Chapter 1: The Bachelor
Kim Seokjin had known this meeting would come someday. Every actor has a steady ticking sound in their mind, the clock pendulum of their careers swinging like the sword of Damocles over their heads. For some it's fast, for some it's slow, and he'd always imagined his would plod past right around the average. He hadn't been a child star, avoiding that dark beginning, and his handsome face paired with his moderate skill should have carried him through a serviceable career as a romantic lead, with a shot at transitioning to long-suffering father or corporate asshole before he faded away.
He'd had it mapped out, a little luck carrying him through the rough patches, and he'd thought his agent would sit him down and tell him it was over when he was forty-five at the earliest.
Instead he's twenty-eight, and it's over.
Woo Nayoung is alone in the conference room, which is the first sign. She always has at least three people orbiting her, passing notes and bringing coffee cups, not really out of necessity but for the look of industry. He'd been drawn to her for that look, the sleek artifice of her image, and when he'd broken in his first drama and been offered anyone he'd wanted he'd chosen her from the agency's slate without hesitation. He'd always had good instincts.
Those instincts are screaming now as she doesn't tap away on her phone to emphasize her importance. There's a certain look she gets sometimes, when she's five drinks in and starting to feel the first stirrings of a real emotion, and hints of it lay across her as she says, "They're going in another direction."
"Let me guess - any direction but mine," says Jin dryly. "Or should I say, any direction but gay?"
He's proud of the steadiness of his voice, even prouder of the sharpness of his tongue. Things are shit, but he's going to go down smiling, because that's the only thing he has left.
"You know it's more than that," says Nayoung. "But yes."
"Can we wait it out?" he asks. "I'll do theater. Take time off for my health. Learn guitar. In a few months…"
That flicker of emotion is gone, and that's the second sign.
"Sweetie," she says, which is what she says when it doesn't matter what she calls someone. "We might have had that option, if you hadn't punched him in the face. Blurry videos at a gay club, we can bury. Vindictive exes with photo proof? Buy them off. I've successfully disappeared sex tapes, drunken marriages, and any number of screaming matches. Even if you'd just done it in private, we may have had a chance. But you did it in a grocery store, in front of a hundred cell phones. This isn't going anywhere."
Jin doesn't bother to say that the guy deserved it, which is patently obvious. Lee Dongwoo, ex-weekend hookup, minor musical talent and current world contender for biggest piece of shit, had taken their mutually agreed cooling off a little less mutually than Jin had believed at the time. Which was fair enough, but then he'd looked the different trajectories of their careers and unilaterally decided that if his own couldn't ascend more quickly that Seokjin's should be brought into alignment.
So he'd come out of the closet, and he'd dragged Seokjin with him.
To be honest, had that been all,Jin would have left it alone. With some drunken rants, of course, and a lot of vindictive scribbling across printed out headshots, but he'd never been ashamed of his sexuality. Discreet, yes, to keep the machinery of his career turning more smoothly, but never ashamed. He'd never wanted to go public, and certainly not for a whiny shit like Dongwoo, but he'd have rolled with it. Acted.
But of course Dongwoo didn't leave it there. In his bid for authenticity, honesty, and headline volume he'd outed everyone with a name that Jin had ever slept with, and a couple more who'd unsuccessfully tried. Which was bad enough, but one of them had been a young guy, a mistake borne of the exultation of a new part and a lot of soju, and that kid had made it all the way to the hospital in his unhardened anxiety.
Jin hadn't even been able to send him flowers under his own name.
So when he'd seen Dongwoo in his neighborhood, buying pork like he wasn't ending people's worlds, he'd punched the shit out of him and punched himself right out of romantic leads forever. Gay was undesirable but overcomeable, these days. Gay and angry wasn't, the image of him in handcuffs superseding everything else he'd so carefully curated himself into, and Jin loved acting and he wasn't going to get to do it ever again.
"Guess I'll really have to get good at the guitar, then," he says. Pushing through it, reaching for that first role again. A boy with a smart mouth and a pretty face, who lit up every room he entered. Seokjin's eternal type. "Thanks for letting me know."
He gets up to leave, his smile not slipping at all, and in her impeccably timed, excruciatingly scripted way, Nayoung says, "There is one option."
"No to porn," says Jin, only half-joking because he knows her well. She's his best friend, in many ways, and that's a lot to unpack so he doesn't.
"Reality television," she says, even more horrifyingly.
But he doesn't leave, because stupid hope curls his heart, just like she'd known it would. He could act past that hope, he knows. He could suppress it ruthlessly and walk out the door and become some new version of Kim Seokjin, but he doesn't. He has one button, and he'll never stop letting it be pushed.
"Tell me," he says, sitting down again, and that's how it begins.
"We're so excited to have you," says Han Sangchul for the hundredth time behind Jin's makeup chair.
Jin smiles back, because being on the director's good side solves a lot of problems on set, and this guy is prone to repeating himself and also cleaning out his ear with his finger but he's not a menace. He'd walked Jin through the pre-shots with easy competence, doing them in only one or two takes, and that will mean fewer long days. Jin would smile at him for that gift alone.
"Very excited," adds the woman behind him, one he'd just met today. Park Hyebin, studio liaison, executive producer, and not nearly so easy to read. "Destined Hearts has never done a gay airing before, and we expect it to be our highest rated series yet."
He nearly laughs, because she says it so triumphantly, and because it's nice to have someone who says these things clearly. He's here to date a dozen men at once to prove he's still gentle enough for the screen - and pretty enough, not that that needs to be proven - and to help a sagging show with their lack of media presence. They're both getting something out of this, and he'll gladly do his part.
"And of course, to capture your journey towards your destined heart," she adds belatedly.
Over his dead body, is what he wants to say, but instead he says with a practiced twinkle, "My mother is even more excited about that than you are."
Hyebin nods appreciatively, padding away on her sensible shoes at someone's call, snapping for Sangchul to join her, and Jin is blissfully alone. Besides the makeup artist, of course, who's doing her job in the businesslike way of makeup artists everywhere. He loves them the most of anyone on set, and this one is even better than usual because she'd told him matter-of-factly that he needed less makeup than any bachelor she'd ever worked on.
He'd started to see some wrinkles around his eyes in the last few months, but he could carry that with him at least.
The seat next to him gets a second victim, and he half-turns in surprise before he realizes it's not one of the Men of Destiny, as he's been calling them in his mind. He's been expressly forbidden from knowing anything about them, the studio knowing what kind of people they want and Nayoung feeding them his preferences to keep him in the dark. The better to capture his genuine reactions, they'd explained, and he hasn't had a genuine reaction to anything in at least a decade but he finds their optimism adorable.
No, this is their host, Kevin Koo. American, for the shocking Western flavor they're trying to bring to this show, but with impeccable Korean and a winning smile. Jin had done his research, preparing for this role as diligently as any he got, and Kevin is an even more frustrated actor than himself after his time in the Hollywood machine. He'd thought that might make him bitter, had gotten ready for grudging conversation and under-the-breath comments, but typical of his countrymen Kevin's almost too friendly.
"Is your mom actually excited?" he asks with that comforting, polished grin.
"About me being on television again? Absolutely," says Jin. "About my heart's destiny? She could take it or leave it."
Kevin laughs. "Well, my sister Stateside is so excited she's almost in cardiac arrest. She loves you. At some point she's going to beg me to get your autograph hard enough that I won't be able to say no, so I apologize in advance," he says. He pauses, then adds in a slightly less breezy tone, "I'm a fan too. You bring a lot of nuance to roles that don't ask for it."
"Thank you," says Jin. "So do you."
Their eyes meet in the mirror, and they say a lot more than words ever could about this stupid, intoxicating, ridiculous life they've chosen.
"Anyway, consider me your love sherpa," says Kevin. "I've only been here a couple of seasons, but there's a rhythm to it. They just want a good show, which means they want you to look good because you're the hero. And I'm there to help in whatever way I can. If you get in trouble, if you need a lift in a scene, just let me know."
Jin nods agreeably. "Do we need a code word or something?"
"I think I'll figure it out."
They finish up their makeup in companionable silence, both running through their lines until they're finally called to the gravel-lined driveway that will bring Jin his Men of Destiny. He straightens his well-fitting suit, twisting the cufflinks into the correct position, and tries not to roll his eyes if at all possible.
When he'd thought about the introduction shoot, about having a succession of hot, available men present themselves to him like wine selections, he'd thought it might be depressing. He'd thought it might be thrilling. He'd even thought it might be boring, in the part of him that's too cynical to be exposed to the public.
What it actually is is surreal.
The same two limos circle like a carousel, expelling a new choice with businesslike precision every time they stop. As expected the men all look great, handsome and well-styled and in many ways indistinguishable from each other. Jin does his best, but they blend together in a string of waiters and bartenders and all of the other euphemisms that they use to avoid coming out and saying they've always wanted to be on screen. They try to hide it, but it's in the eyes, and Jin doesn't begrudge them the way they play to camera instead of him.
And there are a couple of superfans, which Nayoung had warned him to be gratified to have. And he is, truly, even if he doesn't always know what to do with the adoration.
The fifth contestant, a Kim Minho, nearly passes out when Jin smiles at him in greeting, which causes a recording pause while they hurriedly revive him. Jin intensifies his easy geniality off-camera, speaking with Minho gently until the starstruck light in his eyes is at more manageable levels because otherwise they'll be here all year. They re-record their introduction with less fainting before Jin sends him on his way with a gentle goodbye that nearly kills him all over again.
Jin sorts them into categories as they keep coming, the fame seekers and the fans and the pretty boys and the charisma bombs. Everyone has a gimmick, and a lane, and it helps him escape the Limo Wonderland to analyze. To see this as the show it is.
The king of the beefcake category appears behind the sixth door, a wide-eyed guy named Jeon Jeongguk who's eschewed the expensive suits of the previous candidates in favor of skintight leather pants, an even darker black dress shirt, and some kind of harness around him that tapers his waist into nothingness. As a wide-shouldered guy himself Jin appreciates the artistry, and despite his best efforts his eyes linger around his pelvis a little too long.
"So what do you do?" asks Jin as soon as the introductions are done.
He'd meant for work, an easy ice-breaker question that he'd been commanded to ask them all, but instead of answering Jeongguk drops to the ground and starts doing one-armed push-ups like he's in military service. He does them rapidly and with no apparent effort, and Jin's too world-weary to blush but his mouth definitely drops open.
"I'm a personal trainer," Jeongguk says to the ground, switching hands with an easy clap. "I get people in shape."
"I imagine you're very successful," says Jin, his voice only slightly awed.
Jeongguk rises off the ground after his set is over, and he smiles a big smile full of teeth. Cute, Jin thinks, and almost adorably earnest despite the way the leather clung to his ass as he'd moved.
"I could bench press you, probably," he adds, his eyes assessing him like it's a real thing he's considering trying.
"Let's save that for the second date," says Jin, fighting back laughter and reaching for the smooth flirtation expected of him in this situation.
Jeongguk's eyes light up. "I get a second date with you? Wow, my aunt's going to be really jealous!"
Kevin coughs, and Jin can barely keep it together as he says carefully, "We'll see how the rest of the night goes, okay?"
"Okay," says Jeongguk. His face furrows in concentration before he adds, "I liked your movie where you were a boxer."
He says it with the vague air of a person who'd just watched it for the first time that morning, and even then had only half-paid attention, and Jin can only nod helplessly. "Thank you. It was a tough role to prepare for."
"Next time call me to help," says Jeongguk, dropping into a a boxing pose, and that's the end of their introductory time. Jeongguk leaves with a wave, bouncing on his feet as he heads into the mansion behind them, and Jin watches him go in disbelief.
"Is he for real, do you think?" he asks Kevin, who's no longer trying to hide his laughter. "And if he is, why is he dressed like the main act at a bondage night club?"
Kevin's only answer is, "If he tries to bench press you tonight, make sure I'm nearby. With a camera crew."
Jung Hoseok, eighth contestant and the only guy to opt for neon green as a suit color, gets the second tick on Jin's mental list because he's also the only one to get a real laugh out of him. Not his usual interview laugh, boring and genial, but the one he reserves for private rooms and people he actually likes.
Hoseok steps out of the limo with so much energy it's like there are bees chasing him, and he slides down the red carpet with casual grace, snapping his hips to an invisible beat. Jin's just putting him into the sex appeal category when he smiles hugely and make two fingers hearts directly next to his face, transforming him entirely into sweetheart.
"Want to hear a joke about a construction site?" he asks without preamble.
"Sure," says Jin. As long as they don't try to touch him or take off any clothes, he'd been instructed to play along with whatever these guys suggested, and he does like jokes.
"Ah, never mind, I'm still working on it," he says, then cackles so hard he almost falls over.
Jin laughs too, his high squeak that he never lets out on film, then claps his hand over his mouth in horror which gets Hoseok going even harder. They're not going to be able to use any of this footage, because it's just the two of them laughing like hyenas over something that's not even funny. It's not funny at all, but it loosens something inside of him, and he can't seem to stop even when the director is clearly more than done with them.
"Kim Seokjin," he says when he's under control "And you?"
"Jung Hoseok," says the other guy, still inside the aftershocks of giggles.
"We should talk about something else, so you can get more screen time," says Jin, but before he can ask his standard questions Hoseok shakes his head.
"I'm good," he says, smiling again. "Nice to meet you, Seokjin."
He whips out finger guns, does a spin, and holsters them before jogging off to the house without a backwards look.
Kim Namjoon defies categorization.
"I'm sorry, what's a flavorist?" asks Jin.
He's already off-balance from the height of this guy, and the depth of his dimples, and the way he looks like he's going to chew Jin up and spit him out. Or he had looked that way, before he'd opened his mouth to a voice crack worthy of a thirteen year old boy. He'd apologized a hundred times, and turned fire-engine red, and Jin had needed to pivot so quickly from polite shield wall to soothing blind date that he had whiplash.
"I make food taste like things," says Namjoon, then smacks himself in the forehead. "Wow, that wasn't how I was supposed to describe it."
"Food doesn't already have taste?" asks Jin, both curious and a bit desperate.
Namjoon shrugs helplessly. "It does. I just make it brighter. Increase the taste profile of natural foods, and make artificial recreations of natural tastes when needed. We do a lot of work with army rations. Pre-packaged food in general."
"Ah, so you eat a lot of ready-made stuff?"
"No way," says Namjoon. "Once you see behind the curtain, you only want to eat organic for the rest of your life."
Jin chuckles. "Refreshingly honest, but I'm not sure your employer would appreciate that anti-endorsement. Do you want to do a different take?"
"Take?" asks Namjoon blankly. "Oh. No. They don't even know I'm here. I'm on leave. It's fine. I'd rather say things that are real. How else can someone find their love destiny?"
"How else indeed?" asks Jin, smiling gently. "It's nice to meet you, Namjoon."
When he leaves it's with a little slouch, like he's exhausted from being in his tall and handsome body, and Kevin says, "Wholesome," in an absolutely colorless voice that makes Jin elbow him in the side.
"I'm Park Jimin," says the next Man of Destiny to penetrate the haze and become real.
They're almost done now, just four more left, and Jin's energy is flagging. Jimin is yet another sex boy, the most represented type, though up close he's a little less certain than his smooth runway walk from the car had suggested.
But the instant Jin thinks it Jimin's face sharpens. "You're really hot," he says, putting his hands in his pockets with an admirable knowledge of his own lines.
"How flattering," says Jin. "You're very good-looking yourself. Do you model?"
Jimin smiles like he's heard it before as he shakes his head. "Too short," he says. "Long legs, though."
He pirouettes to show them off and trips on a fold in the carpet, falling heavily into Jin's chest. It's so smooth that Jin's probably the only one who noticed the way his foot found the fold unerringly, the easy movement as he pulls his hands out of his pockets like he'd been expecting it, the careful weight distribution that means they're not even close to falling over as they collide.
He's definitely the only one who feels Jimin's hands squeeze his ass before he jumps back with horrified apologies.
"I know I'm not supposed to touch him," says Jimin, blinking hugely at the crew around them, wringing his hands in excellent distress. "I'm so sorry! I'm just clumsy. Are you okay, Seokjin?"
He looks up at Jin through contrite lashes, hiding his smile so very well. It's a cute smile even just in his eyes, and Jin supposes he's here to be manhandled so it's not like he can blame the guy. He's always regretted that he can't squeeze his own ass with any real satisfaction. "I'm fine, Jimin. Thank you. Would you like to do the spin again for the camera?"
Jimin nods and spins much more slowly, his clumsiness gone as he rotates. His ass is also good in his dress slacks, and the way he lingers in Jin's sightline says he knows it. This guy's going to be trouble, but the cameras will love him and so will the production staff, so Jin makes sure he betrays a hint of interest before Jimin's done. "Very impressive. And I say that from experience with great legs," he says, sticking out his own leg and wiggling it around in his most sexual display so far.
Director Han shoots him a thumbs up.
Jimin checks him out shamelessly, his own implied thumbs up, and Jin straightens his clothes when he's done. "So what do you do for a living?" he asks, expecting the usual waiter line that means entertainment industry. Jimin is the kind of guy who's born for the screen. Maybe a guy he would have hooked up with, in one of those clubs, if their paths had crossed. He certainly knows what he's doing.
"I'm a lawyer," he says unexpectedly, a tinkling laugh falling from his lips when Jin can't hide his surprise. It's a good laugh, sexy and innocent and borne of countless hours of practice, and Jin nearly applauds. His voice drops a microscopic fraction as he adds, "But on the weekends I dance."
And that's the end, and it's good the next guy is boring because Jin doesn't think he can handle another encounter like that so soon.
"I milk snakes," says the hottest guy Jin has ever seen, like it's normal. "Sometimes I model, but it's mostly the snake thing."
Jin looks at his hands, which is a mistake, because he's got great hands, too. Almost as good as his face. Jin's at a total loss, and has been since this guy stepped out of the limo in a long purple cape over an exquisite suit that works on every level despite itself, then spent a solid minute thanking the vehicle sincerely for driving him such a long distance before turning around.
It's the sort of prima donna, fake weird behavior that would usually irritate the hell out of everyone, especially production crews who are exhausted and overdue for their dinner break. But this guy has some kind of magic inside of him, and they'd all let him speak soothing words to a car door until he was done and ready to continue without saying a word.
But that's not the strangest part. The strangest part is that Kim Taehyung could, objectively, fuck him until he cried. It's not even in question, and when he looks at Jin with that straight-on gaze it's clear he's already got them both naked. But it's weirdly formless, like half a dream they're having together, something that won't last once they're not in proximity anymore. Like Taehyung's got everyone naked, all the time, in the nooks and crannies of his mind.
It's more clinical than hot, and Jin isn't aroused, just confused.
"Do snakes give milk?" he asks. "I thought they were reptiles."
He prays they edit that to make him sound like less of a moron, but Taehyung only laughs sweetly. "Venom. For serums and anti-venoms. It's okay, the snakes like it when I do it."
Jin would believe it, and on anyone else he'd think that was an unsubtle handjob allusion but he honestly can't tell anymore. He cuts a look at Kevin, who has a stunned expression on his face, and if Jin doesn't get it together they're going to end up in some kind of on-camera orgy that will definitely steer his career into porn.
"Well, I thank the snakes for letting you go long enough to be here," he says, stretching as hard as he can for suavity.
Taehyung smiles, and Jin feels a little light-headed. "They'll miss me for sure. But I'm really happy I'm here! I love drama."
"For my sake I hope the show isn't too dramatic," says Jin. "I'm here to find love, after all."
That seems to trigger something, and Taehyung steps so close that Jin almost takes a step back himself, except he can't, because apparently Taehyung might also be a snake. At least in part.
"I think," says Taehyung, his breath across Jin's face pleasant and minty. He's not touching him with anything but his roving gaze, so the director lets it keep going, which Jin doesn't like as much as he's trying to make it look. "I think your face tells a different story. But don't worry, I'm going to help you out. You have friendly eyebrows."
He steps away again, totally unbothered as his cape swooshes around him, and Jin knows he's blushing. He knows it, and his ears hurt with it, and he's going to be calling his agent about favors to trade for the editing on this one as soon as he can.
When he says goodbye to Taehyung, who he has to re-orient towards the giant building when he starts wandering towards the nearby woods instead, he turns to Kevin and says, "Not a single fucking word."
The final guy never stood a chance, really. To be the last guy out of the limo after nineteen others was already a handicap, and if Kim Taehyung were a weapon he'd be banned by international treaty, so he was screwed from the jump. There's a piece of Jin that even feels sorry for him as the limo makes its last lap and stops at the end of the path, knowing he won't remember a single thing about him when they're done.
That sympathetic piece dies when a man in well-worn jeans and an enormous threadbare t-shirt with duct tape across the front of it steps out of the car. He's wearing sneakers. And a puffy jacket that's bigger than he is. And a bucket hat that covers most of his face. All in all he looks like a mole person who'd been looking for a warm place to sleep and had amazingly found a limo waiting for him.
He's probably just a PA who'd snuck off for a nap, and he's about to get fired, but honestly, there's no pity inside of Jin for it, because he's wasting all of their time.
So Jin stands politely, waiting for Director Han to cut the cameras and explain to this random employee that they're shooting a TV show, actually, and he should get the hell out of the shot. But nothing comes, and the bucket hat keeps shuffling its way down the drive at glacial speed in the silence.
Jin narrows his eyes, tapping his internal foot impatiently and refusing to let it show. This must be a prank of some kind, something for the ending highlight reel, some way for them to capture his frustration to show in some preview edit, something. And he's not going to give in.
He's Kim Seokjin, boy next door and beloved future son-in-law. Assault charges aside he's the softest man in the world.
Though this bucket hat guy makes his fist a little itchy.
When he finally - finally - arrives at the end of the graveled drive, he blinks up at Jin with a limply interested gaze. He's wearing makeup against all odds, heavy around the eyes, so either this prank is more elaborate than it deserves or this really is Jin's last Man of Destiny. In some sense of the phrase, anyway, but not the grandest sense, because Jin isn't going to fall in love with anyone on this show but he's definitely not going to fall in love with this gremlin. Maybe anti-love, if that's a thing.
"Hi, I'm Kim Seokjin," he says, a charming smile on his lips. "You are?"
It's totally flat, though his mouth moves in the approximation of a smile as he does it, like a person who's being operated by internal clockwork that's not quite synced up to human emotion. Jin's exhausted, and not in the mood for this, and he already misses Taehyung's weird energy. At least that had given him something to work with.
"Nice to meet you," he says instead of all of those things. "You've made some bold sartorial choices tonight."
The clockwork springs back to life as a real smile fires underneath the shadows of the hat. "Thanks. I wanted to be comfortable."
"Some might ask why you'd come on a dating show, then."
"Hot guys are always comfortable to be around," says Yoongi, shrugging, that real smile still tugging his mouth. "You'll do."
Jin feels his nostrils flare, because this isn't the sort of shit he takes from people, but he's doing a job here and he's going to keep doing it. "Thank you. So what do you do?"
"This and that," says Yoongi. "Most of the time I'm a rapper."
It explains a lot, including the laconic shuffle, and Jin relaxes now that he's been properly classified. Fame-seeker, for sure, and the best way to get him gone is to give him what he came for.
"Ah, that's so interesting," says Jin, laying it on a little thicker than he needs to. "Do you have a stage name?"
"That's forward of you," says Yoongi, eyebrow arched. "We barely know each other. But be nice to me, and I might just tell you later."
Jin knows he doesn't hide his annoyance this time, at this guy who thinks they're actually at a bar trading flirtatious introductions instead of trying to do a job, and he quickly laughs to give them something nicer to cut to. "An interesting strategy," he says. "You really are a bold guy. Bold enough to wear duct tape on your shirts and also risk no one ever learning who you are."
It's a bit pointed, and Kevin shifts next to him like he's going to jump in, but Yoongi gets to it first. "They're the same boldness, actually," he says, pointing at his chest. "This is my merch. I guess it's not allowed on this show."
Good lord. At least Yoongi's honest. Maybe a little too honest, and Jin tries to steer him back towards something that could actually be usable. "If you won't tell me who you are, you have to at least demonstrate your skill. I don't wait around for just anyone."
Yoongi's mouth curves, and the clockwork is totally gone inside of its wickedness. It's not a transformation, not enough to part the veil and change him into a human, but he's suddenly a very pretty gremlin. "Good things come to those who wait," he says. "But trust me, I'm excellent with my tongue."
"Look, they're not going to be able to air that," says Jin finally, exhausted of trying to get this guy on his page. "Top notch flirting and all, but let's work within the decency guidelines, okay?"
"Oh, of course," says Yoongi. "Sorry if I made you uncomfortable."
He doesn't say it any special way but Jin can smell the smugness wafting off of him, and he allows himself a quick roll of his eyes. "It's fine. Let's just do the answer again, okay? I asked you to demonstrate your skill."
Jin puts a pleasant smile back on his face, expectant and open, and Yoongi blinks a couple of times and looks up at him with that same easy grin. "Good things come to those who wait," he says again. He crosses his arms this time, a little more combative, though his expression doesn't change at all. "But trust me, I'm great at sucking cock."
The entire crew bursts into nervous laughter, including Kevin, and Jin throws his hands up as Yoongi looks inordinately pleased with himself. Director Han calls for a shot of Yoongi walking to the house and then dinner, which Seokjin thankfully gets to take in the production trailer instead of the house. He doesn't even bother to watch Yoongi's snail-paced walk to the mansion, spinning around and hoping they have aspirin on the menu.
Chapter 2: Not Here To Make Friends
Yoongi sits on a very plush, very opulent sofa and thanks god for cold beer as he presses a bottle to his cheek. He can't believe he's doing this. He can't believe he's here, being filmed begging to be one of a dozen men who dates some random hot guy. He can't believe he's going to try to stick around for as long as he can.
He also can't believe he just told said hot guy that he was the champion of blowjobs. In front of cameras.
Yoongi groans as he remembers that his mom's going to be watching this show, along with their entire family. He's going to need more beer, he knows, or something harder if they'll give it to him. He's not sure they will - they haven't offered anything yet, despite calling it a cocktail party - but he's nothing if not hopeful.
He picks at the artistic hole in his knee, a little wider than it was a couple of weeks ago when Suran's stupid idea for him to do this had actually resulted in an acceptance. The only reason he'd even gone along with her three-in-the-morning insanity was that he'd known he'd never be selected in a million years. Not that he's not good looking, because he knows he is. He'd know it even if he didn't have the underground version of groupies, those girls with the batting eyes and the boys with the sharp smiles that Suran never got over making fun of. They all thought he was hot, and he didn't need them to tell him that.
But husband material? No way.
Which is why he'd stealthily included the line about his tattoo in his application before he'd sent it, the mark under his shoulder blade that's not for him. Tattoos aren't husband. Rappers aren't husband. Min Yoongi isn't husband.
The decision-makers apparently hadn't been put off by it, or him, even when he'd insisted on wiggling out of the monkey suit they'd given him and back into his own carefully distressed clothes. Instead they'd brought out duct tape like they did it every day and covered up his screaming Agust D moniker and all the other little symbols for himself he'd built up over the years. Despite what he told people about the shirt he wasn't sure it counted as merch when there was only one in existence, but it was the piece of clothing that was most him of anything in the world, and he's glad to be wearing it in this tailored room.
He looks at the milling men around him, handsome and careful and aware of the cameras. He'd seen them earlier, in the prep area and during pre-taping interviews, and a couple of them seem tolerable if he has to tolerate them but most he dismisses as easily as they dismiss him. They look like investment bankers, though they're not, and as far as Yoongi's concerned the only thing worse than investment bankers are the guys who want to borrow their persona like a skin. The bankers might be rich sleazeballs but at least they know who they are.
There's a small part of his brain that asks sardonically if Agust D isn't just the same identity confusion in reverse, but the beer helps lock that part of him behind a door. He's here to promote his image, to get his name out there, to maybe even get interest from the music execs who might watch this show in some bored moment. Crazier things have happened, Suran had said, and Yoongi had agreed, mostly because she'd been naked at the time and that helped him agree with most things.
God he's a fucking idiot, and this is never going to work, but he'd promised her he'd do his best to stick around and so he'd better start doing something interesting.
At least the hot guy isn't here yet. Yoongi had looked up some pictures of him before the show, had seen the airbrushed posters and heavily filtered compilation videos that would make anyone look like they'd arrived on a chariot from heaven, but he hadn't been prepared for how good-looking he would be in person. For how strange it would feel to get undivided attention from someone who looked like an actual movie star even outside of the movies, and now he's started out so far in the hole in first impressions he might as well be in the Earth's core.
He sighs and puts his empty bottle to his cheek again.
A thump next to him is the only warning he gets before there's another beer in his face, along with a sun-level smile. "Need another?"
"Yes," says Yoongi gratefully, taking a drink and turning to face the guy. Hoseok, he thinks he remembers. The loud one. "Thanks. I'm Min Yoongi."
"That's a good name," says Hoseok. "Strong. And your look! Very impressive. You really stand out."
"Coming from a guy in neon green that's a solid compliment," says Yoongi. "Why the beer?"
Hoseok laughs. "To get you drunk, obviously! I'm hoping if you get wasted enough I can have that hat."
"You'll pry it out of my cold, dead hands," says Yoongi, stone-faced, though he can't keep it straight when Hoseok peals infectious laughter.
"Don't tempt me," says Hoseok. "So you're one of the cool ones, then? There aren't many of us here."
Yoongi looks up at the forest of suits, some of whom can probably hear them, but he decides he doesn't give a shit. "Is that surprising? We've voluntarily signed up to be a glorified meat market for a mildly attractive actor who's in PR trouble. And I'm not sure we're ready to induct you into the Cool Club yet. No one who's actually cool describes themselves as cool."
"No one except me," says Hoseok firmly. "Plus you just said 'Cool Club', so, you know, who's laughing now? But don't you think Seokjin is hot? I thought his body would look great on my bedroom floor."
Yoongi refuses to get drawn into this, especially because the suits and camera crews are practically taking notes. "He's alright."
Hoseok snorts. "I have no idea what planet you're living on, but if you don't want him, that just means more for me."
And like it's been scripted, their bachelor walks through the French doors to the outer patio at that exact moment, smiling blindingly at them all and offering a humble wave in response to their sudden cheers. He does it well, the humility mixed with confidence, and Yoongi claps along for the look of the thing, because he hadn't done all of this just to go home on the first night.
He briefly considers going over to talk to him, to make a second impression, but he barely has time to form the thought before fifteen guys are vying for his attention. So he stays put, though Hoseok doesn't hesitate to push himself into the fray, and instead of watching the scrum he looks around at the other people who'd hung back. Taehyung he knows, because Taehyung had determinedly introduced himself to all of them at least five times, but the rest are just blurs of memory. Should Yoongi get to know them or not? Be nice? Suran hadn't covered this part of the strategy.
Taehyung sees him looking and smiles, loping across the room on gazelle legs that look even longer because of his cape before he settles across the couch like a lounge singer. "I'm Kim Taehyung," he says.
"So you've said. Min Yoongi."
"You look like pipe insulation," says Taehyung as he touches Yoongi's jacket, not at all interested. "Have you met that guy over there?"
Yoongi follows the long line of his arm to a guy with his own movie star looks, who's peering inside of a bowl of mixed nuts with worrying intensity. "I don't think so."
"He's a tongue wizard," says Taehyung.
Before Yoongi can process that statement, Taehyung says, in a voice that he probably thinks is a gentle murmur but is actually louder than a jet engine, "Hey Namjoon, come here! Bring me your nuts!"
The guy at the bowl looks up agreeably, but everyone else in the room groans, including the two camera crews behind their couch. "Please don't talk over the shots," says the director, an older guy that Yoongi hadn't bothered to remember the name of. He's with the group around the hot guy, getting footage of them begging for his attention, which apparently didn't involve Taehyung talking about nuts. "We'll let you know when it's time for more group activity."
"Sorry," says Taehyung happily, plucking a couple of almonds out of Namjoon's bowl with long fingers. "Namjoon, this is Yoongi the flow god. Yoongi, this is Namjoon the tongue wizard. Please be friends."
He steals the bowl out of Namjoon's grasp and walks over to the hot guy pile, effortlessly inserting himself into the center and feeding people indiscriminately. One of the camera teams follows him, while the other is stuck with the futile job of trying to capture anything of interest between Yoongi and Namjoon. Yoongi tries very hard not to look at the camera, like they'd drilled into him endlessly, and he zeroes in on Namjoon, whose hand is still gripping an invisible bowl.
"So are you some kind of stage magician or something?" asks Yoongi.
"Oh no," says Namjoon. "I create food flavors. Make things taste better for people. Those nuts have a coconut flavoring added to them, but I don't know why. It's so subtle. I hope Taehyung brings them back."
Yoongi blinks. "Damn, your job must make eating suck. You can't get away from anything."
"I don't see it that way," says Namjoon, putting his finger to his nose like he's pushing up invisible glasses, and he's weirdly normal. For a guy who came on a dating show and spent most of his night pawing through nuts, he's so normal, and Yoongi finds himself relaxing against his will into the couch. "It's more like knowing secrets. We talked about this a lot in grad school, if we were ruining our lives, but we didn't think so. Obviously. You don't go to all of that school to ruin your life."
"I never went to college," says Yoongi, but he's not fussed about it. He's gotten over his lack of formal education a long time ago. "The thing with music is that if you try hard enough, you can mostly teach yourself."
Namjoon lights up. "Ah, I love that. There was a great underground rap scene around our university. I went to shows whenever I could. Rapping makes music taste better, you know?" he says. "Maybe I've seen you."
"I'm actually a concert pianist," says Yoongi, and Namjoon sputters an apology before Yoongi takes pity on him. "I'm just kidding. Don't know if you saw me, but I've performed a lot of underground shows. Agust D."
He hopes this is the right time to start. They'd gone through every possible scenario, trying to come up with times that felt organic rather than desperate, and a true fan feels as good as he's going to get. Better than in the first introduction, anyway.
It's even better when Namjoon's actually seen him, and loved him, and goes into an extended discussion about a couple of his songs that Yoongi hardly has to do anything to maintain. The camera records them the whole time, and he's achieving his goal, and Namjoon has thought almost as deeply about his music as Yoongi has. It's all good, so he drinks his beer and tries to ignore the bursts of laughter that come from the large group by the windows as best can.
By one in the morning, everyone is drunk.
Everyone but Seokjin, that is. Yoongi is drunk enough to admit he knows his name now, drunk and tired, and a little frustrated with the entire situation. They'd broken up the huge group a long time ago, letting Seokjin mingle like an actual party, and Yoongi had steeled himself to make exhausting and impressive small talk. It was no different than a performance, he'd reasoned, those clever memorized phrases spilling out in a rhythm that caught the audience and held them in its spell.
But he's made exactly zero headway, because the lack of crowd hadn't made things less competitive, just more organized. Every time Yoongi gets close to Seokjin some other contestant is there first, sliding in with a drink and a smile, and Yoongi's not quite up to the unappetizing challenge of getting them out of the way. Seokjin never drinks past a sip but he takes all the smiles, and often it ends with him wandering out to some picturesque filming location for a private chat, leaving the rest of them to do nothing but be bored, and talk, and drink.
At least they'd opened up the bar, finally.
But Seokjin is back now, looking fresh and awake thanks to hovering makeup artists, not that it matters because he's still talking to people and Yoongi can't get close. This time it's two guys at once, a kid named Jeongguk with an abundance of energy and a guy named Wonho who looks more like a brick wall than a person. They're arm-wrestling for Seokjin's favor, and Jeongguk's laughing hysterically as their muscles strain.
"Can you believe that guy?" says the guy in the chair next to him. Jimin, Yoongi thinks.
Jimin's not drunk but he should be, if Yoongi's any judge of body weight. He's currently trying to drink a Long Island through a straw, which he'd be more successful at if he weren't waving the glass around in his indignation. He's small but he holds his liquor well, Yoongi will give him that.
"Which one?" asks Yoongi, nursing his whiskey more slowly.
"Jeongguk," spits Jimin, finally making contact with the straw. "What a phony."
Yoongi looks around reflexively, and of course there's a camera on them. There always is, in this place, and he sees a producer fail to hide his sudden interest in the conversation. "I think he's just having a good time," he says, trying to signal Jimin with his voice. He doesn't really care about this guy, but he doesn't want to get caught up in a drama plotline.
Jimin snorts. "Sure he is. He's so proud of his stupid muscles. It's all he talks about. Seokjin likes working out, but he's not vain about it, you know? He just does it for himself. Not to show off."
"Wonho is in good shape, too," says Yoongi. "If I had any muscles, I'd show them off."
"When it's appropriate," says Jimin fiercely. "Not at a cocktail party. It's fancy!"
Yoongi doesn't get to answer because the cameras all suddenly converge on Seokjin's location. It's easy to see why, because Jeongguk and Wonho have somehow graduated to entirely shirtless. Or in Jeongguk's case, shirtless except for his leather harness, which weirdly makes him seem even more undressed. Seokjin looks delighted, and the director has made it all the way to ecstatic as the rest of the group eggs them on.
"Wow," says Yoongi. He takes another drink. "That's pretty hot."
"Ugh," says Jimin. His drink is gone, and his voice gets even higher than it already was. "'Oooh, look at me, look at me, I have abs!' Who cares. I have abs, and I'm still wearing all of my clothes. And my abs are better than both of theirs combined. Did you know Jeongguk hasn't seen any of Jin's movies? Not one!"
"That's crazy," says Yoongi, who resolves to never let Jimin know he hadn't even heard of Seokjin before Suran had brought this whole thing up. Jimin has the look of a man who would murder, if he thought murdering were necessary, and Yoongi has a lot of fleshy bits.
"I know," says Jimin. "I've seen them all. A bunch. I'm going to win this whole competition. None of the rest of them stand a chance."
Yoongi doesn't quite know what to say to that, or if Jimin even remembers he's also a contestant. "Well, good luck," he says diplomatically.
"I don't need luck! I have preparation and hard work. Not like ab-boy over there."
"Why are you just mad at Jeongguk?" asks Yoongi, who feels safer now that all the cameras are off filming amateur stripping and wide shots and are too far away to pick up conversations. "They're both doing it."
Jimin shrugs. "Because Wonho doesn't matter. He's going to go home tonight. Bad on camera. But they'll keep Jeongguk around, and he's being so obvious."
Seokjin runs a hand over Jeongguk's stomach, smooth and exploratory, and Taehyung has levered his way in to do the same even more enthusiastically. Wonho steps forward and Taehyung transfers stomachs, laughing hard, and it's all a lot to take in.
"Oh," says Yoongi, watching the show with shameful enjoyment. "How do you know all of this?"
"I told you, preparation," says Jimin. "I watched every season of this show. And all the other dating shows. There are patterns. It's not that hard to figure out."
Yoongi is a little impressed, despite himself. "I don't know that I've ever cared about anything that much," he says. "So what are my odds?"
"Not good," says Jimin. "Jin likes pretty guys."
"Hey, I'm pretty!"
Jimin laughs, and Yoongi smiles too because, okay, he's not.
"Attention!" calls the director. "Everyone sit down except for Seokjin. It's time for the First Impression Flower scene. We'll be doing full crowd coverage and individual shots, so get touch ups and make sure you're sitting in good lighting."
Jimin straightens up, and Yoongi doesn't move at all, and the rest of the guys slowly array themselves neatly on all the couches, fully clothed once more. Seokjin stands in front of them, brilliant smile still in place, and he looks all of them in the eye in turn as he twirls a rose in his fingers. Even Yoongi gets a brief look, impersonal and charming, and he's very annoyed with himself when he stops breathing until Seokjin moves on.
He really is very hot.
Kevin Koo introduces the segment in his slightly accented, cheerful voice, and Seokjin steps forward with gracious energy. "You've all been so lovely to talk to this evening. I've never been much for cocktail parties, but if they'd always been this handsomely attended I might have enjoyed them more."
He laughs at his own weak joke, and the rest of them laugh even harder, especially Hoseok who practically falls off of his chair. Jimin rolls his eyes, and Yoongi kicks his ankle to keep him contained now that the cameras are back on them.
Seokjin doesn't notice either of them, still in presenter mode. "But one man I can truly say I'll remember for the rest of my life, even after one night. Taehyung, will you accept this rose and continue on destiny's path?"
It's Yoongi's turn to roll his eyes, even sighing a little, but he claps for Taehyung as he runs up excitedly and takes the flower between his teeth. Not that Yoongi can fault Seokjin for his choice - as cheesy as this all is, Taehyung is both gorgeous and weird, and Yoongi would probably make the same call. No one else seems quite that magnanimous, though, if some of the forced smiles around him mean anything.
The filming breaks up, with Taehyung chattering excitedly to Seokjin about flowers, and Yoongi leans over to Jimin and murmurs, "Sorry it wasn't you."
"It's fine," says Jimin, surprisingly calm. "The First Impression person almost never wins. You don't want to peak too soon."
"I guess that makes sense."
"Right," says Jimin. "It's more of a curse than a blessing. But still better than getting the villain storyline. Villains never, ever, ever win. Not even once."
"Not much like real life then, is it?"
Jimin doesn't answer, because Seokjin has a nanosecond where Taehyung has wandered away and no one is talking to him yet, and Jimin practically teleports next to him. Both of their smiles are big and perfect, and Yoongi goes to get himself another drink.
Yoongi has resigned himself to going home by the time they round into three in the morning. He's still had no real conversation with Seokjin, just a pleasant receipt of, "Hope you're having a good night," as he walked past on the arm of another guy. He'd be willing to bet Seokjin doesn't even know his name, and he hopes he'll be entertaining in his failure. Memorable, somehow.
The night is getting boring, too, now that it's winding into pre-dawn hours. Before had been nothing but activity, when they'd done plenty of solo interviews with them all. Yoongi doesn't know what the others had to do, but they'd had him playact various endings to the his night, getting plenty of lines and stories and reactions, and Yoongi's lost track of how many questions he's answered, or people he'd dissed or praised, or who he'd labeled as a front runner. The interviews had all blended together, and it doesn't matter anyway because he's certainly not the front runner.
He can't even drink anymore, because it's making him too sleepy and too sloppy, and he doesn't want to reach the embarrassing stage that so many others have. Wonho's been hugging people indiscriminately, even weeping on Hoseok's shoulder once about the fact that mayflies only get to live for five minutes, Namjoon's started sorting all of the mixed nuts into little piles "to maintain their integrity as nut fiefdoms and isolate the rogue elements", and a tall guy named Jiwoon is asleep across the laps of two other guys, drooling.
Even high-tolerance Jimin isn't immune, Yoongi decides as he watches him sway in the corner, talking to host Kevin and another producer. Complaining about the shirt thing again, based on his hand gestures and the snatches of words Yoongi can pluck out of the air. He's good at reading lips, and that will keep him awake so he focuses in as best he can.
"I realize it's against the rules," says the producer. "We've already spoken to them both. But as it was instigated by Seokjin itself, we don't feel it's right to take any disciplinary measures at this time."
"Jin would never instigate that," says Jimin, only stumbling slightly over the word. "He's classy."
Kevin nods sympathetically. "He is, isn't he?"
"Yeah! He hasn't even kissed anyone yet. They all kiss someone on the first night but he hasn't. He's a good guy."
Yoongi almost winces at the earnest, adoring quality of his voice, and he actually does wince when he sees the producer smile like a wolf spotting a lamb. She exchanges a look with Kevin, who shrugs and says, "Maybe he just hasn't had the right man approach him yet."
"Right. Right, I haven't approached him," says Jimin, nodding proudly. "Don't want to be too easy. He's gotta chase me."
"But he's been watching you," says Kevin, leaning closer. He's whispering, so Yoongi can't hear him, but he's got a great view of his mouth. "Don't tell the others, but he's been talking about you in our makeup touch-ups, too."
Jimin's entire face lights up, and Yoongi's heart drops. Jimin's a little ridiculous and a lot intense but he doesn't deserve this. And when the producer hands Jimin another drink that she produces out of thin air, Yoongi thinks he's going to be sick.
"I think," says Kevin, "he's been chasing you all night. The poor guy could use a break."
"He has been, hasn't he?" says Jimin, giggling. "Okay. But no cameras alright? I don't want my grandma to see me kissing a guy on our first night together."
"Of course," says the producer, already signaling two crews. "We'll get you some alone time with him."
She walks away, leaving Kevin to continue his manipulative pep talk, and Yoongi hears her say something as she passes by, something that sounds suspiciously like "villain." And he thinks about how much Jimin wants to win this stupid competition, and how much he likes Seokjin, and how he seems maybe a little breakable inside of his happy laughter.
All of this is incredibly stupid, but if Yoongi's going home tonight he's not going to go home with this shit on his conscience.
"Hey Jimin," he calls, walking over and slinging his arm around his slim shoulders. He doesn't look at Kevin at all, just waits until Jimin's eyes focus on him vaguely. "Can I talk to you? I'm really worried about the competition, and I need some more tips. You know everything."
Jimin smiles, big and sweet. "Yoongi! You do need so much help. You're terrible at this! And you can't beat me so I'll help you. I'll help you! What do you want to know?"
"Let's go talk at the bar," says Yoongi, taking his drink and replacing it with his own, which is water. "So first, is there a way to get back on the show once you get kicked off? Because I'm pretty sure I'm about to get kicked off."
Jimin trips along beside him with laughing agreement, leaning heavily into his side, and Yoongi focuses more on not letting them fall over than listening. But he provides questions endlessly, steering discussion away from Seokjin and kissing as best he can. He knows it's working because the producer is shooting him death glares, and Kevin comes over to try to interrupt their conversation more than once, but Yoongi's more than equal to chasing off some overly friendly asshole. And the water helps too, because Jimin's getting a little sleepier and a lot less impulsive as the minutes tick past.
Another producer with a camera crew taps him on the shoulder in the middle of Jimin's rambling discussion of group date dynamics. "Min Yoongi. Seokjin wants to see you."
Jimin sits up with worried eyes, and Yoongi says, "I can't beat you, remember?"
"Yeah, you can't," says Jimin, laughing and putting his head back down on the bar.
Yoongi smiles, wanting to ruffle his hair, then says to the producer, "Just a minute. Hoseok!"
Hoseok turns from where he's talking to a couple of the other guys, a pleasant smile on his face, and he jogs over like he just woke up from a refreshing nap. He hasn't been drinking hardly at all, Yoongi realizes, and he thinks he's a lot smarter than the rest of them. Which is good news.
When Hoseok gets close enough Yoongi pulls him into a hug, like he's drunk and emotional, and whispers rapidly in his ear, "They're trying to fuck Jimin over on camera, get him to do something embarrassing. Don't let them. You sit with him until I get back. Don't let him go off and do anything stupid. And give him more water."
Hoseok hugs him tighter, and whispers back, "What makes you think I don't want to fuck him over, too? This is a competition."
"I have to trust someone, and you're one of the cool ones," says Yoongi. "Plus you're sober."
They break apart, and Hoseok slaps him lightly on the cheek. "Thanks Yoongi. I love you too!"
Yoongi rolls his eyes as Hoseok takes his place, rubbing Jimin's back soothingly as he asks another inane question, and Yoongi grins at the lurking producer who's still glaring at him, and at the one who summoned him who looks equally annoyed. "I'm ready for my close-up."
Seokjin is sitting on a stone bench under a weeping willow with fairy lights strung up around him, and Yoongi nearly vomits at the staging. But he doesn't vomit because it works, damn this guy, he looks good with fairy lights in a stupid garden and the night sky on his face. Faces like that shouldn't be allowed to exist, he thinks, not out in the world where anyone can see them, and he'll probably write a song about that later which is the only good thing about this experience.
"Hello?" says Seokjin, and it's a question not a greeting. He's surprised around his eyes, though the rest of him is nothing but artificially pleased. "Did they need something inside?"
Yoongi's saved from giving the embarrassing answer that he'd thought Seokjin was waiting for him when the producer says, "Last one for the night."
"I thought we were done," says Seokjin, though he says it quietly. Not really complaining, but close.
"Last one," says the producer again. "We'll do it here. Make it fast."
"Fine," says Seokjin.
He scoots over on the bench, making room for Yoongi who sits heavily, rubbing a hand over his face and probably fucking up his eyeliner. But it doesn't matter, not really, and he just wants to be done. And if he's the last one then Jimin is safe, and that's fine too.
Seokjin tugs on his cuffs and says, "I'm sorry, what was your name?"
"I just won a bet with myself," says Yoongi sourly. "So maybe I shouldn't tell you."
"Do you remember everyone's name in that room?" asks Seokjin, and Yoongi's mouth twists against his will. "Great. So unless you want me to call you Bucket Hat or Cock Master, just tell me."
Yoongi snorts. "Min Yoongi. Though I'm fine with Cock Master, for the record."
The producer finishes with the camera crews and signals them to go, which sublimates Seokjin's remaining irritation into the air. "So tell me something about yourself, Yoongi. Something that's new. That no one has ever heard before."
He does it with an air of intimacy, like they're nearing the end of a particularly good date and winding down a conversation that had been nothing but coquettish interest peeking across the table. If Yoongi had heard this in the wild he'd be double-checking his wallet for condoms and lube, and he blinks.
"That's a tall order, isn't it?" he says finally. "I'm an open book. No secrets from anyone."
"No secrets at all? How angelic of you."
Yoongi laughs, harder than he means to, exhaustion bleeding him around the edges. It's not even that late, for him, but it's been the longest day of his entire life. Almost. "Not angelic. About as far away as you can get, really. I'm just honest about my demons."
It's a line he's had written down for ages, for when he became famous enough to need lines for interviews, and Seokjin's cynical gaze says he knows it very well. But Seokjin leans closer like it's captured him, a gentle smile on his glossy, perfectly shaped lips, and says, "There's one thing I don't know about you yet."
Yoongi stops breathing again, goddamn him, and goddamn this guy and the lights that dance inside of his eyes. He'd never really believed in charisma, thought it was just the sort of thing people said to hide the fact that they were horny, but Seokjin has it, whatever it is. Like a hidden blade inside a sleeve, or a cat's claw that retracts so smoothly you don't know it's there until it's ripping your throat out, and right now he feels it against his jugular.
And Seokjin gets even closer, close enough that Yoongi thinks maybe he's going to kiss someone on the first night after all, and just when Yoongi's starting to tilt to accept whatever surreality he's living in Seokjin's hand reaches out and tears his hat off.
Yoongi's hands fly up but it's far too late, and Seokjin laughs and laughs, like he can't get enough air. He sounds exhausted, too, and Yoongi would be sympathetic if he hadn't just crossed so many lines. If he didn't sound so stupidly pleased with himself for doing it.
So instead he folds his arms and firms his mouth into a straight line while he waits for Seokjin to work through whatever amusement is coursing through him, waving his hand in a little circle to tell him to keep going, being as cool as it's possible to be when your scalp is green.
"So demonic," says Seokjin, laughter tapering off into high-pitched aftershocks. "Mint Yoongi."
That gets him going again, and Yoongi bites the insides of his cheeks not to smile, because it's not funny. It's not, and Suran had promised he would look good but he knows that even with his most intimidating face he mostly looks like a turtle that people should pet. He hates it so much, but it had been far too late to get it re-dyed and now he's here being laughed at by living beauty.
On camera, he remembers belatedly. He cuts a glance at the producer, who's smiling and making gestures at the cameramen to zoom in, and that's enough to suck all of the humor out of the situation. He reaches out and grabs his hat, jamming it back on his head without trying to hide his anger, and that gets Seokjin to sober and say, "Did you really think you'd make it an entire competition without anyone seeing it?"
"If I made it past the first night, no," says Yoongi, pushing pieces of his hair back up under it like he can see what he's doing. "But I'm not going to, am I? So this is all just a funny little scene for you to embarrass me with before you send me packing. A nice setup for everyone."
Seokjin cocks his head to the side. "Do you want to make it past the first night?"
Later, Yoongi will tell people that he considered his response, that he decided to go hard out of some sort of strategy. It's the sort of thing he says when he's actually lost all control. "Does it matter? It's about what you want, right? Us dancing for your amusement."
"I do love a good dance."
"Well don't expect it from me," says Yoongi. "I'm not an actor. I don't pander."
Seokjin's not smiling anymore, though his lips are making an approximation of one. "Ah yes, the terrible crime of bringing people joy."
