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Futile Devices

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

“Aaaaaaggggh!” Taehyung half-sighed, half-grunted as he dropped onto the floor and hooked his arm around Jungkook’s neck. The maknae was too sweaty to want to be touched at the moment, but also too tired to move or complain. Taehyung tilted his head so that their foreheads were nearly touching and said, “I’m starving. What should we get for dinner tonight? Ramyun? Like… ten cups of ramyun?”

Jungkook took a sneaky glance in the mirror to look at the back of the practice room where Namjoon and Jin were talking. Neither of them were paying any attention to the younger boys at the front of the room, so Jungkook gave a noncommittal shrug. “I guess.”

Coming closer, Taehyung wiggled his eyebrows. “Or do you have one of your little dates with Seokjin-hyung?”

“What?” Jungkook jerked away. “They’re not dates.”

A huge smile spread across Taehyung’s face. Jungkook knew Tae was just playing around, but it was annoying to feel so transparent in front of him. Yes, he had been hanging out with Seokjin sometimes. There was nothing wrong with that. But he didn’t quite like the idea that everyone had noticed.

“He just asks me to help him with stuff. Like running errands and things.”


“And I gotta do it because he’s the mat-hyung and I’m the maknae.”

That wasn’t completely true. It had started out as running errands, but then Jungkook had realized it was Seokjin’s way of taking him around town and showing him the ropes. So without either of them directly acknowledging it, running errands together turned into random little adventures. Seokjin showed Jungkook all the cool spots that the tourist never see and took him out to eat at small restaurants only that only the locals knew about. But Jungkook never knew in advance when these field trips would happen. Some days Seokjin would come find him after practice and some days he wouldn’t. Jungkook just had to wait and see.

“I can help him if you don’t want to,” Taehyung said, glancing back over his shoulder at the older guys behind them. “He might think I’m crazy… Because I think I did some weird things and it’s awkward between us now… But Seokjin-hyung is a sunny person so I think our friendship can grow if I water it.”

Jungkook didn’t know what to make of that so he just nodded and went back to surreptitiously monitoring Seokjin’s reflection in the mirror. Namjoon must have been saying something clever because Seokjin was smiling his brilliant smile and his shoulders were shaking. Then Namjoon started gesturing wildly, his arms flailing like noodles in every direction, and Seokjin’s squeaky little laugh was loud enough for Jungkook to hear from across the room.

“Now… we’ll be in the music video together,” Taehyung was still talking. “So I can get closer to him there. Are you okay, Kookie?”

“I’m fine.”

In the mirror, Jungkook watched as Hyosang walked over to join Seokjin and Namjoon. Hyosang grabbed a sweatshirt out of one of the lockers, then grinned grinned and said something to Seokjin. Seokjin laughed and clapped in appreciation. What were they talking about?

“Doing the dancing with you and Hoseok-hyung would have been fun, but I like acting better anyway. I’ve been practicing.” Taehyung nudged Jungkook’s thigh to get his attention. “See, Kookie? It’ll be good if I make a face like this…”

Hyosang leaned in close to whispered in Seokjin’s ear. They made eye contact. Jungkook could feel his cheeks turning red as he watched Hyosang’s hand come up to hold onto Seokjin’s waist…

“Kookie!” Tae slapped Jungkook’s arm. “Look at me.”

So Jungkook looked. Taehyung’s face shifted into a serious, mask-like expression. “This is my bodyguard face. And this…” he let his mouth fall open and his eyes stared blankly, “is for the sad part later. When we’re like dead fish.”

“Wait… Is that what happens in the video?”

“It’s like a fairy tale and Jo Kwon-hyung gets kidnapped or something. Did you read the script? Seokjin-hyung and I are gonna kidnap him and then… all the magic is gone. Like this!” Taehyung flopped onto the ground and laid his head on Jungkook’s lap, staring up at the ceiling with an exaggerated look of despair on his face.

“So you’re gonna be one of the bad guys?” Jungkook giggled.

“Yeah! Isn’t it awesome, Jin-hyung?”

What? Jungkook looked up to see the oldest hyung standing over them. When did that happen? Seokjin was on the other side of the room just a second ago and now he was right there, squatting down to get on Jungkook and Taehyung’s level. He flicked his damp hair off his forehead, still managing to look like a movie star even after five hours of dancing.

“It is awesome,” Seokjin nodded. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it looks awesome.”

“I’m practicing acting,” Taehyung said. He pulled another ridiculous face.

“Yaaaaah, amazing!” Seokjin reached out to ruffle Tae’s hair, then turned to Jungkook. “Jungkook-ah, can you help me with something tonight?”

