Chapter 1: walkin' on sunshine
The clothes that Seokjin had undoubtedly picked out for him were surprisingly comfortable despite their unbearably soft color. In the dim light of the public bathroom back at the bus stop, Jeongguk had looked washed out, like he’d been tossed about and dipped in bleach. His hair was unruly and dark, but his face was nearly gaunt and his complexion was sickly. It could have been the shit lighting, but it was most likely due to the three years Jeon Jeongguk had just spent in prison. Whatever it was, Jeongguk was eager to leave it behind in this confusing country as soon as he could possibly manage.
And find a change of clothes.
Seokjin managed to get a single change of clothing sent to him a few weeks before his release, and though Jeongguk was sincerely grateful to the older man, the clothes were very much not Jeongguk ’s style. The jeans were light wash and painfully tight, and his sweater (which, hello Seokjin, Jeongguk was in California, the Golden State, why would he need a sweater?) was a sweet pale blue. Jeongguk could not remember the last time he wore such a pastel shade on his body. It was, however, extremely comfortable, so.
Despite the sweater’s superior coziness, Jeongguk planned on finding himself a change of clothes as soon as he got off this damned bus. The people at receiving had given him his bus ticket to San Francisco moments before Jeongguk walked out of those double doors for the first and final time. It was nice to know he wouldn’t have to walk the whole way - or, more accurately, misappropriate a car to get to the city in time for his flight. But the bus was damn annoying. All Jeongguk wanted was a bed, preferably a good one without any lumps or stains and with his favorite Egyptian cotton sheets all warm from a fresh cleaning. Instead, Jeongguk had crying children, grumpy looking senior citizens, and a very off-putting smell in the air. It was very unpleasant to say the least.
Still, Jeongguk had to admit that it was a lot better than prison. Much, much better.
Before being arrested, Jeongguk had only been in the States for a little less than a week. He’d come for business, indulged in a little bit of pleasure and promptly found himself betrayed (which, nope, Jeongguk was really not going to think about that now lest he throttle the little old woman a few seats away from him. Those thoughts were for a later time, once he was in familiar territory). Jeongguk had only just turned 18 and boasted a measly three frases of fractured English. Now, Jeongguk was almost fluent thanks to the night guard that liked to play cards with Jeongguk when the latter could not fall into sleep’s embrace.
Jeongguk would be happy if he never had to speak English again.
The bus pulled into the station soon after the noonday sun slid behind a sky of clouds. Jeongguk found himself slightly alarmed at the sudden darkness of the world around him. He checked the Rolex around his wrist, the one he was wearing when he was arrested, and saw that it was a few minutes past two and forced himself to relax. He had time. Through the overhead speakers, Jeongguk heard the driver announce that it was time to say goodbye, and he all but jumped to his feet.
It was a relief not having to wait to retrieve his bags from the overhead bins or from underneath his seat, but it was significantly more annoying to have to wait behind all the people that did. And there were plenty of people to wait behind because Jeongguk had sat himself in the very back of the bus where there were less people. No matter; Jeongguk had plenty of patience. Fortunately, many of the other passengers were just as eager as Jeongguk to get off the bus and made quick work of moving down the aisle. Jeongguk was still at the end of the line, but it was the end of a quick line.
“Oh dearie,” the woman in front of him muttered as she stepped off the bus, “it looks like it’s going to rain.”
Which, yeah, just Jeongguk’s luck. As she hobbled away, Jeongguk’s feet hit the gravel. His sad looking Chucks padded softly against the ground with every step he took to freedom. Despite the assault of the horrible humidity, Jeongguk felt good. The heavy air clung to him like a very aggravating second layer of skin, but there was a breeze dusting over his cheeks and the exposed skin of his neck. The air smelled like city, and though it was sometimes putrid Jeongguk was happy to inhale it into his lungs. It was a welcome change from the musty atmosphere of the prison.
Of course, after a few minutes of walking in the direction of the skyline, Jeongguk’s Seokjin-inspired ensemble started to stick to his sweat slick skin. It was suffocating.
Luckily, Jeongguk knew how to perform under duress.
The story was this: Jeongguk was a Jeon, which was another name for criminal. A thief. A conman. Crime was in his blood, passed down from generation to generation. He was taught to snag wallets and lift watches long before he knew his multiples. He was running cons with his family by the time he was in middle school. He began scheming with his father the summer before high school. And Jeongguk was damn good at it.
It wasn’t a bad life, though, the life of crime. At least, not the way they lived it. The Jeons were good at their center, having tired of watching at a cruel world do cruel things to non-cruel people and choosing to live to spite of it. No, their lives were actually very good ones. Happy ones, even. They may have lived under constant threat of danger, but they were happy. The Jeons were a team, you see, and that made them a better family than most. It helped that Jeongguk’s parents were desperately in love with each other. And that Jeongguk’s older brother was also Jeongguk’s best friend. And that they dedicated many hours to just being together, being loving and silly and just together. They all just fit in that wonderful way that could only be called belonging. There was nothing they could want because the Jeons had everything: wealth, love, happiness.
When Jeongguk went from having everything to being left alone with nothing, it was like the sun had burned out and taken all of the stars with it. In the dark where light could not be found, Jeongguk made very bad decisions. A string of very bad decisions that physically hurt him to remember. Namjoon and Seokjin, arguably the best hyungs in the whole damn universe, had done their best to keep Jeongguk from completely self-destructing. Their love had done wonders for him, but there was too much anger inside of Jeongguk clouding his judgement and inhibiting his morals. It landed him in prison.
