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What If, Maybe?

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“Where there is hope, there are trials.”
Sea, BTS

2 February 2017

Trash chokes the kitchen counters – bottles and papers and boxes and cans. The air feels cold as the slice of a knife, and Seokjin's fingers ache like tender roots beneath the snow. The tang of fresh paint itches his nose, which keeps running no matter how much he tries to stop it.

Beside him, leaning against the counter, Taehyung texts while jiggling his knee to soothe his tension. He's thrumming with energy – the result of two shotgunned colas – and he's half-singing, half-rapping the Japanese version of their song.

“It looks real,” Seokjin says. He gnaws his bottom lip, waiting for Taehyung’s response. But he keeps texting, keeps singing, keeps bouncing his knee.

Seokjin nudges him. “It looks real,” he tries again.

“Oh, what?” Taehyung glances up.

Seokjin digs his hands into his pockets. “The kitchen, the garbage, it looks...” he rolls his shoulders and sniffs. It smells real, too, malodorous and damp, and he feels true sympathy for the intern whose job it was to collect it.

Taehyung tucks his phone away. “You okay?”

That is the big question. Seokjin doesn't quite know the answer.

They have been practicing. They've practiced this scene with a stunt coordinator. They performed the stunts together in the dorm, much to Yoongi’s dismay. They went so far as orchestrating play fights on stage, just to get the feel of physical violence. But...

Yongseok-nim, the creative director, brisks up to them, snapping Seokjin’s line of thought. “You ready to run through it?” he asks.

Taehyung says, “Yeah, we're ready.” He bounds up, shaking himself. His eyes glint with determination.

An assistant marches in with a marker board. “We'll do close up shots first,” he tells them. “Focus on faces, very expressive. Then we'll break and film Jin-ssi's parts while V-ssi gets into makeup. Yeah? Good?”

“Yes,” Seokjin mutters.

The assistant quirks his head. He leans in to say, “You know, you won't actually be hitting him.”

“I know,” Seokjin says, but his eyes twitch.

Taehyung gives Seokjin a playful hip-bump. “Method acting,” he says to the assistant.

The assistant flashes a thumbs up and says, “Gotcha.”

The first run-through goes well enough. Seokjin’s acting classes kick in so he’s almost able to cut himself off as they tumble through the motions. And it’s true, Seokjin doesn't lay a hand on him, which is a good way for them to work up to the actual fight scene.

After watching the close-ups on the monitor, Seokjin feels pleased at the precision of his movements. He’s oddly affected by the way his sharp, powerful jabs would have certainly reached their mark on Taehyung’s face. It's a perversion of their dancing, which is graceful and fluid and full of light.

While this feels grim and dirty and...

Taehyung returns to the kitchen, his face a mask of bruises. The way he smiles beneath them causes something to break inside Seokjin. Suddenly, without warning, he's near tears. His heart beats like something feathered with knives. Heat aches the base in his throat as he battles to keep them inside.

Yet no one seems to notice. Yongseok-nim guides them through the shot, and this time, Taehyung lies on the ground, his head against the kitchen counter. Which is fake, Seokjin thinks, getting stern with himself. Built for their filming, and he's an actor, and Taehyung is an actor.

But when he's astride him, his fist poised to strike, Seokjin crumbles. The director calls action, and Seokjin strikes down – once, twice, and then again – and Taehyung reacts, his head thrashing back into the cabinet. Seokjin leaps up, breathless, blind through a screen of tears. He covers his eyes and wavers, uncertain, until somewhere far off the director yells cut.

He feels Taehyung's warmth at his shoulder, hears his voice say, “We need a minute.”

Someone answers, “Understood. Let's break for five, reset those lights, and—”

After a long, long moment, the rushing of his blood subsides.

“Seokjin-ah,” Taehyung says, softly. “What happened?”

Seokjin exhales, a long, slow, steady breath. He croaks, “It’s embarrassing.”

Taehyung mumbles something sweet and unintelligible. Somehow it makes Seokjin feel worse.

“I'm supposed to be an actor,” he whimpers. “But you, and your face, and I...”

“Maybe if it was anyone else but me?” Taehyung says. “Like, maybe if it was Jimin?”

Seokjin hiccups a short laugh. “Yeah maybe.”

Taehyung pets the length of his arm. It's a simple gesture, one he's done a thousand times, but it calms him.

“We practiced,” Seokjin whispers.

“I know we did,” Taehyung says. “But acting is hard, hyung. You know, Park Hyungsik says acting is one of the most challenging professions because you always risk putting your whole heart on the line. And that's what you're doing right now.”

“Park Hyungsik said that?” Seokjin asks.

“Yes, and he's been acting a long time so he knows what he's talking about,” Taehyung answers.

Seokjin bites down hard to stop his teeth from chattering. “If anyone ever hurt you,” he grinds out, “I'd destroy them.”

A smile lights in Taehyung's eyes. His voice a low growl, he says, “If I could, I would kiss you right now.”

“Stop it,” Seokjin says, because he wants that more than anything in the world. But Yongseok-nim has come to hover outside their dim circle of light, awaiting the signal to continue.

“My whole heart, huh?” Seokjin whispers to Taehyung.

“Every bit of it.”

“That’s kind of a lot.” He breathes out. “Okay, let’s try again.”

 

It would have been so easy to tease him. Had their positions been reversed, Seokjin definitely would have teased him. But Taehyung had not.

Hours later, they lay like puzzle pieces across Seokjin’s bed, Taehyung in his silk pajamas, Seokjin in socks and flannels. They’re both on their phones, both doing their best to keep quiet, even though Yoongi’s muffled EDM drones out a soft blanket of white noise around them.

The ondol smells like hot metal, which reminds Seokjin of blood. He feels a peculiar need to tighten his fists, repeatedly, to reassure himself of their wholeness. He didn’t punch Taehyung in the mouth. He didn’t throttle him to the ground. It felt real, and it looked real, but it wasn’t.

Also, Taehyung could have made jokes or told the others, but he didn’t. Then, later, when Taehyung suggested that Seokjin and Jungkook be the ones to restrain Taehyung in the next scene, Yongseok-nim smoothly offered up Jimin in Seokjin’s place.

Seokjin can’t describe the relief he felt in that moment, because with it came a tight bubble of shame. The scene should have been simple. He’s studied acting for years. In less than a month, he will graduate with a Film Arts degree. But when he thinks of Taehyung’s face scored with scrapes and bruises, his heartbeat quickens, and he breaks.

Seokjin lowers his phone, through which he’s been mindlessly scrolling for an hour. After a few minutes, Taehyung must feel his gaze, because he glances up to ask, “What?”

So much, Seokjin thinks. Way too much for tonight, when it’s already so late and they have so much to do tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.

Taehyung’s phone nags him with texts. His eyes dart to the screen, which illuminates his face with a snowy glow.

“We should sleep,” Seokjin tells him.

Taehyung grumbles, halfheartedly flailing, but after a quick goodbye to the chat with his Hwarang Hyungs, he assents and pulls Seokjin close. Seokjin takes their phones, placing them side-by-side on the window ledge.

“Kiss me,” Taehyung says, and Seokjin has never denied him. Their lips brush, sweetly, almost chastely, and they curl into each other’s arms. But it’s a long time before Seokjin can sleep.