This is how it begins.
Kim Seokjin smiles politely at his chauffeur, his hand curled around the handle of his suitcase. His skin strains white over his knuckles as he turns on his heel to go, identification and paperwork prepped for standard boarding procedures. The luxury cruise ship that's anchored at the Port of San Diego looms over him in what should be a promising manner, but all Seokjin can feel when faced with its grandiose structure is frustration.
"Welcome to the RS Sovereign; Aria of the Seas," he's told by an attendant, the warm rays of the setting sun beating down on them both.
"Thank you," he smiles, very much on autopilot. Once his papers have been looked at, he's directed up the gangway towards the ship.
Carefully, Seokjin pulls off his aviators once he's beneath the awning, hooking an arm into the dip of his shirt. The sheer size of the Aria is a statement in and of itself, and it boasts of the best entertainment facilities; there are 19 bars, 22 restaurants and over 10 different pools scattered across the vessel. His package affords him a free pass to splurge whilst on leave— His agency's picking up the tab for everything, either way.
At any other point in time, a break from his job would have been a good thing. Seokjin hasn't had one in years, and being a model at the pinnacle of his game – and staying there – isn't exactly a walk in the park. Under the present circumstances though, he wishes he were back at the studio; hard at work as though his world hadn't recently been tilted a full 90 degrees sideways, hard at work as though he isn't completely off kilter.
He's being forced to on this holiday.
Short as it may be, it isn't a good feeling to have.
This isn't the first cruise Seokjin's been on. Guided by experience, he manages to find his way past the casino, bypassing a couple who are emanating the specific bliss he's learnt to associate with anyone on their honeymoon. The elevator arrives after half a minute, and he's checking his ticket for the third time to make sure he's got the right room number.
Which is why he's damn sure that this guy has the wrong one.
"Who are you?" He asks as he stands in the doorway, quite appropriately baffled as he stares at the stranger in his room.
"Pardon?" Said man returns with an equally confused blink. He's paused in the middle of unloading a whole collection of camera lenses onto a coffee table, each from a fitted CAENBOO case. The stranger's eyes are large, and his nose is cute; he's got a strong jawline. He's adorable, really. "Who are you?"
Seokjin pauses, mouth gaped around words that don't come. It's been a long time since anyone's asked him that question; people usually recognize him on sight, pestering him for autographs or selfies in the streets. He's not mad about it or anything— In fact, it kind of feels nice not to be associated with his career for once, especially after…
Apparently taking Seokjin's silence as annoyance, the stranger worries his lower lip. "Um," he mumbles, brows furrowed. "I'm really sorry, but is there something I can help you with? Why are you in my suite?"
"Your— No, this is my suite," Seokjin says slowly, reaching for patience even as he just wants to flop into one of the arm chairs, boneless and depressed. Closing the door to the loft suite behind him, he neatly pulls off his shoes, setting them beside a pair of worn out Timbs on the floor. "My agency forced me on a holiday and booked it for me. So, why are you in my suite?"
"Uh," the man mumbles, getting up and looking quite bashful. Now that he's at full height, Seokjin's a little taken aback; whoever this guy is, he obviously knows what a gym is. It's quite distracting, the way his adorable face feels a little at odds with how built he is— How well his chest fills out his shirt, or how tightly his ripped jeans cling around his thighs. "I'm so sorry, I must have made a mistake…"
Rooming errors? Unlikely. Seokjin thinks he knows what's going on, though. "Could you let me see your boarding pass?" He asks politely as he leaves his suitcase by the sofa, throwing in a smile that he hopes looks reassuring. "The Aria is huge; I remember heading to the wrong wing of cabins myself, the first time I boarded this cruise ship. My name is Kim Seokjin— Maybe I can help you out, if you don't mind."
"Jeon Jungkook. And god, yeah, please— I actually thought there was some kind of defect with my key card, but a passing staff member let me in," Jungkook nods furiously, eyes wide and earnest as he turns on his heel. His head turns this way and that, and he eventually locates his camo-printed bag on the ground a few meters away. It's still unpacked, bursting at the seams; Seokjin wonders what the hell the guy has packed for a cruise that's just a few days long. "I'm really, really sorry about this, Kim— Mr. Kim."
"Are you Korean?" Seokjin asks quietly as he watches Jungkook unzip the front compartment of his bag, hoping it doesn't come off as prying. The guy's name sort of gives it away, but seriously, what are the chances? "Were you about to call me 'Kim Seokjin-ssi'?"
Lifting his head, Jungkook has his hand clenched around his papers. "How did you know?" He returns, with an awed tone that seems to suggest he thinks Seokjin is a magician.
"Your name, mostly," the elder smiles, holding out a hand. Jungkook obediently passes him a few crumpled receipts of payment from Protravel International and a dog-eared boarding ticket. Small talk comes easily to Seokjin, courtesy of a long career and his own time in the limelight of the press; he carries a shallow conversation as he checks over the younger's documentation. "Been in the US long?"
