“Madame Giry!” Jimin cries, chasing after the choreographer. “Madame, please wait.”
“Jimin,” she says. “Is there a problem?”
Jimin has to compose himself before he speaks to her. He’s spoken French all his life here, aside from one or two words of Korean with Jungkook, but every time she manages to stare him down enough to make him make mistakes. Makes him look inferior.
“I want to know why you gave me the role of backup dancer,” Jimin says slowly. “I can sing.”
“Sing?” Madame Giry asks, plucked eyebrows twitching upwards. “If this were true, Jimin, surely it would have come to my attention by now.”
“It is true!” Jimin insists. “I can—”
“Who is it, your tutor?”
“My what?” Jimin finally dares raise his eyes to hers. The choreographer stares down at him with irritation.
“Who has taught you to sing?”
His face burns, and he looks away. “N-no one,” Jimin stammers. “I live in an Opera house. Is it impossible not to have learned on my own?”
“Anyone can sing,” Madame Giry tells him, Parisian accent vicious, “but not everyone can be a singer.”
“Madame, please,” Jimin insists, “I can show you—”
Madame spins quickly with a swish of her ornate dress. “That will be all, Park Jimin. Return to rehearsals.”
Jimin wants to follow, but his legs feel like lead. He watches Madame Giry disappear the narrow halls of the back of the opera house, black dress sinking into the gloom. His whole life, he has lived here. Taken in from a passing travelling carnival train, and yet, no one will let him sing. He is one of the best dancers, and yet he is constrained to the anonymous backup dancers. Again and again, the big roles go to tenors like René or Guillaume, big and tall with ‘honey voices’.
Jimin doesn’t mind starting from the bottom, as a backup choir boy, as long as he’s given a chance. Is it too much to ask for just a chance?
“Jimin?” someone asks from behind him, voice low and sweet. When Jimin doesn’t react, he tries again, quieter this time. “Hyung?”
“Did you see all of it?” Jimin whispers, and the guilty silence tells him everything he needs to hear. “You should be at rehearsals, Jungkook.”
“You ran off,” Jungkook says, coming to stand in front of him. “Come back with me?”
Jimin wants to run away, back to their dorm and bury himself under the blankets, but the other directors will not be so kind as to let him go unpunished. He sighs and nods, letting Jungkook steer him back by the elbow.
They’re doing a production of Roméo and Juliet, something for its ten-year anniversary, and Jimin hates it. He and Jungkook are in the same group of dancers, appearing in the background as either part of the Montagues or Capulets. They will have two costumes for each. Jungkook is tall, easily one of the tallest and best dancers here, but he has not ever been chosen for a larger part. Jimin suspects many reasons, but he keeps them for himself. Jungkook is too sweet to notice when he is being treated unfairly.
Rehearsals are straightforward and tiring. Jimin throws himself into it. By the end his legs ache and the other boys are fed up with him, and they retire to dinner.
Jimin eats his soup and bread in silence. He hears the children shrieking and complaining about drawing straws and his food turns tasteless in his mouth.
“Are you done, Jungkook?” Jimin asks Jungkook quietly, no longer hungry. Jungkook looks at him for a moment with wide eyes, and then nods, eating rapidly. Jimin tries to stop him but it’s never any use.
“Leaving so soon, Park Jimin?” Someone punches him in the shoulder, but Jimin just sighs.
“Some of us have to dance all day, Hoseokie.”
The musician sits down beside him, smiling a greeting at Jungkook, who grins around his full mouth. “My hours are longer than yours, so I think we're even.”
“Is it truly that exhausting to play a string all day?” Jimin teases, knowing how quickly he can wind up his elder. Hoseok used to live in the opera house with them, but once he was promoted to first violin in the orchestra, following the death of the previous one, he become wealthy enough to afford his own Parisian apartment. Now, he likes to eat with them and bid them farewell in the evening.
“Do you know how exhausting it is to have to go home and readjust your ear? Sweet Park Jimin, you’re lucky you don’t sing. You’d finish the concert a tone higher than you started.”
Jimin press his lips together. “I actually asked Madame Giry to let me sing today.”
“Why?” Hoseok’s brow twists with concern. “Opéra singers, they’re all bastards. Don’t sing.”
“Easy for you to say,” Jimin mutters. “We're the best dancers in this place and yet me and Jungkook are constantly shoved at the back.”
“Jimin,” Hoseok says gently, “you know why that is.”
He fists his hands in the linen of his pants under the table. “I know,” he whispers, “but that doesn’t mean I can’t hate it.”
Hoseok sighs and pats him on the shoulder. “Give it time. You never know, you could be recruited by the Paris Opera ballet.”
Jimin snorts. “Aren’t I a little short for that?”
The violinist rolls his eyes. “You haven’t seen enough of France to say that. Who knows, you could even end up in Moscow.”
“I don’t speak any Russian,” Jimin pouts. “They’d never take me.”
“All the ballet terms are in French anyway,” Hoseok waves him off. “You’re already ahead of them.”
Jimin opens his mouth to interrupt, but the children on the next table are yelling and squealing now. One of them is crying, clutching a short straw. They push the platter of food towards him. Jimin swallows as the boy cries, face red and blotchy.
“I’ll be right back,” Jimin excuses him smoothly, moving towards the children.
When the crying boy sees him, he sobs louder. “Jiminie,” he says, far too loud to be polite, as he reaches to hug him. His name is Jean, Jimin thinks, an orphan in the opera house. Like Jimin and Jungkook before him. “I’m scared.”
“Did you get picked tonight?” Jimin asks him, and the other children shuffle away from him, eyes down and looking guilty.
“I don’t want to go,” Jean sobs against him. “It’s so scary down there.”
Jimin rubs the back of his head. “I’ll do it, hmm? You littlies have to go to put your dishes away and head to bed now, though, if you want me to.”
Jean nods quickly, wiping at his eyes. The children don’t waste time, all afraid of dealing with the unpleasant task. Jean sniffles weakly at his side, before leaning up to give Jimin a polite kisses on the cheek, running away with his dishes afterwards.
“I’ll meet you at the room, Jungkookie,” Jimin calls, picking up the tray of food. He doesn’t dare look back, just in case someone sees his expression.
Opera houses are a superstitious sort. Many of them have their own ‘opera ghost’, and this one is no exception. As a child, it was so often Jimin being tasked with the job of carrying this tray down to the lower levels of the building, as a daily appeasement to the ghost. So that there might be no accidents, so that the performance might go well. It is a scary job for the child, as the candles become sparser along the walls, and the sounds become more eerie in the growing darkness. But Jimin is no longer a child, and he is no longer afraid of the opera ghost.
In the bowels of the theatre, the lower levels connect to the Paris sewer system. The further down one travels, the louder the sound of water. It always sounds as if something is approaching.
Jimin reaches the lower landing and sets down the platter, lighting the resident candle with one of the others mounted to the wall.
He stares down into the darkness for a while. Sometimes, he feels so desperate to take a step further, it scares him. When he was younger, still a child, he would break out into tears just standing here.
The slapping sound of the water continues, unbroken, and the candle’s flame flickers only with Jimin’s careful breathing.
There is no such thing as an opera ghost.
Jimin is out of breath by the time he finally returns to their room for the night. Jungkook is asleep curled on his side, just as he left him, and no one else stirs. Jimin steps carefully between the floorboards, long familiar with the ones that creak, and slips into his cot as silently as he can, squinting at the pale beginnings of dawn outside the window. Today will be long. Rehearsal after rehearsal, no doubt getting splinters in his palms and knees from the state of the old wood. Jimin sighs, pulling up the blankets tightly.
“Jimin,” someone whispers, so close the hairs on the back of his neck rise.
He shoots up in bed, looking around in a panic. Yet no matter how hard he looks, there is no one behind him. Jungkook shifts in his sleep. Jimin twists all around, looking for any trace of another soul. There is no one.
Jimin lowers himself back into bed. He must have dreamt it, he tells himself. He’s tired. His mind is playing tricks on him.
The rumour about the manager retiring comes suddenly. It sweeps through the opera house like wildfire, and as the opening night of Roméo and Juliet approaches, Jimin gets nervous. The current manager is a wishy-washy man, easily swayed by pretty girls or money. Not a bad man, but not a particularly great one, either.
The new managers are supposedly big names. From Russia, he believes. He heard some of the girls muttering about ‘musicians from the East’.
It doesn’t bother Jimin too much. Maybe new managers and a set of new eyes will give him a new chance.
“Oh, I’ve met them already,” Hoseok tells him offhandedly at dinner. “Two of them. Quite nice men.”
“What? How?” Jungkook wriggles a little in his seat. “Are they musical prodigies, like they say?”
Hoseok scoffs. “Maybe. I met them through Yoongi.”
“Through Yoongi,” Jimin teases, and Hoseok pinches his cheek roughly.
“Yes, through Yoongi. I think you’ll be quite surprised when you meet them, both of you.”
Jungkook rolls his eyes. “If you say so.”
Jungkook shrugs, enjoying the chance to be bratty. Jimin lets himself tune out of the conversation. The choir girls on the next table are gossiping amongst themselves.
“No, I tell you, I heard a voice in the chapel,” says one of the girls. She has a harsh Northern accent. “It sounded like an angel.”
“Your mind was playing tricks on you, Louise,” one of the other girls sneers. “Did you go and investigate?”
“I did!” the girls are leaning in to listen to her speak now. “I crept up to it, and I was so scared, I tripped over a step. And whoever was singing heard me.”
“They must have run out, then!”
“No, there was no sound,” the girl continues. “The singing stopped, and when I finally ascended the rest of the stairs—there was no one! I heard no one come or go, and you know there is only one entrance to the chapel.”
“It’s the ghost!” shrieks one girl, fanning her face with her hand.
“That’s impossible,” says another girl. “You must have misheard.”
“I tell you,” says the fanning girl, “it’s the ghost. Perhaps he was singing because he was appeased. Who brought the dish down last night? Was it a pretty girl?”
“Stop that! It was a child. Always is.”
“Perhaps the child is about to be snatched . . .” says one of the quieter girls. She receives a harsh slap on the wrist.
“Don’t say such things,” the first girl hisses.
Jimin glances at Jean at the children’s table, something uneasy knotting in his stomach.
“Ladies, gentleman, and, ah . . .” Monsieur Debienne stumbles over his words for a few moments. He wipes his sweaty forehead with a handkerchief. “Excuse me for disrupting your rehearsal.”
“It’s the new managers!” Jungkook says excitedly, squeezing Jimin’s arm. Jimin, however, isn’t tall enough to see them coming just yet.
“As you’ve been aware for many months now, I will be retiring very soon. Today, I would like to introduce your new managers: Messieurs Namjoon and Seokjin Kim.”
“Korean?” Jimin asks Jungkook, but he isn’t heard above the whispering of the performers as the two men walk on stage. They’re tall, Jimin notices at first. Even taller than Jungkook. The second thing he notices is that they are both on the younger side. Next to the aging Debienne, they look positively youthful.
“It’s a pleasure to be here,” says one of them, the taller one. His French is perfect, though the ending of his phrases sounds a little off, the only thing that betrays his non-native tongue. “We could scarcely believe our ears when we heard the offer.”
“Why don’t you two introduce yourselves?” Monsieur Debienne prompts, and the speaking Kim fumbles a little, almost shy. Jimin blinks. They’re very different.
“Yes, you may call both of us Monsieur Kim, however my first name is Namjoon.” He presses his lips together in a shy smile. “I’m a composer by trade, and this is my dear friend, Seokjin.”
Seokjin, slightly shorter and will better posture, nods once.
“He doesn’t speak very much French yet, I apologise, but I’m sure it will come in time. He has been a singer for many years, but is also a well-known vocal tutor.”
Jimin stares at this Seokjin and wills him to look back at him. For a second he does, and Jimin’s chest seizes, before his gaze continues to Jungkook, to whom he smiles at, clearly having met before.
“What production are you preparing for now, Monsier Debienne?”
“Romeo and Juliet,” the old manager says. “To celebrate ten years since the opera was written. Perhaps you haven't heard of it?”
“We’re very familiar with Romeo and Juliet,” Namjoon replies humidly. “Who are your leads?”
Monsier Debienne waves them forward, and La Carlotta, the lead soprano, and René, the lead tenor, step forward from the group. “These two have been our stars for many years now. I’m sure you will find them satisfactory.”
Jimin almost rolls his eyes. Their soprano is a diva at the best of times, but most usually a brat. She, however, seems so taken aback by the appearance of the new managers that she cannot speak.
Madame Giry at least has something to say.
“Please, messieurs. It has been wonderful to see you again, however you are interrupting our rehearsal. Please stand aside.”
Jungkook mutters a three-letter word beginning with c under his breath and moves back into position. It startles Jimin, who has never heard that sort of language from him before.
“Jungkook!” he hisses, pinching the fleshy skin of his upper arm. “Don’t speak like that!”
He at least has the decency to look guilty. “Sorry, Jimin,” he whispers, moments before he shrugs him off to return to their routine. Someone’s chest slams into Jimin’s back as he hesitates a second too long, holding up the line, and he rushes to catch up again. His face burns. What a first impression.
Throughout rehearsals, Jimin sees Hoseok and the new managers chatting in the wings, apparently well-acquainted, and then a fourth man appears to join them. Jimin thinks it’s Yoongi, but he’s only met the pianist a handful of times, and he doesn't really remember what he looks like, other than he's Korean. He’s distracted, and it shows on Madame Giry’s face as she stamps down her wooden cane in time with the beat with increasing ferocity the more mistakes Jimin makes.
“If you are distracted, Jimin, you may be dismissed.” Madame Giry pauses the rehearsal just to lecture him. Jimin stares down at his feet so that he might avoid Jungkook’s reproachful look.
“I’m sorry, Madame,” Jimin says lowly. “It won’t happen again.”
The choreographer huffs, fixes him with a steely look, and then waves to the maestro to begin again.
By the end of the day, Jimin is exhausted beyond measure. Jungkook is frustrated with him, and rightly so, so Jimin doesn’t bother to talk to him. Instead, he watches him run along to the new managers, who seem to know him already, and rushes away to wash up.
Instead of going to eat, Jimin wanders in the lower tunnels of the building, hoping to stay away from prying eyes. Down here the stone smells of mildew and rot, but Jimin persists. He can’t go up there and face Jungkook or the others. Not right now. He’ll stay down here until midnight and then eat some bread and cheese and go to sleep.
Jimin stares up at the flickering candlelight on the ceiling and sighs. Perhaps this is his luck. Being taken in from traveller carnivals only gets you so far.
He lets his eyes grow heavy, uncomfortably curled against the wall, and falls asleep.
Jimin finally wakes up when the candle has burnt almost to the stump. It’s frightfully cold, so bad he can see his breath steam before him. For some reason, the candles still burn as he rushes to the kitchen, frozen and famished. Everyone has long gone to sleep at this hour, so he takes his time, eating bread and cheese and warming himself in front of the hearth.
That is, until he hears steps coming towards the kitchen.
In walks René, their leading tenor, wearing his pyjamas. He doesn’t notice Jimin at first, crouching by the fireplace, as he walks straight towards the wine cabinet. Jimin watches him remove the cork and then, foregoing any glass, tip back the whole bottle and drink.
The singer still doesn’t notice him as he moves to eat the same cheese Jimin recently cut. René is not poor; he could own his own house, maybe even two, and yet here he is, eating and sleeping in the same building as pittance-paid Jimin.
He watches René for almost a quarter of an hour, eating half the wheel of cheese and draining the bottle until it is empty. Then, the singer reaches for another bottle, carefully selecting one that is already open, and he drinks it until it is empty.
René is a big man, but even he must get drunk eventually.
He finishes a third bottle, the alcohol going to his head. Watching him stumble his way out is painful to say the very least. He's remained completely oblivious to Jimin watching him the entire time. Does he do this every night? Jimin has never heard of such a thing.
He creeps to the door and watches René slowly ascend the stairs to his room, stumbling and grappling with the banister for balance. Those metal winding stairs are so perilous, it would be easy to fall if too drunk. Jimin watches nervously as the man disappears into the darkness, and then rushes back to his own room, climbs beneath the blankets, and wills himself to sleep.
By morning he still hasn’t slept. His eyes ache and his joints pop, but that uneasy feeling hasn’t left. Jungkook is being moody with him, refusing to hold eye contact or speak to him, though perhaps he deserves that.
When René finally appears for his rehearsal at midday, dressed in his Romeo costume, he looks the same as always, no traces of fatigue or drunkenness about him. Nearly three bottles of wine, and still he sings perfectly, voice filling up the auditorium.
Jimin can’t quite take his eyes off him. He watches him constantly, for any sign that what he saw last night was real. The only intriguing moment is when one of the costume ladies comes and has a small argument with him about something. Perhaps his late-night eating habits are having disastrous effects on his waist measurement?
It's not enough.
Jimin falls into the habit of spying on René at midnight. Every night, the man sneaks into the kitchen and drinks between two and three bottles of wine. Their wine cellar is quite extensive, so an extra bottle or three disappearing on a nightly basis is not exactly a cause for alarm, but it confuses Jimin to no end.
Is he simply an alcoholic? He drinks it like water, one meaty hand around the neck of the bottle, the other holding bread and cheese or whatever morsel of dinner is left over. It happens every night. And at the end of his gorging, the opera singer stumbles back up the winding staircase to his room.
There are no other tenors of his calibre at the opera house, Jimin reasons; perhaps that is why he indulges in these unhealthy habits. Still, there are other tenors at other opera houses.
Or perhaps the man is simply a pig.
He does not mean to become obsessed, but Jimin finds himself thinking of what he sees at midnight constantly. Before, during and after rehearsals, he can’t help but wonder what the man is doing. If Jimin were in his position, would he do the same? Of course he wouldn’t.
“Jimin?” Jungkook squeezes his arm. His voice is a little saddened and a lot annoyed. Jimin sets his jaw and turns back to him.
“You’re so distracted lately,” Jungkook says quietly. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Jimin scowls despite himself. “Were you saying something?”
Jungkook scoffs, pulling away. “Never mind.”
“No, tell me.”
“Forget it,” Jungkook sulks. He moves away further so he can lean over and massage his sore feet. “It was nothing.”
Jimin gnashes his teeth for a second before he composes himself. He will not get angry at Jungkook, and he will mot certainly never raise his voice to him. Jimin swore he would never. So he takes a deep breath and tries again. “What is it?”
Jungkook sighs. “Madame Giry was talking about you to the new managers.”
Jimin wants to be excited, but the look on Jungkook’s face makes his heart sink. “Not good things?”
He shakes his head. “She says you’re talented, but you never focus.”
Bitch, Jimin fumes to himself. She would say that. Not every dancer in this building has the luxury to be totally focused on their routine. Jimin balls his fists and fights his breathing to stay calm. “Well, at least she admits I’m talented.”
Jungkook isn’t looking at him. “I think she might send me away.”
Ah, Jimin realises, his heart turning to stone. This is what he wanted to talk about. “Where?”
“The managers have friends at the ballet,” Jungkook says, whisper-soft, his voice so faint it is almost lost amidst the bustle of backstage. “They want me to audition.”
Jimin tastes blood in the back of his mouth. “Jungkookie!” he sings, “that’s great!”
Jungkook bites his lip. “I don’t know if I want to go.”
“You must,” Jimin insists. “Even if they don’t accept you, you must try. Are you listening?”
Jungkook nods mutely, knuckles white where they grip around his ankle.
“You deserve it,” Jimin says, shuffling closer. Jungkook is much bigger than him now, but only a few years ago, he was still small enough to be held in Jimin’s arms. When Jimin puts an arm on his shoulder, he leans into him. “You’re so talented, Jungkookie. You deserve every chance.”
“But you won’t be with me,” Jungkook says quietly, as if he wishes Jimin wouldn’t hear him.
“No,” Jimin affirms, combing his hair back gently, every fibre in him aching. “That would be impossible. You have to live your own life. Tell me you will try. For hyung.”
Jungkook always melts when Jimin says that word. One of the few Korean words they know, kept secret and precious.
“She may not send me,” Jungkook says quietly.
They will. Jimin knows Madame Giry does not say words just for the sake of it.
“Tell me you’ll accept the offer, if it comes.”
Jungkook is quiet until the wind falls out of him in one large exhale. “I will.”
“It’s true, Anna! I woke up from a terrible dream, and I heard singing from the chapel.”
“Louise, we promised that we would not talk about this further.”
“It’s him! The phantom!”
“Yes, but perhaps a pretty song is not what he will sing for you should you go looking for him.”
Some frenzied bustling wakes Jimin up in the morning, but he pulls the blanket over his head and wills himself back to sleep.
“What happened?” another dancer in a nearby bed, Maurice, yells across the room. “Why are you all so hurried?”
“There was an accident!” Someone replies from across the room with a grave voice. “René has died!”
Jimin can't breathe.
He stares at the dull light seeping through the blanket, heart hammering in his chest. “How?” he asks, voice thick with sleep. Luckily, Maurice hears him.
