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Seokjin's bedroom is made of three walls and an aquarium tank that stands from floor to ceiling, spanning from one corner to another and full of colorful fish on a well-made replica of a colar reef dropping off to the edge of the ocean. It's like he's visiting Lotte World, tracking the artificial light pushing through the water groggily and watching as they make the detailed outlines of the fishes shine when they dart in and out of view, and somehow the irrationality of it hits Jungkook hard.

There is something indescribable about Seokjin. Something high and lonely hidden beneath the glamour of high-rise penthouse suites and classic cars and a business attached to his family name. Seokjin could have had whatever he wanted, like a kitchen that wasn’t all for show and less events penned in on his weekends, and yet he chooses this thing. An aquarium that runs like a fever dream through his apartment, has no real purpose, is empty of value, and kept clean by a company that sends in their workers every Monday and Thursday mornings.

The thing about rich people is that there are a million things they could spend their money on, but none of it lives up to their promise. Jungkook presses the side of his face against a million thread count duvet, right across the billion dollar figure of Kim Seokjin, and wonders why, with all of the money in the world, Seokjin couldn’t afford to buy him over.

 

-

 

It isn’t that Jungkook came from the streets, and Seokjin picked him off from the poor, moaning litter of homeless little boys and took him home, dressed him in designer clothes and fucked him on a bed made of money. He didn’t grow up poor and neither did he have to make a paycheck stretch for months. Jungkook was just a bored, competitive university sophomore with an arts and business double degree, slipping in high-end bars and blowing all of his time on smiling at strangers across the room and getting free drinks and people breathing down his neck, fingers on his throat. They say, “I have a place a few minutes from here,” but Jungkook smiles, empty glass on the counter in front of him and a receipt charged to someone else’s tab, and promptly says, “I’m waiting for someone else.”

The someone else, Jungkook thinks, might have been Seokjin. Handsome, rich, broad-shouldered Seokjin with his fever cold smile and the way he walked into the bar like he didn’t own eight figures on a bank account in the offshores. Jungkook watched him like a hawk, strangely drawn like Seokjin was the point of a laser beam on a drywall, and almost felt something in him say: that one – that’s the one. You could go home with him tonight. You could press him up against the wall and devour him in one go.

On the parties and the tabloids, the magazine articles, Seokjin says they meet on a September evening. Seokjin says it was the last stretching hours at a coffee shop in the outskirts of Cheongdam, and Jungkook working the evening shift for someone else. The first time Seokjin meets him, Jungkook rings his order at the counter and asks for a number instead of a name, pretty with wide doe eyes and a pink mouth.

Sometimes – only sometimes, and back when Seokjin still had the same shade of dark hair as his – Jungkook thinks they almost look alike. There are angles to it. Sometimes the light hits just right. Sometimes, when Seokjin presses Jungkook against a mirror and fucks him slow, Jungkook remembers his psychology classes and that attractiveness is relative and mirroring. You like people who resemble you, he remembers drilling into his mind. You like people you can one day grow up to be like.

It’s the first thought he has. If you ask Jungkook and he was honest, he’ll say he meets Seokjin on a June night. Seokjin sits on a corner booth across the bar, looking like he was waiting for someone else, and Jungkook eyes him from head to toe in one quick sweep and thinks – knows, even – that there are things you want, and then there are things you’d kill for.

 

-

 

The truth is, Jungkook is spoiled rotten and Seokjin is unrealistic just because he can afford to be. Seokjin takes him on luxury restaurants and expensive hotel suites, lets him buy all the things he wants just because. For a long time, over a year, Jungkook has had to deal with a movie cliché of sneaking out and running through the city, hidden away from the public eye like he was a controversy. A scandal waiting to blow up, because of course that was what Jungkook was. The first time Jungkook sees him, Seokjin is waiting for someone else; the first time Seokjin takes him to dinner, Seokjin comes from someone else. The first time Seokjin kisses him, he tastes artificial. That close, Jungkook could almost see how there’s a stain on the corner of his mouth too red.

The thing about Seokjin is that he’s never liked anyone his age. Jungkook is bordering the edge of five years younger, and before him was someone older. Someone prettier. Woman, Jungkook almost wants to say, because of course it matters. The day Jungkook meets Seokjin, he’s waiting for a slight little thing who stands on the tips of her toes just to kiss him. He gives her roses and kisses her like it was some afternoon drama, and Jungkook thinks, boldly, I could be better. I could give you something more.

Jungkook wasn’t possessive, but he was competitive. It’s not difficult to be what Seokjin wants, because Seokjin wants him – plain old Jeon Jungkook, who sang murder ballads into his ear and slept curled up to him – and nothing was easier than just that. So Jungkook does what he always does, meeting Seokjin in the evenings dressed in things Seokjin’s picked for him, going to places Seokjin’s reserved for him, eating things Seokjin’s ordered for him. In the magazines, Seokjin is taking a different name around town, but Jungkook is the one in his bed. Jungkook’s spoils are what runs through his credit card.

It’s Jungkook. It’s always been.

 

-

 

“I want to see the daylight, you know,” Jungkook says one evening. They’re in another one of those fancy restaurants Seokjin insists on making him try, something French and difficult on his tongue. They’re two people in a private room for six, a long table in between them, and outside: downtown Seoul, a sprawling landscape of the Bukhan Mountains in the distance.

Seokjin laughs. “You can barely wake up for your morning classes.” He knows. Of course he knows. It’s been a topical conversation, something Jungkook always brings up when he’s trying on new things in Seokjin’s penthouse. There’s a whole rack of designer clothes that he shrugs into and out of, slipping them off his shoulders and shedding them like they’re cheap hand-me-downs. It wasn’t his idea; Seokjin likes seeing him undress, seeing him leave things crumpled on the floor.

“Let me rephrase,” Jungkook says. “I want to be the only one.”

Seokjin smiles at him the way he’s taught to. Tight-lipped but smooth, fitting for a business. “We aren’t – ”

“What are we?” Jungkook seethes. “And what aren’t we?”

“Don’t be a child, Jungkook.” The overhead lights dance over Seokjin’s face as he shifts, and Jungkook could see he’s amused. It’s like a challenge, a puzzle he wants Jungkook to solve. Prove it, he almost looks like he’s saying. Prove it, and I’ll do it for you. Because of course – Kim Seokjin may be the one with the money and the means, but it’s Jeon Jungkook who has him wrapped around a finger. That’s why all those names, all those people in a long, long list of numbers and addresses spotted all over Seoul, Jungkook is the only one that stays. Why Jungkook is the only one Kim Seokjin takes home.

It takes him two counts to slip under the tablecloth, seven to crawl towards the other end, and another three to put himself between Seokjin’s legs. He presses the side of his head to the inside of Seokjin’s thigh and looks up at him, making himself look as young and as fucked out as he can. It’s not difficult to play the part of someone hot and heavy for Seokjin; he has that face, when he wants to. In the press photos, Seokjin is the epitome of soft flower boy in his mid-twenties, like a young actor casted for the role of a CEO. In here, Seokjin is aggressive, a knot in between his eyebrows and his jaw wound tight like he’s waiting for a pitch to hook and reel him in.

Jungkook reaches for Seokjin’s belt and tugs at the buckle, unbuttons his hundred-dollar trousers and mewls at how hot Seokjin feels in his hands, his mouth. Like this, Jungkook almost hears a chanting in his head. Like this, like this.

