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Play to Win

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“… So, if you absolutely have to head out of Seoul on the Incheon International Airport Expressway this morning, arm yourself with patience and a warm beverage… But if you’re in no hurry to leave home just yet, make sure to stay tuned after the weather because we have quite a surprise coming, haven’t we, Jimin?”

Jimin smiles wide at the camera, not betraying at all that their producer just gave them a signal that Kim Seokjin has finally shown up. More than half an hour late.

“Oh yes, Jisoo. I myself am very excited, and even more so for our next guest who is here to tell us all about it!”

“You can say that again. But first, let’s go to Jennie with the weather...”

“Ah, so his majesty finally decided to grace us with his presence, did he?” Jimin mutters acerbically, as soon as the camera is off them.

“Good morning, Jisoo, uh—”

“Jimin,” Jimin says.

Kim Seokjin’s melodious voice sounds perhaps even better than it usually does, the hint of morning roughness only adding to its appeal. He’s out of his usual jacket and tie for the occasion, in shirtsleeves with his hair artfully mussed up just a little by the stylists. There’s not a hint of morning bloat on his perfect face. It’s Friday though, and Jimin imagines he might look very different tomorrow since it’s common knowledge at BHBC that he and Namjoon, the news director, go out drinking every Friday night after they wrap up the 9 o’clock news.

“Come on, people, try to look happy to see each other. You’re live in 10, 9, 8...”

Jimin takes a deep breath, and fixes the smile on his face.

“Good morning to all our viewers who are just tuning in,” Jisoo purrs. “Have they missed anything important, Jimin?”

“Good morning! Yes, there was an accident on the Incheon International Expressway this morning when a truck transporting chickens was hit by another vehicle. Luckily, no one was injured, but traffic is being rerouted for now. As we have heard from Jennie this morning, rain is expected later today, and that might exacerbate the delays.”

Jisoo nods solemnly at his words and then turns to the camera with a flirtatious smile. “So, if it’s not absolutely necessary to leave home, maybe stay with The Morning Show! Especially since we have such an exciting announcement this morning!”

“Yes! And a very special guest here to make it!” Jimin smiles through teeth that are only slightly clenched. “Here’s someone we don’t see very often at this hour! Good morning to the face of BHBC, World News anchor Kim Seokjin. Welcome Seokjin! How does it feel to join us this early? At least now we have definitive proof you’re not a vampire!”

Seokjin chuckles with just the right amount of self-deprecation, an attractive crinkle to his eyes. “Good morning Jisoo, good morning, uh—” he glances at Jimin and his forehead creases almost imperceptibly. Did he—did he already forget Jimin’s name? “—to all of our breakfast-hour friends. And to our viewers, of course! You know how it is, the news never sleeps.”

The news never sleeps. Pretentious fucker. Jimin wants to roll his eyes so far back he sees the inside of his head.

“Indeed, it doesn’t,” Jisoo agrees, looking just as smitten with Seokjin as the rest of the nation. Ugh. “That’s why we appreciate you taking the time to come join us this morning. And looking as fresh as ever! We would expect nothing less from the winner of TV Face of The Year and the Worldwide Handsome title for two years in a row. But still, tell us Seokjin, what is your secret?”

He smoulders. The fucker seriously has the gall to smoulder at the camera at 8:30 in the morning. God, Jimin hates him so much.

“I do have a few beauty secrets, Jisoo, but they wouldn’t be secrets anymore if I revealed them, would they?” He levels a sultry glare at camera 2. “But it’s mostly just the blessing of being born with this face.” His face breaks into a grin and he slaps his own knee at the hilarity of being graced with undeniably the most advantageous DNA in the nation. Jimin really hopes he chokes on that stupid squeaky chuckle of his.

“What a face indeed,” Jimin nods earnestly. “And this year, you are lending your face, arguably the most recognizable one in the country, to an exciting new project. I have the honor of being your partner for a special broadcast event that we have been hinting at for months now. Will you finally reveal to our viewers what it is?”

“With pleasure! BHBC is proud to announce a brand new program, a talent show that is the first of its kind for the network.”

