Jimin is in the dance studio, going over his routine for the thousandth time, when he hears the door creak open behind him. He pauses the music and turns around, saying, "Tae, I thought you were going back to the-"
But it's not Taehyung, and he cuts himself off abruptly at the sight of the tall figure in skinny jeans and a muscle shirt, who's surely too tall and too built to be - but then the stranger looks up from beneath his snapback and it is, it's him.
"Hyung!" Jimin shouts, and flings himself across the room to wrap Jungkook in a hug. "It's been forever!"
"Jimin," Jungkook says, ducking his head shyly. They hold each other at arm's length, not letting go, both smiling. "It's good to see you too."
"Wow, you've changed so much," Jimin marvels, shamelessly squeezing Jungkook's biceps. He laughs when Jungkook blushes. Jungkook's beautiful. Almost two years gone, and he's bigger and broader and there's an air of quiet confidence about him now, but that blush hasn't changed at all.
Jimin bounces on his toes, bursting with questions. "When did you get back? How was Los Angeles? Are you staying for good?"
Jungkook stares at him a moment and bursts out laughing. "Come on," he says, when he catches his breath. "Hyung will take you out for dinner and tell you all about it."
Jungkook explains it all over spicy seafood soup. It's really happening. He's back for good. He's re-signed as a Big Hit trainee, and within a day of arrival he's moved back into the dorms.
Two years ago, when Jungkook left for America for what was meant to be a summer dance camp and then never returned, Jimin had been one the youngest trainees - someone that other people took care of and ordered around. But the older trainees from those days all eventually left or given up or were let go, and newer ones took their places.
Jimin's been playing the role of the oldest for months now, making sure the younger trainees get to school on time and that everyone has enough to eat and standing up to the managers on the occasions when someone has to do it.
But now Jungkook is back. Now it's Jungkook's turn to be the oldest, and now they have to figure out how they fit together, how their team will work.
Their friendship is the same as before, easy and teasing, but it's a little weird to be the one telling Jungkook what to do, that the laundromat down the road has changed hands and he's better off walking to the one two blocks over, that Big Hit has gotten stricter about curfew and all the best ways to sneak out after dark.
When one of the trainees bursts into tears with homesickness, it's Jimin who comforts him while Jungkook hovers nervously at the doorway, and a week later it's Jimin who helps the kid pack his bags when he decides the idol life isn't for him. (Though it's Jungkook who carries them down the stairs and to the station - "use those muscles of yours!" Jimin says, slapping him on the arm cheerfully.)
"He's a good kid," Jimin says with a sigh, waving as the train pulls out of the station. "I'll miss him."
"You're," Jungkook starts to say, then stops. He shoves his hands in his pockets, looking a little shy. "You're so good at this, Jimin."
That startles Jimin into a laugh. "What? No! It's just, you know." He shrugs and they start walking out of the station, arms brushing as the crowd forces them to walk closer together. "Someone had to look after the kids, you know? And it wasn't hard. I liked him. I like all of them."
"You don't give yourself enough credit."
"Seriously, it's not such a big deal!" Jimin says, but Jungkook just shakes his head, smiling softly.
In many respects, Jungkook's exactly as Taehyung remembers him - the morning facial scrub routine, the elaborate collection of perfumes, the fanatical devotion to laundry, the way he listens before he speaks.
But while he's been away in America, he's also been growing. Learning. Getting better.
"So were you any good at it?" Seokjin says casually, over late night dinner on the day after Jungkook moves back in. "Dancing, I mean. Did you even work with anyone famous?"
"Be more respectful, brat," Jimin hisses, and aims a slap at Seokjin's arm that he expertly dodges.
Jungkook doesn't seem fazed. He chews on his mouthful of noodles and swallows before replying. "I was in a Drake video," he says, "just as a back-up dancer, of course. And I was in Keone Madrid's crew for a while."
"Oh, I see," Seokjin says, airy and dismissive. A typical bratty teen. "A back-up dancer."
"Jinnie," Taehyung says gently, pushing more noodles onto Seokjin's plate. "Maybe you should try watching some of his dance videos. They're all on Youtube, you know."
Jungkook just chews, and says nothing.
Taehyung finds Seokjin later that night, hunched over his tablet. He steals up behind him on silent feet, and when he's ready he jabs down at the screen, over Seokjin's shoulder, and says, "That's him, right there."
Seokjin squeaks in shock. "Hyung!" he shouts, and slaps Taehyung on the leg, quite hard. "You scared me!"
Taehyung topples to the ground, rubbing his sore leg and pretending to cry. After a moment Seokjin massages his leg, begrudgingly, and Taehyung sits up again. He takes the tablet and starts scrolling through the playlist.
"You really watched all of those, huh?" he says, grinning at an embarrassed-looking Seokjin. "Did he pass your test? Does Bang PD's decision get your okay now?"
Seokjin snatches the tablet back, letting Taehyung's leg fall to the ground with a thump. "I was just making sure," he says, with as much dignity as he can muster. "You both knew him from before, but I didn't. I had to see for myself."
Taehyung just grins harder. "He's really good, huh? And he's grown up real good. Those legs, can you believe, and his abs, oh my god." He sighs dramatically, hand over his heart.
Seokjin pouts adorably and busies himself scrolling through the playlist again. "I guess he's fine," he mutters, and ducks his head as though to hide the blush in his cheeks.
"Ah, Jinnie, you're so cute when you're embarrassed!" Taehyung says, and sweeps him up in a hug which quickly turns into a ticklefest until Jimin shouts from the next room, keep it down, for goodness' sake, I'm trying to sleep!
Seokjin doesn't exactly apologise for being so rude, but he's much more respectful to Jungkook after that. He calls him 'hyung' and everything.
Just being a great dancer and a really nice guy isn't enough to put all of Seokjin's fears to rest. Unlike Taehyung and Jimin, who welcome him back like a big brother, Seokjin sees Jungkook for what he really is - competition.
"You heard, right?" Seokjin says to Jimin as they walk through the convenience store, stocking up on cup ramen. Jungkook's away that evening, probably down at the studio, so it's the perfect time to talk about the disruption he's causing. "About the auditions?"
Jimin frowns as he examines a packet, trying to work out if the discount makes it worth buying in bulk. "Heard what, brat?"
"You're talking about the auditions?" Taehyung says, sidling up and dumping five bags of gummy candies into the shopping basket; Jimin absently takes them all back out again and replaces them with vegetables. It's a ritual they go through every time.
"They're looking for hip hop dancers and rappers in the next round of auditions." Seokjin looks indignant. "Hip hop! Rap! We're meant to be a vocal group but now they're totally changing our concept and it's all Jungkook's fault!"
"He's hyung to you, kid," Jimin says, for the millionth time, but the fact is Seokjin's not actually wrong.
"Look at this face!" Seokjin says, pulling at his cheeks until he's hideous. "I'm a beautiful flower, hyung, I'm not here for hip hop concepts. And you - you're a contemporary dancer. Don't tell me you're taking this lying down!"
"Actually," Jimin, trying not to grin, "I, uh. I've been staying back with hyung for dance practice and, uh, hip hop style is pretty interesting?"
"You know, I've always wanted to rap," Taehyung confesses out of the blue, with a dreamy look in his eye. "This could be my chance."
"Traitors," Seokjin cries. "You're both traitors!" He folds his arms and sulks all the way home.
Before Jungkook, things made sense. Jimin was the sexy one, Taehyung was the visual, and Seokjin was the adorable maknae. There were other trainees, but it was an open secret that the three of them would make their debut sooner rather than later, and looking as they did, sounding as they did, the concept choice was logical.
But now here's Jungkook, stomping all over things, not content to just be the rapper or the beefcake, but actually changing the very thing they're going to be. Where's Jungkook been for the past two years? Not here, not training, not working his heart out to be deserving of debut. Yet here he is, one month in and already the centre of things. It's so unfair.
So Seokjin is ready, primed, eager even, to hate the new trainee when he arrives a few weeks later.
"Hello," the new boy says, bowing deeply. He looks up with a nervous smile. "I'm Jung Hoseok."
At first, Hoseok seems like everything Seokjin is not - he can't sing, he's not pretty, and he's soft. Seokjin may be two years younger but with all the experience he's had at Big Hit, having outlasted so many trainees, sometimes he feels like he's already seen it all.
"He won't last long," Seokjin says to Taehyung at dance practice, the day after Hoseok arrives.
They'd all heard him crying himself to sleep on the uncomfortable couch the night before, even from the next room over. Around midnight Jimin had slipped out of bed and gone to speak to him; the crying had stopped after that, but they'd all heard it.
Seokjin had scoffed quietly to himself - he hadn't cried on his first night in the dorm. And the criers, he thought, tended not to stick around.
At breakfast Hoseok poked at his food dispiritedly and hardly said a word, except when Jimin had addressed him directly, trying to draw him into conversation. "Have you been in Seoul for long? What does your family do in Gwangju? What's your favourite idol group?" Hoseok had mumbled out perfunctory answers to all of them, barely looking up.
Eventually, Jimin had given up and let him finish eating in silence.
They'd had vocal practice after that. It was pretty clear that Hoseok's voice was nothing special, certainly not compared to the rest of them, and that his best chance would be going into rap.
Hoseok's face had fallen immediately. "Oh. I mean. I love hip hop," he said, twisting his hands nervously, "but I've never..."
"That's okay," Jungkook said, trying to sound enthusiastic. "We can learn together. I'm still learning to rap too."
Which didn't seem to soothe Hoseok's nerves much. Seokjin just shook his head. Can't sing, can't rap... he almost felt sorry for the kid. What on earth had Big Hit seen in him to even accept him as a trainee in the first place?
Last on the agenda was dance practice.
"How about you show us your audition routine?" Son Sungdeuk says, after they finish stretching, and Hoseok nods nervously. "Show the team what you've got."
By this stage, Seokjin's not expecting much. "He won't last long," Seokjin's just whispered to Taehyung.
Then the music starts, and Hoseok begins to dance.
For the next three and a half minutes, Seokjin doesn't move a muscle, feels like he's barely breathing. So this is why they signed him, he thinks numbly, so this is what Big Hit was looking for. A street dancer who could complement Jungkook, a dancer who could keep up with Jimin, someone to help shift the group's concept closer towards hip hop.
There's no sign of the shy, awkward kid from earlier in the day, or the one who cried in the night and had to be comforted. This boy is all angles and lines, sharp and precise, swaggy as hell, eyes intent.
The song ends and Hoseok looks up from his ending pose, breathing hard.
"Wow," Taehyung says, jumping to his feet. "That was so good!" Jimin and Jungkook quickly follow.
As they surround him, talking eagerly and asking questions, Hoseok smiles and for the first time all day seems to actually mean it. His whole face suddenly lights up and oh, Seokjin thinks again. Because Hoseok's not pretty like Seokjin, or handsome like Jungkook, but he's... something. He's really something.
For the first time, Seokjin starts to worry that this new concept might leave him behind. Dancing is his weakest aspect, and he doesn't know the first thing about hip hop. And sure, he's adorable - but is he irreplaceable? Hardly. Not yet, anyway.
So it's not from entirely altruistic motives that he corners Hoseok after dance practice, and gives him his sweetest smile. "Wow, Hoseok-sshi," he says, as Hoseok blinks back at him, looking soft and confused. "You're really great at dance. Your audition routine was really amazing."
"Oh," Hoseok says, his ears going red under Seokjin's best wide-eyed earnest stare. "Th-thank you."
"Let's hang out when we get back to the dorm," Seokjin says, moving a little closer. "Do you like Mario Kart?"
Hoseok's not too sure that Seokjin actually likes him very much. That's okay. He's not sure he likes Seokjin much either.
That's part and parcel of being a trainee, right? Trying to get along, trying to fit in and show you're a team player, but at the same time trying to stand out, trying to prove your worth. So what if they don't like each other? They'll have to learn to at least fake it, if they're going to debut.
But hey. All that aside, he's kinda lonely, and a bit intimidated by the older trainees, and he does like Mario Kart, even if he's not very good at it. So he says 'yes'.
Back at the dorm, they play in total silence... for at least five minutes. By the time Hoseok loses yet again, shrieking his head off while Seokjin falls to the ground laughing each time, they've been repeatedly told by their elders to 'shut up', to no effect. Finally, Taehyung stomps in and actually confiscates their controllers.
"But hyung," Seokjin says, his eyes big and brimming with almost-tears, hands clasped to his chest, lip quivering. It's so disgusting that Hoseok can only admire it. "Just give us ten more minutes."
Taehyung, apparently just as immune, simply laughs and runs away. "Nope!"
"Ugh," Seokjin says, slumping down on the ground like a puppet with its strings cut, tears disappearing instantly. "What a pain. What are we gonna do now?"
"You tell me." Hoseok shrugs. "What do you do for fun around here anyway?"
"Oooh." Seokjin sits up suddenly, a determined glint in his eye. "I know where Taehyung stashes his candy. If one of us distracts him... Are you in?" He looks at Hoseok consideringly, a challenge. "Or are you too scared?"