“Tell us how it happened!”
“What will we do now?”
“I always new René was—”
“Madame Giry says he fell from the stairs,” calls the same person. “His breath smelled of wine. He was drunk, and fell over the edge. Those stairs . . . you all know how terrible they are to climb.”
Jimin throws the covers off and sits up. Everyone else seems to be in a similar state. What are you meant to do, when news like this is delivered? The lead tenor has tumbled to his death. Jimin’s hands are shaking, and when his gaze settles on Jungkook’s empty cot, it worsens.
Jungkook is gone, Jimin reminds himself. He’s at the Paris Opera ballet, now. This doesn’t concern him.
“When is the funeral?” Jimin asks.
The speaking boy, Gauthier, looks towards him. “In three days.”
“What will we do in the meantime?” another boy asks, slightly hysterical. “What can we perform now, since our lead singer has died?”
“The managers are holding auditions all through the day.”
Jimin’s shaking hands fist in the blanket. Something unsteady rattles in his chest with each inhale.
“Well, hurry and get up, all of you!”
“Good day,” Kim Namjoon greets Jimin mildly. “You’re Park Jimin, yes?” He says Jimin’s name with a clarity Jimin’s never heard from anyone other than Jungkook.
“Yes,” Jimin’s voice shakes a little so he swallows it away. “Um. Am I to start singing?”
“In a moment, we just want to ask some questions. Am I right to believe you’re Korean?”
“That’s correct,” Jimin says slowly.
“Do you speak it?”
“Oh, no,” Jimin says quickly. “I only know a few words. I’m sorry.”
“No, please, pardon me. I was simply asking so I might not have to translate for Seokjin-hyung,” Namjoon says, tipping his head towards the broader man beside him. The way Namjoon says hyung, so easy and familiar, makes Jimin’s head spin a little.
“I’m sorry,” Jimin inclines his head slightly, trying to be polite. The two men quickly make noises of dissent.
“It’s really fine. You don’t need to speak the same words to judge someone’s singing voice, after all. So, have you any experience singing?”
Jimin presses his lips together. “I have been . . . tutored in singing for many years, but never sung during a production.” He pauses for a second to gauge the two men, before adding, a little quieter, “it’s a little hard to come by an audition.”
Namjoon smiles, a little tight around the eyes. Seokjin watches him intently, so focused on the words he doesn’t quite have enough time to keep up with the meaning of the conversation. Jimin knows how he feels.
“What range can you sing?” Namjoon asks next, so officially Jimin feels like he is genuinely being considered.
“Tenor,” Jimin supplies easily. “And, uh, countertenor.”
Namjoon nods to himself, writing something down on the paper before him. “If you are inexperienced singing before an audience, it is likely you will have to be tutored by one of our opera tutors for up to a year longer. Although your voice may be good, you don’t have enough muscles to project your voice yet. Do you understand? Hence, if you are not given a singing role for the next production we do, this may be the cause.”
Jimin breathes in shakily. “Yes, yes. Of course. I understand.”
Namjoon smiles, eyes crinkling. “Very well. Yoongi is going to play a starting note, and I want you to sing a one-octave major scale for each. Then we will move on to the next exercise. Please focus on singing as clearly and on-pitch as possible, with the best tone you can manage. Yoongi-ssi, whenever you’re ready.”
Jimin makes eye contact with the pianist, who nods once in acknowledgement and then hits middle C. Jimin clears his throat and begins to sing.
They keep prompting Jimin to sing new exercises for possibly an hour. He isn’t sure, but he thinks no other audition has gone this long thus far. Jimin tries to gauge how he’s doing from their expressions, but the two managers keep a careful poker face. At the end of each exercise, Seokjin will lean over and say a few things in quiet, sweet Korean to Namjoon, who writes them down quickly.
By the time they ask Jimin to do the final exercise for staccato, Yoongi gives him a small smile before he plays the tune Jimin is meant to repeat. That must be a good sign. Their pianist is known to be stony-faced at the best of times.
He finishes, Namjoon writes something, Seokjin tells him something, Namjoon writes some more somethings, and then he addresses Jimin again.
“Which Korean words do you know, Monsieur Park?”
Jimin’s breathing, which had become steady from all the singing, stumbles at the question. No other candidate would have been asked this of all things.
“Um, I only really know yes, no, hyung and, uh, some swear words.”
Namjoon snorts. “Did your parents not teach you?”
Jimin fists his hands in the hem of his shirt. “No. I don’t really have any memories of them.”
Their managers are exceedingly good at looking gentle. “That’s a shame to hear. Maybe Seokjin can teach you some more, after he starts to tutor you.”
Namjoon sets down his pen and sits back in his chair. He smiles.
It takes a few seconds for Jimin to realise there’s no punchline, and that the manager Seokjin tutoring him means he’s done it. They want him to sing.
The managers laugh good-naturedly at him. “Yes. Congratulations. I’m not sure what roles we can give you just yet, but your future is bright, Park Jimin.”
Later that night at supper, Hoseok picks Jimin up in his arms and presses wine-sweet kisses to both of his cheeks. The entire opera house is celebrating the new singers that made it through auditions, and Jimin has never received so many congratulatory kisses in his life.
Jimin doesn’t rest until late that night. Someone pressed a red rose tied with black ribbon into his hands in the parlour, but in the mess of people, he didn’t see who, so he carries it around proudly. He wanders through the warm, twisting tunnels of the opera house and hums into the dark.
This is a start, Jimin things, breathing in rose and breathing out song.
And all through the night, there is not a single mention of their late lead tenor.
“I heard him again last night.”
“How many times must I tell you—”
“The voice is so sweet, like an angel. This theatre has an angel of music.”
“One day he will catch you, and you will find no angels then.”
Neither Jimin nor Jungkook can write very well, so Jungkook does not send letters. Neither does Jimin. Neither of them have time to visit each other either, so Jimin forces himself to stop thinking of the younger boy in the big Paris Opera ballet, dancing with the best of the best.
Jimin is trying to sing with the best of the best, currently.
Kim Seokjin is not the easiest tutor, since they don’t speak the same languages, but Seokjin’s hesitant grasp of French and Jimin’s bumbling grasp of Korean helps them meet in the middle. Seokjin will say yes or no, and then physically move Jimin’s body, demonstrate, or jab him in the gut. Breath support, Namjoon translated for him. Jimin’s lower range lacks support, and he strains his throat. Apparently, his head voice is very clear, just harsh enough for opera, but he cannot connect the two. Hence, the constant jabbing in his belly from the surprisingly patient Seokjin.
Jimin thinks he likes him. The man smiles easily, and it’s even easier to tell when he’s pleased with Jimin’s progress.
By the time Summer has cooled to Autumn, Jimin is given a secondary role in their production, Faust. He is one of the many ‘celestial voices’ while the new tenor from a different opera house, Antoine, plays the lead.
Antoine is an example of a tenor with a good low register. Jimin knows that in opera, the men should have deep, clear voices, and the women should have high, pure voices. Jimin enjoys his position on the upper dais of the stage, because he can see each breath Antoine takes from the way the back of his coat stretches.
Jimin never lingers long at afterparties, so he never finds out whether Jungkook came.
By the time Jimin returns to his bed at dawn, there is only a single red rose tied with black ribbon waiting for him.
Antoine is easy to get close to. He is happy to eat with the others prior to the show and is generally a good man. He likes to drink, but only with dinner, and after Jimin reminds him of his name only two times, consistently remembers him.
Over the months they spend performing Faust every night except Sunday, Antoine is even happy to give Jimin singing tips. Antoine confides in him that he wishes he was more physically expressive on stage, but he lacks the gift of movement Jimin seems to have.
Jimin would even go so far as to call Antoine his friend.
But no good things last forever.
Though godless, performers are nothing if not superstitious. So when Antoine loudly exclaims, “Jimin, where on Earth are you going with that tray? We are hungry, we cannot have you stealing food!”, Jimin laughs it off. Antoine is jovial and easy-going, he knows he meant no harm.
The children were too keen to stay with the festivities of pre-performance supper to take the food down for the opera ghost, so Jimin took the task for them. “I’m going to feed our ghost.”
Antoine was not from this opera house. There was no way he could have known.
“Opera ghost?” he laughs, and Jimin sees the people beside him stiffen uncomfortably. “There’s so such thing as ghosts. You waste your precious food for this?”
Jimin presses his lips together. “We can afford to spare some food.”
“Ah, this opera house is crazy,” Antoine laughs. “What does this opera ghost do for you? Does he bless you with song?”
Jimin says nothing. People around them are falling silent, though no one dares say a thing. Jimin tries his best to keep his breathing steady as he shrugs.
“Opera ghost, what bullshit,” Antoine laughs. “Very well, off you go. Who am I to judge your traditions?”
Jimin shuffles out of the room quickly, rushing down the great stone staircase to the basement levels. The darkness is cool, and when he breathes in, smells the fresh, clear scent of water.
No opera ghosts appear. Jimin doesn’t expect anything, anyway.
Jimin’s hands are shaking when he climbs back up the stairs. This performance will be one to remember.
The next day, Antoine is discovered dead. They say he fell into a canal on his way home, drunk and joyful. A good ending to a good man, they say.
“That Antoine is dead because he dared offend the ghost, do you hear me? You must never go looking for it.”
“I know! I won’t, I swear! I just want to tell you what I hear. That voice is so sweet, I can’t believe it would kill a man for disrespect.”
“Jimin, could we have a word?” Namjoon asks, just before morning rehearsals. Confused, Jimin gets up to follow. He’s lead to the manager’s office, where all the heads have gathered. Madame Giry eyes him with distaste but holds her tongue. The maestro nods to him, which Jimin returns. Only their pianist, Yoongi, fails to look up at him completely.
“Now, Jimin,” Namjoon says, sitting behind the desk. Seokjin isn’t here yet. “I’m sure you’ve heard the news. About Antoine, I mean.”
“Oh,” Jimin says, voice small. “Yes, I have.”
Namjoon nods, rubbing his forehead with fatigue. “Madame Giry says the performers say he offended the, uh, patron ghost of this opera house. Is this true?”
“I cannot tell you whether I believe the opera ghost killed him, if that’s what you’re asking,” Jimin says, “but yes, he did mock our . . . tradition, if you will.”
Namjoon scowls with confusion. “Which tradition?”
“Every night, the children will bring a tray of food from supper down to the basement,” Madame Giry supplies. “We give the ghost food every day. It is a harmless practice.”
Jimin nods. “Yes, it’s as Madame says.”
Namjoon sighs. “I must confess, I don’t believe in ghosts, and I do truly believe Antoine’s death was an accident.” He rummages around the draws for a few moments and pulls out a pen. “That doesn’t change, however, that we have many tickets sold for the performance tonight, and we have to do something. This opera house is not rich, as I’m sure you know. We cannot afford to cancel a show. So, we came to a conclusion.”
Jimin swallows. The door open behinds him, and when Jimin looks to the side, he sees Seokjin slipping in.
“A—a conclusion?” Jimin stutters, snapping his attention back to Namjoon. The manager smiles at him.
“Yes. Now, Seokjin knows your lower register isn’t superb, but we’re willing to make some adjustments to the score so that you can take Antoine’s place.”
“Me?” Jimin gapes. “N-no, I’m not—I can’t sing like Antoine.”
“We never said you could,” Seokjin says suddenly, startling Jimin with how perfect his French is. Namjoon nods after he speaks.
“Yes. We’re going to adjust all the music slightly to suit your voice better. Our soprano, Carlotta, has a very good higher register. We think it would suit both of you if we made the score a tone and a half higher.”
“It will be hard,” Namjoon continues after a pause. “And you are under a lot of pressure, Park Jimin. But we are confident in your ability.”
“I—” Jimin is too afraid to meet anyone’s gaze in case it’s a joke. It sounds too good to be true, and Jimin knows well what that means. He waits a few seconds for the other shoe to drop, but there’s nothing. He breathes in and dares look back up to mild Seokjin, who has his arms crossed confidently.
“I don’t know whether you’re expecting me to be humble and say I can’t possibly do it,” Jimin whispers, “because I want to do it regardless.”
Seokjin makes a pleased noise. “Good,” he says.
Namjoon is also smiling at him. Even Madame Giry, who has had a pet hatred of him for years, seems content with his answer.
“Our plan is as follows,” Namjoon continues. “As you know, the opera opens with Faust as a middle-aged man, and after he drinks from Méphistophélès’ cup, he becomes young. You will swap roles with Monsieur Berger after he becomes young. So, you will not be singing the two opening numbers. But the rest will be yours.”
Jimin nods. He, after months of rehearsals, has long memorised the songs, but he knows he has to practice them.
“There is, however, one problem,” Namjoon says, and his face is clearly pained.
Jimin almost sighs with relief. “Yes?”
“We’ve been advised to change your name for public audiences, to something more . . . French,” Namjoon says quietly. “It wasn’t our choice, but our sponsors, they—”
“So change it.” Jimin shrugs.
Yoongi frowns but says nothing. Namjoon smiles apologetically.
“We’ll be sure you write your name in the programs we hand out,” Namjoon assures him, “but for the public announcements, you know . . .”
“I have been called worse things than Jean.” Jimin smiles at them. “So, am I to start practicing now?”
The opera, Faust, is a simplistic, 5-act performance. The main character, Faust, realises that all his life spent studying has been meaningless, and makes a deal with a demon, who makes him young again, and he goes to woo a woman he loves.
With some opera nonsense added.
Jimin’s part in the opera is to win over the character Marguerite, played by Carlotta. And then in the end they all die, and Jimin is sent to hell where he is at the service of the demon Méphisophélès.
Seokjin explains that in the final act, Jimin can use his much sweeter head voice than chest voice. Apparently it’s an unprecedented change, but Jimin can only follow his instructions. The costume ladies do their best to make him some clothes, and Jimin tries to help them as much as he can, fetching whatever fabrics they need.
“If you make it through this night at all,” Seokjin tells him, “you will have to be considered one of the best opera singers in Paris, Park Jimin.”
Or, Jean Pascal, as his stage name is being promoted as. It’s not that bad. His initials are the same. It sounds a bit silly to Jimin, but he says nothing.
He knows he ought to feel nervous, but he doesn’t. The whole day feels like a dream, even as he drinks herbal tea mixed with honey to help his throat as he sings the daylight hours away. The older singer, whom Jimin has barely met before, seems polite and much more visibly overwhelmed than Jimin. Though he only has two songs, they are both long, and duets are always hard to master. Jimin also has several duets with their Méphistophélès, Paul, an older gentleman.
“I have a good feeling about you,” the older singer says, smiling. “Nothing may be cursed twice, hein? It’s your turn to bring us good fortune, Jean.”
Ah, Jimin says, smiling back something bitter. Jean.
It makes him feel he’s already performing.
But for whatever reason, Paul’s words make him set his shoulders.
Nothing may be cursed twice. Jimin knows this phrase, but is not nothing, but no one.
Truthfully, Jimin does not remember much of the opening night. He appears on set in at the end of Act 1, and then returns for the next four acts. All he remembers is making eye contact with Hoseok as the first violin sat patiently during his rests. The way he would nod along to the beat, keep Jimin in time, and then as the violin came up, Jimin would look back out to the audience. On stage, the audience can never truly be seen. They are just smudged faces in the gloom, the candles along the stage burning the bottom of Jimin’s gaze.
He remembers a blur of people kissing his cheeks between Acts, Seokjin handing him glasses of water, the costume ladies helping him change, and then suddenly he’s leaning back into Méphistophélès’ hands as the final number, Attends, voici la rue! plays on, the choir singing triumphantly with the trumpets and organ.
And then people are applauding.
The curtain falls, and Jimin is rushed into congratulatory hugs and kisses, Seokjin gives him a hug, and then Hoseok rushes up on stage to pick Jimin up and swing him around.
“It was perfect!” Hoseok tells him. “You were perfect!”
Jimin makes it a habit never to stay at afterparties, but this time he can’t get away. Even strangers, members of the audience seduced backstage stop and tell him about how amazing the performance was. Jimin feels drunk and flushes with praise, ducking his head in thanks and waiting for the chance to slip away.
But Jimin is certain about one thing:
Jungkook doesn’t come.
He sneaks down to the chapel, buried deep under the stage in the stone halls and steps, an alcove of stained glass and an altar. He sits and waits, breathing away the performance, but no one comes to find him.
It is for the best that Jungkook didn’t come. He is busy. Jimin would rather he rest than travel across the city just to see Jimin sing.
Footsteps echo in the room suddenly, and Jimin tenses. He hadn’t heard anyone approach, but he hears them stop, the short scuff of shoes on stone. Jimin waits, staring at the flickering candle before him.
“Jimin,” someone says, and Jimin—knows that voice. The one he swears he hears it whispered in his dreams. Low and warm, saying his name with no softened letters. The right way.
He turns slowly, rising from where he sits on the ground. There is a stained-glass window in the chapel that rattles sometimes, a wind from somewhere deeper in the great old building buffeting it. It depicts the Virgin Mary, holding a rose. Not a white one for purity, but a blood red one.
“Jimin,” the voice repeats, carried on the wind behind the glass.
“Who’s there?” Jimin asks. His voice echoes in the small room, but no one replies. He takes another step closer to the class.
“Jimin,” they say again, and he stops.
“Jimin!” A different voice calls, and Jimin hears someone running down towards the chapel. When he finally reaches the entrance, Jimin squints, not recognising him with his stage makeup.
The boy grins and nods. His cheeks are rosy with post-performance excitement. “What are you doing down here? We’re all looking for you!”
“How did you know I’d be here?” Jimin asks him, stepping back.
Maurice’s smile falters. “What?”
“How,” Jimin repeats, “did you know I was here?”
Maurice’s joyful expression fades considerably. “Um, the pianist told me?”
“It doesn’t matter!” Maurice says, stepping forward. He’s a little taller than Jimin, knock-kneed and youthful, not yet filled into his growth spurt. “I wanted to ask you, who taught you to sing like that?”
Jimin curls his lips in a smile and sits down at the altar again, struggling to keep his composure. “Monsieur Kim is my tutor.”
“No, from before! I heard Madame Giry talk about it.” Maurice drops to his knees beside him. “She said you have a tutor.”
Jimin picks up a slender candle and lights it. “You would not believe me if I told you.”
“I would!” Maurice insists. “Please, I want to sing too.”
Jimin’s lip twitches. “When I was a child,” Jimin says, “I travelled with a carnival. They would perform in every town to earn money. There was a mystic lady with us, and she told me I was gifted by the angel of music.”
Maurice says nothing for long enough for Jimin to plant the candle in the pot of sand on the altar.
“That is no tutor,” Maurice whines. “Please, you can tell me! I’ll keep it a secret, I swear!”
“Maurice,” Jimin says, something sickly and sweet in his voice, “Is it that you do not believe me?”
Whatever the boy planned on saying dies in his throat when Jimin looks at him. “Well?”
“I—well, that’s not—that’s no tutor!” Maurice sputters, shrinking away from him.
“Do you think it is the tutor that makes the singer?” Jimin asks him coldly. The boy looks down, guilty. Jimin turns his attention back to the candles. The bloodied face of Christ on the cross stares back at him from where a portrait sits on the wooden altar. “Do you think there is a substitute for effort?”
“N-no,” Maurice whispers.
“Then why are you here?” Jimin asks, still gazing at the candles. He moves to pick up another, lighting it carefully.
“Surely you had some guidance,” Maurice says quietly, and the candle snaps in Jimin’s hand.
“Not all of us can get guidance,” Jimin hisses. “If you are not able to improve on your own, then you will not improve at all!”
His outburst clearly frightens the younger boy, who shrinks back like a scared cat. “I’m—I’m sorry.”
“Leave,” Jimin snaps, and the boy scampers away, the sound of his slippers disappearing down the hallway he had come from.
Jimin’s hand trembles around the broken candle, and he hurls it towards the wall. He clenches his fists and doubles over, breathing away the vicious spike of anger. He can’t be like this, he tells himself. He can’t snap. He has to be pleasant. He has to be kind. He has to be liked.
He breathes in the incense and candle smoke until the shaking stops, and then leaves without a backwards glance.
“New Opéra Star Jean Pascal astonishes audiences as Faust!”
“Did you hear his voice? So sweet, I was moved to tears.”
“The new tenor has a voice so clear and pure, it must have awoken something buried in the opera house, for everything seemed to be lean towards the stage.”
“If roses could sing, they would sound like Jean Pascal.”
“Yes, yes! You must go and see him sing! Truly, his voice is like an angel’s.”
Jimin wakes to the smell of flowers. The dawn filters into the room, just enough to see the warm, blood red of the rose on the pillow beside him. It is in full bloom despite the cooling weather, a single black ribbon tied around the stem.
Sleepily, Jimin picks it up. The petals are silky under his fingertips, not at all wilted. Even the clipped end is still moist. Freshly cut for Jimin.
He smiles to himself. Roses for Jimin. Who would have thought?
No one may be cursed twice, Jimin thinks, content.
