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Coco

Chapter Text

 

 

 

New York City, Winter, 1988

 

 

The weight of the bag was heavy in his hold, swinging from his fist as he picked it up off the floor. It was so packed with goods that it might just explode if he tried to shove anything else inside, the polyester material bulging at the seams. But he wasn’t done yet, not even close.

 

Jimin quickly crossed his bedroom to get to the door, unlocking and pulling it open to step out onto the landing. He had to squint to see in the current level of darkness, just a hint of moonlight bleeding in though a small window across the floor. The bare soles of his feet padded on the carpeted flooring as he walked along the landing, the thick pile completely muffling his steps as he went along to the master bedroom.

 

When Jimin pushed the door open, he couldn’t help but wince at the sound the creaking hinges made. It wasn’t an incredibly loud sound, but in the current silence of the home, it was like a scream cutting through the air. He stopped pushing to peer through the small crack in the doorway. After several seconds of cautious waiting, there was no sign of movement, and so he pushed the door fully open to creep inside.

 

His father was lying in the massive bed across the room, deeply asleep and unaware of his presence. The white covers were pulled up so high that Jimin couldn’t see him from his crouched position in the doorway, but he could hear him loudly snoring away.

 

Considering the amount of alcohol that he had aggressively knocked back over the duration of the evening, it really was no wonder why his father was out cold. He likely wouldn’t wake up from any slight noises that Jimin might make whilst searching the bedroom. But that didn’t mean that he wasn’t going to walk on tiptoe and hold his breath the entire time, for he was far too scared of getting caught to act so recklessly.

 

There was no sign of his mother lying in bed beside his father because she was currently sharing his bed for the night. She had decided to keep a great distance from him after what had happened over dinner. She had fallen asleep after sobbing uncontrollably for the best part of an hour and then popping a Valium; one of his plush, European teddy bears hugged against her breast and her long hair a tangled mess all over her face.

 

This meant that Jimin didn’t need to worry about her waking up and catching him sneaking around the house either, for the Valium would have completely numbed her to everything. He just needed to hurry up and do what he had to do before he chickened out and made the biggest mistake of his life.

 

Jimin crawled over to the dressing table across the room, pushing his backpack in front of him and hearing it softly rustling as it brushed against the wooden flooring. He got upright upon reaching the table, dropping the bag down on the seat to free up his hands.

 

The surface of the dressing table was covered in an assortment of beauty products: creams and serums, perfumes and cosmetics, a soft bristle hairbrush and random makeup brushes. But he wasn’t interested in what was on the table. He wanted what was inside the drawers, and so he dragged one open to start searching.

 

Nestled within a stash of silken scarves and cute purses in the top drawer, Jimin located the first jewellery box. It was a chunk of painted wood, the interior padded with velvet cushioning in a resplendent shade of red. He placed it down onto the table, lifting the lid up to get to the gleaming and glittering contents.

 

Jimin slipped one of the purses out of the drawer - a pink, satin purse that had hundreds of beads embroidered onto the front and golden snap clasps. He popped it open so that he could start shoving the collection of rings inside, moving fast and not even stopping to check what he was snatching up.

 

After all, Jimin knew that all the rings had had big price tags when they had first been purchased. Even the cheapest item would be worth a decent amount of cash, for his mother never wore fake jewels. His father was a goddamn asshole, but the one thing he would praise him for was that he certainly knew how to treat his wife well.

 

The rings were awkward as he grabbed handfuls to toss them into the purse, the cut stones and settings digging into his skin almost like thorns. It was as if it was a sign that he was doing something bad, that he should stop. But Jimin just firmly set his jaw and tried to not think about such things.

 

After emptying the rings into the purse, Jimin grabbed another jewellery box from a different table drawer. This one contained an assortment of necklaces, from thin chains with dangling charms and pearls; to chunky statement pieces encrusted with jewels, glass and wooden beads, and polished stones.

 

Just like the first box, Jimin emptied it into the purse, which was starting to fill up; the satin sides stretching from the goods and the purse starting to have some weight to it.

 

The third box that Jimin located contained earrings - a smaller box than the others but still packed full with dozens of expensive pieces. He just ended up upending the box without a single care, watching the earrings dropping into the purse in a shower of studs, small hoops and dangling chains. They tinkled with a musical note as they landed on top of the rest of the gold, silver and platinum items; the pairs getting separated from each other as they slipped into the spaces between the rings and necklaces.

 

Jimin snapped the purse shut, shoving it into his backpack and retrieving a second purse to fill up with the remaining items. This one was made of chain metal with a thin body chain, and he opened it up to shove the bracelets inside. Then he crossed the bedroom in search of the final items he needed - his father’s watches and tie pins. They were much easier to find, stored inside the top drawer of the dresser beside the wardrobe in some leather cases to stop them getting lost.

 

Even though he knew that he was going too far, Jimin also searched through his father’s wallet to snatch up whatever paper money was stored inside. He folded up the notes, shoving them down deep in his front pocket for safekeeping and tossing the wallet back down on the dresser without a single care.

 

The second purse just about able fit inside his backpack, which was completely packed with goods now. Jimin had to apply a great deal of pressure to push the contents down so that he could securely zip it up. The sound of the zipper running in the silence of the bedroom made him glance over at his sleeping father, who didn’t even react in the slightest - his loud snores covering the sound as he tossed his backpack up onto his shoulders.

 

There was a mounted mirror attached to the back of the dressing table, and Jimin studied his reflection in it for a few seconds. In the darkness of the bedroom he couldn’t see most of his face, save for his eyes because they reflected the moonlight and orange-tinged streetlights that came in through the massive windows across the bedroom. He had to take a deep breath to steady himself, feeling his courage starting to wane and grow weak.

 

“I can do this,” he whispered to himself, rolling his fingers up against his palms to form tight fists until his nails painfully pressed into his skin.

 

Jimin exited the bedroom, softly pulling the door shut behind himself and creeping along the landing to get to the stairs. He went down them at a slow pace, holding onto the banister rail and feeling for every step with his toes to make sure that he didn’t trip in the dark. Not a single step creaked under his weight, not that he needed to worry about the sound waking up his parents.

 

Before leaving the house, Jimin went into the kitchen to grab a piece of paper and pen so that he could leave a message of some kind. He really didn’t know why he was doing such a thing, it just felt like he was supposed to do it. He hesitated for a moment, the pen hovering over the piece of paper as he tried to think of something to write.

 

There was only one thing that came to mind, but Jimin felt like it was it was too far, too angry and spiteful. His hand was shaking so much that he could barely hold the pen right, and it wasn’t only from his fear.

 

Fear of getting caught in the act, fear of what was coming next, fear of the unknown.

 

After some thought, he decided to just scribble his thoughts onto the sheet, the pen nib scratching across the paper as he wrote the big and angry letters on the page.

 

‘Fuck you!’

 

Jimin tacked the piece of paper onto the refrigerator with an apple-shaped magnet, knowing that his parents would see it when they woke up in a few hours and went downstairs. Then he exited the kitchen to go along the hall, slipping into his sneakers and knotting them tight. He unlocked the front door, hearing the chain clanking as he pulled it back and then worked the latch above the handle to drag it open.

 

A waft of cold air hit Jimin as he stepped out onto the front porch and pulled the door shut behind himself, hearing the lock giving a loud click as he let go of the handle. He was so thankful that he had tossed on his denim jacket to combat the chillness in the air because it was going to be a long walk to get to the subway line. As he went down the porch steps, he reached up to fix his backpack straps again, trying to get them into a more comfortable position so that the weight didn’t drag him down and cause him any discomfort.

 

Jimin hesitated once again on the final porch step, turning back to look over his shoulder at the front door.

 

Should he go back inside and get rid of the note? Was it too much? Was it spoilt and childish of him to have left such a thing; scrawled out in a moment of anger and pain?

 

Jimin pulled his lower lip in to gnaw at it, wincing at the slight sting from the split in his skin. No, he decided after a moment of thought. No, he wasn’t going to get rid of the note because he was angry, and he wanted them to know that they had hurt him. He hoped that when his father found the note tomorrow morning, he felt waves of shame, pain and fear coursing through his body, so he would know exactly how he had made him feel.

 

Jimin went down the final porch step, hastily crossing the front drive to hit the street and start walking. There was no sign of life out in this particular neighbourhood, not even the occasional car rolling down the streets because it was a small, suburban area. But the sound of distant traffic echoed on the air, the rumbling engines and tires rolling along the damp, tarmac roads across the block.

 

Walking down the streets of the city at this late hour, Jimin couldn’t help but feel on edge. It had been some time since he had last left the house in the middle of the night like this, except back then he had been doing it for only an hour or two before returning back home and curling up in bed; his parents waking up none the wiser that he had sneaked out.

 

But tonight…tonight, Jimin was leaving home for good and he wasn’t going back. He probably wouldn’t even have a bed to curl up in tonight, or tomorrow, or for a whole week, and he might just end up calling a park bench or an awning in front of a building his bed for the night.

 

Jimin let his breath out in an uneven sigh, folding his arms over his chest to shove his hands into his armpits and keep them warm. It also allowed him to keep a tight grip on his backpack straps at the same time, just to hold onto it and make sure that no one could try and tackle him and drag it off his shoulders.

 

Hopefully, Jimin wouldn’t cross paths with any muggers on the walk to get to the subway, but he didn’t think that he would. Not on these streets, not in this part of town. But still, it was better to be smart and alert to make sure that he didn’t stumble into anyone dangerous. That meant sticking to well-lit and populated streets, even if it was only vehicles passing down the roads rather than other pedestrians on the sidewalks. It also meant avoiding parks and side streets that might resemble narrow alleyways in the dark, the perfect hiding spots for muggers and creeps.

 

Waiting at a set of traffic lights several blocks away from home, Jimin found himself wondering if he was doing the right thing again. The backpack was so heavy on his shoulders, just like the bundle of cash in his jeans pocket; almost weighing him down like anchors. He stared down at his sneakers whilst he waited for the traffic to stop, seeing passing headlights reflecting off the shallow puddles in the gutters.

 

But Jimin knew that he wasn’t making a mistake, that he was actually doing the brave thing by running away like this. It was a mistake to stay at home, cowardly too - especially when he knew what was coming. More arguments and beatings, more threats about being kicked out onto the streets or shipped off somewhere for therapy.

 

It took Jimin a few seconds to realise that the traffic had stopped, a car horn loudly beeping and catching his attention. He quickly jogged across the road, his backpack jostling on his shoulders just like his shoe laces bounced off the toes of his sneakers. Just like that, all thoughts about mistakes and regret had been completely wiped free from his mind.

 

After almost half an hour of walking across the neighbourhood, Jimin was finally able to enter the subway over in Pleasantville; almost skipping down the steps to get down to the single island stop. The train that he needed to board was on the Harlem Line, and a train would pass through this station every 20 minutes or so. Sadly, he had just missed the latest one according to the glowing sign on the platform, and so he was going to have to wait for awhile.

 

Jimin purchased a ticket for the train from the booth at the bottom of the steps. Then he moved to sit down on one of the metal benches whilst he waited, tapping the toes of his sneakers against the gritty concrete because he was so filled with anxiety.

 

The station consisted of nothing more than a single island, a long slab of concrete that had just two platforms on it, along with a ticket booth and a newsagents stand that sold papers, cigarettes and refreshments. Multiple trains stopped at each platform because the lines crisscrossed all of the city, meaning that he could have jumped on any of them.

 

But Jimin knew where he was going. He wasn’t running away without a clue, hoping to get as far away from home as possible. He was heading straight to Harlem because he knew that he was safe there. He didn’t know what he was going to do when he got there, or where he was going to stay for the night, but he knew that he would be safe, and that was all that mattered right now.

 

After some time waiting, Jimin noticed that there was an old lady shuffling her way along the platform towards him; her flat, leather loafers rubbing against the concrete, and her wide hips moving from side to side with each step. She was wearing a floral blouse tucked into a pair of loose pants, dressed like pretty much every old lady that he had ever seen before. Her hair was mostly hidden underneath a vivid hair scarf: a hint of tight black curls threaded with steel grey.

 

“Ooh, my aching knees,” she groaned, placing her worn, red purse in her lap as she sat down on the bench beside him.

 

Jimin gave her a quick look before glancing off across the platform again. He was glad that the old lady had sat down beside him whilst they waited for their trains because that meant that he didn’t need to worry about any strange or creepy guys doing so. He was probably worrying too much about something like that, like a little kid that was scared of the boogeyman. The odds of him bumping into a creep were probably incredibly low, but the thought still scared him a lot.

 

“What’s a child like you doing out at this hour, hmm?” she suddenly asked, leaning closer to him as to not have to raise her voice over the noise coming from the platform.

 

Jimin turned his head to return her gaze, stammering out, “I-I’m not a kid, I’m actually an adult.”

 

Technically, Jimin wasn’t a kid, he was 19 years old. He thought that everyone who had left high school automatically dropped the ‘kid’ title in favour of the dreaded ‘young adult’ one, so he was actually telling her the truth.

 

“Mmmhmm,” she hummed, eyeing him over the tops of her glasses with an all-knowing expression. “And I’m a rich, white housewife too; fancy that?”

 

“Well, what’re you doing out at this hour?” Jimin asked in return. He knew that the question made him seem that little more like a kid because it was so very immature, but it had just slipped free without much thought.

 

“I’m travelling to work,” she replied without missing a beat. “Who else do you think cleans all those fancy apartments, malls and high-rise office blocks? The only people that know how to clean a house properly: grandmothers. Young’uns can’t clean a plate, never mind a whole house. Mind this seat for me, would you?”

 

The grandmother suddenly moved to get to her feet, crossing the platform with her slow, shuffling gait, her purse dangling from her cocked elbow.

 

Jimin placed his backpack down on the bench beside him, using it as a means to keep the seat for her. Hopefully, someone wouldn’t come over and tell him to move it, or rudely dump it onto the floor. He didn’t know where she was going, but he hoped that she didn’t miss her train.

 

When the grandmother returned a few minutes later, Jimin saw that she was carrying a Styrofoam container in her hand. Steam was wafting up from it, which meant that it was a hot drink of some kind. He moved to grab his backpack, placing it down in his lap so that she could sit down beside him again.

 

Without even saying a single word, she turned to hold the cup out to him. The scent of coffee wafted from it in strong waves, signalling that it might just be as black as his hair.

 

Jimin stared at the cup for a few seconds, completely taken aback by the fact that she seemed to be giving it to him. He glanced between the cup and her face before moving to accept it from her with soft thanks. It was just a cup of coffee, but the action showed so much compassion and made him feel strangely emotional.

 

“Lord knows where you’re going, child. But I know one thing, and that it’s better than wherever you just left,” she said, giving him another one of those looks that only grandmothers could achieve - all-knowing and powerful.

 

Before Jimin could say another thing, she got up off the bench to move closer to the platform. The sound of a train starting to approach echoed through the air, the grating screech of the wheels on the tracks as it started slowing down to pull into the station. He looked up at the sign to see that the train he was waiting for was due any second from now, the next one to arrive at the platform.

 

Jimin jumped to his feet too, moving to wait behind the painted line on the concrete just like the old lady. He peered along the tracks to see bright headlights growing bigger and bigger with each passing second, the train almost at the station. As it drew closer, the noise it made was unbelievable - screeching and groaning metal, and hissing engines that were loud enough to make him wince. The train was like a beast, filled with raw energy and power as it came to a stop at the platform.

 

After a few seconds, one of the carriage doors along the length of the train opened and a conductor stepped out onto the platform. He moved aside to let some of the passengers exit the train, telling them to mind the step and assisting a lady with a stroller so that she could get out onto the platform.

 

Jimin quickly crossed the platform to reach the conductor, rather than wait for him. He just wanted to board the train as fast as possible, knowing that it was the final hurdle he had to clear. There was no looking back once the carriage doors closed and the train left the station, only looking forward towards his new life.

 

“Tickets, please!” the conductor called, accepting Jimin’s ticket to punch it into the box dangling around his neck. “Here you go, son. Tickets, please! No boarding without ‘em!”

 

Jimin took his ticket back, now with a hole punched right through the end. He entered the carriage whilst the conductor went along the platform, popping open more doors and accepting boarding tickets. The carriage he was inside was mostly empty, and so he quickly crossed the aisle to drop into the corner seat - out of the way and far from most of the other passengers.

 

Jimin hugged his backpack against his body, staring down at his sneakers as he tried to block everything else out. If he avoided eye-contact, if he stayed quiet in the corner and just sipped at his coffee, hopefully no one would bother him for the duration of the subway ride.

 

After a minute or two waiting at the station, the conductor shut the doors and boarded the train again. He had only just shut the final door behind himself when the carriage vibrated underneath them, and then it started slowly rolling forward to leave the platform.

 

Within seconds, all that Jimin could hear was the soft rumble of the carriage on the tracks, making him gently sway from side to side on the padded seat. It was as if there was no one else in the carriage with him: no gossiping ladies sitting together, no tinny music bleeding out of massive headphones, no hoarse coughing and rustling newspapers.

 

Jimin could still hear his father’s voice echoing through his mind, trapped inside the thin walls of his skull so that it was unable to escape and leave him alone. The anger in his shouts, the volume so loud that veins had cabled up under the skin on his temples and throat as he had waved his hand at him; the rolled-up dirty magazine clutched in his fist - it all reverberated in his head until he couldn’t block his words out, no matter how tightly that he hugged his backpack and tried to shut off his thoughts.

 

“Not in this household! No, I raised a son, not a daughter! I raised you to be a man, Jimin! Just like me! I gave you so much - education, shelter, and everything you could ever want for, I bought for you! Why are you doing this to me?! And Yoona! I told you we shouldn’t have enrolled him in that stupid dance studio with all of the girls, but you just had to have your way on the matter!”

 

“I didn’t think this would happen, dear! It was just dancing! It was just dancing, I-”

 

“Well, it’s too late for that now! The damage is done! Goddamn women, always corrupting little boys and turning them into girls because you think it’s fun! You all dress boys up and make them act cute and sweet so you can impress your stupid friends, but you never think about what that does to them mentally! You’ve been dressing Jimin up in those stupid dance costumes and makeup for so long now, he doesn’t even know that he’s a man!”

 

“Minho, please, stop shouting. You’re scaring him, you’re scaring me!”

 

“I’m not shouting, I’m not- Jimin! Stop crying right now! Stop crying, or so help me, I’m going to give you a reason to cry!”

 

Jimin placed the coffee container down on the empty seat beside him, reaching up to cup his hands over his ears and closing his eyes to try and force it all away. But it didn’t work, not in the slightest.

 

“You’re a man, Jimin! A man! Stop crying right now! If you’re scared then that means you know you’ve done something wrong and- I said stop crying! That’s it! I’ve had enough of this!”

 

“Minho, no!”

 

Jimin’s cheek was still dully aching from the first slap to the face. The following blows to his back and arms as he had tried to shield his head from the hard, rolled-up magazine; the kicks to his ribs and thighs when he had toppled out of the chair to hit the dining-room floor - they were nothing. It was the slap across the face that he couldn’t stop feeling, and he knew why.

 

The slap had been the very first time that his father had ever hit him.

 

“No son of mine is going to be a faggot! I’m not having it! I’m going to find a way to straighten you out, Jimin! I don’t care how much money it costs, I’m going to find someone that can fix you!”

 

Even when he didn’t want to, even when he knew that he might draw attention to himself, Jimin couldn’t control his emotions any longer. The first, hard sob escaped him, which he managed to suppress against the backs of his shaking fingers. He had to press his face into his backpack to muffle himself, gently rocking back and forth on the seat as his last wall of defence crumbled and broke down.

 

After several minutes of uncontrollable sobbing, Jimin managed to get himself back under control. He lifted his head up off his backpack, reaching up to wipe at his eyes and nose with the heel of his hand. His cheeks were hot and wet against his skin, his face flushed with colour from his crying. He sniffed hard as he spared a quick glance across the carriage, hiccuping on a sob as he took a deep inhale.

 

No one was looking in his direction, no one even seemed to care, and Jimin was actually thankful for it. He didn’t want to talk to anyone right now, he didn’t think that he possibly could do such a thing. He just wanted to be left alone for awhile to recover, free from judgemental looks and pity.

 

The subway ride took a further half hour, passing through four stops before the train pulled into Harlem-125th Street Station at long last. In that time, Jimin slowly sipped at his cooling coffee and tried to calm himself down. He hiccuped quite a lot as he regulated his breathing, accidentally spilling a few splashes down onto his jeans that hopefully wouldn’t leave stains on the denim.

 

As the train started to slow down and pull into the stop, Jimin fixed his backpack up onto his shoulders, giving his eyes another quick wipe with his fingers to brush away unshed tears that were caught on his eyelashes. Then he got to his feet, following the other passengers out onto the platform after the conductor had opened the door for them; the empty coffee container clutched in his fist. He tossed it into one of the trash cans on the island platform, quickly squeezing his way into one of the elevators to ride up to the station mezzanine.

 

Jimin pushed through the turnstiles to exit the subway at a fast pace, his sneakers pounding on the concrete steps as he went up them to get onto the street. When he stepped out, he was almost swept up into a crowd of pedestrians that were crossing the sidewalk right outside the subway. He had to move aside to get out of their way, almost stumbling over his own feet in the process.

 

The streets of Harlem were as packed as they always were, day and night. Not too far from the station there were an assortment of businesses like restaurants, clothing stores, bars, and office blocks stretched up high above these buildings - towers of metal and glass that were still small in comparison to some of the skyscrapers across Manhattan. Churches and libraries blended in between these businesses; buildings made from old brick and stone that didn’t catch his eye as he started walking down the street.

 

Jimin didn’t really know where he was going, just that he would know when he got there. All he could do was keep walking, not stopping or even thinking for a second because if he did so he would start panicking. So long as he focused on the glowing, neon signs hanging off the sides of buildings, or the fancy window displays filled with stylish mannequins beside him, or even just looked from person to person as they passed him by…he could stay cool. There was nothing to worry about, nothing to fear, only the beauty and wonder of the Harlem nightlife all around him.

 

Soon enough, Jimin started to see the signs that he was drawing close to the elusive safe haven, some more obvious than others. He caught sight of small gangs of boys and girls hanging around in shockingly colourful clothing and makeup; some of them dancing, others eating and loudly conversing, a few maybe waiting for clients on the street corners (the thought making his face flood with heat as he dragged his gaze away from them). But even then, he didn’t stop because he didn’t know what he was supposed to do.