“I think our viewers might be confused,” Jisoo jumps in, pretending she’s just as puzzled as the viewers. “You say our first talent show, but I’m sure everyone knows Superstar Material, which some might go as far as calling our flagship program.”

“Of course, Jisoo,” Seokjin graces her with a dazzling smile. “This new show is not dissimilar to Superstar Material. We will have contestants trying to win over the judges and the public with their talents. But there is a twist. I think all of us here at BHBC are huge fans of the original show.” Jisoo and Jimin enthusiastically nod and confirm. “After last season’s finale, my good friend Bossman Bang and I...”

“That would be Bang Si-Hyuk, the founder of BHBC?” Jisoo prompts.

“Yes, Bossman Bang really is Superstar Material’s biggest fan.” Seokjin nods. “And, as I was saying, we were blown away by last season’s finale, which, as I’m sure our viewers will remember, was especially tense. So we thought, wouldn’t it be fun for all of us at BHBC to show our own talents as well? That’s how the idea was born. I think Superstar Material has proven that we have some amazingly talented viewers who have dazzled us with their skills. It’s only right that we do our best to give back for all the incredible entertainment and showmanship they have gifted us with over the years.”

“Are you saying you have some interesting hidden talents, Jin?” Jimin challenges. His lips are starting to hurt with how fake his grin is.

“Ah well, don’t we all, uh— “

“Jimin,” Jimin hisses, too low for even the mics to pick up.

“But alas, you and I won’t be competing.”

“Ah, yes. You two will have a very special role in this new show, won’t you?” Jisoo cuts in.

“Indeed. I have been asked, along with—”

“—yours truly, The Morning Show’s own Park Jimin,” Jimin interjects to cover Seokjin’s hesitation, and Jisoo claps her hands together in a too-quiet, too-small, too- breakfast round of applause.

“—to host this thrilling competition. We will follow our contestants through several preliminary rounds, all the way to the electrifying grand finale where the public will decide the ultimate winner.”

“And the proceeds are going to a good cause, aren’t they Jin?” Jimin asks. God, when will this segment finally be over?

“Yes, I’m sure our viewers will agree that this is the most exciting part of the competition. Every contestant will be playing for a charity of their choice. We’ll introduce the contestants’ choices in our first episode next Friday night, right after the World News broadcast.” Jin turns to stare deeply into the camera. “And you, our viewers, will be casting your votes not only for your favorite BHBC stars, but also for a worthy cause. It’s one more reason to tune in every week and vote, vote, vote!”

“Just one last question, Jin. If not you, who will be representing World News as a contestant on the show?” Jimin has been trying to find out for days, but everyone has been tight-lipped so far. There have been no rumors, nothing.

“Nice try, my friend.” Jin waves him off, tilting his head attractively. Anyone watching would think they are the best of pals, maybe even flirting a little. “We will keep our competitors secret for a while longer. I will just say that we are taking this very seriously. We have a few aces up our sleeve, but I’m excited about one in particular that I think no one is really expecting. We’re gunning for victory for sure. So you guys from The Morning Show had better step up your game!”

“We sure will! I, for one, will be brushing up on some of my own hidden skills,” Jisoo replies. “Thank you again for joining us this morning, Seokjin.”

“Thank you so much for having me!”

“I’m sure I’m speaking for all of us when I say it was a pleasure, and you’re welcome back any time,” Jimin coos. “And now, it’s time for us to hand it over to Kang Hyeon-ju for the 9 o’clock news.”

 “Well, fuck.” Hoseok tosses his phone down and it bounces off the hard vinyl seat of the couch and back against his leg. Irritated, he picks it up and slams it on the end table.

Yoongi meets his eye in the mirror where he’s leaning over the counter, trying to even out his foundation, not an easy task under the greenish glow of shitty fluorescent lighting that makes his skin look like he’s in the late stages of a wasting illness. “Now what?”

“That was our benefactor, the ever-nutty CEO Sung.”

“I gathered.”

“He was lowkey hysterical. God, he exhausts me.”

