Chapter 1: 2 February 2017
“Where there is hope, there are trials.”
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.
Chapter 2: 22 February 2017
Even after licking frosting from Seokjin's lips on a vlive, Taehyung worries that they are no longer a hot, young couple.
“Give me a kiss to build a dream on
And my imagination will thrive upon that kiss
Sweetheart, I ask no more than this.”
A Kiss to Build a Dream On , Louis Armstrong
from Taehyung’s Spotify
22 February 2017
In the haze of his eagerness, Taehyung slips on the shower tile, catching the door latch with the meat of his buttcheek. Yet as he prods the spot in search of injury, he glimpses himself in the mirror. His damp hair sticks in disheveled spikes to his forehead, but by far the most dominant feature is the idiotic smile on his lips.
Taehyung twists sideways, contorting himself to inspect his skin. He grazes the raised welt with his thumb and sucks air through his teeth. It'll be tender tomorrow, but if Seokjin's text is any indication, that won't be the only part of him that’s sore.
Dragging on his robe, he slings into the cozy hotel room, grabbing up his phone as he rounds the bed. A dozen messages scroll up his screen, but he ignores them as he adjusts the volume on the Bluetooth. Louis Armstrong bumbles out a warm, sweet melody, and Taehyung shuts his eyes to draw it in.
When he arrived at the Alcazar a half-hour ago, he'd texted Seokjin, asking if he wanted him to order food. Seokjin responded with an enticingly enigmatic answer: I thought we'd try something different tonight.
Different, Taehyung has long believed, is good. Different fills his insides with a sparkling like champagne. Different makes him dizzy, which also causes him to bust his ass in the shower.
Taehyung riffles through his overnight bag, scrabbling through their various toys and lubes, searching for the jar of Seokjin's family-recipe muscle cream. Yes, it smells like a dental clinic, and yes, it's greasy as barbecued pork. And though they tease Seokjin endlessly every time he uses it, Taehyung knows how well it works.
Thus Seokjin finds Taehyung, half-robed and groaning as he swabs his ass with grease.
From the door, Seokjin muses, “Getting started without me?”
“What? No.” Taehyung whips upright, hiding the jar of ointment behind his back.
Seokjin heels the door shut behind him, a bemused smirk on his chapped pink lips. “One might argue you started earlier on the broadcast...”
Taehyung squawks in protest, but Seokjin closes the distance to press his mouth with a kiss. It’s in that moment Taehyung learns that Seokjin's lips aren’t chapped, but laced instead with a sugary glaze... very much like frosting.
Taehyung angles back to gaze at Seokjin.
“Since you so clearly wanted it earlier,” Seokjin says.
“That,” Taehyung murmurs, “was an accident.”
“Hm,” he says. “We'll see.” He pushes a paper sack into the bend of Taehyung's arm.
“What's this?” But a knot of hunger knuckles into his belly at the smell of them. “Burgers?”
“Only the very best burgers in Seoul,” Seokjin grins.
Taehyung steps back, jostling the bag to read the logo on the side. For a moment, he wrestles with conflict, because he definitely needs more of Seokjin's sugar-coated lips, but after their performance at the Gaon Chart Awards and Seokjin's mini-graduation, Taehyung is starving.
He struggles, and Seokjin nods as he watches. He glances at the blue jar of liniment cupped in Taehyung's palm. Then he edges Taehyung onto the bed, primly pulling the hems of the robe over his thighs. “These won't be any good cold,” he explains, placing one of the massive, paper-wrapped cheeseburgers into his lap.
Seokjin looks so pleased with himself and seems so excited about their meal that Taehyung relents, succumbing for now to the most basic form of hunger.
Not even fifteen minutes later, Seokjin tosses a half-nibbled fry onto the pile. “I can’t,” he moans. “I’m done.”
Taehyung stares through heavy-lidded eyes at the paper bag they’ve spread like a picnic blanket between them. For a moment, they can only stare at it as they survey the damage. All that remains of Seokjin's burger is a lone scrap of onion caught in a drizzle of sauce. Taehyung piled his lettuce to one side, but now he's wondering how harshly Seokjin will judge him if he licks the seasonings from the leaves.
Seokjin reclines against his pillow. He groans, “Two things you can never have too much of in this world, Taehyung-ah: Love, and cheese.”
“Ah, jagiya. We have both,” Taehyung agrees.
Seokjin lifts his fry again, considers it, and flicks it back down. “Well you know what they say,” he says. “If you eat when you're happy, the food has zero calories.”
“You say that.”
Seokjin rolls his shoulder. “It's a scientific fact.”
Taehyung cuts his eyes to Seokjin, observing that while he is naked beneath his robe, Seokjin remains fully dressed, right down to his socks. Then Taehyung snorts a laugh when he notices the gaping hole in the left heel.
Seokjin follows his line of sight and wrinkles his nose. “Dancer's socks,” he sighs.
“ Ahjussi socks,” Taehyung counters.
Seokjin clutches his chest in mock offense. “You said I’m at a blooming age.”
“Yeah, not your socks.”
“Ha,” Seokjin grunts. “Anyway, you're one to talk.”
“Uh, why?” Taehyung asks.
Seokjin arches his brows at the blue jar of muscle cream. “What’d you do?” he asks.
Sulking, Taehyung goes, “Nothing.”
Seokjin scowls, communicating once more with only the arch of his brows.
“Fine, I slipped in the shower,” Taehyung answers. “Happy?”
“No,” Seokjin balks. Shoving the ruined packaging aside, he grips Taehyung's forearms to stare into his face. “You should be more careful. People get hurt in showers all the time.”
It takes all of Taehyung’s willpower not to roll his eyes at this .“I didn't get hurt,” he says. “Except… I bruised my butt a little.”
Seokjin brays a soft chuckle. “Here,” he says. “Lemme see.”
Taehyung pouts, but he submits. Seokjin's palm finds the tender spot where the cold metal of the handle gouged his hip. Seokjin reaches for the muscle cream and smooths a generous dollop into Taehyung's skin.
Taehyung winces, gurgling disgust in the back of his throat. “It's official,” he groans. “We are no longer a hot, young couple.”
“That's not true, Taehyung-ah,” Seokjin says. “You licked frosting off my lips not six hours ago.”
Taehyung launches into an apology; Seokjin cuts him off.
“My Mom saw the video,” Seokjin laughs.
“Oh did she?”
Seokjin chuffs Taehyung's arm. “She said, That's the one you've been dating, right? He’s so handsome, well done. ”
Taehyung gushes, “Eomma Kim!”
“I’ll call it progress. It almost makes up for them not wanting to attend my graduation.” Seokjin shrugs, still grinning. “Anyway, I'm not mad. A year ago, maybe. But now...”
Taehyung sighs. “That's just what I'm talking about,” he says.
“No, I can't see how that’s a bad thing...”
Frustrated, Taehyung interrupts. “Remember on Friends , when Ross and Rachel got upset because Chandler and Monica were the exciting new thing—”
“—No,” Seokjin cuts in. “It was not Ross and Rachel.”
“Yes, it was. Monica and Chandler had just started dating.”
“No,” Seokjin insists. “It was Phoebe and that gangster guy, the one with the gun.” He slathers another gram of cream onto Taehyung's wound, gently kneading it into the muscle.
“That's dumb,” Taehyung grates through his teeth. “Why would Phoebe date a guy with a gun?”
“Jagiya , listen,” Seokjin says. “It was Phoebe and... someone, and Monica was scared because she and Chandler weren't the sexy, hot couple.”
Taehyung cranes sideways, reaching for his phone. “I'll just ask Namjoon,” he says.
“Go ahead, ask him,” Seokjin says, his voice all lofty and smug.
But when Taehyung taps the screen to wake his phone, he's greeted by an onslaught of Kakao notifications. Feeling heat in his cheeks, he looks up to find Seokjin glaring.
“The Hwarang hyungs?” Seokjin asks. When Taehyung says nothing, Seokjin snarks, “Oh, be sure to tell them you love them.”
Exhaling slowly, Taehyung goes, “I'll just mute the chat.”
“Yes, do that,” Seokjin agrees.
A prickly silence slinks between them. Seokjin continues to massage Taehyung's upper thigh as Taehyung thumbs a message to Namjoon. The playlist switches from Dean to Daniel Caesar, and Seokjin hums along to fill the quiet. Namjoon responds with blinding quickness, and Taehyung reads the text aloud.
“According to Joon-ah, the hot couple was Phoebe and some guy named Gary,” Taehyung relays. “Gary?”
“The mobster,” Seokjin affirms.
“Monica and Chandler were the old couple, and Monica felt sad because... blah blah blah.” Taehyung continues, “Then Phoebe broke up with Gary because he shot a bird.”
“Told you he had a gun,” Seokjin says. “Why is Namjoon even awake right now?”
“America’s weird.” Taehyung mumbles. “Anyway, I was right. We're not the hot couple any more.”
“You were not right,” Seokjin groans.
“Jinnie, we just chose burgers over sex.”
“But those were damned good burgers,” Seokjin says. “Wait, does that make Jimin and Kookie the hot couple?”
Taehyung heaves a sullen sigh. “I don’t wanna be old and boring,” he says.
Seokjin glowers. “Do you not recall our Valentine's Day? The treasure hunt? The handcuffs?”
“Yeah,” Taehyung answers, sounding sheepish. “I remember.”
“Okay, so, we were really hungry, and we’re exhausted. It's been non-stop since our comeback, and we don't have any kind of break for—”
“—Months,” Taehyung agrees.
“So shut up and kiss me,” Seokjin says.
And Taehyung does. He revels in the sandy-sweet texture of the sugar balm that has, somehow, clung to Seokjin's lips. They make out for a delicious stretch of minutes, long enough for Taehyung to get Seokjin out of his clothes. There’s some frisky cupping and nuzzling, but in the end, exhaustion wins out, and feeling warm and full, they fall asleep in a heavy tangle of limbs.
This is the original first chapter of this story. Even though I had written the 2 February chapter, I worried about putting it first because it falls beforeBecause of Us in the timeline. So technically, Because of Us is the next chapter in sequence.
However, one of my wonderful beta readers (thank you Lori) said she liked how the 2 February chapter parallels the first chapter in Answer Me, because they both begin in a kitchen, even if the kitchen in this story is fake.
Chapter 3: 5 March 2017
Jimin and Seokjin film for "Hello, Counselor" together.
“Trust me, who is next to you
Together we won’t die.”
Not Today , BTS
5 March 2017
Two seconds after Jimin fluffs his bangs, Seokjin scrambles them beneath his palm.
“Hyung,” Jimin grinds out as he smooths them back into place.
“Hm? What?” Seokjin asks, feigning innocence. He slides into the stylist's chair, uncaps his water bottle, and takes a gulp. Mid-swig, Jimin bumps the bottle's bottom, generously dousing the front of Seokjin's t-shirt.
Seokjin has the nerve to splutter, indignant, but Jimin merely grins. Because before Seokjin can retaliate, the show's stylist team bustles in. Coolly professional and efficient, they spin them to face the lighted mirrors, which mercilessly magnify every crease and flaw on their faces.