"You said it, not me," says Yoongi, shrugging. "Expectations are traps. If people don't like me, they can fuck off."
"Charming," says Seokjin. "I'm sorry if I embarrassed you by revealing your hair. If I were you, I'd be much more embarrassed about the parts of me that already show."
Yoongi's mouth drops open in shock, because Seokjin says it in the smooth, pleasant way he says everything else, and he doesn't have time to respond before Seokjin continues, "Why don't we make pleasant small talk for ten minutes, and then you can get the hell out of here?"
"Great," says Yoongi. He glares, and glares even harder when Seokjin reaches out and tucks a stray piece of hair underneath his hat, but when he asks about his favorite music Yoongi answers him with as much civility as he's capable of mustering.
They finish up in five minutes, and Seokjin leaves with the rest of the staff, and Yoongi goes back into the house to tell the rest of them it's time to film the flower ceremony.
Chapter 3: Will You Accept This Rose?
Jin checks his watch and wishes he hadn't, because it's nearly four and all he wants to do is sleep, not fall in love. If someone had asked him who he loved most in the world at this moment, he would answer without hesitation the PA who'd just brought him kimbap, a glass of wine, and cream to rub underneath his eyes to make them look less baggy. She hadn't even smiled at him, but he'd be willing to enter into a binding legal agreement with her immediately if she could guarantee a bed for them. Or just for him, really. Any kind of bed.
Instead he heads into the production area, what he's been calling Destiny Command, and waits for them to tell him what's next.
Hyebin and Sangchul are deep in conversation, but they wave him over as soon as the snack PA points him out. He weaves through the knots of people, most of whom sound much snippier than they had in their pre-show discussions, until Hyebin can shove a tablet under his nose.
"We've already decided most of the twelve who will stay," she says, tapping away on her phone. She reminds him so much of Nayoung that he actually smiles, and Sangchul smiles back at him like they're sharing an inside joke. Hyebin doesn't notice, adding, "They're all subject to your approval, of course, per the contract terms, but we're hoping there won't be a problem."
She says it in the tones of someone who knows there won't be, and Seokjin sees no reason to make one. "I'm sure it's fine."
He flicks through the names and pictures without much interest. It's all pretty much as he expected, if he's being honest. The pretty ones head the list, the ones who could turn into nightmares or be the ultimate story. Kim Taehyung, Jeon Jeongguk, Lee Heechul, and Park Jimin fall into this group, and the limited part of Jin's brain that cares about this knows that the winner will be one of them. Probably not Jimin, whose intensity seems better suited to chaos, but all of them are pretty and photogenic, which is perfect for his new image as gay poster boy.
Then there are a couple of charisma guys, the camera guys, Jung Hoseok and bartender Lee Hyungmin who will be fun and light and keep everything from being a total slog. He hopes they stick around for awhile, if only to keep him sane, because they'd been the easiest scenes of the night by far.
And what follows are the people he assume have some kind of storyline the producers want to see through, though he can only vaguely guess at what it might be. Kim Minho, fainting superfan, is obvious, but he's not quite sure what tales Kim Namjoon and Park Kunwoo might have buried inside of them. Namjoon had spent most of their time together talking about how to identify cheeses blindfolded, entirely unerotically, and Kunwoo the waiter seems like a standard actor-hopeful to him.
But it's all fine, all of them were pleasant enough and will make a good show, and Jin nods agreeably until he gets to the last name on the list and frowns.
"Min Yoongi?" he says, looking up at Hyebin. "Really?"
She laughs. "He's not going to win, don't worry. But he makes a good villain, which we need."
It's fair, and Jin gives in as gracefully as he can. "Does that mean I can be rude to him?"
"Please," says Hyebin, and Sangchul nods vigorously. "It will get better footage. Keep up a limited amount of attraction, of course, and we'll cut out anything that might make you look bad. You know where the lines are."
"Very well," says Jin. "Who are the last two?"
"Up to you," says Hyebin. "We've picked the ones we know are good for us, but you're the one who talked to them. Anyone else?"
Jin skims the list of remaining candidates with his most serious face on, flipping through his vague memories of an evening that's already mostly gone. One moment sticks out, and he points at Shin Wonho's picture with only a little embarrassment. Hyebin looks down and breaks into a Cheshire Cat grin. "You won't hear any complaints from me. Or the viewers. So sure. And the last?"
He has nothing else to give, his brain empty of ideas, so he points at another guy at random, a Choi Jihun who he remembers as a Youtube guy who specializes in stuntwork. Helpful, he guesses, if they do anything requiring people to fall over on cue.
Hyebin agrees, and she takes her tablet back with a brisk gesture. "We'll put them in a good dramatic order and a PA will feed you the names. Ten minutes? The makeup artists can touch you up in the meantime. Though you look great. Thank god. It's so nice to work with a professional."
Jin touches his watch as he thanks her, then wanders back through the exhausted editors and hopes that there might be more food available while he waits.
When he makes his way back into the mansion he's ready to smile again, and he unleashes it on the arrayed men carefully. They look tired and drunk and nervous, but it's a little sweet how they all perk up when they see him. Sweet and heartwarming, and Jin resolves to take that out of this experience at least. That there are people in the world who can be made happier by his presence, even if it's because he's a prize to be won.
Jimin waves with both hands, his eyes sleepy but happy, and Jin's smile turns a little real as he waves back.
The producers arrange all of the sightlines, settling Jin on his mark next to a table of eleven roses, and he takes the list from a PA and memorizes it. The speech he's already had drilled into him from day one, and when they give him his cue he picks up a rose and holds it fetchingly near his lips.
"Thank you so much for being here tonight," he says. He makes sure to look at them all, all twenty men, because they'd spent a night of their life here doing this, and he is grateful. This show is ultimately for him, to fix him in some way with the world, and that's not something he takes lightly. So he thanks them all with his eyes, smiling easily as they stare back at him.
He's even grateful to Yoongi, who looks just as bored and twice as dismissive as he had during their talk. Because Yoongi takes this all lightly, and clearly thinks Jin is some kind of vapid joke, but if nothing else he's clarified Jin's own goals to himself better than anyone ever has. Pandering is an honorable art form, and he'll happily do it, so he smiles at Yoongi even more sincerely when their eyes meet.
"I've loved meeting you all, truly, and I'll carry the memory of this night with me forever. And not just because twenty handsome men staring at me at once has been a recurring dream since I was a teenager," he says with the hint of deprecation he'd practiced tirelessly in the mirror the night before.
The men all laugh politely, Hoseok's audible over them all, and Jin smiles one last time before he picks up a flower. "Jeongguk."
Jeongguk jumps forward with wide eyes and a wider grin, jogging up so quickly he trips over the rug, then laughs at himself.
"Will you accept this rose?" says Jin, like that didn't happen.
"Yeah!" says Jeongguk, taking it and bowing deeply. "Thank you so much!"
Jin's been instructed not to have any individual conversations during this scene, so he bites back an automatic response, but Jeongguk doesn't seem upset as he dances back to his place. He twirls his rose in his hand, then turns around and touches it to Taehyung's, pretending to sword fight with them until a producer tells them to knock it off.
"Hoseok," he says, picking up the next flower, and Hoseok is only slightly less energetic in his approach, though he doesn't trip. He also knocks his flower against Taehyung's on the way back, which makes Taehyung laugh.
Jin winds his way through the list without having to check the order even once. Namjoon looks shocked to be selected, and he blushes cutely when he has to look Jin in the eye. Minho is just as overwhelmed, while Heechul and Kunwoo take it like normal humans, which Jin is a little grateful for. Wonho is among the drunkest of them, which Jin hadn't realized when he'd chosen him, but he remains upright with an impressive show of will as he takes the flower from Jin's hand with tears on his cheeks. And Jihun and Hyungmin are shy and comedic respectively, and then he has only two roses left.
Everyone in front of him looks a lot more nervous, and Jin braces himself for the next few minutes. Jimin in particular looks like he might cry, and Jin knows they'd put him last for that very reason but it's still painful to watch. Which is good, he thinks, because the audience will feel the same tension, but it's very hard to look at him right now.
"Yoongi," says Jin, and there are a series of gasps from the group, including from the people who already have roses. Hoseok's eyes widen as he stares at the bucket hat in front of him, and Jimin looks like he's been betrayed in some fundamental way that Jin doesn't understand. Only Taehyung looks completely ecstatic, though his ecstasy is almost enough for twenty people.
No one looks as shocked as Yoongi, though, who doesn't move forward until Hoseok pokes him in the shoulder blade. And then Yoongi is moving, slouching into himself as he walks, which should make him look small but it doesn't. Yoongi is small, Jin realizes for the first time, incredibly tiny, though he hides it well by taking up extra psychic space. It's a neat trick, and studying it occupies the time it takes for Yoongi to shuffle across a room that Jeongguk crossed in the blink of an eye.
"Will accept this rose?" asks Jin, looking at Yoongi's chin, which is somehow annoyed. Jin hadn't known chins could look annoyed, before now.
There's a long moment of silence, and Jin's eyes flick up suddenly to the rest of Yoongi's pinched face. He's almost certain he's going to say no, he can practically hear that gravelly refusal, and he wants to laugh. God he needs to sleep, and he doesn't know what they're going to do if it happens but at least it will make good TV.
Yoongi's eyes are dark and unreadable, but he smiles and says, "I guess."
It's not a real smile, because the clockwork is back, but it gets closer when Yoongi reaches up and sweeps his hat off. A few of the men behind him laugh, though they cover it up quickly, but Jin's done laughing with this guy. There'd been a millisecond, a brief span of a breath, where he'd seen that green hair and thought, Wow, but that felt like a thousand years ago. And he's even more irritated with himself for allowing that brief moment to happen in the first place, which means he's done with a lot more than that when it comes to Yoongi.
So he doesn't say anything, just keeps a neutral look on his face, and Yoongi takes a long beat of silence for himself. He blinks, slowly, then grabs the flower and turns around to make his way back to his left center position. Jin's watching him closely, just because he's the only thing to watch, so he sees the moment where he shies away from something, taking a little shuffling step to the side that's so far outside of his casual demeanor that he might as well have screamed in terror.
But when Jin looks up, it's no wonder, because Jimin is glaring at him like he'd just drowned a bag of kittens in front of them all, the heat of it burning across the room. Jin must betray his surprise because Jimin looks over at him and blinks, forcibly changing his face into a happy smile, but Jin knows from the pleased look on Director Han's face that they got more than enough coverage of it already.
Jin picks up the last flower as quickly as he can, possibly interrupting another shot by the annoyed grunt of someone to his left, but he smiles and says quickly, "Jimin."
They'll splice in some other instance of him looking pensive and uncertain, drag the moment out in airing, but right now he just wants this to be over, and he doesn't want anyone to get in a fist fight, because fist fights are exactly the sort of thing he doesn't need around him right now. And it works, because Jimin's happy smile turns into happy shock, and he trips forward with a relieved giggle to take the flower from Jin's hand before he can even ask the question.
"We have to do it in the right order," says Jin as gently as he can.
Jimin flushes as he hands the flower back and waits for Jin to say his line. His fingers work nervously in front of him, but he takes it again with every appearance of happiness, and he doesn't try to touch Seokjin at all.
"Thank you," he says quietly. "Thank you."
And he sounds so truly grateful that Jin wonders what he thinks this show is, but Jin nods anyway before releasing him back to the crowd. That crowd that's a blend of happiness and sadness and anger and so many emotions that Jin can't even begin to handle it.
The Men of Destiny who are leaving are already gone for him, ghosts he can barely perceive, and he does his goodbye scenes with them with the appropriate sadness and gratitude and sympathy. And then he can leave them to the gentle care of Kevin Koo, and go to the guest house that's just for him to sleep in. Alone.
He carefully moisturizes every inch of his face before he falls into bed without taking off his suit.
He wakes up at nine, which is three hours after he usually wakes up but still two hours earlier than he wants to, and he runs on the guest house's ancient treadmill to take away some of the puffiness of the day before. The production team is waiting for him when he gets out of the shower, a cold lunch on the too-small coffee table, and he doesn't really want it but he eats it anyway because he knows it's going to be another long day.
"Two date shoots today," says Sangchul, handing him a schedule. They all look even more exhausted than he feels, but they don't have to hide it for the camera at least. "A solo date while we have the light, and then a group one later that's indoors. Both are off-site."
Jin skims over the plan, memorizing it without internalizing it as he's good at doing. He's relieved to see Jeongguk up first, because Jeongguk is hard to believe as a person but he'll be an easier filming partner than some. "Do you have a goal for me?"
They'd talked to him about that a lot, in the prep, how they set up the storylines and the moments and tried to find an emotional throughline for everyone. It made sense, and when he'd volunteered to be brought in on the plans to help them unfold correctly, they'd been thrilled at his willingness to do his job.
"We want it to be somewhat natural still," says Sangchul. "We're still figuring out what will work. But if you could get him to open up about his reasons for being here, that would help. Other than that, just have fun. Be interested but reserved."
Jin smiles to himself, but it's not very amused. "I'll do my best."
They're filming shots in the house proper as he waits, getting some light makeup and picking out clothes that are "resort casual, suited for the outdoors" as requested on the schedule. He reads another script as well, a movie he'd been hoping to be a part of a few months ago that now seems as far away as the moon, but it's still nice to dream, he supposes. As much dreaming as he allows himself to have.
When they pull a sports car into the driveway he knows it's almost time, and he gives himself a once over as he moves to his mark. He's barely there before Jeongguk bursts out of the front door, whooping, and Jin doesn't have to work very hard to put a smile on his face, especially when Jeongguk skids to a stop in front of him and says, "Hi!"
"Hello," says Jin. "You look great."
Jeans and a t-shirt aren't much of a look, in reality, but Jeongguk could make a trash bag work if it showed his forearms, so it's not exactly a lie. And Jeongguk hardly notices as he looks at the car, then back to Jin. "Thanks for picking me first! Where are we going? Can I drive?"
"Maybe on the way back," says Jin, though in reality they're going to just do a few establishing shots and then a production van will drive them to the actual site. "As for where we're going, that's my surprise."
"Right, but your invitation said, 'Let's play games, but not with our hearts', so what kind of games? Video games? I'm really good at video games."
He chatters on about some shooting game that Jin's never heard of, waving his arms around as he tries to show Jin how the characters work, and it's cute enough that Sangchul motions Jin to let it go on for a bit. His eyes wander back to the mansion, where there are people pressed against the windows watching them, and he has to suppress the urge to freak them out by blowing a kiss.
Eventually Sangchul's had enough video game enthusiasm, so Jin breaks in gently and guides Jeongguk to the car. They drive around a bit, getting a few interior and exterior shots that will sell the journey, then pile into vans for the longer trip. Jin isn't allowed to ride with Jeongguk, lest they have some important conversation when the cameras can't film them, so he reads more of his script and texts Nayoung a few updates until they pull up to a somewhat ramshackle amusement park in the middle of nowhere.
"Is this a real place?" he asks Sangchul as they're setting up, and he grins.
"Real enough," he says. "It's not usually running this time of year during the week, but they opened it up for us and we got some extras. Authentic but controlled, the way we like it."
Jin laughs, then jumps as Jeongguk comes over and takes his hand, a camera crew following behind him. "This is great!" he says, tugging Jin towards the waiting buildings. "They have so many games. And ice cream! I thought dating you would be opera and caviar, but this is so much better."
"I'm glad you like it."
"I love it. Can I win you an animal?"
"I don't know, can you?" says Jin as they pull up in front of a stall.
Jeongguk grins at him, completely immune to teasing. "Yep."
So Jin lays his money down, money that he knows a PA is counting carefully on their clipboard, and Jeongguk picks up one of the baseballs and tosses it back and forth as he studies the neatly stacked bottles down the way. Jin thinks privately that he'll be lucky to even hit them, given the distance, but he's not prepared for the moment when Jeongguk stops tossing, winds up, and unleashes a fastball that not only decimates the bottles but nearly burns a hole through the canvas behind them.
His hand flies to his heart as he squeaks and steps back, and when Jeongguk turns to him with his arms over his head in victory, Jin can barely summon the presence of mind to clap.
"Are you sure you're not a professional pitcher?" he asks finally, swallowing down his shock. "Seems like you've got the talent for it."
Jeongguk's face dims as he shakes his head. "No," he says. "I was going to be, for awhile, but I messed up my shoulder. Had to have surgery, and now I'm pretty good but couldn't go pro. Not with the medical risks."
He says it all quickly, like it's something he's told people before, and Jin transitions into concern without even blinking. "Oh Jeongguk, I'm sorry."
"It's okay, it was a long time ago," says Jeongguk, like he's some kind of middle-aged man instead of just barely old enough for Jin to date comfortably. "I'm just glad I can still do so much. I'm lucky. Besides, there are lots of dreams out there, right? That's what I figured anyway."
"Is that why you're here? To find a dream?" asks Jin.
Jeongguk's smile comes back like it had never gone. "I came here because my aunt really wants to meet you when you do the hometown visits," he says. "If I make it that far, anyway."
Jin shakes his head, a little charmed at his sweetness but knowing that answer won't suffice for a storyline without even needing to check. He lets it go, though, picking out a prize with more consideration than it really warrants. Jeongguk immediately names the chosen llama Ultimate Neck Boy, and Jin doesn't argue. One of the PAs takes it to carry around for their other setups, though they practically have to drag Jeongguk away from the other fairway games.
In the end it's only the promise of ice cream that finally gets him to stop looking back longingly at the ring toss.
Ultimate Neck Boy sits beside them as they eat their ice cream at a table in a totally silent amusement park, and the conversation flows easily enough. They talk a lot about his personal training job, some horror stories of injuries that mean Jin can playfully yell at him not to spoil his appetite, and then some inspirational stories of the people who came to him scared and left as superheroes that will play very well with soft music inserted into the background.
They walk around to the other filming locations like they're a true couple, holding hands through the fairway, going on a couple of rides together including a bumper car experience that Jin is never going to repeat at his advanced age. Jeongguk gets cotton candy for dessert after his dinner - which was also dessert - and Jin gives him a hard time about it until it makes him feel more like Jeongguk's dad than his date.
It doesn't help when Jeongguk lets some of the spun sugar slowly dissolve on his tongue without any artifice at all, the afternoon sun making his skin glow gold and the scoop of his t-shirt dipping into a sharp collarbone that Jin would have to be dead not to appreciate.
But mostly it's just a sweet time, an almost happy way to spend a day on set, and Jeongguk claims he's usually shy but Jin would never know it from his constant conversation. When Jin asks if he's sure he's not an extrovert, Jeongguk only laughs. "You're just really comfortable to be around," he says, like something Jin would say as a plant but he seems to mean it. "You're really good at making space for people."
"Thanks," says Jin, knocking their elbows together and startling another laugh out of him. "That's a pretty deep thought."
"Oh it's not mine, that's what Namjoon said," says Jeongguk. "That guy is really smart. Like, really smart. He says things like that all the time. I need to write them down."
Jin smiles and says, "I'd rather talk about you right now."
"Okay," says Jeongguk. "But can I win animals for everyone while we do? I want to take back gifts."
This kid is going to absolutely murder people when the show airs, and Jin can't even be mad about it. "Sure sweetheart," he says, leaning into where this is obviously going, and Jeongguk's eyes get big. "Let's play some more games."
So they play every game in the place, from the ring toss to basketball to the one where you pick the ducks out of a pond at random, until Jeongguk has ten stuffed animals and is on the hunt for his final one. Jin trails after him in awe, taking a few turns of his own but mostly letting Jeongguk do whatever he wants to do and reacting appropriately to it.
Against all odds this really does feel like a date, a weird kind of date that he's never been on in his life, but a date nonetheless. Usually he met up with men in dark corners or discreet restaurants, when he met up with them at all, but he finds he likes being out in the sunshine with a cute guy, watching him laugh and being invited to laugh alongside him.
The last game they stop at is a game of strength, and Jin rolls his eyes when Jeongguk rolls up the sleeves of his t-shirt. But not too hard, because the biceps are excellent when he picks up the hammer.
"I bet I do it first try," he says, testing the swing.
"I'm betting it takes at least three," says Jin, cocking an eyebrow as Jeongguk glowers. He's going to do it in one, obviously, but Jeongguk gets endearingly annoyed when his prowess is questioned and that will look great on screen. Jeongguk swings hard at the pressure pad, like a lumberjack re-stocking his woodpile in one fell swoop, and when the bell dings at the top of the tower Jin can't help but applaud.
He's so caught up in the joy of the moment that when Jeongguk steps close and kisses him, he's so unprepared that he almost falls backwards. Jeongguk grabs him around the waist, strong enough to keep them both upright, and Jin focuses on not letting the pleasure of that register on his face at all, stretching as hard as he can for memories of his hundreds of screen kisses. They had always been women and this was a man, but it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that this is privacy gone public. It's what this is, scripted and fake, and he's been ready for it since the beginning.
He just hadn't been ready for it at this exact minute.
It helps that Jeongguk is as overly-enthusiastic in this as he is in everything, too much pressure, too much everything. It pulls Jin out of the moment nicely, and his hands find Jeongguk's hair with more assurance. His long fingers look good winding through silky strands, he's been told many times, and he doesn't see why that should be any different now.
Eventually Jeongguk runs out of air, and he pulls back with a slightly unsure look. Jin keeps his hand in his hair for another second, then drops it to his chest and says, "That was a nice surprise."
He says it carefully, with the right level of happy humility, and Jeongguk relaxes. "I had to pay you back for surprising me with the date."
The reverse-shot camera gets closer, and Jin lets the moment linger for another breath before he steps away, still in frame. "Well if you liked the date half as well as I enjoyed your surprise, then I'm very happy. But the real question is, how are we going to get all of your winnings back to the car?"
"I can carry them all, no problem," says Jeongguk, opening his arms widely, but he's saved from having to prove it when the carnival worker hands him a huge burlap bag. Jeongguk lugs it to the parking lot like Santa Claus, where they film the scene where Jeongguk gets his date rose in an efficient five minutes that Jin appreciates.
The director calls cut only half an hour past schedule, and everyone forgets all about them in their haste to pack up.
Jeongguk's still holding his bag, determinedly looking very far away from Jin, and just as Jin's about to tell a knock knock joke to cut the tension he mutters, "Sorry about that."
"About the kiss?" asks Jin, seeing no need to pretend. "It's fine. Perhaps a bit more warning in the future?"
"Yeah," says Jeongguk. "They just… they told me to do it like that. To make it more real. But I shouldn't have. I wouldn't have liked that to happen to me."
Jin takes in the genuine anguish on his face and switches to casual flirtation. "It's really fine," he says. "It's a dating TV show, so I can hardly claim to be surprised. And kissing an attractive man is always the highlight of my day."
Jeongguk blushes and finally looks him in the eye again. "Thanks. But I promise I'll be more polite next time. If there is a next time!"
"You got your rose, didn't you? So you never know," says Jin. He nudges the bag with his knee. "So who's getting which gift?"
"Oh!" says Jeongguk, looking through the bag. "Hoseok likes giraffes, so he gets the giraffe."
"You've already learned that after a day?" asks Jin, amused.
"Taehyung told me. He know everything about everyone. I think he can read minds."
"I'd believe that," says Jin. "So Hoseok likes giraffes."
"Right," says Jeongguk. He paws through the bag indiscriminately. "And Namjoon takes pictures of crabs like this, and Minho has a pet turtle so he gets that one, and I have a snake for Taehyung. Oh, and this unicorn is for Jimin, and the bull is for Wonho…"
Jin laughs as he trails off, still sorting, then says, "I'm surprised you bothered to get one for Yoongi. He doesn't strike me as someone who likes soft things."
He quickly looks around to make sure they're not being filmed, but the coast is clear. Jeongguk does the same check before he leans in and whispers, "Actually, I have a secret."
"Talk normally or they'll come over with a camera for sure," says Jin, leaning away.
Jeongguk follows suit, then says, "Yoongi's my roommate, and this morning when I woke up for my workout I saw a pair of huge Kumamon slippers peeking out from under his bed. They were gone later, after he'd gotten dressed, but I know what I saw. So he's getting the teddy bear."
Jin snorts at the image, and then he's being summoned to his separate van and says goodbye to Jeongguk. Sangchul breaks down what worked and what didn't work on the way back, praising Jin's natural manner and Jeongguk's sense of drama and giving him notes for future dates. Jin absorbs them as best he can while he's still so tired, and he knows he'll need a nap before their second shoot.
Jeongguk doesn't seem to suffer from that problem, because when they get back he sprints out of the van, dragging his sack behind him and screaming, "I got gifts for you guys!"
And the last thing Jin sees before he heads off to the guest house for his two hour break is Jeongguk reverently passing out stuffed animals to confused people in the lawn, the camera crews watching their every move.
Chapter 4: I Really Hate Group Dates
Yoongi doesn't get a date on the first filming day, and he wonders if that's a bad sign. He's not the only one who didn't, so it can't mean doom for everyone, but it also doesn't exactly feel like a positive omen.
Mostly he just feels adrift. He'd been so sure he was done, and he has no idea what he's doing here though he's certain it's because of the producers. Seokjin clearly thinks he's an asshole, and the look in his eyes when he'd handed over the rose had been one of a hostage being fed lines by his captor. Like Yoongi is a waste of his every handsome breath, which means that Yoongi is now in a war, a war to irritate Seokjin as much as humanly possible before he stops being entertaining enough to keep around.
But he wishes he'd paid more attention during Suran's pre-show training sessions, because his on-site expert is definitely not talking to him anymore. Jimin had pulled him aside as soon as he'd come out of his room this morning, heedless of the camera beside them them or the fact that Yoongi hadn't had any coffee yet, and laid into him without hesitation.
"You tricked me," he'd said, the anger from the night before still hot and strong. "You pretended like you were stupid so I would help you and then you stole my time with Jin and beat me."
And Yoongi hadn't, but he's not dumb enough to pretend it doesn't look that way, so he'd just said, "I'm sorry. But I don't think I beat you. Trust me, he and I aren't compatible."
Jimin hadn't softened. "That's exactly what you would say, you snake. Don't talk to me anymore."
"Snakes are really nice," Taehyung said as he wandered down the hallway. "Jimin, let me tell you everything about snakes. Bye Yoongi!"
And that was their last interaction, Jimin getting up and leaving the room every time Yoongi entered for the rest of the day. Even the affront of Jeongguk getting the first solo date hadn't been enough to get Yoongi off of the top of his shit list, and Yoongi hates it but he's not sure what else he can do when Jimin won't exist in the same physical space as him.
"It's not like I care," he says to Hoseok over the pool table.
They're being filmed, because they're always being filmed, but Yoongi already feels like this is all happening in some alternate reality that no one will ever see. Like he doesn't have to be careful. One day in this place and he's fucking lost it. "If Jimin wants to be immature, I can't stop him."
Hoseok shrugs expressively and sinks the three-ball.
"Are you saying I'm the one who's being immature?"
"I'm not saying anything," says Hoseok, grinning as he pockets another. "I am hustling the hell out of you, though. You said you were good at this."
"These sticks aren't regulation," says Yoongi, frowning at his like that's a real thing. "The thickness is all wrong -"
He's interrupted when Jeongguk starts screaming from the lawn, and Yoongi takes advantage of Hoseok's inattention to pull a couple of his balls out and put them back on the table before shuffling out to the landscaping. Jeongguk's pulling things out of a huge bag and passing them around, talking so fast and interrupting himself with laughter that Yoongi can't figure out what's going on.
Seokjin is standing across the property, too far away to make out any expression but clearly watching them all. Yoongi wonders what he's thinking, then thinks he's probably considering how best to fuck them all over for his precious TV show, then wonders why he cares.
He's interrupted in his musings by a teddy bear in the face.
"Ouch?" he says, leaning over to pick it up. It's wearing a bowtie and its stitching is already giving out, but it's very soft underneath the pads of his fingers. "What's this?"
"They went to a carnival," says Namjoon next to him, holding a stuffed crab. "Jeongguk won a lot of prizes, and now they're ours."
Jimin's voice cuts through Yoongi's response like a stiletto. "Why does everyone else get real animals and I get a unicorn? Are you saying I shouldn't exist? That I shouldn't be here?"
"No!" says Jeongguk hurriedly. "No, it's just really pretty! Like you. And I thought you'd like the colors, because they're the same as that awesome jacket you have."
Jimin's eyes widen before his mouth flattens into an annoyed line. "Whatever."
"Jimin, I want our toys to be best friends," says Taehyung, waving his snake around expansively as he drapes himself over Jimin's smaller form. "Come on, they need to have a bonding session."
Jimin sends a last glare at anxious Jeongguk, aimed more at the rose he's carrying in his pocket than anything, then turns on his heel and says, "Can they bond while I get ready for my date with Seokjin?"
There are a couple of poorly hidden snorts in the group, Jihun and Kunwoo most prominent, because even Yoongi who's barely paying attention knows that they're all going on a big, weird date together. Jimin doesn't acknowledge them.
Neither does Taehyung. "Sure! Let's go pick out your rings, okay? Can I touch them all?"
Jimin laughs and agrees as they walk off together into the house, and the rest of the group collectively relaxes. They thank Jeongguk for their gifts, which brightens him again, even though he keeps cutting little glances at the front door around his smiles.
Yoongi sidles up to him once the group has dispersed and says, "You want to come play pool? I'm just about ready to finish kicking Hoseok's ass, and then he'll have to get ready."
"I love pool," says Jeongguk, picking up the empty burlap sack and tying it around his neck like a cape. "I'm really good at it."
Yoongi tucks his new bear under his arm and says, "That's what you think. I've been playing pool since before you were born, kid."
When they get back in the room Hoseok is already there, staring at the table with a look of intense concentration on his face, and he says suspiciously, "I thought I was winning by more than this."
"No way," says Yoongi, grabbing his stick. "You just have a terrible memory. Besides, it doesn't matter because I'm about to run the table. Watch and learn, Jeongguk. Watch and learn."
Jimin, Kunwoo, Jihun, Hoseok, Hyungmin and Heechul all leave for their date under the same cloud of mystery as Jeongguk's, though they'd been trying to figure out where they were going for a solid hour to Yoongi's severe annoyance. At least Hoseok had promised him to give him insights about how all of the group date stuff worked when he got back, to better prepare Yoongi for tomorrow.
But without Hoseok he's bored, because they can't have their phones in this place and it's impossible to write lyrics longhand when everyone around him is talking about how great Seokjin's ass is or how much they don't like the people who aren't there. Minho in particular is a veritable font of Seokjin facts, and he's cornered captive audience Jeongguk in the common room to recount the plots of several of his movies in excruciating detail.
Yoongi makes it through one, some kind of high money drama where Seokjin had played a poor but earnest love interest, and he's a little into it despite himself but when Minho starts on the next without pause he stands up and mutters something about using the bathroom. He runs into Namjoon coming out of the confessional recording room, his eyes a little watery, and grabs him before he goes into the common area.
"Let's go sit somewhere else," he says. "Somewhere quieter. Talk."
"Sure," says Namjoon.
He coughs to clear the rasp from his throat, then follows Yoongi into a little study where there are pre-mounted cameras set up. Yoongi has already learned through being yelled at several times that he's supposed to stick to as few rooms as possible to make the film crew's lives easier, and they're just trying to do their job so he's willing to go along with it when it suits him.
"What's up?" says Namjoon when they're settled.
Yoongi sighs and curls around a pillow. He's not in his stage clothes anymore, down to more comfortable stretchy pants and a big sweater, and it's making him want to nap nearly constantly. "Nothing specific, just wanted to get away."
"From who?" says Namjoon, and it's legitimate curiosity instead of gossip excitement.
So Yoongi says, "Minho. He's a good guy, but he can be… intense."
"Really? I didn't notice," says Namjoon. He laughs. "Then again, people sometimes say that about me. But he's a good roommate, so I'm not going to complain."
"He definitely knows a lot about Seokjin," says Yoongi diplomatically.
"I know! It's been really helpful, getting his insights. Seokjin's really cool, too. Not what I expected."
"Yeah," says Namjoon. "I thought I'd be awkward with him. But he's easy to talk to. Gentle. Keeps to the backseat. And he laughs at everything, even when it's not very funny. Plus he's cute."
Yoongi grins. "Did you just describe a grown man as cute? Are we in high school again?"
"God I hope not," says Namjoon. "But I guess maybe I am, emotionally, since I only figured out I was gay a few months ago."
He says it casually, like it's common knowledge, and Yoongi freezes. "Ah, shit, I didn't mean to… I mean, I should have thought…"
Namjoon smiles at him. "It's fine. I just talked about it in that confessional interview for thirty minutes, so it's not exactly a secret. And it's not like… I was never in the closet, really. I never had a big emotional meltdown over it. I was busy getting my degree, and I never thought about dating. With anyone. It didn't come up."
"But you're stupidly hot," says Yoongi, looking at his dimples and his long legs and the chiseled squareness of his entire being. "How could it never come up?"
"I usually wear glasses," says Namjoon, like that solves everything. "Anyway, I think some people asked me out, but I was never sure, and it just didn't matter."
"So what happened?" asked Yoongi. "That made it matter?"
"Well, a friend and I went to a botanical garden all the time, him to take pictures and me to smell things and think about how to make them into tastes. We went almost every weekend, and it was really good, until one day he said in the middle of a shoot, 'I never wanted to ask this, because I'm happy, but my company wants me to go to Europe. For awhile. And I'm thinking about it, but before I decide I have to know if we're dating, Joon.'"
"Holy shit," says Yoongi.
"Yeah," says Namjoon fervently. "I didn't know what to say, and I guess that was answer enough because he said it was fine, and he's in Europe now. But I realized after he was gone that we weren't dating, but I would have liked to be. That it would have been a nice flavor to have, right then. I really miss him."
"So you're filling the void by jumping into gay reality TV?" asks Yoongi. "Talk about zero to sixty in a second."
Namjoon's face sets into something more stubborn. "You have to do full testing in a controlled setting before you move on to real world applications," he says. "And if I'm not gay for Seokjin, I'm not gay for anyone."
Yoongi can't stop a bubble of laughter, and Namjoon's mouth twitches in response, and they sit in a silence that the editors who review this footage are going to hate but Yoongi appreciates more than he'll ever admit.
The first group date comes back exhausted and covered in clay from pottery-making, but Jimin very smugly has a rose in his hand and that means that there isn't nearly so much tension in the house. He recounts his story of how he made a perfect pottery rose for Seokjin with Shakespearean intensity, and they all congratulate him sincerely enough that he has a big smile on his face for the rest of the night.
Hoseok tells Yoongi over fried chicken that the whole thing was surprisingly normal despite the cameras, and that Seokjin liked to let people focus on the activity. He describes it as going to a weekend arts and crafts lesson, but with a gorgeous guy wandering around flirting intensely with all of the participants at unpredictable intervals.
Yoongi thinks that sounds like a nightmare he's had once, but he's careful not to let that show on his face. Hoseok also says that everyone had to shoot private time with Seokjin, for a special conversation, so Yoongi had better come up with some kind of special conversation he wants to have.
He hasn't by the next morning, when he does some pre-interviews talking about the other guys in the house. What he thinks of Seokjin, and his chances, and the competition as a whole. He tries to keep himself generic no matter how hard the questioners push him. Yoongi isn't really the type of guy to be pushed, but when he sees some other people leaving the room with distress on their faces he makes sure to find a tissue box and put it on the little table outside, just to give them something to grab onto when they leave.
When they film the group date invitation scene, Taehyung rips open the envelope and reads, "Let's see if we can heat up our hearts," like it's an awards show, then immediately guesses that they're going to a volcano.
"Or the beach?" says Wonho hopefully.
Minho shakes his head, a dreamy smile on his face. "I bet Seokjin takes us to a spa."
"Maybe we're going to cremate dead bodies," says Yoongi breathlessly, making Namjoon laugh so hard that the entire production has to be halted while he recovers.
As they get loaded into the vans, Yoongi follows Namjoon and Minho into theirs, mostly because Taehyung's wide-legged pants get stuck in the sliding door and cause a brief pile-up at the first van. He doesn't see Seokjin anywhere, because big star Seokjin probably rides in a limo and eats peeled grapes on his way to wherever they're going, not squished up in a too-small back seat with giant Namjoon and small-but-flailing Minho.
They probably fan him the whole ride, too.
It's the longest forty minutes of his life before he can finally stumble out into the blessedly fresh air and away from Minho's recounting of the drama where Seokjin had needed to save the family business from hard-hearted loan sharks. They're not at a beach or at a spa, but at what looks like a warehouse in a very boring parking lot.
"Maybe we are cremating people," says Namjoon quietly, and Yoongi grins.
Taehyung and Wonho join them, Taehyung with a disappointed line bisecting his forehead. Yoongi pats him on the back and says, "The volcano could be inside."
"Yeah!" says Taehyung, brightening, but when they go in it's definitely not a volcano. Instead it's a huge industrial kitchen, a bunch of very loud crews setting up, and Seokjin and Kevin chatting handsomely in the middle of a fleet of stovetops. They're both wearing suits and look just the same, smooth and ready to sell whatever product is placed in front of them.
Ridiculously, even in a huge room with only ventilation windows and no natural light anywhere, they still glow like they're in a sunlit meadow on a summer day.
Seokjin breaks away from Kevin as soon as he notices them, smiling broadly, though it turns into more of a smirk when he sees Yoongi's uncovered head and patterned button-up. Suran had gotten it for him before he left, shoving it in his bag with a bunch of other casual-formal clothes he knew he'd never wear. But she'd been insistent that he should have options, and when he'd tried to think about the sort of thing that would be unexpectedly obnoxious to Seokjin, paisley seemed to fit the bill.
Jeongguk had laughed so hard he'd been wheezing on the floor of their room when Yoongi left.
They're each assigned a station arrayed with cooking implements, and Taehyung picks them all up individually like an alien studying earth technology while Namjoon looks like he's going to throw up. Seokjin, by comparison, is perfectly composed from his place at the head of the room, and when the camera starts rolling he grabs a nearby glass of wine and holds it casually.
"I love to cook," he says without preamble, and Yoongi can't tell if he's lying. "Any man in my life needs to know his way around the kitchen. So today, I'm hoping we can cook up a delicious little something together."
Kevin steps forward with a happy clap of the hands. "At Seokjin's request, a Michelin-rated chef provided customized recipes suitable for any romantic night at home, which we've randomized and placed at your station, though you're of course welcome to put your own spin on yours. The chef, Seokjin, and I will be the judges of your culinary efforts, and the entire kitchen is at your disposal to create something worthy of a home-cooked dinner date. Work diligently, please, because we all know Seokjin is a hard man to impress!"
Seokjin elbows him, mock affront on his face, and says, "Not at all. My favorite dishes are always the ones made with the most love."
Yoongi can't stop his mouth from twitching, and he covers it with a cough. Seokjin looks over, eyebrow arched high into his forehead, and it's clear he thinks this competition will be a great way to humiliate Yoongi yet again. Asshole rappers don't know anything about fine cuisine, after all.
He lets the twitch turn into a full-blown smile, big and exaggerated, and he waves at Seokjin like Jimin would, with two excited hands. And Seokjin's other eyebrow joins his first before he looks away, tugging on his shirt cuff.
One point to Yoongi.
"But first," says Seokjin, turning slightly as Kevin picks up a box, "you have to be properly outfitted."
Wonho laughs when Seokjin pulls out a pink apron and wraps it around himself carefully, cinching it at his trim waist. It says "Kiss the Cook" with a big lipstick mark next to it, and he puts it on with every appearance of enjoyment which makes Yoongi think that maybe this guy really does know how to act after all.
He models for a moment, flower cup hands and fluttering lashes, then says, "I've picked out one especially for each of you, so please wear them well."
Yoongi can't see Minho's, though he seems to like it, and Taehyung gets a "Boss of Sauce" apron in steely blue that he says he's never taking off again. Namjoon's reads "Hot Stuff Coming Through" which makes him blush over his entire huge frame and helps take the focus off of Yoongi while he prepares a bored, unimpressed look for Seokjin's turn at his station.
"Let me guess, 'Master of Meat'?" says Yoongi, arms crossed over his paisley.
Seokjin laughs delightedly, practically sparkling, and Yoongi squashes down his dumb animal brain pleasure at it.
"That would have been apropos," says Seokjin, "if inappropriate. No, I found something that I think suits you perfectly."
He pulls out a disgustingly mint green apron that they'd found from god knows where, and it's not even the same shade as his hair. No, it's a different green, and it's going to clash terribly, and Yoongi's already glaring before Seokjin unfolds it to show "I'm Not Short, I'm Concentrated Awesome!" emblazoned across the front. In glitter.
"Do you need help putting it on?" asks Seokjin mildly.
Yoongi shakes his head, grabbing it out of his hand with more annoyance than he means to let out, which makes Seokjin laugh again. He ties it on with quick fingers, trying to get this over with, and when he's done Taehyung gives him a silent round of applause from his own station.
"You're adorable when you're grumpy," says Seokjin unexpectedly, dropping him a ludicrous wink, and Yoongi feels himself reddening as Seokjin walks away and their time begins.
One point to Seokjin, and that's one point too many.
"I have no idea what I'm doing," whispers Namjoon desperately after fifteen minutes have passed.
Yoongi looks over at his counters and blinks in shock. Namjoon had grabbed his ingredients with so much confidence that Yoongi had barely noticed him, but now that he's paying attention it's a total disaster. His onion isn't so much chopped as torn apart, irregular confusing blobs, and the rest of his vegetables aren't faring much better. He hasn't even turned on his stovetop yet, or started mixing, and they only have an hour.
"How can you not know how to cook?" says Yoongi. "You do this for a living!"
Namjoon groans. "I do science for a living. I know biochemistry and molecule combinations, not how to make food edible in practice. I'm going to poison Seokjin, and then I'll go home, and then I'll get fired, and then I'll go to jail."
Taehyung meanders past with something that looks suspiciously like a ceramic squirrel, talking to it, but he waves at Yoongi and Namjoon with a sunny smile. As far as Yoongi can tell he hasn't gotten any ingredients at all except for a package of crackers from the craft services table, but he seems perfectly happy so he focuses on a spiraling Namjoon instead.
"Look, you have a vegetarian stir fry, right? There's nothing deadly in that if you wash everything, and cooking is just the application of heat to flavor," says Yoongi, trying to remember the things his brother said when he was drunk. "You know the flavor part of it. Focus on that, and then apply a little heat, and at the very least it will taste good even if it looks like shit."
Against all odds Namjoon seems comforted by that, and he looks at his arrayed ingredients. "These will all taste good together," he says quietly. "And they have lots of spices in the cabinet."
"Right," says Yoongi encouragingly. "It will be fine. You're not going to poison anyone. I'll help you fix your chopping later."
"I can't ask you to do that," says Namjoon, shocked. "You have your own work."
Yoongi looks at his arrayed ingredients for a simple steak and rice side, which isn't even close to the Thai recipe he was given. "I can't start the meat for another forty minutes if I want to serve it right. Don't worry about it."
"But it's cheating," says Namjoon, his voice low enough that Yoongi can barely hear it.
Yoongi laughs, loudly, and the rest of the room looks at him until he waves them away. Seokjin is over with Wonho, hand on his beefy arm while he asks him about his dish, and he's the last to look away.
"What is this, the fucking Iron Chef?" he says. "We all know it's ridiculous. Don't worry about it. Now, mix all the spice together you want and we'll make a sauce out of it. I'll walk you through it while I stir."
"Thanks Yoongi," says Namjoon fervently. "You're the best."
Yoongi grins. "You sure you don't want me to be your gay awakening instead of Seokjin?"
Namjoon smiles back and says, "Not in that apron."
Yoongi throws a towel at him, then goes back to his risotto.
Seokjin stops at all of their stations, but he doesn't spend much time at Yoongi's, and he doesn't touch him at all. With everyone else he's constantly in their space, hands on backs, shoulders brushing, heads tilted in pre-kiss directions. Not that Yoongi is interested in noticing, but stirring risotto doesn't take much mental energy and he has to fill up his mind with something.
Taehyung even feeds him a bite from a spoon, then wipes off lingering sauce with an even more lingering finger in a way that would be very romantic if there weren't so many lenses, or if Kevin Koo weren't standing right next to them, or if there weren't four other dates in the room staring at them as they did it.
Three other dates, really, since Yoongi is apparently there for mockery.
"I thought you had a Thai recipe," says Seokjin. He picks up the paper and reads it, then looks back at Yoongi's stove skeptically. He's started some sauteed vegetables, too, figuring that a little green never killed anyone. "I didn't know curry was so Italian."
Yoongi looks up from his stirring, and up again because Seokjin is annoyingly tall. "I make what I make."
"Ah. So you prefer to stick to your comfort zone."
"People say that like it's bad, but it's called a comfort zone for a reason," says Yoongi, shrugging. "There's nothing wrong with wanting to be comfortable."
"True," says Seokjin. "But there's a difference between comfort and stagnation, wouldn't you say? Trying a new recipe for me is a risk. And you don't strike me as a risk taker. You play it very safe."
Yoongi blinks at his serious tone, hand still moving in easy circles, feeling perforated in some way that he can't quite track.
"Clothing and hair color aside," says Seokjin, suddenly smiling again. He has a way of turning his perfect face off and on, sliding from one mood to another without flickering, and it's so smooth that Yoongi can't keep up. "You save your risks for the removable parts of yourself, perhaps. Never the permanent."
"Your next gig should be a combination cooking and psychoanalysis show," says Yoongi sourly. "You seem to think you know everything about both."
"Or maybe I just know everything about you," says Seokjin, and he's so much better at this than Yoongi that it's no longer funny. "I look forward to your familiar dish."
He leaves before Yoongi can formulate a response, and Namjoon gives him a sympathetic look that Yoongi shrugs away as he takes his rice off the heat. "I'm pretty much done with this, so let's take a look at your vegetables, okay?"
"Sure," says Namjoon, moving aside as Yoongi makes his way over with his knife. "For the record, I don't think you play it safe."
Yoongi frowns, already slicing the onion chunks. "How would you know?"
"Agust D," says Namjoon casually, and Yoongi wants to laugh because Agust D is the safest he ever is. Wrapped up in a cocoon of persona, saying truths about Min Yoongi that can't be tied back to him in the least. The underground rap scene is dangerous in some ways, and it's frequently sharp-edged, but it's never been a risk.
But he doesn't laugh, because Namjoon is trying to make him feel better, and that's not something he wants to erase.
"And you came on this show," Namjoon adds. "To fall in love in front of an audience. That's not comfortable at all."
"We've known him for three days," mutters Yoongi, still chopping, but he'd been watching as Seokjin flirted with Namjoon, and it hadn't seemed like three days for them. "I don't think love is even possible. It's all just sex."
Namjoon takes the onions away and puts horribly mangled zucchini in its place. "I think anything is possible," he says. "But no matter what, I think you're brave."
"Thanks," says Yoongi, not looking up. "And I hope it works out for you with Seokjin. If that's what you want."
Namjoon gives him a little side hug, making Yoongi feel tiny, and by the time he finishes with the vegetables it's time for his steak, and they don't talk again.
"This is impressive. Are you a professional chef?" asks the celebrity judge, chewing Yoongi's steak thoughtfully. When Yoongi shakes his head, smirking, the chef adds, "Well you clearly know your way around a kitchen. Cooking a rare steak correctly isn't as easy as it sounds. Perfectly seasoned as well."
"Thank you," says Yoongi. "My older brother taught me. He's a chef."
He looks at Seokjin, who's also chewing but with narrowed eyes. Annoyed eyes, Yoongi thinks, and that's another point for him. "And this is my go-to meal for cozy dinner dates," he adds, a little maliciously. "100% success rate. Why mess with a winning recipe?"
The chef laughs, and Kevin and Seokjin join after a beat. They set their plates down, nearly empty, and Seokjin says, "Delicious. Excellently done, perfectly presented, and obviously cooked with love."
"Of course," says Yoongi. "All of the love I have to give."
Seokjin levels him with a look, then moves onto the next dish. Namjoon gets ecstatic praise for his Middle Eastern flavor combination - he'd used lemon zest to simulate sumac, he says to the delight of the chef - but they note the roughness of the presentation almost with pity. Minho had executed a pasta dish at the exact level of a middling Italian restaurant, though they don't put it that way, and Wonho's beef and noodles are politely dismissed.
Taehyung gets nothing but laughter for his tray of assorted crackers, dipping sauce straight from the container, and a centerpiece of a ceramic squirrel covered by a glass vase, upside down.
"I don't really know how to cook," he says, grinning. "Mostly people cook for me."
"I'll gladly cook for you someday," says Seokjin. "But I don't think you're going to win this challenge."
"Do you think it's beautiful, though?" asks Taehyung, a little anxiously. "I wanted it to look beautiful."
"Gorgeous," says Seokjin, the corner of his mouth lifting, and Taehyung's answering smile is brilliant.
In the end the date rose goes to Namjoon, who looks shocked then chagrined as he accepts it. Yoongi applauds whole-heartedly, though Minho looks despondent and Wonho angry. Taehyung, as usual, barely seems to be in the room with them, eating crackers and questioning his squirrel about volcanoes instead.
The cameras cut and Yoongi goes back to his station to clean up, the essence of his mother sitting on his shoulder. Plus it's soothing to have something to do, and he's nearly finished when he hears Namjoon say from his own area, "But I feel like a fraud. Yoongi did all of the work."
"Did he?" asks Seokjin, and Yoongi wouldn't look up if someone paid him a million dollars. "Including the spice blends?"
"No, that was me -"
"Well, that's what you won for," says Seokjin. "So you don't need to feel like a fraud. I appreciate your honesty, but I thoroughly enjoyed your creation. Never say that you're hopeless in the kitchen."
Namjoon thanks him, still a little embarrassed by the sound of it, and Yoongi assumes that will be the end of bachelor interactions until they do their ten minute private sessions. Seokjin has to go off and be pampered, after all.
He's just scrubbing his soaking risotto pot when a low voice says, "Did you know that when you eavesdrop, your nose twitches?"
He nearly drops the dish in the sink, saving it with superhuman reflexes before he looks up and sucks in a breath. Seokjin's much closer to him than he was during filming, not quite intimate but nearing the border, and there's no mic nearby, and Yoongi doesn't quite know what's happening here.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Of course you don't," says Seokjin. "I just wanted to say I'm sorry to be ruining your 100% success rate. The food was good, but I'm definitely not going to bed with you tonight."
There's a mischievous glint in his eye, his full lips quirked in something that feels like it's just for them, even though it isn't. He's flirting hard, though, and Yoongi may not know what game Seokjin is playing right now, but much like cooking flirting is something that he's better at than people think.
"Who says success is sex?" asks Yoongi, lifting an eyebrow. "Maybe it's just a kiss at the door."
"You're not getting that either," says Seokjin, and he's still very close. Close enough that his breath hits Yoongi's cheek, just a little bit, and Yoongi focuses on his own air.
They still haven't touched, and neither of them look away.
"So, are you ready for our chat?" asks Seokjin. "We'll go first. I like to get unpleasant tasks out of the way early, you know."
"Smart," says Yoongi. He grins, feeling reckless. Feeling electric, inside of that targeted charisma once more. Seokjin is just priming him for a good scene, trying to throw him off balance, but Yoongi doesn't have to let him. "I only wish there were pleasant tasks here for me to look forward to. You're the one who's got choices. I've just got you."
Something that's not playful flashes in Seokjin's lovely eyes, but it's not the irritation Yoongi was aiming for. It's something very different, something a little darker and a lot hotter, something that really does feel private. Solitary.
It's still a game, and a show, but there's a small, insistent part of Yoongi that wants to reach up and brush his thumb across Seokjin's throat as he swallows, just to see what he would do. To see if Yoongi could feel an answering ripple in himself. To see how far any of this would go, because Seokjin's flirted with everyone here just like this, and Namjoon thinks that he might be in love already.
Seokjin's staring at him, a cat playing with a mouse, and all Yoongi can think is that he'd love to see that cool, composed face crack into hot desperation under his hands. He shoves that thought away from himself as quickly as possible, because he's not doing all of this just to end up actually wanting to fuck this guy.
"Let's get this over with," he says, turning away, and Seokjin's soft chuckle burns him.
But it's not unpleasant. Not at all.