 

-

 

On Tuesday morning, Jungkook wakes up to headlines: Kim Seokjin, twenty-five year-old CEO of Kim Industries, breaks off a long-running relationship with the Bae family’s eldest daughter. He loses a potential company merger in one fell stroke and over a billion won in partnership. It’s all figures and rhetoric, a chart Jungkook could predict the rise and fall of, and Jungkook thinks, here it is. Here is what he wants, and here, here – Seokjin. Seokjin with his slow afternoons and his evening earl greys and the way he says his name.

Jungkook almost wants to take it like a suckerpunch.

 

-

 

“You’re taller than me now.” Seokjin smiles at him in the mirror, unbuttoning his jacket and shrugging it off his shoulders. Jungkook is still stuck in his overcoat, a stuffy little centerpiece in Seokjin’s sprawling walk-in closet, and he watches as Seokjin puts himself behind him like they’re an elementary line. Jungkook looks at the span of height he has on him and thinks of small, insignificant victories.

“I guess,” Jungkook murmurs, and Seokjin presses a soft kiss to the back of his head and moves on. The thing about Seokjin is – Jungkook digs around for a metaphor, an adjective – and comes up short. There’s something flashy and impressionable about him. In popular media, Seokjin looks like he’s perfect. He’s one of Korea’s most eligible bachelors, a young, explosive thing that has people falling at his feet and a whole empire under it. Behind closed doors, Jungkook is reminded, almost painfully, that Seokjin may have stocks at a perpetual rise and the expensive high rise life, but there are things that can only go so far.

He loves Seokjin, he guesses. Seokjin makes him feel like he’s a cinematic detail, a Greek tragedy careening through the screen in breakneck speed that they slow down to a sluggish pace in the final cut. If anything, it’s like Seokjin goes against all rational sense of the world and lets Jungkook get away with things. Suddenly, the solar system is geocentric. The universe ends at an edge to nothingness and the Earth is flat.

Across the room, Seokjin meets his eye. “What’s wrong?” he asks, his shoulders a smooth, rounding curve tapering into a narrow waist. His hair is a fitting blond, his eyebrows drawn together.

Jungkook looks at him and tries to imagine how it would feel like to swallow someone whole. He thinks of winning, and what he has to lose in the end, and of small, insignificant victories that do you nothing. He smiles back at Seokjin. “Nothing’s wrong.”

 

-

 

They are photographed together, more often than not. In penthouse restaurants in the heart of Seoul, the frontlines of fashion runways in New York, whispering to each other in art exhibits in Tokyo. Sometimes Jungkook wears his ties off, crooked, and thinks of what people see in those yellowy photos. He scrolls through magazine articles and thinks of speaking and scandals waiting to blow over. In a presidential suite in Milan, a panoramic view of the city all around, Seokjin presses him against a window and takes him in his mouth. Jungkook wants to say, he was down on his knees for me. He wants to say, he let me come in his mouth and he kissed me after, unashamed as ever.

Seokjin was the kind of person you could make a trophy husband out of, the one who smiles at you during company dinners and speaks detachedly about the latest headlines as his hand runs up your thigh under the table. It hasn’t been the first time Jungkook has pressed his face against Seokjin’s shoulder, face flushed, and listened to him ask if something was wrong.

“You’re wrong,” Jungkook says. The lights are too yellow, their private table too stuffy and the tablecloth heavy against his thighs as Seokjin touches him. Jungkook feels like a feature. Like Seokjin brought him here and built him up just to break him down, holding his cock at the base when Jungkook’s moaning against his shoulder, “I’m close, I’m close – ah, hyung – ” and pinning his hips down when he tries to rut into his touch.

“You’re so pretty, Jungkook,” Seokjin says out of nowhere, a complete blindside, and Jungkook turns to look at him. He tries to memorize how Seokjin looks like this: candid, eyes soft and shoulders unwound, and remembers everything he can. He was down on his knees for me, he wants to say. He was down on his knees for me.

In the after party, Jungkook kisses him on the sidelines of the dancefloor. Seokjin says something against his mouth, puts his name into the ends of it, and there it is. The blind, love struck affection, Seokjin’s fingers curling around his wrist and pulling him close, and Jungkook is almost disappointed.

 

-

 

He graduates with a double degree. His thesis is stellar, and although mathematics wasn’t his strong suit for a business degree, there is something about Jungkook near instinctual. In lectures, his professors stare him down and ask questions – when to merge, when to sell, what to prioritize and what to put down – and Jungkook answers. He is terrifyingly perfect, if he wants to be. He is manipulative and charismatic, like a list of symptoms for something Jungkook doesn’t like naming. In his first internship, Seokjin sponsors him for a branch in Tokyo; in his second, a partner company in Sydney. If Jungkook’s success was a film, Seokjin would have been an executive producer on the frontlines of the audience. A trust fund. A senseless afterschool project that turned out differently.

Seokjin watches him from the crowd, beaming. He gives him yellow flowers and cups his face offstage, kissing him full on the mouth, but all Jungkook can think of is duality. Yellow flowers with no names and a variety of meanings Jungkook can’t count on one hand, but all of it exists. Seokjin is blond and beaming and young, forever so, and Jungkook reaches up to fold Seokjin’s collar where it doesn’t meet the pressed lines of it.

Jungkook watches as Seokjin laughs, his imperfection a quirk that Jungkook is fond of, and lets him hold their hands together in the darkness of the auditorium like it was a theater and they were high schoolers sneaking out to watch an adult film. “What would I do without you, Jungkook?” Seokjin exaggerates, and Jungkook stares off into the crowd.

You’d do everything, Jungkook wants to say. You’d go to Tokyo and finally drop off the face of the earth. In some other life, you’d be an actor, maybe. You’d marry someone else and she’d know how to kiss you senseless, and she’d go to sleep without thinking of how it would feel to strangle you in your sleep.

And then, unbidden, like a solicitation: don’t do anything without me.

 

-

 

The domestic life is sickening, if not endearing. Jungkook remembers Seokjin like he’s a Catholic school boy and Seokjin’s a prayer he chants as he kneels by the church pew, an apologetic penance for a sin. Forgive me, father, for I have sinned – and Jungkook imagines the dialogue – and what is your sin? Jungkook likes to be romantic about it: I have touched myself to the thought of someone I didn’t have. I took him inside of me and I swallowed him whole; I screamed god, oh god and I let him ruin me. I was an adulterer and I stole him from someone else, then I took him to church and I knelt between his legs. I let him fuck me so he could promise me a good life.

But the truth is there’s something soft about Seokjin, domestic even, and for all his rough edges in bed Seokjin is soft out of it. Seokjin is twenty-seven and a child. He has a habit of waking up early and tickling Jungkook awake by the time the clock blinks to nine. He has lists – things Jungkook would have wanted, things Jungkook didn’t even know he did – but on birthdays and almost anniversaries none of it makes the cut. Instead of the usual splurges of Patek Philippes and Clive Christians, Seokjin gets him senseless things: custom-made kites he can’t fly in Seoul and art piece socks with neon bright colors.

Seokjin is twenty-seven and lets Jungkook buy designer clothing and expensive cameras with his own credit card, but when it matters it’s like he regresses. He throws ideas out there and tries to find something he thinks Jungkook would have liked, as senseless and cheap as they turn out to be. Jungkook is somewhat smitten, of course, because it’s Seokjin – and it’s terrifying, how he does a double take.