At this point, though it’s morning, Jimin and Seokjin have been conscious for eight hours. They worked out as usual, then had a vocal lesson, and then a focused choreo practice with Hoseok. Then they showered, dressed, snagged breakfast, and arrived at the television studio, where they were corralled through rehearsal and a meeting with their co-hosts before landing at last in wardrobe.
So the puffy bags around Jimin's eyes should surprise no one, yet he still deflates at his reflection. It's only a small consolation when he sees that Seokjin does, too.
“I can see your stubble,” Jimin teases. “Under this light, it sorta looks like moss.”
Seokjin sighs, loftily, and meets eyes with the stylist, who gives his shoulders a sympathetic squeeze. “It's not that bad,” she tells him. “Anyway, we'll cover it with foundation. You'll be fine.”
Jimin snickers behind his hand.
“That's wonderful, thank you,” Seokjin says. “But what can be done for his broken tooth?”
Jimin gasps and clutches his heart.
“So unseemly,” Seokjin says. Though his tone is breezy, his eyes glint with mischief. “Maybe he shouldn't smile.”
Jimin's stylist ignores all of this. She squares Jimin in his seat and proceeds to yank her straightener through his hair. It's pearly gray now and so frazzled it smells like burnt cotton candy. He braces for some kind of comment from Seokjin, but when he glances up, he finds his hyung glowering at his own reflection.
This is how Seokjin gets sometimes, in the company of strangers. He grows shy to the point of sullen, his nerves gnawing at him like eager little meal-grubs, and if someone doesn't do something, Seokjin might make himself sick.
Jimin's learned all of this recently and reluctantly following their teeny spat at the MAMAs, which everyone blew completely out of proportion. Afterward, Bang PD decided Jimin and Seokjin should be paired together for broadcasts, to further foster their friendship. It will help you understand each other , PD-nim had explained, and It will teach you how to work in harmony as hyungs .
Bang PD insisted this was not a punishment, though at first, that’s exactly how it felt.
Then Seokjin did something incredibly brave and ridiculously stupid, which forced Jimin to reappraise everything he thought he understood about him. Risking everything for the sake of Taehyung, Seokjin came out to his parents.
It had not gone well.
They shut Seokjin out, refusing for weeks to speak with him. Then at Seollal, his mother had invited him home, and he went, but still his Dad didn’t speak to him.
“Tilt your chin forward, please,” the stylist barks. Jimin obeys and she spritzes the back of his hair with frigid mist. He shivers and Seokjin mutters, “You okay?”
Beneath the curtain of his hair, Jimin rolls his eyes. “The water's cold, that's all,” he answers. “Don't be such a goose.”
“Am I a goose?” Seokjin wonders, and his stylist giggles.
“You know, the way a goose worries over little chicks,” Jimin says. “That's you, Apa-Goose.”
“What nonsense is he talking now?” Seokjin asks, though his honking laugh only adds weight to Jimin's assertion.
“Aish,” Jimin hisses as he lifts his head. “You're the one with the nonsense. Please don't tell any of your jokes today.”
“Oh, I'm going to tell them,” Seokjin says. “I already have a list. Are you ready?”
“No,” Jimin chuckles.
“There is a queen duck,” Seokjin begins.
Jimin covers his ears and goes, “Lalalala, wait until the show.”
“Fine,” Seokjin says.
“Fine,” Jimin says.
Seokjin folds his arms.
But he already looks better, more awake and alert. His makeup artist dabs the finishing touches around his nose. Behind them, their comedian co-star Kim Seunghye has arrived, and Seokjin's stylist flits over to fuss with her towel-damp hair.
Temporarily abandoned, Seokjin goes for his phone.
“Who’re you texting?” Jimin asks, straining over the arm of his chair. His stylist softly raps his shoulder with her brush, redirecting him to the mirror.
“No one,” Seokjin answers. He's grim again, his brows peaked with concern.
“Is it Taehyung-ah?” Jimin tries, but Seokjin makes a noise of disgust.
Inwardly Jimin steels himself, but before he can say anything, Seokjin explains: “He's busy.”
Which prompts a proportionate grunt of frustration from Jimin. And it's funny, really, now that Jimin thinks about it, because even with recent life events and Bang Sihyuk's well-meaning efforts to help them get along, nothing has been so effective as this: the mutual disdain of their shared jealousy.
Neither Seokjin nor Jimin can deal with the fact that Taehyung has new friends.
Seokjin purses his lips. “It's my Mom,” he explains. “She and my Dad are planning to visit us next week.”
“Oh that's good,” Jimin chirps, but Seokjin's brow is still cloudy. “Isn't it good?”
“Yeah, it's good,” Seokjin confirms. “But I just saw them for Seollal and...”
“Yoongi's birthday is next week,” Jimin says.
“We leave for Chile next week.” Seokjin puffs out a breath. “It'll be a busy week.”
Seokjin's stylist returns. “Okay, you both look done. Go get into your clothes and head backstage, we have about seven minutes.”
“Seven,” Jimin repeats. “Okay.”
Seokjin is weirdly modest and hides in a bathroom to change into his sweater. When he comes out, his hair flies around his head in static-y wisps that the stylist attacks with her hairspray.
Jimin and Seokjin tiptoe together offstage while the makeup artists poke and preen them with their brushes. Seokjin tries with a few jokes, but they're both too anxious to laugh. A stagehand fits them with their mics. Then they get their cue, and they finally take the stage.
The introductions go well, the audience reacts wonderfully, and Jimin mostly forgets his nervousness. And Seokjin is really, really good at this. He's funny and self-deprecating in a way that finally puts Jimin at ease.
Until someone remarks that Seokjin looks tired.
“I'm worried about something,” Seokjin says, without hesitation. “The reason is we have three rooms and our member V comes to my room to sleep in my bed.” Then, as if realizing in that moment what he's said, he flashes a panicked look to Jimin, who can only stammer wordlessly in response.
The host, Shin Dong-yup fills in the gap. “It's not his bed but he just comes in and sleeps in it?”
No , Jimin thinks. Oh no oh no oh no .
But Seokjin, laughing, goes, “Yes!”
“Wait wait,” someone else says. “Why does he leave his own bed to sleep in yours?”
Seokjin swallows hard. “Yes, right, why?” he blusters, and the audience gushes with applause. “My bed is narrow, and it's too low, and so I think that... if this friend is going to be like this, then—”
Jimin tries to catch his eye again, tries with all his heart to will him to stop talking.
But of course, Seokjin doesn't. He says, “Then I want to say through this broadcast... You! Don't do that.”
Touching icy fingers to his forehead, Jimin mutters, “ Pabo ,” beneath his breath.
After the filming, they wait in the stairwell for Sanghyun-nim to bring the car up from the garage. Through the slit of the window, the world is a slice of grainy, gray cold. Seokjin leans his head against the frosted window pane. He looks tired again, the glow of his makeup faded by the harsh lighting of the stage.
Silence ellipses between them, until Jimin finally rasps, “I don't understand you, hyung. You're so careful about everything you share, and then you do something like this?”
“They said they wouldn't air it,” Seokjin says. “And everything else went just fine.”
“You really think Taehyung-ie won't find out?”
“Oh he will find out,” Seokjin asserts. “Because I'll tell him. He'll understand. Believe me, he knows me well enough by now.”
Jimin hammers his knuckles to his brows. “I just don't get you—”
“—I know.” Seokjin chuckles. A group of studio employees thunder down the stairs, chattering about the weather and traffic, and he and Jimin fall quiet until they pass. When they open the door, the wind sucks out all the heat, and Seokjin hugs his coat tighter across his chest. As they watch the pair of employees mince down the icy sidewalk, Seokjin asks, “Remember the time I told about me and Taehyung-ah showering together?”’
“Uh, yeah,” Jimin says.
“Well I just… blanked and said the first thing that came to my head.”
“The first thing in your head was to tell the world that you and Taehyung-ie sleep together?”
Seokjin worries with the cusp of his bracelet. The silver one, Jimin realizes, the Cartier band that matches Taehyung's. He notices then that Seokjin's wearing Taehyung's sweater, the Gucci one with the twisty snake thing on its back. So of course Taehyung was the first thing to come to mind. Taehyung is always at the top of his thoughts. But—
“—My parents will come to see us,” Seokjin explains. “My Dad will see the bed that we share.”
Jimin shrugs. “So?”
Again, Seokjin gives a pained little laugh. “It's such a small bed for two grown men.”
Jimin pinches his lips as he considers this. He thinks he understands, but he has to ask to be sure. “Is this about... money?”
Seokjin blinks.. “Maybe?”
Feeling his way around the idea, Jimin says, “You want your Dad to know you can take care of him.”
“Us,” Seokjin corrects. “I want him to know I can take care of us .”
“Woooow,” Jimin breathes. “Hyung. That is really deep. Like, Namjoon-level deep.”
Seokjin goes to chop Jimin's neck; he flinches away, squealing.
“Yoongi-level at least,” Jimin adds, dodging another blow to his throat. They wrestle noisily until Sanghyun rakes open the door, catching them mid-hold. He scolds them, kindly, for playing around when it’s beginning to sleet, and they have a messy commute back to the dorm.
After a profusion of apologies, they follow their manager outside to the car warming at the curb. They bobble clumsily into the seats, fastening their belts as Sanghyun edges out into the evening’s untidy traffic.
Several minutes of slow progress later, Jimin angles toward Seokjin. “Don’t worry, hyung,” he says. “I'll help you.”
“You will?” Seokjin asks, and it's reasonable to assume that they're both shocked by Jimin’s offer.
“Sure, yes,” Jimin agrees. “I'll explain to Taehyung how tired we were, and how hungry, and how busy and chaotic everything was, plus: traffic.... Anyway, he'll listen to me. He always listens to me.”
Seokjin pulls Jimin into a sideways hug and holds him there a long, long time. “You're right,” he says. “He always does.”
Chapter 4: 8 March 2017
Hoseok helps Taehyung through a moment of crisis when Seokjin's Mom visits the dorm.
“Whenever you're in darkness,
And there is doubt in your heart,
Baby ahí estaré,
I won't fall without a fight.”
I Will Be There, Agapornis (from Taehyung's 2017 Spotify)
8 March 2017 – Seoul
Ms. Kim flurries into the entry hall, mincing out of her winter boots while in her arms, Jjangu squiggles like a plate full of snakes. Beside Hoseok, Seokjin – visibly stiff with anxiety – steps in to heft the impatient puppy from her arms.
He presses his nose to the dog's neck and flinches back. “Oof, you smell awful,” he whispers into Jjangu's ear. The dog perks at the sound of Seokjin's voice. His legs begin to pinwheel like he's swimming through the air.
“Aish, when you're 84 years old, you won't smell so nice, either,” Ms. Kim says. She foists her snow-flecked coat at Namjoon, layering on top of it her fur-trimmed hat and Chanel sunglasses.