Jihun and Hyungmin go home that night after a cocktail party that's slightly less chaotic than the first. A party where Yoongi talks to Hoseok, and Namjoon, and carefully doesn't notice how often Seokjin quietly leans into people, his hand always seeking some kind of contact with the world.
He and Yoongi don't talk at all.
Yoongi gets the last rose, and he meets Seokjin's eyes for the first time that night, and he still can't read them. There's nothing inside of them that he understands, but he sees them when he's trying to fall asleep, and he wonders why his dick is so very, very stupid.
Chapter 5: I Just Want To Get To Know You
"Jeongguk will win," says Hyebin, tapping away on her tablet.
"Of course," says Nayoung, typing on both a tablet and a phone at the same time. Likely gibberish, Jin thinks, but she looks good doing it. "He's a perfect fit."
"Photogenic," says Nayoung with finality. "And tall but not too tall. He suits both our purposes."
They both turn to Jin, eyebrows raised, and he smiles politely. "Am I allowed to offer an opinion on my own love life now?"
"Don't be smart," says Nayoung. "This has nothing to do with love. It's your image. And Jeongguk will be very, very good for you."
It's just the three of them in the production room, Director Han off cutting together storylines, but Hyebin still says reflexively, "We believe strongly that this format helps people find their destined loves."
"Sure it does," says Nayoung as her phone buzzes. "So Jin? Are you on board?"
"Jeongguk is fine," he says. "But he's a nice kid."
He tries to think how to elaborate, but both women are already nodding. "Exactly. He needs to think it's real. Can you do that?"
That's not exactly what he meant, and he frowns. "I'd rather be honest with him. Avoid pain."
"Life is pain," says Nayoung, waving her hand above her head. "An opportunity for growth."
Hyebin says, slightly more sympathetically, "He's not an actor. We'll tell him eventually, but we won't get what we need if we're honest too soon."
"Fine," says Jin. "For now. I reserve the right to change my mind."
"Perfect," says Nayoung. She looks at Hyebin, and they set their devices down at the same time by unspoken agreement. "What story are you telling?"
"Young man with idealistic dreams finds an ideal man," says Hyebin briskly. "The internal tension will be the age gap. The external tension will be the jealousy of another contestant."
Jin sighs, and Nayoung smiles at him. "You act older than you look, sweetie."
"Thank you," he says, mollified. "Who's going to be the jealous one?"
"Jimin," says Hyebin. "We won't even have to manufacture it, we've already got plenty of coverage. We don't have a final order of exits, but he'll need to be here for awhile to let it play out."
Jin's a little surprised, since he thought Jimin was busy hating Yoongi, but he nods. "Who's going to leave in the next filming block?"
"We have a couple of dramatic ideas," says Hyebin. "I don't want to say too much yet, but we'll let you know."
"Dramatic?" asks Jin, his eyebrow arched.
"Nothing making you look bad," says Hyebin quickly, so quickly that he's not sure he believes her, but Nayoung snaps to attention so he leaves image management to her.
Besides, he still hasn't gotten the answer he wants. "Will Yoongi be continuing?"
He tries not to let it show, how much that's been on his mind, and Hyebin doesn't notice anything but Nayoung considers him with a new interest.
"Probably," says Hyebin. "His storyline is still developing. I know you don't like him, sorry."
Jin shrugs, so very carefully. Delicately, while Nayoung looks at him and piles up questions that he'll have to answer later. "He's been a good foil. Keeps things fresh."
"That's an understatement," says Hyebin. "I've seen the footage. You're doing great work with him. A real tension. All of that love-hate that will get people invested before we go full villain. But it will take another episode at least."
"Ah," says Jin, drumming his fingers on the table. He's weirdly relieved, which makes him weirdly anxious, and he wishes he could have cared less about knowing. "Great. Sounds good."
Hyebin adds, "We'll pick up heavy filming again tomorrow, but we'll want you to do a scene with Jeongguk later, about his upbringing, and one with Jimin about how he feels about Jeongguk. Two different outfits, please. Sangchul will come by the guest house."
"Okay," says Jin, standing with Nayoung. "I'll be ready."
They leave, and most of Destiny Command is gone on their unofficial weekend but the ones who are remaining greet him enthusiastically, thanks to the food and in-chair masseuses that Nayoung had brought as a set gift. From Jin of course, even though he hadn't know anything about it. His entire life is PR, now.
They're all the way back in the guest house before Nayoung looks up from her screen and says, "Who's Yoongi?"
It's too much to hope it ends there, and it doesn't. "Cute?"
"Irritating," says Jin.
"I see," says Nayoung with too much understanding. "Not usually your type, so what gives?"
Jin starts making tea, for something to do, and he thinks it's a very good question. Yoongi isn't his type, not these days. Surly, and gremlin-y, and more prone to wrinkling his nose than laughter. A cornucopia of affectations, looking for fame and storing up lines and folding his personality inside his tiny body with spears pointing out, ready to impale anyone who gets close. Curating discontent and irritation in a private internal garden, just for the look of the thing.
So he's not his type at all, except for those moments where Jin's not looking directly at him and he changes from simple to complicated, when he wears Kumamon slippers and helps people with cooking and has vibrant green hair that he can't cover up. Except when he's unexpectedly soft and magnetically hard, and a little sexy when he tries not to smile, like a real smile might unzip his careful disguise. Except when Jin does get close to him, close enough for a pheromone hit and an intake of breath and a shameless glint that says try me, and thinks that there might be nowhere that's near enough to satisfy how close his body wants to get to Min Yoongi.
In those moments, he's very much his type.
It's exasperating to be so easy, even more so because Jin had sworn to himself at a very young age, after a doomed experiment with a disaffected upperclassman, that he'd never fall again for a moping bad boy with a heart of gold. Not that he'd ever fallen for much of anyone, really, but life is too short to waste on sneers and sarcasm and playacting anger. It's not cute, and it's not attractive, and Jin has very sternly told himself a hundred times in the last few days that he's not doing this.
"Nothing," he says.
"Seokjin, are you having an emotion?" says Nayoung. "You do realize that would break your contract."
He laughs once, low in his throat, and says, "Perish the thought. Don't worry. I'm doing my job."
"I've never worried about that," she says, and he looks at her in astonishment.
And she doesn't take it back, or pull out a device to soften the moment, and to his horror he really does feel emotion welling inside his throat. He blinks to keep his eyes from burning, because it's been a very long three months and the last thing he needs to do is start weeping everywhere like a child.
"I'm just horny," he says. "It's been awhile."
Nayoung takes a beat, letting that truthful lie sit in the room, then says, "Let me know if I need to get someone out here for you, or get you off-set for a bit. I don't want you to end up jumping some hard-ass, sexy guy in a leather jacket on camera."
Jin nearly drops the kettle. "He doesn't wear leather jackets," he says, increasing his grip. Because that's a thought he hadn't had yet, and it's a thought he hadn't really needed but is going to keep making laps in his mind for awhile. An animal sort of thought, the type that rips clothes off in the darkness and leaves before sunrise. "He owns a surprising amount of paisley."
The days off had afforded him a lot of free time, and he's not supposed to go to the house outside of filming but he can see the back patio from the window of the guest house study. It's not the best room for reading scripts and practicing guitar but he'd found himself there more and more often as the days went on, sitting at his little desk and watching the other men like a voyeur.
Most of them use the hot tub, or lounge in the sunshine with their headphones on, or play whatever board games the crew scrounge up, but Yoongi sits tucked away at a corner table, a notebook in front of him and a pen either twirling in his fingers or stuck between his teeth. It's unacceptable, because the sexual pull is simple biology, Jin's body reacting like a caveman to stimuli, but it's disgusting how much he wants to see inside the notebook and find out what's going on in that shadowy mind.
Yoongi had shown it to Namjoon once, just a brief glimpse of a page, and Jin had played his guitar on the other side of the house for the rest of the day.
"It seems like you're very fucked," says Nayoung, taking the hot water he offers and dumping it into her travel tea infuser. "And with shit timing, so keep your eye on the prize. Jeongguk's the guy. I'm in talks with a studio who's interested in doing a gay drama. Or we could try the States. Brush up on your English in your down time, okay?"
"Sure," he says. "Don't worry about me. I've got it handled."
She doesn't believe him at all, but she air-kisses him like some American drama before she goes, which is comforting in its own way. And when Jin goes back to the study to sort through what English literature they might have, Yoongi's at his usual table in a sweater three sizes too big for him, swimming in it with his legs curled beneath him like a child. He's writing furiously this time, in a fever dream, and there's no one else outside at all.
Jin sits at the desk and tells himself again that he's not doing this as he gets the viewing angle just right.
The filming picks up the next day with a solo date, and Kim Namjoon knows a lot about trees.
"Betula ermanii," he says, standing next to a twisty tree with peeling bark and irregular branches. Namjoon is tall enough to reach the leaves, and he brushes a finger over them as he speaks. "Chinese origin. They can get really tall, but these must still be growing. The wood is hard, but the bark is soft, so it's good for tools. A useful tree. And beautiful, of course."
"Of course," says Jin, looking at the producer for this shoot to see what he should do.
Nominally they've come for a romantic archery lesson from an Olympian, to a training facility inset in a wooded glade festooned with colored targets. But while they were setting up, Namjoon had wandered off into the woods proper with wide-eyed wonder, and they'd hustled Jin after him to ad lib so now he's getting a flora lesson from a giant, awkward male model while a gold medalist waits for them.
"You see this?" says Namjoon, touching a long, yellowish-brown plant covered in tiny flowers and hanging from a nearby branch. "Aments. That means this is a male tree."
Jin takes in the cylindrical nature of the ament, the way it curves as it droops, and he has to bite the inside of his cheek. "So this tube makes it male?"
"Yes," says Namjoon, running a finger down it, and Jin hears a muffled snort from somewhere behind him. "Females just have one flower."
"I've heard that," says Jin carefully, not a single wobble in his voice.
Namjoon drops his hand like he's been burned, and Jin worries he's been too obvious in his amusement until Namjoon says, "Sorry, I know we're here for something else."
"We're here to have fun," says Jin, moving close enough to take his hand and squeeze it reassuringly. "If you're having fun, then I'm happy."
"But I don't want to bore you."
"Passionate people are never boring."
Jin smiles his most enticing smile, and he's rewarded with a delicious blush from his partner. Namjoon really is handsome, the exact sort of statuesque Jin had dreamed of having on his arm at awards ceremonies when he'd indulged in those kinds of dreams, but there's something about him that's not quite formed yet. Something that's still growing.
"That's Idesia polycarpa," says Namjoon, nodding to the side, his fingers threading through Jin's own. "Its fruit is edible, and its leaves are shaped like hearts."
"Lovely," says Jin softly, though he doesn't look away.
Namjoon looks down at him, distractingly large, and his mouth parts slightly. Enough, and Jin waits easily for the thing that will come next, because it's the thing that always comes next in a dappled glade next to heart-shaped leaves. He's played this exact scene before in at least two dramas, though they hadn't had so many scientific facts packed inside of them.
A cameraman steps on a dry twig, and Namjoon startles and moves away.
"Sorry," he says again, but this time he doesn't say why.
"Would you like to redo the shot?" asks Jin.
He already knows the answer before Namjoon shakes his head, because Namjoon has an obsession with the authenticity of things despite an entire week of this, and that part of him is annoying and endearing in equal measures.
"Is it okay if we don't?" asks Namjoon.
"Of course it's okay," says Jin. The producer makes a gesture in his periphery that seems encouraging, so he adds, "Is it okay with you if we keep walking for a bit before we prove our incompetence with a bow?"
To his surprise, Namjoon frowns. "That might be dangerous."
"Dangerous?" asks Jin. "Are there attack squirrels in the area?"
"I might kiss you."
Jin laughs. "A risk I'm more than willing to accept, but you're sweet to worry."
Namjoon doesn't look reassured, and Jin steps outside of his show persona for just a minute. "We really don't have to do anything. I enjoy spending time with you, no matter what happens. Just be yourself, Namjoon. I'll like it."
That only makes Namjoon more distressed, and he closes his eyes like he's pushing something away. A feeling, or a memory, and Jin waits for him to speak. "Someone said that to me once in the woods. They didn't mean it, in the end. It might be a pattern."
Jin notes the careful use of pronouns, knows he's being offered something useful, and tries not to feel like a dick as he says, "A boyfriend?"
Namjoon doesn't answer, breathing shallowly, and Jin tries to figure out another path into the scene when Namjoon leans forward without opening his eyes and kisses him.
Or he tries to, anyway, but without a target he mostly gets the side of Jin's face, and he makes a distressed noise before Jin fixes the positioning, and slots them together, and does it for real. It's strange, because he's never done a stage kiss with someone taller, and he's not quite sure what his angles should be as he drives it.
His mind works ceaselessly, the press of soft lips mere distraction. It's his fourth kiss on this show, and it's by far the most effort. Jeongguk had been all enthusiasm and energy, Jimin a steely-eyed seduction that was an art form all its own, and Wonho kissed like a business arrangement, a handshake with lips. All of them had only needed him to react, to give back the energy they emitted, but Namjoon isn't giving him anything.
Jin doesn't even know why they're kissing, not really, and it ends before it should if this were real but there's only so much Jin can do on his own.
He feels like he should apologize as he pulls away, but he's saved when Namjoon touches a finger to his lips and says, "Wow."
"Thank you," says Jin, and he winces internally, because that's not romantic.
But it makes Namjoon laugh, a little stuttering sound that hitches in his throat. "I really am gay."
He says it so happily that Jin laughs too, and then they're both laughing so the producer calls a wrap because the moment is gone and they're keeping people waiting inside. The crew starts moving, and Jin gets more lip gloss, and Namjoon watches it happen with a fond smile on his face.
"You really didn't know?" asks Jin.
"Not for sure," says Namjoon. "Thank god for controlled conditions. But I don't think I'm in love with you."
Jin laughs again, and it's still real, and he thinks he's lucky that there are so many decent people in the world to pretend to date. "I'd be worried if you were. It's only been a week, and I'm still with nine other people."
He shakes his head, not sure why he's being so frank except that it's Namjoon, and Namjoon brings it out in him, but he doesn't need to worry because Namjoon nods. "Right, it's not love yet. It's all just sex."
He reddens when Jin looks at him in surprise and mutters, "Just something that Yoongi said."
"Oh really?" asks Jin, perking up, feeling stupid and sixteen. "You two think I'm sexy?"
"Everyone thinks you're sexy," says Namjoon wryly. "Look at you."
Jin nods, satisfied, as the producer calls them over to the archery building. "You don't have to convince me," he says. "I'm just glad you're noticing."
When the showrunners had suggested a nine-person group date and an all-day shoot Jin thought they were crazy, but they'd been weirdly insistent so he didn't fight them. They'd also insisted that Jin wear a bathing suit and be ready for some topless shots, which means he's spent the last day fasting and doing body-weight exercises to make sure he looks as good as possible on screen.
Kevin joins him for the workouts, not that he'll be taking off his clothes, and lets Jin bitch about gratuitous nudity as much as he wants.
By the look of them the morning they leave, the contestants hadn't gotten the same amount of lead time to prepare. Jin watches them from his van, the way they run their hands over their bodies uncertainly as they come out of the mansion in their suits and covering shirts, towels in their hands and sunglasses on their heads. Only Jeongguk and Wonho seem perfectly at ease, unsurprisingly since they'd already shown off their killer bodies to cameras with hardly any encouragement, but Minho and Taehyung in particular look scared, tugging their clothing down reflexively even though the cameras aren't rolling yet.
Though to say he watches them puts a lot of weight on a plural that it doesn't deserve. He mostly watches Yoongi, because there's something about Yoongi that makes him watchable, and Yoongi thinks Jin is sexy and that's inconvenient to know.
During the transportation loading Yoongi runs a hand through his hair, a hand that's veined and delicate with long fingers that Jin doesn't mean to notice. His hair is growing out, the mint giving way to darkness, and if he stays around any longer they're going to have to dye it again. Maybe they'll dye it a different color, something less sweet, and Jin doesn't know if that will save him or damn him but he wants to find out.
His own fingers tighten on his knee, his foolish knee on his idiot body, and when Yoongi looks over at his van suspiciously like he can sense Jin's impure thoughts he ducks down below the window line and waits for them to move.
When they get to the water park, a real water park and not some dingy roadside attraction, Jin looks at Sangchul in astonishment.
"We know someone filming a music video here," he says. "From one of the big companies. They shut down the whole park but they're only using one side, so we get the rest. Perfect control."
"Excellently done," says Jin, and Sangchul smiles as he gets out of the van.
It's their biggest fleet yet, a camera for every person, and it's good because Jeongguk strips his shirt off as soon as they hit the parking lot, yelling, "I want to go on the big slide!"
"You don't have to take your clothes off yet," says Jimin loudly as he steps into the sunshine. He's still gorgeous, even with an irritated face, and Jin thinks he's wasted as a lawyer. "They said we might have to, not that it's compulsory."
Jeongguk only smiles and spins in a wide circle saying, "Come on, Jimin, it's so nice out! Besides, we've all seen you in the hot tub. You've got all sorts of muscles."
Jimin puts his hands on his hips as Wonho strips down besides him. "That was in the dark. I don't want to get tan, thank you very much."
"You'd still be pretty," says Jeongguk. "Right, Seokjin?"
Jimin whirls around and sees Jin behind him, then squeaks and tries to jump behind Taehyung.
"Jimin is always pretty," says Jin, which gets Jimin to emerge and give him a smile. "You're all handsome, so let's have a good time today, okay?"
"Yeah," says Jimin, linking his arm with Jin's. "Let's have fun."
Heechul and Kunwoo roll their eyes in tandem, but Hoseok throws his arm around Yoongi and starts a self-proclaimed fun dance that threatens to knock them both over. Not that Yoongi seems to mind, smiling hugely as he tries to stay upright, and Jin looks down at Jimin to avoid that particular temptation.
Sangchul signals Jin's camera crew, saying, "Let's do the promotional shots now. Shirts off, guys."
Jeongguk whoops, saying, "Come on, Jimin, it's time," and the rest of the guys start disrobing a little more reluctantly. Heechul and Jimin blush and protest, but their bodies are better than Jin's could ever be so they ultimately have little smiles on their faces as Jeongguk and Wunho crowd them in celebration.
But they're the only ones. Hoseok covers himself up with his hands when he's done, shuffling behind Taehyung as best he can, and Kunwoo drapes his shirt back over himself immediately, bright red. Neither of their smiles look real, when they turn them on Jin.
And others don't move at all. Taehyung just shakes his head like a horse plagued by flies, and Minho bites his lip, and both of them are in so much distress that Jin is already moving towards them when Yoongi says, "I'm not doing it."
He says it in a conversational tone, but it's loud enough to cut across every sound in the place, and Sangchul turns to him with a stunned expression. "Excuse me?"
"I'm not taking off my shirt," says Yoongi slowly, drawing it out in the warm spring air. "I'll do my shots like this."
"Everyone is," says Sangchul patiently. "It's just for now. For promos, not even for airing. Once we're in the park, you can wear whatever you want."
Yoongi crosses his arms. "I can wear whatever I want all the time, actually."
"You signed an agreement to reasonable activity as pertains to filming needs," says a producer, lifting her tablet.
"Right. And this isn't reasonable," says Yoongi.
His assigned camera pushes closer, but he doesn't even seem to notice.
"You realize you'll leave the show if you refuse," she says, with the air of someone pulling the ultimate card.
"Fine," says Yoongi, unimpressed. "I don't need to be here."
Everyone gasps except for Jin, because Jin doesn't gasp at anything that's not a Korea Drama Award announcement for himself. But he does go still, his mind pulling in more directions than he can catalog. Surprise, certainly, and a bit of a relief to have his unruly libido checked for him. Offended, that Yoongi's not attracted enough to want to stay, and annoyed, that he wouldn't even consider pretending to be right in front of him. And underneath all of it a foundation of curiosity, about why bold Yoongi is suddenly drawing the line at his bare chest.
Yoongi's eyes flick to him, quick and dark, and there's no answer there. But then he looks at Taehyung, who's still shaking his head, and Hoseok, who's still cowering, and Minho, who's still frozen, and his face hardens. He doesn't look back at Jin again, but Jin doesn't need him to. He gets the message, and Yoongi's nose is twitching, which apparently isn't his tell for eavesdropping after all.
"I'll leave my shirt on too," says Jin, which gets Yoongi to look at him again. "I think it will be better as a mixed shot, don't you? More exciting, if it's not uniform."
Sangchul opens his mouth to argue when Taehyung adds, "I'd like to do that."
"Same," says Hoseok, already shoving his shirt back over his head. "For a better shot."
"But we have to have skin," says Sangchul, looking down at his shot sheet. "Why come to a water park without it?"
Jimin clears his throat and steps forward, in front of Taehyung. "I'll do it," he says. "And Jeongguk and Wonho and Heechul. Right guys?"
His eyes say he'd better be right, but it's not necessary because the others are already nodding hugely. Jeongguk even says, a big smile on his face, "I'll leave mine off all day if that will help!"
"Me too," says Jimin quickly, drawing himself up to his full height and glaring at Jeongguk. "If it will help."
Sangchul looks at all of them, then the producer, and Jin says, "Should I call Hyebin?"
That seems to do the trick, and he deflates. "Fine. Do what you want. Let's film so we can get inside, we have a long day."
He stomps away to confer with the cameramen, and Jin grabs a van side mirror to make sure his hair looks okay. He's pleased but not surprised when Yoongi sidles up next to him to wait his turn, the heat from his body radiating directly into Jin's blood. Not that he lets on, carefully teasing already in-place strands into place for a long minute before he straightens up with an apologetic smile.
"All yours," he says, then regrets his choice of words when Yoongi's mouth lifts in his patented half-grin.
"Thanks," he says, his voice low and rough, and Jin can't believe that his stomach swoops at the gravel in it. "Hope you're not in trouble."
"I'm never in trouble," says Jin. "Just inhabiting dramatic arcs that haven't yet resolved."
"Didn't you get arrested recently?"
"Rude," says Jin, nearly-genuine offense flitting across his face that doesn't fool Yoongi at all. "A gentleman would let the past stay in the past."
"No gentlemen here," says Yoongi. "Not in your meat market."
"Thank god," says Jin. "Though you're the only man I've ever met who came up with a plot to keep my clothes on."
Yoongi laughs, and it's sexy as hell, and Jin has to take a measured breath just to stop himself from swooning. Which would be even more embarrassing when Yoongi's response is an appreciative, "What can I say, I'm into burlesque."
"Jin, it's time to line up," calls Jimin's determined voice, one with a bit of steel in it, and when he looks over the entire rest of the cast is watching them, waiting for them to take their places. By their expressions Jimin isn't the only one who's annoyed at his off-book flirting, though Taehyung is giving him very wiggly eyebrows from his place at the back.
He murmurs a goodbye to Yoongi, who isn't looking at him anymore, and moves into the larger group. Jimin latches onto his side, possessive and half-naked, and Sangchul sets up Jeongguk on his other side for sexy symmetry. Yoongi ends up somewhere near the back, mint head barely peeking over the people in front of him, but that's fine because Jin's much calmer with his arms wrapped around muscled torsos, hot skin slipping under his palms, than he was from just a taste of Yoongi's laughter.
"I have a great idea," says Taehyung later, when they're sipping frozen drinks and floating down the lazy river together. He's still in a long-sleeved shirt, huge sunglasses across his face, and he's had twenty great ideas since their journey started. Most of them aren't airable, but it doesn't seem to matter. The other guys are off on a meal and bathroom break, and Taehyung had fully wrapped his arms around Seokjin's neck and told him he wanted to get married and have five kids and a farm before they even got on the ride so they've got all the footage they need.
"It's dramatic," he adds happily. "To make up for what we made you do back there. My pudgy tummy says thank you for that, by the way."
"You're welcome," says Jin, dragging his fingertips through the water. "Though I'm sure you look fantastic in any level of dress."
"And Yoongi was really great, wasn't he?" says Taehyung. "He's such a grumpy little fairy godmother."
"What was your idea?" asks Jin quickly. A little too quickly, though he actually is curious. It's probably something like roller skates for ants based on their previous conversation.
Taehyung sits up and raises his sunglasses. "I'm going to be your show spy. Codename Tender Fox."
"Oh," says Jin. "What?"
"I'm the softest fox," says Taehyung. "I also know everyone's secrets in the whole house, and it's time for drama."
"I'm not sure the guys would appreciate you telling me all of their secrets."
"Of course not, that's the drama," says Taehyung, like Jin is crazy. He looks up at the trailing camera crews and says, "Are you ready for our scene now?"
They nod and push closer, and Taehyung slides out of his inner tube and grabs Jin's with stern purpose. It's shocking enough that Jin just gapes at him, even more when Taehyung pushes a wet hand through Jin's hair and says, "I only want what's best for you, Seokjin. You're so important to me."
He says it low and urgently, like it's real, and Jin has done this a hundred times but Taehyung is scary in his sincerity.
"I think we have a real connection," he continues. "I just… I have to be honest with you. Okay?"
Jin feels like his position flopped across a tube isn't lending any gravitas to the moment, so he stands up as well, and it's just them in the middle of an empty lazy river doing dramatic improv.
"Of course," says Jin, modulating his voice to similar levels as he reaches up to take his hand. "I always want you to be honest with me, Taetae."
Taehyung smiles briefly, the happiness of being accepted and the pain of a difficult job that must be done, and Jin almost applauds. He's either a sociopath or the greatest actor in history, and at this point he'll take either.
"Someone isn't here for the right reasons," says Taehyung seriously.
Jin's mind flicks to Yoongi, its constant first option these days, and he frowns slightly to cover it. "Who?"
Taehyung sighs heavily, turning away at a lovely angle. "Kunwoo has a girlfriend," he says. "He's straight. Totally. He just came on the show for career exposure. I heard him bragging about fooling you."
"Are you sure?" asks Jin, letting his face crumple in shock and a little sadness, even though he'd be hard-pressed to remember Kunwoo's family name at the moment. "I can't believe that. He really seemed to care about me."
He hopes they can find footage to back that up, but he lets Taehyung hug him for a few minutes, murmuring soothing words, before he steps back with a set expression. "I need to talk to him. Maybe it's some kind of misunderstanding."
"I hope so," says Taehyung, patting him gently. "But if it's not, it doesn't mean anything bad about you, okay? You're amazing."
He says it so encouragingly that Jin almost laughs, but that's fine because the scene is pretty much over, and Taehyung's face breaks into a big smile, too. "That was really good! Also it's totally true, I didn't make it up. You probably need to go kick him off the show now."
"Yeah," says Jin, searching for his inner tube and finding it in in a PA's hands where he'd saved it from floating all the way down the river. "You're right, it's going to be a good dramatic moment."
Taehyung flops back in his own tube gracelessly and says, "I know! And we're going to have another dramatic moment, okay? At the Flower Ceremony party tomorrow. I'll tell you more later, so you won't be surprised when it happens. And remember my code name."
"Tender Fox," says Jin.
"That's me!" says Taehyung.
They float the rest of the way in silence, and Jin gets his mind in the right space to have an angry break-up scene with a guy he barely knows at all.
Chapter 6: Maybe I Should Go
There's yet another cocktail party where Yoongi and Seokjin don't speak.
Though in this case even Yoongi has to admit it's mostly because of him. With so many people gone Seokjin has more time for them, and he's been circling a little closer than usual to everyone all night. There were lonely moments when Yoongi could have talked to him, could have even pulled him away from the patio and into the wild lawn for some of that precious alone time the others covet so much.
He always manages to get himself to the other side of the party before it happens, dying a little more each time. When did he get to be so much of a coward, anyway?
Yoongi snorts into his champagne from his place at the edge of the crowd, because he can pinpoint the exact moment when his bravery left him. Or two moments, maybe, working in tandem. The moment where Seokjin had stepped in front of the oncoming train at the water park, against every expectation Yoongi had carefully cultivated for him, putting bright smiles on Taehyung and Minho's faces for the rest of the day. And the moment where he'd taken them all aside to tell them Kunwoo was leaving, and why, and looked at Yoongi like he could see every hidden piece of him just waiting to come to light.
One moment to save him. One moment to damn him. And tonight Seokjin's in his tightest suit yet, hair upswept in a new style that Yoongi can't stop noticing, and if Suran were here he'd push her into the pool for doing this to him, chilled night air be damned. Because she'd laugh her ass off at this, at Yoongi wearing a tie and sipping a bubbly drink and thirsting over a model-wannabe in designer clothes, so far away from their tiny apartment and convenience store food aesthetic that he might as well be on the moon.
It's not that he and Suran are dating, exactly. Neither of them do that, and they both hook up with other people whenever it fits into their nights. She'd be the first in line to congratulate him at his wedding, if Min Yoongi were the kind of person to have a wedding, and he'd be just the same for hers. That complete lack of attachment is exactly what they need to survive each other, and it feels good, almost all of the time, to have a living space that's never empty.
But it doesn't feel good here, while part of his mind is still working on the puzzle of Kim Seokjin, and Yoongi's not used to feeling ashamed about anything these days. Especially things that don't matter, because when Seokjin had talked about Kunwoo his eyes had shimmered with tears that vanished the minute the camera turned off. Nothing here is real, emotions as insubstantial as clouds, and Seokjin is acting. They're all acting, and Kunwoo left for the story, not because Seokjin is interested in any of this.
Any of them.
Yoongi drains his glass and sets it down, and Seokjin is closing in on him again. He's got small lights in his eyes, and he's looking at him like they have a secret together, and his lips are infuriatingly perfect to imagine wrapped around Yoongi's dick. And just as he thinks it Seokjin grins, like he can hear the thought, and Yoongi thinks that maybe it's time for his own dramatic exit from this nightmare.
Taehyung tugs on Seokjin's arm and breaks the moment, and Yoongi grabs another champagne and drains it too.
"You're going to vomit bubbles if you don't slow down," says Hoseok, slinging his arm around Yoongi's shoulders.
"Wouldn't have to if they'd give us the good stuff again," says Yoongi, not even trying to keep his voice down. "I miss whiskey."
Hoseok laughs and leans in closer. "Clearly you need to spend more time in my room then."
"You have contraband alcohol and you didn't tell me?" asks Yoongi. "What the hell, Hoseok? I let you win at pool and everything."
"You're not cool enough for the Cool Club I guess," says Hoseok. "Jimin and I have been having a great time."
Yoongi shoves him away. "I see how it is. One bat of the eyes on a pretty face and you're a total traitor."
"You have no idea," says Hoseok, sighing. "But seriously, come by sometime. I've got all sorts of good shit. Alcohol, cell phones, cigarettes, whatever you need."
It's like a prison movie, or the secret black market of military service, and Yoongi smiles wryly to himself at the comparison as he snags another champagne glass. Maybe not the same as being trapped somewhere without hope, but parts of it are close enough.
"What's it going to cost me?" he asks, but Hoseok isn't paying attention anymore.
"Holy shit," says Hoseok, and it's soft and nothing like his usual expansive energy. It's inward-facing, and Yoongi looks at him in concern before he follows his gaze across the party, where Taehyung and Seokjin are making out like there's not a single other person around. Seokjin's pressed against the solid brick of the house, perfectly illuminated, and Taehyung's devouring him with indecent enthusiasm, hands everywhere. It's hot, and messy, and being filmed from multiple angles while the rest of them stare.
Ah. So that's happening.
Glass shatters to his left, and Yoongi tears his eyes away from the show to find the source. It's not hard, because Jimin looks like he's seen a ghost, like there's a piece of him inside the flute shards at his feet, mixed into the champagne spreading like bubbling blood. Wonho is next to him but he doesn't seem to notice, and Yoongi wishes he were closer, able to put a hand on Jimin's arm. Because Yoongi's guts might have twisted, the sort of thing two gorgeous men melting into each other would do to anyone, but Jimin isn't twisting but fading out, and he needs someone to steady him.
But if Yoongi makes it obvious Jimin will be embarrassed, and Yoongi's the last one he'd want anyway so he looks around at everyone else in mute hope. Heechul looks disgusted, Minho nervous, and Namjoon hasn't even noticed yet, staring at a clump of flowers with a vacant stare. Even Hoseok is still staring at Seokjin and Taehyung's fervor - Seokjin's hands are all the way under Taehyung's jacket now, Yoongi notes mechanically, Taehyung's hands on Seokjin's ass like he's holding him together - and he doesn't seem capable of seeing anything else.
But Jeongguk is looking at Jimin too, like he wants to reach out and help, and Yoongi silently wills him to do something. He concentrates on it harder than he ever has on anything, until someone moans, and it's a sexy sound that drills directly into Yoongi's brain until he can't concentrate on anything but two bodies, and the sounds of desire, and the way to breathe past the twisting.
"That's one way to do it, I guess," mutters Hoseok, and Yoongi silently agrees.
It's fucked up, how they're all watching, but Seokjin looks good this way, hair mussed and cheeks reddened and hands roving. A little desperate, and a lot intense, and passionate to a scorching degree. He and Taehyung are well-matched, suited in a way that goes beyond looks, and Yoongi's glad for them, he guesses, that this is happening. He's glad that there are people out there who want each other so badly that they'll fuck on camera just for the sheer joy of being close.
They really are very sexy.
A bird calls from the woods, light and intrusive in the scene. The stillness is almost unsettling, stretching into discomfort the longer it goes on, but no one breaks the spell. And Yoongi's about to be the one to do it, the one who clears his throat or yells or runs across the patio to shatter this moment, until Jimin whirls around and does it instead, vanishing into the distance with a camera crew keeping pace.
Taehyung and Seokjin don't notice, but everyone else breathes again, blinking the magic out of their eyes. And Yoongi thinks, fuck it, this is stupid and he doesn't need to watch anymore, so he goes after Jimin, moving past the floodlights of their little stage and into the plunging darkness around the rest of the house, where things feel a little more substantial again.
He finds Jimin sitting on a small hill, head on his knees, breathing into the night. The camera is there, capturing him even in this moment, and Yoongi glares at the crew but they don't care in the least. So Yoongi gets in their shot, sits right on the side where they are, and puts his arm around Jimin as tightly as he can.
They just shift to his other side without comment, but Yoongi still feels like he won, somehow, when Jimin doesn't shake him off.
"It's not real," says Yoongi quietly. "None of this is real."
He doesn't believe it himself, since Taehyung's hands had basically been inside of Seokjin's body, but to his surprise Jimin sniffs and nods.
"I know," he says. "Tae doesn't mean it. And it's just a TV show. It's just a dumb show, right?"
Jimin shudders, a small sob escaping him, and Yoongi rubs his back. "It is a dumb show. But when I said it's not real I didn't mean your feelings. You can feel real things whenever you want. If you feel something for Seokjin, it's okay."
"It makes me stupid, though. You all think that. You've been laughing at me the whole time."
"I don't think you're stupid," says Yoongi. "I never have. You're smart, and focused, and really nice to be around even when you're trying not to be."
Jimin laughs, a wet sound, and Yoongi's chest loosens slightly.
"But Seokjin is just a guy," says Yoongi carefully. "He's pretty hot, but he's just a guy. You're going to find hundreds of them. Maybe thousands, after this thing airs. You're gorgeous, if you hadn't noticed."
"It's not just -" says Jimin.
He looks up at Yoongi, and he has so many tears on his face, and Yoongi wishes he he were eighty years old so he'd have a handkerchief with him. Jimin wipes his cheeks with his sleeve, which feels like a failure, but Jimin doesn't seem upset to do it.
"I knew Jin before the show," says Jimin softly. "It's why they picked me."
Yoongi frowns. "You knew each other? You guys don't act like it."
"I said I knew him," says Jimin, and there's a lot of space around his words that Yoongi doesn't know how to explore safely. And Jimin seems to sense it, because he chuckles, very small. "It's not anything bad. Not really bad. I went to school with him."
"Ah," says Yoongi helpfully.
"He was ahead of me by a couple of years," says Jimin. "So we didn't really have classes together but sometimes his classes were near mine? You know? I could see him, most days."
He trails off, staring down at his hands, and Yoongi says, "That would be a lot to have to see."
"Yeah," says Jimin gratefully. "It was a lot. And he was gay. Not obviously, really, but it was sort of an open secret. It didn't make him unpopular. He couldn't be unpopular. He's too nice."
Yoongi rubs his hand over Jimin's back again when he tenses up, probably thinking back to the decidedly not-nice public make out session, but he doesn't say anything.
"Nice," says Jimin again, a little question in his voice. "Because one time I dropped a whole armful of papers, just everywhere in the hall, and most people walked over them and laughed but he didn't. He helped me pick them all up, even though he probably had better places to be, and he smiled at me when we were done and said, 'All better now?' And it was, when he asked. Everything was better."
Noise returns behind them, the sound of the show restarting, but neither of them turn around. Yoongi realizes with a start that Jimin's still being filmed, and this is going to be a stupid storyline for public viewing. He hates it, but Jimin needs to talk about this, the undertones of his voice say this is a story he has to get out before he explodes, so Yoongi settles with shielding him from view as best he can.
"I guess I went a little crazy," says Jimin. "I just, I really liked him. I had all kinds of dreams about how I would confess, and we'd fall in love, and then I'd be better forever. Like he could make that happen."
Yoongi starts to speak, and Jimin cuts him off. "I know it doesn't work like that. I know now. But back then I just thought, why couldn't it? What rule said it couldn't be that easy, to feel like I belonged? So I decided to try, and I planned out a whole confession scene. He stayed after school for drama club most days, and I left him a note at his locker so he'd go a little early to the room. I got him his favorite cookies, and I had a love song playing on a radio, and I got my hair cut - hey, stop laughing!"
"Sorry," says Yoongi, and it's okay because Jimin's smiling too. A faint little one, that says he gets the joke. "It's just so cliche."
"I am a cliche," says Jimin, a hint of his old sass. "I did my best, okay? I was so nervous, stammering and stupid in front of him, but I really tried. And he was nice then, too. He smiled just the same as he always did as he said thank you, but no. He said it just like that, no excuses or reasons or anything, and I couldn't even be mad at him because he made it so gentle. I almost wish I could have been mad at him, you know? It would have helped. But instead I just stayed in love with him like that, while he dated hotter, better people, until he graduated and went away.
"I thought it would be okay once he was gone, and it almost was. But when he showed up in that first drama, the one that made him famous, it all came back. Not that I ever thought I'd see him again in person, but every time I saw him on screen later, in a show or a movie, I'd think about how I was in law school, at the top of my class, and not so shy, and had grown into my face. And I'd think, I bet he'd fall in love with me now. If he met me again. Now it would be different."
Yoongi hugs him again, and Jimin leans into his side more fully. Almost relaxed. Almost healed.
"When I saw the call for Destined Hearts I thought it really was destiny. It all made so much sense. But it's going to be no for me, again. I know it. I can feel it. He didn't even remember me. And there's always going to be someone hotter, right?"
"Sure," says Yoongi. "That's true of everyone. Even him. But look… he's not going to fall in love with anyone here. That's not what this place is for. It's not fair to put that on yourself. And you don't need Seokjin to fall in love with you to be a person worth falling in love with, Park Jimin."
Jimin sniffles again, and Yoongi offers him his own sleeve this time, just to make him laugh. He looks around into the blackness, glaring at the placid camera team again, and he sees a shadow lurking behind them. A nervous shadow with big, doe-like eyes and dancing feet and his own camera crew, and Yoongi squeezes Jimin once more.
"I'm gonna go back to the party, see what's going on," he says. "You'll be okay out here?"
Jimin nods. "Yeah. And thanks for listening. Being nice. You didn't have to be. I was a real asshole to you, before."
"Anytime," says Yoongi.
He extracts himself carefully, standing up and brushing off his pants, then makes his way over to a gently vibrating Jeongguk.
"Is he okay?" asks Jeongguk, very softly. Soft enough that Jimin probably can't hear him, which seems to be his whole goal. "Is he crying?"
"A little," says Yoongi. "Will you sit with him? I need to go talk to Hoseok."
Jeongguk takes a half-step forward, then whispers, "I don't think he likes me very much."
"Then do it for me? I don't want to abandon him."
"Oh," says Jeongguk, nodding. "Okay. Yeah."
He takes a few steps away, then stops and turns around slowly. He doesn't have a camera crew, so he can easily stay unnoticed as Jeongguk creeps up to Jimin and settles down next to him. He doesn't touch him, not really, but Jimin leans into him anyway.
"First Yoongi, now you," he says. "Did the producers want me to have a fight or something?"
"I don't know," says Jeongguk. He sounds a little terrified. "I don't want to fight with you."
Jimin laughs, and he sounds exhausted. "Then let's not fight. Just talk to me for awhile."
"Okay!" says Jeongguk, a little too eagerly, and he pulls up a tuft of grass in his fingers. "I can tell you about baseball, if you want."
"That sounds nice," says Jimin. "Tell me all about baseball."
"So there's nine players on each team," says Jeongguk, and Yoongi smiles. They're going to be fine, he thinks, and that's enough for right now.
When he gets back to the patio, it's less a party and more a high-pitched business meeting. Seokjin is off to the side, in heavy discussion with a producer, while Taehyung talks to Minho and Namjoon and shoots inscrutable little glances at the rest of them. Heechul and Wonho are both yelling at someone even farther away, and they're being filmed, so it's not clear if they're really mad or not.
Most people seem really mad.
Yoongi sidles up to Hoseok, who's alone and relatively calm. "What's happening? Did they end up fucking?"
He says it loud enough that Seokjin hears him, and looks at him, and Yoongi stares back without any expression at all.
"No," says Hoseok, and Yoongi realizes he's not calm in the least, just from the tension in that one word. "Heechul wanted his own 'private time' with Seokjin, and Seokjin said no. It's just going to be Tae, and now everyone else is pissed off. They're trying to figure out how to spin it."
Yoongi looks at Taehyung, his mouth thoroughly kissed, his tie loosened around his throat just enough to be debauched, and shrugs. "Guess it's hard to blame him."
He realizes too late he didn't specify who "him" is in this situation, but on reflection it doesn't really matter. Hoseok doesn't say anything, and Yoongi adds, "You want to tell me some secrets? I'm Father Confessor tonight, ready to hear all your sins. We'll get a camera crew, really do it up right."
"You gonna wear one of those little collars?" asks Hoseok. He's so good at this, so good, because he's smiling as his eyes glitter, where he's staring at Seokjin. He's smiling like it's really funny, like they're having a great time, and Yoongi's in awe. "Because if you do, I'm all in."
"My vestments are at the dry cleaners, sorry," says Yoongi, and it's stupid but it's all he's got, and Hoseok laughs almost genuinely.
Taehyung makes his way over to them and says, "Are you telling jokes, Yoongi?"
"Nope," says Yoongi.
"But you'd be really good at it," says Taehyung. "So did you see me earlier?"
"I think we all did," says Hoseok, and Taehyung looks at him briefly before turning back to Yoongi.
"Drama is important," says Taehyung, like that means anything.
Yoongi snorts. "I'll be sure to tell Jimin that when I see him again."
"Jimin doesn't need to be told things," says Taehyung. "He already knows. And Jeongguk is with him, right?'
Yoongi shrugs, with a hint of a nod.
"So that's fine then," says Taehyung, smiling big. "Hoseok, let's go look for crickets! I heard some earlier."
"Hard to imagine you could hear much of anything earlier," says Hoseok. He stands up and looks down at Yoongi, adding, "Come to my room later, yeah?"
"Sure," says Yoongi.
Hoseok heads into the house, and no camera follows him either, but Taehyung does with his own crew, still talking about crickets like Hoseok had agreed to dig through the dirt for hours with him. Yoongi closes his eyes and tilts his head back to the night sky, working out every kink he can feel building in his neck. It takes a long time, long enough that the yelling dies down, and the night gets quieter, and he hears a producer say, "You need to do a scene with Jeongguk now. Let's get him."
His eyes slam open again, up to the stars, and he's already moving before he's even thought about what he's going to say.
"No," is what comes out, and Yoongi supposes it's clear and to the point.
Seokjin is within touching distance for the first time tonight, but that doesn't really matter anymore. He's just a guy, and probably Seokjin just hadn't want to take his shirt off either, and moments were so much bullshit. But there's a fragile reality happening with Jeongguk and Jimin, right now, and Yoongi will burn this production to the ground before he lets their artificial machinery destroy it.
"Excuse me?" asks the producer, but Seokjin doesn't move. He just looks at Yoongi like he's been doing all night, like the world is a joke and they're going to be the punchline, and Yoongi still can't read him but the difference is that he doesn't care.
"You need someone to fight with him, right?" asks Yoongi. "For… tension. Whatever. Someone to get pissed off at what happened."
"We've got Heechul's footage," someone says, but it breaks off into a muffled yelp of pain.
The producer smiles. "That would be great. Fight scenes always add spice. Thanks for volunteering, Yoongi."
"Anything for the show. Where do you want me?"
"Over by the brick work," says the producer.
Yoongi heads over without answering, without even looking back, but he can feel Seokjin trailing him. He can feel it like wind on his back, like the pounding of heavy bass, and he can use that to get really mad.
"Are you actually going to act?" asks Seokjin, almost playfully. Another infuriating thing, and Yoongi piles them up in his mind. "Yoongichi, I'm touched."
Yoongi spins around and folds his arms, looking up once more. This guy is a fucking giant. He's going to need a box or something, and just as he thinks it a PA runs up and gives him a little step to stand on, and that's another thing to add to the pile.
"Tall people should be illegal," he says as he steps up, growling. "And don't call me that."
"But it suits you so well," says Seokjin. He's much more devastating when Yoongi can look him comfortably in the eye, so he doesn't. But he's watching his mouth when it smiles and says, "I'm simply overwhelmed that you're doing this for me."
A makeup artist comes by to touch Seokjin up, not needing to do much of anything, and she looks at Yoongi and gives up immediately which is fair enough.
"It's not for you," says Yoongi.
"Ah," says Seokjin, and if anything he seems a little brighter. "Who's receiving your golden heart this time?"
Yoongi snorts. "My heart doesn't even exist."
To his shock, Seokjin reaches out and puts two unerring fingers on his pulse line, pressing into his neck with gentle force, and the remaining part of Yoongi's brain tries to remember if they've ever touched before. Seokjin's looking at him like they haven't, and Yoongi's heartbeat picks up against his will, and he pictures him fucking Taehyung to calm it down.
That's a bad plan, because it doesn't do shit for his heartbeat.
"Of course it doesn't," says Seokjin, still pressing. Still smiling. He steps closer and whispers, "How can I help?"
And Yoongi finally meets his eyes, and this guy's as good as Hoseok, better than Hoseok, because if Yoongi didn't know that all of this was a farce he'd think Seokjin meant it. He swallows once, heavily, and Seokjin lets out a single soft breath, and Yoongi's stomach drops to his shoes.
"Don't go looking for Jeongguk," he whispers. "Not in front of Jimin."
Seokjin nods and drops his hand. "Remember you're angry with me," he says in a more normal voice.
Yoongi blinks, until Seokjin adds, "For the scene? You're angry with me."
"Yeah," says Yoongi. "Right. I am."
And he's not smiling anymore when he says it, but Yoongi hears the smile underneath, and when he calls Taehyung a greasy opportunist and accuses Seokjin of playing with all of their hearts the lights are still in Seokjin's eyes. Seokjin deliberately ruins a few takes, apologizing profusely to the watching crew, and Yoongi tries to stay angry, tries to be what he is, but all he feels is long, confident fingers on his pulse and the anger floats away into the sky.
Jimin and Jeongguk come back together, both smiling until they see Seokjin, when Jimin's face falls into something sadder again. They're just wrapping the fight scene, Seokjin finally letting the take come in clean, and Yoongi signals Seokjin with his eyebrows as the producer hustles over to Jeongguk and murmurs something they can't pick up.
Jimin's face falls further, and he pulls away from Jeongguk, and Yoongi hates all of these people.
"Hey Jimin," says Jeongguk. "What's it called when they get two guys out on a single hit?"
"A double play," says Jimin, heavily, but his mouth twitches when Jeongguk applauds.
"You've got it!" he says. He turns to Yoongi and Seokjin and says, "He knows so much about baseball now! You can ask him anything. He learned really fast."
Yoongi doesn't have time to say anything before Jeongguk looks back at Jimin and adds, "I have to go film something now but I'll be right back, okay?"
"I'm not a four year old at the grocery store," says Jimin, but there's no sting behind it. "I can take care of myself. Go do your scene."
Jeongguk bounces over to them and Seokjin leads him to another picturesque spot, listening patiently to his endless chatter. Yoongi hears, "Jimin is so smart!" before they're out of range, and Seokjin looks back at Yoongi with a slightly raised eyebrow that, for once, Yoongi understands.
It's just Jimin and Yoongi in their corner of the patio, no cameras this time, except for a PA carefully cleaning up the shattered glass that Jimin dropped. They both watch that for a bit, caught up in their own thoughts, until Yoongi says, "Want a drink?"
"God yes," says Jimin. "Let's find Hoseok."
They find in him in his room, Taehyung still sitting with him in total silence, and they drink bootleg vodka on camera until they're being screamed at to come finish up the night's filming. By then Yoongi's fuzzed enough that he thinks he can face Seokjin again, standing in the middle of a row of men who all want what he wants, and Seokjin gives him the second rose "for his honesty."
When he says Yoongi's name, smooth and deep into the night, Yoongi's traitor heart skips a beat.
The next morning it's like none of it ever happened, except that Wonho and Heechul are gone. Jimin and Taehyung are curled up on the couch, giggling over something that makes no sense to the rest of them, Hoseok and Minho are doing some kind of dance off that feels like it's going to end in broken bones, and Namjoon has an ancient encyclopedia open on his lap, pen in hand to correct the outdated information as he reads.
They're all very normal, and Yoongi certainly hadn't had any dreams last night.
Yoongi finds Jeongguk in the kitchen, staring through the pass through at the domestic scene, his chin on his hands where he leans against the counter. "Morning," grunts Yoongi. Jeongguk's dressed in his work out clothes, and Yoongi thinks for the hundredth time that he should try to get into more shape as he opens up the refrigerator and stares at the contents, hoping they'll somehow turn into breakfast.
"Jimin made soup," says Jeongguk, pointing at a thermos next to him. "We saved you some."
"Nice of him."
It's more subdued than Jeongguk's usual energy, and Yoongi gives him a sideways look as he opens up the thermos. "Everything okay?"
"Seokjin said he's falling in love with me," says Jeongguk.
Yoongi nearly drops his soup.
"I think he really meant it," says Jeongguk, sighing. "I don't know what to do."
Never has Yoongi wanted to be Father Confessor less, but he's in it now and he's not going to run away. "Isn't it a good thing? You're winning."
"I guess," says Jeongguk. He's still looking at the living room, watching everyone else with worried eyes, and Yoongi's struck at how young he is. He hadn't really noticed before, despite Jeongguk's endless enthusiasm, but he really is just a kid. "I just think maybe there are better winners."
"The best person doesn't always win," says Yoongi. "You played sports, you should know that."
He pauses, sipping, then says, "Do you think Jimin would be a good winner?"
"He really wants to," says Jeongguk, his feet bowing inward. "He told me last night, when we were done talking about baseball. He likes Seokjin a lot. So I want him to win, too."
He says it miserably, forlornly, and Yoongi relents and pats him on the back. "There's a lot of filming left, yeah?"
"Yeah," says Jeongguk. He sighs again. "I wish I could talk to my aunt. She'd know what to do."
"I might be able to help with that," says Yoongi. "Hey Hoseok! Get in here."
Hoseok finishes some kind of ridiculous spin with a pop of flair, then shuffles into the kitchen on the same beat. "Yoongi Yoongi Yoongi, what can I do for you today?"
"For him," says Yoongi, waving vaguely at still sighing Jeongguk. "He needs to talk to his family."
"Wow, I share a little vodka with you and you think I give this shit away for free?" asks Hoseok. "Presumptuous."
Yoongi rolls his eyes. "What's the price?"
"To you?" asks Hoseok. "You show me that notebook you're always carrying around."
"Fine," says Yoongi, only dying a little. That notebook is a bit of his soul, and he doesn't like to show his soul, but they're still in alternate reality so what does it matter? "Once it's done, come outside."
