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A Gilded World

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"I'm going to tell her."

"You're not going to tell her."

"I'm going to tell her," Yoongi repeats, his lips thinning in mulish determination.

"He's totally going to tell her," Taehyung pipes from beside Yoongi, shifting in his seat to grin at the occupants of the front seat through the rearview mirror.

"Taehyung, love, you're not helping," Mikyung says, and Yoongi can hear her patience waning. Her voice pitches a little higher, her words expel a little sharper. He supposes he should be sympathetic to his aunt's plight. It isn't her fault Yoongi's grandmother is hell-bent on seeing him married within the year. It isn't her fault Yoongi is just as hell-bent on thwarting every single one of his grandmother's marriage candidates. Like she so very often likes to remind him, she doesn't want to be in the middle of this war.

"Sorry, auntie," Taehyung says with a grin, leaning forward until his seatbelt snags and stops his trek. "How would you like me to help?"

"You could start by explaining to your cousin," Mikyung says, arching a brow in the rearview mirror, staring at Yoongi, "that perhaps coming out to his grandmother during Chuseok, with a house full of guests and select members of the media present, is not exactly the best solution to his problems."

"Wait, why is the media invited for Chuseok?" Taehyung frowns.

"Because Uncle Seongho decided to make an ass of himself on camera and we're in desperate need of some good press." She releases a longsuffering sigh. "Yoongi, have a little mercy and don't give them a story."

Yoongi shrugs and glances at the passing scenery outside his window, unmoved.

Taehyung stares at Yoongi for a moment, frowning, before he turns back to Mikyung. "I think he's going to tell her."

"I'm going to tell her," Yoongi repeats.

"Yoongi, please," Mikyung says, exasperated. She turns in her seat to grab at Yoongi's hands, nearly elbowing their driver with the movement. Her seatbelt catches on her shoulder but she ignores it, clasping Yoongi's hands in hers tightly, desperation in the squeeze of her fingers. "I support you coming out to Mom. I do. Just could we do it when there's a few less strangers in the house?"

Yoongi narrows his eyes, trying to ignore the cool press of his aunt's hands in his, and the furrow of worry in her brow. He feels his resolve softening, feels his fondness for his aunt eroding his better judgment. He frowns. "I don't want another marriage date."

"I'll talk to her," Mikyung promises quickly.

"If she mentions one word of another date-"

"She won't, I promise!" Mikyung squeezes Yoongi's hands again. "I just want one Chuseok that doesn't descend into chaos."

"If you're referring to the chicken protest last year-" Taehyung says defensively, straightening in his seat.

"I am one-hundred percent referring to the chicken protest you staged last year," Mikyung replies, her sharp eyes flicking to Taehyung and narrowing. "And the year before when you let the dog loose in the kitchen and he ate everything. And the year before-" Mikyung cuts herself off, her lips slamming together suddenly and her eyes shifting away quickly. She clears her throat and releases Yoongi's hands, settling back into her seat, tension etched into the set of her shoulders.

The year before that. A breath shudders in Yoongi's throat and he swallows it down, turning his gaze back to the passing scenery. He doesn't want to remember it, spending Chuseok in the hospital, watching his grandmother lie in the private VIP room, weak and frail and unlike the woman he knew. He can still taste the heady hospital stench of disinfectant and anguish in his mouth, can still feel the pressure of his hands raking his hair, praying, hoping, wailing I've lost too much already, too much, don't you dare fucking take her, don't you dare.

He supposes it's in that same hospital bed where his grandmother formulated the idea that Yoongi had to get married, sooner rather than later. Something about settling things up when she was still alive to see it, she told him one day after the fourth date he had endured. She had affected a mournful, melodramatic voice, insinuating his lack of a spouse was sending her to an early grave. He scowls at the passing streetlights and blurring rice fields. It has to end.

&&&

The Min estate is much like the family name, historic and grandiose, etched and weaved into history and reaching it's tendrils to the end of the Joseon period. The main building is a modern adaptation of the traditional hanok structure, surrounded by manicured gardens and gravel walkways. Every tree branch, every roof shingle, every ornamented door tells stories of wealth and prestige. Every step through the grounds reminds the visitors of a privilege and class that cannot be bought, earned, or stolen.

Today, the estate buzzes, the smell of food wafting with the cool September breeze, low levels of indistinct chatter like a humming murmur in the background. Yoongi cannot even recognize more than six people mulling around. There are groups of older men and women in traditional hanboks, deep in serious conversation, turning to look up and frown around them occasionally. Dozens of smartly uniformed men and women rush through the garden, carrying flower bouquets and piping hot plates of food.

"Are you sure we're related to all these people?" Taehyung asks, wide eyes scanning the bustle.

"You're not related to any of them," Yoongi says, trying to ignore the scrutinizing eyes of his distant relatives as he makes his way to the front door.

Taehyung gasps, affronted. "I'm your cousin, hyung!"

"On my mother's side, Tae." He turns to Taehyung and reaches a hand up to pat his cheek condescendingly. "It's okay, we'll keep you around."

Taehyung opens his mouth to reply with something he probably thinks is scathing but will only cause Yoongi's amused smirk to widen. Instead, Mikyung sniffs loudly and lets out an annoyed scoff.

"Who let them wander around without an escort?" she asks, frustrated.

Yoongi arches a brow and glances to where his aunt looks, face firming into a blank and disinterested expression. The "them" in question are a young man with trendy glasses, holding a small, handheld voice recorder. Behind him follows another man, camera in hand. He bites back a scowl. Reporters.

"I'll take care of this," Mikyung says under her breath. "Go greet your grandmother." She steps deftly away from Yoongi and Taehyung and approaches the reporters with a wide, welcoming smile. "Ah, Mr. Kim. Welcome to the Min estate. May I give you the grand tour?" She takes Mr. Kim's arm and leads him further into the garden.