In Yoda speak, Hoseok goes, “When 900 years old you are, look as good—” but Seokjin cuts him off with a shake of his head. He then peers past his mother into the empty corridor behind her.
“Oh?” Seokjin says. “Where’s Abeoji?”
“You know him.” She tsks, breezily. “Called away at the last minute. Here, take these.” She passes up a parcel that smells of steamed rice and hoisin sauce.
Hoseok watches Seokjin swallow back his questions. There's a blink of disappointment, but it vanishes as he tucks Jjangu into the bend of his arm, attempting to balance the wriggly dog and homemade food between his hands.
Out of nowhere, Jimin appears to lift the bag from him. “Good morning, Ms. Kim,” he singsongs. “How nice to see you.”
“Park Jimin,” she beams. “Seems you’ve been eating well.”
“Yes, ma'am,” he answers. He heads toward the kitchen and the rest of them follow, minus Namjoon who is still struggling to sort and hang all of Ms. Kim's belongings. They find Yoongi and Jungkook at the table, each looking like they could use another five days sleep. Jimin presents the bag of pajeon like it's an offering in a temple, and Hoseok smiles at the effect the meal's aroma has on them.
“Is this for us?” Jungkook marvels.
“No, it's for Jjangu,” Ms. Kim deadpans. “Silly, of course it's for you.”
By this time, Namjoon has returned. “We're really grateful, Ms. Kim,” he says. “It smells amazing.”
“I know you probably don't have time for home-cooked meals these days, what with your touring and filming schedules,” she says. “Anyway, I hope this is close enough.”
Ms. Kim edges onto a stool, looking as though she expects someone to serve her a cocktail. Then, to Hoseok's surprise, Yoongi hops up, returning seconds later with a bottle of Perrier, something Hoseok didn't even know they owned.
“I know your birthday isn’t until tomorrow, Yoongi,” she says, waving the bottled water at him. “Perhaps you can forgive me for being early?”
“I mean, I guess,” Yoongi says, giving her his gummy smile, and Hoseok sees a blush sneaking along the back of his neck.
“Go on, dig in,” she says. “If you're like my Seokjinnie, you must have a healthy appetite.”
Yoongi doesn't need to be told twice. He rips into the bag, sharing the plastic containers of rice, soup, kimchi, and pajeon among them.
“Well,” Ms. Kim says, her hands folded lightly on her knees. “Where is he?”
“Uhhh,” Seokjin stammers. Jjangu, who's had enough captivity, finally slithers down to the floor.
“Washroom?” Hoseok guesses.
“Probably,” Seokjin says. Then he leans over and whispers, “Can you go find him, please?”
Hoseok squeezes Seokjin's elbow. As he leaves the room, he hears Ms. Kim say, “Namjoon-ie, this is a very nice place.”
“Oh, yes ma'am,” Namjoon answers. “But, unfortunately, we're moving again soon.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, ma'am, our housing contract ends this summer...” Namjoon continues, his voice growing muffled as Hoseok pads down the hall toward their bathroom. Jjangu gallops alongside him, his nails ticking purposefully on the tile.
But Taehyung's not in the washroom. Instead, Hoseok finds him in Seokjin and Yoongi's bedroom, an explosion of clothes flung across Seokjin's bed.
Hoseok hovers at the door, watching in mute wonder as Taehyung – still in his pajamas – lifts, examines, and discards every shirt and pair of pants in the pile. Jjangu skitters in toward the ratty brown floof of his dog bed, and that's what snags Taehyung's attention. He glances up, panic plain on his face, a jumble of neckties clenched in his fist.
“Seokjin's Mom is here,” Hoseok says.
“Not his Dad?” Taehyung asks. He threads a tie around his throat and fails to knot it.
“Called away,” Hoseok says. “Taehyung... you're still in your PJs?”
A strangled sound escapes Taehyung's throat. “Jinnie likes PJs.”
“Because you share a bed together,” Hoseok says. “Not really appropriate for when you're meeting your boyfriend's mother.”
“I’ve met her before,” Taehyung counters.
“Not as the boyfriend,” Hoseok says.
Taehyung stomps and then flounces onto Seokjin's bed. He covers his eyes with his forearm and says, “I don't know what to wear.”
Hoseok enters the room. Jjangu scratches behind his ear, making the charm on his collar jangle like a keyring.
“Well, first of all...” Hoseok says, sliding onto the corner of the bed. “These are Jin-hyung's clothes.”
Taehyung peers upside down at him. “I know that,” he mumbles.
Carefully, Hoseok suggests, “Wouldn't you be happier in your own clothes?”
“Seokjin's family is rich,” Taehyung says.
“You know who else is rich?” Hoseok asks, knuckling Taehyung's shoulder. “We’re kinda rich.”
“Not the same kind,” Taehyung says, but he grips Hoseok's finger and links their hands. “I can't look like a Daegu street kid. Like... what will she think?”
“Yoongi's out there in a pair of basketball shorts and a shirt you cut the sleeves out of,” Hoseok says. “She raised two sons, Taehyung-ah. She's not gonna judge you.”
Taehyung trains his eyes on the ceiling. Then he says, “Hobi-hyung, they disowned him. They refused to speak to him. They didn't even attend his graduation. I think they already kinda judged us.”
Hoseok smooths Taehyung's hand beneath his palm. “They're trying,” he says.
“She's trying,” Taehyung agrees. “But his Dad was called away...?” He shakes his head.
The bright burst of Jimin's laughter rings out from the kitchen. Jjangu sniffs disapprovingly and returns to chewing between his toes.
Taehyung sits up. “I don't wanna embarrass him,” he says.
Hoseok combs down the side of Taehyung's hair. “You won't.”
“If he's disappointed in me, if I look stupid, then his Mom will feel justified that they rejected us,” Taehyung says.
“I really don't think so,” Hoseok says. “But here's the thing, Taehyung. Jin-hyung needs you right now, and you're in here, with me, and… Jjangu, when you really should be in there. With him.”
Taehyung natters with the frayed denim at Hoseok's knee. “Will you choose something for me?”
Hoseok presses his free hand to his chest. “You want me to dress fashion icon Kim Taehyung?”
Color floods Taehyung's cheeks. “Stop. Hyung,” he says, burying his chin against his shoulder.
“First we must have a shirt,” Hoseok says, bounding up from the bed. “Something tasteful, not too flashy.” He grabs the first wrinkle-free button-down he can find and thrusts it at Taehyung. “Now, do you fancy jeans or a nice trouser?”
“Hmmm,” Taehyung growls as he shrugs off his pajama top. “What do you think?”
Hoseok taps his chin. “Definitely jeans. You don't want to appear as though you're trying too hard.”
“Casual,” Taehyung agrees. “Comfortable.” He slides into his sleeves and begins buttoning the shirt. A backward glance shows Hoseok that it's a white shirt sketched with line-art profiles. Each set of lips is outlined in vivid racecar red. Probably not the most casual brunch-meeting shirt, but he's not about to erase their progress.
Hoseok’s just beginning to wonder why all of their jeans have holes ripped in them when Seokjin's voice calls down the corridor. “Taehyung-ah? Hobi?” he says.
“Coming, hyung,” Taehyung shouts back. He springs from the bed, snatching up Seokjin's black skinny jeans from the laundry chair. He's hopping himself into them when Seokjin enters the room.
“Found him,” Hoseok says, pointing.
Seokjin asks, “Is everything okay?” Then, “Are those my pants?”
“It's this whole big thing,” Taehyung drags up the zipper.
Seokjin comes in to loop his arms around Taehyung's shoulders. He says, “They're too short.”
“Hyung, you have very weird legs,” Taehyung mutters.
Seokjin shoves him back to stare into his face. “My Mom wants to say hello.”
“Does she hate me?” Taehyung asks.
“What?” Seokjin says. “No.”
Taehyung twists the cuffs of his sleeves – Seokjin's sleeves – and says, “Will I... embarrass you?”
“Here,” Hoseok steps in. “Wear these boots. They're high enough they'll hide the length.”
As Taehyung stomps into them, he groans, “Oh, I look ridiculous.”
“You're beautiful, and I love you,” Seokjin says.
Taehyung presses his fist to his forehead, cringing against his tears. “Ah, stop,” he says. “I can't.”
“Remember,” Seokjin says, pulling an arm through his, “this meeting was your idea.”
“Thanks.” Taehyung exhales and rolls his eyes. “This is worse than a broadcast.”
“You'll be fine,” Hoseok assures him. He pets his arm encouragingly and then follows them from the room.
Back in the kitchen, the other four have pretty much demolished the pajeon. Currently, Yoongi's charming Seokjin's mother with one of his boyhood stories, something about a rainstorm and his brother’s bike, which Yoongi rescued from a flooding canal. Like with most of Yoongi's stories, Hoseok can never tell if they are true. Yoongi alters the details with each telling, but the central message remains the same: that even in childhood, Yoongi took on more than he could rightfully handle.
Hoseok settles beside Jimin to listen to the tale, nabbing the dregs of rice from Jungkook's bowl. Ms. Kim watches Yoongi, spellbound, her fuchsia lips parted over her perfect, pearly teeth. When Seokjin and Taehyung come in, she sneaks an arm around Taehyung's waist, pinning him to her side, leaving Seokjin to scrap together plates of pajeon and kimchi for both of them.
She doesn't even look at Taehyung. Just puts a reassuring arm around him so that they don't interrupt Yoongi's story.
Classy , Hoseok thinks. He sneaks a glance at Namjoon, who gestures with his chopsticks to show he's thinking the exact same thing.
In the earlier stories in this series, I hesitated to write too closely about the members' families because it seemed too invasive. But while writing this story, it became more and more clear that Seokjin's Mom needed to play a part in it. Anyway, she seems wonderful and I hope that I portray her well.
Chapter 5: 17 March 2017
Taehyung manages to pull off a plan to sneak out to a dance club in Mexico with Seokjin, Jimin, and Jungkook.
“We come up against each other, little by little
And it’s just that your beauty is a puzzle
But to finish it, here I have the missing piece.”
Despacito , Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee
17 March 2017
BigHit Taehyung: Jinnie, my love, my angel, my prince
BigHit Taehyung: Jiminie learned from Joonie who learned through Eric-sunbaenim about this club where we should go
Jinnie: Oookay. Have you thought of how we will get to this supposed club?
BigHit Taehyung: a taxi
Jinnie: With what money? Do we have any Mexican money?
BigHit Taehyung: You have a credit card.
Jinnie: VV, That’s nonsense.
BigHit Taehyung: Jinnie please please please! We wanna go. I wanna dance with you
Jinnie: Didn't Sejin-nim warn us that Mexico is really really dangerous for foreigners?
BigHit Taehyung: For Americans
Jinnie: (･д･) I don't think so. We will definitely stick out.
BigHit Taehyung: not here. It's a secret club for celebrities, like in the Fast & the Furious
Jinnie: you know those places aren’t real.
BigHit Taehyung: But what if they are Jinnie, I wanna go.
BigHit Taehyung: Also, Jiminie and Kookie are going, and you don't want them to go alone, right
Jinnie: This is blackmail.
