Their practice studio was situated on a side street in Gangnam-gu, crowded by nondescript brick buildings, loading docks, and telephone lines. On the ground floor of the building, there was a small restaurant that wasn’t much to look at from the outside. The sign hanging over its plate glass storefront was streaked with city grime and the black silhouette of a pig looked more ominous than appetizing, but the Big Hit trainees didn’t care. It was their spot . Convenient, inexpensive, and homey.
The distance from the Big Hit studio to the restaurant door wasn’t very far but it was bitterly cold outside, so they boys hustled over there as fast as they could, bundled tight in their parkas. Jin could feel his wet, sweaty hair starting to freeze against his neck and he worried about all of them, especially the younger ones. If they all kept going like this, they were bound to catch a cold or something. Thankfully it was toasty warm inside the little restaurant. They filed in quickly, shouting out happy greetings to the ahjumma, and sitting around their favorite table near the grandfather clock.
Jin sat near one end of the table, next to Hyosang and across from Hoseok. Their conversation was fast-paced, witty, and prone to explosions of laughter. Namjoon, Yoongi, and Donghyuk sat on the other end, having a deep, serious discussion about a track they were working on. Meanwhile, Taehyung was sitting on the other side of Yoongi, obliviously singing along to the trot music coming from the stereo system on the counter. He bobbed his head along with the beat as he prepared his plate, every now and then busting out with a too-loud, “Jugyeojwoyooooooooo!” that made Jin giggle and Yoongi grumble.
Sitting sandwiched between Namjoon and Hoseok, Jungkook was like a nervous bunny. His huge, round eyes hardly even blinked as he tracked all of the action around the table. Every time he took a bite of food his two front teeth stuck out and when he started chewing his nose wiggled. Jin’s heart twisted in his chest as he watched the boy. The need to protect him and take care of him was so overwhelming, it was almost painful. It was a confusing feeling, like he wanted to freeze Jungkook in time and shrink him down to a tiny size and hold him in a pocket right over his heart forever. But since he couldn’t do all of that, Jin just picked up a piece of pork belly and leaned across to drop it into Jungkook’s bowl.
Sitting back in his seat, Jin could feel Hyosang watching him watching Jungkook. His friend tapped him on the thigh to draw his attention. “Are you enjoying being the big hyung?” He asked quietly with mischief in his eyes. “Gonna start ordering us around?”
“I should, shouldn’t I?” Jin smiled back but it wasn’t a position he was used to. He was the maknae of his own family and even among this group he was only a few weeks older than Hyosang. It felt wrong to demand extra respect from these young men, especially when they were all so strong and talented. If anything, Jin wanted to look up to them, not the other way around. Even the maknae.
Later when they were walking to the subway, Jin fell into step beside Jungkook and nudged him gently with his elbow. When the maknae looked up at him, Jin gestured to his own face and asked, “How did you get this little scar on your cheek?”
“Oh…” Jungkook raised a hand to run his fingertips along his cheekbone. “When I was really little. Me and my hyung both wanted to play on the computer at the same time, so we fought and my head hit the desk. So nobody got to play the game because mom made him come to the hospital with us to get it stitched up.”
Jin grinned and slapped the boy on the back. “Yaaaaah. You were a brave kid, huh? Do you miss your hyung?”
Jungkook sniffled against the cold wind and lifted his chin defiantly. “No.”
“What do you miss the most about him?”
Swaying on his feet, the maknae looked up into the sky as if he would find the answer written there. He chewed his bottom lip for a moment and then said, “I miss feeling like myself around him. Like he already knows everything, so I don’t have to act like one thing or another. We can just play around and it’s not… embarrassing.”
Jin’s heart constricted. Why was he so cute? His sweet voice. The satoori. The giant doe eyes. Jin held back the urge to pick up Jungkook and squeeze him into pieces. Was this how it felt to be a hyung with a precious little brother? Was this how Seokjung felt? Maybe Jin should give him a call later…
“But I’m going home to Busan for the Lunar New Year, so I can see him then,” Jungkook continued, apparently oblivious to the emotional crisis Jin was going through. “I want to bring him a present…”
“Do you have your card for the train?” Jin asked suddenly as a way of deflecting away from the adorable conversation.
“What do you mean?”
“Your T-money card. The card that you put money on for the bus and subway.”
“Oh,” Jungkook’s mouth fell open as he nodded in recognition. “I’ll buy one when we get there.”
“What?” Jin stopped walking and stood there, flapping his arms in frustration. The others kept going down the sidewalk, but Jungkook turned to stare at him. “Jungkook-ah, buy the kind that you can refill. It’s cheaper that way. Don’t you ride the train twice every day?”
“They have those?”
“Of course they have them!” Jin starting walking again. When he caught up to Jungkook, he looped his arm around the kid’s shoulders and leaned in to speak seriously. “Don’t just follow the others around mindlessly, Jungkook-ah. You should learn how to live in Seoul as a man.”
A little frown clouded Jungkook’s face as he took in Jin’s words. The maknae looked up ahead at his other hyungs where they were already descending the stairs into the train station, navigating their way with a kind of unconscious confidence. For a moment, Jin felt like he could read Jungkook’s hesitation and he understood that the boy didn’t know where to start. Should he ask one of his hyungs for help? Or would it be better to learn quietly on his own?
“Yah, listen,” Jin said, grabbing Jungkook’s elbow before he started down the steps. “Since I’m your hyung, let me buy you a card.”
“You don’t have to do that…”
“I’m your hyung! Just let me do one thing for you.”
Watching Jungkook’s face, Jin couldn’t tell if he was happy or embarrassed. His cheeks were so pink and his eyes were shining. Maybe he was just cold. Jin pulled him over to a newsstand just outside the station entrance and pulled out his wallet. It only took a moment and then he was passing the brand new card to Jungkook. The boy accepted it with both hands and a small bow.
“Thank you so much, hyung.”
“It’s my pleasure. Just don’t lose it.”
Jungkook nodded and then glanced down the stairs to see how far ahead the others had gotten. They were out of sight, but they were making a ton of noise and their laughing voices could be heard bouncing off the tiled walls. Jin gave the maknae a lopsided smile and slapped him hard in the shoulder. “Alright, you better go catch up to them before the train comes.”
“You aren’t coming?” Jungkook asked with a hint of disappointment.
“No, I…” Jin gestured back in the direction they came from, towards the Big Hit building up the street. “I’ll drive home. I brought my car.”
The younger boy’s eyes widened and it made Jin feel so awkward. He didn’t want to show off, but here he was buying the kid gifts and talking about his car. Well, it wasn’t like he could keep his family’s situation quiet forever. If he stuck around Big Hit long enough, eventually they’d all figure it out. Jin wanted to be liked for himself and not for his father’s money, but it was nice to have Jungkook looking at him with that little hint of admiration.
“Yah! Go on!” Jin laughed, and pushed Jungkook away.
With a shy smile, Jungkook ducked his head and took off down the stairs. Jin watched him as he went, getting smaller and smaller as he moved farther away, until he finally disappeared out of sight. Taking a long, deep breath of the cold air, Jin turned and walked back in the opposite direction. He would see them all again in a few days. That wasn’t too long to wait.