “Don’t.”

“Don’t what? PD-nim, let me go, seriously…” Yoongi ignores him, arm frozen, the strength of his grip enough to grind the bones together. Hoseok drops his speech. “Yoongi hyung…”

Yoongi stares, wide-eyed, at his hand, at how his fingers overlap where they hold Hoseok’s wrist. “You – you’re–”

“Let me go,” Hoseok pleads. “Please.”

Yoongi’s grip loosens enough for Hoseok to free himself. “You promised me you’d take care of yourself,” he accuses. “You’re wasting away!”

“I did take care of myself! I’m here, aren’t I?” Hoseok doesn’t think about what he went through that often, because when he does, he begins to wonder at how he’s alive. Yoongi should be impressed that he’s standing here mostly unchanged and largely healthy.

“Do you know how much you had to drink?”

“I don’t know and, I’ll be brutally honest with you, I don’t fucking care.” Hoseok’s point is undermined when he overbalances and collides with the wall; Yoongi grabs him by the elbows to steady him. Hoseok’s hands land on his forearms by reflex, and suddenly they are close, too close for comfort, breath mingling. Hoseok doesn’t know how long they stay there, both of them unwilling to shatter the fragile balance between them. Yoongi’s glasses slip down his nose, millimetre by millimetre. Hoseok wants to push them up. “You wear…”

“These?” Yoongi tilts his head back to readjust his glasses. “Yeah. That’s what happens when you spend twelve hours a day staring at a computer screen.”

“Weren’t you complaining at me about not taking care of myself?”

“There's a difference between wearing glasses when you get older and drinking two bottles of wine and four glasses of champagne in the space of four hours.”

Did he drink all that? No wonder his skin is itchy. “Give me a break. One of my best friends was getting married! What was I supposed to do?”

“Drink water?”

“Fuck off,” Hoseok mutters, yanking his arm away. “I get enough of the managers policing me. I don’t need you in on it.”

“Are you seriously going home?” Wounded is the only way Hoseok can describe Yoongi’s tone.

“Yes,” Hoseok says. “I – you’re right. I’m drunk, I can’t… I can’t do…”

“Do what?”

“This.” Hoseok gestures at Yoongi and the reception hall as he backs towards the door. “You. I can’t – I can’t sit here and clap for Seokjin with you down the table.”

“Don’t,” Yoongi starts, and Hoseok can hear his shoes clicking on the floor as he jogs after him. “It’s–” Hoseok heaves the door open, careening out into a flurry of white. “Snowing,” Yoongi finishes.

The flakes fall ponderously, shaded in peach by the setting sun lying in the cradle of the mountains, burnishing their peaks with luminous pink. Its rays catch the façade of the hotel and make it glow like a beacon. The frigid air sweeps Hoseok’s tipsiness and fatigue and distress away as if they were nothing more than cobwebs.

Hoseok ignores Yoongi’s bleating and stumbles out unsteadily, laying his hands out, palms facing up, to catch the flakes, the first snowfall he’s experienced this winter. The managers shuttle them from venue to vehicle to home, with scant room in between to breathe fresh air, let alone go out in inclement weather, but right now, he’s at liberty to stare, mutely, at the snowflakes landing in his hands. They’re minuscule yet perfectly formed, six spokes radiating out from their centre. Some are simple hexagons, and others are elaborate and lace-like, too symmetrical to be hand-made.

Hoseok is so enraptured by them that he fails to notice that Yoongi has caught up with him until he scoops one from Hoseok’s palm with the tip of his finger. It glistens for a second before it melts, the liquid it consisted of trickling down to his knuckles, Yoongi’s body heat too high for it to withstand.

“Go back inside,” Hoseok murmurs as the snow pile up in his hands.

“I won’t leave you alone,” Yoongi replies, staunch.

“Ah, seriously, it’s Jangchung. Nothing’s going to happen. Manager Song should be here soon.” He shakes the snow off his hands and dries them on his trousers. “Go inside. Get warm and drink some more. You look like you need it.”

“I’m staying,” Yoongi says, the stridency of his tone undercut by the chattering of his teeth.

“Tough talk coming from the dude who’s shivering.” Yoongi scowls and draws his suit jacket closely around himself. Hoseok eyes him critically. “Is that suit cotton?”

“What?” Yoongi plucks at it. “Am I supposed to know?”

Hoseok brushes his fingers against the fabric, as lightly as he can. Yoongi stiffens with surprise. “It is! Why would you wear a summer suit to a winter wedding? No wonder you’re shivering. Here, stay still.” Hoseok sheds his coat and, with what delicacy his inebriated self can muster, drapes it over Yoongi’s shoulders from behind. Tailored as it is for Hoseok, it doesn’t quite fit Yoongi’s broad shoulders, but it’ll do for now. Yoongi shrugs as it to give it back, but Hoseok presses it down onto his shoulders. “My suit is tweed. I’ll be fine.”

“Thank you,” Yoongi says, eventually, with ill grace. He tugs the lapels in. “S’warm,” he admits.

“Angora,” Hoseok grins. “Only the best.”

Yoongi tips his head back to look at him. His nose is ruddy with cold, and under the winter-pale skin of his neck, Hoseok can see the fine filigree of his body, muscles and bones and veins. His Adam’s apple bobs and Hoseok is too distracted by the motion to notice the hand raising to land on his own.

When he feels skin against his, his eyes snap up to Yoongi’s face. His glasses are icing over, but Hoseok can make out his eyes.

They are Hoseok’s eyes. The eyes reflected in the bathroom mirror when he wakes up after a nightmare, the eyes he glimpses in the reflective walls of the practice room when he can’t get choreo as right as he needs to, the eyes in fan-taken videos of moments when he thinks there are no cameras on him. They look hopeless.

“Hoseok-ah,” Yoongi whispers into the hushed snowfall, hand clenching his. “Please, tell me…”

Hoseok doesn’t find out what he’s supposed to tell him. An obnoxious horn shatters the silence, and as if woken from a dream, Hoseok jerks his head up and recognises immediately that the oncoming van is one of the company’s.

Yoongi’s hand presses down on his, but Hoseok cannot do this. Yoongi is not meant for him anymore. He leaps, slipping in the snow, and dodges Yoongi’s reaching hand to hurry into the van. He seizes the van’s door for purchase, grimacing as his ankle twists oddly. He wrenches the door open and clambers in awkwardly, settling on the seat opposite him, going into full-on defensive Hobi Hobi mode. “Manager-nim! Thanks for collecting me! Let’s go, let’s go!”

As instructed, Manager Song starts the engine. In the rear-view mirror Hoseok can see him squinting, and he wonders, with horror, if Manager Song will recognise Yoongi.

Mercifully, he doesn’t. The snow must be falling too thickly. “Who’s that?”

“An old friend.”

“What were you two doing?”

Uh-oh. Hoseok spins a shoddy lie. “He drank a lot, so I took him outside to freshen him up. He forgot to bring a coat and I don’t need mine anymore. I gave it to him to keep him warm.” Manager Song hums in acknowledgement. “How much trouble am I in?”

“Tons.” Hoseok groans dramatically and slides down the upholstery. “How much did you drink?”

“Only a glass or two,” Hoseok says, defensively.

“You’re bright red. Pull the other one.” Manager Song sighs as he merges into a main road. “Was it worth it?”

Was it? Hoseok thinks about the kids laughing together when Jungkook spat out an ornamental berry, the dimpled smile Namjoon pulled out for the photos, the limerent look on Seokjin’s face when Heeyeon walked up the aisle. He thinks about the warmth of Yoongi’s skin on his, the way his glasses settled askew no matter how fastidiously he adjusted them, the warp of the fabric of Hoseok’s coat across his shoulders.

“Totally!” Hoseok smiles his trademark Hobi smile.

“Then I’m glad you went. You deserve to blow off some steam. But drink less next time, okay? You know how sick it makes you.”

“I promise!”

Manager Song nods and and turns the radio on halfway through a news bulletin warning travellers to take care in the snow. Hoseok stares out at the dusk, at the snow flecking the pavement and cars and people, at the elegant rise of Seoul’s skyscrapers, studded with fluorescent light. His phone beeps and Hoseok fumbles it in his haste to check who the message is from.

It’s not Yoongi. He doesn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed.

Namjoonie

Today 6:27 PM
Are you okay? Hyung said you went home because you didn't feel well
I’m fine!!! Honest, I just drank too much
It was great to see you again
You too
I’ll send you the kids’ new numbers
Let’s actually stay in touch this time ㅋㅋㅋ
I’ll try!!!

He means it this time. He’s going to try. Namjoon – all of them – deserve a better Hoseok than the absentee one they’ve dealt with ever since he debuted, even if rebuilding their friendship means rebuilding his relationship with Yoongi. He is capable of this, or at least he hopes he is.

“Manager-nim…” Hoseok rests his chin on the back of Manager Song’s seat. “When is my next day off?”

Chapter Text

Seokjinnie

Today 3:08 AM
JUNG HOSEOK

What did I do this time

Wait you’re awake

What time is it there?

Three am

Don’t worry!!! You didn’t wake me up

Hoseok-ah…

You are not allowed to mother me while you’re on your honeymoon

What did I do?

I only checked the account we used for wedding presents now

You gave us FOUR MILLION WON

We specifically said small amounts of money!!!

That is small?

Don’t rub it in you filthy rich bastard

You’re literally in the Bahamas ㅋㅋㅋ

Be quiet

I can’t accept this kind of money

I’m not taking it back!!!

Do what you want with it it’s the least I could do

Donate it

Make it rain

Buy ugly vases for your entire family so they end up regifting them for eternity

ㅋㅋㅋ

ㅋㅋㅋ

It’s up to you

Leave me alone and go enjoy your honeymoon

ㅋㅋㅋ

Believe me I am

Hyung... tmi...

Go to sleep you idiot

Will do boss

Bossㅋㅋㅋ That's Heeyeonieㅋㅋㅋ

stop being so married!!!

ㅋㅋㅋ

“I'm not going in!”

Hoseok is met with six unimpressed faces. “Why?”

“Because I say so.”

“Hyung,” Marcel whines. “Come on, please. I want to hear what they've got ready!”

“Then go on without me! I'm too busy for this.” Sangjun scoffs at this statement. Hoseok shoots him a dirty look.

“Please, Hobi hyung,” Yeongsu wheedles. “PD-nim said he wouldn't go ahead without all seven of us.”

“And why did he say that?” Hoseok glares at Ino, who shrugs.

“I didn’t say anything to him. He asked for all seven of us by himself.”

Hoseok presses his lips together, mindful of the precarious position he is in. He can't let the kids get suspicious about his relationship with Yoongi, because it might get back to the company, and if it did, he would be in a world of shit. Better to give in for now. “Okay.”

He hangs back to let the others enter, but Jingwang places a hand on his shoulder and guides him into the studio to sit on the couch in the corner. Hoseok takes the seat farthest away from the central console. Aera waves at him with a smile; Heize is letting her produce something for her upcoming album. Another woman is perched on the edge of her chair, fiddling with a slider. There are many others present, but none he recognises. Probably other producers and sound engineers, all of them waiting on one Min Yoongi, who is fifteen minutes late.

Finally, as Hoseok is about to stand up and storm off, the door opens and the room quiets. Yoongi strides in, draped in expensive-looking black clothing, a Tom Ford laptop case held in one hand and a venti iced Americano in the other. No-one bows to him. He surveys the room silently as he finishes his coffee with his familiar feline gaze.

“Everyone is here, I see.” Yoongi settles into a large leather chair. “Good. Aera PD-nim, who's first?”

“Hajoon PD-nim.” Aera queues up a track. It starts, launching into a syrupy intro that puts Hoseok in mind of cheap candy. Yoongi lets it play for about thirty seconds before he makes a cutting gesture with his hand and Aera stops it.

“Hajoon PD-nim,” he says, evenly. “Who did you make this for? Because you certainly didn't make it for Polaris.”

“Suga PD-nim, didn’t you want love songs?”

“I did. I didn't want a Twice B-side.” Hajoon, shamefaced, leaves the studio. “Who's next?”

The session proceeds in the same fashion. A producer offers up a musical sacrifice on the altar of Yoongi's exacting perfectionism and rarely do they escape unscathed. In one case, Yoongi makes it about three seconds into a dated trap track before stopping it and asking its producer to sell it to Yang Hyunsuk instead. Once their offerings are rejected, the producer in question leaves. The room empties out rapidly, with only four producers left standing, before Hoseok's track is played.

“Blue Side,” Yoongi mumbles. “Who made this?”

“My friend Jinah,” Aera says. “She's couldn’t make it. She's sick.”

Yoongi looks unconvinced by Aera’s shoddy performance, but she plays the track anyway. Hoseok's husky guide vocals are replaced by an unfamiliar female voice, and the lyrics are non-specific, the meaning more implicit than it was before.

Hoseok is prepared for Yoongi to stop it, to wrinkle his nose in disgust, to scold Aera for making him listen to it.
He doesn't. He listens, intently, for the duration of the track. Ino grabs Hoseok's hand behind Jingwang's back as it ends, but Yoongi says nothing. He looks at Hoseok inscrutably, and Hoseok meets his gaze as blankly as he can. Yoongi turns his face away. “How many do we have, Aera PD-nim?”

“Including Blue Side? Six.”

“Six. Okay.” Yoongi sighs, longsuffering. “Start from the top.”

This time, it's more in-depth. Yoongi stops the tracks regularly to interrogate its producer, asking why they used this chord, what instrumentation would they use, who would suit this part. Everyone is free to offer input at any time, and they do. Aera confronts Yoongi at several points, proposing alterations that contravene his. Ino helps with the arrangement, pointing out parts which would suit the rappers. Even Jingwang contributes when he suggests they fade out a song instead of stopping it abruptly. Only Hoseok is silent, a vestigial part of the process by choice, quelling the ideas bubbling up in his mind.

Though he permits input from others, in the end, Yoongi's decision is final. During this arduous process, he rejects three out of the first five tracks, leaving him with two. When he accepts the fifth song, Hoseok braces himself for Yoongi to excoriate Blue Side, to point out its amateur production, its uninteresting progressions, its bland lyrics.

Instead, Yoongi rises. “That's it for today. I'll contact you if I need anything else.” Hoseok springs up to follow the others out, but as his foot crosses the threshold, his name is called. “Hope-sshi.”

“Yes?” Hoseok turns to face him. Yoongi's face is expressionless as he saves Blue Side to the company’s shared drive, the spinner disappearing as the upload completes.

“Come with me, please.”

He says please, but Hoseok knows an order when he hears it. The members eye him and Yoongi, sensing the tension between them. Hoseok throws Ino a pleading look, but he is ignored. He could make a fuss, but the kids are watching. His hands are tied, and thus he waits as Yoongi gathers up his things. “Where to?”

Wordlessly, Yoongi leads him out of the main studio and to the door of his studio. He enters the passcode, shielding it with his hand; the door unlocks with a beep. He opens it and Hoseok steps in gingerly, surveying the room.

It's cosier than Hoseok imagined it would be. The floor is covered with an old-fashioned rug that Hoseok is certain Yoongi stole from his mother. The desk is cluttered with musical paraphernalia, monitors and speakers and beat machines and headphones and mics. Figurines of Kumamon and Michael Jordan flank an expansive keyboard, and in the corner, there is a plush black couch scattered with blankets and pillows. A black-out curtain hangs on the door. Yoongi told him, back when they – when they – he told him that he prized his privacy, given that he hadn’t had any growing up. Until his brother left for college, they were forced to share a bedroom. The lock, the doorbell, the black-out curtain; they are walls. Yoongi is, after all, accustomed to building them.

“Take off your shoes.” Hoseok toes off his Fendi loafers and accepts a pair of slippers.
Yoongi sets his laptop down and flips it open as he sits down, leaving Hoseok to sweat as he logs in. He connects an aux cable to the laptop's audio jack.

“Hoseok-ah.” The spinner rotates smoothly as the song loads. “Why did you lie to me?”

“About what?”

The song plays as Yoongi swivels around. “This.”

Hoseok could protest, but the conviction in Yoongi's eyes tells him that that would be a futile endeavour. They stay there, locked in a stalemate, as the song plays itself to completion. “Did Aera PD…?”

“Don't be stupid. Aera noona didn't tell me anything. Of course I knew it was you.” The song loops again. “You're my soulmate.”

Yoongi says ‘my soulmate’ like a mother says ‘my child’, with absolute belief in his possession. It sears through Hoseok’s stomach. “Yoongi hyung! Don’t – what if – someone could hear!”

Yoongi scowls at him. “You really think I’m stupid. The room is soundproofed.”

“Still…”

“Still?”

Hoseok breathes in and says, quietly; “You were.”

“What?” Yoongi leans forward in his chair. “Speak up.”

“You – you were. I'm not your soulmate anymore.”

Yoongi stares at him, mouth open. Hoseok wants to grab his chin and close it. Hoseok wants to leave this room. Hoseok wants to hear him call him his soulmate again.

Before Hoseok does it for him, Yoongi closes his mouth. He rubs his neck with his hand, a familiar gesture; he does it when he needs to put his words together with care. “Fate picked me for you, and you for me. Severing the bond didn’t change that.”

“No.” Hoseok is taken aback by the vehemence in his own tone. “It changed everything. Don’t – you know what you told me once? ‘Fuck fate.’ We did. Fate brought us together, and we tore ourselves apart. We’re not soulmates. We’re not even friends. We’re co-workers. That’s it.”

Hoseok expects Yoongi to crumble, as he would; to get angry, to call him those terrible things he did when they first bonded, as the Yoongi he knew would have done.

Yoongi doesn’t react. It’s as if he is stone or steel or plastic, not living, breathing flesh. “Co-workers,” he echoes. “Okay. I can do that. Can you?”

“I – what?” Yoongi spins around to the computer, navigating between windows.

“Come here.” Hoseok does, bending his body awkwardly to put as much space between them as possible, as if he is nothing more than tinder and Yoongi an open flame. “Look.”

It’s a folder of demos. Hoseok recognises the names of album tracks that Yoongi worked on, with version numbers appended. Others are named after dates, 171204, 180402, 190726. Some are simple key smashes or strings of words, like ‘the beatles without fringes’ or ‘shareholders stuff’ or ‘aera is a crazy bitch.mp3’. “What am I supposed to be looking at?”

“The dates.” Hoseok redirects his attention and realises that as time goes on, the demos grow sparser. In the months Hoseok spent as a trainee, there are dozens, sometimes multiple made in a single week, and the bulk of them complete, three minutes or longer. He stays productive into the first year of debut, but into the second, the demos grow infrequent, one a week, one every two weeks, one a month…

In the past four months, Yoongi has made one piece of music, exactly fifty-eight seconds long. Hoseok plays it without asking permission and listens to the aural equivalent of a skeleton – no vocals, sparse beats, bare instrumentation. A scaffolding for nothing.

Hoseok turns to look at Yoongi, who meets his gaze dolefully, and understands. “Your OCD.”

“I’m making things,” Yoongi admits, navigating to his trash folder. It is a graveyard of sound files, the longest twelve seconds, with such honest names as ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’ and ‘motherfucking cunt ass bitch’. “But they’re not good enough. Not any longer. I can’t – I can’t live up to my own standards. It was manageable for the last couple of albums because I was able to recycle material, but I have nothing left.”

“What are you going to do? Is there medication you can take? Therapy you can go to?”

Yoongi shakes his head. “Not for this. The only thing that’s worked is…”

“Is what?”

“You,” Yoongi says, plainly. “Blue Side. When I heard it – it was all could do not to kick you out and get my hands on a synthesiser. In fact, I’m hoping we can wrap this up quick so I can get to that.”

Hoseok rolls his eyes. The music comes first. Always has, always will. “What do you want me to do? I have other stuff I can send you…”

“No,” Yoongi interrupts. “That’s not enough. Have you ever heard of a muse?”

“Muse? Like the band?”

“No, like… an inspiration. Like, Courtney Love was Kurt Kobain’s muse, and Yoko Ono was John Lennon’s…”

“I’m not gonna be your girlfriend! You think I’m gonna do a bed-in with you?”

“That’s not what it means!” Yoongi stands up, and Hoseok takes an unconscious step back. “I – I need to work with you or this album won’t get made.”

“If you’re not capable of it, get someone else to make it.”

“No fucking way. I’m the main producer, and this is my responsibility. Do you know,” Yoongi says, lowly, “what I’ve done to get this far? What I’ve given up?” His eyes drag up Hoseok’s body, and he feels the inane urge to cover himself, even though he’s fully clothed. “It’ll only be a couple hours a few times a week. You can do that, right? I’ll co-credit you on the tracks. You’ll get royalties.”

Hoseok hesitates. “What about… what about… what will management say?”

“I’ll take care of them. It’s either you and an album or no album.” That’s the ultimatum. Yoongi’s expression softens minutely. “I need you. Please.”

Please. One tiny word, previously impossible to coax out of him. “I… I’ll do it.”

“You will?” Yoongi brightens.

“Under certain conditions. If management want us to stop, we stop. I’m – this won’t jeopardise my career. And the kids… Ino is already suspicious, and the others will figure it out – they know me too well. Don’t talk about me with them.”

“Alright.” Yoongi pauses. “The kids,” he says, imitating Hoseok’s unique intonation. “You call them that?”

“That’s what they are. I’m responsible for them. If I fuck up, they get in trouble. That’s why…” Hoseok is not cruel, but he is realistic. “We can’t go back to the way things were. What we had. I’m not just Hoseok anymore, and you’re not just Yoongi.”

The glee, so briefly present, so beautiful, leaves Yoongi’s face. “I know. Co-workers.”

“Co-workers,” Hoseok echoes. He pulls out his phone and unlocks it. “Give me your number.”

“It’s the same,” Yoongi says, confused.

“I lost it,” Hoseok fibs. He deleted it. Yoongi reels off the numbers; Hoseok saves him, after a moment, as Suga PD. He sends him a quick text and Yoongi’s phone dings. “I’ll send you my schedule and you can work it out.”

Yoongi nods, mute. Hoseok takes his silence as a dismissal. He slips his shoes back on and heads to the door. He’s unlocking it when Yoongi calls his name a final time. “Hoseok-ah…”

Hoseok turns around. Yoongi is leaning on one side of his chair, eyes deep with something Hoseok will not name. “What?”

“Well done,” he says. “On Blue Side. It’s beautiful.”

I wrote it about you, he wants to say. He doesn’t. “Thank you, PD-nim.”

Hoseok leaves, on autopilot. He doesn’t look back, even as he gets into the lift, as he walks into his own studio and, for once in his life, locks the door.

“Muse,” he says, to himself. “Bullshit.” He wakes his computer up and opens up an incognito window to ask Naver what a muse is. The results talk of Greek mythology, accompanied by classical paintings of women with creamy thighs and rather little on. With a little digging, he uncovers Yoongi’s meaning; artists and their models, poets and their lovers, singers and their affairs. They are, invariably, female and in love with their patron, or at least sexually involved.

Hoseok scrolls through painting after painting after painting, seething. If Yoongi tricked him into this – into rekindling what is rightfully dead – Hoseok will have no qualms in outing him to management. He meant what he said. He is greater than Hoseok now, and there is too much on his shoulders to risk loving someone, especially Yoongi.

The problem is that Yoongi didn’t sound like he was lying, and Hoseok knows he wouldn’t lie to him over something this big. He has faith in him. The paintings of muses spill down the pages, their faces lovingly rendered, young forever, like dragonflies in amber.

“Fuck,” Hoseok sighs. He doesn’t have a choice, does he? He never does. It’s work with Yoongi and get an album, or refuse and lose the momentum they’ve built with their blood, sweat and tears.

 

He needs to clear his head. Gain some perspective. He needs to talk to someone who has no stake in his career, who won’t bully him into making a choice he’s not sure about. Someone he trusts.

 

Namjoonie

Today 1:18 PM
Namjoon-ah~~~

Are u free tonight?

No ㅜㅜ

ㅜㅜ

Tomorrow? Early?

Ooh yes!!!

I need ur brain

You can have my brain

What’s left of it anyway

ㅋㅋㅋ

I need to get a present for my dad’s birthday

Do you know anywhere that sells books? Like first editions and rare copies and stuff

I know just the place

“Namjoon-ah?” Hoseok stretches up on his toes to get a clearer view of the lane. “Kim Namjoon? Where are you?”

“Here!” Hoseok glimpses a hand, waggling in the air; it is attached to an arm clad in a powder-blue raincoat, the exact same shade as the bookstore’s exterior.

Hoseok jogs up to him. “Why are you wearing camouflage? Are you trying to blend in?”

Namjoon scowls at him. “Like you're any better. Do you want people to notice you?”

“No?” Hoseok adjusts his facemask self-consciously. He's dressed as nondescriptly as possible, in unbranded clothes a couple months behind the trend, with a face mask, bucket hat, and sunglasses obscuring his face. As accustomed as he is to wearing designer clothes head-to-toe, it's a sure-fire way to get himself noticed, and today, he'd like privacy. 

Namjoon pokes the brim of his hat up until his eyes are visible, pulls his facemask down under his chin, and removes his sunglasses. “There. Now you don't look like an undercover celebrity.” Hoseok tries to pull the facemask back up, but Namjoon stops him.

“Ah, whatever. Nobody will look at me while you're wearing that jacket anyway. Where on Earth did you get it? Can I borrow it? We’re having a fashion terrorist competition for our next V Live.”

“Hey…” Namjoon's bottom lip sticks out. Uh oh. Hoseok heads off the fit of moping that is sure to follow by elbowing Namjoon out of the way to pay the entry fee and get them coffee.

Once they are appropriately caffeinated, they wander through the stacks, Namjoon halting every few paces like a curious dog. Daeo Bookstore is the oldest second-hand bookstore in Seoul, recently opening sales after years of being a glorified coffee shop, and Hoseok asked Namjoon here under the guise of wanting his help to pick out a birthday gift for his father.

In reality, Hoseok is scouting. It’s evident from the way the kids talked that they kept in touch with Yoongi. He needs to figure out what they know. Do they know that the wedding was the first time he’s met Yoongi since they were separatedl? Did Yoongi say anything about him to them? How obvious was he at the wedding?

“Which one?”

“Huh?” Hoseok takes in the stack of books in Namjoon’s arms. “Wow, you found this many already? It’s only been half an hour.”

“I picked out the books I would want,” Namjoon admits. “C’mon, let’s sit down.”

Namjoon leads him out into an enclosed courtyard. There are people here already; a girl plays a battered guitar while her friend sings, the other customers observing quietly. Hoseok keeps his face turned away as he sits down on a free bench. Namjoon plops the books down between them, and Hoseok examines the volumes one by one as Namjoon rambles on about them. The books are worn, inside and out, but his father will like that. He never buys new furniture if he can help it. Their kitchen table is his grandmother’s, handmade from a slab of zelkova wood hewn from a tree from his grand-uncle’s farm, and their crockery was a set bought by his mom’s family for their wedding in the eighties.

“Which one do you like the best?” Namjoon indicates a volume of poetry in a pale green jacket. Hoseok sets that one aside and goes back through the books. “This one,” Hoseok says, eventually. It is, as far as Namjoon could tell, an original edition of Three Generations.

“Good choice.” Namjoon picks up the rest of the books. “Wait here, I’ll put these back.”

Hoseok watches him duck back into the shop and braces himself for the inevitable crash-bang of Namjoon knocking something. To distract himself, he opens the book he picked; it’s a collection of Kim Sowol’s poetry. Hoseok smiles to himself. Namjoon has grown immensely since the first day they met. Back then, he wouldn’t be caught dead reading a book like that. It wouldn’t be hip-hop, or, more accurately, it wouldn’t fit his notions of what hip-hop was.

He hears a loud thump from inside the shop and the music stops abruptly as everyone stares. Hoseok can hear Namjoon apologising profusely. He shakes his head and goes back to the poetry.

Namjoon returns shortly, looking dispirited. He settles down beside him with a self-pitying sigh. “What happened?”

“Knocked a stand of postcards.” Namjoon tugs Hoseok’s hand to the side. “Is that the one I picked?”

When you leave, weary of me, without a word I shall let you go,” Hoseok reads. “You sap.”

“Like you’re not as bad as me.” Namjoon takes the book from him gently. There’s a gentle look in his eyes, not unlike the one he gives Taehyung.

“Are you…?”

“Dating? It’s complicated.” Namjoon flips the cover back and forth. “We were kinda serious, but her mom is sick, and she needed space.” Hoseok pats his shoulder in commiseration. “Love is hard.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Do you… do you have a dating ban?” Namjoon sounds hesitant, as if everyone and their mother doesn’t know about idol dating bans.

Hoseok shakes his head. “It expired in… December? That doesn’t make any difference. I’m way too busy to give a partner the attention they deserve, and it’d be risky.” Hoseok lowers his voice. “My mom caught a journalist going through her rubbish after I visited them last Chuseok. He claimed he was from the district council and that he was checking to see if she did her recycling properly. He ran away when she rang them.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“That’s not the weirdest thing that’s happened. One fan named her pet mouse after Sangjunie, because he looks like one, and when it passed away she cremated it and sent him its ashes.”

“Oh my God.”

“The managers caught it first – they screen our gifts – but we found out anyway. Sangjunie won’t wear animal ears at fansigns anymore.”

“The more you talk,” Namjoon says, faintly nauseated, “the happier I am that BigHit let me go.”

Hoseok lets out a bark of laughter. “It’s crazy! But I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

“I’m glad you’re happy. I was so worried when you stopped talking to us. Yoongi hyung wouldn’t tell us what was going on, only that you were busy and to keep trying. You are happy, right?”

“Not always,” Hoseok admits. “But I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve learned a lot. I produce music now! Can you believe that? One of my songs might be on our new album.”

“That’s cool! Did hyung help you?”

“Uh… not really.”

“What? Why?”

“He’s busy.” Hoseok shrugs. “He’s our lead producer. He doesn’t have the time to teach me how to make loops and shit.”

Namjoon scoffs in disbelief. “Hyung would never be too busy for you.”

Hoseok doesn’t respond. The musicians have stopped playing to rehydrate. One glances up and Hoseok doesn’t look away in time; she recognises him, eyes going wide, and spits up water all over her friend.

Oh, fuck. She’ll want an autograph and possibly a selfie for Twitter and Hoseok is not having his day ruined by sasaengs. “Let’s go,” Hoseok mutters, tugging on Namjoon’s shoulder. “Hurry up, c’mon.”

Unquestioning, Namjoon scoops up the two books and scurries after him as Hoseok wends his way through the shop. He sets the books on the counter and waits impatiently for the ajummas behind the counter to find their inventory numbers. Finally, after what feels like an aeon, he taps his black card and, after she bags the books tortuously slowly, Hoseok and Namjoon escape from the store.

Not fast enough, it turns out. Namjoon is opening his mouth, presumably to ask him what on earth is happening, when the girls catch up with him. “Hobi oppa?”

Hoseok spins around and presses a finger to his mouth. “It’s me,” he says, as quietly as he can.

“I knew it,” the guitarist hisses to the singer. “No-one else has a nose like that!”

Namjoon snorts behind his hand. “I was listening to you two in the courtyard,” Hoseok says, heading off a possible confrontation between the two teenagers. “You were amazing.”

This is one of Hoseok’s favourite parts of being an idol; the power to make peoples’ days with a sincere word or two. He takes care to compliment each fan he meets, telling them that he likes their hair or that they did their makeup well or that their voice is pretty, and it never fails to make them smile. He likes making people smile – loves it, even. Smiles mean happy, and Hoseok is nothing if not a people-pleaser.

The vocalist blushes. “Th-thank you,” the guitarist stutters. “I – uh–” Overcome, she hides her face.

“It’s okay,” Hoseok soothes, recognising the signs of an imminent freak-out. Meeting their idols can overwhelm fans, and he has a tried and true solution. He holds out his hands to them.

The girls gape at him. He wonders what’s going through their heads right now. Do they appreciate his gesture of support? Are they panicking about holding an idol’s hand? Or are they thinking, is this it? Is he my soulmate?

Tentatively, they take his hands, the guitarist biting her lip, the vocalist’s eyes screwed shut, but, of course, nothing happens. Hoseok will never have a soulmate. The guitarist’s shoulders slump, and when the vocalist opens her eyes, she looks terribly disappointed. Hoseok smiles ruefully. “What are your names?”

“Kwak Subin,” the guitarist says.

“Hyun Jiyeong,” the vocalist adds.

“Subin-ah, Jiyeong-ah, it’s nice to meet you, but I’m afraid I have to go.”

“Can we take a selfie?”

“I can’t. I’m sorry, it’s against company policy.” Jiyeong deflates. “But I can sign something?”

“Oppa…” Subin holds up her guitar. “Can you sign this?”

“Of course! Do you have a marker?”

It transpires that they don’t, but Namjoon comes to the rescue with a Sharpie. Hoseok releases the girls’ hands and scribbles his signature, taking care to make it as neat as he did when he was a rookie. The girls stare at it, awestruck. At least Hoseok knows they won’t flip this one.

“Can you do me a huge favour?” The girls nod furiously. “Please don’t put this online until tomorrow. I don’t want… you know…” His meaning is implicit.

“We won’t, we promise.”

“Thank you!” He pulls out his full sunshine smile, and the girls melt. “It was nice to meet you!” Hoseok bids them goodbye with a wave. When they’ve disappeared, Hoseok judges it safe to stop smiling. Namjoon examines him contemplatively. “What?”

“It’s weird seeing you in idol mode.”

“I’m always in idol mode.”

“On TV or whatever, yeah. But never in person. It’s like… I realised that you really are J-Hope. It’s difficult to reconcile the guy you see on TV with…” Namjoon waves his hands at him vaguely. “Like, I’ve seen you do incredibly stupid shit. Remember the time you and Seokjin made toffee popcorn when you were drunk?”

Hoseok does. Seokjin convinced him to do the toffee and the popcorn at the same time. There is nothing as scary as boiling hot sugar, except for popcorn missiles covered in it. “It was Seokjin’s fault. Come on, I need to get wrapping paper.”

Namjoon, being more familiar with the ins-and-outs of this corner of Seoul than he, leads him to a newsagent. Hoseok selects tasteful green paper and sweet-talks the ajumma behind the counter into wrapping the two books separately.

Job done, they wander down the empty streets aimlessly, chatting about nothing in particular. The day is overcast, to Hoseok’s advantage, as the threat of rain that looms over the city traps its denizens indoors, giving him the opportunity to revel in the normality of shopping in Seoul with a friend. The last time he went shopping in person, with Yeongsu in Hong Kong, they were mobbed, and the managers ended up rescuing them from a tea shop they took refuge in.

They find themselves, eventually, in Sajik Park. Hoseok and Namjoon debate hiking up Mount Inwang, but it’s getting on in the day, and Hoseok is on a short leash after the kids dumped him at the wedding. On the outskirts of the park, Namjoon, after a brief tussle over who’s going to pay (which he wins when it transpires that the vendor doesn’t have contactless), buys two steamed sweet potatoes, and they sit down under the bare cherry trees, too shy to blossom, as they wait for them to cool enough to eat.

“You know,” Namjoon starts, as a wary Hoseok watches an ant traverse the bench, “How do you feel about your fans? Do you like them? Or do you hate them?”