"Wow, I was just kidding," says Hoseok, smiling broadly. "But sure. Jeongguk, you've got yourself a generous benefactor here. Come to the Palace of Wonders and I'll show you what his words have purchased."
He tugs on Jeongguk's arm, who follows him willingly enough. He waves goodbye to Yoongi, still looking at the living room, until he spins to Hoseok in a burst of awareness and says, "You share a room with Jimin!"
"I do," says Hoseok. "That boy has a skincare routine that would shame the gods. I'll show you, okay?"
They disappear up the stairs, and Yoongi heads out onto the patio with his thermos, tipping a thanks to a still-laughing Jimin on the way, and makes his way to his usual table. It's a friendly table, out of the way and with the sort of high-backed chairs that he likes to write in, and he pulls his notebook out of his pocket and lays it on the wood. As he always does, as he can't stop doing, he looks over at the guest house where Seokjin sleeps. Where Seokjin lives, when he's not with them, doing whatever mysterious things he does when the cameras aren't around.
The unruly part of his subconscious is very convinced that Seokjin sleeps naked, and that part had been in full control last night as he kept working on a puzzle that wasn't meant to be solved. Seokjin had hurt them and then helped them, and he'd touched Yoongi like they were on the way to something more, and Yoongi can't figure out which part of him is the game. If there are any parts of him that aren't the game.
When he'd gotten ready for bed it was the only question in his mind, pounding through him as he'd brushed his teeth and washed his face and then hopped in the shower with an annoyed sigh, because all he'd been able to think about was the soft way Seokjin had said, "Good."
Good. Grinning and charming and so very hot, and Yoongi didn't want to be good last night.
So he hadn't been, and Seokjin had kissed him like he'd kissed Taehyung but more. So much more, skin slipping and teeth grazing and fingers digging into muscle and bone until they ached. Yoongi had bit his lip against the cries, panting pleas into the shower wall, Seokjin Seokjin Seokjin, needy and thready and buried underneath the pounding of the water on his shoulders. But it was good, it was so good, and there aren't going to be any winners of this show.
Seokjin is falling in love with Jeongguk, and it might not be real but it's still something he'd thought to say to the world after he'd told Yoongi he wanted to help.
Yoongi tears his eyes away from the glare off of the guest house windows that obscures everything inside, and he puts his pen between his teeth and rereads his soul once more.
Chapter 7: Can I Steal You For A Second?
"What are you doing?" asks Nayoung through the speaker.
"Aging," says Jin. "But specifically I'm packing. We're going to Jeju tomorrow to film."
"Well stop doing that and pay attention," she says.
Jin freezes with a pair of boxers in his hand, half-folded. "What's going on?"
He gives himself a moment, just a single moment to hope, but he already knows it's a lost cause. Nayoung sends good news through e-mail. The bad news she saves for their more intimate moments.
"The Korean drama fell through," she says. "Nothing to do with you. Funding issues."
"Ah," says Jin.
That seems to be it, and Nayoung pauses but he feels no need to fill the space.
"There's still an American movie. Not as big of a part, but a bigger market. Hawaiian setting, so accents are fine. We're pushing it, and they like your look," she says, in short bursts like alarm bell. "Keep practicing your English."
"I will," he says.
Jin sits down on the bed next to his partially filled suitcase, carefully avoiding the garment bag full of suits that accentuate his lines. "Nothing's over," he repeats, but it feels like a rehearsed line in his mouth.
"How's Jeongguk's English? He'd be good on their talk shows."
"I'll ask him," says Jin.
"Good. I have to go. Text me from the island."
Nayoung hangs up abruptly, no airy goodbyes, and Jin looks at his suitcase and decides he can pack later. Instead he wanders to the little study and the small pile of English books he'd found, ready to sort through them. Instead he stands in the dark, motionless, until he sees the lights of the patio across the way, and a small figure at a table, scribbling. Instead he grabs his guitar, and two bottles of wine, and heads outside to be reckless.
There's a sitting area halfway between the guest house and the mansion, comfortable lounge chairs dotted around a fire pit that's never lit. It's not glowing tonight either, and the nights still aren't warm but Jin takes a drink to chase away the chill. He settles down on cushioned luxury, making a lovely picture and not even looking at the house. The house might as well not exist, for how much attention he's paying it, but he angles his guitar to carry sound in the right direction before he starts to play.
He's gotten better since he came here, the hours of solitude doing wonders for his focus, but he sticks to simple songs. Things he sounds best at, that make him seem competent, because there's no sense in going hunting with inferior bait.
It takes about fifteen minutes, long enough that the music is actually starting to relax him, before there's movement to his left side. He looks up when the verse is over, blinking like he's surprised, and Yoongi looks back at him with his usual lack of expression. But this blank stare feels curious, instead of angry or bored or disdainful, and that's good enough for this.
He's small and soft in the half-moonlight, a little ghost-like, but his intensity is no less than it ever is, and Jin's eyes follow the soft dip of his collarbone where it shows within the wide scoop of his t-shirt.
He's also holding his notebook in one loosely curled hand, and that's even more pleasurable, somehow.
"That communal?" asks Yoongi, nodding at the wine.
"Sure," says Jin. "No glasses, though."
Yoongi smirks and grabs the neck, touching the bottle to his lips and swallowing a few mouthfuls. His eyes never leave Jin while his throat works, and fuck he's hot. He's very hot, even hotter when he passes the wine back and licks his lips as Jin takes his own swigs.
"You're good," says Yoongi, sitting down and crossing his legs. It's almost prim, the way he settles in, and Jin doesn't move closer by even an inch as he picks up his guitar again.
"Do you play?"
Yoongi shakes his head, his mint hair silvered in the light. "Piano."
Jin shifts into something classical, running lines and arpeggios, and Yoongi laughs. It's a short laugh, but it's enough, and Jin shivers.
"You've got good hands for piano," says Jin. "Nice fingers. My teacher would like them."
Yoongi hums and holds them up, studying them like he's never seen them before. They're still the same delicious delicacy they've always been, and when he looks at Jin through the gaps between them he's smiling.
"So you're a pianist and a guitarist? Doesn't seem fair."
"Being more handsome, and being more talented. Feels like you should only get one or the other."
Jin grins, adding a little flourish to the notes, and Yoongi takes another drink. He's staring at Jin like he thinks there's a secret inside of him, like he's trying to memorize the negative space he leaves behind. It's the way he's been looking at him for awhile he knows, the part of Jin that logs these things and hides them from his waking mind, and it makes him think of nothing more than when Taehyung had pulled him aside at that party, and pushed him up against the wall, and whispered right before he vacuum-sealed their lips together, "Better make it good. He'll be watching."
"Why are you doing this show?" asks Yoongi, licking his lower lip again. Distracting but bearable, or more bearable than the darkening stare. "What's it getting you?"
"Why do you think I'm doing it?"
Yoongi shrugs. "I don't know. That's why I asked."
"You must have a guess."
"Hm. Well, before I got here, I just thought you were a narcissist," says Yoongi, his little half-smile firmly in place. "Every actor is, right?"
"Definitely," says Seokjin. "And now?"
The half-smile turns into a full, dangerous one that shallows Jin's breathing. "Now I know you're a narcissist," he says. "You like us wanting you, dancing for you, fighting over you. The drama of it all, centered on Kim Seokjin. But you wouldn't be out here drinking and playing ballads if there weren't more, so what's the more?"
"Maybe I'm out here for you," says Jin, grabbing the bottle from Yoongi's unresisting hand. "Maybe I'm out here to get you to fuck me."
Yoongi snorts. "Right. Answer the question."
He breaks their gaze when he says it, flicking his eyes away across the lawn for the first time, and that's another step closer.
"It's not hard to guess," says Jin. "You already know I got arrested."
"But I don't know why," says Yoongi, and Jin looks at him in disbelief. "I don't. Imagine a world where people don't think about you every minute of the day."
"Inconceivable," says Jin. "But if you must know, I punched someone. He pressed charges. I got arrested. It's simple."
Yoongi's eyes drop to his knuckles, like he still expects to see the bruises, and he frowns. "The fuck is someone like you doing punching people?"
"Not people. Lee Dongwoo."
"That guy who outed all those celebrities? He's a shithead."
Jin laughs lightly and finishes the bottle. "No argument here. He's also my ex."
"So he outed you."
"Yes, but that's not the point. He also outed everyone I've ever slept with who had any kind of name, including some kids who really weren't ready for it, just to ruin my career," says Jin. It sounds bitter, because it is bitter, and even he doesn't know if it's for the victims or himself. "And it's working. So I'm here."
Yoongi takes a beat, fingers drumming on his bony knee, then says, "Wow. You've fucked a lot of famous people."
And he says it rudely, and a little cruelly, but the lights in his eyes are gentle. He's being gentle, and Jin hates that because this isn't supposed to be soft.
"That's because I'm very good," he says, tilting his head back into the cushion but keeping his eyes on Yoongi's face.
"Open the other one," says Yoongi, a hint of breath into the darkness, and Jin smiles.
They've made it a quarter of a way through the next bottle together when Yoongi says, "What are you going to do? If this doesn't work, and you don't have an acting career anymore?"
"That's a shitty thing to ask someone," says Jin. "Apologize."
"Thank you," says Jin. "And I don't know. I've always acted. It's what I do. What does someone do when they can't do the thing they've always done?"
"Do something new," says Yoongi. "There are always more things to be. Guitarist. Chef-psychologist. Smiling at people for money."
Jin laughs. "Maybe for you. You're a person. People get to be things. I'm just an empty container."
"That sounds like bullshit."
"True things usually do," says Jin. His mouth tastes like old grapes and his head is starting to spin, just a little, so he closes his eyes. "It's what my teachers told me, that the strength of an actor isn't being something but being nothing. A blank canvas. Let people paint what they need across you, and show it flawlessly. I'm very good at being a beautiful nothing."
Yoongi doesn't say anything, opening up the space dangerously, and Jin's mind rushes to fill it without his permission. "It sounds bad, right? Not to actualize? But it's not bad. It's nice, to be given a dream like that. Less thinking, and once you have something in front of you, it's not so hard to love it," says Jin. "I don't know that anyone's ever asked me what I wanted to be, but that's okay. I wouldn't know what to tell them."
"Maybe I'll ask you, someday."
"Ah, but somedays never come," says Jin, but he doesn't really want Yoongi to ask anyway. "Anyway, my parents wanted me to join the drama club in school, because the teacher said I had a good face for it, but I liked it even then. I love it now. I signed up for this show just to keep doing it. So don't feel sorry for me, or anything."
Yoongi laughs. "Never," he says, and he nudges the bottle against Jin's hand. "I bet you were a popular kid. Friends. Parties. All sorts of confessions from blushing girls."
"Guys too," says Jin, smiling at the memory. "There were some. I hope I was a good story for them."
"Depends on if you turned them down, I'd imagine," says Yoongi.
"Trust me, it was better for them that way," says Jin, lifting his eyelids enough to let in vision. Enough to be sensual, he knows very well. "They were almost always sweet, and I only spend time on bad boys."
A flash of heat moves across Yoongi's face, so fast that Jin's not sure he even sees it before Yoongi lifts an eyebrow in response. "Like Lee Dongwoo."
Jin closes his eyes again, huffing a breath into the night. "What were your dreams, then? If you're so into becoming things, what did you always want to be? Underground rapper and ultimate pain in the ass?"
"I didn't say people have to become things," says Yoongi, annoyed. "I don't think you have to want to be anything but what you are. But you're not your fucking job, that's all. And you're definitely not an empty container or whatever the hell that was all about. You're a whole person, somewhere in there."
Jin reaches blindly until he finds the empty wine bottle, lifting it into the air triumphantly. "This is me, Yoongi. Pour whatever you want inside," he says. He pauses, then adds, "That's the least sexy thing I've ever said."
"But you don't have any room to talk about persona," says Jin. "Do you, Agust D?"
Yoongi sighs, but it's resigned instead of annoyed. "How'd you learn that? The producers tell you?"
"I have my sources," says Jin. He decides he likes looking at Yoongi more than he likes having his eyes closed, so he opens them again to drink in his sexy little energy. "And don't change the subject. You wear bucket hats and weirdly huge clothing and walk around like you're some kind of asshole but you're nice. That's your secret, isn't it? You're a teddy bear."
"Don't kid yourself," says Yoongi. "I'm a piece of shit."
"If you say so," says Yoongi. "But the underground rap scene isn't a place for fakers and panderers. Not like here."
"Ha," says Jin. "You did it just last night. You acted like you were mad. Jealous. Played it all up for the camera, so you're the faker now, Min Yoongi."
Yoongi smiles again, surprisingly softly, and for a minute Jin thinks he might reach out and ruffle his hair. But he doesn't, he just says, "So how do people know with you, what's genuine? If you're a canvas, or a container, or whatever? What's the tell?"
"Hey. No pillow talk without the pillows," says Jin archly, and he knows he doesn't imagine the flash of heat this time. "Besides, we're talking about you now. Tell me what it's like in the underground. Being on stage."
"You know already," says Yoongi. "You perform all the time."
Jin shakes his head. "Not like that. I haven't done live theater in ages. Acting on film is totally different. The only audience is the crew, and they either know what's going to happen or they don't care. It's pretty dead outside of your own mind, really."
Yoongi takes a while to answer, and in the silence Jin thinks he might not answer at all. He shouldn't, probably, because they're definitely being filmed right now, and nothing is ever private, and Jin's been trying to get him into bed for long enough that he knows it's never going to happen. The moment is slipping away, and now they're just having this weird conversation in the moony dark, the dregs of two bottles of wine between them and a silly, silent guitar.
Jin picks it up again at the thought and starts to play, a simple children's song that gets Yoongi's half-lidded, curious gaze on him again.
"Have you ever stood too close to a power line?" asks Yoongi over the chords. "One of the big ones, the ones that shed electrons all the time? Out in a field, or something?"
"Then I can't explain it to you," says Yoongi, and Jin rolls his eyes. "Because it's buzzy like that. In your hair and across your arms and deep in your veins. And it's the only thing that makes sense. Everyone staring at you, waiting for you to say something honest, gold wrapped up in shitty paper, diamonds inside of a broken box. The words aren't anything. The outside isn't anything. It's what you put inside that counts."
"Yeah," says Jin. "Yeah I get that."
Yoongi shrugs. "So maybe we aren't that different. Maybe we just wear different clothes."
"Don't get sappy on me now," says Jin. He pauses the song to try and take another drink, but there isn't anything left when he tips it back. "Maybe after we're done with all this, you can take me there. Make me feel the power lines."
"After we're done with all this, you're done," says Yoongi. "I know we're not going to see each other again, after you send me home. You don't have to pretend it's anything else."
"There is a world outside of this set, you know," says Jin. He's getting sleepy, and Yoongi's getting pretty instead of hot, and the thought of seeing him in reality is a strangely fizzy one inside of his stomach. "We'll both still exist."
"Will we?" asks Yoongi softly. "Sometimes it feels like this is all we're going to get."
If it's all we get, then fuck me, is what Jin wants to say. Follow me back to that little house with no cameras inside and take me apart. You're the villain, the one real person here, the only guy who doesn't give a single shit about what we are. So do it, and get this stupid thing out of my system forever.
But he doesn't say it. He doesn't because Yoongi isn't looking at him right anymore. Not like he's undressing Jin slowly, or seeing the spaces around him that aren't filled in. He's looking at him like he's all visible, and that he's fucking sad, and that isn't what Jin was trying to be tonight.
So instead he snorts. "Don't be ridiculous. Just wait and see. I'll go to one of your underground shows, and I'll rule it. Maybe I'll even get on stage. I'm well-known for my sick beats."
"You'd never fit in," says Yoongi dismissively. "Too smooth. No rough edges. You're hot enough to go anywhere you want but you'd stick out like a sore thumb."
Jin's mind catches on that, one last desperate hope, and he leans forward and puts his hand on Yoongi's knee. Yoongi's knee that has a hole ripped in the jeans, where Jin can slide his finger up, and in, and rub little circles on the pale flesh underneath.
"Blank canvas, remember?" he says softly, and Yoongi's eyes are on his lips. They're where they should be again, and Jin opens himself to it. "I can be anything."
Yoongi breathes in, the muscle of his thigh bunching up.
"Anything," Jin whispers.
The moment hangs there, wire-taut and stretched, and there's a moment when Yoongi's head nods forward. Just a moment, but enough to make Jin's heart race with victory, to think finally, before Yoongi shifts his leg away and leans back into his cushions.
"You stopped playing again," he says, and it's his normal voice. No strain at all, no sign of distress, and Jin gives in as gracefully as he can.
"True," he says, and he picks up his guitar.
It takes another fifteen minutes before the producers give up on them being dramatically interesting and trot out someone else.
"Hello," says Jeongguk, bouncing a little as he always does. "You play the guitar? That's so cool! Oh, hi Yoongi."
He looks between them, a little confused, but he shrugs it off and says, "Can I listen for awhile?"
He twitches around as he asks, like someone told him to, and Jin's too drunk for this.
Yoongi forestalls his answer as he gets up. "You can have my seat, kid. It's too cold for me out here."
"I don't want to chase you away," says Jeongguk anxiously. "We can all hang out."
Yoongi rolls his shoulders and looks at Jin, who does his best impression of not giving a shit, then off into the nearby shed where the cameras sit. "A moonlight serenade doesn't need third wheels," he says. "I need to pack anyway."
"I folded all of your clothes," says Jeongguk. "Just in case."
"Thanks," says Yoongi, and he smiles at Jeongguk in a fond way that Jin didn't need to see. "Don't stay out too late, alright?"
"Yeah yeah," says Jeongguk, like they say it a lot, like they're brothers, and Jin had really just come out here to fuck.
He still watches Yoongi go, slow and unhurried and seemingly unconcerned if Jin is watching him or not. Which is annoying, but not as annoying as the headache he's going to have in the morning when the wine wears off and they're taking a ferry to Jeju in the morning sunlight. And definitely not as annoying as the part of him that's whispering that Yoongi is sweet for not taking advantage, isn't he, and isn't that something delightful to obsess over when he's trying to fall asleep?
When Yoongi's finally gone, Jin looks back at Jeongguk, who's watching him play with worrying intensity. He'd followed the schedule they production team had laid out, leading Jeongguk down the path of romance with a gentle hand, and Jeongguk is sweet too, sweet for real and not like tiny rappers who don't take people up on their perfectly good invitations to have the best sex of their lives. Jeongguk's heart lives in his eyes, and it's been a relief that he's not in love with Jin in the least, but he's been willing to play it and that's what Jin needs.
"Come over here, baby," says Jin, scooting over to make space. Jeongguk does, keeping a few inches between them that Jin closes smoothly. "Do you want me to teach you?"
"Yeah!" says Jeongguk, as Jin had known he would. Jeongguk makes things so easy, so maybe Jin should stop chasing things that are so difficult.
Jin shows him a few chords, slipping his arm around Jeongguk's shoulders to hold him closer, whispering instructions into his ear in husky tones. He doesn't know if the mics are close enough to pick up his words but it doesn't matter, they'll just dub in something else if they have to. It's the look that's important, the look of falling in love under moonlight with music. Enjoying the night.
After they get enough of that, Jin takes the guitar back and says, "You should probably get some sleep. So should I, if I want to keep my handsome face handsome."
"You'll always be handsome," says Jeongguk, and Jin knows better than to let that go. He leans in and kisses Jeongguk, full and easy and a little hungry. The hunger comes from somewhere else, but Jeongguk doesn't know that, and he responds with fire for a long few seconds before he breaks away.
Instead of smiling, though, his face is serious. Pensive, even, and Jin rubs a thumb down his cheek. "What's wrong?"
"I'm not in love with you," says Jeongguk, quickly, like he's ripping off a bandage. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay," says Jin. "We're still getting to know each other. Love takes time, but I'm patient."
"Yeah, but you shouldn't wait for me," says Jeongguk. "Don't do that. I think there might be someone else here for you. Someone that you could really be in love with! So just… maybe do that. Instead."
Jin blinks, because Jeongguk looks even more miserable after his speech. And he can't fathom what that might be, unless Jeongguk's heart has been more touched than Jin realized, and if that's the case then Jin has to tell him the truth. But he can already hear Hyebin yelling at him, and he needs this show to have any hope at all at staying himself, so instead he tries delicate investigation.
"If this is about Yoongi," he says, "we were just talking. There's nothing between us. So you don't need to feel threatened."
"Yoongi?" says Jeongguk, wrinkling his brow, then shaking his head wildly. "No, not Yoongi! It's not Yoongi. It's someone else. He's really cute, and he's so compatible with you, and he's really funny. You know, like, the kind of funny that makes you laugh even when you know it's really stupid, but you just can't help it because he's laughing? Anyway I think you'd be really good together so you should take him out on a date alone. Your next one. Then you'll see."
Jin's decent at improv, but they're not even in the same scene anymore so all he can say is, "Who is it?"
"I can't tell you that!" says Jeongguk, eyes very wide. "He'd be - I mean, that's not right. I think you should just… think about it. I think when you think about it you'll know who it is. He's really great."
Jin sighs. "You know they've already picked the schedule for Jeju. Who's doing which dates? The choice is already made."
"Oh," says Jeongguk. "But I bet if you made a fuss, you could change it. If you really, really wanted to. Right?"
He looks so hopeful, and Jin feels his heart softening against his entire will. "If I really wanted to, I probably could. I'll think about it, okay? I promise. If you'll promise me something back."
"Anything," says Jeongguk immediately. "Anything you want! Thanks so much, Seokjin."
"Stay on the show," says Jin. "And give me a chance. I'll give the other contestants a chance if you promise to do the same for me."
He lifts his hand again, cupping Jeongguk's cheek, and tries to impart his desperation without its underlying pathetic nature. "Please," he whispers. "You're important to me, Jeongguk. More than you know."
"Of course," says Jeongguk. "I don't want to go home yet anyway. My aunt still wants to meet you. She's your biggest fan in the whole world, and she'll be so mad if I go home now."
"We can't have that," says Jin.
He thinks about pushing for another kiss but Jeongguk turns skittish when he gets closer so he moves away gently and settles for running his fingers through his hair.
"Thank you for your honesty," says Jin. "You're a good man, Jeon Jeongguk."
Jeongguk smiles sadly. "I try to be. Because there are a lot of dreams, and you can't have them all."
Jin sighs, standing up and breaking the moment as he grabs the neck of his guitar. The bottles stay on the couch, for the crew to clean up, because they feel like another man brought them out a thousand years ago. "True. Sometimes you can't have any of them."
The trip to Jeju is uneventful, a little chaotic but that's to be expected when moving an entire production crew, and equipment, and trying to film it all gauzily at the same time. They get some good pensive shots of everyone on the bow of the ferry, a few talking head interviews where Jin talks about all of the remaining men in glowing or non-glowing terms, depending on what they tell him to say, and some group scenes that make them look a lot more awake than they really are.
Jin spends a little time trying to figure out who Jeongguk was talking about, his supposed perfect match in the group of remaining men, but beyond Yoongi, who he's determinedly ignoring, and Taehyung, who does every scene with him like they're in passionate love and treats him like a pet dog outside of it, Jin can't find a candidate.
Sangchul and Hyebin use the trip to talk strategy with him, saying he's doing a good job but the drama level in the house is too low. They all get along too well, it seems, and they're trying to stir things up but it's not working. They want Jin to try to foster more jealousy, to kiss more of them, but he's kissed everyone but Hoseok and Yoongi, and it's been obvious neither of them are interested in doing it.
"You're supposed to make them interested," says Hyebin unsympathetically. "Turn on the charm. Flirt. And when you kiss Yoongi, do it in front of everyone else. The villain getting your attention should cause some fireworks, but only if they see it. No more isolated moonlight scenes, okay?"
"Fine," says Seokjin, not bothering to feel embarrassed. "I'll do my best."
When he exits their commandeered cabin he puts a hand to his forehead, rubbing gently as he tries to avoid the sun. The makeup artists had done a great job making him not look like hell, but no amount of foundation got rid of headaches. A camera crew latches onto him, clearly expecting him to do something interesting, so he sighs and looks around for Hoseok.
Yoongi is out of the entire fucking question.
Hoseok's at the back of the boat, alone except for his own camera, looking down at the churning water with a serious expression. It's so unusual that Jin slows down before he reaches him, quickly recalculating his strategy. He gets along with Hoseok, the permanent smile on his face making him an easy scene partner, and he's good at implying intimacy without needing Jin to actually do anything. He'd been planning to simply ask him to do a quick physical scene, semi-private with a bit of personal build-up, but serious Hoseok is a new creature that he's not quite sure how to handle.
They must make noise on their approach, because Hoseok spins around to look at them and his wide smile is exactly where it's always been. "Seokjin! Have you seen any dolphins yet?"
"I haven't been looking," says Jin. "Have you?"
"Oh, you have to look," says Hoseok. "You can't take your eyes away for a second. They're very tricky, dolphins. They like to tease."
Jin leans on the railing next to him, staring down. "I thought you liked giraffes."
"You of all people should know you can like more than one thing at once," says Hoseok cheerfully, but it's hard underneath. "Which I'm guessing is why you're here. They want us to have some on-screen heat?"
"Yes," says Jin, a little warily. "But if you're uncomfortable with it…"
"Who's uncomfortable?" says Hoseok, still grinning. "I'm just upset it's taken you so long to get around to me. So how do you want to do it?"
Jin opens his mouth, but Hoseok doesn't wait for him to answer. "I'm thinking I'll tell you some deeply personal story about myself, and you'll get misty-eyed at how sensitive the comedian is. But not here. No one can see us here, right?"
"Right," says Jin.
"A shame," says Hoseok. "There might have been dolphins. But you can't have everything."
He trots off down the starboard side, quick little steps that Jin knows he's not supposed to try to keep up with. He doesn't know what's happening, which seems true almost all the time these days, but Hoseok's ease with control certainly makes him feel a little more at home.
When he catches up, Hoseok is waiting in a little recess on the side of the boat, within the sightline of the rest of the group but not so obvious as to call attention to it. Minho and Jimin wave at Jin when they see him, and he waves back, and Yoongi's newly-dyed blond hair swings softly as he turns his head away.
"We'll do it here," says Hoseok, rotating slowly until he finds a nice ray of sunlight, motioning Jin into place. "You ready?"
Jin nods, wetting his lips and letting his face relax into gentle interest.
Hoseok picks up the thread like they've been talking for a long time, and says, "You know how I figured out I was gay?"
"No," says Seokjin, shifting a little closer. "Tell me?"
"It wasn't that long ago, really," says Hoseok. He laughs. "I've packed a whole lifetime in since, I think. Because it was really dramatic, and I don't do drama. Never have. But sometimes, I guess, you don't get a choice."
"I know what you mean," says Jin, and doesn't have to lie. "Life makes choices for us all the time."
"I don't deal well with that," says Hoseok.
He takes Jin's hand and rubs it between his own fingers, and Jin feels a camera push in on it like it's intimate, when it's actually nervous. Some kind of nervous energy that's spilling out of Hoseok despite the placidity of his face, and Jin tries to find a groove.
"So when was it, then?" says Jin. "When you were watching of my films?"
It's supposed to be a joke, but Hoseok's eyes narrow. "How did you know? Did someone tell you the story already?"
"No," says Jin. "No, it was just a joke. A bad one. Forgive me, I shouldn't be joking."
Hoseok shakes himself, moves back to his softer expression. "It actually was at one of your movies. Eternity. I like to go to the theater alone, you know, midnight showings when there's hardly anyone there. A huge popcorn, Sprite, and me. It's great, and I was really enjoying the entire experience when someone reached over my shoulder and put their hand in my popcorn tub without any warning. I screamed so loud I'm amazed no one called the police."
Jin laughs, squeezing Hoseok's hand, but Hoseok isn't talking to him anymore. He's talking to the distance, to the dolphins he can't find, and when Jin reaches his hand up to touch his shoulder in concern it's not acting.
"I also tried to throw the popcorn into the air, some kind of defense mechanism, but the hand seemed to know it would happen. It was so fast, and it grabbed the bucket before it could spill, and then this voice whispered in my ear, 'It's okay. The movie's almost done and you still have so much. Don't worry, okay?'"
Hoseok shakes his head. "It was so crazy. The whole thing. Who eats a stranger's popcorn after scaring them to death? Who thinks the concerning part is that it might run out? But I let it happen, and when I tried to turn around to see who it was they stopped me and said, 'The movie isn't over yet!' And they were really serious, and strong, so I watched the rest of it with their hands holding the sides of my head, when they weren't stealing more of my popcorn. And drinking my soda.
"By the end they weren't even holding me, but I still didn't turn around. For some reason I didn't turn around until the credits rolled, and when they finished rolling there wasn't anyone behind me."
Jin keeps holding his hand, listening, and Hoseok laughs ruefully. "I thought maybe it was a ghost. Because when I ran out into the lobby no one was there either and I was the only person there for the showing so I couldn't even ask anyone. There was just the kid who ran the concession stand, bagging up the popcorn they hadn't sold, so I walked up to him without a lot of hope and said, 'Did you see someone come out of the theater? Just now?'
"'I saw you,' he said, really happy, and that seemed like it was about it so I turned around to go when he added, 'Thanks for the popcorn, by the way. It was really good.'"
The story beats are familiar, like reading every drama script in existence, so Jin knows enough to ask, "Why would he come in and eat from yours when there was extra in the machine?"
"That's what I thought," says Hoseok. "But when I asked him, he just said it was always better from someone else's tub. And then he said he'd like to share everything with me, someday, and he was really beautiful when he smiled. Really beautiful, and so sweet, and he took me out to dinner after he closed up the theater. And then it was two in the morning at some dingy roadside barbecue place that I never knew the name of, and I'd never even thought about men before but I fell in love before the sun came up."
"Wow," says Jin. "It sounds romantic. I don't think I can live up to that story."
"No one can," says Hoseok, smiling to himself.
"Things got complicated. And now I'm here," says Hoseok, like that's all the detail anyone could ever need. "You think you can make me forget him?"
Jin shakes his head, lifting his hand to rub the pad of his thumb over the slope of Hoseok's cheek. It's a good slope, and a pretty face, and even now Jin doesn't know how much of that story was real but it will play well. It's an opportunity for him, a good time to be gentle. "No one ever forgets someone like that," he says. "But I can help you make a new memory."
And he kisses Hoseok, leaning down to capture his lips, and to his surprise Hoseok gasps a little when he does. He pulls him closer, naturally, and lets biology do its work while the cameras roll around them. After long enough, after generically passionate enough, Jin pulls away and Hoseok says, "You're good at that."
He says it with his usual smile, a more genuine one this time, and Jin says, "I do my humble best," which gets him laughing.
"Thanks for rolling with that whole story," says Hoseok. "You're good at reactions, too."
Jin shrugs. "You did all the work. Thanks for making it easy."
"I always make it easy, baby," says Hoseok, giving him some finger guns and walking away like they'd done nothing more than talk about the weather.
Jin watches him go, watches him give Jeongguk a noogie and Minho a high five and clap Jimin on the shoulder, one time, before he disappears. And when he's gone they're all looking at Jin, and he doesn't know what to say to any of them. Yoongi's not even there anymore, he notices, then gets annoyed with his brain for allowing him to notice.
Taehyung gives him a wink and a thumbs up, and Jin sits down on the nearest bench and tries to remember how to not have a hangover for the rest of the trip.
Chapter 8: I Need To Get A Kiss
The only good thing about Jeju is that it's marginally warmer. Emphasis on the marginally, though Yoongi knows it would help if he got out from under the giant poolside umbrella and into the sun.
He does not get out.
They've set them up nicely, he has to admit, well-appointed rooms in a nice resort, and he and Jeongguk had given their space a passing grade on exploration. They even had a big common area to hang out in, and Taehyung and Namjoon had tried to get them all to do vacation yoga for a very short but intensely confusing period of time. The only reason Yoongi is out here now is to avoid that ever happening to him again, because Taehyung's vocabulary doesn't include refusals or inflexibility.
Plus Jeongguk is losing his mind, and Yoongi has to make sure he doesn't fall to his death.
They'd filmed their date invitation scenes all in a row, swapping out clothes and backgrounds to give the semblance of time passing, and the production team was clearly ramping up the stakes. Minho, Yoongi, Namjoon got a romantic group boat ride that seems like filler, but Hoseok and Taehyung were given the reality TV equivalent of a cage match, a dual date where only one of them would return. But neither of them seemed worried about it, squaring up like boxers with goofy grins on their faces before flopping back on the couch, so Yoongi's not worried about them either.
No, it's the other two having the dramatics, in vastly opposite directions. Jimin and Jeongguk each got solo dates, with Jimin's that evening much to his own delight. He'd rushed off to get ready, a huge smile on his face, and when Yoongi had looked over at Jeongguk to check his mood the kid had nodded at him way too big.
"It's fine," he'd said with deliberate cheer. "I told Seokjin to do it. They're going to have a really great time."
When Yoongi had only given him a skeptical eyebrow, Jeongguk added, "A great time. Yeah. Hey, did you see the palm trees out there? I bet I can climb one! I saw someone do it in a YouTube video once, with their feet, and I thought it didn't look that hard. I'm going to go climb one right now!"
He'd run out of the room without a backwards glance, so now Yoongi is out here, watching Jeongguk shimmy up a palm tree to harvest a coconut and trying to remember anything he's ever learned about first aid. Even the camera crew watching him seems nervous, and Yoongi thought they weren't even capable of making expressions.
"I'm really close!" says Jeongguk, his legs wrapped around the trunk as he takes a break. "It's a lot of work!"
"Maybe you should come down then," calls Yoongi. "I don't think these trees even have coconuts."
Jeongguk laughs. "You're so pessimistic. I'll get you one, okay?"
"Be careful," says Yoongi.
He's distracted by a commotion behind him, which turns out to be Jimin, Seokjin, and entourage coming out of the hotel for their date. It's apparently formal, suits and heavy makeup, and they both sparkle even through Yoongi's sunglasses.
"Hi Jimin!" says Jeongguk from above them, waving precariously. "Have fun!"
"Jeon Jeongguk, what are you doing up there?" says Jimin, stomping over to the tree. "You're going to get hurt! Get down right now."
"I'm fine," says Jeongguk. "Do you want a coconut?"
"I want you to get down!"
Jeongguk smiles at him, thighs still gripping the trunk. "I'll be okay! You need to go on your date."
Jimin puts his hands on his hips, shaking his hair out of his eyes with a horse-like gesture. "I'm not going anywhere until you're back on the ground. I'll sleep out here if I have to."
Seokjin chuckles behind him, a rich, shiver-inducing sound. "I think he means it."
"I definitely mean it," says Jimin firmly, and Jeongguk sighs and slides down with less caution that he should. He lands on the ground with a thump, head bowed contritely as Jimin checks him over for injuries before whacking him on the arm.
"No more climbing trees," he says. "Promise?"
Jimin holds out his pinkie, small and determined, and Jeongguk takes it with a tiny grin that Jimin seems to accept. When he walks to the sedan with perfectly attentive Seokjin, lamenting Jeongguk's daredevil instincts, Jeongguk shuffles over to Yoongi's lounge chair and curls up on top of him.
"I just wanted to see if I could do it," he mumbles into Yoongi's shoulder.
Yoongi strokes his hair, already suffocating under Jeongguk's muscle mass. "I know," he says. "But sometimes it's safer not to find out."
"That's dumb," says Jeongguk. "Safe is dumb."
Yoongi thinks back to the night before, with Seokjin's fingers on his skin and that deadly gleam in his eye and the cameras picking up their every move. Seokjin is good, there's no denying it. Guitars in the moonlight, unshaded innuendo, and wine-stained lips were all the things that could trap Yoongi, if he let them. But Seokjin had never answered a single one of Yoongi's questions, not the real ones at least, and for now that's enough to stay out of the cage. Because Seokjin's evasive, and easily detached, and he's putting smiles on everyone's faces far too easily.
But he wants Yoongi, or he wants Yoongi to think he wants him, and Yoongi can feel himself reaching the point where the difference between those two ideas won't matter anymore.
He'd barely slept at all.
"It's real dumb, kid," says Yoongi. "But it's what we've got."
"It was so romantic!" says Jimin for the thousandth time, holding court on the beach as they wait for Seokjin to show up. "They cooked fresh seafood for us right on the pier, and we danced, and we could even see the stars. Kissing under the stars is better than any other kind of kissing, I think."
Namjoon and Taehyung both make sounds of agreement, and Hoseok holds his hand up for a high five, but the rest of them are less enthusiastic. Jimin doesn't seem to care.
"And he's such a good kisser. But I don't have to tell you guys that, I guess," says Jimin, giggling. "I thought I was going to die the first time, I was so nervous at how gorgeous he is, but I'm kind of used to it now."
"I don't think I'll ever get used to it," says Namjoon fervently, and Yoongi shoots him a startled glance.
"You've kissed Seokjin?"
Namjoon's brow furrows. "Of course I have. It's a dating show. You kiss people when you date them, right?" he says. His eyes widen as he straightens from his permanent slouch. "Oh my god, is it weird that I did?"
"Nah," says Hoseok. "I think we're all in the same boat when it comes to those plush lips."
Yoongi's head whips around so quickly he feels it in his neck. "You too?"
Hoseok nods, and Minho shrugs when he looks his way, and Yoongi very slowly gets horrified.
"Wait, am I the only one who hasn't kissed this guy?"
Jimin narrows his eyes. "You haven't kissed him at all and you're still here? Wow. Wonho and Heechul definitely did, they told me about it. You must have a really good storyline."
"Or they're really bad kissers!" says Taehyumg.
Yoongi nods weakly, still caught up in his own mind. Maybe I'm out here to get you to fuck me, he hears, the rhythmic beat that's pulsed under his life for the last day, and he wonders how many people Seokjin's said that to over the weeks. He wonders if any of them had taken him up on it. He wonders if he'd said the same thing to Jeongguk the minute Yoongi had left them alone.
He's darkly amused to realize there'd been a small piece of him that thought he was special.
A new van pulls into the lot behind them, and Seokjin steps out of it with his trademark blinding, meaningless smile. He's in pastel resort wear, pressed to within an inch of its life and hugging him in interesting ways, and Yoongi suddenly leaps up from the sand and brushes himself off with purpose.
"Follow me," he says to the nearest camera, unnecessarily because they're already tracking his every move. He crosses the dark brown sand a little less smoothly than he'd like thanks to its consistency, and he probably looks ridiculous but that's fine. He's about to look a lot dumber if he's any judge of the future.
"Hello," says Seokjin when he gets close enough. His eyebrows are at polite interest, his mouth at mild humor, and the rest of him at lightly startled. "Did they need some-"
He doesn't get to finish before Yoongi grabs him by the pink polo shirt and drags him into a messy kiss.
There's no box to stand on, and Seokjin is as wide as he is tall so it's awkward as hell, but Yoongi has decided not to care about any of that. Instead he focuses on the spectacle. The performance. The fucking act. Because there's nothing special about him, but Yoongi will be damned if he's the only one here who hasn't done this. Who hasn't had the privilege of being used by Kim Seokjin.
And Yoongi knows how to kiss, at least. Of his plethora of life skills, it's one of the best and he's going to prove that today if nothing else. Seokjin's oddly pliant above him, which gives him free rein to do whatever the hell he wants, so he does everything. Nipping, and biting, and tasting, and he hopes the cameras are getting good shots of this because if he's going to be the villain he's going to be the best there is.
He leans back a millimeter and gasps for breath, harsh and deliberate before diving back in. His lips move against Seokjin's roughly, catching on his full lips during the slide, and that shouldn't be hot, but it is. It's very hot, this stupid kiss, and Yoongi growls his annoyance and tightens his grip on Seokjin's shirt. He's probably going to leave wrinkles, and the wardrobe people will hate him because they didn't bring an extra, and that fills Yoongi with so much satisfaction he can hardly stand it.
But the satisfaction gives way to shame as the seconds tick past inexorably, because Seokjin hasn't moved at all since this began. Oh, he takes it willingly enough. He doesn't shove Yoongi away or signal him to stop. He gives back just enough pressure to keep it going, but his hands are still at his sides and there's nothing there. No heat, no desire, not even the tendrils of flirtation he'd always extended even when they were halfway across the room from each other.
So it's pathetic, a little, and Yoongi's not proving much of anything except that Seokjin is a very good actor all the time. The kiss slows, shallows, fades away, and Yoongi pulls back without any dignity, or any hope.
He swipes angrily at the part of himself that had felt hope in the first place. What did he think, that this was some kind of movie? One of Seokjin's dramas where there were cherry blossoms and violin interludes and Seokjin would be startled into something real as soon as their lips met?
What a joke.
And he's just stepping away, stupid cheeks flushed and stupid heart aching, when Seokjin's hands yank him back into place. Into his place, Yoongi thinks incoherently, his place pressed into Seokjin's chest and slotting his mouth against his. He's not pliant now, full of fire and need instead, and a groan vibrates deep in Seokjin's throat as the cage door slams shut behind Yoongi with hardly a flourish. He runs his hands up Seokjin's broad chest, into his hair, tugging on the strands until the groan comes again, and he grins and does it again, and again, just because he can.
Seokjin parts his lips, asking for more, and Yoongi knows there's something he's supposed to be remembering as he gives it to him. He knows there's something going on besides this moment, and this wet heat, but his mind can't seem to locate it and that's very fine.
"We do have to start filming at some point," says Sangchul, and Yoongi jumps away so quickly he runs into the camera in extreme close-up behind him.
Seokjin's cheeks are flushed, his breathing labored and uneven, and Yoongi feels a fierce rush of primal pleasure to know that he did that. Not Taehyung against a wall, or Jimin under the stars, but one Min Yoongi. Maybe the last guy to be kissed, but only one who'd left fingerprints on Seokjin's crisp polo.
"Just wanted the competition to be even," he says, his voice rough and gravelly. "Everyone else had a turn."
Seokjin runs a hand through his hair, smoothing it back down into place like magic, his blush subsiding as if it had never been. "It's only fair," he says, only slightly strained. "Director Han? Where do you want me?"
Sangchul motions him over to the set up bonfire, giving him direction on the shot, and Yoongi doesn't watch them go. Instead he looks back at the other contestants, who are still sitting in the half-circle where he'd left them, and puts on his most Agust D face to block their stares.
"Holy shit," says Hoseok.
"That was just like Stolen Hearts," says Minho. "Except without all of the dead bodies."
"Two thumbs up!" says Taehyung, not actually giving the two thumbs but instead winking alternately with both eyes.
Namjoon frowns. "My kiss wasn't anything like that."
"I don't think anyone's was," says Jimin unhappily, getting up and heading to the craft services table, Jeongguk trailing behind him like a kite on a string.
Yoongi shuffles back over and drops to the ground, head in his hands, and tries not to explode.
Hoseok claps him on the back and says, "I'm proud of you, buddy. You're one of us now."
"As some of you know, I've acted a few times in my life," says Seokjin with a self-deprecating laugh that the rest of them pick up. Even Yoongi, damn his caged heart. "Some might say that acting is what I was born for. My destiny."
His eyes glance over Yoongi when he says it, sending rippling gooseflesh up his neck. Fuck fuck fuck, this is very bad.
Namjoon reaches out casually and squeezes his leg, which is helpful and unhelpful in equal measures.
"So today I thought we would take a look at a few of my favorite scenes, together," Seokjin continues. "Please enjoy them. And if you don't enjoy them, please pretend to, because I'm very sensitive to criticism from handsome men."
He smiles at that, and looks at Yoongi again, and there's a terrifying minute when Yoongi thinks he's going to come and sit next to him before he settles beside Kevin Koo and signals the show to begin. They're still on the beach, and the crew rigged up a projector at exactly the right angle to catch the sunset. It's impressively skilled work, and Yoongi hates it.
He also hates the movie clips, not because they're dumb, sentimental romance scenes - well, not fully - but because Seokjin is so good in them. Earnest, smoldering, sexy, enticing, all of the things Yoongi's animal brain is trained to respond to, like some dog in heat. He feels each one in his gut, and lower than his gut in the cases of particularly heated scenes, while his head whispers that he's a fool.
"Has Seokjin asked you to have sex with him?" he whispers to Namjoon once, right when Seokjin is standing underneath a rainbow sky with a famous actress.
"No!" says Namjoon, a little too loud, and Minho and Jimin both shush him. He lowers his voice and adds, "Of course not. This is a dating show, not a love motel. He's not just going to go around asking people to have sex with him."
Yoongi relaxes, until Namjoon says suspiciously, "Did he ask you?"
"Of course not," Yoongi snaps, getting more shushes for his efforts.
When he looks back to the screen, Seokjin's head is turned in his direction, his face entirely blown out by the screen behind him, and Yoongi wants to burrow into the sand to live out the rest of his days as a hermit crab.
The clips finally, mercifully, end, and Kevin Koo stands up with a brisk clap. "Okay guys. What did all of those clips have in common?"
"They were perfect," says Minho firmly.
"Romantic," says Jimin, earning a nod from Kevin.
"Well-shot," says Hoseok. "Beautiful backgrounds."
"And they all had flowers in them," says Namjoon. "Somewhere."
"Really?" says Kevin, looking over at Seokjin, who shrugs. "I'm going to have to go back and check that, but I suppose Seokjin is a bit of a flower boy. What else?"
"They all had light yellow energy," says Taehyung, and no one bothers to ask him to explain himself.
Jeongguk adds, "Seokjin was in them all!" then looks bewildered when everyone chuckles.
When they subside, they all look at Yoongi, including Seokjin, and he realizes he's the only one who hasn't said anything. "Uh… Jeongguk took my answer."
Jeongguk apologizes earnestly until Jimin calms him down with a pat on the shoulder, but Kevin only smiles. "Surely you can come up with something else," he says. "We'll splice the shot in."
"Well," says Yoongi, stalling for time. He looks at Seokjin against his will, Seokjin who looks a little bit like he wants to tear Yoongi's clothes off of his body, and he feels himself blush. He's blushing for Christ's sake, and everything is a nightmare. "They were all heightened realities. Fantasies for the people watching. And Seokjin is gay, but he looked convincing even though they were with women, so he's a very good actor. When it comes to creating fantasies for people."
Seokjin's eyes widen, very slightly, before he laughs to himself. Yoongi's not sure what kind of laugh it is, and he scrunches down into the sand to stop himself from trying to figure it out.
"Excellent," says Kevin, and Yoongi jumps. "Jimin and Yoongi got it exactly right. These were all romantic scenes played out beautifully between a man and a woman. Today, we'd like to turn those scenes into Seokjin's lifelong fantasy instead. We'll be assigning each of you one of the scenes, to take the place of the female lead and act out the scenes with him. Seokjin, of course, will be playing himself. The man who does the best job at inhabiting his role and capturing Seokjin's heart will be invited to a private showing of his favorite movie, right here on the beach, while the rest of you… will head back to the hotel."
Seokjin stands up and picks up a bucket of papers next to him. "You'll draw randomly, and you'll have fifteen minutes to memorize and prepare. But be warned that I'm looking for something fantastic! To capture my interest, you'll have to bring something new to the table. Something enchanting. Something that surprises me to my core."
He'd been looking across them all, a gracious host, but his gaze finds Yoongi at the end and Yoongi scrunches up into an even smaller ball to ride it out.
"Do we get costumes?" asks Taehyung excitedly, and he whoops when Kevin confirms that they can choose from anything in wardrobe. They have a couple of the guys pick a paper before the director calls cut and a PA walks around and hands them their very non-random assignments. Yoongi doesn't bother to open his, because he won't know what it is anyway, but he sees Jimin peeking surreptitiously, smiling excitedly. Jeongguk's own smile dims briefly as he watches, and he gets smaller than he usually is too.
They start filming again, to capture them opening their papers, and Yoongi reads On the Run without the faintest hint of comprehension. But they're more focused on Minho and Taehyung for this challenge, unsurprisingly, so he looks at Namjoon and says, "I can't help you with this one, sorry."
"It's okay," says Namjoon. "I don't mind looking like a bad actor. Flavorists don't act professionally."
Yoongi laughs, but he stops laughing abruptly when Seokjin sits down on the sand next to him without warning.
"Which scene did you get, Yoongichi?" asks Seokjin, his mouth very close to Yoongi's ear. Not close enough to kiss, but close enough to make Yoongi think about it, and get very hot.
"Don't call me that," he says, irritated. "Here."
He shoves the paper into Seokjin's hand, accidentally shifting closer to him, and Seokjin reads it with interest. "Ah, an interesting choice for you. Very combative. I hope you can pull it off."
"If I'm across from you, I'm sure I'll be fine," says Yoongi, but it's not nearly intimidating enough to stop Seokjin from laughing that same little laugh again. Nor to get him to move away, even though Seokjin's thigh is basically flush to his by now.
Seokjin finishes off his laughter with an intimate smile, and Yoongi says, "Anyway, I need to practice."
"Of course, Yoongichi," says Seokjin, infuriatingly. He leans in closer, close enough that his lips feather the shell of Yoongi's ear, and Yoongi's not cowardly enough to pull away. "You asked how people tell when I'm genuine. What gives it away. I have an answer for you, if you still want it."
Yoongi shrugs, which is a bad idea when it moves Seokjin's mouth over his ear again.
"No one can," he whispers. "There is no tell. So you'll just have to take it on faith when I tell you that you're a walking fantasy."
He kisses his cheek chastely, almost like his mother would, then stands up and makes his way over to Taehyung and another round of flirtatious banter. Yoongi stares at him, open-mouthed, and he barely notices when Hoseok and Namjoon scoot next to him.
"Let's all practice together," says Hoseok. "Yoongi's got the inside track on seduction, it seems. I need to pick up some tips."
Yoongi grimaces. "I'm not seducing him."
"You are ten seconds away from fucking right on this beach," says Hoseok. "He's all hot and bothered."
Taehyung leans into Seokjin perfectly, his hands running down his chest in some kind of faux-romantic parody, then pulling him over to the costume area and putting enormous hats on them both. Jimin and Jeongguk join them, laughing hysterically as they find more and more ridiculous things to wear, including Seokjin, who has a really stupid, really great laugh that Yoongi might never be able to forget. He looks just as good this way as he does half-lidded with a bottle of wine, and that's unacceptable.
"Yeah, he's really losing his mind over me," says Yoongi, rolling his eyes.
Namjoon's eyes narrow. "He's never laughed before. Not like that. Could be a sign of severe stress."
"Or a sign that they're more fun than we are," says Yoongi. "Come on, let's read our scripts."
"Whatever you say, Yoongichi," says Hoseok, smile huge, and Yoongi kicks at him before he opens his script and determinedly starts to read.
Seokjin leaves them alone eventually, disappearing into the production tent with the director and the rest of the staff, and Yoongi wonders what they're saying. If they're telling him to cool it with the villain, or heat it up. If they're getting what they want from him. If Seokjin is getting what he wants.
If he wins this challenge, they really are going to have sex on the beach, cameras be damned, and Yoongi should be angry about that but he's mostly jittery.
His script isn't helping. He got a scene from a heist movie, one he barely remembers seeing in their montage of clips. Seokjin is a con man and Yoongi is the woman he's seducing to get whatever con men want, and it says he's supposed to be sultry. He doesn't even know what sultry looks like.
He sighs and tries out a face, then whacks Hoseok and gestures at it. "Hey Hoseok, what would you call this?"
"Constipated and very far from a bathroom," says Hoseok promptly.
"Love the support, thanks," he says. He adds, under his breath, "I don't even know why they gave me this scene."
Jimin leans over his shoulder and plants his chin on it. "Let me see," he says determinedly. He's making an effort not to hate Yoongi, which Yoongi appreciates, but Jimin's affection can be nearly as painful as his disdain.
But he's still a font of information, so he grabs the script and flips through it, finally saying, "There."
He points to one of Yoongi's lines, and Yoongi squints at it and reads slowly, "'I've known a lot of men like you, what makes you think you're so special?' So? I don't get it."
"It's a good out-of-context promo line," says Jimin. "They can put it in anywhere, in a teaser or something, and make it seem like you're fighting with Seokjin. This is a good challenge for that sort of thing. You can kind of tell who you are based on the lines. Obviously you're the villain."
"That's nothing I didn't know," says Yoongi, shrugging. "What about you?"
Jimin shrugs, and Yoongi spins to look at him. "It can't be that bad."