“What’s he say?”

“That the company isn’t seeing sufficient returns to justify increasing their capital outlay or some shit like that.”

Yoongi turns around and leans against the counter. “Is he pulling his sponsorship?”

“Not yet. We have the rest of the season to prove ourselves. He wants to see ‘tangible returns.’” Hoseok paints dramatic air quotes on either side of his face. “He wants us to ‘up the stakes.’”

“What does that mean?”

“I guess, like, find more dangerous locations? Play up the supernatural stuff?”

“More than we already do?”

“Yeah, it sounds like he wouldn’t be opposed to some creative editing to, you know, enhance that element.”

“So, fake ghosts, or what?”

“He didn’t come right out and say it, but I got that impression. We could...I guess we should talk to Kookie about it. I don’t know how complicated it would be, but he’ll probably have some ideas. I think he’s secretly been itching to fuck around with special effects all along. Oh, and the company is rolling out a new product line in the next few weeks—crystals or something—that Sung wants us to feature prominently on the show.”

“For fuck’s sake, it’s already barely more than a glorified infomercial with all the product placement. Now we’re supposed to, what, actually work a sales pitch into the script?”

“That’s not all. That’s not even why he called. Get this—he just heard that the network is doing some kind of talent competition, and he wants us to enter.”

“No. Absolutely not. This is where I draw the line, Seok.” He glances around the studio: cheap furniture, half-assed lighting, a panel of blinking electronics so old that Jungkook had to spend half a day researching and buy special adapters to connect his equipment to the sound system. A tattered green screen against one wall where they film their intros, carefully framing their shots to avoid a ragged tear across the bottom that makes Yoongi wonder if the whole studio was in the process of being demolished at some time in the distant past and was judged not even worth the effort of destroying it. “Look, this show isn’t what either of us expected it to be. Maybe we should think about—”

“I don’t want to quit.”

Yoongi sighs heavily and turns back around. He picks up the makeup applicator and dabs at his forehead, an eye on Hoseok in the mirror.

“It’s different for you,” Hoseok says, his voice low and slow, like he’s working hard to control it. “You have other things to fall back on.” He raises his eyes to Yoongi’s. They stare at each other in silence for a moment and Yoongi drops the makeup sponge again and picks up a pot of lip gloss and a brush. “I know you hate doing the show—”

“I don’t hate it.” It comes out almost angry, and Yoongi sucks in a sharp breath like he’s trying to take the harshness back into his mouth. “I don’t hate it,” he says again, more gently this time, “but this isn’t what either of us had in mind. I mean, we pitched a history show, Seok. We were supposed to tour hanoks and share their stories. We were trying to preserve our cultural heritage, and they turned it into fucking Ghostbusters 4 .”

“I know. Look, you don’t have to enter the competition, but I’m going to. Sung insists, and I don’t want to be canceled after one season.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes and jabs the brush into his pot of lip gloss.

“If we can keep it going, maybe we can turn it into the show we wanted it to be in the first place.”

“You’re dreaming. They’ll never let us.”

“They might. Anyway, if we get popular enough, we won’t have to rely on Sung for sponsorship. If we can get some real advertisers, we’ll have more autonomy.”

“Why would anyone want to advertise on a show where the plot of every episode centers around how loud you’re going to scream when a moth flies into your face?”

“Hey, that isn’t fair. Sometimes it’s because I walked through a spider web.”

Yoongi chuckles and shakes his head. “Let’s be sure to point out that important distinction to our potential advertisers. Maybe it will spark a bidding war. I’ll ask Kook to make us a highlight reel.”

“Go ahead and laugh, but if we win the talent show—”

Yoongi scoffs.

“Sorry, if I win the talent show,” Hoseok amends, “we’ll have more clout with the network. So I’m gonna try my best.”

“What are you planning to do?”

Hoseok shrugs and smiles. “There’s only one thing I can do.”

 “Do you think he purges?” Jimin asks, eyes narrowed. He reminds himself to stop grinding his teeth. He will not ruin his perfect smile just because Kim fucking Seokjin seems to have no intention of crawling back to whatever lair he spends his daylight hours in.