Trust Namjoon to ask the tough questions. The ant swerves away from him to crawl down the bench’s leg. “It’s hard to generalise. They’re a pretty diverse group. Like, you have sasaengs, of course, and akgaes, and the fansite masters can be iffy, but none of that matters when you meet them.” Hoseok tests the sweet potato; it is yet too hot to eat.

“Why not?”

“When you look at Taehyung, don’t you see in his eyes that he loves you no matter what?”

“I wouldn’t say no matter what,” Namjoon equivocates. “He loves Tanie more than me right now.”

“Don’t quibble.” Hoseok pelts him with a piece of sweet potato skin. Namjoon lets out a cry and brushes frantically at the sleeve of his ugly coat. “They love us. They might not have loved us for long, and they might not love us in a year’s time, but right there and then, they adore us. And then, if you’re their bias…” Hoseok whistles. “It’s like they’re having a come-to-Jesus moment.” Not that that happens often for Hoseok, who is the least popular member by far, but when it does, there’s no high like it.

“And you’re Jesus?”

“You’re the one who said it,” Hoseok purrs.

“Stop, you’re giving me goosebumps. What you’re saying is… the love makes it worthwhile?”

“I wouldn’t say that. But it definitely makes it easier.”

Namjoon regards him with calculated blankness, betrayed by the prominent jut of his jaw. “All that love,” he says casually. “Is it real enough for you?”

“Real enough?”

Namjoon digs around in his pockets, extracting a wallet of photos, the kind Hoseok’s mother keeps buried in the dresser at home with the eventual intention of putting them into albums. “Taehyung gave me copies of a couple of the candids he developed,” Namjoon mutters, sorting through them. “Here.” He slips two photos out and passes them to Hoseok, who juggles his sweet potato for a while before getting a look at the photo.

It is a shot of their table, strewn with confetti and empty wine glasses. Photo Namjoon faces the camera, mouth open as if to call Taehyung over. Photo Jimin laughs unselfconsciously, arms thrown wide, wine sloshing out of his glass. Photo Jungkook smiles at him fondly. Photo Yoongi is mid-eye roll, the quirked corner of his lips betraying his amusement.

Hoseok sees pictures of himself daily, on search portals, on his Twitter feed, at photo shoots. He knows each permutation of his face, the difference between a real smile and a fake smile, a commanding stare and a seductive stare, a joking grimace and a genuine one.

Photo Hoseok stares at Photo Yoongi baldly, fingers slack around the stem of his wine glass, mouth slightly ajar. This look is foreign to him. It is the look of someone who desperately wants something they cannot have.

Hoseok shuffles the next photo up, taken a minute later. Photo Namjoon is dimpling at Taehyung. Photo Jimin is mid-wail, his wine having spilt out of his glass and onto his shirtsleeve. Photo Jungkook attempts in vain to console him. Photo Hoseok is laughing, face screwed up, one finger pointing at Jimin.

Photo Yoongi looks at Photo Hoseok with unending tenderness, smile gentle, body angled towards him like a sunflower following the sun, the most natural thing in the world. It’s vulnerable; it makes Hoseok want to cover him up, to protect him from harm.

Hoseok returns the photos to Namjoon without comment. Namjoon slips them back into the wallet, taking a bite from the potato, now cool enough to eat.

“Did he tell you?”

“No. The kids don’t know, but they’ll figure it out, and when they do…” Namjoon lets the sentence trail off, its meaning implicit. Hoseok doesn’t need his friend’s well-intentioned meddling. There are enough people wedged into the vagaries of Hoseok’s life as it is. “You should make up with him, for both of your sakes.”

“Easier said than done,” Hoseok mutters.

“Isn’t everything?”

When they finish their food (Hoseok feeds the last of his to the ducks), they walk back to the bus stop. Namjoon’s supervisor wants to talk to him about his dissertation, and Hoseok’s appointment with his physiotherapist is in an hour.

“You’ll be okay getting the bus there?”

“I’m an idol, not a child.” Hoseok glimpses Namjoon’s bus heading towards them. “Here, take this.”

It’s the book of poetry Namjoon picked out earlier. He accepts it and admires the wrapping paper. “Thanks. Let me know if your dad likes his birthday present.”

“Will do!” The bus arrives, and Namjoon boards. Hoseok waves him off, watching as it disappears into traffic.

When Hoseok’s bus arrives, it is mercifully empty. He picks a seat at the very back and pulls his facemask up. He unlocks his phone, catches up on various group chats, checks his Twitter, plays a dumb game for a few rounds, and ends up in his contacts.

 

Suga PD

Today 3:24 PM
I’m free the day after tomorrow between one and four

That'll work

See you then

“See you then,” Hoseok mumbles, in lieu of an actual response. He puts his phone away and watches the city pass by, anticipation curdling in his stomach.

Chapter Text

“Five, six, seven…”

Polaris’ personal trainer is a lovely man. He is soft-spoken, he knows their limits and he never pushes them too hard.

All the same, by the tail end of their daily session, in the middle of a punishing round of one-armed press-ups made tougher by the stand under Hoseok’s feet, he wants to kill him.

“Eight, nine, ten… Sangjun-ah, straighten up.”

Sangjun mutters an apology. Hoseok contemplates what method he’d use. Poison? Brute force?

“Eleven, twelve, thirteen… I saw that, Yeongsu-yah.”

Yeongsu curses and shifts. Would the kids help him hide the body?

“Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, nearly there…”

Liar. Finally, they reach thirty, and they collapse onto the floor as one, a mess of sweaty boy. The trainer claps Hoseok on the shoulder. “Good job, Hoseok-ah. Will you help me to get them to stretch?”

Hoseok does as he’s told, quashing his murderous intent by pulling hard on a squawking Sehyeon’s arm. They play rock-paper-scissors for the shower as they stretch; Hoseok comes fourth, behind Yeongsu, Jingwang and Ino, which means he’ll have hot water if he’s quick about it. At least Marcel didn’t win. Hoseok doesn’t know what that child does in the shower to waste water. As he waits, the trainer comes over to check his thigh. “How was physio yesterday?”

“Okay. It hurts less now.” Hoseok injured his thigh back during their debut while performing on a rain-soaked stage. It flares up from time to time, but physical therapy sorts it, though it wasn’t as effective this time. He needs to get more sleep.

The trainer examines it, prodding at the muscles. Hoseok does his best not to react, and the trainer seems satisfied. “Keep an eye on it.”

In the locker room attached to the studio, Hoseok showers rapidly in the hopes of leaving enough hot water for the kids. When he emerges, dripping all over the floor, Sangjun nearly bowls him over in his haste to flee Sehyeon’s sweaty pits. Hoseok contemplates pursuing him to scold him, but the heat of the shower has left him too relaxed for discipline.

“We’re free until four, aren’t we?” Yeongsu grabs his bags. “Does anyone wanna do a V Live?”

“We did one two days ago,” Marcel whines. “I don’t wanna have to translate the stupid English comments again.”

“Hobi hyung should do one,” Jingwang says. “He hasn’t done a non-group one since before the last comeback, and he’s never done one on his own.”

Hoseok was hoping no-one would notice his lack of participation, but with Jingwang in the group, there was never any chance of that. “Maybe another time. I’m busy.”

“Liar,” Sehyeon moans from the floor. Hoseok steps lightly on his arm until Sehyeon squeaks and rolls away.

“One of the producers wants me to help them.”

“Help them?” Ino’s brows furrow. “Do they want to learn how to dance?”

“I can do other stuff besides dance,” Hoseok says, nettled. “Like make music.” He is met with five blank stares. “Aish. Here.” He rifles through his bag and pulls out a wad of cash, kept in his bag due to his mother’s fears that the card networks will go down and he’ll be left cashless, which he hands to Ino. “Go feed them. I want receipts. Don’t eat carbs or you’ll be bloated for the photoshoot.” Ino accepts it, watching Hoseok acutely as he leaves.

Ino is a problem. Always has been. Hoseok wonders, from time to time, if it was wise to debut him in a group. He would have flourished as a soloist in the k-hip-hop scene. Idol life chafes at Ino, though Hoseok does his best to protect him, and he knows how the company views him; talented, but unpredictable. An unknown variable. Hoseok has done his best for as long as he can to take the blame for Ino’s indiscretions, his rash nature, his bluntness, but one day he’ll hit a limit and even Hoseok’s prodigious damage control skills will come up short.

The trip down to the studios takes what feels like years. Hoseok is acutely aware of each camera trained on him, ducking his head, taking quieter corridors where he won't be waylaid by well-meaning managers. His route takes him by the trainee studios, and Hoseok watches, for a second, the kids that will replace him when Polaris has run its course. There’s buzz about one of them, a trained ballerina from mainland China who is a full zodiac cycle younger than Hoseok. The last time Hoseok saw him, he was talking to a group of girl trainees, and Hoseok couldn’t pick him out.

He arrives at Yoongi’s door exactly on time and pauses to fuss at his hair in its dark reflection. He smiles, but it makes him look as if he has rigor mortis. He takes a deep breath and raises his hand to ring the doorbell when the door bangs open to reveal an exasperated Yoongi. Hoseok stumbles away, back colliding painfully with the opposite wall.

Yoongi extends his hand. “Are you going to come in, or are you gonna do your makeup out there?”

“How – how did you–?”

“I have a video doorbell. I'll buy you a hand mirror for next time.” Yoongi smirks.

Hoseok takes his hand and pulls himself up, doing his best not to yelp at the twinge in his thigh. He enters and kicks off his shoes of his own volition, laying them neatly beside Yoongi’s old man sandals. “Seriously? It’s February.”

“They’re comfortable.” Yoongi drags over a desk chair for Hoseok. “Be careful with the chair, it’s Aera’s old one. She threw it at a wall and broke it. I fixed it, but treat it gently.”

Hoseok settles into the chair gingerly, scooting it slowly up to the desk. Yoongi grabs the keyboard and the mouse and wakes the TV-sized wall monitor. Hoseok watches as he navigates to the folder he was in the last time, which is less barren now. Yoongi clicks on a demo titled ‘shakira shakira’. Hoseok barely represses a snort. “Shut up.”

It is, as the name suggests, a Latin-inspired track, melding requinto guitar with a synth bossa nova rhythm and jaunty marimba. Hoseok waits to be asked to contribute, but Yoongi ignores him as he fiddles with beat sequences, rearranges sections, and adds notes and removes them. At one point, he pauses and turns to him, and he prepares his opinions (pitch the intro down unless he wants them to screech through it, double up on the bass in the second verse, lengthen the bridge) but he doesn’t look at him, eyes aimed vacantly at his shoulder.

“PD-nim?”

Yoongi scoots away to his keyboard and picks out a few notes. “Huh.”

“PD-nim?”

“What? You want a drink?”

“No,” Hoseok says, confused. “Don’t you want me to help you?”

“Oh, yeah.” Yoongi waves a hand at him. “What do you think?”

“Could you pitch the intro down? None of us can get that high.”

“I can auto-tune it,” Yoongi dismisses. “Or use a vocoder, that would be interesting…”

That’s fine for a CD, but reaching that note live will be hell. Yoongi mutters about multiplexers as he scribbles in his notebook.

“About the second verse… isn’t it a bit thin? Would you strengthen the bass?”

Yoongi shakes his head. “No, that would disrupt the song.”

“Then what…”

“I’ll give it to Jingwang and Ino.” Yoongi notes down their names. “They can do an interplay kind of thing. They’ve got good tone.”

“Then, the bridge, doesn’t it end abruptly? Couldn’t you lengthen it?”

“No. Might shorten it, actually. More impactful. Don’t want the song to wander. You can fit in there.”

The bridge is ten seconds long. The whole thing is three minutes and fifty seconds. Hoseok blinks. “But – but–”

“But what?” Yoongi’s eyes are hard. “That’s a good part for you.” Hoseok doesn’t want to whine about line distribution thirty minutes into the session, so he keeps his mouth shut. “You’re good at trap-style rapping.”

“Okay,” Hoseok acquiesces.

Yoongi tools around with the song for another couple of minutes before moving onto the next one. Hoseok observes his process, so different from his, with sharp eyes. His own style is haphazard. He sequences chords and develops rhythms and arranges melodies without much thought, the production equivalent of throwing something at a wall and seeing what sticks. The result is that he ends up scrapping the majority of what he makes and starting from the beginning to go in a radically different direction. It’s not particularly efficient, but Hoseok likes the freedom his workflow grants him and how the tracks surprise him in their development, often ending up completely different from his vision of them.

Yoongi is, as usual, nothing like him; meticulous, ordered, thorough. There’s a small notebook he refers to regularly, and when Hoseok peeks at it he deciphers various concepts and ideas. He supposes that Yoongi uses it to guide his vision and keep him on track. Yoongi works according to the scientific method, altering one thing at a time, saving each minute like clockwork, doing everything exactly as one is supposed to.

“PD-nim, I wanted to ask… how do you space lines? I have trouble with–”

“Can you be quiet, Hoseok-sshi?” Hoseok snaps his mouth shut. Yoongi doesn’t notice, too wrapped up in a niggling chord.

The session continues in the same fashion. Yoongi plays around with tracks, testing rhythms on various devices, rearranging sections and making copious notes. He ignores Hoseok until he can’t take it any longer and speaks up himself, only for Yoongi to either categorically reject the suggestions he makes, frequently doing the opposite of what Hoseok says, or shush him like a child. After the third time Yoongi cuts down one of Hoseok’s parts, he breaks. It’s been three hours of being ignored or rejected or quieted, and he is sick to death of it.

“Look, what do you want me to do? Do you want me to get you a coffee?” Hoseok’s tone is dripping with sarcasm.

“Iced Americano,” Yoongi mumbles.

“What?” Hoseok can’t keep the disbelief out of his tone. Did he mishear him? Is he hallucinating?

Yoongi plays another loop. “You asked if I wanted coffee.” He gives Hoseok a look as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. “No sugar.”

Hoseok, speechless, complies. He grabs his shoes, pulls them on, and leaves the studio before he pulls an Aera and throws his rickety chair at Yoongi.

Iced Americano. Yoongi will definitely get his order. Hoseok makes his way out of the building, brushing off the security by dodging down a side street where there’s a Twosome Place which he usually takes pains to avoid.

“One iced Americano,” he says, as politely as he can, to the visibly bemused barista. “As fast and as crappy as you can make it, please.” He gives her a fifty-thousand won note as motivation.

Coffee rapidly in hand, Hoseok marches back to the building and down into the basement, exercising none of the caution he did the last time he made the trip to the studio. He rings the doorbell and waits impatiently for Yoongi to answer the door.

Yoongi looks as grumpy as he did when he left him but perks up when he spots the coffee. He reaches for it without saying thank you, and Hoseok makes to hand it him, but at the last second, jerks the cup up and dislodges its shoddily fastened lid.

Its contents spill all over Yoongi, drenching his white shirt and plastering his hair to his forehead. He splutters, and Hoseok takes a neat step back. “Jung Hoseok, what the fuck?”

“If all you want is someone to sit around and look pretty,” Hoseok says, acrid, “I’ll get you a standee. If you want me to work with you, you’ll have to work with me.” Hoseok throws the empty cup down at his feet. “Enjoy your coffee, asshole.”

He strides away, fuming, ignoring Yoongi’s indignant calls of his name. He knew this was a bad idea. Yoongi has this way of making Hoseok feel small, reduced, unworthy, and he might have put up with it when he was a trainee in BigHit, but Hoseok is greater than that now.

As the distance between him and Yoongi grows, his anger cools, leaving only humiliation at how he acted like a child, living up to Yoongi’s clearly displayed expectations. He knows he was and is acting petty, but if Yoongi had only worked with him, taken his ideas onboard, instead of flat-out ignoring him, Hoseok might have been more cooperative. Hoseok stops to breathe, to calm himself down, and then realises what time it is.

When he reaches the building’s rear exit (fifteen minutes late), the rest of the members and the managers are waiting in the two vans. Hoseok knocks on the door of one to be let in; Sangjun opens the door, and Hoseok takes the seat behind him and Marcel, beside Ino.

“You’re late, Jung Hoseok.” Manager Lee does not look happy. Hoseok cringes.

“I, um…” Marcel glances meaningfully at his shirt; Hoseok finally notices a splatter of coffee across it. Crap. “I got iced coffee but on the way out of the shop someone bumped into me and got it all over us. I couldn’t find a spare shirt in my studio. Sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“Make sure it doesn’t. You’re on thin ice, Hoseok-ah.” Hoseok bows his head and lets the scolding wash over him. He’s used to it by now. Sangjun and Marcel give him sympathetic looks, but Ino doesn’t acknowledge him.

At least, not then. When Manager Lee puts in his headphones, Ino judges him suitably distracted and presses his mouth to Hoseok’s ear to whisper: “How’s Yoongi hyung?”

Hoseok pushes him off. “Be quiet!” He checks on the seat in front. Marcel and Sangjun are watching a video together and haven’t heard anything.

Ino pulls him back. “Why wouldn’t you tell us?”

“I did!”

“You didn’t! Why didn’t you say it was him you’re meeting?”

“Do I have to tell you everything?”

“Yes, you do. Especially if it might affect us.”

That one stings because it’s true. “It won’t, okay? It won’t. He wanted to talk to me about production. That was all.” Ino chews his lip, churlish. Hoseok taps his chin to stop him. “Don’t do that. You’ll ruin your lips and make the stylist’s job harder.”

“Why wouldn’t you tell the managers?”

Hoseok shrugs. “I wasn’t late because of him. I was late because of the coffee. What they don’t know won’t hurt them. And don’t tell them,” Hoseok adds. “Please”

“I’m not a rat,” Ino whispers, defensive. “I’m… I’m worried about you.”

“Don’t worry about me. That’s my job.” Hoseok bumps into his shoulder. “I can take care of myself.”

Ino nods, but he doesn’t look any less anxious.

 

The shoot runs until one in the morning. The director can’t seem to decide what concept he wants to go with; the set is redressed five times, they have multiple outfit changes, and their makeup is redone so often that his skin gets red and irritated. Marcel is sulky, Jingwang won’t talk and Sangjun keeps disappearing. Hoseok, with the thin ice comment bouncing noisily around his head, is on his best behaviour, cheering up the kids and straightening their clothes and play-flirting with the makeup artists to make the crew laugh. As important as the director and photographer are, the crew are the ones who get the fine details right; they’re the ones who light his face, who arrange his clothes and hair, who do his makeup, so it’s good practice to keep them happy. Besides that, Hoseok simply likes talking to them, to people not as involved in the mania of celebrity than he is. He encourages the kids to follow his example, and as a result, Polaris has a reputation of being easy to work with, with only occasional diva moments from Marcel over the colour of his foundation.

During the next set dressing break, Hoseok takes the opportunity to run to the bathroom. On his way out, he runs straight into Sangjun. “Hyung!”

“Sangjun-ah? What are you doing here?”

“I, uh, I thought you might be thirsty!” Sangjun fumbles a bottle of water into Hoseok’s hands.

“Thank you, Sangjun-ah.” Hoseok twists it open and drinks it delicately, taking care not to smudge his artfully applied lip stain. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine. Um… you looked upset earlier. In the van. Is everything okay?”

“Peachy,” Hoseok says. It comes out higher-pitched than he intended it to.

Sangjun is visibly unconvinced. “Why did you go to a coffee shop? Usually, you get coffee in the tearoom…”

Hoseok tells what truth he can. “One of the producers asked me to get it for him, and I meant to, but it ended up all over some poor sap.” He downs the last of the bottle. “Come on, let’s get back. We’re nearly done!”

They wrap the shoot at half-past one. Hoseok leads the kids through the requisite clapping and bowing and promotional selfie-taking. Once barefaced and back in their own clothes, they make their escape. This time, Hoseok bundles in with Yeongsu and Jingwang.

As late as it is, Yeongsu drifts off immediately, as does Manager Lee. Hoseok snaps a sneaky picture of Yeongsu, destined for their Twitter on his birthday. He shows it to Jingwang, who giggles at Yeongsu’s open mouth and scrunched-up nose.

“You should sleep,” Hoseok whispers.

Jingwang shakes his head. “I’m scared you’ll take a photo of me. Um… can I show you something?”

“Hmm?”

Jingwang, visibly nervous, taps around on his phone a bit. Hoseok is expecting a selfie to critique, or lyrics to spellcheck, or a piece of clothing he wants his opinion on. Instead, Ino shows him a fan café thread.

Hoseok doesn’t visit the fancafé as often as he should; the amount of content there is overwhelming. He likes checking in on the humour threads filled with memes, the current Stella obsession being pictures of Jingwang looking awkward Photoshopped into stills of steamy drama kiss scenes, but he enjoys going through the other parts, where fans talk idly about their lives; their annoying classmate who is a fan of their rival group, their grandmother who keeps calling Marcel mussel, their boss who has hums their newest song.

This thread is none of those things.

cafe.daum.net/POLARIS

seok___seok333, on the 3rd February 2020

WHERE'S HOBI'S V LIVE?

i noticed he hasn’t done one yet… all the rest have. isn’t it strange that he hasn’t?

 
sangju3en | 11:07 a.m., 15th Feb 2020

maybe he’s shy?

SH_MYLIFE | 11:10 a.m., 15th May 2019

ㅋㅋㅋ when is our hope ever shy ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ if jingwangie did one he can do one

starsua | 11:22 a.m., `15th Feb 2020

i hope he does one soon, i want to give him lots of hearts <3 <3 <3

jai_ho2 | 11:27 a.m., 15th Feb 2020

even if all he does is sit there ill watch it

noi__noi | 11:31 a.m., 15th Feb 2020

imagine if he danced ㅠㅠ he’s such a pretty dancer

gwangjinjeonju | 11:34 a.m., 15th Feb 2020

the one with marcel was so funny ㅋㅋㅋ when marcel put hand cream on him and he got angry ㅋㅋㅋ

The thread continues in that fashion as the fans throw out ideas. One of them wants him to do a broadcast with his sister, another wants him to watch Western reaction videos, and many want him to dance.

 “I don’t know…” Hoseok hands him his phone. “What would I do? It’ll be boring with just me.”

“Anything.” Jingwang ticks each one off on his fingers. “Dance, do exercise, play video games, eat food, listen to music, talk…”

Hoseok shrugs. “I could do that with one of you. Why would I do it alone?”

“For your fans.” Hoseok rolls his eyes. “Don’t be like that. You may…” Jingwang pauses, trying to phrase it sensitively.

“I have the least fans. It’s okay. I know.” Hoseok has long come to terms with his lack of popularity. In some ways, it makes life easier; he’s not a target for sasaengs and akgaes, his fans don’t get into fan wars over views or Twitter likes, and he doesn’t have to worry about his mother looking up his name and finding NSFW shipping fanart of her son like poor Sehyeon’s mom did.

“But that doesn’t make them any less valuable, and it doesn’t make you any less important. You’re our leader.” Jingwang says the last part emphatically, as if Hoseok isn’t acutely aware that he is responsible for these six boys.

“Thanks, Kwang-ah.” Hoseok means it. “I can’t promise anything, but I’ll think about it.”

“Do. Please. I was scared, but I had lots of fun! I’m sure you’ll like it!” Jingwang’s hesitant optimism is endearing, and Hoseok pats his cheek, cooing.

Hoseok does think about it, during the rest of the trip back to the dorm and during the arduous process of his evening skincare routine and as he lies in bed listening to Marcel’s weird snuffling snores from across the room, and the more he thinks about it, the more appealing he finds the idea, though the appeal is accompanied by terror in equal measure. Hoseok doesn’t know if J-Hope is funny enough or interesting enough or good enough to hold people’s attention for a full V Live. He’s not used to being alone, to not having the kids to cover for him when he’s not up to being J-Hope, but he’ll have to do it eventually. The other kids enjoyed theirs, even Jingwang. Maybe he’ll enjoy it.

Maybe.

 

When Jimin said he wanted to go to a café, Hoseok imagined an elegant place overlooking the river where Hoseok would have to foot the bill. He didn’t imagine this. Instead of a list of drinks, the poster outside displays what can only be described as a cat menu. Ferrero is a Siamese mix with one leg who doesn’t like kids. Ghana has a heart murmur and should be rehomed with another cat. Pepero is a hyperactive tabby and can’t be kept inside. Hershey, Oreo, Chocopie…

“I want chocolate now,” Hoseok whines. “I can’t have dairy! It’ll kill my skin!”

“Shush.” Jimin pushes him into the cat café, attached to an aggressively pastel cat shelter. “I’m sure they have soy milk here.”

There are a frightening number of cats in here. (Naver informs him, later, that the collective noun for a group of cats is a clowder.) A fat old tabby sunbathes in a giant sunny patch, ignorant of the other cats circling enviously. Two kittens snooze at the top of a six-foot cat tree, limbs tangled together, paws flexing in their sleep. A black cat purrs as a little girl taps his head gently.

“Aren’t you allergic to cats?”

“I wasn’t when I was younger, but when I moved out, I developed an allergy. Apparently, if you expose yourself to them, it goes away. That’s why I want to adopt one.” Jimin selects a table beside a wall covered in scratchy material and ledges, which looks, to Hoseok, like cat heaven. “I took an antihistamine this morning in case.”

“Aish, you idiot. Why didn’t Jungkookie come?” Jimin smiles greasily. “He… he knows about this, doesn’t he?”

“He won’t care! He loves Tanie! I’m sure he’d like a pet.”

“Then why didn’t you ask him?”

“It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission. Oh my God, look.” Jimin squees. Like, full-on squeaking. Hoseok sighs and goes up to the counter to order. He returns with a Capurrcino (soy milk, no sugar) for him and a pot of Kittea for Jimin, who is wooing an unimpressed ragdoll with a toy mouse.

The cat dashes away at the sound of the cups clinking. “Hyung!”

“Stop pouting and drink your tea. Are you seriously going to adopt a cat without asking Jungkook? Why now?”

“We got our own place, and it’s on the ground floor, and they allow pets.” Jimin tempts over a small cat with grey fur; it jumps easily into his lap, nosing at his chest. “It seems like a waste to have a place like that and not have a pet. I thought about a rabbit, but you need two of them to keep each other company. We don’t have a lot of space. Besides,” and Jimin turns the aegyo up to eleven, “none of them were as cute as my bunny.”

Hoseok laughs at him. It’s sweet to see Jimin and Jungkook as infatuated now as they were when they first bonded. When they first met, Hoseok thought they didn’t suit each other; Jimin was flirty and urbane and gregarious, whereas Jungkook was awkward and unworldly and reticent. He thought they wouldn’t last, but, yet again, Fate has proven him wrong. Jimin and Jungkook bring out the best in each other. Jimin doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not, and Jungkook opens up instead of keeping his problems to himself. “You two are cute.”

“Aren’t we just?” Jimin turns his attention to the cat in his lap. “But not as cute as you, huh?”

Hoseok shakes his head and browses the cat menu, as he’s decided to call it. “What are you looking for?”

“Not a kitten, but not a senior.” Jimin coos at the cat. “Any gender. An inside or outside cat. I don’t mind if they need medication or special care if they can be left alone while we’re at work. Good with people and kids.”

“Kids?” Hoseok’s head shoots up.

“Gotta plan for the future.” Jimin’s manner is airy, but Hoseok notices the slight blush on his neck.

He’s glad Jimin is too busy admiring the cat to see Hoseok’s reaction. If the jealousy he felt at Seokjin’s wedding was intense, this is worse; it chokes him, bitterer than any coffee. Jimin is confident enough in his relationship to expect children. Of course he is. Jungkook is, after all, his soulmate, the person destined for him, and even if Hoseok can’t imagine him with a kid, Jimin can, and he’s the one who knows him best. Hoseok studies the cat menu to keep himself quiet. He doesn’t want to say anything he’ll regret.

He finds a few that suit Jimin’s criteria, but one jumps out. Reese is a female calico, about three years old, who was abandoned by her owners when they moved abroad. She has large golden eyes, a splodge of orange on her chin, and one extra toe on her left front paw. Jimin is enthralled and flags down a café assistant immediately. “Hello,” he says, with a smile. “Is Reese around?”

The lady points him toward a cat tree adorned with greenery. “She’s usually in there somewhere.”

Jimin coaxes her out with ease. Reese is small for a grown-up cat, with kittenish proportions, and she settles easily into his arms. When Hoseok strokes her head, she purrs immediately. “I like this one.” Hoseok scratches her under the chin; she stretches her neck out obligingly.

“Look at her widdle mouth! She looks like she was caught eating something. Let’s sit down so I can think about it.”

Though they spend a further thirty minutes making a fuss of Reese, Hoseok knows Jimin’s mind is made up and is unsurprised when Jimin excuses himself to go get an application form. Hoseok pulls out his phone to snap a selfie of him and Reese (intended for Twitter; he expects at least seven hundred thousand likes) and, after ten minutes of hard work finding an angle that works for both him and Reese,  receives an email forwarded by Seokjin.

 

From: thankyou@songwol.co.kr

Subject: Thank you for your donation

To: kmskjn92@naver.co.kr

Dear Kim Seokjin,

The Songwol Trust thanks you for your generous donation of ₩4,000,00.

We believe every child should have the opportunity to learn how to play an instrument. Unfortunately, for many children in Seoul, this is not possible. This where we come in, and with your generous donation, we hope to help more children from disadvantaged backgrounds discover their passion for music, free of charge.

If you would like to read more about our efforts to promote the life-changing benefits of music, please visit our website at www.songwoltrust.co.kr.

Thank you,

Min Mikyung

Director of Communications

The Songwol Trust

 

Songwol. The word pings off something half-buried in the recesses of Hoseok’s mind. He clicks the link through to the website and reads their about page, which details the programs they run and the instruments they donate. Their logo is of a stylised white songbird perched on the inky suggestion of a pine tree.

Jimin, holding several pieces of paper out of reach of Reese’s paws, sits down beside him. “What’s that?”

“Seokjinnie wouldn’t take my wedding present. He donated it to a charity instead.” Hoseok shows it to him. “Have you heard of them?”

“Oh, yeah! That’s the trust Yoongi hyung set up. They run free music programs in schools in Seoul, Jungkookie volunteers when he has time…”

“What? Yoongi?” Hoseok’s voice cracks as he realises what Songwol means. Songwol is Yoongi’s father’s pet name for him. Yoongi told him, once, during one of those interminable summer nights in the noraebang, and then clammed up immediately after. He never talked about his father again.

“Didn’t he tell you? He set it up last April. Look.” Jimin taps into their Facebook page and scrolls down to show him a picture of Yoongi at an event standing beside an elementary schooler holding a violin. They’re both smiling gummily. The girl is strangely familiar. “Is that…” Hoseok squints. “Is that Song Hayoon?”

“Song Hayoon? Who used to go to our dance lessons?” Jimin peers more closely. “It is! Wow, she got tall.”

Hoseok reads the description on the photo. Min Yoongi, Founder of the Songwol Trust, and Song Hayoon, a student of Seongnam Elementary School, at a recital at the LG Arts Centre, Seoul.

“Hyung? Are you alright?” Reese, sensing Hoseok’s distress, clambers into his lap.

“Fine.” Hoseok returns Jimin’s phone to pet Reese. “Have you made up your mind?”

“They want to do a house visit and they want to meet Jungkook first. If that goes well, she’s mine. Aren’t you, honey?” Jimin kisses Reese’s head.

“That’s great!” Hoseok hopes Jimin won’t hear the strain in his voice. “What’s your plan now?”

“I’m gonna go home and talk my boyfriend around to adopting this cute baby,” Jimin coos. “You?”

“I…” Hoseok sighs. “I have an apology to make.”

 

The more Hoseok reads about the Songwol Trust, the worse he feels. Newspaper articles speak glowingly of the volunteers, and in one Hoseok finds a photo of a grinning Jungkook, a mischievous-looking boy making bunny ears behind his head. Schools post pictures of classes of kids bashing cowbells and hitting xylophones and generally making trouble. Articles from Christmas show a carol service with Yoongi as the pianist, wearing a pair of reindeer antlers, nose painted red. Testimonials from schools and kids are full of praise. Hoseok finds one from Hayoon where she thanks Yoongi oppa. The image of her smiling face dances around his head all week until, finally, Hoseok breaks. It’s three in the morning and he’s been in his studio for eight hours and he needs to apologise before he loses his nerve.

He ventures down to the studios in the darkness, stepping as quietly as he can. The door of Yoongi’s studio shows no signs of its drenching except for a speck of brown on the sticky-note.

After a few minutes of arguing with himself, he rings the doorbell. The room is soundproofed, so he can’t hear anything from within. He waits, relatively confident that Yoongi will be in and awake. He knows that man and his disordered sleeping habits intimately, given that he shared a room with him for several months. It’s not a question of whether Yoongi is there or not; it’s a question of whether he will open the door to Hoseok, or leave him out in the cold.

He does, after making Hoseok sweat a bit. He’s wearing rumpled-looking tracksuit pants and a giant cardigan which make him look like a Norwegian grandmother. His hair sticks up oddly, his glasses magnify his eyes, and there’s a patch of stubble under his chin which he must have missed when he last shaved. “Hoseok-ah?”

“PD-nim,” Hoseok says, quietly. “May I come in?”

“If you promise not to throw coffee at me.” Hoseok flinches. “C’mon.” Hoseok shuffles in, head bowed. Yoongi sits down in his desk chair; Hoseok stays standing.

The words come with difficulty. Hoseok is used to making false apologies, the ones he tosses to his managers to appease them. This one must be real, must come from the heart Hoseok has so jealously protected. Yoongi deserves it. “I want to apologise.” Hoseok psyches himself up and makes eye contact. “For how I acted last week. I was childish and aggressive and you didn’t deserve it. If you want me to pay for your dry cleaning or whatever, I’ll be happy to.”

Yoongi’s eyebrows shoot up for a second. Hoseok surprised him. He watches emotions flicker across his eyes and wishes, for the first time in a long time, that their bond was intact so he could know exactly what he was feeling.

“I’m sorry,” Yoongi says, voice rough. “For how I acted. I was dismissive and disrespectful. I… it’s no excuse, but I worked hard to get control over what I make, and –”

“There’s no need to apologise,” Hoseok interrupts. “I was being hostile. You responded in kind.”

“That doesn’t make it right.”

“Is any of this right?”

Yoongi swallows and looks away, hand covering his eyes. “Hoseok-ah…”

His voice is tender. Hoseok redirects the conversation. “Why didn’t you tell us about your trust?”

“Us?” Yoongi tilts his head to the side.

“The company,” Hoseok elaborates. “Polaris. Me. I only found out because Seokjin donated my wedding present.”

“That’s where he got the money! None of us could figure it out. Did you seriously give him four million won?”

“He deserved it. He’s the only reason I survived first year.” Yoongi snorts. “That’s beside the point. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I…” Yoongi presses his lips together. “I… I set up that charity because I wanted it for myself. I wanted to do some good, to help kids like me. I didn’t want the company to use it for media play, and I didn’t want them to control me through it. They do enough of that already.”

Hoseok sits down on the couch, too tired to stand any longer. “You helped Hayoonie.” The name brings a smile to Yoongi’s face. Hoseok basks in the shy glow of it.