Shifting on his feet, Jungkook lowers his head, looking a little forlorn. "Kind of," he mumbles shyly around a smile. "But I've never really stayed in one place for long…"
Glancing at the lenses covering the surface of the coffee table, Seokjin makes an educated guess. "Photographer?"
Again, this seems to surprise Jungkook— It's like the guy isn't used to anyone around him having eyes and a working sense of deduction. "Yeah," he nods, his smile growing more pronounced as he looks at his equipment. Sitting down across from Seokjin, he picks up one of the leather cases and cocks his head at the tag sewn into the fold beneath the zip. "Freelance, mostly— I move around a lot, taking pictures."
"Not editorial, then?"
"Mostly landscape and nature— I really like getting out in the field, sometimes literally. I've done some events too; lots of dance competitions, and a couple of weddings." Laughing sheepishly, Jungkook palms the back of his neck. "I'm not really good at those, though… Weddings, I mean."
Photography's a tough field to succeed in; Seokjin would know that better than most. "Well, if you think landscape and nature photography is your strength, I suppose you should stick to your guns," he says calmly, turning Jungkook's ticket over on his palm. Smoothing out the folded corner with his thumb, his eyes soften— As expected, the younger had made exactly the same mistake he had on his first cruise. "Have you ever tried applying towards any of those competitions hosted by National Geographic or Discovery Channel?"
"I mean… I've actually applied to the 2018 Sony World Photography Awards," Jungkook shares hesitantly with a wobbly grin, not meeting Seokjin's eyes. He's really cute, the elder reflects with a serene smile. "In the Open Category. I'm not expecting much, but I hope to at least get shortlisted."
"That's great, Jungkook. I hope you do well for yourself in the competition," Seokjin says sincerely, because he's never been the type to downplay the courage it takes for someone to strike out on their own. The younger ducks his head, looking a little giddy at the encouragement. It's unnecessarily sweet, Seokjin thinks. "Also, I've found out why you've strayed over to this end of the ship; you applied for a Royal Suite Stateroom, not a Royal Loft Suite like this one."
Jungkook's mouth opens around an enlightened 'O' as his head jerks up.
Chuckling, Seokjin neatly folds Jungkook's boarding pass into his papers, handing them back in a neat pile. "The room classification signs aren't really clear from the Aria's entry point— It's an easy mistake to make," he points out kindly, feeling a little tired as the first horn for cast off sounds. "I've made it a couple of times myself."
"Somehow, that actually makes me relieved," Jungkook admits awkwardly, blushing with embarrassment. Looking at all of his lenses, he sighs. "I'll— Just give me a second to pack up all of my stuff? I'm really, really sorry about all of this; it's actually my first time on a cruise, so it was kind of overwhelming just… Getting past everything that was happening out there?"
"No problem; I know how that feels, too," Seokjin quickly reassures him, understanding. Now that all of this has been sorted, he's back to feeling lethargic and kind of down. "I'll give you some space so that you can get to it," he tells Jungkook, getting up and moving over to his suitcase. It's not his first time in a loft suite aboard the Aria, so he knows where everything is— Bed and bathroom upstairs. "I'm going to take a shower, okay? Feel free to take your time."
Blinking, Jungkook watches the elder pick up his suitcase by the handle. "You're not worried?" He gapes. Seokjin pauses on the middle of the stairs, glancing over his shoulder. "About— I mean, not that I'm going to do anything, but isn't leaving a stranger in your suite alone kind of… I don't know, dangerous?"
'You don't know who I am,' Seokjin almost says, before he thinks the better of it.
"I trust you," he says instead, smiling as he turns on his heel. Once he's on the second floor, he speaks a little louder so that Jungkook can hear him from down below. "You look like a little puppy, cute and nervous about his first walk."
Jungkook sputters indignantly.
Seokjin actually grins at the sound – so childlike and petulant – as he unzips his suitcase to grab his bag of toiletries. "I'm sure you're not that much more dangerous than one, either," he adds, calculatedly having the last word right before he shuts himself in the bathroom.
A shower's what he'd needed to feel a little more rejuvenated, so Seokjin walks out of his steaming bathroom relaxed and loose-limbed. He's surprised to find Jungkook still downstairs, even though his bag is packed and all of his lenses have been slotted into what looks like a hard case that weighs a ton— Maybe that's how the guy's gotten his biceps.
He isn't thirsty. He just isn't blind.
"Still need something?" Seokjin smiles, leaning out over the banister in the provided bathrobe. "If you need me to, I can get dressed and show you the way to the Staterooms." He wants to check if his favorite bar hasn't been scrapped off the ship, anyway.