Now, it was reasonable to assume that after three years of isolation (because Jeongguk may have been able to speak English, but that doesn’t mean he actually did), paying the price for a single criminal act that Jeongguk would retire from the criminal underworld, return to South Korea and live out the rest of his life like any other orphaned teen in Seoul. But, no, that was not what Jeongguk planned. Not at all. In the three years that Jeongguk spent walking short laps around his six by eight shithole of a cell, he carefully and painstakingly formulated a fine outline of an impossible heist he would make possible. He spent countless hours reworking and polishing this impossible plan until he was a free man ready to take something from the world that took everything from him.
So, Jeongguk had a plan, and a damn good one at that. Maybe the best plan he had ever come up with. It was complicated and would take time to get right, not to mention that it required several different talents Jeongguk himself did not possess to operate successfully. Fortunately, Jeongguk had a long list of people he could enlist, one that he narrowed considerably during his sentence. But first, he needed to find himself a change of clothes before his flight was set to take off in a few hours. And it was going to be a long flight, so Jeongguk needed something that was not skin-tight jeans and suffocatingly comfortable sweater. Namjoon had been confused when Jeongguk called him from the correctional center asking to meet up in Paris instead of South Korea, but he had agreed to it easily enough. It was probably thanks to Seokjin, seeing as the elder had Namjoon wrapped around his little finger. Jeongguk would make sure to thank the both of them, first for being there for him as he reclaimed his freedom, and then for being there for him back when Jeongguk was convinced he would never feel sunlight again.
It took him awhile to find the hustle and bustle of the city, enough time for the rain to let up, and then even longer to find a modestly sized shopping district. It was easy to snag a cap off the bench where it sat next to its unsuspecting owner, and then easier still (surprisingly) to find a man about his size carrying several bags from an array of stores that Jeongguk did not recognize. After a few minutes of shadowing the man, the completely oblivious American stopped for a water break, and then it was muscle memory for Jeongguk to pull his cap low over his face and duck down to grab a bag or two off the ground and continue on his way like nothing at all was amiss. The outlets were decently crowded, affording Jeongguk easy cover as he found a bathroom stall to change in.
Perhaps as an apology, the universe alloted Jeongguk with a good selection of clothing. They were high end pieces, that was obvious from the receipts Jeongguk quickly flushed down the toilet, and they fit him well. The pair of sweatpants were very cozy and colored a nice sleek black, and Jeongguk found a red cotton shirt that made his skin look darker and less ghoulish. He still looked stretched too thin, but a filling meal would have to wait until Jeongguk managed to slip out of a country that did not want him to leave. His aged Chucks, the same ones he had on when he was arrested would have to stay.
Jeongguk shoved his old clothes into the toilet paper dispenser and then carefully placed all his belongings, including his cash money, into the largest shopping bag Jeongguk had snatched up. It was a big, pretentious looking white bag that read BALENCIAGA on the front, whatever that was. It looked pompous enough to be overlooked by the people around him, but Jeongguk still pulled his cap back over his face and took care to avoid security cameras. Slipping back into the crowd was seamless.
Because Jeongguk was not all bad, he decided to use the money given to him by the state and not pilfered funds to make his call on a payphone a twenty minute walk away from the shopping district. It took him awhile to find one, a circumstance that was unfortunate as Jeongguk really did not enjoy walking around in the heat with only the meal he’d had the night before acting as his sustenance. He eventually found one right outside a yellow boutique filled to the brim with flowers of all kinds. It reminded him first of Seokjin and his love for bright pink roses, and then of his mother and the bouquets of flowers she received from her husband for every little occasion. It took more effort than it should have to walk up to the small booth with his shopping bag gripped tightly in his hand. Jeongguk paused right besides it and prayed that it was capable of making an international call.
His first call went unanswered. Jeongguk, stressed and annoyed with his situation, did not like that at all. When the operator’s voice blared into his ear, his stomach clenched and then dropped. Doing all that he could to prevent from dissolving into an anxious mess (Jeongguk took deep breaths, in through his nose and then huffed out through his mouth just how Seokjin coached him to do what felt like a lifetime ago), Jeongguk dialed again. His hands were starting to tremble with nerves by the time Namjoon picked up on the fifth ring. Jeongguk’s relief gave him some clarity to latch onto.
“Hello.” Namjoon’s voice croaked through the earpiece, deep and like a warm blanket being settled over Jeongguk’s shoulders. Hearing someone else speaking in Korean was a gift Jeongguk wanted to take a few seconds to appreciate. It was then that Jeongguk remembered the time differences between them, which meant that is was ass o’clock in the night for them while it was well into the noon for him. He would have scolded himself for overlooking a detail like that, but Jeongguk was reeling and really needed to actually respond.
“Hyung.” Jeongguk managed, sounding a lot more like a mess than he wanted to. He resisted the urge to clear his throat to get rid of the ball of emotion trying to choke him to death. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Jeonggukie? Is that you?” Namjoon replied, much more awake now. “Holy shit, you’re - you’re out?”
Jeongguk couldn’t possibly stop his startled laugher. It was a weird sound, especially because he could not remember the last time he had laughed at all. “Yes, Namjoon-hyung. I’m pretty sure I told you my release date.”
“Are you - Wait, when does your flight leave?”
“I have almost an hour until I have to get to the airport.” Jeongguk cleared his throat, suddenly nervous. “Are you in Korea still, hyung?”
“What? No, you asked us to be in Paris?” Namjoon’s quick answer settled something in Jeongguk, something young and afraid and alone. “By the way, Jinnie is going to ask you a hundred question when he sees you. I will too, probably. You’ve been very vague, Gukie.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’ll answer everything, but I just want to tell you in person. And, I called to make sure.” Jeongguk could hear the half truth in his own voice, and knew Namjoon heard it too. But Namjoon didn’t call him out on it because he knew in that intelligent way of his that Jeongguk had missed them beyond what words could express. He probably also suspected that Jeongguk had feared that his hyungs would not have listened to his plea.