 

Should Jimin talk to some of these men and women and hope that they might be able to help him? Or was that a bad idea, a dangerous idea?

 

Was it a better idea to find somewhere to wait, hoping that someone might notice that he was an obvious teenage runaway and come over to talk to him instead? That seemed like a safer option, but Jimin still felt his feet restlessly guiding him along the packed streets of Harlem in search of a sign of some kind that would finally tell him that he was safe.

 

Soon enough, the sight of gay youth started to take over the streets, and bars and clubs replaced restaurants and retail stores. Jimin was surrounded by boys and girls, men and women just like him, but he still felt like he didn’t belong just yet. He was enthralled by the sight of them all, and so very scared and anxious at the same time; his hands shaking as he held onto his backpack straps, and his breathing shallow and uneven.

 

One of the neon signs hanging above the entrance doors of an establishment caught his eye as he passed underneath it, and Jimin found himself slowing down to study it.

 

The name of the bar was ‘Pretty Pollys’, the title spelled out in cursive and bright red characters above the door. Beside this, a sign of a pair of thin legs wearing high heels kept flashing every few seconds. One of the legs kicked up high before falling again, the matching red heels catching his full attention. The legs ran all the way up to show a cheeky curve of a behind, hinting that the bar might just feature adult entertainment of some kind.

 

Underneath the neon sign, the bar walls were covered in dozens of posters, all of them advertising the exact same thing. It was enough to draw Jimin in, his curiosity so powerful that he came to a complete stop to see what was on the posters.

 

‘Miss Minah Coco Live Show!’ the posters tacked onto the wall declared. ‘Come and see the legend! The beauty! The artist!’ read the caption underneath the bold title. There was more information underneath this about drinks and tickets, but Jimin was far too busy running his gaze over the printed photograph on the poster to pay attention.

 

Minah was dressed in a slinky-looking, black evening gown with a cape, one arm free from the slit in the material with her hand placed on her thin waist, the other holding a feathery fan up beside her face. Her arms were hidden underneath clashing, white evening gloves. Most of her fingers were covered in rings, and thin chains and pearls dangled around her wrists and neck. She had her head cocked back on an angle, looking down at Jimin with an expression that was confident, powerful and sensual. Her black hair was a poker-straight bob that almost reached her wide shoulders, her dark and rounded eyes ringed with smokey eyeliner and soft pink eyeshadow that matched the twin patches of colour of her high cheekbones and glossy lips.

 

Minah, Jimin quickly discerned, must have been a drag act. That was judging from the loud and flamboyant crowd of men and women that were waiting outside the bar - for there was no way of mistaking it for anything other than a gay bar. He saw men holding hands, or holding onto one another with their arms around their waists; he saw men wearing business suits clashing against those in colourful vests and sweats; men with makeup; men that were older than his father and that didn’t seem much older than him.

 

Jimin dragged his gaze away from the crowd to look at the poster again, eyeing Minah’s beautiful face and clothing; her light honeyed skin and pearls absolutely arresting his attention.

 

There was something about her that had pulled him in from a single glance. It might have been her stage name, ‘Miss Minah Coco’ - ‘Minah’ making him think that she might just be an American-Korean drag queen, even if the thought seemed far too outlandish to possibly be true. It might just have been the fact that she was beautiful and he was jealous of how perfectly applied her makeup was.

 

Whatever the case, Jimin looked over at the crowd along the sidewalk again, and he found himself wondering if he could slip his way into the line too.

 

Jimin didn’t know what he was doing right now. All that he knew was that he needed to see her; to see Minah in the flesh to discern if she really was as beautiful as she was in the posters. For the first time all night long, he was thinking about something other than himself, and he wasn’t even a little bit scared. He just wanted to see Minah tonight, that was the only thing that mattered to him at this current moment in time.

 

Jimin slowly crept his way over to the line, seeing that it was starting to grow smaller because people were being allowed inside the bar. As he got closer to the entrance, he saw that there was a tall and wide man waiting on the door, dressed in all-black with his hair tightly braided and gathered into a small bun. He was taking cash from each man and woman, stopping the occasional person to request ID to ascertain their age. This made Jimin hold his breath, hanging back until he was the only one left on the street with him.

 

The bouncer quickly gathered the cash together to slip a clip onto it, glancing up as he shoved it into his pocket to look right at him.

 

Jimin was just standing there a few feet away, holding onto his backpack straps and staring up at him with an expression that couldn’t have made him look anymore like a goddamn kid.

 

“You don’t have any money for admission, do you?” the bouncer asked, looking down at him from his impressive and intimidating height.

 

“Um…no?” Jimin replied, trying his luck just to see what would happen.

 

Truth be told, he had more than enough money stashed away down inside his jeans pockets to probably pay the cheap admission fee to watch the drag queen’s performance. But if lying about it could get him inside because the bouncer pitied him; why not try and save a little cash?

 

“I’ll bet you don’t have any ID either,” he added, shaking his head and glancing off across the street with a knowing expression. “That’ll be ‘cos you ain’t 21. In fact, I’ll be damned if you’re even 20 yet.”

 

Jimin was 19 years old just turned, fresh out of high school and right out on the streets within the space of mere weeks.

 

Talk about crashing before the race had even started.

 

“Now, I’m only letting you inside the place ‘cos I don’t want you out here on these streets, getting yourself into any trouble,” the bouncer said, giving the streets another quick check. “If I let you inside, you better not try to get your hands on some beer or liquor.”

 

“I won’t!” Jimin promised, fighting the rather immature urge to cross his fingers behind his back. “I just wanted to see Miss Minah, that’s all.”

 

“Alright, alright,” he said, moving aside to let him enter the bar. “And remember - no alcohol.”

 

Jimin made a noise at this, moving past the man to go through the open doorway. He had taken only a few steps before he needed to go down a short flight of stairs. He placed his hand against the bare bricks just for the sake of it, carefully going down the steps which were illuminated only by a bare bulb dangling from the high ceiling.

 

Upon reaching the bottom step, Jimin saw that the bar was small because there was a stage taking up quite a lot of the floor space. There were tables in front of the stage, at which most of the patrons were sitting to get the best views of the performance. Some were gathered around the bottom of the stage instead, and a few others were at the bar still purchasing drinks.

 

The interior lighting of the bar was dim, the ceiling lights glowing a soft white with thin clouds of cigarette smoke floating around them. A metal rafter on the ceiling had spotlights attached to it, which were currently switched off because the curtains were still drawn over the stage. The most colourful lighting came from the bar counter that was against the left wall: red and blue lights above the glass display that housed all of the bottles blending together to create various shades of purple.

 

Jimin hovered to the side of the steps for a few seconds, hearing more people making their way down into the bar from underneath the low jazz music and constant chatter coming from the tables. He didn’t quite know where to go, wanting to get a good view of the stage but not wanting to sit at a table in case someone else sat down with him. He shifted his gaze over to the bar counter, seeing padded stools running along the length that he could sit on instead.

 

There was a middle-aged man behind the bar, his salt and pepper hair clashing against his dark skin but matching his black and white serving uniform to perfection. He was clean-shaven, his face showing some deep-set wrinkles, and he was nibbling on a toothpick. It rolled from one corner of his mouth to the next, the corners of his lips turned down in a slight frown.

 

When Jimin moved to gently lower himself down on the stool, the bartender turned away from the tables to look at him. He reached up pull the toothpick out of his mouth, slipping it behind his ear much like one would a cigarette.

 

“How old are you, son?” he asked, his expression and tone revealing that he already knew the answer to that particular question.

 

“Um…” Jimin dragged out, coming to the rather slow realisation that he should have just bluffed and hoped to not get caught out.

 

“No alcohol for you,” the bartender remarked, giving him a soft head shake and a disapproving tut.

 

“Are you gonna kick me out?” Jimin asked in a quiet voice, reaching up to run his fingers over his lips in a nervous fashion.

 

“Kick you out? Hell no, but I ain’t serving you no booze, and I sure as hell ain’t letting you walk outta here with a man on your arm,” the bartender replied, quickly pouring a splash of whisky into a square-based glass. “I know a runaway kid when I see one, child. Just like Bobby on the door when he let you in. I know better than that, to heartlessly kick you out onto those streets.”

 

“Oh…OK, thank you,” Jimin said, letting his breath out in a sigh of relief. He shifted to slip his backpack off, placing it down in his lap to hug it instead. “I’m not even here for the alcohol, I just wanted to see Miss Minah.”

 

“Water or juice? It’s on the house, but don’t think you can drink eight glasses,” the bartender wryly cracked, placing the glass of whisky down onto a tray for a serving boy to carry over to the tables.

 

“Um, juice, please.”

 

“Coming right up.”

 

Jimin watched him going along the bar for a few seconds before glancing to his side. He saw that there was a woman looking right at him, currently lounged against the wooden counter waiting for her drink. She was wearing a crop top and vividly printed leggings with heels, and he could see quite a lot of her ribs protruding against her skin.

 

“Oh, you’re cute,” she remarked with a smile, her glossy lips lifting to show a quick flash of her teeth.

 

“Um, thank you,” Jimin said in a quiet voice, quickly glancing between her and the glass display behind the counter.

 

“I remember my very first drag show. It was an event, mmm, Rhonda truly is legendary,” she remarked, quickly glancing across the bar. “Minah is her child, she taught her well. You’re gonna enjoy the show, baby.”

 

When her drink was placed down on the counter, she picked up the glass and moved to cross the floor to go over to the tables. But she made sure to reach over and give him a playful hair ruffle, which made Jimin bring his shoulders up with a laugh.

 

Wow, talk about friendly.

 

Though the bartender had only offered him some water or juice, he actually created a non-alcoholic cocktail for him to drink; a colourful blend of fruit juice and spring water on ice with a little umbrella on the side of the fancy glass.

 

The sight made Jimin smile to himself, strangely moved by the little act of kindness as he took hold of the umbrella to give it a soft twirl.

 

Whilst he waited for the show to begin, Jimin twisted on the stool to look out across the bar, happily sipping at his drink through a straw. He saw that the crowd was actually sizable because a lot of people had since entered and filled up the pit in front of the stage. There wasn’t a single empty seat, and some people were sharing laps and sitting on the tables; most of the floor right in front of the stage taken up. The sound of conversation drowned out that of the jazz music playing over the sound system, and the air was filled with the strong scents of cologne, perfume and cigarette smoke.

 

When the curtains finally dragged open, they did so slowly. The lights dimmed to plunge the bar into near total darkness, the air falling deathly silent in anticipation. Then the spotlights came on with a series of loud thumps, casting a harsh white glow down from the rafters to reveal that there was a large, black piano just off-centre on the stage.

 

Minah was lounged on the top of the piano, her weight balanced on one gloved elbow and her legs elegantly folded to the side. Her red, sequin dress was stylishly ruched around her hips and thighs from the position. There was a slit in the fabric that revealed her thin thighs almost right up to her hip. A light sheen came from her sheer hose, which made her legs look so smooth. Her feet were hanging over the edge of the piano, clad in a pair of matching red stilettos - the front platforms and heels covered in sequins, and the strap across the front made from sheer plastic with a peep toe. A pink, feather boa was tossed around her neck and elbows so that the long lengths dangled down like snakes.

 

Minah’s straight and bobbed hair looked just like it did in the posters. It was so glossy and soft-looking that it didn’t even look like a wig. Her thick eyelashes were curled tight, almost brushing high enough to touch her fringe; her eyelids covered in a mixture of smokey eyeliner and dusted with soft brown and caramel eyeshadow. Her high cheekbones now had a warm shade of orange on them rather than pink, with dazzling stripes of bronzer and highlighter sculpting her features underneath the strong spotlights. Lastly, her lips were painted with a vivid and glossy red lipstick that matched her dress, currently set in a pout as she looked down at the crowd in front of her.

 

Quite simply, Jimin had never seen a drag queen as beautiful as Minah. Hell, he had never seen a woman as beautiful as her, not even his own mother. He slowly lowered his glass, the straw slipping free from his lips as he stared right back at her.

 

Just the sight of Minah was enough to make the audience start making noise, a powerful wave of applause, cheers and whistles taking to the air.

 

Jimin moved to place his glass down so he could join in, quickly clapping and feeling his heart starting to beat a little faster in his chest in a way that he didn’t quite understand. Underneath the whistles and clapping, he heard some words being shouted at Minah, words like “legendary!” and “yas, queen!” mixing in with declarations of love and adoration from both the men and women in the audience pit.

 

“Hello, boys,” Minah crooned into the microphone, which was placed just beside her on top of the piano. “Did youse miss me, mmm?”

 

This introduction made a spattering of wolf-whistles sound from the men across the bar. That was a sign of just how popular that she was, and the volume easily surpassed the applause at the end of every dance recital that Jimin had ever been in.

 

“Ooh, so much love in the air tonight,” Minah said, her glossy lips curling up at the corners from behind the microphone as she placed her hand against her soft bosom. “Hello to all the ladies tonight too. I see youse out there, looking beautiful and fierce. Youse femme queens just keep on getting more gorgeous every single day; don’tcha?”

 

This time, the women in the audience started cheering and shouting out even more declarations of love for the queen in front of them than the men had. There was less of them gathered in the audience pit, but they made just as much noise, if not more so.

 

Jimin saw that one of these so-called ‘femme queens’ standing close to the stage turned around to look at her friends, fanning at her face and coming over so very emotional. It seemed that Minah had touched her with her words, had said something that had made her feel so happy.

 

Minah ran her dark eyes over the crowd in front of her like she owned the place, so much confidence coming from her that Jimin found himself envious of her stage presence. She looked so happy to be up on that stage, bathing in adoration and love from under the powerful spotlights.

 

Jimin personally knew that the experience of standing on a stage was the best kind of high, that the adrenaline rush was simply addictive. Minah was probably as high as a goddamn kite right now, cruising on the rush and the moment of anticipation leading up to the actual performance.

 

“Mmm, ooh~” she hummed, rolling her head back and closing her eyes in a way that made Jimin tighten his hold around his glass. “I’ve got something special for youse all tonight, mmm~”

 

Minah reached up to stroke her gloved fingers over her throat, dragging them down to the thin pearl necklace that was dangling above her gentle bust. The movement drew attention to all of her jewels, especially the countless rings on her fingers. They glinted in the harsh glow of the spotlights, the little cut stones sparkling just like the sequins on her dress and heels. It should have been too much, the glitter and sparkle displeasing and fake, but Minah made it look beautiful and classy.

 

Jimin didn’t know what this could possibly mean because he had never seen her usual performances. But he heard a ripple of excitement spreading out across the air, which was probably a sign that said special thing was going to be good.

 

Was Minah going to perform a special song tonight? Was she going to show off a special talent? Drag queens had other talents other than singing, right? Jimin was pretty certain that they danced and did other things, like telling jokes.

 

Minah moved to lean over the edge of the piano, and that was when she started hitting the keys to play; still very much lounged on the top like an elegant cat.

 

Jimin was shocked to hear that she played the piano to perfection, her gloved fingers dancing across the keys and not missing a note. He couldn’t imagine how much that she must have trained to learn to play the piano in such a position. It was only a simple melody that she was playing, but it was still incredibly impressive and left him in complete awe.

 

Whilst Minah tinkled the keys to introduce the song, the audience gave a quick burst of applause before falling completely silent to drink in the entire performance. She flashed them all a final smile, bringing her lips over to the microphone so that she could start crooning into it.

 

“‘You’re my…funny valentine. Sweet, comic valentine. You make me smile~ with my heart. Your looks are…laughable, unphotographable. Yet, you’re my favorite~ work of art’.”

 

There was a smokey sound to Minah’s voice, a hint of masculinity that sounded sexy and pleasing even when it wasn’t strictly feminine.

 

After all, a lot of the old film stars that Jimin had seen singing and dancing on the television screen had had deep and husky voices, rather than high-pitched and sweet ones. It was fitting that Minah sang like that too, that she emulated their sound during her performances. It didn’t matter that she didn’t sing as sweet as a songbird, for her singing was soothing and perfect in its own way.

 

Jimin was pulled in instantly from the very first line, especially when she started dragging out the notes in a breathy fashion. He found himself cupping his face in his hands as he stared across the bar at the queen, enraptured by everything about her - her looks, her costume, her voice.

 

Minah stopped singing to add a little flourish with the piano, her gloved fingers dancing across the keys. She didn’t even look down at her hands as she did so, she just rolled her eyes to the side so that she could carry on facing the audience during her routine. There wasn’t a hint of nervousness present on her face, which was on total display underneath the powerful spotlights.

 

Jimin almost held his breath in anticipation during the piano interlude, nervous that Minah’s fingers might slip and hit the wrong key. The bar was so silent that if she did so, everyone would hear the mistake, and that might ruin the so-far perfect performance.

 

“‘Is your figure~ less than Greek? Is your mouth~ a little weak’?”

 

Jimin didn’t know about having a weak mouth, but his knees might just feel a little weak if he were to get closer to Minah - especially if she was in full drag. The corners of his lips would most certainly turn weak, struggling to stay up long enough to form a smile from adoration and nerves.

 

“‘When you open it…to speak, are you smart? But, don’t change a hair for me. Not if you care for me. Stay, little valentine, stay~! Each day is Valentine’s Day~’.”

 

Minah paused for a moment, catching her breath before she repeated the lines again. This time, she did so in a softer and sweeter pitch than before.

 

“‘Is your figure~ less than Greek? Is your mouth~ a little weak? When you open it to speak, are you smart? But, don’t change a hair for me. Not if you care for me. Stay, little valentine, stay~! Each day is Valentine's Day~’.”

 

Minah’s short performance was met with a loud spattering of applause and whistles. She shifted to cock her weight back on her elbow again, her lips splitting in a wide smile as she ran her eyes across the floor.

 

Jimin took a few seconds to realise that he hadn’t given her an applause yet, far too focused on staring at her. He shifted to do so, quickly clapping even as the applause started to fade out.

 

“I see so many handsome men in front of me tonight,” Minah said with that same wide smile, leaning closer to the microphone as she reached up to knock a sheath of hair back behind her ear. “I wonder if any of youse gentlemen would like to take me home for the night?”

 

This question was met by dozens of shouts from said gentlemen, some of them sweet, others ribald. Jimin felt himself blushing just listening to some of the dirty things that the other men were saying, glancing between the audience pit and Minah to see that she looked completely unfazed by their words.

 

Jimin would like to take Minah back home with him tonight too, and not even in a sexual way. He would love to bring her home and spend time just talking to her, hearing all of the fascinating stories that she had no doubt amassed over the years; watching her transform back into the man that was hidden underneath all of her makeup. The man that might just be as beautiful and charming as she was, that might have a smile as dazzling as hers.

 

But Jimin didn’t have a home to bring her back to, not even a tiny and cheap hotel room.

 

“Danny, be a doll and gimme a tune,” Minah said, as she shifted to get up off the piano. She waved at someone that was currently not on the stage with her, hidden away behind the curtains. “Gimme something…hot.”

 

“How’s this, Miss Minah?” Danny asked, smoothly gliding his way onto the stage to stand right beside the piano.

 

Jimin saw that Danny was a young-looking and handsome black man, clad in a similar vintage style to match Minah’s costume. He was wearing a white shirt tucked into loose and wide-legged brown trousers, the waistband high and held in place by suspenders. On his head, there was a flat cap, and slung around his body was a gleaming, golden saxophone that reflected the stage lights back like a mirror.

 

The sight of Danny caused even more wolf-whistles to sound through the air. He flashed the audience a dazzling and very white smile, which made the femme queens blow kisses and congregate in front the stage to get closer to him.

 

Danny brought the saxophone up to his lips, blowing out a tune that sounded a little more sensual, a little more sexy than the previous song. As he started pressing the keys, he leaned back and slowly moved his body to the rhythm, dancing and playing at the same time. He had good rhythm, looked like he might just be a dancer too.

 

Jimin vaguely recognised the tune, but it sounded like Danny was switching up the rhythm to create an introduction for Minah to dance and strut to before the song actually started.

 

Despite her stilettos looking so high and her ankles being so thin, Minah was able to walk across the stage and go down the stairs without a hint of a stumble in her step, strutting to the sensual saxophone and bringing her arms up over her head to expose her smooth and hairless armpits.

 

“Oh, drag it out, baby!” Minah crooned into her microphone, turning to tinkle her fingers at Danny with a wickedly sinful smile. She gave a little shimmy with her hips, dropping down to shake her behind in a way that had the men in the audience wolf-whistling and hollering. “This music really puts me in the mood. D’y’know what I mean, boys? It puts me in the mood for…making love to you.”

 

When Danny started playing the introduction to the song, Jimin saw some of the men in the audience jumping to their feet to cheer and clap their hands, roused to a whole new level of excitement by the saucy song and performance.

 

Minah accepted an offered hand from one of her treasured femme queens, flashing her a thankful smile as she got down onto the flooring. It made her let out a squeal, clapping her hand against her breasts and bouncing in her high heels in excitement.

 

Jimin felt a sudden wash of fear coursing through him at this, a little worried now that Minah was down in the pit with the crowd. Someone might grab hold of her, might touch her whilst she was performing when she didn’t want them too. Maybe not one of the femme queens, who were just gathered together at the front, blowing kisses, waving, and holding out singles as a tip for her performance…but maybe one of the men.

 

But there wasn’t a hint of fear on Minah’s face as she once more dropped her hips low; the microphone clutched in one hand over her head, and her free hand stroking down her arm and across her neck, her fingertips dancing across her jawline. One thin thigh slipped free from the slit in her dress, her hip cocked so that she could lift her leg and give a teasing kick; the sequinned skirt rippling from the movement.

 

Piercing whistles cut through the air at this, and Jimin found himself unable to look away from the slit in her dress. He was hoping to catch another glimpse at her thighs.

 

Minah stepped her way over to one of the tables, dropping to sit right down in one lucky man’s lap without so much as an invitation. It seemed that this was the part of her routine that involved getting physical with the audience, in the form of flirtation and bodily contact. She crossed one leg over the other, her high heel-clad foot bobbing in rhythm with the saxophone as she slung an arm around his neck.

 

“‘I don’t want you…to be no slave. I don’t want you…to work all day. But I want you…to be true. And I just wanna make…love to you’.”

 

This little tease earned her a tip, the man holding out a bundle of singles between his fingers for her to accept.