"Oh, no," Jungkook blurts, springing to his feet with his head snapping back— Seokjin briefly wonders if whiplash is a real concern for the younger, considering how jumpy he seems to be. "No, I was just— I thought it'd be rude, if I just left. I wanted to thank you again."
"You've thanked me too many times; all I did was check your boarding pass." Chuckling and shaking his head, Seokjin walks down the steps and joins Jungkook in the living room. There's satisfaction that curls in his stomach when the younger blushes a little, averting his eyes from the expanse of his chest that's bared; it's always nice to know he's still got it, even when faced with someone who clearly doesn't have any idea who he is. "You don't have to stand on ceremony around me."
"But I crashed your room and took up your time and you're—" Jungkook cuts himself off halfway, blinking with wide eyes as he lifts his head. "You're older?" He says, this time tentatively with a wince. "I mean, I don't know for sure, but you seem really used to taking cruises so I thought that maybe—"
"I'm probably older," Seokjin quickly cuts in with a hand lifted, restraining a laugh that threatens to bubble from his lips. God, Jungkook's a fucking verbal disaster. "I'm an 85 liner. You?"
"90," Jungkook answers earnestly, smiling at him.
27 to Seokjin's 32, then— There's a decent age gap between them. "So that makes me your hyung," the elder muses aloud, cocking his head.
Jungkook laughs. It's a bright, rich sound; pleasant and melodic even in a low and more reserved tone. "There aren't very many people I use honorifics with anymore," he explains, dipping and shouldering his bag. He rises easily, even though he really shouldn't— Once more, Seokjin wonders what the hell he's got packed in the damn thing, because it's massive. "Since I came over to the States to attend university, a lot of my friends are Caucasian; even the Korean exchange students kind of lose the whole 'hyung' and 'dongsaeng' thing."
"I came here to attend university myself— First for comms at Ashford for a couple of terms, and then ME Academy for modelling and acting," Seokjin shares without a second thought, lulled into the easy conversation. Namjoon plays a pretty big part in grounding him to his roots; they'd attended school together through an exchange program, and he's never been called anything but 'hyung' by the guy, even now. "Did you study in San Diego?"
"No; San Francisco," Jungkook says bashfully, pulling the other strap of his ridiculous backpack over his shoulder. "AAU."
The Academy of Art University. Not bad. "Photography?"
"And Illustration." Running a hand through his tousled hair, Jungkook pushes back his fringe and reaches for his case. Once he straightens up, he gives Seokjin a beam. "I like to draw, from time to time; school was pretty fun for me while it lasted."
Seokjin wishes he could relate; Ashford had been rough on him, since he'd dropped out halfway— He hadn't had Namjoon with him at ME, whose calming presence would have been useful in the face of his overtly competitive cohort. "That's good," he murmurs, for lack of anything better to say.
Jungkook swallows, offering Seokjin a shy smile tinged with awkwardness. "Thanks," he adds, glancing towards the door. "Again. Maybe we'll bump into each other sometime during the cruise."
Well, it's statistically unlikely— RS Sovereign cruise liners are notoriously massive, and the Aria happens to be one of their biggest ships in the fleet. "Maybe," he says instead, walking Jungkook to the door with his feet in bedroom slippers. "It'd be nice if we did."
At this, Jungkook seems to perk up a little, and he opens the door himself. Facing the elder, he inclines his head. "I'll see you around… Hyung?" He probably doesn't mean for it to come out as a question or a request, but it does, and he just looks so adorably hopeful that Seokjin can't help but smile.
'Why not,' the model thinks. "Sure, Jungkook."
The kid – everyone under 30 is a kid to Seokjin these days – flashes him a gleaming set of teeth before he's off, apparently cheerful at the prospect of them meeting again.
That had been nice, Seokjin reflects, if not a bit unexpected. He can't think of the last time he's met someone quite so contradictory; Jungkook seems shy and reserved, which is pretty awkward when you pit those qualities against the sheer muscle Seokjin is sure he's got going on beneath his white t-shirt. Still, he's also capable of being bright and exuberant, an earnest light shining in his eyes whenever he talks about something he particularly likes— Photography, for example, or drawing.
He closes the door as the third – and final – horn for cast off sounds, thinking that's the last he'll see of Jeon Jungkook. Seokjin doesn't bother to lock it, even, since he's intending to check on that bar and whether it's still standing on the bow of the Aria.
Which is how it slams open when he's walking back up the stairs, the sound so fucking jarring it almost makes him slip on a step and fall to his imminent death.
It slams shut in quick order, and a panting Jungkook rounds the corner to look at Seokjin with wide, panicked eyes. "Please help me," he says in the most piteous voice the elder has ever heard in his life, pale and pallid with fear.
'Lord,' Seokjin thinks, very calmly in resignation, 'please give me the strength.'
He's been on board for just shy of an hour, and already, this vacation is giving him a headache strong enough to rival a hangover.