He's a little scared, actually, but there's no way he's admitting to it. "I'm in," Hoseok says firmly, and his voice only shakes a little.
Okay, so their plan doesn't get very far. Taehyung catches them red-handed and in the ensuing chase ends up noisily tackling them both to the ground, which results in all three of them getting told off by a quietly scary Jungkook.
"And since you both had a warning already tonight, you two can clean the bathroom tomorrow," he says, pointing at Hoseok and Seokjin.
Hoseok just nods meekly, but Seokjin starts to say, "That's not fair -" and then shuts up abruptly as Jimin appears behind Jungkook's shoulder and gives them both a hard glare.
So Hoseok ends up spending his second day as a Big Hit trainee scrubbing the tiles in the cramped bathroom while Seokjin morosely cleans the sink.
"Hey," Seokjin says, brightening up, beckoning him closer in a whisper. "Look." He pulls a tube of wasabi out of his pocket. "I'm gonna put it in Taehyungie-hyung's toothpaste."
"You're crazy," he blurts out. "You've got to be kidding."
"I'm not," Seokjin says with an air of unconcern, already unscrewing the toothpaste cap. "Just watch me."
For a while Hoseok does just watch, biting his lip, as Seokjin clumsily starts trying to squeeze the wasabi into the tube. "Oh for goodness' sake," he says after a moment, and holds out his hands.
"What?" Seokjin says, looking confused.
"Give it here," Hoseok says, knowing he's going to regret this and doing it anyway. "My hands are steadier. I'll do it."
He's right. He gets a lot of wasabi in there.
For that stunt, they get dorm clean-up duties for two weeks, and somewhere in the middle of washing dishes and scrubbing floors he and Seokjin end up being friends. Seokjin is an annoying brat who never listens to anyone and he's way too competitive about gaming, but he also has a goofy laugh and a terrible, terrible sense of humour.
"I didn't really like you at first," Seokjin says in a burst of frankness halfway through punishment week. They're both flopped on the living room floor, exhausted from the long day. "But."
Hoseok looks over, raising his eyebrows. "But?"
"But you're not too bad," Seokjin says airily.
Hoseok gasps, rolls over and starts tickling him, shouting, "Respect your elders!"
Together, they're insufferable, as Jimin succinctly puts it. Two peas in a loud, annoying pod. Jungkook suffers them patiently, and Taehyung even joins in with them sometimes; Jimin mostly throws his hands up and leaves them to it.
The biggest upside of being run ragged by cleaning duty, and training, and school, and raising hell with Seokjin, is that soon Hoseok finds himself too busy to cry. He still misses his family so much, but it's a bearable ache, lessening every day.
On the eighth day of their punishment, when they're scrubbing the bathroom again, Seokjin abruptly downs his tools and says, "Hyung, listen."
"The answer is NO," Hoseok says automatically, because he's learned this much in the past week - that Seokjin is careless with honorifics unless he really wants something, and that he often wants terrible things.
"Please, listen," Seokjin says, and he sounds serious enough for Hoseok to turn around and give his full attention. "Will you teach me how to dance?"
"Huh?" Hoseok says, completely taken off guard. "But we're all -"
"I know it's my weak point. So I want to dance like you dance," Seokjin says, impatiently. "I want to get better. I want to learn popping. Please, hyung." For the first time, Hoseok sees Seokjin sounding a little scared. "I've worked too hard for this. I've given up so much. I don't - I don't want to be the one that's left behind."
"Jinnie..." Hoseok says, helpless.
Then the moment passes, as quickly as it came. Seokjin clasps his hands and gives his most plaintive, pouty look. "Help this beautiful flower boy become a manly hip hopper!"
Just like always, Hoseok finds it impossible to refuse.
"Tomorrow," he says at last, once he's stopped laughing. "We'll stay back and practice together. Just stop making that face at me, oh my god."
Seokjin fistpumps, and then hugs him. "Thanks, hyung."
The New Year falls a few weeks after Yoongi arrives at the Big Hit dorm, hardly long enough for him to even think about missing Daegu. But he gets on the train and goes back home anyway, because family is family and this is what he's expected to do.
What he doesn't expect is that he'll manage to stick it out for only one night before he's back on the train to Seoul. It's a two hour trip on the express and he fumes the whole way.
When he slams into the dorm, still simmering, the last thing he expects to find is Hoseok lying listlessly on the couch, watching some overwrought drama. He'd assumed Hoseok had gone home for the holiday, just like the rest of them.
"Yoongi?" Hoseok says, sounding equally confused, sitting up with his hair sticking up every which way. He rubs his eyes, trying to wake up. "What are you doing here? Aren't you meant to be in Daegu?"
"Yeah, well," Yoongi says, and the heat that's fuelled him all the way from Daegu goes cold all of a sudden and leaves him with the dregs, a bitter taste in his mouth as he flings himself down on the couch beside Hoseok. "I went, but I didn't stay. My family - well. It didn't work out, okay." He laughs, and it sounds horrible even to himself.
He brings his knees up to his chest, presses his face to his knees, a few stray tears leaking into the black denim of his jeans. After a moment he feels an arm across his shoulders, a warm and comforting weight. Yoongi doesn't dare to say a word, in case the lump in his throat turns into full blown sobs; but he lets Hoseok pull him into his side, his head resting against Hoseok's shoulder.
When his shoulders stop shaking, when his breathing is calm again, Hoseok finally speaks up. "Have you eaten yet?" Yoongi shakes his head. "Chicken okay for you?"
"Huh?" Yoongi says, as Hoseok stands up - the sudden loss of his warmth leaving his side all cold - and starts putting on his coat and scarf. "I mean, yeah. I guess chicken is fine. But where are you going?"
Hoseok smiles. "To get us some food. You wanna come?"
They head out in the cold together. Hoseok fills up the silence with chatter about where to find the best food in their neighbourhood, and about how his family is overseas for New Year's so he's really glad Yoongi came back, and how he misses his dog Mickey (he whips out his phone: "look, isn't he just the cutest?"). It's all just idle chatter but it makes Yoongi feel better already, the bitterness seeping out of him with every word.
It's only been a few weeks, but this is something he's noticed already - things are just easier, whenever Hoseok's around.
They take chicken back to the dorm and eat it in front of the tv showing Hoseok's terrible drama series ("but it's really good," he says indignantly, "just give it a chance!") along with beers stolen out of Jungkook's stash.
"Hyung won't mind if we take one or two," Hoseok says confidently, cracking open a can and handing it over. Well. Hoseok knows Jungkook better than he does, so Yoongi's not going to argue with that.
One or two beers turns into three or four, and then Yoongi finds himself talking about home.
"My parents never wanted me to do this," Yoongi says, running his finger around the edge of the can. "They let me audition, but I'm pretty sure they were expecting me to fail and come crawling back, ready to think about university."
"You're too good to fail," Hoseok says, tilting his head to the side. "I've heard you rap, Yoongi. You're really talented."
"Yeah, well, good enough to get signed, anyway," Yoongi says, feeling his cheeks flush. He's not embarrassed. It's just that Hoseok's so damn nice all the time. Hurriedly, he continues with his story. "So yeah, they weren't happy at all about me moving to Seoul. I thought they'd gotten used to the idea, that they'd at least accepted I was going to try..."
They hadn't shouted. His parents never shouted. They'd just gone quiet and judgemental and cold across the dinner table, every word and sideways glance like an accusation, while his brother tried to keep the peace. It was Yoongi in the end who'd cracked, who had stood up at the table and shouted.
He'd slept on his brother's couch that night, and taken the first train back the next morning.
Over chicken and beer, he spills the whole story to Hoseok, and then shuts up, feeling like an idiot, like he's said too much.
"Oh, Yoongi," Hoseok says, looking like he's going to cry.
"Don't feel sorry for me," Yoongi says fiercely, though he doesn't pull his hand away when Hoseok covers it with his own. "I don't want you to be sorry. Just - let's work hard and debut together. We can do that, right?"
"Yeah," Hoseok says, squeezing his hand. He smiles. "Yeah, we can do that. We'll work hard. We can do that."
The rest of the holiday passes quietly, just he and Hoseok in the dorm listening to music and watching movies, talking about anything and everything, occasionally fighting for the remote control when Hoseok wants to tune into his dramas. They guiltily replace Jungkook's beers and eat way too much cup ramen. It's quiet, and easy, and good.
"Yoongi," Hoseok whispers from his bed, the night before everyone else is due to return, just an arm's length away from each other in the darkened bedroom. "I know it wasn't under the best circumstances, but I'm really glad you came back. Really, really glad."
"Well, I'm glad you were here, hyung," Yoongi says, only a little awkwardly, even though he means every single word.
"Don't tell Seokjin," Hoseok says, sounding like he's holding back a laugh, "but I think you might be my favourite now."
"Okay, I won't."
"Well?" Hoseok says when he says nothing more. "Aren't you gonna tell me I'm your favourite too?"
Yoongi pretends to snore, and only stops when Hoseok throws a pillow at his head. He squawks, and throws it right back.
"Say it!" Hoseok says, laughing outright, making as though to throw it again.
"Fine," Yoongi says, as begrudgingly as possible. "You're my favourite. I guess."
"Thank you," Hoseok says, sounding satisfied, and lies back down again. "Night, Yoongi!"
"Night," Yoongi mumbles, and buries his flushed face in his pillow, glad of the dark.
The next trainees to join Big Hit are Namjoon and Donghyuk - great rappers, not so great dancers. They both try their best, but Namjoon especially shows willingness to work on a skill he's not naturally inclined towards.
"Good work, Joonie!" Jimin says after one practice, and slaps him playfully on the shoulder. "Keep it up and you'll be centre in no time."
Namjoon snorts. "Hyung, please," he says, grinning at the joke but still happy to be acknowledged, his dimpled cheeks a little pink from more than just practice. It's cute.
Namjoon's not going to be centre anytime soon, but those dimples are killer and his rapping is brilliant - Jimin's increasingly convinced he'll debut.
By this stage it's starting to become clear who is and isn't going to make the cut. Some trainees move on to other agencies or back to normal life. The ones who stick around and aren't certain of their place are already thinking about the next group to debut after this one.
Jimin's ninety-nine percent certain he'll make it.
When he was younger - a kid Seokjin's age or even Yoongi's age - he'd been a lot more unsure of himself. Constantly worried about his look, his voice, his height, his abilities. Was he handsome enough? Talented enough? Was he just too damn short? But he's not a kid anymore. Jimin's seen enough trainees come and go, seen enough rookie groups debut to fame or fade, to know that he's more than good enough.
He'll never be Taehyung, so tall and goodlooking that people stop dead in the street, but Jimin knows he has his own charms and how to best make use of them.
"Don't you ever get bored?" Seokjin says, hanging around in the doorway of the bathroom as Jimin gets himself ready to go out one day.
"Bored of what?" Jimin says absently, fixing his earrings, sweeping his hair back with his hand and checking his best angles are still his best angles. He tries a smile at the mirror, is satisfied, lets it drop.
"Bored of staring at yourself like that all the time," Seokjin says, and copies Jimin's pose, sweeping his hair back with his hand, batting his eyelids. "Bored of the attention."
Jimin laughs and pretends to throw a punch at him, but gives the mirror one more glance before leaving the bathroom. "I'm just putting in practice, Jinnie," he says airily. "Just wait till you fill out a bit, beansprout. You'll see. Then they're all gonna be looking at you."
Jimin likes being looked at, likes being seen. He's had waitresses slip him their phone numbers or give him a coffee on the house, seen girls hiding their smiles behind their hands when he catches their eye on the train or across the room in a crowded cafe. It's good. He likes it.
Sometimes, it's not just girls that look. Just quietly, Jimin likes that too.
As they get closer to finalising the group, practice gets more intense. Jimin spends hours in the dance studio, helping the newer trainees get it right, helping the more experienced ones refine their skills. Thankfully Jungkook's there to help shoulder the burden, and sometimes Hoseok too.
Hoseok's a great dancer, and a good kid - always ready to learn girl group dances with Jungkook, always ready to be overawed at Jimin's dance skills. But he's still a kid, and often Jimin has to order him out the door of the dance studio, worried he'll overdo it and work himself to exhaustion.
"Go home," Jimin says firmly, one night when Hoseok looks about ready to drop, shoving his bag into his hands and pulling the beanie down on his head. "Go home, get some sleep. Or don't get some sleep, I don't care, you can play video games with Jinnie or bother Yoongi or whatever you want. Just go home."
Hoseok stifles a yawn, slings his bag over his shoulder. "Alright, alright, boss, I'm going." He looks over Jimin's shoulder, ignoring Jimin's gasp of disbelief. "Goodnight, hyung!"
"Bye!" Jungkook says, waving back from his seat on the ground.
"These kids," Jimin says, shaking his head after Hoseok's gone. "You do your best and try to help them out and all they do is disrespect you. So ungrateful." He narrows his eyes. "Why are you laughing?"
"No reason," Jungkook says hastily. He jumps to his feet. "Let's try it again?"
"Hmmm," Jimin says, but all he does is start the music again and get back into position.