“She’s incredibly talented. You should hear her. I have a video…” Yoongi digs out his phone and pulls up a video, sitting beside Hoseok to show him. It’s of Hayoon, playing the violin. Her mother turns the sheet music for her. Yoongi plays cameraman, occasionally murmuring words of encouragement. Her playing is amateur, but it brings to mind a songbird, pure and sweet and clean. It warms Hoseok’s heart to see her smile, flourishing, doing what she loves.

The video ends, but Yoongi doesn’t move, gazing at Hoseok. “What?”

“You look happy,” Yoongi says, softly. “I haven’t seen that in a long time.”

He’s so close. His cologne is as familiar as ever, the sea and bay leaves. Their thighs press together, and Hoseok – Hoseok wants, he wants–

His stomach gurgles violently and Yoongi rears back like a spooked horse. Hoseok clamps his hands to his belly, face flaming red. “Sorry,” he yelps. “I haven’t eaten since six am. Oh my God. I’m sorry, I…” Yoongi laughs at him, a proper laugh, a sound that takes Hoseok back to sweaty bedsheets and Saturday afternoons spent ticking Yoongi into submission. “Hyung! Stop!”

“Hyung? Am I hyung again?” Yoongi says the word like Hoseok does, haeng rather than hyung.

“I’ll keep calling you PD-nim if you don’t stop laughing,” Hoseok grumbles.

“Okay, okay.” Yoongi calms down with one last squeak. “Why haven’t you eaten since six a.m.?”

“Forgot.” He did. On purpose. Their weigh-in was yesterday, and Hoseok was above target weight.

“There’s a great twenty-four-hour gamjatang place in Gwanghwamun.” Yoongi reaches into a drawer and emerges with a wallet. “They don’t have security cameras. You up for it, Jeolla boy?”

Hoseok searches Yoongi’s face. There’s a ledge here, the line between co-workers and something more, and Hoseok is close enough that he can feel the wind pushing him back. What does he really want? In his heart, not in his mind, the mind that screams that this is a terrible, awful idea, Hoseok… Hoseok wants that something more. He wants Yoongi’s smile, his laugh, his companionship, as natural to him as the sun on his skin.

“As long as you let me foot the bill. For the food and your dry cleaning.”

“Of course.” Yoongi’s eyes are bright. “Of course, Hoseok-ah.”

Chapter Text

 

Track by track, session by session, night by night, the album comes together. Hoseok and Yoongi adjust to one another with ease that frightens Hoseok. They make as good a pair as they always have; Yoongi grounds Hoseok's flights of fantasy and Hoseok loosens the restrictions Yoongi unknowingly imposes on himself. With each night they pass together Hoseok realises how much of Yoongi he made himself forget, from the curl of his pinky under his chin when he rests his face in his hand to the way he flexes his fingers as a kitten does its paws when he stretches. More than that, he forgot why he liked Yoongi; how unexpectedly sweet he can be under the gruff mannerisms, the biting sense of humour that time has only slightly blunted, the complete and utter lack of tolerance he has for other people's bullshit despite being full of it himself.

Hoseok grows to like Yoongi a lot, which makes no sense whatsoever. In the documentation provided to him with his initial contract it stated that upon termination of the bond, the emotions induced by it would disappear permanently. That hasn't happened. The love is gone, yes, but the foundations it was built upon remain, as they have since Christmas Eve nine years ago, and Hoseok worries about fresh construction. If there's anything he's learned over the course of the past few weeks, it's that he cannot control his heart half as well as he can his mind, and love is not something he can risk with the comeback bearing down on them.

Though they don't have a title track or choreo or even a concept, the company has set the date for the comeback. There are rumours about their rival group coming back in May, so their only option is the April unless they want to wait until June, which they simply can't. That's less than a month, and none of them are in any way ready. Marcel does nothing but sleep, Ino almost got caught by Dispatch in a club last week, Sehyeon has gained five kilos (though, in Hoseok’s opinion, the weight suits him) and God knows what's going on with Sangjun. The boy is practically glued to his phone, he looks like death warmed up, and Hoseok can never find him when he wants to. At least Yeongsu and Jingwang are behaving. Hoseok loves them.

In this way, they speed straight past his twenty-sixth birthday (he spends most of it in a salon having his hair tortured) and lurch into March amid a flurry of photo shoots and hair treatments and typical idol bullshit, and in the midst of it Hoseok wakes up at six am on a Monday drenched in sweat. He can't remember what he dreamed about, but the viscous feeling of it gums his mind thoroughly enough that he knows he won't be able to go back to sleep.

He grabs his phone and checks it, focusing blearily on the date. It's the ninth of March. He swipes through the avalanche of Twitter notifications, responds to texts from his idol acquaintances and goes back to his home screen. It's the ninth of March. The ninth of March means something. The ninth of March is…

“Fuck,” he hisses. “Shit.”

“Hyung? Wha's wrong?” Marcel rolls over, cheek squished against his pillow.

“Go back to sleep,” Hoseok mutters, as he taps out a text message and hopes to God his sister is awake.

She isn't. Thus, four hours later, he finds himself in Garosu-gil on the wrong end of Jung Dawon's glare.

“Let me get this straight.” She sucks down the last of her obnoxiously expensive coffee (paid for by the Bank of Hoseok) and leans in close to whisper. “You avoided your former soulmate for three years after your separation though you work in the same building, concealed his existence from the world, bumped into him at a wedding, generally acted like a dick, told him you weren't friends, worked with him because he wanted you to be ‘his muse’, threw coffee at him when he was uncooperative, had a change of heart when you found out he runs a charity, worked with him again, kinda vibed, and then you woke me up at six am because you want my help buying him a platonic birthday present.”

Hoseok nods.

“Excuse my language, but what the actual fuck? You are so fucking stupid, oh my fucking God, I wish I hadn't finished my coffee so I could throw it at you.”

“Thanks, noona. Like I didn't know how terrible I am already.” Hoseok buries his face in his hands. “I fucked up. I want to get him a present to show that I'm not that awful. He deserves it after what I put him through.”

“Hoseok-ah…” Dawon's voice softens. “This isn't exclusively your fault. He chose to be separated too, he chose not to contact you, and he wasn't nice to you over that studio thing. It doesn't make what you did right, but you're a victim too.”

It surprises him to hear this. Dawon never treats him gently; she always tells him what he needs to hear, even if it's not what he wants to hear, and he trusts her more than anyone else. It's a relief to hear her say that he's not solely to blame. “Thanks, noona.”

She sighs. “A present…”

“I was thinking clothes, or jewellery, or shoes…”

“God, no. Do you want to confuse him more?”

“What? Confuse him how?”

Dawon rolls her eyes as if to say, men. “They're boyfriend gifts. You're not getting him a boyfriend gift. You're getting him a friend gift. Not a gift set or a voucher, because that's impersonal. Not a book or music, because that's personal. Not a gag gift, because that's unprofessional. Not skincare or haircare, because that's like telling him there's something wrong with him. Not cologne, because that's lazy. Not alcohol, because he's too old for that. Not food or kitchenware, because he's too young for that. You want something fun and pointless and inexpensive. Something he wouldn't have wasted money on himself. What does he like?”

“Basketball. Wrestling. Hip-hop. Meat. Bath stuff. Black. Kumamon. Dramas…”

“Bath stuff? Like, bath bombs, bubble bath…” Hoseok nods, remembering the blue basket Yoongi kept his hoard in. Dawon claps her hands, delighted. “I know just the place.”

Ten minutes later, Hoseok finds himself cowering in the corner of a Lush. It smells so bad that he's holding back tears. He's sensitive to heavy scents, and the place stinks like a perfumier's wet dream. Even Dawon is struggling, and she had no less than five Yankee Candles in her room growing up, kept mostly to deter him, but also to mask the smell of the booze she snuck in under their parents' noses.

“Noona, I'm gonna die.”

“Shush.” Dawon brings her hand down from her nose. “It's not that bad.”

Hoseok copies her and immediately regrets it; a wall of scent hits him and he gags, wishing fervently that he'd brought a thicker face mask. “Are you sure we have to get him something here?”

“Lush makes the best ones. He'll know you thought of him and picked stuff out for him but that you didn't spend a ton of money. It's perfect. Oh my God, is that a flamingo bath bomb on a stick?”

It is, to say the least, an ordeal. A small herd of sales staff follow them as Dawon sticks items in his face and asks if Yoongi will like them. They end up with a heap of bath products, from bath oils and jelly bombs to bubble bars and body scrubs. Hoseok's favourite is a turtle-shaped bath bomb – Yoongi resembles them, in his opinion, though no one else agrees. The staff pack their purchases attractively in a branded box and lavish them with samples which Dawon claims.

Job done, they saunter through the backstreets of Myeongdong, judiciously avoiding clusters of young girls as Dawon, in between swooping on samples, chatters about her work. The Bank of Hoseok provided a cash infusion to her boutique that has enabled her to move her business online (her Instagram fanbase is largely Stellas and rich Gangnam girls) and outsource production. She lives in Seoul now, in a duplex apartment (deposit and first six months' rent from the Bank of Hoseok) near where Wootak is stationed. Their parents are still in Gwangju because his father stubbornly refuses to retire, but Hoseok is working on him. He wants them close by. He wants to be their son again, not a distant stranger.

“I'm sorry we couldn't do anything for your birthday,” Dawon admits in an Innisfree as Hoseok weighs up whether he needs five more face masks, delicately angling his face away from the sales assistant “Wootakie’s been really busy lately.”

 Hoseok shrugs and grabs the tea-tree ones. “It’s okay. I’m a big boy now, noona, I don’t need my family to throw me birthday parties. Besides, the kids and I had fun!” After their hair was done, they all went to a shabu-shabu restaurant and got blindingly drunk.

Dawon frowns. “You know you don't have to pretend in front me.”

“I know.” He turns and gives her a blinding smile. She responds with a milder version.

They part in front of the station. Dawon hugs him, and he squeezes her back tightly. He's tactile by nature, and though the kids provide him with plenty of physical affection, nothing compares to a hug from his noona.

When he gets back to the building, he descends the stairs to the studio with the familiar unease bubbling in his stomach. A stupid part of him worries that Yoongi won't let him in, that he'll be left to stand there dumbly in the dark, but he lets him in as he always does. Yoongi is groggy, hair sticking up at odd angles, sheet marks on his face. Hoseok barely restrains himself from fixing his hair. “Were you asleep? Sorry, hyung.”

“'S fine,” Yoongi mumbles, dropping back onto the couch. “Should get up anyway.” Contrary to what he says, he stretches luxuriantly, fingers flexing in a way that reminds Hoseok of the kittens in the cat café, and lies back down.

Hoseok rolls his eyes. “Lazybones.”

“Tactical energy conservation.” Yoongi rolls over and glimpses Hoseok's bag, eyes narrowing. “Whuzzat?”

“I won't be here on Monday, so…” Hoseok thrusts the bag at him. “Happy early birthday.”

Yoongi, who sits up with significant difficulty, accepts the bag, murmuring a cursory thank-you before opening the packaging. Hoseok cringes at the sound of the paper rustling, so carefully wrapped, so cruelly rent, before the noise stops as Yoongi exposes the gifts. “Hoseok-ah…” He pulls out the turtle bath bomb, turning it so the light catches the glitter in its shell.

“I knew you'd like that one,” Hoseok teases.

“…Why?”

“Why did I think you'd like that one?”

“No. Why did you get me this?” He digs down further, pulling out a tub of salts. “There's… there's a lot.”

“We humans have a custom of giving one another pointless crap to mark our birthdays. Don't know if you've heard of it.”

“Shut up.”

Hoseok laughs at his frown, getting carried away with himself in the easy rhythms of ribbing Yoongi. “Besides, I never replaced your stuff that time. Consider this a replacement with interest.”

“That time.” Yoongi’s fingers tighten around the turtle, delicate soap shell crumbling in his grip, and Hoseok remembers what else he did that time besides steal Yoongi's stuff. Remembers the heat of the shower, the shame amplifying how good it felt, the laboured sound of Yoongi's breath.

Hoseok coughs and turns away. Stop, he tells himself. Not for you, not any more.

“Hoseok-ah?”

Hoseok turns around with trepidation only to see Yoongi smile that gummy smile as he holds the turtle up by his face. “Aren’t we handsome?”

Hoseok laughs, unbidden, as the tension ebbs away. “You look like you were separated at birth.”

“My mom told me she got me from under a bridge. Maybe there was a turtle colony there.” Yoongi returns the damaged turtle to its packaging and plucks out a few other items. “Thank you for thinking of me.”

“You're welcome,” Hoseok chirps as he takes a seat in the smaller desk chair. “Now, where were we?”

 

With the comeback looming down on them, the days pass like a runaway train. The company kicks into higher gear, with strenuous workouts and stringent diets and daily meetings about those subtleties of a comeback, from costuming and set dressing to fansign venues and quotas to interviews and press coverage. Hoseok is swept up in it all day, every day, an endless maelstrom of minutiae left to him because no-one else is bothered. He picks up the slack where he can, delegates where he can't, and sleeps in stolen moments in between.

Yoongi's studio is his only refuge. Their sessions grow infrequent – all that's left is mastering, and Hoseok has little to contribute here – but still he comes. No-one will disturb him here, too afeared of Suga PD's wrath, and he values the hours he steals batting beats back and forth with Yoongi, bickering over intonation and pronunciation, rewriting bars.

But, of course, all good things come to an end.

Suga PD

Today 6:07 PM
Hope-sshi
Are the seven of you free?
Sehyeonie is MCing for a music show but he should be back soon
Why?
CEO-nim approved the title track
Want you guys to hear it
Yay!!!!!! I'll bring em down

Hoseok sends a text to the group chat asking them to gather, but after ten minutes of silence, he knows he'll have to round them up himself. Marcel is easy to find; he's in the dorm's living room playing video games. “Marcel-ah.”

“Huh?” Marcel's eyes remain glued to the screen.

“Title track's ready.”

“Uh-uh.”

“Be in the studios at seven.”

“Hmm.”

Hoseok sighs. “Could you at least look at me?”

“Can't pause.” Marcel’s fingers fly over the buttons. “I'll be there. Go away.”

Hoseok flicks his ear and moves on. No-one else is at home, and outside it's raining sideways; odds are they're in the company building. Manager Song is in the apartment, and he drops Hoseok at the back entrance of the building.

His first port of call is their practice room. He peeks in; their vocal trainer is sitting in front a keyboard picking out notes, and reflected behind her is Jingwang, singing from a sheaf of notes.

Hoseok lets himself in so quietly that neither of them notices and sits down to listen. Jingwang rarely lets them listen to him sing on his own; he doesn't even sing in the shower, terrified that they'll hear. This is a rare treat, and when their trainer spots him and opens her mouth Hoseok raises a finger to his lips. She gets the message.

Hoseok bursts into applause when Jingwang finishes. Jingwang whirls around as his cheeks flood with red. “Hyung! How long have you been here?”

“I didn't want to interrupt,” Hoseok chirps. “When you're finished, can you head down to the studios? The title track is ready.”

Jingwang nods. “I'll be there.”

“Good!” Hoseok hops up. “By the way, do you have any idea where Yeongsu is?”

“Was he in the exercise room?”

Hoseok thanks him and sets off. Yeongsu is, indeed, in the exercise room, torturing himself through pull-ups. Hoseok tells him where to be and when and spots him for a few reps before running off to find Ino.

He regrets this immediately. When he lets himself into the studio, Ino is butt naked. He retreats hastily and slams the door shut. “Shin Ino,” he scolds through the door. “What did I say about clothes?”

“To wear them,” Ino says mulishly. “But it's so hot…”

“It's March!” The door rattles and Hoseok pushes it shut. “Don’t come out until you’re decent!”

“Aish.” Hoseok listens to fabric swishing as Ino clothes himself. “Come in.”

He shields his eyes as he enters. “If you pull that crap again I'm complaining to HR.”

“You like men! Why are you freaking out at me being naked?”

“Because you're gross.”

“I'm not gross!”

“The last time you came back after a night out you were too lazy to go to the bathroom so you peed in the sink.” Ino shuts his mouth. “You're like a little brother to me, alright? I get no joy out of seeing your bare ass.” Hoseok rubs his temples. “I came here to tell you that the title track's finished.”

“It is?” Ino perks up. “Wow, Yoongi hyung can work fast when he wants to.

“He wants us to hear it, so be at the studio by seven. And wear clothes,” Hoseok adds. “Or I'll make PD-nim complain to HR too.”

“Alright,” Ino grouses. “Does everyone else know?”

“Everyone except Sangjun. Do you know what he was doing today?”

Ino shrugs. “Haven't seen him.”

“I'm gonna go find him.” Hoseok checks his phone; Sangjun hasn't read his message yet. “If you see him tell him to message me, alright?”

Ino waves him off. There's half an hour left and the building's not that big. It can't be that difficult to find one boy, can it?

It can. Hoseok looks everywhere and asks everyone. He's not in any of the bathrooms or practice rooms or studios. None of the managers or trainees or coordinators has spotted him. The conference rooms are empty, as are the break-out spaces and the tea rooms, and when Hoseok gives in and rings him he is answered by an automated voice telling him that Sangjun's phone is turned off. He's at his wit's end when he ventures into storage.

“Sangjun-ah?” He can't think why Sangjun would be in here, but it's worth a shot. He checks the racks of clothes as if expecting him to pop out from between them. “Is anyone here?”

He's resigned to failure when he hears a clang from the next section. “Is that you?” He cracks the door open; it's dark, and he fumbles around for the light switch, switching it on to reveal a visibly flustered Sangjun.

“Hyung! What are you doing here?”

“Searching for you. What are you doing here?” Hoseok takes the room in; they're surrounded by fan gifts. Mountains upon mountains of plush toys rise around them, knick-knacks litter the floor and novelty headbands dangle from a line.

“I wanted to find a book of fanart I got at a fansign. I told the staff not to put it away but they did, and I haven't had a chance to search for it until now, but I can't find it. What do you need me for?”

“The title track's finished. PD-nim wants us to listen to it…” Hoseok checks his watch. “Wanted us to listen to it fifteen minutes ago. Shit.” Hoseok grabs Sangjun's hand. “C'mon, we gotta go!”

“Hyung – hyung, wait!”

Hoseok tows a spluttering Sangjun along until they reach the studios, and when they slide into the room Sangjun keels over to hyperventilate on the rug. Hoseok collapses by his side.

“Where were you two?” Ino crouches down and pokes them.

“Storage,” Sangjun gasps. “Hobi hyung made me run all the way here.” “From storage? Are you serious?”

“Stop talking and get them off the floor,” Yoongi orders. Yeongsu and Jingwang lever them up and dump them on the couch. “Do we have everyone?”

Aera counts heads. “All accounted for.” She passes them each a lyrics sheet titled ‘Oblivion'. “Are we ready?” They nod, and Yoongi plays the song.

It is, like everything Yoongi makes, amazing. It's more melancholy and vocal-focused than their usual fare, but in a way that suits the concept of the album. The instrumentation is varied; Hoseok picks out a dulcimer and an organ and a gayageum. The lyrics are beautiful and dreamlike, crescendoing into an explosive chorus.

None of that matters to Hoseok. He reads through the lyrics again and again. He has two lines, and he shares them with Jingwang.

Yoongi lets them listen to it twice, though Hoseok hardly hears the second time. “PD-nim,” Ino says, urgently, when the song finishes. “Hasn't there been a mistake?”

“A mistake?”

“Don't,” Hoseok pleads, but Ino ignores him. He gets up and brings the sheet over.

“This bit,” he says, “during the coda.”

Yoongi examines it. “There hasn't,” he says, evenly. “The CEO rewrote that part.”

Ino stares at him blankly, shoulders tense. Marcel grabs Hoseok's arm.

“I refuse to perform this.” Ino rips the sheet in half.

“Shin Ino!” Hoseok jumps up. “How – PD-nim, I'm sorry, I –”

“Me either,” Marcel says, and Hoseok whips around to watch him tear his lyrics in half too.

“Marcel-ah,” Hoseok pleads. “Don't…”

“You can't,” Yoongi says, confused. “You don't have a choice.”

“We do.” There are more ripping sounds as Sehyeon and Sangjun copy Marcel.

“This can't keep happening.” Yeongsu crumples his into a ball and tosses it to lie at Yoongi's feet. “It's unfair.”

“They're right.” Jingwang rises and delicately returns his lyrics to a visibly bemused Aera.

Yoongi stares at them, flabbergasted. “I don't understand.”

“It's nothing.” Hoseok shoves the kids out of the room. “Come on, let's leave…”

“It's not nothing! Hyung, you can't –”

“Ino-yah,” Hoseok snaps. “I don't need you to fight my battles.”

“What else am I supposed to do? You won't fight them!”

“Hyung, you have to stand up for yourself!” Marcel bats at him. “Or they'll never stop treating you like – like shit!”

Hoseok, ignoring their protests, pushes them out the door and locks it behind them. “PD-nim,” he says desperately, standing in front of Yoongi. “Please, please don't tell anyone that this happened.

“They can't reject it.” Yoongi picks up Yeongsu’s sheet and unfurls it, smoothing out the creases. “If they continue to refuse I have no choice but to get management involved.”

“Don't,” Hoseok begs. “You said the CEO changed the line distribution?”

Aera nods. “He wanted Jingwang to handle the coda on his own.”

Hoseok should be used to this treatment by now, but he isn't. “I'll talk them around, but you have to promise not to tell anyone.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yoongi hyung,” Hoseok says, brokenly. “Please. I…” He sighs. “I'm not in the company's good books.”

“Why?”

“I wasn't supposed to go to Seokjin's wedding.”

“You're kidding me.” Yoongi gapes. “You're – they didn't want you to go to your best friend's wedding?”

Hoseok shakes his head. “There are other factors, but suffice to say, a mutiny is not going to help. Can you keep this quiet? Please? I promise I'll talk them around.”

Yoongi stares at him, troubled. Aera answers for him. “We will.” Yoongi doesn't look happy, but he doesn't say no.

“Thank you, PD-nim,” Hoseok says gratefully. “I'll talk sense into them.”

He leaves the studio and is met with a wall of Polaris. “Hyung!”

“Is he going to change it?”

“Did you give out to him?”

“You can't –”

“I,” Hoseok says slowly, “do not need this.”

“But…”

“Are you trying to get me kicked out of the group?” They fall silent. “I appreciate the sentiment, but you know how management will view this.”

“We didn't mean it like that,” Jingwang mumbles.

“I know you didn't,” Hoseok says softly. “But when you're an idol, intent means nothing. What matters is interpretation.”

“You know this is unfair.” Marcel's voice is plaintive.

“Life is unfair.” Hoseok covers his eyes. “I don't want to hear any more of this. The comeback is next month and we can't change the title track now. We're sticking with what we have, and we will get used to it. Do I make myself clear?” The kids nod. “Go back to what you were doing. I’ll talk to you later.”

Sangjun hurries away and the rest disperse after him until Hoseok and Ino are left alone. “What now?”

Ino rounds on him. He's taller than Hoseok now, but Hoseok refuses to back down. “Why won't you stand up for yourself?”

“I'm a coward.” Hoseok smiles, but it's a weak effort.

Ino takes his hand and squeezes it. “You deserve better than this.”

“Do I?”

“Hyung!”

“I've given up a lot to get this far." Hoseok lets go of his hand. "I won't let you ruin it over line distribution.”

With that, Hoseok walks away, heart thumping. This isn't the end, he knows. Ino won't be so easily dissuaded, but what else can Hoseok do?

Nothing. There's nothing he can do.

 

“So after I enter the title, I press… this?”

“Yep.” Yeongsu clips a mic onto Hoseok's collar. “Let's test the audio first.”

“Ah, ah. Jun Yeongsu is a brat, Yeongsu is crazy…” Yeongsu kicks his chair; Hoseok spins off with a yelp. “Yah!”

“Audio works. Take it off and leave it on the floor if you dance. Are you happy to do it here?”

Hoseok nods and waves Yeongsu off. He sits on the floor of the dance studio, the V Live phone mounted on a selfie stick. His plan is to talk for ten minutes or so, do a routine or two, and answer questions after. Simple enough.

He's still nervous, unreasonably so, and after Ino leaves he stares at the blank camera, snakes coiling in his belly. He's talked to hundreds of Stellas at fansigns, performed in front of thousands of fans, featured in videos viewed by millions. Why is he scared of a V Live?

“Aish, Jung Hoseok,” he mutters. “It's a video. How many videos have you recorded?” With a wild burst of courage, he enters a title (“HOPE ON THE STREET (ノ◕ヮ◕)ノ*:・゚✧ ”) and starts the broadcast. The light blinks on, red and accusing, and Hoseok peers into the camera as viewers pour in. It ticks up from dozens to hundreds to thousands, and once it hits two thousand, he judges it safe to begin.

“Hello everyone!”

Hobi oppa!!!!!

Is it just Hobi?

SAY HI TO BRAZIL

“It's my first V Live! I'm nervous.” He pouts.

So cute boohoo

ㅋㅋㅋ

Oppa how was your day?

“How was my day? It was boring. I worked on music, that was all. Ah, I ate skins at a restaurant with Sehyeon! It was delicious.”

Where's Sehyeon???

Skins are yummy

When's the comeback

“The comeback? Wait and see.” He touches the side of his nose.

Ah crap ㅠㅠ I wanna know

Oppa did you gain weight?

“I didn't gain weight!” He frowns. He's the lightest he's been since debut.

Ignore her!!!

Hobi oppa are you going to dye your hair this time???

“I'm at the mercy of the stylists. What colour do you guys want? Neon green? Ooh, or how about I shave it off?”

NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Hoseok bursts out laughing at the outpouring of grief. “I won't do that to you!”

The questions increase in volume as the live continues. In between the emoji spam and requests to come to Latin America and compliments, Hoseok discerns what he can.

They ask him all manner of things. What's the comeback concept? Where's Marcel? What's your favourite track from Woof Woof? Can you show us Yeongsu? Is Jingwang doing a solo drama OST? Can you Tweet pictures of Mickey? Is Sangjun gonna show up? Did you guys move? Why hasn't Ino Tweeted a selca in ages? What does Hope on the Street mean?

“Hope on the Street is my natural state!” He pops up. “I'm gonna dance! I already warmed up with the others earlier, but I'm gonna do more.”

The others???

Ooh

He takes his mic off, plays bright music, and limbers up, humming along. The chat is still running, and he can see hearts rolling in. The number ticks up rapidly when he eases into splits.

Once he judges himself to be adequately stretched, he hops up and puts a song on. “I'm gonna start with this routine! Yeongsu and I worked on it.”

Yeongsu??? Is Yeongsu coming???

“Just me,” he says, sheepish.

ㅠㅠ

Are they sad? Hoseok doesn't have to think about it, because the song starts. It's a relief to dance freely. Polaris' choreography is challenging, but not challenging enough for him, especially since he doesn't get much time in the centre and has to tone down his dancing to the others' level when he does.

He returns to an avalanche of joyful emojis. “You guys liked that?”

Yeah!!!!

I would have liked to see Yeongsu do it with you…

Heol Marcel Tweeted

Ahhh is Marcel coming?

“Not that I know of?” Why do they keep asking for the others?

If Marcel isn't coming is Jingwang around?

He missed his last V Live

Oppa ask Jingwang to come pleaseeeeee

“I think he's busy. Sorry.”

It's okay…

Oppa are you going to dance more?

“Yeah!” He brightens. “I'm gonna freestyle!”

OMG

This is really street dancing

“Ah… What song should I pick?” He scrolls through his Melon playlists lazily. “This one!” He shows the camera his phone. “What do you guys think?”

Yeah!!! I love that song

This would be so fun with Yeongsu

Hoseok’s face grows strained on screen, making him back away. Dance. Ignore it.

His freestyling, to an untrained viewer's eye, is as flawless as one would expect, but in the mirror he can see how jerky his movements are. His transitions are sloppy, his footwork is loose, and the turtle freeze he attempts is weak.

He's scared. He's frightened of that camera, of the comments scrolling across the screen, of the creeping realisation that there was no point in him doing this.

 “That's enough.” He returns to the camera. “Do you guys…”

Ah I'm leaving now

This is boring without the others

They don't want him. Why else would they keep asking for the members? He pauses to inhale deeply. It's okay. He knew this would happen. “Do you guys want to see the kids?”

Yes!!!!

Thank you oppa <3 <3 <3

I want to see Seheyonnie

Seheyon should be in his studio next door. Hoseok picks up the phone and the mic, not even bothering to reattach it. What's the point? They don't care about what he has to say.

They want Sehyeon. Sehyeon, who was recruited on the street for his beauty, who gets his birthday support two days late because the staff spend ages checking through the mountains of presents, Sehyeon, the most popular member, whose most followed fansite has nearly two million followers when Hoseok's has four hundred thousand, whose individual fancams hit the million mark in mere hours when not a single one of Hoseok's has ever reached half a million.

It means nothing. They're a team. If one member is popular, then the rest of them are popular. A rising tide lifts all boats.

But it means everything.

He knocks on the door of Sehyeon's studio. “Sehyeon-ah!”

The door bounces open. “Hyung! Aren't you…?” Sehyeon quiets at the look on Hoseok's face.

“I got bored on my own.” Hoseok pushes into Sehyeon's studio. The room is bigger than Hoseok's; the walls are painted a soft, buttery yellow. Throws are piled on a tan leather couch, and in the corner is a bookshelf stacked with the trashy fantasy novels Sehyeon adores. It's cosy and comfortable and warm like its occupant, who is unfailingly sweet and kind. “What are you doing?”

Sehyeon goes along with him. “I was playing video games.”

“Can you show me?”

That's all it takes. Sehyeon is off in his own world, blabbering about his current favourite MOBA, and he doesn't notice Hoseok dumping the phone and the mic and until he's leaving.

“Where are you going?”

“Gonna lock up the studio. I'll be back!”

With that, he leaves too quickly for Sehyeon to pursue, passing by the studio and down into the stairwell. He needs to hide before Sehyeon gets it into his head to follow him, or, worse, one of the others do. Where will he go? Where will they not find him?

He doesn't think about it. His feet take him towards Yoongi's studio. He doesn't know if Yoongi is in or not but he doesn't care. He needs refuge, and there is only one place to seek it.

He rings the doorbell, and nothing happens. He gives it ten seconds, and tries again; nothing. He tries the handle, but it does not give way. “PD-nim? Yoongi – Yoongi hyung?” Silence.

The keypad lights up when his hand brushes against it. The code! Yoongi is careful not to let him see it, but Hoseok must guess it. What other choice does he have?

0-3-0-9 fails, as does 0-0-0-0, 6-9-6-9, 0-4-2-0, 9-9-9-9, and all the other combinations Hoseok throws at it. 4-5-8-9. 3-2-1-4. 9-6-3-5. 7-4-5-2. 1-2-7-5. 1-2-2-4…

It swings open and Hoseok bursts in, expecting the room to be empty.

It isn't. Yoongi is in his desk chair, and his V Live is up on the screen. Hoseok tunes out Sehyeon’s babbling as he approaches. “PD-nim?”

“Hoseok-ah!” Yoongi scrambles up. “What… what are…?”

“Why didn't you let me in?”

“I – uh. I muted the doorbell. I didn't want to be interrupted…”

“During… the V Live?” Yoongi nods, unable to make eye contact. “You watched it?” Oh God. Yoongi saw that. He watched Hoseok fuck up in real time, read the comments demanding the others. Hoseok sits down in the spare desk chair with a thud, unable to tear his eyes away from Sehyeon. Fuck. Fuck.

“I can –” Yoongi makes to close the broadcast.

“Don't,” Hoseok whispers. “I want to watch the end.”

Yoongi's face is so perfectly blank that Hoseok knows he's hiding something, but he says nothing. Sehyeon giggles; he's from Busan, and his satoori roughens the edges of his speech attractively. Hoseok used his dialect once in on a variety; the host made fun of him for sounding like a whiny dog and it was an associated search on Naver for months. The viewers and hearts tick up exponentially as Sehyeon chatters. He's funny and flirtatious, like the soulmate you dreamed about when you were thirteen.

“Isn't he perfect?” Sehyeon smiles and leans into the camera, the suggestion of something visible in his big eyes. “No wonder he's so popular.” Sehyeon waves with both hands at the camera, face screwing up into his crinkly aegyo smile, and the screen goes black as the broadcast ends. Hoseok can see their reflection in the big screen, Hoseok wan and distorted, Yoongi displayed in profile. “No wonder they wanted him instead of me.”

“Hoseok-ah…”

“I shouldn't care,” Hoseok admits, voice weak even to his own ears. “But I do.”

Yoongi is silent. In the reflection on the TV screen, his throat shifts.

“It's terrible of me. I'm the oldest, I'm the leader. I shouldn't be so petty. In any case…” Hoseok looks down. “Do you blame them?”

“Who?”

“Stellas. Like, if you're objective. I don't produce, I barely write. The other kids are funnier on variety. I'm never in the centre. I barely get any lines.”

“What do you – lines?”

Hoseok keeps going. “I'm not tall, I'm not muscular, I don't have big shoulders or hands or whatever they fangirl about on Pann nowadays, I'm not handsome, and I'm old. This old, and I don't have a soulmate. They must think there's something wrong with me.” It's cathartic to say this – to let the truth out, to tell someone else the poison in his head.

“Jung Hoseok,” Yoongi says, in a tone so familiar to Hoseok he almost quails. Anger. “What the fuck are you talking about? Lines?”

“Why else do you think the kids staged their walk-out? It's okay. I know I'm difficult to fit in.”

“I do give you lines! It was the CEO…” Yoongi stops, and his eyes widen. “The CEO. He's leaving you out of songs.”

“Not just this time?”

“Every time,” Yoongi says. “I… I… I didn't mean to treat you like that. You know that, right?” Hoseok doesn't respond, but Yoongi grabs the chair and pulls it so that he's forced to face him. “I didn't do that on purpose. I swear. I didn't realise it until now, but it's CEO-nim. He has final veto.”

“Really?” Yoongi nods. “I… I thought…” Hoseok breathes in sharply as tears prick around his eyes. “I thought you didn't want to listen to me.”

“Didn't – didn't want to listen to you?” Hoseok nods and squeezes his eyes shut in a futile attempt to stem the flow of tears, but they spring open when Yoongi's hand lands on his thigh. “Why would I watch your V Live if I didn't want to listen to you? Why would I be working with you if I didn't want to listen to you?”

“Hyung –”

“Hoseok-ah,” Yoongi says, eyes serious. “I'll take anything of you that I can get.”

The weight of Yoongi's gaze – of what he said – proves too much for him, and he begins to sob in earnest, face growing sticky with tears. “Sorry,” he manages.

“It's okay.” Yoongi's hands flutter up to his shoulders. “Can… can I…?”

“Please.” Yoongi draws him into a hug. He winds his arms around Hoseok's chest and rests his chin on top of his head.

It's been so long, and Yoongi feels the same, warm and solid and safe. He buries his face in his chest and cries himself out, phone buzzing in his pocket, the dead broadcast staring down at them from above.

 

“That’s good, Sangjun-sshi,” the sound engineer says. “Okay, that’s track seven done. Take a break.”

Sangjun vacates the booth and flops down beside Hoseok. “How many do we have left?”