 

Minah got to her feet again to move around the tables in front of the stage, discreetly slipping the singles she had collected from him and the femme queens down the front of her dress. She pulled her feather boa free from her neck to toss it around whatever man and woman caught her eye. As she did so, she smoothly accepted tips without so much as a pause in her routine, smoothly stepping and shimmying as she played with the audience.

 

She teasingly tugged the boa free from a man’s neck as she breathed the next lines out, husky and sensual. “‘Love to you, ooohoo~ Love to you’.”

 

Minah tossed her feather boa back around her neck, shimmying her shoulders with a mischievous wink that earned her even more whistles. She spotted her next lucky victim after a quick scan of the tables, and she leaned forward to take hold of his work tie as she started singing again.

 

“‘All I want to do is wash your clothes. I don’t want to keep you indoors’,” she sang in that husky and seductive voice, teasingly stroking the man’s tie as she straightened up again. “‘There is nothing for…you to do!’”

 

Minah reached down to grab hold of the lengths of her dress skirt at this, and with a hard tug she wrenched it off to reveal the tight-fitting leotard she was wearing underneath; the skirt completely detachable. The lack of skirt revealed her shockingly smooth groin, which was free from the slightest hint of a masculine bulge.

 

Jimin couldn’t help but stare at Minah’s groin, wondering where the hell her actual penis had gone. He felt so dirty for doing so, but couldn’t seem to help himself. He quickly looked over at the bartender for fear that he had noticed him staring at the drag queen’s crotch, but the man was too busy preparing drinks to even glance in his direction.

 

“‘But keep me making…love to you’.”

 

Oh, when Minah turned around to start rolling her hips, Jimin felt his breath catching in his throat in surprise at how brazenly sexual the act had gotten. Her leotard clung to her body, the edges exposing a great deal of her buttocks and all of her thin legs down to her towering heels.

 

“‘Love to you, ooohoo~ Love to you’,” Minah half-sang, half-moaned into the microphone, her hips still rolling in tight circles as she leaned forward to run her fingers down her smooth hose-clad thighs.

 

When she snapped back upright, her hair danced around her face from the quick jerk, the poker straight lengths mostly falling back in place. Her gaze shifted across the crowd as she blinked stray locks of hair out of her eyes, passing over Jimin at long last.

 

Had Minah just looked right at him? Had they made eye-contact, or was that just foolish thinking? Probably, but Jimin still had to tighten his grip around his glass before he dropped it into his lap in dumb surprise.

 

The man that had just been treated to that wonderful sight reached out to give Minah a rather rough-looking swat across her ass. The contact was hard enough to make her buttocks jiggle from the slap, her shoulders shooting up from the suddenness in what seemed to be surprise.

 

The audacity of his actions made Jimin gasp, hearing the bartender tutting around his toothpick from along the counter in a disapproving fashion. He couldn’t help but notice the way that Minah moved the man’s hand away from her behind, not even giving him a smile to keep up the friendly act. She did so with the lack of care for roughness that showed she had done this before, not even looking down at the man as she accepted his tip and then crossed the floor to get back up onto the stage. The fistful of dollars were shoved down the front of her dress just like the others, slipping down the slight hint of cleavage between the padded cups.

 

“‘And I can tell by the way you walk that walk! And I can hear by the way you talk that talk! And I can know by the way you treat your girl! That I could give you all the loving in the whole wide world!’” Minah almost shouted into her microphone, the song taking on a punchy and aggressive sound that just added to the raw sensuality of it all. “‘Oh~ All I want to do is to bake your bread! Just to make sure that you’re well fed! I don’t want you sad and blue! And I just wanna make…love to you! Love to you, ooohoo~ Love to you, oooh~’.”

 

There was a loud and explosive saxophone solo from Danny as Minah shifted to sit down at the piano, placing the microphone back into the holder to free up her hands. She folded her legs to the side, flashing the audience her thin and beautiful legs whilst she fell upon the instrument with great enthusiasm. Her gloved fingers punched at the keys as she played along with the saxophonist, adding a hint of wildness underneath that left Jimin staring up at the stage in wonder.

 

“‘And I can tell by the way you walk that walk! And I can hear by the way you talk that talk! And I can know by the way you treat your girl! That I could give you all the loving in the whole wide world! Oh, all I wanna do, all I wanna do is cook your bread! Just to make sure that you’re well fed! I don’t want you sad and blue’!”

 

Minah stopped singing and playing the piano, retrieving the microphone from the stand so that she could get upright again. She dropped to her knees on the stage, leaning forward until she was lying down on the wood, and then she brought the microphone up to her lips to finish the song.

 

“‘And I just wanna make…love to you’,” Minah heavily breathed into the microphone, lifting her hips up off the flooring to teasingly roll them in soft circles and drive the audience wild. “‘Love to you, ooohoo~ Oh, real love to you, ooohoo~ Mmm, darling, love to you, ooohoo~’”

 

The final breathy notes left Minah’s lips in a moan, her eyelids fluttering shut as her hips gave another teasing roll, her back curving to lift her behind right up into the air.

 

Jimin’s belly was filled with heat, and he could feel it starting to spread down into his loins. He squirmed on the stool as he watched her, having to take a quick sip of his drink to try and cool down. He tried to not think about how sexual her dance movements were, not wanting to suddenly remember the way that his father had waved the rolled-up dirty magazine around in his fist; shouting about filth and sin as he had smacked him with it. But it was impossible not thinking about Minah’s rounded buttocks, about how soft that they might feel if she had just decided to sit down in his lap instead.

 

“Oh, you boys liked that performance, huh?” Minah remarked, shifting to sit back on her heels as she carefully fixed her hair back into place. The back of her heels dug into her buttocks, dimpling her soft skin in a way that made Jimin gulp. “I knew youse would. Sexy, hot…you dirty things.”

 

“I love you, Minah!” a man suddenly declared, his deep voice cutting through the air as he jumped to his feet and held his hands out to her.

 

“Sit your ass down, I’ll come for you later, handsome!” Minah instructed without missing a beat, making the audience erupt into laughter.

 

The man did as he was told, lowering himself back into his seat with a smitten smile, even as his companions smacked at his arms and laughed at him for his actions.

 

“All of these gorgeous men want a piece of me, ooh, I’m gonna need to beat ‘em all off!” Minah said, crudely pumping one of her fists around the microphone to simulate a handjob.

 

“Oh,” Jimin breathed out, reaching up to cover his mouth just as he started laughing at the filthy joke. His face was so hot that his cheeks were like fire against his fingers, and he didn’t know if he hated or loved the fact that his loins were softly pulsing away from waves of arousal and excitement.

 

Minah got to her feet to saunter across the stage, one hand on her thin waist and a wicked smile on her lips as the audience laughed and whistled at her naughtiness. She tinkled her fingers at them, shifting to climb back up onto the piano to resume singing.

 

Over the duration of Minah’s performance, she sang several more old blues and jazz songs from her perch on the piano, and she occasionally climbed down to give a shimmy and shake along to a more upbeat and steamy song. Whenever she did so, Danny started playing the saxophone like mad, also jiving away beside her on the stage.

 

A few of the audience members bought Minah drinks, which she sipped at during her breaks between each song. The men seemed unaware of the fact that the bartender had watered down each drink to try and keep her from getting drunk during the show, but Jimin noticed him discreetly doing so from along the stretch of counter.

 

Jimin couldn’t buy Minah a drink because he wasn’t legally old enough to do so. But if he could have, he would have bought her a sweet cocktail as pink as her cheeks and hoped that she enjoyed it.

 

After the shocking and unpleasant spanking incident, Minah didn’t come down onto the floor to mingle with the audience members again. She stayed on the stage instead, interacting with them in the form of flirtatious remarks and lewd jokes that made Jimin cover his mouth with his fingers and feel so very filthy for finding them both funny and arousing. She did occasionally move to squat on the edge of the stage, reaching down to stroke at the femme queens’ hair and let them take hold of her hands as she sweetly crooned into the microphone. She allowed a few men to kiss her gloved knuckles too, which left Jimin feeling so very envious.

 

Minah could also collect tips this way, though a lot of the audience just settled on tossing the bills up onto the stage whilst she was performing as to not interrupt the show. Jimin was shocked to see how many dollar bills were on the stage around her feet, and he was so tempted to get up and toss some singles just like the rest of the audience. But the thought of her moving over to take the bills right out of his fingers whilst she was crooning some romantic song was just too much for him, and he decided to not be so bold and brave.

 

But sadly, Minah couldn’t perform the whole night away, and the curtains finally closed to bring the show to a finish. When the audience exploded in applause and cheers, she pushed her way through the curtains to cheekily look down at them all one last time, blowing kisses and mouthing thank-yous and praises before disappearing back behind the thick velvet again.

 

Jimin got to his feet to cheer for her too, raising his hands high above his head and shouting out love for the queen, even when he felt so nervous and frightened by his overwhelming feelings and sensations. He was just filled with adoration for Minah, in love with her beautiful, funny and charming persona from the very first show.

 

Quite simply, Jimin had never seen such a magnificent performance, not that he had ever seen a drag queen in the flesh before. He had seen plenty of dance recitals, a few professional ballet performances, and even an opera as a gift for his birthday from his mother, but never a drag queen performance.

 

Minah had made the opera divas look like nothing more than popstars, had blown him away with her shaking hips and behind more than any grande pas de deux. She had turned his entire world upside down in just an hour-long show, and now Jimin was so filled with happiness that he couldn’t seem to stop smiling.

 

“Wow,” he breathed out, turning back on the stool to retrieve his drink and take a deep sip.

 

It was the third one that the bartender had prepared for him, having silently retrieved his glass to refill it over the duration of Minah’s performance. He might have joked about him not downing eight glasses, but he might just end up doing so before he left the bar for the night.

 

“Is this your first drag performance?” the bartender asked, giving him a quick and sidelong look from along the counter as he finished wiping a glass clean.

 

“Yes, I’ve never…I’ve never been to a gay bar before,” Jimin admitted with a nervous laugh, reaching up to give one of his stud earrings a little twist. “This is my first time in a gay bar, my first drag performance, and my first time in Harlem too.”

 

“What’d you think about Miss Minah? Good?”

 

“Oh! She’s amazing!” he gushed, unable to help himself, to control his wrists from excitedly waving around as he placed the glass down. “The way she sings, and she walks in those heels?! And her costume, her costume - oh, my god! I wish I’d a leotard like that for dance class!”

 

Jimin let out a laugh at this, realising that he had gotten a little too excited. He had let a side of him escape that he had never let out in front of others before, not even his fellow ballet dancers. It was the side of him that his father would angrily call ‘faggotty’ and ‘womanly’. It had slipped free from him because he felt so safe inside the bar, surrounded by fellow ‘faggots’ and ‘femme queens’ with their beautiful false nails and high heels.

 

“You like Miss Minah that much, huh?” he asked with a soft chuckle. “Tell you what - you stay here, right here, and you wait until this joint’s mostly cleared out. Alright?”

 

“Um, OK,” Jimin said with a soft nod, wondering what this might just mean.

 

Over the following minutes, Jimin noticed that the bar was slowly starting to empty of those that had come to only watch Minah. Those that stayed behind were drinking and smoking with companions at the tables, mostly businessmen that seemed to be doing so before returning home after a hard day at work. Maybe, back to their wives and children. He just nursed his drink whilst he waited for the bartender to come back over to him again. He was busy preparing drinks for the remaining men, and retrieving the empty glasses that had been left all over the bar.

 

“Yo, Bobby?! Take this kid backstage, let him meet Miss Minah before she heads on home for the night!” the bartender called, moving to carry a tower of glasses back over to the bar so that he could start cleaning them.

 

Bobby was standing on the top of the steps across the bar. But at the other man’s call, he moved to go down them and get to the bar. He was carrying a paper bag for some reason, the kind that usually stored gifts, and Jimin found himself staring at it as he moved closer to him.

 

“You gave this kid free juice, right?” Bobby asked with a smile, gesturing at him as Jimin got off the stool and shrugged his backpack up onto his shoulders. “Goddamn! I let him in for free too!”

 

This made the two men laugh, clearly finding it amusing that he had managed to fleece them for not only a free performance, but also several drinks - and he hadn’t even done anything.

 

“Alright, follow me, kid,” Bobby said, cocking his head in the direction of the stage. “Where did you come from, huh? Miss Minah will wanna hear about it, so she can brag about how she’s got fans from all over the city next time she’s onstage.”

 

“Westchester County,” Jimin replied, following him across the floor to get to the backstage door.

 

“Westchester County? For real?” Bobby asked in shock, turning around to look down at him; his eyes wide and his brow creased. “Oh, she’s gonna love this.”

 

Jimin followed Bobby through a door just to the side of the stage, the pair of them heading backstage. There were countless crates stacked here and there, along with coolers packed with goods for the bar. Electrical boxes were fixed onto the walls that controlled the lights and speakers for the stage. They had to walk along a narrow passageway to get to the dressing-room, which was dimly lit from lights up on the stage rafters.

 

Jimin saw that the saxophonist from earlier was waiting around the dressing-room, no doubt there to stop anyone from trying to get backstage. Danny was in the act of smoking, sitting on a battered-looking and old bar chair with his feet cocked up on a crate. At the sight of them both, he reached up to pull his cigarette free from his lips to crack a dazzling smile.

 

“Let me guess? A little gay runaway that’s fallen in love with Miss Minah?” Danny joked, which made Jimin drop his gaze down to stare at his polished, brown Oxfords; his cheeks flushing with heat. “Oh, she’s gonna love him, he’s adorable.”

 

Bobby moved to rap his knuckles against the dressing-room door, clearly wanting to check that Minah was decent before he let himself in the room.

 

“Miss Minah, I’ve got some gifts for you!”

 

“Gimme a sec, Bobby!” came a muffled shout from the other side of the thin door.

 

“Um, you’re really talented,” Jimin said in a quiet voice, plucking up the courage to look Danny in the eyes again. Now that he was so close, he found it incredibly hard to do so, not only because he had known about the fact that he was smitten with Minah, but because he was so handsome. “I love how you play and dance at the same time, it really made me feel the music you were making. When you and Minah played the instrumental parts together…wow, that was so awesome.”

 

“Thank you,” Danny said with a genuine smile, pausing in the act of taking a drag off the end of his cigarette. “Do you play?”

 

“No, no, I dance.”

 

Jimin suddenly wondered if this was what it felt like talking to an idol. Not that he idolised Danny or anything, but wow, he was so talented and cool and-

 

“I do ballet, I’ve studied it since I was a kid. I love dancing,” he said, rapidly talking to try and force his nerves away. “There’s nothing better than standing onstage, I think.”

 

“Right on, little man,” Danny said, holding his hand out to him in offering.

 

When Jimin moved to take hold, Danny also moved to sling his arm around him and give him a hard smack on the back. He couldn’t help but let out a nervous giggle at the contact, feeling his heart skipping several beats in his chest.

 

“A’ight! You can come in, darling!”

 

At this call, Bobby pushed the door open, gesturing for him to follow him inside the dressing-room.

 

Jimin moved to do so, stepping through the open door and catching a quick glimpse of the interior from around the other man’s body. The dressing-room had red walls; a large dressing table with a mounted mirror that was covered in lights and had dozens of posters and photographs of old starlets and supermodels tacked around the edges; and a metal garment rail that was covered in clothing.

 

Then Jimin caught sight of Minah standing right there across the dressing-room, his entire body freezing up in surprise.

 

Minah let out a string of shocked noises, throwing her arms up to cover her bare chest as she cried out, “Bobby! What’re you doing?! Who’s that?!”

 

Jimin was surprised to hear just how deep and rough that Minah’s voice was when she was no longer in character, when she was once more the man underneath all of the makeup, glamour and glitter. Deep and rough, a strong accent that was most certainly from The Bronx. It was as fascinating to listen to as her singing voice when she was out onstage.

 

“The kid’s a fan! Come all the way from Westchester County!” Bobby argued, standing between him and Minah. “We thought you might wanna meet him!”

 

“I mean, Jesus Christ, Bobby! All those guys out there are fans, but that don’t mean you can just let ‘em waltz on in here! What if I was naked?!”

 

“I’m sorry, I-I can go,” Jimin stammered, not wanting to cause any trouble. He had to look away because she was practically naked right now, free from her leotard and clad only in her hose and panties. “I should go, I-I-”

 

Minah twisted to try and get a proper look at him, peeking around Bobby’s wide frame to look him right in the eyes. Just like that, her expression shifted from looking disgruntled, her eyebrows drawn tight and furrowed and her lips severely pouted out, into one that looked surprised and somewhat friendly.

 

“No, no, c’mon in, it’s a’ight,” Minah offered, giving him a quick smile and lifting a hand to wave him inside the dressing-room.

 

Bobby moved aside so that he could do so, and Jimin took a few slow steps around him to fully enter the dressing-room. The bouncer shut the door behind him, leaving the three of them in the room for a moment.

 

Jimin saw that Minah was in the act of getting out of her costume. Her stilettos were sitting on the dressing-table, revealing her height to actually be rather short, just like him, and she still had her full face of makeup and wig in place.

 

Underneath the sheer hose, Minah was wearing something that looked like a pair of women’s panties, except they looked to be made from Lycra and they were very tight. So tight, in fact, that there still wasn’t even a hint of penis through them. No, the front of her groin was so very smooth, and Jimin had to drag his eyes away before he was caught staring.

 

“Is he my gift, Bobby?” Minah asked, giving that same wicked smile even when she was no longer onstage. “Please, say yes?”

 

Jimin let out a laugh at this, reaching up to try and cover his cheeks because he was so red-faced. He had to turn away from the drag queen, unable to hold her gaze for more than a few seconds.

 

“Oh, you’re adorable,” she said, as she moved to grab a silken, black robe off a hanger that was on the garment rail. “You don’t mind me saying that, right?”

 

“No, no, I don’t mind, thank you,” Jimin said with a nervous smile, glancing between her and his feet in turn. “I’m sorry for disturbing you, Miss Minah. But I just wanted to tell you that I really loved your performance.”

 

“Yoongi, call me Yoongi. I ain’t Minah right now, she’s went back in the closet for the night,” he explained, as he dragged the silken robe on and deftly knotted the belt to cover his state of nudity. “Now, what can I call you, handsome little boy?”

 

“Jimin, my name’s Jimin,” he replied, so very pleased that he had called him such a sweet and affectionate thing.

 

“Mmm, a beautiful name for a beautiful boy,” Yoongi said with a quick smile, reaching up to pull the lengths of his hair free from the collar of the robe. “What was you saying about gifts, Bobby?”

 

“I got some gifts for you, Miss Minah. Mostly from Mr. You-know-who…”

 

“Did he send gifts over again?” Yoongi asked with a theatrical sigh, his wide shoulders drooping as he rolled his head back. “That crazy old man gots more money than sense.”

 

“Yeah, Mr. Kennedy sent most of these over, like always. But a few femme queens mopped things for you, said they wanted to see you wearing ‘em for a performance. You got the usual: flowers, chocolates, a bottle of wine. I think there’s some lingerie and jewellery in there too,” Bobby said, shifting to hold the bag out to him. “Here you go, honey.”

 

“Honestly, Bobby! How many times do I gots to tell ‘em - I ain’t gonna suck their dicks, no matter how gorgeous these gifts are and- oh! Is that rosé?!”

 

Yoongi accepted the bag from the bouncer, peering inside it before reaching in to collect something. It was a long, leather box that he popped open to check the contents of. From his position a few feet away, Jimin caught sight of something sparkly, seemingly a necklace.

 

“Oh, I might’ve to break the rules for this one,” Yoongi purred, snapping the box shut and slipping it back into the bag. “Here, you take these, darling. Tell the boys to pop this open and enjoy too, they worked hard tonight.”

 

Yoongi took a huge box of luxury chocolates out of the bag along with the bottle of rosé, handing them both over to Bobby. Jimin was surprised that he had done such a thing, giving away gifts his fans had given him to the other workers in the bar. But he supposed that Yoongi must be very thankful for all the help and support that the bar provided for him to perform his drag shows as Minah.

 

“Sure thing, Miss Minah,” Bobby said, accepting the items from him. “Be nice to the kid, alright? I think Ronald’s fond of him.”

 

“Don’t you worry about me, Bobby. I’m always nice to the pretty ones,” Yoongi retorted, giving the other man a cheeky look back over his shoulder as he exited the dressing-room. “Now, Jimin - can I call you ‘Jiminie’? D’you like that, mmm?”

 

“Yes, I like it.”

 

“Jiminie, you caught me at a bad time,” he continued, slipping his hands under his robe so that he could start getting out of his hose. “I ain’t even in my costume right now, so, I can’t give you a private serenade, or even sit in your lap. What a shame.”

 

“Oh, it’s OK,” Jimin said in a quiet voice, respectfully looking away whilst he got undressed. “I wasn’t expecting you to do such a thing for me. Like I said, I just wanted to tell you about how much I loved your performance.”

 

“You did?” Yoongi asked, still fumbling under his robe to remove the tight panties too.

 

“Uhuh, it was…it was my first drag performance. But I know that a million performances won’t top it because it was so perfect!”

 

This made Yoongi let out a soft laugh, his lips parting to reveal a smile that wasn’t wicked or naughty, but actually incredibly charming. It was his smile, not Minah’s smile, and it revealed a great deal of gum line to make him look much younger, even when he still had a full face of makeup on. It seemed that he liked his compliment, and the knowledge that he had made him smile was enough to make Jimin feel a little dizzy with excitement.

 

“Oh, you’re finally free, boys!” Yoongi groaned, stepping out of the panties and hose and reaching down to give his groin a quick rub through his silken robe. “I hate that fucking gaff, but I can’t stand the idea of using duct tape on my dick. No way, I don’t wanna tear it off one night, along with my boys!”

 

Jimin didn’t know what he was talking about right now, but he found the idea of putting duct tape on his penis absolutely horrendous.

 

Was the gaff that he was talking about those tight panties he had been wearing? What did it do? Was that what made his groin look so smooth? Did other drag queens use duct tape on their groins instead?

 

Duct tape?

 

Yoongi bent down to collect the hose and panties off the flooring, slipping them over the garment rail with the rest of his costume. His leotard and dress skirt were hanging separately, and there was also something that looked like a padded corset tossed over the top of the rail; silk ribbons dangling down from the metal eyelets all down the material.