"I'm the jealous, clingy one," says Jimin, eyes snapping up dangerously. "Don't say anything."
"I wasn't going to," says Yoongi. "Besides, the show isn't over yet, so you never know. You might be the winner."
Jimin looks over at Jeongguk, still trying on clothes with Taehyung to their endless delight, his mouth softening. "No, I don't think so."
"Hm. Well, at least you made some good friends along the way," says Yoongi, and Jimin laughs.
"God, you really are terrible at this game," says Jimin. But when Seokjin comes out, he narrows his eyes, reconsidering. "Or maybe you're a secret genius."
Yoongi stares furiously at his script, trying to memorize the words. "Nothing secret about my genius," he says, which gets Hoseok to roll his eyes and Jimin to smack him on the shoulder, and he hopes Seokjin can't see how fast his heart is beating against his own will.
Namjoon goes first, which is a nice confidence boost for the rest of them. He's handsome, and smart, and oddly charming, but he's also the most ridiculous actor that's ever existed. He and Seokjin trip their way through a confession scene, Namjoon emphasizing the wrong words and laughing hugely even when the lines aren't funny. By the end even Seokjin can't keep it together, and it turns into a strange comedy of errors that the director is even happier with than a talented showing.
Yoongi listens closely for the promo lines, the lines that say what people are, and Namjoon is definitely the confused sweetheart.
Hoseok is the comic relief, getting a scene that's actually supposed to be funny and knocking it out of the park, and Jimin is right that he's the jealous one when he has to do a fight and make up sequence that he brings an impressive amount of dramatics to. Jeongguk is the front runner from his proposal scene, though he flat-out refuses to do the kissing part if the rest of them are watching. Yoongi ignores Hoseok's pointed laughter as he turns around with the rest of them, and when Jeongguk comes back and sits down, he's oddly subdued.
Taehyung is an actual genius, and Yoongi can't figure out what the producers want him to be but it doesn't matter because he inhabits the shy, retiring high school persona he's given like it's part of his skin, wearing a blazer and a necktie and still looking like a model. Yoongi can almost see Seokjin relax, the comfort of not having to do so much of the heavy lifting, and they end with another kiss while Yoongi sternly tells his stomach that it's not jealous.
After they're done, Taehyung skips back to rest of them and settles half on Jimin's lap and half on Hoseok's, saying, "I love drama!" with his sunniest smile while the cameras push in on them.
Luckily Minho takes care of any lingering jealousy, because Yoongi doesn't know what he's supposed to be for the show but what he actually is is a perfectionist. He's clearly already memorized his scene well before he even got here - it's one of his favorites, he'd told everyone over and over again - but he constantly pauses to re-do his line, or try to bring out more emotion, or to stand in a different place. He heaps praise on Seokjin, whose face never changes from anything but politely willing, but by the end of the ten-minutes-turned-twenty, Sangchul's about ready to explode.
"You would never be allowed on my set," he says eventually.
Minho puts his hands on his hips, snapping, "Excuse me for wanting Seokjin's work to be treated with the dignity and respect it deserves!"
He glares at Namjoon after he's done, who smiles blankly while Hoseok completely fails to hide his laughter. But Yoongi's grateful to him, because he's taking up all the time, and that means maybe they won't have time to shoot Yoongi's at all before they lose the light.
Sadly Sangchul seems to think the same thing, because he wraps the shooting before they even get to the end, and Minho nearly pitches a fit before Seokjin whispers something in his ear that calms him down. What that is, Yoongi has no idea, but he wishes Seokjin would do it to him because he's going to vibrate out of his skin.
Though given how wired he'd felt after Seokjin's last whisper session, maybe that's not such a good idea.
Instead he shuffles up to the makeshift stage and mutters, "I'm not very good at this."
Seokjin smiles down at him, still tall and unfairly good-looking. "That's not the cocky Yoongichi we've seen so far," he says. "What happened to the man who's good at everything?"
"I never said I was good at everything," says Yoongi. "Just, well, you know."
"Trust me, I know," says Seokjin with heavy emphasis, and Yoongi has never hated his past self more than he does in this moment. "Cooking, right?"
Yoongi looks up at him, glaring, and Seokjin almost laughs before he gets himself under control. "Where's your costume?"
"Oh," says Yoongi vaguely, looking around, then striding over to grab a fedora with a too-wide brim. "Here. I'm costumed."
"Then let's start," says Seokjin, and he changes into another person. A cool criminal mask settles over his face, and then another layer on top of that, the charming layer of a con man. It's startling to watch in real time, right in front of him, and Yoongi almost forgets his opening line. Sultry. Right. He's supposed to be sultry.
He's not, really, but he does his best, mostly because he wants to get this over with. Because this Seokjin is a little too much like wine and moonlight Seokjin, and Yoongi really wishes he had some kind of tell, now that he's trapped in the cage. But at least there's no kiss in this scene, just a lot of arguing and double-talk and sexual tension, and Yoongi doesn't have to act much to do any of those.
He still doesn't really know what it's about, except that Seokjin wants something from him, and he doesn't want to give it up, and Seokjin's employing his dirtiest tricks to get it.
When Yoongi says his villain line, that he's known men like Seokjin before, Seokjin touches the neckline of his shirt. It's the same pink polo he's been wearing for every scene, but he makes it look like a tuxedo now somehow. Yoongi can practically see the tuxedo, and he thanks god he doesn't actually have one because just this is already far too much.
"You've never known a man like me," says Seokjin, confident and composed and seductive. "And if you leave now, you never will. Tell me, can you take that risk?"
"What risk?" says Yoongi. "A mediocre night with a mediocre man who'll do nothing but leave me in the morning?"
Seokjin reaches out, hesitating only slightly when he realizes that Yoongi doesn't have the long hair he'd gently touched in the clip, then moving down to his shoulder, his fingers burning through Yoongi's shirt. "How can I leave if you won't ask me to stay?"
Yoongi swallows, and Seokjin tracks the movement with his eyes. "Fine," he says, his throat dry. "Break my heart, if you have to."
He steps away and walks out of the shot, like his script told him to do, and then he's done and the group applauds him politely as he throws the hat back to the pile. He's shaking, a little, his fingers trembling, and he listens to the rest of them discuss their own acting skills while Yoongi tries to convince himself that he was acting at all.
Taehyung wins, which is enough of a relief to swamp any thought of what they might get up to during a night under the stars. To his surprise, Jimin also seems a little relieved, but when Yoongi asks him if he's okay Jimin just says, "They'll want me to talk to him about Jeongguk. They keep trying to get me to do it in confessionals. But Jeongguk's nice. I don't want to do that."
Yoongi smiles, his first real smile of the day. "I'm glad."
"Shut up," says Jimin. "I still want to beat him. I just don't need to say bad things about people to do it."
"Of course," says Yoongi. "Very mature of you."
"Shut up," says Jimin again, then stomps off to the van to wait for the rest of them.
Yoongi's about to follow him, still smiling, when there's a tug on his sleeve. He spins around, looking for the source, but no one's looking at him or motioning to him or even acknowledging his existence. He frowns, scanning the group, until he sees Taehyung giving him a thumbs up as he goes around the back of the projection screen, and he rolls his eyes and follows.
"Hello Yoongichi," says Taehyung.
"That's not my name," says Yoongi. "No one gets to call me that."
"No one?" says Taehyung, head cocked to the side, and he's grinning. "I don't think that's true. But I wanted to tell you that I'm going to kiss Seokjin some more on our date."
Yoongi blinks. "Okay."
"But it's Tender Fox kissing, so it's fine," he says.
Knowing he's going to regret it, absolutely dreading the response, he says, "What does that mean?"
Taehyung laughs delightedly. "Jin wanted me to give you this."
And before Yoongi can stop him, he leans down and kisses him hard, like they're saying goodbye at an airport. Or saying hello at an airport. Like Yoongi is the only person on the planet he's ever wanted to kiss. It lasts no time at all, but it's passion enough for a lifetime, and Yoongi gasps when Taehyung breaks away.
"Okay have a good night," says Taehyung, wandering away to pick up a stone and examine it curiously. Yoongi just stares, then wipes at his mouth, then turns around to shuffle back to the van and wonders if he really has fallen into some kind of alternate dimension on this show.
Seokjin is watching him when he emerges, and there's a camera watching him, too, and everyone who’s not already packed up, and he stops in his tracks at their flat expressions.
"You can see shadows through the screen," says Hoseok gently, before going back to his own van, and Yoongi flushes to the roots of his hair and doesn't look back at Seokjin at all.
When they're finally leaving, Taehyung and Seokjin setting up for their romantic movie date, Namjoon puts his arm around Yoongi's shoulders in the dark van and whispers, "You've had a big day, haven't you?"
Yoongi curls into him, and shakes his head. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he says, feeling the metal bars tightening around him, and Namjoon laughs and hugs him all the way back to the hotel.
Chapter 9: Starting To Have A Connection
Hyebin is not suited for a relaxing tropical island adventure, and this is never more clear than when she throws her papers in the air and says, "Not enough drama!"
Kevin Koo, who is all-too-suited for a relaxing tropical adventure, kicks his feet up and puts them on the table. "We're doing our best."
"Do better," she says. "Why is Jimin suddenly getting along with everyone? That wasn't the plan."
"It's this Yoongi guy," says Kevin. "He's some sort of amateur therapist or something. Obsessed with mediation. Send him home, people will start fighting again in no time."
Jin doesn't move a muscle, except for his heart, which stops.
"He's been our most reliable source of editing drama," says Hyebin, shaking her head. "Flirting with everyone, and handsy to boot. He practically proposed to Namjoon. Jeongguk worships him. He kissed Taehyung. Combine that with the public make out with our bachelor - nice work on that, Seokjin - and we're in good shape with him as a villain."
Jin's heart starts moving again but he still frowns, drumming his fingers on the table thoughtfully. Taehyung had flawlessly executed his Tender Fox mission, in the name of drama and in the name of Jin trying to keep himself from losing control again, but if Yoongi's been flirting with the rest of them he hasn't seen any sign of it. Then again he hadn't seen any sign that his sexy little mouth would be anywhere near Jin's this millennium, and yet that memory is keeping him cozy this very minute as he drifts through the meeting.
"But we could send him home next week," says Hyebin, consulting her tablet. "We haven't had a failed date yet, and he'd be a good one. What kind of stuff does he hate?"
Bright colors. Falsity. Letting someone touch his dick without jumping through a thousand hoops first.
But he'd said Jin made a good fantasy, he'd said it with his entire smirking face right in front of everyone, and Jin's already jumped through nine hundred and ninety-nine so what's another one?
"I'd like Yoongi to be in the final three," he says, right over a PA flipping through Yoongi's file for trigger points.
Hyebin laughs. "Yeah, sure. Why don't we just make him the winner, too?"
Jin shrugs, and she sobers. "Wait, you're serious?"
"He's good for the show," says Jin, and Kevin laughs outright.
"I think we all know what he's good for," he says. "Congratulations and all, but there's plenty of time for that when we're done."
But there isn't, because the one thing Jin knows about Yoongi is that he'll be a ghost once the show is finished. And Jin will get over it if they don't sleep together, if he doesn't get a night with this demonic gremlin man who's annoyingly, erotically delicate, but he doesn't want to have to get over it. Plus the final three means the overnight date, which means no cameras in the room, which means Jin can finally get his hands on him and show him what fantasies really are.
They'd done their sunset boat tour last night, right after a chemistry-less date with Jeongguk that Hyebin had still been satisfied with thanks to some careful line readings. The boat tour had been mostly for the scenery, not heavily filmed, but he'd kissed Minho, and he'd kissed Namjoon, and he and Yoongi hadn't done anything. But now it's not because they don't want to, but because they want to so much, and Jin enjoys the zings of lightning down his spine when Yoongi studies him through narrowed eyes. This growing electricity is much easier than the laughter, and his smiles, and the sweet way he'd set up gentle boundaries when Jin had been at his lowest.
He's not feeling low now, he feels like he's soaring, and if Yoongi's half as good in bed as he is with his mouth Jin's going to have the night of his life.
If production doesn't get in his way, that is. "I think he makes the best scene partner of the remaining men, that's all."
"That's Taehyung," says Hyebin firmly. "It's going to be Taehyung, Jimin, and Jeongguk. We've been asking your opinion out of courtesy but you actually have no say in this. So next week you'll have a solo date with Yoongi, he won't get a rose, and he'll go home. End of story."
Jin says nothing, letting the moment stretch out for effect, then pushes back and leaves the room. Someone calls after him to stop, but he doesn't stop. He also doesn't hurry, he just leaves, and he allows himself a smile only after he's in the hall and hears someone say, "You know you still need him to cooperate for the rest of filming, don't you?"
It sounds like Sangchul, even more so as the door swings shut and the voice starts running down their packed upcoming schedule. Jin smiles again as he makes his way to his room, because he's a professional and he'll show up to every shoot and do his job, but it's always nice to have producers being a little scared of him. Just a little.
Jin smiles brilliantly at Hyebin as she gestures him into her van, then walks past her and gets in with Hoseok and Taehyung.
"Mind if I join you?" he asks, not bothering to wait for an answer. Hoseok and Taehyung are in the back set so he takes the middle row, along with the camera man that's suddenly doing double coverage.
"Hello," says Taehyung. "Do you know what we're doing? They won't tell us."
Jin shakes his head. "I missed that part of the update meeting this morning."
"Oooh, gossip," says Taehyung. "Though we already know all about it. Hotels aren't very secret, not for foxes."
Hoseok laughs. "Heard you stormed out in a huff."
"Of course not," says Jin, letting his smile turn a little sharper. "I'm well-known for my even temper."
Hoseok mimes punching Taehyung in the face, with Taehyung collapsing against the window and sobbing, and Jin rolls his eyes but shrugs acknowledgment anyway. "One of you is going home today," he says. "I'm sorry about that."
"It's okay," says Taehyung. "It's nice that you're sorry. Which one of us is it going to be?"
The producer in the front seat coughs loudly, and they all smile ruefully at each other. Don't ruin the authenticity, that most sacred commandment, so they settle in for the drive. Jin doesn't contribute much to the conversation, Taehyung and Hoseok keeping up an easy patter that he can sink into without effort. Taehyung's just telling them all about his latest dream, where a giant pair of scissors had cut a hole in the fabric of reality and revealed a parallel chocolate universe, when the van stops without warning in the middle of an open field.
"Your date awaits, gentlemen," says Jin with a flourish, hopping from the van and escorting them out. They're just starting to get into the act, Taehyung and Hoseok's comfortable give-and-take changing into a more combative energy when Hoseok suddenly pales, looking across the field.
"What is it?" says Taehyung, dropping back into his usual manner. "Are you okay?"
Jin's gaze follows Hoseok's own, and he says, "Ah. Are you afraid of heights?"
It's a real question and a show question because across the field, formerly obscured by an artificial hill, is a very colorful hot air balloon in the process of being readied for flight. And Hoseok is staring at it like it's a man-eating shark, so in some ways the question is also ridiculous, unless he has a new problem with patterned fabrics.
"Yeah," says Hoseok quietly. "I'm really afraid of heights."
Taehyung makes a sympathetic sound in his throat but makes no other move, leaving it to Jin to get closer. To do the comforting.
"Do you not want to do this?" asks Jin. "I can talk to them. We can switch to something else."
He takes Hoseok's hand in his, rubbing it slowly, so the crew won't get angry at him for suggesting it. He flicks a glance at Taehyung, who changes from concerned to jealous in an instant, and they'll have to splice in audio but the camera guy gives them a thumbs up.
"That's a big thing to ask," says Hoseok. "All the expense of the set up, wasted? They won't want to change the shoot."
"I've been trying to get them to do something else," says Jin, looking at Hyebin and her tapping foot, already regretting Yoongi's departure. Already wondering why he's doing this, when Hoseok had signed up for this show and could suffer through an hour in the sky. Already knowing Yoongi would make the exact same trade, in his position, and finding it very annoying that that makes it feel right. "I made some demands at the meeting this morning. If I back off on those, they might give me this. I'll try, if that's what you want."
Hoseok's still pale, his hand shaking a little in Jin's grasp, and that seems like answer enough. Hoseok's not just scared, he's terrified, and Hoseok's been nothing but professional the entire time so Jin owes him the same. They can probably make good TV out of it, Hoseok's breakdown and Jin's comfort and the way it brings them together before he leaves. Jin and Taehyung ending up on a solo date, so they can still use the balloon, too. A good sequence. He can pitch it to them.
He steps away, writing a little script in his mind, until Taehyung says, "We have to do it."
Jin stops, turning to find Hoseok's face in Taehyung's overly large hands. Hoseok's eyes are closed, and Taehyung is trying to open them again with limited success. "Hoseok, we have to. We can't let him do that. Right?"
"Right," says Hoseok, but he still looks like he's going to be sick.
Taehyung twists his head meaningfully, and Jin comes back to them and leans closer.
"Look," says Taehyung. "It's going to be very safe. They won't let us go too high. And you don't have to look down at all. If you get scared you can look at Seokjin's face. He has a really nice face, doesn't he?"
Hoseok nods as best he can given Taehyung's squeezing.
"So his face will make you feel better. And if you get tired of his face you can look at mine. It's an okay one, I guess," says Taehyung.
"Too pointy," says Hoseok, and Taehyung grins like it's a joke between them.
"Yeah, you can get all annoyed at it," says Taehyung. "We'll both help you out. Nothing bad is going to happen while we're there. Right, Seokjin?"
"Of course not," says Jin, putting his hand on Hoseok's trembling shoulder. "Whatever you need. We'll make it work."
Hoseok swallows, finally opening his eyes and glancing between the two of them slowly. "Okay. We can do it. I'll do it," he says. He adds, almost too low to hear, "Yoongi had better appreciate this."
Jin almost flushes, but his lifetime of indifference wins out. When he leans down and kisses Hoseok to chase away his lingering discomfort, and to give them another shot to use, he puts a little warning aggression into it that makes Hoseok laugh when they're done. There's a twinkle in his eye that makes him look less afraid, and that's very good.
They turn back to Taehyung and he's his jealous version again, but he squeezes Hoseok's hand below shot as they walk over to the hot-air balloon and begin their establishing scenes.
Even Jin finds the balloon a little terrifying. It's loud, and agonizingly slow to take off, and a little wobbly where they stand inside the basket, trying to look romanced.
"It's so pretty!" says Taehyung excitedly, staring at the trees they haven't cleared yet like they're the Alps. "All the water."
"I hate water," mutters Hoseok, though he's making a valiant effort to look a normal color. "Seokjin, come here."
Jin maneuvers around Taehyung and the cameraman and the balloon operator with some difficulty, bending down in front of Hoseok as best he can. "Hello sweetheart."
"Hi," says Hoseok, blinking at him, then uncurling a white-knuckled hand from the basket and putting it to Jin's cheek. "You really do have a good face."
"The best face, you mean."
"The best," echoes Hoseok obediently, though his eyes flick past Jin's shoulder when he says it. "Thanks for being you. For making it so easy not to look down. For this whole show, really. I didn't know what it would be like, but you've made it good."
Jin laughs quietly. "I wasn't aware this was some kind of test of courage. I thought we were just dating."
Hoseok kisses him, very gently, and Jin lets it happen, shifts to give the camera a better look at what's going on. He's not sure what Taehyung's doing but he always trusts Tae to be holding his part of the scene without help. So Tae knows what to do, and Hoseok is giving him just enough to say that there's not supposed to be anything more between them, and it's strange to be up in the sky and think he might be with friends.
When the kiss is over, Hoseok unexpectedly hugs him tightly, his chin hooked over Jin's shoulder as he squeezes. Jin hopes his eyes are screwed shut again or he might throw up all over his back, which would ruin the moment somewhat.
"I know I have to go," he whispers, below the level where the mic can pick him up with the roar of fire above them. "It's going to be Tae who stays. It's fine. I'll cry a little if you want me to."
"Please don't," says Jin. "Tears are so undignified."
Hoseok laughs. "I love you," he says more loudly, and Jin smiles as they let go.
"If you're finished," says Taehyung, arms crossed in annoyance. "Jin should come and look at the view."
"Ugh," says Hoseok, grabbing the basket and looking determinedly skyward, and Jin shifts to Taehyung's side contritely.
The instant line of sight to the camera is blocked Taehyung winks at him, his whole face shifting into delight before he sweeps his arm into space like a tour guide. "That's a volcano," he says firmly, pointing at a small hill. "It might explode, so watch out!"
Jin laughs, and leans in, and when they get back on the ground and he gives Taehyung the rose Hoseok does cry a few tears. But he cries them for everyone, even if the camera will think they're just for Jin, and Taehyung gives him an even longer hug than Jin does as soon as the cameras stop rolling. They whisper to each other, words that Jin can't catch but also doesn't need to, but he's delighted when they both pull him into their embrace for a final goodbye.
Hoseok walks away with a wave and his usual finger guns, and his tears are still drying when his ride pulls away.
They still have some light so Jin and Tae make out for awhile, enjoyably enough, but when they get into the van they don't talk at all on the way back to the hotel, sitting in the backseat together and being friends.
Minho goes home a little hysterically at the next ceremony, causing a scene worthy of any diva denied their starring role, and it's a little alarming but the set producer is grinning like a cat so Jin allows himself to hope that this will be the drama they've been looking for. That someone else can exit next week instead of Yoongi, who spends the whole party wearing his usual quiet stare. It's a gaze that has weight, a heft to it even when Jin's not looking at him.
At one point Yoongi's pink tongue darts out to lick at his lower lip, soft and enticing, and Jin loses his entire focus on set for the first time in years. Luckily he's talking to Namjoon at the time, whose conversation is an endless, looping river that always comes back to a familiar landmark at some point, and he doesn't even notice Jin's inattention. But still.
After the ceremony, during the closing montage shots that will probably have some kind of Minho breakdown over them, Jin finally gets close enough to Yoongi to touch him, to run a hand down his back and say, "I'm glad you're still here."
Yoongi doesn't say anything, but he gets a little closer. He's good at that, Jin thinks idly, moving without appearing to move, and not saying anything, and making Jin guess. Jin wonders when he became the kind of person who could tolerate guessing at men.
"Are you glad?" he finally asks, not bothering to hide his annoyance from anything but his face.
Yoongi gets a millimeter closer, and for a wild moment Jin thinks he's going to launch himself into Jin's space again. That this time instead of pulling Jin down Yoongi might rise, and wrap his legs around Jin's waist, and they'll never let go. For a wilder moment, he thinks he's never wanted anything more.
But instead Yoongi smiles his sexy half-smile, looking at him out of the corner of his eye as he sips his drink. "I've been worse places, I guess," he says. "I miss my phone, though."
Jin drags his finger back up Yoongi's spine, pressing harder, and Yoongi arches into it like a stretching cat. Likes to be pet, he notes to himself as he reaches the nape of Yoongi's neck and squeezes it gently.
He feels Yoongi shudder, and Jin would be embarrassed at how aroused that makes him if he were capable of shame. But he's not, so instead he just laughs, and does it again, and Yoongi swears as he finally looks Jin full in the face.
He's dark, but he doesn't look mad.
"Fuck you," he says, and it's breathy. A kind of promise, Jin thinks, and he gets off to it later without qualm in the lonely space of his room because he's not sending Yoongi anywhere.
"Don't give him a rose," says Sangchul.
He says it almost apologetically, and Jin would feel sorry for him if he weren't so annoyed.
"No Hyebin today?" he asks. They're standing at the vans at sunrise, Yoongi looking irritated and adorably nervous and very small in a puffy coat he refuses to give up. Jin's caught him staring a dozen times since he got out here, sipping the biggest cup of coffee in the universe with a desperation that's made it hard for Jin to think about anything else.
But he has to think about this. "I'm not a child to be dictated to," he says. "And I reread my contract, and I do have some approval over the decision-making process no matter what Heybin thinks."
"Yes," says Sangchul. "But we don't have any other beats planned for this week. We need something shocking, and this would be it. You see the arc, don't you?"
The hell of it is that Jin does. Yoongi's sudden interest in him, his rising affection, all dashed when Jin sends him home without warning after a disastrous date. The celebration of the remaining contestants after the vanquishing of their villain. A nice teaser, and a triumphant storyline, and none of it bearing any semblance to what anyone actually wants to happen.
"There's never only one story to tell," says Jin. "Otherwise we could have murdered all creatives starting in ancient times."
By his face, Sangchul doesn't think that's a bad plan, but instead he digs his finger into his ear. "I've been authorized to take you two somewhere private," he says, looking off into the distance. "After. Or before. Whatever you'd like. No filming."
Jin carefully keeps his face expressionless. "Excuse me?"
"I've been authorized -" says Sangchul again, patiently, but Jin waves him off, already digging out his phone and walking away.
Nayoung's second assistant picks up after the first ring, and Jin says, "They're trying to buy me off with sex."
"Hold please," says the assistant, and Jin taps his foot impatiently until Nayoung finally picks up.
"Sweetie," she says without preamble, "your dick is not your manager. Bang this Yoongi guy, don't bang him, it's all the same to me, but don't make enemies of your producers and editors. Do what they want you to do and we'll all get out of this alive."
Jin doesn't say anything, and Nayoung sighs. "You really are having an emotion, aren't you?"
He turns just enough to see Yoongi again, who's still watching him like he's waiting for something. A signal. And when their eyes meet Yoongi smiles, just a turn up of the corners, and he waves. He waves like he's happy, and Jin's heart turns over in his chest like an old car engine.
He waves back, and Yoongi's smile gets big enough to show his gums.
"Oh my god," says Jin, horrified.
"So now it's a choice," says Nayoung simply. "I can't make it for you. Call me when it's done."
He lowers the phone slowly, and tells Sangchul he's ready to go, no privacy necessary, and he and Yoongi clamber into their different vehicles with lingering looks like fingers on skin.
He has to give it to them - they really know how to piss Yoongi off.
Generic pop songs assault them from the tinny speakers in the overly-bright store. Their fifth overly bright store of the morning, full of clothing that's more Hoseok than Yoongi, more patterned neon than gentle comfort, and Yoongi's in his latest dressing room and probably ready to murder someone. Especially since they took away his coffee well before he was done.
Jin crosses his legs.
When Yoongi stomps out in his newest outfit, all Jin can see are the red, heart-shaped sunglasses on his face, and he can't stop himself from snorting. It's a mistake, because Yoongi folds his arms across his chest and says, "What?" with an implied curse word or two in his voice.
It's the annoyed, exhausted tone that the producers want, and Jin winces internally because at this rate Yoongi is going to quit before Jin has a chance to send him home. It's amazing it hasn't happened already, actually, but Yoongi's been unbelievably patient all day, letting them lead him around into store after store. Shoving clothes at him that don't suit him at all no matter how softly blond he is. Demanding more and more of him when he hadn't let his temper explode as he clearly wanted to time and time again.
But everyone has their limits.
"You're cute," says Jin carefully. "You'd clean up on the idol circuit."
He must say it right because Yoongi relaxes again, just enough. He even smiles, an unexpectedly sweet smile that makes Jin's insides flutter unpleasantly, and puts a couple of finger hearts next to his face. "Like this?"
Jin falls back in a swoon, his hand on his forehead, and Yoongi throws one of his discarded pink shirts at him, laughing. But his face tightens as he spins for the camera, then goes back to the dressing room to perform again. To try on one more silly outfit, just because they tell him to. And Jin doesn't know why he's still doing it, not really, because Yoongi doesn't pander for himself.
So the only thing he can think is that Yoongi is doing this for Jin, that Jin is worth doing things for. Or that he wants to be here as much as Jin wants him to stay, and both are thoughts that don't so much flutter as curl up softly inside of what passes for Jin's heart. Like a cat in a windowsill, unerringly finding the only patch of sun in a world full of clouds.
Jin snorts again at the thought, a little aghast at his softening interior. God, what if he actually falls in love with this guy? On a fake dating show? Even his sappiest drama hadn't been that cliche.
Yoongi comes back in a tangerine suit with a white scarf wrapped around his throat, and it's a little hot and a lot ridiculous, and he's annoyed but he's also laughing again. He's trying so hard, and Jin's entire existence is a cliche so maybe he should enjoy it for once.
When Jin stands and pulls Yoongi in for a romantic kiss without even waiting for production permission, Yoongi presses his palms against Jin's chest and lets it happen.
"Come with me," says Jin once they get out of the store. The schedule says they're supposed to go to some ice cream shop, probably full of young children or screaming monkeys or whatever they think Yoongi will hate most. But Jin's holding his hand determinedly, just like he would with Jeongguk or Jimin, and he keeps expecting Sangchul to cut and make him turn up his icy reserve but he doesn't. He just keeps filming, and Jin knew he'd always been nice to his directors for a reason.
The cameras follow obediently where Jin leads, and so does Yoongi. Yoongi doesn't ask where they're going, or fight, or do anything but shrug when Jin says, "Just like that?"
"It's your date," says Yoongi. "Besides, nothing can be worse than that hell."
He jerks his head back at the stores, and Jin chuckles. "I bet I could think of a few things. A jog through the park?"
Yoongi wrinkles his nose.
Jin nudges him with his shoulder, batting his eyes when Yoongi looks up at him. "But you'd do it for me. Wouldn't you, Yoongichi?"
He expects something sarcastic in response, but Yoongi only says, "I'd probably do anything for you."
Simple, just like that. Like that's not a big deal, like that's something anyone has ever said to Jin and meant it. Like Jin hasn't had to always take what he needed without asking, hadn't had to negotiate and charm and fight for every inch of this life. Like he doesn't have a twenty-five step skin care routine and a workout regimen and a stylist to tell him what flatters his body type, just to keep himself attractive enough to stay relevant.
"You only say that because I'm unbearably handsome," says Jin, hiding his sudden discomfort. "I'm impossible to resist."
"You're okay," says Yoongi, and there's that familiar, relaxing spikiness of Yoongi again. He looks up at Jin as they turn a corner. "You'd be hotter if you'd stop calling me Yoongichi."
"Never!" says Jin, scandalized. "I spent upwards of five minutes coming up with that nickname. Appreciate the gift."
"More like a curse," says Yoongi, wrinkling his nose again, and Jin is going to absolutely go through the wall if he doesn't stop doing that.
Luckily they're at their destination so he can let go of Yoongi's hand and say, "Ta-da!" with waving jazz fingers. It dissipates his butterflies nicely, and it disgusts Yoongi to boot. But he glances at the nearby stores obediently, confusion all over his features, until he sees the place that Jin had found on the car ride over. A place that might change the narrative just enough to solve all his problems.
Yoongi grins and trots over to the music shop without a glance back, and Jin trails him. He keeps a light smile on his face, like he's indulging a whim of Yoongi's while his guts churn. This is a moment he could easily lose control of, if he's not careful, and he feels it even more keenly when Yoongi runs a finger over an upright piano right inside the door, gentle and loving.
Jin has never melted before, and he's not going to melt now, but he does move closer to Yoongi and copy the motion with a fingertip across his shoulder blades.
"Better?" asks Jin, pitching his voice to carry to the cameras.
Yoongi hums, distracted, and plays a simple rolling chord. His hand flies back as soon as the sound comes out, loud in the quiet shop, like he hadn't expected music to actually exist here. He runs into Jin, crashing into his body with surprising force, and Jin grabs him around the waist a little more tightly than he needs to.
"Careful," he says, this time too quietly to be heard. "Wouldn't want to twist anything."
"No," says Yoongi. "We wouldn't."
He extracts himself carefully, not too fast, and Jin lets him go with only a hint of reluctance. "Play something for me," he says once they're untangled and looking down at the instrument together.
"Just like that?" asks Yoongi, his eyebrow cocked. "Am I a radio? You think you can just snap your fingers and music comes out?"
"I played for you," says Jin, so Yoongi reaches down and plays the opening notes of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, a barely-there smile on his lips. "Very funny, clever boy. Now come on. Impress me."
"I am a very impressive man," says Yoongi with heavy emphasis, but he sits down on the bench a little too eagerly for his feigned reluctance to hold up.
He slouches immediately, his back rounding into something uncomfortable and unconscious, and his foot touches the pedal, pumping it once without touching anything. It must be satisfactory because he settles into the seat, wiggling over it like it has give even though it's solid wood. He reminds Jin of nothing less than a grandfather returning home after a long day and falling into his favorite chair, ready to enjoy the place where he feels most home.
"What do you want to hear?" asks Yoongi as the camera pushes in around them.
A thousand answers dance on the end of Jin's tongue, but in the end he can't choose anything he really wants to say. "Something beautiful," he says. "Peaceful."
"Yeah?" asks Yoongi, like he knows Jin's full of shit, but he shrugs and begins a dark and slow song, emanating from the lower part of the keys. He barely seems to think about it, like it's coming from some place inside of him that knows all music.
Yoongi's mouth drops open slightly when he plays, his face slack and distant, and Jin loses another piece of control.
"I know this song," says Jin, knowing he has to say something but a little worried it will break the spell.
But Yoongi only huffs a laugh and carries on. Moonlight Sonata, Jin thinks. Something like that. "Of course you do. Everyone does. But it's your song, I think."
"Why would you say that?"
"You look good in the moonlight," says Yoongi, another simple thing that no one's ever said to him. But he saves Jin from some sort of embarrassing display of emotion when he adds, "Yeah, yeah, you look good all the time. I know."
"I would never presume to say such a thing," says Jin primly. "I'm modest and retiring, as anyone will tell you."
Yoongi stops playing to laugh, and Jin regrets his fantastic sense of humor for the first time in his life. He must make a sound, or give some sign of disappointment, because Yoongi twists around to look up at him. "You want more?"
He asks it with a devilish light in his eyes, and Jin almost rolls his own. But he supposes he deserves it, after his unsubtle come ons over his own guitar. Maybe their instruments loosen their lips, and that has his gaze dipping down to Yoongi's again, which are still parted and perfect.
"Yes," says Jin.
"Then what do you want?" asks Yoongi.
It's not a question, not really. Not the way he says it, low and dark in his throat. It's a demand, and a fork in the road, and that choice that Nayoung had known would come.
Because Jin could make a joke. He could shallow this scene, take them both out of the moment, and send Yoongi home right now. Yoongi's giving him the space to do it. If Jin steps back, Yoongi will go without a fuss. He's not caught up in it, even now Jin hasn't taken him past the point of no return, so there's an easy route to take where they all get out alive. It's tempting, and safe, and there's a long moment as he turns it over in his mind.
It probably says something about Jin that it's the fact that Yoongi would happily leave that makes him say, instead, "Everything you have to give. Play me your soul, Yoongi."
"But it won't just be for you, will it?" says Yoongi in that same low voice, flicking a glance at the camera. "So we're still just playing a game."
Jin grabs him by the chin, leaning down and kissing him as hard as he can from their uneven position. Yoongi tries to grab his shirt again, and misses, and hums happily when Jin reaches down to take his hand in his own. Yoongi's mouth is hotter than a normal mouth, warming Jin from the inside out, especially when Yoongi licks into him with a curling, fiery tongue. Especially when he doesn't gasp so much as sigh against him, trying to find more. Especially when Jin bites his lower lip right where that teasing tongue always touches it, claiming it for his own.
Jin's hand moves around the side of his neck, his thumb stroking the soft curve of Yoongi's jaw in time with their breaths. They're breathing together, and Yoongi's skin is smooth and delicate, and Jin wants him more than he's ever wanted anyone.
No one tells them to stop this time, so they don't. They don't stop until Jin's lips are numbing, and Yoongi's hand is damp inside his own, and they've blown past any stupid game that Yoongi thinks Jin is playing. That Jin might have still been playing, before Yoongi said he looked good in the moonlight.
When they finally pull apart like warm taffy, the store is full of people watching them, and Sangchul is covering them from multiple angles, and Jin takes it all in mechanically because Yoongi's eyes are still closed. They open slowly, blinking into sleepy beauty, and he doesn't smile but his voice is light and dazed when he says, "One soul, coming up."
He spins around, and Jin touches his shoulder as it rounds into its former uncomfortable shape while he plays. The song starts light and hesitant, like mint green hair hidden beneath a hat, but as the delicacy of the upper register finds its home the chords grow heavier and certain. Yoongi closes his eyes again, his hands dropping like autumn leaves on the keys to create magic out of spun sound. Jin can't move, because it's not the Moonlight Sonata but it's still achingly familiar.
It's Yoongi, and cliche's got nothing on Kim Seokjin.
When the last sounds fade away, a high touch of keys that brings applause and Yoongi's gummy smile again, Jin joins in. He claps until his hands are sore, until Yoongi stands with an awkward bow, like he hates to make the motion. He's still smiling, though, and Jin yanks him out of the store again, waving a goodbye to the throng. Some of them are his fans, he can see, by their phones and their notepads and the way they're checking their hair, but it's not time for that now. It's time for him to go back to the flower shop near the entrance, to beg a rose off of them to give away, because Sangchul had been nodding when they were done and Jin knows they didn't bring a production rose.
He hands it to Yoongi in front of the following crowd and asks him to stay on destiny's path, and Yoongi doesn't say anything. He just takes the rose and puts it behind his ear, and he smiles when Seokjin laughs at him. They don't kiss again, because Jin knows it won't stop this time and Yoongi seems shy of it now that he's aware of all of the eyes.
Instead Jin says, loud enough to be heard by the people who've followed them, "So what was that song called, Agust D?"
And Yoongi practically inflates in front of him, his eyes growing wide, but he says easily enough, "That wasn't an Agust D song. And it doesn't have a title yet. Any suggestions?"
The people around them call out phrases, from the ridiculous to the poetic, and Yoongi nods along, like he's really considering them. Eventually the production staff moves them along, and Yoongi doesn't take his hand this time. They walk side-by-side, out into the sunshine of late afternoon. Jin is starving, he realizes, and Yoongi seems to be too as he waves goodbye and gets into his own van. Jin considers following, briefly, but Sangchul comes up behind him and steers him towards its own, and it's probably for the best.
"Hyebin won't be happy," says Sangchul.
"Yes she will," says Jin. "It's a good story. Sex and music and the villain turning me into a true believer. It will play great."
Sangchul says, "Sure. But he was on the schedule. She hates it when people mess with her plans."
"I empathize," says Jin, staring out the window. Yoongi's opened his own, and there's still a flash of red behind his ear. "But that's not my problem right now."
"You should have just taken her up on her offer," mutters Sangchul, but Jin pretends not to hear him, and they make their way back to the hotel in total silence.
Chapter 10: He's Worth Fighting For
"I need your help," says Jeongguk.
He's looming over Yoongi, a giant against the sun, and Yoongi slams his notebook shut. He's writing another fucking love song, because that's all he can write now, because his head is full of Seokjin's lips. Seokjin's eyes. Seokjin's everything. Yoongi had played him his soul in a cloud of fake romance and they haven't seen each other in three days so it's love songs all the time.
It's stupid because three days is nothing, for Yoongi. He's gone longer than that without seeing Suran, who he lives with, and he's gone entire weeks without talking to his parents. Three days of silence is barely a blink, and yet he's going crazy. It's obnoxious, but he's still writing sap and smiling more than he means to even when he's all alone. Hoseok is gone, so he's not getting so much shit about it, but he's still getting plenty. It burns the most from Taehyung, him of the perfect face and the sexy make outs and the easy way he has of charming people all the time.
But at least there's the comfort that Seokjin's not around for him either. Their bachelor been sequestered deep in the hotel for unknown reasons, though Taehyung says he's in trouble with the showrunners. Taehyung knows everything, so there's no reason to doubt him, but the look in his eye when he says it makes Yoongi uncomfortably certain that it's because of him.
He wishes he could tell Seokjin to let him go home. That this stupid show is meaningless, and Yoongi hates feeling like this all the time. Overhearing the producers talk about Jeongguk's journey and Namjoon's next kiss scene and the number of people who have said they love Seokjin. Seeing the seams around him where the story is stitched together because somewhere along the way this turned all the way real for Yoongi.
When he's not dumb and pining he's jealous of all of these people around him, who he actually likes. Most of the time.
And Yoongi doesn't know for sure that he's not just another storyline, but he's trying to believe that he and Kim Seokjin will exist when it's over. That this handsome man who dates celebrities and wears suits like a second skin will somehow find Yoongi with his crappy part time job and join him at his underground rap battles and fall in love with a no-name directionless guy who's not a tenth as handsome or well-dressed.
It's ridiculous to think it, even when he says it inside his head it's ridiculous, but he tries to believe it anyway. Because Seokjin had asked him for everything, and he'd kissed him like he was the only person in the world, so Yoongi's making a permanent home inside of his cage.
"Sure," he says finally, realizing Jeongguk is impatiently waiting for him. "What do you need?"
Jeongguk looks around before saying, "I'm in love."
Yoongi freezes, then says carefully, "Seokjin will be pleased to hear it."
Jeongguk huffs an annoyed breath that ruffles his fringe like bird's feathers. "Not Seokjin. Ugh. He's old."
"Watch it, kid," says Yoongi, but he's too busy being relieved to be annoyed. "But you might want to lower your voice if it's not him."
"Jin says when you whisper that's when they bring the cameras," says Jeongguk. "Anyway, you have to help me. Please!"
"Help you with what?" asks Yoongi. "I still don't even know what you're talking about."
Though that's not strictly true, and he hides his smile when Jeongguk looks over to the other three contestants. Namjoon and Taehyung are locked in an epic battle of wills, staring at the last remaining dumpling and waiting to see who will break first, while Jimin narrates their death match in between bouts of squeaky laughter that have him disappearing beneath the table.
Jeongguk's doe eyes are even doughier than usual as he blinks, then looks back at Yoongi in mute pleading.
"Namjoon is hot," says Yoongi, nodding in understanding. "And you're a growing boy. If you need someone to teach you about the birds and the bees…"
"I'm not a virgin," says Jeongguk, a little too loud, and he lowers his voice when Jimin looks over at them. "And it's not Namjoon. It's Jimin, okay? He's soft and perfect and I want to go on dates with him. Stop laughing!"
Yoongi tries, but it's very difficult when Jeongguk looks so annoyed because annoyed Jeongguk is cute and completely non-threatening. Even though his biceps are big enough to crush a pineapple without effort, which Jeongguk had proven to them just the day before and Jimin had practically fainted so Yoongi's not sure what Jeongguk's so worried about.
"I'm not much of a matchmaker," says Yoongi. "Do you want me to call him over? Make a distraction so you can tell him off-camera?"
"No," says Jeongguk quickly, his eyes practically falling out of his head. "No. I did this."
He thrusts a piece of a paper out in front of him, like a kid handing his mom some wildflowers, and Yoongi unfolds it with suitable reverence. He finds a mess of scribbles, cross-outs and half-started phrases and general chaos, but near the bottom there's a handful of more coherent lines that Yoongi reads slowly.
You're smart and awesome
You're brave and pretty
You're nice and funny
(except when you haven't had coffee yet)
I don't know how to write a poem but
I wanted to find a new dream
I found you so
Please be my dream
Yoongi looks back at Jeongguk, who's doing anxious little squats and tiny jumps, and says, "What is this?"
"A poem," says Jeongguk. He bites his lip. "You can't tell?"
"No, no, I can tell," says Yoongi. "Definitely a poem. I'm just not sure why you're bringing it to me?"
"Because you're a rapper. And rapping is angry poetry. Right? So I thought you could help me," says Jeongguk. "I need a lot of help. That took me so long and it's not even any good."
Yoongi tries to keep a straight face as he says, "That's not true. It's just fine."
"But you can make it better."
Yoongi shrugs. "Maybe. Maybe not. But I think something like this should sound like you. If it doesn't, then it's not really fair, is it?"
"I guess not," says Jeongguk, gnawing on his lip. "But I only have one chance. What if he hates it?"
"That's always a risk," says Yoongi. "We can't control other people. But you know what I think?"
Jeongguk shakes his head miserably.
"I think he'll like it, just because it's from you."
The brilliant smile on Jeongguk's face is annoyingly similar to the one that's been in Yoongi's mirror every morning, and he almost laughs at how silly this all is. Silly and confusing and heightened and glorious, and he does let himself laugh, just a little bit.
"What are you guys doing?" asks Jimin.
His voice emanates directly behind Jeongguk, who jumps a foot and spins around into a fighting stance. "Nothing!"
"Doesn't look like nothing," says Jimin suspiciously. His sharp eyes fall on the piece of paper still in Yoongi's hand and he grabs it with inhuman speed. He's already reading it before Yoongi can even register what happened, and Jeongguk is frozen in place, a rabbit beneath a hawk.
Jimin's expression darkens. "You're writing a love poem?"
"No!" says Jeongguk, his voice cracking on the word, and he flushes.
Namjoon and Taehyung join them, and their camera crew comes with them, and Jeongguk's so red that it's alarming.
"That's not fair! None of the rest of us are writing poems for Seokjin," says Jimin. He turns to Tae, waving the paper in front of his face. "Look at this. Jeongguk is trying to cheat!"
Taehyung looks at it with interest. "Is he? Kookie, cheating is such a great idea," he says. "Next time come tell me, I'll cheat with you!"
"I'm not cheating," says Jeongguk, finding the strength to grab the paper despite his high blood pressure. "It's not… that's not what I'm doing."
Jimin folds his arms. "It sure seems like that's what you're doing. But you won't get away with it. I'm going to write him a poem too."
He spins around and stomps away, then stomps back before any of them can say a word. "Actually, we should all do it. And then we can give them to Seokjin, and they can film it, and he can judge which one is the best. And I'll get a reward when it's me."
He glares at Jeongguk, daring him to say anything, and Jeongguk looks at the ground and mutters something inaudible.
"Excuse me, I didn't hear you," says Jimin.
"If that's what you want," says Jeongguk a little louder. He smiles weakly as he looks up. "Whatever you want to do, that's fine. I hope you win."
"I will," says Jimin, looking around for a producer. When he finds one he stomps even more purposefully in their direction, outlining his idea quickly and efficiently and getting buy-in nearly immediately. He comes back and yells at them to get moving, and before Yoongi knows it he's in a love poem battle for beautiful Kim Seokjin, and he's never been less Agust D in his entire life.
The one positive of the plan is that Seokjin is released from whatever dungeon they're keeping him in, and Yoongi gets to see him again. It's a very well-lit and product-intensive dungeon, from the look of him, because he's practically glowing when he gets to the poolside location they'd chosen for their impromptu competition. Taehyung and Jimin applaud him when he appears, Namjoon joining in after a beat and Jeongguk offering a few claps before stopping.
Yoongi doesn't applaud, but he feels his palms get sweaty all the same, and he stares like he's the last glass of water in an endless desert. His poem lies face-down in front of him, another piece of his soul for Seokjin to claim. It's annoying how much he wants to give it away.
Seokjin spends the same amount of time looking at Yoongi as he looks at everyone else, his smile an identical brightness every time.
Kevin Koo comes with him, making Seokjin laugh at something under his breath, and he introduces the competition quickly once they're all settled in. Originally they'd talked about having each of them read their poem to Seokjin, an idea which even Jimin had nearly thrown up at, so instead they're going to read them in the confessional room for voice-overs during shots of Seokjin reading. They've put a flowering plant directly behind him, and he'll look like a Victorian lady receiving favors from her suitors, but instead of being ridiculous he'll be fetching.
"Namjoon," says Kevin without warning, and Namjoon knocks over his chair in his haste. He fixes it, rising with a red face, and shuffles over to hand his poem to Seokjin silently.
The paper is covered on both sides in expansive, looping handwriting, and when he gets back Yoongi says, "You wrote all of that in thirty minutes?"
"It's not very good," says Namjoon. "Nothing original."
Yoongi shakes his head. "You scare me sometimes."
"Read it," calls Taehyung to Seokjin, getting him to look up and grin. "Read it to us!"
"No," says Namjoon, alarmed, but it's too late because Seokjin and Taehyung are always in sync in a way that can't be stopped.
Seokjin clears his throat and finds that sweet spot in his voice that always makes Yoongi think he'd sounds good in a recording booth with a ballad in front of him, and reads:
Cardamom, saffron, ginger and thyme
Lavender, fennel and bay
No spice can compare to the flavors that I'm
finding inside you each day
Lips jasmine soft, like the touch of a rose
A laugh that's as fragrant as mace
The shape of your eyes and your heart juxtapose
a portrait as fair as your face
Were you mine to improve I'd find nothing to change
Not a hint or a taste or a scent
A soul such as yours can find no just exchange
from a man with his kisses unspent
"Please stop," says Namjoon, groaning, and Seokjin does.
But he's smiling, and he says gently, "This is very sweet, Namjoon. Thank you."
He rises up and crosses the flagstones, bending down to kiss Namjoon. Yoongi watches, because he can't do anything but watch, and the way Namjoon tilts into it is familiar and heartbreaking. He's easy, Namjoon, and always open, and Seokjin treats him with such tender concern.
Yoongi's more glad than not, he supposes. Seokjin is kind, underneath the bored arrogance, and Namjoon needs that kindness. And that kindness is one of the bars trapping Yoongi inside of this nightmare, after all.
When Seokjin's done he flicks a glance at Yoongi, inscrutably, but he thinks it might be an apology.
"I can't believe you wrote all that, and it's not even all of it," mutters Jimin as soon as Seokjin's back in his seat. "I don't want to go next."
"Jimin," says Kevin, and Jimin's eyes flash before he puts a big smile on his face.
Jimin's poem is more free form, a confession broken at random places, and Seokjin kisses him when it's done just like Namjoon. He'll kiss all of them, Yoongi realizes, because that's what he's been told to do with them. He looks over at the head producer - Hyebin, he thinks her name is - and she's staring at him so intently that he starts to wonder what Seokjin's been told to do with him.
Jeongguk's work is simple, and even less sophisticated than his efforts for Jimin, so Seokjin smiles as he recites:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
You're handsome and nice
And good to talk to
Jeongguk also gets his kiss, a brush of lips that he accepts like a man facing a firing squad, and Seokjin smooths a hand over his head comfortingly before he leaves.
"That's not what you wrote before," hisses Jimin. "Why didn't you use that one? It was way better."
"Really?" asks Jeongguk, hope dawning on his face.
"I guess I just couldn't decide."
Jimin snorts, but Yoongi loses track of their banter because it's his turn to be executed. Seokjin's face gives nothing away as he gets closer, and he wonders what Hyebin would do if he didn't hand Seokjin a piece of paper but instead crawled into his lap. Got him off, right here, the way he's been thinking about for a full seventy-two hours now.
When he thinks it, Seokjin's eyes spark, and he'd forgotten that this man can read the filthy parts of his mind.
So he hands over his paper carefully, and he's not even back in his seat before Seokjin starts to read.
Mights and moments, strings and hammers
The wait before the drop
Trembling with unplayed music
My fingers anticipating your chords
Moonlight is yours, and the daylight too
Seconds flickering in the corners of eyes
Changing when we move, never holding shape
Futures and visions and fates
I might go and you might follow
I might stay and you might leave
There might be a thousand moments of us
Forgotten in our storms
If you're empty I can fill you
If you're nothing I can find you
But I can't be the might inside your moment
I can only wait, and hope
There's silence when his voice fades away, something pregnant, and Yoongi stares at the flowers because it's too much. Lines stolen from his journal, lyrics and half-thoughts and vague feelings that he'd never meant to share. He'd never meant to feel this way about anyone, but especially not like this, with a lens zoomed in on his miserable face and Seokjin still a mystery, even now.
"Thank you, Yoongichi," says Seokjin, his voice like honey.
He doesn't get up to kiss him, and Kevin calls for Taehyung to finish this. Taehyung's poem is a drawing, which he claims defiantly is just a more sophisticated kind of poem, and most people laugh but not Yoongi. Yoongi's past laughter, past everything, and when Seokjin kisses Taehyung in gratitude for his attempt, he understands the message. He can't look at Seokjin but he can look at Hyebin, her sensible shoes and her businesslike hair. She's still watching him, and that makes things very clear.
But that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt when Namjoon wins.
"It could be me," says Namjoon, skipping a stone across the water. They're at a waterfall, a beautiful place for a weird group date, and Yoongi wishes he knew how to like nature but he doesn't. He's itchy. "I might go home."
"It's me," says Yoongi.
"But you got a rose," says Jimin. He's not skipping stones, he's watching Jeongguk and Seokjin talk in the distance, but he has his lawyer voice on. "It's in the rules of the show. If you get a rose you get to stay, and you got a rose."