On the days Jungkook isn’t sleeping on the same bed – which are getting fewer and fewer in between – he slips out of his apartment and smokes through half a pack. Seokjin says it would ruin his voice into something croaky, but Seokjin doesn’t know that there are things to Jungkook that are better off not being pressed against. He doesn’t know the things that run through his mind and how sometimes he rams himself against the doorframe. He doesn’t know about how on one June night all those years ago, Jungkook looked at him and thought of hunger. Of biting into him and how, if you wanted it enough, you could swallow anything whole.

Seokjin writes him letters and tells him in a handwriting that’s rehearsed: I think about you all the time these days. They come short of I love you, but Jungkook hears it anyways. The questions do get frequent – on Sunday mornings, over fancy dinners and during sappy romance films – Seokjin asks him what ifs and would you’s. It’s a long time coming, and one night in an art gallery in New York and right in front of a post-Renaissance-styled painting, Seokjin leans close to him and asks, finally, if Jungkook would marry him.

Jungkook wants to say yes. He wants to wear an eighteen carat white gold ring on his finger and be able to say someone like Seokjin took him overseas and married him, because how many people could say they were married to one of Korea’s richest men alive?

In another life, maybe. In some other life Jungkook says yes and finally agrees to meeting Seokjin’s parents over a full course in Cornerstone; in June, they get married in Belgium or Spain or somewhere, and in the place of a kid, they finally get the large dumb dog Seokjin’s been wanting to buy for years. In some place, he’d let Seokjin push his name against his and he’d finally stop existing as Jeon Jungkook. But then there’s the prenuptials and the scandals, and if Jungkook lets Seokjin marry him like this he’d be nothing but a gold-digging trophy husband. He could hear people accusing him: you married him for the money and everything else that came with it – which would be true, of course, but it wouldn’t hurt his pride any less.

So he says no. Seokjin smiles at him like the question was phatic and Jungkook’s answer wasn’t disappointing, but it’s blatant. It’s in how his hold on Jungkook’s hand loosens and how he doesn’t look at him for the rest of the evening. When they come across a modern rendition of Gustav Klimt’s most famous work, Seokjin almost looks like he’s going to cry.

You’re a giant of a child, Jungkook thinks. You’re pathetic.

 

-

 

“Why are you even here, Jungkook?” Seokjin asks him one evening, not so put together anymore. It’s a Wednesday and Seokjin, for the first time in months, leaves his plus one blank. Jungkook watches him in the mirror and doesn’t know which is worse: the fact that Seokjin is looking straight back at him or the possibility of some tabloid nitpicking at the empty space Jungkook’s supposed to fill beside him. He could almost imagine the yellow pages and the blotting printed text.

Seokjin doesn’t hold grudges. Seokjin loves him, and Jungkook would press against the metaphorical bruise of that truth to make sure Seokjin wouldn’t ever forget. He may have the money and the success and the fame, the soft crooked fingers that never had to work for anything in his whole life, but it’s Jungkook who has him wrapped around one. It’s Jungkook who doesn’t keep his promises and lies through his teeth.

For someone so cutthroat, someone people treat like a king, Seokjin really is just human. Jungkook tries to remember that this humanity and the imperfection of it is a quirk – an endearing quirk, a lovable quirk, a quirk he could wake up to for the rest of his life – but it falls short.

In popular media, saying you’re wrong is common dialogue. But Jungkook doesn’t like apologizing and he’s not wrong, so he watches Seokjin fold his tie and remembers about how every now and then Seokjin might pretend that he doesn’t know how to do these things just so Jungkook could do it for him, but he’s sloppy. He forgets, and then the act is revealed, and so that’s what they do. They play each other; it’s just that Jungkook actually has the meticulous script and the scheduling. Jungkook’s act is concrete and Seokjin is nothing but flimsy bait. In another life, Jungkook is sure of Seokjin acting. He has that kind of actor face you don’t give double-takes to. You see him once in the street and the thought hits you right in the gut, but that’s not this life. In this life Seokjin wants to marry him and makes wobbly smiles when he finally gets his heart broken for the first time in his life.

“Do you think I wanted you for your money?” Jungkook says, instead. His mind is chanting and there’s a flash of something guilty in Seokjin’s face. He could almost imagine Seokjin turning it inside-out, thinking of reasons why Jungkook hadn’t said yes, and high on that intangible list is a prenuptial and all the fine print, the money that won’t ever get on Jungkook’s hands.

Imagine this: the closest thing to the love of your life on still shot. He looks like a terrified child and the incompetence of the very picture angers you. Jungkook stands up and keeps the film rolling. “Is that it? Do you think I’m here because I want to splurge on something, daddy?”

Seokjin rounds on him, eyebrows furrowed and the beginnings of a snarl on his mouth. “Don’t call me that,” he hisses. This close, Jungkook can smell the cologne he’s wearing, a subtle, heady smell that makes him want to press even closer. Seokjin, this close, this lighting and this angle – he wants all of it.

“Isn’t that what you think you are?” Jungkook says. Seokjin’s never hit him before, but the way he looks now Jungkook could sketch him angry and violent. It is oddly satisfying. Jungkook pushes back against him. “Isn’t that the concept? You’re bored and nobody wants you like I want you. We’re half a decade apart and you’re obsessed with the fact that I’m young and obnoxious and I’d let you fuck me against a wall – ”

Jungkook pushes him back, and for once Seokjin is flustered enough to budge. He steps back and Jungkook, with the little height he has on him, tries to be a tall, towering thing that Seokjin won’t ever be able to get over. “Which one of the above is true? None of them? All of them?”

Seokjin is a climactic scene on pause. He looks guilty or apologetic, whichever context you’d want to put him into, and Jungkook expects some poetic and borderline pretentious dialogue to start up, but it never comes. Seokjin looks at him and there’s this deflation to him, like he was a blown-up thing pricked and burst and the helium’s rushing out. When Seokjin fixes the crooked tie around Jungkook’s neck, there’s a detachment to it. It seems final, like Seokjin’s putting down a period to a long-winding statement, the kind of thing good husbands do before they divorce you. They take you out to dinner and they pretend things are going well and the last few years have just been some creaking bridge to cross, and then they tell you they’re sorry. Seokjin says, “They were right about you.”

Jungkook stops short and thinks that not everything’s an overestimation. He softens. He leans into Seokjin’s touch and the smooth, practiced twists of his fingers as he knots a perfect Eldredge, and tries to make himself smaller. It’s a spectrum that Seokjin keeps pushing him onto different ends of. Seokjin fixes the last loop and steps back, fingers curling around Jungkook’s arm. When Seokjin looks at him, it feels like he’s stepping into open downpour.

“You should leave, Jungkook.”

 

-

 

Seokjin is Jungkook’s favorite form of comedy. He’s the sitcom without the laugh tracks and the complete set that doesn’t make room for a live audience. Jungkook laughs at crude, pointless jokes, but Seokjin is something different. Seokjin makes him laugh because he wants to, not because it’s verbal vomit and halfway out it turns out to be something hilarious. There are people who are funny and there are people who are just comedic, and Jungkook likes the irony of what Seokjin is.