Yoongi bites back a laugh as he enters the house. His aunt is the hidden gem of their family.

"Granny, I have arrived!" Taehyung calls out, skipping into the sitting room.

Yoongi follows considerably more slowly, hands clasped loosely behind his back. He finds Taehyung sidled next to his grandmother, playing with the fabric of her hanbok and asking about her health.

"I'm fine," she sniffs, and her eyes zero in on Yoongi. Her lips twist into a frown that has been part of her expression since before Yoongi was even born. "Ah, this couldn't possibly be my grandson. He looks similar but Yoongi never visits. Never calls," she says, arching a cold brow.

Yoongi sits on the couch opposite his grandmother and nods in greeting. "Nice to see you too, Granny."

She turns to Taehyung and whispers loudly so Yoongi can hear, "Who is this stranger? Did you let him in?"

Yoongi ignores her and glances around the house at the bustling uniformed decorators in the hallway trying and failing to pretend they aren't watching. He turns back to his grandmother and tries to say politely for the benefit of the staff, "The place looks very nice."

"It's old," Yoongi's grandmother complains, shrugging in distaste. "There's always something that needs repairing. Half our profits go into this crumbling thing."

"Did you do the calculations yourself?" Yoongi replies, keeping his expression serious.

"Yes, I did it right now in my mind."

"Ah, you calculated it right now, down to the very won."

"Down to the very last won. Exactly fifty percent."

"You made a small mistake. It's actually fifty-two point one percent of our profits," Yoongi says, eyes locked with his grandmother, daring her to laugh first. He shrugs. "It's a small mistake, I can understand."

Yoongi's grandmother narrows her eyes, her eyebrows arched. "Don't challenge me, child."

A smile nearly cracks his lips. He frowns instead and sniffs, glancing around the room. "Is there a reason you invited half of Korea to Chuseok?" he asks, changing the subject.

"I invite them every year," she responds, batting away Taehyung's hands from her hanbok, her patience finally ended. "It's just the vultures circling for a place in my will now that they know I'm dying."

Yoongi stiffens and swallows down a hysterical bubble of panic. His eyes darken and he scowls. "You're not dying," he says instead, reminding himself of his grandmother's tendency to exaggerate.

"I was unaware that I am aging backwards," she replies sharply, mirroring Yoongi's scowl, the wrinkles on her face deepening. "I'd like to see you married before I leave this world." She reaches for a folder tucked by her side, holding it out in Yoongi's direction. "This is chairman Yoo's grandniece, have a look."

Yoongi glowers. It has to end, he thinks. "You're not dying and I'm not going on another marriage date."

His grandmother waves the folder in his direction. "I'm older than you, child. Do as I say."

"Granny, maybe you shouldn't," Taehyung says gently, trying to deescalate the situation. He reaches slowly for the folder but she jerks it out of his hold and waves it more aggressively at Yoongi.

"I've already set the date," she continues.

"No," Yoongi says firmly, locking eyes with his grandmother, determination vibrating through his blood.

"Give me one good reason."

Yoongi hears the door to the sitting room click open and footsteps behind him.

"Ah, the whole family is here," Mikyung says cheerily. "Mr. Kim, Mr. Moon, perhaps now would be a good time for a family picture for the paper?"

"Auntie, not now," Taehyung starts.

"I'm gay," Yoongi blurts out, sharp and loud and triumphant. He has a brief moment of pity for his aunt, but it is short-lived when he sees his grandmother's eyes flicker.

"You're what?" she asks, mouth gaping.

"Gay. I like men. Exclusively." He shrugs, smug. "So there's no point setting me up."

Yoongi hears the camera shutter and Mikyung's forced laughter. "What a jokester our Yoongi is, ha. Gentlemen, maybe we should-"

"Oh please, Mikyung, I'm not ashamed of my grandson." Yoongi's grandmother waves the reporters in. "Take your photos, ask your questions." She throws the folder onto the coffee table in defeat. "You could have told me earlier and saved me the trouble," she says to Yoongi, glowering.

Mikyung sighs heavily behind Yoongi and he can hear her mutter about just one peaceful Chuseok, just one. He smirks and shrugs again, content that his grandmother's misguided matchmaking efforts are over.

&&&

Seokjin thought there was nothing left that could wipe the carefully crafted blank expression from his face. He realizes too late that he was wrong, and somehow, life will always find a way to trip him.

He stares, aghast, eyes wide and blinking rapidly, mouth hardly responding to his commands. "Marriage?"

Chairman Jeon thins his lips into a straight line and glances up from his desk, eyebrows furrowed in annoyance. He stares at Seokjin, silent, disapproval evident in the lines around his mouth.

Seokjin tries to remind himself to stay calm, to find that mask of cool indifference he thought he had perfected.

Chairman Jeon sets his pen down on the table, the weight of it making a loud click through the room. He settles back in his chair, folding his hands over his stomach. "You have objections?"

Seokjin swallows and clutches his fingers by his side. Stay calm, he reminds himself. "Jeongguk is barely out of high school. Isn't it too early?" he says, managing to keep his voice even and strong.

"Half of his peers have already settled their engagements." Chairman Jeon clears his throat and somehow manages to convey all his disapproval and irritation with the sound.

"You should be happy, Seokjin," Seokjin hears from the other side of the room, his uncle Jeonghun's voice smug with victory.

Seokjin doesn't flinch, turning his gaze to his uncle. He prays silently that his anger and panic is hidden behind a neutral mask, even as his blood runs hot with adrenaline.

Jeonghun smirks and steps beside Seokjin, patting his shoulder condescendingly. "I facilitated the match myself. Prosecutor Oh's second daughter is a lovely girl, and the match is a good fit for Jeongguk's station."

Seokjin can't help the twitch of his eyebrows. "What station would that be?"

Jeonghun's smile turns sickly sweet. "As much as we've tried, Jeongguk's unfortunate birth is an open secret among our peers. We're lucky we found him such a distinguished family who will overlook it."