Yoongi chuckles. "Is there some kind of Reality TV Court that they'll be held accountable to? They can just edit it out. Or change the rules. Or kick me off for drinking bootleg alcohol with Hoseok every night."
"I did that too," says Jimin.
"Selective prosecution is a bitch," says Yoongi, and Jimin nods reluctantly. "Look, you should be happy. One less person in your way."
"But you were always going to lose," says Jimin, grinning when Yoongi tries to kick him. "I need a threat to leave."
Taehyung sprints over with his hands clasped carefully. "Joonie, I got a frog! I got one! She's very tiny, look."
He opens his hands and frowns, checking them over more and more frantically. "I lost her. Hang on, I'll be back."
He zooms away again, staring at the ground and calling out for his friend, and the camera follows him unerringly as he goes.
"He's not going home," says Yoongi. "Neither are you, and neither is Jeongguk. That leaves me and Namjoon, except they hate me and love Namjoon, so it's me. It's okay, guys. Really. It's just a stupid TV show and it's going to be done filming in two weeks, tops. Seokjin and I can date then."
"No you can't," says Jimin. "He has to do circuits with whoever wins. PR, publicity, all of it. Variety shows. He can't be dating someone else the whole time."
"So that's another few weeks? A month? It's fine," says Yoongi, his heart sinking a few inches. "If he's into me, he'll still be into me."
Namjoon and Jimin exchange a look that sinks his heart a little farther. Like they've talked about this, when he wasn't around. "More like months. Maybe longer," says Jimin. "This is the first gay version of this, you know? They're going to want it to look like it worked. And Seokjin is doing this for his PR, too, so he'll have to be, you know. Faithful. Prove himself."
"I don't follow," says Namjoon. "He punched someone. That's aggression issues, not fidelity."
"He punched someone who told the world that Seokjin sleeps around," says Jimin, very softly. "He has to fix that, too."
Yoongi picks up a rock and hurls it into the pond. "So you're saying if I want to go out with him, I need to win? Guess that means I'm never going to go out with him."
It costs him to say it like that, like it doesn't matter, and it's a stupid price to pay because neither Namjoon or Jimin believe him in the least. But he says it anyway because he's probably being recorded and he'll be damned if he lets that stupid producer woman hear his heart break.
Jimin hugs him and hands him another rock, and Yoongi throws that one too, just for the splash.
As the ripples fade, a cacophony rises behind them and all of them scramble up, staring at the entrance to the filming area. They're supposed to have it cordoned off, but a group of men are standing in the outskirts of the shoot, arguing with the crew about coming in. Loudly.
Yoongi, Jimin and Namjoon drift closer, and Yoongi's on edge but he's not sure why. Maybe because of the nature, or it's the first time reality has intruded in their filming, or because the men seem a little drunk. Or maybe because Seokjin's acting face is cracked, just a little, and there's anxiety lurking underneath his calm.
One of the men breaks away from security and walks towards Seokjin, a big smile on his face. "Seokjin. Fancy meeting you here."
Seokjin doesn't say anything, not a pleasantry or a greeting or even a cutting remark, and Yoongi stops drifting and starts moving with purpose. Jeongguk turns toward the intruder more fully, taking up a little extra space, and his usually friendly face is hard and suspicious. Jimin grunts, jogging ahead of them all with a muttered curse.
"Is this your new beau?" asks the stranger, flicking his eyes over Jeongguk. "Pretty. And getting younger all the time, aren't they?"
The cameras around them push in, changing their coverage, and the stranger doesn't seem put out by it. He's focused on Seokjin, who shifts from foot to foot very subtly, moving away. He knows where the cameras are, he always knows, and Yoongi can see the effort he's making not to react.
Jimin reaches them in the silence, and he puts a restraining hand on Jeongguk's arm. "Sorry, you'll have to go," he says to the stranger, smiling as brilliantly as he ever has. The kind of brilliance that has cutting diamonds inside. "This is a private filming location. You can come back tomorrow."
"But I'm here now," says the man. He smiles back with all of his teeth, a little like Hoseok if Hoseok looked mean, and weedy, and like people should be afraid of him. He's attractive enough, Yoongi supposes, but there's something about him that's repulsive. Hard. "What are you filming, Jin? A new movie?"
It comes with a hint of mockery, and Seokjin shakes his head. "A TV show."
"Ah, a drama," says the stranger, and if Yoongi hadn't already disliked him he'd hate him for the way that that makes Seokjin flinch. "Or…"
He looks around appraisingly, taking in the crews, and the set, and the placard nearby that says what the show is, and he starts to laugh. "Destined Hearts? Oh my. I suppose that's one way to stay relevant."
Jeongguk inflates further, and Jimin's practically hanging off his arm as he keeps smiling. "Jin will always be relevant. He's a once-in-a-generation actor! But we really do need to finish this shoot."
The stranger rakes his eyes over him then glances at the knot of Yoongi, Namjoon and Taehyung like a jeweler sizing up a shipment. "At least you have some attractive bidders," he says. He looks at Yoongi again, smirking. "Mostly."
"Get out of here, Dongwoo," says Seokjin. "I don't know who told you I was here, or why you came, but get out."
Namjoon swears above him, and Yoongi echoes it, his eyes flicking back to Seokjin's face. He'd said the name evenly, without a hint of temper, but Yoongi remembers how he'd said it under the moonlight. Like he was afraid of him. Or not afraid of him, but afraid of what he'd turned Seokjin into, and Dongwoo had ruined a lot of lives but this is the life Yoongi is currently interested in protecting.
"No one told me," says Dongwoo. "Life is just full of funny coincidences. You look good, Seokjin. Tell me, which of these guys is the current favorite? Not to sleep with you - you're going to sleep with them all, knowing you - but to 'win'? I'd love to get a jump on the betting markets."
"Okay, look," says Jimin, dropping his smile. "You need to get the fuck out of here, or -"
Taehyung runs forward and screeches to a halt in front of Dongwoo's face, so close that Dongwoo steps back and throws his hands up protectively. Taehyung doesn't notice, holding his clasped hands up eagerly. "Do you want to see my frog?" he says. "She's very very little!"
He opens his hands, and Yoongi can't see what's in them but Dongwoo yells, "Get that out of my face!" with such panic that it must have been a bigger frog than Taehyung claimed.
"She's really friendly!" says Taehyung, getting closer, forcing Dongwoo back. "They say if you kiss a little frog you'll get a little gift in return. Try it out?"
"Who in the fuck is this guy?" says Dongwoo, spinning around and looking at Sangchul. "Stop him!"
Sangchul freezes, a guilty expression spreading over his face, and Seokjin sighs. "So that's it," he says quietly. Almost too quietly for Yoongi to hear. He raises his voice and adds, "You don't need to know who he is. You don't need to know about any of this. Whatever they thought was going to happen isn't going to happen, so just stop."
Dongwoo turns back to him, finally shaking Taehyung off with a firm arm bar, and says, "I saw Junghyun the other day."
That means nothing to Yoongi but Seokjin's face darkens into all of the anger he hadn't shown before. Into something like rage, and he steps forward. "Don't you dare."
"Dare what?" says Dongwoo. "I'm just catching up. We used to be so close. Junghyun misses you, though. He told me you never stopped by. You never sent him flowers, or even a card. So heartless, Kim Seokjin. You really do just use men up and throw them away, don't you?"
Seokjin's face is a mask now, a mask of fury, but it's nothing compared to Jeongguk who steps forward and says, "Shut up! Don't talk about him like that!"
"Kid, you'll learn the truth about this guy sooner or later," Dongwoo begins, but Jeongguk doesn't let him finish.
"I know Junghyun and he loves Seokjin," he says. "He knows he sent him flowers. He knows he cares. He knows that Seokjin is a good guy, and you're not. You're a bad guy, and you're saying lies about everyone! He'd never talk to you. Ever!"
Dongwoo blinks, and Jeongguk gets closer to him, his biceps flexing. Seokjin pulls him back and stands in front of him, but now he's close to Dongwoo too, with his fist curled tightly at his side. And Jeongguk's bunching up with aggression, and Yoongi's mind runs through futures with hardly a stutter.
Seokjin's second assault, on camera, and the clear ruin of his career. A thing that he loves, for reasons that Yoongi can't fathom, but if he loves this then he should have it. He shouldn't have it taken away by this miserable shit and his smirking, stupid face.
Or Jeongguk, sweet Jeongguk, too young for control and too old for excuse, ruining his own life instead. Of them all Jeongguk would regret it most, be able to live with it least, and Jimin is standing behind him in tears, helpless and confused.
Yoongi sees it, and he sees himself, and he knows what he has to do.
"Hey!" he yells, striding forward. "Who were you again?"
"Lee Dongwoo," says Dongwoo, looking a little relieved in the face of Jeongguk's biceps. "Thanks for asking."
"Yeah, you're welcome," says Yoongi. "I know you, right? Shitty singer? Mediocre dancer? Really, really bad rapper?"
And that gets him, as Yoongi had known it would, because Dongwoo had been ready for Seokjin and their past but this kind of asshole can never live with being untalented.
"Excuse you?" he says, sidestepping Jeongguk and moving towards Yoongi. "Who in the fuck do you think you are?"
"Agust D," says Yoongi, grinning, and in this moment he is Agust D, electricity thrumming through him. All of the things Min Yoongi wants to do and can't, or needs to say but won't, and he wonders if Seokjin will feel the power lines. He wonders if Seokjin will hate him, when he's done with this. "You came to a show once. At the Warehouse? You got on stage and sucked so badly that we couldn't even let you finish. A stuttering mess, if I remember right. We had to kick you out. What did you go by? Bumblebee?"
"Stinger," says Dongwoo, his own placid face gone. "And I slayed at that show."
"Slayed your own pride," says Yoongi, snorting. "Slayed any chance of your parents ever being proud of you for a moment of your miserable life. We had to basically exorcise that place after you were done, it was so shit. Maybe stick to things you're good at. If there are any."
"I was good at fucking your prize over here," says Dongwoo, jerking his head at Seokjin. "Very good."
"So he dumped you because you were great in bed?" asks Yoongi. "That's a first."
Dongwoo steps closer. One step closer, and almost enough. "He didn't fucking dump me."
"That's not what I heard," says Yoongi, raising an eyebrow. "But if it makes you sleep better, sure, I'll pretend to believe you. But maybe you should get out of here before Seokjin starts telling the truth about your skill, yeah?"
Like this shithead would ever leave, with cameras pointed at him but it's another brick in the angry wall he's building. Everyone else is too spellbound to say anything, which is what Yoongi wants. He doesn't want to look at Seokjin, because this is probably goodbye and that can't be on his face right now.
"You wouldn't be able to handle it if he did," says Dongwoo.
Yoongi flicks his eyes down to his groin, then looks up with a smirk. "I don't think anyone would have any trouble handling that. If they could find it."
Dongwoo shoves him, because he's close enough for it, and he's so mad. Yoongi always knows what makes people mad, and he smiles more genuinely. "Thanks for that."
And he punches Dungwoo right in the face.
The silence breaks with the crack of his fist, and Dongwoo's hands fly to his nose, pouring with blood.
"You fucker," he says indistinctly. "I think you broke it. You piece of shit!"
"You looking for more?" asks Yoongi, bored. "I have more."
The cameramen push in on everyone, astonishment on their usually expressionless faces, and Yoongi lets it wash over him. It wasn't a rap but it was a performance, so he crosses his arms and drinks in the applause of the chaos.
The on-set medic rushes over, poking at Dongwoo's nose, making him scream and making Yoongi laugh. They lead him away, along with his frozen friends who didn't even try to stop the fight. Maybe they're not even real friends, given their uniform handsomeness and their lack of concern for Dongwoo as they abandon him at the trees.
Sangchul pulls on Seokjin's arm, though Yoongi's still not looking at him. He can't, he absolutely can't, but he can sense when they take Seokjin to the production tent. When Jeongguk and Jimin and Taehyung sit down on the ground in a heap, Jeongguk in the middle of them both as he cries. When the cameras finally turn off, and start talking to each other about their shots, and Yoongi's finally free.
He's grateful when Namjoon puts an arm around his shoulders and takes him back to where they were skipping rocks into the water and lets him breathe into the silence. He's the villain, and villains shouldn't get quiet moments to lose control, shaking and struggling to draw breath, but he's grateful for them all the same.
"You're so cool," says Namjoon, kissing the crown of his head.
"You shouldn't say that to people who punch people," says Yoongi. "Violence isn't cool."
"It's definitely not," says Namjoon. "But you are. You're the biggest tiny guy I know, Min Yoongi. I think I'm a little in love with you."
Yoongi laughs into his shoulder. "You're a little in love with everyone."
Namjoon nods. "I have a lot of catching up to do on that front."
"I think you're doing okay," says Yoongi. He closes his eyes, feeling stupid and dramatic. "Be good to Seokjin, okay?"
"Be good to him yourself," says Namjoon, and he sounds amused. "He's not going anywhere."
"I ruined his show," says Yoongi. "Dongwoo ruined it, but I ruined it more. This thing was supposed to help him, and I'm a liability to him now."
"No. You did good," says Jimin above them. "I wish I could have done that, but I just get scared. I'll represent you, though, if he tries to press charges. Which he shouldn't. He instigated the violence."
Jeongguk flops down on the other side of Yoongi, his face tear-stained, and says, "You should have let me do it. I wanted to do it, for Junghyun."
"You might have killed him," says Yoongi lightly, poking at his muscles. "Look at that beef. Better to have my noodle arms do any punching."
That makes Jeongguk cry again, throwing himself on Yoongi's shoulders, and Jimin leans down and drapes himself around Jeongguk's neck and bites his hair until he calms down.
"Where's Taehyung?" asks Yoongi, for something to say inside the pile. Because he doesn't want to cry, or anyone to bite him, and all he can do is try to fill up his mind with other things.
"Production tent," says Jimin.
With Seokjin, he doesn't say, but that's okay. Namjoon can say what he wants but Seokjin's fucked because of this. And it's not Yoongi's fault, exactly, because he hadn't invited Dongwoo here but this violence is going to be the story now. The only thing they can do is send him home, to finish it, and one of these other guys will spend the next year of their life dating Seokjin instead.
He rubs at his eyes, trying to be subtle, and Namjoon is just hugging him again when Taehyung strides out of the production tent, loose clothes flapping behind him. He looks powerful, and a little terrifying, and when he snaps for a camera three fly at him without question. He moves until he's close to their intertwined group, until the waterfall is dropping behind him, then spins around and clears his throat.
"I have an announcement," he says, his voice almost too loud for his size. Deep, and commanding. "Please pay attention because I'll only say it once."
Seokjin steps out of the tent, face pale with red spots high on his cheeks. He looks upset, and angry, but Taehyung doesn't acknowledge him. He does acknowledge Hyebin, who gets a little salute before Taehyung changes back to intimidating.
"The announcement is," he begins.
He looks down at them, winking, and Jimin whispers, "Oh my god."
"I quit," says Taehyung mildly, then turns around and walks off the set.
Chapter 11: I Have Something Really Important To Tell You
"So this is a clusterfuck," says Hyebin.
They're back at the mansion, not home but a place approximating it after the hell of Jeju, and this meeting feels like war. And Jin is still the battlefield, full of blood and death and ugly betrayals, but he doesn't let any of that show. They'd pissed him off, but wasting energy in anger that could be used in negotiation has never been his style.
"No disagreement here," says Nayoung. Her devices are arrayed in front of her like guns, and Hyebin's are too, and any minute one is going to buzz and topple the entire enterprise. "But we're willing to let you fix it."
A lesser creature would be offended, but Hyebin only raises an eyebrow. "Your client is the one blatantly violating his contract. Causing filming delays, extra work for our editors, trying to dictate terms he has no right to dictate. But if he's willing to cooperate going forward, we'll forget the past. We won't even ask for an apology."
Jin's inner mind laughs, it laughs until it nearly bursts, but he drums his fingers on the table and says nothing.
"His contract is less restrictive than you'd like us to believe," says Nayoung. "I should know, I helped write it. If you wanted a puppet, you shouldn't have targeted Seokjin. Or me. And if you'd like to talk about breach of contract, we'll happily discuss Lee Dongwoo."
"You left us no choice if we wanted any kind of storyline," says Hyebin, but she doesn't get any farther before Nayoung cuts her off.
"To be sure," she says. "The storyline of putting your actors in danger is so coveted. And that hot air balloon company had failed its last safety inspection, did you know that? What an emergent pattern to lay in front of a judge."
Sangchul clears his throat. "Perhaps we should leave off discussion of the past, and focus on the rest of the show."
There's a long pause, and Hyebin and Nayoung smile identical smiles in tandem. Jin almost shivers when they agree sweetly that it's water under the bridge.
"So here's where we are," says Hyebin. "Out of respect to you, Dongwoo will not appear on the show. We're in good shape from a dramatic standpoint for the last Jeju episode, thanks to the fight and Taehyung's surprise departure. Taehyung refuses to reconsider his decision, but he's agreed to film a series of confessionals giving us a more coherent story to get to that moment."
"How will you show the fight without showing Dongwoo?" says Jin, his first words since he got into the room.
"Editing. It will be a fight with a member of the production staff."
Nayoung frowns, looking sideways at Jin. "How will that play? From what I can tell the only staff friction here is in this room."
"Yoongi's also agreed to additional confessionals to create the narrative. New scenes showing annoyance with the rules and restrictions. Instances of breaking the rules and being reprimanded. Using cell phones, drinking," says Hyebin. "It would help if you'd film something with him, talking about his temper."
Jin takes a deep breath, considering. Feeling the thrum of electricity at Yoongi's name, like he always does. They haven't spoken since the island. Jin hasn't spoken to any of the contestants including Taehyung, though whether they're hiding him away again in punishment or in the hope of lessening unwelcome attractions Jin isn't sure.
Not that they can hope for either. Jin categorically refuses to be punished, for anything. And he's slept with Yoongi's poem under his pillow every night like a love-struck teen, and he's replayed the moment where Yoongi's fist connected with that asshole's face every minute of his life, and he's lost. He's lost, and it's inconvenient but being hidden away won't erase it. It certainly won't make him ready to spend the next year of his life faking a relationship with Jeongguk when he's got an entire Yoongi to devour. In pieces.
Because he's now keenly aware of Yoongi's harder side, the little growl in his voice when he's not fucking around, and that's something he'd like to see again in a much more intimate setting. Very, very soon.
But the producers have effectively kept them out of proximity, which means he doesn't know why Yoongi would go along with this but he's grateful all the same. "I will," he says. "If he avoids legal trouble. And I don't want him to look like an alcoholic, or an abuser."
"Fine. And Yoongi will remain for another week to keep the numbers right," she says, irritation all over face. "Yoongi and Taehyung are both from Daegu, so the hometown visit can be shifted to Yoongi without much expense, though we have to get the release forms signed by his family. He claims that won't be a problem. And then he'll go home, and Namjoon, Jimin and Jeongguk will remain, and Jimin and Jeongguk will be the final two, and Jeongguk will win. Is that clear?"
Nayoung looks at him again, but this time it's annoyed, because they'd argued about this for a solid hour last night until Jin had pulled out his best fake tears to get her to fold. "We'd like to see a cut where Yoongi is the winner."
"Absolutely not," says Hyebin, too quickly. Like she'd anticipated it. "He's the villain. If we don't have him, we don't have anyone, and the show needs one."
"Then make him a redemption story," says Jin. "Surely that's possible."
Hyebin and Sangchul both exchange a glance. "That's not what the audience wants to see. They want to see destined romance and fates aligning, not an incorrigible flirt who hits on all of the contestants trick someone into falling in love."
"Isn't that what I'm doing?" asks Jin, eyebrow arching.
"You're looking for love," says Hyebin. "It's not the same. Seokjin, you're a good actor but this is our area of expertise. We know what the audience wants. We've done this a thousand times."
"But you've never done a gay show before," says Jin. "So you're already sure that they want something new."
"We're not saying Yoongi is the only way. We're saying show us the option," says Nayoung. She stands up, and Jin follows. "Do it and he doesn't walk. That's all."
No one stops them from leaving, and as soon as they're in the hall Nayoung smacks him on the back of the head. "You're an idiot."
"I love you too," says Jin.
"Whoever invented emotions should be killed," she says, already on her phone. "Never talk to me again if they call your bluff."
Jin blinks, because she sounds like she means it and that hurts more than he would have expected. "Very well."
"And invite me to the stupid wedding," she says, walking off. "Even if you have to do it abroad."
She's gone before he can reply, but he smiles at the empty space before he goes back to the guest house.
Jimin and Jeongguk are the first scheduled hometown visit, all of them together on a train to Busan, and Jin wonders why Hyebin doesn't just make a show out of them instead.
"Kookie, you can't go there," says Jimin. "I want to take him there. You can go somewhere else."
"But it's my favorite ice cream place," whines Jeongguk. "Please?"
Jimin's eyes are soft but he still shakes his head stubbornly. "I'm older, so I get to claim it."
"Okay, then I'll take him to the beach!"
"You can't take him to the beach, that's the best place!" says Jimin. "Neither of us can take him to the beach."
Jeongguk whines again, and Jimin whines back, and Jin finds them adorable but exhausting. He's also found that speaking up is a bad idea, because it only makes them bicker more.
Especially because Jeongguk's shy of him, in a way he'd never been, now that they've broached the topic of Junghyun.
Jin had pulled him aside the first chance he had, as soon as they got on the train, because when he wasn't thinking about Yoongi he was thinking about Junghyun. A kid almost as sweet as Jeongguk, and his life had been ruined because of Jin but Jeongguk said he didn't hate him for it, which was nearly unbelievable.
Their talk had been filmed but Jeongguk hadn't cared so Jin hadn't either, and Jeongguk had cried on him more than once as he told the story. Junghyun had been one of his clients, almost like a brother by the end, and Jeongguk had never known he was gay. He'd never known anything about Jin, either, not until the news came out, but he'd assured Jin that Junghyun may have ended up in the hospital but it wasn't because of him. That Junghyun had never blamed him for what happened, and that he was better now. Not all the way better, but better.
"He really liked the flowers you sent," he'd said, wiping his eyes. "He knew they were from you. He said it was the kind of thing you would do. He said you were always nice to him, even though it was just a hookup and you could have ignored him. That happens, you know, but you didn't do that. You treat people like people, he said. So when I told him my aunt wanted me to come on the show he said I'd be lucky if you fell in love with me. So don't listen to that jerk. Junghyun wants you to be happy. So do I."
Jin hadn't cried, but a weight inside of him had lifted, and he'd kissed Jeongguk on the forehead and thought that anyone Jeongguk fell in love with would be lucky too.
As soon as they'd emerged from the compartment, Jeongguk's eyes red-rimmed and puffy, Jimin had whisked him away with a dark look at Jin and started planning out their hometown dates with deliberate cheer.
"I'll take him to my school," says Jeongguk. "He can see all my baseball trophies."
Jimin doesn't argue, and Jeongguk pokes him in the cheek. Jimin bats him away and says, "I didn't go to school here, so that's fine."
"Really?" says Jeongguk, frowning. "Where did you go?"
"Seoul Arts Prep," says Jimin. "When I thought I'd be a dancer. But the law pays better."
Jin says, "Oh, that's where I went. It's a good school."
He doesn't say it with any special intent, but Jimin startles, like he'd forgotten Jin was there, and says, "Oh. Yeah. Really? Yeah that's cool."
Jeongguk wrinkles his nose, and Jin says delicately, "Maybe we were there at the same time."
"Probably not," says Jimin, squeaking slightly and burrowing into his turtleneck.
Jin's never considered himself Sherlock Holmes, but as Jimin's eyes disappear behind the fabric he feels like this might be an exception. He tries to picture Jimin younger, and smaller, and a little less glam. Rounder, maybe, without so many angles, and a hazy recognition starts to emerge.
"Did you wear glasses?" asks Jin, and Jeongguk is staring at them both suspiciously, even more so when Jimin nods.
A light bulb flickers inside an empty drama club room. A young kid, bowl cut and big glasses and a soft song playing in the background. So nervous, entirely nervous, and Jin hadn't known who he was but he'd known he was making a mistake. Jin hooked up, because it was simpler, which meant any confession to him was always a mistake. He doesn't know what he'd said to Jimin, or how he'd said it, but Jimin's now-complete lack of face isn't a good sign.
He remembers something Yoongi said once - he remembers everything that Yoongi says, whether he means to or not - about Jin getting confessions, and turning them down, and for the first time in a long time he feels something like shame.
"I remember you," says Jin quietly. "I'm sorry if I hurt you."
"You didn't," says Jimin, a little muffled. "I didn't really think it would work."
"But that was because of me, not you," says Jin. He smiles when Jimin's eyes peek out again. "You were really cute. And I was a real jerk. And now you're gorgeous, and I'm very glad you're here."
Jimin's smile comes out again, along with a soft thanks. "But you weren't a jerk. I've had a crush on you for a decade. Do you think that would happen if you were a jerk?"
"Maybe, given how handsome I am," says Jin, gesturing to his face, and Jimin laughs. It's a laugh of relief, of something light, and he looks a little bit like that young kid again. But happier, because of Jin, and that's something to be proud of.
Though when Jimin looks back to Jeongguk and brightens more, Jin thinks maybe he can't take full credit. "So you're taking him to the school. Where else?"
But Jeongguk's arms are folded, and he's pressed against the window like he's trying to phase out of the train. He doesn't say anything, staring at the countryside with furious concentration, and Jimin's smile dims. He glances at Jin, who doesn't have anything to say, then stands and stretches so far his shirt rides up above his pants.
Jeongguk doesn't look.
"I'm going to the bathroom," says Jimin, and Jin nods acceptance, but Jeongguk doesn't say anything. He doesn't talk when Jimin's gone, either, but this isn't the sort of thing Jin can fix so he leans back and recites Yoongi's poem in his mind once more.
Jin meets up with Yoongi in Daegu on his way back rather than traveling together, because trains have compartments and doors that lock and Hyebin's still treating him like a prisoner in maximum security whenever she deems it necessary.
Which is whenever Yoongi enters the picture.
The rest of the Busan trip had been fine, a little colorless and forced, but the Parks were nice and the Jeons were loud and Seokjin had been as entranced by the city as he needed to be and as good of a future son-in-law as any parents could hope for. He'd asked both Jeongguk and Jimin if they wanted to meet each other's parents, and Jeongguk had said no grumpily while Jimin had said no sadly, and the train ride back north has been among the more awkward experiences of Jin's life.
Though the initial greeting with Yoongi rivals it.
"Hello!" says Jin, bowing, then reaches his hand out to shake, Western-style, then wonders what's happened to his brain. Or his heart. "Thank you for welcoming me to the birthplace of rap."
Yoongi blinks, then bows in return. He's in his baggy, formless clothes and a face mask that hides his pretty mouth and overall he looks like any man Jin would pass on the street without a second look. But he also looks like himself, more himself than he's ever been. He's gotten sexier in the intervening time, somehow, in the week since they've seen each other, and Jin wants to see him every day. He's almost shaking with it, now that Yoongi's within touching distance.
But Yoongi doesn't touch him, and Jin smiles with a hint of desperation. They're waiting for the van to pull around to pick them up from the station, and Jin doesn't know how to make small talk with sexy gremlins.
"How's the weather been?" he asks, and Yoongi laughs. "Shut up."
"Do you want me to answer your question or do you want me to shut up?" asks Yoongi without missing a beat, and like a key clicking into a lock everything is just like it's always been.
"It's good to see you," says Jin.
Yoongi nods, ducking his head away. "Yeah."
"Nearly a week and all I get is 'yeah'?" says Jin. He crosses his arms. "Yoongichi, where are your manners?"
"Not in Daegu."
The van pulls up, which forestalls any other questions until Jin and Yoongi are squashed into the backseat while a camera watches their every move. Yoongi's watching him, too, like he's not quite sure what Jin's going to say next, and Jin likes it when Yoongi's off balance.
"I never got to say thank you," says Jin, voice low. He reaches down and takes Yoongi's hand, playing his thumb across the back of it with slow intent. "Did you hurt yourself?"
Yoongi shrugs, but he doesn't move his hand. "Not much."
Following some baser instinct, Jin raises Yoongi's hand to his lips and kisses each knuckle, like he can see the bruises. He does it slowly, and deliberately, and he's sure that Yoongi stops breathing when he runs a finger down the soft flesh of his inner arm.
"It was the other hand, actually," says Yoongi. His eyes are sparkling and lovely, and Jin doesn't hesitate when he reaches down to take the other hand and do the same thing again.
Yoongi watches him the entire time, a cat with a fascinated mouse, and Jin thinks he might be able to come, just like this. He uncurls Yoongi's fist until he's kissing the pads of his fingers, one at a time, careful and concerned, and they have five people watching them and it doesn't matter at all.
"Seokjin," says Yoongi eventually, a little broken. "Stop."
Jin kisses his palm this time, a small lick of the tongue accompanying it, and he huffs a laugh at Yoongi's strangled groan.
That does get him to stop, though he keeps running his fingers down Yoongi's bare forearm. "You've never called me that before," he says. "Jin. I like it."
"Jin," he says again, heavy and emphatic in his deepest, most graveled voice that shouldn't come from a man this tiny, and Jin melts. He fucking melts for a guy, and if he weren't so horny he'd be extremely pissed off.
Fortunately Yoongi solves that for him by taking his hand back, gently. "You don't have to do this."
Jin frowns. "I never have to do anything. I only ever do things I want to do."
Yoongi laughs, but his eyes are still sad. "I know I'm not going to last on this show," he says quickly, like it's something he needs to get past. Like it's something he's been thinking through for a while. "You don't… I know, okay? They want me gone, and you're going to be with someone else."
"I'm working on that," says Jin, then wonders if that's too revealing.
"You shouldn't," says Yoongi, which answers his question rather neatly. "You told me what this means for you. This show is your life. Your future. You can't jeopardize it for -"
He breaks off, and Jin puts his careless mask back on as he moves away. Letting his unfurling heart tighten up again, safe from all sorts of pain. "For what, Yoongichi? Tell me, I'm fascinated."
Yoongi looks at the camera, gnawing on his lip, then says, "For a fuck up like me. That's what I am, and any of the other guys are going to be better for your image. We still barely even know each other, not really, and you want to keep acting and that can't happen if it's me. So let this be a disaster, let my parents hate you and I'll go home, and this can all stop."
"Did they ask you to say this to me?" asks Jin, curious despite himself. There's so much space between them on their crowded van bench. "Or did you volunteer?"
"I just want you to be happy, Jin. That's all," says Yoongi quietly. So quietly that if they were alone, Jin would believe him, but it's all Hyebin's words now.
"Your poem was beautiful," says Jin, not looking away for an instant. "The loveliest thing I've ever received. And you can call me Seokjin."
Yoongi's childhood home is small but neat, clearly loved despite its size. A small couple are waiting on the stoop, the woman wearing Yoongi's face in an even more delicate form, the man strong and unbowed. They don't look awed to meet him, like the Jeons had, or confused, like the Parks. They just greet him steadily, with quiet confidence and easy acceptance, and they're so much like their son that some people might cry.
Jin isn't some people.
"It's so wonderful to meet you," he trills, laying it on as thick as he can. "Your son has been such a delight to get to know. You both deserve endless credit for raising him so well."
"Thank you," says Yoongi's father.
"And such natural talent as an actor," says Jin. He turns to Yoongi's mother. "Do you have experience on the stage? Talent like that must come from somewhere."
She shakes her head, smiling slightly, then gestures him to the house. "Please, won't you come inside?"
"I'd be thrilled, thank you," says Jin, bowing as deeply as he would to an emperor. When Yoongi smacks him with the back of his hand, a not-so-subtle request to knock it off, he grabs it in his own and pulls him inside.
"I told you to stop," Yoongi hisses. "Let me go, dammit."
Jin halts, the cameras behind them almost running into them before they back off, and he lets go of Yoongi's hand but only to reach up and stroke his cheeks sweetly. Romantically.
Yoongi needs to learn a lesson.
"I told you I only do what I want to do," he murmurs, kissing Yoongi's now-revealed mouth softly. He pulls back, then does it again, and Yoongi leans with him the second time, breathless. "And if you're going to be the way you are, then I'm going to enjoy myself."
"The way I am?" asks Yoongi, but his eyes are half-closed, his pink lips parted. He still wants Jin, at the very least, even if it's not enough, and Jin will take that small victory.
"Stubborn," whispers Jin, kissing him again. Palming his cheeks, to draw him closer. Seduce him, with everything he has in him. "Annoying. Completely irresistible."
Yoongi grabs at him, yanks him in like that first time on the beach, mouths sliding and wet, and Jin counts to five in his head before he breaks away.
"Your parents are waiting," he says mildly, turning around and leaving Yoongi to watch him go.
Yoongi spends the rest of the day as far away from Jin as possible without actually being in another room, but his eyes are always on him. He's mad, Jin can tell, especially as Jin continues to sing his praises to his increasingly smitten parents.
Yoongi's mom unbends to him quickly, teaching him an old family recipe side-by-side in the kitchen and pronouncing it perfect when he finishes. She even pinches his cheek, a surprising move that Jin accepts with so much gratitude that she calls him a young flirt before hustling him out. His father's a little tougher to crack, more resistant to charm - like his son, Jin thinks sourly - but Jin impresses him with his education, and his travels, and his broad perspective on the world, things he clearly covets for his children.
So Jin tells him stories of some of the countries he'd seen, and speaks English as smoothly as he can, and by the time he and Yoongi leave for other scenes Jin has done his job of leaving them with the impression that Yoongi would be an idiot to give him up.
Of course, Yoongi is an idiot, it becomes clear when he takes him to the park where he and his brother played basketball without so much as holding his hand. But Jin keeps up the flirtation by asking him to show off his skill, reddening Yoongi's cheeks with just a few sly words and feeling powerful inside his rejection.
"Play me one-on-one then," says Yoongi, making a beckoning motion with his fingers. "I'll kick your ass, you snake."
"Snake?" asks Jin, tilting his head to the side. "You must be getting me confused with Taehyung. I'm an angel."
"You're a devil," says Yoongi. "I know you think you're winning, but you're not."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," says Jin. "Though if we were competing, I'd always be winning."
"Still hustling hot guys on the blacktop after all this time?" says an unfamiliar voice, and Jin turns to see a woman a little younger than them at the edge of the court, hand on her hip. Her hair is bright blue, and short, and there's a ready glint in her eye that probably means trouble. "Some things never change."
"Suran," says Yoongi. It's happiness and anxiety mixed, and he throws her the ball, which she catches adroitly before passing it between her legs and sending it back. "You're the hustler. How much shit have you talked me into over the years?"
"Always for your own good," she says, then turns to Jin with a blinding smile. "You're Kim Seokjin."
"I'm whoever you want me to be, my queen," says Jin, making his way over to kiss her hand. He can't see Yoongi's face, but he can feel his irritation so that means he's doing the right thing.
She accepts the kiss, bemused, and says, "Right now I just want to grill you until you give up all your secrets. I'm Suran, by the way. No second name, I've known Yoongi forever, and I know better than anyone what a handful he is. How much trouble has he been causing you?"
"All of it," says Jin. "This would be a much more peaceful show without him around."
"That's what I've been saying," Yoongi begins, but Jin doesn't let him finish.
"And a useless one," he continues smoothly. "Yoongi brings a unique energy to the set that we can't do without."
Suran laughs, loud and unrestrained. "That's one way to put it. I can't believe he's lasted this long, to be honest. I practically had to hold a knife to his dick to get him to go."
"Really?" says Jin, like he's only mildly interested, and Yoongi throws the basketball again in a warning that Suran entirely ignores.
"Oh yeah," she says. "I thought it would be a great idea for him - get him out of that fucking shell - but can you imagine anyone less suited to throw himself into an all-out-war to romance some random guy? No offense."
"None taken," says Jin. "I entirely agree. It's so uncharacteristic that I think that if he put in any effort at all it would mean true love."
She laughs again. "Exactly."
"Why in the hell did I agree to let you come to this visit?" mutters Yoongi.
She gives him a fond smile before running over to throw her arms around him, bunching up his baggy hoodie. "Because you missed me, obviously."
"Yeah," says Yoongi, a crooked smile on his face over her shoulder. "I did."
Jin studies them without appearing to do so, taking in the body language and the spaces between their words and the way they fit together. He's good at this sort of thing, seeing the feelings between people and recreating them for the screen, and he learns their relationship as easily as breathing.
A long friendship, certainly. A person Yoongi loves, one of the few people deep inside his heart. They've slept together as well, that's obvious from their comfort with each other's bodies. Slept together a lot, Jin decides, watching how Yoongi settles a hand around her waist as they talk. Curling and familiar, and much too intimate for even friends.
And when Suran exclaims over Yoongi's blonde hair, running steady hands through it and pinching his cheek Jin realizes with an unpleasant lurch of his stomach that they're still sleeping together. That they'll sleep together tonight, probably, if Jin gives them the space to do so.
So this is the real reason Yoongi's been so compliant. The choice he's making, behind the choice of the producers. A Suran who's simple versus a Jin who's complicated. The safety of the known versus the risk of a chance. It's not what he would have expected from Yoongi, that bold, careless guy, but as Yoongi had said, they still barely knew each other.
And rejection is rejection, so it shouldn't hurt differently to know that he's being thrown over for someone else but it does. It twists him in a new place, enough that he suggests that Yoongi and Suran do their private scene first, discussing Yoongi and Jin's entirely fictitious relationship and her opinions on it. Jin doesn't have the heart to talk to her right now, not this woman who will have so many of the things he'd recently allowed himself to want. Not the woman who Yoongi never stops touching once she's close, his hand always on her shoulder or her knee or holding her hand.
So Jin sits quietly on a nearby bench while they find the ideal location to film the two of them, and he watches birds light on tree branches and doesn't allow himself to feel at all.
"How should we do this?" asks Suran. "I've never been on TV before."
"It's not hard," says Jin, smiling reassuringly. Faking it as hard as he can. "You'll be wonderful. You have a great stage presence."
"Thanks," she says, smiling back, then snorting. "Yoongi's watching us."
Jin looks over before his mind gives his body permission, and Yoongi misses his next shot in his haste to look away.
"He's such a dork," says Suran. The camera director nods, so Jin settles into his show persona more fully. "He's always been so suspicious of things that are easy, ever since he was a kid. Show him something he wants but he can't have, he'll fight the entire world to get it. Give him something he wants but he doesn't think he's earned, and he'll run so fast you'll see a dust cloud."
"Eloquent," says Jin. "Are you a writer?"
"Hardly," says Suran. "I sing. Paint, sometimes. No, I'm just an expert in Min Yoongi. Which is good news, since he's in love with you, and you're going to need the help."
Jin blinks, but it's only a momentary hitch. "I'd welcome any lessons you have to teach," says Jin. "Though I should tell you that I know you're sleeping with him."
Suran chokes, and Jin takes a dark sort of pleasure in startling her so badly. "He told you that?"
Jin shrugs, wishing he could say he had.
"If you're asking if I'm jealous, I'm definitely not," she says. "I'm the one who told him to go on the show, right?"
"For career exposure," says Jin gently. Ruthlessly. "Not for me."
"True," says Suran, and to her credit she doesn't look ashamed. "Why would it have been for you? You're Kim Seokjin, some guy I'd only seen at fifty times my size on a movie screen. You weren't a real person. The idea of you and Yoongi holding hands over some candlelit table never even crossed my mind."
"Does Yoongi ever hold hands over candlelit tables?"
"Not with me," she says, grinning. "I just get him naked. I've never had him publicly serenade me in a music shop."
Jin's silly heart flutters again, and he tamps it down. "He told you about that?"
"Oh yeah," says Suran. "He said it like he hated it, which means he's so proud of himself he's about to shit."
"You make Yoongi sound like nothing but contradictions," says Jin. "Like nothing he says is real."
She shrugs. "If the shoe fits," she says. "But in fairness, it's only when it comes to his own heart. Most of the time he'll ruin his life being honest. But you're really fucking him up."
Jin looks over at him again, where he's playing basketball against himself with furious determination, his face screwed up in something almost like pain.
"Which leads me to my real question," says Suran. "Which is how you feel about him. I know how he feels about you. I knew it as soon as I got here. He'll bleed himself dry for you, which means you're dangerous, because you're charming as fuck and a good enough actor to convince me you're straight. So tell me, Kim Seokjin, are you going to hurt him with your stupid show?"
Jin pauses, considering his words. "I don't want to. But he said he wants to leave."
"Of course he wants to leave," she says impatiently. "You're scaring the shit out of him. But the point is, what do you want?"
"I want him to be happy," says Jin, and it's not a line. "I'd like to be happy too, if it can be managed."
Suran sighs. "Then go over there, you idiot. Tell him you're scared, too. He needs to hear it. Go."
Jin glares at her for suggesting he has a weakness, and she glares back without fear, and to his surprise she's stronger than he is. Though he shouldn't be surprised, not really, because when he finally has his arms around Yoongi for real he realizes that's where he'd wanted to be since Lee Dongwoo reappeared without warning. That he's been running on adrenaline and desire ever since, waiting for the moment when Yoongi would allow him to rest.
He doesn't like knowing he needs someone like that, that he depends on someone that way. But Yoongi's sigh is like music when Jin kisses him, and he whispers that he's sorry, and that he's terrified, that it's all going to be okay.
Yoongi curls his lovely hands around his waist, familiar and intimate, and Jin doesn't stop touching him for the rest of the day. Suran leaves for Seoul before the sun goes down, and Jin lets his sealed heart crack open once more.
"It doesn't work," says Hyebin, throwing a flash drive on the table. "We've dug through footage, cut it several ways, but it won't come together."
Jin gives her a skeptical look as he picks up the flash drive. "You can't find a single way to edit it so that Yoongi and I look like we're falling in love?"
"Don't be smart," says Hyebin. "Of course we can. You're both disgusting. It's the rest of the show that doesn't work. If he's too much of a villain at the beginning, the redemption doesn't work. If he's not enough of one there's no tension, because he shielded other people from ever looking bad. So he has to look bad, but he can't look bad because you want to fall for him. It's impossible."
Jin's fingers tighten around the plastic as he considers, apologizing silently to Nayoung. "What if I didn't need to look good? Forget the redemption arc, just make it look like I'm in love with a bad boy. It's not out of character for me."
"You have to look good," says Hyebin. "You're the hero. You can't look like an idiot."
She blows out a breath then adds, "It's just a few months. Maybe a year. You're telling me you can't wait a year? For your career?"
A year without Yoongi. A year pretending to love Jeongguk, who's not interested in him at all. A year where Yoongi's with Suran, or maybe someone else, someone not so complicated as Seokjin. Who scares him a little less, and wants him much less, and demands nothing at all. Jin calculates the odds that he has something to come back to into a year. The odds that he'll ever be in love again.
He calculates the odds that there's another human as sexy and sweet and protective and perfect as Min Yoongi and comes up with no odds at all.
"Think about the people who work on this show," says Hyebin. "If this season doesn't succeed, there won't be a show, Seokjin. They'll all lose their jobs. Not just me, but everyone here. They've worked hard for you. We're taking a risk. Just meet us halfway, that's all. Let him go home this week and we'll shorten your post-show interview circuit. We'll keep you two in touch. Whatever we need to do. Please."
She sounds as sincere as he's ever heard her, and Jin closes his eyes. "I'll think about it."
"Ilsan is nice," says Namjoon. "Not big, but artistic."
They're going by car this time, a caravan of equipment and jumbled wires, and Namjoon's done his best impression of a tour guide the entire time. Jin wishes he had it in him to do more than paste an expression of interest on his face and let the words wash over him endlessly, but he doesn't. He'd watched the cuts on the flash drive, and Hyebin was right.
It didn't work, and Yoongi had to go home, and Jin might have lied when he said everything would be okay.
"I'm sure it's lovely," he says vaguely, which seems to satisfy Namjoon as he starts to run down every museum in the area in alphabetical order. They're only halfway through when the van pulls up in front of a botanical garden, and Namjoon gets out with a huge smile on his face.
He helps Jin out like a gentleman, bringing a real smile to Jin's lips, and he leans up and kisses him briefly for the look of the thing. "My prince."
Namjoon blushes, muttering that he's not much, and they're just about to go in to start filming when someone says, "Namjoon?"
Namjoon's blush turns pale, and he spins around so quickly that Jin has to steady him to keep him upright. "Hojin?"
Jin looks at the newcomer with as much interest as he can summon. He's handsome, a few years older than Jin, and a little like Jimin in the way he holds himself like he runs the world. But softer. Less cutting, and he's looking at Namjoon with a face that's searching, and open, and a little hopeful.
"I thought you were in Germany," says Namjoon faintly.
"I was," says Hojin. "But I missed Korea. The food. The trees. The people."
"Um. Yeah. We have really nice trees," says Namjoon, and Jin looks at him in bemusement.
"Have you memorized them all yet?" asks Hojin, smiling gently.
Namjoon shakes his head. "I lost my motivation."
Jin's still holding Namjoon's elbow but he doesn't seem to notice his touch. There are tears in his eyes, and the cameramen are already circling to capture them with unerring focus. He hopes Hojin's going to sign a release form, because there's another show happening here. A better show, really, and that's disheartening but he'll allow it.
"Your mother told me you were filming a television show," says Hojin. "A dating show?"
Namjoon finally looks at Jin, another blush rising to his hairline. "Oh. I, uh, yes. The scientific method demands um, rigorous testing, and…"
Jin takes pity on him and steps forward. "Kim Seokjin. I'm the bachelor. Are you a friend of Namjoon's?"
He says it kindly, so it won't sting, and Hojin's smile never changes. "I am. Namjoon and I used to come here often."
"It's lovely," says Jin, meaning it. He looks back at Namjoon and adds, "Perhaps the two of you would like to reminisce inside?"
Namjoon's still tall, and handsome, and broad in a way that should be intimidating, but there's a tear slipping down his cheek that makes him nothing but pitiful. He gives Jin an agonized, grateful look as he steps forward with his hand extended, trembling slightly.
"Can we?" he asks Hojin, almost whispering, as Hojin takes it.
"The scientific method?" he asks in the same low voice.
Namjoon laughs wetly. "Just in case."
Hojin laughs too, and it's so fond, and Jin thinks of Yoongi without any warning at all. "I've missed you, Joonie."
"Me too," says Namjoon. "I wrote you poems."
"I can't wait to hear them," says Hojin, and Namjoon pulls him close and kisses him. He kisses him with confidence, like the leading man in every film, and Hojin follows without hesitation. It's enough to make Jin want to applaud but he doesn't do anything so crass. He just steps back, out of their shot, and listens to them whisper sweetly to each other between brushes of their lips.
And later, much later, Namjoon comes to him with apologies, and they do a scene of him leaving while Jin tries to stay brave. Rejected but unbowed, hurt but still strong, and they get the perfect emotion for the on set producer, who's a little too smug about this unplanned moment.
As she's getting Hojin to sign the appropriate paperwork, Jin grins at Namjoon, who's staring like a lovesick puppy. "So I was your rebound? Me, the handsomest man in existence? How daring of you, Kim Namjoon."
Namjoon whips back to him, sputtering another apology, and Jin laughs it off, kissing him on the cheek. "Don't worry about it. I won't deny my ego's a little bruised, but who am I to stand in the way of destined hearts?"
"Yeah," says Namjoon, a smile spreading across his own face. "Tell Yoongi he owes me one, okay? I'm going to collect someday."
"If Hyebin doesn't kill you first," says Jin. But he doesn't really think she will, because Namjoon falls back into Hojin with a soft, real smile that's better than any script, and when they walk through the doors of the botanical garden hand-in-hand, Jin can almost feel the audience sighing in delight. Can almost hear the soft piano music overlaying it.
And in his mind, there are only two hands playing it, and the universe has bought Jin another week to figure this out.
Chapter 12: He Deserves To Find Love
"Have a good time," says Yoongi, nearly choking on the words.
Jimin's standing in the shared center of their suite, a luxurious place in the middle of Seoul that Yoongi had never wanted to be inside. He certainly doesn't want to be inside like this, with Jimin in tight leather pants and a jacket slipping off the shoulder, an expensive distressed t-shirt wrapped around his chiseled torso. He looks like a billboard for a product called Sex, the massive black boots on his feet the final piece of the puzzle, and Yoongi doesn't think any guy could resist him.
He's going on his date with Seokjin tonight, and they won't see him again until the morning.
It's an aspect of the show Suran had warned him about before it started, but Yoongi had barely even thought about it because it seemed so ridiculous. A solo date, and a night filled with romance, and a love motel waiting for them at the end. A choice, and a Fantasy Suite even more luxe than this one, and a camera-less night of pleasure for people who wanted it.
Jin's going to want Jimin, if Yoongi's any judge.
Jimin toys with the hem of his shirt, like he's not quite comfortable in it, and says, "How do I look?"
"Good," says Yoongi. "Hot."
He nudges Jeongguk next to him, who looks up briefly and echoes, "Hot," before staring back down at the hardwood miserably.
"Not pretty?" asks Jimin.
Yoongi snorts, and it feels like he's swallowed a cannonball, there's so much lead in his stomach. "Not even a little."
"Okay," says Jimin, breathing out. "I'll see you guys later. Bye Yoongi. Bye Kookie."
Jeongguk flinches, then waves half-heartedly. "Bye."
As soon as the door clicks closed behind Jimin, Jeongguk bursts into tears. The cameras swoop in, and Yoongi glares at them but it doesn't matter, so he wraps Jeongguk inside a burrito made of himself.
"It's okay," he says, patting his back. "It's okay."
"It's not okay," says Jeongguk, indistinctly through his sobs. "They're going to sleep together."
Yoongi's hand stops moving, briefly, before he picks up the rhythm again. "They might," he says. "But that doesn't have anything to do with us. Not right now. Okay?"
"But I love him," says Jeongguk, his breath hitching. "He's perfect. I don't want him to sleep with someone else."
"No one is perfect, kid," says Yoongi, grateful for the vagueness of pronouns. "Not even him."
Jeongguk shakes his head, burrowing deeper into Yoongi's shoulder until his shirt is damp and his skin clammy. "He is. When we were in Busan we watched the sun set from the beach and he told me all about growing up and his family and how he used to be really shy, and I used to be really shy too but he didn't laugh at me when I told him. He just listened, and he looked so pretty, and I wanted to tell him I love him but I didn't. I didn't want him to laugh at me, but I should have told him."
Yoongi murmurs soothing sounds, knowing it doesn't matter what he says.
"I wish I were brave like Tae, or Joonie," mumbles Jeongguk. "But I'm not."
"You're pretty brave," says Yoongi. "I think you'll be fine."
"I hope you win," says Jeongguk. "Please try your hardest, okay?"
Yoongi laughs. "Sure. I'll try my hardest," he says, then sobers. "But you have your date in a couple of days, too. That's a lot to compete with."
"I won't go into the room," says Jeongguk mulishly. "I'll say no. I'll run away."
Yoongi swats him lightly. "That will make Seokjin look bad. Don't do that to him."
"Okay. I promise I won't make him look bad," says Jeongguk, sitting up and wiping his eyes. "Will you help me with my poem some more?"
"Sure," says Yoongi. "Bring it here."
In the morning, when Jimin gets back, his hair and clothes remain perfect but his eyes are droopy and pleased, like he hasn't gotten any sleep at all. Not that anyone's there to notice but Yoongi, because Jeongguk's in the gym running on the treadmill, and as far as Yoongi can tell he'll have run all the way to Australia by the time he's done.
When Jeongguk goes on his date Jimin is determinedly, icily cheerful, patting down his hair and smoothing the shoulders of his crisp dress shirt like a general sending his troops off to war. Jeongguk pastes a smile on his face for Yoongi, but he drags his feet as he leaves, limply holding the enormous bouquet the production staff puts in his hands at the last minute.
Jimin watches him go, then turns to Yoongi and announces that no one should talk to him for the rest of the night, because he's going to sleep, because he's tired. When Yoongi gives him a thumbs up Jimin stomps away into his room, and Yoongi pulls out his notebook and doesn't write a single word before he falls asleep uncomfortably on the sofa.