“All we have left to record is the title track.” The sound engineers have been working overtime to record vocals and master tracks. The album is shaping up, but the comeback won’t feel real until the title track is in the can. Once that’s done, the next step, Hoseok’s favourite, is choreo. He already has a few ideas, and he’s put in a couple late nights in the practice rooms running through potential routines to suggest to their performance director. It’s going to be a departure from their usual style, but Hoseok anticipates it.

Sangjun’s head flops onto his shoulder. “Sangjun-ah? Are you okay?”

“Fine,” Sangjun says unconvincingly. Hoseok examines him. His skin is pasty, the shadows under his eyes are pronounced, and there’s a rash on his neck resembling a bug bite. “What’s that?” Hoseok pokes at it, but Sangjun slaps his hand away. “Yah!”

Sangjun tugs his collar up. “Nothing,” he bleats, and a gear turns in Hoseok’s mind. A mark on his neck that he wants to hide…

His thought process is interrupted by an explosive entrance from none other than Jang Aera. Her manic eyes fasten on the sound engineer. “Jaekyung-ah, we’ve made a change.”

“Again?”

Aera leans in close and whispers in her ear. Jaekyung’s back stiffens and she darts a glance back at Hoseok, who strains to hear what they’re saying. “Is he sure?”

“Yes. Don’t let management hear until it’s too late.”

“Tell him he owes me.” Aera pecks Jaekyung on the cheek and leaves. “Change of plan. New line distribution for Oblivion. The coda is a rap verse now. Hoseok-sshi, you’re up.”

“What?” Hoseok springs up. “I haven’t practised!”

“You have fifteen minutes.” Jaekyung passes him the sheet. “Go.”

Hoseok runs out of the studio with no intention of practising, dodging the kids’ congratulatory pats on the butt. He comes to Yoongi’s door and bashes 1-2-2-4 into the keypad.

Twelve twenty-four. Of course. How did he not guess it earlier? Christmas Eve, the day they met, when Yoongi answered the door in a pair of red underwear. What a way, he thinks, heart flooding with conflicted affection, to meet your soulmate.

The door swings open and Hoseok storms in. “What the fuck?”

“Good afternoon to you too,” Yoongi says dryly. “What brings you here?”

Hoseok shoves the lyrics in his face. “Did you do this?”

“I’m head producer. What do you think?”

“PD-nim,” Hoseok says. “Please tell me management approved this.” Yoongi pointedly keeps his mouth shut. “You’re fucking kidding me. Min Yoongi, if this blows up in my face –”

“It won’t,” Yoongi says forcefully. “I promise. I would never sabotage you.”

Hoseok is taken aback by Yoongi’s sincerity. “Hyung,” he says.

“Don’t thank me.” Yoongi waves him off. “Go practice. I expect the best delivery you – mmph!”

Hoseok lets his heart take over and kisses him full on the lips, face held tightly in his hands to keep him still. His lips are soft and Hoseok wants to crawl into his lap and kiss him forever, title track be damned.

He can’t. He pulls away. Yoongi’s mouth follows his, but Hoseok dances back. “You said not to thank you.”

“You bastard!" Yoongi rises as if to pursue him, but Hoseok cannot yet let himself be caught, and he flees the room with his hand over his mouth as if to preserve the sensation of Yoongi's lips on his.

Two minutes well wasted; thirteen minutes left for Hoseok to pull off the fiercest flow he's capable of.

He owes Yoongi so much more than a chaste kiss and sixteen bars, but for now, it is all he can give.

Chapter Text

 

Polaris Comeback ‘End of You’ Confirmed for 27th of April, Preorders Open Tomorrow

1st April 2020

 

Suga PD

1st April 2020 9:07 AM
Hey
You up to some mastering today?
Yeah ^0^
Btw Ino wants to come
Is that okay?
I guess
Thanks PD-nim *.*

 

Polaris Break Own Record with 1,500,000 Albums Preordered

2nd April 2020

 

Suga PD

14th April 2020 10:43 PM
Can you come tomorrow?
Without Ino?
I can ^▽^

 

Polaris Release Teaser MV for Intro: Eclipse

15th April 2020

 

Suga PD

15th April 2020 1:11 PM
Are you coming?
16th April 2020 0:31 AM
I guess not
Sorry T^T We were shooting and I lost track of time
I'll make it next time, promise ^^

 

Polaris Release Teaser Photos for End of You

18th April 2020

 

Suga PD

19th April 2020 11:34 AM
Hey
Saw the teasers they look good
When did you dye your hair orange?
Thanks *.* I dyed it a while ago?
Oh
I didn’t realise
Are you around?
Nope last-minute jacket shoots TT
What did you want? Isn't the album done?
Nothing
Go back to work

 

Polaris Release Tracklist for End of You

22nd April 2020

 

Suga PD

Today 7:52 PM
We need to talk.

Hoseok chews on his lip as he rereads the text message, guilt curdling in his stomach. He has judiciously avoided Yoongi since he kissed him, and for good reason; when the CEO found out about Yoongi's line redistribution, he convened the entire management team and dragged them over the coals for three hours. In the end, he wrote it off as a breakdown in communications; Hoseok got away with it by the skin of his teeth, and the blowback from the pettier managers has not been pleasant.

It isn't only the fear of the managers finding out that's making him avoid Yoongi. Hoseok is terrified by the prospect of confronting his own feelings, of figuring out why he kissed him when he shouldn't have, when he can't. He's tried every trick in the book, from claiming illness to dragging one of the kids to plain blowing it off, but Yoongi isn’t stupid. He knows what he’s doing, and the text is proof. We need to talk. Two hours, and he still doesn’t have a worthy response.

The only excuse he has for his newfound shyness is cowardice. He doesn’t know how he can face Yoongi on his own again after – after he kissed him. God, why did he do that? Years of controlling his impulses – of telling his heart no – and he destroyed it with one kiss. He wanted it, yes, but he can’t want any more. He doesn’t deserve it.

He locks his phone and tosses it back into his bag to grab a drink of water. The kids are warming down for the day, but Hoseok is staying on, not for himself (he mastered the choreo the day they got it) but for Sangjun. They’re double-promoting this time around, with one routine for their title track, Oblivion, and another for a B-side, Face to Face. Sangjun is passable at the former and woeful at the latter, and he won’t accept either. Hoseok crouches down by Sangjun’s prone form and pinches his shoulder. “Yah. Wake up.”

“Hobi hyung?” Sangjun sits up with difficulty. “Aren’t we done?

“You’re staying here with me.” Sangjun wilts. “What?”

“I don’t feel good…”

“Neither do I. That's no excuse.” As part of their revenge, the managers have put Hoseok on his strictest comeback diet yet; chicken, sweet potatoes and lemon water. It’s killing him slowly, but his abs are beginning to surface.

 “Hyung…” Sangjun is close to tears.

“We only have a week left, and you're not up to scratch. Let’s stay late tonight and practice hard so you won’t have to worry about it for the rest of the comeback.”

Sangjun’s head thumps against the floor, but he doesn’t protest. The kids file past as they leave, casting sympathetic looks in Sangjun’s direction. Marcel offers to stay, but Hoseok dismisses him; Sangjun requires his full attention, and Marcel needs to sleep.

Hoseok gives Sangjun another ten minutes on the floor and then hauls him up to begin. He breaks down the choreo into tiny segments and helps him through each one until he’s perfect and then gradually chains them together, piece by piece, to form the whole routine. It’s exhausting, especially when you have to do it twice, but it’s the best way to teach and it normally yields great results.

But Sangjun isn’t performing as expected. He’s sluggish and distractable; he forgets steps immediately after he’s shown them, and several times he sits down midway through a section, forcing Hoseok to scold him into getting up. He can’t fathom what’s gotten into him; normally, Sangjun is one of the hardest workers in the group. This isn’t like him, and Hoseok wonders if he’s legitimately ill. Despite his concerns, they keep going. There’s only a week left until the comeback and pre-recording starts in two days. They can’t dally.

By midnight they’ve made no progress, and Hoseok’s own legs are getting wobbly. He stops the music. “Sangjun-ah, if you won’t work with me, we might as well –”

It happens in slow motion. As Hoseok turns around, Sangjun’s legs buckle; Hoseok, acting on pure instinct, dives at him to catch him. They thud to the floor together and Hoseok’s knees break their fall. He rights himself hastily, disregarding the ache running up his thighs, and turns Sangjun over to face up. “Shit. Noh Sangjun! Wake up!”

Sangjun’s eyes flicker open, filmy and unfocused. “Noona?”

“Noona? What noona? I’m your hyung!”

Hoseok’s question is answered, not by Sangjun, but by a string. It glows red in his periphery, running from Sangjun’s wrist through the wall of the studio. “Noh Sangjun!” Hoseok shakes him. “Do you have a soulmate?” Sangjun nods, and Hoseok’s heart drops. “How? When?”

“She’s a sound technician,” Sangjun mumbles. “At a photo shoot. She… she dropped a boom, I caught it at the same time as her, and… and…” A photo shoot? Hoseok racks his brain. What photo shoot…?

It hits him. The one he found Sangjun backstage at, where he offered him a bottle of water. That can’t have been more than two months ago. “How did you stay in contact?”

“The… She applied to work at the company…” That means she has access to parts of the building, Hoseok realises, including storage. That’s what he was doing there, not looking for a fan gift. “But… they assigned her to film with the new girl group, so… she was busy, and I…” And Sangjun hasn’t had time to breathe, let alone sneak off to meet a girl.

“When was the last time you saw her?”

“Two… two weeks.”

Two weeks. He hasn’t seen his soulmate in two weeks. Hoseok presses his hand to Sangjun’s forehead; it’s burning, as if his brain is attempting to boil itself. The string flashes erratically, one second bright enough that it hurts his eyes to look at it and non-existent the next. Judging by how ill he’s been as of late, Hoseok guesses that they haven’t met up frequently enough for the bond’s liking, and two weeks without your soulmate when you’ve been bonded for so short a time is a recipe for disaster.

He needs to take Sangjun to his soulmate, but how? He rules out the company immediately. They’ll punish Sangjun for keeping his soulmate secret and Hoseok refuses to let that happen. His neglected car is at the apartment and he can’t leave Sangjun alone to go get it, and he doesn’t want to get the kids involved, for fear the managers will notice. He could call Seokjin or Jungkook or Dawon, but it would take them ages to get here, and Sangjun’s condition is too urgent for him to wait.

“Hyung… It hurts.” The muscles in Sangjun’s arm convulse as he lets out a piteous whine.

“It’s okay,” Hoseok soothes. “I’ll take you to her.”

“You will?”

“Promise. Do you know where she lives?” Sangjun’s eyes slide shut. “Noh Sangjun! Wake up.” He pinches his cheek, but Sangjun remains insensate. Shit. What is he going to do? Who can help him?

The solution is so blindingly obvious he almost kicks himself. Yoongi! Yoongi owns a car and he should still be in the building. Hoseok pulls his phone out to text Yoongi and is confronted with four words. We need to talk. Hoseok bites his lip, fingers hovering over the keyboard. Will Yoongi even help him?

Sangjun whimpers, making his mind up for him. Yoongi is his only hope, and Hoseok will beg if need be.

 

Suga PD

Today 00:11 AM
Are you in your studio?
Yes...
Did you drive to work today?
Yes...
I need your help
Can you have your car ready by the rear entrance?
What’s going on?
Please
I’ll tell you later
Fine
But we still need to talk
We will, I promise

Sangjun is light enough for Hoseok to pick him up in a fireman’s lift with minimal hassle. He turns off the light in the studio and carries him out into the darkness of the building. This late at night – technically this early in the morning – the corridors are deserted. The nighttime security should be on patrol, but they never bother, reliant on technology to do their jobs for them. Luckily, Hoseok knows a CCTV-free route from the practice rooms to the rear entrance; he and Ino found it pre-debut. Back then, they used it to sneak out and get ice cream. Who would have guessed that he would use it for something like this?

Hoseok reaches the rear entrance and enters the code to unlock it, bracing himself for the frigid night air. He staggers out to see a handsome black coupe; it flashes its lights and the rear door springs open as Hoseok approaches.

“Hoseok-ah?” Yoongi’s mouth pops open when he sees the body in his arms. “What – who is that?”

“Sangjunie.” Hoseok heaves him into the back seat as gently as he can and climbs in after him. There’s a smear of blood on Hoseok’s shirt; it has come, he discovers, from Sangjun’s nose, which is bleeding generously. “Yoongi hyung, go.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know! Go, will you?”

The car roars into life and takes off like a rocket. “What happened to him? Do you want me to go to a hospital?”

“No,” Hoseok snaps. “A hospital can’t help him. We have to follow his string.”

“His – oh, fuck.” Yoongi gapes in horror at the glowing red thread. “When did that happen?”

“Eyes on the road!” Yoongi whips his head back around. “He said two months ago. They haven’t met in two weeks.”

“Two weeks? How is he alive?”

“I have no idea. I can’t get him to wake up and I don’t know where she lives…” Hoseok adjusts Sangjun’s head; his palms come away sticky. Twin trickles of blood pump from his ears. “Go faster!”

“I am! Direct me, I can’t look back. Which way is the string going?”

Hoseok squints at the compass on the dashboard. “If we’re going north, it’s going west – fuck!” Yoongi wrenches the steering wheel around; the car drifts around in a pinhead u-turn, throwing Hoseok into the car door, and takes a sharp turn right. “Are you trying to kill us?”

“I’m trying to keep him alive! Is he bleeding?”

“Yes – his nose, his ears…”

“Shit, shit, that’s his brain.” Hoseok’s stomach roils queasily at the thought. “We have to hurry. Where next?”

“North-northeast.” Yoongi guns the engine and Hoseok seizes onto Sangjun to keep him stationary. The boy moans. “Sangjun-ah! Wake up!”

“Hyung,” he mumbles. “Hurts…”

“I know, I know. Where does she live?”

“Number… number twelve…”

“Twelve where?” Sangjun’s eyes roll back in his head. “Sangjun-ah!”

“Which way, Hoseok-ah?”

“East!” The car drifts into the turn so fast that Hoseok can smell rubber burning.

Sangjun passes in and out of consciousness as they speed through the deserted streets of Seoul. Hoseok’s world narrows to this car – to Sangjun, his responsibility, to the roar of the engine as Yoongi changes gear, to the lights flashing through the windows, to the adrenaline hissing through his body.

Hoseok knows they're close when the string stops blinking out of existence and Sangjun can focus on him. His eyes are bloodshot and teary, but they’re clear. “Hyung?”

“Your soulmate – where doe she live?”

“Sinchon-dong…”

“We’re in Chunghyeon-dong,” Yoongi says. “Does he know the street?”

After some coaxing from Hoseok, Sangjun names the street and building. Yoongi enters it into the GPS one-handed.

“Hyung…”

Hoseok mops Sangjun’s sweaty brow with his shirtsleeve. “We’ll get you there.”

“Why are… why are you helping me?”

Hoseok smiles feebly. “What kind of leader would I be if I didn’t help you?”

Sangjun frowns. “Why aren’t you angry? We’re not allowed soulmates… I broke the rules.”

Yoongi laughs, though there’s no amusement in it. “He’d be a hypocrite if he got angry at you for having a soulmate.”

“You’re not the only one with a soulmate,” Hoseok says, tiredly. There’s no point in keeping it secret now. Sangjun deserves to know.

“What? Who? You?”

“And me,” Yoongi adds.

Sangjun gapes. “What – hyung, you? You and Suga PD? How?”

“The company scouted us together. Our contracts obliged us to sever it.”

Sangjun’s eyes widen with horror. “You – you let them do that?”

“I had no choice,” Hoseok admits.

“They'll sever you and your soulmate too,” Yoongi says, ominously. “If they find out about her.”

Sangjun’s mouth presses into a stubborn line. “I… I won’t let them.”

“Then don’t.” Hoseok takes Sangjun’s jaw in his palms. “Promise me that you’ll keep this secret. I can’t let you go through that.”

“Was it that awful?”

“Yes,” Hoseok and Yoongi say in chorus. In the rearview mirror, Yoongi’s eyes are hard and lightless, and Hoseok can feel the physical weight of his gaze on him.

Hoseok coughs. “Gotta clean you up,” he says to Sangjun. “Hyung, do you have any wipes? Or water?”

“Car door.” Sure enough, Hoseok finds a bottle of water and a pack of wipes. He cleans the blood from Sangjun’s face and neck and neatens his clothes and hair. When he judges him capable of it, he lifts him up until he's sitting, head lolled back against the headrest, and carefully drips water into his mouth. His string glows consistently. “How long more?”

“Nearly there,” Yoongi answers.

“Do you feel any better?” This he directs at Sangjun, who nods. “We’ll leave you with her tonight. Stay in the apartment and keep the curtains drawn. Make sure no-one sees you. I’ll collect you tomorrow morning.”

“What will you tell the others?”

“I’ll say we went drinking and crashed at my friend’s. Turn off location services on your phone so no-one can find out where you are.”

“We’re here.” The car pulls to an abrupt stop. “I’ll wait for you.”

Hoseok ushers Sangjun out. He can stand under his own power, but walking proves too much for him, and Hoseok supports him with one arm. At the entrance to the building, he finds the buzzer for unit twelve and presses it. “Nakyung-sshi?”

“Who’s there?”

“Noona,” Sangjun gasps. “Noona, let me in.”

“Sangjun-ah!” The door swings open. Hoseok pulls Sangjun in.

“What floor is she on?”

“Third.” They take the stairs slowly, and when they emerge from the stairwell onto the third floor Hoseok gets the vaguest glimpse of a girl before she launches herself at Sangjun.

“You’re alive!”

“Noona, are you okay?”

“I am now.” She draws back and Hoseok can see that she’s gorgeous, taller than Sangjun, with elegant features and long dark hair. An old scar arches up her neck – acid, or a burn. Blood stains her nose and ears, and her eyes are wet with tears. She sniffs. “Is this – Hoseok-sshi?”

“It’s nice to meet you, Nakyung-sshi.” Hoseok bows perfunctorily.

“Hobi hyung helped me,” Sangjun murmurs. “He won’t tell on us.”

Nakyung scrutinises him. He must pass muster, because she inclines her head at him. “Thank you,” she says, “for bringing him to me.”

“Take care of him,” Hoseok instructs. “I’ll collect him tomorrow morning.” He pats Sangjun’s back. “If you need anything, text me, alright? Good night, kid.”

“Good night.” With that, Nakyung hurries Sangjun into her apartment, their string a brilliant red light between them. Hoseok watches until the door shuts behind them; only when they're safely inside does he leave.

The adrenaline of the rescue drains away as he descends and lets himself out. The car waits where he left it, and Yoongi opens the passenger seat from within so Hoseok can slip in.

“Did you find her?” Hoseok nods. “Was she okay?”

“Yes.” Hoseok remembers the joy in her eyes when she saw Sangjun, how perfectly they fit together when they embraced. “She’s beautiful.”

Yoongi doesn’t respond. Hoseok lets his head tip back against the headrest and closes his eyes. It was rude of him to look at their string, but what choice did he have? His and Yoongi’s was different, more vital, the colour of blood.

The car is quiet for a long while until Yoongi takes a wrong turn. “Aren’t we going to the building?”

“No. My place.” Yoongi changes gear.

“What?” Hoseok, alarmed, sits up ramrod straight. “Why? I’m fine, let me go back!”

“There’s no way I’m leaving you alone.”

“Hyung!”

“Hoseok-ah,” Yoongi says, between clenched teeth. “Let me do this for you.”

“…Fine.” Let Yoongi do as he likes. He doesn’t have the energy to resist. Hoseok slumps into his seat, curling his legs beneath him and shutting his eyes as he drifts off, floating on the nebulous border between awake and asleep.

They pull to a stop in an underground car park. Yoongi gets out first, and he walks around to open Hoseok’s door for him. He offers him his hand; Hoseok takes it, and Yoongi leads him into an lift, which they step into, hand-in-hand. Hoseok has the distinct sense that he is crossing the Rubicon, and on the opposite shore lies something different, for better or for worse.

The apartment is silent and dark when they enter, and Yoongi lets go of his hand to turn on the lights. “Tea?”

“Please.” Yoongi lets go of his hand and disappears into another room, leaving Hoseok to trail him into the living room, which is dominated by a gigantic window. “What a view.” Through the window, he can see the innumerous lights of Seoul, the proud jut of Namsan Tower, the oleaginous wind of the Han crisscrossed with bridges. “How much did this place cost?”

“You don’t want to know.” Porcelain clinks as Yoongi sets a mug down. “I’ll get you clothes. Be right back.” He hurries away. Hoseok picks the too-hot tea up and sniffs it. It’s peppermint, his favourite, which Yoongi hates. Why does he have any?

His train of thought is interrupted when his phone buzzes.

 

Marcel

Today 1:29 AM
Where are you and Sangjunie?
We got shitfaced and we’re crashing at a friend’s
Don’t tell the managers
Be back tomorrow

“Hoseok-ah?”

Hoseok locks his phone and puts it away. “Hyung?”

Yoongi holds out a set of clothes, a towel and a toothbrush. “Thought you’d want to clean up. The bathroom’s that way.”

Hoseok leaves his tea behind and accepts the pile of fabric. He brushes past Yoongi into the bathroom.

Compared to the orderly living room, this place is a disaster, cluttered with enough skincare to make a dermatologist swoon. The Lush box sits on a counter, contents savaged, though the turtle yet survives. Hoseok pets its glittery head and turns to examine himself in the mirror. His t-shirt is ruined, splashed with blood, and his basketball shorts are no better. Red streaks down his arms and wrists, and his hair is damp with sweat. He strips off rapidly and hops into the shower.

Faced with a dizzying array of options, he grabs the closest bottle of shower gel. He’s dying his hair orange again tomorrow, so shampoo and conditioner are unnecessary. The gel slips strangely over his unnaturally smooth skin; hair removal is, unfortunately, part and parcel of being an idol, and he’s bare all over. At least his legs look good in shorts.

Once he deems himself to be suitably clean, he steps out and dries himself enough to pull on the clothes Yoongi gave him. The shorts fit fine (by which he means tight; two years of skinny jeans will acclimatise anyone to tight-fitting underwear) but the t-shirt gives him pause. STREET SEOUL 2014, it reads, and Hoseok realises that it’s his, from an old dance competition. It must have gotten mixed into Yoongi’s things when they moved out of their college apartment. He kept it all these years, and not to wear it; it’s in the same condition as it was when last he saw it. Hoseok strokes the fabric, heart squeezing guiltily.

Get over yourself. He pulls it on (the fit is looser than he remembers, but Hoseok is far thinner at age twenty-six than he was at age twenty-one) and brushes his teeth more vigorously than is necessary. When he spits and rinses, he takes a moment to psych himself. He can do this. He pushes the door open and –

Happens upon Yoongi, halfway through getting undressed. His back is bare, and his ass is getting there, and Hoseok squeaks as he stumbles back. “Sorry! I – I thought, um – why am I in here?”

Yoongi hastily yanks his pants back up, fumbling at the fly to hide himself. “It’s an ensuite so there’s a door…” He turns around and Hoseok totally does not gape at the fact that he has pectorals now, holy shit. What happened to his skinny Yoongi? His belly is gone too, and Hoseok mourns it. “Uh… are you done?”

Hoseok realises that he’s leering. “Sure! I’ll. Um. I’ll go.” He beats a hasty retreat into the living room.

His tea is cold enough to drink now, and he drains it as he waits for his blush to fade. He leaves the cup on a kitchen countertop and on his return to the living room finds Yoongi sprawled out on the couch, typing on his phone. He glances up when Hoseok enters. “Everything okay?”

“Yes.” Hoseok takes a seat at the opposite end of the couch and melts into the cushions. “God, what a night.”

Yoongi locks his phone and tosses it aside. “What happened exactly?”

“Sangjunie was slacking off so I kept him late to practice. I rang you when he collapsed.” Hoseok tugs restlessly at his hair; the pre-comeback dying has left it brittle, and several blond strands come out in his hands. “I should have seen this coming a mile away. He would get ill and then bounce back immediately, he was always on his phone, I could never find him when I wanted to… He even had a hickey at one point.”

“You can’t be on top of everything.”

“I have to be. I’m the leader.” He runs a hand over his face and looks hopelessly at Yoongi. “What am I going to do?”

“With Sangjun?” Yoongi seizes his shoulder. “You can’t let the company know. Do you want them to sever them like they did us?”

“No, but they’ll find out sooner or later. I have to buy them time…” Hoseok buries his head in his hands. “Couldn’t they have bonded during our break instead of right before a comeback?”

“Are bondings ever convenient?” Yoongi pulls Hoseok’s hands away from his face and grabs his wrists so Hoseok is forced to face him. “I have a plan.”

“Lay it on me.”

“In prisons, they have officers appointed to bring inmates to visit their soulmates. They call them conjugal visits. Why don’t I do that for Sangjun? Bring him to visit his soulmate?”

That could solve the problem. If Sangjun gets regular contact with Nakyung, his string should stay invisible, and he won’t fall ill. “But how will you excuse that?”

“I’ll tell them Sangjun is helping me with a solo project.”

“You won’t get away with that in the middle of a comeback.”

“In case you haven't noticed, I’m a dick.” Hoseok laughs at how bluntly Yoongi says it, and Yoongi smiles at him. “I’m an enfant terrible. The company lets me get away with things no-one else can.”

“Like ignoring the CEO’s revisions?”

“I was pursuing my artistic vision,” Yoongi corrects snootily.

“You’re full of shit.”

“I know. But this could work, couldn’t it?”

“It could…” It’s their best option. “Hopefully by the time we go on tour he’ll be capable of tolerating extended separation.” They’re scheduled for concerts in Japan in August, but in the meantime, they’re not out of the country for longer than a week. “I don’t want you to have to go to any more trouble than you already have…”

“Hoseok-ah.” Yoongi laces their fingers together. “If it’s for you, I don’t mind.”

If it’s for you. The words drip with something Hoseok refuses to name. “Please don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t…” Hoseok swallows. “Don’t say things like that to me.” He looks up at him. “I can’t do this.”

“Do what?”

“You know what.”

“Say it.”

Hoseok presses his lips together. Yoongi’s eyes are dark and abyssal and Hoseok wants to throw himself into him and drown. “I can’t love you.”

“You said that before,” Yoongi says, in that unique way of his, equal parts blunt and fond, “and look what happened.”

“You broke my heart, that’s what happened.”

“That’s why you can’t love me?”

“I – I can’t –”

Yoongi pulls his hands up. “Please, please give me a chance. I know you want to. Why else would you have kissed me?”

“I don’t know! I don’t know why I kissed you! I’ve tried to figure it out for a month! You – you–” Yoongi recoils, and Hoseok realise, too late, that he shouted. “Sorry,” he whispers. Yoongi’s grip slackens enough for him to pull free. “Thank you for the clothes, and for… for helping. I’m sorry for getting you involved, I – I couldn’t think of anyone else. Can you show me where I’m sleeping?”

Yoongi gazes at him for a long while in such a way that Hoseok feels naked, pinned like a specimen. Finally, when Hoseok is about to offer him his phone so he can take a picture and stare at that instead, he rises, beckoning for Hoseok to follow him down a corridor. “Jungkookie and Joonki hyung are the only people who stay here, so…” He opens the door to reveal a disaster of a room, strewn with old clothes and empty shopping bags. “Sorry.”

“I’ve slept in worse.” Hoseok steps in hesitantly. “Good night.”

“If you need anything, you know where my room is.” Yoongi moves closer and Hoseok needs to get away, he needs to flee the precipice that is Yoongi, but he’s rooted in place. His heart beats faster and faster as Yoongi nears, as the cliff crumbles beneath his feet –

Yoongi kisses his cheek. “Good night,” he whispers, and with that, he leaves.

Hoseok doesn’t know how long he stands there with his hand to his cheek, heart thudding. When he finally regains control of himself, he lets himself fall onto the bed with a thump. “Min Yoongi, you fucker.” He flails the covers over him. “I hate you.” He punches the pillow into a suitable shape. “You raging fucking asshole!” He lies there, fuming, and waits for sleep to claim him.

Quarter past one. Why does Yoongi have peppermint tea?

(He loves you.)

Half past one. Why did Yoongi keep his shirt?

(He loves you.)

Quarter to two. Why did Yoongi kiss him?

(He loves you.)

Two am. Hoseok is frustrated enough that he could cry. Trying to fall asleep like this is futile, no matter how exhausted he is. “Fuck this,” he growls. Yoongi caused it, Yoongi can fix it. He gets out of the bed and picks through the rubbish to get to the door. Out in the hallway, the sight of Yoongi’s door makes him waver, but he composes himself and carries on. One step turns into two turns into three turns into enough to take him to Yoongi’s room. He doesn’t bother to knock, and he slams the door open. “Min Yoongi!” He paws around for the light switch and flips it on.

Yoongi leans up and blinks at him blearily, shading his eyes with a hand. “Am I – what’re you…?”

“I can’t sleep.” Hoseok slams his hands on the end of the bed. “It’s all your fault.”

“What do you want me to do about it? Make you some warm milk?”

“I want you to shove over.”

Yoongi makes no move to do so; Hoseok rolls his eyes and pushes at his legs. “Yah!”

“God, you’re heavy.” Hoseok manages to make enough room for him to climb onto the bed. Yoongi gapes at him with shock. “What?”

“You… you…”

“I’m tired.” Hoseok’s voice cracks with desperation. “I’ve been awake since four am and I haven’t slept properly outside your studio in months. Let me sleep with you. Please.”

“Outside my…” Hoseok, no longer able to hold himself up, collapses half on top of Yoongi. Yoongi freezes, but when Hoseok thinks he’s going to push him off the bed, he does the exact opposite. He pulls him closer, until his arm is around Hoseok’s shoulders and his head is resting on his chest.

Hoseok looks up as best he can. “Hyung?”

“Go to sleep,” Yoongi whispers. “We have to get up early to collect Sangjun.”

Hoseok means to respond, but his eyes are drooping. The last thing he sees before he falls asleep is Yoongi’s smile.

 

Hoseok dreams of himself.

He’s seated between Aera and Jaekyung in a restaurant, watching a live stream on a phone. The words ARTIST OF THE YEAR flash up on screen, and Aera grabs his hand.

“They won’t be nominated,” he says, in a voice with a Daegu satoori. “No way. Not with the year Red Velvet has had.”

“Shut up,” Aera snaps. “You never know.”

Group after group flashes across the screen. Twice, Red Velvet, Winner –

Polaris. Jaekyung screams loudly enough that the other customers stare, and he slaps an overlarge hand across her mouth. “Are you trying to get us kicked out?”

Aera pulls him off. “Give her a break, Yoongi-yah. Oh my God, what if they win?”

He purses his lips. The camera pans to each group as the announcer drags the reveal out. The other groups sit smiling pleasantly, anticipating the descent of the cameras when their name is called, but Polaris are chatting, visibly relaxed. They don’t think they’ll win.

The announcer takes her sweet time, swinging around to look behind her after she draws the card from its elaborate envelope. “Get on with it, lady,” he growls –

“Polaris!” The camera pans immediately to the boys. Ino has shot up out of his chair, Marcel’s eyes are bugging out of his head, and Hoseok's hands are clasped to his mouth as he stares around as if there's been a mistake.

The girls embrace, squealing happily, and they take no notice as he leaves for the bathroom. He locks himself into a stall. A daesang. Polaris won a daesang, Hoseok won a daesang. His dream, he thinks, as the tears begin to pour down his face. That was all he ever wanted; to succeed, and he has.

Without Yoongi.

 

Hoseok blinks awake, face wet with tears. He swipes them away with confusion that only intensifies when he feels a body against his. Last night reforms in his mind; Sangjun bleeding in his lap, his soulmate's dark hair swinging over his shoulder, Yoongi’s lips against his cheek.

“Hoseok-ah?” A finger brushes under Hoseok’s eye; it’s Yoongi. “Why are you crying?”

“I don’t know,” Hoseok answers. What did he dream? Why did he dream he was Yoongi? It reminded him of the dreams their string gave them in an attempt to bond them. “Did you… were you dreaming?”

“Why do you ask?” Yoongi’s legs shift against his, and as he turns to look at Hoseok, his chest bumps against his.

“I – I think I dreamt your dream.”

It’s as if all the air has been sucked out of the room; Yoongi goes deathly still, and the hand on Hoseok’s waist tightens its grip painfully. “That’s impossible,” he says, finally, in a flat tone. “The severance should have stopped that.”

“I know, but –” He lets go of him to sit up and stretch, t-shirt pulling taut across his chest. “Hyung…”

“We need to collect Sangjun. Get up.” Hoseok watches him leave, bemused, as he stifles a yawn. Despite the tears, he hasn’t slept so soundly in months, and he feels as if he’s been made anew. He sits up to fumble around on the bedside table for his phone, but it’s not there; he must have left it in the spare room.

His hand lands on a photo frame, and it falls onto its face. “Crap.” He rights it, and in it he sees not a photo, but a piece of red string. Old, worn, unravelling at the ends, a quarter of a century old.

His string. Hoseok traces the loop of it through the glass. He kept it safe. Why?

(He loves you.)

He swings his legs over the side of the bed. Does he? Did he keep his love for him, even when it was torn away? Even when Hoseok rebuffed him, avoided him, left him in the cold?

He doesn’t notice Yoongi come in until he lowers a mug in front of the frame. “Milk and one sugar, right?”

Hoseok stares up at him. “Hyung…”

Yoongi follows his line of sight to the string; he puts his own coffee down too and rests his hand on Hoseok’s shoulder. “Yes?”

Hoseok gazes at him, at the vulpine curve of his eyes, the gentle bloom of his lips. He’s beautiful, more beautiful than any of the idols and models and actors he’s met. Beautiful enough to break his heart and put it back together. “You cried when we won that daesang,” he murmurs.

“How –”

“I dreamt it. Why?”

Pain flickers across his features. “Because it was what you wanted. It was your dream, and when you got it I was so happy for you that I cried.”

Yoongi’s words are sincere; the dream is still vivid in his mind, including the knotty tangle of joy and despair in his chest as he sobbed. Why would he be so happy for him?

(He loves you.)

“Do you love me?”

Hoseok expects him to take his time, to leave him to sweat it out or to not answer at all. He doesn’t expect him to answer immediately, but when does Yoongi do what Hoseok thinks he will?

“I do.” Suddenly he’s in front of him, hands splayed beside him, Hoseok’s knees between his legs. “I never stopped. I couldn’t.” He inhales sharply. “Do… do you?”

Hoseok doesn’t have to search for the answer; it’s there, as it has always been. “Yes,” he whispers. “I do, I always have, I – I can’t, I don’t deserve to, but I do. What… what are we going to do?”

Yoongi doesn’t answer. He leans in, slowly, slowly, and when he kisses him Hoseok feels, for the first time in three years, complete. It’s good – so, so good. In the years since they severed their bond Hoseok has kissed his fair share of people – idols in backstage dressing rooms, clubbers in dirty bathrooms, actors in their penthouses – but none of them kissed him like Yoongi does, like he’s precious, like he deserves all the care in the world and more besides.