“So.” Jeongguk said after a moment of silence. “I forgot there’s a time difference between us, so I should probably let you get back to sleep. Jin-hyung will wake up if you’re out of bed for too long.”
“Yeah.” Namjoon sighed. “I’m glad you’ve finally been released. Jin-hyung and I will be at the airport later to pick you up. Be careful, alright. Don’t do anything stupid.”
Jeongguk couldn’t resist saying, “Like what? Getting locked up?”
“Exactly like that.”
“I never plan on getting arrested again, don’t worry. Get some sleep, hyung. I’ll see you later.”
Hanging up the phone, Jeongguk felt lighter than he had in awhile. The reality of his freedom seemed to finally be dawning on him. He was free. Jeongguk was free, would never have to return to that pale grey cell ever again. He could go to the beach and stare at the ocean. He could climb five mountains. He could renew his gym membership or get a new one. He could go out and find someone to fuck through the night. He could eat ramen. He could listen to music loud enough that his bones trembled in time with the melody. He could get a job done and make the world sorry it ever tried to beat him down.
More importantly, Jeongguk would be able to go home soon and see Seokjin and Namjoon and sleep in an actual bed and eat an actual meal. He would get to hear his mother tongue and other languages besides English. And he would be able to get back to work. A quick glance at a nearby newsstand told Jeongguk that it was Tuesday, March 4th. He had plenty of time.
The plane that Jeongguk would be boarding in a short two hours was a private jet owned by Namjoon’s mother, one of the fiercest women known to Earth. Kim Hyorin grew up in the same world of criminals that Jeongguk did, but she, unlike Jeongguk and his family, wanted a way out and did incredible things to find it. But any hint of that kind of life sticks to you, and when anyone Hyorin cared about needed her help, she was there to offer it. Jeongguk’s father was her friend when he was alive, which meant that Jeongguk was her friend as much as he was her son’s. She was willing to bend American law to get Jeongguk back to them safely. This meant that Jeongguk was to be snuck into the airport, and then snuck onto the plane, and then illegally removed from the country and happily delivered to the only people that were waiting to see him.
It was a little ridiculous just how serene Jeongguk suddenly felt in that moment. Especially because there was an underlying sense of urgency just under his skin, urging him to move quickly to keep from getting caught. But he was a free man again, and there was something obviously liberating in that fact. Taking his misappropriated and gently crinkled shopping bag, Jeongguk returned to strolling down the moderately crowded sidewalk. He followed the echoes of airplanes engines and the trails they left behind in the sky.
He still had a ways to go, but Jeongguk was almost home.
Just a few more hours, Gukie. He told himself. You can last a few more hours.
Chapter 2: hope was a dangerous, disquieting thing
taehyung was not allowed many things, but broken people could not help but want to heal.
big thanks to lyn for helping me figure this chapter out. this chappie is a little heavier so like brace yourselves i guess
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Taehyung jumped to awareness at the sound of a vicious thud coming from the direction of his front door. Unsure if he was still dreaming about Overwatch (he’d been up pretty late the night before having a marathon gaming session that spilled into his sleep and no, he was not sorry), Taehyung lay there, waiting. Sunlight spilled into the room through the many, many windows in his loft, making everything bright and almost painful to look at. It was a little like magic the way the dust appeared more like glitter in the cast of the sun, the way the light seemed alive and ready to play, how everything danced but the air felt motionless.
Still half asleep, Taehyung waited for the pounding to continue. When nothing came, he lifted his head from the silk material of his pillow to scan the apartment, trying to find any other potential sources of such a disruptive noise. Everything seemed to be in place through Taehyung’s cursory glance, including the pile of dirty clothes behind the Ruysch piece and his glasses balanced precariously on the pile of books on his bedside table. Nothing was amiss. Even his TV was turned off, something Taehyung was ridiculously proud of accomplishing.
Perhaps the noise was imagined.
Taehyung was about to duck back under his mound of blankets when his front door fell victim to another round of battery. A muffled voice thundered underneath the sound of fists pounding on the old, rotting wood. This time, Taehyung rolled out of bed and stumbled the short distance around the privacy wall and over to the door, swinging it open violently. With his eyes still adjusting to being awake without his glasses, Taehyung remembered that he had gone to bed in a pair of pyjamas with phallic cucumbers printed on them.
Oh well. They were a gag-gift from Jimin and Taehyung absolutely loved them. Plus, they were comfortable as all heck.
“What in the ever loving fuck do you want.” Taehyung demanded the moment the door swung open. He spared a thought for his morning breath, figured the asshole trying to break down his door deserved it, and then realized that the asshole at his door was in fact his landlord. Again.
“Taehyung.” The balding man said in a stern voice. He was an ugly and portly man, discolored and angry. On most days, he scared Taehyung. In the morning, he was more of a nightmare with those beady eyes rolling around in anger. “If I have to tell you one more time, I think I might actually die. Stop. For all of us, stop luring the strays onto the property. They’re taking over and pissing all over my carpets.”
“But Juin-nim.” Taehyung stuttered. He pushed his pale brown hair out of his eyes and blinked his wide brown eyes innocently. “That’s not my fault.”
“Bullcrap.” Juin sneered. He brought up one of his surprisingly smooth hands to point right at Taehyung’s face, finger nearly brushing the mole on the tip of his nose. Taehyung deflated. “You’re like that damn Snow White! I’ve let your pretty face slide plenty, but I am reaching my limit, Kim. Quit it before I throw you out.”