It’s not blatant, but you watch Seokjin long enough, close enough, and you start understanding that he’s awkward with normality. He’s the top percentage of the first world society of Seoul, and it doesn’t seem obvious but you know he’s born with a silver spoon and a long line of people at his beck and call. He has these short pauses in front of doors and a smile that sours when he doesn’t get his meals done right. He doesn’t like it when people talk over him and he has this naïve, self-righteous belief that the world, somehow, will always want him. He may not sing about it on the streets like it’s a whole musical, but Jungkook knows.

Seokjin is as ego-centric as every textbook billionaire is. That’s why Seokjin could push him away and tell him they shouldn’t see each other anymore, but he doesn’t cut his credit card and his number is kept out of Seokjin’s blocked contacts. He takes other people to fancy dinners and fucks them in fancier hotels, all loose-limbed and soft afterwards, but Jungkook wins. Jungkook burns himself into Seokjin so deep that it shows; in two weeks, Seokjin picks up a long-limbed fashion model from Daegu. He’s the same height and the same brave, a loud, blaring noise that doesn’t know how to be embarrassed.

If Seokjin wasn’t the romantic film of his life, then he would be the classic thriller. The one that always kept him on the edge of his seat and built up all the suspense and the mystery to a climactic high, and when it’s done Jungkook would be able to say the film changed him. He would have figured out the plot twists and the script of it, but he would still go home different and it would have kept him awake for years.

It should have turned out differently, Jungkook would say. It should have; but it doesn’t, and he’ll be stuck with that for the rest of his life.

 

-

 

In fourteen months, Seokjin gets bored and finally, finally comes back to him. He fucks him like someone who hasn’t touched something soft in weeks; he tries to be gentle but there’s the heavy press of his fingers against his skin like Seokjin was trying to leave bruises. Seokjin hasn’t prepped him enough and Jungkook keens in something that’s more of pain when he bottoms out. Seokjin’s hissing to his shoulder about how they should stop, but Jungkook’s in this mindset. For the hour – and the good three quarters of who he has been with Seokjin – Jungkook is audacious. He’s done it all and he’ll do it all again; that’s who Seokjin knows him as. The only reason Seokjin calls him golden is because Jungkook made himself out to be.

“No way,” Jungkook seethes. Seokjin is close to deadweight on top of him, trying to make him stop still, but he rolls his hips back anyways and feels Seokjin twitch inside of him. “No fucking way. I can take this.”

The truth isn’t that he can’t take it, it’s that Jungkook doesn’t want to. It’s that Seokjin is different from when he was the cinematic high of an arthouse film. He was the metaphor for all the joined hands during a slow fuck and dirty talking with an I love you attached to the ends of it, the perfect fit to the risks of what Jungkook’s act came with. Seokjin back then would have been sweet and easy to swallow, but Seokjin now is lined with subtle thorns that cut his throat open. He is unpleasant.

Jungkook’s on all fours, trembling at the joints as he tries to adjust to Seokjin. Sex is one of his most valuable currencies – it doesn’t matter how much Seokjin denies being his daddy, if not one for money – Jungkook still holds this over him. It may have been a challenge back then to say Jungkook would reach so far for something, but Jungkook fucked Seokjin to buy him off a whole company merger. To think that all those billions of won lost to his own mouth; a whole investment group and Seokjin chose him over all of it. How thrilling. It made him powerful and he can’t lose that.

“What does he call you?” Jungkook breathes. He reaches back blindly to anchor Seokjin to him and he starts asking: “Seokjin? Jinnie? Hyung – no, he looks like the kind who’d call you – ”

Seokjin pulls out of him and it burns, and Jungkook knows he’s pushing against a deal-breaker by talking about the elephant in the room and that tall, dark, handsome supermodel Seokjin’s fished out of the city, but still. “He calls you oppa, doesn’t he? Does he ride you like that, begging for you to fuck him?”

It’s not graceful, but Jungkook turns them around and straddles Seokjin like they’re duking it out in a ring. He makes a show out of fucking himself back on his fingers as he curls a loose fist around Seokjin, letting him thrust into it as he calls Seokjin out beneath him. “Is that how you want to be called? Want me to beg for it, oppa? Do you want to touch, want to fuck me until I’m crying, oppa?”

Seokjin shivers underneath him and tries to keep still. Jungkook’s above him and working himself open, calling him out on what they’re doing. Seokjin was cheating. It may not have been exclusive and his supermodel boyfriend might be out there kissing someone else and taking them to cheap movies, but Seokjin’s old-fashioned like that when he wants to be.

He holds his breath. His fingers fucking into him is obscene, making squelching noises as he tries to push the slick back inside of him as Seokjin watches. He’s leaning back on his elbows and his eyes are hooded, and it’s a sight that makes Jungkook’s mouth go dry. He gives the ghost of a touch around Seokjin with the tips of his fingers. “Hyung,” he says. “Want to know how I was without you?”

Jungkook means lonely and violent, but he says, instead, some of the other truths. “I bought toys just your size,” Jungkook pants. He curls his fingers deep into himself and lets them catch as he slips them out. “I – ah, I’d buy the ones with those tubes and I’d pretend it was your cum in me – and I thought about fucking you against the wall and I’d take people home who resemble you, somehow. And – and I thought about how I wouldn’t ever let you go again – ”

“Jungkook,” he moans – Seokjin moans, fucking up into Jungkook’s hand, and there’s the win. He sinks down, down, down, and Seokjin is breathing harshly under him and Jungkook has never been more in love with him.

When Seokjin reaches up to hold his face, Jungkook turns away. “In my mouth,” he pants. “In my mouth, hyung.”

Seokjin wanted to hold him like he was what made him vulnerable, and the very thought pummels away at Jungkook. He should have done the cinematic scene of it, the one where they’re in bed and the Seoul skyline is clear on the wide windows and they have the lights off. In the film reel of it, Jungkook looks into Seokjin’s dilated eyes and goes slow instead of rough. The voiceover says this is when things change, and the audience is supposed to know that Jungkook takes a complete one-eighty and finally realizes he’s actually in love with Seokjin, with or without the money, but it’s not the film reel. It’s real life and they have the bed and the skyline in the backdrop shining through the lights out, but Jungkook takes Seokjin’s crooked fingers into his mouth instead of coming to the novel epiphany of it.

Love, Jungkook thinks, really is something conditional.

 

-

 

He smokes in bed afterwards. He asks, “What’s he like?”

“He’s sweet,” Seokjin says. “He’s like a child, almost. I met him at an after party and he was someone else’s plus one who got drunk off the champagne in two seconds flat. He likes going to art galleries and underground rap gigs in Hongdae. He doesn’t like it when I get clingy.” Seokjin’s tracing circles on his arm. The press of it softens against his skin and Jungkook’s not sure, but this is probably the softest he’ll ever hear Seokjin’s voice go. He was raised to be authoritative and domineering, and he never lost that subtle edge with Jungkook.

Seokjin, Jungkook finds out, really likes this boy from Daegu. He has everything listed down in his head; he could make a novel out of him. This Daegu boy, Jungkook finds out, has a large, dumb dog, cuts out holes on the sleeves of his designer clothes, and is talkative and stupid enough to tell Seokjin his own I love you’s. The way Seokjin talks – stuttering and pausing, his eyes flitting from place to place – it’s not rehearsed.