BigHit Taehyung: Please go with us please please please I’ll just keep texting please please please please please please please
Jinnie: Ahhh, begging!?
Jinnie: Give me fifteen minutes. I’ll meet you in the lobby.
When Seokjin enters the lobby, dressed in his simple black jeans and white button-down shirt, Taehyung can only gape at him. He's as exhausted as the the rest of them, jet-lagged and dehydrated and worn down by an endless series of 20-hour days, yet he glows like something made from the inside of a seashell. His skin, his hair, the set of his shoulders so sharp beneath his crisply-tailored shirt, and Taehyung knows that Seokjin was right: No matter where they go, he will stand out.
Then Seokjin glides up to them, all casual and confident, and Jimin and Jungkook pan their hopeful gazes to him. Not five seconds before, they had nearly scrapped their plans for sneaking out of the hotel. Yet upon Seokjin's arrival, they renew their enthusiasm, talking excitedly over each other as they explain each step.
He bobs his head along with them, occasionally pressing for clarification, but it's clear he's already on board. He's excited, but restrained. Interested, yet self-contained.
Once Jimin finishes his rundown, Seokjin turns to Taehyung. “What about Namjoon?” he asks.
Taehyung lifts his shoulders. “Yeah, we didn't tell him.”
Seokjin nods, once. “Good. Though we should text him, just in case. Invite him—”
Jimin moans, “Hyung, he'll try to talk us out of it.”
“Not if Jinnie's going,” Taehyung says.
“Not if I'm going.” Seokjin smiles. He takes out his phone and sends a message.
Seconds tick by. Taehyung's phone buzzes in his pocket. He ignores it, but he notices the humorless look that Seokjin and Jimin exchange.
“Even in Mexico?” Jimin groans under his breath.
But then Namjoon responds.
Seokjin reads aloud, “He thinks it’s a bad idea.” Then, “He says Hobeom-nim should drive us. Oh. Well?”
Jungkook gives a noncommittal shrug. Jimin hisses like a leaky tire. “The point of us four going,” Jimin explains, “is that we can do whatever we want.”
Seokjin chuckles. “And what do you want, Jimin? Strip off all your clothes? Steal a car? Go Grand Theft Auto into the mountains of Mexico?”
“No, I just...” he sighs deeply. “I wanna, like, dance, you know? With Jungkookie.”
“We can dance here,” Jungkook says. “In our rooms.”
To which Jimin can only pout. And Taehyung gets it, he really does, because looking at Seokjin in that pristine white shirt makes Taehyung want to smash against that body of his, preferably some place dark that smells of sweat and citrus. He wants to bite his neck and revel in his reaction...
But it's too late. Even as these thoughts take shape, Hobeom appears, looking harried and bedraggled, because he's literally been dragged out of bed.
“Jin-ssi-ah,” Hobeom says, addressing them all, but looking at Seokjin, “is this your idea?”
Seokjin opens his mouth, but Taehyung's answers.
“Mine,” he says. “My plan. Mine and Jimin's.”
Hobeom glances to Jungkook, rightfully surmising that he's the one who will tell him the truth. Jungkook lifts his hands in surrender, choosing as usual to remain neutral.
Turning again to Seokjin, Hobeom asks, “You realize this is insane? Honestly, I expect better—”
“—I said it's my plan,” Taehyung snaps. Then, remembering himself, he adds, “Hobeom-nim, sir. I’m sorry. We really want to go. It's Mexico and we're all of age and... It's Mexico .”
“Will other Koreans be there?” Hobeom asks.
“We don’t know,” Jungkook answers.
Hobeom purses his lips as he scans each of them. He’s known them a long time, has watched them grow up from teenagers to young men. He seems to understand their yearning. “This place isn't safe for... people,” he says. “You'll draw attention. You have a Spanish-speaking handler who can help you arrange these things if that’s what you want, but—”
“—Our handler’s been asleep for hours,” Jimin cuts in. “And anyway, I don’t think this club is her kind of thing. It’s supposed to be different ,” he says. “Like, exclusive .” His eyes widen as if he hopes Hobeom will take his meaning without having to speak it out loud.
Hobeom teeters, nibbling his lip as he considers. “I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe we should ask PD-nim.”
“No!” Taehyung growls. “He’ll just send us to bed.”
“It’s true,” Seokjin agrees. “Remember when we wanted to go to the BigBang concert—?”
“—Yes,” Hobeom answers.
Seokjin says, “He made you and Bogum-nim our chaperones, like we’re—”
“—Royalty,” Taehyung says.
“Children,” Seokjin corrects. “But we’re not children, hyungnim. We’ve traveled all over the world now. We even survived a kidnapping—”
“—Stop,” Hobeom says, chuckling. “Okay. Fine. I’ll drive you.” Even as they leap to celebrate, he adds, “But! If I see or hear anything resembling danger, we leave. No arguments, right?”
“Of course,” Seokjin says. And the others agree, too, so that within twenty minutes, they're packed into their nondescript SUV, guided through the teeming streets by an English-speaking GPS.
The night sky is a velvety smog, blood brown and oily. Beneath it, the club pulses with thick bass and brooding lights. Hobeom stands by a booth at the door, and though he is sturdy, he seems small and pale beneath the dark of the room.
Taehyung didn't know what he expected, except he did think they'd see gangsters in leather chaps with revolvers slung around their hips. He expected women in sequins and stilettos, their lips painted corvette-red, their glossy curls piled loose around their faces.
Instead, they find a dance floor packed with young men and women their age. Though many sport intricate tattoos, they are, for the most part, like them: simply dressed for the warmth of the climate. The women wear cutoffs and boots, their shirt tails cinched at their waists. The men wear jeans and dress shirts, much like his and Seokjin's. And everyone endeavors with endearing eagerness to make them feel at home.
Once they feel safe enough, which takes almost no time at all, Seokjin shouts, “Drinks!” and they head to the bar. The bright-eyed bartender greets them in English, and then teaches them phrases to help them navigate the night: Muchas gracias , Te amo mi amigo , Dónde está el baño ? and Jungkook’s favorite, Mas cerveza, por favor .
They dance with abandon, the four of them crushed into a crowd that undulates like the ocean’s waves. The music throbs so rich and warm that it fills them to overflowing. As the night progresses, the other three become steadily, hopelessly drunk, until eventually, Taehyung loses track of Jimin and Jungkook, leaving Taehyung to focus solely on Seokjin.
And Seokjin dances with him. Others press against them, their bodies slick and sweltering. The women here have so much exposed skin. They smell of rum and so many unanswered wishes, yet Seokjin’s still buttoned up to the throat. Taehyung thumbs open the top two buttons. His fingertips graze Seokjin’s heated skin, and he gasps at Taehyung’s touch.
He wants to kiss him but doesn’t dare. The craving tingles on his tongue, sweet as ice cream on a hot summer day. Instead, Taehyung slides his arms around Seokjin’s waist, guiding their hips to the grind with the sound. His face flush and alight, Seokjin sings to him, silly made-up lyrics to the Spanish songs, and Taehyung commits every detail to his heart.
Sometime before sunrise, Hobeom cajoles them back to their van. Jimin and Jungkook sprawl together, deliriously drunk in the middle seat, while Taehyung and Seokjin cuddle close in the back. The darkness feels dense and close, and Seokjin smells of heat and Tequila. This is Taehyung’s Seokjin, stripped of his glossy bravado so all that remains is this sweetly clingy ball of fluff.
Taehyung thinks back to the day, a month ago, when Seokjin broke down over their fight scene. Seokjin doesn’t cry often, but when he does, it undoes him. It takes him a long time to reel himself back in, and Taehyung’s still not sure what caused him to break. He filed it away as one of the millions of mismatched quirks he so adores about Seokjin, but sometimes he worries... Sometimes he wonders when Seokjin might break. Taehyung hugs him tight to his chest, savagely, protectively, because Seokjin’s too drunk to resist.
Red and gold streetlights streak like streamers beyond the window. Taehyung hopes he can sneak into Seokjin’s room for the few hours before dawn, just to sleep, but after tonight, he’s not sure if he should press his luck. Later today, they’ll fly to Brazil, then they’ll bounce back to America, to New Jersey, then Chicago, and then LA. Their days will flood together, but he’ll keep this night in his heart to hold him steady.
His phone buzzes. Taehyung slides it out, dimming the screen to protect Seokjin’s drowsing eyes. A bitter pleasure surges in him as he reads his missed messages. With that comes a twinge of guilt. He types back, trying to keep as still as possible, but the movement rouses Seokjin.
“Oh,” he says. “Texting again? Well who is it?”
Taehyung answers. “It’s no one.”
“Tell them Viva México,” Seokjin slurs. Then he paws clumsily for Taehyung’s phone. He goes, “Wait, wait, if it’s Park Hyungsik please tell him, Te amo mi amigo.”
Heat floods Taehyung’s face as he gently pries the phone from Seokjin’s fingers. “It’s not, hyung,” he insists. “It’s no one.”
Seokjin curls against Taehyung’s chest, hugging him so tight it strains his breathing. He nuzzles his warm face against Taehyung’s throat.
Taehyung closes the chat and tucks his phone away. He smooths his hand over Seokjin’s sweat-damp hair. A wince of pain stabs through him, a sudden, strange sense of loss, like things beneath the surface are changing, and that always makes him afraid.
“Te amo , Jin-hyung,” he mutters into the crown of his head. “Te amo , too.”
When Park first heard Airplane Pt. 2, she said, "This song reminds me of that one chapter in your story. You know, the one with the Despacito and the sad ending."
Thank you, Park ❤
Also, the kidnapping referenced in this chapter refers way back to the time they were kidnapped as part of American Hustle Life.
Chapter 6: 23 March - Day
Seokjin and Taehyung have a fight, and everyone sees it.
“Please just come here, don't fight with me.
I think you may have broken me.”
Sweetheart What Have You Done to Us? Keaton Henson
23 March 2017 – Newark
“Who're you talking to?” Jimin chirps over breakfast.
Taehyung burrows into his turtleneck. “No one,” he grumbles.
Seokjin pretends to be too sleepy to notice. He stirs his coffee, reaching over Jungkook – literally too sleepy to notice – to grab a tub of half-and-half from the dish.
Jimin reaches for Taehyung’s phone; Taehyung snatches it away.
“Wow,” Jimin chuckles. “So prickly.”
“Like a cactus,” Seokjin says. He swirls the creamer into his coffee.
“A joke,” Seokjin says. “Really, though. Who is it?”
“My friends,” Taehyung answers. “They miss me.”
“We miss you, too,” Jimin says, shoving at Taehyung's hands. “No electronics at the table.”
Across from him, Yoongi snorts, “Tell that to your boyfriend.”
Seokjin scans the table, instantly searching for staff. But he needn't have bothered. Yoongi's the most discreet among them; he wouldn't have made the boyfriend comment if anyone had been around to hear it.
Jungkook peers owl-eyed from the game on his phone. “What?”