Seokjin’s eyes twinkled as he waited for Jungkook to respond. There was a part of Jungkook, deep down in a dark part of his heart, where he could still see Seokjin and Hyosang smiling into each other’s eyes and it made him feel uneasy. Jungkook couldn’t understand himself. He wanted to go with his hyung. He wanted to go very badly. So what was this feeling that made him want to say no and see the twinkle fade from Seokjin’s eyes? But he didn’t have time to sort it out because Taehyung was already opening his mouth, just about to offer to take his place.

Jungkook grabbed onto to his friend’s wrist and cut him off. “Sure! I’m not doing anything, hyung! What’s up?”

“There’s a certain toy at this arcade in Hongdae and I can’t quite get it…”

“Can I come?!” Taehyung exclaimed at the exact same time that Jungkook said, “I can do it!”

“Ah…” Seokjin’s expression faltered for a moment, looking back and forth between the two. “We could all go to the arcade together. That will be even more fun, won’t it?”

In an instant, Taehyung was on his feet and dusting off the seat of his pants. His whole face was lit up like a kid on Christmas. He took a step to his left and then quickly back to his right and one of shoes fell off. “I’ll get the others, hyung,” he said, wedging his foot back into the rogue shoe. “Please don’t go anywhere yet!”

Still rooted to the floor, Jungkook and Seokjin watched him go, then turned to look at each other. Chuckling and shaking his head in bewilderment, the older man said quietly, “Yah… Did you see how he just invited himself along? What a funny kid.”

“Yeah, he’s… really excited about everything.”

They laughed together and Jungkook felt it like sunlight shining into his heart, pushing all those dark, desperate feelings away. This was all he really needed. Just to have a moment with his hyung that was theirs alone and not shared with anyone else. To have Seokjin laugh with him and slap him on the knee. Even if Seokjin slapped so hard that it stung, it was perfect.

Chapter Text

Jin stared at himself in the studio mirrors with dread. Dance practice had never been his favorite part of training, but they didn’t make him do it very often and he could always laugh it off and tell himself it didn’t matter. If he ever debuted at all, he would debut as an actor. So his painfully obvious lack of dancing talent was just a running joke with the trainees, not a real problem .

But something had changed. They filmed the video with Jo Kwon and afterwards Bang PD had sat in the editing room for days, slowly combing through the footage. Sometimes Namjoon had been summoned in to speak with him. And when he finally came out again, he declared that Jin and Taehyung should be trained as idols, not actors. Suddenly, Jin was in consideration to join the hip-pop group along with the other trainees and that meant he had to learn to dance for real.

Which was how he found himself in the deserted studio on a Sunday night, about to have an emergency dance tutoring session with Hoseok.

“I saw some of the dailies from the MV,” Hoseok said as they warmed up with stretches. “The storyline was a little…”

Jin waited for him to finish his thought, but Hoseok just trailed off and squished his face in confusion. Chuckling, Jin widened his eyes and gestured emphatically. “What do you mean? That video was poetry! The scene with the dove? Yaaaaaah, I could cry just thinking about it!”

“Stop, hyung.”

“And the moment when Yoongi triumphantly tossed aside his crutches and walked again, magically restored by the power of Jo Kwon’s music?”

“Oh my God, hyung,” Hoseok laughed, his toothy grin forming the shape of a heart. “Really. Stop. I don’t want to remember it.”

“Hoseok-ah, Yoongi took off his cast and threw it away . He was healed instantly. How can you not be inspired by such a story?”

The younger man pressed his lips together to suppress his smile and grabbed Jin by the arm, dragging him to the center of the room. “Okay, maybe you’re right. It was very beautiful and deeply inspiring. So we’re going to dance to Jo Kwon’s music now and maybe it will miraculously heal your dancing skills.”

“I don’t think it’s going to happen, Seok-ah.”

“It’s okay, hyung,” Hoseok said, smacking Jin’s back. “We all struggle sometimes. It just means we have to try harder. Even our amazing Jungkookie needs some extra work.”

This was another one of Bang PD’s decisions after the video shoot. Jungkook would be sent to Los Angeles for special dance lessons. The kid was adorably stoked about it. Jin was excited for him, but he had some reservations. Jungkook was still in middle school, he’d never been overseas before, and he barely knew any English phrases…

“I still don’t understand why they’re shipping him off like this.”

“It’s only for a few weeks,” Hoseok put a hand on his shoulder. “They want him to work on feeling the music. The way he dances now looks like he’s doing Taekwondo.”

“What does that mean?”

“You know. Like…” Hoseok made a blank face and danced with sharp, efficient movements, adding in sound effects for every step, “Ba! Ba! Ba-ba-ba!”