The second day is easier than the first. Jimin is treated like a star, with the opera house children rushing to him throughout the day with gifts from the public. Plush scarves, rings, wristwatches, wines, and flowers. So many flowers.
Every room Jimin enters through the day has flowers. All the main roles get flowers, but the opera house is overflowing with them. Jimin, though he arguably receives the least out of the four mains, still feels like he is sinking under the gifts he receives.
“So popular, our Jiminie,” Hoseok teases him during their breaks. “Or should I say, our Jean?”
“Stop!” Jimin whines, burying his face in his hands. “It’s so embarrassing.”
“The audience is not kind. They praise you because you deserve it,” a different person says, and when Jimin raises his head he sees Yoongi standing before him. He holds out a red rose tied with black. “I was asked to give this to you.”
Jimin knows his face is growing red, but he takes it nonetheless. “Asked? By who?”
Yoongi’s face doesn’t change. “You’ll see,” he says instead, nodding to Hoseok and then walking away.
“Another secret admirer for Park Jimin,” Hoseok sings, prodding his side with his sharp violinist fingers. “Who could it be? A rich count? A lord, perhaps? They’re calling you the angel of the opera house, perhaps it is a man of God?”
Jimin snorts. “Oh, yes, like a priest would be caught dead in an opera house. He’d have a heart attack if he dared step backstage after it had ended.”
Hoseok snickers. “I think those holy men know exactly what godless looks like.”
Jimin pretends to vomit as Hoseok roars with laughter.
The second night, Jimin focuses much more. He feels aware of every mistake, every stumble over his tongue, but he also is keenly aware of how the audience’s eyes stay fixed on him, even when Carlotta sings out her highest part, shrill and clear like shattering glass.
Jimin takes the liberty to move with the backup dancers on stage. It is subtle. Jimin has spent enough hours longingly watching the stage and dreaming of doing this. To be a singer who moves. Perhaps it is too bold of him, but he can’t help it. Even if he were to fall from grace now, return to the background dancer he was, he could not regret it.
And as Jimin glances up to Box Five, always kept empty for the opera ghost, he sees someone watching him.
He catches only a glimpse of black and white and gold before he steers his gaze back, digs his heels into the music a big more, takes a gulp and a breath and sings as clear as he can. Until he once again hears the roar of the audience muffled by the lowering curtain, and Jimin watches sweat drip from his brow hit the wooden floor of the stage.
They have given Jimin a change room, which is already filled with flowers. Outside, he can hear a clamour for La Carlotta, and then another for Pascal. For Jimin.
On the dresser lies a single red rose, once again tied with a black ribbon. Jimin moves to pick it up, and sees that it once again is freshly cut. Does someone grow roses especially for him?
“Jimin,” comes that same voice again, and Jimin grips the rose’s stem so hard the thorns cut into his palm.
“Who are you?” Jimin says aloud to the room, grasping the rose firmly. “Will you not reveal yourself?”
There is a mirror in this room. A large one mounted to the back wall. Jimin stands before it and sees only himself, surrounded by the flowers piled against the walls.
“Where?” Jimin asks, seeing himself scowl in the reflection. “I will not play games with you.”
Something about the voice is so warm and buttery Jimin gives in, stepping closer. And closer. Until around his own reflection he can see the shadow of something else, someone behind the glass.
Instead of a face, he wears a white mask, gilded with gold. All around the eyes and forehead are swirling gold patterns, and then a pair of painted bronze lips. The masked man holds out a gloved hand to him, but Jimin does not move to take it.
“Am I not allowed to know your name?” Jimin asks him softly, staring up at him. Behind the mask are two dark eyes, staring back at him. His lashes are so long Jimin sees them rest against the porcelain rim of the mask.
“Do you not know me already?” he asks, voice soft and warm and low. Jimin cannot help but to smile back at him.
“But, ‘ghost’ is such an unkind name,” Jimin tells him sweetly. “For you, there must be a stronger word.”
Jimin gets the impression the opera ghost is amused, eyes crinkling behind his mask. In the unsteady candlelight, even they glitter gold like his mask.
“What shall you call me, then?”
“Phantom,” Jimin purrs, pressing the rose into his waiting palm. Without lowering his eyes, he wraps the man’s gloved fingers around the stem. “Do you like it?”
The phantom’s eyes do not at any point flicker away from Jimin’s. “Anything you give me is a gift. Even a name.”
Jimin laughs, something warm settling in his chest. “Such a shame that I cannot give you anything else tonight. You see, dear opera ghost,” Jimin tightens his hand around the Phantom’s hand before he releases him, “my mother always told me never to run off with strange men.”
The Phantom’s eyes finally drop to his hand holding the rose, and he bows slightly.
“Good night, then, Park Jimin, the Angel of this opera house.”
Jimin smiles. “Good night, opera ghost.”
Jimin wakes up to roses on his pillow almost every day. A feat, considering he never returns until almost dawn. Even later, now that the sun rises slower every morning as the temperature lowers.
Being a lead gives Jimin a considerably heavier purse. For the first time in his life, Jimin uses his Sundays to buy himself something nice. It isn’t nearly enough to afford his own place outside the opera house, but it is enough to get a new coat. A coat so new nobody has owned it before him. They have to tailor it, take in the shoulders to fit, and Jimin says his name is Jean Pascal.
It gives him a strange sense of satisfaction when he doesn’t have to repeat it for the clerk. They tell him it will be done by tomorrow, and Jimin continues on his way. Out of habit, he buys some sweets to keep in the pockets, even though Jungkook isn’t around anymore to dote on. Jimin buys a smaller amount of assorted sweets for Maurice. The boy eyes him so distrustfully it concerns him.
Paris is truly the city of lights when you have money. A few measly francs make all the difference. A new coat and new shoes make even more. Jimin has been wearing hand-me-downs his whole life, and owning something of his own feels foreign. He’ll have to guard them closely, since everyone in the opera house has quick fingers.
Jimin’s feet carry him there against his will. The Paris Opera house, where the best ballet dancers in the country live.
Where Jungkook lives now.
Jimin shouldn’t loiter, in his ratty old coat and shiny new shoes. He should come back tomorrow, when he has a new coat and looks like a much richer man. People glare at him, mistaking him for a beggar. As if Jimin would stoop so low to beg from the likes of them. Jimin shouldn’t loiter, but he does. He lingers across the road and stares at the impossibly huge opera house, with its gold fixtures and pillars and wealth. Horses clop noisily through the square, drawing carriages, and Jimin—doesn’t move.
It’s not like him.
He swore he would never seek Jungkook out. He pushed Jungkook to go; doesn’t that mean he has lost the right to miss him? Jimin swore he would never do anything to make Jungkook regret his choice. He’s already taken enough from Jungkook.
Standing around, thinking about Jungkook for too long makes Jimin nauseous. He doesn’t need to see Jungkook again, and Jungkook certainly doesn’t need to see Jimin.
Eventually, Jimin gathers himself enough to leave.
The performances continue. Jimin’s purse gets heavier. The nights get longer.
The roses persist.
Though the Phantom has yet to approach Jimin again, the roses are a constant reminder. Sometimes on stage, singing his lungs out, Jimin will catch sight of something pale and gold in Box Five, the eternally empty seat. Nothing more.
Jimin buys Maurice’s forgiveness with sweets.
Jean Pascal becomes more popular.
Jungkook does not come.
Jimin tells himself to make peace with it, but as the weather gets colder and Jimin is forced to remember this is the first Christmas without Jungkook at his side, his restraint wavers.
“Hoseok,” he asks at supper one night, “do you ever hear from Jungkook?”
Hoseok’s eyebrows shoot up, still chewing his food. “Yes, I hear from him,” he says slowly, chewing pensively.
Yes, I hear from him. Jimin’s stomach knots. So, he’s still here. Still alive. Still healthy.
“Why do you ask so suddenly?”
“Is—is he healthy?” Jimin asks, and Hoseok’s face softens.
“Well, I think so,” he says. “I don’t see him directly. I just have friends who play for that opera house as well, and they tell me he’s there. Doing quite well.”
Jimin stares down at his plate. “I’m glad.”
“Ah, I miss that boy,” Hoseok says, a little loud, but then, everything he does is a little loud. “Haven’t seen him since . . . since we were still doing Romeo and Juliet.”
“What?” Jimin cries. “He was here?”
“Yes?” Hoseok scowls. “What, you didn’t see him?” Hoseok’s scowl deepens as Jimin shakes his head. “You must have! Unless . . .”
Unless you weren’t there, Hoseok doesn’t finish saying. Jimin feels the blood drain out of his face, but he forces himself to stay calm.
“I don’t remember seeing you there either,” Jimin replies. It’s a stab in the dark, but Hoseok’s face goes red immediately. Jimin almost sighs with relief.
“What I did that night is none of your business,” Hoseok says, voice tight. “I didn’t stay long, but I didn’t see you.”
“I never stay at afterparties,” Jimin admits softly.
Hoseok snorts. “Oh, you’re one of those. I see.”
“I hope you weren’t with Yoongi,” Jimin teases, and the blush rises higher on Hoseok’s face. He was right.
“I said it was none of your business,” Hoseok hisses. “I’m the older one. I don’t have to explain everything to you.”
Jimin ooh’s loudly, enough that Hoseok pinches his nose and tells him to go back to eating. Jimin couldn’t eat if he tried. Jungkook is alright. Hoseok knows Jimin doesn’t go to afterparties.
It’s not that incriminating on its own. Many of the performers neglect the afterparty to instead find someone to make their purse heavier. Jimin has. He has no doubts Hoseok has. But every morsel of information on someone is worth its weight in gold, here. Jimin cannot afford to confess to anything, even as trivial as this. He has no one to protect him.
Still, it is Hoseok. When played right, the man has a memory like a sieve. And Min Yoongi happens to be his middle C.
“So, how is Yoongi?” Jimin teases him, and Hoseok pouts sullenly, not unlike a child.
“None of your business.”
“Do you hold his hand behind the rafters?” Jimin continues to tease mercilessly, Hoseok’s ears glowing. “Do his kisses make you feel all melty?”
“I wouldn’t expect you to know, since you’re a singer now,” Hoseok sneers, whatever bite his words had completely undermined by how red his face is. “So don’t tease me.”
“I can’t help it,” Jimin keeps going, resting his chin on his hands as Hoseok squirms. “Maybe I should ask Yoongi myself.”
Hoseok drops his head in his hands. “Please, don’t. You’ll upset him.”
“Then who can I tease?” Jimin whines, kicking him under the table. “Tell me something.”
Hoseok sighs. “He bought me hot wine the other night.”
Jimin blinks. “And?”
“What do you mean, ‘and’? And then I thanked him and drank it.”
“That’s it?” Jimin can’t believe this. “You’re all flushed and pink because he bought you a cup of hot wine?”
Hoseok groans into his hands. Jimin’s seen what Hoseok’s like after a glass of wine, and it’s not bold. He gets cranky and tired after a single glass. Even on cold winter nights, when the hot wine keeps away the chill, he turns into an old man and tries to rush home and sleep. He’s worse than the children.
“And then he walked me home,” Hoseok confesses a lot of whining. “And I invited him in.”
“Let me guess, he didn’t come in?”
Hoseok shakes his head. “No, he did.”
“Jung Hoseok, you whore,” Jimin smirks. Hoseok continues to writhe with embarrassment. “Seducing the pianist, that’s so dirty.”
“As if you’ve never done worse,” Hoseok mutters.
“I’m an angel, I’d never do such a thing.”
“Then what’s with all those roses you’re getting?” Hoseok’s face is still red, but he has the nerve to look smug. “I swear, they’re in every room you go in. Who’s the secret admirer?”
Jimin only smiles. “I’m waiting for marriage.”
Hoseok scoffs. “I thought you hated marriage.”
Had Jimin ever said that? Seems like something he’d keep secret. “I never said that.”
“Jungkook told me, of course.”
Jimin rolls his eyes. “Maybe he’s the one that hates marriage, did you consider that?”
“Jungkook is so sweet and romantic, he’d fawn over the idea of asking someone to marry him,” Hoseok says firmly. “You, on the other hand, are in it for the money, and I respect that.”
“You say that, but you’re having sex with the pianist.”
“Shut your mouth!” Hoseok hisses, eyes wide. “What if someone hears?”
Jimin snorts. “I’m sure the managers know about it already. Monsieur Min seems very close with them.”
“Yoongi’s like a clam,” Hoseok waves him off. “Can’t get a thing out of him. I’m sure no one knows but me, since I was there.”
Ah, Jimin thinks, relief settling over him. He stretches his arms high above his head, the knot in his stomach loosening a little. “Don’t worry, Monsieur Jung, I’ll keep your secret safe.”
“You had better,” Hoseok warns, turning aside to finish his drink.
“Don’t you think it’s quite sudden? How that Jimin boy became famous?”
“Right after the new managers joined, too. His brother went off to the Paris Opera ballet, you know.”
“Are those new managers fair, do you think?”
“Jimin is undeniably gifted, but we already had other gifted singers. Why him?”
“Yes, why him? And why did we never hear about what became of Antoine? I never knew him to be a drunkard. Did the police investigate?”
“Bah, that was the opera ghost. He cursed himself.”
“Who else could he curse, then? Why are we not cursed?”
“What are you trying to say?”
“I don’t trust that . . . Monsieur Pascal. What a stupid name. I don’t trust him. That other boy was fine, but something about him . . . he scares me.”
“They are whispering about you.”
Jimin startles so bad he almost drops the mirror in his hands. The opera ghost stands behind him, as tall and imposing as ever, with that same white and gold porcelain mask. Now that he stands in the light, Jimin can see him properly. One of his hands is not gloved today, and Jimin’s gaze lingers on the caramel skin and long, elegant fingers.
“Who is?” Jimin asks him, placing down the mirror. They have taken to powdering his face, and he struggles to take it off.
The other man doesn’t speak.
“Who is whispering about me, Phantom?”
Jimin sees his eyes crinkle under the mask, pleased. “The girls. They say it’s suspicious that you were promoted so quickly. They believe you’re in cahoots with the new managers.”
Jimin snorts. “Because we’re all Korean, right?”
The Phantom doesn’t reply, instead moving to examine the now-wilting flowers in the dressing room. More arrive before Jimin can remove them, so now they brown and wither in the stuffy room.
“How did you hear this, anyway?” Jimin asks him.
“I hear everything in my opera house,” he says, pulling a cut rose from under his cloak and presenting it to Jimin. How much ribbon must this man have, to give him so many roses? “Including the angel in the chapel.”
The smile stiffens on Jimin’s face. “There is no angel in the chapel.”
“Perhaps not,” says the opera ghost, stepping forward. Close enough for Jimin to touch, if he wanted. He takes Jimin’s hand with the one that isn’t gloved, turning it palm up to receive the red rose. “Who would know?”
“Not me,” Jimin warns him, but the other isn’t in the slightest deterred. The Phantom’s thumb rubs gentle circles on the skin of his inner wrist.
“I’m sure you wouldn’t,” says the man, voice sweet and warm like honey. “Not even your boy knew.”
“Jungkook is not my boy,” Jimin reminds him, but his voice has no bite.
“He is also no longer here.”
Jimin snatches his hand back. He turns his back on the opera ghost, instead squeezing the stem of the rose angrily, until the prickling of thorns turns painful. “I never gave you permission to talk about him.”
“You care about him so much,” the Phantom says, and Jimin hears him step forward before two hands settle on his shoulders. Jimin’s back brushes the chest inches behind him. “Yet you were the one who pushed him to leave. Why?”
“I don’t owe you an explanation,” Jimin sets his jaw.
The Phantom chuckles behind his mask, so close to Jimin’s ear goose bumps break out on the back of his neck. “If I cease those whispers about you, then you will owe me.”
“I’m not interested in being in your debt,” Jimin moves away from him. “I can handle whispering. Do you think I’m so frail I couldn’t?”
“Then, Park Jimin,” starts the opera ghost, and he says Jimin’s name so gently and familiar it almost hurts to hear, “what could I do for you?”
Jimin’s hands begin to shake suddenly. The constant knot in his gut loosens. What could I do for you?
“What can you do for me, Phantom?” Jimin asks the rose in his hands.
“As long as it is within the walls of this opera house,” he says, “anything.”
“And what would you expect from me in return?”
Those hands settle back on his shoulders, but this time they slide down his arms, featherlight. “In return,” says the opera ghost, hands settling on Jimin’s waist and holding him, just enough to feel, as he comes to stand flush behind him, “you belong to me.”
Jimin brings the rose up to his lips and smiles.
The critics rave about Faust. Jimin waits for it to get boring, the way any production used to as a backup dancer, but it doesn’t. At the finale, people are standing and clapping for him. How would it get tiring to perform knowing that was what awaited him?
Even better was the newest addition to the audience.
In this opera house, they keep one box empty out of superstition. Box Five. When Jimin lifts his gaze to Box Five during his performances, he sees a familiar white and gold mask watching him. At the end of the performance, he even tosses one of his roses on stage.
However, he once again does not come to Jimin’s dressing room. It’s a clear message: he will do nothing unless Jimin asks.
Jimin has yet to ask. He’s not entirely sure why. Nothing in his life right now requires outside help. It never has. Jimin has always been enough.
Maybe the feeling of someone being at his beck and call is more addicting than he realised.
Jimin becomes increasingly aware of the Phantom when it becomes apparent their seasonal production is coming to an end, and it’s time to start preparing a new one. Judging by the whispering from the girls, it must have a big female lead.
By now, winter is in full swing. There is an unusual amount of snow this year, dusting the rooftops whenever Jimin finally climbs into bed after a long night. At least with his new coat and shoes, he isn’t as cold. The only thing he lacks are warm gloves, but having a pair of quality gloves is like begging a thief to steal from him, so he instead sits on his money.
One of the following mornings, he wakes up to a pair of woollen gloves tied together with ribbon regardless.
If the Phantom wishes for Jimin to feel in his debt, he won’t have it. Jimin never asked him for anything, so he doesn’t wear the gloves. Not yet.
He has the distinct impression he’ll need them soon anyway.
They’re performing Carmen.
Hoseok tells him one night at supper. Apparently, he heard it from Yoongi. Who heard it from the managers. They’re still in the process of selecting the main soprano, and Jimin is not an option for Don José. Or Escamillo.
Jimin cannot find fault with that. To contrast Carmen’s soprano, they would rather choose burly, almost-baritone tenors. Big, tall men. Because that’s what Carmen goes for, after all. Jimin knows he doesn’t fit the bill. At best, he might have a shot at Le Remendado, another tenor, but he would consider that a disgrace. To go from a main starring role to play a smuggler who is barely a handful of songs.
Still, Jimin remains quiet. He is sure not to ask Hoseok any more questions about it, focuses on Faust and ignoring La Carlotta’s grating vibrato, and listens. There are those that hate him. Jimin knows this. They are not subtle in the slightest.
Jimin could do this alone. He knows how, and he knows it would work.
But he also knows it would be much more effective with some aid.
“Have you seen Louise?”
“Why? Is she missing?”
“No one has seen her since yesterday. Did she run away?”
“That foolish girl . . .”
In the chapel there is a stained glass window. It is an eerie thing, showing Mary holding a rose, bowed under the weight of her own halo. On a clear day, it lights up like a jewel. But in the dark, it looks sinister.
It is a door.
Jimin’s known it was a door for years, only using it on the rarest of occasions. Behind it likes a tunnel, barely wide enough to walk through, leading into the darkness. Jimin grasps the candlestick firmly and pulls the glass closed behind him.
There are surprisingly few cobwebs. After a few steps, the candles mounted to the walls spontaneously explode into light, showing how the stone corridor slopes down towards a winding stone staircase. By the time he reaches these steps, strange echoes reach him from other areas of the buildings. Whispering, some murmured singing, and even fainter, the sound of lapping water.
He can smell it from here, too. Just like the cellar steps, where he spent so many years leaving food for the opera ghost. The Phantom himself. Real. But he is no ghost. Jimin knows a flesh and blood man when he sees one.
The steps are narrow and steep, so cramped it makes Jimin dizzy to descend, but he must. He trails a heavy hand on the wall beside him, carefully lowering his feet to each step. The oil laps in here are alight as well, so it is not the darkness that is dangerous. A fall from here would mean certain death, and this opera house knows too well what happens when people fall from stairs. Especially lead tenors.
Still, it would be poetic, wouldn’t it?
It feels like an eternity before Jimin finally reaches the bottom. The first thing he sees is water, grey and misty. A wide canal passes underneath the opera house. Perhaps this is the Paris sewer, and where it all connects, though there is a pleasant lack of any smell. Even these halls are well-lit by the same type of candles, casting everything in warm, golden light. Down here, not even the cold penetrates.
There is ample room to walk, so Jimin does. He follows the canal of water until the stone floor stops, and a small gondola-type boat is tethered to a hook.
Is this how the Phantom lives? Jimin wonders, stepping into the boat and untying it. He extinguishes his candle and sets it aside. The last thing he needs is for the wood to catch fire and to inhale the poisonous smoke of the veneer burning.
