Yoongi lit his pipe, took a deep drag, and stepped into the brisk evening wind, squinting as he began his trek to the only place that offered him comfort on days like these. The snow falling from the sky shimmered a faint red, reflecting the dozens of flaming lamps hung in dirty windows shut tight against the bone-chilling air. There were few carriages passing by; not many people in this neighborhood could afford them. Despite the cold, however, there were scores of people milling about, laughing raucously, drinking shamelessly from half-empty bottles, and chatting up the scantily clad women lingering in doorways who were a permanent fixture on this side of Paris. Yoongi couldn’t exactly afford a chateau on the Champs-Elysees , so the Quartier Pigalle had been the logical choice for a man of his resources, or lack thereof. He eyed the women disinterestedly as he passed, ignoring their giggles and raunchy calls of, "venez à l'intérieur, monsieur!” pleading him to come in where they could surely warm him up. But no, Yoongi had somewhere to be, so he wrapped his scarf around his face tighter as he hustled towards the glowing light that he could now see as he rounded the corner.
La Chatte Mouillé is busier than usual, Yoongi observed as he opened the door and felt the warm, alcohol-scented air rush over him. He hung up his coat and scanned the room, smiling when he spotted a table with two familiar people smoking and lounging casually in their chairs, drinks already in hand. He approached them as they stood up ( they look tipsy , Yoongi noted) and greeted him with unbridled enthusiasm.
“There you are, you bastard!” Namjoon yelled right into Yoongi’s ear as he brought him in for a hug. Yoongi winced.
“You sons of bitches started without me!” he complained as he leaned into Taehyung, who had pushed Namjoon away to greet Yoongi in a similar fashion. Taehyung put basically all his weight on the poor guy who was quite a bit shorter than him, almost causing him to drop his pipe, and with his face pressed into Taehyung’s shirt, yep, they had definitely started without him. Taehyung smelled faintly of wine and tobacco and Yoongi was definitely not drunk enough for this.
After their greetings, they sat down around the table with the sense of comfort and familiarity that had only recently come between the three of them. They were all outsiders and in Paris for the same reason. Yoongi had traveled south from Deauville, in Normandy, after leaving his bourgeois family who cared more about money than things like actually spending your time doing what makes you happy. Of course, they had exiled him and called him a failure of a son when he declared that he wanted to be an artist. Namjoon was from Aix-en-Provence, in the south, and had come to the city with dreams of making it big. Taehyung, well, just kind of wandered. He had been in Arles before this, finding inspiration in the countryside, and decided to move to Paris to try to make some money in the cutthroat art scene. Truthfully, they had only gotten to know each other in the last few months because they frequented the dingy little joint so much. It was a good place for budding artists, with cheap drinks and hearty food that the kind proprietors often gave them for a discount. It was no secret that Yoongi, Namjoon, and Taehyung were poor as fuck, with the way they dressed and their non-Parisian accents making it clear that they, like many others, had come to the city in search of work. And when there was little to be found, they came here, to La Chatte Mouillé. By this point, they were such regulars that they knew the employees on a first name basis. This place was kind of like a second home.
Before the three of them could get settled and start up a conversation, however, a dark-haired man with a rather long face and the best teeth this side of the Seine came over with a tray in his hand, smiling his killer smile.
“Hey, Yoongi, long time no see!” he joked dryly, seeing as they had been here just yesterday. This earned him a chuckle from Yoongi and slightly over-enthusiastic laughter from the other two. If Yoongi had any doubts about their sobriety, he didn’t now.
“Hey Hoseok, good turn out tonight. You guys are busy,” Yoongi noted.
“Yeah, we actually have some talent performing in a bit. He’s a young kid who plays piano and sings. Said he’d play tonight if we treated him and his friend to drinks afterwards, so Jin and I figured why not? Turned out to be a good decision; looks like people are more willing to come out on a Wednesday night if we have some sort of entertainment. Might have him back next week.”
“Good idea,” Taehyung agreed. “If you guys start making more money then you can give us more freebies.” He grinned, rectangular smile showing both rows of teeth.
“Not a chance,” Hoseok responded with an amused look in his eye. “No more handouts for you bums starting next week, Jin’s orders.” But Yoongi, Namjoon, and Taehyung all exchanged mischievous looks. Jin always promised to stop feeding them and Hoseok consistently told them so, but every night they somehow ended up with a platter of Jin’s cooking that never made it onto the bill. Yoongi thinks he probably would have died in the gutter of malnourishment if not for Jin and Hoseok.
“Anyways, what’ll you have, Yoongi? Looks like you need a drink.”
“Damn right,” Yoongi replied. “I’ll have a gin and tonic...” he took a quick glance at his companions, “...make that two. I have some catching up to do.”
“You got it,” Hoseok replied before bustling away.