Seokjin fights to keep his expression blank, fights for the control he spent years honing. The words are harsh, and the insinuations cruel, but they are nothing new. Seokjin has heard them countless times over the years. He reminds himself to let them wash over him like rain water. Words aren't important. Jeongguk's happiness is the only thing that matters.

"He's too young, sir," Seokjin starts again, directing his attention back to the chairman.

The chairman makes a disapproving noise and folds his hands across his stomach. "You're smarter than that."

Seokjin presses his lips together. He is smarter than that. He knows what the gilded world is like. Marriages are not based on love, but on business and alliances. Engagements are settled early, and love and desire have nothing to do with it. He knows this, but he cannot let it happen to Jeongguk. He promised their mother, he promised himself. Jeongguk was going to have a better life than that. Jeongguk was going to have freedom and choice and most of all, love.

Seokjin tries a different strategy. "Shouldn't I be first? I'm older by five years. It's almost inappropriate."

Jeonghun scoffs. "Are you forgetting your place? A Jeon by name and not by blood, your marriage means nothing," he starts, but is interrupted by the chairman.

"Jeonghun be quiet." The chairman fixes his gaze on Seokjin, piercing and heavy. "You have a proposition?"

Stay calm, stay calm, Seokjin reminds himself, mind racing to find a solution, any solution. "What if I could do better?" he asks suddenly, the words leaving his mouth before he has even thought them through. "What if I make a match, more advantageous than Jeongguk?"

Jeonghun laughs, loud and mocking. "I sincerely doubt you could."

Seokjin's expression hardens and his lips press together, flicking his gaze to his uncle. "I'm not asking if it's possible. I'm asking, if I can marry better than Prosecutor Oh's second daughter, will you drop the idea of Jeongguk's marriage?"

"Impossible," Jeonghun states, but the chairman smiles at Seokjin, wry and amused.

"I would," he finally says.

"Father!"

The chairman ignores Jeonghun's protests, hand reaching for the cane leaning by his desk. "Jeongguk will attend the marriage date in four weeks." He stands shakily, fingers gripping at the top of his cane for balance. "By then, I don't want to hear a word of protest from you or the boy. You'd better talk to him. I won't tolerate his insolent attitude in front of the girl or her parents."

Seokjin nods. "Thank you. He won't have to attend."

The chairman makes a disapproving noise in the back of his throat, but says nothing, shuffling out of the den.

Jeonghun takes a moment to scowl at Seokjin, his lips twisting into a deep frown. "Whatever you're planning, it's useless."

Seokjin forces a smile, the same one he practiced for years until it was nearly natural on his lips. "I guess we'll see in four weeks."

Jeonghun hums, sending Seokjin one last glare before leaving the room.

Seokjin deflates, sinking into a soft leather armchair. He slumps his shoulders over his knees and runs a hand through his hair. Four weeks. Four weeks to find and secure an engagement better than the daughter of an influential prosecutor. He closes his eyes and takes several deep breaths. He is an idiot, he should never have proposed the deal to the chairman.

He curses in his head, fingers tightening in his hair. It's a stupid power play on his uncle's part. A few years ago, Jeonghun didn't care one bit about Jeongguk's marriage or future or anything, really. He was just the illegitimate son of his deceased brother that they fed and clothed and sent to school. Seokjin was no better than his caretaker. They lived in something close to peace, not quite loving but quiet. Not quite safe but stable. Until Jeongguk turned his attention away from art, and put his considerable talents into a single focus on excelling in business. Suddenly the chairman's eyes were trained on Jeongguk and he became a potential heir. More importantly to Jeonghun, his nephew became a threat to his succession.

Jeonghun was trying to marry Jeongguk down, give him alliances that would do nothing to help him climb to the top of the Jeon throne. Seokjin wants to scream. He doesn't know why Jeongguk abandoned art and focused on business, but he knows Jeongguk doesn't care about the Jeon fortune. As soon as Seokjin can gather the funds and resources, he's going to take Jeongguk as far away from this toxic family as possible.

He sighs and removes his hands from his hair, fingers fussing with the strands to set them back in place. He still needs more time, more funds, more preparation. Their mother is still finishing her treatments. He needs one year at the soonest and all he has is one month. He needs to find a new plan.

"Hyung!"

Seokjin startles from his thoughts and blinks his eyes open. Jeongguk skips around his chair and plops into the sofa next to him, a large, boyish grin on his lips.

"Hyung, I found you! Where'd you go?"

Seokjin smiles and reaches a hand up to smooth out the wild strands of Jeongguk's hair. "I'm hiding from the ladies. They kicked me out of the kitchen." Seokjin makes a disgruntled face.

Jeongguk laughs. "They're jealous 'cause your cooking is better than theirs."

"Right?" He clears his throat. "Hey Jeongguk. About tomorrow-"

Jeongguk's face falls and his wide eyes blink at him. "What's wrong? What happened? Are you in trouble?"

Seokjin jerks, startled. "What?"

"Something's wrong, I can tell. What happened?" Jeongguk's eyebrows furrow and his eyes narrow.

"Ah, it's not a big deal. I can't go to Busan with you, something came up at work," Seokjin lies easily.

"Hyung, it's Chuseok!"

"Sorry, kid." He ruffles Jeongguk's hair, messing up the strands he just smoothed. "Next time."

"But you were going to drive me down," Jeongguk protests.

"There's something called an airplane."

"Jimin is waiting for us."

"Jimin can see me when you guys come back to Seoul."

"It's not the same, hyung."

"I know." Seokjin makes an apologetic face. "I'm sorry. Next time."

Jeongguk frowns. "You swear it's just work?"

Seokjin laughs. "Jeongguk, I'm not having a midlife crisis."

"You're old enough for one," Jeongguk says, sulking.

"Cheeky," Seokjin scolds, hitting Jeongguk's arm.