As ridiculous as Hoseok’s dancing was, Jin had to admit that it was a pretty good impression of Jungkook. Still, he felt compelled to defend the maknae. “Well he’s a black belt in Taekwondo, so that makes sense. He’s very focused. Besides, if Jungkook’s dancing needs help, then why aren’t they sending me to America too? He’s at least twenty times better at dancing than I am. I should be going with him.”

“You’re really going to miss him, aren’t you?” Hoseok grinned, hugging the older man around his shoulders. “The lessons aren’t because he’s not good. Jungkookie is very special. They want to polish his skills so he can shine even brighter. They’re probably going to make him the center of the group.”

Jin looked at Hoseok with a blank face. “So you’re saying that my dancing is so terrible that they don’t even think I’m worth real lessons? They just stuck me here to be tortured by some trainee for free?”

Still holding onto Jin’s shoulders, Hoseok’s smile wilted into a peaked little frown and the light faded from his eyes. He knew Jin was messing with him, right? Before Jin had a chance to say he was just kidding, Hoseok’s fingers dug into him like talons as he turned Jin to face the mirror.

“Okay, you think you’re ready for fancy American dance lessons, hyung? Show me.”

“Do you mean like… freestyling?” Jin was terrified. He knew it was a mistake to joke with Hoseok about dancing. Hoseok was a jolly, warm-hearted person, and Jin loved him to pieces. But Hoseok was also incredibly passionate about his work, every bit as obsessed and driven as Namjoon and Yoongi.

“You must have seen us do the dance a hundred times already,” Hoseok said as he walked over to the stereo to cue up the music. “You can do it.”

“I really can’t.”

“Just follow me,” Hoseok came back and stood next to him. They made eye contact in the mirror and Hoseok’s eyes were like fire. “FIVE! SIX! SEVEN! EIGHT!”

It was a complete disaster. Of course Jin didn’t know any of the steps, so the first three run throughs were a hopeless mess. Finally Hoseok seemed to take pity on him and slowed down a little to show him the moves one at a time. Then he sped it up again and drilled it faster and faster until Jin didn’t make any more mistakes. But he didn’t stop there. It wasn’t enough to just get the steps right, they had to be smooth and expressive. Hoseok came over and put his hands on Jin’s body, adjusting the angle of his arms, the curve of his spine, the tilt of his head. And then they kept going until finally Jin thought he would collapse.

“Yah! How can you do this to me?” he wailed. “I’m two years older than you!”

Hoseok held up his hands apologetically,  “I’m sorry, hyung. I’m sorry.”

He was backing off. Thank God, it was over. With a sigh, Jin leaned forward and rested his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. His breathing echoed through the room and sweat dripped from his hair and off the end of his nose, hitting the floor below with an audible splat.

“But seriously, though, hyung. One more time.”


Chapter Text

The expressway back from Incheon was empty in the middle of the night. It was a relief to be moving so quickly after weeks of heinous traffic around Los Angeles. Roads were the same everywhere, weren’t they? The constant hiss of tires on a wide expanse of pavement. Street lights whipping past at regular intervals with dark fields and industrial buildings lurking just beyond. Up ahead in the distance, the clouds glowed with light pollution from the city. It was the same here as it was in America, but the familiar little details resonated with something deep inside Jungkook. He felt his heart settling. He was home.


Since when had he thought of Seoul as “home?”

“Ah!” Manager Hobeom suddenly slapped the steering wheel and gasped. Jungkook flinched in the passenger seat.

“Jungkook-ah, I forgot to tell you,” he said. “They made some changes to the Bangtan line-up while you were gone.”

“Oh?” Jungkook said, trying to sound calm while his stomach flipped over. There had been a lot of changes already and it usually just meant that somebody’s role was being shifted or another person was being added. But sometimes it meant that one of their friends was leaving them.

“Mmm. Donghyukie decided for sure he wants to produce instead. Hyosang is out, Seokjinnie is in.”

“S-Seo… ”

“And do you remember that new kid Park Jimin from Busan? He’s in too.” Hoboem reached out to smack Jungkook in the shoulder. “ Busan , eh? You can be friends. He’s adorable, you’ll love him.”

“I know Jimin. He moved in right before I left.”

“Ah, that’s right. Things are happening so fast. Anyways, the point is everyone is has moved into the dorm and we had to shift some things around. The bunks are all full so we put in a new bed for you, over to the side. Everyone will be asleep when we get there, so take that one.”

“Okay,” Jungkook nodded then fell silent. His heart was pounding in his chest as he stared wide-eyed out the window at the lights on the horizon. They were all already there, waiting for him. And now Seokjin-hyung was there, too.

“Are you tired?” Hobeom asked. Jungkook would have said no, he’d slept a ton on the plane, but the manager didn’t give him a chance to answer. “You’re so quiet, I’m about to fall asleep. Do you mind if I turn on the radio?”