The late nights when it's just him and Jungkook are probably Jimin's favourites. They don't have to hold back and coach the inexperienced ones like Namjoon, they don't have to be the older siblings to the kids like Hoseok. Even though they're a year apart, even though Taehyung is his best friend, he thinks sometimes it's Jungkook who understands him best - or at least, the one whose body is most in rhythm with his own, and they grin as they meet eyes in the mirror, hitting the beats in perfect time.
At least, until Jungkook stops and says, "Wait, hold up, this part - you're doing this," and he demonstrates, "but it's more like this?"
Jungkook's still better at hip hop and street styles, those years in LA really coming into play, so Jimin watches and learns. Or tries to, anyway, because Jungkook's all kinds of distracting, with the sweat at his collarbone, the flex of his thighs, the way he concentrates with his lower lip caught between his teeth.
"Huh?" Jimin says, stupidly, realising he's lost the thread of the conversation entirely. He pushes back his hair and gives Jungkook one of his most winning shy smiles, only half-intentionally. "Can you show me again?"
Jungkook gives an exaggerated sigh and rolls his eyes. "Come here," he says, and before Jimin really realises what's happening Jungkook's taken him by the waist and spun him around, so they both face the mirror. "Like this," Jungkook says, his chest flush against Jimin's back, his breath warm against Jimin's ear.
"Right," Jimin says, faintly. He swallows, trying to pull himself together, trying to concentrate on the dance. "Like this?" he says, and does his best to follow Jungkook's lead.
"Yeah," Jungkook says. "Like that." But he doesn't let go.
In the mirror they look so good together, with Jungkook behind him, his hand on Jimin's waist. When their eyes meet in the mirror this time, they don't grin.
"Hyung," Jimin says softly. He could turn around right now and kiss Jungkook, he really could, and he's almost certain Jungkook would kiss him back. All he'd need to do is just -
The door bursts open and Hoseok rushes in. "Sorry," he says, not seeming to notice that Jungkook and Jimin have sprung apart, that Jimin's red in the face and Jungkook is staring at the floor. "I realised I forgot my headphones! Ah, there they are. Okay, goodnight, I'll see you back at the dorm!"
The moment passes, and neither of them bring it up again, not that night or any other night.
But Jimin still notices, still sees Jungkook watching him from time to time. And he likes it.
One by one, the trainees are called up to the conference room.
Some emerge crying, some with resigned shrugs. Others, like Hoseok and Seokjin, walk out glowing. They've made it. They're the chosen ones.
But when it's finally Taehyung's turn, the Big Hit executives give him a question instead of an answer.
"Is this what you really want, Taehyung?"
Taehyung blinks. "I'm sorry," he says carefully, in case he's misunderstood their meaning, as he sometimes does. "What does that mean?"
One of the producers leans forward. He looks kind. They all look kind. They all seem gently, kindly concerned. "We mean that if you debut with the group, you'll be locked into this for a long, long time. There will be struggles, adversity. But there won't be any backing out once you sign the contract. If you think you're going to have any regrets or misgivings, then now is the time to say it."
"Okay but." Taehyung swallows. Inside his mind is racing. He tries to focus. "Are you releasing me from my contract?"
"No, no, not at all," Bang PD says. "You're talented, you're handsome, you've worked hard to get to where you are. We want to help you."
"But?" Taehyung says, his stomach clenching.
"But is this really what you want to do?" He leans back in his chair with a sigh, hands folded. "How sincerely do you want to keep going down this path? Is this your dream, or are you still here because your friends are here?"
"Well, Jimin is my best friend," Taehyung says automatically, because he has no idea what else to say. "And I really get along well with the other trainees..." He trails off because they're all looking at him and he has the sinking feeling he's said the wrong thing again.
"Isn't it true, Taehyung, that you originally auditioned to be an actor?" says one of the talent scouts.
"Yes," Taehyung says, blinking, because when had he ever - why would they even - he forces himself to reply. "But that was a long time ago."
"It's still not too late." She smiles at Taehyung encouragingly. "You've worked hard, Taehyung, so we want to help you. If you decide being an idol is not for you, we'll help you find another agency. With your visuals and your work ethic, there's still time if you want that."
"Still time now," Bang PD says, tapping the table for emphasis. He looks at Taehyung meaningfully. "There's still time now to think about other options. But you don't want to leave the decision too late. Please consider your choice carefully."
"Yeah," Taehyung says numbly. "Yeah. I will. Thank you."
They tell him to think about it. They tell him he has until the end of tomorrow.
If he accepts - they'll help him find another agency.
And if he says no - "then we'll make our decision, as we've done for all the other trainees," Bang PD says, and it's no promise at all.
When he goes back to the dorm, he doesn't tell anyone what happened. Not even Jimin. "Oh," he says vaguely, "it wasn't about that after all." And since some of the others, like Jimin and Jungkook, are still waiting for their own meetings, no one thinks much about it.
He doesn't tell anyone about what happened, but he does flop down next to Jimin on the couch and put his head on Jimin's leg, pouting, all but asking to be petted. Jimin obliges. "What's wrong, Taetae?" he says, fingers running through Taehyung's hair.
"Do you ever..." Taehyung sighs. He looks up, right up Jimin's nostrils as a matter of fact, which would annoy Jimin if he knew because he has all those ideas about being seen at the right angles. "Have you ever wondered if this was what you were meant to be doing? Like - in life?"
"I think it's natural to have doubts," Jimin says after a moment, thinking it over. "It'd be strange to always know exactly what you wanted, and how you wanted it, don't you think? But right now - I'm happy, Tae. I think this is where I'm meant to be." He smiles down at Taehyung softly, and then tugs at the curve of his ear. "But what about you, hmm? Is that what's bothering you?"
"Yeah. No. I don't know." Taehyung sighs and covers his eyes with his arm. "I don't know anymore."
Yesterday, he'd been so certain about what he wanted, so sure that he had a good chance of making that dream come true. But that meeting had screwed everything up. Maybe they were right, maybe he didn't deserve it. Maybe he should take their offer while the taking was still good.
"Can we go somewhere tonight?" he says to Jimin. He needs a distraction, any distraction. "Do you think we can sneak out?"
Jimin hesitates. "This is a really bad time, if we get caught," he says, doubtfully. "I mean..." He doesn't need to finish the thought. One misstep at this stage could mean the difference between a contract and nothing.
Taehyung deflates. "You're right," he says, and maybe the fact that he didn't even think about that is another sign that he's not good enough, not suitable for the idol life.
Unexpectedly it's Jungkook who comes up with the next best option. He texts both Taehyung and Jimin fairly late that night, asking them to come to the recording studio - bring some snacks, but don't bring the kids, he adds.
They find him in one of the studios, waiting with three shot glasses and a bottle of soju - the good stuff too. "I've been saving this," he says, pouring for all three of them, "and I thought this might be our last chance before..." He trails off, and lets them fill in the rest.
"Thanks, hyung!" Jimin says, plopping down on the seat beside him and bumping Jungkook's shoulder comfortably. "You're the best."
"It's no big deal," Jungkook says, shrugging, but looking pleased. "We always end up doing a lot for the kids, and I thought we deserved a night off."
Taehyung's touched - not only by the gesture itself, but because Jungkook doesn't consider him one of 'the kids' like most people do. "Thank you, hyung," he says, and impulsively hugs them both. "Thanks both of you, for - for everything."
"Awww," Jimin says. But when he pulls back he looks at Taehyung a little searchingly. "You're sure you're okay, Taehyung?"
"I'm fine," Taehyung says hastily, and then raises his shot glass, so they're forced to follow. They clink glasses and knock them back, Jungkook with ease and Jimin with a slight wince. Taehyung laughs, feeling himself start to relax, and pours them another round.
The studio is soundproofed, and it's late enough that no one's around to care anyway, so they turn their music up loud and keep it that way. They keep drinking, and Taehyung snatches up an empty water bottle and uses it as a microphone, rapping along to Epik High and messing up half - okay, more than half - the words.
Jimin is curled up on the floor, laughing and red in the face, and Jungkook is dancing, kind of? If you can call it that? He's much more a dork than he tends to let on in during working hours. Honestly, every time he peels back some of that serious exterior, Taehyung gets more and more fond of him.
"I love you guys," Taehyung says expansively, flopping on the ground beside Jimin when the song ends, seguing into one of Kanye's slower jams. "I love everyone."
"I love you too," Jimin says, slinging his arm around Taehyung's shoulders and tugging Jungkook closer too. "If we can all debut together - that's my dream. I want to debut with you both."
"Same," Jungkook says, with a sweet, shy smile. "I really hope for that too."
Then they both kinda turn to Taehyung, and Taehyung just feels himself freeze up. "Um," he says. "Well, yeah, about that..."
"Oh my god." Jimin's hands fly to his mouth as he makes the connection almost instantly. "Your meeting today - did they - are you -"
"Kinda," Taehyung says. "Not really? I mean. I don't know."
Then to his complete embarrassment, he ends up bursting into tears and sobbing the whole stupid story out into Jimin's shoulder - the offer, the choice, the deadline looming.
"Oh, Tae," Jimin says at the end, sounding as devastated as Taehyung feels.
"And, you know, I get it?" he says, wiping at his face with his sleeves, trying to get himself under control. "Like, I know I don't have as much to offer as the rest of you, but I still thought I -"
"Wait, what?" Jimin says sharply. He gives Taehyung a hard little shake. "Tae, no. Why would you even think that?"
"But it's obvious, isn't it?" Taehyung says miserably. "I'm not a dancer like you or hyung, I'm no good at hip hop like the new kids, and Jinnie has the best voice. And they saw that, they knew that - they didn't offer me a contract. They basically showed me the door."
"Taehyung," Jungkook says, in that earnest, soft-spoken way of his. "We know how hard you work and how much you deserve it. We know it, better than anyone.."
"We see you, Tae. You're here every day," Jimin says fiercely, "practicising your heart out, working on your vocals, on your dancing. You're always there for the kids - you're the one they talk to the most, did you know that? You make us laugh. You're always so generous. You help keep us all together, you help make us a team. If they don't already see that then..." His voice cracks. He looks on the verge of tears himself.
"Ah, Jiminie," Taehyung says, and dammit, is he getting choked up again? He tries to smile. "You'll be okay. You and hyung here will take care of everyone, I know you will. And we'll still be friends forever, no matter what -"
"Wait. You're not actually going to take their offer, are you?" Jungkook says, sharply.
"Uh." Taehyung blinks. "I mean. It seems like the most sensible thing to do?"
"Don't do it. Don't take it unless you really want it," Jungkook says, the closest to angry that Taehyung has ever seen him. "If you want this, if you want to be in the group, even if there's only a small hope - then you should tell them that."
"You should do what you want," Jimin says, squeezing his hand tightly. "But what do you really want? Do you want to debut with us?"
"I do," Taehyung says at last. "I do. That's still my dream too."
"Then don't give up on your dream so quickly," Jungkook says. He reaches out and holds Taehyung's hand too. "You still have a chance."
The next day, Jungkook and Jimin get their contract offers just as everyone knew they would. Honestly, those two were never in any doubt.
After that, Taehyung has his second meeting. He doesn't wait for them to explain the offer again or try to talk him into accepting it. Instead he thanks them, humbly and sincerely, and then turns the offer down.
"Really?" Bang PD says, leaning back with an air of surprise. "So you want to stay?"
"I want to stay," Taehyung says, firmly. "I want to debut with Jimin and Jungkook-hyung and the others. That's my dream, that's what I've been working towards for all these years, and if there's even the least chance that it's still possible, then I want to keep trying." He bows deeply. "Thank you. I hope I can have the opportunity to work harder and show a better side of myself."
Half an hour later, he bursts back into the dorm and flings himself into Jimin's arms, sobbing.
"Oh no," Jimin says, hugging him tightly. "Did they -?"
"Oh my god, Jimin, I can stay," Taehyung says joyfully, getting tears and snot all over Jimin's collar and not caring in the slightest. "I can stay, and I can keep training with you. And if I can prove myself, then I'll debut with you too!"
"Uh. Is everything okay?" Jungkook says, peeking in from the next room as Jimin shrieks too.
"Everything is wonderful!" Taehyung trips across the room and hugs Jungkook too. "Thank you, hyung," he says. "Thank you both for believing in me."
It's not a contract, it's not an offer, but it's time and a chance. Taehyung knows he won't - he can't waste it.
The next months go by in a blur. Jungkook thought he'd known what it meant to work hard. Now he knows better.
The ones who didn't get offered a place in the group outright - Taehyung, Namjoon, and Donghyuk - work hardest of all. They can't mess up, can't put a single foot wrong, if they want to have a chance of staying.
The work pays off first for Taehyung. Four months after he turned down Big Hit's first offer, they make him another: this time, a contract and a place in the group. He's so happy he practically bounces off the walls when he tells them, making everyone smile as they shower him with congratulations. That's just the kind of person Taehyung is, infectiously likable, the glue that brings together the oldest and the youngest.
As for Namjoon and Donghyuk... They just keep on working, hoping, waiting.