The water tunnels are a maze, however Jimin follows the candles. Eventually, he must connect to where the cellar steps stop, or some other path back up into the opera house.
The one thing Jimin does not do is call out.
“Did you intend to sneak up on me?” someone yells, and Jimin snaps around. The water continues away from the main canals and into a lagoon. There stands the opera ghost, just beyond the water. As Jimin stares behind him he sees an entire room full of trinkets and riches.
“Not at all,” Jimin replies, calming his tone. He pushes the boat towards the Phantom, who extends a hand to him and helps him up. “You seem like the kind of man who prefers to catch people unawares.”
The man’s eyes crinkle behind his mask. “How eloquent of you. Pray tell, what does bring you here, Park Jimin?”
Jimin has heard his real name used so rarely these days, hearing it sounds like breath of fresh air.
“I believe you had an open offer for me,” Jimin tells him, stepping a little closer.
“Oh? Have you had a change of heart?”
“I would not call delaying it a change of heart, Phantom,” Jimin tells him.
The opera ghost regards him for a moment, before turning and leading Jimin further into his alclove by the hand. Jimin catches a glimpse of multiple masks, music scores, a piano, luxurious fabrics and some corridors that no doubt lead to further rooms. A palace underneath an opera house.
The Phantom leads him to the piano, where he sits on the stool. Jimin doesn’t hesitate, standing between the man’s legs, but with enough space to be considered modest.
“You remember our terms,” he says. Jimin nods. “I help you, and you are mine.”
Jimin barely manages to bite back the smile.
“I did not forget,” Jimin tells him. “I want you to tutor me. To sing.”
Behind his mask, the Phantom’s eyes widen a fraction, before narrowing. “That’s all?”
“In being my tutor,” Jimin says, stepping forward until there’s no space, “you would need to vouch for me. Recommend me.” He hooks a finger under the Phantom’s chin and tips his head back. “Make me the best singer in Paris.”
The Phantom’s eyes lift in a smile. “And what of those who plot against you?”
“All great singers have adversaries,” Jimin tells him. He strokes his fingers under the other’s chin until his eyes close. “Do I truly look so weak I need you to take them away?”
“Truly, Park Jimin,” the Phantom says, “you exceed my expectations.”
Jimin hums, fingers closing around the ribbon that holds on his mask and pulling it loose.
The Phantom’s eyes fly open and he shoves Jimin away, hands flying up to hold his mask in place.
“Damn you!” he hisses, hunched over. “Conniving pandora! How dare you!”
Jimin’s legs ache from where he fell, but he says nothing. The Phantom fumes for several moments, whispering curses to himself as he ties his mask back in place. Jimin only sees a sliver of caramel skin before the porcelain hides it again.
“Never do that again,” he threatens, staring at the ground. His ungloved hands go white from how hard he clenches his fists.
Jimin holds back a reply. The Phantom stands and moves to a mirror, where he stares at the mask before he storms away.
“I will not forgive you if you try that a second time,” he snaps. “You don’t know what awaits you.”
Jimin bites his tongue and nods, getting to his feet.
The opera ghost is still visibly mad, shoulders stiff when he turns away from Jimin. “Return tomorrow night. We will discuss it then.”
It just so happens that this following day is the day when the two managers, Kim Namjoon and Kim Seokjin, make it public that they will be preparing Carmen. They make no comment about whether auditions will be held, however. Jimin swallows hard and marches himself to the office after morning rehearsals.
“Oh, Jimin, come in, come in,” Namjoon says quickly, standing. “Do you need something?”
“I wanted to ask about the plans for Carmen,” Jimin says. He can see Namjoon’s expression change, preparing to say something, but Jimin cuts him off. “I know already that I’m not a good fit. However, I—I wanted to know if you’d be willing to let me audition.”
Namjoon presses his lips together and sighs, sitting back in his chair. “For which part?”
Jimin pauses. “One of the mains.”
“Don José is the tenor part I’m sure you’re implying,” Namjoon says, though he doesn’t seem in a terrible mood. “Seokjin did not tell me you possessed the chest voice for such a part.”
“He may be right,” Jimin admits. “But, please let me audition. Pick a song for me to prepare. Please.”
Namjoon sighs again. “We pushed it a little with Faust. It was new, and I’m not sure we have many risky moves left with our sponsors, Jimin.”
“I-I know,” Jimin says, feeling something cold crawl up his throat. “You don’t have to give me the part. Really, if I sing and you think it won’t work, I can’t ask for more than that. Just—please, let me try. Please, Monsieur Kim.”
Namjoon rubs his temples for a moment. “Fine,” he says. “I cannot give you any guarantee for the part. At most, you would be doing an exercise. Jimin, you’re talented, but you’re not Don José. It’s not a reflection of your abilities, I promise, but it’s the restriction of the music.”
“I know,” Jimin insists. “Really, I know. Will you let me try regardless?”
Namjoon looks at Jimin’s earnest expression and gives in. “Very well. Prepare the Flower Song for an audition in one week’s time.”
“Thank you!” Jimin cries, bowing deeply. “Thank you, thank you!”
“Ah, don’t bow,” Namjoon says, embarrassed at the sincerity. “Really, Jimin, I can promise you nothing.”
“I know, but thank you for letting me try,” Jimin sings, and ducks back out before Namjoon can change his mind.
“You have a week.”
The Phantom doesn’t turn back to Jimin when he enters. He’d climbed down the cellar steps this time, coming from the other end of the room. Jimin stares at the back of his head and notes the absence of the ribbon tying his mask on. Without it, Jimin stares at the smooth black hairs curling at the nape of his neck, not quite long enough to tie back.
“So I heard,” he says. He reaches over the piano for the mask he must have left there, tying it on. “I could give you any part you wanted, yet you want Don José?”
Jimin shrugs. “Lead tenor.”
“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling,” the Phantom says, standing from the piano stool. He’s clearly in much better spirits today, having forgiven Jimin for attempting to remove his mask. “But for now, I will get you the part you wish. Soon they will choose operas that cater to you.”
“I just want to be able to sing Don José’s part.”
“The best singer for that part is someone who can sing like a baritone,” the Phantom steps, approaching him. He has his hands clasped behind his back, and behind the mask, Jimin cannot gauge his expression beyond the slightly muffled voice. “Which, Park Jimin, you cannot.”
Jimin scowls, “There is no need for you to tell me what I already know.”
The Phantom’s eyes twinkle with mirth. “Yet. I told you I would make you the best singer in Paris, did I not? I will give you the range you need.”
“How?” Jimin asks, unable to hide the way his voice drops as the Phantom finally stops before him, almost chest to chest.
“I will teach you, of course,” the Phantom says. His hands are gloved again this time, but the leather feels warm on Jimin’s chin when his head is tilted up. “I believe that other man, Kim Seokjin, has taught you already about breathing. If you want to play Don José, you don’t have time to develop the skill over time. You need it within a week.”
“Tell me how you’re going to teach me.”
The Phantom doesn’t reply, instead moving past him to a table with several trinkets amassed between candles. “First, I will give your throat a relaxer to protect your voice. It will have worn off by morning. All you’re going to do tonight is sing the lowest note you can. I’ve already selected the lowest passage in the entire song for you. If you can sustain that note for half a minute, I will say you’re ready.”
Jimin swallows. “How will I reach that note without my throat?”
“You don’t need your throat to sing low,” the Phantom tells him, mixing the drink. “Your neck is very long, and your chest is very deep. I’m going to force you to sing from your chest. Vibrato can come later. If no one teaches you how to do it right, it is very unpleasant to hear. That damn Carlotta sings a semitone up and down. I can’t bear to hear her.”
He turns back to Jimin, and gives him the small cup. It looks harmless enough and smells sweet and sharp, like overripe citrus.
The Phantom guides the cup to his lips. “Drink.”
Jimin suddenly feels like he’s running out of time.
Faust is winding down. After taking a short break for the holidays, the plan is to be finished by the end of winter, and then to spend Spring preparing for a summer production. It’s a tight schedule, no doubt meaning long days of rehearsals, but Jimin knows their opera house is pressed for funding.
Jimin also, has to make sacrifices. His purse is lighter than ever, since he sacrifices his nights to sing deep in the cellar with the Phantom. Almost every hour of the night is lost to him trying to sustain the lowest note of the flower song. His audition is tomorrow, and although Jimin believes the opera ghost has given him the chest voice he needs, he doesn’t know whether it’s enough time.
When Jimin descends to the Phantom’s lair this time, he’s surprised to find the man wearing a different mask. This one cuts off below the nose, exposing the lower half of his face. Once Jimin sees the smooth, golden skin, he can’t quite look away. The only blemish is an acne scar at the corner of his mouth. Jimin believed the opera ghost must have been maimed or horribly disfigured, or perhaps even a ghost wearing a mask to pretend to be human, but no. There is a real face under there.
Jimin wants to see it, but the memory is bitter.
The Phantom catches him looking, and his mouth curls in a smirk. Jimin has to swallow down something wild in the back of his throat as the man stands and approaches him with a few leaves of paper.
“I’ve marked in where you should take breaths,” he says, voice so rich and pure without the mask in the way that Jimin feels dizzy, staring pointedly at the spotty music sheets in his hands. “We won’t worry about words today. They will come with practice. Those managers will want to see that your voice can reach the lows.”
“And can they?” Jimin asks, regaining some composure. This time, when the Phantom snorts with amusement, his breath brushes Jimin’s hair.
“You’re my singer,” he says lowly, warm despite his words, “and I already promised you the part.”
Then, the Phantom sits down at the piano, and begins to play.
Singing without the words should feel foolish, but after the long days of singing just that, with a prodding reminder to open your throat and lower your tongue, he’s used to it. It becomes apparent that the reason the Phantom replaced his usual mask today is so he could sing any notes Jimin tumbled over as a reference. His voice is powerful and deep in a way that should make Jimin envious. Not that he is given time. As a tutor, the Phantom is incredibly serious.
The song is not particularly long, some lamenting thing about how Carmen threw José a rose and he held onto it like a fool, even though she is just playing with him.
In true opera fashion, José kills Carmen in the end. But that’s just opera. Bizet’s work was such a hit when it came out a few years ago, Jimin can scarcely believe they’ve stopped performing it by now. Back then he was far too young to consider auditioning.
A lot of things were different back then, Jimin muses, singing along to the Phantom on the piano, dutifully gasping for breath when marked. Back then, Jungkook had been smaller than him, nothing but skin and bones and great big eyes. Back then, Jimin was still the one tasked with bringing down food for the opera ghost.
Who would have thought it would come to this?
After several run-throughs, Jimin repeats without the piano, and the Phantom occasionally yells out too sharp or too flat, making him repeat that sequence of notes until he gets it.
“The words are the least important thing,” he says, stretching his arms out. “Everyone speaks different. Just learn them and do what feels right.”
“I thought you’d be less of a teacher and more of a ghost,” Jimin tells him, biting his lip when he sees the Phantom’s exposed mouth curl in another smile.
“Though I enjoy being treated as a ghost,” he says, “I am only a man.”
Jimin supposes he should be more stressed about the audition. He begged to have one, yet he feels confident in that under-prepared way. Walking onto the stage the next day, he sees Yoongi is at the piano again, though he looks considerably more guarded. At least Seokjin and Namjoon are their usual pleasant selves.
And then, in the seats beyond them, the Phantom stands in his box, watching.
The comfort the Phantom brings knee-jerks something in his insides, filling him with a thundering, venomous feeling. Like he wishes he could spit blood.
But then Yoongi is playing, and it is time to sing.
Jimin knows no one is expecting a performance, just a recital, so Jimin stands stiff, breathing as deep as he can and belting out the song he’s spent every night for the week practicing. He doesn’t glance up to Box Five once, instead meeting the gaze of the managers, so surprised Jimin can see the whites of their eyes even from the distance. The way they have been since he sang the first line, a woeful, la fleur que tu m’avais jetée.
He stumbles a little on the final Carmen, je t’aime, but he doubts anyone notices. Yoongi looks over to him with the same shocked face as the managers.
And just like that, Jimin—or rather, Jean Pascal—is cast as Don José.
“Congratulations,” the Phantom says, once Jimin has ducked into the wings. He holds a single rose, tied with a black ribbon, as always. Jimin takes it from his hand gently, carefully letting their fingertips brush.
“Is this the flower you threw me?” he teases, but with his usual mask, Jimin can’t see his lips tug up in a smile. Instead, the Phantom snatches Jimin’s hand before it can move too far and holds it in two of his.
Jimin looks up at the dark eyes behind the mask. “Dear Phantom,” he whispers, and presses a chaste kiss to the red petals of the rose. “If only you’d worn the other mask.”
Finale’s are always huge. The audience, the last hurrah of the performers, the afterparties.
Jimin soaks in the standing ovation and commits it to memory. A few people even yell out Jean Pascal!
Yes, Jimin thinks, awkwardly taking the hands of the other two singers and bowing again for good measure. Yes, this is what he wanted.
In Box Five is another person, also clapping for him. But Jimin doesn’t look towards him. His debt is not for Faust. This is Jimin’s night.
Jungkook doesn’t come.
Jimin’s impression of the girl they picked for Carmen is terrible to say the least.
He holds his tongue, knowing there must have been people who thought the same about him, but this poor girl is no Carmen. Though her voice is beautiful, soars over the high passages in all her songs, she cannot be Carmen. She’s too demure, too chaste. The only thing she has in common with the character is her main of dark, curly hair.
It makes it difficult to be Don José to such a character. Jimin would never do any of this for love, but he has to bite his cheek when he has to pretend to be in love with her. She is too young, too shy, and too difficult to work with. The rest of the cast voices similar concerns, but Jimin keeps his to himself.
He has to be liked.
The thing is, he has no such obligation to the Phantom.
“Yes, she sings like an angel, sure, but Carmen is no angel,” Jimin hisses, viciously picking a stain off a golden plate in the Phantom’s lair. “Even that bitch Carlotta is a better fit.”
“Don’t be so crass,” the Phantom chides, though he sounds amused. “Our La Carlotta would be just as bad.”
Jimin groans. “She stands in the corner with that damn rose of hers and sings Habanera like she’s asking God. How is that meant to seduce me?”
“She’s probably a top student,” the Phantom muses. “Her voice is exquisite.”
“Since when was opera about having a beautiful voice?” Jimin rolls his eyes. “Hers is too sweet for opera.”
“Well, then, what should Carmen be like?” the Phantom asks, and Jimin’s hands stiffen on the plate in his hands. Behind his white and gold mask, his eyes are dark.
Jimin scoffs. “Have you never been outside?”
“No,” the Phantom says simply, which shocks Jimin.
The Phantom nods. “I haven’t stepped into the light since I was a child.”
Then how did he come to amass this collection of riches? Jimin holds his tongue, though, staring back at him instead.
“You have never seen a woman like Carmen, then,” Jimin supplies.
“I haven’t.” The Phantom leans forward a little on the piano stool, like he’s waiting for Jimin to realise something.
Jimin smirks, “are you asking me to show you?”
At last, Jimin sees the familiar crinkle of the Phantom’s eyes. “I’m not so bold to ask for a free performance.”
Jimin grins, getting to his feet. There’s a rose lying on the dresser nearby, and Jimin picks it up. The Phantom is watching him intently, and Jimin saunters over.
The first words of the song trickle out of him as he tips the Phantom’s head up with the rose. Jimin isn’t sure he’s ever seen his eyes this dark.
Habanera and L’amour est un oiseau rebelle are mostly the same song. Carmen sings it as she seduces Don José. Something about how love captures you, how you can never control it.
Maybe if Carmen knew what would become of her if she seduced this man, she might have tried a little harder, though.
“Should you love me not,” Jimin sings, a couple octaves lower than the original, the Phantom’s eyes never leaving his face, “I love you. But if I love you . . .”
Jimin drags the head of the rose down the Phantom’s chest, painfully slow as he draws out the final note of the phrase, down past his stomach, smirking as he brushes over the seated man’s crotch.
“Watch out,” Jimin purrs, the song falling away as he pulls away the rose. He sees the Phantom’s chest jump as he sucks in a breath, but Jimin steps back.
“Do you see what I mean, now?” he asks the Phantom, watching him cross his legs.
“Perhaps,” he replies cryptically, finally looking away from Jimin. “You can go now.”
Jimin laughs at him, a little cruel, and tosses him the rose.
“Good night, Phantom!” he calls.
Rehearsals continue. There’s more unrest with this girl they have playing Carmen, called Adèle. No matter how many times the managers ask her to do Habanera, she never gets it. Sure, she’s on pitch, and her tone is strong and clear, but there’s no colour. She sings like she’s in a white dress holding a crucifix to her chest.
It’s become apparent that they didn’t pick La Carlotta because much of the music is in a slightly lower register. Only the highest notes are just out of Jimin’s range. It’s frustrating work. Don José is strict and severe, but Carmen is meant to be so outrageous he falls in love with her. Yet this damn girl can barely look at him. Her idea of seduction is throwing him a rose and rushing off at the end of the song. And Jimin is meant to be moved.
It doesn’t help that she whispers about him to her friends. Jimin hears her when they eat supper. She’s hardly discreet, complaining about the way Jimin looks at her, the way he stands, the way he sings. They haven’t even begun to do the scene where Jimin has to pretend to stab her.
“I just hate his eyes,” she hisses to her friends. Jimin wonders if she simply doesn’t realise he’s here. “So narrow. They scare me.”
The girls around her murmur something in agreement. Hoseok is busy prattling about Yoongi, but there’s nothing new or interesting to hear.
“How did he even get the part?” of the other girls says, voice lowered. “I thought his range was, well—”
“I don’t know either,” says a third girl, her voice sour. “How has he suddenly become such an accomplished singer?”
“It’s the new managers, just like Louise said.”
Jimin’s hands shake around his cup when he brings it to his lips.
“Hey! Don’t talk about her.”
The mood of the girls is dampened very suddenly. “Has anyone heard anything?”
“No.” Jimin forces himself to pay attention to what Hoseok’s saying, but he’s too slow. The violinist looks at him with concern, the slightest frown creasing his face.
“Sorry,” Jimin tells him. “I got distracted.”
Hoseok’s eyes lift to something behind Jimin’s shoulder and sighs. “Just ignore them. They’re young and cruel.”
Yeah, Jimin thinks to himself. Young and cruel is exactly how he’d describe them. They’re still whispering amongst themselves, but much softer now, so quiet Jimin can’t distinguish any words below the din of the dining room.
“It’s fine,” Jimin says, more to himself than Hoseok. “What were you saying about Yoongi, again?”
Hoseok rolls his eyes, taking a sip of his coffee. “Is that the only aspect of my life you care about?” he complains, but begins a new spiel just the same. Jimin sits and listens, he really does, because this is important, he needs to know this.
Jimin struggles to keep a grip on his cup and sets it down.
He feels, very faintly, that everything might start coming apart in his hands.
He swallows it down and drowns himself in the conversation. Hoseok’s telling him about some Christmas market Yoongi took him to a while back, teasing him with trinkets and buying him more hot wine.
“He drinks like an old man,” Hoseok complains. “He likes whiskey.”
“Well, I hope you don’t drink with him.”
Hoseok shudders. “I’d never.” He cuts himself some cheese from the plate on the table, and in doing so, bumps into the person beside him.
“Oh, excuse me—”
“Watch yourself,” the man beside him hisses. He’s one of the men from the stage crew, with a scruffy beard and a worn-out shirt. Jimin’s seen him leering at the girls change room before. He narrows his eyes at Hoseok, and Jimin can see the vile thing he’s about to say before he can start.
Jimin throws his drink at him.
The water splatters him in the face, startling everyone in the room. “Ugh!” he cries, wiping wildly at his eyes. He spits the water from his mouth and fixes Jimin in a glare. “Bastard!”
Jimin’s hands shake. “You watch what you fucking say to him.”
“Hey, Jimin,” Hoseok starts slowly, and Jimin doesn’t look at him, knowing damn well what expression he’ll have. “We should go.”
“What? You think I’ll take shit from a whore like you?” the man growls at Jimin.
Jimin sees red. He hurls the empty cup at the man as well, catching him on the nose. Blood drips from it almost immediately, and the man jumps to his feet and grabs Jimin by the collar.
“I’ll kill you!” he hisses, blood and spittle spraying Jimin’s face.
“Let him go!” Hoseok is screaming, but Jimin doesn’t care about what he has to say, spitting on the man’s face.
There’s so much yelling in the room Jimin can’t distinguish between anyone’s voices. The damn bear of a man slaps Jimin so hard across the face he sees stars.
“A bit different from going home with old rich men, isn’t it?” he sneers, shaking Jimin by the throat. Jimin tastes blood. Of course, this man would know. Jimin’s made a mistake. He must see everything from the rigging, even when Jimin escapes the afterparty with whatever man will take a man he can call pretty.
People are trying to tug them apart, and Jimin goes limp, letting them. He’s made a mistake.