Seokjin gets a 2-minute SparkNotes crash course in Jungkook's dilemma, which honestly isn't as bad as the younger thinks it is.
Basically, Jungkook's never applied for US citizenship – which is fairly stupid considering he intends to stay in the States, but Seokjin is more than happy to address only one problem at a time – and his work visa is expiring. Not within months or weeks; days. He doesn't have a job with a registered company, which leaves him vulnerable to any officer of the law from the US Department of State.
Including one familiar Senior Officer from the US Consulate, who, according to Jungkook, had made eye contact with him in the corridor.
"They must have mailed you some documentation, or called you in for an interview at some point," Seokjin hisses, almost pleadingly at this point, because Jungkook's problem is rapidly becoming his problem. "Why didn't you go?"
"I was out of town, hyung!" Jungkook protests miserably, burying his face in his hands. "After I lost my job at a design agency, I took a road trip; I was in Santa Barbara for a couple of weeks, and then Malibu for a month. None of my housemates even bothered to look at my letters, or text me about them. When I got back, someone knocked on my door – that guy I met outside – and he told me I had like, a couple of weeks to get my shit in order? He gave me his number and told me that I needed to schedule a meeting with him, but I just panicked and never called him back and got on this cruise to have some time to think and now he's here—"
Jesus fucking Christ. "Okay," Seokjin murmurs, pinching the bridge of his nose and eyeing his door nervously. Jungkook's convinced that the officer he'd seen in the corridor is going to come knocking any second, and in all honesty, there's no reason for Seokjin to believe that isn't going to happen. "Okay, stop rambling and listen to me. You need to calm down—"
"Oh my god," Jungkook whispers, eyes screwed shut like he's trying to wake up from a bad dream. It's kind of a heartrending image; Seokjin finds himself more sympathetic than he actually means to be. "Oh my god, fuck. I'm gonna get kicked out of the country; I bet the immigration guy is going to call for some boat to come take me off the ship—"
"For god's sake, that is not going to happen—"
"I have nowhere to go, hyung, I don't even know what to do—"
"Look, if you don't get it together, there'll be no sorting this out at all—"
Someone knocks on the door, jarring them both into silence. Jungkook's head snaps towards Seokjin, horrified with shiny eyes. "He's here," he wheezes, pulling his legs up to his chest and scooting back against the couch, like he's trying to become one with the furniture or something. "Oh shit. Hyung, I don't know—"
"Quiet," Seokjin murmurs urgently, reaching out a hand sideways. He'd intended to smack his palm over Jungkook's mouth, but he gets the kid's nose. Either way, it has the intended effect; aside from an undignified squawk, the younger goes very still and keeps his mouth shut. "Stay here. I'll go talk to him, turn him away."
"But I think he saw me coming in here—"
Ignoring the younger, Seokjin gets up and swallows thickly. He doesn't know why he's doing this, why he's helping out instead of just turning Jungkook over. It'd definitely be easier, and he'd finally – finally – be able to get on with his vacation and check on the damn bar he wants to be at later, but… It just doesn't feel right, for some reason, washing his hands of the situation even though it isn't any of his business.
Jungkook's an idiot, but he isn't a bad idiot, is what Seokjin is saying.
Opening the door to his suite, he carefully keeps it cracked at a degree— Just enough to let anyone with a working sense of body language know that he isn't in the mood to let them in. "Hello," Seokjin greets the man standing outside, whose scowl fades to surprise and then back to careful neutrality in record time. "How may I help you?"
"Afternoon. My name is Min Yoongi; I work for the US Consulate," the man says monotonously, taking a step back now that the door's open. He's shorter than Seokjin, and he has a dark, brooding stare. "I'm looking for a Jeon Jungkook… I saw him entering this suite earlier."
Well, Seokjin isn't going to flat out lie and say that Jungkook isn't in his suite. "What do you want with him?"
Yoongi frowns, glancing down the corridor. No one's there; the guy must be waiting for someone. "I don't want any trouble with the guy," he says eventually, keeping his voice down. "I just want to talk to him."
"I just said I was with the US Consulate, didn't I?" Crossing his arms, Yoongi's brows furrow. "Jeon Jungkook has problems with his work Visa, and I'm a Senior Visa Officer. I'm just trying to do my job here—"
"On a cruise ship?" Seokjin points out, making Yoongi narrow his eyes. Oh, he's found a foothold there— Judging by the guy's clothes, he isn't on the job; there's also no way the Aria will return to port. Smiling, the model realizes that Yoongi doesn't have the jurisdiction – or resources – to act right now. "You look like you're on holiday."
"Why the hell is he with you, anyway?"
That surprises him. "Excuse me?"
"You're Kim Seokjin— A model," Yoongi observes, giving him a thorough onceover before his head lilts to the left. " I know who you are, mostly because you've been everywhere in the news for the past couple of days."