Jeongguk finally grins, wide and toothy and Seokjin can only see his brother as seven years old again, small and scared and clinging tightly to his crooked fingers. He clenches his hands into fists. He'll find a way, he promises himself. He'll find a way to protect Jeongguk. He always has.

&&&

Being Yoongi's self-proclaimed best friend since early childhood, Hoseok is no stranger to the Min household. Taehyung flipping adores him, Auntie Mikyung refers to him as the son she never had, and Granny Min would adopt him if she could. He knows he's loved by the entire family, so he's not surprised when Granny Min invites him for lunch without Yoongi.

It's not until halfway through lunch, when Granny Min has stopped pretending she has any interest in the meal on her plate, that Hoseok clues in that there is something suspicious at foot. He leans back in his chair and narrows his eyes, pursing his lips. "Why am I here?" he finally asks, wary.

Granny Min folds her hands calmly on the table and flicks her eyes up and down over Hoseok, like she's evaluating him or something. Hoseok suppresses a shiver and crosses his arms over his chest.

"You are aware that my grandson is gay," Granny Min says, more a statement than a question.

Hoseok laughs. "The whole world is aware of it, Granny. It was on all the news stations." He makes a wide gesture with his hands. "Even made it to CNN." He leans his elbow on the table and rests his head in his hand. "Yoongi-hyung is good at making a fuss."

Granny Min makes a face, lips twisted into a sour frown that Hoseok suspects is more fond than she would like to let on. "It has also come to my attention that you're gay."

Hoseok tilts his head, confused. "Yes?"

"What do you think about marrying my grandson?"

Hoseok coughs, hacking bursts of air that tear at his throat. He clenches an arm around his stomach and blinks his eyes to clear the sudden formation of tears. "I'm sorry?" he manages to wheeze out some time later, stifling another cough.

Granny Min ignores Hoseok's impending death by coughing and shrugs. "You two have been friends since childhood. Our family is on good terms with your family. Yoongi is obviously very fond of you." She eyes him again and arches a brow. "You don't seem to have many prospects since your older sister is taking over the company. It's a perfect match."

Hoseok coughs again, disbelieving. He never thought he'd see the day when Yoongi's grandmother offered Yoongi to him for marriage. He can't help it, he laughs. Rolling giggles, loud and clear. "We're not like that, Granny," he starts.

She waves a hand in dismissal. "You never tried, that's all. Should I ring your dad, set up a family meeting?"

Hoseok shakes his head. "No, no, no. Granny, Yoongi really doesn't see me that way. I swear." Granny Min makes a face so Hoseok continues hastily, "And I'm in a committed relationship right now. With Kim Namjoon. You know him, the designer?"

"Hmm," she says, displeased. She leans closer. "Is it a very committed relationship?"

"Three years," he replies, a soft smile on his lips.

She purses her lips. "You could break up."

Hoseok gapes at her.

"It happens to the best of couples. And who better to heal your wounds than my loving, adoring grandson?"

"Granny."

"Fine, my prickly, adoring grandson."

Hoseok pouts at her. "Granny, no."

She sighs, defeated. "I'm an old woman, Hoseok. I'm dying. You can't do me this one, small favor?"

Hoseok frowns. "First of all, Yoongi-hyung assures me you are not, in fact, dying."

She sniffs loudly in scorn.

"And marriage isn't a 'small favor'."

"There's no respect for the elderly these days."

Hoseok sighs. "What if I compiled a list of eligible, gay bachelors for you to torture hyung with?" He leans his head in both of his hands and blinks cutely at Granny Min. "Would that make you feel better?"

She brightens immediately and Hoseok has a feeling he's been played from the very beginning. "Good family, good looks, kind, family-oriented. Someone who can actually get Yoongi to listen for once."

Hoseok pouts. "I have a feeling this is what you were aiming for from the beginning."

She arches a brow. "You could always break up with that Kim boy."

"I'll get you the list by nine tonight!"

&&&

By the time he hears Namjoon open the door to their shared apartment later that night, Hoseok only has four names on his list. He frowns at the pad of paper in his hand, then turns to frown at his phone's contacts list.

"It shouldn't be this hard," he says to himself.

"I sincerely hope that's not your way of telling me 'welcome home, let's have sex'," Namjoon says from behind him.

Hoseok laughs, tilting his head back against the sofa cushions to grin at his boyfriend. "It wouldn't be the first time."

Namjoon sighs and approaches the sofa from behind, leaning down to press a quick kiss on his lips, hands sliding down to pat at Hoseok's chest. "What're you working on?" he asks, lips pressed to Hoseok's temple.

Hoseok sighs and leans into Namjoon's touch. "I had the strangest lunch with Yoongi-hyung's grandmother today."

"What happened?"

"She asked me to marry Yoongi-hyung."

Namjoon chuckles into Hoseok's hair.

Hoseok frowns. "You don't sound surprised."

He can feel Namjoon's smile against his cheek. "There've been some whispers going around. You're the logical first choice for hyung. What did you say?"

Hoseok brings his hand to his chest to pat reassuringly at Namjoon's hands. "I told her there was no way I could part with my dear, dear boyfriend's massive dick, but if hyung was interested in a threesome, then he should hit me up."

"You're ridiculous," Namjoon says, but there's a tinge of fondness in his tone and Hoseok smiles, letting Namjoon's hands go so he can join him on the couch.

Namjoon plops beside Hoseok, slumping down to lean his head awkwardly on his shoulder. "So what's this?" Namjoon frowns as he scans the notepad. "Is it a list of eligible bachelors to marry Yoongi-hyung?"

Hoseok jerks back and stares at his boyfriend. "Sometimes I forget how smart you are."

Namjoon smiles, the dimples in his cheeks deepening, and Hoseok takes a moment to capture the sight in his mind. Namjoon slides the notepad out of Hoseok's slack hands and grabs a pen, jotting down a few more names. "Mm, what about Lim Changkyun?"