The kiss grows braver, stronger, and Yoongi pushes him down and back onto the bed, bracing himself above him. Hoseok’s hands fist in his t-shirt as their mouths open, warm and wanting. His breath stinks, but Hoseok doesn’t care – can’t care – as their tongues slip against one another’s, as Yoongi slides his hands up his arms and twines their fingers together.

Yoongi draws back, a smile settling on his lips. “I missed you,” Hoseok says.

“I missed you too. I missed this,” he kisses Hoseok’s nose, “and I missed this,” he kisses his ear, “and this, and this, and this.” His chin, his neck, and back to his lips, smiling against them.

Hoseok pretends to shiver, though each kiss felt electric. “Cheesy.”

“You love it.” Yoongi mouths along his jaw.

“I do.” He feels teeth scrape against his neck and rears away. “Hey! No marks.” Yoongi frowns. “C’mon, do you wanna make the makeup artist’s job any harder than it already is?” Yoongi’s frown intensifies; Hoseok giggles and kisses his forehead. “Don’t frown. You’ll get wrinkles.”

Yoongi grumbles, but he lets his face relax, and for that, Hoseok rewards him with a kiss. This one is wetter, deeper, and he can’t get enough; he arches his back as Yoongi slides their entwined hands across the bed. Yoongi pulls back and Hoseok strains upward, pinned my Yoongi’s hands and hips. “Hyung,” he whines. “It was just getting good!”

Yoongi rakes his eyes down his face, his body. “God,” he mumbles. “You know we don’t have a lot of time…” At Hoseok’s blank look, he elaborates. “Sangjun.”

Speak of the devil; a phone rings in another room. “That’s mine,” Hoseok sighs.

“I’ll get it.” He releases Hoseok and skitters off. He takes the chance to finish his coffee; it’s too hot to drink, but he doesn’t have a choice. Yoongi skids back in and hands him his phone.

“Hello?”

“Hyung? Where are you?”

“Oh, Kwang-ah!” Hoseok gets up. “At my friend…” Who can he convince to take him and Sangjun back? “Seokjin’s!”

“What? Why? Where’s Sangjun?”

“He’s here with me. I took him out last night and he got pissed. I didn’t want to disturb you kids when we came in, so I decided to crash at a friend’s.”

“Oh.” Jingwang sounds surprised. “That’s considerate of you.”

“Ah, it was nothing. Are the managers up?”

“Not yet.”

“Good. We’ll be right there. See you!” Hoseok hangs up. “We gotta hurry. Call Seokjin.”

Twenty minutes later, Yoongi has Hoseok pinned against the wall of the underground car park, both of them dressed (Hoseok’s t-shirt was unsalvageable, but Yoongi loaned him one) and caffeinated and vaguely aroused. In his borrowed bag is a bucket hat, a pair of sunglasses and a Kumamon face mask. He should really be wearing them already, but he doesn’t think Yoongi would appreciate a face mask, given that he’s currently attempting to suck his soul out through his mouth.

“Hyung,” Hoseok gasps when Yoongi lets him breathe. “What – shouldn’t Seokjin be here soon?”

“Give him a minute.” Yoongi strokes a thumb across Hoseok’s lips, leaving them stinging. “You’re eager to leave.”

“I’m eager to not get caught,” Hoseok says, softly. “If I could stay…”

“You would, I know,” Yoongi mumbles. “It’s just…” He sighs and pulls his hands away from Hoseok’s face. “You picked the worst possible time to get over yourself.” He makes his way towards the entrance, and Hoseok follows him to lean his chin on his shoulder and kiss the corner of his jaw in lieu of an apology. The intimacy is thrilling in its familiarity.

“You’re lucky I got over myself at all.” He winds his arms around Yoongi’s waist. “You… you know how dangerous this is, don’t you? I don’t own me.”

Yoongi raises one hand to cup his cheek, the other settling on Hoseok’s arm. “Hyung will take care of everything,” he murmurs. “Okay?”

But how? They shouldn’t be in love at all; the severance was supposed to take care of that. Then again, he shouldn’t have dreamt his dream either. Something is terribly wrong with them, with their bond, and Yoongi cannot fix that, no matter how hard he tries.

He doesn’t get to say any of this. The gate to the carpark opens with a rumble of steel and a foreign car rolls in. It pulls up beside them and the tinted windows lower to reveal Seokjin, who peers at them over his sunglasses. “Your knight in shining armour is here and – oh. Oh.”

“Don’t you dare–”

“I told you so!” Seokjin lets out a whoop.

Yoongi rolls his eyes and kisses Hoseok’s cheek one last time before stepping away to open the passenger door. “Go. I’ll see you later.”

Hoseok wants to kiss him properly, but the expression on Seokjin’s face tells him that that would not be wise. He slips into the car and watches Yoongi recede as they pull out into the light. Hoseok taps Nakyung’s address into the GPS. “Go here, please.”

“Do I want to know what’s going on?”

Hoseok recounts the story, from Sangjun’s collapse to the kiss, pausing to let the GPS instruct Seokjin, and by the time he finishes, they’ve reached their destination. Seokjin cuts the engine and turns to Hoseok.

“I want to tell you I told you so…” His lips quirk into that cute V-shaped smile of his. “But once is enough.”

Hoseok slumps into his seat. “You were right,” he mumbles. “I should have told that agent to stick his contract up his ass.” Seokjin laughs his windshield-wiper laugh at him. “What’s your registration number?”

Seokjin calms down enough to rattle it off. Hoseok texts it to Sangjun along with the car’s make, model and colour. “What are you going to do now?”

“Yoongi said he’ll help Sangjun and Nakyung,” Hoseok says. “He’ll be careful.”

“Forget about them.” Seokjin waves a hand dismissively. “What about you? What are you going to do?”

Hoseok closes his eyes. “If I knew, I’d tell you.”

Seokjin starts to say something, but stops when someone knocks on the passenger door window. Hoseok leans back to unlock the rear door and Sangjun crawls in. “Sangjun-ah! Are you okay?”

“Never been better,” Sangjun says blissfully. No trace remains of last night’s ordeal – his skin glows healthily, his eyes are shining, and his smile is so warm Hoseok has to respond in kind. “Oh – you’re the guy who got married! Seokjung-sshi?”

“Seokjin,” Hoseok corrects.

Sangjun bows. “It's nice to meet you.”

Seokjin nods back as he ignites the engine. “You too. Hoseok-ah, can you put your address in?”

Hoseok enters it. “Hyung,” Sangjun starts. “What are we telling the others?”

“I told ’em we got drunk and crashed at Seokjin’s. Act hungover.”

“We? Didn’t you go home last night?” Hoseok shakes his head and Sangjun’s eyes widen. “You didn’t…”

“He stayed with Yoongi,” Seokjin interrupts. Hoseok hits him. “Ow!”

“Are you back together? Is that… is that allowed?”

Hoseok shrugs. “We’re in uncharted territory here.” He coughs and changes the subject gracelessly. “Yoongi hyung is going to figure something out for you and Nakyung, so no more fainting.”

“Thank God.” Sangjun’s relief is audible. “She’s… I know soulmates are supposed to be different, but I never realised they were that different. Like… if every other kind of love is a stream, loving your soulmate is a river.”

“There’s a good lyric,” Hoseok teases. Sangjun flicks his neck and Hoseok can’t bring himself to chastise him, too relieved by his recovery.

Sangjun and Seokjin chatter about soulmates, and Hoseok tunes them out. Loving your soulmate certainly is different – overwhelming, encompassing, a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. He remembers how he felt about Yoongi – how fathomless it was, how powerful the waves of affection that hit him when Yoongi so much as looked at him were.

It shouldn’t be the same now, and it isn’t. It's weaker, a neap tide, but spring tide will come, and then Hoseok will sink, or he will swim, and he’s tired of drowning, of can’t, of denying his heart.

 

He can. He will. He loves Yoongi, and he won’t let anybody take that away from him, not even Fate itself.

Chapter Text

Nobody figures it out.

Hoseok can’t believe that they’ve gotten away with it. This comeback is busier than any they’ve had, the success of their last album and subsequent awards fuelling the rise of this one. New achievements roll in on the daily; unique listeners, YouTube views, charts around the world from ARIA to ZPAV. Everyone is too busy to sleep, let alone keep track of Hoseok, and thus he slips away in between schedules to Yoongi’s waiting arms, for five minutes, half an hour, however long he can manage.

Usually, despite his intentions otherwise, his exhaustion wins and Hoseok sleeps, head pillowed in Yoongi’s lap, fingers twined in his hair. Other times, they talk; about how the comeback is going, about what they did today, or about Sangjun’s visits. The managers are in no way happy with his disappearances, but Yoongi has the CEO’s ear, and, more importantly, his respect. Any complaint would endanger their jobs.

Infrequently, when his brain is too snarled up for sleep, Hoseok lets Yoongi take care of him. Lets him lower him onto the couch and kiss him, long and slow and dirty, kisses that remind Hoseok of the years they spent apart. Yoongi is different, now; less needy, more assured, like he knows exactly how good he can make Hoseok feel. He used to kiss like he had something to prove, but now he knows his worth, knows exactly how to string Hoseok along, how to get him gasping and wriggly and how to get him soft and pliable, zigzagging between the two to leave Hoseok reeling.

But they never have long enough. Right when the going gets heavy – when Yoongi’s fingers flirt with Hoseok’s waistband, when Hoseok slips his hands under Yoongi’s shirt, when they teeter on the brink of something deeper – they are rudely awakened. Aera bangs on the door as she calls Yoongi a variety of names (Hoseok’s favourite is poop-faced son of a whore), Hoseok’s phone shrills with an avalanche of anxious texts from the kids, and they have to step back.

Like now. The desk chair protests as Hoseok clambers regretfully off Yoongi’s lap, phone in hand. “Sorry, I gotta shower before we go.”

Yoongi pouts and curls his fingers in Hoseok’s belt loops, tugging him toward him. “I thought you recorded for that music show already.”

“We have to go back for the live broadcast and the winner’s announcement.” A hand slides up his inseam; he clamps his thighs shut in a vain attempt to halt its progress. "Min Yoongi!”

“What?” His grip on Hoseok’s thigh tightens. “I’m not doing anything, baby.”

Hoseok closes his eyes at the pet name. Baby. The first time Yoongi used it, Hoseok got up and left, but now… he now he likes it. Likes how Yoongi says it, as if he’s his to take care of. He bites his lip and relaxes his legs. His old thigh injury is flaring up, and Yoongi’s touch soothes it, inappropriate as it is. Yoongi strokes his legs with featherlight motions. “I promise I’ll be back.” He flicks at the earring dangling from Yoongi’s ear, bought by Taehyung as a ‘friendship earring’, though Hoseok doubts such a thing exists. “Maybe… afterwards? At yours?”

“Can you get away for that long?”

“I think I can.” They’re at the stage of promotions now where things are beginning to slow down. There’s nothing scheduled for today – no fansign, no variety show, no radio, and they don’t have a music show tomorrow. They won’t miss him.

Yoongi smirks – Hoseok is going to punch him in his dumb face – and withdraws his hands. “I’ll hold you to that.”

 

As of their latest comeback, Polaris have been upgraded to the ground floor dressing room, saving them the endless trips up and down the stairs they suffered in the one on the roof. They also have more space, as befits their more senior status, though it’s a tight squeeze with seven boys, two managers, two makeup artists, two stylists, two hairdressers, a camerawoman, their choreographer and the accompanying paraphernalia, from suitcases of clothes to bags of makeup and racks of accessories, not to mention the stagehands and audio techs that rush in and out. Hoseok dresses as quickly as he can, which isn’t very quickly; the concept for this comeback is decadence, which means chokers and skintight pants and gauzy shirts kept tucked in with the help of stays. The clothes are like corsetry, but when, between the barriers, he glimpses a new girl group filing past in skirts short enough that he feels compelled to look away, he feels marginally better about his outfits. At least he doesn’t have to worry about flashing ajusshi fans.

“Last spray. Hold your breath…” Hoseok squeezes his eyes and mouth shut as the hairdresser douses him in hairspray. “There! Beautiful.”

“Thank you, noona,” Hoseok chirps as he rises to go to the couch where Marcel is playing on his phone. The rest are still beautifying, so Hoseok busies himself by watching over Marcel’s shoulder. “What are you playing?”

“The same game as always,” Marcel scoffs. “Don’t you pay attention?”

“Hyung is old. They all look the same. What happened to League?” Marcel blows a derisive raspberry and Yeongsu bursts out laughing at him. Hoseok sulks theatrically for the camera and pokes Marcel in the sides to disrupt him; Marcel makes a frustrated noise and hops up off the couch to evade him. Hoseok pursues him around the room, giggling, until Manager Lee snaps at them to sit down before they sweat their makeup off. Hoseok sits down neatly, chastened, and Sangjun plops down beside him, the camerawoman drifting off in Jingwang’s direction.

“You look handsome,” Hoseok teases. Sangjun beams in response. He really does; there’s a luminescent glow to him, like a boy in the flush of first love. His fansite masters are rolling gleefully in likes.

Ino flops down beside him. “How’s it going with Yoongi hyung?” Yoongi’s plan, as harebrained as it is, has worked perfectly. When Hoseok judges that they can do without Sangjun for a while, he texts Seokjin with a request for a restaurant recommendation (he asks for different types of restaurant depending on Sangjun’s location), and Seokjin, in turn, contacts Yoongi. Yoongi will show up wherever they are, claim he needs Sangjun to work with a friend in a studio on the other side of the city and proceed to vanish him for a few hours. The managers complained until Yoongi name-dropped the producer, and then they shut up, only too happy with the prospect of a solo produced by such a big name. Yoongi confided in him later that said producer plagiarised one of his beats and that he basically has him by the balls. For now, they are safe.

“Good,” Sangjun says, so dreamily that Hoseok thinks Ino might catch on. He pinches his leg, and Sangjun straightens up. “Yeah! They’re pushing me out of my comfort zone and I’m learning lots.”

Sangjun is a terrible liar. If Ino pushes any further, he might figure it out. Hoseok coughs loudly. “Ino-yah,” he says, brightly. “I want to talk to you about our encore stage promise…”

They throw out a couple ideas (swapping roles, going an octave higher or lower, sharing one mic) before settling on Sehyeon’s inane idea of eating ice, mostly because the GIFs will provide enough blackmail material for months.

Finally, once their eyeshadow is blended out and their hair extensions clipped in and the requisite Twitter pictures taken for their post-show Tweet, they’re ready to go on stage. The managers go first, and the boys file out behind Hoseok, like ducks in a row. Hoseok bows to everyone he passes, be they older or younger; if they’re here, they deserve respect.

They wait around backstage as the set dressers construct a folly mansion out of nothing. Sound techs slip monitors into their ears (Hoseok’s current set is pale grey, one scribbled with his name and the other marked with glitter) and clip receivers to their belts. Hoseok, Ino and Sehyeon are given hand mics; the others are fitted with headsets. The audio engineers run them through a quick soundcheck and then they’re standing in position on stage as the MC yells their name to a chorus of excited screams.

Their debut stage was the most terrifying experience of Hoseok’s life. The pressure of performing at MAMA in front of thousands of people who had no idea who he was, combined with the prospect of debut and the cocktail of uppers and downers the managers had him on to stop him going off the rails altogether, left him in a blind panic. He remembers the mic shaking in his hand, how vast the stage was, how the audience seemed like a deep, dark ocean whence no light came.

But he was excited, and he enjoyed it, and though he spent the following hour puking his guts up in an anonymous bathroom he couldn’t bring himself to feel miserable. Performing is better than any high Hoseok has ever tried (and he’s tried them all in the grubby corners of idol afterparties); the electric feeling of hundreds, if not thousands, of eyes on him, under his command, screaming at each dip and twist and perfect step. It’s the closest thing in the world to magic, the only place where he can be himself, whatever self remains behind the layers of J-Hope and Hobi and Hoseok. It’s what he was born to do, and though Inkigayo is small compared to, say, Jamsil, he loves it no less, loves the perfect fan chants, the banter between performances, the wave of lights in the audience. It’s worth all the pain and tears and heartache.

The thrill buzzes through him even after their stage is over, when they step back to let the MCs announce the first place winner. They’ve reached the level of popularity that leads to other popular groups carefully shifting their comebacks to avoid co-promoting with them, and as the most popular group scheduled today, they performed last. The rest of the groups file on stage behind them to await the announcement. Given that Polaris has won every single show they’ve appeared on and that Eclipse has a variety of All-Kills to its name, it’s an exercise in futility, and they know it. Hoseok pretends to be shocked with the rest of them when they win. Marcel handles the speech in a strange mixture of French, English and Korean and Ino claims the trophy gleefully, as enthralled with the shiny piece of plastic as he was the first time around. A stagehand pushes through the crush of departing idols with a cup of ice cubes, and Hoseok doles it out with a generous hand, laughing at Sangjun when the idiot comes back for more. They sound awful with the ice, plunging the audience into peals of laughter, and when Sehyeon screeches through a high note that he’d normally nail Jingwang gets a powerful fit of giggles that makes him choke as he tries to keep the ice in his mouth.

Finally, once the encore stage is done and they’ve spat the ice out (or, in Yeongsu’s case, eaten it), they file off the stage, lips red and cheeks numb, waiting impatiently for the sound techs to remove their mics and in-ears and receivers and chattering loudly as they make their way back to the dressing room for water and touch-ups from the stylists before they go back out to say goodbye to the PDs.

Well, that was the plan. Instead of finding their staff in the room, they find a senior producer chatting with two girls. Hoseok stops dead in the doorway, and Sehyeon crashes into his back. “Excuse me.” He bows hesitantly. “Who are…?”

“They’re fans of yours, boys.” The producer’s bland tone contrasts with the steel in his eyes as he stares Hoseok down. “They asked if they could meet you to take a selfie.”

Fans aren’t allowed into private areas or, indeed, to take any selfies with them. Hoseok stands his ground. “Where’s our team?”

“J-Hope-sshi,” the producer says, sternly, and Hoseok has no choice but to let the others enter.

The girls bee-line for Marcel and Sehyeon, of course, and Hoseok takes the chance to examine them. They have lightsticks, sure – Polaris’ Telebong takes the form of a collapsible silver telescope embossed with the constellations in the sky on the day they debuted – but they look brand new out of the box. They’re not wearing any of the Polaris-brand merchandise Stellas usually wear to recordings, starry keychains and stripy wristbands or tour t-shirts; instead, they’re dripping in ostentatious designer brands, the kind Hoseok has only started buying recently. One of them drags her Balenciaga tote on the floor as if it were a plastic bag.

They’re not real Stellas. They’re back fans, rich kids who use their connections to the station to get backstage. Hoseok glances at the producer, who avoids his gaze. Ino shuffles up beside Hoseok. “Where are the managers?”

“No idea.” Fuck. It’s not like this is unusual – they’ve had this happen before, but always in the presence of managers. “Did you ring any of them?”

“I rang Manager Lee. He won’t pick up.”

Hoseok glances back at the girls, chewing his lip. It’s technically against the rules for unauthorised people to come into their dressing rooms, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. The managers usually try to stop it, but unless they want to piss off the station, they don’t have a choice. Normally it’s a minor annoyance, having to take a selfie with a rich kid when all he wants to do is conk on a couch and politely rebuffing their clumsy attempts to get his Kakao ID, but there are dozens of them this comeback, and they’re getting more shameless, if the absence of their team is any indication, and Hoseok isn’t comfortable with it.

They shuffle into position for a selfie. One of the girls has her hand on the small of Marcel’s back, and as the shutter sounds, she slips it down to squeeze his butt. Marcel’s smile stiffens abruptly, but the girl leaves her grasping hand there. Ino grabs Hoseok’s shoulder, grip tight enough to hurt. “Did you see that?”

Hoseok nods, throat constricting as the girl’s hand stays where it is. The producer’s face is blank. A white-hot flash of rage zips through him and he shakes out of Ino’s grasp. “Excuse me, ladies,” he practically shouts, and he shoulders in beside a pale Marcel, shielding his body with his own. “We have to go out and greet the producers,” he says, in the syrupiest tones he has, smile wide enough that his cheeks hurt. “It was nice meeting you!” He grabs Sehyeon and Marcel and drags them out into the hallway, the rest in hot pursuit.

Hoseok leads them away to where the other idols are lined up to wait for the producers. They get more than a few odd glances, but Hoseok doesn’t care. “Marcel-ah.” He takes his hand. “Are you okay?”

Marcel nods, mouth tight, eyes shiny. He’s lying. Hoseok pulls him close, heart thrumming fast with anger and worry. He loves all of them, of course, but Marcel is their maknae, a full four years younger than him, and he feels more responsible for him than the others, feels the need to baby him, though Marcel vocally protests each shred of affection. In turn, whenever Hoseok needs comfort, Marcel is wholly down for cuddles, and when Marcel must choose a member – as a roommate or a teammate or whatever – he always chooses Hoseok.

Finally, Manager Lee turns up, face puce with anger. “What did you do that for?” he hisses at Hoseok. “Do you have any idea how much trouble you’ve gotten me in?”

“You’re the one who let them in in the first place!” Hoseok says this loudly enough that a murmur rises from the other idols.

“Hyung,” Sangjun mutters. “The producers…”

The production team sweeps down the corridor, and, two people behind the head producer, Hoseok picks out the producer who was with the back fans. The idols bow as they pass by, as if they are compelled to. All of them but Hoseok.

Hoseok is a coward. He’s always been chicken, ever since he was little. The other kids on the playground would throw themselves off swings, roll down slides, clamber across monkey bars, and Hoseok would dither in the corner, scared of getting hurt, of breaking the rules. When he got older, when the other kids snuck out to nightclubs and got fake IDs to buy booze, Hoseok continually refused, worried about the consequences of getting caught. Authority – seniority – terrifies him, cows him into doing as he’s told. No other idol would put up with how their CEO treats him, but Hoseok has stuck it out, frightened of rocking the boat.

But when it comes to Polaris – these six kids who have staked their reputation and livelihood and wellbeing on his unworthy shoulders – he will be as brave as a lion. A wild notion grabs him, right as he’s about to dip into his usual bow, and he keeps his spine conspicuously straight as his rational mind screams at him to obey, to do as he always does and roll over.

“Hobi hyung!” Yeongsu grabs at his wrist and tugs, but Hoseok shrugs him off. He won’t bow to these people, who think his kids are meat for rich kids to have fun with. They haven’t earned his respect.

The head producer grinds to a halt in front of them, staring disdainfully at Hoseok. The other idols stare with wide eyes. Jung Hoseok will be the talk of every dressing room tonight. “Excuse me…” He reads the sign on Hoseok’s chest printed with his group and stage name. “J-Hope-sshi?”

“Yes?” Hoseok ignores the head producer, staring instead at the other one, the one who turned a blind eye to those girls.

“Do you have a problem?”

“You know I do,” Hoseok says, and the producer breaks his gaze.

“I’m sorry, PD-nim,” Manager Lee says, apologetic. “I don’t know what’s gotten into him.”

The silence draws out, thick and expectant, as Manager Lee’s babbled apologies trickle into nothingness. Hoseok gathers what crumbs of courage he has to stare down the producer, steadfastly ignoring the rumbling of fear in his stomach.

“I expect you people to control your artists,” the head producer says when it becomes clear that Hoseok will not yield. “If you can’t, you won’t be asked back to this station.” With that, the producer moves on and exits the hallway.

The other idols burst into chatter, giving Hoseok a wide berth as their managers steer them out. “Hobi hyung,” Sehyeon whispers, once the hallway is empty. “What did you do…?”

“He fucked us over!” Manager Lee turns on him. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done, you son of a bitch?”

“I was standing up for us! How did they get you out of our room?” Manager Lee’s face falls, and the realisation curdles in Hoseok’s stomach. “No. You wouldn’t.”

“Jung Hoseok,” Manager Lee says, warningly.

“They bribed you! You bastard, you–”

Hoseok hears the slap before he feels it. It catches him full on the cheek with enough force that his neck snaps sideways, the sound of it echoing off the walls of the empty corridor, and he stumbles back until his back hits concrete, ears ringing.

“Any more out of you,” Manager Lee threatens, spittle landing on Hoseok’s face, “and next time, my hand won’t be open.”

Ino steps forward, but Hoseok, scraping what sense he can together, moves in front of him defensively. “I’m telling the CEO,” Ino spits from behind him. “He’ll fire you.”

“Do you think the CEO gives a shit about what happens to Hoseok?” The weight of truth behind those words make them hurt worse than the slap did. The CEO doesn’t care about Hoseok. Yoongi asked him about the line distribution, and the CEO told him that Hoseok ‘isn’t a priority’. Manager Lee shoves Hoseok away. “Get out of my sight while I patch things up with the producers. All of you.”

The boys drag Hoseok away, back to their dressing room. “Hobi hyung,” Jingwang says, once they’re inside. “Let’s get some ice on that…” He bustles off to collect up the remnants of the ice from their encore stage and bundles it in a towel.

Hoseok sits, trembling, in front of one of the mirrors, examining his flawless complexion. The make-up artists did their job perfectly, and the slap doesn’t show through his foundation. He looks like a wax doll with his wide eyes and bloodless lips.

Jingwang returns with his make-shift ice pack and presses it to his cheek. Hoseok lets out a hiss as he stares at it. He was so happy on that stage, gurgling notes around ice. Where did it all go wrong? “Sorry,” Jingwang apologises.

“It’s okay.” He looks up at the worried faces of his kids and his heart sinks, stomach heavy with the familiar weight of humiliation. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”

“Don’t apologise,” Yeongsu says, quietly. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Marcel sniffs. “It’s my fault,” he says, miserably. “If I… If I hadn’t let her…”

Ino hits his shoulder. “Shut up,” he mumbles. “Doesn’t work like that. It’s that scummy producer’s fault. He let those bitches in.”

“Don’t.” Hoseok’s voice quavers pathetically. “Please… don’t.” The ice isn’t helping, and neither are the kids. His breath catches in his throat and his head aches. He can’t stay here. “Sangjun-ah… Will you call a taxi for me?”

“Where are you going?” Sehyeon’s eyes are big with worry. “Your sister’s?”

 

Safe to say, Hoseok doesn’t go to his sister’s. The taxi driver drops him off at Yoongi’s apartment, and when he presses the buzzer, Yoongi lets him in.

The apartment is different in the daytime, the light flooding in the window to burnish the living room gold. “Hey,” Yoongi calls from the kitchen. “Do you want to eat?” He steps into the living room. “What’s – mmph!”

Hoseok practically throws himself at Yoongi, making him stagger back until his back hits a wall. Hoseok doesn’t give him a reprieve; he kisses him desperately, violently, mouths open and tongues deep, handfuls of his shirt clasped in his hands. Yoongi curves under him, hands scrabbling at his waist, legs tanging in his. “Hoseok-ah,” Yoongi gasps when Hoseok pulls off. “Not that I – that I don’t want this, but what’s going on? You’re still in your stage clothes…”

Denied Yoongi’s lips, Hoseok moves down to his neck, traces the delicate dip between the muscle of his neck and his windpipe, where his pulse thrums under his lips. “Don’t wanna eat,” he mumbles, brushing his teeth against a spot he remembers as sensitive. “Just want you.”

“Okay,” Yoongi manages, “okay – ah!” Hoseok latches on, sucking the skin into his mouth, and Yoongi folds around him. “Get off, Hoseok-ah – baby –” Hoseok lets go, blinking in confusion. A smile curves, languid, across Yoongi’s kiss-swollen mouth. “Baby,” he repeats, and his eyes narrow in satisfaction when Hoseok drops his gaze. “If you don’t let me go, the kitchen will burn down. Give me a minute. You know where the bedroom is.”

Hoseok does, and he goes there automatically, one hand pressed against the wall for support. Light spills in through open curtains to illimnate the rumpled sheets of Yoongi’s bed. Too impatient to wait for Yoongi to get started, he begins to strip, discarding his shoes and socks first.

He’s shimmying out of his coated jeans with difficulty when Yoongi steps in. “Holy shit.” His voice cracks high with shock. “Are they… Are you wearing garters?”

Hoseok nearly forgot about the stays. Two black straps wind around his thighs, cutting into the muscle, attached to his shirt in the front and the back with narrow strips. “No.” Hoseok steps out of his trousers and turns to Yoongi; th weight of his gaze is burning. “They’re stays.”

“You wear them all the time?” Yoongi approaches him slowly, eyes glued to his thighs. Hoseok steps back and settles on the edge of the bed.

“Only if I need my shirt to stay tucked in while I’m dancing.” He spreads his legs wider and Yoongi falls to his knees between them, one hand coming up to trace along a strap. “You like them, huh?”

Yoongi doesn’t respond with words; he mouths along the lower band, moving from the outside of Hoseok’s thigh to the inside. “Love ‘em,” he says, against the inside of Hoseok’s leg. “Can you – can you keep them on?”

“Yeah,” Hoseok sighs, leaning back as Yoongi’s mouth moves up along the connecting strap, closer and closer to where Hoseok wants him to be. “Don’t – don’t know how you’ll get my underwear off.”

“Fuck,” Yoongi mumbles, one hand tracing along the lower hem of Hoseok’s briefs. “These things are tiny. I could probably rip them off.”

“Don’t,” Hoseok warns. “They’re Versace.”

Yoongi pings the elastic of the waistband against Hoseok’s waist. “I cannot believe,” he says, “that you’re lying here in garters and makeup telling me not to tear your designer underwear. This is, like, all of my wet dreams from the last three years come true.”

“They’re stays!” Yoongi takes no notice of him; he bites Hoseok’s thigh, right under the band, and Hoseok collapses back into the bed as Yoongi cups his ass in his hands and lifts him up for easier access so he can mouth along the black elastic, abandoning any pretence of gentility the noisier Hoseok gets.

Good. Hoseok likes gentle sex – likes being treated like a prince, likes being handled he’s precious – but right now he doesn’t want the sweet Yoongi from his memories. He wants it rough, and Yoongi will give him that.

Once his thighs have been abused thoroughly, skin littered with bites, Yoongi finally turns his attention to Hoseok’s underwear. “Baby,” he croons, breath hitting Hoseok’s dick through the fabric. “Are you wet already?

Hoseok wriggles in an attempt to get closer to Yoongi’s mouth, but Yoongi pulls away, eyes sparkling with mischief. “Hyung,” he whines. “Take ‘em off, please – ah!”

Yoongi’s tongue is rough through the damp fabric and Hoseok grabs his hair to pull him closer, grinding into the wet pressure of his mouth. The thin fabric of the underwear barely hinders Yoongi’s tongue, and Hoseok can’t keep himself quiet, moans and whines and gasps spilling out of his mouth. They intensify as Yoongi’s grip on his ass tightens, pulling him closer into his mouth. “Stop,” Hoseok manages. “I – I –”

Yoongi pulls away. “Already? That easily?” Hoseok nods, ashamed. “Cute,” Yoongi smiles. “C’mon, pretty boy. Up you go.” With Yoongi’s help, Hoseok lays back on the bed, and Yoongi’s hands slide up his chest to where his nipples stand out through the gauzy fabric. “I can’t believe they make you perform in this stuff,” Yoongi mumbles as he lowers his mouth to Hoseok’s chest. “It’s like lingerie.”

“Sex – ah, sells!” Yoongi’s lips latch onto his nipple through the shirt and Hoseok’s back arches. “You – be – that shirt cost four hundred thousand won!” Yoongi’s thigh presses down between his legs and Hoseok can’t help but grind up. It feels amazing, and the knowledge that Yoongi is fully dressed while Hoseok is already falling apart makes it hard for him to think.

“Come on, baby,” Yoongi mumbles, a hand pinching his other nipple through his shirt. Hoseok yelps. “You can do this, right? Come for hyung.”

Hoseok lets himself go. God, he’s still half-dressed and here he is rutting on Yoongi’s leg and wriggling under his mouth and coming in his fucking underwear (his designer underwear, what is he going to tell the coordinators?) like a teenager, cry caught in Yoongi’s lips.

Hoseok flops down against the sheets as his thighs tremble with aftershocks. Yoongi smiles, mouth reddened with the last of Hoseok’s lip balm and brushes Hoseok’s hair back off his face. “I can’t believe your makeup is intact after that.” He traces a fingertip along the carefully blended edge of Hoseok’s eyeshadow.

Hoseok giggles, breathy. “If… if it can survive music shows, it can survive sex.” He hears the buttons of the stays pop open; cold air hits his crotch as Yoongi tugs his briefs off and tosses them across the room to land with a wet smack. Hoseok flinches. “Gross.”

“I’ll get ‘em cleaned. The dry cleaner I go to has washed worse.” Yoongi trails his fingers against Hoseok’s softened dick, damp with cum, and he shudders under the touch, too much, too soon. “But now…” Yoongi seals his mouth his dick to lick away the remnants of Hoseok’s come. He keens in pain, the overstimulation whiting out his mind, and he tries to wriggle away but Yoongi’s grip is vicelike on his hips. Hoseok can only lie there and take it, whimpering, the pleasure-laced pain buzzing away as Yoongi’s licks gentle into nothing. “There.” He blows gently on Hoseok’s crotch. “All clean. Now, let’s put these back.” He snaps the stays back into place. “Your shirt…”

He unbuttons it, the seed pearl buttons slipping open easily under his steady hands. He slides the fabric open to reveal Hoseok’s chest, the sight of which makes Yoongi’s face fall. “Hyung.” Hoseok is about capable of leaning up on his elbows. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Yoongi replies, brows knitted together. “You’re… you’re smaller than I remember.” He spans his hands around Hoseok’s waist. The tips of his fingers meet at the line down the middle of his abs. Yoongi glances away, down to his legs, and takes Hoseok’s ankle in his hand his fingers meet around that as well. “Tiny baby.”

Hoseok pulls his leg out of Yoongi’s grip. “This tiny baby is taller than you.” Yoongi scowls and gets off him. “Hyung!”

“I’ll be back,” he calls, “Stay there.” Hoseok watches him disappear into the bathroom and flops back onto the bed.

His cheek still hurts. He turns onto the other cheek and surveys the damage Yoongi has done to him. The state of his thighs makes him blush, and his nipples are cherry-red and slick with spit. The stays frame his now-soft dick like a lewd painting.

Usually, Hoseok’s a one-and-done kind of guy, but this time he needs round two. The shame of being hit in front of his kids bubbles viscously in his chest. He needs Yoongi to replace it, to make him feel so good he forgets everything; forgets Manager Lee, forgets Polaris, forgets J-Hope.

He’s using him, but what Yoongi doesn’t know won’t hurt him.

“Baby?” The bed dips as Hoseok rolls over to see Yoongi clamber up, naked, cock half-hard between his legs. A bottle of lube rolls away out of his grip as he bends down to kiss Hoseok, mouth no gentler than it was earlier.

Hoseok curls up into him, hands grasping at his shoulders, running up and down his back, and Yoongi moans softly into his mouth as Hoseok’s palms press against his pectorals. “You’ve been working out, haven’t you?”

Yoongi leans back, eyes fond, cheeks red from praise. “Thought I’d take a leaf from your book.” Hoseok reaches out and traces the rounded curve of his upper arms, the swell of his chest, the flat line of his belly. “You like it?”