Jeongguk finds him there in the morning, skin sheened with sweat and the top two buttons of his shirt are undone, and Yoongi stares at them in stupefaction while his mind whirs to life. Jimin throws open his door before Yoongi can say anything, saying loudly, "Good morning, Jeongguk. Did they bring us breakfast, or do they expect us to starve in this hotel room?"
"There's a cart in the hallway," stammers Jeongguk, and Jimin smiles brilliantly at him before he goes into the hall and manhandles it in. He talks a mile a minute about nothings while Yoongi sips his coffee and Jeongguk stares at him in mild terror, and Yoongi's never hated anything more than this.
Until two days later, when Jimin is stuffing him into a suit.
"I can't breathe," says Yoongi, tugging at his skinny tie. "It's choking me."
"Great," says Jimin. "Jeongguk, get my product bag from the bathroom."
Jeongguk trots off obediently, and Yoongi levels Jimin with a look as he's straightening his lapels. "What are you doing?"
Jimin doesn't bother to look him in the eye. "It's criminal that you go outside in clothing that's five times too big for you," he says. "I've suffered in silence for the last time. You have a great body, and you're going to show it off, so stop fighting me. Ah, thank you Jeongguk. Hold him still."
And Jeongguk does, his strong arms more than a match for Yoongi, and he wonders if Jin had felt this way during their night together, small and trapped and pliant. When Jimin's eyes play over them Yoongi thinks he's wondering the same thing, and for a brief minute they're in harmony.
The moment shatters when Jimin starts putting product in his hair, styling it and softening it and curling it in little waves. Yoongi can't see what's going on but he can feel it, and he hates it. He hates it even more than the tight white suit that Jimin's got him poured into, the one that Jeongguk says makes him glow. He doesn't know how to tell them that he doesn't need a fucking suit to do that, not when Seokjin's going to be right next to him, turning his blinding light in his direction.
But eventually they're done, and when Yoongi looks in the mirror he hardly recognizes himself. He looks pale, the white of the suit making him ethereal and his hair more touchable than it's ever been. Not that he finds out, because when he tries Jimin smacks his hand hard enough to sting and says, "Don't fuck up all of my work."
"You're a brat," mutters Yoongi, but not too loudly because he doesn't want Jeongguk to hear.
"Yep," says Jimin. "And you're going to be pretty tonight if I have to pour glitter all over you."
"Don't you dare," says Yoongi, and Jimin doesn't, but it's a near thing before Yoongi escapes. There are no flowers for him, nothing so overtly romantic for the villain, so he wipes his hands on his thighs as he waits in the lobby for Seokjin to appear. He's keyed up, full of energy that he has nowhere to put, and he watches the elevator with increasing agitation until it opens to reveal Seokjin.
Yoongi thought when he saw him he would hear bells, or an angelic chorus, or something of that sort, but instead it's just silence. The silence of a vacuum, of space, because Seokjin steps out of the doors in a midnight black suit, his hair brushed away from his forehead and his lips so, so red. He doesn't need Jimin to get him to look this way, to get his cheeks the right shade of rose and his dark eyes smoky and warm, and for a long minute they look at each other, caught inside their own desire.
"You're stunning," says Seokjin eventually, his smooth voice a little rougher than usual. "I'm a very lucky man."
Yoongi doesn't know how to say that it's him who's lucky, that he can't believe he's still here, to see this, to feel like this. He wants to skip the date and go right to the room. He wants to undress Seokjin slowly, unwrap him like a fine chocolate. He wants everything, and Seokjin slept with two other people this week but Yoongi doesn't care. Not enough, not when he looks like this.
"Do I look terrible?" asks Seokjin, his eyebrow arched as he poses like a runway model, and Yoongi shakes himself.
"You clean up okay," says Yoongi, because he can't stop being the way he is even when his entire soul is flying outside of his body.
Seokjin smiles, and Yoongi wants to die.
"Shall we go?" ask Seokjin, gesturing to the car, and when he slides in after Yoongi and pulls away the roar of the engine almost drowns out his mind.
Their date is a folding table with a white linen over it, approximating an outdoor cafe as best it can on the top floor of a parking garage. It's shabby and not at all chic, and by the look on Seokjin's face his other dates this week had been much more elaborate. Certainly more romantic.
"Hyebin is relentless," says Seokjin dryly, but Yoongi shrugs.
"It's not," says Seokjin. He turns to a PA and says, "Get a candle for the table. And flowers. Redo the establishing shots for continuity if you have to."
The PA looks at Sangchul, who sighs and nods, and Yoongi and Seokjin wait side-by-side as they rearrange the table to his satisfaction. It doesn't change the space they're in, doesn't suddenly send them to a rooftop in Paris, but when they're done Yoongi has to admit it does look more enticing.
"You're so demanding," he says.
"Yes," says Seokjin, like it's obvious. "But I'm holding hands with you across a candlelit table tonight. That's what's going to happen, and no one's going to stop me."
"I might stop you."
Seokjin laughs, and Yoongi craves it because it's a real laugh. It's not polite, and it's not flirtation, it's just Jin. Perfect, no matter what he'd told Jeongguk.
"Can tonight be real, Yoongichi?" he asks when he's done. Not looking at him, now, his eyes on the horizon. "If this is the only time we get to do this, I'd like it to be real."
Yoongi hears the message in the words, and understands it, and he doesn't begrudge Seokjin for it. He's the one who said he wanted to leave, who knows this isn't something that can last. It can't give everyone what they need, only what they want for tonight, and he's okay with knowing that.
But he doesn't know how to tell him that it will always be real, to him. That Kim Seokjin has claimed reality for his own, that Suran had made it clearer to him than he could to himself that it's not just the suits and the face and the enticing come ons but Seokjin's spirit that's taken him hostage. It's guitars, and moonlight, and the shirt he'd refused to remove. It's laughter, and his implacable will, and the way everyone should resent him but adores him instead. The gentle way he cares for people without ever wanting them to find out.
It's a spirit he recognizes, and Yoongi's very much in love.
"Then it's real," says Yoongi, reaching out to take his hand. "Take me on a date, Jin."
"Now who's demanding?" says Seokjin dryly, but he squeezes back. "We're splitting the check, I hope you know."
"Of course," says Yoongi, and they sit down at their candlelit table and hold hands across it for the entire meal.
They're supposed to go back to the hotel after, to the room that's taken on something of a mythical quality to Yoongi, but Seokjin insists on walking along the river so they do, cameras a few paces behind as they talk.
"I've never done this before," says Seokjin, his hand still in Yoongi's. "It's nice."
"You've never been to the river?"
"Just for me," says Seokjin. "But not like this. It wasn't safe for my career."
Yoongi nods. "I've never done this either, actually."
"Why not?" asks Seokjin. "You live here, and you don't have to hide."
"This isn't the kind of dating I usually do," says Yoongi, shrugging. He smiles, to soften it. "But maybe I've been missing out."
"Maybe you can bring Suran someday," says Seokjin, a little too cheerfully.
"Don't," says Yoongi. "This is real, remember?"
Seokjin stops walking, turning his body to Yoongi's. His broad, vaguely muscular, intoxicating body, and Yoongi stops just to stand in his shadow. "I remember," says Seokjin quietly, and in front of the entire world he kisses Yoongi, the press of his mouth achingly kind. Yoongi has no shield against it, can never stop leaning into it, and he thinks he could stand here for the rest of his life if that's what Seokjin wants of him.
"There should be moonlight," he mumbles once, curling his fingers into Seokjin's hair. "It's not right without it."
"Use your imagination, Yoongichi," says Seokjin, trailing his sinful lips along Yoongi's cheek. He ends up at his ear, sucking a mark beneath it with indecent enthusiasm, and Yoongi can only hang on. "Besides, I look marvelous in the dark."
"Fuck," says Yoongi, tugging him back to his mouth and slotting them together. He gets closer, as close as he can be without altering the laws of the universe and Seokjin tugs him closer still. They can't get enough of each other's space, hands and lips and breath everywhere, and when Seokjin's large hand cups his ass Yoongi moans embarrassingly.
"Take me back," he says finally, out of breath and certain. "Jin, please."
"Are you sure?" asks Seokjin, and it's a little bit joke and a little bit genuine, just like everything about him.
Yoongi only steps back in answer, tugging his hand to get him towards the car. He probably looks disheveled and desperate, though Seokjin only looks enticingly rumpled, but the way Seokjin's eyes skim over him makes him not care. They don't run, but it feels like running, and when they're back Seokjin holds his hand as they follow the production van through the darkening streets, and Yoongi tells him to go faster just to make him laugh.
Kevin Koo is waiting to present them their key, a scene that's so much more embarrassing than making out by a river, and when Yoongi takes it he's pretty sure he's about to combust. But Seokjin carries them through, just the right blend of detached and interested, and Yoongi can't help but wonder if he was just as kind with Jeongguk and Jimin. If they'd felt the same thrill when they opened the door and walked inside and left the cameras behind.
He breathes out, letting that go. They're pretending this is real. This is real, which means there's no Jimin and Jeongguk, no Suran, no show. It's just them, in this room, and Yoongi's going to allow himself to forget.
Yoongi freezes when he gets into the middle of the suite, a huge bowl of condoms and lube waiting for them on the coffee table like a centerpiece.
"Like it?" asks Seokjin, coming up behind him and making him feel very small. His hand touches Yoongi's dangling silver earrings, brushing the crook of his neck, and Yoongi shivers. "A gift from the producers. Feel free to take a look."
It's an opening that's also a demand, so Yoongi walks over to the bowl and runs his fingers through it, feeling a little ridiculous but no less turned on. Seokjin settles on the low couch, leaning back with his arm across the back in invitation, his leg loosely crossed over his knee.
When Yoongi pulls out an extra large condom, eyebrow raised skeptically, Seokjin smiles. It's a little cruel, and a lot intense, and Yoongi bites his lip hard enough to hurt when Seokjin shifts his hips provocatively. "You're welcome to find out."
Instead Yoongi puts it back, and keeps searching, and Seokjin stare gets a little heavier.
"There are no cameras, right?" asks Yoongi, looking up at him through his lashes.
Seokjin shakes his head. "No," he says, his fingers rubbing along the fabric of the couch. "But there are mics. Somewhere."
And despite what's happening here, the thickness of the air and the way Yoongi's on the verge of hardness just by the weight of his gaze, there's still space for him to say no. Seokjin would still let him step away, and leave this place, and stay out of the producer's grasp. Seokjin is still generous enough for that, still willing to deny himself enough for that, and Yoongi can't resist him.
"That's okay," says Yoongi, dropping everything in his hands. "I want them to hear you."
"Then come here," says Seokjin. "You have a boast to prove."
Yoongi could argue but he doesn't want to. He doesn't want to do anything but cross the room, and lean over Seokjin, and take his face in his hands and kiss him. Kiss him hard, like they've been doing this for hours and he can't resist anymore. Like he's come home from a long day and Seokjin was waiting for him just like this. And Seokjin allows it, opening up with a soft moan, running his perfect fingers up the side of Yoongi's suit to capture their need in the hollow of his palm.
When Yoongi pulls away and starts kissing down him, drawing a ragged line to his loosened necktie, to the buttons that need just a little tug to fall away, to the golden skin that tastes like something wonderful, and expensive, and rare, Seokjin's already trembling.
"You going to last until I get my mouth on you?" asks Yoongi, hands drifting down to brace on Seokjin's ample thighs.
Seokjin glares at him, his breath slightly uneven. "I have the stamina of twenty men, and no one can - fuck."
Yoongi laughs, his mouth sucking a mark into Seokjin's sternum, his hand stroking Seokjin's cock through his thin pants. It's big, too big, enticingly big, and Yoongi's mouth waters even as he says, "Trust me, sweetheart, I can fuck."
"So many promises, Yoongichi," says Seokjin, his head falling back into the couch. He sighs, then tries to stop himself, then says, "Jesus, you're so hot. How are you so hot? It's ridiculous."
"Says the most beautiful man in the world," says Yoongi, and Seokjin huffs a laugh as he gestures for him to keep going. But Yoongi's going down, not up, Seokjin shirt parting for him like curtains onto a mountain vista, revealing something breathtaking and impossible. He pauses, drinking in the sight of his clenched muscles, the dips and ridges inside of his tapered waist, the way everything fits together into his whole. "You're fucking art, holy shit."
He doesn't mean to say that out loud, but he does, and Seokjin groans and weaves his fingers in Yoongi's hair. He doesn't press him closer, just holds him, and Yoongi looks up at him as best he can. Seokjin's hot this way, too, powerful, even though he's at Yoongi's mercy when he says, "Blow me or I'm going to cry."
"Maybe I want you to cry," murmurs Yoongi, just to see more darkness in his eyes, to feel his grip tighten just enough before he unwraps what he's been dreaming about for longer than he cares to admit.
Seokjin is big, cock pretty and curved against his lower belly when Yoongi finally has him in hand. In mouth, licking and kissing and teasing because Seokjin makes such delicious noises above him. For someone so controlled he has no control here, and Yoongi delights in the way he gasps when he ghosts over his head, when he cups his balls, when he starts to take him deep before shallowing out again.
Seokjin's pants are barely even off, still puddled in his lap and trapping the spread of his legs. His jacket and shirt are still on, too, and this feels like a quick, filthy fuck in the bathroom of a club. It's hot, that way, and even hotter because it's not quick at all, and Yoongi can take his time making him crazy.
"Yoongi," says Seokjin, fingers still tight in Yoongi's hair. "Just fucking do it already."
"You're not enjoying this?" asks Yoongi. Laying the hard length of him across his cheek as he looks up, fake pouting, blinking his eyes and he keeps stroking lightly. A little harder than he needs to, but not as hard as Seokjin wants by the way he's rutting into it.
"I am going to murder you," says Seokjin, enunciating precisely. "I will put snakes in your -"
He breaks off when Yoongi's fingers dance past his balls, past everything, and start probing at his entrance. They're dry, so he doesn't do much but circle, but Seokjin apparently doesn't care. His hips shoot off the couch, pressing into Yoongi like he's dying, and fucking hell Yoongi needs to be inside him.
Soon, he tells himself. Very soon.
But for now he kisses Seokjin's cock again, sweetly, murmuring, "How do you want to come first, sweetheart? Down my throat? On my face? Dripping in my hair, where it will take me forever to get it out? What do you want?"
He circles Seokjin's hole again, pressing a single fingertip against it, and Seokjin's already trying to draw him in. "Yes," he says, nearly raw. "Yes."
Yoongi hums. "Guess we'll find out, then, won't we?"
And he stops fucking around, taking him in his mouth for real, one hand still curled around the base to keep jacking him, grinning when Seokjin lets out a strangled cry of pleasure. Because Yoongi's good at this, he's very good, though it's been a while since he's deepthroated and Seokjin is a challenge. But he works him carefully, methodically, listening to his breathing and his nearly constant vocalizations, like learning a song from a distant speaker.
"Fuck," says Seokjin once, right when Yoongi's tongue swirls around his head in a perfect circle. "Fuck you look so good. You are so good. Yoongi. Look at me, Yoongi, please."
So Yoongi does, darting his eyes up, his mouth still stretched wide, trying to look obscene. Trying to look innocent, and Seokjin's fingers brush underneath his eyes, around his mouth, reverent and gentle.
"Baby," he says, breathing heavily. "I don't ever want to forget this."
Yoongi reaches up and touches his wrist, waits for Seokjin to feel it, and hold his hand. He can't talk now but he squeezes, even as he's drawing Seokjin deeper, and he watches his face change from wonder to need once more. Seokjin won't forget this, not if Yoongi does it right. And Seokjin doesn't let go of his hand as Yoongi takes him as deep as he can go, opening his throat for a few precious seconds as Seokjin cries out again.
Seokjin's been good, tightly wound and gentle, but now he fucks into him, trembling, and Yoongi's eyes water but he doesn't stop it. He lets it happen, again and again, pulling back to breathe before opening up once more. Loving the way Seokjin's muscles bunch, the whimpers and the praise, loving everything about this moment, where he's taking this man apart.
"I'm going to -" moans Seokjin suddenly, almost surprised, but Yoongi isn't because he's felt it building. He's been toying with his hole again, enjoying the flutters, and he pulls back just enough to get the taste on his tongue as Seokjin stiffens and groans, bucking up into Yoongi's mouth, his hand flying back to Yoongi's head to hold him in place. Yoongi lets him, swallowing rhythmically, finishing his performance for a cheering crowd.
When Seokjin's done Yoongi pulls off with an obscene sound, spit and wetness and cum all over him, and he wipes it away with a fond smile, because Seokjin's nearly collapsed on the couch. Yoongi doesn't try to speak yet, but he gets up, running his hands over Seokjin's unclothed thighs, up his torso again, cupping his cheeks softly as he goes. Seokjin looks almost boneless, completely spent and utterly debauched, and Yoongi's lets pride curl up inside his chest.
He really is great at sucking cock.
But before he can step away to the bathroom, to look for toothpaste or at least some mouthwash, Seokjin's hand moves at speed, trapping Yoongi's wrist inside the handcuff of his fingers.
"Where are you going?" he asks, his eyes still closed and voice drowsy. "Don't suck and run."
"Clean my mouth out," says Yoongi, and fuck his voice is wrecked. He sounds like he's smoked a pack of cigarettes every day for his entire life, and Seokjin's smile is satisfied and predatory.
Seokjin tugs on him, surprisingly strong for his lack of energy, and his eyes open just wide enough to drink Yoongi in. He tugs harder, until Yoongi's back on his lap, sideways, like a kid seeing Santa. He doesn't try to get away, waiting for Seokjin to tell him what he has in mind. He hopes it involves Yoongi's dick, because Yoongi's dick likes giving head almost as much as it likes receiving it, and now that he's sitting like this it's a problem he can't ignore any more.
"How dare you," breathes Seokjin, drawing Yoongi's mouth against his. Using a lot of tongue, more than he ever has before, and Yoongi grunts in surprise as he licks inside his mouth. He pulls back with a hum of satisfaction, saying, "Trying to deny me the pleasure of myself. Nearly unforgivable."
"Narcissism is a clinically diagnosable disease," says Yoongi, but he kisses Seokjin again, slowly. Filthily, messily, just the way he likes it, and the way Seokjin apparently wants it, which is almost unbelievable. But he'll take it, this gift, this new thing that they both want together, and when Seokjin's hand finds his cock he whines embarrassingly and tries to get closer.
"That's it," murmurs Seokjin, his mouth still wet and sloppy against Yoongi's. "Don't hold back with me, baby. Let me feel you. Whatever you want."
"I want," says Yoongi, and then he stops because Seokjin presses the heel of his palm into the base of his cock and his brain short circuits. It's nothing but stars, and he thinks he whines again until Seokjin drags his tongue across his parted lips.
The hand leaves him, which isn't what he wanted at all, but it's busy at his throat, loosening his tie, undoing his buttons. Not pushing his clothing half-off like Yoongi had but all the way, exposing his ghost-pale skin to the world in a way that he's not sure he's ready for. But he is ready for the way Seokjin looks at him, hungry and eager, and he throws Yoongi's shirt across the room with surprising vigor.
"What do you want?" asks Seokjin, nibbling on his jawline. Drawing him closer, splaying a hand over his chest. "Tell me. I love your voice. Love it even more like this. What do you want do to me?"
"I want," says Yoongi again, shuddering a breath when Seokjin pinches a nipple between his long fingers, just this side of painful. He's going to die tonight, he's very sure, and he's going to enjoy it. "Want to fuck you."
"I want to be fucked," says Seokjin, thready. "Want that gorgeous cock inside of me. How do you want me?"
"Hands and knees," says Yoongi, closing his eyes. Caught up in it, in the way Seokjin's relentlessly toying with him, the shift of his cock as he squirms. "Then back, to watch you come. And I want to eat you out. Can I?'
"Yeah," says Seokjin, lips back on his neck. "Yeah baby, you can do that. I cleaned up for you today. I'm ready."
"For me?" asks Yoongi, and it comes out like disbelief, like the shock he's not supposed to be feeling right now, but Seokjin takes it in stride.
"Just for you," says Seokjin. "Just you. I've always wanted you, Yoongichi, since that very first night. Lust at first sight, love at second, and you're my destiny. Everything I am is for you."
Yoongi's heart twists at the story, at the half-truths and the almosts, and he squeezes his eyes tighter against the tears. He wants it so badly, those tumbling words from Seokjin's lips in that voice that sounds like music. Seokjin had said he never wanted to forget this but Yoongi doesn't think he'll be able to. He's ruined for life, and Seokjin's will be with Jimin or Jeongguk, and Yoongi nearly begs him to change his mind.
But instead he swallows hard, breathes until the emotion is absorbed back into his heart again, hidden and gone. He cards his fingers through Seokjin's lovely hair, and leans forward until their foreheads are touching.
"Don't call me Yoongichi," he says, and Seokjin laughs another real laugh. Another beautiful laugh, and then they're making out again, Seokjin stroking Yoongi idly, Yoongi tugging him to new places without thought.
And then Yoongi's pants are gone, through some kind of witchcraft because he doesn't remember it happening he's so lost in Seokjin's mouth. In the silky words he's still whispering, in the desires he's making Yoongi vocalize. The way Yoongi wants to finger him open, stretch him in all the right ways, the way he wants Seokjin to fuck him, too, to give himself over to it. The way he wants to do this every day for the rest of his life, in every way they can possibly think of, and Yoongi's a fool but he's still so hard.
The minute Yoongi's naked Seokjin stands up, arms strong around Yoongi's waist and under his ass, and Yoongi twists and wraps his legs around him without conscious thought.
"What the fuck?" he says, once his brain registers what's happening. He wiggles, then groans at the slick friction against Seokjin's skin, then stops because Seokjin doesn't even come close to letting him go. "I can walk."
"Sure you can, baby," says Seokjin, not moving. Just holding him, stroking his lower back, staring at him with lights in his eyes. "You can do anything. But you're going to be fucking me hard, and you need to save your strength."
Yoongi sucks in a breath, and Seokjin grins as he leans forward, shifting their weight effortlessly. His fingers aren't stroking anymore but scratching, dragging, and he bites Yoongi's shoulder without warning, hard enough to leave a mark. Almost hard enough to break skin, and he licks it before he pulls away.
"My sweet little Yoongichi's going to wear himself out fucking me," says Seokjin, fingers digging deeper. "He's going to make me feel his pretty cock for days, isn't he?"
"Yeah," says Yoongi, groaning and arching back, exposing his throat to Seokjin's teeth. "Yeah, you'll walk around feeling me still inside you. Knowing it was me, that I wrecked you, that my cock is the best you're ever going to have. I'll do it. I want it."
Seokjin laughs again, soft and low. "I know," he says, and he doesn't say what he knows before he's moving, and tossing Yoongi on the bed, then coming back with the whole bowl of condoms.
Yoongi laughs, already scrambling up, dick slapping against him in his eagerness.
"We've got all night, baby," says Seokjin, sloughing off his clothes to reveal a god. "Show me my dreams."
It's later, and Yoongi his laying on his stomach trying to stay alive as Seokjin kisses his way across every inch of his back. And Yoongi knows it's covered in dried sweat, that he's worked harder than he ever has tonight and has nothing left to give, but that doesn't stop him from wriggling into it when Seokjin palms his ass. His hand is huge, still, and Yoongi will never be so tired he can't appreciate that.
"You have such a cute butt," says Seokjin, and he doesn't sound quite so dangerous anymore but his amusement is a different kind of danger. "I love it."
He kisses the globe of it unexpectedly, and Yoongi twists to glare at him, without much heat. "It's not as good as yours."
"Impossible standards don't interest me," says Seokjin. "Your little ass is fantastic, even if no one in the world has a better one than me."
"Jimin does," says Yoongi without thinking, then flops down on the bed when Seokjin's eyes tighten.
"Indeed," says Seokjin. "He has a great ass. As does Jeongguk. But mine reigns supreme."
He goes back to kissing his way across Yoongi's back, a little more intentionally than before, and Yoongi bites his lip to stay quiet. He doesn't know why he always ruins things, why he has so much trouble with happiness, with these small moments that he should be grateful for, but maybe being silent will be enough.
He frowns when Seokjin's careful line up his skin takes a detour, a small deviation that's at odds with his deliberation, and he puzzles over it for a long moment before the penny drops.
"You can touch it, if you want," says Yoongi. A twisting curl of blue and green ivy, randomly patterned for beauty, and something he never sees. Something he forgets is there, all the time, until an intimate view reminds him. "It's fine."
Seokjin does, not with his lips but with his fingers, brushing it gently. "It's lovely," he says. "Is this why you didn't want to take your shirt off?"
"No. That was for Taehyung and Mingyu," says Yoongi. "I'm not ashamed."
"I didn't think you were," says Seokjin. "You shouldn't be. But you put it somewhere where it's always covered."
Yoongi flushes into the sheets, where Seokjin can't see him, and says, "It's stupid."
Seokjin doesn't say anything, just keeps touching him, and Yoongi sighs. "If I ever got famous with my rap… if that ever happens, then I want to do charity work. And you can't do that with tattoos. They think you're nothing, if you have them. But I'm not going to be famous, so I'm just dumb."
"I think you can be anything," says Seokjin quietly. "You'll be anything you want. But if you're worried about it, why get one at all?"
Seokjin kisses his shoulder blade, just above the edge of the tattoo, and it's loving. It's loving, and terrifying, and Yoongi doesn't know what time it is but he knows the night is ticking past at a rapid rate. Reality is bleeding out, and Yoongi can hear the thrum of the coming end.
"Suran," he says, hating himself when Seokjin's lips vanish again. "She wanted us to get them when we came to Seoul. A sign of freedom. She has the same one, on her hip. Because we're in this together."
"That's sweet," says Seokjin, and he sounds like he means it even as his warmth leaves Yoongi's side.
He stretches up, working the kinks out of his neck, and when Yoongi rolls over to watch him he doesn't seem to notice. He's entirely naked, carved and lovely, and Yoongi memorizes him without meaning to. The curve of his spine and the jut of his jaw and the hard planes of his chest.
Seokjin twists at the waist, looking out through their big picture window and says, "It's getting late."
"Yeah," says Yoongi, begging Seokjin to look at him again. But he doesn't, still watching the night horizon like it means something to him. He's lost in his own thoughts, not in the room with Yoongi at all, and loneliness crushes him unexpectedly. They're naked, and together, and they're both so alone.
The silence stretches as the dawn beckons, and neither of them move for a long time.
"Jeongguk loves Jimin," says Yoongi eventually. His voice is hoarse, almost like tears, and he doesn't know what he's asking for but he's asking. He's going to be selfish, now, in the darkest part of the night. "He really loves him."
"I know," says Seokjin. Still perfect. Always perfect, even when he's breaking Yoongi's heart. "And I love you."
It's heavy, when he says it. Mournful.
"But it's not just about that," says Seokjin. "Nothing is that simple."
"Maybe it could be," says Yoongi. "Happiness doesn't have to be hard."
He's mostly trying to convince himself.
Seokjin chuckles. "Impossible standards, Yoongichi. Impossible standards."
He finally looks back, and his face is soft. "May I kiss you again?"
Yoongi nods, small and terrible, and Seokjin stretches next to him. And it's not the kinds of kisses they've shared so far, expectant and teasing. It's not the beginning of something but the end, soft pecks and gentle brushes and delicate tastes that go on forever.
"I don't want to go," whispers Yoongi. Begging him out loud now, not just in his mind. "Please."
Seokjin doesn't answer, just kisses him, tasting the salt on Yoongi's cheeks. He slides his bare leg between Yoongi's, getting closer with every moment, wrapping around him on silky sheets. Giving him everything that he'll never have again, and his heart is cracked and hopeful and doomed.
They kiss, and they kiss, and the night lightens outside, and Yoongi doesn't know when he falls asleep.
Seokjin is gone when he wakes up, blinking into the midmorning. Not gone in the bathroom, or on the balcony, but gone altogether, along with his clothes. Yoongi's suit is hung delicately on the door, dangling from its hanger like a goodbye. When he sits up and looks around, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes with a tight fist, there's no other note, so he guesses that's it.
His thighs are sore, his arms aching from strain, and that's the other part of the goodbye.
He takes a shower because he can, cleaning himself carefully and avoiding the marks Seokjin gave him as best he can. They're all below sightlines but they're plentiful, because Seokjin fucks like he means it, and Yoongi wishes he didn't know that.
He puts on his suit and makes himself perfect, no unbuttoned buttons and a very straight tie, and when he gets back to their room Jimin and Jeongguk are already eating in silence. They look at him curiously, but not too long, and Yoongi joins them without saying anything. He's exhausted and resigned, and so are they.
They'll have their last Rose Ceremony later that night.
They've dressed up one of the conference rooms of the hotel to look fancier than it is, and it's a little sad that Yoongi's going to lose the last piece of his heart in a bland place like this where businessmen talk about stock prices and quarterly earnings. A dead place.
At least it helps him squash down the last of his hope.
Jeongguk and Jimin are quiet next to him, like they have been all day. Yoongi gets the impression they didn't talk last night either, that they're both suffering under a weight so heavy it's taken all their oxygen. He knows how they feel, even more when Seokjin walks through the door in dark wash jeans and a button-up shirt, fresh and beautiful and looking not at all like he'd been well-fucked the night before.
He's radiant, his eyes alight with a new excitement, and when he looks at Yoongi he smiles. He smiles hugely, with a secret on his face, and Yoongi's heart jumps despite itself. It's a smile that makes Yoongi remember last night with aching clarity, with want and expectation and need, and everything inside of him turns towards it. It makes him watch as Seokjin jokes with Kevin, light and free, and gets last minute makeup on his already flawless face, and sets up with his two roses at the front of the room, comfortable and ready.
He looks like he's made a decision, a happy one, and if he loves Yoongi then there's only one thing it can be, so his heart pounds as he stands on his mark.
"Thank you for joining me," says Seokjin after Kevin's given his introduction. "Please know that this decision was among the most difficult of my life. You're all incredible people, and I'm blessed to have been able to know you, even for this long. But in the end there was only one choice that felt like destiny."
He reaches behind him, picking up a rose, and he looks across all of their faces. His excitement is gone, lost inside his role, but Yoongi likes to think his eyes linger on him just a moment longer.
"Jeongguk," says Seokjin, holding out the rose. "Will you stay on destiny's path with me?"
Jeongguk pales, looking sideways at them both, but he walks forward smoothly after that brief hesitation. He takes the flower, and Seokjin's lips on his cheek, and comes back to the line with an almost-convincing smile on his face.
The second flower twirls in Seokjin's long fingers, fingers that had been running over Yoongi just that morning. Seokjin looks up, breathtaking and lovely, and pauses infinitesimally. Just enough for a lifetime, for Yoongi's heart to know with hard certainty that Seokjin has chosen him.
"Jimin," says Seokjin, a small smile tugging his mouth. "Will you stay on destiny's path with me?"
Jeongguk gasps and looks at Yoongi, and Jimin stiffens in shock, but he walks forward on sure feet, smiling beautifully as he was born to do. Yoongi watches him for a long moment, just so he doesn't have to watch Seokjin. Just so he doesn't have to see that pleased smile, to wonder how the others had felt when Seokjin said he loved them. To think about all of the things Seokjin had gotten Yoongi to say, the things that will be good for his show, and his career.
He'd been so happy when he walked in, and that happiness had nothing to do with Yoongi.
When Jimin is back, Seokjin opens his mouth to say something pitying, something trite and goodbye, but Yoongi doesn't want to hear it. He doesn't want to hear anything, because there are tears behind his eyes and they're not going to get that on camera. He's the villain, and villains can't win, but what they can do is stalk out without looking back, ignoring any calls for them to wait, and disappear off the set without once breaking stride.
Chapter 13: This Isn't Going To Be Easy
Jin watches Yoongi stalk out of the conference room before the scene is over, a stone of worry inside his heart. He'd looked truly pissed, and while Yoongi's a better actor than he lets on there's usually a little smirk lurking behind his expression. Something that shows he's in on the joke, but there'd been nothing like that this time.
Which makes no sense, because when Jin had come up with his genius plan in the early dawn light Yoongi had been all for it. He'd smiled his gummy little smile, still sleep-furred but happy, and said Jin was very smart. Which, obviously, but Yoongi's frank, unfiltered compliments still fluttered his heart.
Though hearing Yoongi say anything in his sex-satisfied voice flutters other piece of him more, if he's being honest.
And Jin had wanted to get him off again right there, capture those sexy, desperate noises again, but there hadn't been time. If he wanted his plan to work before the ceremony shoot, he needed to get Sangchul on his side, and the editors, and finally Hyebin. It meant a long day of diplomatic work in front of him, and he was exhausted and sore but the way Yoongi smiled meant none of it mattered.
So he'd kissed him, deep and slow, listening to Yoongi purr into it, and said he loved him again. Yoongi had said it back sweetly, rolling over to go to sleep as Jin dressed and left. He'd even hung up Yoongi's rumpled suit to save him some wrinkles, and he'd never been so happy to be on two hours of sleep in his life.
He calls up that memory and tries not to panic when Yoongi doesn't come back. He must be making it convincing, to add the drama, because it's been a long filming and Yoongi's picked up a few things about lending authenticity to a scene. And Hyebin certainly seems happy from her place in the corner, watching their new creation unfold with a delighted smile on her face.
Yoongi's just doing what he needs to do, and Jin will do what he needs to do, and tonight they're going to kiss each other senseless and everything will be wonderful.
Jimin smiles weakly when Jin joins the two remaining contestants, champagne glasses already in their hands, though Jeongguk's huge eyes are mostly accusing. Which isn't surprising, given how their week had gone. Jin's date with Jimin had been surprisingly fun, a little looser now that Jin knows their shared history, and they'd spent their night in the Fantasy Suite reminiscing over school days and making fun of their old teachers while they worked their way through the provided wine. Jin suspects Hyebin had been trying to lower their inhibitions, and she had in some ways, but mostly it had unleashed Jimin's caustic tongue and Jin's perfect impressions until they'd both been crying with laughter.
It was strange to watch Jimin, dressed to kill and tousled for sex, lose himself in giggles as Jin did a spot on imitation of their calculus teacher, but it had pulled them together in a way that Jin's profoundly grateful for at his moment. Because Jimin's clearly not happy with Yoongi's departure, but he's also clearly giving Jin space to work through it. A little bit of rope and trust, like friends, because that's what they are now.
Because that night, Jimin reenacted his love confession to Jin with pure amusement, and kicked his boots off without a hint of seduction, and talked about Jeongguk in all of the spaces they weren't talking about their past.
Jeongguk's date had been nothing like that.
He'd taken the suite key pleasantly, his boyish enthusiasm shining, but as soon as they'd gone through the door his eyebrows drew down. "You go to sleep," he'd said, crossing his arms and nodding at the bed. "Over there. I'm sleeping on the couch."
"Okay," said Jin, amused. "But we can talk first, if you want. It's only nine."
"No talking," said Jeongguk mulishly. "I came in here because Yoongi told me to but I'm not doing anything with you."
He'd spun on his heel and marched out to the balcony, where Jin had watched him do pull-ups and crunches and planks for an hour straight with fierce determination before Jin had drifted off out of having nothing else to do.
The look on Jeongguk's face right now is similar to his pull-up concentration, but Jin gives him a tender smile anyway. He kisses them each on the cheek again, too, making it good for the lingering cameras. This is the rising action before the climax, the moment with the audience locked in suspense, and Kim Seokjin always makes that moment count.
They spend time laughing together, or he and Jimin do at least, and then they each have individual interviews about what just happened that seem to go on forever. They want to hear Jin's every thought on Jimin and Jeongguk now, give them things to splice in for the story, and he runs through the questions as patiently as he can. His knee tries to betray him, tapping its anxiety whenever he loses attention, but he keeps going without complaint. This is his job, and they're doing a lot of work for him so he's going to work back for them. Keep the show going, in exchange for what he wants.
Finally they release him, and Jeongguk and Jimin are already gone but that's fine. He can talk to them later. There's always later. Right now he has a Yoongi to undress, assuming he's not already waiting, pale and naked and tempting upstairs.
He looks around until he finds Hyebin, which isn't hard because she's practically incandescent in the glow of production, ordering the people around her to do things that sound suspiciously like nonsense but no one argues with her. Jin sidles inside the chaos, avoiding the whirling PAs, and says, "Where's Yoongi?"
Hyebin snaps her fingers and one of them says, "He left."
"Yes, I saw that," says Jin. "But where is he now? Upstairs?"
"He left left," says the PA. "Grabbed his phone and got a cab. Didn't even take his suitcases with him."
She scurries off, and Jin turns to Hyebin in total shock. "He's gone?"
Hyebin nods distractedly. "He was great. Really angry. Flipped off the camera, shoved someone, yelled until we gave him his phone back. It will make a great promo."
"Why didn't you stop him?" asks Jin, but he knows it's a stupid question even as he asks. Hyebin would never interrupt a shot that way. "Never mind. He left his suitcases? I want them in my room."
It's clever, he has to admit. A dramatic exit, something Jeongguk and Jimin will buy, but also something that gives him a reason to come back and hide away later. Yoongi would expect Jin, a very smart man, to pick up on his plan without words, and Jin isn't going to disappoint him.
Hyebin wrangles another PA out of the scrum and arranges the suitcases, enthusing to Jin about how well the new edits are turning out. Jin listens to her politely for another few minutes until he can sneak out, and up to his room, and wait for Yoongi to sneak back in.
Jin's lightly dozing when a knock comes at his door. He starts, almost falling out of his chair, a script scattering across the floor as he jumps up. The windows tell him it's late, later than it should be when a man like Jin is laid out for consumption. So he's going to scold Yoongi for making him wait, and Yoongi's going to wrinkle his nose at him, and that will make it worth all of the waiting.
He's already taking in a huge breath when he opens the door, carefully schooling away his pleased smile, but it flows out of him a rush of air when it's not Yoongi standing there but Suran. Her blue hair is a counterpoint to her red face, and she pushes the door open with incredible force and shoves her way inside, poking Jin in the chest as she goes.
"Where's his shit?" she asks, and her voice is the same but darker. Uglier, and Jin doesn't know what to say. "What, are you deaf now? Where is it?"
He still doesn't answer, but it doesn't matter because she spots Yoongi's suitcases where he'd left them by the dresser and makes an irritated beeline for them. She slings the huge duffel over her shoulder with a grunt, then opens up the handle on the rolling bag with a sound like a gunshot and heads to the exit like a bullet train.
"Wait," says Jin, jumping in front of her to block the door. For a heartbeat he thinks she's going to plow right through him but she doesn't, stopping a few inches away and glaring up with all of Yoongi's fire and none of his comforting warmth.
"Get out of my way," she says.
"Where is Yoongi?"
"He's at home. Where you sent him," says Suran. She smiles, hard and a little cruel, and that's like Yoongi too. "Don't worry, I'm taking good care of him."
Jin sucks in a breath, but he keeps his voice steady and his cracked heart hidden when he says, "Is he coming back?"
"Because fuck you," she says, still smiling. "Get out of my way. I don't hit people, as a rule, because violence is the tool of idiots. You would know, you punched that guy. But I will deck you if you don't move."
Jin holds firm, and she stops smiling. "You want to add abduction charges to your rap sheet? From me, a small and helpless woman? That will look really good for you and your career, won't it?"
She spits "career" like it's something dirty, and Jin flinches against his will. "I don't understand."
"Of course you don't," she says, rolling her eyes. "But let me say it in words of one syllable for you. You sent him home. And he went. It's really not that fucking complicated, Seokjin."
"But he wanted me to do it," protests Jin, running a hand through his hair and then smoothing it back again.
"Of course he said he wanted you to do it," says Suran, practically yelling now. "Were you not fucking listening to me? Maybe you really are going deaf. Or you're just stupid. But even you should be able to figure it out. Yoongi wants to go back to his real life, okay? He wants out of this nightmare you call an existence, and if you're not an asshole you'll let him go. You'll stop using him for whatever you're using him for, and go be a famous actor and win awards and fuck celebrities and stop pretending you're anything more than that to anyone."
She stops, breathing hard, and says more quietly, "Just stop pretending."
Jin hears Yoongi's voice inside the words, the twisting of that poem he's still holding inside his wallet, that he'd read just before he went into that conference room earlier today. He'd been so happy then, light and hopeful and finally free, and now there's this. And Jin doesn't cry, he hasn't cried off camera since he was too small to understand what crying meant, but his eyes are stinging in a painful, panicked way. Yoongi is free, too, free to do whatever he wants, and Jin is so stupid for thinking that he would have wanted someone as dazzlingly insubstantial as Jin.
He wonders which hip Suran's tattoo sits on, the one that says she and Yoongi are everything together, and Jin is nothing alone.
So he swings out of her way, not that he needs to because he isn't anything. He's practically a ghost, and he's surprised she stopped for him at all. No one would, and no one should, and he wishes he'd never let them pick Min Yoongi that first night. He wishes he'd fought them, then, so that he'd never known what it might feel like to feel, because what this is is madness. What this is is terror and pain and darkness, and Yoongi wants to go back to his real life.
As Suran stomps past him, the wheel of the suitcase rumbling over Jin's foot, Jin wishes he understood what a real life was.
Precisely thirty minutes later, exactly the amount of a time a person needs to rebuild themselves from the inside out when they're as flimsy as Kim Seokjin, he knocks on Hyebin's door. She answers in a deep blue kimono, still alight with production, and Jin spares it a single glance before he says, "Yoongi isn't coming back."
"Really?" she says, a note of surprise in her voice. "What happened?"
"He didn't want to go through with it," says Jin.
"Come in," says Hyebin, cinching her kimono tighter. "It doesn't matter, really. If you're up for it, we can still do the rest almost exactly as we planned. It might even be cleaner, really, to not have him. Less press tour for you."
"That doesn't matter," says Jin wryly. "It's not like I have anything better to do."
"Actually," says a voice from the bathroom, and Nayoung appears in fluffy robe, toweling her hair dry. "You have a shoot coming up in Hawaii. Hyebin and I have been hammering out the timing."
Jin only hesitates for a single moment before he smiles and says, "Is that what they're calling it these days?"
Charming. Vapid. Easy and a little funny. Everything is so easy.
"Be quiet, sweetie," says Nayoung, crossing the room to dig through her bag. "Here's the script. You're the yellow highlights. It's all in English, so we'll get you a translator. Small-sized part. You're gay."
"Last time I checked," says Jin, still grinning, and she shakes her head. He blows her a kiss, and her eyes narrow.
"You don't seem happy," she says.
"I am," says Jin, and he is. This is beyond what he'd allowed himself to hope for, a chance to be who he is again, and he's not going to waste it. "I'm very grateful, thank you."
"Never thank me," says Nayoung. "How's that emotion coming along?"
"Safely dead," says Jin, his stretched smile widening. "I'll be in top form. There's nothing keeping me in Korea, after all."
"We'll wrap filming this week," says Hyebin. "Two days. Then we won't need you back for a few weeks, until we're about ready to premiere. You'll have to do the usual press, talk shows, all of that. We'll give you some coaching."
Nayoung's face is still a strange mixture of concern and annoyance as she says, "Three weeks is what they need you for on the movie. Long for a bit part I know, but there's a lot of locations and they're not getting to all of your stuff at once. And they might want to expand the role, depending on how you do. But it's good, because I want you to meet some other people while you're there. Fly to LA once. You'll get an itinerary from my office."
Jin nods, already thumbing through the script. There's a decent amount of yellow in it for a small part, which is nice.
"You're talking to Jimin tomorrow?" asks Hyebin.
"Yes," says Jin. "I'm sure he'll agree."
"He'd better," says Hyebin, shooing him out the door and running her fingers through Nayoung's wet hair. "Be persuasive. Or none of this means anything at all."
"And wouldn't that be a shame," says Jin, but when Nayoung makes a move towards him he waves her off and leaves, back to his room. Back to memorize his newest lines, to learn his next part, and to get ready to move on from this nothing and into the next.
Jin has never looked more beautiful, he knows, and not just because the makeup artists and Hyebin and Sangchul have told him so a thousand times. Not just because Kevin Koo has already hit on him shamelessly, with more vigor than he usually shows in their pre-shoot chats. Not just because he's standing under the softest lighting they've come up with yet, on the edge of a cordoned off park with trees that Namjoon would know the scientific names of.
No, he knows he's beautiful because that's what people need to put inside of him at this moment, and so he is. He's the canvas for their stories, the most beautiful man who's ever existed, and the cameras are capturing him from every angle as he stands alone, waiting for the limo to bring him the winner.
He's filmed a lot of scenes in the last few days, Jeongguk and Jimin meeting his parents, who'd looked expensive and happy on camera, and shots of him staring out on various scenic vistas deep in thought, and endless interviews about his final choice and what destiny really means. What love is, as if he has any idea, but he'd had all the words to say, Hyebin had given him scripts and talking points, and he'd hit them all flawlessly. He does everything flawlessly.
Now the crew is scurrying around him, full of motion and energy and noise, but he's silent like a statue, waiting for whatever comes next.
A new flurry of activity signals him that the car is coming, and it pulls smoothly down the path, cameras tracking it like a shoot for Hyundai until it rolls to a gentle stop in front of Jin. The door opens, and Jeongguk steps out, and he's chiseled and well-dressed and not so young anymore as he studies Jin from the end of the road.
"Hello," says Jeongguk, and there are a few tears in his voice. "You look nice."
"Thank you," says Jin, and he holds out his hand. There's nothing in it, no rings or flowers, just his palm, and Jeongguk steps forward to take it. His hand is sweating, and trembly, and he looks terrified.
Jin lets that moment stretch out, because they'd told him to, because it makes Jeongguk's face more anxious, before he says, "Destiny is a strange thing, isn't it?"
"Yes," says Jeongguk, swallowing hard. Looking at his chest instead of his face.
"Do you know why I came here?"
"To find love. To find… to find a partner," says Jeongguk, now staring at the ground. "A person to be with forever."
Jin smiles and kisses Jeongguk on the cheek. Soft, and he thinks of Yoongi, he never stops thinking of Yoongi, and that poem is in his pocket still, the only marring of his perfection. "I came here to make someone happy," he says. "To see if I could. And destiny molds herself into the strangest shapes, because I think I truly can make you happy. Thank you, Jeongguk, for letting me do this. I do love you, you know. Very much."
"I - " starts Jeongguk, his eyes screwed shut in pain, but Jin touches a finger to his lips, silencing him.
He drops Jeongguk's hand as his eyes fly open, startled. Those large eyes that can't hide anything, that are shimmering with unspent tears, that will look so good in this moment with violins. He's young and genuine and perfect for this moment, as Jin steps away, into the recesses of the shot. As Jimin makes his way out from behind a large cameraman, hidden easily by his bulk, small and delicate and a smile trembling on his lips.
"Hi Kookie," he says as a camera tracks him, and he's already crying, just a little.
"Jimin?" says Jeongguk, totally flummoxed. He stares between him and Jin with quick little birdlike movements of his head. "Did you win?"
"I don't know yet," he says, and someone on the crew starts playing a love song out of a crappy stereo system they'd dug out of a closet. An old one, retro-style, and they'll dub over something that sounds better but for now it's just like Jin remembers, with cute, terrified Jimin standing there with his heart in his hands, asking to put himself inside of another person without any hope of reward.
Jin hopes Jeongguk is a better receptacle than Jin was, though the way Jeongguk's staring at him, hopeful and overwhelmed, is probably a good sign.
"Jeon Jeongguk," says Jimin, looking down at a piece of paper in his hands. "You make me crazy. I'm here for Jin. I came here for him, because I had a crush on him forever. And you were always in the way, from the very first night. Being nice all the time. But I knew it was a trick. No one is that nice!"
Jeongguk's expression changes to confusion, and Jin wishes he'd been more insistent on reading and approving Jimin's speech ahead of time, but it's too late now because there won't be any reshoots. Jeongguk is no kind of actor.
"So I watched you, waiting for you to get mean," Jimin continues, still staring down at his piece of paper with furious concentration. "Because people always get mean, if you're around them long enough. I watched so closely, because I knew it would happen. I was so sure. And then you never did. Which was the meanest thing you could do, really, because what am I supposed to do with you, Kookie, if you're not going to be mean to me?"
"I don't want to be mean to you," whispers Jeongguk.
"I know!" says Jimin, finally looking up, his eyes still shining. "You just climbed trees and sat on beaches with me and wrote poems. Did you write that poem for me?"
Jeongguk nods, just a quick movement of the head, and Jimin stamps his foot.
"That's mean, too," says Jimin, but his voice is choked in his throat. He throws his paper away, crumpled into a little ball, and buries his face in his hands.
Ironically this gets Jeongguk to pull it together, his wide eyes narrowing as he moves just close enough to reach out and pat Jimin on the back, arm fully extended like Jimin is some kind of wild animal.
"I still have my unicorn," says Jimin indistinctly, before he looks up and wipes his eyes and cheeks with the back of his hand.
Jeongguk smiles at him encouragingly. Sweetly. He's enough to break a heart.
"Can we have our destiny together, do you think?" asks Jimin.
"Are you asking me to marry you?" asks Jeongguk, a little hesitantly.
"No! What? That's crazy!" says Jimin, horrified. "But I'd like to take you a date. If you want."
"Yeah!" says Jeongguk, stepping forward again in his enthusiasm. He makes it all the way into Jimin's space before he stops, bouncing on his toes. "Can we go see a baseball game together?"
Jimin laughs his high-pitched giggle and flops forward, Jeongguk catching him with an easy hand. "Sure, Kookie. I'd love to see a baseball game with you," he says. He sobers, straightening, Jeongguk's hand still on his shoulder. "And I'd like to be your dream. Is that okay?"
"You always were," says Jeongguk, his face crumpling into tears without warning, and Jimin leans up to kiss him. He kisses him softly but with total certainty, and Jeongguk wraps him in his arms and lets it happen, not the desperate enthusiasm he'd always shown with Jin but something delicate and needy. Something that's almost like real life.
Jin backs away, letting the camera tracking shot move in on the perfect sunset, framing the two of them inside of it, and he takes off his tie as he heads to wardrobe to get changed. His flight to Hawaii leaves in three hours, and that's a wrap.
When he slides into his seat on the plane, it's with a sigh of relief to be alone. Plus he has the joy of business class, a reward from Nayoung for getting through Destined Hearts with a redemptive storyline and a softened image just as she'd wanted, and he's already digging out his complementary eye mask and hand lotion when the person next to him coughs gently.
He looks over and sees Kevin Koo smiling that blinding, practiced smile at him, and Jin knows exactly what this is.
"Your agency sent me," he says, leaning down into Jin's space and grabbing the pillow he'd discarded. "Thought I could show you the ropes in America. Translate. Be your tour guide."
Jin lifts an eyebrow, a careful eyebrow, one he's lifted a thousand times. Because this is another reward from Nayoung, he supposes, or a palate cleanser, or whatever arranged sex with a handsome man is. She'd asked him if he wanted Yoongi's phone number, his address, the details of his life, but what would have been the point? Yoongi knows what Jin is and had walked away, and Jin is many things but he's not pathetic.
Well, he's not pathetic enough.
And Nayoung must have believed him when he turned her down and said he was focusing on his career, or she must have disbelieved him enough to come up with her usual solution. She and Hyebin will make quite the power couple if they don't kill each other first.
But Kevin is hot, and his face says he knows what this is too, and it will be a relief to fall into bed with someone who will only ask for his body.
"What a delightful surprise," says Jin, because that's the sort of thing he says to men, and now that he's out he can say it on airplanes whenever he wants. He smiles charmingly, and it's distressing how easy this is to find again. Yoongi was right to leave him, probably, and that shouldn't hurt as much as it does so he reaches out and puts a gentle hand on Kevin's thigh. Just high enough. "I'm so pleased to have you with me."
By the time they land in Hawaii they've progressed to things the flight attendants politely pretend not to see, and their arranged car has a privacy window, and Jin has never felt so empty in his life.
Chapter 14: I Just Don't Understand What Happened
Working in a bookstore is boring, which Yoongi liked because it gave him hours to write. He could flip through heavy books and look for inspiring lines, scribble down half-formed thoughts between customers or even test lines out on them if he was feeling particularly inspired. The regulars knew who he was, and people who knew him from underground shows even came in just to meet him which made the owners happy, and all in all it had been a mildly pleasant way to have a crappy part time job, if a person had to have one.