Hoseok makes a face. "He's a baby."

"He's literally two years younger than us."

"A baby," Hoseok repeats in a baby voice.

Namjoon cringes. "I thought we agreed not the voice."

"Baby," Hoseok continues, grinning.

"Fine, fine, point taken. Lee Jihoon?"

Hoseok scrunches his face in judgement. "That's incest."

"I keep telling you, Yoongi-hyung looks nothing like him." Hoseok continues to stare at his boyfriend before he sighs and nods. "Okay, not Lee Jihoon. Jackson Wang?"

Hoseok grabs the notepad from Namjoon's hands and shuffles away from him on the sofa. "What, so Yoongi-hyung and I can watch him flirt with you for the rest of our lives?"

"He doesn't flirt-"

"I'm watching you," Hoseok says, gesturing with two fingers between his eyes and then flicking them towards Namjoon.

Namjoon leans his head against the sofa cushions and smiles at Hoseok. "I love you, bae."

"Hmm."

Namjoon scoots closer to Hoseok, pressing his lips to his neck. "My one and only."

Hoseok tries to keep his lips in a firm line, but he leans into Namjoon's touch and lets out a sigh. "I'd better be, asshole."

Namjoon manages to snuggle under Hoseok's arm and they ponder the small list together. Finally, he says, "I'm surprised you didn't put Jeon Seokjin on the list."

Hoseok blinks and pulls back to stare incredulously at Namjoon. "Jeon Seokjin is gay?"

Namjoon frowns and straightens. "Technically he's bi, but-"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, Jeon the-most-beautiful-man-on-the-planet Seokjin is gay? That Seokjin? He's into guys?"

"Why are you freaking out about this?"

"If I had known that three years ago, we would have a very different living arrangement, is all I'm saying."

Namjoon opens and closes his mouth in shock. "Did you just imply-"

"I'd jump him in a heartbeat, yes."

Namjoon stands. "Okay you know what? Consider this," he gestures to his crotch, "closed for business."

Hoseok gapes at him as he storms to their bedroom. "I was joking, Joon-ah! It was a joke!" he calls out. "Mostly. Nearly half of it was in jest." He waits for a response but all he hears is overly loud rustling. "Babe?" He stands from the sofa and inches towards the bedroom. "Come on, bae, reopen the candy shop. Let me lick the lollipop."

There's silence for a moment before Namjoon opens the door to their bedroom and scowls at him. "I really hate when you quote hip hop in an effort to seduce me."

Hoseok grins. "But it worked didn't it?"

Namjoon hangs his head in defeat.

&&&

Seokjin spent the week Jeongguk was in Busan networking with as many families as he could. He went to lunches and dinners and gallery openings and committee meetings. He laughed and entertained and flirted and they were all happy to see him. Of course they were happy to see him, he had spent years using flattery and favors and friendly conversations to survive in the gilded world. But that was all. Just happy to see him, not happy to discuss a possible marriage, not happy to permanently join into an alliance. At the end of the day, no matter how fond everyone is of Seokjin, he is still only a Jeon in name and not in blood.

If the circumstances of Jeongguk's birth are unfortunate, Seokjin's are downright tragic. His mother was an ordinary girl from an ordinary suburb of Seoul, living an ordinary life. She met the wrong boy, and they made the wrong decisions, and nine months later Seokjin was born and his father was no where to be found. Her family kicked her out, wanting nothing to do with an unwed mother and her unwanted son.

But his mother was strong, and more importantly, she was beautiful. She worked in clubs and bars, attracting high class clients who paid just for the pleasure of her company. It was there that she met the youngest son of the Jeon chaebol group, they made some right decisions, and nine months later, Seokjin had a brother named Jeongguk.

Seokjin understands. Marrying the illegitimate son of a mistress and the youngest son of a chaebol group was one thing. Marrying said son's half-brother who came along for the ride was another matter entirely.

He sighs, holding his champagne flute by his thigh between his thumb and ring finger, ignoring the mutter of party-goers filling up the usually empty gallery. He frowns at the painting, a stylized rendition of a black crow in flight. He wants to fly like that. He wants to fly away from the Jeon family and responsibilities and life. He tilts his head, considering the angle of the wings.

"Is it supposed to mean something really deep, or is it just a bird flying?"

Seokjin doesn't startle when Jeongguk slings his arm around his shoulder, just adjusts his stance to accommodate his brother. "What does a bird in flight mean to you, Jeonggok?"

Jeongguk tilts his head against Seokjin's shoulder. "Freedom?"

Seokjin smiles. "I guess it's a painting about freedom, then."

Jeongguk makes a low whistling noise. "Can you write my art history paper?"

"No." Seokjin pokes Jeongguk's side and peers at him. "You like art history."

Jeongguk makes a dismissive noise in the back of his throat, and Seokjin can't help but think it sounds like his grandfather. "I like my business classes more."

"You used to like art history."

Jeongguk shrugs and reaches for the champange flute in Seokjin's hands. "Can I have this? Thanks."

Seokjin makes a face and snatches the flute back. "You're too young."

Jeongguk rolls his eyes. "I'm an adult now."

"Nope, I didn't give my permission yet. You're still my cute baby brother." Seokjin grins, taking a large gulp of the champagne, enjoying the look of disgust on Jeongguk's face.

"Jeon Seokjin?"

Seokjin turns around at the voice, expecting to find one of the extra gallery attendants they hired for the event. Instead he's greeted by a prim-looking woman, dressed in an understated but expensive suit. He bows slightly. "Yes?"

The woman smiles politely and bows. "My name is Park Gyuri, I'm Chairwoman Min's personal secretary. If you would come with me, the chairwoman would like a word."

Seokjin's brows furrow. "Chairwoman Min? As in the Min Group?"

"Correct."