“My point exactly,” Yoongi says. He gets up from the table, taking his empty plate with him. “Be aware, guys. Cameras all over today. Documentary crew.”
“That means keep your hands off my ass, Jungkookie,” Jimin flirts. “I know it's... hard.”
Jungkook lowers his phone. “I heard ass and hard.”
“Mm. How much time do we have?” Jimin asks. He's already out of his seat.
“Loads,” Jungkook says.
They leave their dishes behind. Jungkook left his bacon, which Seokjin snags from his plate. As he nibbles it, he mutters, “Hard ass,” and then he chuckles, but Taehyung either doesn't hear him or ignores him. Either way, he's busy with his phone.
“We have time, too,” Seokjin says, poking his shoulder.
“Time for what?” Taehyung asks. He gazes up at Seokjin like he's seeing him for the first time all morning. It hurts him. And he wonders if this is how Taehyung felt, months ago, when he called them an old and boring.
“Nothing,” Seokjin says. He stacks up Jimin's and Jungkook's abandoned dishes. “I'll see you later.”
Taehyung doesn't even reply.
So maybe it's not a shock that Seokjin reacts badly that evening before the show, when out of nowhere, Taehyung criticizes Seokjin's dancing. Not so much his dancing, but Seokjin’s timing in their part of Spring Day . Taehyung tells him he needs to get to his mark faster, that he's not moving quick enough, that apparently, their timing is off.
Seokjin can barely hear him over the sound of his blood rushing in his ears. He feels a hot wave of shame well up in him. Taehyung knows how difficult it is for Seokjin to make late-minute changes to the choreo. Seokjin's doing the best that he can, and they have twenty minutes before their stage call, and why is Taehyung doing this now?
“There's nothing I can do about it,” Seokjin tells him. “I'm running at full speed. You keep complaining to me. What do you want me to do?”
Taehyung doesn't seem to notice the note of panic in Seokjin's voice. He says, “No. I'm not complaining to you. Just listen to me. After you do this,” he pantomimes Seokjin's movement, “You're taking too long to get ready. You can finish this faster and move more quickly.”
He's astonished by Taehyung's audacity. The cameras are rolling. The time to curtain ticks steadily down. Yet suddenly he's Dance Instructor-nim, coaching Seokjin’s moves?
“I'm telling you,” Seokjin shouts. “I'm doing it as fast as I can! I'm asking you to take smaller strides.”
“I'll try to take smaller strides, so just get ready faster in a shorter amount of time,” Taehyung says.
“I'm doing my best,” Seokjin repeats. He heart feels thick in his throat. “I'm doing it as fast as I can.”
Taehyung squints at him. “You used to be faster, but suddenly you can't—”
“—I can't suddenly change my starting pose,” Seokjin says. Hoseok meets his eyes, and Seokjin inwardly begs him to intervene.
Bless him, he does. “Hold up, hold up,” Hoseok says. “We'll try that today, and if it doesn't work...”
Seokjin turns away, working hard to get his breathing under control. He takes stock of those around them, Hobi and Namjoon and Jimin as well as the documentary crew, their stylists, and two of their managers, Sejin and Sanghyun. They all see what’s going on, they all see them, and he feels so embarrassed to have lost his cool...
Taehyung flounces down onto a couch.
Hoseok says, “This isn't worth fighting for.”
“We have to perform in minutes,” Namjoon adds.
Seokjin checks the time. Minutes. His nerves are always frayed before a show. How can he possibly hope to recover?
“Let's go get ready,” Hoseok says.
“Ready,” Seokjin echoes. “Okay.”
But in the hallway Taehyung continues to pick at it, until finally, Seokjin snaps, “What is wrong with you today?”
“Excuse me?” Taehyung asks.
Hoseok moves instinctively between them and the camera.
“This morning, you barely had time for me, and now you won't leave me alone?” Seokjin’s voice is icy calm now, and Taehyung finally bothers to notice.
“I'm talking about the performance,” he says. “You're overreacting.”
Seokjin bites back a response. Across from him, Jimin looks like he's about to be sick.
Taehyung says, “You said you're doing your best?—”
“—Hey, wait a second,” Hoseok soothes.
“I got pissed off hearing you say that,” Taehyung says.
Seokjin steps so close he can feel Taehyung’s breath on his cheek. Making his words sound light and jovial, Seokjin says, “Aigoo, look at the tiny baby boy, using his big boy words. You’re really going to say those things to me now? In that tone? In front of everyone?”
Taehyung's expression curdles. “Suddenly you’re pulling rank on me? Shouldn't I be the one who can say anything to you?”
Seokjin feels it like a kick to the ribs. “What's that supposed to mean?” he asks. He's excruciatingly aware of the others around them, the crew with their cameras soaking up every word.
“You know what it means,” Taehyung says.
Seokjin does know. Because he and Taehyung have crossed their lines so often they're more like a smudge now than a border. More like a bruise, and this was bound to happen eventually. It was bound to spill over, and everyone will see...
“Taehyung-ie, why are you doing this?” Jimin asks. “We have less than ten minutes left.”
Taehyung's eyes flash. “You're taking his side?”
Jimin backpedals. “I don't think either of you are right,” he says.
“Listen,” Namjoon steps in. “It's already eight. We have to go in now.” Then, to Taehyung, he asks, “What do you think you're doing?”
And Taehyung breaks. He swipes an unsteady hand through his hair. He tries to speak, but it's stifled by his tears.
“Okay,” Namjoon says. “We got it. We can't solve this right now, can we? We're not going to say who was wrong, and who was right.”
“No,” Seokjin says. He puts a hand on Taehyung's shoulder, afraid that if he steps closer, they'll both fall apart. “It's my fault. You were talking about the performance, and I took it as a joke. That was childish. I'm sorry. I admit it.”
Namjoon looks appalled. “We can talk about this later,” he says. Meaning, they will talk about it later. “Snap out of it. It's a concert. Our fans lined up for days. Let's not act like amateurs.”
This wounds Seokjin deeper than anything. Because he does feel like an amateur. He does feel like a fraud, and what Taehyung was saying – he was right. Even though Seokjin was doing his best, it isn't good enough, not even for Taehyung...
One of the stylists steps in front of Seokjin, dabbing his tears with a cosmetic sponge.
“Just look at me a second,” the stylist says, softly. “Focus on me.”
His name is Jisung , Seokjin thinks. He studied at Yonsei University. He has a sister who is Yoongi's age, and he keeps a canary as a pet. He showed them pictures when they were in Santiago .
“How is your bird?” Seokjin asks. “It’s Chibi, right?”
“Ah, Seokjin-ssi,” Jisung says. “She's well, thank you for remembering.”
Seokjin exhales. He hears Namjoon telling Taehyung, “We can't argue right now.”
Jisung leads Seokjin out of the stage doors. It's dark beneath the stage, but the energy of the crowd feels like a living, breathing thing. Jimin steps close.
“What's really going on?” he asks.
“I don't know,” Seokjin says. He's afraid that's a lie. He does know what's going on. Taehyung is changing, and his feelings for Seokjin are changing, too.
Jimin squeezes his elbow. “That's our Tae-Tae,” he says, trying really hard to sound cheerful. “We never really know what's going on in that head of his.”
Seokjin watches Taehyung as he takes the steps up to the stage. It's not his head Seokjin's worried about. What troubles him is Taehyung's conflicted heart.
With the fight the film crew recorded backstage and then the dicussion later in their hotel during Burn the Stage, I feel that there is more story happening between the editorial cuts than what they actually show us. It seems the truly inflammatory moments get cut, leaving something that seems incomplete and oddly superficial. Though the video was difficult to watch, especially the subsequent scenes in which they talk everything out (which will happen in Saturday's chapter), it does seem that the key points about which they were upset have been edited.
Most of the dialogue comes verbatim from the episode. I just wrote between the lines.
2017 BTS LIVE TRILOGY EPISODE III THE WINGS TOUR In Newark – NJ
Fight between Taehyung and Seokjin over the Spring Day Choreo
Chapter 7: 23 March - Night
Taehyung and Seokjin resolve their fight from before the concert, and then spend a night together talking.
"Is it you who changed?
Or is it me?”
Spring Day, BTS
23 March 2017 – Newark
Sometimes you say things you can't unsay. Even if the things you say are long overdue. Even if you mean every word. Once they're said, they change everything.
Taehyung stumbles numbly through their show, hitting his marks on muscle memory, wondering, all they while, why he'd said those things to Seokjin. Why had he pushed so hard? Over something so small? And in front of the cameras?
Everyone's bristly after the show, tersely quiet as they file into the green room. It's obvious they're upset with Taehyung. He twisted everything up, blew everything out of proportion. He throws himself into the corner of a couch and goes for his phone. Some of his Hwarang hyungs are busy in the chat, debating their favorite webcomics. They spam him with hearts when he says hello.
Minho writes, How was the show?
Taehyung's throat aches with tears. Terrible, he writes back. I messed up.
This is met with a wave of broken hearts and frowny faces.
It's only one show , Minho assures him.
Then Hyungsik writes, SHINee had some rough shows back in the day, right Min?
Why must you tease me? Minho writes. But yes. We all fought a lot.
Did you? Taehyung writes.
Me and Taemin. Mr. Primadona. Minho writes. All. The. Fxxing. Time.
And now? Taehyung asks.
Now they barely talk outside of band stuff, Hyungsik writes. LOL They don’t call him MEANho for nothing.
Minho sends a poop emoji. Hyungsik fires back with shades.
Namjoon sits down beside Taehyung, and reality crashes back in.
Keeping his voice low, Namjoon says, “You said some awful things to him in front of the staff. He did what he always does. He played it off like a joke.”
“Maybe he shouldn't do that,” Taehyung says. He sounds surly, but even he knows it's an act to keep him from crumbling.
“Maybe,” Namjoon says. “But we're going back to the hotel. We're gonna hash this out. The cameras will be there.”
“What?” Taehyung wipes his eyes. “Why?”
“They caught the beginning,” Namjoon explains. “They wanna see the end.”
“Taehyung and I can't resolve this on camera,” Seokjin says, and Taehyung startles upright to find Seokjin hovering behind them, his hands propped high on his hips. He looks... terrible. And beautiful, despite his disastrous choppy bangs. And it breaks Taehyung's heart to see him so hurt, because it's all his fault, even though Jin-hyung took the blame like always.
“We'll solve the surface parts,” Namjoon says. “The rest'll be up to you and him.”
“Can't I just say I'm sorry?” Taehyung says.
Namjoon clasps Taehyung's hands. “Not this time,” he says.
Then he leaves them. Seokjin lingers a moment more, but then without a word, he turns to follow.
So they do their part for the filming. Taehyung apologizes for speaking so informally. Seokjin apologizes for joking too much. Yoongi makes a long speech about how the BTS of now isn't the same as the BTS that made their debut.
“We got much closer,” Yoongi reminds them. “We understand and know each other much better. Things like respect,” he says, choosing his words the way a composer selects all the perfect notes. “The closer you get, the more you need it.”