Everything is slipping through his fingers.
It’s Yoongi that finally pulls him free, lowering back into the seat and checking his bruised face. Hoseok hovers, anxious as ever.
“What were you thinking?” Yoongi scolds him, taking him out of the room once he’s determined Jimin’s not mortally wounded, Hoseok half-carrying as him. “He’s twice the size of you!”
Jimin stares pointedly at the ground, staying silent. His face aches and throbs.
If there weren’t people, Jimin thinks to himself, simmering with anger. If there weren’t people.
The pianist’s room is much more luxurious than the dorms Jimin sleeps in. He wets a rag and wipes the blood off of Jimin’s face, scolding him softly.
“Why’d you do that?” Yoongi demands, but Jimin just stares at the ground. “Park Jimin.”
“He was going to call me something,” Hoseok supplies. “Right?”
Yeah, right. Jimin let his temper get away from him. First the girls, now that man. Hoseok isn’t so fragile he couldn’t have taken an insult. Maybe Jimin just wanted him to say the words the girls were so careful not to say. That Jimin was a whore, sleeping his way to the top. Maybe, it was just that that damn man was a pig, and it was time for the annual slaughter.
“I’m sorry for causing a scene,” Jimin lets out, face throbbing. Yoongi sighs.
“Don’t do it again,” he says firmly. “Hoseok and me won’t be there to pull him off you next time.”
As if you’d stand a chance, Jimin almost snaps. Instead, he swallows down his words with the taste of blood and nods.
“You won’t be able to sing tomorrow,” Yoongi tells him, eyeing the reddened cheek where Jimin was slapped. “Hopefully the swelling will disappear by the day after. I’ll let Namjoon know.”
Jimin clenches his jaw despite the pain and nods.
Hoseok talks to him, leading him out of the room, but Jimin could care less what he had to say. He might have just ruined everything. He could get replaced, and then what would become of him? And that bastard just confessed one of Jimin’s secrets in front of Hoseok. Now he knows.
“You can go back to dinner,” Jimin tells Hoseok when they reach the staircase to his dormitory. He pats Hoseok’s hand. “Sorry for disrupting your meal.”
Hoseok scoffs, pulling him into a tight hug for a moment. “You’re a fool, Park Jimin, but thanks for defending my non-existent honour.”
Jimin salutes, and Hoseok cuffs him upside the head. “Good night.”
He waits for Hoseok to leave, then steals away down to the Phantom’s lair. The man meets him halfway, appearing from the darkness to rush over to him. “Jimin, are you alright?”
“What, did you hear what happened?” Jimin asks, letting the Phantom examine his cheek with something akin to concern in his eyes. Jimin rights the urge to scoff and push him off, but he’s already acted rashly enough tonight.
Maybe if Jungkook were here, he’d have stopped himself.
“Of course I heard,” the Phantom says, voice softer than usual. “You should have gutted him like a pig.”
This, finally, makes Jimin smile. “And what then?”
Jimin expects him to reply with something witty, but the Phantom is quiet. The idea that he understands Jimin better than he lets on makes something sour bloom in Jimin’s mouth.
“You will do nothing,” Jimin tells him firmly. “They would call me your whore too.”
“But you’re not my whore,” the Phantom states. “This is my opera house. I can choose who stays and who goes.”
“Don’t be a fool,” Jimin spits. “You’ve said it just before, you are just a man.”
The Phantom withdraws his hands as if burned. Jimin hears him inhale, ready to reply, but instead he turns on heel and leaves him in the dark.
Begrudgingly, Jimin follows him.
“Perhaps this will change your mood,” the Phantom says, holding out a stack of music. Jimin eyes it dubiously before he picks it up.
“What is it?”
Jimin leafs through the pages slowly. It seems, at first glance, that nothing has been changed. But it has.
The Phantom has lowered Carmen’s part to countertenor, and Don José to baritone.
“What is the meaning of this?” Jimin asks him, eyes staring at the lowered crotchets. His hands are shaking so terribly the pages rustle loudly. “Answer me.”
“You are the only one who can play Carmen properly.”
Jimin drops the pages. They scatter in a messy heap, some flying off to far corners of the floor. “No.”
“I did it for you.”
“You are a fool!” Jimin shrieks, anger boiling over. The Phantom’s eyes are wide, and he takes a step back in shock. “You think I can play Carmen? Who would accept that? Would you come see an Opera where a man plays Carmen?”
“It’s you who is the best choice for the role—”
“I am no choice!” Jimin roars. His face aches and throbs but the anger makes him blind. He doesn’t remember the last time such a rage took him. “I only wanted to play Don José!”
“Are you a coward, Park Jimin?”
“Coward!” Jimin howls with laughter. “Better a coward than an imbecile.”
“You belong to me!” The Phantom hisses. “You do as I say!”
Jimin freezes for a second, watching the Phantom fume with anger, before he begins to laugh again.
“Dear idiot,” he croons, crushing the paper beneath his feet. “Do you think I’m stupid? You think I’d sign myself off to anyone?”
The Phantom steps away for every step Jimin takes towards him. Jimin thinks of that pig in the kitchen, ready to call Hoseok something foul and get away with it. How dare he deprive the starving world of his own damn meat. He belongs in an oven, roasting to death. And this Phantom, so naïve and foolish, trying to get him to play Carmen?
“I belong to you,” Jimin spits, hands shaking as he continues to drive the Phantom back. “That’s true. But, dear Phantom, do you think me simple?”
The Phantom backs up to his own bed, and there is nothing left for him to do except fall back on it. Jimin looms above him, vicious and smiling.
“Who do you have, except for me?” Jimin says, sickeningly sweet. He squats down to the Phantom’s level, waiting for a response. “Well? Who do you have?”
The Phantom breathes heavily and says nothing. Jimin’s smile hurts.
“You have no one,” he says, brushing his fingers over the linen of the Phantom’s shirt before he fists a hand in it angrily, bring the Phantom’s face down towards him. “You have no one, except for me. Don’t you see? It is you who belongs to me!”
Behind the mask, he stares at Jimin with wide eyes.
Jimin smiles, and though the anger still sings in his blood, he pries his hand off the Phantom’s shirt and walks away. “Do you see it now? You’re mine, Phantom. Do not forget.”
Jimin stands, brushing dust off his pants. He wanders over to the scattered paper, and kicks some of them into the water. “Do not tell anyone of this Carmen nonsense, or you will regret it,” Jimin threatens him. “If you’ve seen everything that happens in this opera house, you know I mean what I say.”
Haltingly, the Phantom nods.
Jimin smiles. “Good boy.”
Jimin is lucky. The swelling goes down fast and he is able to still rehearse the next day. Not that he’s required much. The vast majority of the effort is concentrated around their Carmen, who, though they try as hard as they can, no one seems to be able to work.
Even Yoongi is frustrated with her, after they start the scenes over and over again. After three gruelling, painful practices of the finale, where the girl lays as stiff as a board in Jimin’s arms, pretending to be dead, they call it a day and rehearse with her in private.
“I don’t have high hopes for this,” says Monsieur Berger, recruited once again to play Escamillo, the famed toreador. “She is no Carmen. Oh, if Bizet could see this.”
Jimin thinks of the score the Phantom wrote in his dark, buried lair and says nothing.
There is a limit to all things. Even opera.
Opening night is fast approaching, and the stress in the rehearsal is almost too much to bear. It’s lucky for Jimin, however. Now his only job is to excel, to put this girl to shame, push his own name higher. People gravitate towards him, the only stable pillar in the production.
Jimin catches that girl Adèle glaring daggers at him sometimes, seeing how familiar the managers are with him.
Jimin pays it no heed.
Some girls and boyish backup dancers hiss whore at him sometimes.
Jimin ignores it.
The only thing Jimin doesn’t ignore is the Phantom. It appears he’s thought and moved on from Jimin’s outburst the other night, dutifully helping him sing all through the night. There is, however, a greater distance between them. Perhaps Jimin struck a nerve. It doesn’t concern Jimin very much.
What does concern him, however, is the way Namjoon rushes towards him one morning.
“Jimin!” he cries, tugging him into his office. “You need to see this.”
It’s a letter. More of a note, really, since there is no stamp or address. Apparently, it was left on Namjoon’s desk, with his name written on it in clear, red writing. It reads:
Monsieur le directeur,
You and your partner are competent men, managing my opera house, so I am concerned with your choice of Carmen. I can’t help but wonder what on Earth prompted you to choose a girl who belongs in a choir to play the character. Please amend this at once, or your public will be most disappointed.
— the opera ghost
“What does this mean?” Namjoon asks, wiping the sweat off his forehead with a handkerchief. “We don’t need this stress on top of what we already have.”
“It must be fake,” Seokjin insists, his French heavily accented but much improved. “Who could write this?”
“The opera ghost is real,” Yoongi says quietly.
Jimin turns to him, but the pianist gives nothing away. “He’s real. This opera house has been respecting him for decades.”
“Why have you never mentioned it before?” Namjoon asks, and though his voice is pleasant, he looks betrayed. “This seems like considerably important information.”
Yoongi grimaces. “You would never have believed me. Even after that Antoine is dead, you do not believe in him.”
Jimin swallows, sitting on his hands so they cannot shake. “Even if he is real, what does he expect to happen?”
Yoongi narrows his eyes at him. Jimin looks at the managers placatingly. “Moreover, why did you call me in to see this?”
“Because I also received a letter,” Seokjin says. “Much shorter. It says, ‘the only candidate for Carmen is Park Jimin’.”
Jimin tastes blood.
“I am no candidate,” he says quietly, but Seokjin looks doubtful.
“Having you as Carmen is the same risk as having Adèle,” he admits. Jimin sinks into his seat, aware of how intensely the pianist still watches him. As if he’s waiting for something.
“Even if you cast me as Carmen,” Jimin whispers, “what self-respecting man will play Don José?”
A heavy silence settles over them. Namjoon swallows audibly. Jimin closes his eyes and waits for the matter to pass.
He’d rather be the shining star in a pigsty of a production than lose it all in a gamble like this.
“We have poured so much effort into Adèle,” Namjoon whispers. “We would lose face if we swapped everything now. The whole score would have to be rearranged. The orchestra doesn’t have the time to re-learn it.”
“They do,” Yoongi says. “They’re professionals.”
Namjoon sighs. “Our sponsors would not like the risk of putting Jimin in that role.”
That silences them again. Jimin breathes a sigh of relief.
“We don’t have much time,” he says. “I will go to the stage.”
“Wait! Jimin!” Yoongi bursts out the door immediately after him. Jimin puts his hands in his pockets and tries as hard as he can to smile amicably.
The pianist looks around, making sure they’re alone.
“Why did he send these letters?” Yoongi asks him, whispering.
Jimin can’t breathe. He clenches his fists in his pockets, so tight and hard he feels his nails cut into the meat of his palms. “Who?”
“Him,” Yoongi insists. When Jimin doesn’t react, he sighs.
“Never mind,” he says, running an anxious hand through his hair. “I’ll see you at practice.”
“I do not think it is a coincidence.”
“That Jimin. René and Antoine. Who has benefitted from that the most, if not him? He was no one before those two were eliminated.”
“Stop being crazy! He was a no one before his audition. Maybe if we pushed the old manager to retire, I’d believe you. He didn’t even know who he was before them.”
“That brother of his left right before René died. I do not think it was bad luck.”
“René was drunk. The police confirmed it.”
“He was never a drinker, not like René. I’m telling you, it’s that damn Jimin.”
“They are whispering about you,” the Phantom says, appearing in Jimin’s dressing room before the debut of Carmen.
Jimin sets his jaw and says nothing, properly doing up his costume, a Spanish military uniform.
“Jimin, what they say about you—”
“I know what they say about me,” Jimin cuts him off. “I don’t care for them. I care about what you say about me, however. Did you think I would forgive you for that letter fiasco?”
At least the Phantom has the decency to look guilty. “You deserve to be the main.”
Jimin rolls his eyes. “You know I can’t read. You did that so I couldn’t stop you, didn’t you?”
“Never do that again,” Jimin says, echoing the words the Phantom said to him many months ago. “I will not forgive you if you do.”
Needless to say, the opening night does not go well. Adèle is so stiff and uncomfortable when they perform it’s like singing to a wall. There are murmurs of dissent after her rendition of Habanera, so numerous they carry even onto the stage, and Jimin can see, under the harsh lights, tears gathering at the rim of her dark eyes.
The first time Jimin sings, however, he hears the audience fall away. Warmth blooms in his chest. Not even they expected this of him. Their eyes are so wide Jimin can see it from where he sings.
It is a mess of an opera. The supporting characters cannot make up for what Adèle lacks. It is a great relief to reach the end.
When it is Jimin’s turn to bow, the audience stands and applauds. A standing ovation. For him.
Berger pushes him to bow again for the audience, and they cheer when he does.
The Phantom throws a rose onto the stage for him.
“You were superb,” he says when Jimin returns to the dressing room. He wears that shorter mask, the one that exposes his lips. “The greatest tenor in Paris.”
Jimin laughs, rips the rose out of his waiting hands, and crashes their lips together. The elation of a standing ovation fills Jimin with something hot and luminous, and he carries it to the Phantom’s lips. The other makes a surprised noise, stone still for a long moment before Jimin pulls away.
His lips part, and Jimin watches him lick his lips for a few moments, lost. “Why?”
Jimin shrugs. “Thank you,” he says, leaning up to kiss him again. This time, the breath whooshes out of the Phantom, his hands coming to squeeze Jimin’s waist desperately, so hard it almost hurts. He makes a low noise when Jimin pulls away again, dazed eyes following him.
“Am I forgiven?”
Jimin laughs, whatever anger that was in him had evaporated after the show. “Yes, you’re forgiven.”
The Phantom smiles like he’s almost forgotten how to use his mouth. “Thank you.” His eyes flit down to Jimin’s lips, and Jimin meets him wordlessly, kissing him fiercely, until the Phantom makes a small, helpless noise, like he can’t breathe.
“Haven’t you been kissed before?” Jimin asks him, concerned. The Phantom lowers his eyes with embarrassment.
“You poor thing,” Jimin coos, kissing the corner of his mouth. “Has no one been here to soften your heart?”
The Phantom looks too dazed to reply properly, weakly shaking his head. Jimin strokes his cheek, smiling despite himself. “Let’s go down.”
He is led a way he’s never gone before, down a side set of steps and then through a tunnel, behind a mirror, candles lighting themselves as the Phantom rushes past with Jimin’s hand held tight in his gloved grip.
Jimin doesn’t let him hesitate once they get in the room, pushing him down onto the closest chair he sees, some gaudy red chaise lounge. It’s not refined, a far cry from the composure the Phantom likes to keep, lips bitten red with anticipation. Even though his mask hides so much of his face, Jimin can see the way the blush in his cheeks continues down to his neck.
He still feels buzzed, running his hands through the Phantom’s hair as he stands between his spread legs. “Feel better yet?”
“Of course,” the Phantom replies, still breathless. Jimin bites his lip to hold in the grin. That’s probably too mean of him. The Phantom is so easy in his hands, willing to let Jimin tilt his head back, muss his hair, tug teasingly on the collar of his shirt.
“So handsome,” Jimin tells him sweetly, lowering himself onto his lap. The Phantom’s hands hold his waist immediately, gripping the flimsy, stained cotton of Jimin’s costume. “Yes, good, hold onto me.”
The Phantom’s eyes are starry when Jimin leans down to kiss him again. A little slower this time, making an effort to savour the lips he so rarely sees. The Phantom fumbles, trying to reciprocate, but Jimin knows he’s never been kissed before and ignores his shortcomings. His lips are soft and young, so different to the old codgers Jimin’s gone home with before. When Jimin presses a butterfly kiss to the mole on his lower lip, he makes a soft, broken noise.
He’s so pliant under Jimin, it fills it him with something heady. The skin of his neck is that same, perfect bronze as the rest of him. Jimin kisses down it slowly, drinking in the way the Phantom’s breath catches.
Jimin sits back for a moment, feeling immensely proud at the wrecked-looking Phantom beneath him. “Can I undo some of your buttons, angel?”
The Phantom swallows and nods, silent.
“That won’t do,” Jimin tells him, pressing a chaste kiss to his lips as his fingers make quick work of the buttons of the Phantom’s collar and chest. “I want to hear your voice. Music of the night, no?”
The Phantom shivers as Jimin parts his white shirt, exposing his chest and collarbones. All of his skin is perfect, prominent collarbones curling up to his shoulders. “Jimin.”
The redness of the blush continues all the way down to the Phantom’s chest, and Jimin runs his fingers over it. The hands on his waist tighten, almost painful. “Kiss me? Again?”
Jimin stares at him, studies the oddly innocent expression on his face. His eyes are dark and his face is so red, Jimin starts to giggle. “Of course, angel.”
The kiss is smoother this time, a little softer, until Jimin nudges the Phantom’s mouth open and he licks in boldly. The Phantom keens loudly, any small noises suddenly louder, and Jimin smirks. Under his hands, the skin of his chest is smooth and feverishly hot, and Jimin can’t resist but follow it down a little further until he reaches his nipples, and pinches both of them at once.
This time the Phantom gasps a little deeper, his voice coming with it. That deep, honey voice of his that makes Jimin feel warm. He catches the Phantom’s mouth in a bruising kiss to feel it on his lips.
“Good?” Jimin asks him, turning the Phantom’s head to the side with insistent kisses across his cheek and back down his neck.
“Y-yes,” he stammers, silenced when Jimin sucks at the corner of his collarbone.
“Do you want a mark, angel?” Jimin asks him, and the Phantom foregoes any verbal reply, instead nodding. Jimin doesn’t quite know why he finds it so endearing, pressing another kiss to his cheek as he returns to darken the mark.
There isn’t enough time, though. The skin has barely turned red by the time someone calls out, “Jimin! Park Jimin!”
Jimin bolts up. “Who’s that?” he hisses to the Phantom, who has to blink himself into awareness. “Answer me.”
“Jimin!” they call again, and Jimin hears footsteps getting closer.
“It’s Yoongi,” the Phantom says. Jimin sees the shadow of a frown fall over his eyes behind the mask. “Why is he here?”
“Jimin, come out!”
“How do you know Min Yoongi?” Jimin’s hands are shaking, and he climbs out of the Phantom’s lap. “You were never going to tell me? How did he find us?”
“He’s—I know him,” the Phantom insists, face red and hair a mess and everything completely different to it had been just a few moments prior.
Jimin balls his fists as Yoongi calls out to him again. “I’ll kill him.”
“No!” the Phantom cries, grabbing his hands. “No, Jimin, please. Please. I trust him.”
“He could ruin everything.”
“He won’t!” The Phantom takes Jimin’s hand and kisses his knuckles. “Please, believe me. He won’t. I trust him.”
Jimin shakes with anger and something more bitter, and rips his hands away. “Fine. But if he betrays me, not even you can protect him.”
The Phantom lowers his head. “Fine.”
Jimin glares at him for a moment longer before he walks towards the direction Yoongi’s voice comes from. He fixes his hair and wipes his face in one of the many mirrors before he finally walks up the staircase. Yoongi is standing there, holding a candle in one hand. “Jimin.”
“Yoongi.” Jimin eyes him for a few seconds longer. “Why are you here?”
His back is towards him when Jimin first approaches him. It’s mild outside, so he only has a light jacket on, and Jimin can see the outlines of his muscular shoulders. He’s not sure if Jungkook is taller, or if there is more weight to his presence. He’s only a year older, but he’s changed so much. He’s grown.
There’s a lump in Jimin’s throat he barely managers to speak around.
Jungkook whirls around, startled. Jimin smiles, something ripe and sweet and full of pain in his lungs. It makes him feel nauseous.
“Jiminie-hyung,” he says, so sweet and nostalgic Jimin almost runs to him. Jungkook is so much bigger now, Jimin wonders if their hugs would even feel the same.
“You’re here,” Jimin says, stepping closer so he can squeeze Jungkook’s arm. “Look at how you’ve grown.”
Jungkook smiles, and in the warm light of the lamps outside, his cheeks are rosy. “I came to see you sing.”
Jimin gapes at him. “But you must be so busy!”
Jungkook shakes his head, eyes down, but he’s smiling. “I’d been hearing about ‘Jean Pascal’ for months, but I really had no idea it was you, hyung. You sing so beautifully.”
“Stop this,” Jimin says. “Tell me how you’ve been. I missed you so much. I haven’t come to see you yet, I’m so sorry, Jungkook.”
Jungkook finally looks up at him, and Jimin is hit with the realisation he’s finally grown into his eyes. “I missed you too, hyung. I didn’t have time to come and see you before, either. I’ve been—good. It was hard at first, but it’s good now. I’ve learned a lot.”
“That’s great!” Jimin beams, patting his shoulders. “I’ll come see you soon. I need to see amazing of a dancer you’ve become.”
Jungkook’s smile falters. “Actually, hyung, I . . . I don’t think that will be possible.”