Before Taehyung could wake his brain up enough to form any kind of comprehensive defense, the older man disappeared back down the hall and into the elevator. Which was quite frankly wild, because that old piece of machinery was a few rides away from collapsing. Still, Taehyung watched him go and wondered for the hundredth time why he stuck around. It would be all too easy to tell Juin to take his stupid ideas of propriety and shove them down his throat. More importantly, Taehyung could definitely and easily afford better housing.
Yeah, sure, Taehyung thought to himself through a yawn as he stepped back into his apartment, shutting the door behind him. But here, no one notices you.
Knowing that sleep was over for the time being, Taehyung opted to head to his kitchenette instead of back to his bed. He owned a grand total of three appliances: a fridge, a stovetop, and a toaster. It was enough, though it meant Taehyung wasn’t capable of making anything more than basic-survival type meals. Like toast. But toast was good, particularly when slathered with peanut butter and topped with slices of banana. That, Taehyung could argue, was the epitome of cuisine.
Peanut Butter Banana Toast was a meal Taehyung picked up in the States in a little town a few miles from the heart of Baltimore. It was gifted to him by a small girl that used to sit beside him at a bus stop. Taehyung thought of her every time he made this little breakfast; her tiny hands, her sparkling eyes, the soft curl of her hair, the dark bruises peeking out from underneath her lilac sweater. He wondered if she ever missed her father, a horrible man with wicked hands and an infantry of drug dealers at his back. Taehyung had been in Baltimore for business, but he’d known the stories of Jacob Turner. He’d heard them whispered behind the little girl’s back, saw it in the pity she inspired everywhere she went. And Taehyung knew intimately the atrocities a father could commit. He couldn’t stand the sight of Lilith Turner’s sweet smile lost beneath a sea of bruises.
He couldn’t not do anything.
Taehyung sincerely hoped she would come to forget that man’s name.
After the toast was gone and his morning routine completed, Taehyung began to feel a little more awake. He flopped back onto his bed and shoved his wire rimmed glasses onto his face. The world slipped into sharp focus, granting Taehyung with the detailed view he so greatly appreciated. Like he did every morning in his apartment, Taehyung examined all the art pieces scattered across his room, letting the emotions of every brushstroke and color and shadow wash over him and sink into the hollowness of his bones.
It made him feel like … more. Taehyung liked that.
A quick glance at the calendar strung above his desk told Taehyung that he had nothing important planned that day except a lunch date with Joohyun. That meant Taehyung wouldn’t have to put on actual clothes until well past noon, and then he would get to have a delicious meal with a beautiful girl that could kick his ass into little pieces, which was really what Fridays were meant for.
In the meantime, as the morning sun spread its arms across the sky, Taehyung was allowed to simply exist. It was his first Friday off in a very long while. He wondered what he should do with it.
Taehyung heaved a contented sigh and rolled out of his bed and over to his wardrobe. It was an ornate thing painted a deep sea blue with faded white bordering. Taehyung had found it in Berlin during a job some years ago. It’d reminded him so much of his mother that he bought it instantly, uncaring of the ridiculous price tag. His mother used to wear a dress the same exact color, and Taehyung always thought she looked like a delicate piece of the ocean in it. It was his favorite way to remember her after she had gone, the mountain of memories of her still fluttering about inside Taehyung’s chest. The wardrobe and its color made them sing the most bittersweet of tunes.
Pulling out his favorite silk shirt and dark jeans, Taehyung decided he would go and visit her.
Seoul was a beautiful city with buildings that poked at the stars and did their best to outshine them, but it would never be Taehyung’s home. People like Taehyung were not allowed homes. They were allowed beds and the means to eat and scattered instances of happiness, but never homes. Taehyung had learned this at an early age.
Taehyung’s life was not a happy one. Or, at least, it was never meant to be. His father was the devil incarnate and his mother an angel in chains. Taehyung figured he was something in between. Cruelty was the first lesson Taehyung was ever taught, and mercy his second. Pain had been the third.
That was the thing about Taehyung’s childhood. It was overbearingly dark, full of unimaginable horrors cast by his father’s blood stained hands. There was never sense to the violence that washed over Taehyung time and time again, the way the ocean laps at the beach when the tide rolls in. He hated it. Hated the bruises, the blood, the pure agony of watching Kim Yejun torture the only person that ever loved him and never knowing why. Taehyung had long since accepted that he would never be able to understand that man’s motives, but sometimes he couldn't help but try.
Having a childhood that resembled a black hole meant that any little sparkle of joy shone brighter than a whole galaxy of suns. Taehyung’s earliest memories boasted only a splattering of happy moments, like stars over the night sky. Those were the moments where Taehyung’s mother managed to steal him away long enough, allowing them both to immerse themselves in their own world. A happy world.
If Taehyung’s life was a roaring fire, these memories would be the embers that burned unendingly.
The happiness never lasted long, night always coming back to snuff out the sun. One horrible autumn afternoon, day disappeared entirely. Taehyung returned home to find a gaping hole of nothingness where his mother once stood just behind the entrance hall, always waiting for Taehyung to return from school. He had hoped it was a temporary thing at first, that his mother was away on a reprieve from the horror of her life. That thought lasted only as long as it takes the brain to think; his mother would never have left him behind. Never.
The only plausible thought after that was that she had been forced to go somewhere Taehyung could not reach, and the only way that could be possible was if she was dead. The months that followed this revelation were darker than absolute nothingness. It took time for Taehyung to be able to soothe his aching soul with the thought that his mother would never hurt again. It was a small, fractured kind of piece, but it made the mourning easier, even when he was a grown man with the echo of a scared little boy in his bones.
Taehyung would always yearn for the sunrise of her smile so fiercely his soul could shatter from the force of it.