He didn’t wait for an answer to that either, just stared straight ahead at the empty expressway and blindly punched at the dashboard with his right hand until music came out. Hyuna’s “Bubble Pop.” Now Jungkook knew he was back in Korea.

“Ooh! Ah! Ah-ah-ah! Oooooooh!” Hobeom attempted to sing along.

He kept glancing over at Jungkook with a shit-eating grin on his face, but Jungkook could only sink down into his seat and cover his face with his hands. Even with nobody around to see, it was still embarrassing to witness his manager, a full-grown man, failing to remember the words to such a famous, overplayed song. The best he could do was a bunch of mumbling, and a “Hey, boy!” here and there. But soon Hobeom’s enthusiasm won out and Jungkook was giggling behind his hand.

By the time they could see the skyline of Seoul ahead of them, they were singing it full-out together: “Bubble bubble bubble POP! Bubble bubble POP! POP!”

When they got to the dorm, Hobeom helped Jungkook carry his luggage up to their floor. Carefully, as if the sound of the key in the lock might wake the whole building, the manager opened the front door and stepped inside. He peered into the dark room and then beckoned for Jungkook to follow him in.

“It smells just as bad as it did when I left,” Jungkook whispered as he kicked off his shoes in the entryway.

Then suddenly all the lights flicked on and six voices shouted, “Welcome home!”

Jungkook nearly jumped out of his skin, helplessly staggering backwards into the shoe rack while they rushed towards him. His hyungs looked groggy but happy, reaching out to him for hugs and pinching his cheeks. They were all in their pyjamas and one of them was holding a small cake. Everyone spoke at the same time.

“I know it’s your birthday in a few weeks,” Jimin was saying sweetly, “But we thought it’s okay to get a cake anyway.”

“Do you like strawberries?” Taehyung asked.

“Yah, Jungkook-ah, you’re making a mess with the shoes,” said Hoseok.

“Tell us everything about Los Angeles!” Namjoon jumped up and down, cracking his elbow against the wall in the process.

Meanwhile, Yoongi grumbled, “What do you mean it smells bad?”

Feeling himself tear up, Jungkook turned and buried his face into Seokjin’s broad chest and let the eldest hyung wrap him up in a warm hug. He could feel the vibrations of soft laughter in Seokjin’s chest as he petted the maknae’s hair. “Aigoo, Jungkookie…”

It was as if Jungkook didn’t even know had badly he had missed them all until he came home. He thought he had loved being in Los Angeles, but it seemed somehow empty in retrospect. As they ate the little cake, he told them all about his trip and his lessons and all the cool things he saw. Even though it was the middle of the night and they were clearly exhausted, the boys stayed up talking until Hobeom finally came and took the cake away from them and pushed them into their beds.

Once he was lying down in the dark room, the jet lag finally caught up to Jungkook. He let himself be lulled to sleep by the sound of his six brothers’ breathing. Namjoon made a strange honking sound and Seokjin turned onto his side restlessly. Jungkook’s eyes traced the shadowy outline of the Seokjin’s shoulder and he felt contentment seep through his body. With a sigh, he drifted off.

Chapter Text

There was nothing in the fridge. Yes, there was a lot of garbage in the fridge, but nothing actually edible . Jin was sure he’d stashed some leftover naengmyeon in the back on the bottom shelf. It wasn’t there now. Instead there was an ancient carry-out box of rice, a nearly empty container of kimchi, thousands of soy sauce packets.

“EEeeeeaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!” Taehyung shrieked from another room. In the months that Jin had been living with the boys in the dorm, not a day had gone by when Taehyung hadn’t been hyper. How did he even have the energy after more than ten hours of practice? Probably by eating endless amounts of food, emptying the cabinets, emptying the fridge…

All of the chicken breasts from earlier were gone. There was an apple, though. That would have to do for now. Jin grabbed it and walked out into the living room, nearly colliding with Hoseok on the way.

“Do you mind if I call next on the shower, hyung?” Hoseok asked, cradling his ratty beige towel in his arms.

“Sure. Who’s in there now? Namjoonie?”

Before Hoseok could answer, the kids came stampeding into the room. Taehyung was making some crazy noise like “HOO HOO HOO!” as Jungkook chased him. Jimin brought up the rear, giggling like mad. Tae collided with Jin and then grabbed onto his shoulders, using him like a shield to keep Jungkook away. Jin and Hoseok could only look at each other in confusion while the younger ones ran circles around them. What game were they playing?

“Come on, hyung,” Jungkook seemed to be getting more and more frustrated as Taehyung clung to Jin’s back. “Don’t hide behind him like a coward.”

“You’ll never catch me!” Tae’s voice was shrill. Without warning, he grabbed the apple out of Jin’s hand and raised it to his mouth. “All I have to do is eat the Devil Fruit and…”

Jungkook’s hand shot out and slapped the apple out of Tae’s grasp. It hit the floor with a loud splat and for a moment everyone froze in place, staring at the smashed piece of fruit.