 

“What was your favourite part of the performance, Jiminie?” Yoongi asked, shifting to lower himself down onto the dressing table stool. His silken robe shifted to reveal a great deal of his bare thighs, which were just as smooth underneath the hose.

 

“Um, oh, I loved all of it, Yoongi,” Jimin gushed, seeing the way that Yoongi’s lips lifted up into a wide smile in his reflection in the wall mirror. “I-I loved it when you sang ‘I just want to make love to you’ though. I think that was my favourite performance, you looked so…so fierce! That’s what you said before, right? Fierce?”

 

“Oh, my god, I wanna take you home with me so bad,” Yoongi said, placing a hand against his chest as he let out a series of soft sounds. “You’re too cute, Jiminie. D’y’know that? You’re fucking sweet as pie. What’d you do for a living, huh? You’re finished with school now, surely?”

 

“Um, nothing right now,” Jimin explained, taking a few steps to move closer to the dressing table because he felt like he was allowed to do so. “I mean, I worked part-time in a mechanics during the summer after graduating high school, to earn some experience and please my parents. I was meant to enrol in a performing arts academy next week after passing their auditions, so I could study modern dance. But I can’t do that now…I ran away from home tonight, I left all of that behind.”

 

“A pretty boy like you looks like you should be out on the streets tricking.”

 

Jimin didn’t know a lot about the world, especially not a lot about the gay world that he was now suddenly fully immersed in. But he knew enough to know that Yoongi was talking about prostitution, as he had heard the term ‘trick’ and ‘tricking’ said many times before, usually by policemen on the news and always said in disapproving tones with disgusted sneers.

 

“Do you…do you do that?” Jimin asked in a quiet voice, wondering if the question was inappropriate and invasive.

 

“I only suck dick if I’m being paid to suck dick, you better believe that,” Yoongi retorted, wriggling on the stool like a feisty, little thing as he removed a lid from glass container. “Nah, I don’t trick, and I’ve never had to. I count myself lucky in that regard. But don’t worry, baby. You can find work here, and I don’t mean by working the streets. There’s work to be found everywhere, if you look hard enough. You ain’t gots to trick if you don’t wanna - I promise.”

 

Jimin thought this over for a moment, watching Yoongi grabbing a hair elastic from the table and shoving it between his lips. He reached up grab hold of his hair, getting it in his hands and running his fingers along his neck to sweep up any loose locks into his fist. The lower layers were more tousled than the top layers, some wispy locks sitting on the back of his smooth neck that just begged to be stroked and played with.

 

“Aren’t you going to take off your wig?” Jimin asked in a curious fashion, wondering why Yoongi would go through the effort of putting his hair up to clean his face when he could just take the wig off instead.

 

“Oh, darling, this’ my hair,” Yoongi said, reaching up to twirl his gathered hair into a bun. He held it in place with one hand, pulling the elastic band free from his lips to secure it in place. “I don’t wear wigs, it’s all natural.”

 

Jimin noticed the way that Yoongi dragged the word out, until he was saying ‘ dah-ling’. He didn’t know why this made him want to laugh, it just did. It sounded so fabulous, so very wicked and sexy - a hundred-percent something that Minah would say whilst she was flirting with the crowd onstage.

 

“Can I…can I touch it?” Jimin asked in a quiet voice, feeling his fingers twitching at the mere thought of being able to touch the other man.

 

“Can you… Baby, d’you just ask if you could touch my hair?” Yoongi asked with a lopsided smile, twisting on the stool to look back over his shoulder at him. “No guy’s ever asked me something as innocent as that. ‘Course you can touch it. Go on, touch it as long as you want.”

 

Jimin found himself holding his breath as he lifted his hand up from his side, reaching over to give Yoongi’s hair a light touch. His fingers skirted across the top of his head, bumping against his bun until he fumbled to touch it too. His fingertips brushed down to feel a few loose locks around his ears, and he could hardly believe how silky his hair was between his fingers. It was like playing with his mother’s hair, perhaps even softer. He had never thought that a man could have such beautifully soft hair.

 

“Mmm, you’re so gentle,” Yoongi remarked with a soft smile, watching him in their reflections in the mirror. “No need to be shy, baby. I don’t bite - not unless you want me to.”

 

“Wow, your hair is so soft,” Jimin said with a sigh, pulling his hand away before he ended up trailing his fingers along the back of his neck.

 

“Thanks, I take good care of it, and my skin too. I take vitamins, I stay hydrated,” Yoongi explained, smoothing a thick dollop of cold cream onto his skin with a plastic spatula. “But mostly, I love pampering myself. What can I say - it’s fun.”

 

After smoothing a thick layer of cold cream all over his face, Yoongi massaged it into his skin for a moment, working it deep and lifting up all of the makeup and oil from his skin. Then he collected a cotton wool pad so that he could start wiping the cream free, softly humming under his breath as he worked.

 

The first thing that Yoongi wiped free was his eye makeup, brushing the large cotton pad over his eyelids and eyebrows to remove the heavy mixture of eyeliner, eyeshadow and mascara. With some repeated wiping, he cleaned away a great deal of foundation that had been caked around his brows, exposing thick and strong eyebrows that completely clashed against Minah’s thin and manicured ones. He also revealed his eyes to be smaller now that they were free from makeup, round with softly defined eyelid creases that gave his eyes a beautiful shape.

 

“Oh, now you’re gonna see how ugly I am under all this makeup,” Yoongi joked, folding the pad in half so that he could wipe at his second eye. It was going to take him some time and multiple applications of cold cream to get it all free, but he had managed to budge most of the heavy makeup with his first attempt.

 

“No, you’re not ugly,” Jimin disagreed with a soft laugh, finding his hand moving so that he could give Yoongi’s hair another quick touch. “You’re gonna be as beautiful as Minah is underneath your makeup, I just know it.”

 

Was that a hint of blush appearing on Yoongi’s wide cheeks, or was it just the remains of the blusher from before? Jimin didn’t know, but he did see something passing across his face that looked like a shy smile in his reflection in the mirror.

 

“You said this was your first drag performance. Have you ever dressed up in drags before, mmm?” Yoongi asked, pouting his lips out to wipe his red lipstick free. He rolled his gaze up to look at him in the mirror as he did so, smears of eyeliner still clinging to his lower eyelids and cheekbones.

 

“Um…one time. One time I dressed in…in drag,” Jimin replied, sticking his tongue out to wet his lips and finding them to be quite dry. “I…I liked it a lot.”

 

“Go sit at the bar and wait for me, Jiminie. I just gots to finish getting ready, but I’ll only be a couple of minutes,” Yoongi said, smoothing more makeup free from his neck with a fresh cotton pad. “OK?”

 

“OK,” Jimin said with a soft nod, hovering at his side for a few more seconds before turning around to leave.

 

After exiting the dressing-room and going down the dark passageway that was the backstage area, Jimin pushed another door open to step back out into the bar. He moved to sit down at the counter, turning his head to see that the bartender was in the act of retrieving more glasses from the tables and placing them down onto a huge tray. He found himself tapping his fingers on the stretch of polished wood, doing so in an anxious and impatient manner as he waited for the other man to finish getting ready.

 

The sight of the serving boys and Danny from across the bar caught Jimin’s attention, all of them sitting together at a table with cigarettes and glasses of rosé in hand. He hoped that they enjoyed it because Yoongi had so kindly given them the bottle as a gift, and he also wondered if Bobby was saving the chocolates for later, or if he had already started eating and sharing them out.

 

It took several long and torturous minutes, but Yoongi finally emerged from the backstage area. He was completely fresh-faced and dressed in regular clothing now, not a hint of Minah in sight.

 

Yoongi had slipped into a massive, black t-shirt that swam on his frame, hanging free from his wide shoulders and down to near his knees. On the chest, there was hot pink slogan that loudly declared ‘pussy power!’. He had teamed it up with a pair of tight and thick leggings, which clung to his terribly thin legs, and a pair of sneakers that had seen better days months ago. His hair was still knotted up off his face in a bun, a few wispy locks curled up around his hairline and ears that he hadn’t bothered clipping in place. On one of his strong shoulders, there was a large, leather handbag that no doubt contained all of his drag goods.

 

Now that he was no longer onstage and performing as Minah, Yoongi carried himself with much less grace; his shoulders slumped, his back curved, and his feet plodding on the flooring as he dragged himself over to the bar counter.

 

Jimin was surprised to see how much younger that Yoongi looked now that he was free from his heavy makeup. It was because his face was so round: his soft chin, high cheekbones and flat nose creating no sharp angles without the added assistance of makeup. But his eyes and lips also made him look youthful - the former rounded and thickly lashed, the latter a sweet pout with a pronounced Cupid’s bow. He even caught sight of tiny freckles across his nose, cheeks and exposed brow, just like the ones that he had.

 

Yoongi gave him a quick glance and smile as he dropped the bag down on the floor between them. He had a packet of cigarettes in hand, along with a battered-looking flip lighter, and he pulled a filtered stick free to shove it between said pouted lips.

 

“Ronald, stiff whisky on ice for an icy bitch, a beer for the baby,” Yoongi declared, sitting down on the stool and thumbing at his lighter to set the cigarette alight.

 

“Whisky, sure. Beer, no. He’s underaged,” the bartender replied, as he ducked back under the partition to get behind the counter. He placed the tray down so that he could collect a square glass from the display and prepare the drink for him.

 

“Oh, give the kid a goddamn beer, Ronald!” Yoongi whined, reaching up to pull his cigarette free from his lips; holding it between his index and middle finger. “He’s came here all the way from Westchester County! He’s a runaway baby gay, have a little sympathy!”

 

Ronald thought this over for a few seconds as he shovelled ice into Yoongi’s glass. Then he placed the glass down on the counter with a napkin, bending down to retrieve a bottle of beer from under the counter. He cracked the metal cap free, sliding it towards Jimin without a single word.

 

“Thank you,” Jimin said, wrapping his fingers around the chill bottle to hold onto it. “I’ve drank beer before, and other alcohol too. This isn’t my first time drinking, I’ve been drunk before.”

 

“Mmmhmm, it ain’t about you getting drunk, son. It’s about this place getting shut down for serving booze to kids,” he said, shooting Yoongi a disapproving look - which seemed to be one of his patented looks.

 

Ronald drizzled a liberal splash of whisky over the ice for Yoongi, the liquor a deep shade of honey that Jimin thought made it look enticing.

 

Once, Jimin had tried some of his father’s whisky when his parents had been out having dinner; sneaking a bottle of imported Japanese whisky out of the liquor cabinet. But he had stupidly swigged a deep mouthful from the bottle without adding water, without chilling it on ice to change the flavour. As a result, the mouthful had ended up all down the front of his t-shirt, and he had choked for the best part of five minutes - his eyes, nose and throat burning from the strength of the hard liquor.

 

“OK, so, talk to me, Jiminie,” Yoongi said, lifting the glass of whisky to take a slight sip. “Tell me about yourself, baby. You don’t mind if I call you that, right? I don’t mean it in a…sexual way, it’s a term of affection ‘round these parts for boys and girls just like you.”

 

“…Do you mean gay kids?”

 

“Mmm, beautiful gay and bisexual babies,” he said after swallowing the sip, his gaze focused on him from over the rim of the square glass.

 

“I don’t mind you calling me that, I…I like it, I think it’s nice,” Jimin said in a quiet voice, running his eyes along the glass display behind the bar counter rather than hold his gaze.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, Jimin saw Yoongi placing his glass down onto the napkin. He brought his cigarette back up to lips to take another deep drag, and Ronald moved over to place an ashtray down beside the glass for him.

 

“Um, like I told you before, I’m an arts student - a dancer. I’ve studied ballet ever since I was a kid, and I love it so much,” Jimin explained, nursing the cold bottle of beer for a moment. “I love dancing, I love the art, the power and fluidity of it all.”

 

“Ballet? Really?” Yoongi asked, raising one of his eyebrows as he knocked a blob of ash down into the ashtray. “You look like you’ve gots a dancer’s body. So, you really are from the affluent Westchester County stock.”

 

“I don’t know about ‘affluent’, but my parents have money, yes,” he said with a soft nod. “Dad’s a lawyer, mum’s a surgeon, son’s a…a disappointment.”

 

“Mmm, tell me about it, baby,” Yoongi sighed, reaching over with his free hand to place it down on his shoulder and give him a firm and comforting squeeze. “But better yet; tell me about what made you realise that you were gay, or that you liked drag?”

 

“What made me realise that I was gay? Um, I’m not really sure, Yoongi, I’ve never really thought about it. I think I always knew, in a way, even when I was a kid. But I remember the first time that I ever…wore women’s clothing. I was 14, soon to be 15. The ballet studio that I was tutored in was doing a recital - Swan Lake. I was to be Prince Siegfried, of course, as I was the teacher’s favourite boy in the troupe. But I remember thinking that Princess Odette had the most beautiful costume I’d ever seen.”

 

“What’d the costume look like? Can you describe it for me?”

 

“It was white, a leotard with a fitted, sweetheart neckline, and a full tutu of tulle silk and feathers. Oh, I just wanted to touch those feathers, to feel them on my skin! And the accessories, Yoongi! The accessories were just divine: a tiara encrusted with little rhinestones, and a pearl necklace, and all of these silver rings.”

 

“It sounds beautiful,” Yoongi agreed, shifting his hand from his shoulder to place it down on the back of his neck. “The Little Prince wanted to be The Little Princess.”

 

Yoongi’s touch was somewhat ticklish, but it wasn’t in any way unpleasant. He had cool hands, his palms a little dry but incredibly soft, and he could cup his neck with ease.

 

Jimin found that he quite liked feeling his hand on his skin, and he was more than content to let him keep it there for as long as he pleased.

 

“One night, I sneaked out of the house and I let myself into the studio. I had to pick the lock with one of my mum’s hair slides to get inside. I told myself that it was for fun, you know, that I was just playing around and I wasn’t going to cause any trouble. But the real reason why I did it was because I wanted to wear that costume. So, I got it out of the storage room, where they kept all of the costumes and props, I slipped it on and I just felt…wow.”

 

Jimin let out a soft laugh at this, reaching up to give his ear a soft tug. His fingers were damp from the condensation on the bottle, leaving behind a hint of wetness on his skin.

 

“I just felt so good, so free. It didn’t even fit me well, I was smaller back then, a little shorter and lighter in weight, and so it was still really tight around my torso. But I still felt so good in it. I even started dancing in the costume because I felt like I was her; that I was Princess Odette, that I was perfect.”

 

“You started dancing? In the costume?”

 

“Yes, I started dancing her routine because I knew it off by heart. It was hard staying en-pointe because ballerinos aren’t taught to dance that way, but I tried my hardest. I felt so beautiful in that moment, Yoongi, in the costume and dancing as Princess Odette. It felt better than dancing as Prince Siegfried did, and I lost a little of my spark for the remainder of the recital. I just found myself wishing that I could play her instead, even when I knew that I wasn’t allowed to…”

 

Jimin stopped talking for a moment, staring at the glass display behind the counter as he let out a wistful sigh. He ran his gaze over the selection of bottles, from the shapely wines, to the squared liquors like whisky, gin and rum in brown and glass bottles. Then he turned his head to look over at Yoongi, seeing that he was staring down at the contents of his own glass. The colourful lighting played off his face, his dewy skin glowing various shades of purple and his eyes wet and gleaming.

 

“When did you first dress in drag and realise that you were…were gay too, Yoongi?”

 

“…I used to like watching all the old films with my grandmother. Y’know the type, right? The ones in which every woman was a lady, and every man a gentleman. She liked ‘em, she grew learning English from ‘em and she used to dress up like the starlets too, when she was younger - such a gorgeous lady. I used to sing along to the songs with her, and tie blankets around my hips so I could play with it like the skirt of a dress as I danced ‘round the house. She loved it, she called me her ‘little movie star’ and I loved her to bits.”

 

Yoongi dabbed ash down into the tray with a hard tap of his forefinger, breathing out a lungful of smile with an uneven sigh.

 

“I moved on from blankets to real skirts and dresses pretty quickly. I was smart, I didn’t do anything like that in front of my daddy, just my grandmother. She used to do my hair and makeup too, used to paint me up like Mae West - the most beautiful and sauciest minx of ‘em all. She thought it was just innocent play, and I did too, for such a long time. But I got older, and I started to realise that I was gay and I needed to hide these things away.”

 

“But it didn’t work, did it?” Jimin asked, already more than well aware of the answer.

 

“Nope. My daddy was travelling home from work one evening, and he caught me hanging out on the streets, with my face covered in makeup, holding hands with some cute boy from across the block. Well, that night I was beaten with a belt so hard I lost some skin on my back and thighs, and it didn’t stop there. It just kept on happening every single day for the best part of a month. Sometimes, it was just a punch to the head for acting like a faggot; sometimes, he beat me so bad when he was drunk I thought I was gonna die. So, I’d no choice. I’d to run away from home before he killed me.”

 

“How old were you?”

 

“12, almost 13. I left The Bronx, I jumped a subway in the middle of the night to come down to Harlem ‘cos I’d heard that little gay boys and girls were welcome here. I’d had nothing but a backpack on my back, just like you, and the pitiful amount of cash I’d found in my daddy’s wallet that night.”

 

“And here you are,” Jimin said in a quiet voice, slowly reaching over to place his hand down on top of his thin and bony knee. “You’ve come so far, Yoongi. You should…you should feel proud of yourself.”

 

“I’m sorry, that was some heavy shit, baby,” Yoongi said with a forced laugh, rubbing his fingertips across his lips; his hand softly shaking. “It’s been awhile since I told someone all about my fucked-up past. I forget how bad it sounds sometimes.”

 

“It’s OK, you don’t have to apologise.”

 

Whilst Yoongi took a few drags off the end of his cigarette to calm himself down, Jimin kept his hand in place on top of his knee. The other man’s hand was still placed on the back of his neck, and it seemed like they were both drawing vast amounts of comfort from these little touches.

 

Jimin was surprised to find that Yoongi had such mannish hands: large, long in the fingers, a hint of soft hair around his knuckles and the side of his hand. That likely explained why he wore gloves, as they allowed him to hide them away whilst he was performing. He wanted to fold his fingers over the side of his hand and hold onto him, to rub his thumb over his cool and soft skin and just feel his hand in his.

 

“Are you a femme queen, or a butch queen, Jiminie?” Yoongi asked after a moment of silence, turning his head to look at him.

 

“Am I a…a what?” Jimin asked in confusion, deeply furrowing his brow because he didn’t know what he was talking about. “What’s a ‘femme queen’?”

 

“A transsexual. I mean, you ain’t gots the tits yet, but they’re expensive as hell,” Yoongi remarked, dropping his gaze to stare down at his chest. “Takes awhile for the femmes to buy ‘em, that’s why they’re so fierce at the balls. Gots to get that cash to pay for the surgery, even if it means drawing blood out on the floor. Nothing better than a cat fight, meow, ha!”

 

“Oh, oh…no, I’m not a woman. I’m like you, I guess?”

 

“A transvestite? So, you’re a gay boy, a butch queen up in drags. A’ight, we’re getting somewhere,” Yoongi said, dabbing more ash down into the ashtray. “OK, so, I’m a butch queen, that’s what we like to call a gay man here in the Harlem scene. When I’m Minah, I’m ‘up in drags’. I dress up as a woman, but I ain’t a woman - there’s an obvious distinction between me and my persona. A femme queen, now, that’s what we call the transsexual ladies. They don’t have personas like me, they’re the real queens. D’you understand all that, baby?”

 

“Yes, I think I understand. I mean, I haven’t done a lot of drag. That was…that was the first time I did it, the only time I did it. My father didn’t find out that I was gay because he caught me dressed up like that, he…he found a dirty magazine under my bed. It was…it was bad, it was filled with naked men and, um, sex stuff.”

 

“The goddamn dirty magazines always get us caught,” Yoongi muttered from behind his fingers, squinting at him through a tendril of smoke. “I hope you had plenty of fun with it before he found it.”

 

Jimin let out an awkward laugh at this, bringing his bottle up to his lips to knock back a hard swallow of beer. He saw Yoongi moving to do the same with his whisky, taking a deep sip and letting it settle on his tongue for a few seconds before swallowing.

 

“Top up?” Ronald asked, as he moved along the bar, to which Yoongi made an enthusiastic noise in agreement and held out his glass.

 

Just like that, they rapidly fell into deep conversation, talking some more about their pasts before they had ended up down in Harlem. He finally revealed his tender age to Yoongi, discovering in turn that he was only 21 years old, and that he had never even finished high school. He didn’t talk about his mother at all, not even telling him if she had been hateful, just like his father, or if he had even had a mother in his life. Though he was curious, Jimin decided to not press - should the subject be upsetting for him.

 

The one thing that Yoongi obviously liked to talk about was his favourite fashion designers and the beautiful ladies that he adored and admired; sipping at his whisky and gently stroking at his neck with his fingers as he did so in a way that made Jimin feel little shivers running down his spine. It seemed that Yoongi’s interest ran much deeper than a simple want to dress up as a lady and put on a show to entertain and make others in the community feel happy. He had a true and honest love for the art and culture of it all, which Jimin was starting to feel himself falling in love with too.

 

“You’re gorgeous, Jiminie. Listen, you’re gorgeous,” Yoongi suddenly stressed, talking rapidly because the two glasses of hard liquor seemed to be having an effect on him; loosening his already loose tongue.

 

“Thank you,” Jimin said with a small smile, feeling his cheeks flushing with heat because no one had ever said such nice things to him before.

 

“But that can’t be all that you are,” Yoongi continued, hovering his cigarette in front of his lips. His glass was dangling between the fingers of his other hand, his wrist cocked on an angle.

 

Dainty, Yoongi was surprisingly dainty, all things considered. He had been cursed with large and mannish hands, along with wide shoulders that would never suit a slinky evening gown just right. But he had been blessed with the thinnest legs and ankles that Jimin had ever seen - model legs through and through. He also held himself in a way that radiated soft hints of femininity: crossed legs, limply cocked wrists; all of which made him seem dainty.

 

“You can’t just be another gorgeous face out there in a sea of gorgeous faces,” Yoongi continued, taking a quick drag off the small stub of his cigarette and breathing the smoke out of his nose hard. “You gots to make something outta your life ‘cos the world’s a horrible place for boys like us. We’re not on a level playing field, we never will be. We’re already two strikes down: Asian and gay. Only one strike left, and we gots to hit it just right if we wanna get it outta the ballpark.”