Taehyung watches Seokjin while Namjoon speaks. Namjoon says, “It doesn't matter who was in the wrong. We all make mistakes. I have my dark side. You do, too. We all have a dark side.” His eyes flit to Taehyung. “Sometimes that shows when we're under stress when we perform. But you two affected the team and the concert anyway, and honestly, that wasn't professional. I think we need to know when to back off sometimes. That doesn't mean you're losing. It's for the sake of the team.”
That's Namjoon's coded warning to them. Their relationship bled over into their work. They affected the team. Both of them, in different ways, and it cannot happen again.
Yoongi stretches, fake-yawning. “I think it's a good thing that we had this chance to talk,” he says.
Hoseok gets to his feet. Taehyung reads the unspoken exchange between him, Yoongi, and Namjoon. They're signaling an end to their part in this. They start to banter around for the sake of the camera, joking about times when they fought about food instead of the choreo, like that's what this fight was about in the first place. Taehyung sees what they're doing. He glances across to see Seokjin on the window ledge, waiting patiently for them to leave.
“Let's get out,” Namjoon says. “They're going to hug—”
“—Nothing's gonna happen,” Seokjin assures him, cutting his eyes to the cameras.
“Let's get out,” Namjoon says again. “They're shy. They don't want an audience.”
And yet they get one, because the camera men – Jaemin and Jeonin – don't leave.
“It's okay,” Jaemin tells them. “The viewers will want some follow-up. You know, a one-on-one.”
“I don't think I can do this,” Seokjin mutters.
“You can, Seokjin-ssi,” Jeonin says. “Just pretend we're not here.”
“Remember what Park Hyungsik says about acting,” Taehyung tells Seokjin. “You put your whole heart—”
“—I don't care what Park Hyungsik says,” Seokjin bites out.
Jeonin signals Jaemin to queue up the cameras.
And Taehyung eyes Seokjin. He's been drinking beer all evening, so his cheeks have the flushed to the color of strawberry milk. He looks tired, and hurt, and full of remorse.
Slowly, Taehyung says, “I understand now.” He thinks back to earlier, at breakfast, a million years ago, when he'd been on his phone, and Seokjin wanted his attention. And then, before the concert, Seokjin's words: This morning, you barely had time for me, and now you won't leave me alone?
Then he recalls what Park Hyungsik said about Minho and Taemin in the chat, about how they fought so much they barely speak outside of SHINee business. That, for Taehyung, seems the worst of all possible fates. So Taehyung says, carefully, “Now I know that really ticks you off... I'll really try to change that.”
Seokjin's lashes flick.
“So, if I'm feeling down and you make a joke, and I can't take it as a joke, I hope you can understand that.” Taehyung fights his tears and fails. “I'll try to change, too.”
Seokjin seems relieved, but also miserable in that relief. He says, “If you can accept that and try to change, I'll be very thankful. I also get hurt.”
“Right,” Taehyung says.
“If that's how you felt, I'll be more careful,” Seokjin says. “I'll try to be more careful.”
Taehyung aches to go to him, to kiss him, to set all of this aside. But the camera's still there. Always the damned camera...
“And I understand,” Seokjin continues, feeling his way around the words. “Because you see the bright and funny side of me, but I also get depressed very often.”
Taehyung holds his breath. This is not like Seokjin, who reveals so little of himself. Yet here he is, showing this vulnerability for everyone to see.
“I'm just trying to stay positive for you guys,” he admits. “People say we should let it go, but no one can be so cold. I do have my dark side, too.”
Let what go? Taehyung wants to ask. Panic flares inside him, but Seokjin's eyes lift to something behind Taehyung's shoulder.
Taehyung follows his gaze to find Jimin hovering outside the door. “Each of us have challenges,” Jimin says, and Seokjin swears, roughly, beneath his breath.
“But because we do, we get along well with each other,” Jimin continues.
Since when did Jimin become Seokjin's protector? Taehyung wonders. But before he can process that thought, Jimin motions to the camera men. “Okay, we're done,” he says. “Let's get inside.”
And since when did Park Jimin become the boss of the camera crew?
Since right now, Taehyung guesses, because both Jeonin and Jaemin nod in agreement.
“Let's get some food,” Taehyung says to Seokjin. Because this isn't over. Because he needs to make amends. “Let's have a drink later on.”
“Yeah, have a drink together and talk about it,” Jimin says. “Let's go. You promised each other.”
Seokjin groans his annoyance. “Stop butting in,” he grates through his teeth.
“Come on,” Jimin urges. “Let's go you two. It's late already.”
Once they’re out in the hallway, Jimin turns to them, beaming. “I did good, didn’t I? I rescued you.”
“Yes. Great,” Seokjin says. “Get out of here.”
“Rude.” Jimin squeezes Taehyung's shoulder. “I'll go back in and distract them. You guys get going. I’ll see you at breakfast.”
And then he leaves them.
In a rush, Taehyung asks, “May I come to your room?”
“Yes,” Seokjin answers. “Please.”
They jostle inside, bolting the door behind them. Seokjin kisses him through their tears, scuffling him to the bed where he pushes him down, and Taehyung knows it's too easy to let this happen instead of talking, so he grips Seokjin's elbows, shoving himself upright against the headboard.
Seokjin's astride him, his thighs pinning Taehyung's knees. “We have to do better, Taehyung-ah,” Seokjin moans. “That was too close.”
“Maybe we're too close,” Taehyung says.
“Don't say that,” Seokjin says. “Why would you say that?”
“Look at us,” Taehyung says, gesturing between them, at their rucked up shirts and half-buttoned pants. “What’re we doing?”
With a sigh, Seokjin rolls to lay beside him. He covers his eyes with his arms.
“And what do you mean, you have a dark side, too,” Taehyung asks. “And you're depressed? Why are you depressed?”
Seokjin sits up. He swipes at his tears. He says, “I'm jealous, okay?”
“Of my Hwarang hyungs.”
“There's nothing to be jealous of,” Taehyung says.
“But you're on your phone with them all the time. You talk about them, all the time,” Seokjin says. “And it's so stupid, because you're you. You make friends so easily, and everyone loves you.”
“So you're jealous of me?” Taehyung asks.
Seokjin flinches. “Yeah. Some,” he admits. He heaves out a groan. “So when you criticized my part in the choreo... it hurt me.” He exhales again. “Taehyung-ah, it hurt so much, to have you point that out to everyone, that even my best isn't good enough.”
“No, hyung, it's not like that,” Taehyung says.
“I know,” Seokjin says. “I know. But it's all tangled up and complicated.” He puts a hand to Taehyung's forehead. “So maybe, if we try to remember, when we're on camera we have to behave a certain way. Let’s make a rule, to honor our boundaries, and not play like we do when we're... here.” He gestures to encompass them and the bed, which seems like so small a space for them to both feel free.
Though his brain pounds with chaos, Taehyung’s heartbeat steadily calms. “May I stay here tonight?” Taehyung asks.
“Jagi, we've been together four years,” Seokjin says. “It's your bed, too. It's our bed.”
Taehyung understands it's a metaphor, that Seokjin really means Taehyung’s place is at his side. But it isn't their bed, and it isn't their life... And though he loves their life beyond what he can measure, Taehyung feels the sting of a wish for something more.
SHINee fans, please don't at me! I haven't done as much research on them to know all their dynamics, but I did learn that the members call Minho "Meanho" because he likes to tease them.
As for this part of the fight between Taehyung and Seokjin, most of the dialog is word-for-word from Burn the Stage. It gutted us all to see Taehyung weep as he did. You can tell it hurt him so much that he and Seokjin were arguing. I wrote around the editorial cuts, trying to piece together what might have been omitted from the show. One of my favorite parts of that episode was when Hoseok murmurs, "Eat it all, you bastard," when they were talking about a fight over a banana they once had.
Chapter 8: 29 March 2017
Yoongi contemplates how much they've changed, and how much remains the same.
“My love is perfect down to a tee.
It’s never been wrong.
Even when it’s thin like a thread,
it never gets tangled.”
Big Love , The Black Skirts
29 March 2017 – Chicago
They're rich enough now to have their own hotel rooms on tour.
That's nice and all, but it’s a waste, really, since Namjoon's the only one who ever sleeps alone.
Which is not entirely accurate, Yoongi thinks as he stares across his own bed to the rumpled sheets of Hoseok's. He and Yoongi share their hotel rooms, but they do not share a bed.
And probably they never will.
Really, though, after watching the Seokjin-Taehyung shitshow implosion last week, he counts himself lucky. He and Hoseok have never had a fight. And, thanks to Yoongi’s monk-like self-restraint… they probably never will.
Anyway, Yoongi likes to play a little game when they're on tour. It's called, “Let's See Who Will Come Drag My Ass Out of Bed.” Past winners have included everyone, down to the newbie-est of their interns, but unfortunately, Yoongi's not the only player on this particular field. Taehyung has been known to sleep like one of those cicadas that bury themselves for seventeen years. Two months ago, in fact, Taehyung slept so hard he missed a filming day – just didn't show up – and everyone blamed Seokjin, who adamantly (and rightly) insisted that he is not Taehyung's father.
Yoongi flips onto his back, mashing the pillow beneath his neck. There's a deliciously cool spot beneath his legs and he stretches out to reach it. He starts to wonder where are they and what is today, when the winners of the game burst through the door.
“It's Hope and Joon,” Yoongi stage-whispers, “and the crowd goes wild!”
“Hyung,” Namjoon says. “Breakfast buffet as huge as our house. All you can eat. You gotta come see.”
Yoongi burrows deeper into his blanket, which smells like sea salt and feels like a cloud swaddled in silk. “Room service,” he counters. “Never even have to leave the bed.”
Hoseok grips his wrist and begins to fervently tug him. “Come on,” he urges. “Everyone else is down there.”
“All the more reason to stay here,” Yoongi says.
“Also, we've got a plane to catch,” Namjoon says.
“Like, at 3,” Yoongi says. But he finally lets Hoseok pull him upright.
“Which means we have to be at the airport by noon,” Namjoon reminds him. Yoongi shuffles toward the door. He snugs on a sweater cap and toes his socked-feet into his Pumas.
“Also, our check out time is eleven,” Hoseok adds. “And after filming our videos yesterday, I'm sure the staff will be glad to see us go.”
“Nah,” Namjoon says. “We got permission to film, and they seemed really kind about it. People in America, man. A lot of them are really cool.”
The three of them go quiet as they crowd into the elevator, despite the fact that the other occupants – a family with two teenage boys – probably wouldn't understand a word they say. Namjoon nods and greets them in English. The two boys glance first at each other and then their parents as if unsure how to respond. The Mom puts her arm around the shoulders of the younger one, tugging him protectively close.
Hoseok's ears go pink. He bows to the Dad and says, brightly, in English, “Good morning. How are you?”
The elevator doors open. The family scurries out.
"Most of them are really cool,” Namjoon amends.
Chuckling, Hoseok asks, “Was that even their floor?”
Yoongi leans around him, thumbing the button to close the doors. He mumbles, “Now you see why I wanted to stay in bed.”
