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(Maybe I Love You) We're Too Young For That

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The bed’s empty and cold when Taehyung wakes up, the rumpled sheets on the other side the only sign that everything hadn’t just been a shitty dream.

That’s probably why he immediately packs his stuff without a second thought, exiting the room without looking back as he books the first flight out back to Seoul, something with an offshade of misery clinging to his chest.

One moment he’s wading through TSA lines through a muggy airport in Honolulu, the next moment his plane his touching down in Incheon. He goes home, he sleeps for a day in a half, and just like that, Taehyung resets and moves on.

It’s a bit strange at the beginning, because, wordlessly, they’ve agreed to a full-stop to whatever they had: no texts, no calls, no face-to-face interactions, and even when the rest of the company returns to Seoul and Taehyung goes out for drinks with the rest of guys, it’s just the six of them, not seven.

Even if it’s suddenly suffocatingly lonely in his studio at first, and even if it feels like there’s something uncomfortably missing, he still wakes up and falls asleep every day, the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west, and the hours without him slowly become days, the days becomes weeks, and the weeks turn into months.

Until, one day, Taehyung wakes up feeling okay.

Pretty soon, Taehyung’s swamped with work again. Breakout Suckup hits him up for another song, the ballad he had given her had done so well that she wanted him on one of the title tracks on her debut solo album. And it starts out professional, but during one of their studio sessions, he starts noticing how she starts eying him. It’s simple, she’s pretty, why not are pretty much his guiding rules and so he lets her dance around him with flirty texts and veiled hangouts, until he just goes for it one night after he walks her up to her apartment and kisses her outside her front door.

His heart doesn’t really race when it happens, it’s a trundling beat compared to the way he can feel hers galloping in her chest when he draws her close. But all he wonders is why he even cares anymore. Because when she pulls him inside with a suggestive giggle, he just finds himself thinking about open banana milk cartons and a shitty seagull tattoo instead. And look at how great that all turned out.

They don’t call it dating for the sake of plausible deniability, but it’s pretty much the same, familiar game of semantics. They hold hands when no one is looking. They go out with their masks on and do things together. He stays the night, multiple times a week. She stops by his studio almost every day, even after their song is released ( Don’t Regret It , dream pop with a sax edge, it ends up being a summer hit), and if anyone gets suspicious, no one mentions a thing.

She’s perfect too, on paper. Pretty, witty, ambitious, safe, a partner his mother would be proud he brought home. She’s entertaining to be around, and exactly what Taehyung thinks he wants: never quiet, never still, lowest of the keys, but always dragging Taehyung around to try new things. She’s perfectly happy to be the driver of their relationship, never really minding how he takes the backseat,just enjoying the view. She’s never jealous about who he hangs around, never asks why he’s out late or can’t make dinner, doesn’t say a word when he forgets to text her good morning, ask her how her day was, get her something on their month-anniversary and while it could very well be because she’s chill, Taehyung convinces himself it’s because she simply doesn’t care.

Which would be convenient, because he doesn’t either.

His friends like her well enough too, or rather, if they have any negative opinions they deign to share them with him. There’s some side-eye and raised brows initially, but eventually all the flack disappears. And even Jimin, who, since the minute he landed from Hawaii, always looks like he’s been half a mind from sitting Taehyung down and really letting him have it, warms up to her within a week.

Of course when it’s the six of them and her, it’s awkward for a reason that everyone avoids like the plague, but everyone dutifully acts their part and welcomes her warmly without a hitch, like everything’s fine and the puzzle’s still complete, like there isn’t an elephant sitting in the room, and like there wasn’t someone else with them in her place, holding his hand for the first time and whispering shitty jokes into his ear not even a few weeks ago.

The only thing she really lacks is who she’s not, Taehyung realizes one blue morning when he wakes up from the happiest dream he’s had in a while, a sense of emptiness settling in when he opens his eyes as finds himself curled up alone in his bed instead of wrapped in a particular pair of arms he lost the right to dream about. But as the months pass and complacency becomes a default state of being, Taehyung starts to forget why that matters. And so in the dark hours of the night with her gasping beneath him, Taehyung starts believing that this the kind of love that he really wants.

Life, it turns out, vehemently disagrees.

They’re walking down the hall one day, and she says something somewhat funny, and Taehyung, hands stuffed in pockets, looks down at her and laughs like he’s supposed to, eyes calculatedly folding into amused half-crescents. And suddenly, someone clips his shoulder hard, and he stumbles, nearly falling to the floor.

Fuck,” Taehyung whips around, annoyed. “Ow, watch where you’re go—”

Then, the words die, shot where they stand in his throat.

Because it’s the first time he’s seen him in what must be months. But it’s undeniably Jungkook walking past with his hands jammed in his pockets, because that’s his jacket, his piercings, his back, it’s his goddamn cologne. It’s like a dream and a nightmare and Taehyung’s heart begins pounding like a drum in his ears, his lungs seem to forget how to draw in air, and his body forgets how to move, rendering him unable to even turn his head away as he watches Jungkook stalk down the hall.

When he finally snaps out of it and turns back to Breakout Suckup, there’s enough of something—that looks oddly like resignation—in her eyes to tell Taehyung that she knows.

“Are you okay?” She asks.

“Yeah,” Taehyung replies.

She doesn’t look convinced. But she doesn’t mention anything about it when he leads her back to the studio with his hand clamped on her wrist, and she doesn’t say much at all and just sits with her legs curled up on his couch for the rest of the afternoon. In fact, she’s so quiet that he forgets that she’s even there.

Which is just as well, because he’s rattled to the point where he gets stuck on a loop of flicking between a few unfinished songs, trapped on a carousel of unproductivity, thoughts drifting from work and spiraling around a certain guy instead, because: where was he going? What was he doing? What was his reaction? Did he see—

And then she breaks his thoughts with a tap in on the shoulder.

“Hey,” she says, when Taehyung looks up at her, thin grin gracing her lips. She blinks her eyes and what seems like a trick of the light, they glisten in the corners. She quickly ducks her head, rubbing her face with her sleeve, mumbling something about how she’s super sleepy, and when she looks back up, her eyes are clear once again, “I think I’m gonna go.”

“Alright,” Taehyung says, standing up and pulling her into a hug. “Want me to walk you down?”

She looks down at her shoes, head pressed against his chest. Then she sniffs softly and rubs her face again, voice small and wavering, “I’ll be fine.”

Alarms go off in Taehyung’s head then, and so he crouches down, peering up into her face. She reels in surprise, taking a step back and covering her mouth with her sleeve.

“Hey,” Taehyung asks, concern seeping into his tone, furrow pulling his brows together. “Is everything okay? Wait, shoot, your eyes, they’re kinda red—”

She stares at him wordlessly for a moment that seems to last forever, eyes shifting from side to side. It’s like she’s almost challenging him to figure it out, the crease in her brows growing with the silence. His heart beats in his chest, drumming slow in his ears, because he’s always been a terrible reader and has no idea what she wants. And so they stay like that, locked in a staredown standstill, until she finally conceeds with short sigh.

“Yeah,” She says with resolve, pulling a grin that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “I’m fine.”

Then before she leaves, she gently takes his face between her hands and kisses him so softly that it feels like it’s a last time.

 

 

 

 

+++

 

It turns out, he’s right about that.

The next morning, Breakout Suckup begins to distance herself, replying to his texts less and less as the week crawls by. He stops seeing her for spates of days that eventually turn into weeks. It’s all part of a tactic called breadcrumb ghosting, Taehyung finds out later when he tells Luna over lunch, and it works because he’s swamped with work and he believes they’re just drifting apart.

There’s a period of ambiguity that he doesn’t realize they’ve even entered into until they’re nearly at the end of it, when he wakes up at one in the morning with a start, groggily raises his head and realizes they haven’t even texted each other for a few days. But rather than do something about it, he keeps his distance, and it’s cleanly resolved that weekend, when he decides last minute to swing by a party at Sings Gud’s place and sees Breakout Suckup chatting with with That One Actor Guy, interest that was shade more than platonic lighting up in her eyes.

And the fucked up part is that he doesn’t really feel anything—not jealousy, not relief, not sadness, not happiness, just a sense of regret that oh things have changed, yet again,  without him realizing.

She sees him and stiffens until he raises his brow and mouths ‘you look good together’ and then she relaxes, eyes flicking away and blush dusting her face as Actor Guy leans down and whispers something into her ear.

And Taehyung takes that as his cue to leave.

 


 

SUN 1:34AM

 

You left some stuff at my place
Want me to drop it off?

 
Oops sorry
No it’s fine ㅋㅋㅋ
Don’t want to trouble you
You can just chuck it
 


Wait even your coat?

 

 
Which one?
 

[image attached]



ㅇㅁㅇ;;
Wait fuck omg
I’ve been looking for that
 

I take it you want to keep that one then
Haha


 
If it’s not too much trouble
My manager can pick it up tomorrow
 

Alrighty haha
 


Thanks!
 

You look happy btw
I met him once
He’s a good guy
 

Thanks ;;;;;;;;
 

Yeah
Also
Sorry I was so
You know
Haha
You deserved better than that

 

 
Don’t worry about it
I mean I kinda knew what i was getting into
My fault for falling for you ㅎ
You’ve always had your eyes on that guy
 

 

Um

 
Yeah ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ
That one time I interviewed you
You wouldn’t stop glancing at him lol
 

Oh

 

Yeah
 

Shit

 
LOL
Hope it works out for you one day!
You guys would be cute together
 

Hah
Thanks
I guess
 


 

 

And like that, it ends.

But he doesn’t take any lessons from it, if anything, it just made it easier to move on to the next one, a small-time model with popstar dreams who had been going after him aggressively for the better part of the year. There’s something oddly satisfying about their arrangement, because the model’s obviously using him, but Taehyung’s using the guy right back. It’s mutually toxic with no expectations, and so it’s almost reliving when they breakup after about a month. Well technically, actually, the model dumps him (succinctly via a curt text), almost the second after it becomes clear that Taehyung’s not making any real effort to get him signed with the company.

He’s not at all sorry to see that one go.

But it kicks off this vicious cycle of relationships where he gets together with someone only to start counting down to the days when it ends. It’s all sorts of entertainment professionals: actors, actresses, models, singers, and at one point he almost stoops as low as a BigCube trainee with faded hopes. The guy’s not a minor, but something about the power dynamic and the way the guy looks at Taehyung not like an equal but like he’s his last chance makes it feel way too fucked up, and so Taehyung stops it right before it starts.

“Sorry,” he says, pushing the guy away with his hand before the trainee can kiss him for a second time, numbness creeping into his veins. “I’m sorry I gave you the wrong impression, but I really don’t think I can do this.”

