Namjoon heard the news last. Needless to say, it pissed him off. The termination of Hunchul’s contract the previous year had rendered him the new leader of the band. He was the only one left of the original lineup. Management should inform him first when it came to these things, not Hoseok or Yoongi.
Ikje, Donghyuk and Hunchul just laughed at him when he vented to them during their lunch meeting that week, which he ought to have seen coming. There were three traitors in fake Armani jeans if he’d ever seen any.
“Don’t take it personally,” Hunchul said after a while through waning snickers and poked his arm. “It won’t be the last time something like that happens. Bang is an airhead, he always forgets something.”
Namjoon could tell he was speaking from experience because he used to be on the receiving end of these complaints. And then Hunchul had left. That made it hard for Namjoon not to take it personally. It felt like Mr. Bang wasn’t taking him seriously as Hunchul’s follow-up, like he was merely the butt of an elaborate prank.
Ikje scowled at that. “I told you this would happen, Joon,” he said and tapped the surface of the table as if to emphasize his point. “You should quit while you still can.”
What a load of bullshit. Ikje had said no such thing, not even after he’d exited Mr. Bang’s office for the last time. When Namjoon had announced he would take over Hunchul’s position in the band, he had merely scrunched up his forehead in puzzlement—not unlike Namjoon himself. They all had expected Hyosang to replace Hunchul as the leader.
Anyway, Namjoon wasn’t a quitter. He told Ikje as much and kicked him in the shin below the table.
“We’ll see about that.” Ikje flipped him the finger.
Donghyuk, who had observed the exchange in silence, grabbed him by the wrist and put his hand down onto the table. “Don’t be an ass, Je,” he said and flashed Namjoon one of his rare genuine smiles.
At first Seokjin thought it was another scam. Big Hit Entertainment—who would ever run a business with that kind of name? But then he met Mr. Bang in person. Bang Sihyuk was definitely the type of person who would run a business with that kind of name. A man on a mission, he plotted to take South Korea’s music market by storm with a brand new concept: a boy band that made undiluted, unapologetic hip-hop. Bulletproof Boyscouts. BTS for short. For a reason no sane person could ever dream to grasp, he wanted Seokjin to be part of it.
Naturally, Seokjin politely declined the offer. He knew nothing about music, least of all hip-hop, of all genres out there. Didn’t care much for it either, to the dismay of his older brother. There had to be more suitable candidates.
Seokjin’s refusal did not discourage Mr. Bang in the least. “Meet the other band members first,” he said to Seokjin, who couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing. “If you’re still not interested after talking to them, I won’t bother you again.”
As much as Mr. Bang’s confidence perplexed him, Seokjin was intrigued. A week later he descended the stairs to the recording studios in the basement of the building Big Hit occupied. What he found there perplexed and intrigued him even more.
The familiar smell of smoke and frankincense befogged him as he opened the door. He boggled. Who on earth lit incense in a recording studio without windows?
Apart from the confounding smell, three young men filled the minute room, and they were just as confounding. One perched on a leather chair that faced what Seokjin surmised was a mixing console hooked up to one of the biggest computer monitors he’d ever laid eyes upon. The other two had squashed themselves onto a ratty sofa pushed up against the wall on the other side of the room. None of them noticed that someone else had entered the studio. As if under a spell, they all gawked at the large screen, almost like it was something to be worshipped.
Seokjin cleared his throat. The two on the couch flinched and whipped around to direct their gawking at him. The other one lazily swiveled his chair around and greeted him with a knowing smile that pulled at the corners of his sharp eyes.
“Ah, our newest addition,” he said in a much deeper voice than Seokjin would associate with somebody who had the face and complexion of a porcelain doll. “You’re a gumiho, right?”
Gumiho. The word smashed into Seokjin like a freight train. No one had called him that in a long, long while.
“A what?” He feigned surprised laughter, which had rarely failed him so far. He’d gotten that A in his improv acting class for a reason after all.
The guy at the far end of the sofa tilted his head almost at a square angle. “Are you sure?” he asked the one on the chair. “He doesn’t look like one.”
“But he smells like one,” the third one said and cringed promptly. He jumped up and bowed at Seokjin, casting another waft of incense his way. “Sorry, that was rude.”
All at once the odd smell made sense. “You’re a dragon,” Seokjin blurted, which earned some titters from the other two. His palms started to sweat. His kind and dragons rarely meshed well. “Oh, I’m—I’m sorry, that was—sorry.”
To his amazement, the dragon just smiled. He had a nice smile. “Guess that makes us even. I’m Jin Hyosang by the way.”
