Jeongguk has books spread all around him, the small black text illuminated by sunlight streaming through the windows. Although classes don’t start for another hour or so, he has been awake for a while now, choosing to do more research on molecular gastronomy. He’s a pretty decent chef if he says so himself, but there's still room for improvement and he's going to take advantage of this time while the hyungs are out to surpass them. (He's only half-kidding.)
Seated on the wooden floor with his legs crossed, he leans back on his bedpost, poring over a book that he had borrowed from Seokjin. It's worn down and falling apart at the binding, but reading ancient books make him feel smarter so it's all good.
It’s a boring book and makes for an excruciatingly painful read at 7 a.m. in the morning, but Jeongguk forces himself to keep his eyes open through all of the text-congested pages, barely comprehensible even for him. He's not sure whether to be grateful or irritated for the following interruption.
“Jeongguk!” Jimin slams the door open, adding one more ding to its battered surface. His hair is a bird’s nest, and he's obviously excited about something, running and sitting down in front of Jeongguk, He runs his hand through his hair to try to remove the tangles, but Jeongguk doesn’t take notice though because he’s still reading through a passage.
“Dude! You’re going to want to be sitting down for this one,” Jimin exclaims way too loudly, reaching forward to take the book away from Jeongguk. He throws the book onto the bed behind Jeongguk and grabs his shoulders, fingers digging into his back almost painfully.
Jeongguk sighs and looks at Jimin, who finally stops shaking his shoulders back and forth. “I’m already sitting down.”
Jimin leans back and takes in a deep breath like he's delivering the headliner of his life. “There’s a new transfer student!”
Jeongguk rolls his eyes and tries to pick up the book next to Jimin’s leg, but Jimin smacks his hand away.
“What? Sure, it’s halfway through the year, but kids transfer at weird points in the year all the time. Talk to me when they finally accept a toddler.”
“It’s not just some middle school kid.” Jimin’s eyes are wide with awe and glee, and Jeongguk can’t help but feel curious now.
“No way,” Jeongguk’s mouth forms a small O in mock surprise. “Is it G-Dragon’s kid?”
The hard smack to his arm following that statement isn’t unexpected, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. Jeongguk childishly returns the blow with more force. Jimin looks like he’s tempted to hit Jeongguk back, but he halts his movements, hand suspended in midair.
“No, stop. Listen, okay?”
“I’m listening.” Jeongguk fakes a yawn.
“There’s a student transferring into Third Division,” Jimin whispers it like it’s top-secret information. Jeongguk’s mouth drops open in bewilderment.
“What the fuck?”
It’s rare for students to skip a year. Jeongguk himself had done it when he was only thirteen. His envious classmates had viewed it as a stroke of luck, but it was obvious that the culinary teachers saw extreme potential and talent in him. It also didn’t hurt that he had been adorable, with his front teeth that made him look like a bunny whenever he smiled. Jeongguk’s not surprised that someone somehow skipped a grade. It’s rare, but it happens. But at that age? No one has ever skipped a year in Second Division.
“No, no, no. That’s not it.” Jimin’s hand waves away Jeongguk’s presumption dismissively.
“What is it, then?” He quirks an eyebrow up, completely interested now.
“He didn’t attend middle school or high school here. He’s literally transferring in after attending regular high school.”
“You’re fucking shitting me.” Jeongguk’s eyebrows furrow in disbelief and looks at the wall behind Jimin to focus his thoughts.
This is how Bighit Academy works: There’s a middle school, high school, and university, alternatively called First, Second, and Third Division.
There are four grades in the First Division. It’s where students are enrolled to take the typical core subjects like History, Math, Science, English and Literature with supplementary Cooking Classes. There’s less homework and out-of-class projects assigned due to the extra time that culinary classes take up. By the time First Division students leave classes, it’s already eight o’clock at night, leaving little to no time to do anything school-related or otherwise. That way, students are forced to pay attention in class unless they want to fail the subject.