 

“I know, I know, Yoongi. I wanna make something out of my life. I wanted to be a professional dancer, just like in the music videos. But I can’t do that now, not after running away from home. I threw my best chance at doing something good away, and I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to get another shot like that again.”

 

“No, no, you will, baby. You will. You just gots to work hard and hustle your sweet, little ass off, and you can do it. I believe in you, and I know that there’s always room in Harlem for a gay kid that can dance good.”

 

“I hope so,” Jimin said with a sigh, dropping his gaze down to stare at his hand, which was still comfortably placed on his knee.

 

For a moment, they both stopped talking and let the air fall quiet. But the silence was actually nice in a way. It felt so pleasing to just sit beside Yoongi, enjoying his warmth and his touch without saying a single thing. Jimin glanced between his face and hand in turn, seeing the way that Yoongi openly studied his face without a hint of shyness.

 

“You don’t gots a place to go; d’you, baby?” Yoongi asked in a quiet voice, breaking the heavy silence at long last.

 

Jimin shook his head at this, finding that he didn’t have the courage to admit that he was homeless. He sucked his lower lip in to nibble on it, once again feeling a slight sting from the tender cut in his skin. He had to look away from Yoongi because he was embarrassed and ashamed, staring down at the counter instead.

 

Yoongi placed his glass down on the napkin, freeing up his hand so that he could slip it around his neck again. The contact was enough to make Jimin let his breath out in an uneven sigh, moving his own hand off his knee so that he could fiddle with the empty beer bottle.

 

“…Come back home with me, be my baby. This’ a no strings attached kinda thing,” Yoongi promised, shifting his hand up to stroke at his hair. “Don’t worry. I ain’t asking you to come back home and fuck. I’m asking you to just stay the night and let me take care of you.”

 

“You…you’ll take care of me?” Jimin asked in a whisper-soft voice, feeling his heart starting to beat hard and fast in his chest.

 

“Yeah, I’ll keep you off the streets and fed. I’ll provide you with a place to sleep and take shelter in. That’s all. You don’t owe me nothing, not even a kiss. That’s what being my baby means. It means I can take care of you and keep you safe. I can even introduce you to my House too, and take you to the ball to see the other queens and dancers and have some fun.”

 

“Are you sure, Yoongi?”

 

“I can’t let you go back out onto those streets, Jiminie. You need someone to take care of you and teach you things, and I wanna do that. I promise that you don’t owe me a thing. I just wanna see you bloom, that’s all, just like my House Mother took care of me and helped me bloom into who I’m supposed to be. She saw something beautiful in me, and I can see it in you too.”

 

Jimin knew that it was dangerous to be so accepting of strangers, especially when it was obvious that he needed help. A person could take advantage of that, could take advantage of him and either rob him blind or hurt him for his naïvety. But he had no one else to turn to, and he felt like he could trust Yoongi. He had promised to take care of him without wanting a single thing in return, and he really did think that he was telling him the truth because he had no reason to doubt him so far. The other man had been so nice and thoughtful, and he radiated a kind of quiet tenderness that had drawn him in deep.

 

After all, hadn’t someone taken care of Yoongi back when he had been a runaway, in need of shelter and love to keep him safe? This House Mother that he had spoken of, she had kept him safe from the dangers of the streets, and now Yoongi wanted to extend such kindness to him in turn. That was what a community did, they took care of one another, and it seemed that the Harlem gay community was filled with people that just wanted to help each other out.

 

Besides, was it even a bad thing if…if things were to get sexual between the two of them? The mere thought was enough to make Jimin look away from Yoongi, glancing off along the stretch of bar counter and feeling more waves of heat plummeting down into his belly. He had never done such a thing before, he felt a little dirty for even thinking about it, but excited too. So very excited.

 

“…OK, I’ll come home with you, I’ll…I’ll be your baby,” Jimin said after a moment of thought, giving him a soft nod.

 

“Good baby,” Yoongi said with a smile, giving his hair a teasing ruffle as he shifted to get to his feet and retrieve his bag. “C’mon, time to blow this joint.”

 

“Here, I’ll carry that for you,” Jimin offered, moving to take the rather weighty bag from him. It was his silent way of thanking him for his kindness, and he just knew that he was going to end up doing countless little acts like this to show how grateful that he was.

 

“Oh, are you showing off? Tryna show me how tough you are?” Yoongi asked with a soft laugh, reaching over to give his arm a quick squeeze and stroke. “Are you hiding big muscles under all that denim?”

 

“Um…maybe?” he replied, giving him his best attempt at a flirtatious smile, even as a series of embarrassed giggles escaped him.

 

Jimin followed Yoongi across the bar to get to the steps, glancing back over his shoulder to see that a few of the men sitting at the tables were looking over at him. They could probably afford to bring Yoongi to expensive hotel rooms and homes, with silk sheets and bottles of champagne, and yet…he was the one going back home with him tonight. It was hard not feeling smug as he skipped up the stairs, sparing discreet glances at Yoongi’s behind and thighs as he lazily dragged his feet up every step.

 

Upon stepping out on the street, Jimin was surprised to find that the dark night sky was starting to look much lighter than it had when he had entered the bar. It was only then that he realised he had been inside the joint for quite some time, after spending over an hour travelling across the city and walking along the streets. It was now starting to edge close to the morning hours, patches of deep blue appearing on the horizon that broke up the black blanket above them.

 

Jimin stared up at the sky for a few seconds before dropping his gaze down to the street, seeing that there was a great deal of traffic and pedestrians present. It might just be close to the early morning hours but that meant nothing to the citizens of this city, who were still coming and going from work and the bars and clubs. It seemed that no one ever really slept in New York, and he wondered if he was soon going to be like that too.

 

“Mmm, smell that fresh, Harlem air!” Yoongi exclaimed, his voice dripping with sarcasm. He stretched his arms up over his head with a soft grunt, working his stiff and aching muscles and making his joints dryly crack.

 

Jimin fixed his backpack straps in place on his shoulders, tightening his grip on Yoongi’s heavy bag. It was actually heavier than his backpack, probably because it contained his stilettos and box of makeup and beauty products.

 

“You hungry, baby?” Yoongi asked, slipping his arm around his waist to lean against his side as they started walking down the street.

 

“Um, yes, I didn’t eat dinner. That was when my dad… you know, right in the middle of dinner,” Jimin explained, finding that he greatly liked how Yoongi’s arm felt around his waist; his grip strong and somewhat protective. “Most of the food ended up on the floor, I think.”

 

“OK, there’s a Chinese joint not too far from my place,” Yoongi explained, guiding him around a small gathering of people at a bus stop. “They make the best shit in the whole of Harlem, I swear I’m gonna end up obese ‘cos of their fried chicken and chow mein!”

 

Jimin thought that Yoongi probably weighed all of 130ibs under his costume and heels, but he decided to hold his tongue and not comment. The idea of chowing down on some Chinese food right now sounded heavenly, especially if it was incredibly unhealthy, fried Chinese food that would make his stomach feel like a lead weight.

 

As they walked along several streets to cross the block, a lot of the young gay kids called out to them, or more specifically out to Yoongi. It was apparent that he was well-known in the community, for he was showered with more compliments and addressed as a “legend” by pretty much all of them. A few lucky kids earned themselves a hair ruffle or quick kiss on the crown of their heads from Yoongi, which had them crying out in happiness. Others held onto his hand as they darted along the street after them, asking him about ‘the ball’ and what he was going to wear - which he refused to answer with a coy smile.

 

Jimin didn’t know what it meant to be a ‘legend’, but it seemed like it was very important. It sounded like the kind of thing that took a lot of time, effort and hard work to achieve, and Yoongi seemed like the type to be dedicated enough to fight to reach such a title.

 

It felt so strange having someone as important as Yoongi paying so much attention to him, when there were so many other kids out on the streets that knew all about the gay world unlike him. But he had told him that he saw something beautiful in him; something beautiful that Jimin had yet to discover himself. That must have meant something to Yoongi, which was why he was showering him with attention and affection like this.

 

The sight of the so-called greatest Chinese takeaway joint finally appeared on the street, instantly recognisable because of the sign above the door. It was a colourful dragon roaring on a black background, neon letters set into the wooden board that declared ‘Yung Lung Fast Food’. Faded posters were tacked in the glass windows, advertising the menu in both English and Chinese, along with meal deals and opening and closing hours.

 

“Shit, I can’t even remember who’s crashing in the block tonight,” Yoongi muttered under his breath, coming to a slow stop right outside the takeaway joint. “Well, go big or go home, I guess?”

 

Upon stepping inside the joint, Jimin was hit by the strong scent of frying food: soy sauce, oyster, garlic and ginger hanging heavy on the warm air. The scent was enough to make his stomach rumble under his ribs, the sound of hissing woks and deep-fat fryers filling the interior. He saw several customers inside, waiting on orders and ordering food at the glass counter, and people were darting around behind said counter to prepare and pack all the food.

 

Yoongi ended up ordering so much food that they were left waiting for quite some time, leaning against the tiled wall and attracting a great many stares from the other customers. It was probably because he still had his arm around his waist, and the way that he was dressed. Well, Yoongi just stared right back at them, completely unfazed by the attention. He was a feisty thing for sure, maybe a little too feisty, in a way that might just get him in trouble one day.

 

But Yoongi had no doubt been in trouble his whole life, and he wasn’t going to let his safe place be taken away from him by some judgemental assholes that couldn’t keep their eyes to themselves. These were his streets now, and he wasn’t going to be intimidated and made to feel like he should hide himself away.

 

Jimin wished that he had that level of confidence and acceptance. As it was, he could only stare down at their sneakers, or watch one of the workers behind the counter tossing food up into the air in a giant wok; far too uncomfortable to make eye-contact with anyone right now.

 

Eventually, Yoongi moved to collect several large bags filled with food cartons and rolled-up parcels of grease paper. The thin, white plastic bulged from all of the goods, which varied from different kinds of chow mein and fried rice; wonton and chicken and sweetcorn soups; sweet and sour, and barbeque chicken and pork; prawn crackers and spring rolls; and even some egg foo young. It was as if Yoongi was feeding a whole apartment block, and Jimin realised that he might just be.

 

“Christ,” Yoongi grunted, shifting the bags into one hand and clearly struggling with the weight as they left the fast food joint. “My poor arms are gonna be aching by the time we get to the block!”

 

Jimin held the door for Yoongi, earning himself a thankful smile as he stepped out onto the street. He went out after him, cautiously cosying up against his side in the hope that he would put his arm around him again. When Yoongi’s free hand slipped around his back to take hold of his waist, his grip as tight as before, it was enough to make Jimin’s lips curl up in a pleased smile, a soft hum escaping him that was lost under the sound of pounding hip hop music coming from a passing car.

 

Just like Yoongi had said, the fast food joint really wasn’t that far from the brownstone block that he lived in. They were walking for just a few more minutes before he went up the front steps of a short and wide apartment building, his sneaker soles pounding on the gritty concrete.

 

Yoongi came to a sudden stop just before entering the building, twisting to look back at him. Luckily, Jimin managed to stop just in time to save them crashing into one another.

 

“Wait, you don’t gots any drugs on you; d’you, Jiminie?”

 

“Drugs? No,” Jimin replied without a hint of hesitation, looking up from the step below to hold his gaze. “I don’t take drugs. I mean, I smoke sometimes when I’m anxious, even though it’s bad for my dancing, and I liked to sneak a glass or two of my dad’s alcohol when my parents were out, but-”

 

“No, not that, Jiminie, I meant the hard shit. Pot’s OK, I don’t mind pot, but the hard drugs? I can’t let ‘em inside the block,” Yoongi explained, leaning against the heavy, wooden door for a few seconds to study him. “You’re a good baby, right?”

 

Jimin hummed at this, earning himself another soft hair stroke that made a shiver of delight run down his spine. He gave him a smile, one that Yoongi returned as he entered the building and curled his fingers to gesture that he should follow after him.

 

Upon stepping inside the apartment block, Jimin was surprised to see that there was a small gang of kids hanging around the entrance area. They were sitting on the stairs, smoking and playing cards, braiding each others’ hair and playing with boxes of makeup. They varied from teenagers like him to kids young enough to still be in middle school; black and latino kids that seemed to have no family home to call their own. But despite this fact, they looked to be well-dressed and taken care of.

 

“Jose, darling! Here! Pass it ‘round, make sure all the kids get a bite,” Yoongi said, holding two of the bags of takeaway food out to one of the older-looking kids. “Also, get your asses inside the room! Y’know youse ain’t supposed to hang ‘round out here. All youse faggots and queens are gonna scare the neighbours to death!”

 

This made the kids burst out laughing, a few of them getting to their feet because they were clearly going to follow his orders. Jimin had never seen kids follow orders this well without complaining, and he glanced away from the gang to look over at Yoongi in total awe.

 

Who were these kids exactly, and why was he feeding them like this? Was this just another sign of how caring that the Harlem gay world was towards runaways and those in need, or was this actually a sign of how good a person that Yoongi was?

 

“We was waiting for you to come back, honey!” a little kid retorted, which was met with enthusiastic agreements from the others.

 

“Yeah, yeah - eat your food, get your asses in the room before someone calls the police. DeShawn, less of the cheek from you, that sassy ass of yours is gonna get you in trouble one day.”

 

Yoongi waited at the bottom of the block to make sure that the kids went up to the room and stopped hanging around the entrance area and stairwell. He even folded his arms across his chest to look more authoritative, his hip cocked in a fashion that was completely one of his ‘Minah’ mannerisms.

 

Jimin heard the kids chattering away as they trekked up the stairs, some of them excitedly talking about the Chinese food, some of them whispering about him. He heard little tidbits, mostly about the fact that he was ‘cute’, quickly followed by giddy and immature laughter and quick glances at him from around the stairwell wall.

 

After a moment of waiting, Yoongi moved to go up the stairs too, and so he followed after him, running his eyes over the dimly lit stairwell.

 

The interior of the block was far from clean: mould growing along the seams in the ceiling; deep cracks and peeling paint running across the surfaces of the room door; and most of the carpet torn up in parts to expose the untreated and splintered floorboards. But dirty or not, Jimin would happily sleep out in the hallway alone, rather than spend the night on a park bench. The fact he was going to be sleeping in an actual apartment room, with a lock on the door and the potential for a sofa or mattress to share meant that he didn’t give a shit about a little mould and cobwebs all over the place.

 

Yoongi stopped at a door several floors up the block, stepping down on the back of one of his sneakers so that he could drag it off. He stuck his hand inside, pulling out a keyring much to Jimin’s surprise. He sorted through the different keys before shoving it into the lock.

 

“No pockets,” he said with a quick smile, twisting the key to unlock the door. “Here we are, baby.”

 

Jimin stepped inside the room first because Yoongi held the door for him and gestured that he do so. He saw a table just a few feet along the narrow hallway, and so he moved to place the bag down on it to free up his hands. That way, he could drop down and respectfully remove his sneakers, not wanting to track dirt all over the wooden flooring - which was actually spotless and polished to a gleam.

 

Whilst Jimin unknotted the laces to do so, Yoongi stepped inside the room, kicking his other sneaker off without a care and closing the door behind them. The sound of him dragging several chain locks across the wood was loud in the silence of the home, the pieces of metal scraping together.

 

There was a small, metal shoe rack against the wall, which Jimin placed his sneakers on. He also collected the other man’s beat-up sneakers and added them onto the rack on his behalf, seeing that all the pairs currently placed on it were an assortment of equally battered sneakers.

 

Yoongi clearly took better care of his stilettos, probably kept them in his wardrobe in shoe boxes to keep them clean and safe.

 

When Jimin straightened up, he saw that Yoongi was in the act of walking along the narrow hallway to go into one of the rooms on either side. He decided to follow after him, sparing quick glances through the open doorways he passed to check out the place.

 

The apartment was divided into several rooms, all of them small but in no way cramped. There was a living-room with a sofa and television set, and enough room to also fit a couple of cushions on the floor. A large sewing machine took up a lot of room on a coffee table in front of the sofa, along with a tote bag filled with rolls of printed and colourful fabrics placed on the floor beside it. There was no dining-room, just a tiny kitchen with a refrigerator and counter, along with a table that just about fit in the space. He didn’t catch sight of the bathroom as he followed Yoongi into the single bedroom, but it seemed to be on the far left of the hallway beside the living-room.

 

The bedroom was a little messy, but not in a dirty way. The flooring was clean, it was just covered in a mixture of things, from clothing to towers of fashion and sewing magazines - the kind that his mother might just look at. Said flooring was carpeted, a thick pile of cream wool that was soft against his bare feet as he lingered beside the doorway. It matched well with the floral wallpaper that was pasted onto the walls. It was free from creases and air bubbles, in perfect condition without a single stain or corner peeling away from the ceiling. A tacky, cut-glass chandelier dangled from the lightbulb on the ceiling, the teardrop-shaped droplets coloured clear and deep pink.

 

Across the bedroom, the sight of a large dressing table was completely expected. It was even larger than his mother’s dressing table: the surface buried under just as many products and perfumes. It was made from wood with a glossy, white paint job, and the stool had a pink, cushioned seat. Just like the one in the dressing-room at the bar, Yoongi had covered the edges of the mounted mirror in photographs and posters of beautiful film starlets, supermodels, and fellow queens - creating a collage of female beauty and power that would no doubt inspire him as he put on his face and styled his hair.

 

“Tradesies,” Yoongi suddenly said, holding the bag of Chinese food out and curling his fingers at him to hand him the handbag instead.

 

Jimin traded bags with him, thankful that the takeaway bag was noticeably lighter in weight. He found the way that Yoongi had said ‘tradesies’ so very cute, for it was immature and reminded him of the fact that he was only a couple of years older than him. He might just be streetwise and seemingly more mature, but he had his childish and sweet moments too.

 

Yoongi went over to the dressing table, dropping the bag onto the stool so that he could root around in it. He placed the makeup box down on the table, along with his hairbrush and tubs and bottles of creams and lotions. Then he retrieved his costume, moving over to a large and matching white armoire to pop the double doors open.

 

Jimin was left in awe by the sight of all the costumes and clothing hanging inside the armoire. He saw all kinds of colours, pink being the most frequent choice, along with materials like silk, satin, lace and wool. He couldn’t see a lot of the items in great detail, but it seemed that it was mostly evening gowns and capes, dress suits with jackets, and blouses and skirts hanging inside. No trousers, or not any he could see, even though Yoongi could easily make them look feminine if he matched them with the right top and stilettos.

 

Yoongi retrieved an empty hanger, slipping the leotard and detachable skirt onto it before hanging it back inside. Then he squatted down to rummage around the bottom of the wardrobe, pulling free an empty shoe box so that he could store the sequin-covered stilettos inside - just like he had imagined. There must have been a dozen or more shoe boxes shoved inside the space, which meant that Jimin was sadly unable to see the different pairs that he owned. They were no doubt all beautiful, following Yoongi’s trend for classy and elegant fashion.

 

Next, Yoongi emptied his jewellery into one of the dressing table drawers: from the rings and bracelets he had worn for his performance, to the gifts that he had been given by his fans and admirers. He made sure to add the pearl necklace onto a display stand on the surface of the table, clearly treasuring it enough to not store it away like the rest. He also slipped a few rings onto a ring holder, which was made from porcelain and shaped like a dainty lady’s hand.

 

Yoongi grabbed the corset from the almost empty handbag, carrying it over to a dresser just beside the bed. He dragged the bottom drawer open to stash it inside, along with several other more decorative corsets and waist cinchers. He might just wear them for performances, judging from the lace trim over the busts and the dangling charms, the thought making Jimin stick his tongue out to wet his lips.

 

The bed was currently made, though the pillows were imprinted from use, and the covers were wrinkled and tossed over the mattress. The bed linen was soft yellow and covered in cream and red rose print, the edges of the duvet and pillow cases sweetly scalloped. The mattress was set into a metal bed frame; the rounded headboard currently hidden under several plush pillows and cushions, and dozens of cuddly toys stacked against the footboard.

 

Ah, there was that hint of immaturity again.

 

Yoongi had enough teddy bears shoved onto his bed to fill up a bear cave at the zoo: from tiny to large, with white and pink or various shades of brown coloured fur. Some were holding plush hearts, some had ribbons around their necks, others had moveable arms and legs - and every single one was cute.

 

Overall, Jimin thought that the the bedroom was lovely. It was only small but Yoongi had filled the space well without making it feel cramped from all the items of furniture, and the carpet and wallpaper made it feel homely and warm. It was feminine, but not in a tacky way. It was just right, a soft femininity that matched well with Yoongi.

 

“Wow, your bedroom is lovely,” Jimin said, running his gaze over the room again to take it all in. “I mean, your whole apartment is lovely. But I like this room a lot.”

 

“Thanks, baby. If I’m paying 50 dollars a week in rent, y’know I’m gonna make this place look good,” Yoongi replied, getting back upright and reaching up to free his hair from all of the elastics and slides. It fell down around his face in a mess, slightly kinked from the tight bun. “Wait, I just gots slip into something more comfortable…”

 

Yoongi slipped out of his tight leggings, flashing his bare behind at him as he rifled through the second dresser drawer in search of something.

 

Jimin respectfully looked away with a flustered sound, seeing him retrieving something from the drawer and moving to slip it on. When he glanced back over at him, he saw that Yoongi was now wearing a pair of baby pink, satin panties. The trim around the edges was black lace, a hint of it peeking out from under the ends of his massive t-shirt.

 

“Mmm, that’s better,” Yoongi purred, shoving the drawer shut and moving to exit the bedroom. “Follow me, baby, I gots something to show you.”

 

“OK.”

 

Jimin followed Yoongi down the narrow hallway to enter the kitchen, reaching over to run his fingers along the white wainscotting that ran along the walls. Above the wainscoting was a splash of deep cream paint, hints of coffee mixed into it. It was the same shade as the paint on the kitchen walls, which matched the linoleum flooring well.

 

Yoongi moved to hunker down in front of one of the counter cupboards, pulling the door open to reveal something unexpected. There a small safe stashed inside the cupboard because he had removed the inner shelves to fit it inside, hidden out of sight behind the door to all that entered the kitchen.

 

“I’ve let a couple of kids crash here before and it’s better safe than sorry. It ain’t that I don’t trust ‘em to not steal, it’s that I can’t trust ‘em,” Yoongi explained, reaching up to brush a thick lock of hair behind his ear. “There’s such a thing as being too charitable.”