Jungkook stretches his legs. The cigarette burns against the tips of his fingers. “And?” he asks. Like this, with his arms crossed in front of him and the roots of his hair beginning to show, Seokjin almost looks smitten. He looks like he’s growing out of him to grow into something else, and Jungkook tries not to be sour about it.

Seokjin looks away. “He likes bruises.”

There’s the exclamatory oh. The part where Jungkook pretends it doesn’t hurt.

“Do you get off on that, hyung?”

Seokjin laughs. It’s the toothy kind of laugh, the unembarrassed and impolite one where he doesn’t try to cover his mouth. “Yes,” he breathes.

“Want to bruise me?”

A pause. Seokjin pulls his hand back from Jungkook’s arm only to pull at his ear like Jungkook’s a misbehaving child, but his fingers stay there and it turns sweet, almost. “No.”

 

-

 

Work, like all things in Jungkook’s life, runs at breakneck speed and goes by terrifyingly easy. It’s a tempo that Jungkook doesn’t even need to march to, and in a year and a half he gets promoted to director. Like everywhere else – and especially for Seokjin – Jungkook is manipulative and charismatic. Seokjin had years and years of tutoring and a whole comprehensive degree for business; at Jungkook’s age, Seokjin was still struggling with decisions. He said: I didn’t know if I was making the right choices. I lost over a billion in a piece of land on an unstable coastline. I wanted to be the crowd pleaser and rebuild a business like it wasn’t a company.

Like what old dogs say, there are generations after you with greater legacies to leave behind. Jungkook is twenty-four and younger than Seokjin, but in the end of it he’ll be bigger and better than Seokjin would ever even think of being. Seokjin may have been from the high-class Seoul suburbia, but it was him, Busan boy with the working class status, who was greedy. The thing about it is that none of it is ever enough; you start biting and chewing and swallowing things, and suddenly you know that someday you’d want to devour the whole world. The things people invent for themselves is frightening.

On September, he’s staring off into the Seoul skyline when he gets a cardboard box delivered to his office. It’s plain and unremarkable, but it’s signed like it’s an inside joke. Googie, it says. The handwriting is rushed and it’s spelled out in the westernized alphabet, a period dotted on the end. The inside is all Styrofoam padding and a heavy velvet box.

There’s a ring inside. Eighteen carat white gold, just like Jungkook wanted, and the thought of how much Seokjin knows him even without having to tell is strange. It fits him perfectly, shines pretty in front of the afternoon sun as Jungkook brings it up to his face, and for a moment he thinks he’s tired. He should just go home and call Seokjin and tell him that maybe he was a little bit in love and could they work with that, please? Could they get a do-over? Could Seokjin walk into that bar in the outskirts of Hongdae on a different day, when Jungkook was living a different life?

But the moment passes, and all Jungkook thinks of is running everything to the ground and trying very, very hard to laugh about it.

 

-

 

So Jungkook is explosively toxic, but Seokjin comes back to him anyways. They were right about him: he’s manipulative and charming and volatile, a stereotypical city boy who pigeonholes people into things he can utilize, but that’s what makes him addictive. Seokjin, for all his bravado, is just a goody two-shoes, a real Korean sweetheart you aren’t supposed to find outside of fiction. Jungkook’s the end of his spectrum.

“Do you love him?” Jungkook asks. Seokjin’s curled into himself on the other side of the bed, his neck and shoulders littered with bruises and bites. He’d said no marks, but Jungkook knows he likes marks. Seokjin could say it’s because they’re difficult to deal with, but the reality is he’s infatuated with someone else and Jungkook’s just a pet project now. So let him come back with marks, and let his media boyfriend cry about it when Seokjin slips; it’s only fitting. It’s not like Seokjin came to him with his shoulders unscarred. It’s like a fetish, Jungkook finds. When they fuck, Daegu boy likes leaving scratches. Jungkook could imagine him turning Seokjin around afterwards, curling against his back and pressing soft, open-mouthed kisses next to the ones that broke skin. How sweet.

“He’s sweet,” Seokjin repeats, like he knows what Jungkook’s thinking. “Don’t talk about him like that.”

“Like what?” Jungkook asks. “Like – you love him but you love me more, and that’s why you’re a cheat, hyung?”

Seokjin pauses. If he was playing sweet, doting boyfriend two hours back, he’s sobered into something else now. Jungkook reaches for him, running his fingers through his still-blond hair and curling himself around Seokjin. He puts his mouth to Seokjin’s ear. “Leave him,” Jungkook says. “Leave him and I’ll marry you. Leave him or lose me.”

“You’re not special,” Seokjin says. His eyes flash and his mouth curls in disgust, and it’s a look that gets Jungkook hot and heavy. “Who the fuck do you think you are?”

Jungkook laughs into his ear. “Do you really think,” he says, “you aren’t in love with me? You could pretend you’re happy with someone who fits in your strawberry farm, picket fence dream, but one day you’d wake up and hate his face and the way he stays stagnant. You’d hate how he isn’t always game, how he’s always two, five steps behind, and then you’d wish you’d chosen me instead. You could marry him now, but I’ll always be the one who’ll want you the most. He could wear the expensive ring and have your name as his, but I’m the one you’ll always come back to.”

Jungkook pulls away, the ends of a laugh trailing after him, and Seokjin is silent for a long, long time.

 

-

 

Jungkook doesn’t want to admit he’s thought of bigger things, and cutting Seokjin’s sweet supermodel of a boyfriend down to nothing. Seokjin is mine, he almost wants to say, albeit childishly. Mine, mine, mine. He’s thought of him walking in on them while Jungkook was on his knees, mouth open and tonguing Seokjin’s cock with kittenish licks, Seokjin coming down his throat as he swallows around him. In this scene, he crawls to his lap and kisses Seokjin right afterwards, scratches at his back when Seokjin fingers him open. He’d press the side of his face to Seokjin’s head and he’d smile like it was a funny inside joke as Daegu boy’s face crumples. Jungkook almost has the speech rehearsed. He wants to say: you think he’d settle down with you and you’d live the happy married life? No fucking way. He wants to laugh about it in his face. He wants to rub the salt into the wound and make sure it burns like nothing else ever would.

But Jungkook doesn’t get that. Instead, he gets a dinner reservation in Cornerstone and he meets Seokjin’s mother with her put-together smile and the stick straight line of her spine like she was expecting something else, and that’s when Jungkook knows. They have the same soft slope tapering the corners of their eyes, and she smiles at Jungkook less out of formality and more out of surprise when he points it out. Jungkook says he works in the main branch of the multinational company Seokjin’s been trying to swallow into their enterprise for over a year, was offered a vice presidential position last month, and when it’s all done and over with he almost wants to say it was a pleasure doing business with her.

The thing about it is marketing. Seokjin may have Daegu boy in his arthouse-manufactured dream, but that’s all he’d be: something made for niches. Jungkook was young and versatile and he had the social network that would put out the cards they wanted, and so the moment Seokjin walks him into the restaurant and he sees his mother, the same laugh lines around her mouth, Jungkook almost laughs. He almost calls checkmate.