Something in his face is so sad, Jimin’s heart starts to race. His hands shake where they are on Jungkook’s arms. “Why not?”
“I—I’ve been invited to Russia,” Jungkook says awkwardly. “They’re starting new schools, and they—they asked me. And I’m going.”
Jimin’s mouth tastes like blood and he can’t speak. All he can do is watch as Jungkook repeats, a little firmer and a little softer and a little sadder, “I’m going, hyung.”
“That’s—that’s great!” Jimin says, the joy so forced it hurts to hear. Jungkook flinches. “When are you going?”
“That’s why I’m here,” Jungkook says. “It’s tonight. I wanted to come earlier, but we were performing too, and I didn’t have time, and—”
“It’s fine,” Jimin cuts him off, forcing a smile. “So, you—you came to say goodbye?”
Jungkook bites his lip and nods. Jimin feels something in his chest snap in two like that candle, so many nights ago, when Maurice had angered him. Ribs, splintering. Yet there is no anger. Just nausea, so deep it feels like Jimin is going to throw up all the blood in his body.
“Yes,” Jungkook answers softly. “I just—came to say goodbye. To see you one last time. Who’d have thought I’d watch you be the main singer! You’re amazing, hyung.”
Jimin’s eyes sting. “Can you stay? I’m sure the others will—”
“I can’t,” Jungkook says, voice shrinking. “I can’t stay, I’m sorry. My train is in an hour. I just—I wanted to see you. And tell you.”
Jimin swallows something down that must hurt more than glass. “I can come with you,” he says. “Let hyung walk you to the train.”
“I’m travelling with a group,” Jungkook says gently, eyes big and round and full of apology. “I can’t bring you. I’m sorry.”
“Oh.” Jimin says, taking his hands back. “I see.”
“I wanted to tell you sooner,” Jungkook says, “but I couldn’t—I can’t write. And I didn’t know how else. I’m sorry, hyung.”
“You don’t owe me anything,” Jimin insists, taking Jungkook’s hands and squeezing them fiercely. “I understand. I’m happy for you, Jungkookie, I really am. You deserve to be the best dancer in the world.”
Jungkook snorts, still shy. “I think you’re the best singer in Paris.”
“Don’t be silly,” Jimin says quickly, because time is slipping away from them and there’s so much he wants to tell Jungkook but he can’t find the words, can’t remember anything from the time Jungkook’s been gone because so soon he’ll be gone forever. “Do you—do you know if you’ll be coming back?”
Jungkook looks down and shrugs. Jimin understands.
“I’ll come see you,” Jimin promises him. “All the way in Russia. I’ll do it.”
Jungkook snorts, scrunching his nose. “You’ll embarrass me.”
“Good!” Jimin says. They lapse into silence and Jimin struggles to breathe. For a moment he just looks at Jungkook, how he’s grown, how he’s changed. His hair is a bit longer, his nose looks a little smaller, but when he catches Jimin staring he still makes that embarrassed, toothy face.
“You’re all grown up,” Jimin whispers, and Jungkook’s face softens.
Jimin can’t take it anymore, stepping forward and wrapping his arms around Jungkook’s chest. The younger hugs him back just as tightly, arms stronger than Jimin remembers, and his shoulder is just out of reach for Jimin to rest is chin on. He really has grown.
“Stay safe, Jungkookie,” Jimin whispers into his shoulder. “Stay healthy. Be strong. I’ll come see you one day, I promise. And—and you can come back whenever you want. Nothing is too much for you, alright, Jungkookie? Nothing.”
Jimin leans up and holds Jungkook’s face in his hands. This boy, all grown up.
Jimin’s hands shake when he tucks some hair behind his ear. “But it’s alright if you forget about me.”
Jungkook looks as if he might cry. “Jimin—”
“Live your life, Jungkookie,” Jimin tells him, even though the words feel like taking a knife to his own innards. “You don’t owe me or this place anything.”
Jungkook’s eyes shine with tears and he tucks his face in Jimin’s shoulder, like he’s smaller, like he’s so much younger. Jimin kisses the tip of his ear, red from the night-time chill. “You should probably leave now, if you don’t want to miss your train.”
“I love you, hyung,” Jungkook whispers against him, so grave and final Jimin feels the goodbye before it comes.
“I love you too, sweet Jungkookie,” Jimin says, ruffling his hair. “But you can’t be late. Get going! You have a world to conquer!”
Jungkook sniffs loudly, wiping his eyes. He stands back from Jimin and nods at him, scowling with determination. Jimin feels forever latch itself around his ankle like a chain and ball.
“Goodbye, Jimin,” Jungkook tells him, so soft and gentle the night almost steals it from Jimin’s ears.
“Goodbye, Jungkook,” Jimin replies. “Stop being sentimental now! Off you go!”
Jungkook withdraws in on himself with his smile. “I’m going!”
“Go faster!” Jimin calls after him. “Go!”
“Goodbye, hyung!” Jungkook calls again, now farther away. “Goodbye, Jean Pascal!”
“Brat!” Jimin yells, and Jungkook giggles into the night before he turns his back on him for good, and walks off towards the train station, to the train that will take him across the world, away from Jimin.
Jimin stares into the night, waiting for Jungkook to return, but he knows he isn’t.
Jimin knows, deep down, promise or not, that he will probably never see Jungkook again.
He turns and spits a mouthful of blood onto the pavement.
“Who was that Jungkook boy, to Jimin?”
“I think they were brothers.”
“Not by blood, don’t be silly. They were both orphans. Came to opera house to live as—servant boys, I think, but they were good at dancing.”
“Yeah, Jungkook got accepted into the Paris Opera Ballet! He was truly talented.”
“I’d say brothers like that have something deeper than blood.”
Jimin’s hands are shaking.
The Phantom’s lair smells of old candle smoke and sheet music and the crispness of water and Jimin’s hands are shaking. They have been for over an hour, ever since Jungkook disappeared into the night.
I’ve been invited to Russia, Jungkook says, voice sweet and clear and painful in Jimin’s memory. They’re starting new schools. They—they asked me. And I’m going. I’m going, hyung.
Jimin’s hands are shaking.
His eyes burn and he can’t breathe around something hot and poisonous in his throat. He tries to rest his face in his hands but they’re shaking, dammit, why won’t they stop shaking, why won’t his hands stop fucking shaking?
He clenches his fists but it doesn’t help. He picks up the thing closest to him, a stack of music, and hurls it. But paper is so unsatisfying, too prone to fluttering wherever it damn wants and it doesn’t sail into the water like he wanted.
“Jimin?” asks the Phantom, somewhere behind him, and his voice is coloured with something Jimin’s never heard before and he hates it, his hands shaking more and his entire face burning with something—something vicious and painful and he doesn’t know how to make it stop.
I’m going, hyung, Jungkook had said, big kind eyes and smile and that mole under his lip, the one on the tip of his nose Jimin never saw until he’d grown taller than him, until Jungkook had stopped sneaking into Jimin’s bed in the night, shaking from the cold or crying into his shoulder because it was hard, it was so damn hard. I’m going, hyung, he’d said, tainting that sweet, pure word they know with something bitter like longing and regret and Jimin’s fucking shaking hands. I just came to say goodbye. To see you one last time.
Jimin reaches for the next closest thing, some glass cup, cut with patterns and beautiful in the low, golden light of the candles, if his whole arm wasn’t shaking like he was about to be sick.
I can’t stay, I’m sorry. My train is in an hour. I just—I wanted to see you. And tell you.
Jimin throws the glass down and watches it shatter.
Jimin’s hands are shaking.
He stands, swaying dangerously, face burning and lungs heaving, trying to get to air. He leans on the closest table and picks up a saucer, throwing it down. The metal doesn’t break but it does make a terrible noise, a noise Jimin wishes he knew how to make.
I can come with you, Jimin had said.
I’m travelling with a group, Jungkook had said, sweet and sincere and leaving. I can’t bring you. I’m sorry.
Jimin throws down one of the candlesticks and screams.
I think you’re the best singer in Paris.
“He left me!” Jimin screams, dropping to his knees for a moment. The shattered glass cuts him through the linen of his pants but he doesn’t care. “He’s gone!”
“He left me!”
Jimin thrashes, throwing down everything he can reach until it shatters, but the rancid, boiling feeling doesn’t leave. The Phantom tries to catch his arm but Jimin throws him off so strongly the man falls. Jimin looks at him, strewn so pitifully on the floor, but the instant he considers helping him up he thinks of Jungkook, sweet Jungkookie, the boy he stole away from that damn witch because at least the paupers of the opera house could eat some bread and cheese in the night.
“He’s gone!” Jimin shrieks, picking up another glass but his hands are shaking so bad he drops it before he means to. “Jungkook! My Jungkookie!”
Jungkook is on the train to Moscow as he screams. He’s already forgotten about his pathetic hyung at the opera house.
Jimin screams, wet and ugly, and throws his fist into the closest mirror. Cracks spiderweb the glass but Jimin hits it again, disgusted by the red-faced demon staring back at him. The bastard, the orphan, the cursed child. He punches it again and again until it’s just shards at his feet, and he presses his head into the wooden backboard and screams wordlessly again.
“Why?” Jimin cries, kicking and screaming but the wall is stone and his tiny, eyesore of an existence can’t even scratch it. “Why did he leave me?”
“Jimin,” someone says, tugging him back by the waist but Jimin just screams again, hitting the wall with his palm. It’s a mess of rusty blood and spittle but Jimin doesn’t care. His fucking hands are shaking and Jungkook is gone. He’s gone and he’s not coming back, and Jimin can’t follow.
“All the way to Russia,” Jimin yells, his voice finally breaking. “He left me!”
“Jimin,” the Phantom tries again, hands warm and bare on his arms as he tries to pull him away from the wall, but Jimin just shakes him off, pounding his fist against it again, until he swears the stone hits bone.
“Why did he leave me?” Jimin wails, broken and hideous, but he can’t stop. “Bastard!”
“Calm down, Jimin,” the Phantom tries, trying to soothe him but it makes Jimin want to vomit. “Please calm down. You’re hurting yourself.”
“Fuck!” Jimin screams, kicking at the shards of glass on the ground. Some splatter into the water, some tinkle down the steps. “Fuck everything!”
“He was mine!” Jimin screeches, wheeling around to the Phantom. “He was my Jungkook! He loved me! I was his Jiminie-hyung! So why would he leave?”
“You know why he left, Jimin.”
Jimin does. He knows it’s his fault, knows he pushed Jungkook to go. Even deeper is that he wants Jungkook to excel, be the very best, but it hurts. He never imagined he’d have to sacrifice this much. Never realised he could lose Jungkook forever.
He tries to scream out again, but it breaks and turns into a sob in his throat. The fight falls out of him, his legs crumple from beneath him and he falls onto the mess of shattered glass and paper and tossed trinkets and riches, struggling to breathe through the spittle and snot and tears coating his face. “He’s gone.”
“Jimin,” the Phantom says, voice softening impossibly further, trying to pick him up but failing, so instead he follows Jimin down. “Jimin, listen to me.”
“He’s gone!” Jimin yells, but through his useless voice it sounds like a whisper. So damn pathetic. “He’s the only thing in this world I care about, and he’s—he’s gone.”
Perhaps Jimin is being hugged, because it feels like someone is trying to hold him, but he doesn’t care. He thrashes, kicking at the wall but all it does is scuff his feet. He sobs, ugly and broken and burning with pain. “He didn’t even want me to follow him to the train station!”
“Jimin,” the Phantom says, voice gentle. He pulls Jimin back against his chest and holds him firm. “Jimin.”
“Bring him back!” Jimin screams, pounding at his arms. “You’re the opera ghost! Bring him back! Bring him back to me!”
“I can’t,” the Phantom says, and the regret is so heavy in his voice Jimin sobs, tasting blood. “I can’t, Jimin. I’m sorry.”
Jimin wails brokenly, struggling to breathe in. He tries and fails a few times to say something, so instead he just sobs in frustration.
You take that boy away from us, and I’ll curse the both of you.
Jimin screams through his teeth, but the Phantom holds him back, arms like a vice around him until that burning feeling turns to stone in his bones. It feels like eternity. Until he wishes he’d never move again.
Jungkook is gone.
Perhaps this is what that old bitch meant when she pointed that gnarly old finger at him, calling whatever dreadful God upon him.
You shall never know love for as long as you live, Park Jimin, she’d cried, spitting blood and smoke and a thousand backhands across the face. It is wasted on you. That heart of yours by my word will be empty til the day you die! May you rot!
Jimin lowers his head into the Phantom’s arms wrapped around his chest and cries.
Jungkook is gone. The child with the gift of song, so sweet the birds stopped to listen. The only one in the world Jimin held in his heart.
Is this what Jungkook felt, when Jimin stole him away? When he promised him better things, like food and shelter and a blanket for warmth. A home. A place.
Did it feel like this?
Shaking hands and a burning face and his bones weighed down by something heavier than stone. Did it feel like breathing through blood?
It must have.
“He’s gone,” Jimin whimpers, shuddering to breathe. “Jungkookie is gone.”
Jimin hears the sound of something porcelain hitting the stone floor, and then the Phantom tucks his bare face into the crook of Jimin’s neck, holding him still.
“I’m sorry,” he says, breath warm and soft and reminding Jimin of everything he’s lost. “I’m so sorry, Jimin.”
What’s he meant to say? Placate him? Jimin wants to open his mouth to argue, scream something back at him, but his face contorts before he can and some pathetic, mournful noise is squeezed from his lungs.
Jungkook was the one person in the world Jimin loved. Even when he wished he could hate. His Jungkookie.
And now he’s gone.
“He was only here because of me,” Jimin whispers.
“How?” Jimin snaps, but he doesn’t have the energy to turn around. The Phantom presses his face further into Jimin’s neck.
“I was here when you came,” he says. “I saw you. He didn’t let go of your hand at all. They were going to throw you out, but I made them keep you.”
Jimin laughs wetly. “You were a child yourself.”
“I know.” The Phantom lets out a breath very suddenly. “I wanted what you two had.”
“That’s impossible.” Jimin’s breathing hiccups for a few moments. “We—we never had anything. I ruined his life.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“We lived with Travellers,” Jimin says, squeezing his eyes shut. If the Phantom weren’t holding him so tightly, Jimin thinks he could shatter like the glass. “Jungkook—could sing. So sweetly, the birds would stop to listen. I’ve never—never heard a voice like it. Even now. People would—they’d give him gold to sing their dead wife’s favourite song. He was so sweet. Like an angel.” Jimin grimaces, holding back a fresh wave of scalding tears. “And that damn witch!” he seethes, the venom returning to his voice, “she saw the way I looked at the opera house when we arrived in Paris, and she said she’d curse the song out of him if I stole him away. And I did.”
Jimin hiccups. “I was selfish. They loved Jungkook but hated me, because I could do nothing. They tried to leave me behind, at some backwater village, but I f-ound them again. The only one I’ve ever cared for, is Jungkook.” Jimin bites his lip to hold back another sob. “And I stole everything from him.”
“He never resented you,” the Phantom tells him.
“He never knew,” Jimin replies. Then he admits, softer, “but I wish he had.”
His hands are shaking, and he fists them in his hair. “I wish they’d left me behind that day.”
The Phantom says nothing for a long time.
Jimin, for the first time, regrets.
Regrets becoming Don José. Regrets meeting the Phantom. Regrets following Antoine that night. Regrets pushing Jungkook to dance. Regrets coming here. Regrets sprinting after that caravan in the snow.
Jimin waits for the curse to take effect. For Jimin’s heart to empty, for it to stop hurting.
It doesn’t. Won’t. Never has, for Jungkook.
“My mother was cursed when she became pregnant with me,” the Phantom says softly, hesitating, like he’d never said the words before. “I think I must have been the son of an affair, because she cursed me in the womb. That anyone who looked at my face, even my own mother, would die.”
Jimin eyes widen. The Phantom’s arms grip him tighter.
“My mother and the nurse who delivered me died the night I was born,” he continues, voice awfully calm. “That’s what I was told. You see, I ended up with a vile group of travelling performers. And merchants.”
Jimin can’t breathe, but not because of how tight the Phantom’s arms are around his chest.
“Min Yoongi rescued me when they brought me to Paris,” the Phantom continues. “He brought me down here to live.”
The Phantom’s arms tighten even more, until it’s almost painful, before he finally relaxes completely, arms going slack around Jimin’s middle.
“My name is—is—it’s Taehyung,” he whispers, his voice so thin he has to bite the word out. “I don’t want to pretend anymore. I’m sorry, Jimin.”
It’s underwhelming, but it still makes Jimin grimace, another rush of tears coming. Who is he meant to blame? Taehyung, the Phantom, for making it so they could stay? The witch, for cursing him? His mother, for giving birth to him? Should he not blame his own mother for that as well?
Is it Jimin’s fault simply for being born?
Jimin struggles to breathe. His reflection is scattered in the carnage of reflective glass, a red eye there, bloodied lips there, someone’s eyebrow and eyelid that he knows aren’t his.
“Taehyung,” he rasps, and the Phantom stiffens behind him.
Jimin tries to say it again, but he hunches forward instead, something painful rushing up his throat and behind his eyes. More tears.
“You can cry,” Taehyung tells him, voice warm and muffled, pressed into the exposed skin on the back of his shoulder. “There is no shame in crying. Not to me. Not for him.”
Jimin squeezes his eyes shut and gives in entirely, sitting on the ground in the wreckage of grief, held up only by Taehyung’s eyes as he cries until he swears his tears must turn to blood.
Jimin expects to wake up alone. He knows he’s asleep in a bed that isn’t his own because none of his limbs touch the sides, and there’s no cold draft. Instead, when he squints up at the ceiling, it’s a warm, candle-lit gold. He fell asleep in the Phantom’s lair.
Truthfully, Jimin expected to be carried back to bed in the middle of the night, not to stay down here. Yet here he is.
And he is not alone. He can hear the shuffling of paper from where he lies, tucked into the middle of the luxurious bed.
His eyes and throat feel red raw, but Jimin has to make sure they recover. They have another performance to get through tonight. Don José cannot be absent.
Slowly, Jimin sits up. As he thought, he’s still in under the opera house. Through the doorway he can see into the front area of the lair, where it meets the water. It looks as if it’s been cleaned up. Jimin leans his weight on his hands and flinches, skin burning with the movement. Ah, his hands. They’ve been dressed and bandaged, but he really destroyed them the night before.
The soft, warm beginnings of piano trickle into the room, someone obviously playing. It’s not any song from Carmen, something slower, more romantic and warm than anything from Carmen could be.
Wincing, Jimin climbs out of the bed. At least he’s still in his costume. The Phantom seems like more of an honourable man than Jimin ever thought.
His name is Taehyung.
Sure enough, when he steps around the corner, he can see the man seated before the piano. He’s not wearing a mask, and though at a distance, Jimin can see his profile. Dark eyebrows, the slope of his nose, how his lips curl. He must be handsome.
“What are you doing?” Jimin asks, voice hoarse.
Taehyung startles, and covers his face with his hand as he reaches around blindly for his mask. “I’m—”
He can’t seem to reach it. “Wait there, I’ll get it,” Jimin says, walking over. The mask is on the table next to the piano, obviously set aside once Taehyung decided to start working on music. Taehyung sits there obediently, hunched over and covering his face as Jimin retrieves it. The mask is surprisingly heavy.
“Here,” he says, holding out and looking away. “I won’t watch. Put it on.”
“Thank you,” Taehyung says softly, taking it from his hand. Jimin only has to watch the water for a few moments before he’s done.
“Did you rest well?” Taehyung asks him, sitting a little smaller in his seat than usual. Jimin does his best not to notice.
“I did,” he says. Pauses, trying to gauge the Phantom’s expression before he adds, “thank you.”
This time, those eyes behind the mask do not crinkle. Instead, they drop to the floor. “You’re welcome.”
Sweeping his gaze around the room, Jimin sees that Taehyung has indeed cleaned up after him. The mirror he destroyed has been removed, and now there’s a blank spot of naked stone where it once was. Jimin clears his throat. “I’m sorry for the mess I caused you.”
“You weren’t yourself,” Taehyung supplies. “There’s no need to apologise.”
Jimin nods mutely. He’s not going to make work for himself. If Taehyung is so desperate to excuse his behaviour, then let it be.
“I should go,” Jimin says quietly. “They’ll be wondering where I am.”
“They are doing rehearsals only with Adèle today,” Taehyung supplies. “I was listening. The reviews of her performance were . . . disgraceful to say the least.”
He hands Jimin a newspaper, even though he knows he can’t read. He leans over and points to one passage. “’A disappointing rendition of Habanera’,” he reads, then, pointing to several more, “’though her voice was pretty, it lacked power. Were it not for their Don José, I would have left the theatre after the first Acte’.”
Jimin smirks despite himself. “I knew that girl was useless.”
The Phantom rolls his eyes, tossing the paper back. “Regardless, you have the day off, Monsieur Park. Rest all you like.”