“I thought gumiho were supposed to be all graceful and dignified.” The guy on the chair snorted to himself. “Then again, I used to think dragons have authority and power.”
“That’s rich coming from you, Yoongi,” scoffed the one still sitting on the couch. “You say you can see the future, but your visions aren’t worth shit.”
Seokjin rubbed his clammy hands on his jeans. “You can see the future?”
“Min Yoongi, dreamseer at your service,” Yoongi said with a smirk that had nothing in common with the mysterious old priestess Seokjin’s family consulted every month. “And my visions are worth a great deal of shit, Hobi’s just jealous.”
The other one—Hobi, apparently—rolled his eyes. “As if. Talking to ghosts is way cooler.” He struck a pose, raising his right hand so it nearly hit the low ceiling of the room, and beamed at Seokjin. “I’m Jung Hoseok, the best medium in Gwangju! Nice to meet you.”
Seokjin stared at them: Hyosang, shaking his head; Yoongi, leaning back in his chair; Hoseok, hand still high in the air. A gumiho, a dragon, a dreamseer and a medium in a hip-hop boyband. It sounded like the beginning of a bad joke.
When he met Kim Seokjin, Namjoon’s first thought was that he must have walked into a film set by accident or something because he had never seen cheekbones quite this symmetrical before in real life. His second thought was that someone like that belonged in his sister’s teen magazines, not in the lineup of a hip-hop group. His voice didn’t fit either. It had an awkward nasal pitch that Namjoon couldn’t imagine singing, let alone rapping.
“What do you do?” he asked after they had gone through the obligatory introductions, settling on the armrest of the couch, where Hyosang and Hoseok sat, watching them.
For the fraction of a second, Seokjin’s gaze flickered to Yoongi, who was lounging on his chair as usual. “I study acting at Konkuk University,” he said in his weird twang that practically screamed, “I’m a spoiled upper-class Seoul socialite, please punch me in my perfect face!”
“Acting.” Namjoon had no trouble envisaging that, but it didn’t answer his real question. “Can you dance? Sing? Rap?”
Seokjin’s stupidly broad shoulders rose in a shrug. “Not really.”
That threw Namjoon for a loop. Did Mr. Bang know that? If so, what had he scouted Seokjin for? Why hadn’t he briefed Namjoon about this?
“Excuse me,” he said, not at all apologetic, “but why are you here then?”
Again Seokjin shrugged. “Beats me. Mr. Bang just told me to meet you guys, that’s it. To be honest, I don’t really want to be an idol, but he insisted I come here.”
In an instant Namjoon stood and built himself up to full height. He didn’t have Seokjin’s bulky frame, but he had a good inch on him, and he wasn’t above taking advantage of that. “Well, you did, so now you can leave again. Goodbye.”
The others erupted into protests that he should watch his manners. He couldn’t have cared less. Manners were a social construct invented by people like Kim Seokjin, who probably thought beatboxing was a kind of martial art. Why waste precious time on shallow rich kids with even more shallow pleasantries?
Seokjin’s nostrils flared, contorting his smooth features, and Namjoon thought he heard him growl. Was that supposed to scare him?
“It was nice meeting you all,” he said, pointedly not looking at Namjoon. “Good luck with your band.”
He spun on his heel and stormed off. What a pompous ass.
Rage boiling right underneath his skin, Seokjin aggressively tapped a foot as he waited for the elevator to arrive and take him away from this fresh hell. But before the doors could ding open, he was twisted around and dragged a few steps back. Hoseok and Hyosang, having each grasped one of his arms, looked at him with wide eyes.
“Don’t be mad!” Hoseok said and promptly winced. “Okay, be mad, you have every right, but don’t go yet.”
Taking in his pleading expression and Hyosang’s frown, Seokjin freed himself from their holds. “Why not?”
“Because Namjoon is a dumbass,” Hyosang said, “and you shouldn’t let that get to you.”
“He wasn’t all wrong.” Seokjin sneered. “Obviously, I don’t belong here.”
At that Hoseok shrank back a little, but Hyosang stayed where he was, upright and straightforward in a way that probably only dragons could accomplish. “Namjoon doesn’t get to decide that,” he said so firmly Seokjin almost believed it. “You do.”
As if to underscore his point, a cloud of his incense smell tickled Seokjin’s nose.
“Hyo is right.” Hoseok halted before he amended, “Namjoon isn’t a bad person though. He’s just very steadfast in his beliefs, and that makes him jump to conclusions from time to time.”