"Do you remember," Jimin says wistfully, at one late night practice as they grab a fifteen minute break, "when we used to have free time?"
"Lies," Seokjin says. "All lies! We've never had free time, ever!"
Jungkook laughs along with everyone else, because you either laugh and live with it, or give up and quit.
"When I was in Los Angeles," he starts saying, and is amused to see the kids all turn around. They like hearing about his time in America - partly because he so rarely talks about it, partly because it's so different from their trainee lives that it's almost mythical, as exaggerated as a drama or a movie. "Some times, when I was in between jobs, I'd have whole weeks of nothing but free time. I'd wake up at midday, go to the beach, at night go to a club..." He shrugs.
"Wow," Hoseok says, equally impressed and horrified. "What a waste of time."
"Sounds like heaven," Yoongi drawls, curled up on the floor with his head on his folded-up jacket.
"But do you miss it, hyung?" Namjoon says, tilting his head thoughtfully. "You could've stayed there, right?"
"I probably could've got an extension on my visa," he admits. "And there's definitely some parts of it I do miss..."
Midday was probably overdoing things but Jungkook misses the luxury of sleeping in, the freedom of being his own boss and having all those hours to himself to give away or waste or spend just as he wanted. He'd had housemates in LA, but he'd also had his own room, his own space, a view onto a courtyard pool, the sun slanting in through his window in the morning all warm on his skin.
He misses the dancing. The challenge of it, the thrill of it, the immersion of being around people who cared so much and worked so hard at this one thing, all the time. He still dances now but - it's not the same.
He misses the long late nights in bars and clubs, hanging out with his dancer crews, the game of seeing and being seen, of dancing with some stranger and seeing what happened next, the giddiness of it. The possibilities.
Jungkook misses kissing boys. Kissing them under the sun, in the street, on the beach. In his room, in his bed.
So yeah. He misses a lot.
But then there's all the things he was all too glad to leave behind.
Like when the days and weeks between dancing jobs stretched into months, from relaxation into numbing boredom, when he'd find himself wondering what he was doing, what was the point, why was he staying.
He hated being so far from his family, missing out on the occasions that were so important to them - his brother's graduation, his cousin's wedding, his father's fiftieth birthday.
He would gladly never go to another audition in his life, tired of constantly being passed over for not having the right 'look', the right 'face'. Later, the realisation, bitter and slow, that no matter how hard he worked and how good he was, he'd probably never be more than a back-up dancer.
And he doesn't miss being asked, over and over, but where are you from?
What he says aloud is just, "But I don't miss the day jobs. Those were the worst."
"Oohhh," Taehyung says, eyes wide. "Like being a barista? That sort of thing?"
"Yeah, I was a barista for a while, that wasn't great. But probably the absolute worst job I ever had was being a server at Jurassic Cafe in Universal Studios." Even now, the memory makes him wrinkle up his nose.
"Jurassic Cafe?" Jimin says, immediately alert. "But that sounds awesome. The dinosaurs!"
Jungkook laughs. "You would've hated it. All those tourists. The horrible hours. The uniforms."
"I bet you looked great in those uniforms," Jimin says, mouth curving up in a smile, subtly looking Jungkook all the way up and then down again.
Before Jungkook can even process that - can even think of what to say - break is over and they're being called back to work. Jimin doesn't look at him like that again for the rest of the session, and that's good, right? He can't afford a distraction, not at this stage of the game, and definitely not one like Jimin.
It still doesn't stop him wondering. If they'd met in Los Angeles. If they'd been anything but idol trainees. If he'd kissed Jimin against the mirrors of the practice room, that one time -
Yeah, well. He didn't.
But there's still something between them. Something that makes the air spark, that makes his heart jump, that makes them both want to linger after dance practice when everyone else has gone home. He's sure Jimin senses it too.
It's just not the right time. Not right now.
A couple of months after Taehyung finally wins his place in the group, Bang PD and some of the most senior producers and managers call Jungkook into a meeting. It's in the big boardroom, so he knows something is up.
It starts out quietly enough. Each of them takes turns to talk about how well he's doing, how hard everyone is working, and how much they expect from him in future, and while the acknowledgement is nice Jungkook is only starting to figure out where all this is leading when suddenly he realises, as everyone's eyes turn to him, that Bang PD has just announced that Jungkook will be the group leader.
It's not entirely unexpected. He feels a pang of sympathy for Jimin - it was always going to come down to Jimin or himself, as the two of the oldest and most experienced members.
They spend so much time looking after the rest of the trainees that the kids like to joke that they're the parents of the group. Jungkook admits the joke has a seed of truth to it, with both of them pushing and pulling the group to practice and to school, making sure they're fed and healthy, hugging them and giving them advice when they're down (Jimin) and quietly supporting them when they just need someone who'll listen (Jungkook).
But lately, he's noticed Bang PD favouring him over Jimin - pulling him aside to ask him what he thinks of possible marketing directions, asking for his opinion on the dynamics of the group and how the kids are fitting in. So, yeah. It's not entirely unexpected. It was just a matter of Big Hit choosing one or the other.
It feels surprising anyway. After all the waiting, the training, the prep - things are suddenly becoming very real, far too soon. Is the group really ready? Is he ready? He's pretty sure he heard some of the producers saying just the other day that the new songs weren't up to scratch, that they'd be better off going back to some of the older material...
As all of this goes racing through his head, Jungkook keeps himself together enough to stammer out a 'thank you' and a deep bow.
"We've called a group meeting for right after this. We'll announce it then," Bang PD says.
"Right now?" Jungkook blinks. "That's - that's quick." He's barely had time to absorb it himself. He hasn't even had a chance to talk it over with Jimin.
"Everything moves fast in this industry," he says, with a philosophical shrug. "And it's better for you if we establish the rules now. The group can start thinking of you as their leader, to prepare for your debut."
There's that word again...
The group meeting is called. If anyone is surprised by the decision (Taehyung's eyes flicking over towards Jimin; Jimin's face a smooth, calm mask) they hide it well, and everyone else falls over themselves to congratulate him and it's very sweet and a little overwhelming.
"Hyung, are you blushing?" Seokjin says, giggling.
"Kid," he says warningly, but Seokjin just pokes at his cheek repeatedly. Jungkook sighs. "Two minutes in and you're already gonna be like this?"
"Good luck," Taehyung says, clapping him on the shoulder with a grin. "You'll need it with those brats." As though he's not just as bad half the time.
Soon the meeting breaks up and they go back to their schedules, and for the rest of the day he's pretty busy right up until the evening dance practice. Secretly he's been looking forward to it all day, or more accurately, looking forward to afterwards when he'll finally have some time alone with Jimin.
Jimin hasn't really looked at him properly since the announcement, and it's starting to worry him. He'd thought Jimin would understand - they've been the de facto leaders together up till now, and despite having the label formally slapped upon him, Jungkook sees no particular reason for that to change. They're still a team, right?
"Of course we are," Jimin says promptly, when they're finally alone. He gives Jungkook a bright smile that is almost, but not quite, convincing.
Jungkook gives him a flat stare. "Jimin."
"Okay, fine." Jimin's shoulders slump and he slides down to the floor. Jungkook turns off the music, and scoots over to sit beside him. "I'm disappointed, hyung, and I'm mad at myself for being disappointed, you know?" He puts his hand over Jungkook's hastily. "I'm not disappointed in you, of course. You deserve it, hyung. You're gonna be a good leader. I can see it already."
"But?" Jungkook says, staring down at their joined hands instead.
"But I kinda - I kinda wish it could be me," Jimin says. He groans and puts his hands over his face. "Ugh, I'm so embarrassed to even say it," he says, voice muffled. "I didn't even think I'd care this much. It's just. I worked so hard, you know?"
"Jimin." He scoots closer and puts his arm around Jimin, a little tentatively at first, then more firmly as Jimin turns in towards him to rest his forehead against his shoulder. "Don't be embarrassed. I wouldn't be here without you. You deserve it too, just as much as me. You're so -" he flounders a little when Jimin looks up, just a pair of big, plaintive eyes over the sleeve of his sweater. "You're so talented it's kinda stupid," he says at last, "and you're really, really good with people. Way better than me, honestly."
Jimin laughs a little and wipes at his eyes with his sleeve. "Well, that's not saying much, hyung."
"That's more like it," Jungkook says, and pinches Jimin's cheek. "Disrespectful as usual. I'm serious, though." He lets his hand linger, cupping Jimin's face. "You're brilliant, Jimin. You're brilliant and smart and anyone can see that."
"Do you really mean that, hyung?"
"Of course I mean it," Jungkook says firmly. "When I first came back - I couldn't believe it, you know? How much you'd changed. How much you'd grown up. You were so focused and so mature. Everyone looked up to you. But you were kind, too, and smart, and funny."
"Hyung, please," Jimin says, but in a way that means go on, tell me more. Already he looks better, eyes shining, the colour back in his face, like a flower coming into bloom.
"The first night, when I saw you dancing, it took my breath away," Jungkook says, and maybe he shouldn't be so honest but everything feels easy to say, too easy, when Jimin's looking at him with that soft, fond gaze. "You were so -"
"So what?" Jimin says, teasing. "Go on, then."
"So pretty," Jungkook says, helplessly, and it's such a stupid move but he leans in anyway and does what he's wanted to do for so long. And Jimin, who's meant to be the sensible one, just - just pulls him in and kisses him right back.
They keep kissing and after a few minutes Jimin shifts onto his knees, steadying himself against Jungkook's shoulders he tries to lean into a more comfortable position. Impatiently, Jungkook just pulls him right into his lap, and Jimin gasps with surprise.
"Ugh, you muscle pig," he says, slapping Jungkook on the shoulder and giggling as he leans back in again, thighs bracketing Jungkook's hips, arms looped around his neck. "This is stupid," Jimin whispers, his forehead leaning against Jungkook's. "This is the dumbest thing we could possibly be doing."
"I know," Jungkook says, "but."
"But," Jimin agrees, fingers curling into Jungkook's hair. "Just this once, okay?"
"Okay," Jungkook says too quickly, already leaning in again, already eager. If he's going to have to give this up too, one more item on the list of things he misses - then at least he'll have something to miss. "Just this once."
Well before debut, Donghyuk takes himself out of the running.
He pulls Namjoon aside for what he claims is a quick run to the convenience store and ends up being the two of them down in the park, sitting on the grass and talking it out for half an hour.
"I told them I wanted to quit," Donghyuk says, shrugging, "and they offered me a production assistant job instead." He breaks out into a grin. "Can you believe it?"
"Congratulations, man," Namjoon says enthusiastically, holding his hand out for the dap. "But you don't mind - I mean. The group and all..." They've been competing for the last spot in the group for the better part of a year now and it seems crazy to Namjoon that Donghyuk would just give up at basically the finish line.
"You'll do way better than me," Donghyuk says, waving it off. "I was never any good at this idol stuff anyway."
Soon after that Namjoon signs his contract. And just a month or so after that Big Hit drops the hip hop concept "for now". Which is about when Namjoon starts to wonder if Donghyuk made the right decision after all.
Their debut single is going to be a r'n'b ballad, about a guy who falls in love with a girl who won't text him back. The song isn't bad but it's not exactly hip hop; and more ominously, Namjoon only has about four lines out of one-and-a-half rap verses that three of them have to share.
"This isn't what I signed up for," Yoongi says angrily as they walk out of a photo shoot - or more accurately, Yoongi stomps and Namjoon walks - for which they'd been all dolled up in oxford shirts with soft hair, against interiors that looked like something out of a lifestyle magazine.
Yoongi, still smarting over the indignity of dying his hair teal blue, also had to endure being repeatedly told to look more like a flower boy and less like a pissed off punk kid. "Dreamy, think dreamy!" the photographer said, gesticulating wildly. Yoongi had just about managed 'sleepy' instead, and in the end that had had to do.
(Namjoon dreads the inevitable day they're asked to do aegyo. Will Yoongi just... snap?)
"Why did they even bother getting rappers? Why three rappers? Why did we break our backs learning all that hip hop choreo if we're just doing this instead?"
Namjoon sighs. He's heard it all before. Yoongi doesn't really expect a response - he knows why.
In an ideal world, they'd have another six months or even a year to get better. Namjoon and Yoongi could put the finishing touches on their dancing, and Hoseok could work on his rapping, and together with Donghyuk they'd write something good, something real.
But time was a luxury they didn't have. There were backers expecting results and debts mounting with every day of training, with the debut date was set in stone - Big Hit needed to start making money instead of spending it. In the end it came down to the fact that Big Hit got cold feet about the whole hip hop concept, that the four vocalists were more stage-ready then the three rappers, and that the new songs needed work and the old ones didn't.
So the hip hop-influenced tracks they'd been working on for literally months were shelved, and they were back to the original flower boy concept for the debut single.
"Later," they'd been promised, they'd shift the concept closer to hip hop. Namjoon has yet to hear anyone define what "later" really means.
"Donghyuk had the right idea," Yoongi says as they head to wardrobe to pick up their next set of outfits. "He quit when he saw which way the wind was blowing."