And the guy, on the verge of tears, turns tail and runs, slamming into Jimin just as he rushes out the door of Taehyung’s studio, bowing awkwardly before he flees down the hall.

“What the—?” Jimin turns and watches the guy rush down the hall.

“Don’t ask,” Taehyung grunts, slouching deeper into his chair.

More than ever, Jimin looks like he’s on the verge of saying something, and he begins inserting little leads whenever they get lunch or hangout, phrases like “you look like something’s bothering you” or “damn you look terrible” and their appropriate synonyms, or even things as unsubtle as “wanna talk,” but Taehyung, without fail, takes the wheel with a grip of iron and steers the conversation in a different direction before Jimin can press any harder.

Because what’s there to say?

The problem is pretty clear: he enters every single relationship looking for the flaws and leaves even more cynical than he started. It’s quite easy to find negative things in anything when all he’s looking for is reason to end it before it begins. And so it’s hookup, rinse, breakup, repeat, a cliche emotional spiral downwards with no end in sight.

The months pass like this, in an endless march through spring, each day almost forgettable as the last.

Then, one day, just before summer, Dispatch catches Jungkook.

 

 

 

+++

 

The news explodes over the entertainment headlines immediately.

Ignited by an article dropped on a Thursday night, the piece detailed a whirlwind romance between Jungkook and the person he was caught with, an “It Girl” maknae from the hottest girl group, dubbed by media as The Nation’s Sweetheart, and was known for her sweet demeanour, her naturally selfless nature, her innocent looks, and for being arguably the most in-demand female celebrity at the moment. While she could barely sing, “born to be an idol” was a common compliment thrown her way, alongside “destined to be jjang,” and “person who lives life in the most beautiful manner.”

Summed up in that way, it could be said that she’s pretty much the antithesis to Taehyung.

The article, which was advertised as a congratulatory announcement but read more like a subversive hit piece, chronicalled everything from how they met (backstage at a music show) to how they grew from strangers to close friends (quickly and through meeting up at banks of the Han River to talk about life) to how they unwittingly recently fell into the first steps romance (she helped him through “hard times” and love apparently had happened somewhere along the way) and how they sealed the deal (with a kiss caught on camera by a well-hidden Dispatch Photographer in Mapo-gu).

And, predictably, fandom loses their shit.

Within the hour, the internet is strewn with the shards of broken hearts, pictures of cutting and burning Jungkook’s merchandise, accusations of Jungkook lying to fans, labels of nugus, traitors, attention-seekers thrown around and digital trails of the fandom publically falling to pieces on any and every social media outpost. His fansites begin to shutter their doors one by one, posting pithy farewells that add to the chaos and dismay. The log is turned and one of the many ugly sides of humanity is exposed, and both Jungkook and National Sweetheart are horrifyingly bombarded with psychopathic tirades, rants, and threats.

Reality unforgivingly rips the heart out of delusion, and infatuation, in its swansong, screeches with its last breath.   

Of course there’s pushback, spearheaded by influential fans leading purity inquisitions by accusing those undergoing meltdowns of not being “real fans”, alongside desperate rallies for support using trending hashtags, long lectures and preachy rants and finger-wagging about micro-specific ethics of fan/artist boundaries that really are needlessly long sermons that say different shades of the same common-sense rhetoric.

They, as fandom gurus, offer consolations in the face of negativity that this would be a painful but necessary session of chemotherapy to put the festering cancer of fandom’s toxicity and “delulus” into remission and, in a turn of optimism, prophesize that a genuine sentiment would flourish as a result, where a fandom utopia would emerge from the ashes where a majority were there for the music, like it should have been all along. A view that, while noble, missed the glaring fact that it was never entirely like that to begin with, and the base source of Jungkook’s popularity, as in the very existence of his mobilized fandom itself, was the manifestation of fervent obsession with Jungkook and a double-edged sword swinging its way back for the very first time.

Because people like idols for different reasons.

Sometimes it’s for music, sometimes it’s for the performance, sometimes it’s for reality-show esque entertainment. But sometimes, oftentimes, they fall in love. Or into obsession. Or into addiction. Or whatever people want to call it, they’re all just different shades of the same color. They dump their feelings and baggage into the emotional safety buckets idols sell, filling them to the brim, and when the most unstable get abruptly shoved out of the dream, they tend to break, and regret and vitriol are the first things to spill to the floor.

A fandom war between the two main schools of thought breaks out a few hours into it and every main online avenue is jammed with Jungkook-related posts screaming about how there’s too much, not enough, this is right, that’s wrong. And even among those that generally agree, the slightest nuance is a signal to take arms, something only exacerbated by how lightning fast the internet moves and how little leeway people get to express their points. The only constants that seem to exist are that everyone’s upset, everyone seems to have an opinion, and everyone is intent on impressing it to those that will listen.

Part of the ferocity of reaction is due to just how indisputable the photo is. It’s a clear, post-midnight photo of the two under a familiar streetlamp in Mapo-gu. Jungkook’s kissing National Sweetheart on the lips, finger hooking his black mask off just past his lips, their fingers interlocked, clear as day. He has all of his telltale earrings in place, he’s wearing no makeup, and, perhaps, most damningly, his shitty tattoo is visible, peeking out from under his sleeve.

The photo is the first thing Taehyung sees when he wakes up that day. How could it not be, when everyone at BigCube was in panic-mode trying their hardest to tamp down the impact the seige, and every coworker he knew had something to say about it.

 

 

BigCube Friends


 

Oh my god

 

We’re fuuuucked

 

Fucking dispatch

 

I feel so bad for Jin

 

Buckle in friends, we’re today’s headlines
and y’all know what kind of fun that means.
 
They called us in for an emergency meeting
fuuuuuck my life I’m on two hours of sleep.
 
Online overreaction is already reaching critical mass
and it’s been 30 mins. JK’s fucking dead.

 

Hello overtime.

My wife is actually gonna kill me.

 

Anyone have the photo?

 

Yeah: [img attached]

 

Well, fuck. Yeah. He dead.

 


 

And the hilarious thing is that Taehyung should really have been prepared for it all, at the minimum to receive the same treatment he had so easily doled out first, or by the fact that he had all but suggested Jungkook do this in the first place.

But he’s not.

The second he sees the photo it’s a swift suckerpunch to the stomach, the weird sensation of betrayal, karma, relief, all stuffed into a bag and sunk into the depths with his stomach. And lying on his back, his phone dangling from his fingers in the air above his head, Taehyung feels so breathlessly floored.

His immediate reaction: jealousy. His second reaction: ‘bullet-dodged.’ The third? Massive irritation and a headache.

Call Taehyung crazy and self-absorbed, but it looked like Jungkook was sending a message. The timing, the location, the angle, it was all too aligned to be a coincidence. His head begins to throb as his thoughts spin, and even though he has no rights, Taehyung seethes.  

He does have a fourth thought, but he knows it’s a toxic one that’s capable of opening a pandora’s box of trouble. So he pushes it away before it consumes him, but still, it’s bitter and petty and comes back to haunt him with increasing fury everytime he sees that photo.

 

(“He loved me first.”)

 

 

 

+++

 

Jungkook’s popularity skyrockets in the months that follow.

It’s a phenomenon that happens to lucky acts when they fall into dating scandals with A-listers, they’re plucked out of obscurity and set dead center into entertainment news for the entire nation to scrutinize. And because everything’s set for them to succeed, the influx of curious bystanders yields a flood of new fans, and they’re able to ride the wave of scandal and unfathomably turn it into popularity.

It’s wizard magic, really, but Jin’s always been a magician with public opinion, and so Taehyung’s isn’t particularly surprised when he finds out he’s the brain behind it.

It’s not that Jungkook wasn’t popular to begin with, but he wasn’t remotely close to being a household name in the sense that to the average person, if they recognized him at all, would probably know him as “that one guy from that one boyband that's in that catchy chicken CF,” then by anything more concrete.

National Sweetheart’s fame changes that.

Jungkook becomes a hot topic, and his already insane marketing power explodes. He’s soon pulled onto a hit drama with RTAOTY and releases an OST that tops the charts for eight weeks straight. He’s on a variety show for what seems like every other night. Initially he’s introduced as National Sweetheart’s Hot Idol Boyfriend, but as he begins to carve out a name for himself with his skills the public eventually relents and allows him to ascend to being Top-Star Jungkook.

And his relationship with National Sweetheart? It ends up being short romance, because in half a year, they breakup.

Taehyung’s honestly not surprised.

Because out of everyone involved, National Sweetheart indisputably received the shortest end of the stick. And it’s probably mostly because she had the most to lose—from how high she was perched there really was no way but down—but also because of her image as the purest angel of all the idol girls meant dating was pretty much a dealbreaker for her fanbase.

So predictably, her “uncle-fans” had ditched her in droves almost at the same moment that Jungkook’s fans descended down on her, and after being railed by an endless parade of attitude controversies, plastic surgery accusations, relentless online taunts about her less-than-stellar dance skills, she lost a few sponsors and voluntarily pulled out from her drama. Her stock within her group dropped, her individual merchandise sales plummeted, and the numbers were posted everywhere on the web for anyone to see.

To give her credit, she had been incredibly strong, braving the storm in public with a cheery smile and wave, even as random users would pop up on her insta lives and curse her out. It wasn’t even really clear it was affecting her at all until a fancam was released of a “fan” berating her over and over before a manager could intercept them, the guy clutching onto her hands and chanting like a mantra, “why did you betray me,” until she was reduced to tears.  

All Taehyung could do is admire her for being strong enough to tolerate it for that long.

But anyway, they used the go-to breakup excuse of “busy schedules” that few netizens believe. Rumors immediately swirl about him and emerging relationships with at least three other eligible people. RTAOTY is thrown around as a top candidate and she shovels fuel into the fire by posting a series of captionless selcas with Jungkook. There are other competing theories the public has about the whole affair, including this was a sham-relationship to get both of them unprecedented press, one of them cheated on the other, Jungkook got tired of National Sweetheart or vice versa.

But by far the most interesting theory was National Sweetheart was a flimsy cover for Jungkook’s secret foreign jealous and vengeful baby mama, the one and only country legend, Pop-sellout, America’s IU, Heartland’s Younger Sister, Mother of Dragons Taylor Swift.

For the record, they have never met.

Jungkook stops showing up to the agency consistently after that, it seems like he’s always at an event or on a bus or plane hurtling him towards the next one. And he starts spending more time out of the country as interest in him grows globally, and soon it’s been close to seven months since Taehyung’s seen him in person.

The irony is that it’s now even harder for Taehyung than ever before to get away from his face. Jungkook’s marketing value goes through the roof, and as a result his image is blasted everywhere: on TV, in the news, on billboards, on the internet.

It gets to the point where it seems like every time he breathes, social media tremors.