Jungkook’s smiling on the ride home, talking about how Seokjin’s mother was beautiful and how it was a pleasure to have met her – finally, Jungkook says – and Seokjin turns away. The streets of Gangnam are alive during the late evenings, blinking with hundreds of fluorescent lights. He wishes Seokjin hadn’t been so sober about it, because this was what he wanted: Jungkook settling into his domesticated family life, meeting his parents on Friday evenings and talking about business over lobster. They could get the large dumb dog and the antique turntable to play their sappy romance ballads on; Jungkook would say yes. He’d wear the pretty white gold ring and he’d hold it up to Seokjin’s face and say whatever Seokjin would want him to say.

But seeing the richest man in Seoul, the love of your life – seeing him break down, seeing him cry the moment you get home; it makes everything Jungkook has ever had, every little death and every glorious win, feel cheap.

 

-

 

In a few weeks, Jungkook does meet Daegu boy. He’s tall, a cardboard cut-out of a runway model with long lean legs and large hands. Like this, bare-faced and young, he looks like the kind of person Seokjin would pick apart from a crowd. He’s the complete antithesis of what Seokjin is: sun-kissed and dark-haired, a defined jawline of angles. He walks down the runway sporting Kiok, eyes trained straight.

They’re on the front row, on seats Jungkook chose exactly so he could flaunt Seokjin around and the fancy engagement ring on his finger glinting against the stage lights. Seokjin’s hair is blond, his face still handsome, still distracting, and this close you’d still be able to pick him out. Daegu boy is close enough for Jungkook to see the mole on his nose, the warm blue of his contacts; he’s close enough for Jungkook to catch the pause in his step and the off-beat stutter that follows.

Seokjin’s never said his name, but Jungkook knows a lot about him. He has two younger siblings and it took him over a month to get the basics of playing saxophone down. He likes acting out different television personalities and Seokjin would play along because he finds it funny. He has a tendency of cooing at stupid things and talking a lot and most of all he has this subtle, insignificant, almost unconscious habit that even Seokjin can’t pinpoint.

In press photos and fan videos, all of the ones Jungkook has saved and studied like a statistical analyst, picking apart down to the details. Seokjin’s eyes are trained on Kim Taehyung – a name that comes out of the media instead of his mouth – and Jungkook leans to his side, hand smoothing over Seokjin’s the same way Daegu boy does when he’s being affectionate, when he wants Seokjin to listen – and listen, Seokjin does. The reaction is muscle memory; Seokjin’s tense fist uncurls, his shoulders lose the tight string holding them stiffly, and he turns his palm upwards, lets Jungkook weave his fingers in the spaces between his the same way he lets Taehyung do. It’s conditional learning, Pavlovian at its finest, and it’s not something that Jungkook does to make Seokjin listen.

Here’s the picture: Kim Taehyung walking down the runway and Seokjin fixed to him like a child is fixed to the moon the first time they realize it follows them around. Taehyung doesn’t have a thesis on Seokjin; he doesn’t make it a research study, he doesn’t obsess over the details and file them away for some conclusion to be stated at the end of it all. But the thing about him is he has trained Seokjin like a dog, domesticated him to say I love you when he says speak, to listen to him with one touch. So this is what Seokjin does. Seokjin turns to look at him, eyes sharp and careful, an ear out to listen to Jungkook even though he’s not saying anything, and that is what Taehyung sees.

Often times you don’t understand something when it’s something unconscious. They say you could see your face on someone else and think of it as unfamiliar; the things people invent are fascinating. But it’s not an unconscious habit. It’s just something Taehyung thought he could have to himself, something that was between him and Seokjin alone. Taehyung’s eyes dart to Seokjin in the crowd, his blond hair almost like a neon sign, and the way Seokjin looks away because Jungkook took away that very thing from him. Jungkook acts it out perfectly, down to the way his thumb grazes Seokjin’s knuckles, his index over Seokjin’s thumb, a perfect copy. Jungkook looks straight into Taehyung’s eyes, his hand on Seokjin’s and the ring on his finger a statement.

Taehyung’s façade, business and professional, folds like a house of cards. The cameras go off, and Jungkook smiles.

 

-

 

“You didn’t have to do that,” Seokjin says. “Why are you so petty?”

Jungkook laughs. Seokjin’s voice is leveled. He’s not furious about Jungkook playing him; these days, Seokjin is phlegmatic when Jungkook does something to get under his skin. He just lets Jungkook get away with it, lets him dig into where it hurts and latch onto it for days until Jungkook gets bored. It’s just a stage, Jungkook knows. One day Seokjin would wake up and decide enough was enough, and then he’d be a little less boring than he’s been for the past few weeks.

After all, Jungkook thinks, you could only go so long being angry. He’s seen the way Seokjin looks at him, sometimes, when Seokjin thinks he’s not looking. It doesn’t feel pleasant and sometimes Jungkook wishes he could cry about it. He gets angrier when Jungkook talks about his parents, like how brunch with them last Saturday had been pleasant and how his father had made the same corny joke Seokjin told him, before all of this. Jungkook can understand. He trapped Seokjin into this by being everything Seokjin’s parents wanted someone to be: young and powerful in a field they wanted to conquer, someone who could propose a company merger and actually pull through it. If Seokjin no longer wanted to marry him, then, Jungkook thinks.

“I didn’t do anything,” Jungkook says. He blinks at Seokjin and hands an empty glass to a passing waiter. Seoul Fashion Week’s after parties are boring, all bubbly champagne and tiny, bite-sized foods for their stick models. It’s a lot of pretentious social networking, and Jungkook considers buying the entirety of those limited edition, handmade clothing lines they featured. Just like old times, he wants to say, but Seokjin doesn’t like watching him undress designer clothes only to step into another set of them anymore. Maybe that’s what changes when you’re no longer the one with the money – that sense of accomplishment. That glorious, glorious pride that comes with blowing money for someone else.

For the first time in months, Seokjin slips on the act. He looks disgusted, violent, and in the blink of an eye it’s gone. It’s replaced by something sympathetic. Seokjin reaches over and holds his face. Jungkook holds his breath and waits – waits, because maybe this is the day Seokjin realizes, again, that he loves Jungkook. That Jungkook was just the kid from Busan who wanted to make it big and recited the cliché pick-up line in the coffee shop years ago just because he was so smitten, so naïve. Maybe this is when Seokjin looks at him like he’s a still shot, the same wide eyes and the same pink mouth, the same scar on his cheek, and realizes that he loved him once and he could love him again today.

But Seokjin says, “What happened to you, Jungkook?” It’s lined with such genuine, concerned curiosity, like something ruined Jungkook and changed him for the worse, and Jungkook has never been more furious with him.

“You,” Jungkook says. “You happened to me.”

 

-

 

On Fridays, they play this game. It’s almost like a tradition, a step by step interrogation that proceeds a question per week. It’s awfully slow. If it had been a real crime, a dingy homicide in a different country, the murderer would be all clean hands across the continent already.

It starts with: “It’s boring knowing you don’t love me anymore.” He’s sprawled out in Seokjin’s couch, lying on his stomach and eyes trailing after the fish in the aquarium tank. He has one arm unfolded, fingers carding through Seokjin’s hair. For the first time in months, Seokjin laughs. He looks up from the Monopoly board where he’s just finished placing a hotel piece on Mayfair, and there’s that unmistakable glint in his eyes that means he’s in with the pitch.

Seokjin leans into his touch. “Of course,” he says, “You’d be the one to call it something boring.”

“There are no other adjectives, you know.”

“Disappointing?” Seokjin smiles. “A little less larger than life?”