Jeongguk steps in front of Seokjin, his shoulders rigid and mouth turned down into an intimidating frown. "What does she want with my brother?"

Seokjin places a hand on Jeongguk's shoulder and tugs him back, handing his glass to his brother. "It's fine. I'll be right back."

Park Gyuri keeps a professional smile on her face, watching them expectantly even as Jeongguk scowls at her.

Seokjin taps Jeongguk's shoulder one last time in reassurance, a wide, friendly smile on his face masking his confusion. They did send the Min Corporation an invitation to the exhibit opening, but it was more out of courtesy than any real expectation of attendance. The gallery Seokjin works in is established and respectable, but small and not prestigious. Even if the Min Corporation decided it was in their interests to attend, to have the chairwoman herself come is far beyond Seokjin's reasoning.

He follows Park Gyuri through the small crowd and up the stairs to the offices. He keeps the friendly smile on his face when he asks, "It's not the director that the chairwoman would like to see?"

Park Gyuri shakes her head. "It was Jeon Seokjin I was sent to retrieve."

Seokjin laughs to dispel his nerves. "What does Chairwoman Min want with me?"

Park Gyuri makes a dismissive noise. "That's for the chairwoman to divulge." She stops at the door to the director's office and gestures, bowing slightly. "If you will."

Seokjin narrows his eyes at the gesture, as if this was Park Gyuri's home office and not Seokjin's place of work, but he keeps his mouth shut and enters. He's greeted by the director sitting in the visitor's chair and an older, refined woman sitting in the director's chair. She glances up at him as he enters, sharp eyes narrowing and flicking up and down rapidly. He has the distinct impression that she's pulling him apart and piecing him back together, testing his edges, peeking under his masks. He smiles and bows, keeping his hands flat against his sides.

"Ah, this is Jeon Seokjin, Chairwoman," the director says, standing and coming toward Seokjin.

Seokjin sends her a questioning look but the director's expression is just as confused as his. He turns his attention back to the chairwoman and smiles. "An honor to meet you."

The chairwoman tilts her chin up and the side of her lip twitches into a small smile. "Likewise." She gestures to the chair opposite her. "Please, have a seat."

Seokjin glances back at the director but she offers no help. He carefully sits opposite the chairwoman, keeping his shoulders straight and placing his hands on his knees.

"Secretary Park, that will be all," the chairwoman dismisses, and Park Gyuri escorts the director out of the office, shutting the door lightly behind them. The chairwoman flicks her gaze back to Seokjin, eyes still narrowed and searching.

When it becomes apparent that the chairwoman will not so easily divulge her purpose, Seokjin smiles and takes the initiative. "I hope the exhibit is to your liking," he says congenially. "The participants were hand-picked by the director."

The chairwoman nods, folding her hands on the desk. "It is an excellent collection. I particularly like the portrait of a young man with colorful tears."

Seokjin brightens and leans forward, "It's called Begin and it's by a promising young-"

"How long have you worked here, Seokjin? Ah, may I call you Seokjin? I'm old, so I forget how to be polite at times."

Seokjin's smile wavers in confusion, but he quickly recovers. "Seokjin is fine. I've been at this gallery for two years."

"Do you enjoy your work?"

"I do."

"What's your five and ten year plan?"

Seokjin blinks hard, still trying to grasp the situation. "I'm sorry?"

"Will you stay here? Venture into the family business?" The chairwoman arches a brow. "Perhaps your own gallery?"

Ah, Seokjin thinks, relaxing as the situation clears in his mind. Chairwoman Min is probably opening up her own gallery and is recruiting. He doesn't know how his name came upon the list, he isn't the most sought-after in his profession, and he's still a novice by many accounts, but he supposes the Jeon name does hold a small weight. Most gallery employees do not come from a trueblood chaebol group.

He smiles gently and says, "If you've come to propose a job offer, I'm sorry but I have to decline. I'm happy where I am, and have no intentions of leaving."

The chairwoman pauses, eyebrows lifting and lips pursing. She's silent for a few moments before she says, almost curiously, "And if I offered you five times your current salary?"

Seokjin's eyes widen and his heartrate jumps. With five times his current salary, he could have enough money to leave with Jeongguk in mere months instead of a year. It's tempting, so tempting, but his mind wanders to the director and how kind she's been to him. How they worked together to get the gallery up and running from the very beginning. How he promised himself he would find and train a replacement for his position before he left.

He smiles regretfully and shakes his head. "I'm sorry, I really won't leave."

The chairwoman taps her fingers on the desk and her lips tug slightly to the side in a small smile. "Loyal." She shifts in her seat, leaning her arm on the table. "You have a brother, correct?"

Seokjin's eyebrows furrow. "Yes." He isn't quite sure where this is heading anymore and it makes him nervous.

"Are you close?"

"Extremely."

"If he told you to quit this gallery, would you?"

"In a heartbeat." Seokjin leans forward, "I'm not quite sure where this-"

"Are you still close to your mother? The biological one, of course, not the one in the registry."

Seokjin freezes, a frown forming on his lips. He leans back from the desk and folds his hands carefully on top of his knees. "There is a line, Chairwoman," he says coolly, suppressing the heat of offense flowing through his veins. "Lines that even you should not cross."

She arches a narrow brow but finally a small smile tugs at her lips again. "I was worried you didn't have a backbone."

"I'm easygoing, Chairwoman. Not a doormat."

She nods in acknowledgement. "I've been informed you are bisexual, am I wrong?"

Seokjin furrows his brow again. "I'm not sure that's pertinent information."

The chairwoman ignores him and continues, "I've also heard whispers that you are searching for a spouse. Again, am I wrong?"

Seokjin blinks rapidly.

"I have a grandson, who just so happens to be single, available, and in desperate need of a husband."

Seokjin can't stop blinking. He thinks he couldn't have possibly heard right. "You want me," he starts, voice quiet in his confusion, "to marry Min Yoongi."