Jimin was convinced he would go home as soon as his segment was over, but a couple hours later, Kim Seokjin is still here, currently in the network’s cafeteria, stuffing his face, the table before him laden with enough food to feed the population of a moderately-sized country.

“Can we not talk about barf while I’m eating, please and thank you,” Taehyung says, pulling a face and picking at the contents of his bowl. Judging by how green his face is, visible even under the thick layer of foundation, Jimin reckons he’s probably coming off one of his late nights. Jimin wouldn’t be much surprised to hear he shame-walked directly from some random dude’s bed into work this morning.

“Look at the way he’s shoveling that bibimbap into his mouth. It’s disgusting,” Jimin huffs. “Like he’s never seen food before. God, I hope he chokes. You’re forbidden to save him if he chokes,” he adds, pointing a finger at Taehyung.

“Oh, of course, I’ll just sit here calmly, savoring my haejangguk while a man chokes to death, just because the public thinks he has a prettier face than you.”

“Not all of the public!” Jimin splutters, mortally offended. “ Style Korea magazine—”

“—called it outrageous and a travesty, yes, I know,” Taehyung nods, conciliatory, picking up a piece of pork, only to let it drop back into his bowl. He’s heard this story a thousand times.

“If he didn’t have an army of stylists maintaining his prime time news suits and his prime time news hair and his prime time news lips—”


Jimin grinds his teeth in spite of himself. “When I look at him, all I can think is how much I want to jam my fingers in his mouth—” Jimin utters a guttural sound that is possibly disgust or rage or, Taehyung thinks, raw, unadulterated horniness. “—to shut him up. You know?”

“Not really.”

Jimin licks his lips and then claps his hand over his own mouth.

“But anyway, to answer your poorly timed question. No, I don’t think he purges. I think he’s just one of those people blessed with a really good build and a quick metabolism. And I’ve heard he’s a gym rat. Jungkookie says he sees him downstairs at the gym all the time.”

“Pffft, blessed with a good build. His body isn’t that great,” Jimin mumbles, staring daggers at Seokjin, who catches him glaring. He stops with his chopsticks halfway to his mouth, primetime lips curving into a knowing smirk, and gives Jimin an obnoxious little wave.

Jimin smiles sweetly and waves back, but Taehyung can see his other hand clenching into a fist in his lap.

“So, have you heard anything?” Jimin asks when he’s decided it’s safe to let the smile slide from his face.

“I heard that Jisoo and Jennie are fucking?”

“What? No, I meant about the… What?”

“Yeah, Hayoon walked in on them in the copy room… in a—let’s call it a state of undress.”

“Huh. I never would have guessed.” Jimin blinks, but then he seems to catch himself. “Details later. I mean, have you heard anything about who is representing World News in the competition?”

“No, nobody knows anything so far. Jungkookie texted me just now that Hoseok might be in, but I don’t know about anyone else.”


“Hoseok, from Wandering Seoul.”

“I don’t know who that is.”

“Oh, come on. This is, like, the tenth time we’ve had this exact same conversation. I say ‘Hoseok’, you say ‘Who?’, I say ‘Jungkookie’s crush, the one with the supernatural show’.”

“Oh, you mean the screamer tinfoil hat guy? That one?” Jimin remembers. “He hasn’t got a chance. No one watches that show. No one knows who he is. Hell, I work here, and I barely know who he is. No,” he mutters darkly, stuffing a piece of meat in his mouth in an unnecessarily aggressive manner. “It’s gonna be between us and World News. The sports guys are pretty popular too, I guess, but they’re all dumb as a bag of rocks. Half a bag of rocks. Which is dumber, a whole bag or half a bag?”

Tae contemplates this briefly and then returns to his food. “No difference. They’re all rocks. Huh, I wonder who they have. World News, I mean. I watched the segment while I was having my makeup done, and Seokjin sounded pretty confident.”

"They're bluffing. Did you hear him? A secret. Pffft. They have no one."