For now, the gray shine of the world would have to do. He didn’t mind it all that much. Taehyung rather liked the atmosphere of overcast skies and a chilly breeze. It made the world softer, somehow; less sharp at the edges.
In the narrow road between the park and the school yard, Taehyung basked in the dreary weather. His coat, an elaborate tan piece of wool that reached below his knees, kept him warm despite the frost in the air. His bowl hat kept his ears warm and his face hidden from any street cameras pointing down at him from above. The only downside of walking around like a human incognito tab was that no one would be able to compliment Taehyung on his makeup look.
It was a necessary sacrifice.
Though Taehyung was pretty sure that his little corner of Seoul was secluded enough to not have to worry, he worried still. His mother’s headstone was only a few minutes walk from his apartment, but Taehyung banked on the assumption that no one would come to look for him in a place that he would obviously run off to. No one had found him yet, not once in the past six or so years, but Taehyung knew he had to be safe so he wouldn't have to be sorry.
The streets were surprisingly empty for a Friday, but maybe the rainy weather was motive enough to say in and marathon those rainy-day movies. Taehyung didn’t mind being one of the few walking through his neighborhood, kind of enjoyed it really, but it was unsettling. There was no cover for him.
Feeling slightly paranoid, Taehyung pulled his hat lower, hiding even more of his features from wandering eyes. He could make out the cemetery entrance at the bottom of the winding road, snug between a flower shop and an abandoned lot. It wasn’t the nicest cemetery in Seoul, grubby and drowning in weeds, but it was what Kim Yejun decided his wife deserved after the police gave up searching for her. Her plot had been reserved for who knows how long, and her headstone had gone up the day after she had been declared dead. Taehyung was in China when he heard of his mother’s legal fate but hadn’t been able to bring himself to visit until a few months after he moved into his shitty apartment at close of last year.
He was hesitant to visit, but after that first day where Taehyung fell to his knees at the sight of his mother’s soft smile on her gravestone, visiting her became cathartic. The picture was from before Yejun stopped trying to hide the demon that resided inside him, before Taehyung could even remember. He wasn’t sure if he existed when that picture was taken, but he liked to tell himself that he did, that his mother was thinking of him and smiling because she loved him so dearly. He could sit there and close his eyes and imagine that she was sitting beside him, curled up and comfortable so she could listen to Taehyung tell her about her life and the things he’d done.
That picture was the only picture of his mother left in the world, and he could stare at it for hours. Today, however, Taehyung just wanted to remember the chime of her laugh and the warmth of her hugs. He just wanted her.
By the time Taehyung reached his mother’s grave, a light drizzle was falling. The few visitors around him scattered, but Taehyung did not mind the rain. He dropped into a crouch so he came face to face with his mother’s miniature smile. He reached out and ran a trembling hand over the glass of her portrait.
“Hello again, Mom.” He greeted quietly, so low it almost wasn’t there. “It’s been awhile.”
The dead never responded, but that was okay. Their memories were always loud enough.
“Work’s been keeping me busy. I put two more devils away for the rest of their lives. Felt good.” Taehyung whispered to the slab of stone. He plopped down onto the ground so he was sitting beside the marker, and leaned his head over so he was resting on it. “I got to see Jiminie again, just before Christmas. His mother is doing a lot better. She’s walking around now and scolding me like no one’s ever scolded me before.”
His mother would be proud of him, probably. Taehyung knew little about her life before, but her family ran in the same circles as her husband, that was how they met, so she knew crime the same way Taehyung did. Unlike his father, Taehyung worked to help people and rarely himself. He took joy in tearing apart his father’s operations, in finding ways to work the law against the men that made the world worse. He hurt people, but only when absolutely necessary and never excessively. True to his roots, every part of Taehyung was a weapon, but Taehyung only wielded himself if he knew good would come from it. His mom had always wanted to help, and Taehyung was mostly sure she would have approved of his methods.
As the rain began to fall more heavily, Taehyung slipped into silence. He let the water wash over him and rinse all his thoughts away. The stillness that always settled into his bones when he visited his mother’s empty grave was sinking in and Taehyung felt at ease. He felt okay.
And then his phone rang, vibrating against his thigh and jolting him out of his calm stupor. After his heart rate settled and his phone was out in his hand, the rain quickly cooling it down, Taehyung saw that his phone read MinMin Meow. Yoongi had never called him before.
“Yoongi-hyung?” Taehyung answered slowly. “Are you dying?”
“Tae- What? No, why would I call you if I was dying?” Was the elder’s sardonic reply. Min Yoongi sounded as disgruntled as ever, and Taehyung could picture the furrow of the elder’s brow in bewilderment. A small flower of adoration stemmed from his chest and colored the world in a softer hue.
Letting himself smile, Taehyung barked out a quick laugh. “Well, I couldn’t think of any other reason for you to call me. And it’s kind of weird, because I was working on my letter to you just the other day. Oh! That reminds me, thank you for the book, hyung. I’m really excited to read it.”
Yoongi huffed, “Of course you are. I have impeccable taste. And I know what you like so - Yah, don’t distract me, I’m calling for business.”
Whatever delight had bloomed in Taehyung’s chest at his hyung calling him quickly wilted. Taehyung enjoyed the end results of his work, but he was not overly excited about the work itself. The silver lining was that this time around, he would be able to potentially work with one of his favorite people on the whole planet.
“What’s the job?” Taehyung questioned quietly, feeling the solemnity settle over his shoulders and try to push him into the ground.
“I know a guy who knows a guy that needs your help to pull off a heist.” Yoongi said. Taehyung could hear the serious tone in Yoongi’s voice that always made his words fall a little more heavily. “It’s right up your alley, and I trust these people to pull it off.”
“A heist?” That was different. “How is a heist up my alley?”