Jungkook lets up. He turns his palm upwards, curling his fingers so he could ghost his knuckles down the curve of Seokjin’s face, down his jaw, his throat, an index finger hooking under the open collar of Seokjin’s buttondown. “I could make you love me again,” Jungkook breathes, “and then it would be larger than life.”

Seokjin laughs. Jungkook watches his Adam’s apple bob on his throat and feels the slight press of it against his knuckles. He thinks about two consecutive things: first, holding a pillow to Seokjin’s face during his sleep and if it would feel the same; followed by the understanding that making Seokjin love him, all those years ago, had been easy. Seokjin himself was easy; had Jungkook believed in someone being made for him, Seokjin would have been his. He had liked three things: films and sex and games. He liked being surprised and being blindsided, like a sucker punch, like a flash flood. Seokjin liked things that Jungkook is good at.

Seokjin could be realistic, but he’s better at daydreaming. He likes it when people go the extra hundred miles. He likes romantic, and sappy, and people following a perfectly written script. If Seokjin doesn’t like who Jungkook really is, then he could like who Jungkook could be. He’s loved one of those endless scripts Jungkook’s written for himself all those years ago, after all.

Jungkook reaches over to roll his dice and moves the golden game piece of a classic racecar four short blocks forward. He lands right in Mayfair, a property of land owned by Seokjin with his towering hotel block. He asks, “Why the fish tank?”

“My grandparents,” Seokjin says. “They had this tiny aquarium in their summer house in Anyang.” Seokjin talks about heat hazes in the late nineties, when his parents would ship him off so he wouldn’t get under their skin. He’s unfolding himself and sinking to the floor, and Jungkook follows. He crawls on all fours and places himself over Seokjin, an ear pressed over his heart and eyes trained to Seokjin’s face like a stray cat looking for a place to sleep. The board game is forgotten.

Seokjin’s arm is warm around him, pulling him in and anchoring him. It’s just like the old times, where Jungkook was balancing the course load of a double degree and a weekly shift and Seokjin would meet him on Saturdays. They’d get dinner and if Jungkook asks, Seokjin would take him home. In this story, Seokjin’s just ran through all of his Super Mario games; he’d go bug-catching if he had liked pressing holes into jars and trapping beetles, if it had been popular back then. In a big, lonely house, Seokjin had nothing. He made friends out of fishes and talked to them about nothing important, about how the day was too hot and humid, how his parents weren’t paying attention to him, how he wanted to be an actor when he grew up.

“And?” Jungkook asks.

“They died,” Seokjin says. He’s running his fingers through the short hair on the back of Jungkook’s neck absentmindedly. “Isn’t that how it always ends?”

Jungkook blinks up at him. He smiles in the way he knows Seokjin would like, cheeky with just the slightest hint of teeth. His throat feels like it’s lined with cotton, his tongue heavy. “You’re strange, do you know that?”

This week, Seokjin is drawing uneven stars up his arm with a cheap ballpoint. The nib smooths over the inside of his elbow, and Jungkook laughs. Seokjin is holding the pen differently, his crooked fingers, the way his thumb is jutted against the body of it. The thing about it is Seokjin’s terrible at drawing. Jungkook’s drawn waves on Seokjin’s arm, all black and blue and white ink, curling softly at the edges and carefully fading off into nothing. In contrast, Jungkook’s arm is filling with abstract stars and white, squiggly lines.

But this close, Jungkook could see his long lashes, the way his eyebrows are slightly furrowed in concentration. Seokjin looks up and asks, “Why me?”

“Why what?”

“All the people in the world,” Seokjin says. His breath fans across the side of Jungkook’s face, his fingers around Jungkook’s wrist. The smile on his face is pretty. It’s the kind Jungkook would have seen in a film. Imagine a sad, lost boy trying to build train tracks to follow through a city. Imagine museums, and vibrant masterpieces in the walls. Picture picking someone from the crowd and knowing, for some reason, that they’d be different. That you’d make a ghost out of them and they’d haunt you for years.

That was Seokjin for him. It’s still Seokjin for him, even when he says: “All the people in the world and you had to ruin my life.”

It’s like a film reel being rolled back, cutting back into a scene they’ve done before. Jungkook blinks at him, smiles in the way he knows Seokjin is in love with, the smile that said he was confident, he was game, he’d get what he wanted in the end anyways. There’s still the ache inside of him. His tongue still feels like it’s nothing but lead. “You’re strange,” Jungkook says. “Do you know that?”

Jungkook reaches over and tugs at Seokjin’s oversized sweater, leaning in to kiss him full on the mouth. Seokjin tastes sweet; he pulls Jungkook closer by the waist and kisses him back with the softness of a wave crashing into the shore one moment and pulling away the next. It’s the kind of thing twenty-six year-old Seokjin would have done, kissing him like a schoolboy on the back of the gym and then fucking him against a wall like he’s known just what kind of cheap pornography Jungkook has saved on his computer.

“Let me guess,” Seokjin says against his open mouth. “You wanted me for my money.”

Jungkook laughs, but it’s a weak, cornered kind of laugh. A victim’s laugh, an awkward mimicry to sympathize with a bully just so he wouldn’t get picked at. The look on Seokjin’s eyes is calculating. Hurt me, Jungkook thinks. Hurt me. Seokjin wraps a hand around his throat, but it’s a soft, gentle thing.

“I just can’t figure you out,” Seokjin says. “Are you even in love with me?”

“What makes you think I’d be in love with you?”

“The way you look at me.” Seokjin presses against his throat. “The way you think I could be your dream. The way you keep coming back and unspooling me.” A pause. Jungkook swallows, and Seokjin’s hold tightens around his neck. Jungkook’s breathing stutters. “I was going to marry him, and then you came back.”

“Don’t pretend you don’t love me,” Jungkook says. Seokjin’s thumb is right over his windpipe, pressing, pressing. “You could have married him, but you chose me anyways. I make you better. I make you the best version you ever could be, and don’t pretend you don’t know that, either.”

“You only want perfect,” Seokjin says. “You only want people when they’re not being problematic. What kind of person picks what they want and then says I love you for who you are and I’m the only one who ever would? Do you know how abusive you sound? How fucking manipulative you are?”

The pressure on his windpipe lets up, and Jungkook scrambles to anchor Seokjin down. He’s breathing harshly and there’s a shiver going down his spine, his nerves buzzing in anticipation. “Hyung,” he says. “Hyung,” and then he’s pushing Seokjin down and curling his fingers around the collar of his sweater, kissing him like he’s oxygen and Jungkook’s a drowning man. This is the kind of Seokjin Jungkook is in love with. The Seokjin who was game and had a sharp tongue, who didn’t hesitate to tower over someone else just because he could.

“Jungkook,” Seokjin asks, and his face is crumpled like he’s going to cry. Like they could have turned out better, if Seokjin hadn’t gotten himself hooked on Jungkook and the sweet, squirming bait that came with him. “Do you know how sick you are?”

“I’m not sick,” Jungkook says. “I’m not sick, I’m not sick, I’m not – ”

 

-

 

In February, they’d sign a contract read and revised, the tiniest little loopholes patched up and rewritten, the fine print heavy and difficult to digest. In February, Jeon Jungkook would sell a company. In February, he’ll be one of the largest stockholders in Seoul’s largest business. All those years ago, Seokjin had told him he wanted to get married in an island out in the Philippine sea. He had a whole slideshow about it: clear blue waves crashing onto a clean shore lined with white sand, dense forestry lining the heart of it. From the air, the ocean was so clear you could see what’s swimming under the waves.