“I do,” he murmurs. “It’s you. Of course I like it. I like you no matter what you look like.”

Yoongi’s blush intensifies, running down his neck, and Hoseok can’t help but kiss him. He doesn’t know how long they lie there, kisses morphing from sweet and soft to deep and dirty as Hoseok recovers, as Yoongi’s hands slip from his shoulders down to his waist and further.

Hoseok is trying to behave, to let Yoongi set the pace, but eventually, he has to take matters into his own hands. Literally; he slides his hands down from Yoongi’s chest to his dick. Yoongi shudders into his grasp, his mouth popping open when Hoseok grabs him, timing the stuttering sweeps of his tongue to Hoseok’s eager strokes. Yoongi’s hands range down his back to his ass, grabbing it roughly; Hoseok’s hands squeeze as his fingers brush over the bare skin of his perineum and his hole, muscles flexing spasmodically.

“No hair?”

“The salon – ah – the laser place, they get rid of it. Everywhere.”

“Shit. No wonder you’re so soft.” Yoongi pulls back. “Turn over.”

Hoseok does as he’s told, leaning on his hands and knees. He hears a snap, a squirt and the liquid sound of lube squelching against skin, and he wiggles his butt in anticipation. “C’mon, hyung.”

“Fuck.” Hoseok feels his hands along the stays, and he pings one against his ass; he lets out a stuttered moan as Yoongi does the same with the other side and rubs the marks he left. “Okay. Okay.” His finger trails over Hoseok’s hole, rubbing delicate patterns that make his thighs tremble, arousal pumping sweetly into his brain. He pushes in and Hoseok bites his lip at the sensation of someone else’s fingers inside him. “Is that…?”

Hoseok shuffles back. “More.” He sucks in a breath as Yoongi’s finger sinks into him.

“More? How much more?” Suddenly, Yoongi’s breath is washing over his hole and Hoseok feels the wet pressure of his tongue against his rim. Oh, fuck. Yoongi’s mouth moves everywhere, sucking kisses around his perineum and his hole, finger pumping slowly inside him, the other hand playing with the strap of his stays, snapping it against his cheeks to make him cry out.

Another finger pushes into him at the same time as Yoongi’s tongue does, drawing a long, loud moan out of Hoseok. If he hadn’t come already he’d be in pieces. Yoongi laves his tongue against Hoseok’s walls, dragging it along his fingers, and then he flicks it out to suck on his rim as his fingers scissor inside him. The moment Hoseok gets used to his rhythm, to whatever motion is going on inside him, Yoongi switches it up, leaving his head spinning. Each brush against his prostate works a strangled squeak out of Hoseok, and Yoongi must like the sound because he keeps doing it, reducing Hoseok to a trembling mess.

“Hyung – fuck me, please – ah!” A third finger enters him and Hoseok bites his lip hard enough to bleed.

“Soon,” Yoongi murmurs, drawing his head away. Hoseok doesn’t have the chance to miss his tongue as his fingers piston inside him. “How are you doing?”

“Perfect,” Hoseok grits out. Yoongi soothes his clean hand up the side of his neck and cheek – the cheek that was slapped. Hoseok flinches at the contact, and Yoongi freezes.

“What – did I hurt you?” He pulls his hand free and Hoseok feels terribly empty.

“I’m fine.” Hoseok peers back over his shoulder. He reaches back and grabs Yoongi’s hand to assuage his fears. “I’m sensitive from earlier, is all.”

Yoongi squeezes his fingers. “Too much for Hoseokie?”

“Too little,” Hoseok complains. “C’mon, fuck me before I die of old age.”

Yoongi flicks a bruise on Hoseok’s butt. “Like this?”

“Yes. Please. Don’t – I’m clean, so don’t use a condom if you don’t need to.”

Yoongi breathes in sharply through his nose. “Okay,” he whispers. “Okay. Fuck. Here…”

The blunt tip of Yoongi’s dick presses against him as he lines up. Hoseok’s head falls between his shoulders and his hands fist in the sheets as he thrusts in, slow and too careful for his liking. He grinds back, wrenching a moan out of Yoongi as he slides in. “God,” Hoseok manages. Yoongi seizes him around the waist to keep him still as he presses in fully until Hoseok’s ass is nestled in his hips. If he thought three fingers and a tongue was a lot, this is worse; he can feel every contour of Yoongi’s dick without the condom in the way. “’M full,” he mumbles, tongue heavy in his mouth. Was Yoongi always this big? “You – you gotta…”

“Give me a minute.” When Hoseok cranes his head back, he sees that Yoongi’s head is tipped back so that only the boxy lines of his jaw are visible. His Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows, chest heaving with exertion. Hoseok wriggles, tentatively, and Yoongi’s fingers tighten. “Stop,” he growls.

“Or what?” Hoseok rolls his hips back to make Yoongi mewl.

“Or I’ll come right now and leave you hanging.” Hoseok stops, chastened. “Good baby.” He circles Hoseok’s rim with a finger and pushes the tip of it in alongside his dick; Hoseok moans loudly, wanton. “I spent fucking ages eating you out and you’re this tight?”

“Is that… mmm, is that a bad thing?”

“Nope.” Finally, finally, Yoongi moves slowly, delicately, too careful for Hoseok to feel. He looks back at Yoongi and opens his mouth.

“Baby.” Yoongi’s hands settle on his back. “Are you gonna complain again?” He punctuates this with a snap of his hips that leaves Hoseok scrabbling at the sheets.

“I was,” Hoseok admits, “but – oh, fuck – if you keep this up, I won’t.”

Yoongi pulls out entirely, and Hoseok can visualise him rolling his eyes. “Fine. If you want it rough, I’ll give you rough.”

Hoseok’s scoff is cut off when Yoongi thrusts back into him in one fluid movement, the movement making his teeth clatter together. Hoseok tries to grind back against him, but he can’t, held immobile by Yoongi’s big hands around his waist. As Yoongi fucks him faster, his hands slip in the sheets, leaving him face down on the bed. Yoongi yanks his hips up until he’s practically folded in half, his flexible body accommodating Yoongi’s demands with ease. “Jesus,” Yoongi gasps. “You feel – baby, you feel so good.”

Hoseok’s world narrows to the bed, to the chalky smell of his makeup smearing on the sheets, to the intoxicating moans spilling from Yoongi’s sweet mouth, to the lightning pleasure that zips through him when Yoongi gets him at just the right angle, the one that makes him scream. He works a hand down to his cock and jerks it, precum and Yoongi’s saliva enough to make the slide pleasant.

Yoongi’s pace stutters and grows irregular, and he pulls Hoseok upright until he’s sitting on his lap. “Baby,” he gasps. “Let me…” Yoongi’s hand joins Hoseok’s around his dick and his head falls back onto Yoongi’s shoulders. “Gonna – gonna –”

He bites down viciously on the collar of Hoseok’s shirt as he comes, spilling into his ass; that’s all it takes for him to follow, dirtying their hands

Yoongi pushes him off; Hoseok lands, face first, on the bed, too liquefied to complain. “What – ah, fuck!” Yoongi’s mouth is on his asshole again, sucking as his finger crooks inside him to get the cum out and Hoseok dissolves into breathy sobs, the stimulation pushing him over the edge. His brain is a squishy mess, and when Yoongi lifts his cum-stained fingers to his lips Hoseok sucks them blindly, too fucked-out to do anything but obey.

Once Yoongi deems him to have done an adequate job, he pulls his hands free and turns him over, his shit-eating grin making Hoseok laugh. “Rough enough?” His hands feather down Hoseok’s sides.

Hoseok nods and lets his head fall to the side. Two orgasms in such quick succession have left him feeling floaty and strange, skin buzzing under Yoongi’s hands, but they halt, abruptly, at his jaw. Hoseok’s eyes flicker open and he straightens his neck. “What?”

Yoongi turns his head to the side again. “What… what’s this?”

Too late, Hoseok remembers the mark on his face and the foundation smeared on Yoongi’s sheets. Hoseok tries to hide it, to turn his head away, but Yoongi’s hands are strong on his jaw. “Nothing.”

“Like fuck it’s nothing.” Yoongi leans over to his bedside table, Hoseok pinned in place, to grab what turns out to be a wipe. Hoseok tries to dodge it, but Yoongi presses a hand over his jaw to keep him still so he can clean the side of his face and reveal what Hoseok knows will be a stark red hand-print, clear as day. He traces it silently, but even his gentle touch is painful; Hoseok grimly contemplates how fun eating is going to be.

“Someone slapped you.” Yoongi’s hand hovers above the mark. “Hard. Who?” Hoseok closes his eyes at the dark tone of Yoongi’s voice. “Jung Hoseok.”

It’s not a question. It’s a command. “Manager Lee.”

Yoongi’s other hand seizes around his neck. “What? Why?”

“I… I wouldn’t bow to the producers. They bribed him to let back fans into our dressing room. One of them groped Marcel and I kicked them out.”

Yoongi goes deathly still. A muscle works in his jaw as his horrified eyes search Hoseok’s, fingers flexing. The longer he stays there the harder it is for Hoseok not to cry, and he tilts his head back in a vain attempt to stem the flow, but the tears slide, silent, down his face.

At that, Yoongi scrambles off him hastily, tipping onto the floor. Hoseok sits up, sniffing, and watches him rummage in a drawer. “Where are you going?”

“I’m gonna go to the CEO,” Yoongi says, voice thick with anger, “and tell him what happened.”

“No!” Hoseok clambers off the bed with difficulty, body twinging, legs barely able to hold his weight. “Hyung, don’t, please don’t make a fuss…”

“I refuse,” Yoongi spits, “to work with someone who slapped you around. I won’t.”

Hoseok grabs onto his arm and digs his heels in. All he wants to do right now is sleep his aches away, but he has to stop Yoongi. “This isn’t about you! This is about me!”

“If it’s about you, it’s about me.” Yoongi cradles his jaw in his hands. “I won’t let the person I love be treated like this.”

Hoseok seizes his wrists. “Nothing you say or do,” he says, voice reedy with desperation, “will make any difference.” Yoongi’s opens his mouth as if to protest, but Hoseok cuts him off. “Let’s say you go to the CEO and complain. You tell him you’ll resign if he doesn’t fire Manager Lee. Who will he fire?”

“Manager Lee,” Yoongi says.

“Yes. He’ll fire Manager Lee, and what does Manager Lee do?”

“Get another job?”

“With another company, and as revenge, he’ll tell the other managers and groups and producers about what a nightmare you are. That you’re impossible to work with, that none of your compositions are original. That I’m a mouthy brat who won’t show people respect. That our agency fires people for disciplining people who are out of line.”

“That won’t happen,” Yoongi argues.

“It will,” Hoseok says, softly. “You know it will.”

“Then I’ll complain to the station for giving bribes.”

Hoseok shakes his head as best he can in Yoongi’s grip. “That’s worse. If we don’t make amends with the station, they’ll blacklist us. Either we piss off Manager Lee, or we piss off the station, and you don’t want to do that. They’ll never play your songs ever again. They’ll ban us from their music shows. None of us will go on their varieties or act in their dramas, and they won’t just ban Polaris; every act signed to our agency will be affected.” Yoongi’s grip on Hoseok’s face slackens; Hoseok takes his hands and holds them to his chest. “There’s no way this works out in our favour if you or I complain.”

“You mean there’s nothing we can do?” Hoseok presses his lip and nods. Yoongi pulls him into a hug. “I hate this,” he murmurs. “If – If I knew you were going to be treated like this…”

He would never have severed the bond. Hoseok sags against him, legs giving out. “Let’s not talk about it,” he says into Yoongi’s neck. “Let’s… let’s be together. While we can.”

“Okay.” Yoongi’s face tells Hoseok that this isn’t over. “Whatever you want.”

But Yoongi’s frown lasts the entire afternoon, as he undresses Hoseok and helps him bathe, as he finishes making the dinner Hoseok so rudely interrupted and feeds it to him, mindful of his sore jaw, as he curls up on the couch with him, Hoseok’s head in his lap as he spreads ointment on his cheek to soothe the bruise. Yoongi isn’t Hoseok. Hoseok is used to suffering indignities, to letting offences wash off him like water off a duck’s bath, but Yoongi has pride to spare and the temper to match. It’s not the end of this, Hoseok knows, as Yoongi finishes dabbing the ointment on. He won’t let this go, because he loves him, so much so that Hoseok wonders at the depth of it. What country did he save in a previous life to deserve this beautiful, wonderful man?

“Done.” Yoongi applies one last dab of ointment.

“Thank you.” Hoseok rolls over until he’s staring directly up at Yoongi. He cracks a grin even though it makes his cheek twinge painfully. “I can see up your nostrils.”

Yoongi snorts weakly. His frown finally dissipates, replaced by a look so achingly tender that Hoseok feels himself flush. "I should have known something was up."

"What do you mean?" Hoseok grasps for his hand and Yoongi catches it, fingers warm and solid in his.

“You were so desperate. I thought… I thought you were sick of waiting. I should have stopped you.”

Hoseok raises Yoongi’s hand to his mouth and kisses the inside of his wrist, the divot in his palm. Yoongi shivers. “Don’t beat yourself up wanted to forget. You always make me feel good, like I’m better than I am.”

“Hoseok-ah…” Yoongi cups his uninjured cheek in his palm. “You are better. You deserve better.”

“Do I?”

“You do.” Yoongi’s words are quiet and assured, a balm to Hoseok’s battered self-esteem. “I want – you deserve only good things.”

“Good things, huh?” Hoseok nuzzles into Yoongi’s palm. “I have lots of good things. My friends, my career, my family… you.” He meets Yoongi’s gaze and smiles. “I can deal with the bad things if I have you.” Yoongi doesn’t say anything, only kisses him, and Hoseok sinks into it, as if Yoongi can right all the wrongs done to him.

He can’t, but for now, he’ll pretend he can.

Chapter Text

When Hoseok finally gets back to the dorm, it’s one in the morning, and their building is dark and silent. No sasaengs await him outside, or in the lobby, or in the lift, but he still huddles into the hoodie Yoongi lent him to hide the mark. It’s the old one he wore while working at Nam Noraebang, evident by the logo emblazoned on the front, and it swamps him. It’s like a piece of Yoongi draped over him; it makes him stand taller, walk faster.

(Well. As fast as he can walk after today’s activities, which is, in fact, quite slow.)

He enters the passcode to their apartment and lets himself in as silently as he can, which, it transpires, is not silently enough. “Hyung?”

Hoseok ventures into the gloom to find Ino on the couch, illuminated only by the light from the screen of his phone. “What are you doing sitting in the dark? You’ll ruin your eyesight.”

“I was waiting for you.” Ino shields his eyes as Hoseok flips the living room light on to the dimmest setting.

He makes his way over to the couch gingerly, biting back a whimper when he sits down too heavily. God fucking damn Min Yoongi. He elbows Ino. “Aish, you shouldn’t have stayed up late. Why didn’t you go to bed?”

“I’ll go soon,” Ino mumbles, leaning into Hoseok’s side, making him freeze. Ino isn’t affectionate. He never seeks physical contact like the others do, refuses to play skinship up to the camera, and only submits to group hugs when demanded to by an audience of Stellas. This – this, Hoseok knows, is not for Ino’s benefit. It is for his own, and he is glad of it. He lifts his arm and snakes it around Ino’s shoulders, and the boy settles into him with a muted sigh, the kind Mickey makes when he curls up in his bed.

They sit together in exhausted silence. Hoseok’s cheek throbs. He tests out the inside of his mouth with his tongue, probing at his teeth, and is relieved to find that none of them are loose. Ino watches, handsome face tight with concern. “How much does it hurt?”

“Not a lot,” he fibs. Ino, unimpressed, pushes a finger into the mark. Hoseok yelps involuntarily. “Ow! What was that for?”

“That’s what you get for lying to me.” Ino makes to move away. “Do you want me to get you an ice pack?”

“No,” Hoseok mumbles, cuddling him closer. “Stay here.”

Ino acquiesces, though his eyes are stuck to the bruise. “Didn’t think Manager Lee could hit that hard.”

“Me either.” It’s not the first time he’s been hit by an employee – playful slaps from makeup artists when he gets too flirty, irritated raps from choreographers when his positioning is sloppy, gentle bro punches from the techs – but never anything like this, with hard intent behind it. “I shouldn’t be surprised, though. He’s always been…” Hoseok lets the sentence trail off as he remembers threats and glares and shoves.

“Doesn’t make it right,” Ino says, aggrieved. “Aren’t you going to complain?” Hoseok shakes his head. “Why not?”

“What would I accomplish? The CEO won’t kick Manager Lee out, but if he does, which he won’t, you know how rumours spread in this industry. This time next month I’d be an alcoholic drama queen. More likely I’ll get in trouble with the CEO for pissing off the TV station.”

Ino ruminates on this for a while. “Why are you always right?”

Hoseok smooths Ino’s hair off his brow. “It’s my leader superpower.”

Ino rolls his eyes and settles back against him. Hoseok closes his eyes and tries to think through their schedule for the next week. Interviews will be awkward, considering that it hurts to move his mouth. Ino and Yeongsu will have to handle it. Stellas will notice how quiet he’ll be (they managed to fabricate a whole cold war over a girl when Sangjun and Sehyeon fell out for a week when the former got tteokbokki and ate them without offering the latter any); the makeup artists will have to take care to hide the bruise and he’ll have to be especially active on social media. Some late-night meme-y fancafé posts will do the trick.

That’s not the only thing he’ll have to hide, he realises, as Ino shifts and digs his elbow into his thigh, right over one of Yoongi’s gifts. Hoseok bites back a pained whimper, but Ino hears it. “Did I hit your cheek?”

“No, you’re okay.”

Ino pulls away and examines Hoseok. He tugs on the hoodie. “Didn’t you go to your sister’s?”

“I did,” Hoseok lies.

Ino tilts his head. “Then why are you wearing hyung’s hoodie?”

Ino is the second oldest in the band and is too rude to use honorifics with his seniors. The only person he refers to as hyung, besides Hoseok, is Yoongi. Hoseok’s stomach drops. “It’s not…”

“Don’t lie to me. That’s his. He wore it once. I asked where he got a noraebang hoodie and he said he worked at one.”

“I worked at it with him,” Hoseok tries, frantic.

“Stop lying. You volunteered at a community centre.” Ino grabs the hoodie firmly, pulling on the fabric. “You were walking funny earlier, and your thighs hurt…” He rears back, mouth falling open. “Hyung!”

“Ino-yah.” Hoseok grabs frantically at Ino’s hands. “Stop. Please.”

Ino ignores him. “But… but that girl I talked to… the one who MC-ed…”

“What girl?”

“She said she kissed you in a nightclub pre-debut and your soulmate got angry and dragged you away from her.” Oh, no. Hoseok can barely remember it, but his body does; he tastes ash as Ino puts two and two together. “You – he – you – mmph!”

“Don’t,” Hoseok threatens, hand clapped firmly over Ino’s mouth. “I swear to God, Shin Ino, don’t.”

Ino rips his hand off. “Why not?!”

“I…” Hoseok stammers. “I…”

Ino’s façade of bravado, the ‘I don’t give a fuck’ rapper face he hides behind, falls. “I want the truth,” he says, bluntly. “I want – I want to know why Junie keeps sneaking off. I want to know why you couldn’t sleep a month ago but now you can. I want to know why the CEO doesn’t care about you. You owe me the truth.”

Hoseok presses his face into his hands. “I don’t want to lie to you,” he admits, voice faint. “But I have to. I don’t – I don’t want you to know anything that could get you into trouble.”

“I don’t care about getting into trouble.” Ino folds his arms like a petulant child.

“I know you don’t.” Hoseok wishes he did; it would spare him a metric fuck ton of trouble. “But I do. Don’t you know what kind of career lies ahead of you?”

“One with Polaris.” Ino’s answer makes Hoseok chuckle as he kneels in front of him, thighs protesting. He’s thankful for his members, thankful that they are invested in their group, in their bond.

“With Polaris,” he agrees. “For as long as possible. But what about after?”

“After?” Ino’s eyebrows knit together.

“Our contracts expire the same year you have to enlist. What are the odds that they’ll renew mine?”

Ino’s face drops. “Don’t…”

“You wanted me to tell the truth.” Hoseok smiles as widely as he can without making his face hurt. “This is the truth. Polaris has an expiry date and you can’t rely on having us to return to once you’ve served. You need to establish a good solo career first and I won’t let you ruin it.” He takes his hands. “I’m too excited to see how you’ll do. Woof Woof was amazing. Everyone says so, even that Western magazine. What was it called? Bitchfork?”

“Ah, seriously! It’s Pitchfork!”

“That’s the one! They loved it. The world will love you. I can’t let you endanger that. I have to keep you in the dark.”

“I’m sick of being in the dark!”

Shit. He’s not buying it. Hoseok takes a deep breath and pulls out the big guns. “What about your mom?”

Ino’s eyes flick away at the word. His mom raised him and his little brother by herself after his dad walked out by working multiple jobs. “Hyung…”

“You told me once that the best part about being an idol was taking care of her. Doesn’t she deserve the best life you can give her? You have to stay with Polaris. You can’t let me ruin that. You can’t know.”

“Plausible deniability,” Ino says, after a while, as if they’re curse words.

“I can’t promise that none of this will affect you or Polaris, but I’ll do my best not to let anything bad happen to you kids.” Hoseok reaches up and brushes Ino’s hair out of his face. “You’ve made the last three years far more enjoyable than they should have been. You’re my angels!”

“Hyung,” Ino whines, and Hoseok giggles. “Okay. As long as you tell me one truth.” Hoseok nods. “Does he… Are you happy? With…”

He doesn’t have to consider his answer. “I am. Now help me up.” Ino does, and though he tries to muffle them, Hoseok lets a few pained grunts slip.

“I don’t get that.” Ino is visibly grossed out. “Why are you happy if you’re in pain?”

“You’ll figure it out when you’re older.” Hoseok waddles up the corridor, Ino in hot pursuit.

“I’m two years younger than you!”

“That’s a lifetime! Good night, Ino-yah.” He only enters his own room when the door of Ino’s is closed.

Marcel is fast asleep, brow creased even in sleep, cheeks flushed and shiny with tear tracks. Hoseok cards his fingers gently through the blond curls that spill onto his pillow. He wants to wake him up to comfort him and make sure that he knows that none of this was his fault, but then he’ll have a lapful of clingy nineteen-year-old for the rest of the night and he’s in way too much pain for cuddles right now.

He doesn’t turn the light on, afraid to look at his face; by the time he left Yoongi’s, the bruise was purpling around the edges. He takes the hoodie off and stuffs it into the recesses of his wardrobe where no-one will find it. He lowers himself into bed gently, carefully avoiding his sore places, and grabs for his phone to charge it.

 

Suga PD

Today 1:47 AM
You okay?
Yep

He pauses, fingers hovering over the keyboard. He wants to say something else, but they can’t risk it. The managers have made them hand over their phones before, so his communications with Yoongi must be innocuous and inconspicuous. As much as he’d like to say more – to thank him for taking care of him, to give out to him for the state of his ass, to ask for a goodnight selfie – he can’t.

Instead, he writes ‘good night!’, and falls asleep before he gets a response, too exhausted to keep his eyes open for another second.

 

When he wakes up the next morning, his face is on fire. The painkillers Yoongi dosed him with must have worn off; the pain blinds him, and it takes him a full minute to make out Manager Song hovering worriedly above him.

“Hyung,” Hoseok mumbles. “Where are the others?”

“Dance practice,” Manager Song replies.

“Oh, fuck. How late am I? Why didn’t you wake me up earlier?” Hoseok stands up, but his legs are wobbly and cannot hold him for long; he sits back down with a wince. “Do you have any Penzal?”

“Oh, Hoseok-ah. I’m sorry, but the CEO told me not to give you any.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re excused from practice,” Manager Song says. “The CEO wants to see you.”

“The CEO?” The CEO has never requested to see just Hoseok. Whenever he gets in trouble, he usually brings the whole group up to witness Hoseok’s humiliation. “Am I in trouble?”

“I hope not.” Manager Song’s face is tight. “C’mon, get dressed. I don’t want you to be late.”

Fifteen minutes later Hoseok is washed, dressed and perched uneasily on an antique couch that probably cost as much as a family car. By now Hoseok is accustomed to luxury, but the CEO’s office always dizzies him; it’s a trip going from the modern secretaries’ office (there are three of them; it’s rumoured that the CEO’s wife hired them for their looks, not because they were pretty but because they were plain enough not to tempt her husband) into the CEO’s office, which looks exactly like it was plucked from Buckingham Palace.

The CEO does the exact same thing every time Hoseok enters his office. He offers him a refreshment (which he declines), enquires after his family (he is visibly disappointed when he tells him that his sister hasn’t gotten married yet), and shows off his newest acquisition (a cabinet that he claims was made for Marie Antoinette). It’s supposed to make the visitor feel at ease, but he only feels nervous; he received several of the worst scoldings of his life while sitting on this couch, heard words that bounce back into his head on sleepless nights.

The CEO finally stops nattering on about furniture and sits down beside him. He examines his cheek for a long while; he keeps his gaze forward. “This won’t do,” he murmurs. “Have you seen a doctor yet?”

“No,” he admits.

The CEO tuts and rises to press the intercom. “Secretary Choi,” he says. “Please allow the doctor in.”

Not a minute later a doctor rushes in; Hoseok spends the next twenty minutes being poked and prodded, trying not to wince and failing miserably. The CEO wasn’t being cruel when he denied him painkillers. He wanted the doctor to be able to adequately judge his pain levels.

“No permanent damage,” the doctor concludes after a final check of his teeth. “It should heal within the fortnight. Don’t take normal painkillers, they’ll slow down healing. I’ll prescribe special ones. Arnica cream and hot compresses will take of the rest.”

“Thank you, doctor.” The CEO shakes his hand. “Secretary Choi will settle things with you.”

The two men leave and Hoseok lets out the breath he was holding. His head is pounding. Did the CEO only call him here for a covert doctor’s appointment?

The CEO returns. “How do you feel?”

“I’m okay,” Hoseok lies.

“I apologise for the trouble. Of course you misbehaved, but Manager Lee’s reaction was inappropriate. You will be happy to know that he will be penalised…”

Oh, no. He sits up straight. “CEO-nim, what he did was wrong, but there’s no need to punish him for my sake. I forgive him.” He hasn’t, but if the CEO goes ahead and disciplines Manager Lee, Hoseok will receive that punishment tenfold. He’ll have to suck it up if he wants to protect himself and the kids.

“You do?” He nods. The CEO beams. “You’re such a kind young man, Hoseok-ah. You set a shining example for the others…” He keeps smiling, but his voice ices over. “Well, you usually do. What made you behave so disrespectfully towards the producers?”

He can’t tell him the truth; then he’d be extra pissed off at Manager Lee. “I don’t know, CEO-nim. Something came over me.” Hoseok bows his head, presenting the picture of contrition. The words are difficult to say, but he says them because he must. “I’m sorry. I promise it won’t happen again.”

“It had better not. You’re the leader, Hoseok-ah. You lead the way for the other members, and we can’t have insubordination, can we?” He shakes his head meekly, cowed by the contrast between the CEO’s bland smile and chilling tone. “Exactly.” He paces back to the intercom. “Manager Lee, please collect Hoseokie.”

He stands up. “Thank you, CEO-nim.” He bows as deeply as he was taught to, though it hurts like hell. When he straightens up, there are tears in his eyes. The CEO sees them, and he swears his smile broadens, but Manager Lee whips him away too quickly for him to be sure.

 

The doctor was right. It takes two weeks for the mark the slap left to fade.

It hurts to do anything with his mouth – to eat, to talk, to laugh. The make-up artists cover it up artfully, but no matter how gentle they try to be, their brushes hurt, and Hoseok is invariably in tears by the time his base makeup is done. With his sunshiney, smiley persona, their fansigns prove a challenge, to say nothing about stages and interviews, in which he learns to step back and let the kids handle it. He does his best to maintain his presence on social media, but the Stellas notice his newfound silence, as they do everything. A GIF of him wincing in pain after a fan roughly shoves a pair of cat ears onto his head does the rounds on PANN, accompanied by screen captures of a shadow visible through his foundation under powerful stage lights, but he manages to quell the speculation by Tweeting a two-week-old barefaced selfie that he initially deemed unworthy of posting. An ode to Marcel on the fancafé (that comes off, in retrospect, as being made under the influence, compounded by the fact that he posted it at two in the morning) seals the deal for fans; there’s nothing wrong with him. Hobi is simply being Hobi.

Manager Lee never apologises, no matter how many evil eyes he gets. The other managers tip-toe around it, though Manager Song is kinder to Hoseok than usual. He sticks to his side when Manager Lee is around, he wakes him up last, and one night, once the rest of them have staggered into bed, he brings him a bag of fried chicken and a bottle of Hite because he ‘thought he needed it’. Hoseok makes him stay with him to share both.

The slap mark is not the only injury he has to contend with. Yoongi thoughtfully kept his teeth away from Hoseok’s neck, saving him from creative use of scarves and turtlenecks, but his thighs did not escape unblemished. They’re mottled with purplish blooms with hearts shaped like bite marks. He avoids changing at the same time as the rest of them as best he can and wisely takes to wearing compression shorts which he explains away with a garbled reference to his physiotherapist that they all swallow – except Ino, of course, who is most definitely up to something. Normally, Hoseok would try to figure it out, but he simply doesn’t have the energy, too dispirited to do much more than go through the motions.

It’s stressful, to say the least. He hates knowing that everyone in the building, from the cleaning ladies to the board members, are talking about poor Hoseokie, even if they don’t know exactly how he got the bruise in the first place. His favourite rumour so far, which he heard from a trainee he cornered, is that his abusive sponsor hit him.

Yoongi chokes on his water when Hoseok relays said rumour. Tonight is officially their last night of promotions, and the managers took the kids off to celebrate. He begged off easily, and now he’s in his favourite place in the world; Yoongi’s lap, having his hair petted. “Please tell me you told her it was true.”

“Nope. Sorry.” Yoongi pouts. “I told her if I had a sponsor I wouldn’t be working my ass off as an idol, I’d be a kept Gangnam hyung hoeing around on Instagram.”

Yoongi snorts. “If you want that lifestyle,” he drawls, “I am totally happy to provide it.” Hoseok rolls his eyes. “No, seriously. Do you wanna be my baby? Quit now and we can be on a yacht in the Aegean by tomorrow.”

“You don’t live in Gangnam!”

“Gangnam is trashy now. Too many plastic surgery clinics. Where I live is trendier.”

“If you say so.” Hoseok snuggles into Yoongi’s stomach. His bruise has finally healed enough that it doesn’t hurt unless you hit it on purpose. It’s a relief to be able to eat and laugh and talk and smile. Yoongi’s fingers trace around to the nape of his neck, and Hoseok lets out a shivery sigh.

“I’m not joking,” Yoongi adds, quietly. “If I could guarantee financial stability for you and your family… would you quit?”

Hoseok rolls back over, searching for the joke in Yoongi’s eyes, but finds none. “I…” He presses his lips together. It’s a tempting proposal. He knows Yoongi is well off (he has to be to have bought that flashy sports car of his) and Hoseok is no slouch himself. For all his company’s faults, their terms of profit are fair, and the first thing he did when he started getting paycheques was hire an investment broker to mind his money. He doesn’t spend a ton either; his one weakness is high-end clothing, but most of what he owns was either received from fansites or copped on the cheap by his sister. He doesn’t need to stay for the money.

“No,” he says, eventually. “I wouldn’t.”

“Why not?”

“The kids,” Hoseok explains. “If I quit, what would happen to them? How would it affect them? Who would take care of them?”

“How selfless of you.” Yoongi’s mouth twists sourly. “I wish they would show you the same care.”

“Is this about Junie? You can’t blame the poor kid for wanting to go on a date.” Yesterday Yoongi went to Nakyung’s building to pick him up after a meeting and caught them in the front lobby. Sangjun wanted to take his soulmate to a nearby ice cream parlour. Yoongi was so incensed with them for risking the entire operation that Hoseok had to talk him down from outing them to the company.

“No. Ino. He keeps digging around me. Didn’t you tell him to keep his nose to himself?” Yoongi wasn’t best pleased either when he admitted that Ino might know about them.

“I did,” Hoseok protests, “but Ino is Ino. He does what he wants. He reminds me of you, sometimes.”

“Don’t compare me to that deviant. What’s with the no shirt thing?”

“Hyung,” Hoseok complains. “Don’t be obtuse. They need me and I… I need to be needed.”

“I need you too.” Yoongi mouth is pressed into a line.

“Not in the same way they do. I… I’m responsible for them. If I quit, how would it impact Polaris’ reputation? How would the company spin it? You know how toxic it can get when a member leaves. I wouldn’t want them to catch any blowback.” Hoseok stretches. “It doesn’t matter anyway. I can’t quit. They’d sue.” The CEO’s smile floats into his head.

“He hit you.” Yoongi fingers the mottled edge of the bruise. “And I have proof. I have pictures.” He does, he remembers; it took him a solid twenty minutes to talk him into it. “You’d win a lawsuit.”

“Maybe I would, but it wouldn’t be worth it. I don’t want to hurt the kids. In any case, it’s not about the money. If I did get out, would I be able to work again? What agency would take me?” Yoongi says nothing. “Exactly. I’m stuck here…” He reaches up to cup Yoongi’s cheek. “With you.”

Yoongi covers his hand with his own. “Lucky you,” he murmurs, “and lucky me.”

“I know you want to fix this for me, but you can’t. I have to handle this myself. I can’t let my boyfriend fight my battles for me, and, well... Who else will help Sangjunie?”

With that, Hoseok knows he’s won. Yoongi slumps. “You’re right.”

“I don’t want…” Hoseok breathes in sharply. “I don’t want him to end up like… like me.” A half-severed, sleepless mess, kept from his dream by his dream. “I want him to get out of this contract and go live with his soulmate in a happy ever after. I want that for all of them. I’ll do anything I can to save them from our fate.”

Yoongi’s response is a kiss that can only be described as earnest; he curves up into it with a happy noise. “Is it weird,” he says against his lips when they break apart, “that you being a noble idiot turns me on?” Hoseok bursts into laughter, whacking his forehead against Yoongi’s, who yowls in pain. “Hoseok-ah!”

“Sorry! Oh, no, your poor face!”

“Kiss it better,” Yoongi pouts. Hoseok plants a delicate smooch on his forehead. He catches his lips on his way down and it spirals until he’s perched in Yoongi’s lap, the slick sound of their mouths against each other the best music the studio has ever heard.

Yoongi breaks away from him, head tilting back as he gasps, and Hoseok presses his lips against his neck. “Baby,” he mumbles, and Hoseok bites. “Ow! God, you’re lucky the bond’s not up.” Hoseok pulls away, mood soured. Yoongi peers up at him from under his messy fringe. “What?”

“Don’t…” He bites his lip. “Don’t you miss it?”

“No,” Yoongi says without thinking. Hoseok’s shoulders droop. “Wait, do you?”

“Yes,” he mutters, feeling stupid. “I do.”

“Why?”