Although it is a culinary academy, First Division students are required to take academic subjects in case they fail at being a chef and get expelled later on. Expulsion rarely happens in First Division, though. All it takes is good work ethic to move up to the Second Division. Then it’s hell.
Second Division is when students get expelled at the drop of the hat and sometimes in large numbers during training camps. There is less focus on academic subjects, and more on culinary classes. Having been taught the basics in First Division, students are held up to even higher expectations in Second Division. The line between cooking as a hobby and cooking as a high class chef becomes clearer than ever at that point. If you’re deemed incompetent, you will be forced to leave the academy that instant.
There are events throughout the school year where lack of skill would result in expulsion. They make sure to have plenty of events too as a way to weed out the weak from the strong. The class body of the first year of Second Division will usually start out with around a thousand students. By the second year, that number will have shrunk to around a hundred and fifty. Then by the third and final year, around ten students will remain. That’s a graduating rate of one percent.
Because of the intensive trials and tests that Second Division students are constantly being subjected to, applications to join the school after the first semester of Second Division are always rejected. To suddenly transfer in would just be unfair to everyone else who went through metaphorical hell just to stay there.
That’s why it should be impossible. There are forty-five students in the Third Division right now. Forty-five students who have spent countless nights staying up to test recipes for some festival, or stressed over the next morning’s task during training camp. They did not spend three years of constantly having to prove themselves just to be here and all of a sudden be joined by some random dude.
They are currently being taught by world-renowned chefs who have retired early from professional life. These are classes that even money can’t buy. In Third Division, their near-perfect skills are polished to be entirely flawless.
Again, that’s why it should be impossible for someone to just transfer in now. Someone whose skills Jeongguk doubts to be near-perfect or anywhere near their level.
That’s also why Jeongguk’s mouth is still wide open in bewilderment.
“What kind of sick joke is this?” Jeongguk snarls.
Jimin is much too giddy for his liking. “You know how powerful the Elite Ten is,” Jimin quips, lips still slanted into a smile.
“The Elite Ten? The ten best students in the entire academy, who make up the highest decision-making body?” Jimin rests his head in one hand, tilting it quizzically and looking at Jeongguk in pure, undisguised amusement.
Jeongguk leans forward and punches Jimin’s arm. “I know,” he hisses. He’s in the sixth seat, for fuck’s sake. As a council, they have more power than anyone in the school, the only exception being the headmaster, Bang Sihyuk. There are ten seats, with the first seat being reserved for the most talented and skilled chef in the entire academy.
“Where was I when the meeting happened?”
“Sleeping? I don’t know.”
“Why wasn’t I informed about this?” He can’t help but sound whiny at being left out.
“I’m telling you now, aren’t I? Anyways, all of us and Lisa already voted yes.”
“Us? Are you telling me everyone in the dorm knew about this?” Unbelievable. If they weren’t his hyungs, Jeongguk doesn’t know what he’d do to them. Challenge them to endless cooking duels until their will to cook is crushed, probably.
“Of course! It was Yoongi’s idea, actually.”
“Is this a prank? You’re telling me we went through high school shedding sweat, blood, and tears to get here and now someone, who expended no effort whatsoever, is going to go here too?”
“Stop being so dramatic,” Jimin says, trying to calm him. His initial excitement has died down upon seeing how angry Jeongguk is.
“Dramatic? ” Jeongguk stands up and glares down at Jimin. “You were the one who broke down nearly every week crying about how you were going to be expelled soon!”
He points an accusatory finger at Jimin’s face. “Namjoon hyung has bled just downstairs in that kitchen god knows how many times chopping onions! Hoseok hyung was going to drop out all those years ago saying how he’d rather leave on his own will than be kicked out!” He begins to pace in earnest frustration. “ Yoongi hyung has passed out from exhaustion at least three times during his time here! Seokjin hyung was on the verge of expulsion nearly every day when three of the Elite Ten had it out for him! Each one of us has worked to the end of our wits to be where we are now!”
“Hey, hey, Jeongguk. Sit down and let me explain, yeah?” Jimin says patiently.