"Maybe he did or didn't, but either way it's too late for us to quit now," Namjoon says, with a sigh. "Let's just make the best of it, okay? And like you said, we're here for a reason, they signed us because they wanted us. We have to wait it out. Concepts can change."
"As though we have a choice," Yoongi mutters.
Their debut as seven-member group Young Nation, when it finally comes, seems like it should be a bigger deal, or feel like one, at least. In many ways, it's objectively a good debut. Everything goes well. They receive positive press and fans show up to their signings and stages, so Namjoon assumes they're doing something right.
But from inside the bubble, it's hard to tell. They're kept so busy, scheduled down to the very last minute and hour, that there's no opportunity to think about or reflect on much of anything. The debut showcase and their first stages go by in a blur, sandwiched between variety show appearances and behind-the-scenes cameras and dance practices and fansigns so there's barely any time to sleep let alone feel nervous or excited or angry or anything like that.
One thing Namjoon does realise, or more accurately realises all over again - that he loves the live stages and the audience reaction, just as much as he ever did when he was battling underground and playing live gigs to audiences of ten or twenty people he could stare right in the eye, instead of a few hundred or thousand faces in a crowd. That hasn't changed. He may only get a few lines to shine on his own, but those moments when he gets to feel the love and give it back almost make the whole thing worth it. Almost.
It nags at him, almost as much as it does at Yoongi and to a lesser extent Hoseok, that he's only showing a small part of what he's truly capable of. Maybe even the worst part, given where his strengths lie. He's better than this.
He's not begrudging of vocal line, because god knows they've worked long and hard for this through all those years spent wondering if they'd ever even make it to debut. But hasn't rap line worked hard too? When will they have their time in the sun?
Already, given the solid reception from their debut, Big Hit has started planning the next comeback around soft ballads. Namjoon's already heard the demos and he reckons he'll get about four lines next time. Maybe six if he's lucky.
Things go on until one specific variety filming tips Yoongi over the edge. Of course it was aegyo. Just as Namjoon predicted.
As soon as the filming for the variety show is over, Yoongi's straight into wardrobe and makeup - still a professional, Namjoon notes with a little amusement amidst his worry - but then he's storming out of the room, Namjoon close on his heels.
"Fuck this," Yoongi hisses, when Namjoon catches up to him in one of the empty change rooms. "Fuck all of this!"
"Look," Namjoon says, trying to dampen the flames, "it's not that bad -"
"Not that bad?" Yoongi gives him a dead-eyed stare. "Not that bad? I didn't come here for this. I didn't give it all up and leave the underground scene for this, I didn't turn my back on my family for this."
Namjoon winces and tries a different tack. "Yoongi, we're idols. This is what we do. We have to play dumb games and sing kids' songs in cutesy voices, and yes, sometimes we have to dress up like we're in a maid cafe." He decides not to tell Yoongi there's still some lipstick left at the corner of his mouth. Maybe later. "I know it sucks, I know you hate it, but this is what we agreed to when -"
"No," Yoongi say, very slowly, like Namjoon's an idiot. "We agreed to being in a hip hop group. We agreed we'd be in a hip hop group and we'd get to rap and write our own songs, and in return we'd do all this idol shit. That was the deal."
"Actually," Namjoon starts to say, holding up his hand. "Actually," he says, after a moment, lowering it again. "Yeah, okay. Fair point." He thinks about it a little longer.
It was a little funny and a little frightening to realise how easy it was to get caught up in the cycle of schedules and routines, to go along with the day's filming and this week's fansign and the album concept, and lose sight of why you were doing this in the first place.
Put on these clothes. Go to this place. Sing this song. Play this game. Rinse, repeat.
It was entirely possible to live your whole career as an idol and never make a single decision on your own, Namjoon thought, if you didn't care enough. If you didn't have someone like Yoongi around to get angry and remind you to care at all.
"So," Yoongi says, a little uncertainly, sounding like he's been trying to get Namjoon's attention. "Uh. You're not gonna try and talk me down from my ledge or whatever? Fair point, cool story?"
"Fair point," Namjoon says, with a firm nod. "So I was thinking -"
There's a knock at the door. "Oh, there you guys are! I couldn't find you!" Hoseok says, looking relieved as he comes over to join them. "Hey, are you okay? You seemed upset," he says, putting his arm around Yoongi as easy as anything, though Namjoon would never dare when Yoongi's in this mood. One time he saw Taehyung try it; Yoongi had reacted like a cat being stroked the wrong way, hackles right up.
This time, Yoongi just shrugs, though not enough to actually dislodge Hoseok's arm from around his shoulders. "Been better," he says. "But. Thanks, I guess."
"Actually, I'm glad you're here, Hoseok," Namjoon says, "because I was just about to tell Yoongi about this idea."
It's not easy, but with their schedules starting to wind down, they do manage to find a little time here and there in between dance practices and variety show filmings, late at night in the dorm or whiling away the hours in waiting rooms.
The three of them sit down together and thrash it out, work it through, getting the words out of their heads and onto the page, practicing until the verses are slick in their mouths. For the first time, they say what they really want to say - no holding back, no worrying about image, no waiting for approval. They record snippets on their phones and send them to Donghyuk, who in turn sends back notes, beats, encouragement.
Slowly, the songs take shape.
"Are you still working on that?" Seokjin says, interrupting one of their late night sessions in the dorm living room. He pops up behind the couch and rests his chin on Hoseok's shoulder, arms around Hoseok's neck. He pouts and bats his eyelids at once. "Ugh, why are you three so boring these days? Hoseokie-hyung, come play video games with me."
"We're boring because we wanna get this right, Jinnie," Hoseok says patiently, absently patting Seokjin's face. "This is important to us."
"We're busy. Go find Taehyung if you want someone to play with," Yoongi says dismissively, glancing up from where he's scribbling in his notebook.
"Well, if it's important to you, hyung, then it's important to me too," Seokjin declares to Hoseok, grandly ignoring Yoongi. "I wanna help too!" He climbs over the back of the sofa and plonks himself down right between Yoongi and Hoseok - Namjoon has to cover up his laugh with his hand. Hoseok just giggles and shifts over good naturedly; but Yoongi glares, hand tightening around his pen.
"Actually," Namjoon says, before Yoongi murders Seokjin with a pen to the neck or worse. "This song could use someone to sing the hook. We were thinking about using a sample but having you lay it down might be better."
Seokjin beams. "Oh yeah, I can do that. I'm great at singing!"
Even Yoongi can't argue with that. So that's how Seokjin ends up joining their sessions.
It takes a few weeks for them to get one song to a stage that has them all reasonably satisfied, and another couple of days before they get a chance to sneak out together, making their way to Big Hit's recording studio in the dead of night.
Donghyuk's waiting by the door, arms folded, chewing gum, grinning. "You guys ready?" he says, throwing open the door and ushering them inside.
"Yeah," Namjoon says, grinning back, closing the door behind them. "We're ready."
They lay down the tracks over two night sessions; then he and Yoongi sneak back a few more times to help Donghyuk with mixing and mastering.
One night it's just Namjoon and Donghyuk, burning the candle at both ends. At the end Namjoon is so tired - but satisfied! Really satisfied with their progress! When he drags himself back to the dorm just before dawn that it actually takes him one, two blinks to register that Jungkook is waiting for him in the living room, arms folded and expression stony.
"You really think we're so stupid that we didn't notice you disappearing every second night this week?" he says, at Namjoon's apparently shocked expression.
"I can explain," he says, weakly.
"Then sit," Jungkook says, and points at the sofa. "Explain."
So he sits. He tells him the whole thing. How they're recording a song with Donghyuk, a whole song that they wrote themselves, and that they're gonna release it online under pseudonyms. And it's good! Like, really good!
"Yeah," Namjoon says, a little too enthusiastically. "Yoongi is gonna be Suga and Hoseok is J-Hope. I'm, uh, I'm Rap Monster." Which sounds so much less cool when he's saying it to Jungkook, aka probably the single coolest person he knows.
"And what about Seokjin?"
"Uh," Namjoon says. He clears his throat. "I think he just wants to go by Jin?"
("That's not a stage name. That's basically just your actual name," Yoongi said flatly when they'd had this conversation.
"Why would I want to hide myself from my fans?" Seokjin said, deliberately wide-eyed.)
Jungkook is quiet for a long time and though Namjoon knows that Jungkook never yells - he just gets very quiet and unhappy and disappointed in you, which is way worse - he is kinda scared he's gonna get yelled at this time.
Instead Jungkook holds out his hand with a sigh. "Okay. Come on then."
"Huh?" Namjoon says, baffled.
"Your phone. The song." Jungkook flaps his hand impatiently. "Let me hear this thing that you're so willing to get in trouble over."
Nervously, Namjoon hands it over. He watches as Jungkook listens through the headphones, face utterly deadpan, and scrubs his clammy palms on his jeans.
What if Jungkook goes to Bang PD and spills the whole thing? What if he makes him delete everything they've been working on? Worst of all - what if he hates it and thinks the song is bad and stupid and dumb, and Namjoon is bad and stupid and dumb?
Namjoon had other offers before coming to Big Hit. He could've debuted as a rapper. Or trained up with one of the Big Three and been part of an idol group that didn't have to rush to debut. Instead he'd chosen unproven newbie Big Hit, because Jungkook knew his hip hop history and had once been in a Drake video and could breakdance like a pro; because Jungkook had walked into the room and Namjoon had been immediately convinced that he was going to be a star.
Yeah. He really, really hopes Jungkook doesn't hate this. Also, time really is subjective, Namjoon realises, sweating through the longest three minutes of his life. And then Jungkook listens to it again, and the second three-minute wait is even worse.
Eventually, Jungkook tugs off the headphones, coiling up the cord around his hand. His expression gives nothing away. "Well, the mix needs more work," he says.
Namjoon nods frantically. They can fix that. That's definitely something that can be fixed!
Jungkook tilts his head. "And how were you planning to release this again?"
"Soundcloud, probably, or Youtube." Namjoon starts to feel a little hopeful. So maybe Jungkook won't make him delete everything. "Maybe tweet about it - under a new account, naturally."
Then Jungkook shakes his head and Namjoon's heart sinks right back down again. "You know, chances are that no one will ever hear it, if you do that. There's so many artists fighting for clicks and views. This song is just gonna get buried beneath the rest."
"Maybe, but a slim chance is better than nothing. And at least it'll be our song, right?" Namjoon says, trying to sound reasonable and well-argued and not like he's begging.
"No." Jungkook shakes his head again. "No, don't do that." Before Namjoon can start pleading his case, Jungkook cuts him off. "The song's too good to be overlooked, Namjoon. We have a platform already. You should use it."
"Wait," Namjoon says. "Wait, you think it's good - wait, I mean, use which platform?!"
Jungkook presses the phone back into his hand. "Upload it wherever you want. Then we'll retweet it from the official account. We won't say it's you but," he shrugs, "it'll be pretty obvious."
"Hyung," he whispers. "Seriously?"
"Seriously." Jungkook regards him steadily. "If Big Hit kick up a fuss, I'll take responsibility." As Namjoon stammers out his thanks, Jungkook waves it off. "If you really want to thank me," he says, "then you should let the rest of us get in on this too. Taehyung's always wanted to rap, you know."
"Oh yeah," Jungkook says casually as he stands up, "and you're on bathroom cleaning duty for the next two weeks for pulling this stunt behind our backs. And before you ask, yes, Yoongi gets laundry, and the terrible two are on cooking and kitchen duties."
It's so much less of a punishment than he was expecting that he doesn't really mind, but he groans anyway. "You're the worst, hyung," he says.
"What did you say?"
"I said you're the best, hyung," Namjoon says, grinning, and gives Jungkook a quick hug as he follows him out of the room.
"Here," Yoongi says, and shoves a cup of peppermint tea in his direction.
"Oh," Hoseok says, sitting up on his bed and accepting the tea, grateful but slightly bewildered. "Thank you."
They sit together on the bed, Hoseok sipping at his tea and Yoongi looking down at his phone. Eventually Yoongi says, while still scrolling through Twitter, "You okay?"
"Huh?" Hoseok says.
"Today after filming. You looked..." Yoongi shrugs.
"Oh. Oh yeah." Hoseok laughs a little, scratches at the back of his neck. "Um, it's nothing. I'm fine now."
Yoongi puts his phone away and gives him a blank look.
"It's really dumb," Hoseok mutters. He looks down at his tea, flushing again already just at the memory. "It was just, you know." He takes a deep breath and says it in a rush, "That was my first kiss and I didn't think it would be that way."
Yoongi says nothing.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Hoseok mutters, shrinking in on himself. "Like I said. It was stupid."
It had been kind of funny, at the time, with everyone hooting and cheering and Taehyung grinning at him with a mouth smeared with lipstick while Hoseok pretended to be terrified. They'd watched the playback afterwards, and everyone agreed it was going to make for great, cringey, look-through-your-fingers tv viewing. Perfect, in other words.
At the same time, he couldn't help feeling kinda - kinda sad?