Flinching, the elder's hand wavers on the door. He's anxiously reaching for something to say – something that won't totally let Yoongi know just how shaken he is by having his own fucking scandal thrown in his face – because Jungkook's still curled up against his sofa, scared and sort of hysterical.
"As far as I know, Jeon Jungkook's no one— Just another relatively instafamous photographer," the officer continues bluntly, tone bland and unapologetic. "So? Why the hell is he with—"
"Babe? I'm hungry— What are you doing?"
Yoongi's head turns. "I told you I'd be a second, Min," he sighs. Seokjin eyes him critically, assessing the way his shoulders lose tension and his frown dissipates. Leaning out of the doorway, he glances down the corridor too, and sees someone he never expected to see— At least not for the next few days. "Jimin?"
The blonde's eyes grow comically wide, and he jogs towards them. "Jin-hyung? What are you doing here?"
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Yoongi deadpans, glancing between Seokjin and Jimin with a weary look in his eyes. "You've got to be fucking kidding me. You two know each other?"
Letting go of the door, Seokjin holds out a relaxed arm. Jimin's a relatively new model signed to his agency; Namjoon had poached him personally, claiming that the blonde had a freshness and dynamism that their brand needed. "With everything that's been happening after the news got out, Joon thought it best that I disappear for a while," he explains quietly, smiling when Jimin hugs him tight. The younger's a cute kid— Sweet, too. "I didn't know you were coming here."
"Jin-hyung and I work in the same modelling agency," Jimin tells Yoongi with a soft giggle, cheek mushed against the slope of the elder's collarbone. He extracts himself from the hug, taking a couple of steps back. "I applied for unpaid leave ages ago," he then explains to Seokjin, who nods understandingly. "If I hadn't, then I'd probably still be back in San Diego, at least for the Karl Lagerfeld RTW show. I know it's been tough, after…" He trails off, chewing on his lower lip with guilt in his eyes.
'After the scandal,' Seokjin completes the sentence in his mind. But if Jimin just called Yoongi 'babe,' then… "You two look good together," he tests the waters, glancing between the pair.
Nervously, Jimin lowers his head.
Beside him, Yoongi's eyes harden.
It's at this point that Seokjin realizes how he must sound. His entire career's grinded to a standstill on the assumption that he has the exact same thing in front of his eyes: a homosexual relationship. Jimin doesn't know him well enough to realize he's being genuinely happy for them, not bitter by any stretch of the word. Yoongi…
Well, Yoongi just seems pretty aggressive as a person, in all honesty.
"I'm being serious," he murmurs, stepping out of the doorway and taking Jimin by the shoulders. Looking at the blonde in the eyes, Seokjin smiles— Tries to put as much feeling into it as he can. Emoting doesn't come easy to anyone who's in front of a camera for a living. "Really, Jimin. And you can be sure that I won't tell anyone about this. It's no one's business but yours— And Yoongi's, of course."
Blinking, the scorching heat in the officer's glare tapers down to a more neutral simmer— Seokjin's going to count that as a win.
Seemingly reassured, Jimin slowly lifts his head with a bashful smile. "Hyung," he starts, soft and saccharine, "about what happened, I'm so sorry. I just want you to know that I support you, no matter what—"
'Shit,' Seokjin thinks, turning around with wide eyes. The doorway's swung open with his hand not holding it in place, and Jungkook's peering around the corner. He stares at Jimin, mouth gaped with shock.
"No way," Jimin blinks, a similar expression on his face before his mouth stretches around a blinding grin. "Jungkookie?"
"Oh my god," Yoongi groans, shoulders slumped as he digs the heels of his palms into his eyes. "What the fuck, seriously? Really? Are we on Candid Camera?"
Wrinkling his nose, Seokjin tries to remember the last time someone said Candid Camera out loud. It makes him wonder if the Visa officer is older than he is, even if it doesn't look to be the case.
Tentatively, Jungkook pads over in his socks, shooting Yoongi a nervous look before he focuses on Jimin. "What's going on?" He asks Seokjin in a small voice, dazed as the blonde throws his arms around his neck. "I don't understand. Why— What—"
Jimin is extremely tactile, Seokjin observes with amusement, before he turns to Jungkook. The situation's getting funny, especially with Yoongi struggling to find his will to live. "Apparently, we all know each other," he says, "in some way or another."
"This brat and I met while we'd still been dancing in the same studio— I love modelling, but I do regret not having more time to continue teaching classes," Jimin explains succinctly, eyes bright as he turns to Seokjin. "How did you get to know Jungkookie, hyung?"
Damn it. With Jimin showing up out of the blue, Seokjin still hasn't thought of a thing.
"You two are rooming together?" Yoongi follows up, eyes narrowing as Jungkook's shoulders stiffen with panic. He turns to Seokjin, lifting a brow expectantly. "And so soon after everything's happened— Even if you aren't in the country, there are bound to be a few lowlifes on board who would sell pictures to the press, you know?"
