Jungkook sat on a couch at the side of the practice room and stared, barely blinking, watching the trainees practice. All of his senses were heightened, feeling the rough, tweedy texture of the couch under his fingertips, and hearing every squeak of tennis shoes against the floor, every heaving breath of the dancers. The tangy, almost acrid smell of sweat overwhelmed him. It was a stench, to be honest. But he shook that thought away by reminding himself that it was the smell of hard work and dedication and passion. His sunbaes’ passion. Officially, starting today, he was one of them. He’d have to get used to the smell.
He recognized some of the trainees from the video Bang PD-nim showed him during his interview. That one guy who danced better than all the others was definitely memorable, but Jungkook couldn’t come up with his name. And then there was that cool guy, the rapper. Minjoon? Namjoon?
The choreographer hit a button on the stereo and music bubbled out of the speakers that were mounted in all four corners of the room. It was some old, American rap song that Jungkook had never heard before today. A bit slower than what he was used to. Soulful. Easier for novices to dance to. “Six… seven… eight…” the choreographer called, clapping on every beat as the trainees started to move together.
Jungkook was so absorbed in watching the dance, he barely noticed there were other people watching from the sidelines until one of them came over to speak with him. The man bent over to talk quietly so that only Jungkook could hear: “Excuse me, do you mind if I sit with you?”
“Oh! Hello,” Jungkook bowed his head repeatedly in a flurry of deference, “Yes. Please, do sit.”
He glanced up at the man, then did a double-take. An actual double-take like a cartoon character. Who was this guy? He certainly wasn’t in the video from before. Jungkook would have remembered a person who looked like that . The guy was tall and broad-shouldered, with a perfectly-proportioned, elegant face. It was the kind of face that sold expensive perfume on the sides of buildings in fancy, downtown neighborhoods. Jungkook was one-hundred percent certain that people who looked like this didn’t exist in real life. But then the man sat down, looked at Jungkook with his dark, soulful eyes, and spoke.
“Hello, I’m Kim Seokjin.”
Kim Seokjin was holding out his hand to shake. Jungkook took it and they bowed towards each other as best they could while sitting down.
“Hello, I’m Jeon Jungkook. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too,” Kim Seokjin said. “It’s my first day here.”
“Ah, yes. Me too,” Jungkook nodded, becoming hyper-aware aware of his own satoori and old clothes, all hand-me-downs from Junghyun-hyung. This Kim Seokjin person was wearing a simple, white button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, but Jungkook could tell from the quality of it and the way it hung on his shoulders that it must have been expensive. “Are you from Seoul, Seokjin-ssi?”
“Sort of… Gwacheon, actually.” he said. He smelled amazing, like vanilla and pine trees. “You’ve come a long way from home, haven’t you? Busan? Your family must really believe in you.”
Jungkook nodded again. “But don’t all mothers think their children are special?”
“Some of them are right,” Seokin smiled as Jungkook blushed.
“Are you going to be an idol too?”
“That’s a little… unlikely,” Seokjin said, looking down at his hands where they were folded neatly in his lap. “I can’t dance or sing or rap or anything like that.”
“But they’re going to train us,” Jungkook said.
The man broke into a huge grin and it changed his whole face, turning his eyes into happy little crescents and folding pretty lines around the corners of his lips. Of course he had perfect teeth. His shoulders were shaking with silent laughter.
“Did I say something wrong, Seokjin-ssi?”
“Not at all,” Seokjin said. “You just haven’t seen me dance yet. I’m untrainable.”
“No, don’t say that,” Jungkook shook his head. “Even if you don’t think you have talent, you can improve at anything if you don’t give up and keep working at it. If it’s in your heart to do something…”
Jungkook trailed off, suddenly feeling self-conscious under Seokjin’s gaze. He was looking at the younger boy so thoughtfully, warmth glowing in his dark eyes. What was it in his look that made Jungkook’s heart beat faster? It took him a second, but then he finally recognized it as respect. Kim Seokjin had sincerely listened and he took Jungkook’s words seriously, even though they had only just met and there was an obvious age gap between them.
Clearing his throat, Jungkook gestured at the dancers and continued. “With everyone here working so hard to help us along, how can we fail to improve?”
“What year did you say you born again, Jungkook-ssi?” Seokjin’s eyes twinkled as he spoke in formal language.
“Um,” Jungkook looked down to hide his smile. “1997.”
They sat silently for a moment, watching the trainees go over their dance one more time. It was looking tight, everyone in perfect synchronization despite their apparent exhaustion. They had almost made it all the way through the first verse when suddenly Joonho or Minjoon (or whatever his name was,) took a turn in the wrong direction and his flailing arm caught a shorter boy across the neck in a textbook clothesline maneuver.
“What the fuck, Namjoon?” the short boy choked out, stopping in place to massage his throat. But when he stopped, it caused a domino effect and the whole routine imploded. Soon they were all standing around bickering, hands on hips, pointing fingers every which way.
Jungkook felt the blood drain out of his face. “I’m sorry, Seokjin-ssi,” he said quietly. “Maybe I spoke too soon. Learning to dance is harder than I thought.”
Seokjin looked at him for a moment and blinked, then his face crinkled up into a laugh. He tried to hide it behind a raised hand, but squeaky giggles were leaking out anyway. It was so contagious Jungkook couldn’t stop himself from chuckling too. Hopefully their sunbaes on the dance floor were too busy fighting to notice.
When they had gotten themselves back under control, Seokjin leaned in close and put a hand on Jungkook’s arm. “It’s okay, Jungkook-ah,” he whispered, “I wanted to be an actor anyway. I’ll just leave the dancing to these professionals here.”