"I wasn't, like, saving myself for marriage or my true love or whatever," he says, fiddling with the string on the teabag and avoiding Yoongi's eyes. "But I wasn't expecting it to be a joke either, I guess? I don't know..."
"It's not stupid," Yoongi says abruptly, with such vehemence that Hoseok looks up from his tea. "You're not being stupid. You should've," Yoongi says, and as he stops to take a breath, Hoseok notices with astonishment that his cheeks are staining slightly red, "you deserved something better. For your first kiss."
"Aww," Hoseok says. "You're so sweet, Yoongi!" He tries for a teasing tone, but it comes out kinda soft instead. Because it's true. Yoongi is sweet, for all his grumpy, aegyo-hating ways.
"I'm not, shut up," Yoongi mutters, and goes back to scrolling Twitter on his phone.
"Be respectful to your elders," Hoseok says, laughing, and pretends to shove him off the bed.
Yoongi can be soft but he's dangerous too. He's something else when he's spitting out rhymes, Suga by name but the furthest thing from sweet.
Namjoon's the same, flipping easily from dimpled nerd to someone much colder and more controlled behind the mic.
As for himself - he has a long way to go, he knows that. But he's getting better, feeling more confident with every song, finding his own style. He's getting there. ("So swaggy, J," Namjoon said admiringly when he'd tried out his latest verse on them.)
They've dropped four songs on Soundcloud so far as 'Bangtan' ("I hate the name," Yoongi said, to absolutely no effect whatsoever). As Jungkook predicted, the identity of the three rappers quickly became an open secret, as were those of their featured vocalists. 'Seagull', on their latest track, sang the hook as well as rapped a verse - to Taehyung's tremendous envy.
Big Hit had been far from happy at first. Idols weren't meant to deviate from the gameplan. Showing flashes of personality on SNS was fine - but going completely off-script and dropping unapproved tracks was another thing altogether. Jungkook had been called into several closed-door meetings, emerging each time anxious and tense.
But after the dust settled, Big Hit couldn't deny that the publicity had been good, the buzz was positive, and that the clicks kept coming - raising the profile of their official releases too So Big Hit had changed their tack. If they wanted to release the occasional 'underground' song, then fine. Just not too many, not too often, and only after a strict clearance process.
After that there was no more sneaking around at night and no more Donghyuk letting them into the studio on the sly; and so far Big Hit hadn't said 'no' to anything, not even the song railing against the messed up expectations of society, which was obviously great, but...
But there'd been something thrilling about the late night sessions. Something addictive about knowing they were breaking the rules.
Maybe that was why they'd decided to go even further.
The gig was at a tiny club in Hongdae - usually booked out weeks in advance, but Namjoon and Donghyuk had called in their old contacts and somehow gotten the strings pulled. They'd landed a precious Saturday night slot, though they were first on the bill under the bland pseudonym 'BTS', with an unfashionably early start, and enough time for only a handful of songs.
Taehyung and Seokjin had been bitterly envious at missing out, but agreed to help cover them for the night. As for Jimin and Jungkook, there was no need for them to know - better, in fact, because if they did they'd probably feel obliged to tell management.
The gig was nothing anyway. It was just a way for them to flex their performance muscles and get a feel for how their new songs played to a live audience. Just something to do, for the illicit thrill of it.
Yeah. Well. So much for that.
"What the fuck?" Yoongi says, as they gather together backstage while the sound of fanchants filters through from the club. The place was completely packed with fans, and apparently there were more still queuing outside.
"Someone spilled," Namjoon says, shaking his head. "Maybe by accident, maybe not. But everyone knows now." He glimpses down at his phone and grimaces - three missed calls from Jungkook, five from their manager Sejin, countless text messages.
"So what do we do now?" Hoseok says, nervously plucking at a loose thread in his jeans. He always gets so anxious before a gig, and the uncertainty is just making it worse. "Are we gonna go ahead with it?"
Donghyuk makes an incredulous sound. "Um, yeah?" He laughs. "You realise that if you don't, there's gonna be a riot, right? There is no way the club will let us leave now. You have to perform."
Hoseok sneaks a peek through the curtains. Donghyuk's right. The place is heaving, the crowd dotted with more glitter banners then the club's probably seen in its entire (serious, hardcore, hip hop-loving) history, and he's pretty sure some girls down the front are already crying. He shakes his head. Yeah. This is definitely happening.
He's used to performing for a crowd. Loves it, in fact. He had years of practice before he was a trainee, dancing with his crew in Gwangju in front of small but knowledgeable crowds - people he was competing against more often than not. And since debut there's been dozens of live stages and festivals for their first single and then their first comeback, playing for hundreds or thousands of fans at a time.
This gig is more intense than any of those.
They head out together, heads down beneath their caps, face masks up, while Donghyuk up in the DJ booth plays their intro music. As soon as they step out from behind the curtain, the sound hits them like a wave, a couple hundred voices all screaming at once in the tiny space. It's so hot and humid in there that the walls are sweating.
"You ready for BTS, everyone?" Namjoon shouts, and the crowd roars back a response. "Yeah," he says, and Hoseok can hear the smile in his voice. "Let's do it."
When Donghyuk drops the beat, they pull off their caps, pull off their masks, throwing them into the crowd because fuck it, everyone knows who they are anyway. As the crowd goes wild, Hoseok's nerves melt away, turning into pure energy. He starts to grin recklessly, feels his body move to the beat. Turns and catches Yoongi's eyes, then Namjoon's, can see them feeling the same way.
Namjoon's verse is first and he's effortlessly cocky, the still centre to the storm. Then Yoongi's up and he's aggressive as hell, spitting fire.
Third verse comes around, and they both turn to him. Yoongi grins at him and squeezes his arm as they swap places, his touch burning hot through the thin material of his shirt. Hoseok takes a deep breath, lifts the mic to his lips, and goes for it.
It's like magic. Having the crowd sway and surge in time to his words. He lifts his hand up in the air and watches hands go up across the crowd, rippling right through to the back. And the stage is small enough and he's close enough that he can make real eye contact - hunkering down on one knee as he comes to the end of the verse, finishing off the line with a sneer and a wink that makes the girl in front of him look like she's gonna faint on the spot.
Twenty minutes goes by like twenty seconds. They play four new songs, and finish with their most popular old one, all to rapturous screams. It's addictive. It's everything he ever wanted.
Then it's suddenly all over, with only just enough time to high five the fans at the front before they're being hustled off stage to make way for the next act.
Backstage, Namjoon crushes them both in a group hug, then pulls Donghyuk in for good measure. The club's booking manager and some of the other rappers and DJs playing that night dap them up and shake their hands, and maybe some of it's just politeness but Hoseok couldn't care less, still riding that performance high.
Someone shoves shotglasses of tequila into all their hands, and Hoseok shoots it down with the rest of them, only choking a little as he sets the glass aside. Yoongi shouts something at him, but his ears are still ringing, and everyone is shouting, so he shakes his head and shouts back, "What?"
Yoongi makes a face and takes him by the hand, threading their way through the crowd to a backstage corridor. It's quieter back there, though only marginally. They stumble to a halt together, and underneath the flickering fluorescent lights Yoongi looks like he's glowing from the heat in his cheeks and the thin sheen of sweat at his temples, on his collarbones, on his neck. Yoongi's fingers are still interlaced with his own; neither of them make a move to let go.
"Hyung," Yoongi says. Whatever he was going to say earlier, he seems to have forgotten now. Yoongi swallows as he very slowly, very carefully curls his other hand around the back of Hoseok's neck. Not pressing, not pulling. Just resting it there, as though he's asking for some kind of permission. "Hyung, can I -"
So maybe he is. "Yeah," Hoseok says, licking his lips, the twist in his stomach part nerves and part adrenaline. This is a night for taking chances. "Yeah, Yoongi," he says, and then he's leaning down and they're kissing, soft and slow.
Yoongi makes a little sound and pulls him closer, deepening the kiss. And it's honestly a little awkward, working out what to do with their teeth and tongues, but it's still so good. So sweet. The shitty first kiss was worth it, Hoseok thinks dazedly, for this kind of follow-up.
"Oh my god."
They break apart guiltily at the sound of Namjoon's voice. Hoseok can feel himself blushing furiously, and from the corner of his eye he can see Yoongi's just as red.
Namjoon looks like he's in shock. "Oh my god," he says again. Then he shakes his head, holding up his phone. "Look. Let's leave that for later. I was just coming to get you guys, we have to go right now. Jungkook-hyung is here with manager Sejin. They're in a car, waiting out back."
"Shit," Yoongi says, echoing Hoseok's thoughts. "Okay, let's go."
They leave the club through the back, while he's still working through the embarrassment and the sinking feeling that he's about to be in deep trouble. It should be a downer end to what was mostly a pretty amazing night.
But no matter what happens next - they played a fucking amazing show and no one can take that away from them; and he and Yoongi kissed, and he's pretty sure they're gonna do it again.
So in the dark of the car, Hoseok reaches out and takes Yoongi's hand. "Great gig, huh?" Hoseok says softly, and watches Yoongi smile.
"Yeah," Yoongi says. He squeezes Hoseok's hand and interlaces their fingers. "The best."
When's the next drop? Jimin reads on the fancafe, in a rare moment he steals on an intern's unattended computer. We want Bangtan! and I miss Rap Monster. The messages go on and on, arguing and discussing when Bangtan is likely to release its next song.
The fact is the rap line's side project is dead and buried - not that they're ever going to say that, since Big Hit never admitted to its existence at all.
After the secret gig that ended up not being so secret, the whole group is put under lockdown. No phone privileges, no laptops or tablets, and strictly no SNS access, with every post carefully vetted and approved by what feels like five managers. No more access to the music studio after hours, no more contact with Donghyuk, and the strictest of strict curfews - even Hoseok's late night dance sessions are curtailed, unless Jimin or Jungkook are also there to supervise.
There's a distinct air of frostiness in every interaction between management and the group, and Jimin thinks that honestly they're lucky to be getting away with it so lightly.
Hoseok feels pretty much the same way. "I always love practising with hyung anyway!" he screeches, lifting him up by the waist and twirling him around the room. Jimin sags to make himself heavier and patiently waits him out. "Besides," Hoseok adds, letting Jimin go and falling to the ground, sprawling spread-eagled, "they can't stop us from working on songs by ourselves in our own time, right?" He smiles, looking far too pleased with himself. "We're gonna keep going. We'll just keep it secret this time."
"Somehow," Jimin says with a sigh, "I don't think that's quite what they were hoping you'd take away from this whole thing."
Yoongi, surprisingly, is also relatively calm. "We knew we were taking a risk. Can't do much about it now except wait it out. And this gives us more time to write," is all he says.
He and Hoseok do spend a lot of time holed up in the tiny study in the dorm, though Jimin suspects they're probably playing video games or watching anime as much as they are working on music.
Out of the three, Namjoon's definitely the most pissed off and frustrated - mostly at himself for setting up the show in the first place, as though he's the only one to blame. Jimin tries to get him to talk it out but mostly succeeds in making him stuttery and awkward; it's Jungkook who's best at calming him down.
"What do you talk about?" Jimin says, curious after another occasion when Namjoon goes storming out of the practice room like a lion, then comes back inside fifteen minutes later with Jungkook, quiet as a lamb. "How did you do that?"
Jungkook shrugs. "I didn't say anything," he says, a little sheepishly. "I just - let him talk."
Whatever works, Jimin supposes.
He can't even bring himself to be angry at the kids for hiding the Hongdae club show from him and Jungkook. If he and Jungkook had been paying closer attention, doing their jobs properly as the two eldest, then maybe they would've been able to prevent the whole thing from happening in the first place.
The cool treatment they're getting from head office isn't helped when their current comeback, with a high school romance concept, isn't the hit they were hoping for. It's not a total misfire - the mini-album does okay numbers, building on their debut figures, and their core fan base is still devoted and strong.
But that base isn't growing, at least not fast enough for Big Hit's liking, and the sales aren't anywhere near where they were initially projected to be. Margins are already tight. No one knows that more than they do, crammed seven to a room and pinching every penny.
It's around then that Jimin starts hearing rumours - from a production assistant here or a make-up artist there - whispers in corridors and conversations that come to an abrupt halt when he walks into the room.
Big Hit can't afford to keep going like this... They're gonna break up Young Nation... Or sell off their contracts... They'll launch Jungkook as a solo artist and ditch the rest... No, they'll raise more capital and launch a new group instead...
None of those sound like good options. Not after everything Jimin's gone through and given up and sacrificed for all these years - not good at all. And what about the kids? He worries for them as much as for himself.
The most ominous sign is how little anyone is talking about what happens next. Bang PD's philosophy has always been to plan two or three steps ahead; Jimin's always had the impression that he's got plans for three, five, seven years down the track.
Yet here they are, done and dusted with their latest comeback but not a single word about the next song, or album, or tour. The worry eats away at him. He starts waking in the night, half-sick with nerves.