"Babe!" Jimin hisses, letting go of Jungkook and turning to glare at Yoongi. The officer has the decency to look slightly abashed at the delivery of his words, but he doesn't seem sorry for saying them. "You can't just say something like that!"
"But it's true—"
"Even so! That's insensitive—"
Seokjin's mind skitters to a halt as he turns to Jungkook, and he latches onto the idea presented to him on a silver platter. "Since you've been following the news, I guess you know that I've been accused of having a relationship with a man," he tells Yoongi breezily, who lifts his head from a hushed argument with Jimin— It's very one-sided, and the blonde's winning it by a mile.
"Not that I really care, but yeah," Yoongi says drily, putting his hand at the small of Jimin's back even as the blonde huffs at him. "I know about the rumors; they're everywhere."
Bewildered and completely lost, Jungkook blinks. "What—"
"— We're seeing each other; have been for a while now," Seokjin quickly speaks over Jungkook, putting an arm around the younger's waist. He ignores the wide-eyed look he gets for that, figuring he can deal with that later. "It's been a trying few weeks for the both of us – I'm sure you know why, considering that my personal life's been blown out of proportion – so I wanted to get away with him for a while."
Jungkook chokes, completely blindsided. "H-Hyung—"
"I know there are some issues with his work Visa; he's mentioned them to me, but considering the whole… The whole scandal, neither of us have been getting much sleep," Seokjin powers through, squeezing Jungkook's hip in a bid to make him shut up and roll with it. "It slipped my mind completely, which I know isn't a good excuse. But it's been such a long month; can't you let us enjoy our holiday in peace? It's only 7 days."
Jimin gasps, staring at them with surprise. "Oh… Hyung…"
Seokjin can actually relate. He's basically running his mouth on autopilot, and he's pretty shocked at himself, too. 'Fuck,' he realizes dimly with dread, 'Jungkook's probably straight.'
Yoongi's not too easy, though. "Like I've already mentioned, I just want to talk to him," he reiterates, looking put out as Jungkook shies away from him, trying to hide behind Seokjin. "It's not like I'm going to kick the kid out of the country; I don't even have the jurisdiction to do that—"
"Then you don't have the jurisdiction to talk to him about it right now, either."
"Look, I just want to know why he didn't contact me earlier—"
"Babe," Jimin speaks up with a worried frown, just as Seokjin had guiltily anticipated he would, "let's just leave them alone, okay?"
Yoongi gapes at the younger. "Min—"
"Hyung's had a really hard time lately," the blonde insists, looking at Yoongi with a hurt expression as he holds out his hand. He turns to Seokjin, and there's nothing in his eyes but sympathy. "Besides, we're on holiday too, you know?"
A long moment passes where Yoongi's obviously conflicted— Do his job, make his boyfriend unhappy. Make his boyfriend happy, do his job. It's clear which option wins out by the way he eventually sags, taking Jimin's hand. "I'll come by later," he says dully to Seokjin, prompting the elder to tug Jungkook towards him in a bid to look protective.
"We'll come by later— And not for work, babe, please," Jimin corrects him with a pout before tilting his head back to beam at Seokjin. "Since we're both on this cruise, we should spend some time together, hyung. I'm still new at the agency, but even I know how amazing you are; it'd be nice if we could have a good friendship."
"Min," Yoongi grouses.
Well, it isn't like Seokjin can say no. He is going to wrangle radio silence on the whole Visa thing, though. "If your boyfriend leaves mine alone till after the cruise is over, I'm sure we can work something out," he offers carefully, ignoring the way Yoongi scowls and how Jungkook is swallowing thickly. "As a rule, I don't really appreciate anyone who makes him anxious like this— Neither of us are in the mood to handle any more stress right now."
"Of course," Jimin promises immediately. "Are you going for the Captain's dinner on the Lido deck? It's starting in an hour, give or take."
"Min," Yoongi whines again, even louder than before.
Seokjin has to physically restrain himself from clenching his fist in victory. "Probably not, actually," he says, faux apologetic as he smiles sheepishly. He rests his hand on the curve of Jungkook's waist – and what a curve it is, damn – as he cocks his head. "We're probably going to stay in on the first day; order in some room service and relax."
"Sure, sure," the blonde nods understandingly, smiling as he hooks his arm through Yoongi's. He starts walking away, dragging his boyfriend along without a damn care in the world. In a whole slew of ways, Seokjin can see this guy taking over his legacy back at the agency as its top model. "No pressure. I have both your number and Jungkookie's, so I'll text either of you about maybe hanging out tomorrow?"
"Sounds like a plan," Seokjin says easily, watching them go with a sort of detached mirth— He's too busy trying to keep Jungkook by his side, considering the younger's already trying to wriggle away with complete panic in his eyes. "I'll see you soon, Jimin."