“I meant the infiltrating and getting away with it part of the heist.”
Taehyung paused. He was a criminal, sure, but he didn’t like committing crimes unnecessarily. He worked only to deliver a specific type of justice to the evil and corrupt of the world, but sometimes a heist was a part of that. And Yoongi had a solid moral compass (that being a large part of the reason the two of them got along so well), so he wouldn’t steer Taehyung wrong.
“... I’m interested.” Taehyung admitted steadily. “But I’m going to need more details before I agree to anything.”
“Wonderful.” Yoongi replied, possibly meaning it. “Well, the Jeon kid is the one in charge and his plan is insane enough to actually work. Jimin’s going to be working the job, too. We’re all here in Paris already, and Jeongguk offered to pay for you flight-”
They were in Paris. In France. In the City of Love and everything Taehyung could never have. Whatever else Yoongi said after that admission was lost to Taehyung as his mind closed off into an impenetrable dome. Something a lot like hope fluttered within him, dangerous and disquieting. Before he could entrap it in its cage, the feeling spread through his body like a fire and jump-started his innermost thoughts.
“I’ll do it.” Taehyung said, probably cutting Yoongi off. He wasn’t exactly sure because whatever Yoongi said or didn’t say had not registered in his mind. The silence that followed his response was taut with surprise. Taehyung understood; it usually took a lot more effort to get him on board with a job like this.
But, somewhere in the deepest, darkest pits of Taehyung’s mind, a locked away dream was slowly breaking free.
aaaaaaaaahhh!!! i feel a lot more confident about this chapter and i really hope anyone that reads it enjoys it. im getting real excited about this fic especially bc its my first chaptered one!!!! pls leave ur thoughts or any other comments for me, they're really motivating :)))))
Chapter 3: heart in the heavens, head in the trenches
jeongguk finds art in paris and has his world start renewed
sorry this took me so long, i was away on vacation for a week and then found myself lacking in motivation :/ and then writing this was really hard bc there's a lot of dialogue and i don't actually know how socialized people interact. i hope its not absolute garbage.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Three days after Yoongi made the call, Jeongguk found himself struggling to sit still and wait patiently for the new recruit to arrive. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been so fidgety. In prison, he had been little more than a pensive stone. As a child, he always (without fail, the greatest constant he’d ever known) had his family to help him release any pent up energy in the form of a ridiculous game or unforgettably warm cuddles. For all the other days of Jeongguk’s existence, there had been no pent up energy or games or cuddles. Not in the same way, at least.
Jeongguk only needed to wait a few more minutes. Yoongi received word that their final team member was on his way back to the loft almost half an hour ago. The drive was about twenty minutes, forty minutes with traffic, meaning that he was bound to arrive any second. Jeongguk could wait that long. Right?
It shouldn’t have been this hard; Jeongguk was molded by the hard hands of patience. But. It made sense that waiting for the last (potential) member of the team he enlisted to push for the horizon of a new life would make Jeongguk a little nervous. He shifted in his seat and forced himself into stillness, hoping this time it would last for more than five minutes. After a few controlled breaths, Jeongguk let his eyes wander around the room and felt the soothing aura wash over him.
Seokjin’s small loft located in central Paris was, well, small, but also quaint in a way that was surprisingly homey. The whole of it was a single room separated into parts by ornate privacy screens, sparsely furnished and with cream peach everything. Because Seokjin appreciated aesthetics, and because he was in Paris often enough to have need of a place to stay, the furniture was tastefully rustic. Like Breakfast at Tiffany's, Namjoon always said to which Seokjin always agreed. Jeongguk had never seen the movie, but he had seen pictures of Audrey Hepburn and could easily visualize her living in Seokjin’s loft. The way the golden lighting of the evening sun filtered into the room and made it glow did wonders to soothe Jeongguk’s nerves.
He had always been a sucker for pretty things.
Around him, his accomplices discussed the nature of their new team member. It was a bit of a surprise that more than half of the gathered criminals in the room at least knew of this underworld ghost. Yoongi knew him best having been childhood friends, but Jimin talked of him with the fondness reserved for the best of friends. Hoseok was much more reserved with his praise, but he said that was only because he had been sworn to secrecy. Their tender accounts should have worried Jeongguk, but they all seemed to have a single common theme: V was a good man capable of doing bad things, but only for the right reasons.
“He’s the sweetest, purest thing.” Jimin told him for what must have been the twentieth time, his eye smile nearly blinding. Jeongguk blinked, still finding the brazen adoration too bright for his eyes to bear. “One time he apologized to a flower for stepping on it.”
From where he was melting into the couch with a laptop perched on his lap, Yoongi made a sound that was a cross between a laugh and a yawn. “Of course he did.” His expression was equally adoring, and Jeongguk silently marveled at the way it made Yoongi’s stern face melt. Of all things, it was this look that had Jeongguk truly relaxing into the cushions beneath him. If Yoongi, the scariest one out of them all, looked that soft at just the thought of this stranger, Jeongguk had nothing to worry about.
It should have been alarming, the way these people that were barely more than strangers had planted themselves in Jeongguk’s small circle of focus, but it was really mostly enchanting. His new crew of outlaws were surprisingly soft, and Jeongguk only found himself feeling some type of serene when in their presence.
Jeongguk needed only five days with Park Jimin to rediscover his faith in humanity. Jung Hoseok made them all laugh like the world was a song and they were the singing choir. Min Yoongi was the softest, only he hid it with a grumpiness that was still somehow endearing. Jeongguk was the only one of them that frowned more than he smiled, but even his smiles were more frequent in their company.