It’s ridiculous, Taehyung now comes across inane details about Jungkook that he didn’t even know back when they were still fucking, like how he ties his shoes, what second he arrives at and leaves from Incheon airport, which constellation the arrangement of moles near his left ear looks the most like, the fact that he recently incited a fanwar because he received four flannel shirts from three different fansites for his last birthday and has only worn two, what his favorite breakfast food is on the third Tuesday of March on odd years, and so on.

It gets to the point where Taehyung can’t even obtain food without running into multiple pieces of media adorned with Jungkook’s fucking face trying to sell him random crap, especially when Jungkook scores the lucrative Hite endorsement and starts showing up on the sides of plastic courtesy water jugs that some restaurants place on tables. At first, Taehyung has to turn it around so Jungkook, decked out in a button up and a beaming smile, is faced anywhere but towards himself. But, eventually he learns how to compartmentalize enough to be able to phase it out.

Jimin, thank fuck, stops cracking his tired chicken jokes just before Jungkook’s crowned the de facto chicken king, there literally isn’t a fried chicken advertisement running in Korea without him and his stupid fucking face anymore because he sells it with higher margins than the industry’s seen in a decade. And Jimin doesn’t question it whenever Taehyung immediately switches the channel to something else, anything else, the second the television decides it’d be fun to trigger him.

(“ Crispy and—”

Click.

“—welcome back to the third day of the 20th Curling Championships~” )

It’s also considerably easier to get over things when he barely makes time for himself, and since the opportunities are there, Taehyung throws himself a rabbit hole of work. He breaks up with his latest fling over text and locks himself into his studio, spinning tracks for the upcoming sophomore album for WANNA TEEN, writing basslines for Hoseok’s new mixtape, engineering a musical makeover for a fading star, and so on.

And that was only last week.

He reveamps and drops the single of his own called Talking to Myself , a breathy, hollow ballad about how sad it is to lose a love. Accompanied by a smooth verse by Namjoon, it’s got all the catchy hooks and soaring notes he needs, and when he wraps it up for distribution and leans back in his chair, looking out from his desk and admiring Seoul’s nighttime skyline, he realizes it’s the first thing he’s felt good about in a while.

The song does surprisingly well, especially considering they drop it without any promos to hype it. And the reviews are surprisingly mostly positive, and could be pretty much represented by the article written by yuppie critic Minjae:

 


 

[Review] Talking to Myself

 

 

 

In what appears to be the first act in BigCube’s annual summer hit rollout, TAE gives us a fresh track that slows things down in what’s been a rather stale season of heavy dance beats and half-baked drops. While it’s not particularly innovative in isolation, it’s a well-executed easy-listener that manages to differentiate itself in a saturated crowd.

The lyrics stay comfortably on the shallower end—the only real cinematic lines are constructed around a verse relating his failing love to a change in seasons—but there’s enough emotion in the vocalization to make up for some of it. It’s clear TAE has been working on his expression, and he rounds it out by enlisting the heavy-hitter RM, who adds a nice touch with his verse.

Overall, it’s an interesting move for a man whose claim to fame has largely been inoffensive dance songs—most successfully with JK’s safe trophouse thumper Remember Me —and taken in context with the other emotive ballad he recently produced, December Love, it’s certainly an indicator for an incredible potential for growth and musicality as he attempts to find his own color.

In other words, we’ll be watching to see what he has to offer in the future. He certainly has the potential to be a hit.

7.6/10

Artist to Watch

 


 

Pleased by his success, BigCube assigns him an agent, who pretty soon gets him an invitation to sing on a music show. It’s just a one time thing, a special where they highlight emerging new voices, but it’s exciting nonetheless, and before he knows it he finds himself on the other side of the stage once again, sitting in a chair in a green room and getting primed and prepped by the coordis for the show.

Most of the stage goes smoothly. Taehyung’s surprised when he steps out that the audience is packed. They’re all holding signs of support, for him specifically, covering their faces with their phones or hands especially as the camera pans by them. It makes him more confident as he steps up and taps the mic, lets the lights dim and begins to sing.

The audience coos him through it, and he makes it through most of the song, awkwardly freestyle dancing when Namjoon’s verse comes up—Namjoon had tried to make it in person but just couldn’t clear his schedule to make it work—and returns to the mic to sing his last verse.

He gets through most of it, until that particular line, that fascinatingly vague lyric that he can’t seem to get through during any practice. It’s stupid how easily it makes his voice quaver, his lip tremble, when it’s something so cliche:

“Honestly, I was the happiest with you.”

But maybe it’s reasonable. It’s easy to lose control when his goal is to be emotional while he sings, especially as sleep deprivation and poor eating habits have been wearing his emotional guards down, and so unsurprisingly, a tear frustratingly escapes out of the corner of his eye and slides down his cheek.

And he bites his lip but lets it fall, figuring wiping it away would just bring more attention to it, and maybe, he thinks fleetingly, it’ll somehow evaporate before the broadcast zooms in close enough to catch it.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, however, they switch to the camera right on his face at that moment, perfectly framing him in the angelic glow of the stage lights as he blinks the rest of the tear out of his eye. The fans cry out as soon as it hits the monitors, and in a made-for-tv moment, he croons the last lines and stares straight at the camera with his colored-contact lenses, tear stain glinting distinctly on his cheek before the stage lights fade.

And perhaps predictably, that clip goes viral.

 

  

 

 

+++

 

 

interlude: crazy 

 

i'll just see you in hell
—gentle bones
cra2y

 


 

 

 

[ rewind — 8 years back  ]

 

 

The rest of YGM and Taehyung’s story gets pretty fucking boring, so let’s cut to the chase:

They get caught.

Sorta.

It’s more like YGM gets caught. Or plays himself, really. And what Taehyung means by that is that the catalyst for the clusterfuck is YGM thinking it would be a great idea to take a shirtless selfie when he’s staying over one night, and because it’s supposed to be a private photo, he captures it with a classic fuckboy ‘yeah i did this’ expression while jabbing a thumb at Taehyung, who gets to model in this modern renaissance masterpiece as a faceless, bare torso from his marked-up chest up to his neck.

The thing is, Taehyung doesn’t realize he’s actually a part of this trainwreck until after it’s already derailed and smouldering in a ditch, because like most people at 4:34AM on a workday Wednesday, he’s fucking asleep, and he gets to find out the image exists the same way that the rest of the internet finds out—through the trending headlines next day.

Because it turns out YGM was a fucking dumbass and he had accidentally uploaded that photo to his instagram story instead of whatever shitty photo he was going to upload right before he went in to go work out, and to the shock of his fans, he had left it there for a full hour before he saw the damage and removed it like his life depended it.

Because, in a way, his life kind of did.

It, as most SNS controversies do, had started with his fans believing that he had been hacked and that the picture was either a very convincing photoshop or involved an uncannily similar model. But after the image disappeared and no official comment was made and it was becoming abundantly clear for multiple reasons that YGM was in fact the guy in the picture and those marks on Taehyung's chest were not just ordinary bruises and the picture was not meant to be shared with the general public, his fans, well, snapped.

And it had started a cascade effect of castigating YGM, assassinating his character, then trying to determine who The Torso belonged to in order to further assassinate his character, raking the web for any and all public individuals who shared his body type, until one mutual fan had connected the dots—literally with birthmarks—between Taehyung's online "V" persona and The Torso.

Which unleashed another round of fury as soon as it was made apparent on any and all public forums that V had been an attention-seeker who had subversively documenting their whirlwind of a romance, posting photos while vacation-dating YGM in secret, palling around with his many celebrity friends, showing off luxury items YGM had bought him, and so on.

Where the shit really hit the fan, however, was when it was uncovered that some of the presents V had posted weren't exactly from YGM, which is just as much as news to Taehyung as it was to drama-hungry netizens. They had been gifts from fans and fansites, which had included but were not limited to one ultra-expensive bottle of wine, a custom-made sweatshirt, a copious amounts of jewelry.

So, in some sadistic sense, it’s funny to Taehyung that the first words out of YGM's mouth (after the initial text barrage consisting roughly of a million variations of "fuck" and one desperately sent "im outside, open ur fkin door") were:

"Why the fuck were you posting our shit on instagram?" YGM's voice, deadly quiet, is laced with venom. "Like, why the actual fuck —"

“Wait,” Taehyung holds a hand up. “Are blaming me ?”

“I mean,” YGM runs a hand through his hair. “None of this crazy fallout would have happened if you didn’t have that stupid little—”

“I’m not saying I didn’t contribute to the problem, but, holy fuck, you're the one who posted the fucking picture! And you knew about my instagram and you didn’t stop me!”

“Yeah but why would you put a picture with that necklace, it was fucking fan gift!”

Taehyung’s jaw drops, “It was what?!”

“One of my fansites gave it to me!”

“Why wouldn’t you tell me that?!” Taehyung gapes horror.  “And why the fuck would you give that to me?!”

“I—” YGM suddenly whips out his phone and stares at it, slowly growing more pale. He swallows hard before he pockets his phone, brows furrowed when he looks up. In a quiet voice he asks, “Can we talk about this later? I-I need to go in.”

“Yeah, fine,” Taehyung crosses his arms.

“Actually…” YGM says, tone suddenly incongruously pleasant. “Can you come with me?”

Taehyung narrows his eyes, “Why?”

YGM looks away, "There's something I need you to sign off on."

 

 

 

+++

 

That “something” turns out to be a Non-Disclosure Agreement, or an NDA, essentially a gag-order document threatening a lawsuit if Taehyung describes their relationship in a way that violated the contract's terms.

Which, after YGM guides him to a well-lit conference room and takes a seat across from him and next to a suited up lawyer who smiles thinly and pushes forward the packet of paper, and Taehyung picks it up starts scanning, seems to include pretty much mentioning it in any capacity at all.

“Yeah, I just need you to sign this.” YGM nervously taps the table and gently places a pen on the table. “I’m, I’m, uh, sorry about this, it’s really my manager that’s pushing for it, but…”

And Taehyung tunes him out, flipping pages until he’s on the next to last one. He picks up the pen, ready to sign off on it, until his eyes fall on one particular passage and the hairs rise on the back of his neck.

“Hey,” Taehyung points to the paragraph, eyes flicking up to YGM. He asks quietly, “What is this clause?”

YGM abruptly stands up and leans over the table, eyebrows furrowed as he quickly scans the page.

“Oh, that’s It’s just,” YGM diverts his eyes and sits back down. “P-protocol. Don’t worry about it. Just like, it’s just to ensure my brand’s wellbeing, you know.”

“Yeah, I mean, that’s the whole point of this fucking packet,” Taehyung flips through the rest of the packet and stops back on the same page before pointing at the paragraph. “But this one is essentially saying you can expose my identity at will without any notice, am I wrong?”