He's not the only one. When he jerks awake at 4am one time, spooked by a dream of falling, he pads out to the living room in a stupor and finds Jungkook already there, hands wrapped around a mug of tea and staring at nothing in particular. When he sees Jimin, he gives him a tired smile and pats the seat beside him.
"What do you think will happen?" Jimin says, curling up with his arms around his knees. No need for preamble. "You know more than any of us."
"Well." Jungkook sighs and sets the mug down on the coffee table. "I think we're set for at least one more comeback. And if that goes well, we're all fine."
"And if not?"
Jungkook just looks back at him, and that says enough. Jimin shifts a little closer and rests his forehead on Jungkook's shoulder. He closes his eyes as Jungkook pulls him closer, nuzzling into Jungkook's warmth, breathing in the scent of him, wanting to kiss the curve of his neck.
But he doesn't.
They've never been like that. After that one time, they never did anything again. They'd both agreed there was too much at stake, and it was too risky to even try, and they had to work together, and...
There were just a million, million reasons why it was a bad idea.
And Jimin still wanted it anyway.
There's even a tiny, traitorous part of Jimin that whispers: if the worst happened and everything fell apart, if the group broke up and they were cast out of this fishbowl idol life - then, then, there might finally be a chance for the two of them. A silver lining.
That's still a lot of 'if's.
Things come to a head a few days later during an extra dance practice for Namjoon and Yoongi. The others have all gone home, except for Jimin who's stuck around to help supervise, when Namjoon stops dead in the middle of a dance, turns on his heel, and walks right out the door.
"Hey!" Son Sungdeuk says, more shocked than angry. "Where do you think you're going? Hey! Namjoon!"
Yoongi makes as though to follow but Jimin stops him with one raised finger. "Nope. You're still in trouble. You stay here, and I'll go after him."
He throws on his hoodie and runs, catching up to Namjoon about halfway down the block. "Wait up, Joonie," he says, snagging him by the sleeve.
Namjoon scowls and shoves his hands into his pockets, looking so sullen and unhappy and lost that Jimin just wants to give him a hug. But this is Namjoon, so Jimin just tucks his hand into the crook of his elbow and steers him towards the nearest late night cafe. "Come on. Let's get coffee."
They sit in silence for a while, sipping at their drinks. Jimin starts to say something half a dozen times, only to bite the words back. What did Jungkook say? Just let him talk...
"I think I'm gonna quit the group," Namjoon says suddenly, halfway through his drink.
Jimin nearly chokes on his mouthful of coffee. "You're - you're gonna what?"
"I'm no good at this," Namjoon says, morosely. "And I'm no good for the group. Look at the whole mess with the gig and the Soundcloud. I got us in trouble. I got you in trouble, and you never even did anything! Plus I know Big Hit is in a bad place right now, and I never should have jeopardised the group like that, so, you know." He heaves a sigh. "Let's just get it over with. They're probably going to fire me anyway."
For a few moments neither of them say anything.
"Ok, well first of all," Jimin says firmly. "You can stop being so dramatic."
Namjoon blinks. "Huh?"
He sits up very straight and taps Namjoon on the forehead lightly. "Look at me, Namjoon. Listen up, okay? You're not quitting, and you're going to stop acting like you're the only one to blame. We're all in this together. Did you think that was just a slogan?
"As soon as we get back to the dorm, I'm talking to hyung," Jimin says, standing up decisively. "We'll set up a meeting with Bang PD tomorrow, as a group. And then maybe we'll finally get some answers. Now," he says, making an impatient gesture, "finish your coffee and let's go."
Namjoon just nods, wide-eyed.
Jimin mutters to himself and Namjoon the whole way home, about the nerve of some people who'd dare to think about quitting now just because things are starting to get difficult, and about the gall of Big Hit to keep them in the dark like this when there's all these rumours swirling. Namjoon doesn't say anything; but he does start to smile, those dimples of his peeping out again.
They pause a little as they reach the dorm. "Don't bottle things up like this again," Jimin says, scolding and fond at once. "Don't take on the burden of everything yourself. We're a team. Okay, Namjoonie?"
Namjoon nods sheepishly.
Suddenly, Jimin pokes at his left dimple, unable to resist.
"Hyung!" Namjoon says, clapping his hand to his face, looking adorably shocked.
"I've been waiting all night to do that," he says, and then briskly opens the door and ushers Namjoon inside before him.
On reflection, Jimin thinks later as he's recounting the whole thing to Jungkook, he didn't really follow Jungkook's 'let him talk' advice very well. But whatever works, right?
Bang PD is caught up in meetings the whole of the next day, but the day after that he makes the time. Instead of the boardroom, which is already occupied, they all cram into his office - half of them sitting on the floor, Yoongi half on Hoseok's lap, with Jungkook standing at the back of the room and looming awkwardly over the rest of them.
"We'd like to know what's going on," Jungkook says, in that way he has - softly spoken, but very definite all the same. "It's been weeks now and we're still in the dark. All we hear are rumours. Please," he says, and bows slightly. "It's our future at stake."
Bang PD swings his chair gently from side to side for a moment, tapping at his chin with one finger. "Okay," he says at last, and stops swinging, folds his hands on the table and leans in. "Okay, the fact is that we're having some disagreements about what to do with you." He shrugs. "Some of want to keep going as we're going - slow and steady wins the race, that sort of thing. Some of us think we're throwing good money after bad and we should wrap up the whole thing now - just disband the group and start over."
"And you?" Jungkook says, quietly. He's nervous, Jimin can tell, from the way he swallows slightly. "What do you think?"
Bang PD doesn't answer the question directly. Instead, he taps at his laptop and then turns it around to show the group a video. "Did you know," he says, hitting play, "that the Bangtan fancams went a little bit viral? No," he says, smiling at what must be their dumbfounded expressions. "Of course you don't. We took your phones away."
"People liked it?" Namjoon says, hoarsely. "Wow. They really liked it. We just - we just did it for fun. There were only like a couple hundred people in that club."
The viewcount on the video is many, many thousands of times bigger than that.
"Well. It's the age of SNS, isn't it?" Bang PD says. He turns the video off and shuts the laptop. "People loved the show, and they loved the lyrics too. They loved your honesty, your realness. Everything you said about the system, and the expectations we place on young people, and the pressure to conform - it really struck a nerve.
"Now people are expecting something more. They've been analysing the videos and the lyrics. They argue about it in chat rooms, they have theories for what it all means - check the fancafe, and half the fans in there are convinced Bangtan was Big Hit's way of dropping clues for the next comeback.
"So." Bang PD holds out his hands, palms up. He beams, childlike. "That's what I think. Why don't we make their theories come true?"
"A new concept?" Hoseok says, hesitantly. "No more flower boys?"
"No more flower boys," Bang PD says, nodding. "Think of it as a soft reboot. Think of it as Bangtan, the album. So." He leans back in his seat, hands folded over his stomach. "What do you think?"
Everyone looks at one another. Holy crap, Seokjin mouths silently. Taehyung's eyes are the size of dinner plates and Jimin imagines he looks much the same way.
"Bangtan, the album," Yoongi says, still sitting with his legs draped all over Hoseok's but with a calculating, canny gleam in his eye. "Okay. Would that we mean we get to write the songs? Write the lyrics? Decide what we're gonna wear?"
"Well, you're still an idol group," Bang PD says, in a tone that says be reasonable, "but potentially, yes, we can work with that. We'll have the final say, but I can make sure your songs and lyrics and ideas are considered for inclusion along with all the rest."
"No," Jungkook says.
Everyone's heads snap towards him.
"No," Jungkook says, again, soft but clear. "We want more than just consideration. We are Bangtan. It's more than just a name. It means something to us. It's our team."
"Fair." Bang PD tilts his head thoughtfully. "Then what do you propose?"
"Big Hit's in trouble, we all know that. This next comeback is all or nothing for our group at least. So let's roll the dice," Jungkook says. "If we're going to go out, why not with a bang?"
"And what does that mean exactly?"
"Split the album with us," Jungkook says, after a moment. "You get final say over half the tracks, and we get final say over the other half."
"Fifty percent?" Bang PD eyebrows shoot right up, but he laughs out loud. "You're bold, Jungkook. But you know fifty percent is never happening."
Jungkook doesn't say anything. He just waits.
Bang PD sighs heavily and leans back in his chair, rocking slightly. "How about - hmmm, how about thirty percent?" he says at last, with an even heavier sigh. "If we do a nine-track mini, then that's three whole tracks. Honestly, you can't ask for more than that."
"Okay, but if we agree to thirty percent then we also we want our SNS and phone privileges back," Jimin adds quickly, catching Jungkook's eye as he goes on. Jungkook nods approvingly. "Permanently. We went viral, right? We need to keep that going. We need to be out there promoting the comeback and connecting with our fans. We can't do that if every tweet needs five approvals before it gets sent."
"Okay," Bang PD says. He swings in his chair again, seeming pleased with how things are going. "Okay. Thirty percent and full SNS privileges again." He nods slowly, then faster. "Seems reasonable. If I can convince the rest of the executive, then - we have a deal."
They don't shake hands. They're not naive enough to believe that he's actually promised them anything. But at least they now have hope.
They never do find out what goes on behind closed doors, how the executives react to Bang PD's new concept or the almost bargain that he struck with them. All they know is that, in the end, they agree. Bangtan is okay to go.
Two days after their meeting, they get their SNS access and phones back. (The first thing Jimin posts is a selca.)
The same day, Bang PD introduces them to Big Hit's latest hire - a producer called Gang Hyowon, better known as Pdogg.
Bang PD leaves them in the studio with Pdogg to get to know one another, but not before shaking hands with Jungkook and himself, and dropping a quiet word. "Hyowon will help you get to that thirty percent," he says, smiling. "Just like we agreed, right?"
A week later, they get the first look at the concept visualisations, in the form of storyboards and conceptual art. The kids huddle around the laptop, clicking excitedly through the slides: a figure playing basketball, boys around a bonfire, boys running through darkened streets, a lighter, a butterfly, a figure falling.
On the last screen, the word 'youth'.
"No more flowers," Yoongi says, pleased.
"No more flowers," Seokjin says, much more disappointed.
As the others fight over the mouse, clicking back and forth between slides, Jimin takes a step back to stand with Jungkook. "So," he says, nudging Jungkook in the side with his elbow. "What do you think?"
"I think we did well."
"Me too." They grin at each other.
"Can't ask for much more, right? A chance to succeed, on our own terms." Jungkook gives him a bright-eyed, hopeful look.
"Yeah." Jimin smiles back, caught up in the same sense of anticipation. Win or lose, fly or fail, at least they'll be in it together. The past has been rewritten; the future has yet to come. Impulsively, he takes Jungkook's hand, threading their fingers together. "Let's work hard."
Three and a half years after debut, they win their first daesang.
Seokjin thinks he's mishearing the announcement at first. "Wait, what?" he says to Taehyung, who just stares back at him, equally disbelieving. It feels like a joke.
But the cameras are on them, and everyone's waiting, and it's actually? really? happening?! Seokjin stumbles up on stage with the rest of them, giggling to himself as Jungkook makes a short, heartfelt speech - still soft-spoken, after all these years, but brimming with confidence now.
Halfway through, Jimin starts to tear up, and then everyone else does too. After that everything's a blur. Seokjin has no memory of actually walking off the stage. He does remember hugging everyone in the dressing room later, Yoongi cradling the award like a baby.
It's been a long, long road. After "Bulletproof Part 1", everything changed. They got their first wins, their first sell-out headline shows, their first everything. Since then every comeback has been bigger and better; and with every release they've been able to show more and more of themselves.
The latest album is the riskiest thing they'd ever done. Together with Donghyuk, they'd helped write and produce almost every track. It's also their most hip hop-influenced release to date - "Fly", they'd titled it, partly as a nod to Epik High - and the most lyrically raw.
Seokjin had worried over the lyrics to his solo song for months, literally months. "What if people hate it?" he'd said to Namjoon in a rare burst of nerves, late one night when they were working on the song in Namjoon's studio.
That had been a strange time in his life. After years of being the group's cute maknae, he'd finally grown up and out, taller and broader; his face no longer so round, the line of his jaw more defined. (Yoongi, to his bitterness, hadn't grown much from when he first became a trainee.)
But he'd been uncomfortable with it at first, awkward in his own skin. None of his favourite old clothes fit anymore - his shoulders stretching out his old shirts, his skinny jeans too tight for his thighs - and just as Jimin had predicted years ago, people stared at him now, eating him up with their eyes, and he wasn't sure yet how he felt about it.
He was still the same person, the same Seokjin he'd always been, but people treated him differently now and it was weird and he didn't always know how to react. Only his group members acted like he was still the same Jinnie; the only difference now was that they teased him about his muscles as well as his sickening aegyo.
He'd poured all that out into the song. Or tried to, anyway.
"Jinnie, if being honest about how you feel is too much for them," Namjoon said earnestly, "then maybe they never liked the real you in the first place."
Seokjin blinked. "Is that meant to make me feel better?" he said. He made a face and thwapped Namjoon in the shoulder. "Yah! You're meant to be comforting me!"