Namjoon and Seokjin really knew how to pick them. Jeongguk remembered the way his hyungs poured over his list of potentials, scrutinizing the internet for any details, and then slipping into the dark web when a regular search gave little to no information. Namjoon had connections to possibly everyone alive ever, so he got nicely detailed accounts that helped narrow the pool. It was Seokjin in the end that delivered the final judgement. Seokjin was a people person through and through, and he could judge characters with frightening accuracy. After Jeongguk’s last business collaboration disaster, his hyungs wanted criminals that were kind above all else, which was a funny request when Jeongguk stopped to think about it. They must have lucked out. Or maybe criminal competence had always been squeaky laughter and blinding smiles and a pouty dialect.
They were probably the kind of criminal Jeongguk’s mother had always told him he could become.
“How old is he?” Jeongguk found himself asking after a while. Namjoon shot him a knowing smirk from his perch on the bed, his head pillowed in Seokjin’s lap. He had seen the slightest of disappointment in Jeongguk’s eyes when Yoongi and Jimin both ended up being older than him despite being shorter.
“He’s older than you by almost a year.” Yoongi answered without looking away from his laptop screen. Jeongguk couldn’t really tell what he was doing from his position, but Jimin, who occasionally peeked over Yoongi’s shoulder, was perpetually wide eyed.
“Don’t worry Gukie, he’s a six year old at heart.” Jimin said with a twinkle in his eye. The neon blue of the computer screen washed over him, bathing his light brown hair so it looked something like magic. “When he visits my family, he spends more time with my little neighbors than he does with me.”
“He visits you often?” Yoongi asked, a quiet expression on his face that was betrayed only by the flicker in his eyes.
Jimin’s smile dimmed slightly. “After he helped get us out, my mother made him promise to visit often. He couldn’t say no, not to her.”
“I should guilt trip him into taking me on a vacation.” Hoseok mumbled under his breath. It was difficult to tell how serious the older man was. From what he observed over the past week, Jeongguk found that Hoseok had two defaults for his face: kind of sleepy, kind of annoyed and then the most dazzling smile to ever grace the Earth. At the moment, Hoseok looked more bored than anything else.
“He sounds like a sweetheart.” Seokjin announced after the silence had reigned for longer than he liked. He flopped over on his bed, dislodging Namjoon (who was only trying to read, bless him) to then roll over him to peer over at Jeongguk. “Can you stop freaking out now?”
“I was not freaking out!” Jeongguk countered automatically. He had to bite his tongue from whining, too aware of the mostly strangers around him. When Namjoon dropped his book to shoot Jeongguk a look that all but shouted, Don’t even try to lie to us, we know how soft you are on the inside. Jeongguk sighed quietly. “I’m apprehensive, and with reason.”
“You don’t need to be.” Jimin was quick to assure. “V hasn’t even agreed to take the job yet, and he will as soon as he realizes who we’re planning on screwing over.”
His calming smile suddenly felt out of place after the words that left his mouth.
“He really will.” Yoongi added solemnly. “V hates corrupt politicians a lot, but he hates corrupt politicians that steal art even more.”
“I actually met him because he was trying to track down a stolen Slaughter piece. Apparently it had been robbed from an old family friend.” Hoseok said, sitting up from his slouch. He smiled handsomely with a small twitch of the corner of his lips that belied a secret. “I don’t know how he found me, so I agreed to help him if he told me how he did.”
“How did he find you, then?” Jeongguk couldn’t help from asking. He could never deny seeking the truth. This V character was becoming more and more intriguing; it was hard to find a criminal with morals let alone one with such well founded and righteous morals. Well, it was hard until Seokjin tossed him the three files that would make them a team of seven.
Hoseok’s smile turned sharper, just a few shades from unnerving. “He told me a dead man showed him the way.”
Jeongguk frowned, a prickle of annoyance shooting down his spine. That made not an ounce of sense. Was he supposed to take it literally, or was it a metaphor meant to fly right over his head? If he couldn't figure it out on his own, he would ask Namjoon.
“That makes literally no sense.” Seokjin huffed, sitting up with a pout pursing his plump lips. The eldest amongst them vehemently disliked not understanding something which wasn’t usually a problem because Seokjin was an incredibly intelligent individual. Before Hoseok could open his mouth to reply, Seokjin held up a hand to stop him. “If you’re going to continue being cryptic, let’s just not.”
With a laugh, Hoseok complied. “Sure thing, Jinnie-hyung.”
“He’s here.” Yoongi cut in abruptly, momentarily stopping Jeongguk’s heart. Once he forced it to restart, Jeongguk glanced over to see the smaller black haired man holding one of his phones up to show the blinking message notification. “Do you want to let him in?”
“No,” Jeongguk answered, “you can do it.”
Yoongi shrugged his astonishingly narrow shoulders and shuffled over to the door. As he crossed the room, all its occupants brought themselves up to full awareness. Jeongguk’s spine straightened of his own accord, but he had to coerce his legs into stillness. Jimin sat forward, ready to spring to his feet like the flitting thief he was. Seokjin hopped out of the bed to stand by it while Namjoon set his book on the nightstand and sat up, crossing his long legs to affect an effortless air of thoughtfulness.
Before Jeongguk could lose himself to admiring Namjoon as the natural intellectual he was, Yoongi reached the front door and snapped it open. His small frame somehow managed to keep the stranger out of Jeongguk’s view, but the way Yoongi’s shoulders relaxed almost imperceptibly was a good sign.
“You’re alive.” Yoongi said in lieu of an actual greeting, and it was easy to picture the small, gummy smile on his face. “You’re darker than I remember you.”