“You’re right,” YGM fidgets. “And I know it seems crazy just on its own, but really, it’s standard. We’re like 99% sure we won’t need to use it—”

“But 1% of the time you will need to use it 100% of the time.”

“Taehyung, please just let me finish. This is just in case netizens move too fast, it ensures we can act swiftly for damage control—”

“Cool,” Taehyung blinks. “But I still don’t agree to it.”

“Taehyung,” YGM buries his face into his hands. “It’s been a long day, please, just sign it.”

“It’s like 10 in the morning,” Taehyung stands up, fingers trembling a bit as he fumbles with his wallet. “And I’m not signing something I don’t agree to.”

“What don’t you agree to?”

“Giving you the right to expose me?” Taehyung blinks incredulously. “If you change this, like either take that paragraph out or insert a new one where you have to ask me for a signature or something before you can, then, yeah, sure, we can come to an agreement. But no, I’m not going to sign this the way it’s currently written. It’s not fair, and it’s kinda fucking offensive.”

“Offensive? Taehyung.” YGM bangs his head on the table. “Why are you making this so personal?”  

“I’m not making this personal, you are,” Taehyung suddenly picks up the packet and waves it. “This whole thing screams that you don’t trust me. You don’t fucking trust me enough to keep my mouth shut. How is that not personal?”

“Tae, it’s not about trust—“

“Yeah it is, just the fact that we’re having this convo with in the room,” Taehyung points at the lawyer. “With that guy. This is about a lack of trust.”

“This is just business, just separate it in your mind,” YGM shakes his head. “It’s just to give some assurance to the company that, on paper, we can trust you.”

“Oh,” Taehyung furrows his brows. “So like, you think I might sell the story or something.”

“It’s not that, it’s just in case—ugh—see,” YGM suddenly throws up his hands and mutters to no one in particular. “This is why I should have fucking dated another—“ then he abruptly stops.

“Another what?” Taehyung narrows his eyes.

YGM hesitates, and his eyes flash, “Celebrity. Even GDragon’s model girl signed this same contract without a fuss—”

“Then she’s a fucking dumbass, not my problem.”

Taehyung. If you just try to think of things at my level, at least then you’d understand the gravity of everything and not take it so goddamn personal—“

“Again, personal? Of course it’s personal. In fact that’s a really funny word to use in this situation. Because you want me to sign away the right to reveal my identity without my input. And that’s about as personal as it fucking gets.”

“You know what I mean—!”

And the fucking thing is, Taehyung does. He really does. He completely understands the stone cold logic guiding the decisions and, even worse, he‘d probably be doing the same in a heartbeat if he were in YGM’s position.

Maybe that’s why he really doesn’t care then, because it’s like starting shot to the race to the bottom has been fired. And if YGM was revealing himself to be a desperate piece of shit who was spineless enough to try to trick him into screwing himself over, well Taehyung would be damned if he wasn’t going to get his out of this too.

No love lost on his side. Because he wasn’t loose with his heart and fucking foolish enough to make stupid promises he can’t keep. Yeah, wait, Taehyung’s eyes flick up at the invertebrate glaring at him from across the table. Wasn’t this the same douchecanoe who was making a grand confession in a public hallway like, what, a week ago?

Damn, how quickly things change.

“So much for ‘I’d do anything for you,’” Taehyung mimics in a high voice and YGM winces. “Turns out that's only true for you if it aligns with what’s good for you. Am I really being unreasonable? All I’m doing is asking you to take this clause out or change it so you need my express authorization before you can. Think about it from my fucking non-celebrity—or wait, uh— pleb status, isn’t that fucking reasonable? So you can’t leave me for the wolves without me approving it with a quick, ‘hey man yeah I’m cool with that’?”

“Like I told you, it’s for if we need to move fast—”

“I probably would have given you permission too,” Taehyung keeps going and snickers because it’s true. He’s such a fucking softie he probably would have if YGM had fucking asked. “That’s the hilarious part about all of this. But now? I don’t really know about that anymore. I’m gonna have to think really fucking hard about it now.”

“If you don’t sign this,” the lawyer finally speaks up, voice calm and collected. “We’ll make sure your career never gets off the ground.”

Taehyung feels his heart stop and his eyes flick between the lawyer and YGM, “Wh-hat do you mean?”

“You don’t want to find out,” the lawyer says simply. “But we have connections, so let’s say, we’ll make things difficult .”

That effectively shuts Taehyung up and gets him to sit back down, because he’s seen the way artists have been shut out from the stage, opportunities seemingly at random ripped away from people who stepped across the wrong lines and crossed the wrong powerbrokers, made-up slander coming up from the dredges of the internet and hitting them while they were already down. The possibilities were truly endless, and the way the lawyer’s staring him down, gaze steely in cold, makes it seem like anything is on the table and there’s nothing he can do.

Unless, he glances at his phone—

Suddenly he grabs it and points to it,. “I have photos,” and Taehyung really doesn’t, and he’s sure his finger is shaking as he jabs the screen.

Alarm crosses YGM in a flash, “Of what?”

“What do you think?”

YGM suddenly pales, “You wouldn’t. You don’t .”

And Taehyung really doesn’t know what YGM assumes it is, but he keeps going with his bluff, “If I don’t sign this,” Taehyung shakes his phone. “What stops me for posting?”

“Knowing what’s good for you?” The lawyer leans forward, eyes steely, and states, plainly, like it’s a fact, “Because first, we’ll assess whether what you posted violates privacy laws. And second, we won’t just stop at making things difficult for you. We can and will make your life hell. We have the means to make sure you’ll never fuckin’ work in this industry again.”

“Great, I’ll be in good company then,” Taehyung wills his hand to stop shaking and he points right at YGM, voice slightly wavering. “Because with what’s on here, neither will he.”

“I’ll release my photos of you then,” YGM slams the table, and the lawyer shoots him a warning glance. “I have quite a few with your face.”

“Go ahead,” Taehyung motions, adrenaline speeding up his movements and sending his pitch up at least half an octave. “Be my fucking guest. But you won’t. Because we both know it might fuck you over more than me. You don’t know what kind of skeletons I have in my closet. Because you really don’t know me that well.”

YGM glances at his lawyer before narrowing his eyes at Taehyung, “What are you talking about?”

“You don’t really know anything about me.”

“I’ve known you for two years, and we’ve been dating for one month—”

“You mean dated?” Taehyung scoffs.

“Dated?” YGM blinks.

“You’re fucking nuts if you think we’re still a thing after this,” Taehyung hisses as he jabs the packet.

“Oh,” YGM looks a little lost. “I guess.”

“And like, do you really know me at all? Because just because we were fucking doesn’t mean you really knew anything about me,” Taehyung laughs. “Not to sound like one of those people , but you really don’t know the, uh, quote, real me. Because if I recall correctly, we pretty much only talked about you. I really don’t think you even know the name of the song I just released—“

Taehyung catches the flicker of surprise that flashes across YGM’s face.

“—oh shit. Wait. You didn’t even know I put out a song,” Taehyung starts laughing as he pounds the table. “Whoa. Unreal. See? I’m so curious, what were you even in love with? My face? My ability to listen? What was it?”

“Why are you bringing this shit up? It’s irrelevant, we’re not going to talk about this right now,” YGM mumbles, fingers gripping his armchair as the lawyer suddenly gets up and holds his phone up to his ear.

“Because I’m trying to emphasize the fact that for all you know I could be anything. Do you really wanna test that?”

“But you wouldn’t be,” YGM mutters uncertainly.

“That’s an assumption,” Taehyung quickly shrugs, fear still spiking his heart. “Should have asked me more about my life. So yeah. Offers still stands. I’ll sign this. Only if you take out this clause. But otherwise,” Taehyung taps his phone. “I blow it all up.”

“Okay, okay,” the lawyer suddenly pulls the phone away from his ear. “Slow down, we’ll change the clause to include prior authorization, just put the fucking phone down, alright?”

“Alright,” and relief finally floods Taehyung’s chest.

Forty-five tense minutes later, YGM slides another packet forward, not looking at Taehyung when he picks it up and starts rifling through the pages, the ink still warm on the paper. And after scanning every page, he signs it carefully before capping the pen and putting on the table.

He feels pretty jittery now that the adrenaline’s gone, and when he stands up without a word, his legs feel like rubber as he pockets his keys.

“Thanks,” YGM mumbles staring down at the table as Taehyung pushes the door open and steps out, looking as small as a guy who was easily a head taller than him could in a chair. “And, um, again, I’m sor—“

“Just know that even if you won that concession,” The lawyer cuts YGM off, eyes pointed straight at Taehyung, nothing resembling mercy within them. “We won’t hesitate to still make things hell for you. So I’d tread carefully if I were you.”

And then, the door swings shut.

It feels like the world’s moving in slow motion and Taehyung’s being led out by puppeteer controlling his legs when he books it for the lobby. When he gets there, he pushes the front door open, the metal handle cool against his palms as he stumbles out into the street. Everything looks cold and unforgiving in the fading light, the glances from the pedestrians feel like glares, the reflective windows of the skyscrapers glow steely against the evening, the buzz and bustle of the traffic on the street becomes a roaring river of a reminder that the world, with or without him, will continue to surge relentlessly forward.

He’s so painfully aware he’s made a contract with a devil, there’s still no guarantee that YG won’t try anything, there were no provisions not to. And even if there were, it’s so difficult to prove the secret underpinnings and under the table deals with networks and traditional promotion outlets that if YG really wanted to, they could shoot his career dead in the water without even lifting a finger.

And they probably will. Because why wouldn’t they? Bury a problem before it appears, it’s the move he’d make.

Shit. His ears ring as his heart pounds in his head, fear returning and curling up where it belongs in his chest. He’s fucked, he’s probably really fucked, he just shot his dreams over a stupid fling. A chill runs down his spine. He really has no idea what he’s gotten himself into. What a stupid mistake. This is why he’s destined to be nothing.

His feet carry him forward, he’s not really sure where to, plodding him down the sidewalk to a station to a train to a stop to a street to a run-down apartment complex and the next thing he knows he’s standing at the door of Jungkook’s dorm, blinking with his finger pressed against the buzzer, his hood drawn over his head, his other hand jammed in the pocket. There’s a party going on by the sounds of it, the muffled music and laughter filtering through the wall as some guy yells “Hey, hey! Someone go answer the fucking door.”

“I got it, I got it,” a familiar voice grumbles before footsteps near the door. The lock clicks right before the door swings open, revealing a wide-eyed Jungkook. “Taehyung!” Jungkook immediately exclaims, grin spreading across his face, and a weird sense of relief suddenly hits Taehyung. “What are you doing here?”