"Yes."

"Min Yoongi," Seokjin repeats, incredulous. "Sole heir to your vast empire."

The chairwoman shrugs. "If I don't murder him before I die, yes." She narrows her eyes and peers at him. "Is this disagreeable?"

Seokjin slumps back in his chair and takes a deep breath. It's too good to be true. If the Jeon family is a king among men, then the Min family is an emperor among kings. It's too high of a match, it's too perfect, too much. It's not possible. Not even a full-blooded, legitimate Jeon heir like Jeongguk's cousin could possibly hope to aim for the Min family.

He smiles nervously and says slowly, "You are aware of my true background."

The chairwoman stares at Seokjin with boredom. "What, your mother was a mistress and your father's identity is unknown? Why should it matter? You are on the Jeon family register, it makes you a Jeon." She shrugs. "When you marry Yoongi, you'll be a part of the Min family regardless. Why should I care what you were before?"

Seokjin gapes at her, unable to fully comprehend. He tries to still it, but relief begins to work through his mind, working down his spine, relaxing his shoulders. Relief, strong and intoxicating. He can put off Jeongguk's marriage indefinitely with an alliance to the Min family. He could even extract Jeongguk from their power. He would have leverage, power, a voice. It's too sweet, the temptation too heady, clogging his mind. He can't think clearly.

"Why," he manages to voice, blinking rapidly again, "why does Min Yoongi need a husband so desperately?"

The chairwoman sighs, a genuine expression of worry creasing her eyebrows. "You are aware of our family situation, I assume. Yoongi lost his parents when he was ten years old. It was a terrible time for us all."

Seokjin nods, recalling the story he'd heard, whispers murmured in voices devoid of sympathy, greedy for a story.

"I'm growing old. Before I leave this world, it's my responsibility to make sure Yoongi is not left alone. I will not fail my grandson a second time. He will marry, whether he agrees with me or not." She thins her lips into a firm line. "Well? Your answer, child."

He glances up and contemplates the chairwoman, searching her face for answers she cannot give him. He feels like he's standing at a diverging road, the signs faded and unreadable, and his map crumbled and lost miles behind him. Finally he asks, "Not to sound ungrateful, but why me? I'm sure you have more appropriate candidates."

She shifts back into her chair, crossing her legs. "I could lie to you and say your answers here today impressed me, or that the general opinion of your person is favorable. But I despise lying. The honest truth is I liked your face the best."

Seokjin grins and leans forward. "Me too. I like my face the best too." He winks before he can stop himself.

The chairwoman stares, stunned at him for a moment before she lets out a startled laugh, a full grin overtaking her lips. "I like that arrogance even more," she finally says, winking back at him.

&&&

When he looks back on it, Yoongi will realize there were several, glaring, obvious warning signs. The first being Taehyung's suddenly request to go to Zeus Hotel for lunch on a Thursday afternoon when he should probably be in class.

He says as much to his cousin. "You have class."

"Nuh-uh, it was cancelled this week. The professor's sick."

"Somehow I don't believe you," Yoongi says, flipping through a report. He wedges his phone between his ear and his shoulder, reaching for a pen to make an annotation. "I'll take you this weekend."

Taehyung gasps in outrage over the speaker. "No, they have a special menu and it's over by the weekend. We have to go Thursday."

Yoongi frowns, glancing up from his report to glare at the empty space of his office. "Zeus Hotel doesn't have special-"

"I'll meet you at your office, we can drive over. Bye, hyung!"

Yoongi blinks and quirks his lips to the side, his now silent phone still wedged between his ear and shoulder.

His second sign is when Taehyung actually shows up in his office on Thursday during the worst wind and rain storm Seoul has seen in years.

"Hey," Taehyung says, slightly out of breath as he steps into Yoongi's office, brushing wet strands of hair away from his face. "Ready to go?"

Yoongi glares and purses his lips. "Ready for what?"

"Lunch!" Taehyung folds his arms across his chest and taps his foot impatiently. "Did you forget?"

"It's a storm outside, Tae."

Taehyung nods, eyes wide, anticipating the rest of the sentence. When Yoongi remains silent, he prompts, "Yeah, and?"

"It's the worst storm in years," Yoongi says, enunciating his words slowly as if it will help get his point across.

"Okay, I don't get your point."

"I'm not going out. I'm staying here, with my coffee and my heating, and my emergency generator when the power inevitably goes out."

Taehyung rolls his eyes and trudges to Yoongi, pulling him out of his chair by the arm. "There's coffee and heating and generators at Zeus Hotel. Let's go."

He pushes Yoongi to the door but Yoongi resists, twisting out of Taehyung hold, and smacking him lightly on the head. "Ya."

Taehyung flinches back, rubbing his head. "You should see someone about that violent streak."

"I'll let my secretary know." He heads back to his desk, satisfied the conversation is over.

Except Taehyung sighs heavily and plops onto one of the armchairs in Yoongi's receiving area, hooking his legs over the arm. "Okay, the way I see it, hyung, you have two choices."

Yoongi arches a brow and leans his hip onto his desk, silent.

"First," Taehyung says, holding up one finger, "you could be a good hyung and take me to Zeus Hotel for lunch as you promised."

"I never prom-"

"Or second!" Taehyung holds up two fingers. "You can attempt to work while I stay here all afternoon, distracting you." Taehyung turns his head to grin mischievously at Yoongi. "The choice is yours."

Yoongi rolls his eyes and settles back into his desk, pulling out the drawer of his desk for his earphones. As long as he has those, he can ignore anything Taehyung – wait, where did they go?

"Looking for these?" Taehyung's grin grows wider as he holds up a pair of expensive earphones.

"How did you even get those?"

Taehyung shrugs, smug. "So. Lunch?"