“Tae!” Jimin shouted gleefully having glanced what Jeongguk could not see and sprung to his feet. “You changed your hair!” He moved forward, gently pushing Yoongi out of the way by means of his waist so the other man could step into the loft and -
Jeongguk stopped. He stopped, everything inside of him grinding to a hold. Or maybe the whole world did, or maybe nothing stopped at all, because in the next beat of his heart the world was roaring away into the distance, leaving Jeongguk a stupefied mess in its wake.
The man that stepped into the room glittered, the golden rays of the setting sun reverently caressing the soft brown of his skin, glossing over the silken pink of his lips like a kiss. His pale brown hair shone more like gold, curling lovingly over his temples and delicately arched brows, and dipping into his dark brown eyes. Each of his features was a paradox, both soft and sharp in equal measure. His nose was a sharp slope but curved cutely at its tip. His cheeks bunched up with the force of his boxy smile, but the line of his bones were pronounced. And his eyes - round and wide and sunk into his skin like gems - were kind.
Somehow, of all that Jeongguk’s eyes were tracing over and committing to memory without any conscious thought, the most alluring part of the man was the splattering of beauty marks on the canvas of his skin. The one on the tip of his nose made Jeongguk want to reach out and touch it. The one on his lip made Jeongguk feel something inside of him flutter to life.
He was simply the most lovely thing Jeongguk had ever seen.
Jimin’s body enveloped the man, cutting off Jeongguk’s dazed exploration so suddenly there was a moment of whiplash. And then the man laughed, deep and melodic and Jeongguk was lost again.
“Jiminie!” The man shouted, his voice sounding deep and from the depths of his chest. He wrapped elegant arms around the smaller man and squeezed. “It’s so good to see you.”
It took for Yoongi to actually start whining for Jimin to step back and for V to shift his attention to the room. He stepped closer to Yoongi, giving him a quick cuddle that spoke of their silent camaraderie. When Yoongi stepped away, V shot a smile and a wave at Hoseok and then turned to the three men he did not know.
Jeongguk remembered to stand. He did so slowly, careful to move leisurely and reveal nothing of what he was thinking. He held out a steady hand and refused to react when long, slender fingers wrapped around his own.
“It is nice to finally meet you, Mr. Jeon. Yoongi-hyung has told me very little.” The man said around a wide grin. His soft brown eyes shined with a barely concealed mirth that made Jeongguk’s lips ache to smile.
“Call me Jeongguk, please. I’m younger than you.” Jeongguk replied as V dropped his hand. His fingers were suddenly cold so he stuffed them into the pocket of the leather jacket Seokjin was considerate enough to bring to Paris for him. It was Jeongguk’s work jacket, an aged thing that he’d fortunately left behind when he traveled to the states. According to his hyungs, it made him look more intimidating, buffer and angrier and, of course, hotter, which meant people took him more seriously. And it was weird because Jeongguk was the least intimidating person he knew, but that was probably because he knew himself the way the criminals he worked with did not.
When Jeongguk looked over at his hyungs, he found that Seokjin was struggling to keep a laugh from tumbling past his lips. Probably because he could tell that Jeongguk was having a minor internal freakout about his hand touching that of the gorgeous man before him and couldn’t help but laugh at the younger’s inability to clearly emote.
V, on the other hand, had no reservations. He giggled and Jeongguk bit back on the urge to think him adorable. “Then call me Taehyung. It’s my actual name.”
With his smile bunching up the supple skin of his cheeks, Taehyung looked more at home than anyone else currently in Seokjin’s loft. He wore a velvet black beret over his soft brown hair that matched his long cotton coat. Beneath that, he wore a pale blue shirt patterned with renaissance roses tucked into pale grey trousers that fit more like pyjamas. On his feet were a pair of slippers that inexplicably matched the leather messenger bag over his hip. Taehyung looked the kind of soft that was meant to be encased by cream peach and illuminated by the golden rays of the sun
Jeongguk, who had never been one to admire paintings or sculptures, found himself entranced by this breathing piece of art.
“Taehyung.” He echoed. It felt, somehow, like liberation. Taehyung smiled like he felt it too.
Seokjin stepped forward with his hand held out and Taehyung shook it with an easy smile. He did the same with Namjoon, greeting both of them like they were long time friends. It shouldn’t have, but it put Jeongguk at ease. If his hyungs could smile at the newcomer with such genuinity, then Taehyung was as good as they came.
After all their pleasantries were exchanged, Yoongi had gotten a forty-five second long hug, and Hoseok and Taehyung exchanged a few meaningful glances, the seven of them settled around the room. Taehyung joined Jimin and Yoongi on the couch despite it only seating two people. The other men didn’t seem to mind in the slightest.
When the light conversation lulled to a quiet, Hoseok coughed meaningfully into his clenched fist and looked around the circle the seven of them had unintentionally formed. Returning to his seat, Jeongguk reached over the side and pulled out a thick manila folder. The crinkle of his fingers digging into the paper sounded obscenely loud now that all eyes were on him. Taking in a deep breath, Jeongguk flipped it open and pulled out a picture of their target.
Squaring his expression into that of a criminal’s in a leather jacket, Jeongguk placed the photo on the faded coffee table in the center of their circle and watched the way Taehyung’s eyes immediately fixed on the priceless artifact.
Taehyung slowly looked up, his wide brown eyes meeting Jeongguk’s imploringly. He didn’t look appalled nor apprehensive. If anything, Taehyung looked excited. Eager. Alive.
“The tête de coeurs.” Taehyung whispered with open awe. “The Head of Hearts. You want to steal the most expensive crown on the whole damn planet.”
if ur enjoying the story so far, pls leave some kudos and maybe even a comment. i know that if people actively enjoyed what i wrote i would be more willing to write more :)) ch 4 will come eventually tho lol
ps, i'm on tumblr @ minyahrt and insta @taemalito in case anyone has questions or even ideas