Hoseok isn’t used to being alone. All his life he’s shared bedrooms – with his sister, with trainees in dorms dotted around Seoul, with Jimin in first year, with Yoongi in second year, and with the kids thereafter. He joins every team and club that comes his way, volunteers for every event, accepts every invite, the consummate social butterfly. He’s a social creature, and his greatest fear these last few years was that when Polaris was over he would be alone, with no soulmate and no job and no friends. Having a soulmate – for the brief time that he did – was an assurance that he would never be alone, ever, that he would grow old with someone by his side.

“I miss… I miss having you there. I miss having the reassurance of you. You were like my nightlight.” Quiet, but constant; a tiny warmth at the edge of his mind that let him know he was loved.

Yoongi cups Hoseok’s cheek, an honest smile beautifully broad on his face. “You don’t need a stupid piece of string to remind you that I love you.”

No matter how many times he hears those words, Hoseok will never tire of them. “Why don’t you miss it?”

“The opposite reason from you, I suppose.” Yoongi’s thumb presses under Hoseok’s chin, rubbing tiny circles into the muscle there, and he whines at how good it feels as tension drains out of his permanently clenched jaw. “I like having my privacy back. You see right through me as it is, and knowing that you could feel whatever I felt… It was like my chest was cut open and you could paw through my insides whenever I wanted.”

Hoseok pulls a face. “Gross.”

“We can’t all have nice metaphors.” Yoongi pinches under his jaw and Hoseok squeaks. “I didn’t like it. It was too vulnerable.” He pauses and adds; “It made sex fun. I’ll grant that.”

Hoseok remembers it, the weird double sensation of filling and being filled. “It did,” he admits, “though I personally think that it’s weird that I know what my dick feels like inside me.”

“It is.”

“Thank you for your valuable contribution.” Yoongi snorts and hugs him close.

“In one way, I’m glad it’s gone,” he says, “because if it weren’t, we wouldn’t be talking about our feelings like this.”

“Because we’d know them already.”

“But isn’t it good to talk about it? To know the exact source of them, instead of making faulty assumptions? We’ll be the healthiest soulmates ever.”

“You have a point,” he concedes. He settles his head on Yoongi’s shoulder. “Sometimes, though,” he adds, in a small quiet voice, “I swear I can feel it.”

Yoongi stiffens. “What do you mean?” Hoseok stays quiet. “Jung Hoseok.”

“The night I stayed at yours,” he starts, and then amends that statement to; “the first night, the night we took Sangjunie to his soulmate…”

“And you woke up the next morning and told me you loved me?”

“That one.” Hoseok takes a deep breath. “I… I told you I dreamt your dream.”

“You did,” Yoongi whispers. “You…” His hands clench on Hoseok’s back. “I didn’t think about that.”

“I’ve been thinking about it lately.” In the in-between moments, when his cheek hurt so badly that he needed something to keep his mind off it. “How I couldn’t sleep unless you were there. How much better you make me feel. How you couldn’t make music without me. How I dreamt your dream. How I… How we’re still in love.”

“You think we might still be bonded? How?”

“I don’t know. Maybe they botched the operation?”

Yoongi pushes him back. “If they did… What else might they have screwed up?”

He shrugs. “More reason not to let Sangjunie get caught out.” Yoongi’s eyes are wide with worry. He wants to soothe him, but his phone buzzes with a text.

 

Sehyeonie

Today 10:11 PM
Where are you? Didn’t you say you were staying home?
I was but I got bored T^T I’m in the studio
Why? How are you home already???
I cut my hand opening a bottle of soju ㅠㅠ the managers sent me home
Can you come back? I want to watch that film we were talking about
Of course!!! I’ll get snacks ^▽^

“I should go,” Hoseok mumbles as he hops off of Yoongi and pulls him up with him.

“Do.” Yoongi plops into his desk chair. “I have to check that clinic…” Hoseok hovers by his chair, pouting. “What?”

“Nothing.” Hoseok makes to leave, but Yoongi grabs him by the wrist.

“Wait.” A sly grin slides onto his face. “Baby wants his goodbye kiss?”

“I don’t want it now,” Hoseok says sourly, turning the chair around and pulling out of Yoongi’s grasp. “I’ll see you later.” He moves to unlock the door, but the handle refuses to give under his hand. He rattles it, but it won’t move. “Hyung…”

“Kiss me and I’ll let you out,” Yoongi says, easily.

“You’re a dick, you know that?”

Yoongi pouts. Hoseok scoffs, but he walks over to kiss him anyway. It’s short and sweet, but it is worth it to feel how Yoongi softens beneath him; how he lets the cold professionalism of Suga PD drop for a quiet moment, as if only Hoseok can shatter it.

They part, but Hoseok is reluctant to draw back. “What?”

“Wish you could come with me,” Hoseok mumbles. How long has it been since he watched a movie with Yoongi flopped on his lap, nit-picking plot holes, imitating the dialogue in stupid voices? He’s sick of this strange, tine un-relationship that exists only inside the sound-proofed walls of this studio and between the sheets of Yoongi’s bed. “Sehyeonie always picks good stuff to watch.”

“Tell me about it tomorrow.” Yoongi sits back, a bittersweet smile on his face that makes Hoseok’s heart squeeze. “Good night, Hoseok-ah.”

“Good night, hyung.” When he tries the door, it swings open. Hoseok doesn’t look back.

 

With the comeback over and done with and no foreseeable plans for the future (their tour doesn’t start until late June), Hoseok finds himself with rather more time than usual. He leaps at the chance to get reacquainted with his old friends. He can’t make up for the years of neglect, but he can at least try.

He goes on bike rides down by the Han with Namjoon, though they stop at every food vendor they pass to sample their wares. He attends, of all things, a barley festival with Taehyung, which he spends taking artsy fartsy shots of Hoseok frolicking amongst the green fields. He and Jimin laze around in manhwa cafés, and once or twice Sangjun comes along with them; the two get on like a house on fire. He even manages to talk Jungkook into busking in Hongdae, which he has wanted to do for ages, and Hoseok films it like an overly proud parent at their child’s sports day.

He doesn’t mention Yoongi to them, and they don’t mention him. Seokjin must have, for once in his life, managed to keep a secret under wraps. It’s not that he wants to keep their relationship secret from his best friends; it’s that he has to. Each person that knows is another person who could ruin his career, no matter if they do it unwittingly.

That being said, Hoseok is finding it difficult not to blow his cover, especially right now.

“PD-nim…”

“What?”

There is a long string of cheese hanging out of the corner of Yoongi’s mouth. “Your…” he gestures.

Yoongi licks at it. This accomplishes nothing. Hoseok huffs. It would be far easier to clean it off for him, but he can’t. That would send his friends’ collective alarm bells ringing.

Luckily, Taehyung intervenes before Hoseok’s self-control breaks by swiping it away himself and eating it. Everyone erupts into a chorus of disgust.

“Taehyung-ah, why did you eat it?” Jimin stares at him, aghast.

“Why not?” Taehyung swallows. “It’s just Yoongi hyung.”

“You don’t know where he’s been! Ah – hyung, hyung!” Jungkook dives out of reach of Yoongi’s fingers (good idea; a forehead flick from Yoongi incapacitates victims for at least twenty minutes) and ends up knocking the table and overturning no less than four dishes of banchan onto Seokjin’s new tablecloth.

The assembled party stares in horror at the destruction, and then at the host, who is… giggling. “Seokjin hyung,” Hoseok ventures. “Are you okay?”

“Ah, you kids are messy.” Seokjin flips the dishes back over and scrapes the contents back in. “No harm, no foul. Namjoon-ah, pass me the wine, will you?” Namjoon handles the bottle as if it were a nuclear bomb, and Seokjin pours generously.

The rest of the dinner passes without incident, except for a small battle between Hoseok and Taehyung over the last piece of tteok. (Seokjin steals it.) They drink more wine than they should as they talk about anything and everything – work, family, pets. It’s civilised compared to their old Tuesday-night booze-ups, but the feeling of camaraderie is the same, and it makes Hoseok feel drunker than the wine did.

“Joonie hyung…” Jimin makes grabby hands at Namjoon, their designated sommelier for the night.

“No.”

“One more,” Jimin pouts.

“No.” Namjoon holds the bottle out of his reach.

“I haven’t had thaaaat much...”

“I spotted Taehyungie offloading his on you.”

Jimin sulks, defeated. “Fine.” He flounces away to collapse into Yoongi’s vacated seat beside Jungkook.

“That kid,” Namjoon mutters, refilling his own glass. “I worry about him.”

“He hasn’t gone into Diminie mode yet,” Hoseok points out.

“Thank God for small mercies. Yoongi hyung, do you want a drink?”

“No thanks. I’m driving.” Yoongi takes Jimin’s seat beside Namjoon. “Here, Hoseok-sshi.”

“Thank you, PD-nim.” The honorifics sound fake to Hoseok; he hopes they ring true to Namjoon. He sips the glass of water delicately. “Hey, Namjoon-ah…”

Namjoon lowers his glass. “Yes?”

“Do you know why Seokjin invited us over?”

Namjoon looks between them. “To try out his new dakgalbi pan?”

Yoongi rolls his eyes. “Hyung takes food seriously, but he wouldn’t throw a party for a piece of cookware.”

“It was really good dakgalbi,” Namjoon argues.

“Aww, Joon-ah! Thank you!” Seokjin pops out of nowhere to smother Namjoon in an octopus-like hug. Hoseok instinctively goes to throw Yoongi a Look but refrains from it when Namjoon’s eyes land on him.

Seokjin drags Namjoon off to get more drinks. The kids are sprawled lazily at the other end of the table, picking at the remnants of the fried rice. Hoseok judges it safe to interact with Yoongi; he scoots over and leans until his ear is level with his mouth. “Have you noticed anything strange about hyung?”

Yoongi cranes his head to see into the kitchen. Namjoon’s back is to them as he struggles with a drawer, and Seokjin‘s smiling face is visible over his shoulder. He laughs uproariously as Namjoon stumbles. “He’s happy.”

“Too happy,” Hoseok hisses. “Like, he’s sort of glowing. His eyes are sparkling. When Jungkookie knocked the food he didn’t get angry.”

“You’re right,” Yoongi mumbles. “I wonder…”

The door chimes, and Hoseok and Yoongi spring apart. “I’m home!” Heeyeon sticks her head into the room. “Hello, boys!”

“Noona!” Jimin beams. “Where were you? Hyung said you’d be here.”

“Work kept me late. Seokjin-ah?”

Seokjin leaves the kitchen, bearing a tray of drinks, which he promptly sets on a table in favour of getting into some serious PDA with his wife. They avert their eyes, except for Taehyung, who takes a few beats.

“Eww,” Jimin wails. “Straights!”

“Your parents are straight,” Namjoon scolds.

“They might be bi,” Jungkook points out.

Jimin makes a face. “Can we stop talking about my parents’ sexualities?”

“Yes, let’s,” says Hoseok, gratefully, before deftly spinning the conversation to Heeyeon. “Noona, do you want a drink?”

Seokjin plucks a glass from the tray; it’s faintly purple and fizzy. “I fixed this for you.”

She presses a kiss to his nose and takes it. Yoongi pinches Hoseok’s thigh; he opens his mouth to question him, but then Heeyeon sits down beside him, and she doesn’t talk to you – she talks at you. Not that he isn’t happy to chat with her, of course – she’s one of the smartest people he knows – but there’s something going on and he can’t let Yoongi figure it out before him.

Once Heeyeon is finished her meal, Seokjin rushes back into the kitchen and returns, strangely enough, with a bottle of champagne and seven flutes. Jungkook’s brow wrinkles. “What’s going on?”

“That’s the Dom I got them for their wedding,” Yoongi mutters.

“Is it noona’s birthday?” Jimin tilts his head.

“Her birthday was three weeks ago,” Namjoon says, bored.

“Heeyeonie and I,” Seokjin says, voice warm, “have something to tell you.”

Oh. Oh. Hoseok knows exactly what Heeyeon is going to say before she even stands up to go to Seokjin’s side. “I’m pregnant.” She breaks into a luminous smile as Seokjin wraps his arm around her. “We’re going to have a baby.”

They stare, dumbly, until Hoseok shrieks; “I knew it!”

That launches them into a general confusion of screeching, crying and overwrought congratulations. Before Seokjin can fend him off, Taehyung is glomping on Heeyeon in an exuberant hug. “Noona,” he cries. “I’m so happy! My first grandchild!”

“Dibs on godfather,” Namjoon announces.

“No, me!” Jimin pushes Namjoon.

“Seokjung oppa got there first.” Heeyeon gently pushes Taehyung off. She curls her hand under her belly; her bump, previously disguised by her flowing top, is bigger than Hoseok expected it to be.

“How far along are you?”

“Four months.”

Hoseok does the math. “So you enjoyed your honeymoon like I told you to?”

Seokjin grins an oily grin and picks up the champagne. “Will I spray it?”

Yoongi snatches the bottle from him. “Yah, this is vintage Dom Perignon! Don’t you dare!” He deftly pops the bottle without losing any of the contents and pours it into the flutes with surgical precision.

“To Heeyeonie,” Seokjin announces, when they each (excepting Heeyeon, of course) have a flute in hand.

“To Seokjinnie,” Hani adds. “Cheers!”

They copy her, and Yoongi’s meticulousness makes sense when they taste the champagne. It tastes like joy, effervescent and bright, made sweeter by the radiant happiness on Seokjin and Heeyeon’s faces. That feeling stays with Hoseok all night; it only fades when Seokjin turfs them out on the grounds that pregnant women need their rest.

“I wonder how long it’ll take noona to snap at him for being overprotective?” Hoseok scuffs his shoe against the pavement.

“I give it a week.” Namjoon checks his phone. “It’s late. Do you want a lift? Taehyungie’s dropping Jimin and Jungkook off too.”

“It’s fine, I can wait for my managers.”

“If you’re sure.” Hoseok waits until they’re gone, and then he texts Yoongi the all clear.

Once safely in the passenger seat of Yoongi’s car, Hoseok lets himself deflate. “I knew it,” Yoongi babbles when they stop at a traffic light. “From the moment she walked in, and when hyung gave her her own drink I – knew, I… Hoseok-ah?”

“What?” Hoseok makes an attempt to perk himself up, but it’s too late.

Yoongi’s mouth curls into a frown. “You’re happy for him, aren’t you?”

“I am! Hyung’s always wanted a family. I’m glad he’s getting it. It’s…” He sighs, and says, in a small, pathetic voice; “I want that too.”

The light goes green. Yoongi says nothing as he drives until they are stopped again. “I’m afraid,” he says, face blank, “that that is the one thing I can’t give you, seeing as I lack a functional uterus.”

“I’m not asking you to get pregnant! This isn’t a crappy fanfic.”

“Could have fooled me,” Yoongi mumbles.

“What I meant was…” Hoseok bites his lip. “They’re together. Openly together. So are Jungkook and Jimin, and Namjoon and Taehyung. I… I want us to have that. I wish we had that.”

Hoseok expects him to get angry; to swear, to scold, to reprimand him that this situation is of his own making. Instead, he smiles. “We will,” he says. “Someday.”

“Hyung?”

“Trust me. We’ll figure things out. Whatever…” He pauses. “Whatever ransom you are worth, I’ll pay it. I promise.”

Hoseok wants, desperately, to touch him, to kiss him, but he can’t risk them being sighted through the windscreen or, worse, snapped. Instead, he settles for laying his hand over his where it rests on the gear lever.

For now, it is enough. They are enough.

 

After what feels like months of persuasion, his father has finally acquiesced to his demands for them to move, though mostly because a college friend of his offered him a post in a school in Apgujeong. With Yoongi’s help, Hoseok finds them the perfect home, close to his father’s new school, his dorm and Dawon’s apartment; a two-story house three minutes' walk from Yangjaecheon Stream, recessed back from the road with accessible doors, one set of stairs and plenty of garden space for Mickey to dig up.

He finds himself nervous when he leads his parents in, though he knows it’s perfect. What if they don’t like it? Maybe he shouldn’t have chosen Gangnam. Somewhere quieter might have suited them better. He should have gone for a place north of the river…

His father sets Mickey’s carrier down and releases him. Mickey promptly pees on a pot plant. “Well,” his father says, wryly. “If that’s what the dog thinks…”

“Don’t listen to him, Hoseok-ah.” His mother surveys the main room. “Oh, my. Is this all for us?”

“After all those years in that pokey twenty-five pyeong apartment,” Hoseok says, “you deserve it. Come on, I’ll give you the tour. Mickey-yah, up we go!”

With a dozing Mickey cradled against his chest, he leads his parents around the house; the kitchen with its treated wooden counter-tops, the separate laundry nook with a Belfast sink and a dryer, three (three!) bathrooms with smart toilets, the air-conditioned bedrooms, the flat roof with vegetable patches and a glasshouse, and, Hoseok’s favourite, the library. Inspired by his father’s ardent love of that library from the drama with the alien and the actress, it hides behind a coloured glass panel, descending to a subterranean study lined with bookcases, illuminated by the skylight which doubles as the base of the pond in the courtyard. His father is immediately sold, and it takes serious effort on both Hoseok and his mother’s parts to drag him back up into the living room, a graceful, comfortable room that looks out on said courtyard. With each pewter fitting and shag carpet and family picture they pass, the strange feeling in his chest swells. He knows he’s successful, of course – it’s not something he can forget – but this is the first time he has felt the weight of that success. A house is nothing compared to what his parents have done for him, the sacrifices they have made for him, the love they have given him, but it’s a start.

“Well?” Hoseok sets Mickey down and the dog putters off to growl at his reflection in the TV. “What do you think?”

His father opens his mouth, but his mother beats him to it. “We can’t live here.”

“What?” His heart sinks. She doesn’t like it? What doesn’t she like?

“It’s too much!” She gestures to the leather sectional, the homely hardwood flooring, the tastefully recessed lighting. “All of this for two old people? You shouldn’t be spending your money on us. You should be spending it on yourself having fun. What do you children do these days? Roller disco? LAN parties? Rockcafes?”

“Mom.” Hoseok giggles at her old-fashioned notions of fun. “I want to do this. I’m your son, and I should be taking care of you.”

“Hoseok-ah…”

“Listen to your son.” His father winds an arm around his mother’s shoulders. “He’s right. He’s better off spending his money on fancy recycling bins for us than on cocaine binges.”

“Dad,” Hoseok whines. “Don’t be weird!”

His mother hits his father’s shoulder with little force; his dad hardly cringes, used to his wife’s love taps. “But why is there so much room? We don’t need three bedrooms.”

“One for you, one for Dawon, and one for me.”

“For you? Why would you stay over? Isn’t your dorm close by?”

Hoseok shrugs, smile plastic. “I might want to stay over.”

He has an ulterior motive in buying this house. It is a bolthole. There is only one exit, the parking is secure and underground, and the walls and foliage effectively block the outside world, with unobtrusive CCTV cameras speckled around facing outward, connected to an app Hoseok can view at his leisure. If things blow up in his face at any point, he can hide here. His father shakes his head at him, but there is a glint in his mother’s eyes that makes him wary. His mother always figures him out.

The door buzzes open. “I’m home!”

“Dawon-ah!” His father rushes to the door, Mickey hot on his heels, to greet his daughter. After a few seconds’ scrutiny, his mother follows to join in on the adulation.

“Noona! Did you bring what I asked you to?”

Dawon brandishes a bag emblazoned with a happy cartoon pig. Wootak trails her, lugging a case of soju. “Let’s fire up the barbecue!”

Later in the evening, once they’re full to the brim with samgyupsal, his father brings Dawon and Wootak inside to show off the library, leaving Hoseok and his mother alone. She’s tracing the rim of her barely-used shot glass; Hoseok inherited his abysmal alcohol tolerance from her. It’s a clear summer night, and the moon and stars wink playfully from the pond, illuminated by the soft glow of the lamps in the library.

“Ah, they left the work to us.” Hoseok stretches and sits up. His mother makes to rise, but he claps a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll clean up. You relax. You’ve had a long day.”

His mother watches him bustle around, donning gloves to dust the remnants of the charcoal out of the grill. “How are things with the company?”

Straight for the jugular. Hoseok shrugs. “Fine. We’re starting tour prep.”

Mickey settles at his mother’s feet with a doggy sigh. “Does Yoongichi still work there?”

“Suga PD,” he corrects, reflexively. “Yes. He does.”

She leans down to gather Mickey up onto her lap. “Do you speak to him?”

“When I have to,” Hoseok says evasively.

“Maybe we should invite him here for dinner. I’ve hardly seen you in the last few years. I’m sure he’s in the same situation, and this fancy Seoul food can’t compare to home cooked meals. Your father enjoyed him last time.”

Last time. Hoseok remembers Yoongi laughing at his father’s raucous rendition of Wrongful Meeting, holding the flashlight for his mother as she fumbled around in the fuse box, the solid feeling of his body in his arms as he kissed him in his family graveyard. He was certain, then, of how his life would go; a lifetime by Yoongi’s side, bound by destiny. He even knew where he’d be buried. “He’s a busy man.”

His mother says nothing for a long while, eyes turned towards the sky. “You know, I wasn’t sure about this move,” she murmurs. “You’ve lived here for years, so you’re used to it, but Seoul is a world away from my hometown. When I went here for college, it took me four hours to get from the Express Bus Terminal to my boarding house in Sinchon. An ajumma took pity on me and drove me out after I got caught in a rain shower. When I arrived, I was fit to burst into tears.” She smiles, then, moonlight bright on her face. “But then I looked up and saw that the stars here were the same, and I knew I could make this place home.”

Hoseok pulls off his gloves to take his mother’s hand without soiling them. “I hope you’ll be happy here.”

“I’ll be happy if you’re happy.” She squeezes his hands.

“Aish, you two, aren’t you cleaning up?” Dawon sticks her head into the courtyard.

“You come and do it.” Hoseok, nettled, releases his mother’s hands as his father comes back into the courtyard.

“I don’t wanna ruin my nails. They’re holo!” She waves her hands in Hoseok’s face, and he jerks his head back.

“Get your talons away from my eyes!”

“Yah, I paid a hundred thousand won for these!”

“A hundred thousand?! Is this how you’re spending my money?!”

Dawon launches into a loud monologue about being an independent woman which Hoseok roundly ignores in favour of imitating her. Mickey yaps emphatically; when Wootak attempts to soothe him, he runs away to lead him on a merry chase around the courtyard.

“Just like home,” he hears his mother sigh.

“Just like home,” his father agrees.

In the midst of the chaos, Hoseok almost doesn’t notice his phone ringing. “Get off me!” He dodges Dawon and steps inside to answer the call without checking the caller ID. “Hello?”

“Hoseok-sshi.” His heart drops as he closes the door behind him. “Where are you?”

“Manager Lee.” Hoseok’s tongue is rubbery in his mouth. “At my parents’ new place. Do you need me?”

“Call a taxi. The CEO wants to see you. Now.”

“What? Why?” He’s speaking to a dead tone; Manager Lee hung up. What’s going on? He swipes out of the call and glances back at the courtyard, at his family, laughing and joking in a golden pool of light as his world crumbles beneath his feet. His mother looks up and sees his face; hers drops, and she stands up as his phone pings with a message.

 

Suga PD

Today 9:02 PM
they found out

Chapter Text

Manager Song catches him as he stumbles out of the taxi. “What’s – what’s going on? Why haven’t you gone home?”

He shakes his head and leads Hoseok to the lift. He pushes the button for the fourth floor, where the boardrooms are. “I was about to, but a journalist came in. Said he had something for the CEO.”

“A – something? What does he mean, something?”

Manager Song sighs. “Pictures,” he admits.

“Of what?”

“Of Sangjun… and of you.”

The lift lurches to a stop, the doors pinging open. Hoseok grabs onto the handrail for support. No. No. “How?”

Manager Lee hits the close button and the doors slide shut. He leans in close until his mouth is beside Hoseok’s ear. “You need to buy us time.”

“Buy time? For who?”

“Keep the CEO talking for as long as you can. Get him to – to say what he thinks.” There is a heavy pause. “You know what I mean. We can get you out of this, we just need – time.”

“Time for what?” Manager Song steps away as the doors slide open, revealing Manager Lee. Hoseok shrinks, instinctively, behind Manager Song. Manager Lee scoffs. “You’re really going to be a coward now?”

“Sunbae,” Manager Song says evenly. “We need to get to Boardroom C. Please let us out.”

Manager Lee moves, after a while, and Manager Song takes care to keep his body between Hoseok and Manager Lee. The latter rolls his eyes and brings up the rear as they walk down the corridor, passing images of the company’s acts. Posters of Polaris flank the door, and the last thing Hoseok sees before he enters is J-Hope’s perfect smile.

Boardroom C, the same one Hoseok and Yoongi signed their contracts in, is as silent as a crypt. The CEO sits, composed, leafing through a stack of documents, across from Polaris. Sangjun’s eyes are red, and Marcel’s nailbeds are bloody. Sehyeon and Yeongsu mutter surreptitiously to one another. Ino glares openly at Manager Lee, but Jingwang’s eyes are cast firmly at the table. There is an empty seat in the middle, between Sangjun and Ino, directly across from the CEO. It is obviously intended for him.

“Hoseok-sshi. You’re late.”

He bows his head. “Traffic.” It’s a lie. He was calling his lawyer, the one his father made him engage when he signed his contract for Polaris.

The CEO quirks an eyebrow. “Do be seated.” Hoseok considers the faces across from him. Manager Song inclines his head in an instruction to sit, so he does. “Do you remember the contract you signed?”

“Yes, CEO-nim.” They signed their artist contracts three years ago, four months before their debut. Hoseok knows every term, every technicality, every rule he has broken.

“Do you remember a term about reputational damage?”

“Yes, CEO-nim.”

“Do tell me the wording.”

He’s playing with him. “If, by the action of the artist, the reputation of the company and or the group is irretrievably damaged, the artist is in breach of contract,” Hoseok recites. “The artist’s contract will be terminated and they will be liable for any damages subject to litigation in court.”

“Sangjun-sshi. What would damage the company’s reputation?” The CEO leans back in his chair, smile pleasant.

Sangjun sniffles. Marcel grabs his hand. “A scam,” he manages. “Blackmail. Lying.”

“Lying. There we go. Sangjun-sshi, you lied to us.” The CEO considers the photos again. “As have you, Hoseok-sshi. Tell me… how long has this been going on?”

“This?”

The CEO slides a picture towards him. It is of Sangjun in the corner of a third-floor ice-cream parlour, sitting across from someone with long hair. They hold hands across the table as she feeds him ice-cream. Their string is a watercolour suggestion, like a mistake made when developing the film; they never show up well in photos. He flips the photo over, and on the back is a scribbled name alongside that word all idols fear; Dispatch. “Don’t worry,” the CEO says. “None of these photos will get out unless we want them to.”

Hoseok has no idea how to handle this. Does he lie and say that he knows nothing? Or does he tell the truth and admit that he orchestrated the whole thing? He says nothing, instead choosing to stare at the photo until it blurs, mind whirring. How does he get the kids out of this with minimal damage? He glances at Manager Song. Buy us time. But how?

“Hoseok-sshi,” the CEO says, exasperated. “We know you were involved.”

Normally, Hoseok would concede, admit all his wrongdoings, and beg for forgiveness, but he can’t. He trusts Manager Song, and the best way to keep the CEO talking is to deny it. It’s a dangerous game, but he can’t see any other way out. “How?” Hoseok pushes the photo away. Another photo lands in front of him; Sangjun getting into Yoongi’s car in the same clothes. “Weren’t they working together?”

“We contacted the studio. They say Sangjun recorded, but when asked for further proof, they were unable to supply any. No vocals, no CCTV, nothing. Suga PD has not responded to any of our requests either.” The CEO, for the first time, makes eye contact with Hoseok. “Would you happen to know why?”

“I don’t understand what Suga PD has to with me.”

This photo is the worst. It is of him, draping a coat across Yoongi’s shoulders; even through the flurry of snow, the look on Yoongi’s face is blindingly obvious. Hoseok can barely remember that evening; anything post-ceremony is a drunken envy-tinged blur. It’s no surprise that he was too intoxicated to check for reporters.

“This photo was taken at a mutual friend’s wedding,” he says, eventually. “I was loaning a colleague a coat. Nothing more.”

“A colleague?” The CEO shakes his head. “How cold of you, Hoseok-sshi, to reduce your soulmate to a co-worker.”

The word soulmate shatters the strained silence of the room. The kids stare at him in shock, except for Sangjun, who shrinks into his chair, and Ino, who is oddly quiet.

“Was,” Hoseok bites out, ears echoing with the cacophonous thump of his heart. “Don’t you remember? You severed us.”

Sangjun flinches. Marcel says, in a tremulous voice, “You let them do that to you?”

“You didn’t tell us?” Sehyeon sounds – betrayed. He looks at Hoseok as if he is a stranger, not the person who has protected him for three years, who has read his books and played his games and reminded him to water his cacti when he forgets.

“I – I couldn’t. I’m sorry, Sehyeon-ah, I…”

“Does it matter, Hoseok-sshi? Was? Is? You hid your soulmate from the members, from the world, and you know how little Stellas like secrets.” He’s right, of course. The truth of his relationship with Yoongi doesn’t matter; what matters is that he lied, and the aghast way the kids are looking at him is proof, as if they’re only now seeing how pathetic he really is. “Now. How long have you known about Ino?”

Hoseok gives in. Denying it any longer would be idiocy. “Two months.”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Yeongsu’s heavy accent betrays his anger.

“I wanted to keep you guys out of it,” Sangjun admits. “To keep you safe. Hobi hyung only found out by accident. He saved my life.”

“How?” Jingwang turns to him.

“I stayed away from her for too long,” Sangjun explains. “I collapsed. Hobi hyung brought me to her and… and…”

“And told you not to tell us.” Sangjun doesn’t nod, but his guilty face says it for him. “Why did you tell him that, Hoseok-sshi?”

“Why do you think?” Hoseok can’t keep the bitterness out of his voice. “I didn’t want him to end up like me.”

“That would be a pity, wouldn’t it?” The CEO’s voice takes on an edge he has never heard before. “One Hoseok is enough for a group.”

Hoseok interprets the words how they’re intended. “I’m sorry, CEO-nim. But please…”

“Please what?” Hoseok can’t say the words, and the CEO shakes his head as if disappointed by him. “Jingwang-sshi.”

“Y-yes, CEO-nim.” Jingwang sounds terrified; Hoseok’s heart aches for him. A situation like this, as bad as it is for him, is infinitely worse for conflict-averse Jingwang.

“Do you remember a term in your contract relating to soulmates?” Jingwang nods, which isn’t enough. “Answer me out loud.”

“Yes, CEO-nim.” Jingwang takes a shaky breath. “If the artist is bonded, it will be t-terminated upon signing. If the artist… if the artist forms a bond during their contract, it will be… It will be terminated at the earliest possible convenience.”

“There we go. Plain and simple, but apparently not simple enough for you to understand, Hoseok-sshi.”

Hoseok opens his mouth, but a song cuts him off, one that makes them sit up and stare at Sangjun. Hoseok made the kids set custom ringtones after several confusing incidents with the default one, and Sangjun’s is When You Wish Upon a Star.

Manager Lee holds the phone up. “It’s his soulmate.”

“Nakyungie!” Sangjun jerks up, eyes wild. “Please, let me talk to her. Please.”

Manager Lee gives the CEO the phone. He lets it ring, staring baldly at Sangjun, who is shaking in his seat. He swipes his thumb across the screen and Nakyung’s voice floods the room. “Jun-ah? Are you there?”

“Noona.” Sangjun voice quakes as he struggles to hide his fear. “Noona, are you okay?”

“I... I don’t know, I…” Her voice is hushed. “There are two lawyers outside, and they’re telling me I have to come in for a termination. Why? You said… Hoseok said we’d be safe…”

“I promise we won’t,” Sangjun says, desperately. “I promise, just…” He looks at Hoseok.

“Nakyung-sshi? It’s Hoseok.” What does he do? He can’t let her go with them. Who can he get to help her? “Do you have Seokjin’s number?”

“Yes, but why?”

“Call him. Now. Tell him what’s going on. Tell him Hoseok said to get Jimin.” Hopefully having a police officer will dissuade the lawyers from going beyond their remit. “They’ll sort it out. Don’t leave the apartment without him.”

“Okay,” she agrees, timid. “Jun-ah?”

“Noona?”

“I love –”

The CEO hangs up before she can finish. He turns the phone off and hands it back to Manager Lee. “Hoseok-sshi, you shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep. Your friends can’t stop us.” He turns to Manager Lee. “Have you contacted the clinic?”

Manager Lee bows. “Yes, CEO-nim. They’re ready whenever the patient is.”

Hoseok’s memory of that time is patchy. He can’t remember how he got to the clinic, or how the surgery began. He only remembers sensations; Yoongi’s forehead against his, the cuffs on his wrist, the gag in his mouth.

The pain. The screeching, body-rending, infinite pain, which was eclipsed by the feeling of Yoongi slipping away; of Hoseok being left in the dark, mutilated, alone.

He can’t delay. He has to act. “No!” Hoseok springs up out of his chair and slams his palms on the table. “You can’t.”

“Why not?” The CEO’s smile is icy. “It’s in the contract.”

“I’ll quit,” Hoseok threatens. “I’ll go to the press and I’ll tell them everything. The weight you pushed me to lose, the times I collapsed and you covered it up, the injuries you made me work through. I have pictures of the bruise your manager gave me. Do you want me to do that?” He can’t believe what he’s saying, but the bravery he has scrounged out of nowhere feels good, as if it is immolating the restraints he’s been subjected to. He doesn’t dare look at the kids.

The CEO’s smile disappears. “Jung Hoseok. I’m amused that you think that anyone will care what you have to say.”

“I’ve been here for four years, CEO-nim. I have a lot to say.”

The CEO stands and leans across the table. Hoseok refuses to quail. “Let me put this clearly. This company has produced some of the finest acts in hallyu. The public loves us. We have won multiple daesangs, sold millions of albums, achieved dozens of number ones. You are a disgraced ex-idol who was kicked from his company for sleeping with a producer to get lines.”

“I didn’t –!”

“Does it matter? We can spin it whatever way we want.” The CEO stands back. “You have two options, Hoseok-sshi. You can quit and go to the press. We’ll get there first, and we have the journalists in our pocket. We’ll win. You’ll be blacklisted from the broadcasters, the radio stations, even the salons we use. You’ll be shunned and ignored and for what? Sangjun will still be severed. Or you can go quietly to live out your life out of my sight and we’ll leave you alone, as long as you never attempt to contact us or any of our employees.”

His courage drains out of him. “You… you mean…”

“No contact with Polaris or your PD. If you do, there will be consequences for them.”

His shoulders slump. “You’ve planned this for a while, haven’t you?”

The CEO shrugs. “You’re troublesome, Hoseok-sshi. One has to dump bad investments.”

That’s what he is to them, after four years of loyal service. A bad investment.

“Hyung.” Sangjun takes his hand. “You promised.”

Hoseok can’t respond. What is he going to do? He can’t talk his way out of this one. The CEO called his bluff. He’s screwed, but if he can get out of this without harming Polaris, he will. They don’t deserve to suffer for his fuck-ups.