"That's not how -" Namjoon starts to sputter, before realising Seokjin is laughing at him. "That wasn't funny!"
But the talk did help, actually, as it did talking with the other members. He's still getting used to it. It got easier when he realised that he didn't have to give up being a cute maknae, even if he was now bigger and stronger than most of the group. He's still cute. He's muscled and broad-shouldered and he's really fucking cute, okay?
Turns out, anyway, he didn't have to worry about his song. The fans had loved it. They'd loved the whole album. It was a massive hit, and now here they were, winning the daesang they'd always dreamed about and which had seemed, just a few years ago, like an impossible dream.
They go out for dinner that night, a celebration for the entire Big Hit team. They fill up most of the restaurant, every table raucous, the beer and soju flowing freely. At their table, every other sentence seems to start with "do you remember -"
"Do you remember Yoongi's blue hair phase? He looked like a smurf," Seokjin says, smirking and expertly dodging a slap from Yoongi's hand.
"Oh my god, I never asked for that," Yoongi protests.
"Aww, you looked good with blue hair, babe," Hoseok says, expertly cuddling him into submission and thus sparing Seokjin the fury of his fists.
Hoseok and Yoongi were still together, despite everything. Maybe even because of it. They'd been through things that no one else outside their group would ever understand; they'd grown up together, through all the struggles and the waiting and the doubt.
"Remember when Taehyung filmed his first drama?" Jimin says. Everyone makes fond nostalgic noises, until Jimin adds, "and then kept saying Park Hyungsik and Choi Minho were his best friends ever?"
"Jimin, I never," Taehyung starts to say, flustered and red at the ears but also rolling his eyes because this is an argument they've had a million times; at this point, it's just a slapstick routine for both of them. "I never said that! On the set, out of the cast, I said -"
"With my own eyes and ears," Jimin says, shaking his head sorrowfully. "The ingratitude. The utter disregard."
As they became more successful, it was the casting directors and acting agencies that ended up coming after Taehyung, rather than the other way around. It probably helped that Taehyung seemed to know every second person in the entire Korean entertainment industry.
During that night's awards ceremony, Seokjin could've sworn he was with Taehyung the whole time and yet Taehyung had somehow scored at least a dozen new Kakaotalk contacts. How? Was it magic?
When Seokjin demanded to know his secrets, Taehyung shrugged and smiled. "I just like talking to people," he said. Just as importantly, Seokjin figured, people liked talking to him. They always would. He was that kind of person.
"You are my real best friend, Jimin," Taehyung says, laughing. "You're my absolute favourite and my best friend for life, okay? Do I need to write it on a banner?"
"Hmmm," Jimin says, pretending to think it over until he cracks and beams, ruffling Taehyung's hair. "Acceptable!"
"What about when Hoseokie-hyung dropped his mixtape?" Yoongi says.
"What about when Yoongi dropped his mixtape?" Hoseok says back, immediately. They gaze at each other adoringly for a second (ugh, Seokjin thinks fondly) before they, and everyone, turn towards Namjoon.
"Okay, and when are we getting your mixtape?" Seokjin says bluntly.
"It's coming!" Namjoon says, looking vaguely alarmed at all their stares. "It's coming, I promise. I just want it to be, you know." He looks down at his hands. "I want it to be really, really good, you know?"
Seokjin does know. Out of a team of perfectionists, Namjoon might be one of the worst. Maybe that came from being the last one to join the group - always trying to catch up and trying to prove his place. It was crazy, Seokjin thought, because they knew, they all knew, how hard he worked and how far he'd come. He'd been credited for almost every song on this album and the ones before it, and he was starting to rack up producing credits too. He was the one who'd thought up Bangtan in the first place! Without Namjoon, it was pretty likely that the daesang would never have happened - at least, not like this, not by this path.
"When you're ready, hyung," Seokjin says, reaching over to squeeze his arm. "I know it's gonna be great."
Namjoon nods, still looking mostly unconvinced. "Yeah. I hope so."
How many times does he have to say it? Seokjin bites back the urge to say something annoying, and instead just nods. He'll just have to keep repeating it, until the day Namjoon finally believes that he means it.
"Can you believe we really did it?" Jimin says, sighing over the trophy once again. He pretends to cry. "We did it, Jungkook-hyung! We raised our children right!"
"I'm not your child, oh my god," Taehyung says.
"Their Uncle Taehyung helped," Jimin says, still pretending to cry into Jungkook's chest.
"Better," Taehyung concedes.
"They're not my children either," Jungkook says very firmly. "I definitely disown them all!" But he has the softest look on his face as he pats Jimin's shoulder, which of course Jimin doesn't see because he's busy cuddling up to Jungkook in the grossest way possible.
If Namjoon's changed the most, maybe Jimin and Jungkook have changed the least. Still the steady ones, the dependable ones. They've always had the team's backs, they've never once shirked their responsibilities or been anything but supportive. They've always put the group first, ahead of themselves.
And maybe that's exactly the problem. Seokjin sighs as Jungkook turns away to talk to Taehyung, but keeps his hand tangled up with Jimin's on the table; and now it's Jimin's turn to look at Jungkook with unbearable fondness, and for Jungkook to completely ignore it.
"Why the big sigh?" Namjoon says.
"It's just so hard," Seokjin says sorrowfully, "being the smartest and the best looking one in the group."
Namjoon just rolls his eyes and shoves a plate of chicken in Seokjin's direction. "Shut up and eat your food. Besides," he says, "I'm the smartest."
"And I'm the best looking," Taehyung says, from across the table. "Obviously."
"Bullied again," Seokjin says, pretending to cry around a mouthful of food.
This, at least - all seven of them, together and happy, after making it through all the hard times - this he wouldn't change for all the world.
When they're in Hong Kong for MAMA, Seokjin manages to arrange things so that Jungkook ends up sharing a room with Jimin. It makes no sense, logistically, but he does it somehow. He has his ways.
"And he somehow managed to get himself a single room," Jimin says, shaking his head as he sets his bags down in their room. "He keeps trying to leave us alone together, have you noticed? I think he thinks we're a couple and that he's being helpful."
"Does it bother you?" Jungkook says slowly. He sits down on his bed, hands by his sides. "Do you mind it?"
"What?" Jimin starts unpacking his clothes, shaking out his shirts and hanging them up in the closet. "No, don't be silly. This is fine, I don't mind sharing. Though I can always swap with Taehyung if you guys want to play Overwatch."
"No, I mean." He takes a breath. "I wouldn't mind if it were true. About us being together, I mean."
Jimin's shoulders tense up. He keeps hanging his shirts. "We've been over this before, hyung," he says quietly, without turning around. "We decided it wouldn't work, remember?"
"I just feel like." Jungkook swallows. He looks at the line of Jimin's back. It's not the right moment. "Okay. Never mind."
They don't talk about it for the rest of the day, or through rehearsals the next day.
But something sharpens in the air between them. It's never gone away, this attraction - the years of growing together and working together have probably deepened rather than dulled it. If Jungkook lets himself think about it, he can admit it's more than attraction. It's respect and friendship and an almost unbearable feeling of fondness. It's -
It's a problem, Jungkook thinks, watching Jimin and Hoseok practicing their dance solos (a hip hop themed dance-off, set to a remix of their solo songs from the album). It's a pretty big problem.
That night, they win the daesang for Best Artist and it's even more emotional than winning the Melon Music Award - if that felt like a dream, then this feels like a whole new reality. This time, Yoongi actually bursts into tears on stage, as Jungkook stumbles through the end of his speech, trying to keep from sobbing too.
Afterwards in the dressing room, away from the cameras at last, everyone lets out a collective sigh and loosens their figurative (and literal) neckties. Taehyung slumps down on a sofa with his head in Seokjin's lap, typing rapidfire messages on his phone, as Namjoon and Seokjin squabble over who gets to hold the trophy.
In another corner, Hoseok fusses over Yoongi. "I wasn't really crying," Yoongi says to no one in particular, "my eyes are just really sensitive to the air conditioning."
"Sure you weren't," Hoseok says, smiling and wiping at Yoongi's cheeks with his thumb.
Jungkook watches them with a sigh, fondness like an ache in his heart. Those two had made it work, despite everything, despite his doomsaying and Jimin's fears.
Jimin and Jungkook were the only ones who were shocked when Yoongi and Hoseok finally admitted they were a couple. Apparently everyone else had already figured it out by that stage.
"This whole time, when you were -" Jimin looked scandalised and pointed at both of them accusingly. "No more 'song-writing sessions' in the study unless the door is open, oh my god." Taehyung had fallen over laughing.
But what had really troubled them both was the idea that Hoseok and Yoongi might be endangering the group.
"What if you fight? What if you break up?" Jimin tried to reason with them. "Think about it. You'll still have to live together, work together, side by side for years. It could turn out really, really badly."
"We won't break up," Hoseok replied, supremely calm, holding Yoongi's hand. "We'll probably fight, but our whole group fights sometimes and don't we always end up working things out? So we'll work it out. And we won't break up," he said with staggering confidence, looking at Yoongi with the utmost trust.
"You can't - you have to realise, you'll always be hiding," Jungkook said urgently. Thinking of all the boys he'd kissed in America, of all the boys he hadn't kissed since then. "You'll never be able to be openly together. The world won't accept it, the agency will never accept it. You'll be living a lie."
"Knowing that we love each other but choosing not to be together would be the bigger lie," Yoongi said coolly, and tightened his grip on Hoseok's hand.
Their words had struck him to the core; he'd shut up immediately, and turned away to pace the room. He hadn't dared even look in Jimin's direction. When he could compose himself at last, he'd gone back to them. "Alright," he said, slowly. "Alright. But you have to be careful."
So Hoseok and Yoongi had been careful. They'd been careful and discreet and done everything that Jungkook asked them to do. And more than careful - they'd been right.
They hadn't broken up or gotten caught. Instead they'd had each other - been with each other and loved each other for all this time.
Meanwhile Jungkook had done nothing, said nothing, had nothing.
Now, Jungkook thinks. Now is the time. Because if not now, then when?
"Hey." Jimin touches his arm lightly. He's beaming. "Can you believe it? Remember when it was just you and me, before you even went to America, watching the MAMAs on tv and dreaming of the day it was gonna be us?"
"I thought it was impossible," Jungkook says. He shakes his head. "I really did. But, you know. Things change." He reaches out, catching Jimin by the hand, letting their fingers tangle together. He swallows and gathers up his courage with both hands. "Jimin, I want to say something to you. About the thing I said earlier."
"Hyung," Jimin says, eyes wide. "You want to -"
"You don't have to answer me here and now, in front of everyone," Jungkook says, hastily. "But I just want you to know that I'm still here, if you want me. And yeah, I know we talked about it before and all the ways it was impossible." He smiles, just a little. "But I've had to start believing in a lot of impossible things, ever since I met you."
Jimin bites his lip, speechless.
"Just think about it," Jungkook says, and tries to ignore the hope that rises up in his chest. "Okay?"
Eyes wide, Jimin nods.
Through all of the big celebration dinner and afterwards as they make their way back to the hotel, he tries not to look over at Jimin too often. He's pretty sure he fails, if only by the number of times he catches Jimin looking back.
"Hyung, you're staring again," Seokjin says, leaning into Jungkook's shoulder in the car.
Jungkook shoves him off, none too gently. Or tries to, anyway - these days it's a lot harder to out-muscle Seokjin, though Jungkook still has the edge. "Don't know what you're talking about."
"Yeah, right." Seokjin rolls his eyes and mutters, "I can't wait for you two to sort things out. This is embarrassing for both of you." He really was the most disrespectful maknae.
Back in their room, Jimin was near silent as they got ready for bed. All the post-awards euphoria that had led him to confess had mostly worn off by then; Jungkook's anxious and fidgety, and all too aware of it. Eventually he just gives up and goes straight to bed, too nervous to say anything to Jimin aside from a soft "good night."
Jimin doesn't say it back. Instead Jungkook hears the pad of his feet across the carpet, then feels the mattress dip as Jimin sits on the edge of his bed. "Hyung," Jimin says.
He turns on his side and opens his eyes, sees Jimin looking down at him thoughtfully. "Yeah?" he says, his mouth a little dry.
"This is still a really bad idea," Jimin says, and Jungkook's stomach clenches in disappointment. "But I still want it. I want you," he says, smiling. "I love you."
"Oh good," Jungkook says. "Because I love you too." He's smiling too now, and he feels like he'll never stop. "Aren't we meant to wait a while before we say something so huge?" he says, teasing a little, even as he pulls Jimin down towards himself, feeling like his heart is gonna pound out of his chest.
"Whatever," Jimin whispers, his hand on Jungkook's cheek, his nose brushing against Jungkook's nose. "We never did things in the right order anyway."
They kiss. Softly at first, then more deeply. Jungkook throws back the covers and pulls Jimin down beside him, Jimin's arms around his neck.
They've kissed before, but this time they don't have to be scared it's going to be the last time. This feels like the first of many. They've come so far together already, achieved so many of their goals - surely it's time to make new ones.
They can start, Jungkook thinks, right here.