Begrudgingly, Jeongguk sits. He crosses his arms and scrunches his nose, looking expectantly at Jimin.
“I know it sounds unfair-”
“It is unfair!” Jeongguk closes his mouth at the stern look he gets from Jimin.
“-but the transfer student is phenomenally talented. We wouldn’t have voted to let him enroll here if that wasn’t the case. I was just as angry as you when Yoongi brought it up during an impromptu meeting.” Jimin pauses until Jeongguk, who had broken eye contact to think on this new information, meets his gaze. “We didn’t tell you about it because Seokjin said you’d spent the entire night in the kitchen, and we wanted you to sleep in.”
Jeongguk immediately looks away from Jimin’s caring expression, embarrassed now about his earlier complaining. The wooden floorboards suddenly seem much more interesting.
“Believe me, we were all up on our feet as soon as Yoongi suggested letting Taehyung transfer.”
So the transfer’s name is Taehyung, Jeongguk mentally notes. How unoriginal. Jeongguk will make sure to throw him as many nasty looks as possible when he meets him.
“But it’s Yoongi hyung, you know?” Yes, Jeongguk knows. Everyone at the academy knows. Everyone who wants to make a name for themselves in the food industry knows. Min Yoongi is famous for having the God Tongue, being able to taste every individual ingredient in any dish since the age of three. His tastebuds are so refined that chefs from all over the world flock to him to hear his advice. He can literally end any chef’s career if he chooses to. He's understandably proud of his tongue, but Jeongguk nearly gags remembering how Yoongi said his tongue movements can take any girl or boy to Hong Kong.
“He said that Taehyung is as good as the rest of us and should go here.”
“And you all just agreed?” Jeongguk’s anger has dissipated, but he is still calling the whole thing shocking and unacceptable.
“No, of course not. We trust Yoongi, of course, but we still made sure that he wasn’t just being biased.”
“Yeah. He basically grew up with Taehyung, back in Daegu, before he came here to apply for Second Division.”
“Okay? Yoongi hyung’s judgement already sounds unfair to me based on that alone. We both know how strongly he feels about Daegu. He probably has some soft spot for the dude.”
“That’s what everyone else thought. So we agreed to have Taehyung come here and make a dish for us before we just shot down him down.”
“So?” Jeongguk draws out the word, trying to get Jimin to cut to the chase. Jimin has always had a penchant for building unnecessary suspense, and it’s getting on Jeongguk’s nerves more than usual.
“It was the most delicious thing I’ve ever had in my entire life!”
“Seriously?” Jeongguk raises a skeptical eyebrow.
“No, but it was pretty fucking good.” Jimin closes his eyes as if trying to recall how tasty it was. “He’s definitely just as skilled as us.” His eyes are still closed and there's a tiny smile gracing his lips. Disgusting.
“Yeah, I'm still not on board with this," he shouts. "If he’s so good, then why didn’t he come to Bighit Academy any sooner?”
“He was busy.” There’s a glint in Jimin’s eye that Jeongguk doesn’t fail to notice.
“Ask him yourself.” Jimin only smiles mischievously, leaning back with his weight braced on his palms. There’s definitely something he’s not telling Jeongguk.
After a pause, he adds, “He’s going to be in the room across from you.”
For the longest time, it’s been just the six of them. Jeongguk and Jimin had moved into the Bangtan dormitory after moving up to Second Division. At that time, it had already been occupied by Seokjin, Yoongi, Namjoon, and Hoseok.
Seokjin had had the choice to have an entire loft all to himself, but he made a special request to stay in order to continue living under the same roof as his boyfriend, Namjoon.
The next year rolled around and soon enough, Jeongguk and Jimin were no longer terrified of any of them.
It had definitely been hard not to be intimidated when each of them had a story tied to their names, known by most of the student body.
Seokjin had spent his childhood in a research facility for molecular gastronomy, led by his father. The science that he could apply to cooking was almost unbelievable and seemed to defy science itself. That, along with the amount of emotion he could pour onto a single plate and touch the hearts of his eaters with, is what enables him to have the number one seat of the Elite Ten right now. He had also been voted one of the most attractive male students since he reached Second Division- aka when people no longer felt bad for fawning over a middle schooler.