"Well, they're probably going to have someone,” Taehyung reasons. “I highly doubt they would pass up on the opportunity to raise their profile some more. Not that it's not high enough without this. Plus, I don't think it's optional for them. The bigwigs wouldn't allow them to just sit it out."

"Well, who then? You could throw a stone in that newsroom and not hit one person with actual talent."

Taehyung snorts into his bowl, an endeared sparkle in his eyes. Jimin is pretty sure he’s not going to like whatever comes out of his mouth next.

"I mean, I get it, Jiminie. Everyone has a kink.” He raises his hands, conciliatory. “I'm not judging. Mine is sex in public places. Yours is hating on Kim Seokjin. It gets you all riled up."

"It does not get me riled up in a sexual way." It comes out sounding much more defensive than he means it to, just because this is a patent lie. Kim Seokjin does not get Jimin riled up. Jimin does not ever think about his shoulders or his waist or the way his Adam’s apple moves above his unnecessarily tight collar when he’s delivering the news. Jimin doesn’t even watch the news.

"Look, there's no shame in it. People are turned on by all sorts of questionable things. Look on the bright side—you could be one of those balloon fetishists. This is infinitely better.”

Jimin sucks in an indignant breath, gathering himself for an objection. “But anyway," Tae gestures for him to shut up, "the mix of blood lust and regular horny lust is clouding your judgment. The 9 o’clock news team are all highly educated professionals running one of the highest-rated programs in the country. Hardly a bunch of talentless hacks."

"They're competent, I'll give them that. Well, most of them," he corrects himself. "Some of them,” he glances pointedly at Seokjin who is still munching on his food happily, “have been coasting through life and building a career relying solely on basic literacy skills and reading scripts that other people prepared. I hardly think looking handsome in glasses counts as a talent."

"Hmmmm, he does look good in glasses."

"Right?” Jimin asks, forgetting himself, a bit of genuine wonder bleeding into his tone. “I put on glasses, I look like a child playing dress up. He does it, bam, instant transformation into an intellectual. But anyway, that's beside the point. The point is that the newsroom people are good at boring stuff. Chugging coffee by the gallon and discussing the latest data from the International Monetary Fund or whatever. I'll eat my own shoe if any one of them has any interesting skills, much less bona fide talents. And who, anyway? Jin is out because he’s hosting. The person with the highest profile besides him is probably Namjoon. That man's idea of a light-hearted hobby probably involves reading Chomsky's essays on the ecopolitical climate of central Mongolia or something. There is no fucking way he has anything fun to show."

"He could show his tiddies,” Tae looks up hopefully. “Have you seen the rack on that man?"

"Don't be gross."

"It's true. You could get lost there. Kim Taehyung, 23, presumed dead, last seen in Namtiddy Valley. If there is a god, that's how I want to die."

Jimin looks at him, thoroughly unimpressed. "Anyway, you're doing it, right?" he adds, almost as an afterthought. He needs to play it cool, and hopefully he can talk Tae into doing it with minimal protest.

"What, getting in Namjoon's pants? I'd love to, but I don't think he knows I exist."

"No, I mean you're entering? As my champion."

"Jiminie,” Tae sighs, “you're not a medieval princess, and I’m not on the Morning Show staff."

“But your show is on in the morning, so it still counts.”

“My demographic is four-year-olds. They don’t have the numbers or organizing zeal to win this for us.”

"Taetae, you have to. You know I can't enter, and there's no way I'm gonna rely on Jisoo to bag this for us. I asked her after the show this morning. Do you know what her talent is? She can burp short sentences. The idiot, she's gonna be lucky if she gets her contract renewed after that."

"That does sound kinda unappealing."

"It's fucking gross is what it is. I need someone I can rely on. And who better than you, my BFF, my soulmate."

"I don't know, Jiminie..."

"Taetae, you could win this thing. You're hot, you're lovable. You have the kids and the lonely, horny moms on your side, and everyone knows they're the keenest voters. You're actually talented at so many things."

"It sounds like a lot of work and I don't know what I'm getting out of it. Other than fueling your repressed animal attraction to Seokjin, what good is this?"