“My apple!” Jin wailed.

Then everyone was laughing. They were crumpling into balls, slapping their knees, eyes watering from the sheer silliness. But Jin was still like a statue, holding his hand out where the apple had been, feeling the gnawing hunger in his stomach transform into anger.

“That was all I had to eat because my naengmyeon disappeared,” Jin said to no one in particular.

Jungkook sobered up a little, blinking at his hyung. “That was yours?”

“Did you eat it?” Jin asked. “Was it you?”

The others were falling quiet now, watching the interaction. Taehyung pressed his lips together into a grimace. Jimin’s mouth fell open into a perfect little circle. Hoseok took a step forward as if to protect Jungkook. But Jungkook didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to verbally confirm it. His wide, anxious eyes said it all.

“Okay,” Jin nodded. “That’s okay. Just… clean up the apple, please.”

With that, he left the living room and headed towards the bedroom. He went into the closet and pulled out a backpack, then stuffed a fresh set of clothes inside. When he came back out again, Jungkook was right there waiting for him. The maknae’s look of anxiety had turned into full-on terror.

“What are you doing? What’s the bag for?” his voice was quiet but high-pitched. “Are you leaving?”

“Just for a little while,” Jin said as he brushed past him on his way to the front door. “I’ll be back later.”

Everyone was watching silently as Jungkook trailed after him, keeping close at his elbow. “Do you promise? You promise you’ll be back?”

Jin shrugged on his jacket and started patting around in the pockets for his car keys. They were all waiting to hear him say it. Yes, he’ll be back. Didn’t he just say that? Of course he’ll be back. He just needed a minute. Or a few minutes. But for now, he had to get out before he lost his mind.

“Yes, I promise,” Jin gave them all a tight smile and opened the door. “Don’t wait up.”

It was late when he made it out to his parents’ house. They were both sitting in the den in their silky pyjamas, reading and drinking their nightcaps. Jjanggu saw him first and sat up like a bolt in his mother’s lap, then jumped down and skittered across the hardwood floor to throw himself at Jin’s feet. While Jin stooped to vigorously pet the little white dog’s belly, his mother stood with a bemused expression.

“Darling, what are you doing here at this hour? Is something wrong?”

“I’m fine, Mom,” Jin kissed her on the cheek. “I just came by to pick up something I left here.”

She made a face that tried to be warm and happy on the surface, but couldn’t quite hide the worries that were simmering underneath. They'd had about a hundred conversations about this before Jin moved out. There was almost no risk in signing with Big Hit. He could still finish his degree at school, he wouldn’t be far from home, and if things didn’t work out… well, then they didn’t work out. That’s how his parents felt about it, anyway.

Jin didn’t quite know how to tell them about the others. How Yoongi and Namjoon had been slaving away for years to have this chance. How Hoseok and Jimin were so talented. How Taehyung’s face lit up when they talked about debuting. How Jin would never be able to forgive himself if he let Jungkook down.

He didn’t want his parents to feel the same pressure that he felt. So instead he just gave his mother a smile and asked, “Do you mind if I take a shower while I’m here? There’s a line at the dorm.”

“Seokjin-ah,” his father called from his comfy leather chair, “What kind of bird steals the soap from a bathtub?”

Jin and his mother turned to look at him, waiting expectantly.

“A robber ducky!”

“That’s terrible,” his mother said, rolling her eyes as Jin burst into squeaky laughter. Before he knew what was happening, she pushed him towards the door. “Go take your shower, sweetheart. I don’t want you in here encouraging him.”

Still laughing a bit, Jin went upstairs to the bathroom with Jjanggu nipping at his heels the whole way. There were giant, fluffy towels in the linen closet, a lavender scented diffuser on the marble countertop, and a plush bath mat under his feet. The shower itself was piping hot and the water pressure was perfect. Jin could feel the stress and tension melting out of his muscles. 

After the shower, Jin splayed out across the comforter on his old bed and stared at the ceiling. He heard Jjanggu scratching against the side of the mattress and sat up briefly to help him up. Just for one night, he thought, it would be okay to take a break and rest like this. Fresh and clean and quiet, with his sweet puppy’s head cushioned against his stomach. Combing his fingers through Jjanggu’s curly, white fur, he started to doze off…

And then his stomach growled.

That’s right! How could he forget why he came here in the first place? He never had any dinner. Just that one stupid apple that he never got to eat. Suddenly feeling the hunger come back with a vengeance, Jin bounded down the stairs into the spotlessly clean kitchen.