Yoongi’s tongue is much more world-famous than he is. At the academy, though, people know well that the short but intimidating student owns the God Tongue, not the other way around. When he had enrolled in Second Division, there were rumors flying around about how he had beaten up his exam proctor and threatened them so that they would let him pass. It doesn’t help Yoongi’s reputation that he doesn’t ever bother to shut down any of the rumors about him. He said he’s rather content with letting people think what they want.
Namjoon, although extremely clumsy, is somehow still an exceptional chef. His ability to absorb and retain information has allowed him to apply what he has read in books to his own cooking. It certainly helps that he’s fluent in English, which allows him to access even more info about various cooking techniques and recipes.
Sometimes, one of his many band-aids from previous cooking accidents would fall onto his dish and ruin the entire thing. Other times, he’d accidentally use the sugar instead of the salt or vice versa.
When things do flow smoothly, though, there’s no denying that Namjoon is amazing at cooking.
Hoseok specializes in baking and is definitely the best patissier in the entire academy. He can still cook dishes that don’t involve an oven, but his sweets can make people weep and leave them addicted. Many people try to befriend him in the hopes that he’d ask them to taste-test for him or just to receive birthday brownies.
He already has plans to open a bakery in France. It’s not a far-fetched dream either, not when he’s already had sponsors lining up for him ever since the annual festival during his first year of Second Division.
The Bangtan Dormitory, to say the least, is filled with a few of the most talented people in the academy.
Everyone had already become close with one another so Jeongguk and Jimin had felt like they were intruding on a special friendship when they had moved in. They didn’t know whether to consider themselves lucky or unfortunate to be surrounded with such skilled people.
For the first month, Jeongguk and Jimin had stuck close to each other, feeling like outsiders. When Jimin found out that Jeongguk was that boy that skipped a grade into Second Division, though, he had almost screamed. Scratch that, Jimin did scream. So loudly that Seokjin came running to Jeongguk’s room to check whether the both of them were okay. After being reassured that they were perfectly fine, Seokjin had scolded them for causing such a commotion so late at night. Then he had invited them downstairs to a gathering of some sort with the rest of them, celebrating for no apparent reason. Hoseok had baked a cake, though, so it could still be considered a party.
After that night, Jeongguk and Jimin had gradually bonded and gotten closer with the rest of them. In fact, they had gotten so close that Yoongi had decided to stay in that dormitory instead of getting his own loft when he got into Third Division. Something about not wanting to lose touch of the place that has made him into who he was today. Everyone knew that it was just more convenient for Jimin to sneak into his bed that way. It’s not like the walls are sound-proof or anything.
Eventually, Hoseok and Namjoon had graduated from Second Division and had the choice of getting their own place to live at the academy. Having grown too attached to everyone else, they decided to stay as well. Which was good, because having a dorm full of chefs that were just as talented as each other, allowed for healthy competition and pushed each of them to improve on their own skills.
After Hoseok and Namjoon, it was Jeongguk and Jimin’s turn to graduate. Obviously, they had chosen to stay at Bangtan.
In that moment, the six of them had made it into the history books as living in a dormitory where all of the students had made it into Third Division. Graduating from Second Division is hard enough as it is what with the one percent graduation rate. They were to be feared within the academy.
Taking up six of the ten seats of the Elite Ten, they have the power to control everything that goes on in the school. When it takes six votes to settle any decision whatsoever, as long as they are all in agreement, they can make anything happen. They can disband clubs if they want and even lecturers have to yield to their requests. Who would have imagined that the most talented students in the academy, who have all graduated and made it into Third Division against all odds, would be best friends with one another and have the authority to basically rule the school as they see fit?
This is why Jeongguk doesn’t understand why there’s suddenly a new addition to not only the Third Division, but to their distinguished dormitory as well.