And that's that. For the second time that day, Seokjin closes his door on someone's back, except this time, he's still got Jungkook in his suite. "Okay," he says, sounding so calm he doesn't know if that's an appropriate reaction to the situation. "Jungkook, do not freak out. You need to stop panicking about this and breathe—"
"Oh my god," Jungkook wheezes, sagging against the nearest wall. He ends up on the ground, eyes glazed over with disbelief as he hangs his head between his knees. "Why did you do that? You lied right to their faces!"
"I was under intense pressure, and I didn't see you coming up with any better ideas— Yoongi is terrifying, and I needed some way to get him off your back," Seokjin points out wearily. Forgoing every last thing he stands for, he sits down on the ground in the entryway of the cabin so that he can look Jungkook right in the eye. "At least this way, I bought you some time to think about what you're going to do."
"Yeah, but at what cost?" Jungkook groans, tragic and low. When he next lifts his gaze, Seokjin's surprised to find his eyes filled with guilt. "Who are you, actually? And what rumors were you both talking about earlier?"
Oh man, Seokjin really does not want to answer either of those questions.
"It'll be good for you to get away from all of this," Namjoon had said. "Just go take a breather; you like the Aria," Namjoon had said.
"First, I'm going to order in so much room service we'll both cry— Lobster, champagne; the works," he suggests instead, completely resigned to the fact that this is happening. As stressful as the next few days are going to be, he's a committed guy; if he has to – if it'll make Yoongi leave the poor guy alone – he'll hard carry his newly christened fake relationship with Jeon Jungkook. "After that, let's head out to the veranda to talk."
As it turns out, they end up seriously enjoying each other's company. Seokjin supposes that bodes well for the next few days, but in all honesty, he hadn't exactly expected it.
It's hard to see why he'd ever thought that, though; especially after their bellies are full and they're a few drinks in. Jungkook is talkative and animated once he loosens up, greatly aided by a few flutes of champagne. He loses that edge of shyness, replacing it with a wide-eyed sort of innocence that Seokjin finds charming and novel, especially having been surrounded by fairly opportunistic people in his line of work.
The elder learns a lot; that Jungkook still has a good relationship with his family, and that they'd been supportive when he'd wanted to move to the States to attend university. He's loved photography for more than a solid decade, having received his first camera – a vintage Mamiya-Sekor – at the age of 14, a birthday present from his father. He has a rescue dog named Gureum back in Korea, and he's a self-professed expert on memes.
Jungkook flat out admits being addicted to Instagram, but for good reason— He has more than 230,000 people following his official photography account, and a decent 72,000 people interested in his personal one. Both are verified, which Jungkook assures Seokjin is an 'achievement unlocked.'
"I've never been on Instagram," Seokjin tells him when asked, smiling as he tops up his champagne. Earlier, Jungkook had hesitantly admitted to being bisexual after a pronoun slip up during a story about him and an ex, which gives Seokjin both relief and a whole lot to think about. He'd much rather talk about social media – no matter how little he cares for it all – than embarrass himself by being intrusive… Or, even worse, completely inappropriate. "Joon is constantly badgering me to open an account."
"He's the CEO of my agency— Kim Namjoon," the elder says without worry. He'd usually be more cautious where it came to divulging the friendship he has with Namjoon, but Jungkook's just been easy to talk to. "We met in Ashford, before I left to attend ME Academy."
"Well… He's right, you really should," Jungkook laughs, the timber of it nice and easy on the ears. "Especially since you're a model and everything— Which is still awesome, by the way."
"You've said that 4 times."
"Doesn't make it any less true."
"Maybe," Seokjin muses, leaving it at that. Despite all the critical assumptions people make about his career, he loves modelling; loves the lifestyle it affords him, and the way his account balance looks like a phone number, inclusive of the country code. Namjoon is a good boss and a long-time friend, and most of his colleagues are kind – if not a tad too dramatic for his tastes – and they give him the respect he deserves as one of the most senior models.
He just doesn't like the way some people feel like he owes them his privacy.
"I should Google you and everything; look at all your pictures," Jungkook grins over the rim of his glass, not noticing the way Seokjin tenses. The model has no doubt that the scandal has affected his search results, and the very thought of the younger not hearing what happened from him first makes something in him prickle with nerves. "I bet they're really good, hyung."
"They tend to be," Seokjin says without shame, because he's long past the point where he pretends to self-deprecate in order to pander to someone else's feelings. He's a fairly humble guy, but he does take pride in being very, very good at his job. "But before you do that, I'd like you to hear me out."
Immediately, Jungkook calms down and nods, obediently listening. He takes direction well— Seokjin supposes it's a good thing for their pseudo relationship, considering Jungkook obviously doesn't lie worth a damn.
"There was a scandal recently, involving my sexuality," Seokjin continues without pause, even as the younger's eyes grow wide with shock. "An ex-classmate who worked in a rival agency posted fake screenshots on their Twitter account, claiming that him and I had a thing while I'd been at ME Academy."