Opening the fridge doors wide with both hands, Jin basked in the chilly fluorescent glow of food heaven. There were containers stacked full of pre-cooked rice and side dishes, at least five tubs of various kinds of kimchi, jugs of juice, eggs lined up neatly in the side of the door, fresh vegetables stuffed into the crisper drawers. He didn’t know what to attack first and he hadn’t even checked the pantry yet. A few minutes later, he had whipped up some kimchi fried rice for himself, and was feeding baby carrots to Jjanggu while he ate.

“Ah, Jjanggu,” Jin sighed, “Why can’t it be like this at the dorm? Huh? Can I take you back there with me?”

Suddenly an idea hit him.

The little digital clock over the stove told him it was almost three in the morning. His parents had long since gone to bed and if Jin happened to… borrow a few things from the kitchen, only Jjanggu was there to know. He started looking around for shopping bags or boxes. Anything that he could use to carry a lot of stuff.

By the time Jin made it back to the dorm, it was just starting to get light outside. Swinging the door open, he was confronted immediately with that weird smell that never seemed to go away. Piles of shoes, shelves overflowing with toys and manga, somebody’s underwear hanging on drying rack in the living room. He found Jungkook in the living room too, asleep on the floor. The maknae was still in his clothes from yesterday and his head was propped up on a crumpled sweatshirt. His cellphone was lying on the ground next to his face.

After setting all the groceries down in the kitchen, Jin went back into the living room and gently prodded Jungkook with his toe. Weirdly enough, it didn’t wake him up.

“Yah, Jungkook,” Jin said, squatting down and shaking him by the shoulder. When that didn’t work, he pinched his nose and poked him in the forehead. For a scary moment, Jin wondered if the kid was dead. But he could see Jungkook’s chest slowly rising and falling, so at least he was breathing.

Jin went back into the kitchen and started putting away the things he’d brought. Lots of things had to be dumped into the trash first, but soon there was plenty of space available. The big tub of kimchi went into the fridge, then all the vegetables. Boxes of rice and bottles of various sauces into the pantry. He tried to be careful with the pots and pans, but they were inevitably a bit noisy and before long he heard footsteps and a groggy voice behind him.


“Good morning, Jungkook-ah,” Jin said, glancing back over his shoulder to give him a warm smile. He wanted to show him everything was fine and that there didn’t have to be any tension between them. Still the maknae hesitated a bit.

“Where did you go?”

Stashing the last pot in an overhead cabinet, Jin turned around and leaned back against the counter. “I went to my parents house and borrowed some food and cooking supplies. I think if we have a bit more to eat around here, I won’t be so cranky.”

Jungkook opened the nearest cupboard and stood on his tiptoes to peek inside. Jin felt warmth growing in his chest as he watched an amazed smile spread across the maknae’s face.

“Hyung… can I cook something for you?” Jungkook turned to look up at him with his round eyes, like he was both excited and nervous at the same time. “I don’t know how to make naengmyeon, but there’s a couple of things I’m good at. Did you bring sweet potatoes?”

“Yeah, they’re in the fridge. Do you want any help?”

“No, that’s okay,” Jungkook said, already springing into action gathering supplies. “I want to do this for you.”

Not sure what to do with himself in the meantime, Jin just hovered nearby in the cramped kitchen. Eventually he found an out of the way place to lean against the counter. Jungkook sang quietly to himself while he worked, peeling and soaking the potatoes. His soft voice was soon drowned out by the hissing and popping of oil in the pan as a glorious, savory smell wafted through the air.

After the potatoes were fried and the sugar was melting on the stove, Jungkook spoke again. “I… When you left, I did some thinking.”


“And I decided that I’m a really selfish person. More than you even realize, hyung.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that …”

“No, really. You can’t tell me I’m not. I know what I feel in my heart and it’s not… I’m not being fair to you. Or the others. There are things that I want to have all to myself and it can’t be like that. So, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay…”

Not knowing what else to say, Jin watched as Jungkook plopped the chunks of fried sweet potato into the caramelized sugar and stirred them with a slotted spoon. Jin knew the boy must be feeling Jin’s gaze on the side of his face. He was even blushing a little. It must have been uncomfortable for him to talk about his feelings like this.

Finally, Jungkook looked up at him and said, “I’ll try to be better from now on. I don’t want to be a spoiled little kid that you have to take care of.”

“I don’t want to take care of a spoiled little kid, either,” Jin said with a lopsided smile, trying to tease him a bit to break the tension.

But that got him thinking. If he didn’t want to be taking care of Jungkook like a child, then what did he want? He knew he felt awkward in the role of “oldest hyung.” He didn’t like being angry with Jungkook. He didn’t like Jungkook being obedient or scared of him. He wanted to be happy and to make Jungkook happy. He just wanted… to not have five years of distance between them. But that was impossible, wasn’t it?