 

“You don’t need to explain, I totally understand,” Jimin replied, once more moved by Yoongi’s acts of kindness. “You give the kids a lot. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make sure that they don’t take more than you want them to, I think.”

 

“I’m showing you this ‘cos you might wanna store your valuables inside, if you brought any with you. Just put the good stuff inside, to keep it safe from any greedy, little fingers. Your clothes should be fine, I’ll find room for ‘em in a drawer for you. I’ll give you the combination to the safe too, so you can open it up whenever you want; OK?”

 

“Thank you, Yoongi,” he said, shrugging his backpack free from his shoulders to unzip it and start pulling things free. “I brought a few things…um, well, a lot of things, actually.”

 

Jimin pulled the satin purse free first, hefting the considerable weight in his hand and hearing the contents clinking together. He hesitated for a few seconds before popping it open to show him the contents.

 

“Oh, you went straight for the jewels, huh?” Yoongi remarked, eyeing the contents as keen as a magpie. “Mmm, I see quality! Those settings, oh, and those stones! You naughty, little thing! You could live in this block for a year off the contents of that purse and then some!”

 

“…Do you think that I’m bad?” Jimin asked in a soft whisper, turning his head to look at him. He found that he struggled to hold his gaze because he felt so ashamed of himself, showing off his pilfered goods like this, like it was something to be proud of.

 

“Do I think you’re a bad kid for stealing from your parents? Oh, baby, no,” Yoongi crooned, moving to slip an arm around his shoulders so that he could pull him close. With his free hand, he reached inside the pouch to pull one of the rings free, a gold-plated one encrusted with small diamonds and a single emerald in the centre of the halo setting. “See this ring? See these jewels? If your ma cares more about the fact you snatched these than the fact you ran away…she deserved to be robbed.”

 

Jimin sucked his lower lip in to nibble on it as he stared at the ring that Yoongi was holding up in front of them.

 

The dull ceiling lights played off the jewels, made them sparkle brighter than any star that he had ever seen in the night sky. The ring in choice happened to be one of his mother’s favourites, one that she treasured as much as her engagement and wedding rings, and looking at it made him feel waves of shame coursing through his body.

 

His mother had cried so much when she had seen the dirty magazine clutched in his father’s fist. She had sobbed all evening long, his head in her lap as she had stroked at his hair with her trembling fingers and had just begged him to stop being gay. She had offered him everything but acceptance, not daring to go against his father’s wrath for his sake. Not even after she had witnessed him beating him to the ground, so defenceless and scared.

 

But even then, Jimin felt like shit for stealing her treasured jewellery. He didn’t think that she deserved it. She had lost a son tonight, along with all of the beloved gifts her husband had given her over the two decades of their marriage, and he knew that she was going to be left devastated.

 

“You’re worth so much more than these stupid things,” Yoongi continued, dropping the ring back into the pouch, the metal clinking against the collection of earrings and necklaces. “They’re just material, they’re just empty, wasted dollars. But you? Baby, you’re special. Fuck these diamonds, you’re a diamond in the rough, and all this hate and pressure is only gonna shape you and make you grow strong.”

 

“Do you really think so?” Jimin asked, snapping the purse shut and bringing it close to hug it against his stomach.

 

“I can spot a real diamond from a mile away,” Yoongi said with a soft smile, reaching up to cup his cheek with his hand. His palm was so soft and cool against his skin, and he felt himself instinctively leaning into his touch. “You’re so precious, and I’m gonna help you realise just how strong and powerful you really are. OK?”

 

Jimin nodded at this, feeling Yoongi’s fingers brushing a loose lock of hair back behind his ear for him. They were so close, so close that the other man could easily lean in and embrace him, or even steal a quick and soft kiss. He felt his gaze rapidly shifting between Yoongi’s eyes and lips, holding his breath in anticipation that he might just do such a thing.

 

“You’re a gorgeous butch queen, Jiminie, and you ain’t gots to be scared no more,” Yoongi promised in a whisper-soft voice, shifting to pull him close by slipping his arms around his neck. “Not of yourself, not of your feelings - no more fear, baby.”

 

“I’m…I’m safe? I’m free?” Jimin asked, slipping his arms around his ribs to return the embrace and savouring the warmth coming from his soft body.

 

“You’re as free as a little bird,” Yoongi whispered, placing his cheek down on his shoulder and tightening his hold around Jimin’s neck.

 

“Oh…” he breathed out, closing his eyes and turning his face to press it against Yoongi’s hair and take an uneven gasp for breath.

 

Yoongi’s hair smelled like faded shampoo, cigarettes and sweat, the mixture filling Jimin’s core with a overwhelming sense of comfort. He just wanted to stay like this for as long as he could, tangled up in his arms with his face in his soft hair; drawing out as much relief and support as possible.

 

Jimin was free. He was safe now, safe from harm and fear. The struggles of his old life were finally over starting tonight, and he wasn’t alone. He had Yoongi to guide him, to take care of him and ease him into his new life as an openly gay man.

 

“It’s OK, baby, it’s OK,” Yoongi crooned, rubbing his palm between his shoulder blades to try and soothe him. “I gots you.”

 

Jimin broke the embrace first, reaching up to roughly wipe at his eyes and nose with his fingers. He felt a little wetness lingering around his lash line, but luckily no tears had managed to spill free. He couldn’t help but let out a flustered laugh as he did so, embarrassed that such a small act of comfort had almost reduced him to tears.

 

“I’ve haven’t felt free or safe in so long,” Jimin confided, as he moved to shove the first purse inside the safe. He retrieved the second one too, the chain metal clutch purse that made Yoongi let out a pleased sound, clearly liking the look of it. “A part of me almost feels like this is just a crazy dream, and I’m gonna wake up in my bed any moment from now.”

 

“Oh, Jiminie, I’m as real as you are gorgeous,” Yoongi said, reaching over to give his chin a teasing tickle that made him giggle. “I’m so perfect you can’t believe I exist, huh?”

 

“Yes,” Jimin agreed without a hint of shame, wanting to be honest with him.

 

Yoongi let out a laugh at this, slapping at his arm and then reaching up to knock his hair back behind his shoulder. It was a charming, wheezy laugh, and it made his wide shoulders shake. It seemed that his honesty might have made him get a little flustered, for a hint of pinkness diffused across his full cheeks.

 

After placing the second purse inside the safe, Jimin had no other possessions to store away. His backpack was filled with goods that were far from valuable, mostly just folded t-shirts and spare underwear he had thought was smart to bring with him. He was in the act of shutting the safe door when he heard Yoongi letting out a soft noise, and he looked back over his shoulder to see that he was looking inside his backpack.

 

Yoongi slowly rolled his eyes to look up at him, peering through his thick eyelashes with a hard to read expression. Then he reached inside to pull something free, a flash of a familiar furry leg gripped between his fingers.

 

The teddy bear had taken up quite a lot of space in his backpack, but Jimin had just needed to take it with him. It had been a streak of childish sentimentality and fear of abandoning the teddy bear that had made him sacrifice packing more clothing, or even some food for the road, just to bring it with him.

 

Jimin had owned the teddy bear for as long as he could remember, and he loved it more than the tower of European teddy bears that were stacked in the corner of his bedroom. From the soft, deep brown fur, to the chocolate, silk ribbon around its neck, to the cream nose and paws that he had used to make his mother kiss every night before going to sleep - Jimin had just needed to bring the teddy bear with him.

 

“…What’s his name, huh?” Yoongi asked, holding the teddy bear up in front of himself to study it.

 

“Why did you assume it was a ‘he’?” Jimin retorted, trying to look serious and offended but struggling to not snort laughter.

 

“Oh! Sorry, darling, I thought you looked a little mannish!” Yoongi campily declared, waving his limp wrist around before taking hold of the silken ribbon around her neck. “Forgive me?”

 

“Whitney, her name’s Whitney,” Jimin said with a giggle, shifting a little closer to him. “It’s OK, she forgives you.”

 

“Whitney, she can dance with all the other teddies,” he joked with a smile, giving the teddy bear a quick squeeze against his chest. “I’m sure they’ll love her.”

 

“How come you’ve got so many teddy bears, Yoongi?” Jimin asked, hoping that his question sounded curious and friendly, rather than invasive.

 

“They’re gifts, from my House Mother. She always used to give me ‘em when I was still a kid. She said that I reminded her of a sweet, little teddy bear. Mmm, ‘cos I’m so adorable,” Yoongi bragged without a hint of modesty, still holding Whitney against his chest. “I couldn’t possibly get rid of ‘em. No, any man that shares my bed has gots to share with ‘em.”

 

This made Jimin laugh as he gave the safe dial a spin and then shut the cupboard door; sealing his mother’s jewellery away for the time being.

 

“OK! Let’s go find some room in the dresser!”

 

Yoongi accepted his folded pile of clothing, getting to his feet so that he could leave the kitchen and store it away for him. He brought Whitney with him, the teddy bear comfortably nestled in the crook of his elbow.

 

Whilst he did so, Jimin got to his feet, his backpack dangling from his fist. He had a couple of toiletries that he needed to put away, and so he went down the hallway in search of the bathroom. He discovered that it was indeed the room on the far left end of the hallway, and he pushed the door open to step inside and hit the light switch on the wall.

 

The ceiling light was an exposed bulb, which cast a dull yellow glow all over the bathroom. The walls were painted a soft pink shade, which matched the floral toilet seat cover. Said toilet was against one wall, a small sink right beside it that had a medical cabinet set above it. Against the opposite wall to the toilet, there was a bathtub. The room was so small that the door actually touched the tub, the thin wood banging against the porcelain and making him jump in surprise.

 

Jimin ran his gaze over the melted candles that were placed all around the rim of the bathtub, seeing dozens of bathing products sitting on a wall shelf. He almost expected Yoongi to own a rubber duck, but he saw no sight of one sitting inside the tub.

 

Maybe, that was a little too immature for him?

 

Sitting on the rim of the sink, there was a cup that contained Yoongi’s toothbrush and paste. A cute container of milky pink hand wash was beside the cup, and several bottles of face cleansers and lotions took up most of the remaining space.

 

Jimin placed his toothbrush and paste in the cup too, glad that his plain white brush was completely different to Yoongi’s pink one, just so that they wouldn’t get confused. There was just enough room to fit the rest of his bathing products on the sink and shelf, and he couldn’t help but study all of the bright bottles as he did so. Jasmine, chamomile, vanilla, coconut, rose, calendula, shea butter and more - Yoongi seemed to like so many different things.

 

The inside of the medical cabinet contained even more beauty products, and a few bottles of aspirin, Advil and basic medication for the usual aches and pains, colds and stomach aches. He closed it with a soft hum, giving the bathroom a final glance before going back into the hallway.

 

Jimin had only taken a few steps when Yoongi darted out of the bedroom to go into the kitchen, his bare feet quickly padding on the flooring. He retrieved the bag of food off the kitchen floor and then he skipped his way into the living-room. The lengths of his t-shirt danced around his buttocks as he did so, cheekily flashing a hint of his panties that Jimin couldn’t possibly look away from as he followed after him.

 

“Anyway, time to eat!” Yoongi declared, glancing back over his shoulder to give him a wide smile. “I need some Chinese in me right now! You got any cute friends, Jiminie?”

 

It took Jimin a few seconds to get Yoongi’s dirty joke, his cheeks flushing with colour as he let out an embarrassed laugh.

 

“Don’t laugh, that was terrible,” Yoongi said with a soft head shake, bending down to open the plastic bag and start rooting through the food cartons and parcels. “If I made that joke in the House in front of my sisters, the bitches would tear me apart with their falsies.”

 

Jimin tried to not stare at his behind in the tight, satin panties. He really did try his hardest, but he found himself unable to possibly pull his eyes away from his buttocks, hanging free from the black lace trim; so round with a soft crease underneath. It took him several seconds to do so, looking off across the living-room with a strangled noise at the back of his throat; filled with a mixture of arousal and disgust at his actions.

 

When Yoongi dropped to sit on the sofa, he spread his thighs wide for a few seconds, wriggling to try and fix the cushions behind his back to get more comfortable. His sitting position revealed his crotch, the front of his satin panties bulging from his testicles and giving a hint of the outline of his cock. But as soon as he was comfortable, he folded one thin thigh over the other and reached down to pat his hand on the spare cushion beside him.

 

“Sit down, baby,” he suggested, leaning forward to carry on sorting through the cartons and parcels. “Wait, go grab something to drink from the fridge!”

 

Jimin did as he requested, going into the other room and getting up on tiptoe to check the wall cupboard to find glasses. After doing so, he popped the refrigerator door open, scanning the almost empty contents to see that there was a full bottle of Coca Cola shoved inside. He carried the bottle in the crook of his elbow, leaving the kitchen to go back into the living-room.

 

Though Yoongi had given quite a lot of the food away to the kids earlier, there was still a great deal left in the bag. He had opened all the parcels up to spread the contents across the table: spring rolls, prawn crackers and fried chicken thighs sitting on the grease-paper. There was also a plastic tub filled with special fried rice, along with two cartons of chow mein.

 

There was so much food, but Jimin would be more than happy to try and tackle it, even if he went to bed feeling a little nauseous.

 

“Wow,” Jimin said with a laugh, lowering himself down onto the free cushion and placing the cups on the table. He unscrewed the bottle of soda, filling the glasses up for the both of them. “It smells so good, Yoongi!”

 

“Tuck in, baby,” Yoongi said with a smile, jokingly holding his glass out to him for a toast.

 

Jimin retrieved a pair of disposable chopsticks from the table, ripping the paper cover free and then snapping them apart. He rubbed them together to get rid of any tiny splinters, looking over the assortment of food and trying to decide what to try first.

 

Yoongi didn’t even hesitate, getting the carton of chow mein in hand and grabbing one of the chicken thighs. He shoved it into his mouth, pulling a bite right off the bone and letting out a soft moan from the flavour.

 

Jimin collected his own carton of chow mein, fluffing at the steaming mound of fried noodles and vegetables before gathering a clump with his chopsticks. He shoved it into his mouth, finding that it was incredibly hot but not enough to burn his mouth.

 

“Oh, my god,” Jimin said around the huge and steaming bite of noodles, the flavour settling on his tongue.

 

“I told you it was good,” Yoongi said, pointing at him with his pair of chopsticks. His cheek was distended from a mixture of chicken and noodles, which he was slowly chewing. “Ain’t this just the best Chinese you ever had?”

 

“Um, I only got to eat Chinese food as a treat,” Jimin explained, chewing the mouthful of firm noodles and stir-fried vegetables. “I’m not supposed to eat too much fast food. My mum would scold me because I might put on weight and it would affect my dancing. But it’s the best that I’ve ever tasted!”

 

“Every day’s a treat if you want it to be,” Yoongi joked, wriggling on the sofa seat and giving him a cheeky smile; his lips covered in grease from the fried chicken and noodles. “I like giving treats too, so, you better start getting used to ‘em.”

 

Between bites of chow mein, Jimin sampled some of the other food, finding that he loved the crisp crunch of the prawn crackers - especially if he scooped up a mound of fried rice and ate it that way. It tasted so good, so good and unhealthy that his mother would have a fit if she knew that he was eating it all.

 

A sudden and strange sound caught Jimin’s attention, a little rumbling noise that came from across the living-room. He looked up from the table, pausing in the act of grabbing another spring roll from the grease-paper to see something unexpected.

 

There was a fat, white and lemon sable papillon dog heading straight towards them. She was so fat that she actually waddled a little, her funny ears and tail wagging around. There was a sparkly collar around her neck, covered with rhinestones and a dangling heart charm, and her coat was sleek and well-maintained.

 

“This’ Lil Bitch,” Yoongi said, sweeping the fat dog up into his arms so that he could smother her funny ears with kisses. “She must’ve smelled the Chinese, she likes Chinese…and Mexican…and Jamaican… Basically, she likes everything, that’s the problem.”

 

“Yoongi, she’s…she’s really fat,” Jimin said in a quiet voice, hoping to not cause any offence with his words.

 

“No shit?” Yoongi retorted, grabbing one of the napkins to wipe at his lips, which were no doubt now covered in fur. “She can’t help it, it’s her glands or something. Big is beautiful, right, Lil Bitch?”

 

“Don’t you exercise her?”

 

“I can’t take her out on a walk, baby. She would reach the end of the block and drop dead from a heart attack, the fat bitch,” Yoongi said with a dramatic sigh, even as he let Lil Bitch chow down on a chunk of fried beef from his serving of chow mein.

 

Jimin glanced off across the apartment-room floor, spotting something lying not too far from her blanket and cushion bed. It was a chewed-up tennis ball, one that Lil Bitch seemed to like gnawing on. So, he moved to crawl along the floor to take hold of it, thankful that it was dry and not wet with drool as he wrapped his fingers around it.

 

“I’m gonna exercise her,” Jimin said, shifting to sit down on the floor beside his feet, the ball clutched in his fist. “Watch this, Yoongi.”

 

Jimin rolled the ball across the floor towards Lil Bitch, hoping that she would figure out he was trying to play with her. For a few seconds, she just stared at the object, her tongue lolling out between her lips and her panting bordering on wheezing. Then she seemed to realise that he was playing a game, and she waddled to get over to the tennis ball. Instead of picking it up, she pushed it across the floor with her nose, slowly making her way back over to him.

 

“Good girl!” Jimin praised, patting at her head as he picked up the ball again. He rolled it across the floor, hoping that the praise might encourage her to bring it back again. “Go on, Lil Bitch! Bring it back! Bring it back to me!”

 

Lil Bitch actually ran after the ball, letting out a series of squeaky yips as she bounded across the floor. It was enough to make Jimin start giggling, so very pleased that his plan was working.

 

Yoongi shifted on the sofa to watch them, cocking his elbow on the battered armrest and cupping his cheek in his hand. He couldn’t help but chuckle at the sight of his dog waddling around, trying her goddamn hardest to play this simple game of fetch.

 

“See?! She can do it!” Jimin bragged, giving her another quick ruffle to her ears as he picked up the tennis ball. “Go, Lil Bitch!”

 

Lil Bitch chased after the ball for the best part of several minutes, excitedly yipping and panting as she nosed it across the floor. A few times, she was having so much fun chasing the ball that she took a moment to bring it back to Jimin, only remembering to do so when he called out to get her attention again. But she started to flag very quickly, reverting back to her waddling until she eventually plopped down onto her side with a funny rumble.

 

“Wow! I think she managed a whole five minutes of cardio!” Yoongi exclaimed in wonder, reaching down to give his shoulder a quick squeeze and keeping it in place. “I think she deserves some fried chicken as a treat; don’tcha, Lil Bitch?”

 

“Yoongi, no!” Jimin gasped, twisting to look back at him, his eyes wide in horror.

 

But he could see that Yoongi was joking judging from his expression - well, mostly joking. It was hard to tell right now. He shifted along the sofa so that he could sit back on the spare cushion beside him, tucking his bare legs up in front of himself. So, Jimin moved to do so, grabbing his glass of cola to take a quick sip.

 

On the floor, Lil Bitch’s side was rising and falling as she tried to catch her breath; her pink tongue dangling free. Hopefully, Yoongi’s joke about her dropping dead from a heart attack really would stay a joke. She just wasn’t used to exercise, that was all. She was just far too used to sharing Chinese takeaway instead of going on walks.

 

Yoongi fumbled to find the television remote, hitting a button to turn it on and then flicking through multiple channels until he found a music station. The image rolled across the screen a few times, showing that there might be a problem with the signal, but then it settled down and stopped rolling and skipping; the static clearing up so that the sound was no longer fuzzy.

 

“Ooh, Diana!” Yoongi said, hitting the volume button to increase it and shifting to sit up straight against the stack of cushions. “I love Miss Diana Ross, Jiminie! She’s so talented and gorgeous!”

 

Jimin found himself staring at the screen whilst he sipped at the cola, hearing Yoongi softly singing along to the song that was playing on the station. He had his hand placed against his chest as he did so, his eyes half-lidded as he got into the song.

 

On the screen, a beautiful and very thin Diana Ross was dancing her way around a fake television studio set, surrounded by backing singers and dancers. The video was in black and white, giving it a vintage feeling. Her sleek, bobbed hair looked so much like Minah’s hair; the lengths dancing around her shoulders and the blunt cut fringe covering her brow. Her slinky, black dress and boots looked like something that she might just wear too, so long as she could team it up with plenty of jewellery.

 

As the chorus kicked in, she suddenly appeared in a flash of pyrotechnics, standing on a giant, spinning diamond in a red evening gown with a fish-tail. The tail was ruffled, the sleeves full, and her hair was now hanging free in a mop of curls. She looked like a true diva, and Jimin couldn’t look away from the screen as she waved her arms around above her head.

 

“Look at her! She’s such a queen!” Yoongi exclaimed, placing his food carton aside so that he could sit forward and eagerly watch the music video. He even cupped his face in his hands, staring at the singer with a lovestruck expression on his face. “Oh, I wish I was as fabulous as her!”

 

On the screen, Diana was lounged on glowing floor tile as she posed for the camera, her long legs clad in tight leggings and a pair of stilettos on her feet with a wicked pointed heel. She had so much power and presence, just like Minah did when she was onstage. Jimin could see where Yoongi had gotten his inspiration from, and he was jealous of how beautiful and confident that she looked. And her makeup, he was jealous of that too.

 

The video went back to the black and white segment again, showing Diana dancing and sashaying her way around the fake stage. Eventually, she appeared in a new outfit, and this one was enough to make him gasp in wonder.

 

“Oh, that’s lovely,” Jimin remarked, eyeing the floor-length, white fur coat that she was wearing as she strutted towards the camera.

 

When she opened the fur coat to reveal the silver gown underneath it, all sparkly and trimmed with more plush fur around the train, they both let out cries of wonder and then started laughing at their antics.

 

Jimin couldn’t help but reach over to place his hand down on Yoongi’s bare knee, giving it a little pat before cautiously leaving it in place. He almost anticipated that Yoongi would move, would wriggle like he always did, but he actually stayed still and didn’t knock his hand away - accidentally or on purpose.

 

As soon as the track had finished playing, Yoongi lost interest in the television. He grabbed his food container again, slouching back on the sofa with a weary sigh at the boring track that had came onto the station - some disco track with a male vocalist that he clearly didn’t care for. He didn’t move his hand off his knee, rather he let him keep it in place because he seemed to find the contact comfortable.