“Anyway, before you got here, Yoongi, I was in the middle of telling Namjoon about my latest work,” Taehyung said. “So where was I? Oh yeah, I was at that farm just outside the city, chicken in hand, canvas set up and everything, when the farmer’s wife came out to milk the cow and found me squatting in the barn and I just barely managed to get away. Lost a few tubes of paint too. Damn.” Namjoon roared with laughter and Yoongi tried, and failed, to contain his amusement, chuckling despite himself.
“What, pray tell, were you doing in a stranger’s barn holding a chicken?” he asked.
Taehyung responded, “Painting, of course!” Of course. Yoongi didn’t inquire further. Taehyung had his quirks, that was for sure. But there’s no arguing that he’s inspired, he thought somewhat enviously. Yoongi’s works recently had been less than satisfactory, and he was barely managing to sell a single piece a month. More than that, however, everything he made just felt wrong. He found himself painting things that he knew would sell, generic things with mass appeal like flowers or cityscapes, in a lackluster style that tried, and failed, to stand out. He even took commissions, painting portraits of people he could not give two shits about, to be honest. Something needs to change. I need to get my life together, he thought. This was not what he had dreamed of when he left home to pursue his artistic career.
But he had little time to ruminate, as Hoseok came back with the drinks, Jin in tow, holding a steaming plate of roasted potatoes and cured meats. Yoongi could have kissed him. Namjoon looked like he wanted to. He set the plate down, smiling when Taehyung and Yoongi groaned like they’d never seen anything better in their lives. They grabbed their forks and dug in as soon as Jin’s hands left the platter.
“Thanks, Jin, you didn’t have to,” Namjoon said rather meekly.
“Don’t worry, we bought too many potatoes and they’re gonna spoil soon so it’s no skin off my back. Bon appetit! ” he responded cheerfully before turning away and heading back to the kitchen. Yoongi noticed Namjoon’s eyes following him the whole way. It occurred to Yoongi that Jin had no reason to leave the kitchen; Hoseok could have easily brought the dish himself. Maybe Namjoon’s little crush isn’t as one-sided as he thinks it is, Yoongi thought to himself. Oh well, no reason to interfere, they’ll figure it out. Taehyung had apparently picked up on this too, but unfortunately for Namjoon, he didn’t have the tact that Yoongi did.
“What’s that smell?” he asked cheekily between bites, sniffing the air around Namjoon dramatically, who was still zoned out. “Hmm...smells like someone’s… thirsty .”
“That doesn’t even make sense, you dumbass, and don’t talk with your mouth full,” Yoongi replied curtly as he knocked back the rest of his drink. Hoseok had made it strong, just how he liked it. He took another drag from his pipe.
“Yeah, you can’t smell if someone’s thirsty,” Namjoon replied, having returned his attention to his two companions.
“I can,” Taehyung argued.
“That’s physically impossible. What are you talking about? And hey- I am not thirsty!” Namjoon argued back. At this point, Yoongi himself began to zone out, noticing that the musician was about to come on. If you could call him a musician. This kid looked as green as could be, trembling a bit nervously as he came out from the back and put his sheet music on the piano. He couldn’t have been older than twenty. He stretched his fingers and sat down, playing a few rudimentary scales to warm up. Yoongi noticed that he seemed to be the only one paying any attention.
Suddenly, just as he was about to start, someone shouted, “ Tu peux le faire, Jungkook! You got this!” which immediately broke the boy’s concentration as he looked up in a mixture of irritation and embarrassment. Scratch that, apparently two people were paying attention. Yoongi looked around for the source of the yelling, as did a few other people, and saw, at a tiny table pushed against the wall, a boy with ginger hair leaning on his elbows with bated breath, anticipating his friend’s performance. He showed no embarrassment at the odd looks that people were giving him before turning back to their own conversations. He looked disheveled, with patched-up pants, suspenders, and a jacket that seemed like it had been dug up out of the ground, but under the dirt layering his face was the most genuine, pure smile that Yoongi had ever seen. It was infectious, like the sun’s rays. Yoongi felt his heart lifting just a little as he watched this young man enjoying his friend’s brief moment of fame so thoroughly. As the boy at the piano started playing, his smiling friend started swaying in his seat, grin growing impossibly brighter as he hummed along to this Jeongguk kid’s singing. Maybe it was just the alcohol, but Yoongi found himself completely enraptured by the lone figure at the table. Something Namjoon had told him echoed through his mind, something he had heard on a particularly melancholy night at the bar when he had asked the more established artist for advice.
“Yoongi, take a look around you. This is the future of art right here. No more painting stuffy royals or whoever has enough in their pockets to pay your rent next month. Haven’t you ever in your life felt inspired? Have you ever seen something that left such an impression on you that you want to capture that moment forever? That’s what we’re all about. This is the new movement. I can see it around us; people painting sunsets, the way the light hits a tree or a chair at a certain time of day, the shine of puddles under lamps on a rainy night. Even this seedy bar and its dingy people. Paint a feeling, not an object. This is true art.”
For the first time since coming to Paris, Yoongi knew what to paint. It was sitting across the room, cheeks flushed, downing the last dregs of a drink.