“But…” Jin sighed and rolled his eyes comically, “Even if you act like a brat, I can’t just leave you. Bangtan needs this handsome face to succeed.”

“Wha…” The maknae wrinkled his nose in distaste, but laughed anyway. “Seriously, hyung?”

Jin pretended to be offended. “What do you mean, Jungkook-ah? My face is the only thing I have to offer. I can’t rap at all, I can barely sing. My dancing is…”

“You’re getting pretty good at singing, hyung,” Jungkook interrupted. He started scraping the sweet potatoes out of the pan onto the plate he had prepared. “Let’s give these some time to cool before we eat them.”

They left the kitchen and set the plate on the low table in the living room. Sitting peacefully on the floor in the early morning light, watching steam lifting from the potatoes, Jin and Jungkook smiled at each other without really knowing why. When Jungkook reached out with chopsticks to grab one of the potatoes,  Jin smacked his hand.


“You said to wait for them to cool. You’ll burn your mouth.”

In the end, neither of them could wait and they both ended up huffing and puffing, waving their hands frantically in front of their mouths trying to cool down the blistering hot potatoes. But they were delicious and Jin told Jungkook so. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside.

Jin was about to get up to do the dishes when they heard the front door open. They turned their heads in sync to see Yoongi shuffling down the hall into the living room. He was haggard-looking, his hair flat and greasy, dark circles under his eyes. When he noticed them sitting there watching him, he brought one hand up in a salute.

“Good morning,” Yoongi said with a croaky voice.

“Have you eaten?” Jin asked.

The small man’s eyes drifted down to the dish on the table. “Uh… no. I was in the studio.”

All night? It was at least the third night this week that Yoongi had pulled an all-nighter. When would he let himself rest? Worry bubbled up in Jin’s stomach and he felt the urge to scold him, but he pushed it away. Instead, he simply said, “Come eat. Jungkookie made glazed sweet potatoes.”

Yoongi pursed his lips, nodded, and gingerly lowered himself to the ground. He took the chopsticks Jungkook offered and dug right in. Three pieces were gone in a flash, then he swallowed and gave Jungkook an enthusiastic thumbs up. “It’s good!” he said, and the maknae’s face split into a radiant smile.

Chapter Text

Jungkook peeked through the studio windows until he found the right room. He could see Namjoon silhouetted against the bright glow of the computer screen, hunched forward like he could barely see. It felt awkward to interrupt him while he was at work, especially when he’d been holed up in there all night. But Namjoon had texted and specifically asked Jungkook to come by, so he supposed it was alright. He raised his hand and knocked, soft and polite.

No response.

He knocked again, much harder this time, and Namjoon spun around. The sound proofing blocked his voice, but Jungkook could see him smiling and waiving, calling him inside. He opened the door just enough to poke his head in and glanced around at all the equipment and the skateboards and posters mounted on the black walls. “Hi, hyung…”

“Hello, Jungkook-ah!”

Jungkook nearly jumped out of his skin when he realized that Jin was sitting right there, reclining on the leather couch against the near wall. There were notebooks and papers scattered around him and a large text book was propped up against his knees.

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t know you were studying in here,” Jungkook blushed and started backing out.

“No, no!” Jin waived away his apology. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Hyung’s just keeping me company,” Namjoon said, beckoning to Jungkook with a hand. “I wanted to see you about something. Come in.”

“Okay.” Jungkook stepped fully into the room and took his place in one of the big rolling chairs at the console. Rubbing his sweaty palms over his thighs, he looked up at Namjoon with a little smile and asked, “What’s up, hyung?”

“Should we do a log?” Namjoon asked brightly, reaching his hand up to turn on the camera.

“No, don’t!” Jungkook clutched at his shoulder to stop him. His mind flew everywhere at once. He hadn’t prepared anything to say and his hair was flat and greasy from practice and he had a pimple on his nose and…

“Ah, I’m just teasing you. I look terrible anyway,” the older boy gestured up at his fuzzy bush of hair.

“Don’t say that,” Jungkook said quietly, almost a whisper. “You always look cool.”

“No, Jin-hyung is the one that always looks good.”

“Eh?” Jin called from behind them, his nose still buried in his book and hardly paying them any attention.

“You look good, hyung!” Namjoon repeated, raising his voice.

“Oh… thank you…”

While Namjoon suppressed a giggle, Jungkook glanced back at Jin and considered him for a moment. Even doing his homework, he looked like a fashion model, long legs draped elegantly across the couch. He was completely absorbed in his book, blinking hard in that funny way of his. As he read, his lips moved ever so slightly, like he was saying the words out loud to himself. His lips were so… Before Jungkook could finish his thought, Jin seemed to notice him staring and his eyes flicked up. Jungkook whipped back around to face the computer.