He buries his face in his hands, huffing. He pulls away and glares at Jimin, pinching the bridge of his nose as if that will release his agitation.
“This is a joke, isn’t it? It’s sounded unbelievable since the beginning, but I just wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt. Wait for you to drop the act. You can’t expect me to-”
The door slams open for the second time that day and reveals-
Jeongguk narrows his eyes and inspects the guy to make sure his brain isn’t making this up. Some kind of post-pubescent midlife crisis brought on by sudden extreme stress.
Soft hair framing a symmetrical, tanned face. Big eyes, long lashes, tall nose bridge, beautiful lips, prominent collarbones. Jeongguk drags his eyes up and down. Once. Twice. That’s definitely all five feet and ten inches of Kim Taehyung.
Jeongguk whips his head around and stares at Jimin, who only gives him a devilish smile.
“I’m sorry, was I interrupting something?” Taehyung rubs the back of his neck, glancing between Jeongguk and Jimin. His voice is just as deep as Jeongguk expects.
Jeongguk stands up and walks over to Taehyung, getting into his space so that he’s forced to back up or else they would butt heads or kiss. He ignores the comforting smell of vanilla and laundry detergent.
“Yes,” Jeongguk replies, shutting the door in Taehyung’s face as soon as he was far enough back from the doorway.
Taehyung’s shocked expression is the last thing he sees before he turns around and leans against the door, staring at the ceiling to ground himself and control his breathing.
He suddenly remembers that Jimin’s in the room with him.
One glance and Jeongguk sees Jimin trying to hold back his laughter. He quickly composes himself when Jeongguk narrows his eyes at him.
“That was very rude of you. Did your mother raise you to be that way, Jeon Jeongguk?” The sternness of Jimin’s voice is ruined by the disgustingly large smile on his face paired with crescent eyes. “Wait.”
Jimin looks away from Jeongguk and breaks down and wholeheartedly laughs into one hand, lifting the other to point at Jeongguk’s flushed face.
“Oh, man. You should’ve seen the look on your face.” Jimin doesn’t stop laughing, and Jeongguk is too shell shocked by what he had done to yell at Jimin.
“You didn’t tell me that he was Kim Taehyung,” Jeongguk seethes and attempts to shoot daggers at Jimin, who is utterly gone, lying on the floor and clutching his stomach.
After taking several deep breaths and calming himself down, Jimin sits up again with his legs crossed. “I’m not obligated to tell you anything.”
“You know how my brain short-circuits around attractive people!” He throws his head back against the door, wincing when he hits it too hard. “Why didn’t you at least give me a warning?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. He’s not that attractive.” Jimin pretends like he doesn’t know that Taehyung exactly matches Jeongguk’s ideal type. Like he doesn’t know that Jeongguk had once drooled watching Taehyung on TV. Nope, not at all.
“Not that attractive? His face is literally on TV every day! He’s one of the most in-demand and highest paid commercial endorsers in South Korea!” Jeongguk growls as if Jimin doesn’t already know that.
And Jimin knows. Jimin hates him and wants him to suffer, Jeongguk concludes.
After a moment of silence, Jeongguk pipes up again.
“You know, just because he’s hot doesn’t mean I’m going to hate him any less.” Jeongguk says with a determined voice. He means every word of it. Taehyung is very hot, but Jeongguk hates him very much. As much as he can hate a celebrity whom he’s fawned over for nearly two years already anyway.
“Oh, really?” The condescending words easily roll off of Jimin’s tongue as they have dozens of times before when Jeongguk says something ridiculous.
“Yeah. I still don’t think he deserves to be here and I never would have voted to let him enroll in the academy.” Jeongguk doubts a pretty face like that can come up with a decent dish. He probably just won everyone over with his good looks and charm.
Taehyung’s voice is muffled, but still loud through the wooden door and thin walls. “Hey, you guys know I’m still standing out here, right? I can hear every word you’re saying.”
Jeongguk wants to die right there and then. Too bad the last thing he’d see is Jimin struggling to breathe as he cackles.