&&&

The clouds are so thick and dark that even at one in the afternoon, it seems closer to night than day. Yoongi and Taehyung make it to the hotel in one piece despite the heavy rain. Taehyung leads the way to a private dining room and as the door swings open, Yoongi realizes it's an ambush.

Seated at the table is his grandmother and a tall, elegant man he knows he should recognize but cannot quite place.

He stops short and glares at Taehyung. "You lied."

"Technically not a lie, just" - Taehyung waves his hands in the air - "an omission of sorts."

Yoongi's grandmother stands and waves him over. "Yoongi, stop standing there like an idiot and come join us."

Yoongi scowls but Taehyung takes his elbow and delivers him to the table. He sits, glaring at his grandmother.

"Yoongi, this is Jeon Seokjin," his grandmother says, gesturing to the man across the table.

Yoongi flicks his gaze briefly to Seokjin, taking in the tailored suit, the artfully styled brown hair, the cool, polite smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes. He recognizes the name and the face now. He crosses his arms over his chest and turns to his grandmother. "This is a fucking marriage date," he seethes, anger boiling from his stomach.

His grandmother seems unperturbed, arching a brow. "I raised you better than that. Greet our guest."

He scowls. "You didn't raise me."

"Manners."

Yoongi flicks his gaze back to Seokjin, and nods in acknowledgement. "Sorry you had to get caught in the middle of this but I distinctly recall telling my grandmother no more marriage dates."

His grandmother sniffs derisively. "If you think that tantrum will dissuade me, then you're stupid as well as stubborn."

"It must run in the family."

Seokjin looks nervously between the occupants of the table, polite smile waning but still present through the exchange. "I'm sorry, this must be a shock to you," he tries, but Yoongi scoffs and rolls his eyes. It's the last time Yoongi acknowledges anyone's presence through the entire meal.

Yoongi admits to himself that Seokjin tries, very hard, to mediate the situation, but he remains stubbornly silent and sullen through the lunch, glaring whenever Taehyung or his grandmother attempts to pull him into conversation. Finally his grandmother sighs in frustration, throwing her fork onto her plate.

"You're impossible, Yoongi," she says, frustration sharpening her tone.

He shrugs, standing and slipping his hands into his pant pockets. "It seems like we're done here." He peers briefly at Seokjin. "Sorry for the lunch. I'd say I'd make it up to you, but we won't be seeing each other again."

Seokjin blinks rapidly at him, his mouth slack and shoulders rigid.

Yoongi lifts a hand in farewell and saunters out of the room, heading to the valet in the front to fetch his car. He squints up at the sky from under the awning, trying to separate the dark grey blanket into individual clouds. He shivers as a gust of wind whips past him, icy fingers clawing down his neck. He tightens his jacket around his frame and lifts his shoulders to block the wind.

"Min Yoongi!"

Yoongi frowns and turns to the sound, eyes widening in slight surprise to see Jeon Seokjin jogging to catch up to him. He swallows a frustrated sigh.

"Can we talk for a moment?" Seokjin asks when he finally reaches Yoongi. The wind whips through his hair, disrupting the styled strands into a lopsided mess of tangles. Yoongi thinks fleetingly that somehow Seokjin still manages to look handsome.

Yoongi's frown deepens and he turns back to look at the street. "I made myself clear. I'm not marrying you." He shrugs. "Nothing personal, I'm not marrying anyone."

"Your grandmother seems to think otherwise."

"My grandmother doesn't have to stand before the judge and say 'I do'."

"Can we please just go inside and talk, for a minute?"

Yoongi glares up at Seokjin, a scowl twisting his lips. "No."

Seokjin takes a step closer to him and Yoongi backs away.

"For fuck's sake," Yoongi grumbles, stuffing his hands deep into his pants pockets and walking out from under the awning and into the rain. He scowls when the rain hits his head, icy cold drops stinging at his skin.

He doesn't expect Seokjin to follow him, calling out, "What's so terrible about marriage? You have to do it eventually. I'll be a good husband."

"You sound desperate," Yoongi says, turning on his heel to glare at Seokjin. He's darkly satisfied to see Seokjin's hair awkwardly plastered to his face.

"I am," Seokjin says, blinking against the rain. "I am desperate. I need this marriage."

Yoongi rolls his eyes, looking up at the sky, rain blurring his view of dark grey clouds. "Are you going to beg me?" he says, scorn heavy in his voice.

"Yes!" Seokjin replies, desperation thinning his voice into nothing more than a rasp of air. "Yes, if it will work. I'll get down on my knees right here and beg you."

Seokjin moves to kneel but Yoongi catches his arm by the elbow, pulling him upright and closer. "I don't want you to fucking beg."

"I need you," Seokjin confesses, arm twisting in Yoongi's hold so his hands can grasp Yoongi's forearm.

Yoongi looks down at Seokjin's hand on his arm, a deep frown etched on his mouth. Seokjin's fingers grip tightly at the rain-darkened material of his jacket, slender and crooked and wrong. Seokjin's hands don't belong on his arm, Seokjin's breath doesn't belong in his air, Seokjin's voice doesn't belong in his ears, pleading and frantic. Yoongi is meant to be as he is, with few friends and fewer family. He doesn't want to change. He refuses to change.

Seokjin's voice gets stronger with his hand on Yoongi's jacket, his words penetrating. "I need you," Seokjin repeats. "I need you so desperately, you can't even imagine." His grip tightens, neat nails disappearing into heavy denim. "One year, Yoongi. I need you for one year, and then you'll never see me again."

Yoongi frowns and lifts his gaze, locking eyes with Seokjin. For what feels like the first time, he really looks at Seokjin. Large caramel eyes widened in desperation, round cheeks, red lips, wet strands of hair clumped to the side as the rain and wind attacks them both. He feels his fingers tighten on Seokjin's arm, the action out of his control. He didn't even know he was still holding Seokjin.

"One year," Seokjin repeats, and Yoongi thinks he hears warning bells sound off in his head. He's going to regret this.