But Namjoon had not been wrong about the breakfast buffet. It's so very American in its enormity, and wafts of sugar, cinnamon, and fresh-baked bread greet them before the elevator reaches the ground floor.
The buffet sprawls like an open-air market through half of the first level of the hotel. Gleaming counters wing out from its center, each laden with sausages, bacon, and pyramids of fruit. There are waffle stations and omelet stations, each manned by servers in puffy chef's hats, their aprons crisp and shining. Rows upon rows of intricate pastries primp beneath glittering glass cases, and this is where they find Taehyung.
He's carrying what appears to be a serving platter piled high with one of everything – croissants, eclairs, cream horns, and bear claws. Something flaky and fruit-filled dangles from his lips, and when he sees them, he tries to inhale it before attempting to speak.
“It's called a cola-cheese?” Taehyung says, still chewing. “They're made with every kind of fruit. Here.” He shoves one at Hoseok, who nibbles it from his fingers.
“Oh, it's very good,” Hoseok says, cringing. “Very sweet.”
Taehyung leads them to a sequestered alcove which their group has completely overtaken. Yoongi knows they're a lot to deal with, and their numbers have steadily grown over the past year. But seeing them all packed together, pushing in and out of their chairs, chattering and passing plates back and forth—
“Wow,” Namjoon says as they stand there, discreetly observing the chaos. “That's a lot.”
“So much,” Yoongi agrees. He turns to leave; Hoseok catches his shoulder to turn him back.
“You want coffee?” Hoseok asks.
Yoongi groans, plaintively.
“You want coffee.” Hoseok passes Yoongi to Namjoon, who guides him to the quietest corner of the room. Seokjin reclines there, prim in the same pink sweater he wore the night before. He scarcely glances up from his phone when Yoongi scoots in beside him.
“You eat already?” Yoongi asks, scanning the stack of empty plates before Seokjin.
He gives Yoongi a warm smile. “Yes,” he answers. “Thank you.”
Then Taehyung comes up, trailed by Jungkook and Jimin, who range themselves around Seokjin and Yoongi like students who want to spend their lunch hour with a favorite teacher.
“Hyung, try these, they’re called kolaches,” Jimin says, waving one of the pastries at Yoongi.
His shoulders lift involuntarily. “Jimin-ah,” he sneers. “I haven't even had my coffee.”
“They're really good,” Jungkook says. He leans over to teasingly tap his fingers across Seokjin's phone screen.
“You little twerp,” Seokjin gawps. “Your fingers are sticky!”
Jungkook's eyes meet Taehyung's as he says, “Yeah, they are.”
And Seokjin smacks him.
Namjoon ambles in with two plates of bacon, sausages, some eggs, and some fruit. As he passes one to Yoongi, Jungkook and Taehyung descend upon it, managing to snag one ribbon of bacon each. Fending them off, Namjoon yells, “Yah, go get your own.”
Taehyung settles into a seat. “I'm gonna eat all these,” he tells them, gesturing to his kolaches.
“No,” Seokjin huffs. “Taehyung-ah. Don't. You're gonna make yourself sick on the flight.”
“It's like a two-hour flight,” Taehyung says.
Jungkook says, “Is it? I thought it was, like, five.”
“No,” Jimin giggles. “It's two and a half. Right, Joon-hyung-ie?”
Namjoon flags down one of the staff. “Excuse me,” he asks. “How long is our flight today?”
She checks her phone. “Four hours, forty minutes,” she says.
“Ha!” Jungkook says. He high-fives Taehyung.
“Which means you shouldn't gorge yourself on sugar,” Seokjin says.
Taehyung responds by sliding a blueberry kolache onto Seokjin's napkin. Like an offering. Yoongi watches this with mild bemusement. He expected the fight in Newark to cast long shadows over them for the rest of this tour. In fact, though, the opposite appears to be true. Their lines redrawn, Seokjin and Taehyung somehow seem even closer than before.
“America's bigger than I imagined,” Jimin ponders. “We can get from Seoul to Tokyo in half that time.”
“Huh, that's true,” Namjoon says, and they lapse into an easy conversation about flights and travel times and all the places they want to see.
Hoseok slides in beside Yoongi, bearing two mugs of hot black coffee. Yoongi pushes his as-yet-untouched plate of food between them. Hoseok helps himself to an apple wedge, and, gesturing with it, he asks, “Well, what'd I miss?”
Everything, Yoongi thinks. But also nothing.
And this paradox finally coaxes a smile to Yoongi's lips. Because with all of their bickering, bantering noise, none of this is new. Even though they're in a foreign city ten thousand kilometers from home, their constant togetherness gives him comfort. Like a family. His family.
Hoseok squints at him. “That much, huh?”
“You know, Hope,” Yoongi says. “I pity any person who would seek to harm us, because I...” But the emotion of it chokes him, so he hisses over his teeth, feeling savage as a lion protecting his pride.
A savage lion in Puma slip-ons with a wool cap snugged over his head.
But Hoseok slips an arm around his waist, pulling him in for a side-hug. “I know what you mean,” he says, deceptively wistful. “We'd have to waste them.”
Chapter 9: 3 April 2017
At the start of Bon Voyage 2, Seokjin and Taehyung manage to share a private beach date.
“And when you're needing your space
To do some navigating
I'll be here patiently waiting
To see what you find. ”
I Won’t Give Up , Jason Mraz
3 April 2017
Bon Voyage 2 - Hawaii
In Hawaii, Taehyung buys Seokjin a hat. Broad-brimmed and bright crimson, it's the kind of hat Taehyung would wear, and though Seokjin feels it's too bold for his own taste, he promises to wear it.
Later, when he spies himself in the shop window, Seokjin sees that it highlights the color of his lips, which are plump and full from kissing Taehyung in the dressing room. Not so much a room as a curtained cubicle, one that did not provide the kind of security they desired from their private island getaway.
It reminds Seokjin of another time on another island, and when Taehyung slinks up beside him, Seokjin asks, “Remember that time in Indonesia? What was it, a year ago? Two?”
“That creepy storm drain near the resort?” Taehyung guesses. “When you were so scared there were spiders?”
“There were spiders,” Seokjin says. “And it smelled like dishwater, but—”
“—We were desperate,” Taehyung groans, and for a moment, they lapse into silence. Their fingers briefly link as they walk along the boardwalk, remembering a dusky concrete cave half a world away.
Though it's beyond irrational, Seokjin admits he misses the days when time spent apart meant breathless reunions in dubious places or behind supply room doors. He wonders, often, whether Taehyung misses them, too.
But then Taehyung says, “Had to be two years ago. It's been a long time since we were that desperate for sex.”
“Yeah,” Seokjin muses. “True.”
A florid breeze riffles up, teasing Taehyung's own hat, which matches Seokjin's but is white instead of red. With his bronze skin and effortless smile, he has the easy chic of a clothing model, a look he has worked hard lately to cultivate.
But with Seokjin, beyond the camera, those pretenses fall away, and Taehyung becomes an excited child on his first trip to the beach.
“We have free time tonight,” Taehyung says.
“What do you wanna do?” Seokjin asks. He sips from his watery iced coffee, cringing at its bitterness.
“I hope this isn't like last time,” Taehyung answers, and Seokjin presses his lips together, waiting for an explanation.
Taehyung doesn't elaborate, though, and they walk together, enjoying the cottony softness of the wind and the wheeling scree of the seagulls. Before long, they hear music blaring from Jungkook's Bluetooth, so they join in, making themselves the loudest, wildest group of tourists in the sedate little shopping cove.
Before too long, jet lag claims Yoongi. He and the other hyungs head back to the hotel, and not surprisingly, Jimin and Jungkook follow, leaving Taehyung and Seokjin to adventure out on their own.
Taehyung seems incandescent at the prospect of so many uninterrupted hours together. They take a golf cart beyond the dunes, to the place where the lava flows meet the tides. The sky above them glows like opals, making the water a clear, crystalline green. They scrabble around the sharp-edged tidal pools, plucking up docile little hermit crabs that peek up at them from their palms.
They film a bit, because they promised they would, but then they stow the hand-cam and stroll along the shore. Miles and miles of black stone beach stretches to each horizon, gradually turning to a rocky shoal that gapes at low tide like a gap-toothed grin.
Taehyung reaches to lace their fingers. His camera swings from the strap around his neck, and with the fingers of his free hand, he traces the rubber of the lens adjust. Taehyung, actor, singer, dancer, clothing model, and trumpet player, has also recently become entranced with photography.
“You got some beautiful pictures in California,” Seokjin says.
Taehyung ducks his head, and Seokjin knows he's made him blush. “Hyung—”
“—The ones from the roof were my favorites,” Seokjin says. “The swimmers, the sunrise. They were... you’re really good, you know.”
“I'll print them for you,” Taehyung says. “We can frame them and put them in our house, someday.”
“Yeah, I'd like that. Someday.”
Seokjin keeps his eyes trained to the tide pools, pointing out every rare and wild creature for Taehyung. Meanwhile, Taehyung keeps watch over the water, scanning the horizon like he expects some kind of arrival. The whole time, their hands remain linked – Seokjin as Taehyung's tether; Taehyung as Seokjin's guide.
Seokjin crouches over a tongue-pink starfish at a pool's edge, when Taehyung finally says, “This is how it should always be.”
He glances up, blinded for a moment by the sky's whiteness, to find Taehyung gazing down, a frowny smile framing his mouth.
“Right now, in this moment, it is,” Seokjin says.
Taehyung kneels beside him. “Then let me kiss you.”
Seokjin checks their surroundings. Once certain no one can see them, he leans in, and Taehyung meets his lips.
The pearlescent sky, the briny water scent, the hush and crash of the waves — these things engrave themselves into Seokjin's heart, layered with the taste of Taehyung, like cherries and cola, and the firmness of his mouth. Beneath that, darker, bittersweet, lies the sorrow that it should always be this way, but it isn't, and it won't be and...
Seokjin opens his eyes. His ears flood with the muted thunder of his heartbeat. “Ah,” he rasps. “Taehyung-ah—”
“—Hyung,” he says, and it's then that Seokjin catches the disquiet in Taehyung's eyes.
Though he doesn't know why, or what Taehyung needs, Seokjin rushes to comfort him.
But Taehyung grips his hands, holding them still. He says, “Do you remember Finland?”
“The country?” Seokjin quips, desperate to break the tension,“I vaguely recall.”
“Do you remember what I said to you?” Taehyung says.
All of Seokjin’s memories of that time have dimmed, but Seokjin remembers the sunrise and his shadow across Taehyung's chest. He remembers— “You told me you love me.”
“It's still the truest thing,” Taehyung whispers. “Remember that, okay? In case you ever doubt.”
“Why would I doubt?”
Taehyung nods and pats Seokjin's hand. He stands up and stretches, and Seokjin watches the knot in his throat as he swallows.
Seokjin pulls himself up. “Taehyung-ah?”
“This is our job, right?” Taehyung says. “This trip. It's not a holiday or a vacation. We're working, right?”