Now he hates every part of it, because he's a celebrity for all the wrong reasons.
"Min Yoongi!" says a young girl, walking up to the cash register with a book in her hand, because Yoongi had put up his handmade sign that says, "No Talking Without Buying." She's got long, shiny hair and twenty bracelets on each wrist and an annoyed look on her face that indicates this is one of the people who believes in unicorns.
"Welcome to We Love Books," says Yoongi in a bored monotone. "We really love them. Is this all for today?"
"I can't believe what you did to Jin last night," says the girl, slamming the book on the counter and swishing her hair. "He's perfect. Perfect! You don't even deserve to be on the show."
Yoongi rings it up and takes her card. "I don't watch it."
"Did you sleep with any of those other guys?" she asks. She's still glaring at him. "I bet you slept with Namjoon, didn't you? You're gross."
"Would you like a bag?"
"You'd better not be the winner," she says.
"I know you won't be," says Yoongi, smiling without any of the rest of his muscles engaging. "Have a nice day."
She flounces out with her book, and Yoongi's blissfully alone to punch the top of the counter as hard as he can. He tells people he doesn't watch, and that's mostly true except for the part where he watches every week, curled up with Suran on the couch and trying to reconcile the screen with his own memories.
There's very little overlap, because the people who make these shows are much more clever than Yoongi would have ever believed. He's watched himself cut a previously unremembered romantic swath through every man on the show, with Hoseok proclaiming his love and Jimin opening up under the night sky and Namjoon waxing poetic in interviews about how amazing Yoongi is. Even Jeongguk, the obvious frontrunner, had a few moments of adoration cleverly spliced in with Yoongi's most evil faces, and they've found a thousand shots of Yoongi smirking, looking self-satisfied after laying some sexual innuendo on Jin and walking away.
In that, there is some overlap with his own experience.
And also in how Seokjin looks like a constant angel, mysterious and untouchable, though Suran has gotten very good at freezing the show when he's making a particularly unflattering face. Unflattering for him, anyway. He still has more lips than any one man should be allowed to possess.
Yoongi's only solace in his sad viewing parties is that he did succeed in protecting Jimin from his worst impulses, his early jealousy played more for sympathy than villainy. It's almost strange, really, the way they treat his irritation and Jeongguk's hidden crush with kid gloves, even if it's only obvious to Yoongi because he watched it turn from a spark to a forest fire in real time. But Suran picks up on their attraction too, and Yoongi's confused that the editors hadn't masked it better but glad that Jimin won't look like a terrible person at the end of everything.
Yoongi will, but he'd known what he was getting into, and he's at peace with being loathed.
A small part of him wonders if Seokjin is the one responsible for keeping those two clean, if he'd used his influence for it, and Yoongi hates that part of himself. That part that can't forget the things he'd tricked himself into believing Seokjin was, kind and generous and secretly loving underneath his cool exterior. Genuine and searching, just waiting for the right moment to become himself. To become Yoongi's.
Foolish. Foolish and endless, because Suran watches the show with him because she knows he will, but she doesn't know about the long nights he spends in his room, devouring Seokjin's incessant interviews and searching them for clues to an unsolvable mystery. He watches Seokjin's face as he speaks, the sweet expressions that mean absolutely nothing, the broad, fake smiles that Yoongi had thought he'd never see again. He tries to figure out who won, if Seokjin is sleeping with Jeongguk or Jimin, if the feelings Yoongi saw behind the mask were always there but for someone else.
He never finds any evidence of it, which is the most foolish thing of all. He just doesn't want to see the evidence, he knows, the signs that will stamp out that last ember of hope. He's convincing himself that Seokjin looks sad, and empty, like he's missing the last light inside of himself. He's convincing himself that Seokjin looks tired, still perfect but not incandescent, his broad shoulders slumped in something defeat.
Mostly Yoongi wants him to be feeling that way, because Yoongi never had a light inside of him but he does cry into his pillow now, and that's pathetic if Seokjin's enjoying Jimin's excellent ass every night.
But never one to miss out on being contrary, Yoongi had run away from his one opportunity to get actual answers because they'd filmed a reunion show after the first two episodes had aired and Yoongi refused to go. He'd refused to suffer under the weight of that pity, the way Namjoon and Hoseok would smother him with platitudes and concern, the way he would look so pathetic in front of all of them. Because they'd all known how he felt, probably from the beginning, he'd never hidden anything even while he'd thought he was being so safe, and if he had to listen to them speculate about Jimin and Jeongguk and Jin for a half an hour he would absolutely break down.
So instead he'd filmed another angry scene in an anonymous park to get himself out of it, where he spat out precise insults in rapping rhythms that were savage and burning and completely untrue. But the producer who'd overseen the shoot had practically hugged him in gratitude, and Yoongi can't wait to see how much people hate him now.
Not that everyone hates him. Against all odds, to even Suran's astonishment, doing the show for exposure had worked. Not for rapping, which was a thing Agust D might never get to do in the light of day, but for something even closer to his heart.
One of the big agencies had found him and asked him for his song.
His song he'd played Seokjin, the one he'd written whenever he was stuck on writing other things, the song in the pads of his fingertips. Even before it aired they knew about it, thanks to the interconnected entertainment world, and they wanted it for one of their groups. They wanted him to produce a guide if he could, and Yoongi could. He could do that forever, if they wanted him to, so he'd written his lyrics and polished it off and recorded it with Suran and called it I Need U with only a small twinge of pain.
They wanted more songs from him, were talking about a contract and a steady paycheck for making music, and Yoongi's grateful. He's grateful for this, and for the fact that he can write so many sad love songs now because that's what they want and that's what he is. A giant sad love song, walking around in infamy, making money off of his own back. He thanks Seokjin for that, sometimes, his finger tracing over the screen in the middle of some interview about his journey to destiny where he's discussing whether Min Yoongi is really there for the right reasons.
Yoongi only wishes he knew.
"Hey," says Suran, snapping him out of his daze. By her tone she's been across the counter for awhile, but Yoongi never bothers to hide from her. "You ready to go? New episode tonight."
"Can't wait," says Yoongi, and when he comes around and takes his name tag off and yells that he's leaving, Suran tucks herself against him like she needs support but it's for him. She's his support, and he'd always been happy before, and he'll be happy again he thinks. Once it's all over, he'll be happy again.
Airports have distinct smells, Jin's come to realize, and Incheon's might not be the best smell but it's the one that soothes him most. It means he can rest, just a little, and he needs to rest because the last episode airs tonight, the one that will neatly snip him out of the picture of his own show, and his last tie to Yoongi will be completely severed.
He gets out of customs with minimal hassle, his business class priority now a little more earned, and he even has fans waiting to wave at him from the barrier. It's nice to have this life back, to be back on his track, and he smiles at them and poses for pictures without thinking much about it. A few of them are wearing handmade Jin + Jimin shirts and waving signs in support, and Jin wonders how they'll feel later when Jin isn't plus anyone but for now they're happy and so is he.
Destined Hearts had turned out to be something of a cult success, which is good for them all. Jin doesn't flatter himself that it's because of him but more the format, especially internationally where the appetite for gay content is high. Bootleg streams of the show and unofficial fan translations had followed him to America, and he'd even done some English interviews about the subject that he'd sweat his way through but got him enormous Hollywood exposure. Nayoung and Hyebin had shuttled him back and forth to LA countless times, both for promo and for networking, and Nayoung's sent him to so many auditions that he can barely remember what they were for.
She assures him they'd gone splendidly, and he has more offers rolling in every day. His movie shoot had gone well, and he'd been professional and charming, and at least three people had fallen in love with him just by walking into the room so he still has it. Whatever it is.
But Kevin Koo hadn't fallen in love with him, thankfully, and after that first night of healing they'd never so much as kissed again. Jin didn't want to, and Kevin didn't really care, and when they'd gone to auditions together it had been as rivals. Jin was okay with that. Rivals were easier than friends, and they were certainly easier than lovers.
Jin doesn't need a lover, not anymore. His love is film, and it loves him, and that should be more than enough affection for anyone.
"Who's going to win?" yells one of the people at the barrier. A reporter dressed like a fan, from their look. "Seokjin, tell us!"
"You'll have to watch and see," says Jin, smiling secretively. Beautifully. He's so good at this that Hyebin had almost tried to hug him the last time they met. He hasn't watched a single minute of the show but it doesn't matter. He knows exactly what the stories are. "Everything will be revealed tonight."
He keeps moving, ending the photo session, and they all wave at him as he goes. He's just about to put up his dust mask, gain back a little privacy now that he doesn't need his best asset, when he hears a voice say, "Jin!"
It's far from the first yell, and won't be the last, and he's ready to ignore it until it pings something in the back of his mind. Something familiar, and deep, and he looks over without thought and sees the wide, boxy grin of Kim Taehyung. He's wearing normal clothes instead of his show finery, a t-shirt and baggy jeans with his hair shaggy and messy, but he's still unmistakable.
"Taehyung!" says Jin, genuinely happy for the first time in weeks, and he crosses over to where he's standing at the barrier and crushes him into a hug. It's an unwise PR move, but Jin's ready to be a little unwise, especially when Taehyung squeezes him in return. "What are you doing here?"
"Running away with you," says Taehyung, low and romantic, and Jin pulls away like he's been burned. But when he does he sees Taehyung's eye twitch, just that small tell, and Jin pinches his arm as he laughs. "Got you! The fox is still tender."
"It's great to see you," says Jin. "How are you liking the show?"
"It's so nice!" says Taehyung. "So much drama. But the ending isn't happy enough."
Jin smiles. "You don't know the ending yet."
"I always know the ending," says Taehyung. "Can we come to your house?"
Jin's just opening his mouth to ask the obvious question when Hoseok appears like a magic trick. He's carrying an enormous bag, heavy-looking and worn, but he doesn't seem to notice the weight at all as he grins.
"Hey," he says, putting his arms out for a hug. "Don't leave me hanging."
But Jin does leave him hanging, looking between the two of them, noting the way they're angled towards each other even as Hoseok is waiting. "Did you two hook up during the show or something?"
"Not exactly," says Hoseok, before Taehyung slaps a hand over his mouth.
"Spoilers are illegal," he says. "I want to see Jin's house."
And Hoseok laughs a muffled laugh, eyes crinkled up in pure joy as he licks Taehyung's palm to make him shriek, and Jin couldn't say no to them even if he wanted to. He leads them through the airport to where his car waits, Taehyung chattering the whole way, and as they settle into it with Jin sandwiched between them both, he doesn't think he wanted to anyway.
"It's like this," says Taehyung, rubbing his hand happily over Jin's leather couch. "You've heard of acting?"
He says it with a devious smile, Hoseok's feet in his lap, so Jin keeps his face straight as he says, "A little bit."
"Neither of us do it," says Taehyung, laughing when Jin rolls his eyes. "But when I take modeling jobs sometimes I meet actors. I met Kevin that way a really long time ago. We were very gay together - not in a sex way, just in a gay way - and when they were trying to fill out the cast for the show he called me up. He thought I would be a natural for the production mole."
"The production mole?" asks Jin, amused.
"To make thing dramatic for them. Help with the storylines. Be weird on camera," says Taehyung. He cocks his head to the side. "Everyone always thinks I'd be good at that."
Jin thinks back to that first night with the cape and the thanking of the car, and he laughs. "So you don't actually milk snakes?"
"That was a good one, wasn't it?" says Taehyung happily. "It's not like I wouldn't do it, it's just never come up. No, I model when I get contracts and spend the rest of my time working at a movie theater. The late night showings."
The penny drops, and he looks at a smiling, smitten Hoseok. "Your love story."
"My love story," corrects Taehyung. "The late night showings are the best because the most interesting people come in for those and you get to take home the extra popcorn. And Hoseok came all the time, sunshine at midnight, and he didn't really look at me much but I looked at him. He always got a huge tub of popcorn and a big soda, even though he has perfect teeth, so I wrote him down in my interesting people log to try to figure out why he was there."
Taehyung looks at him fondly. "He also smells really good. Even better than popcorn."
Hoseok turns red and drums his heels on Taehyung's thighs until he sticks his tongue out at him.
"Anyway, one night he was the only one in your movie so I sneaked in to sniff him, and then I got hungry so I stole his popcorn, and then he let me take him out and kiss him as much as I wanted," says Taehyung. "He's the best person. And he wants to be a director."
Jin raises an eyebrow. "A director?"
Hoseok nods, face back to his normal color, and digs into his pocket until he pulls out a card. He hands it over to Jin, who reads Tender Fox Productions across the front with a snort.
"I do my own videos on Youtube and stuff," says Hoseok. "Taehyung acts when I need him to. Some student film work. Indie assistant directing. Very small time stuff, though some of my work with Taehyung gets a lot of views." He leans forward and whispers, "That's not because of my directing, though."
"Yes it is!" says Taehyung. "You're really good. And when they said I should go on the show at first I said no, because Hoseok and I are future married, but then I realized it was the perfect opportunity for a trade. So I said we would both go if Hoseok could have all of the footage to make a behind-the-scenes documentary of the first gay dating show. The milestone, and what that meant, and all of the secrets and plots. I knew he'd do a great job, and it would be a great opportunity. He's been working on it since he left."
"Really?" asks Jin, uncomfortably aware of the number of secrets in that footage that involve the insides of him, and how often he'd made out with Hoseok's boyfriend unaware. "That's…"
"Don't worry," says Hoseok, eyes full of too much understanding. "I wouldn't make you look bad. I wouldn't want to. You were really good to us. And I wouldn't do that to Yoongi, either."
It's the first time anyone's said his name to Jin in weeks, outside of an interview room where Min Yoongi's just a character Jin's analyzing on a script, and he flinches. Taehyung frowns, making a sad noise, and Jin shakes it off determinedly.
"I'm sorry I kissed your boyfriend so much," he says. "Both of you, I guess."
Taehyung laughs, rubbing Hoseok's feet. "I basically made you! But it's very good you didn't fall in love with Hoseok," he adds, a little more sharply. A little dark. "I was watching you."
Jin raises an eyebrow. "I would never."
Taehyung looks more outraged. "Why not? He's so hot! He's great in bed, too. You should have fallen in love with him right away!"
"Of course!" says Jin, holding his hands up in surrender. "He's very attractive. But his lack of interest was obvious. I only fall for men who can't resist me. Who will shower me with the adoration this handsome face deserves."
And he says it like he's been saying it these last months, easy and with a touch of self-deprecation, but it's hollow now. With Taehyung and Hoseok, who know far too much about who he falls for, and how little those men adore him back. Who probably know he'd cried after Kevin, sitting on the floor of the hotel bathroom and weeping as he broke apart. It had healed him, their night together, but only because he'd shattered into so many pieces that no one piece was able to feel the pain of the others.
Taehyung is the kind of person who knows those things.
"I'll accept nothing less than everything," Jin finishes. "Which is why I only love myself."
"That's why we're here," says Taehyung.
"To watch me love myself? Or shower me with adoration? I'm very flexible."
"To show you everything," says Taehyung.
He nudges Hoseok, who pulls a flash drive out of his bag and holds it out. "When I started digging into the footage they gave me, plus my own, I found some behind the scenes stuff that was good. There was a good making-of documentary in there, something that could get the job done. But there was also something greater. Something once-in-a-lifetime, if I was good enough to dig it out. To show it the way it needed to be shown."
Jin doesn't say anything, just watches him.
Hoseok sighs. "A love story."
"Jimin and Jeongguk," says Jin immediately, turning his voice into a slamming door.
"No," says Hoseok.
"Namjoon and Hojin."
"Seokjin," says Hoseok, exasperation in his voice, but Jin doesn't care.
"Stop it," says Jin. His voice doesn't wobble, his hands perfectly steady, even while his heart is pounding out of his chest. "Don't even think it. That isn't for you."
"I don't technically need your permission," Hoseok starts, breaking off when Taehyung touches his arm again.
"It could be for everyone," says Taehyung. "Everyone who needs it. It's so beautiful. Won't you at least look?"
"No," says Jin. He can't even understand the question. "Why would I look? What purpose could there possibly be in looking?"
"Because he loves you - " says Taehyung, smiling big, and Jin explodes.
"He left me!" says Jin, standing up to pace, walking the length of his apartment in long, ground-eating strides. "What do you mean love? What the fuck is love, Taehyung? Tell me, I'd love to know. I mean, maybe it's a movie theater with popcorn or trees and Germany or stupid, clueless kids who move past each other in exhausting circles until someone finally makes them stop. Maybe it is those things, but I know what it's not. It's not guitars and moonlight or pianos in shops or sex in hotels or parking garage dinners. It's not the fucking river, okay? It's not any of that when it comes to me, or him, and whatever he looked like then it's not that now. You know that it's not, and it's not going to be, and holy shit are you filming this?"
The last comes as Jin spins around and sees Hoseok with a handheld camera in his hand, grabbing a low shot of Jin as he falls to pieces, and Jin loses his shit even further. He didn't know he had another level of angry to be but he does, and he's almost across the room before Taehyung throws himself over his shoulders and hangs on for dear life.
"It's part of the story!" he says, riding Jin like a horse as Jin tries to get at Hoseok, who's scrabbling away. "It's good and love is all of those things and you just need to see his face when he looks at you. You have to see it because he loves you so much and if you see it you'll remember. You'll know, and then we can have a good ending. It's time for the good ending!"
"He doesn't love me at all," says Jin, almost snarling. "Not even a little bit. He's with his girlfriend, and I'm sure they're very happy together."
Hoseok stops moving, and Taehyung stops trying to choke him, and Jin stands there, breathing hard, grateful that he'd used up all of his tears for the next millennium in Hawaii.
"Yes. Suran. He went back to her and told me to fuck off," says Jin, a little more calmly. Reaching for their sympathy. For something. "Which is what I'm telling you guys to do. There's no good ending. There's just this one, and if you don't want to hurt me then please don't do this."
"Suran isn't his girlfriend," says Hoseok. "She's his roommate."
"His sex roommate," says Jin. "And his girlfriend, now at least. It's fine. I'm over it. Congratulations to them."
"You're over it?" says Taehyung, sliding off of his back. "That's why you almost had two dead bodies to dispose of here?"
"Yes," says Jin firmly. "Good luck with your documentary, and it was great to see you. I have to get ready for my interviews after the show airs."
Which is a lie, because Jimin and Jeongguk will do all the interviews, and Hoseok and Taehyung seem to know. Neither of them move, having some kind of silent conversation that Jin isn't a part of. He tries to shift Taehyung towards the door, but Taehyung executes a spin move that brings him exactly back to where he started without apparent effort.
"Why do you think Yoongi and Suran are dating?" asks Hoseok eventually.
"Because she told me they were," says Jin. "When she came to get Yoongi's suitcases after he stormed off. Which I thought was an act, but apparently it wasn't, and why am I explaining this to you? It's not your business."
Hoseok frowns. "But you sent him home. Why would he be acting about storming off? He was supposed to leave."
Jin looks between him and Taehyung, who looks equally confused. "You guys don't know? I thought you knew everything. It was the plan."
"The Jikook plan," says Taehyung, nodding. "Or Kookmin? We haven't decided. That was a really dramatic move by Hyebin. I have so much to learn from her."
"It was my plan," says Jin, unreasonably annoyed. "Mine and Yoongi's."
Taehyung shakes his head. "I don't think he was part of a plan. They didn't say anything like that."
"Right," says Jin. "Because he backed out. But he was a part of it. We came up with it together. Or I came up with it, and he agreed, until he didn't agree. You guys really don't know? They had mics in the suite."
He knows they did, because his unbridled sex with Yoongi had been dubbed over his time with Jeongguk and Jimin, not enough to be lewd but enough to lay a false trail. It's the only part of the footage he'd watched, because Nayoung had insisted on Jin's approval.
He'd listened to his past self whisper that he never wanted to forget as the door closed behind Jeongguk, and he'd wanted to light the video on fire.
"They stopped recording once you went to sleep," says Hoseok. "Saves money. So you figured it out that night?"
Jin sighs, knowing they're not going anywhere, and if this is what they need to drop it then what the hell does it matter? "Yes. I woke up at dawn and started thinking about how to… make the ending more palatable. And Yoongi had said Jeongguk was in love with Jimin, and I knew Jimin was in love with Jeongguk, and I thought that seemed like the perfect destiny ending, the surprise of two contestants falling in love with each other. But that would make me look undesirable, espeically after Taehyung left, then Namjoon, then the two remaining people rejecting me as well. My agent wanted me to look desirable. That's why I did the show in the first place."
"You do," says Taehyung. "You're very hot."
Jin ignores that, because he is but that's not what he meant. "But then I realized I could send Yoongi home and he could have a change of heart, a realization that he'd loved me all along, and he could come back as a double-twist and be an additional ending. A redemption story for us both."
He laughs, once, but it's heavy. "I thought he would be convincing. But instead he left for real, and he never came back, and he must have just agreed to get off the show, like he'd been trying to do for weeks. So we went with Jimin and Jeongguk's story alone, and I look like a person who no one will ever love but also generous enough to accept it, which gives me a career. That's the story."
Taehyung shakes his head, his hair flying into his eyes. "That makes no sense. I've watched Hoseok's movie, and I was there, and Yoongi didn't want to leave. He never did. If you wanted him to be a double-twist he would have done it."
"But I saw his notebook," says Hoseok. "He showed it to me, and it had so many sappy lines about lush lips and dark, pooling eyes that I almost threw up. While sobbing."
"For Suran, probably."
Taehyung laughs. "No way. I've been following them for weeks and they're definitely not - "
He breaks off, gasping, and Hoseok puts his head in his hands.
"You've been following them?" asks Jin, very slowly.
"To get footage," mumbles Taehyung. "For the sad part before the happy part. He's really sad. Are you sure you told him the plan?"
"Yes," says Jin. "I was there. I woke him up and told him, and he said it sounded smart, and he kissed me -"
He breaks off, too close to that murdered emotion to continue. Not that they notice, because Taehyung throws his hands in the air like Jin had said he'd set fire to all of his money.
"You woke him up and told him?" asks Hoseok. "Are you an idiot?"
"Only when the script calls for it," says Jin, trying to smile, but they're both digging through Hoseok's enormous bag and don't appreciate his joke.
Eventually they pull out another drive and a laptop, and Taehyung plops him down on the couch with inescapable force. "Watch this."
When the video comes up it's been shot from a phone, the black bars prominent, and Yoongi's sleeping face fills the screen. Jin tries to get away but Taehyung leans on him hard, digging his fingers into his shoulders, and in the end Jin's mind betrays him because all he wants to do is look at Yoongi forever.
"Yoongi," says a voice, Jeongguk's voice, and Hoseok whispers that he'd filmed this with a contraband phone. "Yoongi, you have to get up."
"Jeongguk," says Yoongi, his own voice sleep-graveled in just the way Jin remembers against his will. "We're out of toilet paper."
"You have to steal some," says Yoongi, opening his eyes and looking up, unfocused but determined. "A lot. We need a lot."
Jeongguk giggles, and the screen wobbles a little. "I can't just buy it?"
Yoongi's face scrunches up into his patented annoyed look. "Who buys toilet paper?"
"Right. Okay, I'll steal it. But hey, are you actually awake?" asks Jeongguk.
"Of course I'm awake," says Yoongi. "Go away."
He rolls over and starts snoring, and Jeongguk turns the phone around and whispers with a shit-eating grin, "This has been the latest installment of Jeongguk and Yoongi in the morning. Tune in tomorrow for our next adventure, where he might call me a cute bunny again. Bye!"
Jin looks over at Hoseok, his heart beating fast once more, and Hoseok says softly, "We have dozens of these. Jeongguk had a great time, and Yoongi never once remembered any of it. Trust me, we asked. He's not good in the mornings, Seokjin."
"But… but that would mean…" says Jin. He can't finish it, because his mind is already running through the storyline where Yoongi has no idea that Jin wants him to come back, and it's horrifying. "What does that mean?"
Taehyung leans down and bites his ear, very gently. "It means he loves you, silly. Want to go find him?"
"Oh my god," says Jin, swatting Taehyung away and standing up, processing so rapidly it barely feels like anything. He touches his hair, then his lips, then the entirety of his face. The empty vacuum of him is too much, and he's not sure who he needs to be. "I still have airplane face. I can't see him with airplane face."
"Your airplane face is so pretty though," says Taehyung. "I'll do your makeup in the cab. You'll look great."
"But I smell."
"Laundry spray," says Hoseok, checking his watch. "He gets off work in an hour."
"An hour?" says Jin, irritated at how nervous he sounds. "That's not enough time."
It might be too much, actually, because if Jin has lived for three months with a broken heart while the cause of it had slept through Jin's entire genius plan, they've already wasted so much of their sexual prime in separate beds that it's nearly criminal.
When Jin says that out loud his voice cracks, unshed tears wobbling it, and Taehyung gives him a huge hug as he steers him to the door.
"I know," he says. "You'll have so much sex. Don't worry. Tender Fox is here."
When the bell jangles above the shop door, Yoongi tries to burrow into the floor. He's ducked down behind the counter pretending to inventory something but really just hiding, because today has been a nightmare. The stupid show is more popular than ever, trending on media and developing hashtags that he can't escape, and people keep coming in with shirts with people's faces on them just to celebrate his recent ejection from the side of their god, Kim Seokjin.
They'd all bought something, so his boss is happy, but Yoongi's wanted to curl into a ball ever since a group of girls with Jeongguk signs had met him outside the door on his way in and done an organized chant cheering his demise.
Or maybe he'd wanted to curl up even before that, when he'd watched last week's reunion episode and seen the people he'd thought were his friends happily pairing Seokjin up with Jimin or Jeongguk without a second thought. None of them had mentioned him, excising Yoongi completely from their minds like so much nothingness, eagerly throwing him away for the sake of entertainment.
He'd always expected that from Seokjin, in some part of him, no matter how much his heart had wanted to hope. But he hadn't expected it from Namjoon or Hoseok or even Mingyu, and it had broken his heart all over again to watch. He really had been alone there, even more than he'd known.
And now he's alone here, where people want to make fun of his pain, and he's not allowed to show that it bothers him at all.
"Where is he?" asks a voice, and Yoongi's eyes fly open in shock. He'd heard that voice, recently, and his anger makes him rise as it sings out, "Yoongi," in an elongated way that doesn't make him any happier.
"You!" he yells, and Taehyung swings toward him with a happy smile. But Yoongi doesn't see it because behind him is Hoseok, and behind both of them is Seokjin, and Seokjin is stunning in more ways than one. He has his hands in his pockets, model-casual and effortless, and his eyes are a little bigger than usual. Almost reddish, like the tips of his ears and the flush of his cheeks and Yoongi hates looking at him. He can't stop looking at him.
He looks so much better in person.
"You," he whispers, and he wishes he sounded a little tougher than this. He wishes Hoseok and Taehyung weren't watching. He wishes that he hadn't spent two weeks hearing about how smart Seokjin was for getting rid of him.
Seokjin opens his mouth, and Yoongi absolutely doesn't want to hear it. The last time they'd talked, Seokjin had pretended he loved him, and then they'd never spoken again.
"Welcome to We Love Books," says Yoongi, pasting a smile on his face. "We really love them. Can I help you find something?"
"We came to talk to you," says Taehyung, shoving Seokjin forward.
"We have new and lightly used books looking for a home," says Yoongi, still smiling. Smiling until he bleeds. "Or I could help you find the exit. It's right behind you."
"Yoongi," says Seokjin, like he deserves to say his name.
"Shut up," says Yoongi, and his voice breaks. "Just shut up. Don't you have a boyfriend to get back to? Interviews to look good for? A career to manage? We're a bookstore, we can't help you with any of that shit." He wants to wipe his eyes, but that's weakness so he doesn't. "So which one of them did you pick? I'm sure they were both better fucks than me, but which one was the best?"
Seokjin looks at Hoseok, then Taehyung, and something subtle and aware passes between them all, and Yoongi's not invited inside it. He's always been alone, this whole time.
"I didn't sleep with anyone but you," says Seokjin. "How could you think that?"
"That was the whole point, wasn't it?" says Yoongi. "You trying us all out, like cars, seeing what rode best. I knew you were doing it even then, because they came back to the room, and they didn't say anything, and they looked like…"
Seokjin steps closer to the counter, which just makes Yoongi angrier. "You were with me. You knew I hadn't had sex that week. Don't tell me you couldn't feel it."
"Not all sex is penetrative, Seokjin," snaps Yoongi, and Hoseok stifles a laugh, which is also infuriating. "And I heard it on the show anyway. You said all the same things to them that you did to me, so don't stand there and pretend like it didn't happen."
Seokjin smiles, though it's a small one. "Shouldn't a future world-famous rapper know about dubbing?" he asks. "It was all you. They put the audio over the other shots. You really thought I'd slept with them both?"
Yoongi doesn't say anything, fists tight at his side.
"You did," says Seokjin, and he's not smiling anymore. "Why did you come with me that night, then? If you thought I cared so little?"
He looks sad, which isn't fair, because Yoongi can't control himself when he looks like that. "Because I hoped you did. Because I… but you didn't. You didn't care. You sent me home, and now I'm home, and I don't have anything left to give you. You've taken everything, so get out. You're not a customer, and you need to get out."
Seokjin grabs a book at random from the nearest table and throws it on the counter. "I'll buy that. But not yet. I'm still browsing."
This time Taehyung laughs, and Yoongi happily shifts his focus to them, just to keep the tears away. "What in the fuck are you assholes even doing here?"
Hoseok's smile fades. "Assholes?"
"Fucking exactly," says Yoongi. "I saw you on that show. You picked Jimin to win. And Taehyung picked Jeongguk. You both made me think you understood, that you were my friends, but it was all just a stupid game to you too, wasn't it?"
Hoseok's expression darkens further. "I risked death for you. I did it again today! And you're calling me an asshole?"
"You picked Jimin," says Yoongi again, feeling like a spiteful child. "They asked you who Seokjin should choose and you held up a piece of paper with his name on it. I saw it."
"Seriously, do you really not know how editing works?" asks Hoseok, exasperated. "They asked us all sorts of questions, getting us to hold up everyone's name, and they spliced in a shot. I'm pretty sure I picked Jimin as most likely to saran wrap a toilet seat, and I fucking picked you when they asked who Jin should be with. We all did, Namjoon led a fucking grassroots revolution on that set in your honor, and the producers hated us for the extra work we gave them. But they still found a way. They can get anything to be anything!"
He stops, and Yoongi stares, not sure what to believe, until Hoseok says gently, "I can show you the footage if you want. But we've always been your friends, Yoongi. You took care of us the whole time. We all had a story about you taking care of us. Of course we picked you for Seokjin." He laughs, and Taehyung wraps around him from behind, his chin on his shoulder. "You're his love story."
And Yoongi looks back at Seokjin, who's still watching him without looking away, who feels like music shops, and beaches, and verandas in the darkness.
Yoongi swallows. "Love story?"
He must sound vulnerable, or needy, because Seokjin moves around the counter and into his space with delicate purpose. Moves into it as Yoongi backs up, pressing into the shelf behind him, not sure if he wants to escape or get closer. "But Jeongguk," he whispers when he has nowhere left to go. "Or Jimin. You're going to pick one of them tonight."
Seokjin is standing over him, tall and broad and beautiful as a tear slips down his cheek. A perfect tear, beautifully formed, and Yoongi reaches up to touch it just to see if it's real.
"I have a whole rant about you," says Seokjin, his voice strained as he fights it. "About the things a person should disclose before a mind-blowing night of sex. About how a person should tell another person he's a grumpy morning gremlin who has whole conversations that he doesn't remember, who can't possibly be trusted to retain information no matter how cute and cuddly he is. About how you can come up with a brilliant plan to get Jeongguk and Jimin to be the couple at the end of the show and give a very romantic speech about it to that same sexy gremlin, a speech about flowers and rainbows and growing old together that would bring tears to the eyes of anyone who heard it, and he'll call you a genius and give you a kiss and let you leave him to forget every single thing you said before he runs away."
Yoongi narrows his eyes, which squeezes out his own tears, and he has a thousand things he should ask. A million things he should say, because he feels like he's blinking awake after a months-long sleep, but he's Min Yoongi and can't be anyone else so he only says, "Have you been talking to Suran? She has that same fucking rant about me, though it's usually about groceries and she uses more profanity."
"No," says Seokjin, his hand on Yoongi's waist. Not holding, just touching. A little cautious. "Are you dating her now?"
"I've never dated her," says Yoongi, getting closer. "That's not what we do."
"Then are you sleeping with her?" asks Seokjin, more quietly.
Yoongi flushes. "Once. Just to try… but it didn't help."
Seokjin nods, and his other hand comes up to Yoongi's cheek, stroking lightly. "I slept with Kevin, the last night of filming. I hated it, and it didn't help either. Nothing helps," he says. His eyes are glassy with tears as his thumb moves over Yoongi's skin. "I miss you. I miss the way it feels to be real, with you. I miss you so much and nothing helps."
Yoongi breaks, yanking Seokjin down and kissing him, and it's like the beach all over again but better. Better because this is Yoongi's real life, and there are no producers, and he knows so much more about the things that turn Seokjin on. He's glad now that he couldn't forget them, that he'd replayed those memories a thousand times, because when he presents his lower lip for Seokjin to bite Seokjin's groan nearly sends him into orbit.
"I want to fuck you again," says Yoongi when they break for breath, his hand already wandering to Seokjin's ass, grabbing at it indiscriminately.
"I love you too," says Seokjin, trailing kisses across Yoongi's face, desperate and messy. "You have no idea how much you've ruined my life. The might in my moments. You're everything."
Seokjin presses him against the shelf, rattling it enough to knock some books loose, and Yoongi hears Taehyung laugh again. But it's vague and hazy, because Yoongi's drowning in romance and sex and he doesn't know which one will kill him first. "Don't get cheap and cheesy on me now."
"Excuse you, I'm refined and passionate," says Seokjin before sucking hard enough on Yoongi's neck to bruise. "I'm elegant and sophisticated and any man would be lucky to be considered my paramour. Show some gratitude, Yoongichi."
Yoongi laughs, tilting his head back for more. "You're giving me hickeys in broad daylight in a place of business. It doesn't get sleazier than that."
"Shut up and tell me you adore me," says Seokjin, and he says it breezily but Yoongi can feel the tension even as Seokjin keeps worrying the skin at the line of his collar. "Pledge your loyalty to me, for now and always. It's the least I deserve."
Yoongi tugs at his hair, pulling him away, and looks at him for a long moment. His lips are even redder, shiny with spit and puffy with kisses, and they're distracting but not enough to tear Yoongi away from his eyes. His real eyes, nervous and gentle and kind, all of the clues that Yoongi had been looking for. All of the things behind the mask, that were somehow only for him.
"I adore you," says Yoongi. "Even without the moonlight. I've written you so many poems."
Delight overtakes Seokjin, like soft sunlight on a dewy meadow, and this time when they kiss it's not so hungry. It's the wait before the drop, it's homecoming and a promise, and it's Kim Seokjin and Min Yoongi without cameras and mics and production, finding their place inside each other. Yoongi sinks into him fully, sighing when Seokjin wraps around him and takes it deeper, getting lost in the way it feels to arrive.
Until Seokjin moves away, brushing Yoongi's hair off of his forehead tenderly, and Yoongi looks over his shoulder. "Oh my god," he says. "I can't believe we're still being filmed."
Hoseok shoots him a thumbs up over his camera, even as he's backing away from a whirling, annoyed Seokjin and trying to hide behind Taehyung. And there are other people in the store, plastered with Jimin and Jeongguk merch and typing furiously on their phones, and Yoongi thinks that someone, somewhere is going to be very pissed at them for spoiling the finale of the show.
Which makes him smile, then laugh, then nearly collapse against the shelves thinking about how angry Hyebin will be, and how she can't do anything about it, and how much he loves polished, beautiful, absolute Seokjin.
"Come back here," he says through his giggles, tugging at Seokjin's shirt until he turns around mid-rant. "Come on. If we're going to be their show, let's make it a good one."
Seokjin looks down at him, his handsome face softening in joy. "Let's make it the best one," he agrees, and when he kisses Yoongi again the rest of the world slides away.
"I don't see why I have to wear a tux," says Yoongi. "I'm not a tux man."
"Every man is a tux man," says Jin, tugging at Yoongi's tie until he growls, which makes Jin pull even more tightly. "You especially. Look at that little ass in those perfectly tailored pants. I'm salivating."
Yoongi grins at him in the mirror. "Sounds good to me. Let's go."
"We are leaving in ten minutes," says Jin firmly. "To spend ten minutes on an hour job is a criminal act."
"An hour?" asks Yoongi, eyebrow raised. "Aren't we feeling ambitious today."
Jin swats him on the ass a little harder than he needs to, just to see Yoongi's face flush. He always breaks first when it comes to their foreplay competitions, and Jin wouldn't have it any other way. "Someone's getting sassy now that he's the subject of an award-winning film."
"One award," says Yoongi. "And it hasn't even won yet. It probably won't win, you know how these things go."
"I don't know anything of the sort," says Jin. He frowns, picking lint off of Yoongi's sleeve. "When did I become the optimistic one in this relationship?"
Yoongi heads into the bathroom, raising his voice to carry back into the room. "You always have been. You just used to be better at lying."
"Rude," says Jin. "I'm knocking fifteen minutes off of your ass time later tonight."
The hotel room door opens in the middle of his sentence, and Nayoung doesn't break stride as walks in and says, "I don't want to know."
"I do," says Jimin behind her. "But don't listen, Kookie, you're still too innocent."
Jeongguk drapes himself over Jimin and bites his hair happily. "I'm not innocent!"
More people pile in, Hyebin and Taehyung and Hoseok and Namjoon and Hojin and Suran, and the room is crowded until Taehyung yanks as many people onto the bed as possible, freeing up floor space as he laughs.
Yoongi emerges, blinking at the sudden crowd and touching his tie. "I still don't think I need to go to this. This is Hoseok's night."
"I'm nothing without you, Yoongichi," says Hoseok dramatically, trying to get out from under Jeongguk's massive bulk. "You're the Juliet to Seokjin's Romeo, the Fairy to his Woodcutter, the Ilsa to his Rick. You made the film sing."
"Hey!" says Jin, only half-paying attention as he fixes his hair. "I'm the movie star around here, and -"
"I've got this," says Yoongi, patting him on the shoulder and rounding on Hoseok. "First of all, stop heteronormalizing love. Second, if one of us is always going to be the girl it's Jin. He's the pretty one."
"Damn right I am."
"Third, those are all tragedies, so fuck you."
Hoseok laughs. "You didn't let me finish. You literally made it sing, because you produced all the music."
"I loved the music!" says Jeongguk, which he's said a hundred times but it still makes Yoongi smile. "I play it in all of my group classes. It gets us pumped up and crying at the same time."
"My man does know how to produce beautiful music," says Jin, tucking Yoongi against his side. "You should hear him when I have my -"
Yoongi pinches him, and Jin breaks off in outrage, and Nayoung and Hyebin roll their eyes at the exact same time. "Please tell me you're going to be dignified tonight," says Hyebin. "This documentary reflects on my show as well, you know."
"It does?" says Yoongi, wide-eyed. "I had no idea. Wait, which show do you work on again?"
"Be nice," says Jin, but he doesn't really mean it. Hyebin had earned her way back onto Yoongi's acceptable people list by being the secret mastermind behind his production contracts, the most Hyebin of possible apologies, but Yoongi will never stop being himself. "We'll be angels, I promise."
Namjoon snorts from the depths of the mattress, where Taehyung has his arm twisted behind his back like a wrestler. "I bet all of the money I spent on this suit that you won't."
The universe owes Namjoon a lot of money, Jin thinks, because angelic falls by the wayside completely before the end of the night.
They'd made it through the red carpet flawlessly, cute and non-threatening and disgustingly in love thanks to Jin employing the secret weapon of kissing Yoongi senseless in the car before they got there. It had made Yoongi a little silly-looking in the photos, dazed and happy in a way that would concern anyone who knows him, but the reporters on an LA red carpet don't know anything so it's fine. Instead they yell their questions indiscriminately, and Jin answers them because Yoongi told him he was going to pretend not to understand English all night, and they get into the theater in a hail of flashing lights.
The show itself is dicier, because Yoongi's dazedness gives way to sarcasm as the kissing wears off, and Jin's professionalism gives way to liking sarcastic Yoongi and egging him on. It isn't until they call Hoseok's name as the winner for True Destiny that both of them find their normality again in their happiness, which is timed perfectly for when Taehyung loses his shit entirely, screaming and weeping and making out with Hoseok with so much enthusiasm that the cameras swooping in on them aren't sure where to focus.
A few catcalls sound from the distance, Jimin's voice prominent among the rest of their group sitting in the cheap seats. Taehyung blows them kisses too, once he finally lets Hoseok go, who then bounces onto the stage to deliver a tear-jerking, heartfelt speech about equality and the beauty of love which hardly anyone in the room understands.
"Why don't you kiss me like that in public?" Jin asks Yoongi when they sit down for the commercial break. "You always kiss me like a queen bestowing her favors on a visiting dignitary, and don't talk to me about gender roles right now."
Yoongi snorted. "Because it would be bad for your ego. And because you don't like it. And because you love me because you have to work for me."
"Slander. I love passionate kisses, and I do not have to work for you," said Jin, his fingers already inching up Yoongi's thigh. "You're putty in my model-quality hands. I snap my fingers and you melt. I bat my eyes and you come running. I pluck you like a guitar string and you hum."
"That's ridiculous," says Yoongi, spreading his legs slightly. Loosening his tie as he eyes Jin with careful consideration. "So if I climbed in your lap, right here in front of everyone, you'd be happy about it."
"Happy doesn't even begin to cover it, Yoongichi."
"Good to know," says Yoongi, letting out a breath when Jin squeezes the meat of his thigh dangerously. "Good to know."
"Hoseok is an extremely talented filmmaker," says Jin to a reporter during the after party. There weren't supposed to be reporters here but they always wormed their way in, and this one is polite at least so Nayoung's making him handle it. "He can find hidden angles in a shot and make you see things in a new way. I'm honored to be seen by him."
The reporter nods and scribbles something down, and Jin checks his watch. He's been stuck with the press all night, a punishment for his diligent English study and rising star, and he cuts a subtle glare at the rest of his party who's currently watching Jeongguk lift a sofa with Jimin and Taehyung still on it. Jimin looks smug, which means money is changing hands from this, but Yoongi looks happy which means at least they'd bet on the right side.
Yoongi sees him looking and gives him a big smile, and Jin's annoyance vanishes into the clouds.
"You say in the film that you're a blank canvas," says the reporter, holding the tape recorder closer as Jimin and Suran scream for shots. "That you allow the audience to paint their expectations across you. Has that changed as you've gained international recognition?"
Jin tries to focus when Nayoung snaps her fingers at him, and says, "Yes and no. When I work, I am a canvas. It's my job to be what people need. The audience, the directors, the producers. If I bring too much of myself to the role, it's no longer the role. And the job is important."
Yoongi starts moving closer to them, listening, and Jin says the next words to him. He's saying all of his words to Yoongi, these days, even when Yoongi's not around, and it's sappy but Kim Seokjin could use a little more sap in his life.
"But when I'm not working, I'm not blank these days. I'm myself. A son, and a friend, and a boyfriend, and a guitar player and a very promising rapper," says Jin, laughing in a way he'd practiced the night before. "I used to feel the need to perform all the time. Now I only perform when it's necessary, and that's made me happier."
"Is that because of Yoongi?" asks the reporter, and Yoongi crosses his arms smugly.
"No," says Jin, then laughs when Yoongi's eyes narrow. "It's because of me. To make myself a person who I love not because no one else will, but because I truly do love myself. But Yoongi shows me how. He's the kindest, gentlest, most caring man I've ever known, and his love is the path I walk. The love I try to give back."
He doesn't know if Yoongi follows it all but by his face he follows enough. He takes a shot from Suran without looking, knocking it back with ease, and right as the reporter is asking a follow up about if they're considering marriage Yoongi walks past her and climbs directly in his lap.
"Hey you," he breathes, his mouth sharp with liquor, and Jin doesn't try to stop him when he leans down for a messy, tongue-filled kiss. "You going to be talking all night? I miss you."
When he pulls back he looks like Agust D, like the way he looks on a stage with dark neon around him, the dangerous glint in his eyes when he knows he's on top of the beat. When he knows he's got it, that he's controlling the room, and Jin's mouth waters at the night they're about to have. Which is inconvenient because he's still in the middle of an interview
"Just a few more questions, darling," he says, shifting Yoongi into a less provocative position. The shifting involves him digging his fingers warningly into his back, and Yoongi hums lightly as he does. "Forgive us, please keep going."
To the reporter's credit, she barely blinks, though a half-smile flits across her face. "Not at all. This is a big night for you both. I'm sorry to take up so much of your time."
Yoongi's still kissing his neck, very gently, almost not there at all, and Jin tries not to react. "It is a big night, thank you. We're private people, usually, but it's lovely to be here and feel so much support from everyone."
"Are you private by choice or need?" she asks.
"Choice," says Jin, pinching Yoongi when he starts kissing him more obviously. "We like to keep our lives to ourselves."
Nayoung rolls her eyes as Yoongi starts taking off Jin's tie, and the reporter stifles a laugh as well. "Would you translate a question, if I ask one to Yoongi?"
"Of course," says Jin, his throat now exposed to the world. "Though he actually understands English well, he's just being rude."
Yoongi winks at him, still in performance mode, and Jin keeps his face neutral with effort.
"Yoongi, what is it you like best about Seokjin? Obviously he's delightful, but throughout the documentary it's shown that you care for the parts of him that aren't obvious. Can you share what those are?"
Jin translates quickly, though he can see Yoongi already thinking about his response. He shifts deliberately again, sending Jin through the wall, before he says in careful English, "He's nice."
The reporter nods encouragingly, and Jin tenses because Yoongi's expression looks like trouble.
"He is… handsome? Handsome," says Yoongi, gesturing to Jin's face. "He loves all people. Always. Very kind."
Jin doesn't blush, because he never blushes, but he feels his ears burning.
"And," says Yoongi, smiling gummily. "He has a big dick."
Nayoung stands up, her hands waving indiscriminately. "The interview is over, thank you so much. I'll answer any follow ups you have," she says, leading the reporter away and glaring back at Jin, who's too busy sputtering to care.
Yoongi doesn't even laugh, just looks smug, running his hands through Jin's hair as he twists back into his original position. "Did I say it right?"
"Depends on what you were trying to say," says Jin, still trying to get enough air.
"I was trying to say I want to go back to the hotel," says Yoongi, his fingers twisting almost painfully. "I was trying to say someone promised to eat me out and I'm not getting any younger over here, old man."
That gets Jin sputtering again, and he pinches Yoongi's elbow. "Take that back."
"No," says Yoongi, smirking. "I'm your younger lover, and I have needs, and those needs are not currently being met."
"I can help you, Yoongi!" says Taehyung behind him. "But only if Hoseok comes, too. We fuck together for life!"
Yoongi chokes, clambering off of Jin's lap with a tomato-red face, and Taehyung gives Jin a high five as he says, "Tender Fox still has it. Thanks for doing all of those interviews for us."
"I'd say you owe me, but I probably owe you more," says Jin. "Especially for not sleeping with my boyfriend. Ever."
Taehyung grins, flopping down next to him and pulling Hoseok too. "You owe me a make out with him, though. I'll collect someday. Maybe at my wedding. It's tomorrow night. You're all invited!"
Hoseok rolls his eyes but doesn't say anything, and Yoongi looks at him in horror. "Please tell me you're not getting legally tied to this walking chaos bomb."
"When in America," says Hoseok, shrugging. "Road trip to Las Vegas, anyone? We leave at ten."
"I'm the best man," says Taehyung. He laces his fingers through Hoseok's and puts them in his lap. "They have that here."
"You're the groom," corrects Jimin, making his way over with more shots much to everyone's displeasure. Except for Suran, who's wide awake, and Jin, who motions for one with an imperious air.
The rest of them are less eager, especially Jeongguk, who's listing, and Hojin, who's laboring under the weight of a Namjoon clearly past his limit by the way he's mumbling indecipherable phrases in every language he knows.
"I'm the best groom," says Taehyung happily. "And Hoseok is the second best one. Jimin, will you be our third best groom?"
"How many people are getting married at this event, exactly?" asks Yoongi, then rolls his eyes when Taehyung cheerfully says all of them.
Jeongguk takes another shot at Suran's insistence, then lifts Jimin up in a princess carry like it's nothing despite the stagger. "I'll be there."
"Thanks Kookie," says Hoseok, patting him on the back. "Please don't carry us all down the aisle, though."
"I could! But I won't. Unless you bet me, then I definitely will."
Jimin starts to whine, saying he's the only one who gets to be carried by Kookie, and they're starting to bicker amongst themselves when Yoongi leans over and murmurs, "I'm horny."
"When are you not?" says Jin, but he stands up and holds his hand out like a prince in a drama. Yoongi takes it delicately, drawing up his non-existent skirts, and Jin grins as he kisses his hand. "Excuse us, the hottest couple on the planet needs to get back to the hotel now."
"But we're not going anywhere," says Jimin, momentarily diverted from his fight about carrying rights. "Kookie and I are staying here."
Taehyung gasps. "How can you say that, Jiminie? Hoseok and I are so hot! And award-winning!"
Namjoon's head comes off of Hojin's shoulder like the movement of clouds across the sky, slow and ephemeral. He clears his throat, blinking his eyes open just long enough to say, "Being gay is so good, isn't it?"
He looks at them all blearily, smiling in his giant, dimple-filled way, and the rest of them glance at each other with identically fond expressions.
"Yeah, Joonie," says Yoongi. "It's really good."
"I love you guys," Namjoon says, going back in for more petting. "Thanks for inviting us."
Taehyung jumps on him, then Jimin, then Jeongguk, and Hoseok is hanging on for dear life when Yoongi nudges Jin once more. They both give Namjoon a single pat on the back before they excuse themselves for real, and the stars above them wink prettily as they wait for the car.
"Your ears turned so red when I got on your lap," says Yoongi triumphantly. "I knew you'd hate PDA shit when you're not instigating it."
"I loved it," says Jin airily. "If my ears were red it was only in sympathy for you and how obviously smitten you are. It's shameful, Yoongichi, but I suppose it can't be helped."
"I am smitten," says Yoongi, quiet and sudden like he always does when he stops joking, and Jin is never prepared for it.
This time is no exception, as Jin takes their linked hands and starts playing with them. "Oh?"
"I always have been," says Yoongi, not making him stop. Being perfect, as he always is. "Even when I first met you you tried to help me out on camera. I was being an ass to you, but you still tried to help me look better. I think that was the beginning, really. When I told you I was great at sucking cock, I'm pretty sure what I meant is that I thought I could love you."
"That's embarrassingly sappy," says Jin, still tracing the back of Yoongi's hand. "And embarrassingly quick. I didn't know until we cooked. Until you did Namjoon's work for him and wouldn't have told a soul. I fell for you right then, you in your cute little apron with your grumpy little face."
"Don't you dare talk about that apron," says Yoongi, tilting his head up, and Jin kisses him softly. With all of the love he doesn't always know how to express but Yoongi somehow still understands. Their reality is a miracle, and so is he, and Jin is full to bursting with him nearly all of the time.
"Do you want to fuck tonight?" asks Jin when he pulls away.
It's gentle and quiet, and the world is moonlight.
"Always," says Yoongi, kissing him again. "Always."
The end once more! Thank you so much, truly, to everyone who has read and kudos and especially commented on this story as it went along, I appreciate it so much that I don't even know how to say it. I'm very sorry that this story took so much longer to be published than usual, but you guys have been so patient and supportive and motivational that it's inspiring.
I really had a lot of fun with Yoongi and Jin in this one, maybe the fastest two to fall in love of any of my stories and the slowest to admit it to anyone, including themselves, and I hope you enjoyed them too! Bachelor Jin and Rapper Yoongi will stick with me for a long time.
Thanks again for taking the time out of your lives to read something I wrote, and please always feel free to interact! Talking to you guys is the best part of this whole thing, besides the joy of happy ending! You can find me on Twitter @dayofkaryn if you want to yell at me or talk about writing or BTS or whatever, and thank you so much again! You are all wonderful!