“Okay, so no video log,” Namjoon said. “But Pdogg-nim gave us a new track and I thought you might want to help me write something for it. Hmm?”

“Write something?”

Namjoon laughed again. “Don’t look so scared, Jungkook-ah. You’re the most talented kid I know, so you can definitely do this. If you have something you want to say, you have your chance now.”

They stared at each other for a second, Namjoon nodding and Jungkook feeling a slow, disbelieving smile spread across his face. “You mean like write lyrics?”

“Yeah! Like lyrics. Like some sick rap lyrics.”

“Yeah!” Jin randomly shouted behind them.

Jungkook glanced back at Jin but Namjoon just kept talking. “Ignore him. Jungkook-ah, do you want to rap on the album? Show the world what you got?”

This was new. Jungkook could believe that they wanted him to be a main dancer and he was getting used to the idea that they liked his singing too. But now rapping as well? His eyes searched Namjoon’s face for any sign that it might be a prank, but it wasn’t there. He was beaming, encouraging, proud. Jungkook saw visions of himself reflected in Namjoon’s eyes, dressed in black and red with gold chains and tattoos, looking even cooler than G-Dragon. Jungkook smiled.

“Yes, I definitely want to rap on the album.”

“Alright!” Namjoon shouted. “Awesome! I love the confidence. Let’s do this.”

He was just about to hit play on the track when a different song started playing quietly in the background. For a split second, Jungkook thought he was going to be rapping over Drake’s new single, but then he realized it was Jin’s ringtone.

“Ah! Excuse me,” Jin pushed the book off his lap and jumped up from the couch. He gave a small, apologetic bow to the boys and stepped out of the room. Before the door closed behind him, Jungkook could hear him answer the phone and say, “Hello, Jiyeong-ssi! How are you?”

Once he was gone, Namjoon shook his head ruefully and went to start the track again but Jungkook was too distracted. “Who is Jiyeong?”

“Jiyeong?” Namjoon echoed absent-mindedly. “Some girl at the university who confessed to him. No wait… that might have been Eunji. I can’t keep track.”

“Oh,” Jungkook said carefully, trying to keep the hurt from showing on his face. Out of all of the members, Jin was closest to Jungkook, wasn’t he? After all, Jin never invited any of the other members over to his parents’ house for dinner. Only Jungkook. So then why was Jungkook hearing about this Jiyeong and Eunji business from Namjoon? Did Jin think Jungkook was too young for that kind of talk? What else was he not sharing?

“He’s going to have to cool it with that stuff. And you, too!” Namjoon was still talking.


“Don’t give me that innocent face, Jungkook-ah,” Namjoon shook his head, laughing. “Jimin told us about all those girls swarming around you at your graduation.”

Through the window in the studio door, Jungkook could still see Jin pacing right outside, smiling and nodding as he spoke into his phone. When he noticed Jungkook watching him he pulled a face, puffing out his cheeks and crossing his eyes.

“But seriously,” Namjoon continued, “All of that will have to stop when we debut. Like PD-nim said, we have to project the right image to our fans. I mean… I might not be pretty like you and Jin-hyung and Tae, but we all have to make sacrifices now.”

“Okay,” Jungkook nodded. “I was never really good at dating anyway.”

The older boy gave him a long look, his lips pressed together in a funny little smirk, then he smiled broadly. “Okay, Jungkook-ssi. Maybe we can work this into our lyrics.”

“We’re going to rap about not dating?”

“No!” Namjoon laughed. “No, that would sound… not right. We don’t want people to think we’re lame. We want to tell them that we’re working hard on our music and we’re gonna take over the world. We gotta get respect, you know?”

A grin spread across Jungkook’s face as he listened to him talk. This was always fun to watch, when Namjoon faded into the background and Rap Monster took over. His voice got lower and raspy and he started gesturing emphatically with his hands. It reminded Jungkook of why he decided to sign with Big Hit in the first place, that promise of transformation into something extraordinary and powerful. That feeling that he could unleash another person hidden deep inside himself.

“That’s what this track is all about. Showing them that we go hard . That we’re going to do what nobody has ever done before,” Namjoon said, hitting a button on the computer and starting up the song. It was frenetic, a flurry of high-pitched electronic notes tapping out an aggressive melody. His head started bobbing and his jaw stuck out in that way it did when he was really feeling the music. Then he started growling along, “What… What… What… We are bulletproof!

Heart pounding in his chest, Jungkook nodded along to the beat. He could almost see it now. Sharp choreography, fierce outfits, and darkness all around them. And then Jungkook would step up into a spotlight, open his mouth, and spit fire.

“So this right here is gonna be your verse,” Namjoon clapped him on the shoulder. “What do you want to say?”