Then the party hushes as most of the people curiously crane their necks in his direction. A girl in the background elbows her friend and starts snickering as she glances at Taehyung, eyes occasionally flicking toward Jungkook as she covers her lips and whispers into the guy’s ear.

And it’s like something finally snaps and Taehyung suddenly can’t find words, or air, voice choking up as the tears start slipping down his face hot and fast as he brings his hands up into his face to shield them from view.

Goddamn, he dimly thinks. He’s so weak.

Just so fucking weak that even a crowd of gawking teenagers is enough to overwhelm him. Yeah, damn, his parents were right, his haters were right, BigCube was right, they all made the right call, he wasn’t made for this, wasn’t good enough for this, didn’t deserve to see the lights on the stage. And it strikes him then, as he’s staring at the speckled concrete below, watching the cracks blur as he blinks, that, shit, this  really could be it.

This could be the end of his road, this is the last chapter in his book, this is the last stop on the Wild Ride of his dreams, and damn , it’s—

“Taehyung?” Jungkook asks tentatively, worry seeping into his tone.

—it’s just as inglorious as he feared it to be.

“Tae—?” Jungkook asks again, and Taehyung glances up, his face clearly wrought into something terrible enough that Jungkook’s own expression morphs immediately into shock, prompting him to quickly step outside and shut the door behind him, his hand rising uncertainly towards Taehyung. “Shit, are you okay?”

Is he?

He’s probably fine.

Or he should be fine at least?

Just, yeah, his life kinda sucks.

Like, it really fucking sucks. Haha. So hard. Like, what is he going to do? Or, more like, what can he do? How is he going to tell his family? His friends back home? He’s so behind on studying for the CSAT, he’s only got a few months now, just what is he fucking going to do? There’s no plan B in place, nothing and no-one to save his ass, and it’s a little too much, and that’s—there’s—it—it’s—he blinks, eyebrows furrowing in confusion, shit, his thoughts are so frenzied and fuzzy now that he can’t even remember what Jungkook’s question was.

“Tae?” Jungkook presses the back of his hand lightly against Taehyung’s forehead. “Are you okay?”

Oh right.

“Um, yeah,” Taehyung says, his head throbbing as he strains his expression into what he hopes is a pleasant smile. “Sorry. Hi. I’m great.”

Then his legs give out, his eyes roll back, and the world fades to a welcoming black.

 

 

 

+++

 

When he comes to, he's swaddled in some blankets and curled up on a lumpy twin mattress. The party's still raging on in the living room, a muted bumping bass vibrating through the wooden floors and the muffled sound of laughter filtering through with the golden glow of the hallway lights from under the crack in the bedroom door.

He blinks and his eyes adjust enough to take in the room, a jungle of bunkbeds and miscellaneous furniture towering above him and crammed so tightly into the tiny room it's probably a fire hazard.

It vaguely smells like the unventilated musty odor of teenage guys hastily mixed with an attempt at deodorant, there’s trendy clothes flung everywhere, comics and figurines and general personal possessions haphazardly balanced on every surface available, posters of anime, sports teams, popular celebrities taped onto the flaking walls. It takes a moment, but he deduces the corner he's in belongs to Jungkook, a neat inlet in the sea of messiness, clothes and accessories mindfully propped in an intentional fashion, the laminated picture from Jungkook’s "debut" performance carefully placed on the wall by Taehyung's head next to a cluster of photos of what must be his family and friends.

It’s weird, Taehyung’s never seen any of these photos or the people in them, but he’s heard so much about them from the anecdotes he’s managed to wheedle out of Jungkook, that suddenly it’s all rushing together, a weird mix of the foreign and familiar, faces to names, places to labels, snapshots to stories, visual context given to the kid he's been bumming around for the better part of the year.

There’s photos of Jungkook’s middle school graduation—he one where he had tripped and fell on the way up to the stage, gashing his knee. There’s  a group photo from last year’s birthday party—probably seconds before his best friend smashed his face into the cake. There’s a massive grandchild gathering around the grinning grandmother—the one who painstakingly drove him to the auditions in Seoul and later convinced his parents to let him train. There's also photos of friends and peers from his dance academy back in Busan, their letter of encouragement for him taped carefully in the middle, a nice piece of stationary crowded with stickers and well-wishing messages scribbled out in technicolor.

A picture of his family catches Taehyung’s eye. It's a photo the four of them picturesquely standing next to a motorboat, the water rippled and murky, the trees colored with autumn, his strong-willed mother standing confidently next to his amiable father, who has his hands on the shoulders of his excitable brother and Jungkook himself, probably half as young as he was now, a cheerful child standing small in his boots, grasping a fishing-rod curved high into the air above his head.

And it’s an interesting choice of a print because Taehyung knows that must be photo documentation of the first and last fishing trip they ever took, because it’s the one from the story where Jungkook and his brother had learned with horror that fishing was a sport where “winning” meant the fish, uh, don’t quite make it, a fact they found out as they watched their father skillfully whip out a knife to “clean,” with morbid efficiency, what they had assumed were new pets. And Taehyung only knows this story because Jungkook had ruefully told him while they were walking down the damp aisles at Noryangjin Fish Market about a month ago.

“Hey,” Jungkook had prefaced it as Taehyung ogled at a tank of cod. “Have I ever tell you about how my dad taught me about the futility of struggle?”

“What?” Taehyung had turned around and sniggered. “No. That’s so random. But I wanna hear, your stories about your dad are usually hilarious.”

“So, like,”  Jungkook drove his hands into his pockets as he morosely peers at the tank of swimming fish, his camera swaying, unused, from the strap on his neck. “One day, he takes our whole family fishing and tells us we’re going to learn a lesson about life…”

And pretty soon Taehyung’s laughing so hard he’s crying, fist over his mouth, as Jungkook just shakes his head amusedly.

“Shit, man,” Taehyung says. “You’re set for variety shows.”

“You think?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung slings an arm over Jungkook’s shoulder. “I’d watch this kind of quality content on a Tuesday night while I’m like, I dunno, doing laundry.”

“Only on Tuesdays?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung flicks Jungkook’s chin and teases. “It’s funny but not that funny .”

Taehyung still doesn’t know how, but like always when he hangs out with Jungkook, the rest of the day had just melted away, one minute it’s 11 in the morning lost in the dank maze in Noryangjin and somehow he blinks and it’s 6 in the evening huddled next to a street food cart as the setting sun beckons dusk, both of them bickering over the right to pay with hushed tones and hidden wrestling. Jungkook had won in the end, stuffing the money into the stall owner’s hand before Taehyung had caught him, eyes glittering in the lights with triumph as he shoved a paper bowl of mandu into Taehyung’s hands.

It had been a good day, a really fucking fun day, the kind that's going to be hard to recreate pretty soon, Taehyung realizes, with a bit of a pang, whether Jungkook makes BTD or not.

Taehyung’s eyes skitter past a few other photos on the the wall, until they stop on one he recognizes with surprise, because it’s one of the two of them, in an overly-blurred and saturated photobooth shot taken a month ago in one of the malls in Myeongdong, posing with exaggerated grins against a blindingly neon background, jokingly framed with a cheesy love-song lyrics from a trendy ballad that Taehyung had scrawled across each one in obnoxiously glittery writing and carefully decorated with the gaudiest of heart and flower stickers available.

“Wanna keep this one?” Taehyung had snickered as the booth spat out their glossy photoset, picking it up and gingerly and examining it in the light. He quickly cut off one of the smaller copies for himself and slipped it in his wallet, and waved the photo in question in Jungkook’s face. “It’s pretty cute.”

It’s the shot in the seconds after Taehyung had jumped onto Jungkook’s back without warning, Taehyung’s face split into a gigantic boxy grin, and Jungkook’s face stuck somewhere between a photoshoot smile and the panicked yelp he was about to let out, the borderline-cringy lyrics, ‘ from the moment we met, I knew you were the one, ’ scribbled down at the bottom, tacky roses adorning the edges and clashing with the lime-green background.

“Um,” Jungkook’s lips thinned as he examined it, blinking only when Taehyung had lost patience and shoved it into Jungkook’s sweatshirt pocket. He had pulled it out, holding it up in front of his face between his thumb and index fingers, and stared at it, his face unreadable, “Yeah, sure, I guess.”

“You don’t have to really keep it, here, give it back,” Taehyung had laughed, reaching over. “You look like you don’t want it. ”

“Oh, uh,” Jungkook shook his head before he slipped it back into his pocket, pulling his hood over his head. “It’s not that, um, I was just, uh, appreciating the artwork.”

“It’s pretty amazing, if I say so myself.”

“Amazing is an...adjective, sure,” Jungkook had raised his brows amusedly.

“Hey,” Taehyung had jabbed him in the waist. “If you’re not going to appreciate art, give it back.”

“What are you gonna do with it?”

“I don’t know, but I’ll appreciate it more than you. And, I dunno, sell it when you become famous.”

“I’ll keep it then,” Jungkook had laughed. “And besides, you already have your own copy.”

That photo was tacked next to a series others taken of his BigCube friends, of other trainees over food or practice or noraebang, of Namjoon, Hoseok, Yoongi, Jimin, Jin, of the seven of them, and of one of Taehyung himself, leaning back against the balcony of his apartment during a house party in the fading light, an easy grin on his face as the wind sweeps up his hair, the sky streaked in the hues the setting sun, the bustling city sprawling out until the foothills for miles below.

When it had been taken, Taehyung had been standing out and peering over the edge of his balcony. He had felt on top of the world then, the possibilities had seemed so endless, staring down and watching the cars wind their way around the city blocks. He had lost track of time, spinning around almost seemingly at random, only to find Jungkook sitting in a patio chair and inexplicably staring straight at him, the string of lights above him just beginning to glow.

“Take a picture,” Taehyung had sniggered and posed after Jungkook had quickly looked away. “It’ll last longer.”

And so Jungkook had.

A low snort in the room suddenly catches Taehyung's attention and he whips around and spots a figure curled up in a corner. It's Jungkook, crouched with a laptop nestled on his legs, wired earbuds jammed in his ears, screen flickering a gentle blue against his face.

"Hey," Taehyung croaks, lifting a hand. "What time is it?"

"Shit, sorry, did I wake you up?" Apology twists itself into Jungkook’s brows before he squints at his laptop. "And half past one."

"No, I should be saying sorry," Taehyung starts to sit up, and his head starts to pound. He winces, holding a hand to his forehead, "Sorry I’m being a burden, I'll get going—"

"You’re fine," Jungkook quickly waves, nearly swatting his laptop off of his legs in the process and swearing as he barely catches it, "You can stay the night. It's cool, we've got space."

"Are you sure?" Taehyung asks, squinting his eyes shut as his headache grows. “Your roommates won’t mind?”