 

Over the duration of the meal (which was far too late to consider dinner and probably closer to breakfast at this early morning hour) Yoongi sang along to every song that came onto the television that he liked. Sometimes, he did so seriously, but mostly he did so as a joke - holding a chicken thigh bone in front of mouth as he belted out the notes. There was a soft hint of Minah in his voice when he did so, but he didn’t slip into his full persona.

 

A few times, he even got up to strut around the living-room, doing so in a way to make him laugh instead of being serious. His feet, now free from towering high heels, skipped across the wooden flooring as walked and twirled, as he shook his narrow hips and posed; his hands on his waist and his legs cocked to the side. When he shook his behind at him, his t-shirt bouncing around to expose his satin panties, it was enough to make Jimin bring his fingers up to his lips to wolf-whistle. This earned him a few gentle slaps to his arms from Yoongi, who burst out laughing and got a little flustered from the attention.

 

Jimin wished that he could join in, but he didn’t know most of the songs enough to sing along. He could only give Yoongi rounds of enthusiastic applause and praise, or jump up and do a little shimmy in return that made them both laugh. He slipped out of his denim jacket, tossing it onto the back of the sofa as he started to get more into the music.

 

“Where’re your real moves, baby?!” Yoongi teased, reaching over to take hold of his hands to pull him away from the sofa. “Show me how a professional dancer does it!”

 

“Yoongi!” Jimin dragged out with a laugh, finding the idea that Yoongi thought he was a professional dancer so very funny.

 

Professionally trained, yes, but far from professional.

 

“I don’t usually dance to r’n’b!” he explained, still laughing as he lazily moved to the blaring, funky music coming from the speakers.

 

“That ain’t dancing! This’ dancing!” Yoongi declared, as he started crazily jiving around the living-room, his arms waving around completely off-rhythm with the track. “Watch this!”

 

Jimin could only copy him, the two of them stepping, shaking and laughing like fools. Unlike Yoongi, he actually stepped in beat with the song, kicking and back-stepping as he waved and pumped his arms. He was doing the kind of dancing he had seen in the music videos, the kind he had most certainly never been taught in dance class and had been hoping to learn in the academy he had been enrolled in, and boy; did it feel good dancing like this?

 

Yoongi started doing something funny with his hands, sweeping them around his face and neck as if he was doing some kind of mime act. The movements were both stiff and fluid, his head and shoulders rigid but his elbows and wrists flapping around as loose as could be.

 

Jimin found himself copying his moves, curious as to where he had learnt to do such a thing. There was something so wild and fantastic about the style, something that instantly drew him in.

 

“Strike a pose, strike a- oh, Jimin! Stop her!” Yoongi suddenly gasped, throwing his hand out to point at the table. “Lil Bitch, no! Bad girl!”

 

Lil Bitch was trying her very hardest so scarf down a whole fried chicken thigh, having moved in for the kill whilst they had both been distracted singing and dancing. She was brazenly standing on the table, and there was no telling how many bites she might have stolen whilst they had been messing around.

 

Jimin had to grab her because he was closer to the table than Yoongi, and he scooped her up into his arms so that he could gently tug the piece of meat free. She gave up a good fight, letting out a disgruntled rumble but finally letting go. She was shockingly heavy in his arms, almost as heavy as his backpack had been.

 

“I could do weight training with her!” Jimin exclaimed, hefting Lil Bitch’s weight in his hands and pretending to do a biceps curl with her. “Wow! I can feel the burn already!”

 

Yoongi burst out laughing at this, dropping to squat down until he ended up falling on his ass from the force of his shaking body. This just made him laugh harder, his wheezy laugh turning silent as he lay back to lie on the floor.

 

Jimin stopped messing around with Lil Bitch, hugging her against his chest for a moment. She wriggled around until she was able to lick at his face, mostly around his lips in search of a hint of grease. He hunkered down to place her on the floor, crawling over to Yoongi to hold out his hand and offer him some assistance.

 

Yoongi allowed him to pull him up into a sitting position, tightly entwining their fingers together so that he wouldn’t let go of his hand. He reached up with his free hand to wipe at his cheeks because his eyes had been streaming with tears of laughter. He was gasping just as much as Lil Bitch did so, trying to catch his breath even as a few more raspy chuckles escaped him.

 

“Oh, my tummy hurts,” Yoongi whined with a laugh, placing his hand against his stomach. “That was a bad idea. But it was fun, right? You had fun?”

 

“Yes, it was fun,” he agreed with a smile, giving Yoongi’s hand a soft squeeze and feeling his fingers tightening around his in response. “Yoongi? Um…I…”

 

“Yeah? What’s on your mind, Jiminie?” Yoongi asked, reaching over to give Lil Bitch a quick stroke with his free hand. “You can tell me anything, y’know that; right?”

 

“I ran away because my dad was talking about sending me off for Christian counselling.”

 

Jimin didn’t know why he suddenly said this. The words had just spilled out from between his lips before he could have possibly hoped to stop them. Not even throwing his hand over his mouth could have trapped the words, they would have escaped him in some way.

 

For a few seconds, Yoongi just stared at him, his smile slowly fading off his face. Then he moved to grab the remote, switching the television off and plunging the living-room into silence.

 

Jimin could feel his words hanging in the air, so heavy and toxic in a way that made his breathing start to get uneven. He could only stare at him and wait for him to say something, anything that could clear the air and make him stop thinking about his father.

 

“Oh, baby…” Yoongi sighed, his voice barely that of a whisper. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

 

“I-I don’t know a lot about the world, Yoongi. I know that I’ve been sheltered from a lot of things growing up,” Jimin continued, hearing the slight stammer and breathiness in his voice. “But I knew that I didn’t want to be shipped off to some…some Christian camp where they would beat me and-and do things to my brain to ‘fix’ me. I-I’d rather die, Yoongi!”

 

Jimin tried his very hardest to keep himself under control but he couldn’t stop the tears from coming, no matter how much that he mentally scolded himself.

 

How many times could he possibly cry in one night? The answer seemed to be that he could cry forever, judging from how easily and steadily the tears started rolling down his cheeks.

 

“Oh!” Jimin sobbed, as he reached up to cover his face with his trembling hands. “Am I really buh-broken?!”

 

Yoongi shifted to get closer to him, his massive t-shirt rustling and his knees rubbing across the flooring until he was able to slip his arms around him again.

 

Just the slight contact was enough to make Jimin collapse onto him, falling apart at the seams as he buried his face against his chest. He grabbed hold of the back of his t-shirt, wrinkling the material between his fingers as he held onto him with a vice-like grip. He could barely even breathe because his chest was aching so much, and he just wanted the pain to go away.

 

“Listen to me, Jimin,” Yoongi whispered, as he pulled his head away to hold his gaze. He cupped his face in his hands, his thumbs digging into his cheeks. “You did the right thing. You did. You might be scared right now and you might think that you made a mistake, but you didn’t. Tonight, you weren’t running away from home, you were running to save your life, and that’s the truth.”

 

“I-I was,” Jimin agreed, taking a deep breath and holding it in his lungs as he tried to get himself under control. “I was, Yoongi, I-I wasn’t gonna let him huh-hurt me, and I wasn’t gonna let him ruin muh-my life.”

 

“You ain’t broken, you’re whole,” Yoongi continued, letting go of one of his cheeks to reach down and take hold of his forearm. He managed to get him to let go of his t-shirt with a soft tug, bringing his hand up to place it against his chest so that he could feel his own pounding heart against his palm. “Feel this? That’s your heart, baby. It’s your heart, and it’s so whole! Could a broken thing beat that strongly, huh? Could a broken thing feel like you do?”

 

“No.”

 

“D’you think I’m broken?”

 

“Nuh-no, I think you’re…beautiful,” Jimin hiccuped, gasping for breath as he rapidly blinked stinging tears out of his eyes. “I think you’re - hic - you’re nicest person in the huh-whole world, not buh-broken.”

 

“Then why’d you think you’re broken?”

 

Jimin couldn’t find a way to answer Yoongi’s question. His mind was racing with thoughts, but none of them seemed to make much sense to him right now. It was just a mess of angry shouting that left him feeling dizzy from confusion and panic.

 

“C’mon, let’s get you in bed,” Yoongi suggested, taking hold of his biceps to gently pull him to his feet. “You gots to rest, baby. You’ve had such a hard day today.”

 

Jimin was escorted across the living-room and out into the tiny hallway, Yoongi guiding him into the bedroom again. When he was beside the bed, he sat down on it and reached up to wipe at his streaming eyes and nose with a series of sniffs.

 

“I’ll go grab you a glass of water,” Yoongi offered, giving his hair a soft stroke and then turning on his heel to leave the bedroom.

 

Whilst he was gone, Jimin reached up to take hold of his t-shirt, dragging it off over his head and tossing it down onto the flooring. He got up to unbutton and unzip his jeans too, dropping them to his ankles with his briefs so that he could step out of them. He could never sleep in his clothes, for he much preferred to sleep naked for comfort.

 

Jimin had just settled down on the bed and dragged the covers over himself when Yoongi reappeared with a glass of water in his hand. He moved to place it on the side table beside the bed, shifting to lower himself down onto the edge of the mattress beside him. He didn’t say anything for a moment, staring down at his hands in his lap as he thought his words over carefully.

 

“Here, let’s give you Whitney,” he said, moving to grab the teddy bear from the bottom of the bed. “Whitney’s good at getting rid of all the sad thoughts, mmm?”

 

“Yes,” Jimin agreed, accepting the teddy bear from him and getting her into the crook of his elbow to hold her close.

 

“Don’t worry, baby, you’re safe here. Ain’t no mean daddies and no scary Christians gonna come to get you. Not while I’m here,” Yoongi said, tucking the covers up over his body for him and then reaching up to wipe at his still damp cheek. “You go to sleep now, a’ight? You gots to rest and wake up to your new life tomorrow. A brand-new life without anger, fear, and hate. You want a goodnight kiss?”

 

“Yes, please,” Jimin whispered, blinking several more unshed tears free and feeling them running down to soak into the pillow.

 

Yoongi moved to lean over and press a soft kiss in his hair, rather than on his cheek or lips. It was a respectful thing to do, and it showed that he was a very thoughtful person underneath all of his jokes and loudness.

 

“There you go,” he said with a soft smile, brushing his hair back off his brow for him. “Sweet dreams, baby.”

 

“Yoongi? Will you…stay here, until I fall asleep?” Jimin asked, peering up at him through his damp eyelashes.

 

“I’ll stay,” Yoongi promised, leaning over to tug on the lamp string and turn it on; a soft, pink glow coming from the bulb. “I’m gonna be right here, beside you.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

Jimin turned his head to the side on the pillow, closing his eyes and taking a steadying inhale. He let it back out in a sigh, feeling his heartbeat starting to slow down in his chest once more. He felt Yoongi’s hand brushing across the covers to settle down on top of his, the one that was placed on his ribs; Whitney caught in his elbow and squeezed against his side. He gently took hold of his hand, wrapping his fingers around his and tenderly stroking his thumb over his knuckles.

 

As he started to drift off, Jimin was vaguely aware of the fact that he mumbled things to Yoongi, but he couldn’t seem to understand what he was saying. He had so little control over his numb lips, but he had a feeling that he must have said nice things to him, judging from Yoongi’s sweet laughter.

 

It was such a lovely thing to fall asleep listening to, as soft as his thumb was as it brushed against his skin.

 

 

 

 

 

The sound of a beeping alarm cut through the air as keen as a blade, rudely dragging him out of his slumber. He let his breath out in a soft groan, lifting one hand up to drop it down on his face and rub at his eyelids.

 

Yoongi felt like there was something heavy on his chest, something that made it somewhat harder to breathe. He opened his eyes to look down and see that Lil Bitch was mostly lying on him, using his chest as a pillow and snoring away.

 

“Move your fat ass, Lil Bitch,” Yoongi said, giving her a firm pat on the butt to get her to move off his chest.

 

Lil Bitch dragged herself off his chest only to plop down on the edge of cushion instead, clearly not wanting to budge right now. But even that was good enough, for he could now move to reach over and hit the device to turn it off. He did so slowly, struggling to sit up for a few seconds because his body was so heavy and stiff.

 

The alarm clock was currently sitting on the far arm of the sofa, the wire stretched to plug into a wall socket a few feet away.

 

Yoongi had taken it out of the bedroom so that the sound would wake him up and not disturb Jimin, who had hopefully spent the entire night free from broken sleep and nightmares. The first few weeks were really the worst, and he was probably going to wake up plenty of times; crying and shouting at the phantoms that were haunting his fragile, sleeping mind until he was soothed back to sleep.

 

“Nnn,” Yoongi grunted, lifting his arms up over his head to stretch his shoulders. He felt his back protesting from the movement, a stiffness having settled down deep around his tail bone. He reached down to massage at it, trying his very hardest to loosen his muscles.

 

Sleeping on the sofa had been a very dumb idea, but Yoongi had wanted Jimin to have the bed. He could still remember how his House Mother had slept on her sofa for the best part of a month when she had first taken him in off the streets, until she had been able to gift him a bed of his own to sleep in. He had needed a lot of her pillows, however, for he had gotten rather attached to them and had needed the scent of her linen and perfume all around him to fall asleep right.

 

Yoongi shifted to lie down on the sofa for a few seconds, dropping back onto the stack of cushions he had used as a pillow. The blanket was tangled up around his bare legs, for he must have kicked it down there at some point during the night. He didn’t want to get up and move but he knew that he had to do so, that he couldn’t sleep a little longer. He needed to get ready and leave because he had an appointment, and making money was more important than getting sleep.

 

“C’mon, honey, you can do this,” Yoongi whispered to himself, mustering up all of his strength and willpower to sit up again. “Divas don’t sleep, they party all night long and wake up looking fabulous, and you can too.”

 

This rally was enough to make Yoongi finally sit up, swinging his legs over the side of the sofa to place his bare feet down on the flooring. He dropped his hand down on Lil Bitch’s side, giving her a soft pat and hearing her rumbling in response.

 

Yoongi reached down to give his left ankle a soft rub, feeling a slight twinge in the muscle that was going to piss him off all day long. He had probably twisted his ankle when he had been on the stage last night, likely when he had strutted down the steps whilst dancing. It had been foolish to dance around in such towering stilettos, but he had felt stable in them and had therefore thought that he could get away with such antics. His sore ankle was now scolding him for his reckless behaviour, as was his stiff lower back.

 

Before falling asleep last night, Yoongi had been smart enough to pack away the remains of the Chinese food, just to stop a certain someone from helping herself to a midnight snack whilst he had been asleep. It was all shoved into one of the cartons the chow mein has been stored in, and he popped it open to eye the mess of noodles, prawn crackers, and spring rolls that were shoved inside.

 

Even when he knew that he would regret it, Yoongi slipped one of the cold and greasy spring rolls free and shoved it into his mouth. It was so bad but it tasted so good, just like sin.

 

“I’m gonna end up as fat as you one of these days, Lil Bitch,” he muttered around the mouthful, wiping his greasy fingers on the ends of his t-shirt. “We’re both gonna die fat and alone.”

 

Yoongi got to his feet with a soft grunt, reaching down to rearrange himself in his satin panties as he moved to exit the living-room. He toddled down the hallway, coming to a stop in the open bedroom doorway to study the little prince that was slumbering away in his bed for a few seconds. He couldn’t help but enter the bedroom, moving to gently lower himself down onto the edge of the mattress.

 

Jimin was lying on his side and turned away from him. His hair was a mess across his brow and eyes, the black locks clashing against the soft, floral pillow cases but matching his golden skin so beautifully. There was a dusky patch of brown on his cheek from where he had been struck across the face, presumably by his father, and a few small, blue bruises had also appeared on his upper arms and shoulders. His teddy bear, Whitney, was still trapped in his arms, hugged against his chest to bring him some much needed comfort whilst he slept.

 

As he looked down at him, Yoongi couldn’t help but think about what had happened right before he had drifted off. Jimin, falling asleep, his sweet face blotchy and swollen from his tears, mumbling about how much that he loved him, and how beautiful that he was, and how he loved Minah too.

 

Oh, Jimin was so tender and naïve, pure in a way that made Yoongi’s chest sweetly ache. He was young, but there were kids barely old enough to be called teenagers out on the streets all over Harlem that knew more about the real world than he did. He was so kind and trusting, with a silent compassion in his droopy eyes, and a fire burning in his chest that had yet to come alive. It was just smouldering tinders right now, but it would become a wildfire when he realised that he was free to be who he wanted to be.

 

Jimin didn’t need to hide his gayness away any more, not now. If he wanted to be a little butch queen up in drags at the ball, he would find only love and acceptance all around him. He really was in a whole new world now, the gay Harlem world that was ready to accept him with loving arms and help him grow into a happy and strong person.

 

“Oh, thank you, Miss Chanel - in heaven, but not forgotten,” Yoongi whispered, bringing his hands together in the classic prayer position under his chin. “Thank you for gifting me this beautiful baby. I promise to take care of him and teach him in the ways of art, fashion and queendom. Amen, darling.”

 

Jimin rolled onto his back with a soft sound, his legs shifting under the covers to bump against him. One of his hands creeped up to settle on his smooth and golden stomach, the other on the pillow beside his head, his fingers lightly curled up against his palm.

 

Yoongi’s gaze was drawn south of Jimin’s navel right towards the unmistakable sight of a powerful morning erection tenting at the covers.

 

“A well endowed baby, oh, god!” Yoongi cried out, reaching up to cup his face in his hands as he turned away from Jimin. His cheeks felt hot against his fingers, and his face was probably as pink as his satin panties. “Miss Chanel! I know I’ve been such a good boy, but this’ too much!”

 

“Hmm,” Jimin softly moaned in his sleep, his full lips pouting out and smacking together. His brow twitched for a few seconds before relaxing again, his expression turning serene.

 

Yoongi reached over to brush a few wispy locks back off his face for him, finding that his hair felt as soft as it had last night. Luckily, his touch didn’t disturb him because he didn’t want to wake him up, he wanted him to carry on sleeping and rest after what had happened to him yesterday.

 

Jimin deserved to rest and recover after the horrible day that he had been through: from the abuse that he had suffered at the hands of his father; to running away in the middle of the night, so scared, so vulnerable.

 

“Rest, Jimin,” he whispered, tucking the wispy locks back behind his ear for him and giving his cheek a tender stroke. “Get plenty of sleep, you gorgeous baby.”

 

Yoongi left the bedroom to go into the bathroom, plugging the bathtub up so that he could fill it with a splash of hot water and a little soak. Whilst the tub filled up, he relieved himself and vigorously brushed his teeth. The sight of Jimin’s toothbrush in the cup made him smile to himself as he did so, finding it very cute. His toothbrush in the cup, their sneakers side by side on the shoe rack beside the front door - there was just something so lovely about these little things.

 

As soon as the tub was ready, Yoongi stripped out of his clothing and lowered himself into the water, so thankful that the system had held out long enough to give him a few lovely inches of hot water. He only needed to have a quick wash to freshen up after last night, having been so distracted with Jimin that he had been unable to take a bath. He could pamper and shave this evening, with the candles burning away and a glass of cheap white wine in hand.

 

After cleaning up in the tub, Yoongi went back into the bedroom to carry on getting ready. Jimin was still fast asleep, so he didn’t need to worry about him catching sight of him towelling and moisturising his naked body. He did so quickly, hastily massaging the light lotion into his skin before getting dressed. He paid special attention to his elbows and knees, wanting to keep them soft and supple.

 

First, Yoongi slipped into a pair of briefs, adding a pair of thick leggings on top. He sat down on the floor to tug on a pair of socks, not wanting his sneakers to rub too much over the duration of the day. Then he grabbed a massive t-shirt from one of the dresser drawers, a plain, black one that was free from logos or filthy slogans.

 

Jimin woke up with a sudden sound just as he had finished getting dressed, jerking his head up off the pillow before dropping it back down again a few seconds later.

 

Yoongi let the slightly wrinkled ends of the t-shirt fall around his hips, the faded scent of fabric softener coming from it in waves. He looked over at him as he pulled his now messy hair free from the neckline, watching him slowly coming around to consciousness again.

 

Jimin forced his swollen eyelids open, languidly blinking as he tried to keep them open for longer than a second. As he did so, he rolled his gaze over to look up at him, slowly glancing down at his clothing before lifting his eyes to look at his face.

 

“Sorry, did I wake you up, baby?” Yoongi asked in a soft voice, watching him lifting one curled-up fist up to his face to rub at his eyes.

 

“Hmm, no…funny dream,” Jimin replied, his voice hoarse and heavy from sleep and his dry throat. “Not you, it’s…k.”

 

“Mmm, you’re even more adorable and when you’re sleepy,” he cooed, reaching down to give his sleep-tousled hair a quick ruffle.

 

Yoongi moved to leave the bedroom and go into the kitchen, hearing a funny sound as he stepped through the doorway. A quick glance back over his shoulder showed him that Jimin was moving to get out of bed, and so he looked away again before he caught sight of an accidental flash of his naked body.

 

A few seconds later, Jimin appeared in the doorway, wearing yesterday’s briefs and nothing else.

 

“Go back to sleep, Jiminie,” Yoongi said with a laugh, watching him stumbling down the hallway after him like a puppy, Whitney still tightly clutched in his arms like a baby. “You ain’t gots to wake up now, you can sleep as long as want.”

 

“I’m…k,” Jimin mumbled, forcing his eyes open for all of three seconds. “Thirsty…kinda hungry.”

 

“A’ight, well, I’m gonna make some coffee. You want some, baby? It’s instant blend, but it’s strong enough to blow even your dick off,” he joked, dropping his gaze down to look at Jimin’s tight, white briefs before stepping into the kitchen. “There’s some eggs in the fridge, I could make you some: scrambled, soft boiled, fried? There’s some cereal too, the kids eat that sugary shit up for breakfast, lunch and dinner - they’re terrible.”

 

“Um, can I have some cereal?” Jimin asked from his position in the kitchen doorway, stubbing his bare toes on the linoleum and scratching at his messy hair.

 

“You can have anything you want,” he said, shifting to pop open the cupboard door and pulling out a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal that had yet to be ripped open by any of the block kids. He placed it down onto the counter for him, giving him a quick smile that the boy returned.

 

“Thank you,” Jimin said, his eyes disappearing with the folds of his sleep-swollen eyelids.  “Um, also some coffee would be nice.”