“Of course,” Seokjin says.
Taehyung's fingers feel cool as clay. He says, “I'll try and play along and keep to our rules. I’ll be your respectful dongsaeng. But it's just... look at this place.”
Seokjin pans slowly from one horizon to the other. “It's fantastic,” he says.
“You're... fantastic,” Taehyung grumbles.
“Your mom's fantastic,” Seokjin says, finally getting a grin. Taehyung tugs him along, and they quietly, carefully pick their way around the foamy edge of the pool.
“Does she still message you?” Taehyung asks. They start down the beach again.
“Every week,” Seokjin answers.
“Good.” Taehyung says. "She likes you."
“Most parents do,” Seokjin says. But questions crowd into his mind, so many they clog his tongue. They already know they won't sleep together tonight; their selection game landed Seokjin with Jimin, and Taehyung with Jungkook and Hoseok. As Taehyung has already observed, Bon Voyage is their job right now, and they will do their best to abide by its rules.
So he doesn't know when they'll have another chance to talk, and at the moment, his thoughts are too jumbled to make any sense. He only knows he's afraid that something's happening with Taehyung, and Seokjin doesn't know what to do about it.
“Hyung! Look!” Taehyung gasps. He darts a few steps ahead, and then returns to hurry Seokjin along. “Look, a turtle, a turtle!”
Taehyung sprawls flat upon the rocks to get eye to eye with her. She's smooth and glossy green, and as he gabbles excitedly at her, she shuts her wise, old eyes, and sleeps. Seokjin gestures for the camera, and Taehyung passes it to him. Holding his breath, Seokjin snaps a shot of Taehyung lying beside the turtle, and that, he decides, is his new favorite photo. That's the one he wants framed on the wall of their someday-home.
“Your turn,” Taehyung whispers, waving Seokjin to take his place.
Seokjin lays as flat and still as he can against the hard, round stones. They smell silty and green, like they’re made of sea itself. When he stares across at the turtle, her eyes open. For a moment, it seems she’s looking into him and grinning, but with solemn interest and not fear. He inhales and stares into her ancient eyes, wondering at all the things she must have seen.
“Will she grant us wishes if we rub her shell?” Taehyung asks.
“We’re not supposed to touch them,” Seokjin cautions.
Taehyung squints down over the camera. “Oh really?”
“I read it on the plane,” Seokjin says.
Taehyung grows still as he frames them in his lens. He snaps the shot and whispers, “It's amazing how she's so unafraid.”
“It's her beach,” Seokjin says, sitting up. “Why would she be afraid? She's famous, you know. One might even call her... a shell-ebrity.”
Groaning, Taehyung tugs his hat over his face. “You ruined it,” he says, and Seokjin feels something tip back into place, like the balance has been restored, and everything is fine. Everything will be just fine.
By the time they reach their cart, the sun is setting, a glimmering coin upon a silver string. Taehyung hops into the driver's seat, but before he cranks the engine, he checks his phone. He sits there a long while, his lips pulling taut as he reads his texts.
Seokjin knows that dreamy little smile: The one that says Taehyung has a secret. Seokjin remembers when that smile was only his.
“Who is it?” Seokjin asks, but he already knows.
Taehyung bites his lip. “It's no one,” he answers. Then he tucks the phone away and drops the cart into reverse.
In this chapter, Seokjin references their Summer Package in Kota Kinabalu. It also references the Vante-style photos Taehyung took in California, which Taehyung posted on Twitter on Seokjin's birthday.
Thank you to Nami for recommending I Won't Give Up by Jason Mraz, which has become a kind of theme for this whole story.
Chapter 10: 4 April 2017
Namjoon ponders life, identity, and the way relationships change while on a friendship date with Seokjin.
“I believe that real friends love you to no limit.”
Change, Wale and RM
4 April 2017 – Bon Voyage 2 – Hawaii
Sometimes, in his excitement, Namjoon hurries too much. He rushes through what seems like a simple process in order to get to the result, like crunching through the sweet outer shell of an Anytime candy to get to the icy, cool center.
Or, like stacking rocks in a cairn to get to the wishing.
Namjoon doesn't even think; he grabs random rocks, piling them from largest to smallest: seven rocks for seven members. They topple, skittering across the rough lava stone, drawing the attention of Seokjin.
“Need a hand?” he asks.
Apparently, yes. Seokjin's own cairn – an orderly feat of micro-engineering – stands braced and ready against the wind. “We're a team,” he says, stepping in to assist. Then he scolds Namjoon in the way only Seokjin ever dares, pointing out that Namjoon needed flat stones for this project, not necessarily the big ones.
Namjoon bears it because it's Seokjin, and because he's right. A moment's pause would have shown him all he needed to see: plenty of perfect, flat stones pebbling the beach. But Namjoon had been too busy building to notice.
Then, as Namjoon watches, Seokjin presses his palms tightly together like a child in prayer. Namjoon follows, but instead of making wishes, he wonders how someone as pragmatic as Seokjin can place so much faith in wishes.
When Seokjin opens his eyes, an expectant look warms his face.
“What did you wish for?” Namjoon asks.
“I made lots of wishes,” Seokjin says. “That should be fine, right?”
“Yeah, if only one of them is granted—”
“—Right?” Seokjin nods.
“Then it's all good.”
Happy with this footage, the second unit director, Donghyun-nim, calls out that they're moving on. The crew strides back to the sidewalk, giving Namjoon and Seokjin some space. The camera unit will keep circling back, catching random snippets of their conversation – most of which will never make the final cut – but even so, Namjoon knows they must keep things upbeat and casual.
It's not difficult to do. Seokjin tends toward pensiveness, and Namjoon likes that they don't clutter the quiet with mindless chatter.
Only, once they reach the park, Seokjin turns to him and says, “So Taehyung-ah has a crush.”
Goodbye, upbeat and casual. Stunned, Namjoon goes, “Did he tell you that?”
“No,” Seokjin laughs. “But...” He swallows.
They walk a moment in silence while Namjoon weighs what Seokjin is saying. Outside of his own parents, his experience of long-term relationships lies within the realms of books, TV dramas, and them: Taehyung and Jin. Namjoon ponders how this could happen, and what it means for the group, before he finally settles on the huge question of who.
“You think it's Park Bogum?” Namjoon asks. “‘Cause, I'm pretty sure that guy is straight.”
“Oh?” Seokjin says, but he doesn't seem hopeful. “How do you know?”
“Just a vibe, really,” Namjoon admits. “But, like, he's super Christian—”
“—Taehyung's Christian,” Seokjin puts in. "His family is."
“How does that even—?” Namjoon asks. Then, “Know what, nevermind. But look, if it's Gummy, then Taehyung's probably hyped up about this trip they're taking, right? That's coming up soon.”
“Like right after we get home,” Seokjin says, but then he switches the topic to surfing as Donghyun-nim and the camera person weaves in for close-ups. They film their feet treading across the grass-seamed pavement before winging off to pan long shots of waves along the seawall.
Once they're out of earshot, Seokjin leans in. “Anyway, it's not Bogum,” he confides.
“Ah,” Namjoon says, because he should have guessed. “The Hwarang hyungs?”
Seokjin exhales. “The Hwarang hyungs.”
A few more steps, and Namjoon asks, “Which one?”
Seokjin drops his voice to a whisper. “Taehyung hasn't said anything. It's just a … feeling I get, but... I suspect King Jinheung himself.”
Through a forced smile, Seokjin asks, “You get a straight vibe from him?”
“Yeah, not really,” Namjoon admits. “Straight or not, that guy can get it.”
“Ah fuck,” Seokjin half-shouts, which startles sharp glares from the crew. Embarrassed, Seokjin and Namjoon cling to each other as they dissolve into laughter. “Sorry,” Seokjin says, gesturing. “I'm so sorry.”
They dismiss it, as they do with most things from Seokjin. He’s the Funny One, after all, and that's what they've come to expect. They see him as impulsive, playful, big-hearted Seokjin, who smiles his way through even the most daunting situations.
Like bungee jumping, or jungle-hopping reality TV, or admitting the man you've been in love with for four years might be quietly falling for somebody else.
This last thought sobers Namjoon. This is big, he realizes, and it must be terrifying. He watches Seokjin from the corner of his eye before asking, “Well, what will you do?”
“What can I do?” Seokjin asks. “You know Taehyung.”
“Yeah, and he loves you,” Namjoon says.
Donghyun sweeps in to interrupt them. He gives them directions to the restaurant since earlier, Seokjin had openly spurned the use of maps. Seokjin, who took over their household when he first moved in – delegating chores and setting up a schedule to track the formidable list of their appointments – declared to the camera that he has no need for maps. Of equal importance: this is the same man who built a neatly-structured stone cairn on which he then made not one but several wishes.
Namjoon thinks a lot about the dichotomy of self, about how people wear masks of what they want others to see in order to protect who they are inside. Within this context, he watches his hyung and wonders – not for the first time – about how much of himself he hides.
They take a table on the patio overlooking the water. Katy Perry blares over the speakers, and middle school kids whip a Frisbee back and forth across a palm-fringed lawn. Jet skis lick over the waves, piercing the evening air with the thready whine of their engines. Tiki torches waft pungent citrus smoke around them, and Seokjin – level-headed, practical Seokjin – suggests that they get drinks with their dinner and share a dessert.
“When we talked yesterday, Taehyung-ah and I agreed that this is not a vacation,” Seokjin says, fanning himself with the menu. “But that doesn't mean we can't eat what we want.”
Namjoon grins his agreement. “Absolutely.”
So they have fruity cocktails with their entrees, and then they order a chocolate lava cake to split. Namjoon takes his time with it, savoring each bite, silently marveling over the way the ice cream contrasts with the molten chocolate swirl. Now would be the perfect time to continue their earlier conversation, only the crew settles in behind them, breaking for their own dinner before the final filming. So Namjoon does his best to enjoy dessert while worrying about Seokjin and Taehyung.
Though he doesn't mean to, Namjoon compares them to his parents. As relationships go, they are not alike. Namjoon’s parents took the traditional path of marriage and family, a path that is, for now, unattainable for his friends. But Namjoon wonders about the lives his parents led before he and his sister were born. Was theirs the kind of love that made them ache when they were apart? Did they struggle and fight before finding the common ground that was the bedrock of his childhood? Were there jealousies and disappointments, wishes and regrets, devastating things that happened to them that neither would ever tell their children?
Then Namjoon ponders all that’s contained within a person – whole galaxies of thoughts and dreams and intricacies – and that no matter how well you think you know someone, there is still so much more that remains unseen beneath.
“Joon-ah,” Seokjin says across the table. “Your ice cream is melting.”
Namjoon exhales. “You're right,” he says. Though he wants to talk more with Seokjin, there’s only so much they can say with the cameras rolling.
So he says, instead, “You know, my parents wanted to come to Hawaii, but it was too expensive. They've still never been.”
Seokjin nods his understanding. They'll talk later if they get the time, but for now, they'll eat ice cream, and watch the sunset, and talk about what makes them happy.