"Yeah,” Jungkook shrugs. “One of the guys loves hosting stuff so we’ve become the party dorm, people crash here all the time.”

“Oh wait,” Taehyung winces as someone screams in the living room. “Sorry for keeping you here you can totally go back, I’m fine.”

“It’s okay, I just about to sleep anyway. I have practice in,” Jungkook squints. “Five hours.”

"Where are you gonna sleep?"

Jungkook pats the floor next to him, and grins, "Here."

"What?" Taehyung sleepily starts to crawl off the mattress, flopping onto the floor with the blanket wrapped around his waist and a heavy sigh. He closes his eyes, a nod away from dreams, and he flails a hand in the direction of the now-empty bed, "No I'm the guest, I'll sleep on the floor."

"No what are you talking about? Since you're the guest you should get the bed."

Taehyung waves a dismissive hand and yawns. "The floor works and I’m already on it."

"That doesn't mean you win," Jungkook snickers as he puts his laptop to the side and stands up. He pads over to Taehyung and crouches down into a squat. "That's not how this works."

"Um, yeah it does," Taehyung rolls over, away from Jungkook. "Also I'm older, so you have to do what I say, age privileges, you know."

"Yeah—no,” Jungkook laughs again. And Taehyung gets a split-second warning of what Jungkook’s about to do as Jungkook’s hands quickly slide under his body.

“What?” Taehyung’s eyes snap open and frantically flails just as Jungkook lifts him him about knee-high into the air and tosses him back onto the mattress. His head hits the wall and he groans.

“This is my room, so this is how it works,” Jungkook as he brushes his hands off and lightly kicks Taehyung with his foot.

“Wrong,” Taehyung quickly rolls back off the bed and stops at Jungkook’s feet, facedown on the carpet, the fibers digging into his cheek.

“Right,” Jungkook lifts him with a grunt and easily tosses him back on.

“The fuck?” Taehyung frowns and whines, “When did you get so strong?”

Jungkook shrugs.

Taehyung sighs and starts to roll towards the edge of the be again, “How about we compromise then?”

Jungkook blocks him with his leg, his foot stubbornly braced against Taehyung’s back, “Nah.”

“You haven’t heard my proposal yet,” Taehyung cracks his eye open.

“Don’t have to,” Jungkook sticks his tongue out.

“Hey, you’re being a brat, I’m still you’re hyung, at least pretend to listen.”

“You hardly act like one, so why start now?"

“Jeez, now you’re just being disrespectful.”

“Fine, fine,” Jungkook crosses his arms and leans down. "What's your proposal?"

Suddenly, Taehyung shoots out a hand and pulls Jungkook down until they’re nose-to-nose. Jungkook freezes like a deer in the headlights, eyes going wide as Taehyung grins boxy and bright back at him, “Sharing is caring.”

“O-oh, uh,” Jungkook stutters as Taehyung pushes him off and throws him a corner of the blanket. He sits up against the wall, knees drawn to his chest, and blinks down at Taehyung.

"Deal?" Taehyung cracks open at eye at him.

“Is, is this okay?”

“Yeah?” Taehyung rolls towards the wall and curls himself around a pillow. "Why wouldn't it be?"

"Um, like," Jungkook turns away, scratching his head. "Because you're, like, with..."

"Oh. We, uh," Taehyung says, voice slightly strangled, blinking wide, heart suddenly shot in his throat, the feeling of foreboding making it so hard to just act natural. "Broke up. Kinda."

“Ah,” Jungkook responds after a moment, looking down. He drums the sheets with his hands awkwardly, mouth thinned in a line, brows raised.

"Yeah."

“What do you mean by kinda?”

“He..." Taehyung considers for a moment how he should frame this, how much he should let on, how deep he should go. Then he takes one look at the way Jungkook's looking at him, and somehow it just spills out, the whole story complete with play by plays and zero euphemisms. He's caught up in the moment, sitting up straight, voice rising and falling with the fear, hands tearing at his hair. And for the entire time, Jungkook just listens, no judgement on his face, never interrupting, just nodding intermittently with his hands folded neatly in his lap.

"I'm sorry," Jungkook says when Taehyung's finally finished, watching him with sympathy. "That sounds really shitty."

Taehyung lets out a bitter bark of a laugh. "I guess that's one way to put it."

"At least he's out of your life now?" Jungkook bites his lip. "And it sounds like he's mostly off your back."

"Hopefully," Taehyung flops onto the mattress, pulls the blanket up to his chin and throws his forearms over his eyes. "I'm so stupid, I mean I made a lot of my own mistakes, but I really shouldn't have gotten involved with him. I was just fucking around, I didn't really realize what I was getting myself into."

"Hindsight's 20/20," Jungkook says. "Don't feel to bad about it."

"Fuck, you're such a nice guy," Taehyung shoots up a hand to pinch Jungkook's cheek, which he easily slaps away. "It's okay to just call me out on this one. It's deserved."

"I'm not really that nice," Jungkook fiddles with the corner of the blanket, pulling at a thread. "It's just true."

"Nah, you really are," Taehyung rolls his eyes. "Modest too. Your personality's so good, fuck ."

"My bad?" Jungkook apologizes with a laugh.

Taehyung's about to shoot out another one-liner before a wave exhaustion hits him full on and he forgets his train of thought. He rolls over, burying his face into the blanket as he mumbles, "Thanks for listening by the way. It means a lot."

"No problem," Jungkook says, voice muffled. "That's what friends are for right?"

Friends. Taehyung blinks in surprise. Interesting. Maybe, yeah, that’s kinda what they are. Even though "mentor" was really the title he was gunning for eight months ago, he supposed friends is what they've inevertantly fallen into being, and—

Taehyung yawns widely, rest of the thought abruptly lost in the sleepy haze, "Sorry, but I think I'm going to pass out."

"Okay." Jungkook laughs. "As long as it's on the bed. Which you're totally going to use, because you're still a guest."

"Fine, you too though." Taehyung raises a hand in defeat, eyes drooping. "I better not find you on the floor in the morning, or else.”

“Or else what?” Jungkook slides under the sheets.

Taehyung rolls over and shoots Jungkook a glare, bangs scattered over his eyes. “I’ll make it so you’ll never sleep on the floor again.”

“What?” Amusement crosses Jungkook’s face, “How are you going to do that?”

“I dunno yet,” Taehyung yawns again, eyelids drooping. “But seriously, good night.”

“Uh, yeah, goodnight,” Jungkook says tentatively and a light tug on the blanket is the last thing Taehyung feels before he’s shepherded into sleep.

 

 

 

 

+++

 

It turns out passing out outside some guy’s front door is one of those special shared moments that can really bring people together. And even though Taehyung can't quite name it, something changes between them.

It's apparent when Taehyung wakes up in the morning, sun filtering through the cheap cotton curtains, the rays spotlighting the dust lazily swirling up into the air. It takes him a moment to figure out where he is and who his limbs are flung around, sleepily blinking until Jungkook's face comes into view, the poor dude lying ramrod straight and staring up unblinkingly at the ceiling with his arms locked down by Taehyung's deathly coma embrace.

“Morning,” Jungkook greets when Taehyung raises his head and squints.

"Shit, sorry," Taehyung mumbles as he drowsily pulls himself off of Jungkook, the soft slide of cloth over cloth audible through the morning silence. "How long have you been awake?"

"Uh," Jungkook fishes his phone out from somewhere in the sheets and squints at it. "An hour?"

"You're kidding."

Jungkook squints at his phone again, "Nope."

"Holy shit, I'm so sorry," Taehyung sits up, slouching over, brows knitted together. "You could have gotten up, I'm a heavy sleeper."

"It’s fine, it’s fine," Jungkook waves his hand. "Don’t worry about it.”

"What were you even doing for an hour?" Taehyung scrunches his nose. "Just staring at the ceiling?"

"Pretty much."

"Seriously?"

"Yeah," Jungkook snickers. “No, it’s fine, I had my phone.”

"Oh my god," Taehyung hangs his head. "Still, I’m so fucking sorry, I should have told you before I went to sleep I get kinda clingy. Usually my friends just shove me off but..."

"It's seriously okay," Jungkook shrugs as he bites his bottom lip. "I, uh, didn't really mind."

Taehyung shoots out a finger and flicks Jungkook's ear. "You're way too nice, what the fuck? What's wrong with you?"

"Um, want a list?" Jungkook jerks his head away, muttering as he suddenly stands up, straightening out the creases his rumpled shirt, his hair a bird's nest on his hair, "Either way, I really wouldn’t call that being nice."

"Why?”

Jungkook looks away, “Don’t worry about it.”

 

+++

 

Fear fades quickly when there's nothing to feed it, and with a newly-filled plate of work, Taehyung finds himself so busy he doesn't have a the mental capacity to dwell on YGM nor the NDA.

It turns out 2HOM was so thrilled with his work on their title song that they wanted him on their winter special as well, and so in between working on that in his shared studio with Namjoon and monitoring evaluations, Taehyung has a hard time finding time to think much less worry.

Jimin's sent with some senior artist to Japan last minute to be a backup dancer for one of her concerts for half a week, leaving Jungkook to practice dancing by himself at the wee hours of the morning.

And somehow, without really realizing it, Taehyung finds himself filling that mentor gap at least with his presence, crouching in the corner on his laptop as Jungkook runs through routines. It's the first time he's really watched Jungkook dance since he handed the reins over to Jimin, peering at him from over the lid of his laptop, catching him confidently busting moves to a trendy beat.

"Goddamn," Taehyung whistles when Jungkook's done. "You've improved so much."

Jungkook whirls around, sweat dripping down his face and neck, a huge grin on his face, "You were watching?"

"Yeah," Taehyung watches him trot across the room and grab a towel. "You're easily within the top two now for dancing."

"Just top two?" Jungkook grabs his bottle, takes a few steps until he's right next to Taehyung. He leans against the wall and tips the bottle back into his mouth, glancing out of Taehyung out of the corner of his eye.

"Well, Jimin's a thing, and I am his best friend," Taehyung lowers his voice and whispers like there's more than just them two inside the room. “But between you and me, you’re actually probably better.”

“I’m telling him you said that,” Jungkook sniggers as he whips out his phone.

“No, don’t!” Taehyung swipes at his phone.

“Okay, okay, I won’t,” Jungkook puts the device away. He scratches his ear before he speaks again, “Uh, thanks for, coming to watch me.”

“No problem.”

“It’s definitely nice having company. Did Jimin ask you to?”

“Nope,” Taehyung squints up at Jungkook, who looks mildly surprised. “Just wanted to hang out here.”

“Oh,” Jungkook’s ears grow a bit pink. “Thanks, again.”

“Mhm,” and suddenly a thought strikes Taehyung. He’s been so out of touch because of everything going on with YGM and 2HOM that he’s pretty much forgotten about the whole BTD debacle, “When are evaluations again?”