"Oh my god."
"We'd been in the same cohort, but I'd never spoken to him before he showed up in my career, many years later." Lifting his glass to his lips, Seokjin tips back some champagne, the tang of it sweet and flavorful; the Dom Perignon Vintage strikes again. "Joon's contacted an elite firm of corporate lawyers based in London; the agency will be suing him on my behalf for defamation of character."
"I don't understand," Jungkook mumbles, rubbing the back of his neck. "I thought that being gay in that line of work is kind of…" He breaks off, going a little red. "I mean, I didn't think that—"
"You thought it'd be more acceptable?" Seokjin finishes for Jungkook knowingly, feeling a little bitter. At least the younger hasn't turned tail; he's actually taking everything pretty well, all things considered. "Maybe, if this had come out before I'd hit my 30's. As it stands, I've dated a few other models or celebrities; all women, and all very high profile."
"So…" Lowering his head warily, the younger awkwardly averts his eyes. "You're… Straight?"
"Not exactly, and I haven't finished the story." Setting his glass on the small table between their deck chairs, Seokjin turns on his ass and lays down. "The press started hounding me— Paparazzi everywhere I went. Hate mail began pouring in, so much so that Joon banned any and all packages from being sent into the building. It was—"
Depressing. Suffocating. Fucking exhausting.
"It was overwhelming," Seokjin decides to say with a tired smile, looking up at the sky. Not a cloud in sight, the moon beaming down on them in full force— Beautiful. "I was being badgered, day in and day out. I couldn't get anything done personally, whether it was getting a haircut or going to the bank… I couldn't even buy my own groceries."
Somehow, it doesn't surprise him in the least that that's what the younger has chosen to focus on. "Yes, Jungkook, I cook," Seokjin chuckles drily. "I neglected to mention this, but most of the relationships I've had in recent years were purely – and mutually – for publicity; for business, essentially. Strictly speaking, I've been a bachelor for a while now."
"Oh," Jungkook says, sounding a little forlorn.
Seokjin tears his eyes away from the great expanse of the sky, lifting an eyebrow at the frown on the younger's face. "What is it?"
"I… I don't know."
"Come on, now."
"That just seems a little sad, you know?" Jungkook says nervously. Seokjin regrets dumping all of this on him— Regrets being the cause of bringing the younger back to an anxious wreck when he'd been cheerful and exuberant just minutes before. "And, like, I don't know. It must be kind of lonely…"
It's been a long time since Seokjin's acknowledged loneliness— Allowed it to take control of his emotions. He knows many other models who have done the same, out of sheer self-preservation. "I'm used to it," he replies quietly, trying for reassuring.
It doesn't work, and Jungkook looks even more wounded. "That's makes it even sadder," he almost whispers, so genuinely aggrieved that Seokjin wants to do something ridiculous, like hug him.
He continues his story instead, shaking his head to clear it. "Either way, they cornered Joon and I outside a restaurant one evening. We had a work dinner, having flown the suits over from London." Seokjin turns his gaze back to the stars, trying to find the brightest one above the rolling waves of the ocean. "Someone leaked our reservation, and the reporters were there in minutes. They ambushed us in the lobby of the hotel, and pressured me for a comment."
"That's fucking terrible, hyung."
Yeah, it was. "What made it worse was that I gave one," Seokjin laughs blandly, the sound hollow and thin, even to his own ears. "Everything over the past few weeks had gotten to me, and I cracked— Lost my composure. Before Joon could field some of the more acceptable questions and tell people to back off, I shoved someone away from me and yelled that I was pansexual."
Jungkook's eyes go so wide they look like plates.
"Time went by real fast after that," Seokjin rounds up, reaching lazily for his champagne. He doesn't quite make it, but Jungkook helps him out. Smiling thankfully, the elder pinches the neck of his flute and brings it to his lips. "Not less than a week and I'm here, because Joon told me to get away from it all— Go off the radar, and wait for the worst of it to die down."
"Jesus." Swallowing thickly, Jungkook goes quiet and hangs his head. "I don't even know what to say," he whispers, looking so fucking sad and angry on Seokjin's behalf that the elder can't quite believe they've only known each other for hours. It's been eons since he's met someone who emotes this much— Who's so unapologetic about putting his heart on his sleeve. "I'm so sorry, hyung."
"It's not your fault."
"I know," Jungkook utters in a wobbly voice, and god, Seokjin just hopes he's not about to cry; he has no idea how he'd handle that. "But I'm sorry you had to go through that. No one deserves it."
Turning his head, Seokjin finds the younger staring at him with complete and total conviction, and he believes Jungkook truly feels that.
"Me too," he says softly, fringe falling over his eyes as he smiles, gentle and genuine and grateful. "I'm sorry too."