Jimin gathers himself to protest. “Number one—” He hesitates, shoots a hungry glare at Seokjin, and shakes himself a little. "Number two, are you kidding? If you win this, you would have the network eating out of your hand. You could totally transform Tae's Magic Garden —get better puppets, a bigger set, maybe even celebrity guests. And there's no attraction between me and Seokjin."

"Of course not."

“Oh, wait, okay, what you’re getting out of it—this is the best part. If you compete, you get to play for a charity. Any charity you want. Puppies, Tae! You can play for puppies!”

In spite of himself, Tae can’t quite stop a smile from spreading across his face.

"So, you're doing it, right?"

Gingerly, Tae finally takes a bite of his food. Jimin has barely started trying to convince him, and he’s already exhausted. "I'll think about it."

 “Did you watch?” Seokjin demands, plucking a handful of papers off Namjoon’s desk and rifling through them before discarding them in an untidy heap.

“Watch what?”

“Me, of course. My Morning Show debut.”

“Ah.” Namjoon gathers up the mess of papers, taps their edges into alignment and deposits them back where they belong. “Sorry, I didn’t catch it. Remember we’ve got this special report—”

“I know. In a minute. My Morning Show debut: discuss.”

“I didn’t actually…”

Jin sits on the edge of Namjoon’s desk, crushing his stack of papers, and stares at him resolutely.

“Of course, a breakfast show is...since you’re used to prime time, naturally…”

Jin tilts his head, his eyes narrowing slightly.

“How did you think it went?”

Jin waves a hand. “Perfectly, of course. How difficult could it be? They sit around and drink coffee on air for two hours every morning. Not exactly hard journalism, is it? The crew didn’t quite know what to do with me, I suspect. I’m rather brighter than their usual morning fare. You know who I mean. Little dumpling of a person.”

“I’m not sure?” Namjoon tries to tug his crumpled papers out from under Jin’s bottom. Sensing Namjoon’s wavering attention, Jin plants himself more firmly on them.

“Yes, you know. Giggles. The one with the cheeks.”

“Park Jimin?”

“That one. Little—” Jin makes a series of squishing gestures.

Namjoon averts his eyes, unwilling to entertain any speculation on what Jin is pantomiming. He clears his throat. “So the announcement went well?”

“Naturally. How else would it go?”

“Great. Good. So, we should go over the script before—“

“Listen,” Seokjin says, seizing Namjoon by both shoulders and fixing him with a weighty stare. “I hate to ask this of you. If I could do it myself, I would, but circumstances unfortunately are such that it’s impossible.”

“Okay? You know I’ll do whatever you need me to. What is it?”

“I knew I could count on you. Thank you.” He claps his hands on Namjoon’s shoulders in something like a long-distance hug and stands up.

“ need me to?”

“Ah. I’m going to need you to represent World News in the talent competition.”

“What?” Namjoon chokes. “I thought you were asking a personal favor.”

“This is a personal favor. Obviously, we have to win the competition, and of course I would be the best competitor, but I’ve been asked to host. Co-host. With—” He repeats the squishing. “And there’s literally nobody else to ask.”

“We have a staff of fifteen! You could ask any of them.”

“Namjoon, please. Consider what you’re saying.” Jin gestures broadly at the newsroom where the staff are all engaged with what appears to be a high degree of competence in preparing for the evening’s broadcast. “There’s nobody else to ask. Also, I already announced your participation on air this morning.”

“What! How could you—” But Namjoon knows exactly how he could. Because he is Kim Seokjin. And what Seokjin decrees, Namjoon carries out. This is how their relationship has worked for years. Namjoon has come to a tentative peace with it. In general. But a talent competition, a nationally broadcast talent competition— “I don’t have any talents. What am I supposed to do?”

“Namjoon, I have every confidence in you.” Jin straightens his shirt cuffs. “We should go over the script for the special report, don’t you think?”

Namjoon really would do almost anything for Jin, but this… He picks up his crushed script with a sigh of resignation. Jin has decided, and he has yet to meet the person who can refuse Jin anything.