“Next week.”

“Oh shit,” Taehyung whistles. “You ready?”

Jungkook flicks his eyes up at the ceiling, “I don’t feel ready.”

“You look ready though.” Taehyung points. “You were killing it out there.”

“Thanks,” Jungkook says, flushing a little.

“Don’t thank me,” Taehyung waves a hand. “Just stating facts.”

They fall into a bit of a silence, Jungkook picking at the hem of his shirt as Taehyung turns back to browsing on his laptop, before Jungkook breaks it again.

“Um, I don’t really know how to start this, but I’ve been really wanting to tell you thanks for…” Jungkook trails off as he gestures around the practice room.

“For?”

“Everything? I guess. I didn’t think I had a chance before a few weeks ago, and like, now,” Jungkook blinks. “Like wow , I still can’t believe I’m actually in the running.”

“Uh,” Taehyung rubs his nose. “I would say ‘no problem,’ but all I did was give you some resources. You did most of the work.”

“Maybe, but the lessons really helped,” Jungkook shrugs. “And, honestly, I just wanted to tell you I’m so glad I met you,” the studio lights glitter in Jungkook’s eyes. “I never would have made it this far without you. I didn’t really know what I was doing or why I was here, until recently. And now it looks like I have a real shot. So thanks for that.”

“For what?”

“Giving me the chance at my dreams,” Jungkook beams down at Taehyung, almost blindingly so.

And at that, Taehyung’s heart skips a beat.

It takes him so off guard that his heart is still pounding a bit as he watches Jungkook walks back to the stereo, it was just a fucking smile, what the fuck was wrong with him?

“You never told me,” Taehyung says, shaking himself out of the daze. “Why do you wanna be an idol?”

“Oh—uh. Huh, um,” Jungkook scratches his nose. “I’ve never really thought about it? But, I like music and dancing, I guess. Oh, and—” Jungkook pauses, eyes flicking back towards the mirrors. “—and I like making people happy,” and then he glances at Taehyung. “Why did you?”

“Me?” Taehyung raises a brow in surprise.

“Yeah, like how did you end up here? You were a trainee once, right?”

“Oh. Yeah. I got scouted at a mall and then I thought being an idol would be way more fun than studying to get in a SKY university. So, a shitty reason, pretty much. Probably why it didn’t work out in the end. Wasn’t here for the right reasons.”

“I feel like there aren’t really right reasons. And I think you had deeper reasons then that,” Jungkook laughs. “And even then, you did it for yourself right? Because it was something you ended up liking.”

“I really didn’t have a better reason. And just, like, being ‘here for a good time,’ still seems pretty shallow to me.”

“I think that it’s fine. Especially since it worked out,” Jungkook grins. “I dunno, probably biased but you’re pretty great at producing.”

“What the—you just justified my shitty decision making, what are you, some kind of saint?” Taehyung throws his arms over his eyes and mumbles. “Skills, looks, personality, knowing the right thing to say, goddamn , where are your flaws? You were actually made for this.”

“What’d you say?”

“I said that guy you like’s so lucky,” Taehyung suddenly lunges forward tackles Jungkook. “You’re too perfect.”

“I’m not and you definitely said something else,” Jungkook grabs onto his arms. “That doesn’t even make sense, and besides I heard something about my—“

“Did.”

“Didn’t,” Jungkook grunts as he pulls out his phone, the screen glowing against his face as he types. And then, “By the way, are you free next Saturday?”

“Yeah?”

“Wanna go here?” Jungkook looks down as he holds out his phone out, a review page for a restaurant glowing on the screen. “For dinner.”

“Sure. Damn, that’s one fancy place,” Taehyung whistles. “What’s the occasion?”

“It’s my birthday.” Jungkook says, pausing for a second before adding, “And I’m turning 16.”

 

 

 

 

+++

 

Even though Taehyung gets to the station five minutes early, Jungkook’s already there, sitting in a concrete bench, leaning with his forearms against his parted legs, phone gently cradled between his fingers.

He’s put together uncharacteristically nicely, tucked into a well-fitted designer dress shirt and slipped into what turns out to be an expensive-looking pair of jeans upon closer inspection, revealing ears lodged with gauges and adorned with a couple of helices that definitely weren’t there a few months ago.

He glances up when Taehyung gets near, standing up with a stretch and waving with an easy-going smile, he almost looks like a completely different person, face photoshoot-ready with hair that's styled and dyed what looks like a dirty blond.

He’s a far cry from the scruffy kid who had been practically shaking in his shoes back from the first time they had met and perhaps, more importantly, Taehyung realizes with a start, whoa, Jungkook looks kinda fucking good .

“Damn,” Taehyung stops right next to him and whistles. “Someone dressed nicely today.”

“Uh,” Jungkook glances down at his shirt, his ears tinting with the subtlest of of pinks. “Thanks.”

“Nice hair. Your choice?”

“Sorta? We had a photoshoot today so they could post trainee photos on Facebook,” Jungkook takes a lock between his fingers and looks up at it. “They offered to dye it and so I went for it.”

“It looks good on you. Also,” Taehyung pulls out the manila envelope sandwiched between his arm and his side. “I know I already got you a gift, but I figured you should have another one. So happy birthday. Again.”

“What’s this?” Jungkook asks bemusedly, and flips the envelope around. “It’s heavy.”

“It’s just prints of a bunch of random pictures I took over the last few months,” Taehyung laughs. “Just of the places we went and stuff we did. Because, yeah, we really went around a lot, there’s like fifty or so photos or something and just I couldn’t choose...”

And Jungkook doesn’t say anything, just cleanly splits the envelope open and starts rifling through the photos, intermittently hesitating on a few, like a photo of the seven of them, faces lit up by fireworks on the beach, on a selca Taehyung had taken of the two of them while they were eating fried chicken, faces messy, cheeks stuffed, eyes crinkled, twin grins pulled wide, on a photo of himself dancing in a practice room in the lonely hours, a vintage grain filtering the photo from the camera Taehyung had used.

“So yeah," Taehyung starts rambling to fill the silence. "Haha, sorry it isn’t, like, more...expensive? I guess.” Taehyung nervously clasps his hands together behind his back and starts rambling. “And I’m nearly as good of a photographer as you, but I-I got the idea because I was looking at all of the photos on your wall—“

“I, uh, sorry, I’m just kinda out of it but,” Jungkook slips the photos back into the envelope and blinks up at Taehyung, a grin threatening to break out from its tight-lipped prison. “I really like these. Seriously, thanks.”

“Hey,” Taehyung kicks Jungkook's shoe as they start moving towards the train. “You scared me. I thought you hated it or something and I was like, shit, what the fuck am I gonna do....“

 

 

 

+++

 

Taehyung blinks, and suddenly he finds himself sitting in the restaurant, in the middle of telling Jungkook a random stupid anecdote, wondering exactly where the last hour went.

Jungkook appreciatively sniggers, leaning back in his chair and running a hand through his hair. And even though the table's already been cleared and the check's long been sitting patiently on the table, Taehyung barely remembers what he ate, much less what it tasted like. All he can vaguely remember is how weirdly hard it is to take his eyes off Jungkook.

"But enough about me," Taehyung slaps the table. "How does it feel to finally be 16, Birthday Boy?"

Jungkook shrugs, "Kinda the same as I felt like when I was 15 if I'm being honest."

“That’s boring,” Taehyung props his head on his hand.

“How did you feel when you turned 16?”

“I dunno, it was so long ago.”

“It was only two years ago.”

“But that’s like, over 600 days . I can’t even remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday, forget how I felt like when I turned 16.”

“Then you’re boring too,” Jungkook scoffs.

“Sure,” Taehyung shrugs. “I’ll own that.”  

“We can be boring together then.”

“Wrong, I can be boring, but you’ll need to be interesting.”

“Why?”

“For your job,” Taehyung snickers. “Oh yeah, by the way, good luck.”

“Oh thanks,” Jungkook looks amused. “It isn’t for a few more days. Why are you telling me now?”  

“I’m not going to be around,” Taehyung says nonchalantly. “I’m gonna back to Daegu for a week to visit my family, since there’s finally a break, I have some money from your song, and it’s been so long—”

“Sounds like fun. What are you gonna do there?”

“Honestly? I dunno. I just wanna eat my mom’s food.”

“That’s it?”

“Yeah. All day, everyday. Not even gonna leave the house, I’m just going to be eating for seven days straight.”

Jungkook snickers before’s quiet for a moment, staring down at the tablecloth before he speaks up again. “I forgot to tell you, but I’m going to LA on Thursday.”

“Oh, what, really? Why?”

“They’re sending me to a dance bootcamp while they make the final decision, I guess that’s a good sign?” Jungkook says, fiddling with his fork. “They’re investing more into my training.”

“Seems like it.”

“But, um,” Jungkook scratches the back of the neck. “Are you going to be here when I get back?”

“Yeah? Why?”

“Um. I-if I make BTD, I think there’s only a few days before promos begins, and, uh I—” Jungkook suddenly pulls his hood over his head. “Actually, don’t worry about it. If I don’t make it, it honestly won’t even matter.”

“What is it?” Taehyung raises a brow, now amused. “Now you’re making more curious.”

“Seriously don’t worry about it,” Jungkook slinks back into his chair, pulling the strings around his hood until only his eyes and nose are visible. “Forget I said anything.”

“Now I’m going to start guessing, so you should just tell me anyway.”

“You can try, but I’m still not going to.”

“Why?”

“It doesn’t matter if I don’t make it. You’re not going to care,” Jungkook insists as he casts his eyes downward, “It’s just something I wanna ask you.”

“About what?” Taehyung laughs. “My opinion on your debut?”

“In a way?” Jungkook blinks and fidgets, “But don’t worry about it.”

 

 

 

 

+++

 

Daegu’s a nice change a pace, a little slower, a little more homey, it’s a nice little reset in the midst of the flurry of activity back in Seoul, and so when Taehyung finds himself sitting at his kitchen table at 3 in the afternoon chewing through some leftovers, his feet dangling over the linoleum, he knows there’s really no place he’d rather be.

Apparently evaluations were going pretty well for Jungkook, at the beginning he was getting pretty much hourly-updates that ranged from staying positive to minorly freaking out. But after two nights in a row where he had pretty much stayed up until four in the morning listening to Jungkook rant concerns over the phone while he sleepily repeated his reassurances, toeing the line of sleep, eventually the panic(?) subsided and the updates became more irregular and upbeat.

And like that, it’s suddenly Friday, he’s refreshed, evaluations are over (a fact that he’s informed of by both Jimin and Jungkook). Jungkook’s already gnawing on his fifth In-and-Out burger in LA and Taehyung himself is on a train hurtling him back towards hell, woken up by a fun little welcoming text exchange that rudely awakens him from his pleasant dream.