He was doing his best to explain his friend’s douchebaggery to mollify Seokjin, and it spoke for Hoseok as a person that he was willing to go that far, but his words bounced right off Seokjin’s pride. He was kind of a prideful guy. Maybe a little petty too at times. His grandmother used to say that he had to be—not only as a fox, but also as a Kim.
“Wasn’t that a bit harsh?”
Tucked into his chair with all his limbs folded, Yoongi assessed Namjoon with a cutting glance. To look threatening while effectively in fetal position was a skill he had perfected throughout his years as a trainee, and Namjoon could not deny that he envied him for it. He had to put in a lot of hard work and sunglasses to appear even remotely imposing.
Crossing his arms in front of his chest, he leaned against the backrest of the couch. “I’m surprised you didn’t snap at him first.” He raised his brows in a silent request for Yoongi to explain himself.
Yoongi pouted like he did every time he pored over something difficult—the bills, usually. “I see myself in him,” he said, tugging at his lower lip with his thumb. “What do you think his parents are gonna say when they hear he went to some shady no-name entertainment company to become an idol?”
His thoughtful expression soured. It wasn’t hard to guess why. Yoongi’s parents had kicked him out once they’d realized he wouldn’t stop doing music anytime soon, just like Namjoon’s had. They had bonded over their common bitterness and self-loathing while scribbling down lyrics until their wrists had become sore.
Namjoon had not taken into account that Seokjin might end up facing the same fate just by coming here, even though he did not, in fact, want to work for the agency.
“It isn’t like he’ll ever come back.” He stretched himself and yawned. All this fuss had tuckered him out.
“I wouldn’t bet on that,” Yoongi said.
His brother freaked out when Seokjin recounted to him his strange encounter with Mr. Bang’s trainees, though not for the reason he had expected.
“You met Kim Namjoon?” he squealed. “As in, Runchranda?”
Calmly, Seokjin cut the chicken on his plate and pretended it was Seokjung’s face. The mental image had a tremendous therapeutic effect. “Is that an actual word or are you just making random noises with your mouth?”
“He’s one of the best newcomers in the underground!” He sounded exasperated, as if Seokjin had violated some sort of law by not knowing or caring about that. As if Kim Namjoon’s prestige as a rapper held more relevance than the fact that he had been the one sole human in that studio otherwise full of supernatural creatures. Not to mention his manners—or lack thereof.
Another bad joke.
Seokjin put his knife and fork down. His fingers hurt. He’d never get used to eating with western cutlery. “That’s what you’re worked up about? He was the only one who couldn’t tell what I am, Jungie! If Mom and Dad find out about this, they’ll kill me.”
“Why would they find out? You aren’t going to tell them, are you?” Seokjung asked and resumed to slurp his noodles.
“Absolutely not! But one of those guys might.” Seokjin bit his lip. “If word about our family got around to the wrong people, we could get in some serious trouble.”
Now Seokjung set his cutlery aside as well. “From what you told me about ‘those guys,’ I don’t think we have to worry about that.” He quirked a brow. “What is this really about, Jinnie?”
Seokjin frowned at him. What was that supposed to mean? Did Seokjung not see the gravity of the situation here?
“Of course we have to worry about that. These people didn’t bat an eyelash when they realized what I am. They must have known beforehand. Maybe they did research on our family. What if they blackmail us?”
A beat of silence passed between the two brothers. Then Seokjung started laughing.
“Blackmail?” he said in between hiccups of laughter. “This isn’t one of your scripts, bro.”
What the hell? Out of the two of them, Seokjung ought to be the smart and responsible one. As the heir to their father’s business, he ought to stay vigilant to protect the family from threats like this.
“I don’t see what’s so funny about this.”
Finally, the laughter ebbed away. “Didn’t you say one of them—Yoongi?—is a dreamseer? He probably had a vision about you. Besides, if there was a dragon, it’s no wonder they recognized you right away.” He reached across the table to pat Seokjin’s arm. “You’re overthinking this. Not everybody is out to get you.”
Technically, it was impossible to know that for sure, but Seokjin refrained from telling his brother that. Seokjung obviously did not agree.
“If I’m overthinking this, you’re underthinking it.”
Seokjung sighed. “I’m thinking plenty, just not about the things that you do.”
A glint flashed in his brother’s eyes that made the hair on Seokjin’s nape stand on end. ”Such as your fear to take this chance just because you’re too paranoid to believe that there are people out there who don’t treat us like monsters.”
“I’m not scared,” Seokjin said. He sounded whiny and petulant. Arguing with Seokjung always reduced him to this small, weak version of himself that he usually locked away in the deepest crevices of his mind, where it belonged.
Seokjung bared his teeth in a vulpine grin. “Prove it.”