Thus distracted, he doesn’t notice Ino standing up until his chair squeaks. Hoseok whips around to look at him. Ino hasn’t talked yet this evening, which is uncharacteristic of him. He’s going to say something stupid, he can sense it.

“I quit.”

The CEO’s composure cracks for a millisecond, but he regains it easily. “This is no time to joke, Ino-sshi.”

“I’m not. I quit.” Ino folds his arms in front of him. “I don’t want to work for you scumbags.”

“Ino-yah!” Hoseok grabs at him, but Ino dodges him. “Don’t say –”

“I quit.” Sangjun clings tighter to Hoseok. “I won’t let you sever us. Whatever about me, Nakyung is innocent. She doesn’t deserve to lose her soulmate.”

“I quit,” Marcel adds. Hoseok’s heart drops. “Manager Lee let those girls into the dressing room and you never punished him. It’s unfair!”

“Me too,” Yeongsu says loudly. “I hate how you treat Hobi hyung. He’s only ever done his best for us.

“And me,” Jingwang adds, softly. “I’m done.”

One left. They turn to Sehyeon, who is staring at them, wide-eyed.

Hoseok doesn’t want him to quit. Sehyeon is the golden goose, destined for a glittering career, and the best way for him to achieve that is to stay where he is, with a company that treats him like a prince. “Don’t, Sehyeon-ah.”

“I… I…”

“I understand that this is stressful,” he says, gently, to Sehyeon. “But none of you can quit. Your contracts haven’t been breached. If you quit, we will have to sue. Do you want that, Sehyeon-sshi?”

Sehyeon chews on his lip, eyes darting, but Marcel cuts in. “Polaris isn’t Polaris without Hobi hyung.”

The CEO’s eyes land on Hoseok. “You put them up to this.”

“I didn’t, I swear!” Hoseok grabs Ino. “Don’t do this. Please.”

Ino ignores him in favour of the CEO. “We’re leaving Polaris,” he tells him, “because we can’t trust you to have our best interests at heart. A company is supposed to protect and help their employees. All you’ve done is hurt us.”

The CEO scoffs. “What about the lessons we paid for? The choreographers, the Japanese teachers, the vocal trainers we hired? Did they hurt you? Did the security we hired for airports and concerts not protect you? What about that mixtape we let you release for free? Or the procedures we paid for? The dorm we housed you in? The clothes we bought for you? The food we gave you? We’ve done everything in our power to aid you.”

Ino’s face is tight. “Including drugging hyung?”

The CEO freezes. “Drugs?” Sangjun tugs at Hoseok’s elbow. “What drugs?” The other kids are similarly confused, as is Hoseok before he remembers the pills they put him on right before he debuted. He didn’t want them, but the managers told him that all the trainees were using them, and if he wanted to make the debut team he should take them too.

They lied to him. He was the only one using them. “How – how did you–”

The door slams open, and Hoseok doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry when Yoongi storms in, coming to a halt at the end of the table. “Hoseok-ah.”

“Yoongi hyung!” Hoseok struggles in Ino’s grip. “Don’t, please, don’t get involved…”

Yoongi – smiles? “Don’t worry. Hyung’s got it under control.” Hoseok catches a glimpse of Manager Song, who nods, and it hits him. He was buying time for Yoongi.

“It’s okay,” Ino whispers into Hoseok’s ear. “We have a plan.” He pushes Hoseok back into his seat.

“Suga PD-nim.” The CEO’s eyes flicker to Manager Lee, whose face is ghostly pale. I thought you’d never show up.”

“My apologies. Last minute business. The research facility took their time responding to my lawyer’s subpoena.” Yoongi holds up a sheaf of paper. His sleeve slips down, and Hoseok spots his string tied around it, a flash of faded red.

The corner of the CEO’s mouth twitches. “Do get on with it, PD-nim.”

Yoongi produces a file; from across the table Hoseok can only decipher the title, and it makes his stomach drop. “Here we go. Report on Seoul Capital Area Bond Research Facility…” He flicks through it. “Total number of terminations in the last four years are seven hundred and ninety-five. Successful terminations… four hundred and sixty-two, all of which are listed. Please read the list and tell me if my name or Hoseok’s name is mentioned.” The CEO doesn’t move to take it. “Why aren’t you checking the list, CEO-nim?”

“Min Yoongi.” The CEO sounds… angry. Hoseok has never heard him sound angry before.

“Is it, perhaps, because you know already that they fucked up our severance? That… let’s see, there’s a case study here about a Patient M and a Patient J, and I quote; The investigation found that the irradiation machine was set to the temperature used for the severance of bonds under general anaesthetic despite both patients being subjected to a far lower level of sedation. The bond became unstable, leading to the accelerated breakdown of the sedatives administered. The patients were capable of full movement and Patient M partially broke his restraints. The surgeon in charge, in her haste to complete the procedure before both patients broke their restraints, severed the bond at an incorrect angle, leaving the patients partially severed. The patient’s agency was notified, and it was recommended that the patients be reunited and the bond be allowed to heal, as it was feared that leaving them in their current state would negatively affect their health. Does that sound familiar to you?”

“How did you…?”

Ino coughs, and Yoongi shoots him a glare. “That’s not important. CEO-nim, you knew. You knew they botched our termination, you knew that they recommended we be allowed to heal, and what did you do? Nothing. You kept us apart, and when Hoseok became ill, you drugged him to keep him functional.” Yoongi produces another piece of paper with a large ℞ stamped on it; one of his old prescriptions. “Amphetamines and benzos, not to mention weight-loss pills, anti-nausea pills, opioids…” Yoongi’s voice grows rough with anger. “The doctor I consulted with said that he would never prescribe these medications together, let alone such high doses of them, and that it was a wonder that Hoseok is still alive.”

“Those medications were obtained legally.” Manager Lee shifts uncomfortably at the CEO’s words.

“From a doctor who was previously imprisoned for bribery.” Yoongi walks around the table, footsteps echoing in the silence of the room, until he’s standing behind Hoseok, and he drops his papers into his lap. “It’s not inconceivable that he would do it again.”

The topmost page is an email from the trainee coordinator thanking the clinic for their work and telling them that the company would follow their advice. The paper shakes in his hands. They knew that there was something wrong with him, they knew how to fix it, and they didn’t, because they didn’t want to lose their investment. “Manager Song… is this true?”

Manager Song nods, face sorrowful. “I’m sorry, Hoseok-ah.”

“CEO-nim.” Yoongi’s hands rest on Hoseok’s shoulder; his grip is tight, belying his even tone. “Do you remember a term in the contract about endangerment? Go on. Tell me.”

The CEO grits his teeth, but Yoongi stays obdurate. Hoseok reaches up to take his hand. “If,” the CEO says, finally, “the agency is found to have knowingly endangered the health of the artist, the company is in breach of contract.”

“There we go,” Yoongi says, softly. “Doesn’t keeping someone from his soulmate against medical advice and forcing him to abuse prescription medication counts as endangerment? You have two options, CEO-nim. You can fire Hoseok and we’ll go to the press. We’ll tell them everything, including that you knew we were bonded but you kept us apart. You lose the public’s goodwill. Your stock prices drop and you lose your investors. Parents pull their kids out of the company. Journalists dig into old rumours. Or…”

“Or?”

Ino speaks up. “You let us leave without a fight. You release Nakyung and cancel the termination. You give us the rights to our names, our music and our intellectual property. You void our covenant not to compete and write off any debts we have to you. We won’t go to the press, and you escape mostly unscathed. What will it be, CEO-nim?”

The CEO’s eyes scan over the group as he weighs his options. “Get out of my sight,” he says, finally. “All of you. My lawyers will contact you tomorrow.”

“No need. Mine have already made arrangements. By the way…” Yoongi tosses several envelopes onto the table, each one stamped with ‘LETTER OF RESIGNATION’. “From me, Manager Song, Aera and Jaekyung, among others. To save you the trouble of firing us.”

Manager Song bows briefly to the CEO before beginning to round the kids up. They file out around Yoongi and Hoseok, frozen in place.

“I told you to leave,” the CEO growls.

“Hoseok-ah,” Yoongi says, gently. “Let’s go.”

Hoseok pulls away from him. He needs an answer. “CEO-nim… why?”

“Why what? Don’t play games with me.”

“Why did you hate me?” The CEO won’t even look at him. Hoseok’s voice cracks. “I don’t get it. I only ever did my best.” All those days he spent striving to better himself, to lose that extra kilo, to polish up that choreography, to perfect that line. All the time and effort he spent making friends within the company and without and networking with other idols and entertainers. He tried his hardest to be the perfect leader; he did everything he was told to and more besides. “Did I offend you?”

“I told you earlier. You were a bad investment.” The CEO stands, and Yoongi draws Hoseok into his side. “I didn’t like you from the beginning. You were too old, and a reject from a nobody agency besides. I wanted to drop you the moment the surgery was botched, but I was told that you would be worth it. That you were talented enough to make up for it. Talented! What does talent matter in this industry? I hated everything about you. Your whiny voice, your horse face, your terrible rapping. You’re pathetic.”

Yoongi bristles, but Hoseok isn’t offended. He worried, for years, that he had done something wrong; that he committed some unknowable, invisible sin, that rendered him worthless to the CEO.

But the CEO simply doesn’t like him because of him, because of his prejudice, of his inherent dislike. Hoseok couldn’t have changed anything. “So… I didn’t do anything wrong?” He laughs, relieved. “Thank you, CEO-nim. I was worried it was my fault, but it’s yours.”

“You –!”

“If you treated me correctly,” Hoseok says, smile growing jagged. “if you were fair, if you believed in me as I deserved to be believed in – as I wanted you to believe in me – none of this would be happening. You brought this on yourself. Let’s go, hyung. Good luck, CEO-nim. You’ll need it.” Hoseok leaves the boardroom with a skip in his step, a speechless Yoongi in tow. When he glances back at the CEO his head is in his hands, a portrait of defeat. The click of the door shutting is the sweetest sound he has ever heard.

They rush through the corridors. Suddenly, the building is constructive, a prison he wishes desperately to be free of. When they emerge into the night, they find Ino, hunkered by the entrance. “Hyung!” He springs up. “What took you so long?”

“I was getting answers. In fact…” Hoseok grabs Ino’s ear. “What was this about a plan? A plan I didn’t know about?”

“Ow, ow – Yoongi hyung, get him off!”

“Let go of him, Hoseok-ah.” Yoongi ruffles Ino’s hair roughly. “Couldn’t have done this without him.”

Hoseok rounds on him. “Yah, so you were in on it too? Would it have killed you to tell me what was going on?”

“We were gonna,” Ino protests, stepping in front of Yoongi as if to defend him. “We didn’t expect Dispatch to out Sangjun. They ruined our timeline.”

“It started with Ino. Remember I said he was sniffing around me?” Hoseok does, in fact, recall that. “After what you said last time, I did some research on my own about the clinic, but I didn’t get far. Everything was confidential, and I don’t have contacts in that industry. I was about to give up when Ino burst in on me and told me that he knew we were soulmates and that he was getting us back together.”

“When hyung mentioned the bond research facility I remembered my mom used to work there as a cleaner, and she said… she said they botched a lot of operations. Hyung’s lawyer did the rest. Then, when I read the report, I remembered that Manager Lee used to give you pills…”

Yoongi lays his hand against his jaw. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want you to think less of me,” Hoseok admits. “I wasn’t an addict, but I didn’t have a choice. But how did you get my prescriptions?”

“Manager Song,” Ino grins. “He always had a soft spot for you. Manager Lee really pissed him off when he hit you. I asked him if he knew anything, and he gave them to me. He said he kept them in case you ever needed them and he said to tell you that he’s sorry for letting them do that to you.”

 “Where’s he gone? Where are the rest of the kids?” Hoseok can’t get the way Sehyeon looked at him out of his mind. He’s never felt like such a failure.

“Sangjun went to see Nakyung. The others went back to the dorm with Manager Song.”

“Did you tell them all to quit?”

“Wait, they quit?” Yoongi raises an eyebrow. “I thought only you were going to.”

“The rest of them followed my example… well, except Sehyeon.” Ino sighs. “I knew he wouldn’t leave. You know how he is.” It isn’t just that he kept a secret from him, Hoseok knows, but the nature of the secret; a soulmate that he gave up on. It goes against Sehyeon’s morals, the ones formed by his pastor father and the high fantasy books he consumes voraciously, dreaming himself into every paladin he reads of. “But he doesn’t have a choice if the rest of us leave, and we will, no matter what they throw at us. Polaris isn’t Polaris without hyung.”

What else is Hoseok supposed to do? He enfolds Ino in a hug, to which the younger gladly acquiesces. “I’m so glad,” he says, into Ino’s neck, “that I ended up with you kids. I wouldn’t have gotten this far without you.”

Ino hugs him tighter. “Hyung…”

Hoseok pulls back. “I promise,” he says, fiercely, “that I’ll make this okay. I know – I know you’ll all be angry at me. I know I’ll have to make amends. I will make it up to you. This isn’t the end for us. I don’t care if I have to set up a new company, Polaris is going to continue.”

Ino nods, eyes creasing into a rare smile. “Promise?”

“Promise.” A car pulls up behind them; Hoseok recognises Ino’s mom behind the wheel. “Go home and hug your mom for me. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

They wave Ino off; once he has vanished from view, the reality of the night’s happenings hits Hoseok. What are they going to do? What is Polaris going to do? The press is going to have a field day with it all. The world will know every ugly detail of the past four years, and, if things go especially badly, they’ll end up in court. He closes his eyes, overwhelmed.

Yoongi twines their fingers together and Hoseok feels something slot, neatly, into place within him. “Are you okay?”

“No,” Hoseok answers. “But I will be. I have you, after all.”

He opens his mouth to say something but is betrayed by a conspicuously loud rumble. Hoseok lets out a helpless giggle. “Shut up,” Yoongi mumbles. “I was busy saving your butt.”

“Understandable.” Hoseok bites back a smile at Yoongi’s pout. “You know… I never repaid you for that fried chicken in the end.”

“That was a decade ago. I’m charging interest.” Yoongi pulls him down the street. “I want beer too.”

“Aish – hyung, stop!” Hoseok digs his heels in. “Wait. I need to do something.”

“Do what?” Yoongi tips his head to the side and he doesn’t really have a choice, does he? He kisses him to convey everything he’s feeling – fear at what is to come, at the gargantuan task ahead of him, but also joy, relief, and gratitude. He pulls back, and he must look as dopey as he feels; Yoongi lets out an ugly laugh. “Come on, baby. I’m hungry.”

Hoseok lets Yoongi lead him where he will. The night is balmy and warm, and the air is heavy with the promise of many more nights like this; of a future, together with his soulmate.

With Yoongi.

Chapter Text

EXCLUSIVE: POLARIS J-HOPE REVEALED TO BE DATING PRODUCER | 11th JUNE 2020

Source: Dispatch

  1. [+3,775, -82] Dispatch seriously deserves praise
  2. [+2,131, -87] No Hoseok-ah.. ㅠ.ㅠ
  3. [+1,903, -233] Yah, a company producer ㅋㅋ did he really want lines that badlyㅋㅋㅋㅋ
  4. [+1,431, -31] What is this??????? Hul ㅋㅋㅋㅋ
  5. [+1,010, -128] No Hobi-yah..ㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠ
  6. [+561, -20] Polaris was doing so well and then their leader decided to screw them over ㅋㅋ that's basically it for them isn't it? Male idols live off of the fantasies of their fans and yet all of them are dating ㅋㅋㅋㅋ
  7. [+387, -12] Hul why didn’t the company pay Dispatch off like they usually do?
  8. [+419, -46] No way they won’t kick him out now

BREAKING: J-Hope Removed From Polaris

11th June 2020
By Lim Chan-sung

The leader of Polaris, Jung Hoseok, will be parting ways with the group.

On June 11, the group’s agency revealed through an official statement, “We have decided to remove J-Hope [from the group].”

The statement continues, “When managing our artists, the company has worked with faith and trust in each other as the main priority. After much discussion, the judgment was made that it is not possible to recover the faith with J-Hope, and his removal has been decided.”

“We sincerely thank him and his fans who have been with us until now,” the statement concludes. “Arrangements for Polaris’ upcoming world tour will not be affected.”

J-HOPE TO HOLD PRESS CONFERENCE ADDRESSING COMPANY SPLIT | 12th JUNE 2020

Source: Naver

  1. [+1,386, -314] A press conference??? To say what?? ‘I wanted preferential treatment so I slept with a producer???’
  2. [+1,337, -15] Pathetic
  3. [+941, -49] There has to be more to this if he’s holding a press conference…
  4. [+115, -13] He really does look like a horse
  5. [+98, -1] What did he do for his company to expel him? Normally they’d deny the rumours and break up quietly later…
  6. [+94, -1] I bet the producer will dump him soon too ㅜㅜ
  7. [+88, -4] Shouldn’t his boyfriend be taking care of all this?

Former Polaris Leader J-Hope Speaks Out On Abuse By Company

13th June 2020
By Kim Seong-hee

The leader of Korean boyband Polaris, Jung Hoseok, held a press conference earlier today to speak out against the abuse he has endured at the hands of his agency.

Polaris debuted in December 2018 with seven members; Jung Hoseok, Shin Ino, Lee Jingwang, Noh Sangjun, Chan Sehyeon, Jun Yeongsu and Marcel Lavoie. Jung is the oldest at twenty-six; the youngest, Lavoie, is nineteen.

During the press conference, Jung was accompanied by his lawyer. He revealed that he was forced to sever his bond with his soulmate, Min Yoongi, also known as Suga, as part of his contract. Such severances fall under a grey area in Korean law and are unregulated. His lawyer provided documents that prove that the severance was unsuccessful, and that the agency was told to reunite the two, as keeping them separate could adversely affect their health. The agency did not inform Jung or Min and did not reunite them. When Jung’s condition began to deteriorate, he was medicated with Ritalin and Xanax despite not having any conditions that would prompt the use of those drugs. The prescription was obtained from a doctor previously imprisoned for bribery after illegally providing medication to army officers. Copies of the prescriptions were distributed to the press.

In addition to this, Jung revealed that he was physically abused by a manager, whom they referred to as A during the press conference, after refusing to bow to a producer at a broadcast station. Jung said, “The manager accepted a bribe from a producer at the station and let two unauthorised individuals into our dressing rooms, one of whom sexually harassed one of the members. The producer knew but ignored it. I refused to bow when they greeted us and afterwards, Manager A hit me and threatened me, saying that his hand would not be open next time.” A picture of the injury was shown to press.

He added, “I was also forced to starve myself to use weight-loss pills. When I became nauseous, either as a result of that or of anxiety, I would be punished.” Jung stated that their CEO knew of the abuse and of the botched severance. “He told me that he would punish Manager A but I was scared that it would lead to more trouble for Polaris, so I asked him not to punish him.”

Visibly upset, Jung apologised to his fans. “Polaris promised Stellas that we would always give them good music and show a good image, so I'm sorry that this has happened. I wish I could have told the truth earlier and hurt fewer people. I feel ashamed for letting it happen for so long.”

He added, “It’s difficult for me to admit to this, but I have to, for the sake of every idol in this industry, so that they won’t go through what I did. If there is any good to come out of this, I hope that terminations will cease, and that abuse and human rights violations will cease to exist not only in the k-pop industry but also in Korea.”

Jung confirmed during the press conference that he will be taking legal action against the company. There has been no statement from his company yet.

STATEMENT: ‘EVERYTHING THAT HAS BEEN SAID IS A FABRICATION, WE WILL BE TAKING LEGAL ACTION’ | 14th JUNE 2020

Source: PANN via Nate

  1. [+535, -18] Those fuckers ㅋㅋㅋㅋ they have no shame
  2. [+519, -8] Yah ㅋㅋㅋㅋ how is it a lie???? He had photos and emails and everything. They’re just trying to cover their own asses
  3. [+441, -8] I cried so hard last night thinking about poor Hobi… how can you treat a human like that? How did he endure that for so long???
  4. [+84, -0] Bastards ㅋㅋㅋㅋ I had a ticket for their concert but I refunded it in protest. They won’t get any of my money as long as they treat their artists like dogs
  5. [+68, -9] Where are all those fuckers who said he was sleeping with a producer to get lines???? They’re all silent now ㅋㅋㅋㅋ his soulmate, he couldn’t even love his own soulmate
  6. [+56, -5] He went as far as to give up his own soulmate and they treated him like this… how pitiful…
  7. [+51, -0] Why haven’t the rest of Polaris said anything??? They had to have known what was going on
  8. [+44, -4] I just want him to be happy, why can’t they take responsibility??? I can’t believe while I was enjoying their comeback, Hoseok was suffering…

THE BLUE HOUSE | PETITIONS

APOLOGISE TO JUNG HOSEOK AND RELEASE POLARIS FROM THEIR CONTRACTS

Petition made on 13th June 2020

176,876 signatures

TRANSLATION OF ANONYMOUS INTERVIEW AIRED ON YTN | 16th JUNE 2020

“The group I style was promoting at the same time as Polaris. When the group lined up to greet the producers, Hoseok-sshi was arguing with his manager. The other members were upset. When the producers came out, he didn’t bow, and his manager got even angrier. We left to get the girls changed so they could go home, but the back of one of the girl’s earrings fell off and I went back to get it. I saw Hoseok-sshi slumped against a wall with a red mark on his cheek. The manager’s hand was raised. I left before anything else happened. I was too frightened to tell anyone what I saw, but I had to speak up when I heard his company calling him a liar.”

REVIEW: Polaris ‘Guide the Way’ in Seoul

21st June 2020
By Kim Su-a

It was supposed to be a festival; a celebration of the fastest boy group to get a concert in Jamsil after debut.

Instead, it was a protest. Stellas lined up, not in their concert finery emblazoned with their bias’ names and birth years, but in somber black. Their faces were hidden by black facemasks and black hats. They stood there in silence, whispers running through the crowd occasionally, lightsticks hanging idle from one wrist, white pieces of cloth clutched in the other, waiting grimly as if for a war.

The salespeople at the merchandise stands told me that they had only sold a fraction of their stock in four hours; by this point at Polaris’ last concert, they were sold out. The scalpers were at a loss as to what to do with their overpriced tickets. When they acquired them four months ago, they were the hottest commodity in town, an invitation to bask in the presence of the princes of k-pop, more precious than gold. Now, they were worthless. Over a third of the tickets sold for all thirty-nine dates of tour have already been refunded.

Inside the arena, it soon became clear that the Stellas had a plan. Polaris’ music videos were played not to deafening shrieks, but to deathly silence that became ever tenser when former leader J-Hope appeared on screen. As the start time approached, the silence grew more absolute, until, finally, Polaris appeared on stage, as lifeless as one would expect them to be having been avulsed of their beating heart. To their credit, they did sing and rap and dance, but to no avail. The lightsticks that were switched on at the very beginning of the concert and raised solemnly into the sky were, at the verse that should have been J-Hope’s, switched off, plunging the stadium into the awful darkness of a black ocean. Instead, the white banners every Stella was given was unfurled, revealing the slogan ‘JUSTICE FOR J-HOPE’. As Polaris faltered and eventually stopped performing, leaving their instrumental unaccompanied, Stellas began to chant that slogan, a wave of sound more fervent than any fanchant. Managers appeared at the wings like shadows as the members listened to their Stellas. One would have expected them to leave.

They didn’t. Instead, they joined in. First Ino, the spitfire rapper, followed by Marcel, the cherubic maknae, and one-by-one until all six of them were demanding justice for their leader, though Sehyeon, the centre, was noticeably subdued in his chanting. Their dedication was such that they were dragged off stage by security, in much the same way as Stellas were evacuated from the stadium.

The concert may be over, but the movement is not. After footage was circulated on social media, the hashtag ‘JUSTICEFORJHOPE’ trended at number 1 worldwide with 1.2 million tweets. Polaris’ agency failed to respond to requests for comment.

EXCLUSIVE: Polaris Guide the Way Tour Cancelled

21st June 2020
By Choi Young-pil

Reports have emerged that Polaris’ upcoming world tour, which began on the 20th of June in Seoul Olympic Stadium, has been cancelled.

On June 21, an announcement was made by tour organisers Live Nation informing fans that all 38 dates have been cancelled and that refunds are being processed for all dates, including last night’s concert in Jamsil Stadium. This comes amid ongoing controversy over the accusations of abuse levelled against the company by former leader Jung Hoseok. Polaris joined in with fan protests at last night’s concert and were forcibly escorted off stage. No statement has yet been made by Polaris’ agency.

POLARIS SANGJUN REVEALED TO BE DATING… ‘FOUND HIS SOULMATE’ | 25th JUNE 2020

Source: Dispatch

  1. [+4,272, -77] Run, Jun-ah! Get out before they sever you too!!!
  2. [+3,969, -143] He looks so happy… congratulations my Junie mouse ㅜㅜ
  3. [+3,739, -56] Daebak.. did the company leak this too like they did J-Hope’s??
  4. [+604, -19] Get out of there kid!!! You can’t have a soulmate in that agency!!!
  5. [+527, -7] I’ve been with my soulmate for twenty years and I can’t imagine my life without him. I wish him and his bandmates happiness and health with their soulmates
  6. [+497, -11] I bet you the agency tried to sever them too and that was why J-Hope left
  7. [+437, -16] I’ve been a Stella since before debut but they have to leave their agency. It’s the only way

EXCLUSIVE: Chan Sehyeon Leaves Polaris

6th October 2020
By Nam Ji-seon

Polaris centre Chan Sehyeon has left Polaris, four months after leader Jung Hoseok, was expelled from the group for having a soulmate.

As Chan was the only remaining member, his departure marks the end of the group; rapper Shin Ino and vocalist Marcel Lavoie left immediately after their infamous concert in Jamsil at which their own fans organised a black ocean. Face of the group Noh Sangjun left days later when it was revealed that he had a soulmate. Main vocalist Lee Jingwang was the next to leave in July, followed by Jun Yeongsu at the start of August. All have stated that negotiations with the company failed and that they intend to sue. The company is currently involved in over ten lawsuits, brought not only by the members of Polaris but also by Min Yoongi, Jung’s former soulmate who produced for the group under the name Suga. No verdict has yet been reached, but pundits expect the courts to rule against the company.

ALL 7 POLARIS MEMBERS SPOTTED TOGETHER IN PUBLIC FOR FIRST TIME SINCE JUNE  | 10th OCTOBER 2020

Source: Segye Ilbo via Naver

  1. [+1,007, -19] I didn’t think I’d cry but ㅜㅜ I am ㅜㅜ I miss them so much 
  2. [+747, -220] Honestly, I understand why Sehyeon took so long to leave… he hates secrets and he would have felt betrayed that Hobi never told him what was going on… but I’m glad he did decide to leave. It’s the only way for Polaris to continue.
  3. [+682, -175] It must have been a tough decision to make… Sehyeon trained there the longest, he’s the most popular and they treated him the best. If I were him, I don’t think I would have left…
  4. [+392, -15] They look so happy~~ Hoseokie’s chubby cheeks are jjang
  5. [+117, -4] Sue that bitch of a company and come back to us soon^^
  6. [+101, -84] Sehyeon and Sangjun back together again ㅜㅜ it’s bittersweet because of Junie’s soulmate but I’m glad they’re still friends
  7. [+99, -4] Polaris = 7 
  8. [+79, -4] I hope we get news on the lawsuits soon, I’m so nervous that the company will winㅜㅜ

INVOICE

17th November 2020

TO

Jung Hoseok, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

FROM

Flower Smeraldo, Jongno-gu, Seoul

GOODS

1 Custom Bouquet (chrysanthemum, smeraldo, peony, germini, carnation)

TOTAL

₩120,000

DELIVERY ADDRESS

Ahn Heeyeon,
Room 456,
Soon Myung Chang University Hospital

NOTE

‘Congratulations noona!!!! We hope she looks like you~~~~ let us know when the uncles can visit! Lots of love, Hoseok and Yoongi, aka SOPE^^’

J-Hope Wins Lawsuit Against Former Agency

5th February 2021
By Song Ji-hyuk

Jung Hoseok’s court battle has come to an end as his former agency was found guilty of breaching their contract. The court ruled that in neglecting the health of Jung by separating him from his soulmate against medical advice, the agency willingly endangered him and thus breached their contract. The verdict was expected after a company ruled in the favour of Jung’s soulmate, Min Yoongi, also known as Suga, during his lawsuit against the company. Legal actions filed by the rest of Polaris are ongoing, as is a suit filed to transfer Polaris’ trademarks to the ownership of the members.

Outside the court, Polaris’ fans, known as Stellas, cheered the guilty verdict. Though the prosecution filed for an appeal on the verdict, the supreme court revealed that they denied the request, solidifying the guilty ruling and bolstering the related cases. Speculation abounds that they will be settled out of court.

POLARIS LAWSUIT SETTLED OUTSIDE OF COURT…. WIN RIGHT TO PROMOTE AS POLARIS | 21st MARCH 2021

Source: Sports Chosun via Naver

  1. [+1,197, -38] The agency knew they couldn’t win after J-Hope won ㅋㅋㅋ so they rolled over
  2. [+1,067, -258] Polaris hwaiting!!!
  3. [+868, -91] Let this be a lesson to all the shitty companies out there: treat your artists right, or you’ll be sued ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ
  4. [+101, -11] Still can’t believe that that kid had to hide his own soulmate from his company
  5. [+90, -4] I’m so excited for them to come back!!!
  6. [+72, -6] What are they going to do next? Have they signed with anyone?

POLARIS ANNOUNCE SIGNING WITH NEW AGENCY

24th March 2021
By Lee Ye-jin

Polaris have announced that they have signed with a new agency, Pandora Entertainment.

The company was founded by Polaris’s leader and his soulmate, Jung Hoseok and Min Yoongi. The latter also produced for Polaris under the name Suga.

On the 22nd of March, the company issued a statement. “We will promote Polaris with all our effort.”

“We have signed multiple illustrious producers and choreographers. Our aim is to produce music of the highest quality. We thank Polaris’ fans for their continued patience and wish to reassure you that we will be back soon. Thank you.”

A Star is Reborn: The Birth of Pandora Entertainment

26th June 2021
By Lee Yeon-bok

The lobby of Pandora Entertainment is crammed with wreaths and bags of rice, and the receptionist is apologetic as she leads me through the mess to the lift. “They’ve been coming in all week.” She delicately moves a wreath from Meijiwoo aside. “We’re running out of space.”

She leads me through an array of offices, filled with light and space, and past several dance studios, their floors well scuffed. Through a glass door I glimpse Lee Jingwang, who blushes at the receptionist. The people I pass bow politely, including the infamously prickly Shin Ino, who is pulling on a shirt as he passes.

Finally, I reach the building’s rooftop, carpeted in grass and filled with flowers, like an Eden plonked on top of a Gangnam office block. Two men rise to greet me. They are Pandora Entertainment’s young CEOs; Jung Hoseok (also known as J-Hope, the proverbial Hope in Pandora’s box) and Min Yoongi. They are the first soulmates to ever found an entertainment company.

“We didn’t think about it like that,” Jung laughs, as he pours me a glass of water. “We wanted to keep doing what we loved.”

Jung’s legal battle with his former company has been thoroughly chronicled in the media. Despite statements to the contrary, evidence emerged of a cycle of abuse perpetrated by Polaris’ agency against its employees, Jung in particular. Pictures of bruises, illegally obtained prescriptions and dozens of accounts from trustworthy industry insiders served to reinforce the story, and two months ago the lawsuit was settled out of court in Jung’s favour. The case served to shine a spotlight on the uglier side of the k-pop industry, the one that separates vulnerable trainees from their soulmates, and has led to protracted debate in many circles about banning the severance of soulmates by entertainment companies. Politicians from the opposition are scripting a law to do so, provisionally named the Polaris Law.

Min scoffs when he hears that. “They can call it something else. We didn’t go through all that for other people. We did it for us.”

“Yoongi hyung,” Jung scolds.

Their dynamic is unlike any pair of soulmates I’ve ever met, and rightly so. Min and Jung first met as underage trainees with BigHit Entertainment eleven years ago. After their debut fell through, the two went their separate ways, only to reunite five years later when Min moved to Seoul for college.

“We hated each other,” Min admits. “We had unresolved issues.”

“We worked through it,” Jung says brightly.

After only five months of being bonded, both of them were offered contracts at their former agency under one condition; they had to sever their bond. They agreed. The procedure, carried out at the controversial Seoul Capital Area Bond Research Facility, was botched, leaving them partially separated. Against medical advice, the two were kept apart by the company and spent the next three years working separately.

“It was difficult,” Jung says, sipping his water. “I wouldn’t have survived without the kids.”

Polaris had their own share of soulmate-related difficulties. Shortly after Jung and Min reconnected, Noh Sangjun bonded with his soulmate.

“Hyung and I helped him to meet with her secretly,” Jung says. “I didn’t want them to sever him like they did us. Of course, they found out anyway.”

“And here we are now,” Min sighs.

Here they are, co-CEOs of a brand-new entertainment company. It may seem strange that they went straight back into the industry that harmed them, but neither Jung nor Min see it like that.

“I love what I do,” Jung grins. “I love performing, I love being an idol, and I love to dance. It was a no-brainer to get Polaris back together, especially because I knew our Stellas would wait for us.”

And they have. News of Polaris’s upcoming comeback under Pandora Entertainment whipped the fandom into a frenzy, as they trended the hashtag ‘PolarisAreFree’ with over one million Tweets.

“I’m grateful that people are excited,” Min says. “We have an amazing team.” Rumours about the recruitment of producers from their old company, from rival companies, and from their trainee days abound. “The members are personally involved in every aspect of the comeback, down to the styling.”

“It’s chaos! Good chaos.”

The industry is watching closely to see how Polaris fare. Many theorise that the highly public status of Min and Jung as soulmates will turn fans away.

Min shakes his head. “That doesn’t matter. If they leave because of that, then we’re lucky to be rid of them. Idols are people too, and they deserve to be treated as such.”

It’s an honourable sentiment, and one I hope the public takes to kindly. Looking at Min and Jung together, at the love they share despite what they’ve been through, I believe they will. It would take a crueller person than I to deny these two their happily ever after.

Dragonfly: The Fifth Mini Album | Released 5th July 2021

  1. Intro: Justice 1’32”
  2. FAITH 3’16”
  3. Courage 4’10”
  4. Ardent Heart 3’50”
  5. shelter 4’21”
  6. Belive in Me 2'56"
  7. Victory Lap 3'39"
  8. Outro: Hope 1’49”

Lyrics by Ino, J-Hope, Sehyeon, Super, Kwon, Sangjun, Marcel

Produced by Suga, Ino, Jang Aera, RM, Golden Boy and J-Hope

Polaris Break Own Record for Most MV Views in 24 Hours

23rd July 2021
By Song Ji-hyuk

After breaking their own pre-order record and obtaining over fifty Perfect All-Kills, Polaris have broken yet another one of their own records. Today, two weeks after release, YouTube confirmed that their newest music video for FAITH, the lead single of their newest album, Dragonfly, broke Taylor Swift's long-held record for most YouTube views for a music video in a twenty-four-hour period. Congratulations Polaris!

2021 Mnet Asian Music Awards

From Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia

Qoo10 Song of the Year (Daesang)

Polaris - "FAITH"