 

Jin


 

Hey

 

Whattup?

 

When you get a chance

Can you swing by my office when you get back?

I’d like to talk

 

Sure

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

+++

 

It's not like Taehyung was really expecting anything good to come out of the meeting with Jin, but seeing a guy he's known since he was 11 sitting at a desk with his hands folded together, the blankest expression on his face, doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

So when he takes pulls out the chair and takes the seat, awkwardly adjusting his shirt to have an excuse to break the unrelenting stare Jin hadn't broken since Taehyung had entered the room, it's not surprising that the unease begins.

"So, um," Jin says, sitting up a little straighter, starting more and more to look like a 20-year old trying to play the part of a middle-aged man. He asks stiffly, "How was your day?"

"Cut the bullshit," Taehyung says with a stilted laugh, attempting to slice the tension with a bit of clowning. "What’s wrong?”

"Um," Jin balks, blinking his eyes owlishly before he opens his mouth again. "Where do I begin?"

"You tell me."

"Do you," Jin suddenly whips a tablet out of nowhere and begins fiddling with it. "Happen to know why I've asked you to come here?"

"Not really," Taehyung says, and he wonders dimly if it has to do with a certain fuckboy model-actor. "Is it for something bad?"

"Um," Jin's lips thin.

"I," the unease begins to grow and a chill runs down Taehyung's spin. "I take that it's a yes."

"It's certainly not a positive thing," Jin balances the tablet against the table on its edge. "I just want to ask you some clarification questions, because, BigCube, depending on how you answer, may need to take action on some things moving forward."

"About what?" Taehyung says, voice going a bit too high and betraying the fear that was begin to curdle in his gut.

“Um, I guess, here's a great place to start. We have some contacts with journalists. And by we , I mean really just mean me because, no offense, but everyone else on the PR team is kinda incompetent. And I managed to intercept a piece of news that's going to be published pretty soon and would like to know how what response, if I any, I should start preparing," Jin lowers the tablet and turns it back on, "On that note, so,” Jin says, an unnerving smile that was probably meant to be comforting resting his face as he pushes a tablet forward. He taps the device, and glances up, “I just wanna know how much of this is true.”

 


 

Blind Item about Grooming Scandal between Idol Trainee A and Producer B

 

There’s a trainee that is set to debut for an upcoming boyband from a small company. This trainee was not previously close to being in consideration and within a few months is now one of the top choices. One insider said, “It’s seriously so suspicious how A moved up for consideration so quickly. It’s thought that his relationship with B is what helped, when you watch them together you can't help but think there's something more than platonic going on between them. Which if that's true, is completely sick. Because that means B is abusing his power and preying on A. I think that severely calls into question B's character as well as the agency's ability to protect its trainees and the overall fairness of its selection process."

What makes this news much more scandalous is that A is a minor and is a number of years younger than B.

 


 

"Is this," Taehyung puts the tablet down with a sudden laugh, a sense of nausea swelling up and replacing the fear. "Is this supposed to be about me and Jungkook?"

"Does it seem like you guys?"

"Well, no, because none of it's true," Taehyung squints at the tablet before handing it back. "Unless you count the ages and what our professions are. I just figured given the context."

"Okay," Jin lets out a sigh of relief. "I assumed that, but I’m glad you confirmed." he pauses. "But yeah, we think that it’s targeting you guys, and that’s a huge problem. And if this blind item gains traction, we’re going to be a much larger problem on our hands in a few months."

"Why?"

“You turn 19 in like three months right?" Jin says grimly.

“Yeah?”

"You won’t be a minor anymore,” Jin nervously taps the table. “And depending on whether the public runs with this and how out-of-hand it gets, well, even if you’re really not that far apart in age, just think about how this sounds: ‘Adult Producer Groomed Underage Trainee Boytoy for Rookie Idol Group—"

Taehyung winces and feels the nausea rise again, stronger this time.

"—at least to me, that seems like a career-stalling level scandal. At the best you’ll get sent to the military to wait this out, at the worst, well, you’re done.”

“Can’t you just sue them?” Taehyung says, unease returning as quickly as it had left.

“We don’t have the budget for that. And, well, how do I say this, you’re not...” Jin trails off.

“An asset worth saving?”

Jin winces, “That’s not exactly how I was going to phrase it. But, since you’re not a marquee name yet, they may just decide to part ways with you if something...starts.”

"Oh, so," Taehyung stares numbly at the table. "What's next?"

"I'll try to find a way to stop them from publishing this item, but if it goes through," Jin shrugs. "Pray? I guess. I don't think it'll get a lot of attention, especially since you guys aren't in the spotlight yet, but, you never really know with these sorts of things. And if your thing with YGM happens to blow up, well...there won’t be a lot I can do for you."

"I see," Taehyung squints his eyes shut. Holy fuck, he does not feel good.

"In the meantime," Jin says. "Just, be a little more mindful about how you are around Jungkook I know you like to cling and you guys are pretty close these days, but now that he's a real contender, he's got lots of people watching him. And it probably goes without saying, but a lot of those people really don't have either of your best interests at heart."

Somehow, after that, Taehyung manages to stand up, wobbling slightly before he heads out the door. And Taehyung doesn’t really know how he gets himself back to the studio, but the first thing he does is wave to Namjoon.

And the second thing he does is throw up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

+++

 

Namjoon


 
I’m so sorry
We tried everything to get you on the last-min track
They won’t budge
We’ll try again for the repackage, so that’s
Uh
Three new songs due in half a year?
We’ll aim for that instead
 


 

Yoongi


 
Yea don’t worry about rent this month
Pay me back whenever you get back on your feet
 


 

Jin


 
They’re publishing it
I’m sorry, there wasn't anything I can do
But I think it’ll be fine honestly
So hope for the best, prepare for the worst?
 


 

Jimin


 
Fuck fuck fuck fuck
I think I twisted my ankle
But it feels worse than that
Shit it might be a sprain
I mean I can force it for a while until debut at least
But idk if I can make it through promotions if it doesn’t get better
I’m fucking scared they’ll kick me off b/c of this
What should I do?
 


 

Unknown


 
I really need to talk to you
I know you blocked my number
But it’s super important
Please check your email
 


 

Hoseok


 
Shit, super sorry to hear about the 2HOM project
I didn’t think it was gonna fall through
And um...so the thing is
They delayed my mixtape until at least quarter four
So while I’d love to have you on it
We’re not even at the stage where we’re conceptualizing it yet :/
So I’ll hit def hit you up when we do
But I don’t think that will be for another two months
 


 
 
 

Jungkook


 
I’m at Disneyland! :D
[img attached]
Do u want me to get u anything from here? ㅋㅋㅋ 
 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

+++

 

[ fast forward— the present ]

 

It starts with Taehyung finding a shirt he stole from Jungkook.

It’s just a shitty old cotton t-shirt with “I <3 LA” organized in that classic block fashion, the edges fraying and the elastic slightly stretched out. It’s kinda weird how it even got where he found it in the first placed, crammed between his couch and a sidetable, and Taehyung doesn’t really want to think about the mechanics that managed to wedge it there.

And he doesn’t really do anything about it at first, just folds it up and puts it on the coffee table, almost as if encouraging it to find a way to become sentient and solve itself. But pretty soon it becomes a taunting reminder of a lot of things he doesn’t really want to remember, and so he finds himself taking action into his own hands in the only way he knows how:

By shoving his problems onto other people.

“Hey Jimin,” Taehyung says nervously, phone held up to his ear. “Could you do me a favor?”

“Depends on what the favor is,” Jimin snorts over the phone.

“Could you return something for me?”

“What is it?”

“A shirt.”

“To who?”

And this is going to be the hard part, Taehyung knows, because Jimin’s always been a huge fan of making him face the music, but still, Taehyung’s always kinda been a little bitch, “To a coworker?”

“Got a name?”

“Starts with J and ends with a K?”

“Got an actual name?

“Uh...Jung…”

“Got the second part of that name?”

“You know who it is.”

“Nope. Say it loud and fucking clear.”

“Okay, now you’re just fucking with me. You’re an asshole, I hope you know that.”

“Um, so who’s doing the favor for who?”

“Just kidding, you’re the nicest person I’ve ever met.”

“I love it when you lie. Gimme a name though, and you’ll have a deal.”

Taehyung winces. “Jungkook?”

Jimin goes quiet over the phone for a long enough time that Taehyung wonders for a moment that the line’s disconnected, until:

“Sure. I can pick it up at five.”

And Taehyung heaves a sigh of relief.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

+++

 

Ever punctual, Jimin stays true to his word and knocks on Taehyung’s studio door right at 5 o’clock, silhouette outlined in the frosted glass outside his door.

And when Taehyung opens the door and sees the look on Jimin’s face that practically screams ‘we need to talk’ and sees the fact that Yoongi’s standing behind him, straw of his iced americano jammed like an IV through his lips, he quickly realizes this was not as easy as he thought it was going to be.

So he proceeds to shove the offending shirt into Jimin’s hands and attempts to shut the door in his face.

Too bad Jimin’s always been quick with his reflexes and jams his foot in the door first, which Taehyung proceeds to accidently slam.

“Oh my god,” Taehyung’s suddenly dancing nervously, holding the door open and warily staring at Jimin’s ankle. “That’s that ankle right? Oh fuck, did I just? I’m so sorry.”

“You better be sorry,” Jimin says drly, wincing as he shakes out his foot. “Because, yeah that is. But you know how you can make it up to me?”

“How?”

“By having a little talk—”

And Taehyung tries to slam the door a second time, except this time Jimin just rams his entire fucking shoulder through the door.

“Okay, try that again and I’ll actually end you,” Jimin scowls as Yoongi trundles in and shuts the door behind him. “We’re talking whether you want to or not.”

“Um, I’m so sorry, but—”

Suddenly Jimin shoots out a foot—his “bad” foot—and kicks Taehyung straight in the shin. And Taehyung goes down like a rock, eyes smarting as Yoongi just snorts.

“Shit,” Taehyung gurgles in pain as he falls to the floor. “What was that fucking for?”

“Being a dick and a half. I’ve already heard Jungkook’s side of things, and now that you can’t go anywhere, I wanna hear yours.” Jimin smiles sinisterly as Yoongi peering cautiously over his shoulder. “So, like I’ve been asking for months ever since we got to Hawaii, is there anything you wanna talk about? ”

“No?” Taehyung manages to grunt, curling his hands over his smarting shin.

“Then let’s see,” Jimin pulls up a chair, and flips it around until the back’s facing Taehyung, before straddling it and folding his arms over the back of the chair, “I’ll go first. Let’s talk about Jungkook.”