Jimin hovers, feeling for the first time, very uncertain. Jungkook leaving is bad enough, but the fact that the Phantom had seen him grieve makes him uncomfortable. And now he has his name. They have only each other, now.
Unfortunately, now they belong to each other equally as much.
“What were you playing, just before?” Jimin asks, making up his mind to stay down here with Taehyung.
If he’s surprised, Taehyung doesn’t show it. “A small thing,” he says, somewhat bashful. “A love song.”
“Did you write it?”
Taehyung nods, turning to the keys. “I can’t sing it for you with this mask.”
Jimin swallows around his parched throat. “You don’t have to.”
“I will play it,” Taehyung tells him firmly. “I prepared you a tea for your throat over there. You should eat something, too.”
Anything will do to escape the awkward tension that has settled over them. They know too much about each other. Jimin drinks the honey-sweet tea as Taehyung continues to play that slow, sweeping melody again. It’s such a pretty song Jimin doubts he ever wrote it for an opera, even though Jimin can tell which notes are meant to be words.
“It’s very pretty,” Jimin tells him when it ends, and Taehyung shrugs.
“Are you writing an opera?”
“Not yet, no,” he replies. “Maybe one day.”
Without false pretences and the anonymity of being the Phantom, Taehyung seems much smaller. Shyer, too. Jimin understands. There is safety in secrecy. In lying. In pretending to be someone you’re not.
“What are the words?” Jimin asks him, setting down his tea. Though Jimin can’t see him blush under the mask, he gets the distinct impression the Phantom is sheepish.
He reads them off the paper very awkwardly, “Say you’ll share with me one life, one lifetime. Say the word and I will follow you. Share each day with me, each night, each morning. Anywhere you go, let me go too. Love me, that’s all I ask of you.” He coughs into his wrist to finish, clearly embarrassed. Jimin smiles despite himself.
“Play it again,” Jimin says, setting down his tea. “Please.”
So quickly that his mask shakes, Taehyung nods.
As he plays, Jimin walks over to him. Now that he knows some of the words, Jimin is a little shocked at how sentimental it is.
When he hears the song finally reach the right part, he starts sings softly behind Taehyung. He’s so surprised, his hands stumble over a key and make an ugly noise, but he continues with determination. Jimin press his lips together and combs a hand through the hair on the top of Taehyung’s head.
“Anywhere you go, let me go too,” he croons to the music, wrapping his arms around the Phantom’s head. His hands stumble again, resuming the song a little slower. Jimin lowers his lips to his hair, the same intense, bitter feeling from last night rear its head again. He clenches his teeth and breathes in the rose smell that always follows Taehyung.
“Love me,” he whispers, so faint it’s lost in the warm chords of the piano. “That’s all I ask of you.”
The second night of performances does not improve from the previous. In fact, Jimin still feels so raw under his skin, the way he has since he lost sight of Jungkook in the night, that he doubts his performance is anywhere near as quality as it should be.
Even the afterparty is sombre. Instead of going back to Taehyung, Jimin ascends to the roof of the opera house and sits in the cool breeze.
With Jungkook gone, Jimin feels like he can’t get a grip again. The Phantom has become Taehyung. The opera is failing. Jimin buries his face in his hands and laments, what ever happened to ‘no one may be cursed twice’?
Now that Jimin has been in Taehyung’s bed, he finds it hard to fall asleep in the cramped cot in his dorm.
“Jimin!” someone hisses, shaking him awake. Jimin feels woozy and disorientated, woken up just after falling asleep. Min Yoongi is standing above him, looking very unkempt.
“What?” Jimin groans, trying to disappear under the blankets. “What time is it?”
“It’s very early,” Yoongi says, unceremoniously throwing off Jimin’s blanket. “You need to get up. It’s about Carmen.”
Jimin tries not to grumble as he throws his coat on over his sleepshirt, unsteadily following the pianist to the manager’s office. The candlelight hurts his eyes, and his hands really need to be freshly bandaged again.
The managers in the office are still wearing the same clothes from last night. They also look like they haven’t slept a wink all night. Madame Giry is notably absent.
“Jimin,” Namjoon greets, wiping at his eyes. “Good morning.”
“Good morning,” Jimin replies, groggy and uncertain. “Why have you called me here?”
The managers exchange a look, uncomfortable. “As you know, our current production is not going well.”
Jimin nods, mute. Are they going to shut down? Is that what this is?
Seokjin clears his throat, muttering something in Korean to Namjoon. They converse for a few seconds, until Jimin realises Namjoon is reminding Seokjin of the French words. They must be tired.
“We are changing the cast,” Seokjin says finally, more stilted than usual. Jimin blinks at him, not understanding, so Seokjin pulls a letter from his pocket and places it on the desk before him. They all know Jimin is illiterate, but he recognises the same red ink from last time. The Phantom.
“He sent us another letter,” Namjoon explains. “Where he outlined the risks and benefits of changing the score to suit you as Carmen instead. And, well, with the way it’s going right now—”
“Let’s just say we don’t have much to lose,” Yoongi supplies. He shrugs where he leans against the wall. “If he believes in you, we may as well try.”
Jimin isn’t in any position to argue, this time. Whilst he would still rather be the best singer in a shitshow, the managers have obviously made up their mind. And in the long run, being in the managers’ good books will get him much farther than talent.
“Very well,” he says. “I’ll do it. But you’ll have to find a man willing to be Don José to me.”
Namjoon sighs, “I know. Monsieur Berger is currently the only baritone we have.”
“I don’t think he’d feel comfortable seduced by a man,” Jimin rubs tiredly at his eyes, “performance or not.”
“He will not have a choice,” Seokjin cuts him off, so firm Jimin doesn’t dare complain again.
“Here,” Namjoon says, holding out to him a very familiar looking stack of sheet music. The part Taehyung wrote for him weeks and weeks ago. The one Jimin tried to crush under his feet. Truth be told, he’s a little ashamed of his actions. He doesn’t regret them, yet the shame lingers.
“Did he send you this?” Jimin asks, and Namjoon nods gravelly.
“Can it be done in a day, Park Jimin?” Yoongi asks him. Jimin scans the paper quietly, panic rising up the back of his throat but accompanied by something else.
If he pulls this off, the opera house will be forever in his debt.
“I can’t speak for the rest of the performers,” Jimin says, squaring his shoulders and looking back up at the pianist. “But I will be ready.”
Yoongi nods. “Then let’s go.”
There isn’t enough time in a day to get bogged down by rumours. By the time everyone is awake for breakfast, Jimin has already practiced the songs for the first half of the opera. It’s not perfect, not by a long shot, but Jimin has the distinct impression everyone is more impressed with him than they ever were with Adèle.
Hoseok arrives around midday, and though it’s clear Yoongi already told him, he hovers around Jimin for a few moments, beaming with excitement.
“You have no idea how much of a relief this is,” he whispers to him. “That poor girl was—well, we all know how she was.”
Monsieur Berger looks sceptical, but steps up to the role of Don José just the same. It’s clear he finds it awkward to be doing it with a man, but Jimin could care less. He needs this. He needs the managers to owe him something. The security that affords isn’t going to be easy, but it will be worth it.
Things will never have to go back to the way they were before. With this, Jimin will be remembered. Respected.
And perhaps he does owe a little bit of it to Taehyung.
The costume ladies are gracious as always, fond of Jimin by now. They pin a loose skirt around him and dig out some ratty old wig they promise to style in time for tonight, which makes Jimin laugh. They do find a red rose lying around, tied with black, and tuck it behind his ear.
There are twenty-seven songs in the opera, with Carmen in the vast majority of them. It should be impossible to learn that many in just over twelve hours, but Jimin is determined. He will pull this off.
The hours tick away. Jimin hears the girls hissing about him and what he stole from Adèle. How it isn’t fair. Jimin has to bite his tongue to keep from laughing. Just because Adèle wasn’t smart enough to realise things can be taken as easily as given doesn’t mean Jimin was. Talent cannot get you everywhere. The only thing that survives in this world is ambition.
They only have time to rehearse Berger killing him once. Jimin finds it easy, having critiqued Adèle doing this so many times.
Time is running out. They’re barely finished the run-through before the guests begin to arrive. Jimin has to wipe sweat off his face, subjecting himself to the costume ladies that powder his face and paint his lips red. He looks like a woman from a distance. It should be stranger to Jimin, but these days he’s so used to being Jean Pascal and not Park Jimin he doesn’t truly care anymore. It’s not really him on stage.
He’s sipping water backstage when he overhears Monsieur Berger.
“I can’t do this, it’s too strange,” he says to someone, another man. “He’s a man! Has he no dignity?”
Jimin watches him and waits to become angry, but he can only snort. Such a shame, Monsieur Berger, Jimin thinks, watching him continue to rant and rave about how uncomfortable it makes him to romance a man.
“Is there a problem, Monsieur?” Jimin calls out to him, and he sees the baritone startle, spinning around.
“I will not perform with you,” he hisses, and Jimin just smirks.
“Why should you care? You kill me at the end. Does that not appease your ego?”
“You are a man, Park Jimin!” He eyes Jimin in his costume with disgust. “What do you think you’re doing, playing Carmen?”
“If you had any dignity, you’d have said this in the morning so we had time to replace you,” Jimin tells him coldly. “Or do you want this opera to fail?”
“If it would teach you a lesson—”
“Have some modesty, Monsieur,” Jimin faux gasps. “Do you think yourself so important?”
Monsieur Berger scowls, and Jimin but help but to laugh.
“You’re expendable, dear Monsieur,” Jimin tells him. “Now, aren’t you meant to be leaving?”
“You will be cursed for this!” he hisses, storming off. Jimin howls with laughter.
Was it not Berger himself that told him that nothing may be cursed twice? That he had a good feeling about Jimin? How arrogant. And Jimin thought he was an agreeable man.
Soon enough, someone comes rushing backstage, exclaiming about where Monsieur Berger has gone. What Jimin didn’t expect was that it would be Min Yoongi.
“Jimin!” he yells when he sees him, steering him into an empty dressing room. “Please for the love of God you have something planned.”
“I only have a suspicion,” Jimin admits.
“We cannot risk everything on a suspicion,” Yoongi warns him, eyes narrow and dark. Jimin shrugs.
“Are you not risking everything already?”
Jimin sees him as soon as the curtains are lifted. The opening number, Sur la place chacun passe, involves a stage full of people to create a bustling street setting. There are soldiers, there are cigarette girls, urchins, citizens, and then Carmen. His job is to stand back and pretend to smoke as he watches the soldiers pretend to converse while the musicians play and the citizens, Morales and Micaëla sing.
Even from here, Jimin can see him. As if he’d look away.
He’s chosen to add a soldier’s hat to his costume, pulled low over his eyes, and paired it with a shorter mask, one so short it exposes even the tip of his nose. His eyes find Jimin’s immediately, and though he is stony-faced and in character, Jimin swears he sees him smile.
With each musical number, Jimin moves a little closer, until it’s finally time to sing Habanera. He doesn’t even look out to the audience, prowling around the Phantom as he sings, stealing the rose from his hair and teasing him the same way he did, all those weeks ago.
It’s less personal to sing it out for the whole audience to hear, but the gasp that reaches all the way to the stage when Jimin whisks the rose past the dip of Taehyung’s hips is worth it.
It barely feels like a job, when all Jimin’s role is to seduce Taehyung, something he’s been doing for months.
He never thought a role could be this easy. Sure, Escamillo is a piece of work, but Carmen’s entire character is about toying with every man she meets, so Jimin could care less.
Having heard his warm, honey voice over and over, Jimin should have expected The Flower Song to be beautiful already, but even that couldn’t have prepared him for what awaited him. Taehyung sings in the way critics like to rave about, call him a tormented soul in the next day’s papers. Jimin is meant to look away in this scene, act like he doesn’t care, but he can’t. It’s all he can do to watch Taehyung perform like he was born for the stage, even though his eyes stay on Jimin’s.
Ah, Jimin thinks, as the opera passes by.
He’s grown quite fond of the Phantom of the opera.
Even when he has to pretend to stab him, Jimin is willing. Cuss him out though he may, as per the script, the lyrics, singing that he never loved him, until he’s meant to lie dying in Taehyung’s arms as the victorious Toreador song plays in the background, Jimin can’t help but think of it.
Even as his hand squeezes Taehyung’s wrist white-knuckled where he pretends to stab Jimin, even lying in his arms.
I will not die for you, Jimin thinks as he stares out into the crowd, who all sit with their hands covering their mouths. It is only you who must be willing to die for me.
They bow for the finale to applause so loud Jimin can’t help but kiss both of Taehyung’s cheeks, his red lipstick leaving imprints of his lips on both.
Jimin has never seen him this happy.
Truly, he has become so found of this opera ghost.
Jimin pushes Taehyung down onto the bed, still wearing his ratty Don José costume. The famed opera ghost looks distraught already, two marks of red on each cheek like a violent blush and his hair a mess. Jimin has to pause just to look at him, breathing hard from their sprint down the halls and stairs to get back here, escaping any celebration purely for this. Jimin wonders if Taehyung even knows what’s going to happen yet.
He doesn’t wait too long, crawling over him and melding their lips together, tasting the bitter lip colour and salty sweat from performing for so long. Taehyung’s hands shake where they grasp the flimsy cotton of Jimin’s costume.
“Do you want it off?” Jimin asks him, combing Taehyung’s sweaty hair off his forehead. “Hmm?”
Taehyung lips his lips. “Yes,” he says at last. Jimin grins, climbing off him to step out of the skirt he had to wear as Carmen, revelling in the way Taehyung’s eyes darken when he sees Jimin’s bare legs beneath.
“You have to help me with the bodice,” he says, turning his back. “I can’t untie it.”
He hears Taehyung’s breathing hitch before the slightest skittering of fingers reach his back. He touches like he doesn’t know how, like he’s forgotten to find the end of the ribbon. Jimin doesn’t correct him, instead letting him smooth his hands down his shoulders until he remembers there’s more skin underneath as well.
“How did they even put it on?” he grumbles after a minute of struggling. Jimin laughs.
“Come on, angel,” Jimin teases. “Can’t you even figure out something that simple?”
“I can,” Taehyung grumbles, and sure enough he loosens the bodice just enough to help Jimin wriggle out of it, pulling the rose out of his hair in the process.
“It fell,” Taehyung says, still looking at the sad thing even as Jimin climbs back onto him, almost bare. Jimin rolls his eyes.
“You can get me a new one later,” he says, kissing his cheek and neck until it’s smeared with the bright red on his lips, until Taehyung’s attention finally comes back to him. “Now, it’s your turn.”
Jimin can’t see the rosy blush down his neck as clear as last time under how much rouge he’s left behind, but he can see that Taehyung seems shy, eyes looking away as he fiddles with the hem of his shirt.
“We don’t have to,” Jimin tells him quietly, rubbing his stomach through the shirt. He sees Taehyung swallow, still uncertain. “I just want to take care of you, angel. You sung so beautifully.”
“Will—will you be gentle?” Taehyung whispers, red high on his cheeks and his eyes shining. “I’ve never— I’ve never.”
Jimin can’t help but smile, oddly endeared. “Yes,” he promises, and Taehyung finally looks back up at him, releasing the hem of his shirt so Jimin can pull it up and over his head, that same, caramel skin appearing. Jimin doesn’t hesitate to run his hands over it, watching the way Taehyung shivers under him.
“So sensitive, angel,” he teases, and Taehyung turns his face away. Even under all the red from Jimin’s lips down this side of his neck, Jimin can see the redness of his skin growing. “And so shy.”
“Don’t tease me,” Taehyung whispers, hands fisting in the sheets now that he has no shirt. Jimin hums, pressing a kiss to the bone of his hip.
“Can we do legs now?” Jimin asks him, and Taehyung doesn’t even look at him as he raises his hips, letting Jimin strip him mutely. “So perfect, all of you,” Jimin says, smirking when Taehyung grows even redder.
“Why are you so quiet?” Jimin asks him, settling above him comfortably again. “Speak to me, Phantom.”
Even though Jimin knows his name, the fake one falls easily from his lips. Taehyung glances up at him, licks his lips, and then looks away again. “I’m embarrassed.”
“Don’t be,” Jimin says, guiding him back for a kiss. “You’re so handsome. Such a precious boy. Are you my precious boy, Taehyung?”
Taehyung shivers when he says his name, staring up at him. “There was never anyone but you.”
“Oh?” Jimin smirks, ego rapidly inflating. He scratches Taehyung under the chin as he beams at him. “You’re so good. I just wish you could be rid of this mask.”
All at once, Taehyung’s expression hardens. “No.”
Jimin kisses him again, slow and deep enough for Taehyung to relax under him again. “Why not?” he asks, even though he already knows. It’s cruel of him, maybe.
“No one must ever see my face,” Taehyung whispers, looking pained, even though he leans comfortably in Jimin’s hands.
“I never said anything about seeing it,” Jimin says, and Taehyung’s eyes widen. He smiles, “what if you covered my eyes, Taehyungie? Would you take it off then?”
“I—” Taehyung’s protests die in his throat. “Only if I was sure.”
Jimin kisses him again, overly chaste, before he gets up and reaches for the silky curtain ties hanging on the wall. They are long and thick enough to cover his eyes properly, and then finally, he can free Taehyung of that cursed mask.
“Here, take it,” he says, climbing back onto the bed. “Cover my eyes, angel.”
“You won’t enjoy it if you can’t see,” Taehyung protests, clutching the silk tie to his chest.
“Fear not, my desire for you cannot be concealed by a piece of cloth,” Jimin says, overly sombre, and Taehyung slaps him with the fabric.
“Well, if you’re so desperate,” he acqueises at last, sitting up.
It takes a long time because Taehyung’s hands are shaking so badly with anticipation. Jimin has to help him, holding it to his face as he struggles to tie it tight enough. How odd, that the Phantom would be so gentle he’s hesitant to tie something too tight.
It’s not completely dark with his eyes covered. He can still see the golden light from the candles around the edges, but no definite shapes or details. He sits down heavily, waiting for Taehyung to set aside the mask before he can come back and orientate Jimin.
“Is it off?” Jimin asks when he feels the mattress dip.
“Yes,” comes the reply, much more hushed now. Jimin feels along the sheets for a few seconds before he touches skin. He must have surprised Taehyung, because he hears a sharp intake of breath, before a pair of hands are closing around his wrists and steering him into a different position.
Once steady, Jimin maps out Taehyung’s body blindly with his hands. His leg, his hip, stomach, chest and then his face. He can feel Taehyung’s breath stutter as he traces his cheek with his fingertips, reaching past where the mask cuts off, over his cheekbone and then tracing against the feathery feeling of eyelashes.
“So handsome,” Jimin repeats, and Taehyung makes a noise not too unlike a sob.
Jimin can’t resist leaning down to kiss him again, pressing too hard to try and feel Taehyung’s face against his, but that damn blindfold gets in the way and he almost swears. He doesn’t, instead slowing down and softening. Pressing a chaste kiss to his lips and nose and the ridge of his brow, his forehead, high on his cheeks so he can feel Taehyung’s eyelashes fluttering against him. His face must be a mess of red, now, the last of it coming off from Jimin’s stage make-up. He looks desperately through the edges of the blindfold to try and see anything, but he can’t.
He continues to press kisses downwards, bracing a each hand on Taehyung’s arms. When he feels down the length of it, he can determine how tight Taehyung grips the sheets, the sinewy muscles of his forearm hard to the touch.
“Relax, angel,” Jimin purrs in his ear, lips finding the same spot he tried to leave a mark in the last time they did anything like this, as brief as it was. As told, the tension falls out of Taehyung’s arms. “Good boy.”
Taehyung’s chest is firm and a little bony as Jimin kisses it. He runs a hand down the sides of his ribs, soaking up Taehyung’s shaky exhale.
“Do you remember this from last time?” Jimin asks him, hand finding one of Taehyung’s perked nipples. Underneath him, Taehyung wriggles a little bit, which Jimin assumes is a nod. “I need your words, angel.”
“I remember,” Taehyung answers quickly, voice reedy. Jimin makes a pleased noise and then pinches it roughly, making Taehyung jerk.
“Jimin!” he whines, high and strained. Jimin only laughs, a little mean, and replaces it with his mouth to soothe it. This time there’s no words, just a punched out noise and Taehyung’s ribs twitching under Jimin’s mouth.
He stays there for long enough to be mean, licking and sucking until Taehyung finally pries a hand off the sheets and fists it in Jimin’s hair instead, pulling painfully. Jimin releases him for a moment, just enough for Taehyung’s hands to slackens, and then blows a stream of cold air where he knows the skin is still wet.
Taehyung gasps, so surprised something throaty follows it.
“Is it that you want me to stay here all night?” Jimin asks him, blindly looking towards where he thinks Taehyung’s face is. “Is that what you want, angel?”
“N-no,” Taehyung stammers, pulling his hands out of Jimin’s hair.
Jimin smiles, “then, what is it that you want?”
He listens to Taehyung breathe for a few moments instead of answering, running his hands down his ribs and then further, to his waist and his hips and then pausing. “Do you want that, angel?”