Seokjin said he wanted to get married by thirty-five. Today, he’s turning thirty. In June, Jungkook would marry him on the same white sand beach, the same clear ocean waves crashing into shore. This is what Seokjin knows about him: he’s a runaway boy from Busan with an estranged family. He likes going out and finding holes in the walls, places people don’t know. Jungkook loves knowing secrets, and then he loves keeping them more. He’s the kind of person who’s versatile, someone who didn’t have to try so hard to be malleable.

The truth of it is he’s one blown-up caricature. What does Seokjin really know about him? The list: he’s good under pressure – stellar, even – and he has so much potential it’s almost something you could be jealous of. If you ask him what his favorite color was, he’d say red. If you ask him why, he’d say it’s a flavor of the week. He likes strong colognes and fancy designer clothes and taking photos whenever he’s overwhelmed.

But that’s not who Jungkook is. The list: nothing. Jungkook came out of Busan and wrote himself films for people he’s met. In university, he was the aloof student who had something to bring to the table if you asked him, a laidback type you’d categorize into a specific cognitive mode. For Seokjin, he had a soundtrack for the story of a lifetime and a tendency to go along with the flow. There’s this thing about Jungkook where he would say one thing and never mean it, but the lie runs consistent.

Today, Seokjin’s turning thirty and Jungkook’s on top of him, legs around his. They’re playing house again. Seokjin is saying something about a vacation in Vancouver, and it’s five in the morning. In half an hour, the sun would start rising and the sky would be a pale purple mixed into a warming orange. There’s the beginnings of stubble on Seokjin’s face which would be gone the moment he shoves himself into the bathroom.

The question: does Jungkook love him? The answer: of course. Also the answer: definitely not. What’s love? How do you know it’s love? How do you know when you only like someone because you’re trying to get something out of them? How do you know that the antithesis, the mutualism, isn’t love itself? Jungkook lacks the emotional capacity to understand. Some people laugh about different things. In high school he knew someone who almost looked like he’d stretch his face apart smiling whenever someone complimented him. It was like he had to work for it, like he had to try so hard to get where he was back then. Jungkook had tried to mimic the same wide, bashful grin and the deer in the headlights width of his eyes. It had worked, but it was tiring to keep up. It’s the kind of script Jungkook’s scrapped.

The things we invent, Jungkook thinks. The things we invent.

 

-

 

In November, during the high rise of real estate prices, they buy a property in Geoje. It’s a good hour on flight from Busan, a near five on the highway, and it’s impractical down to every little detail. The architecture belongs in a museum. It’s beautiful, but insubstantial, unlivable in. There’s still the same fever dream of an aquarium running through the upper floor rooms, the same colorful fish darting in and out of view.

On the days Seokjin’s gone, Jungkook wonders where they’d be when Seokjin disappears. Jungkook wouldn’t like seeing them; they’re too much of a reminder. Seokjin is the only person he knows keeps an aquarium. He’d want to sell them off, but then that wouldn’t be something he’s supposed to do. He’s supposed to keep them around for the sake of it until one day they’re all floating upside-down, and then they’d be sent off to the drain.

Everything, Jungkook knows, is worthless at death.

He knows people. He knows who would benefit the moment Seokjin’s off the list and someone more impressionable, someone in the same playing field is sitting on the same throne. He could write the headlines; he could wake up to Seokjin missing and still have clean hands – but that’s tasteless. That’s not who Jungkook is, and that’s definitely not the kind of man Seokjin made him out to be.

He’s seen the way Seokjin looks at him now. Hungry. Starving, almost. Just like all those years ago, Jungkook pushed him to be better, and just like all those years ago Seokjin went the extra hundred miles. If Jungkook was going to be parasitic about it, then Seokjin was going to play his game. Seokjin was going to make him lose – and Jungkook could almost hear something in him start up. There’s an anthem to it. He’ll march to the very beat of it.

Today, Seokjin kisses down his throat with an open mouth. He calls Jungkook baby and bites into his shoulders until they’re littered with marks, mouthing at Jungkook’s chest and pushing his fingers deep into him and edging Jungkook until he’s mewling.

“You’re sick,” Seokjin says, pushing against the bundle of nerves inside Jungkook and pressing, pressing, not letting up. Jungkook’s handcuffed to the bed and the way Seokjin has a hand wrapped around his neck – it almost looks violent. In an angle, it almost looks like Seokjin wants to kill him. Close, but not quite. “Admit it,” he breathes. “You’re sick, Jungkook. You’re a monster.”

The way his voice sounds, all strained and throaty, Seokjin sounds antagonistic. He’s supposed to be the kind of thing slithering in the back alleys, pushing people to the ground and cutting them open until they’re nothing but viscera and a twisted mass of flesh. But like this, his hair matted to his forehead with sweat and his mouth bitten red, his eyes blown wide like he’s on some psychedelic high, Seokjin is a dream brought to the ground. Jungkook thinks: I wanted to kill you. I wanted to sell you off across the world and you’d come back in nothing but a snuff film. Do you know what kind of violence I gave up for you?

Jungkook laughs. “So I’m sick,” he says. It almost feels terrible to admit, like taking a punch straight to his gut and getting the wind knocked out of him, but Seokjin smiles. It’s a red carpet smile, a podium smile, the one you ration when you could see the win coming from a mile away. Seokjin’s lips wraps around his cock, and he looks so pretty like this that Jungkook almost comes. He tries to breathe so it wouldn’t feel like he’s drowning, but Seokjin doesn’t try to pin him down. He lets Jungkook buck his hips up, lets Jungkook thrust into his wet mouth and only sucks harder when Jungkook starts getting sloppy.

He spits after Jungkook comes in his mouth; he curls himself around Jungkook, wide awake and sharp as Jungkook tries to come down from a tired high. Seokjin runs his fingers through Jungkook’s hair and asks, “When is a monster not a monster?”

Jungkook tries to say something. He tries to will his cotton tongue to move, but all he feels is numb. In the haze of it, Seokjin with his dark hair and his sloping eyes, his curving nose – Seokjin looks like him. Jungkook wonders when, exactly, did he become something so similar. When did he become the same cut of cloth, the same worth? And when, exactly, did the line between him and Seokjin blur? When did Seokjin suture himself to Jungkook and when, in retrospect, did Jungkook become so vulnerable?

It’s supposed to be a rhetorical question. It’s like their confusing Mobius strip of a figure, something they’re supposed to only see one side of and the side is the question, not the answer, but Jungkook looks at Seokjin and suddenly it makes sense. Suddenly it’s just a question.

Does Jungkook love him? The answer: definitely not. The answer: of course. Like this, two monsters trapped in a house – who’s sicker? Who’s more terrifying? Jungkook has seen the way Seokjin looks at him. He has seen Seokjin hungry for something he cannot name, and Jungkook knows violence when he sees it. It’s an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, a momentum waiting to turn in on itself.

With no money on the table, not a single cent to his name, Jungkook wonders how Seokjin could have afforded to buy him over. When did Seokjin learn from him? When did something so soft, so beautiful, become nothing but a lucid dream?

“When you love it,” he says, and Seokjin laughs.