 

Yoongi filled up the kettle, placing it down onto the stove so that he could heat up the water. He retrieved two chipped mugs from the cupboard, adding a generous heap of granulated powder into them. He asked Jimin how he took his coffee as he did so, seeing a look of uncertainty passing over his face for a few seconds before he quietly said something about liking it milky. So, he added some whitener to his mug to make it milky and sweet, rather than strong and acidic.

 

“I think the milk’s still fresh,” Yoongi muttered, pulling the bottle out of the refrigerator shelf and popping the cap free to bring it up to his face. “Smell that, baby. Does that smell fresh to you?”

 

Jimin cautiously leaned forward to sniff at the bottle of milk, narrowing his eyes as he did so. He let out a soft hum in agreement, accepting the bottle from him and hovering beside the counter for a few seconds. Then he hunkered down to root around the cupboards to find a bowl, pulling one free and placing it down on the counter.

 

In the time that it took Yoongi to brew the coffee, Jimin slowly tore open the box of cereal and plastic packet, pouring a serving out into the bowl. He almost poured too much out, letting out a giggle as he picked up a couple of stray pieces and popped them into his mouth. They loudly crunched as he chewed them, humming to himself at the sugary sweetness. He added a liberal splash of milk over the cereal, leaving the bottle out on the counter as he retrieved a spoon and then left the kitchen without a single word.

 

When the coffee was ready, Yoongi collected the two mugs to follow after him. There was no sign of him in the living-room, for Jimin wasn’t sitting on the sofa watching television like he had been expecting.

 

No, Jimin had went straight back to bed, his legs curled up in front of him on the mattress so that he could comfortably slouch over the bowl of cereal. He fell upon it with a ravenous hunger, spooning huge bites into his mouth and crunching away on the crisp and sugary pieces.

 

The sight made Yoongi snort laughter as he placed his mug of coffee down on the side table for him. Then he went over to his dressing table, collecting several bottles of vitamins so that he knock the pills back with a sip of the scalding coffee. He wasn’t very hungry, and just knowing that Jimin was fed was more than enough to sate him. The cup of coffee would hopefully suppress his appetite until the afternoon hours.

 

“Now, Jiminie, I gots to go to work,” he explained, searching the top of the dressing table for some hair elastics which he gathered together around his fingers. “I’m gonna be gone for a couple of hours, OK?”

 

Yoongi had to knot his hair up high on his head because it made it easier for him to pull his beanie hat on; the black woollen hat shoved inside one of the drawers. He made sure to tuck any loose locks underneath the thick fold in the wool, wanting to stop it from spilling free during the course of the day.

 

“Why’re you hiding your hair away?” Jimin asked around a mouthful of cereal, a dribble of milk running down his chin. “It looks nice today, you should wear it down instead.”

 

“Baby, I make clothes for ladies, and I mean real ladies. By that I don’t mean biological, I mean the kind that gots husbands that play golf, vote Republican and miss ‘the good old days’ when Asians washed their clothing instead of making ‘em,” Yoongi explained, shifting on the stool to look back over his shoulder at him. “That means that I’m already on uneven footing out there. I can’t have appointments with these kinda ladies with my hair out, looking like one of their goddamn daughters. That’s bad for business, I gots to hide it away.”

 

“You…you make clothes for rich ladies?” Jimin asked in a quiet voice, not even attempting to hide the look of surprise on his face. “I thought those kind of ladies would only buy designer clothes.”

 

“Anyone can walk into Macy’s with a little cash and buy designer clothes these days. These ladies don’t wanna wear the same as the middle-class ladies, and they don’t wanna enter a shop to see one of us mopping the place.”

 

“‘Mopping’?”

 

“Stealing,” Yoongi clarified, running his fingers around the edges of his beanie hat to feel for any loose hairs. “Don’t call it stealing, no one calls it that, even that’s what it is. It’s ‘mopping’; OK? Anyways, I make the best shit out there, that’s why they come to me for their fancy gowns and blouses.”

 

“Wow, that’s amazing, Yoongi,” Jimin said, reaching up wipe at his wet chin with the heel of his hand. “You’re so talented.”

 

Yoongi couldn’t help but smile at this as he retrieved his mug of coffee, taking another deep sip and savouring the strong taste on his tongue. Then he grabbed a glass container of intensive lotion, which he popped open and dabbed onto his face, leaving generous blobs of thick, white cream on his brow, nose, cheeks and chin.

 

“Feel free to crash here for the day, Jiminie,” Yoongi said, giving his face a quick massage to work the lotion into his clean skin. “If you need to leave to grab something, there’s spare key in a bowl by the door. There’s some cash in there too, in case you wanna grab a bite to eat. There’s a great bodega just down the block, you can get some tasty shit there. Tell the owner, the lovely little abuelita, that y’know me and she’ll probably give you a free slushy. She’s so sweet, she’s sweeter than the fresh churros she makes.”

 

“Yoongi, you talk too fast.”

 

In his reflection in the dressing table mirror, Yoongi saw that there was a lazy smile on Jimin’s face as he looked over at him. He was slowly stirring the spoon through the milk and soggy remains of the cereal, making no move to carry on eating.

 

“Sorry, it’s a bad habit. Some days, I barely say a word to anyone, and then other days, I can’t shut my fucking trap,” Yoongi said with a chuckle, patting at his cheeks to try and encourage his skin to absorb the lotion. Then he massaged the rest into his hands, working it into his knuckles and around his cuticles to try and keep his skin supple. “Just tell me to shut up if I start running my mouth too much.”

 

“It’s OK, I like it, it’s nice,” Jimin said, glancing down at the bowl of cereal in his lap.

 

“You won’t think it’s nice when I won’t shut up at 4am,” he joked, shifting to get up off the stool and rolling his stiff shoulders a few times; his almost empty mug of coffee left on the dressing table.

 

When Yoongi went into the living-room to retrieve his tote bag of new fabrics, he heard the familiar sound of the boy following him around the apartment. Oh, he knew that he could easily get used to such a thing, loving the soft pad of Jimin’s feet slightly out of rhythm with his own footsteps.

 

Was this what it had been like for Rhonda, back when he had been a kid, enamoured with his House Mother? Had he followed her around like this without rest, always on the heel of her Manolo Blahniks like a puppy?

 

Yoongi slipped a cigarette free from the half-empty packet that he had left on the table by the front door, placing it behind his ear to smoke during his brief walk. He shoved the packet into the tote bag, keeping his lighter in hand for a moment. He dropped his key ring into the bag too, stepping into his loosely knotted sneakers rather than fiddle with the frayed laces. Then he dragged the locks free from the door, twisting the latch to unlock it and step out into the hallway.

 

“Bye, baby,” Yoongi said, giving him a quick tinkle of his fingers through the gap in the doorway. “I’ll be back later, OK? Don’t run away on me!”

 

“Um, bye, Yoongi!” Jimin called from along the hallway, moving to peer through the gap at him. “I won’t run away, I promise!”

 

After exiting the block, which was surprisingly quiet this morning, Yoongi hit the street. He had to cross several blocks to reach his store, the morning walk usually making him grumble and drag his feet all the way there. But this morning, he found that there was a lightness in his steps, even when he was so sore and tired.

 

How could he not feel good this morning, after discovering a baby as perfect as Jimin to take under his wing and take care of? That was something he should celebrate, and he should sing and dance his way all across the neighbourhood, as gay as could be.

 

Yoongi thumbed at the lighter several times, hearing it uselessly clicking before it managed to spark a light. He set the cigarette alight, holding the first inhale in his lungs as he gave a little spin on the corner. He breathed it out with a soft laugh, dropping the lighter into the bag without a single care for whoever looked at him. Passing pedestrians, people in the cars that rolled down the narrow road - he didn’t give a shit. He was happy, the happiest he had been in quite some time.

 

“Mmm, heaven’s missing an angel today,” Yoongi said, smiling around his cigarette as he reached up to pull it free from his lips. “Missing a gorgeous angel named ‘Jimin’.”

 

On the walk to get to the store, Yoongi bumped into the kids from the block because they were hanging around an abandoned lot. They were messing around out on the streets, nothing better to do than to play around with a basketball whilst they passed the time, occasionally hiding should they spot a cop cruiser rolling down the road. They called out to him to get his attention, some thanking him for the food yesterday, others just telling him that he looked nice today.

 

“Who was cute guy with you last night?!” a particularly cheeky boy called Pablo shouted, his hand cupped around his mouth to amplify his voice.

 

This caused the kids to all start shouting out about Jimin, following him along the stretch of chain-link fence as he walked along the sidewalk.

 

“He was so cute!”

 

“Do you like him, honey?!”

 

“Is he your boyfriend?”

 

“Ooo, boyfriend~!”

 

“That’s my baby, Jimin,” Yoongi explained, dabbing a blob of ash down onto the sidewalk. “He’s new ‘round here, so, don’t go scaring him with your antics! He’s a runaway, just like youse kids, and I’m taking care of him like mama and daddy take care of youse.”

 

“Have you seen him naked yet?!”

 

“DeShawn! I told you last night to watch that sassy ass!”

 

But DeShawn was grinning at him from the other side of the fence, having earned himself several hard thumps to the back from the other kids for his naughtiness.

 

“Don’t hang ‘round here, kids. This’ prime cruising grounds for perverts. Go to the House, yeah, go and see if anyone needs your help. Mama Rhonda’s probably feeling lonely, go give her some company,” Yoongi instructed, hearing the kids promising to do so. “And for your information, DeShawn - no, I ain’t seen him naked yet!”

 

Yoongi heard the mixture of boys and girls giggling at this, watching them racing across the lot to hit the street; a blur of neon Lycra leotards, baggy sweats, and rainbow-coloured t-shirts. He could only shake his head at how cheeky the kids had gotten, asking him questions like that.

 

When he had been their age, he hadn’t been thinking about naked boys…at least, he didn’t think he had. He most certainly hadn’t looked at dirty magazines until he had been around the age of 14, but that was probably because Rhonda hadn’t had such filthy things in her home, just pin-ups of naked ladies on the walls instead.

 

Yoongi slowed down as he drew closer to the store, noticing something on the metal shutter that was over the front entrance. It took him a moment to realise that there was something painted onto the shutter, and he squinted at it until his breath left him in a tired sigh.

 

Sissy faggot!

 

The graffiti was so harsh and ugly, and not even because it was filled with toxic hate. It was like chicken scratch, the letters messily painted onto the steel shutter. Whoever had left the hate had clearly never used spray paint before in their lives, and Yoongi was just as offended by the amateur attempt as he was by the actual hate speech.

 

“Great, just great,” Yoongi sighed, folding his arms over his chest as he stared at the shutter. “Who the fuck…?”

 

“Yo, I can get that shit free for you!” someone hollered from just across the busy street, their voice incredibly familiar to his ears.

 

A quick glance back over his shoulder showed Yoongi that George, the owner of a general goods store, was standing on the step. He had yet to fully open up, waiting on deliveries to come so that he could stock up the store like he did so every Tuesday morning.

 

“I got my boys counting stock today before school! They could help you out!”

 

“How long would that take, George?! I’ve got a client appointment in, like, half an hour!” Yoongi shouted back, placing his hands down on his hips as he twisted to look back at him.

 

“Ten minutes top! Just need a little solvent remover and a wire brush, and that filth’ll come straight off! Swear to god!”

 

“How much’re you charging for that service?!”

 

“How much?! Are you kidding me?! After that dress you made for Michelle?! Boy, I owe you!”

 

Yoongi could only laugh at this, moving to sit down on a bench just a few feet away from the store entrance. At least he could finish his cigarette whilst he waited, though he would have much preferred squeezing out the end to save it for a break later in the day. He could smell the aroma of spray paint hanging in the air, meaning that it was still pretty fresh, and was therefore hopefully easier to remove.

 

Just like he had promised, George’s sons exited the store after a minute: bandannas around their lower faces, wire brushes, washcloths and small bottles of solvent remover and paint stripper in their gloved hands. They were both teenagers, Jason almost finished with high school and Titus having only just started. They were good boys, always polite to Yoongi and wishing him a good morning whenever they saw him out on the streets. They were also well-behaved boys, and they clearly followed their father’s orders without causing a fuss.

 

Jason had to apply the solvent remover onto the graffiti first, letting it soak into the still fresh paint for a moment to lift it free from the metal. Then he carefully wiped at it, cleaning quite a lot away from the shutter so that only a faded hint was left behind.

 

Next came the paint stripper, a small splash tossed onto the metal that would be scrubbed free with the wire brushes. The sound of the metal rubbing together was grating, made Yoongi wince as he brought his shoulders up and hugged his bag against his stomach.

 

“Who’d you think would do something like this?” Jason asked his brother, his voice muffled from the bandanna he had around his lower face. “It’s just mean, man. Graffiti’s bad enough, but shit like this? Nu-uh, that’s just nasty.”

 

“Ooh, you’re glad dad didn’t hear that,” Titus said, a smirk audible in his voice as he brushed at the shutter. “Y’know what mama says, people be nasty these days. Ruining people’s stores and homes, being hateful. You heard about them guys looting Ricardo’s liquor store, leaving racist graffiti behind just ‘cos they could. Like stealing all the cash and liquor wasn’t bad enough? No, they had to leave that nasty stuff behind…”

 

Yoongi turned to look back over his shoulder at the two boys, seeing that they had managed to clean away almost all of the red paint. There was a faint marking left behind from where the paint had been, the metal scuffed and a little lighter than the rest. But he couldn’t read what had been on the shutter at least, which was a blessing.

 

“I think it’s all gone, boys,” Yoongi said, shifting to get to his feet. “Thanks. Youse better head on back over there before your daddy starts hollering about the stock again. Make sure to count the beans correctly this time.”

 

This made the two boys laugh, probably a little embarrassed that he had been able to hear their father yelling out a mistake that they had made during stock taking last week.

 

Yoongi made a mental note to find a way to thank them for helping out like this; maybe by giving them a couple of dollars to buy some McDonald’s next time he saw them hanging around on the weekend outside of school.

 

Yes, the graffiti was pretty much gone. Sadly, it had left an obvious mark behind, but at least there was no more disgusting hate speech emblazoned all over his establishment. He hoped that not a lot of people had seen it at this early morning hour, but sadly he knew that the road was pretty busy at all times of the day.

 

Yoongi squatted down to unlock the padlock on the shutter, shoving it up and fixing it in place. He had to check between his keys to find the one that would unlock the front door, slipping it into the lock and giving it a hard twist.

 

The window display beside the door was filled with mannequins, dressed in a variety of outfits that consisted of: a deep green and slinky silk evening gown with thin straps and a knee length skirt; a classy day dress with a v-neckline, three-quarter sleeves, a belted waist and full, pleated skirt, made from soft, powder blue nylon; a dress suit of red tartan with padded sleeves, a tucked-in waist, and black silk lining inside the jacket; and finally, a cream blouse with an extravagant pussy bow, teamed with high-waisted and wide-legged black trousers. The display showcased some of the many items that he could create for his clients, the dresses and blouses and trouser combinations being the most popular amongst the women.

 

Above the window display, there was a hand-painted sign that one of Yoongi’s House sisters, Saf, had made for him. It had the name of his boutique, ‘Midnight Blue’, painted in cursive white letters over a wash of deep blue that was almost black. The background was covered in tiny, glittery stars, and there was a silhouette of a lady wearing an elegant evening gown posing right beside the name. It wasn’t much, but Yoongi adored the sign with all of his heart.

 

After unlocking the door, Yoongi entered the store, dropping the keys back inside the bag of fabrics. He had taken just a couple of steps across the floor when the telephone behind the counter started ringing, the sudden sound making him jump with a gasp of surprise.

 

“Oh, Mrs. West, you better not be calling to cancel this fucking appointment,” Yoongi muttered, hastily crossing the room to drop the bag on the counter and duck under the partition. He snatched up the receiver, bringing it up to his ear so that he could speak. “Good morning, Midnight Blue Boutique. Are you calling to book or change an appointment?”

 

“Mama Coco’s starting to wonder where you’ve ran off to, honey.”

 

Yoongi recognised the voice down the line instantly, the slightly nasally and feminine tone and pitch as familiar to his ears as his own voice.

 

It was Letitia, fellow House member and the second child to have been brought under their mother’s and father’s wings. He had known her for the best part of 8 years now, the pair of them pretty much growing up within the House together. Whereas he had grown into a butch queen that practised the art of drag, Letitia had grown into implants and hormones, and was hopefully soon to be getting her long anticipated surgery to become the femme queen she had been dreaming about since the age of 12.

 

“I can’t talk too much ‘cos I’m working right now, using the payphone across the road from my corner. But you ain’t been to the House for the last two nights, and Rhonda’s getting antsy. If you don’t show up soon, she’s gonna think that you’ve joined a new House and left us all behind.”

 

“I would never!” Yoongi gasped, placing his hand against his chest even when Letitia couldn’t see him right now. “Tell Rhonda I was working in Pretty Pollys for the last two nights but - guess what? Guess who ran into the cutest, sweetest baby ever last night?”

 

“You found a baby?!” Letitia let out a string of noises at this, the sound making him laugh. She was actually speechless for a few seconds, nothing more than nonsense escaping her as she fumbled for something to say. “Are you kidding me, honey?!”

 

“He’s a gorgeous butch queen that likes dressing up like a ballerina,” Yoongi explained, feeling his lips curling up into a smile as he played with the kinked cord. “He begged his way into my dressing-room to see me, I ain’t kidding! Oh, honey, he’s so perfect! I’ve been praying to Miss Chanel so much to let me find my own baby to take care of and teach like Rhonda did to me, and I think he might be the one.”

 

“Ooh, does our icy bitch have a crush on his little baby?”

 

“Minah don’t love no man! She’s fierce, independent and true to only herself! But Yoongi? Oh, Yoongi’s feeling a little smitten,” he admitted, a flustered laugh escaping him, his cheeks flushing with colour. “Wait until you see him, Letitia! You might just get smitten too!

 

“OK, well, as you know, the ball’s coming up. So, you gotta get your little ass ready to compete for a spot in the ‘Butch Queen Up In Drags Realness’ legendary ball, honey. Bring your baby with you, show him how we queens do it in Harlem.”

 

“When’s the ball again?”

 

“Friday - well, Friday morning, not evening. The doors are gonna open Thursday evening, and they’ll put the smaller categories up first. You got your outfit ready, right?”

 

“Friday, OK, I’ll bring him over to the house on Thursday, right before the ball. You can all meet him and scare the shit outta him,” Yoongi promised, making a mental note to scribble this down on the back of his hand as soon as possible to not forget. “Honey, I’ve had my outfit ready since two days after the last fucking ball; OK? All I need to do’s finalise my makeup, that’s it.”

 

“I can’t wait to see it, you’re gonna serve looks so killer you might just murder the judges. But about your baby, is he a runaway? All the gay kids are. Do you want me to mop a couple of things for him? Give him a nice queen welcome?”

 

“…You’re going mopping today, ain’tcha?” he asked, already knowing the answer to that particular question.

 

“I’ve gotta check out the displays in Macy’s! I heard they’ve changed ‘em today! I hope they’ve got some more gowns on display, I mean, I can’t mop the big, fancy ones. But the slinky, velvet ones? So easy, so easy it should be illegal.”

 

“It is illegal, you stupid bitch,” Yoongi retorted, hearing her cackling laughter down the line.

 

“Only if you get caught! What kinda clothing do you want me to mop for your little baby?”

 

“Grab him some cute sportswear, don’t go for any fancy shit. He’s too cute and casual for fancy shit. I think he’d look adorable in a vest and sweats, y’know, like what the boys wear? But bright colours, not dark! Small, go for small sizes, but maybe a medium for the tops?”

 

“What about shoes?”

 

“Size 8s, maybe 8½? I’ll trust your fantastic taste in sneakers, honey,” Yoongi said, shifting to spare a quick look back at the clock behind the counter. “Like I trust your taste in men.”

 

“Sportswear, bright shit and fresh sneakers - I got you, honey. Also, I’ll snatch you up some pages from the fashion mags too, maybe try and go for the fancy sewing mags with the patterns.”

 

“You’re too kind, Letitia. Listen, I gots to go, I gots an appointment in a couple of minutes, and this lady always shows up early. But remember - condoms! You better be rolling ‘em on those dicks today!”

 

“Y’know I always do, bitch!”

 

“Bye, princess! I’ll see you Thursday, love you!”

 

Yoongi ended the call after blowing several noisy kisses down the line, hearing Letitia laughing as she said her own farewells. He dropped the receiver in the cradle, hearing the plastic clunking. Then he retrieved his bag from the counter, carrying it into the backroom so that he could unload his fresh rolls of material onto his worktable.

 

There were still some work-in-progress pieces placed all over the long stretch of table, his templates tacked to sheets of silk, satin, rayon and fine wool, yet to be cut free and pinned together. Other pieces that were almost finished were fixed onto his mannequins, awaiting some final touches and adjustments before his clients came for the final fitting.

 

There was currently a completed evening gown on one of the mannequins for his early morning appointment. It was for a lady called Mrs. West, and it was for some kind of business gala across Manhattan for underprivileged children, or something. Yoongi forgot the fine details, having been more focused on creating the perfect dress for her because the price tag was far from cheap.

 

The gown had a Queen Anne neckline, the shoulders made from sheer, black organza silk, and the sweetheart bust ran down to the matching full skirt. The skirt had a train, which was covered in golden embroidered flowers that caught the light so perfectly. It was a beautiful thing, maybe one of the most beautiful gowns he had ever created, and he could only hope that it fitted Mrs. West just right and made her feel like a queen. Oh, and that she had a gorgeous purse to match it, of course.

 

After storing the rolls away, Yoongi went back into the storefront to wait for her to arrive. He was only waiting for a couple of minutes when he saw a taxi pulling up outside the store, and so he darted over to get the door for her.

 

Mrs. West stepped out with much grace, her white stilettos clicking on the paving flags as she straightened up and fixed the lengths of her fitted, pencil skirt - which she had teamed up with an adorable, pink cashmere sweater. Her eyes were hidden behind a pair of large sunglasses, but she pulled them down to give him a quick look and smile.

 

“Good morning, Mrs. West,” Yoongi greeted, holding the door for the woman and giving her his best service-friendly smile. “You’re looking as lovely as ever today. Please, c’mon in. I bet that you’re just dying to see your gown…”