It’s silent for a little bit longer before Taehyung finally whispers, “yes.”
“So good,” Jimin praises, shuffling a little lower so he can kiss Taehyung’s sternum, his belly, down until the downy hair at his navel starts. “My angel.”
His hands reach the cotton of Taehyung’s undergarments and he pauses. By now, Taehyung is panting loudly, each breath shifting his stomach. Here, the skin is feverishly hot. Impatient, Jimin skims his hands lower, to where the fabric tents, and squeezes.
Taehyung keens brokenly, legs squirming either side of Jimin.
“Jimin,” he pants, and based on the rustling of sheets, Jimin supposes he’s gone back to gripping the sheets.
“Yes, angel?” Jimin asks, leisurely stroking up and down his length. He wishes his eyes were uncovered so he could see it for real, because in his hand it feels bigger than anyone Jimin’s been with previously. Puts them to shame, more like.
“Pl-please,” Taehyung stutters, breath hitching as Jimin continues his ministrations. “Jimin!”
“Just be patient,” Jimin shushes him, struggling to find the waistband without his eyes. He does eventually, fingertips hooking around the band. “Hips.”
Obediently, Taehyung lifts them off the bed for him. He even helps to kick them off while Jimin just kneels there.
Once he lays back down properly, Jimin runs his hands down the dip of his thighs until he reaches the base of Taehyung’s cock and holds it in both hands, hot and heavy. Surprisingly, Taehyung doesn’t react that much, just exhaling shakily.
“Don’t muffle your noises,” he scolds him. “I want to hear you.”
Taehyung’s in the middle of answering when Jimin ducks down to kiss the juncture of his hips, then to the hot skin just above his hands. Taehyung whimpers loudly, legs shuffling as he struggles to stay still. Taehyung continues to whimper as Jimin laves at it wetly, moving up to the head, lowering his mouth around it.
Taehyung cries out, something high and broken, and Jimin slicks roughly at the slit, salty and something distinctly Taehyung, before he sinks down a little further.
Although, Jimin is a little disappointed he doesn’t taste like roses.
He sinks down a little lower, feeling the drool leak from his mouth, and then Taehyung’s hip kick a little, up into his mouth. Jimin has to pull off, but the instant he does Taehyung whimpers, a hand tightening in Jimin’s hair. Jimin can’t see his face but he wishes he could, because he knows it must be flaming and red and utterly debauched.
“Would you rather do all the work yourself, angel?” Jimin purrs, stroking the inside of his thigh as he waits for an answer. “Since you seem so desperate.”
There’s some rustling of sheets, and Jimin laughs. “Words, angel. I can’t see you.”
“Yes,” Taehyung whines, increasingly shameless.
“Anything you want,” Jimin tells him, taking Taehyung’s cock into his mouth again. This time Taehyung’s hips roll up immediately, and Jimin stays lax, letting him take what he needs. One hand in his hair becomes two, pulling almost painfully, but Jimin lets him.
Taehyung thrusts shallowly and unsteadily into Jimin’s mouth, whining loudly. Again, Jimin wishes he could see him. Wishes he could see the expression on Taehyung’s face as he watches his own length disappear past Jimin’s lips, wet and dripping with his spit.
His hands begin to tremble where they clutch at his hair, the head of his cock hitting deeper with every thrust. He can’t see whether Taehyung’s toes are curling, how close he’s getting, only able to hear his breathing get faster as he chases his release and the slick noises of Taehyung hitting the back of his throat.
Jimin gathers the mess of on his thumb and smears it down, past his cock and and balls and perineum, until he can run it over his hole. Taehyung’s hips twitch but he doesn’t stop, thigh muscles twitching against the rest of Jimin’s hand. He continues to rub circles around the puckered skin, waiting for a reaction, but Taehyung seems too far gone to care, thrusting harder and more sporadically.
Jimin doesn’t move to stop him, enjoying how desperate Taehyung is for only is mouth. He can have it.
“Ji-Jimin,” Taehyung whimpers brokenly, high in the back of his throat. “Feels so good.”
His voice climbs higher as he gets closer. Jimin can’t help but moan around his dick in reply, the vibrations making Taehyung whimper and tremble, his thrusts finally pausing.
Jimin pulls off then, licking the mess of his lips. “We can’t finish yet, angel,” he tuts, “not when we still have all night.”
He listens to Taehyung pant for a few breaths, sounding utterly spent. “M’sorry,” he says quietly.
“Don’t be,” Jimin says, giggling a little. He leans up, feeling for his face until Taehyung takes his hand and puts it on his neck himself. He leans down to kiss his lips, but he knows he misses, instead kissing somewhere on Taehyung’s nose. Even though he’s breathless, Taehyung laughs with him.
Jimin is going to have to admit soon that he’s fond of this opera ghost. He strokes at Taehyung’s cheek and, safely blinded by the silk tie, doesn’t worry about whatever his expression is.
He doesn’t let it last too long, though, leaning down and whispering hotly into Taehyung’s ear, “can I fuck you, Taehyung?”
Taehyung’s breath hitches, and so close to Taehyung’s mouth, Jimin can hear the broken noise that never quiet crawls out his throat. “Please.”
The laugh escapes him before he can stop it, and Jimin kisses his ear before he moves away.
“Wait,” Taehyung says suddenly. “You’re still . . .”
“Still what?” Jimin asks, sitting back on his heels. He he has to lean a little on Taehyung’s knee to stay upright without his eyes.
“Your underwear,” Taehyung starts, voice thick with embarrassment. Jimin grins.
“You can undress me any time,” he says, tracing a line down his inner thigh.
Taehyung’s silent for just a breath before he asks, “Can I now?”
Jimin snorts, “of course.”
Taehyung’s hands are shy where they skitter up from his knees. Sitting up, he’s still taller than Jimin, his warm breath hitting the hairs on Jimin’s forehead. Jimin doesn’t move, calmly waiting for Taehyung to hesitantly reach down for his waist.
“You touched me so boldly before, angel,” Jimin jokes, and it’s enough for Taehyung to huff.
“I just . . .” His hands settle on Jimin’s waist and stills, “you’re so beautiful.”
No one’s ever said that as genuinely and breathlessly as Taehyung, so Jimin’s cheeks flame. “That’s a little shameless of you.”
“It’s true,” Taehyung insists, capturing Jimin’s lips in a soft kiss and surprising Jimin. Even his hands are soft, finally reaching for Jimin’s undergarments and lowering them. “Like those statues of gods. Perfect.”
Jimin doesn’t trust himself to reply with something that isn’t mean, so he stays quiet. He loops his arms around Taehyung’s neck so he can kneel again, allowing Taehyung to properly pull down his pants and make him bare.
“Jimin,” Taehyung starts, voice thin. “Can— can I—”
“Of course, angel,” Jimin replies into his neck, the heady scent of roses filling his lungs. Taehyung’s hands are so big, the wrap around his own length easily, even though he’s so unsure. After so long neglecting it, it feels so good Jimin sighs deeply, holding Taehyung tighter.
“Even here, you’re perfect,” Taehyung whispers, and now Jimin snorts.
“I think that’s enough for now,” Jimin says, tapping his shoulders. “Don’t you want me inside you, angel?”
Taehyung’s whole body freezes. Jimin can hear his heart beat thunder in his neck. “Oh.”
Jimin pushes him down again, shaking his bottoms off the rest of the way himself. “Do you have any oil we can use?”
“Y-yeah,” Taehyung stutters, almost bowling Jimin over with how quickly he turns to the side. Jimin listens to the tinkling of glass bottles knocking each other with how eager he is. Jimin waits with his hands out for Taehyung to place it in his palms. It’s a small bottle, probably a vial, and when Jimin uncaps it, the rich smell of roses flows out.
“Always you and roses,” Jimin says fondly, pouring some out onto his hand. “Are you ready, angel?”
Taehyung makes a small affirmative noise in lieu of speaking, and Jimin caps the bottle again and sets it aside. Taehyung’s legs are trembling with anticipation, so pent-up even his hole flutters when Jimin finally touches it.
“Have you done this before?” Jimin asks him, spreading the oil around before he finally presses in a finger. Taehyung swallows him up easily, so Jimin is almost sure already that he has.
“Only t-to myself,” Taehyung whispers, embarrassed. Jimin hums, pressing in deeper and massaging his hip with his other hand.
“It must feel better when you do it,” Jimin says, slowly easing the single digit in and out. “You have much bigger hands than me.”
“I—” Taehyung’s voice catches when Jimin teases his rim with two fingers, slowly stretching him further. “It’s better with—with someone else.”
Slick with oil, Jimin can easily push two fingers to the first knuckle. “Did you ever think about this? About me stretching you open?”
“Mngh—” Whatever he was going to reply with dies once Jimin scissors his fingers, just a little. “Yes.”
Jimin smirks. “What did you imagine me doing, angel? Tell me.”
Taehyung whines loudly, and Jimin has to grab his leg to keep him from writhing too much, two fingers still pressed inside him. “I used to— come and listen to you in the chapel.”
“You’d finger yourself before God?” Jimin teases, and Taehyung whines again.
“No!” he yells, “I’d just—when you sung, your expressions were so— ah, Jimin.”
Jimin begins to fuck him lightly with two fingers, wishing he could see. Maybe one day, he’d watch his fingers catch at Taehyung’s rim, the way he must be gripping the sheets so hard, head tipped back, golden skin glistening with sweat. Jimin’s hand itch to rip off the blindfold, but he just grips Taehyung’s leg to him harder, massaging at Taehyung’s inner walls with his fingertips.
“What did you do, when I was in the chapel?” Jimin asks him, not letting up even when he can hear the quiet, desperate noises Taehyung makes. “Did you want to come steal me away?”
“The— the way you sang, a-and d-anced—” he can’t talk smoothly when Jimin pulls his fingers out to tease him again. “You were all I could think about.”
Jimin hums, slowly easing in a third finger. “Does it hurt, angel?”
“N-no,” Taehyung says quickly, hips rolling back on his fingers. “It’s good.”
Jimin slaps his thigh lightly. “Don’t move.”
He grins when Taehyung does as he’s told, always so willing and pliant underneath Jimin. He takes a third finger easily, and Jimin doesn’t push his fingers in too deep to avoid pushing him too far. His own cock throbs painfully, desperate to finally be inside, but he has to wait. He can’t hurt Taehyung with his own impatience.
“If you liked me so much, why did you never approach me?” Jimin asks conversationally, pushing three fingers in to his knuckles. Taehyung exhales heavily, adjusting to the stretch.
“I was scared,” Taehyung says, voice shaking. “You looked and s-ung like an angel, I was, mngh, scared I’d taint you.”
Jimin hums, pulling out his fingers to add more oil. “And then?”
“And then,” Taehyung says, inhaling sharply when he sees Jimin slick up his own cock, “Rene.”
Jimin says nothing, shuffling closer. Taehyung’s legs are trembling. “After that, I knew you would be willing to let me come to you.”
“You couldn’t taint me,” Jimin tells him softly. “Not when you’re so gentle.”
“Are you—” Taehyung sounds too shy to say it. “Will you— put it in now?”
Jimin grins. “Are you ready?”
“Yes!” Taehyung says, enthusiastic. Jimin laughs a little. He puts Taehyung’s legs over his shoulders and shuffles closer still, until his cock brushes the back of Taehyung’s thigh.
“I can’t see,” Jimin reminds him, “so you have to catch me if I fall.”
Taehyung grunts something affirmative, locking his ankles behind Jimin’s head. “I will.”
It’s hard to push in without his eyes, with the oil making it so slippery. Yet every time Jimin’s cockhead touches against Taehyung’s rim he whimpers. After the fourth failed attempt Taehyung has to reach down and pull his buttock to the side so Jimin’s dick finally catches.
Even though he said he was ready, Taehyung is tight. Almost too tight, and Jimin squeezes his eyes shut so hard he sees stars. Taehyung moans, low and breathless, legs tensing. It’s so hot and tight Jimin’s scared to move in case he comes too early. He feels like he might, lightheaded and panting already. When Taehyung rolls his hips back against him, recovering much faster than him, Jimin feels punched-out.
“Can you move yet?” Taehyung whines, hips shifting. “Jimin.”
Jimin grips Taehyung’s thighs tight and buries himself to the hilt. Taehyung is still impatient despite the way he clenches around him sporadically, wriggling his hips.
“Please,” Taehyung whines, legs tightening around Jimin’s neck. “I’m so close, Jimin.”
“I know, angel,” Jimin replies, voice thin. He rolls his hips shallowly, still trying to adjust himself. “Me too.”
It only takes a little while of rocking them together before Jimin collects himself enough to start thrusting, slow and deep. It’s addicting, the way Taehyung whines when he pulls back and chokes when he snaps back in, aiming for his sweet spot every time. He refuses to speed up even when Taehyung begs him for it, instead keeping the tortuously slow pace. Taehyung comes apart so prettily, voice high and sweet, interrupted only by the sound of their slapping skin.
It’s not enough yet, so Jimin fumbles to reach for the oil again and pours more over where they join, fucking in with a wet noise. Taehyung whimpers as it drips down his crack, dripping even further to the sheets. It’s messy and smells so intensely of roses and Taehyung now that Jimin’s head spins, thrusting in so hard Taehyung yelps, held back only by Jimin’s grip on his legs.
When Taehyung’s legs start to tremble too badly he puts them back down, leaning forward and fumbling with shaking hands to find his lips to kiss. Taehyung moans into his mouth, too far gone to care, and Jimin kicks his hips into him, the new angle making him choke for a moment.
“Stay here,” Taehyung gasps, wrapping his arms around Jimin’s neck and holding them together, so close they’re practically panting into each other’s mouth as Jimin fucks into him, still slow and steady.
“You’re so good,” Jimin tells him, their lips catching when they speak. “Take me so good, angel.”
Taehyung sobs a little against him, and when Jimin reaches up to cup his face, he finds his cheeks wet. “Are you close? You can come if you’re close.”
Taehyung’s breath stutters, clenching around Jimin when he thrusts in next. “Say my name,” he whispers, voice small and shaking.
Jimin reaches a hand between then and wraps it around the head of Taehyung’s cock. “Taehyung,” he whispers into his mouth. “So good, Taehyung. You can let go now.”
Taehyung whimpers against him, arms tight around his neck, and comes the instant Jimin digs his thumb into the slit, clenching down on Jimin so hard he can’t move. He sounds so small when he comes, just that tiny noise, holding onto Jimin like he’s scared.
“You did so well,” Jimin praises, kissing his limp lips over and over. “Such a precious boy, Taehyungie. My angel.”
When his arms finally relax, Jimin starts to thrust into him again, making Taehyung mewl, over-sensitive even as Jimin whispers praise into his shoulder. His arms shake an there’s no rhythm, just chasing his own release as Taehyung still comes down. He’s so, so close, he can feel it, Taehyung’s spent hole tightening intermittently.
Everything is too much; the sounds of slapping skin, of Taehyung’s short breath, the smell of roses from the oil and the prickling pain of Taehyung’s fingernails digging into his back, and his release slams into him suddenly, arms giving out as he falls onto Taehyung’s chest, so intense he can’t breathe for a long, weightless moment.
By the time he can gasp for breath again, he can tell Taehyung is wincing at having him still inside, so he pulls out slowly and flops back on top of him. For a while they just breathe together, Taehyung idly stroking Jimin’s back.
And then, suddenly, Taehyung starts to giggle. It’s infectious, spreading to Jimin as well, giddy and content.
“We should wash up,” Jimin groans, exhausted, and Taehyung voices his assent, but neither of them move.
“You can take that blindfold off,” Taehyung says, tapping it between Jimin’s eyes. “I’ll put—”
“Don’t,” Jimin cuts him off. “I like knowing you’re not wearing it.”
Taehyung makes another one of his embarrassed noises, squirming enough that Jimin rolls off him. “You’re shameless,” Taehyung huffs, but Jimin feels his arms slide around his waist anyway. Jimin can’t help but laugh, hugging Taehyung’s neck.
“I think you’re more shameless than me,” Jimin says. “Listening to me in the chapel, all these years. Did you stay there all night with me? Just listening?”
“I never should have told you,” Taehyung laments, and Jimin bursts out laughing again. “Stop it! Fine, I did. All the time. Your voice wasn’t . . . bad, but it wasn’t that great either, when you started. But you kept going back, and once you started improving, I kept going back too.”
Jimin traces the shape of Taehyung’s face with the back of his hand, trying to memorise the feel of it.
“You’re so handsome,” he says suddenly, and Taehyung sighs.
“I know a handsome face when I grope one,” Jimin says proudly, prodding Taehyung’s forehead.
“Don’t,” Taehyung says, all the good humour in Taehyung fading out. “I’m cursed. It can’t be handsome. If you saw it, you would— you would—”
“Shh,” Jimin soothes, tugging Taehyung’s head to his chest. “It’s alright.”
Taehyung sniffles against him. Jimin’s never stayed this long with someone before, but he knows things like this happens, that tight bundle of emotions buried deep within coming loose. He doesn’t truly know how to comfort Taehyung, but he continues to hold him and comb his hair back just the same.
“When I was young,” Taehyung says quietly, voice muffled by Jimin’s skin, “they would cover my face with a bag. And they’d”—his voice catches wetly, arms tightening around Jimin’s middle—“they’d put a canary in my hands and pull of the bag, and that poor bird would die in my hands.”
Jimin presses a kiss to the top of his head and whispers small things to him.
“How did you escape?” Jimin asks him softly, remembering what he said about Yoongi.
Taehyung’s cheeks are wet against his chest. “The man that kept me, a—a merchant, I think, he came to give me dinner, and I killed him.”
Jimin’s hands pause where they’re stroking his hair, and then resume. “And Yoongi saw you?”
Taehyung nods. “He knew they’d kill me too, so he brought me here.”
“And then I came after you,” Jimin says, piecing it together. Taehyung nods against his chest.
“Even from the start, I knew you were different,” Taehyung tells him. “I made Yoongi keep you. I used to wait at the bottom of the steps when you brought me food. I was so desperate to talk to you, but I was—afraid. What if I killed you too?”
“You won’t,” Jimin tells him firmly. “I won’t let you.”
Taehyung laughs wetly against him. “Do you promise?”
“I promise,” Jimin says. “We belong to each other. We have to stay together. Always.”
Taehyung rests his brow against Jimin’s shoulder and sighs. “Thank you, Jimin.”
“For you, Taehyung,” Jimin mutters into his hair, “anything.”
“That Jean Pascal! I never expected that from him!”
“He was amazing! I was seduced too!”
“Has anyone seen Monsieur Berger?”
“No, but have you seen Adèle? I haven’t seen her since breakfast.”
“That opera house has something special, I’m telling you!”
“I met that Jean Pascal man for an interview, you know? He was so stunning in person. He learned Carmen’s whole part in a singe day! Can you believe?”
“Who did they have playing Don José? He was marvellous!”
“Please, has anyone seen Adèle?”
“Louise got to her head! Let her go.”
“I’m returning to see them perform again tonight, actually. I have no doubt it’ll be just as splendid.”
“That Jean Pascal is such a remarkable man. He must have enchanted their patron angel of music!”
“No one is cursed twice, as they say! Enduring that terrible girl was worth it for the new version.”
“You know, his brother went to Russia for ballet? They must be so talented. What’s his name, do you know?”
When he wakes up, Taehyung is fast asleep. He’s a deep sleeper, so even when Jimin shuffles around, he does not wake. Not even when Jimin finds the edge of the silk tie and pulls it loose.
Taehyung’s face, when Jimin sets his eyes on it for the first time, is unbearably handsome. Dark brows, thick lashes, a sharp jaw. Jimin must stare at him for an age, studying it like he’ll never see it again. Even soft with sleep, he must be the most handsome man Jimin’s ever seen.
He reaches out to brush the hair off Taehyung’s forehead, and sees the way Taehyung leans into his touch. Something in his chest burns and tugs and pulls taut.
Jimin has to slip away, but not before he captures Taehyung’s lips in a kiss, asleep or not. It rouses Taehyung enough for him to make a formless, sleepy noise, and Jimin pulls away.
“So handsome,” Jimin whispers. “I knew it.”
Taehyung’s eyelashes flutter, and Jimin considers pretending to be innocent, but too quickly Taehyung’s eyes are blinking open, focusing on his face.
His eyes widen, gaze flickering between Jimin’s eyes, like he’s waiting for something to terrible to happen.
“I promised you, didn’t I?” Jimin says, smiling. “You won’t kill me, curse or not.”
Taehyung’s hands shake when he reaches out to him, smelling of roses as always, and touches Jimin’s cheek, like he’s expecting him to be cold. “How?”
Jimin leans forward and kisses him deeply, finally rid of masks and pretences and curses between them.
“I love you,” Jimin whispers to him. “Your curse cannot touch me.”
Taehyung’s eyes are wet and shining, tugging Jimin towards him to kiss again.
Only you can make my song take flight
It's over now,
the music of the night